Saturday, March 9, 2013

Cab Thoughts 3/9/13

More and more I am convinced that Russian Communism in its total disregard of truth, in its fanaticism, its intolerance and its resolute denial of God and religion is something utterly evil.-----Henry Wallace. (Yes, Henry Wallace)

The politicians sometimes look like New Years resolutions makers. A UN summit in 1990 set as a goal for the year 2000 universal primary-school enrollment. (That is now planned for 2015.) A previous summit, in 1977, set 1990 as the deadline for realizing the goal of universal ac­cess to water and sanitation. (Under the Millennium Development Goals, that target is now 2015.)

Teddy Roosevelt once said, speaking of depression ("black care", he called it): 'Black care rarely sits behind a rider whose pace is fast enough.' He had plenty of reason to know. His father died suddenly when he was young. They were very close and he was distraught. And his mother died of typhoid and his wife of Bright's disease within a day of each other. Roosevelt's response was action, hard physical work. When his father died he went to the Dakota frontier; when the two women died he went to the Maine woods. He had been a sickly child; he emerged a vital, healthy guy. His sorrow was never far away but it somehow was tamed by action.

According to research conducted by Ben Sacks from the University of California at Davis and his colleagues, the dog emerged from wolves but only became a separate beast when genetically isolated from them, as occurred in Southeast Asia because, after they were brought south of the Yangtze River some 6,000 years ago and the dogs were isolated from their wolf forebears. Without that proximity, the Southeast Asian dogs could no longer interbreed with wolves, and thus followed their own evolutionary path. The ability to digest starch also became advantageous as humans farmed (and dogs no longer had to hunt.)

When Alan (A.A.) Milne died at age 74, his only child Christopher Robin was estranged from him. Alan was a highly successful playwright of adult dramas who had unexpectedly gained worldwide fame and fortune by writing poems and children's stories about his son -- starting with the books When We Were Very Young (1924) and Winnie-the-Pooh (1926). The two had been extremely close. But the adult Christopher Robin had become bitterly resentful of his overwhelming inadvertent fame -- a burden he carried in dealing with his boarding school and college classmates. His estrangement began with his marriage shortly after his army service, and they had not reconciled when Alan passed away.

There is now instead a growing trend of the affluent moving back to the cities, and the resulting rise in prices is pushing the poor to the perimeters of these cities. Even immigrant populations are now more likely to establish suburban enclaves than urban ones.

Golden Oldie:

The 7 percent of babies born prematurely figure disproportionately among those who are victims of child abuse. This may be a function of touch, which makes babies more content and parents happier with them.

The Ring of Fire is home to 452 volcanoes and over 75% of the world's active and dormant volcanoes.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) -- an international economic group comprised of 34 member nations has been collecting information on a number of subjects. Some of the health care numbers show 1. the average American now lives 78.7 years in 2010, more than one year below the average of 79.8 years, 2. the number of hospital beds in the U.S. was 2.6 per 1,000 population in 2009, lower than the OECD average of 3.4 beds, 3. the average spending on health care among the other 33 developed OECD countries was $3,268 per person, 9.5% of GDP; in the U.S. it is $8233, 17.6% of GDP.

In 1860, the critic Alfred Delvau wrote that 'as soon as it awakes, Paris leaves its abode and steps out, and doesn't return home until as late as possible in the evening -- when it bothers to return home.' He went on to write that 'Paris deserts its houses. Its houses are dirty on the inside, while its streets are swept every morning .... All the luxury is outside -- all its pleasures walk the streets.'

Anne Lamott has a book entitles "Bird by Bird" on life and writing that contains some wonderful bits of advice. Here are two of them. "Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he'd had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother's shoulder, and said, 'Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.'" And the second by E. L. Doctorow: "'Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.' You don't have to see where you're going, you don't have to see your des­tination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you." This is truly worthwhile advice.

Most American citizens did not know that Roosevelt was crippled by polio. It was not referred to in print and pictures of a "disabled" president were kept out of the American media. They were also kept out of the international media. This was a time of war and it was deemed imperative that the leader of the United States be perceived as strong, able to lead the country to victory in wars in the pacific and in Europe. Even the meeting at Yalta with Churchill and Stalin show Roosevelt bundled against the cold with a robe on his lap....never his crutches or wheelchair. (from a CUNY tutorial description of "Gatekeepers.")

