Great Dane

Saturday, April 30th, 2005

Harold Bloom considers Hans Christian Andersen to be a Great Dane:

I myself see no distinction between children’s literature and good or great writing for extremely intelligent children of all ages. J.K. Rowling and Stephen King are equally bad writers, appropriate titans of our new Dark Age of the Screens: computer, motion pictures, TV. One goes on urging children of all ages to read and reread Andersen and Dickens, Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear, rather than Ms. Rowling and Mr. King. Sometimes when I say that in public I am asked: Is it not better to read Ms. Rowling and Mr. King, and then go on to Andersen, Dickens, Carroll and Lear? The answer is pragmatic: Our time here is limited. You necessarily read and reread at the expense of other books.

Staples Desk Apprentice

Saturday, April 30th, 2005

According to Staples:

Everyone wants a Staples Desk Apprentice? — so much so, we’ve sold out!

Due to high demand, we’ve run out of the new Staples Desk Apprentice. We are producing more and we’ll be in stock in about 6 to 8 weeks.

There’s no end to The Donald’s marketing power.

Girl Sticks Schoolmates With Used Needle

Saturday, April 30th, 2005

Girl Sticks Schoolmates With Used Needle:

A third-grader stuck 19 schoolmates with her mother’s diabetes blood-testing needle this week, and one pricked student tested positive for HIV on a preliminary test, officials said.

Health officials said the virus could not have been contracted from the needle stick, and they noted that preliminary tests can yield false positives. The risk to students who were stuck after the possibly infected child depends on factors including the depth of the stick, health officials said.

The 8-year-old stuck her Taylor Elementary schoolmates Wednesday at the school’s breakfast, at lunch and in the classroom, using a needle that was about one-third of an inch long, on the end of a device that looks like a pen, school officials said. They were unsure why the girl did it.

The school district’ idea of solving the problem:

She was suspended and will probably be moved to another school, said Paul Vallas, the school district’s chief executive.

This stat needs to be qualified a bit more:

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the risk of HIV infection after a needle stick is low, with an average of one in 300 cases leading to infection.

I assume that 1-in-300 chance is if you’re stuck with a needle that has HIV on it.

FDA OKs Lizard-Derived Shot for Diabetes

Saturday, April 30th, 2005

FDA OKs Lizard-Derived Shot for Diabetes:

Type 2 diabetics got a new option to help control their blood sugar Friday, a drug derived from the saliva of the Gila monster — but one that must be injected twice a day.

The Food and Drug Administration approved Byetta, known chemically as exenatide, the first in a new class of medications for Type 2 diabetes — but for now, it’s supposed to be used together with older diabetes drugs, not alone.
[...]
The most common, drugs called sulfonylureas, spur the body to produce more insulin.

When those drugs fail, adding Byetta to them offers patients a new option to try before resorting to injections of insulin.

Byetta is the first so-called “incretin mimetic,” meaning it mimics action of a hormone called GLP-1 that’s secreted by the gut to spur insulin production after a meal — but only when blood sugar is high.

That’s important, noted FDA metabolic drugs chief Dr. David Orloff, because other diabetes drugs spur insulin secretion even if blood sugar already is low, leading to the risk of hypoglycemia.

Byetta is a synthetic version of a protein found in the saliva of the Gila monster that works similarly to the human GLP-1.

No mention of Dr. Curtis Connors

Bat and Ball

Friday, April 29th, 2005

From Bat and Ball:

One industry is competitive, globalised and financially self-sufficient. The other is monopolistic, inward-looking and accustomed to handouts from the taxpayer. Now, here’s a puzzle. One of these industries is based in America, while the other was founded in northern Britain in the late 19th century. Which is which?

