Tuesday, September 30, 2014

So wait -- decreasing death rates from stroke is not all good news?

The Atlantic

[O]ver the past 50 years, health care hasn’t slowed the aging process so much as it has slowed the dying process. And, as my father demonstrates, the contemporary dying process has been elongated. Death usually results from the complications of chronic illness—heart disease, cancer, emphysema, stroke, Alzheimer’s, diabetes.
Take the example of stroke. The good news is that we have made major strides in reducing mortality from strokes. Between 2000 and 2010, the number of deaths from stroke declined by more than 20 percent. The bad news is that many of the roughly 6.8 million Americans who have survived a stroke suffer from paralysis or an inability to speak. And many of the estimated 13 million more Americans who have survived a “silent” stroke suffer from more-subtle brain dysfunction such as aberrations in thought processes, mood regulation, and cognitive functioning. Worse, it is projected that over the next 15 years there will be a 50 percent increase in the number of Americans suffering from stroke-induced disabilities. Unfortunately, the same phenomenon is repeated with many other diseases.
So American immortals may live longer than their parents, but they are likely to be more incapacitated. Does that sound very desirable? Not to me.
The situation becomes of even greater concern when we confront the most dreadful of all possibilities: living with dementia and other acquired mental disabilities. Right now approximately 5 million Americans over 65 have Alzheimer’s; one in three Americans 85 and older has Alzheimer’s. And the prospect of that changing in the next few decades is not good. Numerous recent trials of drugs that were supposed to stall Alzheimer’s—much less reverse or prevent it—have failed so miserably that researchers are rethinking the whole disease paradigm that informed much of the research over the past few decades. Instead of predicting a cure in the foreseeable future, many are warning of a tsunami of dementia—a nearly 300 percent increase in the number of older Americans with dementia by 2050.
I think that a 50% prevalence rate of dementia in those aged 85 or older is more accurate.

What will the younger generations be doing as the Baby Boomers slowly die? Working as Occupational Therapists, geriatric nurses, nursing home administrators, etc. We might even need a National Service draft-like system in order to provide sufficient care, in case our current strategy of importing cheap nursing home labor from Central America fails.

Monday, September 29, 2014

American Civics Test

Annenberg Center

Quick Civics Quiz:

1. What are the three branches of government in the United States?

2. How much of a majority is required for the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives to override a presidential veto?

3. If the Supreme Court rules on a case 5 to 4, does this mean:

a) The decision is the law and needs to be followed.
b) The decision is sent back to Congress for reconsideration.
c) The decision is sent back to the lower courts to be decided there.

4. Who has the final responsibility to determine if a law is constitutional or not?

a) The President
b) The Congress
c) The Supreme Court

(Scroll down for answers.)

Did you get them all right? Do you think that most American citizens would get them right? Do you think that most American citizens should get them right?

Well, here are the results of a July 2014 survey of 699 American adults:

1. 36% correct

2. 27% correct

3. 47% correct

4. 62% correct

If you're keeping score, that's a total score of 43% (F). By the way, these are the types of questions that an immigrant would need to answer correctly in order to become naturalized.

Time to scrap the entire public schooling system in the United States and start all over.

Answers: 1. Executive, Legislative, Judicial; 2. Two-thirds; 3. a; 4. c.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Garden of Proserpine -- Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909)

"Even the weariest river / Winds somewhere safe to sea."
Here, where the world is quiet;
         Here, where all trouble seems
Dead winds' and spent waves' riot
         In doubtful dreams of dreams;
I watch the green field growing
For reaping folk and sowing,
For harvest-time and mowing,
         A sleepy world of streams.

I am tired of tears and laughter,
         And men that laugh and weep;
Of what may come hereafter
         For men that sow to reap:
I am weary of days and hours,
Blown buds of barren flowers,
Desires and dreams and powers
         And everything but sleep.

Here life has death for neighbour,
         And far from eye or ear
Wan waves and wet winds labour,
         Weak ships and spirits steer;
They drive adrift, and whither
They wot not who make thither;
But no such winds blow hither,
         And no such things grow here.

No growth of moor or coppice,
         No heather-flower or vine,
But bloomless buds of poppies,
         Green grapes of Proserpine,
Pale beds of blowing rushes
Where no leaf blooms or blushes
Save this whereout she crushes
         For dead men deadly wine.

Pale, without name or number,
         In fruitless fields of corn,
They bow themselves and slumber
         All night till light is born;
And like a soul belated,
In hell and heaven unmated,
By cloud and mist abated
         Comes out of darkness morn.

Though one were strong as seven,
         He too with death shall dwell,
Nor wake with wings in heaven,
         Nor weep for pains in hell;
Though one were fair as roses,
His beauty clouds and closes;
And well though love reposes,
         In the end it is not well.

Pale, beyond porch and portal,
         Crowned with calm leaves, she stands
Who gathers all things mortal
         With cold immortal hands;
Her languid lips are sweeter
Than love's who fears to greet her
To men that mix and meet her
         From many times and lands.

She waits for each and other,
         She waits for all men born;
Forgets the earth her mother,
            The life of fruits and corn;
And spring and seed and swallow
Take wing for her and follow
Where summer song rings hollow
         And flowers are put to scorn.

There go the loves that wither,
         The old loves with wearier wings;
And all dead years draw thither,
         And all disastrous things;
Dead dreams of days forsaken,
Blind buds that snows have shaken,
Wild leaves that winds have taken,
         Red strays of ruined springs.

