Sunday, February 28, 2016

Working-class kid not "bored"

Unlike middle-class children, working-class and poor children rarely complain of being "bored." We heard Tyrec whine about a variety of things (e.g., being restricted to inside play), but unlike middle-class children, we never heard him complain that he had nothing to do. Despite the lack of organized activities, he has no trouble filling up his schedule. He has ideas, plans, and activities to engage in with his friends. Unlike his middle-class counterparts, Tyrec needs no adult assistance to pursue the great majority of his plans. He doesn't need to pressure his mother to drive him to a friend's house or to organize a sleep-over or to take him to a store.
Annette Lareau, Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life, 2d ed. "with an update a decade later" (Berkeley, CA: Univ. of California Press, 2011), ch. 4

Friday, February 26, 2016

Alien earthworms contribute to America

In the forests of northeastern U.S. cities, leaves decompose quickly, much more quickly than they do in more natural settings. This might seem counterintuitive because city soils are disturbed, of low quality, and polluted. City trees also grow tough, decay-resistant leaves to fight water loss, pollution, and the mouths of herbivorous insects. Soil organisms, however, play a huge role in starting leaf breakdown, notably earthworms, which are more abundant in urban soils than in natural soils. The greater warmth of urban soils is favorable to earthworms and other agents of decay, but the greater abundance of worms in U.S. city soils also reflects their alien origins. Most earthworms are not native to the United States; they came from Europe as settlers brought in plants and horticultural soils from their native homelands.
Some of the most familiar invaders, such as "night crawlers" and "red wigglers," are clearly enhancing soil fertility and even helping stem climate change. . . . Carbon is also quickly stripped from the decaying plant matter by worms and stored in the soil. This may be the worm's greatest gift. Increasing the capacity of our soils to sequester carbon is a significant step that helps counter the carbon we release into the atmosphere.
John M. Marzluff, Welcome to Subirdia: Sharing Our Neighborhoods with Wrens, Robins, Woodpeckers, and Other Wildlife (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 2014), p. 167

Thursday, February 25, 2016

What kids learn from unsupervised play

[Working-class] Tyrec plays over and over with a relatively stable group of boys. Because the group functions without adult monitoring, he learns how to construct and sustain friendships on his own and how to organize and negotiate. By contrast, [middle-class] Garrett's playmates change frequently, forming and dispersing with each new season and each new organized activity. The only constant is the presence of adults in each setting, ensuring that the players all know the rules, if not one another's names.

Much of the informal play Tyrec and his friends engage in takes place outdoors, at times and in places mainly of their own choosing. The boys often play games they have devised themselves, complete with rules and systems of enforcement. Thus, the organization of Tyrec's daily life provides him with opportunities to develop skills in peer mediation, conflict management, personal responsibility and strategizing.
Annette Lareau, Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life, 2d ed. "with an update a decade later" (Berkeley, CA: Univ. of California Press, 2011), ch. 4

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Middle-class kids' preparation for workplace

In their organizational style, many of the activities in which middle-class children routinely participate replicate key aspects of the workplace. Children like Garrett, who meet and learn to work effectively with a new set of adults for every activity they enroll in, are acquiring a basic job skill—the ability to work smoothly with acquaintances. Most working-class and poor children, in contrast, have no opportunities for similar preemployment training. Most of the adults they encounter outside of school are immediate family members or extended family members. Some working-class and poor children interact periodically with adult neighbors, but encounters with adult acquaintances in organized settings are very rare.
Annette Lareau, Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life, 2d ed. "with an update a decade later" (Berkeley, CA: Univ. of California Press, 2011), ch. 3

Monday, February 22, 2016

Amazing bird evolution near highways

Cliff swallows nest by the thousands under highway bridges. As the birds fly in and out of their nesting colonies, speeding commuters kill many. Despite the slaughter, the birds persist in large numbers. In fact, highway deaths are on the decline, in part because the swallows are evolving more agile bodies. Surviving swallows have longer and thinner wings than those hit by cars, a feature that endows them with greater, life-saving maneuverability. Nature is fragile, but it does not always break when bent: sometimes it evolves.
John M. Marzluff, Welcome to Subirdia: Sharing Our Neighborhoods with Wrens, Robins, Woodpeckers, and Other Wildlife (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 2014), pp. 116-17

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Meeting a clown can be a shock

