Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Most Powerful Political Ad I've Seen

The Most Powerful Political Ad I've Seen

If this is the sort of ad that Brown ran in Massachusetts, I can see why he won!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Very Impressive, But Sobering

Very Impressive, But Sobering

It's a county-by-county map of unemployment rates
over the last couple of years.

I'm Impressed

I'm Impressed

The same crowd that is full of defenses and excuses for why the First Amendment protects virtual child pornography, flag burning, live sex shows, is all upset that it also protects political speech! Wow! What a stretch! Who would have ever guessed that the Framers intended it to protect political speech!



1. Open a new file in your computer.
2. Name it 'Barack Obama'.
3. Send it to the Recycle Bin.
4. Empty the Recycle Bin.
5. Your PC will ask you: 'Do you really want to get rid of 'Barack Obama?'
6. Firmly Click 'Yes.'

Feel better?

GOOD! - Tomorrow we'll do Nancy Pelosi!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Hans C. Ohanian Einstein's Mistakes

Hans C. Ohanian Einstein's Mistakes

Subtitled, "The Human Failings of Genius." This is a very different book. Nominally, it is about Einstein's many mistakes as a scientist. Okay, scientists are allowed to make mistakes--but Ohanian makes the point that some of Einstein's mistakes were because he was something of a mystic who started out with his destination firmly in mind--and then tried to make the physics and math fit his destination. Often as not, Einstein knew what the right answer was, and clumsily tried to fit the equations and the data to fit. When they didn't fit, he used a bigger hammer.

Ohanian also tells us a bit about Einstein's private life, some of which I knew (his frequent adultery) and much of which I did not. In a lot of ways, Einstein was the first rock star of scientists in terms of public attention and adulation--and it sounds like Einstein worked like a rock star when it came to women, too. There's a lot here that is surprisingly sleazy--like when he left his first wife for one of his cousins--and then, at the last moment, couldn't decide whether to marry this cousin he had been sleeping with--or her very pretty, very young daughter. (The daughter wasn't interested.)

There's a lot that is very disappointing, but perhaps unsurprising, all things considered. One of Einstein's sons, Hans Albert Einstein, became a prominent academic in his own right. Another had a schizophrenic breakdown while young, and spent the rest of his life in a Swiss mental hospital. Einstein apparently never visited or even wrote to his son for the last 25 years of Einstein's life.

The plus side of Ohanian's book is a very well done explanation of some of the big physics problems that lead to Einstein's work. I think this is the best explanation of the Michelson-Morley interferometer experiment that I think that I have read.

The down side is Ohanian's often quite distracting snarky remarks directed at evangelical Christians who, to hear Ohanian tell it, all think the Earth is 6000 years old. It is distracting, and likely to irritate a fair number of readers who might otherwise find the book a useful math-free introduction to Einstein's work.

New Law Review Article Up

New Law Review Article Up

David B. Kopel and Clayton E. Cramer, "State Court Standards of Review for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms," Santa Clara Law Review 50, pp. 1-110 (2010) (forthcoming). The abstract:
Cases on the right to arms in state constitutions can provide useful guidance for courts addressing Second Amendment issues. Although some people have claimed that state courts always use a highly deferential version of "reasonableness," this article shows that many courts have employed rigorous standards, including the tools of strict scrutiny, such as overbreadth, narrow tailoring, and less restrictive means. Courts have also used categoricalism (deciding whether something is inside or outside the right) and narrow construction (to prevent criminal laws from conflicting with the right to arms). Even when formally applying "reasonableness," many courts have used reasonableness as a serious, non-deferential standard of review. District of Columbia v. Heller teaches that supine standards of review, such as deferring to the mere invocation of "police power," are inappropriate in Second Amendment interpretation. This article surveys important state cases from the Early Republic to the present, and explains how they may be applied to the Second Amendment.
You can download it from the link above.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

I'm Done With CFLs

I'm Done With CFLs

Like almost everything that comes out of the environmental movement, they are a mixture of corrupt corporate dealings and fantasy.

I've previously mentioned the problems that I have had with CFLs in outdoor settings, where it is simply too cold for them to work reliably. But even the one area where I had some hope--that the purchase cost would be compensated for by their longer life as well as lower energy use--has turned out to be nonsense.

I bought a number of CFLs a few months after we moved into our current house in June of 2006. I bought some more in 2008. I have just replaced the fourth CFL--and in some cases, they are alongside the original incandescent bulbs that were installed in the house when it was built in late 2005.

I think I am going to buy a couple of the new LED light bulbs, and see if they last. I have some confidence. But the fact that environmentalists/corporate fatcats (pretty much the same thing) felt the need to pass a law to pretty much force us to stop buying incandescent bulbs shows how much hype is involved.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

"She Turned Me Into A Newt!"

"She Turned Me Into A Newt!"

While reading the Code of Hammurabi in preparation for Western Civ lectures this week, I was reminded of this gem from Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975). (Can anything top John Cleese's timing with the lines about his recovery?)

And why was I reminded of this? Because the notion that criminal justice relies upon the power of water to distinguish guilt from innocence is a lot older than I would have guessed:
If any one bring an accusation against a man, and the accused go to the river and leap into the river, if he sink in the river his accuser shall take possession of his house. But if the river prove that the accused is not guilty, and he escape unhurt, then he who had brought the accusation shall be put to death, while he who leaped into the river shall take possession of the house that had belonged to his accuser.
Okay, the polarity is reversed: Europeans believed that witches would not sink in water, while under the Code of Hammurabi, if the accused sinks, he's guilty. Still, it's interesting to see how far back some traditions go.



A reader points out the irony of it all: "Who would have guessed that that Air America would close before Gitmo?"

UPDATE: My reader tells me he saw it over at Tigerhawk, who also doesn't take credit for originating it.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Teaching Has Its Rewards

Teaching Has Its Rewards

Not generally financial rewards, but hey, I've got a full-time computer job so I can afford it.

Idaho taxpayers should be glad to know that you provided me with a stupendously nice and technologically sophisticated classroom in which to teach: the fruits of Western Civilization in which to teach Western Civilization! As near as I can tell, I can press a couple of buttons and feed the video projector from the desktop PC, from a laptop, from a DVD player, from a VCR--heck, probably straight from my cerebral cortex, if I was prepared to have it upgraded appropriately. (Yes, I'm using PowerPoint instead of torturing the students by expecting them to read my horrible scribbles on the blackboard.)

