Friday, October 24, 2008

Take One Antibiotic and Go To Bed

For years I’ve considered the so-called ‘placebo effect’ to be one of the greatest confirmations of mind-over-matter power. The idea that the placebo is the most successful healing drug in recorded history says more about medical science than almost any other phenomenon.

Still, I’m alarmed at an article in yesterday’s New York Times stating that half of all doctors in the U.S. routinely give their patients placebos. We’re not talking sugar pills here. We’re talking prescribing antibiotics, sedatives, headache pills and pain-killers to patients when the doctors know full well these drugs have no effect on the patient’s illness.

Antibiotics seem to be a favorite, and doctors prescribe them for a wide range of viral infections even though antibiotics have no effect on viral matters, only bacterial ones. Plus, antibiotics are dangerous. Period, end of story.

For example, an American doctor, William Schreiber of Louisville, Kentucky, danced around the obvious ethical implications. First he told the Times he didn’t believe the study’s results. Then, when asked how he treated fibromyalgia or suspected psychosomatic illnesses, he admitted: “The problem is that most of those people are very difficult patients, and it’s a whole lot easier to give them something like a big dose of Aleve. Is that a placebo treatment? Depending on how you define it, I guess it is.”

I suspect that the "whole lot easier" response is typical for half of his professional peers. But a sugar pill is one thing. Antibiotics and sedatives are something else entirely.

Click here for the New York Times article.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

More Halloween: The Haunted Lizzie Borden House

Here's the bedroom where Lizzie's mother was murdered.

Today’s Los Angeles Times has an article about ghostly occurances at the bed & breakfast in Fall River, Massachusetts, where the infamous Lizzie Borden allegedly killed her parents with an ax in 1892.

The building is a rambling, eight-bedroom manse. Built in 1845, it was one of the finest homes in Fall River, a then-thriving community known for its textile mills. At the murder scene, Lizzy’s father, Andrew Borden, a wealthy banker, was struck 10 times. His wife, Sarah, suffered 18 blows.

Investigating police thought a broken hatchet found in the basement was the murder weapon. Although Lizzie (in photo below), who was 32 at the time, is by legend the murderer, a jury found her innocent.

The LA Times article follows a stay in the B&B by Karen Zorn of Maryland and her boyfriend. Zorn won for $405 on eBay a night’s stay in the bedroom where Lizzie’s mother was hacked up. The couple checked into the room on August 4, the 116th anniversary of the murders.

"We went up to the room and it was freezing cold. It was the coldest room in the house by far. And that kind of spooked us out," Zorn told the LA Times. "As the night wore on, other weird things started happening. At one point, my boyfriend went into the room and he claimed there was a lamp in there rocking back and forth that had turned itself on."

But that wasn’t the end of it.

"We were sitting in bed talking about the creepy things that had happened,” Zorn continued. “And I said, 'What do you say if anything else really freaky happens we just get up and leave?' And he said, 'OK.' And just as we said that, the bedroom door swung open. We began to scream. Everybody in the house could hear us."

The couple left immediately for the nearby Best Western.

Click here for the Los Angeles Times article.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Incense As Antidepressant

Saturday I visited a new New Age shop near our home in Oregon City and perused shelves crammed with statuary, crystals, books and beaded things. Wanting to support the brave couple who’ve opened the shop in these dire times for retail, I bought some incense.

I’m not a big user of incense, but I thought a whiff of something mysteriously fragrant would be good in my office on autumn evenings. I bought a scent called Nag Champa, which I’d never heard of, but turned out to be a decent choice.

All of this is why this morning a Science Daily article caught my eye. It seems scientists from Johns Hopkins and Hebrew University have determined that some incenses (not necessarily Nag Champa) help alleviate depression and anxiety.

The specific focus of the research was incensole acetate, a resin found in the Boswellia plant that also goes by the better-known name of frankincense.

