Chris Rock and Frank Rich sat down for a chat...



Two of the sharpest guys around had a conversation with the recorder running...and we get to read the transcript and learn. Seriously: don't miss this.  

Highly Recommended: "Parrot Confidential" (PBS/Nature)



Just watched the heartbreaking and amazing documentary from Nature (PBS) about parrot sanctuaries and rescue operations around the country. I knew very little about these highly intelligent and social creatures...and how many are abandoned/given up every year. Part of the problem is that they live 70+ years.

You can watch it online via the PBS website here. Or you can probably find it via on-demand cable if you search under PBS. 

"Why Does a Vicuña Jacket Cost $21,000?"

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  • If you're perfectly happy with fine cashmere, all this might seem like a lot of trouble to go through for an extra layer of luxury. But come into contact with vicuña and you might, for a moment, think seriously about blowing your children's college funds.
  • Vicuña coats and jackets have an unparalleled lightness that makes you feel almost buoyant. And then there is the softness. "People love vicuña for the touch," said Mr. Loro Piana. "It's the finest hair on the planet." The diameter of its fiber is 12.5 microns, he explained, while the best cashmere is 13.5 microns and run-of-the-mill cashmere ranges from 14.5 to 17.5.
  • Incan royalty wore it exclusively. In the 1500s, King Philip II of Spain slept under vicuña blankets. Last century, it was favored by wealthy entertainers: Greta Garbo wore vicuña, as did Nat King Cole and Marlene Dietrich.
  • Each year, only 13,000 to 17,500 pounds of vicuña become available to Loro Piana, a major purveyor of vicuña garments—a fraction of the 22 million pounds of cashmere the company works with annually. The Italian tailoring house Kiton makes only about 100 vicuña pieces a year; an off-the-rack sport coat costs at least $21,000, while the price of a made-to-measure suit starts at $40,000. A single vicuña scarf from Loro Piana is about $4,000. Ermenegildo Zegna produces just 30 vicuña suits a year. Each is numbered, and the most affordable model goes for $46,500.
  • The vicuña, a camelid that looks like a smaller and more elegant llama, is found primarily in the Peruvian and northern Argentine Andes. For centuries, it was poached for its valuable cinnamon-colored coat, a marvel of evolution that, although unusually light and fine, keeps the animals warm in the freezing altitudes above 15,000 feet. By the 1960s, the vicuña population had fallen from an estimated two million in the 16th century to roughly 10,000, and Peru took measures to protect vicuñas from extinction, banning the killing and trade of the animals.

  • Learn more about vicuña and the vicuña here.   

    "Why Do We Eat Junk Food When We're Anxious?"


    • One of the best-understood examples of non-nutritive eating is the fact that stress tends to make us eat more. It makes sense psychologically, in that the people most prone to stress eating are those most actively restricting food intake the rest of the time: When the going gets tough and they need to be nice to themselves, this is how they ease up. They prefer to eat fats and carbs. If the boss is a creep, why not run wild on the chocolate-covered walrus blubber?
    • But we can't trace these habits merely to the complexities of the human psyche, because it's not just humans who exhibit them. Stress a lab rat by, let's say, putting an unknown rat in its cage, and it will eat more and show a stronger preference for high-fat/high-carb options than usual.
    • This phenomenon's occurrence in many species makes evolutionary sense. For 99% of animals, stress involves a major burst of energy use as they, say, run for their lives. Afterward, the body stimulates appetite, especially for high-density calories, to rebuild depleted energy stores. 
    • But we smart, neurotic humans keep turning the stress-response on for purely psychological reasons, putting our bodies repeatedly into the restocking mode.
    • The most fundamental mechanism to explain this stress effect is that comfort food is, well, comforting. As first demonstrated by Mary Dallman and colleagues at the University of California, San Francisco, working with lab rats, fat and carbs stimulate reward systems in the brain, thereby turning off the body's hormonal stress-response.
    • It may seem unlikely that one type of pleasure works to offset the effects of a very different source of displeasure. Why should fat-laced rat chow lessen angst about a new cage mate? Yet we regularly make much bigger leaps. Burdened with unrequited love? Shopping often helps. Roiled with existential despair? Bach might do the trick. The common currency of reward in the brain makes for all sorts of unlikely ports in a storm.


    • Read the full article (by Robert M. Sapolsky in the WSJ) here.

    Shark-Jump U.S.A.

    Fun (and Un-Fun) New Findings:

    "Can Emotional Intelligence Be Taught?"

    Jamal McBride, 8.


    Interesting article in Sunday's New York Times Magazine about various programs to teach "social-emotional learning" to school children. There is much agreement that this could be useful (for children AND for adults), but little agreement thus far about methods that can be even somewhat standardized.

