Tuesday, April 28, 2009

the typical gap

Reviewing possible causes of aging Atul Gawande drops this little statistic:

Only six per cent of how long you’ll live, compared with the average, is explained by your parents’ longevity.

So “good genes” aren’t it?

Even genetically identical twins vary widely in life span: the typical gap is more than fifteen years.

Huh? Really?

Gawande doesn’t source that one (unless it’s from the same Max Planck institute for Demographic Research in Rostock, Germany that he attributes the 6% figure to).

15 years? What’s the “typical gap” between non-identical twins or age disparate siblings? I would have thought it much closer than 15 years. What does he mean “typical”? He doesn’t use the word “average” so does he not mean the mean? Maybe he means the median – half of all twins live 15 years longer than the dead twin, half of all twins live fewer than 15 years longer. Or the mode? Most twins who lose a twin live 15 more years. Or, rather, “more than fifteen”.

A mysterious number.

source: The New Yorker, April 30, 2007

Friday, April 17, 2009

Frank Marshall Davis

As a youth in Hawaii, Barack Obama was introduced by his grandfather to an old black intellectual, a poet. “Frank”, Obama calls him in his memoir. No last name.

Curious if anyone had done the detective work to find out who this “Frank” was (I mean, a poet!) I found, indeed, Gerald Horne in his pre-election hitpiece, The Obama Nation, had fingered Frank Marshall Davis, an old communist, as the poet in the memoir. While rebutting some of Horne’s insinuations the Obama campaign acknowledged Davis the poet.

Now I want to read his stuff. Looks like a couple collections have been published recently - Black Moods: Collected Poems (2002) and Writings of Frank Marshall Davis: A Voice of the Black Press (2007).

Saturday, April 11, 2009


Barack is still in Chicago, "hoping to convince [more black ministers] to join the organization. It was a slow process ... most black ministers were fiercely independent, secure in their congregations and with little obvious need for outside assistance. Whenever I first reached them on the phone, they would often be suspicious, uncertain as to why this Muslim - or worse yet, this Irishman, O'Bama - wanted a few minutes of their time."

source: Dreams from My Father: a story of race and inheritance by Barack Obama

Thursday, April 09, 2009


Barack is in his early 20s, learning to be a community organizer in Chicago. His sister, Auma, is visiting from Germany (she is Kenyan but is studying in Germany).

"I don't like politics much," she said.

"Why's that?"

"I don't know. People always end up disappointed."

source: Dreams from My Father: a story of race and inheritance by Barack Obama

Tuesday, April 07, 2009


I've started reading Barack Obama's memoir, Dream from My Father. The writing is good to fine, upon occasion suspiciously wise for a young man.

Not that this post is going to be about the substance of Obama's book. Instead, I want to note something else. An odd transposing of words. Talking about his grandparents growing up in Kansas. Obama says they lived "dab-smack" in the middle of the country. A few pages later he refers to the jaunty way his grandfather wore his hat -- "brim hat" folded back.

Dab-smack? Brim hat?

I had to look an extra moment at these before they resolved themselves into forms more familiar: smack-dab, hat brim

Wednesday, April 01, 2009


From a fundraising letter for Sebastopol’s small private hospital, Palm Drive:

“In Northern California, Palm Drive has become a hub for delivering medical services through robots to remote hospitals.”