Andrea Harner
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May 14, 2009

David Simon of The Wire interview

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I'm currently reading David Simon's Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets which I also recommend!

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* Thanks to Stuart Michie for the link!

May 12, 2009

Check out today's Science Times section of the NY Times for lots of forensics related articles!!!

April 23, 2009

This is precisely why I've always been a fan of underwire bras/Bullet bounces off US woman's bra

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A US woman had a lucky escape when a burglar's bullet bounced off the metal underwire in her bra.

Police in the city of Detroit said one of three intruders fired a shot when the woman looked out of her window and saw them raiding the house next door.

The bullet smashed the window and hit her, but instead of causing serious injury - or worse - it was deflected off the wiring in her bra.

The unnamed 57-year-old woman was taken to hospital and released the same day.

"It did slow the bullet down," said a police spokesman. "She sustained injuries but they're not life-threatening."

Continue reading...

* Thanks for the link, Zee Myers!!!

April 14, 2009

A Tree Grows in Lung

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April 9, 2009

Arizona: Fake Student Sentenced. What a stand-up guy.
A youthful-looking sex offender who posed as a 12-year-old boy to enroll in several Arizona schools was sentenced to more than 70 years in prison. The man, Neil H. Rodreick II, 31, pleaded guilty last year to seven criminal charges. Most involved child pornography, but two stemmed from the charade he pulled off for two years. Mr. Rodreick attended schools in Payson, Prescott Valley and Surprise starting in 2005. The authorities said he shaved and wore makeup to help him appear younger, convincing teachers, students and administrators that he was a boy named Casey. He was caught in January 2007 after spending a day in the seventh grade at a Chino Valley school when school officials became suspicious because his birth certificate and other documents looked forged. They had initially thought they might be dealing with a child who had been abducted.

* via NY Times print edition!

My friend from high school Tosan Omabegho's work is published in Science and NY Times! Don't ask me to explain the work but I am proud of Toaster OnABagel!!

Experiment Shows Molecules Can Walk, but Can They Dance? By Henry Fountain

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In efforts to create motors and other machines on the scale of molecules — machines that can act as tiny assembly lines to make novel compounds — the devices have to walk before they can run. And when it comes to walking, molecular machines have to be able to do so on their own, in the proper direction. Most molecular walkers need some help, in the form of chemicals to keep them going, and they tend to wander.

Researchers at New York University and Harvard have created a two-legged walker, made from a strand of DNA, that solves both of those problems — it walks on its own in one direction along a track, also made of DNA strands.

Nadrian C. Seeman, a professor at N.Y.U. and the author, with Tosan Omabegho and Ruojie Sha, of a paper in Science describing the work, said one key to their walker’s autonomy is that binding the forward part of the DNA strand — the leading “leg” — to the track releases a chemical that catalyzes the release of the trailing “leg,” which then dangles forward and binds with the track again. This synchronized two-step process, which covers about fifty-billionths of a meter, should be repeatable for any length of track, Dr. Seeman said.

The idea behind making walkers, he added, is to emulate motor proteins like kinesin, which carry large molecules around a cell. Walkers would carry a similar molecular “cargo” down the track that would react with other molecules at various points. The final product, at the end of the track, would depend on what those other molecules were.

Conceptually, Dr. Seeman said, it’s not all that different from a car assembly line, where the initial components travel along a track and other components are added on along the way. A walker would be a chemical assembly line, he said, “making things that haven’t been made before.”

China Rights Activist Beaten in Cemetery By Sharon LaFraniere, NY Times
BEIJING — Last Saturday was tomb-sweeping day, when the Chinese traditionally honor the dead. Sun Wenguang, a 75-year-old retired professor, was one of many to visit the cemetery.

Apparently, though, he chose the wrong death to commemorate. He came to remember Zhao Ziyang, a former prime minister and Communist Party general secretary who lost his party position and his freedom after sympathizing with student-led, pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989. Mr. Zhao, who died in 2005, is a martyr to some democracy advocates.

As Mr. Sun entered the cemetery in Jinan, a city about 230 miles south of Beijing, he said, four or five men attacked him and beat him severely. He is now in a Jinan hospital with three broken ribs and injuries to his spine, head, back, arms and legs, according to China Human Rights Defenders, a Hong Kong-based group. The group said the attack on Mr. Sun was part of a concerted effort by the Chinese government to head off any efforts to memorialize the deaths of hundreds of Tiananmen Square protesters on June 4, the 20th anniversary of the government’s crackdown.

“Chinese authorities are staging a campaign of terror to intimidate and suppress expressions of commemoration for the 1989 Tiananmen massacre,” the group said in a statement. The attack on Mr. Sun “is part of the overall campaign,” it said.

Public security officials in Jinan referred calls about the attack to the propaganda office of the city’s Communist Party. No one answered phone calls to that office on Tuesday night.

Mr. Sun said he had previously visited the cemetery on Qingming Day to honor Mr. Zhao’s death without serious incident. But this year, he said, he announced his forthcoming visit on the Internet.

“It is important for China to restore the memory of its history,” Mr. Sun said in a telephone interview from his hospital bed. “Zhao Ziyang is such an important person in Chinese history, and students today have no idea who he is. That is outrageous.”

As he left the teacher’s dormitory at Shandong University, he said, a public security officer and about 20 plainclothes officers tried to stop him. “They said, ‘Don’t go there today. So many people are going there. It is dangerous,’ ” he said.

When he got into a taxi, a car followed him, he said. He said he had started down a cemetery path, carrying a banner that read “Condolences for the heroes who died for freedom,” when four or five men jumped him from behind.

He said the attackers lifted him off the ground, threw him into a deep ditch, and kicked and beat him for more than 10 minutes. Other people came to the edge of the ditch, he said, “but nobody tried to help.” Finally, a uniformed officer showed up and called an ambulance, he said.

In the four days he has been in the hospital, the police have not shown up to investigate, he said.

“I still feel very weak. And I think probably my days are numbered. But I don’t feel regret. I am 75 years old and I would be very happy to sacrifice my life for my ideals,” he said.

Mr. Sun has a long history of activism. He was imprisoned for seven years in the 1970s for criticizing Mao and his successor, Hua Guofeng, and was among the first to sign Charter 08, a manifesto issued in December that calls for democratic reforms.

Still, he said: “I didn’t expect this. I was not trying to organize any group of people. It was just a personal visit to a cemetery. In order to fight for democracy, we need to make personal efforts.”

* via NY Times print edition!!!.

April 7, 2009

Radiologist Adds a Human Touch: Photos By Dina Kraft, NY Times

THIS IS ONE OF THOSE ARTICLES THAT MAKE YOU GO, OF COURSE! DUH! WHY WASN'T THIS ALWAYS THE PROTOCOL? I AM A BIG DR. TURNER FAN.

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When Dr. Yehonatan N. Turner began his residency in radiology, he was frustrated that the CT scans he analyzed revealed nothing about the patients behind them — only their internal organs. So to make things personal, he imagined each patient was his father.

But then he had a better idea: attach a photograph of the actual patient to each file.

“I was looking for a way to make each case feel unique and less abstract,” said Dr. Turner, 36, now a third-year resident at Shaare Zedek Medical Center here. “I thought having a photo of the patient would help me relate in a deeper way.”

Dr. Turner’s hunch turned into an unusual medical study. Its preliminary findings, presented in Chicago last December at a conference of the Radiological Society of North America, suggested that when a digital photograph was attached to a patient’s file, radiologists provided longer, more meticulous reports. And they said they felt more connected to the patients, whom they seldom meet face to face.

In the digital age, adding a photo to a file is a simple procedure, and the study’s authors say they hope it becomes a standard procedure — not just for radiologists but also for pathologists and other doctors who rarely have contact with patients.

Radiologists spend most of their working hours in darkened rooms with large, high-resolution computer screens where they read and analyze dozens of scans and X-rays each day.

The process can feel mechanical and detached. But Dr. Jonathan Halevy, the director of Shaare Zedek, says that “when there is a picture, your attitude and approach changes — the human aspect is inserted.”

Important clues to patients’ conditions can sometimes be seen in their faces. Clicking through photos of patients who participated in the study, Dr. Turner pointed to an older man with a bruiselike hematoma around the eyes — a possible sign of brain injury. Paleness or jaundice might indicate various kinds of organ problems.

In the initial study, a group of Shaare Zedek radiologists rotated through three groupings, reviewing more than 300 files of patients who had agreed to have their pictures taken.

In the first group, radiologists received a photo of the patient along with the file; after three months they reviewed the same file, this time without the picture. In the second group, they interpreted the patient’s file without a photo, and three months later were presented with the same file, this time with a photo. A control group interpreted scans without photos.

The researchers found that the radiologists’ reports were significantly more thorough in all cases when a photograph was attached to a patient’s scan. Reports were longer, more recommendations made, summaries usually included and more incidental findings recorded.

In a questionnaire that was also part of the study, the radiologists said that the photos helped them relate better to the patients and that they themselves felt “more like physicians.”

Continue reading...

April 6, 2009

Brain Researchers Open Door to Editing Memory By Benedict Carey, NY Times

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Suppose scientists could erase certain memories by tinkering with a single substance in the brain. Could make you forget a chronic fear, a traumatic loss, even a bad habit.

Researchers in Brooklyn have recently accomplished comparable feats, with a single dose of an experimental drug delivered to areas of the brain critical for holding specific types of memory, like emotional associations, spatial knowledge or motor skills.

The drug blocks the activity of a substance that the brain apparently needs to retain much of its learned information. And if enhanced, the substance could help ward off dementias and other memory problems.

So far, the research has been done only on animals. But scientists say this memory system is likely to work almost identically in people.

The discovery of such an apparently critical memory molecule, and its many potential uses, are part of the buzz surrounding a field that, in just the past few years, has made the seemingly impossible suddenly probable: neuroscience, the study of the brain.

“If this molecule is as important as it appears to be, you can see the possible implications,” said Dr. Todd C. Sacktor, a 52-year-old neuroscientist who leads the team at the SUNY Downstate Medical Center, in Brooklyn, which demonstrated its effect on memory. “For trauma. For addiction, which is a learned behavior. Ultimately for improving memory and learning.”

Continue reading...

April 2, 2009

Deep Green Living on HuffingtonPost! Greening My House: Power Strips, White Light Lamps, Compost Jars, and Logs Made of Coffee Grounds

Check out Arianna's write-up about her house and office getting greenified by my friend Susan Short's company Deep Green Living!! We can all live a little greener - you know it's true! Now turn off that light you're not using and feel better about yourself :-)

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March 30, 2009

Explaining Fiscal Foolishness--Psychology and the Economy: A behavioral scientist discusses the irrational human impulses that led to the economic downturn, Scientific American Mind magazine
Peter A. Ubel is professor of medicine and psychology at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, where he explores the quirks in human nature that influence our health, happiness and society. He is author of the book Free Market Madness (Harvard Business School Press, 2009), which investigates the irrational tics that lead people to overbid on eBay, eat too much ice cream and take out mortgages they cannot afford. In an interview with Jonah Lehrer, Ubel explains how innate optimism, greed and ignorance can depress financial and physical well-being—and how individuals can commit to change.

Scientific American Mind: Your new book, Free Market Madness, argues that conventional economics, which assumes that humans are rational agents acting in their own self-interest, is deeply naive and scientifically unrealistic. Instead you describe a brain brimming with biases and flaws. Do you think these flaws are responsible for the latest economic turmoil? If so, how?

Peter Ubel: Irrationality is responsible for the economic mess we find ourselves in
right now—irrationality plus greed, of course, and a sub­stan­tial dose of ignorance. Let us start with ignorance. I am sad to say that many Americans have a difficult time with even simple math—around a third of American adults cannot calculate 10 percent of 1,000. People who struggle with concepts such as percents have an extremely difficult time with more complicated ideas, such as compounding of savings and, very relevant to our cur­rent crisis, adjustable-rate mortgages.

To make matters worse, most of us are hardwired for optimism. Ask us how we rate as drivers, and the vast majority of us are convinced we are above average—even those of us who have gotten into multiple car accidents. As a result of our unrealistic optimism, we are convinced that our incomes will rise fast enough to keep up with our outsized mortgage, or that our adjustable rate will not rise, or that our house’s value will indefinitely outpace inflation. We are social beings, too, and frequently judge our own decisions by seeing what other people are doing. If my neighbor added on a new kitchen with a home equity loan, I might assume that is a good idea for me, even if a more rational weighing of my finances would suggest otherwise. Even savvy financiers can get caught up in irrational impulses. If a competitor’s firm makes huge profits on risky loans, it is easy for me to push aside my fears about such risks: if he took those risks and was rewarded, maybe I overestimated the risks!

Mind: What can eBay teach us about human irrationality?

Ubel: eBay auctions help to reveal the rational and irrational forces driving consumer behavior. People are often quite rational, after all. Raise the price of a T-shirt, and generally, fewer people will buy it. Reduce the quality of a good, and you better reduce its price, too! But behavioral economists have analyzed eBay data to help identify some ways that consumers act irrationally. [For more on eBay and irrationality, see “Is Greed Good?” by Christoph Uhlhaas; Scientific American Mind, August/September 2007.] Offer a really low price for opening bids, a price everyone knows will not be the final selling price, and you nonetheless lure some consumers into making an initial bid. That increases the number of people bidding on the product, which makes it look more attractive, thereby generating even more bids. And then bidders, who knew the price would rise from their initial bids, get emotionally attached to the product and keep raising their offers. Now you know why it makes sense to tell people that bids for that Picasso hanging in your living room can start at $5!

Mind: You also argue that by taking our own irrationality into account, we can improve our health and well-being. Can you provide an example of a way to achieve such improvement?

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March 25, 2009

And the Winner Is ‘Colbert’.

I LOVE HOW SOMBERLY THIS IS WRITTEN:

NASA’s online contest to name a new room at the International Space Station went awry. The comedian Stephen Colbert won. The name Colbert beat out NASA’s four suggested options in the space agency’s effort to have the public help name the addition. NASA’s mistake was allowing write-ins. Mr. Colbert urged viewers of his Comedy Central show, “The Colbert Report,” to write in his name. And they complied, with 230,539 votes. That beat Serenity, one of the NASA choices, by more than 40,000 votes. Nearly 1.2 million votes were cast by the time the contest ended Friday. NASA reserves the right to choose an appropriate name, and an agency spokesman said NASA would decide in April.

* via NY Times.

An 18-year-old has secretly painted a 60ft drawing of a phallus on the roof of his parents' £1million mansion in Berkshire. It was there for a year before his parents found out. They say he'll have to scrub it off when he gets back from travelling.

I KIND OF LOVE THIS KID.

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* Thanks to Mary Patterson for knowing I would appreciate this!

March 23, 2009

Mrs. Obama Speaks Out About Her Household By Marian Burros, NY Times. I admit I am smitten with the Michelle-Barack relationship

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Reporters are not the only ones with a particularly keen interest in what Michelle Obama wears. Her husband, Mrs. Obama says, notices everything. In fact, she has learned not to wear a certain gray metallic belt when the president is around.

“Barack calls it my ‘Star Trek’ belt,” the first lady said in an interview this week. “He doesn’t understand fashion.”

The interview, which started out on the subject of the new White House vegetable garden, ended up ranging over a variety of household topics, which Mrs. Obama addressed with substantial fun-poking at her husband, her mother and herself.

On the president and her wardrobe:

“He’s always asking: ‘Is that new? I haven’t seen that before.’ It’s like, Why don’t you mind your own business? Solve world hunger. Get out of my closet.”

She teasingly imitated him: “You didn’t need any more shoes. The shoes you had on yesterday were fine. Why can’t you just wear that for the rest of the presidency?”

Continue reading...

March 20, 2009

Not sure who's more retarded: AIG security or employees. Really?? I shouldn't wear my AIG pins for flair?? Or my AIG backpack and the AIG totes I sling on each arm?? Shucks!!

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* via BuzzFeed!

March 19, 2009

Jonah Peretti, HuffingtonPost.com & Time magazine. I'm proud of my hubby series!

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There is flattery, there is shameless flattery, and there are conversations with Arianna Huffington. She'll talk to old men about their libido, beautiful women about their intelligence, the unemployed about their talent and the wealthy about their artistic depth. In her hands, a compliment is the social equivalent of a Tomahawk missile, launched in stealth at a heavily researched target and perilously difficult to defend against.

As recently as five years ago, this ability — plus a native braininess and a healthy dose of opportunism — had earned her a regular seat at soirées in the Washington–New York City–Los Angeles triad, as well as a modest media profile. She was once referred to as "the most upwardly mobile Greek since Icarus."

Today Icarus is in her shade. In February the Huffington Post, the website she started in 2005 with Ken Lerer and viral-marketing guru Jonah Peretti, became the 15th most popular news site, just below the Washington Post's and above the BBC's. It garnered 8.9 million unique users that month, according to Nielsen — more than double what it attracted a year ago. It gets a million-plus comments from readers a month. A business newswire recently valued the site at more than $90 million. Only one independently held online-content company (Nick Denton's Gawker properties) is worth more.

HuffPo, as it's known, has reached this level of prominence with 55 paid staffers, including Huffington. Twenty-eight of them are editorial, compared with more than 1,000 at the New York Times. Open the site on any given day and you will be greeted with copy from the Associated Press, contributions from unpaid writers, stories whose legwork was done by other news outlets and a smattering of entries from the site's five reporters. In terms of traditional newspaper content, that's about the level of a solid small-town daily.

But some people believe this model may fundamentally change the news business. When the Seattle Post-Intelligencer became the first large daily newspaper to stop printing and move entirely to the Web, on March 18, the new site was structured uncannily like HuffPo, its original content reduced and jostling for space with guest blogs, wire stories and links to other news sites.

The success of her site has allowed Huffington, 58, to reinvent herself again, from Bush-bashing pundit to media mogul and digital pioneer. But as the enterprise grows, even a pedigreed networker like Huffington may find that it's hard to keep friends in the media when she's killing their business.

Necessary Huffness
All the residents of Huffington's large romantic stone house in Brentwood, Calif., are female: Huffington, her sister Agapi and her two daughters Christina, 19, and Isabella, 17. The walls of the living room are adorned with paintings by Françoise Gilot, one of Picasso's lovers, and Kimberly Brooks, the wife of actor Albert Brooks. Isabella's room is covered with photographs by Annie Leibovitz. Most members of the house staff are women — Huffington even uses her housekeeper as chauffeur when necessary. "My mom's not good at driving," Isabella says. The matriarch is a deft hostess; there's always something to eat and, in the way of female gathering places, lots of conversation.

The Huffington Post was hatched at a party here not long after the 2004 presidential election. Former AOL executive Lerer, who professes to hate parties and to barely have known Huffington at the time, had already launched an anti-NRA site. He saw the need for a counterpoint to Matt Drudge's popular right-leaning website. "For about half an hour it was called the Huffington-Lerer Report," says Lerer. "But I'm shy." He and Huffington raised a million dollars, and Lerer brought in Peretti, his buddy from the anti-NRA website. The Huffington Post was to have three basic functions: blog, news aggregator with an attitude and place for premoderated comments.

Continue reading...

“All knowledge is connected to all other knowledge. The fun is in making the connections.” Arthur Aufderheide. Great quote I just learned from Sally!
Nakameguro: Still Hip After Blossoms Fade in Tokyo By Jamie Brisick, NY Times. I MISS JAPAN series!

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Up until a few years ago, Nakameguro was best known for the narrow, cherry tree-lined Meguro River, which bisects the neighborhood and draws tourists from all corners of Japan, particularly during the spring festival season. Then came the cafes, restaurants, bars and boutiques, most of which are low-key and laid-back, especially when compared with the hustle and bustle in nearby Shibuya.

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Today, Nakameguro has gained a reputation as one of Tokyo’s hippest neighborhoods, a harmonious melding of old and new, urban and rustic.

“It’s a hub of celebrities, musicians, designers and comedians,” said Fraser Cooke, who moved to Nakameguro from London three years ago to work as Nike’s global-brand energy leader. “It’s tipped as a major hot spot in the design community, more foreigners live here than ever before, and there’s new restaurants popping up everywhere.”

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One of those restaurants, Kijima (1-23-3 Aobadai Towa Building, 3F; 81-3-5720-7366), opened in May; specialties include a delicious shabu shabu salad (1,200 yen, $12.03 at 99.78 yen to the dollar) and kakuni (simmered pork belly; 1,000 yen), as well as nikujaga (beef, potato and onion stew; 1,200 yen), which is finished at your table by a kimono-clad waitress. Kijima’s sliding doors, black walls and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the cherry trees create a vibe that is both elegant and earthy.

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Across the river, Higashiya (1-13-12 Aobadai; 81-3-5428-1717; www.higashiya.com) approaches sweets with the same pageantry and detail that Tiffany & Company brings to jewelry. Their exquisite mochi, balls of gelatinous rice filled with edamame paste (300 yen), are eaten not with chopsticks, but a smooth wooden knife that’s as sculptural as it is functional. Handmade ceramics and minimalist décor create an experience that induces calm and serenity, and hints at the ancient tradition of the Japanese tea ceremony.

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The LED-streaming signage that ribbons the walls of Cow Books (1-14-11 Aobadai; 81-3-5459-1747; www.cowbooks.jp) is thoroughly modern (during a recent visit, it repeatedly displayed the phrase “Book Bless You”), but the rare, out-of-print and first editions that fill the shelves point more to the 1950s and ’60s. Specializing in the Beats, psychedelia, and writers like Richard Brautigan, the satirist author of “Trout Fishing in America,” the shop is a veritable shrine to Japan’s peculiar, nuanced fascination with Americana.

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The owners of Madeleine (1-25-5, Aobadai; 81-090-3500-0560) make a mean latte (390 yen). But perhaps more intriguingly, they do so in the back seat of a cream-colored vintage Citroën — located a literal stone’s throw from Cow Books, just across the Meguro — and serve it out of the rear hatch, which has been converted into a sort of makeshift cafe counter. It’s this kind of resourcefulness that gives the neighborhood its creative, youthful energy.

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“Nakameguro is like its own small village,” says Hideaki Ishii, the dreadlocked proprietor of Research (1-14-11, Cooperative House Aobadai 105; 81-3-5459-4699; www.sett.co.jp), a clothing boutique that changes not only its collection each season, but its name too.

“Everything we need is right here — supermarket, bars, restaurants, record store, Thursday night D.J.’s,” said Mr. Ishii. “It’s gotten so that the locals don’t even leave anymore.”

NY Times Music Review, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Our very own Peggy Wang is blowing up!!!

Yaaaayyy!!! Peggy's band is getting love from critics and fans and deservedly so!! We are so happy for you Peggy!!

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Excerpt:

And the band appears comfortable with its pop instincts: a pair of new songs, played midset, were even frothier and looser than its album. They helped the band build momentum, which was high toward the end of its 45-minute set, when the group deployed its two best songs. “Everything With You,” a wistful love poem, was big and bright, and “A Teenager in Love” sounded like an optimistic Cure record, with shuffling beat underneath swooning keys.

But those songs only shine on the surface, their good cheer masking a cynical core lurking in the lyrics. Warm on the outside, the Pains of Being Pure at Heart seethe with refreshingly mordant wit. Some of their most clever lyrics appear to limn transgressive shades of intimacy. There’s incest, maybe, on a jangly song with an exuberant, unprintable title, and teacher-student love on “The Tenure Itch”: “His indiscretions you don’t mind/He says your thoughts need form/But your form’s not hard to find.”

But it’s not that Mr. Berman isn’t capable of seeing the bright side, or celebrating how it arrives in brief flashes. “I can’t see into the sunset,” he sang on “Come Saturday,” which was the loudest the band got all night. “All I know is that you’re perfect/Right now.”

March 18, 2009

Mothers & Children By National Geographic

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I received a review copy of this book from National Geographic and it was a delight to look through (do you still say "read" when it's a photo book?). You get candid and intimate glimpses into mother and child moments and their different exhibitions across cultures. The most memorable, awe-inspiring and even alarming photo for me was of a pregnant woman in Mexico, laying on a straw mat while someone (doctor or husband or friend?) listens to the baby's heartbeat through a cone device pressed onto her belly. That photo and all the photos in the book drive home the point that we are all united through this incredible, inexplicable experience called motherhood regardless of our disparate situations and surroundings. From Botswana to Iceland to Malaysia to Southern Indiana (perhaps the most foreign to me!), there's something to behold for all mothers, children and soon-to-be-mothers in this special little book.

March 12, 2009

Europeans Debate Castration of Sex Offenders By Dan Bilefsky, NY Times

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Pavel remembers the violent night sweats two days before the murder. He went to see a family doctor, who said they would go away. But after viewing a Bruce Lee martial arts film, he said, he felt uncontrollable sexual desires. He invited a 12-year-old neighbor home. Then he stabbed the boy repeatedly.

His psychiatrist says Pavel derived his sexual pleasure from the violence.

More than 20 years have passed. Pavel, then 18, spent seven years in prison and five years in a psychiatric institution. During his last year in prison, he asked to be surgically castrated. Having his testicles removed, he said, was like draining the gasoline from a car hard-wired to crash. A large, dough-faced man, he is sterile and has forsaken marriage, romantic relationships and sex, he said. His life revolves around a Catholic charity, where he is a gardener.

“I can finally live knowing that I am no harm to anybody,” he said during an interview at a McDonald’s here, as children played loudly nearby. “I am living a productive life. I want to tell people that there is help.”

He refused to give his last name for fear of being hounded.

Whether castration can help rehabilitate violent sex offenders has come under new scrutiny after the Council of Europe’s anti-torture committee last month called surgical castration “invasive, irreversible and mutilating” and demanded that the Czech Republic stop offering the procedure to violent sex offenders. Other critics said that castration threatened to lead society down a dangerous road toward eugenics.

Continue reading...

March 11, 2009

Eyewitness Testimony Parts 1 & 2 on 60 Minutes

March 9, 2009

Fantastic Metropolitan Diary entry! March 9, 2009, NY Times
Dear Diary:

On early mornings, the path ringing the Great Lawn in Central Park is densely populated with unleashed dogs and their owners, all busily interacting. Trying to maintain a semblance of discipline amid the canine and human socializing can strain communication between master and dog.

On a recent outing, I heard someone calling, “Chester! Chester! Chester!” first sweetly, then with increasing intensity, and finally, angrily.

When no Chester appeared, the frustrated caller tried a new tactic: “O.K., Chester, I’m leaving. Goodbye. Have a nice life.”

Henry Sacks

Seeking Justice, Chinese Land in Secret Jails By Andrew Jacobs, NY Times. China angers me so much series.

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They are often tucked away in the rough-and-tumble sections of the city’s south side, hidden beneath dingy hotels and guarded by men in dark coats. Known as “black houses,” they are unofficial jails for the pesky hordes of petitioners who flock to the capital seeking justice.

This month, Wang Shixiang, a 48-year-old businessman from Heilongjong Province, came to Beijing to agitate for the prosecution of corrupt policemen. Instead, he was seized and confined to a dank room underneath the Juyuan Hotel with 40 other abducted petitioners.

During his two days in captivity, Mr. Wang said, he was beaten and deprived of food, and then bundled onto an overnight train. Guards who were paid with government money, he said, made sure he arrived at his front door.

As Beijing hosts 10 days of political pageantry known as the National People’s Congress, tens of thousands of desperate citizens are trying to seek redress by lodging formal complaints at petition offices. A few, when hope is lost, go to extremes, as a couple from the Xinjiang region did in late February: they set their car afire on the city’s best-known shopping street, injuring themselves critically.

In his annual report to the legislature on Thursday, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao said China should use its petition system to head off social unrest in the face of a worsening economy. “We should improve the mechanism to resolve social conflicts, and guide the public to express their requests and interests through legal channels,” he said.

According to the state media, 10 million petitions have been filed in the last five years on complaints as diverse as illegal land seizures and unpaid wages. The numbers would be far higher but for the black houses, also called black jails, the newest weapon local officials use to prevent these aggrieved citizens from embarrassing them in front of central government superiors. Officially, these jails do not exist.

Continue reading...

March 3, 2009

This makes sense to me - I am so getting a toward-facing stroller: One Ride Forward, Two Steps Back By M. Suzanne Zeedyk, NY Times Op-Ed
Are forward-facing strollers having a negative effect on babies’ language development? British teachers have for some time been observing a decline in the linguistic abilities of many children, and some have wondered whether this might be one contributing factor.

There may be something in this idea. Babies who face ahead cannot see their parents or caregivers and thus have difficulty interacting with them. On loud city streets, babies may have trouble even hearing parents talking to them.

Neuroscience has shown that brains develop faster between birth and age 3 than during any other period of life, and that social interaction fosters such neurological development. So, if babies spend a significant amount of time during their early years in forward-facing strollers, might it impede their language learning?

Britain’s National Literacy Trust commissioned my research team to look into this question. No previous research had been carried out, and strollers, or “buggies” in British parlance, haven’t always faced forward. In the 19th century, they were designed so that infants faced the person pushing them. It wasn’t until the late 1960s that collapsible strollers emerged, with engineering constraints causing them to face forward.

We observed 2,700 families with young children walking along main streets in cities and villages throughout Britain. We found that forward-facing strollers were by far the most common, but that babies in them were the least likely to be interacting socially. When traveling with their babies in forward-facing strollers, caregivers were observed speaking to infants in only 11 percent of cases, while the figure was 25 percent for those using toward-facing strollers, and even higher for those carrying children or walking with them.