That was when I got a bad shock. We were in a kind of office—desk, chairs, computer, none of that shocking—and standing by the desk was the cop who’d spoken to Rick, also not shocking. The shocking part was the clown sitting in one of the chairs. I’d seen clowns on TV. They scare me every time, and this was much worse. The clown had a horrible white face with a red mouth and green eyes and nasty orange hair sprouting out of his head here and there. And it wasn’t just the sight of him: how about the smell? Partly he smelled like Livia Moon, who operated a house of ill repute, whatever that may be, in Pottsdale, and partly he smelled like a human male. I hardly ever go backward, but I was going backward now, and barking my head off.
Spencer Quinn, To Fetch a Thief: A Chet and Bernie Mystery (New York: Atria Paperback, Simon & Schuster, 2011), p. 25

Saturday, February 20, 2016

A woman, a man, and two fancy cats

They were not ordinary cats, not ordinary pets. They were Himalayans, white with puckered faces and long, ornate names on their pedigree papers. In their regular life  around the house, Olivia called them Eggdrop and Chop Suey. Nick hated both the prestigious pedigree stuff and these over-cute names. He didn't much care for the cats either as far as that went.
Olivia adored them. She was as close as she got to happy whenever one or the other won a ribbon. She fussed over them at  home. She found their behavior endlessly fascinating. They chased a tied-up pair of  pantyhose across the floor! They sat in a box! She had concocted intricate personalities she professed to see in them while to Nick, it appeared that they only ate, slept, batted around sparkle balls, and were almost totally indifferent to Nick's and Olivia's presence in their lives. The cats were part of the ticket price to Olivia. He'd keep buffalos, if that would make her stay.
Carol Anshaw, Carry the One (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2012), p. 79

Friday, February 19, 2016

How middle-class kids learn entitlement

Their financial problems are of great concern to both parents . . . Ms. Tallinger, recalling the anxiety she felt as a child . . . tries to spare her sons similar concerns. She does, though, let the children know that certain kinds of vacations, such as going to Disney World, are expensive and that all family vacations require saving in advance. But possible limits on money are never referred to when the family debates going out for fast food, when it is time to sign up for a sports team, when a dentist appointment is scheduled, or when arrangements are made to attend an out-of-state soccer tournament. By not mentioning money, the Tallingers and other middle-class parents convey a subtle sense of entitlement to their children. 
Annette Lareau, Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life, 2d ed. "with an update a decade later" (Berkeley, CA: Univ. of California Press, 2011), ch. 3

[The Tallinger's son Garrett] takes for granted the fact that his parents can afford the cost of clothing, groceries, fast food, cars, medical appointments, and assorted activities for their children. In fact, when offered a free toothbrush by the dentist, he declines. For Garrett, expenditures like these are simply part of his life; they are (unexamined) entitlements. He can't—and doesn't—even imagine that for working-class and poor children, these same taken-for-granted items and opportunities are viewed as (unavailable) privileges.
Id.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Dunkirk was impressive but not a victory

We must be very careful not to assign to this deliverance the attributes of a victory. Wars are not won by evacuations.
Winston Churchill, quoted in Walter Lord, The Miracle of Dunkirk (New York: Open Road Integrated Media, 2012), p. 271 (copyright 1982)

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Warning: you might not agree with sociologists' interpretations of your life

My experience leads me to urge that the costs of being a study participant be explicitly acknowledged prior to the beginning of a research project. They could be covered in the consent form, under a statement such as "the research could make you uncomfortable" or "the conclusions of the research report may not match your understanding of your life."
Annette Lareau, Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life, 2d ed. "with an update a decade later" (Berkeley, CA: Univ. of California Press, 2011), ch. 14, note 26.

It is important to remember that researchers and subjects not only have different interests in the final product, but they are engaged in different endeavors: study participants are living their lives; researchers are engaged in analysis.
Id., note 42.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

"Subirdia is the geography of life"

To me, the suburb is neither the geography of nowhere nor the ecological desert unworthy of conservation about which I've read. Pieces of paradise have been paved, but it is not entirely a parking lot. What has been created is fully stocked with a wonderful diversity of bird life that is fragile, though sustainable. Subirdia is the geography of life.
John M. Marzluff, Welcome to Subirdia: Sharing Our Neighborhoods with Wrens, Robins, Woodpeckers, and Other Wildlife (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 2014), p. 98

Monday, February 15, 2016

Dangers to cows in Wyoming

In 2005 . . ., 42,000 cattle died in Wyoming. Of those, about 4,000 were killed by predators (2,200 by coyotes, 700 by wolves, 500 by mountain lions, 200 by grizzlies, 100 by dogs and black bears, 200 by other predators). The majority of cows (8,700) died from respiratory problems. Calving accounted for another 7,800 deaths and weather killed 7,000. In other words, ten times as many cows died from weather as from wolves. (Ranchers are compensated for predator attacks, but not for the weather, maybe because, although men and women have tried, you can't shoot the wind.)
Alexandra Fuller, "Wyoming," in Matt Weiland & Sean Wilsey eds., State by State: A Panaramic Portrait of America (2008)

Family ties, by class

Compared to their working-class and poor counterparts, the middle-class children we observed are more competitive with and hostile toward their siblings, and they have much weaker ties with extended family members.
Annette Lareau, Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life, 2d ed. "with an update a decade later" (Berkeley, CA: Univ. of California Press, 2011), ch. 3

Sunday, February 14, 2016

How is writing like kissing?

