Auto-Admiration?

Aug 30 2014 @ 10:02am
by Dish Staff

Jesse Bering reviews research suggesting that not only can people accurately match dogs’ faces to their owners, but also that “our faces also bear an uncanny resemblance to the frontend views of our automobiles.” Participants in a study were given a picture of a car and asked to rank its possible owners on a scale of 1 to 6:

[T]he authors suspected that the judges in their study would be able to match cars dish_carfaces3 with their correct owners above chance levels. And that’s what they found. “The real owner was in fact assigned rank 1 most frequently,” they write, “and rank 6 least frequently.” This proved true regardless of the subjects’ sex and age. There were an equal number of male and female judges, and they ranged widely in age—from 16 to 78 years. In case the sheer bizarreness of these data hasn’t quite registered, let me put it to you more bluntly: The average person can detect a physical similarity in the “faces” of cars and their owners. …

Implied in these results is the startling fact that most car owners are unwittingly purchasing cars that look like them. If that’s the case, figured [researchers Stefan] Stiegar and [Martin] Voracek, then is it possible that judges can even take it one step further, matching dogs to their masters’ cars? After all, we know now that it’s not a myth: dogs really do look like their owners. And since we choose both cars and dogs that physically resemble us, shouldn’t our dogs and our cars look alike too? Here, frankly, the data just get weird. Nevertheless, they’re genuine. In their third and final study, the authors added 36 portraits of dogs into the mix. Half of these were of purebreds, and the others were mutts. In a twist to the previous studies, a new group of judges saw an image of a car (again, either the front, side, or rear view) and beneath that, six individual dogs. Subjects ranked each dog on the likelihood of its master being the owner of the car shown. Amazingly, the participants were able to pull this feat off as well.

Meanwhile, Laura Bliss considers the oddly human attachments people form to their vehicles:

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by Dish Staff

dish_dfwlego2

An 11-year-old DFW superfan recreated Infinite Jest with Legos:

[English professor Kevin] Griffith and his son [Sebastian] had the idea to “translate” Infinite Jest into Lego after reading Brendan Powell Smith’s The Brick Bible, which takes on the New Testament. “Wallace’s novel is probably the only contemporary text to offer a similar challenge to artists working in the medium of Lego,” they write, grandly, on their website. …

Sebastian didn’t read Infinite Jest himself. “Let me be clear – Infinite Jest is not a novel for children,” says Griffith. “Instead, I would describe a scene to him and he would recreate it in a way that suited his vision. All the scenes are created by him and he then took photos of them using a 10-year-old Kodak digital camera he received for a present long ago. I think that having the scenes reflect an 11-year-old’s perspective gives them a little extra poignancy, maybe.”

The caption for the above image is from page 409 of Infinite Jest: “Clipperton plays tennis with the Glock 17 held steadily to his left temple.” Meanwhile, Matthew Nolan looks for lessons from DFW about why American men aren’t playing the sport better:

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Map Of The Day

Aug 30 2014 @ 8:37am
by Dish Staff

School Demographics

Reed Jordan spotlights our schools’ racial segregation:

Despite our country’s growing diversity, our public schools provide little contact between white students and students of color. We’ve mapped data about the racial composition of U.S. public schools to shed light on today’s patterns at the county level. These maps show that America’s public schools are highly segregated by race and income, with the declining share of white students typically concentrated in schools with other white students and the growing share of Latino students concentrated into low-income public schools with other students of color.

In every state but New Mexico and Hawaii, the average white student attends a school that is majority white. This is unsurprising for large swaths of the Northwest, Great Plains, Upper Midwest and Northeast, which are home to very few kids of color. But even in diverse states like Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania and New York, few white children attend diverse schools.

On Learning New Things

Aug 30 2014 @ 7:35am
by Bill McKibben

It turns out that Ta-Nehisi Coates spent the summer just down the hill, at Middlebury College where Sue and I both hang our hats. In the summer Middlebury’s famous language school–which makes students sign a pledge that they’ll only speak the language they’re studying all summer–takes over the campus, and this year Mr. Coates was studying French. And studying the act of learning something new, which is an easier process to see (if not to do) past a certain age. His stay resulted in a brilliant essay in the new Atlantic, which has a lot of smart things to say about race in America, the inequality of influence in our culture, and the smugness with which white people caricature African-American attitudes towards education. I, um, learned a lot reading it, and look forward to re-reading it more than once. (It’s also a subtle and persuasive follow-up to his groundbreaking piece on reparations earlier in the year).

