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Archive for the 'Author Postings' Category

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

Losing Tim, Losing Time — Paul Gionfriddo

Losing Tim, Paul Gionfriddo

“We created a system that neglected our children when we could have made a difference and inevitably led them to homelessness, hospitalization, and incarceration.”—Paul Gionfriddo

The following post is by Paul Gionfriddo, author of Losing Tim: How Our Health and Education Systems Failed My Son with Schizophrenia. For more on the book, you can also read an interview with Paul Gionfriddo.

I’d like to travel back in time. Just twenty-five years would do. Because if I knew then what I know now, I don’t think I would ever have to have written Losing Tim.

Because public policy matters in the lives of people like Tim.

I’m sure this won’t come as a shock to anyone, but policymaking isn’t a perfect science. As I write in Losing Tim, a very wise Connecticut legislator—a college professor by trade—once remarked that when she arrived in the state legislature, she assumed that the best proposals coupled with the best-reasoned arguments would lead to good public policy. Then the legislative session began, and she learned that gut feelings and emotion often carried the day, and the policy that resulted was as much a reflection of these as it was of logic and reason.

Imagine what this did in the area of mental health. We were faced with a huge challenge in the 1980s. We were closing the doors of expensive and ineffective institutions, and were returning thousands of people to their families and communities.

But their families and communities weren’t ready to receive them. This was in part because they were afraid of the way they looked and acted, and in part because they didn’t really know what to do for them. Still, I write, we believed that anything that happened to people in the community would be preferable to what had happened to them behind the locked doors of those large psychiatric facilities.

Except that it wasn’t, because we just moved folks from behind one set of locked doors—state psychiatric hospitals—to another—county jails and state and federal prisons.

This was not our intention, but we didn’t know any better.

(more…)

Friday, October 24th, 2014

B*E*R*K*S*H*I*R*E — The Values of Warren Buffett

Warren Buffett, Berkshire Hathway

The following is a post by Lawrence Cunningham, author of Berkshire Beyond Buffett: The Enduring Value of Values:

Berkshire Beyond Buffett: The Enduring Value of Values tells the stories of Berkshire’s 50 significant direct subsidiaries, which define the company today, representing 80 percent of its value.

As I examined each, through archival research plus interviews and surveys, a pattern emerged: the same traits began to appear repeatedly, nine altogether. These intangible traits translate into financial gain. They also secure the company’s future, hence the book’s sub-title: The Enduring Value of Values.

Those nine values define the book’s central chapters, each chapter telling the stories of four or five subsidiaries that exemplify given values. After I organized and wrote the book, I played around with the nomenclature to form an acrostic from these values that spells out the company’s first name, as seen below, which also captures the essence of each and notes an illustrative subsidiary. The book then weaves these stories and values together to reflect what amounts to a profound succession plan.

B*E*R*K*S*H*I*R*E

Budget-mindedness
Essence: A penny saved is a nickel earned
Illustration: GEICO

Earnestness
Essence: The value in promise keeping
Illustration: Gen Re

Reputation
Essence: Results benefit from reputation
Illustration: Clayton Homes

Kin-like
Essence: Wealth can last more than 3 generations when families value identity and legacy
Illustration: Ben Bridge Jeweler

Self-starters
Essence: To the entrepreneur go the spoils
Illustration: Dairy Queen

Hands-off
Essence: Delegate everything but reputation
Illustration: Pampered Chef

Investor savvy
Essence: Price is paid, values are exchanged
Illustration: BH Energy

Rudimentary
Essence: Impossible dreams are impossible, so stick to your knitting
Illustration: Fruit of the Loom

Eternal
Essence: Berkshire as a permanent home, a Boys Town for the corporate homeless
Illustration: Brooks Running Shoe

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

Lawrence Cunningham — Warren Buffett and Tom Murphy on Management

“Although Berkshire is one of the world’s largest and most famous corporations, few people understand it as an institution that will be Buffett’s legacy.”—Lawrence Cunningham

Lawrence Cunningham, Berkshire Beyond Buffett

The following post is by Lawrence Cunningham, author of Berkshire Beyond Buffett: The Enduring Value of Values. For more on the book you can also read an interview with Lawrence Cunningham.

While everyone knows that Warren Buffett modeled himself after Ben Graham as a stock picker, few know that as a manager, he modeled himself after Tom Murphy.

Murphy is the legendary executive whose skillful acquisitions and leadership resulted in the Capital Cities communications empire. In 1985, he engineered the acquisition of ABC, Inc. for $3.5 billion, among the largest takeovers of the time, and a decade later facilitated its acquisition by Walt Disney Co. for $19 billion.

When I asked Buffett who should write the foreword to Berkshire Beyond Buffett, he immediately suggested Murphy. Warren, an early investor in Capital Cities who later asked Murphy to join Berkshire’s board, explained that “everything I know about management I learned from Tom.”

