Potent Absinthe Mix Stirs Up Controversy

Friday, May 30th, 2003

According to Potent Absinthe Mix Stirs Up Controversy, absinthe will be available in Britain soon — mixed with beer:

Absinthe, the fiery tipple with purported hallucinogenic properties, has stirred up fresh controversy in Britain where it will go on sale in nightclubs and bars next month packaged to be mixed with beer.

“Deco” comes with a small bottle of Kronenbourg lager with a shot of absinthe attached. The idea is to down the 45 percent-strong absinthe and drink the five-percent strength lager as a chaser.
Popularly held responsible for painter Vincent Van Gogh’s mutilation of his own ear, absinthe has been banned in many countries but was never outlawed in Britain.
“The actual alcohol content in a Deco is 2.5 units,” said David Jones, a company spokesman. “This is actually slightly less than the 2.8 units in a pint of Kronenbourg or lager of similar strength.”

Historically, absinthe was not a low-alcohol, beer-based drink:

Taken with ice water and a lump of sugar, the bitter drink became popular in 19th century Europe. It was distilled with a blend of herbs and was nicknamed “the green fairy” because of its emerald hue.

Vintage Wilde:

“After the first glass you see things as you wish they were,” absinthe lover Wilde wrote. “After the second, you see things as they are not.”

“Finally you see things as they really are, and that is the most horrible thing in the world,” Wilde concluded.

The New Gender Gap

Wednesday, May 28th, 2003

The New Gender Gap, in Business Week cites some interesting facts:

It may still be a man’s world. But it is no longer, in any way, a boy’s. From his first days in school, an average boy is already developmentally two years behind the girls in reading and writing. Yet he’s often expected to learn the same things in the same way in the same amount of time. While every nerve in his body tells him to run, he has to sit still and listen for almost eight hours a day. Biologically, he needs about four recesses a day, but he’s lucky if he gets one, since some lawsuit-leery schools have banned them altogether. Hug a girl, and he could be labeled a “toucher” and swiftly suspended — a result of what some say is an increasingly anti-boy culture that pathologizes their behavior.

If he falls behind, he’s apt to be shipped off to special ed, where he’ll find that more than 70% of his classmates are also boys. Squirm, clown, or interrupt, and he is four times as likely to be diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. That often leads to being forced to take Ritalin or risk being expelled, sent to special ed, or having parents accused of negligence. One study of public schools in Fairfax County, Va., found that more than 20% of upper-middle-class white boys were taking Ritalin-like drugs by fifth grade.

Once a boy makes it to freshman year of high school, he’s at greater risk of falling even further behind in grades, extracurricular activities, and advanced placement. Not even science and math remain his bastions. And while the girls are busy working on sweeping the honor roll at graduation, a boy is more likely to be bulking up in the weight room to enhance his steroid-fed Adonis complex, playing Grand Theft Auto: Vice City on his PlayStation2, or downloading rapper 50 Cent on his iPod. All the while, he’s 30% more likely to drop out, 85% more likely to commit murder, and four to six times more likely to kill himself, with boy suicides tripling since 1970.

In college, women continue to dominate:

As for college — well, let’s just say this: At least it’s easier for the guys who get there to find a date. For 350 years, men outnumbered women on college campuses. Now, in every state, every income bracket, every racial and ethnic group, and most industrialized Western nations, women reign, earning an average 57% of all BAs and 58% of all master’s degrees in the U.S. alone. There are 133 girls getting BAs for every 100 guys — a number that’s projected to grow to 142 women per 100 men by 2010, according to the U.S. Education Dept. If current trends continue, demographers say, there will be 156 women per 100 men earning degrees by 2020.

The beauty business

Wednesday, May 28th, 2003

The Beauty Business, in The Economist, is chock-full of fun factoids and anecdotes:

Medieval noblewomen swallowed arsenic and dabbed on bats’ blood to improve their complexions; 18th-century Americans prized the warm urine of young boys to erase their freckles; Victorian ladies removed their ribs to give themselves a wasp waist. The desire to be beautiful is as old as civilisation, as is the pain that it can cause. In his autobiography, Charles Darwin noted a “universal passion for adornment”, often involving “wonderfully great” suffering.

The pain has not stopped the passion from creating a $160 billion-a-year global industry, encompassing make-up, skin and hair care, fragrances, cosmetic surgery, health clubs and diet pills. Americans spend more each year on beauty than they do on education.

How did the modern beauty industry get started?

In 1909, Eugène Schueller founded the French Harmless Hair Colouring Co, which later became L’Oréal — today’s industry leader. Two years later, Paul Beiersdorf, a Hamburg pharmacist, developed the first cream to bind oil and water. Today, it sells in 150 countries as Nivea, the biggest personal-care brand in the world. Around the same time, in Tokyo’s upmarket Ginza, Arinobu Fukuhara hit on eudermine lotion — the first Japanese cosmetic based on a scientific formula, and the first product for the Shiseido company.

