A Heads Up To Those Wanting Smarter Children

Sometimes you do things to make them stupid:

Recent research from discipline and domestic violence expert Murray Straus, a professor of sociology and co-director of the Family Research Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire

The results of a survey of more than 17,000 university students from 32 countries “show that the higher the percent of parents who used corporal punishment, the lower the national average IQ,” Straus wrote in his presentation.

In looking at spanking just in the United States, Straus and a fellow researcher reviewed data on IQ scores from 806 children between 2 and 4 years old and another 704 kids aged 5 to 9.

When their IQs were tested again four years later, children in the younger group who were not spanked scored five points higher, on average, than did children who had been spanked. In the group of older children, spanking resulted in an average loss of 2.8 points.

“How often parents spanked made a difference,” Straus said in a news release from the university. “The more spanking, the slower the development of the child’s mental ability. But even small amounts of spanking made a difference.”

Sometimes it’s self confidence:

A new study of thousands of twins suggests that intellectual confidence is genetically inherited, and independent from actual intelligence.

Moreover, these genetic differences predict grades in school, says Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, a psychologist at Goldsmiths University in London, whose team found that 7- to 10-year-old children who achieved the best marks in school tended to rate their own abilities highly, even after accounting for differences due to intelligence and environment.

Most of these researchers assumed that environmental factors – the influence of parents, teachers and friends – explained why some students think more of their abilities than others.

That’s only partially true, says Chamorro-Premuzic. About half of differences in children’s self-perceived abilities can be explained by environment. The other half seems to be genetic. For comparison, genes can explain about 80 per cent of the differences in height.

Sometimes it’s down to genes:

Chun-Yen Chang, an education researcher at National Taiwan Normal University in Taipei led this study

Taiwanese teens with a particular mutation in a gene called COMT scored significantly lower on a national placement exam, compared with students who had other versions of this gene.

However:

Alternatively, the results could be a statistical fluke, resulting from a small sample. “This is very common among these kinds of studies because the genetic effects on cognition are so tiny that you need perhaps thousands of people to get a good estimate of the effect,” she says.

Drug/Money Death/Taxes Class/War

When I first read about the practice of large pharmaceutical companies paying smaller producers of cheaper generic drugs to keep their product off the market, I can’t say I was surprised. I can’t even say it registered as a blip on my “Disgusting Lack of Morals” scale.

I mean, after all, big Pharma sees an increase in profit because they can continue to sell the higher priced name-brand drug.  And the producers of generics don’t lose any money even though they’ve stopped manufacturing a lucrative, yet lower cost to the public, product. So it’s all good. Right?

TPMMuckraker: Drug-Makers Paying Off Competitors To Keep Cheap Generics Off Market

I was, however, amused by the accuracy of the tag: sleaze.

And my lack of surprise continued when, a few days later I came across a story in the Seattle Times Newspaper by Danny Westneat about a woman living in Seattle with her 2 children. She makes about 18, 000.00 a year. And for that, the IRS decided to audit her.

Because after looking over her tax information, it seems the IRS decided it is impossible to raise 2 kids on 10.00 an hour. Well, no kidding. No pun intended.

Even though they aren’t talking, the IRS seemed to come to the following sage conclusion: She is either lying about having 2 children or she is hiding extra income in order to take the Earned Income Tax Credit.

And when her dad hire someone to look over her tax returns and speak with the IRS on her behalf, the IRS decides that the parents need an audit too. A very thorough audit.  Can’t you just hear the menacing sound of rubber gloves snapping into place?

As far as I could tell, they were just two more stories of money and abuse of power from different ends of the economic spectrum. They seemingly have little else in common.

So, imagine my surprise when each of them kept nudging me. At first gently; like the puppy when he first figured out that the table plus people equaled food. And since he was a puppy and he was cute, he felt his chances of scoring a nibble were quite high.

Unlike the pup, who has long since learned that there are no table treats, the stories did not stop their gentle nudging. In fact, I began to find myself pondering them in tandem.

So what was I missing? What connected these two stories together beyond money and an abuse of power? Late yesterday, the phrase Mafia Model sprang unbidden into my mind.

The Mafia Model, as I explained in an earlier post, is just about all that’s keeping the world economy from following the 2nd half of the plumber’s gospel: Hot always goes on the left and shit flows down hill. The monied people, the financiers, the bankers, the billionaires, the rulers of nations; they are all tied together. Their lives are staked, quite literally to the mountain of money known as the economy. If support breaks and one of them goes down, they all go down.

