Observations of a blown mind

Life

This started out as a status update


But as I poured out my thoughts quite by accident it became much more. I wanted to share my reflections with you here, so excuse this indulgence.

Rather happier now I have had the opportunity to say goodbye, as it were, to Nan.

As an Atheist graveyards are strange places for me. I know once we are gone, we are gone. I know there is nothing after, we return to dust and our memory is carried on by our family. Eventually we will return to the stars and become at one at an atomic level with the universe – quite beautiful really.

Life is like energy really, it never really stops it just changes.

When the matriarch of any family passes away a huge whole is left and families can fall in to disarray. I hope my children and grandchildren realise how important family is and make the effort to stay close.To me family has always been important. You realise that when yours is gone and take pains to ensure that your own family treasures their relationship with each other.

I am thankful for my Wife for her loving support, and grateful I have the opportunity to educate my children without the confines, constraints and nonsense that any organized religion imposes. My children question everything, are encouraged to research everything for themselves and are richer for it!

Critical thinking is so lacking in this modern world it is becoming a rarity. Perhaps this is the next form of mental evolution for mankind? Those that have knowledge through research and mental dexterity, and those that choose not to trouble themselves with it and therefore embrace ignorance by blindly believing everything they are told, either from the pulpit or the many forms of filtered media.

It saddens me, which is why I speak out. After a lifetime of controlled blind obedience I feel obligated! I know it is unpleasant for some to hear and see, which is why 5 years ago I had over 600 friends on Facebook and today I have 133!!

For whatever reason, I have very few real friends, but those that I do call close friends I view as my family. They know who they are and know I value their companionship greatly. I confess I am a very lonely person and have a huge whole in my life, not because I have removed ‘God’ from it but because a religion chosen by my family requires them to be totally removed from mine. So all of the friends I ever had and all of the family I was so closely attached to are gone. Their choice killed off a part of me, and left a gaping hole.

Can you even imagine how hard it is to rebuild that?

Can you imagine how hard it is to socialise when you are disabled and wheelchair bound, unable to work any more?

Add in to the equation you have two autistic children who have three siblings. All polite and well behaved children – but looking after 5 kids is daunting.

You also only have a loving and willing father-in-law as the only person you can rely on to look after the children to enable you and your Wife the opportunity to go out and perhaps you begin to see the struggle we have.

BUT, I am not moaning, I don’t think people realise how much Emmajay and I have been through in the relatively short time we have been together, and what we go through on a daily basis.

We almost lost Jacob at 6 weeks. Micah is a very poorly boy with dysfunctional kidneys, he will also face a lifetime of awkwardness from his vitiligo. Autism is an incredibly difficult mental illness and we regularly face meltdowns from both Jacob and Reuben. Imagine a child throwing themselves in to the road or smacking their head on a brick wall because they face a change in routine, a strong smell, a new flavour they haven’t tried etc.

If we were advertising this as a job it would have to come with one hell of a salary and benefits package!

I doubt even then many would cope,

Which makes Emmajay even more amazing.

She does all this AND has to cope with a husband not coping with a recent and permanent disability.

My life is nothing like I envisioned at 18 when I was fed up and bored.

I’d love to have my youth back, and equally I am grateful for the journeys I have taken since then that have shaped me to become the man, husband and father I am today.

There is truth in the saying that life is a journey, just make sure you’re not sat on the bus looking out and watching it pass by! I did that for too long and when I got off at a stop, I found out it was fucking amazing.

Much love.

Chris

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Preventable risk factors pose serious threat to heart health of childhood cancer survivors


A Childhood Cancer Survivors Study led by St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital suggests that reducing risk factors like hypertension might lower the risk of heart disease for survivors as they age

For childhood cancer survivors, risk factors associated with lifestyle, particularly hypertension, dramatically increase the likelihood of developing serious heart problems as adults, according to a national study led by St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. The findings appear in the current issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

The Childhood Cancer Survivor Study (CCSS) is one of the first to focus on how hypertension, diabetes, obesity and elevated blood lipids contribute to cardiovascular disease in childhood cancer survivors. The research concentrated on risk factors that can often be modified with diet, exercise and other lifestyle changes. The federally funded CCSS follows survivors of childhood cancer treated at 26 medical centers in the U.S. and Canada. St. Jude is its coordinating center.