Judging by Berkshire’s operational success over several decades, Buffett clearly knows a lot about management. Reading Murphy’s foreword together with my book, it’s clear that the management principles Murphy exemplifies animate Berkshire as well. Among those principles, three stand as bulwarks against skepticism of Berkshire’s size, governance, and durability: a commitment to permanence dismisses calls for Berkshire to shrink by divesting some businesses; a belief in autonomy explains its unusual approach to internal control; and a savvy acquisitiveness proves the track record of its deep managerial bench that will sustain its future.

Permanence: Observers ask whether it might be desirable to divide Berkshire’s 50+ direct subsidiaries into multiple corporations or spin-off certain businesses. Some argue that size is an albatross that limits growth and that vastness is a veil that obscures the real value of many subsidiaries. See’s Candies, for instance, would fetch billions if auctioned to Hershey or Nestlé, but Berkshire’s stock market price might not register such value.

The answers to petitions to shrink or break-up Berkshire are an emphatic no and no. Doing so would undermine two sources of value contributed by the bedrock principle of permanence. First, permanence elongates managerial time horizons to enable increasing long-term value in excess of short-term gain. Second, the promise of permanence offered when acquiring new businesses enables Berkshire to pay a cash price less than business value. Divisions and divestitures are antithetical to both sources of value.

(more…)

Thursday, October 16th, 2014

Herve This on Why Note-by-Note Cooking Is Good for the Future of Food

“Thanks to note-by-note cooking, we have a whole new slew of cooking possibilities in front of us as well as new consistencies, new odors, new tastes, and new flavors.”—Hervé This

Herve This, Note-by-Note CookingThe following is a post by Hervé This, author of Note-by-Note Cooking: The Future of Food. (For more on the book, you can also read an excerpt or an interview with Hervé This):

Fittingly, Columbia University Press added “the future of food” on the cover of my new book since note-by-note cooking is truly the future of food and more and more chefs are exploring and employing its techniques in their cooking.

If you look to the current developments of culinary art, you don’t see much novelty except note-by-note cooking. Wild plants? The eminent French chef Michel Michel Bras has been cooking them for decades. Molecular cooking? Even if you call it “science-based cooking”, or “modernist cooking”, or “techno-emotional cooking” (what is this need to give more names when one was already given?), that was proposed as early as the 1980′s!

Yes, there is no newer proposal for culinary art than note-by-note cooking, and we are living a very exciting time. Thanks to note-by-note cooking, we have a whole new slew of cooking possibilities in front of us as well as new consistencies, new odors, new tastes, and new flavors.

(more…)

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014

America’s Surging Rivers — A Post by Daniel McCool

Daniel McCool, River RepublicThe following is a post by Daniel McCool, author of River Republic: The Fall and Rise of America’s Rivers:

The movement to restore America’s rivers has seen tremendous progress in the last two years. The restoration of the Elwha River is nearing completion. Two dams, Elwha and Glines Canyon, were successfully removed by the summer of 2014, and salmon are already repopulating the river. The restoration of the Elwha required more than two decades of unyielding effort by restoration “instigators” (people I profile in River Republic), and their persistence finally paid off. The Elwha will undoubtedly become a model for other large restoration projects.

Another big victory occurred when a massive hole was blasted through Condit Dam on the White Salmon River; the dramatic blast and subsequent reservoir draining can be seen in a video produced for National Geographic:

(more…)

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014

Staying Out of the Hospital — Dennis Rosen

Vital Conversations, Dennis Rosen The following post is by Dennis Rosen, author of Vital Conversations: Improving Communication Between Doctors and Patients

Hopefully, all of you will live long and healthy lives that will end peacefully in your sleep sometime after seeing your youngest great-grandchild head off to college. Unfortunately, it will be a lot less rosy for most of us. Disease and illness are natural parts of our lives, and as science and technology advance people now live longer—and with more coexisting medical conditions—than ever before. As we get older we tend to consume more medications, and the likelihood of being hospitalized because of an acute health crises increases.

Unfortunately, the high cost of health care has resulted in growing pressure to shorten the length of stays in hospital as much as possible. And while there are many good reasons for doing this—reduced expense, lower likelihood of picking up a secondary infection or experiencing a medical error)—there can be significant downsides as well. Among these are the risks patients face when sent home from the hospital before they are well enough to care for themselves or before they understand how it is, exactly, that they are supposed to do so.

Almost one in five Medicare patients discharged from the hospital will be readmitted within the next thirty days. Interestingly, this also corresponds to the percentage of patients who experience an adverse medical event or complication, two thirds of which involve the medications they are taking. This suggests that better pre-discharge patient education needs to take place. And yet, one study of adult patients being discharged from a large academic hospital in New York found that only 28 percent could name all their discharge meds (on average, fewer than four), and that almost two thirds did not understand why they had been prescribed the medications in the first place.

