I still can’t believe someone let her choose this as a thesis topic

Scripts for online dating: A model and theory of online romantic relationship initiation, by Bridget Long.

“In their seminal study, Rose and Frieze (1989) examined the content and sequence of the behaviors of a first [traditional, not based on online interaction – US] date to determine if they reflected traditional gender roles. Ninety-seven undergraduate students were asked to rank order at least 20 actions that would occur as someone prepared for a first date, went on the date, and ended the date. An action was considered a script if it was listed by more than 25% of participants. Results indicated the male script had 27 actions whereas women had 19 actions. A woman’s first date script included: tell friends and family, groom and dress, be nervous, worry about or change appearance, check appearance, wait for date, welcome date to home, introduce to parents or roommates, leave, confirm plans, get to know date, compliment date, joke/laugh/talk, try to impress date, go to movies/show/party, eat, go home, tell date she had a good time, and kiss goodnight. A man’s first date included: ask for a date, decide what to do, groom and dress, be nervous, worry about or change appearance, prepare car/apartment, check money, go to date’s house, meet parents or roommates, leave, open car door, confirm plans, get to know date, compliment date, joke/laugh/talk, try to impress date, go to movies/show/party, eat, pay, be polite, initiate physical contact, take date home, tell date he had a good time, ask for another date, tell date will be in touch, kiss goodnight, and go home. [I have written about these aspects of dating here on the blog before.]

Findings indicated traditional gender roles still existed. Women more frequently included in scripts waiting to be asked on a date, being concerned about appearance, rejecting physical contact, and maintaining the conversation (Rose & Frieze, 1989, p. 265). Men were supposed to ask for and plan the date, pick up his date, initiate and pay for date activities, and initiate physical contact. […] Actual dating scripts and hypothetical dating scripts are very similar, demonstrating the connection between cultural scripts and interpersonal scripts for dating.”

A few of the scripts have changed over time (e.g. males are less likely to be expected to pay for the food than they used to be), but they still drive behaviour to a very significant extent.

“According to Valkenburg and Peter (2007), “about 37% of single American Internet users who are looking for a romantic partner have gone to a dating web site” (p. 849). Another study found 56.2% of all Internet users had visited at least one online personal site (Lever et al., 2008). A Pew research study estimated that out of 10 million single Internet users, 74% have used the Internet to try to find a partner (Rosen et al., 2008).” […]

“While individuals in relationships and in general want to highlight their positive attributes, online daters have the ability to manipulate those attributes (Ellison et al., 2006). Because daters have potential to meet face-to-face, they do not want to exaggerate their positive attributes too much. Daters in one study indicated only including information in their profiles if they believed their family or friends would also agree; an example could be a good sense of humor (Yurchinsin et al., 2005). Some online daters even have friends or family members read their profiles to make sure they are accurate representations (Whitty, 2008). However, while individuals do not necessarily exaggerate their positive traits online, there may be an issue of the foggy mirror: a gap between self-perceptions and the assessments made by others (Ellison et al., 2006). While daters were not trying to deceive others, their evaluations of themselves did not match those shared by others. Daters sometimes include aspects of their identities that they do not necessarily possess but that they would be interested in cultivating (Yurchinsin et al., 2005). […] The most common profile misrepresentations admitted by online daters were looks, details about their own relationships/children, age, weight, socioeconomic status, and interests (Whitty, 2008). […]

While attraction is still important, the way in which potential partners are filtered out is different online. It is easier to learn about a person and quickly move on without much concern, whereas it is more time- and emotionally- consuming to do the same face-to-face. Further, individuals may have different filters for potential mates met online versus face-to-face. Clearly, this is different from traditional dating scripts. […] Viewing profiles of others and deciding to contact another member is a complex process. In their Australian online dating study, Whitty and Carr’s (2006) participants indicated they viewed profiles as if they had a shopping list to check what products met what they were looking for in terms of physical attributes, similar interests/values, socioeconomic status, and personality. Once again, in traditional dating circumstances, this information is usually not available in advance. While we may base opinions on available information, such as appearance, online dating provides much more detail. Online daters can also engage in a compensatory model in which certain positive attributes of matches make up for shortcomings in other areas (Kambara, 2005).

Because of the options available in the search functions, such as checkboxes for particular criteria, the dating process can seem like shopping. The function may allow too many or not enough options depending on the search criteria or location searched. Kambara (2005) further noted daters learn how to read profiles to make judgments about them more easily. For instance, if someone had several misspelled words in a profile, it may be interpreted as that person having a lack of education (Ellison et al., 2006). Thus, smaller cues were important such as spelling, the time responses were sent, and the length of time between responses. These results are demonstrative of Social Information Processing Theory (SIPT; Walther, 2008), or using available cues to draw inferences about people met online. For instance, if someone sent an email in the middle of the night, the recipient can make judgments about the lifestyle of the sender and his/her staying up late. If an individual responds very quickly, it may signal interest or desperation. Daters explained they find users who have clichés (e.g. enjoys long walks on the beach) in their profiles to be less real and avoided those users’ profiles (Whitty, 2008).

Whitty and Carr (2006) summarized the aspects online daters were looking for in a partner online. The most attractive qualities were looks, similar interests/values, socioeconomic status (education, intelligence, occupation, income, being professional), and personality. Other aspects looked for in a partner were honesty/being genuine, age, height, proximity, size/weight, and being a non-smoker (Whitty, 2008). […] Online daters may place more importance on physical characteristics, because when meeting someone on a dating site they are presented with a photograph, not just text, and because there are so many choices, individuals can simply move on to more attractive potential partners (Whitty & Carr, 2006). Because the pool of available partners is larger online, individuals filter partners out quickly. As Vangelisti (2002) explained, romantic relationship initiation is constrained by physical (e.g., geographic location) and social contexts. However, for online dating these constraints are less apparent and there are more available potential partners. […] There are thousands of potential partners available to browse so online daters can add more to their wish lists for a partner and quickly move on when someone does not fit. Offline dating, however, does not have this abundance of potential partners (Whitty, 2008) and so individuals may not be so judgmental.”

The quotes are from the first two chapters. I may post more later on.


August 31, 2012 Posted by | dating | 1 Comment

A couple of chess lectures

I’m spending too much time on chess these days.

August 29, 2012 Posted by | Chess | Leave a comment


Some links and stuff from around the web:

i. A lecture on Averaging algorithms and distributed optimization. He’s quite good but this is not for everyone; you need a maths/stats background to some extent to understand what’s going on. I’ve seen many types of lectures online, but this one is probably one of the ones ‘closest’ to the type of lectures that are available to students where I study the kind of stuff I study, in terms of the format; there’s a lot of math, there’s a very clearly defined structure and the lecturer knows exactly what he’s supposed to cover during the lecture, you proceed from the simple and then add some complexity/exceptions etc. along the way, some i’s and j’s will be mixed up and a plus or minus sign will need to be corrected somewhere, the lecturer rarely asks the people attending class any questions and if it’s a good lecture there will not be a lot of questions from the audience either. It reminded me of the econometrics lectures I had some time ago, also because the stuff covered in the lecture relates a bit to material covered back then (‘gradient-like methods’, the convergence properties of various optimization algorithms, etc.).

ii. Cyanide & happiness. I found the comic a week ago or so and I like it. A few examples (click to view full size):


iii. From What is life? A 21st century perspective, by Craig Venter. Not a bad way to spend an hour of your life.

iv. A list of free statistical software available online. There are a lot of those around!

v. An awesome retraction-story. The peer-review process is not always bulletproof:

“[Hyung-In Moon] suggested preferred reviewers during the submission which were him or colleagues under bogus identities and accounts. In some cases the names of real people were provided (so if Googling them, you would see that they did exist) but he created email accounts for them which he or associates had access to and which were then used to provide peer review comments. In other cases he just made up names and email addresses. The review comments submitted by these reviewers were almost always favourable but still provided suggestions for paper improvement.” (via Ed Yong)

vi. “In a study now in press in Neurobiology of Aging (download PDF copy here), we studied the effects of healthy aging on how the brain processes different kinds of visual information. Based on prior work showing that visual attention towards objects predominantly recruited regions of the medial temporal lobe (MTL), compared to attention towards positions, we tested whether this specialization would wither with increasing age.

Basically, we tested the level of brain specialization by comparing the BOLD fMRI signal directly between object processing and position processing. We looked at each MTL structure individually by analyzing the results in each individual brain (native space) rather than relying on spatial normalization of brains, which is known to induce random and systematic distortions in MTL structures (see here and here for PDF of conference presentations I’ve had on this).

Running the test with functional MRI, we found that several regions showed a change in specialization. During encoding, the right amygdala and parahippocampal cortex, and tentatively other surrounding MTL regions, showed such decreases in specialization.

During preparation and rehearsal, no changes reached significance.

However, during the stage of recognition, more or less the entire MTL region demonstrated detrimental changes with age. That is, with increasing age, those regions that tend to show a strong response to object processing compared to spatial processing, now dwindle in this effect. At higher ages, such as 75+, the ability of the brain to differentiate between object and spatial content is gone in many crucial MTL structures.

This suggests that at least one important change with increasing age is its ability to differentiate between different kinds of content. If your brain is unable to selectively focus on one kind of information (and possibly inhibit processing of other aspects of the information), then neither learning or memory can operate successfully.” (link)

August 28, 2012 Posted by | Biology, comics, Computer science, Lectures, Neurology, Statistics, Studies | Leave a comment

More Khan Academy stuff you should know about

It’s been a while since I’ve been to Khan Academy (actually getting the Kepler badge sort of killed my motivation for a while), but I revisited the site earlier today and I realized that they’ve launched a brand new computer science section which looks really neat. Intro video below:

August 27, 2012 Posted by | Computer science, Khan Academy | Leave a comment


i. “Among those who dislike oppression are many who like to oppress.” (Napoleon Bonaparte)

ii. “Different races and nationalities cherish different ideals of society that stink in each other’s nostrils with an offensiveness beyond the power of any but the most monstrous private deed.” (Rebecca West)

iii. “There is little friendship in the world, and least of all between equals.” (Francis Bacon)

iv. “If the first law of friendship is that it has to be cultivated, the second law is to be indulgent when the first law has been neglected.” (Voltaire)

v. “Personalize your sympathies; depersonalize your antipathies.” (W. R. Inge)

vi. “We spend our time envying people whom we wouldn’t wish to be.” (Jean Rostand)

vii. “Each one of an affectionate couple may be willing, as we say, to die for each other, yet unwilling to utter the agreeable word at the right moment.” (George Meredith)

viii. “Women are never stronger than when they arm themselves with their weaknesses.” (Madame du Deffand)

ix. “Some women are not beautiful – they only look as though they are.” (Karl Kraus)

x. “Happiness is a how, not a what; a talent, not an object.” (Hermann Hesse)

xi. “Many things cause pain which would cause pleasure if you regarded their advantages.” (B. Gracián)

xii. “‘There is nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so’; and Nature has in that sense no ‘thinking’ outside man’s. He and his ethics stand alone.” (Charles Sherrington (+Shakespeare))

xiii. “The laws of conscience, which we pretend to be derived from nature, proceed from custom.” (Montaigne)

xiv. “More men become good through practice than by nature.” (Democritus)

xv. “I think it is Franklin who says that philosophers are sages in their maxims and fools in their conduct but this is an everyday fact consonant with maxims – that human nature is ever capable of improvement and never able of being made perfect.” (John Clare)

xvi. “Man is almost always as wicked as his needs require.” (Leopardi)

xvii. “Virtues and vices are of a strange nature; for the more we have, the fewer we think we have.” (anon.)

xviii. “Virtue is so praiseworthy that wicked people practise it from self-interest.” (Vauvenargues)

xix. “It is some kind of scandal not to bear with the faults of an honest man. It is not loving honesty enough to allow it distinguishing privileges.” (George Savile, first Marquess of Halifax)

xx. “Some people are thought well of in society whose only good points are the vices useful in social life.” (Rochefoucauld)

August 26, 2012 Posted by | Quotes/aphorisms | Leave a comment

Wikipedia articles of interest

1. Star fort.

“A star fort, or trace italienne, is a fortification in the style that evolved during the age of gunpowder, when the cannon came to dominate the battlefield, and was first seen in the mid-15th century in Italy.

