Saturday, October 25, 2014

Justice Roberts on diversity on the Supreme Court

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who has two Harvard degrees, was once asked whether it is healthy for the Supreme Court to consist of only justices with degrees from elite institutions.

“First of all, I disagree with your premise,” he responded. “Not all of the justices went to elite institutions. Some went to Yale.”
--Adam Liptak, NYT, on Justice Roberts's quick wit

Friday, October 24, 2014

Taking a selfie when you've been shot

Late one night in August, Mishay Simpson shot Andrew Noll after he walked into her Davis Islands home unannounced. Simpson, the wife of semiprofessional golfer Rhett Simpson, later told investigators that Noll was a former friend who had been stalking her and threatening to hurt her family.

When the home's alarm went off and she heard someone coming up the stairs, she grabbed a 9mm Ruger. When the door opened, she fired.

A bullet sliced through Noll's chest and exited his back, piercing a painting on the wall behind him.

Noll, 23, survived the shooting. But there was much more to the story than what Simpson, 28, told police.

Among the things she omitted: She and Noll had an affair. ...

A few weeks before the shooting, Simpson tried to break things off. ...

In the hours before the shooting, he texted her again. She said her husband was out of town and she was going to bed. Noll later told police that he interpreted that to mean it was okay to come over. He tried entering the alarm code, but it didn't work.

The alarm sounded as he headed upstairs. When she fired, he could smell the gunpowder.

As he lay bleeding, Noll raised the phone and snapped a selfie.
--Dan Sullivan, Tampa Bay Times, on our "selfie for every occasion" era

Sunday, October 19, 2014

When air pollution is so bad it makes your skin dirty


Even by the city's standards, Beijing was very polluted on Sunday. The PM2.5 scale, which measures the number of micrograms of "particulate matter" per cubic meter, came up to a whopping 344. (To put that figure in perspective, the World Health Organization considers 25 micrograms to be healthy). ...

To say the least, these weren't ideal conditions for a marathon. But that race is precisely what took place on Sunday, as tens of thousands of runners braved the conditions to complete the 34th annual Beijing International Marathon.

Event organizers were aware that the air wouldn't be good on Sunday, but determined it was too late to postpone the race, which had attracted participants from throughout China and around the world. To help runners clean detritus from their skin, organizers supplied over 140,000 sponges placed at stations throughout the course.
--Matt Schiavenza, The Atlantic, on taking air pollution to the next level

What happened to Samuel L. Jackson's character after Pulp Fiction

At the end of Pulp Fiction, [Samuel L.] Jackson’s Jules says to Vincent that, after their brush with death in the diner, he’s just going to “walk the earth.” When Vincent asks him to expand, he says, “You know, walk the earth, meet people… get into adventures. Like Caine from Kung Fu.” In Kill Bill: Vol. 2, Jackson makes a cameo at The Bride’s wedding as a piano-playing drifter who goes by the name of “Rufus.”
--Marlow Stern, Daily Beast, on a beloved character making good on a vow. HT: AS

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Time spent in meetings is growing exponentially

Time spent in meetings has been rising by 8% to 10% annually since 2000, and is likely to continue increasing, says Michael Mankins, a partner in San Francisco with the management-consulting firm Bain & Co. Senior executives are spending an average 28 hours in meetings each week, and middle managers spend 21 hours, says Mr. Mankins, lead author of a recent 17-company time-management study with analytics provider VoloMetrix. ...

Conference-room shortages fuel genuine anxiety in employees who must meet with others to get work done. When Seattle-based Moz, a maker of marketing-analytics software, outgrew its office space last year, employees began booking conference rooms in advance just in case they needed them, says Mark Schliemann, vice president, technical operations, for the company. “If there’s a shortage of food, people want to hoard it. Conference rooms are the same way,” Mr. Schliemann says. “If people see conference space as valuable and they need it, they do whatever it takes to get it.”

Such logjams leave 40% of employees wasting up to 30 minutes a day looking for meeting space, according to customer surveys by Steelcase Inc.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

How a prayer meeting helped bring down the Berlin Wall

Disillusioned with the Berlin Wall, the physical fault line of the ongoing Cold War and the repressive East German regime, Pastor Christian Führer began organising Prayers for Peace every Monday evening, beginning in 1982.

On many occasions fewer than a dozen people attended the prayer meetings. The East German government strongly discouraged its citizens from becoming involved in religious activities, but the meetings continued each Monday without fail.

In 1985 Pastor Führer put an 'open to all' sign outside the church. Such a gesture was loaded with symbolism as the church provided the only space in East Germany where people could talk about things that could not be discussed in public.

Meetings were open to everyone. Young people, Christians and atheists all sought refuge there. Attendances soared as word of the peace prayers spread.

Momentum began to build in earnest during the summer of 1989...

