treating psychopaths — 8/27/15

Today’s encore selection — from Inside the Mind of a Psychopath” by Kent A. Kiehl and Joshua W. Buckholz. The bizarre world of psychopaths, and the equally bizarre world of psychopathy treatment. Some researchers have estimated that as many as 500,000 psychopaths inhabit the U.S. prison system, and there may be another 250,000 more living freely — perhaps not committing serious crimes, but still taking advantage of those around them. Psychopathy is caused in large part by differences in biology. Images of psychopaths’ brains made by Kent A. Kiehl show a pronounced thinning and underdevelopment of the paralimbic tissue, and area which includes the orbitofrontal cortex, the amygdala, the anterior cingulate cortex and the insula:

“Between the two of us [authors], we have interviewed hundreds of prison inmates to assess their mental health. We are trained in spotting psychopaths, but even so, coming face to face with the real article can be electrifying, if also unsettling. One of the most striking peculiarities of psychopaths is that they lack empathy; they are able to shake off as mere tinsel the most universal social obligations. They lie and manipulate yet feel no compunction or regrets — in fact, they don’t feel particularly deeply about anything at all. …

“Psychopaths are curiously oblivious to emotional cues. In 2002 James Blair of the NIMH showed that they are not good at detecting emotions, especially fear, in another person’s voice. They also have trouble identifying fearful facial expressions. …

“Psychopaths often cover up their deficiencies with a ready and engaging charm, so it can take time to realize what you are dealing with. Kent A. Kiehl used to ask inexperienced graduate students to interview a particularly appealing inmate before acquainting themselves with his criminal history. These budding psychologists would emerge quite certain that such a well-spoken, trustworthy person must have been wrongly imprisoned. Until, that is, they read his file — pimping, drug dealing, fraud, robbery, and on and on — and went back to reinterview him, at which point he would say offhandedly, ‘Oh, yeah, I didn’t want to tell you about all that stuff. That’s the old me.’…

“A man we will call Brad was in prison for a particularly heinous crime. In an interview he described how he had kidnapped a young woman, tied her to a tree, [abused] her for two days, then slit her throat and left her for dead. He told the story, then concluded with an unforgettable non sequitur. ‘Do you have a girl?’ he asked. ‘Because I think it’s really important to practice the three C’s — caring, communication and compassion. That’s the secret to a good relationship. I try to practice the three C’s in all my relationships.’ He spoke without hesitation, clearly unaware how bizarre this self-help platitude sounded after his awful confession. …

“Thanks to technology that captures brain activity in real time, experts are no longer limited to examining psychopaths’ aberrant behavior. We can investigate what is happening inside them as they think, make decisions and react to the world around them. And what we find is that far from being merely selfish, psychopaths suffer from a serious biological defect. Their brains process information differently from those of other people. It’s as if they have a learning disability that impairs emotional development. …

“Kiehl has launched an ambitious multimillion-dollar project to gather genetic information, brain images and case histories from 1,000 psychopaths and compile it all into a searchable database. … Between 15 and 35 percent of U.S. prisoners are psychopaths. Psychopaths offend earlier, more frequently and more violently than others, and they are four to eight times more likely to commit new crimes on release. In fact, there is a direct correlation between how high people score on the 40-point screening test for psychopathy and how likely they are to violate parole. Kiehl recently estimated that the expense of prosecuting and incarcerating psychopaths, combined with the costs of the havoc they wreak in others’ lives, totals $250 billion to $400 billion a year. No other mental health problem of this size is being so willfully ignored.

“Billions of research dollars have been spent on depression; probably less than a million has been spent to find treatments for psychopathy. … There is room for optimism: a new treatment for intractable juvenile offenders with psychopathic tendencies has had tremendous success. Michael Caldwell, a psychologist at the Mendota Juvenile Treatment Center in Madison, Wis., uses intensive one-on-one therapy known as decompression aimed at ending the vicious cycle in which punishment for bad behavior inspires more bad behavior, which is in turn punished. Over time, the incarcerated youths in Caldwell’s program act out less frequently and become able to participate in standard rehabilitation services. A group of more than 150 youths treated by Caldwell were 50 percent less likely to engage in violent crime afterward than a comparable group who were treated at regular juvenile corrections facilities. The young people in the regular system killed 16 people in the first four years after their release; those in Caldwell’s program killed no one.”

