Thursday, July 09, 2015

Good Hygiene Counts In Wild


Northern flickers have a poor division of domestic labor.

Among these tawny, 30-centimeter woodpeckers with downcurving bills, the male flickers are more industrious housekeepers than their mates, according to a new report on their sanitation habits in the journal Animal Behavior.

Researchers already knew that flickers, like many woodpeckers are a sex role reversed species. The fathers spend more time incubating the eggs and feeding the young than do the mothers. Now scientists have found that the males’ parental zeal also extends to nest hygiene: when a chick makes waste, Dad is the one who usually picks up the unwanted presentation and disposes of it far from home.

“It takes away microbes, removes smells that might alert predators, and makes the whole nest much cleaner,” said Elizabeth Gow, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of British Columbia and an author on the new report. “It’s an important aspect of parental care that we often forget about.”

The new work reflects a growing interest in what might be called animal sanitation studies-the exploration of how, why and under what conditions different species will seek to stay clean, stave off decay and formally dispose of the excreted and expired. Nature may be wild, but that doesn’t mean anything goes anywhere, and many animals follow strict rules for separating metabolic ingress and egress, and avoiding contamination.

Researchers have identified honeybee undertakers that specialize in removing corpses from the hive, and they have located dedicated underground toilet chambers of African mole rats.

Among chimpanzees, hygiene often serves as a major driver of cultural evolution, and primatologists have found that different populations of the ape are marked by distinctive grooming styles. The chimpanzees in the Tai Forest of Ivory Coast will pick a tick or other parasite from a companion’s fur and then squash it against their forearms.

Chimpanzees in the Budongo Forest of Uganda prefer to dainty place the fruits of grooming on a leaf for inspection, to decide whether the dislodged bloodsuckers are safe to eat, or should be smashed and tossed. Budongo males, those fastidious charmers, will also use leaves as “napkins,” to wipe their penises clean after sex.

Serious sanitation work can be time-consuming and dangerous, as the new study of flickers revealed. Baby woodpeckers deposit their waste in fecal sacs, the mess contained in a gelatinous outer coating “like a water balloon,” Dr. Gow said. “It makes for easier removal from the nest.”

The little birds can be prodigious sac factories. Where human parents may change 50 to 80 diapers a week, flicker parents remove the same number of fecal sacs a day, each time venturing some 90 meters from the nest and risking exposure to predators like hawks.

Dr. Gow determined that father flickers performed about 60 percent of the sanitation runs, spent up to an hour a day on the task and, in the event of the untimely death of a mate, were happy to let the sacs stack up. “When they’re really strained,” Dr. Gow said, “and the option are remove fecal sacs or feed the kids, they’ll feed the kids.”

Good hygiene is a matter of context. Luigi Pontieri of the Centre for Social Evolution at Copenhagen University and his colleagues study the pharaoh ant.

Unlike most ants, pharaoh ants don’t build structured nests or defend territory. “They’ll live wherever they can, in places other ants avoid,” Dr. Pontieri said. “They’ll live in trash, in layers of old food, in electric plugs, between the pages of books. You can even find a colony inside a mealworm, which they ate their way into.”

Sometimes, Dr. Pontieri said, “it can be really disgusting to work with these ants.”

Delving into the secrets of the ant’s capacity to stay healthy no matter where they roam, the researchers discovered that the insects seemed to resist disease in part through a kind of vaccination program.

As the researchers reported in the journal PLOS One, when the ants were given a choice between nesting in clean soil or soil littered with the corpses of pharaoh ants killed by fungal disease, the living ants chose to nest with the fouled fallen.

Uninfected cadavers didn’t hold the same appeal; the pharaoh ants wanted dead comrades with spores.

We think the ants were actively seeking small doses of the pathogen,” Dr. Pontieri said. “It might be a way of getting immunized against a disease that could kill them.”

Yet stable property can have its benefits. Gene E. Robinson, a professor of neurology and entomology at the University of Illinois, said that when formerly free-living honeybees first “took the show indoors” by constructing thermally controlled hives, they gained the power to coddle their young but faced new challenges of hygiene.

“Dead bees that once dropped harmlessly to the ground could now accumulate in the hive,” Dr. Robinson said.

The social insects solved the problem by establishing a tiny corps of undertakers: bees in late middle age and of a particular genotype that has yet to be decoded.

African mole rats build lavatories. When one toilet chamber is too full, said Chris G.Faulkes of Queen Mary University of London, the workers will “backfill it, seal it up and make a new one.”

