Five at 8 – 11/6/09: Why are we so murderous?


1) In the aftermath of yesterday’s tragedy in Texas, the bigger question is being asked again. The New Yorker is asking it. “The United States has the highest homicide rate of any affluent democracy, nearly four times that of France and the United Kingdom, and six times that of Germany. Why?” I know what you’re thinking — a gun control riff. But no. One theory: We have the freedom to be murderous.

2) History lesson. The U.S. military has a long history with goats. MPR’s Euan Kerr profiles Jon Ronson’s work on the new movie “The Men Who Stare at Goats.” The Guardian approaches this differently. Ronson heads to a goat sanctuary and provides this multimedia presentation. Is the movie any good? Here’s NPR’s review.

3) Researchers say babies are born already knowing the language of their mothers. Sort of. They cry with the accent of mom. The findings suggest that unborn babies are influenced by the sound of the first language that penetrates the womb. They studied French and German babies and you can hear the differences in their cries here.

4) Members of Congress are outraged — outraged — that banks used the 9-month grace period before a new law limiting credit card practices to jack up rates, effectively neutering the law. Who gave them the grace period? Members of Congress, most of whom get a ton of campaign cash from financial institutions.

“I didn’t think they would be as blatant as they were about doing this,” Rep. Barney Frank said, showing an amazing lack of understanding about why the biggest buildings in cities are banks. “This is really just a way for them to make more money.”

The banks say they’re not trying to circumvent the new law, they’re trying to recover losses. What can consumers do? According to an article on

If consumers feel unfairly targeted by their credit-card companies, consumer advocates say they should act rather than simply mope. First, people should watch their statements closely and contact their banks if they see interest rates rising or additional fees tacked onto their monthly statements. In other words, there’s room to haggle. “If you have a strong credit score, some institutions are willing to say, ‘You’re an exceptional cardholder for us,’ ” says Adam Levin, founder of and a former director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs.

How is this playing out in the real world? Now I’m forced into a situation to survive, to pay for my family’s needs. I’ve got to use what I’ve got to use to keep my head afloat,” Dale Petrie of St. Paul tells MPR’s Michael Caputo. “I decided to charge on these cards … pay 11-12 percent for now because the interest rate is so low and it’s probably not going to go anywhere. But all of sudden they jack it up by 8 percent.”

The house always wins.

5) Science! How does Jello work? Why does such a small amount of gelatin powder make such a huge amount of water “hold together” in a block of Jell-O? Nothing like that happens with similar amounts of salt or sugar?

Is internal combustion dying? On TVs American Chopper last evening, they started building a “green” motorcycle.” It’s electric.

But what guy is going to drive a motorcycle that goes “buzzzzzz” and not “vroom”?

Bonus: Economic fallout. NFL ratings on TV are through the roof this season, apparently because people are cutting back on leisure activities and watching the tube instead, the Washington Post reports today.


Saturday is opening day of Minnesota’s firearm season on white-tailed deer. According to the Department of Natural Resources, about half a million hunters participate in the hunt each year. What does the opening of deer season mean to your family?


Midmorning (9-11 a.m.) – First hour: National unemployment is expected to reach 10 percent, a high not seen since the early 1980s, and the Senate has approved an extension of unemployment benefits. But should other positive economic indicators lessen our fears about September’s increase in job losses and slip in wage increase?

Second hour: Infant mortality rates in the U.S. are high relative to other industrialized countries. But one hospital in Texas may have figured out how to reduce infant deaths, in part by putting more clinics closer to the women who need prenatal care. A look at the factors that may lead to better births.

Midday (11 a.m. – 1 p.m.) – First hour: Midday features stories from Minnesota cities with some of the highest jobless rates in the state, cities that will test the strength and breadth of the economic recovery.

Second hour: A new documentary from American RadioWorks, “Rising by Degrees,” tells the story of Latino students working towards a college degree, and why it’s so hard for them to get what they want.

Talk of the Nation (1-3 p.m.) – It’s Science Friday! First hour:

Bacterial machines that sniff out pollution.

Second hour: Should values should be reflected in our health care system?

