Category: Culture

2014 IgNobel Prizes awarded


Some of my favorites:

NEUROSCIENCE PRIZE [CHINA, CANADA]: Jiangang Liu, Jun Li, Lu Feng, Ling Li, Jie Tian, and Kang Lee, for trying to understand what happens in the brains of people who see the face of Jesus in a piece of toast.

REFERENCE: “Seeing Jesus in Toast: Neural and Behavioral Correlates of Face Pareidolia,” Jiangang Liu, Jun Li, Lu Feng, Ling Li, Jie Tian, Kang Lee, Cortex, vol. 53, April 2014, Pages 60–77. The authors are at School of Computer and Information Technology, Beijing Jiaotong University, Xidian University, the Institute of Automation Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China, and the University of Toronto, Canada…

PUBLIC HEALTH PRIZE [CZECH REPUBLIC, JAPAN, USA, INDIA]: Jaroslav Flegr, Jan Havlíček and Jitka Hanušova-Lindova, and to David Hanauer, Naren Ramakrishnan, Lisa Seyfried, for investigating whether it is mentally hazardous for a human being to own a cat…

REFERENCE: “Changes in personality profile of young women with latent toxoplasmosis,” Jaroslav Flegr and Jan Havlicek, Folia Parasitologica, vol. 46, 1999, pp. 22-28…

REFERENCE: “Describing the Relationship between Cat Bites and Human Depression Using Data from an Electronic Health Record,” David Hanauer, Naren Ramakrishnan, Lisa Seyfried, PLoS ONE, vol. 8, no. 8, 2013, e70585. WHO ATTENDED THE CEREMONY: Jaroslav Flegr, David Hanauer, Naren Ramakrishnan…

ECONOMICS PRIZE [ITALY]: ISTAT — the Italian government’s National Institute of Statistics, for proudly taking the lead in fulfilling the European Union mandate for each country to increase the official size of its national economy by including revenues from prostitution, illegal drug sales, smuggling, and all other unlawful financial transactions between willing participants.

REFERENCE: “Cambia il Sistema europeo dei conti nazionali e regionali – Sec2010″, ISTAT, 2014…

A good time was had by all…

Thanks, Mike

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Malaysia investigates public dog petting

I want to touch a dog
No one was struck down by lightning

Islamic authorities in Malaysia are conducting an investigation into a controversial “dog patting” event aimed at removing the stigma regarding the animal in the multi-ethnic Muslim-majority country.

The event, titled “I want to touch a dog” and held in a park on the outskirts of the capital Kuala Lumpur on Sunday, encouraged patting dogs, widely considered to be unclean in Islam, and reportedly drew hundreds of Muslims, raising the ire of religious leaders.

Islamic authorities said they would investigate the event, while a Muslim leader, Nooh Gadut, said it was an attempt to insult clerics…

The organiser, Syed Azmi Alhabshi, who is a Muslim, had said his intention was to help people overcome their fear of dogs and promote compassion towards animals.

Many Malaysians posted positive comments about the event on social media…

Muslims who took part in the event last Sunday performed in a special washing ritual at the end of the event.

The Southeast Asian country generally practises a moderate brand of Islam, but conservative views have gained increasing traction in recent years, with minorities complaining of what they see as Islamisation.

Theocracy is bad enough – in and of itself. It allows no respect for freedom of thought. In particular, the freedom to be perfectly satisfied with material reality as the foundation for philosophy, politics, economics and social life. Education eventually restricts superstition to the ignorant.

Malaysia is joining other nations like Turkey, run by hypocrites, saying one thing about liberty for citizens while gradually imposing theocracy. No more desirable in Asia than in the United States. Fundamentalists of one flavor or another always seem to think they have a cellphone connection with whichever deity they think makes them special – and the rest of us folk should just sit back and obey.

The sillier aspects of most are as concerned with food and pets as they are about stopping equal opportunities for human beings. They deserve opposition – especially from believers who want to bring their beliefs more in line with the time we live in – rather than in the distant past.

Cripes – Republicans have a war on wedding dresses!

