Another Week Ends

1. Another in a series of great articles from Lisa Belkin of the NY Times, […]

David Zahl / 9.24.10

1. Another in a series of great articles from Lisa Belkin of the NY Times, this one entitled “Keeping Kids Safe From the Wrong Dangers,” in which the author continues in what appears to be her (and Jonah Lehrer’s) quest to unveil the irrationality at the base of human decision-making. There’s also a great line in there about measurement being an instrument of discontent rather than, say, greater happiness and health:

If history is any guide, we seem to veer between overreaction and underreaction — all while defining our own response as “moderate.” There is an inherent hypocrisy in our attempts to control our odds — putting the organic veggies (there is no actual data proving that organic foods increase longevity) in the trunk of our car (researchers tell us there is “evidence” but not “proof” that car emissions accelerate heart disease), then checking our e-mail on our cellphone at the next red light (2,600 traffic deaths a year are caused by drivers using cellphones, according to a Harvard study). And while we certainly make constant (mis)calculations in our adult lives, we seem all the more determined yet befuddled when it comes to the safety of our children.

“Parents are just bad at risk assessment,” said Christie Barnes, a mother of four and the author of “The Paranoid Parents Guide.” “We are constantly overestimating rare dangers while underestimating common ones.”

Perversely, our worry seems to be increasing at a time when actual risk is decreasing. “Homicide is down, kidnapping is down, traffic deaths are down,” Ms. Barnes said. What is up, however, is measurement. It seems as if there’s a statistic for everything, and many of the numbers change from one study to the next. This means we are increasingly being asked to be expert in areas where even the experts aren’t certain.

2. Speaking of Lehrer (and Western ennui), his article in August’s Wired “Under Pressure: The Search for a Stress Vaccine” contains some key tidbits about the mind-body connection, esp as it relates to capital L, capital A, capital W:

The power of this new view of stress — that our physical health is strongly linked to our emotional state — is that it connects a wide range of scientific observations, from the sociological to the molecular. On one hand, stress can be described as cultural condition, a byproduct of a society that leaves some people in a permanent state of unease. But that feeling can also be measured in the blood and urine, quantified in terms of glucocorticoids and norepinephrine and adrenal hormones. And now we can see, with scary precision, the devastating cascade unleashed by these chemicals. The end result is that stress is finally being recognized as a critical risk factor, predicting an ever larger percentage of health outcomes.

3. An amusing interview in The Guardian with Guy Consolmagno, one of the Vatican’s astronomers, touching on the very worthy subject of alien baptism. Clearly the man has a sense of humor: “Any entity – no matter how many tentacles it has – has a soul.” He also comments on the Stephen Hawking non-story from a few weeks back: “Steven Hawking is a brilliant physicist and when it comes to theology I can say he’s a brilliant physicist.”

4. In the heartwarming arena, three quick stories: A. The Redemption of Michael Vick at gives a thoughtful update on the troubled star and concludes with a killer final line: “Vick has shown he can be a starter in this league, but most importantly, he has proved that sometimes when you lose everything, you gain some things that are far more valuable.”  B. A boy’s quest to raise money for his father’s headstone strikes a surprisingly deep chord of sympathy and (father-wound) empathy in Canada and C. Our beleaguered hero Steve Weibe is King of Kong once again!! (ht BE, JD & AZ)

5. Psyblog recently posted an interesting summary of a recent internet dating study. Among the 10 Psychological Insights gleaned was: “nine out of ten [participants] had lied on at least one of the attributes measured… As expected women tended to shave off the pounds, while men gave themselves a boost in height.”

6. Not sure if you’ve been following the pretty hilarious hoo-hah around the Joaquin Phoenix/Casey Affleck “documentary” I’m Still Here (be sure watch the Diddy clip) but the follow-up with Letterman is almost as priceless as the initial interview:

6a. On an unrelated film note, I finally got to see Get Low and it’s as good as everyone says! A Mockingbird friendly movie if ever there was one, it’s a gorgeously shot and surprisingly unflinching (i.e. non-Hollywood) study of repentance and absolution. The rare kind of film that deals with the real issues of life and isn’t afraid to crack the occasional joke in the process. Duvall’s performance is tops, and even if it wasn’t, any movie with the line “free will ain’t all it’s cracked up to be” gets my vote.

7. Finally, get it while it’s hot – for a very limited time (until 10/15) our recent publication The Gospel According to Pixar is available for 15% off! Go here and be sure to enter “FALLREAD305” in the coupon code box.

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2 responses to “Another Week Ends: False Danger, Stress Vaccines, Alien Baptism, Michael Vick, King of Kong, Online Dating, Get Low, Pixar”

  1. Kelty says:

    The stuff on Vick has been utterly remarkable. I'm glad this has made it up here.

  2. Mich says:

    But is risk decreasing? She omits the one telling statistic–the widening gap between rich and poor in the US and its consequences for people's lives.

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