Less research is needed

In which a health blogger gets dangerously close to putting her finger on what's wrong with climate science, but pulls back and zings several sacred cows in health research instead:
On my first day in (laboratory) research, I was told that if there is a genuine and important phenomenon to be detected, it will become evident after taking no more than six readings from the instrument.   If after ten readings, my supervisor warned, your data have not reached statistical significance, you should [a] ask a different question; [b] design a radically different study; or [c] change the assumptions on which your hypothesis was based.
H/t Rocket Science.

The internal nose

Saturday mornings bring the Not Exactly Rocket Science linkfest.  Some good ones today.  A kidney researcher complained to her advisor about some bad data she was getting from a kidney gene experiment.  It almost seemed as if there were scent receptors in the kidney.
He kind of looked at me for a second, and he was like "Scent receptors in the kidney.  That would be cool though, right?"  At that point we both still thought it was one of those crazy, stupid ideas you laugh about later.
It turns out that we have scent/taste receptors all over our bodies, in the kidney, in the bronchial tubes, in the sinuses, and in fact anywhere it would be helpful to switch a process off or on upon the detection of a particular molecule. It's possible that scent receptors started in our ancestors' internal organs and migrated to the external sensory organs fairly late in the evolutionary process.

A breakdown in one kind of scent receptor may explain why some people have recurrent sinus infections that don't respond to the usual surgical fix.

An Introduction

Some of you know me as the commenter Tom, and please feel free to continue calling me that. Grim invited me to post here as part of working on two projects in particular which might be of interest to the Hall.

The first is solving The Knowledge Problem: We have very short lives, and many demands on our time, both duties and desires; we must make vital decisions about how to spend those lives; we need reliable information to make good decisions. How can we sift through the oceans of conflicting information out there to find the best information for the decisions we need to make? How can we sort reliable information from un? How can we focus information to solve the riddles we face? And how can we  do all this while giving life's many other claims their due as well?

The second project is gaining a fundamental understanding of Aristotle, in which Grim has generously offered to act as tutor. Why Aristotle? Over the last six or eight years I have become convinced that it is impossible to understand the history of the West without at least a basic understanding of The Philosopher's ideas. After Aristotle, the intellectual history of the West is filled with two millennia of attempts to understand, define, modify, challenge, support, extend, apply, and refute his ideas. If we compare intellectual history to a dinner party, not knowing Aristotle leaves you out of the conversation.

I look forward to being part of the crew here, and thanks for inviting me, Grim.

Sum Ting Wong

Apparently the San Francisco local TV news anchors will read anything they see on the teleprompter.

A banana republic without the bananas

David Goldman examines politics in Egypt, noting that
There wasn’t before, there is not now, and there will not be in the future such a thing as democracy in Egypt.  The now-humiliated Muslim Brotherhood is a Nazi-inspired totalitarian party carrying a crescent in place of a swastika.  If Mohamed Morsi had remained in power, he would have turned Egypt into a North Korea on the Nile, a starvation state in which the ruling party rewards the quiescent with a few more calories. . . . .  The will of a people that cannot feed itself has little weight.
So the cash-flush Saudis will turn Egypt into a client state, in order to keep a lid on the Shi'ites.

The Old Orange Flute

It's the 12th of July.

Free thought

Via Maggie's Farm, a couple of good posts about the Asiana crash and the different cultural approaches to technical skill, education, and training.

It's here

Every so often in the history of cinema, a film comes along that probes man's inhumanity to man and muses on the enigmatic silence of God throughout human history.   Such a film eschews easy answers while engaging the audience in sensitive portrayals of ordinary heroes.  Sharknado is that film.  And the trailers are here at last.

It took "Snakes on a Plane" four words to sum up the dramatic premise that Sharknado achieves in one:  live sharks raining down on people.  Cinemaphiles have to reach back to "Mant" ("Half man, half ant:  all terror") for disciplined minimalism on this level.

