January 28, 2011

Adult Truths

My favorite Adult Truths from Ka-ching

1. Part of a best friend’s job should be to immediately clear your computer history if you die

3. I totally take back all those times I didn’t want to nap when I was younger.

4. There is great need for a sarcasm font.

7. Map Quest really needs to start their directions on # 5. I’m pretty sure I know how to get out of my neighborhood.

11. You never know when it will strike, but there comes a moment at work when you know that you just aren’t going to do anything productive for the rest of the day.

12. Can we all just agree to ignore whatever comes after Blu Ray? I don’t want to have to restart my collection…again.

14. I keep some people’s phone numbers in my phone just so I know not to answer when they call.

15. I think the freezer deserves a light as well.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:43 AM | Permalink

The Enigma of Smiles

In More to a Smile than Lips and Teeth

Dr. Niedenthal and her colleagues have surveyed a wide range of studies, from brain scans to cultural observations, to build a new scientific model of the smile. They believe they can account not only for the source of smiles, but how people perceive them. In a recent issue of the journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences, they argue that smiles are not simply the expression of an internal feeling. Smiles in fact are only the most visible part of an intimate melding between two minds.

“A smile is not this floating thing, like a Cheshire Cat,” said Dr. Niedenthal. “It’s attached to a body.” Sometimes the lips open to reveal teeth; sometimes they stay sealed. Sometimes the eyes crinkle. The chin rises with some smiles, and drops in others.

Cataloging these variations is an important first step, said Dr. Niedenthal, but it can’t deliver an answer to the enigma of smiles. “People like to make dictionaries of the facial muscles to make a particular gesture, but there’s no depth to that approach,” she said.

--An embarrassed smile is often accompanied by a lowered chin, for example, while a smile of greeting often comes with raised eyebrows.

--How another person interprets the smile is equally important....Dr. Niedenthal argues, people recognize smiles by mimicking them.

--Embodying smiles not only lets people recognize smiles, Dr. Niedenthal argues. It also lets them recognize false smiles. When they unconsciously mimic a false smile, they don’t experience the same brain activity as an authentic one. The mismatch lets them know something’s wrong.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:26 AM | Permalink

Junk Food

In Europe, researchers followed 12,000 volunteers over 6 years to analyze their diets and lifestyles.

They discovered that those who ate a lot of junk food with trans-fats, like pastries and fast food had a 48% increase in the risk of depression.

Bad eating can give you depression.

The report, published in the online journal PLoS ONE, noted the research was performed on a European population that enjoys a relatively low intake of trans-fats -- making up only 0.4 percent "of the total energy ingested by the volunteers."

"Despite this, we observed an increase in the risk of suffering depression of nearly 50 percent," said researcher Miguel Martinez.

"On this basis we derive the importance of taking this effect into account in countries like the US, where the percentage of energy derived from these fats is around 2.5 percent."

--- This rise is attributable, according to the authors, "to radical changes in the sources of fats consumed in Western diets, where we have substituted certain types of beneficial fats -- polyunsaturated and monounsaturated in nuts, vegetable oils and fish -- for the saturated and trans-fats found in meats, butter and other products such as mass-produced pastries and fast food."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:11 AM | Permalink

January 25, 2011

A modern madness

Tide of cyber-scepticism sweeps US

The way in which people frantically communicate online via Twitter, Facebook and instant messaging can be seen as a form of modern madness, according to a leading American sociologist.

"A behaviour that has become typical may still express the problems that once caused us to see it as pathological," MIT professor Sherry Turkle writes in her new book, Alone Together, which is leading an attack on the information age.


Turkle's thesis is simple: technology is threatening to dominate our lives and make us less human. Under the illusion of allowing us to communicate better, it is actually isolating us from real human interactions in a cyber-reality that is a poor imitation of the real world.


Turkle's book, however, has sparked the most debate so far. It is a cri de coeur for putting down the BlackBerry, ignoring Facebook and shunning Twitter. "We have invented inspiring and enhancing technologies, yet we have allowed them to diminish us," she writes.

---Another strand of thought in the field of cyber-scepticism is found in The Net Delusion, by Evgeny Morozov. He argues that social media has bred a generation of "slacktivists". It has made people lazy and enshrined the illusion that clicking a mouse is a form of activism equal to real world donations of money and time.

;Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other" (Sherry Turkle)

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:03 AM | Permalink

"The first thing that religion adds is the idea of the sacred"

Roger Scruton on whether religion is a force for good

The first thing that religion adds is the idea of the sacred. This idea is a strange sediment in human consciousness; it might have an evolutionary cause, but the cause does not tell us what it means. The second thing that religion adds is communion.

The rituals of religion are shared and those who participate in them are drawn into another kind of relationship with their neighbours than those that prevail in the world of "getting and spending". People hunger for this kind of membership and the power of religion resides in its ability to provide it. In the rituals of a religion all worldly differences are overcome: the Sultan bows in submission beside his subjects and the good-natured fool takes communion beside the crook who cheated him. The ritual shines on both of them from a place beyond their ordinary experience and includes them in a community whose home is in some way not of this world. And in the Christian case the ritual records a primeval sacrifice, born of love.


Now I don't deny that there are wrong ways of pursuing this religious quest. Those for whom faith is a call to arms and religion a blanket justification for violence against the unbeliever, are a threat to all of us. But although they make the most noise, they are not the most numerous among religious people. For most people religion is what it has always been – a cultivation of piety, a humility in the face of creation and an attempt to live according to a shared moral code. Piety, humility and morality are all things that we are losing. I would suggest that we would do better to keep them and to study how they might be directed to the right objects and in the right way.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:58 AM | Permalink

The State Against Blacks

Walter Williams, an economist at George Mason University, contrasts being black in the 1940s and the 1950s with being black today.

