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134 posts from November 2004

November 30, 2004

Toys for vervets

CarsurgmonkeysView full-size

Say your Christmas list includes a vervet, and you're hesitant to shell out for a real car (as shown above). What should you get for that special little cercopithecine? Tom of refers shoppers to the relevant empirical research:

Title: Sex differences in response to children's toys in nonhuman primates (Cercopithecus aethiops sabaeus)

Author(s): Alexander GM, Hines M

Source: EVOLUTION AND HUMAN BEHAVIOR 23 (6): 467-479 NOV 2002


Sex differences in children's toy preferences are thought by many to arise from gender socialization. However, evidence from patients with endocrine disorders suggests that biological factors during early development (e.g., levels of androgens) are influential. In this study, we found that vervet monkeys (Cercopithecus aethiops sabaeus) show sex differences in toy preferences similar to those documented previously in children. The percent of contact time with toys typically preferred by boys (a car and a ball) was greater in male vervets (n=33) than in female vervets (n=30) (P<.05), whereas the percent of contact time with toys typically preferred by girls (a doll and a pot) was greater in female vervets than in male vervets (P<.01). In contrast, contact time with toys preferred equally by boys and girls (a picture book and a stuffed dog) was comparable in male and female vervets. The results suggest that sexually differentiated object preferences arose early in human evolution, prior to the emergence of a distinct hominid lineage. This implies that sexually dimorphic preferences for features (e.g., color, shape, movement) may have evolved from differential selection pressures based on the different behavioral roles of males and females, and that evolved object feature preferences may contribute to present day sexually dimorphic toy preferences in children.

It takes a reality-based community

Sasha of S/FJ on "The By-Products of Reason":

"Can I have the Orangina?"

"No, buddy, you're sick."

"Well, it is not actually a soda. And I know you don't like soda."

"It's not that I don't like soda. It just has lots of sugar and you don't need that. Nobody needs that."

"But we've had Orangina before."

"Yes. But today you're sick and you weren't sick before."

"OK. But I can have seltzer, right?"

"Yes, hypothetically, sure."

"And I can have orange juice, because you said that before."

"Yes, but we already have apple juice and we don't need both."

"Well, Orangina is just seltzer and orange juice together."

"That's true."

"You should have thought harder."

You can teach your children the value of thinking logically, the utility of empirical data, and the virtue of making the two work in tandem. Or you can give them superstition and magic, which demand only the effort involved in their memorization and the subsequent maintenance known as "faith." Once a brief phase of cerebral recording is over, magic and superstition enable you to make decisions without actually having to think.

The logical children will be able to rob you blind, however.

I should add that S/FJ is an excellent blog that uses photo-blogging to great effect.

Deep frying turkey

Underwriters Laboratories presents an informative film strip on the perils of deep frying turkey. Includes conflagration.

[Via Semantic Compositions.]

Evangelical indie cred

David Brooks writes:

Tim Russert is a great journalist, but he made a mistake last weekend. He included Jerry Falwell and Al Sharpton in a discussion on religion and public life.[...]

This is why so many people are so misinformed about evangelical Christians. There is a world of difference between real-life people of faith and the made-for-TV, Elmer Gantry-style blowhards who are selected to represent them. Falwell and Pat Robertson are held up as spokesmen for evangelicals, which is ridiculous. Meanwhile people like John Stott, who are actually important, get ignored.

Yeah. That's what you get for listening to that top-40 evangelism crap. Falwell, Robertson, Graham, all those guys came up listening to Stott. You can really hear the Stott influences in their preaching, too. They're constantly lifting riffs from the master. These days you can't go into a revival tent without hearing some punkass seminarian belting out a Stott homily.

I mean, Falwell's great and everything, but he's not authentic like Stott.

Brooks knew Stott back when he was preaching the college circuit and putting out his Bible study tracts on the "John Stott Ministries" label. Sometimes they talk about the good old days, back before all that overproduced, over-hyped, big-haired corporate crap that you see on TV. They agree that Tim Russert is such a poseur.

This just in: Veteran scenester Tom Tomorrow says Brooks is full of it.

Contemporary epistemological problems

I think this 8-minute film encapsulates some of the most pressing epistemological problems of our age:


Thanks to reader dwilder for the tip.

November 29, 2004

UN health official: Flu could kill up to 100 million

Will avian flu become pandemic?
It's hard to say, but it very well might.
With vaccines not working, we now must fight
For quarantines and methods systemic.
But what we have learned from performance past
Is that funds don't appear 'til die are cast.

--Ross Silverman of The Public Health Press

The editor of Effect Measure offers some sobering commentary and a good roundup of flu-talk in the blogosphere.

The mainstream media don't seem to be taking the pandemic as seriously as one might hope, given that the potential death toll could exceed that of the holocaust. This story was relegated to somewhere in the middle of the NYT Health section.

