Wednesday, August 31, 2011

How to mess up your kid. Correlation or causation?

(Reuters) - Children whose mothers smoked while pregnant were more likely to end up on medications such as antidepressants, stimulants and drugs for addiction, according to a study from Finland that hints at smoking's affect on a baby's developing brain.

While the findings don't prove that cigarette smoking during pregnancy causes changes in children's brains or behavior, they offer one more piece of evidence that should encourage women not to smoke while pregnant, the researchers wrote in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

One in 11 children was prescribed a psychiatric medication at some point during that period, including anti-anxiety drugs, antipsychotics, antidepressants, stimulants and drugs for addiction.

Of children and teens whose mothers didn't smoke during pregnancy, 8 percent were on at least one of those drugs during the study period. That compared to 11 percent of those whose mothers smoked fewer than 10 cigarettes per day, and close to 14 percent whose mothers had lit up more than 10 times a day.

This is pretty obvious, the only surprise is that it wasn't higher.

But it raises an interesting question for me. Does it actually prove that smoking while pregnant is the cause of the higher rate of medication?

Not really. I'm passionately anti-smoking and certainly believe that smoking while pregnant is a repugnant thing to do. But I wonder how much of this issue is actually correlative rather than causative.

Here's the thing: if you are the kind of person who smokes while pregnant, you are more likely than average to be a stupid, shitty parent. If you smoke more than 10 times a day while pregnant, you are even more likely to be so. Someone who is has a poor grasp of decent parenting, whether they smoke or not, is far more likely to raise a child with depression, anxiety and addiction problems.

I certainly think smoking while pregnant is physically damaging to the unborn child. But studies like this don't necessarily indicate it. It could just be that smoking is not the cause of dysfunction, but rather a reflection of it. So if you are smoking while you are pregnant, the chances are definitely higher that you will raise a problem child, but it may well be you, rather than the ciggies that did it.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Housemate hunting - highs, lows, and finding The One.

You may notice that I haven't been posting much recently. I've been preoccupied with several things, one of which has been looking for a housemate. It's a difficult process, and one that bears an odd similarity to the dating game. You're searching for a potential long-term companion, and then jump into a committed relationship that sometimes goes sour but is not always easy to extricate oneself from. In other ways, it's completely different - having a housemate makes financial sense, while being a romantic relationship definitely does not, although it does have some associated fringe benefits that a housemate usually doesn't.

In the end, I think I may just have found The One. But more on that later.

My ex - well, the previous guy who lived in my house, anyway - was just a disaster, but the humanist in me held out some deluded hope that I could maybe change him. My view of human nature is clearly far too optimistic. You can only change someone if they want to change, and this guy had no interest in it. So battered and bruised, I had to admit defeat, and once that whole messy affair was over and I got him the f*ck out of my house, it was time to find someone new.

Advertising on flatmate-locating websites is hit and miss. I stuck my profile out there, to show the world what I had to offer, while trying to get the attention of certain other searchers who seem really appealing. Most of the time they just ignored me. I did get some attention and inquiries, but it was all for naught. They weren't really serious, and just led me on; or alternatively, they wanted something I just couldn't offer.

The first serious candidate arrived in the form of a pretty Mauritian girl who seemed a little ditzy, but was basically friendly and genuine. She liked my place, we got along, and it seemed all good. One of the first questions she asked was "Is it okay if my boyfriend stays over?" and I said of course, it would be fine. Then a couple of days later, still undecided, she asked if the boyfriend could come check it out also. No problem, I said. Her boyfriend was Indian, and the last Indian guy who came to check out my place was really cool and chilled out (he ended up moving in with his sister instead), so my mental image was of "the friendly nice Indian guy". However when they turned up, over an hour after they were meant to come, it was clear that I should have factored in the all-too-real possibility that he would be "the controlling, surly, patriarchal meat-head Indian guy". The contrast between the bubbly friendly girl and the boyfriend-doing-his-best-Terminator-impression was stark. (Nice girl dates jerk; it's a timeless combination. When Joe Jackson sang the lyric "Pretty women out walking with gorillas down my street", he neatly summed up the incredulous frustration of nice blokes everywhere.)