I can't write without a reader. It's precisely like a kiss—you can't do it alone.
John Cheever, quoted in Colin Robinson, "The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Reader, New York Times Sunday Review, Jan. 5, 2014, at 6, and quoted in turn in John Sutherland, "Literature and the Library in the Nineteenth Century," in Alice Crawford, ed., The Meaning of the Library (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press, 2015), p.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

"My kids read a lot"

[I]n survey responses, highly educated parents (but not those with less education) appear to exaggerate the amount of time that their children spend reading, compared to time diary data on children's reading patterns.
Annette Lareau, Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life, 2d ed. "with an update a decade later" (Berkeley, CA: Univ. of California Press, 2011), ch. 15, note 4 (citing Sandra L. Hofferth, "Response Bias in a Popular Indicator of Reading to Children," Sociological methodology 36, 1 (2006): 301-35).

What is lesbian love?

She used to imagine love between women as a languid extension of friendship. Something Virginia Woolf-ish involving tea and conversation and sofas and afternoon eliding into evening, a small lamp needing to be turned on, but left unlit. And so she was brought up shot by [her sister] Alice's exhausting—even just to witness—passion for Maude, her desolation since Maude walked out of her life.
Carol Anshaw, Carry the One (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2012), p. 63

Friday, February 12, 2016

Gehenna was hellish

Ancient Jerusalem's dumpsite was beyond the walls of the Old City in the Valley of Hinnom. In the days of the Judaean kings, according to the Bible, cults would go to the valley to sacrifice children to the pagan god Moloch. By Jesus' time, Hinnom was a foul dump full of rotting garbage, animal carcasses, and smoky, acrid fires. It was, in a word, hellish, which is why the valley's other name, Gehenna, came to stand for the name where sinners were tortured in the fires of eternal damnation.
Dan Fagin, Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation (New York: Bantam Books, 2014), p. 85

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Cats kill birds: keep 'em inside

One in every ten birds in the United States will see the same thing just before death: a cat. We now know that the effect of cats goes well beyond killing. English researchers demonstrated that a parent bird reduces the rate at which it feeds nestlings when it glimpses a cat. Reduced feeding may result in undersized young, but more important, the unattended nest becomes easy prey for jays and crows. . . . Stewarding our urban birds requires that we keep cats indoors. Period. (It's safer for the cats as well.)
John M. Marzluff, Welcome to Subirdia: Sharing Our Neighborhoods with Wrens, Robins, Woodpeckers, and Other Wildlife (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 2014), p. 59

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Suburbanites facilitating biodiversity

Considering ourselves as facilitators, not simply destroyers, of biological diversity shines a new light on our place in the web of life. Some of our actions enable other species to thrive where they would otherwise be rare. It is this role that supports the diversity I often encounter around people's homes, and allows it to grow.
John M. Marzluff, Welcome to Subirdia: Sharing Our Neighborhoods with Wrens, Robins, Woodpeckers, and Other Wildlife (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 2014), p. 59

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Peaking in our sixties

These brain circuits mature at different times during development, and although there are major maturational events that take place in the terrible twos, puberty, late adolescence, the twenties, and the mid-thirties, some are not completely integrated until one is in the sixties, which appears to be the typical average peak time of human insight, cognition, and understanding in many realms of life.
James Fallon, The Psychopath Inside: A Neuroscientist's Personal Journey into the Dark Side of the Brain (New York: Current, 2013), pp. 55.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Specialized scavengers in 19th-century London

Variants survive today in slum-ridden megacities like Cairo, Mumbai, and Buenos Aires, but the epitome was early nineteenth-century London, where a scavenger army of tens of thousands of impoverished men, women, and children, each with a defined specialty, scavenged the dregs of the metropolis. There were toshers in the sewers and mudlarks on the riverbanks, rag-pickers atop rubbish heaps and bone-pickers behind kitchens. "Pure-finders" scooped up dog manure for tanneries, dustmen collected ash and night-soil men emptied cesspools. . . . Teeming cities like London and Paris could not have functioned without the ad hoc scavenging system, but the cost was very high. The scavengers worked in filth, and as the investigations of William Farr and John Snow demonstrated, filthy conditions were crucial in the spread of communicable disease.
Dan Fagin, Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation (New York: Bantam Books, 2014), p. 85

