Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Gene for left-handedness is found

Left-handers' brains are set up differently
Scientists have discovered the first gene which appears to increase the odds of being left-handed.

The Oxford University-led team believe carrying the gene may also slightly raise the risk of developing psychotic mental illness such as schizophrenia.

The gene, LRRTM1, appears to play a key role in controlling which parts of the brain take control of specific functions, such as speech and emotion.

The study appears in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

The brain is set up in an asymmetrical way.

In right-handed people the left side of the brain usually controls speech and language, and the right side controls emotions.

However, in left-handed people the opposite is often true, and the researchers believe the LRRTM1 gene is responsible for this flip.

They also believe people with the LRRTM1 gene may have a raised risk of schizophrenia, a condition often linked to unusual balances of brain function.

Further research

Lead researcher Dr Clyde Francks, from Oxford University's Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics, said the next step would be to probe the impact on the development of the brain further.

No-one really understands what causes schizophrenia yet
Jane Harris

He said: "We hope this study's findings will help us understand the development of asymmetry in the brain.

"Asymmetry is a fundamental feature of the human brain that is disrupted in many psychiatric conditions."

However, Dr Francks said left-handed people should not be worried by the links between handedness and schizophrenia.

He said: "There are many factors which make individuals more likely to develop schizophrenia and the vast majority of left-handers will never develop a problem.

"We don't yet know the precise role of this gene."

About 10% of people are left-handed.


There is evidence to suggest there are some significant differences between left and right-handed people.

Australian research published last year found left-handed people can think quicker when carrying out tasks such as playing computer games or playing sport.

And French researchers concluded that being left-handed could be an advantage in hand-to-hand combat.

However, being left-handed has also been linked to a greater risk of some diseases, and to having an accident.

Dr Fred Kavalier, a consultant geneticist at London's Guy's Hospital, said: "I don't think left-handed people should be alarmed.

"Undoubtedly there are many, many other factors that contribute to schizophrenia. This may be a tiny little element in the big jigsaw."

'Devastating condition'

Marjorie Wallace, of the mental health charity SANE, said scientists working in its research centre in Oxford were also looking at the link between brain asymmetry and schizophrenia.

She said: "We desperately need research into the origins of psychosis to better understand why some people are more vulnerable than others.

"Then the treatment could be more targeted and carry the potential to prevent this devastating condition which affects one in 100 people worldwide."

Jane Harris, of the mental health charity Rethink, said: "No-one really understands what causes schizophrenia yet.

"It is probably a combination of factors, including genetics, problems in childbirth, viral infections, drug use, poverty and urbanisation."

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Michael Vick: Racism versus responsibility

July 29, 2007 02:43 PM

Posted by Kym Platt

Photoshoped image of Michael Vick attacked by a pitbull. Image by Futternut.

There’s been much controversy surrounding the case of Atlanta Falcons football player, Michael Vick and the allegations of animal cruelty that lead to his arrest. Police found all the makings of an illegal dogfighting setup on his rural Virginia estate.

–”The case began April 25 when investigators conducting a drug search at a massive home Vick built in rural Virginia found 66 dogs, including 55 pit bulls, and equipment typically used in dogfighting. They included a “rape stand” that holds aggressive dogs in place for mating and a “breakstick” used to pry open a dog’s mouth.”

Not surprisingly this story is tinged with racial overtones. The mostly white animal rights activists have called for the NFL to bench and fine Vick even before his trial has begun and Vick’s supporters, most of whom are Black, are claiming that this case has all the signs of smear campaign targeting a prominent Black athlete.

Michael Vick is a successful and wealthy young Black athlete and many in the Black community believe that because of his stature and fame and his Blackness, he is being made an example of and is suffering from overly harsh public censures that has lead to many of his endorsements being dropped. Nike, Reebok, and Donruss trading cards were among the first companies to drop their sponsorship of Vick and it doesn’t look as though it’s going to end there. Many believe that because of the severity and barbarity of the allegations leveled against Vick, the footballer will be essentially blacklisted.

Lots of articles are circling the Web with varying takes on whether Vick is being figuratively lynched in the public eye and the support of Vick is predominantly Black.

A Community Hug?

