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April 15, 2012

Study: Where there are Walmarts, there are hate groups

Study Says The More Walmarts In The Area, The More Hate Groups There Are - The Consumerist
This one's sure to boil some blood over at Walmart headquarters: A new study says there's a significant correlation between the amount of Walmart stores in an area and the number of hate groups existing in that same area. As the big-box stores proliferate, so do the groups. LiveScience.com cites the study by professors at Penn State University, New Mexico State University and Michigan State University, which says that the amount of Wal-Mart stores in a county was more statistically significant than other factors usually associated with hate group participation. For example, the unemployment rate, high crime rates and low education. "Wal-Mart has clearly done good things in these communities, especially in terms of lowering prices," said Stephan Goetz, a Penn State University professor who also serves as the director of the Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development. "But there may be indirect costs that are not as obvious as other effects." An important puzzle piece in this research is that many local merchants, who are often members of community and civic groups, can be forced out of business while trying to compete with Walmart. Losing members of those groups might cause a drop in community togetherness. When those leaders leave, the presence of ginormous, anonymous juggernauts of big-box retailers could play a role in fraying social bonds. People often act different when they feel like someone is paying attention — like when you decide not to shoplift at the local candy store because the owner is best friends with your mother.

April 11, 2012

On the history of masturbation

CultureLab: Telling the truth about masturbation
Unsurprisingly, the history of our medical understanding of masturbation makes for amusing - though at times disturbing - reading. Van Driel traces much misunderstanding back to the 18th-century physician Samuel-Auguste Tissot. A world-renowned doctor, Tissot produced one of few texts of the time about masturbation, despite knowing little about the topic. Sadly it was his fame, and not the document's content, that made it an influential work. Tissot assumed that sperm was a form of concentrated blood, so release without the prospect of impregnation was not just wasteful but dangerous. His list of ailments afflicting those who masturbate - including, as you may expect, eye disease and blindness - fills pages. Fortunately, we now know Tissot's thinking was incorrect, and some evidence even points to masturbation reducing incidence of prostate cancer and restless leg syndrome in men, though that doesn’t do much to change the effect of his work on society. Historical remedies brought about by these aged theories range from the hilarious to the gruesome. Van Driel points out that one British medical journal went so far as to suggest placing a bird cage over the genitals to remove temptation to masturbate, for instance, while his accounts of deliberate scarring, mutilation of even removal of the genitals - in both sexes - demand a strong stomach. It's tempting to point to religious institutions for inspiring Tissot’s treatise and the ensuing madness, but Van Driel suggests otherwise. Counterintuitively, he concludes that it was the scholars of the Enlightenment - the first "men of science" - who pushed the concept of masturbation as self-abuse and self-pollution, rather than clerics.

April 10, 2012

We broke the climate

Heatwave: Start of 2012, March shatter US heat records - NYPOST.com
WASHINGTON — It has been so warm in the United States this year, especially in March, that national records were not just broken, they were deep-fried. Temperatures in the lower 48 states were 8.6 degrees above normal for March and 6 degrees higher than average for the first three months of the year, according to calculations by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. That far exceeds the old records. The magnitude of how unusual the year has been in the U.S. has alarmed some meteorologists who have warned about global warming. One climate scientist said it is the weather equivalent of a baseball player on steroids, with old records obliterated. "Everybody has this uneasy feeling. This is weird. This is not good," said Jerry Meehl, a climate scientist who specializes in extreme weather at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. "It's a guilty pleasure. You're out enjoying this nice March weather, but you know it's not a good thing." It's not just March. "It's been ongoing for several months," said Jake Crouch, a climate scientist at NOAA's National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, North Carolina. Meteorologists say an unusual confluence of several weather patterns, including La Nina, was the direct cause of the warm start to 2012. While individual events cannot be blamed on global warming, Couch said this is like the extremes that are supposed to get more frequent because of manmade climate change from the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and oil.