But it was the great rivalry between two women in America that made the industry what it is today. Elizabeth Arden opened the first modern beauty salon in 1910, followed a few years later by Helena Rubinstein, a Polish immigrant. The two took cosmetics out of household pots and pans and into the modern era. Both thought beauty and health were interlinked. They combined facials with diets and exercise classes in a holistic approach that the industry is now returning to.

Rubinstein considered facelifts (via leather straps and electricity) to be as acceptable as lipstick, while Arden pioneered beauty branding, with her iconic gold and pink packaging. The two women, together with Max Factor (which originally produced make-up for actresses), built the foundations of modern marketing, bewitching consumers with aggressive tactics such as celebrity endorsements and magazine advertorials. In the 1930s they were joined by Revlon, and after the second world war by Estée Lauder. All these companies are still around.

Recently, cosmetic surgery has grown to rival the traditional, less intrusive, beauty industry:

Two potentially lucrative markets are being all but ignored by the traditional beauty companies. The first is cosmetic surgery, already a $20 billion business, which has been growing and innovating by leaps and bounds. The number of cosmetic procedures have increased in America by over 220% since 1997. Old favourites, such as liposuction, breast implants and nose jobs, are being overtaken by botox injections to freeze the facial muscles that cause wrinkles. With the number of these up by more than 2,400% since 1997, botox injections have become the most common procedure of all.

The newest lines are bottom implants, fat inserts to plump up ageing hands, and fillers like Restylane and Perlane for facial wrinkles. Cosmetic dentistry is also a booming business. Jeff Golub, Manhattan dentist to stars like Kim Catrall of “Sex and the City”, dubs himself a “smile designer”. “We are able to create all sorts of illusions,” he says. “The smile has become a fashion statement.” Tooth whitening is the botox of the cosmetic dentistry business.

What used to be the preserve of actresses and celebrities has become safer and more affordable. Alan Matarasso, one of America’s leading plastic surgeons, says: “Ten years ago you could reconstruct a woman’s breasts for $12,000 — now it can be done for $600.” Drooping prices have helped cosmetic surgery to move into the mainstream. More than 70% of those who come under the knife now earn less than $50,000 a year.

Imperial History

Wednesday, May 28th, 2003

Dominic Lieven’s Imperial History addresses the popular notion of America-as-empire:

If there is an empire in today’s world, it can only be the US. But whether it is useful to think of the US as an empire is a moot point. Since “empire” nowadays is usually just a term of abuse, the debate can easily turn into a useless trading of insults. It is, however, useful to ask what the history of empire can tell one about the nature and vulnerabilities of US power. Moreover, since the question of American empire is, in fact, being asked on many of the world’s streets and in most of its foreign ministries, there is something to be gained from an historian of past empires tackling this issue. Two points must first be emphasised.

Firstly, empire in the past often prevailed partly because it provided many public goods. It preserved order and peace over vast stretches of the globe. It often facilitated the spread of trade and ideas over long distances. It was usually more pluralist than the modern nation state in its tolerance for multiethnicity and multiculturalism. It was also often associated with the greatest civilisations in history, which could not have flowered without its assistance.

The second point is that empire came in many very different forms. The word “empire” itself has had many meanings even in English, let alone in translation. Some historical empires were much closer to alliance systems than to “states,” in the contemporary understanding of the word. The relationship between an Achaemenid emperor and his regional satraps was nearer to that of George W Bush and the king of Saudi Arabia than that of a US president and the governor of Idaho.

Whether or not it is worthwhile to call the US an empire, it certainly is interesting to ask which particular empires and imperial traditions America resembles. In one sense, the US is closest to the British and the Dutch empires of modern capitalism which created the global capitalist economy. In other respects it is much closer to some of the great land empires of antiquity.

Problems end, solutions go on

Wednesday, May 28th, 2003

I enjoyed Steven Den Beste’s Problems End, Solutions Go On a few weeks ago, but I never found the time to properly log it. His thesis:

One of the drawbacks of many solutions to problems is that the solution takes on a life of its own, and may continue in effect long after the problem has disappeared. In the most pernicious cases, the solution ultimately becomes a problem in its own right.

He discusses the March of Dimes (which faced “the peculiar dilemma of having actually won”), rent control in New York City (which “was imposed in NYC in WWII as an emergency measure”), and…affirmative action:

It may be that the problem of discrimination is still with us. It may be that affirmative action still is needed. But eventually it won’t be.

If the problem is never solved through affirmative action, then it means that affirmative action was the wrong solution, and we should probably have tried something else. But if affirmative action actually was and is an effective solution, then it means the problem of discrimination will eventually reach the point of insignificance.