As part of my, "Why do we inflict history classes on you" lecture, I told my story about the woman from whom I used to get my ice cream cones--the one with the unfashionable tattoo: just the letter A and some numbers--and why history matters. As I mentioned some of the crimes of the Holocaust (before giving a brief summary of other atrocities of the twentieth century), I could see that some of the students were actually startled by what they were hearing. I know that a lot of kids are getting out of high school now with almost no awareness of the Holocaust., but I was a bit startled that some of them were startled.

It's The Little Details...

It's The Little Details...

That really make the news story! From the January 20, 2010 Kansas City Star:
A man who put a container on a pharmacy counter, claimed it was a bomb and demanded prescription drugs left after the pharmacist wielded a shotgun.


Kansas City, Kan., police said the robber today was a heavy-set, white male with short, gray hair and a beard and about 50 to 60 years old.
He drove an early 2000 model, four-door Ford Taurus that was either blue or gray with Johnson County tags.
Shotgun fire might have damaged the car’s right rear quarter panel, they said.
I would look for someone desperately seeking clean underwear, too.

Never bring a bomb to a gunfight.

Wow! Freedom of Speech Includes Political Speech!

Wow! Freedom of Speech Includes Political Speech!

The Supreme Court actually struck
down a big chunk of the McCain-Feingold Act, because it prevented political speech by corporations. While I have some genuine discomfort with the extent to which big money (from corporations and labor unions and interest groups) pollutes the political process, McCain-Feingold didn't actually solve this problem: it just strengthened the situation for the overwhelmingly leftist mass media.



Seen on Facebook:
Saw on the internet that Haiti is without a government. To help out, I am donating one Obama, one Pelosi, one Reid, one Frank, one Coakley and two Clintons! They may keep them permanently! I'd give them a constitution; but I can't find mine right now!

Very Nice Ego Stroke

Very Nice Ego Stroke

I did a search for my name through all the briefs filed in the McDonald v. Chicago suit, over at the website that Alan Gura has for it. There were more than a dozen briefs that cited my work--and not just briefs on our side. Even the other side was citing my work! I suppose that I better go back and see if they are accurately citing it.

More About That Annoying Bug

More About That Annoying Bug

I mentioned a few days ago the problem with my wife's PC. Using Process Explorer, I identified that the svchost.exe that was gobbling all the resources was launched by a device driver for an HP digital camera--one that we never connect to my wife's computer. I then removed all HP device drivers from her computer except the one for the HP Photosmart C6280 printer. And guess what? Now it works perfectly!

I don't know if the problem was that the device driver as delivered by HP had something wrong with it, or if a virus had somehow attached itself to it. But Process Explorer is a very useful tool!

Modal Dialog Boxes & Javascript

Modal Dialog Boxes & Javascript
I'm hoping one of you already knows the answer on this. Javascript has "confirm" function that puts up a modal dialog box that gives you the choice of "OK" or "Cancel" and returns true or false accordingly. That's fine for some things--but what you want to change the text to "Yes" or "No" or (let's get really extravagant here), you want to give the user three choices, and have a function that returns 0, 1, or 2?

I know that there must be a way to do this--but darned if I can figure it out. There's certainly a way to do this with the jQuery package, but in the grand tradition of the Internet, trying to find a simple example is pretty much impossible. No, it doesn't need to do fifteenzillion amazing things when you click on the buttons--I just need the ability to control the text for 2 or 3 buttons, and return to the caller a value indicating which button got pushed.

In C#, or Java, this would be trivial.

UPDATE: A reader pointed me to this solution, which looks perfect.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Victory For Brown

A Victory For Brown

I find myself wondering how much of this victory was a repudiation of Coakley's involvement in the Amirault case. Dorothy Rabinowitz has a detailed discussion of this tragedy here, and Coakley's insistence on keeping an obviously innocent man in prison because of the politics of feminist rage.

There were a lot of child sexual abuse cases in the 1980s that went completely insane. There is a lot of child sexual abuse, no question. There were cases in the period where what might have been actual child sexual abuse was so overwhelmed with utterly absurd and impossible coached statements by small children that we will never know what really happened: the McMartin Preschool case, for example.

There were others were prosecutors finally admitted that they were dealing with their own demons. One assistant D.A. in Minnesota, after having put a big chunk of the town under indictment or suspicion, finally admitted that she had not dealt with her abuse as a child. There was probably one actual victim in that case--but by the time she was done, she had destroyed whatever case there was.

I haven't kept track of the Wenatchee, Washington cases, but my impression was that if there was some actual child sexual abuse there, it was washed over in the hysteria that came out of it.

One of the cases that Janet Reno pursued in Miami was pretty clearly fabricated by "child advocates" who managed to coach children into pretty implausible accusations.

Some of the cases of that appear to have been completely and utterly false--like the Amirault case. This isn't a matter of, "The evidence was weak," but there was no physical evidence at all that should have been present if these claims by highly coached children was true.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Who Is It That Supports Gay Equal Rights?

Who Is It That Supports Gay Equal Rights?

Democrats? I was pleased to see that President Obama wasn't as stupid as he seemed--since he seems to have nothing more towards repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" than lip service. This article from the January 15, 2010 The Hill reminds us that what's holding up a change in policy is another Democrat:
The leading House Democrat on military policy said Friday that he opposes repealing the law that bans openly gay people from serving in the military.

Seventeen years ago, Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) played a major role in crafting the controversial law known as "Don't ask, don't tell." When President Bill Clinton wanted to lift the ban preventing gay people from joining the military, Skelton opposed the move. The end result was a compromise under which gay service members would conceal their sexual orientation.
As I pointed out last year, I have very mixed feelings about the ban on homosexuals serving in the military:
As I have said, there are doubtless a fair number of homosexuals in the military who are showing their love of country by going into the military--and staying there--even though the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy creates a very difficult situation for them. Those that put service to nation above their understandable personal desire to not have to live a lie deserve praise.
As I also pointed out last year, when linking to a piece by a closeted gay soldier:
I have my objections to allowing homosexuals into the military, but they aren't what you might think. I do not think that homosexuals can't be good soldiers. My guess is that the more bizarrely self-destructive homosexuals who make such a spectacle of themselves in the streets of San Francisco aren't inclined towards the kind of sacrifice and honor-driven behavior that Colorado Patriot describes. It's the same reason that Code Pink members aren't joining up, either.

As I mentioned several years ago, one of my concerns is that in some military settings, with all the requirements to obey orders, and limited opportunity to appeal a decision, it would be very easy to abuse authority--and I gave an example from the end of World War II, when the U.S. Navy had not yet formalized a prohibition on homosexuals in the service, and the nightmare that resulted on one ship. Yes, we have procedures to handle that sort of thing--but for the same reason that women in the military have been sometimes quite reluctant to file charges about rape, the problem will be substantially worse if the victim is a man.

