Category Archives: News

The Fiscal Toll of Eating Crap

The Fis­cal Toll of Treat­ing ‘Lifestyle Dis­eases’ — NYTimes​.com:

Corny as it is to say so, if we can put a man on the moon we can cre­ate an envi­ron­ment in which an apple is a bet­ter and more acces­si­ble choice than a Pop-Tart.

More can be said about the sea change my diet has under­gone in the last year, but suf­fice it to say that eat­ing bet­ter is patri­ot­ic, pro­gres­sive, con­ser­v­a­tive, and apo­lit­i­cal — oh, and tasty — so if you’re not doing it already, get on it.

der/die/das and el/la make you think differently

Okay, so I kept read­ing about lan­guage and thought and came across a fas­ci­nat­ing arti­cle I had read a few years ago. Chew on this:

A recent set of stud­ies sug­gests that the gram­mat­i­cal gen­ders assigned to objects by a lan­guage do indeed influ­ence peo­ple’s men­tal rep­re­sen­ta­tions of objects (Borodit­sky et al., in press). […] Span­ish and Ger­man speak­ers also ascribe more fem­i­nine or more mas­cu­line prop­er- ties to objects depend­ing on their gram­mat­i­cal gen­der. For exam­ple, […] to describe a ‘bridge’ […] (a word fem­i­nine in Ger­man and mas­cu­line in Span­ish), Ger­man speak­ers said ‘beau­ti­ful, ele­gant, frag­ile, peace­ful, pret­ty, and slen­der’, while Span­ish speak­ers said ‘big, dan­ger­ous, long, strong, stur­dy, and tow­er­ing’. These find­ings once again indi­cate that peo­ple’s think­ing about objects is influ­enced by the gram­mat­i­cal gen­ders their native lan­guage assigns to the objects’ names. It appears that even a small fluke of gram­mar (the seem­ing­ly arbi­trary assign­ment of a noun to be mas­cu­line or fem­i­nine) can have an effect on how peo­ple think about things in the world.

Lera Borodit­sky, 2003

Language and Thought

A Lan­guage of Smiles — Olivia Jud­son Blog — NYTimes​.com

A set of exper­i­ments inves­ti­gat­ing the effects of facial move­ments on mood used dif­fer­ent vow­el sounds as a stealthy way to get peo­ple to pull dif­fer­ent faces. (The idea was to avoid peo­ple real­iz­ing they were being made to scowl or smile.) The results showed that if you read aloud a pas­sage full of vow­els that make you scowl — the Ger­man vow­el sound ü, for exam­ple — you’re like­ly to find your­self in a worse mood than if you read a sto­ry sim­i­lar in con­tent but with­out any instances of ü. Sim­i­lar­ly, say­ing ü over and over again gen­er­ates more feel­ings of ill will than repeat­ing a or o.

I’ve long been intrigued by the effect of lan­guage on thought process­es or world­view. For exam­ple, the ten­den­cy for verbs to end up at the end of Ger­man sen­tences loads a whole lot of mean­ing in the last words of a sen­tence, and I won­der how that affects both con­ver­sa­tion­al inter­rup­tions and lis­ten­ing habits. I’ve recent­ly been intro­duced (thanks, Zach) to the Sapir-Whorf hypoth­e­sis of lin­guis­tic rel­a­tiv­i­ty which is, more or less, a sci­en­tif­ic inquiry explor­ing my self­same thoughts.

I had­n’t thought about lan­guage’s effect on emo­tions; that is equal­ly inter­est­ing, but does­n’t seem to have been test­ed in the same way.

The exper­i­ment quot­ed above, though, fails; it does­n’t explain why I love Ger­man and why say­ing things like “Öl” and “müde” make me hap­py. ;)

Is violence innate?

WNYC — Radi­o­lab: New Nor­mal? (Octo­ber 02, 2009)

John Hor­gan exam­ines how Amer­i­cans seem to have a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent atti­tude toward war than we did thir­ty years ago. He takes us on a stroll through Hobo­ken, ask­ing strangers one of the great unan­swer­able ques­tions: “Will humans ever stop fight­ing wars?” Strange­ly, every­one seems to know the answer. Robert Sapol­sky brings us far­ther afield — to east­ern Africa, where a pop­u­la­tion of baboons defies his expec­ta­tions of vio­lent behav­ior. Robert is sur­prised to feel hope­ful for a gen­tler future, but then pri­ma­tol­o­gist Richard Wrang­ham asserts that their aggres­sive nature is innate, unchang­ing, and hang­ing over them like a guil­lo­tine.


Fas­ci­nat­ing, as this show always is.

I’m curi­ous about the most­ly unex­plored rea­sons why we humans feel so dif­fer­ent­ly about the inevitabil­i­ty of war than we did 30 years ago.