I have a ban proposal, too

There's got to be a way to ban this kind of idiocy.  I think it involves the ballot box.
The DOE held a public meeting on Energy Conservation Standards Framework for Ceiling Fans and Ceiling Fan Light Kits in Washington D.C. on March 22, 2013, which followed its release of a 100-page Framework Document requesting feedback from members of the ceiling fan industry.  The Framework Document indicates that the DOE could impose a requirement for all ceiling fans to transition from AC motors to DC motors. . . . Although DC motors are more energy efficient and use less wattage on high settings, the cost is four to five times higher compared to AC motors. However, since most people do not run their ceiling fans on a high setting the majority of the time—using either medium or low settings instead—the difference in wattage is insignificant.
Interested readers may recall the War of the Currents between Thomas Edison, a DC enthusiast, and George Westinghouse, who favored AC.

The 20% Experiment

My Alma Mater, Georgia State University, is trying a novel program to try to encourage women to study philosophy. Apparently they have decided that the problem is that they don't get to read enough women:
Starting next year, graduate students teaching introductory-level courses in philosophy at Georgia State, who teach about half of all such sections offered, will use syllabuses that include at least 20 percent women philosophers. That's at least double the number included on most syllabuses for the course at the university. The effort is an extension of preliminary research by Eddy Nahmias, professor of philosophy, and several of his graduate students, Toni Adleberg and Morgan Thompson, into why male and female students enroll in introductory-level courses in similar numbers but women drop out of the discipline in much greater numbers.
There's a real problem with this approach, which is that an introduction course needs to focus on the most important issues in philosophy -- but women authors are not represented among the historically great philosophers. There are some notable 20th century female philosophers (I mentioned Elizabeth Anscombe recently, and we've often talked about Hannah Arendt here), but the 20th century is one of the driest and least important periods in the entire discipline of philosophy (for reasons entirely not the fault of the women, who were often among the most interesting voices). Even in the 20th century, you have to stretch beyond the very top voices to include any women at all (let alone to compose a fifth of your readings from their work). The problem only increases as you move to earlier and more vibrant periods in philosophy.

For an introductory course, then, you can achieve this mark only by harming the students: by denying them the chance to encounter the really great questions, and the most compelling arguments, in order to fill a fifth of their time with lesser-but-importantly-female voices. Generally watering down the content of a course is popular with students, as it is easier for them, but it's harmful to them in the long run.

It would be easier to achieve this mark in higher-level courses, once the introductions are finished. There are a number of interesting women writing today, including L. A. Paul, whose work in metaphysics I totally disagree with but nevertheless respect; and Kathrin Koslicki, whose similar work is really very good, although I think she's wrong about some key questions. You could construct a very interesting course on these metaphysical questions that had even 50% female-generated readings, if it were important to you to do so; indeed, you could do a course that was wholly about contemporary female writers in metaphysics or any other sub-discipline of philosophy.

I'm not sure why you would, though, since the important thing about what they've written is whether or not they are right about it, not whether or not they are female. They're worth reading, if they are, because they have interesting arguments.

Not that they aren't also interesting as people. Koslicki is a skier, and Paul has a black belt. Interesting to be sure, but Socrates was a veteran and Kant was a hypochondriac. That's not the reason you'd include them in a course. It may make it easier for students to connect with them at some level. If the students can't finally connect with them at the particular level of intellect, it won't matter how otherwise drawn to them they may be.

I would think the way to draw women into philosophy would be to engage them with the great problems, and get them excited about wrestling with them. (It might not hurt to suggest, which is actually true, that any university will be especially considerate of a female philosopher who wants a job -- you can be sure the academy is aware of the disparity, and will bend over backwards to help ensure their numbers reflect a devotion to doing something about it.) Engaging them is what will really qualify them to do the work, as it is only someone genuinely engaged with the questions who will perform at the level at which real contributions are made -- the kind of contributions that would justify your inclusion in a class reading list.

That's also the way you'd do best by your female students as students, which is the right way for you to relate to them if you are a professor or a teaching assistant. It is, perhaps, the only way you ought to engage them.


