Thursday, July 31, 2008

Why Doesn't Microsoft Have A Cult Religion?

Apple has one. So does the Java community, Oracle, IBM, and Google. Lord knows anyone who uses Linux or free and open source software is dedicated to spreading the gospel of St. Linus Torvalds and St. Richard Stallman. But does anyone really worship the Gods of Redmond?

The question came up in a casual conversation I had at the JavaOne conference in San Francisco this past week.

I was chatting with some Sun Micro PR people who commented that Microsoft's problem these days is that it doesn't have a passionate user/developer base. (Hey, I thought the days of mudslinging were over.). The theory is that while Microsoft certainly owns the majority of user systems, no one seems to really be evangelical about its software: Windows Vista, Office, Visual Studio, SharePoint, SQL Server, and certainly not IE. The same thing goes for Microsoft's hardware. Where are the legions of Zune users? Xbox may be the closest thing Microsoft has to a fanatical fan base, but I'm pretty sure the lines were just as long for the PS3 and the Wii.

Think about it. When was the last time an editor was fired because of a scathing article entitled, "10 Things We Hate About Microsoft?" When was the last time a group of developers stood up at a VS Live show and shouted ... "Yea, man! Orcas Rocks! Language Integrated Query is da' Bomb! New and improved ADO.Net? Oh, no you didn't!" It just doesn't happen.

Conversely, how many e-mails have you received (or written) because someone bashed your favorite operating system or software application? Chances are that you were defending something that wasn't made or acquired by Microsoft.

So while I expect Sun to mouth off, my biggest surprise was that Mary Jo Foley (of Microsoft Watch and ZDNet blogging fame) was standing right there and she validated the theory that customers and developers are just not that into Microsoft. Her take on it was that even Microsoft people she's spoken with acknowledge that developers and users have a lackluster passion when it comes to Microsoft products.

I can kind of support this theory. Last year, I spent time consulting for a Visual Studio group within Microsoft whose goal was to engage with more developers. The idea was to create a "community" effect similar to the one enjoyed by the Eclipse project. The group's budget included a contest and subsequent resource Web site. The contest garnered about two dozen entries (yawn) and the Microsoft group certainly considered the project a work in progress.

So my question is this:

Does the largest software vendor in the world have people who are actually excited by its products and drive themselves into a frenzy when the latest version comes out?

Rob Enderle, principal analyst and founder of the Enderle Group, suggests Microsoft did have a religion and a passionate audience up until 1995, but Microsoft never really nurtured them and they died off.

"Now Windows is just part of the PC," Enderle said. "There are still those that admire the company and Gates, but the passion that exists around FreeBSD, Linux, and Apple simply has no analog in Windows. Great products come from passion -- when Windows lost that, it lost its heart."

What about this: Is Microsoft in such control over its own products that nobody really cares to innovate around Microsoft software? Do they just go through the motions because that's what they use at work?

Dan Kusnetzky, principal analyst with the Kusnetzky Group, blames corporations for the complacency.

"As long as organizations and individuals adopt the Microsoft way of doing things, they find it easier to adopt a Microsoft tool for the next thing they wish to do. This approach leads to market control, not to an emotional rush," Kusnetzky said.

And what about the seeming lack of Microsoft fanboys? Resignation is the feeling.

"My sense is that once they've started down Microsoft's path, they quickly discover that Microsoft's creative use of incompatibilities keeps them on Microsoft's chosen path," Kusnetzky added.

Does anyone worship the Gods of Redmond?

[Via Information Week]

Mystery Over the Sale of Royal Home

ON paper it had seemed like a straightforward transaction when Sunninghill Park, Prince Andrew’s former marital home, was sold to an offshore company for £15m.

However, the new owner, or owners, are from Kazakhstan, the oil and gas-rich central Asian state where little is ever as it seems.

The estate was called “South-York” when Andrew lived there with his wife, Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, a nickname coined from Southfork, the home of the Texan Ewing oil family in the television series Dallas.

Now an investigation into the purchase has uncovered a cast of characters just as powerful, glamorous and flirtatious as any in the soap.

In May The Sunday Times revealed that the foreign buyer had paid £3m more than the guide price on the property, even though there were no other bidders and it had been languishing unsold on the market for five years.

Now it has emerged that the Kazakh who negotiated to buy Sunninghill Park may not be the real owner of the property, which in less than a year has become neglected and semi-derelict with doors left unlocked.

Close family members of the man who negotiated the sale were also under investigation for suspected money laundering at the time of the sale, which took place last year.

What is not in doubt is that the true buyer of Sunninghill Park is personally known to Andrew, who has a number of links to Kazakhstan, both professional and personal. He has visited the country many times on official business in his capacity as a roving amabassador for British trade and also on discreet private trips.

On one of his most recent visits, in May, he is understood to have spent a weekend on a goose-shooting excursion with Nursultan Nazarbayev, the president of Kazakhstan.

A spokesmen for the prince said that the sale of Sunninghill Park was a private matter, as no public money had been involved. But the Duke of York’s public role, for which he last year received £436,000 to cover his expenses, makes it essential that all his dealings are seen to be above board.

The Sunday Times has established that Kenes Rakishev, a wealthy 29-year-old Kazakh businessman, negotiated the purchase. He was said by a source close to the deal to have orchestrated it with the help of Imangali Tasmagambetov, his father-in-law, who is the mayor of Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan.

Andrew, who knows both Rakishev and Tasmagambetov, has refused to comment on the identity of the owner of his former home, which was a gift from the Queen at the time of his marriage to Ferguson.

Both Kazakhs have now denied that they are the ultimate owners of Sunninghill Park. Rakishev said that he had negotiated with Andrew over the purchase but refused to say who the actual “owner” was.

However, two even more prominent member of Kazakh society, both much closer to Andrew than Rakishev or his father-in-law, are being linked to the property.

Gaukhar “Goga” Ashkenazi, a 28-year-old Kazakh business-woman who is often seen with Andrew, is said to have told friends that she is the owner of Sunninghill Park and intends to knock it down and build something new.

No planning applications have been lodged, and this weekend a spokeswoman for Ashkenazi, who last year bought a house in Holland Park, west London, for £27.5m, denied that she is connected to Sunninghill Park.

The other person who is thought to be the owner of Sunninghill Park is one of the most powerful men in Kazakhstan. Outstanding water bills for the property have been sent to a woman who works for him.

Timur Kulibayev, 41, is a billionaire oil and gas tycoon who is known to Andrew, not least through their attendance at hunting parties thrown by Nazarbayev. Sometimes, according to sources, the president has been known to shoot bears.

Kulibayev is married to Dinara, Nazarbayev’s daughter, but he has apparently been conducting an affair with Goga Ashkenazi, who named him as the father of the baby boy that she gave birth to at the Portland hospital in central London last December.

Did Kulibayev buy Sunninghill Park, perhaps as a present for his mistress, who is such a close friend of Andrew’s that last year at Royal Ascot he introduced her to the Queen?

Kulibayev’s connection to Sunninghill Park is well hidden. But the Crown Estate, which runs Windsor Great Park in which Sunninghill Park is sited, has been attempting to send invoices for outstanding water bills at the property to a woman called Olga Aristova, who works for Kulibayev in Kazakhstan.

Rakishev said that Aristova worked for the billionaire as a manager. She refused to comment when contacted. At the same time, a debt collection agency working for the power company E.ON has been pursuing Rakishev for electricity bills of more than £4,000 for Sunninghill Park.

Rakishev, who describes Andrew as a “friend”, is adamant, however, that he is not financially connected to Sunninghill Park.

He was asked who the owner was. He had dealt with the negotiations, after all. Rakishev, whose conglomerate Sat&Co is, according to sources, part-owned by Kulibayev, replied: “If you want to ask about this - Mr Kulibayev, call to him.”

Kulibayev is by far the more senior of the two. One Kazakh politician described Rakishev as Kulibayev’s “bell boy”.

Kulibayev, who is a former vice-president of KazMunaiGas (KMG), the state oil and gas company, and now chairman of KazEnergy, the industry’s umbrella organisation, repeatedly failed to respond to questions put to him.

Although on paper Kulibayev is no longer connected to KMG, his tentacles in the oil industry are still far-reaching. They will undoubtedly have brought him into contact with the prince whose official task for the government is to help to broker deals between British firms and foreign interests.

According to one politician in Kazakhstan, the prince met representatives of KMG in May at the time of one of his most recent private trips. Witnesses also report seeing the prince in the country on a private visit in November, shortly after an official visit.

On that occasion Andrew was seen at a bar called Soho in the city of Almaty. Again, he was said to be in the company of senior executives from KMG while also enjoying the attentions of a brunette.

One witness said: “Andrew seemed to be really enjoying himself and spent most of the evening talking to this striking, Russian-looking woman with long black hair. He was totally engrossed. I was surprised to see him there, as Soho can be very sleazy at night.”

Kulibayev has also been busy inviting VIPs, reportedly including the prince, to regular hunting meets hosted by the Kazakh president. The events involve hospitality of every conceivable kind.

Major-General Alnur Musa-yev, a former head of Nazarbayev’s KNB special service (a descendant of the Soviet-era KGB), who is now living in exile in Austria, said: “On one trip Nazarbayev was boasting that he killed 200 geese. I had to order helicopters to drive them towards the guns.”

Nazarbayev’s financial dealings are being exposed to unfavourable scrutiny. He is facing embarrassment in the United States over a pending court case involving James Giffen, an American businessman who is accused of paying Nazarbayev $78m in bribes from oil companies in return for contracts.

Nazarbayev and other Kazakhs who are linked to people involved in the purchase of Sunninghill Park were, at the same time, being investigated by prosecutors in Liechtenstein over suspicions of money laundering via a company called the Walisa Foundation.

Among the 10 people involved in the “preliminary investigation” were Tasmagambetov, who has denied any connection to the prince’s house sale, his daughter Asel, who is married to Rakishev, and Dinara Kulibayeva.

According to Interpol transmissions between Liechtenstein and the United States, Tasmagambetov, Nazarbayev and Dinara were being investigated over a suspicion of money laundering, while Asel was described as also “involved in this case”. Rakishev was not involved.

Robert Wallner, the Liechtenstein prosecutor, said: “We never made a formal allegation. The reason why we looked into this was because of the position that some of the people held in their home countries.”

