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The man who studies the spread of ignorance

6 January 2016

 

In 1979, a secret memo from the tobacco industry was revealed to the public. Called the Smoking and Health Proposal, and written a decade earlier by the Brown & Williamson tobacco company, it revealed many of the tactics employed by big tobacco to counter “anti-cigarette forces”.

 

In one of the paper’s most revealing sections, it looks at how to market cigarettes to the mass public: “Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the ‘body of fact’ that exists in the mind of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy.” 

 

This revelation piqued the interest of Robert Proctor, a science historian from Stanford University, who started delving into the practices of tobacco firms and how they had spread confusion about whether smoking caused cancer. 

 

“I was exploring how powerful industries could promote ignorance to sell their wares. Ignorance is power… and agnotology is about the deliberate creation of ignorance. 

 

“In looking into agnotology, I discovered the secret world of classified science, and thought historians should be giving this more attention.” 

 

“Ignorance is not just the not-yet-known, it’s also a political ploy, a deliberate creation by powerful agents who want you ‘not to know’.” 

 

Balancing act Agnotology is as important today ... For example, politically motivated doubt was sown over US President Barack Obama’s nationality for many months by opponents until he revealed his birth certificate in 2011. In another case, some political commentators in Australia attempted to stoke panic by likening the country’s credit rating to that of Greece, despite readily available public information from ratings agencies showing the two economies are very different. 

 

Proctor explains that ignorance can often be propagated under the guise of balanced debate. For example, the common idea that there will always be two opposing views does not always result in a rational conclusion. This was behind how tobacco firms used science to make their products look harmless, and is used today by climate change deniers to argue against the scientific evidence. 

 

“This ‘balance routine’ has allowed the cigarette men, or climate deniers today, to claim that there are two sides to every story, that ‘experts disagree’ – creating a false picture of the truth, hence ignorance.” 

 

A new era of ignorance Proctor found that ignorance spreads when firstly, many people do not understand a concept or fact and secondly, when special interest groups – like a commercial firm or a political group – then work hard to create confusion about an issue. 

 

Consider climate change as an example. “The fight is not just over the existence of climate change, it’s over whether God has created the Earth for us to exploit, whether government has the right to regulate industry, whether environmentalists should be empowered, and so on. It’s not just about the facts, it’s about what is imagined to flow from and into such facts,” says Proctor. 

 

Making up our own minds Another academic studying ignorance is David Dunning, from Cornell University. Dunning warns that the internet is helping propagate ignorance – it is a place where everyone has a chance to be their own expert, he says, which makes them prey for powerful interests wishing to deliberately spread ignorance. 

 

"While some smart people will profit from all the information now just a click away, many will be misled into a false sense of expertise. My worry is not that we are losing the ability to make up our own minds, but that it’s becoming too easy to do so. We should consult with others much more than we imagine. Other people may be imperfect as well, but often their opinions go a long way toward correcting our own imperfections, as our own imperfect expertise helps to correct their errors,” warns Dunning. 

 

Dunning and Proctor also warn that the wilful spread of ignorance is rampant throughout the US presidential primaries on both sides of the political spectrum. 

 

So while agnotology may have had its origins in the heyday of the tobacco industry, today the need for both a word and the study of human ignorance is as strong as ever.

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WHAT A PITY, PASTOR KONG HEE WOULD HAVE BEEN GREAT PAP MATERIAL

WHAT A PITY, PASTOR KONG HEE WOULD HAVE BEEN GREAT PAP MATERIAL | Odds and Ends | Scoop.it

CHC members still believe in their messiah. They still believe CHC leaders did not wrong and the church was not hurt in any way. Still they pray regularly for the acquittal of their beloved leaders. Where else do you see such dedication and drive for a cause?

 

Well, GE2015 is a good place to begin. Despite Singapore's waning economy, the huge influx of foreigners and the multiple accountability sagas concerning town councils which casts serious doubts on the PAP, 70% of Singaporeans still voted for the PAP and gave Lee Hsien Loong a landslide victory. Why and how this happened, nobody knows.

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Neoliberalism has had its day. So what happens next? | Martin Jacques

Neoliberalism has had its day. So what happens next? | Martin Jacques | Odds and Ends | Scoop.it

In the early 1980s the author was one of the first to herald the emerging dominance of neoliberalism in the west. Here he argues that this doctrine is now faltering. But what happens next?

