Some math/science: Mars and….basic algebra (?)

Today: travelling; a bit tired, so nothing. I am planning on running tomorrow, lifting and running Thursday and doing some running on Saturday. My daughter is visiting so this is my “spring break”.

April 2011: San Francisco. This is the “world’s longest DNA double helix”:


Speaking of life
Did you know that NASA released some Mars soil samples; the building blocks for life might be there?

Screen shot 2013-03-12 at 5.09.56 PM

PASADENA, Calif. — An analysis of a rock sample collected by NASA’s Curiosity rover shows ancient Mars could have supported living microbes.

Scientists identified sulfur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and carbon — some of the key chemical ingredients for life — in the powder Curiosity drilled out of a sedimentary rock near an ancient stream bed in Gale Crater on the Red Planet last month.

“A fundamental question for this mission is whether Mars could have supported a habitable environment,” said Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA’s Mars Exploration Program at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “From what we know now, the answer is yes.”

Clues to this habitable environment come from data returned by the rover’s Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) and Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instruments. The data indicate the Yellowknife Bay area the rover is exploring was the end of an ancient river system or an intermittently wet lake bed that could have provided chemical energy and other favorable conditions for microbes. The rock is made up of a fine-grained mudstone containing clay minerals, sulfate minerals and other chemicals. This ancient wet environment, unlike some others on Mars, was not harshly oxidizing, acidic or extremely salty.

The patch of bedrock where Curiosity drilled for its first sample lies in an ancient network of stream channels descending from the rim of Gale Crater. The bedrock also is fine-grained mudstone and shows evidence of multiple periods of wet conditions, including nodules and veins.

Curiosity’s drill collected the sample at a site just a few hundred yards away from where the rover earlier found an ancient streambed in September 2012.

Surf to the site to read more.

Math Education
Beware of “algebra” courses named “honors” and the like:

Most U.S. high school introductory algebra courses labeled “honors” actually are no more rigorous than regular courses in the same school, according to a government curriculum survey released on Tuesday.
The study of high school algebra and geometry classes shows that mislabeling of math courses as tougher than they are is widespread, the survey authors told a news conference. [...]

The survey showed that of high school graduates who took an algebra I, or introductory, class labeled “honors” by their school, about 73 percent were taught material analysts ranked as intermediate.
Eighteen percent of the students actually received a rigorous curriculum, the survey said.
But 34 percent of graduates who took an algebra I class labeled “regular” at the same school instead got a rigorous curriculum.
For geometry, among graduates who took classes labeled “honors,” 33 percent got a rigorous curriculum and 62 percent were taught intermediate material.

Nineteen percent of graduates who took a “regular” geometry course received a rigorous curriculum.
The study was based on 17,800 transcripts of graduates from about 550 public high schools in 2005. Analysts compared more than 120 different textbooks and their review questions and interviewed teachers to find the results.

Here is the dirty secret: algebra (the kind taken by high school kids) is really a basic prerequisite to move on to courses more accurately described as “honors”. This is in no way intended to insult adults who come back to algebra later in life; it is a fact that our brains become less nimble with age.

March 12, 2013 Posted by | biology, brain, education, mathematics, science | Leave a comment

Boxing and Narcissism…

Workout notes This morning: just a swim (2650 yards). 500 of fist/free, 500 of 3g/free, then 1000 straight in 17:45 (disappointing…though I didn’t really tax myself). Then 6 x (25 fly, 25 free, 25 back, 25 free) and 50 cool down.

I had fun chasing my favorite triathlete.

I admit that I’ve been watching boxing (started watching it again about 6 years ago). Part of the reason is that I know how difficult it is to do; when we boxed in PE class (in college), three ONE MINUTE rounds were exhausting, and that was going against someone who wasn’t really a boxer.

I admire the mixture of courage, toughness, skill, power, technique and endurance the sport requires.

But…I also feel guilty too and this is why:

The physical changes, detected by M.R.I. scans, are a reduction in size in the hippocampus and thalamus of the brains of fighters with more than six years in the ring. These parts of the brain deal with such functions as memory and alertness. While those who had fought for more than six years did not exhibit any declines in cognitive function, fighters with more than 12 years in the ring did. Thus, Dr. Bernick’s group concluded, the lag between detectability and physical symptoms probably occurs sometime during those six years.

Dr. Bernick will present these findings on Wednesday in New Orleans at the American Academy of Neurology’s annual meeting, and the potential significance goes well beyond the health of boxers. The idea that an M.R.I. could help identify a degenerative brain disorder before a patient reports cognitive problems could help a broad range of people, from young athletes and combat soldiers to others who have been subjected to repeated blows to the head, neurologists say.

The purpose of this study, as reported by the New York Times, is to try to measure the damage induced by repeated trauma that is NOT of the “concussion” level (e. g., lots of hits to the head).

I went to listen to a talk by Jean Twenge about the rise of narcissism in our culture. While the talk was pretty good (lots of data; the talk itself was well delivered), I find it ironic that she managed to fit in some baby/kid pictures….MANY times more than necessary. And she did this in a talk about narcissism??? :)

You can probably get the gist of the talk: too many times, too many kids are told that they are special, etc.

By the way, this was not a “slam this generation” talk; she did point out the good sides of the generation.

April 25, 2012 Posted by | boxing, brain, health, health care, science, social/political, swimming | Leave a comment

19 January 2011 pm

Ok, so the House voted to repeal Obamacare. Big deal; those morons could vote to repeal evolution and gravity for all I care. But this does point out one huge difference between the Republicans and Democrats: the Republicans at least symbolically follow the whims of their idiot base whereas the Democrats actually push back against theirs.

But speaking of health care:

This is part of what HCR does.

Now of course, the House could have made important (and popular) tweaks to the bill, but that isn’t what they chose to do.