Although this information is supposed to be included in a printed discharge summary, it is often not as clear as it should be, or even that easy to find among the many pages of small-font verbiage. Let’s not forget as well, that many patients are too anxious, in pain, or simply hazy from the meds they’re on to make sense of the discharge summary as carefully as they should. When you add in the fact that more than one third of Medicare patients possess marginal or insufficient health literacy skills, it’s surprising that the rate of adverse medical events following discharge is as low as it is.

(more…)

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014

Wine Fraud: Buyer Beware — A Post by Natalie Berkowitz

Natalie Berkowitz, The Winemaker's HandThe following is a post by Natalie Berkowitz, author of The Winemaker’s Hand: Conversations on Talent, Technique, and Terroir

Obsessed individuals with deep pockets bitten by the collecting bug willingly spend a fortune on rare treasures to display their affluence. Insatiable acquisitiveness and eagerness to flaunt their trophies are a subtle form of “look at me.” Stratospheric prices confer immense cachet on the object and to its owner, but it takes an unfortunate negative turn. Con artists can smell a mark and will engage in their tricks of the trade: fraud, forgery, misrepresentation, and counterfeiting.

Even though wine fraud plays second fiddle to more sensational examples of art fraud, scams involving wine have been known to run into the millions of dollars. Beginning in the early 2000s, demand and prices for the rarest wines shot up rapidly, as did the potential payoff from selling fakes. The idea of owning a prestigious historical bottle created a frenzy among potential collectors. Covetous wine lovers, some who are connoisseurs and others who collect rare bottles for prestige, compete to buy cult wines, rare vintages, and famous labels. Wine collectors who covet particular vintages and notable producers suspend credulity, seduced into believing they achieved their heart’s delight when in many cases they paid outrageous sums for fraudulent wine.

Wine deception abounds. It can start on the most basic level at a winery when a harvest goes awry and fails to produce high quality grapes. Some less-than-honest vintners adulterate a poor vintage, adding wine from a previous crop or from different wine regions. Coloring agents or wines with stronger color are used to deepen pallid wines. Some wines are adjusted for the tastes of certain markets.

(more…)

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014

Back to School with Anne Campbell — Mike Chasar

Anne Campbell

The following post is by Mike Chasar, author of Everyday Reading: Poetry and Popular Culture in Modern America. The essay was also published in Arcade:

A little less than a year back, I wrote about Edgar Guest, the longtime poet of the Detroit Free Press who published a poem in that paper seven days a week for thirty years. The national syndication of his verse made Guest a household name, got him dubbed the “people’s poet,” turned him into a popular speaker, and made him a very rich man even if it didn’t secure him a place in scholarly histories of American poetry. Indeed, after mentioning Guest as part of a Modernist Studies Association panel a few years back, I happened to run into a prominent poet-critic in the airport and, in making small talk about the panel while we waited for our flights, he confessed that until my talk he’d never even heard of Guest. By contrast, my mother-in-law owned several of Guest’s books before she moved out of the family house and into a retirement home; when I was helping her move and opened them, other poems by Guest that she’d clipped from newspapers and magazines and stored between the pages came fluttering out.

If the poet-critic I just mentioned had never heard of Guest, it’s probably safe to say that he’s never heard of Anne Campbell either—the poet whom the Detroit News hired in 1922 to better compete with the Free Press. Called “Eddie Guest’s Rival” by Time and “The Poet of the Home” by her publicity agents, Campbell would go on to write a poem a day six days a week for twenty-five years, producing over 7,500 poems whose international syndication reportedly earned her up to $10,000 per year (that’s about $140,000 adjusted for inflation, folks), becoming a popular speaker in her own right, and proving that neither the Free Press nor Guest could corner the market on popular poetry. Indeed, a 1947 event marking her silver anniversary at the News drew fifteen hundred fans including Detroit’s mayor and the president of Wayne State University.

(more…)

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

What Constitutes Compelling Evidence, and for Whom? — B. Alan Wallace

B. Alan WallaceThe following post is by B. Alan Wallace, most recently the author of Meditations of a Buddhist Skeptic: A Manifesto for the Mind Sciences and Contemplative Practice and Mind in the Balance: Meditation in Science, Buddhism, and Christianity. For more, you can also read our recent interview with B. Alan Wallace:

“Exceptional claims require exceptional evidence” is presented as the heart of the scientific method, and a model for critical thinking, rational thought and skepticism everywhere. But it begs the questions, what constitutes an exceptional claim versus an ordinary claim, and who determines this distinction? When it comes to the relation between the body and mind, one might assume that contemporary scientists and philosophers have the authority to determine the difference between exceptional and ordinary claims. But that assumption is problematic for two reasons: (1) scientific and philosophical views vary widely in today’s society, and (2) contemporary Euro-centric views are not the indisputable arbiters of truth for humanity as a whole.

