Friday, May 28, 2010

ESL not working well in California

Nearly 60% of English-language learners in California's high schools have failed to become proficient in English despite more than six years of a U.S. education, according to a study released Thursday.
In a survey of 40 school districts, the study found that the majority of long-term English-language learners are U.S. natives who prefer English and are orally bilingual. But they develop major deficits in reading and writing, fail to achieve the academic English needed for educational success and disproportionately drop out of high school.
So it's not immigrants. It's native-born children of immigrants, who come from Spanish-speaking homes and themselves speak English just fine but can't read or write it well.

My guess is it is because we teach them to read in English, when it is their second language, even if they speak it well enough. There is research I don't have at hand right how showing that little kids with non-English home languages learn to read English better if they learn to read first in their native language and then transfer that skill to their second language rather than trying to develop the skill in the second language, where they have to translate as they learn to read.

I wonder how well these kids read and write in Spanish.

A theory of psychopathy

One previous explanation for psychopathic tendencies has been a reduced capacity to make inferences about the mental states of other people, an ability known as Theory of Mind (ToM). On the other hand, psychopaths are also known to be extremely good manipulators and deceivers, which would imply that they have good skills in inferring the knowledge, needs, intentions, and beliefs of other people. Therefore, it has been suggested recently that ToM is made up of different aspects: a cognitive part, which requires inferences about knowledge and beliefs, and another part which requires the understanding of emotions.
 The study compared the ability to understand emotional aspects of other's minds in known psychopaths, people with damage to the frontal lobes, people with other kinds of brain damage, and normals. Psychopaths and people with damaged frontal lobes showed the same pattern of impairments.

I've known a few psychopaths over the years. They're scary. And it could be that it's just an organic dysfunction of the frontal lobes. Of course, I've long presumed that it was some organic thing in the brain.

So if it's a brain condition they are born with, we can no more hold it against them personally than we can hold it against someone that they are gay, or left-handed, or short, or conservative, or militaristic. But we don't have to let them hurt us. Psychopaths being evil is no more just a set of behaviors than being gay is. It's deep in their selves.

This leads to an idea I find repugnant. Suppose we find a brain signature that identifies psychopaths with 100% accuracy at birth. What do we do with these cute little babies who will grow up to rape and pillage society? Do we drown them at birth? Do we send them to live on an island with other psychopaths? Do we make them wear a scarlet P? Or maybe a GPS ankle bracelet? Do you track them in school and give them extra counseling? Some sort of psychotherapy?

Or worse, suppose the test identifies them with 2% false positives and 2% false negatives. If you do any of the above,  you're ruining 2 out of a hundred kids.

Or as a child care provider, you find out the biter in the toddler room was identified in the test, what do you do? How do you treat a kid that you know has a 98% chance of being evil? Or even a 50% chance?

Our only hope is for science to find the specific deficits and a way to ameliorate them. I wonder what inhaled oxytocin would do to psychopaths. Or inject empathy stem cells into their frontal lobes.

Friday follies

Boys will be boys, even if they're cats. I can't show embarrassing photos of the fruit of my loins, because, well, it would be embarrassing and therefore rude, but middle cat won't mind. He almost blends into the rug, like the black cat on the witch's black rug in the children's book.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Food supplements so preggers can drink safely

Some researchers have found that a dietary supplement called CDP-Choline, which  is sold commercially as a brain booster and studied academically for stroke and traumatic brain injury, may prevent the fetal skull and brain damage that occurs when mom drinks early in her pregnancy, at least in mice. The really bad time to drink is "four weeks after conception when neural crest cells emerge for a few days before morphing into other cell types that help form numerous organs," when she may not know she's pregnant.

As I read this, it might be a good idea for a woman who might become pregnant and who likes a couple of glasses of wine once in a while to take this supplement, in case the one night since college she has four glasses of wine and a margarita is during the window of neural crest cell emergence of a fetus she doesn't know she's carrying. It might be nice insurance.

Another bad thing about bisphenol-A: cancer

I've written before about SB 797, which would prohibit bisphenol-A from being used in many food containers for kids. It is an endocrine disruptor that causes a host of problems in little kids and breast cancer in adults, and now it is associated with other cancers and does a bunch of bad things to fetuses.
Developing embryos 'read' environmental cues as a forecast of the outside world. These cues can affect the way certain genes are expressed and in this way alter the structure and function of organs. Studies in rodents show that EDCs can cause harm at much lower levels if exposure happens during organ formation as opposed to exposures during adulthood.
Why is this so hard? As I said before,
All the medical groups were for (SB 797), and all the industry groups were against it. Guess who won. ... We have decided as a state that the fact that this chemical causes behavioral changes and changes to sexual organs in children and cancer in adults is not important enough to inconvenience manufacturers of food containers or to make them use more expensive ingredients. Our democracy in action.

Who gets bit by sharks

So I'm reading this report of a study on who gets bit by sharks and how and when, not intending to blog about it. It turns out it's mostly:

  • in about 6 feet of water
  • surfers, because they spend the most time in water that deepjavascript:void(0)
  • leg bites, because that's what dangles in the water
  • during the summer
  • on Sunday, because even a lot of surfers work during the week
  • early morning and late afternoons, when surfers spend more time in the water
  • Whites, presumably because so are fish bellies
  • wearing black and white bathing suits
So far, so good, and mildly interesting. But then:
"The greatest number of attacks occurred during new moons, followed by full moons, the edges of the lunar extreme when the moon has its biggest pull on the tidal phase, Burgess said. Probably the moon's phases influence the movements and reproductive patterns of fish, the shark's food source, just as they affect human behavior, he said." (bold mine)
No, no, no, no, no. Full moons do not affect human behavior. This has been shown time after time to be a myth.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Another gene for autism

They found another gene variant in autists and mentally impaired patients. In some, it was also found  in a parent, and in others, it was a new mutation. It has to do with how synapses operate. Another step in understanding and then, one day, ameliorating the problems.

Since the allele is associated with retardation and autism (but not necessarily at the same time, since some autists with it are normal intelligence), it brings to mind what I wrote about yesterday, that sometimes it makes sense to categorize mental health problems by their biological symptoms rather than their psychological ones. The subjects in this study could be categorized as autistic and/or retarded, or they could be categorized as having a synapse problem (or something like that). It could also be that the symptoms are related to the part of the brain the allele is expressed in.

Is being fat really bad for your health?

