Archive for October, 2014


Roundup – Zombie Killing Can-Can Style

Best of the Best:

Counting Americans of Middle Eastern, North African Descent [Teresa Wiltz on Stateline]

Race is an ever shifting, ever evolving concept in America. From the 1890s through the 1930s, an African-American family with a mixed-race heritage, for example, could be classified as everything from “quadroon” to “mulatto” to “black” to “Negro,” depending on the year and who was doing the classifying. Meanwhile, the “East Asian” category morphed into separate categories for Koreans, Filipinos, Japanese and “Hindus,” or South Asians.  The stakes were high: With the exception of freed slaves who were granted citizenship in 1864, for a long time, non-whites were not eligible for citizenship. In 1909, George Shishim, a policeman living and working in Venice, California, had to fight for the right to claim U.S. citizenship. Because he was born in Lebanon, under the dictates of the time, he was deemed by the U.S. to be of “Chinese-Mongolian” ancestry and therefore ineligible for citizenship. The Syrian-Lebanese community rallied behind him and hired a lawyer. Ethnographic studies were done to prove the “white” bona fides of the Arab population. Finally, a Superior Court judge agreed, and Shishim was sworn in as a citizen. Today, “white” as defined by the federal government, is “a person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa. It includes people who indicate their race as ‘White’ or report entries such as Irish, German, Italian, Lebanese, Near Easterner, Arab, or Polish.” But while it made sense for the MENA community to fight for a “white” designation a century ago, it is less advantageous now.

Politics of American churches & religions in one graph [Pew Religious Landscape Survey and Corner of Church and State via Tobin Grant on Religion News Service]

Churches that are similar religiously are also similar ideologically. Evangelicals are classic conservatives (small role in economy, protect morality). Pentecostals want a larger role for government on economic issues. Presbyterian Church in America, Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, and smaller Methodist churches have historical ties to both evangelicalism and mainline denominations. On the question of government and morality, they are between other evangelical churches and mainline denominations. Mainline churches hold similar economic views as evangelicals but want less government involvement protecting traditional morality. Christians in traditionally black denominations and evangelicals are similar in their views toward morality policy, but there is a large divide on economics. Catholics are large and represent the center on both dimensions. Jews are centrist on the economy. There is a major divide between both Conservative and Orthodox Jews and other streams of Judaism. This divide falls along the morality dimension. The “nones” are united on their ideology toward morality (keep government out!) but there are interesting divides on government services. Atheists want more government services; agnostics favor less governmental involvement in the economy. If you consider Unitarians part of this group, then they’re the most supportive of government services.

Sexual Satisfaction: Do You and Your Partner Have to be the SAME Shade of Grey? [Jennifer Shukusky on The Science of Relationships]

[I]mportantly, similarity did not predict sexual satisfaction for these couples. Instead, the only consistent predictor of sexual satisfaction was complementarity. That’s right: The most sexually satisfied people like to provide things for their partner that their partner enjoys receiving (e.g., stimulation with sex toys). It may be intuitive that when two people enjoy the same thing (similarity), they can enjoy it together. However, similarity itself did not predict satisfaction. On the other hand, when one person likes receiving what the other likes giving (complementarity), then everyone is be more satisfied. What may be less obvious, however, is the impact that the overestimating these things can have on sexual satisfaction. Overall, people overestimated how similar and complementary they were to their partner, and how accurate their partner was about their own likes and dislikes. Believing that one’s partner is more similar, complementary, and accurate were all also associated with higher levels of sexual satisfaction. It has been theorized that overestimating our partners’ positive qualities helps us maintain our relationships.

The Marriage Proposal Ritual [Lisa Hoplock on The Science of Relationships]

People are often aware of gender roles when it comes to proposals. Even though men are usually the first to say “I love you,” women in mixed-sex couples are often the ones who are ready to get married first. According to some research, women indicate this to the man, then wait for the man to be ready to marry them because the ritual dictates that men are the ones to propose. Men are usually ready to propose within about 6 months of receiving hints or discussing it with their partner. Women often play a role in planning the proposal by helping to choose the ring, for example, but the time when it actually occurs is usually kept a surprise. If the woman proposes, then it is often viewed as illegitimate (or a joke) by the partner and others, because it goes against tradition…At the start of the previous century, it was so unconventional for women to propose that a tradition was developed where it was okay for a woman to propose on leap year and Sadie Hawkins Day. This tradition isn’t followed as much anymore, but was quite popular back in the early 1900s. Social reinforcement helps perpetuate the script, so it may not be too surprising that many young men and women in this day and age still often hold traditional views of proposals.

