March 31, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 6:39 AM


May shapes German imagination 100 years on (Deeutsche-Welle, 3/30/12))

You can gain a sense of May's unrelenting popularity in Germany from the sheer number of fan clubs that meet regularly here around the country. At the "Karl May Society" in Leipzig alone, often over 50 members attend meetings - complete with lectures from literature professors - to discuss aspects of the author's life and work.

One of those members, Jenny Florstedt, said on the occasion of the group's 250th meeting in Leipzig that she was fascinated above all by May's "imaginative narrative":

"It's kind of like reading the German version of Sherlock Holmes," Florstedt told DW, adding that "[May] creates another world, and you can go in and ride with his heroes in another country, in the plains ... It's a chance to leave the world you find here."

Werner Geilsdörfer, an internationally recognized May commentator who gave a lecture at the 250th meeting, added that May's romanticized depiction of the Wild West - though never having been there when he wrote his novels - essentially shaped the way Germans view the American frontier.

"Without Karl May we, the Germans, would all see the Wild West and the nascent developments in the United States in a different light. And this vision has been passed down through the generations. If you see a young girl or boy here today dressing up as a cowboy or Indian, you have a good idea where it's come from."
As bizarre as it may seem, it's not all that rare to see German children dressed up as American Indians or Cowboys during Carnival, which is celebrated primarily in western German cities.

In eastern Germany, where May comes from, there are "Karl-May-Festivals" every year that feature theatrical presentations of his novels. This has become an institution for many German families, one where children of all ages can enter the fantastical worlds of Winnetou the Apache chief and Old Shatterhand the heroic cowboy - two of May's most famous characters.

Germany's Best-Loved Cowboy: The Fantastical World of Cult Novelist Karl May (Jan Fleischhauer, 3/30/12, Der Spiegel)

There is no question that May created heroes that entered the collective mythology. There was the Native American Chief Winnetou, of course, or "The Red Gentleman," as he was once referred to in a subtitle in his famous series of novels. Then there was Winnetou's German friend and blood brother Old Shatterhand. But the indestructible German traveler of the Orient, Kara Ben Nemsi, whose popularity surpassed that of all of May's other characters while the author was still alive. Only after May's death did Chief Winnetou become his most beloved fictional character, partly as a result of the popular films with Pierre Brice and Lex Barker that were shown in theaters starting in 1962.

But his works remain adventure literature, driven by the author's desire to dream his way out of the narrow confines of his real life, a unique mixture of genius and triviality. May introduced his readers to people and landscapes they had known only by name, capitalizing on a yearning for distant places that was just as prevalent in the late 19th century as it is today.

Still, May didn't stop at dreaming. Through his literature, he transformed his own life. For him, writing was initially a way of finding himself, and later a way of rescuing himself. In this sense, he could be seen as an early advocate of the modern age.

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Posted by orrinj at 5:53 AM


Unsinkable (L. JON WERTHEIM, 4/02/12, Sports Illustrated)

The grass courts were green, the collars were white and, at least to the casual observer, the fourth-round match at the Longwood Bowl in Boston on July 18, 1912, was typical of that year's U.S. lawn tennis circuit. Richard Williams, a 21-year-old upstart from Philadelphia, faced Karl Behr, 27, a veteran from New York City. Though a "tennis generation" apart in age, the two men cut similar figures: handsome Ivy Leaguers of East Coast patrician stock. (Behr was a Yale man; Williams would enter Harvard that fall.) Both were at home at the tournament's venue, the Longwood Cricket Club, whose wealthy members often arrived in high style, piloting a new mode of transit: the automobile.

This was top-level tennis 100 summers ago: men in starched polo shirts, long pants, leather shoes and stoic expressions, using wooden rackets strung with beef or sheep gut to bat the ball around for hours in the afternoon sun. They might reconvene afterward in the clubhouse for a brandy, perhaps stopping first to call back to the office. In the era before prize money, many of the male players moonlighted as lawyers or bankers.

From the clubhouse the winners would repair to their rooms to prepare for the next day's matches; the losers would throw on seersucker suits and head for Newport (R.I.) or Merion (Pa.) or Chevy Chase (Md.), whichever moneyed enclave was hosting the next tournament. But in 1912 some of the losers at Longwood might have stayed on for a day to check out a baseball game nearby at newly opened Fenway Park.

The Williams-Behr match was full of precise shotmaking, savvy tactics and gyrating momentum. The lanky, dark-haired Williams brought his aggression and superior athleticism to bear and won the first two sets. Then the sturdier Behr, who wore wire-rimmed glasses and held back his sandy hair with a not-yet-voguish headband, surged and gradually wore down Williams's resistance. Over five gripping sets the veteran beat the newcomer 0--6, 7--9, 6--2, 6--1, 6--4.

It was a classic match by any measure, two future Hall of Famers exploring the limits of their talent. Fans ringing the court applauded lustily, and the other players toasted the two men as they walked off at the end. The following day's New York Times gushed that the match "was declared by old-timers to be one of the hardest fought tennis battles seen during the 22 years of tournaments at Longwood."

Something gave the encounter a deeper texture, however. Few press reports mentioned it, and those that did hardly played it up. Certainly neither Williams nor Behr discussed it openly. Nor did the fans at Longwood seem to be aware of it. But just 12 weeks earlier--and 100 years ago next month--the two players, traveling separately, had survived the most famous maritime disaster in history.
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Posted by orrinj at 5:35 AM


The Roots of Hardship: Despite massive amounts of aid, poor countries tend to stay poor. Maybe their institutions are the problem. (WILLIAM EASTERLY, 3/30/12, WSJ)

Much of European colonization was extractive, since either no Europeans or only a small minority of them settled in the colonies for the long haul. That North America was different was due to the majority middle class of family farmers that settled it, compared with a minority European elite in South America. Extractive institutions also produce more violence as rival elites fight over the reins of power--which helps to explain South America's long history of military coups and civil wars.

"Why Nations Fail" also offers this crucial insight: Experts cannot engineer prosperity with the right advice to rulers on policies and institutions. Rulers "get it wrong not by mistake or ignorance but on purpose." Change happens only when a broad coalition revolts, forcing the elite to allow more pluralistic political competition (e.g., the Glorious Revolution in England, the Meiji overthrow of Japanese feudalism and Botswana's democratic ouster of British colonizers).

Extractive states can have bursts of growth. After all, even a kleptocratic elite will covet a larger economy ripe for plundering. The elites have an incentive to invest in their own businesses. But authoritarian growth miracles cannot last. As economists have understood since Joseph Schumpeter in the 1940s, sustained economic growth requires "creative destruction," as new technologies replace old ones. The booming Chinese economy may look impressive today, but for Messrs. Acemoglu and Robinson, China's leaders revealed a critical flaw in 2003 when they arrested Dai Guofang and sentenced him to five years in prison.

What was Mr. Dai's crime? He had dared to start a low-cost steel company that would compete with Party-sponsored factories. Members of an extractive elite will not allow creative destruction to eliminate their own enterprises; the potential of existing technologies is fully exploited, but no innovation develops--and growth cannot be sustained. Messrs. Acemoglu and Robinson note that the Soviets experienced rapid growth in the 1950s and 1960s but then, hamstrung by an economy unable to innovate, fell into stagnation and collapse. The authors make a bold prediction: "The spectacular growth rates in China will slowly evaporate," and the Chinese will ultimately follow the Soviet trajectory.

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Posted by orrinj at 5:32 AM


Harry Crews, Writer of Dark Fiction, Is Dead at 76 (MARGALIT FOX, 3/29/12, NY Times)

Harry Eugene Crews was born on June 7, 1935, in Alma, Ga., a rural community near the Okefenokee Swamp where, he later wrote, "there wasn't enough cash money in the county to close up a dead man's eyes." There was rarely enough to eat; local people supplemented their diet with clay for the minerals it contained.

His father, Ray, a tenant farmer, died before Harry was 2. Not long afterward his mother, Myrtice, married Ray's brother, a violent alcoholic.

"We lived on a series of tenant farms," Mr. Crews told The New York Times in 1978. "The kinds of places where you could lay awake at night and look through the roof and see the stars and you could fish for chickens through the big wide cracks in the floor by tying a piece of tobacco twine to a fish hook."

Young Harry loved stories, but there were few books to be had. Instead, his narrative gifts took root in the Sears Roebuck catalog. "Things were so awful in the house that I'd fantasize about the people in the catalog," he said in the same interview. "They all looked so good and clean and perfect, and then I'd write little stories about them."

When Harry was about 5, an illness, possibly polio, paralyzed his legs for a time, causing them to fold up behind him in unremitting spasm. A parade of family, faith healers and the merely curious passed before his sickbed, gawking, he later said, as if he were something in a carnival.

About a year later, recovered from his illness, he fell into a cauldron of scalding water used to slough the skin off slaughtered hogs. It sloughed off his skin. Once more, he was bedridden. [...]

For many years, as Mr. Crews openly discussed in interviews, alcohol was his anesthetic of choice. He stopped drinking in the late 1980s.