"We found that incensole acetate, a Boswellia resin constituent, when tested in mice lowers anxiety and causes antidepressive-like behavior,” said researcher Rapheal Mechoulam. The compound significantly affected areas in brain areas known to be involved in emotions, as well as in nerve circuits affected by current anxiety and depression drugs.

“The discovery of how incensole acetate, purified from frankincense, works on specific targets in the brain should also help us understand diseases of the nervous system,” said Gerald Weissman, editor of the journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. “This study also provides a biological explanation for millennia-old spiritual practices that have persisted across time, distance, culture, language, and religion – burning incense really does make you feel warm and tingly all over."

I can only hope these findings lead to treatments more aromatic and less pharmaceutical.

Click here for the Science Daily article.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Take Away God and Churchgoers' Fears Grow

The low-hanging fruit in recent US presidential election years is studying the differences between liberals and conservatives ~ what makes them tick. For example, I posted a recent University of Nebraska survey concluding that conservatives generally are more fearful than liberals.

Now there’s new research at Northwestern University on this same topic, complete with interesting findings. And one big caveat …

The survey was conducted only among active churchgoers. To my way of thinking, that skews the findings unless that one huge condition is fully taken into account. In other words, you can’t make broad categorical statements about the research’s liberal/conservative findings ~ they only apply to the type of person who's compelled to attend church.

However, the main question asked of these churchgoers was indeed provocative:

“What if there were no God?”

  • “Political conservatives envision a world without God in which baser human impulses go unchecked, social institutions ~ marriage, government, family ~ fall apart and chaos ensues,” says Dan McAdams, a professor of human development and psychology at Northwestern, who co-authored the study. 
  • Liberals, on the other hand, envision a world without God as barren, lifeless, devoid of color and reasons to live. “Liberals see their faith as something that fills them up and, without it, they conjure up metaphors of emptiness, depletion and scarcity,” McAdams said. 

“While conservatives worry about societal collapse, liberals worry about a world without deep feelings and intense experiences,” he told Science Daily. The study's findings may shed light on why conservatives prefer more authoritarian leaders while liberals do not.

“What’s clear is that it is their political and not religious orientation that underlies the different psychologies of political conservatives and liberals,” says McAdams.

Click here for the Science Daily article.

Sunday, October 19, 2008


Breakthrough. One must resolutely make the matter known
At the court of the king.
It must be announced truthfully. Danger.
It is necessary to notify one’s own city.
It does not further to resort to arms.
It furthers one to undertake something.

Even if only one inferior man is occupying a ruling position in a city, he is able to oppress superior men. Even a single passion still lurking in the heart has power to obscure reason. Passion and reason cannot exist side by side ~ therefore fight without quarter is necessary if the good is to prevail.

In a resolute struggle of the good against evil, there are, however, definite rules that must not be disregarded, if it is to success.

First, resolution must be based on a union of strength and friendliness.

Second, a compromise with evil is not possible; evil must under all circumstances be openly discredited. Nor must our own passions and shortcomings be glossed over.

Third, the struggle must not be carried on directly by force. If evil is branded, it thinks of weapons, and if we do it the favor of fighting against it blow for blow, we lose in the end because thus we ourselves get entangled in hatred and passion. Therefore it is important to begin at home, to be on guard in our own persons against the faults we have branded.

In this way, finding no opponent, the sharp edges of the weapons of evil become dulled. For the same reasons we should not combat our own faults directly. As long as we wrestle with them, they continue victorious. Finally, the best way to fight evil is to make energetic progress in the good.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Perfect Beat to Save a Life

I’m not making this up.

Researchers at the University of Illinois Medical School have identified a song that has the perfect beat for performing CPR . . . Stayin’ Alive.

Yes, doctors and medical students in the study found they performed the ideal number of chest compressions at the optimum rhythm while listening to the 1977 Bee Gees hit from the movie Saturday Night Fever

According to Dr. David Matlock, the study’s author, the American Heart Association recommends 100 chest compressions per minute, which is more than most people realize. The doctors and students listed to Stayin’ Alive on their iPods while performing CPR on mannequins. “It drove them and motivated them to keep up the rate, which is the most important thing,” he said.