Scientists take a look at the feel-good benefits of belly dance [Science Daily] – LW

The researchers found that belly dancers see their own bodies in a better light than the college students do, and are less likely to be dissatisfied with how they look. They also have fewer self-objectifying thoughts, and therefore take what others might think about their bodies less to heart.

“Pillow Talk” Speaks A Lot About Your Relationship [Jana Lembke on The Science of Relationships]

Women who reached orgasm made significantly more positive disclosures than those who did not. In fact, women who did not orgasm actively engaged in more negative pillow talk toward their partner. Interestingly, this same pattern held no matter the method used to achieve orgasm; that is, the effect of orgasm on disclosures was the same whether the woman orgasmed during intercourse or from other stimulation.

Behind Every Good Whisky Is A Trusty Distillery Cat [Ari Shapiro on NPR]

On the central path between buildings at Glenturret, the scent of leaves and grass mixes with the smells of wood, smoke and caramel from the whisky-making process. Looming over it all is a proud bronze statue. It’s not the company founder, or a bottle of whisky. It’s a cat. The greatest distillery cat of them all. Towser the Mouser is actually in the Guinness Book of World Records for catching mice. Estimated lifetime kills: 28,899.

MTV Public Policy: How 16 and Pregnant Reduced Teen Motherhood [John Tozzi on Bloomberg Businessweek]

Melissa Kearney, an economics professor at the University of Maryland who’s studied teen birth rates (PDF), attributes most of the declines from 1990 to 2008 to better access to effective contraceptives. But teen birth rates dropped more sharply in the years after 2008, and Kearney’s research credits MTV’s reality show 16 and Pregnant and its slew of Teen Mom spinoffs. The first episode of 16 and Pregnant aired in 2009. The narratives of hard lives of young mothers, conveyed to a mass TV audience, prompted Google searches and tweets about birth control or abortion, according to Kearney’s research (PDF) with Phillip Levine of Wellesley College. Their analysis suggests the show accounted for as much as one-third of the overall drop in teen births in the year and a half after its debut. High unemployment also contributed to the decline. Here’s the shocking thing: If Kearney’s research is correct, a hit TV show dwarfs the influence of pretty much all the public policy that could affect teen birth rates. Changes to welfare, Medicaid coverage for contraception, sex ed or abstinence curriculums, access to abortion—she says none of it really moves the needle. Those charged policy questions take up most of the oxygen in our public debate around family planning, and they’re certainly important to the individuals affected. But they play “a very, very small role in affecting aggregate rates” of unmarried births, Kearney says.

Declassified Documents Reveal US Plan for Alaska in a Russian Invasion [Mark Strauss on io9]

Still, despite such heroic candidates as the aforementioned one-armed, Kodiak bear tracker, U.S. intelligence didn’t think highly of Alaskans, since “most of them who settled there are interested primarily in making money.” That meant they would have to be carefully screened, and promised generous financial compensation. One group, however, was regarded as completely off-limits for recruitment—the indigenous Alaskan peoples: “The selection of agents from the Eskimo, Indian, and Aleut groups in the Territory should be avoided in view of their propensities to drink to excess and their fundamental indifference to constituted governments and political philosophies. It is pointed out that their prime concern is with survival and their allegiance would easily shift to any power in control.”

Disney’s Defunct Toontown Remade by Unsanctioned Teen [Christopher Palmeri on Bloomberg]

Toontown Online, loosely based on the 1988 Walt Disney Co. (DIS) film “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” was a multiplayer Internet game for kids and families that drew more than 1 million users after it was introduced in 2003. Disney shut it down last year amid a shift away from subscription-based games. Now, it’s getting a second life thanks to fans who have created a knockoff version without the company’s permission.