While the reductionist views of atheist, or materialist, scientists and philosophers dominate scientific discourse and the popular media, they by no means represent a consensus view within the two communities, let alone all educated people. According to a poll published in the Scientific American in 1914, 40% of scientists stated that they believed in God. A poll with the same set of questions was again conducted in 1997, also reported in the Scientific American, and it indicated that 40% of scientists still believe in God. So no one view—either materialist or non-materialist—can be said to represent the scientific community as a whole. Likewise, according to a survey done by the philosopher David Chalmers, 11% of contemporary philosophers are non-materialist, so they represent a significant minority. But more important is his finding that there was nothing of importance the “philosophical community” at large agrees upon. So when it comes to the mind-body problem, there is no consensus about what constitutes an exception versus an ordinary claim.

The same is true of hypotheses regarding unresolved issues in quantum mechanics, particularly the so-called “measurement problem.” As I write in Meditations of a Buddhist Skeptic, “In his recent book entitled Quantum, science writer Manjit Kumar cites a poll about the interpretation of quantum mechanics, taken among physicists at a conference in 1999. Of the ninety respondents, only four said they accepted the standard interpretation taught in every undergraduate physics course in the world, thirty favored the ‘many-worlds interpretation’ formulated by the Princeton theoretician Hugh Everett III (1930–82), while fifty replied, ‘none of the above or undecided.’ The real implications of quantum physics seem to be hidden in a cloud of uncertainty.”

(more…)

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

Bolaño, Epiphanies and Imminence — A Post by Chris Andrews

Roberto Bolano's Fiction, Chris AndrewsThe following post is by Chris Andrews, author of Roberto Bolaño’s Fiction: An Expanding Universe. You can also read our interview with Chris Andrews about the book:

At the end of “Advice on the Art of Writing Short Stories” (in Between Parentheses), Bolaño writes: “read Chekhov and Raymond Carver. One of the two of them is the best short-story writer this century has produced.” Chekhov died in 1904, so either Carver wins by elimination, or Bolaño is suggesting that with just a toe in the century Chekhov beats all his epigones. In any case, the coupling is significant, for both Carver and Chekhov wrote epiphanic short stories. Describing the cards taped to the wall beside his desk in “On Writing,” Carver says: “I have a three-by-five up there with this fragment of a sentence from a story by Chekhov: ‘… and suddenly everything became clear to him.’ I find these words filled with wonder and possibility. I love their simple clarity, and the hint of revelation that’s implied.”

In Bolaño’s work there are moments when everything becomes clear to a character … or seems to be on the point of becoming clear. Sometimes the character has what the German critic Gunther Leypoldt, discussing Carver, calls an “arrested epiphany”: one that fails to deliver any definite content. This is what happens in “Gómez Palacio” when the director of the local arts council takes the narrator to her special place, which turns out to be a truck parking area in the desert, from which they can see the headlights of cars on a distant stretch of road. The narrator is initially skeptical, and with good reason: his host seems to be slightly crazy and has a taste for practical jokes. But then something happens:

I saw how the light, seconds after the car or truck had passed that spot, turned back on itself and hung in the air, a green light that seemed to breathe, alive and aware for a fraction of a second in the middle of the desert, set free, a marine light, moving like the sea but with all the fragility of earth, a green, prodigious, solitary light that must have been produced by something near that curve in the road — a sign, the roof of an abandoned shed, huge sheets of plastic spread on the ground — but that, to us, seeing it from a distance, appeared to be a dream or a miracle, which comes to the same thing, in the end.

Up to the explanation (“that must have been produced …”), the lyricism of this long sentence suggests something marvelous, and although the green light seems to breathe only for a fraction of a second, the aura created by the descriptive language does not vanish so quickly, partly because the explanation is conjectural, and partly because the final equation relativizes the importance of the physical facts: if dreams are miracles, why not hallucinations and illusions too? And yet this portent leads nowhere, and the narrator interrupts the lyric flight: “Then the director started the car, turned it around and droved back to the motel.”

(more…)

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

Making Sense of Afghanistan’s Electoral Crisis — A Post by Noah Coburn and Anna Larson

“While Kerry again has brokered a deal between feuding candidates, there is no reason to believe that this deal will ultimately hold and it is the candidates who will ultimately determine whether there is a peaceful transition of power or not.”—Noah Coburn and Anna Larson on the recent elections in Afghanistan

Derailing Democracy in Afghanistan, Noah Coburn and Anna LarsonThe following post is by Noah Coburn and Anna Larson, coauthors of Derailing Democracy in Afghanistan: Elections in an Unstable Political Landscape:

Following the last minute intervention of John Kerry, the elections in Afghanistan to replace Hamid Karzai as president, have entered a chaotic period of counting, re-counting and accusations of fraud and corruption. How do we make sense of the power plays that are going on on both sides? Often forgotten in the mainstream press, these elections are actually the fifth in Afghanistan since the US-led invasion in 2001, and turning to look back at some of the lessons from these elections can help us think about the current process. We’ve spent much of the past six years tracking candidates, officials and voters in Afghanistan and our book, Derailing Democracy in Afghanistan: Elections in an Unstable Political Landscape, provides some important lessons.