It seems some people in the American Heart Association have been aware of the Stayin’ Alive phenomenon for a couple of years now and have used it in CPR classes. The AHA’s Dr. Vinay Nadkarni of the University of Pennsylvania said there’s also a song by the group Queen with a similar beat, “but it didn’t seem quite as appropriate.”

That song?

Another One Bites the Dust.

Click here for the Associated Press article.

Is McCain 'Mercurial'? 
Possible Troubles for Obama?
And What About the Retrograde "Shadow" Effect?

It’s difficult to follow astrology blogs when you’re not an astrologer. It’s like looking at a maze of equations scrawled across a blackboard when you don’t know calculus. It means I have to find clues to determine the validity of some of the claims being made, usually by checking the comments other readers post and by comparing the readings to news reports.

In the few weeks remaining, I'll be focusing on some fascinating election horoscopes from several of the respected professional astrologers I've been watching. For today’s Election Astrology, I’ve picked two astrologers with large followings and who seem to command considerable respect among their peers.
  • Nancy Sommers, who writes Nancy’s Blog, which attracts hundreds of comments every time she posts something and who has accurately predicted a number of aspects and behaviors regarding this presidential campaign.
  • Ray Merriman, a professional financial astrologer of long standing whose analyses are followed by several financial institutions and whose posts now contain more campaign analysis due to the impact of the current financial troubles.

Angry McCain, Calm Obama

Two days before last Wednesday’s presidential debate, Nancy presented a detailed reading of both McCain and Obama related to the specific time of the debate. (If you’re interested in the complex details, click here.)

She wrote: … It is this aspect that will be under a great deal of pressure during and after the debate, suggesting McCain will be very agitated, angry, and unhappy.” Then, following a detailed explanation, she wrote: “ … While McCain seems to be at some kind of nadir for the mid-October debate, Obama will be at his zenith." And she concluded: In the face of McCain’s crankiness, Obama will once again demonstrate calmness and strength, with an extraordinarily appealing and compelling quality that pervades his presence.”

Pretty accurate, and consistent with several post-debate polls.

New Problems for Obama?

So here’s her take on the weeks leading up to the November 4 election.
  • On McCain: “In addition, there are two further aspects that are specific to the 6:25 PM chart that suggest a very trying, depressing time for McCain that began in late September and continues to be very potent through October 19, slowly diminishing over the week or so thereafter.”
  • On Obama: “There is, however, some stress that develops for Obama from around October 16 through October 25, due to Saturn’s transit semisquare his Mercury (2Leo20) and quincunx his Ascendant (18Aquarius03). Perhaps, it is just the weightiness of the times adding to the sobriety and thoughtfulness (Saturn) of his demeanor. But it seems likely he may lose some of his sparkle during this period and become more fatigued and off his game. A cold or laryngitis is possible that will encumber him in some way. Alternately, the increasingly vituperative attacks from the Hate Talk Express may begin to do some damage. It may be that his wide lead shrinks a bit during these ten days.”
This should be quite easy to track via the headlines.

Retrograde Shadow Period Could Be Critical

In his current Weekly Market Preview, Ray Merriman says the election could be strongly influenced by something astrologers recognize ~ but don't always take into account ~ known as the “shadow" periods of the current Mercury retrograde:

Many astrologers believe that the Mercury retrograde principles pertain not just to the time Mercury is actually in retrograde motion, but also during the times that it is in the Mercury retrograde “shadow” periods. This may be a critical point in forecasting this year’s election, for sometime between September 3 and 15 McCain held a 4-point lead over Obama. But since that time, the polls have switched 2-12 points in favor of Obama, depending on which poll you follow.

