30 April 2008
Are you looking at me?
Birds can tell if you are watching them -- because they are watching you
In humans, the eyes are said to be the ‘window to the soul’, conveying much about a person’s emotions and intentions. New research demonstrates for the first time that birds also respond to a human’s gaze.
Predators tend to look at their prey when they attack, so direct eye-gaze can predict imminent danger. Julia Carter, a PhD student at the University of Bristol, and her colleagues, set up experiments that showed starlings will keep away from their food dish if a human is looking at it. However, if the person is just as close, but their eyes are turned away, the birds resumed feeding earlier and consumed more food overall.
Carter said “This is a great example of how animals can pick up on very subtle signals and use them to their own advantage”. Her results are published online today (30 April) in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
Wild starlings are highly social and will quickly join others at a productive foraging patch. This leads to foraging situations that are highly competitive. An individual starling that assesses a relatively low predation risk, and responds by returning more quickly to a foraging patch (as in the study), will gain valuable feeding time before others join the patch.
Responses to obvious indicators of risk – a predator looming overhead or the fleeing of other animals – are well documented, but Carter argued that a predator’s head orientation and eye-gaze direction are more subtle indicators of risk, and useful since many predators orient their head and eyes towards their prey as they attack.
This research describes the first explicit demonstration of a bird responding to a live predator’s eye-gaze direction. Carter added: “By responding to these subtle eye-gaze cues, starlings would gain a competitive advantage over individuals that are not so observant. This work highlights the importance of considering even very subtle signals that might be used in an animal’s decision-making process.”
Do these birds understand that a human is looking at them, and that they might pose some risk? As yet, this question has not been answered. But whether or not the responses involve some sort of theory of mind, and whether or not they are innate or acquired, the result is that starlings are able to discriminate the very subtle eye-gaze cues of a nearby live predator and adjust their anti-predator responses in a beneficial manner.
29 April 2008
Paris rat-catchers tackle rodents
The French capital has launched its annual effort to reduce the number of rodents roaming the streets.
The city, with its canals, river and restaurants is something of a rodent paradise, experts say.
There are four times as many rats as humans in Paris - perhaps eight million in total, according to the council.
A city-wide information campaign, followed by inspections, aims to reduce the numbers of rats on the streets ahead of the lucrative tourist season.
"The campaign period - May and June - is chosen because reproduction is at its peak during this time," said Jean-Roch Gaillet, the head of veterinary services for the Parisian police.
"And also because it is before summer, when we have the highest number of tourists."
While the city's chief authority on rats does not agree with the local media, which proclaim a rat crisis in Paris, he does admit to getting complaints about the pests on an almost daily basis.
"Paris is good for rats because of the River Seine but there is also a lot of stagnant water which is a very nice place for rats," Mr Gaillet told the BBC News website.
He explained that, following a mild winter, rats had started to reproduce earlier this year.
"People walk past the boulangerie at the end of the day and they see rats or mice running around inside the shop, near the food, and they are disgusted," he said.
The Paris council has no fewer than ten dedicated members of staff who deal with rats, mice and pigeons.
The city's annual purge begins with a public information campaign.
"Our primary task is to inform - some inhabitants don't know that they are actually obliged to fight rats," he explained.
Those who refuse to carry out the recommendations - on cleaning up the area, correctly disposing of rubbish or closing up access holes, for example - face a fine of 150 euros ($234; £118) per offence.
….tell this story from the rat's point of view, as an action adventure thriller, with the humans the bad guys, you got something.
28 April 2008
April 28, 2008
For Immediate Release
What does it mean to be alive?
How notions of the natural world unfold- in development and across languages.
Understanding the concept of a “living thing” is a late developmental achievement. Early research by Jean Piaget, showed that kids attribute “life status” to things that move on their own (e.g. clouds or bikes) and even 10-year-olds have difficulty understanding the scope of a living thing.
New research, supported by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, proposes that the way in which “alive” and other biological concepts are named within a given language shapes their understanding and acquisition in children. Northwestern University psychologist Florencia Anggoro, with colleagues Sandra Waxman and Doug Medin, compared 4-9-year-old children speaking English and Indonesian, a pair of languages with an intriguing difference. In English, but not Indonesian, the name “animal” is polysemous, or has more than one meaning: one sense includes all animate objects (as in, the animal kingdom); the other excludes humans (as in, ‘don’t eat like an animal!’).
This polysemy, the researchers say, can make it difficult for children to identify with any precision the scope of the names and their underlying concepts. If this is the case, then children learning a language without this polysemy should have less difficulty. Indonesian provides an ideal test: the word “animal” is not ambiguous; it refers exclusively to non-human animals.
To test this theory in the laboratory, Anggoro, who is now at the University of Chicago, and colleagues asked both Indonesian-speaking children and English-speaking children to identify entities that are “alive” in a simple sorting task. Indonesian-speaking children, tested in Jakarta, exhibited little trouble; they selected both plants and animals. But, English-speaking children, tested in Chicago, had trouble settling on the scope of the concept, and even at 9 years of age tended to exclude plants. Thus, the term “alive” poses unique interpretive challenges, especially for English-speaking children.
These results, which appear in the April issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, offer insights into how knowledge is shaped by language. The results also have strong implications for education, “understanding the conceptual consequences of language differences will serve as an effective tool in our efforts to advance the educational needs of children, including (but not limited to) those from diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds who are now enrolled in U.S. schools” says Anggoro.
