Corrections to the blogosphere, the consensus, and the world

Friday, July 27, 2007

Lovaas's best correlation

From Autism Diva:
"The correlation between miles between the Lovaas Insitute and the top five autism-serving RCs in driving miles and how high their percentage of clients served in the autism category is represented by a Pearson's r of .89.

Wow and begorrah. Aut Div, that's far and away the highest correlation I've ever seen for anything in the autism area, bar none. I'm really impressed.

If I could point you at another aspect of the picture, my fundamental beef with Lovaas (leaving the ethics out of it for the moment) is that his proof of the efficacy of ABA seems to miss the point completely (and this carries with it the corollary that nearly all the attacks on the efficacy of ABA also miss the point completely) by focusing on the one or two or three or four or five, whatever, published studies. All very well, and Michelle Dawson and her mob have done a marvellous hatchet job on it all, but I would have thought largely beside the point.
The hole in Lovaas is that the Lovaas centres must have data on anywhere between two and five thousand cases - diagnosis, sex, treatments, outcomes - because it'll be in their management database (or their filing cabinets, considering we're looking back over thirty years). They must have figures on length of treatment, intensity, school placement, and cost, because all of those things are under their control and must be recorded. And they haven't released any of it.

Coming from health promotion, my bias is very heavily towards preferring epidemiological data to clinical studies. Coming from a legal background my bias is to believe that if Lovaas has clinical studies and administrative data and releases one but not the other it's because one is more favourable to his position than the other. I'm not inclined to give Lovaas any credence until he tells me what he knows that I don't.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Sunday Age bin

In the Sunday Age Terry Lane points out that there's no point having antiquated laws hanging around on the books if they're never enforced. Well, it's worse if they are enforced; look at, for example, the Preamble to the Act of Elizabeth I on Charitable Uses, 1601, which is still used in Australian law to determine what is and is not a charity and is or is not entitled to receive tax deductible donations. Only purposes that fall within the headings of “The relief of aged, impotent, and poor people; the maintenance of sick and maimed soldiers and mariners, schools of learning, free schools and scholars of universities; the repair of bridges, havens, causeways, churches, seabanks and highways; the education and preferment of orphans; the relief, stock or maintenance of houses of correction; marriages of poor maids; supportation, aid and help of young tradesmen, handicraftsmen and persons decayed; the relief or redemption of prisoners or captives and the aid or ease of any poor inhabitants concerning paym ents of fifteens, setting out of soldiers and other taxes.” In Australia, to this day, the objects there enumerated, and all other objects which by analogy are deemed within its spirit and intendment, and no other objects, are in law charitable.
The words 'by analogy' do in practice get a fair thrashing; one case decided that an organization that wanted to provide free public access to the Internet met the definition of a charity, on the grounds that the preamble to the Statute of Elizabeth included “the repair of bridges, ports, causeways and highways,” and the Internet was an information highway. While this helps a bit, the situation remains plainly idiotic. The Treasurer, to his credit, has noticed this, and set up an ilniinquiry some years ago into the definition of charity; when the Inquiry reported, however, the Treasurer, to his discredit, put it into the too hard basket and kept on with the old system.
The consequence is that there are many things which everybody agrees are unquestionably for the public good that can't get tax deductibility. This suits the Tax Office just fine, but the rest of us not nearly so much. The English themselves have decided that four hundred and six years of Good Queen Bess are quite enough, and have brought in a sparkling new Charities Act. Isn't it time we followed their example?

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Jaws laws

Watching Jaws on TV totherday noted an enormous chasm between then and now.

The police chief thinks there's a maneating shark out there, and tells this to mayor but is told to shut up. Someone gets eaten. Mother comes up to police chief and slaps him. In a legal sense, apparently, end of story - no million-dollar suit.

It's almost impossible to conceive now of a municipality that would allow the beach to open at all, whatever the profit margin, in the face of a life-threatening situation; far more probable that swimming would be forbidden altogether and tourists switched into a saltwater pool, in the same way that fetes have had to give up selling home-made jam.

Friday, July 20, 2007


Blogger seems to have inserted as a spam barrier the requirement that anyone putting up material has to go through the captcha twice. The first try invariably fails, the second invariably succeeds. I find this annoying.

Hannibal Haneef

The front-page picture of Mohamed Haneef barefoot in an orange jumpsuit is surely conclusive proof that the nation has completely lost it. What conceivable dangers are we guarding against here? Do we really think Al-Quaida has trained him in Thai kickboxing in business shoes? Did police suspect that if they left him in his his suit he might trip up his guard with his stethoscope, whip his sphygmometer round the man’s neck and choke him, and make a getaway? The purpose of the orange jumpsuit at places like Guantanamo is to contribute to a total breakdown of the captive’s world so that they will be more likely to crumble under coercive interrogation, but we’re not even doing that. It’s completely pointless and witlessly malicious -- pure theatre, a way for Australian security wannabes to pretend that they’re nine-elevening it with the big boys. And the downside is not simply that it’s outrageously unfair to Haneef but that these frothing idiots have let us buy in at the top of the market to all the hatred that the rest of the world focuses on Guantanamo and all its inhuman abuses. It’s humiliating to be responsible for these clowns.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Oil? Not so fast