"On 8 May 1989, the authorities barricaded the streets leading to the church, hoping to put people off, but it had the opposite effect, and our congregation grew. There were beatings and arrests of demonstrators at protest rallies in Leipzig, Berlin and Dresden," [Pastor Führer] said.

By this time the prayer meetings had led to a series of peaceful political protests in Leipzig and other cities which became known as the Monday Demonstrations. ...

Things came to a head on 7 October 1989, the 40th anniversary of the German Democratic Republic.

"There were hundreds of arrests made among the crowds in front of the Nikolai Church. Erich Honecker [the Communist leader of East Germany] had declared that the church should be closed. The police used brute force against the demonstrators and lots of people were beaten," Pastor Führer recalled.

An article appeared in a local newspaper announcing that the counter-revolution would be put down on Monday 9 October "with whatever means necessary". ...

"The church was visited by doctors who told us that hospital rooms had been made available for patients with bullet wounds. So we were absolutely terrified of what might happen," Pastor Führer said.

Up to 8,000 crowded into St Nicholas Church, including members of the feared Stasi (secret police) who had been sent to occupy it.

Other Leipzig churches opened to accommodate additional protesters. About 70,000 people had now gathered in the city.

After an hour-long service at St Nicholas, Pastor Führer led worshippers outside.

The nearby Augustusplatz was filled with demonstrators clutching lit candles. Slowly, the crowd began walking around the city, past the Stasi headquarters, chanting "we are the people" and "no violence", and accompanied by thousands of helmeted riot police ready to intervene.

The tension was palpable.

But at the decisive moment the police stood aside and let the protesters march by.

Pastor Führer said: "They didn't attack. They had nothing to attack for. East German officials would later say they were ready for anything, except for candles and prayer." ...

This would prove to be a seismic moment. The fact they had been met with no violence meant the protest movement began to lose its fear. The dam had burst.

Footage of the march was widely broadcast, which inspired Monday Demonstrations throughout East Germany in the following weeks.

About 120,000 people took to the streets the following Monday. Erich Honecker resigned two days later. The dissidents became increasingly emboldened, with around 300,000 taking part in the protests on 23 October.

Exactly a month after the events of 9 October the Berlin Wall came down amid scenes of jubilation witnessed around the world.
--Peter Crutchley, BBC, on the power of prayer. HT: JM

Kids' food tastes begin forming in the womb

Children begin to acquire a taste for pickled egg or fermented lentils early — in the womb, even. Compounds from the foods a pregnant woman eats travel through the amniotic fluid to her baby. After birth, babies prefer the foods they were exposed to in utero, a phenomenon scientists call “prenatal flavor learning.” Even so, just because children are primed to like something doesn’t mean the first experience of it on their tongues will be pleasant. For many Korean kids, breakfast includes kimchi, cabbage leaves or other vegetables fermented with red chile peppers and garlic. A child’s first taste of kimchi is something of a rite of passage, one captured in dozens of YouTube videos featuring chubby-faced toddlers grabbing at their tongues and occasionally weeping.

Children, and young omnivorous animals generally, tend to reject unfamiliar foods on the first few tries. Evolutionarily, it makes sense for an inexperienced creature to be cautious about new foods, which might, after all, be poisonous. It is only through repeated exposure and mimicry that toddlers adjust to new tastes — breakfast instead of, say, dinner. ...

Sugar is the notable exception to “food neophobia,” as researchers call that early innate fear. In utero, a 13-week-old fetus will gulp amniotic fluid more quickly when it contains sugar.
--Malia Wollan, NYT Magazine, on the next frontier for hyper-anxious parenting

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Christianity is a potent force for democracy

One of the most interesting things I've read about the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong touches on an aspect that has received relatively little attention so far. An article in The Wall Street Journal looks at the religious background of some of the movement's main organizers. It turns out that many of the key people are Christians.

Joshua Wong, the 17-year-old leader of the activist group that has played a key role in launching and organizing the demonstrations, is an evangelical Protestant. Two of the three leaders of Occupy Central, the main protest group, are Christians. A former Catholic bishop of Hong Kong is another big supporter. "Christianity has been a visible element of the demonstrations, with prayer groups, crosses, and protesters reading Bibles in the street," the article notes. ...

Yet many other leading media organizations -- like The New York Times or CNN -- have neglected to mention this point. This strikes me as a significant omission. We can hardly be expected to understand why the demonstrators persist in defying the world's most powerful dictatorship without understanding the beliefs behind their choices.

Why has there been so little attention to the Christian factor? I think it's a combination of ignorance and embarrassment. Most journalists in the countries of the West today are skeptics or secularists. They tend to regard religious belief as a quaint oddity, a sort of exotic irrelevance. ...

No one, not even the communists, believes in Marxism-Leninism these days, and the [Chinese Communist] Party has yet to come up with a solid value system to take its place.

