Wednesday, April 30, 2014

News Flash: Fatherless boys don't do well in school!



WASHINGTON — The decline of two-parent households may be a significant reason for the divergent fortunes of male workers, whose earnings generally declined in recent decades, and female workers, whose earnings generally increased, a prominent labor economist argues in a new survey of existing research.
David H. Autor, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says that the difference between men and women, at least in part, may have roots in childhood. Only 63 percent of children lived in a household with two parents in 2010, down from 82 percent in 1970. The single parents raising the rest of those children are predominantly female. And there is growing evidence that sons raised by single mothers “appear to fare particularly poorly,” Professor Autor wrote in an analysis for Third Way, a center-left policy research organization.
In this telling, the economic struggles of male workers are both a cause and an effect of the breakdown of traditional households. Men who are less successful are less attractive as partners, so some women are choosing to raise children by themselves, in turn often producing sons who are less successful and attractive as partners.
Girls enter school with a lead on boys, and schools then fail to close the gaps. Instead, they increase. The behavioral advantage that girls have over boys in kindergarten, based on teachers’ assessments of their students, are even larger in fifth grade.
By then, the average girl is at the 60th percentile of an index of social and behavioral skills, while the average boy is at only the 40th percentile, according to Claudia Buchmann of Ohio State and Thomas DiPrete of Columbia, the authors of the new paper. That gap of 20 percentage points is larger than the 14-point gap between poor and not poor children or the 15-point gap between white and black children.
These behavior measures are subjective, of course, based on the views of teachers across the country in very different classrooms. Yet it’s clear that the measures reflect something real, because the behavior differences later translate into academic differences. By high school, even advanced math and science classes now have more girls than boys. At college graduation ceremonies around the country this spring, women in caps and gowns will easily outnumber men.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Schizophrenia killed my sister

Excerpts from a very nice review of all that we don't know about schizophrenia:
Susanne Long was my sister, three years younger. She was funny and savvy. She was creative and kind and curious. ...

At the age of 32, never before, schizophrenia came to call. She began to hear nasty phrases hissed at her: We’re going to get you, etc. We may call them voices, but to her they were sentences spoken from the mouths of colleagues and passersby.

Over the next near-decade her delusional states increased from sporadic to chronic. On July 21, 1986, at the age of 40, she vanished.


What causes this devastating mental illness?

It’s related to genetics, we know that. If you have an identical twin with schizophrenia, your chances of getting it are 40 to 65 percent. If you have a parent, brother, or sister with it, your chances are 10 percent. This compares with about one percent of the world population that suffers from the illness. One percent, though, is not a small number; in the United States it amounts to about three million people. The most severely afflicted find it difficult to get up, get dressed, eat, go to work, come home. They barely function. Susanne, once intelligent and competent, graceful and well appointed, could no longer keep a job or even take a bath. So why didn’t natural selection, over thousands of years, cause the genetic propensity for this extreme disability to die out?


A recent major study confirmed a high association between people in creative professions and their first-degree relatives (parents, offspring, and siblings) who have psychopathologies such as schizophrenia. Could there be inherited brain structures that produce thought patterns such as “broad associative thinking” in which contradictory images and ideas knock about together, structures that serve an artist’s work but that in some brains go too far and become the twisted thoughts of mental illness? Does selection for a more robust imagination—so very useful to us humans—keep imagination’s more dysfunctional forms from dying out?


Susanne was never violent; neither did she ever threaten violence, nor were her actions and attitudes in any way aggressive. Most people with schizophrenia are not violent, stereotype notwithstanding. However, in his 2013 book, American Psychosis, Torrey reports that 10 percent of homicides in the United States are committed by untreated mentally ill people. Keyword untreated. And often untreated and drug addicted. That means that 90 percent of homicides are committed by the allegedly sane. But suicide is different. About one in 10 people suffering from schizophrenia commits suicide, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.


Environment is a factor. Personality is a factor. Susanne was as stubborn as a stone wall. She was also born at the wrong time. I have a twin sister and a brother 10 months older, all of us born before our parents came of drinking age. (Old fathers are likelier to produce a child who develops schizophrenia, but Susanne had a young father.) We were “the three big kids.” As children, we ignored Susie, excluded her, looked down on her. We denied her entrance to our forts, museums, and hideouts in the woods. And we lived way out in the country. We were her only playmates. Did we drive her crazy?

