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12 February 2010


Matins: Remember when we didn't know much of anything about autism, not really? Now, it seems, we know less. Michelle Dawson shoots off ten "off the cuff thoughts" about the criteria for a diagnosis of autism prescribed by the DSM-V. (The Autism Crisis; via Marginal Revolution)

7. The changed criteria, which collapse the DSM-IV social and communication domains, overlook any role for manual and oral motor abilities in these two areas. And whose definition of the now-mandatory social reciprocity criterion will prevail? Here is John Constantino's one-way-street definition:

Reciprocal social behavior refers to the extent to which a child engages in emotionally appropriate turn-taking social interaction with others.

The closer-to-equal time, so to speak, now granted the previously-relegated RIRB (restricted interests and repetitive behaviours) domain could be seen as progress, ditto the disappearance of the "nonfunctional" assumption. But autistics will no longer have DSM-IV unusually focused and intense interests (a strength), we will instead be pathologically fixated.

Lauds: The late-June date is set for the Sotheby's auction of Polaroid's corporate photography collection, which is expected to bring $9 million (plus or minus 2). Critics would prefer to keep the collection both intact and in the hands of a known entity. Few of the photographs were purchases; many were exchanged, for free cameras, with famous photographers. Ansel Adams was the original de facto curator. (NYT)

The sale offers a particularly strong look at Adams’s work. He met Mr. Land in 1948 and was so taken with him that he became a friend of the brilliant inventor and served as a consultant to the Polaroid Corporation. In Adams’s autobiography he recalled his introduction to a Polaroid when Mr. Land took a picture of him with a prototype camera. “As it was peeled from its negative after just 60 seconds, the sepia-colored print had great clarity and luminosity,” he wrote. “We were both beaming with the satisfaction of witnessing a photographic breakthrough come alive before our eyes. For Land it represented confirmation of a dream; for me it was a thrilling experience relating to the future of my craft.”

The liquidation of the collection is required by bankruptcy proceedings involving Polaroid's corporate parent. (Bloomberg)

Prime: If George Cloutier is right about how to run a business, then we might as well nuke the planet, because his outlook is so profoundly antisocial that no social benefit can compensate for its utter inhumanity. "Fire Your Relatives. Scare Your Employees. And Stop Whining."

Q. Do business owners coddle their people too much?

A. The concept that if you love your employees they’ll perform is on the edge of insanity. It’s not that you want to hurt your employees, but you have a mission. You’re paid to produce results.

Q. Can your employees talk back to you or say, “Sorry, boss, but that’s a stupid idea?

A. We actually did a survey around Christmas of their attitudes toward the company. Two-thirds of them thought the company was changing for the better. We let them write any comments they had. One guy that worked for me for 10 years wrote, “If I fell dead at my desk, George wouldn’t notice for two days.” Sure, we let them talk back. We like to listen, but you can only listen so much and then you have to make a choice.

Q. What’s your view of fear as a management tool?

A. Fear is the best motivator.

Our bet is that a businessman such as George Cloutier has only his unattractive personal difficulty to work with. (NYT)

Tierce: Linda Geddes exploited her very own wedding as a science project: before and after the ceremony, blood was drawn from the the bride, the groom, and other members of the wedding party so that levels of oxytocin and several other hormones (including testosterone) could be measured. (New Scientist)

Not all the results fitted our predictions, however. Take vasopressin, the mate-guarding hormone. Zak thought we would see a spike in Nic's levels during the wedding ceremony - but instead we saw a fall. "Perhaps Nic didn't need to aggressively defend you as you have publicly committed to him," says Zak.

Nic's testosterone levels didn't behave either. Contrary to our hypothesis, it almost doubled during the wedding vows, with one male guest also experiencing a rise. Marazzeti has a possible answer: since testosterone is linked to libido, the sight of lots of women dressed up for the wedding may have been arousing.

