Remember those times Mom told you to turn the TV off because it turns your brain to mush? Well, it turns out she was right. A new study by Japanese researchers indicates that too much television impacts children's brains in damaging ways. Scientists from Tohoku University performed MRIs on 276 children, ages 5 to 18, who watched between zero and four hours of television daily. They found that the more children watched TV, the more gray matter they had in regions around the prefrontal cortex, an outcome linked with lower verbal intelligence. The researchers compared excess gray matter to excess body fat, and said that this area of the brain needs to be "thinned" during adolescence by avoiding television and engaging in other creative endeavors, such as learning to play an instrument. The Tohoku researchers concluded, "TV viewing is directly or indirectly associated with the neurocognitive development of children. At least some of the observed associations are not beneficial and guardians of children should consider these effects when children view TV for long periods of time." [dailymail.co.uk, 1/10/14 c&e]
OK. So you've decided to turn the TV off. Now what? Well, if you want your kids to listen to you when they're older, then play classical music for them when they're young. A new study by researchers at the University of London's Institute of Education found that children who hear classical music experience boosts in their ability to concentrate, listen and exercise self-discipline as they get older. [dailymail.co.uk, 1/8/14 c&e]
"We now have a couple states—Colorado and Washington—that have gone into the business of effectively encouraging drug use. … The people who debate these policy changes usually cite the health risks users would face or the tax revenues the state might realize. Many people these days shy away from talk about the moral status of drug use because that would imply that one sort of life you might choose is better than another sort of life. But, of course, these are the core questions: Laws profoundly mold culture, so what sort of community do we want our laws to nurture? What sort of individuals and behaviors do our governments want to encourage? I'd say that in healthy societies government wants to subtly tip the scale to favor temperate, prudent, self-governing citizenship. In those societies, government subtly encourages the highest pleasures, like enjoying the arts or being in nature, and discourages lesser pleasures, like being stoned. In legalizing weed, citizens of Colorado are, indeed, enhancing individual freedom. But they are also nurturing a moral ecology in which it is a bit harder to be the sort of person most of us want to be."
—New York Times columnist David Brooks, from his op-ed "Weed: Been There. Done That." [nytimes.com, 1/3/14]
According to a national survey of more than 40,000 high school kids conducted by the University of Michigan, teens are increasingly turning away from synthetic marijuana, such as K2 and Spice, with numbers dropping from 11% using it in 2012 to 8% in 2013. And what are they turning toward? Use of real marijuana jumped during the same timeframe after a decade of gradual decline. About one in four high school seniors reported smoking the drug in the month before the survey, with 36% reporting use in a year's span. Most experts see the shift as coming from a growing perception that natural marijuana isn't all that harmful. Only 40% of those high schoolers see pot smoking as risky, for instance, a figure that's down from 44% last year and 75% nearly two decades ago. "Young people are getting the wrong message from the medical marijuana and legalization campaigns," said Gil Kerlikowske, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. "If it's continued to be talked about as a benign substance that has no ill effects, we're doing a great disservice to young people by giving them that message." [usatoday.com, 12/18/13 stats]
Methamphetamine has never been a safe substance to ingest. But in and around Albuquerque, N.M., there's a new form of the drug that's particularly dangerous—thanks to Breaking Bad. The new variety making the rounds is tinted blue, in apparent homage to AMC's widely lauded show. But the chemicals that turn it blue also make users quite ill—and that's on top of meth's other well-documented health risks. [AP, 1/14/14 c&e]
Gravity and American Hustle dominated the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences nomination list for the 2014 Oscars, which will be held March 2. Those pics garnered 10 nominations total, including a Best Picture nod for each. American Hustle has already nabbed three awards at the Golden Globes Awards held on Jan. 12, including Best Motion Picture in the Musical or Comedy category. 12 Years a Slave got the Golden nod for Best Motion Picture, Drama. [huffingtonpost.com, 1/16/14; hollywoodreporter.com, 1/16/14; goldenglobes.com/awards, 1/12/14]
Martin Scorsese's graphic, profanity-strewn film The Wolf of Wall Street may have gotten an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, but it's getting banned, censored and shunned overseas. Malaysia and Nepal have officially rejected the three-hour movie outright. Censors in India and Lebanon have trimmed some of the most offensive scenes. In Singapore, the film was given that country's most-restrictive R21 rating, meaning it will only be shown in a handful of theaters.
Back in the United States, controversy is still swirling about the message the movie sends about white collar crime, as well as the sheer number of obscenities and sex scenes it includes. And now leaders from charities The Arc and United Cerebral Palsy have issued a joint statement censuring the film for its use of the word "retard" and for mocking cerebral palsy: "The Wolf of Wall Street is getting a lot of attention for how it offends audiences on many levels, but one aspect that hasn't been discussed is its use of the R-word and its unacceptable mockery of people with cerebral palsy. Hollywood just doesn't seem to get it." Additionally, Stephen Bennett, CEO of United Cerebral Palsy, said, "While we understand that the film's content is deliberately distasteful and excessive, it does not excuse it. It is astonishing that the film's producers, director and actors deemed this kind of language and portrayal to be acceptable—they can do better, and we urge them to." [hollywoodreporter.com, 1/15/14; usnews.com, 1/13/14; huffingtonpost.com, 1/16/14]
PBS' Downton Abbey drew more than 10 million American viewers for its Season 4 premiere on Jan. 5, up 22% compared to last season's first episode. Two other popular shows, however, did not enjoy similar audience bumps during their respective premieres on Jan 15: A&E's Duck Dynasty and Fox's American Idol. The beleaguered Duck clan drew 8.5 million viewers for its Season 5 premiere, down 28% compared to the previous season's lead-off. Over on Fox, 15 million fans tuned in to watch the beginning of the 13th American Idol season, featuring alumni judges Jennifer Lopez and Keith Urban, along with newcomer Harry Connick Jr. It was the lowest season-premiere rating since the show's inauguration. [entertainment.time.com, 1/6/14; deadline.com, 1/16/14; tvbythenumbers.com, 1/16/14 stats]
"Show me your pocketbook and I will show you your religion. Show me your Google search history and I will show you your religion. You can talk all you want about your beliefs, but without action your fancy words about faith mean very little. Religion is best shown in the way we spend our time here on the planet. What you say you believe is not your religion, your religion is the way you treat the orphans and the widows here on the planet."
—Switchfoot frontman Jon Foreman, in his song-by-song commentary about the band's latest album, Fading West [ccmmagazine.com, 1/13/14]
"I think the president of the IOC should be Johnny Knoxville, because basically this stuff is just Jacka‑‑ stuff that they invented and called Olympic sports."
—veteran NBC sportscaster Bob Costas, talking about the new trick-filled snowboarding event known as slopestyle. Costas' comments provoked an immediate howl of protest from slopestyle athletes, including Olympian Todd Richards, who replied via Twitter, "The sacrifices myself and others have made to progress the sport of snowboarding has just become the product of an MTV show? awesome" [usatoday.com, 1/8/14]