Thirty Three Things #3

1. The Wages of Sin: How the Discovery of Penicillin Reshaped Modern Sexuality

It was not until 1943, amid world war, that penicillin was found to be an effective treatment for syphilis. This study investigated the hypothesis that a decrease in the cost of syphilis due to penicillin spurred an increase in risky non-traditional sex. Using nationally comprehensive vital statistics, this study found evidence that the era of modern sexuality originated in the mid to late 1950s. Measures of risky non-traditional sexual behavior began to rise during this period. These trends appeared to coincide with the collapse of the syphilis epidemic. Syphilis incidence reached an all-time low in 1957 and syphilis deaths fell rapidly during the 1940s and early 1950s. Regression analysis demonstrated that most measures of sexual behavior significantly increased immediately following the collapse of syphilis and most measures were significantly associated with the syphilis death rate. Together, the findings supported the notion that the discovery of penicillin decreased the cost of syphilis and thereby played an important role in shaping modern sexuality.

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2. The 25 Richest People Who Ever Lived – Inflation Adjusted

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3. Daily multivitamin cuts men’s cancer risk by 8 percent

fter years of research showing dietary supplements failed to prevent cancer, a new study of multivitamin use in men has a surprising message: This one worked.

Turns out, a daily dose of Centrum Silver multivitamins reduced the total risk of cancer in study participants by 8 percent, according to gold-standard research that included nearly 15,000 male doctors older than 50 for up to 13 years.

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4. Virtual comic book newsstand displays all the comics on the rack for any given month and year

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5. How Amazon and Netflix predict your preferences and prod you to purchase

The business rules around these systems are designed to prevent recommenders from making foolish suggestions and also to help online retailers maximize sales without losing your trust. At their most basic level, these systems avoid what’s known as the supermarket paradox. For example, nearly everyone who walks into a supermarket likes bananas and will often buy some. So shouldn’t the recommender simply recommend bananas to every customer? The answer is no, because it wouldn’t help the customer, and it wouldn’t increase banana sales. So a smart supermarket recommender will always include a rule to explicitly exclude recommending bananas.

(Via: Andrew Sullivan’s interns)

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6. A Highbrow Halloween Reading List

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7. Have You Ever Tried to Sell a Stolen Painting?


You’re a thief who’s stolen a fabulously valuable masterpiece. How do you sell it?

I can’t make a blanket statement. But what I can say is, after 20 years of doing these investigations for the FBI, there is a general pattern. And the general pattern is that the criminals who do these jobs, these heists, are good thieves, but they’re terrible businessmen. That’s what it comes down to.

They read in the newspaper about about the growing value of paintings and the new records that are set every year by Cézannes and Picassos, and then they think that they can get a payday by going out and doing a heist. What they don’t understand is that the value of art is dependent on three things: authenticity, provenance — the history of the art — and legal title. Those are the things that really do create the value. I mean, let’s face it, an artwork is basically a piece of canvass with some paint on it. So whenever you talk about these paintings, it’s a matter of authenticity and provenance and legal title. And if you don’t have one of those three things, you don’t have value.

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8. New City Catechism

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9. It’s Raining Cats and Dogs (and Chickens and Cows).

We have less than three weeks to go before the election, yet not once have the candidates brought up one of the gravest threats facing the nation: falling chicken parts.

A few days ago Cassie Bernard was on a horseback ride in Accomac, on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, when she was struck on the head by a foot-long piece of raw chicken that fell from the sky. Fortunately, she was wearing a helmet. But those riding with her said several other chicken parts also rained down, so it is a lucky break indeed that no one got winged.

How could this happen? Explanations vary. A bird expert blames seagulls. Others say it was vultures. The chicken might have been improperly composted, according to officials who think “compost pile” is a synonym for “catapult.” An investigation also has been launched.

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10. The Most Unexpectedly Influential TV Shows of the Past 25 Years

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11. Horseshoe Champion Brian Simmons Might Be The Toughest Athlete In The World

Well, consider this: In the three preliminary rounds, where pitchers threw a combined 15 40-shoe games, Simmons threw a horseshoe 600 times, and that was just in regulation. That doesn’t even take into account the hundreds of practice shoes, although Simmons throws far fewer practice shoes than the others because of his knee. Then, in the championship round this year, he will throw 794 shoes, not counting practice. Over six days, with practice mixed in, he’ll throw a horseshoe more than 2,000 times. And every time he throws a horseshoe, he puts the full weight of his 160-pound body on that bad knee, which is wrapped in a black brace but on the inside is riddled with holes.

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12. 10 Essential Books for Book Nerds

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13. Ghetto Penthouse: Prison Lingo to Keep You Alive on the Inside

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14. Seven Cautions for Eager Polemicists

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15. Time With Dad Good for Self-Esteem

Here’s the second interesting thing: the more time kids spent alone with their fathers, the higher their self-esteem; the more time spent with dads in a group setting (it’s not clear whether this means the whole family, as during a family meal, or something more extended or both), the better their social skills.