But let’s expand that universe beyond the power players of finance. Let us develop an internal logic in order to create a consistent reality. In that scenario the Mafia Model plays out like this; Big Pharma pays off Little Generic to throw the fight. Everybody wins. Big Pharma bets heavily on their name-brand guy and rakes in the cash because odds were heavily in Little Generic’s favor. The name-brand winner takes the pot. The loser, little Generic from South Jersey, gets a pay off that keeps him happy and out of traction.

So what of our little Italian family in Seattle? Well, it’s no stretch to see that when you want to set an example, the easiest targets are women, children and small business owners. Don’t like how some people aren’t paying their due because they are protected by Earned Income Tax Credits? Send your goons in to lean on them a little. And when old Pop steps in to protect his daughter and grandkids? Smack him down a peg or two. You don’t need to break any bones, just run them into the ground with fines and fees and legal bills. Folks in the community will get the message. Capice?

Where is Elliot Ness when you need him?

The Mafia Model

In mid-2007 I finally revealed to the Spousal Unit that, over the past year, I had been developing an increasing anxiety over the state of the economy. By any measure available to the layman the economy looked healthy; robust even. High-end developments were blossoming like endless fairy rings on open meadows and newly deforested woodland. This meant construction trades and every sector associated with them were booming. The Mister was working for an architecture office as the job captain for the home office and resident code wonk for both branches of the firm.

But deep in my gut something was wrong. It just wasn’t adding up. In part, because the Mister and I kept looking around us and saying: You can’t build houses forever. At some point there has to be market saturation. Then what happens? Has a history replete with Tulip Mania and Beanie Babies taught us nothing?

We kept trying to have rational conversations on the subject with our social circle, but most of them were in the trades to some degree and didn’t want to hear it. And you know what happened to Cassandra. One theory was she didn’t bring cookies.

Someone once described me as having “a tinker-toy model of the universe” in my brain. I will chance upon a quandary and somehow, I can’t let it go until the pieces fit. They don’t have to fit perfectly or beautifully, they just have to fit. The effect is like having a hangnail in your consciousness. Or like those pop ditties with a hook that runs mercilessly through your head, and nothing short of a near overdose of prescription sleeping pills can shake it.

So at some point in 2006 I started cruising business and economic sites on the Internet. MSNBC, Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg and various political sites that included economic fora. I read, I researched and what I didn’t understand I plugged directly into a search engine. I wasn’t going to chance asking tenderfoot questions on an open internet forum. No0bi3s are often targets of derision and harassment, even when they ask sensible questions. I wasn’t inclined to add the humiliation of virtual swirlies to the very real anxiety I was already experiencing.

After a year of lurking and researching I knew just enough to be dangerous. And I had learned enough to know that the Mister and I had not been too far off base in our concerns. The way it looked, the housing market was probably going to tank and tank badly.

The pieces of my tinker-toy model had re-arranged themselves to the point that I could now future pace what was likely to happen in the broader economy when housing slowed down. In my head it looked like beautifully crafted concentric rings of Dominoes, with the housing market as the center starting point and staggered sectors like overlapping petals surrounding it.

When housing reached saturation, I theorized, all the trades associated with it would slow as building slowed. This only made sense. Framers can’t frame, plumbers can’t plumb, roofers can’t roof and electricians can’t…electrify, if they don’t have new construction. So the basic trades would be forced to cut employees. Interestingly, some of those jobs would not even show up as losses in employment because a number of the crews working in North Carolina consisted entirely of illegal aliens with an English speaking foreman. Yet the loss of those “non-jobs” would impact other sectors of the business economy.

The next ring of Dominoes to fall would be the businesses that supplied materials to the building trades, including the literal tons of heavy equipment used to clear the lots. Services like landscaping, painting crews, concrete and paving companies would find themselves with too much equipment, too many employees and not enough work to go around.

People buying new quarter million dollar homes see an opportunity to “try something new” with their “look”. For that reason, businesses providing everything from décor to guest room linens on to basic pots and pans would find fewer customers buying their (frankly overpriced) products.

Now because the Dominoes aren’t perfectly aligned, we have to move back to our first ring which has secondary effects on the wider market. Yes, the high-priced homes, the services and all the 2nd ring attendant purchasing have fallen because the market has stalled. But so have the 3rd ring blue-collar jobs supporting those trades and businesses. This means the laborers like linen store workers, paint mixers, people who make furniture, the lawnmower repairman; all these people have been forced to cut back on spending. The same holds true for 4th ring business supplying finished goods and supporting 3rd ring stores and laborers. Best case scenario for most, a reduction in hours with a tighter spending budget. Worst case: they have been laid off due to the slowdown in the housing market and have no money to spend.