Like its human equivalent, a mole rat toilet chamber is also a place to primp, and a freshly relieved animal will mark its recent visit with a touch of anogenital fluid daubed on the bathroom floor.

Taken from TODAY Saturday Edition, The New York Times International Weekly, July 4, 2015

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Questions of Taste Over Chocolate Deities

How to See Yourself As You Really Are
How to See Yourself As You Really Are (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
It could be something religious, or simply a matter of taste... I leave the decision to you.


As religious question go, it is a relatively small one. But inevitably, it must be asked: Is it eat a chocolate statuette of your favorite holy figure?

The matter arose at Bond Street Chocolate, a boutique in Manhattan that traffics in detailed figurines of Jesus, Moses, the Buddha and the elephant-headed Hindu god Ganesh.

Last month, an organization called Universal Society of Hinduism issued a demand: “Upset Hindus urge withdrawal of Lord Ganesh-shaped edible chocolate.”

The owner of the store, Lynda Stern, was puzzled. For more than five years, she has been selling the gold-dusted Ganesh and his shelfmates, beside passion fruit bonbons and chocolate- coated wasabi peas, with barely a whiff of controversy.

In the news release, the society’s president, Rajan Zed, wrote that Ganesh, the remover of obstacles, was “highly revered in Hinduism and was meant to be worshiped in temples or home shrines and not to be eaten casually.”

But Ms. Stern, whose nearly eight-centimeter-tall Ganesh sells for $15, has no intension of desisting.

“All spiritual icons are treated equally in my shop,” she said, “with honor and respect to the religion.”

But whether the statues offend the devout depends on whom you ask.

“We Hindus look at the universe as eternal and god almighty as one,” said Uma Mysorekar, president of the Hindu Temple Society of North America in New York. “So we would not say that the lord resides only in that little piece of chocolate. It’s more like when they eat it, the lord comes back to us-he is within us.”

The store’s Divine Collection also includes a 10-centimeter –high Virgin of Guadalupe. The Reverend Santiago Rubio, pastor of the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe in New York, was not pleased to hear this.

“We consider statues and images as sacred objects that help connect with the divine or the supernatural, “he said. “So to transform them into merchandise, candy to eat, I don’t think it’s the best way to go.”

But a spokesman for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, Joseph Zwilling, recalled a Catholic organization’s dinner at which guests were given white chocolate Virgin Marys.

“I don’t think there’s anything inherently sacrilegious about it,” Mr.Zwilling said, speaking about Ms. Stern’s Jesus treat, which is cast from a dashboard ornament. “It’s the intention of the person making it that matters.”

Ms. Stern said that an article about the chocolate statuettes appeared in 2009, she got a call from a representative of a Buddhist community in Chinatown who threatened a boycott of the store. She chose to ignore it-“That’s not my demographic, “she said-and it ended there.

Since then, she said, her figurines had been purchased “non-ironically” by many religious customers.

Hun Lye, a Tibetan Buddhist lama who last year helped make a sand mandala at the Asia Society in Manhattan to demonstrate impermanence, said that an ancient Buddhist text, “A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life,” “says that those who get upset when the Buddha is being insulted should not call themselves disciples of the Buddha.”

“It’s the Dalai Lama’s favorite text,” he said. “But probably you wouldn’t see the Dalai Lama buying the statue and chomping on it.”

Taken from TODAY Saturday Edition, The New York Times International Weekly, March 21, 2015

Need anything for body cleansing?

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Growing Up to be More Than One Thing

English: A "Golden False Acacia" in ...
English: A "Golden False Acacia" in the Swiss Garden at Old Warden. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Is this something like the same tree that adapts to the changing season? Far out? Ahh... just read on...


As the pursuit of multiple professions and passions has become the norm, people juggle multiple identities.

Kevin Gleeson, for instance, is a graphic artist for the New York Police Department, where he designs banners and materials for news conferences. He usually wears a jacket, tie and his long hair pulled into a ponytail. But one day, when he was called to the commissioner’s office unexpectedly, he wore pink pants and his hair undone. Mr. Gleeson was dressed as his alter-ego, a Keith Richards impersonator.

“They call me the Keith-iest Keith,” Mr. Gleeson told The New York Times while preparing to play with the Stony Rollers, a Rolling Stones tribute band.

Mr. Gleeson has been performing Keith Richards’s music for more than 40 years. Now in his mid-50s, his life is not much like that of the more famous Rolling Stone – he has been sober for 28 years, and he seems to know everyone in the police department – but he is not ready to give up his night job.