Interesting, no?

epic fail photos - Calendar Store FAIL
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See? I am not opposed to ALL religion. :)

Did you know that abandoned orange groves actually threaten the currently producing ones? Roughly speaking, diseases and insect infestation are taking hold in abandoned groves and are spreading to the tended ones:

Citrus producers in Indian River have begun a program to bulldoze and burn trees in abandoned groves. But it’s costly and depends on the cooperation of sometimes absentee owners.

This is the latest of many challenges for an industry that has long grown one of Florida’s most lucrative crops.

Adair says the past three decades have presented citrus growers with one new disease after another. The reason, he says, is globalization.

“What we did was, we very efficiently took citrus from another hemisphere, brought it into the United States, into Florida, and grew it as an exotic species,” he says. “We took it away from its natural enemies. And what we’re seeing right now is [that] all the natural enemies of citrus have found it here in Florida.”

Adair says he believes, given enough time and research, the industry will find a way to effectively control greening and canker.

However, he estimates that may take up to 10 years. Many in the industry may not be able to wait that long.

January 20, 2011 Posted by | biology, brain, economics, economy, health, health care, humor, republicans, republicans political/social, republicans politics | 1 Comment

Sarah Palin, Blood Libel, and Pat Buchanan: you can’t make this up.

I watched Sarah Palin’s video about the Arizona shootings:

I winced when I heard “blood libel” (at about the 3:30 mark).

Sure enough, many Jewish groups have criticized the use of that term.
These are bad groups to be on the wrong side of if one wants to have political success in either major party. So I wrote this on facebook:

Well, if she is content to be a marginal “Pat Buchanan” type figure, she doesn’t have to apologize. But if she wants
to make a credible run for the Republican nomination in 2012, she will have to.

Then, just a few minutes later I see this:

Pat Buchanan said Wednesday that Sarah Palin has been a victim of the media in the wake of the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), and she was right to use the phrase “blood libel” in defending herself from charges that her language had anything to do with the mass shooting.

“Frankly I thought it was an excellent statement with regard to the phrase ‘blood libel’,” Buchanan said. “That of course refers to the libel that was used in the Middle Ages, charges against Jews that were utterly unsupportable slanders and I think she’s using it in that context.”

Pat Buchanan is a bit like everyone’s bigoted uncle or grandfather who can be counted on to blurt out the most embarrassing stuff at exactly the most inconvenient time. Of course, in some cases, the elderly might have an excuse; in many cases their mental function has deteriorated.

So Palin will have to make a decision: does she want to “remain” politically viable, or does she want to be a fringe figure that is, while unelectable, a (very rich) champion of the undereducated far right wing; a sort of “Pat Buchanan with a nice ass” figure?

If it is the former, she’ll have to retract or apologize. If it is the latter, she doesn’t have to.
PS: Palin knew that those “targets” were “bullseyes”:

January 12, 2011 Posted by | brain, political humor, political/social, politics, politics/social, Republican, republican party, republican senate minority leader, republicans, sarah palin | 2 Comments

Your Eyes DO Lie To You

Hat tip: Why Evolution is True.

January 9, 2011 Posted by | brain, neuroscience, science | Leave a comment

7 January 2011 am

Workout/Injury The back is feeling better, but I shall rest it another day; this weekend I am planning to use the regular and arm bikes for a few minutes; if all is well then I’ll start easy running on Monday.

NFL My picks:
Straight up (who wins) Chiefs over the Ravens, Saints over the Seahawks, Eagles over the Packers, Jets over the Colts.
Against the Spread Chiefs + 3, Seahawks + 10.5, Eagles – 2.5, Jets + 2.5.

Off topic stuff
There is more to the story Terrible: the evil TSA arrests a mathematics professor for carrying a bagel aboard a flight!

If you carry bagels or other food items with you on an airplane these days, you’d better paint them red white and blue just to make sure all the passengers around you know you’re truly an American. Otherwise, they just might turn you in. In yet another case of air passengers turning into in-flight SS troops, a Florida professor was arrested, handcuffed and removed from a plane when his fellow passengers reported he had a “suspicious-looking bag” in his hands.

The contents of that suspicious-looking bag turned out to be a bagel with cream cheese, a set of keys and a hat.

But in America’s ultra-paranoid environment where the U.S. government actually encourages people to spy on each other (…), apparently just about anything can set off the suspicions of the citizens’ secret police.

Unbelievable! Oh wait….maybe there is more to this story? Yep; the professor was being a jerk:

A Florida math professor was removed from a US Airways airplane in Boston and arrested after passengers accused him of placing a package making weird noises in the overhead bin.

It turns out the “suspicious” package was a plastic bag containing a bagel and cream cheese, keys, a wallet, other food items and a hat, according to law enforcement officials.

But before that was discovered, Ognjen Milatovic, 35, also reportedly refused crew instructions to sit down and hang up his cell phone so the plane could take off.

The University of North Florida professor was taken off the Washington D.C.-bound flight in handcuffs and was arraigned in East Boston District Court on charges of disorderly conduct and interfering with operation of an aircraft. He was released with orders to return to court on March 15. [...]

Emphasis mine: hey, hold up everyone else and airline traffic because of YOUR phone call. Note: the above article does talk about a poor guy being pulled from a flight because he used the bathroom too much (thereby alarming the passengers….oh yeah, he “looked Middle Eastern”).

So yes, this “living in fear” is absurd and the TSA has gone too far; for example, on my latest flight, they were pulling people out of line to do a second check of their carry on luggage….luggage that had already been screened once. And yes, *I* got chosen (out of the 30 some odd people in line). I wasn’t the only one; someone else got it in the previous line.

Charity: I’ve run in the Race for the Cure. So that money goes for administrative costs and for research, right? Uh…some of it goes to attorneys who…threaten others who use “for the Cure” in their events.

