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Neoliberal Swill

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Good. Less competition, less exploitation. The H1B program is how many companies get away with paying $50K a year or less for jobs that should pay $100K+, and it keeps many workers trapped (they can’t move elsewhere easily or at all).

Seeing all this neoliberal swill in the guise of being anti-Trump is pretty disgusting. I’ve lost respect for so many people over the last few years despite how much I despise Trump myself.

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sarcozona
16 hours ago
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except they're still employed by the US companies through these weird secondary companies if they're small and Canadian offices if they're large and all the tax benefits go to Canada and the workers are getting paid EVEN LESS because of the relative weakness of the Canadian $.

Gotta make some big changes to NAFTA/USMCA to stop that.
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The Privatization of Hope

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Ronald Aronson in the Boston Review:

Hope is being privatized. Throughout the world, but especially in the United States and the United Kingdom, a seismic shift is underway, displacing aspirations and responsibilities from the larger society to our own individual universes. The detaching of personal expectations from the wider world transforms both.

The phenomenon is usually described as “individualization” resulting from broad trends of social evolution, leading as Thomas Edsall described it in the New York Times, to “an inexorable pressure on individuals to, in effect, fly solo.” This suggests that the individualized society is a normal phase of historical development. However, the privatization of hope is a more compelling framework by which to understand this moment. It refers to political, economic, and ideological projects of the past two generations, including the deliberate construction of the consumer economy and then the turn toward neoliberalism. We have not lost all hope over the past generation; there is a maddening profusion of personal hopes. Under attack has been the kind of hope that is social, the motivation behind movements to make the world freer, more equal, more democratic, and more livable.

Not only does this privatization weaken collective capacities to solve collective problems, but it also deadens the very sense that collectivity can or should exist, as the commons dissolves and social sources of problems become hidden.

More here.

The post The Privatization of Hope appeared first on 3 Quarks Daily.

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sarcozona
1 day ago
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“Ways To Hide In Winter” by Sarah St. Vincent

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A deeply meditative book, filled with the cold silence of winter and the slowly thawing emotions of rage and compassion of a woman who has been abused and traumatised.

From the start, “How To Hide In Winter” is strong on atmosphere: isolated – cold – damaged and with more damage to come – a history like a shadow beneath the ice on the lake.

The story is told through the eyes Kathleen, a young woman working alone in the only store still open in the National Park on the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania in the depths of winter. She spends most of her day alone, reading and thinking.

Then “The Stranger” arrives, a lone Uzbekistani man, not dressed for winter, not sure of where he is or why.

She’s trying to pretend she doesn’t limp and isn’t in pain from her injuries. He’s scrupulously polite and unaggressive, trying hard to be invisible. Both of them are tantalisingly unexplained.

What follows is a powerful, beautifully written, deeply thoughtful novel that tackles raw emotions and complicated ideas without ever becoming dry or self-consciously literary.

On the surface, “Ways To Hide In Winter” could be seen as one of those woman-with-dark-secrets-in-her-past thrillers. If that’s what you’re looking for, this book will disappoint you. It’s not a thriller nor a simple narrative about discovering the dark secrets in the pasts of the two main characters. It’s a deeply meditative book, filled with the cold silence of winter and the slowly thawing emotions of rage and compassion of a woman who has been abused and traumatised.

Winter is central to the feel of this book. The physical winter in the Appalachians in Pennsylvania is almost a character in its own right: bleak but beautiful, familiar but deadly, ubiquitous and inescapable. It is also an extended metaphor for the emotional state of the two main characters, each with their own story of abuse, betrayal, secret shame and physical and emotional trauma that have left them scarred, isolated and trying to hide from their futures as much as from their pasts.

Like water beneath the layer of ice on the lake, Kathleen’s emotions run deep, slow and cold. Her rage is fierce but struggling to find expression. It is the fevered heat experienced by the hypothermic as they struggle to survive the cold.

She is consumed with a quiet, barely contained rage. She rages at how her community is treated by the government:

 “They sold us pain and said it was fine… They had such contempt for us, and they thought we didn’t see it. Just because we lived where we lived and were who we were.”

Rage at those in power, in Uzbekistan and in the US, who use torture, pain and humiliation to punish their enemies.

