The False Godzilla Effect

It’s a cliche for monster and disaster movies—people panic-stricken running around screaming looking out for themselves, stealing what they can, falling into violence and chaos—but is it real? Some people looking into the matter say no. In fact, dealing with a huge disaster like the earthquakes in Japan or the Blitz in London actually brings people together:

The evidence gathered over centuries of disasters, natural and man-made, is overwhelming. The vast majority of people, when a disaster hits, behave in the aftermath as altruists. They organize spontaneously to save their fellow human beings, to share what they have, and to show kindness. They reveal themselves to be better people than they ever expected. When the social scientist Enrico Quarantelli tried to write a thesis how people descend into chaos and panic after disasters, he concluded: “My God! I can’t find any instances of it.” On the contrary, he wrote, in disasters “the social order does not break down… Co-operative rather than selfish behavior predominates.” The Blitz Spirit wasn’t unique to London: it is universal.

Pot shots at Ayn Rand’s philosophy aside, fascinating article. Score one for human kindness.


Quick Links, Opening Weekend Edition

Here are some fun random links on this first day of April:

  • Is VCU’s Final Four run the least likely of all time? Let’s ask Nate Silver. Meanwhile, my bracket has actually survived assuming Kentucky doesn’t take the title.
  • Interesting review of the book Scorecasting by Tobias J. Moskowitz and L. Jon Wertheim. Seems like it tries to apply the Freakonomics approach to sports subjects. If you’re a sabermetric nerd, some of it might be old hat. But what I found interesting is that, according to the research, “home field advantage” really is nothing but refs unintentionally making more calls for the home team in an psychological attempt to be liked. Food for thought.
  • In the wake of the Congressman Gabby Giffords shooting, Richard Florida checked out the gun rights conventional wisdom that “an armed society is a polite society.” In terms of gun deaths, most certainly not. In the states with the most restrictive gun laws, he saw much fewer violent and accidental gun fatalities. In Hawaii, 2.6 per 100,000 for example; in New York 5.0 per 100,000; and in New Jersey 5.2 per 100,000. On the other hand Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alaska with their liberal gun laws saw many more deaths. Not sure what to make of D.C. in there on the high end; their gun laws were draconian until the recent Supreme Court decision.
  • The Economist defends the teaching of…. history? Wow, finally props for the liberal arts in public discourse. Someone tell Obama that it takes more than science and math nerds to Win the Future.
  • Murder in the Time of Cholera. This is really cool, and kind of creepy. From Philadelphia Magazine, a story that combines historians, anthropologists, earth scientists, a 178-year old railroad murder mystery, and… ghosts?
  • A Man’s Guide to Boots and Shoes. The first place many women look, my friends.

Memorial for a Mentor

Shortly after I was diagnosed with cancer in 2009, my pastor introduced me to Virginia, another person from church undergoing the same treatment I was. She was diagnosed in May 2009 I believe, so she was roughly six months ahead of where I was. Although I didn’t see her every Sunday, over the past year and a half we were able to share our struggles in the same cancerworld insiderish language. When last I talked to her in February, she told me that all conventional chemotherapy had failed, and now her doctors were trying all sorts of odd drug combinations to stave off the disease. Eventually she had to move to radiation to fight off brain mets. That proved to be too much, and she died March 15th. Obituary here.

Thank you Virginia, for being there.

Wendell Berry’s 17 Rules

Author and poet Wendell Berry was among those awarded a National Humanities Medal by President Obama earlier this week. The 76-year-old Kentuckian is a committed localist and agrarian, part of a stream of conservative thought in the American political tradition no longer represented by either major party. Berry is not unfamiliar with political activism himself, however, as he recently participated in a four-day sit-in at the Kentucky statehouse to protest mountaintop removal coal mining.

At this blog, I recently found a list of Berry’s rules for delineating how we ought to make decisions about changes, especially when it comes to the culture of our communities, towns, cities, and our whole country. Check it out:

1. Always ask of any proposed change or innovation: What will this do to our community? How will this affect our common wealth?

2. Always include local nature – the land, the water, the air, the native creatures – within the membership of the community.

3. Always ask how local needs might be supplied from local sources, including the mutual help of neighbors.

4. Always supply local needs first (and only then think of exporting products – first to nearby cities, then to others).

5. Understand the ultimate unsoundness of the industrial doctrine of ‘labor saving’ if that implies poor work, unemployment, or any kind of pollution or contamination.

6. Develop properly scaled value-adding industries for local products to ensure that the community does not become merely a colony of national or global economy.

7. Develop small-scale industries and businesses to support the local farm and/or forest economy.

8. Strive to supply as much of the community’s own energy as possible.

9. Strive to increase earnings (in whatever form) within the community for as long as possible before they are paid out.

10. Make sure that money paid into the local economy circulates within the community and decrease expenditures outside the community.

11. Make the community able to invest in itself by maintaining its properties, keeping itself clean (without dirtying some other place), caring for its old people, and teaching its children.

12. See that the old and young take care of one another. The young must learn from the old, not necessarily, and not always in school. There must be no institutionalised childcare and no homes for the aged. The community knows and remembers itself by the association of old and young.

13. Account for costs now conventionally hidden or externalised. Whenever possible, these must be debited against monetary income.

14. Look into the possible uses of local currency, community-funded loan programs, systems of barter, and the like.

15. Always be aware of the economic value of neighborly acts. In our time, the costs of living are greatly increased by the loss of neighborhood, which leaves people to face their calamities alone.

16. A rural community should always be acquainted and interconnected with community-minded people in nearby towns and cities.

17. A sustainable rural economy will depend on urban consumers loyal to local products. Therefore, we are talking about an economy that will always be more cooperative than competitive.

Any Berry fans out there?

Treatment Update: The Next Round

As many of you know, I’ve been participating in a Phase I clinical trial for colon cancer at Georgetown University Hospital since November 2010. After nearly four months, Dr. Marshall and I have decided to leave the trial. The first two months should dramatic progress in reducing the cancer (December 20, 2010) but the most recent CT scan (February 17th) showed basically stability. The tumors are smaller than they were at the beginning, so it’s a net win, but we think we’ve got all we can out of it.

So for now, I’m returning to last summer’s approach of Xeloda+Avastin, plus an IV infusion of Oxaliplatin. Oxi was the heavy hitter I was on when I was first diagnosed and got great results out of it. We’re expecting further tumor reduction from the return to Oxi. Unfortunately Oxi can only be taken for limited amounts of time due to cumulative side effects (potential nerve damage in the hands and feet). Usually 8-12 doses are the max at any one time.

I’m hoping that the new treatment plan can continue to push the tumors back for a couple months until another clinical trial opens up at Georgetown. We just need to keep searching for the silver bullet.

Prayers appreciated.

Mario, Artiste

I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like. The Smithsonian American Art Museum has announced that starting in March 2012 it will have an exhibit on “The Art of Video Games.” This exhibit will explore 40some years of gaming and the development of visual effects and storytelling in these games. The best part, however, is the Smithsonian is asking us to be the curator of the exhibit. Through April 7, you can vote here to pick which 80 of 240 games will make up the exhibit. You have you register to vote (come on, it’s the Smithsonian), but I enjoyed just going through the images and remembering the games they came from. The ones from the “8-Bit” and “Bit Wars” eras made me want to fire up an old Sierra Quest adventure.

Outrage! Scandal!

The banned John 3:16 Super Bowl ad is below. I happened to see it because I was in one of two television markets—Washington, DC and Birmingham, AL—that showed it. Worth getting upset about? It strikes me as fairly harmless, like the Tebow ad from last year.