For Thomas Tessier, an admissions officer at Stanford University’s online high school, his other job, as a workout instructor at Barry’s Boot camp in San Francisco, is attuned to another side of his personality.

“Stanford is interactive and I meet people, but I can’t get on a microphone and make snarky comments about Britney Spears and stomp around,” he told The Times.

“It’s different.”

Ever wondered how to be 'more intelligent'?

In boarding school, he coached lacrosse and cross-country, and he worked at a wine bar.

“The standard question, ‘What do you want to do when you grow up?,’ it doesn’t exist anymore,” Mr.Tessier said. “As somebody whose job it is to ask people this it’s like…” He shrugged. “There’s a million answers.”

Brittany Bronson teaches English at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, but earns part of her living as a waitress. She sometimes feels the stigma of being a blue-collar worker, she wrote in The Times. But her identity goes beyond her restaurant job, and the same is true for her colleagues, who have real estate licenses, artistic abilities, freelance projects and families.

“If my students can imagine the possibility that choosing to work with their hands does not automatically exclude them from being people who critically examine the world around them, I will feel I’ve done something worthwhile,” she wrote in The Times.

Identity for Mariam Ghani, a visual artist in New York, bridges multiple cultures. Her mother is Lebanese, and her father is President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan.

In February, she opened a show, “Like Water From a Stone,” which explores her diverse world. She collaborated on a piece with her father to examine Afghanistan’s history as a cycle: reform, revolt, collapse, recovery.

“Mariam, like most of us, is many different things at once,” said Ramzi Kassem, a professor at the City University of New York who has worked with Ms. Ghani. “This project, by design, is many different things over time: a video installation, archiving dimension, radio component, art installation.”

Ms. Ghani taught classes in Kabul and shot a short film in Norway. She also speaks seven languages.

“I grew up very much in between cultures, and that’s the position I work from as an artist,” she told The Times. “I think the place I identify most with is the border.”

Taken from TODAY Saturday Edition, The New York Times International Weekly, March 14, 2015

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Porn and Young People

Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity: The Journal...
Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity: The Journal of Treatment and Prevention (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Scholars Are Unsure of the Effects of Exposure to Online Sex


Starting late last year, Internet service providers in Britain made “family-friendly filters,” which block X-rated websites, the default for costumers. Now any account holder who wants to view adult material needs to actively opt in – effectively raising a hand to say, “Bring on the naughty.”

The initiative, which was conceived and very publicly promoted by the government, is intended to prevent what Prime Minister David Cameron called the corrosion of childhood, which, he argued in a speech last year, happens when children are exposed to pornography. In the same speech, he seemed to toss teenagers into the group in need of protection, referring to “young people who think it’s normal to send pornographic material as a prelude to dating.”

And here is where the topic starts to get very murky. It turns out that the research suggesting that teenagers and pornography are a hazardous mix is far from definitive. In fact, many of the most comprehensive reports on this subject come to conclusions that amount to “we can’t say for sure” shrugs. One of the most recent was produced by the office of the Children’s Commissioner for England. In May, the commissioner released a report titled “Basically…porn is everywhere,” which examined 276 research papers on teenagers and pornography.

The researchers found a link between exposure to pornography and risky behavior, such as unprotected sex or sex at a young age. But little could be said about that link. “Causal relationship” between pornography and risky behavior “could not be established,” the researchers concluded. It’s no surprise that those engaging in risky behavior have viewed pornography online. Just about every teenager has.

American scholars have come to nearly identical conclusions. “By the end we looked at 40 to 50 studies,” said Eric Owens, an assistant professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania and an author of “The Impact of Internet Pornography on Adolescents: A Review of the Research,” published in Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity: The Journal of Treatment and Prevention. “And it became, ‘O.K., this one tells us A, this one tells us B.’ To some degree we threw up our hands and said, there is no conclusion to be drawn here.”

The absence of definitive answers in this realm seems bizarre, at least initially. An entire generation has grown up with easy access to images and films. And ready availability is just part of it. A lot of online pornography is violent. Much of it merely demonstrates the breadth of sexual appetites out there. Who knew that watching fully clad women try to drive cars out of mud and snow would count as a fetish? It does, apparently, as proves.

Ethics prevent academics from conducting the ideal study. The ideal study, say academics, would round up a group of teenagers who had never viewed online pornography, then provide them with a steady dose of it for two or three months. At the end, they would be quizzed to see whether their attitudes or actions had changed. There would be tests for both mental and physical effects.

