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Autism, French Satire, Sri Lanka, Heist Films

The Morning Show
  • Jan 13, 2015
  • 01:41:30

AUTISM AND AIR POLLUTION  What a mother eats while she’s pregnant, how much exercise and sleep she gets, the medicine she takes, all can affect the health of her child. Now it seems even the air she breathes matters.  A recent study conducted by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found that women exposed to high levels of air pollution (fine particulate matter) could be more likely to have an autistic child. The results were published in the journal “Environmental Health Perspectives.”   Women who lived in neighborhoods with the highest levels of diesel air pollution had children with autism rates twice as high as women in neighborhoods with the least amount of diesel pollution, says Andrea Roberts, lead researcher on the Harvard Public Health Study.  “I was quite surprised” to see such a robust correlation between air pollution and autism, says Roberts, noting that many previous studies have looked at the link. “The more research we do, it tends to be that even at lower levels of air pollution, we find some effects” on the child in utero.  Pollution is not the sole cause of autism, adds Roberts. Many factors, including genetics, contribute to its development in children.   The link makes sense. “Air pollutants such as lead, mercury and other heavy metals are known to affect brain development, to be toxic,” says Roberts. A mother inhales the toxins, which make their way into the blood stream, the placenta and then into the developing fetus.   The Harvard Public Health Study found the association between air pollution and risk of autism was much stronger in boys and generally didn’t exist in girls, says Roberts, adding that it’s difficult to study autism in girls because kids with autism are approximately 4 to 1 male.  “If I were pregnant right now, I’d definitely try to avoid being on the highway with the window open breathing in a lot of diesel,” says Roberts.  CUBA-US RELATIONS WARMING  President Barack Obama announced last month that after decades of sanctions and embargoes, the United States would rekindle diplomatic relations with Cuba. Since the 1959 Communist Revolution by Fidel Castro, the country has been economically isolated from most of the world.  This thawing has important implications for Cubans and Americans, the extent to which we won’t know for months, if not years.  BYU political science professor Darren Hawkins recalls a mix of “economic malaise” and a fear among Cubans of speaking on any political topic during a visit he made to the island in the late 1990s. “People were scared. They were okay talking a little about their economic situation, but even that – criticisms of the government were completely unwelcome.”  “Cuba’s always been a model of good health care and education, but as far as other facets of their well-being, not so much,” adds Hawkins. Other countries have been willing to trade with Cuba, but “the US embargo hurts.” Cuba’s relationship with the US has absolutely stunted investment, says Hawkins. “Cuba’s also been hurt by its own government’s adoption of a non-viable economic model.”  The nation’s “500,000 entrepreneurial souls” are the most likely to benefit from warmed relations between Cuba and the U.S., posits Hawkins. “For many Cubans, there could be some real benefits, including more Americans travelling to Cuba and spending money there. If the US opens Cuba to tourism, the potential is certainly enormous – who wouldn’t want to go to the beaches of Cuba and partake of its beautiful culture and nightlife? Cuba has many, many charms.”  The U.S. and Cuba both come to the table with a lot of baggage. (“Maybe more on the Cuban side than on the U.S. side. After all, the Castros are still in charge in Cuba and we’ve had many presidents since the start of the embargo.”) “There is a lot of ill will and mistrust,” says Hawkins. “For many years the U.S. spent a lot of time trying to assassinate Fidel Castro. And the Cuban government has been very oppressive and not a good playmate, so to speak.”  SATIRE AND FRENCH CULTURE  “Je Suis Charlie” has become a unity cry for millions of people around the world expressing solidarity with the 12 people who were killed last week at the office of French weekly satirical magazine “Charlie Hebdo.” The attackers claimed to be motivated by the many irreverent cartoons the magazine has published over the years of the Muslim prophet Mohammed. Four prominent French cartoonists died in the attack. They were so prominent as to have been household names in France, causing us to wonder about the role of satire and editorial cartooning in French society.  “Charlie Hebdo” is much more irreverent and scatological than “The Onion” or “Mad Magazine,” says BYU Humanities professor and satire researcher Kerry Soper. It’s a small publication and very left-leaning, “not as mainstream” as Mad Magazine, which was targeted to pre-teen kids and sold in supermarkets.  The history of satire in France goes back to the Middle Ages when “farces” were performed in towns as comic relief at the end of a long day of religious contemplation with “miracle plays,” explains Chris Flood, BYU professor of French literature and satire. The farces were “seen as a social pressure release valve” by authorities of the institutions the plays mocked – including the church and the government.  “Charlie Hebdo” is a direct descendant of those farce plays, says Flood. “Satire played a major role in Protestant reformation in France and was an engine for social change.”  