Time spent alone with mum did not show the same correlations.

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16. 10 More Scathing Early Reviews of Classic Novels

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17. The myth of a constant and stable environment

Nature has always changed; even the moon’s rotation around Earth and distance from Earth have changed over the millions of years. Living things require, and depend upon, change in nature in order to survive. We have learned this from science, from geological history recorded in ancient nautilus shells to understanding radioactivity.

Yet it’s shocking how little science is involved when we apply environmental sciences to solve environmental problems. Most of our environmental laws, policies, and actions are based on ancient Greek and Roman beliefs about nature — the idea that nature, left alone, exists in a perfect balance, which will persist indefinitely if we just stay out of the way. This folktale nature isn’t just constant over time but stable as well, in the sense that it can recover from (some) disturbances. If it is disturbed — by our actions for example — and then freed from those disturbances, folktale nature returns to that perfect balance. Of course, every system has its limits, and even folktale nature can be pushed so far that it stops working.

(Via: Alan Jacobs)

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18. Creative Breakthroughs That Came During Sleep

The Periodic Table

It’s said that Dmitry Mendeleyev was on a three-day work bender when he finally gave in for a few minutes of shut eye. Instead of falling asleep for 17 hours like most sleep deprived people, Mendeleyev dreamt of an arrangement of elements that would change modern chemistry forever, then popped up about 20 minutes later to record it. “I saw in a dream a table where all the elements fell into place as required. Awakening, I immediately wrote it down on a piece of paper … Only in one place did a correction later seem necessary.”

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19. The Mask of God

The doctrine of vocation, a term that is just the Latin word for “calling,” deals with how God works through human beings to bestow His gifts. God gives us this day our daily bread by means of the farmer, the baker, the cooks, and the lady at the check-out counter. He creates new life — the most amazing miracle of all — by means of mothers and fathers. He protects us by means of police officers, firemen, and our military. He creates beauty through artists. He heals by working through doctors, nurses, and others whom He has gifted, equipped, and called to the medical professions. He proclaims His Word, administers His sacraments, and cares for His sheep through the calling of pastors.

Luther called vocation a “mask of God.” He said that God milks the cows by means of the milkmaid. We see a menial worker and may even be so presumptuous to look down upon her, but behind that humble façade looms God Himself, providing milk for His children.

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20. Why Presidential Debates Make Us Dumber

This is why presidential debates are designed, albeit unintentionally, to make us dumber. Candidates are expected to take maddeningly complex subjects, fairly present their opponent’s position and explain how their position differs all in 2 minutes or less. While such a task is clearly impossible, to even make an attempt requires stripping all relevant context from consideration. A “low-information voter”—who by definition is already unaware of the relevant political context—that watches a debate comes away, as Dylan noted, with less factual information than they stated with. They are, in a very literal sense, made dumber by watching the debate.

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21. If Ayn Rand Wrote the Left Behind Novels

As things go from bad to worse, people begin vanishing. Not just any people. The Elect. First there was the aforementioned Wyatt. Then a brilliant concert pianist. Then a partner of Rearden’s, Ken Dannager, a coal king. Then the charismatic copper-mine magnate Francisco D’Anconia (played with enormous zest by Esai Morales) but not before his mines are literally blown and rendered useless. Finally, a young scientist who has turned from the dark side, government work, to Dagny’s employ, Quentin Daniels (Dietrich Bader). His task was to see if he could do something with a buried treasure Dagny has unearthed: a gizmo that can theoretically produce limitless energy. Just as a breakthrough is imminent, Daniels, too, says goodbye, and disappears literally into the sky.

And then it dawned on me. This film. What it is. What the book is. It’s the libertarian Left Behind. Get this: select people are simply disappearing, into the ether, as it were. And the rest of the world is left staggering under the burden of their absence. All that they contributed, including their business concerns, vanish with them, deliberately destroyed.

“Who is John Galt?” is not a tired expression of helplessness or despair — it’s a prayer. And John Galt…is Jesus/God. With the sound of a trump, actually a crash, he emerges from the heavens and pulls a weary Dagny from the wreckage of her life—a wreckage that is the direct result of the Head of State, the Antichrist—and beckons her to a new earth.

“We won’t let the world disappear,” Rearden promises Dagny at one point. Of course not. There’s the thousand-year reign coming.