Wallner said the inquiry, which began in 2002, ended this year. No charges have been brought. At the time of the sale of Sunninghill Park, however, it was a live investigation.

A spokesman for the prince said that the sale of Sunninghill Park was a straightforward transaction with no side deals.

The extra money from the sale will have come in handy. After leaving Sunninghill Park, Andrew, whose only known personal income is a £249,000 annuity from his mother, moved into Royal Lodge, the Queen Mother’s former Windsor residence.

He borrowed money from the Queen to fund a £7m refur-bishment on the understanding that he would pay her back from the sale of Sunninghill. Thanks to the Kazakhs he can easily afford to pay his debts.

The main players

- Nursultan Nazarbayev, president of Kazakhstan

- Timur Kulibayev, Nazarbayev’s billionaire son-in-law, married to Dinara

- Dinara Kulibayev, shares many business concerns with Timur

- Imangali Tasmagambetov, mayor of the capital Astana; ally of Nazarbayev and Timur Kulibayev

- Asel Rakishev, Tasmagambetov’s daughter, married to Kenes

- Kenes Rakishev, young business tycoon, said to be close to Kulibayev

- Goga Ashkenazi, rich, beautiful socialite by whom Kulibayev fathered love-child in London

- Olga Aristova, said to work for Kulibayev

The three phases of Sunninghill Park

1. WEDDING GIFT
Sunninghill Park was designed by Sir James Dunbar-Nasmith and paid for by the Queen as a gift to Andrew and Sarah Ferguson following their wedding in 1986. An 18th-century house on the plot bearing the same name burnt down

2. ON THE MARKET
The property, which boasts 12-bedrooms, extensive gardens and a swimming pool, was mocked for its resemblance to a Tesco-style supermarket. Following his divorce Andrew put the house on the market in 2002

3. FALLING APART
When a buyer was ?nally found last year the introduction came from Andrew himself. The buyer has hidden their identity behind an offshore trust, while the property has been left to fall into disrepair

[Via Times Online]

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

25 Fun Things To Do With a Woman

1. Take her to a ball game
Doesn't matter if it's major-league, minor-league, or even high-school ball. "I often recommend that my couples go to a baseball game," says Howard Markman, Ph.D., coauthor of 12 Hours to a Great Marriage and a psychologist at the University of Denver. "You sit close together, you're out in the sun, and it gives you time to talk as friends." Of course, under no circumstances should you go out and buy Tigers tickets! So, in the interest of our Detroit-based readership, there are 24 more things on our list you're sure to enjoy together.

2. Climb a volcano
Add some hot to your relationship. Molten-volcano hot. There's something about remote, dangerous places that sets the scene for romance. And few places are as remote or dangerous as the mouth of a live volcano. One of the best is in Villarrica, in south-central Chile. Expect an arduous guided climb of 8 hours, but at the end, your passions will be inflamed by the sight of all that hot, gooey lava. Then ski back down. See chile-ravel.com/solnieve.htm for more information. And for a closer-to-home location, visit Mount Capulin, an inactive volcano in New Mexico, where you can actually climb inside the cone.

3. Go to Beverly Hills
And go big. A weekend spent glittering beside the glitterati at Raffles L'Ermitage in Beverly Hills doesn't come cheap -- it's an "if you have to ask, you can't afford it" deal -- but there's just no substitute. If you can separate yourself from your bed (with sheets spun by virgin Egyptian silk moths fed truffles, champagne, and manna), you can check out L'Ermitage's sumptuous amenities: The spa, salon, and pool are beyond compare, and the menu at Jaan, the hotel's humble restaurant, is highlighted by a $45 salad. Ouch. Yum!

4. Take her shopping . . .
but you pick the clothes "Men don't hate shopping because of the money. It's the sitting on the boyfriend couch at Ann Taylor that we don't like. But what guy wouldn't be enthused about a mall trip if he knew that every 2 minutes a beautiful woman would pop by to model a sexy outfit he'd selected? If you agree to buy, she'll agree to model.

5. Get naked!
Pour peppermint schnapps in her belly button. Sip it. Then kiss her breasts and blow on the spots you kissed. The peppermint schnapps and air will cause a cool sensation and heighten arousal, says Ava Cadell, Ph.D., a Los Angeles sex therapist. And do some shopping at adult-toy online sites, and at the grocery store. There's a whole world of flavors and textures out there to play with. Once you get past the headlong plunge to sex, you'll ask yourself what the hurry was, anyway. Delayed pleasures remain the most gratifying ones, especially where her body is concerned.

6. Drive the Pacific Coast Highway in a convertible
This drive -- arguably the most spectacular in the country -- offers stunning scenery, plenty of things to explore, and stop-offs at major destinations like San Francisco, Los Angeles, Yosemite, and San Diego. The PCH is a combination of U.S. 101 and California Route 1. Start in San Diego and take 101 North, which dips along the Pacific Ocean to L.A. Then proceed through Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills, and Mission Santa Barbara. Stop at Hearst Castle, one of the nation's largest historic-house museums, to check out the breathtaking overlooks (800-444-4445 for information). After the castle, continue heading up the rugged coast through Monterey and then east into the Sierra Nevada. Take some time to admire Yosemite's cliffs and alpine peaks, and finish your trip at the sea in San Francisco.

7. Take a home pregnancy test
Test positive. Freak out. Call your parents. Go shopping for baby clothes. Buy a baby-names book. Eliminate Britney and Ashton as options. Start looking at colleges . . .

8. Run a marathon
Training for a race together is a crafty way to get in shape, spend time as a couple, and stay motivated. You'll have someone to talk to during those tedious long runs, you'll push each other, and you'll have to answer to your partner if you skip a workout. Visit runnersworld.com for training schedules and a calendar of marathons. And if the mere act of running 26.2 miles isn't exciting enough, choose an exotic location -- like, say, China. The Great Wall Marathon is every May.

9. Shoot each other out of the sky
Go to aircombatusa.com and find a location near you where you and your girl can fly dueling fighter jets. Take out your unresolved relationship issues while trying to blow each other to smithereens from the cockpits of SIAI Marchetti SF260s. For real. These are not simulated flights. Loser buys dinner. Hope that it's her -- this little date will cost $2,000.

10. Dance!
Turn dancing into dirty dancing with an Audi-Oh vibrator, which pulsates to the speed and intensity of whatever beat is playing. Have your lady wear the discreet harness with butterfly vibe underneath her panties. Then bump and grind to throbbing music at a club, or as you play deejay at home. This is one remote you won't fight over. $80. babeland.com

11. Play in the sand
Run up the 750-foot dunes at the Great Sand Dunes National Monument and Preserve in southern Colorado. Roll down. Roll around. nps.gov/grsa

12. Build something for your home
Home improvement demonstrates a commitment to making something you share more beautiful, requiring tools like communication, teamwork, and glue guns. "Couples come together and really communicate, sometimes for the first time in years," says Paige Davis, host of TLC's Trading Spaces, in which couples swap homes and redecorate. "I've seen romances rekindled." If demolition isn't for you, focus on projects that require artistry instead of sledgehammers. The Web site kitguy.com sells the means to make everything from birdhouses to porch swings and in-house saunas. But whatever you build, remember, "The key to fun is to try new things and forget about making mistakes," says Davis. Screwups can always be fixed.

13. Do whatever she wants to do -- and like it!
The happiest couples are those who can find enjoyment in sacrifice, according to a study in the Journal of Marriage and Family that tracked 73 couples over 13 years. "Taking pleasure in your partner's happiness enhances mutual satisfaction," says Howard Markman, Ph.D., a psychologist at the University of Denver. "Find out what your partner really wants to do (even shopping for curtains), make it happen, and enjoy it. It'll save you thousands in therapy." Ideas: Massage her scalp. She'll love having your hands in her hair. Or get side-by-side massages at a spa, or sign up to take a partner massage class. When you get home, jump jointly into the shower. There's nothing sexier than washing your woman's hair. Except having her wash yours.

14. Crash the pool at a luxury resort
. . . because nothing's more fun than being bad.

15. Go diving in Sipadan
Never heard of it? Neither has anyone else. That's why Peter Greenberg, Men's Health Travel Detective, recommends it as one of the world's greatest dive spots. Located off the northeast coast of Borneo, Sipadan is Malaysia's only oceanic island. Encompassing a tiny 30 acres, this place is orgasmic for divers, featuring a spectacular and precipitous reef wall that plunges more than 1,900 feet. Getting there is part of the adventure. First, you fly to the capital of Sabah, Kota Kinabalu. Then you connect to Tawau. Then you drive to Semporna. Then you hire a catamaran to take you to the island. Exotic! Start planning now at borneo.org/ajwt.

16. Serenade her
Actually, pay a street musician to do it. Slip the corner fiddler a 50-spot to follow you and your date for the evening. The background soundtrack will make it feel as if you're in a movie. It's spontaneous, fun, and romantic.

17. Go to dinner at a superfancy restaurant
"During the meal, you're allowed to talk only about sexual fantasies," suggests Patricia Love, Ed.D., author of Hot Monogamy. "There's something very erotic about being public and being surreptitious about your sexuality." Bonus mission: Order foods that are delicious and lascivious at the same time.

18. Get cooking
Like home improvement (see #12), it's about the journey, not the result. "It's an opportunity to create something special as a couple," says celebrity chef and restaurateur Bobby Flay. "So the crème brûlée doesn't set. Who cares? It's just the two of you." See "What's for Dinner Tonight" at menshealth.com.

19. Go to Barbados
Rich folks like Prince Charles, Jerry Seinfeld, and Cindy Crawford stay at the Sandy Lane Hotel on the serene west side of the island, where a three-room penthouse costs up to $7,000 a night and the cheapest rooms during peak season are $950. But there's a less expensive way. Greenberg suggests renting a Toyota and driver for $200 a day, then heading south to the Silver Rock Hotel (246-428-2866), which goes for $120 a night with a balcony and full ocean view. The Silver Sands Beach, where world-champion windsurfers train, is just outside. Go between May and the end of December, the off-peak months, and most rates are discounted up to 50 percent. Don't leave without sampling the flying fish.