My hunch was that what seemed like a promising arrangement was now dead in the water, and this hunch was confirmed later that night when she messaged me. It was just as I had suspected: she thought the place perfect, but her boyfriend vetoed it. "He's very possessive", she texted, in what I could only assume was embarrassed resignation. I had thought that when I mentioned earlier that I already had a girlfriend who stayed with me part of the time, that would allay his fears that I would somehow seduce his woman. But the fact that my girlfriend is Indian probably just made it worse - he probably figured I was one of those guys who has a thing for brown girls. Which, to be fair, is not a million miles off.

I was going to give her a bit of relationship advice - working as I do in the domestic violence sector I deal with controlling asshole guys all the time - but after some wise counsel from my girlfriend I decided against it. I believe her words were "I like you better without your face punched in", which is hard to argue with really.

Anyway, it was probably a blessing for a number of reasons. Firstly, had she moved in I would have had to deal with Controlling Boyfriend's attitude on a regular basis, and I can think of better ways to spend my time. Secondly, as much as I don't like to admit it, perhaps he was kinda on to something. Perhaps it wasn't such a good idea to have a good-looking girl move in. It's not like I'm going to be messing around - I'm in a very committed relationship and am pretty confident I can control myself - but it's probably not wise to tempt fate either. With that in mind, I've developed a Litmus Test For Potential Housemates. I ask myself "If I was single and she was interested, would I bone her?" and if the answer is yes, she can't stay.

And the other reason it was a blessing is... that I've found someone. It happened a few days later. I was feeling a bit down, in large part because I'd already started planning how I was going to spend the rental income I almost had. And then suddenly he appeared. A mysterious stranger who entered my life with a flatmate inquiry containing the words "Awesome! Still available?" Dude, you had me at "Awesome". I checked out his profile... vegetarian! Loves cats! Into gardening! Plays music! Non-smoker!

Be still, my beating heart. I relayed these details to my girlfriend, who happened to be on Skype with me at the time, and she laughed at how totally gay I had become within the space of 45 seconds. But screw it. I replied to him confirming the room was still available, and wanted to add that we had a lot of stuff in common and was looking forward to meeting him. But I had to restrain myself. Can't seem too desperate, you know... it's a turn-off.

Well to cut to the chase, it turns out he's moving in within the week. Seems like a really nice dude too. And he passes my Litmus Test For Potential Housemates in that I felt no great urge to bone him (and probably won't in the future either). So things are looking up, particularly for my bank balance. And let's be realistic, there's still the possibility that he could somehow turn out to be an utter c**t, or be in a cult, or have some weird habit like shitting on the floor or torturing puppies. He'd still be a step up from my previous housemate though.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

"How to be Asian".... um....

Reader Leilani Torres sent me the link to this clip, and I'm not quite sure to make of it.

I know there's not enough time in the world to discuss every instance of someone putting something racially provocative on the Youtubes; I just found this rather interesting because it bears such a resemblance to Alexandra Wallace's "ching chong ting tong ling long" clip that became infamous a few months back. But at the same time, this one seems so ridiculous that it seems more of a joke and not really anything to get worked up about. The comments at WorldStarHipHop where this came from are mostly hateful (the term "f****** b**** is used frequently - I have no idea what that could mean). But I dunno. I still think this is dumb, but then so is most of the crap on Youtube. But I didn't actually find it particularly offensive. Should I have? Let me know what you think.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Singapore's answer to Michael Winslow

I think one day I'll start a website devoted solely to amusing Asian uncles.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

What the f***, Comedy Central?

To my friends Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart: it's been nice knowing you.

For the last year or so, The Colbert Report and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart have been two of my favourite shows, providing a valuable window on American politics. First, when they were on ABC2, then when they lost the rights, via the Comedy Central website.

No longer.

Comedy Central has apparently signed an exclusive deal with Foxtel that blocks Australian viewers from watching the show online. Switching on yesterday to get my daily dose of Stewart, I was greeted everywhere with the message: "Sorry, this video is unavailable from your location."

So now Australian fans will only be able to watch these programs if they pay for it. Of course, they are not on free-to-air in the US either as I understand it, but Americans can still watch it online nonetheless.

So what the f***, Comedy Central?

There are several ironies here. Firstly, Stewart ran a story a couple of weeks ago complaining about how British broadcasting authorities had censored The Daily Show because of laws forbidding the use of parliamentary footage for satirical purposes. At least the British can still watch you, Jon.

But more ridiculous is that the company that Australians will have to pay money to in order to watch The Daily Show is Foxtel, owned by Rupert Murdoch. Part of the same global corporation responsible for Fox News, the right-wing propaganda station that Stewart rails against on a nightly basis.

