Category Archives: Social issues ( be civil ! )

Where are the native Americans ?

When I practiced neurology in Montana in the 70’s and 80’s I would have received some very strange looks from my Crow or Cheyenne patients if I called them ‘native Americans’.  They called themselves Indians and everyone else did too.  Clearly the definition has changed, so it may be OK if I change it again to mean someone who was born in the USA rather than abroad (like my two grandchildren born in Hong Kong).

I sometimes eat breakfast with an electrical engineering prof at the local diner.  I was interested in whether applications to grad school had fallen off.  He said they had.  I assumed that the fall off  was from the middle east, but he said his students were mostly from China and India.  Then he went on and said that Americans (by which I mean native Americans) simply weren’t going for higher degrees in engineering. This was completely different (in Chemistry at least) back in the early 60s.  Our whole cohort was US born and bred, except for one Sikh.  The postDocs were from all over — Scotland, Japan, India (particularly Sikh’s).


Well nearly 60 years is a long time, so I asked a family member EE PhD about it.  Here’s what he said

“I don’t have statistics from Berkeley grad school 1975-80, when I was there, but it certainly seemed like U.S.-born grad students were a minority — and a small one — in the EECS department.

One of the issues here is that in many cultures around the world, especially in developing countries, engineers sit at or near the top of the socio-economic heap. So bright students outside the U.S. want to become engineers while bright U.S.-born students want to become medical doctors and lawyers. I’ve heard various comments about this over the years from my foreign colleagues. They find it amusing that medical doctors and lawyers are so venerated here in the U.S.”
It is remarkable that there had been such a change in 15 years.  Granted that the engineers were mostly at MIT, most of the people I knew there in the 60s were American born.
So yesterday at Harvard Graduate Alumni Day, I asked for the (rough) percentage of foreign born grad students (in everything) and was told it was about 1/3.  Also that their applications were up.
This is good for Harvard, but if what is going on at the local State University is typical of the rest of the country it does not bode well for us. Back in the day, a friend said that the universal scientific language was broken English.  Of the 7 Nobels of the Harvard Chemistry department since the 60s, three (Bloch, Hoffmann, Karplus) were born abroad and got out because they were Jewish.  One hid in an attic for 18 months as a child.

An unhappy anniversary

The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the xxxx’s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate.

Pretty serious stuff.  Written 50 years ago, “The Population Bomb” by Paul Ehrlich had enormous impact.  However the xxxx elision concerned the 1970s.

4 years later The Club of Rome released the following broadside, “The Limits to Growth”Here is a direct quote from the jacket flap.

“Will this be the world that your grandchildren with thank you for? A world where industrial production has sunk to zero. Where population has suffered a catastrophic decline. Where the air, sea and land are polluted beyond redemption. Where civilization is a distant memory. This is the world that the computer forecasts. What is even more alarming, the collapse will not come gradually, but with awsome suddenness, with no way of stopping it”

This sort of stuff is why the elderly (such as myself who will turn 80 this month) gradually become more and more cynical.   Unfortunately, over half the people alive today have no memories of these two debacles.  If you want to read more on this buy a book by a Yale Professor, Paul Sabin called “The Bet” concerning the intellectual conflict between Paul Ehrlich — he of the population bomb and Julian Simon. Ehrlich said we’d run out of just about everything shortly (presumably because of too many people), so economist Simon bet him that we wouldn’t. The intellectual war began in earnest in the 80’s and dragged on for a decade or so. I recommend the book and I think it really does capture the flavor of the times and the debate.  In it you will find John Holdren, Obama’s science advisor, also a devout malthusian, although with a degree in physics.

The current barrage over global warming seems to be diminishing.  Particularly damning is the failure of the models to predict the absence of any change in global temperature for 17 years.  I tried not to be turned off by the similarly apocalyptic and Old Testament Prophetic tone of the proponents.  But any scientific theory to  be any good (aside from Evolution, and String theory) must make testable predictions, and those about climate have consistently failed for 20 years.

Res ipsa loquitur

I received the following Email from today.  It is such a parody of political correctness gone mad that it might be fake news.  If so I’ll retract it.