“I was a battered child,” she once said to me. And then I remembered. We rural children would walk home from where the school bus let us off, at the end of our mile-long dirt lane. The whole way home, our brother would verbally torment Susie. Upon arriving at the house, out in the yard, he would curl his fist and beat her repeatedly in the stomach. (No blame. He was a child, too, and our stressed-out parents with their four children were in their early 20s.) If I recall correctly these events of 60 years ago, my sister and I would stand by doing nothing, feeling nothing. We did not participate, we did not enjoy, but we felt blank. Passive. It did not cross our minds to report to our parents. I don’t think we put it through any thought process whatever. One study found that children severely traumatized in childhood are three times as likely to become psychotic in adulthood. So, stressful, traumatic childhood—check.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Gamblers have "hot hands" because they believe in the gambler's fallacy


Gamblers are prone to two key fantasies. First, they tend to believe in the hot hand: If you're winning, you'll probably keep winning. Second, they often succumb to the "gambler's fallacy," or the belief that getting heads nine times in a row makes the chances of tails higher on the 10th try.
A new paper from Britain reports that the first of those fantasies is no fantasy at all—probably because gamblers believe in the second.
Scientists at University College London analyzed 565,915 bets on a variety of sports made by 776 online gamblers during 2010 [that's 729 sports bets a year each!] and found that the probability of winning was 48% (which is why bookmaking is profitable). But they also found that each time a bet was won, the probability of a bettor's next wager succeeding actually went up. Bettors with six wins in a row had an astounding 76% likelihood of success on the seventh bet—in other words, a hot hand.
Bettors on a losing streak displayed the same syndrome in reverse: With each loss, the likelihood of winning the next bet declined. After six consecutive losses, the probability of winning the next wager was just 23%.
How is this possible? According to the scientists, the answer is simple: Gamblers believe in the gambler's fallacy. The researchers noticed that, in their sample, bettors on a winning streak chose wagers with more favorable odds on subsequent bets, raising their chances of winning. It is hard to see why they would do this if they didn't believe their luck was likely to turn. Similarly, consecutive losers chose bets with worse odds, presumably because they believed themselves overdue for a change of fortune.
Winners and losers alike had embraced a fantasy about the nature of chance events that only made their luck less likely to change. Or, as the scientists put it, "The gamblers' fallacy created the hot hand." The paper says the findings could have implications for financial traders, who might respond to chance success by changing their risk preferences.


Sunday, April 27, 2014

Holiness is being no less than who you are

WSJ (Fr. James Martin, S.J.)

One of the most insidious stereotypes about the saints is their terrible sameness....
But each saint was unique, called by God to be himself or herself. For holiness means being who you are—no more but (more important) no less. In his journals, Angelo Roncalli recognized this when he mused on the life of another saint, a 16th-century Jesuit: "I am not St. Aloysius, nor must I seek holiness in his particular way, but according to the requirements of my own nature, my own character and the different conditions of my life.… If St. Aloysius had been as I am, he would have become holy in a different way."

Not inconsistent with Carl Rogers, Victor Frankl, or Albert Camus.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

That's Life -- Frank Sinatra

That's life (that's life), that's what all the people say
You're ridin' high in April, shot down in May
But I know I'm gonna change that tune
When I'm back on top, back on top in June

I said that's life (that's life), and as funny as it may seem
Some people get their kicks stompin' on a dream
But I don't let it, let it get me down
'cause this fine old world, it keeps spinnin' around

I've been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn and a king
I've been up and down and over and out and I know one thing
Each time I find myself flat on my face
I pick myself up and get back in the race

That's life (that's life), I tell you I can't deny it
I thought of quitting, baby, but my heart just ain't gonna buy it
And if I didn't think it was worth one single try
I'd jump right on a big bird and then I'd fly

I've been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn and a king
I've been up and down and over and out and I know one thing
Each time I find myself layin' flat on my face
I just pick myself up and get back in the race

That's life (that's life), that's life and I can't deny it
Many times I thought of cuttin' out but my heart won't buy it
But if there's nothin' shakin' come this here July
I'm gonna roll myself up in a big ball a-and die

