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Interesting Findings And World Unfolding Through My Eyes.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

The Secrets Of Richest Man On Earth

Carlos Slim is Mexico's Mr. Monopoly.

It's hard to spend a day in Mexico and not put money in his pocket. The 67-year-old tycoon controls more than 200 companies -- he says he's "lost count" -- in telecommunications, cigarettes, construction, mining, bicycles, soft-drinks, airlines, hotels, railways, banking and printing. In all, his companies account for more than a third of the total value of Mexico's leading stock market index, while his fortune represents 7% of the country's annual economic output. (At his height, John D. Rockefeller's wealth was equal to 2.5% of U.S. gross domestic product.)

As one Mexico City eatery jokes on its menu: "This restaurant is the only place in Mexico not owned by Carlos Slim."
[Carlos Slim]

Mr. Slim's fortune has grown faster than any in the world during the past two years, rising by more than $20 billion to about $60 billion currently. While the market value of his stake in publicly traded companies could decline at any time, at the moment he is probably wealthier than Bill Gates, whom Forbes magazine estimated at $56 billion last March. This would mark the first time that a person from the developing world held the top spot since Forbes started tracking the wealthy outside the U.S. in the 1990s.

"It's not a competition," Mr. Slim said in a recent interview, fiddling with an unlit Cuban cigar in a second-story office decorated with 19th century Mexican landscape paintings. A relatively modest man who wears ties from his own stores, the mogul says he doesn't feel any richer just because he is wealthier on paper.

How did a Mexican son of Lebanese immigrants rise to such heights? By putting together monopolies, much like John D. Rockefeller did when he developed a stranglehold on refining oil in the industrial era. In the post-industrial world, Mr. Slim has a stranglehold on Mexico's telephones. His Teléfonos de México SAB and its cellphone affiliate Telcel have 92% of all fixed-lines and 73% of all cellphones. As Mr. Rockefeller did before him, Mr. Slim has accumulated so much power that he is considered untouchable in his native land, a force as great as the state itself.

The portly Mr. Slim is a study in contradiction. He says he likes competition in business, but blocks it at every turn. He loves talking about technology, but doesn't use a computer and prefers pen and paper. He hosts everyone from Bill Clinton to author Gabriel García Márquez at his Mexico City mansion, but is provincial in many ways, doesn't travel widely, and proudly says he owns no homes outside of Mexico. In a country of soccer fans, he likes baseball. He roots for the sport's richest team, the New York Yankees.

[Carlos Slim]
"This isn't a competition. Being a businessman isn't about that kind of competition. It's a competition for the marketplace."
-- Carlos Slim, in a discussion with The Wall Street Journal. Read the edited excerpts.

Admirers say the hard-charging Mr. Slim, an insomniac who stays up late reading history and has a fondness for reading about Ghengis Khan and his deceptive military strategies, embodies Mexico's potential to become a Latin tiger. His thrift in both his businesses and personal life is a model of restraint in a region where flamboyant Latin American business tycoons build lavish corporate headquarters and fly to Africa on hunting jaunts.

To critics, however, Mr. Slim's rise says a lot about Mexico's deepest problems, including the gap between rich and poor. The latest U.N. rankings place Mexico at 103 out of 126 nations measured in terms of equality. During the past two years, Mr. Slim has made about $27 million a day, while a fifth of the country gets by on less than $2 a day.

"It's like the U.S. and the robber barons in the 1890s.
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Baby Einstein

The claim always seemed too good to be true: park your infant in front of a video and, in no time, he or she will be talking and getting smarter than the neighbor's kid. In the latest study on the effects of popular videos such as the "Baby Einstein" and "Brainy Baby" series, researchers find that these products may be doing more harm than good. And they may actually delay language development in toddlers.

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Led by Frederick Zimmerman and Dr. Dimitri Christakis, both at the University of Washington, the research team found that with every hour per day spent watching baby DVDs and videos, infants learned six to eight fewer new vocabulary words than babies who never watched the videos. These products had the strongest detrimental effect on babies 8 to 16 months old, the age at which language skills are starting to form. "The more videos they watched, the fewer words they knew," says Christakis. "These babies scored about 10% lower on language skills than infants who had not watched these videos."