Some researchers looked at the BMI, body mass index, of 18,000 people. We all know obesity is bad for your health. The researchers had access to the subjects' medical records, so they knew  just what drugs each was taking. They ignored meds typically not used for physical illness. They assumed if they were on pills usually used for high blood pressure, that the person had high blood pressure. It's a reasonable assumption, though it introduces a little error when doctors use a drug for an off-label condition.
After applying a number of statistical tests to the data, the researchers found that among all age groups, with few exceptions, there was no significant difference in the severity of illness between those with normal weight and overweight BMIs. There was a slight increase in the percentage of medication use among men age 40 to 70 with overweight BMIs when compared to men of normal weight.
But in men and women under 40, there was no relation at all.

God it's hard to know what to think about this. Every damned thing you read in the popular press tells you being fat is bad for you, for your heart, your blood pressure, your kidneys, your arthritis, and then every once in a while there's a study like this, where there seems to be no relationship, much less a causal relationship, between being fat and being sick. And then there are all the studies saying your body knows just how fat it wants to be, and by god, it's going to be that fat, no more, no less. In ten years, there will be a pill that takes you down to fighting weight and then levels you off there. Then we'll find out if health improves just by being thinner.

And then I run across this study, which says infants with genes associated with obesity in adults gain weight faster than infants who don't. The authors suggest genes are associated with failure to thrive. Every damned thing you read says human behavior is god-awful complicated and subject to conflicting biological influences, some genetic, some not.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A new way to think about mental disorders

A commentary in JAMA, discussed in Science Daily, suggests a different way of thinking about mental illness. Since we know that
  • the symptoms of schizophrenia, bipolar, autism, and, for all I know, everything up to a fondness for romance novels are the behavioral manifestations of biological things going on in brains, and
  • much of that is controlled by genes, which alleles are present and which are expressed, and
  • the genes and neuroscience do not map straight across to symptoms,
therefore, it makes sense to describe mental illnesses in terms of the biological substrate rather than the behavior.

This all makes sense to me. When you deal with a person with a mental disorder face to face, you see the symptoms, but if you're in the lab trying to figure out how to fix or ameliorate the problem, you're better off thinking in terms of problems with myelination, expression of certain genes, or uptake rate of some neurotransmitter. The rest of us can still think in terms of schizophrenia, bipolar, etc, but we may need to get used to a different set of scientific categories.

Monday, May 24, 2010

"the natural consequences of an immoral act"

Via Digby, you don't often hear right-wingers so explicit in their religious nastiness. In talking about a Utah Democrat, Digby mentions
"a failed Utah initiative to deal with STDs among teenagers and the fact that many of them will end up sterile, among other things, because they aren't educated about it and don't get treated. (The Democrat) relays the response from some social conservative harpy which was,'I don't think we should do anything to interfere with the natural consequences of an immoral act.'"
In other words:
  • God's laws should be the basis of public policy (and she knows what God's laws are).
  • Teenage sluts deserve what they get for violating God's law (unless they are related to part-term governors of Alaska, in which case they are paid $30,000 a crack* for speaking out against sluttiness).
*The pun didn't occur to me until after I wrote it, but if the slut** fits, wear her.

**You know I'm being sarcastic about a girl being a slut just because she got pregnant, don't you?

UPDATE: I just wrote the post above about thinking of mental disorders in terms of their biological processes, and I  think a little better of this lady. She's not evil; she can't help having her repulsive ideas, because that's how her brain works.

Andrew Wakefield banned from practicing medicine

The British doctor whose flawed and ultimately withdrawn paper started the autism-vaccine controversy has been banned from practicing medicine in Britain. He calls it "a bump in the road."

My new favorite blog: The Scientific Fundamentalist

I just discovered the Scientific Fundamentalist blog at Psychology Today. It's  written by an evolutionary psychologist with a sensibility I find very amiable. Lately it has been dealing with aspects of IQ. I'd start here, where he states a hypothesis he follows up on in later posts.
(T)hat more intelligent individuals are more likely than less intelligent individuals to acquire and espouse evolutionarily novel preferences and values that did not exist in the ancestral environment and thus our ancestors did not have, but general intelligence has no effect on the acquisition and espousal of evolutionarily familiar preferences and values that existed in the ancestral environment.
It turns out I had blogged about this idea in February, and this is the guy that had the idea. In a series of posts following the one quoted, he explicates other aspects of it, such as "If Liberals Are More Intelligent than Conservatives, Why Are Liberals So Stupid?"

This is going to be a regular read for me.

Flash: cutting child care means people can't get to work

To people in the field, this was obvious, but now, at least, it has reached the consciousness of the Ruling Class. An article in the New York Times discusses low-income workers whose subsidized child care has been cut, so they lost their jobs, so they had to go on welfare. And it's not like people who qualify for APP or Title 5 are likely to be in jobs where they are irreplaceable. I've seen grumblings in the paper from California Democrats that they get that fact and that cutting CDD programs loses the federal match.

So when do we go off the cliff this year? September? I've heard people from CDE say October, but they think most of us will survive, and only a few of those will be really seriously injured.

I just realized that nobody who doesn't follow the California subsidized child care budget has much idea what I said above. So be it.

And in the middle of our budget cuts, I see a story (thank you, Google News) on 3 new centers being built at the  naval station on Coronado, near San Diego. Two are normal hours, and one is 24-hour. As with all military-based child care, the centers will be accredited and inspected I think it's monthly. I know someone involved in military programs in our area, and they seem to be really well done. The article says the reason they are building the new centers is that the existing centers are inconvenient for sailors to drive to.
Having a CDC on base is going to be great,” said Operations Specialist 3rd Class Nakia Levenberry, assigned to NAB Coronado. “I won’t have to worry about being late to pick my son up due to traffic issues, and in case of an emergency I won’t have to travel far to get to him. I also have the comfort of knowing he’s close enough for me to check on during the day.”
I don't think I'm jealous, because I don't want the military not to have this kind of child care, but I am certainly envious when I think of the May Revise and read about military child care.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Dolphins are just gay sharks

At Joe. My. God., I learned this morning that "dolphins are just gay sharks."

More bad stuff about bisphenol-A

Bisphenol-A (BPA) is a weak estrogen that is used in making plastics for many food containers. It leaches out into the food and "interfere(s) with hormone biosynthesis, metabolism or action resulting in adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological and immune effects in both humans and wildlife." They cause all sorts of sexual problems in frogs. I've talked before about it increasing aggression in toddler girls. Now a study has shown it may cause breast cancer when they grow up.

SB 797 is a bill that would ban BPA in most food containers intended for children's use. It passed the Senate. It failed on a floor vote in the Assembly but was granted reconsideration. It was placed on the inactive file at the request of Assembly Member Torrico. All the medical groups were for it, and all the industry groups were against it. Guess who won. Unless a miracle happens, control of BPA in food containers in California is dead.

We have decided as a state that the fact that this chemical causes behavioral changes and changes to sexual organs in children and cancer in adults is not important enough to inconvenience manufacturers of food containers or to make them use more expensive ingredients. Our democracy in action.

