October 31, 2007

Culture better than globalization for ending poverty

Robert Samuelson writes on the supremacy of culture in overcoming poverty  in The Global Poverty Trap.

Comes now Gregory Clark, an economist who interestingly takes the side of culture. In an important new book, " A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World," Clark suggests that much of the world's remaining poverty is semi-permanent. Modern technology and management are widely available, but many societies can't take advantage because their values and social organization are antagonistic. Prescribing economically sensible policies (open markets, secure property rights, sound money) can't overcome this bedrock resistance.

Capitalism is a prodigious generator of wealth so long as the culture supports it.    Without that cultural support for patience, hard work, innovation and education and tolerance for change and inequality as well as a modicum of trust, societies cannot overcome their poverty even with globalization.

A good culture can make a country rich.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:32 PM | Permalink

The physical afflictions of two tyrants

Karl Marx was a miserable old sod who hated bourgeois convention and advocated class war not because of his experience in a German factory, but because of a face full of painful boils.

So writes a professor of dermatology, An Exegesis of Marx's Facial Boils

"The bourgeoisie will remember my carbuncles until their dying day," Marx told Friedrich Engels in a letter from 1867.

In the Scent of a Fuhrer, I learned that Adolf Hitler couldn't control his own flatulence.  He gave up meat and took up vegetables but  his private physician
Dr. Theo Morell, recorded in his diary that after Hitler downed a typical vegetable platter, “constipation and colossal flatulence occurred on a scale I have seldom encountered before."

He resorted to a quack doctor who gave him Dr. Kosters anti-gas pills  that contained strychnine and Hitler took up to 16 a day
The sallow skin, glaucous eyes and attention lapses noted by observers later in the war are consistent with strychnine poisoning; another ingredient in the pills, antropine, causes mood wings from euphoria to violent anger. Even more peculiar were the injections of amphetamines that Morell administered every morning before breakfast from 1941, which may have exacerbated the erratic behavior, inflexibility, paranoia and indecision that Hitler began to display increasingly as the war ground on. And there was a barrage of other supplements -- vitamins, testosterone, liver extracts, laxatives, sedatives, glucose and opiates, all intended to combat the dictator’s real or imagined ailments. After the war, U.S. intelligence officers discovered that Morell was pumping Hitler with 28 different drugs, including eye-drops that contained 10 percent cocaine (up to 10 treatment a day), a concoction made from human placenta and “potency pills” made from ground bull’s testicles. But despite the barrage of medicines, Morell’s diaries (which were recovered from Germany and are kept in the National Archives in Washington, D.C.) make clear that the bouts of “agonizing flatulence” remained a regular occurrence.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:21 PM | Permalink

Nap More

IMPORTANT HEALTH NEWS. while the doldrums that follow lunch are still not completely understood, recent research strongly supports a brief nap to treat them.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:44 PM | Permalink

A Sleeping Beauty and Jesse Ramirez

Amy Pickard spent 6 years in a coma until a sleeping pill woke her up.

"When she takes the pill, I see her face relax and the old sparkle return to her eyes. It truly is remarkable," said Mrs Pickard.

She is one of 360 people taking part in a worldwide trial of Zolpidem as a treatment for people in comas. Sixty per cent of patients taking part in the study have started showing signs of life.

More Awakenings

On October 19, only months after being nearly dehydrated to death when his feeding tube was removed, Jesse Ramirez walked out of the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix on his own two legs. Ramirez is lucky to be alive. Early last June, a mere one week after a serious auto accident left him unconscious, his wife Rebecca and doctors decided he would never recover and pulled his feeding tube. He went without food and water for five long days. But then his mother, Theresa, represented by lawyers from the Arizona-based Alliance Defense Fund, successfully took Rebecca to court demanding a change of guardianship on the grounds that Rebecca and Jesse's allegedly rocky marriage disqualified her for the role.

The judge ordered that Jesse be temporarily rehydrated and nourished. Then Jesse regained consciousness. Now, instead of dying by dehydration, he will receive rehabilitation and get on with his life--all because his mother rejected the reigning cultural paradigm that a life with profound cognitive dysfunction is not worth living.
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In this climate, Jesse Ramirez-type stories can become more numerous, yet still barely penetrate the public consciousness. Increasingly, we hear about sustenance being withdrawn within days of a serious brain injury. And now that these helpless people are deemed dehydratable, there is a growing clamor in the professional journals to transform them into natural resources to be exploited like a corn crop--as sources of vital organs and subjects for experimentation. To show how far this line of thinking has already gone, bioethicists writing in the Journal of Medical Ethics recently advocated transplanting pig organs into people diagnosed with PVS to determine the safety and efficacy of xenotransplantation (the transplantation of animal organs into human patients).

Be careful who you give your health care proxy to, especially if you are in a rocky marriage. 

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:39 PM | Permalink

Eat, drink and be scary

  Halloween Scary

Shamelessly stolen from Scribal Terror

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:33 PM | Permalink

Power of Culture

Via  Susan Hill comes this story  from Alberto Manguel and his biography of Homer's The Iliad and The Odyssey/

'In 1990 the Colombian Ministry of Culture set up a system of itinerant libraries to take books to the inhabitants of distant rural regions. For this purpose carrier book bags with capacious pockets were transported  on donkeys 'backs up into the jungle and the sierra. Here the books were left for several weeks in the hands of a teacher or village elder who became the librarian in charge. Most of the books were technical works.. but a few literary works were also included. According to one librarian the books were always safely accounted for.

'I know of a single instance in which a book was not returned,' she said. 'We had taken, along with the usual practical titles,  a Spanish translation of THE ILIAD. When the time came to exchange the books the villagers refused to give this back. We decided to make them a  present of it but asked why they wanted to keep that particular title.
They explained that Homer`s story reflected their own. It told of a war torn country in which mad gods mix with men and women, who never know exactly what the fighting is about or when they will be happy or why they will be killed.'

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:06 PM | Permalink

October 29, 2007

Sacred Order of the External Mind

How to get there?  GPS
Math problems?  calculator
New music?  iTunes
Questions?  Google
What to watch?  Tivo

David Brooks on The Outsourced Brain

Personal information? I’ve externalized it. I’m no longer clear on where I end and my BlackBerry begins. When I want to look up my passwords or contact my friends I just hit a name on my directory.  I read in a piece by Clive Thompson in Wired that a third of the people under 30 can’t remember their own phone number. Their smartphones are smart, so they don’t need to be. Today’s young people are forgoing memory before they even have a chance to lose it.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:37 AM | Permalink

October 26, 2007

Up up and away

Although he tried awfully hard,  Norman Mailer never succeeded at levitating the Pentagon back in 1968.

