Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
Wednesday, March 15, 2021

Evolutionary biologist David Haig wonders about the womb:

“Pregnancy is absolutely central to reproduction, and yet pregnancy doesn’t seem to work very well,” he said. “If you think about the heart or the kidney, they’re wonderful bits of engineering that work day in and day out for years and years. But pregnancy is associated with all sorts of medical problems. What’s the difference?”

The difference is that the heart and the kidney belong to a single individual, while pregnancy is a two-person operation. And this operation does not run in perfect harmony. Instead, Dr. Haig argues, a mother and her unborn child engage in an unconscious struggle over the nutrients she will provide it…

A fetus does not sit passively in its mother’s womb and wait to be fed. Its placenta aggressively sprouts blood vessels that invade its mother’s tissues to extract nutrients.

A lot of this, especially the genetic and micro-nutritional details, flies right over my head. But another symptom of mother-fetus competition is somewhat familiar to me:

In a 1993 paper, Dr. Haig first predicted that many complications of pregnancy would turn out to be produced by this conflict. One of the most common complications is pre-eclampsia, in which women experience dangerously high blood pressure late in pregnancy. For decades scientists have puzzled over pre-eclampsia, which occurs in about 6 percent of pregnancies.

Dr. Haig proposed that pre-eclampsia was just an extreme form of a strategy used by all fetuses. The fetuses somehow raised the blood pressure of their mothers so as to drive more blood into the relatively low-pressure placenta. Dr. Haig suggested that pre-eclampsia would be associated with some substance that fetuses injected into their mothers’ bloodstreams. Pre-eclampsia happened when fetuses injected too much of the stuff, perhaps if they were having trouble getting enough nourishment.

I don’t know if it was indeed pre-eclampsia, but I have a friend who experienced dangerously high blood pressure during her one and only pregnancy. It was so serious that she’s likely not going to have another child, mainly because of this health concern.

I guess it’s a sign of the times that, while reading about all this, the culture wars involving evolution and Intelligent Design came to mind. Mainly, I figured IDers would read all sorts conspiratorial cues into a theory that basically presented reproduction as an imperfect biological conflict.

Dr. Haig has enjoyed watching his theory mature and inspire other scientists. But he has also had to cope with a fair amount of hate mail. It comes from across the political spectrum, from abortion opponents to feminists who accuse him of trying to force patriarchy into biology.

“People seem to think, ‘He must have a political agenda,’ ” Dr. Haig said. “But I’m not talking at all about conscious behaviors. I’m just interested in these mechanisms and why they evolved.”

I guess I’m not the only one. In a way, it means the nutjobs have done their jobs.

- Costa Tsiokos, Wed 03/15/2006 11:44:05 PM
Category: Science | Permalink | Feedback

swap spotThis Friday, Manhattanites can know the joys of Sake Wasabi Mustard and Sliced Papaya in White Grape Juice. Cult-funky grocery Trader Joe’s is coming to town.

I always think of Joe’s as a California-confined chain, probably because of that “Two-Buck Chuck” wine thing from the past couple of years. Plus, despite a geographic spread throughout 20 States, there’s nary a store in Florida (surprisingly so — I’d think the Sunshine State would be fertile ground for this type of retail environment), and so I wouldn’t have detected the fever. But now, I guess it’s gonna be in my face.

And if the stuff on the shelves isn’t enough to entice New Yorkers, maybe the swingin’ singles scene it fosters elsewhere will take hold and make the spot kitty-corner from Union Square a social hotspot. (Or does that sort of thing happen only in cities where there aren’t bars on every other street?)

- Costa Tsiokos, Wed 03/15/2006 10:47:14 PM
Category: Food, Business, New Yorkin' | Permalink | Feedback

Schaller Consulting today released its annual New York City Taxicab Fact Book, containing all the facts and figures you could ever want to know about urban livery racket.

Aside from confirming the immigrant image of your average Big Apple hack — 91 percent of drivers are foreign-born, and the Indian subcontinent supplies most of those — the report found an interesting historical metric:

As a result of the fare increase, drivers’ inflation-adjusted cash incomes now exceed the cash incomes of cab drivers in 1929 - for the first time since the Stock Market Crash of that year.

Hmm… Cab drivers raking it in (if you can call $158 per 10-12 hour shift a rake) as the calm before the financial storm? Should we be calling our brokers?

- Costa Tsiokos, Wed 03/15/2006 09:21:27 PM
Category: Business, New Yorkin' | Permalink | Feedback

A year ago, screenwriter Robert Harling envisioned a movie adaptation of “Dallas” that would take the Ewings on quite a trip:

“It’s reinventing the Ewing family as if they existed now in 2006 when the movie comes out,” he said. “In this story Bobby and Pam meet, fall in love and get married, J.R. and Sue Ellen are Macbeth and Lady Macbeth and we have the patriarch Jock and the matriarch Miss Ellie. These characters are outrageous - one of things I told the studio is I’d like to do ‘Dallas on acid’,” Harling said.

Let me just say: That is how every single television-to-movie remake ought to be done. Pull that ripchord, baby!

And if the proposed casting of John Travolta and Jennifer Lopez as J.R. and Sue Ellen comes off, I’d say the freak-out would be well underway.

- Costa Tsiokos, Wed 03/15/2006 08:34:53 PM
Category: TV, Celebrity, Movies | Permalink | Feedback