Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The NY Times and Prostate Cancer

The Times has a propensity of having women write on prostate cancer and result in telling men they should just forget it.

The latest writer, who it appears spent a short time at MIT sans degree, is pushing the "watchful waiting" approach, or why spend money on a lot of old useless men argument.

She states:

Without the word “cancer,” Dr. Epstein said, men may not take seriously the need for regular biopsies and other tests. He and his colleagues at Johns Hopkins proposed a grading system to make it clear that Gleason 6 cells are less frightening than higher-grade tumors, but not necessarily benign. In the Gleason system, which involves a pathologist’s assessment of how ominous the prostate cells look, 6 is actually pretty much the lowest score for cells that are cancer, despite the Gleason scale officially starting at 2. The highest is a 10. But many men, hearing that their cancer is a 6, assume the worst.

The problem with prostate cancer it is real sneaky. Some are indolent, some are real killers. How does one tell the difference. No good answer. There are tests now that use the biopsied material to give better prognostic values but this write up totally ignores this. One wonders why? Ignorance or deliberate. 

One also wonders why almost every other day we have another female reporter, no males yet, telling men not to worry! Perhaps they have run out of Trump stories.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Prostate Cancer and Older Men

If any man had the nerve to say that only a few women die of breast cancer after 65 so why test any more there would be am uproar. Furthermore if a man wrote this in the NY Times he would be hanged in effigy. However it is OK for a woman to write in the NY Times:

Because most prostate cancer develops slowly, it doesn’t typically threaten survival or cause troubling symptoms for eight to 10 years. Even medical associations that disagree with some of the 2012 conclusions, like the American Urological Association, therefore discourage PSA testing for men with limited life expectancy.

 One should at least see that she uses the word "typically". What if it is NOT typical, then it is OK for the man to die?

Perhaps we could try to get this covered as part of the NY Mayor's speech control, we could fine her say a few million for even thinking such a thought! By the way, what is a limited life expectancy, it all too often is in the eye of the beholder. It should not be some columnist in the NY Times.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Language and Gender

The Washington Post has a reasonable take on language and the recent dictum on how to use it in New York City. It concludes:

Feel uncomfortable about being forced to use terms that express social status views (“Milord”) or religious views (“Your Holiness”) that you may not endorse? Well, you should feel uncomfortable about people being forced to use “ze,” which expresses a view about gender that they might not endorse. And, more broadly, I think we should all feel uncomfortable about government regulators forcing people to say things that convey and support the government’s ideology about gender.

But there is a bigger problem. You see the Romance Languages, such as Spanish, have gender specific nouns, verbs, etc. So if this applies to English does that mean we must change all of our Spanish, and the list goes on, to gender non specific. I remember my first Latin word when I was still quite young, agricola. Farmer. It is feminine. It was not until now that I wonder why it is feminine, I assume most farmers were men or at most fifty fifty back in 100 BC.

Perhaps when I look at my Italian, French. Greek, Russian as well I am going to have a problem. It is not discriminatory to change one language, why not all 235 spoken in New York. We are discriminating against English. Think of all those subway signs.

I have been using they, theirs and them just to avoid sex discrimination. Yes I know it is grammatically incorrect but it got me out of a few sensitive discussions. But this perhaps is a step too far. Then again there is that pesky First Amendment, but well who cares about those first Ten Amendments anyhow!

Friday, May 20, 2016

The Executive Assistant

The last time I had a Secretary, aka Executive Assistant, who was really just that was sometime in 1986 or 1987. I managed a 20 country corporation with travel, expenses, scheduling, etc with something call Email and the Internet. It really worked, even back when I used Delphi as an Internet Service Provider with an early release of Eudora thanks to Irwin Jacobs. I also had a mobile phone so that if there were any questions over some 11 time zones I could address them.

Now I see that Theranos CEO is looking for both an Executive and Personal Assistant, two people. Perhaps that is why things are such a mess. You do not need assistants you need focus and leadership and you really must know something. Really. If I had a delay problem on the Internet backbone I had to analyze the delay characteristics on a piece of paper at at worst use Excel for a quick analysis of a solution.