If the momentum shifts back to McCain after Mercury returns to direct motion (October 15), as the classical principles of Mundane Astrology would suggest, then McCain may still have a chance to pull this out. But if the valid zone of recovery includes the Mercury retrograde “shadow period” as well, then the momentum change in favor of Obama would continue to grow through October 30. Conditions and/or sentiment wouldn’t return again to the pre-shadow period until the end of the month.

In this case, it would be too late for McCain to come back, barring some new and sensational revelation. In fact, Obama would be more likely to win in a landslide, just as the last Senator from Arizona to run for president experienced in 1964 (Barry Goldwater). The 1964 election was the last time we were within the orb of the Saturn-Uranus opposition.
So, watch the daily news. According to this, we should see some shift in poll numbers, favoring McCain. Unless, of course, the Mercury retrograde shadow continues to fall across his campaign.

By the way, Madam Lichtenstein just began what promises to be a fascinating look at election day. Her first installment discusses November 4 itself, and next she'll tie it to the charts of McCain and Obama specifically. She's good, so this should be interesting!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Welcome back, Sunspots

I've drawn a circle around Sunspot 1005 on this NASA photo.

Sunspots have begun reappearing, perhaps signaling the end of a puzzling drought in solar activity. A new spot ~ called 1005 ~ appeared on Saturday, the third spot in three weeks.

The Sun this year began one of its 11-year solar cycles and since the beginning of the year had been nearly spot free. 

The amount of activity in a solar cycle influences earth’s power grids and satellites, and can be potentially damaging. Sunspots also are believed to have profound effects on Earth's climate, as explained in this earlier post.

Solar physicists are split on whether the coming months will produce a small number of sunspots or if the activity will dramatically increase. The faster sunspots return, the more severe solar weather will be in the coming decade, according to New Scientist.

Click here for the New Scientist article.

A Real Halloween Find

To get you in a Halloween mood . ..

In Cornwall, England, archaeologist Jacqui Wood discovered in her own yard the remains of what appears to be a ritual area for witchcraft. A series of pits have revealed swan skins dating back to the 1600s, human hair and fingernail clippings, bird claws and perhaps most revealing of all, an old cauldron. (Photo shows Wood with a fragment of the cauldron.)

Go to my
Ancient Tides blog for more of the story.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Superstitions May Have Evolutionary Value

Seemingly silly superstitions may still be with us because they have evolutionary value. While they may be considered the linking of peculiar and irrational ~ if not just plain incorrect ~ causes and effects, they are far from worthless, according to recent research.

Harvard evolutionary biologist Kevin Foster worked with Hanna Kokko of the University of Helsinki to develop a complex computer model to compare scenarios where animals linked two events, such as the sound of rustling grass and the approach of a predator. But they also examined scenarios connecting less-dangerous situations, such as the sound of rustling grass and the wind.

The model showed that mistaken beliefs ~ superstitions, for example ~ can accompany similar beliefs that may save lives.

“It’s worth carrying many mistaken beliefs just to ensure you get the important ones right," said Foster. Even if an animal is often frightened by rustling grass caused by wind, if that causes it to avoid a predator in the grass on just one occasion, it may be enough to save its life. A relevant human example is that of a primitive tribe using a whole range of medicinal plants even if only very few work as an effective treatment, he said.

Though the model is purely theoretical at this stage, "it does make a number of testable predictions," Foster says. "The goal is to produce a logical framework to start to understand the evolution of superstition."

Click here for the Cosmos Online article.

Sunday, October 12, 2008


Splitting apart. It does not further one
To go anywhere.

This pictures a time when inferior people are pushing forward and are about to crowd out the few remaining strong and superior men. Under these circumstances, which are due to the time, it is not favorable for the superior man to undertake anything.