As a rule, I pay close attention to stories that include the phrase "The W.H.O. does not want to scare the planet, but..."

U.N. Health Official Foresees Tens of Millions Dying in a Global Flu

November 29, 2004
HONG KONG, Nov. 29 - A pandemic of human influenza could kill up to 100 million people around the world, a World Health Organization official said today, significantly raising the agency's earlier estimates of the number of deaths in such a catastrophe.

W.H.O., a United Nations agency based in Geneva, has been warning about the potential for the A(H5N1) strain of avian influenza virus (known popularly as bird flu), which has spread widely through Southeast Asia to mutate and cause the next pandemic.

Governments should be prepared to close schools, office buildings and factories to slow the rate of new infections if a pandemic strikes, and should work out emergency staffing arrangements to prevent a breakdown in basic public services like electricity and transportation, W.H.O.'s regional director for Asia and the Pacific, Dr. Shigeru Omi, said.

Such arrangements may be needed if the disease infects 25 to 30 percent of the world's population, Dr. Omi said in a speech and news conference. That is the W.H.O.'s current estimate for what could happen if the disease - currently found mainly in chickens, ducks and other birds - develops the ability to spread easily from person to person.

The death toll associated with the rapid spread of a new form of human influenza would be high, Dr. Omi said. While W.H.O. has previously said that the death toll would be 2 million to 7 million people, Dr. Omi said the toll "may be more - 20 million or 50 million, or in the worst case, 100" million.

And Dr. Omi said that in his opinion a global pandemic of influenza was "very, very likely" now.

Continue reading "UN health official: Flu could kill up to 100 million" »

First Sunday of Advent

At Atrios, former pastor Robert M. Jeffers writes about the First Sunday of Advent.

It is a very beautiful essay, even to a non-believer like myself.

So, it is the First Sunday of Advent, which means something.

In the world, that means precious little; frantic for Christmas to come and go, the world is in a hurry. To the liturgical church, though, Christmas doesn't begin until December 24th, and it doesn't end until January 6th, on Epiphany. And before it ends, it will include two days of death: the Massacre of the Innocents, and the first Christian Martyr, St. Stephen. I mention that because Advent is actually akin to Lent, not to "December" on the American calendar. It is a time of preparation for shattering change, not for celebration of consumer excess. [Emphasis added.]

A time for shattering change. Renewal in the depths of winter.

Many posters at Atrios thought that the post was about acquiescing to atrocity. That's not what I saw in the reading. I thought it was about redeeming oneself in a bleak time by grappling with the hardest possible questions.

Big pharma and academia

Contracts Keep Drug Research Out of Reach [NYT permalink]

Academic researchers are increasing dependent on industry support for their research. The potential conflicts of interest are numerous. Pharmaceutical companies reserve the right to release or withhold scientific data to fit their marketing objectives. Universities compete with private trial-running companies for industry dollars. So, academic researchers are bargaining from a position of weakness when it comes to negotiating control over their own data. Not a good situation. The article also discusses some proposed solutions to preserve the integrity of clinical trial data.

Aid for US college students slashed

US aid for college students slashed [Boston Globe]:

Change in rules to affect almost 1.3m
By Marcella Bombardieri, Globe Staff
November 23, 2004

Nearly a quarter of low- and moderate-income college students who currently qualify for federal Pell grants will see their awards reduced or eliminated under a change in federal rules that Congress allowed in its new spending bill passed over the weekend, according to an estimate from higher education analysts.

About 85,000 of the 5.2 million students currently eligible to receive Pell grants will become ineligible. And 1.2 million others will get a smaller award under a new formula the government will use to determine how much families can afford to pay for college, according to estimates from the American Council on Education, or ACE. The change will take effect for students starting or returning to classes next summer or fall. [...]

[Via Uggabugga.]

November 28, 2004

Forced pregnancy: a very, very traditional value

According to the news crawl at the Traditional Values Coalition, Canadian judge and war crimes prosecutor Louise Arbour has been appointment as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. (Alert readers will note that Arbour was appointed in February 2004, but this is traditional news.)

According to the TVC, Arbour hates families, and not just because she prosecuted people who belonged to families for killing other people's families in Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

Arbour hates families and tradition so much that she opposes the enlargement of families by "forced pregnancy." For those of your who don't know, "forced pregnancy" is the International Criminal Court's negative gloss on what might more positively and constructively be referred to as "reverse genocide."

This deeply traditional practice is defined in Article 7 of the notoriously family-unfriendly Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, 1998:

(f) "Forced pregnancy" means the unlawful confinement of a woman forcibly made pregnant, with the intent of affecting the ethnic composition of any population or carrying out other grave violations of international law. This definition shall not in any way be interpreted as affecting national laws relating to pregnancy;

For more information on why forced pregnancy is a traditional value, see here.