Memory, Witnesses and Crime

Monday, April 16th, 2012

Eye-witnesses are unreliable, Jonah Lehrer notes, because memories change — but there are some ways to improve the process:

Dr. Brewer focused on the police lineup, in which witnesses are asked to pick out a suspect from a collection of similar looking individuals.

Normally, witnesses are encouraged to take their time and carefully consider each possible suspect. But Dr. Brewer knew that strong memory traces are easier to access than weak and mistaken ones, which is why he only gave his witnesses two seconds to make up their minds. He also asked them to estimate how confident they were about the suspects they identified, rather than insisting on a simple yes-no answer.

To test this procedure, Dr. Brewer and his colleagues asked 905 volunteers to watch a series of short films showing such crimes as shoplifting and car theft. The subjects then looked at 12 portraits, only one of which was the actual suspect. According to Dr. Brewer’s data, his version of the lineup led to a large boost in accuracy, with improvements in eyewitness performance ranging from 21% to 66%. Even when subjects were quizzed a week later, those who were forced to choose quickly remained far more trustworthy.

The larger lesson is that, when it comes to human memory, more deliberation is often dangerous. Instead of simply assessing our familiarity with a suspect’s face, we begin searching for clues and guidance. Sometimes this involves picking the person who looks the most suspicious, even if we’ve never seen him before, or being swayed by the subtle hints of police officers and lawyers. As a result, we talk ourselves into having a memory that doesn’t actually exist.

Transcendental Leapfrogging

Sunday, April 15th, 2012

Bruce Charlton discusses transcendental leapfrogging:

I came across the phrase ‘leapfrogging’ only a few days ago — apparently meaning the Leftist practice of ignoring experience — the concrete, obvious and near at hand; and leaping over it to the ideology — abstract, remote and far away (usually only experienced via the mass media).

Leapfrogging can also be conceptualized as a focus on the second order while taking for granted the first order: which is a kind of definition of Leftism and a reason why Leftism only emerges after the primary problems have ceased to be pressing.

Leapfrogging is indeed part of the very essence of Leftism — hence a potentially useful shorthand term.

(Soviet Communism made a core principle of leapfrogging — it was the true Communist’s duty not to alleviate specific instances of distress or injustice, since this might delay the revolution which would end all distress and injustices. Indeed, many modern revolutionary Leftist groups go further, and try to create distress and injustice, disorder, violence, death — in the belief that this will bring forward the revolution that we be a final solution. That seems like a wild extreme of leapfrogging, yet this wild extreme is propagated actively — albeit covertly — by elites active at the highest levels of national and world government.)

Thus Leftism ignores and leapfrogs the problem of economic production (making stuff, doing stuff) in favor of the remote problem of distribution (moving stuff around); Leftism ignores education (learning stuff) and focuses on access to educational institutions and credentials; Leftism ignores duties and harps upon rights; ignores truth in favor of process — and so on.

This is ultimately a product of Clever Sillies, of high IQ, abstracting and systemizing intellectuals whose abstracting tendency is compulsive (unless restrained by transcendental religion); since only those of high IQ can quickly and flexibly deploy the practice to an open-ended range of problems and issues.

Intellectuals are trained — especially by the highbrow mass media, but also by educational institutions, to ignore the obvious conclusions and seek behind them.

Only by ignoring the obvious and moving behind it, can intellectuals demonstrate to themselves and others their superiority. This is the strategy of the modern elite mass media — indeed that is pretty much all that it does now.

The mass media takes an event, leapfrogs over the obvious and traditional interpretations (often without mentioning them) and reframes the issue for the elites. To favor the obvious interpretation is therefore to lack the intelligence to make this move, or deliberately to refuse to make it.

Leapfrogging Loyalties

Sunday, April 15th, 2012

What Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind never quite gets across, Steve Sailer says, is that conservatives typically define their groups concentrically, moving from their families outward to their communities, classes, religions, nations, and so forth:

If Mars attacked, conservatives would be reflexively Earthist. As Ronald Reagan pointed out to the UN in 1987, “I occasionally think how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world.” (Libertarians would wait to see if the Martian invaders were free marketeers.)

In contrast, modern liberals’ defining trait is making a public spectacle of how their loyalties leapfrog over some unworthy folks relatively close to them in favor of other people they barely know (or in the case of profoundly liberal sci-fi movies such as Avatar, other 10-foot-tall blue space creatures they barely know).

As a down-to-Earth example, to root for Manchester United’s soccer team is conservative…if you are a Mancunian. If you live in Portland, Oregon, it’s liberal.

This urge toward leapfrogging loyalties has less to do with sympathy for the poor underdog (white liberals’ traditional favorites, such as soccer and the federal government, are hardly underdogs) as it is a desire to get one up in status on people they know and don’t like.