–”Not everyone is prepared to abandon Vick, however. About 90 people gathered at a community center Friday in his hometown of Newport News, Va., in a show of support for him. The event was billed as ‘A Community Hug for Michael Vick.’” “We’ve got a young man who has risen to great heights,” the Rev. Marcellus Harris, who helped organize the gathering, told the Newport News Daily Press. “If America can dump him, they can dump any one of us.”

–”But some black parents wonder whether Vick’s race has heightened negative attention.” “And for some African-American parents, the issue of race is as essential to a conversation about Vick as moral questions of right and wrong. At issue is not simply the indictment or the catalog of missteps the Atlanta Falcons star quarterback has accrued in the last six years. It is the belief among some that, as a black man with a staggering paycheck, notoriety, unique talent and personality, Vick has always been something of a target.”

This is not a matter of race or racial injustice. I, a person of African descent, cannot stand with those Black supporters of Vick and claim that this is unfair treatment based on the color of Vick’s skin. It’s a shame that many in the Black community are unable to look beyond their own history of racial injustice to see and understand that dogfighting is a tragic and inhumane activity that causes unbelievable pain and suffering and even death of innocent animals all for the amusement and financial profit of humans. Dogfighting is barbaric and an inability to see it as anything other than that is reflective of a community that has lost its sense of empathy, compassion, and humanity.

I hesitate to draw parallels between the exploitation of animals and the exploitation of Black people. For instance, I would never call the cattle industry, an industry that keeps captive and breeds cows solely for human consumption, slavery but it is similar; in that sentient beings are held against their will and used for economic profit.

The debate isn’t whether or not successful Black public figures are targets for racial injustice in this country. Historically, that has been proved true, but that doesn’t mean that Michael Vick, or others like him, get to act with impunity harming animals or people for financial gain or entertainment. This kind of carelessness and total disregard for living creatures is pathological. At what point do we in the Black community say enough is enough? Historical suffering and racial oppression of Black people does not mean that we can behave in inhumane ways. Racism is no excuse.

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Falcons' Vick bites hand that feeds him

John Kass

NFL star quarterback Michael Vick of the Atlanta Falcons already stands convicted in the public mind of dogfighting, of which he's been indicted but not tried.

And as a football fan, I suppose I've convicted him too. I love dogs. I've raised them and trained them and they'll do anything for you, hunt on hard snow in the cold, and swim rivers to retrieve a bird that plops on a far bank. They'll run all day with a bell collar in the tall corn and be a loyal friend.

Certainly, bird dogs are not fighting dogs, but they're dogs; the difference between the breeds is almost like the difference between a wide receiver and a free safety. Not that I'm saying humans are dogs, or dogs are human.

There are other cruelties, certainly, but dogfighting is one of the cruelest.

Young vital animals selected for talent, for their desire to fight through pain, trained to physical perfection, only to be set on each other so they can tear each other to bits. And why?

So that men without half the guts of the dogs in the fighting ring can bet on who wins, who loses, cheering and yelling and drinking, full of blood lust, reaching out their hands for the money their dogs have won for them.

The dogs are ruined, if they're not killed, or electrocuted or shot, as has been alleged in the Vick case. And if they live, there's no pension for fighting dog retirees. Instead, there's a hole for them out back in the weeds.

And when the dogs are ruined -- they don't stay alive for 3.5 years, about the average career of an NFL player -- the owners then find other dogs that can fight.

There are always new dogs thrown into the ring, and the owners bet and cheer and yell some more, thrilled as the dogs project thousands of pounds of pressure on the bones of their rivals, and after the bone is crunched, it's reasonable to assume the owners might take a break, and have a cold beer, or a maybe even chips and dip, before getting back to the action.

What can be crueler than that?

So there will be a trial, but in some ways that's a formality. In the minds of most fans and in the minds of corporate suits that pay for TV commercial time during pro football games, Vick, the owner of "Bad Newz Kennels," is already guilty and what's worse in their minds, he's bad for NFL business.

The NFL has survived murder trials involving its star athletes, and once the trials are over and a respectful distance put between the silent dead and the living star, the publicity machine gears up and the star is immortalized in video games and all is forgotten. But humans are not dogs, and the NFL won't abide cruelty to animals.

