Monthly Archives: June 2011

Wordless Wednesday

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The 1500s are totally in again

You know how people are saying fashions come and go- something will fall out of fashion, only to be revived some years later?  Bell bottoms are now flares, platforms are back, espadrilles, caftans, open-toed boots…

RJ Girl Women’s Alle Open-Toe Ankle Boot""

Oh, wait, you don’t ever remember open toed boots being in fashion?  Maybe that’s because you weren’t alive in 1500s- as in Medieval times.


This past weekend I went to The Cloisters– an outpost of The Metropolitan Museum of Art that houses some of their Medieval European items.  Imagine my surprise when I spotted these open-toed boots:

On this guy:

Apparently it’s a likeness of Saint Roch, carved in the 1500s- complete with “bulbous sore indicative of the plague” (curing others of which earned him sainthood).

I think opened toed boots are quite ridiculous- why hybridize a sandal with a boot?

Let’s just hope bulbous sores don’t come back into fashion.

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I thought it was rather clever.

I have a problem paying money for things that are meant to be thrown away.

For instance, I conserve draw string trash bags.  In fact, when I was single (and generated significantly less trash, and lived in a complex with a dumpster I could add to anytime, instead of once a week trash pick-up), I used to use a paper shopping bag inside a plastic shopping bag- which was totally free.  Now that I’m married, with a kid, in a neighborhood with one a week trash collection, there is more trash and it can’t go out as often.  So, now, if it is trash day, I cram as much as I can into the single trash bag in the kitchen garbage can.  I’ll gather the trash in the other parts of the house into a plastic shopping bag and cram it in there.  If it’s the day before trash pick up and the bag is getting full, I’ll just pack it down in there rather than “waste” a new bag by not filling it completely before putting it out on the curb.

My husband, on the other hand, plays it free and loose with the trash bags.  If the kitchen bag is kind of full, he’ll just get out another trash bag, even if there isn’t enough trash to fill a second bag.  This drives me crazy.  I think it’s a waste of money.  As it is, I find it bizarre/useless/wasteful/silly/ironic that we pay money for a bag whose sole function is to be thrown in the trash.

So, you can imagine my opinion of wrapping paper.  It’s sole purpose it to briefly conceal the nature of a gift before being shredded and rapidly tossed in the trash.  Wasteful.  Expensive and wasteful.

I’m a big fan of gift bags because they can be reused again and again.  There are Christmas-themed gift bags that have made an appearance under my parents’ Christmas tree for a decade.  Thrifty, resourceful, practical.

However, there are some gifts that don’t really lend themselves to a bag.  When a bag doesn’t seem like it will work, or I don’t have one of the right size/gender/theme, I do use wrapping paper.  I’d use newspaper/the comics, but we don’t get the paper- and I’m not buying a newspaper just to wrap a gift (see reasoning above).

I’m not a pack-rat, by any means.  There is nothing better than a good purging of the closets/basement/attic.  However there are some things I can’t throw away.  For instance, the Mary Engelbreit calender that I get every year from my best childhood friend.  She and I exchange ME gifts pretty frequently- it’s become our “thing” that we share- particularly because ME has so many works dealing with friendship.  The calenders are basically 12 pieces of artwork.  How can I throw that away?

So, this past Father’s Day I found myself in the position of having a gift for my husband- this book– that didn’t lend itself to a gift bag.  I really felt it should be wrapped.  So, I got down my stash of gift wrapping paraphernalia.  In it I had stashed several old ME calenders.  When I opened the stash and saw the calender, I thought to myself, “That size will would work for the book,” and I began flipping through the pages.  Lo and behold, June of some year past was a Father’s Day themed drawing!  So, I tore it out, and wrapped up the gift!

I thought it came out really well, and I was proud of myself for reusing the calender page, not spending money on wrapping paper that would be tossed in the trash, and I thought the gift looked great!

What do you think?  Any creative, non-wasteful gift wrap ideas?  Is there something you refuse to spend money on?

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Getting riled up over misunderstanding/misuse of science

Recently a friend posted a link to the article  “JANETTE D. SHERMAN, MD and JOSEPH MANGANO” – Is the Dramatic Increase in Baby Deaths in the US a Result of Fukushima Fallout?  Calling it an article is a bit of an exaggeration, it’s basically just a blog post.  However, because the authors are an MD and a statistician, people in the press apparently think this puts the post in the same category as an article that would appear in a medical or science journal.

Just to be clear, it’s not the same.

The authors look at some public data from the CDC and suggest it’s evidence that radioactive fallout from the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan is causing a 35% increase in infant mortality in the Western US.  The crux of their ‘report’ and the entirety of their evidence:

The recent CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report indicates that eight cities in the northwest U.S. (Boise ID, Seattle WA, Portland OR, plus the northern California cities of Santa Cruz, Sacramento, San Francisco, San Jose, and Berkeley) reported the following data on deaths among those younger than one year of age:

4 weeks ending March 19, 2011 – 37 deaths (avg. 9.25 per week)
10 weeks ending May 28, 2011  – 125 deaths (avg.12.50 per week)

This amounts to an increase of 35% (the total for the entire U.S. rose about 2.3%), and is statistically significant.   Ofurther significance is that those dates include the four weeks before and the ten weeks after the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant disaster.

