Archive for October 2009

#  The Case for Television →

October 30th, 2009 at 17:32 // In Worth Considering 

Widely reviled by assholes who interrupt every conversation about it with “Oh, I don’t have a TV,” Charles Kenny makes the case that the spread of television in the developing world can have positive effects:

The introduction of cable or satellite services in a village … goes along with higher girls’ school enrollment rates and increased female autonomy. Within two years of getting cable or satellite, between 45 and 70 percent of the difference between urban and rural areas on these measures disappears. In Brazil, it wasn’t just birthrates that changed as Globo’s signal spread — divorce rates went up, too.

(via Idea of the Day)

#  The Invention of Exercise →

October 29th, 2009 at 18:40 // In Worth Reading 

It’s something of a bold claim, but there’s a fair amount to like in this profile of Jerry Morris, the first man to show that heart health and physical activity went hand-in-hand. This idea, though I imagine somewhat overstated, left me spinning:

His paper (“Coronary heart-disease and physical activity of work”) finally appeared in The Lancet in 1953. His hypothesis, as he still called it, was greeted with general disbelief. What could exercise possibly have to do with heart attacks? True, there had always been a vague belief that exercise was good for the soul. Mens sana in corpore sano (“a healthy mind in a healthy body”), the Roman poet Juvenal had written nearly two millennia before Morris, possibly with satirical intent, and the Victorians fetishised team spirit and muddy playing fields. But before Morris, nobody knew that exercise stopped people dying.

(via @longreads)

#  Man from Space →

October 28th, 2009 at 17:26 // In Worth Seeing 

You’ve probably heard the apocryphal anecdote that the Great Wall of China (and sometimes New York City’s garbage dump) are the only human creations visible from space. Wired Science shows a number of man made open pit mines visible from low-earth orbit and explains a few details of how they supply us with many of the metals whose provenance we rarely question.

#  The Fight to Vaccinate →

October 27th, 2009 at 13:00 // In Worth Knowing 

This could be considered a counterpoint to yesterday’s story, but those vaccines-cause-autism crusaders (who also loathe the Paul Offit profiled in the piece) may finally be having an impact:

“I used to say that the tide would turn when children started to die. Well, children have started to die,” Offit says, frowning as he ticks off recent fatal cases of meningitis in unvaccinated children in Pennsylvania and Minnesota. “So now I’ve changed it to ‘when enough children start to die.’ Because obviously, we’re not there yet.”

(via Andrew Sullivan)

#  Correlation and the Flu →

October 26th, 2009 at 19:00 // In Worth Considering 

Shannon Brownlee and Jeanne Lenzer offer another of the innumerable “correlation is not causation” arguments, this one against flu vaccinations and antivirals (e.g. Tamiflu):

The estimate of 50 percent mortality reduction is based on “cohort studies,” which compare death rates in large groups, or cohorts, of people who choose to be vaccinated, against death rates in groups who don’t. But people who choose to be vaccinated may differ in many important respects from people who go unvaccinated—and those differences can influence the chance of death during flu season. Education, lifestyle, income, and many other “confounding” factors can come into play, and as a result, cohort studies are notoriously prone to bias.

(via GMSTR)

#  The Asperger’s Defense →

October 23rd, 2009 at 17:19 // In Worth Knowing 

On seeing the headline I dismissed the idea as on-par with (falsely) pleading insanity, but this seems reasonable:

Another, more successful approach to the Asperger’s defense highlights its sufferers’ propensity for obsessive, repetitive behavior. McKinnon says he couldn’t stop hacking into government computers in his search for evidence of alien spacecraft. Is it fair to punish him for the combined impact of 100 separate crimes just because his compulsion played out in so many episodes?

#  The Comfort of Simplicity →

October 19th, 2009 at 19:34 // In Worth Considering 

There’s little new in this Lexington column, but this bit was good:

Belief in conspiracy theories can be comforting. If everything that goes wrong is the fault of a secret cabal, that relieves you of the tedious necessity of trying to understand how a complex world really works. And you can feel smug that you are smart enough to “see through” the official version of events.

Very much so, though I would extend this basic formula far beyond conspiracies, which are just one version of absurdly simplified world views.  My mother offhandedly dismisses everything Democrats do as a method get further into her pocket book. Many lefties I know see every Republican as greedy and warmongering. A lot of people dismiss everything the Chinese government does as either aggressive or Communistic. And don’t get them started on the Mexicans (who hail from all countries south of the United States, naturally).

(via Marco)

#  The Sad Decline of the American Mustache →

October 15th, 2009 at 19:25 // In Worth Considering 

Because of my fairly strong revulsion at any mustache worn for any reason (but especially irony), this piece’s title caught my attention. That said, I’m ambivalent about the argument itself:

There’s an unapologetic ruggedness to the mustache that’s been gradually chastened and civilized out of popular American culture. Americans just aren’t as comfortable with masculinity as they were 30 years ago.