    A few teasers:

    • Starting in the late 19th century, the philosopher John Dewey argued against the development of purely vocational elementary schools, insisting that the true purpose of schooling was not simply to teach children a trade but to train them in deeper habits of mind, including “plasticity” (the ability to take in new information and be changed by it) and interdependence (the ability to work with others).
    • Social-emotional learning takes Dewey’s theory further, suggesting that all emotions — not just the right ones — are adaptive if properly managed. Studies have shown that people in a slightly sad mood are better at analyzing or editing a written document (they focus better on details), while people who are slightly angry are better able to discriminate between weak and strong arguments. The purpose of a social-emotional learning program, then, isn’t to elide emotion but to channel it: to surf the rapids rather than to be swamped by them. This can be hard to do. When we feel angry, we usually act angry — even when that makes the situation worse. The nature of emotion is that it tends to run away with us. “When a feeling is unpleasant, how are you going to handle it?” asks Stephanie Jones, a Harvard psychologist who has studied a number of social-emotional learning programs. “Do you default to an angry response, a defensive response? Or do you go into a mode that’s more information-seeking?”
    • As Aydlett and I watched, Garcia walked her class through an exercise in nonverbal cues, asking the children to imagine times when they felt sad or angry or frustrated, and then to freeze in those expressions and postures. As the kids slumped forward in exaggerated positions of woe, Garcia complimented them on small details: a bowed head or hangdog expression. Afterward, Garcia turned to the class. “This is the thinking part of your brain,” she said, holding up her thumb. She pointed to her fingers. “And this is the feeling part of your brain.” Folding her thumb into the center of her palm, she closed her fingers around it. “When we have strong emotions, the thinking part of our brain can’t always control them,” Garcia explained, waggling her fist. “What do we do in those moments?” As the kids called out answers — counting to five, “self-talk,” “dragon breaths” (a kind of deep-breathing exercise) — Garcia nodded.
    • Such strategies may seem simplistic, but researchers say they can have a profound effect. When I spoke with Mark Greenberg, who developed a social-emotional curriculum known as Paths (Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies), he noted that repeatedly practicing these skills means they gradually become automatic. “The ability to stop and calm down is foundational in those moments.”
    • Depending on our personalities, and how we’re raised, the ability to reframe may or may not come easily. Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, notes that while one child may stay rattled by an event for days or weeks, another child may rebound within hours. (Neurotic people tend to recover more slowly.) In theory, at least, social-emotional training can establish neurological pathways that make a child less vulnerable to anxiety and quicker to recover from unhappy experiences. One study found that preschoolers who had even a single year of a social-emotional learning program continued to perform better two years after they left the program; they weren’t as physically aggressive, and they internalized less anxiety and stress than children who hadn’t participated in the program.

    Read the full article here

    "What's Worse Than an Oil Spill? A Molasses Spill"




    • Thousands of fish — gasping desperately, then floating lifelessly — surfaced in Honolulu Harbor this week, suffering from oxygen deprivation caused by a massive molasses spill. 
    • This strange case of sugary suffocation was brought on by the Matson Shipping Company, which was loading one of its vessels with 1,600 tons of molasses through a pipeline in the harbor early Monday morning when a leak sprung. 
    • Matson reported that up to 1,400 tons of the sludgy syrup may have escaped into the harbor and nearby Ke’ehi Lagoon. 
    • There is no way to clean up a molasses spill. “It’s sunk to the bottom of the harbor,” Matson spokesman Jeff Hull told the L.A. Times on Wednesday. There, the molasses has displaced the oxygen-containing seawater that thousands of marine organisms rely on to breathe. 
    • The Hawaii Department of Health, rather than the U.S. Coast Guard or Environmental Protection Agency, is responding to the accident because it is not an oil or “hazardous material” spill, according to NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration. It doesn’t really matter who gets involved, because there isn’t much mitigating to be done. 
    • Hawaii News Now reported the devastating ecological impact of the spill ...In the words of Roger White, the scuba diver who shot the video, “It was shocking because the entire bottom is covered with dead fish.” 
    • Another Matson molasses spill occurred ten years ago in Maui, but that was in December, when winter storm conditions contributed to flushing the water, and the contributing pipeline leak was identified and stopped relatively quickly, so only about 50,000 gallons of molasses escaped into the water. The 1,400 ton estimate of the Honolulu spill equates to over 200,000 gallons. 

    Learn more here.

    Fun/Un-Fun New Paper:

    The Cheater’s High: The Unexpected Affective Benefits of Unethical Behavior

    • Many theories of moral behavior assume that unethical behavior triggers negative affect. 
    • In this article, we challenge this assumption and demonstrate that unethical behavior can trigger positive affect, which we term a “cheater’s high.” 
    • Across 6 studies, we find that even though individuals predict they will feel guilty and have increased levels of negative affect after engaging in unethical behavior (Studies 1a and 1b), individuals who cheat on different problem-solving tasks consistently experience more positive affect than those who do not (Studies 2–5). 
    • We find that this heightened positive affect does not depend on self-selection (Studies 3 and 4), and it is not due to the accrual of undeserved financial rewards (Study 4). 
    • Cheating is associated with feelings of self-satisfaction, and the boost in positive affect from cheating persists even when prospects for self-deception about unethical behavior are reduced (Study 5). 
    • Our results have important implications for models of ethical decision making, moral behavior, and self-regulatory theory.