Brookhaven Scientists Explore Brain's Reaction to Potent Hallucinogen
Increasingly popular recreational drug, salvia, shows rapid uptake, short duration in animals
April 28, 2008
Written by Kendra Snyder
UPTON, NY - Brain-imaging studies performed in animals at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory provide researchers with clues about why an increasingly popular recreational drug that causes hallucinations and motor-function impairment in humans is abused. Using trace amounts of Salvia divinorum - also known as "salvia," a Mexican mint plant that can be smoked in the form of dried leaves or serum - Brookhaven scientists found that the drug's behavior in the brains of primates mimics the extremely fast and brief "high" observed in humans. Their results are now published online in the journal NeuroImage.
Quickly gaining popularity among teenagers and young adults, salvia is legal in most states, but is grabbing the attention of municipal lawmakers. Numerous states have placed controls on salvia or salvinorin A - the plant's active component - and others, including New York, are considering restrictions.
"This is probably one of the most potent hallucinogens known," said Brookhaven chemist Jacob Hooker, the lead author of the study, which is the first to look at how the drug travels through the brain. "It's really important that we study drugs like salvia and how they affect the brain in order to understand why they are abused and to investigate their medicinal relevance, both of which can inform policy makers."
Hooker and fellow researchers used positron emission tomography, or PET scanning, to watch the distribution of salvinorin A in the brains of anesthetized primates. In this technique, the scientists administer a radioactively labeled form of salvinorin A (at concentrations far below pharmacologically active doses) and use the PET scanner to track its site-specific concentrations in various brain regions.
Within 40 seconds of administration, the researchers found a peak concentration of salvinorin A in the brain - nearly 10 times faster than the rate at which cocaine enters the brain. About 16 minutes later, the drug was essentially gone. This pattern parallels the effects described by human users, who experience an almost immediate high that starts fading away within 5 to 10 minutes.
High concentrations of the drug were localized to the cerebellum and visual cortex, which are parts of the brain responsible for motor function and vision, respectively. Based on their results and published data from human use, the scientists estimate that just 10 micrograms of salvia in the brain is needed to cause psychoactive effects in humans.
Salvia doesn't cause the typical euphoric state associated with other hallucinogens like LSD, Hooker said. The drug targets a receptor that is known to modulate pain and could be important for therapies as far reaching as mood disorders.
"Most people don't find this class of drugs very pleasurable," Hooker said. "So perhaps the main draw or reason for its appeal relates to the rapid onset and short duration of its effects, which are incredibly unique. The kinetics are often as important as the abused drug itself."
The Brookhaven team plans to conduct further studies related to salvia's abuse potential. The scientists also hope to develop radioactive tracers that can better probe the brain receptors to which salvia binds. Such studies could possibly lead to therapies for chronic pain and mood disorders.
This research was funded by the Office of Biological and Environmental Research within DOE's Office of Science. DOE has a long-standing interest in research on brain chemistry gained through brain-imaging studies. Brain-imaging techniques such as PET are a direct outgrowth of DOE's support of basic physics and chemistry research.
All research involving laboratory animals at Brookhaven National Laboratory is conducted under the jurisdiction of the Lab's Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee in compliance with the Public Heath Service (PHS) Policy on Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal Welfare Act, and the National Academy of Sciences' Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals. This research has enhanced understanding of a wide array of human medical conditions including cancer, drug addiction, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, and normal aging and has led to the development of several promising treatment strategies.
“We root out any teaching of superiority, inferiority, hatred or prejudice,” he said. “And we recognize that for the first time in modern history, in the West, that the other who stands before us with a different color of skin, a different texture of hair, different music, different preaching styles and different dance moves; that other is one of God’s children just as we are, no better, no worse, prone to error and in need of forgiveness just as we are.”
27 April 2008
Dallas VA closes psychiatric wing after 4th patient kills himself
11:20 AM CDT on Tuesday, April 15, 2008
By SCOTT FARWELL / The Dallas Morning News
The Dallas VA Medical Center has effectively closed its psychiatric wing after a fourth mentally ill patient this year committed suicide.
On April 4, a man fastened a bed sheet to the bottom corner of a door frame, draped a noose over the top, and hanged himself. Before that, a veteran hanged himself on a frame attached to his wheelchair. And in January, two men who met in the psychiatric ward committed suicide in Collin County days after being released.
Link: Department of Veterans Affairs
Officials said the government hospital, which was rated the nation's worst VA facility in a 1995 study, stopped admitting patients the day after the most recent suicide.
Ten veterans remain on the north wing on the 51-bed psychiatric unit. The south wing is closed.
Joseph Dalpiaz, director of the VA North Texas Health Care System, ordered the shutdown a day after the latest suicide.
"He decided he wanted to ... give us some time to assess the environment of care and make sure things were as safe as possible in our patient unit," said Dr. Catherine Orsak, head of mental health for the VA's North Texas health system. "It's a horrible tragedy and it may not have been preventable, but we wanted to look again to see if anything can be done to increase safety."
Investigators from the national Veterans Affairs office will be in Dallas next week to assess the safety of the Dallas psychiatric ward. Doctors sent patient records and other documents to Washington last week for review.
Dr. Orsak said VA hospitals around the nation have been examining their care and treatment of veterans after a Washington Post investigation last year found wounded Iraq war veterans living in ramshackle housing at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
At the Dallas VA, she said, more than $250,000 has been spent during the last six months to eliminate suicide risks at the 68-year-old hospital in southeast Oak Cliff. Door knobs have been replaced, shower curtains and plumbing retrofitted, and light fixtures modified in an effort to remove rigid outcroppings that veterans could use to hang themselves.
"That's what makes this even more shocking and painful," said Dr. Orsak. "No one was ignoring this, and everyone was working hard on the fixes. And then you have a tragedy and you realize there's more you can do, and some patients have such a will to end their lives, it's hard to protect them."
Dr. Orsak said she did not know when the psychiatric ward would begin admitting patients again. In the meantime, veterans are being treated at government hospitals in Waco and Temple, as well as Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas and private treatment centers such as Green Oaks and Timberlawn.
