Saturday, October 31, 2009

Orientation and preference

Gay men like masculine faces more, and straight men like feminine faces more. That is, both like sexually dimorphic faces more. Gay men disagree with straight men and straight women on which males faces are the most attractive, even though straight women like more masculine faces, too. Lesbians like more masculine looking women.
The study is the first to examine the facial feature preferences of gay men and lesbian women. Women's preferences are more complex than men's, as indicated by prior research demonstrating that ovulation, contraceptive use, self-perceived attractiveness, and sex drive all affect face preference. In this particular study, straight women preferred more masculine-faced men than lesbian women, while lesbians preferred slightly more masculine female faces than straight women or men. ...
Sexually dimorphic features in male faces include a broad jaw, broad forehead, and more pronounced brow ridge. A sexually dimorphic female face has a more tapered chin, larger lips, and a narrower forehead.

No prosecution for importing less than 500 pounds of marijuana

This has nothing to do with child development, but I was amazed when I read this morning that
The reasons vary, but federal prosecutors here and across the Southwest have often rejected cases involving relatively small amounts of drugs, usually less than 500 pounds of marijuana, because of the large volume of those cases and limited resources to handle them.
You think it's bad not getting growth or a COLA this year. Federal prosecutors don't have enough money to hire the lawyers, judges, courtrooms, and staff to prosecute anybody importing less than 500 pounds of marijuana. I know how big my shipments would be in the future.

Friday, October 30, 2009

IPhone good for preschoolers?

This is an article in the Boston Globe about the benefits of letting a 3-year-old use an IPhone. He's serious.
If done the right way, with the right limits, handing a preschooler a smart phone could be good not just for the parents’ sanity. It might even be good for the child’s development.
His point seems to be it's good to learn technology young, and the fact that the IPhone uses icons instead of words makes it even better for them. Sigh.

Weight perception and sexual behavior

A survey of 7200 high school girls in Pittsburgh found that, for black and white girls, thinking they are underweight or overweight is related to the number of sexual partners they have and whether they use condoms, but in opposite ways, and there was no relation for Latinas.
  •  Caucasian girls who believed that they were underweight, whether accurate or not, were more likely to have had sex and to have had four or more sexual partners. Overweight Caucasian girls were less likely to use condoms.
  • Underweight African-American girls also were less likely to use condoms while overweight African-American girls reported four or more sexual partners.
  • Latina girls of all weights were more likely to engage in a wide variety of sexual risk behaviors -- lack of condom or oral contraception use, sex before age 13, greater than four sexual partners and use of alcohol.
When three different subgroups have two opposite results and one null result, it makes you wonder how much is static, and you yearn for replication.

ELQIS workforce development recommendations

Four things about yesterday's ELQIS meeting, stuck out to me:

  • While the design subcommittee sees 5 steps of education in five tiers (12 units, to 24, to an AA in ECE, a BA in ECE, and an ECE credential), the workforce subcommittee sees two (12 units for tier 1 and ECE credential for lead teacher for tier 5). They don't see any value in any steps between 12 units an an ECE credential. They don't think an AA or BA in ECE is worth noticing. This is bizarre. At first I hoped it was a typo, but no, that's what they intended to say.    
  • As I said before, this David Gordon guy really doesn't like community colleges, and he doesn't seem to like process much, either. When he was going through the 3 components to define "qualified teacher," he kept changing the powerpoint in a way that seemed to go against the agreements the committee came to.

    Meets standards of formal education (units earned)? "Ah, let's just make that 'meets standards of formal education.'"

    Demonstrates competence through supervised practical experience? "Let's drop the supervised practical experience."

    Continues to meet professional growth  requirements over time, including mentoring and advisement? "Just continues to meet professional growth requirements."

All this just seemed to me as though he was winging it, and doing it in a way to lower standards. I wonder what the other committee members said to each other when they chatted afterward. I wonder what kind of relationship Gordon has with the unions in his school district.

  • The third thing is early learning seems to have come to mean Pre-K through third grade, i.e., 4-8  instead of 0-5. I fear this is just a way to get third grade teachers teaching preschool, or at least it will result in the elementary schoolization of preschool.
  • Finally, this group seems to have national credentials but not know much about California law, such as Title 22. They proposed tier 1 and 2 ratios for toddlers of 12:1 and group size of 24. Somebody from Licensing was on the committee. Didn't they read the damned proposal? Worse, didn't the licensing person know? Obviously nobody else on the committee did. Yesteray's meeting was full of PITC folks, but none of them seemed to notice, either; at least none of them mentioned it. Somebody at one of the video sites did though.

Friday follies: The truth about catnip addiction

Middle cat lying with his tail in an amaryllis and the rest of him surrounded by early spring catnip. This article says inhaled catnip oil stimulates the olfactory bulb (not a surprise), which signals the amygdala and the hypothalamus in such a way that the response out of them is sexual. Middle cat is thus sitting in a bed of artificial cat pheromone that substitutes for his missing testicles. He is not so much getting high as getting off.

It also says 70 to 80% of cats react to catnip, but they don't start reacting to it until around 6 months, which we have noticed with little cat. We were afraid for a while we had a kitty who wouldn't benefit from our vast catnip patches.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Curry cures cancer

Sort of.
Scientists based at the Cork Cancer Research Centre in Ireland treated oesophageal cancer cells with curcumin – a chemical found in the curry spice tumeric.
They found that curcumin started to kill cancer cells within 24 hours. The cells also began to digest themselves, according to the research, published in the British Journal of Cancer.
I sure hope this turns out to be true, because I love curry. I wonder if the incidence of oesophageal cancer is lower in India than in, say, Switzerland.

God I love Google. A search on "esophageal cancer rate india" turned up a page that says:
Esophageal cancer is a relatively rare form of cancer, but some world areas have a markedly higher incidence than others: China, India and Japan, as well as the United Kingdom, appear to have a higher incidence, as well as the region around the Caspian Sea.
So my speculation was wrong. Again. It's a good thing I have a high threshold for embarrassment about being wrong.

Maybe it's because eating curry isn't the same as rubbing it on a cancer cell. I guess I should have said I hope eating curry turns out to work as well as rubbing curcumin on cancer cells in a lab dish, but apparently it doesn't. Or maybe the high rate in India is because so many people there smoke. Maybe if they didn't eat curry, they'd all be talking through tubes in their throats. I wish it weren't so complicated. That's the first rule of life: Everything is more complicated than you think.

Watching cop shows distorts our view of the world

People who watch a lot of cop or lawyer shows estimate the real world murder rate as being two and a half times higher than non-viewers estimate. Theu also overestimate the percent of the workforce who are cops and lawyers (it's actually about 1% each, but people who watch cop shows estimated 18% and 16%). They also misunderstand other things about the justice system.

Another way to mess up a fetus: low folate causes ADHD

Via Science Daily,
A study published in an upcoming issue of The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry finds that low maternal folate levels is linked to the development of attention-deficit/hyperactivity problems in children at age seven to nine years.
They also had a smaller head circumference at birth. I wonder if it's time to bump up the folate levels in bread, and maybe add it to other foods. It seems to help a bunch of things, and I don't know of overdose problems.

A liar is a liar; or, an introduction to Jane Jacobs

This morning's LA Times has an article about a report by an LA-based Josephson Institute of Ethics, "which surveyed nearly 7,000 people in various age groups nationwide." They had two major findings:
  • "(H)abits formed in childhood persist: Those who cheated in high school are more likely as adults to lie to a customer, inflate an insurance or expense claim, cheat on taxes and lie to their spouses."
  • High school kids today lie and cheat more than older people do (details in the article).
If both of these are true, then we can infer that high school kids today cheat more than high school kids a generation or two ago and that old people will lie and cheat more in a generation or two than they do now, when they are replaced by the high school kids of today.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Our grown-up governor

When the governor vetoes a bill, he sends a veto message to the Assembly or Senate. When he vetoed AB 1176, involving infrastructure financing districts in San Francisco, he sent the following:

Arnie's PR whore says it's "a weird coincidence," and who are we to doubt?

