Monday, January 31, 2011

Stardust Memories

1/31/11. What's in a great song? ---- plenty.

Monday Quotations


"The great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago."

--- Herman Melville (1819 - 1891)

"A man, a plan, a canal --- Panama!"

One of the best known palindromes (a word or words that spell the same thing forward and backward).

--- Leigh Mercer (1893 - 1977)

(Businessman talking into the telephone:) "No, Thursday's out. How about never - is never good for you?"

--- Robert Mankoff (1944 -  )

"Where is the wisdom we have lost in
Where is the knowledge we have lost in

--- T. S. Eliot (1888 - 1965)

"Nobody Gets Married Any More, Mister"

1/31/11. A look at an urban high school. Many children left behind.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The New Atheists Narrow World-View

1/23/11. Some atheists don't understand religion.

Book Review. Frank: The Voice

1/23/11.  On the life of Frank Sinatra by James Kaplan.

Geoffrey O'Brien writes:

"...But triumph is not precisely Kaplan’s subject. He wants to get inside the headlong rush of Sinatra’s career, and find the inner connections in a life ranging from unparalleled lyrical expression to unpredictable violent explosiveness; he tries to slow down the familiar show-biz montage long enough to wrest some sense of actuality from anecdotes many of which have been told and retold many times over. What he gets to—by means of a piling up of day-to-day, night-to-night detail that yields an almost neurological realism—is a core of discomfort and anxiety, whose outward manifestation as often as not was a barely restrainable impulse to control, if not to attack. Sinatra, a solitary who ruled crowds by seductive magnetism and surrounded himself with courtiers, had once been an adolescent alone in his room listening to Bing Crosby on his Atwater-Kent, and imagining how he would conquer the world through the power of his voice. Even he, though, could hardly have imagined the riotous effect he would have on the teenage girls of America, or that it was his fate to usher in the era of a new sort of mass idolatry."

Sarah Palin and the Battle for Feminism

1/23/11. Kay Hymowitz writes:

"But “calm and collected” are not the words that come to mind to describe the feminist response to the governor from Alaska. The young feminist Jessica Grose, writing on the popular website Jezebel just after the Republican convention, was—well, we’ll let her describe it: “When Palin spoke on Wednesday night, my head almost exploded from the incandescent anger boiling in my skull. . . . What I feel for her privately could be described as violent, nay, murderous, rage.” Grose’s readers left more than 700 comments, according to the late New York Sun, including one from a reader who wanted to “vomit with rage.” Other haters damned Palin as a traitor to her sex or an “insult to women,” as Judith Warner spat in the New York Times. “Turncoat bitch!” the comedian Sandra Bernhard railed in a performance caught on YouTube. “You whore in your cheap fucking . . . cheap-ass plastic glasses and your hair up!” Writing on a Washington Post blog, Wendy Doniger, a Hinduism specialist at the University of Chicago Divinity School, topped them all: Palin’s “greatest hypocrisy is in her pretense that she is a woman.”

Curiosity Thrilled the Cat

1/23/11. The free-market system encourages curiosity ---- and so much more.

The 'Point' Besides the Point

Friday, January 21, 2011

Book Review: "Up from the Projects"

1/21/11. Jason Riley of the WSJ reviews Walter Williams' autobiography --- a devastating look on how the state has conspired against blacks.

"'Sometimes I sarcastically, perhaps cynically, say that I'm glad that I received virtually all of my education before it became fashionable for white people to like black people," writes Walter Williams in his new autobiography, "Up from the Projects." "By that I mean that I encountered back then a more honest assessment of my strengths and weaknesses. Professors didn't hesitate to criticize me—sometimes to the point of saying, 'That's nonsense.'"

Monday Quotations


"'Itzig, where are you riding to?'"
"'Don't ask me, ask the horse.'"

--- Sigmund Freud (1856 - 1939)

"Education is what survives when what has been learned has been forgotten."

--- B.F. Skinner (1904 - 1990)

"Eternity's a terrible thought. I mean, where's it all gong to end?"

--- Tom Stoppard (1937 - )

"In the nineteenth century the problem was that God is dead; in the twentieth century the problem is that man is dead. In the nineteenth century inhumanity meant cruelty; in the twentieth century it means schizoid self-alienation. The danger of the past was that men became slaves. The danger of the future is that men become robots.

--- Erich Fromm (1900 - 1980)

BOOK RECOMMENDATION: "The Rise and Fall of the Biopsychosocial Model. Reconciling Art & Science in Psychiatry"

1/21/11. S. Nassir Ghaemi 's, M.D., M.P.H. new book is a thoughtful critique of the biopsychosocial model, discussing the historical development of the model,  what went wrong, and where do we go from here.

The opening quote sums up too much of psychiatry's approach to mental health problems,  theoretical concepts and models:

"For each of the great problems of life, there is a solution:  simple, plausible, and wrong."

