Sunday, February 27, 2011

Japan Suspends Annual Whale Hunt

"Japan has suspended its annual Antarctic whale hunt because an anti-whaling group is tailing its ship, a government official said Wednesday.
Japan annually hunts whales in the Antarctic, despite a worldwide moratorium on whaling, under the loophole that a country may legally do so if its purpose is scientific research.
Sea Shepherd has said the science argument is a sham, noting that the whale meat is sold in Japan and served in restaurants."

-More Here

The Information Palace - James Gleick

"Ever lurking behind the arras is the ancient Latin precursor: the verb informare—to give form to; to shape; to mold. Information is the act of infusion with form. Where, and how? The forming takes place in the mind. Our minds are informed; then we have something we lacked before—some idea, some knowledge, some information. In my view this ancient sense of the word possesses a special modern force: when we study information, we learn that it is not a mere commodity, to be possessed by us. It infiltrates us; we are not its masters.

It’s in the nineteenth century that we start to glimpse the modern sense of the word as a big category, a general thing encompassing news and facts, messages and announcements. The real turning point comes in 1948 when the Bell Labs mathematician and engineer Claude Shannon, in his landmark paper (later a book) “A Mathematical Theory of Communication,” made information, as the OED explains, “a mathematically defined quantity divorced from any concept of news or meaning …” We measure it in bits. We recognize it in words, sounds, images; we store it on the printed page and on polycarbonate discs engraved by lasers and in our genes. We are aware, more or less, that it defines our world.

By the way, how do we know people have been talking about the Information Age for fifty years? The OED tells us. The first recorded usage is attributed to “R. S. Leghorn in H. B. Maynard Top Managem. Handbk. xlvii. 1024,” 1960. He turns out to have been Richard Leghorn, founder of Itek Corporation, which made aerospace spy cameras, and later Chief of Intelligence and Reconnaissance Systems Development at the Pentagon. In a single sentence Leghorn invented the phrase and predicted it would not catch on:

Present and anticipated spectacular informational achievements will usher in public recognition of the “information age,” probably under a more symbolic title.

No better title has come along. Along with information age, the OED now recognizes information storage, information transfer, information processing, information retrieval, information architecture, information superhighway, plus (the bad news) information explosion, gap, warfare, overload, and fatigue."
James Gleick

Rise of Neurocinema

"A sizable number of neuromarketing companies already brain test movie trailers for the major studios through fMRI, EEG, galvanic skin response, eye-tracking and other biometric approaches. For now, the test data helps the studios and distributors better market the movie. But what about using brain feedback to help make the movie?
A trailblazing few firms and studios have delved into the upstart practice of "neurocinema," the method of using neurofeedback to help moviemakers vet and refine film elements such as scripts, characters, plots, scenes, and effects. Princeton University psychology professorUri Hasson coined the term "neurocinematics" based on an fMRI study, in which he concluded that certain types of films (e.g. horror, action, sci-fi) produced high activation scores in the amygdala region of viewer subjects' brains, the part that controls disgust, anger, lust, and fear. Hasson asserted that horror filmmakers can potentially control viewers' brains by precisely editing their films to maximize amygdalic excitement and thus "control for" buzz and success at the theater.
The neuromarketing firm MindSign was so excited by Cameron's reference they offered him "exhibition" (free) services including fMRI brain scans of subjects exposed to Avatar trailers (see below). And Avatar, like many modern big-budget films, appears to have been strongly fortified by neuromarketing trailer testing, which uses EEG and biometric techniques to measure and record viewer brain responses to different trailer scenes and sequences.
NeuroFocus CEO A. K. Pradeep shared, "as a sneak peak," some observations based on commercial neurocinema projects. They currently leverage neurocinematics for script vetting and character development, even cast selection. He's animated in talking about the budding field as a film industry "game-changer" in the next few years. Pradeep works with leading studios in both the US and India and thinks Hollywood is chasing Bollywood on neurocinema. Japan and Korea may also be more advanced and receptive to this approach says Susco.
NeuroFocus is also ratcheting up work in Bollywood on a new business model for the film industry that is about--more than getting butts in the seats--doing some societal good. "Every paid-for product placement sponsorship has an accompanying pro-bono social message placement. The end client teams up with their charity or social message of choice and convinces the studio that both must be done to underwrite the effort," Pradeep says. MindSign co-founder Philip Carlsen says the business side of Hollywood is excited about the potential of neurocinema. "The producers love it. I mean, spending $100,000 on a scientific, neurological method to help make their $350 million investment pay out is a no-brainer," he says. Katz hopes "neurocinema will give filmmakers a better understanding of their viewers' experiences and ultimately lead to better viewing experiences."

More Here

Quote of the Day

"Paradox of thrift - Prodigality is a vice that is prejudicial to the Man, but not to trade."

- Nicholas Barbon

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Why India Is Democratic and Pakistan Is Not ?

Review of Philip Oldenburg's new book India, Pakistan, and Democracy: Solving the Puzzle of Divergent Paths  has some "insightful" answers to some obvious questions.

