Thursday, December 31, 2009

First number patent

I discovered this entry in a book called Famous First Facts:
6765. Patent on a number was granted by the Patent Office to mathematician Roger Schlafly of Real Software, Soquel, CA, in 1995. The number was nearly 150 digits long. It was useful in speeding up mathematical calculations performed within the Diffie-Hellman public-key data encryption system.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Unamerican movie

Sailer writes:
Am I going deaf?
Or was much of Robert Downey's English-accented dialogue in Sherlock Holmes close to inaudible? I started to understand more of what the star was saying after about an hour. I think I could follow the diction of Jude Law's Dr. Watson a little better. ...

In contrast, Englishman Hugh Laurie has been doing Holmes with an American accent to perfection on House on TV for most of the decade.
I don't even watch these movies in phony British accents. If the producers wanted to make a movie for the American market, then it should hire actors who can speak American.

Yes, I know that American English was derived from British English, and this movie character was derived from British fictional books. But that was long ago. This particular movie does not resemble any of those books, and nobody knows what a fictional character ought to sound like anyway. So why give him the silly accent?

If the avatars on the 3-D blue planets can speak American English, then surely Sherlock could also. (I am assuming that the avatars do; I haven't seen that movie yet. I don't think that they would spend $300M on a movie and then screw it up with British accents.)

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Other threats to marriage

A Si Valley newspaper letter reads:
With some unfortunate events in the news recently, I'm still waiting with bated breath for the politicians who oppose same-sex marriage to issue the following statement (or words to that effect): Other threats to the sanctity of marriage include married (heterosexual) men having affairs with other women and heterosexual women who have affairs with married men (and vice versa).

Siva Kumar
Huhh? Yes, those who oppose same-sex marriage nearly always oppose adultery also. Just ask the Catholic Church or the Mormon Church. They are far more concerned about adultery. No politician defends adultery.

This letter seems like a joke. The same-sex marriage arguments are extremely silly.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Toddlers can be taught to count

The NY Times reports:
For much of the last century, educators and many scientists believed that children could not learn math at all before the age of five, that their brains simply were not ready.

But recent research has turned that assumption on its head — that, and a host of other conventional wisdom about geometry, reading, language and self-control in class. The findings, mostly from a branch of research called cognitive neuroscience, are helping to clarify when young brains are best able to grasp fundamental concepts.

In one recent study, for instance, researchers found that most entering preschoolers could perform rudimentary division, by distributing candies among two or three play animals. In another, scientists found that the brain’s ability to link letter combinations with sounds may not be fully developed until age 11 — much later than many have assumed.
Is this a joke? Doesn't every parent and preschool teacher know this stuff? How is it possible that all the educators could be so wrong about something so obvious?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Sentence in balloon boy hoax

The E network reports:
The couple who wanted America to believe that their 6-year-old son, Falcon, was adrift in a runaway balloon both were sentenced to jail time for crafting a hoax that first captivated then horrified the nation. ...

He was also slapped with four years of probation, during which time he is not allowed to profit in any way for his ill-intentioned scheme, meaning no book deals or media interviews. He must perform 100 hours of community service a year for the duration of his term, write a letter of apology to community and public agencies and submit to random drug and alcohol testing.

Finally, he must pay full restitution for the state and federal forces marshalled in the rescue effort that wasn't. That amount still needs needs to be determined.
Prosecutors estimate the fee at $47k. Also reported:
To enforce that ruling, Schapanski ordered the couple to submit quarterly financial disclosures for the duration of their probation.
This is unamerican. Americans ought to have an inalienable right to make money off of publicity stunts. Cash-starved publicity seekers made America great.

The only expense this couple caused was maybe the price of binoculars to see what was going on. That should have been enough to see that there was no boy in the balloon. Heene sought his publicity by calling the local TV station, not 911.

This couple had to make a plea bargain because the wife was threatened with deportation and the kids were threatened with foster care. So they pled guilty. I think that someone should give them a medal for entertaining the country.

All Americans have a fundamental right to write a book and tell their story. All except the Heenes and a few murderers.

Silly law prof gives football opinions

Ever wonder how lawyers could produce such a screwed-up court system? Read this article for how a law professor wants to screw up football refereeing. His basic idea is to rely more heavily on instant replays by ignoring the referee's call on the field when the instant replay is ambiguous.

His next bad idea is to abolish innocence until proven guilty. He wants criminal verdicts to be either innocent, not proved guilty, and guilty.

Update: There are more lawyer comments here. The Slate article claims to be giving the arguments in favor of some deference to the referee on the field, but omits the most obvious ones. He doesn't mention that the fans don't like plays to be reversed well after the fact, and only tolerate it if the original call was embarrassingly bad.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Avoiding goofy character sets

The NY Times reports:
The most widely trafficked search engine in Russia, Yandex, estimated that fewer than 10 percent of the country’s Internet users would favor Cyrillic addresses in the near future. Livejournal, the busiest blogging platform in Russia, said it would not employ Cyrillic domains.

“I really do not see Cyrillic domains being popular,” said Dmitri N. Peskov, a prominent computer consultant who organizes Internet conferences in Russia. “People just do not see the point in having them.” ...

The most widely trafficked search engine in Russia, Yandex, estimated that fewer than 10 percent of the country’s Internet users would favor Cyrillic addresses in the near future. Livejournal, the busiest blogging platform in Russia, said it would not employ Cyrillic domains.

“I really do not see Cyrillic domains being popular,” said Dmitri N. Peskov, a prominent computer consultant who organizes Internet conferences in Russia. “People just do not see the point in having them.”
This is one of those internationalism bad ideas that no one opposes, but no one wants either.

Why would anyone want domain names in Cyrillic or any other goofy foreign alphabet? I hope that I will be able to confure my browser to ignore such domains.

People use the internet as a universal communication tool. English is the universal language. Maybe Russian farmers talk to each other in something other than English, but there is no reason for educated people to use anything but English.

Using a Cyrillic character set for domain names is like using Roman numerals for telephone numbers.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Medieval superstitious nimrods

The Onion's top stories include Four Or Five Guys Pretty Much Carry Whole Renaissance:
"Our research indicates that da Vinci, Michelangelo, Shakespeare, and Galileo basically hoisted the entire intellectual transformation of mankind onto their shoulders while everyone else just sat around being superstitious nimrods," said Sue Viero of the Correr Museum of Art in Venice, Italy. ...

According to modern thought on the era, contributors to the Renaissance can be broken into two distinct groups: the brilliant few who, day in and day out, were thrusting society out of the depths of darkness and into the light of learning; and the rest of the so-called artists, mathematicians, and scientists, who were mostly all phoning it in.
Funny. Another top story is Woman Domesticated in around 3000 BC.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Geeks Drive Girls Out of Computer Science

LiveScience reports:
The stereotype of computer scientists as geeks who memorize Star Trek lines and never leave the lab may be driving women away from the field, a new study suggests.

And women can be turned off by just the physical environment, say, of a computer-science classroom or office that's strewn with objects considered "masculine geeky," such as video games and science-fiction stuff. ...

Not only are women missing out on some of the "best career opportunities, but computer science is missing out on female perspectives," Cheryan and her colleagues wrote in a recent issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
Why stop there? They should try filling up the classrooms and offices with girly stuff. They could use pink-colored textbooks and giving assignments to write programs to compute baby feeding schedules.

Where I live, most of the computer science students are foreigners. So maybe we need to encourage Americans by hanging American flags in the classroom. We could have some white pride posters, as there are not many white students.

The rest of the university is 60% female, so maybe we should have computer games and junk food in the English and Sociology classrooms.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

News media create and destroy

The AP reports:
Can companies afford the risk of signing multimillion-dollar contracts with celebrity endorsers? The self-destruction of Tiger Inc. has some saying the billion-dollar athlete may be a thing of the past.

Celebrity endorsers can help boost both the sale of products and their maker's image. But Woods' hasty and stunning downfall shows how quickly things can sour when a superstar athlete's life choices are exposed in a negative light by today's real-time tabloid news culture.
No, Tiger Woods did not self-destruct. The news media built him up and then took him down. They have known for years that his private life did not match the public image that they were creating for him. And now they are piling on with unverified gossip and innuendo.

Whenever the news media destroy someone, defensive reporters deny any responsibility for what they have done. They claim that their victim self-destructed.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Women not wanting drugs

The NY Times has this story, puzzling about women who don't like drugs:
“I even went so far as to get the prescription” for tamoxifen, she said. “But then I started reading more and decided this isn’t the way I’m going to go. I don’t like to take drugs.”

Such decisions have become a topic of growing concern among doctors and researchers, who are increasingly focused on treatments to prevent cancer in high-risk patients. ...

