Why the Bible has so many prostitutes.

Wednesday, September 27th, 2006

David Plotz explains why the Bible has so many prostitutes:

What’s with all the prostitutes? There’s scarcely an unmarried woman in the Bible so far who isn’t a prostitute, or treated like one! There’s Tamar, who turns a trick with her father-in-law Judah. The Moabite women, who whore themselves to the Israelites. The Midianite harlot who’s murdered by Phineas. Jacob’s daughter Dinah, whose loose behavior sparks mass slaughter. No wonder they call prostitution the oldest profession — it’s the only profession that biblical women seem to have.

I have a rudimentary theory about this. In many tribal cultures, women have been essentially banished from the public sphere in order to control their virtue. We see this in strict Islamic cultures today, where women are punished for speaking to men besides their husbands and relatives. Throughout the Bible, the Israelites have been obsessed with controlling the sexual behavior of their girls and women — this is why there are so many darn laws about female purity, sexual misbehavior, and intermarriage. The Israelite women seem to have played no role in public life. Except for Moses’ sister Miriam (and, in passing, Noa and her sisters), there hasn’t been a single woman since the Exodus who’s had any kind of public responsibility. So, why do we read about prostitutes? Perhaps because prostitutes were the only women involved in the Israelites’ public life.

Animal activists free 15,000 farmed fish to their deaths

Wednesday, September 27th, 2006

Animal activists free 15,000 farmed fish to their deaths:

Thousands of dead fish are being washed up along the west coast of Scotland after the raid at Kames Marine Fish Farm, near Oban. The perpetrators are thought to have attacked last week. Detectives believe that the attack could be linked to a spate of other farm attacks throughout the country. The letters ALF (Animal Liberation Front) were spray-painted near by.

The loss is estimated to have cost the fish farm at least £500,000 as boats, cranes and offices were also vandalised. The halibut died from starvation or getting caught in seaweed. They were also being eaten by herring gulls and otters.”

Maps of War

Tuesday, September 26th, 2006

The Maps of War site has a wonderful animated map of the Middle East depicting the rise and fall of the various empires that have controlled that contested region over the centuries.

I highly recommend it.

The crucial health stat you’ve never heard of

Tuesday, September 26th, 2006

Darshak Sanghavi explains that the crucial health stat you’ve never heard of is something called NNT, or number needed to treat:

Researchers in Scotland reported a 31-percent reduction in the risk of heart attacks among men taking the statin pravastatin, sold by Bristol-Myers Squibb under the brand name Pravachol. Due in part to this study, Pravachol became one of Bristol-Myers’ most profitable drugs and now grosses more than $2 billion in sales per year.

A 31 percent reduction in heart attacks, after all, seems impressive. Yet this pervasive way of describing clinical trials in medical journals — focusing on the “relative risk,” in this case of heart attack — powerfully exaggerates the benefits of drugs and other invasive therapies. What, after all, does a 31 percent relative reduction in heart attacks mean? In the case of the 1995 study, it meant that taking Pravachol every day for five years reduced the incidence of heart attacks from 7.5 percent to 5.3 percent. This indeed means that there were 31 percent fewer heart attacks in patients taking the drug. But it also means that the “absolute risk” of a heart attack for any given person dropped by only 2.2 percent (from 7.5 percent to 5.3 percent). The benefit of Pravachol can be summarized as a 31 percent relative reduction in heart attacks — or a 2.2 percent absolute reduction.
In the end, 100 people needed to be treated to avoid two heart attacks during the study period — so, the number of people who must get the treatment for a single person to benefit is 50. This is known as the “number needed to treat.”

Instead of a 31-percent relative reduction in heart attacks, we get this:

To a savvy, healthy person with high cholesterol that didn’t decrease with diet and exercise, a doctor could say, “A statin might help you, or it might not. Out of every 50 people who take them, one avoids getting a heart attack. On the other hand, that means 49 out of 50 people don’t get much benefit.”