Where do I start?

They offer no compelling evidence, as far as I’m concerned.

To support their conclusions, they should address whether there are  similar changes in the rate at other timepoints to rule out seasonal variations, stochastic changes in rate, etc.  They present no information on their statistical analysis- just say the change is statistically significant. Details on their statistical analysis might help to rule out some of those variations, but since it is not provided, a reader cannot form an informed opinion as to the validity of their conclusion.  Also, what about data from Japan?  If the minuscule amounts of radiation in the Western US are causing such dramatic changes, their hypothesis would predict that the infant mortality rate in Japan, where the radiation levels are much higher, would be even worse than here in the US.  They make no mention of seeking or analyzing any such data.

While those numbers are scary, we MUST remember, correlation does not equal causation!! Just because it rains every time you forget your umbrella doesn’t mean that you forgetting your umbrella causes it to rain.  A friend of mine who is a professor of community psychology gives this example to demonstrate that point:  “In my class I tell [my students] that there is a positive correlation between number of churches and amount of prostitution… this is a fact… I’ve [had students suggest] the priests are pimps, prostitutes are religious, etc… Oh, the joys of teaching!  Then, they realize there is a third variable that “causes” both… as cities grow, number of churches increases, as does prostitution!”

What about the general biological feasibility of the hypothesis?  The 10 week time frame is just too tight for the cause of the increase in infant mortality to be radiation.  The radiation was released over several days/weeks after the earthquake and tsunami, then, the fallout would take several days to even reach the US- thus it wouldn’t make sense to examine infant mortality rates the week after the earthquake/tsunami.  Further, the radiation levels that have been detected in the mentioned cities are minute.  The chance that such a minuscule increase could so rapidly result in infant deaths is ridiculous.  A lot of the exposure comes from ingesting contaminated foods.  What are the chances that the Fukushima radiation entered the food chain, was eaten in by expectant moms and transmitted to their fetuses or eaten by infants in quantities sufficient to be hazardous in only 10 weeks?  Pretty slim.  This post on Boing Boing does a great job (with reputable, cited sources) of explaining the risk of fallout to the West Coast.

Blog posts aren’t peer reviewed.  That ‘publication’ isn’t peer reviewed at all, just a little news blurb on a website.  A rigorous review process, like that required for publication in scientific and medical journals, would probably point out the same issues I did with the hypothesis, methods, and conclusion.

The authors of the post pose the question, “Is the Dramatic Increase in Baby Deaths in the US a Result of Fukushima Fallout?” so I guess they aren’t really saying for sure it does.  However, they make no effort to qualify their ‘report’ to discourage readers from putting undue weight on their faulty hypothesis and their unsupported conclusions.

As one might expect of the lazy press, the ‘article’ is being cited as a “report” by other news sources- and since the author is an MD reporters are acting like this is a properly conducted, peer-reviewed scientific study.

For example:

Northwest sees 35% infant mortality spike post-Fukushima

Medical professionals publish report highlighting post-Fukushima mortality spike.

It’s not a ‘report,’ conducted by medical professionals.  It’s a blog post written by an MD and a statistician.  It’s a question/hypothesis, and a poorly founded one at that. The news article above is just a regurgitation of the blog post- no attempt to vet the source, verify the conclusion, seek a supporting/dissenting opinion.  It’s not journalism, it’s just plagiarism.

It’s irresponsible of that doctor to even write the blog post in a way that could be interpreted as factual- and not purely hypothetical.  It’s also terrible that shoddy/lazy news agencies/sources are citing that article as a scientific report!


Edited to add:  My husband e-mailed me a link to this response from Scientific American:  Are Babies Dying in the Pacific Northwest Due to Fukushima? A Look at the Numbers by Michael Moyer.  It does a better job than I have in enumerating the flaws of Sherman and Mangano’s “report,” including plotting the data for all West Coast cities for which data were available  (not just the select few that support their forgone conclusion) showing no change in infant mortality rates.


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10+32= a reunion and a birthday

June 2nd to 5th I attended my 10 year college reunion.

Today, June 6th, I celebrated my 32nd birthday.

It’s been a fun several days.

On one hand I was struck at how little people have changed.  My friends and I quickly settled back into our old roles and patterns.  It was a lot of fun.

On the other hand, I was struck at how much things have changed.  My friends now have spouses, fiancees, children, etc.

As for turning 32, I’m suspecting it’s all down hill from here.  This morning I couldn’t find my car key.  Looked all over downstairs while my husband looked upstairs.  Took the spare and went to work.  At work, I emptied my purse- no key.  Later in the morning, I reached into my pocket and there it was.  I couldn’t find it because it was in my pocket.  Yikes.  Hoping this isn’t a portent of things to come.

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