 

The hyper-globalisation era has been systematically stacked in favour of capital against labour: international trading agreements, drawn up in great secrecy, with business on the inside and the unions and citizens excluded, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) being but the latest examples; the politico-legal attack on the unions; the encouragement of large-scale immigration in both the US and Europe that helped to undermine the bargaining power of the domestic workforce; and the failure to retrain displaced workers in any meaningful way.

 

As Thomas Piketty has shown, in the absence of countervailing pressures, capitalism naturally gravitates towards increasing inequality. In the period between 1945 and the late 70s, Cold War competition was arguably the biggest such constraint. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, there have been none. As the popular backlash grows increasingly irresistible, however, such a winner-takes-all regime becomes politically unsustainable.

 

Large sections of the population in both the US and the UK are now in revolt against their lot, as graphically illustrated by the support for Trump and Sanders in the US and the Brexit vote in the UK. This popular revolt is often described, in a somewhat denigratory and dismissive fashion, as populism. Or, as Francis Fukuyama writes in a recent excellent essay in Foreign Affairs: “‘Populism’ is the label that political elites attach to policies supported by ordinary citizens that they don’t like.” Populism is a movement against the status quo.

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Tweet from @rickygervais

When you are dead, you do not know you are dead. It's only painful & difficult for others. The same applies when you are stupid.
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As an Arab, the Middle East's reaction to Orlando left me speechless… - Arab Humanists العرب الإنسانويون

As an Arab, the Middle East's reaction to Orlando left me speechless… - Arab Humanists العرب الإنسانويون | Odds and Ends | Scoop.it

"As a bilingual Arabic and English speaker from the Middle East, I took the liberty of browsing through Arabic news pages on Facebook earlier today; namely Al Jazeera, Al-Arabiya, BBC Arabic and a number of Egyptian news outlets to gauge how the Arab world was responding to the Orlando shooting. The results were disappointing, alarming, and depressing to say the least. Each page’s comment section was inundated with comments showing sympathy towards the attacker, praising him for his actions and wishing death upon members of the international LGBT community... It was only through deep digging that a single person who expressed so much as a shred of sympathy to the victims and their families, or even condemned the blatant massacre that took place could be found... It has now become commonplace in the Arab world to wish death upon minorities and celebrate their murders. Gays, Christians, Jews, atheists, apostates, heterodox Muslims, liberal Muslims, and secularists are seen as subhuman. Celebrating their deaths is now a norm... Members of the left who claim such terrorism has nothing to do with Islam need to become aware of the issue at hand that is Islamism, and understand the ramifications of evading discussions on it."

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Sima Qian: China's 'grand historian'

Sima Qian: China's 'grand historian' | Odds and Ends | Scoop.it

The rest, as they say, is history.


"He introduced the idea… that dynasties begin with the very virtuous and noble founder, and then they continue through a series of rulers until they come to a bad last ruler, and he is so morally depraved that he is overthrown."


Sima Qian thought the purpose of history was to teach rulers how to govern well.


By contrast, China's current government - like every other Chinese government I can think of - sees it as a means of legitimising its rule.


Last year China re-opened its national museum ... it illustrates just how much history is a pick-and-mix for China's rulers. They leave out the bits that do not do them credit and ... instead of the tens of millions who died in Mao's Great Leap forward and the Cultural Revolution, you get China's first nuclear test in 1964, or a celebration of the reform era after Mao's death.


"History is totally political in China, and I think it always has been," says Frances Wood.


I am sure Sima Qian would hope someone like him is sitting unnoticed in a quiet corner writing a more nuanced history of this period, even if it can only be published when the powerful have passed on.


After his death, his daughter risked her own safety to hide his secret history. And two emperors later, his grandson took another risk in revealing the book's existence.

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Biology Doesn't Support Gay Marriage Bans

Biology Doesn't Support Gay Marriage Bans | Odds and Ends | Scoop.it

Gay marriage bans don’t make sense for a lot of reasons, but I’ll just focus on one for now. The notion of defining marriage as a union between “one man and one woman” doesn’t work unless you define “man” and “woman,” and we actually don’t have airtight definitions for those states.


