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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Junk on the Pier: Princess Taiping Docks in San Francisco



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Words by Ashley Harrell, Photos by Jeff Grossman and Janine Kahn

If you happened to be crossing the Golden Gate Bridge between 11:30 a.m. and noon today, we hope you took the time to look down. Sailing beneath was the Princess Taiping, a 54-foot replica of a Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) war ship.

Composed of just wood and nails and with no built-in engine, the junk blew into Northern California from China last week after a Kon-Tikiesque 69-day journey, and landed yesterday in San Francisco.

In about two weeks, the Princess Taiping will set off back toward China in an effort to become the first known vessel of its kind to make a GPS-guided, transpacific round trip.

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“We built the boat and sailed it to prove it could be done,” said barefooted skipper Liu Ning Sheng. Ning Sheng says the journey might lend some credence to a controversial theory that the Chinese arrived in America about 70 years before Christopher Columbus.

The trip also has another purpose, he says. Weather-permitting, stops were scheduled in Hong Kong, Vancouver, Seattle, Eureka, Long Beach, Hawaii, Japan and Taiwan as part of a cultural exchange. And with crew members hailing from Taiwan, Hong Kong and mainland China –- far-flung regions of a vast nation that, to put it mildly, haven’t always seen eye to eye –- the journey been has a cultural experiment of its own, says Ning Sheng. In extremely tight sleeping quarters, on the open sea the crew must rotate their head-to-foot sleeping shifts. “We are closer than husband and wife,” Ning Sheng said with a chuckle.

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But when asked about the biggest challenge of a salt water-logged journey, on which tropical storms forced the crew to bypass Vancouver and Seattle, Sheng cited the cultural differences in the crew members, but didn’t give any specifics. If there’s conflict on the ship, a visitor would never know it. Those who can find the ancient-looking gem, unfortunately docked in a remote spot at the end of the Hyde Street Pier, are greeted by the eight smiling crew members and offered Chinese herbal tea.

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“We come in peace!” says ship spokeswoman Angela Chao, gesturing toward a few red and white painted panels on the side of the ship. Those panels apparently cover slots that would have carried weaponry in the 15th century. On the front of the boat, a traditional wide-set pair of carved, painted eyes glance into the distance. “They look toward the future,” Chao says.

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Drunk Pumpkin Party

James Bond’s wrecked Aston Martin DBS bought for $350,000

by Vlad Balan

Aston Martin DBS James Bond Crash

Back in April, the £134,000 ($233,000) Aston Martin DBS used for filming the most recent James Bond movie, Quantum of Solace, plunged into Lake Garda, in Italy, when Fraser Dunn, an Aston Martin technician who was driving the car to the set lost control, piled thorugh an iron railing and plunged into the lake. As you can see in the photos, the car was completely destroyed, but the driver got away with only minor injuries. Considering all that, you might say that this was a $233k hole in the movie’s budget. But, thanks to eccentric collectors, that wasn’t the case. Because last week Daniel Craig, the movie’s star, announced that a private collector paid £200,000 (approx. $350,000) for the wreck. So not only didn’t MGM lose any money on the car, but it also made a nice profit.

And here’s a video made right after the crash, which shows the car completely wrecked.

Source: WhatCar


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Schoolyard Bullying: Which Kids Are Most Vulnerable?


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Playground gibes are a rite of passage for most school-age kids, but for some children, teasing at school can turn into outright violence and abuse. Researchers say that as many as 1 in 10 children suffer physical attacks, name-calling and other social aggression at school, and a new study suggests that a child's risk of becoming a chronic victim of bullying may depend on factors that appear very early in life.

"Studies also show that peer victimization becomes increasingly stable over time, with the same children enduring such negative experiences throughout childhood and adolescence," write the authors of a study on victimization, published in the current issue of Archives of General Psychiatry. "The consequences associated with high and chronic victimization are manifold and include depression, loneliness, low self-esteem, physical health problems, social withdrawal, alcohol and/or drug use, school absence and avoidance, decrease in school performance, self-harm and suicidal ideation."

Given the overwhelming slate of potential harm, the aim of the study was to identify early predictors of victimization, along with behavioral interventions that may prevent it. The bulk of past research on the matter involved primary-school-age children, says Michel Boivin, a psychologist at Université Laval in Québec, Canada, and a co-author of the study; the new research tracks behavior in very young kids — as early as those in pre-preschool, when children first begin interacting with one another socially.

The research team studied data on 1,970 children — about half boys, half girls — and their families, all participants in the Quebec Longitudinal Study of Child Development. The children were born between October 1997 and July 1998 and represented a socio-economic cross-section of Quebec society. Mothers were surveyed about their children during their earliest school years — every six months up to age 6 — in order to determine how often children complained of suffering physical violence at school, being called names or being teased by their peers. Subsequently, the study asked the same questions of teachers and the children themselves.