The State Against Blacks

Even in the antebellum era, when slaves often weren't permitted to wed, most black children lived with a biological mother and father. During Reconstruction and up until the 1940s, 75% to 85% of black children lived in two-parent families. Today, more than 70% of black children are born to single women. "The welfare state has done to black Americans what slavery couldn't do, what Jim Crow couldn't do, what the harshest racism couldn't do," Mr. Williams says. "And that is to destroy the black family."


"Racial discrimination is not the problem of black people that it used to be" in his youth, says Mr. Williams. "Today I doubt you could find any significant problem that blacks face that is caused by racial discrimination. The 70% illegitimacy rate is a devastating problem, but it doesn't have a damn thing to do with racism. The fact that in some areas black people are huddled in their homes at night, sometimes serving meals on the floor so they don't get hit by a stray bullet—that's not because the Klan is riding through the neighborhood."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:43 AM | Permalink

January 22, 2011

Test-taking, memorization and handwriting

Test-Taking Cements Knowledge Better than Studying, researchers say.

Taking a test is not just a passive mechanism for assessing how much people know, according to new research. It actually helps people learn, and it works better than a number of other studying techniques. M

The research, published online Thursday in the journal Science, found that students who read a passage, then took a test asking them to recall what they had read, retained about 50 percent more of the information a week later than students who used two other methods.

One of those methods — repeatedly studying the material — is familiar to legions of students who cram before exams. The other — having students draw detailed diagrams documenting what they are learning — is prized by many teachers because it forces students to make connections among facts.

--“I think that learning is all about retrieving, all about reconstructing our knowledge,” said the lead author, Jeffrey Karpicke, an assistant professor of psychology at Purdue University. “I think that we’re tapping into something fundamental about how the mind works when we talk about retrieval.”

Several cognitive scientists and education experts said the results were striking

--Why retrieval testing helps is still unknown. Perhaps it is because by remembering information we are organizing it and creating cues and connections that our brains later recognize.

--But “when we use our memories by retrieving things, we change our access” to that information, Dr. Bjork said. “What we recall becomes more recallable in the future. In a sense you are practicing what you are going to need to do later.”

We are relearning that old-fashioned things like memorization of poetry and rhetoric

From The Cat in the Hat on up, verse teaches children something about the patterns and relationships that bind together the words of which it is composed. Poetry sets up an abstract system of order and harmony; the rhythm and the rhyme scheme are logical structures that a child can comprehend even before he understands the words themselves, just as he can grasp the rhythmic and harmonic relations of a piece of music.

What the child discovers, in other words, is not only aesthetically pleasing, but important to cognitive development. Classic verse teaches children an enormous amount about order, measure, proportion, correspondence, balance, symmetry, agreement, temporal relation (tense), and contingent possibility (mood). Mastering these concepts involves the most fundamental kind of learning, for these are the basic categories of thought and the framework in which we organize sensory experience.

---The student “who memorizes poetry will internalize” the “rhythmic, beautiful patterns” of the English language. These patterns then become “part of the student’s ‘language store,’ those wells that we all use every day in writing and speaking.” Without memorization, the student’s “language store,” Bauer says, will be limited: memorization stocks “the language store with a whole new set of language patterns.”

even handwriting boosts the brain

Using advanced tools such as magnetic resonance imaging, researchers are finding that writing by hand is more than just a way to communicate. The practice helps with learning letters and shapes, can improve idea composition and expression, and may aid fine motor-skill development.

--Other research highlights the hand's unique relationship with the brain when it comes to composing thoughts and ideas.

They are not 'oppressive acts' but cognitive development in ways we never thought.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:02 AM | Permalink

January 21, 2011

College education today

The lead author of Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses called these numbers "shocking, disturbing".

After two years in college, 45% of students showed no significant gains in learning; after four years, 36% showed little change.

Students also spent 50% less time studying compared with students a few decades ago, the research shows.

--He noted that students in the study, on average, earned a 3.2 grade-point average. "Students are able to navigate through the system quite well with little effort," Arum said..

In sum

Nearly half of the nation's undergraduates show almost no gains in learning in their first two years of college, in large part because colleges don't make academics a priority, a new report shows.

So At a cost of $30-$50 thousand a year, and a boatload of debt, students today can't sift fact from opinion.
Many of the students graduated without knowing how to sift fact from opinion, make a clear written argument or objectively review conflicting reports of a situation or event, according to New York University sociologist Richard Arum, lead author of the study. The students, for example, couldn’t determine the cause of an increase in neighborhood crime or how best to respond without being swayed by emotional testimony and political spin
Our future, right there.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:28 AM | Permalink

January 19, 2011

Lessons from a Grifter

A terrific memoir by Pat Jordan, What I Learned from My Father, the Grifter

He was a gambler and con man, and as such he had a unique sensibility about money. It still awes, confounds, and influences me to this day.

Just before he went under the knife, my father told me, “I have no regrets. I did everything the way I wanted to.”

By that he meant that he never worked for a corporation in an airless office for 40 years, never worked for anyone, really, never cashed a salary check, a stock option, a pension check. He never invested money in the stock market, an annuity, a savings account. He never had a credit card. He believed only in the cash in his hand and in his ability, his wits, to make more money out of that cash, or maybe lose it all, he didn’t care, as long as he didn’t entrust that money to forces and people beyond his control.


My father’s life was devoted to the pursuit of money, which is an odd thing to say about a man who was so disdainful of it that when he actually had it he couldn’t get rid of it fast enough. He never spent it on himself, though, except every 20 years or so to buy a new navy blazer with brass buttons from J. Press Clothiers in New Haven. My father always dressed shabby Ivy League, like an absentminded professor, which was part of his con. His cronies even called him “Ivy League.”


In many ways, I am my father’s son. once, in my 60s, I told my father, in his 90s, that I was not much like him. “How so?” he asked. I said, “I never gamble.” He laughed, a dismissive laugh, and said, “You? A freelance writer for 40 years?”