20. Challenge her to 'strip PlayStation'
What's more fun than cleaving your partner's head off with a laser scimitar? "Competing with your partner in a playful environment can help you work out some aggressions," says Jennifer Worick, coauthor of The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook: Dating and Sex. "Strip video gaming is fun and sexy. Every time a character is killed, you must remove a piece of clothing." For the ultimate in hot gaming action, try Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball for Xbox. DOA has more T and A than any game out there -- it's basically soft-core porn.

21. Spend the night in an igloo
For a thrilling, once-in-a-lifetime experience, you can't beat the Kakslauttanen Hotel and Igloo Village in the Finnish Laplands, well within the Arctic Circle. It ain't cheap. It ain't convenient. But you'll definitely get close as you huddle for warmth. Each igloo contains a bed made of snow draped with blankets and reindeer hides. Even when the mercury dips below -40 degrees F outside, the igloos keep couples toasty at around 6 to 8 degrees F as they sip locally distilled Finlandia vodka and watch the aurora borealis light up the night. The Finns guarantee that any child conceived under the northern lights (best viewed September to April) will be male. See www.travel.fi/int/kakslauttanen for more information. Or build an igloo in your yard next time it snows. It's nearly as fun.

22. Go to an art museum
Forget the art; your mission is the art of foreplay. Stand close and speak in hushed tones about the exhibits . . . the other people . . . and what you want to do to each other when you get home. It's also nice to make the occasional soul-baring observation in a setting where it doesn't sound too lame. Plus, there are always at least a few naked pictures, some dark nooks and crannies, and a decent cafe.

23. Get naked!
Make your own art -- on each other. Pick up a chocolate tattoo set ($15) at early2bed.com. It includes a jar of chocolate body frosting, stencil sheets, and a paintbrush. Lick off.

24. Make out under a waterfall
If you find yourself in Kauai, Hawaii, and the abundant natural beauty, welcoming locals, and crashing surf don't leave you feeling completely satisfied, there's something wrong with you. But if you need to spice things up, take an Air 1 Kauai helicopter to the bottom of a waterfall. They fly with the doors off, so every seat has a first-class view. One caveat: Air 1 Kauai also flies all the island's rescue missions; if they get a call, they'll drop you off wherever you are and come back later. Then again, where better to be stranded? hawaiian.net/~interisland

25. Just make out!
Have a make-out date at least an hour long, says Joannides, with no below-the-belt contact. It's fun, teenage-style!

[Via Men's Health]

Gossip Helps to Glue Society Together

Lots of gossip is good for society and helps people to trust each other and to be more charitable, according to a study published today.

Earlier work by game theorists has shown that the reason that, unlike so many other creatures, humans help strangers and unrelated people is down to reputation.

Reputation is important for the evolution of human cooperation, through a process called "indirect reciprocity", summed up by 'I help you and somebody else helps me'.

Now the extent to which we rely on tittle tattle to build reputation has been studied by one of the leading figures in the field, Prof Manfred Milinksi, working with Drs Ralf Sommerfeld, and Hans-Jurgen Krambeck in the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology in Germany.

The team wanted to find out how much gossip can be relied on as a good guide to reputation and how much it can be abused to destroy a reputation.

They found, in experimental games in which students could write comments about other people (a form of gossip) that the ability to tarnish others is diminished, the more gossip there is.

"Multiple gossip statements give a better picture of the actual behaviour of a person, and thus inaccurate or fake gossip has little power as long as it is in the minority."

The study, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, Biological Sciences, did experiments with 11 groups of a dozen students at the Universities of Kiel, Germany, and Vienna, Austria to show that "reciprocity, trust and reputations transferred via gossip are positively correlated."

The games involved giving money to other players in a game that tests how players trust each other to cooperate and studying the effects of gossip on the reputation of potential receivers and the resulting donations.

A detailed analysis backed earlier work by the same group that showed that people cooperate more often with cooperators than with defectors; people write more positive gossip about cooperators than about defectors; and people cooperate more with people about whom they read positive gossip than with people about whom they read negative gossip.

Those who benefited most from gossip were those who discovered who was a reliable exchange partner and who was a cheat, which helped them to find reproductive mates and manage friendships, alliances, and family relationships.

The social intelligence needed for success in this environment required an ability to predict and influence the behaviour of others and an irresistible interest in the private dealings of other people would have been very useful.

Those who were fascinated by the lives of others were more successful than those who were not, the researchers found.

Thus gossip helps to glue society together or, as they put it, "This corroborates the hypothesis that gossip is a vector for socially relevant information."

However, they did find a dampening effect when gossip suggested someone was totally bad or good at cooperating.

"Somehow, people seem to be reluctant to believe in the absolute cooperation or defection. Especially, people facing purely negative gossip showed an unexpectedly high cooperation. They might have told themselves 'he/she can't be that bad'.

Encouragingly for those worried about the occasional snide remark, "we showed that single inaccurate statements have only limited power to influence people's responses."

But there are limits to the study. "Our design represents a benign world without any incentive for gossip authors to cheat. Apparently, the real world is different, and future research needs to investigate the power of gossip in situations where cheaters might profit from lying."

The development of trust through reputation is becoming even more relevant today as we increasingly deal with many more people on line whom we don't know and are unlikely to encounter again.

Examples of modern e-commerce where this is important are eBay and Amazon, where users are encouraged to give their feedback online, which can be thought of as "e-gossip."

[Via Telegraph]

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Jewish Genius

From 800 B.C.E. through the first millennium of the Common Era, we have just two examples of great Jewish accomplishment, and neither falls strictly within the realms of the arts or sciences. But what a pair they are. The first is the fully realized conceptualization of monotheism, expressed through one of the literary treasures of the world, the Hebrew Bible. It not only laid the foundation for three great religions but, as Thomas Cahill describes in The Gifts of the Jews (1998), introduced a way of looking at the meaning of human life and the nature of history that defines core elements of the modern sensibility. The second achievement is not often treated as a Jewish one but clearly is: Christian theology expressed through the New Testament, an accomplishment that has spilled into every aspect of Western civilization.

But religious literature is the exception. The Jews do not appear in the annals of philosophy, drama, visual art, mathematics, or the natural sciences during the eighteen centuries from the time of Homer through the first millennium C.E., when so much was happening in Greece, China, and South Asia. It is unclear to what extent this reflects a lack of activity or the lack of a readily available record. For example, only a handful of the scientists of the Middle Ages are mentioned in most histories of science, and none was a Jew. But when George Sarton put a high-powered lens to the Middle Ages in his monumental Introduction to the History of Science (1927-48), he found that 95 of the 626 known scientists working everywhere in the world from 1150 to 1300 were Jews—15 percent of the total, far out of proportion to the Jewish population.

As it happens, that same period overlaps with the life of the most famous Jewish philosopher of medieval times, Maimonides (1135–1204), and of others less well known, not to mention the Jewish poets, grammarians, religious thinkers, scholars, physicians, and courtiers of Spain in the “Golden Age,” or the brilliant exegetes and rabbinical legislators of northern France and Germany. But this only exemplifies the difficulty of assessing Jewish intellectual activity in that period. Aside from Maimonides and a few others, these thinkers and artists did not perceptibly influence history or culture outside the confines of the Jewish world.

Generally speaking, this remained the case well into the Renaissance and beyond. From 1200 to 1800, only seven Jews are among significant figures in the arts and sciences, and only two were important enough to have names that are still widely recognized: Spinoza and Montaigne (whose mother was Jewish).

The sparse representation of Jews during the flowering of the European arts and sciences is not hard to explain. They were systematically excluded, both by legal restrictions on the occupations they could enter and by savage social discrimination. Then came legal emancipation, beginning in the late 1700’s in a few countries and completed in Western Europe by the 1870’s, and with it one of the most extraordinary stories of any ethnic group at any point in human history.

As soon as Jewish children born under legal emancipation had time to grow to adulthood, they started appearing in the first ranks of the arts and sciences. During the four decades from 1830 to 1870, when the first Jews to live under emancipation reached their forties, 16 significant Jewish figures appear. In the next four decades, from 1870 to 1910, the number jumps to 40. During the next four decades, 1910–1950, despite the contemporaneous devastation of European Jewry, the number of significant figures almost triples, to 114.

How does the actual number of significant figures compare to what would be expected given the Jewish proportion of the European and North American population? From 1870 to 1950, Jewish representation in literature was four times the number one would expect. In music, five times. In the visual arts, five times. In biology, eight times. In chemistry, six times. In physics, nine times. In mathematics, twelve times. In philosophy, fourteen times.

Disproportionate Jewish accomplishment in the arts and sciences continues to this day. Mentioned above inventories end with 1950, but many other measures are available, of which the best known is the Nobel Prize. In the first half of the 20th century, despite pervasive and continuing social discrimination against Jews throughout the Western world, despite the retraction of legal rights, and despite the Holocaust, Jews won 14 percent of Nobel Prizes in literature, chemistry, physics, and medicine/physiology. In the second half of the 20th century, when Nobel Prizes began to be awarded to people from all over the world, that figure rose to 29 percent. So far, in the 21st century, it has been 32 percent. Jews constitute about two-tenths of one percent of the world’s population. You do the math.

What accounts for this remarkable record? A full answer must call on many characteristics of Jewish culture, but intelligence has to be at the center of the answer. Jews have been found to have an unusually high mean intelligence as measured by IQ tests since the first Jewish samples were tested. (The widely repeated story that Jewish immigrants to this country in the early 20th century tested low on IQ is a canard.) Exactly how high has been difficult to pin down, because Jewish sub-samples in the available surveys are seldom perfectly representative. But it is currently accepted that the mean is somewhere in the range of 107 to 115, with 110 being a plausible compromise.

The IQ mean for the American population is “normed” to be 100, with a standard deviation of 15. If the Jewish mean is 110, then the mathematics of the normal distribution says that the average Jew is at the 75th percentile. Underlying that mean in overall IQ is a consistent pattern on IQ subtests: Jews are only about average on the subtests measuring visuo-spatial skills, but extremely high on subtests that measure verbal and reasoning skills.

A group’s mean intelligence is important in explaining outcomes such as mean educational attainment or mean income. The key indicator for predicting exceptional accomplishment (like winning a Nobel Prize) is the incidence of exceptional intelligence. Consider an IQ score of 140 or higher, denoting the level of intelligence that can permit people to excel in fields like theoretical physics and pure mathematics. If the mean Jewish IQ is 110 and the standard deviation is 15, then the proportion of Jews with IQ’s of 140 or higher is somewhere around six times the proportion of everyone else.