As H.L. Mencken said, "Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard." I can't find the exact quote, but he also said something like, Democracy is the system under which the American people, having millions of adult White males to choose from, including many who are handsome and some who are wise, choose a Calvin Coolidge to be their president. It is as though a man were were faced with a sumptuous banquet and turn his back on it to snatch flies out of the air and put them in his mouth. Or something like that.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Friday follies

Young cat wandering the garden. The patch on his right thigh is where we think the crow beak-stabbed him up in the tree. The hair is growing back in a color pattern that looks like the flat side of  a cut geode.

Toward drug treatment for autism

I've talked before about hopeful signs of a treatment for autism. Now some researchers have found a drug that improves communication between nerve cells in mice with a disorder called Phelan-McDermid Syndrome, the symptoms of which they say "fall under the autism spectrum disorder category."

It's not a cure for autism, but it's another hopeful sign.

Books are good

We know that education of the parents predicts the education level of the kids. But now, from a 20-year study involving 70,000 cases in 27 countries, we know that "Whether rich or poor, residents of the United States or China, illiterate or college graduates, parents who have books in the home increase the level of education their children will attain."

The difference was striking. The difference in later education between having zero books in the home and 500 is the same magnitude as between having parents with a third-grade education and parents with a bachelor's degree. Either having parents with degrees or 500 books pushes a kid further in their education by  2.4 years in the US or 6.6 years in China. All countries combined, it's 3.4 years.

And it scales. Having 20 books makes a difference. A smaller difference than 500, but the more the better, up to 500, where they stopped looking.

This is much cooler than budget meetings. And it's gratifying to know I did something right with my own issue.

UPDATE: I wonder how additive it is. Does having both a BA and 500 books add 4.8 years of education? And how far up does it scale? Does having an MA or PhD or 2000 books have an effect? How much?

Post-May revise depression

Going to planning meetings this week has been like being in a car hurtling toward a cliff, and we're inside talking about what to do if we survive. How injured do we expect to be? What direction should we try to crawl? Should we put the least valuable of us on the bottom as a cushion for the more valuable? What if we end up so injured that we face a life of constant pain?

And what if we all die? Nobody talks about what if the budget is really passed as proposed. What if we do lose all those programs, 140,000 slots, and I forget how many billions of dollars in revenue? I guess a lot of us find new jobs.

It's depressing as hell, and the personal questions are worse. Is there a non-child-care position open at your agency, or what would you like your next career to be at your age?

Buck up, kiddo. The Dems won't let that happen, although the Reps seem pretty united. In the past the Dems have been able to peel off a Rep or two by offering them something (such as Prop 14, or something for their district), but this time the Republican leadership is telling them that they will be dead to the leadership if they vote for a budget with a single tax increase.

I'll say it again. Voting Republican is a character fault. Voting Republican enthusiastically is a personality disorder.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

More musing on music

I mused the other day about the differences in the my partner and I react to music. MP feels salsa deep in the core, and I get it from 12-bar blues. Some new research published oddly enough in the New Journal of Physics says the most important thing about music is the rhythm. They were looking at ways of improving algorithms that say, "If you like this music, you'll like ..."

We also learned recently that babies like to keep time and that the sounds of music are related to sounds of speech. "Happy talk uses happy-music intervals, and sad talk uses sad-music intervals. We also create music that fits our vowels, which are the sounds air makes as it flows through our oral cavity."

So maybe the fact that I spent my first three years in Texas, and MP spent her first three years in California caused us to be raised around different speech patterns, or accents. Nah, that's silly. Otherwise everybody in MP's social stratum in Southern California would like salsa, and every dirt farmer's kid in Texas would like the blues.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Depression among preschoolers

This study found that there are preschoolers who have depression. The  anhedonia (inability to feel pleasure) that shows up in adults as decreased libido shows up in preschoolers as not enjoying playing. Depression may not get noticed, because it's not disruptive behavior, and kids may not show the symptoms all the time, but they do still have the "symptoms of depression, including appearing less joyful, being prone to guilt, and changes in sleep patterns."

The problem is when it's not a phase but an early expression of a life-long problem. But kids brains are so plastic that you would expect early intervention to help. The miracle of compound interest works with brains, too, so the earlier it can start, the better chance a kid has to be not depressed as an adult.

I guess the lesson for providers is to notice and refer when you see a kid who just doesn't have a good time.

Mom's antibodies last a few months in baby

Young infants appear to have a gap in their protection against measles, from around two to three months old until they are vaccinated at 12 months of age...This is because the level of antibodies infants get from their mother drops over time, leaving them susceptible until they are vaccinated.
So parents who choose not to vaccinate their kids risk infecting other people's infants.

The study was looking at maternal antibodies and had some other interesting results. Women who had been vaccinated themselves had fewer antibodies than those who got their immunity from having the disease, and so did their kids, and then mom's antibodies fade away in the first few months, much faster in kids of vaccinated moms. "The researchers found no significant impact of breastfeeding, birth weight, educational level, caesarean section or day care attendance on the duration of maternal antibodies" in the kid.

So immunity from measles is stronger in kids of women who got the immunity from the disease. The question is whether the immunity acquired through vaccination is enough to prevent the disease, and it seems to be.

Reducing infections a little bit with active yogurt

A study financed by and partially conducted by the Dannon yogurt company (at Georgetown, with a Georgetown lead author) says, "The probiotic yogurt-like drink DanActive reduced the rate of common sicknesses such as ear infections, sinusitis, the flu and diarrhea in daycare children."

The EurekAlert sounds as though it was written by Dannon's marketing department ("Probiotic foods are continuing to increase in popularity and some are marketed for the potential benefits" of the stuff in Dannon's product ... "The study, titled DRINK (Decreasing the Rates of Illness in Kids), was a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study – the gold standard in clinical research design").

I hate this type of press release, where objectively it's reputable scientists doing real research at reputable places, and then they run it through a marketing department and make it sound sleazy.

But to the study, they gave 638 kids 3 to 6 a bottle of strawberry DanActive once a day and then sent them off to day care. Half got the real stuff and half got a regular (placebo) yogurt drink.
Researchers found a 19 percent decrease of common infections among the children who drank the yogurt-like drink with L. casei DN-114 001 compared to those whose drink did not have the probiotic. More specifically, those who drank DanActive had 24 percent fewer gastrointestinal infections (such as diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting), and 18 percent fewer upper respiratory tract infections (such as ear infections, sinusitis and strep). However, the reduction in infections did not result in fewer missed school days or activities – also a primary outcome of the study.
So Dannon paid for a study to see if giving little kids their product would make them less sick.  If found that they were sick less frequently, but the degree of relative unsickness wasn't enough to affect their daily activities, including being sent home sick from day care. So if they like it, let 'em have it, but don't think of it as medicine.

