Sunday, January 17, 2010

Picked up on oklo. w00t!

Greg Laughlin ( presents an excellent summary of the paper Kevin Apps and I published last year on the topic of the metal content of red dwarf stars and the associated implications for our understanding of exoplanets. Kevin and I presented these results in D.C. at the AAS meeting earlier this month.


Saturday, January 16, 2010

Are you ready for some (pixelated) football?

I got the old Playstation (first edition) out of the closet and Owen and I have been playing Madden '99 (yes, as in 1999). I've been letting Owen play the AFC Allstars and I've been the pre-Warner Rams.

The graphics are pretty simple, but the game is still a lot of fun to play. Today, Owen beat me 35-28. On one of the plays the prerecorded John Madden remarked: "To effectively stop the running back you have to hit him on his side of the line of scrimmage." On a separate play, after a pass was broken up, he had this wisdom to offer: "To break up the pass you have to stop the ball from ever getting to the receiver."

Funny, I don't remember Madden being that insightful in real life.

Other highlights: Owen had no pass attempts but ran the ball 50 times for 427 yards with Terrell Davis setting the all-time NFL single-game rushing record.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

More on strange math

As pointed out by Marshall in the comments, states without bans on gay marriage have shown much larger decreases in the divorce rate than states that have prohibited gay marriage. Of course, correlation does not equal causation, but as Nate Silver points out at, in the face of these data one certainly cannot say that gay marriage is detrimental to straight marriage. The evidence of society's imminent downfall are not in the stats...

Not that there was really any doubt about this outcome. Straight people have been doing a perfectly good job of messing up marriages for years before gay people even thought about taking vows. Just ask Karl Rove. In case anyone forgot, Rove was the political strategist that put the fight over gay marriage at the forefront of the GOP agenda a decade ago as part of the "culture war." From his statement about his divorce: "the family requests that its privacy be respected." So when straight people get divorced, it's a personal matter and we should leave them alone. But when two gay people want to get married, it has to be put on a ballot measure.

Note: Thanks everyone for your thoughtful comments on the last post. This is all part of my effort to write about more than my kids. Not that there won't be more cute pictures and videos. We have plenty of that to post soon. It's just that we don't want to end up as those parents who can't think of anything to talk about other than Owen's latest exploits at school or the color of Marcus' poo :)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The strange math of marriage protection

I've been following along with the Federal Court case for marriage equity (Perry v. Schwarzenegger, 3:09-02292, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California). Since it's not on TV or even allowed on Youtube, I've been following along via a live-blogging session here. It's pretty riveting stuff. Here's a snippet of testimony from one of the plaintiffs:
"In 2003 I proposed to Sandy without knowing that all this about gay marriage would happen in California. I wanted to propose because of how much I love her. We live in a hilly part of Berkeley. I took her for a walk. I sat down on a rock with her, took out a ring out and asked if she’d marry me. She said yes, but she said, “how will we do that?” So we had to invent a way to marry. We started figuring out the day, the place, who we’d like to have marry us... That was February 2004 for us."
It all sounds like a pretty normal story about how "I met my wife." It's a personal story about two adults who love one another. Reading the testimony, it's hard to see why the state should be interested in dissolving her marriage. After all, one of the plaintiffs, Kristen Perry, is a citizen, mother and executive director of First 5 California, a child advocacy group. Hardly a threat to society. But then:
"A few months later there was the California Court ruled that our marriage was invalid...The city of SF sent a form letter with our names at the top. We are sorry to inform you that your marriage is no longer valid. We’d like to return your marriage fee to you or give it to a charity."
No matter how you feel about homosexuality, or any other aspect of the private lives of two consenting adults, you have to look at this for what it is: the state granted two people the right to marry, and then stripped that right away. That's pretty messed up. If the state of California took away my right to marry I'd be in court, too! As Kristin's former wife says, "I’m a plaintiff this case because I would like to get married and to marry the person that I choose and that’s Kris Perry and California law prevents that." If you're married, just imagine what it would be like if it were against the law to marry who you love.

Recall that the stated goal of Prop 8 and it's supporters was to protect marriage. Let me take the "marriage protection" folks at their word and ask: is banning gay marriage an effective way of achieving their goals?

A conservative estimate of the number of gay people in the US is 8 million, compared to the U.S. population of roughly 300 million. So gay people make up about 3% of the population. Let's suppose that every one of those people, gay and straight, wants to get married (not all do, but this is just a quick thought experiment). That means for every 100 straight couples there are 3 gay couples. The divorce rate among straight couples is about 50%, so there will be 50 divorces (failed marriages, broken homes, etc) for every 3 gay marriages.

So if we assume that a successful gay marriage and a divorce are equally detrimental to the "institution of marriage," then attacking gay marriage is a horribly ineffective way of saving marriages. To put it another way, it is about 17 times more effective to stop divorces than it is to stop gay marriages.

Of course all of this rests on the questionable assumption that gay marriage is in any way detrimental to straight marriages, which I just can't understand. After all, somehow my wife and I have managed to avoid any threats to our marriage despite gay people marrying all around us while living in California and Hawaii.

The truth is that people aren't really interested in saving marriage, and their dishonesty just highlights how little water their arguments hold. In fact, as far as I can tell, the gist of the anti-gay-marriage arguments basically boils down to, "Ew." I wonder if the Prop 8 defense team will prove this wrong during their testimony and provide solid reasoning for why some citizens should be able to marry while others cannot.