The risk was greatest for survivors whose cancer treatment had included therapies associated with heart damage. The findings suggest that risk factors linked to lifestyle, particularly hypertension, intensify the impact of those childhood cancer treatments and accelerate development of heart disease.

The findings raise hope that prevention or treatment of such risk factors might help reduce heart-related death and disability among the nation’s growing population of childhood cancer survivors. For survivors, treatment-related heart disease is a leading cause of non-cancer death and disability.

The results reinforce the importance of survivors receiving annual medical screenings to check blood pressure, weight, cholesterol and other health indicators, said the study’s first and corresponding author Greg Armstrong, M.D., an associate member of the St. Jude Department of Epidemiology and Cancer Control. Screenings have a track record of reducing heart disease in the general population and are recommended for childhood cancer survivors. “For doctors who are caring for survivors, the key message from this study is that aggressive management of hypertension is especially important for this population,” Armstrong said.

Nationwide, there are an estimated 395,000 survivors of childhood cancer. With overall pediatric cancer survival rates now 80 percent, the number of survivors will continue to grow.

The study included 10,724 childhood cancer survivors, half younger than 34 years old and 3,159 siblings whose average age was 36 and who had not been diagnosed with childhood cancer. The survivors were all at least five years from their cancer diagnosis and half had survived for more than 25 years.

Research led by Greg Armstrong, M.D., of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital suggests that reducing risk factors like hypertension might lower the risk of heart disease for childhood cancer survivors as they age. Credit: St. Jude Biomedical Communications

Research led by Greg Armstrong, M.D., of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital suggests that reducing risk factors like hypertension might lower the risk of heart disease for childhood cancer survivors as they age.
Credit: St. Jude Biomedical Communications

While similar percentages of survivors and siblings reported at least two preventable risk factors, by age 45 survivors were far more likely than the siblings to report severe, life threatening or fatal heart problems. For example, 5.3 percent of survivors, but 0.9 percent of siblings, reported a diagnosis of coronary artery disease and, 4.8 percent of survivors, but just 0.3 percent of siblings, reported suffering from heart failure.

The difference was even more dramatic when investigators focused on survivors whose cancer treatment included either chest irradiation or a class of chemotherapy drugs known as anthracyclines. Both are associated with an increased risk of serious heart problems. While treatments have changed since survivors in this study battled cancer in the 1970s and mid-1980s, anthracyclines and chest irradiation still play essential roles in childhood cancer treatments.

Such treatment-related risk left survivors with normal blood pressure at a five-fold increased risk of coronary artery disease. Researchers found survivors with the same treatment history but who had also developed hypertension were at a 37-fold increased risk. Researchers found similarly dramatic differences in the likelihood of heart failure, heart valve disease or arrhythmia depending on whether the at-risk survivors reported treatable risk factors in addition to their cancer-treatment-related risk.

“For survivors whose cancer treatment included cardio-toxic therapy, we found that preventable factors, particularly hypertension, resulted in a risk beyond what is likely from a simple additive effect,” Armstrong said. Having both treatment-associated risk and hypertension resulted in double-digit excess risk of coronary artery disease, heart failure and other serious heart problems.

