In 1960, ~half-million teens took a test that, now, may predict their risk of Alzheimer’s

❝ In 1960, Joan Levin, 15, took a test that turned out to be the largest survey of American teenagers ever conducted. It took two-and-a-half days to administer and included 440,000 students from 1,353 public, private and parochial high schools across the country — including Parkville Senior High School in Parkville, Md., where she was a student.

“We knew at the time that they were going to follow up for a long time,” Levin said — but she thought that meant about 20 years.

Fifty-eight years later, the answers she and her peers gave are still being used by researchers — most recently in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease. A study released this month found that subjects who did well on test questions as teenagers had a lower incidence of Alzheimer’s and related dementias in their 60s and 70s than those who scored poorly.

A worthwhile read. I have my own opinions. They probably fit in here somewhere with the work and analysis of these researchers. Like Jeff Bezos, my concern goes all the way into pre-school education.

Happy Nations Don’t Focus on Growth

Roman Gorielov/Istockphoto

❝ The Socialist candidate for the French presidency, Benoit Hamon, says he doesn’t believe in the “myth” and “quasi-religion” of growth — it’s part of the “consumerist, productivist and materialist model” of development, he argues. That’s outside the economic mainstream, and many see those views as a symptom of the meltdown of the global left. But the recently-released Global Happiness Report 2017, produced under the auspices of the United Nations, shows that Hamon just may be ahead of the curve.

❝ Since the project’s inception five years ago, small, rich Western European nations have led the list. In this year’s ranking, compiled using the last three years of data, they make up the top six, with Norway, Denmark and Iceland leading the world. In terms of growth, these nations have long lagged behind the global level…

Meanwhile, China, which has one of the highest sustained growth rates in the world, is not progressing in terms of happiness. The happiness report contains an entire chapter on that, written by Richard Easterlin, Fei Wang and Shun Wang. They pointed out that based on previous studies, China should have seen an increase in well-being of one full point on the ten-point Cantril Scale. Instead, Chinese people are just about as happy as they were in 1990.

❝ The team of respected economists Jeffrey Sachs, Richard Layard and John Helliwell suggests six variables explain the subjective well-being levels: wealth expressed as per capita GDP, the level of social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity (the prevalence of giving to charitable causes), and perceptions of corruption…

❝ …The experience of the small European nations at the top of the table shows that once a certain level of wealth is achieved, growth isn’t as important to happiness levels. As long as per capita GDP is relatively stable, the other factors do their job, and if there’s a problem with them — for example, health care becomes less accessible or deteriorates, the social fabric starts fraying, people grow more selfish or freedom erodes — people tend to feel unhappy despite an unchanged comfort level.

The happiness-related findings are politically important. In 2015, George Ward of the London School of Economics analyzed European election data to show that subjective well-being was a stronger predictor of the vote for the incumbent government than GDP growth or the unemployment level. It’s hard for technocratic elites to acknowledge that the relative electoral success of nativist parties could be dictated by a yearning for social cohesion that they believe is undermined by immigration and globalization; it’s even harder to come up with ways of fixing the problem.

❝ Far left politicians such as Hamon at least give it a try. The French presidential candidate wants to shift the focus from growth to the social support network, primarily health care and education. He also proposes a universal basic income and a shorter workweek, made possible by higher taxes on the rich. It could help or it could backfire…

❝ …Regardless of whether their specific recipes are workable, the left-wing radicals are right in trying to shift the rich world’s policy focus. There’s plenty of wealth, that goal is already achieved. Good policy is a matter of directing it toward the determinants of happiness.

I’ll second that emotion.

Pic of the day

Click to enlargeReuters/Nacho Doce

A burqa and a pink-polka-dot Gibson Flying V electric guitar is not a common combination. Stereotyping, however, is exactly what Muslim woman and professional heavy metal musician, Gisele Marie, wishes to challenge.

Based in Sao Paulo, Marie, 42, is the granddaughter of German Catholics, and converted to Islam several months after her father died in 2009…Music is also a family affair for Marie. The musician grew up in a house of instruments, trained in classical piano, and has fronted the heavy metal band “Spectrus” since 2012…

“People do not expect to see a Muslim woman who uses a burqa, practises the religion properly and is a professional guitarist who plays in a heavy metal band, so many people are shocked by it,” said Marie. “But other people are curious and find it interesting.”

Before converting to Islam, Marie practised Wicca, a modern pagan witchcraft religion. She says that what she searches for in a religion is passion for life and the ability to be yourself.

I have no more criticism of Gisele Marie’s choice of religions than I do of any other. If she draws understanding and care for humanity, nature and life from what she believes – all well and good. As one may from most religions and many systems of philosophy. At root.

