Health & Life


Singer-songwriter Rona Kenan panned by right-wing extremists after expressing sympathy for Gazan children

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An Israeli singer-songwriter canceled her show in Haifa Thursday after she was harshly criticized and threatened by right-wing Israelis who accused her of showing solidarity with the mothers of dead terrorists.

Rona Kenan announced that her acoustic show in Haifa’s Turkish Market, which was scheduled to begin at 9 p.m., would not take place due to what she described as incitement against her.

Kenan said she had been “subjected to severe verbal attacks and threats over a false report” that during a conference with Palestinian women, she had observed a moment of silence in solidarity with Palestinian “martyrs.”

She said that while she had sung two songs at the conference, she had not observed a moment of silence. But this week, right-wing extremists raised the accusations again in comments on Kenan’s Facebook page after she expressed sympathy for the children of Gaza and called for an end to war between Israel and Hamas.

The onslaught began after Kenan posted a message on July 11, three days into the Gaza war, reproaching Israeli society and the Israeli press over their reaction to the offensive in Gaza, which she described as “one of the saddest places in the world.”

Kenan expressed sympathy for the children of both Sderot and Gaza, saying it “fills her with despair” to think that they “wet their beds at night out of fear and will grow up to see each other not as human beings, but as children of the devil.”

Kenan said she was “left speechless” by the knowledge that “any objections to the war, which Israel named Operation Protective Edge, was perceived in Israeli society as treason, as a lack of solidarity.” She ended her post with a prayer for quiet both in Israel and the Gaza Strip.

While many fans echoed Kenan’s sentiments, others criticized her for overlooking the threat posed by Hamas and Iranian-funded terror groups, as well as the suffering of residents of southern Israel and the risks IDF soldiers were taking to ensure Israel’s security. Some urged her to blame Hamas, not Israel, for the plight of the children of Gaza. Yet others said the children were themselves future terrorists, with one poster saying she had thought Kenan was “smarter than that” and another calling her “hypocritical, self-righteous filth.”

One poster wrote, “I’ve never responded to people like you, but to observe a moment of silence for martyrs with whom we are engaged in combat on a daily basis? For shame, and we even provide her livelihood. With people like you among us, we don’t need enemies.”

After the Haifa show was canceled, one Facebook user suggested, “Why don’t you volunteer to sing in Gaza? I think you will find a stage to sing on there without being subjected to criticism. You’re so stupid to voice criticism in wartime.”

The Thursday evening show will still take place, but will be headlined by singer-songwriter Shai Gabso rather than Kenan.

Kenan, the daughter of Lehi underground member, sculptor and journalist Amos Kenan and author and literary scholar Nurith Gertz, has released four albums so far, to critical acclaim.

 

July 31, 2014

Not too long ago, I woke up, grabbed my iPhone and popped onto Facebook to see what I had missed since falling asleep. What can I say other than I play on social media like it’s my job. Normally my news feed is full of baby photos, food, and travel shots and the occasional questionable joke. On this particular morning, I was faced with a photo of a food stamp with a note to “those on welfare” who “don’t work” and “milk the system.” The post was calling for “accountability.” I just shook my head in disappointment.

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While most political comments don’t hit me very hard (we all have a right to our opinion), I have a difficult time with those that group any set of people into a section and blame and berate them. It’s especially disturbing when those I know make these kinds of statements and then look me in the eye and say it to me as though I am above some kind of fray. Quite frankly, it makes me sick to my stomach. Yes, there are people who abuse all kinds of systems, regardless of their tax bracket, but too often I hear people equate poverty with laziness or worse, criminal behavior, and it’s heart-wrenching for me on a deeply personal level.

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I have made no secret that I come from way down. I grew up in various cockroach-infested apartments with a violent, drug-addicted ex-felon father and a mother who did me both a favor and a great disservice by leaving. The only person I had to watch over me and make sure that I had food, water, and ice for my wounds was my beloved, hardworking and retired grandfather who supported me with a $500 monthly budget that was paid to him via pension and social security.

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That included rent money.

When we lost our home (thanks to my father skipping bail) we moved into our fishing trailer and ate Pork and Beans nearly every weeknight for dinner. On weekends, we lived lakeside and ate the fish we caught. Finally, after we had to spend one third of our income on my eyeglasses, we went to sign up for food stamps, and stood in line for our boxed block of “government cheese.” For a former foreman and a little girl who was already made fun of for a number of reasons and who was particularly sensitive to her grandfather’s feelings, it was humiliating.

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I hated seeing my proud and dignified hero standing in line for handouts. This was a man who prided himself on being self-sufficient and instilled a sense of duty and independence in me from day one. We were not drug addicts living the high life-we were just poor.

“You will be educated and life will be better for you when you get older, Brenda Lynn,” he promised. He was going to fight like hell to see that it happened. “You just need to go to college and you’ll never have to go through this again.” But I was five years old. We had a few years, hospital trips, pairs of shoes, and meals to worry about.

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My grandfather had a moral fiber as thick as wool. He was a God-fearing man who treated everyone with dignity and respect, volunteered to help others, worked odd jobs to make money for us, and taught me to also treat everyone with dignity and respect, reminding me that “we are all equal, and we all put our pants on one leg at a time.” He may not personally have agreed with your way of life, but he’d certainly vote for your right to live as you saw fit as long as it did not hurt anyone else.

He tipped his hat to women on the street. He firmly shook the hands of men. He opened doors. He gave what he had to help others, and he kept his word. He pressed and polished our cheap clothes and shoes to make us look as nice as possible. He didn’t smoke, drink or do drugs. He paid his taxes-on time.

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My grandfather wanted what all good, decent and loving fathers want for their daughters–the best, safest and most dignified life. While he’d have to save up for a few months to buy me a new dress at Sears in order to see the bright surprise flash across my face, I believe we were rich. Very few children enjoyed the conversation, love, companionship and connection we had. Having a hamburger and slice of pie once a week was our “big date” when we could afford it, and believe me when I tell you that there is still no better “date” for me today.

I was raised to believe in hard work, the value of education, human interaction, honoring your word, equality and making your own way in this world and helping others. When he passed away, everything beautiful in my world went with him.

I was bounced from home-to-home and turned to the system only once when I was cold and needed somewhere to sleep over Thanksgiving. I walked into Juvenile Hall and asked to stay there. Those two days were enough time for me to realize that I needed to stay under the radar.
God knows it would have been easier to have food stamps to offer someone to take me in or medical insurance, but I had to make due without both. On the occasion that I needed to go to the doctor, I went to Planned Parenthood. Not to exercise my right to choose, but for breast exams and free medical attention in a facility that treated me like a human being.
When I tried to work at 14, I was told I was not old enough to get a full time job. So, I worked under the table when I could and accepted food, clothes and shelter from those who felt sorry for me. Equally humiliating.

When it was time to go to college, I had the grades and essays to get in, but I was under 24 and that meant that I needed a parental signature. I was on my own and never a ward of the court, a painful purgatory for someone who ached to just get to the starting line like everyone else.

Thanks to President Clinton, an amendment was made, making it possible for kids who had been on their own and who had stayed out of the system (i.e., bounced from home-to-home or on the streets) to prove they were alone and apply for loans on their own and go to school. With that, a scholarship and loans, I attended American University, excelled where I could and Interned at The White House.

In the time since childhood and now, I have made an incredible family of friends who are on both sides of the political fence. Some of my friends feel very strongly about helping others whereas others feel we should all be responsible only for helping ourselves. Some of my friends are gay and have been humiliated, put down, abused, shut out and treated as second-class citizens by family members and strangers alike solely because they love the “wrong” gender. I have friends who have started rehabilitation programs and others who have benefited from them. I have friends who go to church every week and others who have never stepped foot into one. I personally believe in God and God said that we should steer clear of judging others unless we want to be judged ourselves. I believe God judges deception, bigotry, cruelty and those who live their lives in ways that bring pain to others.

You may not believe this. We don’t have to agree. But I will still show you respect, not only because that’s how I was raised, but because it feels right on a deep and human level.

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I am writing this because I want to say that I was one of those “welfare” people so many people callously group into the “lazy” section of the room. While I am now often told by these same people that I am one of the hardest working people they know, the reality is that there is no way I would be where I am today without the help I received in my past. Some tell me, “Yeah, but you are an exception.”

No, I am not.

I am just one of the many people born under difficult circumstances who wanted to do better and needed a little help getting onto my feet. Now that I am on them, I do my best not to forget what it felt like when I was not. If anything, my past has benefited me in that it has served as a strong warning not to play the “we” VS “them” game as one day you might be the “them”.

 

*Text by  Brenda Della Casa, Nov.2013

WHEN men paid Shelia Faye Simpkins for sex, they presumably thought she was just a happy hooker engaging in a transaction among consenting adults.

It was actually more complicated than that, as it usually is. Simpkins says that her teenage mom, an alcoholic and drug addict, taught her at age 6 how to perform oral sex on men. “Like a lollipop,” she remembers her mom explaining.

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Simpkins finally ran away from home at 14 and into the arms of a pimp.

“I thought he was my boyfriend,” Simpkins remembers. “I didn’t realize I was being pimped.”