--- H.L. Mencken

Dr. Ghaemi advocates a method-based psychiatry, outlines the limits of evidence-based medicine, builds bridges between science and the humanities, and makes the case for a new psychiatric humanism.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Trouble with Sarah Palin and the Media

1/17/11. The author writes that the relationship between Sarah Palin and the media is like a scene from a bad marriage.


1/17/11. William Zinsser tells why he doesn't use e-mail.

Monday Quotations


"There's a hell of a distance between wise-cracking and wit. Wit has truth in it; wise-cracking is simply calisthenics with words."

---Dorothy Parker (1893 - 1967)

"Tell us your phobias and we will tell you what you are afraid of."

--- Robert Benchley (1889 - 1945)

"Bad taste is simply saying the truth before it should be said."

--- Mel Brooks (1926  -   )

What Scientific Concept Would Improve Everybody's Cognitive Toolkit?

1/17/11/.  164 scientists reply.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Chinese Mothers

1/15/11. Charles Murray on Chinese mothers:

"Amy Chua is a hoot. Her WSJ op ed about the superiority of Chinese parenting, a take from her book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, has blogs around the world roaring at a woman who could be so cruel to her children. I was laughing out loud throughout, partly because she clearly was having the time of her life twitting the sensitive helicopter parents who can’t bear the idea that their wonderful child is stressed or criticized in any way whatsoever. I was also laughing because the mother of my first two children was half Thai and all Chinese, and it was all so familiar. The subject heading of the email attaching the Chua article to my elder two daughters was “Bring back memories?” My own archetypal memory is when my eldest daughter, then perhaps eight years old, came home with her first Maryland standardized test scores, showing that she was at the 99th percentile in reading and the 93rd percentile in math. Her mother’s first words—the very first—were “What’s wrong with the math?”

Both children turned out great and love their mother dearly.

To get a little bit serious: large numbers of talented children everywhere would profit from Chua’s approach, and instead are frittering away their gifts—they’re nice kids, not brats, but they are also self-indulgent and inclined to make excuses for themselves. There are also large numbers of children who are not especially talented, but would do a lot better in school if their parents applied the same intense home supplements to their classroom work.

But genes play a big role in whether you can demand that your child get an A in advanced calculus or make first seat in the violin section of the orchestra. With that in mind, let’s contemplate the genes being fed into those Chua children who are doing so well.

Maternal grandfather: EE and computer sciences professor at Berkeley, known as the father of nonlinear circuit theory and cellular neural networks.

Mother: able to get into Harvard (a much better indicator of her IQ than the magna cum laude in economics that she got there); Executive Editor of the Law Review at Harvard Law School.

Father: Summa cum laude from Princeton and magna cum laude from Harvard Law School, now a chaired professor at Yale Law School.

Guess what. Amy Chua has really smart kids. They would be really smart if she had put them up for adoption at birth with the squishiest postmodern parents. They would not have turned out exactly the same under their softer tutelage, but they would probably be getting into Harvard and Princeton as well. Similarly, if Amy Chua had adopted two children at birth who turned out to have measured childhood IQs at the 20th percentile, she would have struggled to get them through high school, no matter how fiercely she battled for them.

Accepting both truths—parenting does matter, but genes constrain possibilities—seems peculiarly hard for some parents and almost every policy maker to accept."

Charles Murray and the Enterprise Blog:

The Line Between Madness and Mayhem

1/15/11/ What science tells use about the risk of violence, and why treatment in prisons could help.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Murder in Arizona

1/11/11. Mental health services in Arizona are among the worst in the nation. The tragedy of the murder in Arizona, says E.Fuller Torrey, began when we emptied the mental hospitals starting in the 1960s without providing adequate treatment alternatives.

Both the political right and political left had a hand in turning their backs on the mentally ill.

Junk Science is Not a Victimless Crime

1/11/11. A 1998 study published in Lancet, a leading medical journal, claimed that the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine might cause autism --- using eight autistic children in the sample. This poorly designed research sparked a storm of controversy, leading many parents to stop giving vaccines to their children. Many children needlessly died.

This kind of study with large samples across continents, proper controls and statistical analyses have looked at the relationship between the MMR vaccine and autism, and have been repeated 14 times. The studies have shown that MMR does NOT cause autism.

Debbie Friedman. R.I.P.

1/11/11. Singer and songwriter of Jewish Music.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Murder in Tucson

1/10/1l. The WSJ's sober editorial about the murder in Tucson.

Monday Quotations


"A liberal is a conservative who has been arrested."

--- Tom Wolfe (1931 -  )

"There is no explanation for evil. It must be looked upon as a necessary part of the order of the universe. To ignore it is childish, to bewail it senseless.

--- W. Somerset Maughn (1874 - 1965)

"Hatred is the coward's revenge for being intimidated."