This FAIL is funny:
epic fail photos - Hand Washing Station FAIL
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The shortest paper in the world Yes, you can read it even if you don’t have a technical background, and no, it won’t take you long. :) Who says that scientists don’t have a sense of humor?

Politics President Obama is planning to veto any bill that repeals the passed health care reform, though I doubt that such a bill from the House would survive the Senate.
True, the House could “play chicken” with the purse strings, but this might backfire on them:

The real thing happens later, when they try to strip the Department of Health and Human Services of money needed to implement the law’s requirement that all Americans buy health insurance. This could easily precipitate a showdown with the White House—and a government shutdown later this year.

On its face it’s a smart strategy for the GOP. The individual mandate is the lynchpin of the heath-care law because it spreads the risks. Without the participation of younger or healthier people, private insurers won’t be able to take on older or sicker customers with pre-existing medical conditions, or maintain coverage indefinitely for people who become seriously ill. The result would be to unravel the health-care law, which presumably is what many Republicans seek.

At the same time, the mandate is the least popular aspect of the law. According to a December 9-12 ABC/Washington Post survey, 60% of the public opposes the individual mandate. While they want help with their health-care bills, and over 60% want to prevent insurers from dropping coverage when customers become seriously ill, most Americans simply don’t like the idea of government requiring them to buy something. It not only offends libertarian sensibilities, but it also worries some moderates and liberals who fear private insurers will charge too much because of insufficient competition in the industry.

The individual mandate is also most susceptible to legal challenge. Twenty states, led by Florida, have joined together in a lawsuit to argue that the mandate oversteps federal authority. Virginia and some interest groups are also challenging the mandate’s constitutionality in federal court. In the first major ruling, on December 13, Judge Henry E. Hudson of the federal district court in Richmond called the mandate an “unbridled exercise of federal police powers” and an overreach of the Constitution’s Commerce Clause. The U.S. government is now appealing that decision.

Ok, mandates appear to be unpopular but they drive down costs. And no, this isn’t exactly the same thing as, say, car insurance or required home insurance for, say, an FHA loan. But what if this provision is really challenged? What might be the cost drive down measure?

President Obama and a majority of Democrats in the last Congress opted for the Republican model even though many Democrats would have preferred Medicare for all, or at the very least a public option. Most polls showed that the public favored such an option. But the White House hoped for Republican support and wanted to ward off opposition from health insurers and pharmaceutical companies by promising them some 30 million additional customers.

Set against this background, the current Republican attack on mandatory coverage is curious because it begs the essential question of how society would otherwise spread health-care risks. If successful—either in Congress or in the courts—a Republican victory could turn into a Phyrric one by opening the way to the alternative model, based on the system Americans seem to prefer: payroll taxes and public insurance.

And because the public already pays payroll taxes to fund medicare (though medicare is underfunded at the present time)…well, inadvertently the Republicans might deliver for us what the Democrats could not: single payer or at least a robust public option.

Science Yep, we had a snow shower. Yuck. But it is January in Illinois, after all. Here are a couple of good but short climate change videos. The second one was from a year ago, but it talks about why we have to look at the global picture to draw accurate conclusions; much of local temperatures depends on what happens with air masses.

Cancer Here is a recent insight that might help us make progress?

Without warning cancer can arise from a single catastrophic chromosomal event involving tens to hundreds of breaks in the DNA that are haphazardly pieced back together, researchers reported in the January 7th issue of Cell.

What is particularly exciting about this observation is that it points to a novel mechanism that affects the stability of the genome in a very localized way,” said Ronald DePinho, cancer geneticist at the Belfer Institute for Applied Cancer Science at Harvard University, who was not involved in the study. “This paper explains how cancer can form in a relatively short period of time.”

Normally when a cell undergoes drastic damage like the shattering of its chromosomes, what researchers call chromothripsis, it dies from a failure to pass innate cell cycle checkpoints that monitor DNA damage during mitosis. Sometimes, however, the cell attempts to rescue itself even after multiple breaks in its double stranded DNA (dsDNA). Though in most cases the repairs probably result in changes that are detrimental to the cells ability to continue dividing, Campbell said, by random chance the hodgepodge of repairs can occasionally amplify cancer genes or delete cancer suppressor genes, instigating the once normal cells to begin dividing uncontrollably.
Read more: Normal today, cancer tomorrow – The Scientist – Magazine of the Life Sciences

A little bit more progress….always a good thing. It is noted that bone cells are more prone to this type of behavior.

Vaccines cause autism fraud
We’ve heard this by now:

But how was this fraud committed? Here is a brief analysis:

The Lancet paper was a case series of 12 child patients; it reported a proposed “new syndrome” of enterocolitis and regressive autism and associated this with MMR as an “apparent precipitating event.” But in fact:

* Three of nine children reported with regressive autism did not have autism diagnosed at all. Only one child clearly had regressive autism

* Despite the paper claiming that all 12 children were “previously normal,” five had documented pre-existing developmental concerns

* Some children were reported to have experienced first behavioural symptoms within days of MMR, but the records documented these as starting some months after vaccination

Surf to Mano Singham’s blog to read the rest. What is astonishing to me is N = 12.

How the Brain develops
Can raising a child in a more fearful society (e. g., less sheltered) lead to a loss of politeness (or lessening of politeness) down the road? Note, this article is about brain development, and NOT a “these kids are more rude than we are” type of thing:

The contrast between the brash, comparatively disrespectful behavior of Americans today and the courtesy, formal manners, civil discourse, polite behavior and respect for others regardless of social status that is evident in Japanese society is striking. The contrast hits an American like a splash of cold water upon disembarking the airplane in Japan, because it clashes so starkly with our behavior. For an American, Japanese manners and courtesy must be experienced.

