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May 10, 2011

Why a lack of empathy is the root of all evil

Why a lack of empathy is the root of all evil - Features, Health & Families - The Independent
Lucy Adeniji – an evangelical Christian and author of two books on childcare – trafficked two girls and a 21-year-old woman from Nigeria to work as slaves in her east London home. She made them toil for 21 hours a day and tortured them if they displeased her. The youngest girl was 11 years old. Sentencing her to 11-and-a-half years in prison last month, Judge Simon Oliver said: "You are an evil woman. I have no doubt you have ruined these two girls' lives. They will suffer from the consequences of the behaviour you meted out to them for the rest of their lives." Most people would probably agree with Judge Oliver's description of Adeniji as evil, but Simon Baron-Cohen, professor of developmental psychopathology at the University of Cambridge, would not be one of them. In his latest book, Zero Degrees of Empathy: A new theory of human cruelty, Baron-Cohen, argues that the term evil is unscientific and unhelpful. "Sometimes the term evil is used as a way to stop an inquiry," Baron-Cohen tells me. "'This person did it because they're evil' – as if that were an explanation." . . . Baron-Cohen provides vignettes of what a typical person with x-degrees of empathy would be like. We're told, for example, that a person with level two empathy (quite low) "blunders through life, saying all the wrong things (eg, 'You've put on weight!') or doing the wrong things (eg, invading another person's 'personal space')." Being at the far ends of the bell curve (extremely high or extremely low empathy scores) is not necessarily pathological. It is possible to have zero degrees of empathy and not be a murderer, torturer or rapist, although you're unlikely to be any of these things if you are at the other end of the empathy spectrum – level six empathy. "You could imagine someone who has low empathy yet somehow carves out a lifestyle for themselves where it doesn't impact on other people and it doesn't interfere with their everyday life," says Baron-Cohen. . . .

May 09, 2011

If you're a Michigander like me, then I'm asking you to hassle your state rep for a second

Hey Michigan, here's the basic situation: Our kids are looking...

May 05, 2011

Half of the adults in Detroit are illiterate

If Detroit were its own country, it would be 165th in literacy, out of 179 countries. (The United States is tied for 20th, by the way, with an average 99.0% literacy rate.) Yglesias -- Half Of Adults In Detroit Are Functionally Illiterate
Something that I think drives at least some of my disagreements with other liberals about education policy is that I think a lot of middle class liberals implicitly underestimate the extent of really bad learning outcomes. Take this report (PDF) from the Detroit Regional Workforce Fund which notes “that 47% of adults (more than 200,000 individuals) in the City of Detroit are functionally illiterate, referring to the inability of an individual to use reading, speaking, writing, and computational skills in everyday life situations” and also that “within the tricounty region, there are a number of municipalities with illiteracy rates rivaling Detroit: Southfield at 24%, Warren at 17%, Inkster at 34%, Pontiac at 34%.” Under those circumstances, I find it difficult to be seized with worry that schools are going to be ruined by teachers “teaching to the test” too much. It is true that school districts that have started taking testing more seriously now need to step up and also take the possibility of outright cheating more seriously. But the fact that huge numbers of kids are passing through school systems and not learning basic literacy drives home the fact that districts also need to take checking to see if the kids are learning anything more seriously.

April 28, 2011

Massive toranado hits Tuscaloosa, killing 77

The 77 people were across the entire length of the storm, not just in Tuscaloosa. Storms, tornadoes kill 77 across South, Obama declares emergency - Chicago Sun-Times
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — A wave of tornado-spawning storms strafed the South on Wednesday, splintering buildings across hard-hit Alabama and killing at least 77 people in four states. Some 61 people died in Alabama alone, including 15 in Tuscaloosa when a massive tornado barreled through the area. Sections of the city that’s home to the University of Alabama have been destroyed, the mayor said, and the city’s infrastructure was devastated. Farther north, a nuclear power plant west of Huntsville lost power and was operating on diesel generators. In Mississippi, 11 deaths were reported, four people were killed in Georgia and one in Tennessee. . . .