--- George Bernard Shaw (1856 - 1950)

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Book Review: The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist's Quest for What Makes Us Human

1/8/11. Dr. Raymond Tallis, emeritus professor of geriatric medicine, reviews Dr. V.S. Ramachandran's book on the brain. Dr. Tallis knows of what he speaks --- that is, neuroscients are experts at creating the illusion of understanding what makes us human. When, if fact, neuroscientists have no clue how the brain creates the mind and consciousness.

Book Review: The Panic Virus: A True Story of Medicine, Science and Fear

1/8/11. Michael Schermer, publisher of Skeptic Magazine, reviews Seth Mnookin's incisive book about the fallacious link between autism and vaccines causing an epidemic of ignorance.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Psychological Therapy and Depression


Science writer Jonah Lehrer on the importance of psychological therapy for depression:

Every period has its signature disorder. We live in the age of depression. Consider a brand new survey published in the Archives of General Psychiatry: Between 1998 and 2007, the percentage of Americans being treated for depression increased by more than 20 percent. Other studies estimate that somewhere between 20 and 40 percent of American adults will suffer from depression at some point in their life.

Obviously, there’s a dizzying array of forces that are causing this rise. Part of the problem is diagnosis, as people like Alan Horwitz and Jerome Wakefield have argued. Thanks to changes in the DSM, Horwitz and Wakefield insist that we’ve medicalized sadness, transforming anguish and its synonyms into a clinical condition.

But it remains unknown how much of the rise in depression is accounted for by changes in diagnosis. And I think it’s extremely important to not dismiss the likely possibility that, even if our diagnostic standards had remained constant, there would still be a rise in depression. In other words, is there something about the way we live now that’s making us extremely sad? Are these intensely negative feelings symptoms of a larger societal problem?

Hard questions, no easy answers. In this blog post, I’d like to focus instead on one of the troubling data points in this most recent medical survey, which is that the percentage of depressed subjects seeking psychotherapy for treatment declined dramatically between 1998 and 2007, from 53.6 percent to 43.1 percent. (This drop has come despite the fact that a majority of subjects say talk therapy is their preferred method of treatment.) Needless to say, pills have taken the place of therapists, as more than 75 percent of depressed patients are now treated with anti-depressants, which has led to a dramatic increase in medical spending on the disorder. Between 1998 and 2007, Medicare expenditures for depression increased from $0.52 billion (1998) to $2.25 billion (2007).

When anti-depressants work, they are little blue miracles. But they often don’t work, at least not at rates higher significantly higher than placebo. (Plus, they often have unpleasant side-effects, which leads more than half of patients to stop taking the drugs shortly after the worst symptoms disappear. And then they relapse, which helps explain why patients treated with SSRI’s have relapse rates above 75 percent.) And that’s why I’m troubled by the drop in talk therapy, as most studies demonstrate that the most effective treatment for depression is pharmaceuticals coupled with a good therapist. Furthermore, many different kinds of therapy can be effective. For instance, the same December 2010 issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry also contains an interesting comparative study of anti-depressants and mindfulness therapy in preventing relapse following an extended depressive episode. The mindfulness therapy itself was straightforward stuff, if time intensive. There were eight weekly group sessions of two hours each, plus a full day retreat and optional one-hour meditation classes. The subjects learned how to reflect upon their feelings with “non-judgmental awareness” and “self-compassion.” They were urged to apply their new mindfulness skills to everyday life challenges.

The results were stark. Not surprisingly, patients who escaped depression with the help of anti-depressants, and then stopped taking the drugs, relapsed about 70 percent of the time. The chemical boost was temporary. However, during the 18 month follow-up period, only 28 percent of patients in mindfulness therapy slipped back into the mental illness.

What we often forget is that therapy alters the chemical brain, just like a pill. It’s easy to dismiss words as airy nothings and talk therapy as mere talk. Sitting on a couch can seem like such an antiquated form of treatment. But the right kind of talk can fix our broken mind, helping us escape from the recursive loop of stress and negative emotion that’s making us depressed. Changing our thoughts is never easy and, in severe cases, might seem virtually impossible. We live busy lives and therapy requires hours of work and constant practice; our cortex can be so damn stubborn. But the data is clear: If we are seeking a long-lasting cure for depression, then it’s typically our most effective treatment.

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Elements of Clunk

1/3/11. What's the matter with writing today?

Study vs. Study

1/3/11. Scientists search for truth. Why is truth so hard to find?

Monday Quotations


"A door is what a dog is perpetually on the wrong side of."

--- Ogden Nash (1902 - 1971)

"Everything human is pathetic. The secret source of Humor itself is not joy but sorrow.
There is no humor in heaven."

--- Mark Twain (1835 - 1910)

"It seemed the world was divided into good and bad people. The good ones slept better...
while the bad ones seemed to enjoy the waking hours much more.

Woody Allen (1935 - )