American children today are raised in an environment that is far more hostile than the environment that nurtured today’s adults. Children today are exposed to behaviors, profane language, hostilities and stress from which we adults, raised a generation ago, were carefully shielded. When I was a boy, there were no metal detectors at the entrance to my school. The idea was inconceivable, and there was indeed no need for them. Not so today. I wonder: how does this different environment affect brain development?

First it is helpful to consider, from a biological perspective, what “rudeness” is, so that we can consider what is lost when formal polite behaviors are cast away. People (and animals) living together in large numbers must develop strict formalized behaviors governing interactions between all individuals in the group, or there will be strife and chaos. In the natural world, as in the civilized world, it is stressful for individuals (people or animals) to interact with strangers, and also with other members of a working group and family members. As the size of the group increases, so do the number of interactions between individuals, thus raising the level of stress if not controlled by formal, stereotyped behavior, which in human society is called “manners.” The formal “Yes, Sir, Yes, Ma’am,” is not a showy embellishment in the military; strict respect and formal polite discourse are the hub of the wheel in any effective and cohesive social structure. True, many chafe under a system of behavior that is overly rigid, as do many young Japanese, but my point is that these polite and formalized behaviors reduce stress in a stressful situation that arises from being an individual in a complex society. Stress is a neurotoxin, especially during development of a child’s brain.

Studies have shown that children exposed to serious psychological trauma during childhood are at risk of suffering increased psychiatric disorders, including depression, anger, hostility, drug abuse, suicidal ideation, loneliness and even psychosis as adults. Using modern brain imaging, the physical damage to these children’s brain development can be seen as clearly as a bone fracture on an X-ray. Early-childhood sexual abuse, physical abuse and witnessing domestic violence undermine the normal wiring of brain circuits, especially those circuits connecting the left and right sides of the brain through a massive bundle of connections called the corpus callosum. Impairment in integrating information between right and left hemispheres is associated with increased risk of craving, drug abuse and dependence, and a weakened ability to make moral judgments. (See my post “Of Two Minds on Morality” for new research on the corpus callosum and the ability to make moral judgments.)

Surf and read the whole thing. This is a lesson about the long term cost of us living in so much fear.

Speaking of fear and society I sure hope that there is either more to this than is being reported or that this is an isolated mistake that will be remedied. This is a Salon article about a teenager with a US passport who is being detained, maltreated and tortured in another country though he has done nothing wrong. I WANT to believe that we are better than this.

But perhaps we are not. Look at the clowns in charge of crafting our foreign policy:

California congressman Howard “Buck” McKeon is the next chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. He doesn’t have any military experience — he spent the Vietnam era on a Mormon missionary retreat and a twenty-nine year quest (1956-1985) for a BA from Brigham Young — but he did bankrupt his family’s western wear company, so he knows how to order shirts no one wants. [...]

“(The Battle of Lexington and Concord) began what gave us the liberty, the freedom that we now enjoy, to where we can congregate together like this, we can talk about things, we can have free elections. We’ve been able to have real freedom and liberty, which is what the Lord, many, many years ago said that this land was set aside for. About a little over a year later, on July Fourth, 1776, the Continental Congress ratified the Declaration of Independence, which states that we would be free to pursue life, liberty and happiness. That’s what the Lord said that this land was set aside for, so that battle began the fulfillment of the prophecy. Now there’s no guarantee that those freedoms are always to be here. We’ve continued and fought for years. Hundreds of thousands have given their lives so that we can continue to enjoy those freedoms, and that fight goes on, on a daily basis. In discussions that you hold. In the people that are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan right now. Afghanistan was where the planning, the kick-off of the attack on us on 9/11 took place. That’s why we’re there. To prevent that from happening again. It’s better that we fight there, than on the streets of New York, or downtown Valencia. I just pray that we always will be able to hold those freedoms. Elder Ballard, a few years ago, visiting with the members of the Church in Washington in the Congress, said that it’s important that we always keep this land free, because it’s the cradle of the Church. It’s where from here we send our missionaries around the world. We need to have freedom to do that. It’s my prayer that we might always retain that freedom, and I wish we could do it without continued loss of treasure and blood, but it seems that that’s the world we live in.

I think that should clear up just about everything.

Oh dear. This is disgusting beyond belief. Yeah, it could be worse; we could live in a country where people run the risk of assassination if they are too secular:

The killing of the governor of Pakistan’s most populous province has highlighted the ongoing clash in Pakistani society between secularism and religious radicalism. Some of that radicalism is fueled by resentment against a privileged and often secular-minded elite who govern the country.
The death of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, allegedly at the hands of one of his own bodyguards, has underscored what journalist Ahmad Rashid called a “very, very severe polarization” in Pakistan.

On one side, say analysts, is what is believed to be a comparatively small but vocal and determined group of Islamic radicals, some of them extreme to the point of violence. At the other is a liberal and, to varying degrees, secular elite. And caught in the middle is the average Pakistani who is buffeted by economic and political uncertainty.

Analyst Lisa Curtis of the Heritage Foundation says Pakistan’s founding father, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, envisioned a multiethnic, multireligious society with Islam as a unifying force. But she says events have caused the country to drift further towards extremism.

“It’s been events over the past 30 years, like the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan, the Islamization policies of General Zia ul-Haq during the 1980s, which has really strengthened the Islamist forces and the more puritanical sects in Pakistan over the more traditional and moderate Sunni sects,” said Curtis.

That strength has not translated into popular votes. When Pakistan has had free and fair elections, the religious parties have fared poorly, picking up only a sliver of seats. But analysts say their power is in the street, not in the ballot box.

Religion is not benign. For more on the Pakistani mess, read this essay which laments what is happening. Note: this sort of extremism can cause huge problems, even if it doesn’t win direct political power.

