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?

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“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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March 26, 2013 · 6:16 pm

Educational Websites

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March 26, 2013 · 3:52 pm

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

adria, richards, why, are, women, threatened, with, rape, for, what, they, write, online,

 

“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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March 25, 2013 · 7:29 pm

Know Your Plastics

Know Your Plastics

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March 25, 2013 · 7:20 pm

When Is Rape Okay?

When Is Rape Okay?

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March 22, 2013 · 9:04 pm

A Surprisingly Uncontroversial Program That Gives Money To Poor People

by MARIANNE MCCUNE

March 15, 2013 5:00 AM
government check
 

William Thomas Cain/Getty Images

 

“Last year, a federal program called the Earned Income Tax Credit took about $60 billion from wealthier Americans and gave it to the working poor. And here’s the surprising thing: This redistribution of wealth has been embraced by every president from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama.

“This program worked,” says Richard Burkhauser, an economist at Cornell University and the American Enterprise Institute. “And there’s not a hell of a lot of these programs where you can see the tremendous change in the behavior of people in exactly the way that all of us hoped it would happen.”

When he says it worked, he means it helped single mothers on welfare find work and get out of poverty.

In the 1930s, in the early days of welfare, many of the women who received it were widows. Americans didn’t think single mothers should have to work, so the government paid them to stay home. But by the ’90s, the idea of paying people not to work seemed backwards to many Americans. If moms want to get paid, many thought, they should get a job.

The Earned Income Tax Credit started as a small program in the 1970s and was expanded under President Reagan. But it was President Clinton who turned the program into what it is today — one that effectively gives low-wage working parents a big bonus. For some workers making around $15,000 a year, that bonus can now reach nearly $6,000. As the name suggests, the money is paid out like a tax refund, when workers file their income taxes.

Mirian Ochoa was on food stamps, in debt from a divorce and caring for a son in special ed. On her long commute to work, she remembers going past McDonald’s every day and smelling the french fries but telling herself, “You have to say no, because I have to pay my rent.”

The first year she got the credit, Ochoa received $3,000. Over the years, she says, the credit allowed her to pay off debts, get an associate’s degree in accounting, get off of food stamps, and move to a better school district for her son. “I found an apartment there, and I changed my son’s life,” she says.

This gets to one feature of the credit that economists love — something that goes back to Milton Friedman, one of the most influential conservative economists of the 20th century. He argued that, rather than creating lots of targeted programs for poor people, the government should simply give them money and let them decide how to spend it — even if, like Mirian Ochoa, they sometimes spend $1,000 to take their son to Disney World and Universal Studios.

Her son’s favorite part was the Incredible Hulk roller coaster. “He’s small, little fat boy, and running and saying, ‘Mother, come with me, do the ride,’ ” she says. I say ‘No, it’s too much, I cannot do it. But go! Go!’ “

To Ochoa, this was money well-spent. Her ex-husband had promised the trip to her son but never came through. And she says taking him was a key moment in his life. Now he’s in college, studying graphic design in Orlando, Fla.

The Earned Income Tax Credit is not perfect. It doesn’t help people who can’t get work. Some people game the system. Others are eligible but never collect. But while most programs to help the poor are constantly under the magnifying glass, this one has expanded every decade since the 1970s. Encouraging poor people to work and giving them a boost for keeping at it remains relatively uncontroversial. For now.”

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March 22, 2013 · 8:16 pm

Swedish Mannequins Spark Internet Praise-A-Thon

By  – Thu, Mar 14, 2013 3:21 PM EDT

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“A clothing store in Sweden is being hailed by women around the world after a photo of two surprisingly curvy mannequins were photographed and posted online.

Dressed in skimpy lingerie, the mannequins displayed softer stomachs, fuller thighs and generally more realistic proportions than the traditional department store models. For comparison, most mannequins in the U.S. are between a svelte size 4 or 6—a departure from the average American woman who is a size 14. 

On Tuesday, a blogger at Women’s Rights News posted a photo of the department store mannequins to Facebook and the response was overwhelming. “It’s about time reality hit…” wrote one out of almost 2,500 commentators. “Anybody saying these mannequins encourage obesity or look unhealthy, you have a seriously warped perception of what is healthy. I guarantee the “bigger” mannequin in the front there represents a perfect BMI” wrote another. As of Thursday, the photo had garnered almost 50,000 likes and shared almost 15,000 times. That’s a lot of attention for a hunk of fiber glass and plastic. 

There were rumors that the mannequins were on display at H&M in Sweden but a spokesperson told Shine: “The image is not from an H&M store. At this time, we are not using this type of mannequin, but we do not rule of the possibility of doing so in the future.” 

Mannequins have been around for thousands of years but their function in fashion is fairly recent, first appearing in store windows in the 1800s during the Industrial Revolution when window panes were installed in stores to display the latest fashion trends. Throughout WW1 and the Depression, mannequins changed their outfits and body proportions to reflect society at that time. Cut to the 1960s, when British mannequin firm Rootstein began modeling their dolls after pop culture and fashion icons to reflect runway trends at the time. 

Modern-day mannequins have long been critiqued for having tiny proportions. In 2007, British health officials demanded that stores on London’s fashionable High Street stop using stick-thin models in an effort to reflect the wide range of sizes and shapes of British women. In 2010, Club Monaco came under fire for featuring mannequins with protruding spines and clavicles. And in 2011,GAP was chastised by bloggers for mannequins with bone-thin legs modeling the “Always skinny” jeans display. “I’m wondering what the internal project name for this was at Gap HQ,” wrote one blogger. “Death-camp chic’? ‘Ana Pride’? ‘Famine fashion forward?”

And male mannequins haven’t escaped scrutiny either. In 2010, Rootstein debuted male dolls under their “Young and Restless” collection modeled after teenage boys with 35-inch chests and 27-inch waists. The company had to defend its decision to use smaller models to eating disorders groups. 

As much as the public contests these down-sized mannequins, when designers have attempted to create dolls that reflect real-life proportions they’re met with criticism, even disgust. In late 2012, when a Reddit user posted a photo of an “obese mannequin” in satire, commentary ranged from “Ew, fat people”, “It’s embarrassing how obese America is” and the amusing, “He’s not fat, just big foamed.” 

A recent published in the Journal of Consumer Research shows that women’s self esteem takes a nosedive when exposed to models of any size, so maybe there is no easy answer. But as long as mannequins are influencing people to buy fashion, reflecting real-life bodies is a step in the right direction.”

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March 22, 2013 · 8:11 pm