Poland’s Biological Defensive

Tuesday, September 26th, 2006

Poland’s Biological Defensive notes that “every attempt at biological warfare has been essentially offensive” — “except once, in Poland, during World War II, where a pair of quick-thinking doctors used a little-known organism to keep the Nazis at bay”:

The microorganism is Proteus OX19. In most ways it’s an entirely ordinary little bacterium. Its one remarkable feature is that human antibodies for Proteus OX19 cross-react with the antibodies for Ricksettia — the bacterium responsible for the deadly disease typhus. Blood from a patient infected with Proteus Ox19 will give a false-positive in the most common typhus screening method, the Weil-Felix test.

Enter the Nazis into Poland. Two physicians, Drs. Lazowski and Watulewicz, were living in Poland in 1939 when the Nazis invaded and began deporting the population into concentration camps. When a young man condemned to slave labor in Germany appealed to them for help, the two doctors tried a unique deception. They injected him with Proteus and then sent a blood sample back to Germany for testing. The Weil-Felix test came back positive for typhus, and the young man was spared.

Yale debuts new MBA. curriculum

Tuesday, September 26th, 2006

Yale debuts new MBA curriculum — with newer, better jargon:

The heart of the new first-year curriculum is a series of eight multidisciplinary courses, called Organizational Perspectives, structured around the organizational roles a manager must engage, motivate and lead in order to solve problems — or make progress — within organizations. These roles are both internal — the Innovator, the Operations Engine, the Employee, and Sourcing and Managing Funds (or CFO) — and external — the Investor, the Customer, the Competitor, and State and Society. Each course — titled to reflect these roles — draws on topics and insights from a variety of functional management disciplines to study the managerial challenges each role presents.

“No executive wakes up in the morning and thinks, ‘I’m going to do finance today,’ so it doesn’t make sense for students to sit in a finance class and learn to crunch numbers absent of any context,” says Sharon Oster, the Frederick D. Wolfe Professor of Management and Entrepreneurship, who is one of a number of senior faculty who worked on developing the new curriculum and led the design of the “Competitor” course. “We are teaching them in a way that’s relevant in the real world.”

Javelin Accident

Tuesday, September 26th, 2006

When I first looked at the thumbnail image, I didn’t see the Javelin:

Track and field line judge Lia Mara Lourenco is helped after a javelin hit her in her foot during ‘Brazil Trophy,’ a national track and field competition, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Sunday, Sept. 24, 2006.

The Worst Job in the World

Tuesday, September 26th, 2006

Orson Scott Card describes — somewhat hyperbolically — The Worst Job in the World:

What if you had a really lousy job? You’re only employed for seven hours a day, but you have to ride the bus for half an hour each way.

While you’re there, they only let you go to the bathroom at certain times. You only have ten minutes to get from one work station to another, and somehow you also have to use the toilet and get your new work materials from a central depository during those breaks, without being late.

If you do anything wrong, you aren’t allowed to talk to anybody during lunch.

Even when you go home, it’s not over. A job supervisor also lives in your house, and makes you do two or three more hours of the same work you did on the job. The at-home supervisor is even harsher than the one at work and has more power to inflict annoying punishments if you fail to comply.

If you’re sick and miss a day or two, then when you get better, you have to do all the work that you missed — both the on-the-job and the at-home tasks.

Not only that, but you can’t quit this lousy job. It’s the law — the government requires you to stick with it for at least ten years.

What if, on top of all this misery, the work you had to do at home wasn’t even real? What if you just went through the motions of all the tasks you did on the job, but you didn’t actually accomplish anything? You just spent meaningless hours, repeating the physical movements, while the at-home supervisor says things like, ‘That’s how you do it?’ and ‘Are you sure you’re doing it right?’

That’s a fair description of the lives of far too many of our school-age children.

He decries homework and notes that there is no evidence that homework does any good:

But let’s pretend that grades and standardized tests actually measure something meaningful, and better results on those would mean that homework accomplishes something. That’s what a researcher named Harris Cooper did, according to Alfie Kohn, in his book The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing.

