Caveat: Venter

Think about all of the things that make your brain itch. These are mine.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Doubting The Experts

When I was a student at Bellevue Community College, I spent three years as an officer in the Student Health Awareness Committee (SHAC). We held four events each year, one being The Great American Smokeout. We SHAC members put together great programs each year, full of assistance and information. Sadly, a decade and a half later, I am questioning the approach that we, taking our lead from the American Cancer Society, took in those years.

Check all the facts and get ready to (p)rattle them off if you like, but is it good? Nicotine goes to the brain twice as quickly as mainlined heroin. Nicotine is twice as addictive as heroin. Cigarette smoke contains, by most counts I have seen, over 60 carcinogens. Smokers are twice as likely as non-smokers to be involved in automobile accidents. There is, of course, much more, but there is a problem with all of it.

Smokers are being bombarded with the message that there is no tougher addiction to break than the addiction to nicotine. Failing to quit, then, becomes almost OK. After all, it's one thing to quit using other drugs, but nicotine is the tough one, right? I spent a little over seven years as a smoker, quitting once for a three-week period. Last week, I quit again. I didn't quit with the idea that nicotine is the most addictive substance out there; rather, I quit in spite of that information.

The quitter, we used to explain, should avoid situations in which he or she was accustomed to smoking, should avoid stress, should go where smoking is prohibited. I went everywhere I smoked and at the times I smoked. I flew up to Seattle on a Saturday and returned on a Monday (connecting through SFO on the return). I dealt with finals in three classes that same afternoon I flew into LAX. I delivered finals again on Friday and Saturday mornings. I got snarky, but I reminded myself why and reined it in. In short, I tossed out the damned quit-smoking guidebook that had failed me numerous times and




I recommend it. Highly.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Anthropomorphized Pets

A new study conducted by Pertwee University, just outside of London, finds that house pets, once the most anthropomorphized set of living beings on Earth, are now running second. The last time P.U. studied this phenomenon was 1975. At that time, the top three looked like this (figures represent the percentage of 1,050 respondents who admitted to having engaged in at least two act related to the group in the preceding twelve months):

House pets: 67%
Zoo animals: 43%
Genitalia (own): 41%

The past thirty years, however, have seen a shift in these figures, and Dr. Jon McGann, the sociologist in charge of both studies, believes he has an explanation. "Fewer people keep pets in our increasingly urbanized society," he told a reporter from the Daily Mirror Guardian, "and owners are not spaying and neutering as frequently. The increase in wild births among pet breeds is only being kept in check by a corresponding increase in motor vehicles to run the strays over, and no one wants to see 'Fluffy' as anything but a random animal stuck in the roundabout."

The latest numbers show not only a change, but a startling shift:

On-camera talent: 87%
House pets: 34%
Sports figures: 33%

The increase in films such as Bend it Like Beckham and Miracle, many released by Disney, one of the original promoters of anthropomorphized animals in mass media, has contributed to the surge in the third-ranked group. Color commentators, of course, are still more often commenting on what "heart" or "intelligence" sports figures have, leading many unwary viewers to conclude that the comments refer to real people.

More disturbing is the idea that characters such as Tom Cruise, Giovanni Ribisi, Leah Remini, and Jenna Elfman are real people. Critics, in reviewing the film and television products containing these and others, refer to talent (or lack thereof, in some cases), interpretive skill, or other qualities rarely found among Scientologists, or indeed much of any being directly involved in the entertainment industry. McGann finds this disturbing: "Fewer and fewer people are able to distinguish fact from fiction anymore. Coming in a close fourth were Texans with the last name Bush." That's OK, Dr. Pertwee, few have ever claimed that anyone meeting those criteria qualifies as human, but with all the coverage a couple of them have had in the last couple decades, I can understand the confusion.

While I found this study disturbing (my wife and I do, in fact, refer to our cats as our "girls," even attributing human traits to their behavior), I will be interested in the results of the follow-up. McGann is preparing his assistant, Majorie Buckley, to take over care of the project, though he hopes that she will not need 30 years to find 1050 people willing to participate.