TOM WOLFE AND THE EXCLAMATION POINT. I would have thought that Tom Wolfe would win a competition for the heaviest user of exclamation points because he loves descriptions from the point of view of an excited onlooker. In looking for examples of Wolfe’s style, I found this article about Wolfe by Michael Lewis which quotes the first sentence of Wolfe’s breakthrough essay about California car culture: “There Goes (Varoom! Varoom!) That Kandy-Kolored (Thphhhhhhh!) Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby Around the Bend (Brummmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm) . . . . . . ”

The Lewis article also contains a quote which shows that Wolfe loved the exclamation point from early on. This is from a letter to his mother and father in 1943 when he was 12: “I hate to say this but David McDaniel is the most devlish looking and the most devlish acting person I’ve ever seen. He looks like the typical “comic book” Jap. He is short—not over 4’2”—has a very, very, very, very short monkey’s shave—high cheekbones—squinted eyes—wears glasses—a stubby nose—a toothy grin—and to top it all, he actually has pointed teeth!!!!!!!!!!!!” That’s eleven exclamation points.

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WHICH WRITERS USE EXCLAMATION POINTS MOST—THE KEY. Here are the results for the ten writers. The number opposite their names is the number of exclamation points they use per 100,000 words.

Elmore Leonard…….49

Ernest Hemingway…..59

Toni Morrison…….111

Salman Rushdie……204

Virginia Woolf……258

E L James………..278

F Scott Fitzgerald..356

Jane Austen………449

Tome Wolfe……….929

James Joyce……..1105

I had been sure that the winner would be Tom Wolfe.

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GUESS WHICH OF THESE WRITERS USE EXCLAMATION POINTS THE MOST? The Atlantic (March 2017) quotes Elmore Leonard on the subject of exclamation points: “You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.” They then test Leonard and nine other famous writers on how many exclamation points they have used per 100,000 words. Here are the ten writers in alphabetical order to give you a chance to guess. I picked as #1 the writer who came in second.

Jane Austen

F. Scott Fitzgerald

Ernest Hemingway

E L James (50 SHADES)

James Joyce

Elmore Leonard

Toni Morrison

Salman Rushdie

Tome Wolfe

Virginia Woolf

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MAYBE STATINS SHOULD BE GIVEN TO TRY TO PREVENT ALZHEIMER’S. Dr. Zissimopoulos identifies the problems with not following FDA requirements for clinical tests before prescribing statins for the prevention of Alzheimer’s: “Some people with a family history of Alzheimer’s might be tempted to ask their doctors to prescribe a statin now on the basis of preclinical trial evidence. But that is mostly a nonstarter. Many physicians are rightly reluctant to prescribe drugs for off-label, unapproved indications, and insurance companies often refuse to cover the use of drugs for them.”

Skipping clinical trials might reduce the number of Alzheimer’s cases, but it would interfere with the search for scientific knowledge. (One can think of a number of other variables which could explain the apparent success of statins in this study.)

Nevertheless, I can imagine a number of individual patients and their doctors making the decision to take a statin. And there is also a case for further widespread experiments—and not necessarily clinical trials.

A benefit-cost analysis might well show that a widespread experiment would be worthwhile. Alzheimer’s is a very common, very expensive, and very destructive disease, and, as Dr. Zissimopoulos emphasizes, statins are not expensive drugs.

Finally, more large scale studies like this should be done on other drugs. As Dr. Zissimopoulos points out: “Troves of data in the form of electronic medical records and insurance claims now exist for drugs that have been in use for many years.”

(Disclosure: I have taken statins for years and Alzheimer’s runs in my family so I have a rooting interest.)

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WHAT SHOULD BE DONE ABOUT EVIDENCE THAT STATINS MAY DELAY ALZHEIMER’S? Julie Zissimopoulos in this article on the Statnews website lays out the difficult options in assessing new possible uses for older drugs which are off-patent. Random controlled trials are very expensive. There might be no way of recovering the expense of the trial. She uses the example of her work in evaluating whether statin drugs can delay the onset of Alzheimer’s. She says:”Some trials testing whether statins could reverse Alzheimer’s failed to produce conclusive evidence. But they did not address whether taking statins decades before Alzheimer’s symptoms arise might prevent the disease.”

Dr. Zissimopoulos and two colleagues looked through Medicare claims of 400,000 men and women who used a statin but who did not have Alzheimer’s before 2009 and followed them for four years. Women with high statin use were 15 percent less likely, and men 12 percent less likely, to have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s each year compared to individuals with little or no use of a statin.

A sample of 400,000 is a large sample, but, as Dr. Zissimopoulos points out,” because the study was not a randomized clinical trial, it does not provide the kind of cause-and-effect evidence about statins and Alzheimer’s disease the FDA needs to approve a new use for statins.”

A clinical trial would be expensive and would take a long time. And a proper random sample would be much smaller than the inadequately constructed sample of 400,000.