The French mathematician Bachelier wrote his mathematics thesis on finance, finishing in 1900. The basic idea was that probability theory, the area of mathematics invented by Cardano, Pascal, and Fermat in the sixteenth and seven­teenth centuries, could be used to understand financial markets. In other words, one could imagine a market as an enormous game of chance. While ingenious--he had just invented mathematical finance and the way of the future--it was a personal disaster. The problem was the audience. None of his contemporaries were in a position to properly appreciate what he had done. Instead of a community of like-minded scholars, Bachelier was evaluated by mathematicians and mathematically oriented physicists. Mathematics was in turmoil over errors in long established theorems; no one wanted this new field to be opened, mathematics had more important fish to fry. So poor Bachelier got a future-killing acceptable grade on his thesis rather than the necessary exceptional one. Sometimes, out on the cutting edge, the cut is slow and the wound opens late.

'Politics has gone from the age of 'Camelot' when all things are possible to the age of 'Watergate' when all things are suspect.' --William Hungate, Missouri congressman and member of the House Judiciary Committee that brought down Richard Nixon, right before his own retirement.
We can be blind to the obvious. And focusing helps: Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons in their book The Invisible Gorilla constructed a short film of two teams passing basket­balls, one team wearing white shirts, the other wearing black. The viewers of the film are instructed to count the number of passes made by the white team, ignoring the black players. This task is difficult and completely ab­sorbing. Halfway through the video, a woman wearing a gorilla suit appears, crosses the court, thumps her chest, and moves on. The gorilla is in view for 9 seconds. "Many thousands of people have seen the video, and about half of them do not notice anything unusual. It is the counting task -- and especially the instruction to ignore one of the teams -- that causes the blindness. No one who watches the video without that task would miss the gorilla." Lesson? Don't text and drive.

Research into habits have revealed a completely believable and predictable answer: It takes about 21 days to build a habit--but only if it is easy. If it is hard--50 sit-ups, memorizing Russian--it takes longer, sometimes months.

According to Gordon S. Wood in "Empire of Liberty," after declaring its independence in 1776, the predominant form of government in the United States was not the Articles of Confederation but the thirteen state governments. And some of those state governments were aggressive experiments in democracy, with the governors and legislators elected directly by the people, unicameral rather than bi-cameral legislatures, and yearly elections of legislators, all of which made those state governments highly responsive to immediate mood of the people. "The Federal Constitution of 1787 was designed in part to solve the problems created by the presence in the state legislatures of these ...... men. In addition to correcting the deficiencies of the Articles of Confederation, the Constitution was intended to restrain the excesses of democracy and protect minority rights from overbearing majorities in the state legislatures."

Some have felt the origin of the word "hooker" for "prostitute" emerged from the Civil War related to camp followers of Union General Joseph 'Fighting Joe' Hooker's troops. While at the time there was a prostitute group in Washington called "Hooker's Division", in "Euphemania" by Ralph Keyes, calling any such woman a hooker predates the Civil War by at least a couple of decades. According to lexicographer Stuart Berg Flexner, 'hooker' originally referred to prostitutes who worked in Corlear's Hook during the mid-nineteenth century, a section of New York also commonly known as 'the Hook.' They were hookers. Others believe that this appellation originated with the fact that prostitutes said they hooked customers. Their brothels were called hook shops. When academy was a euphemism for 'brothel,' those who worked there were called academicians.

A memoir out next month from Robert Bork, the solicitor general under President Nixon, claims that Nixon promised him the next open spot on the Supreme Court after Bork fired Watergate prosecutor Archibald Cox in 1973's "Saturday Night Massacre."

Who is....Amity Shales?

India's ancient class or varna system is still partially observed and includes Brahmans (priests), Kshatriyas (warriors), Vaishyas (merchants and landowners), Shudras (serfs), and those outside this system known as the Dalits or untouchables:

Bed nets are an alternative to DDT in preventing malaria. At the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2005, celebrities from Gordon Brown to Bill Clinton to Bono liked the idea of bed nets as a major improvement for the poor. Sharon Stone raised a million dollars on the spot. But these nets never made it to the targets; they ended up on the black market. There is a significant distance from the word to the deed.

A Map of the Ring of Fire:

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