It is true that tamoxifen can have side effects, some of them serious. Among 1,000 similar 52-year-old women, the drug would be expected to cause 21 additional cases of endometrial cancer, a cancer of the uterine lining that is typically treatable when caught early. An additional 21 would develop blood clots, 31 would develop cataracts and 12 would develop sexual problems. And while more than half of the 1,000 women would naturally develop hormonal symptoms like hot flashes, changes in vaginal discharge or irregular periods, tamoxifen would cause those symptoms in about an additional 120 women.

While these risks are not to be taken lightly, neither are the risks of failing to use tamoxifen; its benefits for breast and bone are substantial. Yet virtually every woman in the study said she would be unlikely to take the drug.
I don't know anything about these drugs, but just two days earlier the newspaper had a story about 10,000 lawsuits over menopausal hormone drugs. It seems that there is a long history of experts telling women that they need to be on drugs to control their hormones, and then the science was later shown to be bad. It should not be surprising that some women are leery of these drugs, even if some of them appear effective.

Mammogram Math

Mathematician John Allen Paulos explains:
As we now know, the panel of scientists advised that routine screening for asymptomatic women in their 40s was not warranted and that mammograms for women 50 ...

The exact weight the panel gave to these considerations is unclear, but one factor that was clearly relevant was the problem of frequent false positives when testing for a relatively rare condition. ...

Cognitive biases also make it difficult to see the competing desiderata the panel was charged with balancing. ...

Whatever the role of these biases, the bottom line is that the new recommendations are evidence-based.
Huhh? It is difficult to see the panel's reasoning because the panel did not tell us!

Paulos admits that it is "unclear" how the panel made its decision, and then he just makes up his own reasons. I can do that too.

Let's say 100k women get screened at a cost of $200 each. 2k test positive, and they all get $2k in additional tests. 500 test positive, requiring $20k in treatments. Total expense = $20M + 4M + 10M = $34M.

Now suppose the insurance companies want to save money, and cancel all the screening. The 500 women with cancer eventually come in for an inoperable cancer, and treatment is only $6k each. Total expense = $3M. The insurance company just saved $31M by canceling the screening.

Yes, we can that the authorities were looking at evidence, but were they more interested in saving money or saving lives? Unless they detail the exact weight to all their considerations, we don't know who benefits from these recommendations. It does not help for a mathematician to invent possible reasoning. We need to know what the reasoning really was.

This is the future of health-care in America, I am afraid. Bureaucrats in secret meetings will make decisions to ration health care, and they won't document their rationale.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Drugging kids is big business

Here are some more facts about how kids are being put on psychiatric drugs:
Prescriptions for psychiatric drugs increased 50 percent with children in the US, and 73 percent among adults, from 1996 to 2006, according to a study in the May/June 2009 issue of the journal Health Affairs. Another study in the same issue of Health Affairs found spending for mental health care grew more than 30 percent over the same ten-year period, with almost all of the increase due to psychiatric drug costs.

On April 22, 2009, the US Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality reported that in 2006 more money was spent on treating mental disorders in children aged 0 to 17 than for any other medical condition, with a total of $8.9 billion. By comparison, the cost of treating trauma-related disorders, including fractures, sprains, burns, and other physical injuries, was only $6.1 billion.

In 2008, psychiatric drug makers had overall sales in the US of $14.6 billion from antipsychotics, $9.6 billion off antidepressants, $11.3 billion from antiseizure drugs and $4.8 billion in sales of ADHD drugs, for a grand total of $40.3 billion.

The path to child drugging in the US started with providing adolescents with stimulants for ADHD in the early 80s. That was followed by Prozac in the late 80s, and in the mid-90s drug companies started claiming that ADHD kids really had bipolar disorder, coinciding with the marketing of epilepsy drugs as "mood stablizers" and the arrival of the new atypical antipsychotics.

Parents can now have their kids declared disabled due to mental illness and receive Social Security disability payments and free medical care, and schools can get more money for disabled kids.
There is very little evidence that these drugs are doing any good.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Vote for the good-looking man

Volokh's blog reports on beauty research:
Are beautiful politicians more likely to be elected? To test this, we use evidence from Australia, a country in which voting is compulsory, ... Beautiful candidates are indeed more likely to be elected, with a one standard deviation increase in beauty associated with a 1½ – 2 percentage point increase in voteshare. ...

Lastly, we present some suggestive evidence on the question of whether the effect of beauty represents productivity or discrimination. In electorates where a higher share of voters say that they do not care who wins, that they are not interested in politics, and that they are not interested in the election, the marginal effect of beauty is larger. On the assumption that apathetic voters are more likely to discriminate, and engaged voters are more likely to choose based upon productive characteristics, this suggests that the effect of beauty on voteshare is more likely to reflect discrimination than returns to productivity.
I think that this last paragraph is incorrect, because "productivity or discrimination" is a false dichotomy. All voting is discriminatory.

If beauty is correlated with productivity for politicians, then the voters may be rational. It seems plausible to me that a good-looking man will be a whole lot more likely to develop political skills that make his a more effective politician. The same might not be true for women because pretty girls can often get ahead with poor political skills.

There could also be a genetic element. Other research has shown:
A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds that men's cardiovascular fitness at the age of 18 is a marker for later academic achievement.
Other research has shown that all sorts of seemingly unrelated talents are actually correlated.

Federal workers get rich

USA Today reports:
The number of federal workers earning six-figure salaries has exploded during the recession, according to a USA TODAY analysis of federal salary data.

Federal employees making salaries of $100,000 or more jumped from 14% to 19% of civil servants during the recession's first 18 months — and that's before overtime pay and bonuses are counted.

Federal workers are enjoying an extraordinary boom time — in pay and hiring — during a recession that has cost 7.3 million jobs in the private sector.

The highest-paid federal employees are doing best of all on salary increases. Defense Department civilian employees earning $150,000 or more increased from 1,868 in December 2007 to 10,100 in June 2009, the most recent figure available.

When the recession started, the Transportation Department had only one person earning a salary of $170,000 or more. Eighteen months later, 1,690 employees had salaries above $170,000.

The trend to six-figure salaries is occurring throughout the federal government, in agencies big and small, high-tech and low-tech. The primary cause: substantial pay raises and new salary rules. ...

The growth in six-figure salaries has pushed the average federal worker's pay to $71,206, compared with $40,331 in the private sector.
Wow. We should stop using the term "public servant".

Poor Children Likelier to Get Antipsychotics

The NY Times reports:
New federally financed drug research reveals a stark disparity: children covered by Medicaid are given powerful antipsychotic medicines at a rate four times higher than children whose parents have private insurance. And the Medicaid children are more likely to receive the drugs for less severe conditions than their middle-class counterparts, the data shows.
Some people will read this as saying that poor kids get better medical care than rich kids.

The article suggests that some kids are getting unneeded treatments, but that is usually a sign of wealth. Rich people get unneeded treatments all the time.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A holy war can be a just war

Pres. Barack Obama said, in his Nobel Peace Prize lecture:
And most dangerously, we see it in the way that religion is used to justify the murder of innocents by those who have distorted and defiled the great religion of Islam, and who attacked my country from Afghanistan. These extremists are not the first to kill in the name of God; the cruelties of the Crusades are amply recorded. But they remind us that no Holy War can ever be a just war. For if you truly believe that you are carrying out divine will, then there is no need for restraint -- no need to spare the pregnant mother, or the medic, or the Red Cross worker, or even a person of one's own faith. Such a warped view of religion ...
This is offensive. Obama believes in a just war, as he just ordered the escalation of the Afghanistan war.

The concept of a just war was invented by Christians, and it does not mean indiscriminate killing. Obama seems to be saying that a Christian belief in a just war must necessarily be wrong.

Christians and Mohammedans have fought wars for causes they believe in throughout history, but there is no moral equivalence. Only the Mohammedans kill pregnant mothers and Red Cross workers in the name of God, not Christians. Christians do have causes that they believe in and are willing to fight for, but they are not the same causes as the Mohammedans.

Obama is reciting a liberal mantra that all religions are the same. They are not. If he were a real Christian, he would not say such nonsense.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Phony study on phony web sites

The Si Valley paper reports:
With a little sleight of hand, con artists can dupe them into giving top billing to fraudulent Web sites that prey on consumers, making unwitting accomplices of companies such as Google, Yahoo and Microsoft. ...

Stickley created a Web site purporting to belong to the Credit Union of Southern California, a real business that agreed to be part of the experiment. He then used his knowledge of how search engines rank Web sites to achieve something that shocked him: His phony site got a No. 2 ranking on Yahoo's search engine and landed in the top slot on Microsoft's Bing, ahead of even the credit union's real site.
Con artists can show up in searches, but this does not prove it. The researcher created an authorized site that directed customers to what they wanted. It was not a fraudulent site. So why should a search engine block it?