Passive ring-shaped (enceinte) fortifications of the Medieval era proved vulnerable to damage or destruction by cannon fire, when it could be directed from outside against a perpendicular masonry wall. In addition, an attacking force that could get close to the wall was able to conduct undermining operations in relative safety, as the defenders could not shoot at them from nearby walls. In contrast, the star fortress was a very flat structure composed of many triangular bastions, specifically designed to cover each other, and a ditch. In order to counteract the cannon balls, defensive walls were made lower and thicker. Although this made their climbing easier, the ditch was widened, so that attacking infantry was still exposed to fire from a higher elevation for a while, including enfilading fire from the bastions. The outer side of the ditch was usually provided with a glacis to deflect cannon balls aimed at the lower part of the main wall. Further structures, such as ravelins, tenailles, hornworks or crownworks, and even detached forts could be added to create complex outer works to further protect the main wall from artillery, and sometimes provide additional defensive positions. They were built of many materials, usually earth and brick, as brick does not shatter on impact from a cannonball as stone does.

Star fortifications were further developed in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries primarily in response to the French invasion of the Italian peninsula. The French army was equipped with new cannon and bombards that were easily able to destroy traditional fortifications built in the Middle Ages. Star forts were employed by Michelangelo in the defensive earthworks of Florence, and refined in the sixteenth century by Baldassare Peruzzi and Scamozzi. The design spread out of Italy in the 1530s and 1540s. It was employed heavily throughout Europe for the following three centuries. […]

Fortifications of this type continued to be effective while the attackers were armed only with cannons, where the majority of the damage inflicted was caused by momentum from the impact of solid shot. While only low explosives such as black powder were available, explosive shells were largely ineffective against such fortifications.

The development of mortars, high explosives, and the consequent large increase in the destructive power of explosive shells and thus plunging fire rendered the intricate geometry of such fortifications irrelevant. Warfare was to become more mobile. It took, however, many years to abandon the old fortress thinking.”

2. Byzantine Empire (featured). This seems to be one of the topics that Wikipedia covers very well – there’s a lot of stuff here, and lots of links both to other articles and to external sources.

3. Lyapunov stability.

4. Tornado (featured).

From the article:

“The United States averages about 1,200 tornadoes per year. The Netherlands has the highest average number of recorded tornadoes per area of any country (more than 20, or 0.0013 per sq mi (0.00048 per km2), annually), followed by the UK (around 33, or 0.00035 per sq mi (0.00013 per km2), per year),[64][65] but most are small and cause minor damage. In absolute number of events, ignoring area, the UK experiences more tornadoes than any other European country, excluding waterspouts.[61]

Tornadoes kill an average of 179 people per year in Bangladesh, the most in the world. This is due to high population density, poor quality of construction and lack of tornado safety knowledge, as well as other factors.[66][67] Other areas of the world that have frequent tornadoes include South Africa, parts of Argentina, Paraguay, and southern Brazil, as well as portions of Europe, Australia and New Zealand, and far eastern Asia.[7][68]

5. Formal system (logic).

6. Ferdinand I, Holy Roman Emperor.

Ferdinand I (10 March 1503, Alcalá de Henares, Spain – 25 July 1564, Vienna, Habsburg domain [now in Austria]) was Holy Roman Emperor from 1558, king of Bohemia and Hungary from 1526, and king of Croatia from 1527 until his death.[1][2] Before his accession, he ruled the Austrian hereditary lands of the Habsburgs in the name of his elder brother, Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor.

The key events during his reign were the contest with the Ottoman Empire, whose great advance into Central Europe began in the 1520s, and the Protestant Reformation, which resulted in several wars of religion.

Ferdinand’s motto was Fiat iustitia, et pereat mundus: “Let justice be done, though the world perish”.

7. Wheat.

Wheat (Triticum spp.)[1] is a cereal grain, originally from the Levant region of the Near East and Ethiopian Highlands, but now cultivated worldwide. In 2010 world production of wheat was 651 million tons, making it the third most-produced cereal after maize (844 million tons) and rice (672 million tons).[2] In 2009, world production of wheat was 682 million tons, making it the second most-produced cereal after maize (817 million tons), and with rice as close third (679 million tons).[3]

This grain is grown on more land area than any other commercial crop and is the most important staple food for humans. World trade in wheat is greater than for all other crops combined.[4] Globally, wheat is the leading source of vegetable protein in human food, having a higher protein content than either maize (corn) or rice, the other major cereals. […]

“Unlike rice, wheat production is more widespread globally though China’s share is almost one-sixth of the world.” [roughly corresponding to the Chinese share of the global population. I was also surprised to learn that China in 2010 produced almost twice as much wheat (115 million metric tons) as the United States (60 -ll-) did.] […]

“In the 20th century, global wheat output expanded by about 5-fold, but until about 1955 most of this reflected increases in wheat crop area, with lesser (about 20%) increases in crop yields per unit area. After 1955 however, there was a dramatic ten-fold increase in the rate of wheat yield improvement per year, and this became the major factor allowing global wheat production to increase. Thus technological innovation and scientific crop management with synthetic nitrogen fertilizer, irrigation and wheat breeding were the main drivers of wheat output growth in the second half of the century. There were some significant decreases in wheat crop area, for instance in North America.[60]

Better seed storage and germination ability (and hence a smaller requirement to retain harvested crop for next year’s seed) is another 20th century technological innovation. In Medieval England, farmers saved one-quarter of their wheat harvest as seed for the next crop, leaving only three-quarters for food and feed consumption. By 1999, the global average seed use of wheat was about 6% of output.”

August 26, 2012 Posted by | Biology, Botany, Engineering, Geography, History, Mathematics, Wikipedia | Leave a comment

A few notes on Singh’s The Code Book

It seems that nine out of ten readers don’t read/like my book posts, so I probably will try to hold back on those in the future or at least put a bit less effort into them. But I thought I’d just post a quick note here anyway:

I spent part of yesterday and a big chunk of today reading Simon Singh’s The Code Book. I generally liked the book – if you liked Fermat’s last Theorem, you’ll probably like this book too. I didn’t think much of the last two chapters, but the rest of it was quite entertaining and instructive. You know you have your hands on a book that covers quite a bit of stuff when you find yourself looking up something in an archaeology textbook to check some details in a book about cryptography (the book has a brief chapter which covers the decipherment of the linear B script, among other things). Having read the book, I can’t not mention here that I blogged this some time ago – needless to say, back then I had no idea how big of a name Hellman is ‘in the cryptography business’ (this was a very big deal – in Singh’s words: “The Diffie-Hellman-Merkle key exchange scheme […] is one of the most counterintuitive discoveries in the history of science, and it forced the cryptographic establishment to rewrite the rules of encryption. […] Hellman had shattered one of the tenets of cryptography and proved that Bob and Alice did not need to meet to agree a secret key.” (p.267))

August 22, 2012 Posted by | Books, Computer science, Cryptography | Leave a comment

The convenient narrative

“what kind of stories should we be suspicious of? Again I’m telling you, it’s the stories very often that you like the most, that you find the most rewarding, the most inspiring. The stories that don’t focus on opportunity cost, or the complex unintended consequences of human action. Because that very often does not make for a good story.”

From this Ted Talk by Tyler Cowen.

We use narratives to explain stuff. We need an explanation we can understand and if there isn’t one, we will make one up. And we much prefer to believe stuff that is comfortable for us to believe is true. It goes for all areas of life, not just the ones one like to think about. I’ve picked out a few examples but you’re free to add to the list.

Non-smokers and non-drinkers will generally underestimate how hard it is for people who are drinking or smoking to stop drinking or smoking. The convenient story for the non-smoker or non-drinker is about how people who smoke or drink are weaker people (and therefore less deserving). Or perhaps they are less smart, because they could have just never started in the first place. On the other hand some of the people who smoke or drink a lot like to tell themselves that they are not addicted (because addiction will often imply weakness in the mental model applied to the problem) or that they have just as much willpower as the non-smoker/-drinker has, which would become obvious if the latter also smoke/drank as much as them. Notice that there may be multiple, perhaps conflicting, ways to construct a convenient narrative that makes you look good, not just one; it’s both possible for you as a smoker to convince yourself that you’re not addicted and thus isn’t a weak person (‘only weak people become addicts’), and it’s possible for you to convince yourself that you are addicted, but that the addiction means precisely that you’re not weak ‘because if someone as strong and great as you can become addicted, eveybody can’.

People who are not overweight will generally emphasize the importance of their own actions when explaining why they are not overweight and downplay other factors, whereas people who are overweight will often be more comfortable thinking in terms of factors over which they have little to no influence (like genetics). So the person who is not overweight will end up telling himself a convincing and convenient story about how he’s not overweight because he’s doing all the right things while disregarding other factors that may be quite important too, and by telling the narrative that way he may think of himself as a better person than the people whom he think do not behave the way he does, and/or he may think of himself as a better person than the people who do in fact behave in a similar manner, but have gotten different results from the diet- and exercise regime than he has gotten and thus have ended up overweight. The overweight guy will often tell a completely different story, which is just as compelling and convenient to him as the other story is to the non-overweight guy; he’s overweight because of his genes, because of his metabolism, because of his big bones, or perhaps because of his job that makes it hard for him to find time to exercise. He may think he’s better than the other guy because he works harder (or he would have time to exercise), or he may think he’s better because he does not, he tells himself, judge people by their appearance. The more general story about the blameless victim vs the deserving winner can be applied to all areas of life; if people have done well, it’s always because of stuff they did, and if they haven’t done well, nothing they could have done would have made any difference. That is, this is the story most of them will tell you if you ask them. Because that’s the story they tell themselves, and sometimes have told themselves for many years. (Things get more interesting if people can’t decide if they’ve done well or not.)

Often when people engage in political arguments, they downplay the arguments against the position they are defending. And they like political positions which make them look more deserving, make it look obvious that they should have a larger share of the pie. If reality will not play ball that’s often not a problem in political debates; in politics reality is just what people can agree is true. So when arguing about whether the people I like (‘people (/who) like me’) deserve to be in the position they are in, you can claim ‘it’s because of X’ and as long as a lot of people agree with you then X is considered a valid explanation. Note that the most convenient story always has a bad guy, and that in politics the convenient bad guy is almost always the guy who disagrees with you. Note also that in all the narratives you tell yourself, you’re the good guy. And this is the case for everybody else too.

When people think about what motivations others have for doing the things they do, they will often be tempted to try to explain the behaviour of others in terms of reactions to their own behaviour. They will tend to go for explanations involving them first if they can make one such explanation make them look good. ‘If she’s behaving nicely towards me, it must mean that I’m a nice person’ or ‘she’s behaving that way because I deserve to be well treated’. If it’s hard to come up with such an implicit explanation that makes one look good one will be more likely to find and include ‘external factors’ in the model; if she was angry it was not because of anything I did, rather it was because her boss is a silly old man, or because she’s on her period. This model even works when she explains that her anger is caused by something you did: If she’s told you that her anger was because you didn’t clean the house yesterday, you’re quite likely to at least partially disregard that explanation and find another one that better fits the image of you as the perfect husband; either one that does not involve you at all, or perhaps one that does involve you but also ‘shows’ just how unreasonable she is (‘She is probably still mad about that $300 overcoat I bought without asking her first. I should be allowed to buy an overcoat for myself without asking that crazy lady first, dammit!’). And when people tell themselves such narratives one of the funny things is that they both know that she is right (he should have cleaned the house), but they still hold on to the self-serving explanations in order to justify their own actions though they know that they probably should not do this the partner disapproves of the behaviour. It makes sense though; we’re programmed to constantly look out for subtle ways to do a little less than our ‘fair share’, and you can’t cheat on others as well if you feel really bad about it afterwards and/or if you cannot catch up on the fact that your behaviour might be over the line. Incidentally, chimps have strong views on fairness stuff too.