Exposing them to sexually explicit material is against the law, which means no university would approve of such a study. What if it turned out that pornography is harmful?
Video now streams efficiently to tablets and mobile phones, which has been true only for the last few years. Any study that looked at online pornography before these technologies emerged would understate the sheer quantity of X-rated material that a teenager can view, as well as where and when that viewing may occur.

This is not to say that the vast body of research in this area is without lessons. Jochen Peter and Patti M. Valkenburg in the Netherlands found, as Mr. Peter put it, that “when teens watch more porn they tend to be more dissatisfied with their sexual lives. This effect is not really a strong effect, though. And teens with more sexual experience didn’t show this effect at all.”

The pair also found that adolescents who watch more porn than their typical peers are generally less averse to casual sex.

Miranda Horvath, one of the lead researchers behind the Children’s Commissioner report, says that the most revealing part of the research came during an improvised debate, where a group of teenagers – ages 16 to 18, both girls and boys – was divided into two camps. One was instructed to argue that pornography had an impact on them, the other that pornography did not.

The pro-impact camp did not lack for fodder.

“They said it had an impact on their body image, on what young people think sex should be like, what they could expect from sex,” said Ms. Horvath, a professor of psychology at Middlesex University in London. “They talked about how if you see things in pornography, you might think it’s something you should be doing and go and do it.”

The no-impact camp could not fill up its allotted 15 minutes. After a couple of minutes, the person chosen to speak turned to the rest of the team and asked, “What else should I say?”

Neuroscience tells us that young minds tend to respond to emotionally charged material in ways that adults don’t. Given that pornography is emotionally charged, it would be shocking if it had no impact.

That may be why every academic I spoke to offered cautionary advice.

Rory Reid, a research psychologist and assistant professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, said: “I have a son and I don’t want him getting his information about human sexuality from Internet porn because the vast majority of such material contains fraudulent messages about sex.”

Many teenagers will insist they know the difference between pornography and real sex, in the same way that they know “World of Warcraft” isn’t an actual world. But researchers say it’s a bad idea to hope that young people intuit what is fake about pornography.

“One of our recommendations is that children should be taught about relationships and sex at a young age,” Professor Horvath said.” If we start teaching kids about equality and respect when they are 5 or 6 years old, by the time they encounter porn in their teens, they will be able to pick out and see the lack of respect and emotion that porn gives us. They’ll be better equipped to deal with what they are being presented with.”

At a minimum, researchers believe a parent-teenager conversation about sexuality and pornography is a good idea. Putting a computer in a child’s room without any limits on what can be viewed, Professor Reid said, is like tossing a teenager the keys to a car and saying: “Go learn how to drive. Have fun.”

Taken from TODAY Saturday Edition, The New York Times International Weekly, April 12, 2014

Is there anything that can make man live forever, physically at least?

Thursday, February 05, 2015

The Case for Letting Children Have Freedom

English: Times Square
English: Times Square (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Lenore Skenazy, a New York City mother of two, earned the nickname “America’s Worst Mom” after reporting in a newspaper column that she had allowed her younger son, then 9, to ride the subway alone.

The criticism she endured, including a threat of arrest for child endangerment, intensified her desire to encourage parents to give their children the freedom they need to develop self-confidence and resilience.

One result was the publication in 2009 of her book “Free Range Kids: How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts With Worry).” A second results is the Free Range Kids Project and a 13-part TV series, “World’s Worst Mom.” In it, Ms. Skenazy rescues children from parents’ overprotectiveness by guiding the children through a sequence of once-forbidden activities and showing the parents how well the children do.

Parents who subscribe to Ms.Skenazy’s approach include Danielle and Alexander Meitiv in Washington. The couple made news recently after allowing their children – Rafi, 10, and Dvora, 6 – to walk home alone from a local park. The children were stopped by the police, and the family is now under investigation by a social agency.

In the first episode of “World’s Worst Mom,” 10-year-old Sam’s mother won’t let him ride a bike (“she’s afraid I’ll fall and get hurt”), cut up his own meat (“ Mom thinks I’ll cut my fingers off”) or play “rough sports” like skating. The plea from a stressed-out, thwarted Sam: “I just want to do things by myself.”

In an interview, Ms. Skenazy said, “Having been brainwashed by all the stories we hear, there’s a prevailing fear that any time you’re not directly supervising your child, you’re putting the child in danger.” The publicity given to crimes has created an exaggerated fear of the dangers children face if left to navigate and play on their own.

But Peter Gray, a psychologists at Boston College, said: “The actual rate of strangers abducting or molesting children is very small. It’s more likely to happen at the hands of a relative or family friend. The statistics show no increase in childhood dangers. If anything, there’s been a decrease.”