I’ve made it clear, often enough, I see no need to turn away from material reality. That is sufficient richness and truth for more than any one individual.

RTFA for more photos by Nacho Doce.

Ancient DNA unravels Europe’s genetic diversity

Ancient DNA recovered from a time series of skeletons in Germany spanning 4,000 years of prehistory has been used to reconstruct the first detailed genetic history of modern-day Europeans.

The study…reveals dramatic population changes with waves of prehistoric migration, not only from the accepted path via the Near East, but also from Western and Eastern Europe.

The research was a collaboration between the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA…researchers from the University of Mainz, the State Heritage Museum in Halle, Germany, and National Geographic Society’s Genographic Project. The teams used mitochondrial DNA extracted from bone and teeth samples from 364 prehistoric human skeletons ‒ ten times more than previous ancient DNA studies.

“This is the largest and most detailed genetic time series of Europe yet created, allowing us to establish a complete genetic chronology,” says joint-lead author Dr Wolfgang Haak of ACAD. “Focussing on this small but highly important geographic region meant we could generate a gapless record, and directly observe genetic changes in ‘real-time’ from 7,500 to 3,500 years ago, from the earliest farmers to the early Bronze Age.”

“Our study shows that a simple mix of indigenous hunter-gatherers and the incoming Near Eastern farmers cannot explain the modern-day diversity alone,” says joint-lead author Guido Brandt, PhD candidate at the University of Mainz. “The genetic results are much more complex than that. Instead, we found that two particular cultures at the brink of the Bronze Age 4,200 years ago had a marked role in the formation of Central Europe’s genetic makeup.”

Professor Kurt Alt (University of Mainz) says: “What is intriguing is that the genetic signals can be directly compared with the changes in material culture seen in the archaeological record. It is fascinating to see genetic changes when certain cultures expanded vastly, clearly revealing interactions across very large distances.” These included migrations from both Western and Eastern Europe towards the end of the Stone Age…

Dr Haak says: “None of the dynamic changes we observed could have been inferred from modern-day genetic data alone, highlighting the potential power of combining ancient DNA studies with archaeology to reconstruct human evolutionary history.”

Fascinating stuff. Work which wouldn’t have been at all practical a decade or so back in time.

My personal pleasure was taking part in an early National Geographic DNA track of my patriarchal DNA from Africa through the steppes of Central Asia to Scotland – perfectly in line with the research of Gerhard Herm and his anthropological history of “The Celts”.

Capabilities are advanced enough that I may try an updated go-round with NatGeo.

Tiny African nation leads in equal opportunity, equal rights

Ntlhoi Motsamai – Speaker of the National Assembly

Lesotho sits like pearl in a shell, surrounded by the land mass of South Africa. But this tiny kingdom of 1.8 million people boasts another jewel, which is perhaps astonishing given its size.

Lesotho is ranked eighth in the world by the World Economic Forum when it comes to bridging the gap between the sexes. The reasons are cultural, political and economic, but one explanation keeps being repeated when you probe the gender issue, and it relates to Lesotho’s recent past.

Historically, large numbers of men from Lesotho crossed the border to work in South Africa’s mines, forcing women to step into their shoes and take up school places and jobs. Many of the men have now come back, having been retrenched from the mines, and they face a more female-focused world.

Dr Mphu Ramatlapeng, Lesotho’s minister for health and social affairs, attributes this to the government’s pro-women policies. But more than that, she emphasises Lesotho’s culture of learning. “The defining factor is education. I think a lot of women have realised early on that they have to educate their daughters,” she says.

Primary education is free in Lesotho and literacy rates among women exceed those of men – with 95% of women able to read and write, compared with 83% of men. This is filtering into the jobs market – the chief of police is a woman, so too is the speaker of parliament and there are at least a dozen senior female judges presiding over the country’s courts…

Fifty per cent of Lesotho’s population live in the rural areas. Until recently, customary laws applied in the countryside dictated that women were virtually redundant when it came to making key decisions in the home…

The statistics that put Lesotho at the top table in the equality game may look impressive but they risk glossing over the challenges. There may be less of a gap in health, education and political participation than in many other countries, and clearly there is greater political will to recognise the important role of women in society.

The article walks away from the ideological quotient. Religion is a powerful factor in a society still stuck into peasant lifestyles, rural world view. A contradiction in terms if there ever was one.

The predominant religious force is Christianity. The missionaries who accompanied colonial exploitation did their job well. Fortunately, folks haven’t much of a tendency towards Lord’s Army nutballism. Still, acceptance of the status quo, Christian fatalism, distracts attempts to modernize further.

