Saturday, April 11, 2009

Curing the Desire to Steal

William Saletan writes about a new study indicating that a drug used to treat drug addiction seems to curb the desire to steal.

It sounds like an April Fools' joke. But it isn't. In an interview with Reuters, the study's lead author explains that naltrexone "gets rid of that rush and desire" to steal.

Naltrexone is better known as a drug for alcohol or drug addiction. Many of us, while accepting these addictions as diseases, continue to regard theft as a matter of personal responsibility. Should we rethink that distinction? If the same drug relieves both conditions, should we take kleptomania more seriously as an illness?

Modern medicine continues to find biological evidence behind all sorts of acts, good and bad. It's exciting, but also a little scary. How long is it before we have pills to change any sort of behavior? It sounds great if you have a pill that stops a person from wanting to molest children, but what if you have a pill that say, makes kids not want to take risks? I mean, you don't want your kids climbing tall trees or riding a bike down a steep hill sans helmet, right? Of course it sounds absurd now to talk about extremes, but one of the problems with modern science is that new advances are coming faster than we have time to think them through to see how best to properly assimilate them into our society. Actually, probably an even bigger issue is that so many people seem disinclined to discuss these issues up front and would rather wait until after it presents a concrete issue to step back and say, "You know, we should think about this for a second."

Everyone's Autobiography

Bryan Appleyard writes the autobiography of every human ever in two words: unintended consequences.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Quote of the Day

"[A]s a secular person who thinks there’s a lot of wisdom in traditional Christian ethical thought it always strikes me as very odd that modern-day manifestations of Christian political activism in the United States so often take the form of advocacy for violence, cruelty, and revenge." - Matthew Yglesias

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Wheel of Time...Just...Keeps...Turning

A little over a week ago, in what I was sure was an early April Fools' Day joke, it was announced that the final book in The Wheel of Time saga would be split into three books. The first book of the final three will be released this November.

I know I'm not the only one who finished the last book, Knife of Dreams, and thought, "How the hell can he finish this in one book?" Even though Jordan had said he would not wrap up all plot threads, there was still so much left hanging that only one more book seemed a Herculean task. And, sure enough, we're not getting one more book; we're getting three.

Honestly, I'm not sure how to feel about this. The Wheel of Time series is one of my favorites. I've been reading it since The Great Hunt came out in paperback in...1991. Wow. I've been reading these books for eighteen years. Each time a new one came out, I would reread the entire series. These books have really shaped my conception and love for the fantasy genre.

Still, I'd by lying if I said I wasn't feeling a little burned out on them. The last four books of the series (eleven main books and one prequel) were a bit of a drag. Jordan got caught up in numerous side plots that really felt tangential to the main story and typically not nearly as interesting. I understood where he was going in trying to craft an epic plot in which impending Armageddon triggers all sorts of other events. But, he meandered too much and took too much time with these. If he had been able to tighten up these side stories into a tighter arc, it might not been so bad. As it stands, though, it's hard not to occasionally think, "I really don't care about this" while reading the last couple of books.

That makes the thought of three more books somewhat depressing. I really, really want to see how it all ends. Jordan has said in multiple interviews that he has had the very end in mind since the beginning and I imagine it is going to be awe-inspiring. If Brandon Sanderson, the author tasked with finishing the series since Jordan's passing, can keep these last books tightly paced and moving quickly then I am sure I will enjoy them with the same enthusiasm I had for the first several books in the series. If not, they will end up ranking as a great literary disappointment because the promise shown in the first few books was and is outstanding.

Mom Wants Son's Sperm

That sounds like a story from a soap opera when I write it like that. Reality stranger than fiction and all that...

A mother has had a judge rule that she has the right to her dead son's sperm.

A judge has granted a mother's request to have someone harvest sperm from her dead son's body, so she can have the option of carrying out his wish to have children.
Nikolas Colton Evans, 21, died Sunday at a Brackenridge hospital after being punched and falling outside an Austin bar March 27.
His mother, Marissa Evans, told the Austin American-Statesman newspaper that he wanted to have three sons someday and had even picked out their names: Hunter, Tod and Van.
"I want him to live on. I want to keep a piece of him," she told the newspaper.

That last quote is the key here. This mother is not doing this to fulfill her son's wish. She is doing it for herself. I can't imagine what this woman is going through. Losing a child has got to be about the most horrific thing imaginable especially in some senseless way like this. However, that does not make it right for her to take his sperm to make some babies.

There are many ways to keep her son's memory alive. This is not a good way.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Star Wars is Making Your Child a Violent Monster

Emily Brazelon is worried about the effect Star Wars is having on her young children.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away—circa 2006, at our old house in D.C.—my husband and I let our little boys watch Star Wars. Eli was almost 6 and had just broken his leg. We were housebound, antsy, and despairing. In a moment of weakness, we turned on Star Wars. We figured, like most indulgences, that the movie would thrill and then pass.

Wrong. Our younger son, Simon, who was not quite 3, couldn't sleep that night or for many nights over the months that followed. He was obsessed. He talked about the movie to any relative, friend, or baby sitter who would listen and plenty of shopkeepers who wouldn't. He relived the trash-compactor scene. He worried over Obi-Wan Kenobi's Jedi sternness and Darth Vader's glittering malevolence. He sniffed out plot twists in the rest of the endless six-movie saga (who knows how) and tried desperately to work out why Darth Vader could be Anakin Skywalker and Luke's father—and could also cut off Luke's hand. Here's a little girl sweetly summarizing the Star Wars plot. Simon wasn't sweet. He was feverish. He was short-circuiting. Thanks to our two hours of stupid indulgence, Paul and I concluded, his neurons were melting.