Hypertension, diabetes, obesity and high blood lipid levels significantly increase the risk that childhood cancer survivors will develop serious cardiovascular disease as adults. Credit: Betsy Williford of St. Jude Biomedical Communications

Hypertension, diabetes, obesity and high blood lipid levels significantly increase the risk that childhood cancer survivors will develop serious cardiovascular disease as adults.
Credit: Betsy Williford of St. Jude Biomedical Communications

The study’s other authors are Kevin Oeffinger and Charles Sklar, both of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York; Yan Chen and Yutaka Yasui, both of University of Alberta, Edmonton; Toana Kawashima, Wendy Leisenring and Eric Chow, all of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle; Marilyn Stovall and Jean-Bernard Durand, both of the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston; Daniel Mulrooney and Leslie Robison, both of St. Jude; and Ann Mertens, William Border and Lillian Meacham, all of Emory University, Atlanta.


Generosity leads to evolutionary success


evopetridish

With new insights into the classical game theory match-up known as the “Prisoner’s Dilemma,” University of Pennsylvania biologists offer a mathematically based explanation for why cooperation and generosity have evolved in nature.

Their work builds upon the seminal findings of economist John Nash, who advanced the field of game theory in the 1950s, as well as those of computational biologist William Press and physicist-mathematician Freeman Dyson, who last year identified a new class of strategies for succeeding in the Prisoner’s Dilemma.

Postdoctoral researcher Alexander J. Stewart and associate professor Joshua B. Plotkin, both of Penn’s Department of Biology in the School of Arts and Sciences, examined the outcome of the Prisoner’s Dilemma as played repeatedly by a large, evolving population of players. While other researchers have previously suggested that cooperative strategies can be successful in such a scenario, Stewart and Plotkin offer mathematical proof that the only strategies that succeed in the long term are generous ones. They report their findings in PNAS the week of Sept. 2.

“Ever since Darwin,” Plotkin said, “biologists have been puzzled about why there is so much apparent cooperation, and even flat-out generosity and altruism, in nature. The literature on game theory has worked to explain why generosity arises. Our paper provides such an explanation for why we see so much generosity in front of us.”

The Prisoner’s Dilemma is a way of studying how individuals choose whether or not to cooperate. In the game, if both players cooperate, they both receive a payoff. If one cooperates and the other does not, the cooperating player receives the smallest possible payoff, and the defecting player the largest. If both players do not cooperate, they receive a payoff, but it is less than what they would gain if both had cooperated. In other words, it pays to cooperate, but it can pay even more to be selfish.

In the Iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma, two players repeatedly face off against one another and can employ different strategies to beat their opponent. In 2012, Press and Dyson “shocked the world of game theory,” Plotkin said, by identifying a group of strategies for playing this version of the game. They called this class of approaches “zero determinant” strategies because the score of one player is related linearly to the other. What’s more, they focused on a subset of zero determinant approaches they deemed to be extortion strategies. If a player employed an extortion strategy against an unwitting opponent, that player could force the opponent into receiving a lower score or payoff.

Stewart and Plotkin became intrigued with this finding, and last year wrote a commentary in PNAS about the Press and Dyson work. They began to explore a different approach to the Prisoner’s Dilemma. Instead of a head-to-head competition, they envisioned a population of players matching up against one another, as might occur in a human or animal society in nature. The most successful players would get to “reproduce” more, passing on their strategies to the next generation of players.

It quickly became clear to the Penn biologists that extortion strategies wouldn’t do well if played within a large, evolving population because an extortion strategy doesn’t succeed if played against itself.

“The fact that there are extortion strategies immediately suggests that, at the other end of the scale, there might also be generous strategies,” Stewart said. “You might think being generous would be a stupid thing to do, and it is if there are only two players in the game, but, if there are many players and they all play generously, they all benefit from each other’s generosity.”

In generous strategies, which are essentially the opposite of extortion strategies, players tend to cooperate with their opponents, but, if they don’t, they suffer more than their opponents do over the long term. “Forgiveness” is also a feature of these strategies. A player who encounters a defector may punish the defector a bit but after a time may cooperate with the defector again.

Stewart noticed the first of these generous approaches among the zero determinant strategies that Press and Dyson had defined. After simulating how some generous strategies would fare in an evolving population, he and Plotkin crafted a mathematical proof showing that, not only can generous strategies succeed in the evolutionary version of the Prisoner’s Dilemma, in fact these are the only approaches that resist defectors over the long term.

