Honda Looks to Break Truck Rules

Monday, February 28th, 2005

The Wall Street Journal‘s latest “Eyes on the Road” column, Honda Looks to Break Truck Rules, look at the new Honda truck, the Ridgeline:

Rejecting the norms of conventional pickup construction also allowed Honda to create the Ridgeline’s “Wow!” feature: the sizeable trunk space under the floor of the five-foot long pickup bed. Mr. Flint says that when Honda engineers and marketers came up with this idea and showed it to focus groups of consumers “the expression on people’s faces was one of shock and awe. The usual comment was, ‘Why hadn’t somebody done that before?’”

He’s right. Show someone the Ridgeline’s locking, under-the-bed trunk — big enough for a large cooler, a bunch of groceries, or a couple of golf bags — and eyebrows fly up. I used to own a pickup truck and was constantly frustrated that there was no place to put the kind of stuff I carried around 98% of the time except in the cramped space behind the front seat or under a canvas cover that I bought to cover the unlockable cargo bed.

The Ridgeline won’t appeal to a lot of pickup owners. It doesn’t offer a V-8 engine. The bed is only five feet long with the tailgate up. Anyone who has a serious load to tow probably won’t be satisfied with the Ridgeline’s torque, or pulling power, which not surprisingly lags the Ford F-150 5.4 liter V-8, but also falls short of the recently redesigned Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier pickups.

Ayn Rand, Economic/Political General Equilibrium Theorist

Monday, February 28th, 2005

Bryan Caplan looks at Ayn Rand, Economic/Political General Equilibrium Theorist:

Atlas came out in 1957, and it’s got more about rent-seeking than the next 15 years of public choice scholarship. As I explain in Atlas Shrugged and Public Choice: The Obvious Parallels:
Each piece of legislation [in Atlas] has the following components:
  1. A public-interest rationale.
  2. Supportive interest groups with a hidden financial agenda.
  3. Negative consequences for the general public.

Gay men read maps like women

Monday, February 28th, 2005

Despite the headline, Gay men read maps like women, it appears that gay men use both masculine and feminine strategies for navigating:

Gay men employ the same strategies for navigating as women — using landmarks to find their way around — a new study suggests.

But they also use the strategies typically used by straight men, such as using compass directions and distances. In contrast, gay women read maps just like straight women, reveals the study of 80 heterosexual and homosexual men and women.

‘Gay men adopt male and female strategies. Therefore their brains are a sexual mosaic,’ explains Qazi Rahman, a psychobiologist who led the study at the University of East London, UK. ‘It’s not simply that lesbians have men’s brains and gay men have women’s brains.’

The stereotype that women are relatively poor map readers is borne out by a reasonable bulk of scientific literature, notes Rahman. ‘Men, particularly, excel at spatial navigation.’ The new study might help researchers understand how cognitive differences and sexual orientation develop in the womb, he says.

(Hat tip to GeekPress.)

To Catch a Thief

Monday, February 28th, 2005

I’ve been catching up on my Hitchcock movies, and I just watched To Catch a Thief, which “stars Cary Grant as a former thief suspected of a new series of crimes and Grace Kelly as the woman who romances him.” For a thriller, it’s not particularly thrilling; the plot’s fairly simple, and the tension’s never that great.

That said, it’s a beautiful film, featuring (1) the French Riviera, and (2) Grace Kelly.

Cary Grant, by the way, is supposed to play the athletic former-acrobat turned cat burglar, but he doesn’t do anything particularly acrobatic and, like most leading men in the 1950s, he really doesn’t have a very athletic physique. The punch-line: he really was an acrobat in his youth!


Monday, February 28th, 2005

I just watched Hitchcock’s Notorious for the first time. It stars Ingrid Bergman as a “notorious woman of affairs” (a woman who, shudder, drinks and sleeps around) and Cary Grant as an “adventurous man of the world” (a spy). Overall, certainly a good movie, but a few things stood out to me:

Despite the fact that Bergman’s character is sent to infiltrate a German spy ring in Brazil, there was no German spoken, next to no Portuguese (just “dois martinis” to the waiter, and “senhor” and “senhora” to locals), and one surprisingly long French monologue (in a party scene).

The kissing scenes seemed really, really awkward and forced.

Oh, and I missed Hitch’s cameo during the party scene.