I am concerned that a fair number of current members of the military, if put in a situation like that, might decide not to re-up, and many might decide not to join. How many? It's hard to say for sure, but if even 10% of the current population that is in, or considering going into the military, decided not to do so, it would be catastrophic, since homosexuals are only about 4-4.5% of the male population, and 1-2% of the female population. I don't find a 10% loss rate implausible, considering how traditional much of the population is that joins our military.

What concerns me most of all is this: homosexuals who are currently in the military under DADT are committed to the success of our military--even at some considerable personal sacrifice above and beyond the personal sacrifices that all members of the armed services undergo. They are having to watch what they say (like Colorado Patriot) to be in the service. Dropping DADT would, I fear, encourage a fair number of homosexual activists out to prove a point to enlist--and who would then insist that displays of affection, sex in the barracks, dressing in drag after hours, and other signs of...flamboyance...were part of gay culture. Would any of this set stay in the military, after making their point, and winning their lawsuits? Certainly not. But like the Goodridges, who won the right to marry in Massachusetts in 2003--and are now divorced--they would have done their damage, and gone on to destroy something else.
It's pretty clear that not just Republicans, but even Democrats, such as Rep. Skelton, are concerned about the possible consequences of repealing DADT. Those who insist on seeing homosexuality as a neat partisan divide are not playing straight about this.

A Unique Artistic Gift

A Unique Artistic Gift

My oldest sister is an artist out on the Oregon coast. She has turned a number of her water colors and charcoals into a line of note cards. If you are interested in having something that didn't come from the Hallmark store, or otherwise different, you might find these of interest. Here's a chance to put some money into the pockets of an American artist. (And yes, they are printed right here in the United States.)

Why Reward Obeying The Law?

Why Reward Obeying The Law?

Over the last few years, I've noticed that some of the most vigorous opponents of illegal immigration are legal immigrants--the ones that filled out the forms, asked permission to move to the United States, paid the fees. You know, those silly foreigners who actually obeyed the law. One of my Swedish co-workers at HP wore a T-shirt that asked, "What part of illegal didn't you understand?"

I have another friend who moved to the U.S. several years ago on an H-1B visa, working for Applied Materials as a Customer Engineer in the chip fab area. He loves it here, and sold his home in Britain. Shortly thereafter his wife and kids were able to legally join him in the U.S. (By "legally," I mean that they didn't sneak across the border, or overstay on a tourist visa.) Now, because of the general collapse of the economy, his job has evaporated, and if he doesn't find another employer to take him on under H-1B in the next 60 days--he and his family have to return to their home country. This will lead to enormous hardship because his house is underwater, there will be enormous costs to move back, and there are certain...items that can't go back to Britain. (Most regular readers of my blog will know that he is a member of our fraternity!)

This may not seem like a big deal--but Ronnie loves being in America. This is exactly the sort of immigrant that our laws are supposed to be encouraging: highly skilled workers with technical skills that are usually in short supply in this country who obeyed the laws to come here. If you are aware of any positions anywhere in the U.S. that might be able to justify hiring someone on an H-1B visa with chip manufacturing equipment experience, please get in touch with me, so that I can hook you two up.

An Incredibly Annoying Bug In Windows XP Home

An Incredibly Annoying Bug In Windows XP Home

And maybe in other versions of Windows as well. My wife's PC runs Windows XP Home--and for several months, she has been complaining about her computer locking up. I spent some time watching what she was doing, and it looked like the problem was that something was gobbling up processor time. But what?

It is pretty common for application memory leaks to slow down PCs. If you don't know what an application memory leak is... Most application programs use RAM to store information, such as your document, spreadsheet, video, whatever. The programs allocate memory from the heap in relatively small chunks, and return it as they are done with it. Applications sometimes fail to give those chunks back to the heap. An application that crashes may not give heap memory back, but the operating system should be smart enough to figure that out. (Not all are that smart, and I know that DOS certainly wasn't that smart--I would hope that Windows is.)

If enough memory "leaks," new programs that you start may start having to swap RAM in and out from the hard disk, through a process called virtual memory. This is much slower than operating entirely within RAM, and definitely slows a computer down. I thought that this was perhaps the problem that my wife was having, so I encouraged her to reboot her PC every couple of days, and see if this helped.

The problem became more severe in the last few days, and her frustration climbed with the severity of the problem--which sometimes locked her PC up so badly that we had to use the power switch to reboot. (This is not a good idea, but it is sometimes unavoidable.)

So I spent some time trying to figure out why CPU Usage was at 100% but we weren't doing anything. A bit of hunting around the Internet indicated that:

1. The spoolsv.exe service which spools print jobs, is sometimes infected with a nasty Trojan called backdoor.cia.b.html, and this causes the problem.

2. Sometimes the problem isn't a virus at all, but spooled print jobs for printers that aren't in actual use.

I dug around a bit and discovered that c:\windows\system32\spool\printers had a bunch of files in it, some from as far back as 2007, that seem to be print jobs that had never printed. I think that I must have reinstalled printer drivers a few times since then, and these were "orphaned" print jobs. The spoolsv.exe service was apparently still trying to print these orphaned print jobs to a printer that was no longer there.

Anyway, it is behaving better, but still not perfectly. I am wondering what other orphaned services there might be causing the slows.

UPDATE: Microsoft has a program called Process Explorer for Windows XP and Vista that provides a lot more information than the Task Manager. You can see not only the name of the guilty party (svchost.exe, in my case), but also who invoked it.

UPDATE 2: While I now think my wife's PC's problems are not related to the spooler issue, I find that there are a number of orphaned spool files on my computer as well. It's only about 30 MB of wasted space--but I can remember a time when a 30 MB hard disk was something PC owners had an aspirational target.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Astonishing Ruling From Federal Judge Irma Gonzalez

Astonishing Ruling From Federal Judge Irma Gonzalez

Don't get too excited quite yet. The case is Peruta v. San Diego. Peruta is challenging the refusal of the San Diego Sheriff to issue a concealed carry permit. Judge Gonzalez hasn't ruled on that argument yet--but she has rejected Sheriff Gore's initial claims, acknowledging that the Second Amendment protects an individual right, and apparently that because California prohibits open carry, there are limits to the authority of the state to regulate concealed carry. And she even cites such amazing cases as Nunn v. Georgia (1846) in defense of that argument.