Politics aside, it also describes the learning process with wit, rigor, and a kind of joy that makes one want to (as soon as the Labor Day weekend has passed) go out and work hard to learn some new thing!

One afternoon, I was walking from lunch feeling battered by the language. I started talking with a young master in training. I told her I was having a tough time. She gave me some encouraging words in French from a famous author. I told her I didn’t understand. She repeated them. I still didn’t understand. She repeated them again. I shook my head, smiled, and walked away mildly frustrated because I understood every word she was saying but could not understand how it fit. It was as though someone had said, “He her walks swim plus that yesterday the fight.” (This is how French often sounds to me.)

The next day, I sat at lunch with her and another young woman. I asked her to spell the quote out for me. I wrote the phrase down. I did not understand. The other young lady explained the function of the pronouns in the sentence. Suddenly I understood—and not just the meaning of the phrase. I understood something about the function of language, why being able to diagram sentences was important, why understanding partitives and collective nouns was important.

In my long voyage through this sea of language, that was my first sighting of land. I now knew how much I didn’t know. The feeling of discovery and understanding that came from this was incredible. It was the first moment when I thought I might survive the sea.

Death To Monarchs, Ctd

Aug 29 2014 @ 8:33pm
by Sue Halpern

Monarch

Finally a little good news to offset the bad news in my earlier post about the precipitous decline of the eastern monarch butterfly population. The first is that this year’s population appears to be more robust than last year’s, which plummeted to an all-time low. Monarch watchers at Ontario’s Point Pelee Park, a traditional migratory jumping off point for the butterflies on their way to Mexico, have seen many more monarch butterflies and monarch caterpillars, as has Professor Chip Taylor of the University of Kansas who runs the monarch conservation organization Monarch Watch. Taylor estimates that the numbers could be up by thirty or forty percent, though he points out that even so, the increase won’t offset last year’s precipitous decline.

Awareness of the monarch’s plight has reached the highest echelons of government, which is the other bit of good news. In a letter circulated today, the naturalists Gary Nabhan and Ina Warren who have spearheaded Make Way For Monarchs, an international effort to protect the monarch from, especially, the deleterious effects of habitat destruction, note that “The White House has appointed Fish and Wildlife Director Ashe to head up the ‘high-level working group’ to work with Mexico and Canada on recovery plans, and 14 federal agencies have formed work groups and “communities of practice” to reorient their work plans toward monarch recovery.”

The Executive may not have a plan to deal with ISIS. It may be backing off on immigration reform and pretending it never heard of the Keystone XL pipeline, but at least it understands the value of monarchs.

(Photo by Joel Olives.)

Abortion By Mail

Aug 29 2014 @ 8:02pm
by Dish Staff

Emily Bazelon profiles doctor and reproductive-rights activist Rebecca Gomperts, who “started Women on Web, a ‘telemedicine support service’ for women around the world who are seeking medical abortions.” Why Gomperts’ work matters:

Almost 40 percent of the world’s population lives in countries, primarily in Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Persian Gulf, where abortion is either banned or severely restricted. The World Health Organization estimated in 2008 that 21.6 million unsafe abortions took place that year worldwide, leading to about 47,000 deaths. To reduce that number, W.H.O. put mifepristone and misoprostol on its Essential Medicines list. The cost of the combination dose used to end a pregnancy varies from less than $5 in India to about $120 in Europe. (Misoprostol is also used during labor and delivery to prevent postpartum hemorrhage, and global health groups have focused on making it more available in countries with high rates of maternal mortality, including Kenya, Tanzania, India, Nepal, Cambodia, and South Africa.) Gomperts told me that Women on Web receives 2,000 queries each month from women asking for help with medical abortions. (The drugs are widely advertised on the Internet, but it is difficult to tell which sites are scams.)

The Slums Of The Future, Ctd

Aug 29 2014 @ 7:41pm
by Dish Staff

We know that the world’s slums are growing, but are the world’s major urban centers growing into slums? Joel Kotkin details the massive social, economic, and environmental challenges facing most emerging megacities:

Emerging megacities like Kinshasa or Lima do not command important global niches. Their problems are often ignored or minimized by those who inhabit what commentator Rajiv Desai has described as “the VIP zone of cities,” where there is “reliable electric power, adequate water supply, and any sanitation at all.” Outside the zone, Desai notes, even much of the middle class have to “endure inhuman conditions” of congested, cratered roads, unreliable energy, and undrinkable water.

