A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Archive for August 2012

[LINK] “Chimps Have Geniuses, Too”

ScienceNOW’s Sarah C.P. Williams reports on recent research suggesting that, among chimpanzees as among humans, intelligence is variable, with not only different individuals evidencing different levels of intelligence but individuals being better at evidencing some skills than others.

Natasha, a chimp at the Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary in Uganda, has always seemed different from her peers. She’s learned to escape from her enclosure, teases human caretakers, and scores above other chimps in communication tests. Now, Natasha has a new title: genius. In the largest and most in-depth survey of chimpanzee intelligence, researchers found that Natasha was the smartest of the 106 chimps they tested—a finding that suggests that apes have their geniuses, too.

“Natasha was really much better than other chimps,” says biologist and first author of the new study Esther Herrmann of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.

Herrmann and her colleagues had previously tested chimps in a study designed to compare the skills of the animals with those of human children. During the study, they noticed a wide range of skills among the chimps and wondered whether they could measure this variation in ability—and whether there were studies that could predict the chimps’ overall performance in all areas, like an IQ test in humans. So they gave a battery of physical and social tests to 106 chimps at Ngamba Island and the Tchimpounga chimpanzee sanctuary in the Republic of the Congo, and to 23 captive chimpanzees and bonobos in Germany. In one experiment, chimps were asked to find food in a container after it had been shuffled around with empty containers. In another, they had to use a stick to get food placed on a high platform. The researchers analyzed the data to determine if the scores in some tests helped predict performance in others.

“In general, we don’t find any kind of general intelligence factor that can predict intelligence in all areas,” Herrmann says. “But we did find a big variation overall, and this one outstanding individual.”

The stand-out individual, Natasha, was the chimp that caretakers—who don’t administer tests to the chimps but do feed them, clean their cages, and accompany them on walks—consistently ranked as the smartest based on only the way she interacted with them. But there’s nothing about Natasha’s life—extra attention or time spent with humans, for example—that explains how she became so astute. “Motivation and temperament probably play a role,” Herrmann says. “That’s something that we want to look more into.”

In general, apes that were good in one area—such as tests requiring creative tool use—were not necessarily good in another—such as copying the actions of a test-giver to get a reward, the team reports this week in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. But continuing to add new challenges to the battery of tests still could lead to a standardized intelligence factor, Herrmann says.

Written by Randy McDonald

August 31, 2012 at 2:36 pm

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[LINK] “Most Neanderthals Were Right-Handed Like Us”

LiveScience’s Megan Gannon writes about interesting research suggesting that just like contemporary human beings, right-handedness among Neanderthals was much more common than not.

The paper in question, published at PLoS ONE, is “Hand to Mouth in a Neandertal: Right-Handedness in Regourdou”.

Right-handed humans vastly outnumber lefties by a ratio of about nine to one, and the same may have been true for Neanderthals. Researchers say right-hand dominance in the extinct species suggests that, like humans, they also had the capacity for language.

A new analysis of the skeleton of a 20-something Neanderthal man confirms that he was a righty like most of his European caveman cousins whose remains have been studied by scientists (16 of 18 specimens). Dubbed “Regourdou,” the skeleton was discovered in 1957 in France, not far from the famous network of caves at Lascaux.

Scientists previously had argued that Regourdou was right-handed based on the muscularity of his right arm versus his left arm. Now an international team of researchers say they have confirmed that assumption by conducting a more sophisticated analysis of his arms and shoulders and then linking that data with the scratch marks on Regourdou’s teeth.

Neanderthals used their mouths like a “third hand” for manipulating objects like food, resulting in significant wear and tear on their front teeth, University of Kansas researcher David Frayer, who was involved in the study, explained in a statement from the school. And the angles of the scratch marks on the teeth can indicate which hand was gripping the food and which hand was cutting. They found that right-angled scratches were the most common and left ones the least for all the teeth.