More importantly, she acknowledges that this isn't a rational basis question--there's at least intermediate scrutiny as a standard of review involved:
The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment provides that no State shall deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, which is “essentially a direction that all persons similarly situated should be treated alike.” City of Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Ctr., 473 U.S. 432, 439 (1985) (citation omitted). “The general rule is that legislation is presumed to be valid and will be sustained if the classification drawn by the statute is rationally related to a legitimate state interest.” Id. at 440 (citations omitted). This general rule gives way, however, where a statute classifies by race, alienage, or national origin, or impinges on personal rights protected by the Constitution. Id. When that is the case, the challenged law is subjected to strict scrutiny and will be upheld only if it is “suitable tailored to serve a compelling state interest.” Id.
This has long been the problem with discretionary concealed weapon permit laws, such as California's--all that discretion inevitably leads to equal protection violations, because sheriffs and police chiefs don't even make a serious attempt at equal protection of the law on permit issuance. (Especially in the counties where big contributions to the sheriff's campaign has an astonishing overlap with permit issuance.)

To paraphrase Winston Churchill: "This is not the end. This is not even the beginning of the end. But it is assuredly the end of the beginning."

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Idaho's Budget

Idaho's Budget

Like many states, Idaho is having to confront the inevitable budget shortfall that comes from a declining national economy, reduced workers earning less income and paying less income tax, corporations earning less and paying less corporate income tax, and increases in costs for such things as unemployment insurance. It's never easy. Governor Otter managed to avoid cuts in education last year, but this year it doesn't look so encouraging.

I've been aware of a politician named Rex Rammel who is running for governor against Otter, but I didn't have much of an impression, positive or negative. Purportedly he's a conservative of some sort. Listening to him interviewed by Nate Shelman on KBOI AM 670 this evening Rammel certainly made an impression on me alright: and not a good one.

Rammel's position of how to deal with the budget shortfall is to eliminate the personal and corporate income taxes and increase sales tax rates as a way to create jobs. While I'm no fan of income taxes because they encourage a variety of manipulative and economical inefficient tax shelters, it is generally very high marginal rates that create this sort of idiocy. Federal income tax rates can be a real problem, because the marginal rates are high enough to make people do dumb things. But Idaho personal income tax rates (like most states) are pretty low. It is hard to imagine that our 8% state income rate is making much of a difference in how anyone in this state decides what investments to make, how many people to hire, what factories to build.

Even more absurd: because state income taxes are deductible on your Form 1040, Schedule A, those Idahoans in the top marginal state income tax bracket (as I was until last year) were reducing their federal income tax by 35-40% of their highest marginal state income tax rate. Eliminating the Idaho state income tax would put perhaps $5000 in the pocket of the top 5% of the state's income earners--but probably $2000-$2300 of it would end up paid as federal income tax, instead. The gain for the taxpayers, even for the high end Idaho taxpayers, isn't as impressive as it first sounds.

The notion that reducing personal and corporate state income taxes is going to be a big win for creating new jobs here, or moving existing jobs from other states, is really hare-brained. Yes, they do probably impair job growth a bit--but it is a minor factor when you consider how low the rates are. (At the federal level, it is a stronger argument, where the marginal rates are much higher.) In a thriving economy, there might be a stronger argument for eliminating these taxes to encourage growth--but the only thing growing in Idaho (and much of the rest of the country), is discouragement about jobs.

Increasing sales tax rates, while a pretty simple and economically efficient method of gathering revenues, is extraordinarily regressive--especially in a state where groceries are still subject to sales tax. I'm not a raving liberal bleeding heart, but people at the bottom of the economic scale are hardly in a position to pick up a bigger share of the state budget. Many of them are having trouble paying their rents and car payments.

Then Rammel proposed that the loss of about 1.25 billion dollars from our budget by eliminating these two taxes could be handled by turning all the public schools back to the local governments, and wiping out those parts of the state board of education handling K-12. Again, I am skeptical of the value of much of the centralized state bureaucracy, but I am very skeptical that's this is where most of the money being spent on public education in this state is going.

There's a case for pretty radical transformation of our education system, perhaps using vouchers to create more competition for schools. I just don't get the impression that Rammel has given much thought to what he is talking about.

Monday, January 11, 2010

I Really Don't Understand the Threats

I Really Don't Understand the Threats

How many other bloggers get threats to try and get them fired from their day jobs?

Oh Please, Get A Life

Oh Please, Get A Life

From the January 11, 2009 CNN:

(CNN) -- James Cameron's completely immersive spectacle "Avatar" may have been a little too real for some fans who say they have experienced depression and suicidal thoughts after seeing the film because they long to enjoy the beauty of the alien world Pandora.
On the fan forum site "Avatar Forums," a topic thread entitled "Ways to cope with the depression of the dream of Pandora being intangible," has received more than 1,000 posts from people experiencing depression and fans trying to help them cope. The topic became so popular last month that forum administrator Philippe Baghdassarian had to create a second thread so people could continue to post their confused feelings about the movie.
"I wasn't depressed myself. In fact the movie made me happy ," Baghdassarian said. "But I can understand why it made people depressed. The movie was so beautiful and it showed something we don't have here on Earth. I think people saw we could be living in a completely different world and that caused them to be depressed."
Like the cheesy 1960s horror film ads kept reminding the viewer: "Remember: it's only a movie."

Saturday, January 9, 2010

I Wonder: Are ED Prescribers Perhaps Missing This?

I Wonder: Are ED Prescribers Perhaps Missing This?

The abstract from a 2008 Journal of Nuclear Cardiology paper indicates that ED may be an indicator of something more serious:
The conditions that predispose patients to erectile dysfunction are substantially similar to the coronary artery disease risk factors, including diabetes mellitus, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, obesity, sedentary lifestyle, depression, age, and smoking. Because of these shared risks and overlapping pathophysiologic mechanisms, we designed this pilot study to address the hypothesis that the presence of coronary artery calcium, a known indicator of increased cardiac risk, is associated with erectile dysfunction.

Methods and Results. A prospective registry enrolled 9150 men who underwent multidetector computed tomography. Subjects supplied baseline data regarding demographic variables, coronary risk factors, and erectile dysfunction symptoms or lack thereof. The 2 groups then underwent computed tomography to screen for the presence or absence of coronary artery calcium. Subjects with erectile dysfunction were older, had higher triglyceride levels, had higher blood pressures, and were more likely to have measurable coronary artery calcification than men without erectile dysfunction (79% vs 58%,P<.001).