Could it be that parents who buy toward-facing strollers simply talk more? Probably not. In a follow-up exploratory study, we gave 20 mothers and infants aged 9 to 24 months a chance to try out both stroller types, and recorded their conversations. Mothers talked to their children twice as much during the 15-minute toward-facing journey, and they also laughed more. The babies laughed more, too.

Of course, infants do not spend all their time in strollers, but anecdotal evidence suggests that babies can easily spend a couple of hours a day in them. And research tells us that children’s vocabulary development is governed almost entirely by the daily conversations parents have with them. When a stroller pusher can’t easily see the things that attract a baby’s attention, valuable opportunities for interaction can be missed.

Ours was a preliminary study, intended to raise questions rather than to provide answers. It is now clear that future research on the effects of stroller design would be worthwhile.

Meanwhile, the findings already encourage us to think again about how babies experience stroller rides — and other forms of transportation like car seats, shopping carts and slings. Parents needn’t feel worried, but instead curious about the elements of the environment that attract their children’s interest. The core message of our findings is simple: Talk to your baby whenever you get the chance — and whichever direction your stroller faces.

For their part, stroller manufacturers should keep in mind how much their products are likely to shape children’s development. Let’s give an award to the first one who can produce an easily collapsible stroller that faces both ways — and is affordable for all parents.

* via NY Times Op-Ed.

A Nonfictional Jason Bourne in NYC: A Life, Interrupted By Rebecca Flint Marx and Vytenis Didziulis, NY Times, The City

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The young woman was floating face down in the water, about a mile southwest of the southern tip of Manhattan. Wearing only red running shorts and a black sports bra, she was barely visible to the naked eye of the captain of the Staten Island Ferry: When he caught sight of her bobbing head, it was like glimpsing the tip of a ballpoint pen across a busy city street. Less than four minutes later, a skiff piloted by two of the ferry’s deckhands pulled up alongside the woman. One man took hold of her ankles while the other grabbed her shoulders. As she was lifted from the water, she gasped. Skip to next paragraph The City Go to Section Front » WABC

A flier posted during Hannah Emily Upp's absence.

“I went from going for a run to being in the ambulance,” the woman said several months later in describing her ordeal. “It was like 10 minutes had passed. But it was almost three weeks.”

On Aug. 28, a Thursday, a 23-year-old schoolteacher from Hamilton Heights named Hannah Emily Upp went for a jog along Riverside Drive. That jog is the last thing that Ms. Upp says she remembers before the deckhands rescued her from the waters of New York Harbor on the morning of Tuesday, Sept. 16.

Rumors and speculation abounded about what befell Ms. Upp. She disappeared the day before the start of a new school year at Thurgood Marshall Academy, a Harlem school, where she taught Spanish. She left behind her wallet, her cellphone, her ID and a host of troubling questions.

It was as if the city had simply opened wide and swallowed her whole — until she was seen on a security camera at the Midtown Apple store checking her e-mail. Then she vanished again. And then reappeared, not only at the Apple store but also at a Starbucks and several New York Sports Clubs, where news reports said she went to shower.

Was she suffering from bipolar disorder? Running away from an overly demanding job? Escaping from a city that can overwhelm even the most resilient?

Other questions lingered. Did she forage for food? Where did she sleep? Most baffling of all, how did she survive for so long without money or any identification in one of the world’s busiest and most complex cities?

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February 27, 2009

Air Traffic Controller Tells Gripping Tale of Hudson Landing By Liz Robbins, NY Times

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Most touching part, excerpted - warning, tears may fall:

But it was Mr. Harten’s testimony that gave a new perspective on the conversations leading up to the water landing. He said he had worked in 10 to 12 emergency situations, but never one like that. On the tapes, Mr. Harten was the last person to speak to Captain Sullenberger, when he said the plane was going into the river. “I asked him to repeat himself, even though I heard him just fine. I simply could not wrap my mind around those words.”

The plane disappeared from his radar, Mr. Harten said. “It was the lowest low I ever felt,” he said. “I wanted to talk to my wife. I knew if I spoke or heard her voice, I would completely fall apart. I settled for a hasty text message — ‘Had a crash. I’m not O.K. Can’t talk now.’ ”

He said his wife, Regina Harten, told him later that when she received the text message, she thought he had been in a car accident.

“The truth was, I felt like I was hit by a bus,” he said.

As he put it: “It may sound strange, but to me the hardest, most traumatic part of the entire event was when it was over. During the emergency I was hyperfocused, I had no choice but to think and act quickly. But when it was over, it hit me hard.”

He added, “Even when I learned the truth, I could not escape the image of tragedy in my mind. Every time I saw the survivors on television, I imagined grieving widows. It’s taken me over a month for me to be able see that I did a good job. I was flexible and responsible, and I listened to what the pilots said, and I made sure I gave him the tools he needed. I was calm and in control.”

Mr. Harten is scheduled to return to the job on Thursday after 45 days of paid leave. Mr. Harten admitted that “it might take me time to regain confidence,” adding, “I know I will get there.”

After Mr. Harten finished, Captain Sullenberger told him: “This is the first time I’ve heard the detail of your experience, and I’m greatly touched by it.”

Students Stand When Called Upon, and When Not By Susan Saulny, NY Times

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Seems like a pretty good idea to me!

February 25, 2009

After Abuse, Changes in the Brain By Benedict Carey, NY Times
For years, psychiatrists have known that children who are abused or neglected run a high risk of developing mental problems later in life, from anxiety and depression to substance abuse and suicide.

The connection is not surprising, but it raises a crucial scientific question: Does the abuse cause biological changes that may increase the risk for these problems?

Over the past decade or so, researchers at McGill University in Montreal, led by Michael Meaney, have shown that affectionate mothering alters the expression of genes in animals, allowing them to dampen their physiological response to stress. These biological buffers are then passed on to the next generation: rodents and nonhuman primates biologically primed to handle stress tend to be more nurturing to their own offspring, Dr. Meaney and other researchers have found.

Now, for the first time, they have direct evidence that the same system is at work in humans. In a study of people who committed suicide published Sunday in the journal Nature Neuroscience, researchers in Montreal report that people who were abused or neglected as children showed genetic alterations that likely made them more biologically sensitive to stress.

The findings help clarify the biology behind the wounds of a difficult childhood and hint at what constitutes resilience in those able to shake off such wounds.

The study “extends the animal work on the regulation of stress to humans in a dramatic way,” Jaak Panksepp, an adjunct professor at Washington State University who was not involved in the research, wrote in an e-mail message.

He added that the study “suggests pathways that have promoted the psychic pain that makes life intolerable,” and continued, “It’s a wonderful example of how the study of animal models of emotional resilience can lead the way to understanding human vicissitudes.”

In the study, scientists at McGill and the Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences compared the brains of 12 people who had committed suicide and who had had difficult childhoods with 12 people who had committed suicide and who had not suffered abuse or neglect as children.

The scientists determined the nature of the subjects’ upbringing by doing extensive interviews with next of kin, as well as investigating medical records. The brains are preserved at Douglas Hospital in Montreal as part of the Quebec Suicide Brain Bank, a program founded by McGill researchers to promote suicide studies that receives brain donations from around the province.

When people are under stress, the hormone cortisol circulates widely, putting the body on high alert. One way the brain reduces this physical anxiety is to make receptors on brain cells that help clear the cortisol, inhibiting the distress and protecting neurons from extended exposure to the hormone, which can be damaging.

The researchers found that the genes that code for these receptors were about 40 percent less active in people who had been abused as children than in those who had not. The scientists found the same striking differences between the abused group and the brains of 12 control subjects, who had not been abused and who died from causes other than suicide. “It is good evidence that the same systems are at work in humans that we have seen in other animals,” said Patrick McGowan, a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Meaney’s lab at McGill and the lead author of the study.

His co-authors, along with Dr. Meaney, were Aya Sasaki, Ana C. D’Alessio, Sergiy Dymov, Benoît Labonté and Moshe Szyf, all of McGill, and Dr. Gustavo Turecki, a McGill researcher who leads the Brain Bank.

Because of individual differences in the genetic machinery that regulates stress response, experts say, many people manage their distress despite awful childhoods. Others may find solace in other people, which helps them regulate the inevitable pain of living a full life.

“The bottom line is that this is a terrific line of work, but there is a very long way to go either to understand the effects of early experience or the causes of mental disorders,” Dr. Steven Hyman, a professor of neurobiology at Harvard, wrote in an e-mail message.

* via The New York Times.

As a grammAr nazi, I appreciate this Op-Ed: The I’s Have It By Patricia T. O’Conner and Stewart Kellerman, NY Times

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When President Obama speaks before Congress and the nation tonight, he will be facing some of his toughest critics.

Since his election, the president has been roundly criticized by bloggers for using “I” instead of “me” in phrases like “a very personal decision for Michelle and I” or “the main disagreement with John and I” or “graciously invited Michelle and I.”

The rule here, according to conventional wisdom, is that we use “I” as a subject and “me” as an object, whether the pronoun appears by itself or in a twosome. Thus every “I” in those quotes ought to be a “me.”

So should the president go stand in a corner of the Oval Office (if he can find one) and contemplate the error of his ways? Not so fast.

For centuries, it was perfectly acceptable to use either “I” or “me” as the object of a verb or preposition, especially after “and.” Literature is full of examples. Here’s Shakespeare, in “The Merchant of Venice”: “All debts are cleared between you and I.” And here’s Lord Byron, complaining to his half-sister about the English town of Southwell, “which, between you and I, I wish was swallowed up by an earthquake, provided my eloquent mother was not in it.”

It wasn’t until the mid-1800s that language mavens began kvetching about “I” and “me.” The first kvetch cited in Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage came from a commencement address in 1846. In 1869, Richard Meade Bache included it in his book “Vulgarisms and Other Errors of Speech.”

Why did these 19th-century wordies insist “I” is “I” and “me” is “me”? They were probably influenced by Latin, with its rigid treatment of subject and object pronouns. For whatever reason, their approach stuck — at least in the rule books.

Then, why do so many scofflaws keep using “I” instead of “me”? Perhaps it’s because they were scolded as children for saying things like “Me want candy” instead of “I want candy,” so they began to think “I” was somehow more socially acceptable. Or maybe it’s because they were admonished against “it’s me.” Anybody who’s had “it is I” drummed into his head is likely to avoid “me” on principle, even when it’s right. The term for this linguistic phenomenon is “hypercorrection.”

A related crime that Mr. Obama stands accused of is using “myself” to dodge the “I”-versus-“me” issue, as when he spoke last November of “a substantive conversation between myself and the president.” The standard practice here is to use “myself” for emphasis or to refer to the speaker (“I’ll do it myself”), not merely as a substitute for “me.” But some language authorities accept a looser usage, and point out that “myself” has been regularly used in place of “me” since Anglo-Saxon days.

Our 44th president isn’t the first occupant of the White House to suffer from pronounitis. Nos. 43 and 42 were similarly afflicted. The symptoms: “for Laura and I,” “invited Hillary and I,” and so on. (For the record, Nos. 41 and 40 had no problem with the objective case, regularly using “Barbara and me” or “Nancy and me” when appropriate.)

But an educated speaker is expected to keep his pronouns in line. Here, then, is a tip, Mr. President. Nobody chooses the wrong pronoun when it’s standing on its own. If you’re tempted to say “for Michelle and I” in tonight’s speech, just mentally omit Michelle (sorry, Mrs. Obama), and you’ll get it right. And no one will get on your case.

* via The New York Times which I still read in print!!

February 19, 2009

Hilarious Letter to the Economist.

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* Thanks for this Althea Wasow!

** The articles linked above are here: Gasping for gas and To the barricades.

February 9, 2009

Captain Sully & US Flight 1549's reunion video with passengers

This video is so touching and worth watching that if you don't watch it now you are defective in some way. I nearly choked on my tears imagining if Jonah were one of the fortunate passengers and I was able to thank the Captain for saving Jonah's life, for not making me a widow and for not depriving our little one in my belly of a father. Ugh. The tears.

Lily does a great post of this event and related videos here:

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February 5, 2009

Science Found Wanting in Nation’s Crime Labs By Solomon Moore, NY Times

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Forensic evidence that has helped convict thousands of defendants for nearly a century is often the product of shoddy scientific practices that should be upgraded and standardized, according to accounts of a draft report by the nation’s pre-eminent scientific research group.

Robert L. Stinson, convicted of murder in 1984, was freed from a Wisconsin prison last month after tests found that bite-mark and DNA analysis did not match evidence from the crime scene.

The report by the National Academy of Sciences is to be released this month. People who have seen it say it is a sweeping critique of many forensic methods that the police and prosecutors rely on, including fingerprinting, firearms identification and analysis of bite marks, blood spatter, hair and handwriting.

The report says such analyses are often handled by poorly trained technicians who then exaggerate the accuracy of their methods in court. It concludes that Congress should create a federal agency to guarantee the independence of the field, which has been dominated by law enforcement agencies, say forensic professionals, scholars and scientists who have seen review copies of the study. Early reviewers said the report was still subject to change.

The result of a two-year review, the report follows a series of widely publicized crime laboratory failures, including the case of Brandon Mayfield, a lawyer from Portland, Ore., and Muslim convert who was wrongly arrested in the 2004 terrorist train bombing in Madrid that killed 191 people and wounded 2,000.

American examiners matched Mr. Mayfield’s fingerprint to those found at the scene, although Spanish authorities eventually convinced the Federal Bureau of Investigation that its fingerprint identification methods were faulty. Mr. Mayfield was released, and the federal government settled with him for $2 million.

In 2005, Congress asked the National Academy to assess the state of the forensic techniques used in court proceedings. The report’s findings are not binding, but they are expected to be highly influential.

“This is not a judicial ruling; it is not a law,” said Michael J. Saks, a psychology and law professor at Arizona State University who presented fundamental weaknesses in forensic evidence to the academy. “But it will be used by others who will make law or will argue cases.”

Legal experts expect that the report will give ammunition to defense lawyers seeking to discredit forensic procedures and expert witnesses in court. Lawyers could also use the findings in their attempts to overturn convictions based on spurious evidence. Judges are likely to use the findings to raise the bar for admissibility of certain types of forensic evidence and to rein in exaggerated expert testimony.

The report may also drive federal legislation if Congress adopts its recommendations. Senator Richard C. Shelby, Republican of Alabama, who has pushed for forensic reform, said, “My hope is that this report will provide an objective and unbiased perspective of the critical needs of our crime labs.”

Forensics, which developed within law enforcement institutions — and have been mythologized on television shows from “Quincy, M.E.” to “CSI: Miami” — suffers from a lack of independence, the report found.

The report’s most controversial recommendation is the establishment of a federal agency to finance research and training and promote universal standards in forensic science, a discipline that spans anthropology, biology, chemistry, physics, medicine and law. The report also calls for tougher regulation of crime laboratories.

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January 24, 2009

Hilarious article w/ best part bolded - oh the Brits!: No Snickering: That Road Sign Means Something Else By Sarah Lyall, NY Times

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CRAPSTONE, England — When ordering things by telephone, Stewart Pearce tends to take a proactive approach to the inevitable question “What is your address?”

He lays it out straight, so there is no room for unpleasant confusion. “I say, ‘It’s spelled “crap,” as in crap,’ ” said Mr. Pearce, 61, who has lived in Crapstone, a one-shop country village in Devon, for decades.

Disappointingly, Mr. Pearce has so far been unable to parlay such delicate encounters into material gain, as a neighbor once did.

“Crapstone,” the neighbor said forthrightly, Mr. Pearce related, whereupon the person on the other end of the telephone repeated it to his co-workers and burst out laughing. “They said, ‘Oh, we thought it didn’t really exist,’ ” Mr. Pearce said, “and then they gave him a free something.”

In the scale of embarrassing place names, Crapstone ranks pretty high. But Britain is full of them. Some are mostly amusing, like Ugley, Essex; East Breast, in western Scotland; North Piddle, in Worcestershire; and Spanker Lane, in Derbyshire.

Others evoke images that may conflict with residents’ efforts to appear dignified when, for example, applying for jobs.

These include Crotch Crescent, Oxford; Titty Ho, Northamptonshire; Wetwang, East Yorkshire; Slutshole Lane, Norfolk; and Thong, Kent. And, in a country that delights in lavatory humor, particularly if the word “bottom” is involved, there is Pratts Bottom, in Kent, doubly cursed because “prat” is slang for buffoon.

As for Penistone, a thriving South Yorkshire town, just stop that sophomoric snickering.

“It’s pronounced ‘PENNIS-tun,’ ” Fiona Moran, manager of the Old Vicarage Hotel in Penistone, said over the telephone, rather sharply. When forced to spell her address for outsiders, she uses misdirection, separating the tricky section into two blameless parts: “p-e-n” — pause — “i-s-t-o-n-e.”

Several months ago, Lewes District Council in East Sussex tried to address the problem of inadvertent place-name titillation by saying that “street names which could give offense” would no longer be allowed on new roads.

“Avoid aesthetically unsuitable names,” like Gaswork Road, the council decreed. Also, avoid “names capable of deliberate misinterpretation,” like Hoare Road, Typple Avenue, Quare Street and Corfe Close.

(What is wrong with Corfe Close, you might ask? The guidelines mention the hypothetical residents of No. 4, with their unfortunate hypothetical address, “4 Corfe Close.” To find the naughty meaning, you have to repeat the first two words rapidly many times, preferably in the presence of your fifth-grade classmates.)

The council explained that it was only following national guidelines and that it did not intend to change any existing lewd names.

Still, news of the revised policy raised an outcry.

“Sniggering at double entendres is a loved and time-honored tradition in this country,” Carol Midgley wrote in The Times of London. Ed Hurst, a co-author, with Rob Bailey, of “Rude Britain” and “Rude UK,” which list arguably offensive place names — some so arguably offensive that, unfortunately, they cannot be printed here — said that many such communities were established hundreds of years ago and that their names were not rude at the time.

“Place names and street names are full of history and culture, and it’s only because language has evolved over the centuries that they’ve wound up sounding rude,” Mr. Hurst said in an interview.

Mr. Bailey, who grew up on Tumbledown Dick Road in Oxfordshire, and Mr. Hurst got the idea for the books when they read about a couple who bought a house on Butt Hole Road, in South Yorkshire.

The name most likely has to do with the spot’s historic function as a source of water, a water butt being a container for collecting water. But it proved to be prohibitively hilarious.

“If they ordered a pizza, the pizza company wouldn’t deliver it, because they thought it was a made-up name,” Mr. Hurst said. “People would stand in front of the sign, pull down their trousers and take pictures of each other’s naked buttocks.”

The couple moved away.

The people in Crapstone have not had similar problems, although their sign is periodically stolen by word-loving merrymakers. And their village became a stock joke a few years ago, when a television ad featuring a prone-to-swearing soccer player named Vinnie Jones showed Mr. Jones’s car breaking down just under the Crapstone sign.

In the commercial, Mr. Jones tries to alert the towing company to his location while covering the sign and trying not to say “crap” in front of his young daughter.

The consensus in the village is that there is a perfectly innocent reason for the name “Crapstone,” though it is unclear what that is. Theories put forth by various residents the other day included “place of the rocks,” “a kind of twisting of the original word,” “something to do with the soil” and “something to do with Sir Francis Drake,” who lived nearby.

Jacqui Anderson, a doctor in Crapstone who used to live in a village called Horrabridge, which has its own issues, said that she no longer thought about the “crap” in “Crapstone.”

Still, when strangers ask where she’s from, she admitted, “I just say I live near Plymouth.”

January 8, 2009

6 and 7 year old German kids try eloping to Africa

Their sunglasses and outfits rule.

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Young romantic Mika, six, and his seven-year-old girlfriend Anna Bell were so enamoured with each other they planned an escape to tie the knot in warmer climes.

Dragging along Mika's sister Anna-Lena, aged five, the kids packed three suitcases "filled with food, swimming costumes, a lilo and even sunglasses," said police spokesman Holger Jureczko.

The idea for the romantic trip began when Mika told the two girls about his recent holiday in Italy. They decided to head for Africa while their families slept on New Year's Day.

"From this, the children began to make plans for the future," said Mr Jureczko.

In the early hours of 2009, the children left their house in the suburbs of Hanover, and took a tram for the central station.

As they waited for the train to the airport wearing their holiday gear, they caught the attention of a guard who contacted police.

Two officers managed to convince the young lovers that they would struggle to get to Africa without money or a plane ticket.

"What drew our attention was not so much that they were small children but that they had a lot of swim gear with them.

"And when we asked them where they were going they said straight away 'to Africa!', said Mr Jureczko.

"The policeman questioning them found that incredible! Who would think of going to Africa at that age?"

When asked why they were going, groom-to-be Mika explained his seemingly simple plan.

"We wanted to take the train to the airport, and then catch a plane, then we would unpack, and get married once we arrived. Then we wanted to go for a little holiday," he said.

Fiancee Anna-Bell said: "We wanted to get married there and enjoy ourselves."

Mika's mother, Annabell Sievert, said she could not believe they had tried to elope overseas.

She said:"I was shocked. I thought I must be watching a film. We tried to find them, but couldn't. There are a lot of places they could have wandered to."

To make up for their disappointment at not reaching Africa, the children were given a special tour of the police headquarters at Hanover station and shown around the detention cell.

* Thanks to a reader for this link!

Dreams from My Father, By Barack Obama

This book by our President-elect (woooooohoooooooo!!!!!) is an insightful and heartfelt book I highly recommend to anyone who craves a better understanding of race relations in America. As Obama notes in his updated preface, there are parts of the book that are not politically convenient and it's precisely these parts that make it an honest memoir of a young half African American man's coming of life in modern America. I couldn't put the book down and I'm sure you won't be able to either!

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December 6, 2008

OMG: White Supremacist Mug Shots Before & After

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* via BuzzFeed!

November 23, 2008

Suffering Souls: The search for the roots of psychopathy by John Seabrook, New Yorker

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The Western New Mexico Correctional Facility sits in high-desert country about seventy miles west of Albuquerque. Grants, a former uranium boomtown that depends heavily on prison work, is a few miles down the road. There’s a glassed-in room at the top of the prison tower, with louvred windows and, on the ceiling, a big crank that operates a searchlight. In a box on the floor are some tear-gas shells that can be fired down into the yard should there be a riot. Below is the prison complex—a series of low six-sided buildings, divided by high hurricane fences topped with razor wire that glitters fiercely in the desert sun. To the east is the snow-covered peak of Mt. Taylor, the highest in the region; to the west, the Zuni Mountains are visible in the blue distance.

One bright morning last April, Dr. Kent Kiehl strode across the parking lot to the entrance, saying, “I guarantee that by the time we reach the gate the entire inmate population will know I’m here.” Kiehl—the Doc, as the inmates call him—was dressed in a blue blazer and a yellow tie. He is tall, broad-shouldered, and barrel-chested, with neat brown hair and small ears; he looks more like a college football player, which was his first ambition, than like a cognitive neuroscientist. But when he speaks, in an unexpectedly high-pitched voice, he becomes that know-it-all kid in school who intimidated you with his combination of superior knowledge and bluster.

At thirty-eight, Kiehl is one of the world’s leading younger investigators in psychopathy, the condition of moral emptiness that affects between fifteen to twenty-five per cent of the North American prison population, and is believed by some psychologists to exist in one per cent of the general adult male population. (Female psychopaths are thought to be much rarer.) Psychopaths don’t exhibit the manias, hysterias, and neuroses that are present in other types of mental illness. Their main defect, what psychologists call “severe emotional detachment”—a total lack of empathy and remorse—is concealed, and harder to describe than the symptoms of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. This absence of easily readable signs has led to debate among mental-health practitioners about what qualifies as psychopathy and how to diagnose it. Psychopathy isn’t identified as a disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the American Psychiatric Association’s canon; instead, a more general term, “antisocial personality disorder,” known as A.P.D., covers the condition.

There is also little consensus among researchers about what causes psychopathy. Considerable evidence, including several large-scale studies of twins, points toward a genetic component. Yet psychopaths are more likely to come from neglectful families than from loving, nurturing ones. Psychopathy could be dimensional, like high blood pressure, or it might be categorical, like leukemia. Researchers argue over whether tests used to measure it should focus on behavior or attempt to incorporate personality traits—like deceitfulness, glibness, and lack of remorse—as well. The only point on which everyone agrees is that psychopathy is extremely difficult to treat. And for some researchers the word “psychopath” has been tainted by its long and seamy relationship with criminality and popular culture, which began with true-crime pulps and continues today in TV shows like CBS’s “Criminal Minds” and in the work of authors like Thomas Harris and Patricia Cornwell. The word is so loaded with baleful connotations that it tends to empurple any surrounding prose.

Kiehl is frustrated by the lack of respect shown to psychopathy by the mental-health establishment. “Think about it,” he told me. “Crime is a trillion-dollar-a-year problem. The average psychopath will be convicted of four violent crimes by the age of forty. And yet hardly anyone is funding research into the science. Schizophrenia, which causes much less crime, has a hundred times more research money devoted to it.” I asked why, and Kiehl said, “Because schizophrenics are seen as victims, and psychopaths are seen as predators. The former we feel empathy for, the latter we lock up.”

In January of 2007, Kiehl arranged to have a portable functional magnetic-resonance-imaging scanner brought into Western—the first fMRI ever installed in a prison. So far, he has recruited hundreds of volunteers from among the inmates. The data from these scans, Kiehl hopes, will confirm his theory, published in Psychiatry Research, in 2006, that psychopathy is caused by a defect in what he calls “the paralimbic system,” a network of brain regions, stretching from the orbital frontal cortex to the posterior cingulate cortex, that are involved in processing emotion, inhibition, and attentional control. His dream is to confound the received wisdom by helping to discover a treatment for psychopathy. “If you could target the brain region involved, then maybe you could find a drug that treats that region,” he told me. “If you could treat just five per cent of them, that would be a Nobel Prize right there.”

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October 24, 2008

Cannibal cult mother who skinned son and made him eat his own flesh gets 9 years in jail.

ONLY 9 YEARS?????!!!!! WOULDN'T LIFE WITHOUT PAROLE BE A TAD MORE APPROPRIATE???!!!

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October 19, 2008

Powell noted that McCain has been a good friend for 25 years, but expressed disappointment in the "over the top" negative tone of the GOP campaign, as well as in McCain's choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as the vice presidential nominee.

I'VE NEVER FELT MORE LOVE FOR COLIN POWELL THAN I DO RIGHT NOW!!!

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Former Secretary of State Colin Powell announced Sunday that he will break with his party and vote for Sen. Barack Obama. "He has both style and substance. I think he is a transformational figure," Powell said on NBC's Meet the Press.

"I come to the conclusion that because of his ability to inspire, because of the inclusive nature of his campaign, because he is reaching out all across America, because of who he is and his rhetorical abilities -- and you have to take that into account -- as well as his substance -- he has both style and substance," Powell said. "He has met the standard of being a successful president, being an exceptional president."

Powell noted that McCain has been a good friend for 25 years, but expressed disappointment in the "over the top" negative tone of the GOP campaign, as well as in McCain's choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as the vice presidential nominee.

"Now that we have had a chance to watch her for some seven weeks, I don't believe she's ready to be president of the United States, which is the job of the vice president," Powell said. "And so that raised some question in my mind as to the judgment that Senator McCain made."

He also harshly criticized some of McCain's campaign tactics, such as the robocall campaign linking Obama to former 1960s radical Bill Ayers.

"Mr. McCain says that he's a washed up terrorist, but then why do we keep talking about him? And why do we have the robocalls going on around the country trying to suggest that because of this very, very limited relationship that Senator Obama has had with Mr. Ayers, somehow Mr. Obama is tainted. What they're trying to connect him to is some kind of terrorist feelings. And I think that's inappropriate. Now, I understand what politics is all about, I know how you can go after one another and that's good. But I think this goes too far, and I think it has made the McCain campaign look a little narrow. It's not what the American people are looking for."

Powell also spoke passionately against the insinuations by some Republicans that Obama is a Muslim.

"Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he's a Christian. He's always been a Christian," he said. "But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer's no, that's not America. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president? Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, 'He's a Muslim and he might be associated terrorists.' This is not the way we should be doing it in America."

Following the interview, Powell told reporters outside NBC's Washington studio that McCain "is essentially going to execute the Republican agenda, the orthodoxy of the Republican agenda with a new face and a maverick approach to it, and he'd be quite good at it, but I think we need more than that. I think we need a generational change. I think Senator Obama has captured the feelings of the young people of America and is reaching out in a more diverse, inclusive way across our society."

Powell charged that the Republican focus on William Ayers and Obama's religious affiliations were damaging America's image abroad.

"Those kinds of images going out on al Jazeera are killing us around the world," he said. "And we have got to say to the world, it doesn't make any difference who you are or what you are, if you're an American you're an American. And this business of, for example a congresswoman from Minnesota going around saying let's examine all congressmen to see who is pro America or not pro America, we have got to stop this kind of non-sense and pull ourselves together and remember that our great strength is in our unity and diversity. That really was driving me."