We are not sure of sorrow,
         And joy was never sure;
To-day will die to-morrow;
         Time stoops to no man's lure;
And love, grown faint and fretful,
With lips but half regretful
Sighs, and with eyes forgetful
         Weeps that no loves endure.

From too much love of living,
         From hope and fear set free,
We thank with brief thanksgiving
         Whatever gods may be
That no life lives for ever;
That dead men rise up never;
That even the weariest river
         Winds somewhere safe to sea.

Then star nor sun shall waken,
         Nor any change of light:
Nor sound of waters shaken,
         Nor any sound or sight:
Nor wintry leaves nor vernal,
Nor days nor things diurnal;
Only the sleep eternal
         In an eternal night.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Magic Flute (Queen of the Night's aria) -- W.A. Mozart


The aria forms part of the second act of the opera. It depicts a fit of vengeful rage, in which the Queen of the Night places a knife into the hand of her daughter Pamina and exhorts her to assassinate Sarastro, the Queen's rival, on pain of denying and cursing Pamina if she does not comply. (Wikipedia)

Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen,
Tod und Verzweiflung flammet um mich her!
Fühlt nicht durch dich Sarastro Todesschmerzen,
so bist du meine Tochter nimmermehr.

Verstoßen sei auf ewig,
verlassen sei auf ewig,
zertrümmert sei'n auf ewig
alle Bande der Natur.
wenn nicht durch dich Sarastro wird erblassen!
Hört, hört, hört, Rachegötter, hört, der Mutter Schwur!

Hell's vengeance boils in my heart;
Death and despair blaze around me!
If Sarastro does not feel the pain of death because of you,
Then you will be my daughter nevermore.

Disowned be forever,
Forsaken be forever,
Shattered be forever
All the bonds of nature
If Sarastro does not turn pale [in death] because of you!
Hear, hear, hear, gods of vengeance, hear the mother's oath!


Friday, September 26, 2014

Football's Image Keeps Getting Worse: Hannah Graham edition

Rough: Teammates claimed that the girl was taken to hospital after he was 'aggressive' with her at party
Jesse Matthew, suspect in Hannah Graham abduction

Daily Mail (UK)

Matthew was expelled from the Christian university founded by Jerry Falwell in Lynchburg, Virginia, in 2002, following the alleged sex attack on a female student but was not charged with any crime, former teammates said.
As a gifted football player, 'LJ' - as he likes to be known - won a sports scholarship to Liberty University after he was named Charlottesville's 'Athlete of the Year' in 1999


Surveillance videos showed [Hannah Graham] walking, and at some points running, past a pub and a service station and then onto the Downtown Mall, a seven-block pedestrian strip where police believe she entered a bar with Matthew. The video that has been publicly released does not show the two entering the bar together.
The university said Matthew had been employed at the University of Virginia Medical Center since Aug. 12, 2012, as a patient technician in the operating room.
The charges against the 6-foot-2, 270-pound Matthew surprised Dave Hansen, who first met him about 11 years ago when Hansen served as an assistant pastor at an area church.
"I always thought he was a gentle giant, just a nice guy," Hansen said. "He seemed genuine with his faith and spirituality. ... I don't see him doing this at all, but that's usually the case, I guess." [Nice. I suppose they don't teach about the presumption of innocence in seminary.]
Matthew attended Liberty University from 2000 to 2002, said officials with the Lynchburg school founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell. The school's athletics website listed him as a defensive lineman on the football team.
More recently, he also served as a part-time volunteer for the football team at The Covenant School, a private Christian pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade school in Charlottesville. Officials said his involvement with the school began last month following interviews with the athletic director and head football coach, as well as normal background and reference checks.
While Matthew has had past brushes with the law, the details of those cases are not clear.
Online court records show Matthew was convicted of trespassing in 2010 but provide no details about the incident. Details also were unavailable for two other charges of assault and attempted grand larceny relating to a 2009 incident that were not prosecuted. Matthew, who had a taxi permit from the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles from 2007 through 2010, also has several traffic infractions, records show.

Network (1976) -- Howard Beale's "Witness" (Peter Finch)

"I must make my Witness."


Howard Beale: I don't have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It's a depression. Everybody's out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel's worth, banks are going bust, shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter. Punks are running wild in the street and there's nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there's no end to it. We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat, and we sit watching our TV's while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that's the way it's supposed to be. We know things are bad - worse than bad. They're crazy. It's like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don't go out anymore. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we are living in is getting smaller, and all we say is, 'Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won't say anything. Just leave us alone.' Well, I'm not gonna leave you alone. I want you to get mad! I don't want you to protest. I don't want you to riot - I don't want you to write to your congressman because I wouldn't know what to tell you to write. I don't know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first you've got to get mad. You've got to say, 'I'm a HUMAN BEING, God damn it! My life has VALUE!' So I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell, 'I'M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!' I want you to get up right now, sit up, go to your windows, open them and stick your head out and yell - 'I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!' Things have got to change. But first, you've gotta get mad!... You've got to say, 'I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!' Then we'll figure out what to do about the depression and the inflation and the oil crisis. But first get up out of your chairs, open the window, stick your head out, and yell, and say it: "I'M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!"

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Sprint Car Racer Killed by Tony Stewart was High -- Seriously?