It's not the first blow to baby videos, and likely won't be the last. Mounting evidence suggests that passive screen sucking not only doesn't help children learn, but could also set back their development. Last spring, Christakis and his colleagues found that by three months, 40% of babies are regular viewers of DVDs, videos or television; by the time they are two years old, almost 90% are spending two to three hours each day in front of a screen. Three studies have shown that watching television, even if it includes educational programming such as Sesame Street, delays language development. "Babies require face-to-face interaction to learn," says Dr. Vic Strasburger, professor of pediatrics at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine and a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics. "They don't get that interaction from watching TV or videos. In fact, the watching probably interferes with the crucial wiring being laid down in their brains during early development." Previous studies have shown, for example, that babies learn faster and better from a native speaker of a language when they are interacting with that speaker instead of watching the same speaker talk on a video screen. "Even watching a live person speak to you via television is not the same thing as having that person in front of you," says Christakis.

This growing evidence led the Academy to issue its recommendation in 1999 that no child under two years old watch any television. The authors of the new study might suggest reading instead: children who got daily reading or storytelling time with their parents showed a slight increase in language skills.

Though the popular baby videos and DVDs in the Washington study were designed to stimulate infants' brains, not necessarily to promote language development, parents generally assume that the products' promises to make their babies smarter include improvement of speaking skills. But, says Christakis, "the majority of the videos don't try to promote language; they have rapid scene changes and quick edits, and no appearance of the 'parent-ese' type of speaking that parents use when talking to their babies."

As far as Christakis and his colleagues can determine, the only thing that baby videos are doing is producing a generation of overstimulated kids. "There is an assumption that stimulation is good, so more is better," he says. "But that's not true; there is such a thing as overstimulation." His group has found that the more television children watch, the shorter their attention spans later in life. "Their minds come to expect a high level of stimulation, and view that as normal," says Christakis, "and by comparison, reality is boring."

He and other experts worry that the proliferation of these products will continue to displace the one thing that babies need in the first months of life — face time with human beings. "Every interaction with your child is meaningful," says Christakis. "Time is precious in those early years, and the newborn is watching you, and learning from everything you do." So just talk to them; they're listening.
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He Is My Best Friend...But..Why?...

Almost everybody knows by now that genes play an important role in everything from how our bodies react to nutrients to our predisposition to some cancers to whether or not we get depressed. A forthcoming study in the Archives of Psychiatry says that we can add how we choose our friends to the growing list of traits strongly influenced by genetic factors. A team of Virginia Commonwealth University researchers found that genes, alongside environment, strongly influence who we choose as friends. The researchers studied the peer groups of approximately 1,800 male twins, having each subject describe the level of social deviance among their friends, such as how many of their friends got drunk, used or sold drugs, or damaged property. The research showed that an individual's selection of friends--whether they chose to socialize with fewer or more socially deviant peers--was shaped by genetic factors. Not only did the researchers find that selection of friends has a genetic basis, but also that the influence of genes actually increased over time, as individuals gain autonomy in selecting their peers and building their social world. NEWSWEEK’s Sarah Kliff spoke with lead author Kenneth Kendler, a professor of psychiatry in VCU's School of Medicine, about the role that genes play in determining our environments and our friendships.
Excerpts: "NEWSWEEK: How do genes play into behavioral decisions, such as selecting our friends and creating our social world?
Kenneth Kendler: When you’re considering behavior and genetics, you can think of the brain as a transducing device, where the genes help structure the brain. The brain then influences our behavior, although environment plays a big role too. Our behavior then dramatically influences our physical and especially our social environment. We’ve seen that a variety of what used to be considered solely environmental risk factors, things like difficulties with marriages, rates of accidents, levels of social support, are partially influenced by your genotype. Take depression, for example. Part of the way that genes might influence your risk for depression is by influencing your temperament, by making you have somewhat more conflicted relationships and by increasing marital conflict, which then feeds back on you to increase your risk of depression.

One of the most interesting findings of your study is not just that there are genetic influences on peer selection, but that those influences become stronger over time. Why do genes play an increasingly important role as we get older?
To a large extent, as you move from childhood into adolescence into adulthood, much of what is driving you in the creation of that social world is your genes. Your family environment is pretty important when you’re a kid, but becomes less important over time. When you’re 8 years old, your friends are your neighbors, friends of your family, and you’re pretty much going to spend time with your school group. When you move forward in time, what happens developmentally is that you have more and more capacity to shape your own world. You start making wider friendships, get a bicycle, then an automobile, then you leave home at the age of 18 or 19. You make important decisions about whether you’re going to go to college or join the army. Your individual specific environment is pretty important once you leave home. More and more, your own social environment becomes your responsibility that you’ve created and not that of the constraint of your family when you’re a prepubescent child.

