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Sunday, June 22, 2008

Ten Religious Pilgrimages

Thousands of Catholics flocked to see the Pope on his recent U.S. tour. But, if you’re like me—a heathen with a penchant for traveling—you’d much rather enjoy the pomp and grandeur of religion by flocking to holy sites, not holy men. The following religious sites are culturally, architecturally, and spiritually fascinating; most are open to both faithful and secular, and none will leave you wanting a man of the cloth.

Golden Temple, Amristar, India
The Golden Temple, also called the Harmandir Sahib, is the holiest shrine in Sikhism and is an active place of worship and prayer. Like most Sikh temples, it is open to visitors; I had the opportunity to visit the temple while I was in India. After covering my head and removing my shoes, I was able to wander the marble corridors and gaze at the gold gilded dome while the sunset turned the sky a radiant pink. It is no wonder so many visitors come here for both pilgrimage and spiritual renewal.

Photo courtesy of voobie (cc)

Salt Lake Temple, Salt Lake City, Utah
In 1847, the Mormon prophet Brigham Young decided a plot of land in the Great Salt Lake Valley would make a great place for a temple; the Salt Lake Temple is now the headquarters for the Mormon religion and a focal point for the city. The huge, granite structure is a pilgrimage for Mormons, but unfortunately is not open to the public. However, the temple is surrounded by Temple Square, a 10,000-acre complex that contains gardens, two visitor centers open to the public, and hosts events and concerts. Even for non-Mormons, the site is culturally and architecturally fascinating.

Salt Lake Temple, photo courtesy of KM Photography (cc)

St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City, Italy

Within the confines of Vatican City is St. Peter’s Basilica, one of the holiest sites in Catholicism. Because Michelangelo and other renowned artists and architects designed and painted the Basilica, it is also of great historical and artistic importance. Saint Peter, one of the twelve apostles, is buried here, as are numerous Popes. It is easy to spend an entire day at the Basilica, touring St. Peter’s square, admiring the external architecture, wandering through the nave, viewing Michelangelo’s pieta, looking under the baldacchino canopy … and that’s just for starters. Admission is free and it is open to public—after they cover their shoulders and knees.

St. Peter’s Basilica, photo courtesy of air babble (cc)

Lumbini, Nepal
Lumbini is the birthplace of Siddhartha Guatama, who later became Guatama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism. Within the town of Lumbini, a UNESCO world heritage site, is the Maya Devi Temple, named after Buddha’s mother; the temple is said to mark the exact spot where Buddha was born. There is also a sacred pool, where the newborn Buddha is said to have first been bathed. Lumbini, because it is not on a main tourist route, does not receive many visitors and is relatively difficult to get to; a small airport services Buddha Air, the obvious choice for the committed pilgrims who make the trek to this holy site.

The sacred pool in Lumbini, photo courtesy of Prince Roy (cc)

Varanasi,
India
Varanasi is a holy site for Hinduism. Situated on the banks of the Ganges, the city has a shrine of Lord Kashi Vishwanath (a manifestation of Lord Shiva) and one of the twelve existing Jyotirlingas (or shrines) of Lord Shiva. The Ganges itself is considered holy among Hindus who believe that bathing in the water relieves sins and can purify one’s body before death. For tourists, Varanasi is a popular spot; though I never visited, almost every traveler I met in India had. The rituals performed along the waterfront—bathing, meditating, fire prayers, and cremations—combined with the numerous pilgrims and grieving relatives, make it an intense experience, not for those who easily get sensory overload.


Mecca, Saudi Arabia
Mecca is the most sacred city in the Islamic religion. The prophet Muhammad chose Mecca as the epicenter of Islam and deemed it the place to which all Muslims should point themselves during their daily prayers. According to the Five Pillars of Islam, it is a Muslim’s sacred duty to take a pilgrimage to Mecca during the season of the Hajj at least once in his lifetime. For non-Muslims, traveling to Mecca isn’t an option; the city forbids people with other faiths from entering. For Muslims, the most popular time to go is during Hajj, which occurs during the 12th month of the Islamic calendar and is the largest annual pilgrimage in the world.

