Pseudo-science at the Olympics

BBC has a news story up called Why are so many Olympians covered in large red circles?, about the appearance of Olympic athletes with perfect circular red marks on their bodies.

I saw the pictures, and thought “Cupping? Surely it can’t be!”

Unfortunately I was wrong, and it seems like the pseudo-science of cupping has now become a fad among Olympians

The mark of an Olympic athlete, at least at Rio 2016, seems to be a scattering of perfectly round bruises. Swimmers and gymnasts, particularly from Team USA, are among those seen sporting the mysterious dots.

No, not paintballing misadventures or love bites – they are the result of a practice known as “cupping”; an ancient therapy where heated cups are placed on the skin.

Cupping is a treatment from the medieval times (and earlier), where the causes for diseases were not understood, and it was believed to help treat a number of ailments. There is no scientific evidence for it being effective at treating anything.

The BBC writes:

The technique, which is a form of acupuncture, is done by lighting flammable liquid in a glass cup.

Once the flame goes out, the drop in temperature creates suction which sticks the cups to the body.

The suction pulls the skin away from the body and promotes blood flow – and leaves those red spots, which typically last for three or four days.

Of course, it doesn’t in any way or shape promote blood flow – that is an entirely undocumented claim. Those red spots are bruises.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that Olympic athletes are willing to try anything in order to win. But cupping?? What’s next, using leeches for bloodletting??

Edit: Orac has of course written a great blog post on cupping: What’s the harm? Cupping edition

More similarities

In response to my last blogpost, Dorte Toft (Danish blog) pointed out that Jonathan Bachman’s picture also had many visual similarities to the picture of Tess Asplund standing up against a neo-nazi march in Sweden. Look and compare.

Brave woman at Baton Rouge protest

 

Tess Asplund standing against neo-nazis

Note: there is a major difference between the two situations, in that the neo-Nazis in Sweden doesn’t represent the official Sweden,  but they are alike in the sense that the depict a woman standing up against injustice.

Bravery in the face of aggression

I suspect that you have all now seen this photo from Baton Rouge by Jonathan Bachman

Brave woman at Baton Rouge protest

 

This is a photo that probably will become iconic, showing a brave woman standing in the path of the police dressed for a riot. It looks like the photo is taken just before the two policemen uses force on her.

When looking at the photo, I can’t help seeing a parallel to another photo of someone standing still in the path of violence.

 

Tank man at Tiananmen Square

 

Many people will find the comparison between the use of tanks on Tiananmen Square and the use of police in Baton Rouge as over the top, but it is a valid comparison – the difference is just a matter of degree rather than of type.

It is awful quiet around here

Yes, I know, this blog has been pretty much missing in action for a month now. I apologize – that is no way to behave when you’ve just moved your blog.

The silence is mainly due to two facts:

  1. My home computer died on me. I was uninstalling some stuff, because I wanted to upgrade my OS to Windows 10, but somehow I managed to delete something important in the process, turning my computer non-functional.
  2. I have moved apartment. This last happened nearly 10 years ago, and I underestimated how much time and energy it would take.

I won’t promise daily blogposts any time soon, but I will try to write something a bit more often.

Labour politician killed in the UK

There are many ways to try to stop democracy, but one of the most effective, and worst, is to attack politicians that you don’t agree with. This is probably why this is one of the preferred methods in less than democratic countries. Unfortunately, it also happens it countries where democracy is well instituted.

We saw it when Gabrielle Giffords was attacked in the US.

Today, we saw another such case, this time in the UK, where member of parliament Jo Cox was shot and stabbed to death.

Little is known so far, but it appears that the assailant is connected to Britain First, a far-right group. Jo Cox was a member of the Labour Party.

It seems unlikely that the attack was planned by Britain First, but it is not entirely impossible, as they have in the past sought out confrontations and have ties to Ulster loyalists, who committed terrorism in Northern Ireland. Even if they didn’t plan the attack, Britain First has certainly created the environment where such violence could take place, and thus share part of the responsibility for the attack.

The Paranoid Style in American Politics, Trump edition

In November, 1964 Harper’s Magazine published Richard Hofstadter’s now-classic The Paranoid Style in American Politics which discusses how paranoia not only was, but has always been, a part of US politics, going back to the founding of the country.

The article is more than half a century old, but seems all to relevant for the current times.

