(IRISES BY VINCENT VAN GOGH)
Sunday, March 29, 2009
Saturday, March 28, 2009
Thursday, March 26, 2009
Hook, Line and Sinker:
Ten of the Most Audacious Swindles Ever
Fortunately, most victims suffer a greater dent to their pride than their bank balance. But some involve the loss of millions or even billions of pounds and cause real financial hardship. Here are ten of the most audacious financial swindles ever.
Monday, March 23, 2009
The present financial crisis explained in simple terms.........................
One-eyed-Gordon is the proprietor of a bar in London. In order to increase sales, he decides to allow his loyal customers - most of whom are unemployed alcoholics - to drink now but pay later.
He keeps track of the drinks consumed on a ledger (thereby granting the customers loans).
Word gets around and as a result increasing numbers of customers flood into One-eyed-Gordon's bar. Taking advantage of his customers' freedom from immediate payment constraints, One-eyed-Gordon increases his prices for wine and beer, the most-consumed beverages. His sales volume increases massively.
A young and dynamic customer service consultant at the local bank recognizes these customer debts as valuable future assets and increases One-eyed-Gordon's borrowing limit. He sees no reason for undue concern since he has the debts of the alcoholics as collateral. At the bank's corporate headquarters, expert bankers transform these customer assets into DRINKBONDS, ALKBONDS and PUKEBONDS. These securities are then traded on markets worldwide. No one really understands what these abbreviations mean and how the securities are guaranteed. Nevertheless, as their prices continuously climb, the securities become top-selling items.
One day, although the prices are still climbing, a risk manager (subsequently of course fired due his negativity) at the bank decides that the time has come to demand payment of the debts incurred by the drinkers at One-eyed-Gordon's bar. However they cannot pay back the debts. One-eyed-Gordon cannot fulfill his loan obligations and claims bankruptcy. DRINKBOND and ALKBOND drop in price by 95 %. PUKEBOND performs better, stabilizing in price after dropping by 80 %.
The suppliers of One-eyed-Gordon's bar, having granted his generous payment due dates and having invested in the securities, are faced with a new situation. His wine supplier claims bankruptcy and his beer supplier is taken over by a competitor. The bank is saved by the Government following dramatic round-the-clock consultations by leaders from the governing political parties. The funds required for this purpose are obtained by a tax levied on the non-drinkers.
(from my archives: courtesy The Sunday Times. CAT)
Our little Emperors: does worrying do more harm than good?
As the mother of two young daughters, Ruth Appleton is used to doling out praise for almost everything they do. Even she was taken aback, however, when her younger daughter, Rachel, now 5, arrived home from nursery clutching a certificate for "sitting nicely on the carpet".
"It made me wonder what she was doing the rest of the time," said Appleton, from Porthcawl, Wales. "I thought it was a bit over the top rewarding her for something so routine. But it's part of a whole culture of stickers and smiley faces and 'celebration assemblies'."
Anyone with children at primary school will instantly get the picture: no child's existence is complete without "circle time", or "show and tell" sessions at which they are encouraged to parade their achievements and examine their feelings. The received wisdom on child-rearing says nothing should be allowed to damage a child's sense of self-worth: just last week the Football Association (FA) decided to ban teams including children under eight from publishing their results, for fear of putting the kids under too much pressure if they lost a match.
As parents, we are encouraged to nurture our children's sense of "self", but are we unwittingly doing them more harm than good?
Our child-centred society means we fret over what our kids eat, what they wear, their friends, their exam grades and their safety. A US academic has coined the term kindergarchy – a new (affluent) world order in which children rule.
"Children have gone from background to foreground in domestic life with more attention centred on them, their upbringing [and] their small accomplishments," wrote Joseph Epstein, a recently retired lecturer at Northwestern University, in The Weekly Standard, a US magazine.
"On visits to the homes of friends with small children, one finds their toys strewn everywhere, their drawings on the refrigerator, television sets turned on to their shows. Parents seem little more than indentured servants."
Epstein's recollections of his own childhood evoke an utterly different world. Parents didn't feel the need to micro-manage their children's lives. He doesn't remember his parents reading to him, or turning up to watch him compete at athletics. They left it to him to decide which foreign language to study at secondary school and weren't much bothered that he was a mediocre student.
Now, he says, it's a wonder more teachers aren't driven out of the profession by parents bombarding them with e-mails, phone calls and requests for meetings. "Students told me what they 'felt' about a novel," he recalled. "I tried, ever so gently, to tell them no one cared what they felt. In essay courses, many of these same students turned in papers upon which I wished to – but did not – write, 'Too much love in the home'."
In Britain, too, there has been a seismic shift in parenting. "At the weekends, the kids are saying to us, 'What are we doing today?' – in other words, 'You are going to entertain us, aren't you?' " said Appleton, who works part-time for Netmums, an online network for mothers.
It is becoming a worldwide trend. A recent production of Snow White at a primary school in Japan featured 25 Snow Whites, no dwarfs and no wicked witch, as parents objected to one child being picked out for the title role. In Sweden a boy was prevented from handing out invitations to his birthday party at school because he was "discriminating" against the two classmates he did not invite.
A straw poll in Netmums' virtual coffee house produced distinctly mixed feelings about the phenomenon. "The cushioning effect of awarding stickers and praise for inconsequential trivia masks what children really need and are looking for – guidance, consistency, self-reliance and love," said one mother, Liz.
Another, Jeanette, was concerned that her daughter's teachers would not correct spelling mistakes, "because she was spelling the words how you said them", nor correct her writing when she drew letters back to front.
"The reality is, she does need to be corrected," said Jeanette. "Children have to learn. I'm not saying it has to be negative, but there has to be a balance. When our kids go into the workplace, they are in for a shock."
