Sunday, August 31, 2014

Anti-vaccine news


Last week saw a tempest in the anti-vaccination world. If you aren't part of that teapot, and don't have anyone on your facebook newsfeed who is, then you may have missed it.

Andrew Wakefield and Brian Hooker claim that a "whistleblower" has come forward from out of the nefarious CDC to reveal that the Center has been covering up decisive proof of a vaccine/autism link.

The first thing to be said about this: it isn't true.  Here is a fine discussion. The whistleblower, unsurprisingly, "wishes to remain anonymous," or maybe he doesn't and his name is William Thompson. So what we have is the notion that Thompson, or maybe No-Name, told Hooker that the CDC changed the database in one study in an "arbitrary" way in order to hide the true results.

But it still isn't clear what exactly Thompson (or whomever) said to Hooker. Hooker portrays himself as the recipient of a leak, but wraps that leak up in so much paraphrase, and ties it in with his own "re-analysis" of old data, so that it isn't clear what he has taken from the supposed leaker at all.

Here is a more complete effort to  sort it all out.

But the underlying facts are pretty clear. Outside fringe folks looking to make a reputation for themselves and cater in a hucketerish way to the (obvious and sympathetic) views of distraught parents, there isn't really any evidence for an autism/vaccine link.

Real science on the subject has put that matter to bed, and has moved on.  

Saturday, August 30, 2014


Kiriake Xerohemona

A quote about Frank Ramsey and his approach to the idea of truth.

"[T]he usual label for Ramsey's approach, 'redundancy theory,' is potentially misleading -- laconicism would be a better term. For Ramsey was well aware that, far from being redundant, the word 'true' plays an important role."

To that there is a neat footnote.  The word "laconicism," Haack says, "is not mine, but was coined by Dr. Kiriake Xerohemona. It is exactly the mot juste, the English word 'laconic'  means 'terse, short' and 'Laconia' was the ancient Greek name for Sparta."

Kiriake Xerohemona? Yes.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Astrology: A Field Test

From a syndicated astrology column, dated Sunday, August 24, 2014:

"On the eve of a rather complicated Virgo New Moon, the lunar influence, still in Leo, is making light of the matter. This playful cosmic influence suggests that we try to shake off the critical inner voices. That's so much easier said than done. Exercise will help."

Wow. The void of cognition reaches its own transcendent levels here. It is doubtful that any string of seventy syllables has ever been so emptily employed.

I'm impressed.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Conservation and Throw-aways

02-21-12 © f9photos
Sometimes the debris or throwaway of one year is precisely the material that needs to be preserved or conserved in another. Trash becomes a nesting place, or the familiar terrain of wildlife.

That was an insight neighbors of a vacant lot brought to the table at a public hearing of a certain Massachusetts' town's Conservation Commission on a recent Thursday.
When the Commission came to the matter of a notice of intent on a certain property I'll call Fordham Place, it heard from an environmental consultant for the landowner, who made a  speaking of the landowner’s intent to put a single-family home on what is now a vacant lot within a buffer zone just outside a designated wetland. Consultant also said, as if to allay concerns, that this intent comes with a “detailed plan for restoring and re-vegetating the area.”

Commission members agreed that the notice of intent didn’t apply to the actual wetland, rather, to a discretionary buffer zone outlying the wetland.  But they also indicated that they wanted to personally inspect the site before moving forward.
They tentatively scheduled that inspection for the following Monday.

It wasn't until they opened up discussion to the floor that things got interesting. Talk turned to the need to remove “debris” from the wetland area behind the property in question. Cipher Cimma, of 42 Fordham Place, along with other neighbors, observed that people have been using the area as a dumping ground for a long time, so there is now a lot of debris.

Kathleen Curran, from intersecting Ringo Street, spoke of the wildlife she has seen on the lot, and cautioned, “If you remove the debris, you might be removing the lot.”
At some point, then, trash ceases to be the enemy of "conservation" and becomes part of that which is to be conserved.  An obvious enough point, really, but I have to say I was amused by the unexpected
demonstration this dayt.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Metropolitan Opera

Wolfgang Amadeus MozartThe Metropolitan Opera recently reached an agreement with its stagehands' union, one that will keep the doors open.

The brinksmanship was scary to those who love the art form, and hope to see it continue to thrive in New York City.  I count myself among that company.

In a slower news season, this threatened strike, and its resolution, might have been big news. It hasn't been, simply because news from Missouri, the Ukraine-Russian border, the Middle East, etc., has all seemed so apocalyptic of late that some matters have gotten pushed into the back pages and the back burner of public consciousness.

The agreement with the unions for the musicians (separate unions for orchestra and chorus) came first:

here's a link.

That happened on August 18th, but it left the stagehands, i.e. the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, unaccounted for.

That union signed with management on Wednesday August 20th.

This means the Met's 2014-15 season will begin as scheduled, on September 22d, with a new production of The Marriage of Figaro.

Let the juicing, joicing, and rejoicing commence.

Saturday, August 23, 2014


I'd like to congratulate the Wall Street Journal for running a recent opinion/analysis piece on the mysteries of yawning.

In particular, the big one: "why is yawning contagious." People say, "the power of suggestion" but that sounds like a merely verbal answer, a bit like the claim that sleeping pills work because of their dormitive efficacy.

A better approach, says the WSJ, is to think about survival effects. Yawning may have evolved as a way in which an organism maintains its alertness. It doesn't merely mean you're tired, it means that you are tired and recognize that you should be awake (in some non-moralistic sense of the word "should" of course.)

This in turn suggests that the urge to yawn could well be triggered by the yawn of someone nearby. After all, alertness is a trait that small groups in close proximity often need to maintain together. They have common predators, or common prey, about.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Understanding the Greenspan Years

01-04-10 © bofotolux

In the spirit of a throwback Thursday, [oops, too late] here is a reflection about something that ran in FORBES magazine back in October 1987.

"He [chairman AG] has argued in the recent past that import prices could climb almost 10 percent a year without generating dangerous inflationary pressure....Chances are that he will be willing to let the economy grow faster than many observers expect."

The article also said that Greenspan expected the U.S. dollar to fall about 3 percent against the yen the following year.

On October 19th, the first Monday after the appearance of this article, the stock market crashed. Cause and effect? Probably not.

Synchronicity? Definitely. And Greenspan never gave another media interview throughout the remainder of his tenure as chairman.