As we gain autonomy over our social environments, how do our social groups change? And how do genes become more influential?
Imagine a person who is shy, likes to follow authority, very much enjoys doing socially acceptable tasks. He or she might have grown up in a family not so much like that, but by the time she’s 16, she’s finding a local church group of people like herself; at the age of 18 she decides to go to a Christian university. Her temperament allows her to shape more and more of her social world. By the time she’s 25 she’s made her own life that way. The opposite story is that you can have a hell-on-wheels 9-year-old, who thinks that nothing is more fun then getting into fights. At 10 years old, you find him by a heavily trafficked road throwing rocks at cars because he thinks that’s fun. That’s the kid who is going to get in trouble. He makes his own life too, but by the time he’s 25 he’s going to be able to shape himself much more. It’s not that the temperament or genetic dispositions are not there early on. But it’s the capacity you have increasing with time to be able to shape your own life. You really do get to make your own life as you grow up. That’s what being an adult is in some ways.

Your study looked at the peer groups of male twins between the ages of 8 and 25 years old. What makes this an interesting stage of development to research?
Let’s say you had a 14- or 15-year-old boy, and want to find out what his chances were of using substances, of committing antisocial behaviors. Review papers have always shown that one of the strongest predictors is to ask him to appraise his close friends and whether they participate in deviant activities, like using drugs, doing criminal or antisocial behaviors. For anyone who wants to understand the development of antisocial and other externalizing behaviors, this is going to be a key part of the story.

Do the results say anything about peer selection among females?
We studied males initially because male peer groups are typically more deviant. It’s a little bit more informative. It would be interesting to expand it to females later. My guess is that the same processes are there. On average the peer group deviance is quite a bit lower for girls, although they do get nasty in some different ways.

What clinical applications does this research have?
There tends to be an overemphasis on assuming that [regarding personal relationships] we are sort of helpless victims of our environment. This study shows quite clearly that human development is not like that. Our environment can victimize us, but we are also very active in creating our environment, for good or ill. That just is a brute fact about human development. You can’t ignore that fact and assume or make interventions on the basis of assuming that everything flows from environment to human, because it just isn’t so."

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Unknown Facts Of Hitler's Life

Adolf Hitler, the most notorious champion of Richard Wagner and “racially pure” German music, banished Jewish and Russian musicians from the concert halls of the Third Reich — but apparently listened secretly to their work.

New light has been shed on the Nazi leader’s musical tastes by the discovery of what are said to be a hundred of his gramophone records found in the attic of a former Soviet intelligence officer, Lev Besymenski.

“There were classical recordings, performed by the best orchestras of Europe and Germany with the best soloists of the age,” Mr Besymenski said in a document explaining how the records came into his possession.

The 86-year-old, who helped to interrogate captured Nazi generals, died this summer. The document and the record collection have now been made available to Der Spiegel magazine.

A cultivated taste that went for very best
“I was astonished that Russian musicians were among the collection,” Mr Besymenski wrote. Hitler dismissed Russians as ‘Untermenschen’, sub-humans, and was contemptuous of their contribution to world culture. Yet the records included works by Tchaikovsky, Borodin and Rachmaninov — scratched from frequent playing and all clearly labelled ‘Föhrerhauptquartier’, the Föhrer’s headquarters.”

The Soviet intelligence officer had found them in Hitler’s Chancellery in Berlin in May 1945, still packed in crates. Hitler’s staff were counting on an evacuation to the Nazi leader’s Alpine hideaway on the Obersalzberg and it was known that he could only relax with his music.

Mr Besymenski, then a captain in military intelligence, kept quiet about the records during his lifetime for fear that he would be accused of looting.

The most astonishing fact about the records — essentially Hitler’s “Best of . . .” collections — is the presence of Jewish performers. Among the recordings is a Tchaikovsky concerto performed by the virtuoso Polish Jewish violinist Bronislaw Huberman. Hitler would have been aware, while listening to Huberman’s playing, that he had founded the Palestine Orchestra in 1936 (which went on to be the foundation of today’s Israel Philharmonic Orchestra) and that he was living in enforced exile. The Austrian Jewish pianist Artur Schnabel, whose mother was killed by the Nazis, also had his work included in Hitler’s personal collection. It is not known which records in the collection were listened to most frequently, nor have they been formally catalogued.

