Monthly Archives: March 2013

Maybe Isolation, Not Loneliness, Shortens Life

March 26, 2013 3:28 AM
People who are socially isolated may be at a greater risk of dying sooner, a British study suggests. But do Facebook friends count? How about texting?

People who are socially isolated may be at a greater risk of dying sooner, a British study suggests. But do Facebook friends count? How about texting?


“Loneliness hurts, but social isolation can kill you. That’s the conclusion of a study of more than 6,500 people in the U.K.

The study, by a team at University College London, comes after decades of research showing that both loneliness and infrequent contact with friends and family can, independently, shorten a person’s life. The scientists expected to find that the combination of these two risk factors would be especially dangerous.

“We were thinking that people who were socially isolated but also felt lonely might be at particularly high risk,” says Andrew Steptoe, a professor of psychology at University College London.

To find out, the team studied 6,500 men and women ages 52 and older. All of them had answered a questionnaire back in 2004 or 2005 that assessed both their sense of loneliness and how much contact they had with friends and family. The researchers looked to see what happened to those people over the next seven or eight years.

And Steptoe says he was surprised by the result. “Both social isolation and loneliness appeared initially to be associated with a greater risk of dying,” he says. “But it was really the isolation which was more important.”

At first, it looked like people who reported greater levels of loneliness were more likely to die, Steptoe says. But closer analysis showed that these people were also more likely to have other risk factors, like being poor and having existing health problems. Once those factors were taken into account, the extra risk associated with loneliness pretty much disappeared, Steptoe says.

But people who spent very little time with friends and family, or at social events, were more likely to die regardless of income or health status, the team reports in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

It’s not clear why social isolation is linked to mortality. But one possibility is that having other people around has practical benefits as you get older, Steptoe says. For example, they may push you to go see a doctor if you are having symptoms like chest pain, he says. And if you were to lose consciousness, they would call for help.

Other researchers say they are surprised and not necessarily convinced by the new study, even though they say it’s large and well-done.

“It doesn’t negate the loneliness work that’s been done to date,” says Bert Uchino, a University of Utah psychology professor. He says this study may have reached a different conclusion than earlier ones because people’s definition of loneliness is changing in the Internet age.

“People … may think that they’re connected to other people because they’re on Facebook,” Uchino says. So they may not report feeling lonely. But that sort of connection, he says, may not have the health benefits of direct contact with other people.

The different result might be because this study looked at people in the U.K., while many earlier studies looked at people in the U.S., says University of Chicago psychologist John Cacioppo. So in the U.K., where the culture values a “stiff upper lip,” people who live alone may be “less likely to admit to feeling lonely than are residents of the U.S.,” he says.

Whether or not loneliness raises the risk of dying, Cacioppo adds, it certainly reduces a person’s quality of life.

And it’s easy for people to do things that alleviate both isolation and loneliness, Uchino says. “Have lunch with somebody,” he says. “Take a walk. Give them a phone call. I think those are all important ways that we need to stay connected with our relationships. And I think, in the long term, it can help us.””


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by | March 26, 2013 · 6:16 pm

Everything You Need To Know About The Marriage Equality Cases At The Supreme Court

By Ian Millhiser on Mar 26, 2013 at 8:30 am

“Beginning this morning, the Supreme Court will hear two cases that could recognize the right of everyone, straight or gay, to marry the person they love. The first concerns California’s anti-gay Proposition 8, and could potentially extend the right to marry to same-sex couples in all fifty states. The second challenges the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), and could end the federal government’s practice of denying equal benefits to couples who are legally married under state law. Here is everything you need to know to understand these cases:

How The Court Could Rule

– A Broad Decision: The best, and most obvious, decision would be for the justices to follow the Constitution and the clear command of precedent and extend marriage equality to all fifty states. It is fairly likely, however, that at least one member of the majority will be too cautious to require Alabama to follow the Constitution, even if they are prepared to order California to do so. If the justices punt on the Alabama question, the important question is whether they hold that anti-gay laws are subject to “heightened scrutiny,” a skeptical kind of constitutional analysis that will make it very difficult for anti-gay discrimination to withstand court review in the future.

— A One-Off: The Ninth Circuit proposed a way to strike down Prop 8 whileleaving most other states free to engage in marriage discrimination (the court said that voters were not permitted to withdraw the right to marry once it had been established by the state Supreme Court). The logic of the ruling was thus confined to California. Similarly, two of the Court’s most important gay rights opinions relied on very narrow reasoning that advanced equality only incrementally. It is possible the justices will repeat this performance.

– Jurisdictional Dodges: In both cases, the Court could potentially rule that itlacks jurisdiction to hear the case, a decision that would cast a cloud of uncertainty over the rights of gay couples.

– A Stealth Attack: Several prominent conservatives are pushing a dangerous legal theory that would strike down DOMA on states’ rights grounds, and potentially endanger Social Security, veterans benefits and progressive taxation in the process.