That would appear to be true. Earlier this year the Association of Graduate Recruiters said the generation born since 1982 – the so-called generation Y – were "unrealistic, self-centred, fickle and greedy".
They used the example of a new recruit to a transport company who rang his mother to complain: "I have got to go to London tomorrow and they haven't even given me a map."
The employer threw up her hands in anger, according to Carl Gilleard, AGR's chief executive: "Here was someone working for a transport company, who had spent three years at university, who was aggrieved because he hadn't been given a detailed map."
On a more sinister level, the child-centred approach also seems to have contributed to a decline in standards of behaviour in schools, with children ever more conscious of their "rights" and teachers afraid to chastise unruly children for fear of being attacked or accused of assault.
Last week Boris Johnson, the London mayor, highlighted the problem of indiscipline in schools as a factor in street violence. "Too many kids in London are growing up without boundaries, without discipline and without the family structures they need," he said. "We should bring back discipline and the idea of punishment."
In Merseyside an academic is bucking the trend of navel-gazing in schools. Peter Clough, head of psychology at the University of Hull, is working with children at All Saints Catholic high school in Knowsley, attempting to teach them to be "mentally tough".
"Positive psychology says, 'Count your blessings.' My kind of psychology says, 'Life can be hard and you have to learn to deal with it'," he explained.
According to Clough, mentally tough pupils do better in exams and are less likely to see themselves as victims of bullying. If they fail at something, they try again. Using a diagnostic test devised by AQR, a business consultancy, Clough has been assessing his group's attitudes to challenges, looking at such factors as whether they consider themselves optimists or pessimists and whether they think they can stay cool in stressful situations. Those with the lowest scores are learning visualisation, relaxation and anxiety-control techniques to help them toughen up.
"I'm encouraging kids not to run away from stress but face up to it," said Clough. "If you've got a maths exam, just do it."
We have to decide what we want our children to be – tough go-getters or touchy-feely carers. Or is it even about them?
Frank Furedi, professor of sociology at Kent University, believes our child-centredness is really adult-centredness. "It's a way of reassuring ourselves that our children are going to be insulated from pain and adversity," he said. "We tell children they are wonderful now for tying their shoelaces or getting 50% in an exam. But really it's our way of flattering ourselves that we're far more sensitive to children than people were in the past."
The trouble is, Furedi says, that it's a self-fulfilling prophecy. "You're subtly giving kids the message that they can't cope with life," he said. "I have a son of 12 and when he and his friends were just nine I remember being shocked at them using therapeutic language, talking about being stressed out and depressed."
While researching The Dangerous Rise of Therapeutic Education, its co-author Dennis Hayes, visiting professor of education at Oxford Brookes University, discovered a leaflet telling students that if they studied sociology they might come across poor people and get depressed and if they studied nursing they might come across sick people and get distressed – so the university offered counselling.
"It was telling students they could not cope before they started," he said. "The focus on feelings has become ridiculous. One friend told me his daughter was crying at home one night and when he asked why she said, 'It's my turn to put my worries in the worry box tomorrow and I haven't got any!' " Perhaps we underestimate the resilience of children. One coach of an undereights football team was in favour of publishing results, saying they just enjoyed playing, whatever the score. "They didn't care that they lost," he said of one game. It was only 21-0, after all.
Saturday, March 21, 2009
(from my archives courtesy The Sunday Times)
Here's a question for all you anxious parents out there who are busy wrapping your children in cotton wool this summer the better to protect them from the predatory paedophiles inevitably lurking behind every leylandii hedge.
Let's just suppose, in some sick parallel universe, that you wanted your children to be abducted. Let's imagine that you'd had enough of them and decided that your cunning plan was to chuck them out of the house then sit back and wait for some passing kid-snatcher to run off with them. How long do you think you'd have to wait? Warwick Cairns will tell you. It would take 200,000 years, he says. And then you'd get them back within 24 hours. If you wanted them to be taken for longer you'd need to hang about for around 600,000 years. Because in any one year the average child stands a 0.0005 per cent chance of being abducted by a stranger and a 0.00016 chance of not being recovered alive within 24 hours. And yet, obviously, this is not how most people perceive the risk at all.
This perturbs Cairns, which is why he has written a new book How to Live Dangerously: Why We Should All Stop Worrying and Start Living. It is not only a prolonged, statistically-based plea to stop living in our beige world of risk-minimization where conkers and sack races are banned and where children are ferried everywhere in cars. It also concludes that if you really want to be safe, you ought to put yourself in more danger.
That's right. Cairns's book turns commonly held beliefs on their heads and presents them back to the reader so that they say something completely different. So, cycling without a helmet to work is actually safer than driving in a car, he asserts, in the face of British Medical Association figures that show that a cyclist is 11 times more likely to die on the roads than a person travelling by car.
How? Because though cyclists are more likely to die in road accidents than motorists, road accidents account for only 1.4 per cent of all deaths. Whereas heart and lung disease account for more than half of all deaths with heart disease killing a third of us. People who cycle 25 miles a week halve their risk of heart disease so more cyclists lives are extended by exercise than ended by accidents. Actuarial data reveals that for every year of life lost through cycling accidents, 20 are gained.
And cycling without a helmet increases your safety further, he argues, because cyclists who wear helmets tend to feel less vulnerable and thus take more risks. The same applies to drivers. Research shows that motorists, seeing cyclists "protected" by helmets, take less care when passing them: they drive on average 3.35in closer and come within 3ft 23 per cent more often. Indeed, in 1989 when it was made compulsory for children in the back seats of cars to wear seat belts, the number of children killed and injured in crashes initially went up. Because people thought their kids were now properly protected they took less care and drove faster and more recklessly. There is no shortage, of course, of experts telling us that we are cushioning ourselves and our children too much from the lessons of life that actually protect us.
