July 31, 2010

Sweet, bitter, salty, sour and disgusting

Jonathan Haidt speaks on The New Science of Morality at Edge.

I think taste offers the closest, the richest, source domain for understanding morality. First, the links between taste, affect, and behavior are as clear as could be. Tastes are either good or bad. The good tastes, sweet and savory, and salt to some extent, these make us feel "I want more."  They make us want to approach. They say, "this is good."  Whereas, sour and bitter tell us, "whoa, pull back, stop."

Second, the taste metaphor fits with our intuitive morality so well that we often use it in our everyday moral language. We refer to acts as "tasteless," as "leaving a bad taste" in our mouths. We make disgust faces in response to certain violations.

Third, every culture constructs its own particular cuisine, its own way of pleasing those taste receptors. The taste analogy gets at what's universal—that is, the taste receptors of the moral mind—while it leaves plenty of room for cultural variation. Each culture comes up with its own particular way of pleasing these receptors, using local ingredients, drawing on historical traditions.
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That the five most important taste receptors of the moral mind are the following…care/harm, fairness/cheating, group loyalty and betrayal, authority and subversion, sanctity and degradation. And that moral systems are like cuisines that are constructed from local elements to please these receptors.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:29 AM | Permalink

July 30, 2010

Very little medical benefits from the sequencing of the human genome so far

After ten years spent on sequencing the human genome, genetic scientist Craig Venter admits to Der Spiegel, "We have learned nothing from the Genome."

Venter: That's what you say. And what else have I learned from my genome? Very little. We couldn't even be certain from my genome what my eye color was. Isn't that sad? Everyone was looking for miracle 'yes/no' answers in the genome. "Yes, you'll have cancer." Or "No, you won't have cancer." But that's just not the way it is.

SPIEGEL: So the Human Genome Project has had very little medical benefits so far?

Venter: Close to zero to put it precisely.
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SPIEGEL: Why is it taking so long for the results of genome research to be applied in medicine?

Venter: Because we have, in truth, learned nothing from the genome other than probabilities. How does a 1 or 3 percent increased risk for something translate into the clinic? It is useless information.


 

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:22 AM | Permalink

July 29, 2010

How does a superpower fall?

Niall Ferguson knows that history may move slowly most of the time and then suddenly  fast.   

Sun Could Set Suddenly on Superpower as Debt Bites

What are the implications for the US today? The most obvious point is that imperial falls are associated with fiscal crises: sharp imbalances between revenues and expenditures, and the mounting cost of servicing a mountain of public debt.

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According to the Congressional Budget Office's latest projections, the debt could rise above 90 per cent of GDP by 2020 and reach 146 per cent by 2030 and 344 per cent by 2050.

These sums may sound fantastic.

But what is even more terrifying is to consider what ongoing deficit finance could mean for the burden of interest payments as a share of federal revenues.

The CBO projects net interest payments rising from 9 per cent of revenue to 20 per cent in 2020, 36 per cent in 2030, 58 per cent in 2040 and 85 per cent in 2050. As Larry Kotlikoff recently pointed out in the Financial Times, by any meaningful measure, the fiscal position of the US is at present worse than that of Greece.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:16 PM | Permalink

The dangers of loneliness

Loneliness is a killer: It's as bad for your health as alcoholism, smoking and over-eating, say scientists.

Obesity and alcoholism may be bad for your health, but there’s a less obvious condition out there that is just as dangerous – loneliness.

According to a study t
he support of family, friends and neighbours can increase your chances of living to a healthy old age by 50 per cent.

But the findings, based on an analysis of more than 300,000 people, suggest social isolation is as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day or being an alcoholic.

It also does more damage to your health than not exercising – and is twice as harmful as obesity.

The American scientists who made the discovery say lack of social support should be added to the ‘short list’ of risk factors for an early grave.
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The researchers looked at data from 148 previously published studies that measured people’s social networks and tracked their health for an average of seven and a half years.

The data did not show whether people were in ‘positive’ or ‘negative’ relationships – simply the number of people they were in contact with regularly.

The authors of the study believe the health benefits of positive friendships could be even stronger. ‘The data simply show whether they were integrated in a social network,’ said Dr Holt-Lunstad.

‘That means the effects of negative relationships are lumped in there with the positive ones. They are all averaged together.


We are from the beginning, relational beings and we find ourselves and who we are in our relationships.  Social relationships are essential to good health and well-being.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:24 PM | Permalink

Life in Burundi

If you ever wondered how real were the effects of culture on the lives of people, the Economist tells a powerful story  in three paragraphs: A hard day's life

ON A chill windy morning in the mountains of Burundi, six women in an “empowerment group” run by an Atlanta-based charity, CARE, sit down under a tree to talk about their day. They have 49 living children between them. Their village, Dihetu, is nondescript, the soil average. The women grow cassava, beans and bananas.

Marie-José, aged 42, has ten children. She wakes up at six o’clock and cleans the hut. At half past six she makes tea for the children who go to school in the morning. She is in the fields from seven. At 11 she tends the goats. At noon she prepares lunch for the children who go to school in the afternoon. She is back in the fields from one o’clock. At four she fetches water. At five she gathers firewood. She is back home to cook dinner at six. At seven she washes the children from a bucket. The family eats at eight. Usually it is porridge or beans; they have meat once a year. Often Marie-José will forgo dinner to give her children more. At half past eight she prays. “I pray to God that at least we are alive. After prayer I feel joy.” At nine she goes to sleep.

As for the husbands, the few who find work as labourers leave home and rarely come back. Many of those who stay are drunks with syphilis. Women are forbidden to inherit land. They are often beaten and raped. “My husband gets up at eight,” says Albertina. “He takes a bath and goes to the bar. He stays there drinking banana beer until midday, then comes home to eat. In the afternoon he goes back to the bar. He returns home for dinner. Then he takes a nap.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:08 PM | Permalink

"If words fall into disrepair, what will substitute?'

Tony Judt on Words

In “Politics and the English Language,” Orwell castigated contemporaries for using language to mystify rather than inform. His critique was directed at bad faith: people wrote poorly because they were trying to say something unclear or else deliberately prevaricating. Our problem, it seems to me, is different. Shoddy prose today bespeaks intellectual insecurity: we speak and write badly because we don’t feel confident in what we think and are reluctant to assert it unambiguously (“It’s only my opinion…”). Rather than suffering from the onset of “newspeak,” we risk the rise of “nospeak.”

I am more conscious of these considerations now than at any time in the past. In the grip of a neurological disorder, I am fast losing control of words even as my relationship with the world has been reduced to them. They still form with impeccable discipline and unreduced range in the silence of my thoughts—the view from inside is as rich as ever—but I can no longer convey them with ease. Vowel sounds and sibilant consonants slide out of my mouth, shapeless and inchoate even to my close collaborator. The vocal muscle, for sixty years my reliable alter ego, is failing. Communication, performance, assertion: these are now my weakest assets. Translating being into thought, thought into words, and words into communication will soon be beyond me and I shall be confined to the rhetorical landscape of my interior reflections.

Though I am now more sympathetic to those constrained to silence I remain contemptuous of garbled language. No longer free to exercise it myself, I appreciate more than ever how vital communication is to the republic: not just the means by which we live together but part of what living together means. The wealth of words in which I was raised were a public space in their own right—and properly preserved public spaces are what we so lack today. If words fall into disrepair, what will substitute? They are all we have.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:57 PM | Permalink

July 27, 2010

It's a Dad's Life

I watched this a couple of times now and it's just great.  A little late for Fathers' Day, but Dad will approve.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:04 PM | Permalink

"Your joy is bigger than the universe and contains all the sorrow of a lifetime"

When Gerard Vanderleun calls the "most moving, terrible and wonderful essay on the world wide web today...Something rare and something of great power",  I clicked right over to For Jessica

Wow!