“Our paper shows that no selfish strategies will succeed in evolution,” Plotkin said. “The only strategies that are evolutionarily robust are generous ones.”

The discovery, while abstract, helps explain the presence of generosity in nature, an inclination that can sometimes seem counter to the Darwinian notion of survival of the fittest.

“When people act generously they feel it is almost instinctual, and indeed a large literature in evolutionary psychology shows that people derive happiness from being generous,” Plotkin said. “It’s not just in humans. Of course social insects behave this way, but even bacteria and viruses share gene products and behave in ways that can’t be described as anything but generous.”

“We find that in evolution, a population that encourages cooperation does well,” Stewart said. “To maintain cooperation over the long term, it is best to be generous.”

Notes –  

The study received support from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, David and Lucile Packard Foundation, James S. McDonnell Foundation, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Foundational Questions in Evolutionary Biology Fund, U.S. Army Research Office and U.S. Department of the Interior.


Adapting to mainstream lowers diabetes risk in African-Americans


Image (c) Allan Miller - used with thanks.

Image (c) Allan Miller – used with thanks.

Trying to find a produce store or a large grocer in an economically depressed neighborhood is about as easy as finding an apple in a candy store.

Lack of access to good nutrition impacts racial and ethnic minorities and recent immigrants disproportionately. Poor nutrition combined with higher stress can contribute to other health problems, including type 2 diabetes.

But a new University of Michigan study may help explain how to cope with this stress and perhaps curb some of these health problems.

Rebecca Hasson, assistant professor at the U-M schools of Kinesiology and Public Health, found that overweight and obese African-American children and teens who successfully adapt to mainstream American culture—while maintaining strong ties with their own—could reduce stress and stress eating. In turn, this could reduce the risk for type 2 diabetes.

Immigration literature shows that successfully adapting to different cultures in a society, while maintaining one’s own cultural identity, reduces stress. Since cultural and social environments influence stress-eating behavior, Hasson’s findings could provide a valuable tool to change unhealthy eating behaviors linked to obesity and diabetes in ethnic minority youth.

The study also found that Latino adolescents of higher socioeconomic status showed increased diabetes risk, which means they didn’t appear to benefit from the protection against diabetes that higher social and economic status affords.

Researchers cannot fully explain this finding, but again, it may be stress-related. Hasson said Latinos could suffer increased psychological stress associated with racial discrimination and social isolation if they live in predominantly white areas. Another possibility is that longer time in the U.S. is associated with poorer health outcomes for recent immigrants.

Pediatric obesity in the U.S. has more than tripled in the last 30 years, particularly among Latinos and African-Americans, said Hasson, who also heads U-M’s Childhood Disparities Research Laboratory. This disparity is partially due to greater exposure to psychological stress, which leads to cortisol production and potential stress eating.

Hasson’s current project investigates the link between chronic stress, stress eating and obesity in Latino, African-American and non-Latino white adolescents.

The study, “Sociocultural and socioeconomic influences on type 2 diabetes risk in overweight/obese African-American and Latino-American children and adolescents,” appears in the Journal of Obesity.

Notes –

Rebecca Hasson: http://kines.umich.edu/profile/rebecca-hasson-phd

Childhood Disparities Research Laboratory: http://kines.umich.edu/lab/cdrl

School of Kinesiology: http://kines.umich.edu

School of Public Health: http://www.sph.umich.edu


Divorce elevates risk for depression, but only for some.


Wikimedia Commons File

Wikimedia Commons File

Divorce is associated with an increased risk of future depressive episodes but only for those who already have a history of depression, according to a new study published in Clinical Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

“Stressful life events like divorce are associated with significant risk for prolonged emotional distress, including clinically-significant depression,” notes psychological scientist and lead researcher David Sbarra of the University of Arizona. “At the same time, we know from considerable research that the experience of divorce is non-random. Some people are much greater risk for experiencing a divorce than other people.”