Victim: Kevin Ward Jr, 20, died August 9 after being struck by Stewart's car at a dirt-track race in upstate New York. It was revealed Wednesday that Ward was under the influence of marijuana at the time of his death - enough to 'impair judgement' 
Think up your own tasteless, insensitive caption.
Daily Mail 
Three-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart will not face charges in the death of fellow driver Kevin Ward Jr., after fatally hitting the 20-year-old in a race last month. 
Ward was hit and killed in a horrifying crash that was caught on film,  but a grand jury decided today not to bring up any charges against Stewart. 
At an afternoon press conference announcing the decision, Ontario County District Attorney Michael Tantillo made the startling revelation that Ward was under the influence of marijuana the night he was hit and that there was enough of the drug in his system 'to impair judgment'. 
Ward was fatally struck by Stewart while getting out of his car to confront the racing veteran, after the two collided on a prior lap at a race on August 9 at upstate New York's Canandaigua Motorsports Park track.

People do this? Get high and then go sprint car racing? Oh...right...psychopaths. The same people who answer TRUE to the test item: "I would enjoy parachuting out of a burning airplane."

The video is a bit rough. You might not want to watch it.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Update: Hannah Graham suspect arrested

 Mystery man: Police said the man in question is the black male with dreadlocks dressed all in white who was seen on surveillance video outside a restaurant last Saturday 

— The man who allegedly abducted missing University of Virginia sophomore Hannah Graham was taken into custody Wednesday in Galveston, Tex., after a widespread manhunt, and police said he now will be taken to Charlottesville to face charges in her disappearance. 
Jesse L. “LJ” Matthew Jr., 32, was charged Tuesday with kidnapping Graham with the intent to sexually assault the 18-year-old student, who vanished after midnight Sept. 13. The charge implies that police have evidence that Matthew took Graham against her will — or while she was in a state that left her unable to consent — but police have not laid out that evidence. 
Police want to speak with Matthew in the hopes of learning Graham’s location; an extensive search has turned up almost no trace of her. Police have collected evidence from Matthew’s car and apartment. Longo said that prosecutors decided to press charges against Matthew after reviewing evidence from experts at the crime lab in Richmond, but he did not say what investigators found or whether it included Graham’s DNA.
An arrest warrant for Matthew, issued Tuesday and released Wednesday, said only that he was wanted for “abduction with intent to defile,” a felony charge that carries a potential maximum life sentence upon conviction.

Update on Hannah Graham case


A man believed to be the last person seen with missing University of Virginia sophomore Hannah Graham is wanted on charges of abducting her, as police continue to search for both him and Graham, police said at a press conference on Tuesday night.
Police have obtained an arrest warrant and circulated a wanted poster for suspect Jesse Leroy Matthew Jr., 32, who is charged with abduction with the intent to defile, Charlottesville police chief Tim Longo told reporters. The announcement of the serious charge follows two searches of Matthew’s home, the Washington Post reports.
Police released few other details about their investigation into the disappearance of Graham, 18. She was last seen leaving a bar with a man believed to be Matthew at around 2 a.m. on Sept. 13 in Charlottesville, Va., CNN affiliate WVIR reports. The young woman has not been seen or heard from since.

Charlottesville, Virginia is a cesspool of crime and degradation (compared to Lexington)

Hannah Graham, age 18, missing since September 14, 2014

Daily Mail (UK)
Chief Longo said investigators had obtained video footage from across the city and had also seized electronic equipment from Hannah’s apartment.
Hannah Graham is alleged to have ventured into a poor neighborhood in the early hours of Saturday morning, according to residents.
The student is known to have sent a text message saying she was lost.
Investigators were spotted following blood hounds around Friendship Court, a low income housing development across the railway tracks from Charlottesville’s upmarket Downtown Mall area.
Shop keepers have offered police video footage which appears to show the 18-year-old student walking through the red-brick pedestrian street.
And it appears that Hannah may have crossed the tracks into Garrett St, a notorious area of Charlottesville close to the city’s Old Town.

It seems like the Daily Mail (UK) thinks that they've cracked the case. 
At least three other young women have disappeared in the area in the last five years. Nineteen-year-old Samantha Ann Clarke, who vanished after leaving her Orange County townhouse in September 2010, and 19-year-old DaShad Laquinn Smith, who disappeared in Charlottesville in November 2012, remain missing.
Um, excuse me, Ace British Reporters, but "Sage" Smith was (is?) a gay man who sometimes dressed as a woman. And it doesn't seem like a tremendous mystery who killed either Ms. Clarke or Mr. Smith (and it's not the same person).
Morgan Harrington, a 20-year-old Virginia Tech student, disappeared from the University of Virginia's John Paul Jones Arena while attending a rock concert in October 2009. Her remains were found three months later in a rural area. No arrests have been made.
It's pretty weird how many people seem to wish that the guy who (apparently) killed Hannah Graham is also the guy who killed Morgan Harrington. People love serial killers.


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Update on Omar Gonzales, White House fence jumper and Iraq War veteran

 Accused White House fence jumper Omar Gonzalez makes his initial appearance in District of Columbia Saturday, Sept. 20, 2014.