The sky has fallen down many times in your daughter's short life, the sky with all the stars in it, and you have picked up the pieces more times than you can remember, and you have climbed the ladder and put them back in place, where you think they should go, and you get things in backwards and out of sequence, but you do the best you can, and you climb down off the ladder, and you're at peace with your work. You wish it could be better, but there's only one of you, and the sky is so vast, it takes a while to put it back together again, and you did the best you could.
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She’s accustomed to your moods, so she nods, and she turns on the radio. “It’s your favorite song!” she says.  “Isn’t that lucky?”

And you hug her hard, but she’s used to that, too, and she lets you, and even lets you sing along without complaining (“this time only, mom!”), and you are lucky, probably the luckiest woman living, and happier than you have ever been, but not in any way an academic would understand, or even conceive.  Your joy is bigger than the universe and contains all the sorrow of a lifetime, and has nothing whatsoever to do with feeling sufficiently rewarded for your work.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:49 PM | Permalink

The case for engagement

Getting engaged before moving in is the key to lasting harmony

A study by psychologists in the U.S. revealed that couples are almost twice as likely to end up divorcing if they cohabit before they are betrothed.

But those who had popped the question before setting up home had longer and happier marriages  -  even if they moved in together before walking down the aisle.

The findings, published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, suggest that getting engaged represents a firm public commitment that improves the long-term success of a live-in relationship.
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Dr Lisa Matthewman, chartered psychologist at the University of Westminster, suggested getting engaged may help couples to lay the foundations for a strong marriage by giving them time to address any serious doubts they might have.

She said: 'It's a very formal declaration to everybody else that a couple are seriously committed to the relationship. But the engagement period is also like a safety net.

'You can make sure you are ready for marriage.

'After all, it's a lot easier to break off an engagement than to have to go through a divorce.'

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:31 PM | Permalink

Hospital Delirium

My mother thought she was captured by the Chinese while Justin Kaplan saw

“Thousands of tiny little creatures,some on horseback, waving arms, carrying weapons like some grand Renaissance battle,” who were trying to turn people “into zombies.” Their leader was a woman “with no mouth but a very precisely cut hole in her throat.”

Hallucinations in Hospital Pose Risk to Elderly

Disproportionately affecting older people, a rapidly growing share of patients, hospital delirium affects about one-third of patients over 70, and a greater percentage of intensive-care or postsurgical patients, the American Geriatrics Society estimates.

“A delirious patient happens almost every day,” said Dr. Manuel N. Pacheco, director of consultation and emergency services at Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, Mass. He treated Mr. Kaplan, whom he described as “a very learned, acclaimed person,” for whom “this is not the kind of behavior that’s normal.” “People don’t talk about it, because it’s embarrassing,” Dr. Pacheco said. “They’re having sheer terror, like their worst nightmare.”
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Frequently, geriatricians say, delirium is misdiagnosed, or described on patient charts as agitation, confusion or inappropriate behavior, so subsequent doctors might not realize the problem. One study found “delirium” used in only 7 percent of cases; “confusion” was most common. Another study of delirious older emergency-room patients found that the condition was missed in three-quarters of them.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:08 PM | Permalink

Taxpayer costs of divorce and unwed childbearing

The astonishing report that concludes that taxpayer costs of divorce and unwed childbearing are More Than a Trillion a Decade.

Research on family structure suggests a variety of mechanisms, or processes, through which marriage may reduce the need for costly social programs. . . . Based on the methodology, we estimate that family fragmentation costs U.S. taxpayers at least $112 billion each and every year, or more than $1 trillion each decade. . . .

[E]ven very small increases in stable marriage rates as a result of government programs or community efforts to strengthen marriage would result in very large savings for taxpayers. If the federal marriage initiative, for example, succeeds in reducing family fragmentation by just 1 percent, U.S. taxpayers will save an estimated $1.1 billion each and every year.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:56 PM | Permalink

Truth

The fashionable attitude among too many is that to believe in truth is to be hopelessly naive.    Unless, of course, they themselves have fallen victim to falsehoods. lies and injustice in which case truth suddenly becomes very important.   

No one wants to fly in a plane if the pilot doesn't believe in the truth of aerodynamics and what his instruments report.  No one wants a court system that isn't founded on the principles of justice, truth and the rule of law, no matter how often judges and lawyers stray from those principles.  No one wants scientists who fake results.
No one wants pharmaceutical companies who don't disclose the truth about the side effects as they learn them about the medicine they make.  No one wants banks that don't care about the accuracy of the money in your account.  No one wants friends who lie to them. 

We depend on truth in small matters and in large, far more than we think.

Is there anything worse than believing lies and falsehoods?  RR. Reno says yes, there is An Error Worse Than Error

For a long time as a young teacher, I believed the danger of prostituting their minds by believing falsehoods was the preeminent, or even singular, intellectual danger my students faced. So I challenged them and tried to teach them always to be self-critical, questioning, skeptical. What are your assumptions? How can you defend your position? Where’s your evidence? Why do you believe that?

I thought I was helping my students by training them to think critically. And no doubt I was. However, reading John Henry Newman has helped me see another danger, perhaps a
graver one: to be so afraid of being wrong that we fail to believe as true that which is true. He worried about the modern tendency to make a god of critical reason, as if avoiding error, rather than finding truth, were the great goal of life.
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If we see this danger—the danger of truths lost, insights missed, convictions never formed—then the complexion of intellectual inquiry changes, and the burdens of proof shift. We begin to cherish books and teachers and friends who push us and romance us with the possibilities of truth.

The life of the mind turns into an adventure. Errors risked seem worthy gambles for the sake of the rich reward of engrossing, life-commanding truths that are only accessible to a mind passionate with the intimacy of conviction rather than coldly [and] critically distant.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:50 PM | Permalink

July 24, 2010

"Where people knew where they were"

P.D. James, a 90-year-old woman to marvel at.

PD James interview: 'I have lived a very happy and fulfilled life'
She’s a life peer, a best-selling crime novelist, and last year, the BBC’s scariest interrogator. As she approaches 90, PD James reflects on death, family − and the husband she couldn’t save.

James will be 90 on August 3 and, as she sits like a small attentive bird in her sage green drawing room in Holland Park, surrounded by her bookcases, rubber plants and photographs of family and friends, you would not guess that she was approaching this grand old age. She never hesitates or has to search her memory for a word. Though she does have an elegantly handled walking stick by her side, she doesn’t appear to need it. And, as I discovered when I tried to find a free July morning in her diary, she is still an active member of the House of Lords, still writes books and still gives lectures, her next one being on a cruise to New York in the Queen Mary 2.
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Her family – she has two daughters, five grandchildren and seven great grandchildren – keep telling her she should slow down. ‘But it’s not easy to slow down. There’s more than one house to run and there are the finances to think about, and an awful lot of people want an awful lot of things. They have to be replied to. But I have no cause for complaint. I have lived a very happy and fulfilled life.

It was often a very difficult one

Here she is speaking about the great appeal of mystery stories

James suggested that their provision of certainty in a changing world was part of their appeal. 

On the cusp of her 90th birthday, she talked about the fact that her own childhood was one that a Victorian child would have recognised, whereas the speed of change in her lifetime means that the modern world is “entirely different in a fundamental way”. “I think our morality has not caught up with technology yet,” she said. “It’s a world in which it’s difficult to feel entirely at home. That’s why people feel relief in going back to the detective stories of the 1930s, going back to Miss Marple’s St Mary Mead, where there’s a more assured morality, where people knew where they were.”