A comment from a substitute teacher on that same Maggie's Farm post, about two approaches to rules:
I especially noticed the difference in the two middle schools in one district. One was calm and the kids were learning. The other was a madhouse and not much learning was going on.  After a while I saw what was causing the difference. 
One school had a principal who had about a dozen rules, aimed at letting learning happen, and they were rigorously and quickly enforced.  The teachers were supported.  I had a lesson plan for the day [or more] waiting at the desk with all that I'd need. 
The principal was omni-present.  He met the buses arriving and leaving and seem to know all 300 or so students by name.  I never went more than a few minutes in the hallways without seeing him. 
The other school principal had what seemed to be a million rules that were haphazardly enforced if at all.  Teachers, especially subs, were left to hang on their own.  I never saw the principal.  Heck, I don't know whether it was male or female. 
So.  One place dedicated to learning with the expectations set for clearly.  One place dedicated it would seem to being a place to be for a few hours and no one seemed to know why.
It always seemed like a good idea to me to have no more rules than you were genuinely prepared to enforce.

The way home

Many of you may have read the description, widely circulated last week, of the howling chaos that is a class full of black kids in a failed school.  Without ever saying so explicitly, the author seemed to attribute the problem to race, though maybe he really was referring to a subculture, or wasn't trying to think carefully about the difference.

Anyway, it was a depressing piece.  Today at Maggie's Farm they posted another perspective on schoolchildren from an imperiled culture who were doing well in a charter school.  The author also described the experience of similar kids in an Outward Bound program:
Of course, taking 16 kids, many of whom came from troubled homes and whose lives were mostly confined to a few blocks in Brooklyn, into the woods for six weeks produced its share of drama.  Outward Bound crews go through a normal process that starts with a certain formality and descends into homesickness, alienation, irritation, and conflict, before people adapt and bond and shoulder their responsibilities and really get into it, and this course was no exception.  After a few days, one girl decided “this is b***s***” and set out to walk home – about 200 miles.  An instructor walked with her, mile after mile, until she got tired and agreed to go back.  She went on to complete the course, and cried at the graduation because she had to leave her new “family.”
That's my image of a guardian angel.  He won't force you to do what's best, but he'll follow you into hell and be ready to lead you back when you see your mistake.

Some kind of abuse, anyway

After both the prosecution and the defense rested in the Zimmerman trial, the prosecution popped out with its secret strategy:   they asked the court to drop the aggravated assault charges and instruct the jury instead on felony murder (that is, murder committed in the process of a felony).  What's the predicate felony, you ask?  Child abuse, because Trayvon Martin was 17 years old.


Die Seele unbewacht

Perhaps the most beautiful music ever composed, especially the instrumental interlude and conclusion.  Some pipes on this gal, too.

Beim Schlafengehen, Vier Letzte Lieder (3/4)

Nun der Tag mich müd gemacht,
soll mein sehnliches Verlangen freundlich
die gestirnte Nacht wie ein müdes Kind empfangen.
Hände, laßt von allem Tun
Stirn, vergiß du alles Denken,
Alle meine Sinne nun wollen sich in Schlummer senken.

Und die Seele unbewacht
will in freien Flügen schweben, um im Zauberkreis der Nacht
tief und tausendfach zu leben.

                                    Hermann Hesse

Now that I am wearied of the day,
my ardent desire shall happily
receive the starry night like a sleepy child.
Hands, stop all your work.
Brow, forget all your thinking.
All my senses now yearn to sink into slumber.

And my unfettered soul
wishes to soar up freely into night's magic sphere
to live there deeply and thousandfold.

Barry Lyndon music

Douglas got me thinking about Bach:

And this other beautiful music, also used in "Barry Lyndon," which had just about the best movie soundtrack ever:

And this, not from Barry Lyndon, the "Knights' Dance" from Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet, Nureyev choreography.  Juliet's doting family tells her, "Fun and games are over, honey!  Time to step into the grinding machinery."

Right brain

I feel like posting music and movie clips that speak directly to my right brain and have effects I don't understand at all.

That was Philip Glass's "Opening" performed on the marimba.  It's perfect for that instrument:  simple repeating pairs on notes in each hand.  It sounds complicated only because the right hand is doing triplets over the left hand's doublets.  This composition is buried in the theme music for the under-appreciated movie "Breathless."  In the final scene, the modified Glass piece alternates with Jerry Lee Lewis's "Breathless," followed by the same song performed by "X."