He taught me so many things that became a part of my life, that determined how I lived my life. He taught me that only a fool believes in perfect justice. “There’s no such thing as an accident,” he said. “You’re supposed to know the other guy always runs the stop sign.” He taught me that a man never quits no matter how defeated he feels, that a man always has to have the courage of his suffering. And most important, he taught me that “there are only three vices in this world, kid: broads, booze, and gambling, and if you’re gonna do it right, pick one and stick to it.”

Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:48 PM | Permalink

"Paternalism run amok"

John Tierney in Heavy Doses of DNA Data with Few Side Effects

When companies tried selling consumers the results of personal DNA tests, worried doctors and assorted health experts rushed to the public’s rescue. What if the risk assessments were inaccurate or inconsistent? What if people misinterpreted the results and did something foolish? What if they were traumatized by learning they were at high risk for Alzheimer’s or breast cancer or another disease.

The what-ifs prompted New York State to ban the direct sale of the tests to consumers. Members of Congress denounced the tests as “snake oil,” and the Food and Drug Administration has recently threatened the companies with federal oversight. Members of a national advisory commission concluded that personal DNA testing needed to be carefully supervised by experts like themselves.

But now, thanks to new research, there’s a less hypothetical question to consider: What if the would-be guardians of the public overestimated the demand for their supervisory services?


“Up until now there’s been lots of speculation and what I’d call fear-mongering about the impact of these tests, but now we have data,” says Dr. Eric Topol, the senior author of a report published last week in The New England Journal of Medicine. “We saw no evidence of anxiety or distress induced by the tests.”


That may be the self-empowered future, but for now residents of New York still can’t be trusted to buy these tests directly. It’s paternalism run amok, says Lee Silver, a professor of molecular biology and of public policy at Princeton, who is developing another variety of genetic test for consumers. “It seems like a no-brainer,” Dr. Silver says, “that any competent adult should be free to purchase an analysis of their own DNA as long as they have been informed in advance of what could potentially be revealed in the analysis. You should have access to information about your own genome without a permission slip from your doctor.”

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:16 PM | Permalink

January 18, 2011

Losing your sense of smell

New evidence that losing your sense of smell when you are older could mean your time is nigh.

How your sense of smell could predict when you're going to die

Scientists from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago found that the more everyday odours a person can identify, the more likely they are to be alive several years later.

The team gave more than 1,000 volunteers, aged between 53 and 100, a standard 12-item smell test.

Study leader Dr Robert Wilson told Mail Online: 'We used a scratch and sniff test for each odour where the participant had a choice of four options. 'The odours were fairly familiar such as smoke, lemon, black pepper, chocolate and cinnamon.'

The researchers then followed the participants, none of whom had dementia or Parkinson's disease at the time, for four years. During this period, 321 individuals or 27.6 per cent died. Amazingly, they found that the risk of death was 36 per cent higher for those who only got six of the answers correct compared to those who managed to identify 11 out of 12.

This association was true even when age, disability, depression, brain dysfunction and leisure activity was taken into account.

Smell the roses while you can, but don't worry if the roses at your florist/market have no smell. It's been breed out of them. You have to find old-fashioned roses - look in backyards - to understand what roses smell like.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:39 AM | Permalink

Best hangover cure

Still champ. Coffee and an aspirin the best hangover cure of all.

Scientists have confirmed what millions have suspected for years if you want to soothe a tired head - simply take some caffeine and a painkiller.

They found the caffeine in coffee and the anti-inflammatory ingredients of aspirin and other painkillers reacted against the chemical compounds of ethanol, or pure alcohol.

Ethanol brings on headaches thanks to a chemical acetate it can produce and even low doses can affect some people more than others, said the study.

Professor Michael Oshinsky, of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, induced headaches in rats using small amounts of ethanol. He then gave them doses of caffeine and anti-inflammatories to find it blocked the acetate and relieved the headaches.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:59 AM | Permalink

January 17, 2011

Provocative Non-Violence

Clips from Martin Luther King's speeches using Autotune

Father Robert Barron The Third Way in Responding to Violence and Aggression
An ardent student of both the Sermon on the Mount and the campaigns of Gandhi, Dr. King saw that there was a third way, beyond both fighting back and giving in, namely, the path of provocative non-violence, “turning the other cheek.” The one who turns the other cheek, he saw, is not passively surrendering to violence; rather, he is courageously standing his ground and refusing to cooperate with the assumptions and behavior patterns of his aggressor. He is actively interrupting the cycle of aggression and is, at the same time, providing a mirror in which the attacker sees his own violence and is, ideally, moved to repentance. Armed with this New Testament strategy, King encouraged his followers to march on Selma, to sit down at segregated lunch counters, to endure taunts, attack dogs, water cannons, imprisonment, and even death. The courageous non-violence of the civil rights generation gummed up the works of a morally flawed, dysfunctional system and exposed its wickedness to the world.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 5:58 PM | Permalink

Setting slaves free

On the Martin Luther King day, it's only right that we should look at the terrible state of slavery in Sudan. There is great hope that the recent election will free the slaves fleeing North Sudan.

Will Freedom Come for Sudan's Slaves

On Jan. 9, the people of South Sudan began their week-long referendum to decide whether to separate from the Arab-Muslim North and form an independent country. But Achol Yum Deng didn't vote. Though she has more reasons to seek separation from the North than most of her countrymen, she couldn't register: Since 1998, Achol was a slave serving her master in the North and was only liberated just before the voting began.

The war booty of a man named Adhaly Osman, Achol was threatened with death, gang-raped, genitally mutilated, forced to convert to Islam, renamed "Mariam," and racially and religiously insulted. She lost the sight in one eye when her master thrashed her face with a camel whip for failing to perform Islamic rituals correctly. This mother of four saw two of her children beaten to death for minor misdemeanors. She also lost the use of one arm when her master took a machete to it in response to her failure to grind grain properly.

Achol is one of 397 slaves whose liberation was facilitated and documented by Christian Solidarity International and the American Anti-Slavery Group in the state of Northern Bahr el Ghazal as voting commenced.