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:25 AM | Permalink

July 23, 2010

Intervention. "What the hell is this show doing right?"

Well, isn't this a refreshing bit of news, a reality show that can really teach us something.

The A&E reality-TV show Intervention has a 71 percent success rate in rehabbing the most determined, hardened addicts.

here is the obvious question: How has a 45-minute reality show that airs during summer on basic cable succeeded where so many other treatment regimes have failed? Why does a camera crew filming a determined drug addict hitting bottom convince someone to go into recovery? Does it merely take a united family leveling threats all at once to exorcise some of the demonic powers of addiction? In other words, what the hell is this show doing right?
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Intervention offers real drama—drama in the Greek sense of the word: It’s all fear and pity and pathos. Instead of just documenting the annals of addiction and the humiliation people put themselves through in order to maintain it, the show instead focuses on the complicated ecosystems that sustain addiction: families.
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So what role do the cameras play in this road to recovery? Is that another element in the show’s successful treatment rate? According to VanVonderen, no. "It's not because of the show that people have broken through their addiction—I think it's because of the intervention. People are more likely to go to treatment if there’s an intervention, they’re more likely to stay in treatment, they’re more likely to do better afterward, because everything’s changed. Not just, they went to treatment. The family’s gonna get well without you, and that comes through in the intervention.”

In other words, VanVonderen says the real power of the intervention comes through when addicts learn, “Now the jig is up, it’s not gonna work like it did before. That strikes fear into their hearts.”

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:40 PM | Permalink

Billionaire pedophile goes free

On the heels of Roman Polanski, Jeffrey Epstein, hedge fund mogul, is a billionaire pedophile who got off almost scott free after completing his one year of "house arrest" in Palm Beach.

Conchita Sarnoff tells the story of the man who would have been jailed for most of his life, but for the fact he's a very rich and connected member of our ruling class where the members protect each other.

During Epstein’s term of “house arrest,” he made several trips each month to his New York home and his private Caribbean island. In the earlier stage of his sentence for soliciting prostitution with a minor—13 months in the Palm Beach Stockade—he was allowed out to his office each day. Meanwhile, Epstein has settled more than a dozen lawsuits brought by the underage girls who were recruited to perform “massages” at his Palm Beach mansion. Seven victims reached a last-minute deal last week, days before a scheduled trial; each received well over $1 million—an amount that will hardly dent Epstein’s $2 billion net worth.

But the question remains: Did Epstein’s wealth and social connections—former President Bill Clinton; Prince Andrew; former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak; New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson; and former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers were just a few of the prominent passengers on his private jets—allow him to receive only a slap on the wrist for crimes that carry a mandatory 20-year sentence? Was he able, with his limitless assets and heavy-hitting lawyers—Alan Dershowitz, Gerald Lefcourt, Roy Black, Kenneth Starr, Guy Lewis, and Martin Weinberger among them—to escape equal justice?

Michael Reiter, the former Palm Beach police chief, certainly thinks so.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:32 PM | Permalink

July 22, 2010

Hit the Road Jack

For all those heading out for the road and vacation, Ray Charles sings it live with British schoolchildren. Since embedding is disabled, you have to hit this link.

 Road Blazingautumn Chryztoph

 Kyoto Bamboo Road

Lots more breathtaking photos of roads -

Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:50 PM | Permalink

Gods in Color

What caught my eye was the splendid color and pattern in the Boston Globe story. 

 Trojanarcher Sacklerharvard

I will definitely see "Gods in Color: Painted Sculpture of Classical Antiquity at Harvard's Sackler Museum.

Definitely,  Sculpture show of a different color

Susanne Ebbinghaus, Harvard's curator of ancient art, says the painting on classical sculptures "has been studied by so few people. The biggest obstacle has been our own preconceptions." And even though we may know intellectually that ancient statues were painted, the brilliantly toned reconstructions in "Gods in Color," with their riotous patterns and alert gazes, are a shock to behold.

Reconstructions in such detail are possible now in part thanks to advances in technology. German researcher Vinzenz Brinkmann has spearheaded this work for the past 25 years. In addition to his trusty flashlight, which reveals unexpected finds on the surfaces of sculptures, he employs ultraviolet light, which shows ghosts of paint patterns. He and his team deploy even more high-tech tools such as polarized light microscopy and X-ray fluorescence to examine the pigments. They then use 3D scanners to create plaster and synthetic marble reconstructions, which Brinkmann has painted by hand using the same kinds of mineral pigments classical painters would have mixed themselves.
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"Gods in Color: Painted Sculpture of Classical Antiquity" at Harvard's Arthur M. Sackler Museum deals a thrilling blow to a popular notion - indeed, a paradigm of beauty and purity - of monochromatic ancient sculpture. Setting polychrome reconstructions alongside original sculptures, it's a carnival of color, parading wild patterns and gaudy tones.
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It's grounding to see true antiquities beside Brinkmann's reconstructions, which have such comic-book pizzazz they seem almost unbelievable. While many questions remain about painted classical sculptures, "Gods in Color" makes boldly clear that history is not what we have pictured. The ideal forms of physical beauty and realism have not changed. They're just a lot more colorful than many of us ever imagined.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:44 AM | Permalink

July 21, 2010

The Green Gethsemane

Walter Russell Mead on how Green Dreams Die Ugly on Capitol Hill

The strategic incompetence exhibited by the climate movement and its congressional allies is something that students everywhere need to study — and especially those who hope someday to help build a better world or fight for social change.  This is how you fail, kids:  Advance half baked policy ideas by hyping the science to create a global panic; when that fails, fall back on shady little dodges that don’t fool anybody — all the while telling anybody and everybody that you are the smartest, most virtuous person in the room.
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It may be that the Green Gethsemane now unfolding around us will be one of the experiences that stimulates and invigorates new thinking about how civil society movements can work more effectively and intelligently for change.

I hope so.  The environment matters; sustaining the diversity and vitality of the beautiful world in which we are privileged to live is one of the two or three most vital challenges before the human race.  The greens have been wrong about many things, but about this they are undeniably and courageously right.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:18 PM | Permalink

July 20, 2010

A Christian backlash in Africa?

Our ruling class is so uncomfortable with religion, they fail to understand what's going on the world, especially in Africa.

Ralph Peters is not blind to The coming crusade as a Christian backlash brews in Africa against Islamists.

The bombings that recently butchered World Cup fans in Uganda were just the latest in a long line of crazed attacks on African Christians by Islamist fanatics. In the central states of Nigeria -- Africa's most-populous country -- religious pogroms and counter-pogroms between Muslims and Christians have become routine.

In Kenya, al Shabaab terrorists from neighboring Somalia stir up trouble and make grotesque threats. And we all know what bestial acts Sudan's Islamist government has perpetrated against black Christians over the decades.
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A few years back, during one of four major research trips to sub-Saharan Africa, I visited the traditionally Muslim city of Mombassa on the old Swahili (Arab-slaver's) coast in Kenya. What I found was one of the sharpest religious juxtapositions I've seen in global travels.

Thanks to Saudi funding folly, there were far too many mosques for the congregants, so few hit critical mass. Islam in Mombassa felt sleepy, dusty and dull.

Kenya's Muslims were backward and listless. Condemned to poverty by poor educations (the Saudis pay Muslims to send their children to madrassahs, instead of to state schools), their culture seemed out of steam.

But Christianity blazed. Mega-churches couldn't contain all those who'd accepted Jesus as their Savior: City parks were packed with ecstatic worshippers every Sunday.