The right behavior in such adverse times is to be deduced from the images and their attributes. The lower trigram stands for the earth, whose attributes are docility and devotion. The upper trigram strands for the mountain, whose attribute is stillness. This suggests that one should submit to the bad time and remain quiet. For it is a question not of man’s doing, but of time conditions, which, according to the laws of heaven, show an alternation of increase and decrease, fullness and emptiness. It is impossible to counteract these conditions of the time. Hence it is not cowardice, but wisdom to submit and avoid action.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Election Day Remains Strangely Uncertain

The County Election by George Caleb Bingham, 1851

More than any other aspect of this extraordinary presidential election year, it’s Election Day itself ~ November 4th ~ that intrigues me as I survey my group of astrologers.

The dozen or so professional astrologers I’m watching can’t seem to get a collective fix on that day, except that there’s something seriously volatile about it. (These astrologers as a group, by the way, have been substantially on-target regarding the current world financial crisis.)

As a layman, not an astrologer, I’ve learned this: Saturn and Uranus move into direct opposition early on November 4. Saturn relates to conservatism and status quo, while Uranus is creative and revolutionary. This 180-degree alignment occurs rarely ~ only twice before in the past 100 years ~ and can spell trouble.

Nearly four months ago, I posted comments from writer Barry Orr, who had found that many astrologers were saying this about Election Day:
  • The election will be postponed or canceled due to national emergency; or,
  • One or more candidates will leave the race; or,
  • Fraud or data problems will produce a rigged race.
Here’s a sampling of what the astrologers are now saying as Election Day approaches.

From Terry Lamb at Astro-Pol:
This is the situation I have been most concerned about with the Saturn-Uranus opposition becoming exact on Election Day. The forces of the status quo are pitted against the forces of change, and it could get nasty. Oppositions are aspects of separation, and separation breeds fear. Fear breeds conflict (and greed). These are factors in the behavior we are seeing to prevent the sea change in government that is desired, expected, and should occur. This is what could delay the outcome of the election.
Lynn Hayes at Astrological Musings sees this:
In any case, the astrological signatures suggest that the election once again will not be settled on Election Day. Mercury changes signs that day, moving from Libra where it is all about collaboration, to Scorpio where our thoughts become more intensified and interested in matters of power. Scorpio also signifies things that are hidden, and perhaps ballots (Mercury) could be lost or stolen (Scorpio).
By the way, she just today began an interesting two-part explanation of the Saturn-Uranus opposition.

And another astrologer I’ve not been following ~ a certain Madam Lichtenstein ~ has this to say:
But transiting Saturn also will oppose Uranus on Election Day. This can bring powerful, unpleasant surprises. It also will conjunct Saturn which indicates that a major cycle is closing and a new one is beginning. When people go through a Saturn conjunct Saturn it is called their Saturn Return. In this case it is the Presidential Saturn Return. During the return phase we want change NOW but it either doesn't happen or, if it does, it is not what we want or expect. It is a time of great learning. Further transiting Saturn will square Venus which can create some sore losers. Stress and tension without any resulting harmony.
If you're curious and want to read more, just do a Google search on “Election Day” with the word “astrology” and you’ll get tons.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Narcissists Aren't the Leaders They Think They Are

Narcissus, by Michelangelo Caravaggio, ca. 1598.

Narcissists are most likely to step in as leaders ~ such as politicians or power brokers ~ but that doesn't mean they are the best leaders. Recent studies concluded that narcissists don’t actually outperform others in leadership roles.

They do, however, tend to be egotistical types who exaggerate their talents and abilities, and lack empathy for others.

"A person with high self-esteem is confident and charming, but they also have a caring component and they want to develop intimacy with others," lead researcher Amy Brunell, a psychologist at Ohio State University at Newark, told Live Science. "Narcissists have an inflated view of their talents and abilities and are all about themselves. They don’t care as much about others."

"It's not surprising that narcissists become leaders,” she said. “They like power, they are egotistical, and they are usually charming and extraverted. But the problem is, they don't necessarily make better leaders."