The imbalance continues to increase for still higher IQ’s. New York City’s public-school system used to administer a pencil-and-paper IQ test to its entire school population. In 1954, a psychologist used those test results to identify all 28 children in the New York public-school system with measured IQ’s of 170 or higher. Of those 28, 24 were Jews.

Exceptional intelligence is not enough to explain exceptional accomplishment. Qualities such as imagination, ambition, perseverance, and curiosity are decisive in separating the merely smart from the highly productive. The role of intelligence is nicely expressed in an analogy suggested to me years ago by the sociologist Steven Goldberg: intelligence plays the same role in an intellectually demanding task that weight plays in the performance of NFL offensive tackles. The heaviest offensive tackle is not necessarily the best. Indeed, the correlation between weight and performance among NFL offensive tackles is probably quite low. But they all weigh more than 300 pounds.

So with intelligence. The other things count, but you must be very smart to have even a chance of achieving great work. A randomly selected Jew has a higher probability of possessing that level of intelligence than a randomly selected member of any other ethnic or national group, by far.

The profile of disproportionately high Jewish accomplishment in the arts and sciences since the 18th century, the reality of elevated Jewish IQ, and the connection between the two are not to be denied by means of data. And so we come to the great question: how and when did this elevated Jewish IQ come about? Here, the discussion must become speculative. Geneticists and historians are still assembling the pieces of the explanation, and there is much room for disagreement.

It is no longer seriously disputed that intelligence in Homo sapiens is substantially heritable. In the last two decades, it has also been established that obvious environmental factors such as high income, books in the house, and parental reading to children are not as potent as one might expect. A “good enough” environment is important for the nurture of intellectual potential, but the requirements for “good enough” are not high. Even the very best home environments add only a few points, if that, to a merely okay environment. It is also known that children adopted at birth do not achieve the IQ’s predicted by their parents’ IQ.

To put it another way, we have good reason to think that Gentile children raised in Jewish families do not acquire Jewish intelligence. Hence my view that something in the genes explains elevated Jewish IQ. That conclusion is not logically necessary but, given what we know about heritability and environmental effects on intelligence in humans as a species, it is extremely plausible.

Two potential explanations for a Jewish gene pool favoring high intelligence are so obvious that many people assume they must be true: winnowing by persecution (only the smartest Jews either survived or remained Jews) and marrying for brains (scholars and children of scholars were socially desirable spouses). I too think that both of these must have played some role, but how much of a role is open to question.

In the case of winnowing through persecution, the logic cuts both ways. Yes, those who remained faithful during the many persecutions of the Jews were self-selected for commitment to Judaism, and the role of scholarship in that commitment probably means that intelligence was one of the factors in self-selection. The foresight that goes with intelligence might also have had some survival value (as in anticipating pogroms), though it is not obvious that its effect would be large enough to explain much.

But once the Cossacks are sweeping through town, the kind of intelligence that leads to business success or rabbinical acumen is no help at all. On the contrary, the most successful people could easily have become the most likely to be killed, by virtue of being more visible and the targets of greater envy. Furthermore, other groups, such as the Gypsies, have been persecuted for centuries without developing elevated intelligence. Considered closely, the winnowing-by-persecution logic is not as compelling as it may first appear.

What of the marrying-for-brains theory? “A man should sell all he possesses in order to marry the daughter of a scholar, as well as to marry his daughter to a scholar,” advises the Talmud (Pesahim 49a), and scholarship did in fact have social cachet within many Jewish communities before (and after) emancipation. The combination could have been potent: by marrying the children of scholars to the children of successful merchants, Jews were in effect joining those selected for abstract reasoning ability with those selected for practical intelligence.

Once again, however, it is difficult to be more specific about how much effect this might have had. Arguments have been advanced that rich merchants were in fact often reluctant to entrust their daughters to penniless and unworldly scholars. Nor is it clear that the fertility rate of scholars, or their numbers, were high enough to account for a major effect on intelligence. The attractiveness of brains in prospective marriage partners surely played some role but, once again, the data for assessing how much have not been assembled.

Against this backdrop of uncertainty, a data-driven theory for explaining elevated Jewish IQ appeared in 2006 in the Journal of Biosocial Science. In an article entitled “Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence,” Gregory Cochran (a physicist) and Jason Hardy and Henry Harpending (anthropologists) contend that elevated Jewish IQ is confined to the Ashkenazi Jews of northern and central Europe, and developed from the Middle Ages onward, primarily from 800 to 1600 C.E.

In the analysis of these authors, the key factor explaining elevated Jewish intelligence is occupational selection. From the time Jews became established north of the Pyrenees-Balkans line, around 800 C.E., they were in most places and at most times restricted to occupations involving sales, finance, and trade. Economic success in all of these occupations is far more highly selected for intelligence than success in the chief occupation of non-Jews: namely, farming. Economic success is in turn related to reproductive success, because higher income means lower infant mortality, better nutrition, and, more generally, reproductive “fitness.” Over time, increased fitness among the successful leads to strong selection for the cognitive and psychological traits that produce that fitness, intensified when there is a low inward gene flow from other populations—as was the case with Ashkenazim.

Sephardi and Oriental Jews—i.e., those from the Iberian peninsula, the Mediterranean littoral, and the Islamic East—were also engaged in urban occupations during the same centuries. But the authors cite evidence that, as a rule, they were less concentrated in occupations that selected for IQ and instead more commonly worked in craft trades. Thus, elevated intelligence did not develop among Sephardi and Oriental Jews—as manifested by contemporary test results in Israel that show the IQ’s of non-European Jews to be roughly similar to the IQ’s of Gentiles.

The three authors conclude this part of their argument with an elegant corollary that matches the known test profiles of today’s Ashkenazim with the historical experience of their ancestors:

The suggested selective process explains the pattern of mental abilities in Ashkenazi Jews: high verbal and mathematical ability but relatively low spatio-visual ability. Verbal and mathematical talent helped medieval businessmen succeed, while spatio-visual abilities were irrelevant.
The rest of their presentation is a lengthy and technical discussion of the genetics of selection for IQ, indirect evidence linking elevated Jewish IQ with a variety of genetically based diseases found among Ashkenazim, and evidence that most of these selection effects have occurred within the last 1,200 years.

No one has yet presented an alternative to the Cochran-Hardy-Harpending theory that can match it for documentation. But, as someone who suspects that elevated Jewish intelligence was (a) not confined to Ashkenazim and (b) antedates the Middle Ages, I will outline the strands of an alternative explanation that should be explored.

It begins with evidence that Jews who remained in the Islamic world exhibited unusually high levels of accomplishment as of the beginning of the second millennium. The hardest evidence is Sarton’s enumeration of scientists mentioned earlier, of whom 15 percent were Jews. These were not Ashkenazim in northern Europe, where Jews were still largely excluded from the world of scientific scholarship, but Sephardim in the Iberian peninsula, in Baghdad, and in other Islamic centers of learning. I have also mentioned the more diffuse cultural evidence from Spain, where, under both Muslim and Christian rule, Jews attained eminent positions in the professions, commerce, and government as well as in elite literary and intellectual circles.

After being expelled from Spain at the end of the 15th century, Sephardi Jews rose to distinction in many of the countries where they settled. Some economic historians have traced the decline of Spain after 1500, and the subsequent rise of the Netherlands, in part to the Sephardi commercial talent that was transferred from the one to the other. Centuries later, in England, one could point to such Sephardi eminences as Benjamin Disraeli and the economist David Ricardo.

In sum, a strong case could be assembled that Jews everywhere had unusually high intellectual resources that manifested themselves outside of Ashkenaz and well before the period when non-rabbinic Ashkenazi accomplishment manifested itself.

How is this case to be sustained in the face of contemporary test data indicating that non-Ashkenazi Jews do not have the elevated mean of today’s Ashkenazim? The logical inconsistency disappears if one posits that Jews circa 1000 C.E. had elevated intelligence everywhere, but that it subsequently was augmented still further among Ashkenazim and declined for Jews living in the Islamic world—perhaps because of the dynamics described by Cochran, Hardy, and Harpending (that is, Oriental Jews were concentrated in trades for which high intelligence did not yield wealth).

Recent advances in the use of genetic markers to characterize populations enable us to pursue such possibilities systematically. offer This testable hypothesis is offered as just one of many possibilities: if genetic markers are used to discriminate among non- Ashkenazi Jews, it will be found that those who are closest genetically to the Sephardim of Golden Age Spain have an elevated mean IQ, though perhaps not so high as the contemporary Ashkenazi IQ.

The next strand of an alternative to the Cochran-Hardy-Harpending theory involves reasons for thinking that some of the elevation of Jewish intelligence occurred even before Jews moved into occupations selected for intelligence, because of the shift in ancient Judaism from a rite-based to a learning-based religion.

All scholars who have examined the topic agree that about 80–90 percent of all Jews were farmers at the beginning of the Common Era, and that only about 10–20 percent of Jews were farmers by the end of the first millennium. No other ethnic group underwent this same kind of occupational shift. For the story of why this happened, I turn to a discussion by Maristella Botticini and Zvi Eckstein entitled “Jewish Occupational Selection: Education, Restrictions, or Minorities?” which appeared in the Journal of Economic History in 2005.

Rejecting the explanation that Jews became merchants because they were restricted from farming, Botticini and Eckstein point to cases in which Jews who were free to own land and engage in agriculture made the same shift to urban, skilled occupations that Jews exhibited where restrictions were in force. Instead, they focus on an event that occurred in 64 C.E., when the Palestinian sage Joshua ben Gamla issued an ordinance mandating universal schooling for all males starting at about age six. The ordinance was not only issued; it was implemented. Within about a century, the Jews, uniquely among the peoples of the world, had effectively established universal male literacy and numeracy.

The authors’ explanation for the subsequent shift from farming to urban occupations reduces to this: if you were educated, you possessed an asset that had economic value in occupations that required literacy and numeracy, such as those involving sales and transactions. If you remained a farmer, your education had little or no value. Over the centuries, this basic economic reality led Jews to leave farming and engage in urban occupations.