Powell continued, defending Obama against McCain's latest charge that the Democrat's policies are quasi-socialist:

We can't judge our people and hold our elections on that kind of basis. Yes, that kind of negativity troubled me. And the constant shifting of the argument, I was troubled a couple of weeks ago when in the middle of the crisis the campaign said 'we're going to go negative,' and they announced it. 'We're going to go negative and attack his character through Bill Ayers.' Now I guess the message this week is we're going to call him a socialist. Mr. Obama is now a socialist, because he dares to suggest that maybe we ought to look at the tax structure that we have. Taxes are always a redistribution of money. Most of the taxes that are redistributed go back to those who pay them, in roads and airports and hospitals and schools. And taxes are necessary for the common good. And there's nothing wrong with examining what our tax structure is or who should be paying more or who should be paying les, and for us to say that makes you a socialist is an unfortunate characterization that I don't think is accurate.

Asked whether he still considers himself a Republican, Powell responded, "Yes."

Robert Gibbs told reporters that Obama called Powell to thank him for his endorsement and express how honored he was to have it.

Obama "said he looked forward to taking advantage of his advice in the next two weeks and hopefully over the next four years," Gibbs said in an email to the traveling press. "They talked for ten minutes."

Appearing on Fox News Sunday, John McCain said he respectfully disagreed with Powell's decision, but "this doesn't come as a surprise."

In fact, aside from their shared history as Republican military men, Powell's endorsement is significant due to the fact that McCain has repeatedly singled him out for lavish praise. In a July New York Times interview, McCain described the former secretary of state and Joint Chiefs chairman as "a man who I admire as much as any man in the world, person in the world" when answering a question in which Powell was not brought up. Meanwhile, near the same time as that interview, McCain was reportedly considering Powell as a potential running mate.

McCain's high opinion of Powell as one of the "most credible, most respected" men in America is not merely an election-year spasm, either. When asked in 2001 if he would have chosen Powell for a Cabinet position had he succeeded in his first presidential run, McCain said "oh, yes." During two December 2000 appearances on NBC Nightly News, McCain described himself as "exuberant" over Powell's selection as secretary of state, which he predicted would secure "a beneficial effect on the conduct of American foreign policy." McCain added in another TV appearance that President Bush was "blessed" to have Powell working for him. In 2003, when Powell faced criticism from Newt Gingrich over his plan to travel to Syria, it was McCain who rose to the secretary's defense on MSNBC's Hardball, when he said: "I think it's appropriate that Colin Powell is going there."

Even at the end of Powell's somewhat frustrating tenure in George W. Bush's inner circle of policy advisers, McCain praised his overall performance, saying: "When he took the helm at the State Department nearly four years ago, I was confident that Secretary Powell would lead with honor and distinction ... I have not been disappointed." And in a CBS interview during this year's primary race, McCain suggested that one of President Bush's chief failures "was not to listen more to our military leadership, including people like General Colin Powell."

The praise has not only run in one direction, as Powell described McCain the "toughest man I've ever met" last year. But in the end, what sounded like a compliment could have been the beginning of the end. During this summer's conflict between Russia and Georgia, Powell criticized McCain for being, in essence, too mindlessly tough. When asked by CNN's what McCain meant when he said "We are all Georgians now," Powell demurred. "One candidate said that, and I'll let the candidate explain it for himself."

When pressed for further opinion, Powell distanced himself from McCain's staunchly pro-Georgian line. "The fact of the matter is that you have to be very careful in a situation like this not just to leap to one side or the other until you take a good analysis of the whole situation," Powell said, tamping down the rush to herald the rise of a new Soviet threat.

"The Russian Federation is not going to become the Soviet Union again. That movie failed at the box office. But they do have interests. And we have to think carefully about their interests."

October 9, 2008

Palin's Kind of Patriotism by Thomas Friedman

Palin's thinking is so dumb and dangerous...and depressing to think she's not alone.

Criticizing Sarah Palin is truly shooting fish in a barrel. But given the huge attention she is getting, you can’t just ignore what she has to say. And there was one thing she said in the debate with Joe Biden that really sticks in my craw. It was when she turned to Biden and declared: “You said recently that higher taxes or asking for higher taxes or paying higher taxes is patriotic. In the middle class of America, which is where Todd and I have been all of our lives, that’s not patriotic.”

What an awful statement. Palin defended the government’s $700 billion rescue plan. She defended the surge in Iraq, where her own son is now serving. She defended sending more troops to Afghanistan. And yet, at the same time, she declared that Americans who pay their fair share of taxes to support all those government-led endeavors should not be considered patriotic.

I only wish she had been asked: “Governor Palin, if paying taxes is not considered patriotic in your neighborhood, who is going to pay for the body armor that will protect your son in Iraq? Who is going to pay for the bailout you endorsed? If it isn’t from tax revenues, there are only two ways to pay for those big projects — printing more money or borrowing more money. Do you think borrowing money from China is more patriotic than raising it in taxes from Americans?” That is not putting America first. That is selling America first.

Sorry, I grew up in a very middle-class family in a very middle-class suburb of Minneapolis, and my parents taught me that paying taxes, while certainly no fun, was how we paid for the police and the Army, our public universities and local schools, scientific research and Medicare for the elderly. No one said it better than Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes: “I like paying taxes. With them I buy civilization.”

I can understand someone saying that the government has no business bailing out the financial system, but I can’t understand someone arguing that we should do that but not pay for it with taxes. I can understand someone saying we have no business in Iraq, but I can’t understand someone who advocates staying in Iraq until “victory” declaring that paying taxes to fund that is not patriotic.

How in the world can conservative commentators write with a straight face that this woman should be vice president of the United States? Do these people understand what serious trouble our country is in right now?

We are in the middle of an economic perfect storm, and we don’t know how much worse it’s going to get. People all over the world are hoarding cash, and no bank feels that it can fully trust anyone it is doing business with anywhere in the world. Did you notice that the government of Iceland just seized the country’s second-largest bank and today is begging Russia for a $5 billion loan to stave off “national bankruptcy.” What does that say? It tells you that financial globalization has gone so much farther and faster than regulatory institutions could govern it. Our crisis could bankrupt Iceland! Who knew?

And we have not yet even felt the full economic brunt here. I fear we may be at that moment just before the tsunami hits — when the birds take flight and the insects stop chirping because their acute senses can feel what is coming before humans can. At this moment, only good governance can save us. I am not sure that this crisis will end without every government in every major economy guaranteeing the creditworthiness of every financial institution it regulates. That may be the only way to get lending going again. Organizing something that big and complex will take some really smart governance and seasoned leadership.

Whether or not I agree with John McCain, he is of presidential timber. But putting the country in the position where a total novice like Sarah Palin could be asked to steer us through possibly the most serious economic crisis of our lives is flat out reckless. It is the opposite of conservative.

And please don’t tell me she will hire smart advisers. What happens when her two smartest advisers disagree?

And please also don’t tell me she is an “energy expert.” She is an energy expert exactly the same way the king of Saudi Arabia is an energy expert — by accident of residence. Palin happens to be governor of the Saudi Arabia of America — Alaska — and the only energy expertise she has is the same as the king of Saudi Arabia’s. It’s about how the windfall profits from the oil in their respective kingdoms should be divided between the oil companies and the people.

At least the king of Saudi Arabia, in advocating “drill baby drill,” is serving his country’s interests — by prolonging America’s dependence on oil. My problem with Palin is that she is also serving his country’s interests — by prolonging America’s dependence on oil. That’s not patriotic. Patriotic is offering a plan to build our economy — not by tax cuts or punching more holes in the ground, but by empowering more Americans to work in productive and innovative jobs. If Palin has that kind of a plan, I haven’t heard it.

* via NY Times.

October 6, 2008

Let's not forget McCain's wise words...

“Opening up the health insurance market to more vigorous nationwide competition, as we have done over the last decade in banking, would provide more choices of innovative products less burdened by the worst excesses of state-based regulation.”

I agree: the McCain plan would do for health care what deregulation has done for banking. And I’m terrified.

* Via Paul Krugman's column today.

Several recent nonpartisan studies estimate that under the McCain plan around 20 million Americans currently covered by their employers would lose their health insurance.

Health Care Destruction By Paul Krugman:

Sarah Palin ended her debate performance last Thursday with a slightly garbled quote from Ronald Reagan about how, if we aren’t vigilant, we’ll end up “telling our children and our children’s children” about the days when America was free. It was a revealing choice.

You see, when Reagan said this he wasn’t warning about Soviet aggression. He was warning against legislation that would guarantee health care for older Americans — the program now known as Medicare.

Conservative Republicans still hate Medicare, and would kill it if they could — in fact, they tried to gut it during the Clinton years (that’s what the 1995 shutdown of the government was all about). But so far they haven’t been able to pull that off.

So John McCain wants to destroy the health insurance of nonelderly Americans instead.

Most Americans under 65 currently get health insurance through their employers. That’s largely because the tax code favors such insurance: your employer’s contribution to insurance premiums isn’t considered taxable income, as long as the employer’s health plan follows certain rules. In particular, the same plan has to be available to all employees, regardless of the size of their paycheck or the state of their health.

This system does a fairly effective job of protecting those it reaches, but it leaves many Americans out in the cold. Workers whose employers don’t offer coverage are forced to seek individual health insurance, often in vain. For one thing, insurance companies offering “nongroup” coverage generally refuse to cover anyone with a pre-existing medical condition. And individual insurance is very expensive, because insurers spend large sums weeding out “high-risk” applicants — that is, anyone who seems likely to actually need the insurance.

So what should be done? Barack Obama offers incremental reform: regulation of insurers to prevent discrimination against the less healthy, subsidies to help lower-income families buy insurance, and public insurance plans that compete with the private sector. His plan falls short of universal coverage, but it would sharply reduce the number of uninsured.

Mr. McCain, on the other hand, wants to blow up the current system, by eliminating the tax break for employer-provided insurance. And he doesn’t offer a workable alternative.

Without the tax break, many employers would drop their current health plans. Several recent nonpartisan studies estimate that under the McCain plan around 20 million Americans currently covered by their employers would lose their health insurance.

As compensation, the McCain plan would give people a tax credit — $2,500 for an individual, $5,000 for a family — that could be used to buy health insurance in the individual market. At the same time, Mr. McCain would deregulate insurance, leaving insurance companies free to deny coverage to those with health problems — and his proposal for a “high-risk pool” for hard cases would provide little help.

So what would happen?

The good news, such as it is, is that more people would buy individual insurance. Indeed, the total number of uninsured Americans might decline marginally under the McCain plan — although many more Americans would be without insurance than under the Obama plan.

But the people gaining insurance would be those who need it least: relatively healthy Americans with high incomes. Why? Because insurance companies want to cover only healthy people, and even among the healthy only those able to pay a lot in addition to their tax credit would be able to afford coverage (remember, it’s a $5,000 credit, but the average family policy actually costs more than $12,000).

Meanwhile, the people losing insurance would be those who need it most: lower-income workers who wouldn’t be able to afford individual insurance even with the tax credit, and Americans with health problems whom insurance companies won’t cover.

And in the process of comforting the comfortable while afflicting the afflicted, the McCain plan would also lead to a huge, expensive increase in bureaucracy: insurers selling individual health plans spend 29 percent of the premiums they receive on administration, largely because they employ so many people to screen applicants. This compares with costs of 12 percent for group plans and just 3 percent for Medicare.

In short, the McCain plan makes no sense at all, unless you have faith that the magic of the marketplace can solve all problems. And Mr. McCain does: a much-quoted article published under his name declares that “Opening up the health insurance market to more vigorous nationwide competition, as we have done over the last decade in banking, would provide more choices of innovative products less burdened by the worst excesses of state-based regulation.”

I agree: the McCain plan would do for health care what deregulation has done for banking. And I’m terrified.

October 2, 2008

I was channel surfing on Monday following the stock market’s nearly 800-point collapse, when a commentator on CNBC caught my attention.He was being asked to give advice to viewers as to what were the best positions to be in to ride out the market storm.
Without missing a beat, he answered: “Cash and fetal.”

I’m in both — because I know an unprecedented moment when I see one. I’ve been frightened for my country only a few times in my life: In 1962, when, even as a boy of 9, I followed the tension of the Cuban missile crisis; in 1963, with the assassination of J.F.K.; on Sept. 11, 2001; and on Monday, when the House Republicans brought down the bipartisan rescue package.

But this moment is the scariest of all for me because the previous three were all driven by real or potential attacks on the U.S. system by outsiders. This time, we are doing it to ourselves. This time, it’s our own failure to regulate our own financial system and to legislate the proper remedy that is doing us in.

I’ve always believed that America’s government was a unique political system — one designed by geniuses so that it could be run by idiots. I was wrong. No system can be smart enough to survive this level of incompetence and recklessness by the people charged to run it.

This is dangerous. We have House members, many of whom I suspect can’t balance their own checkbooks, rejecting a complex rescue package because some voters, whom I fear also don’t understand, swamped them with phone calls. I appreciate the popular anger against Wall Street, but you can’t deal with this crisis this way.

This is a credit crisis. It’s all about confidence. What you can’t see is how bank A will no longer lend to good company B or mortgage company C. Because no one is sure the other guy’s assets and collateral are worth anything, which is why the government needs to come in and put a floor under them. Otherwise, the system will be choked of credit, like a body being choked of oxygen and turning blue.

Well, you say, “I don’t own any stocks — let those greedy monsters on Wall Street suffer.” You may not own any stocks, but your pension fund owned some Lehman Brothers commercial paper and your regional bank held subprime mortgage bonds, which is why you were able refinance your house two years ago. And your local airport was insured by A.I.G., and your local municipality sold municipal bonds on Wall Street to finance your street’s new sewer system, and your local car company depended on the credit markets to finance your auto loan — and now that the credit market has dried up, Wachovia bank went bust and your neighbor lost her secretarial job there.

We’re all connected. As others have pointed out, you can’t save Main Street and punish Wall Street anymore than you can be in a rowboat with someone you hate and think that the leak in the bottom of the boat at his end is not going to sink you, too. The world really is flat. We’re all connected. “Decoupling” is pure fantasy.

I totally understand the resentment against Wall Street titans bringing home $60 million bonuses. But when the credit system is imperiled, as it is now, you have to focus on saving the system, even if it means bailing out people who don’t deserve it. Otherwise, you’re saying: I’m going to hold my breath until that Wall Street fat cat turns blue. But he’s not going to turn blue; you are, or we all are. We have to get this right.

My rabbi told this story at Rosh Hashana services on Tuesday: A frail 80-year-old mother is celebrating her birthday and her three sons each give her a present. Harry gives her a new house. Harvey gives her a new car and driver. And Bernie gives her a huge parrot that can recite the entire Torah. A week later, she calls her three sons together and says: “Harry, thanks for the nice house, but I only live in one room. Harvey, thanks for the nice car, but I can’t stand the driver. Bernie, thanks for giving your mother something she could really enjoy. That chicken was delicious.”

Message to Congress: Don’t get cute. Don’t give us something we don’t need. Don’t give us something designed to solve your political problems. Yes, Hank Paulson and Ben Bernanke need to accept strict oversights and the taxpayer must be guaranteed a share in the upside profits from all rescued banks. But other than that, give them the capital and the flexibility to put out this fire.

I always said to myself: Our government is so broken that it can only work in response to a huge crisis. But now we’ve had a huge crisis, and the system still doesn’t seem to work. Our leaders, Republicans and Democrats, have gotten so out of practice of working together that even in the face of this system-threatening meltdown they could not agree on a rescue package, as if they lived on Mars and were just visiting us for the week, with no stake in the outcome.

The story cannot end here. If it does, assume the fetal position.

* Via Rescue the Rescue By Thomas Friedman.

September 24, 2008

TAXPAYERS SHOULD NOT BAIL OUT WALL STREET!!!!!

I am sickened by the idea that taxpayers may be bailing out high-flying investment bankers who made millions and millions of dollars over the years. And all this may happen because one guy says we should do it quickly! and "trust me". What is happening to our country?

Bob Herbert wrote a great piece on this yesterday:

A Second Opinion?

By Bob Herbert

Does anyone think it’s just a little weird to be stampeded into a $700 billion solution to the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression by the very people who brought us the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression?

How about a second opinion?

Everything needs much closer scrutiny in these troubled times because no one even knows who is in charge, much less what is going on. Have you ever seen a president who was more irrelevant than George W. Bush is right now?

The treasury secretary, Henry Paulson — heralded as King Henry on the cover of Newsweek — has been handed the reins of government, and he’s galloping through the taxpayers’ money like a hard-charging driver in a runaway chariot race.

“We need this legislation in a week,” he said on Sunday, referring to the authorization from Congress to implement his hastily assembled plan to bail out the wildly profligate U.S. financial industry. The plan stands at $700 billion as proposed, but could go to a trillion dollars or more.

Mr. Paulson spoke on the Sunday morning talk shows about “bad lending practices” and “irresponsible borrowing” and “irresponsible lending” and “illiquid assets.”

The sky was falling, he seemed to be saying, and if the taxpayers didn’t pony up $700 billion in the next few days, all would be lost. No time to look at the fine print. Hurry, hurry, said the treasury secretary.

His eyes, as he hopped from one network camera to another, said, as salesmen have been saying since the dawn of time: “Trust me.”

With all due respect to Mr. Paulson, who is widely regarded as a smart and fine man, we need to slow this process down. We got into this mess by handing out mortgages like lollipops to people who paid too little attention to the fine print, who in many cases didn’t understand it or didn’t care about it.

And the people who always pretended to know better, who should have known better, the mortgage hucksters and the gilt-edged, high-rolling, helicopter-flying Wall Street financiers, kept pushing this bad paper higher and higher up the pyramid without looking at the fine print themselves, not bothering to understand it, until all the crap came raining down on the rest of us.

Yes, the system came perilously close to collapse last week and needs to be stabilized as quickly as possible. But we don’t know yet that King Henry’s fiat, his $700 billion solution, is the best solution. Like the complex mortgage-based instruments at the heart of this debacle, nobody has a real grasp yet of the vast implications of Mr. Paulson’s remedy.

Experts need some reasonable amount of time — I’m talking about days, not weeks — to home in on the weak points, the loopholes, the potential unintended consequences of a bailout of this magnitude.

The patchwork modifications being offered by Democrats in Congress are insufficient. Reasonable estimates need to be made of the toll to be taken on taxpayers. Reasonable alternatives need to be heard.

I agree with the economist Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, that while the government needs to move with dispatch, there is also a need to make sure that taxpayers’ money is used only where “absolutely necessary.”

Lobbyists, bankers and Wall Street types are already hopping up and down like over-excited children, ready to burst into the government’s $700 billion piñata. This widespread eagerness is itself an indication that there is something too sweet about the Paulson plan.

This is not supposed to be a good deal for business. “The idea is that you’re coming here because you would be going bankrupt otherwise,” said Mr. Baker. “You’re coming here because you have no alternative. You’re getting a bad deal, but it’s better than going out of business. That’s how it should be structured.”

The markets tanked again on Monday as oil prices skyrocketed. Time is indeed short, but alternative voices desperately need to be heard because the people who have been running the economy for so long — who have ruined it — cannot be expected to make things right again in 48 or 96 hours.

Mr. Paulson himself was telling us during the summer that the economy was sound, that its long-term fundamentals were “strong,” that growth would rebound by the end of the year, when most of the slump in housing prices would be over.

He has been wrong every step of the way, right up until early last week, about the severity of the economic crisis. As for President Bush, the less said the better.

The free-market madmen who treated the American economy like a giant casino have had their day. It’s time to drag them away from the tables and into the sunlight of reality.

September 23, 2008

Wow. At 32, I'm still a Nancy Drew dork.

My 'Your Amazon.com order has shipped' message noted my purchases:

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September 14, 2008

Why They Kill: The Discoveries of a Maverick Criminologist By Richard Rhodes

I started this book a while ago but had to put it down while reading for school. The irony is that this book has significantly informed my studies of crime and violence. The work of criminologist Lonnie Athens is groundbreaking and convincing (you'll have to read the book to learn what his decades of studies reveal about violent offenders!). I'm certain the communication of this knowledge was greatly facilitated by the fantastically clear and engaging writing of Pulitzer Prize-winning Richard Rhodes. I think the best thing for an academic is to have a Richard Rhodes caliber writer tell the story of their work! Highly, highly recommended.

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The Night Gardener By George Pelecanos

This book, a gift from my dad, is a crime novel set mostly in D.C. and just as the TV show The Wire does a great job illustrating Baltimore, this book does the same for the grittier neighborhoods of D.C. Coincidentally Pelecanos also wrote several episodes of The Wire! A well-written, page turner I highly recommend!

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September 12, 2008

Gregory Mcdonald, Novelist, Dies at 71 By Margalit Fox, NY Times

Obituaries are one of my favorite things to read as you get the satisfaction of reading about a person's entire life, their accomplishments, their struggles, their loved ones and their words. Gregory Mcdonald's I particularly enjoyed as he penned Fletch, the novel that inspired one of my favorite movies. The guy seemed like a cool guy, which is not surprising. R.I.P.

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Gregory Mcdonald, an Edgar Award-winning crime writer whose acidly funny novels starring the subversive sleuth I. M. Fletcher, breezily known as Fletch, have sold millions of copies and inspired two Hollywood films, died on Sunday at his home in Pulaski, Tenn. He was 71.

The cause was prostate cancer, said his wife, Cheryle Mcdonald.

A former reporter and editor for The Boston Globe, Mr. Mcdonald was considered a master of the comic-mystery genre. The Fletch novels, nine in all, were praised by critics for their sharp, sardonic dialogue and mordant social commentary. (The journalists, politicians, Ivy League types and drug dealers who populate Fletch’s world are all equally reprehensible.) The series began in 1974 with “Fletch,” published by Bobbs-Merrill.

Irwin Maurice Fletcher was young, cocky and smart but no white knight. A Southern California newspaperman turned beach bum, he flouted authority wherever he found it. He was a slob (at least early on), whose sartorial taste ran to T-shirts and jeans. He was a cad, a deadbeat (unpaid alimony), an opportunist and a sometime accumulator of vast ill-gotten wealth. He was, in short, the perfect hero for the countercultural ’70s, and the public ate him up.

The Fletch novels have sold tens of millions of copies, Mr. Mcdonald’s manager, David List, said Thursday. Two — “Fletch” and “Confess, Fletch” (Avon, 1976) — won Edgar Awards from the Mystery Writers of America. Among Mr. Mcdonald’s other awards, as The Globe reported on Thursday, was his personal favorite, “Best Foreign Author — Not Yet Dead,” from the Moscow Literary Review in 1992.

Fletch made his way on-screen in 1985, in a film of that name starring Chevy Chase. He returned, again played by Mr. Chase, in “Fletch Lives” (1989). Another novel, “Fletch Won” (Warner, 1985), is being adapted into a feature film, Mr. List said.

Despite his acclaim, Mr. Mcdonald shunned the limelight. On airplanes, trapped next to seatmates who asked what he did, he would reply that he was in the insurance business. That pre-empted further interrogation.

Gregory Burke Christopher Mcdonald was born on Feb. 15, 1937, in Shrewsbury, Mass. His father was a newsman with CBS Radio. The younger Mr. Mcdonald earned a bachelor’s degree from Harvard in 1958.

An accomplished sailor, Mr. Mcdonald supported himself at Harvard, and for several years afterward, by running what he euphemistically called an “international yacht troubleshooting business.” His clients were tycoons who bought yachts but could not sail them. Lost, stuck, becalmed or otherwise in need of rescue, they sent for Mr. Mcdonald, who sailed the boats home.

Starting in the mid-1960s, Mr. Mcdonald spent seven years on the staff of The Globe, where he wrote about culture. He moved to Tennessee in the mid-1980s, and after settling in Pulaski, the birthplace of the Ku Klux Klan, he was active in anti-Klan work.

Mr. Mcdonald’s first novel, “Running Scared” (Obolensky), appeared in 1964. It told the story of a college student who stands coolly by as his roommate commits suicide. The book, whose subject matter distressed many critics, was filmed in 1972, starring Robert Powell and Barry Morse. Another non-Fletch novel, “The Brave,” (Barricade Books, 1991), about a young man who takes part in a snuff film to help his destitute family, was filmed in 1997 with Johnny Depp.

Besides his wife, the former Cheryle Higgins, whom he married in 2001, Mr. Mcdonald is survived by a sister, two sons, three stepsons and grandchildren. His first marriage ended in divorce.

His other books include four novels starring Francis Xavier Flynn, a music-loving Boston cop introduced in “Confess, Fletch”; and a collection of his writing for The Globe, first published in 1985 and to be reissued in November by Seven Stories Press as “Souvenirs of a Blown World.”

A novel of which Mr. Mcdonald was especially fond was “Safekeeping” (1985), about the misadventures in New York of an English duke’s 8-year-old son. Praised by critics, it had been rejected by a spate of publishers before being acquired by Penzler Books for an advance of exactly $10. After the agent’s commission, Mr. Mcdonald got $9.

Though he wrote more than two dozen books, he remained best known for the Fletch novels. He found this a mixed blessing, and after “Fletch, Too” (Warner, 1986), he vowed there would be no more. He did not kill off his hero, but instead issued a very precise threat.

As Mr. Mcdonald said in an interview in 2002, “I’ve told my family and so forth that if, after I kick the bucket, somebody takes over writing Fletches and Flynns under my name or in conjunction with my name or as a franchise, I will come back from the grave and twist their heads off.”

September 3, 2008

About Death, Just Like Us or Pretty Much Unaware? By Natalie Angier, NY Times Science

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As anybody who has grieved inconsolably over the death of a loved one can attest, extended mourning is, in part, a perverse kind of optimism. Surely this bottomless, unwavering sorrow will amount to something, goes the tape loop. Surely if I keep it up long enough I’ll accomplish my goal, and the person will stop being dead.

Last week the Internet and European news outlets were flooded with poignant photographs of Gana, an 11-year-old gorilla at the Münster Zoo in Germany, holding up the body of her dead baby, Claudio, and pursing her lips toward his lifeless fingers. Claudio died at the age of 3 months of an apparent heart defect, and for days Gana refused to surrender his corpse to zookeepers, a saga that provoked among her throngs of human onlookers admiration and compassion and murmurings that, you see? Gorillas, and probably a lot of other animals as well, have a grasp of their mortality and will grieve for the dead and are really just like us after all.

Nobody knows what emotions swept through Gana’s head and heart as she persisted in cradling and nuzzling the remains of her son. But primatologists do know this: Among nearly all species of apes and monkeys in the wild, a mother will react to the death of her infant as Gana did — by clutching the little decedent to her breast and treating it as though it were still alive. For days or even weeks afterward, she will take it with her everywhere and fight off anything that threatens to snatch it away. “The only time I was ever mobbed by langurs was when I tried to inspect a baby corpse,” said the primatologist Sarah Hrdy. Only gradually will she allow the distance between herself and the ever-gnarlier carcass to grow.

Continue reading...

Rich Man's Burden By Dalton Conley, NY Times Op-Ed

Another thought-provoking piece by friend Dalton! Readers may recall his controversial "Man's Right to Choose" piece from a while ago...

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For many American professionals, the Labor Day holiday yesterday probably wasn’t as relaxing as they had hoped. They didn’t go into the office, but they were still working. As much as they may truly have wanted to focus on time with their children, their spouses or their friends, they were unable to turn off their BlackBerrys, their laptops and their work-oriented brains.

Americans working on holidays is not a new phenomenon: we have long been an industrious folk. A hundred years ago the German sociologist Max Weber described what he called the Protestant ethic. This was a religious imperative to work hard, spend little and find a calling in order to achieve spiritual assurance that one is among the saved.

Weber claimed that this ethic could be found in its most highly evolved form in the United States, where it was embodied by aphorisms like Ben Franklin’s “Industry gives comfort and plenty and respect.” The Protestant ethic is so deeply engrained in our culture you don’t need to be Protestant to embody it. You don’t even need to be religious.

But what’s different from Weber’s era is that it is now the rich who are the most stressed out and the most likely to be working the most. Perhaps for the first time since we’ve kept track of such things, higher-income folks work more hours than lower-wage earners do. Since 1980, the number of men in the bottom fifth of the income ladder who work long hours (over 49 hours per week) has dropped by half, according to a study by the economists Peter Kuhn and Fernando Lozano. But among the top fifth of earners, long weeks have increased by 80 percent.

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August 28, 2008

For a New Political Age, a Self-Made Man By Jodi Kantor, NY Times

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A thoughtful and intriguing look into Obama.

From the earliest days of his presidential campaign, those around Senator Barack Obama have heard the same mantra. He repeated it after he announced his candidacy and after debates, after victories and defeats.

A longtime community organizer in Chicago, Mr. Obama helped Irene Sanders to her car while helping out at the James Food Pantry in 2006.

“I need to get better,” he would say.

In the way Mr. Obama has trained himself for competition, he can sometimes seem as much athlete as politician. Even before he entered public life, he began honing not only his political skills, but also his mental and emotional ones. He developed a self-discipline so complete, friends and aides say, that he has established dominion over not only what he does but also how he feels. He does not easily exult, despair or anger: to do so would be an indulgence, a distraction from his goals. Instead, they say, he separates himself from the moment and assesses.

“He doesn’t inhale,” said David Axelrod, his chief strategist.

But with Barack Hussein Obama officially becoming the Democratic presidential nominee on Wednesday night, some of the same qualities that have brought him just one election away from the White House — his virtuosity, his seriousness, his ability to inspire, his seeming immunity from the strains that afflict others — may be among his biggest obstacles to getting there.

There is little about him that feels spontaneous or unpolished, and even after two books, thousands of campaign events and countless hours on television, many Americans say they do not feel they know him. The accusations of elusiveness puzzle those closest to the candidate. Far more than most politicians, they say, he is the same in public as he is in private.