All along east Africa's Swahili Coast -- once a necklace of gems on the body of Islam -- the faith of Mohammed seemed like a museum exhibit in a neglected side room. The Christians -- from tribes Muslims had enslaved -- were the rising power.
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I've never witnessed such religious fervor as I did in sub-Saharan Africa, from Zimbabwe north through Kenya and west to the Gold Coast. When Islamist terrorists attack African Christians, they're playing with a fire that burns white hot.

Pushed far enough, Christians will respond -- and it won't be pretty. The African church could become the church-ultra-militant.
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In Islamist extremism, we're confronted with a death-cult, not a faith -- while the vibrant Christianity of Africa pulses with life.

The collision appears inevitable.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:09 PM | Permalink

The High Stakes Test

The White House wonders "where did the jobs go?"   

Ironically, at the same time,  an Obama official, the Special Inspector General Neil Barofsky notes in a "scathing" report on the auto industry that Obama's 'Mandate for Sacrifice' Costs Thousands of Jobs:

the Obama administration rejected initial automaker plans which would have required relatively minimal dealership closings, insisting instead on far more drastic cuts -- as many as two thousand dealerships between the two corporations.

[W]hen asked explicitly whether the [Obama] Auto Team could have left the dealerships out of the restructurings, Mr. [Ron] Bloom, the current head of the Auto Team, confirmed that the Auto Team "could have left any one component [of the restructuring plan] alone," but that doing so would have been inconsistent with the President's mandate for "shared sacrifice."

Another New York Times piece says that federal job training programs don't work

Our ruling class is in the middle of what NYT columnist David Brooks calls  a "high stakes test" as to whether the progressivist policies of this Administration with the staggering complexity of the new health care law with its 183 new agencies and panels and commissions along with the new financial reform 2300 page bill of still more staggering complexity will help improve or damage the  health care and  financial systems we have now. 

This progressive era is being promulgated without much popular support. It’s being led by a large class of educated professionals, who have been trained to do technocratic analysis, who believe that more analysis and rule-writing is the solution to social breakdowns, and who have constructed ever-expanding networks of offices, schools and contracts.

Already this effort is generating a fierce, almost culture-war-style backlash. It is generating a backlash among people who do not have faith in Washington, who do not have faith that trained experts have superior abilities to organize society, who do not believe national rules can successfully contend with the intricacies of local contexts and cultures.

This progressive era amounts to a high-stakes test. If the country remains safe and the health care and financial reforms work, then we will have witnessed a life-altering event. We’ll have received powerful evidence that central regulations can successfully organize fast-moving information-age societies.

If the reforms fail — if they kick off devastating unintended consequences or saddle the country with a maze of sclerotic regulations — then the popular backlash will be ferocious. Large sectors of the population will feel as if they were subjected to a doomed experiment they did not consent to. They will feel as if their country has been hijacked by a self-serving professional class mostly interested in providing for themselves.

Richard Fernandez makes the case for the invisible hand, not The Dead Hand Again

The past for all of its faults contains a lot information about how things work. Human institutions — the existence of families, constitutional arrangements, etc — have evolved in response to concrete challenges. They are the way they are for a reason. Very often things seem simple because they are really complicated and unfortunately every now and again a generation of leaders comes along that sees no obvious use for this or that thing. And like a mechanic newly arrived on the scene, they pluck it out of the mass of roiling machinery without understanding its purposes or simply because they don’t like who invented it  and throw it away, believing in their wisdom or vanity, that the systems they inherited were conceived in ignorance, superstition and by NASCAR afficionados. Then without a backup, without an image, without the possibility of rollback the unexpected sometimes happens. Murphy shows up at the door. And looking up at that eminent Irishman they subsequently ask “why are you here?”

Thus the gold standard in public policy was to leave people to make their own arrangements unless there was a compelling interest to do otherwise. Because people do things for a reason, even if it is not clear to us why, and being in the innermost OODA loop, they are in a better position to change course if they get it wrong. The default activity of government, which operates in distant capitals was to do nothing. This attitude is captured in the folk saying, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But that is so yesterday. None of those old sayings stands a chance before the great enterprise of transcendant Hope and Change. And what is that? Just change it and hope it works.

Now if that doesn’t turn out in the expected way, how about we try this. Instead of depending on the cumulative effects of generations of political dead hands, let’s try relying on the invisible hand — the aggregate arrangments of people in the marketplace — for a change. People if left to order their affairs usually do so sensibly. My guess is that the man in the street understands very well where the jobs went.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:01 PM | Permalink

"Americans are constantly in search of an upgrade"

To prepare for the new season of Mad Men which begins this Sunday, I've been watching the last season on Comcast's on demand.  As captivated as I am by the series, on re-watching it, I can not help but see the undercurrent of despair that runs through it.  I want the characters whom I've come to know and like,  to make better choices for their lives and they don't.

Heather Havrilesky articulates far better than I ever could how it goes wrong when people forget God.    Instead of gratitude for the abundance of gifts received and concern for those less fortunate, there is discontent and emptiness, all prettied over and a desperate desire to get ahead whatever it takes.

 Mad Men Season4

"Americans are constantly in search of an upgrade," begins Heather Havrilesky in "Mad Men": Stillbirth of the American dream.

It's a sickness that's infused into our blood, a dissatisfaction with the ordinary that's instilled in us from childhood. Instead of staying connected to the divine beauty and grace of everyday existence -- the glimmer of sunshine on the grass, the blessing of a cool breeze on a summer day -- we're instructed to hope for much more. Having been told repeated stories about the fairest in the land, the most powerful, the richest, the most heroic (Snow White, Pokémon, Ronald McDonald, Lady Gaga), eventually we buy into these creation myths and concede their overwhelming importance in the universe. Slowly we come to view our own lives as inconsequential, grubby, even intolerable.
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In other words, we're always falling short, no matter what our resources, and we pass this discontent to our offspring. And so millions of aspiring 3-year-old princesses hum "Someday my prince will come!" to themselves, turning their backs on the sweetness of the day at hand.
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Roger and Don may represent the wildly fluctuating fortunes bequeathed to the masters of the universe: Told that they can have everything they want, these two are haunted by a constant desire for more. But what variety of more will suit them this time? The answer typically -- and somewhat tragically -- seems to spring out of impulse and ego and fear more often than any real self-reflection or wisdom.
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We're drawn to "Mad Men" week after week because each and every episode asks us, What's missing from this pretty picture?
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The American dream itself is a carefully packaged, soulless affair. This is the automobile a man of your means should drive. This is the liquor a happy homemaker like yourself should serve to your husband's business guests. As absurd as it seems to cobble together a dream around a handful of consumer goods, that's precisely what the advertising industry did so effectively in the '50s and '60s, until we couldn't distinguish our own desires from the desires ascribed to us by professional manipulators, suggesting antidotes for every real or imagined malady, supplying escapist fantasies to circumvent the supposedly unbearable tedium of ordinary life. In show creator Matthew Weiner's telling, the birth of the advertising age coincides directly with the birth of our discontent as a nation -- and what got lost in the hustle was our souls.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 6:24 AM | Permalink | TrackBack

July 19, 2010

Our ruling class

There is no question that the elites in Washington have a strikingly divergent outlook from the rest of the country according to a new poll by Politico.

Victor Davis Hanson writes in Pity the Postmodern Cultural Elite

There is no racial, regional, religious, or tribal commonality. One shared allegiance perhaps is to higher education that certifies the cultural elite by diplomas of all sorts from a “good school,” as well as a respectable salary and a nice home with appurtenances......money, privilege, and status create in the cultural elite both a fear of mixing it up with others that might jeopardize position and placement, and yet guilt for that very sense of entitlement and exemption.