Rage at her recently deceased, violently abusive husband. Rage at all those who failed her: her parents, her priest, herself.

There is the possibility of hope, of support from her best friend and from men who are interested in her but she finds hope hard to trust, partly because she is not sure that she deserves it.

There is guilt and shame: her addiction to painkillers, her belief that everyone holds her accountable for her husband’s death. There is responsibility for her sick grandmother. And there is, eventually, compassion, initially for The Stranger and finally for herself as she slowly and careful consideration of what a person deserves.

The Stranger gives Kathleen another focus, someone as damaged and as vulnerable than she is. Someone quiet and indirect who may have done shameful things but who shows her only gentleness. Someone who makes her think about what living means. Through her contact with him, she starts to understand that by continuing to hide she is refusing to live. Staying where she is just a slower death, not survival.

The language is simple, beautiful and powerful. The pace is slow but in a way that builds tension, grabs attention and makes you focus on what’s really happening. It demonstrates a nuanced understanding of abuse and powerlessness and their impact on identity and will.

The ending of the book doesn’t offer any easy solutions. It seems to say that we all of us go through more than one winter. We move between light and dark. Perhaps being alive is about keeping moving. Perhaps compassion for others can help thaw our personal winters. Perhaps compassion just mitigates our guilt. Perhaps staying hidden is unsustainable because it is an extended act of abnegation.

“Ways To Hide in Winter” is Sarah St, Vincent’s first novel. I’ll definitely be reading her second.

I listened to the audiobook version which was performed brilliantly by Sarah Mollo-Christensen. To hear a sample of her performance, click on the SoundCloud link below.

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sarcozona
2 days ago
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How post-hoc power calculation is like a shit sandwich

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Damn. This story makes me so frustrated I can’t even laugh. I can only cry.

Here’s the background. A few months ago, Aleksi Reito (who sent me the adorable picture above) pointed me to a short article by Yanik Bababekov, Sahael Stapleton, Jessica Mueller, Zhi Fong, and David Chang in Annals of Surgery, “A Proposal to Mitigate the Consequences of Type 2 Error in Surgical Science,” which contained some reasonable ideas but also made a common and important statistical mistake.

I was bothered to see this mistake in an influential publication. Instead of blogging it, this time I decided to write a letter to the journal, which they pretty much published as is.

My letter went like this:

An article recently published in the Annals of Surgery states: “as 80% power is difficult to achieve in surgical studies, we argue that the CONSORT and STROBE guidelines should be modified to include the disclosure of power—even if <80%---with the given sample size and effect size observed in that study”. This would be a bad idea. The problem is that the (estimated) effect size observed in a study is noisy, especially so in the sorts of studies discussed by the authors. Using estimated effect size can give a terrible estimate of power, and in many cases can lead to drastic overestimates of power . . . The problem is well known in the statistical and medical literatures . . . That said, I agree with much of the content of [Bababekov et al.] . . . I appreciate the concerns of [Bababekov et al.] and I agree with their goals and general recommendations, including their conclusion that “we need to begin to convey the uncertainty associated with our studies so that patients and providers can be empowered to make appropriate decisions.” There is just a problem with their recommendation to calculate power using observed effect sizes.

I was surgically precise, focusing on the specific technical error in their paper and separating this from their other recommendations.

And the letter was published, with no hassle! Not at all like my frustrating experience with the American Sociological Review.

So I thought the story was over.

But then my blissful slumber was interrupted when I received another email from Reito, pointing to a response in that same journal by Bababekov and Chang to my letter and others. Bababekov and Chang write:

We are greatly appreciative of the commentaries regarding our recent editorial . . .

So far, so good! But then:

We respectfully disagree that it is wrong to report post hoc power in the surgical literature. We fully understand that P value and post hoc power based on observed effect size are mathematically redundant; however, we would point out that being redundant is not the same as being incorrect. . . . We also respectfully disagree that knowing the power after the fact is not useful in surgical science.

No! My problem is not that their recommended post-hoc power calculations are “mathematically redundant”; my problem is that their recommended calculations will give wrong answers because they are based on extremely noisy estimates of effect size. To put it in statistical terms, their recommended method has bad frequency properties.

