Archive for September 15th, 2004

OK, Maybe Not All Smoking is Bad


The chemical in cannabis that produces a high may help to combat the
spread of cancer, research suggests.

Scientists have discovered the active ingredient, delta-9-tetrahydrocannibol
can block the spread of gamma herpes viruses.

The viruses are linked to an increased risk of the cancers Kaposis sarcoma, Burkitts
lymphoma and Hodgkins disease.

The research, by the University of South Florida, is published in the online
journal BMC Medicine.

from the BBC

Smoking Is Bad, Reading Is Good


We were
watching an insipid situation comedy the other day while correcting essays,
and we saw an actress in a "typical American family" yawn and say to
her daughter, "I’m bored, lets go to the movies."

We couldn’t remember the last time that situation had come up in the
Dowbrigade household. But what struck us was that despite the fact that
people in the situation comedies were always doing something,
eating or talking or playing games or choosing clothes or moving in or
out, they were never, ever, reading.

Was this, we wondered, because the TV industry still feels itself locked
in a struggle-to-the-death with the written word for the eyeballs of
America? How else to explain the almost complete absence of one of life’s
most elemental activities.

In the Dowbrigade’s world, everybody reads. We carry reading material
with us wherever we roam, ready to cop a quick chapter, or article, or
essay between periods, or on the train, or waiting in line at the post
office. On the Boston subway, everybody is reading, usually a novel,
and a quick ride on the Red Line serves as a quick read on what’s being
read on campus.

Is the rest of America really as lexaphobic as TV-land would have us
believe? According to a recent
study by the National Endowment for the Arts
, 47% of American adults still read literature (novels, short stories,
plays) and fully 57% read books of any kind. Not exactly numbers to be
crowing about, but enough that they ought to be represented in the public
figures and role models we see everyday on TV.

We have also been following the rash of recent articles on product
an increasingly popular form of marketing that isn’t
quite advertising, like the Coca-Cola cups casually strewn around the
on-set table in front of the judges in  American Idol, or
Donald Trump knocking on the doors of the Mattel Corp.  Come to
think of it, Donald Trump is product placement in and of himself.

What kids especially see on television can profoundly affect their behavior
later in life. Why, thanks to Andy of Mayberry, our preferred methodology
for going fishing is to tie a piece of string around an old branch we
find on the way to the fishing hole. No matter that we haven’t caught
a thing in 40 years of trying.

The TV industry has shown that it isn’t above using its influence to
affect behavior.  Look at smoking.  When we were kids, half
the characters on TV smoked, including the cartoons. Between the programs
, Joe Camel fought it out with the Marlboro Man for the hearts and lungs
of America’s youth. Now smoking on air is verboten, and the
entire habit is being excised from the American character and consciousness.

If TV can agree that smoking is bad, can’t they come to a consensus
that reading is good? Show people carrying around books, reading at odd
moments, discussing stories and ideas they had read? It’s not as though
they would need to make it up.  People do read.

Of course, they had financial motivation to put the kabash on smoking.
Medical costs from smoking were threatening to bankrupt the healthcare
and insurance industries. In this rare case, the interests of a major
US industry parallel the interests of the majority of the population.

The hospitals and insurance companies wish that everyone would live
to a ripe old age and then die quietly in their sleep, and we second
the motion.  This would avoid costly long-term care as hearts and
lungs give out in bodies that otherwise have a lot of miles left on them.
Their model citizen never sees a doctor, never takes a sick day in his
entire life, and dies suddenly and painlessly. Hear, hear.

But we would argue that reading is as essential to American success
and security as smoking is a threat, and that encouraging a cult of reading
will make Americans better workers, more informed consumers, and more
capable participants in the democratic process. Of course, that is assuming
that this is in the interests of the powers that control TV.

Smoking is bad, reading is good.  Lets see more of it on TV.

The Rich Get Richer


If, as the old saw says, the proof is in the pudding, then the World’s
Greatest University over in the People’s Republic of Cambridge continues
to attract some mighty smart guys, and has the perspicacity to place
them in charge of its growing fortune.

Actually, as the Dowbrigade’s Mom so recently reminded him, that is
not what the old saw says; the true aphorism is "The proof of the pudding
is in the eating" but we try not to think about eating before noon.

