December 31, 2007

My "Still" Piece

Hattie at MotherPie has a wonderful post for this time of year, the Still time between one year and the next when "when silence emerges and self stands clearly."   

Hattie asks me What Am I Still Doing?

Still Working to finish my book which I still insist will be done in the next two weeks.

Still Missing my Mom who died this past year and my Dad and Jack and Jacques all now gone.

Still Grateful for the family, brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, cousins and uncles I do have. 

Still Reading every chance I get with George Weigel's new book on "Faith, Reason, and the War Against Jihadism  and Kiran Desai's "The Inheritance of Loss" at the top of my pile.

Still Delighting in my iPod, now a necessary companion in life.

Still Wanting a dog or a man but have done nothing yet about either. Maybe they'll come as a pair.

Still Loving my new iMac with its big, bright screen.

Still Exercising:  Yoga twice a week and in between I shovel the driveway which means I don't have to start weight training until winter's over.

Still Enjoying: my cozy home with all of my favorite things,  a real fireplace and pantry.

Still Eating: Christmas cookies or candy with every meal and clementines too.  The fruitcake I save for breakfast.

Still Haven't: figured how to do podcasts or even record to my computer much less finish scanning scads of old photos into digital form

Still Dressing: in Dakini's black yoga pants and big thick socks for the entire winter.

Still Blogging: headed into my fourth year.

Still Appreciative: for all the blogs I read that enrich my life, the blog friends I have made, and the support of so many people and friends.

Still Hoping that new year will be the best yet.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:25 PM | Permalink

My Top Ten Books of the Year

Why should critics have all the fun? No reason at all, so with that, I've decided to publish my ten favorite books read of 2007 even if they weren't all published in 2007.  These were books that I read and finished with great satisfaction in all that I learned from stories well told.

Fiction.

I'm a big reader of fiction of all sorts, yet this year, thrillers were my favorites.

Since I love anything Charles McCarry writes, I was delighted with his new book Christopher's Ghosts where we learn more about Paul Christopher's childhood in Germany with an American father and a German mother and his first love, a half-Jewish beauty.  His parents are anti-Nazi and living in great peril and his mother disappears.  It takes  twenty years but Paul returns as an American spy and takes vengeance on his mother's tormentor, the Gestapo chief Stutzer.


"Christopher's Ghosts" (Charles McCarry)

Daniel Silva is a new favorite spy thriller writer who is a pleasure to reread.  Gabriel Allon is an expert art restorer specializing in Italian Old Masters and also a secret spy in Special Operations.  He walks in sadness since his infant son was killed and his wife driven irretrievably mad by a bomb in Vienna that was meant for him.  In The Secret Servant, he travels to Amsterdam to find out who killed  an Israeli professor who was compiling reports on the dangers of militant Islam when he uncovers an Al Qaeda  plot to kidnap the daughter of the American Ambassador to London.


"The Secret Servant (Gabriel Allon)" (Daniel Silva)

I liked the Secret Servant so much that I read The Messenger again and enjoyed as much as the first time.    When the Vatican is targeted for attack,  Allon must find a way to infiltrate a Saudi terrorist network which he does with a beautiful American art expert Sarah Bancroft. 

"The Messenger" (Daniel Silva)

A Vatican thriller is The Secret Cardinal by Tom Grace.  Nolan Kilkenny, a former Navy Seal, is called to Rome after the death of his wife and son to help his father's best friend, Malachy Donaher, the Cardinal Librarian of the Holy Roman Church.  There he meets Pope Leo who tells him of Yin Daoming a cardinal "in pectore",  who for twenty years has been imprisoned in a Chinese jail whom the Pope wants brought to Rome so he can be elevated to Cardinal.  Then the Pope dies, Kilkenny's team is in China and the Chinese learn of the rescue attempt.  A real thriller as well as a fascinating look at the persecution of Christians in China along with a lot of high tech toys.


"The Secret Cardinal" (Tom Grace)

What happens when a Gen X blogger named Cassandra starts ranting about the economic disaster that begins to unfold as boomers start retiring.  Call it Boomsday and another hilarious book by Christopher Buckley who brought us Thank You for Smoking.


"Boomsday" (Christopher Buckley)


Non-fiction

In his inimitable way, Mark Steyn deals with the demographic crisis in Europe and the challenge of radical Islam in America Alone, what he calls "some light reading for the new Dark Ages".  The paperback is coming out in January 08.

"

"America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It" (Mark Steyn)

Gentle Regrets is the first book I'd read by Roger Scruton and he completely won me over with stories and thoughts from his life whether they be on architecture, the deadening nihilism of Communist Eastern Europe, music or his  years as a "voyeur of holiness" .


"Gentle Regrets: Thoughts from a Life" (Roger Scruton)

With his great skill of making a complex story intelligible through the stories of the real-life characters involved,  Jonathan Harr tells a riveting detective story in The Lost Painting, The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece.  From a clue in an obscure Italian archive by one art student through  to its public unveiling in the Dublin museum in 1992, Harr tells us the story of how a lost painting by a great master was found. 


"The Lost Painting" (Jonathan Harr)

I think I bought Cultural Amnesia as much because I loved the phrase 'necessary memories' as for all the great reviews it received.
Clive James, the famous and prolific British critic, is a brilliant writer who, through a collection of 110 biographical essays that are much like a box of chocolates in that you can only read two or three at a time, "plumbs the responsibilities of artists, intellectuals and political readers."


"Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories from History and the Arts" (Clive James)

I was most impressed with the persuasive argument Dan McAdams, a " narrative psychologist"  makes in The Redemptive Self that Americans really are different because of the stories they tell about their lives.  He finds that the highly successful, the best-adjusted, most productive and caring adults  describe their lives as overcoming adversity and transforming that adversity as a way of connecting with others with hope in the future which, in the end,  is the American story.


"The Redemptive Self: Stories Americans Live By" (Dan P. McAdams)

Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:51 PM | Permalink

December 27, 2007

Out Stealing Horses

He was 18 when he knew he wanted to write, but he couldn't finish anything.
So he trained as a librarian, worked in a printing plant and then a bookstore.  Not until mid life when a friend said to him, "If you don't really take this seriously, you're going to die before you get a book out.", did he get going.

Per Petterson is Norwegian and not that many Norwegian books are translated into English.
If you're a Norwegian writer, you are not visible in the world," he says. "The door of the English language is very hard to open for a Norwegian writer."

Still Out Stealing Horses sneaks up on people.  "It snuck up on the world."

"Out Stealing Horses: A Novel" (Per Petterson)

It's appeared on several best of the year lists including the Time magazine, the National Book Critics Circle,  the New York Times and  won the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award in June.

Northern Light is the review that made me want to read the book.

Per Petterson is a writer who has accepted the hand fate dealt and embraced the lifelong project it implies.

"All I ever think about," he says, "is families."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:51 PM | Permalink

A wondrous enthusiasm for literature

Elizabeth Samet  has written a memoir about her ten years spent teaching English at West Point where all her stereotypes about officers were exploded and where she found a great hunger among the students for literature.

The Write Stuff

Samet attributes these young people's literary fervor precisely to their combat future. While freshmen down in Manhattan at Columbia and NYU think about jobs and paychecks they'll secure after graduation, and hook-ups they make before it, cadets have a rigorous regimented existence in class and out, and they know they will assume command of 30 men and women when it's over, probably in a hot zone. The prospect throws them into hard questions of life and death, duty and sacrifice, courage and leadership, and they probe great works to figure them out.

All of them, Samet included, "feel a palpable pressure to consider every moment's practical and moral weight." The pressure magnifies the import of Macbeth contemplating the murder of Duncan, Penelope waiting for her husband, Stevens's "Oh! Blessed rage for order"--Samet doesn't have to convince them to respect Shakespeare, Homer, and the rest. The war has done that already.
--
When she  thinks back upon her Harvard/Yale years, she finds them an induction into "doubt and disenchantment," whereas "West Point won me back to a kind of idealism." She finds little sexism in the place, either: "Being a woman is immaterial to many of my colleagues." And while the 1960s counterculture "helped to make the American soldier come to seem a rather strange and exotic creature to many civilians: an anachronistic conformist," Samet encounters "outrageous, uncompromising individuals" and "arch-rebels," and alumni remain "concerned that cadets' minds be exercised with sufficient vigor."

"Soldier's Heart: Reading Literature Through Peace and War at West Point" (Elizabeth D. Samet)

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:50 PM | Permalink

Hilton fortune goes to charity

So, Paris loses out: Hilton fortune pledged to charity

Barron Hilton, Paris's grandfather, announced plans to donate 97% of his $2.3 billion fortune to charity.

The foundation supports projects that provide clean water in Africa, education for blind children, and housing for the mentally ill. Its aims, based on Conrad Hilton's will, are "to relieve the suffering, the distressed and the destitute."

Looks like Paris will have to get a job

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:50 PM | Permalink

December 26, 2007

On the second day of Christmas

Too busy with cooking, baking and family gatherings to post before Christmas, I hope you all had a wonderful and joyful Christmas. 

I've also very much enjoyed the many best wishes and special Christmas links that so many bloggers have posted.

Since I believe in celebrating all twelve days of Christmas, at least through the New Year,  I have for you a few little gifts that you may have overlooked in the rush to get ready for the first day of Christmas.

First,  An Arabic Christmas Carol (Byzantine Hymn of the Nativity) with gorgeous images from  Syria, Egypt and Bethlehem you've never seen before.

   


Today, is born of a virgin, He who holds the whole creation in his hand
He whose essence none can touch is bound in swaddling clothes as a Child
God, who in the beginning established the heavens, lies in a manger.

An Arabic Christmas Carol was written in response to the The Hymn by Chaldean Catholic Priest-Martyr  which you'll find on YouTube.

I'm pleased that so many Iraqi Christians packed the churches for Christmas Mass, which would have been unthinkable just a year ago.

"Last year was the year of misery, desperation and sadness,  But this year is better. So many people attend the Mass and you can see that their praying was joyful."


Many Muslims joined Christians in celebrating this most joyful day with the newly installed Roman Catholic Cardinal Delly, patriarch of Iraq's ancient Chaldean Church who said during the service

"Iraq is like a garden and its beauty is the variety of its flowers and scent,"

Among those attending were several Shiite Muslim sheiks, including Raad Tamimi, who said they had come "in solidarity with our Christian brothers . . . to plant the seed of love again in the new Iraq." Tamimi, a tribal leader, was excited to shake the cardinal's hand and asked that a photo be taken with his cellphone.

--
Jameel Hamouda, 55, who attended the Christmas services, said four of his family members had left Iraq, but that he was hopeful they would return.