Yet, this Dutchman succeed at levitating himself before the White House with ease.  How does he do it?

 Levitation White House

I can't embed so to see Woulter Bijdendijik, the Dutch magician click here.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:44 PM | Permalink

What's the Matter?

I'm reading What's the Matter with California by Jack Cashill  who went around that state asking people What's the Matter.  By far the best answer came from Larry Harvey who founded the Burning Man festival.

His answer to the question What's the Matter - "a petulant sense of entitlement."

"As he sees it, the nation's obvious abundance has spawned a lifeless materialism.  Unrelieved, this materialism has infected us with a "moral coarsening and a growing cynicism" and a "supine passivity" that Harvey finds decidedly "unhandsome."

A few other things I especially liked were some new anacronyms

SWAG as in  Sophisticated Wild-Assed Guess
ABETTO, short for A Blind Eye to the Obvious
ABATU or A Blind Acceptance of The Unproven

           

"What's the Matter with California?: Cultural Rumbles from the Golden State and Why the Rest of Us Should Be Shaking" (Jack Cashill)

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:28 AM | Permalink

Stressing about money and work

Stressing about money and work keeps 48% of us up at night. 

About 75% of us worry about money and work and the same percent say stress is making them sick.

The survey by the American Psychological Association says stress is getting worse and affecting every area of our lives.

While some of us drink too much or eat junk food to relieve stress, the majority of us read, listen to music or exercise instead.  More than a third of us pray.

The stress may be getting worse, but we're handling it better it seems.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:03 AM | Permalink

October 25, 2007

Why Muslims Follow Christianity

What is the appeal of Christianity to Muslims?  It is impossible to understand global politics in the developing world these days without understanding the role and force of religion.

Why Muslims Follow Jesus.  The results of a recent survey of converts from Islam.

In fact, and perhaps counterintuitively, the number of new Christians each year outstrips the number of new Muslims, even though the annual growth rate is higher for Muslims (1.81 percent) than for Christians (1.23 percent). Over the last century, Christians have grown at a slower rate than have Muslims, with Muslims increasing from 12 percent to 21 percent of the global population during that time. But this is hardly surprising. Christianity has more total followers than Islam.

The top reasons why.

1. Seeing a lived faith.  The lifestyle of Christians was the most important factor.
2. The power of God in answered prayers and healing. Dissatisfaction at the type of Islam they had experienced.
3. The gospel message, especially its assurance of salvation and forgiveness.  Particularly attractive was the love expressed through the life and teachings of Jesus.
4. Subconscious influences

it's hard not to notice that Iranians, Pakistanis, Afghans, Bangladeshis, and Algerians became more responsive after enduring Muslim political turmoil or attempts to impose Islamic law.

Even now, Chinese Christians who now number 80 million are rapidly growing and expected to quintuple over the next three decades to embrace one-third of the population. 

Islam in China remains the religion of the economic losers, whose geographic remoteness isolates them from the economic transformation on the coasts. Christianity, by contrast, has burgeoned among the new middle class in China's cities, where the greatest wealth and productivity are concentrated.

Chinese missionaries believe they are called are now being trained to evangelize the Muslims back to Jerusalem. 

The most audacious even dream of carrying the gospel beyond the borders of China, along the old Silk Road into the Muslim world, in a campaign known as "Back to Jerusalem". As [Time correspondent David] Aikman explains in Jesus in Beijing, some Chinese evangelicals and Pentecostals believe that the basic movement of the gospel for the last 2,000 years has been westward: from Jerusalem to Antioch, from Antioch to Europe, from Europe to America, and from America to China. Now, they believe, it's their turn to complete the loop by carrying the gospel to Muslim lands, eventually arriving in Jerusalem. Once that happens, they believe, the gospel will have been preached to the entire world.

Thousands are already in the Mideast as technicians and ordinary workers and many practice evangelism on the side.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:57 AM | Permalink | TrackBack

Defying zombiism, David Warren quit school at 16

David Warren quit school at 16 and hit the road.

In retrospect, it was the best personal decision I ever made, and I recommend it wholeheartedly to the young of today; at least, to those whose minds are not already imprisoned. Get out of that education “system” while you still can, and before it has made you into a spiritual corpse, mouthing politically-correct clichés along with all the other zombies. Get yourself a real education, in what you can find of the world, and see what you can accomplish without participating in the credentials racket. Make your “core relationship” with God, rather than with some Kafkaesque bureaucracy. Discover a vocation in which you can advance the cause of the good, the true, and the beautiful. And raise children -- in poverty, if necessary -- who will also defy the zombism of our post-modern age.

Education reform

UPDATE:  Gaghdad Bob points out that Joseph Campbell did the same thing. 

".... So I said to hell with it. I went up into the woods and spent five years reading.... It was from 1929 to 1934, five years. I went up to a little shack in Woodstock, New York, and just dug in. All I did was read, read, read, and take notes. It was during the Great Depression. I didn't have any money...."

Importantly, this wasn't just aimless reading, but what someone else once called the "mystery school of individuation." Perhaps you're familiar with the concept. You find one book that speaks directly to your soul, which tips you to another one that does the same. Pretty soon you're embarked on a wild nous chase, not for any "exterior" purpose, but for the purpose of trying to articulate the idiom of your own soul. The end result -- among other things -- is that 1) you know you have a soul, 2) you are aware that your soul is very specifically yours (i.e., it has its own language, so to speak), and 3) you don't want to do anything in life that would interfere with the intrinsic joy of living from your soul.

So did he.  Wandering, Wondering and Blundering into the Mystery

I can relate to Campbell's story, because in my case I quit college in my junior year (before they could expel me), and spent the next five or six years wandering, but not idly. Rather, it was a period of intense non-doodling, as if my soul were on fire and I was looking for water. By the time I entered graduate school in 1982, I was an utterly different person than I would have been had I spent all those years in the idiot factory. In short, I never would have become me. Whether it was luck or destiny, I cannot say.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:43 AM | Permalink

October 24, 2007

Islamo-Fascist Awareness Week

On over 100 campuses across the country, a large roster of speakers are talking about matters that are not being addressed in women's studies programs or in Saudi-subsidized Middle Eastern studies departments.