So far, Botticini and Eckstein have provided an explanatory backdrop to the shift in occupations that in turn produced the selection pressures for intelligence described by Cochran, Hardy, and Harpending. But selection pressure in this classic form was probably not the only force at work. Between the 1st and 6th centuries C.E., the number of Jews in the world plummeted from about 4.5 million to 1.5 million or fewer. About 1 million Jews were killed in the revolts against the Romans in Judea and Egypt. There were scattered forced conversions from Judaism to another religion. Some of the reduction may be associated with a general drop in population that accompanied the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. But that still leaves a huge number of Jews who just disappeared.

What happened to them? Botticini and Eckstein argue that an economic force was at work: for Jews who remained farmers, universal education involved a cost that had little economic benefit. As time went on, they drifted away from Judaism. I am sure this explanation has some merit. But a more direct explanation could involve the increased intellectual demands of Judaism.

Joshua ben Gamla’s ordinance mandating literacy occurred at about the same time as the destruction of the Second Temple—64 C.E. and 70 C.E., respectively. Both mark the moment when Judaism began actively to transform itself from a religion centered on rites and sacrifices at the Temple in Jerusalem to a religion centered on prayer and the study of the Torah at decentralized synagogues and study houses. Rabbis and scholars took on a much larger role as leaders of local communities. Since worship of God involved not only prayer but study, all Jewish males had to read if they were to practice their faith—and not only read in private but be able to read aloud in the presence of others.

In this context, consider the intellectual requirements of literacy. People with modest intelligence can become functionally literate, but they are able to read only simple texts. The Torah and the Hebrew prayer book are not simple texts; even to be able to read them mechanically requires fairly advanced literacy. To study the Talmud and its commentaries with any understanding requires considerable intellectual capacity. In short, during the centuries after Rome’s destruction of the Temple, Judaism evolved in such a way that to be a good Jew meant that a man had to be smart.

What happened to the millions of Jews who disappeared? It is not necessary to maintain that Jews of low intelligence were run out of town because they could not read the Torah and commentaries fluently. Rather, few people enjoy being in a position where their inadequacies are constantly highlighted. It is human nature to withdraw from such situations. The Jews who fell away from Judaism from the 1st to 6th centuries C.E. were heavily concentrated among those who could not learn to read well enough to be good Jews—meaning those from the lower half of the intelligence distribution. Even before the selection pressures arising from urban occupations began to have an effect, I am arguing, the remaining self-identified Jews circa 800 C.E. already had elevated intelligence.

A loose end remains. Is it the case that, before the 1st century C.E., Jews were intellectually ordinary? Are we to believe that the Bible, a work compiled over centuries and incorporating everything from brilliant poetry to profound ethics, with stories that speak so eloquently to the human condition that they have inspired great art, music, and literature for millennia, was produced by an intellectually run-of-the-mill Levantine tribe?

In The Evolution of Man and Society (1969), the geneticist Cyril Darlington presented the thesis that Jews and Judaism were decisively shaped much earlier than the 1st century C.E., namely, by the Babylonian captivity that began with the fall of Jerusalem to the forces of Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C.E.

The biblical account clearly states that only a select group of Jews were taken to Babylon. We read that Nebuchadnezzar “carried into exile all Jerusalem: all the officers and fighting men, and all the craftsmen and artisans. . . . Only the poorest people of the land were left” (2 Kings 24:10).

In effect, the Babylonians took away the Jewish elites, selected in part for high intelligence, and left behind the poor and unskilled, selected in part for low intelligence. By the time the exiles returned, more than a century later, many of those remaining behind in Judah had been absorbed into other religions. Following Ezra’s command to “separate yourselves from the peoples around you and from your foreign wives” (Ezra 10:9), only those who renounced their foreign wives and children were permitted to stay within the group. The returned exiles, who formed the bulk of the reconstituted Jewish community, comprised mainly the descendants of the Jewish elites—plausibly a far more able population, on average, than the pre-captivity population.

There is reason to think that selection for intelligence antedates the 1st century C.E.

From its very outset, apparently going back to the time of Moses, Judaism was intertwined with intellectual complexity. Jews were commanded by God to heed the law, which meant they had to learn the law. The law was so extensive and complicated that this process of learning and reviewing was never complete. Moreover, Jewish males were not free to pretend that they had learned the law, for fathers were commanded to teach the law to their children. It became obvious to all when fathers failed in their duty. No other religion made so many intellectual demands upon the whole body of its believers. Long before Joshua ben Gamla and the destruction of the Second Temple, the requirements for being a good Jew had provided incentives for the less intelligent to fall away.

Assessing the events of the 1st century C.E. thus poses a chicken-and-egg problem. By way of an analogy, consider written Chinese with its thousands of unique characters. On cognitive tests, today’s Chinese do especially well on visuo-spatial skills. It is possible that their high visuo-spatial skills have been fostered by having to learn written Chinese; but it much more plausible that only people who already possessed high visuo-spatial skills would ever devise such a ferociously difficult written language. Similarly, it is possible that the Jews’ high verbal skills were fostered, through secondary and tertiary effects, by the requirement that they be able to read and understand complicated texts after the 1st century C.E.; but it much more plausible that only people who already possessed high verbal skills would dream of installing such a demanding requirement.

This reasoning pushes me even farther into the realm of speculation. The Jews may have had some degree of unusual verbal skills going back to the time of Moses. Why should one particular tribe at the time of Moses, living in the same environment as other nomadic and agricultural peoples of the Middle East, have already evolved elevated intelligence when the others did not?

At this point: The Jews are God’s chosen people.

[Via Commentary Magazine]

Death, Money, and the History of the Electric Chair

During the 1880's two developments set the stage for the invention of the electric chair. Beginning in 1886, the New York State Government established a legislative commission to study alternate forms of capitol punishment. Hanging was then the number one method of carrying out the death penalty, even while considered too slow and painful a method of execution. Another development was the growing rivalry between the two giants of electrical service. The Edison General Electric Company founded by Thomas Edison established themselves with DC service. George Westinghouse developed AC service and started the Westinghouse Corporation.


What is AC? What is DC?

DC (direct current) is electric current that flows in one direction only. AC (alternating current) is electric current that reverses direction in a circuit at regular intervals.


The Birth of Electrocution

DC service depended on thick copper electrical cables, copper prices were rising at that time, DC service was limited by not being able to supply customers who lived beyond a few miles of a DC generator. Thomas Edison reacted to the competition and the prospect of losing to AC service by starting a smear campaign against Westinghouse, claiming that AC technology was unsafe to use. In 1887, Edison held a public demonstration in West Orange, New Jersey, supporting his accusations by setting up a 1,000 volt Westinghouse AC generator attaching it to a metal plate and executing a dozen animals by placing the poor creatures on the electrified metal plate. The press had a field day describing the horrific event and the new term " electrocution " was used to describe death by electricity.
On June 4, 1888, the New York Legislature passed a law establishing electrocution as the state's new official method of execution, however, since two potential designs (AC and DC) of the electric chair existed, it was left to a committee to decide which form to choose. Edison actively campaigned for the selection of the Westinghouse chair hoping that consumers would not want the same type of electrical service in their homes that was used for execution.

Later in 1888, the Edison research facility hired inventor Harold Brown. Brown had recently written a letter to the New York Post describing a fatal accident where a young boy died after touching an exposed telegraph wire running on AC current. Brown and his assistant Doctor Fred Peterson began designing an electric chair for Edison, publicly experimenting with DC voltage to show that it left the poor lab animals tortured but not dead, then testing AC voltage to demonstrate how AC killed swiftly.

Doctor Peterson was the head of the government committee selecting the best design for an electric chair, while still on the payroll of the Edison Company. It was not surprising when the committee announced that the electric chair with AC voltage was chosen for the statewide prison system.


Westinghoused

On January 1, 1889, the world's first electrical execution law went into full effect. Westinghouse protested the decision and refused to sell any AC generators directly to prison authorities. Thomas Edison and Harold Brown provided the AC generators needed for the first working electric chairs. George Westinghouse funded the appeals for the first prisoners sentenced to death by electrocution, made on the grounds that "electrocution was cruel and unusual punishment." Edison and Brown both testified for the state that execution was a quick and painless form of death and the State of New York won the appeals. Ironically, for many years people referred to the process of being electrocuted in the chair as being "Westinghoused".
Edison's plan to bring on the demise of Westinghouse failed, and it soon became clear that AC technology was vastly superior to DC technology. Edison finally admitted years later that he had thought so himself all along.

[Via About.com]

Cloned Beef Has Already Entered U.S. Food Supply, Even Before FDA Nod

The major cattle cloning companies in the United States have admitted that they have not bothered to try and keep meat from the offspring of clones out of the U.S. food supply, in spite of a request by the FDA several years ago.

"This is a fairy tale that this technology is not being used and is not already in the food chain," said Donald Coover, who owns a specialty cattle semen business. "Anyone who tells you otherwise either doesn't know what they're talking about, or they're not being honest."

Coover admitted that for several years, he has been openly selling semen from cloned bulls. He is sure, he added, that others are doing the same.

The revelation came as the FDA approved cloned beef as safe for human consumption but the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) asked farmers to keep it out of the food supply anyway.

The USDA's primary concern is that if cloned beef enters the U.S. food supply, other countries might refuse to purchase beef from the United States. Similar problems have emerged in the past with genetically modified U.S. crops being rejected, particularly in Europe but also in parts of Africa, Asia and the Americas. Insiders from agencies such as the USDA and Office of the U.S. Trade Representative noted that a product that no other country wants to buy might do the United States more harm than good.

The USDA's request for a moratorium on cloned beef is meant to give time for "an acceptance process" that will be needed "given the emotional nature of this issue."

A survey by the International Food Information Council Foundation found that 22 percent of U.S. residents surveyed had a favorable impression of cloned meat in 2007, as opposed to 16 percent in 2006. Approximately 50 percent had a negative impression of such food.

The FDA has rejected calls to require the labeling of food produced from cloned animals.

[Via Natural News]

Monday, July 28, 2008

More Children's Toys Contain High Levels of Heavy Metals, Dangerous Chemicals

More than a third of toys tested contain toxic chemicals, according to a report released by the Ecology Center's Environmental Health Project and the Washington Toxics Coalition.

The groups tested 1,200 toys and other children's products using an X-ray fluorescence analyzer that reveals objects' elemental composition. According to the groups, this method is far more accurate than the types of home lead-testing kits that are widely available.