Even if you are XX or XY, sex doesn’t always manifest based on which 2 chromosomes you have. It’s about hormones, a complicated balance of hormones


A person with XY chromosomes can appear female with a condition called androgen insensitivity syndrome. The Y chromosome has the gene for testosterone, which gets produced just like in many other guys, but the receptors for testosterone don’t work. So even though testosterone is present, it can’t do what it normally does: make a penis, put hair on the chest, etc. So someone who has this condition grows up appearing female, and often only finds out at puberty when no menstruation happens that she actually doesn’t have a uterus or ovaries.


A person can be XX but appear to be a male because of congenital adrenal hyperplasia, where hormones in overdrive during development masculinize the body even though there is no Y chromosome. In an extreme case, a baby boy could be born and mature normally, having a fully functioning penis (and sex life), only to find later that not only does he have a penis and testes, but internally, a uterus and ovaries as well.


A female, XX, can still have a gene from the Y chromosome, such as the one to produce testosterone, because during meiosis in sperm formation, the X and Y chromosomes are near each other, and genes can be swapped. Does this make the woman who is XX and has female body parts less of a woman just because she has a gene to produce testosterone? The Olympics thinks so.


Sex is not the binary system we think it is, and we can’t go around making rules about what people can and can’t do based on what anatomy happens to be between their legs. So on top of the fact that gay marriage bans are unconstitutional, unnecessary, and downright petty, they are also terribly unscientific.

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8 Money-Making Tips From Investment Guru, Jim Rogers

8 Money-Making Tips From Investment Guru, Jim Rogers | Odds and Ends | Scoop.it

Jim Rogers gave a talk recently, right here in Singapore, about the current global financial situation.

 

Here are 8 money-making ideas from Jim Rogers: 

 

Own real assets: gold, silver, agricultural products.

 

Be contrarian. If everybody is thinking the same way, then somebody is not thinking. Be very curious about the world. Think independently. Don’t follow the crowd.

 

Career: Work for an Asian bank instead of US one.

 

Learn about selling short. If a disaster comes and you sell short, you might make a lot of money. Gain knowledge first.

 

Buy a Reverse ETF.

 

Chinese tourism is going to explode for years to come.

 

Is the Malaysian ringgit going up or down? Jim: “Tell me when he’s gonna leave. Tell me the week before and we’ll buy lots of ringgit. Disaster always leads to opportunity.”

 

Everything in agriculture has a great future. Buy futures, fertilizer or tractor companies, buy a farm. If all else fails, be a farmer.

 

I walked away from that session with no doubts in my mind that Jim Rogers’ kids will beat most of ours within the local education system. They are not learning Mandarin (and clearly excelling it in) so as to pass exams in the government schools here. They are doing this with the aim of heading for one of Beijing’s best universities in future. Also, their formidable command of Mandarin will stand them in good stead after they graduate, thanks to the governesses and teachers their parents have hired to communicate to them (only) in perfect Mandarin.

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Why GDP is a poor measure of progress

Why GDP is a poor measure of progress | Odds and Ends | Scoop.it

Gross domestic product is a measure of output, income and spending all at the same time. GDP growth became a target for politicians and a scorecard by which they were judged by voters. Even so, it has always had critics.


Environmentalists have long lamented that GDP treats the plunder of the planet as something that adds to income, rather than being treated as an expense. Robert Kennedy once famously took aim at GDP which, he said, counted cigarette advertising and jails but did not include “the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages”. Still, GDP growth was a decent, if rough, guide to material progress. The more output and income was generated (after adjusting for inflation), the better off we were.

 

That equation worked pretty well when the economy was still mostly farms and factories, producing things of similar quality that could easily be counted. But GDP is less suited to the task of measuring modern, service-led economies that are geared towards the quality of consumer experience, rather than consumption of greater quantities. It is far harder to identify the extent to which changes in price reflect a better service. When medical charges rise, it will generally count as inflation, even if the quality of health care is improving faster than prices are rising. And where consumers pay nothing, as is often now the case with digital services, they do not register in GDP. The consumer benefits from Google and Facebook are thus excluded. Previously paid-for things, such as maps, encyclopedias and music recordings, are now free. So they have dropped out of GDP. Online shopping, banking and travel-arranging is more convenient for consumers. To the extent that all this saves on buildings, it detracts from GDP. For the most part, the trickiness of measuring the output of services leads real GDP to be understated. But mis-measurement works the other way, too. For instance, if an airline squeezes more (and thus cheaper) seats on to a plane, it counts as extra output, even thought the quality of service falls. Perversely, the more risks bank take, the more they contribute to GDP, even as the quality of lending falls.

