Gen X The First Generation to Have Worse Fountain Pens Than Their Parents.

Children born between 1976 and the mailbox are three times more likely to suffer from badly malfunctioning ink pens than the generation that came before them. Not only will GenX have a disproportionately high rate of stained handbags, they also have up to 18% more chance of experiencing at least one disappointing Club meal before retirement age.

Can we please stop comparing the economic prospects of Gens X and Y to the Baby Boomers’ fortunes? This is not a linear progression.

Baby boomers experienced one of the greatest increases in ‘life everythings’ the world has ever known. John and Sue were born at the thundering apex of the late industrial revolution. Their greatly enhanced wellbeing galloped in on ten thousand flaming jets of fossil fuel. Of course their lives were going to be better than their parents.

On masse, baby boomers have mostly avoided being blown to bits in war, filleted by heavy machinery or turned inside out by some hideous biological liquifaction. Certainly, when viewed alongside the long and dramatic list of their undoings presented in the media – from mesothelioma and heart disease to adult men in velcro sandals, it’s easy to lose sight of their clear run. However, the fact remains, baby boomers experienced an extraordinary growth in human comfort and material wellbeing.

The grumbling statistician deep within my soul would prefer a more fruitful question – how can we explain the revenge effects of the Boomer’s economic flourishing? Given the cornucopia of food, medicine and elasticated waistbands, shouldn’t the Boomers be a bit better off than they are, stumbling towards their 80s with fistfuls of Lipitor?

I would suggest that Gen X and Y might be economically poorer than their parents and grandparents, but will realise wealth in other ways. For starters, they will recognise the shortcomings of the Boomers’ exceptional wealth and prepare for them. Information is a resource.

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Wooly thinking part two

Does autism correlate with high IQ?

Or is this simply a form of reverse stigma?

I’ve mused about the apparent paradoxes in the diagnoses of autism before but I’ve yet to find anything that’s making me think that most people with autism are bloody geniuses.

There is a study which suggests that many of the genes implicated in autism are also those implicated in high IQ, but, as anyone who knows anything about genetics will tell you, it’s very difficult to identify ‘a gene for X’. Basically, this is the equivalent of searching for The Bachelorette gene.

I particularly enjoyed this article that told me that people with ASD are brainy because compared to the general population,

Nearly half of children (46 percent) who have been diagnosed with ASD have an above average intellectual ability, however, it differs from person-to-person.

That’s right, almost fifty percent of those with ASD fall above the average! Which I guess means that 54% fall below the average. Which tells me nothing except that as a population people with ASD are slightly dumber than those without ASD. It depends, I suppose, on how they define ‘average’ – for me, I take a pretty straight up mean/median approach, (the sample was 10 000) but maybe they decided that the top of the curve was actually a table top.

I see you, kurtosis, and I place a plate and some chips on top of you!

How good is science reporting? I mean, really. This shit is top drawer.

Depression and anxiety; The new racism

It’s been a hell of a few weeks. Clearly I am suffering from stress. It could lead to depression, or perhaps anxiety.

Or perhaps I’m just busy and under pressure. Perhaps I’ll just harden the fuck up for a bit and see if that helps.

First; a warning. This is just some out-loud thinking. Sorry if it doesn’t make any sense. I’m stressed etc.,.

Yesterday I heard Frank Furedi speaking about freedom of speech on Radio National. I’ve not heard of Furedi since I was an undergrad student, about 20 years ago. I liked his work then, but have shifted in other directions since.

Yesterday, I listened to him argue that Western universities are increasingly self-censorious. This is because, under a neo-liberal consumerist model, they’re competing for students. There are prizes for the least confronting course content.

Education has become commodified, of course, but it’s happened in weird ways. University is no longer an adult stage, it is a continuation of a cosseted larval form, where endlessly fretting parents shuffle continuously build a fuzzy little ‘happy bubble’ around their children.

Every year the numbers of university students applying for special consideration on the basis of ‘stress’ or ‘depression and anxiety’ increases, as students pathologise the normal pressures of life in the adult world into an ever-expanding rubric of ‘wellness’.

Furedi often writes about this cultural turn but for me it was refreshing to hear someone validate what I myself have said so many times. In fact, I usually go one step further. I think we are encouraged to focus our attention on ourselves so as to avoid looking at the structural inequities and problems that may affect our ‘wellbeing’. This is one of the key ways that neo-liberalism works – it is the cult of the individual; If you can’t make life work, it’s because you’ve got something wrong with you. You have an illness. I’ve moaned about how this insidious cult of wellness operates before.

Here’s the thing; All capitalist systems require a certain degree of labour market elasticity. This is what the NAIRU (Non Accelerating Inflation Rate of Unemployment) refers to. It is simply the rate of unemployment that can be sustained before inflation rises.