"This is the first time the Muslim figures like sheiks and Shiite clerics attended the Mass," Hamouda said. "I feel happy and my soul filled with peace. God willing, there will be a union."

In this video, the beautiful Majida Al Roumi sings Silent Night in English, Arabic & French, but you have to turn the volume way up.

Surprisingly, the day after Christmas is celebrated in the Catholic Church as the Feast of St. Stephen, the first martyr of the young Church. 

Gil Bailie says that more Christians have been killed in the past 100 years than the sum total killed in all the years since Jesus Christ was born some 2000 years ago.

Sadly, many of the Catholics in the Mid East face persecution.  The war in Iraq and follow-on extremist violence  of some Muslim extremists made many more Christians martyrs and caused tens, if not hundreds  of thousands to flee the country for Syria and Jordan  and only now, after the surge, are some beginning to return;

And in the Holy Land, most of the Christians have fled Bethlehem and Gaza's Christians, Living in Fear

So this Christmas, it's good news that writing from prison, Sayyed Imam al-Sharif, one of Al Qaeda's senior theologians, is calling on his followers to end their military jihad.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:25 AM | Permalink

December 22, 2007

The 78 Differences explained

Only 78 genes separate men from women.  The BBC sat down four people to explain the 78 differences.

The men explained

* Men have no opinions about curtains.

*  If you told a woman that you had just returned from the surface of the moon, she would show her interest by asking who you had gone with.

*  Women could never invent weapons that kill, only ones that make you feel really bad and guilty until you surrender.

The women explained

* On being told that someone has bought a new car, women usually ask what color it is, men ask what sort it is.

* Women put things on the bottom stair to take up next time she goes upstairs.  Men just step over them until told to pick them up.

* When faced with flat-pack furniture, men never read the manual.  Yet they spend hours reading manuals for cars or bikes they will never own.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:47 AM | Permalink

December 21, 2007

Signs of the Times

UC Irvine investigated reports of the destruction of a Holocaust memorial, swastikas defacing campus property, rock throwing at a Jewish student, and the verbal harassment of Jewish students with such statements as " 'slaughter the Jews,' 'dirty Jew,' 'go back to Russia,' 'burn in hell,' and 'f_ _king Jew and concluded they were based on opposition to Israeli policies and were not anti-Semitic provocations.

In the meditation room at Normandale Community College, a public institution in Bloomington, Minnesota, a barrier divides the men's prayer space from the women's prayer space where women are instructed to cover their faces, a schedule for Islam's five daily prayers is posted next to the sign requesting that shoes be removed.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:01 AM | Permalink

Wriststrong

Responding to AP's selection of him as Celebrity of the Year, Steven Colbert sent this email.

"In receiving this award, I am pleased that I was chosen over two great spinners of fantasy — J.K. Rowling and Al Gore. It is truly an honor to be named the Associated Press' Celebrity of the Year. Best of all, this makes me the official front-runner for next year's Drug-Fueled Downward Spiral of the year. P.S. Look for my baby bump this spring!"

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:51 AM | Permalink

Myths Doctors Believe

From Live Science, 7 Medical Myths Even Doctors Believe

1. We only use 10% of our brain.
2. You should drink at least 8 glasses of water a day.
3. Fingernails and hair grow after death
4. Shaved hair grows back faster, coarser and darker
5. Reading in dim light ruins your eyesight
6. Eating turkey makes you drowsy
7. Mobile phones are dangerous in hospitals.

Click through for debunking.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:46 AM | Permalink

Career divorcee?

In three previous divorce settlements, Susan Sangster collected some $40 million, now she claiming that the pre-nuptial agreement she willingly signed with her fourth millionaire husband was invalid because he didn't tell her of the $130 million he had tied up in offshore trusts.

 Career Divorcee

But he left her after six months for a younger woman. 

Will his charge that she is a career divorcee finally lead to a recognition of pre-nuptial contracts in Britain?

Has the 'career divorcee' finally met a man who will defeat her?

in a historic ruling the judge has determined that, in the circumstances of the couple's independent wealth, the brevity of their marriage and the lack of children, the case should be heard in one day, which means the prenuptial agreement may well stand.

As divorce lawyer Toby Yerburgh, of London solicitors Collyer Bristow, says: "She will find it very difficult during a one-day hearing to establish good reason why the pre-nup should not be upheld in this case

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:05 AM | Permalink

"It was like getting a letter from myself, but with a different life."

The extraordinary story of  The twins bought up on either side of the Iron Curtain...but who lived identical lives.

And the similarities between the two sisters continue to amaze them. "As children, we both loved art and painting, chose the same subjects at school and both went into the same career, event management, which unites our creative and practical sides. And we each had our first children, both daughters, when we were 19," says Conny.

"We both married young, at 18 and 19, I think because we were so desperate for closeness with someone. But funnily enough, since we found each other, we've both got divorced from the men we married as teenagers.

"We're both now living happily with new partners instead and have had younger children with them.

  Twins, German, Separated

"I've got three children, aged 20, 17 and eight, and Ulrike has four, aged 20, 16, six and two. We even both like the same colour schemes in our houses and often meet up wearing the same or near-identical outfits.

"We've had the same hairstyle as each other - long hair - all our adult lives and wear the same make-up.

They were separated by the East German state policy that twins have no right to stay together even if one of the adoptive family wanted to take them both.  The other family had no idea they were getting a twin.