Conclusion. Erectile dysfunction is significantly associated with abnormal coronary artery calcification and, like peripheral arterial disease, might warrant consideration as a coronary artery disease risk equivalent.
The article itself is behind a paywall, but I presume that having taken demographic data on their sample into account, the significance indicates that it wasn't just because those suffering ED are older, more likely to have diabetes, etc., but that it is an indicator of likely coronary artery calcification. It does make me wonder: are men getting Viagra or Cialis prescriptions when perhaps someone should be doing the coronary artery calcification scan?

UPDATE: A reader pointed out that because these are prescription medications, you have to talk to a doctor to get them, who presumably checks for this sort of risk. Of course, all these spam emails I get offering these drugs "cheap" aren't requiring anyone to see a doctor. This is one of the arguments against a completely free market in prescription medications. I'm aware that there is an argument that if consumers didn't have to go to a doctor to get a prescription for antibiotics and other medicines, they would be cheaper--but there's the risks involved as well, such as the one I point out above, and breeding antibiotic resistant strains.

An Article I Couldn't Sell

An Article I Couldn't Sell

Climate Change

Back when I was an undergraduate, almost twenty years ago, I was contemplating that my doctoral dissertation in history would be something related to climate change and industrialization. In particular, I had long been curious about the coincidence of the Maunder Minimum, the decline of the Little Ice Age, and the rise of the Industrial Revolution.

The rise of the Little Ice Age coincided with the collapse of the Viking settlements in North America and Greenland, the decline of the Mississippian Mound Builder civilization, the collapse of the Anasazi culture in the Southwest, and the sudden arrival of the Aztecs from the Southwest into the Valley of Mexico. The expansion of Genghis Khan into Asia is also about the same period. The sudden cooling associated with the Little Ice Age—and the corresponding changes in rainfall—might well explain this curious coincidence of cultural transformations starting in the 1200s around the globe.

I have therefore always been a bit surprised at how rapidly the anthropogenic global warming (AGW) hypothesis went from “possible” to “no doubts allowed.” I have sufficient awareness of the history of climate change and its effects on human beings to wonder if a solar cycle induced warming trend caused the Industrial Revolution—not the other way around. A warming climate in Britain, by increasing crop yields, might have allowed more leisure time for troublemakers like Newcomen and Watt to invent the steam engine, which led directly to increased utilization of coal and other fossil fuels.

I have long suspected that the AGW believers were driven by a certain level of self-satisfied certitude that prevented them from looking seriously enough at alternative models. While I had my suspicions about the politicians involved in this, I assumed that most of the scientists were pawns in a larger game intended to benefit financial speculators in carbon credit trading.

After reading this dump of documents, I’m much less prepared to accept them as pawns. I started picking emails at random from the CRU dump--and I'm astonished at how McCarthyite some of it is. For example, this email from Tom Wigley to Rick Piltz suggesting that someone should work on getting the University of Wisconsin to reassess the granting of a Ph.D. to a scientist who Wigley decided was a problem for the true faith:
You may be interesting in this snippet of information about Pat Michaels. Perhaps the University of Wisconsin ought to open up a public comment period to decide whether Pat Michaels, PhD needs re-assessing? “Michaels' PhD … dealt with statistical (regression-based) modeling of crop-climate relationships. In his thesis, Michaels claims that his statistical model showed that weather/climate variations could explain 95% of the inter-annual variability in crop yields. Had this been correct, it would have been a remarkable results. Certainly, it was at odds with all previous studies of crop-climate relationships, which generally showed that weather/climate could only explain about 50% of inter-annual yield variability.

In Michaels' regressions he included a trend term. This was at the time a common way to account for the effects of changing technology on yield. … In other words, Michaels' claim that weather/climate explains 95% of the variability is completely bogus.

Apparently, none of Michaels' thesis examiners noticed this. We are left with wondering whether this was deliberate misrepresentation by Michaels, or whether it was simply ignorance.
Even assuming that Wigley is correct, and Michaels’ doctoral work was flawed, Wigley admits that at the time this was “a common way to account for the effects of changing technology on yield.” How could this be done this out of “ignorance,” while Wigley also admits that it was common practice at the time? Trying to get someone's Ph.D. revoked under such conditions is positively McCarthyite—and really shows how intent Wigley was on trying to destroy Michaels’ livelihood and standing as a scientist.

Here are two other emails that together really impress me with their dishonesty. In a September 29, 2009 email from Michael Mann at PSU to Andrew Revkin, a New York Times environmental reporter, Mann says: “Skepticism is essential for the functioning of science. It yields an erratic path towards eventual truth. But legitimate scientific skepticism is exercised through formal scientific circles, in particular the peer review process. A necessary though not in general sufficient condition for taking a scientific criticism seriously is that it has passed through the legitimate scientific peer review process. those such as McIntyre who operate almost entirely outside of this system are not to be trusted.”

And yet on July 8, 2004, Phil Jones wrote to Michael Mann: “The other paper by MM is just garbage - as you knew. De Freitas again. Pielke is also losing all credibility as well by replying to the mad Finn as well - frequently as I see it. I can't see either of these papers being in the next IPCC report. Kevin and I will keep them out somehow - even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is !”

So those who operate outside the peer review process are not to be trusted—and if need be, Professor Phil Jones will change the definition of peer-reviewed literature to keep peer reviewed papers from being considered. Perhaps Professor Mann responded to Professor Jones with an indignant note about the importance of the “legitimate scientific peer review process” and it just wasn’t included in this dump—but the overall tone of many of these emails is the scientific equivalent of Chicago politics.

Imagine If a Republican Had Been This 1948

Imagine If a Republican Had Been This 1948

From the January 9, 2010 Washington Post:

WASHINGTON – The top Democrat in the U.S. Senate apologized on Saturday for comments he made about Barack Obama's race during the 2008 presidential bid.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada described then-Sen. Barack Obama as "light skinned" and "with no Negro dialect." Obama is the nation's first African-American president.

"I deeply regret using such a poor choice of words. I sincerely apologize for offending any and all Americans, especially African-Americans for my improper comments," Reid said in a statement released after the excerpts were reported on the Web site of The Atlantic.

I'm reminded of Joe Biden's remarks during the presidential campaign:
"I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy," Biden said.
Clean? And Obama even knows how to wear clothes and not chase white women other than his wife for sex! (Unlike a certain white President who wanted to be remembered as America's "first black President," and did have some problems about chasing white women other than his wife for sex.)

I am always amazed at the incredibly insensitive and arguably racist stuff that prominent Democrats get away with--while continually raging about the racism of Republicans.

DVD Encryption

DVD Encryption

I bought a DVD from which I would like to extract about 15 minutes of video for my class. (Yes, I could use the segments that appear on the menu, but that's a bit more time than I would like to spend, and it's clumsy interrupting it in the middle.) There is no shortage of tools out there that will copy DVD to a disk file, breaking the copy protection schemes. But the problem is that most of them don't work very well.

