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Showing posts from August, 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 wit…

Susan Haack, EVIDENCE MATTERS

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.

Conservation and Throw-aways

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 …

Metropolitan Opera

The 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…

Understanding the Greenspan Years

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.

A Review Essay on Narcissism

Two new books about narcissism are getting some play in the press of late. Jeffrey Kluger's THE NARCISSIST NEXT DOOR comes to us from Riverhead Books. The other, THE AMERICANIZATION OF NARCISSISM by Elizabeth Lunbeck, hails from Harvard Un. Press.

Kluger, a science writer with TIME, wants to warn and forearm readers about the potential "monsters" in their own lives -- families, workplaces, neighborhoods. He also invokes such pop-cult examples as Donald Trump, who he says has the "insatiable hunger to be the largest, loudest, most honkingly conspicuous presence in any room."

Lunbeck. a professor of history at Vanderbilt, seems to want to take Christopher Lasch down a peg. It was Lasch who wrote THE CULTURE OF NARCISSISM (1979), and Lunbeck says that Lasch's treatment of the term has made narcissism a cliché, "a highfalutin name for the old-fashioned complaint that modernity means a loosening of restraint."

I'm looking at this moment at a re…

Quoting Goethe About God

I recently encountered the following quotation (never mind where): "Nature is the living, visible garment of God." This was attributed with some confidence (but without further specificity) to the German romantic poet/.philosopher Goethe.

I googled the phrase "visible garment of God" curious about particulars. It gets 31,000 hits.

But if you follow some of them you'll soon find that there are quotes of quotes of quotes. I began to understand Abe Lincoln's frustration when he said, "I never said most of the stuff you see me quoted as saying on the internet."

I persisted in my inquiries. It turns out that Goethe had a character say something LIKE this, but that wording is due to another romantic poet/philosophy, Thomas Carlyle.

In FAUST, Goethe had a character called Erdgeist (Earth Spirit) say: "I walk and work, above, beneath, work and weave ... 'tis thus at the roaring Loom of Time I ply, and weave for God the Garment thou seest Him…

Languages and steady-state

There may not be much of a tendency for seldom-used languages to disappear

A natural question (for those who think about languages at all) is: what number of fluent speakers is necessary for the language to be a rational continuing project?

Assume that there is some mental energy exerted in learning a language, and continuing to use it over time enough to be "in practice," that is, to be one of those fluent speakers. Some portion of your language-using brain is freed up when you (a multi-lingual person) abandon one of your languages to the forces of erosion or rust or whatever.

So: the more fellow speakers of that language you have, the more worthwhile to you are the costs of maintaining that ability.

On such assumptions, it is reasonable to expect that there is some number of speakers X which is the minimum for a sustainable language.

What is that number? David Clingingsmith thinks it is rather small: steady state (a language that is neither growing nor shrinking) requ…

Another Ahab at the Movies

When watching movies I sometimes entertain myself thinking like a Jungian. Especially if the movie is itself forgettable, I have mental resources to wonder to which deep collective images, archetypes if you will, the screenwriters might have thought they were making an appeal.

This was my reaction to the recent movie INTO THE STORM. It was marketed as a disaster movie about a big storm cell that generates a lot of tornadoes, some of them of unprecedented ferocity, devastating the town of Silverton, Oklahoma.

But my suspicion is that the screenwriters at some point thought they were making more of a human interest movie about the well-financed storm chasing team using a state-of-the-art vehicle called the TITUS, a modified tank, designed to let them get into the heart of the storm, get photos of the eye and inner wall, and get out unscathed. 

The head of the team is a fellow named Pete -- I don't know if he gets a last name -- played by Matt Walsh.  That's Walsh, in charact…

Classic Dilbert

As I've done once or twice before, so again today, I'll simply quote a classic DILBERT comic.

The familiar crowd sits around a conference table in the first frame. There's the pointy-haired boss in the 12-o-clock position. working around the clock face, there's his secretary, Wally the crafty deadbeat, Asok the intern, non-descript Ted, Alice, and Dilbert. This surely isn't meant to be the whole department, BTW, or they'd have to include Tina the brittle-egoed Technical Writer. [I made her omission right by including her above.]

At any rate, in this first panel, the boss says, "We need to communicate less with other departments."

Second panel: our PoV has zoomed in on just Dilbert and boss. Boss is saying, "The more they know about us, the more they cri

A Fresh New Look at the Old Testament

I recommend, for any actual or aspiring Bible scholars among my vast readership, the blog BIBLE WANDERINGS, in which a woman who describes herself as a "contemplative scholar" gives us the benefit of her thoughts about the books as she reads through them carefully.