The twins feel an unrelenting fury at the communist apparatus that separated them, but have been unable to find an individual to hold responsible.

"It's so obviously wrong, unethical and immoral to separate two babies who were meant to be together. We're identical twins - why split us up, especially when people wanted to adopt both of us?" says Conny.

"We both feel so much anger at the system that kept us apart for so long. But since we found each other, we're so full of joy that the idea of trying to take any sort of action against the adoption agency seems a negative way to spend our precious time.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:52 AM | Permalink

December 19, 2007

Reshaping Breasts

One man has silicon implants to make the tattoo on his leg more impressive.

**Breasts In His Leg

Man with breasts in his leg

While stem cells help reshape the breasts of women who have had a lumpectomy.

Stem Cells Reshape Breasts After Cancer

Dec. 17, 2007 (San Antonio) -- In a medical first, researchers have used stem cells to help reshape the breasts of women who have undergone a lumpectomy to remove a breast tumor.

After a lumpectomy, breasts can be scarred or misshapened.  Injections of fat tissue have been tried but the fat most often dies or is reabsorbed.  Using fat and stem cell juice seems to work because the stem cells stimulate the breast tissue to make new blood vessels.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:59 PM | Permalink

December 18, 2007

Galactic Violence

 Death Star Galaxy

Jet from Supermassive Black Hole Seen Blasting Neighboring Galaxy.

You can't see the massive black hole of course, only the blue jet emanating from it.

Black holes ... set loose tremendous bursts of energy as matter swirls around the disk of material that circles the black hole but does not make it in.

That energy, often in the form of highly charged gamma rays and X-rays, shoots out in powerful jets that can be millions of light-years long and 1,000 light-years wide.

Scientists are just beginning to understand these jets, which not only transform matter in their path but also help produce "stellar nurseries," where new stars are formed.

What seems violent may be a form of galactic conception.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:03 AM | Permalink

"Do You Hear What I Hear?"

You know the Christmas song,  "Do You Hear What I Hear?"

Said the little lamb to the shepherd boy,
“Do you hear what I hear?
Ringing through the sky, shepherd boy,
Do you hear what I hear?
A song, a song, high above the tree
With a voice as big as the sea.”

What you don't know is that the song was written during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 by Noel Regney as he walked down the streets of New York City where despair hung thick in the air when he came upon two babies in strollers looking at each other and smiling.

The Story Behind the Song.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:08 AM | Permalink

December 17, 2007

Spread the Gratitude

"Gratitude is the seedbed of joy," wrote Peter Kreeft.

If we practice more gratitude, we will all be happier.
Yet sometimes when we feel a sudden rush of gratitude, we do nothing  because it's awkward and we don't know quite what to do.

Say you're in an airport and you see a bunch of soldiers walking by.
You want to say thanks for your service, but you don't want to make a fool of yourself or of them.

The Gratitude Campaign has devised a simple gesture that says it all.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Put your hand on your heart, then move your hand down and out extending it towards the person you're thanking.

Watch the movie if you want, about a minute long.

Spread the gratitude.  Thank you.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:07 PM | Permalink

Great Professors Online

If you have toyed with the idea of going back to school and taking a college course, but you're just  too busy,  consider this. 

Yale University  is offering free and open access to seven introductory courses taught by their distinguished professors. 

You can download or play a video on your computer.  I plan to listen while I wrap Christmas presents and later while doing my needlepoint in front of the fire.

I've already started with to watch the philosophy classes that Yale students have flocked to for years.

Death with Professor Shelly Kagan
Course description.

There is one thing I can be sure of: I am going to die. But what am I to make of that fact? This course will examine a number of issues that arise once we begin to reflect on our mortality. The possibility that death may not actually be the end is considered. Are we, in some sense, immortal? Would immortality be desirable? Also a clearer notion of what it is to die is examined. What does it mean to say that a person has died? What kind of fact is that? And, finally, different attitudes to death are evaluated. Is death an evil? How? Why? Is suicide morally permissible? Is it rational? How should the knowledge that I am going to die affect the way I live my life?

Posted by Jill Fallon at 5:38 PM | Permalink

Leslie's Rules of Life

I never knew Leslie Harpold who died about just about a year ago, but her friends do.    In a sign of the digital age, where she was one of the first adventurers on the web at  Usenet community and by all accounts, a kind and generous soul, when she died, a number of her friends published reminiscenses on del.icio.us.

The shame is her blog is no longer online.  A year is not long enough.  When you leave directions about what should be done with your blog when you die,  leave it online for more than 1 year.  Five years would be good.

Merlin Mann at 43 folders asked Lance Arthur What Would Leslie Do?  WWLD then became an exercise in extracting her life lessons from her opinions voiced and advice given over the years to her many friends

Living Your Life
1. Enjoy your vices.
2. Treat yourself to flowers
3. Art is important
4. Take a break, often.

Clothing Optionals
1. When trying anything new, always ask yourself "Is this going to make me more or less likely to get laid?"
2. Everyone looks good in boots
3. When you find the perfect bag, buy it.

Keeping Connected
1. When you come across something you know wold be perfect for someone else, buy it for them.
2. Send Thank You notes.
(Her post on How to write a thank you note for anyone who doesn't know the six points by heart).
3. Don't rely on your cell phone to keep track of your phone numbers.
4. An instant message is not a phone call.

Organizing your environment
1. A place for everything
2. Make your bed
3. Schedule the simple tasks.
4. Empty the kitchen sink.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:02 PM | Permalink

December 14, 2007

In the old days...

