December 2016

Your mother used to say: “If all your friends jumped off a bridge would you do it, too?”

And now there’s evidence that the answer is yes, you’d be more likely to jump off a bridge if all of your friends were doing it.

Human beings are pack animals and if you hang out with a bunch of people who smoke, you’re more likely to smoke; if they use foul language you’re more likely to use foul language, and so on.

And unfortunately that pertains to violence as well. It can spread “like a disease,” particularly among teens, research by Ohio State University concludes.

The researchers found that teens were 183 percent more likely to commit violence if one of their friends did the same — and the tendency toward violence continues like dominoes from friend-to-friend at up to four degrees of separation.

“Acts of violence can ricochet through a community, traveling through networks of friends,” says Robert Bond, assistant professor of communication at Ohio State and lead author of the study published in the American Journal of Public Health.

Bond looked at data from interviews of 5,913 teens in grades 7 to 12 during the mid-1990s. They were spread across 142 schools.

They were asked to name five male and five female students at their school and how often they were involved in a fight that required medical attention. The researchers then asked the friends whether they had committed the same acts.

total_juvenile_detention_chart_for_the_usaFor each friend who had committed a violent act, the chances of the subject being involved
in similar violence increased by 55 percent.

“If we can stop violence in one person, that spreads to their social network,” Bond said. “We’re actually preventing violence not only in that person, but potentially for all the people they come in contact with.”

Interestingly, juvenile violent crime has been falling, even as the U.S. incarceration rate has skyrocketed.

A 2014 report said violent crime among youths had dropped to a 30-year low, and killings by those under the age of 18 were at the lowest point in at least three decades, according to the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange.

Out of a juvenile population of 74 million in 2010, 1.16 million were arrested, down 21 percent from 2001.

Investigators said there was a “blip” during the 1980s and 1990s during which juvenile crime shot up, but now statistics are returning to a more historic norm.

Incarceration numbers in the U.S., meanwhile, have been rising dramatically since the early 1970s, but not because of violent crime. Instead, it’s  largely due to the war on drugs.


Graphics: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention graphic via Wikimedia Commons

The big retirement plan these days is a simple one: Keep working.

But as Bloomberg notes, staying active in your career after traditional retirement age isn’t always realistic. It makes sense that if you have a desk job, you can stretch things out longer than if you have a job that requires more physical endurance.

The younger you are, the more apt you are to say you’re going to keep at it in your 60s, 70s and even 80s.


Roofers are among the professions most likely to “age out,” a survey says. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Big majorities plan to keep working past the usual retirement age, but in fact only 17 percent of retirees in a Bloomberg survey have a job. The financial news service looked at which workers are most likely to “age out” of their careers. They considered 954 occupations.

At the top end of the scale — the jobs that are least likely to lead workers to age out — are sociologists, lawyers and chief executives. Librarians came in at 172 and editors scored 272 out of those 954.

Most likely to age out: Roofers and plumbers.

Fitness trainers came in at 861 — although the late-great TV fitness icon Jack LaLanne would probably take issue with that. He was active until two years prior to his death at the age of 96, and completed a workout the day before he died.


Russian intelligence successfully promoted candidates of their choice during the 2016 election, according to CIA sources cited by The Washington Post and The New York Times.

As disturbing as that news is, there’s at least some reason to believe that this is unlikely to happen again, since campaigns from here on out — on both sides of the spectrum — will make hiring cybersecurity experts job number one.

Of greater concern, perhaps, is the “fake news” phenomenon that swept across the Internet during the primaries and general election. A recent BuzzFeed survey indicated that 75 percent of Americans who viewed fake news headlines thought they were accurate.

For the pro-Trump/ anti-Hillary fake news, more Trump voters believed them, according to BuzzFeed, but almost half — or more than half — of Clinton voters believed them, too.

For example, 85 percent of Trump voters bought the story about an FBI agent suspected in Clinton email leaks being found dead in “an apparent murder-suicide.” But 52 percent of Clinton voters belived it as well.

Eighty-nine percent of Trump voters believed a fake story that a Trump protester was paid $3,500 to protest at a Trump rally, as did 62 percent of Clinton voters.

A lot of this stuff ends up on Facebook.

And most of it was anti-Clinton and pro-Trump because that’s what attracted the most clicks. And clicks are what produce income. A fake news poster told The New York Times: “This is all about income.”

So it’s a cottage industry that packs a punch — and is unlikely to go away.

A major part of our lives slipped away Thursday when we lost our dog, Miles, who was around 14. Nobody knew for sure how old he was and Miles himself refused to say, and in fact kept the story of his previous life a deep secret.

He came to us the most well-mannered, cool and calm dog who sought everyone’s attention and was always going up to strangers in search of a handout or a good petting. That won him instant admirers.