Kathryn Lopez interviewed David Horowitz on how he is getting students to listen to the counter-curriculum

I begin my speeches by explaining the poster we have created which shows a Muslim woman having her head blown off by a Taliban soldier for sexual improprieties. I refer to the 130 million Muslim women who have had their genitals sliced off without anesthetic to conform to some barbaric Muslim custom. I recall the 200,000 moderate Muslims slaughtered by Islamo-fascists in Algeria calling themselves “al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.” The room gets pretty silent after that.

Nonie Darwish, an Arab-American author and feminist as well as a vociferous critic of radical Islam,  spoke at Wellesley College last week and got the "Mean Girl Treatment according to Phyllis Chesler.

The radical Muslims on American campuses are getting more belligerent, far more militant,” author and lecturer Nonie Darwish tells me. “They have perfected their intimidation and disruption techniques.”

And more of the same at Berkeley according to Zombietime.

Nonie Darwish writes herself of the Berkeley incident

I felt that even in America I am being silenced. My response was: “Who will speak for women who are stoned and for Muslims terrorized in radical Muslim countries? It is sad that I left oppressive Sharia Muslim culture, where I had no freedom of speech, only to find myself silenced in America, by groups who claim they are for free speech.”

Let's hope David Warren is correct when writes in Confrontational

Attempts to disrupt the events have thus far largely played into the organizers' hands. For they are trying to get attention, and disruptions help. And since the protesters from various campus radical cells do a good job of illustrating the very points the organizers are making -- trying to silence people by intimidation -- people can see the main point in action.

Let's hope the organizers are right when they say

By the end of the week millions of people will have heard our message that we will no longer turn a blind eye to the violence directed against women, gays, and 'infidels’ in Islamo-Fascist regimes. This homicidal intolerance, and the conspiracy of silence that protects it on America’s campuses, will no longer be accepted.”

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:42 AM | Permalink

The Experience Movement and the Purpose Prize

Civic Ventures, a think tank founded in the late 1990s is "reframing the
debate about aging in America and redefining the second half of life as a source of social and individual renewal"

It's about "helping society achieve the greatest return on experience."

They begun a number of programs including the Experience Corps, a national service program for Americans over 55, the Next Chapter working in local communities to help people in the second half of life connect with peers and find pathways to significant service.

The Purpose Prize provides 5 awards of $100,000 each to people over  60 who are taking on society's biggest challenges.

Here are some of the winners about whom Mark Freedman, founder and President of Civic Ventures said,

"These men and women - some national figures, some local heroes - disprove the notion that innovation is the province of the young and show us the essence of what's possible in an aging society."

Nominations for the 2008 Purpose Prize are open November 15 through March 1.

The foundation also publishes a number of booklets available for download including The Boomers' Guide to Good Work

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:52 AM | Permalink

3D Michelangelo Street Art

Kurt Wenner, a former illustrator for NASA, is wowing them in London with his pavement art.

He translated the anamorphism - the technique used by classical artists to create the illusion of height - into a new way of painting to give depth to the street surface.

 Kurt Wenner 3D Pavement Art

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:33 AM | Permalink

October 23, 2007

"Super-Rich in Tawdry Details"

Some troubles we will never have.

"Right-Wing Publisher's Breakup Is Super-Rich In Tawdry Details"

As part of a temporary settlement, 60-year-old Ritchie Scaife is currently cashing an alimony check that at first glance will look like a typo: $725,000 a month. Or about $24,000 a day, seven days a week. As Richard Scaife's exasperated lawyers put it in a filing, "The temporary order produces an amount so large that just the income from it, invested at 5 percent, is greater each year than the salary of the President of the United States."

Low Road to Splitsville

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:20 AM | Permalink

October 21, 2007

"We are such stuff as dreams are made on"

So what is sleep for?  More and more, it looks like memory and learning.  And naps have the same effect!

the new research underscores a vast transformation in the way scientists have come to understand the sleeping brain. Once seen as a blank screen, a metaphor for death, it has emerged as an active, purposeful machine, a secretive intelligence that comes out at night to play — and to work — during periods of dreaming and during the netherworld chasms known as deep sleep

An Active, Purposeful Machine That Comes Out at Night to Play

Since then the study findings have come almost too fast to digest, and they suggest that the sleeping brain works on learned information the way a change sorter does on coins. It seems first to distill the day’s memories before separating them — vocabulary, historical facts and dimes here; cello scales, jump shots and quarters over there. It then bundles them into readable chunks, at different times of the night. In effect, the stages of sleep seem to be specialized to handle specific types of information, the studies suggest.

"We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep."
William Shakespeare

Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:28 AM | Permalink

October 19, 2007

At 108, Olive blogs

Just about everyone in Australia knows Olive.  She's the blogger who is turning 108.

Three cheers for Olive!

You can watch her sing My Blue Heaven on YouTube and hear her tell stories as well.

 Olive

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:00 AM | Permalink

75 and she earns the handle, 'The Hammer'

Mona Shaw reached her breaking point, then reached for her hammer and so lived out what most of us only fantasize about.

Taking a Whack Against Comcast

The insulting idea that, as Shaw puts it, "they thought just because we're old enough to get Social Security that we lack both brains and backbone."

So, after stewing over it all weekend, on the following Monday, she went downstairs, got Don's claw hammer and said: "C'mon, honey, we're going to Comcast."
--
Hammer time: Shaw storms in the company's office. BAM! She whacks the keyboard of the customer service rep. BAM! Down goes the monitor. BAM! She totals the telephone. People scatter, scream, cops show up and what does she do? POW! A parting shot to the phone!

"They cuffed me right then," she says.

Her take on Comcast: "What a bunch of sub-moronic imbeciles."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:53 AM | Permalink

October 17, 2007

Lack of Sleep Makes Adolescents Stupider, Fatter and Gloomier.

Only 5% of high school seniors sleep 8 hours a night.  Half of adolescents get less than seven.

Snooze or Lose

Overstimulated, overscheduled kids are getting at least an hour’s less sleep than they need, a deficiency that, new research reveals, has the power to set their cognitive abilities back years.

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Using newly developed technological and statistical tools, sleep scientists have recently been able to isolate and measure the impact of this single lost hour. Because children’s brains are a work-in-progress until the age of 21, and because much of that work is done while a child is asleep, this lost hour appears to have an exponential impact on children that it simply doesn’t have on adults.
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Perhaps most fascinating, the emotional context of a memory affects where it gets processed. Negative stimuli get processed by the amygdala; positive or neutral memories get processed by the hippocampus. Sleep deprivation hits the hippocampus harder than the amygdala. The result is that sleep-deprived people fail to recall pleasant memories yet recall gloomy memories just fine.