Kent A. Kiehl and Joshua W. Buckholtz
title: “Inside the Mind of a Psychopath”
publisher: Scientific American Mind
date: September/October 2010
pages: 22-29
About Us is a brief daily email with an excerpt or quote we view as interesting or noteworthy, offered with commentary to provide context. There is no theme, except that most excerpts will come from a non-fiction work, mainly works of history, are occasionally controversial, and we hope will have a more universal relevance than simply the subject of the book from which they came.


the disposable razor blade — 8/26/15

Today’s selection — from Who Built That by Michelle Malkin. In business, the “holy grail” is to get long-term, recurring business from the same customer, rather than having to make a new sale each time. In the late 1800s, William Painter had achieved this with cork, a disposable sealant. He encouraged a young employee named King Gillette to invent something with this same disposable quality, and Gillette came up with the idea of a disposable razor blade:

“In 1891, William Painter invited King Gillette to join the Baltimore Bottle Seal Company and soon after, Crown Cork & Seal, as a traveling sales rep in New York and New England. ‘It was at [Painter’s] solicitation that I joined the company,’ Gillette recalled fondly. Given their mutual passion for invention, a deep friendship was inevitable. Painter welcomed Gillette into his home for ‘intimate talks on inventions.’ He freely dispensed business advice to Gillette as he had done with countless other aspiring tinkerpreneurs pursuing the American Dream. Gillette soaked up Painter’s wisdom and fully understood the business significance of his bottle cap innovations. He appreciated the miracle of the mundane.

‘Mr. Painter was a very interesting talker when interested in his subject and thoroughly conversant with all the details and possibilities of his own inventions,’ Gillette reflected, ‘which though little in themselves seemed without boundary to their possibilities when one realizes their unlimited fields of applications.’

“As Gillette told it in his own company’s history, Painter steered him toward the practical and the disposable. The razor-sharp businessman gave Gillette the consumer-driven focus he had been lacking. ‘[Y]ou are always thinking and inventing something,’ Painter told Gillette. But he had never sustained a viable business. Painter advised Gillette: ‘Why don’t you try to think of something like a crown cork, which, once used, is thrown away, and the customer keeps coming back for more — and with every additional customer you get, you are building a foundation for profit?’

“Those words, Gillette said, ‘stuck to me like a burr.’ When Gillette doubted that he could come up with anything beyond the ‘corks, pins, and needles’ that had already been conceived, Painter persisted: ‘You don’t know. It is not probable that you ever will find anything that is like the Crown Cork, but it won’t do any harm to think about it.’

“Gillette’s famed epiphany that led to the creation of the ubiquitous safety razor struck in 1895 as he stood in front of his bathroom mirror: “[W]hen I started to shave, I found my razor dull, and it was not only dull, it was beyond the point of stropping and it needed honing, for which it must be taken to a barber or a cutler.’

“At age forty, his long-sought ‘Aha!’ moment had arrived.

” ‘As I stood there with the razor in my hand,’ Gillette recalled, ‘my eyes resting on it lightly as a bird settling down on its nest — the Gillette razor was born.’ He ‘knew practically nothing about steel.’ His idea ‘was looked upon as a joke by all my friends.’ Experts told him that putting an edge on sheet steel for shaving couldn’t be done. His own father and brothers, preoccupied with their own new endeavor manufacturing horse clippers, blew him off.

“But as William Painter had counseled family, friends. and colleagues: ‘The only way to do a thing is to do it.’ … Gillette continued to work for Crown Cork & Seal while he conducted experiments, sought financial support, and solicited technical help in perfecting his blades. He ignored the mockers and detractors.”

Who Built That: Awe-Inspiring Stories of American Tinkerpreneurs

Author: Michelle Malkin
Publisher: Mercury Ink an Imprint of Simon and Schuster
Copyright 2015 by Michelle Malkin
Pages 136-139

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About Us is a brief daily email with an excerpt or quote we view as interesting or noteworthy, offered with commentary to provide context. There is no theme, except that most excerpts will come from a non-fiction work, mainly works of history, are occasionally controversial, and we hope will have a more universal relevance than simply the subject of the book from which they came.

good king wenceslas — 8/25/15

Today’s selection — from Prague Winter by Madeline Albright. The origin of the terms Bohemia and Czech — along with the story of Good King Wenceslas:

“The earliest settlers of the lands that lie within the heart of Europe between the Carpathian Mountains and the Danube were the Boii, a Celtic tribe on the run from northern floods. Those pioneers were gradually pushed out by Germanic warriors, who were then suppressed by the legions of imperial Rome. The Romans called the land ‘Bohemia’ after the Boii, which means that the territory was named by Italians in honor of the Irish, demonstrating — if nothing else — that globalization is not new.

