(For the latest columns on bestiality, fetal ultrasound, and artificial intelligence, click here.)
County lawmakers in suburban New York voted to ban smoking in cars when minors are present. The ban will become law if the Rockland County executive signs it. Ban supporters' view: This is no more an invasion of privacy than are seat-belt laws and bans on cell-phone use while driving. Critics' view: "The police can't even enforce the cell phone law." Speaking of which: Washington became the first state to ban texting while driving. Rationale: The ban will save children's lives. Proposed fine: $100. (For previous updates on banning smoking in cars, click here, here, and here.)
Dick Armey and other investors are planning a year-round ski resort in north Texas. Plans include ice rinks, misters, turbo-fans, and a 25-story artificial mountain with 650,000 square feet of ski surface. Projected cost: $700 million. The "snow" will be an artificially produced substance akin to "wet, white Astroturf with bristles." Artificial snow is already being used for skiing in Europe, and Dubai has an enclosed ski dome. Armey's spin: This will be "a place where we could be outside and enjoy ourselves, even in August." Cynical view: And when Texas becomes completely uninhabitable, we'll build a replica of it on the moon. (For Human Nature's take on air conditioning and global warming, click here. For Seth Stevenson's firsthand report on skiing in Dubai, click here.)
New York police officers will use Segways to patrol parks and stadiums. Chicago police have 50 Segways; Italian railway cops have 75; New York is starting with 10. NYPD spin: The Segway's "obvious advantages are visibility and mobility." Skeptical views: 1) Mobility? Tests have found Segways ineffective in crowds and traffic. They max out at 12 miles per hour, and officers won't be allowed to drive them off boardwalks or designated pathways. 2) New York doesn't even let private citizens use Segways. 3) NYPD's previous Segways were recalled due to battery defects. Consolation spin: Yeah, but officers will look really tall and stately on them. (For Human Nature's take on Segways and obesity, click here.)
Scientists found a way to grow new hair. Method: "The researchers made relatively large wounds on the backs of adult mice, and found that if a wound reached a certain size new hairs formed at its center, with the skin undergoing changes mimicking stages of embryonic hair-follicle development." Theory: The wounds activate dormant embryonic mechanisms that reprogram skin stem cells to make hair follicles. The good news: We can cure baldness! The bad news: ... through head wounds. (For a previous update on eyelash transplants, click here.)
The price of human eggs is rising. Average U.S. donor compensation: $4,217. One clinic says it pays $15,000. Students at top colleges are being offered "tens of thousands of dollars." An expert quotes high-end fees of $50,000 to $60,000. Reasons: Low supply, high demand. Maryland legislators are proposing to ban egg sales. Objection to rising prices: The money is becoming so good that potential donors can't rationally evaluate the health risks. Rebuttals: 1) Drop the paternalism. 2) The price is set by supply and demand, so if you limit the price, you'll make it impossible for some couples to get eggs and have kids. (For Human Nature's take on buying eggs and embryos, click here.)
Health insurers are offering cosmetic surgery discounts. They're not paying for the surgery, but they're offering in-network discounts to attract members. Reasons: 1) Demand for cosmetic procedures is growing. 2) One insurer says the discounts "make our plan more attractive to employers and members." Meanwhile, a report finds that "despite having the most costly health system in the world … Compared with five other nations—Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, the United Kingdom—the U.S. health care system ranks last or next-to-last on five dimensions of a high performance health system." Cynical view: Yeah, but we have the best jugs. (For updates on cosmetic breast and vagina surgery, click here, here, and here.)
The governor of New York is proposing to collect DNA from everyone convicted of a misdemeanor, as well as all prisoners and parolees. Liberal objection: The government's abuse of powers it was granted in the name of fighting terrorism shows that it can't be trusted with private information. Governor's rebuttal: We're going to use DNA not just to catch the guilty but to exonerate the innocent, by helping defendants and prisoners to get DNA testing and prove somebody else committed the crime. Cynical view: This is the third expansion of New York's DNA database, and it won't be the last.
Athletic officials are refusing to let a sprinter with prosthetic legs race in the Olympics. His legs were amputated below the knees in infancy due to a birth defect. He has replaced them with carbon-fiber blades. He has run the 100 meters in less than 11 seconds, is faster than the world's top female sprinters, and won second place in South Africa's national championships. Arguments for banning him: 1) The rules forbid technological aids such as springs and wheels. 2) The blades could lengthen his stride, giving him an unfair advantage. 3) If we let him race, healthy athletes might start adding carbon-fiber devices to their shoes. Rebuttals: 1) The Olympics already allow transgender athletes and other enhancements. 2) Carbon legs are less efficient than natural legs, so they give no advantage. (For Human Nature's takes on athletic enhancement, click here and here.)
Doctors are promoting Swedish snuff to lure nicotine addicts away from cigarettes. Rationale: 1) Swedish snuff, known as "snus," is cleansed of some carcinogens. 2) Many Swedes have switched from smoking to snus. 3) Studies show much lower lung and pancreatic cancer rates from snus than from smoking, with no increase in oral cancer. Promoters' summary: "We should not delay in allowing snus to compete with cigarettes for market share." Snus is reportedly being test-marketed in two American cities. Critique: Snus still has lots of carcinogens, and users still have a pancreatic cancer rate twice as high as non-users, so every non-smoker who takes up snus is a net loss. (For a previous update on the snuff-smoking debate, click here. For oral sex and oral cancer, click here.)
A doctor was charged with surgically removing fingerprints of drug traffickers and replacing them with skin from the traffickers' feet. Purpose: to prevent arrest by confusing their identity. Prosecutors say five people got the surgery and one is "still mangled from the procedure." (For Human Nature's take on identity transformation through mutilation, click here.)
Latest Human Nature columns: 1) The chess match of man and machine. 2) Bestiality vs. homosexuality. 3) Ultrasound and the future of abortion. 4) The global market in human organs. 5) The evolution of brains and morals. 6) Machines that read your mind. 7) Invasion of the naked body scanners. 8) The future of pain-beaming weapons. 9) Gay sheep and human destiny. 10) More on gay sheep.
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