The New Master Race

November 30, 2008

This scares the shit out of me. From the NY Times:

“Atlas Sports Genetics is playing into the obsessions of parents by offering a $149 test that aims to predict a child’s natural athletic strengths. The process is simple. Swab inside the child’s cheek and along the gums to collect DNA and return it to a lab for analysis of ACTN3, one gene among more than 20,000 in the human genome.
The test’s goal is to determine whether a person would be best at speed and power sports like sprinting or football, or endurance sports like distance running, or a combination of the two. A 2003 study discovered the link between ACTN3 and those athletic abilities.
In this era of genetic testing, DNA is being analyzed to determine predispositions to disease, but experts raise serious questions about marketing it as a first step in finding a child’s sports niche, which some parents consider the road to a college scholarship or a career as a professional athlete.”

Holy fuck. Let me get this straight – we’re going to take a test that (allegedly) shows what sports kids will be best suited for and give those results to the same parents that get into fist fights with each other at Little League games? Are you shitting me? I’m going out on a limb here to say that this is NOT a good idea.

Besides, the test doesn’t show what people will think it shows:

“Still, some athletes prove science, and seemingly their genetics, wrong. Research on an Olympic long jumper from Spain showed that he had no copies of the R variant, indicating that athletic success is probably affected by a combination of genes as well as factors like environment, training, nutrition and luck.”

We’re going way overboard with this genetics stuff. Which is amazing, btw, given that we live in an untra-religious society that rejects the tenets upon which our understanding of genetics is based. People have a far more deterministic view of genetics than they should. Just because some gene has been indentified to be linked to a given trait does not mean that that trait will arise. First, there are often a large number of genes that are involved with any given physical or mental trait. Second, the environment one grows up in usually has at least as much influence on the development of these traits as the genes.

And, at any rate, KIDS’ SPORTS SHOULD BE ABOUT FUN. It shouldn’t be about breeding the next master race. Kids should play the sports they enjoy, not the ones they are best suited for genetically. That’s fucking absurd.

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New York vs. Mayberry

November 30, 2008

Jennifer Senior has an interesting piece in New York Magazine on loneliness and city vs. country life. It confirms something I’ve long believed – that cities are less lonely, and community life is stronger there than in small towns. Of course (and as we’ve heard endlessly from Sarah Palin), the myth is that small towns have tight communities and family values while the cities are full of lonely, neurotic freaks. I visit to some of America’s big cities and small towns should utterly destroy those stereotypes. However, TV and movies apparently create more potent images than real life, and so we think of Mayberry and Taxi Driver when we think of small towns and big cities:

“In American lore, the small town is the archetypal community, a state of grace from which city dwellers have fallen (thus capitulating to all sorts of political ills like, say, socialism). Even among die-hard New Yorkers, those who could hardly imagine a life anywhere else, you’ll find people who secretly harbor nostalgia for the small village they’ve never known.
Yet the picture of cities—and New York in particular—that has been emerging from the work of social scientists is that the people living in them are actually less lonely. Rather than driving people apart, large population centers pull them together, and as a rule tend to possess greater community virtues than smaller ones. This, even though cities are consistently, overwhelmingly, places where people are more likely to live on their own.

Cities…are the ultimate expression of our humanity, the ultimate habitat in which to be ourselves (which may explain why half the planet’s population currently lives in them). And in their present American incarnations—safe, family-friendly, pulsing with life on the street—they’re working at their optimum peak. In Cacioppo’s data, today’s city dwellers consistently rate as less lonely than their country cousins. ‘There’s a new sense of community in cities, an increase in social capital, an increase in trust,’ he says. ‘It all leads to less alienation.'”