She finds odd the story, in 1 Chronicles 17, of how the Lord became angry with David for taking a census.

I also recommend the comments section, in which Shiba says that the King, in taking the census, was telling God that he, David., didn't trust God, he wanted instead to put his faith in numbers.

"This certainly doesn't mean that taking a census or knowing how many men you have in your army is wrong, but this was a special case, as we can see by the context."

For Chistian readers, there will surely be extra resonance here -- another earthly sovereign was demanding a census at the time of the birth of Jesus, we're told.


Death of Yoshiki Sasai

Suicide is a deep-rooted reaction to disgrace in many cultures, and at least in pop-culture stereotypes Japanese culture is an outlier in this regard.

I cannot judge the over-all validity of those stereotypes, but they do naturally come to mind with news of the death of Yoshiki Sasai, deputy director of the Center for Development Biology, part of the Riken center, in Japan.

Sasai supervised recent research into stem cells that seemed for a brief heady time to constitute a great breakthrough. A younger scientist working under him got the lead-author credit on the key paper, but there was plenty of limelight to go around while it lasted.

The apparent breakthrough, in January of this year, was the discovery of stimuli, external stressors, that could trigger the return of specialized, a/k/a differentiated cells back to the "pluripotency" of the stem cell state. Their process involved bathing blood cells in acid at a specified temperature -- 37 C. My quick math tells me that&#…

What Hath Man Wrought: More

Last month, I ran here a post titled "What Hath Man Wrought," sharing my own reflections on the news of recent days. Actually all I shared was the trite fact that I find a lot of it depressing.

In the course of that post I noted that scientists were puzzling over a giant hole in the ground on the Yamal Peninsula, in Siberia, a discovery of reindeer herders.

On that, there is new information. Or at least new informed speculation! One expert says the hole is likely the consequence of an explosion of methane gas trapped in the permafrost.

The explosion may have been set off by the unusually high temperatures of the last couple of winters, weakening the permafrost lid until the gas could pop through, like the champagne beneath a loosened champagne cork.

If that's true, Siberia may over time get more of these cork-pop craters.

Just putting it out there, in case you missed it.

Physics and Finance

A random quote from a 2004 memoir by Emanuel Derman, MY LIFE AS A QUANT.

"In physics, a model is right when it correctly predicts the future trajectories of planets or the existence and properties of new particles....In finance, you cannot easily prove a model right by such observations. Data are scarce and, more importantly, markets are arenas of action and reaction, dialectics of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. People learn from past mistakes and go on to make new ones."

The Narragansett Rune Stone

Back in the mid 1980s, the Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission came into possession (I'm not sure how) of a large chunk of sandstone (7 feet wide, 5 feet high, 2.5 feet deep) on which were carved the above symbols, some of which at least were ancient Norse characters. The sandstone thus came to be known as the Quidnessett Rock, or the Narragansett Rune Stone, and impressed experts on the Norse/Viking presence in North America as authentic.


The stone was apparently stolen from the RIHPHC in 2012, then recovered by law enforcement in 2013. This caused a flurry of press coverage and that in turn brought forward Everett Brown.


Brown now claims that he carved the stone, 50 years ago, thus some 20 years before its discovery. He was a 13 year old kid in 1964, fascinated by Vikings and skilled at carving -- he was also a kid whose family vacationed each summer on the Rhode Island coast. He had too much time on his hands  and access to his father's tools and…

Jersey Boys: Some Reviews

Alonso Duralde, in THE WRAP, gives this movie a mixed review.  The "core audience" will get a "nice, pleasant, entertaining time at the movies," but it all feels uninspired to him, an overblown episode of "Behind the Music."


Mixed reviews seem to be the fate of Jersey Boys. Roger Ebert, of the notorious thumb, says the mob-related material in the movie seems both endless and lifeless. The movie becomes worthwhile, though, when it focuses on the chemistry among the band members.


Andrew Barker, writing in VARIETY, says the movie is "effective at conveying the joy of sudden harmonic epiphany" in some scenes, but in others the leads don't seem to be "surfing the same wave."


Chris Nashawaty for CNN Entertainment, gave it one of the least positive reviews I've seen.  It was in his view a "one-dimensional stage show" to begin with and gains nothing from adaptation. But he acknowledges that the project is saved from wretche…