Month: October 2003

Does Motherhood Change the Brain?

This knack for calmly sailing through the rigors of parenting is no accident, however. Mothers have cooler heads and better coping skills than nonmothers.
It’s all part of the “maternal brain,” according to Craig Kinsley, a psychologist with the University of Richmond. He has presented his findings in the journal Physiology and Behavior this month.
“Reproduction shapes and alters a female’s brain in significant ways,” he said yesterday.
Essentially, the motherly mind does not tend to dwell on fear or confusion in the face of adversity or challenge.

The experiment was done with rats:

He based the conclusions on four years of research with female rats who had, well, their little paws full. Mr. Kinsley and his research team found that veteran mother rats were less stressed by a series of lab challenges than females who had never faced a litter of needy babies.
The rats were placed in an open space as well as inside clear plastic tubing in bright light – hair-raising environments for a rat, according to Mr. Kinsley. The researchers found that the momma rats methodically and fearlessly explored the unknown territories, looking for a way out.
The nonmothers froze up or moved with great caution.
In the aftermath, the mother rat’s brains showed less activation of the amydaglia, an area that regulates fear.
“Pregnancy and offspring create a more adaptive brain, one that’s generally less susceptible to fear and stress,” Mr. Kinsley said.

Nor does the effect seem to vanish:

“But what’s most intriguing is that this seems to be a long-lasting effect which persists throughout life,” he added. “It is not temporary.”

Here is Kinsley’s home page. Here is his claim that pregnancy makes women smarter, in addition to calmer.

My take: I can cite one data point, my mother, in favor of the hypothesis.

Tuned-in tots

According to the 1,065 parents surveyed for the national study “Zero to Six: Electronic Media in the Lives of Infants, Toddlers and Preschoolers,” a quarter of children under 2 have televisions in their bedrooms. Two-thirds of kids under 2 use some kind of screen media (computer, DVD, television) on a typical day, for an average of about two hours a day. And for children under the age of 6, the average of two hours a day spent with screen media is more than three times the amount of time they spend reading or being read to.

For the full story, click here.

And here is a whack at Teletubbies:

“When children watch television, they are being marketed to,” he said. ” ‘Teletubbies’ was targeted to 1-year-old children, when the purpose was to market those toys and it was effective. They sold a lot of toys. . . . We are making children consumers at age 1. I don’t know what’s educational about it. They are walking around going ‘ooh-ooh, ugh-ugh,’ and they talk like babies.”

My take: I am from an older generation (41!), and I love books far more than electronic media. So part of me is sad to read this. More realistically, I realize that the next generation will need significant computer skills, and that such skills will bring great benefits to the world. So I don’t see the harm in this, provided that electronic media become a complement to time spent with grown-ups, not a substitute for such time.

How to advertise money

Earlier this month the U.S. Treasury Department’s Bureau of Engraving and Printing brought out a new $20 bill. Curiously, the debut of this redesigned piece of currency was accompanied by a marketing campaign–at a reported cost of $32 million. That’s a decent budget and includes events, print ads, some Web goodies, and even TV spots…The ads have been in heavy rotation, and they raise an obvious question: Why bother to advertise money itself?

Here is a description of one commercial:

In one spot, a guy with glasses gets some dough from an ATM, but the upbeat, swingy background music hints that this no ordinary withdrawal. And indeed, the machine spits out a stack of new $20 bills. He pauses and holds one up to study it closely (always a good idea to raise a twenty in the air and lose yourself in thought on a city sidewalk). An announcer says, “You can see right away that things are different.” A smile of satisfaction creeps over the guy’s face. “We’ve added color,” the announcer says, “and changed the portrait.” We follow Mr. Glasses as he buys some flowers, paying with a new $20 bill that seems to vaguely impress the vendor. The announcer mentions improved “security features” and assures us that the new twenty, like the old one, is worth 20 bucks. He then concludes with the new money’s tag line: “Safer, smarter, more secure.”

My take: We need to advertise the money to limit counterfeiting, and to maintain the status of the U.S. dollar in black markets and abroad. We need to tell the world that the $20 bill has changed.

Here is the full story, which includes a video link to one of the commercials. Thanks to Eugene Volokh for the pointer. By the way, I’ve yet to receive one of these bills.

Why wait?

Tired of sitting at endless red lights? Frustrated by lights that turn from green to red too quickly, trapping you in traffic?

Now anyone can breeze through congested intersections just like the police, thanks to a $300 dashboard device that changes traffic lights from red to green, making nasty commutes a thing of the past and leaving other drivers open-mouthed at your ability to manipulate traffic.

But what if everyone had one?

Fire engines, of course, have been using these devices for some time now, but they appear to be spreading more generally. Here is the full story, courtesy of

The bottom line: “The potential for chaos is enormous,” Macomb County Sheriff Mark Hackel said.

Dealers have promised to sell only to police and the proper authorities, but there appear to be no laws against the devices.

The cruelest month…

The most dangerous month for accidents is August, which is twenty percent riskier than the average month, presumably because people spend more time outdoors then and more time vacationing. You are most likely to drown in July, most likely to be shot in November, and most likely to fall to your death in December. Could that latter figure be driven by Christmas-time depressives committing suicide?

From The World’s Most Dangerous Places.

Once burned, twice shy?

Our colleague Vernon Smith argues that new traders are most susceptible to asset market bubbles, largely because of their inexperience. If the market rises again after a bubble bursts, we should take the run up in prices seriously:

Smith points out that market double dips don’t occur in rapid sequence. Indeed, since 1926 the space between down years for the broad market has always been at least two years, and usually much longer, according to Ibbotson Associates data. The closest sequence in the recent past was the two positive years between the 1973-74 bear market and the 7% downturn in 1977.

In other words, Smith argues that the second round of high prices is usually for real. Experience has beaten the traders down into a state of fearfulness, so presumably there is good grounds for their optimism.

I would like to see the more systematic time series evidence, in the meantime here is the article from Forbes.

Here is my favorite part from the article:

To Professor Smith, bubbles perform a great service for capitalism. “Every bubble is driven by great innovations, and they all leave behind a lot of long-term value,” he says.

Watch out for Dad

Many of Ms Sternheimer’s points are as striking as they are valid – as when she points out that for all the overheated media reaction to the shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999, far more children are killed by their parents than by their classmates. In that year alone, she says, 1,000 children were killed by their parents – compared with 35 killed by their classmates.

Karen Sternheimer, a 34-year-old sociologist at the University of Southern California, just published a book It’s Not The Media: The Truth About Pop Culture’s Influence On Children, arguing that the media doesn’t ruin our children as much as we imagine. Here is a useful review of the work. Thanks to for the pointer.

Here is a good bit from the review:

‘Young people today are less likely to be violent, sexually active, smoke or use drugs compared with their parents when they were young.’

Arrest rates for violent offences among people under 17 fell steadily through the 1990s. Only 13 per cent of 12- to 17-year-olds drank alcohol in 1999, compared with 33 per cent in 1990, and 50 per cent in 1979.

The teen birthrate declined 22 per cent in the 1990s and is now at what Ms Sternheimer says is an all-time low. (In 1950, the pregnancy rate for 15- to 19-year-olds was 80.6 per thousand, whereas by 1999 the rate had dropped to 49.6 per thousand.)

We’ve needed a book like this for some time now.

Addendum: Many of you have written to suggest that the blog post title should have been “Watch Out for Mom.”

How generous is the United States?

Immigration and remittances are the most effective welfare programs ever devised. Anyone who claims to speak for the world’s poor should embrace them. Here are some relevant facts:

1. Total remittances around the world are now about $80 billion a year, twice the amount of so-called “foreign aid,” which often goes to corrupt governments, not poor citizens.

2. Remittances are now ten times the amount of net private capital flows, after adjusting for profit repatriation and interest payments.

3. Mexicans working in the United States send back home $20 billion every year. This sum is twice the value of Mexico’s agricultural exports, and over a third more than tourist revenue.

All the figures are from the November/December issue of Foreign Policy, not yet on-line.

My take: There is altogether too much talk about the United States being ungenerous with foreign aid. We show up as 21st in the rankings, in per capita terms, according to one estimate. These figures neglect remittances, where the U.S. is a very clear first with $28.4 billion a year sent to other countries. The bottom line: when it comes to other nations, the United States is the most generous country in the world.

Are you interested in the rest of the top ten, for remittances? Saudi Arabia, with $15.1 billion a year, is a clear number two. Then you have Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, France, Luxembourg, Israel, Italy, and Japan. The Scandinavian nations receive so much kudos for their high foreign aid per capita, but when it comes to remittances, even tiny Luxembourg, population 437,389, beats them out.

The cost of radio time

To be interviewed free, Mr. Holland said, “you have to be a senator. You have to be a president. You have to be a secretary of state. You’d have to be huge. Or you’d have to have influence with us. It’s a gift.”