What about our own wackos?
One such wacko (one that I had an indirect encounter with) will be spending more time in jail. Note: this is neo-nazi stuff…not all extremism is religious in nature.

January 7, 2011 Posted by | Barack Obama, biology, brain, civil liberties, economics, economy, football, health, health care, humor, injury, morons, nature, NFL, political/social, politics, politics/social, pwnd, quackery, racism, religion, Republican, republicans political/social, republicans politics, science, social/political, superstition, training, Uncategorized, world events | 1 Comment

25 December 2010 (am)

Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas to those who celebrate it!

Workout notes
Shoulder: felt ok, even without ibuprofen. But he ibuprofen was masking the soreness in my legs.
Workout: 37 F, windy. Walked 1 mile, “ran” a 4.2 mile loop in 44:30, walked 1 mile. My goodness, I was stiff as a board and just couldn’t get loose; I was sore from the harder run 2 days ago and yesterday’s 8.3 mile walk.
There were few out on the Hike and Bike, but a couple of ladies (not running together) were wearing Santa hats; that was fun.
And yes, there was a lot of spandex. I got passed 4-5 times, but only once by a lady who ran just hard enough to get ahead of me and stayed there….so for about 5-6 minutes I got a very close up view of the war being raged by her compression spandex tights and her butt. Had I been able to maintain my usual 9:30 mpm pace, I wouldn’t have seen her. :)

There was also this young guy who was running in a singlet; his muscles just bulged and he made it look easy. As I drove home I went up a hill, and he was still running. That was me….30 years ago. Sigh….I hate entropy. :)

Videos: I see lots of billboards for churches. That is fine; that is free speech. But not everyone is a fan of free speech:

Personal/Health/BrainLater in the day I’ll take my now 84 year old mom (whose birthday is today) to a movie (probably True Grit) at a place that serves lunch.
Of course it was good to spend time with her. But I can see the challenge of socializing with an elderly person. In her case: her body is still reasonably strong but her mind has slipped badly and is slowly getting worse. Having anything resembling an adult conversation is all but impossible; she still speaks well but repeats herself constantly and can’t remember what you told her 5 minutes earlier.

That is the toughest part; I want to show respect but at the same time I don’t want to make unrealistic intellectual demands of her.
In a way, a physical handicap would be easier to deal with; for example you know that someone with a broken leg can’t walk and you know what adjustments that you need to make. It is tougher when you can’t really assess the mental level and when the level changes hour to hour.

The other point is that not all of “the elderly” are the same; for example a math professor recently retired from our department. He was STILL doing mathemtical research and teaching courses such as differential equations….and doing a good job of it! He too is in his early 80’s, but his mind is still excellent.

So, what causes the mental breakdown? It turns out that there are several things and many different symptoms. Here is a short list and here is a short article about what can happen to some old people.

December 25, 2010 Posted by | atheism, brain, family, health, religion, running, social/political, spandex, training, travel, walking | Leave a comment

23 December 2010

Shoulder: nighttime ache though less. I did ice last night and stop to loosen during the day.

Update 4.2 mile Hike and Bike run in 39:55. It was an effort, albeit not a hard effort. It was cool; it took me a while to get going. Still, I wore shorts and a long sleeve shirt.
I walked one mile afterward. Lots of dogs and some spandex; I thought that one woman’s butt was going to burst her compression tights (she was NOT fat but had feminie muscle).
I stretched; I felt the piriformis and rotator cuff just a bit.

ScienceThere is a study that shows that chimps use toys in sex-specific ways. However, though the study is the result of 14 years of effort, “n” is still pitifully small. Upshot: finding data to support this type of conjecture (that things like toy use has a genetic basis and isn’t merely “socialized behavior” is very, very difficult. Hence, the conclusions are on extremely shaky ground.

Politics The lame duck session got a lot done: START was ratified (thanks to some principled Republicans), 9-11 Responders Bill was passed, DADT was done away with and the Tax Compromise (though highly flawed) was passed.

What is ahead in terms of economy:

We still have a demand problem; this is one that tax cuts won’t fix.

Political humor

If Santa ran against the Easter Bunny. Ok, by Illinois standard, this would be a tame ad. :)

Human Sexuality
On a brutally honest level: I really don’t understand why I am attracted to what I am attracted to.

Dan Dennett takes this type of question on:

So here are some of the non-standard stuff that I find appealing and really don’t understand why (ok, this is an excuse for spandex shots :) )
Three of these are jokingly called “hang over” shots; the last one is the begin “sit on the heals” shot. One is a simple sitting shot that I really like.

December 23, 2010 Posted by | 2010 election, Barack Obama, big butts, brain, economics, economy, evolution, human sexuality, political/social, politics, politics/social, republicans, republicans political/social, republicans politics, running, science, shoulder rehabilitation, spandex, training, travel, walking | Leave a comment

25 November 2010 post meal

We went to the Thanksgiving day brunch at Wildlife Prairie Park; my wife, her nephew, her daughter and grandson were also there.

The bartender was wearing very tight hip-huggers…I wonder if her tip jar was full. :)

Sandwalk talks more about the “science is cool” campaign:

This poster is from Rock Stars of Science. There are six people in the photo: one of them is a rock star (I’m told) and five of them are famous scientists (I’m told).

Is this a good way to promote science? Martin Robbins doesn’t think so: ‘Rockstars of Science’ should be ‘Scientists of Rock’.

I could be wrong. Maybe this is a good way of reaching out to people. Maybe GQ’s readers are getting out their dictionaries and picking through those descriptions, stopping occasionally to stare at the blurry, bearded interloper in the background of Bob’s photograph. And maybe those readers are now more inspired by science as a result. If so, I’d like to see some evidence of it – maybe a poll of readers?

But I still can’t help but feel that if you have to resort to rockstars make science cool, you’re really not very good at communicating science. Because science is way cooler than rock stars.