I completely agree with the authors that “knowing the power after the fact” can be useful, both in designing future studies and in interpreting existing results. John Carlin and I discuss this in our paper. But the authors’ recommended procedure of taking a noisy estimate and plugging it into a formula does not give us “the power”; it gives us a very noisy estimate of the power. Not the same thing at all.

Here’s an example. Suppose you have 200 patients: 100 treated and 100 control, and post-operative survival is 94 for the treated group and 90 for the controls. Then the raw estimated treatment effect is 0.04 with standard error sqrt(0.94*0.06/100 + 0.90*0.10/100) = 0.04. The estimate is just one s.e. away from zero, hence not statistically significant. And the crudely estimated post-hoc power, using the normal distribution, is approximately 16% (the probability of observing an estimate at least 2 standard errors away from zero, conditional on the true parameter value being 1 standard error away from zero). But that’s a noisy, noisy estimate! Consider that effect sizes consistent with these data could be anywhere from -0.04 to +0.12 (roughly), hence absolute effect sizes could be roughly between 0 and 3 standard errors away fro zero, corresponding to power being somewhere between 5% (if the true population effect size happened to be zero) and 97.5% (if the true effect size were three standard errors from zero). That’s what I call noisy.

Here’s an analogy that might help. Suppose someone offers me a shit sandwich. I’m not gonna want to eat it. My problem is not that it’s a sandwich, it’s that it’s filled with shit. Give me a sandwich with something edible inside; then we can talk.

I’m not saying that the approach that Carlin and I recommend—performing design analysis using substantively-based effect size estimates—is trivial to implement. As Bababekov and Chang write in their letter, “it would be difficult to adapt previously reported effect sizes to comparative research involving a surgical innovation that has never been tested.”

Fair enough. It’s not easy, and it requires assumptions. But that’s the way it works: if you want to make a statement about power of a study, you need to make some assumption about effect size. Make your assumption clearly, and go from there. Bababekov and Chang write: “As such, if we want to encourage the reporting of power, then we are obliged to use observed effect size in a post hoc fashion.” No, no, and no. You are not obliged to use a super-noisy estimate. You were allowed to use scientific judgment when performing that power analysis you wrote for your grant proposal, before doing the study, and you’re allowed to use scientific judgment when doing your design analysis, after doing the study.

The whole thing is so frustrating.

Look. I can’t get mad at the authors of this article. They’re doing their best, and they have some good points to make. They’re completely right that authors and researchers should not “misinterpret P > 0.05 to mean comparison groups are equivalent or ‘not different.'” This is an important point that’s not well understood; indeed my colleagues and I recently wrote a whole paper on the topic, actually in the context of a surgical example. Statistics is hard. The authors of this paper are surgeons and health policy researchers, not statisticians. I’m a statistician and I don’t know anything about surgery; no reason to expect these two surgeons to know anything about statistics. But, it’s still frustrating.

P.S. After writing the above post a few months ago, I submitted it (without some features such as the “shit sandwich” line) as a letter to the editor of the journal. To its credit, the journal is publishing the letter. So that’s good.

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sarcozona
2 days ago
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The Largest Mistletoe

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Nuytsia_floribunda_flowers_Dec_2014_02.jpg

When we think of mistletoes, we generally think about those epiphytic parasites living on branches way up in the canopy. The mistletoe we are discussing in this post, however, is a decent sized tree. Nuytsia floribunda is a native of western Australia where it is known locally as moojar or the Christmas tree. To the best of our knowledge, it is the largest mistletoe known to science.

Nuytsia floribunda is a member of the so-called showy mistletoe family (Loranthaceae). It along with all of its mistletoe cousins reside in the order Santalales but from a phylogenetic standpoint, the family Loranthaceae is considered sister to all other mistletoes. This has excited my botanists as it allows us a chance to better understand how parasitism may have evolved in this group as a whole.

Speaking of parasitism, there are some incredible things going on with N. floribunda that are worth talking about. For starters, it is not fully parasitic but rather hemiparasitic. As you can tell by looking at the tree decked out in a full canopy of leaves, N. floribunda is entirely capable of photosynthesizing on its own. In fact, experts feel that it is fully capable of meeting all of its own carbohydrate needs. Instead, it parasitizes other plants in order to acquire water and minerals. How it manages this is remarkable to say the least.