Activity and Blood Sugar

Saturday, April 14th, 2012

When active volunteers tried being not-so-active, their blood-sugar levels spiked after they ate:

Exercise guidelines from the American Heart Association and other groups recommend that, for health purposes, people accumulate 10,000 steps or more a day, the equivalent of about five miles of walking. Few people do, however. Repeated studies of American adults have shown that a majority take fewer than 5,000 steps per day.

The Missouri volunteers were atypical in that regard. Each exercised 30 minutes or so most days and easily completed more than 10,000 daily steps during the first three days of the experiment. The average was almost 13,000 steps.

During these three days, according to data from their glucose monitors, the volunteers’ blood sugar did not spike after they ate.

But that estimable condition changed during the second portion of the experiment, when the volunteers were told to cut back on activity so that their step counts would fall below 5,000 a day for the next three days. Achieving such indolence was easy enough. The volunteers stopped exercising and, at every opportunity, took the elevator, not the stairs, or had lunch delivered, instead of strolling to a cafe. They became, essentially, typical American adults.

Their average step counts fell to barely 4,300 during the three days, and the volunteers reported that they now “exercised,” on average, about three minutes a day.

Meanwhile, they ate exactly the same meals and snacks as they had in the preceding three days, so that any changes in blood sugar levels would not be a result of eating fattier or sweeter meals than before.

And there were changes. During the three days of inactivity, volunteers’ blood sugar levels spiked significantly after meals, with the peaks increasing by about 26 percent compared with when the volunteers were exercising and moving more. What’s more, the peaks grew slightly with each successive day.

This change in blood sugar control after meals “occurred well before we could see any changes in fitness or adiposity,” or fat buildup, due to the reduced activity, Dr. Thyfault says. So the blood sugar swings would seem to be a result, directly, of the volunteers not moving much.

Why It’s Important to Talk Math With Kids

Friday, April 13th, 2012

It’s important to talk math with kids, Annie Murphy Paul says, because — wait for it — “number talk” at home is a key predictor of young children’s achievement in math once they get to school.

I’ll bet “correlation talk” at home is also a key predictor of children’s achievement in statistics when they get older.

Does Preschool Matter?

Thursday, April 12th, 2012

Does preschool matter? Yes, tremendously — for children from “poor” homes:

The gift of preschool, then, is that closes the yawning gap between the life experiences of wealthy and poor toddlers, thus making whatever differences remain more important.

This effect was clearly demonstrated by the standardized test data, as Tucker-Drob looked at changes in scores correlated with preschool. Not surprisingly, he found that preschool significantly closed the achievement gap between rich and poor kids. However, this winnowing of the gap was entirely due to the raised scores among those from disadvantaged homes. In fact, Tucker-Drob found that children raised in wealthier homes got no benefit at all from pre-k education, as their test scores remained flat. Because these kids were already receiving plenty of cognitive stimulation at home, it didn’t really matter if they were also stimulated at school. It’s as if their brains were already maxed out.

This latest study builds on previous work by Tucker-Drob showing that the impact of parents, at least relative to genetics, largely depends on socioeconomic status. Last year, he looked at 750 pairs of American twins who were given a test of mental ability at the age of 10 months and then again at the age of 2. As in this latest study, Tucker-Drob used twin data to tease apart the importance of nature and nurture at various points along the socioeconomic continuum. The first thing he found is that, when it came to the mental ability of 10-month-olds, the home environment was the key variable, across every socioeconomic class. This shouldn’t be too surprising: Most babies are housebound, their lives dictated by the choices of their parents.

Results for the 2-year-olds, however, were dramatically different. In children from poorer households, the decisions of parents still mattered. In fact, the researchers estimated that the home environment accounted for approximately 80 percent of the individual variance in mental ability among poor 2-year-olds. The effect of genetics was negligible.

The opposite pattern appeared in 2-year-olds from wealthy households. For these kids, genetics primarily determined performance, accounting for 50 percent of all variation in mental ability.

Drunken Opportunistic Criminality

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

This is apparently considered good, clean fun in Baltimore on St. Patrick’s Day:

It gets worse:

According to Baltimore County Police Commissioner Frederick Bealefeld, this was drunken opportunistic criminality — and calling it a hate-crime would be fear-mongering and race-baiting.

Making Money through Online Education

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

I didn’t realize the business model online educators like Udacity were considering:

And Mr. Thrun’s new company, Udacity, which is supported by Charles River Ventures, plans to, essentially, monetize its students’ skills — and help them get jobs — by getting their permission to sell leads to recruiters.

“We’re going to have detailed records on thousands of students who have learned these skills, many of whom will want to make those skills available to employers,” said Mr. Evans, the Virginia professor. “So if a recruiter is looking for the hundred best people in some geographic area that know about machine learning, that’s something we could provide, for a fee. I think it’s the cusp of a revolution.”

