Category: culture

Feminists’ Rock Camp Showcase and Jam

Hey! Want to watch a bunch of cool feminist folks rock out and play some original material from the first feminists’ rock camp in Victoria? Want to watch them jam with some cool musicians?

Then come to the Fort Cafe, Sunday August 22nd. Doors open at 6. Also, look for the fabulous Galen Hartley, Athena Holmes from Montreal and Victoria, Tina Pearson, Anne Schaefer, and some Reverend Owl goodness!

Look forward to seeing you there! Download the flier if you’d like to put one up on your fridge, or your work fridge, or anywhere you fancy.

Tickets at door and in advance; contact Feminists.Rock.Camp(at)gmail(dot)comma

Circumcision and AIDS – Revisited


A post I wrote quite a while back on circumcision and AIDS remains my most commented post ever. In it (if you’re too lazy to click) I said that while research indicating a reduction in HIV infection in circumcised men was promising, there were a couple of concerns. One, that this could be a distraction from the single most effective prevention measure (no, not abstinence!), condom use. And two, that in certain cultures, especially among Hindus, this would be an absolute no no because circumcision is identified with being Muslim.

Anyway, in a review article, the Cochrane Centre in South Africa summarizes results from a meta analysis of a number of trials indicating a 50% reduction in HIV incidence among circumcised males. At this point in time, it is clear that circumcision is effective in reducing HIV incidence among heterosexual males. Based on this, the institute encourages the widespread use of circumcision as an AIDS prevention strategy.

So, am I still circumspect? Absolutely. I am still concerned that this research will be misinterpreted in a way that discourages condom use. In fact, the authors note that circumcised men indulged in more risky behaviour. Also, the incidence of HIV in the women these men were sleeping with increased from 9.6% to 13.8%, a 40% uptick. This increase was not statistically significant. No arguing with that, though the study was stopped early once it was clear that the men were helped, never mind the women, or reaching statistical significance in their case.

Given that it is very unclear what the effects of circumcision are on anything other than circumcised penises, which are only one half of the equation (or less!), I don’t think it is responsible to call for widespread use of circumcision as a public health strategy for the prevention of HIV until its effects on the other parties are known. While people are aware of this issue, I don’t think the science or the cultural landscape promote the use of circumcision as a HIV prevention strategy until its proven that women are not at risk from increased HIV incidence either biologically from a yet unknown mechanism, or socially from increased risk taking.

Men have more power in most societies to demand and receive sex on their terms. So the male centric nature of this research, and the conclusions drawn are disturbing. How irresponsible is it to encourage a public health strategy that appears to increase risk taking behaviour among men when the effects on the women are yet unknown, with only a statistically “insignificant” 40% increase in HIV incidence among women being observed?

I am. for very good reason, still circumspect on circumcision.

Whisky flavoured condoms courtesy bruno  girin’s photostream used under a creative commons license. Now how’s that for a turn on, whisky!

Lead and Crime


The next time Giuliani tries to take credit for the decrease in violence during his tenure as NYC’s mayor, send him this chart.

The NY Times shines some light on Jessica Reyes’ excellent work linking decreased lead exposure to a drop in violent crime in the US. The decreased lead exposure, of course, was from the phase-out of leaded gasoline from the American market. BTW, Nascar still uses leaded gasoline in its cars, nice going, guys.

The answer, according to Jessica Wolpaw Reyes, an economist at Amherst College, lies in the cleanup of a toxic chemical that affected nearly everyone in the United States for most of the last century. After moving out of an old townhouse in Boston when her first child was born in 2000, Reyes started looking into the effects of lead poisoning. She learned that even low levels of lead can cause brain damage that makes children less intelligent and, in some cases, more impulsive and aggressive (Emphasis Added).

Lead exposure at an early age (2-3 years) is especially significant as this is an age where personality development occurs and any interference in neuron development and apoptosis (death!) can cause permanent changes in personality. This excellent review article summarizes the effects of lead on neuronal development.

Reyes’ research mentions that while decreased lead exposure was very well correlated with violent crime (accounting for 56% of the reduction in crime), no correlation was found to property crimes (such as theft). This of course makes intuitive sense. A property crime is usually premeditated whereas violence is usually impulsive (excluding serial killers, of course). It is more likely that a budding criminal sets out to steal a car than to beat somebody to pulp. It is when the crime goes wrong that the probability of a violent crime increases. An individual with damaged impulse control is then more likely to seek a violent way out of the bad situation.