When her pimp was shot dead, she was recruited by another, Kenny, who ran a “stable” of four women and assigned each of them a daily quota of $1,000. Anyone who didn’t earn that risked a beating.

There’s a common belief that pimps are business partners of prostitutes, but that’s a complete misunderstanding of the classic relationship. Typically, every dollar earned by the women goes to the pimp, who then doles out drugs, alcohol, clothing and food.

“He gets every penny,” Simpkins explains. “If you get caught with money, you get beat.”

Simpkins periodically ran away from Kenny, but each time he found her — and beat her up with sticks or iron rods. On average, she figures that Kenny beat her up about once a week, and she still carries the scars.

“I was his property,” Simpkins says bluntly.

I met Simpkins here in Nashville, where my wife, Sheryl WuDunn, and I have been filming a segment about sex trafficking as part of a PBS documentary accompanying our next book. We were filming with Ashley Judd, the actress, who lives in the Nashville area and is no neophyte about these issues. Judd has traveled all around the world to understand sexual exploitation — and she was devastated by what we found virtually in her backyard.

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“It’s freaking me out,” she told me one day after some particularly harrowing interviews. It’s easier to be numbed by child prostitution abroad, but we came across online prostitution ads in Nashville for “Michelle,” who looked like a young teenager. Judd had trouble sleeping that night, thinking of Michelle being raped in cheap hotels right in her hometown.

In this respect, Nashville is Everytown U.S.A. Sex trafficking is an American universal: The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation reported in 2011 that over a two-year period, trafficking occurred in 85 percent of Tennessee’s counties, including rural areas. Most are homegrown girls like Simpkins who flee troubled homes and end up controlled by pimps.

Of course, there are also women (and men) selling sex voluntarily. But the notion that the sex industry is a playground of freely consenting adults who find pleasure in their work is delusional self-flattery by johns.

Sex trafficking is one of the most severe human rights violations in America today. In some cases, it amounts to a modern form of slavery.

One reason we as a society don’t try harder to uproot it is that it seems hopeless. Yet Simpkins herself is a reminder that we needn’t surrender.

Simpkins says that she would be dead by now if it weren’t for a remarkable initiative by the Rev. Becca Stevens, the Episcopal priest at Vanderbilt University here, to help women escape trafficking and prostitution.

Rev. Stevens had been searching for a way for her congregation to address social justice issues, and she felt a bond with sex trafficking survivors. Rev. Stevens herself had been abused as a girl — by a family friend in her church, beginning when she was 6 years old — and she shared with so many trafficked women the feelings of vulnerability, injustice and anger that go with having been molested.

With donations and volunteers, Rev. Stevens founded a two-year residential program called Magdalene for prostitution survivors who want to overcome addictions and start new lives. To help the women earn a living, Rev. Stevens then started a business, Thistle Farms, which employs dozens of women making products sold on the Internet and in stores like Whole Foods. This year, Thistle Farms has also opened a cafe, employing former prostitutes as baristas.

Shelia Simpkins went through the Magdalene program and overcame her addictions. In December, she will earn her bachelor’s degree in psychology, and then she plans to earn a master’s in social work.

She regularly brings in women off the street who want to follow her in starting over. I met several of Simpkins’ recruits, including a woman who had been prostituted since she was 8 years old and is now bubbling with hope for a new future. Another has left drugs, started a sales job and found a doctor who agreed not to charge her to remove 16 tattoos designating her as her pimp’s property. And a teenage prostitute told me that she’s trying to start over because, “the only person who visited me in jail was Miss Shelia.”

Magdalene and Thistle Farms fill part of what’s needed: residential and work programs for women trying to flee pimps. We also need to see a much greater crackdown on pimps and johns.

Simpkins figures she was arrested about 200 times — and her pimps, never. As for johns, by my back-of-envelope calculations, a john in Nashville has less than a 0.5 percent chance of being arrested. If there were more risk, fewer men would buy sex, and falling demand would force some pimps to find a new line of work.

In short, there are steps we can take that begin to chip away at the problem, but a starting point is greater empathy for women like Simpkins who were propelled into the vortex of the sex trade — and a recognition that the problem isn’t hopeless. To me, Simpkins encapsulates not hopelessness but the remarkable human capacity for resilience.

She has married and has two children, ages 4 and 6. The older one has just been accepted in a gifted program at school, and Simpkins couldn’t be more proud.

“I haven’t done a lot of things right in my life, but this is one thing I’m going to do right,” she said. “I’m going to be the world’s best mom.”

By  , October 12, 2013

It’s easy to appreciate the seasonality of winter blues, but web searches show that other disorders may ebb and flow with the weather as well.

Google searches are becoming an intriguing source of health-related information, exposing everything from the first signs of an infectious disease outbreak to previously undocumented side effects of medications. So researchers led by John Ayers of the University of Southern California decided to comb through queries about mental illnesses to look for potentially helpful patterns related to these conditions. Given well known connections between depression and winter weather, they investigated possible connections between mental illnesses and seasons.

Using all of Google’s search data from 2006 to 2010, they studied searches for terms like “schizophrenia” “attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD),” “bulimia” and “bipolar” in both the United States and Australia.  Since winter and summer are reversed in the two countries finding opposing patterns in the two countries’ data would strongly suggest that season, rather than other things that might vary with time of year, was important in some way in the prevalence of the disorders.

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“All mental health queries followed seasonal patterns with winter peaks and summer troughs,” the researchers write in their study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. They found that mental health queries in general were 14% higher in the winter in the U.S. and 11% higher in the Australian winter.

The seasonal timing of queries regarding each disorder was also similar in the two countries. In both countries, for example, searches about eating disorders (including anorexia and bulimia) and schizophrenia surged during winter months; those in the U.S. were 37% more likely and Australians were 42% more likely to seek information about these disorders during colder weather than during the summer. And compared to summer searches, schizophrenia queries were 37% more common in the American winter and 36% more frequent during the Australian winter. ADHD queries were also highly seasonal, with 31% more winter searches in the U.S. and 28% more in Australia compared to summer months.

Searches for depression and bipolar disorder, which might seem to be among the more common mental illnesses to strike during the cold winter months, didn’t solicit as many queries: there were 19% more winter searches for depression in the U.S. and 22% more in Australia for depression. For bipolar, 16% more American searches for the term occurred in the winter than in the summer, and 18% more searches occurred during the Australian winter. The least seasonal disorder was anxiety, which varied by just 7% in the U.S. and 15% in Australia between summer and winter months.

Understanding how the prevalence of mental illnesses change with the seasons could lead to more effective preventive measures that alert people to symptoms and guide them toward treatments that could help, say experts. Previous research suggests that shorter daylight hours and the social isolation that accompanies harsh weather conditions might explain some of these seasonal differences in mental illnesses, for example, so improving social interactions during the winter months might be one way to alleviate some symptoms. Drops in vitamin D levels, which rise with exposure to sunlight, may also play a role, so supplementation for some people affected by mood disorders could also be effective.

 

The researchers emphasize that searches for disorders are only queries for more information, and don’t necessarily reflect a desire to learn more about a mental illness after a new diagnosis. For example, while the study found that searches for ‘suicide’ were 29% more common in winter in America and 24% more common during the colder season in Australia, other investigations showed that completed suicides tend to peak in spring and early summer. Whether winter queries have any relationship at all to spring or summer suicides isn’t clear yet, but the results suggest a new way of analyzing data that could lead to better understanding of a potential connection.

And that’s the promise of data on web searches, says the scientists. Studies on mental illnesses typically rely on telephone or in-person surveys in which participants are asked about symptoms of mental illness or any history with psychological disorders, and people may not always answer truthfully in these situations. Searches, on the other hand, have the advantage of reflecting people’s desire to learn more about symptoms they may be experiencing or to improve their knowledge about a condition for which they were recently diagnosed. So such queries could become a useful resource for spotting previously undetected patterns in complex psychiatric disorders.  “The current results suggest that monitoring queries can provide insight into national trends on seeking information regarding mental health, such as seasonality…If additional studies can validate the current approach by linking clinical symptoms with patterns of search queries,” the authors conclude, “This method may prove essential in promoting population mental health.”

 

Earlier this week, in our annual April Fool’s Day newsletter, we told you about a miracle plant from the Amazon that helped you to easily shed unwanted pounds. Well, for everyone who didn’t pick up on it, the article was an April Fool’s Day joke.

As a “thank you” for being loyal readers with a sense of humor, let’s look at some true miracle plants, fruits and vegetables found in Peru.

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Let’s start with maca, which is a root that belongs to the radish family. It is grown in the mountains of Peru and sometimes-called “Peruvian ginseng” because of the root’s long valued use and numerous applications.

Maca is rich in vitamins B12 and protein, which can be helpful for vegans. It also keeps you healthy by providing plenty of calcium, zinc, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, and amino acids.

But where maca gets interesting is it’s use for improved sexual function in both men and women. It serves to boost your libido and increase endurance. At the same time it balances hormones and increases fertility.

For women, maca relieves menstrual issues and menopause. It alleviates cramps, body pain, hot flashes, anxiety, mood swings and depression.

Many athletes use maca for peak performance. It keeps your bones and teeth healthy and allows you to heal from wounds more quickly.

This miracle root is also ideal for those who wish to boost their mental energy and focus.