Oddly, the more energetic of these two industries is British. Football, or soccer, is one of the world’s most competitive businesses. As Stefan Szymanski and Andrew Zimbalist, two economists of sport, explain, that is because most football teams are organised into hierarchical national leagues linked by promotion and relegation. Anyone who can assemble a squad of good players can start competing. If the team keeps winning it will rise to the top of the domestic leagues, at which point it can compete against foreign clubs. A squad that keeps losing will move just as rapidly in the opposite direction, shedding supporters and revenue as it goes.

Not so baseball teams. America’s favourite summer sport is played by a 30-team cartel that is specifically exempt from antitrust laws. No club is in danger of being demoted from the major leagues except through a kind of administrative fatwa, which is not exercised very often. As in football, winning games means more money for a team?but so does losing, thanks to a system in which the richest baseball clubs pay millions of dollars to the poorest. Most outrageous is the fact that local taxpayers often end up subsidising the construction of new stadiums. Since the supply of teams is deliberately held below the level of demand, owners can hold cities to ransom, threatening to move if the public coffers are not opened.

An NBA Team’s 12th Man Is a Star in Blogging World

Friday, April 29th, 2005

An NBA Team’s 12th Man Is a Star in Blogging World offers some amusing tidbits from Paul Shirley’s Road Ramblings, a blog by a middle-class white guy who plays (occasionally) for the NBA’s Phoenix Suns:

My duties: I play for (I use the term loosely; play for/cheer for — same thing) arguably the best basketball team in the world. My responsibilities include: 1. Showing up for buses, practices, games, etc. on time. 2. Refraining from causing undue stress to anyone by misbehaving on road trips or wading into the stands to attack fans. 3. Practicing hard when given the opportunity. 4. Entering games when my team is up by an insurmountable margin and attempting to break the shots-per-minute record. It is not a difficult job, really, and I can find very little to complain about, especially tonight.

Team introductions: Here’s the deal: When, after 60 games, the team being announced has a winning percentage hovering around the same area as most pitchers’ batting averages, it loses the right to a grand entrance. No more dance team, no more theme song, no more dimming the lights. The players just walk onto the court and play the game. That’s it. The Hawks did not agree to my deal. They had an over-produced introduction on the big screen, an actual hawk that flew down from the rafters, and even a catch-phrase — something like, “The Spirit Lies Within.” Make it stop.

A game against the Bobcats: I began considering the possibility that there could very well be a bit of playing time in the offing and started paying at least cursory attention to what was going on in timeouts, in case Coach D’Antoni said something like, “From now on tonight, everyone will be shooting with his left hand. Deviation from this plan of attack will result in castration immediately following the game.” I would really hate to miss one of those instructions, come out firing, and because of my own mental lapse, ruin the rest of my life.

All-Female Roller Derby Packs A Punch With Hockey Fans

Friday, April 29th, 2005

According to one fan, “It’s girls going around fighting and skating. What more do you need? It’s perfect.” But it wasn’t always that way. From All-Female Roller Derby Packs A Punch With Hockey Fans:

It’s a far cry from the early days of roller derby. The sport was founded in 1935 in Chicago, as a distraction from the Depression. It was originally an endurance race. Male-female couples were required to complete tens of thousands of laps, until they reached the equivalent of skating from New York to Los Angeles.

Noticing that occasional collisions between couples elicited the biggest howls from the crowd, promoters made it a contact sport and introduced a point system. It evolved into a co-ed team sport and boomed in the next decades, with teams playing before crowds of 40,000 or more in big venues like New York’s Madison Square Garden. Actress Raquel Welch starred in a 1972 roller derby movie, called ‘Kansas City Bomber,’ and another film, where the teams tried to kill a player in each bout starring James Caan, called ‘Rollerball,’ appeared in 1975.

Nevertheless, financial troubles, declining crowds and a recession at the time forced the main leagues to shut down in the mid-1970s. Several attempts to revive the sport since then — often using a choreographed, pro-wrestling-style approach — failed.

The latest incarnation, initiated mostly by the female players, seems to have found the right formula, particularly for hockey fans in withdrawal.

Poor, poor hockey fans.