The National Football League is a multibillion dollar enterprise that once sold mostly beer and tires on its commercials, but now sells beer and Viagra and miracle pharmaceuticals for enlarged prostates and insurance plans. And though the product adapts to the aging market, torturing dogs is not on the menu.

Vick's indictment comes as the league opens training camps across the country, and the sports media have flocked to the camps to advertise the NFL's treats to come. We'll marvel at the violence about to be unleashed on the fields for our enjoyment, all those young bones to be torn and crushed on Sundays after church, right after the players say the Lord's Prayer in the locker room before rushing out to snap some sinews.

But those are human sinews, human bones, not dog sinews, not dog bones. Dogs have no free will. And humans do, although how much free will is conditioned out of football players is a subject best left to sports psychiatrists and other experts.

And Vick? He's now the thug with gold chains, he's "Bad Newz," a living stereotype in the way of all that NFL commerce.

Even the "z" in "Newz" fixes him, like some insect on a pin on the hip-hop culture board. Though he's not been indicted for bad spelling, it marks him and puts him on the wrong side of things, the NFL's right side being well spoken athletes in blazers, slacks and ties helping little children build playgrounds and hospitals with stirring music in the background of their United Way commercials.

Linebackers and Aaron Copland just go together, don't they?

Spelling "Newz" his way prepares Vick like some exhibit, to rest in some future museum collection of hip-hop culture, which will also be on trial, if not in court, than as an accessory in the public mind.

It's the culture in which women are degraded and powerless young black men express their dreamz of power, often with snarling pit bulls on heavy chains in the music videos, so that white suburban girls and boys can plug into an iPod, chanting the words of urban angst silently in the back of mommy's van on the way to soccer practice after school, enriching music executives beyond imagining.

All this will play out as Vick's trial approaches, and so will the NFL season, and millions of Americans who care nothing about anthropology will read the injury reports on Thursdays and bet accordingly.

And as America bets, the athletes will prepare for the games, and visit the doctor and have their knees scraped out, and call each other on the phone, and say, "What up, dog?"



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Saturday, July 28, 2007

'Nerd' taunt drove Navy man to arson

Petty Officer Russell Tavares traveled 1,300 miles to torch rival's trailer
By Angela K. Brown
The Associated Press
Updated: 2:02 p.m. PT July 26, 2007

ELM MOTT, Texas - A Navy man who got mad when someone mocked him as a "nerd" over the Internet climbed into his car and drove 1,300 miles from Virginia to Texas to teach the other guy a lesson.

As he made his way toward Texas, Fire Controlman 2nd Class Petty Officer Russell Tavares posted photos online showing the welcome signs at several states' borders, as if to prove to his Internet friends that he meant business.

When he finally arrived, Tavares burned the guy's trailer down.

This week, Tavares, 27, was sentenced to seven years in prison after pleading no contest to arson and admitting he set the blaze.

"I didn't think anybody was stupid enough to try to kill anybody over an Internet fight," said John G. Anderson, 59, who suffered smoke inhalation while trying to put out the 2005 blaze that caused $50,000 in damage to his trailer and computer equipment.

The feud started when Anderson, who runs a haunted house near Waco, joined a picture-sharing Web site and posted his artwork and political views. After he blocked some people from his page because of insults and foul language, they retaliated by making obscene digitally altered pictures of him, he said.

Anderson, who went by the screen name "Johnny Darkness," traded barbs with Tavares, aka "PyroDice."

Investigators say Tavares boiled over when Anderson called him a nerd and posted a digitally altered photo making Tavares look like a skinny boy in high-water pants, holding a gun and a laptop under a "Revenge of the Nerds" sign.

Tavares obtained Anderson's real name and hometown from Anderson's Web page about his Museum of Horrors Haunted House.

Tavares took leave from his post as a weapons systems operator at the AEGIS Training and Readiness Center in Dahlgren, Va., and started driving. Investigators say he told them he planned to point a shotgun at Anderson and shoot his computer.

Instead, when he got to Elm Mott — after posting one last photo of a "Welcome to Texas" sign — Tavares threw a piece of gasoline-soaked plastic foam into the back of Anderson's mobile home and lit a flare, authorities say.