Once that happens, how do we know? And how do we get rid of affirmative action? The people who benefit from it will still argue for it to be kept in place, and they’ll fight politically for it. We still have rent control in NYC, more than 50 years after the true need ended.

Woman Gets Phone Calls for God

Tuesday, May 27th, 2003

There’s a reason all movie phone numbers start with 555. From Woman Gets Phone Calls for God:

Dawn Jenkins isn’t in the new Jim Carrey comedy “Bruce Almighty,” but her phone number is — and that’s become a problem.

In the film, Carrey stars as a mortal who receives the powers of God. The character of God tries to reach Carrey’s character by repeatedly leaving a phone number on his pager.

But instead of the usual 555 prefix used by most television shows and films, God’s number is a common exchange — one too common for Jenkins’ liking. It’s her cell phone number.

She’s been getting about 20 calls per hour, with callers asking for God before hanging up.

Perhaps Jenny should call and leave her number.

New Zealand Island Says It Is Rat-Free

Tuesday, May 27th, 2003

Even Europe’s rats exploit native populations. From New Zealand Island Says It Is Rat-Free:

An island located halfway between Antarctica and New Zealand was declared rat-free Monday, some 200 years after rats arrived there by sealing and whaling boats.

Campbell Island had the largest population density of rats anywhere in the world, eradication project manager Andy Roberts said. They had reduced the island’s shearwater seabird population to a handful “which will take hundreds of years to recover,” he said in a statement.

Other unique birds like the flightless Campbell Island teal and the tiny Campbell Island snipe had only survived eradication because they were removed from the island by environmentalists.

“After 200 years of rat occupation, Campbell is now a safe haven for the millions of seabirds that breed there,” New Zealand Environment Minister Chris Carter said in a statement.

How did environmentalists handle this situation in an eco-friendly manner?

Tons of rat poison pellets were dumped on the uninhabited 27,900-acre island, 440 miles south of New Zealand, by helicopter two years ago to kill the Norway rat.

US Seizes What May Be $500 Million in Gold in Iraq

Friday, May 23rd, 2003

According to US Seizes What May Be $500 Million in Gold in Iraq, American soldiers found the bars while conducting “a routine traffic control search” of a Mercedes truck near the border:

American troops have seized what appears to be $500 million worth of gold bars from a truck in Iraq, the U.S. military said on Friday.

The 2,000 40-pound bars were seized on Thursday at Qaim on the Syrian border in western Iraq by soldiers of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, the U.S. military’s Central Command said in a statement.

I’m not surprised that a truck might carry a half-million dollars in gold, except that a half-million dollars in gold evidently weighs forty tons.

Deer Walks Through Airport Security

Thursday, May 22nd, 2003

Since I was just at the airport in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, this story from Omaha, Nebraska jumped out at me. Deer Walks Through Airport Security:

A deer walked through the revolving doors and made its way to the baggage claim area of Eppley Airfield around 7 a.m. CDT Wednesday.

Kay Bammel, who has worked at an airport car rental counter for about 35 years, said the animal appeared scared and was making an awful noise.

“Some guy with his family just went over and tackled her around the neck and got her down,” Bammel said. “Then they went and got some duct tape because she was kicking so bad.”

Airport police then carried the deer out of the terminal and took her to the nearby Missouri River.
There always are concerns about deer getting on the runway, but police said they never thought they’d find one in the terminal.

I love the matter-of-fact description of what happened: Some guy with his family just went over and tackled her around the neck and got her down. Then they went and got some duct tape because she was kicking so bad. LAX would have been closed down until the SWAT team arrived.

Atkins Diet May Be No Better Than Just Cutting Fat

Thursday, May 22nd, 2003

I find this headline interesting: Atkins Diet May Be No Better Than Just Cutting Fat. Just cutting fat? It’s not as if the Atkins diet involves cutting fat and something more.

Anyway, according to the article, Atkins dieters lose weight faster initially, but everything evens out between low-carb dieters and conventional dieters. Interestingly, triglyceride levels fell further and “good” cholesterol levels rose higher on the Atkins regimen than on the low-fat diet.

In one six-month study, obese volunteers on the low-carbohydrate, high-fat and high-protein Atkins diet lost 13 pounds versus four pounds for obese people on a low-fat diet.

In a second year-long study, obese people on the Atkins diet lost nearly 10 pounds more after six months than volunteers on a conventional diet. But by the end of the year, the differences between the two groups were not significant, suggesting the Atkins diet is no better at helping fat people shed pounds than traditional weight-loss regimens.
The Atkins diet, first published in 1972, has been criticized by doctors because its high fat content increases the risk of heart disease, kidney problems and cancer. The 12-month study found, however, that triglyceride levels fell further and “good” cholesterol levels rose higher on the Atkins regimen than on the low-fat diet.