  • In one study, 432 undergraduate students completed surveys that measured various personality traits, including aspects of narcissism. The students were put in groups of four and told to assume they were a committee of senior officers of the student union. Their task was to elect next year's director. Students who scored higher on narcissism were more likely to say they wanted to lead the group. They were also more likely to say they did lead the group discussion and said they were more likely to be viewed as leaders by the other group members.
  • In a similar study, more than 400 students were told to imagine they were shipwrecked on an uninhabited island and had to choose 15 items from the ship that would best help them survive on the island. Those who scored highest on narcissism again showed the most desire to lead the group discussion, rated themselves as leaders, and were viewed by other group members as the leaders. The researchers compared the 15-item lists with one prepared by an expert who has taught survival skills to the U.S. military. Narcissists did no better than their less self-centered counterparts at choosing survival items.
  • A third study involved more than 150 business managers enrolled in an executive MBA program at a large southeastern university. The managers were grouped in fours and told to assume the role of a school board deciding how to allocate a large financial contribution from a fictional company. The MBA students who rated highest in narcissism were most likely to emerge as group leaders. The results held even when other personality traits, such as self-esteem and extraversion, were taken into account.
Wall Street traders could also have a high dose of narcissism, Brunell suggested. "There have been a lot of studies that have found narcissistic leaders tend to have volatile and risky decision-making performance and can be ineffective and potentially destructive leaders."

Click here for the Live Science article.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Ancient Bowl Links "Christ" with "Magician"

Depiction of Jesus's first Biblical miracle, transforming water into wine at the wedding in Cana.

The recent discovery of an ancient bowl bearing a reference to “Christ” could be the earliest known reference to Jesus Christ. Researchers think the meaning of the words engraved on the bowl ~ Dia Chrstou O Goistais ~ could link the bowl and the Christ reference to supernatural practices.

Researchers say the phrase translates to either “by Christ the magician” or to “the magician by Christ.”

The bowl dates somewhere between the late 2nd Century BC to early 1st Century AD and was found during an underwater excavation of ruins in the harbor of Alexandria, Egypt. A team of scientist led by renowned French marine archaeologist Franck Goddio discovered it near the submerged island of Antirhodos.

The bowl is very similar to one depicted in two early Egyptian earthenware statuettes that are thought to show a soothsaying ritual.

"It could very well be a reference to Jesus Christ, in that he was once the primary exponent of white magic," Goddio, co-founder of the Oxford Center of Maritime Archaeology, said. He and Egyptologist David Fabre, a member of the European Institute of Submarine Archaeology, think a "magus" such as mentioned in the Matthew gospel could have practiced rituals using the bowl.

"It has been known in Mesopotamia probably since the 3rd millennium BC," Fabre said. "The soothsayer interprets the forms taken by the oil poured into a cup of water in an interpretation guided by manuals." The magus or medium then goes into a trance when studying the oil in the cup.

"They therefore see the divinities, or supernatural beings appear that they call to answer their questions with regard to the future," he said. A magus might have used the engraving on the bowl to legitimize his supernatural powers by invoking the name of Christ, the scientists theorize.

Click here for the complete Discovery News article.

The bowl, found submerged in the bay of Alexandria, with the engraved words translating to either "by Christ the magician" or "the magician by Christ."

Number 15 ~ MODESTY

Modesty creates success.
The superior man carries things through.

It is the law of heaven to make fullness empty and to make full what is modest; when the sun is at its zenith, it must, according to the law of heaven, turn toward its setting, and at its nadir it rises toward a new dawn. In obedience to the same law, the moon when it is full begins to wane, and when empty of light it waxes again. This heavenly law works itself out in the fates of men also. It is the law of earth to alter the full and to contribute to the modest. High mountains are worn down by the waters, and the valleys are filled up. It is the law of fate to undermine what is full and to prosper the modest. And men also hate fullness and love the modest.

The destinies of men are subject to immutable laws that must fulfill themselves. But man has it in his power to shape his fate, as his behavior exposes him to the influence of benevolent or of destructible forces. When a man holds a high position and is nevertheless modest, he shines with the light of wisdom; if he is in a lowly position and is modest, he cannot be passed by. Thus the superior man can carry out his work to the end without boasting of what he has achieved.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Scientists Prove Honeybees Can Count . . .

