Human Nature

Big Brother Is Watching Himself

Using American drones to spy on American soldiers.

Human Nature will be in recess during June and July. It will return in August. (For the latest Human Nature columns on tanning, eugenics, and lab-grown meat, click here.)

An aerial drone might nail Marines for war crimes in Iraq. The military is using hundreds of drones in Iraq, mostly to gather intelligence. In this case, a drone reportedly observed Marines returning to remove bodies from a town where, a few hours earlier, according to local Iraqis, Marines had “shot men, women and children at close range in retaliation for the death of a Marine lance corporal in a roadside bombing.” Interpretations: 1) The video will incriminate the Marines. 2) Clever lawyers, like the lawyers in the Rodney King case, will parse and spin the video to cast doubt on the Marines’ guilt. 3) Because the use of drones is “supervised by senior officers,” the drone’s placement over the town will “indicate there was interest among higher officers about what was occurring” there. 4) The drone saw nothing, but investigators are implying it did in order to spook the Marines into confessing. (For Human Nature’s take on military drones and how they’re changing warfare, click here.)

Doctors are trying to figure out which arm to amputate from a three-armed baby. The two-month-old Chinese boy was born with two left arms. Doctors expect to remove one of the arms, as is usually done in such cases, but this time they’re having trouble deciding which one to keep, since both are surprisingly complete, though not fully functional. In previous extra-arm cases, “it was clear what limb was more developed”; in this case, however, tests have failed to clarify which one should stay. Current plan: More observation, more tests, and removal once it becomes clear which arm works best.

Old people are getting sexually transmitted diseases at an age-restricted retirement community in Florida. One doctor there says she’s treating more herpes and human papilloma virus than she treated in Miami; a local TV station claims it’s a national trend. Explanations: 1) Viagra. 2) Your husband dies, and suddenly you’re back in the singles market after all these decades. 3) Old folks don’t think about protection because they can’t get pregnant. 4) Old folks come from a generation that got no sex education as kids. Doctors’ conclusion: It’s time to start teaching old folks about safe sex, saying no, and how to talk to each other about this stuff. (For Human Nature’s take on unsafe sex, click here. For other complications of extended life and good health, click here.)

Eating dairy products in the United States quintuples a woman’s chance of having twins. The correlation is based on a comparison of vegans to other women. Authors’ theory: You’re getting doped with synthetic growth hormone. Evidence: 1) One-third of U.S. dairy cows are in herds injected with “recombinant bovine somatotropin,” a growth hormone. 2) The hormone was authorized in 1994, and U.S. twinning rates have increased since then. 3) Our twinning rate is double the rate in Britain, which bans injection of growth hormone. 4) We know the injections cause more twins in cows, so why shouldn’t they do the same in humans? 5) We know dairy products raise your level of a hormone linked to multiple ovulation. Knee-jerk conclusion: Don’t eat dairy if you’re planning a pregnancy. Skeptics’ warning: Let’s wait for more data before issuing another diet alarm we’ll come to regret.

Scientists have figured out how to make something invisible. By engineering “metamaterials” that bend passing light, they could cause light to wrap around an object and converge by the time it hits your eye. You would see the space as though nothing were there, and the cloaked object would cast no shadow. Official rationale: The military is funding this research to develop “super-light electronics” and “highly efficient lenses.” Unofficial rationale: The military is funding this research so we can sneak up on our enemies. (For Human Nature’s take on the military technology of remote-controlled killing, click here.)

Men start losing their fertility at age 40. In a study of more than 1,900 couples, irrespective of the woman’s age, IVF attempts involving men 40 or older failed 70 percent more often than IVF attempts involving men younger than 30. Previous theory: Older men produce fewer kids because they get less sex. New theory: Older men produce fewer kids because they shoot more blanks. Feminist takes: 1) Ladies, stop blaming yourselves for IVF failure. 2) Ask not for whom the biological clock ticks, dude. (For Human Nature’s update on instant male fertility testing, click here. For abstinence and male fertility, click here. For smoking and male fertility, click here.)

Parents are pushing TV on infants. According to a study, most 0-year-olds watch TV or videos more than an hour a day, and one of every five kids under age 2 has a TV in his bedroom. The researchers thought kids were pushing their parents for TV time but discovered it was the other way around. Arguments for TV: 1) It’s educational. 2) I need to shower. 3) It’s safer than letting my kid run around. 4) It’s an effective incentive for good behavior. 5) It turns my kid into a zombie at bedtime. 6) I still read to my kids. 7) Everyone else is doing it. Arguments against TV: 1) It turns your kid into a zombie all day. 2) It causes ADHD. 3) Kids learn from interaction, which TV can’t deliver. 4) Your mom managed to shower without putting you in front of a TV, you Boomer/GenX good-for-nothing. 5) Actually, she did put you in front of a TV, which is why you’re pushing the same drug on your kids. 6) You fell for that “educational TV” crap? 7) Baby Einstein will go to hell for conning parents into this. 8) The study shows most of you who put TVs in your kids’ rooms did it so you could watch your own TV shows. (For Human Nature’s previous update on bedroom TV and sex, click here.)

Sleep deficiency can make you fat. In a study, middle-aged women who got no more than five hours’ sleep a night were one-third more likely to gain at least 33 pounds over the following 16 years than were women who slept at least seven hours a night. For women who slept six hours a night, the increase in weight-gain likelihood (compared to women who slept seven hours) was 12 percent. Since diet and exercise failed to account for the difference, the authors suspect sleep deficiency lowers your metabolic rate or reduces your movement during the day so you burn fewer calories. (For Human Nature’s previous update on sleep deficiency and car accidents, click here. For sleep deficiency and kids’ performance in school, click here.)

Mandatory menstruation is ending. Doctors and women are increasingly ignoring instructions to suspend hormonal contraception from pills, patches, and vaginal rings to mimic periods. New pills and implants are continuous, and drug firms are developing more options. Arguments for continuous use: 1) Periods suck. 2) They interfere with work. 3) They increase the risk of anemia and migraines. 4) We suffer a lot more of them than our foremothers did, because we start earlier and have fewer kids. 5) The pill lowers your risk of some diseases. 6) The prescribed seven-day lull in pill use dangerously raises your risk of pregnancy. 7) I’m less cranky, and my sex life is great! Arguments against it: 1) The pill raises your risk of clots, strokes, and heart attacks. 2) The last time we embraced hormone drugs too quickly (for menopausal women), we caused unanticipated health problems. 3) It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature. (For Human Nature’s takes on hormonal contraception, click here, here, and here.)

Pregnancy is shrinking. The average American pregnancy has shortened from 40 weeks to 39; nearly 10 percent of babies are now born at 34 to 36 weeks. Reasons: 1) Moms are older or fatter, with more complications. 2) More assisted fertility is causing more twins. 3) Technology allows earlier detection of trouble. 4) Doctors are more confident that technology can nurse preemies to health. 5) Doctors fear lawsuits if they don’t advise you to deliver early. 6) Moms are choosing when to deliver. Arguments for the trend: 1) Fewer stillbirths. 2) Lower risk to moms. 3) Don’t kid yourself that the baby is always safer in the womb. Arguments against it: 1) Late preemies face more long-term health and developmental problems than full-term kids. 2) We’ll all have to pick up the tab. 3) Moms’ schedules and doctors’ fear of lawsuits are lousy reasons to pull the plug early. (For Human Nature’s take on artificial wombs, click here.)

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1) Stop killing meat and start growing it. 2) The creeping logic of embryo weeding. 3) The war on tanning. 4

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blurred line

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Social Security

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