And Wrang­ham makes a good point about genet­ic inher­ence — I would­n’t expect these baboons to be genet­i­cal­ly more peace­ful, but the envi­ron­ment seems to be pre­vail­ing in Sapol­sky’s pop­u­la­tion. “Nature ver­sus nur­ture?” As ever, the answer would seem to be “Both.”

Preventing the Higgs boson… from the future?

Essay — The Col­lid­er, the Par­ti­cle and a The­o­ry About Fate — NYTimes​.com

A pair of oth­er­wise dis­tin­guished physi­cists have sug­gest­ed that the hypoth­e­sized Hig­gs boson, which physi­cists hope to pro­duce with the col­lid­er, might be so abhor­rent to nature that its cre­ation would rip­ple back­ward through time and stop the col­lid­er before it could make one, like a time trav­el­er who goes back in time to kill his grand­fa­ther.

via GOOD

What I want to know is how far in the future it is that we a) dis­cov­er the Hig­gs boson and b) real­ize its dan­ger. It must be a while, unless time trav­el is immi­nent­ly pos­si­ble.

Nate Silver to Republicans: Raise Taxes

Esquire: Nate Sil­ver to Repub­li­cans: Raise Tax­es

For Repub­li­cans, rais­ing a few tax­es may be good pol­i­cy and good pol­i­tics. We are now on the verge of the longest peri­od since the cre­ation of the income tax with­out an increase in what the wealth­i­est tax­pay­ers pay — fif­teen years, match­ing the no-new-tax­es inter­val from 1952 to 1966. Mean­while, even the White House­’s own fig­ures project sev­er­al tril­lion dol­lars in deficit spend­ing over the next decade, which would great­ly exac­er­bate the rough­ly $10.6 tril­lion in debt that Barack Oba­ma inher­it­ed from the Bush admin­is­tra­tion. Deficits are once again hot news. An NBC/Wall Street Jour­nal poll con­duct­ed in June found that 24 per­cent of Amer­i­cans regard the fed­er­al bud­get deficit as the top eco­nom­ic pri­or­i­ty — the high­est frac­tion since mid-1994, when Clin­ton raised tax­es. And even in these dire eco­nom­ic times, Amer­i­cans seem will­ing to make some sac­ri­fices to pay the debt down: 58 per­cent said they care more about par­ing the deficit than stim­u­lat­ing the econ­o­my, accord­ing to the same poll.

[…] In April, 51 per­cent of wealthy vot­ers told Gallup their income-tax bill was about right or even too low — “one of the most pos­i­tive assess­ments [about tax­es] mea­sured since 1956,” Gallup report­ed.

[…] Although rais­ing tax­es — or at least not try­ing to cut them — has been anath­e­ma to Repub­li­cans since the Rea­gan era, it has­n’t always been so. Richard Nixon and Dwight Eisen­how­er both large­ly resist­ed calls to cut tax­es (Eisen­how­er slashed the top tax brack­et all the way from 92 per­cent to 91), choos­ing to focus on deficit reduc­tion instead. Both were elect­ed to sec­ond terms.

I’d actu­al­ly con­sid­er vot­ing for a Repub­li­can that would do this.

It’s more or less clear at this point that inflat­ing the deficit isn’t a par­ty thing. I actu­al­ly hope Oba­ma reneges on his promise not to raise tax­es; it seems like the finan­cial­ly respon­si­ble thing at this point.

Debunking Health Care Lies (by Reading the Bill)

Debunk­ing Health Care Lies (by Read­ing the Bill) — Blog — Open­Congress

At Open­Congress, we’ve had the offi­cial text of the House health care bill avail­able online for a month for peo­ple to read and get the facts: H.R. 3200 – America’s Afford­able Health Choic­es Act of 2009. Any­one can eas­i­ly perma­link and com­ment on any indi­vid­ual sec­tion of the full bill text. And in this debate, the facts mat­ter — it’s imper­a­tive that as a nation we read the actu­al text of the bill and active­ly work to counter any mis­in­for­ma­tion about it. To be sure, it’s a long bill, and not easy to under­stand at first read. Some of the mis­in­for­ma­tion is inten­tion­al, and some is inad­ver­tent. But whether you sup­port or oppose this bill, we hope you agree that the mis­in­for­ma­tion sur­round­ing it is harm­ful to the pub­lic debate and the for­mal leg­isla­tive process on health care. In oth­er words, news cov­er­age and blog buzz and viral emails on the health care bill should refer to spe­cif­ic, citable sec­tions of what the bill actu­al­ly says — they must be real­i­ty-based.

Worth the read. Illu­mi­nat­ed some of the mis­in­for­ma­tion I’d heard.

Now can we begin to have an engag­ing dis­cus­sion about the actu­al bill?