Maca root is commonly used as a powder to help boost mental energy and focus. (photo: Wikimedia)

Kiwicha, known in English speaking countries as amaranth, is the next Peruvian miracle gluten-free whole grain. Just like quinoa, its seeds contain impressive amounts of proteins as well as amino acids. This plant may be instrumental in helping lower cholesterol, reducing the risk of hypertension, and heart disease.

Kiwicha contains many vitamins A, B-6, K, C, folate, and riboflavin.

There are many miracle uses for kiwicha, especially because eating it has been known to prevent grey hair. The word “amaranth” in Greek means “everlasting,” and the Aztecs called it “food of immortality.” In india, where it has been eaten since the 1500s, it’s know as “rajgeera” which translates as “king’s grain.”

The grain has earned a reputation for it’s high nutritional value and was selected for astronaut’s diet. Kiwicha was even grown in space travel by NASA in 1985. 

Chia seeds are rich in antioxidants that help protect the body from free radicals. (photo: Wikimedia)

The next item on our list of actual miracle foods is the chia seed. Ancient civilizations like the Incans, Mayans, and Aztecs used chia seeds to bring strength to hunters and warriors on long expeditions.

Chia seeds are rich in polyunsaturated fats, especially omega-3 fatty acids. Chia seeds’ lipid profile is composed of 60 percent omega-3s, making them one of the richest plant-based sources of these fatty acids.

The seeds also have a ton of fiber, which is known for lowering cholesterol and regulating bowel function. On top of that, Chia seeds are rich in antioxidants that help protect the body from free radicals, aging and cancer.

But they are also a dieter’s best friend because they have a gelling action that when eaten absorb a lot of liquid and give the eater the feeling of being full, known as satiety.

This feeling of being full and satisfied helps lower food cravings between meals. The combination of protein, fiber and the gelling action of chia seeds when mixed with liquids all contribute to their satiating effects and less snacking through out the day.

 Golden berries or Incan berries help prevent asthma and fight optic nerve disorders. (photo: Wikimedia/ Steven Depolo)
Orange- colored golden berries, also known as Incan berries, have been cultivated in the America for centuries. They have also been revered for their health benefits and mouth puckering sweet and sour flavor. They are commonly eaten raw like blueberry or raspberry and are often dried and sold in “dehydrated formats that resemble raisins in shape and texture.

Golden berries pack a punch of vitamin A, which is great for eye health. But they are also believed to help maintain a healthy weight, ward off disease, and improve organ function.

Traditionally, the golden berry has been used to help a variety of ailments including asthma, edema, optic nerve disorders, throat afflictions, intestinal parasites, and a variety of skin conditions. 

So maybe the sweat vine wasn’t exactly what you would call “real, ” but nonetheless there are a number of miracle plants that can be found within Peru. Who knows, if we keep looking we just might find the real sweat vine. 
 

By Diego M. Ortiz; April 5, 2013

If we do not make the difference between people who earn more than those who earn less, be reasonable. Then the economic world, businesses or jobs will be chaos, for most people, where injustice, selfishness, greed and arrogance is something considered normal executive.

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There should be a limit on earnings regardless one has several professional degrees or doctorates at Harvard.

 

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We pay fair wages to all workers, without exception, according to the cost of living in the country, where human dignity is quantified.

In this way we will have a better world, a more just and where justice, peace and social solidarity is normal.

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Also make sure that the domestic market is positive. Be Sure that most people will have some money left over to use it to make purchases of various products or services. Otherwise only a small group will do it and many companies or businesses will have to close its doors.

See You.

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Many people hit the gym or pound the pavement to improve cardiovascular health, build muscle, and of course, get a rockin’ bod, but working out has above-the-neck benefits, too. For the past decade or so, scientists have pondered how exercising can boost brain function. Regardless of age or fitness level (yup, this includes everyone from mall-walkers to marathoners), studies show that making time for exercise provides some serious mental benefits. Get inspired to exercise by reading up on these unexpected ways that working out can benefit mental health, relationships and lead to a healthier and happier life overall.

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1. Reduce Stress 

Rough day at the office? Take a walk or head to the gym for a quick workout. One of the most common mental benefits of exercise is stress relief. Working up a sweat can help manage physical and mental stress. Exercise also increases concentrations of norepinephrine, a chemical that can moderate the brain’s response to stress. So go ahead and get sweaty — working out can reduce stress and boost the body’s ability to deal with existing mental tension. Win-win!

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2. Boost Happy Chemicals
Slogging through a few miles on the ‘mill can be tough, but it’s worth the effort! Exercise releases endorphins, which create feelings of happiness and euphoria. Studies have shown that exercise can even alleviate symptoms among the clinically depressed. For this reason, docs recommend that people suffering from depression or anxiety (or those who are just feeling blue) pencil in plenty of gym time. In some cases, exercise can be just as effective as antidepressant pills in treating depression. Don’t worry if you’re not exactly the gym rat type — getting a happy buzz from working out for just 30 minutes a few times a week can instantly boost overall mood.

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3. Improve Self-Confidence
Hop on the treadmill to look (and more importantly, feel) like a million bucks. On a very basic level, physical fitness can boost self-esteem and improve positive self-image. Regardless of weight, size, gender or age, exercise can quickly elevate a person’s perception of his or her attractiveness, that is, self-worth. How’s that for feeling the (self) love?

4. Enjoy The Great Outdoors
For an extra boost of self-love, take that workout outside. Exercising in the great outdoors can increase self-esteem even more. Find an outdoor workout that fits your style, whether it’s rock-climbing, hiking, renting a canoe or just taking a jog in the park. Plus, all that Vitamin D acquired from soaking up the sun (while wearing sunscreen, of course!) can lessen the likelihood of experiencing depressive symptoms. Why book a spa day when a little fresh air and sunshine (and exercise) can work wonders for self-confidence and happiness?

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5. Prevent Cognitive Decline

It’s unpleasant, but it’s true — as we get older, our brains get a little… hazy. As aging and degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s kill off brain cells, the noggin actually shrinks, losing many important brain functions in the process. While exercise and a healthy diet can’t “cure” Alzheimer’s, they can help shore up the brain against cognitive decline that begins after age 45 Working out, especially between age 25 and 45, boosts the chemicals in the brain that support and prevent degeneration of the hippocampus, an important part of the brain for memory and learning.

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6. Alleviate Anxiety
Quick Q&A: Which is better at relieving anxiety — a warm bubble bath or a 20-minute jog? You might be surprised at the answer. The warm and fuzzy chemicals that are released during and after exercise can help people with anxiety disorders calm down. Hopping on the track or treadmill for some moderate-to-high intensity aerobic exercise (intervals, anyone?) can reduce anxiety sensitivity. And we thought intervals were just a good way to burn calories!

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7. Boost Brainpower
Those buff lab rats might be smarter than we think. Various studies on mice and men have shown that cardiovascular exercise can create new brain cells (akaneurogenesis) and improve overall brain performance. Ready to apply for a Nobel Prize? Studies suggest that a tough workout increases levels of a brain-derived protein (known as BDNF) in the body, believed to help with decision making, higher thinking and learning. Smarty (spandex) pants, indeed.

8. Sharpen Memory
Get ready to win big at Go Fish. Regular physical activity boosts memory and ability to learn new things. Getting sweaty increases production of cells in hippocampusresponsible for memory and learning. For this reason, research has linked children’sbrain development with level of physical fitness (take that, recess haters!). But exercise-based brainpower isn’t just for kids. Even if it’s not as fun as a game of Red Rover, working out can boost memory among grown-ups, too. A study showed thatrunning sprints improved vocabulary retention among healthy adults.

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9. Help Control Addiction
The brain releases dopamine, the “reward chemical” in response to any form of pleasure, be that exercise, sex, drugs, alcohol or food. Unfortunately, some people become addicted to dopamine and dependent on the substances that produce it, like drugs or alcohol (and more rarely, food and sex). On the bright side, exercise can help in addiction recovery. Short exercise sessions can also effectively distract drug oralcohol addicts, making them de-prioritize cravings (at least in the short term). Working out when on the wagon has other benefits, too. Alcohol abuse disrupts many body processes, including circadian rhythms. As a result, alcoholics find they can’t fall asleep (or stay asleep) without drinking. Exercise can help reboot the body clock, helping people hit the hay at the right time.

10. Increase Relaxation
Ever hit the hay after a long run or weight session at the gym? For some, a moderate workout can be the equivalent of a sleeping pilleven for people with insomnia. Moving around five to six hours before bedtime raises the body’s core temperature. When the body temp drops back to normal a few hours later, it signals the body that it’s time to sleep.

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11. Get More Done
Feeling uninspired in the cubicle? The solution might be just a short walk or jog away. Research shows that workers who take time for exercise on a regular basis are more productive and have more energy than their more sedentary peers. While busy schedules can make it tough to squeeze in a gym session in the middle of the day, some experts believe that midday is the ideal time for a workout due to the body’scircadian rhythms.

12. Tap Into Creativity
Most people end a tough workout with a hot shower, but maybe we should be breaking out the colored pencils instead. A heart-pumping gym session can boost creativity for up to two hours afterwards. Supercharge post-workout inspiration by exercising outdoors and interacting with nature (see benefit #4). Next time you need a burst of creative thinking, hit the trails for a long walk or run to refresh the body and the brain at the same time.

