Monday, February 23, 2015

Feed your baby peanuts to prevent peanut allergies

We randomly assigned 640 infants with severe eczema, egg allergy, or both to consume or avoid peanuts until 60 months of age. Participants, who were at least 4 months but younger than 11 months of age at randomization, were assigned to separate study cohorts on the basis of preexisting sensitivity to peanut extract, which was determined with the use of a skin-prick test...

Among the 530 infants in the intention-to-treat population who initially had negative results on the skin-prick test, the prevalence of peanut allergy at 60 months of age was 13.7% in the avoidance group and 1.9% in the consumption group (P < 0.001). Among the 98 participants in the intention-to-treat population who initially had positive test results, the prevalence of peanut allergy was 35.3% in the avoidance group and 10.6% in the consumption group (P = 0.004). There was no significant between-group difference in the incidence of serious adverse events.

The early introduction of peanuts significantly decreased the frequency of the development of peanut allergy among children at high risk for this allergy and modulated immune responses to peanuts.
--George Du Toit et al., New England Journal of Medicine, on how to slow the peanut allergy epidemic. HT: ACT

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Why ramen is better in Japan

In Japan, flour companies have different divisions that make flour for noodles. In general, this flour is milled as much as ten times more finely than it is here. The flour doesn’t need to be as absorbent here in the U.S.—it’s primarily for bread production. So there’s not as much of a reason to mill it as fine. The result is that it’s harder to make a proper ramen noodle here, since the flour is just not fine enough.

Relative to pasta, ramen noodles are on the low end of the water-content spectrum—some can contain as little as 26 percent water. ... The more refined your flour, the better it will bind with water, and the better the texture of the final noodle.

When I talk to our flour salesman in Tokyo, I can say, “I’m thinking about making a tsukemen noodle, and I want it to be aromatic and have a chew,” and he’ll send me samples that make sense. Then we can talk on the phone and I can say, “I want my ash content to be a bit lower or higher” or “I want to be able to see more or less of the grain color in the noodle.” I can really talk to them and have a super intellectual conversation, and at the end of the day you’re able to make a really good product.

This is all to say that when I came back to New York, I felt like making my own noodles would be too big of a challenge. I had already met Ken Uki, of Sun Noodle, and I had worked with him a little bit. He’d done a really good job; they run a really professional operation. So I decided to take making noodles off of my plate. ...

In Japan, you can get great chicken fat for cheap. It’s orange and it doesn’t taste funky—it almost tastes like chicken soup. ...

You can’t get good chicken fat here in the States. A USDA plant needs approval for each part of the animal they want to use: necks, wings, heads, whatever. A guy at one of the chicken farms we use says he throws all his chicken fat away; it’s too much of a hassle to get it USDA approved, and nobody wants to buy it.

So I use whatever I can get. It’s not bad. It’s good, but it’s not as delicious. At the shop, people are like, You could use Flying Pigs Farms or whatever, and it’s like, Yeah, but they want $15 per pound for their birds. Then they’ll say, Why don’t you use pastured, sustainable, organic meat? And I’m like, Will you pay $25 per bowl of ramen?
--Ivan Orkin, Lucky Peach, on non-exportable production chains

Friday, February 20, 2015

The one-part Tversky Intelligence Test

As recounted by Malcolm Gladwell in 2013's David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, [Amos] Tversky's peers thought so highly of him that they devised a tongue-in-cheek one-part test for measuring intelligence. As related to Gladwell by psychologist Adam Alter, the Tversky Intelligence Test was "The faster you realized Tversky was smarter than you, the smarter you were."

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The progressive weakening of Harvard

“Harvard University will close only for an act of God, such as the end of the world,” former Harvard Dean of Students Archie Epps III once said. If so, Harvard has seen a lot of evidence of The Almighty One these past few years.

Harvard schools have canceled classes on both Monday and Tuesday due to the latest snowstorm, which so far has dropped two feet of snow on the area and shut down the MBTA. That comes two weeks after the university suspended all operations on January 27 for the blizzard that led to a state of emergency and a travel ban across the state.

There was a time not long ago when canceling a single day of Harvard classes — not to mention three in one semester — would have been a surprise. Administrators called off three days of classes for the historic Blizzard of 1978, the first cancellation since an unnamed hurricane in 1938. Classes also closed in 1985 due to Hurricane Gloria.

But that was it for the entire 20th century. In 100 years, Harvard canceled classes only three times. ...

Graduate schools closed down classes in January 2011 after about 18 inches of snow. Harvard canceled all classes on October 29, 2012 ahead of the high winds and rain of Hurricane Sandy. The blizzard of February 2013 slammed the campus on a weekend, and university libraries were shut down. Officials also canceled classes on April 19, 2013 amid the manhunt for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev after the Boston Marathon bombing.

For undergraduates, there have been as many days off at Harvard in the last five years as there were in the entire 20th century.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Finns ration their hellos

“Well, you’re just special. You’re American,” remarked my colleague, smirking from across the coffee table. My other Finnish coworkers, from the school in Helsinki where I teach, nodded in agreement. They had just finished critiquing one of my habits, and they could see that I was on the defensive.

I threw my hands up and snapped, “You’re accusing me of being too friendly? Is that really such a bad thing?”

“Well, when I greet a colleague, I keep track,” she retorted, “so I don’t greet them again during the day!” Another chimed in, “That’s the same for me, too!”
--Tim Walker, The Atlantic, on eliminating redundancy

Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Crusades were not what you think they were

Westerners in general (and Catholics in particular) find the Crusades a deeply embarrassing episode in their history. ...

