23 Nov 2011
Trap of the Day: Thanksgiving
22 Nov 2011
Trap of the Day: Vaccination
To vaccinate or not to vaccinate: for millions of adults that is the question for not only themselves, but for their children as well. Yet along with a lack of clean water and sanitation, failing to vaccinate is one of the top causes of preventable deaths worldwide, claiming over 4 million lives per year.
And while the majority of these deaths occur in third world countries without universal access to vaccines, as well as religious opposition to vaccines there, an unprecedented number of cases of measles, pertussis, and other vaccine-preventable illnesses plague the most developed countries in the world, including the United States, Great Britian, Germany, Australia and New Zealand.
Why is this? Controversy over the safety and side-effects of these vaccines. Controversy, mind you, that is nothing more than a manufactured conspiracy. The backlash against vaccines has grown so strong that parents are buying chickenpox-infected lollipops through the mail and infecting their kids. “Big deal,” you might say, “I had the chickenpox when I was a kid and I turned out fine.” Yes, you did. I did too. But every year, about 150 individuals die in the United States from complications related to chickenpox, 100% of which are preventable with the vaccine. Yes, your kid probably won’t die if they get chickenpox, but why take the chance?
The biggest argument against the standard vaccination schedule has to do with fears of side-effects, particularly autism. But the study that linked vaccines to autism was fraudulent, and follow-up studies have shown that there is not only no connection, but that following the CDC’s vaccination schedule is the safest way to protect your children from preventable death and disease.
My name’s Ethan Siegel, I’m the new head editor of the science and health sections here at Trapit, and this Trap of the Day has been curated by me for the scientific accuracy and veracity of the information contained within. I certify that I have no conflicts of interest.
26 Oct 2011
Trap of the Day: Language
Call me a super nerd (you will not be the first) but the language trap is my all time favorite trap. Who knew I would end up caring about the struggling Icelandic language publishing industry, but I now do.
This trap is my go-to-source for everything new in linguistics, etymology, translation, and random op/eds from those seeking to limit government spending by making it official with English. Personally I’m a commitment phobe who thinks translating ballots is the least of our nation’s budget woes—but I digress.
The language trap is A MAY ZING! Especially if you’re the type who is curious about the origins of words like “spackle,” “shadenfreude,” or “ship” and “boat.”
Want to hear first-hand how American Sign Language was determined to be a distinct, stand-alone language (as opposed to some incomplete version of spoken English)? Check out Arika Orkent’s blog post on his time at Gallaudet, a university for the deaf.
Need a new book to read? How about one of these books on slang (etymology of the f word anyone) recommended by slang lexicographer Jonathon Green.
Frustrated that every time the future comes around you haven’t saved enough money for it? According to a study from Yale economists, it may have something to do with whether or not your native language employs a separate tense for the future. Languages with a distinct future tense are correlated with populations who do worse at saving for the future than those without a future tense (yes, English has a future tense).
So say it with me now:
“Tomorrow, I will bury a shoebox full of cash.”
19 Oct 2011
Trap of the Day: National Book Award
If you ever played the game “telephone” you’ll understand how this could happen. In telephone you sit in a circle, someone comes up with a phrase and whispers it in their neighbor’s ear, who whispers it to her neighbor, who whispers it into hers, and so on until the phrase has come full circle and the last person to hear the news gets the proud job of announcing it to the group. Inevitably it has been changed beyond belief. Hilarity ensues, lessons on the untrustworthiness of hearsay are learned.
But in this case, what wasn’t supposed to be a game of telephone ended up being one anyway and led to an author being told her book had been nominated for the National Book Awards only to find out her nomination was a mistake. The whole situation has irked many.
Apparently when the judges called into announce their selections someone heard Shine, the title of a book about a gay, teenage hate crime victim by Lauren Myracle, instead of Chime, a book about a teenage witch by Franny Billingsley.
So first Lauren Myracle was told she was in the running, then she was told that her nomination was a mistake but that she would still be in the running anyhow (with the addition of Billingsley to the roster), then she was asked if she might withdraw in order to preserve the integrity of the Award which had been questioned due to the debacle (as if that’s going to save it).
Myracle withdrew and asked that the National Book Award make a donation to the Matthew Shepard foundation in her name. To their credit they did, to the tune of $5000.
12 Oct 2011
Trap of the Day: Netflix
11 Oct 2011
Trap of the Day: Geniuses
While “genius,” has come to refer to a person of exceptional ability, the term historically had a much broader definition. In Latin (where the term originates) genius referred to the, “tutelary god or attendant spirit allotted to every person at his birth, to govern his fortunes and determine his character, and finally to conduct him out of the world” (from the OED online).
Obscure as this definition has become, it is a comforting one, and it gives me a ghostly entity to blame for my inability to pick up guitar. I’m not lazy, that’s just the way my genius made me.
Genius has evolved to refer only to a special and extremely rare set of us, presumably because those were the only geniuses worth noting over time. It’s an unscientific label, genius is in the eye of the beholder, but I like to think geniuses can be rather universally spotted. In other words, we know them when we see them.
