Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

One amazing study of the impact of cultural memes: Baltimore kids growing up

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Quite an amazing article in the Washington Post by Emily Badger:

BALTIMORE — In the beginning, when they knew just where to find everyone, they pulled the children out of their classrooms.

They sat in any quiet corner of the schools they could claim: the sociologists from Johns Hopkins and, one at a time, the excitable first-graders. Monica Jaundoo, whose parents never made it past the eighth grade. Danté Washington, a boy with a temper and a dad who drank too much. Ed Klein, who came from a poor white part of town where his mother sold cocaine.

They talked with the sociologists about teachers and report cards, about growing up to become rock stars or police officers. For many of the children, this seldom happened in raucous classrooms or overwhelmed homes: a quiet, one-on-one conversation with an adult eager to hear just about them. “I have this special friend,” Jaundoo thought as a 6-year-old, “who’s only talking to me.”

Later, as the children grew and dispersed, some falling out of the school system and others leaving the city behind, the conversations took place in McDonald’s, in public libraries, in living rooms or lock-ups. The children — 790 of them, representative of the Baltimore public school system’s first-grade class in 1982 — grew harder to track as the patterns among them became clearer.

Over time, their lives were constrained — or cushioned — by the circumstances they were born into, by the employment and education prospects of their parents, by the addictions or job contacts that would become their economic inheritance. Johns Hopkins researchers Karl Alexander and Doris Entwisle watched as less than half of the group graduated high school on time. Before they turned 18, 40 percent of the black girls from low-income homes had given birth to their own babies. At the time of the final interviews, when the children were now adults of 28, more than 10 percent of the black men in the study were incarcerated. Twenty-six of the children, among those they could find at last count, were no longer living.

A mere 4 percent of the first-graders Alexander and Entwisle had classified as the “urban disadvantaged” had by the end of the study completed the college degree that’s become more valuable than ever in the modern economy. A related reality: Just 33 of 314 had left the low-income socioeconomic status of their parents for the middle class by age 28.

Today, the “kids” — as Alexander still calls them — are 37 or 38. Alexander, now 68, retired from Johns Hopkins this summer just as the final, encompassing book from the 25-year study was published. . .

Continue reading.

And by all means, read the whole thing: it’s not just about these kids, it’s about the cultural landscape of the city: who lives on the good cultural clusters, who on the marginal, and the devastating effects of a bad cultural cluster.

But of course it can be interrupted in a generation were there the will. But those who occupied privileged niches will be loath to change.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 August 2014 at 2:05 pm

Two headlines asking (in effect), “Why not legalize marijuana now?”

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Why wait and let the toll rack up? Two headlines from NORML:

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director
    Marijuana use by newly married couples is predictive of less frequent incidences of intimate partner violence perpetration, according to longitudinal data published online ahead of print in the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors. Researchers reported: “[M]ore frequent marijuana use generally predicted less frequent IPV perpetration, for both men and women, over the first 9 years of marriage.”

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director
    The enactment of medicinal marijuana laws is associated with significantly lower state-level opioid overdose mortality rates, according to data published online today by the Journal of the American Medical Association. Researchers reported, “States with medical cannabis laws had a 24.8% lower mean annual opioid overdose mortality rate compared with states without medical cannabis laws. … Although the exact mechanism is unclear, our results suggest a link between medical cannabis laws and lower opioid analgesic overdose mortality.”

Written by LeisureGuy

29 August 2014 at 1:27 pm

Posted in Drug laws, Health, Science

A meme to be stopped

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Stop that meme! Seriously. This quirk costs us all. And it can easily be interrupted because performance appraisals can be vetted and people retrained—“yes, this was the old way we did things here, but now we do things this way.” It will catch on because it can be monitored and reinforced. But that cultural shift is within the boundaries of the organization—it doesn’t transfer readily to other organizations. It’s not contagious, it seems.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 August 2014 at 1:23 pm

Is this how it happened when animals first moved onto land?

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Written by LeisureGuy

27 August 2014 at 1:45 pm

Posted in Evolution, Science

Fascinating finding: Couples who smoke marijuana are less likely to engage in domestic violence

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Christopher Ingraham writes in the Washington Post:

A new study by researchers at the University of Buffalo finds a significantly lower incidence of domestic violence among married couples who smoke pot. “Couples in which both spouses used marijuana frequently reported the least frequent IPV [intimate partner violence] perpetration,” the study concludes.

These findings were robust even after controlling for things like demographic variables, behavioral problems, and alcohol use. The authors studied data from 634 couples over nine years of marriage, starting in 1996. Couples were administered regular questionnaires on a variety of issues, including recent drug and alcohol use and instances of physical aggression toward their spouses.

Previous research on the relationship between marijuana use and domestic violence has largely been based on cross-sectional data (that is, data from one point in time), and those findings have been mixed: some studies found links between marijuana use and/or abuse and domestic violence, while others did not. The Buffalo study is one of the few to use data collected over the course of decades to examine the question, putting it on solid methodological ground compared to previous work. . .

Continue reading.

You can see why the DEA works so hard to block all studies of marijuana: because studies keep turning up reasons it should not be illegal, and the DEA, for whatever reason, really wants to keep it illegal. This study quite nicely avoids avenues the DEA can block, and so we have yet another positive finding.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 August 2014 at 2:10 pm

Posted in Drug laws, Science

The Honor Culture Creates the Violence Culture

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Interesting article. And the Old South’s cultural weaknesses, from colonial times to the present day, includes inflated notions of “honor” (honor, in that cultural view, being perfectly compatible with owning slaves: the rise of the double standards of the Southern outlook). This folly has long been noted: Mark Twain clearly identified Southern culture and its weaknesses and put the blame on the novels of Sir Walter Scott for creating a kind of romantic fantasy, one that the Old South attempted to emulate. (See below fro quotation from Life on the Mississippi.)