UPDATE: When I looked at the above graphic on a different computer, the words are not clear enough to read if the paragraph is small enough to fit right to left. The issue is that the first letters of the lines spell out


Your taxes at work.

On the other hand, it's nice to see politics being personal rather than ideological once in a while. The more I think about it, the more I wish politics were more individual. It's good to see politicians loosen up a little, and it's a darn site better than lying about death panels. The joke is a little juvenile, but I don't mind a little obscenity once in a while, just as I don't mind a good fart joke now and then, though I would never make one among strangers.

Unscheduled child care by the hour

A lady in Los Altos has opened a child care center for what she calls "drop-in play care." (This is not what Licensing calls drop-in care. The parents do not stay on-site, so it's unscheduled licensed child care.)

They have an 8:1 ratio and charge $15 an hour for one kid, $24 for 2 and $30 for 3, ages 2 to 6, with multi-use discount punch cards.

There is a need for this. I hope there is enough business for her to make it.

The odd thing is that the center's website makes no mention of being licensed. I must assume they are. It says she got her city operating permit, but nowhere does it say she's licensed by Community Care Licensing. It says:

Child's Play is a play-based drop-in center, catering to parents and caregivers who need short-term childcare. The employees of the center all have early childcare experience – they have taken many classes and have worked in preschool and toddler facilities. They have all had background and fingerprint checks, and every staff member is CPR certified for children.
It goes on about the founder's experience babysitting and working at family camps and as a nanny in college. She worked some in a daycare in Vail. "She also has taken many early childcare development classes." I'm not sure "early childcare development classes" is the way I would phrase it, but hey, she's the expert.

Sometimes I wish I weren't such a cynical person. Of course, she's licensed. Nobody would open up and advertise a for-profit child care center without getting licensed. Would it be untrustful of me to email my friend in licensing to ask? No, I should go to and check first.

Oh, my. The message reads, "No facilities match the criteria."

I should email my friend in licensing.

Kaiser's autism ruling

The way the LA Times framed it was
A tactic used by insurance companies to deny expensive behavioral therapy to autistic children has been deemed illegal by a Los Angeles judge.
In a preliminary ruling, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant found that Kaiser Permanente's refusal to pay for a child's autism treatment because the provider was not licensed by the state runs counter to California's Mental Health Parity Act. That act requires insurers to cover care for mental and behavioral problems at the same levels they do for physical illnesses.
The treatment the parents wanted for their child was applied behavioral analysis (ABA). It is not clear to me whether ABA helps autistic kids or not. Wikipedia's editors aren't sure, either. There's a lot of wishful thinking among parents who desperately want a kid they can talk to, and there is no shortage of cheerleaders.

But the point I want to make here does not rely on whether ABA helps kids. Nor do I have any expert knowledge whether the judge correctly applied the law. I expect appellate judges will get their crack at that one.

I just wonder if it is good public policy to require insurers to pay for treatments by non-licensed specialists. If the issue is treating mental problems at the same levels they do for physical illnesses, is there any physical illness requiring a treatment as significant (and expensive) as ABA for which we do not require state licenses of the people who provide the treatment? We require licenses to treat appendicitis, and schizophrenia, and to sew up cut fingers. We require a license to braid hair, to drive a car, or cut fingernails, for Christ's sake.

Regardless of whether an insurer has to pay for it, doesn't somebody at the state license these therapists? They're screwing around inside kids' heads, and we let anybody with a website do it? And not just that, but if they can convince the parents that it's good therapy, the insurer has to pay for it? They can't even require the parents to take the kid to a state-licensed therapist?

I can understand the reasoning for allowing unlicensed providers do APP child care, but this, this is just crazy. Nobody would build a system like that. I wonder what I'm misunderstanding. (That's often what it means when I think somebody is just crazy.)

ACS and rural counties

For data junkies, the Census Bureau has just released a document discussing the American Community Survey. It is nominally for rural counties, but it has lots of interesting stuff for all of us.

More ways to mess up a fetus: high fat diet and stress

Via Science Daily,
Feeding high-fat food to pregnant mice can affect their pups' brain development in ways that may cause them to be more vulnerable to obesity and to engage in addictive-like behaviors in adulthood, a new study has found.
I blame my mom and Southern cooking for everything that's wrong with me. So much for "eating for two."

Also, be calm. Breathe deep.
A new study published in the journal Paediatric and Perinatal Epidemiology reveals that anxiety in pregnant women impacts their babies' size and gestational age. Specifically, women with more severe and chronic anxiety during pregnancy are more likely to have affected babies.
And Big Macs will make you both fat and unhappy.
Brain pleasure centers became progressively less responsive in rats fed a diet of high-fat, high-calorie food, a new study has found. As the changes occurred, the rats developed compulsive overeating habits -- and became obese. The overeating continued even when it meant the rats had to endure an unpleasant consequence (a mild foot shock) in order to consume the food.
I retract what I said about my mom. I blame it all on Ray Kroc.

The most amazing 5-year-old gymnast

The most amazing 5-year-old boy gymnast. I'd wet my pants if I saw my kids try most of this.

CDE management bulletins on CSPP

CDE has released a management bulletin on enrolling or transferring kids into CSPP and one on when 3  year olds can be transferred into it.

ELQIS draft report posted

The ELQIS committee (or, as CDE prefers, CAEL QIS) is meeting today to discuss their draft interim report, due at the end of the year. See you there, or you can read the draft report here. The subcommittee workplans are here. The Design committee workplan is here. It consists of 50 interesting questions that have been or will be addressed at design subcommittee meetings. The first few are:
  • How will structural and process characteristics of quality be included?
  • What are the needed elements for licensing and rating programs in health, safety, and early learning?
  • How will global measures of quality (ERS, CLASS, PAS) be included?
  • What is the role of accreditation in the QRIS?
  • How will research-based curriculum be addressed?
I'm more cautiously optimistic than I was a few days ago, before I read the draft report. I like the fact that the design section says they should "Emphasize quality components in rating system that show stronger links to child outcomes, such as Process Components." Teacher-child interaction is a much better indicator of child outcomes than group size or ratios. I like the way they're approaching their recommendations.

The committee wants input by November 9 at Saddle up and ride, cowgirl.

The agenda also includes a link to an excellent discussion of the differences between ECE and K-12 teachers and classes.

Why your brain goes fuzzy when you're sleepy

From Science Daily (a really good website), news of a study that found out what causes your brain to go fuzzy when you don't get enough sleep. It's the increased concentration of an enzyme in the hippocampus, and they were able to perk sleepy mice's brains up by inhibiting the buildup of the enzyme. Imagine the benefits for, oh, pilots, military, hospital interns (and their patients), long-haul truck drivers, students in finals week, musicians on tour, or people with alternating shifts.

Next up, over the counter all-nighter pills.

UC Davis gets $1 million for infancy studies

Robert Dorn, a psychiatrist retired from the UC Davis Psychiatry Department, has given a million dollars to UC Davis to create the Robert M. and Natalie Reid Dorn Endowed Chair on Infancy. "The idea of a gift began as a discussion with UC Davis faculty about the need for additional research into the role that early emotional experiences play in human development."

Good for him. There's lots worse ways to use extra money when you're 88 years old. I hope to partake in some of them when the time comes.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Books I'm reading

Having seen her on Colbert, I just bought two books by Alison Gopnik for my Kindle, The Philosophical Baby, What Children's Minds Tell Us About Truth, Love, and the Meaning of Life and The Scientist in the Crib, What Early Learning Tells Us About the Mind. I guess I'm part ofthe Colbert bump. I'll let you know what I think of them.