On September 11, 2001, there were only a few professional historians of the Crusades in America. I was the one who was not retired. As a result, my phone began ringing and didn’t stop for years. ...

It is generally thought that Christians attacked Muslims without provocation to seize their lands and forcibly convert them. The Crusaders were Europe’s lacklands and ne’er-do-wells, who marched against the infidels out of blind zealotry and a desire for booty and land. As such, the Crusades betrayed Christianity itself. They transformed “turn the other cheek” into “kill them all; God will know his own.”

Every word of this is wrong. Historians of the Crusades have long known that it is wrong, but they find it extraordinarily difficult to be heard across a chasm of entrenched preconceptions. ...

All the Crusades met the criteria of just wars. They came about in reaction [to] attacks against Christians or their Church. The First Crusade was called in 1095 in response to the recent Turkish conquest of Christian Asia Minor, as well as the much earlier Arab conquest of the Christian-held Holy Land. The second was called in response to the Muslim conquest of Edessa in 1144. The third was called in response to the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem and most other Christian lands in the Levant in 1187.

In each case, the faithful went to war to defend Christians, to punish the attackers, and to right terrible wrongs. As Riley-Smith has written elsewhere, crusading was seen as an act of love—specifically the love of God and the love of neighbor. By pushing back Muslim aggression and restoring Eastern Christianity, the Crusaders were—at great peril to themselves—imitating the Good Samaritan. ...

Historians have long known that the image of the Crusader as an adventurer seeking his fortune is exactly backward. The vast majority of Crusaders returned home as soon as they had fulfilled their vow. What little booty they could acquire was more than spent on the journey itself. One is hard pressed to name a single returning Crusader who broke even, let alone made a profit on the journey. ...

It is commonly thought—even by Muslims—that the effects and memory of that trauma have been with the Islamic world since it was first inflicted in the eleventh century. As Riley-Smith explains, however, the Muslim memory of the Crusades is of very recent vintage. ... When, in 1291, Muslim armies removed the last vestiges of the Crusader Kingdom from Palestine, the Crusades largely dropped out of Muslim memory.

In Europe, however, the Crusades were a well-remembered formative episode. Europeans, who had bound the Crusades to imperialism, brought the story to the Middle East during the nineteenth century and reintroduced it to the Muslims. ...

Riley-Smith describes the profound effect that Sir Walter Scott’s novel The Talisman had on European and therefore Middle Eastern opinion of the Crusades. Crusaders such as Richard the Lionhearted were portrayed as boorish, brutal, and childish, while Muslims, particularly Saladin, were tolerant and enlightened gentlemen of the nineteenth century. With the collapse of Ottoman power and the rise of Arab nationalism at the end of the nineteenth century, Muslims bound together these two strands of Crusade narrative and created a new memory in which the Crusades were only the first part of Europe’s assault on Islam—an assault that continued through the modern imperialism of European powers. Europeans reintroduced Saladin, who had been nearly forgotten in the Middle East, and Arab nationalists then cleansed him of his Kurdish ethnicity to create a new anti-Western hero.
--Thomas Madden, First Things, on the professional historian's view of the Crusades. HT: Ross Douthat

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

A better way to pay ransom to kidnappers

It all began in 2003, when a German official flew into the wilds of northern Mali with three suitcases full of cash to secure the release of 14 European hostages. That first big ransom breathed life into the militant group known as Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and laid the groundwork for a kidnap economy that now finances Islamist extremist groups around the globe.

Foreigners who stumble into this world are highly prized assets: They are tracked, abducted, sold from one militant group to another and held for months, or even years, in the hope of a multimillion-dollar payday. Such hopes are kept alive by France, Germany and other European governments that routinely facilitate ransom payments for the release of their own citizens.

The United States steadfastly refuses to pay ransom, which undoubtedly reduces the price that American hostages fetch in the kidnap economy. However, money isn’t the only motivator for those holding hostages; they are also used to demonstrate the groups’ ferocity, as shown recently by the Islamic State’s gruesome killings of two Japanese men. ...

The good news is there is a way to change this game, to turn the tables on terrorist kidnappers and undermine the kidnap economy. ...

Throughout the 1980s, federal investigators did not catch a single major business cartel, despite having a whole division at the Department of Justice devoted to the task. That’s because business cartels, groups of companies that work together in secret to fix prices, can be nearly impossible to detect. ...

That all changed, suddenly and dramatically, in 1993 when the Department of Justice instituted a new program offering complete immunity to the first firm in a cartel to confess. ...

And turn on each other they did; soon convictions and settlements in the United States alone were generating hundreds of millions of dollars in fines each year. ...

Imagine what would happen if the federal government were to offer a million-dollar reward and promise safety to anyone — Islamic State militant or not — who provided information that led to the rescue of American hostages, and the capture or killing of their kidnappers. Holding an American hostage would then become fraught with peril, no matter where the kidnappers might hide, as anyone, even one of their own, might turn on them at any time.
--David McAdams, NYT, on kidnapper jujitsu. HT: Marginal Revolution

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Why Seattle's final Super Bowl play call might not have been so dumb

Much will be made as to whether the Seahawks should have run the ball with Marshawn Lynch in the backfield.

Lynch had five previous runs from the 1 this season and had scored one touchdown.
--ESPN Stats & Information on why the Seahawks might have called a pass