Where Business Titans Work Out

Tuesday, April 10th, 2012

Sitaras Fitness, on East 58th Street in Manhattan, is where business titans work out — including James D. Robinson III, Sandra Navidi, George Soros, Fred Adler and Larry Neubauer:

It’s Mr. Sitaras’s proprietary personal training program that separates his center from other high-end clubs. Under the program, clients must undergo six hours of mandatory tests, spread out over six visits, that measure the strength, flexibility and endurance of more than 35 major muscles and joints.

The results are then entered into a software program that Mr. Sitaras designed. It uses more than 5,000 variables, he says, to draw up a personalized fitness program. All clients must commit to at least two personal training sessions a week. Each of their workouts is tracked and monitored, and the program is adjusted as fitness improves.

Mr. Sitaras also recently unveiled an advanced digital tracking room, which notes and evaluates each muscle’s capacity, improvement and weakness.


He worked as an assistant for a physiotherapist, Dr. Norman Marcus in Manhattan, and then worked at local fitness clubs such as Sports Club/LA, Sparta, and Lift Fitness, where he built his clientele and reputation.

Unhappy with what he called a cookie-cutter approach to fitness at many gyms, he developed his own system and, with only $17,000, embarked on a plan to open his own gym. “Within a short period of time, I had a really good following,” including some well-known Wall Street clients who spread the word among their friends, Mr. Sitaras says.

He picked the brains of those financial clients for business advice — and received financing from them. Investors put in nearly $1.5 million, and the club opened in November 2007.


Sitaras charges no initiation fee; monthly fees are $150, and members must commit to at least two personal training sessions a week at $115 a pop, which means that total annual fees start at $13,760.

Aldous Huxley writes to George Orwell

Tuesday, April 10th, 2012

In 1949, Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New Worldwrote a letter to George Orwell, about his new novel, 1984:

May I speak instead of the thing with which the book deals — the ultimate revolution? The first hints of a philosophy of the ultimate revolution — the revolution which lies beyond politics and economics, and which aims at total subversion of the individual’s psychology and physiology — are to be found in the Marquis de Sade, who regarded himself as the continuator, the consummator, of Robespierre and Babeuf. The philosophy of the ruling minority in Nineteen Eighty-Four is a sadism which has been carried to its logical conclusion by going beyond sex and denying it. Whether in actual fact the policy of the boot-on-the-face can go on indefinitely seems doubtful. My own belief is that the ruling oligarchy will find less arduous and wasteful ways of governing and of satisfying its lust for power, and these ways will resemble those which I described in Brave New World. I have had occasion recently to look into the history of animal magnetism and hypnotism, and have been greatly struck by the way in which, for a hundred and fifty years, the world has refused to take serious cognizance of the discoveries of Mesmer, Braid, Esdaile, and the rest.

Partly because of the prevailing materialism and partly because of prevailing respectability, nineteenth-century philosophers and men of science were not willing to investigate the odder facts of psychology for practical men, such as politicians, soldiers and policemen, to apply in the field of government. Thanks to the voluntary ignorance of our fathers, the advent of the ultimate revolution was delayed for five or six generations. Another lucky accident was Freud’s inability to hypnotize successfully and his consequent disparagement of hypnotism. This delayed the general application of hypnotism to psychiatry for at least forty years. But now psycho-analysis is being combined with hypnosis; and hypnosis has been made easy and indefinitely extensible through the use of barbiturates, which induce a hypnoid and suggestible state in even the most recalcitrant subjects.

Within the next generation I believe that the world’s rulers will discover that infant conditioning and narco-hypnosis are more efficient, as instruments of government, than clubs and prisons, and that the lust for power can be just as completely satisfied by suggesting people into loving their servitude as by flogging and kicking them into obedience. In other words, I feel that the nightmare of Nineteen Eighty-Four is destined to modulate into the nightmare of a world having more resemblance to that which I imagined in Brave New World. The change will be brought about as a result of a felt need for increased efficiency. Meanwhile, of course, there may be a large scale biological and atomic war — in which case we shall have nightmares of other and scarcely imaginable kinds.

It’s striking how he assumes that there will be an ultimate revolution — and that hypnotism clearly works; it just hasn’t been studied properly.

The Achilles’ Heel of Overeaters

Monday, April 9th, 2012

People are obese, because they can’t stop eating, because they really enjoy eating — or do we have it all backwards?

According to a new study from Kyle Burger and Eric Stice at the Oregon Research Institute, those who overeat may actually get less pleasure from food. So they’re forced to consume larger quantities (and added calories) to achieve an equivalent reward.

The researchers began by asking 151 adolescents about eating habits and food cravings. Then, they stuck the teens in a brain scanner while showing them a picture of a milkshake followed by a few sips of the real thing. They were particularly interested in looking at the response of the dopamine reward pathway in the brain, a cortical network responsible for generating the pleasurable emotions triggered by pleasurable things.