Now, some of the stories humans made up in the past to explain the stuff we liked to explain back then doesn’t do very well today, when taking all the knowledge that is available to us at this point into account. Stories made up by people who died a long time ago still make up most of the religious texts around today, and you can tell if you read them. But it’s very often inconvenient for religious people to pick a different narrative, it’s in fact often very costly – and once again ‘reality’ is to a great extent just what people around you can agree with you is true. But people without religion do not do without competing convenient narratives; they will probably often tell themselves that they are smarter people for not believing stupid things. Or they will tell themselves that it’s all because of their own actions and ideas that they don’t believe in the stupid narratives, rather than it being to a great extent perhaps just a matter of being born by the right parents in the right century in the right country and being of the right gender (females are generally more likely to be religious than males).

It’s worth mentioning that not all self-serving stories are necessarily untrue or inaccurate. The degree to which such narratives are true or not will often depend upon your own point of view, but this is rather beside the point; the point is that people tell these narratives whether they are true or not, and the accuracy of the narrative often doesn’t much enter the equation in the first place. Sometimes self-serving thoughts like the ones described in the post are not thoughts people actively engage their minds with; often they are not. Rather, they are somehow perhaps best perceived of as part of the OS. The convenient narratives are part of us and there’s no way to get rid of them. But thinking about them every now and then can’t hurt.

August 21, 2012 Posted by | health, Psychology, rambling nonsense, Random stuff | Leave a comment


i. I started writing this post because I felt that I had to share this (click to view full size):

From abstrusegoose. But I decided that I might as well add a few other links as well.

ii. The Cochrane Foundation has just published a new review article on on ‘Pharmacotherapy for mild hypertension’ – it seems that the benefits of treatment are not as great as they have been made out to be. Via this slate article.

iii. (From Razib Khan’s pinboard feed:) How “god” evolved.

vi. In case you haven’t seen it:

v. Voyage of the James Caird. I may have linked to this before, but I don’t think so.

“The voyage of the James Caird was an open boat journey from Elephant Island in the South Shetland Islands to South Georgia in the southern Atlantic Ocean, a distance of 800 nautical miles (1,500 km; 920 mi). Undertaken by Sir Ernest Shackleton and five companions, its objective was to obtain rescue for the main body of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914–17, trapped on Elephant Island after the loss of its ship Endurance. History has come to consider the James Caird’s voyage as one of the greatest small-boat journeys ever accomplished.”

Here’s an image:

1500 kilometres and 16 days in a boat like that. And don’t think the trip was over when they reached the shore; those of them who could still travel had 36 hours of continuous travel across the mountainous and glacier-covered island in front of them before they were able to reach their goal, an inhabited whaling station in Stromness.

iv. I haven’t read this, but I assume that it may be of interest to some of you: Intelligence – A Unifying Construct for the Social Sciences, by Richard Lynn and Tatu Vanhanen.

August 20, 2012 Posted by | Cardiology, comics, History, Medicine, Pharmacology, Psychology, Random stuff, Studies, Wikipedia | 6 Comments

The Oxford Book of Aphorisms (2)

As I’m reading this book I’m trying not to read more than 50-60 pages/day; I feel that if one just reads a book like this in a day, not much will stick and one will not have given the quotes the thought at least some of them merit. Some more quotes from the book:

i. “However we may be reproached for our vanity we sometimes need to be assured of our merits and to have our most obvious advantages pointed out to us.” (Vauvenargues)

ii. “There are many things we despise in order that we may not have to despise ourselves.” (-ll-)

iii. “In order to live at peace with ourselves, we almost always disguise our impotence or weakness as calculated actions and systems, and so we satisfy that part of us which is observing the other.” (Benjamin Constant)

iv. “Life for both sexes is arduous, difficult, a perpetual struggle. It calls for gigantic courage and strength. More than anything, perhaps, creatures of illusion as we are, it calls for confidence in oneself. Without self-confidence we are babes in the cradle. And how can we generate this imponderable quality, which is yet so invaluable, most quickly? By thinking that other people are inferior to oneself.” (Virginia Woolf)

v. “If your body were to be put at the disposal of a stranger, you would certainly be indignant. Then aren’t you ashamed of putting your mind at the disposal of chance acquaintance, by allowing yourself to be upset if he happens to abuse you?” (Epictetus)

vi. “Everyone alters and is altered by everyone else. We are all the time taking in portions of one another or else reacting against them, and by these involuntary acquisitions and repulsions modifying our natures.” (Gerald Brenan)

vii. “The world is quickly bored by the recital of misfortunes, and willingly avoids the sight of distress.” (Somerset Maugham)

viii. “No man can have society upon his own terms. If he seeks it, he must serve it too.” (Emerson)

ix. “Attributing our own temptations to others, we give them credit for victories they have never won.” (Elizabeth Bibesco)

x. “We are so presumptuous that we should like to be known all over the wold, even by people who will only come when we are no more. Such is our vanity that the good opinion of half a dozen of the people around us gives us pleasure and satisfaction.” (Pascal)

xi. “The more you are talked about, the more you will wish to be talked about.” (Bertrand Russell)

xii. “Men are rewarded and punished not for what they do, but rather for how their acts are defined. This is why men are more interested in better justifying themselves than in better behaving themselves.” (Thomas Szasz)

xiii. “Knowledge may give people weight, but accomplishments add lustre, and many more people see than weigh.” (Lord Chesterfield)

xiv. “The best way to keep one’s word is not to give it.” (Napoleon Bonaparte)

xv. “What really flatters a man is that you think him worth flattering.” (Bernard Shaw)

xvi. “We often make people pay dearly for what we think we give them.” (Comtesse Diane de Beausacq)

xvii. “The lazy are always wanting to do something.” (Vauvenargues)

xviii. “Social injustice is such a familiar phenomenon, it has such a sturdy constitution, that it is readily regarded as something natural even by its victims.” (Marcel Aymé)

xix. “The danger of success is that it makes us forget the world’s dreadful injustice.” (Jules Renard)

xx. “Many priceless things can be bought.” (Maria von Ebner-Eschenbach)

xxi. “A ‘sound’ banker, alas, is not one who sees danger and avoids it, but one who, when he is ruined, is ruined in a conventional and orthodox way along with his fellows, so that no one can really blame him.” (John Maynard Keynes)

xxii. “The law does not content itself with classifying and punishing crime. It invents crime.” (Norman Douglas)

This may be my last post about the book as it would make sense to save some of the good stuff for my regular ‘quotes posts‘. If it does turn out to be my last post about the book: I recommend it.

August 18, 2012 Posted by | Books, Quotes/aphorisms | Leave a comment

The Oxford Book of Aphorisms

I’m currently reading this. I’ve seen many of the quotes included in the book before, but there’s also a lot of new stuff. All of the quotes posted below are quotes which I’ve not posted here on the blog before:

i. “All religions promise a reward for excellences of the will or heart, but none for excellences of the head or understanding.” (Schopenhauer)

ii. “Many a long dispute among divines may be thus abridged: It is so. It is not so. It is so. It is not so.” (Benjamin Franklin)

iii. “Contempt for human nature is an error of human reason.” (Vauvenargues)

iv. “It is a folly to expect men to do all that they may reasonably be expected to do.” (Richard Whately)

v. “Life is a tragedy wherein we sit as spectators for a while and then act out our part in it.” (Swift)

vi. “The shortness of life can neither dissuade us from its pleasures, nor console us for its pains.” (Vauvenargues)

vii. “The things we are best acquainted with are often the things we lack. This is because we have spent so much time thinking of them.” (Gerald Brenan)

viii. “What is easy and obvious is never valued; and even what is in itself difficult, if we come to the knowledge of it without difficulty, and without any stretch of thought or judgment, is but little regarded.” (Hume)

ix. “The average man, who does not know what to do with his life, wants another one which will last forever.” (Anatole France)

x. “It is easy to fly into a passion – anybody can do that – but to be angry with the right person to the right extent and at the right time and with the right object and in the right way – that is not easy, and it is not everyone who can do it.” (Aristotle)

xi. “Success is relative: It is what we can make of the mess we have made of things.” (T. S. Eliot)

xii. “‘The individual’ is an idea like other ideas.” (Harold Rosenberg. Related link.)

xiii. “An imaginative man is apt to see, in his life, the story of his life; and is thereby led to conduct himself in life in such a manner as to make a good story of it rather than a good life.” (Sir Henry Taylor)

xiv. “One’s real life is so often the life that one does not lead.” (Oscar Wilde)

xv. “People often say that this or that person has not yet found himself. But the self is not something one finds, it is something one creates.” (Thomas Szasz)

xvi. “We are more anxious to speak than to be heard.” (Thoreau)

xvii. “We lack the sense of our own visibility as we lack that of distances, imagining as quite close to us the interested attention of people who on the contrary never give us a thought, and not suspecting that we are at the same moment the sole preoccupation of others.” (Proust)

xviii. “If we happen to be praised on account of qualities which we formerly despised, our estimation of those qualities immediately rises.” (Leopardi)

xix. “We are so vain that we even care for the opinion of those we don’t care for.” (Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach)

xx. “There is false modesty, but there is no false pride.” (Jules Renard)

xxi. “To others we are not ourselves but a performer in their lives cast for a part we do not even know that we are playing.” (Elizabeth Bibesco)

August 16, 2012 Posted by | Books, Quotes/aphorisms | Leave a comment

Wartime – Understanding and Behaviour in the Second World War (2)

This will be my last post about the book. Reading the rest of the book has not changed my impression much; I’m mildly disappointed but it’s not a bad book, it’s just not as great as it could have been. At some points the priorities of the author also seems to be a bit hard to understand – for instance if “the comic-book was the book of the war” (p.250) then why would he decide to spend only half a page on them in a 22 page chapter about ‘Reading in Wartime’? The book had quite a few not-all-that-interesting parts and at some points I felt that it took a bit too much work to get to the good stuff. But there’s some good stuff in there, certainly, or I would not have kept reading. Some quotes:

i. “The war seemed so devoid of ideological content that little could be said about its positive purposes that made political or intellectual sense, especially after the Soviet Union joined the great crusade against what until then had been stigmatized as totalitarianism. After that embarrassment, the less said the better indeed. Not that there wasn’t quite a bit of trying to attach profound, noble meaning to events. […] The war might be considered to have been about bringing to light the horrors of the German extermination camps and punishing the guilty. But if that turned out to be the purpose, what about the Katyn Massacre, where the Soviets murdered as much of the Polish officer corps as they could lay hands on, and the readiness with which “denazification” and “demilitarization” were scuttled when it was found that a revived Wehrmacht could prove useful in preventing one’s former ally from advancing further west? [Or what about the elephant in the room not mentioned by Fussell, the people who lived their lives in Soviet concentration camps during the war – or died there – only a tiny minority of whom were German POWs? – US] […]

Although the Jews entertained a different view, to most American soldiers and sailors the United States, at least, was pursuing the war solely to defend itself from the monsters who had bombed Pearl Harbor without warning. For the troops the war was about avenging that event a thousand-fold. […] The feeling today that the war was in aid of the Jewish cause, the current resentment that more was not done to relieve Auschwitz and similar hell-holes, slights the Pacific, anti-Japanese dimension of the war, which was the official—and unofficial—reason America had gone to war in the first place. (Germany declared war on the United States in accord with its treaty with Japan; only then did the United States, which had been observing Nazi anti-Semitism for years without doing a great deal about it, declared that Germany was its enemy too.) […] For most Americans, the war was about revenge against the Japanese, and the reason the European part had to be finished first was so that maximum attention could be devoted to the real business, the absolute torment and destruction of the Japanese.”