Be that as it may, the
Boston Globe today
reports that Harvard’s largest-in-the-world
endowment rose an astounding 21% last year. In these trying financial
times, with the Stock Markets locked in a stubbornly narrow trading band
and the leading economic indicators decidedly mixed, 21% is positively
obscene and in other contexts would give rise to accusations of insider
trading (Harvard? Ridiculous! What insiders do they know?). The total Harvard endowment is now over
$22 Billion dollars.

Put another way, if Harvard were a country and their endowment were
its GDP, it would be 97th out of 237 independent nations on a list
of GDP
provided by the CIA Factbook, right between Jordan and Tanzania.  And
with a growth rate twice that of China! The best part is that they pay no taxes as a “non-profit” educational institution, yet exist as a state within a state, like the Vatican City in Rome, the High Priests of the Church of American Academia.

The Harvard University endowment yesterday reported a 21.1 percent gain
on its investments for fiscal 2004, marking its best year since 2000.
But the nation’s largest university fund also issued a sober forecast
that returns over the next decade will be dramatically lower than in
the past 10 years.

article from The Boston Globe

Spam Spreads to Comments Section


We have
been hearing dire warnings for some time now, particularly from our friends
in the Thursday
Night Blogger’s Group
, about the looming disaster which
is Comment Spam.

Oh no, we thought, not content with rendering email all but unusable
(side note: despite having multiple layers of protection, firewalls,
spam filters, University-wide spam killers, etc., we are still getting
more spam than real mail. To make matters worse, several crucial messages
have been mistakenly filed as Junk, requiring at least once a day a complete
review of the Junk mailbox to see if anything important has been misfiled!)
Spammers are taking aim at our Blog’s unenDOWed comments section!

Then we thought, hey that might not be so bad. We admit to feeling slighted
by the sparcity of comments on Dowbrigade News; maybe Comments Spam would
at least make it LOOK like our readers cared enough to tell us how they
felt about our posts. We imagined a comments section full of pithy comments
on Penis Enlargers and Two-Day PhD Programs, invisible unless someone
actually tried to READ the comments…..

Well, here is the first
bonafide example
of the phenomena we have seen,
and its not pretty.  This comment was posted to the Berkman
main blog site. Has anyone else been seeing these?

Vermillion’s Just Another Name for Red


we tell people that we are among the 8% of men who suffer from color-blindness,
most of them imagine we live in a “Leave it to Beaver” world of stark
black and white.

Nothing could be further from the truth! We see millions of colors,
they’re just not the same as the colors everyone else sees, and since
most of them don’t have names, we have trouble telling them apart..

A recent article in the American
Journal of Human Genetics
why the Dowbrigade always checks with Norma Yvonne always checks with
Norma Yvonne before leaving the house in the morning, to make sure we
aren’t committing a color-coded fashion faux pas…

It turns out there’s a perfectly good reason why men can’t see what
is so obvious to women: the many variations–some subtle, some bold–of
the color red.

Reuters reports that researchers from Arizona State University in Tempe have
determined there is a gene that allows us to see the color red, and that gene
comes in a high number of variations. Because the gene sits on the X chromosome–and
women have two X chromosomes and so two copies of this gene, compared with only
one for men–the gene aids women’s ability to perceive the red-orange color spectrum.

the American Journal of Human Genetics

Best of Breed


We came across this disturbing photo at Worth1000. Things like this
and my sister-in-law Cecilia serve as constrant reminders that genetics
is a celestial crap shoot…..

from Worth 1000

Selling Wikipedia, Portal to Portal


More and more when we search the Web for facts or info
as part of our job or while blogging, we find that Google is directing
us to one of the most interesting and successful WIKI sites in existence;
Wikipedia, a free online encyclopedia started in January 2001.

A Wiki is a special kind of web site which is available to be editied
by any visitor or reader who feels they have something to contrinbute
to the article or topic in question. Anyone visiting a Wiki page can
click on a link that says "edit text of this page" and change
the words or links by entering text in a box that opens up and clicking "save.".Despite
predictions of chaos, the system works remarkably well, with regular
readers quickly correcting
informaiton which is inaccurate or biased.

An article by Leslie Walker in the Washington
compares the Wikipedia
to the Encyclopedia Britanica. We got the link thanks to Jessica
the Cyber-Librarian

The goals of the project are not  exactly modest. "It is our goal to
encyclopedia in the hands of every single person on the planet for free," according
to its creater, Jimmy Wales.


Washington Post article