I was a hobbyist beekeeper for several years in Vermont and Oregon ~ managing at the most about a dozen hives ~ so very little I hear about the intelligence of bees amazes me. One of the reasons I kept them was to study their astounding little brains, about the size of a grain of sand.

Now scientists in China and Australia have proved conclusively something any bee watcher already surmised:

Bees can count.

Scientists from Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China, and the Australian National University in Canberra launched the recent study by first integrating two species of bees ~ the European Apis mellifera, and Asiatic honeybees, A. cerana ~ into interracial colonies. 

In case you’re unaware, bees normally kill bees from other species, so this in itself is significant.

They then determined that the different bees have dialects specific to their own species. Their familiar “dances” to communicate information had different wiggles and durations. Eventually, the Asian honeybees were able to decode the dance of their European sisters.

Scientists then trained the European honeybees to find food by flying down a tunnel marked with colored stripes. They placed the food by the fourth stripe and the bees regularly returned to that stripe to get their reward. 

When the food was removed, the bees still stopped at the fourth stripe.

Then the scientists varied the spacing of the stripes and even replaced some with unfamiliar markers. Still, the bees consistently passed the same number of markers to approach the former site, demonstrating they could count up to four, regardless of spacing or color of the markers. To the bees, it was the numeric identity that mattered.

So once again we find that the creatures with whom we share Earth aren't so stupid after all. The big lesson here needs to be learned by you-know-who.

The honeybee studies were detailed in the journals PLoS One and Animal Cognition and written up on

. . . And Cattle Have An Internal Magnetic Compass

Herds of cattle tend to align themselves along the earth’s north-south magnetic lines, as do deer, according to researchers who used Google Earth to study about 8,500 cows in 308 locations around the world.

“Google Earth is perfect for this kind of research, because the animals are undisturbed by the observer," Sabine Begall, a zoologist at the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany and coauthor of the study detailed in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, told Live Science.

Rearchers pointed out that learning the importance of magnetic direction could help us better understand, for example, the effect of having cattle barns facing one direction or the other, especially in milk production. Perhaps east-west facing barns could have negative effects on the milk cows.

The data on about 3,000 deer came from direct ground observations and photos in the Czech Republic. Researchers also examined fresh beds left by resting deer in the snow, where the animals had sought shelter deep in the forest away from the wind.

Both cattle and deer faced a more magnetic north-south direction rather than geographic north-south, the researchers said. Birds, turtles and some fish migrate along magnetic directions, and some other creatures such as rodents and bats have internal magnetic compasses.

"Our first idea was to study sleeping directions of humans,but there are too many constraints," Begall told LiveScience. "So, the idea arose to look for other large mammals like cattle.”

Click here for the Live Science article.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Frightened People Are More Conservative

By virtue of our genes, some of us scare more easily than others. And those among us who are more easily frightened tend to resist change ~ because it scares them.
Not surprisingly, a new study at the University of Nebraska shows that the more-easily-frightened among us tend to espouse political positions resistant to change, and therefore are quantifiably more conservative than those who are less easily frightened.

Using a relatively small sampling of 46 people, the controversial study identified the subjects’ physical reactions to perceived threats. It correlated those results against the subjects’ political positions on hot topics such as gun control, immigration policy and foreign aid. The researchers also tested the people’s physical responses to scary images ~ wounds, bloody scenes, spiders on a terrified person’s face ~ and to loud noises.

The subjects who displayed “lower physical sensitivities to sudden noises and threatening visual images were more likely to support foreign aid, liberal immigration policies, pacifism and gun control," the team wrote in its report, published in the journal Science. "Individuals displaying measurably higher physiological reactions to those same stimuli were more likely to favor defense spending, capital punishment, patriotism and the Iraq War."

The study’s critics say its findings run the risk of “pathologizing conservatism.”

Click here for the National Geographic News article.