The British suppressed black slavery in Sudan in the first half of the 20th century. But the practice was rekindled in the 1980s as part of the surge in Islamism in the region. In 1983, when Khartoum's radical leaders declared strict enforcement of Shariah law throughout the country, the Christian and tribalist South resisted. Shariah-sanctioned slave raids were used as a weapon to break Southern resistance.


The U.S.-brokered Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005 ended the slave raids and confirmed the South's right to self-determination. But it failed to create a mechanism for the return of slaves. Over 35,000 people, according to representatives of the Committee to Eradicate the Abduction of Women and Children, remain in bondage today.


It was the issue of slavery that sparked American interest in Sudan in our time. Reports in the mid-'90s about black slaves shocked ordinary Americans and generated an unlikely coalition that included Rep. Barney Frank (D., Mass.) and Pat Robertson, then Sen. Sam Brownback (R., Kan.), Village Voice columnist Nat Hentoff, and the late Republican Sen. Jesse Helms.

As the reality of Sudan's partition sinks in, there are now tens of thousands of free South Sudanese returning home from the North. They come in the hope of living freely—and also fearing the angry reaction of Northern Arabs to the South's decision to separate.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:46 PM | Permalink

January 14, 2011

"The bills for this calamity will be paid in the future"

What happens when you tell young people over and over again that the most important fact of American history is the internment of Japanese during World War Two? In a single year, I watched as fourth graders were assigned four different readings on that topic while spending ten minutes on George Washington and zero on Abraham Lincoln. Their sole reading on September 11 was a story on how Kenyans reacted to the event — with no identification of who had carried out the attack.

Yet this is what’s really going on in the America experienced by our eleven-year-olds, and, no doubt, by their older and younger siblings as well. This daily experience isn’t covered in the media. Parents hardly ever hear about it.


This situation, to put it mildly, is a social disaster. The bills for this calamity will be paid in the future, just as today we are living in the shadow of the radical 1960s come to cultural, ideological, and political power.

“Political correctness” and “multiculturalism” are creating a nation full of thin-skinned people ready to identify virtually anything as racist or discriminatory. It is conditioning young people to believe instinctively that ours is a fundamentally contemptible society, riddled with haters and racists who are out to get them or anyone who constitutes “the other.” It is instructing them that freedom of speech does not and should not apply to vast swaths of public, and perhaps private, life.

Barry Rubin on At Public School, Anti-Americanism Hides in Plain Sight.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:28 PM | Permalink

Blood Libel

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach in the Wall Street Journal, Sarah Palin Is Right About 'Blood Libel'.

Despite the strong association of the term with collective Jewish guilt and concomitant slaughter, Sarah Palin has every right to use it. The expression may be used whenever an amorphous mass is collectively accused of being murderers or accessories to murder.

The abominable element of the blood libel is not that it was used to accuse Jews, but that it was used to accuse innocent Jews—their innocence, rather than their Jewishness, being the operative point. Had the Jews been guilty of any of these heinous acts, the charge would not have been a libel.

--If Jews have learned anything in their long history, it is that a false indictment of murder against any group threatens every group.

--How unfortunate that some have chosen to compound a national tragedy by politicizing the murder of six innocent lives and the attempted assassination of a congresswoman.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:20 PM | Permalink

January 13, 2011

President Obama in Tucson

Suffering from a bad cold, I've been able to read but not write about the horrific shootings in Tucson last Saturday. What I did read left me so dispirited, even discouraged, that I was driven back to bed.

I wanted to read about the victims, those dead and those wounded and about the heros who wrestled the crazy shooter down to the ground. I wanted to know how this tragedy was affecting people who lived in Tucson.   

Instead the news everywhere was not based on facts but on wild speculation and the unhinged political rants of too many people who ought to have known better.   Even the memorial service seemed a raucous event, more a pep rally with shout-outs and T-shirts, hooping and hollering than a solemn occasion to express solidarity in grief.   

Last to speak, President Obama ennobled the entire event with dignity and grace, in what I think was the finest speech of his presidency. He paid tribute to the lives lost, to the heroes, and to the grieving families.   

He was moving, eloquent, and powerful.

But at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized -– at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who happen to think differently than we do -– it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we’re talking with each other in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds. (Applause.)

Scripture tells us that there is evil in the world, and that terrible things happen for reasons that defy human understanding. In the words of Job, “When I looked for light, then came darkness.” Bad things happen, and we have to guard against simple explanations in the aftermath.


For the truth is none of us can know exactly what triggered this vicious attack. None of us can know with any certainty what might have stopped these shots from being fired, or what thoughts lurked in the inner recesses of a violent man’s mind. Yes, we have to examine all the facts behind this tragedy. We cannot and will not be passive in the face of such violence. We should be willing to challenge old assumptions in order to lessen the prospects of such violence in the future. (Applause.) But what we cannot do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on each other. (Applause.) That we cannot do. (Applause.) That we cannot do.

As we discuss these issues, let each of us do so with a good dose of humility. Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let’s use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy and remind ourselves of all the ways that our hopes and dreams are bound together. (Applause.)


So sudden loss causes us to look backward -– but it also forces us to look forward; to reflect on the present and the future, on the manner in which we live our lives and nurture our relationships with those who are still with us. (Applause.)


We recognize our own mortality, and we are reminded that in the fleeting time we have on this Earth, what matters is not wealth, or status, or power, or fame -– but rather, how well we have loved — (applause)– and what small part we have played in making the lives of other people better. (Applause.)

And that process — that process of reflection, of making sure we align our values with our actions –- that, I believe, is what a tragedy like this requires.

He was inspiring and powerfully consoling, just what we, as a nation, needed. If you didn't see it, take the time to do so here
Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:40 PM | Permalink

January 10, 2011


Most people take as a given that the world is over-populated. Yet this man argues that Overpopulation is a myth and does the math to prove it.

Well, every person in the world could live inside of Texas without overcrowding. We could all have water with just the Columbia River alone. And we could easily feed ourselves with just the farmland within the US as it exists.