Mr. Gonzalez's friends and family described him as a dedicated soldier who returned home so paranoid about an unnamed "they" that he kept rifles and shotguns behind the doors and patrolled the perimeter of his home near Fort Hood, Texas. 
"He's a standup guy—he's a hero," said Jerry Murphy, the son of Mr. Gonzalez's former wife. "He sacrificed his mind and his body for his country." 
Mr. Murphy and his mother, Samantha Bell, said a military psychiatrist treated Mr. Gonzalez for post-traumatic stress disorder and paranoid schizophrenia before his medical retirement from the military in 2012. Citing privacy laws, a military spokesman declined to provide details about any medical treatment. 
The Department of Veterans Affairs provides Mr. Gonzalez with $1,652 in monthly disability payments. "However, at this time, it does not appear the veteran sought treatment in any VA health-care facility," a VA spokeswoman said. 
Mr. Gonzalez served his first Iraq tour from October 2006 to January 2008, when he was based in Baghdad and manned a machine gun atop Humvees and Bradley fighting vehicles. On his second tour, he was stationed in Mosul. Known to his comrades as "Gonzo," he encountered firefights, roadside bombs and close-quarters combat, according other soldiers in B Troop, 4th Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment. 
At times, insurgents would throw handmade teapot grenades at the scouts' passing vehicles, the soldiers recalled. "We saw a lot of dead bodies, a lot of shooting, a lot of people killed," said Sgt. 1st Class Michael Lashua, who shared a vehicle with Mr. Gonzalez in Iraq. 
When Mr. Gonzalez returned to Fort Hood, Ms. Bell said he wouldn't discuss his experiences, except to say they were "very bad" and imply they involved children in some way. 
Mr. Gonzalez took to walking around the house with a pistol on his hip, peeking out through the blinds. He worried "they" were pumping poison in through the vents, said Ms. Bell, who left him in 2010. He patrolled the yard looking for footprints, compulsively checked the locks and kept weapons behind the living-room and bedroom doors. "He wasn't violent—he was a great guy," she said. "It was just those bizarre behaviors. I couldn't deal with it anymore." 
One time he closed the blinds while Ms. Bell was running on a treadmill in the same room. "'I'm closing the blinds because they're looking in,'" she remembered him saying. "He always said 'they' but would never tell me who." A fellow soldier who knew Mr. Gonzalez well recalled that he was unable to sleep well and was troubled by nightmares. "He wouldn't hurt anybody ever," the soldier said.
Mr. Gonzalez was medically retired from the military because of a disability related to severe plantar fasciitis, his former wife said.
Among the awards he received were three Army Commendation medals, one Army Achievement Medal and an Army Good Conduct Medal, according to his records.
"Omar has an illness," said Ms. Bell. "I would love for that to be treated. I don't want him to be punished."
Secret Service agents reported that after his apprehension inside the White House, Mr. Gonzalez said he was "concerned that the atmosphere was collapsing" and that he needed to get unspecified information to the president.
At Monday's hearing, Magistrate Judge John Facciola asked Mr. Gonzalez's public defender, David Bos, if his client appeared to suffer from any mental disease or deficiency. Mr. Bos said there was no basis for a court-ordered competency evaluation. "Sadly, many of my clients suffer from mental illnesses—including PTSD—but are still competent to stand trial," he said in an email after the hearing.

Well, his public defender thinks he's Competent to Stand Trial. That's great. I hope this doesn't turn into another Ralph Tortorici tragedy.

Another VA Scandal brewing in the White House fence jumper?

NBC News

The ex-wife of the man accused of scaling a security fence and charging the White House with knife says that he suffers from mental illness as a result of a "terrible" incident during a tour of duty in Iraq and needs treatment, not jail.
"I wish there was something I could have done to help him, he's not a bad guy," Samantha Murphy Bell, told Indianapolis NBC affiliate WTHR in a telephone interview on Monday. "He didn't go to the White House to hurt Obama."
Bell said she met her ex-husband, Omar Gonzalez, 42, in 2005 or 2006, and they were married in 2006. They separated in 2010 and were officially divorced in July of this year.
She said that life with Gonzalez — who is charged with unlawfully entering a restricted building or grounds while carrying a deadly or dangerous weapon — was fine until a second tour of duty where something bad happened in Iraq.
The Army says Gonzalez first enlisted from July 1997 to September 2003, then reenlisted in July 2005 and served until his retirement in late 2012, serving in Iraq from October 2006 to January 2008.
"It was his second tour and I noticed that he was doing a lot of things that were making me uncomfortable — I knew he would never harm me (but) I know whatever happened in Iraq, it affected him," said Bell.
She said it was difficult if not impossible to talk to Gonzalez about the traumatic incident that had scarred his psyche, but once she asked, how bad it was and, "he said, 'It was terrible.’ he said, ‘Sam, the only thing I could tell you is it involved little children.'"

Bell said that Gonzalez started walking around their home with a .45-caliber pistol on his hip at all times. "It never left him, and he had a gun or a shotgun behind every door," said Bell, who claimed that her ex had been diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder.
"He needs to get treatment," she said. "I think he needs to get proper help — throwing him in a jail is not helping him."
According to the affidavit from when Gonzalez was first detained after busting onto White House property on Friday, he told a Secret Service agent that "the atmosphere was collapsing and needed to get the information to the president of the United States so that he could get the word out to the people."
On Monday Gonzalez was ordered held without bail until Oct. 1. It was also revealed that he had been detained near the White House with weapons at least two other times in the past three months.

Poor guy. The march to keep the atmosphere from collapsing was in New York, not DC.

I doubt the schizophrenia diagnosis (onset is too late in life), but I wouldn't be surprised if he had been prescribed anti-psychotics such as Seroquel. A Google search would have shown him and his ex- that those meds are used to treat schizophrenia (as well as to help combat vets sleep).

Don't be too quick to dismiss the story about an incident involving "little children" as a product of mental illness.