Here it is unedited.

THE COLLEGE’S policy to sanction members of unrecognized single-gender social organizations (USGSOs) won’t require that students make an oath-like affirmation that they don’t belong to such clubs. That controversial measure had originally been recommended in a March 2017 report to College dean Rakesh Khurana by a committee examining implementation. Dean of students Katie O’Dair, whose office is tasked with enforcing the policy, announced the implementation plan in an email to College students this morning; the Office of Student Life (OSL) has created a website with details.

The policy, as previously reported, prohibits students who have belonged to single-gender social organizations (including final clubs and Greek organizations) within the previous year from receiving College endorsement for fellowships, or holding leadership positions in recognized student organizations or athletic teams. It applies to students matriculating in the fall of 2017 (current freshmen) or later. The Harvard Corporation voted to retain the sanctions in December, after a year and a half of intense debate across the Harvard community that included concerns over gender equality, students’ freedom of association, and faculty governance of the College.

OSL appears to have created a less punitive plan than what was recommended by last year’s implementation committee, in response, presumably, to widespread criticism of the recommendation that students make an oath-like affirmation of their compliance with the policy. “We are approaching this with trust, honesty, and transparency,” O’Dair said in an interview. “What we did not accept is any pledge or affirmation by students.”

“We are not going to take any efforts to go find students” in violation of the policy, she added. Instead, it will be enforced similarly to other misconduct issues (such as the alcohol policy), which generally prompt a disciplinary process only when violations have escalated enough to be brought to the administration. The College also won’t accept anonymous reports of policy violations.

The policy will be added to the Handbook for Students, which means that it will have to come before the faculty for discussion and debate (prior ambiguity about whether the faculty could debate the language was a point of contention last year).

The sanctions will affect all fellowships administered by the Office of Undergraduate Research and Fellowships: not just top fellowships like the Rhodes and Marshall scholarships, but also Harvard-specific programs like the Harvard-Cambridge Scholarship. Student groups affected will include official student organizations, pre-orientation programs, Phillips Brooks House Association programs, and athletic teams. The policy won’t affect members of The Harvard Crimson or the Undergraduate Council (the implementation committee had recommended these organizations be included, which Khurana did not accept because of their independent nature).

OSL is working with some single-gender social groups, including male and female final clubs, to become gender-inclusive. Such groups are “on the path to compliance,” associate dean of student engagement Alexander Miller said, and membership in those entities will not be sanctioned. Throughout the spring and summer, OSL will develop criteria for such groups to be considered compliant with College regulations for recognized student organizations. (Last year’s implementation committee recommended, for example, that they be required to publicly list their demographic makeup). It’s still unclear what will be required, and depending on what the final plan looks like, members of a group that becomes co-ed but doesn’t want to become recognized by the College in any official capacity (for example, to avoid regulation) may still be subject to sanctions.

“We feel very positive about the impact of this policy on campus,” O’Dair said. “Certainly there will be groups that want to continue, as is their choice, to be single-gender-focused, and all we would ask is they inform their prospective members in their recruitment of the policy.”

OSL will also create a framework for governing social groups, envisioned as a new category of recognized student organizations. “When you bring to campus social organizations that are fully around the idea of socializing, there are things that I would have to think about from where I sit that I wouldn’t have to think about with the math club,” Miller explained. “There’s a lot of liability when you throw a bunch of College students in a room to socialize.”

Violations “will be reviewed via the College’s usual processes for addressing concerns about community standards,” the policy states. “As described in the Handbook, issues relating to social misconduct are reviewed by the Administrative Board, while concerns related to academic integrity and the Honor Code are reviewed by the Honor Council.” The expectation is that violations will be heard by the Ad Board (and not the Honor Council, which was created expressly to investigate violations of academic conduct); the dean of the College will determine the appropriate adjudicating organization if questions about jurisdiction arise.