Intellectually honest conservatives

I'm as solid a liberal as you're going to find in my demographic, and I'm interested in politics, so I read a bunch of lefty political blogs. I read exactly two conservative bloggers, because, frankly, most conservative bloggers and politicians are intellectually dishonest. They say what they want you to believe is true, not necessarily what they would think is true if they sat down and thought about it. There are also Democratic liars; it's just that the Republican and conservative leadership is pretty much 100% liars.

Actually, they're not so much liars as bullshitters. The truth value of their statements is irrelevant to them. In either case, they keep saying things that have been proven false: think death panels, you can increase tax revenues by lowering tax rates for rich people, the earth is cooling, Social Security is going broke, they're not sure Obama is a citizen, intelligent design is a reasonable alternative to evolution, Sarah Palin is qualified to be president, we found WMDs in Iraq but hid them from the press. These are things that no intelligent person who has paid attention to the issue can believe, but they are standard in the conservative movement today.

So by and large I don't pay attention to what conservatives say. But that's a problem for me, too, because if I'm in an echo chamber, I'll become convinced of the truth of what I think because nobody tells me I'm full of crap when I am. Facile thinkers, who sometimes blurt out ideas before having fully thought them through, can come to believe what they say, so they need people around them to call bullshit when they say something stupid.

So it's good for me to have a couple of intellectually honest conservatives to read. My two are Little Green Footballs and Andrew Sullivan. I disagree with pretty much everything they say about economics, and most of their politics, but I believe they are honest and sane, which explains why so many other conservatives dislike them; they refuse to drink the Kool-aid.

Kids' screen time at 8 year high--Does it mean anything?

I always distrust hearing that some statistic is at an 8-year high, or sometimes I even  hear about a 3-year high. That short a highest since could as easily be a spot on a sine wave of natural variation. Global warming deniers like George Will point out that 2006 was the coldest year in a decade,but if you look at longer-term trends, it's obviously just a blip in an upward sweep.

So I wonder about this story in today's LA Times. It seems that kids 2 to 5 watch screens on video games, TV, DVDs (I don't know if they included phone screens) an average of 32 hours a week, and 6 to 11s watch more than 28 hours, and this is an 8-year high. This comes from a Nielsen survey (couldn't find a link to the actual report).

In general, we all do seem to be using more screen time. God knows I do. But if it's only an 8 year high, that's another way of saying use has been on average flat for the last 8 years. I'd much rather see a trend since, say, the beginning of widespread use of TV in the 1950s, or at least since personal computers became common in the early 1980s, so I know if it's really increasing at a shocking level lately.

I'd also want to plot it by age group. I'll bet 60 year olds spend more time looking at a screen than they did a few years ago, too, and 40 year olds, and so on.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Where and when in the brain are words distinguished from grammar?

When they are going to cut away a piece of brain near the speech centers that is causing seizures, they insert electrodes all around the area, so they can see what all the little areas really do in that particular brain, so they don't accidentally cut away somebody's ability to speak.

As long as they have the skull opened up and the brain wired, they might as well do some research, so the surgeons invite in some researchers to, for example, record what neurons fire when the brain receives various kinds of visual or auditory or tactile stimuli.
For this study, the researchers recorded activity inside patients' brains while they repeated words verbatim or produced them in grammatical forms such as past tense or plural – a task that humans effortlessly compute every time they utter a sentence. ICE enabled the authors to look at three components of language processing in real time, to determine whether related neuronal activities were implemented serially or in parallel, in local or distributed patterns.
"We showed that distinct linguistic processes are computed within small regions of Broca's area, separated in time and partially overlapping in space," said Sahin. Specifically, the researchers found patterns of neuronal activity indicating lexical, grammatical and articulatory computations at roughly 200, 320 and 450 milliseconds after the target word was presented. These patterns were identical across nouns and verbs and consistent across patients.
Lexical and grammatical I get. I don't know what an articulatory computation would be. Maybe how words string together? I googled it and got 12 hits, all of which were referencing the same study, using the same quote. I suspect this is where it started.

Prenatal brain differences between boys and girls

Via Science Daily, information toward answering the question of when male and female brains start being different: Before birth.
"The results show that many of the genes situated on the Y chromosome are expressed in various parts of the brain prior to birth and probably provide a developmental basis for the sex-based differences exhibited by adult brains," according to Elena Jazin.
More than a third of Y-chromosomal genes appear to be involved in sex-based human brain differentiation. Some of the genetic activity in question is evident in the adult brain, while other of it only appears at earlier stages of brain development. It is yet unknown whether the differences in genetic expression among female and male brains have any functional significance.


If you haven't clicked on the links on the left under Diversions, take a second to try especially Indexed and xkcd. They are quintessential nerd humor.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The elementary schoolization of preschool through approved curriculum

As I said before, my greatest fear (except for brown widow spiders) is that, in order to get effective preschool for the kids who need it most, politically the program will have to be given to K-12 as a new grade Pre-K. The problem with this is that it will be run by K-12 people, who mostly don’t understand that little kids are different, and they will push their teaching methods downward. At its worst, school readiness will come to mean knowing how to bubble in a scantron.

Coughing on a baby and rubbing it in

A few days ago I posted about the medical recommendation to cough into your elbow instead of your hand. I thought that would brush the virus off onto whatever your sleeve touches. I mentioned hugging kids, but a commenter* added, "and I just love watching a caregiver cough into her shoulder and then pick up a baby."

Of course. Of all the things a blogger on child care thinks of that a sleeve might brush against, I forget babies. Coughing into your sleeve or shoulder and then picking up a baby is just like coughing on the baby and rubbing it in. The protocol in an infant center should be one of three procedures:
  1. Cough into your shoulder or elbow.
  2. Change your shirt or wash your arm.
  3. Pick up baby.
  1. Cough into your hand.
  2. Wash your hands.
  3. Pick up baby.
  1. Cough into kleenex.
  2. Throw kleenex away.
  3. Pick up baby. 
*Commentaria primaria, the first commenter on this blog, may her tribe increase and her memory be revered.

UPDATE: I just looked at the Centers for Disease Control's recommendations for child care centers. It says, "cover noses and mouths with a tissue when coughing or sneezing (or a shirt sleeve or elbow if no tissue is available)."

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Kitchen tool I wish someone would invent

When you slow cook some ribs in a dutch oven in the oven, you can end up with a quart or more of liquid, which you naturally pour the grease off of and then boil down the rest to a cup or so for use in some sort of sauce. In the boiling, you concentrate the taste by driving off most of the water. Unfortunately, you also drive off most of everything lighter than water, too. I wonder how it would taste if only water were removed.

I'd like to see someone figure out how to boil pot liquor and capture everything lighter than water (presumably everything that boils at a lower temperature), and return it to the pot, and let only the water go off into the atmosphere.

Baby Einstein refunds

Disney is offering refunds to people who bought Baby Einstein videos since 2004. You can get $15.99 cash or exchanges for up to 4 returned DVDs. You don't have to have the receipt, just the DVD, and it's good until March 10, 2010.

The reason is the FTC (Federal Trade Commission, which polices false advertising claims) was on their butts about the whole point of their product, which was they claimed it made babies smarter, but it didn't, and in fact may contribute to attention problems later in childhood. They can still sell the stuff, but they have to tone down their claims about it being educational. They are still marketing as close to the FTC line as they can get away with.

Disney's PR flack said it was business as usual, their usual generous customer satisfaction guarantee (except that usually runs out after 60 days and requires a receipt).

Friday, October 23, 2009

Quote: Mencken

The last thing H.L. Mencken wrote before the stroke that ended his career was an article in the Baltimore Sun about the segregated public tennis courts in Baltimore. Some liberal troublemakers, black and white, had gone to the courts to try to play and had been arrested. Mencken's article was about how stupid that rule was in public accommodations. His last paragraph was:
In answer to all the foregoing I expect confidently to hear the argument that the late tennis matches were not on the level, but were arranged by Communists to make trouble. So far as I am aware this may be true but it seems to me to be irrelevant. What gave the Communists their chance was the existence of the Druid Hill Park Board's rule. If it had carried on its business with more sense they would have been baffled. The way to dispose of their chicaneries is not to fight them when they are right.