The researchers found that more than a third of all products tested contained toxic elements, the most common being lead, mercury, cadmium or arsenic. Other elements tested for were bromine, chlorine, chromium and tin.

Seventeen percent of the objects tested contained more lead than is allowed by federal safety standards, or 600 parts per million (ppm). Some products had lead levels more than five times the allowed maximum -- a Hannah Montana card game, for example, tested at 3,056 ppm.

Cadmium levels greater than 100 ppm were found in 2.9 percent of products, and arsenic levels greater than 100 ppm were found in 2.2 percent.

Lead was most common in jewelry, but other products containing toxins included bath toys and bedroom slippers. Many brand-name products were on the report's list of "worst toys," including Elmo's Take-Along card games and a Go Diego Go backpack.

The children's products were tested only to see if they contained toxic substances, so it is unknown exactly how much risk of exposure each product poses, or what the health effects of using them might be.

According to Tracey Easthope, director of the Environmental Health Project, the purpose of the study was to spur the government to carry out better testing, rather than to accuse specific toys of being dangerous.

"We aren't making claims about immediate danger," Easthope said. "But the government is not testing for toxic chemicals, and too many manufacturers are not self-regulating."

"We're publishing the results of our test with the hope that we can urge the government to do this kind of thing themselves," she said.

[Via Natural News]

Saturday, July 26, 2008

How Tibetans Enjoy the High Life

The people of the Tibetan Plateau survive and thrive on the roof of the world, a region averaging 14,763 feet (4,500 meters), or nearly three miles, above sea level. The air at that elevation is not the rich soup of oxygen that humans enjoy at lower elevations. Instead, as many would-be mountain climbers have discovered to their chagrin, it is difficult to get enough of the life-enabling element into their lungs and blood as they ascend, which often results in debilitating symptoms including nausea and dizziness, and can even be fatal. According to new research, Tibetans avoid altitude sickness because they have broader arteries and capillaries delivering oxygen to their muscles and organs.

"At the same time that [Tibetans] are extremely hypoxic at high altitude, they consume the same amount of oxygen that we do at sea level," says anthropologist Cynthia Beall of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. "One of the ways they do that is to have very high blood flow—delivering blood to tissue at twice the rate that we are."

The Tibetans increase their blood flow by producing prodigious amounts of nitric oxide in the linings of the blood vessels. This gas diffuses into the blood and forms nitrite and nitrate, which cause the arteries and capillaries to expand and deliver oxygen-bearing blood to the rest of the body more rapidly than normal. By measuring blood flow in the forearm, Beall and her colleagues report today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that 88 Tibetan men and women move twice as much blood as 50 Clevelanders, the latter of whom reside a mere 675 feet (205 meters) above sea level. Also, the nitric oxide by-products circulating in Tibetan blood are 10 times greater.

In fact, the Tibetan levels of these nitrites and nitrates are higher than those in patients suffering from a bacterial blood infection—septic shock—and the blood flows are typical of people suffering from high blood pressure. Yet, they have no ill effects in Tibetans. "We don't see an increase in vascular resistance," Beall says. The Tibetans also appear to have higher levels of antioxidants in their bodies, perhaps to help reduce the risk of putting so much nitric oxide—a free radical—into their bloodstreams.

Tibetans breathe a lot, too, averaging more breaths per minute than lowlanders or even their peers in other highland regions, such as the Andes of South America, the latter of whom boast larger lungs than the average human. Also, giving Tibetans pure oxygen actually slows their heart rates by 16 percent. But these scientists say that Tibetans' ability to produce higher levels of nitric oxide is the key to their ability to thrive among the world's tallest peaks.

That raises the question of whether this is evidence of evolutionary functional adaptation in humans. "You have to identify the gene and identify the gene variants that are different," Beall notes. "But it sure seems like a reasonable hypothesis at the moment."

The Tibetans have lived for an estimated 20,000 years on the plateau that bears their name and, in addition to conquering Mount Everest—along with other mountains that number among the planet's highest peaks—on a regular basis, they have managed to build and sustain great societies under challenging conditions. The secret to that success may be encoded in their genes. "This is an example of adaptation to high-altitude hypoxia," Beall says. "Tibetans know they are special because they live at high altitude without getting sick."

[Via Scientific American]

How to Live Rich

When the middle-class millionaire wants to wow her, he buys a diamond. Only the millionaire buys the rarest stone, one no one else will have.
On his travels, the millionaire goes where no one can find him—to an exclusive island resort featuring $185,000 fractional memberships in luxury vacation homes.

And at home, he relaxes not before the plasma TV but in his $150,000 yoga room where he receives massages while gazing at a Japanese-inspired garden outside.

These kinds of expenditures are becoming increasingly common among the fast-growing class of "middle-class millionaires." Sixteen-and-a-half million Americans, representing a little over 8 percent of U.S. households, fall into this group, which controls almost two-thirds of the country's wealth. They are baby boomers with a median age of 58 who obviously listened to their mother's advice to get a good education and settle down—because three-quarters earned a bachelor's degree and 82 percent are married.

Would we know if we brushed shoulders with a middle-class millionaire in the hallway? Probably not. "They're successful entrepreneurs," says Milton Pedraza, CEO of the Luxury Institute, a New York City-based research firm. "He's more likely to be the guy that owns 10 McDonald's franchises, the doctor with a MRI clinic, the owner of a small ad agency or even a trash removal company."

But even with a million in the bank, these people aren't all that rich. Russ Alan Prince, president of Prince & Associates, a private wealth research firm and author of The Middle Class Millionaire and The Sky's The Limit, says that today, having a million dollars net worth doesn't mean you are really wealthy. He categorizes the middle-class millionaire as those with $1 million to $10 million, the rich with $10 million to $30 million, and the super rich with more than $30 million.

Pricey Perks

Still, a million dollars is nothing to laugh at. Though nationwide spending has slowed on fears of a slumping economy, this set is continuing to splurge on pricey home improvements, wine and spirits, cars and clothes.

But the middle-class millionaire is not content to simply upgrade the tiles in his bathroom. He's likely building a professional grade home spa. In researching The Sky's The Limit, Prince spoke with a hedge fund manager who covered an entire wall with plasma screens and surround sound at a cost of $40,000 so he could wind down at the end of a long day by playing "Guitar Hero" and Nintendo Wii. Prince also worked with a Wall Street executive who spent over $60,000 to have a boxing ring installed in his Manhattan apartment.

Those kinds of buys make super high-tech security systems throughout the home a necessity. When traveling, one of Prince's respondents keeps track of his home by BlackBerry, and, if something looks suspicious, he can fill his house with tear gas at the touch of a button. Safe rooms are also becoming popular, says Prince.

Jewelry is the ultimate symbol of wealth, and in this category, the bigger the better. Today's millionaires invest in high-end pieces from companies like Zydo or Di MODOLO. This group is looking for custom-made baubles and won't blink at spending $75,000 on a necklace.

Fashion and accessories are another hot opportunity to spend. A good example is the owner of a plumbing company who, since making it big a couple of years back, treats his wife to a $35,000 Rene Lautrec handbag bag twice a year.

While jewelry and handbags may satisfy the ladies, watches seem to scratch the itch for men. Picture this: One of Prince's respondents owns two limousine companies and sells one for $20 million. After years of collecting watches in the $1,000 to $2,000 range, he rewards himself by splashing out on a $200,000 time piece.

Diamond-encrusted, of course.

[Via Men's Health]

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Anal Sex Is Increasingly Popular in the Hetero World

Every couple of years, another once-scandalous sex taboo starts making its way toward the commonplace. A decade ago, blow jobs were what people whispered about; then three-ways became the naughty bedroom act. Now, it’s anal sex—but according to the Centers for Disease Control’s National Survey of Family Growth, it’s rapidly becoming a regular feature of hetero couples’ horizontal activities.

The survey, released last year, showed that 38.2 percent of men between 20 and 39 and 32.6 percent of women ages 18 to 44 engage in heterosexual anal sex. Compare that with the CDC’s 1992 National Health and Social Life survey, which found that only 25.6 percent of men 18 to 59 and 20.4 percent of women 18 to 59 indulged in it.

Anecdotal research also demonstrates curiosity is on the rise. Babeland’s anal-sex workshops are now held three or four times a year, instead of once, and they’re filled with straight couples. “More and more, people are devoting themselves to learning about anal pleasure,” says Carolyn Riccardi, education coordinator for Babeland’s New York retail stores. “Male-to-female anal sex has been happening since the dawn of time,” she says. “What’s different now is that women are actively learning how to enjoy it and have fun with it.”

“I first did it with my husband,” says Lisa, a recently divorced thirtysomething from across the Hudson. “It was a regular part of our married sex life, and I enjoyed it. I think it can feel good for anyone—except if you’re too uptight about it, meaning, you’re literally tight-assed.”

Ah, yes, the anal-sex dilemma: If you think it’s going to hurt, it will. Relaxation isn’t the only requirement for a good experience: Too much aggression (and no lube) can put a woman off anal sex permanently.

And not all guys are anal enthusiasts, either. Jim, a 27-year-old consultant, has been given the opportunity by willing partners but hasn’t taken the plunge. He agrees that it seems to be on the rise among his friends but wonders whether it’s “really a cultural shift or just something we ease into semi-contemporaneously as we age, like marriage or buying real estate or listening to jazz rap.”

The idea that anal is something couples eventually turn to for sexual variety seems to be supported by the CDC survey, which shows the lowest numbers among those who’ve never been married and are not cohabiting, compared with those who are cohabiting, married, or divorced.

“For me, anal sex is very intimate, much more so than regular sex. If I care about someone, I’m willing to experiment,” says Irene, a 33-year-old East Village environmentalist who has been doing it with Lex, a 30-year-old Wall Streeter. But when we press Lex on whether he likes to receive anal attention from his girlfriends, he responds, “Call me old-fashioned, but the guy should be the penetrator, not the penetratee, no?”

It’s an attitude still widely held by many straight men today, and one that’s reflected in the CDC survey: Though the report is chock-full of all kinds of straight, gay, and lesbian sex in fairly graphic detail, there’s absolutely no research on female-to-male anal play. It turns out that the straight-male fear of reciprocal anal play is a potent mix of sexism and homophobia; a straight man can do it to someone else, but having it done to him isn’t okay.