Although the implementation committee recommended a five-year “bridge period” to give women’s organizations extra time to transition to gender-inclusive membership, OSL has not adopted that recommendation. Instead, OSL will provide “dedicated support” to women’s organizations that want to transition to gender-inclusive membership. “[W]e welcome all organizations, and especially those whose membership is currently restricted to women, to partner with us,” the policy states. “Heidi Wickersham, Program Manager at the Harvard College Women’s Center, and staff members in the Office of Student Life will jointly partner with groups wishing to transition from having a women’s exclusive membership while maintaining a women’s-focused mission.”  ”

The same issue (May June) has an article title “The Mirage of Knowledge” with subtitle “Tom Nichols dissects the dangerous antipathy to expertise”.  They actually wonder why. Harvard has harnessed its expertise to find the single perfect, true and good form of social organization and be damned if you don’t like it.

In a way Harvard is returning to their Puritan antecedents.  Look what they did to Roger Williams. Here’s a bit from the Wikipedia entry – — “Williams was expelled by the Puritan leaders from the Massachusetts Bay Colony for spreading “new and dangerous ideas”, and he began settling the Providence Plantations as a refuge offering what he called “liberty of conscience” in 1636. In 1638, he founded the First Baptist Church in America, also known as the First Baptist Church of Providence.”

The old social tropes keep coming back.  What else but the Salem witch trials could the treatment of the Amirault’s be? —

Hillary Clinton’s latest health event

On a recent trip to India Hillary clearly had difficulty placing her left foot and nearly fell down a set of stairs twice.  You can watch the video on the following website  Please ignore all the snarkiness of the commentary and just look at the video over and over.  She comes out of an old building and starts going down some worn stone steps linking her left arm into that of a large man.  Stop the video when she begins to fall and notice how she placed her left foot.  Fortunately you can go back and forth as many times as you wish.  It clearly wasn’t where it should have been. The same thing happened with her second near fall.  Then watch the way she places her left leg as she walks to the car.  It’s as though she doesn’t really know where it is.

This all fits with my opinion that she suffered a stroke in December of 2012.  The press bought what I thought was a rather hokey explanation that it was traumatic in origin.  At any rate we do know that she had a blood clot in a vein and had double vision lasting for several weeks.  You can read the reasoning behind this here —

Then during the campaign in 2016 at an event to commemorate 9/11 she fainted.  The press cast this as a stumble, but I don’t think it was. Once again you have a video of the event with a link to it in a post about the event —  As Richard Pryor famously said when his wife caught him with another woman. He denies anything is going on, and asks his wife, “Who you gonna believe, me or your lying eyes?”

So what does this retired neurologist and former board examiner think is going on?  Given the little released about her health there are many possibilities.  Statistically people who have had one stroke have around a 6% chance of another one in a given year (each and every year).  Given the way she didn’t seem to know where her left foot was, a stroke in the right parietal region is a possibility.

It is clear that the original area of neurologic deficit in 2012 – 13 was in the brainstem, as it affect the nerves to her eyes.  This is an area intimately involved in coordination, but (fortunately) not in thinking.  So she may have suffered a further stroke in this area.  We don’t know if she’s still taking a blood thinner.

She did look pretty frail, and it’s fortunate for her health that she doesn’t have the stresses of the presidency to deal with.

Addendum 14 March: Apparently she tripped/fell/passed out while on a tour in England breaking a toe 6 months ago

You don’t have to go to medical school or take a neurology residency to know that a 70 year old woman with 4 neurological events in the past 5 years and 3 months is not in good shape.

Addendum 15 March: Unfortunately she’s had another fall, resulting in a fractured wrist since the episode on the stairs. Here’s the report —

It all adds up to a significant neurological problem with balance.

Who will Jerry Gardner be rooting for ?

The University of Pennsylvania just beat Harvard to become Ivy league champions.  Their reward?  They get to play the top seed (Kansas) in March Madness. A medical school classmate  at Penn (Jerry Gardner) was an all American from Kansas in 1962. He played semipro ball to help pay his way through med school. It was awe inspiring to be in a pickup BBall game with him.

I wonder who he’s going to root for come March 15th.