Pic of the Day

“And that’s how I spell relief !”

Reuters: A man performs Jal Neti, or nasal wash, an ancient yogic technique,
during a yoga session at Mohali in the northern Indian state of Punjab
August 6, 2010. Many Indians believe that Jal Neti cures diseases related to
the eyes, nose, throat and brain.

Cities that rule the world — those on the rise

Photo by simontoplis

Which cities rule the world? When it comes to economic activity, political and intellectual influence and great places to live, one recent report holds few surprises.

New York, London and Tokyo all rank high in all of these categories, according to a 2010 survey of top world cities by property consultancy Knight Frank…

Knight Frank measures cities on four factors — economic activity, political power, knowledge base and quality of life — and then aggregates the scores to rank world cities…

According to its list, New York leads global powerhouses overall, overtaking London, which had topped the table last year.

Despite a reversal at the top in 2010, the leading four cities — New York, London, Paris and Tokyo — remained significantly ahead of any competition, scoring well ahead of their nearest rival, Los Angeles.

While these heavyweights rule on several fronts now, there are several up-and-coming cities to consider.

Chief among these emerging contenders is Berlin. Thanks to its quality of life, it was the highest overall riser in the survey, moving from 13th to eighth place.

Although Berlin remains outside the top 10 for its economic activity, political power and knowledge and influence, it is now rated by Knight Frank to be second in the world behind Paris for quality of life.

Beijing emerged as the second highest climber in the report, now ninth overall in the world, up from 12th in 2009.

As a political power, Beijing rose from seventh to fourth in the survey, overtaking London, Paris and Tokyo.

RTFA for the details, Top Ten. I’ve spent time in many of these and I think I’d be mellow in most – if I still cared to live in a city.

Born in Dixie? You have a higher risk of stroke death!

The “stroke belt” has a tight hold. People born in the Southern stroke belt have a higher risk of dying from stroke as adults, even if they later move away, compared to people who were born in other parts of the country…

People who live in the stroke belt in adulthood also had elevated risk of dying from stroke, even if they were not born there…

For the study, researchers examined information from the 1980, 1990 and 2000 US national death records for people age 30 to 80 who were born and lived in 49 US states. Stroke death rates were calculated by linking this information to US census information. The stroke belt was defined as seven states: North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi and Alabama.

The study looked at four groups of people: those who were born and lived in the stroke belt as adults, people born in the stroke belt but who did not live there as adults, those born outside the stroke belt but who lived there as adults and those who were not born or lived in the stroke belt.

The study found that those who were born in the stroke belt and then moved away had a higher risk of death caused by stroke than those who were born outside the region and still lived outside the region as adults. The same was true with those who were born elsewhere but later moved to the stroke belt. At the highest risk were those who were both born in the stroke belt and lived there as adults…

“Many important behaviors such as diet, physical activity, and smoking are shaped by childhood social conditions. Future long-term national studies with detailed information on when people moved are needed to help show whether those who move may have different patterns of risk factors and also identify more precisely at what point in life stroke risk begins to build. This will help us understand how to reduce stroke for people living in every region of the country,” Dr. M. Maria Glymour said.


McDonald’s to open restaurant in the Louvre

McDonald’s and art have always gone hand in hand.

French Image Crisis: “Look what they’re saying about us now!”

The news itself did not especially interest French editors. It got a few paragraphs on the economy pages of Le Figaro, and a column in Le Parisien.

The news about the news was a different story. Within a matter of hours, this tale of cultural desecration a la francaise had travelled the world….

At least that was how the tale was portrayed abroad. The French picked up on it and ran alarmed reports of the “Look what they’re saying about us now” variety.

But the truth is that the original story – the fact that McDonald’s is to set up an outlet in the underground shopping-mall that abuts the Louvre – did not strike most French people as particularly surprising.

Why was this so? Why did the French not take to the streets to defend their cuisine, as foreigners apparently believed they should be doing? Had they given up, or what?

The answer is that McDonald’s – or McDo as the French prefer to call it – is now rooted in France’s social landscape, to a degree that would have been considered impossible 15 years ago….

But since then – thanks above all to a brilliant marketing campaign – McDonald’s has manoeuvred itself so effectively into the national way of life that it is now almost as invisible as the corner tabac….

There are now more than 1,130 McDonald’s outlets in France. Astonishingly, France is the company’s second-most profitable market after the United States. It is also the country where customers spend most money per visit….

Face it, there are two kinds of people: those who admit to eating an occasional Big Mac, and liars.