The mystery and the consistency may share the same root: Mr. Obama, 47, is the first presidential candidate to come of age during an era of relentless 24-hour scrutiny. “He is, more than any other contemporary political figure, a creature of these times,” said Representative Earl Blumenauer, a fellow Democrat who campaigned this spring with Mr. Obama in Oregon, Mr. Blumenauer’s home state.

Last month, while visiting Jerusalem, Mr. Obama crammed a note in the Western Wall that was promptly fished out and posted on the Internet. The message was elegantly phrased, as if Mr. Obama, a Christian, had anticipated that his private words to the Almighty would soon be on public display.

In the note, Mr. Obama asked for protection, forgiveness and wisdom, a message in keeping with the humility he tries to emphasize. But his uncanny self-assurance and seemingly smooth glide upward have stoked complaints from his critics and his opponents, first Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and now Senator John McCain, that he has not spent enough time earning and learning, that his main project in life has been his own ascent.

Because he betrays little hint of struggle, Mr. Obama can seem far removed from the troubles of some voters. Older working-class whites may be uncomfortable with his race — he is the son of a white mother from Kansas and a black father from Kenya — and his age. But they may also find it hard to identify with him, even though he tries to assure them that they have much in common, mentioning that his mother relied on food stamps at times and that he worked as a community organizer in Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods. His command of crowds of 75,000, his unfailing eloquence and his comparing himself to Joshua and Lincoln can belie his point.

These voters are not the first to see a contradiction between Mr. Obama’s aura of specialness and his insistence that he is just like everyone else.

“I’m just a first among equal folks,” Mr. Obama’s fellow editors at the Harvard Law Review wrote about him in an affectionate but biting parody issue after he was elected its president. “But still, no one’s interviewing any of them.”

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Johnson’s Dream, Obama’s Speech By Robert A. Caro, NY Times Op-Ed

A great op-ed piece today: a history lesson and a lesson on history-making.

As I watch Barack Obama’s speech to the Democratic convention tonight, I will be remembering another speech: the one that made Martin Luther King cry. And I will be thinking: Mr. Obama’s speech — and in a way his whole candidacy — might not have been possible had that other speech not been given.

That speech was President Lyndon Johnson’s address to Congress in 1965 announcing that he was about to introduce a voting rights act, and in some respects Mr. Obama’s candidacy is the climax — at least thus far — of a movement based not only on the sacrifices and heroism of the Rev. Dr. King and generations of black fighters for civil rights but also on the political genius of Lyndon Baines Johnson, who as it happens was born 100 years ago yesterday.

When, on the night of March 15, 1965, the long motorcade drove away from the White House, heading for Capitol Hill, where President Johnson would give his speech to a joint session of Congress, pickets were standing outside the gates, as they had been for weeks, and as the presidential limousine passed, they were singing the same song that was being sung that week in Selma, Ala.: “We Shall Overcome.” They were singing it in defiance of Johnson, because they didn’t trust him.

They had reasons not to trust him.

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Media’s Balancing Act By Nicholas D. Kristof, NY Times Op-Ed

A nice op-ed highlighting the rough role of journalists. What would you do in the three scenarios Kristof poses???!! Here is the article in its entirety:

By early 2002, it seemed clear that the United States government was muffing the anthrax investigation. Microbiologists interviewed by the F.B.I. reported that the bureau didn’t fully understand the science involved and had allowed the destruction of anthrax stocks that might have provided comparisons with the spores used in the attacks.

In the spring of 2002, I wrote a series of columns about the anthrax investigation, including some in which I referred to a “Mr. Z” as an example of the flaws in the F.B.I.’s investigation. Some scientists had mentioned him to the F.B.I. early on as a candidate for closer scrutiny, but those trails weren’t initially followed.

Later, after the authorities tipped off television reporters before a raid of his home, Dr. Steven J. Hatfill held a press conference to deny any involvement in the anthrax case. In the process, he confirmed that he was Mr. Z.

The government later named Dr. Hatfill as a “person of interest” in the case, and agents came to trail him constantly. Government officials leaked private information about Dr. Hatfill to reporters and this year paid him a multimillion-dollar settlement as a result.

Then, this month, the government announced that the real culprit was, Bruce Ivins, another scientist who had worked in the United States biodefense program at Fort Detrick, in Frederick, Md. The F.B.I. claims that Dr. Ivins, who killed himself as the investigation closed in on him, was actually the anthrax murderer, and it exonerated Dr. Hatfill.

So, first, I owe an apology to Dr. Hatfill. In retrospect, I was right to prod the F.B.I. and to urge tighter scrutiny of Fort Detrick, but the job of the news media is supposed to be to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. Instead, I managed to afflict the afflicted.

Dr. Hatfill sued me and The New York Times, along with others in the news media and the Justice Department. His suit against me and The Times was dismissed, yet even if I don’t have a legal obligation, I do feel a moral one to express regret for any added distress from my columns.

That makes this a good moment to look at the larger question of what principles should govern the collision between the public interest in aggressive news coverage and the individual interest in privacy.

Dr. Ivins is a case in point: Some of his friends and family are convinced of his innocence and believe the F.B.I. hounded him to death. And the evidence against him, while interesting, is circumstantial. Shouldn’t a presumption of innocence continue when a person is dead and can no longer defend himself?

So don the mantle of a journalist for a moment and think about how you would handle these three hypothetical cases:

• You discover that police have seized barrels of chemicals from a group of young foreign men living in town and are questioning them on suspicion of planning to poison the local reservoir. The men’s lawyer pleads with you to write nothing, saying that the matter will be cleared up and that publicity would exacerbate anti-foreign prejudices and make it impossible for them to remain in the community. Do you write about it?

• You find that police have a new suspect in the JonBenet Ramsey case and are interrogating him repeatedly. A friendly cop lets you peek at the man’s file. The man’s wife calls up frantically to beg you not to go public, saying that an article would set off a media feeding frenzy that would permanently traumatize their three children. Do you break the story about this suspect?

• You learn that the local high school girls’ basketball coach has been repeatedly accused of sexual misconduct and has left three previous schools under a cloud of suspicion. The school authorities seem paralyzed and are encouraging the teacher to move again before the next school year, but the police have not been involved. The coach says he is leaving the area and probably teaching. He pleads with you to let the matter drop and hints that a scandal might drive him to kill himself. Do you write anything?

My own answers are yes, no and yes. In the first case, the risk to a reservoir is such a serious health concern that it demands coverage. In contrast, the Ramsey case is titillating but doesn’t involve serious public policy concerns (though any cable TV channel would break the story in a heartbeat). In the third case, the school system has failed and news coverage may be the only corrective oversight.

Naturally, it would be important to give the suspects’ points of view and to humanize them by quoting friends. But my own judgment is that while the cost imposed on individuals can be huge, where crucial public interests are at stake, we in the press should be very wary of keeping what we know from the public.

August 22, 2008

THIS IS THE BULLSHIT CHINA PULLS AND WE MUST PUNISH THEM FOR IT/Too Old and Frail to Re-educate? Not in China By Andrew Jacobs, NY Times

China purportedly allowed protesting in a designated area and then once citizens applied for a permit to this legal protest, they are arrested and sentenced to "re-education through labor" camp. THIS IS EXACTLY WHY IT IS ABHORRENT TO SUPPORT CHINA.

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In the annals of people who have struggled against Communist Party rule, Wu Dianyuan and Wang Xiuying are unlikely to merit even a footnote.

The two women, both in their late 70s, have never spoken out against China’s authoritarian government. Both walk with the help of a cane, and Ms. Wang is blind in one eye. Their grievance, receiving insufficient compensation when their homes were seized for redevelopment, is perhaps the most common complaint among Chinese displaced during the country’s long streak of fast economic growth.

But the Beijing police still sentenced the two women to an extrajudicial term of “re-education through labor” this week for applying to hold a legal protest in a designated area in Beijing, where officials promised that Chinese could hold demonstrations during the Olympic Games.

They became the most recent examples of people punished for submitting applications to protest. A few would-be demonstrators have simply disappeared, at least for the duration of the Games, squelching already diminished hopes that the influx of foreigners and the prestige of holding the Games would push China’s leaders to relax their tight grip on political expression.

“Can you imagine two old ladies in their 70s being re-educated through labor?” asked Li Xuehui, Ms. Wu’s son, who said the police told the two women that their sentence might remain in suspension if they stayed at home and stopped asking for permission to protest.

“I feel very sad and angry because we’re only asking for the basic right of living and it’s been six years, but nobody will do anything to help,” Mr. Li said.

It is unclear why the police have detained people who sought permission to protest. Some political analysts say the police may be refusing to enforce the government’s order, announced last month, to allow protest zones. Chinese lawyers and human rights advocates also suggested a more cynical motivation — that the authorities were using the possibility of legal demonstrations as a ploy to lure restive citizens into declaring their intention to protest, allowing the police to take action against them.

Continue reading...

August 21, 2008

Living with humans has taught dogs morals, say scientists, Daily Mail/HOW CUTE IS THIS DOG???!!!

Thanks to my brother for this article! I suppose I will give humans some credit for how awesome dogs are...

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Dogs are becoming more intelligent and are even learning morals from human contact, scientists claim.

They say the fact that dogs' play rarely escalates into a fight shows the animals abide by social rules.

During one study, dogs which held up a paw were rewarded with a food treat.

When a lone dog was asked to raise its paw but received no treat, the researchers found it begged for up to 30 minutes.

But when they tested two dogs together but rewarded only one, the dog which missed out soon stopped playing the game.

Dr Friederike Range, of the University of Vienna, who led the study, said: 'Dogs show a strong aversion to inequity. I would prefer not to call it a sense of fairness, but others might.'

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August 20, 2008

Michael Phelps's most important swim

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* I commend whoever conceived (get it, get it?) of this and drew it - hilarious!

August 19, 2008

Some Hurdles Are Too High by Thomas Boswell, Washington Post

My dad sent me this interesting article on the Olympics and China, which I have excerpted here:

Think of Liu another way: At these Games, Liu is China. How it got that way we Westerners may only guess.

But it is unlikely we will ever see an athlete in greater emotional pain, or a country that takes a loss more personally, or a cast of trainers and coaches who feel more devastated.

"Liu Xiang will not withdraw unless the pain is intolerable, unless he has no other way out," said China's national team coach Feng Shuyong. Liu's coach, Sun Haiping, broke down sobbing several times at a news conference.

Time will tell whether Liu and his coaches truly thought that he had any hope of racing on Monday. What's certain is that, whatever his condition and whenever his injury occurred, Liu absolutely had to make an appearance to prove -- by falling down, by attempting a restart after it was clear he could never clear the first hurdle, by kicking a wall in anger numerous times -- that he was really hurt.

This, remember, is a country that, for generations, has seldom known what was real and what was propaganda, which of the missing were alive or dead, what official stories were true and which complete fabrications.

Even after Liu's photo gallery full of misery was on view, large numbers of Chinese -- on Internet sites and in media samplings -- felt more anger than sadness. Some said he should have crawled around the track rather than walk off.

And A-Rod thinks playing for the Yankees is tough.

If Phelps, who slipped and broke his wrist last winter, had gotten hurt and never swam here, it would have stunned and saddened America. Few would have been angry.

But this is a nation so obsessed with making an impression, and not embarrassing itself, that it has a government department dedicated to controlling the weather during the Olympics -- and it may actually be working. Military-complex security has shielded the Games from demonstrators. Every food stand is triple-staffed, every media center double-sized and, many times, a single reporter rides in a bus with 31 empty seats. For hospitality and efficiency, China has super-sized it all.

Continue reading...

August 15, 2008

Hawaii & Obamas

As some of you know, I LOVE Hawaii. Hawaii, Japan and Italy are my favorite places on this fine earth. And with the Obama family's recent trip to Hawaii, the place seems even more magical. Theirs is the only trip I have ever vicariously enjoyed!

Obama bodysurfing:

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The flower behind the ear is the loveliest accessory, compliments of tropical nature:

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The gorgeousness of Hawaii:

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Happiness is key to longer life

People, try to be the happiest person in your "city-state" like Andy Goh of Singapore!

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I've bolded interesting parts of this article:

Keep humming "Don't Worry Be Happy". The 1980s New Age-inspired hit got it right. New research shows being happy can add several years to life.

"Happiness does not heal, but happiness protects against falling ill," says Ruut Veenhoven of Rotterdam's Erasmus University in a study to be published next month.

After reviewing 30 studies carried out worldwide over periods ranging from one to 60 years, the Dutch professor said the effects of happiness on longevity were "comparable to that of smoking or not".

That special flair for feeling good, he said, could lengthen life by between 7.5 and 10 years.

The finding brings a vital new piece to a puzzle currently being assembled by researchers worldwide on just what makes us happy -- and on the related question of why people blessed with material wealth in developed nations no longer seem satisfied with their lives.

Once the province of poets or philosophers, the notions of happiness and satisfaction have been taken on and dissected, quantified and analysed in the last few years by a growing number of highly serious and respected economists -- some of whom dub the new field "hedonics", or the study of what makes life pleasant, or otherwise.

"The idea that there is a state called happiness, and that we can dependably figure out what it feels like and how to measure it, is extremely subversive," says Bill McKibben in his 2007 book "Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future".

"It allows economists to start thinking about life in richer terms, to stop asking 'What did you buy?' and to start asking 'Is your life good?'."

Growth in material wealth adds little to happiness once buying power hits 10,000 dollars a year per head, according to such research.

But happiness can be bolstered by friendship and human community, as well as larger social factors such as freedom, democracy, effective government institutions and rule of law.

In Veenhoven's findings, published in the Journal of Happiness Studies, a scientific publication founded in 2000, the strongest effect on longevity was found among a group of US nuns followed through their adult life -- perhaps reflecting the feel-good factor from belonging to a close-knit stress-free community with a sense of purpose.

While the lyrics from the Grammy-award 1989 "Be Happy" hit were inspired by popular Indian guru Meher Baba, nowadays, in more than 100 countries, from Bhutan in the Himalayas to the US and Australia, economists are working to put "happiness" indicators (a new kind of quality-of-life index) into the measurement of growth.

Happiness itself, according to the specialists, is generally accepted as "the overall appreciation of one's life as a whole", in other words a state of mind best defined by the person questioned.

In his paper, Veenhoven first looked at statistics to see whether good cheer impacted on the sick, but concluded that while happiness had helped some cancer patients suffering from a relapse, in general "happiness does not appear to prolong the deathbed."

Among healthy populations, on the contrary, happiness appeared to protect against falling ill, thus prolonging life.

Happy people were more inclined to watch their weight, were more perceptive of symptoms of illness, tended to be more moderate with smoking and drinking and generally lived healthier lives.

They were also more active, more open to the world, more self-confident, made better choices and built more social networks.

"For the time being we know that happiness fosters physical health, but not precisely how," he wrote.

"Chronic unhappiness activates the fight-flight response, which is known to involve harmful effects in the long run such as higher blood pressure and a lower immune response."

To improve good cheer, he said, there needed to be more research on the impact of residential conditions or on the long-term effects of school on happiness. And studies on job-satisfaction failed to address the question of life-satisfaction at work.

But these findings, he said, opened new vistas for public health.

Governments needed to educate people in the art of "living well", helping to develop the ability to enjoy life, to make the best choices, to keep developing and to see a meaning in life.

"If we feel unhealthy we go to a medical general practitioner," he said. "If we feel unhappy there is no such generalist. We have to guess."

"Professional guidance for a happier life is unavailable as yet. This is a remarkable market failure, given the large number of people who feel they could be happier."

August 12, 2008

Harmony and the Dream By David Brooks, NY Times Op-Ed

This op-ed is so great. It sums up so many of my interests and what I spend a lot of time thinking about, since I am an individualistic American yet I am collectivistically Chinese and Japanese too. David Brooks does a nice job reflecting on this dichotomy. He also throws in some neuropsychology to highlight how important nurture is in the now very tired nature vs nurture debate. Finally, Brooks espouses the importance of relationships which is all too overlooked by the typical American (I wholeheartedly embrace Obama's use of this phrase as it is apt). I've bolded parts I loved.

The world can be divided in many ways — rich and poor, democratic and authoritarian — but one of the most striking is the divide between the societies with an individualist mentality and the ones with a collectivist mentality.

This is a divide that goes deeper than economics into the way people perceive the world. If you show an American an image of a fish tank, the American will usually describe the biggest fish in the tank and what it is doing. If you ask a Chinese person to describe a fish tank, the Chinese will usually describe the context in which the fish swim.

These sorts of experiments have been done over and over again, and the results reveal the same underlying pattern. Americans usually see individuals; Chinese and other Asians see contexts.

When the psychologist Richard Nisbett showed Americans individual pictures of a chicken, a cow and hay and asked the subjects to pick out the two that go together, the Americans would usually pick out the chicken and the cow. They’re both animals. Most Asian people, on the other hand, would pick out the cow and the hay, since cows depend on hay. Americans are more likely to see categories. Asians are more likely to see relationships.

You can create a global continuum with the most individualistic societies — like the United States or Britain — on one end, and the most collectivist societies — like China or Japan — on the other.

The individualistic countries tend to put rights and privacy first. People in these societies tend to overvalue their own skills and overestimate their own importance to any group effort. People in collective societies tend to value harmony and duty. They tend to underestimate their own skills and are more self-effacing when describing their contributions to group efforts.

Researchers argue about why certain cultures have become more individualistic than others. Some say that Western cultures draw their values from ancient Greece, with its emphasis on individual heroism, while other cultures draw on more on tribal philosophies. Recently, some scientists have theorized that it all goes back to microbes. Collectivist societies tend to pop up in parts of the world, especially around the equator, with plenty of disease-causing microbes. In such an environment, you’d want to shun outsiders, who might bring strange diseases, and enforce a certain conformity over eating rituals and social behavior.

Either way, individualistic societies have tended to do better economically. We in the West have a narrative that involves the development of individual reason and conscience during the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, and then the subsequent flourishing of capitalism. According to this narrative, societies get more individualistic as they develop.

But what happens if collectivist societies snap out of their economic stagnation? What happens if collectivist societies, especially those in Asia, rise economically and come to rival the West? A new sort of global conversation develops.

The opening ceremony in Beijing was a statement in that conversation. It was part of China’s assertion that development doesn’t come only through Western, liberal means, but also through Eastern and collective ones.

The ceremony drew from China’s long history, but surely the most striking features were the images of thousands of Chinese moving as one — drumming as one, dancing as one, sprinting on precise formations without ever stumbling or colliding. We’ve seen displays of mass conformity before, but this was collectivism of the present — a high-tech vision of the harmonious society performed in the context of China’s miraculous growth.

If Asia’s success reopens the debate between individualism and collectivism (which seemed closed after the cold war), then it’s unlikely that the forces of individualism will sweep the field or even gain an edge.

For one thing, there are relatively few individualistic societies on earth. For another, the essence of a lot of the latest scientific research is that the Western idea of individual choice is an illusion and the Chinese are right to put first emphasis on social contexts.

Scientists have delighted to show that so-called rational choice is shaped by a whole range of subconscious influences, like emotional contagions and priming effects (people who think of a professor before taking a test do better than people who think of a criminal). Meanwhile, human brains turn out to be extremely permeable (they naturally mimic the neural firings of people around them). Relationships are the key to happiness. People who live in the densest social networks tend to flourish, while people who live with few social bonds are much more prone to depression and suicide.

The rise of China isn’t only an economic event. It’s a cultural one. The ideal of a harmonious collective may turn out to be as attractive as the ideal of the American Dream.

It’s certainly a useful ideology for aspiring autocrats.

In U.S., Expert Witnesses Are Partisan By Adam Liptak, NY Times

This article discusses what we often touched on in my psych & law class last semester: the role of expert witnesses.

Here are some highlights:

...Dr. Leonard Welsh, the psychologist who testified for the state, said he sometimes found his work compromising.

“After you come out of court,” Dr. Welsh said, “you feel like you need a shower. They’re asking you to be certain of things you can’t be certain of.” He might have preferred a new way of hearing expert testimony that Australian lawyers call hot tubbing.

In that procedure, also called concurrent evidence, experts are still chosen by the parties, but they testify together at trial — discussing the case, asking each other questions, responding to inquiries from the judge and the lawyers, finding common ground and sharpening the open issues. In the Wilkins case, by contrast, the two experts “did not exchange information,” the Court of Appeals for Iowa noted in its decision last year.

“Judges think that if we could just have a place in the adversarial trial that was a little less adversarial and a little more scientific, everything would be fine,” Professor Edmond said. “But science can be very acrimonious.”

Melvin Belli, the famed trial lawyer, endorsed this view. “If I got myself an impartial witness,” he once said, “I’d think I was wasting my money.”

Continue reading...

August 11, 2008

President Bush taps Olympic ass: This photo makes me so uncomfortable

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August 8, 2008

10 mispronunciations that make you sound stupid, Word Nerd Series!

From Toni Bowers' list of commonly mangled words:

Previously, TechRepublic ran an article about 10 grammar mistakes that make you look stupid. The examples cited involved the misuse of words in written and verbal communications. I’d like to go a step farther here and talk about words that may be used correctly but are pronounced wrong. They also may be much more flagrant examples of stupidity.

A caveat: My ear may be abnormally sensitive to mispronunciations since in college I developed an unnatural affinity for linguistics (can you say “Get a life?”). However, people often make snap decisions about character and intelligence based on their language biases, so it’s something you should be aware of. Here are some of my pet peeves, which you may or may not ever use in your life.

Note: This article originally appeared in our Career Management blog.

#1: Realtor

Many people — I’ve even heard it from people on national TV — pronounce this word REAL-uh-ter. Is this a case of wide-spread dyslexia, transposing the a and the l? It’s REAL-tor. That’s it. You’d think only two syllables would be easier to pronounce, but apparently not.

#2: Nuclear

Do you know how tough it is to be an advocate for the correct pronunciation of this word (NU-clee-er) when the president of the United States pronounces it NU-cu-lar? I don’t buy that it’s a regional thing. Ya’ll is a regional thing; nu-cu-lar is not.

#3: Jewelry

It’s not JOO-la-ree, it’s JOOL-ree. Again with the making things harder by turning a word into three syllables. What’s with that?

#4: Supposedly/supposably

The latter is a nonexistent word.

#5: Supposed to/suppose to

I think this one is more a matter of a lazy tongue than of ignorance. It takes an extra beat in there to emphasize the d at the end, but it’s worth it. And never omit the d if you’re using the term in a written communication or people will think you were raised in a hollowed-out tree trunk somewhere.

#6: Used to/use to

Same as above.

#7: Anyway/anyways

There’s no s at the end. I swear. Look it up.

#8: February/Febuary

As much as it galls me, there is an r between the b and the u. When you pronounce the word correctly it should sound like you’re trying to talk with a mouthful of marbles — FEB broo ary.

#9: Recur/reoccur

Though the latter is tempting, it’s not a word. And again, why add another syllable if you don’t need it?

#10: Mischievous/mischievious

I know, I know, it sounds so Basil Rathbone to say MIS cha vous, but that’s the right way. Mis CHEE vee us is more commonly used, but it’s wrong.

And last but not least, my personal all-time pet peeve — the word often. It should be pronounced OFF un, not OFF tun. The t is silent.

* The Word Nerds thank BuzzFeed!

August 6, 2008

I am rich and stupid app is hilarious!!

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August 1, 2008

TMI. SoCal earthquake. Sooooooo funny!!!

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* via BuzzFeed!

July 29, 2008

Montauk Monster: Is this a joke or proof of aliens?

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July 17, 2008

Everything always comes down to psychology, folks!

Home is Where the Head Is By Penelope Green, NY Times

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BUILDING a home, like getting married, is not for the faint of heart. It is a rare individual (or couple) who can manage the mix of high expectations, inexperience and a ballooning budget in service of a goal — a home! — so freighted with meaning, and come out unscathed.

Architects complain that they are asked to behave more like mental health professionals than designers, clients complain that their architects and their mates do not understand them, and the stories of couples coming asunder, or of clients suing their architects, are legion. There are no hard numbers on exactly how many unions, either professional or marital, come to grief or end up in litigation as a result of bungled attempts at homemaking, but there is enough anecdotal evidence to suggest a lot of broken hearts.

Continue reading...

July 8, 2008

Reading test: Amazing!

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* via BuzzFeed!

July 7, 2008

The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town By John Grisham

This book was a heart-wrenching and eye-opening read. Grisham tells the story of Ron Williamson and makes you realize how colossally human we are: Our actions are mostly fueled by good yet our pathologies intervene. Also, we harbor the capacity to commit cruel acts solely for ego survival as painfully portrayed by the Ada, Oklahoma police department. While it was certainly troubling to read the process of how such an atrocity happened, the book is also, as the best investigative journalistic works are, thoughtful, illuminating and gripping. Grisham's first foray into non-fiction proves that his storytelling skills are sharpest in this genre!

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* Thanks to my dad for the recommendation - Of course I already had it ready and waiting on my bookshelf!

Jonah Peretti talks viral videos on NPR, I'm a proud wife series!

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Talk of the Nation, June 30, 2008 · When a video clip on the Internet gains widespread popularity through e-mail and other venues of Internet sharing, it becomes what's known as a "viral video." The often highly pixelated and wobbly images have such an air of authenticity about them that it's hard to watch without thinking, "Maybe I can make a video that goes viral!" The truth is, it's not only harder than it looks; people are paid a great deal of money to make things go viral.

Internet entrepreneur Jonah Peretti, hula-hooping viral video star Lauren Bernat and TV Week contributing writer Daisy Whitney talk about the highly controlled world of "viral video" and what's real, what's fake and how video became a big gun in the online marketing arsenal.

Case closed. Sort of. By Michelle Chen, NewsDay

What's so thrilling about an unsolved murder case? A lot, I say!

After about 20 years, the high-profile Martin Tankleff murder case has drawn to an end. Tankleff is a free man, no one else has been charged with the crime, yet he hasn't been fully exonerated by the state. End of story?

If you still feel unsettled, you're not the only one. To some, the overturning of his conviction is a just conclusion to the case; others read it as a twist in a bigger mystery.

Arie Kruglanski, a professor of psychology at the University of Maryland, has uncovered psychological underpinnings in the tension people feel over unsolved crimes and other disturbing uncertainties in life: it's all driven by a fundamental "need for closure."

A desire to have a clear conclusion to any story is natural, Kruglanski says. Whether you're anxiously turning the pages of a detective novel or mulling over the conspiracy theories that have kept the Kennedy assassination alive for decades.

To Sarah Weinman, a writer, critic and blogger specializing in crime fiction, the public fascination with the Tankleff case resonates with the magnetism of a good mystery novel. "As long as something is unresolved, there's still the potential for resolution. There's still suspense," she says. "Suspense is a very powerful, very provocative emotion or feeling."

But we vary in our desire for conclusiveness. "Some people, because of their temperament or because of the way they were brought up, find uncertainty more unpleasant than other people," says Kruglanski. That could play out in their social interactions and politics as well--in ways that society may view as positive or negative.

Continue reading...

Knowing who killed a loved one is justice by Philip Lerman, NewsDay

Marty Tenkleff is finally freed after being wrongfully convicted and locked up for 17 years. Here's an Op-Ed by Philip Lerman, former co-executive producer of "America's Most Wanted.

The last sound my parents heard was the glass smashing against the wall, and the slam of the front door.

My stepsister Jackie, in a schizophrenia-fueled rage, had picked up the nearest object and flung it across the room before running off again, as she had so many times before; most likely to hop the train into Manhattan, to hang out on the streets until she cooled down, or got hungry, or both, at which time she'd come back home.

Only this time, she never came back.

That was 30 years ago; her disappearance and, as we came to believe, her murder (although her body was never found), remain unsolved.

And so it was with very mixed feelings that I received the news this week that the district attorney will not retry Marty Tankleff for the murder of his parents. My friends in New York all feel very relieved - proud, even - that a miscarriage of justice has been righted (though some, like the detectives involved in the case, feel otherwise). There is a fragile sense of order that is shattered, like that glass against the wall, when we hear that an innocent man sits behind bars for 17 years. And while we can never give Tankleff back those years, we at least feel a sense of fairness, of order restored, when that awful wrong is undone.

Continue reading...

July 1, 2008

The Pitfalls of Perfectionism by Hara Estroff Marano, Psychology Today

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So true!

Perfectionism seeps into the psyche and creates a pervasive personality style. It keeps people from engaging in challenging experiences; they don't get to discover what they truly like or to create their own identities. Perfectionism reduces playfulness and the assimilation of knowledge; if you're always focused on your own performance and on defending yourself, you can't focus on learning a task. Here's the cosmic thigh-slapper: Because it lowers the ability to take risks, perfectionism reduces creativity and innovation--exactly what's not adaptive in the global marketplace.

Yet, it does more. It is a steady source of negative emotions; rather than reaching toward something positive, those in its grip are focused on the very thing they most want to avoid--negative evaluation. Perfectionism, then, is an endless report card; it keeps people completely self-absorbed, engaged in perpetual self-evaluation--reaping relentless frustration and doomed to anxiety and depression.

The 11 Best Foods You Aren’t Eating

It's too bad I detest the foods listed in #s 1, 3, 7, 8 and 11.

* via BuzzFeed.

June 27, 2008

Animal Tales By Simon Rich: Frogs, Dalmations & Free-Range Chickens Tell Us What They Think

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* via Kottke as I never read the Shouts and Murmurs section of the New Yorker but am glad I found my way to it for this piece!