Mecca, photo courtesy of Camera Eye (cc)

Baha’i House of Worship, Delhi, India
This magnificent building, which I also had the chance to see while in India, is a place of worship for the Baha’i faith. Shaped like a lotus flower, the Temple has won numerous architectural awards. It is used for worship and scriptural readings; the four daily prayer sessions feature prayers from an array of religions, something unique among holy sites. Secular visitors are also welcome and many come just to admire the architecture. Admission is free; open daily except for Mondays.



Baha’i House Of Worship, photo courtesy of tracyhunter (cc)

Western Wall, Jerusalem
The Western Wall, also known as the Wailing Wall, is a Jewish holy site located in the Old City of Jerusalem. It is the only remaining part of the Temple Mount, which was a place of Jewish worship until the Romans destroyed it in 70 AD. Prayers take place every day and it’s common to see Orthodox Jews chanting and swaying at the wall, or a bar mitzvah taking place. All religions are welcome; men must cover their heads, women their knees and shoulders, and men and women must pray separately. Popular times to visit—and the most crowded—are during Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot.

Western Wall, photo courtesy of hoyasmeg (cc)

Ise Shrine, Ise, Japan
This Shinto shrine is actually a complex of many shrines in the city of Ise. Often referred to simply as “Jingu” (the shrine), many of the smaller buildings are dedicated to specific deities. The inner shrine contains the Sacred Mirror, both a national treasure and a religious artifact. According to the Ise Jingu Web site, it is custom for worshippers to move from the outer shrine to the inner shrine. However, wooden fences surround the plainly built shrines and visitors are not allowed to enter, making for a somewhat anticlimactic viewing experience. For Japanese Shintos, however, the buildings and grounds are the representation of their religion and are therefore important holy sites.

Ise Shrine, photo courtesy of Aleksander Dragnes (cc)

Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Jerusalem
This Christian church stands on the grounds that contain Golgatha, the place where Christians believe Jesus was crucified. It is also houses the tomb (or sepulcher) where Jesus was buried. Christians have been making pilgrimages to this holy spot since the 4th century and many non-Christians now come to visit the elaborate church and the numerous chapels. Plan on spending an entire day. Admission is free; it’s open year round.


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7 Simple Rules For How to Take A Nap

Birds do it, bees do it (we think), even educated monkeys do it. So let’s do it, people. Let’s fall asleep. (The musical portion of this blog is over; thanks for indulging.) But seriously: we’ve talked about the whys of taking naps on the blog before — they improve mood, creativity, memory function, heart health, and so much else — but never, to my knowledge, have we discussed how to take a nap. In fact, whenever we write about naps, we always get a few comments from people claiming they’re unable to nap during the day; they just can’t fall asleep, or when they do nap they wake up groggy and unable to work. In that case, read on, my sleepy friends.

1.

The first thing you should know is, feeling sleepy in the afternoon is normal. It doesn’t mean you had a big lunch, or that you’re depressed, or you’re not getting enough exercise. That’s just how animals’ cycles work — every 24 hours, we have two periods of intense sleepiness. One is typically in the wee hours of the night, from about 2am to 4am, and the other is around 10 hours later, between 1pm and 3pm. If you’re a night owl and wake up later in the morning, that afternoon sleepiness may come later; if you’re an early bird, it may come earlier. But it happens to everyone; we’re physiologically hardwired to nap.

2.

Naps provide different benefits depending on how long they are. A short nap of even 20 minutes will enhance alertness and concentration, mood and coordination. A nap of 90 minutes will get you into slow wave and REM sleep, which enhances creativity. If you sleep deeply and uninterruptedly the whole time, you’ll go through a full 90-minute sleep cycle, and recoup sleep you might not have gotten the night before (we’ve all heard it a million times, but most of us don’t get enough sleep at night).

3.

Try not to sleep longer than 45 minutes but less than 90 minutes; then you’ll wake up in the middle of a slow-wave cycle, and be groggy. I used to hate taking naps during the day for just this reason — I would always wake up in a fog. My problem was I hadn’t yet perfected the art of the 20-minute catnap.

4.

Find a nice dark place where you can lie down. It takes about 50% longer to fall asleep sitting up (this is why red eye flights usually live up to their name), and be armed with a blanket; you don’t want to be chilly. You also don’t want to be too warm, which can lead to oversleeping. (There was a kind of urban legend circulating when I was a kid: don’t fall asleep in the sun, or you’ll never wake up. Not true — but you might wake up three hours later with a ripe sunburn.)