In the old days, it was not called the Holiday Season; the Christians called it "Christmas" and went to church; the Jews called it "Hanukkah" and went to synagogue; the atheists went to parties and drank. People passing each other on the street would say "Merry Christmas!" or "Happy Hanukkah!" or (to the atheists), "Look out for the wall!"

- Dave Barry

Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:01 PM | Permalink

December 13, 2007

What Retired CEOs Are Proudest Of

Curt Rosengran had Thoughts about life on my 40th birthday

Who do I want to be?" The "meaning" element especially reflects a voice in me that has been getting more and more insistent.
I always say, only half-jokingly, "I want to change the world, I just don't want to do all the work.

He interviewed Marshall Goldsmith (or a future podcast.
In the interview Marshall, who coaches people who are or could be CEO's of multi-billion dollar corporations, said something that stuck in my head. "Ask any CEO who is retired - and I've interviewed many - 'What are you proud of?' None of them ever talked about how big their office was. All they ever talked about was the people they helped."

And that's what I want out of my next 40 years. If I can look back at age 80 and see a legacy of energized, meaningful, thriving lives that made a positive impact on the world around them, I will be a happy, happy man.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:54 PM | Permalink

Depressed lawyers

Quality of life for lawyers 'is a huge raw nerve" says attorney Dan Lukasik who posted a web site to help depressed lawyers.

Even Lawyers Get the Blues

That lawyers are among the most miserable of men -- and women -- is well-known. Some 19% of lawyers suffer depression at any given time, compared with 6.7% of the population as a whole, says the University of Arizona's Connie Beck, a leading researcher on the subject; one in five lawyers is a problem drinker, twice the national rate. Escalating billable-hours quotas fuel chronic overload, and the ceaseless deadlines and adversarial nature of the work feed anxiety. Some 19% of associate attorneys quit law firms every year, research shows.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:53 PM | Permalink

Basta! Basta! says Beppe Grillo

Italy is in a funk, a malaise, a bad humor.  A country that fascinates and infuriates Italians and tourists alike, a country that claims to have mastered the art of living has the least happy people in Western Europe.

In a Funk, Italy Sings an Aria of Disappointment.

“It’s a country that has lost a little of its will for the future,” said Walter Veltroni, the mayor of Rome and a possible future center-left prime minister. “There is more fear than hope.”

The first  populist movement in decades is growing, led by a stand-up comic Beppe Grillo who's  become a blogger with the tenth most-inked blog in the world.  Using  the Internet, he encourages like-minded others to organize meet-ups across the country to choose candidates to stand against the Parliament that is hated for its financial corruption, inaction, ineffectiveness,  excess, not to mention the 24 convicted criminals who are members.

This deep well of distrust for politics and politicians manifests most strongly in the younger generation who know how much better things work elsewhere.

Doubt clouds the family itself: 70 percent of Italians between 20 and 30 still live at home, condemning the young to an extended and underproductive adolescence. Many of the brightest, like the poorest a century ago, leave Italy.
---
The divorce rate has risen. Large families are a thing of the past. Italy has one of Europe’s lowest birth rates, the fewest children under 15 and the greatest number of people over 85, apart from Sweden. Unemployment is low, at 6 percent. But 21 percent of the population between 15 and 24 did not work in 2006. And the old are not letting go.
--
“The generational problem is the Italian problem,” said Mario Adinolfi, 36, a blogger and an aspiring lawmaker. “In every country young people hope. Here in Italy there is no hope anymore. Your mom keeps you home nice and softly, and you stay there and you don’t fight. And if you don’t fight, it is impossible to take power from anybody.”

We don’t have a Google,” he added. “We can’t imagine in Italy that a 30-year-old opens a business in a garage.”

Says Beppe Sevenigni, a columnist for Corriere della Sera, says change has to come first from the Italians themselves.

The malaise is: ‘I can see all that, but there is nothing I can do to change it,’

To change your ways means changing your individual ways: refusing certain compromises, to start paying your taxes, don’t ask for favors when you are looking for a job, not to cheat when your child is trying to reach admission to university.”

That’s the tricky part,

We have reached a point where hoping for some kind of white knight coming in saying, ‘We’ll sort you out,’ is over.

We Italians have our destiny in our hands more than ever before.

Can a popular movement change the government and the culture as well?  No wonder there's more fear than hope for the future. 

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:05 AM | Permalink

December 12, 2007

The Art of Managing Extreme Complexity in the ICU

Another brilliant article by Atul Gawande called The  Checklist in the New Yorker's Annals of Medicine.

Intensive-care medicine has become the art of managing extreme complexity—and a test of whether such complexity can, in fact, be humanly mastered.

--
On any given day in the United States, some ninety thousand people are in intensive care. Over a year, an estimated five million Americans will be, and over a normal lifetime nearly all of us will come to know the glassed bay of an I.C.U. from the inside.


Wide swaths of medicine now depend on the lifesupport systems that I.C.U.s provide: care for premature infants; victims of trauma, strokes, and heart attacks; patients who have had surgery on their brain, heart, lungs, or major blood vessels.


Critical care has become an increasingly large portion of what hospitals do. Fifty years ago, I.C.U.s barely existed. ...The average stay of an I.C.U. patient is four days, and the survival rate is eighty-six per cent. Going into an I.C.U., being put on a mechanical ventilator, having tubes and wires run into and out of you, is not a sentence of death. But the days will be the most precarious of your life.