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13. Inspire Others
Whether it’s a pick-up game of soccer, a group class at the gym, or just a run with a friend, exercise rarely happens in a bubble. And that’s good news for all of us. Studies show that most people perform better on aerobic tests when paired up with a workout buddy. Pin it to inspiration or good old-fashioned competition, nobody wants to let the other person down. In fact, being part of a team is so powerful that it can actuallyraise athletes’ tolerances for pain. Even fitness beginners can inspire each other to push harder during a sweat session, so find a workout buddy and get moving!

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Working out can have positive effects far beyond the gym (and beach season). Gaining self-confidence, getting out of a funk, and even thinking smarter are some of the motivations to take time for exercise on a regular basis.

 

* Text by Sophia Breene, Huff Post (3/27/2013)

Fourteen-year-old Katelyn Norman doesn’t have much time left. Doctors say osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer, will soon take the Tennessee teen’s life. But it hasn’t stolen all her chances to experience the joys of being young — including the prom.

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Katelyn hoped she’d be well enough to attend a personalized prom at her school Tuesday night, but that afternoon she had trouble breathing and had to be hospitalized. Her friends and family rallied, bringing the event to her hospital room, where her date presented her with a corsage and a “Prom Queen” sash.

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Katelyn insisted that the prom at school proceed without her: “She contacted me and said prom must go on — that’s her, and you can’t help but feed off that energy, that life,” said the organizer.

 

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http://www.wate.com/story/21802744/teen-fighting-cancer-checks-prom-off-her-bucket-list?autoStart=true&topVideoCatNo=default&clipId=8713178

LAFOLLETTE (WATE) – There wasn’t a fancy dress or even a dance floor, but on Tuesday night family and friends helped cross off the number one thing on a teen with terminal cancer’s bucket list.

Katelyn Norman, 14, has been fighting bone cancer for months, last week she got word her chemotherapy treatments were no longer working. Katelyn made a bucket list that included going to prom, and the Campbell County community pitched into make it happen.

But Tuesday afternoon, Katelyn was having difficulty breathing and was rushed to Children’s Hospital. When she couldn’t go to the dance, they brought the dance to her.

In stable condition and in high spirits, Katelyn was able to have a make shift prom in her room.

The hospital staff decorated the room and her date gave her a corsage and a special sash. Family and friends gathered outside with candles.

Meanwhile, in Campbell County, the celebration of Katelyn was taking place.

The music was blaring, the decorations were hung, it was meant to be Katelyn’s perfect night, and she wanted it to go on, even if she wasn’t there.

“She contacted me and said prom must go on, that’s her, and you can’t help but feed off that energy, that life,” said Sharon Shepard, an instructor at Katelyn’s school and organizer of the prom.

The night was a celebration of Katelyn, featuring all her favorite things.  But most important, the people she loves most.

“Once you meet her your life will never be the same, she has such an impact,” Shepard said.

And despite her absence her friends passed along messages of hope and love.

“Tell her that I love her and she’s my hero,” said friend McKayla Pierce.

“If I could say anything to her I would say hold on, she’s fighting hard,” said another friend, Brandi Marsh.

Her courage even prompted the mayor to declare Tuesday Katelyn Norman day.

“We wanted to try to make this day, and this time in her life, special to her because she makes it special for people in Campbell County,” said Mayor William Bailey.

That was more evident than ever as thousands of people lined Highway 63 in honor of Katelyn.

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“I think she’s a hometown hero for all of us and a great inspiration to everybody,” said Seirra Ames, who came to hold a candle in Katelyn’s honor.

For more than a mile, candles in hand, the Campbell County community came together to light the night all for a teen that has touched so many.

“It amazes me that an individual has that much impact on people,” Shepard said. “But that’s just Katelyn.”

When Hugo Chavez’s embalmed body is laid in a glass casket sometime next week, he will join at least eight other world leaders whose remains are on display for all eternity … or at least for as long as their keepers can preserve them.

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Vice President Nicolas Maduro announced Thursday that Chavez’s body would be on permanent display at the Museum of the Revolution so that “his people will always have them.” While that idea may sound grotesque, it’s also not particularly novel.

The Russians, arguably the ones who perfected the practice, have put both Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin on long-term display. Lenin’s body has been embalmed in a large tomb near the Kremlin since shortly after his death in 1924, preserved by a steady 61 degree temperature and a strict regimen of mild bleachings and soaks in glycerol and potassium acetate.

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Lenin’s body in 1991, the first time it was photographed in 30 years. (AFP/Getty Images)

According to Time, Stalin’s embalmed body also laid near Lenin’s for about 10 years, but was hastily reburied under cover of darkness when the government tried to squash his cult of personality in the early ’60s.

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Stalin laying in state in Moscow in 1953. (AFP/Getty Images)

The Russians seem to have inspired the North Koreans to similar displays. In 1994, a Russian team helped preserve the body of Kim Il-sung, North Korea’s founding president, the New York Times reports.

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Kim Il-Sung lies in state in 1994. (AFP/Getty Images)

When Kim Jong Il died in late 2011, Russian scientists again went to Pyongyang to assist in the embalming; the late leader lies in a glass sarcophagus with filtered lights to keep his face looking rosy.

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An image of Kim Jong-Il in the memorial palace, taken from Korean TV in 2011. (AP)

But Kim Jong Il and his father were by no means the first Asian leaders to get the Chavez treatment. The Vietnamese revolutionary Ho Chi Minh, who died in 1969, is displayed in a mausoleum in Hanoi modeled after Lenin’s. Since “Uncle Ho” died in the midst of the Vietnam War, his embalmers had to work in a cave in the North Vietnamese jungle, the New York Times reports.

One of the scientists who worked on him told the Times: “Not every expert is allowed to restore such treasured historical objects, like a Raphael or a Rembrandt. Those who do it, we tremble. I feel a great responsibility in my hands.” This video shows the changing of the guard outside Ho Chi Minh’s tomb.

Socialist leader Mao Zedong has lain in state in a mausoleum on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square since May 1977. According to Time, Soviet-Chinese tensions forced Mao’s embalmers to ask the Vietnamese, not the Russians, for advice — a plan that misfired slightly when the Vietnamese could not explain how to build an air-tight coffin.

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A 1976 photo from China’s official news service shows party and state leaders standing vigil by Mao Zedong. (Xinhua/AFP/Getty Images)

The exiled Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who died in 1989, has lain embalmed in a public mausoleum in the northwest Philippines since the government allowed his body back into the country in 1993. His widow, Imelda Marcos, has battled the government for permission to bury him in the country’s presidential cemetery, the New York Times reports. She posted for photos kissing the crypt in 2010.
 

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Chavez will be only the second Latin American leader to be preserved for all eternity. Embalmers emptied water from the cells of Eva Peron, the wife of Argentinian president Juan Peron, and replaced them with wax — an unusual technique that basically “turned her into a candle,” Egyptologist Bob Brier told the Post’s Monica Hesse in 2012. She’s now also missing a finger — when the junta overthrew Peron’s husband and took over their house, they cut one off to see if the body was fake.

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Chavez’s body will, presumably, get better protection than that. AFP reports that Marcos’s embalmer has already offered up his services and is urging the Venezuelans to start the process before it gets “more difficult.”
 
“I will process anyone, anywhere,” he said, helpfully.

 

By Caitlin Dewey on March 8, 2013 (Washington Post)

CARACAS, Venezuela — While dignitaries from around the world attended the funeral of Hugo Chávez on Friday, Angélica Rodríguez stood in a line that stretched close to a mile in hopes of getting a glimpse of him lying in state. But her older brother, Gustavo, was much farther away, geographically and politically, having moved to Panama over a year ago because he believed there was no future in a Venezuela run by Mr. Chávez.

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“He said we’re glorifying a man who does not deserve it,” said Ms. Rodríguez, 23, a university student who had been standing in line for 16 hours and had many hours to go.

Mr. Chávez’s death prompted a massive outpouring of grief from his supporters as thousands waited outside the funeral for a chance to enter later to see his glass-covered coffin. But many other Venezuelans stayed home and expressed hope that his passing would lead to change.

“He was a man who awoke passions, for good or bad,” said Claudia Astor, 41, who watched a television broadcast of the funeral and recounted her long-standing misgivings of Mr. Chávez. At her side was her mother, Norma Astor, 73, an ardent supporter of Mr. Chávez from the day in 1992 when he first appeared on television screens as the leader of a failed coup.

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The proceedings also put on display the political alliances that Mr. Chávez assembled during 14 years as president, often with an eye toward confronting the United States, who he regularly pilloried as an imperialist force of evil.

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President Raúl Castro of Cuba sat in the front row, next to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, who at one point kissed Mr. Chávez’s flag-draped coffin. Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, the president of Belarus, shed some tears.

Despite years of rough relationships with the United States, including the expulsion from Caracas on Tuesday of two American military attaches who were accused of seeking to destabilize the country, there were signs that both sides were trying to put on a moderate face, at least for a day.

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The United States sent Representative Gregory W. Meeks, Democrat of New York, and William D. Delahunt, a former Democratic congressman from Massachusetts, who had positive contacts with Venezuelan officials in the past.