June 25, 2008

Man convicted in grad student's rape, torture

Incredible story of a victim's resilience and justice swiftly served.

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June 23, 2008

Scouting For "Camel Toads": This is not a joke

Funniest thing I've seen in a long time!

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June 20, 2008

Edith Macefield: Cool story and woman

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Susan Atkins: Why after almost 40 years does she still look insane like Charles Manson?

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Wanted: Samuel Israel

My dad, brother and I have been following this story...if only my firm were hired to investigate this case!!

If you're looking for a way to nosedive into despair, try reading this story.

Boy's suffering leads to official soul-searching.

June 19, 2008

Teen Pregnancy Clubs Puke

Help! I'm drowning in my own disbelief, disgust and vomit.

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June 10, 2008

Global Water Supply Chart - Learn a little something today!

Click here for the great chart! This is not a joke to get you to click on something absolutely disgusting. Promise.

June 2, 2008

Resting & Reading, St. Barths Day One! May '08

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May 24, 2008

Obama to speak at Wesleyan's commencement this Sunday!!

I am so happy for my alma mater!!

Senator Edward M. Kennedy will not give the commencement address he was scheduled to deliver on Sunday at Wesleyan University and will be replaced as the speaker by Senator Barack Obama.

Mr. Obama offered last weekend to speak at the graduation after Mr. Kennedy was hospitalized because of a seizure caused by a malignant brain tumor, an aide to Mr. Kennedy said. Mr. Obama called Mr. Kennedy again on Thursday, and they agreed he would fill in.

Mr. Kennedy’s stepdaughter, Caroline Raclin, will be among the graduates. Mr. Kennedy’s son Edward Jr. graduated in 1983 from the university, which is in Middletown, Conn.

Mr. Kennedy, who received a diagnosis of a malignant glioma in the left parietal lobe of his brain, is resting at his home in Hyannis Port, Mass. Doctors are awaiting more test results to determine his course of treatment.

A statement from Mr. Kennedy’s office said he was “enormously grateful to Senator Obama and the support he’s received from all of his colleagues.”

Mr. Obama said in a statement, “Considering what he’s done for me and for our country, there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for him.”

Mr. Kennedy and his wife, Victoria, sailed for the second day in a row Thursday.

May 21, 2008

Who Is The walrus? by Natalie Angier, NY Times

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Oh my god!!! This photo is captioned 'Lovable Lumps' and I didn't even consult on that!! The New York Times wrote that cuteness all on their own!!! And the article only gets cuter!!! Who knew that walruses were so awesome??...

I was about to meet a walrus for the first time in my life, and I felt fabulous. After all, Ronald J. Schusterman of the University of California, Santa Cruz, who has studied them for years, had assured me over the phone that to meet a walrus was to fall in love with walruses — the mammals were that smart, friendly and playful. “They’re pussycats!” he said.

Just as we were entering the walrus house at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo, Calif., however, Dr. Schusterman tossed out a bit of advice. “The first thing the walruses will do when they come over is start pushing at you, pressing their heads right into your stomach,” he said. “Don’t let them get away with that. No matter how hard they push, you have to stand your ground.”

I stopped short, confused.

“If you don’t stand your ground, you’ll be knocked over or backed against a wall in no time,” Dr. Schusterman said.

But but ... I sputtered. How was I supposed to stand my ground against an animal the size of a Honda Civic? This sounded less like “friendly and playful” than “aggressive and possibly dangerous.”

“Just push back on the snout with the palm of your hand and blow in its face,” Dr. Schusterman instructed. “A walrus really likes to be blown in the face.” Continue reading...

May 15, 2008

Latarian Milton strikes again: 7 year old beats his grandmother

Remember the disturbing video of the 7 year old who stole his grandmother's car for a joyride?

Check out what he's done to his poor grandmother now.

It's sad how clearly undersocialized he is and to see the devastating effects of failed parenting. Obviously that's why his grandmother now takes care of him but she didn't sign up for beatings!! Poor gramms. This kid needs so much help. I wonder what's going to happen to him. I might send grandma a letter suggesting a little thing called civil commitment...

* Thanks to my brother for the link!

May 13, 2008

Dressed for a Meeting, Ready for Mayhem by Christine Hauser, NY Times

I love this article for combining detectives and fashion - what more could a girl want??! Also, it makes clear what many people seem to have forgotten - that what you wear is what you convey to the world that you are! Remember when Juicy Couture sweat suits didn't exist??!! Those were the days. I practically gouge out my eyeballs every time I see one.

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From his precinct on the fringes of Hell’s Kitchen, Detective Kevin P. Schroeder has cracked the case of a corpse in a Dumpster, wrestled a man into handcuffs on the sidewalk, and chased suspects across rooftops and down fire escapes.

When he prepares for a day at work, he puts his handgun in a holster, clips his cellphone and radio on his belt, and tucks handcuffs into his waistband, letting one of the cuffs dangle outside where he can easily grab it.

And then, in a well-worn tradition that has endured for more than a century, Detective Schroeder adds one more crucial piece of gear. He puts on a tailored suit jacket that has been cut with extra material around the waist.

That way, there are no unsightly bulges from gun and gear.

“I like room in it because of my pistol, my handcuffs, my radio,” Detective Schroeder said. “You want it a little bigger than you normally would get.”

“I try to wear my less expensive suits if I am going out to track a bad guy,” he added. Continue reading...

May 5, 2008

Exercise Your Brain, or Else You’ll ... Uh ...by Katie Hafner, NY TImes

I am both a firm believer in the preventative medicine power of exercise (both in terms of physical and mental health) and a total sucker for these "keep your brain sharp" products. I figure there are worse things I could spend my money on...until I can't remember what I spent all my life savings on!

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SAN FRANCISCO — When David Bunnell, a magazine publisher who lives in Berkeley, Calif., went to a FedEx store to send a package a few years ago, he suddenly drew a blank as he was filling out the forms.

“I couldn’t remember my address,” said Mr. Bunnell, 60, with a measure of horror in his voice. “I knew where I lived, and I knew how to get there, but I didn’t know what the address was.”

Mr. Bunnell is among tens of millions of baby boomers who are encountering the signs, by turns amusing and disconcerting, that accompany the decline of the brain’s acuity: a good friend’s name suddenly vanishing from memory; a frantic search for eyeglasses only to find them atop the head; milk taken from the refrigerator then put away in a cupboard.

“It’s probably one of the most frightening aspects of the changes we undergo as we age,” said Nancy Ceridwyn, director of educational initiatives at the American Society on Aging. “Our memories are who we are. And if we lose our memories we lose that groundedness of who we are.”

At the same time, boomers are seizing on a mounting body of evidence that suggests that brains contain more plasticity than previously thought, and many people are taking matters into their own hands, doing brain fitness exercises with the same intensity with which they attack a treadmill.

Decaying brains, or the fear thereof, have inspired a mini-industry of brain health products — not just supplements like coenzyme Q10, ginseng and bacopa, but computer-based fitter-brain products as well. Continue reading...

April 29, 2008

Austria Stunned by Case of Imprisoned Woman by Mark Landler, NY Times

Some things, such as this story, are too horrific to truly comprehend.

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AMSTETTEN, Austria — With his Mercedes-Benz and his fine clothes, Josef Fritzl looked every inch a property owner, neighbors in this tidy Austrian town said Monday. Even when running errands, they said, he wore a natty jacket, crisp shirt and tie.

Mr. Fritzl’s apartment house, its back garden obscured by a tall hedge, was his kingdom, one neighbor said, and interlopers were not welcome. On Monday, investigators in white jumpsuits combed the house and garden for clues. The authorities said Sunday that Mr. Fritzl, 73, had kept one of his daughters imprisoned for 24 years in a basement dungeon, where she bore him seven children.

The daughter, Elisabeth, now 42, is in psychiatric care, along with two of her children. Her eldest daughter, Kerstin, 19, who was also kept in the basement and whose illness pulled apart Mr. Fritzl’s secret after he had her taken to a local hospital, was in a medically induced coma and was in critical condition, the authorities said.

The authorities said Mr. Fritzl confessed Monday to imprisonment, sexual abuse and incest. The case has left this town of 22,000 people, 80 miles west of Vienna, in stunned disbelief. Neighbors milled around the three-story apartment building on Monday, watching the investigation unfold and asking how such an atrocity could have occurred in their midst. Continued...

'Free Tibet' flags made in China

The global economy is complicated!!

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* Thanks to my brother for the link!

April 26, 2008

Real life Jaws: Retired veterinarian Dave Martin dies, Solana Beach, Ca

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So sad and scary.

He spent his life helping animals and then he gets killed by an animal - cruel, cruel, fate. Makes me think of Born Free.

I'm out in California right now and I overheard someone say that they felt bad saying it but they were looking forward to renting Jaws.

Humans are complicated.

April 15, 2008

Somebody has to be in control: The effort behind George Clooney’s effortless charm. By Ian Parker, New Yorker Magazine

I was surprisingly captured by this article. It's probably because "oh my god, George Clooney is so dreamy!" but it was also because I enjoyed Ian Parker's writing style and his frequently spot-on insights to Cloons' psychology. Enjoy!

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April 9, 2008

Witticisms tickle!!

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* via KO!

Is There No Place on Earth for Me? by Susan Sheehan

Over 20 years ago this book deservedly won the Pulitzer. What's unfortunate is that the experiences detailed in the book remain true to this day. Namely, schizophrenics try to find effective and affordable help, yet a solution remains painfully elusive and instead, they go in and out of the "revolving doors" of the mental health system. Former New Yorker writer Sheehan writes engagingly and with an investigators keen eye (my favorite combo!). It reads like one of those engrossing New Yorker profiles except it doesn't end as quickly! I couldn't recommend this book more.

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March 28, 2008

Make A Wish Foundation goes bankrupt!!!

March 26, 2008

4000+ Casualties of War

Is it worth it?

March 25, 2008

Jonah Peretti & Huffington Post in New Yorker magazine, I'm a proud wife series!

My hubby is in this week's New Yorker magazine!

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Innovative prison in Leoben, Austria

Thanks to a reader Megan from Austria we now know of this new prison in Austria - what do you think?

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In Beijing, Orwell Goes to the Olympics by Ross Terrill, NY Times

Not hot off the presses but a worthy read nonetheless!

In Beijing, Orwell Goes to the Olympics

Excerpt: The penalty for “Chinglish” is usually humiliation, not incarceration. Still, citizens are asked to snitch, Mao-era style, on people who shame China with their shaky English. An outfit called the Beijing Speaks Foreign Languages Program issues prefabricated foreign phrases to workers who cannot converse in any foreign tongue. The Olympics have become one more tool in the authoritarian state’s box of tricks. Yes, curbing Chinglish — along with current efforts to eliminate spitting, littering and pushing to enter a bus or train — shows the better side of authoritarianism. Clean streets are agreeable, and Beijing’s may now be better than New York’s. The city’s Spiritual Civilization Office has begun a monthly “Learn to Queue Day,” surely welcome to all who have been victims of the scramble to board a Chinese bus. It reminds one that China could have a government far worse than it has now. Yet behind the attack on Chinglish lies an Orwellian impulse to remake the truth. Banished from Beijing for the Olympics will be not only fractured English, but disabled people, Falun Gong practitioners, dark-skinned villagers newly arrived in the city, AIDS activists and other “troublemakers” who smudge the canvas of socialist harmony.

March 20, 2008

Mind Hunter: Inside the FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit by John Douglas

This book is so enjoyable. It's packed full of the lessons this innovater learned while building the first behavioral sciences/criminal profiling unit in the world. Jonah commented that of course I am reading a book about serial killers as a break from studying for my forensic psychology midterms and that I do this before going to bed. Obsessed with all things forensic psychology and disturbed enough to upload it into my brain as I fall asleep. That's me in a (nutty) nutshell!

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March 14, 2008

I feel as if I know Obama

Touching story about Obama and his mother.

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Pakistan: State of Emergency by David Montero, PBS Frontline/World

Unfortunately the Taliban is far from eradicated and rather have been rerouted and reinvigorated. The Pakistan Taliban are apparently now more of a problem than the Taliban in Afghanistan. Watch this great video by Frontline reporter and friend from Wesleyan David Montero.

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Also check out the reporters interview.

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March 13, 2008

Unwelcome Surprises by Gail Collins, NY Times

All the Op-Eds are great today but this one is especially apt and funny.

No more electing prosecutors, NYC! Too high-strung!!

March 10, 2008

Brain Enhancement is Wrong, Right? by Benedict Carey, NY Times

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* Thanks to Lily for pointing out this article!

February 25, 2008

Michelin Gives Stars, but Tokyo Turns Up Nose by Martin Fackler, NY Times

Never mess with the Japanese and food!!

“Japanese food was created here, and only Japanese know it,” Mr. Kadowaki said in an interview. “How can a bunch of foreigners show up and tell us what is good or bad?”

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February 21, 2008

One Hand Jason: An Interview with a Body Integrity Disorder Dude

Thanks to Jason (not to be confused with One Hand Jason) for knowing that this interview would be right up my (sick & twisted) alley!

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February 19, 2008

Candidate Wins Support in the East. No, Farther East. by Norimitsu Onishi, NY Times

Ganbare, Obama!

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February 7, 2008

HAPPY NEW YEAR!! XIN NIAN KWAI LE!

Welcome to the year of the rat, the first sign in the zodiac!

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Manufacturer in $2 Million Accord With U.S. on Deficient Kevlar in Military Helmets by Bruce Lambert, NY Times

Imagine if your loved one was a soldier fighting in Iraq, and reading this article.

A North Dakota manufacturer has agreed to pay $2 million to settle a suit saying it had repeatedly shortchanged the armor in up to 2.2 million helmets for the military, including those for the first troops sent to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Twelve days before the settlement with the Justice Department was announced, the company, Sioux Manufacturing of Fort Totten, was given a new contract of up to $74 million to make more armor for helmets to replace the old ones, which were made from the late 1980s to last year. continue reading...

Darkness and Light by Maureen Dowd, NY Times

Maureen Dowd's Op-Ed yesterday about the Clinton machine versus Obama was harsh but perhaps painfully true.

Excerpt:

As she talked Sunday to George Stephanopoulos, a former director of the formidable Clinton war room, Hillary’s case boiled down to the fact that she can be Trouble, as they say about hard-boiled dames in film noir, when Republicans make trouble.

“I have been through these Republican attacks over and over and over again, and I believe that I’ve demonstrated that much to the dismay of the Republicans, I not only can survive, but thrive,” she said.

And on Tuesday night she told supporters, “Let me be clear: I won’t let anyone Swift-boat this country’s future.”

Better the devil you know than the diffident debutante you don’t. Better to go with the Clintons, with all their dysfunction and chaos — the same kind that fueled the Republican hate machine — than to risk the chance that Obama would be mauled like a chew toy in the general election. Better to blow off all the inspiration and the young voters, the independents and the Republicans that Obama is attracting than to take a chance on something as ephemeral as hope. Now that’s Cheney-level paranoia.

Bill is propelled by Cheneyesque paranoia, as well. His visceral reaction to Obama — from the “fairy tale” line to the inappropriate Jesse Jackson comparison — is rooted less in his need to see his wife elected than in his need to see Obama lose, so that Bill’s legacy is protected. If Obama wins, he’ll be seen as the closest thing to J. F. K. since J. F. K. And J. F. K. is Bill’s hero.

February 2, 2008

Michelle Williams' statement about Heath Ledger and their daughter: I tried, unsuccessfully, to hold back tears while reading it

"Please respect our need to grieve privately," Williams said in a statement. "My heart is broken. I am the mother of the most tender-hearted, high-spirited, beautiful little girl who is the spitting image of her father. All that I can cling to is his presence inside her that reveals itself every day."

"His family and I watch Matilda as she whispers to trees, hugs animals, and takes steps two at a time, and we know that he is with us still," Williams said. "She will be brought up in the best memories of him."

* via here.

February 1, 2008

It's nice to see a young star recover!

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January 31, 2008

This is why we must not be taken in by the still horrific Chinese government must

Dissident’s Arrest Hints at Olympic Crackdown by Jim Yardley, NYTimes.

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January 30, 2008

Looking Anew At Campaign Cash And Elected Judges by Adam Liptak, NYTimes

Loved this article and the research question asked. The judges will surely squirm, at the very least, when the full article is published next month in the Tulane Law Review!

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What "Psychopath" Means: It is not quite what you may think by Scott O. Lilienfeld and Hal Arkowitz

For those of you curious about what I've been learning at school, this is a cursory but good summary of psychopathy.

* via Scientific American Mind.

January 28, 2008

Obama's speech in South Carolina was inspiring! Obama's the Great Uniter! Obama inspires!

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Left Brains vs. Right Brains: Political ideology is tied to how the brain manages conflict by Siri Carpenter

People who describe themselves as being politically liberal can better suppress a habitual response when faced with situations in which that response is incorrect, according to research that used a simple cognitive test to compare liberal and conservative thinkers. Tasks that require such “conflict monitoring” also triggered more activity in the liberals’ anterior cingulate cortex, a brain region geared to detect and respond to conflicting information.

Past research has shown that liberals and conservatives exhibit differing cognitive styles, with liberals being more tolerant of ambiguity and conservatives preferring more structure. The new paper “is exciting because it suggests a specific mechanism” for that pattern, com­ments psychologist Wil Cunningham of Ohio State University, who was not involved with the study. In the experiment, subjects saw a series of letters flash quickly on a screen and were told to press a button when they saw M, but not W. Because M appeared about 80 percent of the time, hitting the button became a reflex—and the more liberal-minded volunteers were better able to avoid the knee-jerk reaction.

The study’s lead author, psychologist David Amodio of New York University, emphasizes that the findings do not mean that political views are predetermined. “There are a lot of steps be­tween conflict monitoring and political ideology, and we don’t know what those steps are,” he says. Although the neurocognitive process his group measured is so basic that it is most likely in place in early childhood, he notes that “the whole brain is very malleable.” Social relation­ships and other environmental factors also shape one’s political leanings.

* via Scientific American Mind January/February 08

January 25, 2008

How to Be Happy, Confucian Style

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* via PsyBlog.

January 22, 2008

Choate's graduation speaker: Karl Rove

I may have to take a field trip to my high school to learn something!

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* Thanks to my MnL for the link!

January 16, 2008

Scientology: The cult of greed by Richard Behar, Time Magazine 1991!

Ruined lives. Lost fortunes. Federal crimes. Scientology poses as a religion but really is a ruthless global scam -- and aiming for the mainstream.

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The Road to Xenu: A narrative account of life in Scientology by Margery Wakefield & Testimony: The autobiography of Margery Wakefield

I just started perusing this story and this autobiography (both available online in their entirety and for free!) sent to Paulette Cooper in solidarity (see below) and they already promise to be like the Jim Jones memoir I devoured: Seductive Poison.

The Scandal of the Scandal of Scientology by Paulette Cooper, Operation Clambake

Incredible story.

The book the Scientologists tried to stop: The Scandal of Scientology.

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Diana author names Tom Cruise as 'World Number Two in Scientology' by James Tapper, Daily Mail

From this article are some snippets - the first of which is my favorite idea in a long time and crossing my fingers it's true!!

Of the bizarre beliefs Morton ascribes to some Scientologists about Cruise's third wife, Katie Holmes, whom the actor married in a whirlwind romance, the author says, incredibly: "Some Sea Org fanatics even wondered if the actress had been impregnated with Hubbard's frozen sperm.

Morton claims Scientologists were worried that Kidman might be a problem because her father was a psychologist - "which automatically made her a Potential Trouble Source" - and she had given an interview emphasising her roots as a Catholic. "The fear was that a lukewarm Nicole could fatally compromise Tom's commitment to his faith," Morton writes. "Somehow Tom had to be inoculated against the virus of doubt. "The surefire cure for scepticism was the Potential Trouble Source/ Suppressive Person course, which reinforced wavering Scientologists' loyalty while making them more suspicious of those around them who were not members of the faith."

Morton recounts allegations that "auditing" focuses on the subject's sex life. He quotes Hubbard's son, Ronald De Wolf, who fell out with his father, giving a Playboy interview: "You have complete control of someone if you have every detail of his sex life and fantasy life on record. In Scientology the focus is on sex. Sex, sex, sex. "The first thing we wanted to know about someone we were auditing was his sexual deviations. All you've got to do is find a person's kinks, whatever they might be. "Their dreams and their fantasies. Then you can fit a ring through their noses and take them anywhere. You promise to fulfill their fantasies or you threaten to expose them."

* Thanks to Chelsea for the link!

Nick Denton has big balls and I cannot lie

YAY NICK!!!!! YOU MUST WATCH THIS VIDEO.

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January 15, 2008

Courtroom 302: A Year Behind the Scenes in an American Criminal Courthouse by Steve Bogira

I am delighted my friend Eric was so right on when he suggested I read this book. It is written by an investigative journalist and delivers a thoughtful glimpse into our criminal court system by shadowing one judge and highlighting the stories of a handful of people that come into contact with this judge and his courtroom. I read it straight through on our flight to California for the holidays and finished it on the flight back. If this book interests you I am certain you will also enjoy another book written from a similar investigative and sociological perspective: Our Guys.

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January 14, 2008

Dad's LOL response to Rich Kid Syndrome article

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January 11, 2008

Rich Kid Syndrome by Jennifer Senior, NY Magazine

This is a very good article on the struggles of raising rich kids and it begins like this: "America’s burgeoning money culture is producing a record number of heirs—but handing down values is harder than handing down wealth."

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Quotes:

Recently, I phoned Andrew Solomon, heir to a substantial pharmaceutical fortune and author of the beautiful depression memoir The Noonday Demon, and asked if he’d discuss the psychological effects of inherited wealth. In the most gracious way, he declined. I pointed out that in his book, he was willing to talk about a depression so profound he attempted to contract HIV in order to have a reason to kill himself; yet he was too shy, on the phone, to talk about his inheritance. Why was that?

In Manhattan, one might argue we’ve already evolved from a borough of aspirational wealth to one of inherited wealth—if the average price of an apartment is $1.3 million, who besides investment bankers can afford one without parental assistance? “There are already examples of whole societies out there like this,” says Dalton Conley, chairman of the sociology department at NYU and author of the forthcoming The Elsewhere Society. “Like the Gulf states. I’ve compared Manhattan to the United Arab Emirates before. They have a nonnative working class that comes in and does all the labor, and the natives don’t have to do anything.”

“I just met this morning with a very sharp 48-year-old,” says Charles Collier, author of Wealth in Families and senior philanthropic adviser at Harvard University. “And he said to me, ‘I don’t want my children to be entitled, but I want to have a jet. I came from nothing. Haven’t I earned my jet?’” (Family advisers to the megarich say you’d be amazed how often this comes up, this question about private jets. Anxious business executives raise their hands in almost every seminar about it, seeking expiation.) And perhaps this fellow has earned his jet. But his children haven’t. The problem with money, as he doubtless discovered, is that it sets up its own paradox: Hard work may yield it, but growing up with it often discourages hard work.

December 20, 2007

The Golden Suicides by Nancy Jo Sales, Vanity Fair

More from the Theresa Duncan - Jeremy Blake tragedy: cuar01_suicides0801.jpg

December 6, 2007

China’s Turtles, Emblems of a Crisis by Jim Yardley, NY Times

Poor forgotten animals...

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Unnoticed and unappreciated for five decades, a large female turtle with a stained, leathery shell is now a precious commodity in this city’s decaying zoo. She is fed a special diet of raw meat. Her small pool has been encased with bulletproof glass. A surveillance camera monitors her movements. A guard is posted at night.

The agenda is simple: The turtle must not die.

Earlier this year, scientists concluded that she was the planet’s last known female Yangtze giant soft-shell turtle. She is about 80 years old and weighs almost 90 pounds.

As it happens, the planet also has only one undisputed, known male. He lives at a zoo in the city of Suzhou. He is 100 years old and weighs about 200 pounds. They are the last hope of saving a species believed to be the largest freshwater turtles in the world.

“It’s a very dire situation,” said Peter Pritchard, a prominent turtle expert in the United States who has helped in trying to save the species. “This one is so big and it has such an aura of mystery.”

For many Chinese, turtles symbolize health and longevity, but the saga of the last two Yangtze giant soft-shells is more symbolic of the threatened state of wildlife and biodiversity in China. Pollution, hunting and rampant development are destroying natural habitats, and also endangering plant and animal populations. Continue reading...

Unhappy? Self-Critical? Maybe You’re Just a Perfectionist, by Benedict Carey, NY Times

I have my very own definition of perfectionism you may like: Self-abuse. Plain and simple, it's an awful affliction and I am working towards rehabilitation!

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Just about any sports movie, airport paperback or motivational tape delivers a few boilerplate rules for success. Believe in yourself. Don’t take no for an answer. Never quit. Don’t accept second best.

Above all, be true to yourself.

It’s hard to argue with those maxims. They seem self-evident — if not written into the Constitution, then at least part of the cultural water supply that irrigates everything from halftime speeches to corporate lectures to SAT coaching classes.

Yet several recent studies stand as a warning against taking the platitudes of achievement too seriously. The new research focuses on a familiar type, perfectionists, who panic or blow a fuse when things don’t turn out just so. The findings not only confirm that such purists are often at risk for mental distress — as Freud, Alfred Adler and countless exasperated parents have long predicted — but also suggest that perfectionism is a valuable lens through which to understand a variety of seemingly unrelated mental difficulties, from depression to compulsive behavior to addiction.

Some researchers divide perfectionists into three types, based on answers to standardized questionnaires: Self-oriented strivers who struggle to live up to their high standards and appear to be at risk of self-critical depression; outwardly focused zealots who expect perfection from others, often ruining relationships; and those desperate to live up to an ideal they’re convinced others expect of them, a risk factor for suicidal thinking and eating disorders.

“It’s natural for people to want to be perfect in a few things, say in their job — being a good editor or surgeon depends on not making mistakes,” said Gordon L. Flett, a psychology professor at York University and an author of many of the studies. “It’s when it generalizes to other areas of life, home life, appearance, hobbies, that you begin to see real problems.” Continue reading...

Neighbors Reflect on a Death No One Noticed by Andy Newman, NY Times

This is a very sad and very lonely story.

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For the last years of her life, Christina Copeman kept to herself.

She stopped answering the door shortly after her estranged husband died in 1990. She turned away from her friends and neighbors in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, ignoring their hellos.

So when Ms. Copeman dropped out of sight altogether, people were not immediately suspicious. Perhaps she had gone back to Trinidad for a vacation, they said. Maybe she had gotten sick there, or decided to stay.

That was nearly two years ago.

Outside Ms. Copeman’s brick row house on East 92nd Street, the days grew longer and shorter again. Mail piled up in the vestibule behind the glass front door. Neighbors collected trash from her porch so she would not get summonses.

Ms. Copeman was upstairs, dead, curled in a fetal position in the hallway, where the police found her skeletal remains on Monday morning, said Peter Bishop, her nephew. She was dressed to go out, in a coat and a beret, Mr. Bishop said.

“Winter clothes on,” he said yesterday, “so I guess she died in the winter.”

Ms. Copeman had died of heart disease, the medical examiner said yesterday. The police said she had been dead between a year and 18 months. Continue reading...

November 26, 2007

Outside Edge: However you slice it, Tokyo has taste by Gwen Robinson, Financial Times

Tokyo is truly home to the yummiest food on the entire planet - and not just Japanese food but every other type of food as well - AND from cheap to fancy and everything in between, you can't go wrong!! There are several reasons why this is the case - read ahead!

A national passion speaks volumes about a country’s collective psyche. Consider the English love of soccer, India’s of cricket, Australia’s mania for just about any sport, and Italy’s and France’s worship of food, wine and fashion.

But on all things gastronomic, perhaps no country is as passionate – and exacting – as Japan, where tea-making is a semi-religious ritual, pastry chefs can gain rock star status, and people will queue for hours to buy courgette-flavoured macaroons or the first special mushrooms of the season.

Michelin Guides revealed half of that story to the world this week when they awarded more of their famed stars to Tokyo restaurants (an unprecedented 191) than they have bestowed on any other city (including, mon Dieu, Paris) with the launch of their first guide outside Europe and America: the Michelin Guide Tokyo 2008.

But there is more to Japan’s food obsession than a huge array of top-quality restaurants. Consider a few facts:

More than one third of Japanese commercial television is devoted to food-related themes, from wacky eating competitions to earnest cooking programmes. On a per-capita basis, inner Tokyo (population 8.5m) boasts the highest concentration of eateries among the world’s major cities – just under 200,000, according to the Tokyo government, compared with about 20,000 restaurants for Paris and 23,000 for New York City. Japan now draws more Michelin-starred chefs than any country apart from France. Continue reading...

November 12, 2007

Norman Mailer by Louis Menand, New Yorker

A nice piece about what we can learn from Norman Mailer's approach to life and work.

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For more good links on Norman Mailer click here.

Dangerous Minds: Criminal profiling made easy by Malcolm Gladwell

Interesting article on criminal profiling and how unreliable it is. Reminds me of the first day of my Criminal Behavior class when Professor Kirschner said firmly, "this is not a profiling case. If you've watched Silence of the Lambs and now want to be a profiler, become a cop. Cops are the best profilers." The best part of the article in my opinion, comes at the end when he compares profiling techniques to those used by magicians, psychics and other swindlers.

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November 7, 2007

Goddess???!!! Really???