It would be an egregious injustice to prosecute this guy. I guess we should be thankful that they didn't kill him, as cops in DC are wont to do to the mentally ill.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Florida Grandfather in Family Annihilation-Suicide


A grandfather shot and killed his daughter and her six children Thursday in the town of Bell, Fla. before committing suicide after police arrived at the scene, authorities said.
The children ranged in age from three months to 10 years old...
the suspect [is] Don C. Spirit, 51, a white man. The sheriff said Spirit had placed a 911 call around 4:30 p.m. in which he "made reference to harming people and himself."
"There's still a lot of unanswered questions," [the sheriff] said. "There's going to be questions that we're never going to get answered."
The victims' identities were released by the Gilchrist County Sheriff's Office late Thursday: Alana Stewart, 3 months old; Brandon Stewart, 4; Destiny Stewart, 5; Johnathon Kuhlmann, 8; Kylie Kuhlmann, 9; Kaleb Kuhlmann, 11; and Sarah Lorraine Spirit, 28.
In 2001, Spirit pleaded guilty to a charge of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon after he fatally shot his 8-year-old son in the head in a hunting accident, the Orlando Sentinel reported. Spirit, who also was convicted in 1998 for felony possession of marijuana, was sentenced to three years in prison for the shooting, the Sentinel added. He was released in 2006.


Sunday, September 21, 2014

Sir Patrick Spens -- Anonymous, 17th Century Scotland

I. The Sailing

THE king sits in Dunfermline town
  Drinking the blude-red wine; 
'O whare will I get a skeely skipper 
  To sail this new ship o' mine?' 
O up and spak an eldern knight,         5
  Sat at the king's right knee; 
'Sir Patrick Spens is the best sailor 
  That ever sail'd the sea.' 
Our king has written a braid letter, 
  And seal'd it with his hand,  10
And sent it to Sir Patrick Spens, 
  Was walking on the strand. 
'To Noroway, to Noroway, 
  To Noroway o'er the faem; 
The king's daughter o' Noroway,  15
  'Tis thou must bring her hame.' 
The first word that Sir Patrick read 
  So loud, loud laugh'd he; 
The neist word that Sir Patrick read 
  The tear blinded his e'e.  20
'O wha is this has done this deed 
  And tauld the king o' me, 
To send us out, at this time o' year, 
  To sail upon the sea? 
'Be it wind, be it weet, be it hail, be it sleet,  25
  Our ship must sail the faem; 
The king's daughter o' Noroway, 
  'Tis we must fetch her hame.' 
They hoysed their sails on Monenday morn 
  Wi' a' the speed they may;  30
They hae landed in Noroway 
  Upon a Wodensday. 
II. The Return

'Mak ready, mak ready, my merry men a'!
  Our gude ship sails the morn.' 
'Now ever alack, my master dear,  35
  I fear a deadly storm. 
'I saw the new moon late yestreen 
  Wi' the auld moon in her arm; 
And if we gang to sea, master, 
  I fear we'll come to harm.'  40
They hadna sail'd a league, a league, 
  A league but barely three, 
When the lift grew dark, and the wind blew loud, 
  And gurly grew the sea. 
The ankers brak, and the topmast lap,  45
  It was sic a deadly storm: 
And the waves cam owre the broken ship 
  Till a' her sides were torn. 
'Go fetch a web o' the silken claith, 
  Another o' the twine,  50
And wap them into our ship's side, 
  And let nae the sea come in.' 
They fetch'd a web o' the silken claith, 
  Another o' the twine, 
And they wapp'd them round that gude ship's side,  55
  But still the sea came in. 
O laith, laith were our gude Scots lords 
  To wet their cork-heel'd shoon; 
But lang or a' the play was play'd 
  They wat their hats aboon.  60
And mony was the feather bed 
  That flatter'd on the faem; 
And mony was the gude lord's son 
  That never mair cam hame. 
O lang, lang may the ladies sit,  65
  Wi' their fans into their hand, 
Before they see Sir Patrick Spens 
  Come sailing to the strand! 
And lang, lang may the maidens sit 
  Wi' their gowd kames in their hair,  70
A-waiting for their ain dear loves! 
  For them they'll see nae mair. 
Half-owre, half-owre to Aberdour, 
  'Tis fifty fathoms deep; 
And there lies gude Sir Patrick Spens,  75
  Wi' the Scots lords at his feet! 

GLOSS:  skeely] skilful.  lift] sky.  lap] sprang.  flatter'd] tossed afloat.  kames] combs.


Saturday, September 20, 2014

Are You Alright? -- Lucinda Williams (2007)

Somebody should give her some kind of mental health advocacy award for this song. I had thought it was too wimpy for this blog but then they used it in True Detective, leading up to the epic stash house takedown sequence.

Are you all right?
All of a sudden you went away
Are you all right?
I hope you come back around someday.
Are you all right?
I haven't seen you in a real long time.
Are you all right?
Could you give me some kind of sign?
Are you all right?
I looked around me and you were gone.
Are you all right?
I feel like there must be something wrong.
Are you all right?
Cause it seems like you disappeared.
Are you all right?
Cause I've been feeling a little scared.
Are you all right?

Are you sleeping through the night?
Do you have someone to hold you tight?
Do you have someone to hang out with?
Do you have someone to hug & kiss you?
Hug & kiss you
Hug & kiss you
Are you all right?

Are you all right?
Is there something been bothering you?
Are you all right?
I wish you'd give me a little clue.
Are you all right?
Is there something you want to say?
Are you all right?
Just tell me that you're OK.
Are you all right?
Cause you took off without a word.
Are you all right?
You flew away like a little bird.
Are you all right?
Is there anything I can do?
Are you all right?
Cause I need to hear from you.
Are you all right?

Are you sleeping through the night?
Do you have someone to hold you tight?
Do you have someone to hang out with?
Do you have someone to hug & kiss you?
Hug & kiss you
Hug & kiss you

Are you all right?