Predicting school achievement from kindergarten behavior--or not

A Newsweek article called In Defense of Children Behaving Badly, whose point is that little kids sometimes behave badly, but that doesn't mean they always will. He points to a meta-study saying* that good or bad behavior in kindergarten is pretty much uncorrelated with later school performance. 

*The document at the link says DO NOT CITE OR QUOTE WITHOUT PERMISSION. To heck with them. How can you put something on the internet and try to keep it from being cited or quoted? Information wants to be free.

Center security

A center in Florida is going whole hog on security. Besides the tornado shelter and the security cameras monitoring the playground, hallways, and gym, parents have to have their fingerprints scanned by a device before they can enter. If your fingerprints aren't on file, you can't go in. The center director says
"it was a better choice than expensive and easily misplaced access cards. If you drop it, someone else could pick it up," she said. "Somebody could get their hands on this card. Nobody else can get their hands on your fingerprint."
I wonder how many people they have had impersonating a parent picking up a kid with a stolen access card.

Now I like security about as much as the next liberal, but this seems like overkill to me.

Friday follies

Young cat hears a bird while pursuing one of his major hobbies, lying on a cushion in a shaft of sunlight in the garden.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Worst parent nominee: Suffocating a newborn

This girl in Nevada doesn't seem to learn. In 2006, she dropped a stillborn baby in the trash in a Las Vegas casino bathroom. She wasn't charged in that case, because she was 16. (Is it legal for 16-year-olds, or do they just not bother with kids? You'd think it would at least be against health codes to drop a body in a public bathroom trash can.)

This August, she said she smothered a newborn, because she was afraid her mother would kick her out of the house. She says she didn't know she was pregnant until she gave birth, and when it popped out, she strangled it. An autopsy failed to confirm that the cause of death was suffocation.

Makes you wonder how still that first child was when it was born.

Makes you also wonder about the loving nature of the household, if the daughter is enough afraid of being kicked out of the house for screwing up that she will kill her baby to avoid being found out. This is a girl who should have noticed that she hadn't had a period lately and then invested in an abortion. It's also an argument against parental notification. This girl was afraid to go to her mother for advice on what to do when she was pregnant.

Mostly I'm passive about abortion, literally pro-choice, saying it should be up to a woman, after consultation with the father, her doctor, and her god. But other times I'm pro-abortion; that is, I wish certain women would choose abortion.

Being an atheist, I don't think there is any intrinsic moral issue involved. I believe a nation's morality is a sum of what feels right to the people in the culture. What feels right to any person is a complicated stew of genetic and epigenetic dispositions, what happens to us growing up, and what our parents, televisions, music, and (mostly) our friends tell us is right.

So in a case where a kid is likely to be unwanted (yes, including severely handicapped, if the mom can't muster as much devotion as it takes), I wish the pregnant woman would hit Control-Z and undo it until they're ready to be a mom. Freaknomics has a chapter on this issue, saying that legalization of abortion coincided with a drop in the crime rate in states where it was legalized. They attributed it to fewer unwanted kids. Later they had to back up a little, due to a data misinterpretation, but half of their effect stands. Whether kids are wanted is a big factor in the crime rate.

Epigenetic cause for autism?

Or, Oxytocin is involved in everything, from knowing when to give birth to bonding with kids and strangers.
In both blood samples and brain tissue, the methylation status of specific nucleotides in the oxytocin receptor gene is significantly higher in someone with autism, about 70 percent, compared to the control population, where it is about 40 percent. ...
Oxytocin is a hormone secreted into the bloodstream from the brain, and also released within the brain, where it has a bearing on social interaction. Previous studies have shown that giving oxytocin can improve an autistic person's social engagement behavior and it is being explored as a potential treatment of the disorder. Higher methylation of the oxytocin receptor gene may make a person less sensitive to the hormone.
This suggests an area to search for a treatment. Of course, the point of the article is they know that and are searching there.

Coughing into your sleeve

Again this morning on NPR, I heard a recommendation from a doctor that we cough into our elbows instead of our hands. The reasoning is that if we cough into our hands and then touch something, the virus can be transmitted, and this is good reasoning. The virus can stay there until we wash our hands or use a hand sanitizer.

But if you instead cough into your sleeve, the sleeve has the viruses instead of the hand, so it can transfer to anything your sleeve touches, such as the kid you hug or the notebook you cradle in your arm.

It seems to me that the best way would be to cough into a tissue and throw it way, or to cough into your hand and then wash your hands. Hands get washed much more often than elbows or sleeves.

Another way to screw up your kids: weird names like Kevin

Via the NY Times economics blog Freakonomics, in Germany,  teachers discriminate according to kids' names.
The study reveals that the names traditional names such as Charlotte, Sophie, Marie, Hannah, Alexander, Maximilian, Simon, Lukas and Jakob are consistently linked to strong performance and good behaviour. Non-traditional names such as Chantal, Mandy, Angelina, Kevin, Justin and Maurice, on the other hand, are associated with weak performance and bad behaviour. ...
The name Kevin was perceived as being linked to especially poor behaviour and performance, with one study participant even writing that, “Kevin is not a name – it’s a diagnosis!”

Predicting alcoholism; then what do you do?

What would you do if you could say from a simple test that this group of kids over here is 8 times more likely to become alcoholics or drug addicts than the rest of the kids? As a matter of public policy or child development, what would you do for them differently than you would do for kids without the bad gene?

A bunch of kids were followed for 11 years to track potential risk factors for alcoholism. The study, published in Biological Psychiatry and described on Science Daily,  chose
children with either high or low familial risk for developing alcohol dependence and followed them annually over an eleven-year span. During this time, they repeatedly evaluated a series of thirteen predictors that are thought to influence familial risk, including educational achievement scores, personality variables, self-esteem, and anxiety, along with specific neurobiological variables (P300 amplitude, a brain neuroelectric potential, and postural body sway).

When does the "achievement gap" start?

One of the things CDE (and, for that matter, No Child Left Behind) is trying to do is reduce the difference in how well different racial or ethnic groups do on achievement tests in K-12. Researchers are tracing back when the difference begins.

A recent study out of Berkley by Bruce Fuller and others says that, for children of poor immigrant Latinas, it starts around one year of age. Nine to 15-month old white and Latino kids are about the same, but by 2 or 3, the Latino kids are up to 6 months behind in things like vocabulary, speaking in complex sentences, and doing puzzles. That's an extremely fast drop, or more likely a failure to participate in other kids' extremely fast development.

In general they attribute the difference to lower average maternal education, which explains lots of stuff. Poor Latinas read to their kids less and tell fewer stories, so their kids know fewer words and have been introduced to fewer concepts.

Looks to me like strong evidence for expanding Early Head Start and having State Preschool start at age 1.

LA Times summary article.

Quote: McNeill

We have to do the best we can with the language and concepts we inherit and not worry about obtaining a truth that will satisfy everyone, everywhere, and for all time
William H. McNeill, in the introduction to Plagues and Peoples, a fine book, inspired by Rats, Lice, and History, which is a very good book and a great title.

Worst provider nominee: Terrorist conspirator

A guy the arrested last November for "conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists" ("inept but serious") turns out to have been living with his mom, who ran a small family home child care there. She has voluntarily surrendered her license, but licensing still wants to have a chat with her about why she didn't tell them on her renewal application that he lived there or notify them (within 5 days, as required) that criminal proceedings had been initiated against a household member. His background check would have come back "trained in terrorist camps in Syria." Or tried to; the Taliban apparently rejected him because he wasn't up to their standards.