She even mentions a psychologist she had interviewed for an unrelated matter who told her this was a definite faux pas.
During Episode 1, in the throes of Simon's initial fixation, I happened to be interviewing child psychologist Edward Zigler. In the middle of a conversation on an entirely unrelated topic, I veered off into my family's Star Wars woes. I was confessing to Dr. Zigler, but in that rueful way that's really a bid for absolution. Instead, on the other end of the line, I heard only silence. And then he said quietly that indeed I had erred and that Simon probably shouldn't watch any more movies with violence or even suspense, for, well, years. Here's a 2007 study from Seattle Children's Hospital that links violent screen images to aggressive behavior in boys (not girls) ages 2 through 5.

While I am a big proponent of parents carefully screening what their children watch, I think Bazelon is overreacting here. Her youngest son wasn't quite three when he watched the first Star Wars. That's probably a little young, but watching Star Wars one time isn't going to irreparably harm a child. I was watching Star Wars that young and look how I turned out. *crickets chirping* Okay, maybe not the best example. Still, she needn't be so concerned about her two sons getting excited about a movie and wanting to be Jedi even if they are making their own lightsabers and thwacking each other. Boys have lots of energy. Let them play make-believe; it's good for them. She can talk to them about the movie and help them understand what they saw.

I think that's a better option than banning Star Wars for three years.

Tax Reform

More proof that we need to overhaul our tax code.

Foreigners [sic] nationals who don't live in the U.S. but like to place wagers here can really win big. Any money they win on horse or dog races in the United States is exempt from U.S. taxes. That means they don't have to cough up the 30 percent withholding tax that unlucky Americans must pay. This provision was also included in the 2004 jobs act, at the behest of Kentucky Sens. Jim Bunning and Mitch McConnell to help ease the suffering of bet-taking race courses. This break on legal gambling doesn't have anything to do with taxes you are supposed to pay on illegal activity. That's right. Anyone who receives bribes, deals drugs, takes kickbacks or steals property is expressly required to pay taxes on that income, reminds Luscome. Of course, they can write off their attorney's fees as a business expense.

Internet Privacy

I stress this to my daughters all of the time. If you put it on the internet, it's not private.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Bill O'Reilly the Racist

I don't know how anyone can take Bill O'Reilly seriously when he says stuff like this.

They want to break down the white, Christian, male power structure, which you're a part, and so am I, and they want to bring in millions of foreign nationals to basically break down the structure that we have.

Well, anyone that's not part of the "white, Christian, male power structure" anyway. I wonder if you have to sign up to be a part of that group or if you are automatically inducted. I fit the three criteria, but I've never received any sort of newsletter or anything. Maybe there was dues I was supposed to pay...

Weekly Music Video

"Don't tell me you guys have never got the Led out."

Led Zeppelin - "All My Love"

Banning Cigarettes

Scott Haig, a physician and columnist for Time, doesn't want to regulate tobacco. He wants to ban cigarettes all together.

Which begs the question: Why regulate it at all? Why put cigarettes under the jurisdiction of the agency charged with making sure our food and drugs are safe, when cigarettes are, as we all know by now, unsafe by definition. Used as intended, they are bound to make you sick. Rather than equate them with food and drugs, if lawmakers were serious about the health costs of smoking, they would take the logical next step and just make the damn things illegal.

This is a great idea. In fact, why stop there? Let's make a list of other bad things we should completely outlaw.

  • Alcohol - I think we tried this before, but apparently we didn't have the guts to stick with it. We're not as weak now, so no more liquor!

  • Cars - About 42,000 people die every year in the U.S. due to auto accidents. Banning cars would eliminate that little problem, wouldn't it?

  • Lightning - How horrible is it that lightning occasionally strikes people, killing them, or starts a fire which kills people and destroys property? That's just not right. I say outlaw lightning.

  • Unhealthy foods - There's way too much junk food out there and people clearly do not have the willpower to resist it. If we take it away, we don't have to worry about weak will anymore.

  • Mean Words - Know what happens when you say mean things to people over and over? They snap and kill a bunch of people. What a pain. If we make it against the law for people to say mean things to each other, this wouldn't ever happen. Problem solved.

  • Sex - This is just messy. It leads to pregnancy which either leads to abortion (which causes a lot of stress to many people) or children. And what do those children do? Grow up and become middle managers, dictators, mass murderers, bullies, pimps, people who put the toilet paper on the roll incorrectly (if they do at all) and other unsavory types. Get rid of sex and you don't have to worry about this little problem anymore.

I'm sure I'll think of more things later, so I'll be sure to update my list.

Ahem. Back to the Land of the Non-Sarcastic (sarcasm is most certainly not going on the list of things to ban) for a moment, this is a ludicrous notion. Yes, it would be a better world if no one smoked. No one doubts that. But, we can't save people from themselves. Prohibition failed spectacularly for a reason. No one likes being told what they can and cannot do. We need to have programs and policies in place to discourage smoking and to help people who do and want to quit do so; but we cannot be everyone's overbearing parent, telling them what they can and cannot do at all times.

It's the same reason I am against seatbelt laws, helmet laws, and other measures designed to protect someone's safety. Why can an adult not make the decision on their own whether or not to take safety precautions? People have argued, as Haig does in his article, that it puts a burden on the rest of society because the healthcare costs associated with accidents or smoking complications are enormous. But, isn't that an argument for healthcare reform and not being everyone's nanny?

Adults are adults and we need to let them make their own choices for good or for ill. After all, how does anyone learn anything if they are never allowed to fail?

If you can think of anything else we should ban, though, let me know.

Weekly Secret