I like this study better now, and I see why the marketing flacks had to puff it up: the real story was disappointing to them.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Thou shalt have dominion over all the animals, but not until you turn 5

Last week, I noted a report saying that urban kids had "a human-centered pattern of reasoning," but rural kids did not. Today we learn that these urban kids (actually different urban kids) learn this perspective between the ages of 3 and 5. "... 3-year-olds showed no hint of anthropocentrism."

The EurekAlert article about is strange in one way. It says, "This outcome, considered in conjunction with recent cross-cultural evidence including Native American children, suggests a new model of development: Human-centered reasoning is not an obligatory starting point for development, as researchers and educators had previously assumed." 

But the "recent cross cultural evidence including Native American children" also included White rural kids, who tested the same as the Native Americans, so the cultures the study found differences between were urban and rural, not White and Native American.

Monday, May 17, 2010

When talking with kids, it's how as much as how much

It turns out that talking to 3- to 6-year olds as full-fledged conversation partners helps the kids develop what the researchers call "academic language."
Children at a primary school need a certain type of language proficiency: academic language. Academic language is not an independent, new language, but is the language that teachers use and expect from the pupils. It enables children to understand instructions and to demonstrate their knowledge in an efficient manner. Academic language is characterised by difficult, abstract words and complex sentence structures. The language often contains a lot of clauses and conjunctions and due to the methods of argument and analysis it has a scientific appearance.

Henrichs demonstrated that children are already confronted with academic language in the nursery school. They already hear a lot academic language from the teacher and are often expected to use academic language themselves. The extent to which academic language is used at home was found to differ strongly between families. An essential aspect is how parents approach their children during conversations. If children are given the opportunity to make meaningful contributions to conversations, they often use characteristics of academic language proficiency naturally. In addition to this, the knowledge of academic language depends on the extent to which parents read to their children, tell them stories and hold conversations about interesting subjects. 
I guess this study tells us something about why kids in high-quality preschool are better prepared for kindergarten than other kids and why kids from higher socio-economic status (to a point) know more words when they get to preschool than poorer kids. The second factor is more important than the first.

I guess it's not surprising that a mother with more education will talk to her kids differently than a mother with less, and the topics of conversation will be different. I wonder if there is a difference in amount of conversation as well.

But for child care providers, the message is to do what they've been doing, converse with the kids.

Inter-species love

I found this at Andrew Sullivan's, too. I teared up when the gorilla wouldn't let him go.

This is so much nicer to think about than the budget. It's Monday morning, and I get to go into the agency and discuss the elimination of 141,000 child care slots statewide, and what that means for us.

The first step to a solution is to change the constitution so we can pass a budget with just a majority.

But right now, the solution is to look at this sweet video and forget about the budget for a couple of minutes.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Beetle Porn

I found this at Andrew Sullivan's, who found it at the Daily It's a male beetle's revenge for what female praying mantids do.

Musing on music

My partner (MP) and I have different core music values. By that I mean we are moved deep in the lizard brain by different types of music. For me, it's 12-bar blues. For MP, it's salsa. Now MP likes blues okay, and I like salsa okay, but 12-bar blues makes my feet tap and head sway, while salsa makes MP's hips and shoulders move. I most like the parts of rock and roll, R&B, soul music, swing, gospel, and country music that are most like 12-bar blues.

Now why should that be? I don't have anything in my background that would move me toward the blues, nor does MP have any background in salsa, but for each of us, that music seems to resonate with us more than any other, though it's not particularly from our heritage, and for that matter, our heritages are fairly similar, amounting to different parts of Europe. Maybe it's something in the prenatal wiring of the auditory cortex and depends on whether our moms were getting more micro-nutrients from ribs, potatoes, and collard greens or tacos with beans and rice.

I don't have an answer, or even a plausible conjecture. It's just something I've been wondering about.

Friday follies on Saturday

There was more sun there when old cat laid down, but she doesn't move nearly as much as she used to, even to follow the sun. Young cat just zips around her.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Where are their mothers? 7-year-olds do slut dance

This video has been making the rounds. It's five 7-year-olds in a dance competition, dancing like teen-aged sluts to All the Single Ladies.

I remember a Chris Rock stand-up routine where he said his main obligation as a father to his daughter was to keep her off the pole. These parents are training their daughters for it. They should be ashamed. I hope they're ready for these girls when they turn 15. The boys will be. Or maybe when they turn 12.

UPDATE: My partner pointed out to me that 12-year-old boys will be too scared of them, but 15 and 18 and 25 and 40-year-old boys won't be.

To the few who think it's just a dance and good exercise, I would say second-grade girls should exercise in public in less skimpy (and less black and red) outfits, and they should dance without pretending to cup their still non-existent boobs with their hands. That was the part that got me, them holding their hands alongside their chests, pretending to offer themselves, and thrusting their hips. Or maybe the offering wasn't pretend. Who knows?

I've thought about this off and on over the last couple of days, and one thought that keeps coming back (besides that their mothers are going to have their own hands full in high school) is that a video of a line of 7-year-old girls in black and red lingerie holding their "boobs" and thrusting their hips sure seems like it would fit under the widening definition of child pornography. Our watching it may be illegal, and if so, their choreographing and filming it would certainly be kiddie porn. It's a crime against nature, even if it's not a crime according to the state.

And that damned line from the song keeps going through my head.

California child care care budget: the bad, the worse, and the ugly.

Oh. My. God. The governator proposes to eliminate CalWORKS and "the remainder of state funding for need‑based, subsidized child care." All but state preschool.

Actually it's a little ambiguous. It says cut all the programs, but then it proposes changes to how the programs are administered, such as requiring programs to recover all overpayments and changing the RMR percentile. It says it's cutting 141,000 slots (I think this is just center-based), but then it says there is enough federal money for 78,000 slots, with an income limit of 60% of the state median income. I presume they put the administrative changes in so they will have some budget cuts left when the Democrats refuse to allow the elimination of CalWORKS and all need-based subsidized child care programs.

Come on, guys*. It's time to put on your big-girl panties and raise taxes. I'm not the most affluent person in the state, but I could live with, say, a 10% increase in my state taxes in order not to cut these programs. I wonder how much effect a 10% increase in state income tax revenue would have.

I will repeat myself. Voting Republican is a character fault. Voting Republican enthusiastically is a personality disorder.

*I almost called legislators a word I try not to use except literally; it is a colloquial name for a body part and means a weak-willed person. I can think of several other body-part names that would also be appropriate, though rude.

Bad family child care hurts kids brains

Forty percent of preschoolers in this study of 110 full-day licensed family child care homes had higher levels of cortisol when they were in child care than they did at home. This was among mostly White, middle-class 3s and 4s.