There was also more popular support for India at the time it was created than there was for Pakistan. The Indian National Congress, the torchbearer of India's nationalist movement, had enjoyed mass support since the 1920s, when Mohandas Gandhi became the party's leader. The Pakistani nationalist movement, the Muslim League, was not popular at all among Indian Muslims until the mid-1940s, just before partition. As a result, writes Oldenburg, referring to his famous 1985 Journal of Asian Studies article, one of the foremost on the 1971 breakup of East and West Pakistan, Pakistan was "a place insufficiently imagined" among those who would eventually live there. Feeling that lack of popular support, Muslim League leaders were hesitant to let other political parties develop once the country was created. Additionally, they feared that parties would divide an already weak nation. Since independence, the government has tried to limit Pakistan's political liberalization by introducing notions such as "controlled democracy," which has involved holding partyless elections at times. India's party system, on the other hand, is a venerable and robust arena for aggregating and articulating citizens' interests, and the field of parties is ever expanding.

Pakistan's need to forge a collective identity after 1947 was complicated by its ethnolinguistic arithmetic: the political and military center of power was in West Pakistan, but 55 percent of the population lived in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). Pakistan's elites in the west of the country could not uphold democracy without loosing power to those in the east. Centralization and authoritarianism were the logical next steps. These were encouraged by the Punjabi-dominated army, which seized power for the first time in 1958. In one of the most interesting chapters of his book, Oldenburg writes about the attempt of Pakistan's founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, to impose Urdu -- a language spoken by a minority of the population -- as the national language, sparking protests among the Bengali-speaking majority in East Pakistan, which seceded during a violent war and became Bangladesh in 1971. In contrast, a 40 percent plurality of Indians spoke Hindi, and India tried to diffuse any ethnolinguistic tensions in the years after partition by recognizing several official languages -- including English -- and redrawing the federal map along linguistic lines to give each group its own administrative unit. Any account of the diverging paths of the two countries in the 1950s must start from this baseline."

It's Easy & Better to Peel Banana Like a Monkey

"I am not always entranced by new ways of doing things, or new technology. I am resistant to the lure of novelty. I am often fatalistic about people’ slow adoption to change. But sometimes, it is obvious that a different way of doing things is simply better.

Why does it not always take root? Test case (sorry to those who have heard it before): Peeling a Banana.

When I was young, I was taught how to peel a banana. It consisted of grabbing the stalk, and tugging at it until the skin split away. It was sometimes a bit tricky, and occasionally squashed a very small section of the banana. But it was all I knew. I was happy.

One day, someone showed me how monkeys open bananas. (I think it was Ben James at BBJ, himself a fairly simian character). Being generally respectful of the survival skills of the animal kingdom, and particularly enthusiastic about monkeys, I was intrigued.

A monkey opens the banana at the other end, making a tiny incision in the tip and then splitting the skin open. It is much much easier. It is less likely to bruise the banana. And the stalk acts as a neat holder, allowing you to easily eat all the way to the end of the flesh.

It is, in summary, simply and obviously a better way of eating a banana."


Why Don't Americans Play Cricket?

"It lost out to baseball. Cricket was among the more popular sports in America in the mid-19th century, but baseball's rapid postbellum expansion came at the expense of cricket. Some have argued that the shorter duration of a baseball game, its simpler rules (at least initially), and the fact that it didn't require dedicated fields helped kill cricket, but these claims are hard to evaluate. What's more clear is that marketing played a major role. When a sense of American national identity began to emerge in the decades following the Civil War, along with new communication and transportation technologies, baseball promoters recognized an opportunity. Top athletes moved easily between the two sports—and, when baseball became more lucrative, many of them left cricket permanently. Traveling baseball teams even played series against cricket clubs, alternating between the two games.
Baseball's melting-pot culture was another advantage the sport had over cricket. Cricket was the game Anglo-Americans played to keep their heritage alive. As generations passed, newer immigrants and their children adopted America's game, and its ascendancy was aided by a rising sense of U.S. nationalism. New Yorkers who wanted equal time for baseball on the cricket fields of Central Park in 1865 emphasized cricket's Englishness."

Here . The pursuit of exceptionalism probably lead to aversion of metric system and now, dwelling on these mundane exceptions, most forgot that quintessential American exceptionalism

Olive Oil Buying Tips

"People are so confused about what to look for and how to buy it but I think it's really simple. The highest quality extra virgin olive oil should come in a light-blocking container. It should be produced and bottled on the same estate, which should be clearly labeled and marked with the harvest date, not just an expiration date. I pretty much steer clear of bulk Italian olive oil at this point, as there is just so much corruption in the production and selling of it. Then it's sort of on to flavor. I happen to like the grassy piquant kick of Tuscan or Umbrian oil, but that's what I grew up on. There are other flavor profiles from other regions of Italy that are equally good, and someone from Puglia, say, probably prefers the flavor profile of their oil. There is nothing wrong with that. The most important things are that it is what it says it is and it's no more than two years old."