They are precarious because the average patient requires 178  individual actions per day and every one involves risks.  One of the biggest risks is that of a line infection, infections that are so common they are considered a routine complication.  80,000 people get line infections each year and of those between 5 and 28% die.

The I.C.U., with its spectacular successes and frequent failures, therefore poses a distinctive challenge: what do you do when expertise is not enough?

Intensive care is now too complex for clinicians to carry out reliably fro memory alone.  Taking a page from the pilot checklists, designed to help pilots fly planes too complicated to fly from memory alone, Peter Pronovost, a critical care specialist at John Hopkins, designed a checklist to take care of the problem of line infections.

Pronovost and his colleagues monitored what happened for a year afterward. The results were so dramatic that they weren’t sure whether to believe them: the ten-day line-infection rate went from eleven per cent to zero. So they followed patients for fifteen more months. Only two line infections occurred during the entire period. They calculated that, in this one hospital, the checklist had prevented forty-three infections and eight deaths, and saved two million dollars in costs.

Checklists help people with memory recall and make explicit the minimum, expected steps in complex processes.

As the tagline on the New Yorker article says, If something so simple can transform intensive care, what else can it do?

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:24 PM | Permalink

December 11, 2007

W00T

Merriam-Webster has chosen "w00t" as the word of the year, blending as it does whimsey and new technology.

w00t, the hybrid of letters and numbers, if you don't know is an exclamation of happiness or triumph, first used by gamers.

Last year, the word of the year was truthiness.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:28 PM | Permalink

Killer Blonde

Let's join in the applause for Jeanne Assam, the killer blonde, who probably saved 100 lives at the New Life Church in Colorado Springs.

She "did not think for a minute to run away" when a gun entered the church and started shooting.

"I wasn't going to wait for him to do further damage," she said before a crowd of reporters and TV cameras who applauded her.

Security Guard

"I saw him coming through the doors" and took cover, Assam said. "I came out of cover and identified myself and engaged him and took him down."

"God was with me," Assam said. "I didn't think for a minute to run away."

Assam said she believes God gave her the strength to confront Murray, keeping her calm and focused even though he appeared to be twice her size and was more heavily armed.

Larry Bourbannais, a Vietnam veteran who saw combat was one of those shot, saw Assam walk toward the gunman and yelling "Surrender!"

He said it was the bravest thing he's ever seen.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:10 AM | Permalink

"Our species is not static"

Rapid acceleration in human evolution described

In fact, people today are genetically more different from people living 5,000 years ago than those humans were different from the Neanderthals who vanished 30,000 years ago, according to anthropologist John Hawks of the University of Wisconsin. 
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Africans have new genes providing resistance to malaria. In Europeans, there is a gene that makes them better able to digest milk as adults. In Asians, there is a gene that makes ear wax more dry.

Study finds people on different continents are increasingly different from each other.

Rapid population growth has been coupled with vast changes in cultures and ecology, creating new opportunities for adaptation.

At the same time, many people from New Agers to Sri Aurbindo to Teilhard de Chardin to Ken Wilber see a quickening in spiritual evolution.

Simultaneously, there is a devolution going on in many parts of the world where Islamic fundamentalism of the Wahhabi sort holds sway, intent on bringing back the eighth century.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:00 AM | Permalink

Successful Dyslexics

You know that kid in school who never quite got the skill of reading in hand but always had trouble reading aloud, tripping over words.

You probably thought they would have trouble all their lives, but no.  They compensated and became small business owners.

Over a third of entrepreneurs identify themselves as dyslexic. 

Think Nelson Rockefeller , Richard Branson, Charles Scwab.

Tracing Business Acumen to Dyslexia

The study also concluded that dyslexics were more likely than nondyslexics to delegate authority, to excel in oral communication and problem solving and were twice as likely to own two or more businesses.

“We found that dyslexics who succeed had overcome an awful lot in their lives by developing compensatory skills,”
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One reason that dyslexics are drawn to entrepreneurship, Professor Logan said, is that strategies they have used since childhood to offset their weaknesses in written communication and organizational ability — identifying trustworthy people and handing over major responsibilities to them — can be applied to businesses.

Successful dyslexics probably make a whole lot more money than you or readers like me.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:59 AM | Permalink

December 10, 2007

Why are college kids mocking the dead?

When two Penn State students dressed themselves as Virginia Tech shooting victims at a Halloween party, one explained later

"We are notorious and infamous as the state college, and very popular,  so we have to do things that push the envelope just for shock value"

Aaron Hanscom thinks its another example of young people treating murder as a victimless crime.


Christina Hoff Sommers, who has taught ethics courses, has written about colleges’ responsibility to provide students with what the philosopher Henry Sidgwick called “moral common sense.” Sure, young people hear their professors’ opinions on capital punishment, abortion, stem cell research and, yes, suicide bombings, but “they learn almost nothing about private decency, honesty, personal responsibility, or honor.”

Until they do, we shouldn’t be surprised to see college students dressed up as suicide bombers or shooting victims. After all, one person’s monster is another’s hero who just wanted to go out with a bang.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:34 PM | Permalink

Blissful in their ignorance

This is what happens when people confuse perception with objective reality.

F in science, A in self-esteem

Americans ranked 29th out of 57 industrialized nations when it comes to science, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that measures literacy in science, math and reading among 15-year-olds.