The Gen-X version of spanking

This is a NY Times article (in the fashion section; if it weren't for Google, how would we find stuff like this?) that claims parents yell at their kids more than parents used to and then goes into a long thing about whether this is harmful to kids. Everybody seems to agree it's not a good thing, but there doesn't seem to be actual research about it as there is for the effects of spanking on intellectual development. The worst these folks can come up with is it might be "damaging to a child's sense of well-being and self-esteem."

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Why you look like a girl or a boy

Again from Science Daily, a study saying that the the difference between a face looking male and looking female is the amount of contrast, particularly between the eyes and lips, and surrounding skin.
Regardless of race, female skin is known to be lighter than male skin. But Russell found that female eyes and lips are not lighter than those of males, which creates higher contrast of eyes and lips on women's faces. By experimenting with an androgynous face, Russell learned that faces can be manipulated to appear female by increasing facial contrast or to appear male by decreasing facial contrast.
So if you want to erase any doubt that you're a girl, use makeup to lighten your skin and darken your eyes and lips. It worked for Michael Jackson.

Moving sex offenders away from us

Florida has a law that prohibits registered sex offenders from living within a certain distance from schools, churches, and child care centers. In Orlando, some people are using this to evict some 100 offenders from a trailer park by putting a child care center next door for the express purpose of making the sex offenders move.

I agree that we shouldn't let Luther Lector move in next door to a preschool, but this is going too far. They've served their time, and our responsibility now is to keep them from doing it again, not punishing them again just because we can.

Teaching grandma to surf

I knew it all the time. The internet is good for you. Although you always have to wonder which way the causal relation goes.
As the brain ages, a number of structural and functional changes occur, including atrophy, reductions in cell activity and increases in deposits of amyloid plaques and tau tangles, which can impact cognitive function.

Research has shown that mental stimulation similar to that which occurs in individuals who frequently use the Internet may affect the efficiency of cognitive processing and alter the way the brain encodes new information.

"We found that for older people with minimal experience, performing Internet searches for even a relatively short period of time can change brain activity patterns and enhance function," ... When performing an Internet search, the ability to hold important information in working memory and to extract the important points from competing graphics and words is essential, Moody noted.
Previous research by the UCLA team found that searching online resulted in a more than twofold increase in brain activation in older adults with prior experience, compared with those with little Internet experience. According to Small, the new findings suggest that it may take only days for those with minimal experience to match the activity levels of those with years of experience.

Can bottles and Pacifiers cause speech defects?

Via Science Daily, a study in BMC Pediatrics says "the use of bottles, pacifiers and other sucking behaviors apart from breast-feeding may increase the risk of subsequent speech disorders in young children."
The team combined parents' reports of infant feeding and sucking behaviors with evaluations of their child's speech. They found that delaying bottle use until the child was at least 9 months old reduced the risk of later developing speech disorders while children who sucked their fingers, or used a pacifier for more than 3 years were three times more likely to develop speech impediments.

Child care unions in Maryland

There's a fair amount of this anti-union editorial in the Baltimore Sun that I don't understand.
A collective bargaining agreement Gov. Martin O'Malley signed with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 500 last week gives the union broad access to the names, addresses and, ultimately, the checkbooks of family child care providers who participate in the state's child care subsidy program.
I don't know why they were negotiating. Was there a new state law that required it? There must have been.
The Maryland agreement gives the union control over negotiating pay, time off and the training of child-care providers. It puts union representatives on all committees choosing training vendors; puts the union in charge of overseeing how early childhood dollars should be spent if a comprehensive early childhood education law like the one noted in Quebec passes here; and requires the state to deduct union dues from payments to providers that the union says are members. This means one-person providers could be subject to rules about how to take care of their own children.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Kids know when the monkey is talking

Five-month-old infants can tell the difference between people talk and monkey talk. Researchers showed infants pictures of people faces or of rhesus monkey faces at the same time they played sounds of either words in Japanese or monkey vocalizations. By measuring relative attention spans, the researchers inferred that the kids know which sounds should come from which creature.

We all know that cows go moo and cats go meow (at least in English). The question was when we discover that, and now we know it's by 5 months.

Chemical exposure and brain problems in kids

Via Science Daily, A study shows that kids with autism have the same blood mercury levels as kids without autism.

Lead, however is another story.
Exposure to lead in early childhood significantly contributes to lower performances on end-of-grade (EOG) reading tests among minority and low-income children, according to researchers at Duke University and North Carolina Central University.
"We found a clear dose-response pattern between lead exposure and test performance, with the effects becoming more pronounced as you move from children at the high end to the low end of the test-score curve."
This certainly isn't new. They found that a good chunk of the difference between test scores of black and white kids could be attributed to differences in the amound of lead they have in their blood, which can be explained by the fact that they average poorer than whites. I.e., another "racial" difference turns out to be social.

The Gay Agenda

The other day a TV was tuned to Fox News where I was having lunch, and bits of it flitted in and out of my head as I ate. Some buffoon was going on about the Gay Agenda in our schools, and it occurred to me that there really is a gay agenda, for our schools and for our legislatures. Here it is, the gay version of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, except this one is real. Read on to see what they are trying to do.

Diabetic kids in child care

A child care center in Fort Wayne, Indiana will pay $10,000 damages and $10,000 fine for telling the parents of a 6-year-old with Type I diabetes that she couldn't go on summer field trips unless accompanied by a parent or a medically trained professional. The center said they did say that, but it was more related to a peanut allergy.
But now, as a result of the complaint and subsequent investigation, Pine Hills agrees to evaluate all children with diabetes and make reasonable accommodations for their condition, which could include supervising and monitoring children while using blood glucose tests, according to settlement documents.
The child care center will also provide training to its staff, according to the documents.
Parents of children with diabetes will also have responsibilities under the terms of the settlement – they will need to provide Pine Hill with a completed medical management plan, signed by the child’s doctor; a completed physical exam form; and information regarding all equipment, food and substances not provided by the child care that are necessary to meet the medical management plan.
I have mixed feelings about cases like this.

My head is roiling with a longer post on the nature of rights and how that should affect public policy, but I don't want to throw it up piecemeal, so for now I'm just going to say that  I sympathize with both sides.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Cool stuff I'm not paid to endorse: Playground compost plantings.

A company called Filtrexx makes those long rolls of burlap you see used for erosion control along freeways and constructions sites. They also make a similar product filled with compost that you can use for regular garden plantings, or you can lay them on a pile of dirt and make a grass-covered hill for kids to play on. They're making a play for the child care center market. Their on-line catalog is a slideshow.

It has to be replaced every few years, and it looks expensive to me, but I'm told by people who run centers that, as landscaping and planting goes, they're fairly cheap as well as being cool.

Segregating gifted kids

 A NY Times article on schools for only gifted kids
He was 5 months old when he said his first words, and at a year and a half, he knew the alphabet, colors and numbers from 1 to 10.
None of which earned Christopher Yang, now 5, a seat this fall in New York City’s coveted gifted and talented programs at Hunter College Elementary School on the Upper East Side, the Anderson School and Public School 9 on the Upper West Side, or New Explorations Into Science, Technology and Math School (NEST + m) on the Lower East Side.
So his parents enrolled him in a new private school for precocious children, theSpeyer Legacy School, at 211 West 61st Street, where annual tuition is $28,500.
Many liberals object to this kind of segregation and tracking, and I have sympathy for their point of view. When all the smartest kids are together, merely smart kids lose their company and modeling. It's good in several ways to have a mix of abilities in a group, because being around people smarter than  you helps you grow by stretching yourself. (Did I just make a Lamarckian claim?)

That said, the same thing applies to smart kids. While it's better for  the less smart kids to have the smartest kids mixed in with the general population, it's better for the smartest kids to be in a bunch of other really smart kids. If I were still the parent of a gifted child (as I am now instead the parent of a gifted adult), I would still be pushing for separate gifted classes. If I were an education policy analyst (which I am not really) or more concerned with the system than with my own kids, I don't know what conclusion I would reach. Maybe we need to segregate the top 1% and spread the rest around, or segregate a random 20% of the top 5%, so we get both the modeling advantage and the stretching the smart kids advantage.