My, my!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Cognitive Reserve and Recovery from Brain Injury


Sounds like some reporter (or at least the editor that wrote the headline, and probably even the neurologist quoted below) wasn't paying attention in Intro Psych when they went over Correlation Doesn't Equal Causation. What people constantly forget is that "cognitive reserve" (a.k.a. premorbid IQ) is not something that you attain during the educational process. Going to school for more years doesn't make you any smarter (i.e., cognitively efficient/better at learning new things). People who are smarter go to school for more years. The reason people drop out of high school is because they have low IQs. The reason high school graduates make more money than drop outs who later earned GEDs is that GED grads have lower IQs than high school grads. Harvard graduates are successful in life because Harvard only admits exceptionally high IQ students. The students do not attain even higher IQs after going through four years at Harvard.

All this study shows is that people with higher premorbid IQs (e.g., college grads) are better able to recover from brain injuries than high school dropouts. Recovery from brain injury involves learning new ways to live in the world, and people with higher IQs are better at learning new things.

The point about Alzheimer's is interesting and has been known for years. The higher your IQ, the less likely you are to develop Alzheimer's. Crudely, people talk about high IQ folks having "more brain to burn" during the inevitable aging/dementing process. They are dementing, too, but they have farther to fall before becoming disabled by their brain disease and probably compensate better. They also are less likely to smoke, be drug/alcohol dependent, or to have suffered head injuries -- because they have higher IQs -- all of which are risk factors for Alzheimer's.


Education May Help Insulate The Brain Against Traumatic Injury

A little education goes a long way toward ensuring you'll recover from a serious traumatic brain injury. In fact, people with lots of education are seven times more likely than high school dropouts to have no measurable disability a year later.
"It's a very dramatic difference," says Eric Schneider, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins and the lead author of a new study. The finding suggests that people with more education have brains that are better able to "find ways around the damage" caused by an injury, he says.
The study looked at the medical records of 769 adults who suffered traumatic brain injuries serious enough to require an inpatient hospital stay and rehabilitation. A year after the injury, just 10 percent of people who didn't finish high school had no disability, compared with 39 percent of people with enough years of education to have received a college degree. People with advanced degrees did even better.
One reason for the difference may be something known as "cognitive reserve" in the brain, Schneider says. The concept is a bit like physical fitness, he says, which can help a person recover from a physical injury. Similarly, a person with a lot of cognitive reserve may be better equipped to recover from a brain injury.
The results were reported Tuesday in the journal Neurology.
Scientists don't fully understand what specific brain changes are responsible for cognitive reserve. But research on educational training suggests that it involves strengthening the networks of brain cells involved in learning and memory, according to a commentary by Erin Bigler that accompanies the study. A stronger network may be better at repairing itself or adapting to damage, Bigler says.
For several decades, studies have shown that people with more education, and presumably more cognitive reserve, are less likely to develop the memory and thinking problems of Alzheimer's disease. The new study suggests the benefits of education and cognitive reserve extend to brain damage caused by injury rather than disease.
There's no guaranteed way to increase your cognitive reserve, Schneider says. But there are hints that staying physically and socially active helps, and that "pursuing lifelong learning may be beneficial," he says.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Canonization of John Paul II

"The future begins today, not tomorrow."

This son of Poland was, at the same time, a man of global vision with a deeply humanistic soul, forged by what he regarded as the crisis of modernity: a crisis in the very idea of the human person. That crisis, he believed, was not confined to communism's materialist reduction of the human condition, which he tenaciously fought as a university chaplain, a professor of ethics, a charismatic priest and a dynamic bishop. The crisis could also be found in those Western systems that were tempted to measure men and women by their commercial utility rather than by the innate and inalienable dignity that was their birthright.
John Paul II's conviction, biblically rooted and philosophically refined, was that every human life is of infinite value, at every stage and in every condition. This was the basis of his priestly ministry for almost six decades; it was the conviction that forged his unique moral analysis of world politics; and it was the ground from which he could inspire men and women from a staggering variety of cultures.
"Every day of our lives
is lived in the
dramatic tension
who we are and
who we should be."
He could also touch those lives because of his dramatic soul. As a young man, he confessed in a memoir later in life, he was "obsessed" with the theater. And while he took some useful skills from those experiences on stage— John Gielgud once commented on John Paul II's "perfect" sense of timing, as Alec Guinness marveled at the resonance of his voice—he also developed a dramatic view of the human condition. We all live, he believed, in a quotidian, yet deeply consequential, moral drama. Every day of our lives is lived in the dramatic tension between who we are and who we should be.
John Paul II intuited this on stage; he refined that intuition as a philosopher. And it was deepened by his Christian conviction that the drama of every human life is playing within a cosmic drama in which the God of the Bible is producer, director, scriptwriter and protagonist. That Christian conviction, in turn, was what allowed him to say, a year after he was shot in St. Peter's Square in 1981, "In the designs of Providence there are no mere coincidences."