DVD Encrypter is a popular freeware program--but it produces video with no audio. There are reportedly some ways around this, but they seem clumsy.

The is something called Smart Ripper--but it seems to have the same problem.

There are several variants of something called DVD-TO-MPEG which does what the name suggests--but very, very slowly.

I could, I suppose, test all eight zillion such programs, and eventually find one that works. But I am hoping one of you has experience in this area, and can recommend one that actually works.

If I don't find a solution, I'll just play it in my DVD player, and feed the RCA jack output into my video capture box--but that seems so...clumsy, when the DVD is already digital.

UPDATE: A number of readers suggested using HandBrake to convert the output of DVD Decrypter into something that ULead Video Studio can use. But HandBrake's output seems to be a file format that ULead can't read.

A couple of readers like DVDShrink--but at least with the default settings, it seems to produce the same no audio result as DVD Decrypter. I am starting it with some different audio settings to see if that solves it.

AVS Video Converter
takes the output of DVD Decrypter and converts it to an MPEG. It seems to work (although it takes a while, unsurprisingly). The trial version puts a watermark on the beginning of the output, which wouldn't be a big obstacle, since I am not going to use the very beginning, but the registration fee is only $59 for a lifetime license, so I will probably buy it, if I can't find a free solution.

There is a tool called CloneDVD recommended by another reader, which is $69.95. This appears to be a one step process, and miht be worth spending the extra $10 just for that reason.

If the KKK Came Up With This...

If the KKK Came Up With This...

We would be appropriately furious at the combination of gutting of important classes and the presumption that only white kids are smart enough to take science classes. But progressive sorts are doing it to help blacks and Hispanics. Eric over at Classical Values pointed to this article from the December 23, 2009 East Bay Express about Berkeley High School idiocy:

Berkeley High School is considering a controversial proposal to eliminate science labs and the five science teachers who teach them to free up more resources to help struggling students.

The proposal to put the science-lab cuts on the table was approved recently by Berkeley High's School Governance Council, a body of teachers, parents, and students who oversee a plan to change the structure of the high school to address Berkeley's dismal racial achievement gap, where white students are doing far better than the state average while black and Latino students are doing worse.

Paul Gibson, an alternate parent representative on the School Governance Council, said that information presented at council meetings suggests that the science labs were largely classes for white students. He said the decision to consider cutting the labs in order to redirect resources to underperforming students was virtually unanimous.

There's more commentary at Classical Values.

Oh yes, here's another one of those progressive proposals that essentially says that progressives believe minorities are too stupid to compete with whites. From the January 6, 2010 Chicago Sun-Times:

The Chicago Police Department is seriously considering scrapping the police entrance exam to bolster minority hiring, save millions on test preparation and avert costly legal battles that have dogged the exam process for decades, City Hall sources said Tuesday.

If the process is opened to everyone who applies and meets the minimum education and residency requirements, Chicago would be virtually alone among major cities. Most cities have police entrance exams -- and for good reason, experts say.

Ya think? I'm reminded of the results when Washington D.C.'s police department decided that requiring cadets to pass their final exams was racist, so they stopped requiring that--and produced a lot of cops who could not produce police reports useful for prosecuting crimes.

And this January 5, 2010 Denver Post article just frosts me:

Black public-school students in Colorado are nearly three times as likely to face serious discipline as their white peers, a disparity that is persistently growing despite efforts to curb it.

In the 2008-09 school year, about 70,000, or 8.5 percent, of the state's 818,000 students were suspended, expelled or disciplined for being disruptive, according to a Denver Post analysis of newly released data. Reasons ranged from drug, weapon and alcohol infractions to disobedient and detrimental behavior, the most common — and subjective — reasons.

But while black students make up just 5.9 percent of the student population, they were the subject of 12.7 percent of the discipline cases, up from 11.7 percent five years ago. White students, who were about 61 percent of the population, were the subject of 46.8 percent of discipline cases.

Latino students make up 28.4 percent of the population and were involved in 37 percent of discipline cases, another persistent gap.

Expressed as a rate, 18 of every 100 black students and 11 of 100 Latino students faced serious discipline, compared with 6.5 out of 100 white students and 8.5 of 100 students overall.

In the Colorado Springs 11 district, 31 percent of black students were suspended, expelled or disciplined last year. The district's student population is 11 percent black.

"It's discouraging," said Mike Poore, deputy superintendent for the Colorado Springs 11 school district.

"On expulsion, suspension, achievement, we have not closed the gap. We should be called out for that, I guess. We're working hard to make changes."

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Aristocrats, Then & Now (Part 2)

Aristocrats, Then & Now (Part 2)

Others have pointed out that Henry VIII's prohibition of poor people having handguns was not so much driven by hostility towards these new weapons, but a desire to get the militia practicing with the more practical weapon: the longbow:
In the sixteenth century we meet with heavy complaints respecting the disuse of the long bow. In the reign of Henry VIII. three several acts were made for promoting the practice of shooting with the long bow; one prohibiting the use of the cross-bows and hand-guns; another was occasioned by a complaint from the bowyers, fletchers or arrow makers, stringers, and arrow-head makers, stating that many unlawful games were practised in the open fields, to the detriment of the public morals and the great decay of archery. These games were, therefore, strictly prohibited by parliament, and a third act followed, which obliged every man, being the king's subject, to exercise himself in shooting with the long bow, and also to keep a bow with arrows continually in his house. Fathers and guardians were also commanded to teach the male children the use of the long how, and to have at all times bows provided for them as soon as they arrived at the age of seven years. Masters were ordered to find bows for their apprentices, and to compel them to learn to shoot with them upon holidays, and at every other convenient time. [Remains, Historical and Literary, Connected With The Palatine Counties of Lancaster and Chester 41[part 2]:459 (1856)]
Oh yes: the law subsidized the longbow, so that everyone could afford it.

I've just finished reading Barbara Tuchman's A Distant Mirror, which I highly recommend, but I thought that I would share another nugget of how aristocrats never seem to change. As you are doubtless aware, one of the big differences between England and France during the Hundred Years War was that the English relied much more heavily on the longbow and peasant infantrymen to shoot them. Tuchman makes rather a point of how the French were still so wrapped up in their fantasy of chivalry that they were unprepared to see the utility of their peasants in warfare, except as servants, suppliers of food, men to humiliate, and women to rape (and vice versa for a few nobles).