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22. Why Angelology Matters

The venture of believing in angels is worth making, even at the risk of confounding the details. We have to rely, as Gregory puts it, on authoritative hearsay—on the Bible and its interpreters, on the Church and her traditions. But one thing is clear: Angels are so inextricably wound about the great mysteries of creation, revelation, and redemption recorded in Scripture that they cannot be pruned back without endangering the main body of Christian faith and practice. The same biblical witness on whose authority Christ is received into the hearts of believers claims with no less authority that angels are real, that there is a host of intelligences who stand in the presence of God, who are bearers of divine revelation, who guide the nations, who fight alongside armies—along with angels who, if their will has been twisted, pervert all these functions, distorting every divine message and poisoning every just cause. Where belief in angels is neglected or suppressed, self-help spiritualism rushes in to fill the gap; where the cult of angels is exaggerated or made an end in itself, all manner of nonsense is unleashed.

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23. All Games are Eschatological

From God’s perspective, play is not a distraction from “real life.” Play is so important partly because it prefigures the final state of affairs: the joy of the celebration of God’s kingdom. All games are essentially eschatological, having some kind of telos or aim. In the best kind of games, you have to work with others, which meets a deep psychological need: The need to know that we are in this together. As the apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12, we need the body of Christ.?

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24. Reflections on the Revolution in Gotham: Of Burke and Batman

Less apparent than the striking images are these skeptical, quintessentially British political mores that the Nolan brothers—despite Jonah’s American accent—have infused into their trilogy. Critic Devin Faraci writes that Nolan embraces the “central thesis that institutions will fail us again and again… But where David Simon’s seminal [The Wire] wrestled with what that means and how we can create change within that environment, Nolan’s films take a decidedly more libertarian slant.” This strikes me as a misreading of The Dark Knight Rises, which celebrates those mediating institutions, what Edmund Burke called “little platoons”: the small, often invisible, and organic structures and bonds that slowly develop into a functioning society. It is not the failure of the federal government that has hollowed out Gotham’s core, but the withdrawal of those intermediate institutions that generated the vacuum Bane claims to fill. This is the fundamental thesis of Tocqueville’s lesser-read but no less perceptive Old Regime and the French Revolution: the later Bourbon monarchs centralized power by clearing subnational governments and corrupting the once countervailing force of the Roman Catholic Church, leaving France to choose between absolutism and anarchy. (Of course, it got both.) Acknowledging these institutions’ failure gets it half right, but critics have erred in perceiving strictly individualist solutions. Nolan’s prescription is not resignation at their impotence but shame to restore them.

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25. The Accountability of the Church Intellectual

Protestantism, by prioritizing a book, the Bible, and the written and spoken word, inevitably has an inbuilt gravitational pull towards intellectualism. Proper Protestantism is not about religious feeling or psychology; it is about truth—defined, proclaimed, believed. This is not a bad thing; indeed, I would argue that the theology of the Bible demands that it be so; and this is why the calling to scholarly study is so important for evangelicals. . . .

Yet Protestantism’s theologically driven orientation to the Book, to books, and to words, does mean that it has a vulnerability which can be easy to exploit. Such an intellectual and literary orientation means that sometimes the mere ability to grasp concepts and to articulate them can easily provide a fast-track to having influence. Rare is the theological student who has not felt the temptation to sit in church on Sunday and to do little more than silently critique the exegesis and theology of the pastor. Even more so will the same student find it hard not to sit in condescending judgment at the often muddled attempts of the people at the church Bible study to make sense of some passage of Scripture or other. Yet the qualifications for leadership in the church as laid out in the New Testament include far more than the ability to grasp theology. Just because one has enrolled in a PhD course or read D. A. Carson or N. T. Wright does not mean that one has the right to speak in church, and certainly does not exempt you from sitting under, and respecting, the authority of the properly established eldership of the church. Nor, incidentally, does completion of a PhD or even being hired to teach Bible at a college. I am always saddened by those who rant on and on about the ‘self-appointed people’ saying this, that, or the other, when, in fact, the targets of their rage are often office-bearers in the church while the ranters themselves have nothing but a PhD, an annual contract from some outfit somewhere, and a website. From a biblical perspective, who, one wonders, is the truly self-appointed in such contexts?

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26. How Puritans Became Capitalists

IDEAS: You’re saying that the market didn’t rise at the expense of religion, but was enabled by it?

VALERI: You need to have a change in your basic understanding of how or where God works in the world before you can envision different economic behaviors as morally sufferable. These religious changes come first. The market–networks of exchange, converging prices, things being adjudicated in courts–is not put in place in North America until the 1740s,1750s. The religious changes come before that. They’re integral to it.

IDEAS: Your book comes out at an interesting moment for America’s relationship with free-market economics–to a lot of people, it looks like everyone in the financial markets has been behaving in defiance of the broader interests of the society.

VALERI: I asked a hedge fund manager I know if he had said to the traders described in [Michael Lewis’s] ”The Big Short,” ”What you’re doing will result in huge financial calamity, unemployment, people losing their homes–isn’t that socially irresponsible?”, what would they have said? He said, ”Their response would be, ’that doesn’t matter, that’s not my concern. My job is to make as much money as I possibly can.’”