Tavares' attorney, Susan Kelly Johnston, said his trip to the Waco area was a last-minute decision during a cross-country trip to visit his parents in Arizona. She said he never intended to hurt Anderson and did not think he was in the trailer when he set the fire.

James Pack, an investigator with the McLennan County Sheriff's Office, caught up with Tavares after talking to people in several states and Spain who had been involved in the online feud. Tavares' cell phone records showed he was in the Waco area at the time of the fire, Pack said.

Tavares told investigators that Anderson had spread computer viruses and insulted his online friends for too long, Pack said.

"He lost everything — all over an Internet squabble," the investigator said.

Tavares was discharged last year from the Navy, where he earned several medals — including the pistol expert and rifle expert medals — in his nine-year career, said Navy spokesman Mike McLellan.

Tavares would not let the feud go even at his sentencing. According to Pack, Tavares took cell-phone photos of Anderson in the courtroom while the judge was hearing another case. Authorities ordered the photos erased.

Anderson, an ex-Marine who served in Vietnam, said he continues to be harassed online, has been startled by people knocking on his window late at night and found bullet holes in a door to his business.

He said he is convinced the harassment is related to the Internet feud and plans to spend $30,000 on more fencing topped with barbed wire.

"Before this happened, the rule was: Nobody messes with the haunted house guy," Anderson said.

Look for criminals in your family tree

You can find 18th century British convicts on site that calls them ‘family’
Updated: 10:26 a.m. PT July 25, 2007

LONDON - An ancestry Web site released online on Wednesday the records of tens of thousands of British convicts sent to Australia from the 18th century.

The site (www.ancestry.co.uk) features the records of 160,000 convicts who were transported to Australia between 1788 and 1868.

"We invite you to search this collection and discover your convict ancestors. After all, they're still family," the site said.

Some of the convicts were guilty of serious crimes like murder and assault but many were for minor offences.

The first cargo of 732 convicts were landed in Sydney Cove in January 1788 by 11 ships from the British First Fleet.

URL: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/19956704/

Sentences Vary When Kids Die in Hot Cars

Saturday, July 28, 2007

(07-28) 10:51 PDT Manassas, Va. (AP) --

Kevin Kelly is a law-abiding citizen who, much distracted, left his beloved 21-month-old daughter in a sweltering van for seven hours. Frances Kelly had probably been dead for more than four hours by the time a neighbor noticed her strapped in her car seat; when rescue personnel removed the girl from the vehicle, her skin was red and blistered, her fine, carrot-colored hair matted with sweat. Two hours later, her body temperature was still nearly 106 degrees.

What is the appropriate punishment for a doting parent responsible for his child's death? A judge eventually spared Kelly a lengthy term in prison. Still, it is a question that is asked dozens of times each year.

Since the mid-1990s, the number of children who died of heat exhaustion while trapped inside vehicles has risen dramatically, totaling around 340 in the past 10 years. Ironically, one reason was a change parent-drivers made to protect their kids after juvenile air-bag deaths peaked in 1995 — they put them in the back seat, where they are more easily forgotten.

An Associated Press analysis of more than 310 fatal incidents in the past 10 years found that prosecutions and penalties vary widely, depending in many cases on where the death occurred and who left the child to die — parent or caregiver, mother or father:

_Mothers are treated much more harshly than fathers. While mothers and fathers are charged and convicted at about the same rates, moms are 26 percent more likely to do time. And their median sentence is two years longer than the terms received by dads.

_Day care workers and other paid baby sitters are more likely than parents to be charged and convicted. But they are jailed less frequently than parents, and for less than half the time.

_Charges are filed in half of all cases — even when a child was left unintentionally.

In all, the AP analyzed 339 fatalities involving more than 350 responsible parties. July is by far the deadliest month, accounting for nearly a quarter of the total.

A relatively small number of cases — about 7 percent — involved drugs or alcohol. In a few instances, the responsible parties had a history of abusing or neglecting children. Still others were single parents unable to find or afford day care.

Many cases involved what might be called community pillars: dentists and nurses; ministers and college professors; a concert violinist; a member of a county social services board; a NASA engineer. And it is undisputed that none — or almost none — intended to harm these children.