She did not know how much the outsourcing of psychiatric care is costing the hospital.
Dr. Orsak acknowledged that mistakes have been made.
The wheelchair used by one veteran to commit suicide was not supposed to be allowed on the third-floor unit. After his death, wheelchairs of that type were disassembled and removed from the hospital.
Doors like the one the veteran used to take his own life this month will be removed or retrofitted. To avoid hanging suicides, many psychiatric hospitals use doors with a half-moon shaped top, or buy spring-loaded doors that collapse under weight.
Dr. Orsak said the 10 veterans remaining in the psychiatric unit should be safe.
"What we've done is increased the staffing and increased the checks," she said. "We're as confident as we possibly can be to say they are safe."
The Dallas VA is building a 29-bed psychiatric floor near the eastern entrance to the hospital. The $6.5 million project should be finished about this time next year. Three years later, another floor is scheduled to be built.
Shirley Bemps, who said her husband, Larry Johnson, committed suicide in the psychiatric ward on Feb. 5, said the Dallas VA's work is too little, too late.
"I blame the doctors," the Arlington woman said. "If he was a high-risk patient like they said, he should have been watched and monitored. They haven't called me to offer condolences. They won't even respond to me. I just feel cheated."
By Dr. Nicholas Dodman, Parade
April 27, 2008
Good communication is key to a rewarding relationship with your dog, and the conversation has to go both ways. Try these tips to convey what you want to your pet and to help you understand what he’s “saying” in return:
Keep commands short and simple. Dogs understand human speech by taking cues from distinct sounds. Short words ending in a clearly enunciated consonant are best.
Don’t repeat yourself. Voice commands should be said just once for maximum effect. Most dogs have better hearing than humans and will remember a word for up to two minutes. If they don’t respond, it’s not that they don’t hear you—it’s that they aren’t listening!
Expand your dog’s vocabulary. Dogs can understand hundreds of words, but each should be linked to a specific object or action. Dogs cannot understand complete sen-tences. However, they will pick up on your tone of voice (happy, sad, concerned) and respond accordingly.
Use your body. Recent studies show that dogs understand our gestures and body language. If you point at an object, your dog will not think you are imitating the Statue of Liberty—he will look toward where you are pointing.
Listen closely. Dogs’ barks mean something. Many dog owners say they can tell by the tone of their dog’s bark whether a friend or a stranger is approaching the house.
Check the tail. A new study shows that a dog wagging his tail with a bias to the right is excited and happy to see you. A dog wagging his tail predominantly to the left is excited but unsure or fearful. Since it can be hard to tell the difference, interpret all tail-wagging in context: If a dog is wagging his tail but also growling, it’s best to back off.
Look into his eyes. Rapid blinking is a sign of nervousness or deep thought. A dog that blinks rapidly after being given a command is deciding whether or not to obey.
Get your licks. Pups lick their mothers’ lips to get them to regurgitate food. When dogs lick people, it’s a sign of submission or deference.
Let him lean. If your dog leans against your leg, he is asking you for protection in a threatening situation. This is good—you should be in charge—but understand that your dog is counting on you to make him feel safe again.
Read the “writing” on the wall. Call it pee-mail or canine graffiti—urine marking is an important method of communication for dogs. It may indicate territoriality, possessiveness or hostility. If you notice where he marks, you may be able to understand and address his concerns. And if a dog nudges you in the crotch or other pheromone-rich regions, he’s just trying to get to know you from your scent.
Dr. Dodman is director of the Animal Behavior Clinic at Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine and author of “Dogs Behaving Badly” and other books.
April 23, 2008
Animated Bambi Debate Arouses Pastoral Passions
By PATRICIA COHEN
When Ollie Johnston, one of Disney’s pioneering animators died at 95 last week, his family requested that instead of flowers mourners should donate to an environmental group, the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Anyone who has seen “Bambi,” one of the many films that Mr. Johnston worked on, can understand why. The loving depiction of the woods and animals, particularly Bambi with those big soulful eyes and long lashes, was hailed by wildlife conservationists and denounced by hunters when it was released in 1942. An insult, declared Outdoor Life magazine, while the National Audubon Society compared its consciousness-raising power to “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”
Just how much of a friend Disney has been to woodland folk (and their kin in the sea and the jungle) has long been batted about by scholars and writers. The latest addition to the debate comes just in time for Disney’s announcement this week that it is creating a new production unit for nature documentaries (not to mention Tuesday’s Earth Day celebrations).
In “The Idea of Nature in Disney Animation” (Ashgate), David Whitley, a lecturer at Cambridge University, argues, in the overstuffed prose that launched a thousand academic careers, that the finely wrought imagery and emotional power of Disney movies like “Bambi” and “Finding Nemo” helped inspire generations of environmentalists.
“These films have taught us variously about having a fundamental respect for nature,” he writes. “Some of them, such as Bambi, inspired conservation awareness and laid the emotional groundwork for environmental activism.”
Jon Coifman, the Defense Council’s director of media relations, wrote in an e-mail message: “Snow White, Robin Hood, Bambi. The forest is where they captured our imagination.”
And in a comment that the folks over at the newly formed Disneynature might want to take note of, he added, “All those wildlife documentaries, on the other hand, were highly staged and never managed to rise above a 1950s sensibility about man’s dominion over nature.”
Of course it doesn’t take a Ph.D. to see the nature-loving themes in Disney movies: hunters kill Bambi’s mother and burn down a forest; Pocahontas sings “The rainstorm and the river are my brothers/The heron and the otter are my friends/And we are all connected to each other.”
But many scholars have taken Disney to task on this very issue, citing the company for environmentally unfriendly policies and the films for candy-coated sentimentalism and distorted views of nature and animals.