In the old days, the easiest way to secure churn at the bottom of the labour market was simply racism – you brought people in to your country and then stigmatised them so they would remain at the bottom. The decline in Empires (something that really only happened with the recession in the second half of the 1970s) has made flat-out racism more unpalatable and immigration much harder to manage. But the market still needs a bunch of people who will buy things but can’t work all the time.

Depression and anxiety is the new racism.

There’s another dimension to Furedi’s comments about education and feeble-mindedness, however. The commodification of a university education under a neo-liberal model has seen a dramatic increase in university enrolments. I’ve written about this in the Australian context before. My point is, universities are now accepting students who are completely unprepared for a university education.

One of the one hand, it’s predatory lending – inviting students to buy a mediocre education where they barely scrape through a general degree, with the help of multiple concessions to ‘stress’ or ‘depression’, is a bad thing.

But I’ve got mixed feelings about this. I myself left school before School C(ertificate*), and hit university in my early 20s. I was hopelessly outgunned. But, after a year I worked it out and did rather well thankyouverymuch.

So I’m cautious about suggesting that university entry requirements should be tightened as it may exclude those who might genuinely benefit.

I’ll leave that there. Apologies for lack of coherent thought.

 

 

*School Certificate and Bursary were the two main qualifications one could earn at school. Bursary (silly name, as it didn’t come with money) was roughly the same as HSC, undertaken at the end of Year 12. Only those planning to go to uni sat Bursary.

School C was the main qualification and you sat it at the end of Year 10. Can you imagine today’s year 10s sitting a series of exams at the end of the year? The stress! You’d be weeping into your chai latte.

 

Things we don’t talk about….

No, sadly it’s not sex. Everyone talks about sex like it’s running out.

I recently ran into a friend who has had gastric surgery to address her obesity. She was happy, very happy. Being obese saddled her with misery and social stigma, the likes of which I can only imagine.

Obesity is framed as ‘your fault’, but obesity – and by that I mean, proper obesity, not just overweight – is almost entirely the fault of something other than the triumph of the will. I’ve ranted about this before, but the idea that we are in the throes of an ‘obesity epidemic’ is often read to mean we’re a nation of irredeemable fatties.

Everyone loves a spot of moralising but we’re moralising in the wrong place.

The real causes of risk of obesity (note, I said risk, not direct cause) are pretty well known. The more fat you’ve got, the more leptin you’ve got. At a certain point you’re brain gets tired of listening to leptin and becomes resistant to its messages.

Yeah, you’re full. BORING. 

And, the more you eat, the bigger your belly gets. The bigger the top of your stomach is, the more ghrelin it produces. Ghrelin tells your brain you’re hungry.

And then there’s insulin.

Fat cells generate hormones. Getting fat is like an accelerator – the fatter you get, the fatter you become.

The answer is clear right? Don’t get fat in the first place. Step away from the chiko roll. Except what we should be saying is; step away from the baby bottle. Because formula fed babies turn into fatties before they even get a chance to puree a big mac and squirt it into a sippee cup. Their brains are set up to become fat before they can roll over. They ingest far more protein than breastfed babies. They’re hardly ever actually hungry, because formula ‘fills you up’. In other words, the amount of protein in formula makes them feel full for longer. This is why formula fed babies sleep through the night. This is why childhood obesity is such a predictor for adult obesity – regardless of what you eat, your body will tell you to eat more because you’re genuinely hungry.

It’s not all about formula. It’s food too.  Generations of babies grow up eating western food – high in protein, fat and sugar. Yeah you think they’re eating well, but actually almost all processed food has added sugar, or is processed in a way that human bodies will recognise as sugar.  Obviously, there are hard ways to address this problem – you can lose weight, a lot of it, and this will change your body chemistry, making it easier to stay thin. But it’s extremely hard. Not just ‘oh I don’t really feel like it hard’ – extremely hard nigh on impossible. 

Why don’t we ever hear about the clear link between formula feeding and obesity? Well who can breastfeed every twenty minutes when they’re at work?

Disclaimer – I was a formula fed and I turned out FINE!

The real reasons cannabis remains illegal?

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There’s been an increase in anxiety surrounding the legalisation of marijuana in New Zealand, lately, mostly due to the impending election. Medical cannabis will eventually be completely legalised, certainly, as it’s just another medicinal drug. However, the debate over medicinal cannabis is frequently conflated with legalising recreational pot-smoking/consumption.

To be clear, smoking pot is widespread and more or less tolerated in New Zealand, unless the police have some other reason to discriminate against you. Keeping marijuana illegal is just another way of giving police the discretion to arrest people they feel might be ‘trouble’.