Sky Radio, which also produces programming for United, Delta, Northwest airlines, charges guests to appear on its public affairs programs. Oracle, Dell, many major tech companies, most of the pharmaceutical companies, and all the big energy companies have paid these fees. One typical appearance went for $5,900.

Now a complaint has been filed with the Federal Trade Commission. Here is the full story, from The New York Times.

My take: Is this really such a big deal? I’m all for disclosure, but we should recognize that most listeners won’t hear, digest, or comprehend the announcement that the content is paid for. That being said, what is the worry? Anyone who pays to be on the radio is likely very boring. So what if listeners hear a steady stream of corporate drones, all claiming that their companies are wonderful? As it is, business scandals certainly get plenty of room on TV and in the newspapers, and I am not afraid of people being brainwashed into becoming followers of Ayn Rand.

By the way, I was once asked to pay to be on the radio. I declined to pay, if only because I thought I was doing them a favor, and in part because I saw no personal benefit from the appearance. I was told that many independent radio stations make their living this way.

Kidnapping facts

1. The number of reported kidnappings ranges between 12,500 and 25,500 a year, and it is estimated that only one-tenth of all kidnappings are reported. Nor do these numbers include the Chechen children sold back to their families by Russian soldiers.

2. London alone collects $130 million a year in premiums for kidnapping insurance, here is a link to one company, the visual introduction to this link is very effective.

3. About 90 percent of all kidnappings take place in the ten riskiest countries (the link also has tips on kidnapping etiquette), with Colombia a clear leader, reporting 10 kidnappings a day, more than half of the total. The police in Colombia admit that 1500 kidnapped hostages are held currently, the true number is likely much higher. Kidnapping is estimated to be a $200 million tax-free business in Colombia.

4. Kidnappers in the Philippines perhaps have read Thomas Schelling on credible precommitment. They now demand the names of two other likely victims and an estimate of their net worth, before releasing kidnapped children from wealthy families.

5. If you wish to buy one million dollars worth of kidnapping insurance for Colombia, it costs about $20,000 to $25,000 a year. Many people and companies buy much larger policies than this. Many kidnappers consider a ransom of less than a million to be a joke.

6. In Colombia a mere three percent of (reported) kidnappers are prosecuted; in the United States it is 95 percent.

7. The fatality rate on security-consultant-handled kidnappings is about 2 percent. You are most likely to die if they try to rescue you. You are most likely to win a safe release when kidnapping is done in conjunction with the police. Your time in captivity is likely longest when your kidnappers are Marxist revolutionaries.

From Robert Young Pelton’s The World’s Most Dangerous Places. I have been to only four of the place he lists (Bosnia, Russia, U.S., and Yemen), noting that it would be five, but he doesn’t even bother to put Haiti in the current edition, it might be too dangerous for inclusion, it certainly has not become safer. Given that Mexico is number two on the kidnapping list, it represents an odd omission as well.

Russia arrests its wealthiest man

Black-uniformed special forces swept onto the airplane of Russia’s wealthiest man Saturday and forced him back to Moscow, where he was ordered jailed on criminal charges – a dramatic escalation of the politically charged probe into Russia’s largest oil company.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky was charged Saturday with fraud, forgery and other crimes hours after the special forces troops, weapons drawn, surrounded his private plane at a Siberian airport.

This can’t be good news for a country. I can’t begin to understand the byzantine ins and outs of Russian politics. But either the wealthiest man doesn’t deserve to be arrested, in which case this is a tragic oppression or scapegoating. Or the wealthiest man does deserve to be arrested, which is tragic as well. What does it say about how wealth is earned in the country?

Somehow, this being Russia, one suspects that both case A and case B are true at the same time, which makes it even worse, and no, you need not lecture me on Aristotle’s Law of the Excluded Middle.

Click here for the full story.

The future of blogs, more

I had dinner with Glenn Reynolds tonight, and we discussed the future of blogs.

Glenn is so successful because he understands the idea of blogs as portals. (This is my view, not Glenn’s own self-description.) Blogs that offer too much of the author, and the author alone, are vulnerable to other blogs that cream-skim them, and other blogs, thereby offering the superior product. The question is not who can write the best stuff, but who can collect the best stuff, and comment on it most effectively. Really smart people are not always used to these terms of competition, I might add. The future of blogging lies in the hands of those who recognize the intellectual and literary division of labor.

The greater the number of blogs, the greater the importance of “portal blogs,” such as Glenn’s. In the old days you could read all or most of the good blogs yourself. That is becoming increasingly hard, and thus readers will look more and more to blogs that skim the cream.