First, elections are shaped by the cultures and history that they are held in. Too often local forms of democracy are ignored and we recount the long history of democratization (and sometimes de-democratization) that Afghanistan has experienced since its first elections in the 1950s. Clearly there is no evidence to suggest that elections or democracy are somehow incompatible with Afghan culture. Despite this, a group of former commanders and the political elite, have manipulated elections over the past decade to consolidate their own power. This has created more skepticism about elections on the part of many Afghan voters. The high turnout in the 2014 elections suggests that most Afghans want to see a new direction in the government away from some of the nepotism of the Karzai regime. However, the current wheeling and dealing between Ashraf Ghani, Abdullah Abdullah, Karzai, and Kerry points to the fact that it is the political elite alone that control the resources in the country and this vote is unlikely to change that.

(more…)

Friday, August 8th, 2014

Househunting in the Homeland — Part 2 of an essay by Wendy Law-Yone, author of “A Daughter’s Memoir of Burma”

“It struck me for the first time how stable, how fixed was the life of a dictator…. He was the immovable, centrifugal force that had sent thousands of Burmese citizens spinning out into the troposphere of permanent displacement.”—Wendy Law-Yone

A Daughter's Memoir of Burma, Wendy Law-YoneThe following essay is by Wendy Law-Yone, author of A Daughter’s Memoir of Burma. This is the second part of her essay (read part one here) looking back at her return to Burma after years of exile:

The young reporters were watching us drive up and down the road at snail speed, peering at the house numbers from the open windows of our taxi. As we approached once more the high wall in front of which they were gathered, I asked the taxi driver to stop.

They crossed the road toward us in a pack: four women and two men in their twenties and thirties, cameras and press ID’s swinging from their necks, a boom microphone leading the way.

“What are you looking for, Auntie?” The sassy girl with the ponytail leaned in through his window to address me.
“House number Fourteen A,” I said. ‘We can’t seem to find it.’ I got out of the car to stretch my legs, and was immediately surrounded.
“Hello, Auntie! Where are you from, Auntie?”
“From this very street. I used to live here. At Number 14 A.”
“When, Auntie?”
“Long before any of you was born.”
“And Auntie now lives in – ?”
“London.”
“London!” Ah’s! and Aw!’s of wonderment. I might have mentioned the moon.
“But tell me,” I said. “What are you all doing here, anyway?”
“Waiting for the prisoner release,” said the girl with the ponytail brightly. Then, seeing my blank look, “Auntie does know about the prisoner release?”

Auntie did know. Only Auntie had been distracted and forgotten the big news: Six hundred political prisoners were to be released that day—yet another earnest of the government’s dedication to reform.

“General Ne Win’s grandsons are coming home any minute!” one of the boys blurted out. “That’s why we’re waiting here, in front of their house.” I stared at the house with the high wall across the street, slow to take in the revelation.

In 2001, the year before his death, Ne Win had fallen foul of the ruling military clique and been placed under arrest together with the daughter with whom he was living. The following year, the daughter’s husband and three sons were imprisoned on charges of plotting a coup.

Ne Win died in 2002; his daughter was released from house arrest in 2006, but his grandsons had remained in prison. It was they who were about to be released.

“You mean,” I said, “they still live here?”

It struck me for the first time how stable, how fixed was the life of a dictator. Since assuming power in 1962, Ne Win had lived on this street, and died on this street, exactly where, as a fifteen-year-old, I had last set eyes on him. He was the immovable, centrifugal force that had sent thousands of Burmese citizens spinning out into the troposphere of permanent displacement.

(more…)

Thursday, August 7th, 2014

Househunting in the Homeland — An Essay by Wendy Law-Yone, author of “A Daughter’s Memoir of Burma”

A Daughter's Memoir of Burma, Wendy Law-YoneThe following post is part 1 of an essay by Wendy Law-Yone, author of A Daughter’s Memoir of Burma. For more on the book, you can also read our interview with Wendy Law-Yone

It was last day of my two-week tour of Burma, and the calendar was auspicious. Friday January 13th, 2012. Friday the thirteenth, at the beginning of a leap year! An excellent day to wrap up the business of househunting in Rangoon. That was how I had slugged the page in my notebook listing the homes I had once lived in and was determined to track down. HOUSEHUNTING.

I was born in Burma, but fled the country in 1967, at the age of 20. My father, Ed Law-Yone, publisher and editor of The Nation, Burma’s best known English-language newspaper, was still languishing in political prison when—desperate to escape the crushing police state my country had become—I decided to decamp. Accompanied by my brother Alban, I headed for the Thai border, choosing the “backdoor” route favored by smugglers and insurgents. Long before we reached the border, in the southern port of Moulmein, we were picked up by the secret police, and jailed for two weeks of interrogation.

