Tuesday, January 29, 2008

How We Get the Odds Wrong

I thought this article in Psychology Today was pretty interesting. Basically, it points out that we as humans are terrible at analyzing risk. It notes,

Our brains are terrible at assessing modern risks. Here's how to think straight about dangers in your midst...

These days, it seems like everything is risky, and worry itself is bad for your health. The more we learn, the less we seem to know—and if anything makes us anxious, it's uncertainty. At the same time, we're living longer, healthier lives. So why does it feel like even the lettuce [with pesticides on it!] is out to get us?

The human brain is exquisitely adapted to respond to risk—uncertainty about the outcome of actions. Faced with a precipice or a predator, the brain is biased to make certain decisions.

The first item it points out hits home for me:

I. We Fear Snakes, Not Cars
Risk and emotion are inseparable.

Fear feels like anything but a cool and detached computation of the odds. But that's precisely what it is, a lightning-fast risk assessment performed by your reptilian brain, which is ever on the lookout for danger. The amygdala flags perceptions, sends out an alarm message, and—before you have a chance to think—your system gets flooded with adrenaline...Emotions are decision-making shortcuts.

As a result of these...emotional algorithms, ancient threats like spiders and snakes cause fear out of proportion to the real danger they pose, while experiences that should frighten us—like fast driving—don't. Dangers like speedy motorized vehicles are newcomers on the landscape of life. The instinctive response to being approached rapidly is to freeze. In the [past], this reduced a predator's ability to see you—but that doesn't help when what's speeding toward you is a car.

And sure enough, despite the fact that I work on roads for my occupation and know the frequency of accidents, I am I admit a bit scared of snakes. Never have I felt those same emotions getting into a car...

So here's to recognizing what's truly dangerous and not living in fear...

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Where I've Been

Continuing the tradition from last year, here's where I was in 2007:

Chicago, IL *
Cadillac, MI
Haines City, FL

Naples, FL
Fort Myers, FL
Greenville, IL *
St. Paul, MN *

Crookston, MN
Elbow Lake, MN

Hmm, shorter than last year. I suppose this might have had something to do with it...
How about you, where were you?

Criteria = One or more nights spent in each place. Those cities marked with an * were visited multiple times on non-consecutive days.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Our Fine Governor

The State of Illinois thankfully finally last week passed funding for transit. It was a contentious affair, that came with much lengthy political wrangling. In the end, the governor gave in and granted his own approval with the caveat that senior citizens ride free on transit. True to the weird form he's been holding, he added this priceless nugget of wisdom:

It's like the little boy with a pile of horse manure, I kept digging cheerfully in that and found a pony in there -- the pony is free public transportation for all seniors in the state of Illinois.

Seemingly, he can only be described as a scat enthusiast with a penchance for nursery tales nobody else has heard of. Illinoisans should be proud of their leader...

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Sanctity of Life Sunday

This Tuesday marks the 35th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision that led to the legalization of abortion across our country. Since then, nearly 50 million of our nation's children have been killed via this 'procedure'.

In reading about abortion this year, I found this interesting article that talks about who has abortions. I was pretty surprised actually. It notes,

In American pop culture, the face of abortion is often a frightened teenager, nervously choosing to terminate an unexpected pregnancy. The numbers tell a far more complex story in which financial stress can play a pivotal role.

Half of the roughly 1.2 million U.S. women who have abortions each year are 25 or older. Only about 17 percent are teens. About 60 percent have given birth to least one child prior to getting an abortion.

Really a different category of people than I think I picture. It certainly is valuable to be familiar with what the face of abortion truly might be, especially as we consider it politically.

This year, due to the election, I'm sure abortion will remain in the news. As I've said before, it is my most important issue, and so I will certainly be watching closely to see how it is discussed in the campaign season.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Greening the Desert

They laughed and said it couldn't be done...

Wow, that's pretty cool.

Can we really "Fix All the World's Problems in a Garden"?
(ht: Where)

Monday, January 14, 2008

How to Read a Blog

Ever checked in here at IJAB hoping to find a new post and been disappointed? Probably (at least I hope so). As is obvious, I don't post as often as say, Kottke.