Boy Scouting in America: The First Decade

Monday, February 28th, 2005

Many American don’t realize that the Boy Scouts were an English invention, and that they started as a more-or-less paramilitary group. From Boy Scouting in America: The First Decade:

“The Boy Scout movement was born at Mafeking,? in 1899, South Africa, during the Boer War. British Lieutenant-General Robert S.S. Baden-Powell, the originator of the Boy Scout idea and known as the ?Hero of Mafeking? for the important victory gained there, created the Boy Scouts in order to relieve the fatigued British army. The army needed help if they were going to be victorious, and Baden-Powell struck upon an ingenious plan. Under his direction, Lord Edward Cecil:
collected the boys of Mafeking, talked to them, drilled them, and put them into uniform. They became messengers, carrying dispatches from fort to fort on the lines; they kept a lookout, they acted as orderlies, and so relieved from these duties [those soldiers] who were so badly needed in the firing line.

The ?first of the Boy Scouts,? then, were essentially a junior corps of soldiers, used exclusively to aid the army in all its tasks other than combat.

It quickly became a popular means of teaching character:

Just before Mafeking, Baden-Powell had written a book entitled Aids to Scouting intended for young soldiers who, as he had discovered in his military experience, did not have the skills of outdoor living and self-reliance that were necessary for military life. In 1903, when Baden-Powell returned to England, he discovered that boys there were using his book for fun in the out of doors. At the request of schoolteachers, Baden-Powell began working on a book suited particularly to boys, and in 1906 the fruits of his work were published in a pamphlet called, ?Boy Scouts – A Suggestion.? In this pamphlet, Baden-Powell declared that the plan of the Boy Scouts was ?to help in making the rising generation, of whatever class or creed, into good citizens at home or in the colonies.? One year later, in 1907, Baden-Powell held a camp from July 29th to August 9th at Brownsea Island in Poole Harbor, with 21 boys. Unlike at Mafeking, where the Scouts were enlisted principally to help the army, at Brownsea Island ?the idea was to lead boys, by attractive practices called Scouting, to teach themselves character.? It was believed by Baden-Powell that, by engaging in outdoor activities stressing such qualities as attention and self-reliance, the Scouts would become better boys. The activities during this week-long excursion included: ?instruction in camp skills, observation and tracking, woodcraft and nature lore, life-saving and first aid, and the virtues of honor, chivalry, and good citizenship.? Divided into four patrols, ?they lived in Army tents and were fed by Army cooks.? Soon after the camp at Brownsea Island, Baden-Powell published the first Boy Scout handbook, Scouting for Boys, inspired by his own experiences, and largely by the works of two Americans — Ernest Thompson Seton (naturalist and founder of the Woodcraft Indians) and Daniel Carter Beard (illustrator and founder of the Sons of Daniel Boone). Boy Scouting became an overnight success, and by the beginning of 1910 — less than three years after its founding — there were more than 200,000 Scouts in Britain.

There’s a famous story about how the scouts came to America:

In 1910, the Boy Scout movement officially came to America, organized by a newspaper man from Chicago named W. D. Boyce. Mr. Boyce had visited England in 1909 where, losing his way in a London fog, he came upon a lad with a lantern who offered to take him to his destination. When Boyce tried to tip the boy for his kindness, the boy refused: ?No sir, I am a Scout,? he said, ?Scouts do not accept tips for courtesies or Good Turns.? After Mr. Boyce completed the business to which he had to attend, the boy led him to a nearby Scout office, where he learned more about the movement. Deeply impressed, upon his return to America in 1910 he decided to establish the Boy Scouts of America, and succeeded, with the help of Edgar M. Robinson of the Y.M.C.A and Ernest Thompson Seton, in having them incorporated by Congress in February of that year. [...] With credit from Baden-Powell as the originators of the Boy Scout idea, both Seton and Beard added considerable prestige to the Boy Scouts of America, but not nearly so much as the Honorary President and Vice-President — William Howard Taft and Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, respectively.

Why on earth the scouts needed to be incorporated by Congress, I’ll never know. Oh, and don’t challenge the honorary president to a s’mores-eating contest.

How Paris Got Hacked?

Saturday, February 26th, 2005

I didn’t realize this is what really happened. From How Paris Got Hacked?:

Like many online service providers, requires users to answer a ‘secret question’ if they forget their passwords. For Hilton’s account, the secret question was ‘What is your favorite pet’s name?’

Naturally, you can find all of the photos from her Sidekick on-line.

(Hat tip to my buddy, Dan.)

Schwarzenegger Says ‘No Regrets’ on Steroid Use

Saturday, February 26th, 2005

Schwarzenegger Says ‘No Regrets’ on Steroid Use:

“I have no regrets about it,” the seven-time Mr. Olympia told ABC News in an interview to be broadcast on Sunday. “Because at the time, it was something new that came on the market, and we went to the doctor and did it under doctors’ supervision.”