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – MPR’s Elizabeth Stawicki looks at how a public option would work in a reformed health care system and who would be covered by it.

After all the fuss and town hall meetings, how would this thing work and who would be covered?

When Sadiya Mohamed arrived in Minneapolis five years ago, she didn’t speak a word of English. The only school she’d ever been to was a Madrassa to learn the Koran. Life in Minnesota with its cold winters and ubiquitous English was a shock. Mohamed wondered, “Does it get easier?” The Youth Radio reporter answers the question this afternoon.

The author of “The Wolf at Twilight” talks about the challenges of telling stories about the native community, and what it’s like to have your book blurbed by Leonard Peltier.

NPR’s David Kestenbaum will report that the Fed’s determination to drive interest rates down may be making things worse in other markets — oil, for example. It’s the economic equivalent of Whack-A-Mole.

  • JohnnyZoom

    >> “One theory: We have the freedom to be murderous”

    Once I read that absurdity, I didn’t even bother to read the Yorker piece.

    I hope that News Cutters recognize that such a concept is known as “license”. Not “freedom”.

    >> banks used the 9-month grace period

    Regarding the advice to haggle your rates back down, this is an example of something David Pogue (of all people) wrote about a couple of years ago. A new feature of business models where any incremental advantage the consumer can obtain is in an “opt-in” form, whereas any such advantage favoring the House (to use Bob’s imagery) is “opt-out”. Thus the latter are initially in place, but not the former, and it is up to the initiative of the consumer to change that.

    Mail-in rebates are an obvious example. They allow for advertising of a lower price, but they demand legwork to actually see that price.

    The cynical analysis says that a predictably large fraction of consumers won’t bother to make such an effort, thus it’s free money. The cynicism is in that the fraction is actually predicted by someone when coming up with these things.

  • Bob Collins

    //Once I read that absurdity, I didn’t even bother to read the Yorker piece.

    Once I read that you didn’t bother reading the piece

    //I hope that News Cutters recognize that such a concept is known as “license”. Not “freedom”.

    If you didn’t read the piece, you don’t know how or why the word was used.

    Read the piece. Maybe it’s absurd. Maybe it’s not. But how does not reading the piece result in an informed view of the piece?

  • GregS

    I disagree with a number of assertions in The New Yorker article.

    For instance:

    “In the archives, murders are easier to count than other crimes. Rapes go unreported, thefts can be hidden, adultery isn’t necessarily actionable, but murder will nearly always out.”

    Uh, that is not true.

    The difference between an aggravated assault and a homicide is very often the quality of emergency care.

    The authors touches on this about mid-article.

    ”Given modern medicine—emergency response, trauma surgery, antibiotics, and wound care—three out of every four people murdered before 1850 would probably survive today.”

    I chuckle when I read studies that employ very sophisticated, very precise statistical methods to make conclusions based on homicide reports.

    They would be better off counting “shots-fired” or “injuries inflicted” than homicides.

    It begs the question, what are we really measuring here? The assailant’s aim, the lethality of the weapon, the speed of 9/11 response or the skill of surgeons?

    In Europe – they prefer knives and slash rather than stab….. but also remember that “Europe” includes Bosnia where snipers in Sarajevo used to pick off kindergarten kids on the way to school.

    Further down, the article makes another interesting point:

    ”Roth attempts to graft LaFree’s argument onto all of American history. He has determined that four factors correlate with the homicide rate: faith that government is stable and capable of enforcing just laws; trust in the integrity of legitimately elected officials; solidarity among social groups based on race, religion, or political affiliation; and confidence that the social hierarchy allows for respect to be earned without recourse to violence.”

    Whoa – wait a minute.

    Homicide ( or agg. assault) is not evenly spread across society. In fact, as most of us know, it is highly localized. The questions of faith, trust, solidarity and confidence then logically must be – just as localized.

  • bsimon

    “The United States has the highest homicide rate of any affluent democracy, nearly four times that of France and the United Kingdom, and six times that of Germany. Why?”

    Poor impulse control & a need for instant gratification while ignoring the long term impact of short term actions.