Ralph H. Lutts, the author of “The Nature Fakers: Wildlife, Science & Sentiment,” wrote that Disney’s version of the original Bambi story by Felix Salten, first published in English in 1928, was “a ‘Sunday school’ vision of nature as a place without stress, conflict or death,” and that compared with the original story on which it is based, the Disney version was a much less “ecologically and philosophically complex vision of nature.” And while the Oxford scholar Marina Warner declares, “It is simply unthinking and lazy to denounce all the works of Disney and his legacy,” she too has been critical of the black-and-white viewpoint of the films.
Rod M. Fujita, the director of Oceans Programs at the Environmental Defense Fund, acknowledged the dangers of such simplification. “Movies and nature documentaries that tug at one’s heartstrings and offer simplified ways of understanding complex environmental problems can provide a bump up in awareness of nature and threats to nature, and can also motivate action to address those threats,” he wrote in an e-mail message. “But unfortunately these effects seem to be quite transitory.” They “won’t result in behavior and attitudinal changes by themselves — they need to be reinforced by deeper learning experiences.”
But to Mr. Whitley the very sentimentalism and simplification that are criticized is what gives these animated features the emotional power that makes them effective environmental messengers. For instance, “the way the landscape is shot” in “Bambi,” he said, “angles the film’s attachment to ideas of conservation in particular ways.” The emotionally wrenching scene of Bambi’s mother being shot (off screen) underscores the impact of the natural scenes.
Mr. Whitley steers clear of other activities by Disney, which has tangled with environmentalists before, for example, over plans to build a ski resort in the unspoiled Mineral King Valley in the Sierra Nevada. Rather, he is interested in a close viewing of the cartoons themselves.
Through the decades the films have embraced different classic conceptions of nature, Mr. Whitley argues. “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” presents the pastoral vision where nature is seen as a place for self-discovery in the tradition of Thoreau. The animal helpers are a crucial part of this 1937 landmark film, the first of Disney’s animated features. “Bambi” adopts the view of American naturalists like John Muir and artists like Ansel Adams who exalt in the virgin wilderness, while “Finding Nemo” and “Tarzan” depict a more complex world where humans and animals can exist harmoniously.
Are they escapist? Sure, Mr. Whitley concedes. But such films “also have the potential for putting us in touch with issues, in playful forms,” that can allow “audiences to think as well as feel.”
25 April 2008
24 April 2008
brain cell mystery, by Morris Armstrong Jr. proudly a.k.a. "Little Mo"
…from today's San Francisco Chronicle:
Gordon Erspamer, the attorney who brought the lawsuit against the Department of Veterans Affairs that went to trial this week in U.S. District Court in San Francisco…."If you add up the veterans' suicides among those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and compare it to the total combat deaths, the veteran suicides are higher," says Erspamer, who introduced a VA e-mail at the trial that showed an average of 18 vets a day are committing suicide. "The VA doesn't want that out."
23 April 2008
Immigration debate riles Latinos
by Ruben Navarrette Jr., San Diego Union-Tribune
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
U.S.-born Latinos in America are fed up. They're tired of the ugliness in the immigration debate, and they're not buying the argument that it does not concern them.
Take it from Janet Murguia, president of the National Council of La Raza, the nation's largest Hispanic civil rights organization. She recently delivered a passionate and important speech to the National Press Club in Washington. Her topic: the immigration debate and what she labels a wave of hate sweeping the land -- one that isn't limited to illegal immigrants, or even immigrants in general, but which is now splattering onto all Hispanics regardless of where they were born, what language they speak or what flag they wave.
"Most Latinos aren't immigrants," she said. "More than 80 percent of Hispanics in this country are U.S. citizens or legal residents. But the truth is, Hispanics understand that this issue is about all of us."
That's obvious. You might live in Colorado or New Mexico or Arizona and come from a family that has lived in the United States for several generations. And yet, your citizenship is being challenged by nativists who paint with a broad brush. All they see is your skin color or surname and, from this, they conclude that -- unless you go along with every harebrained scheme to combat illegal immigration -- you're, as one reader recently informed me, "an American in name only."
How do you suppose Hispanics will react? A middle-aged reader who describes himself as Italian American recalls that when he was growing up and the Italian kids were picked on in school, it only made him feel "more Italian." It could be the same with Hispanics, he wrote.
Could be. According to Murguia, "two-thirds of Latinos say that the failure (of immigration reform) has made life more difficult for Latinos overall and roughly half say that it has affected them personally."
Part of the problem is that the right-wingers weren't content to just attack illegal immigrants. They had to attack an entire culture, which is shared by legal immigrants and U.S.-born Hispanics. And so, a discussion that should have been about exactly three things -- improving border security, smoothing the path for legal immigrants, and deciding the fate of 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States -- became about outlawing taco trucks, limiting the number of people in a home, blasting pizza parlors for taking pesos, banning Spanish language library books, and other nonsense.
The way Murguia sees it, immigration is "on the verge of becoming one of the largest civil rights issues of our generation."
Not to mention an election-year issue. Arguing that the ugliness of the immigration debate "galvanizes the Latino vote," Murguia vowed that Latinos would fight back.
"We will not be demonized," she said. "We will not be scapegoated. And we will not be ignored."
You tell 'em, Janet. I've had my share of run-ins with the NCLR over the years, and lodged my share of criticisms of the organization. But not for the reasons that nativists, cable news demagogues, and right-wing columnists and bloggers attack it. I've argued that, for too much of its 40-year existence, the group has been too corporate, too cautious and too easily co-opted by foundations and Fortune 500 companies looking for an entree into the Hispanic market.
But in this case Murguia has a point. An ethnic group that has always answered the call to duty, and which boasts a higher ratio of Medal of Honor recipients than any other, deserves better.