Eventually, in May 1967, I was granted permission to leave the country—as a stateless person. Since then, I had been back only once: in 2001, after a 33-year prohibition. Some states are particularly pitiless toward their prodigal sons and daughters. The Burmese military regime was one of those states. Or had been.

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Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014

The Medical Challenge — A Post by John S. Haller Jr.

Shadow Medicine, John S. Haller Jr.The following post is by John S. Haller Jr., author of Shadow Medicine: The Placebo in Conventional and Alternative Therapies:

“The placebo has undermined the positivist model of biomedicine by interjecting subjectivity, uncertainty, and ambiguity into the clinical encounter. It suggests that a specific disease or illness does not exist apart from the manner in which the society conceptualizes it and addresses it.”—John S. Haller Jr.

Conventional medicine is founded on the belief that the body is the outcome of material forces. Given this assumption, it looks to physiological, pathological, biochemical, and molecular processes derived from physical matter to diagnose and treat disease. Its basic tool is the randomized clinical trial, guided by the fact that its active pharmaceutical substances “work” (even when the patient is unaware of their administration) and that their effects can be demonstrated, measured, and replicated. As authority figures, conventional physicians not only project a certain level of scientific legitimacy but purport to have legal authority, political privilege, and cultural acceptance—entitlements that also come with obligations that include standardized training, accreditation, licensing, and regulation.

While the randomized clinical trial provides the most credible information for justifying a specific treatment, its ultimate value remains uncertain because much of what happens in a trial fails to capture the myriad of independent and/or related variables that affect the physician/patient encounter. For all its hype, the randomized clinical trial remains an imperfect tool. Although it informs individual clinical expertise, it does not (and should not) replace it. Conventional medicine has overestimated the value of its clinical trial and more creative methods are needed that compare “whole treatments” rather than just the normative components which biomedicine is most acquainted.

In contrast to conventional medicine, complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) defines health in psychological and spiritual terms and emphasizes patient individualization and self-healing. It is founded on a philosophy of organism known as “vitalism” which explains life not by the laws of physics and chemistry but by a principle, force, or spirit-like power that comes from beyond the material world to animate organic matter. Consisting of a mixture of religion, mysticism, cosmic energy, disbelief in Western reductionism, and an increased fascination with Eastern philosophies, CAM encourages a more metaphysical encounter with the world, one that questions the basic assumptions about the nature of reality. In this new setting the patient’s experience becomes intensely personal and compares strikingly to certain types of spiritual awakening. In its intuitive approach to healing, the goal of the healer is to assist the individual in finding harmony with nature.

(more…)

Wednesday, July 16th, 2014

Do we execute innocent people?

The Wrong Carlos

“Our book challenges readers to consider the evidence we have carefully arrayed—and to test each phrase in the book against all of the relevant evidence on the point to which readers can quickly link on the web site—and decide for themselves whether our criminal and capital justice systems are reliable enough to keep innocent people from being executed.” — James S. Liebman

This week our featured book is The Wrong Carlos: Anatomy of a Wrongful Execution, by James S. Liebman and the Columbia DeLuna Project. In today’s guest post, James S. Liebman gives an account of the origin of The Wrong Carlos as a research project and book, and explains how he hopes readers will read and react to the story of Carlos DeLuna’s execution.

Be sure to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Wrong Carlos!

Do we execute innocent people?
James S. Liebman

Do the three dozen American states that authorize death as a punishment for murder execute innocent people? That is the fundamental question at the heart of The Wrong Carlos: Anatomy of a Wrongful Execution, a book coauthors and I published last week with Columbia University Press.

I began thinking about this question in 2000 and 2002, when colleagues and I issued two studies of rates of serious error found by courts in U.S. capital cases: Broken System I: Error Rates in Capital Cases, 1973-1995 and Broken System II: Why Is There So Much Error in Capital Cases and What Can Be Done About It?. The studies and a follow-up article documented judicial findings of serious error in over two-thirds of all U.S. capital cases that courts reviewed between 1973 and 1995. Nearly all of those findings involved the kinds of legal errors known to undermine the accuracy of the determination that the defendant committed the crime and that he or she deserved to die for it. (more…)

Wednesday, July 9th, 2014

Erik M. Conway on The Role of Neoliberalism in Climate Change

“Market fundamentalism allows us to continue believing that we’re not responsible for climate change or its impacts.”—Erik M. Conway

Erik M. Conway, The Decline of Western CivilizationThe following post is by Erik M. Conway, the coauthor (with Naomi Oreskes) of The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future

One of the important intellectual underpinnings of the American refusal to undertake significant efforts to mitigate climate change has been the economic doctrine of neoliberalism. The term is rather amorphous, and means different things to different people. Naomi Oreskes and myself use it in the sense of what George Soros called market fundamentalism. Market fundamentalists believe in the perfection of economic markets as they currently exist, and that only markets “free” of government interference can protect individual liberty.