 

It is a far less useful guide to affluent economies where the quality of services is prized over simply having more stuff. GDP is increasingly failing to fully capture gains in average living standards. It is tricky to compare the life of a medieval king to that of a modern-day worker. But it is almost as difficult to put a number on how much better is a consumer basket that includes smartphones and music streaming to one filled with fax machines and audio-cassettes.

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Bukit Batok by-election: May 7th

Bukit Batok by-election: May 7th | Odds and Ends | Scoop.it

PAP candidate Murali made the S$1.9 million promise to invest in infrastructural plans for a neighbourhood in Bukit Batok during a press conference on Sunday (April 24).

 

The plans - which include covered walkways, ramps, a jogging track and a small park - come under the Neighbourhood Renewal Programme for the precinct at Blocks 140 to 149, Bukit Batok West Ave 4. Some 640 of the 12,000 households in the seat live in these blocks.

 

In other countries, this vote-buying method is corruption and indicated that the ruling party government display preferential treatment to constituencies that support the ruling party and punishes those in the Opposition wards.

 

Corruption in Singapore is legalised and calling out corruption will land one in a defamation law suit or a sedition charge with 3 years' jail sentence. Singapore ranks top 10 in perceived non-corruption in the world every year.

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Christianity and Korea

Christianity and Korea | Odds and Ends | Scoop.it

How did the religion become so apparently prevalent in South Korea?

 

Throughout Korea, stories of the lavish, usually tax-free lifestyles of Protestant leaders have caused almost universal mistrust of the churches by non-Christians, and many Christians themselves are fed up with what they perceive to be widespread corruption behind the pulpit. A 2015 poll found that only 20 percent of Koreans generally trust Protestant pastors.

 

“The ideology of the Christian religion, or Protestantism, is usually a poor Christian is not a Christian,” says Song. There is a pervasive belief, influenced by shamanism, that God wants you to be rich, and wants the Korean nation to be rich. Most Christians attribute South Korea’s rapid rise to prosperity to God’s work.

 

In the present as in the past, Koreans will visit shamans, people who can reputedly speak to the spirits around you, not for care in the afterlife, but for good fortune now: for the success of a business, the healing of an ailment, a perfect score on a child’s exam. This shamanism has infused itself into Korean Christianity, where Koreans will pray for day to day health, wealth, and happiness, and Christian ministers will work to guarantee it.

 

“There’s always been this basic belief that the priest, namely the shaman, or in Christianity the minister, has this tremendous […] access to the gods, or God,” says Hwang. Cho, like many Christian ministers and most shamans, claims to be able to heal people spiritually of real medical ailments, notably paralysis. (“And he walks!”) The end of each service at Yoido involves the minister going through a long list of medical conditions, demanding they be gone.

 

Protestant services are rarely subdued in Korea, with people falling into trances, speaking in tongues, and loudly proclaiming their allegiance to God – in hopes they will reap the benefits not just in the next life, but in this one too.

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What the Legal Battle Over Trump University Reveals About Its Founder

What the Legal Battle Over Trump University Reveals About Its Founder | Odds and Ends | Scoop.it

The Trump University “curriculum” was actually a sales funnel. At the top were a series of free 90-minute real-estate-industry workshops ... According to the lawsuits and to Trump University’s own business plans–including an elaborate 135-page “playbook,” on file as evidence in the suit–the free sessions were meant to persuade attendees to buy a $1,495 ticket to a three-day workshop, touted to those attending the free sessions as being “all you need” to start getting rich.

 

In the foreword Trump University president Sexton wrote, “Other organizations try to sell help alone, without the proven expertise to back it up, and just when you realize that the advice you paid for is … ineffective–they try to sell you more expensive products. They hook you on promises and never deliver.”

 

Yet the playbook spells out how that session was meant to up-sell those $1,495 attendees into mentorship programs costing $9,995 to $34,995. It even uses the term set the hook to describe the process of luring people at the free preview session to take the three-day $1,495 course. Once their quarry was on the hook for $1,495, the message to be hammered home beginning on the second day of that program was that three days wasn’t nearly enough time to get the students out there making Trump-like deals. Only the more expensive mentorships could do that.

 

Scripts directed teachers to remind students of their instructors’ close association with Trump. “I remember one time Mr. Trump had us over for dinner,” the script read, after which the instructor recounted how Trump had confided some nugget of real estate wisdom to him.