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Crime to kill a rat

The Canadian news reports:
Two reality stars from the British program I'm a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here! have been charged with animal cruelty.

Italian chef Gino D'Acampo, who won the competitive series, and actor Stuart Manning face the charge for allegedly killing and cooking a rat during the show's filming in Australia.

Animal welfare activists in Australia lodged an official complaint and state police in New South Wales have confirmed two men have been charged with animal cruelty in connection with the program. ...

The pair have been issued a summons to appear in court to face the charge on Feb. 3. The maximum penalty is three years in prison. ...

During the three-week show, which ended on Friday, D'Acampo was forced to eat rotten egg, cockroaches, a crocodile's tongue and rhino beetles in order to win a dinner for his fellow campers.
This is so ridiculous that I don't know what to say. Humans have to eat animal meat (or artificial substitutes) in order to be healthy. Rats are vermin. The TV show was educational. Everyone benefited. What kind of kook would think that this deserves three years in prison?

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Silly Title IX claims

The NY Times reports on a busybody who goes around filing complaints against high school athletic programs:
Soon, parents at other schools enlisted his help, and Landau continued to spot unfair treatment.

Girls typically played basketball in the afternoons, and the boys in the evenings. Cheerleaders performed only at boys’ games. Boys played their title games at arenas like the Palestra at the University of Pennsylvania, and girls were relegated to school gyms. His complainted have helped eliminate those inequities.
So the law requires cheerleaders at girls' games? This is ridiculous.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

An adult conversation with a kid

Dear Abby advises:
DEAR ABBY: My 8-year-old granddaughter has posed a question that stumped me, and I hope you can help with an answer: Why be neat and well-groomed?

She doesn't care what people think of how she looks. She sees no problem wearing clothes that are torn, etc. ... I am challenged by her question. How can I answer her?

DEAR LOST FOR WORDS: Please stop trying to have an adult conversation with an 8-year-old. ...
Dear Abby considers this an "adult conversation"? Perhaps this explains why she give such bad advice.

No, grandma was trying to have an 8yo conversation with an 8yo. Kids need explanations for stuff like this.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Stretching not healthy

The NY Times reports:
When the Nebraska Wesleyan researchers compared the runners’ sit-and-reach scores to the measurements of their economy, which had been garnered from a treadmill test, they found that, across the board, the tightest runners were the most economical. ... They also typically had the fastest 10-kilometer race times. ...

For years, flexibility has been widely considered a cornerstone of health and fitness. ...

In fact, the latest science suggests that extremely loose muscles and tendons are generally unnecessary (unless you aspire to join a gymnastics squad), may be undesirable and are, for the most part, unachievable, anyway. “To a large degree, flexibility is genetic,” says Dr. Malachy McHugh, ...
A small amount of stretching might help in warming up, but otherwise it is useless.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Reality show pranks upset some people

Some people are agitated about the latest reality show stunt:
They are now the subject of a federal investigation.The Secret Service is looking to file charges against Michaele and Tareq Salahi, who were attempting to land a spot on Bravo’s The Real Housewives of D.C.

On Tuesday, the Salahis snuck into the president’s first state dinner, honoring the prime minister of India, then posted pictures of themselves schmoozing.

If you thought the Balloon Boy [Heene] hoax was as far as you’d see aspiring reality TV jokers go for 15 minutes of fame, you don’t know Michaele and Tareq Salahi.
It is funny to see how people react to being tricked. The Heenes and Salahis perpetrated a couple of harmless pranks. Their pranks were bold, and I am surprised that either of them worked.

Heene told TV stations that his kid might have been accidentally launched in a helium balloon, and suckered the TV stations into tracking the balloon on TV. Anyone with an eighth-grade science education could see that no kid could possibly be in that balloon. It is not clear whether the TV stations realized this, but they joined in the publicity stunt anyway. It was good for their ratings.

The Heenes had to plead guilty to attempting to influence a public official when the authorities threatened to deport Mrs. Heene. I did not know that was a crime.

I thought that White House state dinners had someone at the door checking the guest list.

Former Reagan advisor Ed Rollins writes:
The gate crashers Michaele and Tareq Salahi want to be famous as stars of reality television. I am all for that. Give them a reality television series and call it "Trial and Jailtime" in the D.C. criminal justice system. This despicable, desperate, duplicitous couple disgraced the Secret Service and embarrassed the president in his home.

They totally overshadowed the president's meeting with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the leader of an important ally. The incident made the Obamas' first state dinner, honoring the prime minister and his wife, Gursharan Kaur, fodder for comedians -- and it certainly raises security concerns for other world leaders visiting at later dates.

The gate-crashers need to be held accountable and not glorified. ...

We live in a world of reality television in which egotists try to be famous for three minutes and land an appearance on the talk shows. The bigger question is what example this sets for our kids. If we glorify the actions of people like the Salahis and don't hold them accountable, how do we teach our kids what is right and what is wrong?
The Heenes and Salahis performed a public service by demonstrating gullibility in public officials and by amusing the public.

Incidents like these make it easier, not harder, to teach our kids right and wrong.

Lighten up, everyone. We pay entertainers to entertain us. The Heenes and Salahis have done it for free. If they make a few bucks by selling their stories, so much the better.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

When Umpires Are Blind

WSJ columnist Eric Felten writes:
Europe was in a tizzy this past week. The ruckus involved the finale to last week's World Cup qualifying soccer match between Ireland and France. In the concluding moments of the game, French team captain Thierry Henry rescued a ball that was going out of bounds by grabbing it with his hand. (For some reason known only to the inventors of soccer, this is a no-no.) Shuttling the ball deftly to his foot, Mr. Henry set up the decisive goal. The referee failed to catch the French footballer's cheating, and after the game Mr. Henry proclaimed that the ref's error absolved him of responsibility: "I will be honest, it was a handball. But I'm not the referee. I played it, the referee allowed it. That's a question you should ask him."

Mr. Henry's attitude is shared by athletes in just about every American sport. They believe anything the ref doesn't call is OK.
What other attitude could the athletes possibly have? Soccer has no rule allowing players to call their own fouls. If the officials wanted to get it right, after the fact, they would look at the instant reply. But soccer rules prohibit that.
Professional basketball has been ruined by this shabby fool-the-ref nonsense. Rare is the drive to the hoop where some defender doesn't go flying in a pantomime of blunt-force trauma, trying to dupe the referee into calling a foul where there was none. Chances are that the man making the shot is flopping around just as dramatically. The proliferation of pretend fouls helps explain why NBA games stop every three seconds.
In ice hockey, a player can be penalized for trying to dupe the referee into calling a foul. If basketball has no such rule, then the player drama is part of the game. You can only expect the players to follow the rules.

The column suggests that a team should offer to forfeit the game if it benefited from a bad call from a referee. But most games have multiple bad calls. His suggestion would result in many games being followed by offers to forfeit by both sides. The fans would hate that.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The new psycho-surgery

The NY Times reports:
In the last decade or so, more than 500 people have undergone brain surgery for problems like depression, anxiety, Tourette’s syndrome, even obesity, most as a part of medical studies. The results have been encouraging, and this year, for the first time since frontal lobotomy fell into disrepute in the 1950s, the Food and Drug Administration approved one of the surgical techniques for some cases of O.C.D. ...

In the early days of psychosurgery, after World War II, doctors published scores of papers detailing how lobotomy relieved symptoms of mental distress. In 1949, the Portuguese neurologist Egas Moniz won the Nobel Prize in medicine for inventing the procedure.

But careful follow-up painted a darker picture: of people who lost motivation, who developed the helpless indifference dramatized by the post-op rebel McMurphy in Ken Kesey’s novel “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” played by Jack Nicholson in the 1975 movie. ...

In a paper published last year, researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden reported that half the people who had the most commonly offered operations for obsessive-compulsive disorder showed symptoms of apathy and poor self-control for years afterward, despite scoring lower on a measure of O.C.D. severity.

“An inherent problem in most research is that innovation is driven by groups that believe in their method, thus introducing bias that is almost impossible to avoid,” Dr. Christian Ruck, the lead author of the paper, wrote in an e-mail message. The institute’s doctors, who burned out significantly more tissue than other centers did, no longer perform the operations, partly, Dr. Ruck said, as a result of his findings.
I had no idea this was going on, but I guess that it should not be surprising. People are very impressed with brain scan pictures and claims that modern neuroscience understands the brain.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Some complain that ads work

Si Valley paper columnist Chris O'Brien writes:
There is plenty of research that demonstrates how these sales tactics have contributed to the rising cost of health care, with little evident impact on improving patients' health. A 2006 study by the U.S. General Accounting Office found that sales of a drug increased $2 for every $1 spent on advertising. A 2004 survey by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration found that 65 percent of physicians felt consumer ads confused patients about the risks and benefits of such drugs, while 75 percent felt the ads led "patients to think that the drug works better than it does." ...

