Human Nature

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A Russian governortold employers to give workers a day off to have sex. Explanation: “We need more people.” Russia’s population has radically declined due to AIDS, alcoholism, smoking, drug abuse, heart disease, tuberculosis, pollution, and suicide. Last year, President Putin proposed cash incentives, extended maternity leave, and day-care subsidies for women who bear children. The province that ordered a day off for sex is also offering appliances and other prizes to anyone who gives birth exactly nine months from the designated sex day. A doctor at the main hospital says that thanks to a similar prize offer last year, women delivered three times the usual number of babies on payoff day. Government spin: Prizes are restoring our population! Rebuttal: They’re just inducing couples to time their pregnancies or prematurely induce labor. Human Nature’s view: Beware governments that use money to encourage births—when they need fewer people, as in China, they’ll turn the same lever against you. (Human Nature is taking the day off … for religion. Carry on.)

American investors are funding the Chinese surveillance industry. More than 600 Chinese cities are launching surveillance systems, including face-recognition software, video cameras in Internet cafes, and “behavior-recognition software designed to spot the beginnings of a street protest and notify police.” U.S. hedge funds have invested at least $150 million in the industry in the last year; from 2003 to 2010, the industry projects it will grow from $500 million to $43 billion. Investment managers’ spin: We’re helping China fight crime and terrorism, “keep the peace,” and “preserve social stability.” Rebuttal: Sure, that’s why Chinese cops are running live camera feeds from Internet cafes but not from nightclubs. Managers’ excuse #2: Camera surveillance in London and New York is worse. Rebuttal #2: And this is supposed to comfort us? Bush White House spin: “It’s not appropriate to interfere in the private decisions of Americans to invest in legally incorporated firms.”  Human Nature’s view: The problem with libertarianism is that the first thing people do with freedom is take away the freedom of others. (To add your take, join the Fray.)

A pro football team has reportedly been caught videotaping an opponent’s signals, in violation of NFL rules. Security officers confiscated videotape from a New England Patriots employee who was taping from the sidelines during a game on Sunday. Sources say the tape indicates guilt. The NFL is also examining “a possible violation into the number of radio frequencies the Patriots were using … The team did not have a satisfactory explanation when asked about possible irregularities in its communication setup during the game.” The Patriots are suspected of having videotaped signals before. NFL policy: “No video recording devices of any kind are permitted to be in use in the coaches’ booth [or] on the field.” Loophole: Teams routinely “try to decipher signals from the coaches’ films sent around the league—that’s part of the game.” Naïve theory: The Patriots are early adopters of secret NFL surveillance. Cynical theory: They got caught because they’re late adopters of the NFL practice of moving your surveillance guy into the stands. Human Nature’s take: I guess that’s why they call it the Patriot Act …

The Los Angeles City Council will consider a two-year ban on new fast-food restaurants in South L.A. Berkeley and other cities have banned fast-food joints from some areas, but L.A. would be the first to do it for health reasons. Arguments for the ban: 1) Obesity is killing people. 2) It’s more common in South L.A. than in the rest of the county. 3) So is diabetes. 4) So are fast-food joints. 5) People in South L.A. “don’t want” these restaurants but eat at them anyway, because they “don’t have any other options.” Arguments against the ban: 1) People buy fast food because they like it. 2) It’s affordable. 3) It’s convenient after a hard day’s work. 4) Let restaurants continue to solve the problem voluntarily, by offering salads and eliminating trans fats. (Related columns: obesity and poverty; regulating junk food; the war on trans fats.)

A study suggests humans have evolved the ability to digest troublesome food. Evidence: Groups that eat lots of starch have acquired extra copies of a gene that helps them digest starch and “may buffer against the fitness-reducing effects of intestinal disease.” Theory: This evolution may have been prompted by human cultivation of wheat and barley, or by proto-human consumption of tubers. Implications: 1) “The human genome does respond to changes in diet.” 2) We might eventually “evolve to eat rich food while remaining perfectly slim.” The bad news: It’d take many generations and lots of prematurely dead fat people. (Related column: food and sex without consequences.)

Hillary Clinton ruled out raising the Social Security retirement age. She told AARP, “Putting everything on the table is not the answer. Raising the retirement age is not the answer.” Aides indicated she was targeting Barack Obama’s statement that “everything should be on the table” when considering a retirement-age increase or other measures to keep the program solvent. Status quo argument: Keep our promise to old folks. Change argument: We made that promise when old folks couldn’t work; now they can. (Human Nature’s view: Hillary is wrong, wrong, wrong.) To add your comments, click here.

A study saysliberal brains “are more responsive to informational complexity.” Test: You sit in front of a computer screen and wait for a letter to appear on it. You’re supposed to tap your keyboard if it’s an M, but not if it’s a W. The experimenters mix it up but give you more M’s than W’s to see whether you get lulled into tapping when you shouldn’t. Results: 1) On M’s, liberals and conservatives responded equally well. 2) On W’s, liberals were twice as likely to be among the more accurate responders. 3) On electrical measurements of the brain area that monitors conflict “between a habitual tendency … and a more appropriate response,” liberals were five times more likely to show brain activity. Unofficial scientist/media spin: Liberals are smarter. Official scientist/media spin: Liberals are smarter, except when circumstances call for a knee-jerk ideologue. Knee-jerk liberal spin: We’re smarter because we have more agile brains. Thoughtful liberal spin: Then again, maybe we have more agile brains because we’re smarter. (Human Nature’s view: Liberals are smart, except when their knees jerk.) To tap a reply on your own keyboard, enter the Fray.

A study shows that anxiety about your pregnancy correlates with subsequent risk of premature delivery. The correlation persists when medical factors that might underlie the anxiety (e.g. early bleeding, previous troubled pregnancies) are canceled out. Theory: The anxiety causes the early delivery. Scientists’ conclusion: Let’s “educate” women to make them more relaxed about their pregnancies. Human Nature’s take: One reason all these women are anxious is that scientists “educated” them about risks to their babies from maternal overweight, vitamin deficiencies, exposure to pesticides and vaccines, consumption of coffee and antidepressants, and practically everything else. (Got a pregnancy scare story? Post it in this thread.)

Sales of leading painkillers have increased 90 percent in eight years. By 2005, retail outlets were selling 300 milligrams of codeine, morphine, oxycodone, hydrocodone, and meperidine per American, and trips to the emergency room for painkiller abuse were up 160 percent. Reasons: 1) The populating is aging and suffering more pain. 2) Drug companies nearly tripled their ad spending. 3) We used to think pain was part of healing; now we medicate it. 4) “Pill mills” are supplying the drugs indiscriminately for profit. Reaction: Let’s crack down on abusers. Rebuttals: 1) We already have. 2) As a result, sales are leveling off. 3) Increased sales should be expected because of aging. 4) Let’s not go back to the bad old days of telling people to suck it up. Question: Which is now a bigger problem: painkiller abuse or untreated pain? Join the discussion.

Latest Human Nature columns:  1) Larry Craig’s anti-gay hypocrisy. 2) The jihad against tobacco. 3)  Fat lies and fat lies revisited. 4)  Liberals and bioethics. 5) The case for turning food into fuel. 6) Recombining  man and beast. 7) The spread of virgin births. 8) Abolishing menstruation.