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.

Listen:


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?