Evolution of childhood

Really interesting interview in Salon with the author of a new book about how evolutionary psychology can help us understand childhood development.  Turns out the book itself is 900+ pages, so I’m going to have to stick with reading author interviews and any other article about it.   With yet another newborn coming in just under 6 months, I found this exchange quite interesting:

But as you point out in the book, human pregnancy is actually much shorter than would be ideal for the development of the child.

Babies should probably be born after 12 months of gestation, not nine. In the course of our evolution we began standing upright, and then started to expand our brains. But the birth canal, which was adapted to upright walking, was disproportionate to the big brain. We solved that by pushing babies out when they’re really too young.

As a result, they’re not very socially or emotionally appealing or competent when they’re first born, and parents often get disappointed taking their baby home from the hospital. It’s not until three months in that you get the baby gazing into your eyes and turning you into mush. That’s when babies start smiling pretty much at everything that goes “goo goo gaga,” and parents tend to fall in love with their babies.

As much of a pain as a newborn can be in those first few months, I’m not sure Kim would exchange it for another 3 months of pregnancy (perhaps she’ll share her thoughts in comments).  I’d take the trade, though :-).  Actually, this also fits very well with the theory behind one of my very favorite baby books and one every new parent should read, The Happiest Baby on the Block.  Dr. Harvey Karp basically argues your newborn is such a pain because they are, in essence, in a 4th trimester and not really ready for the world.  Our lives would have been so much better if this book had been out when David was born.  It definitely improved things a lot with Alex (less so Evan, who fortunately was a pretty good newborn).

Anyway, the whole interview has a number of other interesting tidbits.  Those of you with teenagers will definitely want to check it out as he has a lot to say about adolescence.

Yet another criminal justice failure

In my class on criminal justice issues last semester, we covered a lot of flaws in the system.  By the end of the term, all the students were in agreement that electing judges was definitely a bad idea.  One item we hardly touched on, though, was issues with juries.  In large part, because so few cases ever go to a jury trial.  That said, you’d like to that our jury trials are being conducted in a fair manner with regards to race.  You’re probably not that surprised to hear the answer is “no.”  The Times summarizes a recent report from the Equal Justice Institute:

While jury makeup varies widely by jurisdiction, the organization, which studied eight Southern states — Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee — found areas in all of them where significant problems persist. In Alabama, courts have found racially discriminatory jury selection in 25 death penalty cases since 1987, and there are counties where more than 75 percent of black jury pool members have been struck in death penalty cases.

An analysis of Jefferson Parish, La., by the Louisiana Capital Assistance Center found that from 1999 to 2007, blacks were struck from juries at more than three times the rate of whites.

In North Carolina, at least 26 current death row defendants were sentenced by all-white juries. In South Carolina, a prosecutor said he struck a black potential juror because he “shucked and jived” when he walked.

Shucked and jived??!  For real?!  And this is okay?  I really like Kevin Drum’s take:

Most racially-inspired problems are hard to solve, but in this case there’s a pretty easy solution: just eliminate the voir dire process entirely. Pick 12 people at random, let the judge interview them and eliminate anyone who’s obviously unqualified or has a conflict of interest, and that’s that. You have your jury. Not only would this eliminate the most obvious source of racial bias, but it would have plenty of other positive effects too. It would reduce the number of jurors that courts need to summon, for example. And it would speed up trials.

I’ve never actually been called for jury duty, but would certainly like to be some day.  I have a feeling, though, that not too many prosecutors would let me on their jury.  At least it won’t be because of my race.

Facebook isn’t free!

I am so sick of all the whining about the loss of privacy on facebook!  Get over it!  (This Daniel Lyons piece in Newsweek put me over the edge today).  Facebook is not free.  Facebook provides a hugely valuable service to me by 1) keeping me in touch with friends I would simply not be in touch otherwise ; 2) letting me more widely share the photos of the kids and the crazy things they say and do; 3) let’s me come across all sorts of interesting photos, links, etc., that I would not otherwise have, and; 4) general miscellaneous enjoyment.  That’s good stuff!  In exchange, facebook gets to know that I work at NC State, live in Cary, love to read, like Nirvana, U2, Seinfeld, and the Matrix, etc.,  and share that information with anybody who thinks that it is valuable to them.  That seems like one hell of a trade in my favor.  Facebook is not a public service.  The service and software are surely far from free.  Should facebook be more transparent about what they do with privacy, etc.?  Sure.  But seriously, privacy nuts, get over yourselves.

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