Those online ad dollars became even more elusive after the FDA took a bold step to protect consumers. The agency sent letters to 14 drug companies saying their search-based ads had to include relevant risk information or come down. ...

Their message to Google and Yahoo should be a simple one: Just say no to expanding online drug ads.
Yes, of course the ads induce a favorable opinion towards the product. That's the whole idea! The same is true about ads for cars, beer, fast food, or anything else.

For physicians, "confused patients" is a code phrase for people who do their own research to make their own medical decisions. Many physicians would much rather have dumb patients who shut up and do what they are told.

Google makes all its money on ads, and is very unlikely to give up on drug ads.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


I was just watching WWII in HD on the History Channel. It has actual color footage from World War II. It is hard for me to even imagine people fighting WWII in color.

The show started with this disclaimer:
Some images are graphic in nature and viewer discretion is advised.
Huhh? What is the nature of the other images? How could an image be anything but graphic? Does this channel sometimes show non-graphic images? Does it then say that viewer discretion is unnecessary? How could you even have a viewer of a non-graphic image?

I am sure that this sentence was carefully reviewed by a team of executives and lawyers, so as to fully cover themselves of any liability while not scaring anyone off.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The end of the world in 2012

I just say 2012, the movie about the Mayan end of the world.

Spoiler: Not everyone dies.

The USA President and chief scientist are black. They learn that massive geological upheavals are coming two years in advance, and participate in a foolish and corrupt conspiracy to save a few and let billions of people die.

The hero of the book is a white guy who wrote a novel that inspired the chief scientist to be more human. But his wife ditched him, and took the kids, because he had "tunnel vision" (according to her), and because she found another man who drives a fancier car. She continues to reject him, even after he saves her life multiple times.

The climax of the movie occurs when the good guys, including "Noah", get on a biblical "ark" with pairs of elephants and giraffes, a "tidal wave" washes them into the Himalayan mountains, and they narrowly miss the peak of Mt. Everest. Meanwhile, the wild elephants and giraffes in Africa do just fine.

The hero seems to believe seems to believe in a flat Earth, as he flies from Los Vegas to China by way of Hawaii. When it seems that he is going to run out of fuel 1000 miles before his targets, he acts as if he is going to swim the rest of the way.

The scenario for the destruction of the Earth is Charles H. Hapgood's cataclysmic pole shift theory. You can read about it in his book, The Path of the Pole. He actually got Einstein for his 1953 book, saying:
In a polar region there is continual deposition of ice, which is not symmetrically distributed about the pole. The earth’s rotation acts on these unsymmetrically deposited masses, and produces centrifugal momentum that is transmitted to the rigid crust of the earth. The constantly increasing centrifugal momentum produced in this way will, when it has reached a certain point, produce a movement of the earth’s crust over the rest of the earth’s body ...
I didn't know that Einstein was a sucker for this crackpot stuff.

Friday, November 13, 2009

These laws of physics -- whose rules are those?

This story is circulating:
Apparently, the Obama administration sent a team of bureaucrats out to consult with Dr. Cole about the future of American automobile design and manufacturing. ...

When they were finished telling Dr. Cole about their requirements, he explained that in order to achieve the stated result, one would need a trunk full of batteries and an LNG tank as large as an automobile. ...

One Obama person interrupted and said, "These laws of physics … whose rules are those? We need to change that.” Others on the team wrote down the name of the law so they could look it up later. “We have the congress and the administration on our side,” said one official. “We can repeal that law, amend it, or use an executive order to get rid of that problem. That's why we are here, to fix these sorts of issues."
Too bad there is no video for YouTube.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

How to screw up kids

You can get good parenting advice from Cracked magazine, which has 7 Things "Good Parents" Do (That Screw Kids Up for Life).

I haven't seen the magazine in decades. It used to be similar to Mad magazine. But the web site is brilliant.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Dream theories

Here is a new dream theory:
In a paper published last month in the journal Nature Reviews Neuroscience, Dr. J. Allan Hobson, a psychiatrist and longtime sleep researcher at Harvard, argues that the main function of rapid-eye-movement sleep, or REM, when most dreaming occurs, is physiological. The brain is warming its circuits, anticipating the sights and sounds and emotions of waking.
Apparently nobody knows which theory is correct, but they are all pretty sure that Freud's theories were nonsense.

It goes on:
These novel ideas about dreaming are based partly on basic findings about REM sleep. In evolutionary terms, REM appears to be a recent development; it is detectable in humans and other warm-blooded mammals and birds.
Recent development?! I thought that mammals and birds were supposed to have evolved from reptiles maybe 200 million years ago. So is this trying to say that animals have only been dreaming for 200 million years? That is called "recent"?

Update: This evolutionist says 315 million years ago.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Court reconsiders software patents

The US Supreme Court just heard oral arguments on the Bilski case:
Chief Justice Roberts told him that he had understood the government’s argument until one of the final footnotes in the merits brief. There, in footnote 30, the Solicitor General’s brief said the Bilski/Warsaw claims might satisfy the Federal Circuit test if they had tied it to “machine implementation,” such as using a computer network.

“That takes away everything you said in 54 pages,” the Chief Justice commented acidly. Stewart backed off a bit, saying that the risk-management notion would not be patentable if a computer were “just used to crunch numbers.” It would have to have something that “gives it functionality.”
What does that mean, that number crunching is not functionality?

The case involves a lower court decision that appeared to abolish business method patents, and computer software patents also. Unless the computer is used for some functionality besides number crunching, whatever that means. The core of the problem is that the courts are unable to separate software from hardware.

I made the point many years ago that the first software patent was not in the modern computer era at all, but the Morse Code patent from 150 years ago. It had a claim for the system of dots and dashes, and the supreme court upheld it. Apparent there was discussion today by the justices about that patent claim.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

High-functioning crazy people

From a Santa Cruz California:
The crazy people in Berkeley wander around pushing shopping carts; the crazy people in Glastonbury sit in fields smoking pot. What is distinctive about Santa Cruz is its peculiarly high-functioning crazy people, like this guy, who are entirely divorced from reality, yet somehow manage to, for instance, run a record label. ...

Santa Cruz, California -- also known as the World's Largest Open Air Mental Institution.
P.S. Sorry, but you'll probably only get this if you've actually visited the place.
There is some truth to this.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Jihad in Fort Hood Texas

His name is Major Nidal Malik Hasan. He is a first-generation Palestinian Arab-American. He is a Mohammedan. He is a psychiatrist. He told the Army that he had no religion, and then tried to get out of his military obligations because of his religion. Witnesses say he yelled "Allahu akbar" during his rampage. He gave out copies of the Koran beforehand. He has reportedly spoken in defense of suicide bombers.

President Obama cautioned against "jumping to conclusions". I don't need to jump.

Update: I just watched Nihad Awad. of CAIR on MSNBC-TV making an analogy to Eric Rudolph planting bombs in the name of Christianity. No, he is wrong. Rudolph never did that. He was an atheist.

Update: Someone else pointed out that this is the same Obama who said this a couple of months ago:
The Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home.

Paranormal Activity spoiler

The TV trailer for Paranormal Activity now shows the movie ending! Here is a similar trailer that show the entire plot, along with the ending.

The movie is a cleverly amateurish production. You are supposed to believe that it is an edited compilation of some home movies. It is advertised as a scary movie, but all the scariness is in the trailer. The rest of the movie is just long tedious scenes in which nothing happens.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

The new show V on ABC TV

The Chicago Tribune TV critic writes:
Imagine this. At a time of political turmoil, a charismatic, telegenic new leader arrives virtually out of nowhere. He offers a message of hope and reconciliation based on compromise and promises to marshal technology for a better future that will include universal health care.

The news media swoons in admiration -- one simpering anchorman even shouts at a reporter who asks a tough question: "Why don't you show some respect?!" The public is likewise smitten, except for a few nut cases who circulate batty rumors on the Internet about the leader's origins and intentions. The leader, undismayed, offers assurances that are soothing, if also just a tiny bit condescending: "Embracing change is never easy."

So, does that sound like anyone you know? Oh, wait -- did I mention the leader is secretly a totalitarian space lizard who's come here to eat us?
The alien leader Anna has the liberal media brainwashed. But she is a short-haired smooth-talking manipulative phony who is not what she appears to be. She is an evil space alien reptile disguised as a human.