Change or Die

Friday, April 29th, 2005

Change or Die:

What if you were given that choice? For real. What if it weren’t just the hyperbolic rhetoric that conflates corporate performance with life and death? Not the overblown exhortations of a rabid boss, or a slick motivational speaker, or a self-dramatizing CEO. We’re talking actual life or death now. Your own life or death. What if a well-informed, trusted authority figure said you had to make difficult and enduring changes in the way you think and act? If you didn’t, your time would end soon — a lot sooner than it had to. Could you change when change really mattered? When it mattered most?

Yes, you say?

Try again.

Yes?

You’re probably deluding yourself.

You wouldn’t change.

Don’t believe it? You want odds? Here are the odds, the scientifically studied odds: nine to one. That’s nine to one against you. How do you like those odds?

For instance, 80% of the health-care budget was consumed by five behavioral issues: too much smoking, drinking, eating, and stress, and not enough exercise. Even individuals who know they need to change don’t change:

“If you look at people after coronary-artery bypass grafting two years later, 90% of them have not changed their lifestyle,” Miller said. “And that’s been studied over and over and over again. And so we’re missing some link in there. Even though they know they have a very bad disease and they know they should change their lifestyle, for whatever reason, they can’t.”

Getting people to change requires an emotionally resonant argument, not just an analytical one, that reframes the issue. Change your ways in order to enjoy life, not change or die:

Reframing alone isn’t enough, of course. That’s where Dr. Ornish’s other astonishing insight comes in. Paradoxically, he found that radical, sweeping, comprehensive changes are often easier for people than small, incremental ones. For example, he says that people who make moderate changes in their diets get the worst of both worlds: They feel deprived and hungry because they aren’t eating everything they want, but they aren’t making big enough changes to quickly see an improvement in how they feel, or in measurements such as weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol. But the heart patients who went on Ornish’s tough, radical program saw quick, dramatic results, reporting a 91% decrease in frequency of chest pain in the first month. “These rapid improvements are a powerful motivator,” he says. “When people who have had so much chest pain that they can’t work, or make love, or even walk across the street without intense suffering find that they are able to do all of those things without pain in only a few weeks, then they often say, ‘These are choices worth making.’”

Research shows that this idea applies in business:

Bain & Co., the management consulting firm, studied 21 recent corporate transformations and found that most were “substantially completed” in only two years or less while none took more than three years. The means were drastic: In almost every case, the CEOs fired most of the top management. Almost always, the companies enjoyed quick, tangible results, and their stock prices rose 250% a year on average as they revived.

Crippled by Their Culture

Friday, April 29th, 2005

In Crippled by Their Culture, black conservative Thomas Sowell notes that modern “black” culture is really old southern “redneck” culture, which came over from certain parts of Britain — and that it’s a destructive culture with negative consequences:

While a third of the white population of the U.S. lived within the redneck culture, more than 90% of the black population did. Although that culture eroded away over the generations, it did so at different rates in different places and among different people. It eroded away much faster in Britain than in the U.S. and somewhat faster among Southern whites than among Southern blacks, who had fewer opportunities for education or for the rewards that came with escape from that counterproductive culture.

Nevertheless the process took a long time. As late as the First World War, white soldiers from Georgia, Arkansas, Kentucky and Mississippi scored lower on mental tests than black soldiers from Ohio, Illinois, New York and Pennsylvania. Again, neither race nor racism can explain that — and neither can slavery.

The redneck culture proved to be a major handicap for both whites and blacks who absorbed it. Today, the last remnants of that culture can still be found in the worst of the black ghettos, whether in the North or the South, for the ghettos of the North were settled by blacks from the South. The counterproductive and self-destructive culture of black rednecks in today’s ghettos is regarded by many as the only ‘authentic’ black culture — and, for that reason, something not to be tampered with. Their talk, their attitudes, and their behavior are regarded as sacrosanct.

The people who take this view may think of themselves as friends of blacks. But they are the kinds of friends who can do more harm than enemies.

