Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Taking Isles back from alien plants

Photo by: Jan Tenbruggencate
Source: Honolulu Advertiser, August 10th, 2006

LIHU'E, Kaua'i — Conservation organizations statewide are fighting to slow an invasion of alien plants that are spreading from home and commercial landscapes into the Hawaiian native forest.
A notable invader, the Australian tree fern, is favored for its fast growth, dense canopy and tolerance of a range of growing conditions. But its tiny spores readily spread on the winds and are supplanting native species in forests around the state.

Although many of the state's nurseries have agreed to halt sales, it's still available at a number of major retailers.

"You can still find it in lots of the larger stores. It's about the dollar," said Joylynn Paman, spokeswoman for the Maui Invasive Species Committee, who said landscapers on her island are working on a program to stop using the worst invasive plants.If some outlets continue to sell the invasive species, it reduces the effectiveness of the entire program, said Jacqueline Kozak, of the Kaua'i Invasive Species Committee.

"It's unfair to the smaller nurseries that are taking an economic hit and ecologically ineffective," Kozak said. "It needs to be an across-the-board commitment."Some stores are still learning about the issue. Among the big-box stores still selling some invasive species are Wal-Mart and Home Depot. But both, in response to calls from The Advertiser, said they had been unaware of the issue and are reviewing their plant sales programs."Being good stewards of the environment is very important to Wal-Mart and our associates. Because of that we are reviewing the plants we currently offer our customers in Hawai'i and will provide an update to the communities we serve in the near future," said Wal-Mart spokeswoman Karen Burk.

Home Depot spokeswoman Kathryn Gallagher said the issue is new to the company, but "we're going to work with the appropriate agencies, and we'll tailor our business to meet the needs of the location."YOU CAN SEE EFFECTS

The impact of the aggressive alien species is clear in Hawai'i's forests, said Kaua'i craft maker Linda Hunt, of Wailua Homesteads.

"When we go up into the forest to pick maile and mokihana, there's a lot of invasive plants. People go up to pull them out and herbicide them, but there's not enough volunteers to make a dent," Hunt said.The Kaua'i Landscaping Industry Council in June joined the O'ahu Nursery Growers Association in signing on to a program of the Missouri Botanical Garden and The Nature Conservancy — a code of conduct to help prevent the spread of invasive species. In the code, growers agree to work with experts to identify potentially invasive plants, develop alternatives to the use of those plants, phase out the sale of the invasive species, and encourage their customers not to use them.

Richard Beach, operator of Alexander's Nursery on Kaua'i, is not a member of industry groups, but completely supports the goal."We've destroyed all our own Australian tree ferns, and we're now destroying them in our clients' places," Beach said. "It is one of the most scurrilous invasive species. When you see a road cut left bare, they appear. I've found them coming up in clients' yards."

His argument to customers who mention using invasive plants in landscaping is simple."There is a serious movement to preserve what we can of Hawai'i's forests. The tradeoff is that you help play a part in preserving the 'Hawaiianness' of Hawai'i."

The Kaua'i Landscaping Industry Council has agreed to stop the sale of a dozen plants: Australian tree fern, rubbervine, smokebush, butterfly bush, pampas grass, hiptage, fountain grass, glorybush, fiddlewood, kahili ginger, common St. John's wort and Indian rhododendron. Earlier, O'ahu nurseries agreed to stop selling 10 species, many of them the same as the Kaua'i ones.PROBLEMS EVERYWHERE

Different weedy species are bigger problems in specific environments. The Nature Conservancy conducted aerial surveys of the Kaua'i forests, and "I've never seen a weed species that can spread as far and multiply and grow as fast as an Australian tree fern here on Kaua'i," said the conservancy's Trae Menard in a prepared statement.

Kaua'i Nursery owner Lelan Nishek, president of the Kaua'i council and vice president of the Landscaping Industry Council for Hawai'i, said he destroyed $8,000 worth of Australian tree ferns and has launched an extensive program to propagate the native hapu'u tree fern instead."I even cut down the Australian tree ferns in my own yard" after seeing how invasive they were in the natural environment, he said.

Christy Martin, director of the Coordinating Group on Alien Pest Species, said pampas grass is a particular problem on Maui, after it became a popular landscaping plant in Kula.

"We're finding it in Haleakala Crater — even in the back of the crater where nobody goes," she said.In southeast Moloka'i, the rubbervine is spreading. Fountaingrass forms clumps across much of the Big Island's lava fields, Martin said.

Miconia and ivy gourd continue to be severe pest problems in many parts of the state, but they're not listed among the nursery problem plants because almost all nurseries now understand their risk and won't market them, she said.WORKING ON EDUCATION

Landscape professionals can learn about the invasive potential of new plants they're considering with a program called the Weed Risk Assessment. For many known plants in Hawai'i, the assessments have already been done.

"If you bring things in from other parts of the world, please get them screened before you plant them and sell them," Martin said she tells people who import new plants.

Her group and the invasive species committees in the four counties are working to expand industry and public knowledge about the threats of invasive plants.

"If there are people working hard in the upper forests to stop invasive species, it is important for the community to see that the nurseries aren't selling the very same species down below," Kozak said. "It shows that we are all working together."

Crafter Hunt said that many people insist on showy non-Hawaiian foliage because they don't recognize the value of native plants.

"There's so many invasive plants, and people keep bringing them in. They don't see the natural beauty of our plants, our ferns," Hunt said.

Other Resources:

Codes of Conduct to control invasives:

Hawai'i Weed Risk Assessment:

Hawai'i Ecosystems at Risk:

Landscape Industry Council of Hawai'i:

Jumping the Fence Line

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Whys of Mating: 237 Reasons and Counting

Photo by: Polly Becker
Source: New York Times, July 31, 2007

Scholars in antiquity began counting the ways that humans have sex, but they weren’t so diligent in cataloging the reasons humans wanted to get into all those positions. Darwin and his successors offered a few explanations of mating strategies — to find better genes, to gain status and resources — but they neglected to produce a Kama Sutra of sexual motivations.

Perhaps you didn’t lament this omission. Perhaps you thought that the motivations for sex were pretty obvious. Or maybe you never really wanted to know what was going on inside other people’s minds, in which case you should stop reading immediately.

For now, thanks to psychologists at the University of Texas at Austin, we can at last count the whys. After asking nearly 2,000 people why they’d had sex, the researchers have assembled and categorized a total of 237 reasons — everything from “I wanted to feel closer to God” to “I was drunk.” They even found a few people who claimed to have been motivated by the desire to have a child.

The researchers, Cindy M. Meston and David M. Buss, believe their list, published in the August issue of Archives of Sexual Behavior, is the most thorough taxonomy of sexual motivation ever compiled. This seems entirely plausible.

Who knew, for instance, that a headache had any erotic significance except as an excuse for saying no? But some respondents of both sexes explained that they’d had sex “to get rid of a headache.” It’s No. 173 on the list.

Others said they did it to “help me fall asleep,” “make my partner feel powerful,” “burn calories,” “return a favor,” “keep warm,” “hurt an enemy” or “change the topic of conversation.” The lamest may have been, “It seemed like good exercise,” although there is also this: “Someone dared me.”

Dr. Buss has studied mating strategies around the world — he’s the oft-cited author of “The Evolution of Desire” and other books — but even he did not expect to find such varied and Machiavellian reasons for sex. “I was truly astonished,” he said, “by this richness of sexual psychology.”

The researchers collected the data by first asking more than 400 people to list their reasons for having sex, and then asking more than 1,500 others to rate how important each reason was to them. Although it was a fairly homogenous sample of students at the University of Texas, nearly every one of the 237 reasons was rated by at least some people as their most important motive for having sex.

The best news is that both men and women ranked the same reason most often: “I was attracted to the person.”

The rest of the top 10 for each gender were also almost all the same, including “I wanted to express my love for the person,” “I was sexually aroused and wanted the release” and “It’s fun.”

No matter what the reason, men were more likely to cite it than women, with a couple of notable exceptions. Women were more likely to say they had sex because, “I wanted to express my love for the person” and “I realized I was in love.” This jibes with conventional wisdom about women emphasizing the emotional aspects of sex, although it might also reflect the female respondents’ reluctance to admit to less lofty motives.

The results contradicted another stereotype about women: their supposed tendency to use sex to gain status or resources.