A blogger also compares:
They come promoting goodness, peace and light – they’re here to help us with their technology, including setting up healing centers where they can easily cure over 60 incurable diseases. The world is “hurting” according to one of the characters, so it seems the vast majority of the population accepts them on their word without much questioning at all. There are small protests breaking out everywhere, but those folks are looked at as rabble rousers who need to get with the program.

The aliens are all good looking and about hope and change (their words, not mine) and interestingly when reporters begin to ask hard questions upon Anna’s arrival, the newscaster mentioned above accuses them of being rude(!). ...

During the interview the phrase “universal health care” is actually used in describing what they are offering and why they should be accepted.

There’s an underground group that knows what the Visitors are up to, but they are looked upon as nutjobs and terrorists even though they are in the right and know what the Visitors are really up to.
If this TV show is a parody of Obama, then it is brutal. It portrays the leader as alien, effeminate, publicity-seeking, dishonest, reptilian, tricky, and bent on world domination, and yet somehow lulling the gullible public into subservience with bogus promises.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Phony dog evidence

The NY Times reports:
HOUSTON — A dog’s sniff helped put Curvis Bickham in jail for eight months. Now that the case against him has been dropped, he wants to tell the world that the investigative technique that justified his arrest smells to high heaven.

The police told Mr. Bickham they had tied him to a triple homicide through a dog-scent lineup, in which dogs choose a suspect’s smell out of a group. The dogs are exposed to the scent from items found at crime scene, and are then walked by a series of containers with samples swabbed from a suspect and from others not involved in the crime. If the dog finds a can with a matching scent, it signals — stiffening, barking or giving some other alert its handler recognizes. ...

Mr. Myers, the animal behavior expert, suggested that handlers like Deputy Pikett might believe in the dogs and the methods, but might allow samples to become contaminated or inadvertently allow the dogs to pick up on subtle, even unconscious signals from handlers or detectives.

“They just don’t realize they’re doing it wrong,” he said.
No, it should even obvious to a dumb judge that this is unscientific.

No test is 100% foolproof. For this test to be scientific, someone has to do an objective measure of the reliability of the test. The judge just has to ask, "What is the error rate? Show me how you measured the error rate?"

This dog sniff expert has probably never measured the error rate. He just has a gut feeling that it works. Then it is not scientific, and should not be admissable in court.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Effect of bad genes

People have the funniest ideas about what to do with genetic info. Eg, consider this example:
On the basis of the genetic tests, Judge Reinotti docked a further year off the defendant's sentence, arguing that the defendant's genes "would make him particularly aggressive in stressful situations".
If someone has a killer gene, would you lock him up for a longer time or a shorter time or ignore it?

If someone has a gene for bad driving, should car insurance companies be able to charge him extra? Or maybe he should not even get a drivers license.

It may be decades before the public figures out what to do with genetic info.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

The great Mexican pig flu hoax

Michael Fumento writes:
swine flu cases in the last seven months, according to the CDC, equal about four days' worth of seasonal flu deaths during the season. ...

So why did they do it?

You might ask H.L. Mencken, who observed that government, ever seeks "to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary."
Fumento is the best reporter on these medical issues.

It is funny to hear the authorities simultaneously complain that there is a shortage of H1N1 flu vaccine, and that many people don't want it. If there is a shortage anyway, shouldn't we be glad that not everyone wants it?

Saturday, October 31, 2009

H-1B visa applications lowest since 2003

The Si Valley newpspaper reports:
More than six months after the federal government began accepting petitions for work visas popular with Silicon Valley companies, thousands of spots remain open, a reflection of the nation's high unemployment and the political pressure to hire citizens, experts say.

As of last week, 46,700 H-1B visa applications had been submitted, thousands less than the 65,000 allocated for fiscal year 2010 and the lowest number since 2003. The cap for 20,000 additional H-1B visas reserved for foreign graduates of U.S. colleges with at least a master's degree was met, though applications are still being accepted.

Tech industry insiders say the recession is primarily responsible for the dearth of applications. "There is definitely a sense that there is a growing hostility toward some of the (visa) programs, but I don't think that is related to the downturn" in petitions, said Jenifer Verdery, Intel's director of work force policy. "You are not going to see big ramp-ups in hiring during the downturn."
If the H-1B visas were used legitimately, then demand would not be dropping so much. The visas are supposed for short-term employment in specialty skills where no American is available. The need for such workers does not vary much with the ups and downs of the economy.

But nearly all of the H-1B workers only have skills that are readily available from USA workers. When there is a recession and high unemployment, American workers can be hired cheaply. When unemployment is low, those same skills are available in those same American workers, but it costs more to hire them. So foreign H-1B workers are attractive because they can be hired more cheaply.

I say that the phonyness of the H-1B program is proved by how sharply demand for H-1B visas varies with the unemployment rate.

Friday, October 30, 2009

High testosterone linked to miserly behaviour

I have finally learned why I am miserly -- too much testosterone! NewScientist reports:
"Our broad conclusion is that testosterone causes men essentially to be stingy," says Karen Redwine, a neuro-economist at Whittier College in California, who presented the work at the Society for Neuroscience's annual meeting in Chicago last week.

A previous study of 17 City of London traders found that morning testosterone levels correlated with each day's gains and losses, with more of the hormone associated with a profit. ...

One biological factor could be the dynamics between testosterone and another hormone called oxytocin. Sometimes called the cuddle chemical, oxytocin also influences generosity. In a 2007 study, Zak's team found that oxytocin administration boosted generosity in the same game by 80 per cent.

Redwine notes that testosterone blocks the action of oxytocin in the brain. "It's possible that by creating these alpha males we actually inhibited oxytocin," she says.
Curious research coming from a woman named Redwine. Next she will be claiming that red wine is beneficial.

My testosterone has recovered since it took a hit after the last election:
Men who voted for Republican John McCain in last year's US presidential election saw their testosterone levels fall significantly when they learned he had lost to Barack Obama, a study showed Thursday.

Saliva samples collected from 163 men on the evening of the election showed that voters for both McCain and Obama had similar testosterone levels when polling stations closed on the east coast, but the levels in McCain backers fell when Obama was announced as the winner.

By contrast, testosterone levels among men who voted for Obama remained stable.
My guess is that a lot more of those Obama supporters are eating tofu.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Why the AMA favors

John Goodman writes:
People are fond of believing that the American Medical Association (AMA) represents physicians. But if representation follows revenues, the AMA’s most important customer is probably the federal government.

In1983, an agreement between the Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA) and the AMA made the AMA’s copyrighted Current Procedural Terminology codes (CPT) the sole coding system that could be used for billing Medicare.
The AMA used to get its money from membership dues, but now it gets $70M per year from CPT codes.

The 2001 codes are here. I don't see how a private company can claim to own some 5-digits used for Medicare billing.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Baby Einstein a failure

The NY Times reports:
Parent alert: the Walt Disney Company is now offering refunds for all those ”Baby Einstein” videos that did not make children into geniuses.

They may have been a great electronic baby sitter, but the unusual refunds appear to be a tacit admission that they did not increase infant intellect. ...

Baby Einstein, founded in 1997, was one of the earliest players in what became a huge electronic media market for babies and toddlers. Acquired by Disney in 2001, the company expanded to a full line of books, toys, flashcards and apparel, along with DVDs including “Baby Mozart,” “Baby Shakespeare” and “Baby Galileo.”
Of course it doesn't work. If the parents are stupid enough to buy that junk, then they probably have too low an IQ to have genius kids.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Blogger defends Roman Polanski

A "Pro-Peace" blogger writes:
Legally, Roman Polanski admitted to consensual sex with a minor (statutory rape), he did not plead guilty to forcible rape. The reason given for the plea bargain by the family is that they did not want their daughter to go through the trauma of a trial. ...

One of the great evils of our age is the increasing ability of the State to pursue criminal charges without the consent of the victim which is the very antithesis of victims’ rights. It is evil. ...

Since she has forgiven him and most likely received a large sum of money it is now no longer the interest or concern of the State. ...
No, Polanski did not legally admit to consensual sex. He admitted to a crime. Consensual sex is not a crime.

I agree that the state should not pursue criminal charges against an adult
victim unless that adult victim complains. Many domestic violence advocates
have pushed for laws and processes that punish men even when the woman does
not complain. (A recent example of such punishment is here.) I disagree with that, but it has no resemblance to the Polanski case.

The Polanski victim complained, and Polanski was convicted. That ends the victim's obligation. Now it is the obligation of the state to make him serve the sentence corresponding to his conviction, and to prosecute him for being a fugitive.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Economist writes on global warming

There has been a lot of criticism of the new Levitt-Dubner Super-Freakonomics book. It seems like another case of experts giving opinions outside their expertise.