Cooper looked at a number of different studies of homework and sifted and combined the results to see if some kind of definitive answer emerged. It did — but Cooper apparently didn’t see it himself.

When Kohn looked at Cooper’s published results, the answer was obvious. In Cooper’s own words from 1989: “There is no evidence that any amount of homework improves the academic performance of elementary students.”

That means that there is zero scientific evidence that kids before middle school get any performance boost whatsoever from any amount of homework, no matter how large or small.

And yet when Cooper reached his own conclusions at the end of his published report, he came up with the oft-quoted formula that the ideal amount of homework is ten minutes per grade level per night. That would mean almost an hour a night for fifth graders — even though Cooper’s own meta-study found that there was no evidence that any homework for elementary students had any benefit.

Apparently, we have a problem when “science” is done by true believers. Even when Cooper’s study found no defense for elementary-school homework, he still found a way to recommend in favor of requiring some anyway.

Remote Flying with VR Goggles and a Camera

Monday, September 25th, 2006

Remote Flying with VR Goggles and a Camera looks amazing:

Here’s a remarkable video shot from the cockpit of a radio-controlled airplane. The camera’s video is transmitted to the flyer on the ground below, who’s wearing VR goggles. When he moves his head, the remote camera’s pans and tilts correspond exactly to his movements. The result is a extraordinary feeling of actually being in the plane. Shouldn’t all R/C airplanes be made this way?

Department of Economic Illiteracy: Special Victim’s Unit

Monday, September 25th, 2006

In Department of Economic Illiteracy: Special Victim’s Unit, Jane Galt calls What If: The Oil Runs Out “possibly the most economically illiterate television programme ever” — despite strong competition from The West Wing:

And what form does that shortage take? It’s exactly like 1979 … long lines, gas stealing, gas stations running out without notice. Terrible rationing.

What doesn’t happen? The price doesn’t increase much above $3.50 … which by 2016 will be about $2.70 in today’s dollars, so apparently the first effect of this terrible shortage is that the price falls. People are queuing for hours, but apparently not one enterprising station manager thinks to raise the price. And since the price doesn’t rise, people spend all their time trying to find stations with gas to sell, rather than looking for ways to cut down their usage.

Is this the result of some strange industry practice? Government action? You wouldn’t know it from the script. Apparently, people in 2016 are very, very stupid.

Actually, the problem is that they assumed that a shortage would be just like the 1970s. Except, of course, that the 1970s were like the 1970s because of Nixon’s wage and price controls, which meant that the price couldn’t rise to adjust for lower supply. Note that after Katrina, shortages lasted a couple of days … and then prices rose, people cut back on labour day travel, and supply and demand came back into balance.

The other economic crime in the show is that the shortage happens all at once. In fact, of course, the supply problems would take years to develop, and would cause a long appreciation in price, accompanied by spikes and falls as supply shocks developed and were resolved by decreased demand. People would move closer to work, get smaller houses, by smaller cars, and so forth, as gas and oil became increasingly expensive … not just wake up one morning and find that there was no gas to power their SUV.

Philosophical Question of the Day

Monday, September 25th, 2006

As soon as I read Scott Adams’ Philosophical Question of the Day, I knew exactly where he was going with it:

If a man goes into the forest and pokes a bear with a sharp stick, and the bear kills the man, whose fault is it?

Don’t read this next part until you have made up your mind whether it is the man’s fault or the bear’s fault.

As he says, don’t read ahead until you’ve answered the question:

Okay, you may continue.

Now substitute an irrational human being for the bear. The guy with the stick knows he’s dealing with an irrational and potentially violent person, and he pokes him with the stick anyway. Just like the bear, the irrational guy kills the guy who poked him.

Whose fault is it now? Is it the fault of the irrational guy or the fault of the unwise guy who poked him?

Okay, now suppose that the irrational guy is a specific kind of irrational guy – a literal believer in his faith. This is not an insult to the religious because even the Pope endorses the view that faith does not spring from rational thought. And let’s say this particular faith says that if ye poketh me with a sharpeth object, woe unto you, for I shall killeth!