In his book Paranoid Parenting, the sociologist Professor Frank Furedi describes the culture of fear that has led parents to restrict their children's independent outdoor lives and remarks that in 1971 eight out of ten eight-year-olds were allowed to walk to school alone. Now it is fewer than one in ten. Last month his report Licensed to Hug suggested that adults are now afraid to interact with other people's children because they fear being labeled a paedophile. One quarter of the adult population will need criminal record checks under the new child-protection scheme coming into force next year. He says that the obsession with formal vetting will put children in more danger because no one will use their judgment any more. Cairns, 46, says that it was having children (he has two daughters aged 14 and 10) that first caused him to dwell on the increasing ways that we are raising them in "captivity".
"People keep saying to me that they can't believe how different their childhoods were to the ones that kids growing up today have," he says. The best example he has of the shift in parental protectiveness is this: "A man I know told his mum, when he was 8, that he wanted to go to Holland for the day with his friend. So she said 'OK' and actually saw them off to the station with their ferry tickets and made tea for them when they got back that night." Can you imagine what would happen if a child did that today? The parent would be arrested for child neglect for a start (and rightly). But the anecdote makes a good point about how our willingness to be outraged has changed. Compare it with what happened when Lenore Skenazy, a journalist in New York, wrote in times2 this year about letting her nine-year-old son make his own way home from Bloomingdales on the subway after he pleaded to be allowed to go home alone. Americans were in uproar and she was branded, absurdly, "America's worst mom". And yet, as Cairns says, we increasingly want to lock our children indoors where there are actually more hazards, not only from relatives (the majority of child killers are in the family), but from other dangers. Three children a day, for instance, are injured in the home from burns or smoke inhalation, and one dies every ten days. "So, they go out and very rarely indeed, one child of the 12 million [in this country] gets abducted," he says. "Or they stay in where one child gets burnt to death every ten days."
His book though is not just about mollycoddling children, it is about the irrationality of many of our fears (you would have to fly on an aeroplane every day for 26,000 years to die in a crash - in the same period you'd have been killed 20 times driving to the airport, he says). Indeed in Freakonomics - the formula by which people will fret about, say, SARS, which will almost certainly never kill them, but be blasé about heart disease, which in one case in three will - is expressed thus: "Risk = hazard + outrage". Which means even if a hazard is low, the amount of public outrage about it can make it appear high and vice versa.
"You cannot help worrying sometimes," Cairns says. "When a child goes missing and it's in your face five or six times a day on the news, it is going to have an effect. But I just want to say, 'look it's not so bad'." Besides, people need risk in life, he adds. Indeed studies have shown that if children's playgrounds are made too safe and too soft children will go off and find something more dangerous,. They need a challenge. He cites the example of a Norwegian headmaster, Asbjorn Flemmen, who recently designed an edgy adventure playground which would never have passed health and safety laws here. It included a "jungle" area left to go wild where children could hide among potentially hazardous hut-building materials. What happened was that after a while the number of children being injured on the site fell dramatically. "The children, through experiencing danger, and after seeing what happened to people who didn't take enough care, soon came to appreciate their own limitations," he says.
There are things that Cairns does worry about, such as when his daughters are older and start going out with young lads in cars because the risks there are very real. And he would never in a million years start smoking, considering this an infinitely riskier pastime than his two favourite hobbies skateboarding and downhill mountain biking. "I do it for physical exhilaration," he says. "I have broken a few bones and been knocked out. But if you confront risk and go in with your eyes open, very often you're safer."
EDIT1: APOLOGIES....IT IS THE W.P. STYLE INVITATIONAL AND NOT "MENSA" AS MENTIONED EARLIER.
ALL MATERIAL APPEARING ON THIS POST IS COPYRIGHTED.
In the true tradition of the the Washington Post STYLE Contest, I throw open the Cat&Chaos Contest .Thanks Aman, for the gentle goad! :-).
Stirred but not shaken (?), anyways here goes......
Aberrent: the prevailing rentals which deviate from what is normal or desirable.
Paradice :a place, situation, or condition in which a gambler finds perfect happiness.
Penny Envy: in psychoanalysis, the theory that some girls' and women's psychological problems stem from a sense of deprivation about not having (earned ) penny(s) .Very few psychologists now accept this concept.
Mento(s)pause: A time in a woman's life when stimulation diminishes and ceases, usually between the ages of 32 and 42 and she then has to pop 2 Mentos in her mouth.
Oki time for my Mentos break.......
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
I am feeling lazy and not in a particularly prolific/creative mood (whats new!), another one from my archives. CAT
Once upon a time a man appeared in a village and
announced to the villagers that he would buy monkeys
for $10 each.
The villagers, seeing that there were many monkeys
around, went out to the forest and started catching them.
The man bought thousands at $10 and, as supply
started to diminish, the villagers stopped their effort.
He next announced that he would now buy monkeys
at $20 each. This renewed the efforts of the villagers
and they started catching monkeys again.
Soon the supply diminished even further and people
started going back to their farms. The offer increased
to $25 each and the supply of monkeys became so
scarce it was an effort to even find a monkey, let alone
The man now announced that he would buy monkeys
at $50 each! However, since he had to go to the city
on some business, his assistant would buy on his behalf.
In the absence of the man, the assistant told the villagers:
'Look at all these monkeys in the big cage that the man
has already collected. I will sell them to you at $35 and
when the man returns from the city, you can sell them
to him for $50 each.'
The villagers rounded up all their savings and bought
all the monkeys for 700 billion dollars.
They never saw the man or his assistant again, only
lots and lots of monkeys!
WALL STREET BAILOUT PLAN WILL WORK !!!!
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
On the grave of Ezekial Aikle in East Dalhousie Cemetery, Nova Scotia:
In a London, England cemetery:
Here lies Ann Mann,
Who lived an old maid
But died an old Mann.