Reading the article, it focuses on the paranoia that was around back then: anti-communism, and before that anti-masonry and anti-Catholism, but one can’t help think that one could just as well substitute with anti-immigrant, anti-LGBT, and anti-Muslim paranoia, and have a fitting description of the current political environment in the US, exemplified by the Tea Party and the Trump candidacy.

At a recent Trump rally, the paranoia showed itself fully:

Before Trump came on stage an announcer asked – as is customary at Trump rallies – that supporters identify any protesters to security and shout “Trump! Trump! Trump!” until the dissenters were removed.

There were protesters, and their presence was particularly obvious in the smaller, dimly lit venue. When security escorted them out through the emergency exits, the opened doors shot rays of sunlight across the theater.

The suspicion of protesters reached a point at which Trump supporters were informing on each other for not being “real” supporters. One woman pointed security toward a couple sitting quietly in their seats. “Them,” she mouthed.

The couple seemed baffled and denied to a security agent that they were anything but genuine Trump admirers. He waved them toward the exit and said, “Let’s go.”

Afterward the informer, who declined to give her name, grinned as onlookers congratulated her. “I heard one of them say ‘Never Trump’,” she said. “And one held up three fingers, like this.”

She held up her hand in a Boy Scout salute.

What did the three fingers signify?

“I have no idea,” she said.

It is easy to find it hilarious that Trump supporters are turning on each other, but let’s not forget that this is not a healthy political environment, since it allows people like Trump to move to the front.

I hope and believe that Trump will be soundly defeated by Hillary Clinton come the election, but I also think it is important to take a long, hard look at the situation that could allow Trump to become a candidate.

Hofstadter focuses a lot on McCarthyism in the article, and I think there are some very good parallels about how that was addressed and how one should address the GOP (Trump) base. McCarthyism failed for several reasons, but the most important seems to be the overreach, when Senator McCarthy took on the US army. Trump and his irk is likely to overreach in similar ways (e.g. Trump’s accusation that US soldiers stole money in Iraq) – when such episodes happens, it is important that the non-political parts of the establishment stand up against him, and denounce him.

In other words, they should shut him down, similar to how Joseph N. Welch shut down Senator McCarthy during the Army-McCarthy hearings with his famous “At long last, have you left no sense of decency?” reply.

Not that I believe they will have the chance to do so quite so effectively, but I’d believe that a rebuke from the leadership of the US military would carry some weight among certain parts of the GOP base. These people might stop up, and think about what was said, and step away a little away from the paranoid style, moving the country ever-so-slightly towards a more reasonable discourse.

Dear America, please make it stop

Back in 1996, I was traveling around the world with a friend.

As a result of this, I was in the Great Britain, when the Dunblane school massacre happened in Scotland, and in Australia when the Port Arthur massacre happened in Tasmania.

Both of these massacres shook the world, and especially the nations they happened in, leading to a huge public demand for a change of the gun laws. In Great Britain, this pretty much led to the private ownership of handguns becoming illegal. In Australia, it led to a complete overhaul of the gun laws.

The changes to Australian gun laws are well known, and it is also well known that there has been no mass shootings in Australia since then. What is less well know, is that in the years up to the massacre, there has been several mass shooting, but none with the number of victims as the Port Arthur massacre. So it took some time before the Australian public had had enough, and demanded something changed.

Last night, in the US, a gun man attacked a LGBTQ night club in Orlando, Florida, resulting in at least 50 dead.

This is the worst fatality from a mass shooting in the US, eclipsing the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and the Virginia Tech shooting in deadliness.

America, please let this be your Port Arthur massacre moment.

Ignore for now the possible motive of the killer, and focus instead on the tools used to kill.

Massacres in the US are generally done using legally bought weapons, and it seems likely that this is also the case in the Orlando shooting. The ready availability of legal guns, and the high number of massacres in the US are connected. If you remove the availability of guns, the number of massacres will drop. So, work on reducing the availability of guns.

In Australia, they both changed the laws and bought guns from their owners. Making it harder to get hold of guns both legally and illegally.

The US should do the same.

The 2nd Amendment, and the screwed up way that it has been interpreted by the US courts puts a barrier to sane gun laws, but amendments can be changed – even discarded. I think it is time for Americans to take a long, hard look at the 2nd Amendment, and either change it, so it applies to people in properly state-run militias, or even get rid of it all-together.