“Our findings suggest that men do these things more than women,” Dr. Buss said, alluding to the respondents who said they’d had sex to get things, like a promotion, a raise or a favor. Men were much more likely than women to say they’d had sex to “boost my social status” or because the partner was famous or “usually ‘out of my league.’ ”

Dr. Buss said, “Although I knew that having sex has consequences for reputation, it surprised me that people, notably men, would be motivated to have sex solely for social status and reputation enhancement.”

But then, men were also more likely than women to say they’d had sex because “I was slumming.” Or simply because “the opportunity presented itself,” or “the person demanded that I have sex.”

If nothing else, the results seem to be a robust confirmation of the hypothesis in the old joke: How can a woman get a man to take off his clothes? Ask him.

To make sense of the 237 reasons, Dr. Buss and Dr. Meston created a taxonomy with four general categories:

¶Physical: “The person had beautiful eyes” or “a desirable body,” or “was good kisser” or “too physically attractive to resist.” Or “I wanted to achieve an orgasm.”

¶Goal Attainment: “I wanted to even the score with a cheating partner” or “break up a rival’s relationship” or “make money” or “be popular.” Or “because of a bet.”

¶Emotional: “I wanted to communicate at a deeper level” or “lift my partner’s spirits” or “say ‘Thank you.’ ” Or just because “the person was intelligent.”

¶Insecurity: “I felt like it was my duty” or “I wanted to boost my self-esteem” or “It was the only way my partner would spend time with me.”

Having sex out of a sense of duty, Dr. Buss said, showed up in a separate study as being especially frequent among older women. But both sexes seem to practice a strategy that he calls mate-guarding, as illustrated in one of the reasons given by survey respondents: “I was afraid my partner would have an affair if I didn’t.”

That fear seems especially reasonable after you finish reading Dr. Buss’s paper and realize just how many reasons there are for infidelity. Some critics might complain that the list has some repetitions — it includes “I was curious about sex” as well as “I wanted to see what all the fuss was about” — but I’m more concerned about the reasons yet to be enumerated.

For instance, nowhere among the 237 reasons will you find the one attributed to the actress Joan Crawford: “I need sex for a clear complexion.” (The closest is “I thought it would make me feel healthy.”)Nor will you find anything about gathering rosebuds while ye may (the 17th-century exhortation to young virgins from Robert Herrick). Nor the similar hurry-before-we-die rationale (“The grave’s a fine and private place/ But none I think do there embrace”) from Andrew Marvell in “To His Coy Mistress.”

From even a cursory survey of literature or the modern mass market in sex fantasies, it seems clear that this new taxonomy may not be any more complete than the original periodic table of the elements.

When I mentioned Ms. Crawford’s complexion and the poets’ rationales to Dr. Buss, he promised to consider them and all other candidates for Reason 238.

You can nominate your own reasons at TierneyLab. You can also submit nominations for a brand new taxonomy: reasons for just saying “No way!” Somehow, though, I don’t think this list will be as long.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Spread of Obesity in a Large Social Network over 32 Years

Photo by: Lars Klove for The New York Times
Source: New England Journal of Medicine Vol. 357:370-379 July 2007
Author: Nicholas A. Christakis, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H., and James H. Fowler, Ph.D.

Original Publication:

Consumer Article:

Background The prevalence of obesity has increased substantially over the past 30 years. We performed a quantitative analysis of the nature and extent of the person-to-person spread of obesity as a possible factor contributing to the obesity epidemic.

Methods We evaluated a densely interconnected social network of 12,067 people assessed repeatedly from 1971 to 2003 as part of the Framingham Heart Study. The body-mass index was available for all subjects. We used longitudinal statistical models to examine whether weight gain in one person was associated with weight gain in his or her friends, siblings, spouse, and neighbors.

Results Discernible clusters of obese persons (body-mass index [the weight in kilograms divided by the square of the height in meters], ≥30) were present in the network at all time points, and the clusters extended to three degrees of separation. These clusters did not appear to be solely attributable to the selective formation of social ties among obese persons. A person's chances of becoming obese increased by 57% (95% confidence interval [CI], 6 to 123) if he or she had a friend who became obese in a given interval. Among pairs of adult siblings, if one sibling became obese, the chance that the other would become obese increased by 40% (95% CI, 21 to 60). If one spouse became obese, the likelihood that the other spouse would become obese increased by 37% (95% CI, 7 to 73). These effects were not seen among neighbors in the immediate geographic location. Persons of the same sex had relatively greater influence on each other than those of the opposite sex. The spread of smoking cessation did not account for the spread of obesity in the network.

Conclusions Network phenomena appear to be relevant to the biologic and behavioral trait of obesity, and obesity appears to spread through social ties. These findings have implications for clinical and public health interventions.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Mâconnais: A reasonably priced wine of quality

Photo by: Lars Klove for The New York Times
Source: International Herald Tribune, July 25, 2007
Author: Eric Asimov

NEW YORK: Price-conscious consumers are understandably a little shy of the 2005 Burgundy vintage. Praise has been nearly unanimous, and prices have shot skyward.

While most attention has been on the reds, the whites are great, too. Still, not everybody will cheerfully drop $50 on a village-level Meursault, much less $150 for a good Corton-Charlemagne.

As ever, the Mâconnais region rides to the rescue. For decades, the Mâconnais, south of the Côte d'Or but part of Burgundy, has overflowed with inexpensive whites. The best were tangy, refreshing and satisfying. The problem was that few achieved even this modest level.

But for the last decade or two, Mâconnais wines have been improving significantly. Dynamic young producers who couldn't afford more desirable vineyard sites in Burgundy flocked to the Mâconnais, where they saw untapped potential at a reasonable price. Instead of viewing grapes as a cash crop to be transformed into wine at the local cooperative, they approach grape growing as seriously as the best Burgundian vignerons.

Even some of the most renowned Burgundy producers, like Comtes Lafon of Meursault and Anne-Claude Leflaive of Domaine Leflaive, unable to expand in the Côte d'Or, bought land in the Mâconnais. They recognized that the region was full of distinctive terroirs with much to offer.

Change has been slow, but progress has been steady. So the panel decided to taste 25 bottles of 2005 Mâconnais to see how the wines fared in this excellent year and whether the Mâconnais was still a bargain hunter's paradise. For the tasting, Florence Fabricant and I were joined by Byron Bates, general manager of Bette in Chelsea; and the wine writer Natalie MacLean, proprietor of the Web site Nat Decants.

Like almost all white Burgundies, Mâconnais wines are made from chardonnay grapes. Yet their contrast with California chardonnays is extraordinary, and they serve as a delicious introduction to what makes white Burgundies distinct.

Unlike chardonnays made almost anywhere else, in which ripe fruit flavors dominate, the best white Burgundies exude minerality and a vibrant texture, with underlying fruit and floral aromas. These differences can make people more attuned to the big fruit flavors wonder whether something is missing in the more subtle Burgundies. It can require a recalibration of the pleasure center.

We found a lot to like about these wines, both in the glass and in their relatively light demand on the wallet. Because of the size of the Mâconnais, we restricted our tasting to the Mâcon appellations, excluding others that are parts of the larger Mâconnais, like Pouilly-Fuissé and Saint-Veran. Given the quality of the Mâcon wines, it would be fair to say that the Pouilly-Fuissés and Saint-Verans would be even better, though they generally cost more, too.

The Mâconnais can be confusing in a different way than the Côte d'Or. There the village and vineyard names suggest a hierarchy. The Mâconnais is more chaotic. Though wines labeled simply Mâcon are thought to be insipid, two plain Mâcons made our top 10. If the grapes come from any of 40 or so villages, the wine can be called Mâcon-Villages; if the grapes all come from one of those villages, the name of that village can be appended to Mâcon, as in Mâcon Igé. But the sort of taxonomic arrangement of Côte d'Or villages and vineyards has not yet taken place in Mâconnais.

I tended to be more impressed than my colleagues. They liked them, but only to a point. MacLean liked their lemon zestiness and what she called their sunny happiness. Bates was impressed by the minerality and the purity of several of the wines, but on the whole said they were to drink, not to ponder.

While these are not on the level of the Côte de Beaune, I think the ratio of quality to price counts. Is there a better $10 chardonnay than our No. 1, the Mâcon Igé Château London from Domaine Fichet? This lively, exotic wine was floral and succulent.