“When Rome crumbled, the Germans returned, joined in the eighth century AD by Slavs who migrated from the Central Asian steppes. According to legend, the patriarch Cech led his people on the arduous journey west across three great rivers until they came to a hill of a most peculiar shape: round at the top with inordinately steep sides. From the summit, Cech announced to his weary companions that they had reached at last the ‘Promised Land … [of] vast forests and sparkling rivers, green meadows and blue lakes, a land filled with game and birds and wet with sweet milk and honey.’

Wenceslaus’ assassination

“A daughter of Cech’s successor, the prophetess Libuse, is described in the odd way of ancient chroniclers as ‘the pride and glory of the female sex, doing wise and manly deeds.’ It was she who envisioned the creation of a city — Prague — ‘whose glory shale touch the stars.’ The story may be fantastic, but there was nothing fictional about the city and its fame. By the end of the tenth century it had been consolidated by the Premyslids, an indigenous clan whose dynasty brought the nation into being. During their reign, grand cathedrals, monasteries. and synagogues were built; the castle district was fortified; and commerce flourished on both sides of the river. 

“Among the nation’s early rulers was Václav (in English, Wenceslas), a devout Christian who incurred resentment among the pagan nobility due to his kindness toward the poor. In search of allies, Václav made peace with German Saxony and, in return for protection, paid an annual tribute of silver and oxen. The king was beloved by his people but envied by his treacherous brother Boleslav, whose minions murdered the young monarch while he was on his way to mass. Every nation needs its martyrs, and Wenceslas became Bohemia’s first.” 
Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937-1948

Author: Madeleine Albright
Publisher Harper Perennial
Copyright 2012 by Madeline Albright
Pages 18-19
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About Us is a brief daily email with an excerpt or quote we view as interesting or noteworthy, offered with commentary to provide context. There is no theme, except that most excerpts will come from a non-fiction work, mainly works of history, are occasionally controversial, and we hope will have a more universal relevance than simply the subject of the book from which they came.

a brief history of the donut — 8/21/15

Today’s selection — from The American Plate by Libby H. O’Connell. Donuts began as a small sweet treat with no hole called oleykoeks invented by the Dutch. It wasn’t till 1847 that an American seaman added the hole:

“You may think we have a giant national sweet tooth today, but the early American settlers were no less fond of their sweet treats. The Dutch contributed to a national love of sugary baked goods. The English and the Spanish weren’t the only Europeans to colonize North America early on. The French sent explorers and missionaries, whose names dot the maps of modern Canada and the Unites States, particularly in the Great Lakes region and the Mississippi River valley. The Dutch founded New Netherland right in the middle of the Atlantic coast and up the great Hudson River. Their harbor town, New Amsterdam, would eventually become the vibrant powerhouse called New York City.

Modern Donuts from Federal Donuts

“Although the English took possession of New Netherland in 1664 and renamed the colony New York, many Dutch settlers remained. Farm families in the early 1800s still spoke Dutch. Several common American words, like ‘boss’ and ‘stoop,’ are Dutch in origin. Their influence lingers in place names like Brooklyn and Kinderhook, and in family names like Roosevelt and Vanderbilt.

“The Dutch also contributed three all-American foods: doughnuts, waffles, and cookies. It would be inaccurate to say they invented these sweet treats. … In the colonial period, doughnuts were chubby circles, not the inflated rings we’re used to seeing today. A baker would drop a ball of stiff batter or dough about the size of a large walnut into hot pork lard and fry it brown. They called these deep-fat-fried calorie bombs oleykoeks, or oil cakes, serving them with a dusting of confectioners’ sugar and cinnamon. British Americans adopted the recipe, but called the treat a ‘dough-nut.’

“An American seaman cook, Hanson Gregory, claimed to have created the first doughnut cooked intentionally with a hole in 1847, more than two hundred years after the Dutch arrived here. He said the hole allowed the dough to cook more evenly in the hot lard. Today, Americans consume doughnuts with enormous relish, chowing down on over ten billion a year.”

