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Saturday, November 29, 2014

Better information about youth suicide rates

A few weeks ago, I did a writeup on Elizabeth Hawksworth's error-ridden Washington Post "Post Everything" article about suicide.  Here's how I started that post:
 At 10:18 yesterday morning, on PostEverything, Elizabeth Hawksworth, a Toronto-based writer, posted an article making the claims that "It’s estimated that 1.5 students out of every 100 will commit suicide at some point during their college career," and that "Suicide rates among college students have increased by 200 percent since the 1950s."   
For the casual reader, both of the cited statistics might have been alarming. Thankfully, they are both wrong.  As of this morning (i.e. the next day) at 7:10 a.m., there has been no correction of either. 

Today, there is what seems to be a much more accurate piece, written by  David Finkelhor,a sociology professor and director of the Family Research Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire.  Most significantly for present purposes, Finkelhor reports that:
Among 10- to 24- year-olds, the [suicide] rate declined from 9.24 to 7.21 suicides per 100,000 people from 1991 to 2009.

So what gives?  As you probably guessed, if you read my other post, the answer is in Hawksworth's sources, which (as quoted in my previous post) reported that:

8. Youth (ages 15-24) suicide rates increased more than 200% from the 1950’s to the late 1970’s. From the late 1970’s to the mid 1990’s, suicide rates for youth remained stable and, since then, have slightly decreased.

The reference to a slight decrease is consistent with what Finkelhor says, although it's interesting that his study is ages 10-24, whereas Ms. Hawkworth's source was 15-24.  

None of this is to diminish the tragedy of suicide and the importance of suicide prevention.  I read about high school and college kids committing suicide all the time.  And my kids have known kids that have committed suicide.  I knew someone in high school who did.  So it's not all that uncommon. But it's good to know that despite everything we hear and read, it seems to be on the decline.

Back to Finkelhor.  Here are the other good statistics he cites, which are all worth keeping in mind:

·        Arrests for serious violent offenses by juveniles have dropped about 60 percent from 1994 to 2011  The juvenile arrest rate has been going down faster than the adult arrest rate over the past 10 years, and juvenile property crime is at its lowest point in 30 years.
·        The number of sexual assaults against 12- to 17-year-olds has dropped by more than half since the mid-1990s, and the number of youth arrests for sex offenses has dropped as well, according to three corroborating nationwide and statewide victim surveys.
·        Violent victimization of teenagers at school has dropped 60 percent from 1992 to 2012.
·        School homicides in the 2000's have been lower than they were in the 1990s.
·        Most surveys show that peer victimization, harassment and bullying have been abating.
·        The teen pregnancy rate is at record lows in the United States.
·        The percentage of ninth-graders who say they have had sexual intercourse has declined from 54 percent in 1991 to 47 percent in 2013, and the percentage of high schoolers who say they have had four or more sexual partners also has declined.
·        Alcohol abuse is also down, with binge drinking by 12th graders at its lowest point since 1976 , and the percentage of students who have been drunk in the past year also at a record low.  According to one survey, high school students drank and drove in 2011 at  half  the rate they did 1991.
·        56 fewer kids ran away from home in 2012 vs. 1995
·        Dropout rates among those ages 16 to 24 are at their lowest, down from 17 percent in 1968 to 6.6 percent in 2013.
I haven't checked these statistics, but they sound plausible enough, and it's good news that is worth repeating.  
I see I didn't even link to Ms. Hawksworth's Sept. 18, 2014 article in my original post.  Here's that link,  And for the record, I see that the article still hasn't been corrected -- it still reports that 1.5 out of every 100 college students commits suicide, and that college suicide rates have increased by 200% since the 1950s.  I guess the editors of the Washington Post don't read this blog.
Please don't get me wrong -- I very much approve of Ms. Hawksworth's message and the work she is doing to spread it.  I just wish she'd be more careful with her use of statistics. A Washington Post article stays around for a long time, and it will keep getting hits, and will keep misleading people, until it's fixed.

