Later On

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Archive for the ‘Mental Health’ Category

Is the violence across North Africa and the Middle East caused by leaded gasoline?

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As Kevin Drum has noted in various posts and articles, there is strong and (to me) compelling evidence that children raised in a lead-polluted environment grow up to be violent adults, and the most pervasive form of lead pollution has been leaded gasoline. The US discontinued leaded gasoline around 1980 (there was a phase-in period when both leaded and unleaded gasoline were sold), and 20 years later, violent crime began a remarkable decline. This phenomenon—discontinuing leaded gasoline followed 20 years later by a significant decline in violent crime—has now been seen in any countries.

This chronology of leaded gasoline history (PDF) is quite interesting as it marks significant dates from the introduction of leaded gasoline in 1923. The PDF notes that Tetra-ethyl lead (TEL or “ethyl”) was the invention of Thomas Midgley, who was posthumously declared to be “responsible for more damage to Earth’s atmosphere than any other single organism that has ever lived.” (Walker 2007) Some of that is because Midgley was also responsible for the adoption of fluorocarbons as propellants for aerosol cans, and fluorocarbons turned out to be vastly destructive of the ozone layer, so those too were phased out.

In a post this morning (mainly on the new Trump aide Sebastian Gorka) has this interesting chart:


Drum’s post is worth reading for the information on Gorka.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 February 2017 at 10:32 am

Violent Crime Peaked In Britain in 2006 Because….

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Kevin Drum has a very interesting post at Mother Jones:

I missed this when it was first written—probably because it was only a week after Donald Trump won the election—but Robert Waldmann decided to check out a few of his predictions:

In April 2008, I predicted that the UK violent crime rate would peak some time around 2008. I just googled and found that it peaked in around 2006 or 2007.

Here’s the chart, courtesy of the Institute for Economics and Peace:


Note two things here. First, Britain’s violent crime rate peaked about 15 years after it did in the US. Second, it dropped a lot faster than it did in the US. Why?

Because, first, Britain adopted unleaded gasoline about 13 years after the US (1988 vs. 1975). And second, because it phased out leaded gasoline a lot faster than the US. Within four years Britain had cut lead emissions by two-thirds, which means there was a very sharp break between infants born in high-lead and low-lead environments. Likewise, this means there was a sharp break between 18-year-olds with and without brain damage. In 2006, nearly all 18-year-olds had grown up with lead poisoned brains. By 2010, that had dropped substantially, which accounts for the stunning 40 percent drop in violent crime in such a short time.1

This is one of the reasons the lead-crime hypothesis is so persuasive. Not only does recorded crime fit the predictions of the theory—both in timing and slope—but it does so in . . .

Continue reading.

Note this, later in his post:

Anyway, I might as well take this opportunity to repeat my prediction that terrorism in the Middle East will begin to decline between 2020-30. You heard it here first.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 February 2017 at 5:42 pm

Someone on asked, “How can I be happy in 2017?”

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Quora provides a way for people to post questions and get answers, but recently when I tried to submit my answer it didn’t work. Since I had spent some time and thought on it, it occurred to me that one approach would be to post it here and then provide a link to this post. Here’s the answer I wrote:

It depends on your situation and the particular barriers to happiness you encounter. Internal barriers may involve combatting addictions (addictions can easily undermine happiness) or clinical depression (cognitive behavioral therapy has been proven to be helpful). External barriers may involve many things.

You might find A Life of One’s Own, by Joanna Field to be of interest. It’s a nonfiction account of her decision to keep a diary and note how happy she was each day. She was about 20 years old, and she thought that, over time, in reading the diary she could discover those things that tended to make her happy, and then do more of those and less of the other sorts of things.

It turned out that it was not quite so simple as she expected, and the book is a fascinating exploration of her explorations and discoveries, including some useful tactical ideas—e.g., when she was walking along a country lane on a beautiful day, she was somehow removed from the scene, observing it as though from afar, and unaffected by what she saw. So she started saying aloud what she was observing and feeling, and that reconnected her to the experience.

In any event, it’s an intriguing book and you might well get some good ideas from it. Even if not, you’re likely to enjoy it. I certainly did. The link above is to inexpensive secondhand copies.

A more directly relevant book is Flow: the Psychology of Optimal Experience, by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi (again the link is to inexpensive secondhand copies). Csíkszentmihályi investigated a particular state of mind that he called “flow,” which seems to correspond to being happy. It involves focused attention, immediate feedback, a level of difficulty great enough to avoid boredom but not so great as to induce anxiety or hopelessness (he estimates it at about 85% of one’s capabilities in whatever area), a loss of the sense of passage and time, and so on. It’s quite an interesting book, and he discusses some people who quite deliberately and systematically arrange their lives to increase the opportunities for flow to occur. His later book, Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life, is also worth reading. (Again, link is to inexpensive secondhand copies.)