It also found that cortisol increases over the day were larger in settings where care providers were intrusive or overcontrolling. In such settings, children moved frequently between activities, were given relatively little time for free play, and spent long periods of time in structured activities led by the providers. While many of these structured activities seemed designed to help the preschoolers learn letters, numbers, and colors, the activities weren't carried out in a way that allowed the children to learn actively through play, but rather in a rote fashion that required the little ones to sit quietly and respond when called on.
The larger elevations in cortisol meant different things for girls and boys in terms of behavior. Girls with larger increases in the hormone acted more anxious and vigilant at child care, while boys acted more angry and aggressive.

What this tells me is that a lot of family child care is crappy. Too many providers think school readiness comes from flash cards and worksheets. Since we now know that this kind of age-inappropriate "teaching" raises cortisol levels, and we know all the bad stuff cortisol does to little kids, this kind of child care could almost be classified as child abuse. Maybe we should require some sort of education for licensed child care, at least some workshops from the local R&R.

But we know it's a symptom of a major error in early education, the elementary schoolization of preschool. Family providers, not by and large knowing much about child development, think rote memorization is the way to teach kids. It worked for them, didn't it? I get so depressed thinking about this crap.

Effects of high-quality child care persist into high school

Oh, boy, the new Child Development is out, but their website won't give me access to the full articles, for some reason, though I'm logged in, so I have to rely on Eurekalert's reporting.

The first article uses the  NICHD Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development to track the effects of child care to age 15. They found modest improvements in academics and behavior in kids who were in high-quality care compared with lower-quality care, and kids who spent the most time in any kind of child care self-reported more impulsiveness and risk taking at 15. "High-quality care was characterized by the caregivers' warmth, support, and cognitive stimulation of the children under their care."

The study's findings were consistent among boys as well as girls. In addition, previous studies had suggested that child care could have benefits for children from economically disadvantaged homes. So the researchers created a risk index with such factors as family income, the mother's level of education, and mothers' reports of depression symptoms, dividing their group into three based on risk. Both the achievement and behavior patterns they had found were consistent across all three groups.

In other words, the kinds of effects child care and high-quality child care have been shown to have at 4 or 5 continue at least through age 15. Because it is a tenet of my child-development world view that kids with  poor, uneducated, or depressed moms benefit more from high-quality child care than others, I would expect the effects to be greater among those kids, but they weren't, which means I will need to rethink some policy positions that follow from that. That's the bad part about believing in evidence. You have to keep rethinking things.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Mirror neurons are normal in autists

This overturns one of my pet conjectures. Researchers have found that the mirror neuron system in autists functions normally. It was lots of people's pet theory, and there had been some evidence that the system was weak in autists, but:
To further test this influential theory, the researchers asked individuals with autism and a control group to observe and execute different hand movements while being scanned with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The fMRI measurements allowed the researchers to infer the strength of neural responses in mirror system areas of each group during movement observation and execution. Their results showed that mirror system areas of individuals with autism not only responded strongly during movement observation, but did so in a movement-selective manner such that different movements exhibited unique neural responses. The mirror system responses of individuals with autism were, therefore, equivalent to those commonly reported (and observed here) for controls.
These results, they conclude, argue strongly against the "dysfunctional mirror system hypothesis of autism" because they show that mirror system areas respond normally in individuals with autism.
That's the way science works. Ya makes yer best guess, and then somebody comes along and proves ya wrong.

A spoonful of sugar

It seems giving a few drops of sugar water to infants before giving them immunizations makes them cry less. That's worth doing. It didn't work so well after 1 year of age.

The epigenetics of human milk

One of the coolest things scientists can do now is figure out which genes are turned on or off in a living person. (They look at the RNA that the DNA in a particular cell produces.) These researchers found that different genes are activated in the guts of breast-fed babies than in formula-fed babies. We can't say yet what the specific effects of those differences are, but you have to start with the guess that formula fails to start some normal epigenetic process. The genes they found differently expressed mostly have to do with gut development, which is not surprising, since they did the study with cells exfoliated from the gut and pooped out.

The researchers suggest it  has something to do with all those health issues that differ between breast-fed and bottle-fed babies.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Sometimes a phone call is as good as being there

Some researchers stressed some adolescent girls by making them give an impromptu speech and solve a series of math problems in front of a panel of strangers. Their cortisol levels soared. Then some were comforted by hugs from mom, some by a phone call from mom, and some watched an emotionally neutral movie.

The interesting result was that the phone call increased oxytocin and reduced cortisol as much as the hug from mom.

Indian British kids less crazy than White British kids

Some researchers have looked at the mental health of Indian-British kids compared with White British kids and those of other ethnoses and found that Indians have fewer mental health problems.
In this study, researchers used data from the 1999 and 2004 British Child and Adolescent Mental Health Surveys, which took a nationwide sample of 5-16 year olds living in England. The proportion of Indian children with any mental health disorder was 3.7%, the lowest of any major ethnic group and substantially lower than the 10.0% proportion in White children. This Indian mental health advantage was driven by Indian children having fewer behavioural problems (e.g. aggressive or antisocial behaviour) and fewer hyperactivity problems. This pattern was reported by parents, teachers and children alike, suggesting that it reflects a real difference and is not the result of chance or biased reporting.
Part of the Indian mental health advantage was explained by the fact that Indian children were more likely to live in two parent familes and had higher academic abilities. Most of the advantage, however, was not explained by the major known risk factors. In addition, Indian children did not show the strong socio-economic gradient in behavioural and hyperactivity problems which was observed in Whites.
So why is this? The authors looked at the usual suspects and threw up their hands. There are other conceivable suspects. Maybe people from that region are genetically different in the parts of the brain that cause mental disorders. I doubt it. We don't know if Indians in India are the same, and I think we would have noticed if a couple of billion people had 1/3 as much mental illness as Europeans. Maybe not.

Another modestly plausible suspect is epigenetics. Maybe getting curry through mother's milk affects early myelination, or maybe the way Indian moms handle their infants affects their seratonin/dopamine balance. 

I'd put my first (also exceedingly modest) bet on culture, possibly acting through epigenetics. If I had to guess (and it's part of the Blogger's Oath that I will guess with a strength of opinion inverse to my actual knowledge of the subject), I'd guess that something in White British culture that makes kids crazy is ameliorated by the way Indian moms treat their little kids. And it probably has something to do with brain development. Is that general enough? 

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Cultural epigenetics; where you live affects how you think

In reasoning about nature, kids who live where they see it think differently about animals than kids who don't. This study looked at urban kids in Chicago and rural European and American Indian kids in Wisconsin.
For decades, the consensus was that as young children begin reasoning about the biological world, they adopt an "anthropocentric" stance, favoring humans over non-human animals when it comes to learning about properties of animals. ... The results were striking -- while young urban children revealed a human-centered pattern of reasoning, the rural European-American and Native American children did not.
The authors also talk about the different notions of "alive" in Indian and European cultures, but the difference in thinking they point to is rural vs. urban.

