Daily Archives: August 4, 2012

"Why is the penis shaped like that anyway?"

Researcher and science writer Jesse Bering delights in being provocative. From the description of his new book, Why Is the Penis Shaped Like That?: And Other Reflections on Being Human:

Why do testicles hang the way they do? Is there an adaptive function to the female orgasm? What does it feel like to want to kill yourself? Does “free will” really exist? And why is the penis shaped like that anyway?

In Why Is the Penis Shaped Like That?, the research psychologist and award-winning columnist Jesse Bering features more than thirty of his most popular essays from Scientific American and Slate, as well as two new pieces, that take readers on a bold and captivating journey through some of the most taboo issues related to evolution and human behavior. Exploring the history of cannibalism, the neurology of people who are sexually attracted to animals, the evolution of human body fluids, the science of homosexuality, and serious questions about life and death, Bering astutely covers a generous expanse of our kaleidoscope of quirks and origins.

With his characteristic irreverence and trademark cheekiness, Bering leaves no topic unturned or curiosity unexamined, and he does it all with an audaciously original voice. Whether you’re interested in the psychological history behind the many facets of sexual desire or the evolutionary patterns that have dictated our current mystique and phallic physique, Why Is the Penis Shaped Like That? is bound to create lively discussion and debate for years to come.

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What is the link between global warming and drought?

I’d like to give you a very small selection of references and discussions about the link between global warming and drought.

Global warming probably has two major effects. First, more moisture gets into the atmosphere because warmer air passing over the oceans can take in more water. This can cause more rain and possibly more severe storms and flooding. But the atmospheric system also changes in another way. The hydraulic cycle, as it is called, intensified in both directions, wet and dry. If you live on the East Coast of the US and you move to where I live in the upper Midwest, you’ll get a special appreciation of this. Rain on the East Coast comes in thunderstorms now and then, but a lot of the rain comes from big wet air masses linked to the ocean. In Boston it can rain for a few days off and on but mostly on, with an inch off rain falling over a long period of time. But here in the Midwest, that almost never happens. Instead, it’s not raining, then this big scary storm comes and dumps a whole pile of rain on you, then it moves on. In between storms it can be dry vor many days. The Midwestern storms come from warm air masses passing over the Gulf of Mexico and moving north (then turning “right” at some point) with contributions from elsewhere. It is more intensified hydrological system, with a lot of variation. That is a min-model (albeit a pretty inexact one) for shifting to a warmer planet. Keep in mind that between rain storms, warmer air takes moisture out of the local system (to dump it in a storm somewhere else). Climate experts generally agree that a warmer world will have more severe storms, though which storms will be more severe and in what way is not clear, and drought. Lots of that. Continue reading What is the link between global warming and drought?

Mars is tugging on NASA Rover Curiosity

Caption from NASA: "This artist's scoreboard displays a fictional game between Mars and Earth, with Mars in the lead. It refers to the success rate of sending missions to Mars, both as orbiters and landers. Of the previous 39 missions targeted for Mars from around the world, 15 have been successes and 24 failures. For baseball fans, that's a batting average of .385."
NASA acknowledges the fact that most missions to Mars fail. The rocket goes off course or crashes, or the device lands broken, or works for a while then stops.

According to the latest press release, which has some interesting photos including the one shown here,

The gravitational tug of Mars is now pulling NASA’s car-size geochemistry laboratory, Curiosity, in for a suspenseful landing in less than 40 hours.

“After flying more than eight months and 350 million miles since launch, the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft is now right on target to fly through the eye of the needle that is our target at the top of the Mars atmosphere,” said Mission Manager Arthur Amador of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

The spacecraft is healthy and on course for delivering the mission’s Curiosity rover close to a Martian mountain at 10:31 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 5 PDT (1:31 a.m. Monday, Aug. 6 EDT). That’s the time a signal confirming safe landing could reach Earth, give or take about a minute for the spacecraft’s adjustments to sense changeable atmospheric conditions.

Follow Curiosity on Twitter here.

Here’s the latest video on the mission:

What Does The Bible, and History, Tell Us About Marriage?

It seems like everybody in the Old Testament is either married, about to get married, or was recently married but something went terribly wrong. This may be becasue the bible is about marriage. The Old Testament is a history, it is a set of laws, and it is an enthnography, and the themes themes that hold the whole thing together are warfare, resorces, marriage, and a heavy dose of odd cultish rule-making about food and blood. Marriage is a central theme of cultural life, so of course it plays an important role in a culture’s own history and ethnography. But is the bible, as one example of historical reference, a place to learn what marriage is, or what it should be? Biblical Scholar Jennifer Wright Knust says no: Continue reading What Does The Bible, and History, Tell Us About Marriage?