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

People Under Romantic Threat Move Closer to God

Science Codex
Laurin and colleagues wanted to see how our relationship with God changes as our other relationships change. So the researchers designed a series of studies, published today in Social Psychological and Personality Science, that experimentally induced people to believe their romantic relationship was under threat and then tested their feelings of closeness to God.
In one of the studies, they recruited 187 participants who were primarily Christian and Hindu but also Muslim, nonreligious, or unaffiliated. To manipulate relationship threat, the researchers told some of the participants that everyone hides certain aspects of themselves from their partners. "Then we hit them with the idea that these 'secret selves' always end up coming out, and ruining relationships," Laurin says. "And just in case that's not enough to make them nervous that their relationship could be in danger, we force them to think more specifically about things that they themselves might be hiding from their partners."
They then asked the participants to rate their closeness to God. Another group of participants simply rated their closeness with God without first reading the threat scenario. The researchers also assessed the participants' self-esteem.
Laurin's team found that participants sought to enhance their relationship with God when under threat of romantic rejection – but only if they had high self-esteem. This fits with past work showing that people high in self-esteem seek social connection when their relationships are threatened.
It's a sobering finding, Laurin says: "We find that high self-esteem people, who already are the ones who take constructive steps to repair their relationships when they are under threat, have yet another resource they can turn to: their relationship with God," she explains. "Low self-esteem people, who are the ones who retreat and protect themselves at the expense of the relationship when the relationship is under threat, don't seem to be able to use this new resource either."

Love the experimental induction of romantic threat! Very clever.

Of course, Freud said all of this nearly 100 years ago; just because he didn't use ANOVAs doesn't make him wrong.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Parents with Smartphones Neglect their Children


After relocating to Boston Medical Center, she and two other researchers spent one summer observing 55 different groups of parents and young children eating at fast food restaurants. Many of the caregivers pulled out a mobile device right away, she says. "They looked at it, scrolled on it and typed for most of the meal, only putting it down intermittently."

This was not a scientific study, Radesky is quick to point out. It was more like anthropological observation, complete with detailed field notes. Forty of the 55 parents [73%!] used a mobile device during the meal, and many, she says, were more absorbed in the device than in the kids.

Radesky says that's a big mistake, because face-to-face interactions are the primary way children learn. "They learn language, they learn about their own emotions, they learn how to regulate them," she says. "They learn by watching us how to have a conversation, how to read other people's facial expressions. And if that's not happening, children are missing out on important development milestones."

And, perhaps not surprisingly, when Radesky looked at the patterns in what she and the other researchers observed, she found that kids with parents who were most absorbed in their devices were more likely to act out, in an effort to get their parents' attention. She recalls one group of three boys and their father: The father was on his cellphone, and the boys were singing a song repetitively and acting silly. When the boys got too loud, the father looked up from his phone and shouted at them to stop.


In research for her book, Steiner-Adair interviewed 1,000 children between the ages of 4 and 18, asking them about their parents' use of mobile devices. The language that came up over and over and over again, she says, was "sad, mad, angry and lonely." One 4-year-old called his dad's smartphone a "stupid phone." Others recalled joyfully throwing their parent's phone into the toilet, putting it in the oven or hiding it. There was one girl who said, "I feel like I'm just boring. I'm boring my dad because he will take any text, any call, anytime — even on the ski lift!"

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Five Ways to Kill a Man -- Edwin Brock (1972)

There are many cumbersome ways to kill a man.
You can make him carry a plank of wood
to the top of a hill and nail him to it. To do this
properly you require a crowd of people
wearing sandals, a cock that crows, a cloak
to dissect, a sponge, some vinegar and one
man to hammer the nails home.