I won't be forking out the monthly fee to Foxtel, because I have more important things to spend money on, such as putting food on the table, keeping a roof over my head, and paying my way through school.

So thanks for the memories Jon and Stephen, it's been fun.


So, I've sniffed around, and the internet being what it is, there are still ways to watch it. I'm not a technical computer-thingy-type-person, but you can watch it via a proxy IP address. Plus there are other ways. Search around.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

"Fair and Lovely Inside"

This is awesome.

If you are unsure of the context of this send-up, check the clips here.

It's not The Revolution

Civilization is, as always, only a thin veneer.

Now that the streets of Britain have turned into a remake of 28 Days Later, it's interesting to contrast it with the other "popular uprisings" that the world has witnessed this year, across the Arab world. There will undoubtedly be a minority on the radical Left who will make this all about The State and The Pigs versus The People or whatever, but that's mostly bullshit really. While there are certainly some legitimate resentments fueling the rampant destruction that began in Tottenham and overtook the country, ultimately the majority of it is little more than young men giving themselves license to unleash their anti-social sides on the world around them.

While there has also been an ugly side to the protests that occurred in Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere, those were people who actually lived in conditions of oppression and poverty, who rose up against the power structure in a relatively peaceful fashion. While the rioters in England are largely from the underclass, and are poor and disenfranchised by the standards of the UK, I imagine most people in North Africa would consider them to be immensely privileged. As with the anarchists who decided to cause havoc in London in March this year, it seems that there will always be a barbaric element in society that even relative affluence cannot silence. People all over the world living in genuinely appalling conditions can frequently stage uprisings that don't devolve into randomly stealing and breaking stuff.
I wonder what people in Burma would think of all this business.

This person knows the deal:

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Malaysia’s behaviour lessons for non-Muslims during Ramadan

(Cross-posted at Brown Pundits)

A couple of race- and religion-related controversies in Malaysia this week.

8TV decided to axe a series of public service announcements after claims that they were racist against Chinese-Malaysians. The ad campaign was aimed at teaching non-Muslims how to behave respectfully during Ramadan, and portrays a young Chinese woman speaking in a loud and crass fashion at the market and eating in public. See for yourself:

(8TV is having a lot of these clips deleted from Youtube; try here if you can't see it.)

I wouldn't call this racist, but it is laughably pathetic nonetheless, particularly the bit when a shocked Malay man shields his daughter's eyes from seeing the woman's armpits (blurred for good measure). There are plenty of influential Malay voices in the media, government and religious spheres who love to play the victim card ad infinitum - cultivating the perception that the non-Malay, non-Muslim minorities are somehow trampling all over Malay rights and religious sensitivities.

Also this week on the topic of respectful behaviour:

The Football Association of Malaysia has apologised to Chelsea after the London club complained of anti-Semitic abuse in their tour match against a Malaysian XI recently, directed at Israeli winger Yossi Benayoun. Yet it is an apology that seems disingenuous in the face of the Malaysian State's attitudes towards Israel.

I've watched highlights of this game, and while I couldn't hear anything racial, Benayoun is audibly booed every time he touches the ball, something the other Chelsea players are not subjected to. Benayoun himself is a likeable footballer who is completely uncontroversial aside from being Israeli.)
“The FA of Malaysia would like to strongly register that we do not condone any form of racism in football,” the statement read. “If such an incident did happen we would like to apologise to the player concerned and also to Chelsea FC. From our initial observations, if such an incident took place, it would have involved a small section of spectators at the match. This surely does not reflect the feelings of the majority of fans in this football-loving country.”

Of course, Malaysians should probably reflect on a history of anti-Semitism in the country. Last time Chelsea toured Malaysia in 2008 there was talk that then coach Avram Grant and defender Tal Ben Haim would not be granted visas to enter the country. Former PM Mahathir Mohamad once claimed that the Jews ruled the world by proxy. And it was only a couple of weeks ago that government-backed newspaper Utusan Malaysia made the ludicrous claim that the recent rallies for democracy in KL may have been the work of Jews.

Since the two countries have very little to do with each other in practical terms, and most Malaysians will never actually meet a Jew, this feeling originates solely from the fact that Malays are Muslim and therefore lots of them just assume that disliking Jews is part of their religious duty.