Our society (like most) views violent crime as a moral issue, a matter of good and evil that is determined by your “character”. So, a simple chemical correlator to violent crime that can explain a majority of the commission of violent acts goes a long way in undermining this whole notion of morality and crime. Of course, there are other sociological factors at play which need to be addressed. But it is heartening to know that beyond all the complicated and recalcitrant social issues that underly crime, there’s a ubiquitously evil pollutant lurking that can be eliminated. I am guessing that this line of reasoning is not going to be very popular among the “tough on crime” types that perpetrate our political airwaves these days.


Reyes, Jessica Wolpaw (2007) “Environmental Policy as Social Policy? The Impact of Childhood Lead Exposure on Crime,” The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy: Vol. 7 : Iss. 1 (Contributions), Article 51.

Responsible Death Rites

Can cremation be used as an offset under the Kyoto Protocol? Read on..

Seed: New Green Pyre Promoted in India

UN figures show close to 10 million people die a year in India, where 85 percent of the billion-plus population are Hindus who practice cremation. That leads to the felling of an estimated 50 million trees, leaves behind half a million tonnes of ash and produces eight million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year, according to research by Agarwals Mokshda environmental group.

The solution is to design a much more efficient wood burning stove hence satisfying religious sentiments (have to use wood to burn your body) and save lots of wood.

Agarwal built his first pyre, a raised human-sized brazier under a roof with slats that could be lowered to maintain heat. The elevation allowed air to circulate and feed the fire.

It gets even better…

Mokshda hopes its projects will eventually be registered under the Kyoto Protocol’s clean development mechanism, which encourages green projects in developing countries.

It allows industrialised countries that have committed to reducing emissions of greenhouse gases to count reductions achieved through investments in projects in developing countries towards their undertakings.

Really, we can get carbon credits by improving cremation practices?? That’s creative! Going all electric on the crematorium would obviously be the best thing, but Hindu religious sentiment being what it is, this is an improvement.

If you want environmentally friendly, this has nothing on the Parsis (or Zoroastrians):

The interior of the Tower of Silence is built in three concentric circles, one each for men, women, and children. The corpses are exposed there naked. The vultures do not take long—an hour or two at the most—to strip the flesh off the bones, and these, dried by the sun, are later swept into the central well

Yes, that’s right, the vultures! Now, that’s energy efficient! Unfortunately, due the use of diclofenac, an anti-inflammatory in livestock, vulture populations in India have declined to the point that this ancient ritual is now in serious jeopardy.

In death, he's laughing and inspiring others


Thanks to our wonderful mass media, this guy will forever be the gold standard for all depressed, disturbed lone gunmen who want to get famous in death, I mean, his gory and disturbing images flashed all over the front pages, no warnings, nothing. I wake up this morning to this guy pointing two guns at me, and they keep changing the pictures every 5 minutes.

I am sure that with corporations having the same “free speech” rights as people, they feel perfectly okay with plastering images and video on continuous auto replay. Very inspirational, educational and edifying.

Yet, one misplaced nipple…

I don’t have anything else to say.

Do primates believe in God? They seem to have morals!

I had a conversation with a colleague over lunch a few years back, really nice guy and good friend, very religious. Somehow, the topic of my religion came up and I happened to mention that I was not much of a believer in any kind of supreme being. He was silent for a little while, trying to digest the fact that someone he liked and respected (me!) had just outed himself as the spawn of satan. He then asked me where I got my values from if I did not believe in God. I explained to him that just like him, I got mine from my parents, from school, society, friends, etc., in fact, one source less than he got his from! (a slight variant on the “I believe in one god less than you do” schtick!) I also explained to him that I thought a lot about my value system, I made ethical and moral judgements all the time just by thinking, reading and listening to other people. He seemed unconvinced, thanked me for my honesty, and we proceeded to talk basketball after that (Go Heels!).

Long ramble notwithstanding, I had known a little bit about this primate research previously, but happened to read a well written NY Times article about primates and “morality” (don’t like that word, but can’t seem to find a better one).

Scientist Finds the Beginnings of Morality in Primate Behavior – New York Times

Some animals are surprisingly sensitive to the plight of others. Chimpanzees, who cannot swim, have drowned in zoo moats trying to save others. Given the chance to get food by pulling a chain that would also deliver an electric shock to a companion, rhesus monkeys will starve themselves for several days

Biologists argue that these and other social behaviors are the precursors of human morality. They further believe that if morality grew out of behavioral rules shaped by evolution, it is for biologists, not philosophers or theologians, to say what these rules are.

Hmm, they must believe God, because without religion, there is no morality, right?

I am not convinced that this “morality” was a naturally selected behavior rather than a by-product of evolution (the article references a critic as making this point too), nevertheless, it is fascinating.