That said, there's no need to keep coming back to check if there's a new post up. Instead, use the technology available today, and have that post sent to you. Yep, no more checking blogs for new posts, just have any new posts sent directly to you. How can this be, you say? Well, all you need is a blog reader (aka: news reader, RSS reader, or aggregator).

Here, maybe this video will help:

So if you're anything like me, you enjoy reading quite a number of blogs. Now if you were jumping from blog to blog to check if there had been any updates, you're in for quite the time-wasting. No more of that.

There are a couple leading web-based readers, namely Google Reader and Bloglines. Either is great. Go sign up for your blog reader now.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Chicago - Home of Human Capital

As probably anyone reading this knows, I love Chicago. It's a great city. But why is it great? What about Chicago makes it a place we want to be?

Yes, probably some of it is the architecture, some the lakefront, some the good planning. But all those really lead into the last, which is maybe the biggest reason of all. Chicago is home to a group of young dynamic people, who are the sort of people who you want to live near and be sharpened by. This was reaffirmed by this recent article in Crain's Chicago Business:

Brains, bodies and beauty
Human capital — a buzzword among economists — simply means people. Think of it as raw material made up of bankers, traders, consultants, advertisers, engineers, artists and others who, through brainpower and creativity, turn ideas into money.
"The comparative advantage of cities is determined by how smart, how trained, how innovative, how entrepreneurial the people are in that city," says Edward Glaeser, a Harvard urban economist who advised the Chicago Council on Global Affairs' study group.

Chicago's human capital is strong. Among U.S. cities, Chicago ranks first in the concentration of young people (ages 25 to 34) living within three miles of downtown. It's second only to New York in the number of those with college degrees. Its universities are world class. The University of Chicago has been home to 20 Nobel Prize laureates, while both the U of C's Graduate School of Business and Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management rank among the world's best business schools. Chicago also has the quality of life that keeps people here — vibrant art and music scenes, restaurants, museums, parks and recreational facilities.

Here's to living in a world-class city like Chicago!

Monday, January 07, 2008

Gangs of LA

In honor of the last season of The Wire kicking off, I thought I'd pass on this link to a fascinating article on gangs in LA. Apparently they're still a problem. Did anyone really think they went away?

Perhaps as an addendum, I should point out that Steven Levitt may not fully buy that the problem is worsening.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

The World Without Us

Last year, Alan Weisman wrote a book called "The World Without Us." The book, based on interviews with scientists and other experts from around the world, describes what would happen across the planet if, for some reason, human beings were suddenly to disappear.

It's pretty fascinating stuff. I was especially struck when I saw an interview he did specifically on Chicago. He observes,

"The foliage in [Lincoln Park] will definitely be the seed source from which the forests will start succeeding down the streets and eventually inside of the buildings. Winds will blow all kinds of seeds out of the park.

Helping the process along will be squirrels throughout the city, taking up residence in bungalows, two-flats and high-rises. They'll bring in seeds of all sorts, and, pretty soon, trees will be growing out of living room windows.

Within a few decades you'll find a tremendous wild snarl of stuff growing over buildings, coming up from the streets. Just imagine, no one maintaining the streets anymore. And the plastic bags would be clogging the sewers, and you'll get all this leaf litter because nobody would be raking leaves.

Gone will be the cockroaches, which only survive in the northern climate in the comfort of our heated buildings.

Gone, too, will be the rats -- no garbage for them to eat, and a lot more raptors to prey on them.

On the other hand, you'll get wildlife coming back in here. Certainly there will be plenty of coyotes. They will outcompete the dogs. Eventually wolves will probably range all over America. They'll be eating deer. There's going to be plenty of deer. Whether moose will make it down here or not, it's a function of climate change.

The predators are going to get the cattle. As the cattle go, buffaloes should regenerate and spread."

Can you picture a herd of buffalo roaming through the Loop?

Thursday, January 03, 2008

The Campaign Officially Begins

And the winners in Iowa are...

What will this mean for the next political year?