Sunday, June 29, 2008

Modern Women's World Records
vs. Historical Men's World Records — Part II

Following up on last week's post comparing current women's world records in track & field with historical men's world records, here's a graph to illustrate what I see as a trend (To get a larger version, click on the image):

The y axis is the year that the historical men's record eclipsed the current women's record. The x axis is a logarithmic scale showing the distance of the various events in meters. I'm no statistician, but I see a clear trend here.

Simply, the longer the event, the more impressive the women's best is relative to men's historical performances. Whereas the world's fastest men have been running faster than Florence Griffith Joyner's (somewhat disputed) 10.49s in the 100m since Charlie Paddock ran 10.4s in 1921, it took until 1958 for the world's fastest male marathon runner to go any faster than Paula Radcliffe's current world best of 2:15:25.

Why might this be the case? I can think of a few reasons.

First, the longer distance events – and the training required to excel at them – appear to have not been taken very seriously by athletes at the dawn of the last century. Wikipedia notes that the winner of the first modern Olympic marathon in 1896 thought it wise to stop at an inn for a glass of wine mid-race.

Second, it may be that whatever athletic advantage men have due to human sexual dimorphism, this advantage is reduced when it comes to the traits that make for successful long distance runners. Men may have an insurmountable advantage over women in the creation of fast twitch muscle fibers that make for successful sprinters, but may have a much smaller (or nonexistent) advantage in the development of slow twitch muscle fibers and cardiovascular fitness that make for excellent marathoners.

Modern Women's World Records vs. Historical Men's World Records

See Also:
Michael Phelps v. Mark Spitz (comparing Spitz's performance against today's female records)

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Modern Women's World Records
vs. Historical Men's World Records

Unable to find a webpage that had all this material easily available, I decided to make one.

The table below contains track & field world record information taken from Wikipedia. On the left is the current women's world record. On the right is the first historical men's world record that surpassed today's best female performance. (The list is limited to those events that have a world record progression page on Wikipedia.)

Current Women's RecordHistorical Men's Record
100m Florence Griffith Joyner 10.491988Charlie Paddock 10.41921
4 x 100m East Germany 41.371985United States 41.01924
800m Jarmila Kratochvílová 1:53.281983
Ted Meredith 1:51.91912*
1500m Qu Yunxia 3:50.461993
Jules Ladoumegue 3:49.21930
1 Mile Svetlana Masterkova 4:12.56
Paavo Nurmi 4:10.4
3000m Wang Junxia 8:06:11
1993Gunder Hägg 8:01.2
5000m Tirunesh Dibaba 14:11.15
2008Taisto Maki 14:08.8
10000m Wang Junxia 29:31.78
Emil Zátopek 29:28.2
Marathon Paula Radcliffe 2:15:25
Sergey Popov 2:15:17
High Jump Stefka Kostadinova 2.09m
Lester Steers 2.10m
Long Jump Galina Chistyakova 7.52m
Peter O'Connor 7.61m
Triple Jump Inessa Kravets 15.50m
Daniel Ahearn 15.52m
Pole Vault Yelena Isinbayeva 5.01m
John Pennel 5.05m

* There is no men's record on the Wikipedia world record progression page that would be defeated by today's female world record holder. The entry listed is the first world record recognized in the world record progression page.

Modern Women's World Records vs. Historical Men's World Records — Part II

See Also:
Michael Phelps v. Mark Spitz (comparing Spitz's performance against today's female records)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Unequal Amendments

All men may be created equal—but not all laws are.

Since the ratification of the U.S. Constitution in 1787–90, the venerable document has been amended 27 times, but from a legal point of view not all of these amendments are equally important. Some amendments, such as the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech, come up again and again in judicial opinions and legal scholarship. Other amendments, such as setting January 20 as the date of presidential inaugurations (the Twentieth Amendment), have rarely come up in litigation or commentary.

Having just graduated from law school, we here at Sauntering decided to produce a visual representation of the vast differences in relative importance of the amendments. What follows is a picture of all amendments written out in a font size corresponding to the relative citation frequency in Supreme Court and federal appellate court opinions. (To get a larger version, click on the image.)

Bill of Rights (First 10 Amendments)

All 27 Amendments

Our Methodology

To get the number of citations of each amendment, we searched AltLaw for “First [Second, etc.] Amendment” and “1st [2nd, etc.] Amendment.” This strategy means that we missed citations to “Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments,” etc.

Furthermore, although AltLaw’s database contains all U.S. Supreme Court opinions back to 1791, it contains only those U.S. Court of Appeals opinions published since 1950. Therefore, we have attempted to account for this by adjusting the citation numbers for the post-1950 amendments.

To deemphasize the immense citation difference between the major and minor amendments, we made the font sizes proportional to the square roots of the citation numbers.

For those readers with more than a passing interest in this little project, feel free to check out our raw data [Google Doc].