Maybe this is true. But what’s certainly also true is that people tried hard to ascribe meaning to the war in whichever way they could.

ii. “The military has long known that the soldier’s morale is sustained not just by plenty of badges and medals and by ample access to alcohol and, when possible, non-infectious sexual intercourse but by the irrational conviction on the part of each soldier that he has the honor of serving in the best squad in the best platoon in the best company in the best battalion in the best regiment, etc., in the army. Modify each of these units with damned or goddamned and you would come close to what an American soldier with high morale might be led to say. […] An equally useful irrational belief is the conviction that one is invincible and indestructible because one is so uniquely intelligent, agile, and skillful. Such self-delusion seldom survives a few bombing missions or a few weeks on the line. […]

For every frontline soldier in the Second World War there was the “slowly dawning and dreadful realization that there was no way out, that … it was only a matter of time before they got killed or maimed or broke down completely.” As one British officer put it, “You go in, you come out, you go in again and you keep doing it until they break you or you’re dead.”33
This “slowly dawning and dreadful realization” usually occurs as a result of two stages of rationalization and one of accurate perception:
1. It can’t happen to me. I am too clever /agile / well-trained / good-looking / beloved / tightly laced, etc. This persuasion gradually erodes to
2. It can happen to me, and I’d better be more careful. I can avoid the danger by watching more prudently the way I take cover / dig in / expose my position when firing my weapon / keep extra alert at all times, etc. This conviction attenuates in turn to the perception that death and injury are matters more of luck than skill, making inevitable the third stage of awareness:
3. It is going to happen to me, and only my not being there is going to prevent it. […]

In war it is not just the weak soldiers, or the sensitive ones, or the highly imaginative or cowardly ones, who will break down. Inevitably, all will break down if in combat long enough. […] As medical observers have reported, “There is no such thing as ‘getting used to combat’ … Each moment of combat imposes a strain so great that men will break down in direct relation to the intensity and duration of their experience. […]
In the Second World War the American Military learned […] that men will inevitably go mad in battle and that no appeal to patriotism, manliness, or loyalty to the group will ultimately matter.”

iii. “in wartime, outright lies were not necessary. Just a little shading, a little tinting, a little withholding of unpleasant facts would do” […]
“By congratulatory songs or other means, every unit had to have its due, whether, strictly speaking, earned or not. Receiving sufficient flattery, it would perform its tasks, even if boring or loathsome, moderately well. But unflattered, its morale would sink, and it would grow melancholy and depressed, and finally unruly and even mutinous. The principle worked the same on the home front. To keep the morale of war-workers from drooping, the E (for Excellence) flag was awarded with notable lack of discrimination to shipyards and similar industrial installations. When workers at food-processing plants (makers of spam and the like) began to feel slighted, an A flag (for Award) was devised to keep them satisfied. A total of 231 was conferred before the war ended.20”

iv. “I joined the army to fight fascism,” says this man [a British soldier], “only to find the army full of fascists.”

v. “If elementary logic—the only kind wartime could accomodate—required the enemy to be totally evil, it required the Allies to be totally good—all of them. The opposition between this black and this white was clear and uncomplicated, untroubled by subtlety or nuance, let alone irony or skepticism.”

vi. “In a way not easy to imagine in the present world of visual journalism, the war was mediated and authenticated by spoken language, whose conduit was the radio. For those at home the sound of the war was the sound of the radio. […] During the war the average listener spent four and a half hours a day attending to what came out of the speaker,2 and when something especially significant was expected, one sat in front of the radio and looked at it intently. What issued from it was thoroughly censored, and it was puritan, chaste, and resolutely optimistic. […] Regardless of what it may have become later, in the 1940s the cinema delineated little but a fairy-tale world of uncomplex heroism and romantic love, sustained by toupees, fake bosoms, and happy endings. It was a medium whose conventions equipped it perfectly for the evasion of wartime actualities, and it adapted to its new requirements without in any way changing step. […]
As Eileen M. Sullivan has concluded, “There was no room in this war-culture for individual opinions or personalities, no freedom of dissent or approval; the culture was homogenous, shallow, and boring.””

vii. “The manufacture of anything made of metal was soon forbidden or drastically curtailed, which meant not only no new cars but no bicycles, refrigerators, vacuum cleaners, stoves or household appliances in general, typewriters, even alarm clocks. […] Shoes were rationed from February, 1943 […] Men’s clothing manufacturers were forbidden to supply cuffs on trousers or vests with suits […] Paper was in short supply, and Kleenex virtually disappeared, not to mention toilet paper. […] Food rationing began a month after Pearl Harbor. […] By the end of the war virtually all foods were rationed except fruits and vegetables, and many people supplied these from their own gardens. It was always possible to beat the game by turning to the black market, but this required money and criminal cunning […]
All commodities scarce in the United States were even scarcer in the United Kingdom, and there were some shortages Americans never experienced, like blankets, bottles, drinking glasses, pots and pans and cutlery, soap, paper bags, bandages and drugs, bed sheets and towels, paper-clips, needles, thermos bottles, carpets, combs, and golf balls. […] petrol and heating oil were not to be had and coal was extremely scarce, so the roads were all but empty of civilian traffic and houses and buildings were even colder than usual. […] Paper became much more precious than in lumber-rich America. Newspapers dwindled to four pages […] Wood was so scarce that the manufacture of furniture was rigorously restricted, with “utility furniture”—22 standard items only— replacing previous stocks. […] You could spend a whole day waiting in lines, acquiring the most common items.”

viii. “Disappointment threatens anyone searching in published [American] wartime writing for a use of language that could be called literary—that is, pointed, illuminating, witty, ironic, clever, or interesting. What one finds, rather, is the gush, waffle, and cliché occasioned by high-mindedness, the impulse to sound portentous, and the slumbering of the critical spirit. Here is James Truslow Adams commenting on his essay “The American Dream,” which he has selected to represent him in Whit Burnett’s This Is My Best:

Our type of civilization, the American way of life, the American dream are all at stake. I cannot go into details of prophecy here, and the entire world will be different when the war is over. Life will be altered in countless ways, but I believe that the cause of free men will prevail, and that the American dream is so deeply rooted in the American heart that it, too, will survive, translated into perhaps a greater reality than ever. It can be lost only by us Americans ourselves, and I do not believe we want to forget it or cease striving to make it real.1

It would not be easy to contrive a parody-prose at once as pretentious and incompetent as that, and yet during wartime such utterances passed for profound and ennobling.”

ix. “In a world without electronic entertainment, drunken groups singing was a staple of evening parties.”

x. “What annoyed the troops and augmented their sardonic, contemptuous attitude towards those who viewed them from afar was in large part this public innocence about the bizarre damage suffered by the human body in modern war. The troops could not contemplate without anger the lack of public knowledge of the Graves Registration form used by the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps with its space for indicating “Members Missing.” You would expect front-line soldiers to be struck and hurt by bullets and shell fragments, but such is the popular insulation from the facts that you would not expect them to be hurt, sometimes killed, by being struck by parts of their friends’ bodies violently detached. If you asked a wounded soldier or marine what hit him, you’d hardly be ready for the answer, “My buddy’s head,” or his sergeant’s heel or his hand, or a Japanese leg, complete with shoe and puttees, or the West Point ring on his captain’s severed hand. What drove the troops to fury was the complacent, unimaginative innocence of their home fronts […] each side was offered not just false data, but worse, false assumptions about human nature and behavior, assumptions whose effect was to define either a world without a complicated principle of evil or one where all evil was easily displaced onto one simplified recipient […] The postwar result for the Allies, at least, is suggested by one returning soldier, wounded three times in Normandy and Holland, who disembarked with his buddies to find on the quay nice, smiling Red Cross or Salvation Army girls. “They give us a little bag and it has a couple of chocolate bars in it and a comic book … We had gone overseas not much more than children but we were coming back, sure, let’s face it, as killers. And they were still treating us as children. Candy and comic books.”

xi. “Thirty-four people were killed in the cellar ballroom of the Café de Paris on March 8, 1941, when a bomb penetrated the ceiling and exploded on the bandstand, wiping out the band and many of the dancers. Nicholas Monsarrat recalls the scene a few moments later:

The first thing which the rescue squads and the firemen saw, as their torches poked through the gloom and the smoke and the bloody pit which had lately been the most chic cellar in London, was a frieze of other shadowy men, night-creatures who had scuttled within as soon as the echoes ceased, crouching over any dead or wounded woman, any soignée corpse they could find, and ripping off its necklace, or earrings, or brooch: riffling its handbag, scooping up its loose change.56″

That vignette suggest the difficulty of piercing the barrier of romantic optimism about human nature implicit in the Allied victory and the resounding Allied extirpation of flagrant evil. If it is a jolt to realize that blitzed London generated a whole class of skillful corpse robbers, it is because, within the moral assumptions of the Allied side, that fact would be inexplicable.”

August 15, 2012 Posted by | Books, History | Leave a comment

Wartime – Understanding and Behaviour in the Second World War

I mentioned the book before. I liked the article I linked to back then a lot, and in a way I’m a little disappointed with the book so far. On the other hand there’s still ~130 pages to go. I should note that the book is not actually bad (or I wouldn’t have read 170 pages today); it’s just not as great as I’d imagined. A few quotes from the book:

i. “In the first German raids on London, when 500 tons of boms were dropped, only half fell on the land at all, and only 30 tons hit London.”

ii. “sanguine misapprehension about the possibilities of aerial bombardment was not the only misconstruction useful to the rationalizing intellect unable to confront the messy data of actuality. And here the troops were no more exempt than the non-combatants from the tendency to look on the bright, or orderly, side. Such a habit, indeed, was indispensable if soldiers were to keep their psychic stability and perform their duties at all. An imaginative infantryman might have inferred what the battle was going to be like from the presence in each 36-man platoon of a medic carrying a full load of morphine and bandages, but before experience had enforced understanding, hope rationalized the medic’s presence as a precaution against sprains, cuts, insect bites, and heat-stroke. If confronted openly with the things the medic was going to be faced with, few could have gone on.”

iii. “Among the British, Bomber Command was the branch of service most in need of the consolations of superstition, for there the odds of surviving were the worst: out of 100 men, only twenty-four, on an average, could expect to live. When thirty missions constituted a tour, releasing an airman from further obligation, the average number of missions completed was fourteen. No wonder golliwogs were required. No wonder bomber crews chose to believe that empty beer bottles dropped from their planes had the power to blank out German searchlights. “It was unwise to laugh at this practice,” reports Hector Bolitho, “so widely and deeply was it believed.””

iv. “the awesome reality that we were training to be cannon fodder in a global war that had already snuffed out millions of lives never seemed to occur to us. The fact that our lives might end violently or that we might be crippled while we were still boys didn’t seem to register.” [quote by Eugene Sledge]

v. “Waiting itself and nothing else becomes a large element in the atmosphere of wartime, for both soldiers and civilians. You are waiting for induction into the services, waiting for D-Day, for someone to come home on furlough, for a letter, for a promotion, for news, for a set of tires, for the train, for things to get better, for your release from POW camp, for the end of the war, for your discharge. Attention—as always, but with a special wartime intensification—focuses not on the present but on some moment in the future. […] If you were a civilian, daily life was boring. If you were a soldier, daily life was very boring. But it was most boring to be a prisoner of war. By establishing the principle that captured officers were to do no work and that NCOs could only work as supervisors of the work of privates, the Geneva Convention guaranteed that life in POW camps would be for many an experience of unprecendented ennui, against which some often fantastic defences were required. In one German Stalag, an American lieutenant with nothing to do “counted the barbs in one section of the barbed wire fence and then estimated the total number of barbs around the encampment. When he announced this number, his fellow kriegies not only didn’t consider him mad, they formed teams to check him out with a barb-by-barb count.”

vi. “Drinking to “overcome” fear was a practice openly admitted by all hands. […] The Canadian bomber pilot J. Douglas Harvey testifies that “fear of death … was so strong in some of the aircrew that no form of discipline was effective. These were the ones who had convinced themselves that they would be killed and everything else was therefore trivial.” […] as in the earlier war, the British dispensed rum freely to stimulate their infantry before the demoralizing tasks they were obliged to perform. Recalling Tunisia, one soldier says of the rum analgesic: “Eventually it became unthinkable to go into action without it. Rum, and morphia to silence our wounded.”

vii. In Europe the U.S. Army Medical Corps discovered that the troops were so eager for drink that numbers of them consumed captured buzz-bomb fluid (i.e., methyl alcohol) and died. Most were ground combat troups, and the Official History reports that “During the period October 1944 to June 1945 … there were more deaths in the European theater due to a single agent, alcohol poisoning, than to acute communicable disease.” The History draws the inevitable conclusion: “In future operations the problem of alcoholic beverages … needs serious consideration. The American soldier will find a substitute which may be poisonous, if a supply is not available.”24 [“24. Preventive Medicine in World War II (Washington, 1955), III: 247, 263-68.”]