#  Glaciers from Above →

October 14th, 2009 at 20:16 // In Worth Seeing 

Pictures of things on Earth from above always interest me. Pictures of the earth from above that teach me a little science along the way satisfy me.

(via kottke)

#  Autism as Immutable →

October 13th, 2009 at 11:45 // In Worth Reading 

While tidying up, I found this draft post from June of 2008. It was still interesting to me, and the link still works, so here it is:

I found Andrew Solomon’s piece on the various stripes of autism activists fascinating, and this idea intriguing:

These activists argue that autism is not an illness but an alternative way of being. The preferred terminology among disability activists is to speak of a “person with deafness” rather than a “deaf person,” or a “person with dwarfism” rather than a dwarf. But Sinclair has said that “person-first” terminology denies the centrality of autism and has compared “person with autism” to describing a man as a “person with maleness.”

#  On the Ethics of Linking to Stolen Photos

October 12th, 2009 at 12:42 // In Housekeeping 

Fair warning: this is a useless rant about petty theft of novelty art by people who may not see their actions as such. It will not change any opinions and offers no solutions.

I like these dead fly drawings. They’re clever and fun and if I had reams of disposable income I’d maybe even spend money buying one. And I’d love if you saw them and had those 45 seconds of “wow, that’s pretty clever.”

But here’s the thing: I can’t find a single website posting them that doesn’t feel seedy. Not a single page I’ve found that displays these pictures gives any mention to who created them. Not a single one even offers a perfunctory “If you know where these came from, please tell us so that we can give credit.” None even offer that the original artist was probably Swedish. And clearly none of them are stretching what they’re comfortable with ethically to accommodate these uncredited pictures.

Almost all of them are clearly pageview-whores, who are desperately seeking a pittance of advertising revenue by stealing as much content as they can without receiving a cease-and-desist. Linking to them feels at best like shirking my responsibilities to anyone who reads this.

But sometimes the content of such photos seems novel or interesting enough to merit display. Stealing it again it hardly a solution. And pointing to it is merely a lesser sin. So I sometimes do but mostly don’t.

All that said — this is a linkblog after all — and to illustrate that point, all the places I found at least five of these images without any hint of a faint desire for attribution in under five minutes of looking:

UPDATE (10/14/09): asked the right question and found out the answer. Mangus Muhr (who is indeed Swedish) is the original artist. (via Austin Kleon)

#  America and Copernicus’s Universe →

October 11th, 2009 at 18:46 // In Worth Reading 

More than the non-trivial history lesson that this article teaches, I love the way it clarifies and illuminates the vast amounts of the natural world that were a mystery in pre-Copernican Europe. The sense of progress, wonder, and possibility I got from it gave me a brain-boner.

And because the article made me deeply curious about it, the best version of the Waldseemüller map is on Wikipedia. If, like mine, your browser chokes on their massive full-size version, the one appended to this review will probably sate your curiosity.

#  Sagan Autotuned →

October 8th, 2009 at 20:33 // In Worth Distraction 

I’ll just quote Kottke:

Maybe you’re tired of un-pop-music-like things being run through Auto-Tune, but I’m not quite there yet. This Auto-Tuned Carl Sagan mix is very nearly sublime.

#  The Neanderthal Question →

October 6th, 2009 at 18:58 // In Worth Reading 

Either this piece about the competing theories of Neanderthal extinction is really interesting, or I was wrong to think I was bored by all history before 1000BC(E). In either case, recommended.

(via GMSTR)

#  Does Anyone Else…? →

October 5th, 2009 at 19:23 // In Worth Distraction 

Philosophistry has another great round-up of stuff you’re missing on Reddit. This one of the nascent sub-reddit “Does Anybody Else” (DAE). My selections (again a mix of his and my own):

These posts call to mind the unexpected feeling of “you too!?” that I remember from playing Randall Munroe’s (of xkcd fame) constantly changing Best Thing game from a few years back.

#  Fucking in the Dictionary →

October 2nd, 2009 at 15:59 // In Worth Knowing 

Jesse Sheidlower’s piece abut the failings of dictionaries with respect to sexually explicit acts includes this unsurprising but unknown detail:

It was to be 170 years before fuck was again put into a general dictionary: In 1965, the British Penguin English Dictionary included the term, and its entire treatment read, “(vulg) (of males) have sexual intercourse (with).”

#  The Fish Problem →

October 1st, 2009 at 18:36 // In Worth Distraction 

I stumbled on a doozy of a puzzle — like a really complex game of Sudoku — and couldn’t resist solving it. You may well be stronger-willed or busier than I am, but I thought you might be interested. (I used solve problems like this one frequently for math competitions, and it felt good to chip away at the ten years of rust.)

(indirectly via Gruber)