Or you can take a length of steel,
shaped and chased in a traditional way,
and attempt to pierce the metal cage he wears.
But for this you need white horses,
English trees, men with bows and arrows,
at least two flags, a prince, and a
castle to hold your banquet in.

Dispensing with nobility, you may, if the wind
allows, blow gas at him. But then you need
a mile of mud sliced through with ditches,
not to mention black boots, bomb craters,
more mud, a plague of rats, a dozen songs
and some round hats made of steel.

In an age of aeroplanes, you may fly
miles above your victim and dispose of him by
pressing one small switch. All you then
require is an ocean to separate you, two
systems of government, a nation's scientists,
several factories, a psychopath and
land that no-one needs for several years.

These are, as I began, cumbersome ways
to kill a man. Simpler, direct, and much more neat
is to see that he is living somewhere in the middle
of the twentieth century, and leave him there.      

Saturday, April 19, 2014

I'm Beginning to See the Light -- Peggy Lee


I never cared much for moonlit skies,
I never winked back at fireflies,
But now that the stars are in your eyes,
I'm beginning to see the light.

I never went in for afterglow,
Or candle light on the Mistletoe,
But now when you turn the lamp down low,
I'm beginning to see the light.

I used to ramble through the park,
Shadow boxing in the dark,
Then you came and caused a spark,
That's a four-alarm fire now.

I never made love by lantern shine,
I never saw rainbows in my wine,
But now that your lips are burning mine,
I'm beginning to see the light.

I never went in for afterglow,
Or candle light on the Mistletoe,
But now when you turn the lamp down low,
I'm beginning to see the light.

I used to ramble through the park,
Shadow boxing in the dark,
Then you came and caused a spark,
That's a four-alarm fire now.

I never made love by lantern shine,
I never saw rainbows in my wine,
But now that your lips are burning mine,
I'm beginning to see the light.

I used to ramble through the park,
Shadow boxing in the dark,
Then you came and caused a spark,
That's a four-alarm fire now.

I never made love by lantern shine,
I never saw rainbows in my wine,
But now that your lips are burning mine,
I'm beginning,
Oh I'm beginning,
I'm beginning to see the light.
Ooh that light,
I'm beginning to see the light.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Commonplace Books



What is a Commonplace book?

A commonplace book is a central resource or depository for ideas, quotes, anecdotes, observations and information you come across during your life and didactic pursuits. The purpose of the book is to record and organize these gems for later use in your life, in your business, in your writing, speaking or whatever it is that you do.
Some of the greatest men and women in history have kept these books. Marcus Aurelius kept one–which more or less became the Meditations. Petrarch kept one. Montaigne, who invented the essay, kept a handwritten compilation of sayings, maxims and quotations from literature and history that he felt were important. His earliest essays were little more than compilations of these thoughts. Thomas Jefferson kept one. Napoleon kept one. HL Mencken, who did so much for the English language, as his biographer put it, “methodically filled notebooks with incidents, recording straps of dialog and slang” and favorite bits from newspaper columns he liked. Bill Gates keeps one.
And if you still need a why–I’ll let this quote from Seneca answer it (which I got from my own reading and notes):
“We should hunt out the helpful pieces of teaching and the spirited and noble-minded sayings which are capable of immediate practical application–not far far-fetched or archaic expressions or extravagant metaphors and figures of speech–and learn them so well that words become works.”

How to Do It (Right)