viii. “Although not widely publicized in the civilian world, very heavy drinking of hard liquor had been a notable custom in the peacetime American army. […] Army public relations labored to conceal the facts about military drinking from the public, stressing that the beer served at the training camps contained only 3.2 per cent alcohol and glossing over the ease with which you could get fighting drunk on it if you tried. Public relations omitted also to disclose the officers’ two-bottle-a-month hard liquor issue, doled out whether wanted or not.”

ix. “If drink was indulged in freely, the other traditional comfort, sex, seemed often in short supply. The reasons were social and legal, and they sound so quaint today that anyone trying to indicate the public view of sex in the 1940s hardly expects to be believed. […]
In wartime […] the American Postmaster General was empowered to act as a moral censor of anything sent through the mails, and in the United Kingdom the Lord Chancellor made sure that the minimum of sexually exciting material reached stage or screen. […] In the United States, films were regulated morally by the “Hays Office,” which went to work in a strictly binary way. There were no classifications like G, PG, R, and X. A film was either acceptable or unshowable. […] Sex before marriage was regarded as either entirely taboo or gravely reprehensible. “Most of the girls said it was either marriage or nothing,” one woman remembers.31 There was of course no Pill […] In this ambience of public puritanism and sexual anxiety, literature didn’t have to go very far to be thought highly provocative.”

x. “Sexual deprivation and inordinate desire generally did not trouble men on the front line. They were too scared, busy, hungry, tired, and demoralized to think about sex at all. Indeed, the front was the one wartime place that was sexless.
Behind the lines, desire was constantly seeking an outlet it seldom satisfactorily found. […] Acquiring a venereal disease was a punishable offence, and the services labored to keep the rate of infection under control”

xi. “For the war to be prosecuted at all, the enemy of course had to be severely dehumanized and demeaned, and in different ways, depending on different presumed national characteristics. One way of classifying the Axis enemy was to arrange it by nationalities along a scale running from courage down to cowardice. The Japanese were at the brave end, the Italians at the pusillanimous, and the Germans were in the middle. This symmetrical arrangement also implied a scale of animalism, with the Japanese accorded the most feral qualities and the Italians the most human, including a love of music, ice-cream, and ostentatious dress. […] treatment of Japanese corpses as if they were animal became so flagrant as early as September, 1942, that the Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet ordered that “No part of the enemy’s body may be used as a souvenir. Unit Commanders will take stern disciplinary action…” […] Japanese skulls were not the only desirable trophies: treasured also were Japanese gold teeth, knocked out, sometimes from the mouths of the still-living, by a USMC Ka-bar knife-hilt.”

xii. “If the Japanese were type-cast as animals of an especially dwarfish but vicious species, the Germans were recognized to be human beings, but of a perverse type, cold, diagrammatic, pedantic, unimaginative, and thoroughly sinister. […] That it was the same people who were shooting hostages and hanging Poles and gassing Jews, on the one hand, and enjoying Beethoven and Schubert, on the other, was a complication too difficult to be faced during wartime. […] Germans, all Germans—Wehrmacht, SS, sailors, housewives, hikers, the lot—had to be cast as confirmed enemies of human decency. […] Whatever the Italians actually were, the myth that they were the sweetest people in the war survives.”

xiii. “although a whole book could be devoted to the sort of stereotyping necessary for Americans (and British) to see themselves as attractive, moral, and examplary, some of the conventions can be noted briefly. A good way to get a feel for the subject would be to go through any number of Life magazine, or Look, or Collier’s, or The Saturday Evening Post issued from 1942 to 1945. Attending to the display advertisements, mostly in color, one would immediately understand the wartime thrill Americans achieved by imagining themselves good-looking Aryans, blond and tall, beloved by slim blonde women and surrounded by much-desired consumer goods. If the illustrations are to be believed, all young men are in the Air Corps, where they are officers almost by definition […] If the Jews, like those in New York, liked to think the war was in some way about them, it’s clear that most people didn’t want to be like them in any way or even reminded of them. You could spend your life studying the magazine adds of wartime without once coming upon a yarmulkah or prayer shawl, or even features suggestive of Jewishness. […]
In fiction or film, the GI might be Jewish or Italian, Polish or Hispanic or “Colored,” but never in advertising, a medium where only ideal imagery can be allowed to enter. In advertising, the Allied war is fought by white Anglo-Saxons, officers or aviators, with neat, short hair, clear eyes, gleaming teeth, and well-defined jawlines. That is the wartime “we,” fighting against the beast-like yellow-skinned Japanese, the “sick” Germans, and the preposterous Italians. Naturally we won.”

August 13, 2012 Posted by | Books, History | Leave a comment

Earth (2)

You can find my first post about the book here. Chapter 11 has a lot of stuff on wave dynamics which I found very interesting, but I won’t quote from that. I guess you can go watch Muller’s lectures on that subject if you’re interested – it’s a place to start. Generally there’s a lot of interesting stuff like this in the book which is just impossible for me to cover here (but I already mentioned that in the first post). Anyway, some more stuff from the book:

i. “The forces that shape coasts are essentially the same as those that form other topographies: the destructive processes of erosion operating in conjunction with currents that transport and deposit debris and the tectonic forces that cause uplift or subsidence of the Earth’s crust.”

ii. “The Sun, though much farther away [than the moon], has so much more mass that it, too, causes tides. The Sun tides are a little less than half the height of Moon tides. The two sets of tides are not synchronous. Those related to the Sun come every 24 hours, once each “solar” day. The time of rotation of the Earth with respect to the Moon is a little longer than the solar day – 24 hours and 50 minutes, because the Moon is moving around the Earth. In that 24 hours and 50 minutes, the “lunar day”, there are two high waters, with two low waters in between.
When the Moon, Earth and Sun line up, the combined gravitational pull of Sun and Moon reinforce each other and produce very high tides, the spring tides […] Such high tides come every two weeks at full and new Moon. The lowest tides, the neap tides, come between, at first- and third quarter Moons, when the Moon and Sun are at right angles to each other with respect to the Earth.
The above account describes the equilibrium tide, that is, one that is theoretically calculated for a uniform globe. The heights of the actual tides are very different in various parts of the oceans. Because the oceans are of various shapes and sizes, the water of the tide responds in complex ways.”

iii. Along shallow coasts, tidal movements give up energy through friction of the water with the sea floor—energy that must ultimately come from the rotation of the Earth and the Moon. That frictional loss is enough to slow the rotation of the Earth by a very small amount. […] The Earth must once have been rotating much faster, though the time of its revolution around the Sun was unaffected. The Moon’s rate of revolution around the Earth would also have been faster, and the Moon would have been closer to the Earth. That means that the tides would generally have been much higher, that there were many more days in a year, and that the days were shorter. […] Careful counting of […] layers in fossil corals has convinced many paleontologists that, 400 million years ago, there were nearly 400 days in a year.”

iv. “The surface currents of the oceans can be simplified into a pattern of large closed loops, called gyres […] The winds constitute the primary driving mechanism for the surface currents of the ocean. […]
The surface waters are warm near the equator—around 25°C or warmer—while those in the Arctic and Antarctic are quite cold—about 0°C or a little above. Because cold water is denser than warm, the polar waters tend to sink and slide along the buttom toward the equator […] As they do, they push in front of them the deeper waters, which tend to rise near the equator, being displaced from both directions. […] Because the dense, cold waters move slowly and mix with the surrounding waters very slowly, they tend to retain their original temperature and salinity […] The density-driven vertical circulation is much slower than the wind-driven horizontal circulation at the surface. Deep waters rise at the equator at speeds of only 2-5 m (6-15 ft) per year. Polar waters take about 1000 years to circulate […]”

v. “Physical sedimentation starts where transportation stops. When the wind dies down, dust settles; when water currents slow, sand settles. On Earth, physical transportation and sedimentation follow a general downhill trend in response to gravity, from rockfalls and mass movements downslope to river systems, and then down to the sea […] In running water, sedimentation is a one-way street, each temporary stage of transport and sedimentation carrying the sediment farther toward the bottom of the deep sea. Much of it is dropped along the way and never reaches the end of the line. Eolian sedimentation is different, for winds may blow material from low to high places and back again. But in the long run, eolian sedimentation is effectively a one-way street, too: Once windblown material drops to the ocean surface, it is trapped. It settles through the water and cannot be picked up again.
Chemical sedimentation is also a downhill process, but the driving force is chemical rather than gravitational. A major aspect of weathering and erosion is the chemical decay of rocks exposed to the water and carbon dioxide of the atmosphere. In the course of decay, ions from the rocks are dissolved, and rivers carry them to the sea […] The ocean may be thought of as a huge chemical reservoir: Water continually evaporates from the surface, and fresh river water runs in to replenish it. Although that keeps the amount of water fairly constant, it works also to enrich the sea in the dissolved ions: Evaporation takes away only the water; the ions do not evaporate.* Yet the sea maintains the same salinity. It does so because of sedimentation of the dissolved material as chemical precipitates. Totaled over all of the oceans of the world, those precipitates must balance the total inflow of ions released by weathering and brough in by rivers.”

vi. “Once a sediment is deposited and buried by other sediments, it is not immune to change. […] The many processes that produce the changes in a rock’s composition and texture after deposition are lumped together in the term diagenesis. Generally, they operate to harden the soft sediment into rock—that is, to lithify it. Diagenesis may also alter the mineral composition by dissolving some of the original minerals and precipitating new ones. The nature of oil, gas, and coal is almost completely the result of diagenesis of original sedimentary organic matter.
The major physical diagenetic change is compaction, a decrease in porosity caused by mineral grains being squeezed closer to each other by the weight of the overlying sediment […] Chemical diagenetic changes are the result of two general tendencies. The first is a gradual approach toward chemical equilibrium of the nonequilibrium mixture of diverse minerals that have been brought together as detritus in the sediment […] The second tendency is for a sediment to be buried more or less deeply in the crust. As a sediment is buried, it is subjected to increasingly high temperatures—on the average 1°C for each 30 m (100 ft) of depth on the continents […] and high pressures—on the average about 1 atm (atmosphere) for each 4.4. m of depth […] As minerals and the surrounding groundwater in pore spaces are heated and put under greater pressure, they tend to react chemically to form new minerals. This process, when carried far enough, becomes metamorphism, in which the entire character of the rock alters. The boundary between diagenesis and metamorphism is somewhat arbitrary, usually drawn at a temperature of about 300°C.”

vii. “there is such an immense amount of oxygen in our atmosphere and oceans […] that, even if all photosynthesis stopped tomorrow and all other respiring life went on as before, it would be several thousand years at least before oxygen would be significantly depleted by respiration and all of the other reactions in which oxygen is used”

viii. “The continents may be likened to rafts embedded in large plates. The rafts have grown through geological time. The oldest rocks found on Earth have been preserved on continents for nearly 4 billion years. Continents are difficult to destroy; they may be deformed, but they survive plate convergence because they are light enough to keep afloat. In marked contrast, the sea floor is created at mid-ocean ridges and destroyed in subduction zones on a time scale of 100-200 million years. […]
Oceanic heat flow is […] dominated by the process of cooling of the recently created oceanic lithosphere. Geophysicists believe that this form of convection may account for as much as 60% of the total heat flow from the Earth and that this may represent a major mode by which the Earth has cooled.”

August 13, 2012 Posted by | Books, Geology | Leave a comment

A few thoughts on conversations and human behaviour

Just some random notes, I probably shouldn’t publish this but I decided to do it anyway even though it’s not very structured.

So, I started out just by thinking about a simple question: Why do people talk with/to each other?

Now, we all know that there’s no simple answer to that question. There are answers – many of them. Categories like information exchange and social bonding/social relations management probably cover many of the reasons though there are others. Theoretically there’s probably a distinction to be made between conversations where people are very aware of what they want to accomplish with the conversation and how it can be expected to proceed on the one hand (conversation with a coworker about the new DHL-standards, board-meeting with a 12-point agenda, a doctor’s conversation with a patient); and conversations where the goal(s) is (are) more hazy and the expected duration is much more uncertain. Many of the conversations where people will be uncertain as to why they even engaged in them in the first place if asked directly probably can be argued to have quite clear goals if perceived in a certain light; goals having to do with social relations management and bonding. If you find yourself in a situation where you don’t know why you’re talking, you’re probably doing it for reasons having to do with social relations management/bonding. And if you feel the need to ask yourself why you’re talking with the person with whom you’re talking (‘why am I even talking to this guy?), you probably won’t be for long.