He was born sometime around 2002 or 2003 and apparently lived in Collier County, Florida, near Naples. His exact role remained a mystery to the end. Was he a family dog or someone’s individual trusted companion? Was he a mascot for some mom and pop shop who greeted customers and put a smile on their face?

miles-nelanderThe only thing known is this: He became separated from his owners and roamed the countryside for an undetermined amount of time, scrounging up his own food or relying on the kindness of strangers to keep him going.

This is the surprising thing about Miles. As friendly and good-natured as he was, he always seemed to claw back from the brink of disaster, a survivor who could never be counted out.

When he was picked up in Collier County and taken to a shelter, he was in sorry shape, underweight and dirty and had matted fur and fleas. He’d been outside for so long that he suffered from a number of major health problems, including heartworm, which is very often a death sentence for a dog.

In fact, the public West Coast shelter had deemed him a lost cause. But someone from Animal Aid, on Florida’s East Coast, thought he had a shot and took him to the other side of the state. He cleaned up nicely, but what to do about the heartworm?

Animal Aid brought him to their Boca Raton facility. They put him in with other — much yappier — dogs his size and that’s where my wife and I found him in January of 2010. “He was the best dog I ever fostered,” said one of the volunteers who had named him Serge.

We took him to an outdoor courtyard for a short get-to-know-you session and I was skeptical, since he had so many health problems. But as I sat on a bench with him he put his head on my knee, a sales pitch that closed the deal.

We opted to give him the full heartworm treatment, which was risky, but it worked, thanks to the Animal Aid vet. He was free from the disease after a few months, although he was left with an enlarged heart and a heart murmur, which would affect him for the rest of his life.

He was a little slow-paced and never did much running. When he did run, it was a cantor or lope. Nor did he bark much. If the UPS guy came to the door, he’d look up and bark exactly once.

He became the family’s social ambassador. When we took him to the park or an outdoor festival — of which there are many in West Palm Beach — he would wander over to people’s tables and wait for attention. He almost always got it.

They would ask what kind of a dog he was. We didn’t know, and gave them an abbreviated version of his backstory.

There are services, I know, that will trace your dog’s DNA if you send them a sample and will give you a detailed rundown of his or her breeding. But we decided to leave that a mystery, a topic of speculation and debate.

Several years ago, we started bringing him to our respective offices where he would make the rounds of the desks, cubicles and private offices. He’d always manage to extract treats, especially chicken and cold cuts. Toys were not his thing. He never whined.

On days when he didn’t come in people would ask: “Where’s Miles today?”

As everyone who has ever lost a pet understands, it’s a question we’ll be asking ourselves for a very long time.

Thanks to recent research, everybody now knows dogs understand everything you say, which is why so many people actually spell out words so that their dog doesn’t get upset. Like V-E-T, for example.

If you didn’t spell it out, your dog would probably hide under the bed or in a laundry basket in the back of a closet while you’re walking through the house calling his name. Then when he heard the door slam he’d come out to jump on the couch and take a nap, or hunt around the kitchen floor for stray scraps of food.

But if you’re on to this, and leave the house and then return to try to catch him in the kitchen, don’t expect that trick to work twice.

beagleBecause now it also turns out that dogs don’t forget things, either. They have long memories, according to a study reported by the New York Times last week. It was based on research by the Family Dog Project at Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest.

“The results of our study can be considered as a further step to break down artificially erected barriers between non-human animals and humans,” said Claudia Fugazza of MTA-ELTE Comparative Ethology Research Group in Budapest, Hungary. “Dogs are among the few species that people consider ‘clever,’ and yet we are still surprised whenever a study reveals that dogs and their owners may share some mental abilities despite our distant evolutionary relationship.”

You’ve probably noticed this with your dog, as I have with mine.

If I go away for any length of time and not bring him along, when I come back he’ll be in his dog bed facing the wall, too enraged to even look at me. This could go on for a couple of hours, maybe until dinner time when it’s in his best interest to forgive and forget.

So this kind of canine ability may not come as a surprise to many people, although I was kind of taken aback to learn that dogs have such remarkable verbal comprehension skills.

Over the summer, a study reported in Live Science by the same university maintained that dogs understand everything you say — or almost everything.

Like if you were trying to explain the American political system to him his eyes might glaze over, but if you were talking about your trip to the delicatessen and what kinds of ham or chicken was on sale his ears would likely perk up.

Since dogs understand what you’re saying, and they remember things, it seems perfectly reasonable that you might take a stroll down memory lane with your dog,. He may enjoy reflecting on many of the same events, particularly if they involved steak, pork or poultry.

But make sure no one walks in on you while you’re reminiscing, since they might not have read the same studies you did and understand that this is something that’s perfectly normal and acceptable.

And don’t expect your dog to stick up for you because as we now know, they play things pretty close to the vest.

Photo: A beagle listens intently to a conversation and files the information away for future reference. (Credit: Jennifer Berman)