You won’t be surprised to learn that Chris Mooney likes this campaign and ERV doesn’t. Jerry Coyne doesn’t like it either. Does anyone notice a pattern here? … The one person who isn’t a scientist is the one who thinks he knows how to promote science.

I love it. But Larry Moran does have a sense of humor; check out his post about “how to protect yourself from wi-fi radiation”. It isn’t everyday that you see a middle aged biochemist in a tinfoil hat (thumbnail links to Dr. Moran’s post):

More Science
Thanksgiving: here is some thanks that physics problems in the large (macroscopic) can be solved without know much (or at all?) about the small (microscopic). Example: you can solve a motion problem using Newtonian mechanics without knowing what is going on at the quantum level…or one can do fluid mechanics without knowing about the Brownian motion of the molecules.

Is Schizophrenia caused by a retrovirus that most of us have immunity to? There is a mainstream conjecture that this is the case:

chizophrenia is usually diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 25, but the person who becomes schizophrenic is sometimes recalled to have been different as a child or a toddler—more forgetful or shy or clumsy. Studies of family videos confirm this. Even more puzzling is the so-called birth-month effect: People born in winter or early spring are more likely than others to become schizophrenic later in life. It is a small increase, just 5 to 8 percent, but it is remarkably consistent, showing up in 250 studies. That same pattern is seen in people with bipolar disorder or multiple sclerosis.

“The birth-month effect is one of the most clearly established facts about schizophrenia,” says Fuller Torrey, director of the Stanley Medical Research Institute in Chevy Chase, Maryland. “It’s difficult to explain by genes, and it’s certainly difficult to explain by bad mothers.”

The facts of schizophrenia are so peculiar, in fact, that they have led Torrey and a growing number of other scientists to abandon the traditional explanations of the disease and embrace a startling alternative. Schizophrenia, they say, does not begin as a psychological disease. Schizophrenia begins with an infection.

The idea has sparked skepticism, but after decades of hunting, Torrey and his colleagues think they have finally found the infectious agent. You might call it an insanity virus. If Torrey is right, the culprit that triggers a lifetime of hallucinations—that tore apart the lives of writer Jack Kerouac, mathematician John Nash, and millions of others—is a virus that all of us carry in our bodies. “Some people laugh about the infection hypothesis,” says Urs Meyer, a neuroimmunologist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. “But the impact that it has on researchers is much, much, much more than it was five years ago. And my prediction would be that it will gain even more impact in the future.” [...]

Perron learned from their failures. “I decided that I should not have an a priori idea of what I would find,” he says. Rather than looking for one virus, as others had done, he tried to detect any retrovirus, whether or not it was known to science. He extracted fluids from the spinal columns of MS patients and tested for an enzyme, called reverse transcriptase, that is carried by all retroviruses. Sure enough, Perron saw faint traces of retroviral activity. Soon he obtained fuzzy electron microscope images of the retrovirus itself.

His discovery was intriguing but far from conclusive. After confirming his find was not a fluke, Perron needed to sequence its genes. He moved to the National Center for Scientific Research in Lyon, France, where he labored days, nights, and weekends. He cultured countless cells from people with MS to grow enough of his mystery virus for sequencing. MS is an incurable disease, so Perron had to do his research in a Level 3 biohazard lab. Working in this airtight catacomb, he lived his life in masks, gloves, and disposable scrubs.

After eight years of research, Perron finally completed his retrovirus’s gene sequence. What he found on that day in 1997 no one could have predicted; it instantly explained why so many others had failed before him. We imagine viruses as mariners, sailing from person to person across oceans of saliva, snot, or semen—but Perron’s bug was a homebody. It lives permanently in the human body at the very deepest level: inside our DNA. After years slaving away in a biohazard lab, Perron realized that everyone already carried the virus that causes multiple sclerosis.

Other scientists had previously glimpsed Perron’s retrovirus without fully grasping its significance. In the 1970s biologists studying pregnant baboons were shocked as they looked at electron microscope images of the placenta. They saw spherical retroviruses oozing from the cells of seemingly healthy animals. They soon found the virus in healthy humans, too. So began a strange chapter in evolutionary biology. [...]

Viruses like influenza or measles kill cells when they infect them. But when retroviruses like HIV infect a cell, they often let the cell live and splice their genes into its DNA. When the cell divides, both of its progeny carry the retrovirus’s genetic code in their DNA.

In the past few years, geneticists have pieced together an account of how Perron’s retrovirus entered our DNA. Sixty million years ago, a lemurlike animal—an early ancestor of humans and monkeys—contracted an infection. It may not have made the lemur ill, but the retrovirus spread into the animal’s testes (or perhaps its ovaries), and once there, it struck the jackpot: It slipped inside one of the rare germ line cells that produce sperm and eggs. When the lemur reproduced, that retrovirus rode into the next generation aboard the lucky sperm and then moved on from generation to generation, nestled in the DNA. “It’s a rare, random event,” says Robert Belshaw, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Oxford in England. “Over the last 100 million years, there have been only maybe 50 times when a retrovirus has gotten into our genome and proliferated.”

Read the whole article; it is fascinating.

November 25, 2010 Posted by | Barack Obama, biology, Blogroll, blogs, brain, evolution, humor, mind, physics, science, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

22 November 2010 pm posts

Yes, your brain can play tricks on you, such as just making stuff up to fill in the gaps of your memory. Also, your memory can be made over (e. g., you can be shown fake images of something you attended and burn the fake image into your memory as the “real” one.

Religion Catering to outdated, useless religious rules can cause harm:

There is no question that factory farming treats animals inhumanely. Yet Johann Hari points out that in Britain at least, there is one redeeming feature in that system in that the animals are required to be stunned before they are slaughtered, thus making them numb and presumably sparing them considerable pain as they are killed.

