Friday, July 30, 2010

Of Organ Donors and 'Words (reposted from elsewhere 10/23/07)

I'm what you could call a "magazinaholic," or "readaholic." I read lots and lots of magazines, and an occasional book. Right now, when I get the chance, I'm reading The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell, about... well, the subtitle is "How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference." For clarification, "tipping point" can be another way of saying "the straw that broke the camel's back."

Anyhow, recently I read a special edition of Scientific American magazine, which I buy when something on the cover catches my eye. This special edition, titled Scientific American: Mind, has articles like "Psychology of eBay" (we shouldn't be so trusting of strangers we don't know and can't see, and yet we are), "Preventing Dropouts," and "How Words Shape Thought."

That last one really stuck with me: it's about how almost everyone who wants to shape people's thought patterns or catch people's attention will do so with careful attention to the words they choose to make their points. One example is ex-US President George W. Bush using the phrase "death tax" in his campaign to abolish what is actually an inheritance tax. By calling it a "death tax," he gained support from people who have little to leave as an inheritance for the ending of a tax that only those US residents inheriting money have to pay. Bush didn't make it clear that this was not a penalty tax on survivors but a tax on interited income. And, of course, Bush did not disclose that sometime soon he himself would have to pay this tax if something were to happen to his father. Conflict of interest, anyone? :roll:

Another example was "opt-in" vs. "opt-out" policies for organ donation. In many countries, people who renew their driver's licenses are asked if they want to be an organ donor. In opt-out countries like Belgium or France, where the default is that you are an organ donor, the effective rate of participation approaches 100%, while in opt-in countries like the US and the Netherlands, where you have to explicitly sign a form to donate, the percentage hovers in the twenties.

I'm sure there are those who would screech about freedom and rights and such, but in light of the thousands of people who stay on transplant lists for years while perfectly healthy people who could donate do not, policy makers in this country and elsewhere should think about changing to an opt-out policy. After all, we all have to opt-out to stop receiving postal mail or email that we didn't even ask for, so what's the big deal about making organ donation an opt-out process? It would make many more organs available, and thus prolong and even save lives -- people wouldn't be forced to donate, but many times more people would be checked to see if they're suitable than are being checked now.

I had my kidney transplant three years ago, but if a relative hadn't volunteered to donate, who knows where I'd be now?

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Dragging BP through the mud

I never understood how BP figured that "top kill" thing could work. They had to drill through solid rock in order to get to the oil, which was under pressure. Drilling through the rock relieved the pressure, thus creating a gusher. Did they really think that, with mud and machines, they could exceed the underground pressure pushing the oil up in the first place?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

So much commotion over drawings

Facebook and Youtube are now blocked to Web users in Pakistan because of a Facebook campaign to draw caricatures of the prophet Muhammad, a no-no in Islam. (Culture Wars vs. Censorship: What's a Social Network to Do? from But what's all the fuss? Draw Muhammad Ali, or Ali Shaheed Muhammad, or Eddie Mustafa Muhammad. Draw Matthew Saad Muhammad, or Dwight Muhammad Qawi. (I know my examples are loaded with boxers, but so what?) Probably not what the organizer had in mind, but the contest is titled simply Everybody Draw Muhammad Day. It doesn't specify which Muhammad...

Friday, March 12, 2010

Do your homework,

Recently I was re-reading the Writer's Yearbook 2010 issue of Writer's Digest magazine, and saw an ad for a word-processing program targeted for professional writers. In trying to distinguish the program from both open-source programs like Open Office, and from online writing solutions like Blogspot, they made a wild leap of disconnected logic, as thus:
Unlike Open Source, iQ Word is an installed program in your computer. No link to the Internet is required.
Once more, for the class:
  • Open Source has nothing to do with the program's installation. Open Source simply means the program's source code is made public so that anyone with knowledge of the program's operation can fix bugs, add features, and so on.
  • Installation, in this context, refers to whether a program places files in the Windows or Windows/System directories, or if it makes changes to the Windows Registry. is a suite of open source programs, but it is fully installed in your computer, if you install the full program. There is also the no-install version -- one that does NOT create files in the Windows or System directories, or make changes to the registry -- that can be kept on a USB drive or a CD for use in whatever computer one comes across;
  • Blogger,, Google Docs, and other online writing systems require an online connection.