Human Nature

Shrunken Head

How to lose half the length of a penis.

(For the latest Human Nature columns on lesbianism, gluttony, and cloned food, click here.)

The U.S. House passed legislation to fund embryonic stem-cell research. The White House pledged to veto it because it requires the destruction of embryos. Supporters lack enough votes to override the veto. Opponents touted new research suggesting that some amniotic cells might permit the same research and therapies without requiring embryo destruction. Liberal view: Our opponents are overselling what the amniotic cells can do. Conservative view: Our opponents are overselling what the embryonic cells can do. Cynical view: They’re both right. (For Human Nature’s previous takes on stem-cell alternatives, click here, here, here, here, and here.)

Los Angeles County supervisors voted to consider a ban on trans fats. This follows a ban adopted last month in New York City. The L.A. city council has already requested a study on possible restrictions. California Restaurant Association’s question: “What’s next? Butter, cheese or anything that has saturated fat?” Political answer: What’s next is L.A. (For Human Nature’s take on banning trans fats, click here.)

Prostate cancer treatment reduced penis length by 40 percent in a Turkish study. The treatment was “androgen suppression plus radiation”; the result over 18 months was a reduction in average “stretched penile length” from 5.6 to 3.4 inches. Authors’ proposed warning: If you choose this treatment, you may lose some of your penis. Human Nature’s proposed warning: If you don’t choose this treatment, your penis may lose you. (For a previous update on condoms and short Indian penises, click here. For insects with two penises, click here. For the first penis transplant, click here.)

Weight-loss surgery increased more than 900 percent in the United States between 1998 and 2004. This isn’t liposuction; it’s constriction or partial removal of the stomach or intestine. Key stats: 1) Surgeries increased from 13,000 in 1998 to 121,000 in 2004. 2) Inpatient hospital costs for these surgeries rose from $147 million to $1.26 billion. 3) In 2004, roughly 350 teens aged 12 to 17 had weight-loss surgeries. 4) Among all age groups in 2004, 82 percent of such operations were done on women. Government spin: More people are having these operations because the operations are becoming safer. Cynical view: The operations are becoming safer because more people are getting fat and giving surgeons experience at doing them. (For Human Nature’s take on weight-loss surgery, click here.)

Pfizer is considering an over-the-counter version of Viagra. Reports indicate it may be sold as a mouth spray. GlaxoSmithKline is developing an over-the-counter impotence gel, and a generic knockoff of Viagra is already sold over the counter in China. Viagra is under pressure from Cialis, which lasts up to 36 hours, compared to Viagra’s four. Principled reaction: Let’s think carefully before letting people buy Viagra without a doctor’s supervision. Practical reaction: Dude, have you glanced at your spam lately? (For a previous update on impotence drugs, click here.)

Apple introduced the iPhone. It makes calls, plays music, takes photos, handles e-mail, and surfs the Web. Price: $500 to $600. Hype: Computers and music players are turning into phones! Rebuttals: 1) Phones have been turning into computers and music players for years. 2) Unlike the iPhone, some can stream TV shows, too. 3) Most are a lot cheaper. 4) The iPhone isn’t really a computer if it won’t work with third-party software. Consensus: Everything’s converging in “multimedia wireless devices.” (WSJ link requires subscription.)

Bangor, Maine, is banning smoking in cars when anyone under 18 is present. Arkansas and Louisiana have adopted similar bans; other states are considering them. Ban supporters’ arguments: 1) Passive smoke poisons kids. 2) They can’t protect themselves. 3) Their illnesses raise health-care costs for everyone. 4) If we pass this, other cities will copy us. Opponents’ arguments: 1) Smokers are decent enough not to smoke around kids. 2) This is anti-smoking jihadism dressed up as child protection. 3) Government has no business meddling in our cars. 4) Kids get more passive smoke at home than in cars. Human Nature’s prediction: Next, a ban on smoking at home when kids are present. (For previous updates on the Arkansas ban and a similar proposal in New Zealand, click here and here.)

Cells from amniotic fluid might substitute for embryonic stem cells. For research and therapy, scientists need cell lines that can renew themselves and make specific cell types. A study shows some amniotic cells can do both, without requiring destruction of embryos. Better yet, they match the DNA of the fetus in the fluid, so they might substitute for therapeutic cloning. They also seem less tumor-prone than embryonic stem cells do. Vatican’s take: Hooray for science! “We say ‘yes’ to genetic engineering as long as it respects life.” Scientists’ take: Amniotic cells are great, but we still need embryonic stem cells. Political take: How convenient that this alternative arises just in time for President Bush to tout it when he vetoes the stem-cell bill Democrats are pushing. (For Human Nature’s previous takes on stem-cell alternatives, click here, here, here, here, and here.)

U.S. fashion designers are resisting pressure to regulate the thinness of models. Doctors say extreme thinness endangers models’ health and the health of girls who emulate them. Designers in Spain and Italy have required models to maintain a minimum weight relative to their height, but U.S. designers are proposing less rigorous guidelines, such as healthier backstage food to replace the usual booze and cigarettes. Designers’ excuses: 1) Weight-height ratios are an unfair standard because they vary naturally with age. 2) We can’t tell each designer what to do. 3) Don’t make models jump through a lot of hoops. 4) Thinness isn’t our fault; it’s growing among celebrities generally. 5) It’s a problem only for models who aren’t “emotionally stable.” 6) Fashion will eventually solve the problem by shifting back toward curvier women. Designers’ spin on their easier guidelines: We’re trying “to show our interest and see what we can do because we are in a business of image.” Cynical view: Exactly. (For a previous update on thin models, click here.)

A U.S. clinic is selling human embryos. You can pick your embryo based on the egg and sperm donors’ race, education, and looks, including childhood photos. All egg donors have some college education; all sperm donors have graduate or professional degrees. Objections: 1) It’s baby-selling. 2) It’s eugenics. 3) If you want an embryo, adopt one of the 400,000 frozen IVF “spares” that will otherwise be chucked. 4) This is the moral disaster we invited when we commercialized eggs and sperm and let people screen donors for looks and education. Defenses: 1) “We’re just trying to help people have babies.” 2) The embryos aren’t made to order; they’re prefabricated. 3) They’re healthier than IVF spares. 4) This is cheaper and faster than IVF or adoption. 5) It’s morally fine, since we’ve already commercialized eggs and sperm and let people screen donors for looks and education. (For Human Nature’s takes on embryo eugenics, click here and here. For David Plotz’s take on sperm-bank eugenics, click here. Plotz donated at the same sperm bank that’s being used by the embryo sellers.)

The FDA approved the first weight-loss pill for dogs. It’s supposed to block fat absorption and suppress appetite. One in three U.S. dogs is overweight, and the problem is growing. Reasons: 1) We eat too much bad food, so our dogs do, too. 2) We don’t exercise, so our dogs don’t, either. 3) Sitting around as we do, our dogs keep eating out of boredom, as we do. 4) We’re too weak-willed to stop feeding treats to our beseeching furry friends. Official argument for the pill: It’ll help control your dog’s weight while you put him on a diet. Unofficial argument: It’ll help control your dog’s weight while you keep feeding him treats, you spineless loser. (For Human Nature’s take on weight-loss technology for spineless losers, click here.)

Latest Human Nature columns: 1) The bum rap on cloned food. 2) Lesbians of mass destruction. 3) The Best of Human Nature 2006. 4) Unhealthy food outlawed in New York. 5) Food and sex without consequences. 6) Rush Limbaugh’s reality problem. 7) The eerie world of policing cybersex. 8) Pro-lifers against contraception.