Final insight:  Conspicuously absent from Mr. Finkelhor's data is any reference to marijuana use among children.  It occurred to me that perhaps marijuana use has gone up, and that THIS is the explanation for the other good results across the board.  After all, marijuana is often easier for kids to get than alcohol (with alcohol, SOMEBODY over 21 has to be in the picture to buy it). So let's see:

  • Alcohol use has gone down because marijuana is a substitute.
  • Violence has gone down because marijuana makes one mellow.
  • Same for victimization, harassment and bullying.
  • Property crime has gone down kids are home getting stoned, not out committing crimes against property (not sure just what property crime is; maybe it's theft).
  • Teen sex and pregnancy is also down, because of marijuana's effect on sex drive and sperm count.
  • Kids run away less, because the marijuana keeps them happier.
  • Kids commit suicide less because marijuana helps stave off depression, at least to some extent. And of course, if many child "suicides" are actually the result of auto-erotic asphyxiation, then perhaps marijuana use dampens that activity as well.

As alluded to above, marijuana in some cases may well ameliorate depression or other maladies.  It's not a substitute for anti-depressants, but if the condition is undiagnosed, then perhaps self-treatment with marijuana is better than no treatment at all. I looked at the marijuana use statistics reported by the CDC (Finkelhor's source for his alcohol data), and it's a bit unclear.  By some measures, one could say that marijuana use has decreased since its high point in the late 1990s, but by others, perhaps it has increased (it went from 31.3 to 39.9 between 1990 and 2011).  So maybe my theory needs some refinement -- while marijuana use has stayed steady (apart from the anomalously high years of 1997 and 1999 and the early, low years of 1991 and 1993, the "ever used" answer has hovered around 40%), perhaps the quality of it has gone up so much that it has positively affected the other categories.  But I'd really have to look at year-by-year info on the other statistics to try to support these conclusions.
Here's a link to the chart, but since it's important, I'll just reproduce it here (you might have to blow up the page to read it here though):

One final thought.  It's interesting how marijuana use went up during the most immoral period of the Clinton Presidency -- in 1997 and 1999, as revelations about Monica Lewinsky came out, and impeachment proceedings began.  I always thought he set a very poor moral example for kids; maybe this is one piece of real-world support for that theory.  

Let me emphasize that I am fully aware of the correlation = causation fallacy, and I recognize that much more work would need to be done to truly draw the links I am suggesting here.  But perhaps that's the sort of work somebody should be doing.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Shakespeare Folio Found in Calais -- More Evidence of Shakespeare's Catholicism

Today's Washington Post reports that a librarian in Calais, France discovered a Shakespeare Folio on the library's shelves.  It was missing a few key pages, and as a result had been miscatalogued as an 18th century compilation of Shakespeare's plays.  In fact, it clearly was one of the original 1623 Folios, of which only 232 -- now 233 -- are known to exist (Washington Post's "223" is wrong here, although I'm not 100% sure of the exact number).

It's missing about 30 pages, and has seen better days.

But nevertheless, it provides us one more link between Shakespeare and the Jesuits.  Eric Rasmussen, a famous Shakespeare scholar, has this to say:

“[I]t clearly came from the college of Jesuits in Saint-Omer, founded in the late 16th century during Queen Elizabeth’s reign when it was illegal for Catholics to go to college. . . .  People have been making some vague arguments [about Shakespeare's possible Catholicism] but now for the first time we have a connection between the Jesuit college network and Shakespeare. … The links become a little more substantial when you have this paper trail.”

The Folio is inscribed with the name "Neville," which is taken to be code for the name of the owner of the book.  The New York Times writeup (from which the Washington Post writeup mostly derives) says that Rasmussen posited that the inscription meant that the book was brought to St.-Omer in the 1650s by Edward Scarisbrick "a member of a prominent English Catholic family who went by that alias and attended the Jesuit college" (quote from NYT, not Rasmussen).

I'm not a Catholic by any stretch of the imagination, but I tend to root for underdogs.  So I rooted for soon-to-be Queen Elizabeth and the Protestants during the reign of Bloody Mary, but I also rooted for Mary Queen of Scots, Edmund Campion, and the Catholics during the almost-equally bloody reign of Queen Elizabeth.  Since Shakespeare's writing career took place largely during Elizabeth's affirmatively anti-Catholic reign, I like to think of him as a subversive underdog during that time.  It adds another perspective to the reading of the plays.

Of course, we know next-to-nothing about Shakespeare's actual life, so any guesses about his religious beliefs are sheer speculation.  

