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77 posts from January 2005

January 30, 2005

Something to look forward to


Nursing homes just like high school, say sociologists:

Everyone complains about the food. Nobody wants to sit with the misfits. There are leaders and followers, social butterflies and loners, goody-goodies and troublemakers. Friendships are intense and so are rivalries. Everybody knows everybody else's business.
Except for the traffic jam of wheelchairs and walkers, the dining room at the Atria assisted living community here might as well be a high school cafeteria.[...]

The federal government has already made recommendations to improve quality control and correct misleading advertising in assisted living facilities. But only a few sociologists and public health researchers have studied the social organization and daily preoccupations of these communities. Dr. Catherine Hawes, a professor of health policy at Texas A&M University, is one. She describes them as "high school all over again, without the expectations."

Religion and mental health

The media love stories about how healthy religion is for people and/or plants. Here are some items from the medical literature that won't be featured on FOX News.

1. Going to church is good for your mental health, provided you don't believe what they tell you.

Baetz M, Griffin R, Bowen R, Koenig HG, Marcoux E. The association between spiritual and religious involvement and depressive symptoms in a Canadian population. J Nerv Ment Dis. 2004 Dec;192(12):818-22.

Data from a large epidemiologic survey were examined to determine the relationship of religious practice (worship service attendance), spiritual and religious self-perception, and importance (salience) to depressive symptoms. Data were obtained from 70,884 respondents older than 15 years from the Canadian National Population Health Survey (Wave II, 1996-1997). Logistic regression was used to examine the relationship of the religious/spiritual variables to depressive symptoms while controlling for demographic, social, and health variables. More frequent worship service attendees had significantly fewer depressive symptoms. In contrast, those who stated spiritual values or faith were important or perceived themselves to be spiritual/religious had higher levels of depressive symptoms, even after controlling for potential mediating and confounding factors. It is evident that spirituality/religion has an important effect on depressive symptoms, but this study underscores the complexity of this relationship. Longitudinal studies are needed to help elucidate mechanisms and the order and direction of effects.

2. It is healthy to shake hands with highly religious Protestants, again, provided you don't believe what they tell you. Protestantism is highly transmissible.

Abramowitz J, Deacon BJ, Woods CM, Tolin DF. Association between Protestant religiosity and obsessive-compulsive symptoms and cognitions. Depression and Anxiety. 2004;20:70-76.


There is evidence that religion and other cultural influences are associated with the presentation of obsessive-compulsive symptoms, as well as beliefs and assumptions presumed to underlie the development and maintenance of these symptoms. We sought to further examine the relationship between Protestant religiosity and (1) various symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) (e.g., checking, washing) and (2) OCD-related cognitions. Using self-report questionnaires, we compared differences in these OCD-related phenomena between highly religious Protestants, moderately religious Protestants, and atheist/agnostic participants drawn from an undergraduate sample. Highly religious versus moderately religious Protestants reported greater obsessional symptoms, compulsive washing, and beliefs about the importance of thoughts. Additionally, the highly religious evinced more obsessional symptoms, compulsive washing, intolerance for uncertainty, need to control thoughts, beliefs about the importance of thoughts, and inflated responsibility, compared to atheists/agnostics. Results are discussed in terms of the relationship between religion and OCD symptoms in the context of the cognitive-behavioral conceptualization of OCD.

January 29, 2005

Cheney's Auschwitz outfit


Dr. B is being too gracious towards Dick Cheney:

I hate to say this because I never mind dissing Dick Cheney, but the Washington Post is wrong about this. Cheney isn't wearing a ski parka, embroidered like a kid's coat at camp. He's wearing a USAF parka with a USAF patch on it. Arguably, there is nothing at all wrong with wearing a US military parka to an event commemorating the liberation of Auschwitz.

Now, what the deal is with the boots and pants, I can't say. It looks to me like someone on his staff forgot to bring the right suitcase. But the parka itself isn't objectionable (except possibly on the grounds that Cheney hasn't done military service).

Cheney's outfit is totally inappropriate. He's wearing a toque, fer chrissakes. I doubt British, Russian, or Canadian envoys showed up at the Auschwitz memorial wearing something from the surplus store.

Maybe it would have been appropriate for an American envoy to wear some kind of military garb if the Americans had liberated Auschwitz. But they didn't--the Soviets got there first. Obviously, the Americans helped win the war and American troops liberated many other camps and sub-camps (cf. Honoring Liberators). But the same is true of the British and the Candians, and as far as I know, none of their envoys showed up sub-battle dress.

As Dr. B. pointed out, Cheney isn't even a veteran. At least president is the Commander-in-Chief of the US armed forces. Maybe Bush would have been entitled to wear some kind of uniform if he wanted to flaunt the junta look, but as VP, Cheney no analogous excuse.

So, the US basically dressed Cheney up in someone else's uniform to memorialize a liberation conducted by someone else's army. Nice.

And WTF is it with the Air Force parka?! The US Air Force didn't exist when Auschwitz was liberated. The US Army liberated the death camps. (Previously, I wrote that the 82nd and 101st Airborne divisions were part of the USAAF, but I was mistaken. Thanks to Johnny for pointing that out.)

Besides which, Cheney's outfit would literally have been illegal if he were a real airman or a retired member of the USAF.

Most importantly, it's tacky to wear a self-styled uniform to an anti-fascist event. The connotations are alarming.

