The high-tech immigration fence flunked its pilot test. Problems: 1) The software was designed for police dispatching, whereas military “battle management” software is needed. 2) It doesn’t process data fast enough to help operators direct remote cameras to moving targets. 3) The cameras are only half as sharp as advertised. 4) The cameras don’t synch with the radar. 5) The radar can’t distinguish targets from trees. 6) Rain sets off the radar. 7) The gear is housed in towers that are easy targets for drug gangs. Government spins: 1) “The concept works.” 2) The mistakes aren’t fatal. 3) We’re learning from them. New plan: 1) More “mobile ground surveillance units.” 2) More aerial drones. (Related: Are drones the answer to terrorism?)
Animals are the next target of the crackdown on sports doping. 1) A bull-riding association has begun random testing of bulls. 2) On Wednesday, horse racing’s top executive joined a congressional hearing on performance-enhancing drugs in sports. Horse-racing industry spins: 1) We test at least one horse in every race for various drugs. 2) That’s tougher than what other leagues do to human players. 3) Few horses flunk. Congressman’s rebuttal: Horse-racing is dragging its hooves on banning steroids, which human leagues have already done. Bull owner’s allegation about steroids: “You can tell by looking at some of those bulls and their sizes. It’s just like human beings.” Rebuttals: 1) Bull owners have stopped using steroids, because the drugs sterilize the bulls, which is financially disastrous. 2) Bulls don’t benefit from steroids, because you can’t make them exercise to add muscle while they’re on the drugs, as you can with humans. (Related: Doping and Roger Clemens’ wife.)
The girl born with eight limbs has begun to walk with assistance. She’s using a baby walker at age 2; her extra limbs were surgically removed three months ago. Next medical challenges: 1) “Major urinary problems.” 2) Bent legs. Doctors plan more surgeries in the next two months to address both problems. (Related: Human Nature’s previous update on the eight-limbed girl.)
Oklahomans are debating a “video vigilante” war on prostitution. The vigilante tapes men using prostitutes, edits the video for taste but not to protect identity, and posts it on his Web site. Impact: Hundreds of men have been taped; one clip has been viewed 340,000 times. Rationales: 1) It deters would-be johns. 2) Prostitution ruined his neighborhood. 3) Cops and courts weren’t convicting johns. 4) If you don’t want your sex to be taped, don’t do it in public. Objections: 1) It’s invasive. 2) It’s prurient. 3) It implies guilt even if nobody has been convicted. 4) He enjoys it too much. 5) He has turned it into a business, with profits from his site, YouTube ads, and selling video to talk shows. Human Nature’s view: Taping public sex is no scummier than doing it, and making the sex private solves the vigilante problem. (Disagree?)
Legislators in Denmark approved a plan to legalize and subsidize heroin for some users. The plan is modeled on a similar system in Switzerland. Conditions: 1) It’s only for “500 of the worst affected and most marginalized addicts.” 2) The drug can be acquired only with a prescription. 3) It has to be combined with methadone to relieve the addiction. 4) The government will foot the bill: $14 million over two years. Goals: 1) Reduce crimes driven by heroin addiction. 2) Rehabilitate the addicts. (Related: 1) How harmful is marijuana? 2) Is tobacco worse? 3) Reengineering pot.)
A study says brain differences may cause differences in aggression among teenage boys. Sample: 137 12-year-old boys, observed while interacting with parents. Findings: 1) 1) “A significant positiveassociation between volume of the amygdala [a brain area related to fear and arousal] and the durationof adolescent aggressive behavior during these interactions.” 2) “Male-specific associations between the volumeof prefrontal structures and affective behavior.” Researchers’ conclusions: 1) “Brain structure is associated with affectivebehavior and its regulation” in such interactions. 2) “There may be gender differences in the neural mechanismsunderlying affective and behavioral regulation” during these years. Crude translation: 1) My amygdala made me do it. 2) “These boys may … be unable to control their emotions because … parts of the brain that normally control strong emotions don’t mature till the early 20s.” Critique: Correlation doesn’t prove causal direction, or even causation. (Related: Rethinking the age of consent.)
Latest Human Nature columns: 1) Abortion and sex selection. 2) Growth hormone and Roger Clemens’ wife. 3) Fat genes and responsibility. 4) The messy biology of human embryos. 5) Obama and the white vote. 6) Bush, stem cells, and stubbornness. 7) Why the polls botched New Hampshire. 8) The best Human Nature stories of 2007. 9) The top privacy threats of 2007.