From the article at the link above:

In Albion’s Seed, historian David Hackett Fischer argues that honor culture arose among the herding societies that populated the border region between England and Scotland. The region’s frequent wars led to political instability and the lack of a strong criminal justice system, and the result was strong norms in favor of private vengeance and self-protection. Furthermore, as Nisbett and Cohen emphasize in their work, poor farming conditions led these regions to be dominated by herders, and the mobile nature of a herder’s property—a flock rather than a field—often required more forceful protection and a reputation for retaliation. Ultimately, colonists from these “borderlands” settled in what would become the Southern states, and they brought their cultural norms with them. [The article includes other theories about the origins of the cultural value of "honor." - LG]

It occurs to me that the Old South has (duh) two distinct cultures regarding honor, because quite obviously the honor culture of the Southern whites was not an option for their slaves: a slave quick to take offense at any perceived slight or insult would not last long, I imagine. So two distinct cultures (at least) emerge: that of the slaves and that of the slave-owners.

When I was a very young boy my grandmother read and told me lots of Uncle Remus stories, and I suddenly realized that these stories are all about avoiding direct conflict, which Brer Rabbit (or a slave) would be sure to lose. Instead, Brer Rabbit, clever and alert, outwits Brer Bear (brute power and a slow intellect, possibly how plantation owners were viewed by their slaves) and Brer Fox (smarter and more dangerous, but also to be outwitted rather than outfought). And it should be noted that on one occasion Brer Rabbit did indeed show the kind of sensitivity to slights that is an earmark of honor culture, he got into serious trouble. That’s the story of the Tar Baby, which refused to respond to Brer Rabbit’s friendly greetings and so at first enraged and then trapped him. Having fallen in the clutches of his enemies by showing aspects of honor culture, Brer Rabbit is able to escape only by falling back on his wits, using practical psychology: “Brer Fox, do anything with me you like, but please don’t fling me into that briar patch. Please don’t do that.” etc.

Stories like this define and teach the cultural values of the storytellers. Such stories are children’s stories, because cultural values must be taught to children at an early age. (And I just realized that “Brer” is not pronounced to rhyme with “there,” as I’ve always read it, but is pronounced “BRUH-er,” eliding the “th” in “Brother.” That’s why it’s sometimes spelled with an apostrophe to mark the elision: “Br’er.”)

AND, it just occurs to me, Uncle Remus is a former slave telling these stories to a young white boy, son of the plantation owner, thus teaching the boy values subversive of the honor culture. A battle of memes, for sure. And the battle goes both directions: certainly there are black populations that now have embraced the honor culture. UPDATE: I just found this interesting post on this view of Uncle Remus, which notes:

Uncle Remus, a former slave, tells stories involving Brer Rabbit and the other critters to a little white boy after the Civil War. The Brer Rabbit stories are, for the most part, versions of African-American folk tales that Harris collected. Harris created the characters Uncle Remus and the little boy to serve as a narrative frame.

Also still UPDATE: I just discovered that Amazon has several Uncle Remus collections by Joel Chandler Harris free for the Kindle.

But I imagine there are libraries full of volumes about black culture and how it developed. So I’m very late to this party. But it’s clear that the culture Fischer describes is a white culture. (And, BTW, I cannot recommend highly enough his book Historians’ Fallacies: Toward a Logic of Historical Thought. Anyone who reads history should read that.)

Update: Of course, the very best study of honor culture is Don Quixote. Don Quixote himself personifies the devotion to honor, the sensitivity to slights, the readiness to fight physically to defend abstract notions, that bedevil honor culture.

UPDATE: Mark Twain writes in Life on the Mississippi: Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

26 August 2014 at 10:47 am

The window of opportunity to fix climate change is closing quickly

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Justin Gillis has a sobering report in the NY Times, a report that I fear will do nothing to stir Congress and governments to take action. He writes:

Runaway growth in the emission of greenhouse gases is swamping all political efforts to deal with the problem, raising the risk of “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts” over the coming decades, according to a draft of a major new United Nations report.

Global warming is already cutting grain production by several percentage points, the report found, and that could grow much worse if emissions continue unchecked. Higher seas, devastating heat waves, torrential rain and other climate extremes are also being felt around the world as a result of human emissions, the draft report said, and those problems are likely to intensify unless the gases are brought under control.

The world may already be nearing a temperature at which the loss of the vast ice sheet covering Greenland would become inevitable, the report said. The actual melting would then take centuries, but it would be unstoppable and could result in a sea level rise of 23 feet, with additional increases from other sources like melting Antarctic ice, potentially flooding the world’s major cities.

“Human influence has been detected in warming of the atmosphere and the ocean, in changes in the global water cycle, in reduction in snow and ice, and in global mean-sea-level rise; and it is extremely likely to have been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century,” the draft report said. “The risk of abrupt and irreversible change increases as the magnitude of the warming increases.”

The report was drafted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a body of scientists and other experts appointed by the United Nations that periodically reviews and summarizes climate research. It is not final and could change substantially before release.

Continue reading. Given the crop failures we’re likely to see as global warming intensifies (drought, extreme rainfall, and so on), I would expect food wars to erupt within a few years. Indeed, the Arab Spring uprising seems to have been prompted in part because of food shortages that caused increased prices.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 August 2014 at 10:39 am


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