But the newly discovered anti-cancer benefits of prostate stimulation are giving straight guys—especially the progressive New York breed—a legitimate excuse to be more, shall we say, open to exploration. And men’s magazines, which until recently discussed anal sex only in terms of how to trick a girlfriend into giving it up, now publish articles on the Aneros—the doctor-created, FDA-approved prostate stimulator—and the male G-spot, a.k.a. the P-spot, a.k.a. the He-spot.

“Straight guys come in looking for the Aneros,” says Riccardi, “but once they get all their questions answered, they’ll walk out with something more fun and less medical for themselves. Or their girlfriends will come in looking for ways they can be the penetrator, too.” When Riccardi first started working at Babeland three years ago, she would gently ask straight female customers if they’d ever tried sticking a finger up their boyfriend’s or husband’s bum, and they’d shoot her looks of horror. “Now when I ask them that question, they almost all say, ‘Oh, sure.’ ” The store’s strap-on sales have never been higher.

“My wife is totally turned on by the idea of ‘having’ me, as that’s just not something women really get to do most of the time, and it’s not something that guys have usually had done to them. It really is a reversal in the most primal of ways,” explains newlywed Brooklynite Anthony. “I think anyone who doesn’t enjoy it or thinks they wouldn’t is hindered by their own hang-ups. It feels good, period. And breaking taboos is sexy. Variety is sexy. Being vulnerable is sexy.”

[Via NY Magazine]

The 25 Sexiest Things Ever Said by Women

1. "The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat." —Eve, Genesis 3:13

2. "To err is human—but it feels divine." —Mae West

3. "We're so damn conservative all day that when you finally get us in the bedroom, we're absolute animals." —Shannen Doherty, on being Republican

4. "Lust is the sin that gets me excited. Luckily, because I'm married, I also get good jewelry out of it." —Heather Locklear

5. "All I can say is if they show my butt in a movie, it better be a wide shot." —Jennifer Lopez

6. "I don't think I have to introduce myself, unless you don't recognize me with my clothes on." —Madonna

7. "If you want to turn on your boyfriend, get naked and strap on an accordion." —Sheryl Crow

8. "It says, 'Pamela.' And when he gets excited, it says, 'I love Pamela very, very much. She's a wonderful wife, and I enjoy her company to the 10th degree!' " —Pamela Anderson, on the tattoo on Tommy Lee's penis

9. "Most virtue is a demand for greater seduction." —Natalie Clifford Barney

10. "Only the united beat of sex and heart can create ecstasy." —Anais Nin

11. "It's pitch, sex is. Once you touch it, it clings to you." —Margery Allingham

12. "As a stripper, I was getting a taste of what it would be like to be a woman in a society that honors the animal vitality in us all, instead of despising it." —Seph Weene

13. "It was like experiencing a nuclear explosion in a very small place." —Loni Anderson, describing sex with WKRP in Cincinnati costar Gary Sandy

14. "I get such a rush going to the store, standing in front of the condom counter and going through them. I love the gold-coin ones. Every time I undo one, it reminds me of the chocolate candies from my childhood." —Sandra Bullock

15. "I don't think being obsessed with sex is any stranger than being obsessed with stamp collecting." —Annie Sprinkle

16. "I'm very old-fashioned. Occasionally I do wear underwear." —Sharon Stone

17. "Men ought to become more conscious of their bodies as objects of delight." —Germaine Greer

18. "A kiss is a lovely trick designed by nature to stop speech when words become superfluous." —Ingrid Bergman

19. "You wanna know what my tongue feels like?" —Janet Jackson

20. "You see a lot of smart guys with dumb women, but you hardly ever see a smart woman with a dumb guy." —Erica Jong

21. "Don't! Ever! Stop! F—ing! Me!" —Kelly Preston, in Jerry Maguire

22. "Is she perverted like me? Would she go down on you in a theater?" —Alanis Morissette

23. "I'm not a prostitute, but I could give you what you want." —Missy Elliott

24. "When she raises her eyelids, it's as if she were taking off all her clothes." —Colette

25. "I like to wake up feeling a new man." —Jean Harlow

[Via Men's Health]

From 10 Hours a Week, $10 Million a Year

Markus Frind, a 29-year-old Web entrepreneur, has not read the best seller “The 4-Hour Workweek” — in fact, he had not heard of it when asked last week — but his face could go on the book’s cover. He developed software for his online dating site, Plenty of Fish, that operates almost completely on autopilot, leaving Mr. Frind plenty of free time. On average, he puts in about a 10-hour workweek.

For anyone inclined to daydream about a Web business that would all but run itself, two other details may be of interest: Mr. Frind operates the business out of his apartment in Vancouver, British Columbia, and he says he has net profits of about $10 million a year. Given his site’s profitable advertising mix and independently verified traffic volume, the figure sounds about right.

There’s much to be admired in Mr. Frind’s entrepreneurial success. But his site, now almost five years old, has some unfinished patches and irritating quirks and seems to come from the Anti-Perfectionist School of Design.

Mr. Frind built the Plenty of Fish Web site in 2003 as nothing more than an exercise to help teach himself a new programming language, ASP.NET. The site first became popular among English-speaking Canadians. Popularity among online daters in many United States cities followed more recently, and with minimal spending on advertising the site. According to data from comScore Media Metrix for November 2007, Plenty of Fish had 1.4 million unique visitors in the United States. In December, Mr. Frind said, the site served up 1.2 billion page views, and page views have soared 20 percent since Dec. 26.

Spending time at Plenty of Fish is a visually painful experience. Wherever a row of members’ photos is displayed, which is most pages, many of the faces are elongated or scrunched because Mr. Frind has not taken the trouble to write the software code that would automatically resize frames or crop photos to prevent distortion. When I asked him why he had not addressed the problem, he said it was a “trivial” issue that did not bother users.

A blasé attitude is understandable, given that Plenty of Fish doubled the number of registered customers this past year, to 600,000, Mr. Frind said, despite the fact that each month it purges 30 percent of users for being inactive. Somehow, the site instantly replenishes the lost customers and attracts many more to boot.

No one heads to Plenty of Fish for the customer service, which is all but nonexistent. The company does not need a support structure to handle members’ subscription and billing issues because the service is entirely advertising-based. Its tagline is: “100 percent free. Put away your credit card.” For hand-holding, users must rely on fellow members, whose advice is found in online forums. The Dating & Love Advice category lists more than 320,000 posts, making up in sheer quantity what it lacks in a soothing live presence available by phone.

The principal customer service that Plenty of Fish provides is responses to complaints about possibly fraudulent identities and to subpoenas and search-warrant requests. Last year, Mr. Frind hired his first, and still only, employee to handle these requests, freeing him to attend to adding new servers when required and tweaking code. “Most of the time, I don’t need to do anything,” he said.

To keep his site’s forums free of spam, Mr. Frind has refined a formula for analyzing customer feedback and arriving at a determination of whether a given forum post is spam and should automatically be deleted. He has also devised some new software twists that enable him to offload work to his customers, letting users review the photos that are uploaded to the site.

Mr. Frind says that close to 50,000 new photos come in every day, each one of which needs to be checked to verify that it is an actual person and that it does not not contain nudity. The work would be costly if Mr. Frind relied on a paid staff to do it.

Fortunately for him, there seems to be an inexhaustible supply of humans eager to look at pictures of other humans, and Mr. Frind taps his customers to carry out the reviewing, gratis. Some have made it their principal pastime. Among Plenty of Fish’s volunteers were 120 who last year evaluated more than 100,000 images each. He explains his volunteers’ enthusiasm for the work as an expression of gratitude: “Lots of people feel like they want to give back to the site because it’s free.”

Plenty of Fish displays banner ads, Google-supplied ads and, most profitable of all, “affiliate” marketing links that send users to other dating sites. For example, Mr. Frind said, when one of his customers clicks on an advertisement for a book titled “Double Your Dating” and, after being sent to the publisher’s Web site, ends up buying it for $40, the publisher pays Plenty of Fish a commission — of $40 — for the sale, glad to have landed a customer that past experience shows is a good prospect for “upselling” other goods and services related to dating.

For all that Mr. Frind has accomplished, his site looks puny when compared with Craigslist, which has built a mighty automation engine tended by only a handful of people. Craigslist’s personals draw about six million unique visitors a month, more than any other dating site, and its listings for all categories generate 10 billion page views a month. It covers 450 localities in 50 countries around the world — with only 25 employees. It is among the top 10 busiest English-language sites, but the customers who enjoy its free listings, like Plenty of Fish’s, must serve themselves or seek assistance from others. “Anything that represents customer hand-holding represents a failure of site design,” said Jim Buckmaster, Craigslist’s chief executive. “We try to make changes to the site to make the problem go away.”

Both Plenty of Fish and Craigslist have created sites that run almost completely on their own, but in different ways. Craigslist has no commercial messages other than listings, and it collects fees only for a minuscule slice of its posts. It charges employers for jobs listings in 10 of its 450 cities, and brokers for apartment listings in New York City. All other listings are free. “To most of our users,” Mr. Buckmaster said, “it’s a mystery how we make money.”

At Plenty of Fish, there is no mystery: a large square of advertising sits in the middle of most profile pages. Its success demonstrates that many consumers will tolerate, and even embrace, advertising when a site offers a free service for which others charge membership fees.

Mr. Frind has found that rare business in which the profits gush in, whether or not he leaves his hammock.

[Via NY Times]

15 Facts You Didn't Know About Your Penis

1. Smoking can shorten your penis by as much as a centimeter. Erections are all about good bloodflow, and lighting up calcifies blood vessels, stifling erectile circulation. So even if you don't care all that much about your lungs or dying young, spare the li'l guy.

2. Doctors can now grow skin for burn victims using the foreskins of circumcised infants. One foreskin can produce 23,000 square meters, which would be enough to tarp every Major League infield with human flesh.

3. An enlarged prostate gland can cause both erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation. If you have an unexplained case of either, your doctor's looking forward to checking your prostate. Even if you're not.

4. The average male orgasm lasts 6 seconds. Women get 23 seconds. Which means if women were really interested in equality, they'd make sure we have four orgasms for every one of theirs.

5. The oldest known species with a penis is a hard-shelled sea creature called Colymbosathon ecplecticos. That's Greek for "amazing swimmer with large penis." Which officially supplants Buck Naked as the best porn name, ever.