I wish I knew more about the actual study. I suppose I could find it.  I wonder if they just showed kids Tom and Jerry cartoons and then asked them if cats really dress like hep cats and chase mice with cleavers.

But it sounds to me like scaffolding. You bring what you have, and that affects how you receive what you encounter. It also sounds like a cultural version of Lamarckian evolution, where early experience changes the mind's phenotype. (You realize that I intend this as a metaphor, don't you?) That makes it a sort of cultural epigenetics. Stuff that happens to you because of where you live affects the way you think.

I was in junior high when I first discovered evolution by natural selection. I immediately understood it, and I immediately knew it was true. In high school civics class, I remember a discussion of Herbert Spencer. I wonder if they still study Spencer in 12th grade. Spencer's big idea was cultural Darwinism, by which he meant that fit people become rich, and unfit people become poor; that's how you tell fit from unfit.

I remember my mind wandering. I was applying natural selection to cultural phenomena, specifically fads. They come into existence more or less randomly, and the ones that fit our culture last, while the others die off. (The similarity of this idea to Dawkins' memes has not escaped me.) And this issue sounds a lot like my version of cultural Darwinism.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Brain master switch

Researchers have identified the protein that tells synapses to release neurotransmitters. A protein called synaptotagmin1 (Syt1). When calcium reaches 10 parts per million, Syt1 tells the synapse to fire. This is the sort of report that means nothing to me in its details but much more in generalities.

I don't really care about the name of the protein that does this or that, or for that matter the names or affiliations of the researchers. But finding the one protein that causes every synapse to fire seems like a basic enough discovery that all kinds of things should flow from it, though I couldn't name any. It's the sort of thing that gets mentioned in Nobel announcements years later. Apparently Syt1 had been a suspect as part of a structure to release neurotransmitters, but now they're sure it's the sole trigger.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Friday follies on Sunday

Young cat hoping for a fish snack. One of the cats has brought in two gophers in the last week or so. We hope it's young cat, so we know he's taken over the job from old cat, but it would also be nice to think old cat still had it in her and was teaching this little rascal that gophers are better than birds, fish, and lizards.

That's a native zauschneria hanging down above, the dry area version of a fuchsia.

More bad things you can do to kids: nicotine, TV, and cortisol, oh, my!

This month's Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine (a JAMA journal) is devoted to early experience and it's effects later in life, all nicely summarized on Science Daily.

One study looked at prenatal maternal use of cocaine, an opiate, marijuana, alcohol, and nicotine and sleep problems in the kids. Of these, only nicotine caused sleep problems. It's not so much that other drugs are turning out to be less damaging to fetuses than we thought (although there is some of that) as that tobacco is turning out to be worse than we thought.

In another study, mothers with bad enough anxiety to make them be taking selective serotonin uptake inhibitors during pregnancy had 3 year olds with increased withdrawal, anxiety, and depression. Some of it is due to a gene variant.

In another study, too much TV at 29 months of age is associated with all sorts of bad stuff in fourth grade:

"Each additional hour (per day) of television in early childhood corresponded to a
  • 7 percent unit decrease in classroom engagement, 
  • 6 percent unit decrease in math achievement, 
  • 10 percent unit increase in victimization by classmates, 
  • 13 percent unit decrease in time spent doing weekend physical activity, 
  • 9 percent unit decreases in activities involving physical effort, 
  • 9 percent higher scores for consumption of soft drinks and 
  • 10 percent higher scores for consumption of snacks, as well as a 
  • 5 percent unit increase in BMI."
Another study compared kids who stayed with their parents after CPS became involved with kids who went into foster care. "Children who still lived with their parents had different patterns of cortisol production than those in foster care, with flatter slopes in waking to bedtime values," which has god knows what effects on an adult, but you can't imagine them to be good. On the other hand, it shows foster care works, in this respect.

Another study looked at twin pairs where one weighed 20% more than the other at birth. The bigger twin was more likely to have conduct problems at age 3 or 4. The association was stronger with dizygotic twins than between monozygotic twins. So which thing causes which? Or more likely, what initial condition cascades to produce both of them.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Ads on this blog

When I set up this blog last September, one of the options was to monetize it, that is, to have Google insert advertisements. Sure, why not? I have dreams.

I put the ad panel way down on the bottom left, and so far I haven't heard from the ad people, and I think I know why, besides the fact that not very many people read this blog.

The ads are mostly for things no respectable child development person would think of buying. I don't want to single any out, mainly because they shift, and by the time anyone sees this, they will be different,* but while some of them are for normal products, like diapers and strollers, many others look like scams, such as magic treatments for this or that ailment; and many are for useless products, like baby videos. I'm glad nobody who reads this would click on them.

*At the moment, it is showing a nice ad from Penny's for baby blankets.

Friday, May 7, 2010

This just in: boys talk to their parents less than girls

When it comes to talking to parents about most dating issues, teen girls tend to disclose more than boys, and both sexes generally prefer to talk to their mothers.
 Oh, yes, yes, yes. Obvious, but obviously true. Not that girls are always candid, especially about sex and especially with their dad, but boys almost never are candid and forthcoming.

Does fat camp work?

This study says it does.
Kanafani tracked obese 10- to 18-year old adolescents who attended a weight-loss camp. They participated in physical activities and group educational sessions covering nutrition, physical fitness and self-esteem. During their stay, the kids ate three balanced meals and two snacks per day prepared under the supervision of a registered dietician.
The results showed an average weight loss of more than eight pounds and average reduction in BMI score of three points. Additionally, participants' blood pressure dropped significantly and fitness levels, as measured by a one-mile run, improved markedly.
Yup. There is a direct relationship between food intake and weight, and there is an inverse relationship between exercise and weight. Unfortunately, there is often also an inverse relationship between food intake and exercise.

But good for the fat kids. Eight pounds doesn't seem like it would be a high percentage, but it will probably have shown some kids that doing things that make you sweat can be fun to do. I'm just pessimistic in general about people losing weight. It has too much to do with the electro-chemical mush in your brain that I despair of any strategy that involves will power. In 5 or 10 years, we should have an anti-fat pill that takes us effortlessly to our fighting weight and then stops having any effect, with no (or at least tolerable) side effects. I'm pessimistic about human nature but optimistic about science.

Imprinted genes work differently in different sexes

One interesting conflict is between moms and dads for what resources mom should give to baby in the womb.* Mom wants to balance the baby's growth against her own health. Dad wants the carrier of his own genes to get everything. He can always go get another woman if this one dies.