Sara Jenkins

I cook everything in Olive oil and for "bulk-bargain", usually buy from those mega stores (Sam's/Costco). Today for the first time in over a decade, I checked the label - extra virgin olive oil from Italy, Greece, Spain and Tunisia. Bottled and packed in Italy. It's from all over the Mediterranean; leave alone from one single estate. Just an expiration date and no harvest date (kidding me?). Bottom-line, it doesn't satisfy any of criteria's but of-course I have to rationalize my years of idiocy. There is that good old anchoring effect for my rescue - it's still Olive oil, much better than other oil's, right? So much for ecological intelligence!!

Quote of the Day

" Forty percent of Princeton students graduating between 2000 and 2005 went into the financial sector. Johnson reports that “Operations Research and Financial Engineering” became the most popular major at Princeton’s School of Engineering. According to Roubini, 58 percent of men who graduated Harvard in “2007 were bound for jobs in finance or consulting. Main Street values went awry; indeed, Posner is hopeful for a silver lining—that the crisis “will channel some of these people into less lucrative but socially more productive jobs.”


Friday, February 25, 2011

Human Animal & Non-Human Animals - Robert Sapolsky

For a Sapolskyl fan, this is fascinating as usual!!

Three Men and Fifteen Lions - We Will Do ANYTHING For Food!!

What I've been Reading

The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

LOVED IT!! Even the footnotes oozes with brilliance - "The best way to spot a charlatan: someone (like a consultant or a stock broker) who tells you what to do instead of what not to do."

For Cable News addicts: Sound bites loses information; aphorism gains.

few keepers...
  • They will envy you for your success, for your wealth, for your intelligence, for your looks, for your status -- but rarely for your wisdom.
  • There are two type of people: those who try to win and those who try to win arguments. They are never the same.
  • The suckers trap is when you focus on what you know and what other don't know. rather than the reverse.
  • True humility is when you can surprise yourself more than others; the rest is either shyness or good marketing.
  • Modernity: we created youth without heroism, age without wisdom, and life without grandeur.
  • Conscious ignorance, if you can practice it, expands your world; it can make things infinite.
  • I suspect that they put Socrates to death because there is something terribly unattractive, alienating, and nonhuman in thinking with too much clarity.
  • The traits I respect are erudition and the courage to stand up when half-men are afraid for their reputation. Any idiot can be intelligent.
  • We find it to be extremely bad taste for individuals to boast of their accomplishments; but when countries do so we call it "national pride."
  • The classical man's worst fear was inglorious death; the modern man's worst fear is just death.

Quote of the Day

"She grew up in the Muslim world, was born in Somalia, spent time in Saudi Arabia, was a fundamentalist as a teenager. Her journey from the world of her childhood and family to where she is today is an odyssey that's extremely hard for you or I to imagine. To see and hear how she understands western philosophy, how she understands the great thinkers of the Enlightenment, of the 19th-century liberal era, is a great privilege, because she sees it with a clarity and freshness of perspective that's really hard for us to match. So much of liberalism in its classical sense is taken for granted in the west today and even disrespected. We take freedom for granted, and because of this we don't understand how incredibly vulnerable it is."

Niall Ferguson on Hirsi Ali

Thursday, February 24, 2011

On Bad Metaphors

"Bad metaphors can do a great disservice to the public understanding of science. The idea of the “evolutionary ladder” perpetuates the myth that evolution is about a steady linear march towards complexity. The militaristic metaphor of the “war on cancer” threatens to undervalue achievements in treatment that fall short of a total cure. The idea of the brain as a computer creates all sorts of misconceptions about how different parts of the brain work, how memories are stored and whether we will ever be able to download or upload our minds."
Ed Young

China Blocks LinkedIn

The shutdown follows days of calls for a "Jasmine Revolution" in China, on the model of the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions. Access to Twitter and Facebook has been blocked throughout China for some time; Chinese internet users seeking to use Twitter have been forced to access the site through difficult-to-use Virtual Private Networks (VPNs).
However, Chinese dissidents have another way of accessing Twitter...LinkedIn.
Use of LinkedIn, which is fully integrated with Twitter, was by far the easiest way to access Twitter in China. Messages can be easily read and posted through Twitter via LinkedIn.


Home - How to Save The Earth (Documentary)

Home director Yann Arthus-Bertrand says his intention is to conjure emotions through beauty. "We live in denial," he says. "We don't want to believe what we know - so I want to show it to people." By "it", he means poverty and the destruction of the Earth.