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And Nicolás Maduro, who was Mr. Chávez’s vice president until he was sworn in as president on Friday night, had kind words for the American delegation in his eulogy, emphasizing that they were sent by President Obama.

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“Here there are some representatives that we greet and value,” Mr. Maduro said, naming the two American politicians and the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, who was also present, although not part of the official delegation.

In his eulogy, Mr. Maduro, Mr. Chávez’s handpicked political heir, praised his mentor for starting Venezuela down the path of socialism, although he stressed that there was still a long way to go.

“You can go in peace, commander,” Mr. Maduro said. “Mission accomplished. The battle continues.”

And while he spoke of love and forgiveness, he also touched on some of Mr. Chávez’s familiar themes, harping on enemies and the dark shadow of betrayal.

“There has not been a leader in the history of our country more vilified, more insulted and more vilely attacked than our commander president,” he said.

Mr. Maduro was sworn in as interim president in a special session of the National Assembly several hours after the funeral and then immediately put on the presidential sash. The Supreme Court had ratified the transition in a ruling earlier in the day.

But most opposition lawmakers boycotted the session, arguing that the Constitution was being violated. Henrique Capriles, who ran unsuccessfully against Mr. Chávez in October, called the swearing in spurious at a news conference. He said that under the Constitution Mr. Maduro should take charge of the duties of president while retaining the title of vice president. But the Constitution clearly bars a vice president from running for president, meaning that under Mr. Capriles’s interpretation, Mr. Maduro would have to resign from the government in order to run.

“Nicolás, no one elected you president,” a combative Mr. Capriles said. “The people didn’t vote for you, boy.”

The wrangling presaged the bitter political contest that is to come as the country heads to a special election to replace Mr. Chávez. Mr. Maduro, 50, is expected to be the candidate of the government party, while a person in the opposition coalition said that there was a consensus to name Mr. Capriles, 42, as its candidate.

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Election authorities have yet to set a date for the vote.

In announcing Mr. Chávez’s death on Tuesday, a distraught Mr. Maduro described the country as a family. But on Friday it seemed like a family torn apart.

“I hate the anti-Chavistas with all my heart,” said Nancy Cadena, 45, who sells plantains and bananas in a street market in Petare, a poor neighborhood. “They don’t want the poor people to catch up.”

A few miles away in a middle-class neighborhood, Luisa Mercedes Pulido, 69, said that while she and her sister Elenora, 64, were on opposite sides of the national divide, they got along fine as long as they avoided politics.

“She has her point of view that she isn’t going to change, and I have mine that I’m not going to change,” she said. “But it seems incredible to me that intelligent, thoughtful people, at this stage, continue to think as they do when what we have received from Mr. Chávez is misery, corruption, murders and a total reduction in our quality of life and so much crime. I don’t understand how they cannot see that.”

 

Reporting (Text) was contributed by Simon Romero, María Eugenia Díaz, Jonathan Gilbert and Paula Ramón. (NYT, March 8, 2013)

Eco Truly Park, at kilometer 63 of the Panamericana Norte, by Pasamayo, is the largest farm in South America built by a community of Hare Krishnas. Its peculiar trulys, cone-shaped constructions made with mud and organic material, invite the visitor to feel like part of nature and to get in touch with the universe.

“The trulys are a natural way of living, because in the world, there are not square things. The planet is round and spins in a circle around the sun, the seasons turn…the atoms turn, even our blood circulates through our blood to get to our heart,” says the Krishna monk. “They are constructions where the energy moves circularly and tries to separate us from this square thinking, as happens in normal homes, or notebooks or the TVs we are used to watching.”

The Hare Krishnas try to remove themselves from everything that damages nature, and they practice the philosophy of universal love and respect for everything that exists on the planet. They take a bit from all of the world’s religion and seek to enter into contact with their spirits, to serve and to worship the gods or creators of the universe, living a lifestyle that doesn’t harm anything or anyone on earth.

They are in a constant state of pilgrimage, trying to complete the work of building more communities like Eco Truly around the world, and following the teachings of their spiritual masters. Everything on the farm is done organically, from eating, growing plants, doing chores and even going to the bathroom.

It’s a perfect location to medítate, practice yoga, eat healthy and find out more about this religión or way of life. The compound offers housing and vegetarian food. If you want a different kind of weekend and, why not, to try a different way of living, visit this park on the Chacra y Mar beach in the district of Aucallama, north of the capital.


 

For more information, visit this link: 

 http://volunteeringecotrulypark.blogspot.com/

 

Our brains are better than Google or the best robot from iRobot.

We can instantly search through a vast wealth of experiences and emotions. We can immediately recognize the face of a parent, spouse, friend or pet, whether in daylight, darkness, from above or sideways—a task that the computer vision system built into the most sophisticated robots can accomplish only haltingly. We can also multitask effortlessly when we extract a handkerchief from a pocket and mop our brow while striking up a conversation with an acquaintance. Yet designing an electronic brain that would allow a robot to perform this simple combination of behaviors remains a distant prospect.

How does the brain pull all this off, given that the complexity of the networks inside our skull—trillions of connections among billions of brain cells—rivals that of theInternet? One answer is energy efficiency: when a nerve cell communicates with another, the brain uses just a millionth of the energy that a digital computer expends to perform the equivalent operation. Evolution, in fact, may have played an important role in pushing the three-pound organ toward ever greater energy efficiencies.

Parsimonious energy consumption cannot be the full explanation, though, given that the brain also comes with many built-in limitations. One neuron in the cerebral cortex, for instance, can respond to an input from another neuron by firing an impulse, or a “spike,” in thousandths of a second—a snail’s pace compared with the transistors that serve as switches in computers, which take billionths of a second to switch on. The reliability of the neuronal network is also low: a signal traveling from one cortical cell to another typically has only a 20 percent possibility of arriving at its ultimate destination and much less of a chance of reaching a distant neuron to which it is not directly connected.

Neuroscientists do not fully understand how the brain manages to extract meaningful information from all the signaling that goes on within it. The two of us and others, however, have recently made exciting progress by focusing new attention on how the brain can efficiently use the timing of spikes to encode information and rapidly solve difficult computational problems. This is because a group of spikes that fire almost at the same moment can carry much more information than can a comparably sized group that activates in an unsynchronized fashion.

Beyond offering insight into the most complex known machine in the universe, further advances in this research could lead to entirely new kinds of computers. Already scientists have built “neuromorphic” electronic circuits that mimic aspects of the brain’s signaling network. We can build devices today with a million electronic neurons, and much larger systems are planned. Ultimately investigators should be able to build neuromorphic computers that function much faster than modern computers but require just a fraction of the power [see “Neuromorphic Microchips,” by Kwabena Boahen; Scientific American, May 2005].

Cell Chatter

Like many other neuroscientists, we often use the visual system as our test bed, in part because its basic wiring diagram is well understood. Timing of signals there and elsewhere in the brain has long been suspected of being a key part of the code that the brain uses to decide whether information passing through the network is meaningful. Yet for many decades these ideas were neglected because timing is only important when compared between different parts of the brain, and it was hard to measure activity of more than one neuron at a time. Recently, however, the practical development of computer models of the nervous system and new results from experimental and theoretical neuroscience have spurred interest in timing as a way to better understand how neurons talk to one another.

Brain cells receive all kinds of inputs on different timescales. The microsecond-quick signal from the right ear must be reconciled with the slightly out-of-sync input from the left. These rapid responses contrast with the sluggish stream of hormones coursing through the bloodstream. The signals most important for this discussion, though, are the spikes, which are sharp rises in voltage that course through and between neurons. For cell-to-cell communication, spikes lasting a few milliseconds handle immediate needs. A neuron fires a spike after deciding that the number of inputs urging it to switch on outweigh the number telling it to turn off. When the decision is made, a spike travels down the cell’s axon (somewhat akin to a branched electrical wire) to its tips. Then the signal is relayed chemically through junctions, called synapses, that link the axon with recipient neurons.

In each eye, 100 million photoreceptors in the retina respond to changing patterns of light. After the incoming light is processed by several layers of neurons, a million ganglion cells at the back of the retina convert these signals into a sequence of spikes that are relayed by axons to other parts of the brain, which in turn send spikes to still other regions that ultimately give rise to a conscious perception. Each axon can carry up to several hundred spikes each second, though more often just a few spikes course along the neural wiring. All that you perceive of the visual world—the shapes, colors and movements of everything around you—is coded into these rivers of spikes with varying time intervals separating them.

Monitoring the activity of many individual neurons at once is critical for making sense of what goes on in the brain but has long been extremely challenging. In 2010, though, E. J. Chichilnisky of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, Calif., and his colleagues reported in Nature that they had achieved the monumental task of simultaneously recording all the spikes from hundreds of neighboring ganglion cells in monkey retinas. (Scientific American is part of Nature Publishing Group.) This achievement made it possible to trace the specific photoreceptors that fed into each ganglion cell. The growing ability to record spikes from many neurons simultaneously will assist in deciphering meaning from these codelike brain signals.

For years investigators have used several methods to interpret, or decode, the meaning in the stream of spikes coming from the retina. One method counts spikes from each axon separately over some period: the higher the firing rate, the stronger the signal. The information conveyed by a variable firing rate, a rate code, relays features of visual images, such as location in space, regions of differing light contrast, and where motion occurs, with each of these features represented by a given group of neurons.

Information is also transmitted by relative timing—when one neuron fires in close relation to when another cell spikes. Ganglion cells in the retina, for instance, are exquisitely sensitive to light intensity and can respond to a changing visual scene by transmitting spikes to other parts of the brain. When multiple ganglion cells fire at almost the same instant, the brain suspects that they are responding to an aspect of the same physical object. Horace Barlow, a leading neuroscientist at the University of Cambridge, characterized this phenomenon as a set of “suspicious coincidences.” Barlow referred to the observation that each cell in the visual cortex may be activated by a specific physical feature of an object (say, its color or its orientation within a scene). When several of these cells switch on at the same time, their combined activation constitutes a suspicious coincidence because it may only occur at a specific time for a unique object. Apparently the brain takes such synchrony to mean that the signals are worth noting because the odds of such coordination occurring by chance are slim.

 

Electrical engineers are trying to build on this knowledge to create more efficient hardware that incorporates the principles of spike timing when recording visual scenes. One of us (Delbruck) has built a camera that emits spikes in response to changes in a scene’s brightness, which enables the tracking of very fast moving objects with minimal processing by the hardware to capture images [see box above].

Into the Cortex

New evidence adds proof that the visual cortex attends to temporal clues to make sense of what the eye sees. The ganglion cells in the retina do not project directly to the cortex but relay signals through neurons in the thalamus, deep within the brain’s midsection. This region in turn must activate 100 million cells in the visual cortex in each hemisphere at the back of the brain before the messages are sent to higher brain areas for conscious interpretation.

We can learn something about which spike patterns are most effective in turning on cells in the visual cortex by examining the connections from relay neurons in the thalamus to cells known as spiny stellate neurons in a middle layer of the visual cortex. In 1994 Kevan Martin, now at the Institute of Neuroinformatics at the University of Zurich, and his colleagues reconstructed the thalamic inputs to the cortex and found that they account for only 6 percent of all the synapses on each spiny stellate cell. How, then, everyone wondered, does this relatively weak visual input, a mere trickle, manage to reliably communicate with neurons in all layers of the cortex?

Cortical neurons are exquisitely sensitive to fluctuating inputs and can respond to them by emitting a spike in a matter of a few milliseconds. In 2010 one of us (Sejnowski), along with Hsi-Ping Wang and Donald Spencer of the Salk Institute and Jean-Marc Fellous of the University of Arizona, developed a detailed computer model of a spiny stellate cell and showed that even though a single spike from only one axon cannot cause one of these cells to fire, the same neuron will respond reliably to inputs from as few as four axons projecting from the thalamus if the spikes from all four arrive within a few milliseconds of one another. Once inputs arrive from the thalamus, only a sparse subset of the neurons in the visual cortex needs to fire to represent the outline and texture of an object. Each spiny stellate neuron has a preferred visual stimulus from the eye that produces a high firing rate, such as the edge of an object with a particular angle of orientation.

In the 1960s David Hubel of Harvard Medical School and Torsten Wiesel, now at the Rockefeller University, discovered that each neuron in the relevant section of the cortex responds strongly to its preferred stimulus only if activation comes from a specific part of the visual field called the neuron’s receptive field. Neurons responding to stimulation in the fovea, the central region of the retina, have the smallest receptive fields—about the size of the letter e on this page. Think of them as looking at the world through soda straws. In the 1980s John Allman of the California Institute of Technology showed that visual stimulation from outside the receptive field of a neuron can alter its firing rate in reaction to inputs from within its receptive field. This “surround” input puts the feature that a neuron responds to into the context of the broader visual environment.

Stimulating the region surrounding a neuron’s receptive field also has a dramatic effect on the precision of spike timing. David McCormick, James Mazer and their colleagues at Yale University recently recorded the responses of single neurons in the cat visual cortex to a movie that was replayed many times. When they narrowed the movie image so that neurons triggered by inputs from the receptive field fired (no input came from the surrounding area), the timing of the signals from these neurons had a randomly varying and imprecise pattern. When they expanded the movie to cover the surrounding area outside the receptive field, the firing rate of each neuron decreased, but the spikes were precisely timed.

 

The timing of spikes also matters for other neural processes. Some evidence suggests that synchronized timing—with each spike representing one aspect of an object (color or orientation)—functions as a means of assembling an image from component parts. A spike for “pinkish red” fires in synchrony with one for “round contour,” enabling the visual cortex to merge these signals into the recognizable image of a flower pot.

Attention and Memory

Our story so far has tracked visual processing from the photoreceptors to the cortex. But still more goes into forming a perception of a scene. The activity of cortical neurons that receive visual input is influenced not only by those inputs but also by excitatory and inhibitory interactions between cortical neurons. Of particular importance for coordinating the many neurons responsible for forming a visual perception is the spontaneous, rhythmic firing of a large number of widely separated cortical neurons at frequencies below 100 hertz.

Attention—a central facet of cognition—may also have its physical underpinnings in sequences of synchronized spikes. It appears that such synchrony acts to emphasize the importance of a particular perception or memory passing through conscious awareness. Robert Desimone, now at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and his colleagues have shown that when monkeys pay attention to a given stimulus, the number of cortical neurons that fire synchronized spikes in the gamma band of frequencies (30 to 80 hertz) increases, and the rate at which they fire rises as well. Pascal Fries of the Ernst Strüngmann Institute for Neuroscience in cooperation with the Max Planck Society in Frankfurt found evidence for gamma-band signaling between distant cortical areas.

Neural activation of the gamma-frequency band has also attracted the attention of researchers who have found that patients with schizophrenia and autism show decreased levels of this type of signaling on electroencephalographic recordings. David Lewis of the University of Pittsburgh, Margarita Behrens of the Salk Institute and others have traced this deficit to a type of cortical neuron called a basket cell, which is involved in synchronizing spikes in nearby circuits. An imbalance of either inhibition or excitation of the basket cells seems to reduce synchronized activity in the gamma band and may thus explain some of the physiological underpinnings of these neurological disorders. Interestingly, patients with schizophrenia do not perceive some visual illusions, such as the tilt illusion, in which a person typically misjudges the tilt of a line because of the tilt of nearby lines. Similar circuit abnormalities in the prefrontal cortex may be responsible for the thought disorders that accompany schizophrenia.

When it comes to laying down memories, the relative timing of spikes seems to be as important as the rate of firing. In particular, the synchronized firing of spikes in the cortex is important for increasing the strengths of synapses—an important process in forming long-term memories. A synapse is said to be strengthened when the firing of a neuron on one side of a synapse leads the neuron on the other side of the synapse to register a stronger response. In 1997 Henry Markram and Bert Sakmann, then at the Max Plank Institute for Medical Research in Heidelberg, discovered a strengthening process known as spike-timing-dependent plasticity, in which an input at a synapse is delivered at a frequency in the gamma range and is consistently followed within 10 milliseconds by a spike from the neuron on the other side of the synapse, a pattern that leads to enhanced firing by the neuron receiving the stimulation. Conversely, if the neuron on the other side fires within 10 milliseconds before the first one, the strength of the synapse between the cells decreases.

Some of the strongest evidence that synchronous spikes may be important for memory comes from research by György Buzsáki of New York University and others on the hippocampus, a brain area that is important for remembering objects and events. The spiking of neurons in the hippocampus and the cortical areas that it interacts with is strongly influenced by synchronous oscillations of brain waves in a range of frequencies from four to eight hertz (the theta band), the type of neural activity encountered, for instance, when a rat is exploring its cage in a laboratory experiment. These theta-band oscillations can coordinate the timing of spikes and also have a more permanent effect in the synapses, which results in long-term changes in the firing of neurons.

 

A Grand Challenge Ahead

Neuroscience is at a turning point as new methods for simultaneously recording spikes in thousands of neurons help to reveal key patterns in spike timing and produce massive databases for researchers. Also, optogenetics—a technique for turning on genetically engineered neurons using light—can selectively activate or silence neurons in the cortex, an essential step in establishing how neural signals control behavior. Together, these and other techniques will help us eavesdrop on neurons in the brain and learn more and more about the secret code that the brain uses to talk to itself. When we decipher the code, we will not only achieve an understanding of the brain’s communication system, we will also start building machines that emulate the efficiency of this remarkable organ.

 

* By Terry Sejnowski and Tobi Delbruck  

ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S)

Terry Sejnowski is an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and is Francis Crick Professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, where he directs the Computational Neurobiology Laboratory.

Tobi Delbruck is co-leader of the sensors group at the Institute of Neuroinformatics at the University of Zurich.

 MORE TO EXPLORE

Terry Sejnowski’s 2008 Wolfgang Pauli Lectures on how neurons compute and communicate: www.podcast.ethz.ch/podcast/episodes/?id=607

Neuromorphic Sensory Systems. Shih-Chii Liu and Tobi Delbruck in Current Opinion in Neurobiology, Vol. 20, No. 3, pages 288–295; June 2010. http://tinyurl.com/bot7ag8

SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN ONLINE
Watch a video about a motion-sensing video camera that uses spikes for imaging at ScientificAmerican.com/oct2012/dvs

A Pennsylvania first-grader who doesn’t have hands won a trophy and $1,000 in a penmanship competition. 

