Friday, November 30

I am now the world's biggest CBS fan

It's terribly bourgeois, I know, but we got a new TV over Thanksgiving.

We'd seen a good price in the KMart flier (ah! sub-bourgeois!), but weren't planning on going to KMart (or any other store) on Thanksgiving.

Plans change. Elizabeth came down with a fever on Thanksgiving day and we had to go get medicine. We tried Rite-Aid, but it was closed, so we ended up at KMart.

I decided to check the TVs, since we were there. They were out of the one we'd been looking at, but the salesdude said he'd check...

And he found one more they'd been holding for someone who never came, so we bought it!

So I've been working since then, trying to get everything set up. We needed to get a new tv stand, which after some travail (and two extra trips by Christine back to Target), we got put together yesterday.

All of that to say, our reception (we are the only people we know in Columbia without cable) is as bad as it has always been, except for 19.1, CBS is glorious HDTV.

I like CSI (the original), but never watch it. Maybe I'll have to start... ;-)

Saturday, November 17

Bad Beowulf review (Spoilers)

Originally, I was hopeful about this movie.

But then I watched the clips and I was not hopeful that it would hew reasonably to the original story.

Then I decided to hold out hope that it might be ok.

I heard a horrible review on NPR yesterday morning, but that did not deter me.

When I saw a graphic novelization co-written by Neil Gaiman at Barnes and Noble today, I was hopeful again.

Hopes dashed: Mr Gaiman decides to be too clever. Grendel is the demon-spawn of Hrothgar and Grendel's mother (hence the seductive Angelina Jolie clips). And Beowulf succumbs to the same temptation. And the dragon is his spawn.

Blast. Leaning towards not going to see it...

For a nice graphic companion to the original story, I recommend Gareth Hinds' graphic novel.

Friday, November 16

The 'sibling effect'

Dan made a comment about birth order that really got me thinking:

Birth order is a particularly interesting combination of biological and environmental factors.

It seems that the mother's body is harsher to later borns, which accounts for the differences in birth rate and other consequences that manifest themselves later in life.

At the same time, there's the environmental factors you mentioned, and those the article deals with (vaccination rates, etc.).

Then you get into development, where later borns tend to have a lower IQ than their siblings through early childhood, but that this reverses as they grow into older childhood and adolescent.

I asked him about it offline and got to researching the biology of birth order.

I'm pretty sure I'd read this before, but did you know that, statistically speaking, fraternal birth order affects male sexual orientation?

Here's a great, clear, concise synopsi
s: O brother, where art thou? The fraternal birth-order effect on male sexual orientation .

For each additional brother that precedes him, a boy's chance of growing up to be gay increases by a third.

And it's not social influence, because the effect is seen with biological brothers out of the house (eg, adopted) and is not seen with step-brothers in the house.

Other interesting facts:

A brain nucleus that is larger in men than women is also smaller in gay men than straight men...

For women, a bewildering array of body parts (ears, fingers, eyes, arms) all indicate that lesbians were, on average, exposed to more fetal testosterone (T) than straight women (3–6). The idea that the brains of lesbians might have been masculinized by exposure to fetal T fits easily with animal models, where researchers can make a mammalian brain as masculine or feminine as they like just by controlling how much T reaches the brain, especially early in life (7)...

Twin studies found that sexual orientation is heritable in both sexes (9), and a portion of the X chromosome was implicated in some cases of brothers who were both gay (10)...

One estimate is that approximately one in seven homosexual men in North America are gay because of older brothers (12). That means that about a million Americans are either gay men today or boys who are going to grow up to be gay because their mother had sons before them...

Here's the one I was really looking for:

Each subsequent baby a mother carries tends to weigh more, but boys whose mother carried brothers before them did not weigh as much as boys with older sisters (13).

If you've met my 'little' brothers, you know they're big, strapping bruisers who managed to grow over 6 feet tall. And I had heard and rightly remembered that younger children tend to be bigger.

But in this fact I have my revenge: They would have been even bigger if they'd had an older sister instead of me! ;-)

A few more facts:

The FBO effect on birth weight was greater among boys who turned out to be homosexual than those who became straight, suggesting that those boys who are made gay by older brothers are also more susceptible to the FBO effect on birth weight. Scouring the literature, these authors found an old report that placenta weight, which also tends to get heavier with each subsequent child carried, weighs even more for boys if they have elder brothers rather than elder sisters (14).