Our No. 2, a Mâcon-Villages from Trenel, was more of a classic white Burgundy, with good minerality and a nutlike flavor of barrel aging.

The Bret Brothers, Jean-Guillaume and Jean-Philippe, of Domaine de la Soufrandière, make excellent wines, primarily from Pouilly-Vinzelles. Their négociant operation offers some fine Mâcon wines, including our No. 3, Mâcon-Villages Cuvée Terroir du Mâconnais.

The least expensive wines we tasted were $9, and two made the top 10. The first, the Mâcon-Lugny Les Charmes from Cave de Lugny, is tangy with an almost yeasty freshness; it was what the best Mâconnais wines were like before producers got more ambitious. It's still delicious. The Labouré-Roi Mâcon-Villages St. Armand was unusual for its pronounced pear and apple flavors.

It is fashionable to extol smaller estates over larger operations, and we certainly had praise for the little guys. The Mâcon-Charnay Franclieu from Jean Manciat had delicious mineral and citrus flavors, while the Mâcon from Domaine Sainte-Barbe had anise and mineral flavors along with an attractive smoky quality. But some big negociants are reliable. The Mâcon-Villages from Joseph Drouhin was pure and delicious with great texture.

We only scratched the surface of the Mâconnais. Clearly, Mâconnais is a region in transition. The best wines show greater distinction and personality, and this is apparent in many of the 2005s. Yet they are still good values. Luckily, this has not changed.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Just a Bike Race, You Say? Think Again

Photo by: Oliver Weiken/European Pressphoto Agency
Source: New York Times, July 22, 2007

How hard is the Tour de France?

Ask Andy Hampsten, who rode the tour eight times and finished fourth twice. He says it was the hardest thing he ever did as a cyclist, so hard that it is difficult for him to convey the stress and utter bone-tiredness that sets in during the three weeks of competition. At night, the cyclists could barely move.

“It hurt to walk, it hurt to lie in bed and do nothing,” Mr. Hampsten said. “When we were not racing, we were sitting down or lying down if we could. It’s funny to see these 20- and 30-year-old superathletes never standing up. Even when we would sit on the edge of a bed, we would slump down to a horizontal position as quickly as possible.”

This year’s tour, which began on July 7, will cover 2,205 miles over 23 days, including six days in the Alps and Pyrenees, before ending next Sunday in Paris. Only two days are set aside for rest.

Today, the race enters perhaps its toughest week, beginning with a 122-mile stage through the Pyrenees that includes two extremely steep climbs — a 10.5-mile ascent with an average gradient of 7.2 percent, and another 10-mile climb with an average incline of 7.9 percent.

Then the riders still in the race — 21 of the original 189 had dropped out as of Friday — will spend two more days climbing the steep slopes of the Pyrenees, ride three relatively flat stages and compete in a 34-mile individual time-trial.

Compare that with, say, running a marathon at an average pace of less than five minutes a mile. Elite runners have their own war stories and their races sound impossibly hard, too.

Hendrick Ramaala of South Africa, winner of New York City Marathon in 2004, spoke last year to about what it takes to win.

“The thing with the marathon is the distance,” he said. “It’s a long, long distance. I’ve learned about the marathon the hard way. I’ve experienced its pain. When the going gets hard, you still have to run hard. You have to give it everything. It took me a while to learn the pain of the marathon.”

Marathon running is so hard that elite runners often recuperate by taking two or three weeks off after a race with no running at all. And they only race in marathons twice a year.

Tour riders, by contrast, typically are racing again a month after the Tour and race as many as 100 times a year.

But the question of which is harder — the Tour or a marathon — depends, scientists say, on what you mean by hard.

“Running is less of a test of pure cardiovascular strength and muscle strength,” says Robert Wolfe, a physiologist at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. “Other factors come into play. In particular, the physical pounding of the legs on the road brings a kind of fatigue and muscle damage that lasts and persists.”

For pure energy expenditure, it is hard to match the Tour de France, whose riders consume as much as 8,000 to 9,000 calories a day.

By studying four racers as they rode in the 1985 Tour, Klaas Westerterp of Maastricht University in the Netherlands concluded that their metabolic rates increased 4.3- to 5.3-fold. That sort of increase in metabolic rate, he added, is what birds reach when they fly and is thought to be a physiological limit.

David Gordon Wilson, an emeritus professor of mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and author of “Bicycling Science” (MIT Press, 2004), calculated that Tour riders generate 400 watts of power when they are riding up mountains or trying to break away from the pack. An average person riding a bicycle and working as hard as possible puts out 150 to 200 watts, he said.

There are no comparable wattage values for runners, Dr. Wilson said, because the two sports are so different. Cyclists use nearly all their energy to propel themselves forward. Runners, he said, “spend a lot of energy bouncing up and down.”

In any event, Dr. Wilson said, no ordinary human being could even dream of matching these top athletes.

“The difference between people who think they’re good athletes and really good athletes is fantastic,” he said.

Edward Coyle, director of the Human Performance Laboratory at the University of Texas at Austin, offered another perspective on the comparison between elite cyclists and elite runners.

“In the end, performance is where you give it your all and you are suffering as much as you can,” he said. “From the suffering point of view, cycling and running are about the same.”

Saturday, July 21, 2007

A Simple Show of Hands

United front Once the first step toward intimacy, holding hands is more likely now a sign of commitment.

Photo by: Vladimir Milivojevic
Source: New York Times, October 5th, 2006

ON a brisk autumn afternoon, in the shadow of the marble arch in Washington Square Park, a couple visiting from Ohio walked along holding hands like two teenagers going steady, decades after “going steady” went out of vogue.

When a stranger asked why they had chosen to join hands during their stroll, the man, Dave Findlay, looked at his wife of seven years and answered in a word: “Connection.”

Or as the Beatles sang back in 1963: “When I’ll feel that something, I want to hold your hand.”

Those simple lyrics turned an expression of teenage longing and first romantic steps into a No. 1 hit. Yet today, when Justin Timberlake is at the top of the charts with “SexyBack” and the digital airwaves are filled with steamy lyrical declarations (“I’m into havin’ sex, I ain’t into makin’ love” sang 50 Cent in “In da Club”), couples like Dave and Carey Findlay still intertwine fingers, kiss palms and link pinkies as they meander through parks, cross streets and snake through crowds.

“Hand-holding is the one aspect that’s not been affected by the sexual revolution,” said Dalton Conley, a professor and chairman of the department of sociology at New York University. “It’s less about sex than about a public demonstration about coupledom.”

Nowadays hand-holding has attracted the interest of scientists who are studying its effects on the body and mind. And sexual health educators say it is a much-discussed topic among gay students who now publicly hold hands more than ever before but still must consider whether they want to declare their sexuality.

“I think it remains more important in an era of perhaps more liberal sexual norms,” Dr. Conley said. “It remains this thing to be doled out.”

To hold someone’s hand is to offer them affection, protection or comfort. It is a way to communicate that you are off the market. Practically speaking, it is an efficient way to squeeze through a crowd without losing your partner. People do it during vigils, marches, weddings and funerals.

Usually it connotes something innocuous and sweet about a couple and their relationship. In rare instances, it takes on added potency, such as when President George W. Bush held the hand of Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia in Crawford, Tex., last year — an act of respect and affection in Arab countries — reminding some people of the film “Fahrenheit 9/11,” which depicted the Bush family’s close business ties to Saudi leaders and which ignited conspiracy theories.

But, over all, few things are more innocent than a child grabbing the hand of a parent, for protection, direction and, as Mr. Findlay put it, connection. And with many children these days closer and more outwardly affectionate to their parents, chances are you have spotted a mother and her teenage daughter and perhaps even a father and his adolescent son ambling through a mall, scurrying through a crosswalk or strolling along, hand in hand.

Adult children and their elderly parents also hold hands, for balance, support and as a sign of love.

As for romantic couples, the opinions about hand-holding are as varied as fingerprints. But most people agree that it has merely changed, not lost favor.

“I think that for sure college students hold hands just like the old days,” said Sandra L. Caron, a professor of family relations and human sexuality at the University of Maine in Orono.

If they do, it is likely only after they are deep into a relationship — not in those early days of budding romance, when a touch of hands was the first act of intimacy between a couple. That was the hand-holding that the Beatles wrote about. (Followed swiftly by the sexual revolution, whose equivalent anthem might be The Rolling Stones’ “Let’s Spend the Night Together.”)