And those ripples affect the “petals” food stores, restaurants, mid to low priced clothing stores, white goods (appliances) luxury items like electronics, toys and games and most surprising to me in hindsight, spending on healthcare.

In another way, the effect is completely un-like Dominoes. It’s more like being on the freeway, going home at 5 o’clock on Friday during a horrific thunderstorm. The freeway is packed with cars, covered in water, saturated. One car slows down to avoid hydroplaning. Then, traffic jam. Standstill. It’s that quick. And if you aren’t paying attention, it can be devastating.

So, early one Saturday morning in mid 2007 I call the Mister to the table and ask him to hear me out. I proceeded to lay everything out as calmly as I could. I explain that my main cause for concern was, once the trades and supporting businesses slowed down, so would new business construction; hotels, shopping centers, travel centers. These were businesses his firm looked to for clients. As a last hire, I was afraid his job wasn’t entirely secure. For that matter, based on the range of possibilities I had come across in my research I wasn’t entirely sure we weren’t in for an economic collapse.

The Mister gets a certain look when his brain is processing a chunk of novel information. It’s not exactly “deer in the headlights”. It’s more like a young indoor cat seeing a mouse for the first time. There is initially, a blank incomprehension; a vague fog, lasting from a few seconds to minutes. Then comes a danger assessment. Then cogs begin to turn; possibilities and strategies come into play.

And that almost instinctive understanding of strategy is one of the many reasons I love the Mister; his understanding of game theory is phenomenal.

We began to discuss possibilities in earnest. After a year of silent fretting, I am sitting at the table, practically vomiting stored up anxiety.  The Tinker Toy model in my brain is limited in its ability. I need concrete facts, pieces to fit into the model. No pieces, no clarity. Beyond that it’s down to conjecture. I suck at conjecture.

The Mister is now on his feet. He thinks best when he’s doing something. He goes to the kitchen and begins to clean. And as he comes to understand the depth of my fears surrounding an economic collapse, he uses a phrase so succinct and yet so descriptive that the clear genius of it is startling to me. “They won’t let America’s economy collapse.” he says, “It’s the Mafia Model.”

“What?” The incongruity of the phrase has kicked me out of my physical anxiety and back into my head.

“The Mafia Model. You know…. ‘It’s bad for business.’.” He turns to face me from the kitchen. “Back in the 30’s and 40’s the turf wars between the mob bosses had gotten out of hand. Drive by shootings, bombings, murders. Civilians getting killed. Finally, the Feds along with local police agencies started cracking down on them, interrupting their ability to do business. The mob bosses started losing money.”

“So they get together, decide that the all out wars are ‘bad for business’ and the way to make money is to make peace. Support each other. Syndicate”

“If America goes down, it’s not good for anybody else’s economic health. They literally can’t let it happen. It’s bad for business. And by the same token, we can’t let any other large economy go bust either.”

In a perverse sort of way, I found the thought comforting; even a little heartening. The economic ecosystem was in the midst of its own crisis. It seems they were being forced to take a lesson from that other struggling ecosystem: Adapt or Die.

And so far, the Mister has been right. Over the past 2 years I’ve been watching them; the world leaders, the financiers, the billionaires. Now, I see them clearly, as they are; all tethered as one, clinging to the side of a cold, heartless mountain of money, while the storm of a century rages around them.

As they struggle to gain purchase, I can only image that they pray fervently to what gods they comprehend. Because they surely know what we know; if one falls, the rest will surely follow.

Halloween Specialities. But not from the Lazy Cook.

You must realize, the Lazy Cook does not “do” non-food food. For instance Kitty Litter Cake with crumbled cookies on top so it looks like litter and  Tootsie Roll “poo”

Litter Box Cake

Litter Box Cake

or even a Hamburger Meat Hand nestled in a bed of mashed potatoes.

But she does appreciate artistry and dedication, even if they completely put her off her feed.

Meat Hand

Meat Hand

Too late for this Halloween, but keep them in mind for next year.

Modern Paranoia: Fueling Conspiracy Theories with Fact

Modern paranoia, and the resulting conspiracy theories, regarding the capacity of a government’s willingness and capacity to use its citizens for political and experimental fodder are not without basis. They spring from a slow trickle of stories that have been revealed by the mainstream press over the last 50 years.

Some of these stories gained a lot of attention in the mass media. Some did not.

These pages cover well-documented, verifiable, non-consensual experiments carried out on US citizens by parties which include the United States Government.