Actually, Brendan Nelson wasn't being frank about the importance of oil in Australia's decisionmaking on Iraq - he was just flailing around for a reason, any reason, that could explain why we're there. It makes no difference whatever to Australia who controls Iraqi oil - we're a price taker, not a price maker. We certainly didn't have oil as one of our motives for going in; we went in because Prime Minister John Howard was in Washington on 9/11, was caught up in the hype, and is in any case an all-the-way-with-U-S-A conservative. We did it as a comparatively cheap way to suck up to Washington (after all, we've only lost one man there).
That was, however, a motive that Howard couldn't admit to because it makes Australia look weak and silly, so he had to dredge around for others like WMD and democracy, and now they're exploded the government is really scraping the bottom of the barrel - which is how we come to oil, which makes no more sense than the other ones but at least sounds as if the government's calculations are semi-rational.
Correspondingly, leaping on this with cries of Aha, just as we suspected, is missing the point completely. The government isn't being viciously hardnosed, it's just clumsily incompetent.
Which is a reasonable point to bring in another consideration, which is that Howard's calculations on when to hold the election must also take into account the fact that he's entirely hostage to the Iraqi insurgents. Aussie soldiers, and by extension Howard, have been extraordinarily lucky so far, but they (and he) must be really running up against the odds by now. If the rebels take out a carful of Aussie soldiers with an IED Howard's gone in a landslide, which makes every month's wait an additional risk.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Vidal writes like shit

Bought a remaindered copy of Gore Vidal's The Golden Age, and note that it doesn't seem to be said often enough that Gore Vidal writes damn nearly worse than Dan Brown. I skim through for the political snark, but how much easier it would be to take if he'd just do it straight and skip the attempt to write a novel.
The stretch and slip of the timeline in the conversations. Open at random. p.22.
Time one -
"Good evening, Mr. president." She felt for an instant that she should curtsy in the awesome presence [five lines description] Roosevelt removed his pince-nez,
Time two
worn, Eleanor had sighed, as a reminder of his political mentor, President Woodrow Wilson. "We hope Frankline won't make the same mistakes poor Mr. Wilson did."
"Such as going to war?" Caroline, like everyone else in the world, wanted to know what the president intended to do... [three lines expansion]

Time one again
"Caroline!" The resonant voice filled the room... 4 lines Tonight he was not wearing the braces. But then
Time three
he had always been at home with Caroline since they had first met twenty years earlier... (12 lines) unless the master politician was to run for a third term
Time four
"Nor will I run" he assured Caroline her first evening in the White House...
Time - hell, I don't know; one? Four?
But, so far, there was no shooting war, though she knew it was coming, and so she carefully answered his questions about the part of France where she lived...

He has all the style and grace of a chest of drawers falling downstairs. Which is odd, because he's a good essayist and a clear and graphic speaker. Why does he fall apart so totally as a novelist? I don't remember him being this bad earlier - in, say, Julian, though that does remind me that I read Julian in Thailand in 1964 and my memory for style probably doesn't cover forty years. Burr, Lincoln, that one about plato and confucious - were they this bad? I must re-dip.

Monday, July 02, 2007


It's hard to come to terms with the sheer size of a battle. Reading Churchill's Marlborough, on the battle of Blenheim; the front line covered some five and a half k, just about the distance I take the train in to work every morning. That's about twenty minutes by train, half an hour by taxi. And along that entire line there were enough people to put them a metre apart ten deep (they weren't actually in line ten deep, because of reserves and artillery and the like, but it could have been done if they'd wanted, say, to decide the thing by rugby scrum). Half the skill of the general must have been simply finding a place to put them.

No wonder it took Eugene a few hours to reach the right flank.

The polar opposite from 300, which not only cut the front down to 300 men - about 75 metres - but couldn't cope with that on-screen, never showing a front more than about 15 metres guarding a mountain pass that was more like the scale of a railway underpass.

Iraq v. transformers

Went to see Transformers (yes, I hate myself for it, but that's not the point I'm making).
After WOTW, it was surely obvious that the immediate reading of unprovoked-invasion-of-earth by technologically-more-advanced-civilization was the American invasion of Iraq (Tom Cruise as sunni rebel). Was that the reason why Transformers introduced, as an absolute distraction from its main hero group (clueless teens) a platoon of American soldiers to be seen fighting the bad robots at every opportunity - to take the curse off the analogy? Certainly when the robot helicopter was destroying the US base in Qatar I was cheering it on. What was the US doing forbidding overflights over a friendly sovereign nation in the first place?

Though the US military added another plot difficulty; the robot apparently destroyed the base without working up a sweat, but was unable shortly later to take out the platoon when it was sheltering in an Iraqi (or Quatari, I suppose)oasis. What use is a technologically-more-advanced-civilization that can't simply march over the top of a heavy machinegun? The tank that turned itself into a decepticon seemed to be less deadly as a decepticon than it had been as a tank.

I was slightly more forgiving later when you had a hundred-foot-tall megatron that couldn't outrun an out-of-condition teenager, because without that you wouldn't have had a plot.

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