A final note: Although I came up with the idea of representing the amendments with font sizes, Sauntering founder and co-blogger Andy did the heavy lifting to research the amendment frequencies and come up with the visual display. Kudos to Andy!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Goodnight nobody
Goodnight mush

I think it's my current familiarity with the original that makes this parody seem so entertaining. There's a look-inside preview of the book on the site and they've done a good job of copying the meter and the imagery of the children's classic.

This book appears to skirt the unprotected realm of satire, and I'm not sure that a suit on the book would come out differently than Dr. Seuss Enterprises v. Penguin Books, 109 F.3d 1394 (9th Cir. 1997), where the court found that a book using the imagery of Dr. Seuss to riff on the O.J. Simpson trial constituted copyright and trademark infringement. Alternatively, a court might find the send-up of Goodnight Moon to be direct enough to qualify as a fair use parody under U.S. copyright laws.

If there were a lawsuit pitting the owners of Goodnight Moon against Goodnight Bush, it wouldn't be the first time that disharmony visited the Goodnight brand. The most recent scrape occurred in 2005, when HarperCollins faced a minor bookseller revolt after the 60th anniversary edition of the book included an image of illustrator Clement Hurd on the book jacket with a cigarette airbrushed out of his hand.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

What I'll Miss About New York:
#17 — The Carless Life

They overcharge you for the extra tank of gas at the rental car agency. Well, really, they don't overcharge you, but you have to bring it back completely empty in order to take advantage of their faux discount. C'mon: Who brings a car back to the rental agency completely empty?

So I buy the extra tank of gas right before I return the rental car when we're on vacation or attending someone's wedding — however, other than these occasions, I haven't bought a tank of gas in three years. You see, I don't have a car.

I know people who live in Manhattan and have automobiles. These friends aren't necessarily rich – it's just that they're comfortable paying for a luxury that is altogether unnecessary in this borough. And luxury it is. You can have a monthly parking spot (if one is available) across the street from my apartment for a paltry $800 per month. As reported in the New York Times, spaces further downtown push well into the six figures.

A few months ago, I noted that there are lessons to be learned when you don't have a car. First on that list is that you don't ever buy more than $40 worth of groceries because, well, you can't carry them. Your trunk is whatever you can carry in your own two hands, so don't go buying multiple hams.

But that's just the tip of the iceberg.

A city needs two elements before most of its residents are comfortable going without a car. First, it needs the requisite density. It's easy for me to go without a car because the 100 yard radius around my apartment contains 2 grocery stores, 2 banks, 2 drug stores, a clothing store that my wife is convinced is a front for the mob, one of the best Jewish delis in the world, and 5 restaurants including a bakery, a Dunkin Donuts, and a Starbucks. I just don't need to have a car to get the stuff I need on a regular basis.

The second element that the city needs is a commitment to public transit. Of the cities I've visited, only New York really gets this — even if San Francisco and Chicago understand to a lesser extent. A commitment to transit improves the lives of all citizens, but it especially lightens the load of the lower middle class and the working poor.

In the Bay Area, folks in a lower socio-economic tier who desire to be homeowners move to places hither and yon from their place of employment. Though they might work in Palo Alto, they'll live in Tracy — a city that Google maps claims is "1 hour and 10 minutes" away. During commute times, I'd be shocked if you made the trip in under 2 hours each way.

Compare this commute with someone living in the outer boroughs yet working in Manhattan. Someone living in Rockaway Park might have a commute of a similar time duration if they work in Manhattan, but they're not driving. No $4.00 gas. No focusing on the road. Wanna read, work, or do the crossword puzzle? Be my guest.

Beyond benefits to the less affluent, not having a car benefits everybody. It means that you're going to interact with people during your daily commute and your errands. There's simply no avoiding it. You're not rolling around in a metal box with wheels — you're on the sidewalk, trying to stay out of the way of other people with your $40 of groceries, rubbing elbows with rich and poor, neighbors and strangers alike. No one rides first class on the subway and the sidewalk does not have a "Yuppies Only" section (Wait, that's Park Slope, isn't it?).

By October, we'll have a car. Hell, we'll have two. And I'll enjoy having a car again. Buying more groceries. The mobility to head off in any direction I desire. But in returning to the John Wayne Yankee car culture, I'll lose something that I had these past few years hoofing it with my fellow New Yorkers.

What's this? After living in New York City for three years, I'm returning to California. These are the parts of my New York experience that I'll miss the most.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Life Before Roe

As a developmental biologist (albeit one working strictly with invertebrates), I spend a lot of time looking at developing embryos and trying to figure out, at both a philosophical and biological level, when the little egg in my microscope stops being an egg and starts being a little sea urchin/sea star/tunicate/worm/whatever. The consequences of these musings have relevance for debates about abortions in humans and that age-old question of when life begins. Someday I'll say something more about this. But what I rarely consider is the other half of the equation, namely what is it like for the parents who have to choose whether or not to allow an embryo to make that murky transition between ball of cells and a human life.

An essay today in the New York Times addresses that question, in not so many words, far better than I could have. I encourage you to have a look.