One tactic moms and dads use in this conflict is passing on imprinted genes,which are genes that convince the baby's genome they should be expressed rather than the one from the other parent. Of course, we've passed out of my area of actual expertise (assuming I have one) into stuff I've read some about. Anyway, this paper presented at a conference says they found evidence that imprinted genes are involved in controlling endocrine functions in the placenta, and that these might affect a child's (or at least a mouse's) health later in life, and some of it is gender specific already.
Female offspring of obese mothers had raised blood insulin levels, whilst male offspring did not. Male offspring did have alterations in the expression of liver genes important in lipid and glucocorticoid metabolism. ...
We have data showing that gene expression and DNA methylation are sexually dimorphic in male and female placentae under normal/control conditions. Surprisingly, in stressful conditions, such as a high fat diet or low calorie diet, or maternal overweight/obesity - the male and female placentae do not use the same strategies: they use different gene pathways and networks to cope with the stress.
Does this directly lead to different outcomes? It may lead to sex-dependent differences in the outcome of programming with long lasting effects. Alternatively, it may be that metaphorically speaking males climb the mountain taking the north face while females take the south face - but they ultimately reach the same peak after using these different paths."
I have nothing profound to say about this. It's another data point in the complicated way we develop.

*Two good books about this and related issues, from an evolutionary point of view, are Mother Nature: Maternal Instincts and How They Shape the Human Species, by Sarah Hrdy, and Sperm Wars: Infidelity, Sexual Conflict, and Other Bedroom Battles by Robin Baker.

The minds of babes

The New York Times Magazine has an interesting article on the morals of babies. If you show 1-year-olds a puppet show with one puppet acting nice and one acting mean, and then ask the baby to take a treat away from a bowl in front of one or the other, they take it from the mean puppet, and sometimes they smack it in the head, as well. We already knew babies were selectively eager to help. If you have read the Scientist in the Crib or the Philosophical Baby, by Alison Gopnik, nothing here will surprise you, but it is a nice summary of what is known. Babies have an inborn ability to make inferences and moral judgments.

When it's working well, a baby's mind is a wonderous thing, but there are so many ways adults (and genes, which adults are also responsible for, physically if not morally) can screw it up.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

TV makes kids fat and dumb

This study says heavy exposure to TV at 2 years old has a raft of bad consequences at age 10:

  • decrease in classroom engagement
  • worse math scores
  • increased victimization by other kids
  • less physical activity
  • more junk food
  • fatter
The answer is for parents not to watch TV for hours at a time with their toddler in the room. I'm about as optimistic about that as I am about eliminating poverty.

Counteracting a fat gene

Among the genes  correlated to obesity, the FTO (or fat mass gene) is one of the genes responsible for the accumulation of fat in humans. "Each copy of the mutation of this gene is associated with an increase of 3.3 lbs. This means that people who have two copies can weigh 6.6 lbs more than those who have no copies."
But "its effect practically disappears among adolescents who perform the daily recommended amount of physical activity," which is an hour or so a day during adolescence. This is another reason for real gym class in middle schools.

People with one allele of this gene were even fatter, but they were protected if they ate a Mediterranean diet.

It takes two good ears to hear language, so put a nickel on the drum

This article says 5% of kids have hearing loss in one ear when they enter school. They don't get discovered, because their hearing appears normal. But it does cause language deficits, about a 10% drop in scores on the OWLS test of language comprehension and expression. They matched the kids with normal hearing sibs to rule out environmental differences in language development. The effect is stronger in poor kids than rich kids and in kids of uneducated mothers. Isn't everything bad that can happen worse for them?

I wrote, "So one way to improve language comprehension and expression is to," and then I was stuck. The answer is to eliminate poverty and make sure every woman has a good education before she has kids. And while you're at it, cure all congenital diseases and make water gush from the desert.

A lot of things are possible for an individual that would not be possible for the nation. There are enough jobs that any one person maybe able to find one, but there are not enough that everyone can find one. we may be able to take any individual family and do something with them, but we can't do it with all of them. A lot of kids who could be saved from a crappy life won't be. Scaffolding works on the way down as well as the way up, if you don't have anything good to build on.

Jesus, I'm pessimistic this morning. I was just thinking, Maybe 5% have language deficits due to hearing loss in one ear, 1% are schizophrenic, 1% bipolar, 1% autistic, 1% each of several others, and, even with overlap, we're at 10% or 15% of the population who have serious bad stuff going on in their heads.

So when you see one of those homeless guys, mostly guys, panhandling at a street corner, give him a couple of bucks. He's probably not just lazy; he's probably physically disabled or nuts enough that he can't work, and he's one of those we didn't help in time. You could give to an organized charity, but if you give it directly to the homeless guy, the marginal utility of your two dollars is much greater; there's no admin. He might spend it on beer, but with a life and prospects like his, he might as well be as high as two bucks can make him.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

What I wonder about child abuse in the Catholic church

What I wonder is, with all the evidence now available about Bishops and higher ecclesiastics moving child-abusing priests around from job to job, why is this a matter for civil action by the victims and not criminal investigation by the police and FBI? Isn't there probable cause to believe that church officials knew about serious crimes and not only didn't go to the cops but actually facilitated the continuation of the crimes? Why hasn't the FBI subpoenaed church personnel records? In this respect, how is the Catholic church not a criminal enterprise?

We're all copycats

I wish I could remember the name or source of the TV show I saw about chimps and people. A researcher built a contraption that released a grape, or maybe an M&M, after a series of steps. He taught the procedure to kids and to chimps. Each learned easily. Then he removed the sides of the contraption, so they could see inside and tell that only one of the steps was necessary. Kids kept following the old ritual, but chimps went straight for the food.

A similar study was just done with Australian preschoolers and Kalahari Bushmen, and the kids all followed the steps they were taught, even when they were clearly irrelevant. The researchers' conclusion was that copycat behavior is universal. I suspect it's mirror neurons firing.

This video has been going around. It's a baby watching Beyonce and imitating the dancers. More mirror neurons.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Kindergarten gifted programs

A couple of months ago, I talked about what I saw as the pernicious practice of IQ tests for entrance into private kindergartens in New York. Well, it's not just private schools. Public kindergartens in New York have gifte programs where they take only kids at the 97th (or in some cases, the 99th) percentile on the Otis-Lennon School Ability Test and the Bracken School Readiness Assessment. There are now tutors to prepare preschoolers for public kindergarten entrance exams.

This is just crazy. Besides the fact that, because "school readiness" by kindergarten age is so closely tied to language development, which is closely tied to socio-economic status, so it's going to be almost all white and Asian kids, the worst thing is that these tests are not reliable at that age. A kids who tests as gifted at age 5 may or may not do that in third grade. In preschool the environmental effects on intelligence test scores are greater than in third grade, and the heritabilty is lower. So determining school entrance by test scores at age 5 is silly, and it's harmful to those who are slower to develop and so get put on a lower track.