5.

White noise can help you fall asleep, especially during the day when construction crews, garbage trucks, barking dogs and other noisy awake-world things can conspire to destroy your nap. Keep a fan on, or turn on a nearby faucet for a pleasing rushing-river sound. (Just kidding about that last one.)

6.

Don’t nap too close to bedtime, or you might not be able to fall asleep later. Remember, your inbuilt sleepy window is sometime in the early to mid-afternoon — try to nap then.

7.

Quit that silly job where they don’t let you take naps during the day.

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Sexy time, all the time

Silk pyjamas? Check. Porn? Check. Sex 365 times a year? It worked for two married couples in the United States. But just because goal-oriented sex cured their mid-marriage fatigue doesn't mean it will spice up yours. Siri Agrell reports

From Thursday's Globe and Mail

If you want to get in shape, it goes without saying you should exercise regularly.

To become a proficient musician or golfer, practise makes perfect.

But when it comes to sex, is repetition really the path to success?

Two new books chronicle the efforts of two very different married couples living in the United States who decided to step up their sex lives, and then some.

Earning comparisons to Super Size Me, the documentary that saw Morgan Spurlock eat nothing but McDonald's for a month, each pair decided to indulge their carnal appetites on a daily basis in an attempt to reinvigorate their relationships.

In Just Do It: How One Couple Turned Off the TV and Turned On Their Sex Lives for 101 Days (No Excuses), Douglas Brown and his wife, Annie, go on a "sexpedition" that sees them incorporating not just a new sexual schedule, but silk pyjamas, porn and other adventurous accessories.

And in 365 Nights: A Memoir of Intimacy by Charla Muller and co-author Betsy Thorpe, Ms. Muller gives a year of regular and unlimited sex to her husband, Brad, as a 40th birthday present.

Both couples saw the experiment as a necessary infusion of passion into their increasingly staid sex lives.

The Browns had been together for 14 years when they began their jiggy journey, married for 11 and parents for almost seven.

And it's not that they didn't have sex. Mr. Brown writes that they got it on about once a week, their occasional dry spells lasting no more than six weeks.

The sex hadn't disappeared, but the spontaneity, fun and intimacy of their physical relationship had evaporated.

"We talked endlessly about where to live. We held confab after confab about how to raise our daughters. We routinely engaged in long discussions about our jobs and our dreams," wrote Mr. Brown, a journalist with The Denver Post.

"But sex? We did not spend time mutually examining this activity that propelled our union beyond the realm of friendship."

The Mullers, too, were happily married parents of two, living in Charlotte, N.C., when Ms. Muller decided she needed to take matters into her own hands.

They had sex between 26 and 28 times a month throughout the year, although some months were harder than others (pun intended).

According to the 2005 Global Sex Survey by condom maker Durex, Canadians have sex on average 108 times a year. Whether this is enough is a matter for debate. The same survey found 46 per cent of Canadians were happy with their sex lives and 45 per cent said they wished they had sex more frequently.

But is an extreme sex marathon a good idea for couples struggling with mid-marriage blahs?

Guy Grenier, a couples counsellor, author and sex therapist in London, Ont., said novelty does breed interest and scheduling sex is not a bad idea for those who worry about fizzling passion.

"One of the rules of keeping sex interesting is to keep having sex," he said. "It's a use-it-or-lose-it kind of behaviour."

When couples stop having sex, Dr. Grenier says, stigma builds around getting started again. He believes it is better to have sex regularly, even if it "isn't great sex," than to stop altogether.

But at the same time, he cautions against going too far.

Good sex is rarely formulaic, Dr. Grenier said, and just because one couple (or two) benefited from a calendar year of coitus doesn't mean it will work for you.

Any kind of goal-oriented sex, whether you are hoping to reach orgasm in unison or to have sex every day, sets dangerous expectations that can breed anxiety, distraction and sexual dysfunction.

"Having sex 365 days in a row, that's the epitome of goal-oriented sex," Dr. Grenier said. "Sex is supposed to be recreation, fun, intimate."

Novelty, too, is a stimulus, especially for couples who have been together for years, he said.

One of the most common roadblocks to regular sex is a discrepancy of desire, Dr. Grenier said, but he added it is also one of the easiest problems to solve.

Usually, a lack of desire is a product of outside influences that have little to do with the compatibility of the couple.