It seems as though lack of sleep makes adolescents stupider,  fatter and gloomier.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:30 AM | Permalink

Staph Fatalities May Exceed AIDS deaths

The downside of evolution is that bugs evolve into superbugs that are resistant to antibiotics.  The government released yesterday the estimate that more than 90,000 Americans get potentially deadly infections each year.  

The overall incidence rate was about 32 invasive infections per 100,000 people. That's an "astounding" figure, said an editorial in Wednesday's Journal of the American Medical Association, which published the study.

Most drug-resistant staph cases are mild skin infections. But this study focused on invasive infections—those that enter the bloodstream or destroy flesh and can turn deadly.

Researchers found that only about one-quarter involved hospitalized patients. However, more than half were in the health care system—people who had recently had surgery or were on kidney dialysis, for example. Open wounds and exposure to medical equipment are major ways the bug spreads.

In recent years, the resistant germ has become more common in hospitals and it has been spreading through prisons, gyms and locker rooms, and in poor urban neighborhoods.

Yesterday, the death of a high school student, diagnosed as infected with Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA sparked the closing of 21 schools in Virginia for cleaning to keep the illness from spreading.

MRSA is a strain of staph bacteria that does not respond to penicillin and related antibiotics but can be treated with other drugs. The infection can be spread by skin-to-skin contact or sharing an item used by an infected person, particularly one with an open wound.
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Many of the infections are being spread in gyms and locker rooms, where athletes — perhaps suffering from cuts or abrasions — share sports equipment.

The AP provides this advice to prevent staph


Antibiotic-resistant staph infections, usually involving the skin, are showing up more often among healthy people. Here are some prevention tips:

— Wash hands thoroughly and often with soap and water.
— Keep cuts and abrasions clean and covered with a bandage until healed.
— Avoid contact with other people’s wounds or material contaminated by wounds.
— Do not share items such as razors, soap, ointments and balms, towels or wash cloths, clothing or uniforms.
— If participating in contact sports, cover cuts, scrapes and other wounds with a bandage.
— Shower with soap immediately after each practice or game. Wipe down all nonwashable equipment (mats, head protectors, gymnastics equipment, etc.) with alcohol or antibiotic solution after each person uses it.
— If caring for someone with an infection at home, wash hands with soap after each physical contact and before going outside. Only use towels for drying hands once. Change and launder linens frequently, right away if they are soiled.
— When contact with body fluids is expected, wear disposable gloves and wash hands after removing them.
— See a physician promptly if you have a suspicious skin sore or boil.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:20 AM | Permalink

Young single girls rule

Young single girls rule in The New Girl Order writes Kay Hymowitz in City Journal.

The Carrie Bradshaw lifestyle is showing up in unexpected places, with unintended consequences.

Sex and the City has gone global; the SYF world is now flat.

Is this just the latest example of American cultural imperialism? Or is it the triumph of planetary feminism? Neither. The globalization of the SYF reflects a series of stunning demographic and economic shifts that are pointing much of the world—with important exceptions, including Africa and most of the Middle East—toward a New Girl Order.
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these trends—delayed marriage, expanded higher education and labor-force participation, urbanization—add a global media and some disposable income, and voilà: an international lifestyle is born.....and, everywhere, the frustrating hunt for a boyfriend and, though it’s an ever more vexing subject, a husband.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:56 AM | Permalink

October 16, 2007

Nosebleeds, car keys and Vicks

If you are troubled in dry weather with a sudden nosebleed, a bunch of cold car keys down the back of your neck seems to cure them instantly.

Slipping a bar of soap between the sheets often works on leg cramps.  Ivory soap is best.

Dark chocolate may lower blood pressure better than green tea, research shows.  And tastes far better.

Do you or your children sometimes get a  nagging cough in the middle of the night?  Rub Vicks Vaporub on the soles of your feet and cover them up with socks.    The relief comes within 5 minutes and lasts for hours.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:30 PM | Permalink

Normal Aging Brains

The best thing to keep normal, aging brains sharp is physical exercise which seems to help the brain as much as the body.

And you want a 'bushy' brain not a 'twiggy' one.

A healthy brain is a bushy one. Branch-like tentacles extend from the ends of the brain's cells, enabling them to communicate with each other. The more you learn, the more those connections form.

Doctors discuss theories on aging brains.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:46 AM | Permalink

October 13, 2007

Doris Lessing, an Original

Excerpt from the citation awarding the Nobel prize in literature to Doris Lessing

"that epicist of the female experience, who with skepticism, fire and visionary power has subjected a divided civilization to scrutiny."

Lessing is a woman in continuous growth and startlingly originality, as evidenced by her reaction to the award.

Oh Christ. I couldn't care less. ... I can't say I'm overwhelmed with surprise. I'm 88 years old and they can't give the Nobel to someone who's dead, so I think they were probably thinking they'd probably better give it to me now before I've popped off.

and later

This has been going on for 30 years. I've won all the prizes in Europe, every bloody one, so I'm delighted to win them all. It's a royal flush.

  Doris Lessing

Ever since I read The Golden Notebook long ago, I've been interested in Doris Lessing, though I must confess it's been a very long time since I read any of her books.  So as I read and searched online, I've found more nuggets of this modest woman's growth and originality.

A communist who outgrew communism,

Political correctness is the natural continuum from the party line. What we are seeing once again is a self-appointed group of vigilantes imposing their views on others. It is a heritage of communism, but they don't seem to see this.
The Sunday Times, London (10 May 1992)

"When you look at my life, you can go back to the late 1930s," she recalls. "What I saw was, first of all, Hitler, he was going to live forever. Mussolini was in for 10,000 years. You had the Soviet Union, which was, by definition, going to last forever. There was the British empire _ nobody imagined it could come to an end. So why should one believe in any kind of permanence?"
Washington Post interview in 2006

A woman who outgrew feminism, her concerns today are more broadly human.