-Read widely. Read about anything and everything and be open to seeing what you didn’t expect to be there–that’s how you find the best stuff. Shelby Foote, “I can’t begin to tell you the things I discovered while I was looking for something else.” If you need book recommendations, these will help.
-Mark down what sticks out at you as you read–passages, words, anecdotes, stories, info. When I read, I just fold the bottom corners of the pages. If I have a pen on me, I mark the particularly passages I want to come back to. I used to use flag-it highlighters, which can be great.
-Again, take notes while you read. It’s what the best readers do, period. it’s called “marginalia.” For instance, John Stuart Mill hated Ralph Waldo Emerson, and we know this based on his copies of Emerson’s books where he made those (private) comments. You can also see some of Mark Twain’s fascinating marginalia here. Bill Gates’ marginalia is public on a website he keeps called The Gates Notes. It’s a way to have a conversation with the book and the author. Don’t be afraid to judge, criticism or exclaim as you read.
-Wisdom, not facts. We’re not just looking random pieces of information. What’s the point of that? Your commonplace book, over a lifetime (or even just several years), can accumulate a mass of true wisdom–that you can turn to in times of crisis, opportunity, depression or job.
-But you have to read and approach reading accordingly. Montaigne once teased the writer Erasmus, who was known for his dedication to reading scholarly works, by asking with heavy sarcasm “Do you think he is searching in his books for a way to become better, happier, or wiser?” In Montaigne’s mind, if he wasn’t, it was all a waste. A commonplace book is a way to keep our learning priorities in order. It motivates us to look for and keep only the things we can use.

-After you finish the book, put it down for a week or so. Let it percolate in your head. Now, return to it and review all the material you’ve saved and transfer the marginalia and passages to your commonplace book.
-It doesn’t have to just be material from books. Movies, speeches, videos, conversations work too. Whatever. Anything good.
-Actually writing the stuff down is crucial. I know it’s easier to keep a Google Doc or an Evernote project of your favorite quotes…but easy has got nothing to do with this. As Raymond Chandler put it, “when you have to use your energy to put those words down, you are more apt to make them count.”

Wednesday, April 16, 2014 Michael Vick attacked by pit bull?


I fell for this because I wanted it to be true. Sadly, it is not. is the best resource for confirming or denying stories that seem too good to be true.

Michael Vick Attacked By Pitbull

Claim: New York Jets quarterback Michael Vick was attacked by a stray pitbull.


Example: [Collected via Facebook, April 2014]

I just read that Michael Vick was attacked by a stray pit bull. Is this true or false?

Origins: On 23 March 2014, the News Nerd web site published an article positing that New York Jets quarterback Michael Vick had been attacked by a stray pitbull after visiting with management at the Jets' home field, MetLife Stadium:
In a bit of an ironic scenario, New York Jets football player Michael Vick was attacked by a pitbull as he left MetLife Stadium this Saturday (March 22, 2014).

The 34-year-old quarterback was leaving the stadium after visiting with his new team’s management, when a stray pitbull suddenly darted towards him. Onlookers say the dog gave chase as Vick attempted to use some of his classic juke moves to avoid it. Unswayed by Vick’s attempts to elude him, the dog locked onto his left thigh. The dog shook violently back and forth while locked on to Vick’s leg.

Michael Vick has been the subject of extensive news coverage, public opprobrium, and a good deal of satire since he was indicted in June 2007 on charges related to his participation in a dogfighting ring that executed underperforming pit bulls by hanging, electrocution, drowning, shooting, and other brutal means. He pleaded guilty to
federal felony charges and served 21 months in prison, after which he resumed his career as a quarterback in the NFL. Since then he has been featured in a number of Internet-circulated spoofs, typically japes that either ironically portray him as a protector of pit bulls or the hapless victim of attacks by members of that breed.

The item cited above, from the latter category, is one that many readers soon mistook for a reporting of real news. However, it was just another spoof from News Nerd, whose stock in trade is publishing fantastically fictional stories (such as a recent account of a fight between singers Patti Labelle and Aretha Franklin). As the The News Nerd site's disclaimer states, all of its material is satirical in nature:
The stories posted on TheNewsNerd are for entertainment purposes only. The stories may mimic articles found in the headlines, but rest assured they are purely satirical.

Last updated: 16 April 2014


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Honduras has the world's highest homicide rate!

Latin America comprises only 8% of the world's population, but accounts for 31% of its murders.

