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?