Arthus-Bertrand first fell in love with a bird's eye view in his early 30s when he earned money as an air balloon pilot in Kenya. Inspired by the beauty, poverty and destruction he saw, he began to take photos to share with others. He says these scenes tell stories that transformed him, and thus he wants to transform others into activists that care for humanity.
The entire movie consists of high definition aerial shots filmed from a helicopter. It opens with forces of nature - sparkling mineral deposits, roaring waterfalls, cliffs carved by glaciers - and zooms in at elephant herds and a circular Masai settlement. We then hover over urban, rural, and suburban communities across 54 countries. Fishermen set out in skinny canoes, machines spray acres of crops, construction crews quickly haul beams up along sky scrapers. Around the world, children look up at the camera smiling and waving. On a glacier in the Arctic, polar bears look up quixotically as well.
"I think we need a revolution, Not an economic, religious, or scientific revolution, but an ethical and moral revolution. We do not have the right to ruin our land. We must protect it." - Arthus-Bertrand."

- More Here (watch full documentary here)

How I Became a Keynesian - Richard A. Posner

"Keynes's theory, and its application to our current economic plight, is best understood if one bears in mind one historical fact and three claims that he made in the book. The historical fact is that England, between 1919 and 1939, experienced persistent high unemployment--never less than 10 percent, and 15 percent in 1935, when Keynes was completing his book. Explaining the persistence of unemployment was the major task that Keynes set himself. Though he famously declared that "in the long run, we are dead," he tried to solve a problem that, already when he wrote, had had a pretty long run.

The three claims are, first, that consumption is the "sole end and object of all economic activity," because all productive activity is designed to satisfy consumer demand either in the present or in the future. "Consumption" is not in the title of the book, however, because the only thing that interested Keynes about it was how much of their income people allocated to it--the more the better, as we will see. The second claim is the importance (and the deleterious effect) of hoarding. People do not save just to be able to make a specific future expenditure; they may also be hedging against uncertainty. And the third claim, related to the second, is that uncertainty--in the sense of a risk that, unlike the risk of losing at roulette, cannot be calculated--is a pervasive feature of the economic environment, particularly with respect to projects intended to satisfy future consumption.

A nation's annual output, which is also the national income, is the market value of all the goods (and services, but to simplify the discussion I will ignore them here) produced in a year. These goods are either consumption goods, such as the food people buy, or investment goods, such as machine tools. What people do not spend on consumption goods they save: income minus consumption equals savings. Since income minus consumption also equals investment, savings must, Keynes insists, equal investment. But equating savings with investment is confusing. If you stuff money under your mattress, you are saving, but in what sense are you investing? If you buy common stocks, you are investing, but the contribution of your investment to the productive capital employed in building a factory is attenuated.

At the very least, we should (and Keynes implicitly does) distinguish between enabling productive investments and actually making them; or, equivalently, between passive investment and active investment. If you deposit some of your savings in a bank, the bank--not you--will decide whether to lend the money to a businessman to invest in his business (or to an individual to invest in buying a capital asset, such as a house). Still, the money is invested. Even the money you stuff under your mattress can be considered a form of investment, for in all likelihood it will be spent eventually (though perhaps not for generations), and thus, like all investment, it is an aid to future consumption. But as in this example, passive investment may take a long time to stimulate active investment.

The lag can retard economic growth. Income spent on consumption, in contrast to income that is saved, becomes income to the seller of the consumption good. When I buy a bottle of wine, the cost to me is income to the seller, and what he spends out of that income will be income to someone else, and so on. So the active investment that produced the income with which I bought the wine will have had a chain-reaction--what Keynes calls a "multiplier"--effect.

And here is the tricky part: the increase in income brought about by an investment is greater the higher the percentage of income that is spent rather than saved. Spending increases the incomes of the people who are on the receiving end of the spending. This derived or secondary effect of consumption is greater the higher the percentage of a person's income that he spends, and so it magnifies the income-generating effect of the original investment. If everyone spends 90 cents of an additional dollar that he receives, then a $1 increase in a person's income generates $9 of additional consumption ($.90 + $.81 [.9 x $.90] + $.729 [.9 x $.81], etc. = $9), all of which is income to the suppliers of consumer goods. If only 70 cents of an additional $1 in income is spent, so that the first recipient of the expenditure spends only 49 cents of the 70 cents that he received, the second 34.4 cents, and so on, the total increase in consumption as a result of the successive waves of spending is only $1.54, and so the investment that got the cycle going will have been much less productive. In the first example, the investment multiplier--the effect of investment on income--was 10. In the second example it is only 2.5. The difference is caused by the difference in the propensity to consume income rather than save it. (No one today, by the way, thinks that investment multipliers are that high.)

or a confidence-building public-works program to be effective in arresting an economic collapse, the government must be able to finance its increased spending by means that do not reduce private spending commensurately. If it finances the program by taxation, it will be draining cash from the economy at the same time that it is injecting cash into it. But if it borrows to finance the program (deficit spending), or finances it with new money created by the Federal Reserve, the costs may be deferred until the economy is well on the way to recovery and can afford to pay them without endangering economic stability. When investors passively save rather than actively invest, government can borrow their savings (as by selling them government bonds) and use the money for active investment. That is the essential Keynesian prescription for fighting depressions."