"The Women's Lib movement did nothing apart from shout slogans," said Lessing, who went on to say that women have much more reason to be grateful to the inventors of the washing machine, the vacuum cleaner and the pill, than to the "sisters".  Bringing about change, she said, is "hard bloody work" and requires more slogging than sloganeering.
Eamonn Fitzgerald in Doris Lessing has 151 friends

What the feminists want of me is something they haven't examined because it comes from religion. They want me to bear witness. What they would really like me to say is, 'Ha, sisters, I stand with you side by side in your struggle toward the golden dawn where all those beastly men are no more.' Do they really want people to make oversimplified statements about men and women? In fact, they do. I've come with great regret to this conclusion.
– Doris Lessing, The New York Times, 25 July 1982

"The most stupid, ill-educated and nasty woman can rubbish the nicest, kindest and most intelligent man and no one protests," said Mrs Lessing, at the Edinburgh Book Festival. "Men seem to be so cowed that they can't fight back, and it is time they did."
Telegraph interview in 2001

Her thoughts on aging

All one's life as a young woman one is on show, a focus of attention, people notice you. You set yourself up to be noticed and admired. And then, not expecting it, you become middle-aged and anonymous. No one notices you. You achieve a wonderful freedom. It's a positive thing. You can move about unnoticed and invisible.
---

For the last third of life there remains only work. It alone is always stimulating, rejuvenating, exciting and satisfying.
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I have found it to be true that the older I've become the better my life has become.
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“What matters most is that we learn from living”
--

The great secret that all old people share is that you really haven't changed in 70 or 80 years. Your body changes, but you don't change at all.
--

Somewhere about middle age, it occurs to most people that a century is only their own lifetime twice. On that thought, all of history rushes together, and now they live inside the story of time, instead of looking at it from outside, as observers. Only ten or twelve of their lifetimes ago, Shakespeare was alive. The French Revolution was just the other day.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:36 PM | Permalink

October 12, 2007

Culture Exploits Men

Culture exploits men.  How could that possibly be?

Roy Baumeister was  invited to address to the American Psychological Association.  His speech  Is There Anything Good About Men? is the best writing and thinking I've seen in years on the difference between the sexes.

A lot of excerpts.

“How can you say culture exploits men, when men are in charge of everything?” ...The mistake in that way of thinking is to look only at the top. If one were to look downward to the bottom of society instead, one finds mostly men there too. Who’s in prison, all over the world, as criminals or political prisoners? The population on Death Row has never approached 51% female. Who’s homeless? Again, mostly men

Culture has plenty of tradeoffs, in which it needs people to do dangerous or risky things, and so it offers big rewards to motivate people to take those risks. Most cultures have tended to use men for these high-risk, high-payoff slots much more than women. I shall propose there are important pragmatic reasons for this. The result is that some men reap big rewards while others have their lives ruined or even cut short. Most cultures shield their women from the risk and therefore also don’t give them the big rewards.

He sees the same pattern in genius and in mental retardation, more men at either end of the spectrum. 

Men go to extremes more than women.

He says that the differences between the genders, even in the field of creativity are more about motivation than ability.  What do they want to do and why?  How many women do you find doing improvisational jazz?

He first looks at the biological motivation.

Did you know that the human population is descended from twice as many women as men? I didn't .    Baumeister says, "This is the most unappreciated fact about gender."

throughout the entire history of the human race, maybe 80% of women but only 40% of men reproduced.
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For women throughout history (and prehistory), the odds of reproducing have been pretty good. ..We’re descended from women who played it safe.....For men, the outlook was radically different. If you go along with the crowd and play it safe, the odds are you won’t have children. Most men who ever lived did not have descendants who are alive today. Their lines were dead ends. Hence it was necessary to take chances, try new things, be creative, explore other possibilities. ... We’re most descended from the type of men who made the risky voyage and managed to come back rich. In that case he would finally get a good chance to pass on his genes. We’re descended from men who took chances (and were lucky).
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In terms of the biological competition to produce offspring, then, men outnumbered women both among the losers and among the biggest winners.
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Tradeoffs again: perhaps nature designed women to seek to be lovable, whereas men were designed to strive, mostly unsuccessfully, for greatness.

Then the  social motivation.

Bausmeister says there are two different ways of being social.  Women excel at close, intimate relationships while men excel at larger networks of shallower relationships and the network they have made.  So in the larger social sphere and with strangers, men help more than women. 

The conclusion is that men and women are both social but in different ways. Women specialize in the narrow sphere of intimate relationships. Men specialize in the larger group. If you make a list of activities that are done in large groups, you are likely to have a list of things that men do and enjoy more than women: team sports, politics, large corporations, economic networks, and so forth.

He goes to say that personality differences in communication,  the notion of fairness, the "communal-exchange" difference and the competition-collaborative difference  follow from this basic difference in the kind of social relationship that interests men and women.

The male pattern is suited for the large groups, the female pattern is best suited to intimate pairs

Finally culture.

Culture, he says, is a new and improved way of being social, a larger system, even a biological strategy with men and women working together, but against other groups of men and women.  Culture mainly arose in the types of social relationships favored by men.

The women’s sphere consisted of women and therefore was organized on the basis of the kind of close, intimate, supportive one-on-one relationships that women favor. These are vital, satisfying relationships that contribute vitally to health and survival. Meanwhile the men favored the larger networks of shallower relationships. These are less satisfying and nurturing and so forth, but they do form a more fertile basis for the emergence of culture.

So how does culture use men, what are men good for?  Three things.

1. Culture relies on men to create large social structures.
2. Culture uses men for the high-risk, high-payoff undertakings where a significant portion will suffer bad outcomes, waste their time, maybe even get killed.

most cultures have promoted population growth. And that depends on women. To maximize reproduction, a culture needs all the wombs it can get, but a few penises can do the job...men create the kind of social networks where individuals are replaceable and expendable. Women favor the kind of relationships in which each person is precious and cannot truly be replaced.

3, Culture requires that manhood be earned.  A man must prove himself, earn respect, and produce more than he consumes, to  support himself and others

While women concentrated on the close relationships that enabled the species to survive, men created the bigger networks of shallow relationships, less necessary for survival but eventually enabling culture to flourish. The gradual creation of wealth, knowledge, and power in the men’s sphere was the source of gender inequality.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:19 AM | Permalink

October 11, 2007

One small glass of wine a day okay

One small glass of wine a day is okay for pregnant women and safe for the fetus  says the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence in the U.K.

Safer to avoid  wine in the first three months of a pregnancy.  That's when the brain and nervous system are  developing.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 6:06 PM | Permalink

Mom, Please don't write, don't call

When a grown child cuts off communication with a parent,  the parent(s) feel shame, disillusion and hurt.  Even if they have done nothing wrong,  Even if their other children turned out fine. 

Joshua Coleman's new book, When Parents Hurt, can help such parents cope and carry on.