Yet there is an exemption for even this minimal requirement, granted for (surprise!) religion:

You are allowed to skip all this and slash the throats of un-numbed, screaming animals if you say God told you to. If you are Muslim, you call it “halal”, and if you are Jewish you call it “kosher”.

Atheists who criticise religion are constantly being told we have missed the point and religion is really about compassion and kindness. It is only a handful of extremists and fundamentalists who “misunderstand” faith and use it for cruel ends, we are told with a wagging finger. But here’s an example where most members of a religion choose to do something pointlessly cruel, and even the moderates demand “respect” for their “views”. Their faith makes them prioritise pleasing an invisible supernatural being over the screaming of actual living creatures. Doesn’t this suggest that faith itself – the choice to believe something in the total absence of evidence – is a danger that can lead you up needlessly nasty paths?

As has been said by many people many times, it takes religion to make otherwise good and reasonable people do bad things.

Tough Moral Call A man shoots his wife of 70 years in the head…after she falls hopelessly ill and unable to even recognize those around her. What is the right thing to do here? On one hand, we can’t allow for people to shoot others when they become inconvenient. On the other hand, we all too often keep people alive long after there is no point to it.

Social The enhanced TSA screenings/patdowns are very unpopular, even (especially?) with the poor souls who have to do them. I admit that I thought about this when I had to go through a far less invasive pre-screening procedure to get into this weekend’s NFL game. They had lines for women and men; I would NOT have liked to have had to do such a “pat down” (relatively non-invasive) with these football fans (yuck!).

These procedures (the pat-downs and scanners) have lead to ridicule from other countries. (the Daily Squib is a UK version of The Onion)

World Events
This hasn’t been covered much in the mainstream media, but other countries in Latin America are using their energy revenues to build up militarily. Here is an article about Brazil building up its navy including building some nuclear powered submarines.

One thing that Brazil should remember: it is one thing to build when your revenues are high. But these submarines are hideously expensive to maintain and they become all but worthless sans constant upkeep. The Russians learned this the hard way.

North Korea: fires artillery shells at a South Korean island (an inhabited one). The South has retaliated. There is more here (including maps of the affected region).

President Obama There is disagreement on the left about President Obama.
One thing that many people forget: he ran, in part, not to fight to push a liberal agenda but to overcome the “smallness of our politics”; there were people on the left who were alarmed by that. Here is the text of his announcement speech:

It was here, in Springfield, where I saw all that is America converge — farmers and teachers, businessmen and laborers, all of them with a story to tell, all of them seeking a seat at the table, all of them clamoring to be heard. I made lasting friendships here — friends that I see in the audience today.

It was here we learned to disagree without being disagreeable — that it’s possible to compromise so long as you know those principles that can never be compromised; and that so long as we’re willing to listen to each other, we can assume the best in people instead of the worst. [...]

What’s stopped us from meeting these challenges is not the absence of sound policies and sensible plans. What’s stopped us is the failure of leadership, the smallness of our politics — the ease with which we’re distracted by the petty and trivial, our chronic avoidance of tough decisions, our preference for scoring cheap political points instead of rolling up our sleeves and building a working consensus to tackle big problems.

For the last six years we’ve been told that our mounting debts don’t matter, we’ve been told that the anxiety Americans feel about rising health care costs and stagnant wages are an illusion, we’ve been told that climate change is a hoax, and that tough talk and an ill-conceived war can replace diplomacy, and strategy, and foresight. And when all else fails, when Katrina happens, or the death toll in Iraq mounts, we’ve been told that our crises are somebody else’s fault. We’re distracted from our real failures, and told to blame the other party, or gay people, or immigrants.

And as people have looked away in disillusionment and frustration, we know what’s filled the void. The cynics, and the lobbyists, and the special interests who’ve turned our government into a game only they can afford to play. They write the checks and you get stuck with the bills, they get the access while you get to write a letter, they think they own this government, but we’re here today to take it back. The time for that politics is over. It’s time to turn the page.

Harry Truman he was not…and evidently still isn’t. That bothers many and one of his most vocal critics is Paul Krugman (who backed Hillary Clinton). His claim is that President Obama, instead of fighting the right wing narratives, actively embraces them:

Some readers may recall that back during the Democratic primary Barack Obama shocked many progressives by praising Ronald Reagan as someone who brought America a “sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing.” I was among those who found this deeply troubling — because the idea that Reagan brought a transfomation in American dynamism is a right-wing myth, not borne out by the facts. (There was a surge in productivity and innovation — but it happened in the 90s, under Clinton, not under Reagan).

All the usual suspects pooh-poohed these concerns; it was ridiculous, they said, to think of Obama as a captive of right-wing mythology.

But are you so sure about that now?

And here’s this, from Thomas Ferguson: Obama saying

We didn’t actually, I think, do what Franklin Delano Roosevelt did, which was basically wait for six months until the thing had gotten so bad that it became an easier sell politically because we thought that was irresponsible. We had to act quickly.

As Ferguson explains, this is a right-wing smear. What actually happened was that during the interregnum between the 1932 election and the1933 inauguration — which was much longer then, because the inauguration didn’t take place until March — Herbert Hoover tried to rope FDR into maintaining his policies, including rigid adherence to the gold standard and fiscal austerity. FDR declined to be part of this.

But Obama buys the right-wing smear.

Krugman goes on to point out that the Republicans have no interest in governing…unless they are in charge of it all:

The fact is that one of our two great political parties has made it clear that it has no interest in making America governable, unless it’s doing the governing. And that party now controls one house of Congress, which means that the country will not, in fact, be governable without that party’s cooperation — cooperation that won’t be forthcoming.