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* via KO.

November 2, 2007

Stealing Life: The crusader behind "The Wire" by Margaret Talbot, New Yorker

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I haven't loved a New Yorker article this much in a while. It is absolutely fascinating if you love The Wire but even if you don't know The Wire but have a sociological interest in cities and institutions you will be taken by David Simon's take on his show and America.

On a muggy August afternoon in Baltimore, trash scuttled down Guilford Avenue, the breeze smelling like rain and asphalt. It was the last week of shooting for the fifth and final season of the HBO drama “The Wire,” and the crew was filming a scene in front of a boarded-up elementary school. Cast members had been joined by forty or so day players—mostly kids from the neighborhood. Earlier, the episode’s director, Clark Johnson, had been giving some of the kids the chance to say “Cut!,” and they’d bellowed it like drunks at a surprise party. Now, when Johnson yelled “Cut,” the kids swarmed around a video monitor to look at themselves in the last shot, pointing and laughing. “He just said it was good,” one kid complained. “Why we gotta do it again?” Johnson, who was wearing what he called his “lucky cowboy hat,” stepped away to talk to one of the professional actors. Another man—a bald white guy, unprepossessing in jeans and a T-shirt—remained by the monitor, and he answered the kids: “Hey. He’s the director. You don’t believe him? He kinda, sorta knows what he’s doin’.” The bald guy was David Simon, the show’s creator: a former Baltimore Sun reporter who figured that he’d spend his life at a newspaper, a print journalist who has forged an improbable career in television without ever leaving Baltimore. The kids listened politely to Simon and ran back to their places.

Each season of “The Wire” has focussed, with sociological precision, on a different facet of Baltimore. continued...

November 1, 2007

Red Sox Rule!!! Red Sox Nation Lives!!!

The first baseball team I loved was the Yomiuri Giants in Japan. My 11 year old BFF and I lived near Hara Tatsunori, one of the top players and borderline stalked his house one fun summer. One summer in CA in my teens I went to an As game and enjoyed a brief love affair with the As and Canseco. In my adult life I am wiser and my heart has been with the lovable Red Sox. This world series I particularly loved watching the relentlessly fierce Okajima and Papelbon!

Here's a funny photo taken by Katy at a Red Sox Rolling Rally:

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October 17, 2007

Angry Little Girls

While I study for midterms you should be reading this book. It especially tickles me and touches my heart because it centers around a little girl with an Asian mother and that's its own thing as we, in the club, know! Nonetheless there's something for everybody in this cutely drawn book of little girls with 'tude.


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Here's an image compliments of Kenyatta and Tricia that looks like it lives on a bag:

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October 2, 2007

Mom and her mags! Japan summer '07

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* En route to ride the yurikamome, buying our 2000th bottle of water or iced tea from a convenience store.

September 26, 2007

Kitty, 40 Years Later by Jim Rasenberger, NY Times

Part of last week's reading assignment for my Social Psychology & The Legal System class is this article about the infamous Kitty Genovese murder over 40 years ago in Queens during which there were supposedly more than 30 witnesses, none of which stopped the crime.

Kew Gardens does not look much like the setting of an urban horror story. Nestled along the tracks of the Long Island Rail Road, 16 minutes by train from Pennsylvania Station, the Queens neighborhood is quiet and well kept, its streets shaded by tall oaks and bordered by handsome red-brick and wood-frame houses. At first glance, the surroundings appear as remote from big-city clamor as a far-flung Westchester suburb.

Forty years ago, on March 13, 1964, the picturesque tranquillity of Kew Gardens was shattered by the murder of 28-year-old Catherine Genovese, known as Kitty. The murder was grisly, but it wasn't the particulars of the killing that became the focus of the case. It was the response of her neighbors. As Ms. Genovese screamed -- ''Please help me! Please help me!'' -- 38 witnesses did nothing to intervene, according to reports; nobody even bothered to call the police. One witness later explained himself with a phrase that has passed into infamy: ''I didn't want to get involved.''continued...

* Thanks to the New York Times for opening up their archives!!

September 18, 2007

Jonah Peretti in Men's Vogue - Apparently Men's Vogue agrees with me that Jonah's a visionary!!

Oh wait, that's me! How did Andrea Harner finagle that, you ask??!! Answer is I was fortunate enough to be asked to join the photo shoot (wearing my favorite color!) so now you know what the mystery event was! And here's the accompanying article!

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September 10, 2007

In Polygamy Country, Old Divisions Are Fading by Kirk Johnson, NY Times

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Nothing makes me wish I were a fly on the wall more than some good old fashioned polygamy.

Amber Clark, 28, an Army veteran who moved here from California about two months ago and who described herself as an active Mormon, said she thought polygamists should be left alone, so long as no one was under age or coerced into marriage.

“I’m liberal in that respect,” Ms. Clark said. “If it’s legal in some states for people of the same sex to get married, why is it not legal to marry more than one wife?” continued...

August 20, 2007

Conspiracy of Two by David Amsden, NY Mag

Still as intriguing as ever, here's New York Magazine's take.

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Study Suggests That a Need for Physical Perfection May Reveal Emotional Flaws by Natasha Singer, NY Times

Well of course it does! This is my favorite kind of science - that which supports what I intuitively know!

In the first season of the television drama “Nip/Tuck,” two plastic surgeons named Dr. Sean McNamara and Dr. Christian Troy hire a staff psychologist to determine whether their patients are psychologically equipped to handle cosmetic procedures. In one episode, the psychologist denies treatment to a severely depressed patient who later commits suicide.

In real life, although plastic surgeons sometimes refer patients for counseling, they typically do not have a psychologist on staff. But new research may prompt doctors to consider it. Continued...

August 9, 2007

To Punish Thai Police, a Hello Kitty Armband by Seth Mydans, NY Times

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* Thanks to Annie Maxwell for having a google alert on 'Hello Kitty'! LOLOLOL.

August 8, 2007

Staircase to Nowhere, LAist

Interesting comments and post.

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August 7, 2007

Amazing Face Reading

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Saw this modern day application of physiognomy and had to tear it off the shelves and purchase it aesop. Check out an example - it gets more silly and racist - fun reading and an excellent coffee table book!

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August 6, 2007

Jeremy Blake & Theresa Duncan, Halloween

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The Theresa Duncan Tragedy by Kate Coe, LA Weekly News

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The most revealing article thus far which paints not such a nice picture of Theresa but feels like a more whole picture than has been reported thus far. Interesting quotes, the first of which makes one suspect mental illness in the family:

“She claimed [her father] had serious mental-health problems and was notorious around town for doing bizarre things,” recalls Gesue.

“She was losing her grip on reality, and Jeremy was so devoted to her that he would go along with it . . . It became impossible to ignore, and so my [girlfriend] and I began to extricate ourselves.”

Art dealer and gallery owner Christine Nichols, who had known the couple for years, told the Weekly that Duncan sometimes found it hard to see Blake working with anyone but her. Their relationship was so intertwined, Nichols says, “You were either in complete agreement with everything they said or you were an enemy.”

Theresa Duncan & Jeremy Blake suicides theory

Jeremy, having met Theresa when he was only 23 (she was 28 at the time - note the emotionally significant ages and the vast difference in maturity between them) embodied the younger man looking up to the older woman dynamic. Theresa's career was firmly established and on the rise. Undoubtedly she taught him, supported him and was a crucial ingredient to Jeremy's success. Over the years however while Jeremy's career took off, Theresa's was flailing and she increasingly lost touch with reality as she saw conspiracies as reasons for her failed projects . Her despair and fears permeated Jeremy the way any close couple shares their pain but this situation was insidious because her mental problems went largely unchecked because she was an artist and a writer and they say and do wacky things and it's extremely difficult for people on the outside to know when there's a real problem. In this atmosphere Jeremy was the younger guy taking the lead from his older woman - whatever she said portrayed as reality was his reality. Their paranoia became a self-fulfilling prophecy - the more skeptical friends and family grew of their accusations, the more they felt misunderstood and even attacked by their surroundings and reinforced the belief that they could only trust each other. Jeremy's mother is quoted saying Jeremy was a loyal caretaker - how incredibly apt. That statement plus Jeremy, seemingly out of left field, accusing a colleague of trying to ruin Theresa's reputation all point to him as an impressionable guy so wrapped up in Theresa's perspective it became his and he was doing all that he could to protect her and ultimately them. He wasn't able to step out of the dynamic and see things differently than she did. In terms of his art and whether he was able to conceive of going on in life without her, she was his one worthwhile audience member and critic. His critique of the art world was growing as was her/their paranoia and the two of them became sealed as each others trustworthy muse and critic. In the end he couldn't go on without either. To the core, Jeremy was influenced by Theresa and until the end lived and died by her perspective. As his suicide note simply says, he wanted to be reunited with her. After all, the only adult life he knew was with her and in the last few years of their lives, insulating and endangering themselves in the 'us against them' cocoon they built.

The Puzzling, Tragic End of a Golden Couple by David Segal, Washington Post

Another article with a little more info.

The world as Jeremy Blake and Theresa Duncan saw it by Chris Lee, LA Times

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Wow. The most comprehensive reporting to date on the deaths of Jeremy Blake and Theresa Duncan.

Two snippets:
In a 27-page "chronology" written by Blake in October in preparation for a lawsuit against the church that was never filed, he alleges the couple was "methodically defamed, harassed, followed and threatened" by Scientologists. The document lists Tom Cruise, filmmaker-artist-author Miranda July, writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson, former Viacom Chief Executive Tom Freston, alternative rocker Beck and Art Forum Editor Tim Griffin, among others, as players in the dispute. In addition, a number of Hollywood talent agents and major league art collectors were accused of being in on the conspiracy.

"I think Theresa, in one of her rare moments of self-reflection, recognized she had burned all of these bridges in Jeremy's career with the paranoia," Schlei said. "Jeremy was her creation. And she was killing the thing she created, this great, terrific artist. She realized what she had done. To let him live, she had to go. But in a symbiotic relationship, one couldn't last without the other."

An Unsolved Killing by Jeffrey Toobin

An interesting article about a very unsolved murder messily intertwined in politics:

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August 2, 2007

Armistead Maupin on Church of Scientology, the biggest ex gay movement in America

In light of Jeremy Blake's body having been discovered and the possibility that he and Theresa Duncan's deaths were instigated by Scientology harassments, here is some more Scientology madness for you:

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* Dlisted via Katy.

August 1, 2007

What's Your Poo Telling You? by Josh Richman & Anish Sheth M.D.

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This is a fantastically apt birthday present from Sally! Once in a while your friends really get you and know that all you really want is a poo book as a long-waited excuse to talk about poo till you're blue brown in the face.

Here's a sampling of the goods:

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Can you guess which doo-doo this one is??!! If so, you can join my Poopoori Club!

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July 31, 2007

Theresa Duncan & Jeremy Blake deaths

Update: Jeremy Blake's body identified. RIP.

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I am obsessed with this case of apparent double-suicide. Journalists are suggesting that harassment by the Church of Scientology and other seemingly paranoid thoughts as detailed in Theresa Duncan's blog post from May feuled this tragedy. I can't stop scouring the internet for updates because there are so so many unanswered questions and it's plain creepy.

Did she really kill herself? Her blog doesn't seem like the blog of someone who would kill herself - obviously one can beguile their readers but still...she didn't seem in the depths of despair. If so, then why? There must have been a trigger. Did she have a history of depression? Pills and booze found next to her body plus the conspiracy stuff...conjures up a little Marilyn...A long suicide note? What does it say?

As a romantic it fits in my world view that Jeremy Blake was unable to fathom living without her so he took his own life. I can get that. Or...he faked his death for an art piece about death and fame. It's his final act in resignation from the art world. He killed her. He broke up with her and his guilt overwhelmed him. The body that washed up onshore that they're suspecting is his probably is...otherwise, is he sipping on a pina colada on a remote beach?

Who knows but why aren't more people talking about this online? It is because the art world is snooty and insular and private? Or is this all a hoax?

July 25, 2007

Drinking: A Love Story by Caroline Knapp

Update: Caroline Knapp died in 2002 of lung cancer. She was a heavy smoker. Very, very sad.

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I had my eye on this book for years so it was perfect timing that it is recommended reading for one of my fall classes. I read it straight through in a few sittings which meant it was a bit overwhelming and redundant at times but as a whole it is a well-written and profoundly insightful memoir about drinking and alcoholism. What most resonated with me is the idea that there are phases of alcoholism from having alcoholic tendencies to full-blown homeless alcoholic. If this is true there are many, many more people with alcohol problems than meets the eye. I believe this and the idea that there are not a lot of people who truly have a healthy relationship with alcohol. I definitely have a love-hate-horrific-ecstatic relationship with alcohol which is far from healthy! The painful experiences and hard lessons Knapp details holds true for all addictive behaviors so if you're interested in addiction, I highly recommend this book.

Two passages I particularly liked:

One of the first things you hear in AA - one of the first things that makes core, gut-level sense - is that in some deep and important personal respects you stop growing when you start drinking alcoholically. The drink stunts you, prevents you from walking through the kinds of fearful life experiences that bring you from point A to point B on the maturity scale. When you drink in order to transform yourself, when you drink and become someone you're not, when you do this over and over and over, your relationship to the world becomes muddied and unclear. You lose your bearings, the ground underneath you begins to feel shaky. After a while you don't know even the most basic things about yourself - what you're afraid of, what feels good and bad, what you need in order to feel comforted and calm-because you've never given yourself a chance, a clear, sober chance to find out. p. 75

Essentially, drinking artificially "activates" the brain's reward system: you have a martini or two and the alcohol acts upon the brain's circuitry that makes you feel good, increasing the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is central to feelings of pleasure and reward. Over time (and given the right combination of vulnerability to alcohol and alcohol abuse), the brain develops what are known as "compensatory adaptations" to all that artificial revving up: in an effort to bring its own chemistry back into its natural equilibrium, it works overtime to decrease dopamine release, ultimately leaving those same pleasure/reward circuits depleted. p. 126

July 16, 2007

Best psychology magazine: Scientific American Mind

My search for a good psychology magazine to subscribe to was surprisingly difficult. I quickly realized there is a dearth of mainstream psych mags. Of the slim pickings Psychology Today was hugely disappointing and highly irritating. Thank goodness I then discovered Scientific American Mind which I love and highly recommend!

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July 13, 2007

Espresso Tales by Alexander McCall Smith

I adored this book as if it were that old, soft blanket that lives on the corner of your couch, just waiting to do its job of warming you up as you snuggle up to your book and cup of tea. I rarely read fiction but I never miss an installment of Smith's 44 Scotland Street series nor the Isabel Dalhousie mysteries. If you're an AMS fan and haven't read 44 Scotland Street, I highly recommend you start on that and look forward to its worthy successor Espresso Tales!

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July 10, 2007

CDC: Antidepressants most prescribed drugs in U.S.

It's great when people truly in need of antidepressants take them but I have a sneaking suspicion that many people are simply too emotionally lazy to do the necessary hard work of examining and changing their lives. I also think American society is to blame given that it's f-%^ed in so many ways - Americans eat disgusting, harmful crap for food, It would behoove us as a society to think a little more from the 'we' perspective than the 'I', don't you think?! How about a crazy little thing called universal health care?? Of all doctors psychiatrists take the most money from drug companies? Sweet! - it's not surprising that so many people want to numb themselves.

Dr. Ronald Dworkin tells the story of a woman who didn't like the way her husband was handling the family finances. She wanted to start keeping the books herself but didn't want to insult her husband.

The doctor suggested she try an antidepressant to make herself feel better.

She got the antidepressant, and she did feel better, said Dr. Dworkin, a Maryland anesthesiologist and senior fellow at Washington's Hudson Institute, who told the story in his book "Artificial Unhappiness: The Dark Side of the New Happy Class." But in the meantime, Dworkin says, the woman's husband led the family into financial ruin.

"Doctors are now medicating unhappiness," said Dworkin. "Too many people take drugs when they really need to be making changes in their lives." continue reading...

July 9, 2007

Psychiatrists Top List in Drug Maker Gifts

This is disturbing to say the least.

July 6, 2007

On being judgmental

A great passage I couldn't agree more with from Alexander McCall Smith's Espresso Tales. Domenica, a woman of 60 chats with Pat, her 20 something friend:

"...I can definitely see how I've looked at things differently after forty. I'm less tolerant of bad behavior, I think, than I used to be. And why do you think that is?"

Pat shrugged. "You get a bit more set in your ways? You become more judgmental?"

"And what is wrong with being judgmental?" Domenica asked indignantly. "It drives me mad to hear people say: 'Don't be judgmental." That's moral philosophy at the level of an Australian soap opera. If people weren't judgmental, how could we possibly have a moral viewpoint in society? We wouldn't have the first clue where we were. All rational discourse about what we should do would grind to a halt. No, whatever you do, don't fall for that weak-minded nonsense about not being judgmental. Don't be excessively judgmental, if you like, but always - always - be prepared to make a judgment. Otherwise you'll go through life not really knowing what you mean."

July 3, 2007

Polluted Olympics

Wow. The idea that pollution could be so bad as to affect sports performance is frightening. Pollution makes me sad and wheezy.

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Hans Reiser: Once a Linux Visionary, Now Accused of Murder by Joshua Davis

Q: Computer programmer or murderer?
A: Both!

Both?!! Perhaps...

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June 8, 2007

Pete Doherty, a regular Mary Poppins

I love this kind of reporting - stoned out of his head Doherty meets feel-good children's event - aptly displays the ridiculousness of reality!

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* via HuffPost.

What the World Eats, a photo essay by Peter Menzel

I find this fascinating. I fancy myself an amateur ethnographer always observing and analyzing the consumption decisions made by people all over the globe from food to beauty products. I will have my cultural anthropologist hat on when we're in Paris in 10 days!!

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* via Kottke.

June 6, 2007

The Disorder Is Sensory; the Diagnosis, Elusive by Benedict Carey

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Almost every parent of young children has heard an anguished cry or two (or 200) something like: “This shirt is scratchy, this shirt is scratchy, get it off!” “This oatmeal smells like poison, it’s poisonous!” “My feet are hot, my feet are hot, my feet are boiling!”

Such bizarre, seemingly overblown reactions to everyday sensations can end in tears, parents know, or escalate into the sort of tantrum that brings neighbors to the door asking whether everything’s all right.

Usually, it is. The world for young children is still raw, an acid bath of strange sights, smells and sounds, and it can take time to get used to it.

Yet for decades some therapists have argued that there are youngsters who do not adjust at all, or at least not normally. They remain oversensitive, continually recoiling from the world, or undersensitive, banging into things, duck-walking through the day as if not entirely aware of their surroundings.

The problem, these therapists say, is in the brain, which is not properly integrating the onslaught of information coming through the senses, often causing anxiety, tantrums and problems in the classroom. Such difficulties, while common in children with developmental disorders like autism, also occur on their own in many otherwise healthy youngsters, they say.

No one has a standard diagnostic test for these sensory integration problems, nor any idea of what might be happening in the brain. Indeed, a diagnosis of such problems is not yet generally accepted. Nor is there evidence to guide treatment, which makes many doctors, if they have heard of sensory problems at all, skeptical of the diagnosis.

Yet in some urban and suburban school districts across the county, talk of sensory integration has become part of the special-needs vernacular, along with attention deficit disorder and developmental delays. Though reliable figures for diagnosis rates are not available, the number of parent groups devoted to sensory problems has more than tripled in the last few years, to 55 nationwide.

And now this subculture wants membership in mainstream medicine. This year, for the first time, therapists and researchers petitioned the American Psychiatric Association to include “sensory processing disorder” in its influential guidebook of disorders, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. Official recognition would bring desperately needed research, they say, as well as more complete coverage for treatment, which can run to more than $10,000 a year. Continued...

Ask the pilot: A look back at the catastrophic chain of events that caused history's deadliest plane crash 30 years ago

This article is a really interesting piece detailing exactly what the title says! What continues to haunt me after reading this and of course since 9/11, is how at times, our reliance on technology fails us, fatally.

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June 4, 2007

Justice: Crimes, Trials, and Punishments by Dominick Dunne

This book was enjoyable the way a three star movie is enjoyable. I love the topic and generally speaking I believe Dunne is pretty right on with his opinions and hunches however his thought process seems overly simplistic to me. I would prefer that "true crime" books be guided by sociological insight as provided by Lefkowitz in Our Guys or a psychological perspective as Carrere explored in The Adversary. I like some scientific thought to anchor the process of thinking about crime. It was fun however to reminisce about the "great" crimes of the 90s such as the Menendez brothers and of course OJ (still makes me rant and rave that he was acquitted) and if I were stranded on a desert island for a day I would be happy to have only this book...but when the rescue plane came I would surely talk the pilot's ear off about how the book isn't as thoughtful as I would have liked.

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May 31, 2007

100 words every high school graduate should know

OK, agreed, but let's see the sparse list of words that most high school graduates actually know - now that would be an interesting if depressing side-by-side!

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* via Kottke.

May 29, 2007

The Gatekeepers: Inside the Admissions Process of a Premier College by Jacques Steinberg

This was such a memorable book (and it's not just because its setting is my alma mater). Steinberg shadows Wesleyan's admissions officers in the fall of 1999 to gain insight into the little-known admissions process of top colleges. In this quest Wesleyan serves as a mirror, albeit an imperfect one ( Wesleyan is unique in that it has a more progressive history and mission that those of its peers) to the admissions processes of other elite, northeastern colleges. Amidst the grueling process of recruiting applicants then rating thousands of applications are suspenseful stories of a handful of high school seniors who applied to Wesleyan among other schools. And although the question of whether or not they would gain acceptance to Wesleyan and their other choices had me tantalized, the theme most salient to me was an extended, more comprehensive form of affirmative action in which not only race but socioeconomic status as measured by how far an applicant's parents received schooling are significant factors, and how that plays out in the Wesleyan admissions process in 1999 - I'm curious about the philosophical and administrative changes which have undoubtedly affected the process since then. The basic idea can be summed up by stating that students are not just being rated by their absolute test results (there is of course no such thing since not everyone attends the same classes taught by the same teachers and subject to same grading system) but are also judged in relation to their environment. In general I believe in this idea. For example, if both your parents have gone to college you are not just financially more privileged but your home environment is more intellectually enriching, therefore you should exhibit higher grades or test scores than someone who grew up with less financial means and intellectual stimulation at home. The strengths of this argument are fairly obvious to me but perhaps the more interesting discussion centers around its limitations: Does this mean wealthy kids must become leaders? While that would be great, reality doesn't support that. It seems that as an educator or admissions officer you're always seeking out potential but unfortunately potential isn't limitless. I would surmise that for all the potential that is tapped and then blossomed in the middle of the spectrum, there are on the extreme ends, cases of rich kids who have been bred for leadership all their lives and poor kids who have thrived relative to their environment all their lives, who in the end have maxed out their potential and aren't able to fulfill the affirmative action dream. I could go on and on about this but I'll stop to say that this book is fascinating and I highly recommend it!

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* Thanks to Eric Klinenberg for lending me the book! P.S. I won't hold it against you that you went to Brown.

May 23, 2007

Virgin (Shark) Mary

I've just had my (shark) heart broken one too many times to put up with any more males! I'm just over it ok? I'm gonna do it on my own! Watch me procreate DIY style!...said the shark that spawned this little guy:

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At the time of the birth, many scientists thought that the female had mated with another species, or that it had used sperm obtained years before. Female sharks are capable of storing sperm, although none have been known to store it as long as these sharks had been isolated. But through the analysis “it was pretty clear that there was no male contribution,” said Mahmood S. Shivji. continued...

* via BuzzFeed!

May 22, 2007

Cop on pot brownies

This is hilarious ~ overdosing...I think we're dead...time's going by really really slow~

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. Let's be compassionate here - we've all been there. Right?!

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* Another treasure from Jonah via StumbleUpon!

May 16, 2007

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

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Another great book by Krakauer! As with the Mormon book, he takes the reader into the minds of the people or person he's illustrating, or so it seems. In this case, it's Chris McCandless, an extremely idealistic and morally absolute kid from the D.C. suburbs who, only as one last appeasement to his parents, graduates from college then pretty much drops off the face of the earth. For years he doesn't contact his parents, they have no idea where he is or whether he's dead or alive and all the while he's hitchhiking up and down the west coast and sometimes inland, living off the land and working menial jobs. His final journey which he spoke feverishly about to everyone who crossed his path (turned out quite a few people did and that he was memorable as a smart and charming if distant kid) was a great Alaskan voyage, much in the tradition of Jack London. Four months from the day he hiked into the Alaskan forest, he was found dead of starvation. Krakauer weaves a rich tapestry of Chris' journal entries, letters to his friends he met along the way, and scenery and excerpts from Thoreau, Muir and London of the wild west. As per usual with Krakauer, it's thoroughly conceived, well-written, and leaves a heavy impression.

May 14, 2007

A Death in Belmont by Sebastien Junger

Finished this book last week by a fellow Wesleyan alum and while I am glad to have read it I can't help but agree with an Amazon reviewer that the book could have used more editing. Something about the tone and pace wasn't quite right. Nevertheless I enjoyed learning about the times and places surrounding the Boston Strangler cases, Roy Smith who may or may not have been wrongly convicted of a Boston Strangler crime and Al DeSalvo a convicted rapist who insisted he was the Boston Strangler but was never tried for those crimes. Did you know that as the jury finished hearing the judge's instructions and was released to begin deliberations on the guilt of Roy Smith they were told that JFK has just been shot and killed? Just a little intense!

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May 10, 2007

Psychiatrists, Children and Drug Industry’s Role by Harris, Carey & Roberts

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This reality is so disturbing. We are so obsessed with the quick-fix (drugs) and our children suffer for it.

When Anya Bailey developed an eating disorder after her 12th birthday, her mother took her to a psychiatrist at the University of Minnesota who prescribed a powerful antipsychotic drug called Risperdal.

Created for schizophrenia, Risperdal is not approved to treat eating disorders, but increased appetite is a common side effect and doctors may prescribe drugs as they see fit. Anya gained weight but within two years developed a crippling knot in her back. She now receives regular injections of Botox to unclench her back muscles. She often awakens crying in pain. continued...

May 1, 2007

David Sedaris draws Clinton staring at my cousin's boobs!

I am super jealous of my cousin Angelina's night with David Sedaris!

Awesomeness:

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April 26, 2007

Asians are so weird.

Drinking video games - yum!

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&

Medical restaurants - yummier!

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Oh! Don't forget about air sex.

April 25, 2007

Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science by Atul Gawande

I absolutely loved this book. I feel changed from reading it. I've always loved stories that pull back the curtain to expose the reality of an otherwise unknown subculture. Gawande does this poetically and philosophically - never ideologically. About a third of the way into the book I realized that there's so much that goes on in just a day of surgery residency (I'm sure other specialties too) that as a meta-cognitive, analytic, reflective person, he had to write as a way of meditating upon and trying to make sense of it all. I thoroughly enjoyed this page-turner and am still deeply excited about how much I learned reading this memorable, momentous book!

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April 20, 2007

The Hoax by Lasse Hallström

My dad was in town this weekend so we enjoyed a very rainy Sunday of shopping, tea time and movie-going! We saw The Hoax which I was excited to see because the subject matter (true story about a writer faking a Howard Hughes autobiography circa 1970) is so interesting but I was disappointed by the direction. The build-up and suspense should have been easy but it didn't quite happen. It may have had more of a chance of happening had the director imbued the lead character with more to relate to and sympathize with. What did you guys think?

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April 18, 2007

Seductive Poison by Deborah Layton

Seductive Poison is a must-read. It's a first-hand account of a former People's Temple member and Jonestown survivor. The most interesting aspect of this tale is the rise of this church/socialist group as a byproduct of the times. For most of the members, the organization's lure was its stated commitment to eradicating racism, sexism, classism, but most emphasis was on the shameful racism of that time. Consequently the majority of membership were black Americans and the group was able to enjoy some political protection. Its pretty clear that the same message now would not carry the same weight and therefore the time capsule quality of the group is historically fascinating. Other aspects of the book cover the socialist camp and Jim Jones, the deluded, paranoid, tyrannical, megalomaniac leader and these are less gripping only because they are traits and tactics employed by every other despot who has blighted our history. Since no one knowingly joins a cult but cults continue to exist and proliferate today, what was most salient to me was the realization that it's almost too easy to conduct such horrific social experiments (Zimbardo!). In addition to the blatant tragedy of 1000 people getting murdered, is the countless families destroyed for the false promise of a larger, better family.

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April 16, 2007

The Rescue Artist by Edward Dolnick

This book is a pretty delightful read. The main fault with the story is that the author tries too hard to get into the main character's head (real life Scotland Yard Art Squad sleuth Charley hill) and his attempts to do so come off like he's just trying to hard. The 1994 theft of the Scream is the anchor throughout the story and that could have been enough for a solid novella but the other tales of masterpiece thefts that the author researched and wrote well, make the book a page-turning survey of art crime.
A fun read!

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April 12, 2007

Lee Iacocca speaks the truth.

You might think I'm getting senile, that I've gone off my rocker, and maybe I have. But someone has to speak up. I hardly recognize this country anymore. The President of the United States is given a free pass to ignore the Constitution, tap our phones, and lead us to war on a pack of lies. Congress responds to record deficits by passing a huge tax cut for the wealthy (thanks, but I don't need it). The most famous business leaders are not the innovators but the guys in handcuffs. While we're fiddling in Iraq, the Middle East is burning and nobody seems to know what to do. And the press is waving pom-poms instead of asking hard questions. That's not the promise of America my parents and yours traveled across the ocean for. I've had enough. How about you?