That's what I'm hearing from many U.S.-born Hispanics. When they talk to me about the immigration debate, they condemn the hypocrisy of a society that is addicted to illegal immigrant labor but looks for others to blame for the addiction. As for the claim that much of this is about national security, they wonder why no one talks about building a wall along the U.S.-Canada border. They worry about racial profiling as authorities become more aggressive in rounding up illegal immigrants. They recognize the racism, and the assault on their culture, and they resent that they're being lumped together with recent immigrants. But at the same time, they find it easy to identify with the immigrant plight - through their parents or grandparents. Most of all, they scoff at the claim that, as U.S. citizens, this debate doesn't concern them and that the attack is limited to illegal immigrants.
Hey, no matter what side of the border we were born on, we weren't born yesterday.
This article appeared on page B - 9 of the San Francisco Chronicle
© 2008 Hearst Communications Inc.
22 April 2008
I don't know about you but I'm high on life by Morris Armstrong, Jr., age 19
Digital painting on altered digital photograph
Wow. Twenty-six children dead now from, well, we called it "goo" in The Concrete Jungle Book, but of course you know what we meant, especially if you go to school in the Dallas school district.
It goes by the rather innocuous name "cheese" but it's really a combination of black tar heroin mixed with OTC medications like Tylenol and I can't believe that stuff is still around. I thought after Sherikano and Dr. Nasdi died then it would go away, but apparently it hasn't...crush and rush. Imagine going to a detox center at the age of nine! It happens. Kids, mostly Hispanic, are dipping into this deadly stuff and don't think they're getting hooked because they aren't injecting, just sniffing.
Hey, homies, sorry but heroin is heroin, and this black tar stuff out of Mexico is highly addictive and it doesn't matter how you injest it, it will leave you with screaming bones, cold sweats, and major headaches upon withdrawal. Every time, okay? And that's if it doesn't kill you first!
Think about it. Our bodies are pretty strong at the age of eighteen, but this stuff is so lethal it's killing our strongest. There's this whacked-out mentality among Hispanic youth, especially boys, that they are somehow proving their manhood, their machismo, their toughness, by taking cheese and then surviving to talk about it.
The only thing you're proving is that you guys are idiots. Quit being so dumb and desperate!
…from the Dallas Morning News:
March 26, 2008
Imagine a 9-year-old heroin junkie.
In Dallas, health officials are seeing children that young being brought to hospitals with signs of heroin withdrawal. The city is in its third year of what drug abuse experts call a "mini-epidemic" among young Hispanics snorting a mild but addictive heroin called "cheese."
Cheese heroin is Mexican black-tar heroin that has been diluted with crushed tablets of over-the-counter sleep medication such as Tylenol PM.
Sniffing heroin is not particularly new, but addiction experts say this outbreak in Dallas is unprecedented. Typically, people who inhale heroin are older and they're white. In Dallas, however, users are mostly Latino, and they're young.
"Reports that we were seeing were pretty striking. Kids as young as 9 or 10 years of age coming to the hospital emergency rooms or detox facilities in acute heroin withdrawal," says Dr. Carlos Tirado, a psychiatry professor at UT Southwestern Medical Center and medical director of a drug treatment center in Dallas.
"We didn't know what to do with a 9-year-old in opiate withdrawal, or what the treatment ramifications of that are," Tirado says. "Do you send a 9-year-old to an AA meeting?"
A more typical user is 17-year-old Lizbeth. She is the daughter of immigrants from Juarez, Mexico, who moved to Dallas to get away from the border's violent drug culture. Lizbeth attends a public school in North Dallas with a large Hispanic population, and she says that sniffing cheese is commonplace there.
Dressed in a gray hoodie and hoop earrings, she sits on a couch at Phoenix House, a residential treatment center in Dallas.
"I thought that since it was used as sniffing I would, like, try to deny it. This is just cheese, it's not as bad as shooting it up," Lizbeth says.
She says she entered treatment — now for the second time — because she hates the withdrawal symptoms.
"I was tired of feeling my bones hurting. I was tired of headaches, cold sweats and all that," she says. "So I told my mom to bring me because I'm already gonna be 18 and I don't want to look at myself like being a junkie like some people I see in the streets. I don't want to be like them, I want to have a better life."
April 15, 2008
By TAWNELL D. HOBBS and JASON TRAHAN
"Cheese" heroin probably claimed the life of another North Texas student, preliminary toxicology tests indicate.
Sergio Leija, 18, was found dead by family members in a car parked in the 3000 block of Northaven Road in northwest Dallas on March 10, according to Dallas police.
Mr. Lieja was a student at W.T. White High School, according to his family.
Further testing to conclude whether Mr. Leija died from cheese heroin is pending. At least 26 North Texas youths 18 and younger have died from cheese overdoses since 2005, according to an ongoing Dallas Morning News analysis.
21 April 2008
18 April 2008
At Indian Preserves, Tigers Remain King as People Are Coaxed Out
By SOMINI SENGUPTA, New York Times
Published: April 16, 2008
NAGARHOLE NATIONAL PARK, India — At sundown, as the air began to cool and the beasts came out of the shade, K. Ullas Karanth drove slowly through this sprawling park in southern India. Elephants nibbled on the grass. A sunbird dashed across the sky. Then, Mr. Karanth nearly froze in a start. “Tiger, tiger,” he whispered.
Just ahead, a large male lumbered across the path, stopping to turn and look at Mr. Karanth’s jeep and its passengers before continuing his languid march into the bush.