Dec. 8, 1767
In a Ribbesford, England, cemetery:
The children of Israel wanted bread
And the Lord sent them manna,
Old clerk Wallace wanted a wife,
And the Devil sent him Anna.
Playing with names in a Ruidoso, New Mexico, cemetery:
For not rising.
Memory of an accident in a Uniontown, Pennsylvania cemetery:
Here lies the body
of Jonathan Blake
Stepped on the gas
Instead of the brake.
In a Silver City, Nevada, cemetery:
Here lays Butch,
We planted him raw.
He was quick on the trigger,
But slow on the draw.
A widow wrote this epitaph in a Vermont cemetery:
Sacred to the memory of
my husband John Barnes
who died January 3, 1803
His comely young widow, aged 23, has
many qualifications of a good wife, and
yearns to be comforted.
A lawyer's epitaph in England:
Sir John Strange
Here lies an honest lawyer,
And that is Strange.
Someone determined to be anonymous in Stowe, Vermont:
I was somebody.
Who, is no business
Lester Moore was a Wells, Fargo Co. station agent for Naco, Arizona in the cowboy days of the 1880's. He's buried in the Boot Hill Cemetery in Tombstone, Arizona:
Here lies Lester Moore
Four slugs from a .44
No Les No More.
John Penny's epitaph in the Wimborne, England, cemetery:
Reader if cash thou art
In want of any
Dig 4 feet deep
And thou wilt find a Penny.
On Margaret Daniels grave at Hollywood Cemetery Richmond, Virginia:
She always said her feet were killing her
but nobody believed her.
In a cemetery in Hartscombe, England:
On the 22nd of June
- Jonathan Fiddle -
Went out of tune.
Anna Hopewell's grave in Enosburg Falls, Vermont has an epitaph that sounds like something from a Three Stooges movie:
Here lies the body of our Anna
Done to death by a banana
It wasn't the fruit that laid her low
But the skin of the thing that made her go.
More fun with names with Owen Moore in Battersea, London, England:
Than he could pay.
Someone in Winslow, Maine didn't like Mr. Wood:
In Memory of Beza Wood
Departed this life
Nov. 2, 1837
Aged 45 yrs.
Here lies one Wood
Enclosed in wood
The outer wood
Is very good:
We cannot praise
On a grave from the 1880's in Nantucket, Massachusetts:
Under the sod and under the trees
Lies the body of Jonathan Pease.
He is not here, there's only the pod:
Pease shelled out and went to God.
The grave of Ellen Shannon in Girard, Pennsylvania is almost a consumer tip:
Who was fatally burned
March 21, 1870
by the explosion of a lamp
filled with "R.E. Danforth's
Non-Explosive Burning Fluid"
Oops! Harry Edsel Smith of Albany, New York:
Born 1903--Died 1942
Looked up the elevator shaft to see if
the car was on the way down. It was.
In a Thurmont, Maryland, cemetery:
Here lies an Atheist
All dressed up
And no place to go.
Over the past decade, two facts have become increasingly obvious – that our ever-increasing consumption is wrecking the planet, and that continually chasing more stuff, more food and more entertainment no longer makes us any happier. Instead, levels of stress, obesity and dissatisfaction are spiralling.
So why is our culture still chasing, consuming, striving ever harder, even though we know in our sophisticated minds that it's an unrewarding route to eco-geddon? New scientific studies are helping to reveal why. It's our primitive brains. These marvellous machines got us down from the trees and around the world, through ice ages, famines, plagues and disasters, into our unprecedented era of abundance. But they never had to evolve an instinct that said, "enough".
Instead, our wiring constantly, subliminally urges us: "Want. More. Now." Western civilisation wisely reined in this urge for thousands of years with an array of cultural conventions, from Aristotle's Golden Mean (neither too much, nor too little) to the Edwardian table-saying: "I have reached an elegant sufficiency and anything additional would be superfluous."
Consumer culture ditched all that, though, constructing instead an ever more sophisticated system for pinging our primitive desire circuits into overdrive. It got us to the point where we created everything we need as a basis for contentment. Now it's rushing us past the tipping point, beyond which getting more makes life worse rather than better. And it's making our brains respond more weirdly than ever.
Our old wiring may condemn us to keep striving ever harder until finally we precipitate our dissatisfied demise. But, instead, we could learn to practise the comfortable art of "enough" in this overstuffed world. There is a broad armoury of strategies we can adopt to proof our brains against the pressure to pursue and consume too much, to work too hard and to feel constantly inadequate and underprivileged. The most fundamental of these is knowledge: forewarned is forearmed. So here are just a few of the myriad unexpected ways in which our culture pushes our wanting brains into overdrive.
Stuffed by Celebs
Consumer society has invented a barrage of ways to stimulate our want-more brains' acquisitive instincts, but the latest and greatest of these innovations is celebrities.
The desire-driven wiring of our primitive brains evolved in the Pleistocene era, between 130,000 and 200,000 years ago. It was moulded by half-starved hunter-gatherers and farmers whose crops frequently failed. Those who kept going survived to give us their yearning genes. That wanting instinct gets fixated on material goods. We evolved to desire possessions as no other creature does. Neolithic cave sites may partly explain why. Many contain millions of hand-axes – far more than cave-dwellers ever needed. Anthropologists believe that the best axes were not just prized tools, but precursors of Ferraris and Jimmy Choos. Owning Stone Age bling displayed your high reproductive value.
Nowadays this status-chasing urge makes designer goods sorely alluring, even if they make no real difference to our luxury-glutted lives. Our hunter-gatherer brains seem wired to experience constant buyers' urges, too. Brain scans by Emory University in Atlanta show how the reward-chemical dopamine is released when we spot a product and ponder its purchase. But only the anticipation, the hunt, releases dopamine. After the deal is sealed, the high may evaporate in minutes, leaving what shop-owners call "buyer's remorse".
