Zimmer on brain-changing parasites

Good stuff from Zimmer:

You go for a swim, and you don’t even notice the tiny worm that burrows into your skin. It slips into a vein and surges along through the blood for a while. Eventually it leaves your blood vessels and starts creeping up your spinal cord. Creep creep creep, it goes, until it reaches your head. It curls up on the surface of your brain, forming a hard cyst. But it is not alone%u2013every time you’ve gone for swim, worms have slithered into you, and now there are thousands of cysts peppering your brain.

And they are all making drugs that are seeping into your neurons. These drugs are a bit like Prozac, except far more sophisticated. They target certain neurons in certain parts of the brain, altering your behavior surgically, without unwanted side effects.

You don’t know what’s happening to you. But in situations in which you’d expect to feel scared or stressed, you just want to race around. You whirl in circles, doing whatever is necessary to get the attention of the very thing that terrifies you. Thanks to your uncontrollable flailing, that terror finds you, and you are destroyed.

This is how I imagine you’d feel if you were a fish infected by a parasitic worm called Euhaplorchis californiensis.

Beethoven’s 9th, on his 238th

Beethoven showed up 238 years ago today. No one else, no one else …

My violin teacher used to tell me, “You paid for the whole bow; use all of it.” Those violinists aren’t wasting any bow money.

NB: earlier title said “Beethoven’s 7th, on his 238th”. I do know the difference! … but had begun to post the 7th and changed my mind but not my title.

Education chief Arne Duncan has his work cut out

The Washington Post, in a story fairly typical of other coverage, says that Obama’s pick for Secretary of Education will “reach out to unions, school reform gorups” and “bridge the divides among education advocates, teachers unions and civil rights groups over how to fix America’s school.” Or as another syndicated WaPo story put it, “Duncan is embraced by the teachers unions, which have been concerned about high-stakes testing and worry about merit pay being tied to test scores, as well as reformers, who favor charter schools and tougher standards.”

Apparently at least some from the teachers’-union end of this debate are offering an embrace not exactly friendly:

To portray Arne Duncan as anything other than a privatizer, union buster, and corporate stooge is to simply lie.

That’s George Schmidt, editor of Substance News, in an essay posted at Schools Matter.

Catalyst Chicago, which claims it offers “independent reporting on school reformi,” offers a rundown of Duncan’s track record as CEO of Chicago’s schools.

World of Warcraft — Obama hires where others fear to tread

I don’t play no stinkin’ video games, but this is odd enough to be interesting Boing Boing reports, in two different posts, that

a) Some employers are apparently discriminating against World of Warcraft players on the grounds that their heads are always within the WoW and not fully in this one (a stance that some WoW players agree with),


b) Obama is apparently NOT one of those employers, as he hired at least one WoW player — Kevin Werbach (aka Supernovan Jenkins to WoWers — to head his FCC transition team.

I’m not brave enough to speculate on what this means.

Technorati Tags:
World of Warcraft, Kevin Werbach

Sullivan on death of newspapers

Forgive if I’m obsessed with this death-of-journalism thing — Andrew Sullivan has a nice piece in the Times of London about dying newspapers. Like Surowiecki, he fears the loss of the deep reporting that newspapers are already doing less of, and for which so far we have no real replacement venue.

Stunning stat from the story: The Baltimore Sun, a pretty big and renowned paper (and the basis for The Wire) gets about 17.5 million page views a month. Sullivan’s blog at Atlantic gets 23 million:

The operation largely run out of my spare room reached many more online readers than some of the biggest and most loss-making papers in the country. The economics are remorseless: as news goes online, the economic model for papers cannot survive. If advertising follows page views, the game will shortly be over.