This led Sbarra and colleagues to wonder: Is it divorce, or the factors leading to divorce – such as marital discord, neuroticism, or hostility – that increase the risk for depression?

To investigate this question, the researchers took advantage of data from the longitudinal, nationally representative Midlife Development in the United States (MIDUS) study. The researchers matched each participant who had separated or divorced during the study to a continuously married person in the study who had the same propensity to divorce, based on a number of previously identified factors. By comparing participants to their match, the researchers were able to account for the fact that it’s impossible to randomly assign people to divorce or stay married.

In line with previous research, the results showed that divorce had a significant effect on subsequent depression.

But, as Sbarra and colleagues found, the full story was a bit more complex.

Specifically, divorce or separation only increased the likelihood of a later depressive episode for those participants who reported a history of depression. In fact, nearly 60% of adults with a history of depression who divorced during the study experienced a depressive episode at the follow-up assessment.

For all other participants – including those who had a history of depression but hadn’t divorced, and those who divorced but had no history of depression – there was no elevated risk for a future depressive episode. Only about 10% of these people experienced a depressive episode at follow-up.

The magnitude of the difference between the two groups – 60% versus 10% – surprised the researchers.

“These findings are very important because they affirm the basic notion that most people are resilient in the face of divorce and that we do not see severe disorder among people without a history of a past depressive illness,” says Sbarra. “If you’ve never experienced a significant depression in your life and you experience a separation or divorce, your odds for becoming depressed in the future are not that large at all.”

The findings suggest that separation and divorce may exacerbate underlying risk but don’t, in and of themselves, increase rates of depression. It’s possible, the researchers speculate, that people with a history of depression have a limited capacity to cope with the demands of the transition out of marriage, but they caution that the specific mechanisms have yet to be explored.

“Do these people blame themselves for the divorce? Do they ruminate more about the separation? Are they involved in a particularly acrimonious separation? These questions deserve much greater attention,” says Sbarra.

Sbarra and colleagues also note that the research can’t speak to potentially interesting differences between those adults who separate versus those who divorce, since the two categories were combined in the study.

Nonetheless, the researchers believe the new findings have significant clinical implications:

“It is very important for clinicians to know that a person’s history of depression is directly related to whether or not they will experience a depressive episode following the end of marriage,” says Sbarra. “People with a history of depression who become divorced deserve special attention for support and counseling services.”

Notes –  

For more information about this study, please contact: David A. Sbarra at sbarra@email.arizona.edu.

The abstract for this article can be found online at: http://cpx.sagepub.com/content/early/2013/08/13/2167702613498727.abstract

Co-authors include Robert E. Emery, Christopher R. Beam, and Bailey L. Ocker of the University of Virginia.

D. A. Sbarra was supported in part by grants from the National Science Foundation (BCS 0919525), the National Institute on Aging (036895), and the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (069498). C. R. Beam was supported by the National Institute on Aging (Award T32AG020500).

Clinical Psychological Science is APS’s newest journal. For a copy of the article “Marital Dissolution and Major Depression in Midlife: A Propensity Score Analysis” and access to other Clinical Psychological Science research findings, please contact Anna Mikulak at 202-293-9300 or amikulak@psychologicalscience.org.


Shank’s pony cures all?


Walking to work cuts risk of diabetes and high blood pressure

Walking , cycling, and even public transport can improve your fitness.

Walking , cycling, and even public transport can improve your fitness.

People who walk to work are around 40 per cent less likely to have diabetes as those who drive, according to a new study.

Researchers at Imperial College London and University College London examined how various health indicators related to how people get to work, using data from a survey of 20,000 people across the UK.

They found that cycling, walking, and using public transport were all associated with lower risk of being overweight than driving or taking a taxi. People who walk to work were also 17% less likely than people who drive to have high blood pressure. Cyclists were around half as likely to have diabetes as drivers.

