Monday, July 28, 2014

Weird Expression of the Week: Gini Coefficient

The Gini coefficient is a standard measure of inequality among the residents of a country. According to Wikipedia, it was developed by Corrado Gini, an Italian statistician, and first published in "Variability and Mutability," in 1912.

If a country has a Gini coefficient of zero, its residents are completely equal economically. As the coefficient approaches 1, this indicates increasing inequality.

This matters because, according to a review (by Nicholas Kristof) of Thomas Piketty's "Capital in the Twenty-First Century," the U.S. "now has a Gini coefficient ... approaching some traditionally poor and dysfunctional Latin countries."

Great.  In addition, Kristof notes, "equal opportunity is now a mirage. Indeed, researchers find that there is less economic mobility in America than in class-conscious Europe."

Madame L will be reading the Picketty book when it becomes available at her local library, where  she has placed a hold on it.... Even though it's 685 pages long. Or maybe Madame L will read a few more summaries and reviews like that written by Kristof. 

You're welcome.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Sunday Book Review: July 27, 2014: Blood Will Out

The subtitle of this book, by Walter Kirn, is "The True Story of a Murder, a Mystery, and a Masquerade."

Madame L stayed on her public library's waiting list for several weeks before she could check out this book, and she's glad she finally got a chance to read it --- and also glad she didn't give in and buy it. It's not a book she needs to have on her shelf, not a book she will ever refer to again.

It's better than many books she has read about psychopaths and sociopaths, but she learned all she wanted to learn from it, and tomorrow she's going to return it to the library.

It's certainly better than "Confessions of a Sociopath," in which a woman brags about being one, hurting people and casting them aside throughout her life, lying and cheating whenever she feels like it, and justifying her flaunting of the principles of the faith she was raised in while bragging about teaching Sunday school. In fact, Madame L reviewed this book as fiction, because, after all, the author admitted throughout the book that everything she says and does is a lie.

It's even better than "The Man in the Rockefeller Suit," written by a reporter who followed the case of the trickster who not only deceived everyone he ever dealt with, but killed at least one of those people.

Walter Kirn is the man who agreed to drive a sick and feeble rescue dog from Montana to New York City for the trickster. He ended up flying most of the way there and was given, for his trouble --- and it was a lot of trouble, and a lot of expense --- a check for $500.

Yet he stuck with the guy, Clark Rockefeller as he knew him, who was given the name Christian Gerhartsreiter by his German parents and had also been known as Chris C. Crowe, Chris Chichester, Charles Smith, Chip Smith, and probably by other names as well.

He found out that the guy was a murderer, kidnapper, and serial liar and cheater. 

So why did he remain "friends" with him? Why did any of the people who associated with him over the years remain friends, or, really, dupes?

Kirn explained in an interview after his book was published, "I'd worked as hard at being conned by him as he had been at conning me. I wasn't a victim. I was a collaborator."He elaborated:
The one sense in which I was not seeing through him but not completely genuine when I knew him, was that I felt like he was my window into a kind of being; into a kind of society and experience that I might not get otherwise ... My big mistake, finally, with him, and I think the mistake all people make with psychopaths, is we project our own humanity onto them. We keep on in this fantasy that they have some resemblance to us. ... [The crippled dog that Kirn drove across the country with was]  ...the perfect cover for a person who has no empathy and has no feelings and who's trying to masquerade as a human being. I've come to learn that the determined and gifted and genuine sociopath has far more power to deceive than we realize.
This is how "gifted" liars, sociopaths, and psychopaths work, and that may be all we need to know about them. But here's one more tidbit from that interview with Walter Kirn:

As a writer it was my good fortune [to know Christian Gerhartsreiter]. As a person it was my bad fortune. As a writer, it gave me insight. But no one would voluntarily spend this time with a psychopath. No one would voluntarily let their life get enmeshed with a murderer or someone capable of chopping up a body and burying it. It was truly traumatic to realize I was somebody whose weakness for a good story and whose ability to tell a story to himself, really put himself in danger. 

How can the ordinary non-socio- or psycho-pathic person keep him/herself out of this danger?  You may want to read "The Sociopath Next Door," but it's still not the perfect book on the subject. (When Madame L reviewed it earlier, she noted that, as with this book, she didn't think it was worth buying to keep on her reference shelf.

Madame L would love to hear from some of her Dear Readers who know more about this whole topic: Any suggestions for further reading? And can you please clarify the difference between a sociopath and a psychopath? And can you please correct the errors Madame L is sure she has made as she has been writing about this?

Meanwhile, you may be interested in Walter Kirn's concluding statement in the interview:
Not many people who've been lied to and played for the fool get to see the person convicted for murder and put in jail. But what I learned about myself, and what I learned about other people, and the presence of the sociopath in our society, was so unsettling I kind of wish I could have gone through life without knowing it. I got to see a story through to its end. For a journalist, a writer, that's satisfying. But as a human being, I got to find out just how evil operates in our world, and I got to find out that there are people among us that we might try forever to understand through the prism of our own experience, but who will always remain alien, predatory and dangerous. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Weird Word of the Week: Hoecake

Madame L has eaten hoecakes before, but never knew the origin of their name.

Now, in a story from, Madame L finds that they weren't originally cooked by slaves, on a hoe, over a fire, but cooked in a griddle, which was sometimes called a hoe.

Emily Horton writes, "A hoecake is cornbread made minimalist—a thin, unleavened round made from the simplest batter (cornmeal, water, and salt), crisp at the edges, glistening on both sides from the fat it was fried in, golden in patches. Inside, it’s dense but creamy, a foil for its best partners—creamed corn, silky braised greens, honey. A hoecake should be sturdy enough to work as a shovel for whatever is on the plate, but delicate enough to be appealing on its own."