Canada. Mexico. Alaska. Central America. South America. Europe. Asia. Africa. Australia. Greenland. All the islands. All the oceans. The Great Lakes. All empty, devoid of people. No need to farm or live there.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:27 AM | Permalink

Mother, father, parent one and parent two

The decision by the State Department to remove 'Mother' and 'Father' from new passport applications and to substitute 'Parent One' and Parent Two'" was met with outrage and ridicule.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Brenda Sprague explained that the decision to remove traditional parenting names was not an act of political correctness. She said she would not use the word discriminatory to describe the old passport form.

“I would prefer to use the word imprecise,” she said. “It just didn’t capture the reality of their situation. Clearly, we want to be sensitive to the feelings of other people, but we are also very conscious of our need to introduce the greatest degree of precision to the process.”

The executive director of Family Equality Council, a gay rights group that lobbied for several years for the change, said

“Changing the term mother and father to the more global term of parent allows many different types of families to be able to go and apply for a passport for their child without feeling like the government doesn’t recognize their family,”

The feelings of regular mother-father families were disregarded until Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, no doubt fearing Congressional displeasure, ordered the State Department to retain "'Mother' and 'Father' as well as Parent One' and Parent Two'" .
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:45 AM | Permalink

January 8, 2011

Conservative ideas

In the last 20 years, conservative ideas, including the value of all work, which binds us to each other through the strange beauty of commerce and voluntary exchange, have done more to turn around American cities than four decades and hundreds of billions of dollars of welfare entitlements, social programs, and public housing ever did. More than 10,000 minority males are alive in New York City today who would have been dead, had New York’s homicide rate remained at its early 1990s level. A policy triumph doesn’t get any more concrete than that.

Heather MacDonald, Restoring the Social Order in City Journal.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:29 PM | Permalink

January 7, 2011

Slightly harder to read

A team of Princeton psychologists just released a new study that shows The Educational Benefit of Ugly Fonts

Numerous studies have found that making material harder to learn — what the researchers call disfluency — can actually improve long-term learning and retention:

There is strong theoretical justification to believe that disfluency could lead to improved retention and classroom performance. Disfluency has been shown to lead people to process information more deeply, more abstractly, more carefully, and yield better comprehension, all of which are critical to effective learning.


This study demonstrated that student retention of material across a wide range of subjects ... and difficulty levels ....can be significantly improved in naturalistic settings by presenting reading material in a format that is slightly harder to read….

If a simple change of font can significantly increase student performance, one can only imagine the number of beneficial cognitive interventions waiting to be discovered. Fluency demonstrates how we have the potential to make big improvements in the performance of our students and education system as a whole.

We all respond to a challenge by increasing our focus and attention.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:28 PM | Permalink

January 6, 2011

"Goodness is the only investment that never fails"

The Boston Globe lights up with the Top 10 Inspiring stories of 2010.

From Rudy Favard, co-captain of the Malden Catholic football team, whose Simple act elevates all


to the love of a sister who brought back her beloved big brother from the brooding soldier who returned home from Iraq suffering from PTSD, One step at a time.


to Brian Christopher, a homeless Navy vet who really could have used the money to buy presents for his children, a man in need finds wallet and moral compass, proving beyond a doubt there is one honest man in Boston.


Stories like these are important because they show us - and we all have to be reminded - how many people are doing great good, unnoticed, all around us.

"Goodness is the only investment that never fails," Henry David Thoreau.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:31 AM | Permalink

Drink up



Study: Abstaining from alcohol significantly shortens life

A newly released study shows that regular drinkers are less likely to die prematurely than people who have never indulged in alcohol. You read that right: Time reports that abstaining from alcohol altogether can lead to a shorter life than consistent, moderate drinking.

Surprised? The tightly controlled study, which looked at individuals between ages 55 and 65, spanned a 20-year period and accounted for variables ranging from socioeconomic status to level of physical activity. Led by psychologist Charles Holahan of the University of Texas at Austin, it found that mortality rates were highest for those who had never had a sip, lower for heavy drinkers, and lowest for moderate drinkers who enjoyed one to three drinks per day.

-- A possible explanation for this is that alcohol can be a great social lubricant, and strong social networks are essential for maintaining mental and physical health. Nondrinkers have been shown to demonstrate greater signs of depression than their carousing counterparts, and in addition to the potential heart health and circulation benefits of moderate drinking (especially red wine), it also increases sociability.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:58 AM | Permalink

"The most elite schools have become places of a narrow and suffocating normalcy"

The Disadvantages of an Elite Education

Our best universities have forgotten that the reason they exist is to make minds, not careers

The first disadvantage of an elite education, as I learned in my kitchen that day, is that it makes you incapable of talking to people who aren’t like you. Elite schools pride themselves on their diversity, but that diversity is almost entirely a matter of ethnicity and race. With respect to class, these schools are largely—indeed increasingly—homogeneous.

--But social intelligence and emotional intelligence and creative ability, to name just three other forms, are not distributed preferentially among the educational elite. The “best” are the brightest only in one narrow sense. ...The first disadvantage of an elite education is how very much of the human it alienates you from.

The second disadvantage, implicit in what I’ve been saying, is that an elite education inculcates a false sense of self-worth.

--Graduates of elite schools are not more valuable than stupid people, or talentless people, or even lazy people. Their pain does not hurt more. Their souls do not weigh more. If I were religious, I would say, God does not love them more.

--An elite education not only ushers you into the upper classes; it trains you for the life you will lead once you get there.....Elite schools nurture excellence, but they also nurture what a former Yale graduate student I know calls “entitled mediocrity.”

--An elite education gives you the chance to be rich—which is, after all, what we’re talking about—but it takes away the chance not to be.

--students from elite schools expect success, and expect it now. They have, by definition, never experienced anything else, and their sense of self has been built around their ability to succeed. The idea of not being successful terrifies them, disorients them, defeats them. They’ve been driven their whole lives by a fear of failure—often, in the first instance, by their parents’ fear of failure......most of them have seemed content to color within the lines that their education had marked out for them. Only a small minority have seen their education as part of a larger intellectual journey, have approached the work of the mind with a pilgrim soul.