Levitt is an economist, but he is mostly famous for social science research
on abortion that turned out to be wrong, and for various things to make his
ideas more saleable to the public. I would not expect him to have anything useful to say about global warming anyway.

Levitt responds:
The statements being circulated create the false impression that our analysis of the global-warming crisis is ideological and unscientific. Nothing could be further from the truth.
I guess that means that he will post a substantive response.

Update: More criticism of Levitt here.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

New spanking study

A new spanking study (abstract available only) claims that child fussiness at age 1 leads to aggression at age 2 and low IQ at age 3, and all are correlated to spanking. These anti-spanking studies have been criticized by the WSJ and the American College of Pediatricians.

I don't doubt that these correlations exist. If you looked at adults, you would probably find that low IQ and aggressive behavior was correlated with being jailed. But that is not a reason to get rid of jails. It clarifies why we have the jails.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Harvey Milk Day

California news:
Slain gay rights activist Harvey Milk will get a special day of recognition in California, making him only the second person in state history — in addition to conservationist John Muir — to gain such a designation.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's signing of the bill establishing "Harvey Milk Day" each May 22, Milk's birthday, was announced Monday. ...

Randy Thomasson, president of, said he was appalled by the governor's decision.

"Sadly, children in public schools will now have even more in-your-face, homosexual-bisexual-transsexual indoctrination," he said in a statement.
The schools are already indoctrinating students with false info, as you can see from today's Dear Abby letter:
DEAR ABBY: I am a 15-year-old girl who is losing the will to live. I am bisexual, but my parents are very anti-gay/lesbian, so I can't tell them about my sexual orientation. ...

DEAR HURTING: As you already know, your sexual orientation isn't something you chose. It is something you were born with, and your parents' disapproval -- as intimidating as it may be -- isn't going to change it. ...
No, there is no scientific proof that a bisexual orientation is ever determined in a 15-year-old girl, and certainly no proof that it was determined at birth. This is the sort of nonsense that California schools are going to teach on Harvey Milk Day.

I realize that there are people who claim to know such things to be true from personal experience. There are just as many who claim to know such things are false from personal experience. And a lot of smart academic scientists have done a lot of studies to try to prove that sexual orientation is determined at birth. All of those studies have failed.

Washing hands with warm water

The NY Times writes:
Soap and warm water have long been said to prevent the spread of infections, but is warm or hot water really more effective than cold? ...

“Temperature of water used for hand washing should not be guided by antibacterial effects but comfort,” they wrote, ...

Hot water for hand washing has not been proved to remove germs better than cold water.
There is something seriously wrong with this story. Removing germs is not the only purpose to washing hands.

I wash my hands to get rid of dirt, oils, and germs. I always thought that warm water was more effective at getting rid of dirt, not germs. This article does not even address whether the warm water is better for cleaning dirt, and yet it recommends cold water as being just as good.

This is a problem with a lot of science-based recommendations. Someone will quote a study, but the study may have only looked at one aspect of the matter.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Outage has been restored

I lose electric power whenever there is a storm, and a company (PG&E) robot just called after a 3-hour outage and said (to my answering machine robot):
The outage in your area has been restored to most locations in your area.
This sounds like a near miss, which one usage dictionary says is not an error, despite its apparent lack of logic.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

How calorie info influences choices

WSJ blogger Carl Bialik writes:
I wrote last summer about menu labeling of calorie counts, and questioned whether they would influence diners to make healthier choices. This week, a widely reported study of a New York City law mandating menu labeling in chain restaurants revealed that low-income diners didn’t order lower-calorie meals when confronted by the calorie counts, when compared with New York diners before the law was passed and with diners in Newark, which doesn’t have mandatory labeling. The study undercuts a major notion behind menu labeling: that, when confronted with mammoth calorie counts, diners will choose healthier options.
The researchers and experts were baffled at the study results.

I think that all of these articles miss the point. The most immediate effect to posting calorie info is that it allows the customer to calculate the cost of the calories. He can figure how many calories per dollar he can buy. Or if he needs 500 calories to satisfy his appetite, then he can choose the dish that gets him those calories most cheaply.

The obvious consequence of this is that low-income customers would use the info to buy more calories for their dollar. The high-income customers would not care so much.
It is like supermarket unit pricing. The low-income customers use the unit price labels to buy cheaper generic foods, while the high-income customers are more likely to ignore the unit price and buy a brand name.

This is exactly what the study shows.

The experts make the mistake is that they assume that poor people will think that low calorie dishes are healthier, and therefore be willing to pay more money for them. That seems crazy to me. The low calorie dishes are not necessarily healthier, and the poor are the least likely to pay extra for them even if they were. If poor people want to cut calories, they just buy less and eat less.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Why Obama got the prize

Roissy has a theory. Pres. Obama was elected by bitter unmarried women, and Norwegian women gave him the prize. Sailor call it the The Affirmative Action Nobel. I think that Obama is becoming a caricature of himself.

Foreign born prize winners

San Jose Mercury News columnist Chris O'Brien writes:
If you're looking for reasons to puff out your chest and take pride in being American, then take note that the first six Nobel Prize winners announced this week are U.S. citizens.

Here's something else you should know: Four of those winners were born outside the U.S. ...

However you feel about the H-1B visas that our tech companies hunger for, or the swarms of bodies crossing our borders to pick our crops, these hot-button topics obscure the reality: We need these immigrants to renew our economy and to prosper. Our demonization of them is shameful.
And now the Nobel Peace Prize winner is a US citizen from Hawaii and Indonesia!

O'Brien's argument is debunked by VDARE.

The first thing you notice about Chris O'Brien is that you cannot tell whether he is a man or a woman from either his name or his picture. (His picture is always in the print edition, but not online on his blog.)

O'Brien's biggest story as a SJMN reporter was his page one story that the Microsoft takeover of Yahoo was a done deal. Not just an intention, but a certainty. No, the takeover never happened. He has been wrong on a lot of other issues also.

His argument is absurd. H-1B visas do not goto potential Nobel prize winners. They goto wage slaves doing grunt work in order to displace American workers.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Reading nonsense makes you smarter

The NY Timesreports:
In the most recent paper, published last month, Dr. Proulx and Dr. Heine described having 20 college students read an absurd short story based on “The Country Doctor,” by Franz Kafka. The doctor of the title has to make a house call on a boy with a terrible toothache. He makes the journey and finds that the boy has no teeth at all. The horses who have pulled his carriage begin to act up; the boy’s family becomes annoyed; then the doctor discovers the boy has teeth after all. And so on. The story is urgent, vivid and nonsensical — Kafkaesque.

After the story, the students studied a series of 45 strings of 6 to 9 letters, like “X, M, X, R, T, V.” They later took a test on the letter strings, choosing those they thought they had seen before from a list of 60 such strings. In fact the letters were related, in a very subtle way, with some more likely to appear before or after others.

The test is a standard measure of what researchers call implicit learning: knowledge gained without awareness. The students had no idea what patterns their brain was sensing or how well they were performing.

But perform they did. They chose about 30 percent more of the letter strings, and were almost twice as accurate in their choices, than a comparison group of 20 students who had read a different short story, a coherent one.

“The fact that the group who read the absurd story identified more letter strings suggests that they were more motivated to look for patterns than the others,” Dr. Heine said. “And the fact that they were more accurate means, we think, that they’re forming new patterns they wouldn’t be able to form otherwise.”
This sounds bogus to me, and the research report is not online. If it checks out, maybe I will post some nonsense for my readers' benefit.

Monday, October 05, 2009

The Sorry State Of Psychotherapy

The high-status psychologists badmouth their colleagues who got their degrees from second-rate colleges:
Where's The Science? The Sorry State Of Psychotherapy

ScienceDaily (Oct. 3, 2009) — The prevalence of mental health disorders in this country has nearly doubled in the past 20 years. Who is treating all of these patients? Clinical psychologists and therapists are charged with the task, but many are falling short by using methods that are out of date and lack scientific rigor. This is in part because many of the training programs—especially some Doctorate of Psychology (PsyD) programs and for-profit training centers—are not grounded in science. ...

For example, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) has been shown to be the most effective treatment for PTSD and has the fewest side-effects, yet many psychologists do not use this method. Baker and colleagues cite one study in which only 30 percent of psychologists were trained to perform CBT for PTSD and only half of those psychologists elected to use it. ... whereas medications such as Paxil have shown 25 to 50 percent relapse rates.
They also badmouth prescription drugs, as they don't have licenses to prescribe drugs.

