The Null Device
Confirming the central thrust of Robert Putnam's Bowling Alone, a study (pdf) released in the American sociological review today shows that Americans have fewer close friends and confidants than they did 20 years ago. In 1985, the average American had three people in whom to confide matters that were important to them. In 2004, it dropped to two, and one in four had no close confidants at all.Apparently this is due to a number of factors: car-centric post-war urban design and the disappearance of public space where people can meet contribute, though a major factor is the ever-increasing working hours in America, a nation that's increasingly time-poor; making and maintaining friendships, after all, takes time, of which there is less and less. Perhaps someone in America will invent a way of making friends more efficiently? (I suspect that this approach, whilst inventive, may not be entirely satisfactory.) Of course, where America goes, others often follow.
And the readers' comments contain some gems, like this one:
Along with the world hating Americans, we now get told Americans can't stand each other either. Sounds like more Guardian hatred of America to me. Ever been to our churches, Mr Younge? There you'll find how we Amercians not only have the friendship and love of others, but that the Lord loves our company as well. We leave the solitary cheese-eating to others.Oddly enough, this is posted by someone in "Birmingham/gbr", so it could be some Brit taking the piss.
Researchers in Japan have found an enzyme correlated with novelty-seeking tendencies.
it seems that genetic differences mean that people produce different variations of a mitochondrial enzyme called monoamine oxidase A. That's according to research from the Yamagata University School of Medicine in Japan, which was recently published in the scientific journal Psychiatric Genetics and mentioned in the New Scientist magazine.
The researchers found that one form of this enzyme was "significantly associated with higher scores of novelty seeking." In other words, people who produce that form of the enzyme are more likely to have novelty-seeking traits in their personality than others.This suggests that there may be a genetic cause for neophilic tendencies. Though some are skeptical about whether a neophilia gene could work:
Colin Campbell, a professor of sociology at the University of York in the UK, has studied the nature of consumerism, and he believes that the existence of novelty seeking is a relatively new phenomenon. So it can't by definition be genetic.
"Pre-modern societies tend to be suspicious of the novel. It is a feature of modernity that we are addicted to novelty," says Campbell. Campbell dates the emergence of novelty seeking to the beginnings of the industrial revolution in the mid 18th century. As he explains, "Modern fashion evolved then."I'm not sure about that. For one, a neophilia gene would cause a predisposition to novelty, which could be indulged or otherwise by the society, culture and economy the individual is in; unless it proved maladaptive (i.e., by making the carriers less likely to pass their genes on), it wouldn't be selected out. And while it may be true that individuals in pre-modern societies would find less to gratify their neophilic tendencies than the white-earphoned, designer-label-wearing channel-surfers and BlackBerry addicts of today, it could also be said that our hunter-gatherer ancestors, being unable to walk into a Krispy-Kreme outlet, had less to satisfy their taste for fatty and sugary foods than today, though it is widely accepted that such a taste evolved back then, when small, expensively-obtained amounts of such food were more likely to ward off malnutrition than cause obesity. It could well be that a "neophilia gene", if one exists, evolved in similar circumstances.
Vat-grown meat, cultured in vats of nutrients from a single stem cell, could be on the market by 2009:
A single cell could theoretically produce enough meat to feed the world's population for a year. But the challenge lies in figuring out how to grow it on a large scale. Jason Matheny, a University of Maryland doctoral student and a director of New Harvest, a nonprofit organization that funds research on in vitro meat, believes the easiest way to create edible tissue is to grow "meat sheets," which are layers of animal muscle and fat cells stretched out over large flat sheets made of either edible or removable material. The meat can then be ground up or stacked or rolled to get a thicker cut.
"To produce the meat we eat now, 75 (percent) to 95 percent of what we feed an animal is lost because of metabolism and inedible structures like skeleton or neurological tissue," says Matheny. "With cultured meat, there's no body to support; you're only building the meat that eventually gets eaten."Other than increased efficiency and the warm, fuzzy feeling of knowing that no beautiful creature must die for that flesh you so fancifully fry, there are other advantages, such as the possibility of tailoring the makeup of the meat to be healthier, or indeed to taste unlike any natural meat. Of course, making synthetic mincemeat is one thing, and making a steak is another:
Taste is another unknown variable. Real meat is more than just cells; it has blood vessels, connective tissue, fat, etc. To get a similar arrangement of cells, lab-grown meat will have to be exercised and stretched the way a real live animal's flesh would.And then there is the question of whether the public would accept cultured meat; and indeed whether it would be acceptable for a vegetarian to eat something grown from a cell. And if it is, I wonder how long until fetishists start growing meat from their own cells for purposes of autocannibalism.
The Guardian looks at the history of
soccer football in Australia, from ostracised pastime of immigrants to its new acceptance by the mainstream, itself a result of recent changes which wiped out the ethnic-sectarian undercurrent:
But the 'ambush' sprung by 'real' football tells a deeper story, of the great changes Australian society has experienced, post-war. With the southern and eastern European migration came soccer, a game derided as 'wogball' by the chauvinistic and racist society of the late 40s, 50s and 60s. It was played in dirt paddocks, not on groomed sports ovals. There are anecdotes of immigrant schoolboys being caned for daring to play the game, as well as for speaking in their parents' tongues to each other, in the playgrounds.
Australian sport was dominated by cricket, rugby union, and rugby league, as well as another code called Australian Rules football, a cross between a pub brawl and gaelic football. This ethnic 'obscurity' persisted, and the administration of inwards looking soccer clubs and teams became mired in ethnic rivalries.Which rings true; it wasn't that long, from what I recall, that various regional soccer clubs were strongly affiliated with ethnic communities, and from time to time, the clubhouses of clubs associated with ethnic feuds (think Serbs vs. Croats or Greeks vs. Turks) would be torched. This went on until the soccer league collapsed and was rebuilt, with ethnic identities and the word "soccer" banished.