Are you all right?

Are you all right?

Friday, September 19, 2014

10% of Americans go to work high

High Times magazine has some ideas about what these employees are doing while stoned at work.

Showing up to work high? You're not alone.
A new report has found nearly 1 in 10 Americans are showing up to work high on marijuana. Mashable.com conducted the survey in partnership with SurveyMonkey, and found 9.7 percent of Americans fessed up to smoking cannabis before showing up to the office.
The data analyzed the marijuana and prescription drug habits of 534 Americans. What's more, nearly 81 percent said they scored their cannabis illegally, according to the survey.
Cannabis and the workplace seem quite linked lately. Entrepreneur and venture capitalist Peter Thiel recently chimed in on marijuana and work. While criticizing Twitter during an appearance on CNBC Wednesday, Thiel said Twitter is a "… horribly mismanaged company—probably a lot of pot smoking going on there."


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Slow Reading Groups



This is kind of pathetic, but I'm all for it.
Once a week, members of a Wellington, New Zealand, book club arrive at a cafe, grab a drink and shut off their cellphones. Then they sink into cozy chairs and read in silence for an hour.
The point of the club isn't to talk about literature, but to get away from pinging electronic devices and read, uninterrupted. The group calls itself the Slow Reading Club, and it is at the forefront of a movement populated by frazzled book lovers who miss old-school reading.
Slow reading advocates seek a return to the focused reading habits of years gone by, before Google, smartphones and social media started fracturing our time and attention spans. Many of its advocates say they embraced the concept after realizing they couldn't make it through a book anymore.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Best President in the History of the World

There is a story about Mr. Obama relevant to the war, battle or whatever he declared Wednesday evening against the Islamic State, aka ISIS. It is found in his former campaign manager David Plouffe's account of the 2008 election, "The Audacity to Win."
Mr. Plouffe writes that during an earlier election race, Mr. Obama had a "hard time allowing his campaign staff to take more responsibility." To which Barack Obama answered: "I think I could probably do every job on the campaign better than the people I'll hire to do it." Audacity indeed.
In a 2008 New Yorker article by Ryan Lizza, Mr. Obama is quoted telling another aide: "I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors." Also, "I think I'm a better speechwriter than my speechwriters."
And here we are.
In the days before Mr. Obama's ISIS address to the nation, news accounts cataloged his now-embarrassing statements about terrorism's decline on his watch—the terrorists are JV teams, the tide of war is receding and all that.
What we now know is that Mr. Obama is not even close to being his own best Secretary of State, his own best Secretary of Defense, his own best national security adviser or his own best CIA director.
The question is: Does he know it?
Can a humbling experience of such startling proportions have sunk in? It had better.

Has it? I doubt it, especially if the President is as narcissistic as so many observers believe him to be. (Personally, I suspect that if President Obama does not meet diagnostic criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder, then no one does.) As former psychiatrist Charles Krauthammer said the other day:
I mean, count the number of times he uses the word "I" in any speech, and compare that to any other president. Remember when he announced the killing of bin Laden? That speech I believe had 29 references to "I" – on my command, I ordered, as commander-in-chief, I was then told, I this. You’d think he’d pulled the trigger out there in Abbottabad. You know, this is a guy, you look at every one of his speeches, even the way he introduces high officials – I’d like to introduce my secretary of State. He once referred to ‘my intelligence community’. And in one speech, I no longer remember which, ‘my military’. For God’s sake, he talks like the emperor Napoleon.

"Du sublime au ridicule il n'y a qu'un pas."

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Gods of the Copybook Headings: Rudyard Kipling (1919)

Most people think that Aldous Huxley got the title of Brave New World from The Tempest -- I like to think that it was actually from this poem (which got it from The Tempest).

AS I PASS through my incarnations in every age and race,
I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market Place.
Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.

We were living in trees when they met us. They showed us each in turn
That Water would certainly wet us, as Fire would certainly burn:
But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind,
So we left them to teach the Gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind.

We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace,
Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market Place,
But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come
That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome.

With the Hopes that our World is built on they were utterly out of touch,
They denied that the Moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch;
They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings;
So we worshipped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things.

When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.
They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "Stick to the Devil you know."

On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life
(Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)
Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "The Wages of Sin is Death."

In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "If you don't work you die."

Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.

As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool's bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;

And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!

From Wikipedia:

"The Gods of the Copybook Headings" is a poem published by Rudyard Kipling in 1919, which, editor Andrew Rutherford said, contained "age-old, unfashionable wisdom" that Kipling saw as having been forgotten by society and replaced by "habits of wishful thinking."[1]

The "copybook headings" to which the title refers were proverbs or maxims, extolling virtues such as honesty or fair dealing that were printed at the top of the pages of 19th-century British students' special notebook pages, called copybooks. The school-children had to write them by hand repeatedly down the page.


