Laputan Logic
Friday, May 30, 2003
  Kippot recognition

This is snipped from Steven Morgan Friedman's semi-regular random thoughts newsletter.

I was recently talking to a friend's wife, who teaches at Yeshiva University--the leading Orthodox Jewish university in New York--and she pointed out to me that the colors and patterns of the kippot (the little hats that Jews are required to wear at almost all times, also known as a "yarmulkes" or even "skull-caps") that students wear reveal their attitudes towards everything from Judaism and Israel, to life and pot-smoking. I pressed her for examples, and to my great interest and surprise, she recited for me the unofficial list of associated affiliations. Later, I e-mailed her and asked her for this list, which I would like to share with you now, with, of course, the caveat that these are just one keep observer's insights from one social context:

- Black velvet is worn by the most frum [very observant] men: Lubavitchers, Chabadniks, and others in the more modern orthodox realm who are very observant

- Black leather indicates less religious but still very observant and traditional people

- Knitted yarmulkes with a white center demonstrate strong Zionism

- Knitted yarmulkes with other colors in the center don't make a specific political statement but show more openness to modernism than the black of any material; they're often made for guys by their girlfriends (especially the ones with names knitted into them) but not always

- Knitted yarmulkes worn on the very front of the head show that the wearer went to an orthodox Jewish day school

- Full-head yarmulkes (like the Sephardic-styled, embroidered ones or the knitted ones of thicker yarn than cover the head nearly to the ears) show much more openness to liberalism and modern ideologies. At YU, guys with these kippot tend to be rebels or pot-smokers or guitar players. This statement is, of course, a terrible generalization but has some kernel of truth.

- The very little yarmulkes show some kind of coolness, but I don't know what the exact statement is. Same goes for yarmulkes with smiley-faces, watermelons, Nike swooshes, names of sports teams, etc. I think those say, sure, I'm religious, but I can be cool and "with-it" too

- Guys with velvet yarmulkes under their big black hats are hard core. At YU, they are almost always Ba'al T'shuvah, but in the rest of the world they're just really really religious and tend to eschew the trappings of American capitalism.

Also of interest, you might like to check out Steven's online cliche finder or his list of etymologies.  
Wednesday, May 28, 2003

A new computer program can determine the sex of an author by detecting subtle differences in the words men and women prefer to use.

For instance, female writers tend to choose grammatical terms that apply to personal relationships, such as "for" and "with," more frequently than men do.

"Women have a more interactive style," said Shlomo Argamon, a computer scientist at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago who developed the program. "They want to create a relationship between the writer and the reader."

Men, on the other hand, use more numbers, adjectives and determiners - words such as "the," "this" and "that" - because they apparently care more than women do about conveying specific information.

Argamon said the intent of male writers often was to say: "Here's something I want to tell you about, and here are some things about it."

Women, he found, write the pronoun "she" more often than men do, although both sexes use "he" about equally.


thanks, Pete  
Tuesday, May 27, 2003
  The Dark Side of the Genome

While we speak of matters dark:

Researchers shine their lights on noncoding sequence

The dark side of the moon is a misnomer. Light reaches la luna's entire surface, but one half is unviewable from Earth. The human genome, the now essentially decoded map of life, likewise has a light side--the genes encoding mRNA and protein--and a dark side, which is coming into view for the first time. The dark side encompasses more than its opposite: The majority of the genome comprises intronic regions, stretches of repeat sequence, and other assorted gibberish that has attained the ignoble dubbing, "junk."

The first exploratory missions to the human genome's faceted surface are turning up traces regarding the extent of the junk. At a recent National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) conference, numerous presenters invoked Sydney Brenner's classic distinction: "Garbage you throw away and junk you keep, because you think you might want to do something useful with it, and of course you never do."

Comparative, computational, and experimental studies can shine light on these unexplored DNA elements. Some are known regulatory stretches; others encode RNAs but offer scarce hints at their function. Eric Green, chief of NHGRI's genome sequencing branch, says, "I think the challenge is going to be in the nongenic, functional portion of the genome."


Fanciful. Preposterous. Absurd.

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