As Entrepreneur reports:

After voiding thousands of faulty diagnostic tests and saying goodbye to its company president, Theranos is looking for some new blood, including an executive assistant as well as a personal assistant to CEO Elizabeth Holmes. With each passing week, the list of controversies and challenges Theranos faces grows longer. Since October, the biotech company has confronted scrutiny for deception regarding its technology, the accuracy of its blood tests and its failure to adhere to scientific standards. The government has threatened sanctions against its lab operations and top executives, and president Sunny Balwani has entered early retirement in an obvious “you can’t fire me, I quit” move. At the same time, Theranos is adding new executives and board members to bolster its credibility, the company is sending out tens of thousands of notices regarding the invalidity of its tests.

Perhaps good leadership is better than more employees, especially as the walls are on fire.

One could see the problem back in 2014. In a New Yorker puff piece:

Holmes was driven from Palo Alto to the San Francisco airport, where she boarded a seven-seat Gulfstream 150 for a flight to Chicago. She would be speaking at a panel; from there she would fly to Cleveland to attend meetings at the .... She was travelling alone. Members of the Theranos board sometimes worry about Holmes. “My wife and I feel that one of our jobs is to bring her out,” .... told me. They invite her to the theatre, and this year threw her a thirtieth-birthday party at their home, which was attended by her parents, her brother, ....., and several members of the board and their spouses. .... and his wife, .... have tried, without success, to fix her up on dates. Her mother told me, “As a parent, I do hope that at some point she will have time for herself.” This concern is lost on Holmes. The plane had reached cruising altitude, far above a bank of clouds, and another green vegetable drink had materialized in her hand. “I have done something, and we have done something, that has changed people’s lives,” she told me. “I would much rather live a life of purpose than one in which I might have other things but not that.” Also, she said, with a smile, “I think I’m very young. Still.”

Now I have from time to time been snookered but this was just too obvious even then. Remember, always look behind the wizards curtain, there may be a great deal of just smoke and mirrors. Or as some of these well known politicians had advocated; "trust but verify". If you cannot verify then you better find someone who can!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Trivium and Ockham

In the 14th Century at Oxford and in Paris scholars studied first the Trivium; grammar, logic and rhetoric. For Grammar the ultimate question was; what does this word mean? Likewise for Logic; does this syllogism ring true? Finally in rhetoric: can I make an argument based upon facts using logic to convince my audience? Disputation was the forum of discussion. Namely opposing parties and inquisitors were allowed to engage the party presenting the argument in challenging the position. Debate was open.

Along comes William of Ockham and his adversary John XXII, the alleged Bishop of Rome whose intent was to remain in luxury at Avignon. Ockham challenged the Grammar and Logic of John, and the result was the beginning of what we now recognize as individualism; namely the fact that each individual is equal before God and the Law and that further it is the responsibility of the individual to act to secure their salvation. Collectivism, socialism, is the counter to Christian thought, it is not the group which seeks salvation, it is the individual.

In a speech today the current Bishop of Rome opines:

The day’s first reading, taken from the Letter of Saint James, is a forceful warning to the rich who accumulate wealth by exploiting the people. “Riches in themselves are good,” the Pope explained, but they are “relative, not absolute” goods. He criticized the so-called “theology of prosperity”— according to which “God shows you that you are just if He give you great riches,” saying those who follow it are mistaken. The problem lies in being attached to wealth, because, as the Pope recalled, “You cannot serve both God and riches.” These become “chains” that “take away the freedom to follow Jesus.” In the reading, St James writes, “Behold, the wages you withheld from the workers who harvested your fields are crying aloud; and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.”

When riches are created by exploiting the people, by those rich people who exploit [others], they take advantage of the work of the people, and those poor people become slaves. We think of the here and now, the same thing happens all over the world. “I want to work.” “Good, they’ll make you a contract, from September to June.” Without a pension, without health care… Then they suspend it, and in July and August they have to eat air. And in September, they laugh at you about it. Those who do that are true bloodsuckers, and they live by spilling the blood of the people who they make slaves of labour. The exploitation of labour is a mortal sin.