The Battle of Crecy (1346) and even more so, the Agincourt (1415), demonstrated the foolishness of this approach. Those peasant English archers were quite effective because if you were practiced with it, you could unleash an incredible storm of arrows with an effective range of hundreds of yards from the longbow. But to be practiced, you needed to let your archers have those longbows available to them. By comparison, the French, when they deigned to make any use of peasant infantrymen, were issuing them crossbows. In theory, the crossbow is a formidable weapon because it is so powerful. But the range wasn't so impressive, and the French nobility weren't generally thrilled about confronting uppity peasants if they were armed. Consequently, in much of this period, crossbows were issued by the government to peasants for war--but they weren't generally left in "unreliable" hands.

The series of disasters during the Hundred Years War (of which Crecy was one of many) finally seemed to have taught the French aristocrats a lesson that the English aristocrats knew. (And those English aristocrats weren't any nicer; they just needed the peasants to help them beat impudent French knights on the battlefield.) Tuchman describes how in the last quarter of the 14th century:
In a renewed effort to train archers, an ordinance was issued prohibiting games. Tennis, which the common people were adopting in imitation of the nobles, and soules, a form of field hockey popular with the bourgeois and seldom played without broken bones, as well as dice and cards, were banned in the hopes of encouraging practice in archery and the crossbow. The was the same effort Charles V had made in 1368 and it shows that the rulers were acutely conscious of the failure of French archery.

Skills were not lacking; the trouble was that French tactics did not allow archery an essential place. Combined action of archers and knights was not adopted; crossbow companies were hired and barely used. The reason was clearly a mixture of contempt for the commoner and fear for chivalry's primacy in battle. By 1393 the added fear of insurrection caused the new ordinance to have a short life. After a period during which practice with the bow and crossbow became very popular, the nobles insisted that the ban on games be revoked, fearing that the common people would gain too effective a weapon against the noble estate. [p. 519]
It is worth noting that the Jacquerie Rebellion of 1358 was put down with considerable brutality--perhaps simplified by both the limited weaponry of the French peasants, as well as their lack of experience fighting. Perhaps there's a message for our aristocrats today: at least part of what drove that uprising was exorbitant taxes that the nobles imposed on the peasants, but didn't bother to impose on themselves. (Like Leona Helmsley, "only little people pay taxes.")

Monday, January 4, 2010

Stored Procedures

Stored Procedures

I am writing Informix SQL stored procedures at work right now. (Make that Deformix SQL--they seem to have twisted the definition of SQL in ugly ways.) I decided to write automated regression tests for these procedures before I started trying to test and debug the whole collection--and I'm glad that I did.

I found as I wrote detailed unit tests that there were bugs in the code that were easier to find and fix through unit test, rather than all at once. I also found situations that I found in unit test that would have been a lot harder to figure out as a complete process. For example, I discovered that there were customer records that did not have a corresponding record in the customer account table. Anyway, I think the net effect is that writing the unit tests before testing everything is more efficient.

These Judges Should Be Ashamed Of Themselves

These Judges Should Be Ashamed Of Themselves

I've been reviewing state supreme court decisions on what standard of review they apply to the right to keep and bear arms, and many of these decisions just show what dishonest hypocrites sit on many of these benches. They find that the right to keep and bear arms guaranteed by the state constitution is a fundamental human right--but then refuse to apply the standard of review that they use for freedom of speech, or of the press, such as State v. Cole (Wisc. 2003).

Or cases such as Robertson v. City and County of Denver (Colo. 1994), where they refuse to answer the question of whether the right is fundamental, and then say that it doesn't matter, because there only has to be a "reasonableness" standard applied. In practice, "reasonableness" merely means that public officials swear up and down that they believe that it will make their city safer. They don't have to actually provide any evidence to support their claim.

If you don't see the absurdity of this, consider if Wisconsin or Denver had banned adult entertainment (like strip joints), based on the claim of public officials (without any particularly persuasive evidence) that such businesses caused an increase in rape rates, and that banning such bookstores would make the city a bit safer. Would either the Colorado or Wisconsin Supreme Courts have held that freedom of expression could be regulated based on whether such a law met a "reasonableness" standard?

I'm not arguing that such businesses cause an increase in rape rates, and therefore should be banned for that reason. (Nor do I find it implausible if there is such a causal connection.) But I do argue that if genuine belief by public officials is all that is required to justify a gun ban, then there are gobs of other limitations of constitutionally protected rights that would not survive that standard of review--and where there is an equally valid basis to suspect some connection (even if slight) between liberty and crime.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

If You Have To Ask The Price...

If You Have To Ask The Price...

You can't afford it. The latest print catalog from Orion Telescopes arrived, and offered 36", 40", and 50" reflectors. And no, the print catalog coyly avoided listing the prices. The price tags vary from $55,600 to $123,000--and curiously enough, shipping is promised directly from "the North American factory."

Yes, a little out of my price tag.

If you want evidence that America is a wealthier country than it was when I was young--telescopes this size used to be considered world class research tools that only the very largest and most well-funded universities would own.

Chinse: Ideographic or Phonetic?


I mentioned a couple of days ago
my attempts to figure out: Is Chinese ideographic or phonetic? The responses that I received indicate that while the vast majority of Chinese is ideographic, it is possible to use some ideographs to indicate sounds--and for foreign words that can't be translated into an equivalent Chinese ideograph (say, Oklahoma), Chinese uses those ideographs that can be used to indicate a sound to do so.

Another reader who had taken a year of Chinese at the college level told me that while there are some phonetic marks associated with the root character for various ideographs, the marks don't really match up to the sound of the spoken language very well (at least in whatever spoken form of Chinese he was learning). This is really no surprise. English has a similar problem. I have read that this was caused partly because one of the first printers of books in English, Caxton, hired a bunch of Dutch typesetters, and partly because of the Great Vowel Shift that took place during the fifteenth through eighteenth centuries. (And wouldn't you know it--there's a website devoted to the Great Vowel Shift.)

Another reader who knows Chinese indicates that it is actually a combination of pictographics, ideographs, phonetics, and "other." A native speaker contacted me and also indicated that it is a mix of pure pictographs, ideographs, combinations of the two, and phonetic symbols.

In any case, it seems abundantly clear to me that written Chinese is in part an ideographic language. I fear that at least some of the vigorous insistence (contrary to near all evidence) that it is phonetic (rather than admit that it is a mixture of several different symbol types) is based on a fear that someone might regard it as "backward" because of the ideographs. That's just bizarre to me.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Writing Stored Procedures In SQL

Writing Stored Procedures In SQL

The question that I had about LIKE with global variables in SQL is pretty much a non-issue now. The more work I did on this translation from 4GL to SQL, the global variables that had been used in 4GL became less and less relevant to the code. Global variables are sometimes necessary, in some languages more than others, but when you can find a way to make them go away completely--all the better.