The research by Mr. Karanth, a wildlife biologist who runs the India program of the Wildlife Conservation Society, suggests that this and its neighboring nature reserve hold one of the largest concentrations of tigers in the world. But to make these wilds healthy for the fabled tiger is a success 20 years in the making, with crusading forest officials driving out hunters and loggers and ultimately trying to resettle hundreds of families who have lived in these woods for generations.
That fact has earned Mr. Karanth as many enemies as friends. And it is raising an increasingly pressing question for this crowded nation of 1.1 billion people: What price should India pay to save its rapidly diminishing forests, and for whom — a trophy animal like the tiger, or its original inhabitants?
That debate has taken on new urgency with a long-contested law that went into effect this year granting formal land rights to those who have lived in the forest since 2005, including but not limited to the indigenous people known as tribals.
Advocates for forest people seized on the law as overdue redress for communities denied rights to their traditional domain since the British colonial era. Conservationists saw it as a threat to the country’s vanishing wildlife.
It is a debate that affects not only the tiger, which needs precisely what India has little of — large, empty swaths of land in which to roam and hunt — but also those who have shared these woods with them for generations. Mr. Karanth insists that their presence inevitably produces “incompatible human uses” that leave tigers no chance to live: logging, gathering of forest produce and especially hunting. In the end, the government included in the land rights law a measure that allowed for the expulsion of settlements from areas deemed “critical wildlife habitats,” but with the explicit consent of villagers. Like many compromises, it left neither side happy.
With Mr. Karanth’s help, park officials here have driven out poachers, cracked down on cattle-grazing and pushed hundreds of villagers out of these woods. Today, the wild boar and deer are so plentiful in this 250-square-mile park that Mr. Karanth calls it a “supermarket” for tigers. His research suggests that there are 60 to 80 tigers in the park, depending on breeding fluctuations.
The latest government-sponsored tiger census found Nagarhole and its two neighboring parks to have among the densest concentrations of the estimated 1,400 tigers left in the Indian wilds. But that total is still fewer than half the number estimated five years ago. Since the report was issued in February, the government has ordered the creation of 8 new tiger reserves, in addition to the existing 28.
Mr. Karanth, 59, surveys Nagarhole with the zeal of a purist. He sits in the spartan government-run forest lodge with the lights out, listening to the night sounds. He forbids talking in his jeep when he drives through the park. It disturbs the animals, he said. His ears are attuned to the screeches of langurs and peafowl, which are often the most reliable signal that a tiger is near.
Spotting one, Mr. Karanth became a man possessed. As the big male crossed the road, he revved the engine, sped up the track, looped around and waited for the tiger to cross the next opening in the trees. “I know all their tricks by now,” he muttered.
No sooner had he stopped the jeep, scaring off a pair of jungle fowl, than the tiger emerged again, marching across the path and disappearing behind the trees.
“This is a great place to be born a tiger,” he said.
But it is perhaps less so to be born a man, woman or child. The relocation efforts here and in nearby parks that have helped revive the big cats have yielded mixed results for people, Mr. Karanth admits. Some families left the forest on their own years ago because they could no longer make a living there. Others left after the government offered land elsewhere.
Then there are those who refuse to leave. “It is we who brought up this forest,” snapped an old man named Kanchan, who belonged to a tribe of honey collectors and lived at the other end of the park. “It’s not their grandfather’s property. They don’t understand the value of the forest.”
Mr. Karanth, who has aided relocation efforts here and in several nearby sanctuaries, said that India today can have room for its tigers and its people but that the government must make it worthwhile for villagers to empty the national parks.
“I’m against any moving of people unless there is a positive improvement in their livelihoods,” he said. “If this happened in the ’50s and ’60s when India was starving, I would have said, fine, we don’t have room for tigers. Now we have 9 percent economic growth, and we don’t have room for tigers?”
The experience of Nagarhole over the last 20 years suggests that the problem is not as simple as whether villagers should make way for wildlife, but rather whether the government can offer them a better life if they do — namely land, water and work.
J. S. Bharati was born more than 30 years ago in the vanished hamlet of Kanthur. On a low-lying field where Mr. Karanth stood scanning the tree line for wildlife, her family grew rice and millet, battling the menace of elephants, until forest officials prohibited farming altogether and rigorously enforced bans on hunting and grazing. The family moved to a new cluster of mud-and-thatch homes, inside the park but along the main road, next to schools and a post office.
Today, she and her sister, Bagya, cultivate only a small patch of pumpkins and beans in their yard. J. S. Bharati’s husband is a social worker in a town just outside the park. Bagya works on a nearby coffee estate. They cannot afford to rent a home outside the park. Good real estate has become expensive in India’s economic boom.
The sisters wonder how long they can hold on here, not because of pressure from forest guards, but for sake of opportunity. J. S. Bharati dropped out of school after the eighth grade because her parents had no money, and she wants her daughter, Prakriti, now in the seventh grade, to continue her education.
One day, she hopes, her daughter will have a government job. “I can’t ruin my daughter’s life the way I’ve ruined my life by not studying further,” she said.
Bagya, for her part, was not optimistic. “Our kind of people,” she said, “continue to have trouble outside.”
Indeed, the road to relocation, despite good intentions, is paved with difficulties. There are unkept government promises. The buffaloes that come as part of a relocation package die of disease. Farming is a gamble anywhere — and here, even outside the park, there is the menace of elephants that trample crops, and sometimes people.
About a third of the 1,000 families who live inside Nagarhole Park have moved out in recent years. They were given boxy houses along the road and something they never had inside — legal title to land — but also problems they never had before.
J. K. Nagesh was a mahout, an elephant handler, inside the park who lost his job when he came down with tuberculosis. His land now lies fallow. He has no money to buy seed. His wife, Vasanthi, works on other people’s farms, and that is how they get by.
His neighbors, a couple who gave their names as Kamala and Bomma and who moved here five years ago, said they were divided about the move from the forest.