Satire in France, above all, is “accepted and it’s respected,” says Flood. “In the U.S. satire is still marginalized to a certain degree, whereas in France, the great satirists Moliere and Voltaire are respected and their words have become part of the canon.”  In the U.S., “we have a preference for satire that is melded with comedy a little more thoroughly,” adds Soper. “The people we celebrate come more from improve comedy than intellectual or journalistic backgrounds.”  HIGH-FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP TOXIC TO MICE  Can you tell the difference between a cookie made with high-fructose corn syrup and one made with table sugar? Your body can. And according to new research out of the University of Utah Department of Biology, high-fructose corn syrup is toxic to mice.  “This is the most robust study showing there is a difference between high-fructose corn syrup and table sugar at human-relevant doses,” says biology professor Wayne Potts, senior author of a new study scheduled for publication in the March 2015 issue of The Journal of Nutrition.  Fructose is not inherently bad for you, says postdoctoral biology researcher James Ruff, who co-authored the study.  Fructose is found naturally in fruit, but it also comes with complex carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. Most importantly you’re getting it with fiber, which minimizes the negative consequences of consuming fructose, explains Ruff. “Fructose in fruits and vegetables comes packaged with the antidote.”  High-fructose corn syrup does not come with that antidote and Ruff’s research finds that it has toxic effects in mice – particularly female mice, who experienced reduction in reproduction and lifespan.  “Fructose is the bad guy, regardless of if it’s in high-fructose corn syrup or table sugar,” says Ruff. The difference is that in table sugar the fructose molecules are connected to glucose. In high-fructose corn syrup they’re not, and “when fructose molecules are free, that’s when it’s the real bad guy.”  SRI LANKA’S SURPRISING ELECTION  In the last week, the long-time and increasingly authoritarian leader of Sri Lanka conceded defeat in a Presidential election. The transition of power is a significant development for democracy in Asia.  “This is huge,” says BYU political science professor Quinn Mecham, who studies elections and political power in the Middle East and Asia. “If you’re a connoisseur of fine elections, this is an awesome one.” Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa - Asia’s longest-serving leader – was defeated by a defector from his own cabinet - Maithripala Sirisena- who came from behind to beat him in an election Rajapaksa called two years earlier than required by law.  Rajapaksa rode a wave of popularity for defeating the Tamil Tigers in 2009, which was a big deal, says Mecham. “Since then, he’s developed a clear position of Buddhist nationalism which has lead the Tamil and Muslim minorities (which make up about 20 percent of the population) to feel they have no future in Sri Lanka.” Buddhist voters also went against Rajapaksa in the recent election because of concerns that he’s becoming corrupt and autocratic. “The new president, Sirisena, campaigned a lot on those issues,” adds Mecham.  “Lovers of democracy will enthusiastically welcome this new Sri Lankan president,” says Mecham. “His main campaign platform was based on taking away power from the presidency and giving more power back to parliament and the prime minister. It remains to be seen if he can do that.”  WHY WE LOVE A GOOD HEIST FILM  There are war movies and gangster flicks, crime films and thrillers, Westerns and film noir.  And woven through them, often, you’ll find the common thread of a heist: The seemingly impossible theft devised by a mastermind with a team of experts and maybe even a con thrown in for fun. But does the heist stand on its own as a modern film genre?  In the new book, “The Heist Film: Stealing with Style,” BYU French studies professor Daryl Lee argues they’re back on the move – “making off with over $2 billion in box office sales in the last decade.”  “Audiences love them, and why not?” says Lee. “Who doesn’t love the idea of getting away with lots of loot.”  The heist film distilled into its own genre in the 1930s and 40s, says Lee. The politics and economic uncertainties of the Depression and Post-War Era – along with the expansion of cities – fueled a fascination among directors and filmgoers of “doing the impossible” and “making it big.” “Audiences identified then – and still do – with people who beat the odds.”  But Lee notes that not all of those original heist films ended with the thieves making the score. Many times, they’d fail – and even die tragically. The successful heist and with thieves sailing off into the sunset with their loot is a more modern evolution of the genre.  Those earlier heist films understood the pleasure that could be found in failure, if you’d given it your best shot and came just short of the goal, explains Lee.  “Genre films are allegories for society,” says Lee. “The Heist Film embodies the purpose for work, effort and exceptionalism.”  He says they’re also parables of art, with the thieves standing in for film artists. Think of all the characters who wax poetic about their craft in heist films, using visual imagery like “seeing the whole picture” and “all the angles.”  And here’s an irony: Heist films today are all remakes (Ocean’s Eleven, The Italian Job, etc.), notes Lee. Here’s a genre all about originality (outsmarting everyone to make off with the loot) and filmmakers aren’t coming up with anything original for the genre today. Show More...

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