Among the characteristics of this elite, Hanson notes
.... a certain allegiance to untruth, to saying one thing and doing another.  Consider the manifestations of falsity from ecology to race.
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Truth is relative for most of the educated cultural which has proved disastrous to those who would sacrifice truth in science, economics, history, education, finance and medicine who would distort facts if it would serve a "greater purpose", usually an ideological or  political position that has become part of their identity, allowing them to fit in among their peers. 

Professor emeritus of international relations at Boston University, Angelo Codevilla writes in America's Ruling Class And the Perils of Revolution

Republican and Democratic office holders and their retinues show a similar presumption to dominate and fewer differences in tastes, habits, opinions, and sources of income among one another than between both and the rest of the country. They think, look, and act as a class.
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Today's ruling class, from Boston to San Diego, was formed by an educational system that exposed them to the same ideas and gave them remarkably uniform guidance, as well as tastes and habits. These amount to a social canon of judgments about good and evil, complete with secular sacred history, sins (against minorities and the environment), and saints.
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Its attitude is key to understanding our bipartisan ruling class. Its first tenet is that "we" are the best and brightest while the rest of Americans are retrograde, racist, and dysfunctional unless properly constrained. How did this replace the Founding generation's paradigm that "all men are created equal"?
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Our ruling class's agenda is power for itself. While it stakes its claim through intellectual-moral pretense, it holds power by one of the oldest and most prosaic of means: patronage and promises thereof.
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In sum, our ruling class does not like the rest of America. Most of all does it dislike that so many Americans think America is substantially different from the rest of the world and like it that way. For our ruling class, however, America is a work in progress, just like the rest the world, and they are the engineers.

Opposing the ruling class, is what Codevilla calls the "country class"

Describing America's country class is problematic because it is so heterogeneous. It has no privileged podiums, and speaks with many voices, often inharmonious. It shares above all the desire to be rid of rulers it regards inept and haughty. It defines itself practically in terms of reflexive reaction against the rulers' defining ideas and proclivities -- e.g., ever higher taxes and expanding government, subsidizing political favorites, social engineering, approval of abortion, etc. Many want to restore a way of life largely superseded. Demographically, the country class is the other side of the ruling class's coin: its most distinguishing characteristics are marriage, children, and religious practice. While the country class, like the ruling class, includes the professionally accomplished and the mediocre, geniuses and dolts, it is different because of its non-orientation to government and its members' yearning to rule themselves rather than be ruled by others.

Ross Douhat explores what this means for elite college admissions, the gateway to the cultural elite.

Last year, two Princeton sociologists, Thomas Espenshade and Alexandria Walton Radford, published a book-length study of admissions and affirmative action at eight highly selective colleges and universities.
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But what was striking, ... was which whites were most disadvantaged by the process: the downscale, the rural and the working-class.
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while most extracurricular activities increase your odds of admission to an elite school, holding a leadership role or winning awards in organizations like high school R.O.T.C., 4-H clubs and Future Farmers of America actually works against your chances. Consciously or unconsciously, the gatekeepers of elite education seem to incline against candidates who seem too stereotypically rural or right-wing or “Red America.”
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This provides statistical confirmation for what alumni of highly selective universities already know. The most underrepresented groups on elite campuses often aren’t racial minorities; they’re working-class whites (and white Christians in particular) from conservative states and regions. Inevitably, the same underrepresentation persists in the elite professional ranks these campuses feed into: in law and philanthropy, finance and academia, the media and the arts.
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If such universities are trying to create an elite as diverse as the nation it inhabits, they should remember that there’s more to diversity than skin color — and that both their school and their country might be better off if they admitted a few more R.O.T.C. cadets, and a few more aspiring farmers.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:19 PM | Permalink | TrackBack

"The heart of the farming technique was the compost pit"

I found  My Grandfather's Earthworm Farm absolutely fascinating and compelling in practicality of the picture of order and harmony with nature it draws when I read it for the first time several years ago.  Reading it again, I feel the same awe.

And now enters the earthworm. For more than sixty years these 160 acres had been farmed without a single crop failure. My grandfather was known far and wide for the unequalled excellence of his corn and other grain, and a large part of his surplus was disposed of at top prices for seed purposes. The farm combined general farming and stock raising; my grandfather's hobby, for pleasure and profit, was the breeding and training of fine saddle horses and matched Hambletonian teams. He maintained a herd of about fifty horses, including stud, brood mares, and colts in all stages of development. In addition to horses, he had cattle, sheep, hogs, and a variety of fowl, including a flock of about five hundred chickens which had the run of the barnyard,with a flock of ducks. Usually about three hundred head of stock were wintered. The hired help consisted of three or four men, according to the season, with additional help at rush seasons. This establishment was maintained in prosperity and plenty, and my grandfather attributed his unvarying success as a farmer to his utilization of earthworms in maintaining and rebuilding the fertility of the soil in an unbroken cycle. The heart of the farming technique was the compost pit.


Thanks to Maggie's Farm for the repost

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:00 AM | Permalink

Business School Lessons Applied to Real Life

The innovative and highly respected author of The Innovator's Dilemma, Clayton Christensen asked his graduating students at the Harvard Business School three questions.

First, how can I be sure that I’ll be happy in my career? Second, how can I be sure that my relationships with my spouse and my family become an enduring source of happiness? Third, how can I be sure I’ll stay out of jail?

Then he used his own life as a case study so that his students could see how he applied his own theories to guide his life decisions. 

Here are some snippets from How Will You Measure Your Life?

More and more MBA students come to school thinking that a career in business means buying, selling, and investing in companies. That’s unfortunate. Doing deals doesn’t yield the deep rewards that come from building up people.
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The choice and successful pursuit of a profession is but one tool for achieving your purpose. But without a purpose, life can become hollow.
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If you study the root causes of business disasters, over and over you’ll find this predisposition toward endeavors that offer immediate gratification. If you look at personal lives through that lens, you’ll see the same stunning and sobering pattern: people allocating fewer and fewer resources to the things they would have once said mattered most.
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Like employees, children build self-esteem by doing things that are hard and learning what works.
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The lesson I learned from this is that it’s easier to hold to your principles 100% of the time than it is to hold to them 98% of the time. If you give in to “just this once,” based on a marginal cost analysis, as some of my former classmates have done, you’ll regret where you end up. You’ve got to define for yourself what you stand for and draw the line in a safe place.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:44 AM | Permalink

July 17, 2010

Where are the grown-ups?

Peggy Noonan on Youth has outlived its usefulness

All right, you know what I think people miss when they look at Washington and our political leadership? They miss old and august. They miss wise and weathered. They miss the presence of bruised and battered veterans of life who've absorbed its facts and lived to tell the tale.

This is a nation—a world—badly in need of adult supervision.
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You walk into the offices of a great corporation now, look around and think: Where are the grown-ups?

The grown-ups took the buyout. The grown-ups were laid off. The grown-ups are not there.

Boy does that ever ring true. 

I don't know of any other culture that shows less respect for the accumulated wisdom of older people than we do.  They are tough old birds, far more far more emotionally resilient because they have weathered so many storms in their lives.  They have learned the lessons and can see the big picture and are more likely to give sage counsel.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:20 AM | Permalink

July 15, 2010

Earlier diagnosis of Alzheimer's

Many more people are going to be told they have incipient Alzheimer's when the new rules take effect in the fall.  The hope is earlier diagnosis - long before memory loss is apparent - will lead to more effective drug treatment.

Rules to change in diagnosing Alzheimer's

If the guidelines are adopted in the fall, as expected, some experts predict a two- to threefold increase in the number of people with Alzheimer’s disease.
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But researchers are now convinced that the disease is present a decade or more before dementia.