Nuytsia floribunda is a root parasite. Its own roots fan out into the surrounding soil looking for other roots to parasitize. Amazingly, exploratory roots of individual N. floribunda have been found upwards of 110 meters (360 ft.) or more away from the tree. When N. floribunda do find a suitable host root, something incredible happens. It begins to form specialized roots called “haustoria”, which to form a collar-like structure around the host’s roots.

Whole haustoria of Nuytsia (white [ha]) and host root (dark brown). * indicates `gland' and developing `cutting device.

Whole haustoria of Nuytsia (white [ha]) and host root (dark brown). * indicates `gland' and developing `cutting device.

The collar gradually swells and a small horn forms on the inside of the haustoria. Swelling of the haustoria is the result of an influx of water and as the pressure around the host root builds, the haustorial horn of N. floribunda physically cuts into its victim. Once this cut is formed, the haustoria form balloon-like outgrowths which intrude into the xylem tissues of the host root, thus forming the connection that allows N. floribunda to start stealing the water and minerals it needs.

Even more amazing is the fact that roots aren’t the only thing that N. floribunda will attempt to exploit. Many inanimate objects have been found wrapped up in a haustorial embrace including dead twigs, rocks, fertilizer granuals, and even electric cables! Its non-selective parasitic nature appears to have left it open to exploring other, albeit dead end options. I don’t want to paint the picture that this tree as the enemy of surrounding vegetation. It is worth noting that N. floribunda extracts very little from any given host so its impact is spread out among the surrounding vegetation, making its overall impact on host plants minimal most of the time.

Nuytsia_floribunda_-_Flickr_-_Kevin_Thiele.jpg

Provided its needs have been met, N. floribunda puts on one heck of a show around December. In fact, the timing of its blooms is the reason it earned the common name of Christmas tree. Flowering for this species is not a modest affair. Each tree is capable of producing multiple meter-long inflorescences decked out in sprays of bright orange to yellow flowers. The flowers themselves produce copious amounts of pollen and nectar, making it an important food source for resident pollinators. Though many different species have been documented visiting the flowers, it is thought that beetles and wasps are the most effective at pollination.

Seed dispersal for N. floribunda is mainly via wind. Each fruit is adorned with three prominent wings. After they detach from the tree, the fruits usually break apart into three samaras, each with its own wing. The key for success of any propagule is ending up in a site suitable for germination. According to some, this can be a bit tricky and attempts at cultivating this plant in captivity have not been terribly successful. It would seem that nature knows best when it comes to reproductive success in N. floribunda. It may be worth trying to figure it out though because recent evidence suggests that this species is not faring well with human development. As the surrounding landscapes of western Australia become more and more urbanized, plants like N. floribunda seem to be on the decline. Perhaps renewed interest in growing this species could change the tide for it as well as others.

Nuytsia_floribunda_-_The_Australian_Mistletoe.jpg

Photo Credits: [1] [2] [3] [4] [5]

Further Reading: [1] [2] [3] [4]

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sarcozona
3 days ago
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I love this blog so much
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Mystical: Photos by Neil Burnell

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Eerie and fairytale-like photos of Wistman’s Wood in Dartmoor, Devon, England captured by British photographer Neil Burnell. The wood has been the inspiration for numerous artists, poets, photographers, and writers often describing the location as haunted due to its tangled web of trees, moss-carpeted boulders, finger-like oak branches and thick layer of fog/mist, which adds to the mystical atmosphere. As described by Tim Sandles at legendarydartmoor.co.uk:
For millennia this small, mystical, stunted woodland has been held in awe and for many fear. Tales of Druids, ghosts, the Devil and a host of other supernatural creatures abound, some dating back to the long lost ages before man could write. Many writers have described the wood as being “the most haunted place on Dartmoor”, others warn that every rocky crevice is filled with writhing adders who spawn their young amidst the moss and leaf-strewn tree roots. Locals will never venture near once the sun begins its slow descent over the nearby granite outcrops for it is when the dark mantle of night draws tight that the heinous denizens of the wood stalk the moor in search of their human victims. So be afraid, very afraid, as the wagging finger of fate warns you to stay clear and risk not your mortal soul in the ‘Wood of the Wisemen’. 
See more of Neil Burnell's work on Behance or at his website.
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sarcozona
3 days ago
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