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Ordinarily busy Mary Russell relaxes

Moments of pure relaxation were rare for me. There was always the nagging of books unread, work undone, time a-wasting. For this brief slice of an afternoon, though, the choice was taken from me; the only alternative to relaxation was fretting. But the sun was too warm and my muscles too pleasantly loosened to fret, so I stretched out my long legs, crossed them a the boots, folded my glasses onto my stomach, and gave myself over to the sheer debauchery of simply lying in the sun.
Laurie R. King, A Letter of Mary (New York: Picador, 1996), p. 235

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Worrying for good

Tommy [Thompson] was worried, but he liked to worry. "The more you worry, the more you think," he said, "and the more you think, the more you know, and the more you know, the better you're able to deal with the situation. I'm not the type to worry to the point of dysfunction. The more I worry, the more energy I have."
Gary Kinder, Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea (New York: Grove Publishing, 1998), Kindle loc. 6486

Friday, February 5, 2016

An innocent man hanged—not the first or the last

Innocent men have perished before James, and are like to keep on perishing (in spite of all our wisdom) till the end of time. . . . He had been hanged by fraud and violence, and the world wagged along, and there was not a pennyweight of difference; and the villains of that horrid plot were decent, kind, respectable fathers of families, who went to kirk and took the sacrament!
Robert Louis Stevenson, Catriona (1892), pt. I, ch. 20

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Down with bad editing

When I read my modest sentence “He drank his coffee,” revised by her, in bright blue felt-tip pen to read, “He quaffed the steaming dark bitter brew,” I threw what can only be called a tantrum, and the editor was removed from the fray.
Frederick Busch, "Truth, Lies, Fact, Fiction," American Scholar, Summer 2000, p. 30

Outstanding example of the corporate passive voice

Behind its thick curtain of trees, Toms River Chemical was spending as little money on pollution control as it could. The company's executives had been explicit about this in 1968, according to an internal memo describing their reaction to a report on various waste treatment options: "After review of this report by top management, the policy of making these expenditures only as fast as absolutely necessary was stated."
Dan Fagin, Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation (New York: Bantam Books, 2014), p. 104

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Brandeis recommends recreation

Brandeis learned a lesson that he would practice and preach to others all his life, namely, that unless one found some way to exercise the body as well as the mind, one could not do good work. As a young lawyer he belonged to a riding club, and later took up canoeing. He also took regular vacations, and all of August off. “I learned that I could do a year’s worth of work in eleven months, but not in twelve.” Brandeis’s insistence on taking time off involved not just health; he understood that a tired person more easily made mistakes, not just of fact but of judgment as well. 
Melvin I. Urofsky, Louis D. Brandeis: A Life (New York: Pantheon, 2009), p. 34

After one walk, Brandeis told his wife “that while the dog had behaved reasonably well, he ‘has occasional lapses from virtue which convince me he should be muzzled. He does bite sometimes & we shall have claims made against us if we don’t act soon.’” Id. at 361.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

How many brain regions do you want to study?

Neuroanatomists categorize themselves into "clumpers" and "splitters' baed on how they like to organize the brain. Clumpers preferto simplify the brain into as few sections as possible, while splitters divide the brain into thousands of pieces, all with their own Latin or Greek names. . . .

. . .

Most of us, however, fall somewhere in between these camps and organize the brain into a few hundred parts. I am a splitter and I like having thousands of specific parts to study. But for the sake of simplicity, especially when teaching or writing a paper, I like to organize the brain into a 3x3x3 "Rubik's Cube" pattern. This twenty-seven-part brain is as simple as I'm willing to go and still be able to sleep at night without violating Einstein's first law of simplicity in science: "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler."
James Fallon, The Psychopath Inside: A Neuroscientist's Personal Journey into the Dark Side of the Brain (New York: Current, 2013), pp. 47-48.

Einstein's rule about simplicity might be a bit too simple. Quote Investigator has a long discussion, tracing it to a paraphrase ("He said, in effect, that everything should be as simple as it can be, but not simpler.") that was later taken as a quotation. Einstein actually said (in 1933):
It can scarcely be denied that the supreme goal of all theory is to make the irreducible basic elements as simple and as few as possible without having to surrender the adequate representation of a single datum of experience.
Quote Investigator (citing Alice Calaprice, ed., The Ultimate Quotable Einstein).

Monday, February 1, 2016

Reformer says: keep reforming

[T]he need for reform never ends. My hope for Seattle is that its leaders will continue to challenge dysfunction and injustice whenever and wherever it is found in our fair city.
Christopher T. Bayley, Seattle Justice: The Rise and Fall of the Police Payoff System in Seattle (Seattle: Sasquatch Books, 2015), Afterword