On top of that, the Party is also extremely sensitive to a history apparently lost on many of the reporters currently covering the protests in Hong Kong: the long and illustrious Christian involvement in revolutions around the world. The Chinese leadership is painfully aware of the role played by Pope John Paul II and his Polish Catholic compatriots in the downfall of the communist system in Eastern Europe. And despite their eagerness to discount Chinese Christians (and Hong Kong protesters) as agents of foreign powers, the rulers in Beijing also know that indigenous Christians were equally prominent in the pro-democracy movements that brought down dictators in South Korea and the Philippines in the 1980s.

Indeed, Christians have played strikingly important roles in popular protest movements ranging from the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa to the civil rights campaigns in the United States. ...

Martin Luther King mined Biblical texts for powerful metaphors of individual liberation and collective empowerment. Twentieth-century activists have translated Christ's radical emphasis on love into programs for non-violent struggle. On the purely practical level, churches provide alternate networks of support and refuge that can come in handy for activists who might otherwise find themselves alone against the power of the state.

Most people in Hong Kong aren't Christians -- so what is it about this particular faith that seems to predispose its adherents to activism? Surely that's worth examining.
--Christian Caryl, Foreign Policy, on beliefs that motivate

Making your dying days your best possible days

A couple of years ago, I got a call from the husband of Peg Bachelder, my daughter Hunter’s piano teacher. “Peg’s in the hospital,” Martin said. ...

He put his cell on speaker for Peg. She sounded weak and spoke in long pauses. She said the leukemia treatment was not working. ... She didn’t know what to do. ...

What is it we think should happen now? Her condition was incurable by established means. So should she press the doctors for other treatments, experimental therapies, anything with even a remote chance of keeping her going, no matter what? Or should she “give up”?

Neither seemed right. But for more than a decade in medical practice, I had not really understood what other choices might exist. ...

But hearing her fears, I suggested that Peg try hospice. It’d at least let her get home, I said, and might help her more than she knew. Hospice’s aim, at least in theory, I explained, is to give people their best possible day, however they might define it under the circumstances. It seemed as if it had been a while since she’d had a good day.

“Yes, it has — a long while,” she said.

That seemed worth hoping for, I said. Just one good day.

With her husband’s encouragement, she went home on hospice less than 48 hours later. ...

A few days later, however, we got a surprising call from Peg. She wanted to resume teaching. ...

That hospice could make teaching possible for her again was more than I’d imagined. But when her hospice nurse arrived, she asked Peg what she cared most about in her life, what having the best day possible meant to her. Then they worked together to make it happen. ...

Her first goal was just managing her daily difficulties. The hospice team put a hospital bed on the first floor so she wouldn’t have to navigate the stairs, organized a plan for bathing and dressing, adjusted her pain medications until they were right. Her anxieties plummeted as the challenges came under control. She raised her sights. ...

It took planning and great expertise to make each lesson possible. The nurse helped her learn how to calibrate her medications. “Before she would teach, she would take some additional morphine. The trick was to give her enough to be comfortable to teach and not so much that she would be groggy,” Martin recalled. ...

“It was important to her to be able to say her goodbyes to her dear friends, to give her parting advice to her students.”

Medicine has forgotten how vital such matters are to people as they approach life’s end. People want to share memories, pass on wisdoms and keepsakes, connect with loved ones, and to make some last contributions to the world. These moments are among life’s most important, for both the dying and those left behind. And the way we in medicine deny people these moments, out of obtuseness and neglect, should be cause for our unending shame.

Peg, however, got to fulfill her final role. She lived six weeks after going on hospice. Hunter had lessons for four of those weeks, and two final concerts were played. One featured Peg’s current students, all younger children; the other, her former students from around the country. Gathered in her living room, they played Brahms, Chopin and Beethoven for their adored teacher. A week later, she fell into delirium and, a short time after that, died peacefully in her bed.

My final remembrance of Peg is from the end of her last recital with the children. She’d taken each student away from the crowd to give a personal gift and say a few words. When it was Hunter’s turn, Peg gave her a book of music. Then she put her arm around her.

“You’re special,” she whispered to her. It was something she never wanted her students to forget.
--Atul Gawande, NYT, on the good death

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Eat kiwis with the skin on

[T]he kiwi has the reputation of a fruit that requires…work. Typical ways to eat it include skinning it with a vegetable peeler and slicing into rounds or cutting it in half and scooping out the insides with a spoon. ...

I am about to blow your minds, friends. (Unless you already know this, in which case, cool, let’s make a salad together sometime.) The proper way to eat a kiwi is exactly the way you would eat a peach.

Which is to say, wash it lightly, and then bite right into it. The kiwi is better with its skin than without it. The skin isn’t just edible, it’s one of my favorite parts of any fruit. It’s similar to a peach skin, in that it is sort of fuzzy and that the flesh directly under the skin is a bit more tart than the deep insides, but the kiwi’s skin is even thicker and thus provides even more delightful textural contrast to the green flesh within.
--Dan Nosowitz, The Awl, on a truth I just experienced for myself