On Wednesday, Annie Clark, 7, became the first recipient of the Nicholas Maxim Award, a prize from educational publisher Zaner-Bloser Inc. that recognizes disabled students with exceptional handwriting. 


Annie, who writes by wedging a pencil between her two arms, accepted the award from the basketball court at Wilson Christian Academy. She was cheered on by students and faculty as she wore all yellow in honor of the school’s colors. 

“Annie has always been very, very determined, very self-sufficient in dressing herself and feeding herself,” her dad Tom told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “She can ride a bike. She swims. She is just determined that there’s nothing she can’t do.” 

Born to a family of nine children, Annie is a sister to five other siblings adopted from China. Most of Annie’s siblings – including children born biologically to her parents – also have disabilities.

 

* DAHVI SHIRA, Friday April 20, 2012

In the 1993 movie “Groundhog Day,” Bill Murray plays Phil Connors, a reporter who, confronted with living the same day over and over again, matures from an arrogant, self-serving professional climber to someone capable of loving and appreciating others and his world. Murray convincingly portrays the transformation from someone whose self-importance is difficult to abide into a person imbued with kindness.  It seems that the Nietzschean test of eternal return, insofar as it is played out in Punxsutawney, yields not an overman but a man of decency.

But there is another story line at work in the film, one we can see if we examine Murray’s character not in the early arrogant stage, nor in the post-epiphany stage, where the calendar is once again set in motion, but in the film’s middle, where he is knowingly stuck in the repetition of days. In this part of the narrative, Murray’s character has come to terms with his situation. He alone knows what is going to happen, over and over again.  He has no expectations for anything different.  In this period, his period of reconciliation, he becomes a model citizen of Punxsutawney. He radiates warmth and kindness, but also a certain distance.

The early and final moments of “Groundhog Day” offer something that is missing during this period of peace:  passion. Granted, Phil Connors’s early ambitious passion for advancement is a far less attractive thing than the later passion of his love for Rita (played by Andie MacDowell).  But there is passion in both cases.  It seems that the eternal return of the same may bring peace and reconciliation, but at least in this case not intensity.

And here is where a lesson about love may lie.  One would not want to deny that Connors comes to love Rita during the period of the eternal Groundhog Day.  But his love lacks the passion, the abandon, of the love he feels when he is released into a real future with her. There is something different in those final moments of the film.  A future has opened for their relationship, and with it new avenues for the intensity of his feelings for her. Without a future for growth and development, romantic love can extend only so far.  Its distinction from, say, a friendship with benefits begins to become effaced.

There is, of course, in all romantic love the initial infatuation, which rarely lasts.  But if the love is to remain romantic, that infatuation must evolve into a longer-term intensity, even if a quiet one, that nourishes and is nourished by the common engagements and projects undertaken over time.

This might be taken to mean that a limitless future would allow for even more intensity to love than a limited one.  Romantic love among immortals would open itself to an intensity that eludes our mortal race.  After all, immortality opens an infinite future.  And this would seem to be to the benefit of love’s passion.  I think, however, that matters are quite the opposite, and that “Groundhog Day” gives us the clue as to why this is.  What the film displays, if we follow this interpretive thread past the film’s plot, is not merely the necessity of time itself for love’s intensity but the necessity of a specific kind of time:  time for development.  The eternal return of “Groundhog Day” offered plenty of time.  It promised an eternity of it.  But it was the wrong kind of time.  There was no time to develop a coexistence.  There was instead just more of the same.

The intensity we associate with romantic love requires a future that can allow its elaboration.  That intensity is of the moment, to be sure, but is also bound to the unfolding of a trajectory that it sees as its fate.  If we were stuck in the same moment, the same day, day after day, the love might still remain, but its animating passion would begin to diminish.

This is why romantic love requires death.

If our time were endless, then sooner or later the future would resemble an endless Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney.  It is not simply the fact of a future that ensures the intensity of romantic love; it is the future of meaningful coexistence.  It is the future of common projects and the passion that unfolds within them.  One might indeed remain in love with another for all eternity.  But that love would not burn as brightly if the years were to stammer on without number.

Why not, one might ask?  The future is open.  Unlike the future in “Groundhog Day,” it is not already decided.  We do not have our next days framed for us by the day just passed.  We can make something different of our relationships.  There is always more to do and more to create of ourselves with the ones with whom we are in love.

This is not true, however, and romantic love itself shows us why.  Love is between two particular people in their particularity.  We cannot love just anyone, even others with much the same qualities.  If we did, then when we met someone like the beloved but who possessed a little more of a quality to which we were drawn, we would, in the phrase philosophers of love use, “trade up.”  But we don’t trade up, or at least most of us don’t.  This is because we love that particular person in his or her specificity.  And what we create together, our common projects and shared emotions, are grounded in those specificities.  Romantic love is not capable of everything. It is capable only of what the unfolding of a future between two specific people can meaningfully allow.

Sooner or later the paths that can be opened by the specificities of a relationship come to an end.  Not every couple can, with a sense of common meaningfulness, take up skiing or karaoke, political discussion or gardening.  Eventually we must tread the same roads again, wearing them with our days.  This need not kill love, although it might.  But it cannot, over the course of eternity, sustain the intensity that makes romantic love, well, romantic.

One might object here that the intensity of love is a filling of the present, not a projection into the future.  It is now, in a moment that needs no other moments, that I feel the vitality of romantic love.  Why could this not continue, moment after moment?

To this, I can answer only that the human experience does not point this way.  This is why so many sages have asked us to distance ourselves from the world in order to be able to cherish it properly.  Phil Connors, in his reconciled moments, is something like a Buddhist.  But he is not a romantic.

Many readers will probably already have recognized that this lesson about love concerns not only its relationship with death, but also its relationship with life.  It doesn’t take eternity for many of our romantic love’s embers to begin to dim.  We lose the freshness of our shared projects and our passions, and something of our relationships gets lost along with them.  We still love our partner, but we think more about the old days, when love was new and the horizons of the future beckoned us.  In those cases, we needn’t look for Groundhog Day, for it will already have found us.

And how do we live with this?  How do we assimilate the contingency of romance, the waning of the intensity of our loves?  We can reconcile ourselves to our loves as they are, or we can aim to sacrifice our placid comfort for an uncertain future, with or without the one we love.  Just as there is no guarantee that love’s intensity must continue, there is no guarantee that it must diminish.  An old teacher of mine once said that “one has to risk somewhat for his soul.” Perhaps this is true of romantic love as well. The gift of our deaths saves us from the ineluctability of the dimming of our love; perhaps the gift of our lives might, here or there, save us from the dimming itself.

 

* Text By TODD MAY, NYT, FEBRUARY 26, 2012

 Todd May is Class of 1941 Memorial Professor of the Humanities at Clemson University.  His forthcoming book, “Friendship in an Age of Economics,” is based on an earlier column for The Stone.

For adolescents, Facebook and other social media have created an irresistible forum for online sharing and oversharing, so much so that endless mood-of-the-moment updates have inspired a snickering retort on T-shirts and posters: “Face your problems, don’t Facebook them.”

But specialists in adolescent medicine and mental health experts say that dark postings should not be hastily dismissed because they can serve as signs of depression and an early warning system for timely intervention. Whether therapists should engage with patients over Facebook, however, remains a matter of debate.

And parents have their own conundrum: how to distinguish a teenager’s typically melodramatic mutterings — like the “worst day of my life” rants about their “frenemies,” academics or even cafeteria food — from a true emerging crisis.

(Dr. Megan A. Moreno has studied college students’ Facebook postings for signs of depression. Some showed signs of risk.)

Last year, researchers examined Facebook profiles of 200 students at the University of Washington and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Some 30 percent posted updates that met the American Psychiatric Association’s criteria for a symptom of depression, reporting feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness, insomnia or sleeping too much, and difficulty concentrating.

Their findings echo research that suggests depression is increasingly common among college students. Some studies have concluded that 30 to 40 percent of college students suffer a debilitating depressive episode each year. Yet scarcely 10 percent seek counseling.

“You can identify adolescents and young adults on Facebook who are showing signs of being at risk, who would benefit from a clinical visit for screening,” said Dr. Megan A. Moreno, a principal investigator in the Facebook studies and an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Sometimes the warnings are seen in hindsight. Before 15-year-old Amanda Cummings committed suicide by jumping in front of a bus near her Staten Island home on Dec. 27, her Facebook updates may have revealed her anguish. On Dec. 1, she wrote: “then ill go kill myself, with these pills, this knife, this life has already done half the job.”

Facebook started working with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in 2007. A reader who spots a disturbing post can alert Facebook and report the content as “suicidal.” After Facebook verifies the comment, it sends a link for the prevention lifeline to both the person who may need help and the person who alerted Facebook. In December, Facebook also began sending the distressed person a link to an online counselor.

While Facebook’s reporting feature has been criticized by some technology experts as unwieldy, and by some suicide prevention experts as a blunt instrument to address a volatile situation, other therapists have praised it as a positive step.