“Our thinking has changed dramatically,” said Dr. Paul Aisen, an Alzheimer’s researcher at the University of California, San Diego, and a member of one of the groups formulating the new guidelines. “We now view dementia as a late stage in the process.”

The new guidelines include criteria for three stages of the disease: preclinical disease, mild cognitive impairment due to Alzheimer’s disease and, lastly, Alzheimer’s dementia.
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Under the new guidelines, for the first time,
diagnoses will aim to identify the disease as it is developing by using results from so-called biomarkers — tests like brain scans, M.R.I. scans and spinal taps that reveal telltale brain changes.
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“This has implications for everybody alive, anybody who is getting older,” Dr. Doraiswamy said. Among other things, he said, it will encourage a lot more testing. And, Dr. Doraiswamy said, “diagnosis rates, like testing rates, only go in one direction — up.”

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:42 AM | Permalink

July 14, 2010

Moral capital for the whole of life

There is nothing which is more necessary and more precious in the experience of human childhood than parental love.... nothing more precious, because the parental love experienced in childhood is moral capital for the whole of life.... It is so precious, this experience, that it renders us capable of elevating ourselves to more sublime things -- even divine things. It is thanks to the experience of parental love that our soul is capable of raising itself to the love of God.

The anonymous author of Meditations on the Tarot via Gaghdad Bob at One Cosmos

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:54 AM | Permalink

July 12, 2010

The best story of the week - "El Sistema"

I haven't read such a hopeful story in a long time.  From the Boston Globe, There is magic in the music

The Venezuelan phenomenon known widely by its nickname — El Sistema, or “The System’’ — attracts many visitors, but none quite like this. Levi, Heagy, and Malek are members of the inaugural class of fellows from El Sistema USA: a handpicked group of young, monastically dedicated American musicians, based at New England Conservatory, and determined to bring this revolution in music education to Boston and other American communities.

They have come to learn t
he secrets of El Sistema, the almost fairy tale-like way it has turned to music as a vehicle for keeping poor children off the violent streets, giving them self-confidence, discipline, and other practical life skills, and in the process building up urban communities around symphony orchestras made up of children. El Sistema now reaches 400,000 Venezuelan children, with 70 percent living below the poverty line.

 El-Sistema

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“There’s something happening globally that people are just starting to understand,’’ said Malek, who hails from San Antonio, standing outside a classroom at La Rinconada. “It’s a realization that
the orchestra is the one communal structure that can focus all the energies and passions of youth. No other structure is that strong.’’
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At the core of El Sistema is a faith in the holistic benefits of musical immersion from a young age. This means a time commitment comparable in the United States only to participation in varsity sports. Venezuelan children spend up to four hours a day, six afternoons a week, studying music in their neighborhood nucleos. And from the earliest possible moment, they are brought together to scratch out tunes in orchestras.

The goal is not to produce a nation of professional musicians, or even to teach Mozart and Beethoven as such, according to Rodrigo Guerrero, El Sistema’s officer of international affairs.
At the beginning, parents are persuaded to enroll their children simply as a free way to keep them occupied, safe, and off the streets after school. Yet once they are enrolled, the joys of communal music-making can become contagious, and what began for parents as little more than free childcare can become something much bigger.
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Now 71, the founder José Antonio Abreu  a TED prize winner, who began El Systema in a garage with 11 children has been dubbed "the Gandi of classical music." said

“Cultural ministries within all of Latin America manage a very elite concept of culture,’’ he told the Abreu Fellows at their first meeting. “So from the very beginning I wanted to have the state acknowledge that this is a social program, and as an artist, I demand that my art be dignified with the mission of creating better human beings.’’

The fellows seem to have walked away from their initial meeting with Abreu in various states of awe. Dantes Rameau, a bassoonist from Ontario, wrote on his blog that he was ready “to run through a brick wall’’ for the man. Levi, originally from New York City, said this initial meeting with Abreu made her realize that her entire life had been leading up to this new role.

Do read the whole thing and watch the video to see the extraordinary energy, passion and skill of these young musicians. 

Yesterday while visiting my uncle and his family on a lake, we went to a 'community picnic' where a band was horrendous.  First, they played so loud no one could talk while they played; second, the music was awful and the lyrics worse: "Don't you want to die", "I'm so depressed" and "You're so full of shit."    Who chose this band I asked and learned it was the young people.  I could only conclude that they didn't know any good music and so far they had been untouched by beauty.  I can only hope that El Sistema changes that in every city in the country.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:25 PM | Permalink

Shame on the World Wildlife Fund

If you remember, one of the more alarmist statements of the IPCC in 2007 was that climate change was putting at risk nearly 40% of the Amazon rainforests.    There is no peer-reviewed science whatsoever for this statement.

Christopher Booker on Amazongate and the major IPCC system failure.

It turns out that one of the most widely publicised statements in the 2007 report of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – a claim on which tens of billions of dollars could hang – was not based on peer-reviewed science, as repeatedly claimed, but originated solely from anonymous propaganda published on the website of a small Brazilian environmental advocacy group.

The ramifications of this discovery stretch in many directions. First, it seems to show that the IPCC – whose reports governments rely on to justify presenting mankind with the largest bill in history – has been in serious breach of its own rules.

Second, it raises hefty question marks over the credibility of the world’s richest and most powerful environmental pressure group, the WWF, credited by the IPCC as the source of its unsupported claim.

To the shame of the World Wildlife Fund, this is the 'science' they cite

.... the WWF finally admitted the precise origin of the IPCC’s much-quoted claim. Fire in the Amazon, it turns out, was not a “report” or a scientific paper but, as the WWF now acknowledges, a “text published by IPAM… on its website in 1999”. It was merely a brief, anonymous and unreferenced note on the exposure of the forest to fire risks, posted in February 1999 and taken down four years later. Here, at last, is the sole source for the statement later published by the IPCC.

Why has the WWF and the Woods Hole Institute clung so tenaciously to this claim?


And third, it focuses attention once more on a bizarre scheme, backed by the UN and promoted by the World Bank, whereby the WWF has been hoping to share in profits estimated at $60 billion, paid for by firms all over the developed world.

They hoped to sell carbon credits, valued at $60 billion,  from a vast forest area they would manage with the support of the government  in Brazil .  They would become even richer than they now are.

And who says greed only operates in for-profit businesses?

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:32 PM | Permalink

July 10, 2010

Mortgage deadbeats too rich to live

Turns out  the rich are bigger deadbeats then the poor when it comes to walking away from their mortgage debts.    This is what happens when selfishness -  a bad investment for them  - trumps the moral obligation to pay their debts, a moral obligation owed not only to their creditors, but to the community at large, what we used to call, the civic good and it used to matter to most. 

Biggest Defaulters on Mortgages Are the Rich

Whether it is their residence, a second home or a house bought as an investment, the rich have stopped paying the mortgage at a rate that greatly exceeds the rest of the population.

More than one in seven homeowners with loans in excess of a million dollars are seriously delinquent, according to data compiled for The New York Times by the real estate analytics firm CoreLogic
.
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“The rich are different: they are more ruthless,” said Sam Khater, CoreLogic’s senior economist.
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The CoreLogic data suggest that the rich do not seem to have concerns about the civic good uppermost in their mind, especially when it comes to investment and second homes. Nor do they appear to be particularly worried about being sued by their lender or frozen out of future loans by Fannie Mae, possible consequences of default.

They do have their own set of problems though.  With the estate tax set to come back in January, they may be "Too Rich to Live"

It has come to this: Congress, quite by accident, is incentivizing death.
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Not only will the top rate jump to 55%, but the exemption will shrink from $3.5 million per individual in 2009 to just $1 million in 2011, potentially affecting eight times as many taxpayers.