Among more than a half-dozen students at the University of Maine, there seemed to be two universal truths: that hand-holding is the least nauseating public display of affection and that holding hands has become more significant than other seemingly deeper expressions of love and romance.

“It is a lot more intimate to hold hands nowadays than to kiss,” said Joel Kershner, 23. Because of that, he said, reaching for someone’s hand these days has more potential for rejection than leaning in for a smooch at a party where alcohol is flowing.

Libby Tyler, 20, said it was “weird that hand-holding is more serious,” but true. “It’s something that you lead up to,” she said.

There is nothing casual about it any more, said Rachel Peters, 22. “Hand-holding is something that usually people do once they’ve confirmed they’re a couple,” she said.

But if that is not complicated enough, where you choose to hold hands also has meaning, the students said.

Drew Fitzherbert, 21, said that public hand-holding “shows that commitment not only to you and your partner but everyone else in the community.”

Dr. Conley of N.Y.U. agreed. “In the dark movie theater, in the dorm room, that’s a very different social act,” he said.

Are people holding hands as much as they once did? That’s impossible to quantify. But Gregory T. Eells, the director of counseling and psychological services at Cornell University in Ithaca, said he didn’t think so.

“I see more people on their cellphone than holding hands,” he said, adding, “To some extent we are trading real face-to-face relationships, where there’s touch and body language, for electronic ones.”

Peter Shawn Bearman, a professor of sociology and the director of the Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy at Columbia University, said that hand-holding in crowded cities like New York may simply be impractical.

“Maybe if the proportion of hand-holders has indeed gone down it has more to do with density (of humans) than the devaluing of hand-holding as a romantic signal,” he wrote in an e-mail message.

Whatever degree of hand-holding may be happening, there are good reasons to cultivate the habit — reasons would-be hand-graspers may wish to pass along to their hands-in-pockets partners.

“Based on what we’ve seen, when we get more physical intimacy we get better relationships, whether a mother and an infant or a couple,” said Tiffany Field, the director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine.

Even monkeys understand the importance of a hand squeeze every now and then. In “Good Natured: The Origins of Right and Wrong in Humans and Other Animals,” Dr. Frans B. M. de Waal, a primatologist at Emory University, wrote that some monkeys hold hands in reconciliation after a fight.

James Coan, an assistant professor of psychology and the neuroscience graduate program at the University of Virginia, has studied the impact of human touch, particularly how it affects the neural response to threatening situations, and said the results of a recent study were more dramatic than he expected.

“We found that holding the hand of really anyone, it made your brain work a little less hard in coping,” Dr. Coan said, adding that any sort of hand-holding relaxes the body.

The study, which will be published this year in the journal Psychological Science, involved 16 couples who were rated happily married based on the answers in a detailed questionnaire. The wives were put inside an M.R.I. machine and were told they were to receive mild electric shocks to an ankle. Brain images showed that regions of the women’s brains that had been activated in anticipation of pain and that were associated with negative emotions decreased when their husbands reached into the machine.

“With spouse hand-holding you also stop looking for other signs of danger and you start feeling more secure,” said Dr. Coan, who led the study. “If you’re in a really strong relationship, you may be protected against pain and stress hormones that may have a damaging effect on your immune system.”

Perhaps it is why so many people crave it.

Blogs and online forums are rife with complaints of those who say their significant other does not want to hold hands. “When we go out, we always have a blast, but the one thing that bothers me is that he never holds my hand in public,” writes a woman on a “love advice” forum on

For older couples, letting go of hand-holding may be one more sign that they are pressed for time and too swamped for little acts of intimacy.

“When do we make time to hold hands?,” said Dr. Eells of Cornell, talking about his own marriage of 15 years. “Not very often.”

The couple is often busy shuttling children to and from school and extracurricular activities, not strolling through parks like characters in a Georges Seurat painting.

Sometimes, though, even errands provide opportunities. Recently, Dr. Eells said, he and his 9-year-old daughter were caught in a downpour after her cheerleading practice. The two grabbed hands and raced off into the rain together. When they finally splashed over to the car, the damp girl turned her face to her father. “That was awesome,” she sighed.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Why are there so many single Americans?

Art by: Ron Barrett
Source: International Herald Tribune, January 21st, 2007
Author: Kate Zernike

The news that 51 percent of all women live without a spouse might be enough to make you invest in cat futures.

But consider, too, the flip side: about half of all men find themselves in the same situation. As the number of people marrying has dropped off in the last 45 years, the marriage rate has declined equally for men and for women.

The stereotype has been cemented in the popular culture: the hard-charging career girl who gets her comeuppance, either violently or dying a slow death by late-night memo and Chinese takeout. Think Glenn Close in "Fatal Attraction" and Sigourney Weaver in "Working Girl," two enduring icons. In last year's model, Meryl Streep in "The Devil Wears Prada" ends up single, if still singularly successful.

But when it comes to marriage, the two Americas aren't divided by gender. And it's not the career girls on the losing end. It's their less educated manicurists or housekeepers, women who might arguably be less able to live on their own.

The emerging gulf is instead one of class — what demographers, sociologists and those who study the often depressing statistics about the wedded state call a "marriage gap" between the well-off and the less so.
Statistics show that college educated women are more likely to marry than non-college educated women — although they marry, on average, two years later. The popular image might have been true even 20 years ago — though generally speaking, most women probably didn't boil the bunny rabbit the way Close's character did in 1987. In the past, less educated women often "married up." In "Working Girl," Melanie Griffith triumphs. Now, marriage has become more one of equals; when more highly educated men marry, it tends to be more highly educated women. Today, Harrison Ford and Sigourney Weaver would live happily ever after.

Women with more education also are becoming less likely to divorce, or inclined to divorce, than those with less education. They are even less likely to be widowed all in all, less likely to end up alone.

"Educated women used to have a difficult time," said David Popenoe, co-director of the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University. "Now they're the most desired." In Princeton, where he lives, men used to marry "way down the line," Popenoe said. No more.

The difference extends across race lines: black women are significantly less likely to marry than white women, but among blacks, women with a college education are more likely to marry than those who do not.

Among women ages 25-34, 59 percent of college graduates are married, compared with 51 percent of non-college graduates, according to an analysis of the Census Bureau's June 2006 Current Population Survey by Steven Martin, a sociologist at the University of Maryland. The same is true at older age groups: the difference is 75 percent to 62 percent for those ages 35-44, and 50 percent to 41 percent among those 65 and older.

The difference is smaller between men and women. According to the census, 55 percent of men are married, down from 69.3 percent in 1960, and 51.5 percent of women are, down from 65.9 percent in 1960.

The number of women living without a spouse is greater largely because women live longer, leaving them more likely to be widowed. Older men are also more likely to remarry. To control for these variables, consider 35-44 year olds. In 2005, according to the census, 66.2 percent of men in this age group were married, down from 88 percent in 1960; 67.2 percent of women were married, down from 87.4 percent.

The marriage gap exists for men, too. But particularly at younger ages, it is not nearly as wide as it is among women.

Commitment-averse men in their 20's and 30's, it turns out, look the same whether or not they have a college degree. In surveys and focus groups, they fit depressingly well into the old stereotypes: they fear marriage means a loss of liberty; they worry a wife will want to change them. They don't trust women to tell the truth about past relationships, or they are waiting for the soul mate who hasn't appeared. With the rising frequency of cohabitation, they can get sex without marriage, and they might lose their hard-earned money in a divorce, so what's the rush?

As a Marriage Project report concluded, with no biological or sociological clock ticking, "boys can remain boys indefinitely."

But that gap widens among older men. Among men ages 25 to 34, 50 percent of college graduates are married, compared to 47 percent of those who did not graduate from college. In older age brackets, there is a difference of 12 percentage points.
The class gap happens in large part because, as Christopher Jencks, a professor of social policy at Harvard, said, "like marries like."

"If you wanted to predict the characteristics of who I would marry," he said, "knowing my education, the strongest correlation you could observe is that someone who is educated is more likely to marry someone who is educated, and someone who is not educated is more likely to marry someone who is not educated."

Why have things changed so much for women who don't have the choices that educated women have? While marriage used to be something you did before launching a life or career, now it is seen as something you do after you're financially stable — when you can buy a house, say. The same is true for all classes. But the less educated may not get there.

"Women are saying, 'I'm not ready, I want to work for a while, the guys I hang around with don't make enough money and they don't want a commitment,' " Jencks said. "It's the same thing a lot of African-American women in poor neighborhoods are saying. But there's the difference that they're having children."

Women of all education levels figure their earning power will flatten out after they have children, he said. "The longer you wait, the higher the level it flattens out at," he said. "That's a good argument to wait. For the less educated, there isn't a steep increase in salary, so there's less incentive to wait."

Maybe in the past, a man with little education nevertheless had a good-paying manufacturing job, with a health care and pension plan. He was a catch and represented stability.

Today, it may be hyperbolic to talk about the emasculation of the blue-collar man. But it is not only liberals concerned with the wealth gap who are watching these national trends with alarm. Social and religious conservatives have called on society to do more to address economic strains faced by this class.

"Marriage is more difficult today than it was in the past," Popenoe said. "The people who excel in one area probably excel in that area, too. And people who are high school dropouts probably have a higher propensity to drop out of marriage."

The last 30 years have seen a huge shift in educated women's attitudes about divorce. Martin, who has written about women and divorce, said that three decades ago, about 30 percent of women who had graduated from college said it should be harder to get a divorce. Now, about 65 percent say so, he said.

But for less educated women and for men, the numbers have not changed; only 40 percent — a minority — say it should be harder to get a divorce.

"The way we used to look at marriage was that if women were highly educated, they had higher earning power, they were more culturally liberal and people might have predicted less marriage among them," Martin said. "What's becoming more powerful is the idea that economic resources are conducive to stable marriages. Women who have more money or the potential for more money are married to men who have more stable income."

All this leads to a happiness gap, too. According to the Marriage Project, the percentage of spouses who rate their marriage as "very happy" has dropped among those without a college education, while it has risen or held steady among those better educated.

The better educated husbands and wives tend to share intellectual interests and economic backgrounds, as well as ideas about the division of household roles. They also have more earning power. And as in so many other things, in marriage, money helps ease the way.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

University Fires Officials for Concealing Killing

Photo by: Paul Sancya/Associated Press
Source: New York Times, July 17, 2007

YPSILANTI, Mich., July 16 — Six months after a female student was raped and killed in her dormitory room, Eastern Michigan University said on Monday that it had fired three administrators, including its president, who are accused of covering up the fact that a crime had been committed.

The president, John A. Fallon III, was ousted exactly two years into his five-year contract. The university’s Board of Regents also dismissed James F. Vick, vice president for student affairs, and Cindy Hall, the public safety director, and reprimanded Kenneth A. McKanders, the general counsel.

The actions follow reports, including one by the federal Department of Education and another commissioned by the university from investigators at a local law firm, that said university officials had violated federal campus crime reporting law by waiting more than two months to tell other students and the public that the student, Laura Dickinson, 22, had been killed on Dec. 12.

University officials had insisted that foul play was not suspected even as the police were investigating several suspects, and only revealed the circumstances of Ms. Dickinson’s death to her family and the campus community after another student was arrested in February.

The arrested student, Orange Taylor III, has been charged with murder and is scheduled to go on trial this fall. He has pleaded not guilty.

The university expects to find out within two months whether it will be fined by the Education Department for the administrators’ actions.

“We are committed to regaining the trust of all E.M.U. stakeholders, and all of the people of the great state of Michigan,” Thomas W. Sidlik, the board’s chairman, told about 200 people crowded in the regents’ meeting room Monday. “This board will not tolerate anyone who sabotages the educational mission of this university by participating in these destructive behavior patterns.”

Mr. Fallon has maintained that he was unaware that the student’s death was being investigated as a crime because his subordinates did not tell him, and that he acted to the best of his ability. He was not singled out for wrongdoing in either of the reports but has been the primary target of outrage expressed by parents and faculty members.

The departures of Mr. Vick and Ms. Hall were agreed upon several weeks ago but not revealed until Monday. The board decided to oust Mr. Fallon during a Sunday meeting by telephone, after learning that he “may have been contemplating additional action that would have further damaged this university,” said James F. Stapleton, a board member who led the university’s efforts to investigate the handling of Ms. Dickinson’s death.

Mr. Stapleton declined to elaborate on his comment, saying that Mr. Fallon would probably make a public statement in the coming days.

Mr. Fallon did not respond to messages left Monday at his university-owned home, which he has 60 days to vacate. The evening before his ouster was announced, he told The Ann Arbor News, “I have a story to tell and intend to tell it.”

Mr. Sidlik said in an interview, “There was a general falling apart of the relationship over the last few days.”

Even before Ms. Dickinson’s death, Mr. Fallon was a controversial figure at the university. Faculty members went on strike for 12 days last fall after he halted contract negotiations. In December, three regents resigned, saying the campus was filled with distrust and open animosity.

Some professors said they were relieved that Mr. Fallon was leaving.

“It’s unfortunate, but it had to happen,” said Joanna Vecchiarelli Scott, a political science professor who said Mr. Fallon headed “a really incompetent presidential administration.”

Board members said that since the killing, the 23,000-student university had taken many steps to improve security, including changing locks on office doors and beginning a complete audit of safety at university facilities.

Robert Dickinson, Ms. Dickinson’s father, said he was pleased to see the university making changes, but he declined to say whether he was satisfied with the board’s actions. Mr. Dickinson said that Mr. Fallon had visited him to apologize but that he had had no other contact with university officials.

“If there’s another university that can benefit from seeing these mistakes and taking care of their own, that would be good,” said Mr. Dickinson, who owns a coffee shop in Hastings, Mich., a small town about 120 miles northwest of the university.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Back from the U.S., and spreading HIV in Mexico

Photo by: Adriana Zehbrauskas
Source: International Herald Tribune, July 16th, 2007
Author: Marc Lacey

PUEBLA, Mexico: Cres has spent almost half of his 32 years working in the United States, in the fields of California and Texas and the factories of Chicago and New York. His wife and three children were with him some of the time. But he was alone for long spells, sending money back to build the rural home where he now spends his days, his strength evaporating.

"I don't know how or where or when I got it," said Cres, the only name he would allow himself to be identified by. He paused whenever his pregnant wife entered the darkened room. "I don't have any idea who it was with. I don't want to know. I just want to go ahead with my life."

Mirgant workers like him go to the United States with dreams of new prosperity, hoping to bring back dollars. But they are bringing back something else as well, HIV and AIDS, and they are spreading them in the rural parts of Mexico least prepared to handle the epidemic.

As immigration reform founders in the United States, the expanding AIDS crisis among the migrants goes virtually unaddressed on both sides of the border. Particularly in Mexico, AIDS is still shrouded by stigma and denial. In the United States, it is often assumed that immigrants bring diseases into the country, not take them away.

But AIDS is spreading quickly in rural Mexican states with the highest migration rates to the United States, researchers say. The greatest risk of contracting AIDS that rural Mexican women face is in having sex with their migrant husbands, a new study found, a problem that is compounded by the women's inability to insist that their husbands use condoms.Research has shown that migrants have more sexual partners than those who stay at home. For women, life on the road brings with it risks of rape and sexual abuse. For many migrants, being displaced from their homes and families is a lonely experience, one that prompts them to form new relationships in the United States. Adding to the problem, both Mexico's northern and southern borders have become magnets for prostitutes and drug dealers, drawn by the flow of migrants north.

"Migration leads to conditions and experiences that increase risks," said George Lemp, an epidemiologist who runs the University of California's AIDS research program and is studying the spread of the disease among migrants. "Migrants are vulnerable. They are isolated. They are exposed to different sexual practices. They have language barriers to services and there is a lot of depression and loneliness and abuse."

AIDS has not yet exploded in Mexico and is focused mostly among sex workers and their clients, drug users and gay men, experts say. The AIDS rate here is still considerably lower than that in the United States, nearly half as low, according to UN statistics published in 2006. Based on 100,000 inhabitants, the United States has 4,023 cases of HIV or AIDS compared with 1,681 in Mexico, according to United Nations.

Yet the high-risk behavior that various surveys have documented among many Mexican migrants worries researchers. "Our concern is it could take off in this population in the future," said Lemp, who is leading a joint U.S.-Mexican study of migrants and AIDS.

The first AIDS cases diagnosed in Mexico in 1983 were found among migrants, researchers say. Since then, studies have continued to show that migrants to the United States make up a significant percentage of those contracting the disease. The link between migration and AIDS fluctuated between 41 percent and 79 percent in the 1980s and early 1990s, studies have shown. But since 1992, Mexico has not comprehensively reported the migration history of those with AIDS.

Still, recent studies are revealing the risks that migrants face. A study financed by the California-Mexico AIDS Initiative found that more than a third of the migrants at job-pickup sites in Los Angeles had been solicited for sex by men seeking partners. About a tenth of the men, desperate to earn a living, have agreed, the study found.

Many migrant husbands are "networking sexually among populations with higher HIV prevalence rates, having limited access to preventive or curative health services, and frequently dealing with the social isolation of the migrant experience by seeking comfort in sexual intimacy," Jennifer Hirsch, a professor of public health at Columbia University, said in an article on the issue published in June in the American Journal of Public Health.

She found that unfaithful migrants husbands who were otherwise devoted to their wives were often the highest risk. They were more likely, she said, to seek sex with prostitutes while in the United States and less likely to have long-term relationships with other women. The risks were compounded because the subject of unfaithfulness is frequently taboo within relationships, avoided unless the straying spouse humiliates the other.

"Men's long absences lower the reputational risk of infidelity by ensuring that it occurs far away," she wrote.

A doctor at Puebla General Hospital, Indiana Torres, said that 22 percent of the 1,000 or so cases of HIV and AIDS that her clinic handles could be traced to migration, mostly to the New York area. A new more spacious clinic is under construction to handle the load. "They think that because it's the United States, it's safer," Torres said. "It's their fantasy, and it's not true."

One of the women in the emergency room at the hospital, a 25-year-old mother who did not want to be identified, described how her husband had infected her after returning from a long stay as a migrant worker in Washington State.

She found out she carried the virus only after giving birth to a baby girl who was born with HIV and died. An older daughter also has the virus. She and her husband have since separated.

Doctors say routine screening for HIV is not common, and many find they carry the virus only after births or going to hospitals for other reasons.

"I don't know what's going to happen now," the woman said through tears and an oxygen mask to aid her breathing after she was admitted with a possible tuberculosis infection, a result of her weakened immune system.

Mexico provides anti-retrovirals to even those poor migrants without health insurance but the challenge for them is reaching the cities where the drugs are dispensed. The cost of public transportation strains their budgets. Taking time off from work for doctor's visits is another challenge.

The government has also slowly begun to acknowledge the problem, sending health workers into the countryside to visit returning migrants and teach them about the risks they face on the road.

One program is called "Go Healthy, Return Healthy."

Government health workers are focusing their prevention efforts not just on returning migrants but on those who intend to go. A variety of approaches have been used, from comic books to soap operas. The messages focus on the causes of AIDS, the benefits of condoms and the dangers of sharing needles.

But the stigma surrounding AIDS in Mexico is such that even migrants who had contracted the virus dismissed the notion that extramarital affairs played a factor.

Another HIV-positive migrant, a mother of three named Ana Maria who is now taking anti-retroviral drugs courtesy of the government of Mexico, had gone to the United States with her husband, and worked long hours in a fast food restaurant and hotel in Chicago. She, too, found out she carried the virus after giving birth to one of her children at a Chicago hospital.

"Many people get infected there and then bring it back here," said Ana Maria, who is in her early 40s. "I don't know how we get infected but it could have been in the hospital there."

Monday, July 9, 2007

Living in Three Centuries

Photo by: Mark Story
Author: Mark Story


There have always been individuals who have lived into old age, but few have lived near the limits of the human lifespan. Currently, there are about 250,000 centenarians living in the world.

With so many people now living longer, a new demographic label has been created for those who have reached 110: supercentenarian. Within verifiable historical records, as of September 2005, according to the Gerontology Research Group*, fewer than 1,000 people have lived to 110, and only 17 people have reached the age of 115. The lifespan record is held by Madame Jeanne Calment of France, at 122 years 164 days.

Rather than aging more, centenarians and supercentenarians have successfully avoided debilitating diseases and injury, and aged more slowly. In general, their bodies have also postponed the chronic degenerative diseases of aging — heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer's Disease, until their last few years.

The Common Characteristics of Supercentenarians
Nearly all people who live to be 100 or older have long-lived relatives. A man with a sibling who lives to 100 years of age is 17 times more likely to live to 100 himself. Children of long-lived people also tend to have marked delays in the onset of cardiovascular disease.

Most of these supercentenarians said they made no conscious effort to eat nutritiously, and many simply stated that they just ate what they grew and raised on the farm. Nearly all supercentenarians have been lean for their entire lives, some naturally and some intentionally.

While some supercentenarians did drink alcohol, and several drank hard liquor, many never drank at all. Although most never smoked, one has a long history of smoking tobacco, and another used snuff for 103 years.

Many of these supercentenarians did not see a doctor until they were in their 90s. Some for lack of money, but more often, they just weren't sick or injured enough to warrant a visit. Several, who had seen a doctor only a handful of times or never, also stated that they had never taken any medication.

Many supercentenarians, when in their early 100s, were mobile and quite active physically, mentally and socially, and able to live independently.

Perhaps the most outstanding characteristic of long-lived people is a tendency to not react to stress with excessive worry. These people tend to like living, many are deeply spiritual, and most have a well-developed sense of humor.

At her 120th birthday party,
when Jeanne Calment was asked by a young journalist,
"Will I see you at next year's birthday party?"
She instantly shot back,
"I don't see why not;
you look pretty healthy to me!"

* The ages of most of these supercentenarians have been verified by the Gerontology Research Group, an international network of gerontologists, epidemiologists and demographers.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Do Sunscreens Have You Covered?

SIZZLE ALERT After two hours at the beach, Ilene Sofferman had to reapply sunscreen to her 9-year-old daughter, Alison. The product had an S.P.F. 30 rating
Photo by: Hiroko Masuike
Source: New York Times, July 5th, 2007

AS the noon sun began to cook bathers in Long Beach, N.Y., last Sunday, members of the Sofferman family lounged on towels, each wearing a sun lotion chosen with the care usually given to picking out a new bathing suit.

Denise Sofferman and Ilene Sofferman, sisters who both work in the apparel industry in Manhattan, had put on tanning oil, their bodies already golden brown. Denise’s daughter, Lauren Levy, 21, a student at the University of Pennsylvania, had protected her pale skin with a heavy-duty S.P.F. 50 product formulated for children. Ilene’s 9-year-old daughter, Alison, had received a head-to-toe coating of S.P.F. 30.

Two hours later, the daughters were sunburned, their backs as pink as watermelon.

“It says waterproof, but Lauren didn’t even go swimming,” said Denise Sofferman, reapplying sunscreen to her daughter.

Ilene Sofferman, smearing another coat of lotion on Alison’s pink face, read from the back of the sunscreen bottle. “They have all these different marketing terms —S.P.F., UVA, UVB, waterproof, sweat-resistant — but you have to figure out what they mean by trial and error,” she said.

After decades of warnings about the dangers of sun exposure, an increasing number of Americans are making sunscreen part of their skin-care routines. Americans bought 60 million units of sunscreen last year, a 13 percent increase compared with 2005, according to Information Resources Inc., which tracks cosmetics sales.

But the increased demand has spurred an explosion of lotions, sprays, pads and gels with such diverse marketing claims — All-day Protection! Ultra Sweatproof! Total Block! Continuous Protection! Ultra Sport! Instant Protection! Extra UVA Protection! — that the Soffermans are not alone in their confusion over how to choose the most effective sunscreen.

Ashley Meade, a media planner in Manhattan, went to the beach last Sunday for the first time this summer. “I am physically pale, I am not meant to tan, and I am freaked out about the idea of skin cancer and wrinkles,” she said. Before she left for the beach on Sunday morning, she patted an SPF 30 towelette on her face and put a lower protection product on her body, she said. “The label on the wipes says `apply evenly before sun exposure and then as needed,’ but you have to ask yourself how you are supposed to know what `as needed’ means," she said. “I probably need to put more on my body too. I can feel my kneecaps roasting.” Indeed, by the end of the afternoon, Ms. Meade’s legs were pink.

In the nearly 30 years since the Food and Drug Administration issued its first regulations for sunscreen as an over-the-counter drug intended to reduce sunburn risk, the science surrounding skin and cancer has expanded dramatically.

Julie Demaio, who works in advertising in Manhattan, carried a supply of products to the beach because she uses different levels of sun protection for each body part. “I want some parts more tan than others,” Ms. Demaio explained as she sat on the beach in a lounge chair. “I put SPF 4 on my legs, SPF 8 on my arms, and SPF 30 on my face.” She added: “I even put an SPF on my hair so my scalp doesn’t burn.” Ms. Demaio said she viewed her sun protection strategy as a delicate system that straddled a line between getting tan and getting a sunburn. “I know I am not supposed to want a little color, but I do,” she said. “If my chest and legs get red, I will put on more sunscreen.”

Critics have clamored for the F.D.A to update the rules, saying that the standards have not kept pace. At the same time, they complain, the agency has allowed manufacturers to make vague and improbable-sounding marketing claims, leaving consumers confused and, worse, misled about what to use and how to use it to protect themselves.

The pressure on the agency has been mounting in recent weeks. Last month, reports by Consumer Reports and by the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit group in Washington, found that a variety of popular sunscreens lacked sufficient broad protection against the sun’s harmful rays. And in May, Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut’s attorney general, sent a scathing petition to the F.D.A. saying that unclear sunscreen labels and inflated marketing put people at risk.

“Most sunscreens are deceptively and misleadingly labeled, most perniciously to give consumers a false sense of security,” Mr. Blumenthal said last week. “In my view, the F.D.A.’s failure to act is unconscionable and unjustifiable in any public sense.”

John Bailey, the executive vice president for science at the Cosmetics, Toiletry and Fragrance Association, an industry trade group, said that the directions on sunscreens adequately convey coverage. “These are very beneficial products which should be used to protect against the adverse effects of sunlight,” said Dr. Bailey, who has a Ph.D. in chemistry.

Nonetheless, the F.D.A. seems poised to address the labeling issue. Although it has been planning since 1999 to confirm new rules, Rita Chappelle, a spokeswoman for the F.D.A., said the agency expected to issue new sunscreen standards in the coming weeks. But until they are released, Ms. Chappelle said the agency would not answer questions about forthcoming regulations.

Ilene Sofferman, who manages a swimwear boutique on the Upper East Side, likes to use an SPF 30 sunscreen on her nine-year-old daughter Alison. “She has very fair skin and you don’t want her to burn,” said Ms. Sofferman. “SPF 30 means it blocks out 30 percent of the sun’s rays, right?” Dr. James M. Spencer, a dermatologist who specializes in skin cancer in St. Petersburg, Fla., said that SPF 30 means that a sunscreen filters out 97 percent of the rays that can cause sunburn. Still, Alison’s skin turned pink after a few hours of sun exposure. “People tend to apply only a quarter to a half of the amount of sunscreen they need,” said Dr. Spencer. He recommended using a shot-glassful of sunscreen for the body and a teaspoonful for the face -- to be reapplied immediately after swimming. As Ms. Sofferman applied a new layer of sunscreen to her daughter’s face, she said she believed that sunscreen works, albeit imperfectly. “It would be worse if you didn’t have it,” said Ms. Sofferman.

One fact about sunscreens is indisputable: They can impede sunburn and lower the incidence of at least one form of skin cancer in humans.

Dr. Allan C. Halpern, chief of dermatology at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan, said that the regular use of sunscreen can inhibit squamous cell carcinoma, a cancer that kills 2,000 to 2,500 Americans a year.

In a study of about 1,600 residents of Nambour, Australia, volunteers who were given sunscreen to use every day for four and a half years had 40 percent fewer squamous cell cancers than a control group who maintained their normal skin-care routines. Even 10 years after the study concluded, the volunteers assigned to use sunscreen during the trial period had fewer cancers.

Dan Schwartzberg, from Harrison, N.Y., said he thinks putting on sunscreen is annoyingly time-consuming. Plus he hates the greasy texture. But, ever since he got sunburned in Mexico, he has started wearing SPF 30, he said. “I almost wouldn’t go swimming so that I could avoid having to put suncreen on again,” said Mr. Schwartzberg, who works in broadcast marketing. “Don’t tell me I am supposed to reapply it every few hours!” he said from his perch on a beach chair. “That’s such a hassle, I’d rather go to the movies.”

“It shows that using sun protection for almost five years gives you an intense, longer-term benefit against squamous cell carcinoma,” said Dr. Adèle C. Green, deputy director of the Queensland Institute of Medical Research in Brisbane, Australia, which ran the study.

Dr. Halpern said that sunscreen should also protect against melanoma, the deadliest skin cancer, and basal cell carcinoma, because the product can inhibit harmful ultraviolet rays that can contribute to the diseases.

Yet even after new F.D.A. labeling rules are published, it may take two years for the changes take effect.

Michelle Hainer, a freelance writer in Manhattan, took a tote bag to the beach last Sunday with a variety of sunscreens in it. But she said she gravitates toward lower-protection products that allow her to tan. “I’m bad. I’m a sun worshipper. I have been baking since I was 12,” said Ms. Hainer. “Usually I put on SPF 4, but today I am wearing SPF 8.” But on her chest, which has gotten sunburned over the years, Ms. Hainer said she uses an SPF 55 product recommended by her dermatologist after she had an appointment for a skin cancer check. “I know it is an oxymoron to be worried about skin cancer and love the sun,” said Ms. Hainer, 29. “I am worried I will look like a wrinkled old prune by the time I am 35.”

Dr. James M. Spencer, a dermatologist in St. Petersburg, Fla., who specializes in skin cancer, said that he hopes the updated standards will clarify how much protection sunscreens provide, the dose needed to achieve significant protection, and the frequency with which a sunscreen should be reapplied.

The F.D.A. in 1978 first proposed a system of labeling products with an S.P.F. or Sun Protection Factor, which measures how effective the product is in preventing burn caused by the sun’s ultraviolet B rays. UVB radiation can also be a factor in skin cancer.

Dr. Spencer said that an S.P.F. 15 product screens about 94 percent of UVB rays while an S.P.F. 30 product screens 97 percent. Manufacturers determine the S.P.F. by dividing how many minutes it takes lab volunteers to burn wearing a thick layer of the product by the minutes they take to burn without the product.

But people rarely get the level of S.P.F. listed because labels do not explain how much to use, said Dr. Vincent A. DeLeo, chairman of dermatology at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center in Manhattan.

Iris Halem, from Oceanside, N.Y., is fastidious about putting sunscreen on her children. “I am neurotic about sunscreen,” said Ms. Halem. “I don’t use anything less than SPF 50.” Last Sunday at Long Beach, she applied sunscreen every 30 minutes to her seven-year old twins, Benny and Dena. At the beach, she also likes the twins to wear t-shirts along with their bathing suits. “I put a good amount of sunscreen all over them,” said Ms. Halem. “And don’t forget the top of the ears. They burn first."

“Sunscreen is tested at 2 milligrams per square centimeter of skin, which means you should be using two ounces each time to cover your whole body,” Dr. DeLeo said. “But for most people an eight-ounce bottle lasts the whole summer.”

People who apply S.P.F. 30 too sparingly, for example, may end up with only S.P.F. 3 to S.P.F. 10, according to the Web site of the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control,, which has comprehensive guidelines.

Victoria Lutzky, 12, of Sutton Place, N.Y., went the extra mile for her sun protection. She enjoyed a view of the ocean while sitting under an SPF 50 tent.

“The S.P.F. is a terrible system to guide consumers,” Dr. Spencer said. “Nobody is using sunscreen the way it is measured in a lab.” He said he hopes that the new standards will call for S.P.F. to be replaced with a system defining sun protection as high, medium or low.

Until then, Dr. Spencer said that people should use about a shot glass of sunscreen for the body and a teaspoon for the face to best achieve the S.P.F. protection listed on labels. It should be reapplied every few hours and immediately after swimming or sweating.

Dermatologists said that the agency is also likely to introduce a rating system for the sun’s ultraviolet A rays, which can contribute to cancer and skin aging. Many products already contain UVA screening agents, but under the current rules there is no rating for them.

Manufacturers are catching on that some consumers seek UVA protection. In print advertisements this month, Neutrogena and Banana Boat have been battling for UVA supremacy, including graphs in which each shows their product offering the highest coverage.

But Dr. David M. Pariser, the president-elect of the American Academy of Dermatology, said that without a standardized UVA rating system, consumers can’t be sure how much a sunscreen provides.