One of the most successful ways to dispel that remorse and stimulate more buying is celebrity endorsement. Manufacturers spend millions paying the likes of Elizabeth Hurley to squirt their fragrance and Daniel Craig to handle their gadgets. Neurologists at Erasmus University in Rotterdam report that our ability to weigh desirability and value is knocked awry if an item is endorsed by a well-known face. This lights up the brain's dorsal claudate nucleus, which is involved in trust and learning. Areas linked to longer-term memory storage also fire up.
Our minds overidentify with celebrities because we evolved in small tribes. If you knew someone, then they knew you. If you didn't attack each other, you were probably pals.
Our minds still work this way, giving us the idea that the celebs we keep seeing are our acquaintances. And we sorely want to be like them. Humans are born imitators: this talent enabled us to develop far quicker than our competitors could via biological evolution alone. One chimp can watch another poking a stick into an anthill and mimic the basic idea, but only humans can replicate a technique exactly. We must choose carefully whom we copy and have evolved to emulate the most successful people we see. Thus, many of us feel compelled to keep up materially with celebs, the mythical alphas in our global village.
We've also evolved to despise being out of the in-crowd. Brain scans show that social rejection activates brain areas that generate physical pain, probably because in prehistory tribal exclusion was tantamount to a death sentence. And scans by the National Institute of Mental Health show that when we feel socially inferior, two brain regions become more active: the insula and the ventral striatum. The insula is involved with the gut-sinking sensation you get when you feel that small. The ventral striatum is linked to motivation and reward. To stave off the pain of feeling second-rate, we feel compelled to barricade ourselves behind evermore social acquisitions. That kept our ancestors competitively stretching for the next rung of social evolution, but now it has locked us into a Pyrrhic battle because the neighbours can also just about afford the latest status symbols, too.
Our brains have an instinctive way of handling information that worked well until very recently: if we are confused or worried by what we learn, we feel driven to learn more. Now, however, technology has brought an info-blizzard. We see, for example, more then 3,500 sales messages a day. More than six trillion business e-mails were sent last year. It's bewildering, so we feel driven to seek even more information in quest for the one golden fact that explains it all.
The roots of this lie deep. On the savannah where our ancestors evolved, you needed to make the best of all the information you had. Novelty – new faces, shapes and concepts – was rare and would spark a mental conflict between fear and curiosity. It would take strong inquisitiveness to stimulate an early human to explore matters such as: "What happens if I kick that lizard?" The people who explored often won the best chances to feed and breed. Over time, a reward system evolved in primitive brains to encourage information gathering.
It is still busily at work. A University of Southern California study reports that when we grasp a new concept, the "click" of comprehension triggers a shot of heroin-like opioids to reward the brain. The researcher Irving Biederman says human brains have a cluster of opioid receptors in a brain region associated with acquiring new information: we evolved to get high whenever we learn something. "We are designed to be info-vores," he says. "When you are trying to understand a difficult theorem, it's not fun. But once you get it, you feel fabulous."
The reward system is overridden by more pressing needs for food or safety, but on today's comfy sofas we have no predators or famines, so infomania can run amok, creating a mass desire for scary news, banal texts and celeb gossip. We keep seeking new sources for our mini-kicks because the opioid reward diminishes each time a novel experience is repeated.
Biederman's scans of volunteers' brains show they get less stimulation each time they see the same picture. In reply, the media industry offers increasingly quickfire stimuli that squeeze our "duh, seen that" response ever harder, intensifying our novelty addiction and curtailing our attention spans. This causes confusion: a survey by the Henley Centre, the social forecasting company, says that we are a society of info-hoarders, the new-media equivalents of crazy types living in homes crammed with newspapers. More than 70 per cent of people ticked the survey box saying: "I can never have too much information." But more than half also said that they don't have time to use the information they already have. One way of trying to cope with this overload is to cram in more information-seeking. Most twentysomethings now watch TV while also being online.
On top of this, our 24-hour rolling-news culture keeps us constantly story-chasing. Our minds fill with exaggerated anxiety as they witness regular reruns of the day's most shocking images. How many times does one have to see the same bomb-blast to get the idea? The horror is replayed continually, but we learn nothing more. Instead we become convinced that life is dangerous and beyond control. So we feel compelled to watch more news.
This is exacerbated by our primitive brains' limited sense of geography: if we see footage of a far-off massacre, our minds think it must have happened close by, within range of a Neolithic human's wanderings. We feel compelled to learn everything about this "nearby" threat. This causes a stressy cycle of continual info-seeking. Some psychology studies suggest that we should limit our news-watching to 30 minutes a day – or risk anxiety-related depression.
Appetite for Destruction
Having an overacquisitive, harried, multi-tasking mindset is one of the worst ways in which to approach one of the greatest challenges that unprecedented abundance presents us: food. A quarter of Western adults are obese and a third are overweight. The majority will, it is predicted, be overweight in the next 20 years.
Our appetite will always tell us that food is fearfully scarce. Historically, it has been right. As recently as 1321, one English person in five is thought to have died of famine. First World War British soldiers were on average only 5ft 5in tall. They had grown up seriously malnourished. With food, as with possessions and information, our brains have never before had the need for an "enough" button. Tests by Martin Yeomans, an appetite psychologist at Sussex University, show that we don't really know when to stop eating. He gave volunteers plates of pasta, but kept switching and replenishing their plates, so that they lost track of how much they were consuming. "One man happily polished off 2kg of pasta at one sitting and thought he'd had a normal portion," he says.