Forget stigma, this is the main reason it remains both commonplace and illegal. Sure, there’s probably a voting block of boomers who believe that pot is meth’s aperitif, but mainly it remains illegal because it serves a convenient purpose.

The other thing I find interesting is the way this debate is playing out in the mainstream hard-left media. Apparently, the government adds fluoride to water supplies to keep the populace dumbed down and quietly apathetic. Yet the government won’t legalise marijuana?

I grew up completely surrounded by marijuana, and knew many, many MANY people who smoked it all day, every day. If you want a relaxed, apathetic populace, we should add cannabis to the water. Or the next best thing.

To be clear, this does not mean that all people who smoke pot will be apathetic loseroos, of course it doesn’t. Most people use it like they’d use any other kind of drug (like alcohol) – to have a nice time. It’s not a permanent arrangement. If there’s one thing we know, as a recreational drug for ‘sometimes use’ it’s generally well tolerated, safe and nice.

I’m not pro or anti pot – I don’t think it’s particularly dangerous, but it’s not without its risks. Changing your brain (getting high) has all kinds of effects, not matter how you do it. It all comes down to how we judge the effects.

For instance, some people think it’s fun to get a skinful and bash the shit out other people. This is their idea of a ‘good effect’. I think it’s a crap effect. Likewise, some people believe there’s merit to mooching about in your trackies all day – I’m one of them – while others think we should be contributing to the future of humankind by spending ten hours a day mining coal. Each to their own.

 

 

500 words; Risk, autism and wooly thinking

None of this makes much sense, it’s really just me mapping out questions rather than answers.

Recently a friend claimed that everyone at MIT (where she studied) was on the spectrum. The assumption that intelligence corresponds with autism is well known – here’s a primer on the idea that certain alleles crossover for both.

Basically, the argument runs that autism is like a concentrator – some bits of the brain get gooderer, while others get badderer. The article I’ve cited talks about this from an evolutionary perspective, including ‘assortative mating’ – like mates like.

Here’s my question – everything I’ve read about the ‘stratospheric rise’ in autism suggests that it has something to do with rapid changes in the environment (in an evolutionary sense), especially pre and immediately post-natally. In other words, the food we eat and behaviours we engage in, especially stressful ones, positively correlate with a diagnosis of autism.

I don’t know if I believe in a ‘rise’ in autism – seems like the diagnostic criteria is tremendously malleable, you can see this in the discrepancies across social categories too.

I guess I’m musing on an apparent paradox;

The rise in autism is supposedly caused by poor environment – high maternal sugar intake, high post natal stress/cortisol etc.,. and yet autism would seem to correspond with high ‘innate’ IQ – that is, ability to think about difficult topics logically (expressing this is a different story).

Does this lead to the conclusion that the rise in Lifestyles of the Poor and Ignominious have resulted in higher levels of IQ – albeit alongside autism?

Doesn’t stack up for me.

I’m wary of labelling everyone smart with being ‘on the spectrum’. As a child I was diagnosed as 100% NutBar – with many troubling behavioural and learning issues (I’m NOT labelling being on the spectrum with being a nutbar – I am claiming my own experience not speaking for anyone else’s here).

My life was very stressful but we lived in an affluent area where social problems are far more likely to be pathologised as medical ones.  Then at 13 I moved schools and started living in a hostel. Suddenly (almost) every problem I’d ever had with learning and behaviour magically evaporated. I’m not suggesting that I am completely ‘not nutbar’ – I am a bit odd, and that’s good. I’m not suggesting there’s anything wrong with being on the spectrum – as long as the consequences are good rather than negative (stigma etc.,.) but that’s another set of issues. But, I am suggesting we should be realistic about the range of human variability, and realistic about what that means. Diagnosing epidemics of this and that makes me uncomfortable.

I’m not suggesting autism doesn’t exist, or making claims about causality or anything else, I’m just very interested in what appears to be a paradox described above.

I guess another way of saying this would be – if we define IQ as the type of stuff people with autism are good at (the type of thinking defined in the article I cited above) then is there now more of it? And is this due to shitty western lifestyles?

 

 

Top drawer stupid

Here’s today’s quote of the day, from the typically hawkish Nature journal, regarding the European Court of Justice’s decision to sanction a case that argued a man’s MS was caused by the Hep B vaccine;

 “Scientists’ concerns are exaggerated and do not show full awareness of how courts and the legal system as a whole operate,” he adds. “If courts were to use scientific methods of proof in all cases in which they must determine disputed facts, they would hardly be able to make decisions and to deliver timely justice to people.”

“Justice is generally best served when courts are free to admit whatever relevant evidence they wish and judge it on its own merits along with the rest,” says Stein.

This is top drawer – lawyers decide what science they want to use, then make their decision based on that. I mean, seems sensible, right?