And I don't want to hear that being around dumb kids gets you used to working with dumb adults.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Why we should work toward K-12 merit pay

The short version is that merit pay is inevitable. It should be possible to design a system to judge teachers’ abilities, but it would be hard, and there is no good reason to believe the people who are actually in charge will do it right, so we should join in to keep them from screwing it up too bad.

There is a long article in this morning’s LA Times about the issue that caused the San Diego Unified superintendent, Terry Grier, to leave after about a year on the job, which was resistance to the teacher evaluation system he wanted to install, called “value added.”

Value added plots three years of a student’s test scores and runs the trend line forward as a student’s expected progress. Deviation from the trend line is "the teacher effect." If the actual next year’s score is above or below the expected level, the teacher has been effective or ineffective to that extent.

(UPDATE: I didn't realize when I wrote this that what they used to run a trend line forward was expecting the percentile to remain constant, which is a much better idea than what I thought they were doing. I've since decided that, while what I describe below will work, it is much harder and more expensive than the value-added system of percentiles.

Except that it still has the problem that:) I think this is virtually as simplistic as looking at a single test score. It assumes that the student’s life is steady, that the only difference between this year and the last three is the teacher. If a kid’s score was down last year because his brother was shot, then another brother will be shot this year, and the next. If his dad wasn’t in jail two years ago, he won’t be this year. Sometimes that’s true.


Via Andrew Sullivan, a cool animation.

Child care while teachers are furloughed

In Honolulu, they're furloughing public school teachers and other state employees on some Fridays, so suddenly a bunch of kids from 5 years up need child care, and it's not like you can go to a center and say I want child care every second Friday (or however often they do it). The city is going to make some park facilities available to a couple of local nonprofits to offer child care for those people from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

This seems like a nice way to face a bad situation.

Effects on development of child care during infancy

A study in the Journal of Longitudinal and Life Course Studies* (abstract) concludes that "There is little evidence of harm to school-age children from maternal employment during a child's infancy, especially if employment is part-time, and in a context where several months of maternity leave is the norm."

The issues here are how much less than 24 hours a day can an infant and mom be together and still bond satisfactorily, and when can it start being less than 24 hours a day? This study says it can start very early for a workday length of time, but it's better if it starts a few months after birth and is only part time at first.

This is in line with last year's study from NICHD. (I think. I read it when it came out, but that was last year or sometime, and with my memory, God knows if it really says that.)

*This is a brand new journal. A newspaper article about the study popped up in a Google search. It has some very interesting stuff in it. You have to register to see full PDFs, but it's free. The inaugural issue's contents are:
  • Social Connections in the Inner City: Examination across the Life Course
  • Long-term trends in BMI: are contemporary childhood BMI growth references appropriate when looking at historical datasets?
  • Family Socialization, Economic Self-Efficacy, and the Attainment of Financial Independence in Early Adulthood
  • Handling attrition and non-response in longitudinal data
  • Development of nighttime bladder control from 4 – 9 years: association with dimensions of parent rated child maturational level, child temperament and maternal psychopathology.
  • Does mothers’ employment affect children’s development? Evidence from the children of the British 1970 Birth Cohort and the American NLSY79

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Worst parent nominee: Prayer instead of medicine

As it is in Wisconsin, so is it in Pennsylvania, except this couple will stand trial for manslaughter for choosing prayer over medicine for their dying 2-year-old.

Their defense is they didn't know the kid was that sick. They thought they were praying to cure the flu or a cold, so it's not a religious freedom issue but a dumb parent issue. Frankly, I think that's a decent defense, if true, and I have no reason to doubt it. It's not like the parents had shown intellectual leanings before. They quit school after 9th grade. They work as teachers at their church. I wonder what level.

And we can thank Mr. Darwin for giving us the insight that, to the extent that whatever made these parents do what they did is genetic, there is less of it in the gene pool because of them.

Tylenol reduces effectiveness of infant vaccinations

When infants get vaccinations, they often get a fever from it, so doctors often give them acetaminophen (eg Tylenol) as a prophylaxis, but it turns out the acetaminophen can reduce the effectiveness of the vaccine. In this controlled study in the Czech Republic, published in the Lancet, 10% of the kids who got acetaminophen to control the fever "had significantly lower levels of protective antibodies against the targets of the vaccination." Fewer kids who got acetaminophen did get a fever (42% vs 66%), so it worked against fever for an extra 24% of the kids. LA Times summary here.

This suggests parents and doctors should wait until a fever develops before giving an infant acetaminophen.

ELQIS and grade Pre-K

David Gordon is superintendent of schools in Sacramento. He is also chair of the ELQIS workforce subcommittee. He's been on this and that committee and board.

Mr. Gordon has a masters in educational administration from Harvard. He has received many honors and is esteemed by people I admire, as well as by the governor.

For all his deserved acclaim, Mr. Gordon has one fault, and it's a big one: He believes that anyone with an elementary credential is qualified to teach preschool, and therefore we have no need for community colleges in developing the child care workforce, because apparently you need a BA to teach preschoolers, but it doesn't have to be in ECE. Imagine: The guy in charge of the workforce committee thinks that if you know how to teach elementary school kids, you can effectively teach preschoolers, but if you have an AA in ECE, you can't.

This is silly, and it's dangerous, because of what I talked about a couple of weeks ago, that preschool will become grade Pre-K in the P-12 system, and they'll just push the elementary school curriculum down a year.

I don't have time this minute to look up the research, but I'm pretty sure I remember studies showing that, while a BA is better than nothing in affecting child outcomes, it is not better than an AA in ECE. I hope somebody reminds me to find it and post it (or grovel, if I'm misremembering), because if that's true, requiring a BA is a waste of time and public money and a waste of people with an AA in ECE.

The workforce committee's next meeting is November 12 at two sites:

Sacramento County Office of Education
10474 Mather Boulevard, Mather Room
Sacramento, CA 95655


San Diego County Office of Education
6401 Linda Vista Road, Learning Lab 4
San Diego, CA 92111

The website doesn't give a time, and the agenda isn't posted yet, but previous meetings were 10 to 2:30.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Worst staff nominee: hidden camera in the bathroom

It pays to know your staff. A janitor in a Wisconsin child care center seems to have hidden a cell phone with a camera in a kleenex box with a hole in it in an adult bathroom.

I wonder how he rigged it to click. Or maybe he had it set on video.

He claims he accidentally dropped it in the kleenex and has no idea how the hole got in the box. In either bathroom. Maybe that's the way they come nowadays.

It's a misdemeanor.

Your tax money at work

CDE just gave several dozen data discs to people at a meeting. They were all CD-RW instead of CD-R. I wonder how much CDE would save every year if they used the cheaper discs.

Friday follies

Old cat drinking from the pond. When she was younger, she was a minor threat to the goldfish, but no more.

Tracking anxiety

A University of Maryland researcher is studying anxious personalities. He started with a bunch of 4-month-old babies in the early 1990s to see how people with built-in anxiety deal with various issues. The kids are entering college, and he wants to see how they react to, for example, drugs and alcohol.
“We’ve been finding that of these children who start out very fearful, about 50 percent of them end up being very nervous and socially fearful when they are in preschool and then school age,” Fox said. “Some of those kids, not a large percentage, go onto develop anxiety.”
Although not all of the children that displayed signs of an anxious temperament went on to develop the disorder, Fox’s research proved they all had one common trait: a hyperactive amygdala.

The benefits of TV for preschoolers

An Australian researcher says that in some ways TV can be good for kids.
(M)uch other published research finds that selective television viewing for young children contributes to their cognitive and social development. ...Professor Seiter has looked at the way television can enhance a young child's social cache. She found that preschoolers often use their knowledge of popular programming to gain acceptance in the classroom. Television can provide a common symbolic experience for children, just as for adults.
How are you gonna talk with the kids around the water cooler if you don't know Barney?
Her analysis of criticism of Teletubbies. People who are against it haven't seen it or don't understand it.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Worst judge nominee: "No interracial marriage"

A judge in Louisiana refused to issue a marriage license to an interracial couple "because I don't want to put children in a situation they didn't bring on themselves."