-More Here (I wish, I read this piece in 2009; I guess it's never too late)

Quote of the Day

"The rapid growth of credit derivative and structured credit markets in recent years, particularly among more complex products, has facilitated the dispersion of credit risk by banks to a broader and more diverse group of investors . . . [which] has helped to make the banking and overall financial system more resilient and stable."

IMF, Circa 2006

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


A regular action movie with a "bio-tech" twist - corporations are against a modern Norman Borlaug.  A small step towards GM food education; Hollywood can use more of these plots to educate the public. Enjoyed the movie.

Football Players - The Modern Tezcatlipoca

In an ancient Aztec cultural practice, priests would choose a man to represent one of their gods, Tezcatlipoca. The man would be worshiped as a god for a year, but at a preordained date, the priests would sacrifice him, sometimes cannibalizing his body. Each year the priests turned from the sacrifice to select a new “god,” repeating the cycle of reverence and destruction.
I wonder what the Aztecs would make of the view in front of me. I am in a sports bar with my family, eating after a walk around town. The other patrons’ eyes mostly rest, enthralled, on the many football games televised before them. One can’t avoid watching the flatscreens that hang off every wall, or the brutal athleticism they capture.
The high-definition flatscreen TVs show it all, but don’t provide a deeper, more physiological look. Inside a football helmet is a skull, and inside each skull is a free-floating brain. Inside the brain are billions of neurons, chattering with each other in a code we scarcely understand, wired to each other with long and slender projections called axons. An internal scaffolding structure holds each axon in place. The axons crisscross the brain, side to side, forwards and backwards, up and down.
As force is applied to the brain, a shockwave ripples through. If large enough, the shock tears the axons and can result in catastrophic injury. Smaller forces stun the neurons, their electrical firing decreases, and symptoms of concussion occur. The player may go limp, or stumble and appear unfocused. He is usually amnestic of the event. If the force is milder, none of these symptoms may manifest, but the changes are still felt in the long and slender axons. Their supporting scaffolds, on a human scale akin to bridges from San Francisco to Taipei and Perth to Cape Town, experience an earthquake.
Over and over, every head blow stresses the scaffolding. A protein called tau normally stabilizes the scaffolds, but the tau proteins become dysfunctional, pathologic, then malignant. The tau binds together, twists in on itself, assembles into sharp aggregates that poke holes in the fragile cell wall and kill the neuron. A neuron goes silent, its axonal bridge crumbles.  As the brain digests the dead neuron, it leaves behind the twisted skeleton of the tau aggregate, a “tangle.”
We also declare ourselves different and more civilized than those today who watch dogs fight to the death, and those who in the ancient world watched gladiator death matches. We like to imagine there is a comfortable margin. After all, most of us watch these events via divine technology, each of us a modern Zeus, removed from visceral immediacy in the Olympus of our living rooms. But our view is suspect. The TV’s divine eye feeds an unchanged, insatiable, human lust for blood sport, death, and celebrity. When considering the victims, Owen Thomas and others like him, it is difficult to distinguish between their game and those we pretend to be so different.
What is the good? And where does it lie? I do not know. I am not a moral philosopher. Nor am I a fan, nor one whose salary depends upon not understanding football’s risks. I am a neurologist. Perhaps I place too great a value on brains, not enough on selling cars and beer, and not enough on divine amusements.

- More Here , every word in this article is worth reading. It's insane to sacrifice young brains for a sport. 60 minutes had a segment on this in 2009 - 3 million sports related concussion happens in sport every year and most of them in football. 

World BMI - 1980 to 2008

"The three maps below, which are drawn from a new global study led by Professor Majid Ezzati of Imperial College, London, and published in the Lancet, show that, Polynesia aside, obesity was a rich-world phenomenon in 1980. By 2008 the rich world had itself expanded, bringing obesity to groups within countries that were previously considered poor, such as Brazil and South Africa. During that period, the prevalence rate of obesity among men doubled to nearly 10%. One country has stubbornly resisted this trend. For all its dynamism since India opened up its economy in 1990, its men have on average become even thinner."

- More Here

I doubt the thinning Indian men syndrome has anything to do with healthy life style. It rather exposes the income disparity and the rise of absolute poor in India. But to be fair, the current Indian "role models" (who else? but cricketers and movie stars) are marginally inspiring by being much fitter.

Quote of the Day

"I suspect that they put Socrates to death because there is something terribly unattractive, alienating and non-human in thinking with too much clarity."

Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Moral Reasoning vs Moral Action

What’s the missing link between moral reasoning and moral action? Emotion. Emotions—fear, guilt, love—play a central role in all thinking and behavior, including moral behavior. But when people are contemplating how they’ll act, “they don’t have a good grasp of the intensity of the emotions they will feel” in the breach, says Teper, so they misjudge what they’ll do.
For this study, three groups of students were given a math test of 15 questions. One group was told that a glitch in the software would cause the correct answer to show on the screen if they hit the space bar—but only they would know they’d hit it. This group took the test; a $5 reward was promised for 10 or more right answers. Another group was given a description of this moral dilemma, and was then asked to predict whether or not they would cheat for each question. The third group just took the test without the opportunity to cheat.
During the trial, electrodes measured the strength of participants’ heart contractions, their heart and breathing rates, and the sweat in their palms—all of which increase with heightened emotion. Not surprisingly, those facing the real dilemma were most emotional. Their emotions drove them to do the right thing and refrain from cheating.
The students asked only to predict their actions felt calmer—and said they’d cheat more than the test-takers actually did. Students who took the test with no opportunity to cheat were calmer as well, indicating the arousal that the students in the first group were feeling was unique to the moral dilemma.
But emotions conflict, and that figures in decision making too. “If the stakes were higher—say, the reward was $100—the emotions associated with that potential gain might override the nervousness or fear associated with cheating,” says Teper. In future research, “we might try to turn this effect around” and see how emotion leads people to act less morally than they forecast.
“This time, we got a rosy picture of human nature,” coauthor Michael Inzlicht comments. “But the essential finding is that emotions are what drive you to do the right thing or the wrong thing.”


New Jersey - Worst Place To Die and Best Place For Wealthy Life

  • The worst place to die is New Jersey with a combined effective estate and inheritance tax rate of 54.1%.

  • Lawmakers may have strong incentives to raise estate taxes in these states, but millionaires get the last move: it's pretty easy to move from one state to another within the U.S. So what makes the high tax states so appealing to millionaires? Are millionaires created there in disproportionate numbers?


    NJ probably has an innate
    "anchoring effect"; being closer to NYC creates an illusion of being relatively less expensive. Btw., I am alive, not a millionaire and live in NJ. Go figure!!

  • Future Jobs and Next Economic Boom

    There is almost zilch in the alternative energy sector - full story ("prediction") here based on current R&D budget:

    "We have no investment in green energy R& D," he said. "We have no dynamism there. When your local university invests 70 percent in life sciences and 2 percent in energy, why put your bet on energy?"

    GM Vegetable Oil

    "Soy oil is the most abundant vegetable oil in the world and widely used in commercial frying and baking, but it has a flaw. Although high in unsaturated fatty acids, which are good for the heart, it is easily oxidised and develops objectionable flavours and odours when heated extensively.

    The problem can be solved by partially hydrogenating the oil, which makes it more stable against oxidation. However this leads to the formation of trans fatty acids, which are believed to contribute to heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Some people believe trans fats should be banned.

    The instability mainly derives from the linolenic-acid component. The new oils come from a new line of soybeans which contain high oleic acid but low linolenic and palmitic acid. That makes them stable, reducing or avoiding the need for hydrogenation and eliminating trans fats.

    Vistive Gold is said to have the lowest saturated fat of any soybean oil (60 per cent less than normal soybean oil) with zero trans fat. It also contains 85 per cent less saturated fat than palm oil, one of its main competitors. Testing has shown it to have excellent stability and flavour.

    The US Food and Drug Administration has completed its inquiries on both products, which received a 'Generally Recognised As Safe' classification. The US Department of Agriculture is considering an application for deregulation of the soybeans from which the oils are extracted.

    There are other high oleic oils, including olive oil, but they each have their own flaws. The bottom line is that the introduction of Vistive Gold and Plenish will reduce the saturated and trans fat intake of many people, particularly those who buy fried food.

    For at least the next two decades there will be a flow of genetically modified crops that are not only cheaper to grow, better for the environment and easier to process, but also safer, healthier and more enjoyable to eat compared to conventionally bred varieties."


    Quote of the Day

    "Therefore, be ye lamps unto yourselves, be ye a refuge to yourselves. Hold fast to Truth as a lamp; hold fast to the truth as a refuge. Look not for a refuge in anyone beside yourselves. And those, who shall be a lamp unto themselves, shall betake themselves to no external refuge, but holding fast to the Truth as their lamp, and holding fast to the Truth as their refuge, they shall reach the topmost height."

    - Buddha

    Monday, February 21, 2011

    Was Red Fox Man's Best Friend Before Dog?

    Interesting...  here (Btw, I love the last line - "non-economic connection!!"):

    "Mather and colleagues present the case for the red fox predating domesticated wolves in a recent research summary in Plos One.  This research team includes members from the University of Cambridge in the UK as well as the University of Toronto.  Using findings from burial grounds in what is now northern Jordan, they lay out the evidence that the red fox predates the wolf as man's domesticated canine.
    Seven human grave sites have been examined in the Uyun al-Hamman region between the Transjordanian Highlands and the Jordan valley.  The key elements from these findings include:

    • Red fox skulls and bones are noted in several burial sites in proximity to human remains
    • The proximity and manner of red fox bones suggest intentional placement rather than coincidence
    • Some human bones were re-interred with movement and replacement of  red fox bones in the new grave
    • This re-burial process suggests a personal relationship between the deceased human and a specific red fox--the transfer may have indicated an attempt that "the dead person would continue to have the fox with him or her in the afterlife"
    • The pattern of remains are not consistent with some secondary process such as use the red fox as a pelt or as part of consumption of the animal
    • The carbon dating data suggest this area and this burial site pre-dated by thousands of years the earliest known burial sites that include domesticated wolves
    • Later grave sites show humans being buried with dogs supporting an emotional tie with social, ideological or symbolic significance

    In summary, the research team feels these recent findings support an earlier "non-economic connections between people and animals".