"When Parents Hurt: Compassionate Strategies When You and Your Grown Child Don't Get Along" (Joshua Coleman)

His website is here - whenparentshurt.com - along with excerpts from the first chapter

Dear Mom,

I have decided that I don’t want to have any contact with you ever again. Please don’t write or call me anymore. I can’t stop thinking about all of the ways that you were never there for me when I was growing up. Whenever I see or talk to you, I just end up feeling depressed, angry, and upset for weeks afterwards. It’s just not worth it to me and I need to get on with my life. Please respect my wishes and don’t contact me again. 

Letter from Clarice, 23 to her mother, Fiona, 48

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:50 AM | Permalink

Lead in Lipsticks

Considering that women in the course of wearing lipstick can consume 4 lbs of lipstick over a lifetime, you might want to know whether your lipstick contains the neurotoxin lead.

Over one-third of lipsticks on the market do.

Pregnant women should be the most concerned, those with children next, but who among us wants to expose ourselves to the risk of subtle neurological problems.

Check your brand here at poisoned kisses.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:35 AM | Permalink

October 9, 2007

An informational cascade

Is the connection between fat and diet an example of a mistaken consensus?

An "informational cascade" as one person after assumes that the rest can't be all wrong.

Because of this effect, groups are surprisingly prone to reach mistaken conclusions even when most of the people started out knowing better....Cascades are especially common in medicine as doctors take their cues from others, leading them to overdiagnose some faddish ailments (called bandwagon diseases) and overprescribe certain treatments (like the tonsillectomies once popular for children). Unable to keep up with the volume of research, doctors look for guidance from an expert — or at least someone who sounds confident.

John Tierney on Diet and Fat: A Severe Case of Mistaken Consensus

when the theories were tested in clinical trials, the evidence kept turning up negative. As Mr. Taubes notes, the most rigorous meta-analysis of the clinical trials of low-fat diets, published in 2001 by the Cochrane Collaboration, concluded that they had no significant effect on mortality.

Mr. Taubes argues that the low-fat recommendations, besides being unjustified, may well have harmed Americans by encouraging them to switch to carbohydrates, which he believes cause obesity and disease. He acknowledges that that hypothesis is unproved, and that the low-carb diet fad could turn out to be another mistaken cascade. The problem, he says, is that the low-carb hypothesis hasn’t been seriously studied because it couldn’t be reconciled with the low-fat dogma.

UPDATE: Sissy Willis does much deeper analysis of both the Tierney piece and informational cascades in "There are very few who can think, but every man wants to have an opinion."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:46 AM | Permalink | TrackBack

The Fluid Twenties

How to describe "life stages" today has been on my mind as I am - I hope to God - finally finishing my book, so I am quite intrigued by David Broooks' column on The Odyssey Years

There used to be four common life phases: childhood, adolescence, adulthood and old age. Now, there are at least six: childhood, adolescence, odyssey, adulthood, active retirement and old age. Of the new ones, the least understood is odyssey, the decade of wandering that frequently occurs between adolescence and adulthood.

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...the spirit of fluidity that now characterizes this stage. Young people grow up in tightly structured childhoods, Wuthnow observes, but then graduate into a world characterized by uncertainty, diversity, searching and tinkering. Old success recipes don’t apply, new norms have not been established and everything seems to give way to a less permanent version of itself.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:41 AM | Permalink

October 7, 2007

Arm the Women in the Congo

I read something like the report from Africa where the rape epidemic in the Congo war worsens.

Eastern Congo is going through another one of its convulsions of violence, and this time it seems that women are being systematically attacked on a scale never before seen here. According to the United Nations, 27,000 sexual assaults were reported in 2006 in South Kivu Province alone, and that may be just a fraction of the total number across the country.

“The sexual violence in Congo is the worst in the world,” said John Holmes, the United Nations under secretary general for humanitarian affairs.

My thought is -  the women.  Smuggle in small arms so that the women can defend themselves against the sadistic rapists.  The United States has expedited arms to insurgent groups various times; we have not limited such aid to nations. 
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According to victims, one of the newest groups to emerge is called the Rastas, a mysterious gang of dreadlocked fugitives who live deep in the forest, wear shiny tracksuits and Los Angeles Lakers jerseys and are notorious for burning babies, kidnapping women and literally chopping up anybody who gets in their way.

United Nations officials said the so-called Rastas were once part of the Hutu militias who fled Rwanda after committing genocide there in 1994, but now it seems they have split off on their own and specialize in freelance cruelty.

According to victims, one of the newest groups to emerge is called the Rastas, a mysterious gang of dreadlocked fugitives who live deep in the forest, wear shiny tracksuits and Los Angeles Lakers jerseys and are notorious for burning babies, kidnapping women and literally chopping up anybody who gets in their way.

United Nations officials said the so-called Rastas were once part of the Hutu militias who fled Rwanda after committing genocide there in 1994, but now it seems they have split off on their own and specialize in freelance cruelty.


The cruelty to women is beyond all bonds.  One woman said brutality to women is "almost normal."    If some women were covertly trained in self-defense and organizational tactics and equipped with guns, they might have a fighting chance of thwarting some of these savage attacks, killing some of these men, and even, if killed themselves, going down fighting.

i have very little faith in the government groups or the U.N peacekeepers.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:45 PM | Permalink

October 6, 2007

The mysterious albino town

An amazing story, Aicuna is Not an Albino Town

It is the same message that she had made us read—the one by Carlo Brero, a nearly eighty-year-old Italian who, on September 28, 2006, bade his farewell to La Casa with these words, in Spanish: “I came to this town to find albino genes and I found the happiness of my youth.” Mr. Brero’s farewell letter, written in a trembling hand but with unwavering care, takes up the entire page. Before signing it, he added: “I feel personally content and I think that it’s because of the way of life here: happy children, simple, tranquil, and affable people. Love is found here amid an everyday landscape.”
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It’s like something out of García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. Once upon a time in northeastern Argentina there was a village of grape and almond farmers and goat breeders. This place, called Aicuña, also known as “the town of the Ormeños,” or later “the mysterious albino town,” remained isolated for more than three centuries, two hundred and fifty years longer than García Márquez’s Macondo. Inbreeding was punished in Macondo by the birth of a boy with a pig’s tail. In Aicuña, say some vicious people in neighboring villages, the punishment is colorless children. Forty-six of them, to be precise, in little more than a century.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:17 PM | Permalink

"I am creating artificial life"

Craig Venter announces I am creating artificial life

 Venter As God

Craig Venter, the controversial DNA researcher involved in the race to decipher the human genetic code, has built a synthetic chromosome out of laboratory chemicals and is poised to announce the creation of the first new artificial life form on Earth.
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The Guardian can reveal that a team of 20 top scientists assembled by Mr Venter, led by the Nobel laureate Hamilton Smith, has already constructed a synthetic chromosome, a feat of virtuoso bio-engineering never previously achieved. Using lab-made chemicals, they have painstakingly stitched together a chromosome that is 381 genes long and contains 580,000 base pairs of genetic code.
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It is then transplanted into a living bacterial cell and in the final stage of the process it is expected to take control of the cell and in effect become a new life form. The team of scientists has already successfully transplanted the genome of one type of bacterium into the cell of another, effectively changing the cell's species. Mr Venter said he was "100% confident" the same technique would work for the artificially created chromosome.