UPDATE: Not surprisingly, the NAACP is not amused.
As Digby points out, the poor kid could grow up to be president.

UC Santa Cruz child care center to close

The child care center at UC Santa Cruz is going to close.
Felicia McGinty, Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs, announced in August that UCSC had made the decision to eliminate the preschool at the Granary and on-campus child care services as a result of the program’s rising deficit and lack of supplementary campus funds. Child care services for UCSC students will remain but will be scaled back from 12 months to 10, and will no longer include infant care.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The power of shame

The six-year-old who was sentenced to 45 days in reform school for bringing his cub scout eating utensil to school has been given a reprieve of sorts. The school district, which had been shamed in newspapers all over the country, changed their silly zero tolerance rule to reduce the punishment for kindergarteners and first graders from 45 days in reform school to a suspension of 3 to 5 days. They didn't eliminate the silliness, but they took it down a notch.

If they were smarter, they would just tell the kid not to bring his camping stuff to school anymore and let it go at that. But you can't let child-like behavior go unpunished. I guess. I mean what would it tell our kids if our grown-ups in charge looked at the circumstances before making up their minds?

Short-sighted budget moves

A shortage of staff to cover 24-hour shifts at prisons means workers are going in on furlough days and being paid in IOUs that will eventually cost the state -- and its taxpayers -- much more.
Reporting from Sacramento - Staff shortages are forcing tens of thousands of state workers employed at prisons and other around-the-clock institutions to report to work on their furlough days -- and the state is paying them with what amount to IOUs that will be costly to taxpayers, according to a Senate report to be released today.
 If I had a choice between funding, oh, say, 100,000 child care slots or putting another 10,000 people in jail for life (or raising guards' salaries), I think the child care slots would be better for the society.

$65,000 per kid

The Navy is building a $4.2 million infant toddler center in Bremerton, Washington for 65 kids under 3.

That's $65,000 per kid. Am I just out of the cost loop, or is this high? Maybe I'm like the apocryphal* story about George Bush I at a grocery store, surprised by the scanner that everybody else in the world knows about.

They charge on a sliding scale "based on total household income, and ranges from $243 a month for a family earning less than $28,000 per year to $524 per month for those making more than $70,000."

Not to begrudge these people their child care, but can you imagine a Title 5 center costing $65,000 per kid to put up the building (although, to be fair, that may include the cost of toys and books).

*I really wanted that story to be true. Sigh.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Signings and Vetoes

Arnie signed three and vetoed two bills I was following.

  • AB 595 Puts background checks for foster parents at about the same level as regular licensed child care providers. Seems like a good idea.
  • AB 1368 Requires that small family home providers have someone qualified in pediatric first aid and CPR on site at all times. It is already required for centers and large family homes. Seems like a good idea.
  • SB 702 Requires that employees of health clubs and such who work in an ancillary child care center be TrustLined. Seems like a good idea.
  • AB 627 This one dealt with nutrition requirements in licensed programs. It seemed pretty innocuous to me. The veto message said
... this bill would create pressure to add Proposition 98 General Fund resources to the Child and Adult Care Food program when funding for so many other education programs has been cut. It is simply not possible to initiate a new program in a fiscal environment such as this.
  • AB 769 This would have given a CPS-level priority for state preschool to kids whose parents are in the judicial system. I agree with Arnie's veto message, that it would take child care away from other worthy recipients who were the intended target of this program.

Chinese dyslexia is different from English dyslexia

This is very interesting 
Chinese-speaking children with dyslexia have a disorder that is distinctly different, and perhaps more complicated and severe, than that of English speakers. Those differences can be seen in the brain and in the performance of Chinese children on visual and oral language tasks, reveals a report published online on October 12th in Current Biology.
English dyslexia consists of a "phonological disorder," meaning that people with the condition have trouble detecting or manipulating the sound structure of oral language, which in turn leads to problems in mapping speech sounds onto letters, explained Wai Ting Siok of the University of Hong Kong. In contrast, the new findings show that developmental dyslexia in Chinese is really two disorders: a visuospatial deficit and a phonological disorder combined.
Siok and her colleague Li Hai Tan say the difference can be traced to the characteristics of the two languages. "In English, the alphabetic letters that form visual words are pronounceable, so access to the pronunciation of English words is made possible by using letter-to-sound conversion rules," Siok said. "Written Chinese maps graphic forms—i.e., characters—onto meanings; Chinese characters possess a number of intricate strokes packed into a square configuration, and their pronunciations must be memorized by rote. This characteristic suggests that a fine-grained visuospatial analysis must be performed by the visual system in order to activate the characters' phonological and semantic information. Consequently, disordered phonological processing may commonly coexist with abnormal visuospatial processing in Chinese dyslexia."

Another review of autism and vaccines

Another review of the literature in the Journal for Specialists in Pediatric Nursing finds no relationship between autism and thimerosol, a preservative that used to be used in lots of vaccines. 

The fact that autism diagnoses went up after thimerosol was removed from vaccines should be proof enough. At this point, believing that vaccines cause autism is on an intellectual par with believing Obama is not a citizen or that evolution is false.

I have a stomache ache and can't go to school

I'm not completely sure what I think about this one. They looked at 34 kids 6 to 15 who had been diagnosed with "functional abdominal pain, defined as persistent pain with no identifiable underlying disease that interferes with activities. It is very common, affecting up to 20 percent of children." Half of the kids got guided imagery, delivered by CD at home.

The treatment consisted of a series of four biweekly (sic), 20-minute sessions and shorter 10-minute daily sessions. In session one, for example, the CD directs children to imagine floating on a cloud and relaxing progressively. The session then gives them therapeutic suggestions and imagery for reducing discomfort, such as letting a special shiny object melt into their hand and then placing their hand on their belly, spreading warmth and light from the hand inside the tummy to make a protective barrier inside that prevents anything from irritating the belly.
In the guided imagery group, 73% got better. In the control group, who got standard medical treatment, 27% got better. When they added guided imagery to the control group afterward, 58% got better. Benefits lasted  6 months in 2/3 of cases.

My problem with this begins with the diagnosis (he said, pretending to know something about physiology). There is apparently an illness that affects 20% of all kids bad enough to go to a doctor, and there is no physical correlate found for it. Not to be flip, it sounds to me like 20% of kids would rather go to a doctor than to school.

If functional abdominal pain were entirely physical, one would expect medical treatment to work better than guided imagery. If it were entirely psychosomatic, one would expect guided imagery to work better. Q.E.D. I'd like to see them replicate it with a disease with a known physical aspect, maybe cure diabetes by imagining one's blood sugar going down.

Now that I think of it, this kind of test may be useful in determining how much of a disease is psychological.  Does it get better by thinking about it in a certain way?

Monday, October 12, 2009

State offices open on Columbus day

Our local licensing office is open today, Columbus day, when all state offices used to be closed. I guess to make up for the loss of productivity from state employees taking unpaid furloughs, we'll make them work on what used to be a paid holiday.

Worst state law nominee: Oklahoma

From Lynn Harris in Salon, beginning November 1, doctors who do abortions will have to fill out a 34-item questionnaire and send it to the State Department of Health. Some of the questions are:
  • Date of abortion 
  • County in which abortion is performed
  • Age of mother
  • Marital status of mother 
  • Race of mother
  • Years of education of mother
  • Number of previous pregnancies, live births, miscarriages and induced abortions, and what methods were used, what prescription drugs were taken
  • Why the abortion was sought
  • Insurance coverage and payment method
  • What kind of information was provided to the woman
Harris points out that the questions seem designed more as political research in how to make abortion illegal than sociological research in how people behave.