The GOP’s increasingly sad attempts to court the votes of American women remind me of that love-struck guy who just can’t take the hint. He wants your attention, even after you tell him you’re not interested, and you’re not interested because of just how weird he is about women. He tries everything, from arguing that his bad behavior is actually good for you to getting his girl friends (who really should know better) to talk him up. He even hires a relationship counselor.

So it’s hard not to see the Republican party’s latest round of midterm campaign ads – part of a $1m dollar effort to reach young voters with “culturally relevant” messages – as the last-ditch, desperate effort of a long-ago-dumped delusional loser. Playing off the TLC reality show about wedding gowns, Say Yes to the Dress, the College Republican National Committee (CRNC) put out videos on Wednesday comparing the way a woman votes to how she picks a wedding dress. Because ladies like clothes, right? Wedding clothes especially.

The CRNC released six videos for six different candidates; the one about Florida governor Rick Scott, who is obsessed with not letting women have abortions, has been getting most of the attention. They all feature the same young woman shopping for a wedding dress with her mother and some friends. The savvy young woman wants to vote for the Republican dress, but her out-of-touch mom wants her to go with the Democrat dress, Charlie Crist. It’s incredibly offensive, to be sure – as if women can only understand politics, or voting, if you dress them up in reality TV – but it’s sort of difficult to be outraged while you’re busy laughing at how pathetic these Republican get-out-the-vote ads have become…

If Republicans want their “woman problem” to go away, they need to stop being such a problem for women. Stop the ongoing attacks on our bodies and health. Stop the stupid comments about rape. Stop questioning our ability to cast a vote. Actually … just stop.

Jessica Valenti’s column is straight to the point. And we can’t lay the blame exclusively at the feet of ancient old farts whose knowledge of sex and life were learned watching “Father Knows Best” on black-and-white TV. Though you’d think so.

Republican ideology, reticence to look outside the pews of old-fashioned white guys dead and gone for decades, fear of learning, fear of accepting new folks into the fold of royalist thought – limits any message of change they might bring to voters. An attitude apparently shared by every collegiate male voice in that party. Even if the change they want marches backwards instead of facing the future, they haven’t the courage or even cunning to lose the suits they’ve been wearing since the days of Herbert Hoover..

Sugary soft drinks linked to accelerated aging

Consumption of sugary soda drinks such as cola and lemonade may be linked to accelerated DNA ageing, say researchers who have studied the impact of the drinks in more than 5,000 people.

High-sugar fizzy drinks have been under fire from campaigners for contributing to obesity and type-2 diabetes, but this is the first study to suggest a link with ageing. The researchers found that people who reported drinking a 350ml bottle of fizzy drink per day had DNA changes typical of cells 4.6 years older.

Yes, this sort of sugar consumption shortens your life much as smoking.

The study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, asked 5,309 healthy adults aged between 20 and 65 about their consumption of fizzy drinks and examined the DNA from each participant’s white blood cells.

The team found that telomeres – protective DNA caps on the end of chromosomes – were shorter in people who reported habitually drinking more fizzy drinks.

Telomeres are repetitive sections at the end of chromosomes that get shorter each time cells divide. They act as a kind of genetic ticking clock and in the past have been associated with human lifespan as well as the development of some forms of cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Other studies have suggested a link between telomere length and lifestyle factors such as smoking and psychological stress.

Prof Elissa Epel, of UCSF, stressed that the study only showed an association and did not prove that sugary drink consumption caused cell ageing. If high soda consumption was to blame, it may be due to the huge rush of sugars into the blood after a drink, leading to oxidative stress and inflammation – “the perfect storm for degrading telomeres,” said Epel.

Next in line for study – a tighter focus on sugar. Overdue as far as I’m concerned.

Thanks, Mike

More physical activity improved school performance

The scientists…at the Centre for Brain Repair and Rehabilitation at the Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, have tested the hypothesis that increased physical activity stimulates learning and improves school performance.

In the study, published in the scientific periodical “Journal of School Health,” 408 twelve-year-olds in the Gothenburg region were given two hours of extra play and motion activities per week, in collaboration with a local sports club. This was approximately twice the normal amount of curricular physical activity.

The effect of the intervention was evaluated by comparing the achievement of national learning goals by the children four years before and five years after its implementation. The results were compared to control groups in three schools that did not receive extra physical activity.