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Trump and the Rise of the Unprotected

Trump and the Rise of the Unprotected | Odds and Ends | Scoop.it

This is utter disgust with the entire system: having billionaires and party bosses -- in both parties -- choose our candidates even before primaries are allowed to run their course.

In wise governments the top is attentive to the realities of the lives of normal people, and careful about their anxieties. That’s more or less how America used to be. There didn’t seem to be so much distance between the top and the bottom.

Now is seems the attitude of the top half is: You’re on your own. Get with the program, little racist.

The real value of free speech is not to those who possess power, but to those who want to challenge them. And the real value of censorship is to those who do not wish their authority to be challenged. The right to ‘subject each others’ fundamental beliefs to criticism’ is the bedrock of an open, intellectually diverse society.

 

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The Math of Averaging Down

The Math of Averaging Down | Odds and Ends | Scoop.it

How good is your entry skill?

 

You did buy at $1.00, remember? 

 

What makes your such an expert market timer now so super sure $0.10 will be the turning point? 

 

And more importantly, you did let a $1.00 position slide all the way to $0.10 - that's not saying much about your exit skill, does it? 

 

Do you honestly believe you will exit everything when the price hits $0.20?

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Killing Nemo - Why we may not have any fish left in 30 years

Killing Nemo - Why we may not have any fish left in 30 years | Odds and Ends | Scoop.it

Fish, like all animals, need oxygen for survival. Like humans seeking fresh air, fish cannot always find the oxygen that they desperately need, and the problem is getting worse. The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) reports that the number of known oxygen-starved areas, a.k.a.: “Dead Zones“, has doubled since 1990 to nearly 150, with some stretching 70,000 square kilometres, about the size of Ireland.

 

Then there is the insatiable appetite humans have for fish. This growing consumer demand now threatens the very existence of entire fish populations. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) reports that the global fishing fleet is 2 to 3 times larger than what the oceans can sustainably support. The industry is taking far more fish out of the oceans than can be replaced by those remaining. If this continues, stocks of all species currently fished for food are predicted to collapse by 2048.

 

With no oxygen to breath, and with no chance to reproduce, in about 30 years there might not be any living aquatic creatures anyway, only the cute, animated characters appearing on the silver screen.

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Adulation Gone Nuts

Next month, The Catholic Church will declare Mother Teresa a saint.

 

Dr Aroup Chatterjee is bristling.  In 2003, he published Mother Teresa: The Final Verdict.

 

The London-based physician has been studying Mother Teresa for decades and his book cataloged evidence that the Missionaries of Charity led by the nun is not quite what it portrays itself to be.

 

In fact, his research has led to a documentary entitled Hell’s Angel. The documentary delivers a searing criticism of Mother Teresa and her work.

 

... many of us have already regarded our pastors and priests as saints – superheroes beyond reproach. In the west, preachers like Jim Baker, Jimmy Swaggart, Peter Popoff, Morris Cerullo, Robert Tilton, WV Grant, Bob Moorehead, Roy Clements, John Paulk, Paul Crouch, Douglas Goodman, Kent Hovind, Ted Haggard, Paul Barnes, Lonnie Latham, Gilbert Deya, Richard Roberts, Earl Paulk, Coy Private, Michael Reid, Joe Barron, George Alan Rekers, Eddie Long, Vaughn Reeves, Stephen Green, Albert Odulele, Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar, Benny Hin, Randy White, Thomas Wesley Weeks ... And all those thousands of priests who were caught molesting young altar boys.

 

Our blind faith in pastors and priests will get us hurt badly. Many of these so-called religious leaders are parasites who have never done a day of honest work in their lives, many use plagiarized homilies and some even deploy ghostwriters for their written work. A lot of these scoundrels are political animals with glib tongues whose full-time jobs seem to be engaging in games of one-upmanship.

 

They live comfortably from donations made by suckers who have been conned to join their congregations. And many of their parishioners are more than happy to endow them with gifts of money and meals and whatnot because of the mistaken belief that these bloodsuckers have made sacrifices and have left lucrative careers in the secular world to “answer the call of God.” What a myth! Maybe some believers think their places in heaven are assured if they treat their religious leaders well. And by religious leaders, I also use the term to refer to the laypeople and hangers-on who cling onto the coattails of the clergy. An annual audit and declaration of their assets should be made mandatory by the Commissioner of Charities ...