Jerry had a brilliant career. Here are a few things he did — Former Chief Digestive Diseases Branch, NIH. Held 1st IND for Omeprazole. Conducted clinical studies with PPIs and H2RAs. Analyzed gastric and esophageal pH recordings ….

Here’s a link to what Jerry is doing now —

In addition to being very smart Jerry’s  a very nice guy.

One story from our 50th medical school reunion.  Jerry was still quite trim, but using a cane as he’d just had a hip replacement.  He noted that the rules had changed, and that he still had a year of eligibility left if his hip continued to improve.


This is not a scientific post, but if you’ve ever had a pregnancy appear to go on forever, you might like the following. While waiting for delivery, the mother of our fourth grandchild to be grew impatient.  So I wrote the following 3 doggerels in 3 days.  I’ve been asked to stop.

Doggerel #1 – grandson’s name is Dashiell
Twas’ the night before labor
and all through the house
not a creature was stirring
not even a spouse

The supphose was hung by the chimney with care
In hopes that whatshisname would soon be there

Dashiell was nestled all snug in his bed
His grandparents were crazy in the head

His mother was being driven to distraction 
by false alarm Braxton Hicks contractions

We leave them all now, waiting and watching
Hoping that at 3 AM a cab they’ll be catching
Doggerel #2
On the seventh day of waiting
my true love gave to me
not seven swans a-silking 
but 7 breast pumps a-milking

I’m so tired of waiting
I no longer think of mating 

On the sixth day of waiting
my true love gave to me

6 packs of nappies
no wonder I’m so crappy

On the third day of waiting 
my true love gave to me

3 pictures of me nursing
no wonder I am cursing

On the last day of waiting
my OB gave to me

an episiotomy

On the zeroth day of waiting
my love I gave to he

what every man deserves

a pregnancy !
Doggerel #3  — to be sung while marching to induce labor (due date 19 February 2018)
My mind has seen the glory of the clamping of the cord
He is trampling out my stomach where my organs were formerly stored 
He hath loosed the fateful labor of his mother because he’s bored
My feet are marching on
Glory, glory hallelujah
Glory, glory hallelujah
Glory, glory, hallelujah
My feet are marching on

Obstruction !

With apologies to West Side Story (and Maria)

Obstruction !

I’ve just found a meme called obstruction

And when you’re in a coup

Any meme will do

For you


Obstruction !

We’ve got a big problemo

Tomorrow they release the memo

What about Russia?

Kiss my tusha

It’s so last year.

We need something new

so Obstruction must do



Say it loud and the Times will run with it

The memo? Pray that people will miss it




How did it happen ?

This is not a scientific post.  How in the world was “Dr” Nassar able to sexually abuse so many and for so long. In high school I saw the same thing and said nothing. But this was 60+ years ago, in a small rural high school.

By small I mean 212 kids in 4 grades.  By rural I mean it was a 16 mile ride on the school bus from my house.  This meant that away basketball games meant rides on that bus as long as 70 miles, and never shorter than 20 for me. Our school was too small  to even support 6 man football, so basketball and baseball it was.

So the sports outlet was basketball, even for a prepubertal 14 year old entering high school at 5 feet tall.  I got pretty good at playing a small man’s game (mostly positioning and being where the ball would go next) and when I’d grown a foot by my senior year, I could outmaneuver most people my size and a few taller ones.

By my senior year I was on the staring five.

On the way back from games, there would be the basketball coach sitting near the driver, necking with one of the cheerleaders.  No one ever said anything about it.  I never discussed it with my parents, or even my friends.  Initially it seemed to be one more incomprehensible thing about the adult world.  The administration of the high school consisted of the principal and his secretary.  The world back then was that teachers were to be obeyed and respected.

So I can see how someone emerging into adolescence would be totally cowed by such events, not know what to do and remain silent.

I hadn’t thought about this for years, until the scandal at Michigan State.  So I wrote the older sister of one of my teammates about it — her initial response was —  “I am inNew Orleans at a funeral so more later.  But yes we all knew about XXXXXX and his sexual predations. More on that when I get home.”

Of course the girls would have talked about this.  I can’t wait to hear what she has to say.