The results are clear, according to the scientists: A larger proportion on students in the intervention school did achieve the national learning goals in all subjects examined — Swedish, English and mathematics compared to the control groups.

“You can express it that two hours of extra physical education each week doubled the odds that a pupil achieves the national learning goals. We did not see a corresponding improvement in the control schools, where the pupils did not receive extra physical activity — rather the contrary, a deterioration,” says scientist and neurologist Thomas Linden at the Sahlgrenska Academy.

“Our hope is that planners and policy-makers will take our results into consideration,” says Lina Bunketorp Käll the researcher and project leader of the study.

Guess what? In Sweden that might actually happen.

In a parallel effort, a planned 5-story elementary school was changed to a 4-story school as built. Instead the building was constructed around an atrium for exercise and dance with running tracks on the rooftop. In China.

The Western US is in trouble — we’re running out of water!

domestic water use
Click to enlarge

The American West has been wrestling with drought for the past 15 years. California is now facing its worst dry spell in at least a century. So, not surprisingly, the question of how best to manage America’s scarce freshwater supplies is coming up more frequently.

To that end, the Hamilton Project recently published a helpful primer, “Nine Economic Facts about Water in the United States.” The whole thing’s worth reading, but four maps and charts in particular stuck out. For starters, some of the driest states in the West actually have some of the highest rates of household water use:

1) Household water use is higher in the driest states — thanks to lawn watering

Why do households in arid Utah use so much more water than in, say, Maine? The main factor, the authors note, is outdoor watering for lawns and gardens. “Whereas residents in wetter states in the East can often rely on rainwater for their landscaping, the inhabitants of Western states must rely on sprinklers…”

2) Agriculture remains the biggest water user by far

It’s worth noting, however, that homes typically aren’t the biggest water consumers in the West. In California, agriculture accounts for 80 percent of state water withdrawals. (The state is responsible for roughly one-third of the country’s vegetables and two-thirds of its fruits and nuts.)…

3) The driest states are now growing the quickest

The states with the biggest projected increase in population between 2010 and 2040 are Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming. One thing they all have in common? Low rainfall and relatively scarce water supplies.

4) And water prices vary wildly from region to region

“The price that households pay for water is highly variable across cities,” the report notes, “even when controlling for the volume of water that different households use.”

In most parts of the United States, the price of water doesn’t reflect the infrastructure costs of delivering that water or the environmental damage that excessive water withdrawals can cause. As long as that’s the case, there are few market incentives to change any of that.

Being a democratic Republic we elect folks to take on the responsibility of planning and leading our nation, the states, municipalities. That stopped working well quite a while ago. I’d suggest with the Reagan Administration. You may agree or disagree; but, if you wander through the history of our politics you’ll note that’s a pretty good starting point for serious gerrymandering of electoral districts, the truly dynamic growth of income equality, a qualitative rejection of industrial and economic planning based on sound ecology.

Regardless, RTFA for more details about these four of the nine points covered in the Hamilton Project Report. And, yes, I suggest reading the complete version over here [.pdf].

Additional reading:

1934 Drought was Driest, Most Widespread in Past Millennium, Scientists Find

Scarcity of water in U.S. driving moves to impose price, “market solutions

Thanks, Mike

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice to film in New Mexico


Morocco, Shmorocco – I can’t tell the difference either

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was scheduled to shoot in Africa, but with the Ebola virus epidemic going on there, it’s probably best to stay home. Instead, it looks like Deming, New Mexico will be filling in as a replacement location. Henry Cavill News spotted a posting on the New Mexico Film Office website, which was looking for extras for a Warner Bros. movie back in September…

According to the casting notice, entire families age 8 and older are needed to re-create an African village scene. The deserts in New Mexico can easily pass for Morocco, the location in Africa that they originally wanted to shoot at. The Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice crew is expected to film in New Mexico in mid-November, right after they’re done in Chicago, Illinois…

Holy Javelina, Batman!

Thanks, Mike

Pic of the Day


Click to enlarge
Anonymity for lottery winners is respected in China. But, regulations require winners to show up publicly to claim their winnings. So, a tradition has grown of winners arriving in disguise, in costume.

This week – the largest win in history happened – half a billion yuan/ab’t 80 million US dollars.

The winner chose to be a comic book bear.