Older brothers increase the probability of a boy becoming gay only if that boy is right-handed. Among left-handed men, there's no difference in the incidence of homosexuality no matter how many brothers they have. What's curious about this finding is that, by itself, left-handedness makes males and females slightly more likely to be gay (16).

So, what's the cause? Maybe

the "maternal immunization hypothesis" (Fig. 1). A mother carrying a first son has very little exposure to the proteins he is making because of the placental barrier. But upon delivery and the inevitable mixing of fetal and maternal blood, her immune system will now see proteins it has never seen before, including proteins encoded on her son's Y chromosome. If she mounts an immune response to these proteins, then any subsequent sons will be exposed, via active transport across the placenta, to maternal antibodies directed against the male-specific proteins. These maternal antibodies might then perturb development of the younger son, decreasing birth weight and affecting his brain to increase the probability that he will grow up to be gay (13).

Now, before anyone attacks, let me say that some parts of this article imply that biology causes homosexuality. I don't believe that and never have. Biology affects behavior, but it is not behavior. There is human choice. Two other behaviors commonly associated with male heterosexuality are violence and promiscuity. I may very well have those biological proclivities. But we all agree, societally, that violence and promiscuity are not acceptable.

I'm not arguing societal consensus. What I am arguing is the effect of values and choice in behavior. I stipulate some biological propensities to homosexuality. The point is: what do people do with it? What choices do they make?

Further, homosexual tendencies need not be any more overpowering than promiscuity or violence.

Besides, it's not a zero-sum game. It needn't be the case that someone with biological homosexual tendencies also has zero biological attraction to the opposite sex.

Oh, and, by the way: none of my three younger brothers are gay. Not that there's anything wrong with that ;-)

Thursday, November 15

Nice quote

Sic gorgiamus allos subjectatos nunc.

(Thus we gladly feast on those who would subdue us.)

(As seen on Instapundit.)

By the way, I'm keeping a list of some of my favorite quotes, now.

Wednesday, November 7

Do it for the science!

My buddy, Dan, has a survey called Creativity and Blogging for his PhD work. Would you be willing to click through and take it? It asks about your attitudes on blogging. Thanks!

Sunday, November 4


I had never read this book before. But defective yeti is doing a group read of it this month, so I thought I'd dive in, too.

(His arrival at Catch-22 is almost Hellerian in itself: It's for National Novel Writing Month, which he tried two years ago and didn't achieve. Last year he tried a group read of Moby Dick, which he also didn't achieve, but this year we're reading Catch-22 ;-)

I re-copy my first comment over there below:

i am one of those who just keeps reading it. i'd say i'm about halfway done after starting earlier this week.

the shtick does get old (made-up example: 'Yossarian was the most self-absorbed soldier in camp except for when he wasn't.'). thankfully a plot emerges.

i have decided not to take the book too seriously as a critique beyond war and modern institutions are crazy and when combined warp reality. so i'm not considering Yossarian guilty of anything and trying to resist with Milo and Cathcart. otherwise, reading about Cathcart will make me homicidal.

never read Catch-22 before. great pick. glad i voted for it ;-)

Something I neglected to mention: Reading the book is really making me want to try the movie. I can imagine some of the scenes would work really well.

Reading this book has made me wonder if Heller served in the Army Air Corps (pre-Air Force for those of you who don't know that's a post-WW2 service). Turns out he did, and flew 60 missions (a Yossarian-like number), but he said they were mostly milk runs.

An interesting quote from Heller:

"Everyone in my book accuses everyone else of being crazy. Frankly, I think the whole society is nuts -- and the question is: What does a sane man do in an insane society?"

I figured this was the underlying theme of the book. And I used to be very susceptible to this line of reasoning. It seems such an elegant critique. I totally fell in love with it in the 90s with Terry Gilliam's movies.

But you know what I've discovered in my 30s? Saying society is insane is, in the end, a cop out. Sure, it's compelling, even sexy. But it also undermines useful work, at least. At most, it absolves you from productivity, contribution, or just plain common sense.

I used to say that the world is metaphysically 95-99% objective. Subjectivity has its place, but it doesn't totally subvert objectivity. This is the problem with where modernism ends up and where post-modernism begins and stays: There's no room left for objectivity and, clever philosophy notwithstanding, the world is, by definition, an objective place where useful work is done.

Next connection: Tom is fond of saying that the Boomers make terrible politicians, and maybe this is partially why. Let's connect it with another quote from the Heller Wikipedia entry:

Once it was released in paperback in October 1962, however, Catch-22 caught the imaginations of many baby-boomers, who identified with the novel's anti-war sentiments.