At some universities, resident advisers are using Facebook to monitor their charges. Last year, when Lilly Cao, then a junior, was a house fellow at Wisconsin-Madison, she decided to accept Facebook “friend” requests from most of the 56 freshmen on her floor.

She spotted posts about homesickness, academic despair and a menacing ex-boyfriend.

“One student clearly had an alcohol problem,” recalled Ms. Cao. “I found her unconscious in front of the dorm and had to call the ambulance. I began paying more attention to her status updates.”

Ms. Cao said she would never reply on Facebook, preferring instead to talk to students in person. The students were grateful for the conversations, she said.

“If they say something alarming on Facebook,” she added, “they know it’s public and they want someone to respond.”

While social media updates can offer clues that someone is overwrought, they also raise difficult questions: Who should intervene? When? How?

“Do you hire someone in the university clinic to look at Facebook all day?” Dr. Moreno said. “That’s not practical and borders on creepy.”

She said a student might be willing to take a concerned call from a parent, or from a professor who could be trained what to look for.

But ethically, should professors or even therapists “friend” a student or patient? (The students monitored by Dr. Moreno’s team had given their consent.)

Debra Corbett, a therapist in Charlotte, N.C., who treats adolescents and young adults, said some clients do “friend” her. But she limits their access to her Facebook profile. When clients post updates relevant to therapy, she feels chagrined. But she will not respond online, to maintain the confidentiality of the therapeutic relationship.

Instead, Ms. Corbett will address the posts in therapy sessions. One client, for example, is a college student who has low self-esteem. Her Facebook posts are virtual pleas for applause.

Ms. Corbett will say to her: “How did you feel when you posted that? We’re working on you validating yourself. When you put it out there, you have no control about what they’ll say back.”

Susan Kidd, who teaches emotionally vulnerable students at a Kentucky high school, follows their Facebook updates, which she calls a “valuable tool” for intervention with those who “may otherwise not have been forthcoming with serious issues.”

At Cornell University, psychologists do not “friend” students. At weekly meetings, however, counselors, residence advisors and the police discuss students who may be at risk. As one marker among many, they may bring up Facebook comments that have been forwarded to them.

“People do post very distressing things,” said Dr. Gregory T. Eells, director of Cornell’s counseling and psychological services. “Sometimes they’re just letting off steam, using Facebook as something between a diary and an op-ed piece. But sometimes we’ll tell the team, ‘check in on this person.’ ”

They proceed cautiously, because of “false positives,” like a report of a Facebook photo of a student posing with guns. “When you look,” said Dr. Eells, “it’s often benign.”

Dr. Moreno said she thought it made sense for house fellows at the University of Wisconsin to keep an eye on their students who “friend” them. Students’ immediate friends, she said, should not be expected to shoulder responsibility for intervention: “How well they can identify and help each other, I’m not so sure.”

Tolu Taiwo, a junior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, agreed. “I know someone who wrote that he wanted to kill himself,” she said. “It turned out he probably just wanted attention. But what if it was real? We wouldn’t know.”

In fact, when adolescents bare their souls on Facebook, they risk derision. Replying to questions posted on Facebook by The New York Times, Daylina Miller, a recent graduate of the University of South Florida, said that when she poured out her sadness online, some readers responded only with the Facebook “like” symbol: a thumb’s up.

“You feel the same way?” said Ms. Miller, puzzled. “Or you like that I’m sad? You’re sadistic?”

Some readers, flummoxed by a friend’s misery, remain silent, which inadvertently may be taken as the most hurtful response.

In comments to The Times, parents who followed their children’s Facebook posts said they did not always know how to distinguish the drama du jour from silent screams. Often their teenagers felt angry and embarrassed when parents responded on Facebook walls or even, after reading a worrisome comment by their child’s friend, alerted the friend’s parents.

Many parents said they felt embarrassed, too. After reading a grim post, they might raise an alarm, only to be curtly told by their offspring that it was a popular song lyric, a tactic teens use to comment in code, in part to confound snooping parents.

Ms. Corbett, the Charlotte therapist, said that when she followed her sons’ Facebook pages, she used caution before responding to occasional downbeat posts. If parents react to every little bad mood, she said, children might be less open on Facebook, assuming that “my parents will freak out.”

Dr. Moreno said that parents should consider whether the posts are typical for their child or whether the child also seems depressed at home. Early intervention can be low-key — a brief text or knock on the bedroom door: “I saw you posted this on Facebook. Is everything O.K.?”

Sometimes a Facebook posting can truly be a last-resort cry for help. One recent afternoon while Jackie Wells, who lives near Dayton, Ohio, was waiting for her phone service to be fixed, she went online to check on her daughter, 18, who lives about an hour away. Just 20 minutes earlier, the girl, unable to reach her mother by phone, used her own Facebook page to post to Mrs. Wells or anyone else who might read it:

“I just did something stupid, mom. Help me.”

Mrs. Wells borrowed a cellphone from her parents and called relatives who lived closer to her daughter. The girl had overdosed on pills. They got her to the hospital in time.

“Facebook might be a pain in the neck to keep up with,” Mrs. Wells said. “But having that extra form of communication saves lives.”

Liz Heron contributed reporting.

 

 

By 

 

AMID the sound and fury of the latest culture-war battles — first over breast cancer dollars and Planned Parenthood, and then over the White House’s attempt to require that religious employers cover contraception and potential abortifacients — it’s easy to forget that there is at least some common ground in American politics on sex, pregnancy, marriage and abortion.

Even the most pro-choice politicians, for instance, usually emphasize that they want to reduce the need for abortion, and make the practice rare as well as safe and legal. Even the fiercest conservative critics of the White House’s contraception mandate — yes, Rick Santorum included — agree that artificial birth control should be legal and available. And both Democrats and Republicans generally agree that the country would be better off with fewer pregnant teenagers, fewer unwanted children, fewer absent fathers, fewer out-of-wedlock births.

Where cultural liberals and social conservatives differ is on the means that will achieve these ends. The liberal vision tends to emphasize access to contraception as the surest path to stable families, wanted children and low abortion rates. The more direct control that women have over when and whether sex makes babies, liberals argue, the less likely they’ll be to get pregnant at the wrong time and with the wrong partner — and the less likely they’ll be to even consider having an abortion. (Slate’s Will Saletan has memorably termed this “the pro-life case for Planned Parenthood.”)

The conservative narrative, by contrast, argues that it’s more important to promote chastity, monogamy and fidelity than to worry about whether there’s a prophylactic in every bedroom drawer or bathroom cabinet. To the extent that contraceptive use has a significant role in the conservative vision (and obviously there’s some Catholic-Protestant disagreement), it’s in the context of already stable, already committed relationships. Monogamy, not chemicals or latex, is the main line of defense against unwanted pregnancies.

The problem with the conservative story is that it doesn’t map particularly well onto contemporary mores and life patterns. A successful chastity-centric culture seems to depend on a level of social cohesion, religious intensity and shared values that exists only in small pockets of the country. Mormon Utah, for instance, largely lives up to the conservative ideal, with some of America’s lowest rates of teenage pregnancies, out-of-wedlock births and abortions. But many other socially conservative regions (particularly in the South) feature higher rates of unwed and teenage parenthood than in the country as a whole.

Liberals love to cite these numbers as proof that social conservatism is a flop. But the liberal narrative has glaring problems as well. To begin with, a lack of contraceptive access simply doesn’t seem to be a significant factor in unplanned pregnancy in the United States. When the Alan Guttmacher Institute surveyed more than 10,000 women who had procured abortions in 2000 and 2001, it found that only 12 percent cited problems obtaining birth control as a reason for their pregnancies. A recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study of teenage mothers found similar results: Only 13 percent of the teens reported having had trouble getting contraception.

At the same time, if liberal social policies really led inexorably to fewer unplanned pregnancies and thus fewer abortions, you would expect “blue” regions of the country to have lower teen pregnancy rates and fewer abortions per capita than demographically similar “red” regions.

But that isn’t what the data show. Instead, abortion rates are frequently higher in more liberal states, where access is often largely unrestricted, than in more conservative states, which are more likely to have parental consent laws, waiting periods, and so on. “Safe, legal and rare” is a nice slogan, but liberal policies don’t always seem to deliver the “rare” part.

What’s more, another Guttmacher Institute study suggests that liberal states don’t necessarily do better than conservative ones at preventing teenagers from getting pregnant in the first place. Instead, the lower teenage birth rates in many blue states are mostly just a consequence of (again) their higher abortion rates. Liberal California, for instance, has a higher teen pregnancy rate than socially conservative Alabama; the Californian teenage birth rate is only lower because the Californian abortion rate is more than twice as high.

These are realities liberals should keep in mind when tempted to rail against conservatives for rejecting the intuitive-seeming promise of “more condoms, fewer abortions.” What’s intuitive isn’t always true, and if social conservatives haven’t figured out how to make all good things go together in post-sexual-revolution America, neither have social liberals.

At the very least, American conservatives are hardly crazy to reject a model for sex, marriage and family that seems to depend heavily on higher-than-average abortion rates. They’ve seen that future in places like liberal, cosmopolitan New York, where two in five pregnancies end in abortion. And it isn’t a pretty sight.

 

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