This isn't quite the same as arguing that Shakespeare's works were written by someone other than Shakespeare.  That's a very different kind of argument, although it also stems from the scarcity of any verifiable biographical information about Shakespeare himself.  The authorship argument is difficult to make simply because the other candidates for authorship are so weak -- for example, the best one seems to be the Earl of Oxford, but he was dead before Shakespeare wrote many of his plays, and some of those plays clearly contain references to things that happened after Shakespeare's death.

I can't help noting (since nobody seems to have done so yet), that Sir Henry Neville has recently been put forth as an authorship candidate by James Goding and Bruce Leyland (code breakers) and Brenda James (Shakespeare scholar).  Proponents of this theory will doubtless consider the inscription "Neville" highly significant.  (On quick look, I see no evidence that Neville was Catholic, although of course he might have been just as Catholic as Shakespeare).

The Shakespeare-as-Jesuit argument also finds support in the plays here and there, and on the notion that one "William Shakeshafte" -- a person who might have spent time with Edmund Campion on his 1580 mission -- might have been the young William Shakespeare.

Connections to Shakespeare and the Jesuits can be found in the following sources:

Will In the World, by Stephen Greenblatt (an overrated and derivative, but very accessible, popular work by a famous Shakespeare Scholar)

Shakespeare and the Jesuits, by Andrea Campana (I haven't read it, and nobody's reviewed it, but it appears to contain a detailed review of the "evidence)

Here's a picture of the thing:

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Gap insurance and vehicle warranty scam

I don't usually finance cars, so I haven't really seen one of these "finance" sales guys in action, until recently, when I decided to finance a car for my daughter.  I think I've been offered extended warranties in the past, but I always decline.  It always seems smarter to self-insure on the small stuff.  And of course, I'd never encountered "gap insurance" before.  Gap insurance is just insurance that you buy in case you total your own car, and the insurance company will only pay the "value" of the car, as opposed to the remaining loan amount.  That presumably has some value at the outset of a car loan, since (as they will tell you), the car loses considerable value the minute you drive it off the lot.  But if you're making payments of (e.g.) $300 or more towards the principal, the amount of the loan should be less than the value of the car by the end of the first year or so.  So by then, you're losing money, since you paid a few hundred dollars for the gap insurance.  And remember, your recovery is just going to be the difference between the loan amount and the value of the car; i.e. at most, if you're lucky enough to total the car within the first year, you'll get two or three thousand dollars back on your investment.  If your investment in gap insurance is $700, you're basically betting that there's a better than 1 in 5 chance that you're going to total your own car in the first year, and that your insurance will only pay something less than the loan amount.  I think most of us can beat those odds.

In other words, gap insurance -- at least actuarily speaking -- is a complete ripoff even if you don't put any money down.  It's an even bigger ripoff if you put money down.  The only time it might make sense is if you are literally planning to total your new car.  Still, I don't advise you to do that just because you got suckered into buying gap insurance.  Certainly, if you were to total your car by driving it through the showroom window of the dealership that sold you the gap insurance, there would be some poetic justice.  But I don't recommend doing that, and it's quite possible that exclusions would apply.

The guy I had didn't tell me what the gap insurance cost.  Instead, he first showed me what my monthly payment would be without any extras.  Or at least that's I thought he was showing me.  It was about $330 for an $18,000 loan.  Without doing any calculations, that sounded ok.  In fact, I had told my daughter the number would be a bit over $300 for a 5-year 1.9% loan; since $300 over 60 months would take care of the $18,000 principal.  The guy agreed it would be a bit more than $300, and that's when he came up with the $330.  I didn't really have any basis for questioning that; I didn't have a calculator.  He said that for only $30 more a month, I could have both an extended warranty and gap insurance.  But that was math I could do -- $30 a month over 60 months is $1800, which is more than I wanted to pay.

In the end, I seemed to have "bargained" him down to a deal where it would only be $15 a month more than the original $330, with an even better warranty, and the gap insurance.  I confirmed with him that this meant I was paying $900 for both of them, and that actually sounded ok to me. The gap probably wasn't worth much of anything, but maybe an extended warranty would be a good idea.  The guy said that he was losing money off of the deal, but he had to make his quota.