6. Circumcised foreskin can be reconstructed. Movable skin on the shaft of the penis is pulled toward the tip and set in place with tape. Later, doctors apply plastic rings, caps, and weights. Years can pass until complete coverage is attained. . . . Okay, we'll shut up now.

7. Only one man in 400 is flexible enough to give himself oral pleasure. It's estimated, however, that all 400 have given it their best shot at some point.

8. There are two types of penises. One kind expands and lengthens when becoming erect (a grower). The other appears big most of the time, but doesn't get much bigger after achieving erection (a shower).

9. An international Men's Health survey reports that 79 percent of men have growers, 21 percent have showers.

10. German researchers say the average intercourse lasts 2 minutes, 50 seconds, yet women perceive it as lasting 5 minutes, 30 seconds. Are we that good or that bad?

11. Turns out size does matter: The longer your penis, the better "semen displacement" you'll achieve when having sex with a woman flush with competing sperm. That's according to researchers at the State University of New York, who used artificial phalluses (ahem) to test the "scooping" mechanism of the penis's coronal ridge. Next up: curing cancer.

12. The penis that's been enjoyed by the most women could be that of King Fatefehi of Tonga, who supposedly deflowered 37,800 women between the years 1770 and 1784—that's about seven virgins a day. Go ahead, say it: It's good to be king.

13. Better-looking men may have stronger sperm. Spanish researchers showed women photos of guys who had good, average, and lousy sperm—and told them to pick the handsomest men. The women chose the best sperm producers most often.

14. No brain is necessary for ejaculation. That order comes from the spinal cord. Finding a living vessel for said ejaculation, however, takes hours of careful thought and, often, considerable amounts of alcohol.

15. The most common cause of penile rupture: vigorous masturbation. Some risks are just worth taking.

[Via Men's Health]

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Why Learning a New Language May Make You Forget Your Old One

Traveling abroad presents an ideal opportunity to master a foreign language. While the immersion process facilitates communication in a diverse world, people are often surprised to find they have difficulty returning to their native language. This phenomenon is referred to as first-language attrition and has University of Oregon psychologist Benjamin Levy wondering how it is possible to forget, even momentarily, words used fluently throughout one's life.

In a study appearing in the January, 2007 issue of Psychological Science, Levy and his colleague Dr. Michael Anderson discovered that people do not forget their native language simply because of less use, but that such forgetfulness reflects active inhibition of native language words that distract us while we are speaking the new language. Therefore, this forgetfulness may actually be an adaptive strategy to better learn a second language.

In the study, native English speakers who had completed at least one year of college level Spanish were asked to repeatedly name objects in Spanish. The more the students were asked to repeat the Spanish words, the more difficulty they had generating the corresponding English labels for the objects. In other words, naming objects in another language inhibits the corresponding labels in the native language, making them more difficult to retrieve later.

Interestingly, the study also showed that the more fluent bilingual students were far less prone to experience these inhibitory effects. These findings suggest that native language inhibition plays a crucial role during the initial stages of second language learning. That is, when first learning a new language, we have to actively ignore our easily accessible native language words while struggling to express our thoughts in a novel tongue. As a speaker achieves bilingual fluency, native-language inhibition becomes less necessary, accounting for the better performances of fluent bilingual speakers in the study.

Although the value of suppressing previously learned knowledge to learn new concepts may appear counterintuitive, Levy explains that "first-language attrition provides a striking example of how it can be adaptive to (at least temporarily) forget things one has learned."

[Via Science Daily]

20 Free Ways to Save Energy

1. Wash clothes in cold water.
You might guess that most of the energy used by a washing machine goes into vigorously swishing the clothes around. In fact, about 90 percent of it is spent elsewhere, heating the water for the load. You can save substantially by washing and rinsing at cooler temperatures. Warm water helps the suds to get at the dirt, but cold-water detergents will work effectively for just about everything in the hamper.

2. Hang it up.
Clotheslines aren't just a bit of backyard nostalgia. They really work, given a stretch of decent weather. You spare the energy a dryer would use, and your clothes will smell as fresh as all outdoors without the perfumes in fabric softeners and dryer sheets. You'll also get more useful life out of clothes dried on indoor or outdoor clotheslines--after all, dryer lint is nothing but your wardrobe in the process of wearing out.

3. Don't overdry your laundry.
Clothes will need less ironing and hold up better if you remove them from the dryer while they're still just a bit damp. If you are in the market for a dryer, look for one with a moisture sensor; it will be less likely than thermostat-equipped models to run too long.

4. Let the dishwasher do the work.
Don't bother prerinsing dishes with the idea that your dishwasher will work less hard. Consumer Reports has found that this added step can waste 20 gallons of heated water a day. All you need to do is scrape off leftover food. Enzyme-based detergents will help make sure the dishes emerge spotless.

5. Put your PC to sleep.
Keep your computer and its monitor in sleep mode rather than leaving them on around the clock. You stand to use 80 percent less electricity, which over the course of a year could have the effect of cutting CO2 emissions by up to 1,250 pounds, according to EPA estimates.

6. Turn down the heat in the winter, and turn down the cool in the summer.
Lower the thermostat 5° to 10° F when you're sleeping or are out of the house. "A 10° decrease can cut your heating bill by as much as 20 percent," says Jim Nanni, manager of the appliance and home-improvement testing department of Consumer Reports. And before you put on a cotton sweater to ward off a slight chill from the AC in summer, consider that for every degree you raise the thermostat setting, you can expect to cut your cooling costs by at least 3 percent.

7. A cold hearth for a warmer house.
A conventional fireplace draws a small gale out of the room and sends it up the chimney. Assuming the indoor air has been warmed by your central heating system, that means your energy dollars are going up the chimney, too. Instead, consider a direct-vent, sealed-combustion gas fireplace. Consumer Reports has found that those units have an energy efficiency of about 70 percent--and the sight of the flames is a lot more warming than staring at a radiator.

8. Lower the shades and raise the windows.
Not at the same time, of course, but your windows and shades are great tools to help moderate temperatures in the home. Because of central air conditioning, we tend to forget these time-tested, traditional ways of making the house comfortable. Shades are particularly helpful in blocking the sun from west-facing rooms in the afternoon. At night, if the forecast calls for cooler temperatures and low humidity, give the AC a rest. Open windows upstairs and down, and use window fans or a whole-house fan.

9. Put a spin on home cooling.
You can operate a couple of fans with a fraction of the electricity needed for air conditioning, and their cooling effect may make it possible to cut back on AC use.

10. Take care of your air conditioner, and it will take care of you.
Your air conditioner will run more efficiently if you clean or replace its filter every other week during heaviest use. Keep leaves and other debris away from the central air's exterior condenser, and keep the condenser coils clean.

11. Spend less for hot water.
Set the hot water heater at 120° F (or the "low" setting), which is hot enough for most needs. If the tank feels warm to the touch, consider wrapping it with conventional insulation or a blanket made for that purpose. To help conserve the water's heat on its way to the faucets, insulate the plumbing with pipe sleeves; with these, you can raise the end-use temperature by 2° to 4° F.

12. Think twice before turning on the oven.
Heating food in the microwave uses only 20 percent of the energy required by a full-sized oven. And while the second-hand heat from the oven may be welcome in winter, it can put an added load on your air conditioner in warmer months.

13. Use the right pan.
When cooking on the stovetop, pick your pan, then put it on an element or burner that's roughly the same size. You'll use much less energy than you would with a mismatched burner and pan. Steam foods instead of boiling. If you do boil, be sure to put a lid on the pot to make the water come to a boil faster.

14. Read the label.
The EnergyGuide label, that is. When you shop for a new appliance, look for the label that gives an estimate of annual energy consumption. To help you make sense of that statistic, the label also states the highest and lowest figures for similar models.

15. Dust off the Crock-Pot.
Slow cooking in a Crock-Pot uses a lot less energy than simmering on the stove.

16. Clean the coils on your refrigerator using a tapered appliance brush.
Your fridge's motor won't have to run as long or as often. In addition to saving energy dollars, you'll prolong the life of the appliance.

17. Drive steadily - and a bit slower.
Hard acceleration and abrupt braking will use more fuel than if you start and slow more moderately. Keeping down your overall speed matters, too, because aerodynamic drag increases dramatically as you drive faster. If you travel at 65 mph instead of 55, you are penalized by lowering your mileage 12.5 percent. If you get your vehicle up to 75 mph, you're losing 25 percent compared with mileage at 55 mph.

18. Roof racks are a drag.
Most cars are reasonably streamlined, but you work against their slipperiness if you carry things on the roof. A loaded roof rack can decrease an SUV's fuel efficiency by 5 percent, and that of a more aerodynamic car by 15 percent or more. Even driving with empty ski racks wastes gas.

19. Stick with regular.
If your car's manufacturer specifies regular gas, don't buy premium with the thought of going faster or operating more efficiently. You'd be spending more with no benefit. Most cars have built-in sensors that adjust the engine timing to the gas in the tank. Even if the owner's manual recommends high-octane gas, ask the dealership about switching to regular.

20. No loitering.
Don't let the engine run at idle any longer than necessary. After starting the car in the morning, begin driving right away; don't let it sit and "warm up" for several minutes. An engine actually warms up faster while driving. With most gasoline engines, it's more efficient to turn off the engine than to idle longer than 30 seconds.

And if you don't mind spending a few dollars:

1. A tighter home is a toastier home.
Insulation is your home's first line of defense against the weather, right? Wrong. Before you bulk up with fiberglass blankets, seal the leaks. Inexpensive foam strips and caulking can cut your heating and cooling bills by 5 to 30 percent.

2. Try do-it-yourself low-E windows.
If your windows don't have a low-E coating, consider applying a self-adhesive film on the glass. This treatment is a lot cheaper than replacing the units, and better-quality films are quite durable.

3. Use a programmable thermostat.
Roughly half of the typical home's energy bill goes for heating and cooling, according to the Department of Energy. The easiest way to save, short of sweating or shivering, is to use programmable thermostats. They can pay for themselves in about a year.

4. Switch to those funny-looking fluorescents.
You may not be familiar with compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), but give them a try. A single bulb can save from $25 to $45 over its life. And it's a long life: Manufacturers claim that CFLs last between 5 and 13 times longer than standard incandescent bulbs.

[Via Consumer Reports]