You might also enjoy and find useful Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life, by Martin Seligman, yet another book by an experimental psychologist, this one the man who discovered that learned helplessness and depression are closely related and perhaps the same. He describes some interesting experiments and offers useful thoughts based on what he discovered. (The experiments are quite interesting, BTW.)

Finally, I recommend Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, by Carol Dweck, who is a Stanford psychologist. The book describes her research and experiments in seeking to understand why some kids enjoy challenges and others shirk from them. It has useful insights and, among other things, suggest that when you are learning something new—a language or a practical skill or whatever—you focus on your progress rather than the results you get. At the beginning of learning anything—playing the piano, for example—the results are not going to be all that great for most, but progress is quite good: rapid improvement from session to session. The rate of progress naturally will slow, but by then the results are usually good enough to motivate one.

All the books listed are quite enjoyable to read, at least for me. But people differ, which takes us back to my first answer: it depends. 🙂

BTW, for those who want to combat addiction, Changing for Good: a Revolutionary Six-Stage Program for Overcoming Bad Habits and Moving Your Life Positively Forward, by Prochaska et al., is both interesting and useful. He got his entry into this by trying to find ways to help people break their addiction to cigarettes (which turn out to be highly addictive as well as deadly). It was in looking at his research that he discovered the six stages, which turn out have to be done sequentially with certain tasks that must be completed at each stage before the next stage can be successfully addressed.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 February 2017 at 4:05 pm

The GOP Senator is right that Trump’s press conference consisted mostly of what he should say to his therapist

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A therapist, I might add, who seems to be doing no good whatsoever. John Cassidy in the New Yorker:

It was “insane,” a “marathon rant” at the media, and “a press conference for the ages.” Before you accuse me of liberal bias, these were the terms that Fox Business Channel’s Charles Gasparino, the home page of the New York Post, and Fox News’s Shepard Smith used, respectively, to describe the performance that Donald Trump put on during a lengthy press conference in the East Room of the White House on Thursday.

Nominally, the White House had hastily scheduled the press conference so that Trump could announce he was nominating Alexander Acosta, the dean of Florida International University College of Law, for the post of Labor Secretary. But it was clear something strange was afoot when Trump walked in alone—without Acosta. Then, when the President started to talk, his tone was one of thinly suppressed fury.

After briefly lauding Acosta’s credentials, Trump thanked Paul Singer, a conservative Wall Street billionaire who used to oppose him and now supports him, for paying him a visit. (One of the few things Trump seems actually to like about being President is having supplicant rich guys come and pay homage to him.) Then he changed tack and said, “I’m here today to update the American people on the incredible progress that has been made in the last four weeks since my Inauguration . . . I don’t think there’s ever been a President elected who in this short period of time has done what we’ve done.”

What Trump has actually done, of course, is demonstrate his manifest unsuitability for the job he now holds. He has also signed a bunch of papers, most of which have had little immediate effect, and one of which—his anti-Muslim travel ban—plunged America’s airports into chaos before being put on hold by a federal judge. For the past week, his Administration has been consumed by damaging stories about his ties to Russia, and his firing of his national-security adviser, Michael Flynn.

Four weeks into its first term, the Obama Administration had already passed the biggest economic stimulus since the Great Depression and a sweeping fair-pay act. It had also announced a troop surge in Afghanistan. By comparison, Trump has achieved virtually nothing, except scaring the bejesus out of the world.

In his mind, of course, things are very different. For more than hour on Thursday, he stood at a White House lectern, the yellowness of his hair accentuated by the gold drapes hanging behind him, and demonstrated, again, that he long ago escaped the bounds of reality that restrict most mortals. He talked about his various executive orders, his meetings with the leaders of the United Kingdom and Canada, and his fifty-five-per-cent approval rating in the latest Rasmussen poll. (For some reason, he didn’t mention his forty-per-cent approval rating in a Gallup poll, the lowest on record for a President in his first month in office.) “I’m keeping my promises to the American people,” he said.

He returned, yet again, to the subject of the election. After pointing out that he got three hundred and four votes in the Electoral College, he added, “I guess it was the biggest Electoral College win since Ronald Reagan.” It wasn’t anything of the sort—Obama, for one, received higher vote counts—but Trump didn’t let that bother him. He spoke of the campaign-style rally he is scheduled to attend on Saturday, near Orlando, Florida—many observers suspect his handlers organized the event to cheer him up—and said that he had “heard that the crowds are massive that want to be there.”