Those periodic interviews, Boivin said, allowed researchers to identify three "trajectories" of victimization risk that children tended to follow as they moved from preschool into kindergarten. Most kids (71%) fell into the low-trajectory camp; about a quarter fell into the moderate category. But "there was 4% — mostly boys — who are chronically, highly victimized," Boivin says.

Researchers found several key factors that predicted a child's risk of future victimization — namely, physically aggressive behavior in the child, harsh parenting methods (like "overly punitive" responses to kids' bad behavior) and low socio-economic status. The best predictor, the study concluded, was early childhood physical aggression. "If a child is aggressive at 2 years of age, he's more likely to be in the higher-increasing trajectory," Boivin said. "If, in addition, the mother is hostile and reactive, the prediction risk increases." Adding the third element, low socio-economic status, increases that likelihood even further.

"At 30 months, there is a lot of physical aggression among kids," Boivin notes, but most children manage to adjust socially and eventually develop the verbal skills needed to negotiate peacefully within a group. "Aggression becomes less and less of a normative way to get things done," he says. But children on the high-risk path appear unable to develop those social skills; their aggression ends up turning on them. "As children get older, in grade school, they slowly shift their aggression and tend to withdraw into shyness," Boivin said.

Boivin's study was careful to distinguish aggression from hyperactivity in children. While hyperactivity also often causes social problems and increases a child's risk of being victimized by about second grade, the authors did not find that it predicted peer victimization in young children. Rather, it was physical aggression in early childhood — behavior such as kicking, biting and bullying — that increased a child's odds of becoming a victim of that same behavior later on.

Identifying risk factors in preschool or even earlier helps parents and school administrators step in earlier too. Children who exhibit aggressive behavior can be counseled earlier, for example, and harsh parents can be taught a gentler form of discipline. The authors say further study is needed to answer questions of cause and effect. For instance, does children's aggressive behavior prompt harsh parenting or vice versa? And what about the role of older siblings? Psychologists know that older siblings often victimize their younger brothers and sisters, sometimes to great detriment; studying these family dynamics may help parents protect younger siblings starting in early childhood.

Certainly, the development of the victimized child needs more study, but the new paper offers some guidance for where to begin. Patterns of victimization begin as soon as children begin to interact socially, Boivin says, and parents and caregivers need to be alerted to the problem in the earliest years. "The message is that this ... is not unique to school-age children," Boivin says.

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Does drinking alcohol shrink your brain?

By Theresa Tamkins

What's good for the heart may hurt the brain, according to a new study of the effects of alcohol.

According to the study findings, the more alcohol consumed, the smaller the brain volume.

According to the study findings, the more alcohol consumed, the smaller the brain volume.

People who drink alcohol -- even the moderate amounts that help prevent heart disease -- have a smaller brain volume than those who do not, according to a study in the Archives of Neurology.

While a certain amount of brain shrinkage is normal with age, greater amounts in some parts of the brain have been linked to dementia.

"Decline in brain volume -- estimated at 2 percent per decade -- is a natural part of aging," says Carol Ann Paul, who conducted the study when she was at the Boston University School of Public Health. She had hoped to find that alcohol might protect against such brain shrinkage.

"However, we did not find the protective effect," says Paul, who is now an instructor in the neuroscience program at Wellesley College. "In fact, any level of alcohol consumption resulted in a decline in brain volume."

In the study, Paul and colleagues looked at 1,839 healthy people with an average age of about 61. The patients underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain and reported how much they tippled.

Overall, the more alcohol consumed, the smaller the brain volume, with abstainers having a higher brain volume than former drinkers, light drinkers (one to seven drinks per week), moderate drinkers (eight to 14 drinks per week), and heavy drinkers (14 or more drinks per week).

Men were more likely to be heavy drinkers than women. But the link between brain volume and alcohol wasn't as strong in men. For men, only those who were heavy drinkers had a smaller brain volume than those who consumed little or no alcohol.

In women, even moderate drinkers had a smaller brain volume than abstainers or former drinkers.

It's not clear why even modest amounts of alcohol may shrink the brain, although alcohol is "known to dehydrate tissues, and constant dehydration can have negative effects on any sensitive tissue," says Paul.

"We always knew that alcohol at higher dosages results in shrinking of the brain and cognitive deficit," says Dr. Petros Levounis, M.D., director of the Addiction Institute of New York at St. Luke's -- Roosevelt Hospital Center, who was not involved in the study. "What is new with this article is that it shows brain shrinking at lower doses of alcohol."

However, the study did not demonstrate that the smaller brain volume actually impaired memory or mental function, notes James Garbutt, M.D., professor of psychiatry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

And the differences between brain volumes in drinkers and nondrinkers were quite small -- less than 1.5 percent between abstainers and heavy drinkers.

"We're talking very small differences here," says Dr. Garbutt, who was not involved in the study. "We're not seeing 10 to 20 percent shrinkage."

However, he says, reduction in brain mass is an interesting finding. "But we have a long way to go to figure out the implications of it."

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