There are many things wrong with market fundamentalism, but the aspect of it that’s preventing us from dealing with climate change effectively is that markets as they currently exist don’t account for the cost of pollution. It’s free to dump carbon dioxide and methane and many other things into the atmosphere. In other words, we use the atmosphere as an open sewer, and don’t charge anyone for dumping stuff into it. In economic terms, pollution is an “externality,” a thing that exists outside the market system.

Market fundamentalists like to speak of the “magic of the market place.” Somehow, they think, markets will magically fix these externalities. But markets can’t fix problems that are external to those markets, no matter how hard we wish they would. That sums up the problem. Market fundamentalism is a form of magical thinking. And unfortunately, otherwise reasonable people routinely engage in this sort of magical thinking.

The good news is that, at least in principle, it’s fairly easy to fix this externality. In the 1970s, economists interested in reforming environmental regulation away from what they called “command and control” restrictions towards more market-friendly policies revived an old idea, the idea of pollution pricing. Emissions trading, what we now refer to as “cap and trade,” was one way to establish a price on pollution. Pollution taxes are another (economists often call this kind of tax “Pigovian,” after their inventor, Arthur Pigou). Both are simply ways of extending the market system to cover air and water pollution as well.

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Thursday, June 26th, 2014

Jenny Davidson Chooses the Best Books on Hoarding!

Reading Style

The following is a post by Jenny Davidson, author of Reading Style: A Life in Sentences:

The TV show Hoarders has brought a good deal of attention to what happens when our instinct to accumulate runs out of control; an inability to discard things when we are supposed to be done with them can ruin a hard drive, a book project, a house, a life.

In strictly literary terms, as long as the capacity to select and winnow remains, the accumulation of things can be a gift (the lists in Moby Dick, Homer’s catalog of ships, James Boswell’s lifelong practice of recording and storing the sayings of great men). But there is always the risk, with books like Richardson’s Clarissa or (in a very different vein) George R. R. Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice novels, either that the writing will proliferate to a volume that readers are unwilling to tolerate (Richardson) or that it will extend over a duration that creates a huge amount of frustration in readers hungry for the next installment (Martin). All of which is to say that hoarding seems to me one of the great literary topics of our time: I want to read a good nonfiction book about it, something roughly akin to Alice Flaherty’s fantastic account of hypergraphia in The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer’s Block, and the Creative Brain.

For now, though, a list of five of my favorite books about hoarding:

Randy G. Frost and Gail Steketee, Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things
An essential guide to the disorder. Not at the literary level of Oliver Sacks, but then what is? Grippingly readable, full of fascinating observations and insights. Among other things, it caused me to look back on the house of family friends in childhood, a house that was astonishingly messy, and say, “Oh, that wasn’t ordinary mess, that was hoarding before there was really a name for it!” Full of useful suggestions and resources if you or someone you know is in need of help for hoarding or a related syndrome.

Jessie Sholl, Dirty Secret: A Daughter Comes Clean About Her Mother’s Compulsive Hoarding
A compelling memoir about what it means to be the adult child of a parent whose hoarding makes her house uninhabitable. Thoughtful, well-written, full of empathy.

Sara Ryan and Carla Speed O’Neill, Bad Houses
A brilliant graphic novel with a puzzle-like structure, this coming-of-age story considers the beauties and terrors of the estate sale, and more particularly what it lets us understand about people and their relationship with the objects that fill up their houses.

Karl Ove Knausgaard, My Struggle, vol. 1
There are other reasons to read Knausgaard, of course, but in addition to his startling reconfiguration of the relationship between experience and narration and his extraordinary way with sentences, he also gives us one of the best literary depictions I know of how the thing we call hoarding can destroy a lived environment.

Charles Dickens, Bleak House
Many of the characters in this novel suffer from one kind of cognitive or psychological disorder or another; the novel as a whole offers some kind of a theory of disorders of accumulation, and the writing speaks to that in all sorts of ways. But the scenes that describe something closest to what we would now call hoarding are those set in Krook’s rag-and-bone shop.

Thursday, June 26th, 2014

Michelle Obama and Epidemiology: An Inspiring Example

“American children can learn from someone like Michelle Obama, who decides on the basis of scientific evidence, not on mere speculation.”—Alfredo Morabia

Enigmas of Health and DiseaseThe following post is by Alfredo Morabia, author of Enigmas of Health and Disease: How Epidemiology Helps Unravel Scientific Mysteries

In her May 28th New York Times op-ed, The Campaign for Junk Food, Michelle Obama offers a lesson to Congress and an inspiring example to American children. She explains that before she began advising on policy to reduce child obesity, she first looked to “what works”.