--Being an intellectual begins with thinking your way outside of your assumptions and the system that enforces them. But students who get into elite schools are precisely the ones who have best learned to work within the system, so it’s almost impossible for them to see outside it, to see that it’s even there. Long before they got to college, they turned themselves into world-class hoop-jumpers and teacher-pleasers, getting A’s in every class no matter how boring they found the teacher or how pointless the subject, racking up eight or 10 extracurricular activities no matter what else they wanted to do with their time.

--The most elite schools have become places of a narrow and suffocating normalcy.

-- I do know that the life of the mind is lived one mind at a time: one solitary, skeptical, resistant mind at a time. The best place to cultivate it is not within an educational system whose real purpose is to reproduce the class system.

--The disadvantage of an elite education is that it’s given us the elite we have, and the elite we’re going to have.

via David Brooks

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:05 AM | Permalink

An 'elaborate fraud'

Retracted autism study an 'elaborate fraud,' British journal finds

A now-retracted British study that linked autism to childhood vaccines was an "elaborate fraud" that has done long-lasting damage to public health, a leading medical publication reported Wednesday.

An investigation published by the British medical journal BMJ concludes the study's author, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, misrepresented or altered the medical histories of all 12 of the patients whose cases formed the basis of the 1998 study -- and that there was "no doubt" Wakefield was responsible.

"It's one thing to have a bad study, a study full of error, and for the authors then to admit that they made errors," Fiona Godlee, BMJ's editor-in-chief, told CNN. "But in this case, we have a very different picture of what seems to be a deliberate attempt to create an impression that there was a link by falsifying the data."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:49 AM | Permalink

January 4, 2011

"Permanence is the illusion of every age"

In The New Criterion, Mark Steyn decries the erosion of personal liberty, the loss of cultural inheritance and the debauching of human capital in Dependence Day.

What happens when, as a matter of state policy, you debauch your human capital? The United Kingdom has the highest drug use in Europe, the highest incidence of sexually transmitted disease, the highest number of single mothers; marriage is all but defunct, except for toffs, upscale gays, and Muslims. For Americans, the quickest way to understand modern Britain is to look at what lbj’s Great Society did to the black family and imagine it applied to the general population. One-fifth of British children are raised in homes in which no adult works. Just under 900,000 people have been off sick for over a decade, claiming “sick benefits,” week in, week out, for ten years and counting. “Indolence,” as Machiavelli understood, is the greatest enemy of a free society, but rarely has any state embraced this oldest temptation as literally as Britain. There is almost nothing you can’t get the government to pay for.


After Big Government, after global retreat, after the loss of liberty, there is only remorseless civic disintegration.

-- Permanence is the illusion of every age. But you cannot wage a sustained ideological assault on your own civilization without profound consequence.


In our time, to be born a citizen of the United States is to win first prize in the lottery of life, and, as Britons did, too many Americans assume it will always be so. Do you think the laws of God will be suspended in favor of America because you were born in it? Great convulsions lie ahead, and at the end of it we may be in a post-Anglosphere world.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 6:28 PM | Permalink

Wisdom of the Hands

In Boston, woodworking as a class in middle school and high school is seeing a resurgence.

Drills and skills

While there’s no quick fix, many woodworking teachers are convinced that getting students to work with their hands and not just their heads would help. They believe that shuttering the shops was irresponsible and shortsighted, a mistake that has helped create a dependent generation of young people who don’t know how to fix things and lack even the most basic manual competence. They say it’s also alienated students whose intelligence and gifts do not lie in traditional classroom learning.

“Does working with your hands make you smarter? Woodworking teachers have observed that effect for years,’’ said Doug Stowe, an Arkansas woodworker and teacher who writes a blog called “Wisdom of the Hands,’’ which advances the concept that hands are essential to learning.


“Culturally, we reward people who are very good in mathematics and writing, and we also value athletes,’’ he said. “But there are a lot of kids in the world who are extremely talented experiencing the world through their hands. And I think we should support them and help them.’’

Posted by Jill Fallon at 6:13 PM | Permalink

January 3, 2011

Liquid Biopsy

This is a big deal

Blood test to spot cancer gets big boost - Johnson and Johnson announce plans to bring "liquid biopsy" to market

BOSTON — A blood test so sensitive that it can spot a single cancer cell lurking among a billion healthy ones is moving one step closer to being available at your doctor's office.

Boston scientists who invented the test and health care giant Johnson & Johnson will announce Monday that they are joining forces to bring it to market. Four big cancer centers also will start studies using the experimental test this year.

Stray cancer cells in the blood mean that a tumor has spread or is likely to, many doctors believe. A test that can capture such cells has the potential to transform care for many types of cancer, especially breast, prostate, colon and lung.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:22 PM | Permalink

Sliding into anarchy

It may seem incredible to some that the children no longer play soccer on the streets as before. Now they pretend to be assassins. They form teams, just as before, but now they arm their mini commando units to engage in imaginary battles that perhaps in the future will be their reality.

The girls too form part of this game, leaving their dolls to the side to turn themselves into assassins. Some are even the commanders in these play groups of children.

The drug cartels are taking over Mexico amid escalating violence and corruption. Close to 40,000 Mexicans have been killed by drug violence in the past four years.

A nation sharing a border with the U.S. descending into anarchy is a frightful thought for Americans, and the obvious implications of such an event should be causing concern throughout the halls of the White House and the State Department.

Failed State Watch: How Much Longer for Mexico?

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:01 PM | Permalink

Resist the eclipse of reason, preserve the capacity to see the essential, the very future of the world is at stake

Theodore Darlrymple calls Pope Benedict, the "George Orwell of our time".

