Monday, July 30, 2007

A Round-Up of Recent News and Articles of Interest


Asia Times has published a provocative essay by Spengler, “In Defense of Genocide, Redux.” As with Spengler’s earlier essay, “In Defense of Genocide,” this is not actually a defense of genocide, but an essay about the shocking extent to which genocide and potential genocide is denied, ignored, or rationalized away as essentially inconsequential by much of the media, and many policy makers, politicians, and political candidates (see, for example, Barack Obama’s recent comments that genocide would not be a good reason for U.S. troops to remain in Iraq – to me, that would be the one good reason for U.S. troops to remain there – if independent, credible evidence indicated that U.S. troops leaving would result in genocide and that U.S. troops remaining would prevent it).

Anti-Smoking Campaigns and Social Norms Marketing

A recent article on Medical News Today about a study of anti-smoking campaigns targeting youth, “The Secret of Successful Anti-Smoking Ads,” seems to me to give weight to “social norms marketing” strategies (or at least to something similar to them) used by some sociologists, psychologists and others involved with public health education and behavior change campaigns. Social norms marketing tends to emphasize what is “normal” behavior for a target population, the idea being that most people who identify with a particular group want to fit in with their peer group (i.e. social norms marketing is really a form of “enlightened peer pressure).

The following is from the article:

"Some anti-smoking ads are simply ineffective, while others actually make youth more likely to light up. Fortunately, some are successful, and a new University of Georgia study helps explain why.

"Hye-Jin Paek, assistant professor at the UGA Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, found that anti-smoking ads are most effective when they convince youth that their friends are listening to the ads. Otherwise, the ads appear to stimulate the rebellious and curious nature of youth, making them more interested in smoking. Paek and co-author Albert Gunther from the University of Wisconsin-Madison examined data from surveys of nearly 1,700 middle school students, and their results appear in the August issue of the journal Communication Research."

Race and Medical Care

“When it comes to medical care – skin color matters” reports on a study indicating that, at least in a carefully constructed simulated exercise, race can affect the quality of medical care received.

The following is from the article:

“Other studies too have found that whites receive better medical care than blacks and experts agree the information is not new.

“But this one differs in that it is the first to demonstrate the reason for the difference really is racial bias.

“Following their evaluation of the two simulated patients, the doctors were then given an 'implicit association test' designed to reveal a person's unconscious views of blacks and whites.

“Dr. Green says a high score on the bias against African-Americans portion of the test, showed doctors were less likely to provide clot-busting treatment for a heart attack for black patients.”

The Rise and Fall of Woolworth

“Why Woolworth Had to Die” provides a short synopsis of the rise and decline of the Woolworth’s retail chain over the 20th century, but more interestingly, the article provides a decent short overview of changes in communities and marketing over the course of the century in the U.S.

Drugs, Organized Crime, Development, and Journalism in Africa and Mexico

Two recent articles at present a troubling picture of recent developments in Sub-Saharan Africa. “Organized Crime Targets Weak States,” presents an overview of recent moves by organized crime, especially syndicates associated with drug smuggling – in particular the movement of cocaine from South America into Europe, to increasingly take up shop in weak states of Sub-Saharan Africa. The article also discusses some of the debilitating effects this can have on economic development, as if the people of Sub-Saharan African nations needed other economic obstacles.

“IFJ condemns threats against two journalists covering drug trafficking,” as its title indicates, covers recent threats made by traffickers against journalists who cover the drug trade with any depth. This presents a troubling parallel with the recent spate of drug-related violence in general, and specifically violence directed against journalists covering the drug trade, in Mexico. For example, see the article “Drug Wars Endanger Mexican Press.”

Chimpanzees and Bipedalism

There has been much in the realm of anthropology news and blogs recently about origins of bipedalism. An article, “Study Sheds Light on Bipedal Walking” at Medical News Today covering a recent study of energetics of upright walking among chimpanzees presents some interesting information.

The following three paragraphs are from the article:

"We were prepared to find that all of the chimps used more energy walking on two legs -- but that finding wouldn't have been as interesting," Sockol said. "What we found was much more telling. For three chimps, bipedalism was more expensive, but for the other two chimps, this wasn't the case. One expended about the same energy walking on two legs as on four. The other used less energy walking upright."

These two chimps had different gaits and anatomy than their knucklewalking peers. And when the researchers examined the early hominid fossil record, they found evidence of these traits -- skeletal characteristics of the hip and hind limb that allow for greater extension of the hind limb -- in some early bipeds.

Taken together, the findings provide support for the hypothesis that anatomical differences affecting gait existed among our earliest apelike ancestors, and that these differences provided the genetic variation natural selection could act on when changes in the environment gave bipeds an advantage over quadrupeds.

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