America, please wake up. Please don’t continue down the path where you are now, where mass shootings has become a near daily occurrence and only makes the news if there are several fatalities. Please don’t let us wake up to more tragic news like the ones from Orlando.

A young voice silenced forever

I just learned the horrible news that Christina Grimmie, talented singer and YouTube performer, has been shot and killed.

‘Voice’ singer Christina Grimmie shot, killed at concert

I have followed Christina Grimmie on her YouTube channel for years, and have enjoyed the music she has posted there,

It seemed like she was getting her big breakthrough, but then her life was cut short by someone with a gun.

There are no news about the motive of the gunman, but given the shooting took place just after a concert, and she was clearly the target, it might be an obsessed fan.

No matter the motive, Christina Grimmie has become a victim of the gun culture in the USA, which allows people to get easy access to guns.

Since school shootings haven’t been enough to change the US gun culture, I doubt this latest episode will, and I think there will be many more young people who get their life cut short, before the US will change the gun laws – if that will ever happen.

 

The difference between percentage and percentage points

Note: This is a repost from my old blog. It appears as it originally did, except for the correction of an embarrassing math error and the addition of one note.It was originally written as part of the basic concept concept thought out by MarkCC at Good Math, Bad Math. The blog post is the single most visited blog post at my old blog, with daily visits ever since it came up.

Quite often I’ve come across situations where it’s unclear if someone knew the difference between percentage and percentage points, so I thought I’d write a post where I would try to explain the difference.

Simply put, percentage is relative, while percentage points are absolute.

For example, if we say that the number of female CEOs increase by 3%, we mean that the number increase with 3% of the current number of female CEOs.

If we say the number increases with 3 percentage points, we mean that the number of female CEOs increase with 3% of the total number of CEOs.

So if 5% of all CEOs are female (the current situation in Denmark, according to today’s newspapers [note: 2007 numbers]), a 3% increase would not be noticeable, since it increased the number of female CEOs to 5.15% of the total number of CEOs.

On the other hand, if we say that the number of female CEOs increases with 3 percentage points, it would mean that 8% of all CEOs would be female. Quite a difference.

Generally speaking, percentage points should be used to measure the difference between two percentages, since it gives a more clear view of the differences than when percentages are used.

Let me give an example of how it gives a clearer view.

Let’s say that a poll in year 1 shows that 10% of the population supports slavery (to take a, hopefully absurd example). In year 2 the poll shows a 20% decrease in the support compared to year 1. However, in year 3, the same number has gone up by 25% compared to year 2.

Many people would get the impression that the number of slavery supporters in year 3 is higher than in year 1, but that’s actually not the case.

In year one 10% supported slavery. The next year, the number fell by 20%. 20% of 10% is 2%, which means that 8% supports slavery. Then the number of supporters increased with 25%. 25% of 8% is 2%, so the total is back up to 10%.

If we have used percentage points, we could just say that in year 2, the number of supporters fell by 2 percentage points, and that the number of supporters increased by the same amount of percentage points in year 3. Thus making it much clearer that the amount of supporters was the same in year 1 and year 3.

The Why Women initiative

There is a new Danish initiative, Why Women, which officially launches next week, but which already has a website. The about page describes the initiative thus:

THE WHY has initiated the media initiative; WHY WOMEN? The project aims to raise awareness about the challenges faced by women and girls today. WHY WOMEN? consists of 10 short films, 2 documentary films, a reportage and various outreach activities.

WHY WOMEN? launches in May 2016, when New York-based NGO, Women Deliver hosts the world’s largest conference on the conditions of girls and women worldwide in Copenhagen, Denmark. THE WHY wants to make use of the momentum created by Women Deliver and initiate a public debate about the challenges of gender inequality.

The short films and documentary films are already online an can be viewed on the website (and elsewhere). I have embedded one of the videos, Striving for Utopias, which is written by Emma Holten and voiced by Dame Helen Mirren. Note that it is NSFW due to nudity in small parts of the short film.

An initiative like this is welcome in Denmark, where there anti-feminism is widespread in the media, and where prominent politicians frequently make verbal attacks on not just feminism, but often specific feminists. I am not naive to think that the initiative will stop that, but hopefully it will help change not only the tone, but also the focus of the debate.