Our appetite levels are intensified by constant ads and marketing. Our brains fill with reward chemicals at the mere sight of it all. The pleasure response is stronger than the one we get from eating food itself, claims Dr Nora Volkow, the director of the US National Institute of Drug Abuse. This is why food marketing is so dangerous, she says: "It stimulates an old mechanism by which nature ensures that we actually consume food when food is available. We never knew when food was going to be available next."
This instinct is worsened by haste. Twenty years ago we spent on average 33 minutes over our evening meals. Now it's 14½ minutes. Meals get bolted as we refuel mindlessly over desks, in front of the telly, reading or on the phone. A 2006 survey found that fewer than 20 per cent of us regularly give our plates our full attention.
But being preoccupied or stressed while eating makes us overconsume, reports the journal Appetite. Your mind fails to experience the full spectrum of pleasure that it can obtain from consuming food. The "I've eaten loads, thanks" message fails to get sent from brain to body, and snacky pangs soon return. Kathleen Melanson, a nutrition professor at Rhode Island University, found this when she asked 30 women students to make two visits to her lab. Each time they were given a large plate of food and told to eat as much as they wanted.
When they were told to eat quickly, they consumed 646 calories in nine minutes, but when they were encouraged to pause between bites and chew each mouthful 15 to 20 times, they ate only 579 calories in 29 minutes. They also said they enjoyed their food more, felt fuller at the end of the meal and still felt fuller an hour afterwards. "Satiety signals clearly need time to develop," Melanson says. Other research indicates that it takes 20 minutes for your brain to realise that your stomach is full, so taking time to chew undistractedly enables your mind to keep up with your golloping.
PROOFING YOUR BRAIN
Change your mindset to "postmore" by challenging our culture's ingrained assumption that "more" of everything is automatically better. We're beset by slogans such as "Smart girls get More" and Virgin's "Get more" ad campaign.
Grow your gratitude. Our poor, starved, frozen ancestors would cry tears of joy if they suddenly landed in our culture of abundance. Fostering our appreciation of this bounty can also block the consumerist "cool" pressure to deride so many of our fine, workable possessions as "so last year".
Be enough. We're constantly told that we aren't rich enough, glam enough, cool enough, networked enough, etc. This has a powerful insidious effect on our primitive, socially competitive brain circuits. It's like a toxic substance that turns rational brains into needy toddler-like grizzlers.
In her inaugural lecture at the University of Brighton, Tara Brabazon will urge teachers at all levels of the education system to equip students with the skills they need to interpret and sift through information gleaned from the internet.
She believes that easy access to information has dulled students' sense of curiosity and is stifling debate. She claims that many undergraduates arrive at university unable to discriminate between anecdotal and unsubstantiated material posted on the internet.
"I call this type of education 'the University of Google'.
"Google offers easy answers to difficult questions. But students do not know how to tell if they come from serious, refereed work or are merely composed of shallow ideas, superficial surfing and fleeting commitments."
"Google is filling, but it does not necessarily offer nutritional content," she said.
Professor Brabazon, who has been teaching in universities for 18 years, said that the heavy reliance on the internet in universities had the effect of "flattening expertise" because every piece of information was given the same credibility by users.
Professor Brabazon's concerns echo the author Andrew Keen's criticisms of online amateurism. In his book The Cult of the Amateur, Keen says: "To-day's media is shattering the world into a billion personalised truths, each seemingly equally valid and worthwhile."
Professor Brabazon said: "I've taught all through the digitisation of education. It's fascinating to see how students have changed. We can no longer assume that students arrive at university, knowing what to read and knowing what standards are required of the material that they do read."
"Students live in an age of information, but what they lack is correct information. They turn to Wikipedia unquestioningly for information. Why wouldn't they - it's there," she said.
Professor Brabazon does not blame schools for students' cut-and-paste attitude to study. Nor is she critical of students individually.
With libraries in decline, diminishing stocks of books and fewer librarians, media platforms such as Google made perfect sense. The trick was to learn how to use them properly.
"We need to teach our students the interpretative skills first before we teach them the technological skills. Students must be trained to be dynamic and critical thinkers rather than drifting to the first site returned through Google," she said.
Her own students are banned from using Wikipedia or Google as research tools in their first year of study, but instead are provided with 200 extracts from peer-reviewed printed texts at the beginning of the year, supplemented by printed extracts from eight to nine texts for individual pieces of work.
"I want students to experience the pages and the print as much as the digitisation and the pixels - both are fine but I want students to have both – not one or the other, not a cheap solution," she said.
The have been concerns about students plagiarising from the internet and the growth of a new online "coursework industry", in which web-sites produce tailor-made essays, some selling for up to £1,000 each.
Wikipedia, containing millions of articles contributed by users was founded in 2001. It has been criticised for being riddled with inaccuracies and nonsense. Even one of its own founders, Larry Sanger, described it as "broken beyond repair" before leaving the site last year.
Google is the dominant search engine on the internet. It uses a formula designed to place the most relevant content at the top of its listings. But a multimillion-pound industry has grown up around manipulating Google rankings through a process called "search engine optimisation".
Monday, March 16, 2009
Seven Secrets to a Great Nap
Naptime is not just for kindergarteners. A whole body of research shows that a midday snooze can increase productivity and alertness in the workplace. Naps can often be the perfect weapons to combat midafternoon sluggishness, which tends to hit between 2 and 5 p.m.
1. The Odd Couple:Coffee and a Nap Turns out that a cup of joe won't ruin your nap, it will enhance it. A 2003 Japanese study found that you can alleviate sleepiness by combining a short snooze with coffee. Sound counterintuitive? Here's how it works: caffeine takes about 20 minutes to a half-hour to kick in, just enough time for you to nap. That way, if you've had a coffee-primed nap, the benefits are twofold: you've rested and you're ready to go when you wake. The British Transportation Department even provides drivers with the following recommendation to combat driver fatigue: "Stop, drink two cups of coffee or a highly caffeinated drink, then take a short nap." Think of a nap as a free extra shot in your latte.