I'll go a step further. You can't call yourself a patriot if you're not outraged. This is a fight I'm ready and willing to have.

My friends tell me to calm down. They say, "Lee, you're eighty-two years old. Leave the rage to the young people." I'd love to—as soon as I can pry them away from their iPods for five seconds and get them to pay attention. I'm going to speak up because it's my patriotic duty. I think people will listen to me. They say I have a reputation as a straight shooter. So I'll tell you how I see it, and it's not pretty, but at least it's real. I'm hoping to strike a nerve in those young folks who say they don't vote because they don't trust politicians to represent their interests. Hey, America, wake up. These guys work for us.

* From this interview on the subject of his new book, Where Have All the Leaders Gone?

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** via Kottke.

April 10, 2007

Are consumer products made to break? An interview with author Giles Slade

The reality of planned obsolescence is so deeply depressing to me. The environmental costs are obvious - the psychic costs may be less so but nonetheless harmful as we collectively partake in such depraved commercial strategy.

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* via Kottke.

The Brain on the Stand by Jeffrey Rosen

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This article from the NYT magazine is a few weeks old but really interesting and asks the huge question: How does and should neuroscience affect criminal law?

From a ton of worthy excerpts I've whittled it down to these:

One important question raised by the Roper case was the question of where to draw the line in considering neuroscience evidence as a legal mitigation or excuse. Should courts be in the business of deciding when to mitigate someone’s criminal responsibility because his brain functions improperly, whether because of age, in-born defects or trauma? As we learn more about criminals’ brains, will we have to redefine our most basic ideas of justice?

Two of the most ardent supporters of the claim that neuroscience requires the redefinition of guilt and punishment are Joshua D. Greene, an assistant professor of psychology at Harvard, and Jonathan D. Cohen, a professor of psychology who directs the neuroscience program at Princeton. Greene got Cohen interested in the legal implications of neuroscience, and together they conducted a series of experiments exploring how people’s brains react to moral dilemmas involving life and death. In particular, they wanted to test people’s responses in the f.M.R.I. scanner to variations of the famous trolley problem, which philosophers have been arguing about for decades.

The trolley problem goes something like this: Imagine a train heading toward five people who are going to die if you don’t do anything. If you hit a switch, the train veers onto a side track and kills another person. Most people confronted with this scenario say it’s O.K. to hit the switch. By contrast, imagine that you’re standing on a footbridge that spans the train tracks, and the only way you can save the five people is to push an obese man standing next to you off the footbridge so that his body stops the train. Under these circumstances, most people say it’s not O.K. to kill one person to save five.

“I wondered why people have such clear intuitions,” Greene told me, “and the core idea was to confront people with these two cases in the scanner and see if we got more of an emotional response in one case and reasoned response in the other.” As it turns out, that’s precisely what happened: Greene and Cohen found that the brain region associated with deliberate problem solving and self-control, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, was especially active when subjects confronted the first trolley hypothetical, in which most of them made a utilitarian judgment about how to save the greatest number of lives. By contrast, emotional centers in the brain were more active when subjects confronted the second trolley hypothetical, in which they tended to recoil at the idea of personally harming an individual, even under such wrenching circumstances. “This suggests that moral judgment is not a single thing; it’s intuitive emotional responses and then cognitive responses that are duking it out,” Greene said.

“To a neuroscientist, you are your brain; nothing causes your behavior other than the operations of your brain,” Greene says. “If that’s right, it radically changes the way we think about the law. The official line in the law is all that matters is whether you’re rational, but you can have someone who is totally rational but whose strings are being pulled by something beyond his control.” In other words, even someone who has the illusion of making a free and rational choice between soup and salad may be deluding himself, since the choice of salad over soup is ultimately predestined by forces hard-wired in his brain. Greene insists that this insight means that the criminal-justice system should abandon the idea of retribution — the idea that bad people should be punished because they have freely chosen to act immorally — which has been the focus of American criminal law since the 1970s, when rehabilitation went out of fashion. Instead, Greene says, the law should focus on deterring future harms. In some cases, he supposes, this might mean lighter punishments. “If it’s really true that we don’t get any prevention bang from our punishment buck when we punish that person, then it’s not worth punishing that person,” he says. (On the other hand, Carter Snead, the Notre Dame scholar, maintains that capital defendants who are not considered fully blameworthy under current rules could be executed more readily under a system that focused on preventing future harms.)

Morse insists that “brains do not commit crimes; people commit crimes” — a conclusion he suggests has been ignored by advocates who, “infected and inflamed by stunning advances in our understanding of the brain . . . all too often make moral and legal claims that the new neuroscience . . . cannot sustain.” He calls this “brain overclaim syndrome” and cites as an example the neuroscience briefs filed in the Supreme Court case Roper v. Simmons to question the juvenile death penalty. “What did the neuroscience add?” he asks. If adolescent brains caused all adolescent behavior, “we would expect the rates of homicide to be the same for 16- and 17-year-olds everywhere in the world — their brains are alike — but in fact, the homicide rates of Danish and Finnish youths are very different than American youths.” Morse agrees that our brains bring about our behavior — “I’m a thoroughgoing materialist, who believes that all mental and behavioral activity is the causal product of physical events in the brain” — but he disagrees that the law should excuse certain kinds of criminal conduct as a result. “It’s a total non sequitur,” he says. “So what if there’s biological causation? Causation can’t be an excuse for someone who believes that responsibility is possible. Since all behavior is caused, this would mean all behavior has to be excused.” Morse cites the case of Charles Whitman, a man who, in 1966, killed his wife and his mother, then climbed up a tower at the University of Texas and shot and killed 13 more people before being shot by police officers. Whitman was discovered after an autopsy to have a tumor that was putting pressure on his amygdala. “Even if his amygdala made him more angry and volatile, since when are anger and volatility excusing conditions?” Morse asks. “Some people are angry because they had bad mommies and daddies and others because their amygdalas are mucked up. The question is: When should anger be an excusing condition?”

The experiments, conducted by Elizabeth Phelps, who teaches psychology at New York University, combine brain scans with a behavioral test known as the Implicit Association Test, or I.A.T., as well as physiological tests of the startle reflex. The I.A.T. flashes pictures of black and white faces at you and asks you to associate various adjectives with the faces. Repeated tests have shown that white subjects take longer to respond when they’re asked to associate black faces with positive adjectives and white faces with negative adjectives than vice versa, and this is said to be an implicit measure of unconscious racism. Phelps and her colleagues added neurological evidence to this insight by scanning the brains and testing the startle reflexes of white undergraduates at Yale before they took the I.A.T. She found that the subjects who showed the most unconscious bias on the I.A.T. also had the highest activation in their amygdalas — a center of threat perception — when unfamiliar black faces were flashed at them in the scanner. By contrast, when subjects were shown pictures of familiar black and white figures — like Denzel Washington, Martin Luther King Jr. and Conan O’Brien — there was no jump in amygdala activity.

“Will we use brain imaging to track kids in school because we’ve discovered that certain brain function or morphology suggests aptitude?” he asks. “I work for NASA, and imagine how helpful it might be for NASA if it could scan your brain to discover whether you have a good enough spatial sense to be a pilot.” Wolpe says that brain imaging might eventually be used to decide if someone is a worthy foster or adoptive parent — a history of major depression and cocaine abuse can leave telltale signs on the brain, for example, and future studies might find parts of the brain that correspond to nurturing and caring.

April 6, 2007

Baby disco!

I think baby disco is a fantastic idea! The future Michael Jacksons*, Ushers and JTs will know what to credit to their success! When I have a baby, it's going to be shuttling baby from disco to karaoke to disco to karaoke to disco to karaoke...

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* I only wish his dance moves on your children.

April 3, 2007

Dorian Purple: Prince's new temple by Sasha Frere-Jones

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What a great little profile of Prince in this week's New Yorker. My love of Prince is the closest I get to being religious (Prince would be the religion in this example) so when I read exalting things about him I just smile serenely and smugly and think, "I know that...now others will learn."

Though he’s just over five feet, lithe and pixieish, he never seems dwarfed by others onstage, and he is absolutely at ease guiding his ten-piece band. His backup dancers—Nandy and Maya McClean, twenty-six-year-old twins from Sydney, Australia—were energetic and effectively underclad, but Prince was still the most seductive presence onstage. When he simply cocked his head and smiled, it seemed like an act of public lewdness.

Anyone who's ever seen Prince perform has experienced this excerpt...and especially enjoyed the phenomenon captured in the last line. As a married woman it felt like I had just cheated on my husband and all Prince did was cock his head and smile.

March 22, 2007

Karl Lagerfeld profile in the New Yorker

In the Now: Where Karl Lagerfeld lives by John Colapinto is an interesting profile about an even more interesting man. His relationship to the past is especially intriguing to me as I have a similarly perplexed and irresolute view of the past - on one hand I'm profoundly inspired by history (it's all part of our collective unconscious right?!), on the other, it doesn't feel comfortable for me to dwell in history. For example, I'm not one to look through old photos and memorabilia - I'd rather take photos of the here and now and only on rare occasions perhaps, look back.

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March 20, 2007

Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer

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I just finished reading this book and I can't stop recommending it to everyone who is unfortunate enough to cross my path. On the surface, this book is about two brothers who killed their sister in law and her baby in the name of God. However it delves deeper and traces the origins of Mormonism and Mormon Fundamentalism. It is extremely well-written and well-researched - who knew a book about Mormons could be a page-turner?! I certainly didn't! My only issue with this book is the personal problem I now have: I feel complete bewilderment instead of compassion for those that follow the Mormon faith...and almost all other religions. It's simply difficult to understand how people believe in such fantasy (lunacy?). I suppose our desire for answers enables people to go to such great, reason-defying lengths be comforted. Ultimately, this book and the questions I've pondered as a result of reading it have made me realize I don't really want to convert to Judaism anymore. It's funny how it's come full-circle for me: I was raised Atheist (peppered with some cultural Buddhism and Shintoism), kinda-sorta felt it would be nice to belong to a religious community and I now am excited to raise my kids pretty much the same way - Atheist with some cultural Jewish, Buddhist and Shinto traditions sprinkled on top! I'm certain this will make total sense to my poor, unsuspecting offspring!

February 27, 2007

Flashing red light: Book critic not impressed

There should be a bright red light that flashes around a book review to warn the reader that the critic is not impressed. Otherwise the harshness can be a bit jolting - or perhaps I am too sensitive of a reader today but I was looking forward to reading this book review since it's about criminal law and courtroom psychology but alas Janet Maslin ripped him a new one. Poor guy.

February 13, 2007

Naked writers...literally

I've recently taken these peoples' fine lead and have started writing in the nude. So far, so productive and brilliant!

The only time it gets awkward is when I want more coffee so I peel my bare butt off the chair at whatever cafe I'm working in to go up to the counter to place an order. Awkward.

* I submit this post as an example of the fine writing I've been able to accomplish in the buff.

via Kottke.

February 7, 2007

Gift Post for Cameron Marlow: Garfield Dictionary

As founder of his middle school Garfield Fan Club, Cameron's sure to already own this special dictionary but thought he'd appreciate the shout-out nonetheless - am I right, Camero, am I right?!

Self-proclaimed 1st dictionary with attitude!

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January 30, 2007

I won't be happy until I lose my legs

I've been fascinated/perplexed by this topic ever since I read an Atlantic Monthly article six years ago about these folks: A wanna-be amputee (woman with BIID) tells all to The Guardian.

Thanks for the article, Jason!

November 21, 2006

Cartoonist Matthew Diffee interviews Bob Mankoff, New Yorker cartoon editor

I could read about cartoons and the analysis of them all day long. I just love the brilliant simplicity and humor of the cartoon medium. If you agree, you'll enjoy these links!

Interview - part 1

Interview - part 2 and more.

Also, here's Matthew Diffee's new book, The Rejection Collection which chronicles the cartoons that didn't make it into the New Yorker - so interesting to see what didn't make the cut and why.

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November 15, 2006

It takes a poor duped village to make Borat

I haven't seen Borat yet and of course everyone is telling me how great it is. It's definitely reached the over hyped threshold for me which makes me less interested in seeing it especially knowing that it takes a poor, duped village to create Borat. It makes me sad. However I know that social forces will prevail and I'll see it - sometimes you have to resign yourself to the inevitable.

November 13, 2006

Become a millionaire by using your brain! Imagine that.

A cognitive neuroscientist shares secrets from his success on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire show.

Research tends to support this idea: a first impulse is more often correct than a second, revised decision. But what if $250,000 is at stake?

* via Kottke.

Daily Lit is your last hope

You've been boring your friends for ages with your broken record-like vows to read War & Peace, Crime & Punishment, etc. But when you start boring yourself with empty promises you know it's time to subscribe to Daily Lit. You can sign up to receive emails of great literature in bite-sized chunks! Or in this case, ADD-sized chunks.

What's your first daily lit going to be? Mine's The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown.

JK Rowling!!

Thank to my friend Amy in Shanghai for this link!

November 6, 2006

A Cold Case by Philip Gourevitch

A Cold Case is a quick and interesting read about a reopened homicide case from 1970 and the nationwide hunt for the murderer. The facts of the case aren't too complex nor perplexing. It's the painting of mob run, Irish gangster ridden, New York in the 60s that is tantalizing. I was nearly transported and could almost hear the music, the accents, see the clothes and sense the times.

Janet Maslin says: "Gripping, first rate...beyond the outright suspense here...is a meditation on the every essence of crime."

Sebastian Junger says: "Gourevitch is one of the finest journalists working today; his portrait of gangland in New York in the 60s is brilliant."

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November 2, 2006

I Like You by Amy Sedaris & Making Comics by Scott McCloud

My favorite purchases in a long time just arrived at my door and I can't tear myself away from them. I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence by Amy Sedaris is extremely, extremely addictive. And very addictive. In fact I'm going to carry it around with me all day. Be warned, people who will come into contact with me today, I shall read you a passage and many more after that! Making Comics: Storytelling Secrets of Comics, Manga and Graphic Novels by Scott McCloud contains the sweet promise of my cartooning future which I've put on hold while I do everything else but it's always in my thoughts - childrens books authors, beware of your impending competition!!

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September 19, 2006

Recent kidnappings & The Collector by John Fowles

Over Labor Day weekend I heard all the weird and frightening details about the eighteen year old Austrian girl who was kidnapped and held for over eight years in a windowless cell and then now I hear about the fourteen year old girl who was kidnapped and held for ten days until she snuck a text message to her mom that consequently saved her. Craziness.

Makes me think of a great book I read a few years back. It's about...guess what? A guy who kidnaps a girl and keeps her for a long while and all the mind games and tortures that ensue. If you're drawn to this morbid stuff and prefer it served to you well-written, you'll love The Collector by John Fowles.

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September 18, 2006

MIND GAMES: What Neuroeconomics tells us about money and the brain by John Cassidy

In the hot field of behavioral economics another interesting article has been written and tells us that most people have strong 'loss aversion' which often makes us lose out on beneficial, risky opportunities.

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September 15, 2006

On Becoming Fearless by Arianna Huffington

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On Becoming Fearless is Arianna Huffington's 11th book and it tackles a hugely important issue: Women and Fear.

"Women have so much potential, yet we hold ourselves back. If my daughters, and women of all ages, are to take their rightful place in society, they must become fearless." For Arianna who entered Cambridge as a woman with a thick Greek accent, to running for California governor to switching political parties and becoming a Web entrepreneur, fear is certainly something that hasn't stopped her. Fear is universal but overcoming fear is an individual journey. My goal is "etre bien dans sa peau" which Arianna mentions in her book as what the French call "to feel good in your own skin". Let's all try just a little harder to overcome our fears and to fulfill our dreams fearlessly!

To see and hear the fearless woman in person visit the Union Square Barnes & Noble for her book signing tonight at 7 pm and say I sent you!

September 13, 2006

In the waiting room: The advantages of speaking French by David Sedaris

I'll always feed you David Sedaris, my readers.

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September 11, 2006

The Fame Motive by Benedict Carey

An interesting New York Times article on our desire to be famous. This is not only interesting because it tackles the most interesting question of human psychology but also because I just started taking two pyschology courses in preparation for grad school!

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Mental Health & Behavior
The Fame Motive

By BENEDICT CAREY
Published: August 22, 2006

Money and power are handy, but millions of ambitious people are after something other than the corner office or the beach house on St. Bart�s. They want to swivel necks, to light a flare in others� eyes, to walk into a crowded room and feel the conversation stop. They are busy networking, auditioning, talking up their latest project � a screenplay, a memoir, a new reality show � to satisfy a desire so obvious it is all but invisible.

What�s the formula for fame? Some write fictionalized memoirs, like James Frey, top; others, like Paris Hilton, above, become famous for, well, simply being famous.
�To be noticed, to be wanted, to be loved, to walk into a place and have others care about what you�re doing, even what you had for lunch that day: that�s what people want, in my opinion,� said Kaysar Ridha, 26, of Irvine, Calif., a recent favorite of fans of the popular CBS reality series �Big Brother.� �It�s strange and twisted, because when that attention does come, the irony is you want more privacy.�

For most of its existence, the field of psychology has ignored fame as a primary motivator of human behavior: it was considered too shallow, too culturally variable, too often mingled with other motives to be taken seriously. But in recent years, a small number of social scientists have begun to study and think about fame in a different way, ranking it with other goals, measuring its psychological effects, characterizing its devoted seekers.

Continue reading "The Fame Motive by Benedict Carey" »

August 25, 2006

An Insider Explains Italy, Land of Cheery Dysfunction by William Grimes

A hilarious review of a book about Italy and Italians. Enjoy!!

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Books of the Times
An Insider Explains Italy, Land of Cheery Dysfunction

By WILLIAM GRIMES
Published: August 23, 2006

In Italy, red lights come in many varieties. A rare few actually mean stop. Others, to the Italian driver, suggest different interpretations. At a pedestrian crossing at 7 a.m., with no pedestrians around, it is a �negotiable red,� more like a weak orange. At a traffic intersection, red could mean what the Florentines call rosso pieno, or full red, but it might, with no cars coming, be more of a suggestion than a command. It all depends.

The red-light mentality, as the journalist Beppe Severgnini sees it, explains volumes about Italy and the Italians. �We think it�s an insult to our intelligence to comply with a regulation,� he writes in �La Bella Figura,� his witty, insightful tour of the Italian mind. �Obedience is boring. We want to think about it. We want to decide whether a particular law applies to our specific case. In that place, at that time.�

This principle applies to traffic regulations, taxes, solemn laws and personal behavior. Everything is personal and open to discussion. As a result, Italy totters along in a state of amiable chaos, its situation desperate but not serious, which is more or less the way Italians like it, those in charge and those, in principle, being led. �Controllers and controlled have an unspoken agreement,� Mr. Severgnini writes. �You don�t change, we don�t change, and Italy doesn�t change, but we all complain that we can�t go on like this.�

Mr. Severgnini, a columnist for the Milan newspaper Corriere della Sera, turned a fond eye on the United States in his last book, �Ciao, America!,� but this time around, on his home turf, he bites harder and deeper. The paradoxes of Italian life engage him. They bring out the reflective wit that, he argues, is native to most Italians and may be their most potent weapon in the struggle with bureaucracy and social dysfunction. Intertwined with native wit is a strong sense of self-esteem enjoyed by even the humblest Italian, as well as a fatal weakness for beauty and surface appeal, �la bella figura.�

Italians, in other words, would just as soon look good as be good. The country suffers from an ethics deficit, most clearly visible in the attitude toward taxes. Lying outrageously about one�s income is considered normal. In the United States the public regards tax evasion as morally reprehensible. If he were to cheat on his taxes in Italy, Mr. Severgnini writes, �two neighbors would come round to ask me how I did it, and two more would loathe me in silence.� No one would report him.

Mr. Severgnini presents his guide as a tour that is partly geographical and partly conceptual. Over the course of 10 days, he travels from Milan to Tuscany to the far south: Sicily and Sardinia. But the places are merely excuses for little treatises on beaches, restaurants, cellphones, airports, condominiums, piazzas, gardens and offices, all sprinkled with clever observations and telling statistics.

The differences between Italian and British flight attendants, illustrated in a hilarious vignette, help explain the Italian sense of personal drama and the national talent for creatively responding to small crises. Italian flight attendants are poor at serving you coffee but good at cleaning it up and sympathizing when you spill it. Some of this is merely glib. Mr. Severgnini, himself no stranger to the lure of la bella figura, would just as soon turn a beautiful phrase as make a point, and he might do well to heed one of his own points about the restlessly fertile Italian brain: �you can�t amaze everyone every three minutes.�

At the same time, Mr. Severgnini, as he skips lightly from one topic to the next, manages to sneak in some revealing statistics. One in three Italians finds a job through a relative. One in five has moved in the last 10 years, half the European average. Telecommuting is virtually nonexistent, engaged in by only 0.2 percent of the work force � in part, Mr. Severgnini theorizes, because it deprives Italians of the social drama of the workplace.

The Italy that Mr. Severgnini describes seethes with frustration. Government works poorly. The legal system barely functions. Too many Italians are crowded into too little space. Fear of failure stymies innovation. Mr. Severgnini is dismayed at the national genius for enjoyment and the Italian inability to plan for the future. �Our sun is setting in installments,� he writes. �It�s festive and flamboyant, but it�s still a sunset.�

Yet in many areas Italians have jumped at modernity and thrown over tradition almost casually. Cellphones are a national mania. They allow Italians to be Italian in new, entertaining ways. The shopping mall (but not Internet shopping) is popular because Italians pretend that it�s a piazza. New nonsmoking laws, widely predicted to be an absolute failure, have been accepted without a fuss. They created new gathering places and new forms of conviviality. One young man cited by Mr. Severgnini started smoking as a way to meet girls. Restaurants go in for all sorts of newfangled gadgets in their bathrooms, and Mr. Severgnini has a field day with the automated sinks, concealed light switches and baroque flush technology that challenge the Italian diner today.

There is one rule, by the way, that cannot be violated. It is wrong, and possibly illegal, to order a cappuccino after 10 a.m. This is worse than eating pizza in the middle of the day. It is nonnegotiable. Discussion over. Rosso pieno.

---

* Via Ann.

August 17, 2006

Judgement Ridge by Dick Lehr and Mitchell Zuckoff

Judgement Ridge is another in my reading series of well-written and well-researched true crime novels. Its subject matter is the murder of Dartmouth professors Half and Susanne Zantop in January 2001 by two Chelsea, Vermont teenagers. One was much more the leader and the other, a follower. The leader of course was a psychopath who wanted to kill just for the sake and thrill of killing while the follower primarily wanted his friend's acceptance. And because of these dynamics, the cluelessness of the town and parents (I know, I always blame them!) and the purchase of two Navy Seal knifes, two life-affirming people and teachers were dead. Two Boston Globe reporters write a compelling, detailed analysis of how this horrid event happened.

Boston Globe writes, "One of the best books of the year...Join's Truman Capote's classic In Cold Blood as one of the standards in crime writing."

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August 15, 2006

A fantastic interview with Errol Morris

The Eleven-Minute Psychiatrist: The Stop Smiling Interview of Errol Morris by James Hughes.

August 7, 2006

Our Guys by Bernard Lefkowitz

Our Guys is an extremely well-written, thoroughly researched and penetratingly analytic study and account of the crime that took place in a Glen Ridge, NJ basement in March 1989. A mentally retarded girl was raped by a handful of jocks and Lefkowitz examines not only the perpretrators and the victim but also the town, its values and the adults who were all, to varying degrees, culprits to this horrendous crime. What unfolds is a grim picture of a culture that worshipped school athletes above everything else, the confused and often twisted sexuality of teens in our over-sexed society and the leg up that people of higher socio-economic levels will always have. Furthermore Lefkowitz doesn't shy away from the complexities of the case which make the case uncomfortably gray at times but ultimately results in a richer, more nuanced investigation. If this sounds interesting to you let me warn you, it's hard to put this book down, even at 500 plus pages long.

The New York Times Book Review writes, "Extraordinary. A calm, methodical, painstakingly researched, and important book that should be read by parents and eductors alike."

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July 17, 2006

The Devil's Teeth by Susan Casey

This was a pretty exciting read although chapter 10 nearly bored me to tears. Her sensationalistic writing and the little known, spectacular shark facts that are sprinkled throughout make The Devil's Teeth a worthwhile read:

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July 13, 2006

Some Dark Thoughts on Happiness by Jennifer Senior

A very interesting New York Magazine article.

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July 5, 2006

THE PERFECT MARK: How a Massachusetts psychotherapist fell for a Nigerian email scam

A fascinating and frustrating New Yorker article by Mitchell Zuckoff - How does someone, especially an educated someone, get duped time and time again??

June 28, 2006

The Onion interviews Amy Sedaris

I know that 100 Amy Sedaris interviews is your limit, you patient readers, and we're nowhere near there so enjoy another one, on me!

Thanks Jason!

June 26, 2006

A great The Believer mag interview w/ guess who?

You're right.

WHAT I LEARNED: And what I said at Princeton by Davis Sedaris

A fun New Yorker piece by David Sedaris.

June 16, 2006

Another article in the I'm proud of my hubby! series

Update: Here are the ads.

JWT Puts a 'Roadblock' on Huffington Post by Julie Bosman.

June 12, 2006

Class Matters

Another great read I enjoyed in one sitting:

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"In Class Matters, a team of New York Times reporters explores the ways in which classdefined as a combination of income, education, wealth, and occupationinfluences destiny in a society that likes to think of itself as a land of opportunity. We meet individuals in Kentucky and Chicago who have used education to lift themselves out of poverty and others in Virginia and Washington whose lack of education holds them back. We meet an upper-middle-class family in Georgia who moves to a different town every few years, and the newly rich in Nantucket whose mega-mansions have driven out the longstanding residents. And we see how class disparities manifest themselves at the doctors office and at the marriage altar."

June 9, 2006

The Adversary: A True Story of Monstrous Deception by Emmanuel Carrere

"Unputdownable...Imagine a sleek, twenty-first century In Cold Blood" - Michael Dirda, The Washington Post Book World

I started and finished this book last night and highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys well-written crime novels.

Well-known French writer Emmanuel Carrere explores the psychology and events in the life of the seemingly happy and successful Jean-Claude Romand that lead him to kill his wife, children and parents. Carrerre's depiction of the nice little city the Romands lived in just outside of Geneva and the questioning of his own interests as a writer enhance this fascinating read.

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June 6, 2006

Two great New Yorker articles

The Agitator by Margaret Talbot &

This is where a link to the Nora Ephron article on her love affair with the Apthorp should have appeared had the New Yorker made the article available online...this is also where the Op-Ed response in the New York Times called Delusions of the Rich and Rent Controlled would have appeared had I paid for a New York Times online subscription.

Welcome to Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda Tuesday!! Disappointments and dashed hopes for all!!

May 24, 2006

Polite Lies: On Being a Woman Caught Between Cultures

This book is interesting to me as most things Japanese are but it's also pitiful and offensive how much she 'takes out on' Japan, Japanese culture and people because of her miserable childhood and terrible memories of Japan.

If you feel like reading something that is annoying but sometimes also offers analysis and truths worth gleaning, here's the book for you!

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May 12, 2006

Disturbing article on beauty treatments, sheep and Oprah.

Read this article.

In case you needed more proof, you'll discover that people are sheep. It's truly sad that so many women have lost their minds and souls.

Is it such a crazy idea that what makes for the most beautiful woman is one who has learned to embrace her so called flaws and aging and through that process has become truly confident and attractive??!!

Thanks to Celeste for the article!

May 10, 2006

Underground : The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche

I am obsessed with this book right now. It's comprised of Murakami's interviews with the Sarin Gas Attack victims and the perpetrators. Can't put it down and have started taking baths every night so the book is 50% wet at any given time.

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May 3, 2006

Just STOP at 2 cats.

This article contains so many depressing aspects and is also gross.

Thanks to Annie Maxwell for the link!

And Annie, don't worry, you won't end up a cat lady. Just think - if you do, I'll sell them on ebay for you so don't worry!

Shin Sang-Ok, Film Director and Abductee 1927 - 2006

Economist subscribers can read about this man's completely horrifying and fascinating life here. Others, see below.

Shin Sang-Ok

Apr 27th 2006
From The Economist print edition
Shin Sang-Ok, film director and abductee, died on April 11th, aged 79

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VIEWERS of the movie �Team America: World Police� will have gathered that North Korea's dictator, Kim Jong Il, is a mixed-up fellow. He may be brutal�he is depicted feeding Hans Blix, the former UN weapons inspector, to a shark�but he is also a sensitive, artistic soul. After murdering Mr Blix, he sings a sad song about how lonely it is being a psychotic despot. This was supposed to be outrageous satire. But, as Shin Sang-Ok could have told the directors, no fictionalised �Dear Leader� could be weirder, or nastier, than the real one.

Mr Shin was a South Korean movie director. In 1978, Mr Kim, a movie buff, had him kidnapped and whisked to the hermit kingdom to make its revolutionary film industry less awful.

Before then, Mr Shin was best known for giving South Korean audiences their first on-screen kiss. During the 1950s and 1960s he made dozens of films, several of which depicted Korean women's struggles against patriarchal convention. His favourite leading lady was his wife, the dazzling Choi Eun-Hee. In the 1970s Mr Shin's career waned, and it came to an abrupt halt when he upset South Korea's military government by complaining about censorship. His movie company was swiftly shut down.

