Friday Four

Friday, August 22, 2014

1. A woman with a rare genetic disease was both unconvinced by her medical diagnosis and "frustrated by the rampant misinformation" on Internet patient forums -- so she did her own research. In the end, she correctly told her doctors which DNA test to run.

In addition to having to familiarize herself with an unfamiliar scientific literature, she also had to face the understandable skepticism of her own physicians:

"I'm beyond impressed," says Michael Ackerman, a geneticist at the Mayo Clinic. He specializes in inherited heart disorders like ARVC that can cause sudden death at any time. Such diseases make for people who do their homework, but Ackerman describes most as "Google-and-go" patients who check their diagnosis online or read up about treatment options. Kim had written up her research as a white paper--36 pages of research and analysis. "Kim's the only one who handed me her own thesis," he says. "Of all the 1,000-plus patients I've taken care of, none have done extensive detective work and told physicians which genetic test to order."
The article mentions a series of personality traits, like "perseverance and love of isolation" that served Kim Goodsell in good stead as she sought to understand her problem, but underlying her quest was her impressive degree of independence. She would not let a single term she did not understand go unexamined.

2. An American sports fan rebuts one of the more thoughtful anti-soccer editorials I read this World Cup, one by Kareem Adbul-Jabbar. That piece concluded with a prediction to the effect that soccer would "return to its sickbed" after the tournament. But Sheldon Hirsch, who attended his first professional game in nearly four decades, an exhibition after the World Cup, begs to disagree:
The enormous crowd of 109,318 opened my eyes and raised doubts about Kareem's critique. The crowd seemed like a rabid NFL gathering, except almost twice as large, perhaps half as inebriated, and more prone to song. Notably, this was not a World Cup or Olympics competition; or Michigan vs. Michigan State; or an MLS championship game. Over 100,000 people attended an exhibition game; clearly, serious soccer fans.
I think Hirsch supports his contention that Abdul-Jabbar shot an airball on this topic quite well.

3. Is there anything a smartphone can't help solve? There are now apps, called "Dumbphone" and "IgnoreNoMore", that respectively help (1) users fight compulsive smartphone checking and (2) parents get their kids to call them back.

4. Wow! My old post, "Data Storage Then and Now", may soon be made to look quaint after only a few years: New technology that could store about a terabyte of data in a device the size of a postage stamp is a step closer to manufacture.

-- CAV

Scapegoating vs. Progress

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Larry Elder notes a self-defeating trend that has become manifest in the wake of the Ferguson, Missouri, police shooting:

Many simply have chosen to believe that teenager Michael Brown was "executed" or "shot several times in the back" -- the evidence can wait. Witnesses who definitively assert that officer Wilson "shot him in the back" have been contradicted by the Brown family's own medical expert, respected pathologist Dr. Michael Baden, who conceded the wounds could be consistent with Brown charging toward Wilson, not running away. [bold added]
While I have not been following this story -- or any other -- very closely, it has been nearly unavoidable since it is local news for me. Some of the belief in the "shot in the back" narrative must surely be blamed on media coverage: This is the first time I have heard about this medical evidence despite an apparently non-stop torrent of such coverage.

Most people would call such claims -- when made contrary to evidence or (worse) the need for evidence -- "self-serving". That is clearly not the case, particularly for blacks:
The No. 1 cause of preventable death for young black men is homicide. For whites, it's unintentional injuries, such as car accidents. And if a high percentage of the kids in a neighborhood are without dads, and if those children are 20 times more likely to end up in jail, isn't this a far bigger problem than the rare instance in which an unarmed black person -- unjustifiably or not -- is killed by a cop?
As Elder implies, the incessant pursuit of what he calls "The Great White Defendant" is hindering any real examination of the actual difficulties poor blacks face in places like Ferguson, and, therefore, any progress towards a solution.

Even assuming the worst of the police officer who shot Michael Brown, it is folly to spend energy on this one case at the clear expense of failing to attack so many other real and bigger problems.