“We’ve been studying scratch marks on [Neanderthal] teeth, but in all cases they were isolated teeth, or teeth in mandibles not directly associated with skeletal material,” Frayer said.”This is the first time we can check the pattern that’s seen in the teeth with the pattern that’s seen in the arms.”

If Neanderthals were indeed right-handed, that “confirms a modern pattern of left brain dominance, presumably [signalling] linguistic competence,” the researchers write in their paper published online Aug. 22 in the journal PLoS ONE. (In humans, the left side of the brain plays a primary role in language.)

“The long-known connection between brain asymmetry, handedness and language in living populations serves as a proxy for estimating brain lateralization in the fossil record and the likelihood of language capacity in fossils,” the researchers, led by Virginie Volpato of the Senckenberg Institute in Frankfurt, Germany, write.

Written by Randy McDonald

August 31, 2012 at 2:30 pm

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[PHOTO] Tile at the Ossington TTC station

The idea of some sort of station maintenance personnel leaving notes on the wall of the subway station makes more sense than micrograffiti, right?

Graffiti at the Ossington TTC station?

Written by Randy McDonald

August 31, 2012 at 2:01 pm

Posted in Photo, Toronto

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[PHOTO] Tile at the Ossington TTC station

The idea of some sort of station maintenance personnel leaving notes on the wall of the subway station makes more sense than micrograffiti, right?

Graffiti at the Ossington TTC station?

Written by Randy McDonald

August 31, 2012 at 10:00 am

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Tagged with , ,

[URBAN NOTE] “Boomtown Toronto: Trinity-Spadina accounts for 26% of recent population growth”

Metro Canada’s Matt Elliott has another great Toronto map and demographics post up at his blog, this one taking a look at population growth in different Toronto neighbourhoods (defined by ridings). Trinity-Spadina is booming.

According to recent census figures by Statistics Canada, nearly 30,000 new residents moved into the 18.6 km² area of downtown Toronto between 2006 and 2011, making for a staggering 25.5% increase in population in just five years.To put that into perspective: that means about 3% of the land area in Toronto accounted for more than 26% of the city’s recent population growth.

In 2001, Trinity-Spadina was the third smallest federal riding in Toronto. In 2006, it was the fifth largest. In 2011, it became the biggest. (There was some minor redrawing of the riding’s borders during that time, but the impact on population was pretty minimal.)

These stats really aren’t too surprising when you consider the insane number of cranes that crowd Toronto’s skyline. But the numbers do go a long way toward contextualizing the changing face of our city and the impact of the prolonged condo boom. While Toronto’s suburbs still represent a staid majority, the trend toward downtown living is kind of hard to ignore. People are putting a premium on dense, walkable neighbourhoods like never before.

Most interesting to me is that the epicentre of the condo boom in Trinity-Spadina and Toronto Centre (up 7%) is bordered by neighbourhoods that have seen limited or no population growth. Even Parkdale-High Park and Beaches-East York, which feature to-die-for real estate markets, aren’t showing huge population growth.

It’s no mystery as to why. As prices rise and gentrification gentrifies, multi-unit houses that were once home to large working-class families have been snatched up and renovated for a million-dollar market of smaller families or no-kids couples. At the same time, developers have had a hard time selling new project proposals with residents in these areas—even low- and mid-rise development provoke calamity.

Beyond that, the anemic growth in the city’s northern corners only pours more water on some of the fiery pro-subway arguments made during council’s recent transit debate. Scarborough shows no signs of achieving the levels of growth and density necessary to support something like Mayor Rob Ford’s pet subway project. And while Finch Avenue desperately needs improved transit service, Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti is never going to be able to make a realistic case for a Finch subway.

Written by Randy McDonald

August 31, 2012 at 2:29 am

[BRIEF NOTE] On blaming perpetrators of sexual assault, not the victims

Recently, in response to a series of sexual assaults in The Annex, Krista Ford–niece of the incumbent mayor–tweeted some advice to the women of Toronto.