 

The next time you visit a place of worship, ask yourself “Am I contributing to the creation of monsters?”

 

Remember, the leaders there are as human – if not more human – as anyone of us.

 

They are not saints, even when their organizations and followers regard them as saints.

 

You don’t see faith healers working in hospitals for the same reason you don’t see psychics winning the lottery.

 

Well, that’s because they operate in a world created entirely out of fantasy and illusion!

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The Great Gig in the Sky

Amazing performance by The Australian Pink Floyd Show. Torry set the bar, Bianca Antoinette came close... Ola Bieńkowska NAILED IT!
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Investing 101: Even active investors find it hard to beat the market

There are people out there who actively look for managers that can beat the market ... the problem is that a star today almost invariably turns out to be a dog the next year or within the next three. Check out John Paulson’s record for a perfectly textbook example of this. [https://www.tipranks.com/hedge-funds/john-paulson] ;

Even managers that have done well for decades can see their records erode over a single event [http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-08-02/stock-guru-bill-miller-is-back-but-the-questions-and-pain-linger]

 

... over the long-run, hardly anyone beats the market. [http://www.marketwatch.com/story/almost-no-one-can-beat-the-market-2013-10-25]

 

Studies have shown that active fund managers, despite being paid to beat their benchmarks, often end up mirroring their benchmarks so that they don’t do too badly in a given year.

 

So, ... why pay those higher fees at all?

 

As a beginning investor, it honestly isn’t worth the trouble on taking that bet that things will pay off handsomely when the odds show otherwise.

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To Help Kids Thrive, Coach Their Parents

To Help Kids Thrive, Coach Their Parents | Odds and Ends | Scoop.it

Adults can be taught to create an environment for success.

 

In 1986, in a few of the poorest neighborhoods in Kingston, Jamaica, a team of researchers from the University of the West Indies embarked on an experiment that has done a great deal, over time, to change our thinking about how to help children succeed: Help children by supporting and coaching their parents.

 

The researchers divided the families of 129 infants and toddlers into groups. The first group received hourlong home visits once a week from a trained researcher who encouraged the parents to spend more time playing actively with their children: reading picture books, singing songs, playing peekaboo. A second group of children received a kilogram of a milk-based nutritional supplement each week. A control group received nothing. The interventions themselves ended after two years, but the researchers have followed the children ever since.

 

The intervention that made the big difference in the children’s lives, as it turned out, wasn’t the added nutrition; it was the encouragement to the parents to play. Today, as adults, they earn an average of 25 percent more per year than the subjects whose parents didn’t receive home visits.

 

The Jamaica experiment helps make the case that if we want to improve children’s opportunities for success, one of the most powerful potential levers for change is not the children themselves, but rather the attitudes, beliefs and behaviors of the adults who surround them.

 

More recent research has helped to uncover exactly how that change can take place... in which parents of infants and young children are provided with supportive, personalized coaching that identifies and reinforces the small moments — such as the face-to-face exchanges sometimes called “serve and return” interactions — that encourage attachment, warmth and trust between parent and child.

 

In one series of experiments, infants and toddlers whose foster parents received just 10 home visits showed fewer behavior problems than a control group and significantly higher rates of “secure attachment” (a close, stable connection with the adults in their lives). The children’s ability to process stress improved, too. In fact, the daily patterns in their levels of cortisol, a key stress hormone, came to resemble those of typical, well-functioning, non-foster-care children.

 

These positive influences in children’s early lives can have a profound effect on the development of what are sometimes called noncognitive skills... a set of emotional and psychological habits and mind-sets that enable children to negotiate life effectively inside and outside of school: the ability to understand and follow directions; to focus on a single activity for an extended period; to interact calmly with other students; to cope with disappointment and persevere through frustration.

 

These capacities may be harder to measure on tests of kindergarten readiness than skills like number and letter recognition, but they are inordinately valuable in school, beginning on the first day of kindergarten. When children spend their early years in communities and homes where life is unstable and chaotic — which is true of a disproportionate number of children growing up in poverty — the intense and chronic stress they often experience as a result can seriously disrupt, on a neurobiological level, their development of these important capacities.

 

When parents get the support they need to create a warm, stable, nurturing environment at home, their children’s stress levels often go down, while their emotional stability and psychological resilience improve.

 

Though interventions in the homes of infants and toddlers are especially effective, the principle that intervening with adults can help children seems to hold true in schools, as well. Mental-health professionals are also assigned to work in each classroom, but they are concerned as much with the mental health of the teacher as with that of the students.