Conversations usually evolve over time because of interaction effects; new inputs are being delivered along the way, shaping the direction of the conversation. Two conversations with roughly the same starting point can end up in very different places. It’s worth noting that inputs supplied can be both verbal or non-verbal and people often underestimate the impact non-verbal behaviour may have on a conversation/social interaction.

Human interaction is too complex for it to be optimal for people engaging in conversations to always think hard about stuff like what to say and what not to say or how and when to say whatever it is that (perhaps?) needs saying. Conversations proceed at a much faster speed than the human brain can process all the potentially relevant information, and so a lot of information get excluded by default. Conveniently we do not think much about the fact that there are a lot of things we don’t think about when interacting with others. Excluding a lot of information and ideas means that the communication gets more efficient, at least if measured in terms of words/minute or similar metrics. Body language can convey a lot of information fast, so people who are good at that (and good at reading it) will ceteris paribus be better communicators than will people who are not.

Many conversations follow, at least to some extent, some basic scripts people have internalized. Most people know pretty well how to react when asked a question like ‘how are you?’ and they know the general direction in which a conversation starting in such a manner may be expected to proceed, just as they know what to say when a person shares the information that he recently got one day older than he was the day before. We often don’t think very much about the meta-aspects related to what to say in any given social situation, because if we had to do that all the time we couldn’t really do anything else.

However even though both a lot of the stuff we talk about and the way we talk about them to a very large extent follow scripts, a lot of feedback still does take place along the way; you need to all the time be aware if the other person is following the script, and you need to be aware which script is the right one to apply to the specific part of the conversation in question (is the secretary bringing up her weekend plans because she’s trying to tell you she can’t work overtime this Saturday, or is it because she wants you to ask her out?). Human behaviour is incredibly complex but we’re much too used to all this complexity to ever truly notice it. When one starts to think about how conversations work, it becomes clear that there are all kinds of ‘crazy’ ways for people to break the script along the way: Shouting loud inappropriate remarks in the middle of a sentence, turning your back on the person with whom you converse, asking a random question having nothing to do with the topic discussed, sitting down on the floor while the other person is talking, start moving your elbows up and down randomly while the other person is talking, punch the other guy in the stomach… The fact that people don’t even think about how it would be inappropriate to just sit down on the floor while talking to a coworker at the watercooler is an indication of just how narrow is the range of what’s considered to be acceptable behaviour. But we don’t notice, because we don’t think about such things. Which i find interesting.

In game theory a well known concept is the idea of a zero-sum game. Many arguments I like to think are zero-sum games, especially political- and similar arguments. X and Y will start out with some different sets of arguments supporting their cause. The ‘winner’ of the argument will say that his set of arguments were better than the arguments of the other party. Rarely will X and Y meet and discuss how to improve the argument sets of both X and Y. The idea is not to weed out bad arguments and replace them with good arguments; the idea is to win and that’s often easier to do with many arguments than with just a few. If X cedes the point that one of his arguments was not convincing it will generally harm the cause of X and help Y to win the argument.

Now one might here argue that human interaction would be more pleasant if people didn’t engage in ‘zero-sum conversation games’ such as the ones described above, but rather tried to always make human interaction be positive-sum. In case you were in doubt this is not where I am heading. The truth is that as long as there are surpluses of some kind somewhere, someone will try to grab part of that surplus if it is within that person’s reach. Organisms which behave that way have more children in the long run, and when it comes to human behaviour there’s a limit to how much culture matters. Another way to think about such ‘political arguments as zero-sum games’ is to think of them as a huge and important technical innovation and a great improvement upon the kind of zero-sum games people engaged in before the advent of political debates as conflict-resolution mechanisms.

August 9, 2012 Posted by | Game theory, rambling nonsense, Random stuff | Leave a comment

Danske diabetikere – nogle tal

(To regular readers who don’t speak/read Danish: When I started out writing this post I fully intended to post it in English – but I found out along the way that it just didn’t make sense to try to do that as all the source material is in Danish. However this Danish post is a one-time thing. If you do not completely understand what’s going on in the post but you’re nevertheless curious about some stuff covered here, just ask. With all that out of the way:)

Tallene i posten er alle fra Det National Indikatorprojekt (NIP)’s 2011-rapport om diabetes som du kan se her. Klik på dem for at se tabellerne i fuld størrelse. Først, BMI:

Median-BMI for type 1 diabetikere i ovenstående sample, som dækker patienter i behandling på diabetesambulatorierne, er 25,1 – hvilket sandsynligvis er på niveau med median-BMI for befolkningen som helhed (se side 63 her). Derimod er median-BMI for type 2 diabetikere 30,8. Det er bemærkelsesværdigt at hele fordelingen for type to patienternes vedkommende synes at være forskubbet mod højre – bemærk at 10%-fraktilen for type 2’ere for alle regioners vedkommende er over 24 – overvægt og fedme er en meget vigtig variabel for udviklingen af type 2 diabetes, og relativt få type 2 diabetikere er ikke overvægtige eller fede.

Hvad med rygning?

Mere end halvdelen af type 1’ere har aldrig røget, mens tallet er lavere for type 2’erne, der så til gengæld har flere eksrygere. Generelt synes patientgruppernes andel af individer der ryger dagligt groft at matche befolkningens som helhed – 20-25% ryger dagligt.

En indikator for behandlingskvalitet (der er mange af disse i rapporten): Kommer diabetikere med forhøjet blodtryk i behandling?

Mere end hver tredje type 1 patient på landsplan med forhøjet blodtryk som er i ambulant behandling og næsten hver anden type 1 patient med forhøjet blodtryk som bor i hovedstadsområdet behandles ikke for det forhøjede blodtryk. Tallene er langt bedre for type 2’erne. Bemærk dog også at det trods alt går i den rigtige retning i København. For patienter behandlet i almen praksis var tallene for blot få år siden voldsomt høje, men ligner nu ambulatoriernes:

Det store fald er dog ikke et resultat af ændret behandlingspraksis, men derimod et resultat af at “man har fundet og korrigeret en fejl i forbindelsen med dataindberetningen” (s. 47)

Men hvor mange har hypertension?

Hver fjerde patient har et systolisk tryk over 140.

Øjenundersøgelser? De er væsentlige fordi diabetikere som ikke får foretaget øjenundersøgelser kan risikere at miste deres syn, og de er væsentlige fordi det lader til, et forhold rapporten også kritiserer stærkt, at ingen reelt har styr på, hvordan det står til pga. mangelfuld registrering og rapportering fra de implicerede parter. Rigtigt mange af patienterne i behandling i privat praksis lader ikke til at deltage i øjenscreeningerne, hvilket dog kan være et resultat af manglende rapportering. Ingen ved det med sikkerhed. Tallene:

At dømme ud fra disse tal får mere end hver anden diabetiker behandlet i almen praksis ikke undersøgt deres øjne regelmæssigt som anbefalet. Det er stærkt tvivlsomt at det forholder sig sådan, men hvordan det så i stedet forholder sig er ikke til at sige.

Næste variabel: Hba1c, eller glykeret hæmoglobin. Et almindeligt blodsukker målt med et blodsukkerapparat angiver blodsukkeret på prøvetidspunktet. Det er nyttigt i behandlingsregi, men sådan et blodsukker fortæller ikke så meget om hvordan blodsukkeret generelt opfører sig på langt sigt – for at vide det skal der bruges mange målinger. Eller man kan bruge Hba1c – det gode ved glykeret hæmoglobin er at variablen kan bruges til at estimere hvad ‘gennemsnitsblodsukkeret’ har været over et langt tidsrum, et par måneder eller tre. Variablen er en meget stærk indikator for hvor godt en diabetiker er reguleret, selvom den dog ikke kan stå alene. Nogle tal:

Over 20% af patienterne når ikke målet om en Hba1c på under 9 (DCCT (%))/75 (IFCC mmol/mol) [link]. Det er i den sammenhæng, interessant, at ‘officielle behandlingsmål’ for patienter er enten < 6,5 % eller <7,0%, afhængig af hvem man spørger (se linket). De fleste patienter kommer aldrig i nærheden af sådanne værdier, afstanden mellem 9,0% og 7,0% er enorm. Som omtalt på twitter var min sidste Hba1c 7,1%. For bare få år siden ville det have været vel inden for behandlingsmålene, og givet hvor lang tid jeg har haft sygdommen og hvor store problemer jeg har haft med hypoglykæmi vil jeg næppe gå efter at sænke den ret meget yderligere. Tallene for type 2 patienter er ikke meget anderledes, omend de generelt er lidt højere – gennemsnittet er 82% (81-82) som opfylder målet. Tallene er bedst for patienter behandlet i almen praksis, hvilket jeg fandt overraskende. Her er lidt flere tal med supplerende information om fordelingen af værdier:

Så at dømme ud fra disse data og målt alene på baggrund af Hba1c tilhører jeg den bedst regulerede fjerdedel af type 1 diabetikere i ambulant behandling. Det er sandsynligvis under 20% af patienterne som når det nuværende behandlingsmål på 7,0%. Og under 10% af patienterne opfylder det på nuværende tidspunkt anbefalede behandlingsmål fra EFSD (6,5%).

Hvor længe har diabetikere i behandling haft deres sygdom? Det varierer meget, men her er tallene:

Her findes formentligt en af årsagerne til, at type 2 patienter behandlet i almen praksis i højere grad opfylder Hba1c behandlingsmålet; de har haft sygdommen i færre år end patienterne behandlet på ambulatorierne. Det er selvfølgelig spekulation fra min side, men det synes ikke usandsynligt at praktiserende læger primært håndterer ukomplicerede tilfælde, hvorefter ambulatorier så tager over når komplikationer støder til. Patienter med komplikationer har højere Hba1c end patienter uden, og compliance er som regel et større problem. Hvis disse overvejelser er korrekte giver det nogle problemer i forhold til at sammenligne Hba1c-resultaterne opnået blandt patienter behandlet ambulant og patienter behandlet i almen praksis.

Tilbage til varigheden. Jeg er mest interesseret i type 1. Bemærk her at varigheden også på sin vis er en indikator for levetid, fordi ingen patienter forlader behandlingssystemet og stopper med at være syge: Du stopper med at være i behandling for din sygdom når du er død eller når du er hjemløs, hvad der end kommer først (ingen addresse -> intet sygesikringskort og ingen tilknyttet læge (se kommentar). Men ingen læge -> ingen insulin, ingen insulin -> død. Helt så slemt er det ikke for alle T2’ere, selvom 67% af dem også tager insulin – se side 95). På den måde er det sigende at kun 10% af type 1 diabetikere på landsplan har haft sygdommen i mere end ~42 år. På den anden side ved jeg ikke helt hvor meget man kan konkludere mht. dødelighed på baggrund af disse data, der kan også være sampling-aspekter eller data-format faktorer der spiller ind, som jeg ikke er opmærksom på. Der findes heller ingen tabel som angiver alder på diagnosetidspunktet for den pågældende sample, og den variabel er naturligvis meget væsentlig i denne sammenhæng, ligesom den forklarer den gennemsnitligt langt kortere varighed for type 2 patienter. Dertil kommer at variablen mest relaterer til dødeligheden ud fra et historisk perspektiv, snarere end ud fra et nutidigt perspektiv – og diabetes var langt mere dødelig for 50 år siden end sygdommen er i dag.

Posten her indeholder kun et lille udsnit af de mange data som rapportens 114 sider indeholder. Hvis du er nysgerrig så kan jeg kun anbefale dig at læse videre her.