And let’s say the irrational person is completely rational in every way that is not related to his religion. He might even be an engineer or a doctor. But his irrational side is well understood by all. Now the guy with the sharp stick pokes him and gets killed.

Whose fault is it?

I think it’s instructive to look at what we do with man-eating — or even man-biting — animals: we “put them down” or lock them in cages.

Everyone knows you shouldn’t poke a bear — or feed it, for that matter — but when a bear attacks people, people kill the bear.

The old and the new

Monday, September 25th, 2006

In The old and the new, Wretchard looks at the Reconquista of the Iberian peninsula from the Moors:

The Reconquista, viewed from today, more than five hundred years after its conclusion exhibits what is to modern eyes a strange reversal of roles. The Muslims were the cosmopolitans facing essentially backward tribesmen who sought shelter in the rugged terrain of the Iberian Peninsula. The Muslims had the contemporary New York and the Christians possessed the contemporary Afghanistan. Time after time the Caliphate launched punitive expeditions only to watch their efforts reversed as they left. The Christian kingdoms eventually enlisted demography into their arsenal of weapons. They would depopulate certain areas in order to create buffer zones against the Caliphs; and whenever they seized a town or city from the Moors they would immediately populate it with their own peoples to prevent its recovery.

In its last stages the Reconquista became a literal Crusade involving all of European Christendom, a movement which had its own heroic figures, theorists and goals. Again the symmetry is striking. It is the Muslims who are infidels; and the Christians who create their own military-religious orders to defeat them.

Super rats!

Sunday, September 24th, 2006

The Brits have inadvertently bred super rats:

Twenty-two inches from quivering whisker to fat tail, they can chomp through concrete and leap more than two feet in the air. Sauntering down your street in broad daylight, insolently raising two claws to the binman, they rifle through your rubbish and scoff poison as if it was milk chocolate. There is something of the night and also something of the urban myth about the nearly indestructible super rat coming to a pile of carelessly discarded foodstuffs near you. But Britain’s pest controllers are adamant: they are receiving more panicky reports of rodent infestation than ever, and it does seem that our rats are evolving into something not seen before.

Expensive Cameras in Checked Luggage

Saturday, September 23rd, 2006

Security expert Bruce Schneier is impressed with this solution to the problem of having to transport Expensive Cameras in Checked Luggage:

A weapon is defined as a rifle, shotgun, pistol, airgun, [or] starter pistol. Yes, starter pistols — those little guns that fire blanks at track and swim meets — are considered weapons and do not have to be registered in any state in the United States.

I have a starter pistol for all my cases. All I have to do upon check-in is tell the airline ticket agent that I have a weapon to declare. I’m given a little card to sign, the card is put in the case, the case is given to a TSA official who takes my key and locks the case and gives my key back to me.

That’s the procedure. The case is extra-tracked. TSA does not want to lose a weapons case. This reduces the chance of the case being lost to virtually zero.

It’s a great way to travel with camera gear. I’ve been doing this since December, 2001 and have had no problems whatsoever.

Only another 5,500 calories to go …

Saturday, September 23rd, 2006

Only another 5,500 calories to go … looks at the results of a recent Swedish study that replicated Spurlock’s Supersize Me experiment — without Spurlock’s dangerous results:

And this is the most fascinating thing: if Nyström’s small group are representative, then it would seem that our bodies are more adaptable than we give them credit for. In other words, metabolism may play a much more important role in the problem of obesity than many people think. Indeed, Nyström claims that for some people, eating 10% more will lead to their metabolism increasing at the same level. The extra energy will be burned off as body heat during sleep. “If that was not the case we would all have to keep track of every last calorie,” he says. “And you have to realise that some overeaters consume such grotesque amounts that they would be even heavier — much heavier! — were it not for this safety mechanism.”

That’s why these kind of studies have to be carried out, he says: “If you only look at the already overweight, you’ll only do research on those with least resistance to calories, so to speak.”