 

If from the beginning of the year the classroom is stable and reliable, with clear rules, consistent discipline, and greater emphasis on recognizing good behavior than on punishing bad, Dr. Raver believes that stressed-out students will be less likely to feel threatened and better able to regulate their less constructive impulses. That improved behavior, combined with the support and counsel of the mental-health professional assigned to the class, helps teachers stay calm and balanced in the face of the inevitable frustrations of teaching a group of high-energy 4-year-olds.

 

The evidence from Dr. Raver’s experiments indicates that the program’s effects go well beyond classroom climate... at the end of the school year, substantially better attention skills, impulse control and performance on memory tasks than did children in a control group. They also had stronger vocabulary, letter-naming and math skills, despite the fact that the training provided to teachers included no academic content at all.

 

The students improved academically for the simple reason that they were able to concentrate on what was being taught, without their attention being swept away by conflicts and anxieties. Changing the environment in the classroom made it easier for them to learn.

 

Nurturing the healthy development of infants and children, whether in the home or in the classroom, is hard and often stressful work. What we now understand is that the stress that parents and teachers feel can in turn elevate the stress levels of the children in their care, in ways that can undermine the children’s mental health and intellectual development. The good news is that the process can be reversed, often with relatively simple and low-cost interventions... our best strategy may be to first help the adults in their lives.

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American politics – No fear, No Sue

The right to oppose and disagree is part and parcel of the American democracy. Party members and leaders of the Republican are free to express their opposition to Trump and vote against him or abstained. They cannot be herded like sheep with a whip to do the callings of a small group of elite in the Party.
 
It was like that for a while until Trump stood up and trumps them to their proper places. And Trump could do it protected by a strong and endearing Constitution and an educated people that would speak and vote for what is best for them, not to be dictated by a few elite or aristocrats. And don’t forget the extremely independent and powerful judicial to uphold the Constitution of the USA, to protect the rights of the people against the abuses of the elite and aristocrats. The judicial will not be little office boy to do the running for the govt of the day without questioning the right and needs of what they are doing.
 
There is no Sue and no fear in American politics, and freedom of expression is a guarantee that cannot be violated by the power of the day. The world is getting a lesson in democracy, the rights and freedom of a free people who know that they are the real master of their country.
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The coming debt bust

The coming debt bust | Odds and Ends | Scoop.it
Most important, China must start to curb the relentless rise of debt. The assumption that the government of Xi Jinping will keep bailing out its banks, borrowers and depositors is pervasive—and not just in China itself. It must tolerate more defaults, close failed companies and let growth sag. This will be tough, but it is too late for China to avoid pain.
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Turning the screw

Turning the screw | Odds and Ends | Scoop.it

The reason for IPIC’s ire is $1.1 billion that appears to have gone missing. 1MDB was supposed to transfer this to IPIC as part of their deal, but IPIC says it was never received. Investigators believe this was part of a larger sum—perhaps $3.5 billion—that was siphoned off from 1MDB to a shell company in the British Virgin Islands which had an almost identical name to one of IPIC’s subsidiaries, Aabar, but was unconnected to it.

 

Investigators think some of the diverted money ended up in the personal bank accounts of Najib Razak, Malaysia’s prime minister... Mr Najib denies ever having taken public money for personal gain. Malaysia’s attorney-general says a $681m payment into the prime minister’s accounts was a legal personal donation from a Saudi royal.

 

The investigators believe much of the cash that flowed into Mr Najib’s accounts came via an offshore firm whose beneficial owner was a business partner of a Malaysian financier called Jho Low, a member of Mr Najib’s inner circle... Mr Low is thought to have played a key role in the transfers. He has denied wrongdoing.

 

Investigations within Malaysia have been timid or stymied. Last year the attorney-general was replaced—supposedly on health grounds, though leaked documents appear to show he was about to bring criminal charges against Mr Najib. His successor has rebuffed calls by the central bank for 1MDB to face charges. A parliamentary report into the fund’s affairs identified irregularities but stopped short of alleging outright fraud.

 

On April 12th the Swiss said the scope of their enquiries was widening, and that they were now investigating two former public officials from the United Arab Emirates—understood to be former bigwigs at IPIC and Aabar. The statement, unusually blunt for an ongoing probe, talked of suspected “embezzlement”, “criminal mismanagement”, “forgery” and “money-laundering”.