– A Loss: Ultimately, however, it is important to remember that this is a severely conservative Court, and even so-called swing vote Justice Kennedy is a severely conservative justice. Equality could lose.

What To Expect From The Justices

– The Democratic Appointees: It would be very surprising if any of the Court’s four Democrats vote to uphold discrimination. While some commentators have noted Justice Ginsburg’s critical statements about Roe v. Wade — “It’s not that the judgment was wrong, but it moved too far, too fast” — this statement suggests Ginsburg might take an incremental approach, not that she will vote to uphold discrimination. Chance of pro-equality vote: more than 90 percent.

– Justice Kennedy: Kennedy is the author of two narrowly reasoned, but very important cases upholding gay rights. His record on gay rights is not perfect, however. Kennedy cast the key vote holding that the Boy Scouts have aconstitutional right to engage in anti-gay discrimination, and he’s behaved less and less like a moderate swing vote and more and more like a hardline conservative in recent years. His vote for equality is likely, but not certain, and is more likely than not to rest on very narrow reasoning. Chance of pro-equality vote: 60-70 percent.

– Justice Thomas: Thomas is the Court’s most conservative member, but he once called Texas’ “sodomy” ban an “uncommonly silly” law, and he cares a great deal shrinking federal power until it is small enough to be drowned in a bathtub. Indeed, Thomas believes federal child labor laws and the nationwide ban on whites-only lunch counters are unconstitutional on states’ rights grounds. For this reason, it is possible he will be attracted to the claim thatDOMA violates states’ rights. There’s no chance he’ll vote to strike Prop 8, however. Chance of pro-equality vote: 20 percent on DOMA, 0 percent on Prop 8.

– Chief Justice Roberts: Roberts has a lesbian cousin who will attend the marriage arguments as his personal guest, and he once did pro bono work on behalf of gay rights activists when he was an attorney in private practice. Nevertheless, Roberts remains very conservative and has a long record of criticizing decisions that read the Constitution’s promise of equality broadly. If Roberts does vote with a pro-equality majority, it is just as likely that he will do so in order to wrest control of the opinion and narrow it as he would to extend the blessings of liberty to gay Americans. Chance of pro-equality vote: 10 percent.

– Justice Alito: Alito is probably the toughest conservative questioner on the Court, and he has emerged as a strong advocate for whatever outcome conservatives prefer. Chance of pro-equality vote: less than one percent.

– Justice Scalia: In past opinions, Scalia compared homosexuality to murder, drug addiction, bestiality, incest and child pornography. Chance of pro-equality vote: 0 percent. Chance his opinion will accuse pro-equality justices of kowtowing to the “homosexual agenda”: 99.99 percent.

Surging Support For Marriage Equality

– Marriage Equality Has Strong Bipartisan Support: Retired Judge Vaughn Walker, the first judge to strike down Prop 8, is a Republican appointed to the bench by President George H.W. Bush. Three of the court of appeals judges that voted to declare DOMA unconstitutional are Republicans. 131 top Republicans, including six former Republican governors, filed a brief supporting marriage equality.

– The American People Support Marriage Equality: Fifty-eight percent of Americans believe same-sex couples should be allowed to marry. Among adults under 30, support is at 81 percent.

The Constitution guarantees “the equal protection of the laws” — and that includes same-sex couples. As the Supreme Court has explained, this guarantee is most robust when applied to groups that experienced a “‘history of purposeful unequal treatment‘ or been subjected to unique disabilities on the basis of stereotyped characteristics not truly indicative of their abilities.” LGBT Americans undoubtedly fit this description, and thus neither DOMA nor Prop 8 can stand.”

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by | March 26, 2013 · 4:03 pm

Gates Foundation Says It’s Time For A Snazzier Condom


March 25, 2013 3:26 PM
An estimated 15 billion condoms are manufactured each year and 750 million people use them.
An estimated 15 billion condoms are manufactured each year and 750 million people use them.

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“Last summer Bill Gates and his foundation held a competition to reinvent the toilet. Now he’s hoping to do the same for condoms.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is putting up $100,000 to the best proposal for a more fun and pleasurable condom.

The competition is part of its Grand Exploration Challenges, which has already doled out nearly $50 million for quirky but effective solutions to global health problems, like microwaves to treat malaria and an electronic nose to detect tuberculosis.

But why do condoms need revamping? Well, modern condoms have some great assets. They’re cheap, discreet and prevent sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV.

But the Gates Foundation, which supports NPR, says that a lot of men perceive them as interfering with the pleasure of sex, and that means they won’t use them consistently. (Thecondom “gap,” or shortages, is another problem in a lot of developing countries, according to the United Nations.)

So the foundation is calling for new shapes, materials and packaging that “significantly preserve or enhance pleasure, in order to improve uptake and regular use.”

Trojan and Durex have been trying to do this for decades with ribs, contours and lubricants.