The geniuses trap uses this unscientific and modern understanding and focuses primarily on the recipients of the still US dominated Nobel prize. Whether all Nobel recipients are “geniuses” is debatable, some argue that the prize itself is too political to be useful, but they certainly capture a unique set of individuals.
5 Oct 2011
Trap of the Day: Harvest
It’s Fall, the days are slowly getting shorter, leaves are starting to turn (rain is back in full effect for the NW), and it’s also harvest time. The harvest trap is your go to source for corn mazes, pumpkins, giant award winning goards, apple pressings, and vegan friendly fresh fig recipes (just replace the honey with agave!).
Pumpkin patches have been around forever, but according to this article, the corn maze tradition only goes back 16 years in the United States. The corn maze (or Maize Maze as they’ve come to be called in England) is a contemporary take on the hedge maze, which were all the rage between the 16th and 18th centuries among European royalty. Corn mazes must be planned and planted well in advance and can be a powerful agrotourist draw for farms.
While planning your next pumpkin patch or corn maze vacation you might want to fill up on some autumnal treats, like these apple donuts or these vegan pumpkin ones. Or, for a more healthy take on breakfast, check out this awesome recipe for pumpkin oatmeal.
28 Sep 2011
Trap of the Day: Nirvana
It’s hard to believe it was twenty years ago that Nirvana’s Nevermind hit the scene. It’s an album from another era, when buying an album meant driving your pickup truck out of the way to the one small record store in the next town over to buy a cassette.
This is how my father picked up Nevermind before we embarked on a family car trip down the Columbia Gorge. As the gentle guitar strumming of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” crecendoed into that unmistakable crashing drum beat my brother and I bobbed excitedly under our seatbelts. At our urging my dad cranked the tape deck and we rocked all the way to grandma’s house (and for the record, this experience effectively killed my little kid prediliction for sugary pop acts like Ace of Base).
It’s hard to imagine an album coming out these days that could garner the kind of popular cultural reflection two decades later that Nevermind has. But as Glen Gamboa points out, Nevermind was released during a banking crisus induced recession with high unemployment rates and so while the music market may be a drastically different landscape, the kind of hopeless screaming ballads that found resonence with a generation of dissillusioned (and unemployed) youth, are sure to find purchase again with many in their re-release.
In any case, even if you don’t like Nevermind, I’m sure you’re still curious what that naked baby chasing a dollar is up to now.
27 Sep 2011
Trap of the Day: Banned Books Week
It’s banned books week, an annual event championing intellectual freedom, freedom of information, calling attention to books that have been banned or challenged, and to authors who have been persecuted for their work or speech.
While the 1st amendment makes any governmental banning of books in the US a non-issue, books are routinely challenged and occasionally banned from schools and libraries accross the nation.
While most books get challenged for having sexual themes or content, among the American Libraries Association’s yearly list for top challenged books in the USA is Barbara Ehrenreich’s book Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America and the extremely popular Twilight from Stephanie Meyer. Why try and ban a couple of New York Times bestsellers? Apparently for, “drugs, inaccurate, offensive language, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint” for Nickel and Dimed and “religious viewpoint and violence” for Twilight.
There are many ways to celebrate banned books week. A common practice is to hold public readings of banned or challenged books. This year a student started a DIY banned books lending library run out of her school locker and Massachusetts Public Library ceremoniously lifted a ban on Mark Twain’s Eve’s Diary which had been in place since 1906.
While Banned Books Week tends to be a mostly US affair (due primarily to the ALA’s strong involvement), as M. Lynx Qualey points out, it’s also a good time to examine censorship in other countries like Egypt.
Three cheers (or jeers, since you’re free to do so) for freedom of speech!
25 Aug 2011
Trap of the Day: Louis C.K.
Currently in its second season, Louis C.K.’s FX sitcom, “Louie” is one of the few TV shows I try not to miss. The show is a riff on Seinfeld (NY comic living NY life, bits of standup thrown in) but it is more a show about trying to be a good parent (and person) than anything else.
It has received plenty of critical acclaim including this glowing analysis which likens the show to the short fiction of Raymond Carver. While that may take it a little far, what I like most about Louie is its ability to take on controversial comedic material head on and for laughs, without undermining or hiding the complexity of a topic.
Take for example the show’s recent use of the “n” word in the episode “Country Drive.” In the episode Louie takes his two young daughters to visit an elderly aunt. What starts as an uncomfortable encounter with a grotesque but old fashioned name for a nut quickly turns into a rather straightforward racist rant about why NYC is no place to raise daughters.
Quietly dealing with and/or pretending to ignore racist comments from the elderly is something many of us cringingly can relate to. That’s just the way they were raised right? And the scene is uncomfortable to watch, especially as it plays out in front of young children. When the Aunt leaves the room for “better snacks,” Louie’s daughters confront him on her use of this “bad word” and his silence on the matter. End of scene Louie concedes that, yes, she should and can be confronted. The end of the show finds Louie onstage doing a comedy routine where he uses said word many times. While about the routine is about the exact same problem, it is one that might bristle some for it’s language alone if Louie weren’t made so sympathetic by the earlier narrative. Clearly I’m all for glowing analysis of this show, that’s just damn good writing.