(See also Forked Tongue Sparks USAF Uniform Controversy.)

More bad tattoos

The original "Bad Tattoos" post was a huge hit, so I thought I'd follow up with some more examples:

Chairman Mao
Trampstamp from hell
Pabst Blue Ribbon
Killian Memo
Filed under "?"
Miserable, indeed
Nude or skull? Nude or skull? Don't compromise!

Great concept, poor execution: architecture theme
Concept: charming; linear perspective: actionable; penmanship, much worse
Just for PZ: Octopus
Small consolation, he'll still have this in 2008

Hersh: "Iraq is becoming a 'free fire zone'"

Tingilinde has posted the transcript of Seymour Hersh's address to the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue.

Here's just one disturbing excerpt of this excruciatingly candid talk. I encourage everyone to read the whole thing.

We are systematically bombing [Iraq]. There are no embedded journalists at Doha, the Air Force base I think we're operating out of. No embedded journalists at the aircraft carrier, Harry Truman. That's the aircraft carrier that I think is doing many of the operational fights. There's no air defense, It's simply a turkey shoot. They come and hit what they want. We know nothing. We don't ask. We're not told. We know nothing about the extent of bombing. So if they're going to carry out an election and if they're going to succeed, bombing is going to be key to it, which means that what happened in Fallujah, essentially Iraq -- some of you remember Vietnam -- Iraq is being turn into a "free-fire zone" right in front of us. Hit everything, kill everything. I have a friend in the Air Force, a Colonel, who had the awful task of being an urban bombing planner, planning urban bombing, to make urban bombing be as unobtrusive as possible. I think it was three weeks ago today, three weeks ago Sunday after Fallujah I called him at home. I'm one of the people -- I don't call people at work. I call them at home, and he has one of those caller I.D.'s, and he picked up the phone and he said, "Welcome to Stalingrad." We know what we're doing. This is deliberate. It's being done. They're not telling us. They're not talking about it.

Soundbitten disembowels Maggie Gallagher

Powerful stuff: Soundbitten excoriates Maggie Gallagher, the marriage-boosting pseuoscholar busted for taking Bush payola.

Jim Snowden is suitably impressed but he wonders if Soundbitten went a little too far in this paragraph:

Ah, well, perhaps if I were married instead of single, I wouldn't get so depressed over such shenanigans. And, frankly, you have to give credit where credit is due. It seems that marriage has done everything for Maggie Gallagher that she says it's capable of doing. She looks happy. She looks healthy. She's certainly seems to be making lots of money. And while I’m sitting here, unmarried and alone, getting poorer and sicker by the minute, Gallagher and the mysterious Mr. Gallagher are probably romping on fluffy piles of foundation cash, giggling and moaning and screaming in ecstasy as they drive each other toward the kind of sheet-soaking simultaneous orgasms which, as all the research has shown, wealthy married people enjoy far more often - and far more intensely! - than their doomed single counterparts.

Nah, it's perfect.

January 28, 2005

In praise of twitching

The Fit Tend to Fidget, reports the New York Times.

This is a great article. It's not everyday you learn about actigraphic underwear and find scientific vindication for twitchiness:

Overweight people have a tendency to sit, while lean ones have trouble holding still and spend two hours more a day on their feet, pacing around and fidgeting, researchers are reporting in findings published today.

The difference translates into about 350 calories a day, enough to produce a weight loss of 30 to 40 pounds in one year without trips to the gym - if only heavy people could act more restless, like thin ones.

The difference in activity levels may be biological and inborn, the researchers say, the result of genetically determined levels of brain chemicals that govern a person's tendency to move around. It is the predisposition to be inactive that leads to obesity, and not the other way around, they suggest.

The findings, being published today in the journal Science, are from a study in which researchers at the Mayo Clinic outfitted 10 lean men and women and 10 slightly obese ones - all of whom described themselves as "couch potatoes" - with underwear carrying sensors that measured their body postures and movements every half second for 10 days on several occasions. By the end of the study, which required a staff of 150, the researchers had collected 25 million pieces of data on each participant.

Step into the Skeptics' Circle

Save the date for St. Nate who will be hosting the first Skeptics' Circle on Thursday February 3rd.

Ironically, the SC will showcase non-circular reasoning on medicine, the natural sciences, and the humanities.

Nate writes:

So, if you have a story you'd like to contribute to the premiere edition of the Skeptics' Circle, send it to me at saint_nate at hotmail dot com by 11:59 p.m. EST on February 2. Also, please let me know if you're interested in hosting a future Circle so I can set up a schedule.

[Via Pharyngula.]


Three cheers for chimera researchers--curing diseases and pissing off the religious right!

Animal-Human Hybrids Spark Controversy

Maryann Mott
National Geographic News
January 25, 2005

Scientists have begun blurring the line between human and animal by producing chimeras—a hybrid creature that's part human, part animal.

Chinese scientists at the Shanghai Second Medical University in 2003 successfully fused human cells with rabbit eggs. The embryos were reportedly the first human-animal chimeras successfully created. They were allowed to develop for several days in a laboratory dish before the scientists destroyed the embryos to harvest their stem cells. [...]

Sick, sick, sick

Is this legal?

Company Fires All Employees Who Smoke

Michigan Firm Won't Allow Smoking, Even On Employee's Own Time

LANSING, Mich. -- Four employees of a health care company have been fired for refusing to take a test to determine whether they smoke cigarettes....