"A combination of factors is to blame, said Alejandro Hope, a security expert at the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness, a think tank: weak law enforcement institutions, a vibrant illegal narcotics trade that led to a growth in organized crime, a culture of violence, economic inequality, and the region's chaotic urbanization of the past three decades, which created rings of slums around mega cities.
Brazil, the host for this year's World Cup soccer tournament, has more overall homicides than any country, at 50,108, accounting for one in 10 globally, followed by India, with 43,355 murders in 2012.
Ms. Me said the most surprising thing to her in the data was the persistence of criminal violence in the Americas over time. The U.N. group looked at data since 1955 and found the Americas, including the U.S., had at least five times higher homicide rates than Europe and parts of Asia.
"Europe was only 10 years from a violent war, so how is it that even back in 1955 the Americas were so much more violent?" Ms. Me said. [Culture?]
The U.S. homicide rate is 4.7 per 100,000—well above every other industrialized country.
The Americas also had the highest rate of guns as the cause of homicide—with 66% of the homicides caused by guns versus 28% in Africa and Asia and 13% in Europe.
However, not all Latin America is a hotbed of violent crime. Southern South America—Chile, Argentina and Uruguay—have crime rates roughly similar to the U.S. There is far less organized crime and better policing in those nations compared to the rest of the region, Mr. Hope said."

Monday, April 14, 2014

Public Health in India: Take Poo to the Loo

Quick! What percentage of people in India don't use toilets?

More than half, according to this article from the Wall Street Journal.


Some 620 million people across India defecate outside, the largest number world-wide. About 70% of rural Indians don't use toilets, and 28 million children have no toilet facilities in school, according to Unicef. It is common practice for India's mothers to dispose of their children's waste in the open.
Open defecation is a serious public-health problem. It can expose people to diseases such as polio, giardiasis, hepatitis A and infectious diarrhea. In 2012, nearly a quarter of all young children who died of diarrhea world-wide were Indian. Constant exposure to fecal germs can also lead to stunted growth, a condition afflicting some 61 million Indian children.
India has made progress: The percentage of Indians using toilets has increased substantially since 1990, when 75% of the population defecated in the open.
There has also been a significant increase in the proportion of schools with a usable toilet, from roughly 47% in 2010 to almost 63% in 2013—and a large majority of schools now have separate toilet facilities for girls and boys.
But India is still far behind other developing countries. Neighboring Bangladesh, which is far poorer, has reduced the number of households without access to toilets to below 10%. In China, the number is about 1%.

Here's a sample of the public service campaign, Poo2Loo:


Sunday, April 13, 2014

Daddy -- Sylvia Plath (1962)

Otto Plath

You do not do, you do not do
Any more, black shoe
In which I have lived like a foot
For thirty years, poor and white,
Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.

Daddy, I have had to kill you.
You died before I had time--
Marble-heavy, a bag full of God,
Ghastly statue with one gray toe
Big as a Frisco seal

And a head in the freakish Atlantic
Where it pours bean green over blue
In the waters off beautiful Nauset.
I used to pray to recover you.
Ach, du.

In the German tongue, in the Polish town
Scraped flat by the roller
Of wars, wars, wars.
But the name of the town is common.
My Polack friend

Says there are a dozen or two.
So I never could tell where you
Put your foot, your root,
I never could talk to you.
The tongue stuck in my jaw.

It stuck in a barb wire snare.
Ich, ich, ich, ich,
I could hardly speak.
I thought every German was you.
And the language obscene

An engine, an engine
Chuffing me off like a Jew.
A Jew to Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen.
I began to talk like a Jew.
I think I may well be a Jew.

The snows of the Tyrol, the clear beer of Vienna
Are not very pure or true.
With my gipsy ancestress and my weird luck
And my Taroc pack and my Taroc pack
I may be a bit of a Jew.

I have always been scared of you,
With your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygoo.
And your neat mustache
And your Aryan eye, bright blue.
Panzer-man, panzer-man, O You-- 

Not God but a swastika
So black no sky could squeak through.
Every woman adores a Fascist,
The boot in the face, the brute
Brute heart of a brute like you.

You stand at the blackboard, daddy,
In the picture I have of you,
A cleft in your chin instead of your foot
But no less a devil for that, no not 
Any less the black man who

Bit my pretty red heart in two.
I was ten when they buried you.
At twenty I tried to die
And get back, back, back to you.
I thought even the bones would do.

But they pulled me out of the sack,
And they stuck me together with glue.
And then I knew what to do.
I made a model of you,
A man in black with a Meinkampf look

And a love of the rack and the screw.
And I said I do, I do.
So daddy, I'm finally through.
The black telephone's off at the root,
The voices just can't worm through.

If I've killed one man, I've killed two--
The vampire who said he was you
And drank my blood for a year,
Seven years, if you want to know.
Daddy, you can lie back now.