This reminds me of some Republican asshole (from the suburbs) smugly asking me if I knew any of my neighbors here in Somerville. The truth is, not only do I know my neighbors, but I run into friends and acquaintances on the street frequently, and I know a good many of the people with whom I do business. I think that would be true (to a stifling extent, I’d say) in small towns. But I DON’T think it’s necessarily true in the suburbs. Modern suburbs tend to be large and spread out. People travel large distances for work and play. People drive rather than walk, and shop at big-box stores. Unless you are befriending parents of your children’s school friends, there are few opportunities to make real community connections.

This Is Pure Awesomeness

November 30, 2008

The Deal sisters covering Hedwig:

They cancelled it. Heather Havrilesky nails it in Salon:

“Likewise, you probably didn’t tune in regularly to watch ‘Pushing Daisies.’ Oh, sure. You admired its originality and flair on more than one occasion. You remarked at how refreshing it was, to see something so off-kilter and smart on TV. You cooed at the beautifully designed set. You were even heard to exclaim, ‘My, that Kristen Chenoweth really is the full package, isn’t she?’
Fine, you watched the show here and there. We all did. But there’s an essential problem with this show’s format. It’s serialized, yes, but no major narrative arc is likely to pull you in and keep you interested in what happens next. It’s farcical and humorous, yes, but it doesn’t make you laugh out loud several times per show, nor does it wrap up in half an hour. It has a procedural, mystery-of-the-week structure, yes, but it’s impossible to care, even by the end of the show, whether the lion tamer killed the troop of juggling midgets, or whether they formed a cult and poisoned themselves with Draino-laced grape Kool-Aid. ‘Pushing Daisies’ tried to be everything to everyone, and failed. Because even if you absolutely love the idea of a serial, procedural, farcical dramedy — and Lord knows, I do — that still doesn’t mean that you want to watch one every week.”

That basically sums up what I’ve been saying about the show since day one. My wife watched it religiously the first season then gave up on it. I stopped enjoying it after the first 2 episodes. By the second season it annoyed the shit out of me.

7 In A Row…And Counting

November 29, 2008

The Celtics are now 15-2, and have a 6-game lead in the division. The crushed the Sixers last night by 24 points and dominated on defense. How dominating? From CelticsBlog:

“The defense was devistating tonight. Philly had 28 points at the half. Twenty Eight Points. And a frosty 47 at the start of the 4th quarter.”

Ouch.

Charlotte tonight.

James L. Jones

November 29, 2008

Looks like Jones is going to be appointed National Security Adviser by Obama. We don’t know all that much about the guy other than he appears to be another political moderate and low-profile type. Former Marine Commandant, SACEUR, led US forces in Kosovo. No less interesting is that he grew up in Paris speaking French. The National Security Adviser has a close relationship to the president, so this is no minor pick. Be interesting to learn more…

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Trabi Safari

November 29, 2008

You can now rent a 1960s Trabant in Berlin to tour the city through the company Trabi Safari (www.trabi-safari.de). For the uninitiated, the Trabant was the East German-produced automotive marvel that’s about the size of a matchbox car and has a 26HP engine.

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Here’s Towle Tompkins’s description in the NY Times:

“The good news is that the Trabant is twice as powerful as a Sears Craftsman two-stage snow blower; the bad news is that it’s twice as loud. It is also not easy to shift.
In fact, not much is easy on a Trabant. The wheel wells could hide pregnant bulldogs. Two knobs the size of Captain Kangaroo’s buttons control the heat and the windshield wipers, which are slower than a stretching class on a senior citizens’ cruise. The tachometer is a series of green and yellow lights with no numbers. The needle on the speedometer (which optimistically goes to 75 m.p.h.) bounces as if it’s auditioning for the Richter scale.
The column-mounted manual shift is a puzzle. It is moved down for first and up for second, then a return to neutral to push in the lever and then down again for third and up for fourth. For reverse, it’s a return-to-neutral-and-push-all-the-way-in-and-down maneuver.

There is no fuel gauge.”

That pretty much sums it up. Our question is: how on God’s green Earth do these things GET INSURED??