Meanwhile, those quacks who can prescribe drugs tell a different story:
According to Nutt, few psychotherapy trials meet the requirements demanded of drug tests, and even those that do frequently show that psychotherapy performs no better -- and often worse -- than pharmacological interventions. What is more, he points out, many psychotherapy trials do not even consider the possibility that their treatment could harm. Yet all therapists should be aware that therapy can have adverse effects on some patients and a major part of psychotherapy training is how to deal with issues such as counter-transference that can mediate these negative effects.
I am not sure about the drugs, but I do agree that the psychologist study is not scientific if it does not even recognize the possibility of a treatment doing harm.

New childrearing book

A new book, NurtureShock, offers scientific evidence on child rearing, reviewed here:
Frequent and oft-undeserved rewards in the form of praise, the authors caution, deprive a child of motivation and discourage persistence. “It’s a neuro­biological fact,” they write, pointing to studies of M.R.I. scans and trained rodents. True, but far from new. Albeit without the sci-techy benefit of brain imaging, in 1964, “Children: The Challenge,” a popular manual of the day, warned, “Praise, as a means of encouragement, must be used very cautiously.” It can be “dangerous” if a child sees praise as a reward and “could easily lead to discouragement,” the author, Rudolf Dreikurs, noted.
People probably had more common sense in 1964. It is since then that there had been a big fad to overpraise kids for everything.

The review goes on:
One of the most valuable chapters looks at how white parents deal with race. For those who think it best to describe Caucasians as “pinkish white” and blacks as “brown skinned” (raise your hands, Upper West Siders), recent research delivers a strong rebuke. Pretending race doesn’t exist leaves young children to form their own — often racist — opinions.
This is funny. Brainwash your kids, or they might figure things out for themselves.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

How soccer gets it wrong

Soccer fan David Post writes:
in a good healthy weekend’s dose of soccer-watching (say, 3 or 4 games), you will see, guaranteed, anywhere from a half-dozen to twenty incorrect offside calls. Not “possibly wrong” or “arguably wrong,” or “judgment-call wrong” — just wrong, plain and simple, as shown on the slow-motion replays. A study published in Nature several years ago confirmed what every soccer fan knows – the linesmen get a lot (around 20%) of the offside calls wrong. ...

And the really extraordinary thing is: it’s not going to get fixed anytime soon, or ever. Nobody is proposing video replay for offside calls, and soccer fans would revolt around the world if they did. Not that we like all these mistakes, exactly — we yell and scream and moan about lousy offside calls all the time. But in a very strange way that I only vaguely understand, that’s kind of the point, and it makes us love the game even more than we otherwise would. It’s just a part of the game, ...

This, I realize, is simply inconceivable to most American sports fans. The whole point of having referees is to “get it right” – it seems obvious — and so we’ll do whatever it takes ...
It is not just that the soccer referees are incompetent or crooked. The soccer rules are so silly that they invite bad calls. It is almost as if the game were designed to make it easy for a referee to throw a game.

My simple explanation is that soccer is a Third World sport with Third World rules. Non-Americans don't seem to have the concepts of fair play and victory to the better team.

Several months ago someone pointed me to a video of a recent championship soccer match that he said was one of the most excited games played in many years. But not only was the outcome of the game determined by a series of very bad referee calls, but the outcome was a 1-1 tie! According to the rules, the visiting team was to be declared the winner on a tie score.

Zero is even

Volokh has a poll on the evenness of zero. Over half his readers get it wrong. I am becoming convinced that most people do not understand that zero is a number. Situations requiring the most trivial understanding of zero seem very difficult for many people.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Free will is not an illusion after all

NewScientist mag reports:
Champions of free will, take heart. A landmark 1980s experiment that purported to show free will doesn't exist is being challenged.

In 1983, neuroscientist Benjamin Libet asked volunteers wearing scalp electrodes to flex a finger or wrist. When they did, the movements were preceded by a dip in the signals being recorded, called the "readiness potential". Libet interpreted this RP as the brain preparing for movement.

Crucially, the RP came a few tenths of a second before the volunteers said they had decided to move. Libet concluded that unconscious neural processesMovie Camera determine our actions before we are ever aware of making a decision.

Since then, others have quoted the experiment as evidence that free will is an illusion – a conclusion that was always controversial, particularly as there is no proof the RP represents a decision to move.

Long sceptical of Libet's interpretation, Jeff Miller and Judy Trevena of the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, attempted to tease apart what prompts the RP using a similar experiment, with a key twist.
I have long been skeptical about that experiment also, because it does not seem to say anything about free will. Now these new experiments disprove the no-free-will interpretation.

Don't expect the determinists to give up easily, tho:
Marcel Brass of Ghent University in Belgium says it is wrong to use Miller and Trevena's results to reinterpret Libet's experiment, in which volunteers were not prompted to make a decision. The audio tone "changes the paradigm", so the two can't be compared, he says.
Be wary of the paradigm-shifting mindreaders.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Man's Book

I am reading The Man's Book: The Essential Guide for the Modern Man. It is written by a European physicist. It is very retro and and most of it reads as if it could have been written a century ago. Much of it is archaic or trivial, but there is also some old-fashioned common sense.

Here is some of its best advice:
It is a good rule in life never to apologize. The right sort of people do not want apologies, and the wrong sort take a mean advantage of them. [P. G. Wodehouse in The Man Upstairs]
He has a point. The book also has this quote:
People who wish to analyze nature without using mathematics must settle for a reduced understanding. [Richard Feynman]
That is correct. Some things cannot be explained to an innumerate.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The evils of conditional parenting

The NY Times reports:
In effect, we’re given tips in conditional parenting, which comes in two flavors: turn up the affection when they’re good, withhold affection when they’re not.

Thus, the talk show host Phil McGraw tells us in his book “Family First” (Free Press, 2004) that what children need or enjoy should be offered contingently, turned into rewards to be doled out or withheld so they “behave according to your wishes.” And “one of the most powerful currencies for a child,” he adds, “is the parents’ acceptance and approval.”

Likewise, Jo Frost of “Supernanny,” in her book of the same name (Hyperion, 2005), says, “The best rewards are attention, praise and love,” and these should be held back “when the child behaves badly until she says she is sorry,” at which point the love is turned back on.
Dr. Phil and the Supernanny don't have any research to back them up. They just have their opinions, and they are sure dogmatic about them. It turns out that research by Avi Assor, Guy Roth, and Edward L. Deci proves them wrong:
This July, the same researchers, now joined by two of Dr. Deci’s colleagues at the University of Rochester, published two replications and extensions of the 2004 study. This time the subjects were ninth graders, and this time giving more approval when children did what parents wanted was carefully distinguished from giving less when they did not.

The studies found that both positive and negative conditional parenting were harmful, but in slightly different ways. The positive kind sometimes succeeded in getting children to work harder on academic tasks, but at the cost of unhealthy feelings of “internal compulsion.” Negative conditional parenting didn’t even work in the short run; it just increased the teenagers’ negative feelings about their parents.

What these and other studies tell us, if we’re able to hear the news, is that praising children for doing something right isn’t a meaningful alternative to pulling back or punishing when they do something wrong. Both are examples of conditional parenting, and both are counterproductive.
I don't expect this to change many opinions. People like Dr. Phil are especially impervious to the evidence.

Monday, September 14, 2009

White girl is racist for not dating blacks

A Sacramento women writes:
Q: Some friends had been talking up this guy they thought would be perfect for me, so I finally went on a blind date with him. It turns out he's black, and while I am NOT racist and have no problem with interracial dating in general, I just prefer to date white guys.

I told my friends why I wouldn't be seeing him again, and they were horrified. Did I miss something here? I know interracial dating is more prevalent than it used to be, but I didn't realize it was SO common that you get in trouble if you don't want to do it.
Wash. Post advice columnist Carolyn Hax also chews her out for being a racist. This dame has to date all races indiscriminately, or else she will be called a racist.

The real racists are her so-called friends who played this prank on her. They could have more fully described her date, but they chose not to, and chose instead to try to impose their values on her personal life. She does not need friends like that.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Brits fear boy might scare fish

A UK newspaper reports:
Security guards reduced a nine-year-old boy to tears after banning him from sailing his toy boat on a pond because it 'frightens the fish'.

Noah Bailey was distraught after staff at Chiswick Business Park, in west London, stopped him playing with his model of the German battleship Bismarck.

His grandfather Paul Fabricius, 57, said that when they went to complain about the draconian rule the guard refused to tell him the name of the manager for 'security reasons'.
The Brits seem to be a little ahead of us when it comes to advancing paranoia.

Meanwhile, the satirical site The Onion reports that Scientists Discover Portal To Outside World.

Friday, September 11, 2009

No sex tests in sports

Why do we have separate athletic competitions for women, but no standards to assure that only women compete?

