Hold the Fart
Fighting global warming through animal burps.
(For discussions of the latest topics, check out the Human Nature Fray.)
The U.S. teen birth rate increased, and births tounmarried women jumped 8 percent to a new record. . The teen birth rate had fallen by more than a third over 14 years until now; nearly 40 percent of births are now to unmarried women. Liberal spins: 1) Abstinence programs have failed to stop teen sex. 2) They've scared teens away from contraception. 3) They've made kids sexually ignorant. Last year's conservative spin: Teen pregnancy is down because abstinence programs are working. This year's conservative spins: 1) Teen births are up because liberal sex ed isn't working. 2) The abstinence message is being drowned out by our sick culture that pushes kids into sex. 3) The birth rate is up because teens want more babies, not more sex. 4) The real problem is that we're failing to preach the evils of illegitimacy. Associated facts: 1) Birth rates are up generally. 2) Acceptance of illegitimacy is up. 3) Teen sex rates are up since 2001. 4) Condom use is up since 1991 but apparently down since 2003. 5) The decline in condom use might be due to a decline in fear that AIDS will kill you. Human Nature's view: Contraception is a net positive in reducing the abortion rate. (Discuss.)
Scientists are trying to fight global warming by changing animal flatulence. Emissions from livestock reportedly account for up to half of greenhouse gas emissions in some countries. Kangaroos have stomach bacteria that eliminate methane from their gas; scientists want to transfer these bacteria to sheep and cattle. Bonus: The bacteria could improve digestive efficiency by 10 to 15 percent, thereby reducing feed costs. Alternative proposal: Eat less cattle and more kangaroo meat: "It's low in fat, it's got high protein levels," and "it's the ultimate free range animal." (Related: HN's previous update on global warming and animal flatulence.)
China says it will stop sending women to labor camps as prostitutes for carrying condoms. Prevailing practice, according to an expert: "We have investigated many education-through-labor camps and we have found that for those sentenced for prostitution, the sole evidence was that they possessed condoms." New concern: AIDS prevention. New policies: 1) Police will "no longer take condoms as the proof of illegal sex activities in entertainment venues." 2) The government is calling for condom vending machines in public places. 3) "All hotels in Beijing will be required to provide condoms in every room by the end of next year." Related: 1) Hurray for condoms! 2) Do spray-on condoms count?
Car washing is the next target of environmental regulation. One county has banned rinsing car-wash detergent down storm drains; another city plans to restrict Boy-Scout car-wash fund-raisers; another has proposed to ban washing your car at home. Potential penalties include tickets or jail. Reasons: detergent pollution and water waste. Alternatives: commercial car-washes or "waterless" soaps that require no rinsing. Complaints: 1) The car-wash nannies will come for you next. 2) Car-wash detergent is nothing compared to all the other crap that gets washed into storm drains by nature. 3) Car-washing teaches kids teamwork and effort. 4) What if a dog poops on my sidewalk? 5) What about homeless people who wash themselves in public waterways? Human Nature's view: This is an easier call than regulating salt (see below) or trans fats—and it's better than wasting water and praying for rain.
A chimp beat trained college students at a number memory game. The game: You get a quick glance at numbers spread around a screen. The numbers turn into white boxes, and you have to click them in the order of the now-hidden numbers. Results: 1) At the beginner level, chimps matched humans at accuracy and beat them at speed. 2) At the most difficult level, the sole chimp competitor smoked the humans, getting 80 percent right vs. 40 percent. Human rationalizations: 1) The only reason chimps can beat us at this petty memory stuff is that we evolved a better use for our brain space: language. 2) It wasn't a fair fight because kids are better at this than adults are. (Related: 1) Humans are more spiteful than chimps. 2) Are we the offspring of human and chimp ancestors?)
A study says divorce is bad for the environment. Reason: Two households use more heat, light, and water than one. Cost: More than 70 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity and more than 600 billion gallons of water in the United States in a single year. Unapproved conclusions: 1) Don't divorce. 2) Marry earlier. Approved liberal conclusions: 1) This isn't a matter for public policy. 2) Be more energy-efficient in your divorced household. 3) Get your own apartment instead of a house. 4) Remarry. 5) Cohabitation is just as good as marriage. 6) Polygamy is even better. 7) In fact, how about a commune? Unapproved conservative conclusions: cough, abortion, cough, gay marriage. (Related: 1) The case against polygamy. 2) It doesn't even work on TV.)
Doctors restored amputees' sensations of lost limbs. Method: They took nerves that used to connect to the patients' (now amputated) arms and hands, and they connected these nerves instead to the patients' chest muscles. Results: 1) The nerves spontaneously "traverse through muscle and breast tissue to the skin and occupy skin territory" on the chest. 2) "When this reinnervated skin is touched, the amputee feels as if the missing hand is being touched." 3) Received sensations include touch, heat, cold, and pain. Authors' conclusions: 1) Through mechanical transmission of stimuli to reinnervated skin, "An amputee may one day be able to feel with an artificial limb as although it was his own." 2) The more naturally you can feel things with your artificial hand, the more naturally you can use it. 3) Sensations from one body part can be relocated to another. Prurient view: We've seen that movie already. (Related: cyborg soldiers; cyborgs and transhumanism.)
Texas' science curriculum director says she's been forced out over creationism. Chief offense: She mass-forwarded an e-mail about an upcoming presentation by a critic of intelligent design. Instigator of her ouster: a former Bush aide. Texas Education Agency's spin: Forwarding the e-mail "implies endorsement of the speaker and implies that TEA endorses the speaker's position on a subject on which the agency must remain neutral." Evolutionist spins: 1) She was just forwarding an e-mail, not promoting criticism. 2) She was just promoting criticism, which is an educator's job with respect to all theories; she wasn't opposing ID. 3) She was opposing ID, which is an educator's job, because it's bull. Related: 1) intelligent design's lack of testables. 2) Monty Python's flying creationism.
Salt is the next target of health-habit regulation. Yesterday the FDA held a hearing to consider regulating it as a food additive instead of the previous "generally recognized as safe" category. Possible outcome: "federal limits on the salt content of processed foods." Arguments for regulation: 1) Americans eat about 50 percent more sodium than the recommended limit. 2) We can save 150,000 lives a year. 3) We can "cut health-care costs." 4) We can reduce obesity, too, because people drink soda or beer with salty food. 5) "No one would tolerate so many deaths from airline crashes, so why tolerate it from food?" 6) You don't really get to choose how much salt you eat, because it's packaged into the food. Food industry's arguments against regulation: 1) We're lowering salt already. 2) "Salt has been used safely in foods since antiquity." 3) Studies haven't proved it's really bad for you. 4) When we label food as low-salt, people assume it's bland. Human Nature's view: This is a replay of how we began the crackdowns on fat and sugar. Question: Should the government limit salt content in food? Discuss.)
Will Saletan covers science, technology, and politics for Slate and says a lot of things that get him in trouble.
Photograph of nun on Slate's home page by Digital Vision. Photograph of an elderly man on Slate's home page by Digital Vision.