By comparing the response of the reward pathway to the eating habits of the adolescents, the scientists were able to show that those who ate the most ice cream showed the least activation in their reward areas when consuming the milkshake. This suggests that they were eating more in desperate compensation, trying to make up for their indifferent dopamine neurons. People crave pleasure, and they don’t stop until they get their fill, even if means consuming the entire pint of Häagen-Dazs.

This research builds on previous work by Dr. Stice documenting the dangerous feedback loop of overeating. Although people struggling with obesity tend to have less-responsive reward pathways—they even have fewer dopamine receptors—overeating makes the problem worse, further reducing the pleasure from each bite. Like an alcoholic who needs to consume ever-larger quantities of liquor to achieve the same level of intoxication, individuals with “hypofunctioning reward circuits” are forced to eat bigger portions in search of the same level of satisfaction. It’s an addiction with diminishing returns.

It’s an addiction with diminishing returns.

Rapid Reticle

Monday, April 9th, 2012

Pride Fowler Industries (PFI) has developed its Rapid Reticle optic to allow rapid engagement of multiple targets at various distance:

It was developed with the idea in mind that the average skull we might want to shoot at is approximately a 9” target (not counting turban, qaraqul or pakol). Likewise the shoulder width is going to be approximately 18”. They used this as a foundation to develop the “integrated head and shoulders ranging system”(Rapid Reticle).

“This wasn’t built to punch the center out of a dime at a thousand yards, though it could do so in the right hands. This was made specifically for the kind of fight Squad Designated Marksmen are in right now in Afghanistan.”

The optic is also built to be very intuitive so there’s a very short learning curve. A Sergeant Major at Ft. Benning two desk clerks just in from BMT, shooters who had never shot past the 300, and in approximately 15 minutes had them engaging targets out to 800m. Admittedly, that’s not on a two-way range in bad conditions, but think about what they could have done if they’d been given two or three days to learn how to exploit the optic to its fullest advantage, to compensate for wind and environmental conditions.

Goeth and hideth eggs

Sunday, April 8th, 2012

And the Lord said unto the Rabbit, goeth and hideth eggs, and so didst the Rabbit.
— Lepus 3:16

All the fun things about Easter are pagan, aren’t they?

Sophie la Girafe

Saturday, April 7th, 2012

Sophie la Girafe is a French teething toy created in 1961 — and a global star:

Priced at $25 in the U.S., compared with less than $5 for more ordinary teethers, Sophie is stocked in high-end baby boutiques around the world, including Mexico, Japan and Australia. The offspring of celebrities such as Sandra Bullock and Kate Hudson have been photographed clutching the giraffe.


Vulli’s sales of €22 million ($29 million) have more than quadrupled since 2006, just before Sophie was first sold outside France. This year, for the first time, the company expects to sell more outside of France than domestically.

That’s saying something, because in France, Sophie is a national tradition. In 2010, Vulli sold 816,000 giraffes in France, and 828,000 babies were born, meaning that nearly every French newborn got one.

Sophie isn’t nearly as elite at home in France. Local supermarkets sell the blister-packaged toy for $12, less than half of its U.S. sticker price.

Jews in China

Saturday, April 7th, 2012

Pre-WWII Shanghai — then the Paris of the East — had a large Jewish population — because the so-called International Settlement did not require a visa of fleeing German Jews and already had large Baghdadi and Russian Jewish populations.

The Kaifeng Jews, by contrast, had already been in China for a long, long time:

Most scholars agree that a Jewish community existed in Kaifeng since the Northern Song Dynasty (960–1127), some date their arrival to the Tang Dynasty (618-907) or earlier. Kaifeng, then the capital of the Northern Song Dynasty, was a cosmopolitan city on a branch of the Silk Road. It is surmised that a small community of Jews, most likely from Persia or India, arrived either overland or by a sea route, and settled in the city. In 1163 they reportedly built a synagogue surrounded by a study hall, a ritual bath, a communal kitchen, a kosher butchering facility, and a sukkah.

During the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644), a Ming emperor conferred seven surnames upon the Jews, by which they are identifiable today: Ai, Shi, Gao, Jin, Li, Zhang, and Zhao. By the beginning of the 20th c. one of these Kaifeng clans, the Zhang, had largely converted to Islam. Interestingly, two of these: Jin and Shi are the equivalent of common Jewish names in the west: Gold and Stone.

The Jews who managed the Kaifeng synagogue were called “Mullahs”. Floods and Fire repeatedly destroyed the books of the Kaifeng synagogue, they obtained some from Ningxia and Ningbo to replace them, another Hebrew roll of law was bought from a Muslim in Ning-keang-chow in Shen-se (Shanxi), who acquired it from a dying Jew at Canton.