    Well.. More Gladwell..

    The Psychology of Food Riots

    "As a food system, however, the Assize of Bread was expensive, and although it kept grain prices stable, it also squashed the energies of enterprising middlemen and entrepreneurial bakers. As such, it ran counter to the logic of Adam Smith and his fellow economic rationalists, one of whom argued, "Let corn flow like water, and it will find its own level." Smith, in particular, believed that instead of helping the poor, such interference with the market damaged food security. If during a bad harvest year, for example, the government kept prices artificially low by preventing merchants from stockpiling food, then there would be no incentive to store grain or reduce consumption. This would only lead to greater hardship later in the year when food grew even scarcer. In a free market, prices would rise and merchants with surpluses would retain their stores. Hoarding would be considered a virtue when the merchants eventually released their surplus into the shopping bags of a needy public (for the right price).

    Theoretically, this made sense. But rioting mobs are not economically rational. England's and France's slow shift from the protection offered by the Assize of Bread to the market-driven efficiency of laissez faire economics in the late 1600s and early 1700s coincided with the tail end of the Little Ice Age, which was spoiling harvests worldwide. The combination of volatile production and the replacement of welfare policy with free-market principles convinced many that unscrupulous merchants were profiting from hunger. In his description of the large-scale food riots that erupted across England and France at this time, the historian E. P. Thompson cited contemporary correspondence to show that the object of the crowds' anger was not high food prices so much as the ethical wrong of profiteering.

    Policymakers today must be mindful of the psychological causes of food riots when they discuss the correct mix of trade and protectionism that will safeguard our food security. If they simply embrace the efficiency of the market, public feelings of injustice may cause more trouble than the volatile price of food itself."

    -More Here

    Quote of the Day

    "62d - Speak not of doleful Things in a Time of Mirth or at the Table; Speak not of Melancholy Things as Death and Wounds, and if others Mention them Change if you can the Discourse tell not your Dreams, but to your intimate Friend."

    George Washington, 101 Rules of Civility

    Sunday, February 20, 2011

    Kakonomics - Why We Prefer Mediocrity?

    "The reason is guilt: other people not delivering what they'd promised frees us from having to deliver what we'd promised. Mediocre colleagues facilitate our own mediocrity; a friend or partner's half-arsedness towards us makes us feel better about ours. We learn to trust each other's untrustworthiness – to feel confident that promises, whether to strain every sinew for the company or always be there for a friend, won't be insisted upon. Thus emerges a web of silent agreements to do a poor job. Origgi, in a paper co-authored with Diego Gambetta, argues that in Italy the situation has reached an extreme – a "cocktail of confusion, sloppiness and broken promises". (She quotes an American friend renovating a house there: "Italian builders never deliver when they promise, but the good thing is they do not expect you to pay them when you promise, either.") The result is comfortable for both parties, in the short term. But over the long term, and on a macro-level, it causes organisations to sink into underachievement, for friendships and romances to wither and die.

    This won't seem revolutionary to therapists, who know that almost every behaviour carries a psychological payoff, even if we're desperate to eradicate it. We break diets, or procrastinate, partly for the feeling of autonomy we derive from resisting rules, even if we wrote the rules ourselves. The feeling of guiltless laziness when we kakonomically agree to underperform is similar. Giving your all, whether to a friendship or work project, carries the risk of unpleasant emotions: no wonder it's tempting to avoid that. Seeing life through the lens of such payoffs clarifies much: seemingly irrational behaviour reveals itself as rational, even if ultimately self-defeating – and so instead of pointlessly demanding that it stop, we can devise ways to address it. I mean, if we can be bothered. Shall we all just agree to head down the pub instead?"


    A Tiger Family Bonding

    Watch the full episode. See more Nature.

    Ten Best History Books

    More Here

    Quote of the Day

    "Cities are at the heart of a competitive and global future, but even though the evidence is all around us, and even though mounds of data stare us squarely in the face (our country would be 43 percent richer if every area was as productive as New York), we don’t seem to get it.  We continue to think that economic recovery and growth means building roads to nowhere, and we hobble our cities with silly policies that advance the idea that the only American dream is a white picket fence in the suburbs.   If we want America to start growing again, we had better unleash our cities.

    America is, remarkably, still held captive by a Jeffersonian ideal of yeoman farmers and country living.  The rest of the world, however, is not.  The rising powers of the developing world are seizing their urban futures — cramming smart people together, creating gateways for ideas, and building platforms for the serendipitous fortunes that proximity can provide.  Gandhi may have thought that India’s future was in its villages and not its cities — but India today is proving the great man wrong.