Fake Antibiotics Feed Growing Worldwide Superbugs Threat [Makiko Kitamura on Bloomberg]

Antibiotics now rank among the most counterfeited medicines in the world, feeding a global epidemic of drug-resistant superbugs. A new surveillance and reporting program in 80 countries led by the World Health Organization shows that counterfeit antibiotics are a growing problem in all regions of the world, rivaling fake versions of erectile dysfunction pills like Viagra. Infections become superbugs by gaining resistance when the treatments used against them aren’t strong enough to kill them. It’s a growing problem as substandard counterfeit drugs become more prevalent. The threat is already spurring a strong response from drugmakers such as Pfizer Inc. (PFE), the U.S. maker of the Zithromax antibiotic, which has been focusing its anti-counterfeiting efforts on online pharmacies, collaborating with Microsoft Corp.

GAO: Pentagon violated law with Bergdahl swap [Donna Cassata on The Associated Press]

The Pentagon broke the law when it swapped Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, a prisoner in Afghanistan for five years, for five Taliban leaders, congressional investigators said Thursday. The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office said the Defense Department failed to notify the relevant congressional committees at least 30 days in advance of the exchange — a clear violation of the law — and used $988,400 of a wartime account to make the transfer. The GAO also said the Pentagon’s use of funds that hadn’t been expressly appropriated violated the Antideficiency Act.

Israel, Gaza, War & Data [Gilad Lotan on Medium]

The graph below represents Twitter accounts responding to a different incident at the UNWRA school in Beit Hanoun between July 25th and 30th. It is still unclear who is to blame for firing at the school, although someone clearly learned their Google SEO tricks…Network graphs are mathematical tools used to model relations between objects, and are incredibly helpful when working with social data. Analyzing their structure helps us gain insight into our culture and society. In this case, we see a clear separation between the two sides. On the right, a clearly “pro-Palestinian” group of activists (in green) as well as a variety of media outlets and journalists (in gray). The gray cluster of bloggers, journalists and international media entities is closely connected with the group of pro-Palestinian activists, which means that information is much more likely to spread amongst the two. This structural characteristic of the graph reinforces general Israeli sentiment regarding international media bias…Alternatively, on the other side we encounter the “pro-Israeli” groups, including media outlets, Israeli public personas, and various American zionists (light blue), as well as American conservatives and Tea Party members (dark blue). There’s a clear difference in frame when we compare one side of the graph to the other. None of the information shared is false per se, yet users make deliberate choices about what they choose to amplify. This is a representation of their values, and the values of their connections. Messages passed along in one side of the graph will never reach the other. Certain nodes are more strategic when trying to bridge between the two sides. In this case, Haaretz accommodates the most connections on both the pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli sides of the graph, having the highest betweenness centrality. Compared to all other nodes in the graph, Haaretz is most likely to spread throughout the wider network. It has the most potential for bridging across biases and political barriers…Facebook’s trending pages aggregate content that are heavily shared (“trending”) across the platform. If you’re already logged into Facebook, you’ll see a personalized view of the trend, highlighting your friends and their views on the trend…Now open a separate browser window in incognito mode (Chrome: File->New Incognito Window) and navigate to the same page. Since the browser has no idea who you are on Facebook, you’ll get the raw, unpersonalized feed. How are the two different? If you’re rooting for Israel, you might have seen videos of rocket launches by Hamas adjacent to Shifa Hospital. Alternatively, if you’re pro-Palestinian, you might have seen the following report on an alleged IDF sniper who admitted (on Instagram) to murdering 13 Gazan children. Israelis and their proponents are likely to see IDF videos such as this one detailing arms and tunnels found within mosques passed around in their social media feeds, while Palestinian groups are likely to pass around images displaying the sheer destruction caused by IDF forces to Gazan mosques. One side sees videos of rockets intercepted in the Tel-Aviv skies, and other sees the lethal aftermath of a missile attack on a Gazan neighborhood. The better we get at modeling user preferences, the more accurately we construct recommendation engines that fully capture user attention. In a way, we are building personalized propaganda engines that feed users content which makes them feel good and throws away the uncomfortable bits.