His Brain, Her Brain

Friday, April 29th, 2005

His Brain, Her Brain summarizes much of the research on sexual differences in brain function. I wasn’t familiar with these findings:

But male rats sometimes learn better in the face of stress. Tracey J. Shors of Rutgers University and her collaborators have found that a brief exposure to a series of one-second tail shocks enhanced performance of a learned task and increased the density of dendritic connections to other neurons in male rats yet impaired performance and decreased connection density in female rats. Findings such as these have interesting social implications. The more we discover about how brain mechanisms of learning differ between the sexes, the more we may need to consider how optimal learning environments potentially differ for boys and girls.

Although the hippocampus of the female rat can show a decrement in response to acute stress, it appears to be more resilient than its male counterpart in the face of chronic stress. Cheryl D. Conrad and her co-workers at Arizona State University restrained rats in a mesh cage for six hours — a situation that the rodents find disturbing. The researchers then assessed how vulnerable their hippocampal neurons were to killing by a neurotoxin — a standard measure of the effect of stress on these cells. They noted that chronic restraint rendered the males’ hippocampal cells more susceptible to the toxin but had no effect on the females’ vulnerability. These findings, and others like them, suggest that in terms of brain damage, females may be better equipped to tolerate chronic stress than males are. Still unclear is what protects female hippocampal cells from the damaging effects of chronic stress, but sex hormones very likely play a role.

2blowhards.com: "Sin City"

Friday, April 29th, 2005

I haven’t yet seen Sin City, but I enjoyed this comment, by someone named Brian, at 2blowhards.com:

What I found interesting was the way Sin City demonstrated what film can do by revealing what comics can’t:

No POV/reactions – I don’t recall a single point-of-view/reaction cut in the entire film, and it’s this exchange between what the character is seeing and how he is reacting that draws us into the character’s mind. (See Rear Window, for instance.) Sin City had none of these exchanges because they don’t work in comics, and as a result we didn’t identify with the characters as much as we might have.

No crosscutting – Ever since The Great Train Robbery, one of the fundamental powers of film has been the presention of simultaneous action. But every shot in Sin City was sequential to the one before and after it. For instance, in any normal film the scene of Bruce Willis hanging from the ceiling would have been crosscut with the goons approaching: Bruce struggles, goons get closer, Bruce struggles some more, goons get closer still, and all the while the tension mounts. Again, you can’t do this in a comic, and therefore some of the suspense sequences (not action, but suspense) weren’t as nail-biting as they coulda been otherwise.

No moving camera – Or very little. Occasionally the camera would move to follow a character in motion, but it never moved to reveal new information or alter the screen space. Funny that you mentioned Touch of Evil in your review – I was thinking about it a lot during Sin City. ToE has one six-minute shot in the Mexican boy’s apartment which follows the actors through three rooms and goes from wide angle long shots to tight closeups and back again. Movement creates mood. Can’t do this in comic books either.

No blocking – The actors mostly just stood there and yakked where they stood, just as they’d been drawn. No Spielbergian ballets, no Wellesian waltzes. This plus the mostly static camera gave the film a curiously undynamic feel, considering the subject matter.

The Unhappy Inheritors

Thursday, April 28th, 2005

There’s something unsettling about The Unhappy Inheritors:

McDonough, 47, speaks excitedly and discursively. With the zeal of a reformer, he relishes telling his cautionary inheritor’s tale.

‘So first of all,’ he said, ‘there’s this closet called the Green Closet. It’s one of the last taboos. This culture tells you, if you have more money, you’ll be happier. But rich people are in this unique position to say: ‘You know what? More stuff doesn’t mean more happiness.’ But as a rich person, you absolutely cannot tell anybody that there’s anything wrong with your life because, first, everybody knows you should be really happy, and, second, they say, ‘I should have your problems!’ Then there’s the shame component. With inherited wealth, there’s this little logic chain: I have a lot of money, I should be really happy, but I’m not happy, so I must be really bad.’