With one couple Dr. Grenier treated, it was revealed that the wife's conflict with her mother was affecting her sex drive. In another case, a man's unresolved emotions concerning the death of his father had put a damper on his desire.

"It can be as simple as not knowing how to talk about it or somebody has a body odour issue, or bad technique," Dr. Grenier said. "I had one couple where all we had to do was put a lock on their door."

In that case, the wife was terrified of being caught in the act by the kids and was embarrassed about admitting her hang-up to her liberal-minded husband.

Although neither the Browns nor the Mullers maintained their lay-a-day schedule after the experiment was over, the project seems to have been successful in bringing excitement and eroticism back into their bedrooms.

Like everything in the human condition, desire operates on a continuum and there is no standard number of times a couple should be having sex, as long as everyone's satisfied, Dr. Grenier said.

"Wanting to have sex once a month is not a problem; wanting to have sex once a day is not a problem," he said. "But if someone wants it once a day and the other wants it once a year, the middle ground is never going to work for either one of them."

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Turn Conflicts Into Problem Solving: 14 Secrets

Constructive Problem-Solving

When problem-solving everyday issues becomes a tug-of-war over who's right and who's wrong, then settling even the smallest of discussions becomes a battle. "A better alternative is what I call the win-win waltz," says marriage expert Susan Heitler, Ph.D., author of The Power of Two. "We toss information back and forth, we have an 'aha!' moment, and we come up with solutions that work very well for both of us."

This is really a win-win-win situation because the benefits go far beyond the convenience of working out problems effectively. You'll develop a new way of getting along together that lets both of you feel ready and willing to talk about your concerns because you know your spouse listens and cares. Mutual respect goes up, and bad stuff like hostility, coercion, personal attacks, and antagonism go down.

Turn Conflicts Into Problem Solving
Couples who learn to solve problems constructively together cut their risk for stress-related health problems including depression, cardiovascular disease, and lowered immunity.
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Turn Conflicts Into Problem Solving
Couples who learn to solve problems constructively together cut their risk for stress-related health problems including depression, cardiovascular disease, and lowered immunity.
You'll also free yourself from the emotional and physical side effects of nasty fighting, such as feeling you've intimidated or dominated your mate -- or that you've given in and given up on what you really want. You'll have fewer tense times together, and actually improve your health. Couples who learn to solve problems constructively together cut their risk for stress-related health problems including depression, cardiovascular disease, and lowered immunity.

Step 1: Describe the Problem in a Few Words -- and Let Your Partner Respond
The opening round in problem-solving involves getting your overview of the issue out on the table. Don't let it smolder or expect your partner to guess!
Example:
You: "If we go to your parents' house for the weekend, I won't be able to get our tax return information together before the workweek starts."

Your spouse: "My parents have been planning for this visit for months. I don't think we can or should just cancel."

Step 2: Look Together at Deeper Concerns
This is the exploration phase. Don't try to "sell" your point of view to your spouse. And don't try to solve the problem just yet. Do talk about underlying worries and issues that contribute to the problem you're trying to solve. And do listen carefully to your partner's concerns. Keep an open mind. Learn all you can about your own concerns and your partner's. Your goal: See the big picture and form a mental list of both partners' concerns. This is your common set of concerns that you'll try to resolve in Step 3.

Example:
You: "I have a new deadline at work and meetings three nights this week, plus we promised to visit the neighbors on Tuesday night. The tax deadline is almost here. I'm afraid I'll be up until 3 a.m. trying to do all this during the week. I'll be grouchy and won't do my best at work, and I won't be very interested in socializing with our neighbors or contribute much to the meetings. I'm feeling squeezed."

Your spouse: "I really want to see my parents before they leave for their vacation. I haven't spent much time with them in several months. Plus, my mother invited my aunt and uncle over to see us, too. It's important to me to be with my parents for more than a short visit, and to feel at home. I'd like you to see them, too, and be with me for the big family dinner."

Step 3: Craft a Win-Win Strategy
Look for steps you can take to resolve the issue for both of you. This is crucial: Don't tell your partner what he or she can do, but instead say what you can do. The best solutions usually aren't your first ideas at all but may occur to you after looking at your concerns and figuring out what matters most to each of you.

Example:
You: "Maybe I could stay at home on Friday night and Saturday morning and get the tax stuff organized. Then I'd join you for the rest of the weekend without any worries hanging over me."