The terrifying problem is that a one-man blog cannot begin to do the necessary labour-intensive, skilled reporting that a good newspaper sponsors and pioneers. A world in which reporting becomes even more minimal and opinion gets even more vacuous and unending is not a healthy one for a democracy. Perhaps private philanthropists will step in and finance not-for-profit journalistic centres, where investigative and foreign reporting can be invested in and disseminated by blogs and online sites. Maybe reporter-bloggers will start rivalling opinion-mongers such as me and give the whole enterprise some substance. Maybe papers can slim down sufficiently to produce a luxury print issue and a viable online product. There’s always a hunger for news, after all.

Technorati Tags:
Andrew Sullivan, journalism

Tierney asks: Science or Garbage

A teacher in West Virginia rallied her students to fight to keep the right to recycle — presumably for the civic (and eco) learning experience. John Tierney argues she’s missing a better teaching opportunity:

If we want our children to be scientifically literate and get good jobs in the future, why are we spending precious hours in school teaching them to be garbage collectors?

That’s the question that occurred to me after reading about the second-graders in West Virginia who fought for the right to keep recycling trash even after it became so uneconomical that public officials tried to stop the program. As my colleague Kate Galbraith reports, their teacher was proud of them for all the time they spent campaigning to keep the recycling program alive.

My colleague Andy Revkin suggests that the West Virginia students might be learning something useful about the interplay of economics and ecology, but I fear they and their teacher have missed the lesson

Technorati Tags:
recycling, education, economics, John Tierney, TierneyLab

Did the shoe-thrower go doolally, or was he acting rationally?

I won’t replicate the Word-of-the-Day email every day, but this was too good not to pass on. “The Dingle duo are seriously concerned that Jasmine’s about to go doolally.”



adjective: Irrational, deranged, or insane.


After Deolali, a small town in western India. It’s about 100 miles from Mumbai with an unusual claim to fame. It’s where British soldiers who had completed their tour of duty were sent to await transportation home. It was a long wait — often many months — before they were to be picked up by ships to take them to England. Consequent boredom, and heat, turned many a soldier insane, and the word doolally was coined. At least that’s the story.

More likely, soldiers who were going soft in the head were sent to the sanatorium there. At first the term was used in the form “He’s got the Doo-lally tap”, from Sanskrit tapa (heat) meaning one has caught doolally fever but now it’s mostly heard as in “to go doolally”. In Australia, they say “Calm down, don’t do your lolly”.

The Dingle duo are seriously concerned that Jasmine’s about to go doolally.”
Mike Ward; What’s Hot to Watch Today; Daily Star (UK); Dec 5, 2008.

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Lost news, who loses, and the end of the world

James Surowiecki gives us the bad news and the bad news about newspapers. After noting that ad revenue dropped 18 percent in the third quarter alone, he gets on to causes and ultimate effects:

People don’t use the Times less than they did a decade ago. They use it more. The difference is that today they don’t have to pay for it. The real problem for newspapers, in other words, isn’t the Internet; it’s us. We want access to everything, we want it now, and we want it for free. That’s a consumer’s dream, but eventually it’s going to collide with reality: if newspapers’ profits vanish, so will their product….

For a while now, readers have had the best of both worlds: all the benefits of the old, high-profit regime—intensive reporting, experienced editors, and so on—and the low costs of the new one. But that situation can’t last. Soon enough, we’re going to start getting what we pay for, and we may find out just how little that is.

Crows & vending machines

How did I miss this for 24 hours? From the Times Magazine’s 8th Annual Year in Ideas issue – Vending Machine for Crows:

In June, Josh Klein revealed his master’s-thesis project to a flock of crows at the Binghamton Zoo in south-central New York State. The New York University graduate student offered the birds coins and peanuts from a dish attached to a vending machine he’d created, then took the peanuts away. Klein designed the machine so that when the crows searched for the missing peanuts, they pushed the coins out of a dish into a slot, causing more peanuts to be released into the dish. The Binghamton crows quickly learned that dropping nickels and dimes into the slot produced peanuts, and the most resourceful members of the flock began looking for more coins. Within a month, Klein had a flock of crows scouring the ground for loose change.