    One of the worst aspects of Indian democracy is that power is often lodged at the state rather than the city level, and states are often dominated by rural voters who, just as in the U.S. Senate, have far more representation per capita.  India's cities need more control over their own destinies."

    - Ed Glaeser,
    Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier

    Saturday, February 19, 2011

    Is The Internet Killing Empathy?

    Yes, think so.. believe so.. felt so.. and to say the least, I see this happening almost everyday. On the internet, every human is just a key stroke away but viscerally and emotionally we put them on a different universe. Even our siblings, friends, colleagues and neighbors become distant little green men and women. Online world is a metaphorical trampoline; harder one hits it more further one goes away from the real world.
    Adam Smith's famous quip in Theory of Moral Sentiments fits the online world perfectly even if that brethren is only hundred yards away: "If he was to lose his little finger to-morrow, he would not sleep to-night; but, provided he never saw them, he will snore with the most profound security over the ruin of a hundred millions of his brethren, and the destruction of that immense multitude seems plainly an object less interesting to him, than this paltry misfortune of his own."

    Here's more updated version:

    "Have our brains become so desensitized by a 24/7, all-you-can-eat diet of lurid flickering images that we've lost all perspective on appropriateness and compassion when another human being apparently suffers a medical emergency? Have we become a society of detached voyeurs?
    According to the most recent findings from the Kaiser Family Foundation, 8- to 18-year-olds on average spend 11½ hours a day using their technology.
    Their brains have become "wired" to use their tech gadgets effectively in order to multi-task -- staying connected with friends, texting and searching online endlessly, often exposing their brains to shocking and sensational images and videos. Many people are desensitizing their neural circuits to the horrors they see, while not getting much, if any, off-line training in empathic skills. And the effects may even reach young people. n a 2007 study of 197 students age 17 to 23 years, participants were asked to quickly identify the emotional expression of a face as it rapidly morphed from neutral to an angry or happy face. Happy faces were identified faster than angry faces, but when the volunteers played a violent video game before the facial recognition task, they were much slower to recognize the happy facial expression.
    Since middle-aged and older digital "immigrants" are catching up with these younger digital natives in the amounts of time they spend using technology, this empathy deficit may not be limited to just young adult and teenage brains. Empathy is learned, but it can be un-learned as well."

    Are Dogs Stealing Our Jobs?

    "Doctors/Medical Techs: Labradors
    Labs can detect colorectal and bowel cancer with 98 percent accuracy by examining stool samples, according to a recent study. The current technology is correct only 10 percent of the time.

    Military Bomb Specialists: German shepherds
    Despite upwards of $20 billion spent on technology to detect roadside bombs, nothing beats a dog’s nose. Accordingly, there’s a major push to equip more soldiers with pups, especially in Afghanistan.

    Pest Police: Jack Russell terriers
    Dogs can sniff out bedbugs with a 95 percent success rate, three times better than mere sight detection. So terriers, puggles, and other small breeds are increasingly in the employ of busy exterminators.

    Deep-Sea Scientists: Rottweilers
    Many breeds are used to help scientists track endangered species. One Rottweiler named Fargo worked aboard a boat looking for right whales—his broad chest gave him seaworthy balance."

    - More

    The Upside of Rumination

    "In line with the “mental inflexibility” theory, a recent study showed that people who ruminate a lot make more mistakes when they have to switch back and forth between simple tasks, relative to those who ruminate less often (Altamirano et al., 2010).  However, ruminators also made fewer mistakes when they had to maintain their focus on a single task.  The differences probably weren’t due the ruminators actually thinking about the past while they were trying to do the tasks – after all, if that were the case, these people should have performed worse across the board.

    So people who ruminate a lot appear to be mentally inflexible – they have difficulty shifting from one task to another, so once they start thinking about a past event, they can’t put this event out of their mind and focus on the present.  If this inflexibility really does causes people to ruminate more, then helping these individuals to become more mentally flexible might help them learn to ruminate less (and if you are still thinking about that thing that you regret, you might be able to benefit from this too).  On the other hand, the discovery that people who ruminate a lot are particularly good at focusing on one task suggests that rumination can have an upside.   Specifically, ruminating a lot might help these people develop the ability to maintain their focus on one thing for long periods of time.  Another possibility is that the ability to focus helps people maintain their concentration on unresolved events from the past, for better or worse.  Either way, that fact that rumination is associated with a skill that is generally useful and adaptive might help to explain why it is such a common experience, despite the fact that it can lead to emotional hardship."


    Socrates On Courage

    "Courage is the ability to distinguish between real and perceived threats, being able to know what should be feared and what should not be.

    But this does not tie that into the burning question surrounding his death: Why did he not choose exile or escape, or offer a serious defense? There are many theories. According to his pupil Xenophon, Socrates felt that, at age 70, he would be better off dead than to linger in exile or confinement. Perhaps he suspected that by drinking the hemlock he would create the founding myth of philosophy."

    The Hemlock Cup: Socrates, Athens and the Search for the Good Life by Bettany Hughes via Q3D