Experts say there is no more crime against children by strangers today – and probably significantly less –than when I was growing up in the 1940s and ‘50s, a time when I walked to school alone and played outdoors with friends unsupervised by adults. “The world is not perfect – it never was – but we used to trust our children in it, and they learned to be resourceful,” Ms.Skenazy said. “The message these anxious parents are giving to their children is ‘I love you, but I don’t believe you’re as competent as I am.’”

Dr.Gray, author of “Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life,” said, “If children are not allowed to take routine risks, they’ll be less likely to be able to handle real risks when they do occur.”

His college’s counseling office has seen a doubling in emergency calls in the last five years, “mainly for problems kids used to solve on their own,” like being called a bad name by a roommate.

In the past, children made up their own games and acquired important skills in the process. “In pickup games,” Dr. Gray said, “children make the rules, negotiate, and figure out what’s fair to keep everyone happy. They develop creativity, empathy and the ability to read the minds of other players.”

Dr. Gray links the rise in childhood depression and anxiety to the decline in free play among young children. “Young people today are less likely to have a sense of control over their own lives and more likely to feel they are the victims of circumstances,” he said.

Children today spend many more hours indoors than in years past, which in part accounts for the rise in childhood obesity and Type 2 diabetes. As Ms. Skenazy put it, “if parents truly believe children must be supervised every second of the day, then they can’t walk to school, play in the park, or wake up Saturday morning, get on their bikes and go have an adventure.”

Taken from TODAY Saturday Edition, The New York Times International Weekly, January 31, 2015

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Movie Date Night Can Act as Therapy

Film poster for Steel Magnolias - Copyright 19...
Film poster for Steel Magnolias - Copyright 1989, TriStar Pictures (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I for one would say that the movie date night is having the factor of the couple being together, doing something together, which is very much against today's techonology found in smartphones or similar devices - very much anti-social to begin with...


One of the great divides in male-female relationships is the “chick flick” – a movie like “Terms of Endearment” or “The Notebook” that often leaves women in tears and men bored. But a new study shows that sappy movies can actually help strengthen real relationships.

A University of Rochester study found that couples who watched and talked about issues raised in movies like “Steel Magnolias “and “Love Story” were less likely to divorce or separate than couples in a control group.

Surprisingly, the “Love Story” intervention was as effective at keeping couples together as two intensive therapist-led methods: The CARE method focuses on acceptance and empathy in couples counseling, while PREP is centered on a specific communication style that couples use to resolve issues. The researchers wanted a third option that allowed couples to interact without intensive counseling.

They came up with the movie intervention, assigning couples to watch five movies and to take part in guided discussions afterward. They chose movies that show couples at highs and lows in their relationships. A fourth group received no counselling or self-help assignments and served as a control group.

Going into the study, the researchers expected that the CARE and PREP methods would have a pronounced effect on relationships and that the movie intervention might result in some mild improvements to relationship quality. To the researchers’’ surprise, the movie intervention worked just as well as both of the established therapy methods in reducing divorce and separation.

Among 174 couples studied, those who received marriage counselling or took part in the movie intervention were half as likely to divorce or separate after three years compared with couples in the control group. The divorce or separation rate was 11 percent in the intervention groups, compared with 24 percent in the control group.

The findings were published in the December issue of The Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.

Ronald D. Rogge, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Rochester and the lead author of the study, and his colleagues have since been recruiting couples to study the effect of the movie intervention on different relationships, including long-married and same-sex couples. Megan Clifton, a 27-year-old student in Knoxville, Tennessee, has lived with her boyfriend for nearly two years. She says the two have “great communication,” but she opted to try the movie intervention.

While watching “Date Night” with Tina Fey and Steve Carell, the couple laughed at the scene in which the husband fails to close drawers and cabinet doors. “He leaves cabinet doors open all the time, and I become the nagging girlfriend and he shuts down a little,” Ms. Clifton said.

“When we were watching the movie, I said ‘That’s you!’ and it was humorous,” Ms. Clifton said. “We ended up laughing about it, and it has helped us look at our relationship and our problems in a humorous way.”

Further research is needed to validate the movie method. One flaw of the study is that the control group was not randomized.

But Dr. Rogge, summing up the value he sees in the movie method, said, “I believe it’s the depth of the discussions that follow each movie and how much effort and time and introspection couples put into those discussions that will predict how well they do going forward.”

Taken from The New York Times International Weekly, TODAY Saturday Edition, March 8, 2014