Today’s discussion on the Wake County Autism Society listerve is about using exceptions– that may not actually apply to your child– to get out of the county’s requirement for getting an MMR vaccine.  It’s so tempting to reply that I don’t appreciate people claiming religious exemptions, etc., when they actually have none over the fear of the MMR vaccine when the evidence is increasingly clear there’s no relationship at all between this and autism (not to mention, all these kids already have autism– that’s why their parents are on the listserve) thereby putting my kids and others at needless risk.  Alas, I’m friendly with a lot of those people and I’d like to keep it that way– so I’ll just stick to a mini-rant here on the presumption that none of them will every actually read this.

Olympics behind the scenes

In honor of the Olympics starting today, here’s a fascinating (and salacious) read about the vast orgy that is the Olympic Village.



The year of the campaign

My man Seth is the first to crunch the latest economic numbers and put them in his presidential election model:

Well, if you average GDP growth over the first two quarters of election yearsgoing back to 1948 and use it to predict presidential vote shares, you get this:

Now, this isn’t the strongest correlate with presidential vote shares. Real disposable income does a bit better, as do measures that incorporate third quarter growth. But still, by itself, this measure explains 39% of the variation in vote shares.

You’ll notice that there’s a red dotted line projecting the 2012 presidential vote based on GDP growth this year (an average of 1.75%). It basically hits the trendline right at 50%, continuing to indicate a really, really close contest. Notably, we’re experiencing slower economic growth than George W. Bush had to contend with in 2004 or his father faced when he lost reelection in 1992.

Drum comments:

Given the limits of the model and the tightness of the numbers, Masket is right: it’s still anyone’s race. This year, at least, it looks as if the economic fundamentals are so evenly balanced that all the other campaign stuff really is going to make the difference. Just the way the media likes it.

And the way political junkies like it, too.  And, if you are a Democrat, I’d suggest that you should feel comforted by this fact.  Of course, it would be much better to have strong economic growth, but if you’ve got to put money on Obama’s skills as a campaigner versus Mitt “look how I can so easily manage to offend an entire nation” Romney, I think Obama is the obvious choice.   As Drum, also points out, Mitt’s most recent gaffe was an actual huge, completely unnecessary screw-up, as opposed to the opposition making hay by taking innocuous comments out of contect.

The story of Radiolab

As you hopefully know, I’m a huge fan of the public radio show Radiolab.  For my money, when it comes to public radio, there’s This American Life, Radiolab, Fresh Air, and then everything else.  Anyway, really interesting interview with Jad Abumrad about the inception of the show and how it has evolved over the years.

Image of the day

The neurologist gave me the CD with some 300 MRI images of my son Alex’s latest brain scans.  Pretty amazing to look at.  I find the ones with the eyeballs strangely mesmerizing:


On the downside, another image shows that Alex may have a SEGA growing, which would mean brain surgery.  We’ll have a better idea after the next MRI in 6 months.  Apparently, given that MRI’s show 5mm slices, you cannot really be sure if a 2mm change is actual growth of just a piece of the brain “sliced” differently in a subsequent MRI study.   On the super bright side, I learned that just in the last couple years there’s been great innovation in “minimally invasive brain surgery.”  That is, using an endoscopic approach for brain surgery (love this animation I found).  Furthermore, if Alex does need surgery in the future, we’re certainly fortunate to be near one of the finest hospitals in the country, Duke University Medical Center.

Staying on top is hard 

Just really liked Yglesias‘ thoughts on Microsoft’s difficulties.  Makes a lot of sense to me:

The basic issue facing Microsoft over the past ten years has been this—innovating is really hard.

The company reached a point where Office and Windows were so popular that wasn’t much you could do to increase their popularity by improving the product. They continued to work on improving the product, and kept these divisions very healthy and profitable, but there simply wasn’t an explosive growth opportunity left to be had because the previous successes had been so enormous. So you create a situation where the company as a whole is basically a venture capital firm. It has this huge stream of Office/Windows profits and needs to figure out how to invest those profits in exciting new products. But successful venture capitalists are really rare, and for all we know most of them are just getting lucky. The average financial returns from the venture capital sector as a whole are terrible. But Microsoft qua venture capitalist faces the additional burden that the top management of the company has to be good at running the giant existing Office/Windows businesses. It’s as if you were trying to hire a tax attorney who could also perform open heart surgery.

Computers, technology, internet, etc., are an incredibly dynamic field.  Just because you came up with one amazingly successful idea is no guarantee at all you’ll be able to come up with more.  And when you are at the top, there’s only one way to go.


Men objectify women. But so do women.

So, you read the article headline, “Brain see men as whole, women as parts” you think, well sure, that’s because men are objectifying women, but not the opposite.  Interestingly, though, this is how both men and women seem to perceive the sexes:

She and her colleagues wondered about the eye of the beholder: Are people really objectifying women more than men?

To find out, the researchers focused on two types of mental processing, global and local. Global processing is how the brain identifies objects as a whole. It tends to be used when recognizing people, where it’s not just important to know the shape of the nose, for example, but also how the nose sits in relation to the eyes and mouth. Local processing focuses more on the individual parts of an object. You might recognize a house by its door alone, for instance, while you’re less likely to recognize a person’s arm without the benefit of seeing the rest of their body.

If women are sexually objectified, people should process their bodies in a more local way, focusing on individual body parts like breasts…

[experimental methods–seemed good to me– excerpted]

The results showed a clear schism between the images of men and women. When viewing female images, participants were better at recognizing individual parts than they were matching whole-body photographs to the originals. The opposite was true for male images: People were better at recognizing a guy as a whole than they were his individual parts.

People were also better at discerning women’s individual body parts than they were at men’s individual body parts, further confirming the local processing, or objectification, that was happening.

“It’s both men and women doing this to women,” Gervais said. “So don’t blame the men here.”

There could be evolutionary reasons that men and women process female bodies differently, Gervais said, but because both genders do it, “ the media is probably a prime suspect.”

Interesting.  I’m inclined to think that even absent media influences, men will view women in this way, but it is the general culture we live in that encourages not just men, but women as well, to see women as a collection of parts.  Also, the article linked to this very disturbing study:

Psychologists at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., used paper dolls to assess self-sexualization in 6- to 9-year-old girls. Sixty girls were shown two dolls, one dressed in tight and revealing “sexy” clothes and the other wearing a trendy but covered-up, loose outfit.

Using a different set of dolls for each question, the researchers then asked each girl to choose the doll that: looked like herself, looked how she wanted to look, was the popular girl in school, she wanted to play with.


Across-the-board, girls chose the “sexy” doll most often. The results were significant in two categories: 68 percent of the girls said the doll looked how she wanted to look, and 72 percent said she was more popular than the non-sexy doll.

Now, that’s just depressing.

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