As I looked at the documents (I had to sign about a million of them), I noticed that the gap insurance was marked at $700, and the warranty was at $1198, which seemed disturbingly high.  I asked about it, but he pulled out his calculator again and somehow managed to convince me that I was only paying $900 for it.  In the course of this, the guy told me he had reduced my rate from 1.99 to 1.90, and that this is what had made the apparent difference.  It didn't look or sound quite right -- after all, the papers said $1198 plus $700, but I'd been in the dealership for about 5 hours. I'm sorry, I was beaten down, and totally off my guard.  Of course, I had trouble accepting the obvious because that would mean that this guy -- who had become a good friend of mine during this process -- was lying to me.  The shop had already closed by now and I just signed the documents, assuming I had a right of rescission.

I finally got out of there, and of course, this issue kept me awake much of the night.  In the morning, I figured out what had happened.  The payments at 1.9% over 60 months should have been $314, not $330 (you can check this on any car dealer website's rate calculator).  I have no idea where the initial $330 came from, but that was clearly the "anchor," and it allowed me to apply my math skills to decide that I was getting a pretty good deal.  After that, I never really looked back, even with the cold, hard numbers staring me in the face.

Really sad that someone as suspicious as me, and as sensitive to being ripped off as I am -- and (can I say it?) as educated, smart, and mathematically-inclined as me -- can still get taken in this way.  But car salespeople -- and loan salespeople -- are professionals.  They do this stuff for a living, day in and day out.  

Notice that even though I was smart enough to realize right off the bat that gap insurance was almost totally worthless, he STILL managed to sell me $700 worth of gap insurance by appearing to roll it in with a good deal on a warranty.  I know many of you are thinking I must be some kind of idiot, but I'm telling you, if it could happen to me, it could probably happen to you.  There's a lot of psychology involved -- not to mention trickery and obfuscation -- and in the end, I think it could happen to almost anybody, unless of course you've gone into the negotiation having read something like this.

The other lesson is to always ask if there is a rebate or other dealer incentive on the car.  I usually do, but I forgot this time.  I felt like I got a pretty good deal, but it was only in the financing process that I realized that part of what I thought I had "bargained" so hard for was a rebate.  Of course, the salesman said he was losing money too.  Sad how all my good (if somewhat new) friends are lying to me nowadays . . . .

I went in the next day and undid the loan deal.  I was afraid they would try not to let me (as far as I can tell, there is no 3-day right of rescission in Virginia for this kind of thing, although the contract itself said I could cancel it for a $50 fee), but I think they need to be careful about how they deal with seemingly irate customers.  They got me back to the finance room, and the guy redid the paperwork without any complaint.  Of course I was nice about it, although I had a nasty letter in reserve that I would have pulled out if I had gotten any trouble out of him.

I doubt they would have let me give the car back, but they didn't want that scene playing out in their showroom either.

I sort of feel like I should report the whole thing, maybe to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Better Business Bureau, or the FTC.  But I gave back the evidence that I had (i.e. the contract he had drawn up).  In any event, they'd defend by saying the price was on the document, and they are selling a product for that price, and that many consumers think it is worth it.

Anyway, I figured if I write it up here, maybe it will help someone else out one day.  I seriously doubt that there's anything specially dishonest about the particular guy or dealership I dealt with; I wouldn't be surprised if they are all like that, and all use similar tricks.  That's how the successful ones make their money, after all.

And here's the scene from Fargo that I always think of when I visit a car dealer.  I.e. it's what they are doing when they say they are going off to talk to their "manager" of "boss" to approve some deal or other.  In this case, Jerry Lundegaard wears down and screws over a vigilant customer who specifically said he didn't want the ripoff undercoating:

Customer: We sat right here in this room
and went over this.
Jerry: Yah, but that TruCoat...
Customer:  I said I didn't want any TruCoat.
Jerry: Yah, but I'm saying, that TruCoat, you
don't get it, you get oxidation problems...
Customer:  You're sitting there talking in circles
like we didn't go over this already.
Jerry: Yeah, but this TruCoat...
Customer: We had a deal for $______.
Darned if you didn't tell me you'd get me
this car without the sealant for $______.
Jerry: All right, I'm not saying I didn't.
Customer: You called me and said you had it.
"Ready to make delivery" you says.
And here you are and you're
wasting my time and my wife's time.
And I'm paying $______ for this vehicle here.
Jerry: All right.
I'll talk to my boss.
See, they install that TruCoat
at the factory. There's nothing we can do.
But I'll talk to my boss.
Customer: These guys here. These guys.
Customer: It's always the same. It's always more.
Jerry: [pretending to talk to his "boss"] You goin' to the Gophers on Sunday?
Salesman: Oh you betchya.
Jerry: You wouldn't happen to have an extra ticket?
Salesman: You kidin'!?
[Jerry returns to the customer]
Jerry: Well, he never done this before. But seeing as it's special circumstances and all, he says I can knock a hundred dollars off that Trucoat.
Irate customer: One hundred... You lied to me, Mr Lundegaard. You're a bald-faced liar. A... fucking liar!
Customer's wife: Bucky, please.
Irate customer: Where's my goddamn check book? Lets get this over with.

* * * *

I guess everybody knows that car salespeople -- and the dealerships that profit from their work -- are little better than crooks and liars.  Still, I hope this post helps at least one person from falling into the "gap" insurance trap. Whether you want an extended warranty or not is up to you, 


Monday, November 17, 2014

Red Reign Wikipedia Entry -- Missing

Not too long ago, it was possible to read about the documentary "Red Reign: The Bloody Harvest of China's Prisoners" on Wikipedia.  But now it appears that the page never existed. I'm showing my work below (i.e. the wikipedia result, the wikipedia deletion log result, and the wayback machine result).

The basic theme of the documentary is that the Chinese Government is participating in (1) the killing of prisoners whose crime seems to be their membership in the peaceful Falun Gong sect, (2) the harvesting of their organs, and (3) the sale of those organs to foreign patients, not necessarily in that order.

You can, and should, watch the trailer for Red Reign here on Youtube.

Here's how one commenter on Hulu summarizes the process:

"Basically the Chinese government arrests the Falun Gong practitioner, tortures them until they confess to a capital crime, then they are incarcerated doing slave labor until the people who purchased their organs arrives, then the Falun Gong has their organs removed and put in the buyers. The buyer is told the prisoner was going to be executed anyway. 70 M practitioners. 2-4 M in slave labor camps. 2000 liver transplants in 2005 according to Chinese government statistics. If this is true, it certainly is an argument not to buy 'Made in China.'"

And here's a user review from IMDB, where it got 8.5 stars:

"A hard to watch must see if you care enough to make ethical decisions. Not exactly the best documentary production but none-the-less the topic and subjects make for compelling watching and listening. It made me think twice about doing any business or travel to China. Have suspected these types of human rights violations existed but had no idea how systemic they are, nor how complicit the rest of the world is in ignoring or even participating in them. The poem at the end is an ominous reminder of the issues that can arise if we ignore these atrocities! I was discussing the 40,000 children that are stolen or go missing in China every year the other day and we where left wondering why the government and the people do nothing about that issue. This documentary helps understand why that issue too is not addressed. Public opinion is so depressed and controlled that there is no internal willingness or pressure to change. If you are particularly sensitive to human suffering you probably should avoid watching this movie."

Here's piece about it on NaturalNews.  I see the piece has a link to "real time streaming" of the movie, but I didn't click the link.  Sorry, I don't completely trust the site, because it has a number of ads.  If you test the link and it works, let me know!

But you can definitely watch it on Amazon or Hulu, both of which seem like safer bets:

You can watch the film on Amazon Instant here.

You can watch the film on Hulu here.

Here's an interview with Masha Savitz, the writer-director, who incidentally does not have a wikipedia entry either.

The main protagonist, David Matas, has a Wikipedia entry, which mentions his work in this area, but the entry doesn't mention the film.  Here's what it says:

"David Matas is the co-author of Report into Allegations of Organ Harvesting of Falun Gong Practitioners in China, which alleges that since 2000 the Chinese government has been systemically harvesting organs from Falun Gong practitioners. He is also counsel for Justice for Jews from Arab Countries and is co-author of "Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries: The Case for Rights and Redress".
In 2009 David Matas was a signatory to a letter that opposed the appointment of Professor Christine Chinkin to a UNHuman Rights Council fact finding mission regarding the potential that Israeli and Hamas engaged in war crimes during the 2008-2009 Gaza War on the basis that Chinkin signed a letter prior to the fact finding mission that Matas claims showed that she "concluded that Israel was acting contrary to international law."[4] Chinkin was not dismissed from the fact finding mission and went on to help produce the Goldstone report.
He presented various papers on the legal issue of prosecuting war criminals in Bangladesh.
In 2010 David Matas was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his work related to the investigation of organ harvesting crimes against Falun Gong practitioners in China.[5]" has this to say:

"Red Reign examines the shocking evidence of forced organ harvesting of China’s prisoners of conscience, the practitioners of Falun Gong.