The new life form will depend for its ability to replicate itself and metabolise on the molecular machinery of the cell into which it has been injected, and in that sense it will not be a wholly synthetic life form. However, its DNA will be artificial, and it is the DNA that controls the cell and is credited with being the building block of life.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:44 AM | Permalink

October 5, 2007

Where are the Heroes?

The maxim "Bad money drives out good money", otherwise known as Gresham's Law, stands for the concept that when spending money, if both good money (higher in silver or gold content) and bad money (lesser in intrinsic value) are exchanged at the same price,  people will hand over the 'bad' coins rather than the 'good' ones, keeping the 'good' ones for themselves. 

The same thing is happening in our mainstream media where the 'bad' is driving out the 'good'.  Stories about celebrities - Lindsay, Britney, Angelina - drive out stories about real heroes.  When have you ever read about a story of a Congressional Medal of Honor winner?  The consequence is that people have fewer guides about how to lead a meaningful life, one of purpose, one that transcends ego and by so doing finds a place of belonging in society a and a way of making a difference in the world. 

Too many of us can't see the upside of growing older, the development of maturity through the unexpected trials of life, and the great satisfaction of  a life of meaning.  Too many try too long to be young and hip  and cool,  stuck in a perpetual adolescent mire.  They don't see a way out.

In the early days of the women's movement, there was much talk about the need for new role models so that young women could pattern their thinking and the behavior after older women who had struggled and succeeded in a man's world.  The Catholic Church employs the lives of the saints as role models for the faithful to show how different people in different times struggle to achieve  good and holy lives. 

Joseph Campbell found in the stories of heroes across all cultures, the archetypal myth which he called monomyth consisting of several stages.  Often called the hero's journey, the fundamental structure includes

  1. A call to adventure, which the hero has to accept or decline
  2. A road of trials, regarding which the hero succeeds or fails
  3. Achieving the goal or "boon," which often results in important self-knowledge
  4. A return to the ordinary world, again as to which the hero can succeed or fail
  5. Applying the boon, in which what the hero has gained can be used to improve the world

Robert Kaplan examines why the media is reluctant to understand Modern Heroes , preferring instead to see them as victims and feeling sorry for them.

Every journalist has a different network of military contacts. Mine come at me with the following theme: We want to be admired for our technical proficiency--for what we do, not for what we suffer. We are not victims. We are privileged.
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An army at war and a nation at the mall do not encounter each other except through the refractive medium of news and entertainment.

That medium is refractive because while the U.S. still has a national military, it no longer has a national media to quite the same extent. The media is increasingly representative of an international society, whose loyalty to a particular territory is more and more diluted. That international society has ideas to defend--ideas of universal justice--but little actual ground. And without ground to defend, it has little need of heroes. Thus, future news cycles will also be dominated by victims.


Barbara Nicolosi, a scriptwriter in Hollywood, has posted notes of her talk on heroes in storytelling and in society.  Heroes in Storytelling

She asks what does a kid (and by extension,  a society) look like who has heroes.  Idealistic, hopeful, imitative, open, eager to please, reverent, grateful

And what does a kid look like without heroes.  Cynical, haughty, suspicious, jaded, irreverent, entitled, self-absorbed.

To a child, she writes, a hero provides a teaching example of a life worth living.

To an adult, heroes

should engage us in a holy rivalry; to shame us into being more generous and tireless in doing good. Mother Teresa shamed me into facing what a schlep I am. In some ways, because she could pick a maggot ridden poor person out of a gutter, I was able to be kinder to the annoying guy in the next office.

To boomers she says

Try and make the last years of your lives heroic. Just heard the other day from one of my students how her 53 year old father just walked out on the family – two teens at home and an eight year old – and moved in with his 26 year old receptionist. He told his daughter he was bored and feeling unfulfilled. Enough of this nonsense! We don’t want to hear about your need to be having fun anymore! We need you to be brave as you face your elderly years – you will be wrinkled and sickly and forgetful – and your heroism will be to be uncomplaining, and wise and solicitous and serene for the rest of us!

There's much more including this  wonderful quote,  One must think like a hero to behave like a merely decent human being." May Sarton

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:17 PM | Permalink

October 4, 2007

Telling on Patients

Pediatricians in Massachusetts,  following guidelines issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics, are grilling children about their parents' habits, apparently as a matter of course.

Doc, what's up with snooping?

The paranoia over parents is so strong that the AAP encourages doctors to ignore “legal barriers and deference to parental involvement” and shake the children down for all the inside information they can get.

And that information doesn’t stay with the doctor, either.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:16 PM | Permalink

Intangible Wealth

The greatest source of a country's wealth is intangible concludes the World Bank. 

Ronald Bailey dove deeply into the World Bank's publication entitled  Where is the Wealth of Nations?  Measuring Capital for the 21st Century to deliver The Secrets of Intangible Wealth in the Wall St. Journal.

We are all familiar with natural capital those nonrenewable resources such as oil and gas,  farmlands and forests.  Produced capital is what we have made or built - infrastructure, machinery and equipment, buildings and other structures.

But once the value of all these are added up, the economists found something big was still missing: the vast majority of world's wealth!
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The rest is the result of "intangible" factors -- such as the trust among people in a society, an efficient judicial system, clear property rights and effective government.
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In fact, the World Bank finds, "Human capital and the value of institutions (as measured by rule of law) constitute the largest share of wealth in virtually all countries."

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Once one takes into account all of the world's natural resources and produced capital, 80% of the wealth of rich countries and 60% of the wealth of poor countries is of this intangible type. The bottom line: "Rich countries are largely rich because of the skills of their populations and the quality of the institutions supporting economic activity."