-- CAV

Underachievement Quotas

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Thomas Sowell recently wrote a column about leftist attacks against admission standards and testing for college-preparatory schools. Therein, Sowell raises a good question for the quota-pushers, including teachers' unions and those civil rights "leaders" who imagine that "their civil rights include getting into these elite schools, whether they qualify or not":

If racism is the reason why there are so few blacks in Stuyvesant High School, why were blacks a far higher proportion in Stuyvesant in earlier times, as far back as 1938? Was there less racism in 1938? Was there less poverty among blacks in 1938?
Sowell, who has written extensively on such matters in the past, also includes a nice history lesson for anyone who imagines that it is unusual for some groups to be over- or under-represented in such institutions.

-- CAV

First, They Came for the Bagpipers...

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

From a somewhat rambling Mark Steyn column comes word of one of the most ridiculous regulations I have ever heard of:

I'm still hopping mad about the US Government's bagpipe crackdown. The international piping scene is basically Scotland, Canada and the north-eastern US. On the Atlantic seaboard, it's a cross-border community. Yet since the end of June the official position of the United States Government is that, if someone from northern New Hampshire competes in a bagpipe championship in Quebec, he cannot take his pipes through any US/Canadian land border crossing. So instead of a pleasant three-hour drive from Montreal back to New Hampshire, he has to fly from Montreal to Boston and then drive all the way back, more than doubling the time and vastly increasing the cost.


[U]nder the insanity of America's hyper-regulatory tyranny, you now have to register musical instruments with the US Department of Fish & Wildlife.

And, even if you do, you still can't drive that instrument over a US/Canadian land border.
This reminds me of a thought I had this morning. Many people expect the government to arbitrate everything because they do not think that individuals have any ability to be objective, let alone any reason to do so. (And yet it seems that it never occurs to many of these same people that the government is staffed by "imperfect" humans.)

The above is an example of the kind of result this gets -- something completely inane that has the force of law. Most people will be unconcerned, since this involves mere inconvenience to a small number of people who play an oddball instrument, but, in principle, anyone can -- and many often do -- find themselves on the wrong side of ridiculous government rules and facing real consequences.

You may realistically laugh at the bagpipers now, only to find yourself facing prison time later. That is where the pro-regulatory, pro-central planning mentality has already gotten us. It's high time to question the wisdom of trusting the government to know what is best.

-- CAV


Today: Corrected Mike to Mark. 

Steyn on Militarized Police

Monday, August 18, 2014

Mark Steyn sees something in the ongoing events of Ferguson, Missouri, that should concern every American: a trend towards the militarization of our police departments.

The most basic problem is that we will never know for certain what happened. Why? Because the Ferguson cruiser did not have a camera recording the incident. That's simply not credible. "Law" "enforcement" in Ferguson apparently has at its disposal tear gas, riot gear, armored vehicles and machine guns ... but not a dashcam. That's ridiculous. I remember a few years ago when my one-man police department in New Hampshire purchased a camera for its cruiser. It's about as cheap and basic a police expense as there is.
Noting that, "In 2014, when a police cruiser doesn't have a camera, it's a conscious choice", Steyn goes on to note the historical origins of the modern police departments and observes:
[W]hen the police are dressed like combat troops, it's not a fashion faux pas, it's a fundamental misunderstanding of who they are. Forget the armored vehicles with the gun turrets, forget the faceless, helmeted, anonymous Robocops, and just listen to how these "policemen" talk. Look at the video as they're arresting the New York Times and Huffington Post reporters. Watch the St. Louis County deputy ordering everyone to leave, and then adding: "This is not up for discussion."
There is much more from Steyn on both this alarming trend and on the ineptitude of the local authorities, particularly Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson.

Steyn leaves us with the following warning: "[O]ne day, unless something changes, we will all be policed like Ferguson." (HT: Steve D.)

-- CAV


8-19-14: Corrected Mike to Mark. 

8-16-14 Hodgepodge

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Making Molehills of a Mountain

The Unclutterer blog tackles a tiresome task -- keeping papers organized -- with some good advice, including the following:

Organizer Janine Adams wrote on her Peace of Mind Organizing Blog about a women who got through 12 years of accumulated papers by working on them for 15 to 30 minutes a day. It's often easier to tackle a dreaded task if you know you only have to do it for a short period of time. [minor format edits]
This is a multi-pronged approach and it could easily be applied to similar chores. The advice about having good tools is also worthwhile. (My wonky shredder comes to mind.)