I also had my second occasion to do some Java work--although in this case, fiddling with Java beans. Still, at least there's a debugger in Java. SQL debugging under Informix is perilously close to printf.

Someone Who Reads Chinese?

Someone Who Reads Chinese?

I am at something of an impasse. I have traditionally read the claim that Chinese is an ideographic language--where the characters are abstractions of pictographs, representing various concepts, as opposed to a phonetic representation of the spoken word. One of the claims associated with this is that the Chinese character for "trouble" shows two symbols for "woman" under a single roof. This web page claims that is nonsense.

This web page claims that Chinese characters are not ideographic:
Among the most egregious of the radical errors in this statement is the use of the exotic term "Ideogram" to refer to Chinese characters. Linguists and writing theorists avoid "ideogram" as a descriptive referent for hanzi (Mandarin) / kanji (Japanese) / hanja (Korean) because only an exceedingly small proportion of them actually convey ideas directly through their shapes. (For similar reasons, the same caveat holds for another frequently encountered label, pictogram.)
This excerpt from John DeFrancis' The Chinese Language: Fact and Fancy (University of Hawai'i Press, 1984) explicitly rejects the ideographic claim, and says that the characters are phonetic:
Chinese characters are a phonetic, not an ideographic, system of writing, as I have attempted to show in the preceding pages. Here I would go further: There never has been, and never can be, such a thing as an ideographic system of writing. How then did this concept originate, and why has it received such currency among specialists and the public at large?

Origin of the Myth

The concept of Chinese writings as a means of conveying ideas without regard to speech took hold as part of the chinoiserie fad among Western intellectuals that was stimulated by the generally highly laudatory writings of Catholic missionaries from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries.
Now, this would seem like a pretty easy question to answer, one that would not admit of much room for confusion: are Chinese characters phonetic representations of words, or are they ideographs? And yet a lot of people, including Chinese native speakers, seem to be saying that they are not phonetic representations at all. Here's a recent scholarly book: Yingjie Guo,
Cultural Nationalism in Contemporary China: The Search for National Identity
. It is pretty clearly arguing that the struggle over romanization of Chinese is a struggle between a phonetic approach vs. an ideographic approach:
Latinization is a cul-de-sac, as it is confronted with many insoluble problems. Besides, the Chinese script is not backward. To be considered as such does not depend on whether a language is phonetic or ideographic but whether it is able to fully express the thoughts and feelings of the nation that uses it.
This web site by a native speaker clearly holds that Chinese is an ideographic language.

And this page tells a story that suggests that some characters are pictographic/ideographic, but most are not:

Generally, Chinese characters fall into four categories in view of their origin.
Pictograms (Xiang4 xing2 zi4)

Pictograms are the earliest characters to create, and they usually reflect the shape of physical objects. Examples include the sun, the moon, a woman, fire. From this picture-drawing method, the other character forming principles were subsequently developed. Over a long history, pictograms have evolved from irregular drawing into a definite form, most simplified by losing certain strokes to make ease of writing. Therefore, to see the actual picture of what it represents, you must have a lot of imagination as well as knowledge of the origin of the character and its evolution. However, only a very small portion of Chinese characters falls into this category, not more than 5 percent.
Ideograph (Zhi3 shi4 zi4)

Also called a simple indicative, Ideograph usually describes an abstract concept. It’s a combination of indicators, or adds an indicator to a pictograph. For example, a short horizontal bar on top of a circular arc represents an idea of up or on top of. Another example: placing an indicative horizontal bar at the lower part of a pictogram for wood, makes an ideograph for “root”. Like pictograms, the number of this category is also small, less than 2 percent.
Logical aggregates (Hui4 yi4 zi1)

It is a combination of pictograms to represent a meaning, rather like telling a little story. A pictograph for person on the left with a pictogram for wood on the right makes a aggregate for “rest”. This story-telling formation is relatively easier to learn, yet most of aggregates have been reformed into phonetic compounds, or just replaced by them.
Pictophonetic compounds (Xing2 sheng1 zi4)

Also called semantic-phonetic compounds, just as the name implies, it combines a semantic element with a phonetic element, taking the meaning from one and the phonetics from the other. For instance, the character for ocean with a pronunciation of yang2 is a combination of a semantic classifier which means “water” with the phonetic component yang2, referring to goat or sheep on its own. This last group of characters is the largest in modern Chinese, making up around 90% of all Chinese characters.

The superiority of phonetic-compounds over the first three categories lies in its unique phonetic components, for many an object and concept are hard to express through photographs or ideograms, and its association with the character pronunciation helps Chinese vocabulary extends much faster than logical aggregates. Therefore, most newly created characters take this more scientific formation approach.

However, over the centuries evolution, the Chinese language has undertaken such a great change, that most pictophonetic compounds don’t pronounce as its phonetic elements any longer, and the semantic components appear even not relevant to its current meaning. Only when knowing the origin and evolution of the character, you can understand its formation. For example, the phonetic-compound for cargo or goods takes the character for shell as the semantic element, and that’s because shells used to be a medium of exchange in ancient China, like the currency.

When my wife was working on her M.A. in English, one of the students in one of her classes was from mainland China. He told the class that the Communist government had simplified the written language such that it was difficult for even well-educated Chinese to read some of the 16th century poets. If Chinese is a phonetic language, this doesn't make much sense.

To say that I am confused doesn't even begin to describe it. Japanese, for example, uses a mixture of kanji (Chinese-origin characters) and kana (a phonetic alphabet). I would really appreciate someone who is a native speaker of Chinese telling me what the story is--and why this is a subject of such confusion.

In case you are wondering: the various phonetic alphabets of the world appear to have developed from Proto-Canaanite pictographs (which are pictures of objects) into Phoenician phonetic symbols. The pictograph of a camel becomes the sound that starts out the Phoenician word gimel, from which our letter G comes, and the Greek gamma, and Cyrillic, and to my surprise--even East Indian written languages such as Sinhalese, by way of the Brahmic scripts. Egyptian hieroglyphics, for example, look like pictographs, but were actually phonetic; the sound associated with the object pictured was just like that G sound in gimel.

If Chinese is a phonetic representation, then why does it have thousands of characters? There aren't thousands of sounds (even with all those tones). If it is a mixed language, like Japanese, with both ideographs and phonetic symbols, why is there so much argument that it is not ideographic?