“Stay alert, walk tall, carry mace, take self-defence classes & don’t dress like a whore. #DontBeAVictim #StreetSmart”

The major problem most people had with this tweet didn’t relate to the fact that mace is a prohibited weapon in Canada.

This statement, the latest local installment in a somewhat surprising global discourse on rape, got widely carried by the Toronto media (The Globe and Mail, Torontoist, Toronto Sun, CBC, National Post, Toronto Star). The response of one Alice Moran, originally posted on her Facebook page, got even broader circulation.

Dear a lot of people, but specifically Ms. Krista Ford,

In advance I’d like to say I am sorry. This is not the ideal situation to first acquaint oneself with someone and I am mortified. Sorry! However, under the circumstance, I feel like you owe me a moment of your time, even though we’ve never meet.

The circumstance being you called me a whore.

I should clarify: I’m one of the victims of the recent string of sexual assaults in the Annex. ‘Sup? It’s nice to make you acquaintance.

So, you’ve called me a whore. Here we are. This is awkward now, isn’t it? You’re probably wondering if I’m going to challenge you on having been a member of Lingerie League. I’m not, because I’d never slut-shame another woman. I believe you have a right to your body and regardless of how you do or don’t dress it I believe you have a right to respect and personal security. I guess that’s the key difference in our thinking. You could wear a t-shirt that says “I’m literally asking for it” and I’d still advocate for your security.

That’s what I’m asking for this brief moment of your day, for your edification. You’re a woman and you should know that your body is yours and yours alone. No matter how you dress it, you have a right – an actual Charter of Rights and Freedom right – to not be sexually assaulted. You are entitled to life, liberty and the security of person. Welcome to Canada – you live here! If you weren’t aware of your Charter rights, other Canadian things you may have missed out on are double-doubles, good maple syrup, and Beachcombers*, so check that shit out.

For the record, I was sexually assaulted while wearing a knee-length polka-dot dress. The last time I wore that dress, it was to Easter dinner at my Gran’s, where I’m fairly certain I could make little to no money whoring.

With due repect / sorry,

Alice Moran

Canadian / Comedian / Beachcombers Enthusiast

The conclusion of Torontoist’s Natalie Zina Walschots is mine.

Krista Ford has since issued a statement apologizing for her earlier tweet: “I didn’t mean to cause such an alarm and I apologize if I did.I just want women to be safe.” In her statement, Ford goes on to state that she believes that women should avoid dangerous situations (which she identifies as walking alone), should be aware of their surroundings, and should be able to protect themselves (she advocates kickboxing).

While her apology seems genuine, it is clear that Ford is still missing the mark. Dealing effectively with sexual assault requires shifting responsibility from the victims to the perpetrators. It is not someone’s responsibility to carry mace or know how to throw a punch; the onus is on everyone else not to commit assaults. Only by rallying around victims, calling out victim blaming, focusing on punishing those who have committed assault, and improving community engagement and education can we make people safe.

Written by Randy McDonald

August 31, 2012 at 2:01 am

[URBAN NOTE] One more Rob Ford note

Torontoist’s Steve Kupferman just posted a copy of the factum–brief, in the United States and England–presented by Rob Ford’s lawyer in his defense. The full factum is viewable here, but Kupferman’s four-point summary is below.

  • The Municipal Conflict of Interest Act and its harsh penalties don’t apply to the case, because Ford was voting on a matter subject to council’s own code of conduct, which derives its authority from a different piece of legislation, the City of Toronto Act.
  • City council didn’t have the authority to levy the $3,150 fine in the first place, because the code of conduct doesn’t allow them to.
  • If the judge agrees with neither of those points, then it can at least be said that Ford’s mistake was nothing more than an error of judgment. He has declared conflicts in the past. The complexity of the vote confused him, and he didn’t realize he was in the wrong.
  • Also, $3,150 is insignificant. Ford would never knowingly have jeopardized his job over such a small amount.
  • Thoughts?

    Written by Randy McDonald

    August 31, 2012 at 1:27 am