Elite opinion has been slow to recognize this reality. Thus on the same day that Mr. Simpson rejoiced in the prospect of chaos, Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, appealed for help in confronting mass unemployment. He asked for “a fiscal program that combines near-term measures to enhance growth with strong, confidence-inducing steps to reduce longer-term structural deficits.”

My immediate thought was, why not ask for a pony, too? After all, the G.O.P. isn’t interested in helping the economy as long as a Democrat is in the White House. Indeed, far from being willing to help Mr. Bernanke’s efforts, Republicans are trying to bully the Fed itself into giving up completely on trying to reduce unemployment.

And on matters fiscal, the G.O.P. program is to do almost exactly the opposite of what Mr. Bernanke called for. On one side, Republicans oppose just about everything that might reduce structural deficits: they demand that the Bush tax cuts be made permanent while demagoguing efforts to limit the rise in Medicare costs, which are essential to any attempts to get the budget under control. On the other, the G.O.P. opposes anything that might help sustain demand in a depressed economy — even aid to small businesses, which the party claims to love.

Right now, in particular, Republicans are blocking an extension of unemployment benefits — an action that will both cause immense hardship and drain purchasing power from an already sputtering economy. But there’s no point appealing to the better angels of their nature; America just doesn’t work that way anymore.

And opposition for the sake of opposition isn’t limited to economic policy. Politics, they used to tell us, stops at the water’s edge — but that was then.

These days, national security experts are tearing their hair out over the decision of Senate Republicans to block a desperately needed new strategic arms treaty. And everyone knows that these Republicans oppose the treaty, not because of legitimate objections, but simply because it’s an Obama administration initiative; if sabotaging the president endangers the nation, so be it.

How does this end? Mr. Obama is still talking about bipartisan outreach, and maybe if he caves in sufficiently he can avoid a federal shutdown this spring. But any respite would be only temporary; again, the G.O.P. is just not interested in helping a Democrat govern.

My sense is that most Americans still don’t understand this reality. They still imagine that when push comes to shove, our politicians will come together to do what’s necessary. But that was another country.

Though there are signs of hope (e. g., Senator Lugar hopes that the Senate will ratify the new START treaty)

And some hope (and see signs of) President Obama getting a bit of President Trueman in him.

Others remind our “critics on the left” friends that the President has gotten many bills through Congress, each of which tacks left though isn’t completely what we wanted.

So what will happen? We shall see.

So what about the Republicans?
There are some who feel that Sarah Palin might well win the nomination and be a “credible” candidate for the Presidency. She is already popping off as to how she will “clean up journalism”. As to how much she knows about journalism: remember that she considered it a violation of her First Amendment rights for her claims on the campaign trail to be fact-checked!

Of course, such idiotic statements won’t hurt her with many in the Republican base; after all many are themselves idiots. Here is a Republican member of the US House (IL-19) who wants to be on energy related committees:

U.S. Rep. JOHN SHIMKUS, R-Collinsville, who is still a member of Congress in part because he abandoned his own self-imposed term limit, hopes to become a House committee chairman if a different term limit stays in place.

That could give Shimkus significant control of the debate over issues like global warming — an issue he believes has a “biblical perspective” as well as a scientific one. [...]

During a March 25, 2009, meeting of the subcommittee on energy and environment, Shimkus read from the Bible, including a passage that states “the Earth will end only when God declares it’s time to be over. Man will not destroy this Earth. This Earth will not be destroyed by a flood.”

Shimkus, who easily won re-election Nov. 2 over Democrat TIM BAGWELL of Olney, visited The State Journal-Register’s editorial board during the campaign. I’m not on the board, but I often attend meetings with candidates. I asked if Shimkus was serious about using the Bible to help determine climate policy.

“If you’re asking me as a Christian, do I believe that the Bible is the infallible word of God, I do,” he said.

I asked Shimkus what his theology says about global warming.

“I would just tell you that in Genesis and the flood, God said that the world would not be destroyed by the flood again. Hence the rainbow.”

I asked if that ends the global warming debate for him.

“No,” he said. “I believe that there’s climate change. I don’t believe that the world will be destroyed by a flood.”

During the subcommittee meeting in 2009, Shimkus — who said two theologians appeared before the panel — said, “I just wanted to put a biblical perspective, with theologians being prepared to testify before the committee. And one of them actually thanked me afterwards.”

Sadly, such nonsense doesn’t turn off many Republicans; they see such “thoughts” as an asset.

So, just how split is our country? It is more split than it was in 1994:

The Republican Party’s big gains in the House came largely from districts that were older, less diverse and less educated than the nation as a whole. Democrats kept their big majorities in the cities.

That’s a contrast to the last GOP wave in 1994, when Republicans’ share of the vote was consistent inside and outside metropolitan areas, according to a Washington Post analysis. That year, Republicans captured seats in a broader array of places.

The analysis, based on a review of the House vote in counties across the country in both years, has good and bad news for both parties.

The Obama coalition remained intact. Democrats remained strong in areas with the party’s core of minorities and higher-educated whites. But movement of white working-class voters away from the party is a concern for Democrats, especially because of President Obama’s traditional weakness with those voters.

Republicans’ success with the blue-collar vote and the high enthusiasm of the tea party gives it a fired-up base headed into 2012. But in a presidential election with higher turnout, the party might have trouble winning a majority with those voters alone. It certainly can’t rely on that bloc to carry the party into the future.

Here is a map of the House results.

But there is another glimmer of hope; today’s media demagogues aren’t as bad as some in the past; here is an article that reminds us that Glenn Beck is nowhere near as bad as Father Coughlin was.

November 23, 2010 Posted by | 2008 Election, 2010 election, 2012 election, Barack Obama, brain, economics, economy, glenn beck, Illinois, political/social, politics, politics/social, religion, Republican, republican party, republicans, republicans political/social, republicans politics, sarah palin, science, Spineless Democrats, world events | Leave a comment


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