    Ruedy, Moore, Gino, & Schweitzer, 2013.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology

    Intriguing (/Ridiculous) Headline of the Week: "Testes Size Correlates With Men's Involvement in Toddler Care"

    • Men with smaller testes than others are more likely to be involved in hands-on care of their toddlers, a new study conducted by anthropologists at Emory University finds. The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) published the results of the study Sept. 9.

    Learn more (if you dare) here. 

    "Museum Identifies New Van Gogh Painting in Amsterdam"


    • “For the first time in the history of the [Van Gogh] museum, that is in the past 40 years, a substantial capital new work of van Gogh has been discovered that was completely unknown in the literature,” said the museum’s director, Axel Rüger, in an interview. 
    • “We always think we’ve seen everything and we know everything, and now we’re able to add a significant new work to his oeuvre.” 
    • He added, “It is a work from the most important period of his life, when he created his substantial masterpieces, like ‘The Sunflowers,’ ‘The Yellow House’ and ‘The Bedroom.'”

    Learn more here

    "The Perfect Nap: Sleeping Is a Mix of Art and Science"

    How Long to Nap

    Sumathi Reddy has an informative column today in the WSJ about the art and science of sleep.

    A few highlights:
    • Studies have found different benefits—and detriments—to a nap's timing, duration and even effect on different people, depending on one's age and possibly genetics.
    • "Naps are actually more complicated than we realize," said David Dinges, a sleep scientist at the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine. 
    • For a quick boost of alertness, experts say a 10-to-20-minute power nap is adequate for getting back to work in a pinch.
    • For cognitive memory processing, however, a 60-minute nap may do more good...The downside: some grogginess upon waking.
    • Finally, the 90-minute nap will likely involve a full cycle of sleep, which aids creativity and emotional and procedural memory, such as learning how to ride a bike. Waking up after REM sleep usually means a minimal amount of sleep inertia...
    • Experts say the ideal time to nap is generally between the hours of 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. Napping later in the day could interfere with nighttime sleep.
    • A telltale sign of being very sleep-deprived...is dreaming during a short nap. "Definitely in a 20-minute nap you should not be dreaming"...

     Read the full article (and see the full-sized graphic) here

    Nifty New Invention: GolfBoard

    Riders can choose between using a bag mount/stability handle (seen here), carrying their b...

    • When people want to criticize electric cars, they often refer to them as glorified golf carts. Why? Because golf carts (with a few exceptions) are known for being slow and boring. That being the case, what options are there for hip, young golfers who are too cool for carts? Well, they might soon be able to carve across the greens on an electric GolfBoard.

    [Now my 14 year-old nephew knows what he wants for Christmas!]

    To learn more (and watch a video), go here.  

    Fun (and Un-Fun) New Findings:

    Intriguing Headline of the Month: "When Lettuce Was a Sacred Sex Symbol"


    "But in Ancient Egypt around 2,000 B.C., lettuce was not a popular appetizer, it was an aphrodisiac, a phallic symbol that represented the celebrated food of the Egyptian god of fertility, Min..."

    Learn all about it (in Smithsonian Magazine) here

    Who Knew: "Summer Is the Real Season for Bad Colds, Not Winter"

    How to get rid of a summer cold

  • Colds in summertime can last for weeks, at times seemingly going away and then suddenly storming back with a vengeance, infectious-disease experts say. A winter cold, by contrast, is typically gone in a few days.
  • The reason for the difference: Summer colds are caused by different viruses from the ones that bring on sniffling and sneezing in the colder months. And some of the things people commonly do in the summer can prolong the illness, like being physically active and going in and out of air-conditioned buildings.
  • "A winter cold is nasty, brutish and short," says Bruce Hirsch, infectious-disease specialist at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y. "But summer colds tend to linger. They can go on for weeks and reoccur."

  • Learn more (from Angela Chen in the WSJ) here

    Nifty New Invention: The NapAnywhere Neck Pillow

    The NapAnywhere is designed to help commuters sleep anywhere


  • If you've ever been to an airport, you've probably seen some neck pillows designed to help support your head while you slumber. According to its creator Ravi Shamaiengar, these were his inspiration for the NapAnywhere. "Like many, I would use a U-shaped neck pillow. Unfortunately, the support I needed just wasn't there," he said. So, he sought to design one that actually had the support he desired.
  • NapAnywhere starts as a flat disc. Once opened, the top of the pillow forms a shelf where the user rests his or her head while sleeping. The bottom curves over the user's shoulder. The area in between is what allows the weight to be distributed around the shoulder, and thus what prevents the head from drooping, which could lead to neck cramps or an annoyed neighbor...The pillow also comes with an adjustable strap, which exists to help hold everything in place while sleeping.
  • Each side uses two different materials. The top uses material that is warm to the touch, and the other side feels cool, which could add a little bit of extra comfort to those difficult sleeping locations. It only weighs 8 oz (230 g), and it folds flat, so carrying it around should not be an issue.

  • Learn more (and watch a demonstration video) here.

    Fun (and Un-Fun) New Findings #1: