Meat-loving Thais turn into self-mutilating vegetarians for festival

Thailand is not an easy country in which to be vegetarian. But once a year the country’s avid meat eaters lay down their spicy meat stir-fries in favour of vegetables and meat substitutes.

During the annual ten-day “Tesagin Kin Pak” vegetarian festival, yellow flags representing Buddhism and good moral conduct flutter in the wind above entire neighborhoods, while tiny mobile street carts with a lone yellow flag advertise vegetarian-friendly food.

Glistening tofu, noodles with bean sprouts, desserts made with sesame and ginger and steaming hot vegetable broths abound…

Every year during the ninth Chinese lunar month, the country’s Thai-Chinese community…observe ten days of abstinence.

Eating meat, having sex, drinking alcohol and other habits thought to be vices and pollutants of the body and mind are cut out entirely by the truly devoted, who also wear only white. The belief is that nine gods come down from heaven to inspect the earth and record the good and bad deeds people commit…

The festival in Phuket starts out sounding just as tame.. Although meat is not on the menu, the rituals involved in the event are unusually bloody. During the celebrations, many of the devotees go into trances and have the flesh of their mouths pierced…all in the name of ritual purification.

Five year olds are generous — when someone is watching!


Not even up to 5-year-old standards

Children as young as five are generous when others are aware of their actions, but antisocial when sharing with a recipient who can’t see them…

Adults are more likely to behave in ways that enhance their reputation when they are being watched or their actions are likely to be made public than when they are anonymous, but this study examines the origins of such behavior in young children for the first time. For their study, the researchers presented five year olds with stickers and gave them the option of sharing one or four stickers with another five year old. The authors found that children were more generous when they could see the recipient than when the recipient was hidden from view, and were also more generous when they had to give stickers in a transparent container rather than an opaque one (meaning the recipient could see what they were receiving). They also found that these behaviors were independent of how many stickers the children were given to keep for themselves.

According to the authors, these results show that children as young as five can make strategic choices about whether to be generous, depending on whether or not a recipient is aware of their actions. Kristin Lyn Leimgruber explains, “Although the frequency with which children acted antisocially is striking, the conditions under which they chose to act generously are even more interesting and suggest that children likely use much more sophisticated prosocial strategies than we previously assumed. Much like the patterns of charity we see in adults, donation tendencies in children appear to be driven by the amount of information available to others about their actions — for both adults and children, the more others know about their actions, the more likely they are to act generously.”

Har. Warms the cockles of my heart when independent research offers mild appreciation for my cynicism about our species.

More of the original research over here.

Low-tech tumbleweed minesweeper

An Afghan designer has come up with a novel tumbleweed-esque device to find and detonate mines, a device that has evolved from the wind-powered toys he made as a child. Massoud Hassani’s Mine Kafon is made mainly from bamboo and biodegradable plastics, but the simple addition of a GPS chip means the wind-swept spheres can be monitored to reveal the location of mines.

GPS chip aside, this is an extremely low-tech approach to mine detection. Typically the process involves the sweeping of mine fields, either manually with metal detectors, or with specialized vehicles (sometimes remotely controlled). The Mine Kafon, on the other hand, is an array of bamboo sticks with plastic disks at the end. It’s light enough to be caught and moved by the wind, but heavy enough that it should trip any mine it passes over. The Mine Kafon will probably be destroyed in the process, but better that than a human life.

Clearly, the Mine Kafon will never be as efficient a means of clearing mines as an intensive sweep using specialist technology. The Mine Kafon is bound to travel the path of least resistance, and so it’s not as if you can pop one into a field and expect it to clear the area. But the ability of the Mine Kafon to report on its route, trackable on the web thanks to its GPS chip, means that perhaps, were many of these low cost devices be released at scattered locations, they might chance upon mine fields that were previously undocumented.

Bravo!

Computational medicine enhances way doctors detect, treat disease

Computational medicine, a fast-growing method of using computer models and sophisticated software to figure out how disease develops — and how to thwart it — has begun to leap off the drawing board and land in the hands of doctors who treat patients for heart ailments, cancer and other illnesses. Using digital tools, researchers have begun to use experimental and clinical data to build models that can unravel complex medical mysteries.

These are some of the conclusions of a new review of the field published in the Oct. 31 issue of the journal Science Translational Medicine. The article, “Computational Medicine: Translating Models to Clinical Care,” was written by four Johns Hopkins professors affiliated with the university’s Institute for Computational Medicine…

In recent years, “the field has exploded,” institute director Raimond Winslow said. “There is a whole new community of people being trained in mathematics, computer science and engineering, and they are being cross-trained in biology. This allows them to bring a whole new perspective to medical diagnosis and treatment. Engineers traditionally construct models of the systems they are designing. In our case, we’re building computational models of what we are trying to study, which is disease.”

Looking at disease through the lens of traditional biology is like trying to assemble a very complex jigsaw puzzle with a huge number of pieces, he said. The result can be a very incomplete picture.

Computational medicine can help you see how the pieces of the puzzle fit together to give a more holistic picture,” Winslow said. “We may never have all of the missing pieces, but we’ll wind up with a much clearer view of what causes disease and how to treat it…”

Computational models, Winslow said, help us to understand these complex interactions, the nature of which is often highly complex and non-intuitive. Models like these allow researchers to understand disease mechanisms, aid in diagnosis, and test the effectiveness of different therapies. By using computer models, he said, potential therapies can be tested “in silico” at high speed. The results can then be used to guide further experiments to gather new data to refine the models until they are highly predictive.

RTFA to get more of an idea where this new field is going.

British government accused of war crimes over man held by US for eight years without trial

Human rights campaigners have accused the British government of possible war crimes for failing to secure the release of a man held without trial for eight years by the Americans.

Yunus Rahmatullah, 30, was captured by UK special forces following the invasion of Iraq and handed over to the Americans, who eventually transferred him to Bagram air base. Despite US assertions that he is no longer considered a “security threat” he remains incarcerated in Afghanistan.

The legal charity Reprieve failed to persuade the Supreme Court to come to Mr Rahmatullah’s aid as it rejected the Pakistani’s case by a majority of 5-2 that the British had not done enough to persuade the Americans to hand him over.

But the UK’s highest court also rejected an appeal by the Foreign Secretary that the Court of Appeal had been wrong to issue a writ of habeas corpus – an ancient tenet of English law giving the legal right to be charged or released from arbitrary detention.

Reprieve welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision to dismiss the Government’s appeal to overturn the writ of habeas corpus, adding that there should be a police investigation into whether “grave war crimes may have been committed”…

Jamie Beagent…representing Mr Rahmatullah, said: “We will be drawing the Supreme Court’s findings to the attention of the Metropolitan Police who are currently investigating our client’s case in relation to offences under the Geneva Conventions Act 1957.

I think it as unlikely for the British government to start obeying the Geneva Convention – as the United States. The Bush-Blair Axis decided they needn’t pay any attention at all to international law or human rights. The politicians who followed them into office have neither the courage nor integrity to reverse that decision.