The findings are published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

High blood pressure, diabetes, and being overweight are all major risk factors for heart and circulatory disease, the UK’s biggest killer.

The researchers said people could reduce their risks of serious health problems such as heart attacks by avoiding using a car.

“This study highlights that building physical activity into the daily routine by walking, cycling or using public transport to get to work is good for personal health ,” said Anthony Laverty, from the School of Public Health at Imperial College London.

Nineteen per cent of working age adults who use private transport – such as cars, motorbikes or taxis – to get to work were obese, compared to 15 per cent of those who walked and 13 per cent of those who cycled to work.

The study found wide variations in the modes of transport used in different parts of the UK. Public transport was used most in London, at 52 per cent, compared with just five per cent in Northern Ireland.

“The variations between regions suggest that infrastructure and investment in public transport, walking and cycling can play a large role in encouraging healthy lives, and that encouraging people out of the car can be good for them as well as the environment,” said Laverty.


Pangolins – quietly facing extinction


1024px-Zoo_Leipzig_-_Chinesisches_Ohrenschuppentier

A unique order of mammals, consisting of eight species spread across Africa, India & South-East Asia, they are the sort of animal that one could imagine in some biblical creation story, were near the end of the production line and made an already knackered God jumble together out of whatever he could find. Their nearest relatives are the members of the order Carnivoria – cats, dogs, bears and the like – but given that the pangolins diverged from them on the evolutionary path well over 70 million years ago, they truly are a primeval enigma within the animal kingdom.

For a start, they’re the world’s only scaled mammals. Sheaths of these scales cover most of the pangolin’s body, and are made of keratin, the same material as hair and fingernails – so to an extent, the pangolin’s ‘armour’ is a pumped-up and fortified fur coat (the scales are also one of the key factors behind its decline – we’ll come to that soon). A flexible body and long tail that in some species can total up to half its body length allow it to curl into a tight ball like a hedgehog when sleeping or threatened (and makes the pine cone resemblance seem even more noticeable), and a sticky tongue longer than its entire body is used to gouge out it’s favourite meal of termites make pangolins a complex and stunning feat of evolution. To see such an animal sings without words the sheer wonders that only nature can come up with.

However, the chance of these incredible animals going extinct within the century is distrurbingly possible. The pangolin shipment discovered on Palawan Island is only one of hundreds of raids in the last ten years – in the last three years alone, its been estimated that between

Around 90 to 180 thousand pangolins have been killed to fill the demand from China and South-East Asia. It has largely been the four Asian species, particularly the Sunda & Chinese pangolins, that have been hit hardest by the trade; but there are now reports of the other four species found in Africa being smuggled out of the country as their oriental cousins become scarcer.

On Saturday 13th April, law officials inspecting a boat that had struck a coral reef in Tubbataha national marine, off Palawan Island in the Philippines, made a gruesome discovery. Within the hold were 400 crates, carrying over 10 tonnes total of illegal cargo. But it wasn’t drugs, weapons or any other smuggled riches one would usually expect to find on such a bust.

It was frozen animal corpses. Corpses of a bizarre wild animal that looks like a dog-sized cross between an anteater and a pine cone, and is in severe decline. And this find of thousands of dead individuals is all part of the reason why: An illegal but highly lucrative trade to the Asian black market.

If this cargo gets through undetected, the meat and scales become all manner of ‘delicacies’ and ‘natural medicines’ to a rising Asian middle class. The meat is seen as a luxurious meal with dubious health benefits – a common undoubtedly gruesome dish in circulation is pangolin foetus soup. Anything else, such as the blood and scales, is reduced to medicines for a wide range of ailments. It’s all based on superstition and with no evidence it works, let’s not forget that rhino horn are thought to cure cancer, tiger penis is a supposedly a strong aphrodisiac and elephant ivory is a highly prized possession.