“Right now, we don’t know whether doubling the percentage of a UVA sunscreen ingredient doubles UVA protection or not,” Dr. Pariser said. “That is part of the muddled system we hope will be cleared up.”

Until then, Dr. Pariser said to choose sunscreens that contain ingredients known to filter UVA. These include Mexoryl SX, avobenzone, titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. He also recommended a database at created by the Environmental Working Group that lists products with UVA protection.

Some doctors, along with Mr. Blumenthal of Connecticut, predicted that the new sunscreen rules would prohibit outsized marketing terms.

“ ‘All-day protection’ is just plain false since sunscreen has to be frequently reapplied,” Mr. Blumenthal said. “And ‘waterproof,’ which may be O.K. for an adult taking a quick dip in the pool but not for kids who are in and out of the water all day, is just plain deceptive.”

Dr. Green in Australia said the best way to prevent skin cancer is to stay out of the sun during peak hours and wear sun-protective clothing. But Dr. Halpern said you can’t keep Americans wrapped up.

“There is only a small subset of American society that is willing to wear long-sleeved shirts and wide-brimmed — defined as four inches wide — hats on a sunny day at the beach,” he said. “Until we can get that behavior, the next best thing is sunscreen. Put on two coats, so you won’t miss any spots.”


Protection from the sun’s harmful rays requires more than slapping on a coating of cream. There are multiple precautions to take, according to interviews with doctors.

• Avoid outdoor activities during peak sun hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

• Wear protective clothing, sunglasses and wide-brimmed hats.

• If you are prone to burn, use a sunscreen with S.P.F. 30 or higher.

• Apply about a teaspoon of sunscreen to your face and a shot glass of it to your body.

• Make sure your sunscreen contains at least one ingredient known to filter UVA rays, such as zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, avobenzone or Mexoryl SX.

• Reapply sunscreen frequently, and immediately after swimming.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Beyond the beaches, hiking adventures show Hawaii's true beauty

Photo by: Me! =)
Source: International Herald Tribune, July 4th, 2007
Author: Associated Press

HONOLULU: It would be an arduous 2,000-foot (610-meter) climb up more than 3,500 metal steps anchored into a lush green cliff in Oahu's Koolau Mountains.

On the nicknamed "stairway to heaven," hikers climb into puffy white clouds over a tropical forest for views of the Haiku Valley and beyond, to the ocean.

But those who try the Haiku Trail risk a trespassing ticket and a towed vehicle. The trail is closed to the public by the private land owner at the base of the stairs, even though the island government spent $875,000 (€650,000) in 2002 to make repairs.

Fortunately, even though this and a few of Oahu's other finest trails are off-limits due to access issues or rock slides, there are another 80 trails to choose from.

A system of nearly 20 paths in the Koolau Mountains above Honolulu wind through the thick canopy of the rain forest and lead to some of the highest ridges that overlook deep vistas and lush valleys. Others take explorers to hidden waterfalls or introduce hikers to the variety of native plants and wildlife.For many, it's an escape from crowded Waikiki, now lined with luxury shopping and fine dining.

"These trails have been the most redeeming part of our trip," said Dan Lemley, 26, of Portland, Oregon, who trekked to Manoa Falls above the University of Hawaii's main campus and then climbed up the steep, muddy Aihualama Trail.

"Since we've been here, we have been appalled at the tourism and lack of Hawaiian culture. This hike made us just stand back and say, 'Wow!'"

Getting to the beaches is easy, but the trails wend deep into the real beauty of Hawaii, with crooning birds, endless varieties of plants and greenery — all while offering a sweaty workout.

Hiking in Hawaii has gained popularity in the past few years with the availability of more guidebooks and comprehensive Web sites, said Aaron Johnson Lowe, Oahu trails and access specialist for Na Ala Hele, which maintains and manages the trails for the state.

Lowe said there seems to be a trend of people looking for more healthy activities, and he's also noticed many repeat visitors who have done the tourist activities are now wanting more from the island.

"It seems once they get on one trail, they become hooked," he said.

A brief warning: Watch out for pig hunters, who sometimes use the trails, and check online if permits are required for certain hikes.

Based on hikes of more than 30 trails, here are some of the best:

- One of the most popular hikes on the island takes visitors inside Diamond Head volcanic crater, where even relatively unfit travelers can trudge up 175 stairs and journey through a 225-foot (69-meter) unlit tunnel to reach an observation deck once used by the military to search for approaching enemies. The paved trail attracts novice hikers rewarded with a view of the shores of Waikiki and nearby areas from above.

- More intense than Diamond Head is the climb into Koko Crater to the south, where more than 1,000 makeshift "stairs," which are really wooden blocks from an old railway track, take climbers to the top for sweeping views of the upscale Hawaii Kai homes and marina.

- While on that side of the island, the paved pathway on Makapuu Lighthouse Road offers views of Manana (Rabbit) and Mokuhope islands. A rocky switchback leads more adventurous explorers to some tide pools and a powerful blowhole located nearly 400 feet (122 meters) below the road.

- Crave waterfalls? Most tourists make their way to the Manoa Falls Trail, which veers through a bamboo forest, over massive boulders and exposed roots before the 0.8-mile-long (1.3-kilometer-long) trail reaches the 150-foot (46-meter) shimmering falls. Don't expect a swim, as a 2002 landslide dropped debris and rocks into the pool at the base of the falls, causing the state to rope off the pool. Most people end here, but the 1.3-mile (2.1-kilometer) Aihualama Trail will take hikers up a winding path to the end of Manoa Valley and a stunning overlook.

- The Judd Trail, known as Jackass Ginger, crosses a shallow, rocky stream and passes bamboo, ironwood and eucalyptus forests before coming to a small waterfall, which trickles into a refreshing pool. A rope swing makes for an adventurous dip and a slippery rock can be used as a slide. (The trail is also where ABC's hit show "Lost" filmed many of last season's scenes, including Eko's death and the mysterious Jacob's home.)- Midway through that hike, the Nuuanu Trail veers off for a rigorous climb and more great lookouts, connecting to those 20 other trails above Honolulu. Look carefully from these openings, especially on the Manoa Cliff Trail, for distant falls across the valleys.

- Kaau Crater Trail takes hikers past multiple cascading falls, and the 1.5-mile (2.4-kilometer) walk up the Maunawili Trail brings thrill seekers to a deep pool where many jump into brisk water from more than 40-feet (12-meters) above. Sadly, one of the best island waterfalls, the 87-foot (27-meter) Sacred Falls in Kaluanui Valley, closed in 1999 after a rock slide killed eight people and injured dozen of others. The state has since closed the two-mile (three-kilometer) trail and the Maakua Gulch Trail, which leads to small waterfall and wading pool.

- The ridge trails are often the most challenging, but offer airplane-window views of the island. The Mauumae Ridge Trail, also known as Lanipo, is often called the "roller coaster workout" for good reasons as it leads visitors along the tip-top of the dense green mountainside, with a closeup view of the rest of Koolau Mountains and the entire south half of the island from Koko Crater to the Waianae Mountains.

- Another high journey for experienced hikers is the 5.5-mile (9-kilometer) haul up the Dupont Trail in the Waianae Range, which rises 4,000 feet (1,219 meters) and eventually reaches Mount Kaala, Oahu's highest peak.

Many of the marked trails in the tropical forests can become tough to navigate, but those looking for help can call on the Hawaiian Trail and Hiking Club, which takes groups to different trails on Saturday and Sundays with members who know the locations of the island's most breathtaking landmarks.

The club also works to get permits and permission from land owners to complete some trails not normally open to the public, said member and trail coordinator Steve Brown.

But Brown admits many hikers still wish they could go back in time and climb the Haiku Stairs, the challenging ascent to the summit of Pu'u Keahiakahoe built by the Navy during World War II for access to radio equipment.

"That's a really sore spot for a lot of hikers," Brown said.


If You Go...

NA ALE HELE: Maps, trailhead access points and trail descriptions for hikes throughout Hawaii, organized by island.

HAWAII'S HIKING TRAILS: Maps, tips, recommendations, weather, discussion boards.

HAWAIIAN TRAIL AND HIKING CLUB: This Oahu-based club leads different hikes every weekend and publishes a quarterly hiking schedule on its Web site noting which hikes are open to nonmembers. A $2 (€1.50) donation is requested for each nonmember, age 18 or over. Children under 18 must be accompanied by a responsible adult.