"Falun Gong, a spiritual practice rooted in Buddhism and introduced to the public in 1991, was banned by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in 1999. Hundreds of thousands of practitioners were arrested, imprisoned and brutally tortured if they did not recant their beliefs of ‘truthfulness, compassion and forbearance.’ In 2006, a report by human rights lawyer David Matas, as well as David Kilgour, a former member of the Canadian Parliament, alleged that Falun Gong prisoners were being killed in order to harvest their organs for the lucrative government-run transplant business.

"Filmmaker Masha Savitz zeroes in on the efforts of the Nobel Prize nominee David Matas, who wrote the book ‘Bloody Harvest: The Killing of Falun Gong.’ Featuring interviews with Matas, David Kilgour, victims of the Falun Gong persecution and several doctors who share chilling transplant testimonies, as well as a filmmaker whose film on the topic was effectively quashed by the CCP in Canada, Europe, and the US, Red Reign makes a stunning case. An international story of tangled politics and economics intentionally suppressed by the Chinese, Red Reign shows how a large scale persecution of a minority people can still happen in our modern day society."


I have no idea whether the documentary is true or not, in whole or in part.  The allegations are horrifying.  It would be very interesting to know why it's not on Wikipedia anymore.  Was it merely a victim of a  systematic wikipedia purge of  publicist-created entries, or -- more sinisterly -- was the Chinese government behind it?  And if the Chinese government was behind it, where was our government in all of this?

 Here's what wikipedia says today, at

The deletion log provides no useful information:

Clicking the option to search Red Reign in existing articles yields this page:

And the wayback machine just tells me that the page still exists.  I thought it was supposed to give me information about what the page looked at "way back" then.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

No Sound in Google Chrome With Windows 8.1 -- FIXED!

I'm not a computer person so usually when things go wrong I just live with them until its unbearable. I'll start by saying that this happened after I downloaded the latest version of Google Chrome, which I find really irritating -- it gives me a whole new overlay, and the button bar at the bottom -- which includes Internet Explorer, as well as any document I happened to be working on -- isn't accessible anymore.  I don't really know whom to blame -- it might be one of those "features" of Windows 8.1 which seem to suck but really are great if you understand them, or it might be something like that for Google Chrome.

Anyway, apart from the interface annoyances, I soon realized that Google Chrome wasn't giving me any sound.  Googling around showed two possible solutions.  First, it could be that my audio "mixer" for Chrome is muted.

I checked this by clicking on the little audio icon in the lower right.  Of course, this isn't visible on my Chrome interface, but I got to it eventually (I move back and forth by clicking in the upper-left hand corner of the screen).

Here's what it looks like now (you get to this by clicking the circled audio icon in the lower right, then clicking on "Mixer"):

Not sure why it doesn't show Google Chrome.  It did before.  But it showed it as working, even when it wasn't working.  Anyway, that wasn't the problem.

Looking a bit more, I found people telling me to disable Adobe Shockwave, and then to install the latest Adobe flashplayer.  Here's a link to a YouTube Video with that advice:

That worked for me.  In short:

In your Chrome browser bar type in chrome://plugins

Then go down the the Adobe shockwave player and disable it.  The arrow shows my existing setup, where it is disabled, i.e. greyed out.

Then go to and download a flash player.  It might take you to this page:

The adobe site may tell you -- as it did me -- that you already have flash player installed with Google Chrome, but that it's disabled (thereby confirming that you successfully disabled it).  You can ignore that.  You can also uncheck the McAfee box.  Just download the latest version.  I.e. click on the Install now, and the click on the downloaded .exe file.

Anyway, that's what worked for me. I now have sound in Google Chrome again.