Fostering Empathy

Jane E. Brody provides some good tips on “How to Foster Empathy in Children:”

Equally important is for parents to demonstrate empathy with their own children by acknowledging their concerns and feelings and recognizing their need for security. For example, she said, “When a child is fearful of a dog, instead of saying ‘Don’t be afraid, he won’t bite you,’ say ‘Are you scared of the dog? What scares you?’ This validates the child’s fears rather than negating them.”

At the same time, Dr. Riess said, parents should not overreact by being intolerant of “a single second of unhappiness in their child’s life” lest such misguided empathy deprive the child of developing the grit, perseverance and resilience that is essential to a successful life.

Parents can talk to their children about other people’s feelings. If a child breaks another child’s toy, Dr. Riess suggests that instead of saying “‘Why did you do that? That was bad,’ say ‘Sara is sad because you broke her toy. What can we do to make up for that?’ which leaves the door open for an apology.”

Also helpful is to “validate your child’s difficult emotions instead of being judgmental,” she said. “If the child says ‘I hate Tommy,’ rather than say it’s wrong to hate, ask what makes the child feel that way. Explore what’s behind the feelings, the back story.”

For very young children, stuffed animals or puppets can be used to help them act out different stories, Dr. Riess suggested.

Empirica & Heldane

Two notable typefaces released on the same day yesterday. Empirica, designed by Tobias Frere-Jones with Nina Stössinger, is not just an interpretation of Trajan. They reinvented the lowercase letters. Jaime Green writes:

In contemporary typefaces, the upper- and lowercase letters are usually designed in tandem. This allows them, despite their disparate origins, to develop in aesthetic compromise, in proportions and spacing and detail. Like siblings that grow up together, they learn how to coexist from the start.

But the Roman “capitalis monumentalis” never had to find a cooperation with a parallel set of letters. If it did, though, what would its lowercase look like? Stössinger said, “This is an enduring quest that runs through typeface design history—people trying to figure out what that lowercase is.” Not to design a complementary lowercase. But to figure out what the lowercase is. For centuries, typefounders searched for a fitting lowercase, one that would feel like it had been there all along. To mix our Greeks and Romans, a Platonic lowercase, if you will. They just needed to discover it.

Heldane, designed by Kris Sowersby and engineered by Noe Blanco, is simply breathtaking. Sowersby writes:

Heldane is a contemporary serif family inspired by the renaissance works of Hendrik van den Keere, Claude Garamont, Robert Granjon and Simon de Colines. Rather than emulating a specific font, Heldane amalgamates the best details from these sources into a cohesive whole. The classical typographic foundations of Heldane are refined with rigorous digital drawing.

I am not sure if Heldane families support Vietnamese. I would love to adopt them.


Zoë Heller writes in The New Yorker:

Science has long understood that rem sleep—the stages of sleep characterized by rapid eye movement, in which most dreaming takes place—plays a vital role in our mental health. The human need for REM is so uncompromising that, when it is inhibited over a long period by excessive alcohol use, the pent-up backlog will release itself in a form of waking psychosis, otherwise known as delirium tremens. For a long time, the scientific establishment suspected that dreams were a superfluous by-product of the REM state. But in recent decades, thanks in large part to the advent of brain-imaging machines, scientists have been able to establish that dreams themselves are essential to the benefits of REM sleep. First, dreams knit up the ravelled sleeve of care by allowing us to process unhappy or traumatic experiences. Typically, during the REM state, the flow of an anxiety-triggering brain chemical called noradrenaline is shut off, so that we are able to revisit distressing real-life events in a neurochemically calm environment. As a result, the intensity of emotion that we feel about these events in our waking lives is reduced to manageable levels. In “Why We Sleep,” Walker attributes the recurring nightmares of P.T.S.D. sufferers to the fact that their brains produce an abnormal amount of noradrenaline, preventing their dreams from having the normal curative effect. When the dreaming brain fails to diminish the emotion attached to a traumatic memory, it will keep trying to do so, by revisiting that memory night after night.

Dreams also help us to master new skills; practicing a task or a language in our sleep can be as helpful as doing so when we are awake. And they appear to be crucial in honing our capacity for decoding facial expression: the dream-starved tend to slip into default paranoia, interpreting the friendliest expressions as menacing. Perhaps most alluring, dreams help us to synthesize new pieces of information with preëxisting knowledge, and to make creative lateral connections. The long list of inventions and great works said to have been generated in dreams includes the periodic table, the sewing machine, Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan,” Paul McCartney’s “Let It Be,” and Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein.”