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“ŚMIGUS-DYNGUS”—A GOOD WORD FOR THE DICTIONARY GAME. Our family has played the dictionary game with lots of different friends. One player (call the player the “chooser”) selects a word from the dictionary that nobody knows. The chooser writes the real definition on a slip of paper and the other players each write a fake definition on a slip of paper. The chooser reads the definitions aloud, and the other players each guess which is the correct definition. You get one point for every time your definition is chosen and two points for guessing the right definition. If nobody guesses the right definition, the chooser gets two points. Then another player chooses a word.

I go through life thinking from time to time that a word I encounter would make a good word for the dictionary game. A good word for the dictionary game if you are choosing a word is one that has a meaning that sounds like somebody made it up.

Annalisa brought us a large bouquet of pussy willows in honor of our early spring. In looking up to see if it would be better to keep the bouquet in water, I came across the word “ŚMIGUS-DYNGUS”, which, according to this wikipedia entry, is “a celebration held on Easter Monday in Poland and Ukraine….Traditionally, boys throw water over girls and spank them with pussy willow branches on Easter Monday, and girls do the same to boys on Easter Tuesday.” I don’t think that would get many votes.

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CHOOSING THE RIGHT LAB MICE FOR AN EXPERIMENT. I posted here in 2009 about Richard Feynman’s lecture on how to eliminate possible alternative explanations in a controlled experiment. Feynman described how an experimenter named Young was trying to train rats to open the third door on a corridor. Young painted the doors carefully to make sure the textures of the doors were the same; he applied chemicals after each run so that the smell of food couldn’t influence the rats; he put his corridor on sand so that the sound in the corridor could not influence the rats. Feynman said that “from a scientific standpoint, that is an A-number-one experiment”.

The Economist (December 24, 2016) had an article about all the things that are done to make lab mice suitable for experiments. One pitfall to be avoided: in an experiment, mice that are litter mates and mice that are raised separately will respond differently. Another pitfall that is surprising is that in pain studies, mice can that are handled by men can experience much higher levels of stress than mice who are handled by women.

Because factors that are not known to be relevant, such as the gender of the person doing the lab work, can turn out to be important, copious notes are now taken to document the experiment.

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ARMAGEDDON FOOTBALL—-AN AUCTION TO SEE WHO GETS THE BALL FIRST IN OVERTIME IN THE SUPERBOWL? I posted here about the asymmetry in the Armageddon Chess that is the ultimate tiebreaker in world championship chess matches. In the post I endorsed the proposal that “Armageddon Chess is a fair tie-break system only if the two players bid for how much time Black should have…”

It turns out that there is an analogous proposal to remove the unfairness of the coin flip in the NFL. Rodger Sherman writes:….”the Quanbeck brothers, have proposed to the NFL a system in which one team would choose the field position to open overtime and the other team would choose whether to play offense or defense from that spot. The Quanbecks have other proposals, based around auction-style systems where teams choose field position or the ball.” Here is the link that Sherman gives to the Quanbeck proposals.

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WAS WINNING THE COIN FLIP THE MOST IMPORTANT PLAY IN THE 2017 SUPERBOWL? A number of sportswriters have argued that the most important play in the 2017 Superbowl was the coin flip.The game was tied at the end of regulation. The rules for the overtime are not symmetrical. The team that wins the coin flip (the Patriots in this case) gets the ball first in overtime, and if the team scores a touchdown, the other team (Atlanta in this case) never gets the ball with a chance to score.This article by Rodger Sherman gives an estimate for the Patriots chance of winning after the coin flip: “Since the NFL instituted its new overtime rules, there have been 87 overtime games. Five have been ties, and the team to get the ball first has won 45 of the remaining 82. That’s 54.8 percent, meaning simply winning the coin toss makes a team 9.6 percent more likely to win.”

For a player or a spectator, it is frustrating at the end of a close game for a coin flip to be so important. In chess, an analogous ending would be to flip a coin to see who would have the significant advantage of playing white in a winner takes all game. Instead there is Armageddon Chess.

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A VALENTINE POEM BY JAMES TATE. (for our 45th Valentine’s Day)


The lightning woke us at about
three A.M.
It sounded like a war was going
on out there,
the drum rolls, the cannons ex-
ploding, the bomb
blasts, the blinding flashes. The
was out. I found the flashlight and
lit some
candles. The roof was leaking and
the rain
was lashing the windows so
savagely they rattled
in their casings. “What are our
chances of
dying?” Denny asked. “Almost
certain,” I
said. We sat on the edge of the
bed and held
onto one another. The lightning
bolts were striking
all around us. “Denny,” I said,
You are very,
very beautiful and I love you
with all my
heart.” “I’ll take that to my
watery grave,”
she said, “and smile through
eternity.” Then
we kissed and the sun came up
and the rain
stopped and the birds started to
sing, a bit
too loudly. But, what the hell, they
were in
love, too.

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