The math is ugly: On a $5 million estate, the tax consequence of dying a minute after midnight on Jan. 1, 2011 rather than two minutes earlier could be more than $2 million; on a $15 million estate, the difference could be about $8 million.
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Advisers say the estate-tax dilemma is especially awkward for heirs. "At least in December 2009, people wanted to keep their relatives alive," says Ronald Aucutt, an estate-tax attorney with McGuire Woods in the Washington area. Now he and others are worried that
heirs may be tempted to pull plugs on Dec. 31. Economists might call the taking of a life to reap a tax advantage a "perverse incentive." District attorneys might call it homicide.
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In New York the lapsing tax spawned a major family conflict, according to one attorney. As a wealthy patriarch lay dying at the end of the year, it became clear that under the terms of the will his children would receive more if he died in 2010, while his wife (not the children's mother) stood to benefit if he died in 2009. The wife then filed a "do not resuscitate" order and the children challenged it. The patriarch lived a few days into 2010, but his estate, like Mrs. Laub's, remains unsettled given the legislative uncertainty.

Mr. Aucutt, who has practiced estate-tax law for 35 years, expects to see "truly gruesome" cases toward the end of the year, given the huge difference between 2010 and 2011 rates

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:44 PM | Permalink

Tomatoes in the news

In Australia, a bizarre poisoning of 7 million vegetable plants at a seeding nursery.  Tomato shortage could double prices.

Police investigations found that a herbicide was introduced in late June into the irrigation system of the Supa Seedlings nursery, which sells its seedlings to farmers for planting. Workers noticed the wilting and dying plants between June 20 and June 25.

Townsville Police Acting Inspector Dave Miles said police were considering a range of motives.

"It could be a grudge, it could be competition based, it could be the result of time-established market share, or it could be an act of vandalism," Miles told reporters Wednesday.

He said 12 detectives were working on the case and would investigate possible links with three previous poisonings since 2002


While in India, six workers drown in vat of tomato sauce.

Investigators say the woman, named as Usha, was scooping up fermented vegetables from the vat when she slipped off her ladder and plunged into the raw material used to make the sauce.
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As five colleagues dived in to grab her they were all overcome by fumes given off from fermenting vegetables and drowned, the newspaper said.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 5:48 PM | Permalink

The pervasive sad reality

Some selected items from Zerohedge's list of underreported or unreported facts: Presenting The Wall Of Worry: The 50 Ugliest Facts About The US eCONom who says "After reading these it almost makes sense that the market has become completely desensitized to the sad reality now pervasive in this country"

#50) In 2010 the U.S. government is projected to issue almost as much new debt as the rest of the governments of the world combined.

#48) If you went out and spent one dollar every single second, it would take you more than 31,000 years to spend a trillion dollars.

#29) For the first time in U.S. history, banks own a greater share of residential housing net worth in the United States than all individual Americans put together.

#28) More than 24% of all homes with mortgages in the United States were underwater as of the end of 2009.

#27) U.S. commercial property values are down approximately 40 percent since 2007 and currently 18 percent of all office space in the United States is sitting vacant.

#18) This most recession has erased 8 million private sector jobs in the United States.

#15) 39.68 million Americans are now on food stamps, which represents a new all-time record.  But things look like they are going to get even worse.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture is forecasting that enrollment in the food stamp program will exceed 43 million Americans in 2011.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 5:42 PM | Permalink | TrackBack

July 9, 2010

Medical advances round-up

The most promising scientific advances announced this week that could affect your health.

The discovery by researchers that high levels of a certain protein called 'clusterin' appear many years before symptoms of Alzheimer's disease first appear.

A simple blood test to predict Alzheimer's disease up to 10 years before symptoms develop.

Discovered by sheer luck, a drug, P7C3,  that stops Alzheimer's in its tracks.

The one-a-day pill that could finally halt Alzheimer's

The drug, discovered by sheer luck according to researchers, stops brain cells from dying, boosting their numbers and sharpening memory.

Given early enough, it could prevent sufferers from reaching the devastating final stages of the disease, in which they lose the ability to walk, talk and even swallow.

Some experts believe it could even be a cure.

The Wall Street Journal reports that U.S. government researchers have discovered three powerful antibodies to HIV, the strongest of which neutralizes 91% of HIV strains .

Advance in Quest for HIV Vaccine

The HIV antibodies were discovered in the cells of a 60-year-old African-American gay man, known in the scientific literature as Donor 45, whose body made the antibodies naturally. The trick for scientists now is to develop a vaccine or other methods to make anyone's body produce them as well.

Treating cavities without drilling may be the biggest dental breakthrough since the introduction of fluoride.

A Tooth Regeneration Gel that Could Replace Painful Fillings

Dentists could soon hang up their drills. A new peptide, embedded in a soft gel or a thin, flexible film and placed next to a cavity, encourages cells inside teeth to regenerate in about a month, according to a new study in the journal ACS Nano. This technology is the first of its kind.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:02 PM | Permalink | TrackBack

The digital genome in the nukeproof bunker in the Swiss Alps

"To make our current media formats usable in the future, we have to lock them in an impregnable fortress under a mountain in Switzerland."

From Swiss Cheese and Bullets

If the history of computing has taught us anything, it’s that the shiny new format you’re currently using will be useless several times over within your own lifetime. An entire generation’s work is being lost thanks to ‘progress’.

Proof that our current approach to media is flawed is the
Planets project (led by the British Library and a bunch of other European organisations). Acknowledging that most digital file formats have a life expectancy of five years, they’ve put the details of today’s most common file formats – and how they can be read – into a time capsule, and then put that into a nukeproof labyrinthine bunker in the Swiss alps. Adam Farquhar, one of the brains behind the project puts it simply:

Einstein’s notebooks you can take down off the shelf and read them today. Roll forward 50 years and most of Stephen Hawking’s notes will likely only be stored digitally and we might not be able to access them all … The time capsule being deposited inside Swiss Fort Knox contains the digital equivalent of the genetic code of different data formats, a ‘digital genome’.

By relying on hardware-dependent formats that will only last a few years, we’re turning into a civilisation with no long-term memory, only short. Publishing sorts, please acknowledge that the iPad is not the future, it is just a very shiny, very promising, fundamentally flawed present.

 Swiss-Alps Digital-Formats

I'm glad that the Swiss are doing this.  I don't know of any similar effort in the U.S.  Do you?

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:49 PM | Permalink

"Drowning is not the violent, splashing, call for help that most people expect"

Marrio Vittone, a marine safety specialist who was a helicopter rescue swimmer for the Coast Guard says, Drowning Doesn't Look LIke Drowning.

 Drowning

Drowning is not the violent, splashing, call for help that most people expect....Drowning is almost always a deceptively quiet event. The waving, splashing, and yelling that dramatic conditioning (television) prepares us to look for, is rarely seen in real life.
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And it does not look like most people expect.  There is very little splashing, no waving, and no yelling or calls for help of any kind. 
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It is the number two cause of accidental death in children, age 15 and under (just behind vehicle accidents) – of the approximately 750 children who will drown next year, about 375 of them will do so within 25 yards of a parent or other adult.  In ten percent of those drownings, the adult will actually watch them do it, having no idea it is happening

The instinctive drowning response

1. drowning people are physiologically unable to call out for help, they are too busy trying to breathe as their mouths alternately sink below and appear above the surface of the water

2. drowning people cannot wave for help nor  voluntarily control their arm movements, say by moving toward a rescuer or reaching out for a lifesaver.