Finland is at the top.  We don't even make the average.  U.S.A. We're 29th.

They may not know as much as students in Finland, Canada or New Zealand, but they think they do. When asked to rate their own scientific abilities, they put themselves at the top with their better-educated peers.

So blissful in their ignorance.    Someone someday is going to study just how harmful the self-esteem movement has been.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:24 PM | Permalink

The Warmth of a Mother's Skin

This is a wonderful story. Doctors gave up my 20oz baby for dead...but I saved her life with a cuddle.

  Warmth Of A Mother's Skin

She said: "I didn't want her to die being cold. So I lifted her out of her blanket and put her against my skin to warm her up. Her feet were so cold.

"It was the only cuddle I was going to have with her, so I wanted to remember the moment." Then something remarkable happened. The warmth of her mother's skin kickstarted Rachael's heart into beating properly, which allowed her to take little breaths of her own.

Miss Isbister said: "We couldn't believe it - and neither could the doctors. She let out a tiny cry.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:15 AM | Permalink

Nobel Prize winner on blogging

Doris Lessing's Nobel Lecture On not winning the Nobel Prize

What has happened to us is an amazing invention, computers and the internet and TV, a revolution. This is not the first revolution we, the human race, has dealt with. The printing revolution, which did not take place in a matter of a few decades, but took much longer, changed our minds and ways of thinking. A foolhardy lot, we accepted it all, as we always do, never asked "What is going to happen to us now, with this invention of print?" And just as we never once stopped to ask, How are we, our minds, going to change with the new internet, which has seduced a whole generation into its inanities so that even quite reasonable people will confess that once they are hooked, it is hard to cut free, and they may find a whole day has passed in blogging and blugging.

via Rainy Day

She compares the thirst for books and reading that she found in Zimbabwe where everyone begs for books and some learn to read from the labels on jam jars  and a privileged school in North London where a lot of boys never read at all and the library is only half-used.

We are in a fragmenting culture, where our certainties of even a few decades ago are questioned and where it is common for young men and women who have had years of education, to know nothing about the world, to have read nothing, knowing only some speciality or other, for instance, computers.
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Very recently, anyone even mildly educated would respect learning, education, and owe respect to our great store of literature. Of course we all know that when this happy state was with us, people would pretend to read, would pretend respect for learning, but it is on record that working men and women longed for books, and this is evidenced by the working men's libraries, institutes, colleges of the 18th and 19th centuries.
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We are a jaded lot, we in our world – our threatened world. We are good for irony and even cynicism. Some words and ideas we hardly use, so worn out have they become. But we may want to restore some words that have lost their potency.

We have a treasure-house – a treasure – of literature, going back to the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Romans. It is all there, this wealth of literature, to be discovered again and again by whoever is lucky enough to come on it. A treasure. Suppose it did not exist. How impoverished, how empty we would be.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:08 AM | Permalink

December 6, 2007

Tracking Service to Monitor Children

Sprint now offers a Family Locator service that for $9.99 a month that lets parents know just where their child is so long as the cell phone is on.

For Parents, a service that can offer peace of mind.

Verizon has a service called Chaperone that allows parents to set boundaries and if a child steps out of the approved zone, an alert is sent to the parents.

I find this troubling but I can understand why some parents would want it.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:11 AM | Permalink

The Best Things in Life Are Free, Really

A bar of chocolate, a long soak in the bath, a snooze in the middle of the afternoon, a leisurely stroll in the park. These are the things that make us the most happy, according to new research from The University of Nottingham.

Happiness Comes Cheap -- Even for Millionaires

Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:23 AM | Permalink

December 5, 2007

A Fluke ...or the Future?

" It's like you take your base line [which is] fear, and you throw some self-doubt on top of that, and then you throw some desperation on top of that, and, before you know it, you got a seven-layer burrito going there.  I mean I can feel every one of them. I don't know how to express it, but I can feel them . . . just one right on top of the other, and maybe I've done that for so long, that when the rape happened, that was maybe the straw that broke the camel's back, and my mind said, 'Okay, that's enough, you're cut off, no more.' There's no more room on the pile."

Donna Kilgore's life was destroyed after the rape which left her with post-traumatic stress disorder where she couldn't feel her body and nothing felt real

She is one of the first patients to undergo experimental therapy with MDMA, a psychedelic drug better known as ecstasy. In Mithoefer's Psychedelic Medicine article, he theorizes that the breakthroughs came from having the psychic calm -- the feeling Donna had of being protected -- that allowed subjects to meaningfully reexperience and reassess the events that traumatized them, and at the same time be able to feel a powerful new connection to positive aspects of their lives. In Donna's case it was the love of her husband and children.

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"OH, MAN, I'M IMPRESSED," SAYS MARK WAGNER, a clinical psychologist on faculty at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, an expert in psychological testing and an independent evaluator conducting the before and after PTSD assessments in Mithoefer's study. "I didn't know much about the clinical use of MDMA before this," Wagner says, "But I've seen each and every one of these patients, and, just as a clinical psychologist, it is impressive to see the degree of treatment response these folks have had. There are a couple of areas in medicine, like hip replacement, where one day you are bedridden, and the next you're out playing tennis. Or with Lasik surgery, you're blind, and then you can see. Nothing in psychology is like that. But this was dramatic."