Monday, September 15, 2014

Steven Pinker: Standardized Testing and Random Selection for College Admissions

New Republic

Some excerpts from Steven Pinker's (Harvard University, Department of Psychology) refreshing article. First he recaps the new book, Excellent Sheep, and offers a refutation of it (one that is based on personal anecdote, by the way, not data).
It’s not surprising that William Deresiewicz’s “Don’t Send Your Kid to the Ivy League” has touched a nerve. Admission to the Ivies is increasingly seen as the bottleneck to a pipeline that feeds a trickle of young adults into the remaining lucrative sectors of our financialized, winner-take-all economy. And their capricious and opaque criteria have set off an arms race of credential mongering that is immiserating the teenagers and parents (in practice, mostly mothers) of the upper middle class.
Deresiewicz writes engagingly about the wacky ways of elite university admissions, and he deserves credit for opening a debate on policies which have been shrouded in Victorian daintiness and bureaucratic obfuscation. Unfortunately, his article is a poor foundation for diagnosing and treating the illness. Long on dogmatic assertion and short on objective analysis, the article is driven by a literarism which exalts bohemian authenticity over worldly success and analytical brainpower. And his grapeshot inflicts a lot of collateral damage while sparing the biggest pachyderms in the parlor. 
We can begin with his defamation of the students of elite universities. Like countless graybeards before him, Deresiewicz complains that the kids today are just no good: they are stunted, meek, empty, incurious zombies; faithful drudges; excellent sheep; and, in a flourish he uses twice, “out-of-touch, entitled little shits.” I have spent my career interacting with these students, and do not recognize the targets of this purple invective. Nor does Deresiewicz present any reason to believe that the 18-year-olds of today’s Ivies are more callow or unsure of their lives than the 18-year-olds of yesterday’s Ivies, the non-Ivies, or the country at large.

Then Pinker offers a wonderful précis of what one should learn during four years of liberal arts (and science) education, one that includes both content and process:

It seems to me that educated people should know something about the 13-billion-year prehistory of our species and the basic laws governing the physical and living world, including our bodies and brains. They should grasp the timeline of human history from the dawn of agriculture to the present. They should be exposed to the diversity of human cultures, and the major systems of belief and value with which they have made sense of their lives. They should know about the formative events in human history, including the blunders we can hope not to repeat. They should understand the principles behind democratic governance and the rule of law. They should know how to appreciate works of fiction and art as sources of aesthetic pleasure and as impetuses to reflect on the human condition. 
On top of this knowledge, a liberal education should make certain habits of rationality second nature. Educated people should be able to express complex ideas in clear writing and speech. They should appreciate that objective knowledge is a precious commodity, and know how to distinguish vetted fact from superstition, rumor, and unexamined conventional wisdom. They should know how to reason logically and statistically, avoiding the fallacies and biases to which the untutored human mind is vulnerable. They should think causally rather than magically, and know what it takes to distinguish causation from correlation and coincidence. They should be acutely aware of human fallibility, most notably their own, and appreciate that people who disagree with them are not stupid or evil. Accordingly, they should appreciate the value of trying to change minds by persuasion rather than intimidation or demagoguery.
I believe (and believe I can persuade you) that the more deeply a society cultivates this knowledge and mindset, the more it will flourish. The conviction that they are teachable gets me out of bed in the morning. Laying the foundations in just four years is a formidable challenge. If on top of all this, students want to build a self, they can do it on their own time.
He then criticizes Harvard's (and by implication other elite/selective colleges') "holistic" admissions procedures, which he suggests simply mask racial/ethnic/class/other biases.

At the admissions end, it’s common knowledge that Harvard selects at most 10 percent (some say 5 percent) of its students on the basis of academic merit. At an orientation session for new faculty, we were told that Harvard “wants to train the future leaders of the world, not the future academics of the world,” and that “We want to read about our student in Newsweek 20 years hence” (prompting the woman next to me to mutter, “Like the Unabomer”). The rest are selected “holistically,” based also on participation in athletics, the arts, charity, activism, travel, and, we inferred (Not in front of the children!), race, donations, and legacy status (since anything can be hidden behind the holistic fig leaf). 
The lucky students who squeeze through this murky bottleneck find themselves in an institution that is single-mindedly and expensively dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge. It has an astonishing library system that pays through the nose for rare manuscripts, obscure tomes, and extortionately priced journals; exotic laboratories at the frontiers of neuroscience, regenerative medicine, cosmology, and other thrilling pursuits; and a professoriate with erudition in an astonishing range of topics, including many celebrity teachers and academic rock stars. The benefits of matching this intellectual empyrean with the world’s smartest students are obvious. So why should an ability to play the bassoon or chuck a lacrosse ball be given any weight in the selection process? 
The answer, ironically enough, makes the admissocrats and Deresiewicz strange bedfellows: the fear of selecting a class of zombies, sheep, and grinds. But as with much in the Ivies’ admission policies, little thought has given to the consequences of acting on this assumption. Jerome Karabel has unearthed a damning paper trail showing that in the first half of the twentieth century, holistic admissions were explicitly engineered to cap the number of Jewish students. Ron Unz, in an exposé even more scathing than Deresiewicz’s, has assembled impressive circumstantial evidence that the same thing is happening today with Asians.
Just as troublingly, why are elite universities, of all institutions, perpetuating the destructive stereotype that smart people are one-dimensional dweebs? It would be an occasion for hilarity if anyone suggested that Harvard pick its graduate students, faculty, or president for their prowess in athletics or music, yet these people are certainly no shallower than our undergraduates. In any case, the stereotype is provably false. Camilla Benbow and David Lubinski have tracked a large sample of precocious teenagers identified solely by high performance on the SAT, and found that when they grew up, they not only excelled in academia, technology, medicine, and business, but won outsize recognition for their novels, plays, poems, paintings, sculptures, and productions in dance, music, and theater. .. 
And he suggests a solution -- the SAT! Admit 10% of the class based on their top scores, then admit the rest by lottery, given that they exceeded some pre-stated score threshold (i.e., that they demonstrated they that are smart enough to benefit from a Harvard education).
 ...If only we had some way to divine the suitability of a student for an elite education, without ethnic bias, undeserved advantages to the wealthy, or pointless gaming of the system. If only we had some way to match jobs with candidates that was not distorted by the halo of prestige. A sample of behavior that could be gathered quickly and cheaply, assessed objectively, and double-checked for its ability to predict the qualities we value….