Sometimes the most common indication that someone is drowning is that they don’t look like they’re drowning.  They may just look like they are treading water and looking up at the deck. One  way to be sure?  Ask them: “Are you alright?” If they can answer at all – they probably are.  If they return  a blank stare – you may have less than 30 seconds to get to them.  And parents: children playing in the water make noise. When they get quiet, you get to them and find out why.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:26 PM | Permalink

July 7, 2010

The Universe photographed

When I was a child, probably like you, I sometimes would write my return address as Boston, Massachusetts, the United States, North America,  the Earth, the Solar System, the Milky Way galaxy, the Universe.  I never thought I'd see a photograph of it like this one from Europe's Planck telescope.

 Universe

It's a spectacular picture; it's a thing of beauty," Dr Jan Tauber, the European Space Agency's (Esa) Planck project scientist, told BBC News.

Dominating the foreground are large segments of our Milky Way Galaxy.

The bright horizontal line running the full length of the image is the galaxy's main disc - the plane in which the Sun and the Earth also reside.

Planck telescope reveals ancient cosmic light.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:20 AM | Permalink

July 5, 2010

Greece by Lake Michigan

When a state has been chronically mismanaged, how does the comptroller pay the bills when the state owes $5 billion?

This is what the state owes right now to schools, rehabilitation centers, child care, the state university — and it’s getting worse every single day,” he says in his downtown office.

Mr. Hynes shakes his head. “This is not some esoteric budget issue; we are not paying bills for absolutely essential services,” he says. “That is obscene.”
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States cannot go bankrupt, technically, but signs of fiscal crackup are easy to see. Legislators left the capital this month without deciding how to pay 26 percent of the state budget. The governor proposes to borrow $3.5 billion to cover a year’s worth of pension payments, a step that would cost about $1 billion in interest. And every major rating agency has downgraded the state; Illinois now pays millions of dollars more to insure its debt than any other state in the nation.
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Illinois Stops Paying Its Bills, but Can't Stop Digging Hole


In Illinois, the fiscal pain is radiating downward.

From suburban Elgin to Chicago to Rockford to Peoria, school districts have fired thousands of teachers, curtailed kindergarten and electives, drained pools and cut after-school clubs. Drug, family and mental health counseling centers have slashed their work forces and borrowed money to stave off insolvency.

In Beardstown, a small city deep in the western marshes, Ann Johnson plans to shut her century-old pharmacy. Because of late state payments, she could not afford to keep a 10-day supply of drugs. In Chicago, a funeral home owner wonders whether he can afford to bury the impoverished, as the state has fallen six months behind on its charity payments, $1,103 a funeral.
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Few budget analysts are surprised to see Illinois, with a limping economy and broken political culture, edge close to the abyss. Two of the last six governors have served jail terms, and a third is on trial.

“We are a fiscal poster child for what not to do,” said Ralph Martire of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, a liberal-leaning policy group in Illinois. “We make California look as if it’s run by penurious accountants who sit in rooms trying to put together an honest budget all day.”

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Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:57 PM | Permalink

"In a sense I'm a born killer"

For 20 years, neuroscientist James Fallon (no relation) studied the brains of psychopaths to understand the biological basis for behavior, then a chance remark by his mother  - "there were some cuckoos" among his father's relatives - convinced him to investigate.

What he found rocked his world.  There seven alleged murderers, including Lizzie Borden, in his family tree.  Then he looked at the PET brain scans he convinced 10 close relatives to undergo for another project and found nothing amiss, except for his own.  He had the PET scan of a psychopath.  Alone among his family, he discovered he also had the "warrior gene" - the MAO-A gene that regulates serontin.

"You see that? I'm 100 percent. I have the pattern, the risky pattern," he says, then pauses. "In a sense, I'm a born killer."

Scientists who study this area say a third factor,  in addition to brain patterns and genetic makeup,  are necessary to make anyone a psychopath and that is abuse or violence in one's childhood.

Jim Fallon says he had a terrific childhood; he was doted on by his parents and had loving relationships with his brothers and sisters and entire extended family. Significantly, he says this journey through his brain has changed the way he thinks about nature and nurture. He once believed that genes and brain function could determine everything about us. But now he thinks his childhood may have made all the difference.

Part 1


Part 2
and Part 3 have to do with the emerging world of neuro-law and its probable advance in courtrooms.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:50 PM | Permalink | TrackBack

July 4, 2010

When Congress voted to adopt the Declaration

I loved the entire HBO Series John Adams which I recommend whole-heartedly as essential watching for every American citizen.  One scene in particular moved me to tears and that was watching the young Congress vote on the Declaration of Independence.

What a fortunate nation we are to have had such men and all those who fought and died to preserve this nation.  May we, in the difficult years ahead, prove worthy of the legacy they have given us.

Happy Fourth of July.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:50 AM | Permalink

July 2, 2010

The Power of Forgiveness

The most moving story is Reconciled about Rob Spauling who, as a seminarian and as a priest, has experienced the power of forgiveness.

Rob is sentenced to 30 months of intensive probation, 18 months of house arrest and 250 hours of community service. He must pay $5,000 to the Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists.

Before Rob is led out of the courtroom for processing, Joan finds him and hugs him. Is this OK? She asks.

That night, staying in a room at Mundelein Seminary, Joan watches a news report on the sentencing. She sees herself and Pam walking out of the courthouse, into the sunlight.

"We walked away happy. Can you believe that?" she says.

"Our sons died, and we had smiles on our faces."
--

And maybe that’s the good that rises from the broken glass and twisted metal, the life that comes from those cut short. For those who hurt, regret, are living every day with the consequences of their mistakes, Father Rob can listen. He can walk beside them and say that healing and reconciliation are possible. He knows, because both happened to him.

He knows that forgiveness is real.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:00 AM | Permalink

Tip Roundup

From US New and World Report comes this handy tip for those cutting back. 21 Things You Should Never Buy New.

You might want to reconsider paper or plastic when you learn that half of reusable shopping bags contain traces of E. coli and many are contaminated with salmonella.

The tests were undertaken by the University of Arizona, whose researchers stopped a total of 84 shoppers to check the state of their bags.   

The researchers warned the levels of bacteria they found were high enough to cause a wide range of serious health problems and even death. Children may be in the greatest danger, they added, as they are particularly vulnerable to the effects of organisms such as E.coli.

Shrek will get your kids excited about eating onions.

On a recent visit to a Thriftway supermarket near this onion-growing center, Aiden Harvill spotted a jolly green giant at a bin stuffed with Vidalia onions. "Mama, there's Shrek," the three-year-old shouted. He then threw a tantrum until his mother plopped a bag with Shrek's image into her shopping cart.

"He never, ever eats vegetables, but when we got home, he wanted me to cook them," Elizabeth Harvill says. She diced the onions into a casserole, which Aiden gulped down. "I was astonished," Mrs. Harvill says. "It was like a toy in a cereal box."

No worries on the caffeine front: 5 cups of coffee a day fight Alzheimer's Disease.  

Florida Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center researcher (and coffee lover) Gary Arendash and colleagues discovered that 500 mg of caffeine can ward off Alzheimer’s:

They’ve found that adding caffeinated water to rodents’ diet results in big improvements. The mice perform better on short-term memory and thinking tests. But only if they get enough caffeine.

"The human equivalent of two to three cups of coffee does not have benefits in our Alzheimer’s mice," says Arendash.

Arendash’s team also documented that these super-caffeinated mice end up with about a 50-percent reduction in abnormal amyloid proteins, which are thought to play an important role in the development of Alzheimer’s.

I'm sure tea, especially iced tea in the summer  would work just as well to get you to the 500 mg level.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:51 AM | Permalink | TrackBack