When Caster Semenya won a big 800m race, everyone said that she was obviously a man. Now the tests confirm that. Not a hermaphroditism as some have reported, but a man with testes and no ovaries. He looks and talks like a man. See this blog for detailed info.

The Olympics have very strict drug tests and other eligibility tests, but no sex tests. Apparently it is politically incorrect to have rules that make transexuals and intersexuals feel awkward. I think that they are going to feel awkward anyway.

Now some people are saying that Semenya will be allowed to compete as a woman if he has his testes removed and enrolls in some sort of sex-change medical program.

This is crazy. The male hormones and steroids have already made him stronger and faster. The sports authorities should just allow geniune women in the women's events, and do some standardized test to prove it.

The news reports:
South Africa's sports minister says there will be a "third world war" if 800-metre world champion athlete Caster Semenya is barred from competing, after media reports that the gold medallist is a hermaphrodite.
No, a hermaphrodite would have male and female organs. Semenya only has male organs.

Here is a science site:
Experts say Semenya should be allowed to race as a woman and they cringe at how her case is exploding publicly in the news media. They worry about psychological scars. Two years ago, a star female track athlete who tested male attempted suicide.
Psychological scars? Since when does anyone care about anybody else's psychological scars?
Dr. Louis Elsas, chairman of biochemistry at the University of Miami and a member of the IAAF panel with Genel, said he had hoped the genetic gender testing issue was over after the 1996 Olympics, when most major sports abandoned regular testing.
No, abolishing testing did not solve the problem.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Scouts cannot have knives

And other news.

Newsweek mag says kids as young as 6 months judge others based on skin color.

British men cannot have guns, and now British boy scouts can
no longer bring penknives on camping trips.

Swedish taxpayers have to fund feminist porn.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Murder conviction overturned

The San Jose paper reports:
Rena Alspaw was only 16 when she pulled out a stolen pistol along an isolated wooded trail and shot her ex-boyfriend four times — three to the body and one to the back of the head.

After a brief trial in 1994, the San Jose teen was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to 30 years to life.

Now, fifteen years later, a judge has taken the rare step of voiding that guilty verdict, opening up the possibility that the girlish-looking 31-year-old killer with long auburn hair could be retried — or even freed — on the grounds that she was a battered woman.

What makes this case so unusual is that Alspaw isn't a classic battered woman. She didn't live with the man she killed, and he didn't physically abuse her, except for handcuffing her once against her will. But there's evidence he harassed her, including calling the police on her for no reason and broadcasting insults about her over a loudspeaker. His violent past, and the threat of violence are what Alspaw contends made her a battered woman.

Her case is getting a second look thanks to a 2002 state law that allows certain convictions to be overturned because jurors didn't get a chance to take into account substantial evidence of the role of battering.
No, she was not physically abused. Her complaint is that the jury was not told that her victim had served time for killing cats!
But most compelling might be Swanson's substantial record of animal cruelty.

"All you need," said Kelly, Alspaw's lawyer, "are animal lovers on the jury."
This is crazy. She confessed to a cold-blooded premeditated murder of her boyfriend. Are cat lovers going to excuse this because he was a cat-killer? If so, I would favor keeping all the cat lovers off the jury.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Woman says women are the biggest cheats

A UK newspaper columnist cites studies that women cheat more than men, and writes:
Why do women lie? Because we must, and because we can. In spite of apparent equality and a more sexually open society, we are still more harshly judged for our sex lives than men. ...

But we also lie naturally and instinctively, as a way to manage and control our relationships, to protect our partners and our families, and to keep our options open.

In fact, we lie so much and for so many reasons that often we don't even think of it as lying at all, but as 'relationship management'.

Women are taught to lie from childhood. Those simple, altruistic lies such as saying we've had a lovely time when we haven't, that someone looks nice when she doesn't, or that we're delighted with a gift we don't really like, are just some of the small ways that lying oils the wheels of our social lives, keeps the peace, and makes other people happy.

Girls will lie to protect someone's feelings or to build a relationship. Honesty, in these circumstances, looks highly overrated, and we quickly learn the value and power of being economical with the truth in relationships.
A commenter there writes:
Plainly, someone doesn't understand statistics! Take it to the extreme, suppose all women in Britain are celibate except 13. All men in Britain have sex with each of these 13 women. Then the average for men would be 13 and the average for women would be almost zero.

Just beacause the reported averages differ doesn't necessarily indicate that men or women are lying.
No, the average for men and women will be exactly the same in that example. And those 13 sluts are likely to lie about it.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Being smart really is sexy

The UK Telegraph newspaper reports:
Psychologists have found that men with the highest IQ also have the healthiest sperm. ...

The research, by the evolutionary psychologist Professor Geoffrey Miller of the University of New Mexico, centred around a study of 400 Vietnam War veterans who were put through extensive mental tests and were also asked to provide sperm samples. ...

Professor Miller, who is speaking at a conference of the Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour at Oxford University, believes that sperm quality was directly related to brain quality.

The two traits could have evolved together as a way to advertise good genes, he said.

He believes a number of human traits – including language, intelligence, humour and selflessness – may have evolved because they are attractive to the opposite sex.
Maybe they are all just correlated with good health.

Meanwhile, an Australian newspaper reports:
High school students allegedly filmed sex acts while believing that the Large Hadron Collider was about to end the world.

At least three teenagers from a Brisbane state high school are being investigated by police for allegedly filming sex acts on a mobile phone and distributing it to other students, the Courier-Mail reports. ...

It is understood the girl wanted to lose her virginity to the boy - believing that the world was about to end.
I am guessing that the boy has a high IQ. More than the girl's, anyway.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The new Philips ipod

I got a Philips GoGear Aria 16GB portable MP3 player. It has a 2-inch screen for pictures and videos, and is much nicer than the ipods made by Apple. Much cheaper also.

It is much easier to use than an Apple ipod because you can just plug it into a computer and it looks like a disc drive. You can just copy your music on, unplug it, and play it. No need to use Apple iTunes or anything like that. It can use MSC or MTP mode.

The one odd thing about it is the behavior of one of its buttons. The player has seven buttons in front, and the one in the middle is used for Select, Play, and Pause. It must be operated with a very brief tap. A slow press does nothing. I thought that the button was defective, so I called Philips tech support, and the guy advised me to return the product. He was not aware of the problem. So I got another one, and it works the same way.

Now that I know that the button works this way, it is not really a problem. I tested the player on two friends of mine, and one of them thought that the button was defective. I don't know whether the Philips engineers intended this behavior or not. I think that they should either change the firmware or put some warnings in the manual, or else they will get a lot of returns. On most devices with a Pause button, you can press Pause as slowly as you wish. And even on this Philips player, a slow Pause works just fine to pause watching a movie.

I am posting this to notify others that the Philips ipod is not really defective, but it just requires a quick tap on the Select/Play/Pause button. It might save someone else from returning it.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Railroading Barry Bonds

Yet another court has ruled that the feds have broken the legal rules in their attempts to prosecute baseball star Barry Bonds.

I have trouble seeing the point. Maybe Bonds took advantage of some ambiguity in the baseball rules to hit a few more home runs that he would have otherwise. The feds have harassed Bonds for five years with a weak case, blackmailed witnesses, and conducted illegal searches. Even if Bonds is somehow guilty of something, I don't see how his conduct could be any worse than that of the feds.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The great sex ratio reversal

Anthropologist Peter Frost writes:
Beginning in the late 1970s and early 1980s, a reversal took place in the ratio of single men to single women among people of reproductive age. This sex ratio slipped from male scarcity to parity and then to a relative excess of males, due to a decline in male mortality and an increase in divorce and remarriage by older men with younger women (Pedersen, 1991). The imbalance seems to have steadily worsened. In Germany, single men now outnumber single women up to the age of 60 (Glowsky, 2007). ...

Indeed, over the past thirty years the new marriage market has failed to deliver its presumed benefits. Divorce rates have gone up, not down—because more women are filing for divorce. Illegitimacy has gone up, not down—because more women are voluntarily having children out of wedlock. And more women are postponing marriage or rejecting it altogether. True, men are participating more in family life, but this has not offset the overall withdrawal from family life by women. And true, the birth rate has gone up in the last few years, but for the rest of the past thirty years it was trending downward. The current boomlet probably has other causes.

These negative outcomes could have been predicted. ...

So what is the optimal sex ratio? If we wish to have a society with no double standard, i.e., equal limitations on male and female sexual freedom, the optimum would be parity at all reproductive ages. This is something we have not had for thirty years now, and it would take an act of political will to bring it back. We would have to scrap no-fault divorce and make joint custody the norm. We would also have to lower the sex ratio at birth, probably through incentives for the birth of daughters.

It could be done and probably will be. The question is how bad things will get before action is finally taken.