2. The Nicest Nap: Hour Emsellem says that 2 or 3 p.m. is the ideal nap hour—late enough to fit into your natural siesta zone but early enough that it will not interfere with your night sleep. Also take your afternoon schedule into consideration when making nap plans. If you can, Emsellem recommends taking your midafternoon snooze just prior to a big meeting. Dozing right before the meeting will make sure you're not drifting off during the meeting.
3. Length Does Matter: A good nap length is somewhere between 20 and 30 minutes. This will give you the restorative benefits of sleep without the lethargy or grogginess—what Emsellem calls "sleep drunkenness."
4. Making the Bed: Location may be the toughest nap quandary. If your company has a health or nurse's room, that could make a good place for snoozing. If that's not an option, you may have to turn your cubicle into a makeshift nap room—but that means you'll probably have to be all right with curling up under your desk. Heading to your parked car is another option—but of course you should make sure a window is open and the engine is not running.
5. Set an Alarm: Chances are, if you're tired enough to take a nap, you will not magically wake up on your own accord. So set an alarm, both to avoid the grogginess of a long nap and to make sure you don't sleep through anything important
6. Keep It Consistent: Emsellem suggests working that 20-minute nap into a particular sleep routine to make it part of your body's expected circadian rhythm. The easiest way to do that is by using a sleep log to record your snoozing habits.
7. Be an Alert Napper: If you always feel the need for a nap, think about your nightly sleep schedule. Are you down to only five or six hours? While a 20-minute nap is a good refresher, it will not make up for hours lost at night. Conversely, if you're getting eight hours of sleep each night yet still feel the need to nap, that might be the sign of a sleep disorder, or another health problem, so check with your physician or check out the National Sleep Foundation or the American Academy of Sleep Medicine for more sleep resources.
Nine Ways to Become a Morning Person
Night owls don't have it easy. After all, few people can choose to show up at work or school late. And that night-owl tendency--sleep doctors call it a "delayed sleep phase," in which you go to bed and rise late--is hard to change. "Some people have this tendency right from the minute they come out of the womb," says Dr. Nancy Collop, director of the Johns Hopkins Hospital Sleep Disorders Center in Baltimore. However, staying up late and hauling yourself out of bed painfully in the morning is a bad idea: adults typically need seven or eight hours of sleep a night, and chronic sleep deprivation has been linked to a range of risks, from car accidents to obesity and depression. Fortunately, a few easy steps Collop recommends can help shift the body's internal clock and win you some precious dreamtime.
1. Routine, Routine: Try to get up at the same time each day--even on weekends and days off. Disruptions in your schedule could throw off the body's sleep pattern for weeks.
2. Let the Sun Shine In: Sleep in a room with eastern exposure, and with the blinds up, so the morning sun shines in. Light is how the body sets its clock. Or, if your room lacks early sun, invest in a "light box" that greets you with full-spectrum light mimicking the sun. Light boxes typically shine 2,000 to 10,000 lux, depending on how far away you sit. Collop recommends an hour of 2,500 lux each morning, but even a half hour will help. Although some people can reduce the time they sit before the light box as the body adjusts; many relapse quickly into their old sleep habits when they stop using the light box altogether.
An ordinary lamp won't do the trick. However, at night it may be helpful to avoid spending too much time in stores with bright lighting in the evening. One 2003 study of Japanese junior-high-school students concluded that those who went to convenience stores after sunset stayed up longer and slept less.
3. Get Some Extra Help: Sleeping pills may be needed to get to sleep in the evening, but ideally only temporarily to establish the desired routine. A time-released drug may help by keeping the level of the medication even through the night.
4. Noises Off: Don't read or watch TV in bed. Use the bed for sleeping (and of course, sex).
5. Smart Snacks: Don't eat large meals late at night--but small snacks before bed are sometimes helpful, says Collop. Foods containing the amino acid tryptophan such as turkey and milk may help. Avoid alcohol. Although it induces sleepiness, once the effect wears off, booze interferes with sleep.
6. Curb the Caffeine: Don't rely on coffee. Small amounts can help in the morning, but night owls shouldn't drink coffee in the afternoon.
7. Wind Down, Not Up: Don't exercise near bedtime, as exercise raises the body temperature and can interfere with sleep.
8. Get Help: Consult a sleep specialist if you're having trouble getting into a sleep routine. And persistent sleepiness despite a good night's sleep may be a sign of a serious sleep disorder or other health condition
9. Don't Be Hard on Yourself: Morning slowness doesn't mean you are lazy or apathetic about your day. Night-owl tendencies are estimated to be at least 50 percent genetic in origin, says Steven Brown, a sleep exert at the University of Zurich. You may find rising early a struggle for much of your life. But even night owls often naturally shift toward earlier bedtimes and rising as they age, typically after 60
1. Body temperature is lowest before waking up in the morning, and highest in the late afternoon. A temperature of 99 degrees Fahrenheit might indicate fever at 7 a.m., but by 5 p.m. would be normal.
2. Heart attacks are twice as likely in the early morning as at other times.
3. Births peak in the morning and early afternoon.
4. So do suicides.
5. Body clocks are why doctors often prescribe taking medicines at certain times of day. For example, both aspirin and antihistamines work best taken in the morning. But some types of chemotherapy for cancer may be more effective and less toxic if administered at night.
6. People are much more likely to have sex at night just before they go to sleep than at any other time of the day.
Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh has risen to the peak of artistic achievements. Although Van Gogh sold only one painting in his life, the aftermath of his work is enormous. Starry Night is one of the most well known images in modern culture as well as being one of the most replicated and sought after prints. From Don McLean's song 'Starry, Starry Night' (Based on the Painting), to the endless number of merchandise products sporting this image, it is nearly impossible to shy away from this amazing painting.