Our Godless Constitution

Friday, February 25th, 2005

Brooke Allen pulls no punches in Our Godless Constitution:

It is hard to believe that George Bush has ever read the works of George Orwell, but he seems, somehow, to have grasped a few Orwellian precepts. The lesson the President has learned best — and certainly the one that has been the most useful to him — is the axiom that if you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it. One of his Administration’s current favorites is the whopper about America having been founded on Christian principles. Our nation was founded not on Christian principles but on Enlightenment ones. God only entered the picture as a very minor player, and Jesus Christ was conspicuously absent.

The town of the talk

Friday, February 25th, 2005

The town of the talk shares a number of factoids about the Big Apple:

In the 1990s, immigrants flooded into New York in greater numbers and from more countries than ever before. The city’s population has reached an all-time high of 8.1m, and a higher proportion of its people — over 36% — are foreign-born than at any time since the 1920s. Los Angeles and Miami have an even larger proportion of immigrants, but New York’s are far more diverse. Over half of Miami’s new arrivals are Cuban, and over 40% of Los Angeles’ are Mexican. In New York, the Dominican Republic provides the biggest chunk of immigrants, with a share of 13%. China comes next with 9%, then Jamaica with 6%. No other country has more than 5%.


“Sex and the City” stars four young career women and is ostensibly about the difficulties of finding a man in New York. It has a point. According to an analysis for The Economist, there are 93 men to every 100 women among single New Yorkers aged 20-44. In the country as a whole, and in most other big cities, there are more young single men than young single women.

(As someone else pointed out, far from all of those 93 men are even interested in women…)

When I think New York, I don’t typically think safe and healthy, but I should:

New York is a strikingly healthy place to live, and was so long before Mr Bloomberg began to wage a war on smoking in 2002. Partly because there is no room for many cars — so New Yorkers are highly unlikely to be killed by them, and take more exercise — New York has the lowest mortality rate of all but three of America’ s 46 biggest cities.
Leave out the passengers and crew on the aeroplanes that were flown into the World Trade Centre, and about 2,600 people were killed in New York on September 11th 2001. Put that tragic number in perspective, and you can perhaps see how it is possible for New York to be a powerful magnet for talent, youth and energy once more. In 1990 there were 2,290 murders in the city; last year there were 566. Thus even if a September 11th were to occur every other year, the city would by one measure be quite a lot safer than it would be with crime at its 1990 level and no terrorism.

Psychedelic Medicine

Friday, February 25th, 2005

New Scientist magazine’s Psychedelic medicine: Mind bending, health giving traces the study of mind-altering drugs to their modern resurgence:

Scientists first became interested in psychedelic drugs — also called hallucinogens because of their profound effect on perception — after Albert Hofmann, a chemist working for the Swiss pharmaceutical firm Sandoz, accidentally swallowed LSD in 1943. Hofmann’s description of his experience, which he found both enchanting and terrifying, spurred scientific interest in LSD as well as naturally occurring compounds with similar effects: mescaline, the active ingredient of the peyote cactus; psilocybin, found in magic mushrooms; and DMT, from the Amazonian shamans’ brew ayahuasca.

At first, many scientists called these drugs ‘psychotomimetics’ because their effects appeared to mimic the symptoms of schizophrenia and other mental illnesses. However, many users rhapsodised about the life-changing insights they achieved during their experiences, so much so that in 1957, British psychiatrist Humphry Osmond proposed that the compounds be renamed ‘psychedelic’, from the Greek for ‘mind-revealing’. The term caught on, and psychiatrists started experimenting with the drugs as treatments for mental illness. By the mid-1960s, more than 1000 peer-reviewed papers had been published describing the treatment of more than 40,000 patients for schizophrenia, depression, alcoholism and other disorders.

A prominent member of this movement was Harvard psychologist Timothy Leary, who among other things tested whether psilocybin and LSD could be used to treat alcoholism and rehabilitate convicts. Although his studies were initially well received, Leary eventually lost his reputation — and his job — after he began touting psychedelics as a hotline to spiritual enlightenment. Leary’s antics helped trigger a backlash, and by the late 1960s psychedelics had been outlawed in the US, Canada and Europe. Unsurprisingly, clinical research ground to a halt, partly because obtaining the necessary permits became much more difficult, but also because few researchers were willing to risk their reputations studying demonised substances.