Atomic Testing on this page you will find:

DOE Resources on Human Radiation Experiments
Government Documents
Searchable Databases
Specific Experiments
Other Sources

Altered States on this page you will find:

Books and Excerpts on LSD, the CIA and Psychosocial Manipulations
Web Sites and Links

Experiments on Pregnant Women, Infants and Children on this page you will find:

A number of experiments carried out under the Atomic Energy Commission on Pregnant Women and on children. Other experiments are included on this page.

This information is not presented in order to suggest that every conspiracy theory has verifiable merit. It is meant to suggest, instead, that the concerns finding expression in modern paranoia have some basis in historical fact.

From the Independent: The Brutal Truth about American Healthcare

This link to the Independent follows a makeshift medical center set up in an arena.

Thousands of people lined up for basic healthcare services. Maybe all the folks disrupting town hall meetings have health care they are happy with. They should consider themselves lucky. And consider that not everyone has the advantages they take for granted.

I often wonder where their sense of Christian goodness fits in with their views on helping those among the least of them.

Matthew 25:40 And the King will make answer and say to them, Truly I say to you, Because you did it to the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.

2004 Study Shows Universal Coverage Could Save Enough to Pay for All (and then some).

Link to TradeWatch.org PDF

“A study by researchers at Harvard Medical School and
Public Citizen published in the January issue of the International
Journal of Health Services finds that health care bureaucracy last year cost
the United States $399.4 billion. The study estimates that national health
insurance (NHI) could save at least $286 billion annually on paperwork,
enough to cover all of the uninsured and to provide full prescription drug
coverage for everyone in the United States.

The study was based on the most comprehensive analysis to date of
health administration spending, including data on the administrative
costs of health insurers, employers’ health benefit programs, hospitals,
nursing homes, home care agencies, physicians and other practitioners in
the United States and Canada. The authors found that bureaucracy
accounts for at least 31 percent of total U.S. health spending compared
to 16.7 percent in Canada. They also found that administration has
grown far faster in the United States than in Canada.”

The Nights of Blackberry Dumplings

The blackberries are ripe. It is that time of year.

Blackberries

Blackberries

Unlike the clockwork regular and finely parsed schedule of humans, blackberries and indeed all of creation, have their own state-dependent agenda.  Not enough rain? Well, slow down and wait.  Not enough sun? Pretty much the same.

But a hard, sour knot of berry after 2 days of brief showers, can transform into a glorious and fleeting taste of wine and oak and summer.  That same berry after 3 days of moderate rain becomes a soggy, flavorless mush.  So, if we mere humans want to taste the nectar that is a perfect berry, it is on the berry’s rather particular schedule and not ours.

Usually, and in my own experience, berry picking is a group activity.  There are many reasons; safety being the common concern.  Copperheads, water moccasins, various spiders, toxic insects, rabid animals, are all dangers the berry picker needs to account for.  So, as one picks carefully and studiously through sharp tangles for that perfect, fat berry, a barely conscious rhythm of silence and signal is maintained.  Long spans of almost perfect, concentrated silence broken by a voice, a need to reconnect with others in the safety of the tribe.

These vocalizations are usually minor comments on the exquisite flavor of a particularly irresistible berry, discovery of a bountiful vine, curses thrown at briars, unsteady footing or the ubiquitous and irritatingly plentiful Junebugs.  For all the ire they draw in the berry patch, Junebugs are the most likely creature to be secretly envied by the berry picker.  It seems that the entirety of their brief life is taken up with sitting in the warm summer sun, eating the sweetest and ripest of the blackberries and in their seemingly endless procreation.  If forced, in some future attempt at karmic balance, to reincarnate on the insect level returning as a Junebug is at the top of the list.

Sometimes, by chance or by choice, berry picking is done in solitude.  Usually,  and in this instance, early in the morning.  Unlike the group pick with it’s monkey mind, monkey chatter, the lone picker is left exclusively in the company of mist, bird calls, dogs waiting patiently to be offered a bit of too ripe berry and the heavy, fruit laden vines.

As I pick, I fall into a decades long body memory of practiced regularity.  And in the unthinkingness of concentrated continual motion, I feel my consciousness begin to shift, ever so slightly toward opening.  And in those liminal moments, I invariably begin to ponder the grinding of snail shells on rock.

In certain tribes the shaman’s apprentice at his upper levels, is taught to induce a trance state by increasingly simple means.  This is after he is taught the more familiar, more traditional methods:  chanting, drumming, dance.  The blunt instruments, if you will.  After that, it is a matter of fine-tuning one’s perceptions, of understanding exactly the moment when the veil begins to part and transition into the imaginal space is possible.