Now let us begin with grammar. What do we mean by exploiting? Let us take a simple economic example in a capitalist society. Let us assume that the alleged exploiter owns a coffee shop. In order to sell coffee he must: (i) make good quality coffee, (ii) provide good service, and (iii) sell it at a competitive price. Now how does this capitalist accomplish this? Simply. First; revenue less expense equals profit. If the "profit" is negative then he goes out of business, unless of course the Bishop of Rome somehow underwrites his expenses. Now how does the Revenue get set? Well it is the market, namely the prices set by the competition. Lots of suppliers drive prices down. Lots of suppliers creates demand for labor and drives costs up. At some point the market clears. Happens all the time especially in a commodity bushiness. Thus the Expenses are dictated by the market not by the Bishop of Rome. Exploitation does not exist as an act of the owner but as a consequence of the dynamics of a market. Price settles to a level and salaries meet the level for survivable businesses. Simple. Economics 101.

Thus we return to Grammar. What does "exploitation" mean? There is no exploitation in a capitalist market, it is just the meeting of supply and demand on both the revenue and the expense side. The paragraph about the months and the contract appear confused. Must one supply pension, health care and the like, Perhaps, but that must be included in the total cost. It is not a gift, it is not charity, at least in an economically viable environment. If we were in some Marxist environment, then perhaps.

The the statement that exploitation, apparently defined as not providing a pension, is a mortal sin. Looking at the Old Testament, and then to the New, I saw nothing; perhaps this was written on the third stone Moses left on the mountain. Exploitation means no health care and no pension. But if the salary is at market then why not buy your own health care, why is it a moral imperative?

I suspect we need more Grammar, more Logic, more Rhetoric and a little disputation. Words mean something, so do the realities of the market.

Yet perhaps we should examine some recent comments by the NY Times on the Jesuits.  As they noted:

The human cargo was loaded on ships at a bustling wharf in the nation’s capital, destined for the plantations of the Deep South. Some slaves pleaded for rosaries as they were rounded up, praying for deliverance. But on this day, in the fall of 1838, no one was spared: not the 2-month-old baby and her mother, not the field hands, not the shoemaker and not Cornelius Hawkins, who was about 13 years old when he was forced onboard. Their panic and desperation would be mostly forgotten for more than a century. But this was no ordinary slave sale. The enslaved African-Americans had belonged to the nation’s most prominent Jesuit priests. And they were sold, along with scores of others, to help secure the future of the premier Catholic institution of higher learning at the time, known today as Georgetown University.

Yes the Washington based home of Presidents, Diplomats and CIA Heads was also the home of slaves and sold these slaves to preserve itself. This was done well withing the movement in the North to abolish slavery as a morally reprehensible act. Yet to these Jesuits it was a business transaction. Thus if one follows the Logic of the Bishop of Rome these people, the Jesuits, should be guilty to mortal sins, thus anathema, since clearly they were in chains and their freedom was taken away, again and again. Then perhaps we should rip these sinners from their graves on the Washington cemeteries and declare them anathema.

One should always be certain that their house is clean before complaining of others.

Garbage in Garbage Out?

In an article today in the NY Times the author comments on the Facebook debacle with its search algorithms. First of all I had Faceboook shortly after it came out and forced by my students at MIT to joining the future. Then after seeing it as a total distraction left several years ago, as I suspect did the students. Today, I, at almost 75, and my granddaughter just 13, see Facebook used only by "old folks", those 50 year olds who insist on telling everyone about their most intimate thoughts.

The Times author does bemoan the neutrality of the algorithm. She states: 

The first step forward is for Facebook, and anyone who uses algorithms in subjective decision making, to drop the pretense that they are neutral. Even Google, whose powerful ranking algorithm can decide the fate of companies, or politicians, by changing search results, defines its search algorithms as “computer programs that look for clues to give you back exactly what you want.” But this is not just about what we want. What we are shown is shaped by these algorithms, which are shaped by what the companies want from us, and there is nothing neutral about that.

Indeed, algorithms are anything but neutral. I recall doing clustering algorithms back in the day to discriminate Soviet subs from whales. No matter, whenever I changed a weighting constant I could change everything. 

You see the "algorithm" may itself be neutral, or at least as neutral as possible but the constants and weights  or how they are derived are not. That is where opinion comes in. And sadly we now know the West Coast bias, a  true bias to the left, controls the world view.

What Facebook hope to achieve in a meeting like this is uncertain. One suspects that not one of the "conservatives" would have a clue about an algorithm, no less understand how bias is inserted.