Mr Kim, then the unacknowledged heir apparent to the world's first hereditary communist monarchy, saw his opportunity. First, he had Ms Choi lured to Hong Kong, kidnapped and shipped to a North Korean port. Ever the gentleman, he turned up at the dock to greet her. �Thank you for coming, Madame Choi,� he said, as if she were stepping off a cruise ship.

Although they had recently divorced, Mr Shin was naturally alarmed at his ex-wife's disappearance. He followed her trail to Hong Kong, where he too was abducted. In North Korea, he was put up in a comfortable guest house, but insisted on trying to escape. One day he borrowed a car, drove to a railway station, hid among crates of explosives and crept aboard a freight train. He was caught the next day, and soon found himself in a hellish prison camp.

Even there, however, he was protected from afar. When he tried to starve himself to death, officials force-fed him through a funnel. A guard told Mr Shin that he was the first attempted suicide he'd ever seen saved�so he must be very important.

After four years, Mr Shin won his release through a series of abjectly apologetic letters to Kim Jong Il and his father, President Kim Il Sung. He was brought to a dinner party in Pyongyang, the capital, and face-to-face with his ex-wife, who had not known until that moment that he was in North Korea. �Well, go ahead and hug each other. Why are you just standing there?� said the Dear Leader, who then suggested that they re-marry. They did as they were told.

At last, Mr Shin's talents could be put to good use. Mr Kim was worried that films produced in decadent, capitalist South Korea were better than those produced in the North. Perceptively, he explained to Mr Shin that this was because North Korean film workers knew the state would feed them regardless of the quality of their output. In the South, by contrast, actors and directors had to sweat to make films the public would pay to see. Mr Kim wasn't saying that there was anything wrong with socialism, of course, but he gave Mr Shin millions of dollars, a fancy marble-lined office and more artistic freedom than any North Korean director had ever enjoyed before.

Films fit for Cannes

Mr Kim did not want Mr Shin to make crude propaganda. Oh no. He wanted films that would win awards at international festivals. And although the tubby tyrant had previously argued, in his book �On the Art of Cinema�, that good movies should glorify the party, the system, his father and himself, he realised that this was not a fail-safe formula for wowing the judges at Cannes.

So he let Mr Shin shoot some watchable films, including �Pulgasari�, a Godzilla-inspired affair about a metal-eating monster who helped 14th-century peasants overthrow their feudal lords. The director and his wife were obliged to give a press conference explaining that they had willingly defected to North Korea, but otherwise they were treated far better than most of the Kim dynasty's hapless subjects. Mr Kim must have thought that was good enough to keep them loyal, for he allowed them to travel. As soon as they saw a chance to dodge their bodyguards, during a promotional trip to Vienna in 1986, they fled to the American embassy and sought asylum.

Mr Shin was at first reluctant to go home, for fear that South Korea's security police might disbelieve his fantastic tale and suspect him of communist sympathies. Fortunately, he and his wife had made, at mortal risk, clandestine tape recordings of conversations with Mr Kim. These, and the couple's memoirs, are among the most useful accounts we have of the secretive (and now probably nuclear-armed) Dear Leader's personality: charming, shrewd, quirky, malevolent.

Mr Shin continued to make films until shortly before he died. His last years were frail; he had a liver transplant in 2004. Ms Choi survived him, and his last film, about an old man with Alzheimer's, is yet to be released.

May 2, 2006

Memento Mori by David Sedaris

I love David Sedaris' writing and here's his latest.

He's almost as good as Dan Brown.

April 26, 2006

Jane Jacobs 1916 - 2006

You can read more about her impressive life and accomplishments here. I agree with Jason that her book The Death and Life of Great American Cities was remarkable and made a lasting impression.

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RIP.

February 28, 2006

PURSUING HAPPINESS: Two scholars explore the fragility of contentment.

A worthwhile read by John Lanchester for the NewYorker.

I tend to agree that people are probably most happy when they're doing as opposed to seeking, pondering, obsessing, etc.

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February 13, 2006

Another great short story by Murakami

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As all Murakami stories it begins strangely...like this:

She sometimes had trouble remembering her own name. Usually this happened when someone unexpectedly asked what it was. Shed be at a boutique, getting the sleeves of a dress altered, and the saleswoman would say, Your name, Maam?, and her mind would go blank....

January 5, 2006

The Survivor

This is a fantastic book. I'm loving it and having a hard time putting it down. It's impressively balanced and clearly written. I highly recommend it.

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December 15, 2005

EVERYBODYS AN EXPERT: Putting predictions to the test by Louis Menand

I thoroughly enjoyed this article - maybe you will too!

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December 12, 2005

Psychiatry Ponders Whether Extreme Bias Can Be an Illness

It's a fine line how much to aquiesce to the times and how much to retain what you feel are your principles however I think extreme bias is something that should be evolved out of us. Of course it never will be but this little cynic can dream a little dream right?

December 7, 2005

Honky

This is a FANTASTIC book.

If you like good writing, smart insights and strong observations this memoir is for you. I read it in 3 hours. I'm sure you can read it in 4-5.

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November 22, 2005

Den of Thieves

I'm reading this book right now and I can't put it down. I know I'm a little late on this one but if you're someone who reads books ~ 10 years late and starts liking songs two years after they've lost their popularity (thanks to my brother for pointing out this precise equation), this could be for you!

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October 21, 2005

Oh dear G-d help us.

They are not what they appear to be - click to see.

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Thanks to my buddy Paul Ohan for being up on the White Nationalist Movement!!

October 20, 2005

I'm very into Haruki Murakami

Of course the coolest author has the coolest website.

A good, old Salon interview.

October 6, 2005

The Gift of fear will give you empowerment!...and some fear (full disclosure here).

Ever since Chelsea mentioned this book to me a while back I've been intrigued and have finally bought it and read it: The Gift of Fear.

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Especially to the women out there: I highly recommend this book and using your intuition as it is a great tool we have!

Shake what you got! so to speak...

September 29, 2005

Good things come in 2s: Fantastic Graphic Novels

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August 5, 2005

Yoga is BAD.

I knew it! It was only a matter of time until THE TRUTH came out.

via Huffington Post.

August 3, 2005

Now this is the type of study I support!

Alcohol helps you think!

I do however turn to the side and raise an eyebrow about the fact that this study was conducted by Aussies.

* via Huffington Post.

May 24, 2005

Sarcasm proves you're not braindamaged!

Researchers Pinpoint Brain's Sarcasm Sensor.

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via Eyebeam's ReBlog.

May 11, 2005

This man is a psychopath. Somebody, get him some help.

Poor baby geese, RIP.

April 19, 2005

Ruts are the worrrrst.

How to get out of a life rut.

What does it take to escape a rut? A combination of self-awareness, strategic planning, and perseverance. "There's an old coaching mantra that says, 'Nothing changes until something changes,'" Cohen says. "Talking about change isn't enough, and thinking differently isn't enough, either."

via kottke.org

March 23, 2005

Dare To Bare: Vanessa Beecroft

Her basketcase-ness is sad but intriguing...

Sunday March 13, 2005
The Observer

Shortly before taking the Long Island Rail Road out
to spend the day with Italian conceptual artist
Vanessa Beecroft, I eat a huge American-style
breakfast at the Empire Diner in Chelsea - two fried
eggs, potato chips, English muffin, two slices of
toast - and end up with stomach ache. This
over-fuelling stems from the knowledge that
Beecroft, now 35, has struggled to control an
obsession with food since the age of 12. Bearing
this in mind, it's unlikely she'll be offering me
anything to eat. My hunch proves correct. When I
arrive at the scenic, coastal home that Beecroft
shares with her husband Greg Durkin, 28, a social
researcher, and their two sons (Dean, three, and
Virgil, seven months) her British assistant, Ian
Davis, mutters knowingly: 'I hope you had breakfast
today.'

Everything in Vanessa Beecroft's life revolves
around food. She and her husband bought their rural
retreat in Cold Spring Harbor, Long Island, partly
because it would cut Beecroft's access to the
24-hour convenience stores available on every street
corner in New York City - too much of a temptation
when the craving for a binge comes on. They also
bought it because it had an indoor swimming pool.

Beecroft suffers from what psychiatrists call
'exercise bulimia', a compulsive need to burn off
unwanted calories using excessive exercise. For
Beecroft, swimming was, until recently, an
intoxicating drug. When she was pregnant with Dean,
she insisted - despite the protests of her husband
and his mother, Sheril Durkin, a registered
dietician - on swimming 100 laps a day to ensure her
weight gain was kept to the minimum. Today, she no
longer swims, instead practising ashtanga yoga
('power yoga') seven days a week. Without it, she
says she would 'go crazy'. In her teens, she tried
unsuccessfully to vomit food she wished she hadn't
eaten - all that saved her from rampant bulimia was
her body's refusal to play ball. The spectre of
anorexia haunted her teens and twenties, too, when
she smoked to keep her weight down, attempted
crash-dieting with amphetamines, undertook damaging
fasts, exercised beyond any sensible limits of
endurance, and kept a diary - The Book of Food -
detailing every single morsel that passed her lips
between 1983 and 1993 (for example, if she ate an
orange, she'd note the date, time and how it made
her feel). Even now, a decade after she stopped
keeping the food diary, there are still days when
she longs to note what she eats, such was the power
of this coping mechanism.

Beecroft announced herself boldly to the art world
in 1993, when she showed The Book of Food. After a
professor at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera
Scenografia in Milan, where she studied from 1988 to
1993, invited her to participate in a group show at
the city's Inga-Pin gallery, she adapted what
remained of The Book of Food (the first four years
of entries were lost by a friend hired to type them
up) into a white cube-shaped book. The book, placed
in the centre of an empty gallery, was supplemented
by a 'live sculpture' or 'live painting' of 30
girls, consisting of fellow Brera students or girls
found on the streets of Milan, who were instructed
to move around the space, aloof, numb, dressed in
Beecroft's own clothes - mostly red or yellow (two
of Beecroft's favourite colours). Many of the girls,
chosen for their uncanny resemblance to Beecroft,
were themselves struggling with eating disorders. On
the walls, drawings and watercolours of girls
wrestling with eating disorders, primitive brightly
coloured stick figures (sometimes just an arm or a
torso or hair or a leg) reminiscent of sketches by
Tracey Emin (all chronologically titled VBDW01,
VBDW02, VBDW03, the acronym standing for 'Vanessa
Beecroft Drawings and Watercolours').

This first 'performance' set the blueprint for
Beecroft's future as a conceptual artist. Since
then, she has staged a further 53 performances
around the world (all titled VB01, VB02, VB25, VB45,
etc), each more elaborate than its predecessor.

Earlier performances tended to feature a handful of
girls wearing high heels (Beecroft calls heels
'pedestals'), cheap costumes and wardrobe, allusions
to European cinema (films by Fassbinder, Godard,
Visconti) and classical painting (Rembrandt,
Holbein, della Francesca), and red, yellow or
platinum wigs. As budgets grew in proportion to her
reputation, she started using professional models,
strikingly presented by make-up artists such as Pat
McGrath, and wearing clothes and accessories loaned
or specially created by fashion designers such as
Miuccia Prada, Tom Ford, Helmut Lang, Dolce &
Gabbana, and Manolo Blahnik, all eager to associate
themselves with Beecroft's complex vision (even if
Beecroft's assistant tells me 'The fashion in
Vanessa's work is a red herring' and Beecroft
herself says, 'I don't follow fashion').

Many of these mutually beneficial artist/designer
collaborations (Beecroft gets kudos from the fashion
press, the designers get intellectual cachet from
the art press) are brokered by Beecroft's long-term
friend/mentor Franca Sozzani, the influential editor
of Vogue Italia, who sees a very clear role for
fashion in Beecroft's work.

'Fashion is important in her performances because
she subdues it to her will,' Sozzani tells me. 'It's
not important as a logo, trend or status symbol:
fashion items are used to underline the woman's body
and to express the concept behind her performances.'
The 'girls' (Beecroft's term for the models) have
also become increasingly stripped, to the extent
where most performances since VB23 have featured
partial or full nudity. These beautiful and
disturbing tableaux vivants, which are always staged
twice (once for the public, once for photographing
and filming: Beecroft's network of dealers trade in
limited-edition photographs and DVD/video films of
each performance) have confounded critics eager for
easy categorisation, been pronounced 'dope' by
celebrity fans such as Leonardo DiCaprio, been
slated as vapid art/fashion fusion catwalk shows,
and enraged older generations of feminists while
thrilling the younger. As Maria Elena Buszek, an art
historian at the Kansas City Art Institute,
explains: 'Beecroft is the veritable poster-girl for
our current, third wave of feminist art history.
There's an ambivalence in her work that is present
in the work of many of her contemporaries, which is
the result of a culture that has both internalised
feminist goals more than any generation that
preceded it, and chafes against what it perceives as
feminism's restraints.'

On 8 April, at the Neue National galerie in Berlin,
she will stage her biggest performance to date,
VB55, featuring 100 girls. The resulting three
prints and solitary DVD are expected to set a new
record for sales of Vanessa Beecroft's art.

Arriving at Beecroft's house, my taxi driver clocks
the silver BMW in the garage, the indoor swimming
pool and the sprawling countryside surrounding the
house, shakes his head and says, 'Damn, these
motherfuckers got it all.' At the door, I'm greeted
by one of two full-time nannies, a smiley Virgil in
her arms.

In the living room, I find Beecroft sitting on a
white-leather couch, talking with her assistant. As
she introduces herself in a lilting Italian accent,
I note her healthy weight, the toned, muscular
ashtanga arms, her big eyes - at once little-girl
vulnerable and tomboyishly tough.

It transpires that, in a moment, she is heading
outside to pose naked for the photographer and his
assistant, the four inches of snow that fell
overnight making for a beautiful backdrop. 'I'm
letting society take revenge,' she says, alluding to
critics who hone in on her willingness to put naked
women on display, while never - with one or two
exceptions - appearing in the performances herself.

She tells me she hates being photographed. 'When I
am photographed, in my face and in my eyes there is
too much heaviness. I look at a camera and all the
heaviness comes. But the girls, they're pure.' The
girls (with the notable exception of VB39 and VB41,
both of which featured male members of the US Navy
as 'models', her performances always consist of
female models) are self-portraits according to
Beecroft, diary entries translated to a safely
distant, removed canvas of space and anonymous
flesh. She assigns the girls - who vary in look from
heavy to plain to model-beautiful to tattooed to
pierced to unhealthily thin - her shame, her
self-disgust, her anxieties. She turns the girls,
some of whom have been diagnosed with eating
disorders, into a reflection of her own ugly
emotional panorama.

Art magazine Parkett has also noted that there's a
'cruel classicism' to her aesthetic: she makes the
girls stand for up to three hours in uncomfortable
high heels, sometimes several sizes too small; she
has had the models' pubic hair shaved to make their
public violation more complete; and she gives them
strict rules (don't talk, don't move, don't make eye
contact with the audience). It's no wonder that
Fassbinder, a master of cruelty and control, is one
of her favourite film directors (Fassbinder
actresses Irm Hermann and Hanna Schygulla were cast
as 'characters' for VB51 in Germany).

After 54 performances, many remain unsure what to
make of Beecroft's work. Some see the fashion
element as superficial, some see the naked Helmut
Newton-esque images of these women as little more
than 'hooters for intellectuals' (as one review
famously dubbed her work). Some say she's demeaning
women, parading them like hunks of meat, in the
process creating a male wet dream, while others say
she's reclaiming sexualised images of women from the
pages of Penthouse and recontextualising them as
symbols of feminist empowerment.

Laura Piccinini, a journalist for Italian women's
monthly Amica, told me that Beecroft's eating
disorders, her obsession with fashion, her
deliberately provocative use of nudity, make her a
perfect tabloid-friendly artist for our
confessional, celebrity-gossip and
reality-TV-obsessed times. Beecroft's art is one of
exposure.

'I had a difficult childhood,' says Beecroft, still
shivering from the photo shoot, as she warms her
hands on a mug of Yogi Tea. We're sitting at the
dining table, a whole shelf of Helmut Newton books
behind her (when Newton photographed her wearing a
leather bikini for Vogue, he screamed at her: 'I am
the father of your performances!'). She was born in
Genoa, Italy, on 25 April 1969, to a British father,
Andrew (a teacher, then classic-car dealer, today
retired and living in Beckenham with his second wife
and their two children), and an Italian mother,
Maria Luisa (a classics teacher, also retired, who
lives alone in Rapallo). Her parents chose the name
Vanessa after seeing Vanessa Redgrave in Antonioni's
Blow-Up while Maria Luisa was pregnant.

Straight after Vanessa was born, the Beecrofts moved
to Holland Park, west London. When she was three,
her parents separated (Beecroft would not see her
father again until she was 15) and her younger
brother (currently training to be a judge in Italy)
was sent to live with Maria Luisa's parents in
Genoa. ('As of today, I still ask my mother why and
she says she couldn't take care of two children,'
Beecroft says.)

Vanessa and her mother moved to a tiny village,
Malcesine, on the slopes of Lake Garda. There, her
mother taught at a local school and kept an austere
house which included a strict macrobiotic diet.
Running an atheist, manless home, working full-time
and subscribing to far-left political ideals hardly
endeared Maria Luisa to her fiercely Catholic,
family-centric neighbours.

They called the Beecrofts 'the foreigners', treating
them with suspicion. Today, Beecroft is proud of her
mother, though, calling her a 'progressive feminist'.

'It was a very strange and primitive state of
living,' she explains. 'No phone, no TV, no car, no
meat. My mother was against modern society. She was
angry about everything - men, the Pope, religion,
meat. But she was not a hippy at all because she was
a well raised Italian woman.'

Her earliest memories are of running through fields
with boys and drawing pictures of her dolls. When
she was 11, her mother moved them to Santa
Margherita, a seaside town just along the Ligurian
coast from Portofino, so Vanessa could re-establish
contact with her brother (their father was in London
and she wouldn't see him again until she was 16,
when he dismissed her from his doorstep for being
'too intense').

'People were more spoiled,' she says. 'When we
arrived, I was wearing wooden shoes and they laughed
at me. That was difficult. But at school, I was good
at drawing. I saw a way of escaping in art, so I
decided to focus on studying.'

Her problems with food started with puberty. 'When I
was 12, I started to become a woman and my body
began to change. I was devastated because I couldn't
be a boy any more. I lost my boyish look. When I
started to become something else, I didn't know how
to keep it together. It was really painful - the
more you eat, the more like a woman you become.
That's when my obsession with food started. I felt
very alone, but now I see that every woman in my
family has an eating disorder.' At 14, she went to
art school in Genoa. In her spare time, she read
Vogue (her mother wouldn't let her read it at home),
visited galleries across Italy with her mother and
spent weekends with her best friends - three
aristocratic, anorexic sisters. She also started The
Book of Food. 'The anxiety of having eaten something
and having it inside and not knowing how big and how
much... I thought, "I'm going to write it down and
look at it and see if it's really so much. And one
day, I might give it to a doctor so they will
analyse if it's OK." But then it became an obsession
and I wrote down everything I ate. I would go all
day thinking, "I ate an apple at 12 o'clock, I must
write it down, I mustn't forget."'

Alongside food entries, she added comments like: 'I
am a pig', 'Slut', 'Terrible anxiety', 'Dogged
bulimia', 'I'm bursting', 'Apathy fear fatigue',
'Trying to vomit', 'Monster'. As The Book of Food
attests, things got worse. One day, in a fit of
despair, she ate a whole bag of walnuts, shells and
all, and had to be rushed into hospital and treated
for peritonitis. 'The doctor said, "What are you
eating?",' Beecroft says, with a sigh. 'I told him I
was eating walnuts, the whole thing, with the shell.
I was smashing them with a hammer and swallowing the
whole thing. I thought it would be purifying.' The
doctor referred her to a psychiatrist. 'He was a Red
Brigade,' Beecroft recalls, laughing. 'I loved
seeing him. But I had to leave because we couldn't
afford it. Instead I started to smoke cigarettes so
I would become skinny.'

When she was 18, she enrolled at Genoa's Accademia
Ligustica di Belle Arti Pittura, where, to
Beecroft's frustration, she was unable to make
herself throw up, unlike some girls there. 'Every
other girl could and I couldn't. I would try in the
bathroom with my head in the toilet for two hours
and eventually I'd start bleeding because I was
hurting myself and I got scared. My best friend
there used to be obese, and then she looked like a
model because she smoked cigarettes all day and
threw up, and I was so jealous.' Unhappy, she
transferred to the Brera Academy in Milan,
supporting herself by working as a live-in au pair.
Accepting that she couldn't throw up her food, she
started excessively exercising when the family was
out ('I would stay in my room and jump by myself and
write down: 30 minutes jumping, 50 minutes jumping,
in The Book of Food') and began colour-coding her
diet (a trick usually used by bulimics so they can
identify specific foods when they vomit that
Beecroft re-appropriated in a bid to turn herself
into one of her own sickly stick drawings).

'I thought that if I eat green, I will become green.
So, for a long time, I ate only green food. And then
orange food. And I was looking to my skin to become
more green if I ate spinach, or orange if I ate
carrots. I was trying to colour myself like in my
drawings. I wanted my skin to be transparent, and
the colours underneath orange and green and red.'
When she showed The Book of Food at Inga-Pin
Gallery, she closed the diary: 'The day I decided to
use The Book of Food as art was the day I stopped.'

Instead, now able to afford gym membership, she
binged on exercise - mostly aerobics and swimming.
The exercise brought relief and offered an antidote
to her problems. 'Instead of this food,' she
explains, 'instead of vomiting or doing what these
other girls were doing, if I exercised, life was
still worth living. I could go back to real life.
Because as soon as food would come in, I would start
to feel guilty, that I didn't deserve to eat. Why
should I eat? What should I eat? And the only way to
deal with this was to exercise.'

Beecroft's big break, the one that catapulted her on
to an international platform, came in 1995, when
influential New York art dealer Jeffrey Deitch saw a
photograph from VB09 in an art magazine. 'I saw a
tiny image of her work which was presented at a
gallery in Germany,' says Deitch. 'The image was
just so arresting, because it was a new kind of
reality that she had developed. It was not a
painting or a sculpture, it was not a normal
photograph, it was not just people sitting there in
real life. It was something in between. It was like
nothing I had ever seen before.'

Intrigued, he invited Beecroft to stage a
performance in January 1996 to open his new second
gallery, Deitch Projects. The result confirmed in
Deitch's mind that here was an entirely new artist
at work.

'Her work comes out very much from the tradition of
Italian painting and sculpture - Italian Mannerist
painting, Baroque painting, sculptors like Canova -
and the tradition of performance art: Duchamp, Yves
Klein, Gilbert and George. The foundations are
classical Italian tradition and the tradition of
radical performance art and live art. And then she's
also very much involved in something more
contemporary, this world of reality TV and fashion
shows. There's an awareness of contemporary culture
that's in the mix as well.'

He became her dealer and Beecroft moved from Milan
to Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Nine years later, Deitch
has made a very tidy sum from selling Beecroft's
work to 'collectors of great works of pop, minimal
and conceptual art', and sees her as spearheading a
new wave of women's art.

'Vanessa's a new kind of woman artist,' he explains.
'Without question Vanessa is a feminist, but she's a
very contemporary kind of feminist. There's a new
group of women artists and Vanessa's in the
vanguard, and I would also add Cecily Brown and
Pipilotti Rist, where the women are using sexual
imagery from a very powerful, very feminine point of
view, and it's a kind of powerful sexual imagery
that can even intimidate the male. If one is present
at a Vanessa Beecroft performance, they are not
erotic. You feel the power of the women's presence.
It is an intimidating image.'

After marrying Greg Durkin in Portofino in September
2000 (the wedding was turned into a special project
entitled VBGD - the couple's initials), Beecroft
spent most of 2001 pregnant.

'I'm on Zoloft [an antidepressant], the only drug
you can take when you nurse, a very little dosage,
very small,' she explains, rubbing her heavily
tattooed arms. 'It makes you numb, I kind of like it
actually. But when I am not, oh my God. I stopped
when I got pregnant with Dean and I got crazy again
- the police arrived one night because I was
breaking the car.'

This wasn't the only time her husband Greg called
the police during this era. The second time was in
autumn 2001 when the couple got into another
ferocious fight, at a hotel in Los Angeles. Beecroft
was handcuffed by LAPD officers and only released
when she calmed down. Once she had given birth to
Dean, her psychiatrist put her back on Zoloft.

'I take it to keep the family in peace,' she
whispers, as if telling me a secret.

'I have to become numb or otherwise I become too
much. I was raised by my mother throwing plates
everywhere - tomatoes, plates - and everything was
destroyed and then she'd cry a little bit and then
it would stop. I thought it was normal to destroy
the house. So I take Zoloft for the children, but
also to survive. I am so high maintenance!'

We are interrupted by Dean, who joins us, doe-eyed,
wanting to blow out the candle flickering on the
table between us. It's getting dark. I tell her I
should get going. 'Do you have anything to eat on
the train?' she wants to know. When I say no, she
hurries to the kitchen and starts to make me a
picnic. On the train, heading back to Manhattan,
hungry, I open the plastic bag and find inside two
apples, two sachets of Yogi Tea, peanuts, each
carefully, individually wrapped.

As I bite into a green apple, I try to make sense of
all the contradictions surrounding Beecroft: she's a
doting mother with a nine-to-five husband who calls
herself a feminist; she considers her performances
self-portraits but rarely appears in them herself;
she is supported by powerful fashion figures yet
claims not to follow fashion; she's plagued by
eating disorders but doesn't care to label herself
bulimic or anorexic; she's obsessed with control yet
surrounded by powerful people; she's very much an
artist of the moment but isn't interested in any
contemporary art after the abstract expressionists;
she's happy to put naked women on public display but
finds being photographed herself agonising.

Her work is no less contradictory and that's why she
is so successful, so on the pulse. It's the perfect
product of a time when we claim to despise reality
TV but secretly watch it; fear globalisation but
cherish that Starbucks latte; see the vapidity of
fashion but save up for a Prada jacket; bemoan our
celebrity-fixated culture while tuning in to see
that exclusive Madonna interview. As a culture right
now, we're a mass of contradictions and, like all
great art, Vanessa Beecroft's performances beam that
uncomfortable truth right back at us.

� Vanessa Beecroft's VB55 will be staged at the Neue
Nationalgalerie in Berlin on 8 April

February 24, 2005

The Theory That Self-Interest Is the Sole Motivator Is Self-Fulfilling

A good NY Times article on a very interesting topic...

February 23, 2005

How to Good-Bye Depression: If You Constrict Anus 100 Times Everyday. Malarkey? or Effective Way?

Why didn't I ever think of this? Stupid, stupid me! Well I'm giving it a go and so far so good and constricted! 34, 35, 36...

Only 1 left in stock!!! Who'll be the lucky depressed friend to receive your your LOL/insensitive gift?!

howtogoodbyedepression.jpg

and yes, of course, this is a Japanese creation.

February 3, 2005

Warren Buffet Wisdom

I love, love love this.

A Blogger learns from Warren Buffet.

via Kottke.org.

January 26, 2005

Intelligence in men and women is a gray and white matter

Women and men use their brains in different ways.

January 25, 2005

This is a sick fantasy of mine...never needing to sleep

A Ukranian man hasn't slept a wink in 20 yearz zzz zz...

August 31, 2004

Finger Food For Painful Thought

It's sooo wierd!

I've only been wearing my engagement ring for a month but something peculiar has happened!

RingLump.jpg

Click on my finger for the full story.

* via EYEBEAM's reBlog

July 29, 2004

The Daily Onion Show

Laughing really hard is soooo much fun!

I do it often while watching The Daily Show and reading The Onion.

Missing an episode of The Daily Show is like getting tucked into bed by a monster. Not reading The Onion is like getting shot in the shoulder.

Daily Show clip-click on the first video please:

JStewartRReagan.jpg

Onion excerpts:

wherethefucksmal.jpg

KennelCertificate.jpg

July 23, 2004

British Binge Drinking Ladies

This picture is hilarious.

It accompanied a NYTimes article yesterday about the troubling state of drinking in England.

Notice her feet:

binge.184.1.jpg

July 21, 2004

What really happened on Flight 327?

You have to read this account of a passenger on Flight 327 and tell me:

What would you do? How would you feel?

Because I'd be calm as a screaming maniac.

April 22, 2004

Prince-tastic!

Prince is great. I've adored him since ~ 14 years old and fondly recall being a 16 year old, sneaking out to see a Prince concert in Tokyo in the truest nosebleed seats from where he looked so much tinier than he is in person...even in heels.

A non-fan reviews Prince's current tour

April 16, 2004

Hug a friend today...if you wanna live.

Confucious say...Close Relationship Helps Heart.

March 5, 2004

Japan puts robots to work

Interesting article in today's New York Times: Japan Seeks Robotic Help in Caring for the Aged

Here's a happy lady gettin' scrubbed down by a bot!
robotbath2.jpg

This is what we have to look forward to, my friends! Good Times!

December 11, 2003

Breaking News: Poor People Pretty Much Fucked

Thanks to the Onion's fine reportage, we now know:

Poor People Pretty Much Fucked

May 20, 2003

On The Perils of Blogging

May 18, 2003 NYTimes article on Blogging as it pertains to Dating & Privacy

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