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In the U.S., according to the World Bank study, natural capital is $15,000 per person, produced capital is $80,000 and intangible capital is $418,000. And thus, considering common measure used to compare countries, its annual purchasing power parity GDP per capita is $43,800. By contrast, oil-rich Mexico's total natural capital per person is $8,500 ($6,000 due to oil), produced capital is $19,000 and intangible capita is $34,500 -- a total of $62,000 per person. Yet its GDP per capita is $10,700. When a Mexican, or for that matter, a South Asian or African, walks across our border, they gain immediate access to intangible capital worth $418,000 per person. Who wouldn't walk across the border in such circumstances?

Methinks again how often people assume wealth consists only of their material assets when the far greater portion of our lives is intangible.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:16 PM | Permalink

October 2, 2007

Being conscientious wins in the long run

Being conscientious apparently dramatically lowers your risk for Alzheimer's, showing again the power of the mind over the body, in this case the brain.

A surprising study of elderly people suggests that those who see themselves as self-disciplined, organized achievers have a lower risk for developing Alzheimer's disease than people who are less conscientious.

Astoundingly, the brains of some of the dutiful people in the study were examined after their deaths and were found to have lesions that would meet accepted criteria for Alzheimer's - even though these people had shown no signs of dementia.

"This adds to our knowledge that lifestyle, personality, how we think, feel and behave are very importantly tied up with risk for this terrible illness," Wilson said. "It may suggest new ideas for trying to delay the onset of this illness."
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Renee Goodwin of Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health was not involved in the new study but has done similar work that found a connection between conscientiousness and better health.

"It's having self-discipline and energy, doing the healthy things," Goodwin said.
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The new findings, appearing in Monday's Archives of General Psychiatry, come from an analysis of personality tests and medical exams of 997 older Catholic priests, nuns and brothers who participated in the Religious Orders Study.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:35 PM | Permalink

"They enter prematurely but can linger on and waste their time,"

Thus says a new study from the Australian Institute of Family Studies that says Cohabiting couples destined for singledom.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:34 PM | Permalink

The Happiness Paradox and Aeschylus Moments

Some of the most interesting articles published are not accessible to the average reader, hidden behind the subscriber walls of very expensive trade journals.

In the Washington Post, Shankar Vendatam writes about one such study - Is Great Happiness Too Much of a Good Thing?

But according to the new study, led by University of Virginia psychologist Shigehiro Oishi, people who report a large ratio of positive to negative events also seem to derive diminishing returns from additional happy events -- and ever larger adverse effects when they encounter negative events.

By contrast, Oishi found that even though Japanese people were less happy overall than Americans, they needed only one positive event to regain their equilibrium after experiencing a negative event. European Americans needed two positive events on average to regain their emotional footing.

Oishi's research also provides an intriguing window into why very few people are very happy most of the time. Getting to "very happy" is like climbing an ever steeper mountain. Additional effort -- positive events -- doesn't gain you much by way of altitude. Slipping backward, on the other hand, is very easy.


Slipping backwards is what Jeffrey Lord calls "Aeschylus moments" those difficult times when everything goes seriously off track from what we expected life to be.

Aeschylus moments can include the death of a family member or close friend, a serious illness for yourself, the ending of a treasured relationship. It can, in short, be anything that qualifies as trauma, a turning of one's world upside down -- or, to use the term associated with Aeschylus, tragedy. And when the pain of that moment passes, after it has fallen "drop by drop upon the heart," the person in question comes out the other side a different person than he was before he had his Aeschylus moment. If he's lucky, he is wiser, more thoughtful, determined to use his hard earned wisdom for something greater than himself.

Martin Seligman identified the three components of happiness as pleasure, engagement and meaning with the later two being far more significant.  Meaning comes later in life, most often after an "Aeschylus moment", after pain, after suffering.    Life becomes more precious after being broken which calls to mind the Asian practice of filling cracks with gold.

“When the Japanese mend broken objects they aggrandize the damage by filling the cracks with gold, because they believe that when something's suffered damage and has a history it becomes more beautiful,Barbara Bloom.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:42 AM | Permalink

Brain Atrophy

Adults caring for their elderly parents are sometimes embarrassed by a parent's racist remarks that appear completely out of character or a sudden penchant to travel to Indian casinos to gamble too much.

Bet you never thought of brain atrophy of the frontal lobe.

Brain Atrophy Leads to Unintended Racism, Depression and Problem Gambling
As we age, our brains slowly shrink in volume and weight. This includes significant atrophy within the frontal lobes, the seat of executive functioning. Executive functions include planning, controlling, and inhibiting thought and behavior. In the aging population, an inability to inhibit unwanted thoughts and behavior causes several social behaviors and cognitions to go awry.

In a study appearing in the October issue of Current Directions in Psychological Science, University of Queensland psychologist, Bill von Hippel, reports that decreased inhibitory ability in late adulthood can lead to unintended prejudice, social inappropriateness, depression, and gambling problems.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:54 AM | Permalink

October 1, 2007

Christianity's Extraordinary Claims

A stirring depiction of Christianity by Charles Chaput, the archbishop of Denver who delivered a talk on Renewing the Church, Converting the World.

To be a Christian is to believe in history.
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Christianity, thus, means believing definite things about history and about our own respective places in history. We don’t just profess belief in the Incarnation. We say we believe that God took flesh at a precise moment in time and in a definite place. Pontius Pilate and Mary are mentioned by name in the creed—and the reference to Mary, his mother, guarantees Christ’s humanity, while the reference to Pilate, who condemned him to death, guarantees his historicity.

All this ensures that we can never reduce the Incarnation to an abstract concept, a metaphor, or a pretty idea. It ensures that we can never regard Jesus Christ as some kind of ideal archetype or mythical figure. He was truly a man and truly God. And once he had a place he called home on this earth. There’s something else, too. We believe that this historical event, which happened more than 2,000 years ago, represents a personal intervention by God “for us men and for our salvation.” God entered history for you and me, for all humanity.

These are extraordinary claims. To be a Christian means believing that you are part of a vast historical project. And it’s not our project. It’s God’s. We believe that since the beginning of time God has been working out his own hidden purposes in the history of nations and in the biography of every person. He’s still unfolding his purposes today, and each of us here has a necessary part to play in his divine plan. Again, no other religion makes anywhere near these kinds of claims about the meaning of human life—and not just “human life” in general, but each and every individual human life.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:05 PM | Permalink