“I’m not terribly surprised by Hitler’s record choices,” said James Kennaway, of Stanford University. “Nazi music policy was pretty incoherent. Stravinsky was played in the Third Reich because he was known to have right-wing views, Bartok because Hungary was a German ally.” Dr Kennaway, a leading musicologist who specialises in the Nazi period, added: “The only real point of consistency in Nazi policy was antiSemitism, so the Schnabel and Huberman recordings do stand out.”

Hitler had spelt out his view of Jewish culture in Mein Kampf. “There was never a Jewish art and there is none today,” he wrote, adding that the “two queens of the arts, architecture and music, gained nothing original from the Jews”.

Roger Moorhouse, a historian and the author of Killing Hitler, said that the record collection, if authentic, suggested a contradiction between the Föhrer’s aesthetic and political values. He said: “It is interesting that being Russian or Jewish did not disqualify a musician from a place in Hitler’s record collection. There was probably a separation in his world view between the political and the artistic.”

Although Hitler took piano lessons as a child, he displayed no personal musical talent. His surgeon, Hanskarl von Hasselbach, noted that “Hitler always whistled out of tune”.

His former radio operator, Rochus Misch, the last survivor of Hitler’s bunker, recently recalled how he had summoned his manservant to put on a record after a row with army commanders. “He just sat there, completely sunk in the music. The Föhrer needed distraction.”

Fuhrer’s favourites

Five discs that Hitler wanted to take with him

1 Piano sonatas, Opus 78 and 90, Beethoven
2 Wagner’s overture to The Flying Dutchman by the Bayreuth Orchestra, conducted by Heinz Tietjen
3 Russian arias, including the death in Boris Godunov, by Mussorgsky, sung by the Russian bass Fyodor Shalyapin
4 Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, with the Berlin State Opera Orchestra, soloist Bronislaw Huberman
5 Mozart Piano Sonata No 8 in A minor with Artur Schnabel

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Who Is More Faithful?

Women see ‘masculine’ men as unsuitable long-term partners, new research suggests. Conversely, the psychologists from Durham and St Andrews Universities found that men with feminine facial features are seen as more committed and less likely to cheat on their partners.

The study, published in the current edition of Personality and Individual Differences, asked over 400 British men and women to judge digitally altered pictures of male faces made to look more masculine or feminine. The participants were asked to predict personality traits including sexual behaviour and parenting skills based on what they saw.

Men with masculine faces, with features such as a square jaw, larger nose and smaller eyes, were classed as significantly more dominant, less faithful, worse parents and as having personalities that were less warm, compared to their ‘feminine’ counterparts, who had finer facial features with fuller lips, wide eyes and thinner, more curved eyebrows.
The scientists say the research, partly supported by the Medical Research Council and the Economic and Social Research Council, backs up earlier research about masculinity and perceptions of personality and gives further insight into what people see in others when choosing potential partners. It will also advance studies in areas like evolutionary biology, fertility and genetics and offer new insights for relationship counselling and psychology.

Lead author, Dr Lynda Boothroyd, a lecturer with Durham University’s Department of Psychology, commented: “This research shows a high amount of agreement between women about what they see, personality wise, when asked to ‘judge a book by its cover’.

“They may well use that impression of someone to decide whether or not to engage with that person. That decision-making process all depends on what a woman is looking for in a relationship at that time of her life.”

The study asked participants to complete a web-based test. Pairs of pictures which only showed the face without any hair, ears, neck, shoulders or clothing visible, were presented side by side. The participants were asked to select which face they thought was more of a particular trait and how much more so by clicking on a point of the scale. Traits selected for judgement were dominance, ambition, wealth, faithfulness, commitment, parenting, and warmth.

The survey also found that faces which appeared healthier, for instance those with better complexion, were seen as more desirable in terms of all personality traits compared to those who looked unhealthy. Similarly, older faces were generally viewed more positively compared to younger ones.

Professor David Perrett from St Andrews University adds: “Our research also found that it is men’s health that conveys all round good qualities for partnership and personality. Our results contradict claims that machismo denotes fitness and disease immunity. Masculinity may buy you dominance but not necessarily tip top physical condition. Instead women see a healthy guy as the source of wealth, and fit for family life.”

Want to take part in the experiments? Go to Booth Lab and Perception Lab.

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