Body Mass Index (BMI): mine, yours, and Trump’s

The ‘investigative press’ is quite concerned about President Trump’s height.  If he is 6 foot 3 and 239 pounds, he is overweight but not obese, if he is 6 foot 2 he is obese.  All this is a matter of definition by a single number — the body mass index (BMI).

So let’s all calm down and find out what ours actually is.  There is a website which will do it for you. Here’s the link — — have at it. You can use pounds feet and inches as well as kilograms and meters.

The current definition of obese is a BMI over 30, overweight between 25 and 30, and normal weight under 25.

Who cares?  Well, you should if BMI’s correlate with mortality and they do.

A great paper 5 years ago by Katherine Flegal analyzed nearly 3 million people with 270, 000 deaths reported in a variety of studies —

The problem is that the lowest mortality didn’t occur in those with normal weight (BMI < 25) but was lowest in the overweight group — not by much (6%), and second lowest in the mildly obese (BMI 30 – 35), over 35 it was 20% higher.

Naturally this did not sit well people who'd staked their research careers on telling people to lose weight.  There is a truly hilarious article describing a meeting at Harvard discussing the paper.  Here's a link   It's worth reading in its entirety, particularly for a graph it contains.

One study by a Harvard guy removed 900,000 people from the study leading to the following great comment — “It's hard to argue with data,” says Robert Eckel, an endocrinologist at University of Colorado in Denver. “We're scientists. We pay attention to data, we don't try to un-explain them.”

The Nature paper contains a terrific graph from the following paper — Source: Childers, D.K. & Allison, D.B. Int. J. obesity 34, 1231–1238 (2010).

Look at it carefully.  Mortality vs. BMI is plotted in several curves one for people between 20 – 30, one for 30 – 40, etc. etc.  Under 50 the best BMI to have in terms of mortality is under 25, but over 50 it rises, so that at 70 the low point is around 27 (in the overweight range) and not far from Trump at 6' 3" (29.9) or even at 6' 2" (30.7).

In a way this data fits with the fact that for a long time Americans were getting fatter and fatter, yet living longer and longer.  For details see —

Why should the best BMI for you to have rise after age 50?  I've not seen this explanation anywhere else.

The BMI is far from perfect, but to calculate it all you need are two simple measurements that anyone can make — height and weight. It doesn't rely on what people remember.  However the calculation is not a simple ratio of weight divided by height but weight divided by height squared.

People lose height as they age, so the BMI is quite sensitive to it (remember the denominator has height squared).  Well as a high school basketball player my height was 6′ 1”+, now (at age 75) its 6’0″ (God knows what it is several years later). So even with constant weight my BMI goes up.

Well it’s time to do the calculation to see what a fairly common shrinkage from 73.5 inches to 72 would to to the BMI (at a constant weight). Surprisingly it is not trivial — (72/73.5) * (72/73.5) = .9596. So the divisor is 4% less meaning the BMI is 4% more, which is almost exactly what the low point on the curve does with each passing decade after 50 ! ! ! This might even be an original observation, and it would explain a lot.

As long as I’m on the subject of the ‘investigative press’  here is how they glossed over Hillary’s fainting spell during the presidential campaign, calling it a stumble.  Remarkable discipline that they all used the same word.  So take their worries about Trump’s weight with a grain of salt.

“Like the Michigan poll I started out with, most of the latest campaign surveys were carried out during last weekend and earlier this week, when the news was dominated by Clinton’s stumble outside Ground Zero, which prompted the campaign to reveal that she had pneumonia.” John Cassiday New Yorker

“For Orient—and the many media organizations that have recently been circulating her work—Clinton’s stumble looked like proof that they were right.” Wired —

The Boston Globe had a similar echo of the meme that all Hillary did when leaving the 9/11 ceremony was stumble.

As Richard Pryor famously said when his wife caught him with another woman. He denies anything is going on, and asks his wife, “Who you gonna believe, me or your lying eyes?”

See for yourself —


Merry Christmas

From a friend to me.  Enjoy ! Back in business after the New Year. She’s 7.