Others were not so sanguine. The whole story is told in the Washington Post Magazine,  The Peace Drug

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:30 PM | Permalink

The full granaries of the past

From Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning


"Man's Search for Meaning" (Viktor E. Frankl)

There is no reason to pity old people.  Instead, young people should envy them.  It is true that the old have no opportunities, no possibilities in the future.  But they have more than that.  Instead of possibilities in the future, they have realities in the past -- the potentialities they have actualized, the meanings they have fulfilled, the values they have realized -- and nothing and nobody can ever remove these assets from the past,
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In the past, nothing is irretrievably lost, but rather, on the contrary, everything is irrevocably stored and treasured...people..forget the full granaries of the past into which they have brought the harvest of their lives: the deed done, the loves loved, and last but not least, the sufferings they have gone through with courage and dignity.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:18 AM | Permalink

"Exercise" Gene Found

The reason why exercise alleviates depression is because of an exercise-related gene in the brain called VGF.

Now that scientists have isolated that gene in mice, look for powerful new anti-depressants that work right away.

Newly-identified Exercise Gene Could Help with Depression.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:10 AM | Permalink

December 4, 2007

Il faut souffrir pour etre belle

It's necessary to suffer to be beautiful.

Now a man lives to tell what women already know.  It's laugh-out-loud funny.

Christopher Hitchens On the Limits of Self-Improvement that involve wraps, Brazilian waxes and veneers.

Part One

Part Two

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:35 PM | Permalink

The Fever Effect

More than 80% of autistic children with a fever show some improvements in behavior and 40% had dramatic improvements.

Fever can unlock autism's grip

The change involved things like longer concentration spans, more talking, improved eye contact and better overall relations with adults and other children.

Zimmerman's team said the fever effect had been noted anecdotally in the past by parents and doctors.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:23 PM | Permalink

Turning Beds to Mecca in England

It's hard to believe some of these stories out of England and its National Health Service.

Nurses Told to Turn Muslims' Beds to Mecca

OVERWORKED nurses have been ordered to stop all medical work five times every day to move Muslim patients’ beds so they face towards Mecca.

The lengthy procedure, which also includes providing fresh bathing water, is creating turmoil among overstretched staff on bustling NHS wards.
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But despite the havoc, Mid- Yorkshire NHS Trust says the rule must be instigated whenever possible to ensure Muslim patients have “a more comfortable stay in hospital”.
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It comes on the back of the introduction in some NHS hospitals last year of Burka-style gowns for Muslim patients who did not wish medical staff to see their face while operating or caring for them.

via Small Dead Animals

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:14 PM | Permalink

Impressive and Undeniable Progress

Crime has plummeted and is now at its lowest levels since 1977.

Teen-age drug use down 23%.

Welfare has declined over 60% since 1994 along with overall poverty, child poverty and child hunger.

300,000 fewer abortions each year since the high of 1.6 million in 1990.  Divorce rate at its lowest level since 1970.

Educational scores up.  High school dropout rates at 30 year low.

Teen age alcohol use down along with cigarette use and teen age pregnancies.

Crime, Drugs, Welfare -- And Other Good News for the reasons why

The progress we have witnessed over the last 15 years is impressive, undeniable, and beyond what most people thought possible.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:51 PM | Permalink

Signs of the Times -2

Typewriter Causes Street Closure as No One Knows What They Look Life Any Longer in Sarasota, Florida.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:25 PM | Permalink

Apologizing for Boomer Sins

Dennis Prager says we live in an age of group apologies, so he's going to get with the program.  His is better than most.

Baby Boomers Own America's Young People an Apology

We baby boomers were allowed perhaps the most innocent childhoods known to history. We grew up without material want, in one of the most decent places in world history, with media that preserved our sexual and other innocence, in schools that generally taught us well, and we were allowed childhood play from boy-girl play to rough and tumble boy-boy play to monkey bars and ringalievio. Our generation has deprived you of all these things.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:05 AM | Permalink

December 1, 2007

Sooner is Better

Proteomics is a not a word you are familiar with, but you will be. Proteomics is a fast-growing filed that looks for telltale proteins in a person's blood to diagnose disease at a very early stage.

Diagnosis 2.0

By the time a doctor diagnoses you with cancer or a neurodegenerative disease, you may have been living with it for years—a troubling fact, given that early detection is the most important factor in successful treatment. Now, Power3 Medical Products, a biotech firm in Houston, Texas, has developed simple, low-cost blood tests for breast cancer, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's that will allow physicians to spot disease the moment it shows up in a patient's body—years earlier than today's most advanced technologies can catch it.

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"There's tremendous promise in proteomics," says Lance Liotta, a proteomic scientist at George Mason University. "The early diagnosis and individualized therapy coming out of the science is going to change medicine."


Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:21 AM | Permalink

When Sadness is Confused with Depression

We are designed to be sad when faced with a loss whether it be a romance, a parent, a job or a dog. Being sad is not a chemical disorder that needs treatment with powerful drugs.

But the wide availability of anti-depressant drugs and the easy access to them has confused the distinction between normal sadness and the major disorder of depression which is the breakdown of normal psychological functioning. Even people who just have a case of the"blahs" say they are "depressed."

So take with a grain of salt, reports that depression in the United States increased 300% from 1987 to 1997 or that 1 in 10 adults struggle with depression each year.

The Great Depression

The alleged epidemic of depression simply doesn’t exist. Horwitz and Wakefield are right: Millions who have been diagnosed with major depression never had it in the first place, even if their lives were nonetheless improved by the drugs they were prescribed.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:01 AM | Permalink