The Price for Elite Colleges

Erica L. Green and Katie Benner report in The New York Times:

T.M. Landry has become a viral Cinderella story, a small school run by Michael Landry, a teacher and former salesman, and his wife, Ms. Landry, a nurse, whose predominantly black, working-class students have escaped the rural South for the nation’s most elite colleges. A video of a 16-year-old student opening his Harvard acceptance letter last year has been viewed more than eight million times. Other Landry students went on to Yale, Brown, Princeton, Stanford, Columbia, Dartmouth, Cornell and Wesleyan.


In reality, the school falsified transcripts, made up student accomplishments and mined the worst stereotypes of black America to manufacture up-from-hardship tales that it sold to Ivy League schools hungry for diversity. The Landrys also fostered a culture of fear with physical and emotional abuse, students and teachers said. Students were forced to kneel on rice, rocks and hot pavement, and were choked, yelled at and berated.

The Landrys’ deception has tainted nearly everyone the school has touched, including students, parents and college admissions officers convinced of a myth.

On Vaccination

David Armstrong writes in The New Yorker:

Opposition to vaccination is almost as old as vaccination itself. But Web sites like [Joseph] Mercola’s have helped drive the modern anti-vaccination movement. Most scientists consider vaccination one of the greatest public-health advances of the twentieth century, helping to control or even eradicate diseases such as smallpox, polio, and measles in the U.S. Studies have found that vaccines can have side effects, but they are almost always minor, like redness and swelling.

Anti-vaxxers blame vaccines for an increase in the rate of autism diagnoses among American children. From 2000 to 2014, the number of children diagnosed with autism-spectrum disorder increased to one in fifty-nine from one in a hundred and fifty. [David] Ayoub and others have argued that vaccines are one reason for this increase, though the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has concluded that “studies have shown that there is no link between receiving vaccines and developing ASD,” and the World Health Organization has issued a similar finding. Prominent anti-vaxxers include celebrities such as the actress Jenny McCarthy and the lawyer Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. Before becoming President, Donald Trump weighed in, tweeting in 2014 that a “healthy young child goes to doctor, gets pumped with massive shot of many vaccines, doesn’t feel good and changes – autism. Many such cases!”

A study published in September found that Russian trolls and sophisticated Twitter bots tried to foment confusion about vaccination and create a false equivalency between pro- and anti-vaccination arguments. The authors of the study, from George Washington University and other research institutions, warned, “Such strategies may undermine the public health: normalizing these debates may lead the public to question long-standing scientific consensus regarding vaccine efficacy.”

Please vaccinate your kids.

The Dark Side of YouTube for Kids

James Bridle discovers horrific videos targeting children for page views. He warns:

Children’s cartoons getting assaulted, getting killed, weird pranks that actually genuinely terrify children. What you have is software pulling in all of these different influences to automatically generate kids’ worst nightmares. And this stuff really, really does affect small children. Parents report their children being traumatized, becoming afraid of the dark, becoming afraid of their favorite cartoon characters. If you take one thing away from this, it’s that if you have small children, keep them the hell away from YouTube.

Yes, watch his TED talk and keep your kids the hell away from YouTube.

Font Read

A few articles on fonts for your reading pleasure:

Who vs. Whom

Mary Norris explains the classic grammar mixup of who vs. whom:

My test for the correct use of “who” or “whom” in a relative clause—“who I know will use it judiciously”—is to recast the clause as a complete sentence, assigning a temporary personal pronoun to the relative pronoun “who/whom.” “I know she will use it”? Or “I know her will use it”? No native speaker of English who has outgrown baby talk would say “her will use it.” The correct choice is clearly “she”: “I know she will use it judiciously.” If the pronoun that fits is in the nominative case, acting as the subject (“I,” “you,” “he,” “she,” “it,” “we,” “you,” “they”), then the relative pronoun should also be in the nominative case: “who I know will use it judiciously.” Yay! I got it right.

Suppose I had written that I turned over the comma shaker to a colleague who I have known for years. Recast the relative clause as a complete sentence with a personal pronoun: “I have known she for years”? Or “I have known her for years”? This time the correct choice is “her,” which is in the objective case (“me,” “you,” “him,” “her,” “us,” “you,” “them”); therefore the relative pronoun should be in the objective case (“whom”). I should have written, “I turned over the comma shaker to a colleague whom I have known for years.” Boo! I got it wrong.