Strong Mothers Bear More Sons

Wednesday, May 21st, 2003

Fascinating. Strong Mothers Bear More Sons:

In an Ethiopian community facing hard physical work and regular food shortages, British researchers have found that strong mothers appear more likely to bear sons than daughters.

The discovery suggests that during tough times, mothers’ bodies somehow manipulate the sex of their children to maximize the chance of successful reproduction, anthropologists Dr. Ruth Mace and Mhairi Gibson write in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London.

This is because bringing a boy to term is more physiologically demanding on the mother, as boys grow faster in the womb and tend to be bigger, Mace said. And in biological terms, undernourished males might have more trouble finding a partner.
The link between muscle mass and male children was particularly marked, they say. Among women whose arm muscle was less than 33 centimeters, three boys were born for every five girls. In those with the biggest muscles — over 38.9 centimeters — eight boys were born for every five girls.

Although this phenomenon has been seen in wild animals, this is the first time it has been reported in humans, Mace said.

For metric-impaired Americans, 33 cm is 13 inches, and 38.9 cm is over 15 inches — which is huge for a woman.

David Frum’s Diary on National Review Online

Tuesday, May 20th, 2003

Virginia Postrel’s site (Dynamist Blog) pointed me to David Frum’s Diary on National Review Online, where he translates Bush’s recent communiqué on Korea:

U.S. forces in Korea are today concentrated near the border between North and South Korea — the famous DMZ, demilitarized zone. There they are easy targets for North Korea’s masses of old-fashioned artillery. Because they are so vulnerable, US forces are in effect hostages. If for example the US were to hit North Korea’s nuclear plants, the lives of thousands of American soldiers would be put at risk.

I first heard this idea voiced by Pat Buchanan. His variation was that our troops are nothing more than a speedbump to an invading North Korean army. Their real purpose is to incite the American people to action by dying violently in a surprise attack — and that’s no way to use our brave men (and women) in uniform.

Frum offers another interesting perspective:

Which is why soft-liners like President Roh Moo-Hyun — who used to oppose the U.S. presence in South Korea — now wish to keep US troops shoved right up against the DMZ. They may say they want the troops to deter North Korea — but they know full well that the vulnerability of those troops in fact deters the United States from confronting North Korea.

For the decade since North Korea’s blackmail campaign began in 1993, those 40,000 US troops on the peninsula have stayed put, under the North’s guns. Now suddenly we learn that American forces will be redeploying in the south — out of reach of the North’s guns, but close enough to be used as a striking force if need be. South of the Han River, those forces cease to be hostages, and become again dangerous and deadly fighters. Bush’s drab communiqué is the first giant step toward regaining the ability to fight effectively in Northeast Asia. After ten years of chatter, we’re getting a decisive action, and in vivid, blunt Bush trademark style. Well done.

Cox & Forkum Editorial Cartoons

Tuesday, May 20th, 2003

I enjoyed this cartoon from Cox & Forkum yesterday:

Boos and Cheers for Cannes Hero Michael Haneke

Tuesday, May 20th, 2003

I’m not familiar with Haneke’s The Piano Teacher, but Boos and Cheers for Cannes Hero Michael Haneke describes his latest film, Time of the Wolf, and it explores a hypothetical situation that fascinates me:

Talking to reporters afterwards, he said he wanted to see how thick the veneer of civilization was and to measure just how quickly moral standards crumble in adversity.

“I avoided describing the catastrophe,” he said. “How would you and I cope if the water did not come out of the tap? It is as simple as that.”

Scientists Develop First ‘Knock-Out’ Rat

Tuesday, May 20th, 2003

While scientists have been using “knockout” mice for years, Scientists Develop First ‘Knock-Out’ Rat reports that they’ve finally created “knockout” rats lacking BRCA-1 and BRCA-2, two genes thought to suppress the growth of breast cancer:

To produce knock-out mice, researchers simply need to collect embryonic stem cells, remove the gene of choice and then allow the stem cells to develop into a mouse, Gould explained.

This technique doesn’t work with rats, he explained.

To create knock-out rats, Gould and his colleagues injected male rats with a chemical that causes mutations in the stem cells of the testes, Gould said. Sperm that are formed after the injections will be missing a variety of genes, he added.

When the injected rats are bred with normal rats, their offspring end up with multiple genes knocked out, Gould said. “Each one of these offspring will have about 20 to 30 out of about 30,000 genes knocked out.”

Gould and his colleagues next devised a test to figure out which genes are knocked out in the offspring.

“So if you screen a thousand rats, maybe one will be the mutation you’re looking for,” Gould said. “Then this rat can be used for biomedical research.”

So they’re generating thousands of mutant rats, then screening out the small fraction with the right mutations? Hey, what could go wrong?