Those three examples of illegal animal-based trades are all well known, the victims are large charismatic creatures one recognises from childhood, and subsequently they are more frequently reported in the press and awareness is greater. But if you asked the average person on the street what they knew of pangolins, they’re more likely to look at you strangely or think you’re quoting some bizarre passage of Lewis Carroll. And therein lies the problem – people just don’t know what pangolins are, let alone what threats they face.

A loss of pangolins from this world would be a tragedy beyond all accounts. For 70 million years these animals have lived and prospered virtually unchanged, so perfect in their biology, and completely unlike any other animal. Yet all of that can be brushed away in a heartbeat. If the pangolin still stays in the dark within the public consciousness, then this unacceptable fate seems inevitable. If this reasoning is not enough for some ignorant people in the world, who wouldn’t give a damn if it went extinct – of which there are sadly many – then you have to consider the after-effects the extinction of an essential piece of the ecological puzzle would have.

Eco-systems containing ant or termite colonies as part of their make-up all have a species that fills the niche of controlling these numerous insects (which always seems to have a long, sticky tongue for probing their nests, regardless of whether one ant-controller is related to the other). In the UK, our modest ant-hills serve as restaurants to the green woodpecker, whilst the gargantuan termite mounds of the South American savannahs fall into the stomach of the equally impressive giant anteater. Pangolins fill this niche wherever there be termite mounds in Africa and Asia, but what happenes when there aren’t any left to control the numbers of ants and termites? What’s going to happen when they eat through the crops of subsistence farmers, leaving their families starving, their income smaller, and the growing food shortage getting even larger, affecting both the farming countries themselves and the Western markets they export to?

So what can be done?

Protecting habitat and poacher patrols is one, but as the elephant and rhino crises show, when big money is involved the criminals will just keep coming back – and anyway, the attentions of reserve security are generally more focused on the more noticeable megafauna than some small, nocturnal mammal very difficult to see. The insurance net of a captive population is out – the pangolin’s complex diet makes it difficult to maintain in captivity, and only a few zoos are just managing to get to grips with keeping them alive, let alone breeding. So it seems awareness really is the key, for if the public want it protected, then action in the low-budget and bureaucratic world of conservation is more likely to occur.

Thankfully, the word is starting to get out. In October 2011, Project Pangolin was set up to raise awareness of their plight largely through social media, and a year later the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) set up the Pangolin Specialist Group, in order to collaborate researchers and conservationists in developing techniques of conserving pangolins and directly combatting the illegal trade.

It’s still early days for these groups, but pangolins can’t afford to wait for help. The next ‘World Pangolin Day’, as set up by Project Pangolin, is on the 15th February 2014. So let’s push for pangolins to be up there with elephants and rhinos, tigers and whales and orangutans.

In the ‘charismatic megafauna’ that are going extinct because of us, yet won’t survive without our help, by that day.

If you didn’t know what a pangolin was before reading this, I can only hope you go and spread the word of the pangolin’s plight to as many people as you can.

Because that’s the only card the pangolins have got.

Adapted from Peter Coopers words.


Sex book 2.0 (3D)


kama-sutra

So you’ve probably seen in various news reports dotted about the interweb, that the original 2,000-year-old sex manual, the Kama Sutra, has been sexed up for the digital age with an application  that allows couples to study its saucy poses in 3D.

The ancient Hindu text’s illustrations have been transformed into holograms that pop up on smartphones or tablets, thus allowing users to look at the guide’s image from a 360 degree angle, giving them a much better view of the positions.

The application called ‘Kama Xcitra’ aims to help lovers master poses set out in the original book and ensure they are brought ‘closer to the action than ever before’.

Possibly best viewed in private rather than on the bus or train, the free application offers to take users through 69 sexual positions.

It also comes with a new version of the text, which was originally written in Sanskrit in the 2nd century. And if users wish, they can customise the appearance of the holograms by changing their hair and skin colour, as well as adding a music soundtrack – a pocket porn guide – if you will.