About the only bit of real news came when Trump confirmed, from his own mouth, that he didn’t have a problem with the fact that Flynn had discussed U.S. sanctions with the Russian Ambassador to Washington three weeks before the Inauguration. The reason he fired Flynn, he said, was because he subsequently misled Vice-President Mike Pence.

In a more fractious political setting—the British Parliament, say—Trump would have been shouted down by howls of derision. There in the East Room, the members of the White House press corps sat meekly as the President offered them up as chum to conservative talk radio and other redoubts of alternative-reality Trumpery. “I turn on the TV, open the newspapers, and I see stories of chaos,” he said, striking a note of incredulity. “Chaos. Yet it is the exact opposite. This Administration is running like a fine-tuned machine, despite the fact that I can’t get my Cabinet approved.”

Evidently, Trump was so pleased with that bit of Newspeak—“fine-tuned machine”—that he used it twice. He also dismissed a Times report that said some of his campaign aides were in regular touch with Russian intelligence officials. “The three people that they talked about all totally deny it,” he said. “And I can tell you, speaking for myself, I own nothing in Russia. I have no loans in Russia. I don’t have any deals in Russia. . . . Russia—this is fake news put out by the media.” Speaking more generally, he declared, “The press, honestly, is out of control. The level of dishonesty is out of control.’’

Nobody can argue with that last sentence—but not in reference to the press. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 February 2017 at 6:35 pm

Breaking Up the Family as a Way to Break Up the Mafia

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People are to a great extent shaped by the culture in which they develop their sense of self and their values: the national culture, the local culture of their town or neighborhood, and the microculture of their families and family values. Families with depraved values pass those along to the children, who in turn pass them along to their children, and the dysfunctional culture can easily span generations.

Gaia Pianigiani reports in the NY Times:

Fighting the mafia at the very toe of Italy, Roberto Di Bella has seen a lot: children as young as 11 or 12 serving as lookouts during murders, attending drug deals and mob strategy sessions, or learning how to handle a Kalashnikov assault rifle.

But it was the day he charged the younger brother of a minor he had jailed years before that he decided to take a drastic step: separating children from their mob families and moving them to a different part of Italy to break a generational cycle of criminality.

“I am not taking them away for nothing,” said Mr. Di Bella, a 53-year-old magistrate, president of the Reggio Calabria minors’ court.

“Sons follow their fathers,” he said. “But the state can’t allow that children are educated to be criminals.”

Since he began taking children away from parents convicted of mob association in 2012, Mr. Di Bella has separated about 40 boys and girls, ages 12 to 16, from their families, in an approach that has proved as controversial as it has been effective.

About a quarter of the time, mothers looking to flee the mafia’s tentacles go with them. The rest of the children are put into foster care, but Mr. Di Bella said that none of the children he had separated from their families had since committed a crime.

The Justice Ministry in Italy has just codified statutes so that Mr. Di Bella’s innovation, so far limited to his corner of Calabria, can be applied to fight mafias nationwide.

Some are appalled by the strategy in a country where family bonds are so cherished. Critics have called it a “Nazi-like method” that overlooks the environmental factors that have made Calabria one of Italy’s poorest and most violent regions.

“If Calabria stays Italy’s most underdeveloped region, it’ll keep having the most potent mafia,” said Isaia Sales, an expert and author of books on criminal organizations. “Regardless of the families.”

Even Mr. Di Bella admits to losing more than an occasional night’s sleep over taking children away from their parents. Still, he says, since he started separating the children, fathers have written to him to thank him for it. Children have told him they feel liberated. Mothers ask if he will do it for their children.

The success of the approach says everything about the bonds that have made the ’Ndrangheta (pronounced n-DRAHN-ghe-ta), a strictly family-run business, one of Italy’s hardest mafia networks to penetrate.

From its base in the south, the ’Ndrangheta has infiltrated communities even in Northern Italy and abroad, becoming one of the most powerful criminal syndications in the world, spanning Italy to South America and Australia. Specialized in international drug and weapons smuggling, it is the No. 1 cocaine supplier into Europe.

The methods that keep the network tightly knit and functioning are both intimate and brutal, and for those caught up in the ’Ndrangheta’s web, difficult to escape.

We hear things that are much worse than Gomorrah,” Mr. Di Bella said, referring to an award-winning book and movie that recounted gruesome lives inside another of Italy’s notorious mob networks, the Neapolitan Camorra.