A great deal of the hostility to the Pope’s visit was likewise caused by his having been right, at least in some things, such as the insufficiency of consumerist materialism as a basis for a satisfactory existence. There are few human types less attractive, surely, than failed materialists, which is what the British, or at least so many of them, now are. They consume without discrimination what they have not earned: which is why many of them are so grotesquely fat as well as so deeply indebted. Indeed, there is scarcely any kind of debt or deficit to which we as a nation have not resorted in order to continue (at least for a time) on our vulgar and degraded way. A nation that behaves thus is quite without honour or self-respect, collective or individual. All this Benedict XVI has seen with a perfectly clear eye; and if what George Orwell once wrote, that we have now sunk to a depth at which the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men, we might even call the Pope the George Orwell of our time.

The Pope is becoming more prophetic, even more apocalyptic . In his Christmas address to the Roman curia he calls to mind

the decline of the Roman empire

Excita, Domine, potentiam tuam, et veni. [Awaken your power Lord and come] Repeatedly during the season of Advent the Church’s liturgy prays in these or similar words. They are invocations that were probably formulated as the Roman Empire was in decline. The disintegration of the key principles of law and of the fundamental moral attitudes underpinning them burst open the dams which until that time had protected peaceful coexistence among peoples. The sun was setting over an entire world. Frequent natural disasters further increased this sense of insecurity. There was no power in sight that could put a stop to this decline. All the more insistent, then, was the invocation of the power of God: the plea that he might come and protect his people from all these threats.


For all its new hopes and possibilities, our world is at the same time troubled by the sense that moral consensus is collapsing, consensus without which juridical and political structures cannot function. Consequently the forces mobilized for the defence of such structures seem doomed to failure.

addresses the clergy sex abuse crisis again in all its gravity

when in this year of all years [The Year for Priests] and to a degree we could not have imagined, we came to know of abuse of minors committed by priests who twist the sacrament into its antithesis, and under the mantle of the sacred profoundly wound human persons in their childhood, damaging them for a whole lifetime.


Only the truth saves. We must ask ourselves what we can do to repair as much as possible the injustice that has occurred. We must ask ourselves what was wrong in our proclamation, in our whole way of living the Christian life, to allow such a thing to happen. We must discover a new resoluteness in faith and in doing good. We must be capable of doing penance. We must be determined to make every possible effort in priestly formation to prevent anything of the kind from happening again

puts it in context,

We are well aware of the particular gravity of this sin committed by priests and of our corresponding responsibility. But neither can we remain silent regarding the context of these times in which these events have come to light. There is a market in child pornography that seems in some way to be considered more and more normal by society. The psychological destruction of children, in which human persons are reduced to articles of merchandise, is a terrifying sign of the times. From Bishops of developing countries I hear again and again how sexual tourism threatens an entire generation and damages its freedom and its human dignity.


In this context, the problem of drugs also rears its head, and with increasing force extends its octopus tentacles around the entire world – an eloquent expression of the tyranny of mammon which perverts mankind. No pleasure is ever enough, and the excess of deceiving intoxication becomes a violence that tears whole regions apart – and all this in the name of a fatal misunderstanding of freedom which actually undermines man’s freedom and ultimately destroys it.

seeks its ultimate ideological source

In the 1970s, paedophilia was theorized as something fully in conformity with man and even with children. This, however, was part of a fundamental perversion of the concept of ethos. It was maintained – even within the realm of Catholic theology – that there is no such thing as evil in itself or good in itself. There is only a “better than” and a “worse than”. Nothing is good or bad in itself. Everything depends on the circumstances and on the end in view. Anything can be good or also bad, depending upon purposes and circumstances. Morality is replaced by a calculus of consequences, and in the process it ceases to exist.

He talks about an awareness of shared responsibility at this moment in history

Alexis de Tocqueville, in his day, observed that democracy in America had become possible and had worked because there existed a fundamental moral consensus which, transcending individual denominations, united everyone. Only if there is such a consensus on the essentials can constitutions and law function. This fundamental consensus derived from the Christian heritage is at risk wherever its place, the place of moral reasoning, is taken by the purely instrumental rationality of which I spoke earlier. In reality, this makes reason blind to what is essential. To resist this eclipse of reason and to preserve its capacity for seeing the essential, for seeing God and man, for seeing what is good and what is true, is the common interest that must unite all people of good will.

The very future of the world is at stake.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:50 AM | Permalink

January 2, 2011

European youths face a dark future

Europe's Young Grow Agitated Over Future Prospects

Francesca Esposito, 29 and exquisitely educated, helped win millions of euros in false disability and other lawsuits for her employer, a major Italian state agency. But one day last fall she quit, fed up with how surreal and ultimately sad it is to be young in Italy today.

It galled her that even with her competence and fluency in five languages, it was nearly impossible to land a paying job. Working as an unpaid trainee lawyer was bad enough, she thought, but doing it at Italy’s social security administration seemed too much. She not only worked for free on behalf of the nation’s elderly, who have generally crowded out the young for jobs, but her efforts there did not even apply to her own pension.


Giuliano Amato, an economist and former Italian prime minister, was even more blunt. “By now, only a few people refuse to understand that youth protests aren’t a protest against the university reform, but against a general situation in which the older generations have eaten the future of the younger ones,”


As a result, a deep malaise has set in among young people. Some take to the streets in protest; others emigrate to Northern Europe or beyond in an epic brain drain of college graduates. But many more suffer in silence, living in their childhood bedrooms well into adulthood because they cannot afford to move out.

“They call us the lost generation,”

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:43 PM | Permalink

Nationalizing private pensions

If a state doesn't want to cut spending and so endure civil unrest , where else are they going to get money they need?

European nations begin seizing private pensions to make up government budget shortfalls.

People’s retirement savings are a convenient source of revenue for governments that don’t want to reduce spending or make privatizations. As most pension schemes in Europe are organised by the state, European ministers of finance have a facilitated access to the savings accumulated there, and it is only logical that they try to get a hold of this money for their own ends. In recent weeks I have noted five such attempts: Three situations concern private personal savings; two others refer to national funds.

The first three are Hungary, Bulgaria, and Poland. The latter two are Ireland and France.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:36 PM | Permalink

One Secret to a Happy Marriage

A social study confirms what all societies have believed up and down the centuries.