Your spouse: "I would be willing to tell my parents you have to catch up with the taxes and can't come for the whole weekend. I'm also willing to postpone our night out with the neighbors during the week and help you get the tax information together."
Decide if you've got a problem or just a difference. If an issue isn't threatening your health, safety, or financial security, doesn't work against your shared vision for your marriage, and doesn't put an unfair burden on you, then it may simply be a sign that the two of you are two different people. Perhaps you're an extrovert and love parties, while your partner's introvert personality makes him or her crave quiet nights at home. Perhaps you're great at starting projects, while your partner's terrific at sticking with it until every last detail is finished. Or maybe one of you is a morning person, the other a night owl. In that case, the solution is acceptance, not trying to change your partner. Look for the ways that your differences are marriage-strengthening assets.

Pick the right time. Problem solving is least likely to work when you're tired, hungry, overloaded, stressed, distracted, or trying to do something else at the same time, such as making dinner, catching up on work from the office, or relaxing in front of the TV. Save big talks for a better time.

Practice loving acceptance. Learning the art of accepting and valuing your partner for who he or she is -- instead of grousing about shortcomings -- may actually help the two of you find better solutions to problems, experts say. This loving accommodation melts defenses and motivates us to want to please each other.

Banish the deal-breakers. University of Washington relationship expert John Gottman, Ph.D., advises couples to do all they can to avoid these lethal habits: personal criticism, sneering contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.

Give your mate the benefit of the doubt. The next time you're feeling disappointed, hurt, or angry with your spouse, pause before jumping to conclusions. Maybe your spouse is tired, hungry, or preoccupied -- or doesn't see the impact of his or her actions. Search for a benevolent explanation that will allow you to treat your mate with love and respect.

Beware of ice. A University of Wisconsin study that followed 97 newlywed couples into their third year of marriage found that spouses who give their mates the cold shoulder cause as much marital distress as those who dish out scathing sarcasm and caustic criticism. Icy behavior included pouting, stomping out of the room, showing a lack of interest in a partner's emotional revelations, and more subtle brush-offs such as changing the subject, joking, or even buttering up a spouse to avoid discussing a sticky subject.

Learn from successful wives and husbands. Dr. Gottman says wives can improve the odds for a fruitful problem-solving session by starting conversations without confrontation. Try a "soft start-up" by talking about how you feel and asking for your mate's input, instead of criticizing, blaming, or turning anger up to top volume. In contrast, husbands contributed to better conflict resolution when they accepted their wife's influence. That means taking her opinions, ideas, and plans into consideration and developing a joint solution instead of a unilateral plan.

Seize the small opportunities. Practice problem-solving skills when tiny issues arise. "Moments with little bits of tension are perfect opportunities to work on your skills and experience success," Dr. Heitler says. "Talk about each of your concerns; look for solutions. The more you do this, the more the whole tone of your relationship changes. Problems become a chance to come closer together and show each other how much we care, instead of danger zones full of irritation and hurt feelings."

Be patient with yourself -- and your mate. Learning problem-solving skills takes time. It's a big job. You're attempting to rewrite lessons about conflict resolution that you learned in childhood, and to practice new ways of communicating in highly emotional situations. Give yourself and your spouse credit for even the smallest steps forward -- each improvement will propel you toward the next.

Be an equal-time advocate. Making sure each of you has the same opportunity to discuss concerns and solution ideas creates a sense of equality and shared power. If you tend to dominate, speak a little less and listen longer. Encourage your partner to say more. If you feel you're getting short shrift, gently hold your ground if your partner interrupts or tries to move the discussion along too swiftly.

Take time-outs early and often. As soon as one of you feels too upset or negative to follow healthy problem-solving steps, it's time to take a break. Experts say agreeing ahead of time to take a time-out if one partner becomes overwhelmed is crucial for avoiding a downward spiral you'll only regret later. Include in your agreement the understanding that you'll get back to your discussion within 24 hours. Some couples use a sports signal, such as the "T" sign coaches use, to indicate they need a break. Stop the discussion right away (no negotiating!), go to separate rooms or outdoors and calm down. Take a walk, read a book, cook a meal. Don't spend your time ruminating about the conversation or having bad thoughts about your spouse. Before you talk again, first share an everyday activity together to re-establish a close, calm connection, Heitler suggests.

