Corrections to the blogosphere, the consensus, and the world

Friday, January 30, 2009

Catching up

A pre-Xmas one from the Age bin:
Letter to the Editor

Sarah Wilson says that applied behavioural analysis (ABA) therapy for her autistic child costs $22,500 a year, and wants the government to pay for it. Other parents give the cost as closer to $60,000. Given that the prevalence of people with autism in Australia is variously given at 12 to 35 per 10,000, suggesting a total autistic population of between 25,200 and 73,500 (not to mention the larger total of 135,000 people with the broader diagnosis of autistic spectrum disorder) that indicates that the government could be up for between 567 million and 8.2 billion dollars p/a. If we confine ABA to children under 18 then that’s only 140 million to 2 billion a year, but that’s still quite a lot, especially considering that there’s no particularly strong evidence that ABA works. Its fame rests almost entirely on a 1987 study that nobody’s ever been able to replicate, and recent work by researchers such as Dr. Morton Gernsbacher has shown that in properly controlled studies ABA shows very little gain at all and certainly no greater gains than other cheaper and less taxing therapies. ABA hasn’t shown it can produce a cure, or anything even remotely close to a cure, for autism, and we shouldn’t let our natural sympathy for worried parents rush us into open-ended commitments to enormous expenditures.

Chris Borthwick,
West Melbourne

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Caped crusaders

I was adding it up the other day, and if I'd given my life over to being ready to explode in crusading violence every time the occasion arose I would have got into fights twice, some forty-five years ago. Unless I actually went around starting fights myself, which is hardly the done thing.
Riffing off that, Batman can apparently run into thugs mugging someone in an alleyway about what? Once, twice a week? I mean, he's looking for them, but even so, if a mugging takes (let's be generous) ten minutes, and if it takes him ten minutes to cover a single (multi-alley) block...
Let's say he's patrolling after dark five nights a week...say 50 hours, or 300 ten-minute periods... and has two hits. One in 150.
Let's say that Gotham City has 500 downtown blocks (he doesn't seem to do the suburbs much - nowhere to swing from). That means that in any given ten night minutes there are three and a bit muggings, or a total of a thousand muggings (or break-ins, bank robberies, or gang hits, or arson cases) a week.
That seems about right; if Batman's strike rate was much more than 2 in a thousand it might reduce crime below the level where there's enough of it to keep him busy . An ecological balance.
Though... a thousand crimes, given recidivism, probably implies between three hundred and five hundred actual criminals. And he takes out two a week - that's a hundred a year. Or a one chance in five of going down. You'd think that odds like that would have to reduce the attractions of crime.
Except that, to be fair, a number of Batvillains aren't homo economicus; in the latest movie the Joker, for example, makes rather a point of it.
The same, of course, applies to Spiderman, though his spider-sense may mean he has a wider search area at any given moment. On the other hand, he doesn't have a car, so it probably evens out.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


My faithful commentator has sent me this - the pledge video (I include the link even though broken because I'm really not doing enough linking for a respectable blog) for comment - I think I'm supposed to tut-tut at the lack of fit between the upbeat exhortations of the video and the general commitment of the viedeoees, otherwise, to mindless hedonism, but I have to say what really struck me is that I couldn't recognise a single one of the idols of today earnestly mouthing banalities. I couldn't decide at first viewing whether it was supposed to be celebrities doing it or whether it was just a vox pop out the front of the studio. And I wasn't much better off when looking up the names on Google. I'm not sure whether it's better or worse than not being able to remember any pop song since the seventies, but it's a reminder that I have totally lost the ability to follow any new trends and shouldn't presume to try.

They were American, of course, but I'm not at all sure I could do better on Australian youth idols. [Insert spittle-flecked rave about how much more talented/significant/seminal the celebrities of my day were than this present crop of jumped-up nobodies].

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Australia Day

Yes, Australia Day needs to be moved. Not only is it a revolting relic of imperialism, it comes at a time when we have lots of leave time already rather than in August when we really need it (there are no public holidays at all between June and October). Either Australia Day, Anzac Day, or Easter needs to be shifted to August, and all things considered Australia Day is probably the easiest. How about August 27, the discovery of gold in 1851? Or even better, August 17? That's when the dingo took Azaria. Works for me.


More specifically, as pince-nez seem to go on eBay for sixty to eighty dollars, you'd think some chinese workshop could turn them out for about five, sell them for forty, and do OK. They're pretty simple mechanically.

Spanish Flu

Yglesias asks why nobody remembers the Spanish Flu, which killed more people than WW1. A number of comments point out that he's exaggerating, but even so.
It is the case, though, that
(a) the public impact of deaths is potentiated where they happen in close proximity (as on battlefields) rather than everywhere evenly (as in the flu). That's why 11/9 with its three thousand dead is so much more of an outrage than 42,000 annual traffic deaths,
(b) flu deaths are merely one point in a wider shift of risk to our present post-WW2 situation where infectious diseases are just a rounding error in death statistics. It's like saying "A lot of men used to wear panamas, and now they don't," when what people notice, as far as they notice it at all, is "People used to wear hats, and now they don't."

Friday, January 23, 2009

Can't go back to Thailand, then

Well, this is about time to express solidarity with Nicolaides and decry lese-majeste prosecutions. I was going to repeat the offending para, but it's available on Wikipedia. You can also get the entire novel at A pretty terrible novel - written in the first person and then find-and-replaced changed into the third, with a few botched edits remaining to prove it. Mind you, it appears to be a paranoid expansion of some inter-academic arguments he had over student marking, leading to a theory on how the tentacles of American intelligence had him denied promotion; what his conspiracy theories are going to be like after this hardly bears imagining. There's certainly a book in it, though - might even sell more than seven (the Wikipedia editor notes censoriously that this needs better referencing - one source apparently says ten) copies.
Anyway, where was I? Oh yes. Solidarity. The Crown prince is a nasty piece of work and an anus-faced loser with it. The leavings on Bhumipol's plate.

Of course, at seven readers that's probably six more than this blog (five, if you count me), but I haven't gone to all the trouble of publishing.

Oh, and did you know that nobody's making pince-nez any more? You have to buy antiques and fit new lenses. Odd - you'd think there's be a tiny but solid market.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Long national nightmare, yadda yadda

OK, he's sworn in with an address that gives cheerios to American exceptionalism and militarism (Khe Sanh? WTF?)and leaves Lincoln's second unchallenged. Still, the heat's off for another four years and I can start purging my blog list.

Apricot season over for another year, too. Most of them unpicked - too high to reach, and my climbing days have been forcibly ended since falling (a) out of that tree and (b) off that ladder. I need a telescopic pole with a picking attachment: I must look on ebay. I did enquire about pruning it down to reachable distance, but was informed that I'm twenty years too late; procrastination....

Had another try this Xmas getting the lights up. Slightly better: this time they broke just at the last letter.

I think I know what I did wrong, too. Next year it'll be perfect. Unless I get an attack on conscience and hold out for the same thing in LEDs so as to minimise global warming.

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