Want the secret to a happy marriage? Don't have sex before the wedding

But, according to a new study, it is couples who delay sex until after the wedding that enjoy a stronger relationship later in life.

Scientists at the School of Family Life at Brigham Young University, in Utah interviewed 2,035 married people about when they first had sex with their partner.

Analysis of the results showed that couples who waited until marriage before having sex enjoyed a much healthier relationship with their partner than those who started having sex in the early part of their relationship.

----In particular, relationship stability was rated 22 per cent higher, relationship satisfaction was 20 per cent higher, quality of sex was 15 per cent better and even communication between partners was 12 per cent better.

For couples who became sexually involved later in their relationship, but before marriage, the benefits were about half as strong.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:27 PM | Permalink

The Splintering of Black America

In The Great Unraveling,  Raymond Arsenault reviews the new book by Eugene Robinson, Disintegration, The Splintering of Black America

[Robinson] demonstrates rather convincingly that no one belongs to the black community anymore. The race-based community that was a fixture of American life for generations — the traditional locus of racial experience and solidarity, the idealized entity that many of us still refer to, indeed still cling to, as an institutional and social reality — no longer exists. That, in a nutshell, is the thesis of this slim but powerful book.

During the past four decades, Robinson persuasively argues, black America has splintered into four subgroups: the Transcendent elite; the Mainstream middle class, which now accounts for a majority of black Americans; an Emergent community made up of mixed-race families and black immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean; and the Abandoned, a large and growing underclass concentrated in the inner cities and depressed pockets of the rural South.

Divided by economics and culture, these four groups have little in common and little reason to identify with one another. For better or for worse — and Robinson offers strong evidence for both positive and negative effects — the ethos of racial solidarity that served blacks well during the Jim Crow era and the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and ’60s is gone. Thus, continued references to “black leaders” or the “black agenda” make no sense and serve only to obscure the complexities of race in a vast, multicultural nation.

"Disintegration: The Splintering of Black America" (Eugene Robinson)

This book is full of facts, figures and telling anecdotes related to the disintegration of black America, but its real power resides elsewhere. Sometimes writers tell us something familiar — something that we already know, or that we should know — but they do it in such a creative and cleareyed way and with such force that we begin to see things differently independent of any new information. This is exactly what Eugene Robinson has done in “Disintegration.”

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:22 PM | Permalink

The "slipperiness of empiricism" when "our facts are losing their truth"

It began with an examination into why certain drugs lose their effectiveness after a period of time.

Before the effectiveness of a drug can be confirmed, it must be tested and tested again. Different scientists in different labs need to repeat the protocols and publish their results. The test of replicability, as it’s known, is the foundation of modern research. Replicability is how the community enforces itself. It’s a safeguard for the creep of subjectivity. Most of the time, scientists know what results they want, and that can influence the results they get. The premise of replicability is that the scientific community can correct for these flaws.

But now all sorts of well-established, multiply confirmed findings have started to look increasingly uncertain. It’s as if our facts were losing their truth: claims that have been enshrined in textbooks are suddenly unprovable. This phenomenon doesn’t yet have an official name, but it’s occurring across a wide range of fields, from psychology to ecology. In the field of medicine, the phenomenon seems extremely widespread, affecting not only antipsychotics but also therapies ranging from cardiac stents to Vitamin E and antidepressants.

The phenomenon, dubbed the decline effect, proved more wide-reaching, more mysterious and far more troubling than anyone could have imagined.

Such anomalies demonstrate the slipperiness of empiricism. Although many scientific ideas generate conflicting results and suffer from falling effect sizes, they continue to get cited in the textbooks and drive standard medical practice. Why? Because these ideas seem true. Because they make sense. Because we can’t bear to let them go. And this is why the decline effect is so troubling. Not because it reveals the human fallibility of science, in which data are tweaked and beliefs shape perceptions. (Such shortcomings aren’t surprising, at least for scientists.) And not because it reveals that many of our most exciting theories are fleeting fads and will soon be rejected. (That idea has been around since Thomas Kuhn.) The decline effect is troubling because it reminds us how difficult it is to prove anything.

The Decline Effect and the Scientific Method in The New Yorker

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:17 PM | Permalink

Digital Detox

Of course, she's writing a book about it

The mother who banned TV, internet and games consoles for six months and transformed her family's lives

initiated ‘The Experiment’, as it became known, because over a period of years I had watched and worried as the plethora of electronic gadgets in our home began to create a force field — separating my children from what my son, only half ironically, called ‘RL’ (Real Life). For much of the time we were sitting in separate rooms of the house, hunched over our devices, barely communicating. It had to be unhealthy.

___Anni has taken up cooking. She made beautiful banana muffins ... and an entire meal for friends and family last night. She has announced her intention to compile a personal cook book and has started writing down recipes. I was surprised by her tidy handwriting — I don’t think I’ve seen it since she was ten.

Bill has recently fished his old saxophone out of the toy cupboard. Listening to him playing Summertime after dinner was a moment of pure joy. It had been ages since I’d heard him play anything that didn’t involve a joystick or a mouse ----

__The children worried that life would be ‘boring’ without technology, but I think they are slowly starting to realise it was actually much more tedious when our lives were dominated by media.

_digital_detox_family.jpg -

As a long-term strategy, technology blackouts like the one we undertook are probably as effective as the Three-Day Lemon Detox Diet is for lifelong weight control. But as a consciousness-raising exercise, it really did work. No amount of talk (let alone yelling) could ever have persuaded my children of the extent of their media dependencies — and the value of time spent away from them — as eloquently as even a week of information abstinence. As The Experiment went on, I watched as my children awoke slowly to become more focused, logical thinkers.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:26 AM | Permalink

January 1, 2011

Happy New Year everyone

"And now let us welcome the new year, full of things that have never been."

Rainer Maria Rilke


The story behind this Cloud Angel

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:19 PM | Permalink