World Notes

Anyone selling happiness doesn't know anything about it

02/07/2011

Happy Faces Americans, we have been deceived. 

The great rat race doesn’t bring happiness!  More money doesn’t either!  Forgot what you were told:  more espresso shots to stay awake at work, Ambien to stay asleep at night, and Prozac to keep you from screaming aren’t actually inching you any closer to a happy life.

Throw out your self-help books and career guides.  It turns out happiness doesn’t come from success, success comes from happiness. 

If you want to be happy, research shows, deepen your sense of identity, your sense of intrinsic value, and find your purpose in life.  Do that, and success will follow.  Nothing else counts for nearly as much as we’ve been promised. 

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Artificial Intelligence's biggest success isn't making computers smarter -- it's making people dumber

02/04/2011

Mecha brain Back in 1997, when IBM’s computer “Deep Blue” beat the world’s (human) champion at chess, the news world erupted:  were human beings on the way out?

Well, were they? 

Today it doesn’t seem like it.  I doubt you can come up with a single substantive way that a computer being better at chess than Gary Kasparov has affected your life.  Sure, you use computers even more now, in even more ways, than you did ten years ago ... but that no longer feels threatening. In fact, when IBM’s newest supercomputer “Watson” beat the all-time (human) Jeopardy champion in a test match, nobody panicked. 

The success of Artificial Intelligence (AI) doesn’t seem to threaten humanity at all. 

But the failure of AI may be doing lasting and terrible damage. 

Artificial Intelligence is much better understood through its failures than its successes.  Sure, we’ve taught a computer to win at Jeopardy, but was that actually something we set out to do?  No – the field set out to create true “thinking machines.”  In 1963 the scientists at Stanford’s Artificial Intelligence Laborabory (SAIL) anticipated that making a computer capable of truly understanding the world as people do would take about a decade.  Alan Turing expected AI machines to be able to make moral judgments. 

Today we’re not even close – even Watson, the Jeopardy winning computer, doesn’t “understand” the world, it just searches the web for terms that are linked together.  It’s found that “Jericho” is the link between “Joshua,” “city,” and “walls fell.”  

But rather than admitting failure and thereby celebrating what human intelligence is, AI researchers ... and the business world ... are trying to pull human intelligence down to the level of a machine. 

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Children without community suffer the worst effects of poverty

02/03/2011

It’s been well established that poverty hurts the well being of children.  Bad health, obesity, mental illness – these are associated with childhood poverty and everybody knows it.  What we’re discovering now is that a lack of community engagement and connections caused by poverty might be a cause. 

A new study published in Psychological Science, looked at the long term outcomes for children who were living in poverty in rural upstate New York. Over ten years ago a research team lead by Gary Evans of Cornell University were looking for an answer to the question “What is it about poverty that leads to these negative outcomes?” Their research study shows that the lack of financial capital isn’t the only factor.

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Politicians couldn't predict the violence in Egypt, but political scientists did

02/02/2011

800px-Central_Security_Forces_in_2011_Egyptian_Protests In between wondering what’s next for the Middle East, most of the world is taking the time to be surprised.  Nobody saw the revolution coming in Tunisia.  Nobody predicted the street protests in Egypt.

At least, we didn’t.  As it happens, somebody predicted exactly what was going to happen in those countries ... and in Iran, and in Jordon. 

In fact, three academics developed a model of predicting political turmoil that is now 7 for 7 on predictions of global unrest. 

The Predictive Societal Indicators of Radicalism Model of Domestic Political Violence Forecast was developed by two Kansas State University professors, Sam Bell Amanda Murdie in collaboration with Professor Cingranelli at SUNY Binghamton University.  It lists 37 nations that the model believes will see domestic political uprisings in the next five years – and so far all seven nations to do so since the 2010 predictions were made (including Iran, Tunisia, and Egypt) are, in fact, on the list.  

The tool was developed for an Open Innovation company called Milcord that builds knowledge management systems for federal governments. The researchers compiled a database based on public information on 150 countries. The data cover the amount and intensity of politically motivated domestic violence spanning two decades from 1990-2009. The violence includes a full spectrum from non-violent sit-ins that go over the edge to politically motivated bombings.   

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Turns out "Tiger mothers" have the same problems as every other mom

02/01/2011

Tiger Mother cover Everybody is arguing about “Tiger Mothers” these days ... but are they having the right argument? 

The trouble with the debate sparked by Amy Chua’s book is that it assumes that the only relevant questions in parenting are:  how authoritarian are you? 

There’s no question Chua went over the top:  when she writes about forcing her children to sit for hours with threats of no food, no water, no bathroom, until you perform perfectly ... doesn’t that sound like torture?  But there’s also no evidence to suggest that lax parenting is a good thing.  Authoritarian ... permissive ... is this really what matters in how happy and well adjusted children become?

A recent study out of Hong Kong suggests it's not.  This 2010 longitudinal study of 346 Hong Kong 7th graders found that the degree to which 7th graders thought their mothers cared about them was more relevant to their long-term life satisfaction than how strict their mothers were. 