The Kama Sutra is based on Hindu philosophies and believed to have been written between 400 BCE and 200 CE.

It was first translated into English in 1883 under the guidance of the Victorian explorer Richard Burton.

Vatsyayana’s Kama Sutra has 1250 verses, distributed in 36 chapters, which are further organized into 7 parts. According to both the Burton and Doniger translations, the contents of the book are structured into 7 parts like the following:

General remarks

There are five chapters on contents of the book, three aims and priorities of life, the acquisition of knowledge, conduct of the well-bred townsman, reflections on intermediaries who assist the lover in his enterprises.

Amorous advances/Sexual union

Ten chapters on stimulation of desire, types of embraces, caressing and kisses, marking with nails, biting and marking with teeth, on copulation (positions), slapping by hand and corresponding moaning, virile behavior in women, superior coition and oral sex, preludes and conclusions to the game of love. It describes 64 types of sexual acts.  Although Kama Sutra did not originally have illustrative images, part 2 of the work describes different sex positions.

Acquiring a wife

Five chapters on forms of marriage, relaxing the girl, obtaining the girl, managing alone, union by marriage.

Duties and privileges of the wife

Two chapters on conduct of the only wife and conduct of the chief wife and other wives.

Other men’s wives

Six chapters on behavior of woman and man, how to get acquainted, examination of sentiments, the task of go-between, the king’s pleasures, behavior in the women’s quarters.

About courtesans

Six chapters on advice of the assistants on the choice of lovers, looking for a steady lover, ways of making money, renewing friendship with a former lover, occasional profits, profits and losses.

Occult practices

Two chapters on improving physical attractions, arousing a weakened sexual power.


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Why a rat is of importantance


The African naked mole rat might have the answer to why we live as long as we do.

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When you’re 18-25, you’re indestructible. Nothing matters and life is good, if you’re a student and at university things like your demise from cancer, heart disease or diabetes (all of which have an inherited component) seems immeasurably distant.

For the past century or so, life expectancy has been going up at the almost unimaginable rate of six hours a day, every day. Something is keeping us alive, and we do not know what it is.

But one of the smaller mammals is beginning to hint at what it takes to make a century. The African naked mole rat, whose name describes its charming appearance, has a pair of fearsome front teeth. It lives in burrows in which one aggressive female prevents all the others from mating and forces them to look after her own offspring. The animal is about the same size as a mouse, but it lives eight times as long, with plenty getting to 30 or so.

Once we are past our own teenage years, we begin to age quicker. The average chance of death in a particular period doubles every eight years. The figures are more favourable in the prime of life and are at their best at the age of 10. If that schoolboy rate of mortality were to persist throughout life, most children born in 2000 would survive until the year 3300, which gives an uncomfortable insight into the power of bodily decay.

The mole rat does much better, for it stays young, healthy and fully fertile for almost all its days (which for an elderly animal is equivalent to an 80-year-old woman having the biological make-up of someone 50 years younger). And its longevity hints at some of the fundamental causes of ageing.

There are plenty of ideas around. One is that we poison ourselves with the by-products of our own metabolism; it has often been suggested that a restricted diet will help, or eating vitamins, fruit or vegetables, but the effects for people of normal weight are marginal at best.

Now, it seems that poisons from outside are more important: that fate depends not on how much you eat, but what it is. In the mole rat’s subterranean home, the only food and water comes from the roots and bulbs of plants growing above. Most plants are packed with all kinds of poisons – snowdrops, daffodils, and crocuses have bulbs that cause vomiting and worse, while garlic depends for its flavour on the same kind of stuff – and those in the African desert are even more noxious. So the mole rat has evolved defences that allow it to cope: its cells are so tough that they can deal with huge doses of lead, cadmium and other poisons and cope well with heat and starvation. Cells from other long-lived creatures (ourselves included) are also resistant to such stresses, hinting that an ability to deal with external challenges may be the source of longevity itself.

It seems the secret of long life is to have an embittered one.