The American Plate: A Culinary History in 100 Bites

Author: Libby O’Connell
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Copyright 2014 by Libby H. O’Connell
Pages 59-60

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earth is a pearlike, oblate-spheroidal hula hoop — 8/14/15

Today’s selection — from Death By Black Hole by Neil DeGrasse Tyson. Since 2,600 BCE civilizations have predicted and measured the shape of the Earth. Observers as early as Aristotle himself determined that the Earth is round, but the story is decidedly more complex than that. And the Earth’s equatorial bulge is so pronounced that Ecuador’s Mount Chimborazo sits 1.33 miles farther from Earth’s center than does the summit of Mount Everest. So what shape is the Earth, really?:

“One of the earliest representations of the world, preserved on a 2,600-year-old Babylonian clay tablet, depicts it as a disk encircled by oceans. Fact is, when you stand in the middle of a broad plain (the valley of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, for instance) and check out the view in every direction, Earth does look like a flat disk.

Babylonian map of the world, ca 500 BC.

“Noticing a few problems with the concept of a flat Earth, the ancient Greeks –including such thinkers as Pythagoras and Herodotus — pondered the possibility that Earth might be a sphere. In the fourth century B.C., Aristotle, the great systematizer of knowledge, summarized several arguments in support of that view. One of them was based on lunar eclipses. Every now and then, the Moon, as it orbits Earth, intercepts the cone-shaped shadow that Earth casts in space. Across decades of these spectacles, Aristotle noted, Earth’s shadow on the Moon was always circular. For that to be true, Earth had to be a sphere, because only spheres cast circular shadows via all light sources, from all angles, and at all times. If Earth were a flat disk, the shadow would sometimes he oval. And some other times, when Earth’s edge faced the Sun, the shadow would be a thin line. Only when Earth was face-on to the Sun would its shadow cast a circle.

“Given the strength of that one argument, you might think cartographers would have made a spherical model of Earth within the next few centuries. But no. The earliest known terrestrial globe would wait until 1490-92, on the eve of the European ocean voyages of discovery and colonization.

“So, yes, Earth is a sphere. But the devil, as always, lurks in the details. In Newton’s 1687Principia, he proposed that, because spinning spherical objects thrust their substance outward as they rotate, our planet (and the others as well) will be a bit flattened at the poles and a bit bulgy at the equator — a shape known as an oblate spheroid. To test Newton’s hypothesis, half a century later, the French Academy of Sciences in Paris sent mathematicians on two expeditions — one to the Arctic Circle and one to the equator — both assigned to measure the length of one degree of latitude on Earth’s surface along the same line of longitude. The degree was slightly longer at the Arctic Circle, which could only be true if Earth were a bit flattened. Newton was right.

“The faster a planet spins, the greater we expect its equatorial bulge to be. A single day on fast-spinning Jupiter, the most massive planet in the solar system, lasts 10 Earth-hours; Jupiter is 7 percent wider at its equator than at its poles. Our much smaller Earth, with its 24-hour day, is just 0.3 percent wider at the equator — 27 miles on a diameter of just under 8,000 miles. That’s hardly anything.

“One fascinating consequence of this mild oblateness is that if you stand at sea level anywhere on the equator, you’ll be farther from Earth’s center than you’d be nearly anywhere else on Earth. And if you really want to do things right, climb Mount Chimborazo in central Ecuador, close to the equator. Chimborazo’s summit is four miles above sea level, but more important, it sits 1.33 miles farther from Earth’s center than does the summit of Mount Everest.

“Satellites have managed to complicate matters further. In 1958 the small Earth orbiterVanguard 1 sent back the news that the equatorial bulge south of the equator was slightly bulgier than the bulge north of the equator. Not only that, sea level at the South Pole turned out to be a tad closer to the center of Earth than sea level at the North Pole. In other words, the planet’s a pear.

“Next up is the disconcerting fact that Earth is not rigid. Its surface rises and falls daily as the oceans slosh in and out of the continental shelves, pulled by the Moon and, to a lesser extent, by the Sun. Tidal forces distort the waters of the world, making their surface oval. A well-known phenomenon. But tidal forces stretch the solid earth as well, and so the equatorial radius fluctuates daily and monthly, in tandem with the oceanic tidal and the phases of the Moon. So Earth’s a pearlike, oblate-spheroidal hula hoop.”