I wonder what a gifted kindergarten program would look like. My guess is Title 5 child care, with a group size of 20, plus reading and sitting still longer. No, in the public schools, it's probably more academic.
To be clear, I am not against gifted programs. I personally benefited from them, based on test scores, as did my partner and my offspring. I like smart kids being put with other smart kids. I just don't think it is useful to start it in kindergarten.
And to compare this with my previous post this morning, we are making kindergarten too hard for some kids, so we are raising the entrance age in case some kids aren't ready for first-grade curriculum, and we are starting gifted programs for kids who are highly ready.

Kindergarten entrance age

I've talked about this before. SB 1381 is the latest attempt to raise the entrance age cut-off date for kindergarten from December 2 to September 1. The reasoning is that some kids are not ready for kindergarten curriculum at 4 years 9 months, so no kids should be allowed to enter at that age. I'm agin it* for two reasons:

1) Kids vary. In particular, they develop at different rates. Some are ready for kindergarten at 4 years 9 months and some are not. Our system should allow the ones who are ready to begin kindergarten to do so and not force those who are not ready.

There are two obvious ways to decide who can and cannot enter at 4.75 years. We can give everyone the DRDP or some other developmental evaluation. Or we can let the parents decide. I choose letting the parents decide. In fact, I'd allow a much wider window (maybe 4 years to 5.75 years) and let the parents decide. They already decide whether a kid enters public schools in kindergarten or first grade.

2) The trend in elementary school has been to push curriculum down. The current kindergarten curriculum is what used to be taught in first grade. So we make kindergarten harder, and then we say it's too hard for kids that age, so we have to make kindergarteners older. We push the 6-year-old curriculum down to 5-year-olds and then won't let them take it because they're too young. This is crazy.

The answer is to push first grade curriculum back up to first grade, and let kindergarten be kindergarten. Otherwise we are just keeping the same system but renaming the parts. We rename first grade kindergarten, and we rename kindergarten preschool.

*Should I disclose that I entered kindergarten at 4 years 6 months and two weeks, when the cut-off was March 1, and have been glad all my life I did so? My mom is not. She thinks I was too young, but she had to go to work, and kindergarten was free child care.

Two more autism genes

Variations in two more genes have been associated with autism. These have to do with formation or functioning of synapses. My guess is they will eventually find 5 or 10 or 20 genes in which variations in different combinations cause the various symptoms of Asperger's through autism.

And anybody who still thinks vaccines cause autism is dumb. I was about to say misinformed, but this one is so settled that anyone who still thinks it is dumb, no matter how how many people have seen then naked and no matter much money they are paid to be in movies.

Adolescent risk taking

One school of thought for why adolescents take crazy risks is "late maturation of brain functions known as executive cognitive functions, which control impulsivity. One of these functions, called working memory, does not fully mature until the third decade of life."

This study looked at working memory and impulsiveness and found that kids scoring high on impulsiveness were more likely to take risks like fighting, gambling, and using alcohol than kids who scored low, but the type of impulsiveness varied. Kids with better working memory (smart kids) "exhibited more sensation-seeking behavior, while those with poor working memory scored higher on measures of acting without thinking."

Things We Already Knew: Bullies pick on fat kids

I hate to waste electrons on Research Proving Things We Already Knew, but I guess peer-reviewed confirmation is nice to have. An earlier study showed that bullies pick on kids other kids already don't like, so the bullies don't run a chance of offending their own buddies. Now we know that -- controlling for money, race, social skills (as reported by mom), and academic achievement -- bullies pick on fat kids more than normals in the third to fifth grades.

That's how it was when I was in elementary school. It's nice to see a little consistency in life.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Me and my rock wall

You know how sometimes you make a snap decision that you later wonder if it is a symptom of a brain tumor? A couple of months ago the second informal NAFTA representative in a row flaked off on me, leaving me with a driveway full of rocks and bricks, a garage full of mortar, and a deadline of a Memorial Day party to build a patio with a rock wall around it. Damn it, I'll build it myself. I can do it. I'm strong enough. It can't be that hard to figure out.

So with a neighborhood teenager for the droid work, I have spent the last 6 or 8 Saturday and Sunday mornings building a rock wall. Part of it has been fun. They have these little levels with lasers shining out of one end that you use to mark the height of the wall on  markers and to show the correct height of the sand inside the wall. It shows this neat horizontal red line on the wall.

Some has not been so much fun. Up and down on your knees; bend this direction to reach for a rock; bend the other direction to set it on the wall to see if it's the right rock for that spot; no, try a different one; set it on the ground; use the trowel to plop a big dollop of mortar on the wall; put the rock carefully in place, wiggling it as necessary; fill in mortar as necessary; clean off the outside surface; sit down and rest. I pick up the droid at 8 and am pooped out by noon, which is why it's taking so long.

But then last evening, with the wall  95% done, the sand in place, but the bricks not yet set on the sand, my partner and I sat in Adirondacks, drinking Meyer lemon margaritas; eating olives, hummus, flat bread, feta, carrot sticks, and smoked salmon; talking about family and what we've read or thought of recently; watching humming birds gather cotton for their nests (shouldn't they be done with that by now?); and listening to hawks and all manner of birds calling to each other and  bushtits scolding young cat and old cat, who were lying with their faces in opposite sides of a catnip patch and not bothering anybody. Then we sat in the hot tub for half an hour to soothe my lower back. Sometimes I'm so California I make myself a little nervous.

I think it will all be in place by Memorial Day, and I'll post a photo.

And now to breakfast and the paper, so I can pick up the droid worker in an hour and a half and do it all some more.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

When to have "the talk"

We know that people tend not to lie about their personalities on Facebook*. It seems they tell the truth about sex, too, or at least their intention to engage in it. "(D)isplay of sexual references on teens' Facebook profiles is associated with their intention to initiate intercourse."

Okay mom, now you know. If you monitor your kid's Facebook pages (I don't), when she** starts talking about sex, that's when you have the serious talk about sex.

*You know that I'm talking about normals here, right? There will be a certain number of crazies who lie because they're nuts, and psychopaths who lie because they're evil, and people using it for business or politics will say whatever it is useful for them to say. But most people using Facebook for personal reasons seem to use it candidly. This is what causes the problem for young people whose prospective employers find the drunken photos from spring break.

**I said "she," because I assume every teenage boy always has an intention to engage in sex, just no opportunity. Evolutionary theory says males have a more-or-less continual serial offer of sex with anyone, and females pick the one they want to mate with. This has not been my experience.