Five Ways to Sidestep a Fight
These strategies can stop a fight before it starts.
  • See things from your partner's point of view.
  • Count to 50 before you say anything incendiary. This pause will help you calm down just long enough to think better of it.
  • Don't throw verbal bombs. Avoid put-downs, personal attacks, judgments, criticism, and blaming -- as well as sulking, interrupting, and stomping out of the room.
  • Ask yourself if you can -- and should -- solve the problem on your own.
  • Skip heavy conversations before breakfast and from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. -- because nobody should argue on an empty stomach. And ban problem-solving talks after about 8 p.m. Fatigue starts many fights!
Three Ways to Defuse a Runaway Argument
These tension-tamers can short-circuit an argument that's getting too hot to handle.
  • Use anger as a red-alert sign to stop the discussion. Walk away and use meditation, exercise, or another pleasant activity to de-stress.
  • Reconnect frequently during tough conversations. Use empathy and appreciation to stay close to your spouse. And be on the lookout for your spouse's attempts to heal or avoid breaches.
  • Soothe yourself and your spouse. Breathe deeply, slow down the conversation, and take a few minutes to review all the positive steps you've taken together to solve the problem already. Share your feelings. The more effectively you can soothe yourself and each other, the more productive your problem-solving session can be.
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How Smart Are You?

The business of assessing cognition and memory is moving from testing brain-impaired patients to assessing healthy peoples' brains online.

Al Einstein

The words come in a rapid, random progression on the computer screen: "POET," "BEACH," "ATTENDANT," "JURY," "CAVE" … there are 15 in all. I’m watching them tick by one by one, slightly panicked that I am going to forget them.

The screen goes dark, and I’m now supposed to write down as many of the words as I can quickly recall.

I am annoyed when I manage only five words.

ExperimentalMan
EXPERIMENTAL MAN
David Ewing Duncan explores advances in personalized medicine and what they can tell us about ourselves.
Pat Turk says not to worry, that this is fairly typical. Turk is director of business development for Cognitive Drug Research, a British firm that uses automated tests to gauge how well we think. He's come to my office in San Francisco to administer a battery of tests to check out my attention, memory and executive function.

I will be compared on this test and several others with people my age and to those who are younger and older. Their results have been averaged on a database of tens of thousands of adults. I’ll also get a “brain-age” score.

I have to admit to certain nervousness. What if a) I turn out to be a moron; or b) my brain-age is older than I am?

Cognitive Drug Research is one a handful of businesses, most of them outside of the U.S., that work with pharmaceutical companies to test how new drugs for everything from nicotine addiction to Alzheimer’s disease affect the mind’s ability to remember things, make decisions, and analyze information.

The results from their tests are recognized “end points” by the Food and Drug Administration to determine if new brain medications work, which means that the drug industry has billions of dollars in potential revenues riding on them.

(For more information, see “The Ultimate Cure,” an article on the neurotechnology industry in the June issue of Condé Nast Portfolio.)

Cognitive tests have been around for a century as examinations taken with paper and pencil. In the 1970s and '80s the tests shifted to computers, Cognitive Drug Research founder Keith Wesnes says. He is a psychologist and neuroscientist who started the company in 1986 as an outgrowth of testing programs he developed for his academic experiments on cognition.

Besides drug trials, cognitive experiments are being run on patients who have had open heart surgery; take cholesterol-lowering drugs; experience what is known as “Chemofog”, a cognitive decline that sometimes accompanies chemotherapy treatments for cancer; and soldiers returning from Iraq with head trauma.

Tests have been run on children eating sugary breakfast cereals versus more healthy breakfasts, and on the cognitive impact of being obese.

U.S. motorists brave Mexico border violence for fuel

TIJUANA, Mexico (Reuters) - U.S. motorists are risking rampant drug violence in Mexico to drive over the border and fill their tanks with cheap Mexican fuel, some even coming to blows over gas shortages and long queues.

The gap between Mexico's subsidized gasoline and record U.S. prices has made it well worth making the trip, and U.S. drivers are even shrugging off the dangers of Mexico's drug war which sees almost daily shootings in border towns.

Some say they can save up to $100 a month by filling up every two weeks in Mexico. The extra demand is causing shortages at hundreds of Mexico's border gas stations, some of which are starting to ration fuel.