“What works!” because, as Michelle Obama writes, “when we rely on sound science, we can actually begin to turn the tide on childhood obesity.”

Today, Michelle Obama can stand in front of children who may ask her about the importance of fruits and vegetables, less salt, etc. for a healthy diet. She can explain that kids from schools in which lunch menus have slashed sugar, salt, and fat are healthier compared to kids from schools which keep offering junk food; that kids from neighborhoods without nearby grocery stores have poorer eating habits compared to kids from areas with fresh-food retailers; that kids who go to child care centers offering healthier food and more physical activity acquire healthier habits compared to kids who don’t. She can also state that after reducing access to junk food, there is less obesity compared to the situation before the launching of the Let’s Move initiative. It worked!

Now contrast the example of Michelle Obama’s to that of Congressmen fighting the changes she is promoting in the school lunch program. These Congressmen want to see more white potatoes, less fruits and vegetables, more sodium, fewer grains on the menu, and consider pizza sauce a vegetable. How would these Congressmen respond to children asking them: “How do you know that your initiatives will not hurt our health?” The reality is that they cannot answer the question because there is no evidence supporting these decisions. They can only say that they believe otherwise, and claim their right to do so.

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Wednesday, June 25th, 2014

Jenny Davidson’s 10 Favorite Books About Reading

Jenny Davidson, Reading Style

The following is a post from Jenny Davidson, author of Reading Style: A Life in Sentences:

Since the internet has tipped us into the great age of listicles, I must confess that I have already been prolific in the matter of book-related lists online. Here’s a sampling:

Ten nonfiction books that have stayed with me.

My ideal bookshelf as painted by Jane Mount.

A post I wrote for the late Norm Geras about one writer who means almost everything to me.

Five of my favorite books about swimming!

The list I’ve made for today, though, tallies up ten of my favorite books about reading. Some of these I mention in Reading Style: A Life in Sentences; others are simply books that I read almost in a trance, mesmerized by the way they spoke about reading and writing, its delights and occasional tribulations.

Anne Fadiman, Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader
An absolutely delightful collection of essays about reading by the author of the unforgettable A Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors and the Collision of Two Cultures. Both of these books of Fadiman’s are on my list of all-time favorites.

Francis Spufford, The Child That Books Built: A Life in Reading
A book that spoke to me so directly that I sometimes thought I must have written it myself in a dream! Spufford is better than any other writer I know on the spell that childhood reading casts on us and the external factors that may precipitate that kind of immersion in books.

Alberto Manguel, A History of Reading
Another book that I read with delight and a growing sense of relief—Manguel wrote this book so that I don’t have to!

Pierre Bayard, How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read
A witty taxonomy, a playful provocation.

Geoff Dyer, Out of Sheer Rage: Wrestling with D. H. Lawrence
One of the funniest and deepest books I know about the bedevilment of a vocation for reading and writing by procrastination and all the other woes that flesh is heir to.

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Monday, June 23rd, 2014

Analytic Philosophy’s Fire Alarm, by Santiago Zabala

Santiago Zabala

“I do not believe, as Gary Gutting (a philosopher whom I truly respect) recently pointed out, that the ‘continental-analytic gap will begin to be bridged only when seminal thinkers of the Continent begin to write more clearly,’ but rather that it will happen only when the imperialistic approach of analytic philosophy is left aside to allow other styles to emerge and educate without being attacked, dismissed, and, most of all, marginalized.” — Santiago Zabala, coauthor of Hermeneutic Communism and author of, among other works, The Hermeneutic Nature of Analytic Philosophy

Analytic Philosophy’s Fire Alarm
Santiago Zabala

Anyone who questions or raises doubts over analytic philosophy’s role or significance today indirectly pulls a fire alarm in our framed democracies, our culture, and our universities. The doubter will immediately be attacked theoretically, academically, and probably also personally. This has happened to me (and many other continental philosophers) on several occasions. It does not bother me at all. It’s just a pity things are this way. The books, essays, and articles that set off the alarm are not meant to dismiss analytic philosophy but simply to remind everyone it’s not the only way to philosophize. My concern is educational (given the prevalence of analytic programs in universities), political (given its imperialistic approach), and also professional (for the little space given to continental philosophers in academia). The point is that we are not even allowed to generalize or be ironic, an essential component of philosophy as Gianni Vattimo and Slavoj Zizek show in their practice.

The problem is not that John Searle was honored by George W. Bush in 2004 (with a National Humanities Medal) or that the research of other analytic philosophers is often funded by government grants but rather that these grants are not always distributed among other traditions. After all, philosophers are not supposed to simply analyze concepts in their university offices but also to engage with the political, economic, and cultural environments that surrounds them, as Judith Butler, Peter Sloterdijk, and Simon Critchley have done so well for years. (more…)