Kamala is still bitter about having to leave. “The forest grew because of us,” she said, recalling how she watched her father plant teak saplings and then sow crops in their shade. “Now we are being thrown out.”
Her husband, Bomma, shook his head. He said he was happy to have legal claim to land and schools and hospitals in closer reach. “When I go to the forest now, I wonder why I was there for so long,” he said.
Kamala, sitting on her porch at twilight, reminded him of the new scarcities they face. The neighborhood shares one well, and its water tastes foul. Electricity was promised when they moved, she said, but it still had not come.
Explaining their decision to leave the park, her husband shrugged and said, “We didn’t have anything to lose.”
Then as night settled over the hamlet, he put on a uniform and marched through the fields with a flashlight to peddle the one skill he had learned from living inside the park. On behalf of bigger, more prosperous farmers in the area, whose crops are frequently damaged by animals who range out of the forest, he stays up to chase elephants off the land.
17 April 2008
16 April 2008
15 April 2008
I encourage you to support Piraro in his effort to publicize and raise funds for the group that gave him this opportunity:
Now, send them some money!
All this was done through a grassroots Brooklyn organization run by Amy M., who works tirelessly to save and place animals in NYC. If you appreciate this kind of thing, she, and hundreds of dogs and cats rescued from death row each year by Amy M. and her volunteers, would appreciate it if you threw a few bucks their way. http://www.sugarmuttsrescue.com/
Check out all things Bizarro-related at http://Bizarro.com/, too.
Hamlet, and the Morality of Training a Dog
PW Talks with David Wroblewski
by Sybil Steinberg -- Publishers Weekly, 4/14/2008 10:52:00 AM
David Wroblewski’s first novel, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, is set on a farm in northern Wisconsin, where the Sawtelle family raises a fictional breed of dogs.
Your novel combines three risky elements: some chapters from the point of view of highly intelligent dogs, the appearance of ghosts and references to Hamlet. How did that complex story develop?
All those elements were in the original package when I thought of the story. Those were three things that I was sure needed to be present for the book to be interesting to me.
Okay, first the dogs.
I have a lifelong history with dogs. When I was very young my parents decided to move from the Milwaukee suburbs to an old farm in central Wisconsin to raise their kids. It was one of my mother’s dreams to raise dogs, so they opened a kennel. My parents were poor and raising dogs is expensive. They couldn’t afford to do it the way they felt it should be done, and after five years, they shut it down. While it lasted, though, it was a wonderful time of my life. Socializing the pups was one of my jobs. That’s an experience I’ve carried with me ever since.
Why are the Sawtelle dogs a fictional breed?
I wanted the dogs to be what was at stake in this story, but using a recognizable breed made them less universal. Every breed brings along connotations and preconceptions. Eventually I decided to invite readers to imagine what the dogs are like for themselves.
Your descriptions of the Sawtelles’ training methods are fascinating.
Training is fascinating. One particular book made a huge impact on me: Vicky Hearn’s Adam’s Task, written in the early ’80s during a time when radical behaviorism was still influential in academic psychology. She was willing to talk about animals using an entirely different vocabulary, with morally loaded language. She said that when you train a dog, you have a moral responsibility.
The references to Hamlet are subtle. Readers can enjoy the story without recognizing the similarity of names and incidents, but it’s a bonus for those who do.
It was not my intention to do a literal retelling. It was more interesting to allow the stories to coincide where they could. Ghosts and haunting and poison are motifs of the Elizabethan stage.
Did you know from the beginning that Edgar had to be mute?
Shortly before I started the novel I’d had minor oral surgery. It was awkward to talk afterward and for a week I just didn’t. That sort of extended silence turns you into an observer. I’d been thinking about Hamlet, who is hyper-verbal and yet ironically almost impotent as an actor in the real world, so it was an interesting inversion to have a character who by virtue of being mute must communicate through action, not voice. That made Edgar especially sensitive to language and gesture and the interplay between them: that’s one source of his rapport with the dogs. […]
14 April 2008
Without a guarantor like Mr Leibniz, who is an eyewitness, we would not have the audacity to report that near Zeitz, in Misnie, there is a dog that speaks. It is a countryman's dog of normal shape and size. A young child heard it emit some sounds that he thought resembled German words, whereupon he got it into his head to teach it to speak. The master, who had nothing better to do, spared no time or trouble with this, and happily the disciple had an aptitude that was hard to find in another dog. Finally, after a number of years, the dog was able to pronounce around 30 words or so, among them Thé, Caffé, Chocolat and Assemblée, French words which have passed into German, as they do. It is notable that the dog was at least 3 years old when it was put in school. It only speaks by echoing, that is, after its master has pronounced a word, and it seems that it only repeats when forced, and despite itself, although it has not been maltreated. Once again, Mr Leibniz has seen it and heard it.
13 April 2008
Tom Stienstra, Chronicle Outdoors WriterSunday, April 13, 2008
(04-12) 17:55 PDT -- The Bay Area's ultimate wildlife mystery, the mythic black panther, may have been solved by a local wildlife expert who said he and a friend sighted an anomalous black mountain lion at Point Reyes National Seashore.
"This lion was not darkish, not a brownish-tawny like some I've seen since, but jet black," said John Balawejder, a longtime reader and avid hiker and wildlife watcher whose daughter, Alani, has written an academic paper about the sighting.
Hikers have reported seeing what they called black panthers at several Bay Area parks. But wildlife scientists, academics and photographers have never verified the body or hide of a black panther in California, and of the thousands of mountain lions shot with depredation permits in the past 30 years, Fish and Game has never seen a lion that was jet black.