Survey: YouTube Stars More Popular Than Mainstream Celebs Among U.S. Teens [Susanne Ault on Variety]

U.S. teenagers are more enamored with YouTube stars than they are the biggest celebrities in film, TV and music. That’s the surprising result of a survey Variety commissioned in July that found the five most influential figures among Americans ages 13-18 are all YouTube faves, eclipsing mainstream celebs including Jennifer Lawrence and Seth Rogen. The highest-ranking figures were Smosh, the online comedy team of Ian Andrew Hecox and Anthony Padilla, both 26. Despite having minimal exposure in the mainstream media, another comedy duo, known as the Fine Bros., Benny and Rafi, finished a close second, followed by the Swedish videogamer who has the most subscribers on all of YouTube, Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg — otherwise known as PewDiePie. Interestingly, the highest-ranking non-YouTuber is Paul Walker, who tragically died in a car accident late in 2013.

The Happiest Regions In America [Alex Mayyasi on Priceonomics]

But while the map can offer some guidance on which areas tend to be happier, the paper reveals few guiding principles. New York City is unhappier than average, but on the whole, urban areas in America are not less happy than rural or suburban ones. Among cities, the small city of Charlottesville, Virginia, tops the rankings, and Washington D.C. and Atlanta both rank as happier than average. The impact of weather is also small (and for the record, Seattle ranks right in the middle of the life satisfaction rankings). As for the tech world, San Francisco, which feels increasingly annexed by Silicon Valley, ranks slightly below the national average for urban areas, but San Jose is right in the middle. One trend, however, is very clear. Declining cities like Detroit, Michigan, and urban areas in the Midwest are particularly unhappy. And the TV show The Office had it right: Scranton, Pennsylvania, ranks as one of the unhappiest areas in the country, as the 367th happiest metropolitan area out of around 380.

Americans are taking fewer vacations than they used to [Evan Soltas on Vox]

Nine million Americans took a week off in July 1976, the peak month each year for summer travel. Yet in July 2014, just seven million did. Keeping in mind that 60 million more Americans have jobs today than in 1976, that adds up to a huge decline in the share of workers taking vacations. Some rough calculations show, in fact, that about 80 percent of workers once took an annual weeklong vacation — and now, just 56 percent do.

Lions Hunted to Save Rhinos in South African Circle of Life [Kevin Crowley and Tshepiso Mokhema on Bloomberg]

When U.S. television host Melissa Bachman posted a photo on Facebook Inc. (FB) of herself smiling and holding a rifle above the head of a lion she had shot, the response was instant. Users of the social network vilified Bachman, 30, who also killed a Nyala antelope last year on a trip to South Africa, as “evil,” a “low-life” and a “disgusting excuse for a human being.” The hunting trip was part of South Africa’s game-ranching industry, which is worth 12 billion rand ($1.1 billion) a year and growing at 10 percent annually, according to Barclays Africa Group Ltd. (BGA) The industry is also responsible for boosting the country’s large mammal population, a measure that excludes animals such as rodents, to 24 million, the most since the 19th century, and up from 575,000 in the early 1960s, Wouter van Hoven, an emeritus professor at the University of Pretoria, said in an interview last month. By contrast animal numbers in Kenya, which focuses on eco-tourism, have plunged 80 percent since it banned hunting in 1977.

People Think Experiences Bring Happiness, Still Opt for Things [Erika Beras on Scientific American]

Researchers surveyed people before and after they made purchases. Beforehand, they rated life experiences as making them happier and as a better use of money than buying objects. But subjects still tended to choose to buy objects over experiences. Then, despite picking items, most said they still believed the experiences would have been a better choice. The researchers ascribe this conflict to the tangible and quantifiable nature of a thing. You can point to a car and say how much its worth. But taking that car on a cross-country trip is an experience, and experiences can’t easily be assigned a value.