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The Relentless Warmongers

Aug 29 2014 @ 7:13pm
by Dish Staff

Matt Steinglass sighs at the aimless hawkishness of American foreign policy elites when it comes to the Middle East:

William Kristol, as ever, manages to distill the rot down to its ludicrous essence: “What’s the harm of bombing them at least for a few weeks and seeing what happens? I don’t think there’s much in the way of unanticipated side effects that are going to be bad there. We could kill a lot of very bad guys!” No doubt the Americans could. Drop enough bombs and you are guaranteed to kill some very bad guys, and probably some good guys, as well as a lot of guys who, like most, fit somewhere in between. But simply bombing areas when the emerging powers prove bloodthirsty, and hoping that a better sort of power replaces them, isn’t very promising.

Conor Friedersdorf outlines the many questions interventionists aren’t bothering to ask, let alone answer:

After the decade-long, $6-trillion debacle in Iraq, you’d think Congress and pundits would be pressing the Obama administration for figures:

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White Lady Makeovers

Aug 29 2014 @ 6:44pm
by Dish Staff

Linda Holmes saves her readers the trouble of watching a new reality show that involves black women making over white ones:

The black women on Girlfriend Intervention, like the gay men who did the work on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, are supposedly being saluted for their (stereotypically) superior style and knowledge and backbone, but are cast as helpers and facilitators for the benefit of, respectively, white women and straight men, valued for what they can offer and required to display sass at all times in sufficient amounts. (Among other things, it’s unfortunate that other than Thomas being the loudest, they don’t much distinguish the four stylists from each other, either.)

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Injury To Insult

Aug 29 2014 @ 6:23pm
by Chas Danner

As the tallest staffer (6’4″) here at the Dish, feels like I should be the one to steer us into the airline legroom debate that’s flared up this week. For the uninitiated, on Monday a Newark-to-Denver flight was diverted after a scuffle broke out between two passengers when one used a $21.95 device called a Knee Defender to prevent the other’s seat from reclining. In short, a laptop’s airspace was temporarily defended, a little plastic cup of water was thrown, and an airplane full of helpless bystanders was annoyed when the flight had to land to eject the combatants. Then another recline-related fracas happened yesterday with a similar result. Anyway, because the Internet exists and we lucky few get paid to put things on it, a civility war has broken out between pro and anti-recline advocates. In one corner were tall people like Bill Saporito:

I don’t travel with a Knee Defender, but I do travel with knees. Just being an airline passengers makes everyone cranky to begin with. Being 6 ft. 2 in. and long of leg, I’m in a near rage by the time I wedge myself into a coach seat. And now you want to jam your chair back into my knees for four hours? Go fly a kite. It’s an airline seat, not a lounge chair. You want comfort, buy a business class seat. What’s surprising is that there haven’t been more fights over Knee Defender. Or perhaps these incidents haven’t been reported. I’ve gotten into it a few times with people in front of me who insist that the space over my knees is theirs, as if they have some kind of air rights. And I’m sure I will again.

In the other corner, the air-libertarians going on about the “social contract”:

Buying a Knee Defender is cheating. It is like insider trading, but worse, because not everyone expects to get rich. Everyone does expect to recline.

Christopher Ingraham notes that most Americans probably agree with that. Here’s Barro examining an economic angle:

When you buy an airline ticket, one of the things you’re buying is the right to use your seat’s reclining function. If this passenger so badly wanted the passenger in front of him not to recline, he should have paid her to give up that right. I wrote an article to that effect in 2011, noting that airline seats are an excellent case study for the Coase Theorem. This is an economic theory holding that it doesn’t matter very much who is initially given a property right; so long as you clearly define it and transaction costs are low, people will trade the right so that it ends up in the hands of whoever values it most. That is, I own the right to recline, and if my reclining bothers you, you can pay me to stop. We could (but don’t) have an alternative system in which the passenger sitting behind me owns the reclining rights. In that circumstance, if I really care about being allowed to recline, I could pay him to let me.

Rejecting that argument, Damon Darlin stands up for knee defense:

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