Balawejder has seen more than 10 mountain lions (that beats my six in 25,000 trail miles), so he knows what he's looking at. Like many landmark wildlife encounters, his episode came by complete surprise. On a spring day, he was hiking with a pal, Burke Richardson, out at Pierce Ranch, located at the north end of Point Reyes, on an adventure to see elk, wildflowers and views of the ocean and Tomales Bay.
"We came up a short rise through a grassy swale, and then, looking up, saw a large, jet-black mountain lion calmly sitting, eyes half asleep looking out at us from about 30 yards away," Balawejder said. "My friend and I stood there, stunned. It then started to slink away from us in a large semi-circle, attempting to hide in the grass."
With the chance that the animal was stalking them, Balawejder retreated. "We were sadly without a camera, which was not like us at all, but, oh well."
In the Bay Area, animals resembling "black panthers" or black mountain lions have been reported by hikers at Las Trampas Regional Wilderness, Sunol Regional Wilderness, Chabot Regional Park, Carquinez Strait Regional Shoreline, and the Marin Headlands. In central California, a black panther was reported near San Luis Obispo, and in Southern California, one was also reported near Lake Arrowhead. But sightings by wildlife experts are virtually zero.
The most repeated sightings of a "black panther" have been at Las Trampas near San Ramon in the East Bay hills. This is a 3,600-acre parkland near Bollinger Canyon that borders a 27,000-acre wildland managed by the East Bay Municipal Utility District.
Coyotes moving out of headlands and into city
by C.W. Nevius Sunday, April 13, 2008
Once again, a group of campers has taken up residence in San Francisco's parks. They are stubborn, unfriendly and predatory. And frankly, if something isn't done soon, officials may have to shoot them.
They are coyotes, the latest trend in urban areas.
You will recall that in June, two aggressive coyotes were shot and killed in Golden Gate Park. The pair, a male and female, had attacked a dog in the park, and city officials decided they had to be destroyed. It was a huge controversy at the time, but most people seemed to think that the problem had been solved.
Not even close.
"It is the sense of everybody that we are seeing more coyotes in urban areas," said Golden Gate National Recreation Area spokeswoman Chris Powell. "And we will continue to see more."
So if you were shocked to hear that two wild coyotes were living in the park, right next to homes, streets and supermarkets, you should spend an evening with Deborah Grabien. An author of mystery novels, Grabien and her husband live near the Arguello Gate to Golden Gate Park and often venture in at night to rescue feral cats.
"Oh lord, yes, there's been an increase," she said. "Three months ago, we watched a minipack of three coyotes cross JFK road, next to the de Young Museum. It's ridiculous. They're a disaster to the existing bio system."
And Golden Gate is only one of many new coyote habitats in the city. Mark Landkamer has lived across the street from Glen Canyon since 1998.
"Until last year, we'd never seen one," Landkamer said. "Now I've seen them a lot, a single and a pair. We were like, 'Whaaa?' " Better get used to it. Coyote sightings in cities are becoming commonplace.
"I swear, they've been seen riding the subway in New York City," said Cindy Machado, the animal services director for the Marin Humane Society. "I even have a photo to prove it."
But as Powell says, the Marin Headlands "is the absolutely perfect environment" for coyotes. That's why the city may soon be facing the kind of coyote melodrama that has been playing out in the Marin Headlands lately.
It began, says GGNRA wildlife ecologist Bill Merkle, around 1994, when, instead of shooting coyotes, California ranchers began employing more-humane control methods. The coyote population began to spike.
"It's not growing geometrically," Merkle said, "but what we are seeing is coyotes showing up in new places. The population has increased since then."
Which is fine. Coyotes are very cool animals - cute, adaptable, and extremely smart.
People, however, are less intelligent.
In the headlands case, despite constant warnings not to feed or interact with the coyotes, one female in particular began to get food from lots of human sources. Tourists tempted her with snacks, a group of contractors shared lunch, and even some of the park personnel - who should have known better - slipped the coyote a little treat.
The inevitable result is a female that has not only lost her fear of humans, she thinks she's in charge. Recently, there were reports of her dashing out of the bushes to chase bicyclists, and even strolling up to picnics to demand a meal.
"And being a female," Merkle said, "there's a concern that she will have pups and teach them, 'Here's where we find food, it's bologna sandwiches.' And then instead of one animal, we have four or five."
Bay Area officials are concerned enough about the coyote increase to have formed the Coyote Coalition, a group of local humane societies and researchers. The group was called in to deal with the Marin marauder. They had a well-researched game plan, high-tech equipment and a large staff.
And they have pretty much failed miserably.
They tried air horns, which didn't faze her, and popping her with paintballs shot out of guns. Not only did paintballs not work, the coyote quickly learned the sound of the truck the paintball shooter drove and ducked into the bushes as soon as it turned the corner.
So, you say, maybe they could trap it. Maybe you'd like to try, they reply.
"We had a researcher out here, and she had a devil of a time catching enough for her study," Merkle said. "I think she was here two or three years and ended up only catching four."
Ask him what's next, and Merkle begins tap dancing. He says GGNRA authorities are "kind of at a decision point" and "kind of on the fence" but admits they "might have to take an action to remove an animal."
That's right. They may have to shoot it. Brace yourself for the uproar.
But that's not the scary part. It is very likely that this is just the beginning of a problem. What everyone is hoping is that the signs and warnings about feeding coyotes will be heeded by humans and animals won't become socialized to the point where they are dangerous.
Because very soon this could be the city's problem. Based on tissue samples, it seems almost certain that the city's growing coyote population is coming from Marin, where such social behavior has already taken root.
And how are they getting across the bay? Merkle and others think they use the Golden Gate Bridge. That surprises some people, but I don't see why.
After all, it is the toll-free direction.
C.W. Nevius' column appears on Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday. E-mail him at email@example.com.