Primary Sources

Our dynastic Congress; the chess gender gap; surgeons who love Nintendo
Law Enforcement

The Terrorist Next Door

If you think you can pick out the violent Islamist in a crowd of law-abiding European Muslims, you’re probably mistaken, a Dutch study suggests. The author profiled 242 European Muslim terrorists nabbed since September 2001: 40 percent of them had been born in Europe; many were poor and had criminal records; almost all were single (or divorced) men; and they ranged widely in age, from their teens to near retirement. But none of these factors distinguished them in any significant way from the broader population of European Muslims. (The European terrorists did differ from jihadists in other parts of the world: They tended to have less money and education, and they usually drifted toward violence alone or under the influence of friends, rather than through formal ties to global extremist movements.) All this is bad news for advocates of terrorist profiling by police and intelligence agencies: Any effort to identify Muslims who “fit the profile” will inevitably ensnare huge numbers of the innocent.

“Jihadi Terrorists in Europe,” Edwin Bakker, Netherlands Institute of International Relations


It Runs in the Family

With a Clinton running to succeed a Bush who succeeded a Clinton who succeeded a Bush, it seems like the American electoral system is being heavily influenced by a few powerful political families. But according to a recent study, political dynasties are actually in decline—at least in the U.S. Congress. Researchers examined biographical data on every member of Congress who served between 1789 and 1996, noting the number of “dynastic legislators”—those whose relatives had previously served in Congress. The authors found that increased competition has diminished the power of political dynasties over time; given a choice, voters prefer to elect candidates based on their public records and apparent level of skill. Still, family ties remain a potent force: Holding office for more than one term increases by 40 percent the likelihood that a politician’s relatives will later serve in Congress. Historically, dynastic politicians tended to be Democrats, southerners, and senators. The correlation with party and region has faded, but dynasties remain more likely to place their members directly into the Senate, even though many of these legacy senators lack experience in public office. The greatest dynasty, the authors note, was the Kentucky- concentrated Breckinridge family, which sent 17 of its members to serve in Congress between 1789 and 1978.

“Political Dynasties,” Ernesto Dal Bó (University of California, Berkeley), Pedro Dal Bó (Brown), and Jason Snyder (Northwestern)

The Military

The Ministry of Silly Names

How does the military give its operations nicknames? For instance, how did an anti-WMD exercise in the Caribbean come to be called “Giant Shadow,” or a joint operation with the Argentine fleet get dubbed “Solid Step”? A new directive from the U.S. Navy on the use of nicknames and code words (recently obtained by Secrecy News, an e-mail publication on security and intelligence developments) offers some insight. Nicknaming turns out to be a delicate art. The directive advises Navy personnel to avoid “exotic words, expressions, or well-known commercial trademarks,” as well as terms that “express a degree of aggression inconsistent with traditional American ideals or current foreign policy.” It also warns against using words that “convey anything offensive to good taste or derogatory to a particular group, sect, or creed.” The final pages of the directive list nicknames permanently assigned to various activities and divisions of the Navy: The C section alone offers a mouthwatering collection of possibilities, among them Cheese, Cherry, Chocolate, and Cinnamon.

“Code Word, Nicknames, and Exercise Terminology System,” Vice Admiral J. G. Morgan Jr., U.S. Department of the Navy


Death Shall Have No Dominion

Researchers have long suspected that grief advances in stages, and Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’s famous five-step model of how people react to a terminal illness—denial followed by anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance—is generally seen as the best way to understand the grieving process. Now a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association offers empirical data showing that a grieving person goes through a modified version of Kübler-Ross’s sequence: disbelief followed by yearning, anger, depression, and acceptance. The authors interviewed more than 200 adults in Connecticut who’d recently lost a loved one to natural causes, then followed them over two years. The participants were asked to report, at regular intervals, the frequency with which they felt each of the five emotions the researchers described. The results showed a surprisingly high, and steadily increasing, degree of acceptance throughout the grieving process; they also showed that yearning was the most commonly reported psychological response to bereavement. The five grief indicators tended to peak in the order predicted by the researchers, and to take an average of about six months all told to do so, suggesting that people who suffer a longer bereavement may want to seek help in recovering.

“An Empirical Examination of the Stage Theory of Grief,” Paul K. Maciejewski et al., Journal of the American Medical Association

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