 

The Swiss earlier estimated the amount possibly misappropriated through 1MDB to be $4 billion. Some investigators now reckon it could be as much as $6 billion. Switzerland’s top financial regulator calls it a “clear” case of corruption, with “concrete indications” of “inadequate” anti-money-laundering measures by banks that handled 1MDB’s cash, among them some of the biggest names in finance. America’s FBI is believed to be looking at bank transactions, property deals and much else besides. With graft and dodgy offshore manoeuvres high up political agendas after the leaking of the “Panama papers”, investigators have an added incentive to dig deep. The 1MDB affair could become an important test of how the world deals with cross-border corruption.

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Not on my watch: Timepieces as investments

Not on my watch: Timepieces as investments | Odds and Ends | Scoop.it

by Ryan Ong

 

In the course of talking to watch enthusiasts, I’ve come to realise they fall into three distinct groups. These are:

 

– Watch collectors 

– Watch investors 

– Enthusiasts of something tangentially related to watches


Each of these behave in very different ways. Barring the watch investors, most would never claim to make any money out of their beloved wrist ornaments. In fact, it’s a small minority – the watch investors – who turn any kind of profit.

 

Watch collectors These are people who gush about the inner workings of a Patek Phillipe, and believe the popularity of Swatch is a problem on par with ISIS. They love their watches, and are the main group of buyers that investors cater to.

 

Watch investors Watch investors are the ones making the money. Oh, they understand the value of classic timepieces ... to two decimal places – but they have no sentimental attachment to what they trade.

 

Many watch investors will never wear the timepieces they buy. ... they are all about buying at the right price, and selling at the highest price. They’re not particular about much else.

 

I spoke to both collectors and investors about what makes an “investible” watch, and the answers were slightly different:

 

– What the specific time piece is associated with – Condition – Scarcity – Selling price

 

The “investible” nature of a watch is specific to the piece in question.

 

For example, Brad Pitt bought a $250,000 Patek Philipe Minute Repeater for Angelina Jolie. Does that mean all Minute Repeaters are going to go up in value? The answer is no. It is the specific watch bought for Angelina, and worn by her, that goes up in value.

 

The main categories used to describe the condition of a watch are new, excellent, good, and don’t bother.

 

Good condition is just a polite term; it actually means the condition is bad. But the watch must at least still work, despite the cracks and scuff marks.

 

Anything worse than that, and the watch is almost worthless. Note that “original parts” includes all the little springs and gears. Unethical watchsmiths sometimes remove select parts and replace them with generic components – it’s possible for an old, serviced Rolex to have had quite a few internal parts stolen over the years.

 

Scarcity Investors agreed that the more scarce the watch is, the more valuable it is. But I was told “limited edition” are announced by watch companies all the time as a marketing gimmick – not all limited edition watches, even if the production run is small, will be worth a lot of money.

 

Selling price When a limited edition watch is released, it will be sold at different prices. Members of the public will generally pay a higher price than a celebrity who requests for it (the watch companies want their designs on the wrists of famous people).

 

Some of the watches will sell at a premium, such as when someone wants to skip the queue (there may be a waiting list for the watch), or is simply charged more by a distributor.

 

Investors make their returns by finding undervalued watches. The investment-grade pieces are not just good watches; they are watches that are acquired at below the typical asking price. Similar models may not be considered worthwhile investments, because they sell for too high a price.

 

So should you invest in watches? The question is not so much if you should, but if you can.

 

Many watch investors also warned of high costs to sell: auction houses can take cuts as steep as 20 per cent, and retail stores will want a big commission if they sell it for you. A store will resell your watch on a consignment basis: you can leave it with them, and the bigger the commission you offer, the more of an effort they’ll make to sell it.

 

Overall, most of us are better off just buying the watches we like and thinking of them as luxuries – not investments. Unless you happen to know an A-list celebrity or two with a bunch of old watches.

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1MDB Scandal: Deposits in Malaysian Leader Najib’s Accounts Said to Top $1 Billion

1MDB Scandal: Deposits in Malaysian Leader Najib’s Accounts Said to Top $1 Billion | Odds and Ends | Scoop.it
Global investigators believe money deposited in Malaysian Prime Minister Najib’s accounts topped $1 billion and much of it originated with the country’s 1MDB fund, moving via offshore entities.
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