Ms. Horton includes a recipe for real Southern hoecakes and a photo that makes Madame L really want to make some. But instead of using Ms. Horton's photo, Madame L is going to use her recipe to make some hoecakes, take a photo of them, and post the photo here later.

Here's the article where Ms. Horton got her information on the origin of the word "hoecake." The article shows a picture of a cooking implement called a "hoe," which does indeed look like a griddle; and traces the etymology of the word "hoecake" back before slaves in North America may have been using garden tools to cook with.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Personal Productivity

Dear Madame L,

Every day I sit at my desk and try to get things done, but after reading my email and checking the online news and favorite blogs and improving my Scrabble score with my friends, I find it's time for lunch, and then after lunch I need to check for new news, and so on.

I'm finding it hard to get anything done. Can you help?


Slug at Desk

Dear Slug,

Madame L certainly sympathizes with you. She has found it useful to refrain from checking her email until later in the day and set time limits on her news reading. She certainly avoids blogs and online games.

Here's an article outlining "6 things the most productive people do every day".

The six main points are to manage your mood, don't check email in the morning, compare your planned work with your goals, eliminate distractions, come up with your own personal routine for managing time and work, and plan out your day the night before.

But read the entire article for more details and helpful suggestions.


Madame L

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Weird Words of the Week: Shufti, Scry, and Gander

Madame L heard this expression on the PBS show "Endeavour" recently, when Detective Inspector Fred Thursday tells to Endeavour Morse to "have a look-shouf" at some evidence.

Earlier in the show, Thursday said something about "taking a scry" at another matter.

And an American couple in that episode ("Nocturne"), mention that they're "taking a gander" at something.

Of course these three expressions all mean "taking a look at" something.

Madame L recognized the first one, "look-shouf," as having an Arabic origin ("shufti," meaning "Look," though she had never heard the "shouf" put together with the "look."

Madame L was surprised to find that "scry" means not only to look but to try to look into the future, as in a crystal ball.

And Madame L enjoyed the writers' attempt to make the American couple sound really American with that colloquialism "take a gander." Where did that come from, she wondered. And here's a possible answer: It refers to the long neck of the gander, stretched out to see something better.

Your assignment, Dear Readers: Use the expressions to take "a look-shouf," "a scry," and "a gander" in the coming week.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Weird Word of the Week: Jerkface

Madame L just loves this word. She was reminded of its existence when she read an article about Google +, so she Googled a little more.

She was amused to find it defined on Urban Dictionary as a term of endearment between siblings. Madame L never would have dared use this word, as a child, to describe or address any of her siblings! She would have had her mouth washed out with Castile soap at the very least.

However, she can think of a few non-siblings she'd be happy to describe, or address, as "Jerkface." And maybe she'll start doing that, soon.

Meanwhile, for her Dear Readers' further enlightenment and amusement, Madame L presents the following, which says it all, now, doesn't it:

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Privacy Vs. Google +

Dear Madame L,

A friend of mine has invited me to join Google + and be a pal of hers on it, but when I tried to sign up using my usual Web name --- i.e., not my real name and identifying information, which I keep private --- I couldn't do it. What's up with that?


A Very Private Person

Dear Private Person,

Madame L sympathizes with you and thinks you're actually kind of lucky that you weren't able to do that. Madame L, even though she uses a Google platform for this Q-and-A blog, trusts the people at Google as far as she can throw their Bay Area campus into the Bay.

Because you asked, though, Madame L did a little online research, AKA GOOGLING, to see what she could find out about Google +.

What she found astounded her and will astound you, too. Please read this article, "Thanks for nothing, jerkface!" 

You may, if you are as disillusioned as Madame L has been about Google in general and Google + in particular, be interested especially in this excerpt:
Google Search is no longer the clean, high-performance tool we once relied on and admired — now it's a fetid stew of Google+-littered, screwed up mystery-mechanics, running under the misguided assumption that anyone and everyone only wants more of their own location, their connections, Google's clumsily guessed interests, and Google+ favoritism in the results served back to them.

Now we're filled with a sense of dread with every Google change, every Google product release reminding us that we're being tracked and recorded, and we're held captive by "one account, all of Google" — all with Google+ at its infected core.
Madame L continues to push back against Google's attempts to get her to be part of "one account, all of Google," and hopes you will, too.


Madame L

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Preventing Drowning: Wear a Life Jacket

Dear Madame L,

With the Fourth of July coming up, my cousins are taking us all out on their boat. They say we all need to wear lifejackets, but I know how to swim, so I don't think I need one.

What do you think?


Strong Swimmer

Dear Swimmer,

YES, YOU DO need to wear a lifejacket. Most drownings are preventable, and the best way to prevent a drowning is by wearing a lifejacket. Please read more about lifejackets, including the answers to all your questions, at 

Have a happy a safe Fourth of July!

Sincerely, Madame L

Weird Words of the Week: Furphy and Scuttlebutt

What's an Australian slang synonym for a wild rumor or improbable story? Furphy!

Madame L just loves this word, so much that she's going to look for every opportunity to say and write it. She hopes her Dear Readers will do so, too.

Wikipedia explains that the word "furphy"may have come into use because water carts made by J. Furphy & Sons of Victoria were used to take water to Australian Army personnel in World War I; they became gathering places for the soldiers to exchange gossip and news.

Wikipedia notes that "scuttlebutt" came about similarly, as a scuttlebutt was a water cask on a ship, where the sailors gathered around to exchange stories.

Now we just have office coolers, which haven't made their way into such metonymous use. Yet.