Friday, May 15, 2009

Friday Bulletins

Chomping at the bit to start our three-day weekend, we steer towards our Victoria Day holiday with a sampling of stories pawed from the margins of this morning's news headlines.

Rise: I never realized how a lifetime playing chess affected my thinking until a former supervisor pointed it out to me in a friendly review: "You're a chessplayer", he declared, "you run that department like a chess game, trying to foresee the upcoming moves, all these contingency plans you keep coming up with in your spare time, how you do this and your habit for that..." On he went with the many chess analogies he had noticed in my work habits. I was a fascinated audience for these observations, as I had never even told him about how many hours I had spent as a young man playing against people much better than I was... which was just about everybody!

That meeting taught me how much I seem to have learned through my youthful fondness for chess, which is why I was very pleased to discover this story about how chess is making a comeback with young people: "Wendi Fischer, executive director of America's Foundation for Chess, says she's seen a 'huge increase' in the number of schools and students interested in chess."
Fischer says the aim of the [First Move] program is to teach critical thinking skills that will help students succeed academically and socially.
"In the very first lesson we study board basics. One of the basics of the chess board is that it uses a coordinate system, and the coordinate system is the basis of algebra."
Marlie Buehler is the founder of Abundant Waters, an after-school program that operates out of PS 51 in New York. She says chess is one of the activities that is part of the program, adding that it teaches children many important skills, including how to take notes.
"I firmly believe everybody should have to take it," she says. "It's teaching the mind how to think."
"I think that parents are starting to see chess as an extracurricular activity that has some benefits other than just learning how to play chess," he says. "It sort of carries over into other aspects when it comes to logical thinking and process of events."
Rex Sinquefield, founder and president of the St. Louis Chess Club and Scholastic Center, which is hosting the tournament, says one of the main reasons scholastic chess is becoming so popular is that there's an interest on the part of the top chess players to get kids involved in the game.
Sinquefield's group is working on a study of how kids benefit academically from chess. "It's definitely an exercise of the brain. They also learn that you can improve by studying and that you go to books to learn."
Fall: A day in the life of Post-Christian Great Britain, courtesy of a photographer's four year-long chronicle of binge-drinking debauchery in the Welsh town of Cardiff: "The unique collection from amateur cameraman Maciej Dakowicz is aptly named 'Cardiff At Night' and features scenes of late night drunken carnage."

Hope: On the opposite end of the scale, a story about a penniless single mom who faced a tough choice, and decided to report the clerical error her bank made in mistakenly placing over $200,000 in her account:
"It's a struggle, we're human but a child of God and gotta do the right thing even though I have nothing," Regis said.
"At the end of the day, are you gonna sell your soul for $271,366.01?" she said.
Faith: "Believing you are ill can make you ill", reports New Scientist magazine in an article on the undeniable potential power of mind over body:

"Take Sam Shoeman, who was diagnosed with end-stage liver cancer in the 1970s and given just months to live. Shoeman duly died in the allotted time frame - yet the autopsy revealed that his doctors had got it wrong. The tumour was tiny and had not spread. "He didn't die from cancer, but from believing he was dying of cancer," says Meador. "If everyone treats you as if you are dying, you buy into it. Everything in your whole being becomes about dying."
The placebo effect has an evil twin: the nocebo effect, in which dummy pills and negative expectations can produce harmful effects. The term "nocebo", which means "I will harm", was not coined until the 1960s, and the phenomenon has been far less studied than the placebo effect. It's not easy, after all, to get ethical approval for studies designed to make people feel worse.
What we do know suggests the impact of nocebo is far-reaching. "Voodoo death, if it exists, may represent an extreme form of the nocebo phenomenon..."
The ultimate cause of the nocebo effect, however, is not neurochemistry but belief. [S]urgeons are often wary of operating on people who think they will die - because such patients often do. And the mere belief that one is susceptible to a heart attack is itself a risk factor. One study found that women who believed they are particularly prone to heart attack are nearly four times as likely to die from coronary conditions than other women with the same risk factors.


"I don't think there's anything mystical about it. We're uncomfortable with the idea that words or symbolic actions can cause death because it challenges our biomolecular model of the world."

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