Since good education is often the passport to a good future, I presume it leads you to getting your child admitted to a good school. Then you encourage your child to study hard and do well in school exams. To bolster this, you send him or her for tuition classes. This would have primed your child for board exams and entrance exams, thereby leading to admission into a good professional course. Doing well at college increases the probability of landing a good job. And a good job means the child’s future is ensured.
I am neither a psychologist nor an educationist, and what I will now state may seem counter-intuitive. I think that these aspirations and actions might be doing more harm than good to your child. To understand why, we need to re-examine some of our fundamental assumptions.
In the first place, I have seen time and again that living for some distant future goal also means you do not live in the present. The distant goal will always translate into an external measure of success, such as exams. And most exam-focused children start forgetting what it means to be a child .......... to be curious, mischievous, exploring, falling, getting up, relating, discovering,
Childhood is very precious; precious enough not be wasted by the artificial pressures of contrived competition, by too many hours of bookish study,and by school report cards that simplistically wrap up an entire human being in numbers.
The second assumption is that education is merely a ticket to socio-economic success. Given the state of our country, this reality cannot be ignored. But restricting education to only this aspect is I think, a very limiting notion of the aim of good education. The primary purpose of a school is to guide the child in her discovery of herself and her world, and to identify and nurture the child’s talents .
Just as every seed contains the future tree, each child is born with infinite potential. Imagine a school which sees children as seeds to be nurtured – here the teacher is a gardener who helps to bring out the potential already present in the child.This is very different from the current view which sees the child as clay to be moulded – where the teacher and parents are potters deciding what shape the clay should take. There is an old (and forgotten) Chinese saying “ Give a seed to a potter, and you will get a bonsai”.
Even in a commercial organization, to make profits we do not have to chase profits. Rather, we need to build an institution that gives every employee an opportunity to do meaningful and fulfilling work. Create an organization driven by values of innovation, integrity, customer centricity and care. And as you practice these values everyday and moment, you will see that the profits take care of themselves.
Similarly, dear parent, this is my request to you. Do not give up your child’s present to secure his or her future. Give your child the freedom to truly explore life with abandon. In doing this, you will see your child flower into a creative and sensitive human being. And when this happens, everything else – money, social success, security – will fall into place automatically.
Let your child be a child.
Friday, March 13, 2009
Krishna asked the youth to prove it. The youth pointed to a tree and said, "With one arrow I can pierce each and every leaf on the tree."Krishna asked the youth to demonstrate his skill, while secretly plucking five leaves from the tree and placing it under his foot. The warrior shot an arrow and such was the skill that the arrow pierced each and every leaf on that tree and then pierced Krishna's foot five times, once for each leaf. Krishna realised this warrior indeed was a
great warrior and moreover he could do what he claimed he could.
Krishna asked the youth, "On which side do you wish to fight?" The youth replied, "I always fight on the side of the losers." The reply bothered Krishna: if the youth fought on the side of the losers and turned them into a winners then he would immediately change sides and participate on the losing side, and help them become the winning side. Thus he would move from side to side and keep turning the losing side to winning and winning side into the losing side, creating a vicious closed-loop, and a never-ending meaningless directionless battle.
Krishna could not allow this. He decided to destroy the warrior before he could participate in the battle. He asked the warrior, "Will you save me from the man who plans to destroy the dharma I hope to establish on earth?""Sure," said the youth, "Point out that man and I will cut his head off." Krishna then showed the man a mirror. "This is he," said Krishna.
Looking at his reflection, the youth realised that Krishna wanted him dead because he felt he threatened the outcome of the battle at Kuru-kshetra. "Here, take my head," said the youth, severing his neck. Pleased with the offering, Krishna gave the youth a boon. "Allow me to see the battle even though I am dead,"said the youth. So Krishna placed the head of the youth on a tree atop a hill and blessed the head with life so that the youth could watch all the events that took place on the battlefield of Kuru-kshetra.
This story draws our attention to the idea of taking a stand. Krishna destroyed the warrior because he did not take a stand. He was neither fighting for Pandavas or Kauravas, for the right side or the wrong side. He simply wanted to use his power to fight for the losers with the intention of making them winners, not realising that this behaviour would lead to no conclusion. The youth was focused more on his skills and less on the outcome he desired to achieve using his skills.
Mr. Ravikishore Singh encountered a warrior such as this in his board meeting. He noticed that his most promising director spoke a lot, but never really took a stand. He would keep arguing both sides with such brilliance that it was difficult to take a call. When deliberating whether to partner with a multinational company to import a new chemical to India, the director argued eloquently on the benefits of doing so.
As soon as most of the remaining Board members agreed with him, he started arguing on the dangers of doing so. This gentleman was so brilliant that he could see the positive and the negative side of both the situations. And because he could see both positive and negative situations he could never take a call, nor help others take a call.
Mr. Ravikishore Singh realised the director was not really adding value - yes, he threw light on many things, but ultimately proceedings were suspended as everyone was confused. Everyone was so locked in thought that there was no action. There was, what is popularly called, paralysis by analysis.
Like Krishna, Mr. Ravikishore Singh decided to stop the young director from participating in more meetings. Without him, the board could move forward, in some direction, hopefully the profitable one.
In meetings there are a lot of warriors who can play the devil's advocate and give the opposite point of view with a great clarity, but by doing so, they can sometimes block the leader from taking a decision, and moving in a particular direction. Devil's advocates are good so long as they enable the decision-making process. A good leader must be constantly aware of this. Rather than a contrarian who opposes the leader for the sake of opposition, one needs someone with a point of view, which when argued and articulated well helps the leader take a call, one way or another.