In One America, Guns and Diet. In the Other, Cameras and ‘Zoolander.’: Inequality and Web Search Trends [The Upshot on The New York Times]

The results, based on a decade of search data, offer a portrait of the very different subjects that occupy the thoughts of richer America and poorer America. They’re a glimpse into the id of our national inequality. In the hardest places to live – which include large areas of Kentucky, Arkansas, Maine, New Mexico and Oregon – health problems, weight-loss diets, guns, video games and religion are all common search topics. The dark side of religion is of special interest: Antichrist has the second-highest correlation with the hardest places, and searches containing “hell” and “rapture” also make the top 10. To be clear, these aren’t the most common searches in our list of hardest places. They’re the searches with the highest correlation to our index. Searches on some topics, like Oprah Winfrey or the Super Bowl, are popular almost everywhere. The terms on these lists are relatively common subjects for web searches in one kind of place — and rarely a subject in the other. In the easiest places to live, the Canon Elph and other digital cameras dominate the top of the correlation list. Apparently, people in places where life seems good, including Nebraska, Iowa, Wyoming and much of the large metropolitan areas of the Northeast and West Coast, want to record their lives in images. One explanation is that cameras have remained a top-selling piece of technology throughout the last decade…Beyond cameras, subjects popular in the easiest places include Baby Joggers, Baby Bjorns and baby massage; Skype and Apple devices like the iPod Nano; a piece of workout equipment known as a foam roller; and various foreign destinations (Machu Picchu, New Zealand, Switzerland and Pyeongchang, the South Korean host city for the 2018 Winter Olympics). The phrase “pull-out” is also relatively popular in the easiest places. It presumably refers to either a kind of sofa or a kind of birth control.

The Role of Deception in Scientific Research [Shirley S. Wang on The Wall Street Journal]

Kypros Kypri, a professor in the school of medicine and public health at the University of Newcastle in Australia, and his colleagues in the U.K. have independently studied the drinking habits of tens of thousands college students in New Zealand, the U.K. and Sweden. They found that just asking heavy drinkers about their alcohol use sometimes changes their behavior. The researchers surveyed students about their drinking behavior and, based on the responses, identified thousands of heavy drinkers. They sent the students one or more follow-up surveys to see if they changed their behavior or sought help for their drinking. While in most cases the students understood they were filling out surveys as part of a research study, at no point did the researchers tell them they were participating in an intervention—not even at the end of the process, which is usually when subjects learn the true purpose of a study. (In one case, the British team didn’t even tell the students they were in a research study.) Disclosing the goal at the beginning of the study would have changed the very behavior the researchers were studying—whether students would decide to cut down on their drinking after answering questions that might prompt them to think about whether they had a problem, Dr. Kypri says. Disclosing the true purpose at the end of the study would have done more harm than good because participants might have felt misled about the study, he says. The researchers decided that not disclosing was ethical, because the intervention was subtle and unlikely to cause negative consequences. In addition, they reasoned, the subjects were healthy college students, not individuals who might have been vulnerable because they didn’t understand what was happening or couldn’t take care of themselves. However, when Dr. Kypri and his colleagues published an article about the ethics of their work in the American Journal of Bioethics in 2013, some scientists disagreed with them on issues including the researchers’ belief that participants would have been upset about being misled about the purpose of the study. Likelihood of public benefit is a “necessary condition” for deception, Dr. Kypri says, and another is that there wasn’t any other way to answer the question.

Beirut’s Champs-Elysees Sees Despair of Syria’s Refugees [Donna Abu-Nasr on Bloomberg]

A few steps from Brisk Cafe on Beirut’s Hamra Street, a teenage Syrian squats with her three children and cups her hand appealing for loose change. Along the road, a Syrian shoeshine boy urinates against a poster. “This is not the Hamra Street we used to know,” said Mustapha Broush, the cafe’s supervisor. “We feel for the Syrian refugees, sympathize with them, but they have changed the character of this street.” Imagine if everyone in Mexico spilled over the U.S. border and many ended up scratching for a living on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue. That’s the scale of the human wave from war-torn Syria washing up on what was once known as the Middle East’s Champs Elysees, a magnet for wealthy Gulf Arab shoppers in the 1970s. While immigration has transformed the social makeup of cities from Seattle to Seville in recent years, few places have seen anything like the influx in the Lebanese capital. Syrians now number more than 1.1 million in a country of 4.5 million people, making it the largest per-capita recipient of refugees in the world, according to the United Nations. Greater Beirut’s population is about 1.2 million, the World Bank estimates. “It’s a scale of disruption that is hard to get your head around,” World Bank chief Jim Yong Kim told journalists in Beirut in June. “It’s the equivalent of having the entire population of Mexico entering the United States within a two- or three-year period and then integrating that population into your own school systems and health-care systems.”

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