"It's worth taking the risk even with the violence," said a retired California engineer named Terry, who declined to give his surname, as he filled his red Ford pick-up truck in Tijuana, over the border from San Diego. "I know they could kill me or kidnap me, but the cost of filling my tank in the United States is just too much," he said.

Mexico's subsidized gasoline -- around $1.40 cheaper per gallon than in the United States -- is a huge draw as average U.S. pump prices hit an unprecedented $4 a gallon ($1.06 a liter). In West Coast cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles, prices are over $4.50 a gallon.

Savings on diesel in Mexico are even greater. A gallon of diesel in southern Arizona cost $4.64 this week, compared to around $2.25 in Mexican border towns.

As pump attendants struggled to keep up with dozens of vehicles lining up for fuel, U.S. and Mexican drivers traded insults. A few even brawled as they waited for hours in searing heat this week in the rough border city of Tijuana.

"I am not budging until I get to the pump. I don't care what anyone says, I've been waiting for two hours," said Jaime Rosales from Southern California, at a gas station where buses, trucks and cars all vied to get to the pumps.

Even hours of waiting to cross back into the United States at the busy border crossings are not putting Americans off despite misgivings about having to produce proof of U.S. citizenship to return home under new travel rules.

"I was on the point of giving up, but then you start thinking about all the waiting time and the cost of fuel. You'll see me here again," said a Mexican-American from Southern California who gave his name as Rov A.

RUNNING DRY

Nor is a recent surge in drug cartel killings -- which has scared away border tourists -- discouraging U.S. motorists.

Shootouts and murders by cartel hitmen have escalated across northern Mexico this year as gangs from the Pacific state of Sinaloa try to destroy Tijuana's Arellano Felix cartel and take over lucrative smuggling routes into California.

More than 1,400 people have died in drug violence across the country since the start of the year, around 300 of them in Tijuana, as an army-led crackdown puts more pressure on drug gang rivalries for turf and protection rings.

Tourists who used to come for everything from dental work to prostitutes have deserted Mexican border cities as gun battles erupt in broad daylight on busy avenues and gangs dump bodies and severed heads on streets.

Yet such is the clamor for cheap Mexican fuel that Tijuana officials say the city and surrounding areas are running out of diesel after truckloads of fuel due from the oil-producing state of Veracruz were delayed this week.

U.S. motorists are filling up fuel containers as well as their tanks, the Tijuana gas stations association says.

"We have very little reserves left. We are trying to ration sales because we can see the situation is causing outbreaks of violence," said association head Joaquin Avina.

"There are areas without a single liter of gasoline because so many people from Southern California are making unusually big fuel purchases," Avina said.

Avina said state energy monopoly Pemex has told officials that gasoline trucks from Veracruz had engine trouble and would not reach Tijuana until Saturday.

City officials say diesel-dependent transport and trash collection trucks are also being hit by the fuel shortages.

(Additional reporting by Tim Gaynor in Arizona; Writing by Robin Emmott; Editing by Chris Baltimore)

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Christianity 'could die out within a century'

More than half of Britons think Christianity is likely to have disappeared from the country within a century, according to a survey.

Research by the Orthodox Jewish organisation Aish found that just over a third of people thought religions like Christianity and Judaism would still be practiced in Britain in 100 years' time.

Although four in 10 people said they would choose to be a member of the Christian religion, almost the same number said they would rather practice no religion at all.

Buddhism however, proved more attractive than both Islam and Judaism, and was chosen by nine per cent of those questioned.

Aish UK's executive director Rabbi Naftali Schiff said the results of the YouGov poll of 2,000 people were alarming.

"It clearly demonstrates that religion, including Judaism, is becoming unattractive to the British public.

"At Aish we know that Judaism provides real meaning and enrichment to one's life. Whilst we have attracted many disinterested Jews back to Jewish identity it is clear there is much work to be done."

Research published earlier this year suggested that church attendance is declining so fast that the number of regular churchgoers will be fewer than those attending mosques within a generation.

According to Religious Trends, an analysis of religious practice in Britain, the huge drop off in attendance means that the Church of England, Catholicism and other denominations will become financially unviable.

In contrast, the number of actively religious Muslims is predicted to increase from about one million today to 1.96 million in 2035.

Origianl here