In other words, how “authoritarian” and “permissive” mothers were didn’t actually matter all that much – but their relationship with the child, how loved the child felt and how much the children thought they mattered – was pretty important. 

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Money can't buy brains, but poverty can hurt them

01/31/2011

Urban poverty The richest nation in the world recently received a failing report card on its treatment of children.

In a report entitled The Children Left Behind, UNICEF reported its findings on how children in the richest country are being cared for.

A UNICEF report (PDF) called “The Children Left Behind” shows that one fourth of American children are in poverty.

Does that matter?  Morally and ethically, of course it does – but it also matters developmentally, as new research shows that while spending money for already well-off kids does little to improve their brain power, growing up in poverty can cause significant drops in intellectual capacity

Money doesn’t increase intelligence, but poverty can decrease it. 

Here is a glance at the research:

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In love? Beware of "Financial Infidelity"

01/28/2011

Dollars Do you know what ruins intimate partner relationships? If you are thinking the obvious, cheating, try again. You very well might not guess this one – but you should know it,  because it ranks up in the top three reasons couples split, relationships end, and divorce proceedings occur.

The culprit? Financial Infidelity.

Yup, it is about that pesky almighty green dollar bill. And, researchers tell us it is one of the biggest stressors for middle-aged Americans.

Money + relationships = volatile territory. Financial infidelity involves lying to one’s significant other about any aspect of money or finances.

Here is the clincher—it may be just as damaging to a couple’s relationship as sexual infidelity.

Harris Interactive, Redbook, and Lawyers.com researched this delicate subject and found startling results. Out of the over 1,700 couples studied, twenty four percent believed financial infidelity was worse than sexual infidelity. Twenty-nine percent admitted lying to their partner regarding finances; most often because of excessive spending on personal shopping. And more-- twenty five percent reported being lied to by their partner regarding some aspect of their combined financial state. If you do the arithmetic, over fifty four percent of couples lie to each other about their spending habits and earnings.

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Research shows: stories have the power to heal

01/27/2011

Blood pressure cuff What is the best approach to encourage people to tend to their personal wellness and health – and how do we overcome cultural barriers? 

It may be telling a story ... as long as it’s the right kind of story. 

This was recently proven in studies addresing one of the most common, and most difficult, medical conditions to treat :  high blood pressure.

Treatment plans require that people take their medications, follow a specific diet and see their physicians on a regular basis – which is more than many people are willing to do.  When they don’t look after their own health the mortality rate for those with high blood pressure goes up. The work of overcoming hypertension is especially hard on the African American community. Reports have come to show that social and cultural barriers have made it challenging to treat this illness in the community, and that African Americans are more likely to suffer from the long list of complications that often come with hypertension such as heart disease and stroke.

A recent study published in the January 2011 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine, “Culturally Appropriate Storytelling to Improve Blood Pressure: A Randomized Trial” draws on the cultural strength of the African American community as a way to help patients initiate and maintain their treatments.

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Doctors need empathy, STAT!

01/26/2011

Stethoscope A recent study out of the University of Toronto videotaped session with oncologists and found that only 22% showed empathy at times when patients needed it.  

That’s too bad, not just because it’s cold and cruel – but because a large body of evidence is showing that empathy in conventional medical settings can make a big difference in patient outcomes. 

In 1997 Dr. Art Bohart and Dr. Leslie Greenberg published a book entitled “Empathy Reconsidered.” This text presented research that supported the theory that empathy in therapy room can aid in improving outcomes for individuals. Since then additional research has shown that empathy can promote healing on the physical level, as well as the psychological.  Now the new University of Toronto study has shown that clinical empathy (empathy within the confines of traditional clinical setting like hospitals and doctors’ offices), can improve a patients’ satisfaction with their care and encourage them to follow through with their treatment plans. Hospital administrators would be most interested in an additional fact the study found:  increases in patient empathy lowered malpractice complaints.

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The dangers of "second hand" media - why what your friends watch is more important than what you do

01/25/2011

TV set with internet in it If you’re the kind of person who’s “plugged in” to culture, chances are you know what’s so controversial about Skins.

A program on MTV that debuted January 17, Skins got three million viewers and launched six million arguments with its depictions of wealthy suburban teenagers who engaging in illicit drug use, sexually mature behavior, and violence.  Emotions run high as the characters deal with divorced parents, substance abuse, and one night stands—while facing grave consequences from their actions.

The cast consists of teens, some as young as fifteen, who are portrayed in sexually explicit ways; the premier also contained over forty references to street drugs and alcohol. The Parents Television Council is among many who are protesting the show claiming that it violates anti-child pornography laws in the United States.   

As of today, six major retailers have yanked their sponsorship of Skins including: Subway, H&R Block, Taco Bell, and GM. The show’s racy content has even reached capital hill; with the Parent Television Council asking the Senate, House Judiciary Committee and Department of Justice to open a federal investigation to evaluate if the show violates laws.

Behind the stormy debates, lies the real question:  do shows like Skins actually affect teenage development?  Is it just a show, or does it become real life? 

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