Death by Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries

Author: Neil deGrasse Tyson
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Copyright 2007 by Neil deGrasse Tyson
Pages  51-53

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The Revised Edition: “What The Church Won’t Talk About”

J.S. Park: Hospital Chaplain, Skeptical Christian

What The Church Wont Talk About Revised paperback

So while I was writing my upcoming book The Life of King David, I had writer’s block and decided to update my first book, What The Church Won’t Talk About. Yes, I’m a little bit crazy when it comes to writing.

I ended up adding over 16,000 words, including all new questions and topics such as racism, ministry, career, and the pros and cons of social media. I also added a few more of the interludes, as they were the most popular sections. Again, I’m slightly crazy.

The paperback version:

The digital version:

Be blessed and love y’all! — J.S.

p.s. — After the book on David, I’ll be working on a book about Proverbs, with a twist.

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jules verne was never that interested in science — 8/10/15

Today’s selection — from Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas by Jules Verne, 1870, translated by William Butcher. Jules Verne has been the second most-translated author in the world since 1979, ranking between writers Agatha Christie and William Shakespeare. Although Verne is considered a founding father of science fiction, he was “never specifically interested in science”:

“Jules Verne was born and brought up in Nantes, studied and worked in Paris, and then spent the rest of his life in Amiens.

“According to the author’s grandson, Jean Jules-Verne, Verne’s original idea was simply to write a ‘poem’ to the glory of the sea. Maurice Verne is reported to have said that, ‘at bottom, my uncle Jules only had three passions: freedom, music, and the sea’. We also know that in 1865 the novelist George Sand suggested to Verne that the sea was the one area of the globe where his ‘scientific knowledge and imagination’ had not yet been put to use.

“Much of the inspiration for Twenty Thousand Leagues came in fact from Verne’s own experience. He was born on an island in a major whaling port; and while preparing the book he spoke to mariners in Nantes and Amiens, including his brother Paul, a retired naval officer. In 1865 he bought a fishing-boat of 8 or 10 tonnes and used it as a study while sailing along the Brittany and Normandy coasts. In 1868 it was refitted and baptized the Saint-Michel; in September he sailed to Gravesend on it, where he wrote: ‘I’m just finishing· the first volume ofTwenty Thousand Leagues … How beautiful [the scenery] is and what fuel for the imagination!’ His wife is meant to have sardonically commented: ‘How can Jules write all those things [about the sea’s marvels], when he turns his backside to them all the time?’

“Many commentaries have concentrated on the originality of the Nautilus, but it should be emphasized that Verne’s technology was not at all innovative. … Submarine craft had … been around for a long time. Underwater vessels were used in the American War of Independence and Civil War; Verne’s own mathematics teacher had built a working submarine; and even craft namedNautilus were commonplace, including a vessel that the author saw during his visit to the Paris Universal Exposition of 1867. Again, a piece in the Musée des familles of 1857 ascribed to Verne, ‘Submarine Locomotives’, humorously foresees that man might domesticate whales and harness them to his underwater vessels. More than three books with titles like The Depths of the Sea,Submarine Adventures, and The Submarine World were published in France in 1867-9 alone. So crowded, indeed, were the submarine deeps that Verne was afraid of being accused of plagiarism.

“Verne himself was categorical: ‘I am not in any way the inventor of submarine navigation.’ He even claimed he was ‘never specifically interested in science’, only in using it to create dramatic stories in exotic parts; and indeed his reputation as a founding-father of science-fiction has led to a major obfuscation of his literary merits.

“Amongst the many tales of submarines, only Verne’s has survived — undoubtedly because of the living nature of his text, because he integrates both his own experience and his literary and scientific reading. His originality does not lie in creating a vessel or the idea of underwater exploration, but in his unbridled literary imagination.

Author: Jules Verne translated by William Butcher
Publisher: Oxford University Press

Copyright Wiliam Butcher 1998

Pages: ix, xii, xiv

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About Us is a brief daily email with an excerpt or quote we view as interesting or noteworthy, offered with commentary to provide context. There is no theme, except that most excerpts will come from a non-fiction work, mainly works of history, are occasionally controversial, and we hope will have a more universal relevance than simply the subject of the book from which they came.