There's a stake in your fat black heart
And the villagers never liked you.
They are dancing and stamping on you.
They always knew it was you.
Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I'm through.

Daddy, read by Sylvia Plath

Saturday, April 12, 2014

God Only Knows -- Beach Boys (1966)


I may not always love you
But long as there are stars above you
You never need to doubt it
I'll make you so sure about it

God only knows what I'd be without you

If you should ever leave me
Though life would still go on believe me
The world could show nothing to me
So what good would living do me

God only knows what I'd be without you

God only knows what I'd be without you

If you should ever leave me
Well life would still go on believe me
The world could show nothing to me
So what good would living do me

God only knows what I'd be without you
God only knows what I'd be without you
God only knows
God only knows what I'd be without you
God only knows what I'd be without you
God only knows
God only knows what I'd be without you
God only knows what I'd be without you
God only knows
God only knows what I'd be without you
God only knows what I'd be without you
God only knows
God only knows what I'd be without you
God only knows what I'd be without you
God only knows
God only knows what I'd be without you
God only knows what I'd be without you
God only knows
God only knows what I'd be without you

Friday, April 11, 2014

Columbia College Freshman Reading

Below is the freshman reading list in the Humanities for all Columbia College students.

Did you graduate from college and never read any of these books? How shameful (for both you and your college).

Haven't read them all? Me neither. But I'm not exactly proud of not having read Cervantes; in fact, I'm vaguely ashamed of it. (Not too ashamed not to confess it, of course, since it allows me to brag about having read the rest of the lot.) All of them will reward slow, repeated re-readings, of course. Gotta get on that.

Explore the Literature

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Advice for a Happy Life: Charles Murray

Some sensible advice from Charles Murray, who cites Jacques Barzun (my intellectual idol of the moment). Barzun's observation that you can't be happily married to someone who differs from you significantly with regard to orderliness, thrift, and punctuality is not something you want to ignore. You should also remember that couples are only as happy in the marriage as they were before the marriage. So if you are thinking that getting married is going to fix your relationship...

I like Murray's advice about "starter marriages" versus "mergers."

My own "tip": If you are a guy, marry a gal who is going to be at least 10% younger than you are on the day of your wedding. So if you get married at 30, she's 27. If you're 27, she's 24. If you get married at 24, she's 21. And never marry anyone younger than 21 (which means that you can't get married until you are 24).
Ladies, I recommend the same formula, in reverse. Marry a guy who is at least 10% older than you. (The gap can be as wide as 25% before you start running into generation gap issues.)

You can see from the above chart that 1960 was the last time Americans en masse followed this advice (males 24, females 21). But except for the madness of the 1950 Return of the WWII GIs / Baby Boom, a 10% gap has been evidenced every decade from 1890 to 1960.

I can't imagine why anyone would marry someone their own age.

Take a page out of his book:
JFK was 35 when he married 23 year old Jackie.
She was 33% younger than he was.


Ready for some clich├ęs about marriage? Here they come. Because they're true.

Marry someone with similar tastes and preferences. Which tastes and preferences? The ones that will affect life almost every day.

It is OK if you like the ballet and your spouse doesn't. Reasonable people can accommodate each other on such differences. But if you dislike each other's friends, or don't get each other's senses of humor or—especially—if you have different ethical impulses, break it off and find someone else.

Personal habits that you find objectionable are probably deal-breakers. Jacques Barzun identified the top three as punctuality, orderliness and thriftiness. It doesn't make any difference which point of the spectrum you're on, he observed: "Some couples are very happy living always in debt, always being late, and finding leftover pizza under a sofa cushion." You just have to be at the same point on the spectrum. Intractable differences will become, over time, a fingernail dragged across the blackboard of a marriage.

What you see is what you're going to get. If something about your prospective spouse bothers you but you think that you can change your beloved after you're married, you're wrong. Be prepared to live with whatever bothers you—or forget it. Your spouse will undoubtedly change during a long marriage but not in ways you can predict or control.
It is absolutely crucial that you really, really like your spouse. You hear it all the time from people who are in great marriages: "I'm married to my best friend." They are being literal. A good working definition of "soul mate" is "your closest friend, to whom you are also sexually attracted."