From Ancient Times

November 29, 2008

1963. A.D. I believe that’s the year they discovered how to make fire.

NO Timetables…OK, Timetables

November 29, 2008

The gist of the agreements with Iraq, the good and the bad:

There’s a deadline for troop withdrawal (so much for the “no timetables” mantra from the Republicans and the Bush administration), but we’ve got a whole lot of war to go:

“The agreements — a broad ‘strategic framework’ and a more detailed security pact that were ratified Thursday by the Iraqi Parliament — set a deadline that critics of the war have long wanted. They require that all American forces withdraw from Iraq no later than Dec. 31, 2011, but they offer no timetable for withdrawals, and in theory could add three more years to a war that has already lasted five and a half.”

And a lot of uncertainty about what the agreement actually calls for in the meantime:

“The United States has also agreed to remove all combat forces from Iraqi cities and villages by the end of next June, though the agreements remain silent on what constitutes ‘combat’ troops and where exactly they will move. Those decisions have been left to a Joint Military Operations Coordination Committee, a body of Americans and Iraqis that could prove to be as ungainly as its acronym, Jmocc.”

And their will be at least SOME Iraqi oversight:

“The committee will have the authority to approve American military operations; the use of bases and facilities; the detention of Iraqis by American forces; and even — in rare cases, it would seem — the prosecution of American troops accused of ‘grave premeditated felonies’ committed while off duty and off base. Any number of circumstances could strain cooperation and even lead to conflict.”

OF COURSE, all this is possible because THE SURGE WORKED (ugh.). Mission Accomplished, Part Deux:

“‘Given where we were in January 2007, we have seen an almost unthinkable pace of progress on political, economic and security issues,’ Mr. Bush’s spokesman, Gordon D. Johndroe, said in a statement, describing the agreements as evidence of the success of the president’s strategy. ‘So much so that the improved conditions allowed us to come to this mutual agreement with a sovereign Iraq that is solving its problems in the political process, not with guns and bombs.'”

And yet, in the end, there’s still no end of an American troop presence in Iraq in sight:

“Still unclear is how many American forces are expected to remain between now and the deadline for withdrawal, and whether any could stay beyond then.”

Obama’s inheriting a real mess. ANOTHER real mess, that is, in addition to the other 5,000 messes the Bushies are leaving behind. And violence could rapidly escalate in the country when US troops are pulled back from urban areas.

52 more days.

It’s Over

November 29, 2008

The siege in Mumbai is over. Is it really possible that 10 guys in their 20s are responsible for all this? From the NY Times:

“Government officials said Saturday afternoon that the death toll had risen to 162 and was likely to rise again. They also said 283 people had been wounded.
Most of the dead were apparently Indian citizens, but at least 18 foreigners were killed and 22 had been injured, said Vilasrao Deshmukh, the chief minister of Maharashtra State. At least five Americans were believed to have died in the attacks.
Just 10 militants, the city’s police commissioner suggested Saturday, had caused all the mayhem.
‘With confidence I can say that 10 terrorists came in,’ said the commissioner, Hasan Gafoor. ‘We killed nine of them and one was captured alive.’
His comments were confirmed by Mr. Deshmukh, although it remained unclear whether they might have been referring to 10 attackers coming in by sea to join accomplices who, according to unconfirmed local news reports, might have embedded themselves in Mumbai days before the attacks. Investigations were ongoing Saturday night.
A senior Mumbai police inspector, Nagappa R. Mali, identified the captured suspect as a 21-year-old Pakistani man, Ajmal Amir Kasab. Mr. Mali said the man had a fourth-grade education and worked as a laborer.
Four other suspected terrorists were at the morgue at the JJ Hospital in Mumbai. Officials there put their ages between 20 and 25. All four were males.

American intelligence and counterterrorism officials said Friday that there was mounting evidence that a Pakistani militant group — Lashkar-e-Taiba, which has long been involved in the conflict with India over the disputed territory of Kashmir — was responsible.”