"I had an ex-wife and I had an ex-kid and I had an ex-dog and I had an ex-house and I'm an ex-drunk," he told The Times in 2006. "I've supported whores and dopers and drunks and bartenders. Thank God I don't do that anymore."

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Posted by orrinj at 5:30 AM


I think, therefore I choke: But the new science of head games could turn shanks into scores (Jaimal Yogis, 3/08/12, ESPN The Magazine)

SOON AFTER Cundiff's kick sent the Ravens back to Baltimore, I travel to the Institute of HeartMath in Boulder Creek, Calif. In an office shaded by mountain redwoods, White hooks me up to an emWave and rigs it to a computer screen. There is my heart rate -- the rhythm looked far more like a jagged mountain range than the uniform pulse I'd expected.

"This is perfectly healthy," White says, but not so ideal for performance. The anxiety I was feeling with all those scientists staring at me was causing the wild heartbeats that can harm academic and athletic results. Feelings of gratitude and love, on the other hand, create gentle, repeating HRV waves that HeartMath terms "coherence." That's the state in which expert archers shoot more accurately, pro golfers hit the ball farther and kickers (though there hasn't yet been an official study) get closer to Cundiff circa 2010 and 2011.

It's easy to be skeptical of coherence -- until you see it. White asks me to breathe -- five seconds in and five seconds out -- visualizing each breath entering and exiting my heart. Instantly the peaks become more even slopes. One minute later, White asks me to conjure up people I love, and the wave looks even more consistent. "It's not perfect," says White, "but close." That is in just two minutes. Imagine, White adds, how coherent athletes and soldiers who practice every day could be.

If the zone is real -- a biologically measurable state -- how could Cundiff have gotten back into it during the chaotic last seconds against the Patriots? Ask 15 psychologists, psychiatrists or biologists this question and you'll get somewhere around three times as many answers.

Still, a semiconsensus is developing among the most advanced scientists. In the typical fight-or-flight scenario, scary high-pressure moment X assaults the senses and is routed to the amygdala, aka the unconscious fear center. For well-trained athletes, that's not a problem: A field goal kick, golf swing or free throw is for them an ingrained action stored in the striatum, the brain's autopilot. The prefrontal cortex, our analytical thinker, doesn't even need to show up. But under the gun, that super-smart part of the brain thinks it's so great and tries to butt in. University of Maryland scientist Bradley Hatfield got expert dart throwers and marksmen to practice while wearing a cumbersome cap full of electrodes. Without an audience, their brains show very little chatter among regions. But in another study, when dart throwers were faced with a roomful of people, the pros' neural activity began to resemble that of a novice, with more communication from the prefrontal cortex.

"Stress and worry aren't what necessarily cause the problem," says Sian Beilock, a University of Chicago psychologist and author of the book Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To. "But if they lead to trying to control performance" -- that is, trigger the prefrontal cortex -- "it's more likely to end in a choke."

The body's reaction to that is akin to what happens when your computer runs on RAM rather than the hard drive, says Dr. Michael Lardon, author of Finding Your Zone and a trainer for many PGA golfers, Olympians and NFL players: "Reaction and accuracy decrease."

It's the athlete's job to shut up the prefrontal cortex, and Cundiff -- given his leading-edge routine -- surely could have done this under normal circumstances. (The kicker refused The Mag's interview requests.) But he simply may not have had the time, or enough experience with a scoreboard snafu, to get back out of his head.

That's why the most advanced mental trainers now discourage thinking...
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Posted by orrinj at 5:11 AM


CBS predicts Arab-haredi majority in 2059 (Ynet, 03.28.12)

A Central Bureau of Statistics forecast predicts that haredim and Arabs will outnumber the secular population in Israel in 47 years. Israel's population is slated to grow to 15.6 million.

Posted by orrinj at 5:01 AM


Study: Hispanics Poised to Be 'Mega-Force' in Housing (Meg Handley, March 28, 2012, US News)

Still saddled with a huge overhang of distressed properties and lackluster demand, it seems the housing market could really use a knight in shining armor to slay the metaphorical dragons choking its growth.

According to a study released this month, that white knight could come in the form of Latino homebuyers who are expected to provide a deep well of housing interest over the next decade, propelling demand for condos, starter homes, and trade-up homes. [...]

During the third quarter of 2011, the Hispanic homeownership rate rose to almost 48 percent, accounting for more than half of the total growth in homeownership over that period. Drilling down to the raw numbers, Hispanics bought almost 300,000 housing units in the third quarter of 2011, compared with 190,000 units bought by African-Americans, 66,000 by Asians, and just 18,000 by non-Hispanic white households.