In 1986, John L. Levy, a sort of freelance philosopher, wrote a monograph called ‘Coping With Inherited Wealth.’ It was one of the earlier works in what has become the crowded literature of ‘affluenza.’ Levy laid out the traits common to many children of wealth: low self-esteem and self-discipline, difficulty using power, boredom and alienation and guilt and suspiciousness.

Life Is a Contact Sport

Thursday, April 28th, 2005

In Life Is a Contact Sport, Stephen J. Dubner describes the NFL’s rookie symposium:

In late June, the N.F.L. convened its rookies in the hope of teaching them to make choices that aren’t so poor. For the better part of four days, the league commandeered La Costa Resort and Spa, north of San Diego, for a ”rookie symposium.” Every drafted rookie was required to attend (or pay a $10,000 fine), from the No. 1 pick, David Carr, to the lowly seventh-rounders. They were not allowed to leave the premises without permission, or have guests, or drink alcohol. Cellphones and pagers were banned from the proceedings, as were do-rags, bandannas and sunglasses. The N.F.L. is working hard to breed the thug life out of any rookie so inclined. From 8 a.m. until 10 p.m., the players would sit through lectures about the pitfalls that await the unwary: paternity suits and domestic-abuse charges, bar fights and drug stings, crooked financial advisers and greedy hangers-on. The symposium would play like a blend of motivational seminar, boot camp, and ”Scared Straight,” full of cautionary tales.

A taste:

Most of them have taken to carrying two cellphones: one for family and ”real” friends, the second sometimes called a ”girlfriend phone.” According to a loose survey I conducted during the symposium — of players, counselors and league and union officials — roughly 50 percent of the rookies have fathered children. (About 10 percent, meanwhile, are married.) The mothers of those children are often shunted to that girlfriend line.

”I heard from an uncle I hadn’t seen in six years,” says Napoleon Harris, a linebacker whom the Raiders drafted in the first round. ”He wanted two things. He wanted free tickets, and he wanted me to set him up with girls. And I started hearing from a cousin I hadn’t seen since I was 10. He’s been in jail and everything. He was calling me every day, sometimes twice in 20 minutes. A couple weeks ago, I had to snap. He says, ‘I’m just calling to tell you how happy I am for you.’ I had to say: ‘Look, dog, I know you’re happy for me. I’m happy for me, too, and I’ll get a lot happier when you stop calling my [expletive] phone.’”

Ancient Treasures for Sale: Do antique dealers preserve the past or steal it?

Thursday, April 28th, 2005

Steven Vincent asks Do antique dealers preserve the past or steal it?:

As you read this, criminals somewhere in the world are destroying portions of mankind’s past. With backhoe and shovel, chainsaw and crowbar, they are wrenching priceless objects from sites in the mountains of Peru, the coasts of Sicily, and the deserts of Iraq. Brutal and uncaring, these robbers leave behind a wake of decapitated statues, mutilated temples, and pillaged trenches where archaeologists were seeking clues to little-understood civilizations. The results of this looting include disfigured architectural monuments, vanished aesthetic objects, and an incalculable loss of information about the past. And it shows no signs of diminishing.

As you continue to read, other people across the globe are purchasing some of mankind’s oldest and most exquisite creations. Contemplating ancient statues, vases, and stelae, many of these purchasers experience antiquities’ near-mystical power to connect them to the past or to transcend time through beauty. Proud of their efforts, these private collectors, commercial dealers, and museum curators view themselves as temporary caretakers of timeless treasures. Their love for these artifacts often resembles the passion one associates with religious fervor. It, too, shows no signs of diminishing.

Stephen J. Dubner

Thursday, April 28th, 2005

Journalist Stephen J. Dubner, coauthor of Freakonomics (with economist Steven D. Levitt), has a number of his old articles on-line, including, of course The Economist of Odd Questions: Inside the Astonishingly Curious Mind of Steven D. Levitt, the article that led to Freakonomics.