As for the stress hormones, I didn't need the test results to know that mine were up. Although very high stress shuts down oxytocin release, moderate stress seems to promote it, which may be another reason why my oxytocin levels were boosted.

Sext: George Snyder takes us on a visit to Warter Priory, a horrible old pile that, sadly nonetheless, was torn down nearly forty years ago. The tinted postcard is worthy of Edward Gorey. George's dish is even tastier.

It's hardly any wonder why Warter Priory is gone.   With nearly a hundred rooms -- and over thirty of them bedrooms -- imagine the work it would take to keep it all going.  Before some of those time-saving gadgets we have nowadays, like electricity and central heat.  And dishwashers.  It's exhausting just to think about.

Lord Muncaster sold Warter Priory in 1878 to Charles Wilson, the Hull shipping magnate, subsequently made Lord Nunburnholme in 1906.  He died here in 1907 (incidentally, his grandson the subsequent third Baron Nunburnholme was born in 1904); Lady Nunburnholme maintained the estate until 1929 when it was sold to the Hon. George Ellis Vestey, second son of the first Baron Vestey who had been raised to the peerage in 1922 for services rendered to the nation during the war.

[Vestey "had ostensibly rendered great service to his country in war by placing his cold storage depots at the disposal of the government free of charge.  In fact, the company had been paid, he had moved his meat business to Argentina to avoid paying Biritsh taxes, and English people had thus been put out of work" (Cannadine, The Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy, p. 317), but I digress.]

Nones: Who's going to succeed Lybian leader Moammar al-Gaddafi? As Hugh Miles notes, this is a question not only of who but of how as well, because the Colonel is not a conventional head of state. Rather, he is the revolutionary leader. His second son (a likely contender, according to Mr Miles) would like to come to power "under the provisions of a constitution." (LRB)

This could prove tricky because a new constitution couldn’t be introduced without a fight, since it would diminish the power of the revolutionaries and ultimately threaten Libya’s entire Green Book political structure. Gaddafi himself is opposed to constitutions, preferring oral agreements and ambiguity, which is why the current draft constitution has been ‘under discussion’ for the last four years, awaiting his approval.

Saif al-Islam has calculated that being appointed constitutionally gives him the best chance of winning a genuine popular mandate to govern – which he will doubtless need in future, as even with his father’s backing the way ahead for him is by no means clear. He is already locked in squabbles with other elements in the regime. Just a few days ago the distribution of two of Saif’s newspapers was stopped (he has his own media company, Al-Ghad) by forces opposed to his – reformist – agenda. Any one of his six very unpredictable brothers may also lay claim to power.

Vespers: At Survival of the Book, Brian writes about Scott Brown's impending contribution to the shelf of "polibrity books."

Fear not, though, he will hire a writer to help. Wait, he can't write?! Oh no, he can, sure, he's just too busy. Says spokeswoman Gail Gitcho of Brown, quoted by Viser, "Senator Brown will work with a collaborator so he can continue to focus fully on his service to the people of Massachusetts, which is, and always will be, his first priority." News for Brown: voting against Craig Becker, a union attorney, for a position on the National Labor Relations Board is NOT voting in my interest, and a phonecall to your office today will confirm this point. And PS, you're getting a writer because you would probably struggle with a "tweet," much less a whole manuscript. Why would anyone believe you could write a book, but are just too busy?

Compline: Lauro Martines reviews a book about the burgeoning field of public health, during an outbreak of plague in late-Sixteenth-Century Italy.

n this brilliant study, a leading expert on the history of plague finds the origins of our understanding of the disease not in the science of seventeenth-century Protestant Europe but in the heartland of Catholicism, Counter-Reformation Italy. Here, in the upper part of the peninsula, the epidemic of 1575–8 gave rise to passionate debate, issuing in a stream of writings that would challenge the tenets of classical, Arabic and medieval views of plague.

We can only hope that Mr Martines will write his own book about these developments, even though (or precisely because) the 1570s are outside his established specialty, which is the Early Renaissance in Italy. (TimesOnline)

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