August 7, 2012 Posted by | Data, Diabetes | 8 Comments

The Real Inspector Hound and Other Plays 2

Here’s the link to the first post about the book. I decided to let this post be the last post about the book in part because even though the other plays in the book are entertaining, they aren’t quite as awesome as is The Real Inspector Hound. Quotes from the other plays:

i. “FOOT [policeman]: It is my duty to tell you that I am not satisfied with your reply.
THELMA: What was the question?
FOOT: That is hardly the point.
THELMA: Ask me another.
FOOT: Very well. Why did it take you so long to answer the door?
THELMA: The furniture was piled up against it.
FOOT: (sneeringly) Really? Expecting visitors, Mrs. Harris?
THELMA: On the contrary.
FOOT: In my experience your conduct usually indicates that visitors are expected.
THELMA: I am prepared to defend myself against any logician you care to produce.” (After Magritte)

ii. “COCKLEBURY SMYTHE: So you are going to be our clerk.
COCKLEBURY SMYTHE: May I be the first to welcome you to Room 3b. You will find the working conditions primitive, the hours antisocial, the amenities non-existent and the catering beneath contempt. On top of that the people are for the most part very very very boring, with interests either so generalized as to mimic wholesale ignorance or so particular as to be lunatic obsessions. Their level of conversation would pass without comment in the lavatory of a mixed comprehensive and the lavatories, by the way, are few and far between.
MADDIE: It has always been my ambition to work in the House of Commons. […]
COCKLEBURY SMYTHE: Mine has always been the House of Lords. But then perhaps I have not been willing to make the same sacrifices you have.” (Dirty Linen)

iii. “[FRENCH:] The only meal I’ve had this weekend in a London restaurant was tea on Friday at the Golden Egg in Victoria Street.
MCTEAZLE: Were you with a woman?
FRENCH: I was with the Dean of St. Paul’s. […]
COCKLEBURY SMYTHE: French, can anyone corroborate your story?
FRENCH: The Dean of St. Paul’s can.
CHAMBERLAIN: Apart from her.
FRENCH: We had Jumbo Chickenburgers Maryland with pickled eggs and a banana milkshake. The waitress will remember me.
FRENCH: I was sick on her shoes.” (Dirty Linen)

iv. “ARTHUR: These naturalization papers. We’re supposed to be advising the Minister.
(BERNARD examines the document at considerable length.)
ARTHUR: I’d like to have your opinion.
(Finally BERNARD raps the document authoritatively)
BERNARD: This is an application for British naturalization.
ARTHUR: Yes. Does he look all right to you?
BERNARD: He’s got a beard. The Minister won’t like that.
ARTHUR (nods): No, then.
(ARTHUR closes the file decisively)” (New-Found-Land)

v. “Americans are a very modern people, of course. They are a very open people too. They wear their hearts on their sleeves. They don’t stand on ceremony. They take people as they are. They make no distinction about a man’s background, his parentage, his education. They say what they mean and there is a vivid muscularity about them without reserve or pretence of scholarship. They are always the first to put their hands in their pockets. They press you to visit them in their own home the moment they meet you, and are irrepressibly goodhumoured, ambitious, and brimming with self-confidence in any company. Apart from all that I’ve got nothing against them.” (New-Found-Land)

vi. [Context: This play is about a group of people performing an abbreviated version of Macbeth in a private home in Eastern Europe before the fall of the Berlin Wall. A police officer (INSPECTOR) is also present.]
“[INSPECTOR:] Didn’t even say goodbye. Whatever happened to the tradition of old-world courtesy in this country?
(He puts the ‘phone down as ‘MACBETH’ and ‘LADY MACBETH’ re-enter the room.)
Who are you, pig-face?
‘MACBETH: Landovsky.
INSPECTOR: The actor?
‘MACBETH’: The floor-cleaner in a boiler factory.
INSPECTOR: That’s him. I’m a great admirer of yours, you know. I’ve followed your career for years.
‘MACBETH’: I haven’t worked for years.
INSPECTOR: What are you talking about?—I saw you last season—my wife was with me …
‘MACBETH’: It couldn’t have been me.
INSPECTOR: It was you—you looked great—sounded great—where were you last year?
‘MACBETH’: I was selling papers in—
INSPECTOR: (Triumphantly)—the newspaper kiosk at the tram terminus, and you were wonderful! I said to my wife, that’s Landovsky—the actor—isn’t he great?! What a character! […] I remember you from way back. I remember you when you were a night-watchman in the builder’s yard, and before that when you were the trolley porter at the mortuary, and before that when you were the button-moulder in Peer Gynt … Actually, Pavel, you’ve had a funny sort of career […] could I have your autograph, it’s not for me, its’ for my daughter—
‘LADY MACBETH’: I’d rather not—the last time I signed something I didn’t work for two years.” (Cahoot’s Macbeth)

vii. “INSPECTOR: Look, just because I didn’t laugh out loud it doesn’t mean I wasn’t enjoying it. (To HOSTESS.) Which one were you?
HOSTESS: I’m not in it.
INSPECTOR: You’re in it, up to here. It’s pretty clear to me that this flat is being used for entertaining men [‘entertainment’ = performance of a play]. There is a law about that, you know.
HOSTESS: I don’t think Macbeth is what was meant.
INSPECTOR: Who’s to say what was meant? Words can be your friend or your enemy, depending on who’s throwing the book, so watch your language. (He passes a finger over the furniture.) Look at this! Filthy! If this isn’t a disorderly house I’ve never seen one, and I have seen one. I’ve had this place watched you know?
HOSTESS: I know.
INSPECTOR: Gave themselves away, did they?
HOSTESS: It was the uniforms, mainly, and standing each side of the door.
INSPECTOR: My little team. Boris and Maurice.
HOSTESS: One of them examined everyone’s papers and the other one took down the names.
INSPECTOR: Yes, one of them can read and the other one can write. That’s why we go around in threes—I have to keep an eye on those bloody intellectuals. […]
I blame sport and religion for all this, you know. An Olympic games here, a papal visit there, and suddenly you think you can take liberties with your freedom … amateur theatricals, organized groups, committees of all kinds […] I arrested the Committee to Defend the Unjustly Persecuted for saying I unjustly persecuted the Committee for free Expression, which I arrested for saying there wasn’t any” (Cahoot’s Macbeth)

August 7, 2012 Posted by | Books | Leave a comment

Earth (1)

The post title reflects the fact that I consider this post to be the first ‘real’ post about the book. I didn’t read much during the last week because of social obligations – it was my birthday – but I have read the first half of the book (‘The classic text for majors in physical geology courses’) by now. I’ve written about it before and I have indicated why I probably won’t quote much from it, but because of wikipedia’s relatively poor coverage of at least some of the stuff in the book I haven’t been very happy about the ‘link-posts’. So I’ve decided to post a few standard book posts about it even though it’s somewhat hard to cover this book this way. There’s a lot of terminology and there’s a lot of stuff which only kind-of-sort-of makes sense from the text alone (sometimes illustrations and diagrams are needed to make sense of what’s going on). Have these things in mind when reading the rest of the post – there’s a lot of stuff in the book that it wouldn’t make much sense for me to cover in a post like this, and the book gave me much fewer options regarding what to include in my coverage than I’d have liked. All that said, below some stuff from the book:

i. “Civilization exists by geological consent, subject to change without notice” (the opening quote of the first chapter; the quote is by Will Durant)

ii. “iron accounts for about one-third of the mass of the Earth. […] Very early in its history, possibly in the first few hundred million years, the Earth underwent a profound reorganization after it warmed to the temperature at which iron melts. Approximately one-third of the primitive planet’s material sank to the center, and in the process a large part of the body was converted to a partially molten state. […] The molten material, being lighter than the parent material from which it separated, floated upward to cool and form a primitive crust. Core formation was the beginning stage of the differentiation of the Earth, in which it was converted from a homogenous body, with roughly the same kind of material at all depths, to a zoned, or layered, body with a dense iron core, a surficial crust composed of lighter materials with lower melting points, and between them the remaining mantle […] Differentiation is perhaps the most significant event in the history of the Earth. It led to the formation of a crust and eventually the continents. Differentiation probably initiated the escape of gasses from the interior, which eventually led to the formation of the atmosphere and oceans.”

iii. “What the pioneers of nuclear physics discovered at the turn of the century was that atoms of certain elements, the radioactive ones, spontaneously disintegrate to form atoms of a different element, liberating energy in the process. The important reason why radioactive decay offers a dependable means of keeping time is that the average rate of disintegration is fixed and does not vary with any of the typical changes in chemical or physical conditions that affect most chemical or physical processes.”

iv. “A soil takes a long time to form. Many hundreds to several thousands of years may be required for an A horizon to evolve to the point that there is a mat of decayed vegetation and organic matter with altered minerals and clays. The formation of a B layer [see previous link] takes even longer, from 10,000 to 100,000 thousand years. A soil that has evolved to maturity is in a steady state, in dynamic equilibrium with its climate. As soil is very slowly eroded from the top by natural processes – and by plowing and tilling – it is gradually deepened by chemical reaction. If erosion is rapid, chemical decay cannot keep up, and the soil is thinned […] Over the whole United States soil erosion accounts for a loss of 2 billion tons of topsoil, twice the amount of soil formed each year.” [remember here that the book is from 1986]

v. “The higher the mountains, the faster erosion wears them down. But as long as mountain building continues, tectonics prevails and altitudes increase. As tectonic movement slows – not because of any important effect of erosion but because its own machine starts running down – the mountains rise at a slower pace. For a time erosion keeps up with uplift, and the mountains do not change in elevation. Then as uplift slows further, erosion becomes dominant and the elevations begin to lower. As the lowering proceeds, the erosion slows too, the whole process eventually tapering off. The relief is constantly diminished by wearing away of the mountain tops and filling in of valleys and low spots by sedimentation of the erosional debris. Sedimentation, the consequence of erosion, acts to depress relief. […] Low areas, whether stable or subsiding, rarely persist for long because they are the natural dumping grounds for sediment.”

vi. “Water can slowly evaporate to form an invisible vapor at any temperature as well as during boiling. Even ice can “evaporate” to vapor – a process we call sublimation. Water vapor in air is not pure but is mixed with other gasses, nitrogen and oxygen. The relative humidity is the amount of water vapor that is in the air compared to the maximum amount the air could hold at its present temperature. Air can hold more vapor at higher temperatures. Conversely, air saturated with water will condense some of its vapor to water droplets when it is cooled to a lower temperature.
The white clouds of the sky or the billows of steam that we associate with vapor are actually composed of tiny droplets of liquid water formed when the air and vapor cool.”

vii. “more water evaporates from oceans than falls on them as rain. This discrepancy is exactly balanced by the return of water via runoff from the continents, which itself exactly balances the excess of precipitation over evaporation on land. […] Most of the surface runoff is transported by the large stream networks of major river systems. Despite the enormous number of streams on the continents, about half of the entire runoff from the land areas of the world is carried by only about 70 major systems.”

viii. “All of the surface storage areas for precipitation and runoff are minor compared to the water stored in the ground. […] Recent estimates are that usable groundwater amounts to much more than 90% of all of the fresh water on Earth. Yet, because of the extreme slowness of recharge and the slow rates of water movement, the groundwater in such areas as western Texas is in every sense being mined, just like coal, so that the amount left in the ground steadily diminishes as production continues. For all practical purposes, this water is an exhaustible resource that, once gone, cannot be replenished.”

ix. “Does a river do most of its work of erosion and transport during everyday stages, during small or moderate floods, or during the major events that come only once in a generation? It appears that the great bulk of the sediment in the few rivers studied is carried by floods that recur at least every 5 years—events of moderate intensity that happen often. Though the most infrequent events are very intense, they do not recur often enough to add much to the total. The amount transported by rivers in their everyday stages is too small to contribute significantly.”

x. “The streams in all drainage basins follow certain rules. All are connected in a one-way network by which smaller tributaries drain into larger ones with a definite pattern. The number of streams and their distance apart both follow a fairly orderly distribution. Most tributaries of about the same size are about the same length, and the intervals between the mouths of tributaries are fairly uniform. The larger the drainage area, the longer the stream, the ratio between the two being constant for similar terrains. Robert Horton, an American hydraulic engineer, was the first to use as a measure of the heirarchy of streams their order—that is, their position in the tributary network […] Horton’s original scheme is simple and gives the idea: A stream of order 1 has no tributaries; a stream of order 2 has tributaries of order 1; a stream of order 3 has tributaries of order 2; and so on. Thus the order is defined by the order of tributaries; we count up as we move downstream. As the order of streams increases, the following changes are systematic […]: The lenght of main streams increases, the number of main streams decreases, and the drainage area increases. These general characteristics of drainage networks are typical of many kinds of systems. For example, even the blood circulatory systems of mammals seem to have some of the same characteristics.”