Mr. Di Bella and others are convinced that severing familial links is not only one of the most effective ways to defeat the ’Ndrangheta, but that it also restores to the children of the mob families the possibility of a normal life.

Some minors end up in the program after committing the so-called symptomatic crimes, like gang violence or setting police cars on fire. Others become full-blown mafiosos at a young age.

The Reggio Calabria juvenile court has sentenced about 100 minors for mafia association and 50 for murder or attempted murder since the 1990s.

Teenagers who come from ’Ndrangheta families have access to unlimited, if illicit, wealth, walk around with Rolex watches on their wrists, and are encouraged to neglect their education and spend time only within the family circle.

“Emotionally, they are very alone,” said Enrico Interdonato, a 32-year-old psychologist who has volunteered to work with Mr. Di Bella. “My job is mostly to relate to them humanly.”

“We don’t want to change anyone,” he added. “But we can help them be free to build their own conscience.”

After the children are moved to a different Italian region, the authorities can try to create the conditions for an ordinary childhood.

In the last two years, mothers have started to turn to Mr. Di Bella, in the hope of saving their children from an inescapable destiny of death or prison, and sometimes to escape mafia ties themselves. . .

Continue reading. And do read the whole thing. Later in the article:

One father, under a strict prison regime, wrote to Mr. Di Bella to thank him for the “chance you gave to my children to live in a taintless environment and to live in legality,” he said in a letter.

“I am proud to grant my children a different future,” he wrote.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 February 2017 at 12:13 pm

Mental health professionals say that Trump is unfit for office.

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This is a strong statement, and in my opinion it is also a national emergency. But will Congress act? (See previous post.)

I predicted some time back that Trump would be out of office before March.

And from Simon Maloy’s column, it sounds as though the entire White House is decompensating. Do recall this from a Michael Gerson column:

In early January, House Speaker Paul Ryan met on the issue of tax reform with a delegation from the president-elect. Attending were future chief strategist and senior counselor Stephen K. Bannon, future chief of staff Reince Priebus, future senior adviser Jared Kushner, future counselor Kellyanne Conway and future senior policy adviser Stephen Miller. As the meeting began, Ryan pointedly asked, “Who’s in charge?”


Simon Maloy’s piece begins:

White House press secretary Sean Spicer stood up before the Washington press corps on Tuesday and told several lies to cover up President Donald Trump’s lies about the scandal surrounding now ex-national security adviser Michael Flynn. These lies are important, and they make it clear that the White House’s official story of how the administration handled Flynn’s falsehoods about his contacts with the Russian government does not make sense.

One of the critical questions swirling around this scandal has been when exactly Trump learned that his national security adviser had discussed the Obama administration’s sanctions on Russia during a Dec. 29 phone conversation with the Russian ambassador to the United States. The only comment Trump has made on the issue came on Feb. 10, the day after The Washington Post reported that Flynn had indeed discussed the sanctions with the Russian ambassador and had falsely denied ever having done so. A reporter aboard Air Force One asked the president, “What do you make of reports that Gen. Flynn had conversations with the Russians about sanctions before you were sworn in?” Trump pleaded ignorance: “I don’t know about it. I haven’t seen it. What report is that?”

At today’s press briefing, Spicer revealed that this wasn’t true. “Immediately after the Department of Justice notified the White House counsel of the situation” in late January, Spicer said, “the White House counsel briefed the president and a small group of his senior advisers.” So Trump, by his spokesman’s account, knew about Flynn’s lies for several weeks and then, shall we say, misled reporters when asked about it.

When Major Garrett of CBS News asked Spicer at Tuesday’s press briefing if Trump had been “truthful,” Spicer tried to argue that Trump had not lied at all. The president, Spicer insisted, had been asked “specifically” about The Washington Post story and replied that “he hadn’t seen that at the time.” As the video and transcript of Trump’s interaction with the press demonstrate, that was another lie: Trump was asked about “reports” in general, said he didn’t know anything and was then told by a reporter that The Washington Post had reported on it.

So now we know, by the White House’s own account, that Trump has known since late January that his national security adviser lied to him, lied to the vice president and lied to pretty much everyone about his contacts with Russia. According to Spicer, the period between then and yesterday evening was spent “trying to ascertain the truth” about what Flynn had done and the ultimate result was that “the level of trust between the president and Gen. Flynn had eroded to the point that [Trump] felt he had to make a change.”

That doesn’t make much sense. Let’s review: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 February 2017 at 3:20 pm

It’s not just the U.S. who shoots itself in the foot: The UK does as well

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Just read this post by Kevin Drum at Mother Jones. It’s good news on the assumption that misery loves company.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 February 2017 at 6:01 pm

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