Weekend Reading

"Inauthenticity is a game that takes too much work, and ultimately it can be destructive." -- Michael Hurd, in "ASK For What You Want" at The Delaware Wave

"There are indeed certain occasions when lling] the truth doesn't matter as much as physical safety or privacy." -- Michael Hurd, in "Kids: The Great Loophole Finders" at The Delaware Coast Press

My Two Cents

As a parent, I always appreciate it when Michael Hurd covers topics related to raising children, as he does in his second piece above. In this case, I am glad to see that I have been on the right track regarding how I handle questions that are not age-appropriate.

Robin Williams, RIP

I was saddened by the news that Robin Williams took his own life last week.

I'll memorialize him with the benevolent and very funny video above, although I must mention that I enjoyed his more serious acting work even more.  I particularly liked his portrayal of Oliver Sacks, a neurologist, in Awakenings, for example.

Ironically, I learned of the video only recently due to followers of a certain religion -- take a guess -- being so thin-skinned as to threaten him over it.

-- CAV

Friday Four

Friday, August 15, 2014

1. Pumpkin has become interested in helping me lately, so I come up with "jobs" for her whenever I can, like holding doors or carrying things from the kitchen to the family room. But she shows good initiative, particularly with my phone, which sometimes falls out of my pocket when I play with the kids. (She's handed it back to me numerous times after that.)

My favorite example of her assistance came after I'd taken my phone out out and left it on the coffee table. She tracked me down afterwards and asked, "Did you mean to leave this out?" Yes. That's a direct quote. It does sound like the way an adult would ask it.

Little Man has been matching Pumpkin's initiative with an often radiant benevolence. He frequently smiles and really likes the song, "If You're Happy and You Know It". Going between the kitchen and the family room one day, I encountered him walking, smiling, and clapping. Now, if I can just get him to stop trying to put toys into the Diaper Genie...

I am very fortunate: There are very few people who easily improve my mood, and two of them are my children. (If that makes me sound like some kind of a grouch, so be it.)

2. John Cook offers high praise for what he calls an "open source dissertation".

He's not being secretive, fearing that someone will scoop his results. There have been a few instances of one academic scooping another's research, but these are rare and probably not worth worrying about. Besides, a public GitHub repo is a pretty good way to prove your priority.
In terms of having the idea, yes. But ...

I haven't looked at this dissertation, but one caveat would be that making something like this public may cause problems getting patent protection down the line, if that is an objective. Other than this, I find the idea of an "open source dissertation" intriguing.

3. Mid-century architecture buff Toby Weiss, calling it "too young to save, too old to matter", has created a good web site memorializing the Northland Shopping Center, a 1950's-era shopping center in Jennings, Missouri, that has long since been demolished and replaced.

I, too, would have loved to see this:
Saving a shopping center is practically unheard of, but the architectural and historical aspects of Northland made it a special case. I still imagine how cool a multi-story Target inside the Famous-Barr building would have been, how the properly-marketed genuine retro buzz would have made it a truly one-of-a-kind shopping destination, and how trailblazing ... the resurgence of a retail legend would have been...
Having driven past the Target at Northland's old location during errands last Friday caused this site, which I encountered long ago, to pop back into memory.

As a bonus, re-visiting this site helped me realize that a really odd-looking building I occasionally pass in Clayton was once a Famous-Barr.

4. Football season is upon us -- at least for the kind I usually just call soccer. The English Premier league begins play this Saturday, and I really liked this thorough and entertaining team-by-team preview. Although I am an Arsenal fan, I thought the "Why You Should Watch" fan quote about Newcastle took the cake:
Perhaps more than any other Premier League team, Newcastle United have no idea where they'll finish in 2014-15. After 5th and 16th place finishes in the previous two campaigns, they were 6th on Boxing Day last year, then were the worst team in the entire Football League by several measures to finish the season. Where they belong this year is anybody's guess. Alan Pardew has brought in seven players to refresh the squad, and Siem de Jong and Rémy Cabella could be the bargains of the summer. Meanwhile, 18-year-old Rolando Aarons has been a force in every preseason match so far. There's reason for hope for Toon fans -- but of course it could all go very south, very quickly. Newcastle is a bullet train that could go off the rails at any moment. Who doesn't want to watch that?
Say what you will of the EPL, but thanks to the time difference between Old Blighty and the States, it is no maker of football widows here.

-- CAV