Outsourcing War

Friday, February 25th, 2005

P. W. Singer opens Outsourcing War with stories from the world of Private Military Firms (PMFs):

The tales of war, profit, honor, and greed that emerge from the private military industry often read like something out of a Hollywood screenplay. They range from action-packed stories of guns-for-hire fighting off swarms of insurgents in Iraq to the sad account of a private military air crew languishing in captivity in Colombia, abandoned by their corporate bosses in the United States. A recent African “rent-a-coup” scandal involved the son of a former British prime minister, and accusations of war profiteering have reached into the halls of the White House itself.

The Struggle to Transform the Military

Friday, February 25th, 2005

In The Struggle to Transform the Military, Max Boot cites the British example of how to run an empire:

Whether or not the United States is an “empire” today, it is a country with interests to protect and enemies to fight all over the world. There is no finer example of how to do this cheaply and effectively than the British Empire. In 1898, it maintained only 331,000 soldiers and sailors and spent only 2.4 percent of its GDP on defense, considerably less than the 3.9 percent the United States spends today. This puny investment was enough to safeguard an empire that covered 25 percent of the globe.

How to Get More Female Scientists

Thursday, February 24th, 2005

Virginia Postrel on How to Get More Female Scientists:

Biology has its own rules, which culture and technology can change only so much. One of those rules is that it’s really hard to get pregnant if you’re 40 but pretty easy to father a child at that age. Men postpone child rearing into their 40s with little consequence. Women cannot. That’s a problem for professional women in general, but it’s a much bigger problem for women on a tenure clock. And the later that tenure clock starts, the bigger a problem it is. That’s why an amibitous female scientist faces problems that an ambitious female lawyer doesn’t. Law school takes only three years; you’re out at 25, and only 27 if you spend a couple of years clerking for judges. Work like a dog for seven years, postponing any thought of kids, and you’re just 34. Your biological clock hasn’t yet run down.

If, however, you spend six years in grad school and another two as a postdoc, you’ll be 30 when you get your first tenure-track post–and that’s assuming you don’t work between college and grad school. I don’t have the numbers, but science training is notorious for stretching out the doctoral/postdoc process, in part because the researchers heading labs benefit from having all that cheap, talented help. Female scientists who want kids are in trouble, even assuming they have husbands who’ll take on the bulk of family responsibilities.

So, if a university like Harvard wants to foster the careers of female scientists, this is my advice: Speed up the training process so people get their first professorial jobs as early as possible–ideally, by 25 or 26. Accelerate undergraduate and graduate education; summer breaks are great for students who want to travel or take professional internships, but maybe science students should spend them in school. Penalize senior researchers whose grad students take forever to finish their Ph.D.s. Spend more of those huge endowments on reducing (or eliminating) teaching assistant loads and other distractions from a grad student’s own research and training. If you want more female scientists, ceteris paribus (as the economists say), stop extending academic adolescence.

Some Economists Say the President of Harvard Talks Just Like Them

Thursday, February 24th, 2005

In Some Economists Say the President of Harvard Talks Just Like Them, Virginia Postrel explains that “the habits of mind that made [Summers] a successful researcher — including the style and rhetoric that economists use when they talk to each other — help explain why he is now embroiled in controversy as president of Harvard”:

In lambasting his nonjudgmental, empirical approach to the question, opponents are not merely challenging Dr. Summers’s brash manner or his evaluation of the data. They are attacking the very method economists use to address social policy questions. And, not surprisingly, some of his most outspoken supporters are fellow economists.
Dispassionate hypothesis testing is particularly important for practical questions, because different explanations may imply different solutions. Take Dr. Summers’s argument that the primary barrier to women in science, as in other high-powered jobs, is that employers demand single-minded dedication to work. “They expect a large number of hours in the office, they expect a flexibility of schedules to respond to contingency, they expect a continuity of effort through the life cycle, and they expect — and this is harder to measure — but they expect that the mind is always working on the problems that are in the job, even when the job is not taking place.”

Married women, he argued, especially those with children, are far less likely than married men to put up with such demands.

For universities, this suggests the tenure clock for junior professors may hurt women who have young children in the same years they are expected to “publish or perish.”

Virginia Postrel uses the extra space provided by her own site to expand on how non-economists don’t understand how economists speak:

People with an emotional stake and without the disciplinary habits of separating “is” from “ought” get pissed. But there’s more to the story.

Take Summers’s use of the word “marginal,” a concept so central to modern economics that economists can hardly think without it. Even as a journalist who tries hard to avoid jargon, I know from personal experience that if you slip and say “marginal” rather than “additional” or “incremental” — the economic meaning — people will think you mean “unimportant,” “wasteful,” “worthless,” or just plain bad. If misunderstandings can happen in a speech on the economic importance of aesthetics as the absolutely critical “marginal value” that determines whether a good or service succeeds, imagine what happens when you’re talking about affirmative action.