xi. “Most of the geological work of the wind is done by the moderately infrequent strong winds of long duration, just as the major part of a river’s geological work is done by floods. […] Winds need chemical and mechanical weathering coupled with dryness to assist them in eroding and transporting materials. Wet materials are cohesive, the water binding the particles together enough to resist the wind’s tendency to pull them apart. By themselves, winds can do little to erode most solid rock exposed at the surface; but once there is some fragmentation of mineral particles, the wind can act.”

xii. “The desert is where the wind is best able to do its work of eroding and depositing. It does so in partnership with river action that, however infrequent, still does the major part of the work. […] though we may think of deserts as being unending expanses of ergs, only a small fraction of most desert land is covered by sand. A little more than one-tenth of the Sahara is sand covered.”

xiii. “Ice is a rock, a mass of crystalline grains of the mineral ice. That idea should not be too surprising; after all, it is a solid substance that occurs naturally on the Earth. Itis hard like most rocks, but it’s composition makes it much less dense. Like igneous rocks it originates as a frozen fluid; like sediments, it is deposited in layers at the surface of the Earth and can accumulate to great thicknesses; like metamorphic rocks, it is transformed by recrystallization under pressure. Masses of ice may creep, flow, or slide downhill, and just like other masses, they may be folded and faulted […] A large mass of ice that is on land and shows evidence of being in motion or of once having moved is a glacier. […] Glaciers are abundant on today’s Earth. It is estimated that there are between 70,000 and 200,000 glaciers of all kinds and sizes in the world, covering about 10% of Earth’s land surface. […] a wide range of ice speeds have been measured, ranging from a few centimeters to a meter per day. […] Flowing ice does just as much erosion and transportation work as running water does, and even more efficiently […] As a transporter of debris, ice is most effective because once the material is picked up by the ice, it does not settle out like the load carried by a river. Thus ice can carry huge blocks that no other transporting agent can budge.”

xiv. “The total volume of ice on Earth today is a little more than 25,000,000 km^3. Total ice volume during the height of the ice age can be estimated from the area covered by the ice sheets combined with calculations of the thickness of the ice necessary to keep the glaciers moving so many hundreds of miles from their areas of accumulation. […] the maximum volume must have been about 70,000,000 km^3. The extra 55,000,000 km^3 that came from the sea to make the additional ice lowered sea level by about 130 m […] What if the 25,000,000 km^3 of water now tied up as ice were to melt? The change in sea level would be catastrophic, for the melting of all existing ice would raise the oceans by about 65 m” [Yes, you would be right to infer from the way they write these numbers out that there are not a lot of equations in this book. But even though they perhaps didn’t need to include quite that many zeros to get the point across, these numbers are huge.]

August 5, 2012 Posted by | Books, Geology | Leave a comment

The Real Inspector Hound – and other plays

The book is a birthday present from a dear friend of mine. I read The Real Inspector Hound this morning and I liked it a lot – it’s absurd and very funny. I love when people play around with the fourth wall and it’s very well done here. I’ll probably read the rest of the book later today, but I’ll space out the posts about it a bit over time as it’s hard to cover multiple plays in one blogpost. Some quotes from the first play:

“Birdboot: I’ll give you a tip, then. Watch the girl.
Moon: You think she did it?
Birdboot: No, no – the girl, watch her.
Moon: What girl?
Birdboot: You won’t know her, I’ll give you a nudge.
Moon: You know her, do you?
Birdboot (suspiciously, bridling): What’s that supposed to mean?
Moon: I beg your pardon?
Birdboot: I’m trying to tip you a wink – give you a nudge as good as a tip – for God’s sake, Moon, what’s the matter with you? – you could do yourself some good, spotting her first time out – she’s new, from the provinces, going straight to the top. I don’t want to put words into your mouth but a word from us and we could make her.
Moon: I suppose you’ve made dozens of them, like that.
Birdboot (instantly outraged): I’ll have you know I’m a family man devoted to my homely but good-natured wife, and if you’re suggesting—
Moon: No, no—
Birdboot: —A man of my scrupulous morality—
Moon: I’m sorry—
Birdboot: —falsely besmirched.
Moon: Is that her?
(For MRS. DRUDGE has entered)
Birdboot: —don’t be absurd, wouldn’t be seen dead with the old —”

“Birdboot: The skeleton in the cupboard is coming home to roost.”

“Felicity: I’ll kill you for this, Simon Gascoyne!” […]
“Simon: I’ll kill anyone who comes between us!” […]
“Magnus: It’s Gascoyne, isn’t it? I’ll kill him if he comes between us!” […]
“Cynthia: If I find that you have been untrue to me—if I find that you have falsely seduced me from my dear husband Albert – I will kill you, Simon Gascoyne!” [it’s really hard to find suspects in this play…]

“Moon: A very promising debut. I’ll put in a good word.
Birdboot: It would be as hypocritical of me to withhold praise on grounds of personal feelings, as to withhold censure.
Moon: You’re right. Courageous.
Birdboot: Oh, I know what people will say —— There goes Birdboot buttering up his latest——
Moon: Ignore them——
Birdboot: But I rise above that—— The fact is I genuinely believe her performance to be one of the summits in the range of contemporary theatre.
Moon: Trim-buttocked, that’s the word for her.
Birdboot: —-the radiance, the inner sadness—–
Moon: Does she actually come across with it?
Birdboot: The part as written is a mere cypher but she manages to make Cynthia a real person—–
Moon: Cynthia?
Birdboot: And should she, as a result, care to meet me over a drink, simply by of er—thanking me, as it were—–
Moon: Well, you fickle old bastard!”

“Hound: Thank you. Well, tell me about it in your own words—take your time, begin at the beginning and don’t leave anything out.
Cynthia: I beg your pardon?
Hound: Fear nothing. You are in safe hands now. I hope you haven’t touched anything.
Cynthia: I’m afraid I don’t understand.
Hound: I’m inspector Hound.
Cynthia: Yes.
Hound: Well, what’s it all about?
Cynthia: I really have no idea.
Hound: How did it begin?
Cynthia: What?
Hound: The … thing.
Cynthia: What thing?
Hound (rapidly losing confidence but exasperated): The trouble!
Cynthia: There hasn’t been any trouble!
Hound: Didn’t you phone the police?
Cynthia: No.
Felicity: I didn’t.
Magnus: What for?
Hound: I see. (Pause.) This puts me in a very difficult position. (A steady pause.) Well, I’ll be getting along, then. (He moves towards the door.)
Cynthia: I’m terribly sorry.
Hound (stiffly): That’s perfectly all right.
Cynthia: Thank you so much for coming.” [he doesn’t leave right away and after some more conversation they find the body, leading to this exchange:]
“Hound: Then who is it?
Cynthia: I don’t know.
Hound: Anybody?
Felicity: I’ve never seen him before.
Magnus: Quite unlike anybody I’ve ever met.
Hound: This case is becoming an utter shambles.
Cynthia: But what are we going to do?
Hound (snatching the phone): I’ll phone the police!
Cynthia: But you are the police!
Hound: Thank God I’m here—the lines have been cut!”

August 4, 2012 Posted by | Books | 1 Comment


i. I was considering covering this study in a bit more detail, but I decided against it because workplace filters probably would not like it very much – it would contain words such filters do not like (no, I’m not thinking of words like ‘sociodemographic characteristics’ or ‘multiple regression analyses’). I know a few people sometimes read my blog from work and if you’re one of them, let me just say that you should probably not read this while at work.

ii. Population Trends in the Incidence and Outcomes of Acute Myocardial Infarction

“The age- and sex-adjusted incidence of myocardial infarction increased from 274 cases per 100,000 person-years in 1999 to 287 cases per 100,000 person-years in 2000, and it decreased each year thereafter, to 208 cases per 100,000 person-years in 2008, representing a 24% relative decrease over the study period. […]

The proportion of patients who underwent revascularization within 30 days after myocardial infarction increased from 40.7% in 1999 to 47.2% in 2008 (P

The proportion of patients with myocardial infarction who were known to have undergone troponin I testing increased from 53% in 1999 to 84% in 2004, with stable testing rates between 2004 and 2008. […]

The age- and sex-adjusted 30-day mortality after myocardial infarction decreased from 10.5% in 1999 to 7.8% in 2008 (P

Short version: Fewer people got a(n ST-segment elevation) myocardial infarction even though more people were subjected to fancy testing, more people got access to fancy treatment, and the people in the sample who got a non-ST-segment MI during the study period were less likely to die from it. But…

“observed reductions in case fatality rates could be attributable to secular trends in ascertainment of myocardial infarction and decreased severity on presentation, as well as any improvements in management of acute myocardial infarction.44 The observation that mortality after ST-segment elevation myocardial infarction (which is less influenced by the use of highly sensitive biomarkers) did not decrease over time provides support for this hypothesis.”

This could still be considered good news because if decreased severity on presentation reduces mortality it’s probably a good idea to at least have a closer look at that variable; on the other hand it’s bad news because fancy testing is expensive. Another thing:

“given the integrated medical care delivery structure in the health system that we studied and the magnitude of recent improvements in the control of risk factors within our population, our results may not be fully generalizable to other health care settings.”

Good luck finding MSM-coverage of the study including this part. I’d probably have removed the word ‘fully’. The population risk factor development during the period is a major confound.

iii. International migration: A panel data analysis of the determinants of bilateral flows by Anna Maria Mayda.

Click to view full size. From the paper:

“According to the international migration model, pull and push factors have either similarsized effects (with opposite signs), when migration quotas are not binding, or they both have no (or a small) effect on emigration rates, when migration quotas are binding. It is not clear, ex ante, which one of the two scenarios characterizes actual flows. Migration policies in the majority of destination countries are very restrictive, which should imply binding constraints on the number of migrants. On the other hand, even countries with binding official immigration quotas often accept unwanted (legal) immigration.8 Restrictive immigration policies are often characterized by loopholes, that leave room for potential migrants to take advantage of economic incentives. […]

My empirical analysis also finds that inequality in the source and host economies is related to the size of emigration rates as predicted by Borjas (1987) selection model. An increase in the origin country’s relative inequality has a non-monotonic effect on the size of the emigration rate: the impact is estimated to be positive if there is positive selection, negative if there is negative selection. Among the variables affecting the costs of migration, distance between destination and origin countries appears to be the most important one: Its effect is negative, significant and steady across specifications. On the other hand, there is no evidence that cultural variables related to each country pair play a significant role. Demographics – in particular, the share of the origin country’s population who is young – shape bilateral flows as predicted by the theory. Since the effect of geography and demographics works through the supply side of the model, their impact should be even stronger when migration quotas are relaxed, which is what I find in the data. […]

Since immigrants are likely to receive support from other immigrants from the same origin country already established in the host country, they will have an incentive to choose destinations with larger communities of fellow citizens. Network effects imply that bilateral migration flows are highly correlated over time, which is what the data shows.”

iv. Via npr:

“It’s a sound you would never want to hear in real life, but this a safe way to eavesdrop. Just one warning: For the first two minutes of this video, nothing happens, nothing I could hear, anyway. Then there’s a countdown, and at 2:24 from the top … the bomb bursts; at 2:54 the blast hits.”

v. Does Thinking Really Hard Burn More Calories? Interesting piece. Unfortunately(?), “for most people, the body easily supplies what little extra glucose the brain needs for additional mental effort.”

I would be very interested in seeing a study on this including type 1 diabetics. Hard thinking for extended periods of time – like, say, a four-hour chess game or an exam – impacts my blood glucose in a very significant way; it drops like a stone if I don’t take precautions. This is despite the fact that hard thinking under such circumstances is often, as mentioned in the article, linked to stress and the release of cortisol, one of the primary functions of which is to increase blood sugar.

vi. TV from a different world:

August 3, 2012 Posted by | Biology, Cardiology, Data, Demographics, immigration, Medicine, Studies | Leave a comment