Without fail, each method of trance induction involves engaging as many of the senses as possible.  As if focusing each part of your conscious mind and each part of your body into this one, singular activity directs your physical brain to produce the brainwave state known to us as alpha; a sort of light functioning trance state where movement and action are possible and for the shaman who is working with a patient, desirable.

Of the many ways this state can be achieved, the one we are probably, and unknowingly, familiar with is sitting by a waterfall.  With it’s rush of sound, smells of oxygenated air, water and mud, the feeling of moist earth beneath us and the whisper of mist on skin.  We feel light and easy and relaxed.  We feel good, but we can’t say exactly why.

In another, it is the grinding of a snail shell on rock.  The white noise of steady grinding, the rhythmic motion of the body, the smell of nacre flinting off stone, the weight of the body given to the arm and into the hand as it grinds.

For me, picking berries in the morning solitude is very much like this.  Full of deeply concentrated movement, careful, focused attention, the flux of insulated quiet and sharp birdsong.

Those moments of near opening, of being on the threshold of that other, unreal space, allow the mind to draw connections, to have epiphanies, to make discoveries.

And so, on this morning of quietly and studiously picking berries, as I have over many years and many decades, it occurred to me, unbidden, that in the innocence of my childhood, I had no realization that we were gathering the food that would help us survive in the harder months. It wasn’t as if my mother ever said to me,  “We must pick these berries so we will have enough food to eat come winter.”.  Although it was exactly the case on those rare occasions when blackberry dumplings and sweet tea were all of dinner.

To a child, blackberry dumplings for dinner was having desert without having to suffer though collards with vinegar.  Again.  Unlike the nights with only fried fatback and biscuits;  which were a little more obvious in their poverty.

Fatback is a 2-inch thick, 4-inch wide, 5-inch long slab of pork fat with a bit of the skin left on top.  Usually used for seasoning or to gather grease for frying other food.  It is cut into strips of ¼ inch and fried thoroughly.  The resulting strip of salty fried fat with the crunchy skin rind can be eaten, and usually was in our household, as a side to greens of any sort.

Some nights, not many, but enough to create a memory, there was fatback and biscuits for dinner.  It could have been the set of my mother’s mouth that told us complaining would be pointless.  It was what there was. However on the nights of blackberry dumplings, it is possible that as children, we were so taken with the idea that we did not notice the intent or reason behind the novel treat came down to a lack of anything else to eat.   A quart of sugar-sweetened blackberries, self-rising flour, pork fat and water.  Filling and, as it stands, nutritious enough.

I’m sure if, today, you could summon my mother’s spirit to ask, it would never have occurred to her that she was teaching me a survival skill by educating in the ways and means of blackberries.  Nor in taking me to the garden, nor in forcing me to pick and clean and can on those days when all I really wanted in the world, was nothing more than to be in the woods packing with the dogs, catching crayfish or building dams across a shallow neck in the creek.  She was simply doing what her sharecropper parents taught her to do.  Garden and pick and preserve and survive.

Yes, over the years I kept gardening, kept picking and cleaning and canning.  But more after the fashion of Marie Antoinette, who had one of her country estates turned into a sort of royal theme park.  This was constructed with guest hovels for visitors replete with various livestock housed in the shacks.  Here, she and her guests played “peasant” on holiday.

Like Marie’s peasantry, gardening and canning were activities that amused me; gave me pleasure.  Things that I could do at my leisure.  That would have no real impact on my life if it rained too much, or not enough.  Or if the rains flooded and washed away all my cropland.  Or, as once happened to my grandfather, hail destroyed an entire fresh planting  and I had to find money, sell the cow or go into debt to buy more seed or I would not be able to pay my lease with crops and my family would not eat come the hard winter.  One cannot survive on fatback and blackberry dumplings alone.

It has taken me years of leisurely tinkering to learn the skills that seemed innate in my mother:  how to plant just so, when best to water, who is unhappy in the plot and why, where the worm that has been gnawing on the tomato vines is most likely hiding and finding him before he strips the plant bare.

And I suppose, in the end what concerns me, what has prompted these blackberry musings is a pondering on the future of food.  And the future of a people that need it to survive if the rains continue to wash away our cropland or the wheat rust spreads or the price of oil makes the shipping or buying food from stores untenable.

How will they learn?  Who will be their teachers, their guides?

We have lost so much along the way.  Forgotten too much.  Having grown up without want, without fear, without danger, we believe we are invincibly safe.  And in thinking so, we have strayed from the safety of the tribe.  Wandered off to pick in a sunny patch where gathering is much too easy and it seems for all the world that a time without plenty can never possibly come.

But we have forgotten the snakes.  We have forgotten the winter.