So, following the line of my critique above, are Boomers too susceptible to viewing society as insane and, thus, undermined in their contributions, or downright 'absolved'? If society is insane, Yossarian's self-absorption is positively sane.

Though I am very fond of criticizing the Boomers and really believe that they will try to live forever, thus obstructing the rise of Generation X and out own chance to really screw things up, this critical hypothesis should not be regarded as not applying to Gen X. It very well may and probably does.

Friday, November 2

Bethy and the Incredibles

That's what these Halloween pix look like to me, like we're Bethy's backup singers ;-)

From there, I think of the recent Sufjan Stevens tour costumes with wings. Then I think of Jenny Owens. It sure looks like it could be indie PR to me...

Thursday, November 1

Waterboarding is torture

I have to confess, I didn't know the details of waterboarding (I'm a little ashamed). Therefore, I have not been alarmed by that part of the national discussion about torture. I am after reading I know waterboarding is torture - because I did it myself.

Waterboarding is not a simulation. Unless you have been strapped down to the board, have endured the agonizing feeling of the water overpowering your gag reflex, and then feel your throat open and allow pint after pint of water to involuntarily fill your lungs, you will not know the meaning of the word.  

Waterboarding is a controlled drowning that, in the American model, occurs under the watch of a doctor, a psychologist, an interrogator and a trained strap-in/strap-out team. It does not simulate drowning, as the lungs are actually filling with water. There is no way to simulate that. The victim is drowning. How much the victim is to drown depends on the desired result (in the form of answers to questions shouted into the victim's face) and the obstinacy of the subject. A team doctor watches the quantity of water that is ingested and for the physiological signs which show when the drowning effect goes from painful psychological experience, to horrific suffocating punishment to the final death spiral.  

Waterboarding is slow motion suffocation with enough time to contemplate the inevitability of black out and expiration –usually the person goes into hysterics on the board. For the uninitiated, it is horrifying to watch and if it goes wrong, it can lead straight to terminal hypoxia. When done right it is controlled death. Its lack of physical scarring allows the victim to recover and be threaten with its use again and again.  

Call it "Chinese Water Torture," "the Barrel," or "the Waterfall," it is all the same. Whether the victim is allowed to comply or not is usually left up to the interrogator. Many waterboard team members, even in training, enjoy the sadistic power of making the victim suffer and often ask questions as an after thought. These people are dangerous and predictable and when left unshackled, unsupervised or undetected they bring us the murderous abuses seen at Abu Ghraieb, Baghram and Guantanamo. No doubt, to avoid human factors like fear and guilt someone has created a one-button version that probably looks like an MRI machine with high intensity waterjets.

The fuller version is at the excellent Small Wars Journal (via MountainRunner).

Ironically, the fact that the Bush Administration has legitimized waterboarding makes it that much more important that American service personnel be subjected to it in training because the likelihood increases that they will be tortured if they are captured.

However, when performed with even moderate intensity over an extended time on an unsuspecting prisoner – [Enhanced Interrogation Techniques are] torture, without doubt. Couple that with waterboarding and the entire medley not only "shock the conscience" as the statute forbids -it would terrify you. Most people can not stand to watch a high intensity kinetic interrogation. One has to overcome basic human decency to endure watching or causing the effects. The brutality would force you into a personal moral dilemma between humanity and hatred. It would leave you to question the meaning of what it is to be an American.

But, now, reading through the comments, I'm reminded that my buddy, Dan, has weighed in on this topic. He takes exception with the author above, especially on technical issues like the use of rhetoric and the morality of the argument.

I find myself closest in opinion to 'ry', who I know digitally from Tom's weblog. I don't have a problem with shame, temperature, stress positions, etc. when it comes to interrogation. Of course, I do not want these to be used casually. I cannot agree that all of the Enhanced Interrogation Techniques are torture. In fact, of those listed in the link above, I would only say that waterboarding is truly out-of-bounds torture.

Now, let me hasten to add, I'm no authority. I may have missed something. I am open to learning from you. What do you think?

V. car alarms

It is not possible that car alarms have saved enough cars to justify how annoying they are. And it's like those who own them get inured to them - they just let them ring and ring and ring. Makes me wish I had an Explosively Formed Projectile lying around...

(On the other hand (there's always another hand with me, isn't there?), if car alarms have saved LIVES, that's something else...)