Then, because the state of Oklahoma is so committed to open government and full disclosure of all information, they will post it on their website, not in aggregate but as individual records of abortion. They say it doesn't violate anyone's privacy rights because the names aren't posted, but in a small town, that information would be enough to identify any woman who had an abortion.

This is another example showing that what they really want to do is punish women who have more (or different) sex than they do.

Worst school district nominee:
Zero tolerance for cub scout eating utensils

A school in Newark, Delaware, has sentenced a 6-year-old to 45 days in the district's reform school for bringing to school a cub scout eating utensil that combined a fork, spoon, and knife. School officials say they  had no choice. They had to suspend him because knives are banned "regardless of possessor’s intent.”

This would have been a worst state law nominee, except the Delaware legislature recently changed the law to allow schools to be lenient on a case-by-case basis, after a third grader had been expelled for a year after her grandmother sent a cake to school for the kid's birthday and also sent a knife to cut it. So this school district didn't have to do this but, after thinking about it, thought it would be the right thing to do, because somebody might get their eye  put out. Really.

"There is no parent who wants to get a phone call where they hear that their child no longer has two good seeing eyes because there was a scuffle and someone pulled out a knife,” said George Evans, the president of the Christina district’s school board. He defended the decision, but added that the board might adjust the rules when it comes to younger children like Zachary.

Japan to introduce child care allowance

Next June,  Japan will begin giving citizens a child care allowance. The legislation is for $289 a month, but for the first year it will be half payments.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Does IQ matter?

There are several ways of attacking the question of whether IQ scores matter. One can test whether people who have high IQs are more successful in their careers or in their marriages. My guess is it would turn out yes, up to a minimum IQ (and a different minimum for different jobs), and no.

Or one can ask whether IQ tests measure anything we care about knowing. My answer is yes but not as much as we would like. Most of what I think I know about IQ and human intelligence comes from a book by that name by Nicholas Mackintosh. It came out in 1998, so it lacks all the recent genetics information, but it has a very interesting analysis of IQ tests and the nature of intelligence.

Stephen Colbert interviews Alison Gopnik

Stephen Colbert interviews Alison Gopnik, who was flogging her new book, The Philosophical Baby: What Children's Minds Tell Us About Truth, Love, and the Meaning of Life. Her thesis will be no surprise to anyone reading this blog: Babies are active learners and have a moral sense very early. She presents it well and stands up to Colbert well. I haven 't read any of her books, but I think I will. The Scientist in the Crib: What Early Learning Tells Us About the Mind looks interesting.
Alison Gopnik

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Toddlers and Tiaras: For some kids, not completely the worst thing you can do

After I posted about sexy preschoolers in Australia and a slideshow of toddler beauty queens, I was looking on TiVo the other night for something I wanted to record and ran across Toddlers and Tiaras, on The "Learning" Channel, of all places.
On any given weekend, on stages across the country, little girls and boys parade around wearing makeup, false eyelashes, spray tans and fake hair to be judged on their beauty, personality and costumes. Toddlers and Tiaras follows families on their quest for sparkly crowns, big titles, and lots of cash.
More after the jump.

Friday follies on Saturday

I was too busy on my real job yesterday to post this. This is old cat lying in a catnip plant yesterday afternoon. This time of year, the catnip is woody and nearly done for the season, but in the spring, when the catnip is lush and soft, she spends much of her time lying in it, chewing leaves, and blissing out.

We're not sure if she has Feline Cognitive Dysfunction Disorder (kitty Alzheimers) or is just drugged all the time.

Worst parent nominee: kid fights

I was looking for something else when I ran across this two-year-old story from England, but I 'm going to bring it up to establish a baseline for evil moms.

A divorced dad borrowed mom's video camera and found on it a film mom had made of her and her two sisters and grandma treating her two toddlers -- ages 2 and 3 --  like pit bulls, urging them to hit and kick each other. The boy was knocked down by his sister and tried to hide his head under a pillow to cry. “Get up – don’t be a wimp all your life.” He managed to knock down his sister. “Again while she’s down. Boot her.” He tries to run away. “Get up and punch her, you bloody faggot.” In the end, the adults are laughing, and the toddlers are crying

The four adults got a 12-month suspended sentence, and the mom lost her kids permanently.

It makes you think people should get licenses to have kids, and a course in child growth and development should be part of the permit process. And a psychological exam, to keep out people like this mom.

UPDATE: It's an epidemic.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Hate crimes and speech crimes

The House of Representatives has just passed a new  hate crimes bill, adding gays to the list of victims covered.

I have to say I'm against hate crime laws. It's too much like making thoughts illegal. I'm pretty much a first amendment absolutist, and I think punishing people for the actual crime (e.g., the beating) rather than the intent (because the victim was gay, black, white, whatever) is enough.

I'm even more against hate speech laws. While it is in very bad taste to call someone a (insert vilest ethnic or sexual slur you can think of), it shouldn't be illegal. That's what being a first amendment absolutist means, protecting vile speech.

If given a choice between allowing the nastiest speech I can imagine versus protecting the feelings of someone from being called a whatever, I'll allow the hateful speech every time. That's 'allow' in the legal sense of not putting somebody in jail for it; citizens have every right to shun a bigot, or to shout him down, or boycott him, but not to put him in jail. Stupid and evil thoughts and words are constitutionally protected. That's why Fox news is still in business.


FYI, the ads along the left side of the page are generated by Google. Right now, I see one for a that is "guaranteed" to teach autistic kids to talk. I hope nobody thinks I would endorse such a claim.

Quote: Mencken

We must respect the other fellow's religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart.

--Henry Louis Mencken

Cooked vs Packaged meals in India's state preschool program

One of the burning child development policy issues in India (which has some fascinating issues I expect to touch on from time to time in this blog) is whether to serve hot, cooked meals or packaged foods to kids in their Integrated Child Development Scheme.

They have created over 40,000 centers nationwide since 1975, providing education, health, and nutrition services to pregnant or nursing mothers and 23 million kids under 6. Half of those kids are in ECE. It's sort of a combination of WIC, SCHIP, and Head Start (or, for Californians, Healthy Families and State Preschool).

In general, India has made a huge effort to save large percentages of preschool slots for the lowest classes, even in private schools. (They use a euphemism for the lowest class that I can't remember. If it comes to me, I'll update this post.)

Worst provider nominee: bombs and pot

A family home child care provider in Lake Elsinore has been arrested for making bombs and growing marijuana on-site. It was discovered when her son went to the hospital with his fingers blown off.

What she should do is hire a Reggio expert witness to say that the kids had shown an interest in bombs and pot, so what looked like evidence of a series of felonies was merely emergent curriculum.

CD folks wanting to be that expert should contact her lawyer to suggest it. Don't tell them where you got the idea.

UPDATE: I wonder how long it had been since this family home day care had been visited by Licensing. Maybe somebody at licensing should find this out and let the legislature know the effects of cutting site visits. Or let me know, and I'll pass it along.

Earning your contract

A good time was had by all at the CDPI Fall Public Policy Forum. As I said earlier,  a big topic was earning your contract, or more specifically, what CDE is doing to help people earn their contracts. The legislature is on CDE's butt to spend all the money the leg allocates. CDE is trying three main things:

  • Combining CCTR and CPRE into CSPP, so money and kids can be moved between programs
  • Using local planning councils to facilitate transfers of money between under-earning and over-earning programs
  • When someone relinquishes a contract, especially mid-year, simplifying the procedure for getting a new contract issued to a new contractor
Although they didn't seem to like it being out in public when someone brought it up at a workshop, in the back rooms of CDE, they are also considering:
  • multi-year contracts (CCDAA has been pushing this for years)
  • competitive bidding for contracts, on the Head Start model (boy, do I see some problems here)
Hey, when contractors are sending back $200,000,000 in unspent funds in a year, that's a lot of services not being received by the public, and  you gotta do something.