I get exactly the same feeling from "The Piano":


An unusually well-structured hymn, number 652 ("Rest") in the 1982 Episcopal hymnal, by Frederick Charles Maker, 1844-1927.  Too many hymns have the tune structure a-a-b-a, but not this one:

The harmonies are unexpected, too.


This Saint-Saëns piece is called "Aquarium," but I first heard it without knowing its title, and it always made me think of the scene in one of the Narnia books where Lucy awakens in moonlight and feels that the trees are just about to wake up.  This short film has something of the same feeling.


I heard "Aquarium" on the radio coming home this evening and noticed that the announcer pronounced the final "s" in the composer's name.   An internet search suggests that this is a result of the diaresis over the "e" in Saëns.

Belated Fourth

I'm fond of the "Titan" science-fiction trilogy by John Varley.  There is a race of centaurs who communicate in music.  They're puzzled by the human habit of playing the same piece of music over and over in what they consider a frozen form, but at the same time they go ape over some human musicians, particularly John Philip Sousa.  Well, who wouldn't?

Speaking of music, I attended my uncle's memorial service in the old San Fernando Cathedral in San Antonio today.  Imagine my enchantment when the very beautiful harp music that was playing while mourners were being seated gave way to a fine mariachi band that led the priest up the aisle.  After the service, which included some thoughtful eulogies by my uncle's son and two of his grandsons, the same mariachi band played another song and led the crowd in a procession down the street (this was in downtown San Antonio near the Alamo) to the building where the reception was being held.   It was like a San Antonio version of a New Orleans funeral.

A fitting send-off for a grand paterfamilias.

Magic & The Occult in Islam

I haven't had a chance to watch this yet, but it comes well-recommended.

Ready To Die

Tex has been throwing us some good stuff. I think I like this popular trend against the law. It's old school for moonshine country, as some of them seem to realize. It's also past the racial divide, which is nice for those of us who have fought together with brothers across the color line. Who still cares about that? Some. Not us.

'Pistol Packin' Papa' is a clear play off the 1943 hit "Pistol Packin' Mama," which you can hear here:

The law lacks defenders among those who are supposed to be its chief champions, except when it's rhetorically convenient. Doubtless that's one reason support for the law as such is wearing away.
As a not-so-serious part of their ongoing effort to get rid of Obamacare, House Republicans in May started a Twitter fight they called #ObamacareInThreeWords. Rep. Darrell Issa got things started with a tweet that said simply, "Serious Sticker Shock." Rep. Michele Bachmann added "IRS In Charge." Sen. Richard Burr tossed in "Huge Train Wreck."

Democrats hit back, weakly, with Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz's "Good for America" and Rep. Gregory Meeks' "What America Needs." And then the White House stepped in with a killer line: "It's. The. Law." The tweet was accompanied by a photo of the president's signature on the Affordable Care Act, dated March 23, 2010.

Case closed: What part of "It's. The. Law" don't you understand? Just to add emphasis, in early June President Obama dismissed concerns that the national health care startup was not going well. "This is the way the law was designed to work," he told an audience in California. "Since everyone's saying how it's not going to happen, I think it's important for us to recognize and acknowledge that this is working the way it's supposed to."

Now, however, it appears the administration's bravado was all for show. At the same time Obama was expressing great confidence, White House officials were secretly meeting with representatives of big business to discuss ways to postpone enforcement of parts of the new law. And on Tuesday the White House announced that the employer mandate - sometimes described as a "crucial" element of Obamacare - will be delayed to 2015 from its scheduled start on Jan. 1, 2014.
Extra points if you can relate the discussion to Plato's Statesman. Turns out that Plato was interested in the very same questions. It's only the last third of the dialogue, if you want to read it and haven't.

Not a satire

Wish it were.

The Rains of Amicalola

Amicalola Falls is a special place for me: the playground of my youth, the place where I was married, the place of testing myself by running the seven hundred steps in the days before I went to war. It is impressive to see how the recent heavy rains have affected it.