But “we know empirically that those don’t work as claimed,” the Gates Foundation’s Stephen Ward recently told the Humanosphere blog. “The idea here is to seed innovative ideas.”

To get a sense of what kinds of ideas they’re keen on, have a look at the post he and a colleague recently wrote on The Impatient Optimists blog.

First, there are the ORIGAMI Condoms. Shaped like miniature accordions, these silicone rubbers fit loosely and aim to simulate the feeling of sex without a condom. They also boast a 2.8 seconds “application time,” the company’s website says, which presumably means they go on easily.

Others are searching for a solution for the ladies. Bioengineers at the University of Washington have developed a super fine cloth that slowly releases spermicides and anti-HIV drugs. The material, which self-assembles in an electric field, could coat a vaginal ring or get inserted inside a woman, the inventors recently wrote in the journal PLoS One.

Although the first female condom didn’t appear until 1993, male condoms date back to at least the 16th century, when the Italian physician Gabriele Falloppio advocated a linen cloth soaked in chemicals to prevent syphilis. Over the next few centuries, condom material evolved from animal intestines and bladder to rubber and then latex.

But since the 1920s, the technology has changed little, Ward tells Humanosphere, while material science, neurobiology and medicine have come a long way during this time.

That’s also why the $100,000 condom challenge is open to anyone who can come up with a game-changing condom design in two pages by May 7, 2013.”

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by | March 26, 2013 · 3:59 pm

Educational Websites

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by | March 26, 2013 · 3:52 pm

Ishtar = Easter

Ishtar = Easter

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by | March 26, 2013 · 3:50 pm

Adria Richards Why Are Women Threatened With Rape For What They Write Online

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“Last week, SendGrid developer evangelist Adria Richards attended PyCon 2013. Two men seated behind her made a crass sexual joke which violated the code of conduct for conference attendees. Bothered, Richards snapped their picture and tweeted it at the conference staff, asking that someone speak to the men about their conduct.


One of the men was subsequently fired over the incident  a consequence Richards says she never intended. After that, the Internet exploded. Anonymous attacked the SendGrid website, essentially shutting it down. Richards received many disgusting, racially charged insults via social media. She received rape and death threats. Someone tweeted her a disturbing image of the bloody decapitated corpse of a woman with the caption “When I’m done.” The image included her home address.

Much thoughtful analysis has already been written about the situation and whether Richards’ reaction was warranted. However, whether you agree with Richard’s actions or not, the amount of gendered hate directed at her is simply inexcusable. Unfortunately, it seems that women who write or speak out online are sometimes the recipient of these kinds of disgusting attacks. These attacks go beyond harmless internet “trolling,” and they need to end.

After Democratic strategist Zerlina Maxwell told Sean Hannity that she thought sexual violence against women could be stopped by teaching men not to rape, she received a flood of disgusting and racially charged comments telling her she deserved to be gang raped.


Maxwell, who is a rape survivor, refused to allow these threats to stop her from educating the world about rape prevention, saying, “I’m certainly taking steps to protect my emotional health, but I will not be quiet. Because I refuse to be bullied into silence.”

Two weeks ago, I penned this piece about gender inequality in the media. In the piece, I included a mention of media critic Anita Sarkeesian. After she started a video series critiquing gender identity in video games, Sarkeesian said she received a series of threats. Sarkeesian notes:

“I found myself the target of a massive online hate campaign. All my social media sites were flooded with threats of rape, violence, sexual assault, death — and you’ll notice that these threats and comments were all specifically targeting my gender … They attempted to knock my website offline, hack into my email and other accounts. They attempted to collect and distribute my personal information including my home address and phone number … There were images made, pornographic images made in my likeness being raped by video game characters and sent to me again and again. There was even a game made where players were invited to beat the bitch up in which upon clicking on the screen, an image of me would become increasingly battered and bruised.”

After my piece was published, I was surprised to find it received a lot of responses. While many people enjoyed the piece, or at least thought it raised questions worth asking, several seemed troubled by the study and my summary of it.

When I first started out as a blogger, I anticipated readers sometimes disagreeing with me. I mentally prepared myself for comments or tweets telling me my ideas were unfounded or that my writing was bad. These were all things I expected when publishing writing online.

My women in the media piece was a kind of milestone; it marked the first time I received a racially charged insult based on something I wrote, an outcome I was totally unprepared for.

Whether we agree or disagree with what these women have to say, these kinds of comments are never okay. No one should have to worry that they’ll receive racially charged insults, rape threats, or death threats because of what they write online. We should be able to disagree with each other respectfully without crossing the line. 

Today, Adria Richards is in hiding. Once an avid user of social media, she hasn’t tweeted or blogged since the incident began. For the time being, her voice has effectively been silenced.

Picture Credit: VentureBeat

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by | March 25, 2013 · 7:29 pm

Know Your Plastics

Know Your Plastics

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by | March 25, 2013 · 7:20 pm