We do have this magic measuring stick, of course: it’s called standardized testing. I suspect that a major reason we slid into this madness and can’t seem to figure out how to get out of it is that the American intelligentsia has lost the ability to think straight about objective tests. After all, if the Ivies admitted the highest scoring kids at one end, and companies hired the highest scoring graduates across all universities at the other (with tests that tap knowledge and skill as well as aptitude), many of the perversities of the current system would vanish overnight. Other industrialized countries, lacking our squeamishness about testing, pick their elite students this way, as do our firms in high technology. And as Adrian Wooldridge pointed out in these pages two decades ago, test-based selection used to be the enlightened policy among liberals and progressives, since it can level a hereditary caste system by favoring the Jenny Cavilleris (poor and smart) over the Oliver Barretts (rich and stupid).
If, for various reasons, a university didn’t want a freshman class composed solely of scary-smart kids, there are simple ways to shake up the mixture. Unz suggests that Ivies fill a certain fraction of the incoming class with the highest-scoring applicants, and select the remainder from among the qualified applicant pool by lottery. One can imagine various numerical tweaks, including ones that pull up the number of minorities or legacies to the extent that those goals can be publicly justified. Grades or class rank could also be folded into the calculation. Details aside, it’s hard to see how a simple, transparent, and objective formula would be worse than the eye-of-newt-wing-of-bat mysticism that jerks teenagers and their moms around and conceals unknown mischief. 
Pinker blasts the "standardized tests don't predict anything useful" nonsense, as well as the "SAT scores are correlated with parental income, so therefore they are biased" nonsense:
So why aren’t creative alternatives like this even on the table? A major reason is that popular writers like Stephen Jay Gould and Malcolm Gladwell, pushing a leftist or heart-above-head egalitarianism, have poisoned their readers against aptitude testing. They have insisted that the tests don’t predict anything, or that they do but only up to a limited point on the scale, or that they do but only because affluent parents can goose their children’s scores by buying them test-prep courses. 
But all of these hypotheses have been empirically refuted. We have already seen that test scores, as far up the upper tail as you can go, predict a vast range of intellectual, practical, and artistic accomplishments. They’re not perfect, but intuitive judgments based on interviews and other subjective impressions have been shown to be far worse. Test preparation courses, notwithstanding their hard-sell ads, increase scores by a trifling seventh of a standard deviation (with most of the gains in the math component). As for Deresiewicz’s pronouncement that “SAT is supposed to measure aptitude, but what it actually measures is parental income, which it tracks quite closely,” this is bad social science. SAT correlates with parental income (more relevantly, socioeconomic status or SES), but that doesn’t mean it measures it; the correlation could simply mean that smarter parents have smarter kids who get higher SAT scores, and that smarter parents have more intellectually demanding and thus higher-paying jobs. Fortunately, SAT doesn’t track SES all that closely (only about 0.25 on a scale from -1 to 1), and this opens the statistical door to see what it really does measure. The answer is: aptitude. Paul Sackett and his collaborators have shown that SAT scores predict future university grades, holding all else constant, whereas parental SES does not. Matt McGue has shown, moreover, that adolescents’ test scores track the SES only of their biological parents, not (for adopted kids) of their adoptive parents, suggesting that the tracking reflects shared genes, not economic privilege

In general, I agree with Pinker. The resume-stuffing, 15 AP classes in high school, varsity captain, first violin, community service nonsense in college admissions must stop. He's right that college isn't about pulling an oar or playing a bassoon.

I would advocate for a beefed up SAT (too many students get "perfect scores," so there's a ceiling effect), perhaps one that incorporated the Miller Analogies Test as well as the multiple choice sections from an assortment of AP exams.

I would hope that a consortium of selective colleges get together and all use the same admission test. If you score above a preordained threshold (say, 90% percentile), then you are randomly assigned to one of the 20 colleges in the consortium (e.g., Harvard, Duke, Stanford, etc.). With random assignment, each of these colleges are guaranteed to get their fair share of talented athletes, musicians, poets, etc. They will also have the same percentages of females and people from minority groups. They will also have the same percentage of billionaires' kids. All of the students will be smart enough to benefit from the educational opportunities available. Any differences in "success" among the various schools' graduates will be attributable to differences in their educational programs, and not to selection effects. Best of all, the focus will switch from "getting in" to doing well while you are in college. People shouldn't feel special just because they got into Harvard. Wouldn't that change if they knew that the reason they got in wasn't because some admissions committee thought that they were super-special, but because they were just plain lucky?

My guess is that this will never happen, and for the same reason that you don't go to a jeweler and say, "I want to spend $10,000 on a watch" only to have them tell you: "Great. I'll take your money and reach into this bag and pluck you out either a Rolex, or an Omega, or a whatever." People think that the brand name matters, and that's what they're paying for, not the education. Harvard (and other selective colleges) are selling a brand name luxury product, not an education.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Scoffers -- William Blake (1790)

Mock on, mock on, Voltaire, Rousseau,             
            Mock on, mock on; 'tis all in vain;
You throw the sand against the wind
            And the wind blows it back again.
And every sand becomes a gem
Reflected in the beams divine;
Blown back, they blind the mocking eye,
But still in Israel's paths they shine.
The atoms of Democritus                                
And Newton's particles of light
Are sands upon the Red Sea shore,
Where Israel's tents do shine so bright.