My book shows the people who built the capitalist system did not think like that. The people who built the market economy had a whole cluster of deep collective loyalties and moral convictions.

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27. Portion Distortion and the Last Supper

Brian and Craig Wansink teamed up to analyze the amount of food depicted in 52 of the best-known paintings of the Last Supper. After indexing the sizes of the foods by the sizes of the average disciple’s head, they found that portion size, plate size, and bread size increased dramatically over the last one thousand years. Overall, the main courses depicted in the paintings grew by 69%, plate size by 66%, and bread size by 23%.

[. . .]

“I think people assume that increased serving sizes, or ‘portion distortion,’ is a recent phenomenon,” said Brian Wansink, professor and director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab.“ But this research indicates that it’s a general trend for at least the last millennium.”

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28. 50 Things a Man Should Be Able To Do

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29. How Fairy Tales Make Children Better Humans

There is a widespread refusal to let children know that the source of much that goes wrong in life is due to our very own natures–the propensity of all men for acting aggressively, asocially, selfishly, out of anger and anxiety. Instead, we want our children to believe that, inherently, all men are good. But children know that they are not always good….

Contrary to what takes place in many modern children’s stories, in fairy tales evil is as omnipresent as virtue. In practically every fairy tale good and evil are given body in the form of some figures and their actions….

The figures in fairy tales are not ambivalent–not good and bad at the same time, as we all are in reality…. Presenting the polarities of character permits the child to comprehend easily the difference between the two, which he could not do as readily were the figures drawn more true to life, with all the complexities that characterize real people.

Ambiguities must wait until a relatively firm personality has been established on the basis of positive identifications. Then the child has a basis for understanding that there are great differences between people, and that therefore one has to make choices about who one wants to be.

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30. A Scholarly Critique of Gilligan’s Island

The most fascinating and delicious twist of Schwartz’s tale is the relative obscurity of its central character — Mary Ann. Her name is not in the title and as compared to the other characters, she is not often seen or heard. This lack of input is the very essence of the Mary Ann character. Some may think this kind, level-headed, lovable symbol of the heartland is insignificant to the story, but nothing could be further from the truth. In many ways Mary Ann is the story. More precisely, in times of critical decision making, Mary Ann’s absence is the point.

Mary Ann is easily the most well-adjusted of the characters. She exhibits a healthy sexuality, yet she is unquestionably moral and at the same time not hurtfully devout or judgmentally pious. She is the only truly competent individual on the island. She provides all that is necessary and essential for life. Full of blue-collar know-how, her rugged instincts move her to farm, cook and provide health care and other critical services.

Her lack of self-confidence and doubt of self-worth coupled with an overly-inflated opinion of the others is all that keeps Mary Ann from asserting her rightful place as leader. This revolutionary theme of Mary Ann as most vital yet least compensated, most important yet least revered, most adept yet least trusted, is crucial to understanding the series. It is an attempt to show the common person the folly of their institutionalized reverence of traditional leadership and their legitimate legacy as masters of their own destiny.

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31. Religion is Wasted on the Young

My students are often Christians who are old enough to mock mercilessly the people that gave of their time sacrificially to disciple them when they were young but who are not yet mature enough to be able to disciple others. I often find them quick-off-the-draw-ready with a forceful and sophisticated critique of most any traditional religious belief or practice.

They can be sadly flummoxed, however, by a simple request to explain what is true. If I wonder, “What are some problems with the doctrine of the atonement?” hands fly up all over the room, but if I straightforwardly ask, “What is the gospel?” the room falls strangely silent, and I find myself staring at rows of students quietly avoiding making eye contact.

To sketch what the gospel is would be to risk a rough draft that someone else would get the joy of critiquing; it would be to express a childlike faith; it would be to do the work of parenting.

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32. Why Don’t Doctors Wash Their Hands More?

Hand hygiene and sterile technique are so successfully maintained in operating rooms not because of the reminders that hang over scrub sinks, but because it is part of the culture and identity of those who work there. No self-respecting surgeon, nurse, anesthesiologist or technician would ever dream of breaching those sterile protocols in the surgical suites. Or of allowing any deviation from the aseptic norms to simply pass.

But such enthusiastic devotion to hand hygiene does not exist outside the operating room. And again and again in discussions about quality and safety and the terrible infections that can ensue, one issue continues to bedevil the patient-doctor relationship yet defies all reason: why don’t doctors wash their hands more?

Over the last 30 years, despite countless efforts at change, poor hand hygiene has continued to contribute to the high rates of infections acquired in hospitals, clinics and other health care settings. According to the World Health Organization, these infections affect as many as 1.7 million patients in the United States each year, racking up an annual cost of $6.5 billion and contributing to more than 90,000 deaths annually.

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33. The Science of Lucid Dreaming


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