"When you look at overall who this is happening to, it's some very, very, very good parents — might I say, doting parents," says Janette Fennell, founder and president of Kids and Cars, a nonprofit group that tracks child deaths and injuries in and around automobiles.

"But no one thinks it's going to happen to them. I think people are lying if they say that there wasn't one situation in raising their child that, `There but for the grace of God go I.'"

The AP's analysis was based largely on a database of fatal hyperthermia cases compiled by Fennell's organization. The AP contacted medical examiner's offices in several states where this most often occurs, and the group's numbers coincided almost exactly with recorded hyperthermia deaths.

Some of these children crawled into cars or trunks on their own, but most were left to die by a caregiver. Most often, it was a parent who simply forgot the child was inside.

Texas leads the nation with at least 41 deaths, followed by Florida with 37, California with 32, North Carolina and Arizona with 14 apiece, and Tennessee with 13. There were deaths recorded in 44 states — most in the Sun Belt, but many in places not known for hot weather.

The correlation between the rise in these deaths and the 1990s move to put children in the back seat is striking.

"Up to that time, the average number of children dying of hyperthermia in the United States was about 11 a year," says Jan Null, an adjunct professor of meteorology at San Francisco State University who has studied this trend. "Then we put them in the back, turned the car seats around. And from '98 to 2006, that number is 36 a year."

Few understand just how quickly a car can heat up, even on a moderate day.

According to one study, the temperature inside a vehicle can rise more than 40 degrees in the span of an hour, with 80 percent of that increase occurring during the first half hour. And researchers found that cracking the windows did little to help.

Children, often too young to escape, are particularly vulnerable because their immature respiratory and circulatory systems do not manage heat as efficiently as adults'. After a short time, the skin grows red and dry, the body becomes unable to produce sweat, and heat stroke kills the child.

Already this year, at least 16 children have died in hot vehicles from Hawaii to Virginia — including a 4-year-old New Orleans boy who died on Father's Day.

Since 1998, charges were filed in 49 percent of cases. In those that have been decided, 81 percent resulted in convictions or guilty pleas, and half of those brought jail sentences — the median sentence being two years. Parents were only slightly less likely to be charged and convicted than others, but the median sentence was much higher — 54 months.

In cases involving paid caregivers, 84 percent were charged, with 96 percent of those convicted. But while they are jailed at about the same rate as parents, the median sentence in those cases was just 12 months.

Women were jailed more often and for longer periods than men. But when the AP compared mothers and fathers, the sentencing gap was even wider.

Mothers were jailed 59 percent of the time, compared to 47 percent for fathers. And the median sentence was three years for dads, but five for moms.

"I think we generally hold mothers to a higher standard in the criminal justice context than in just family life generally," says Jennifer M. Collins, a professor at the Wake Forest University School of Law who has studied negligence involving parents and such hyperthermia cases. A large segment of society, she says, thinks "fathers are baby-sitting, and mothers are doing God's work."

In 27 percent of the cases the AP studied, the children got into the vehicles on their own. Those cases are much less likely to be prosecuted, though sometimes parents are punished for negligence — particularly where substance abuse is involved.

The AP identified more than 220 cases in which the caregiver admitted leaving the child behind. More than three-quarters of those people claim they simply forgot.

It's easy to forget your keys or that cup of coffee on the roof. But a child? How is that possible?

The awful truth, experts say, is that the stressed-out brain can bury a thought — something as trite as a coffee cup or crucial as a baby — and go on autopilot. While researchers once thought the different parts of the brain worked in conjunction with each other, they now realize that different portions dominate at different times.

"The value of the item is not only not relevant in these competing memory systems," says memory expert David Diamond, an associate psychology professor at the University of South Florida who also works at a Veterans Affairs hospital. "But, in fact, we can be more complacent because we tell ourselves, 'There's no way I would forget my child.'"

Harvard University professor Daniel Shachter, a leading brain researcher, says memory is very "cue dependent."

"And in these cases, the cue is often missing," he says. "When we go on automatic, it's very possible for us to ignore or forget about seemingly important things."

Like a baby.

Nationwide, about 60 percent of cases where the child was left unintentionally result in charges. But policies vary wildly from one jurisdiction to the next.

At least nine children in Las Vegas have died in hot vehicles since 1998, but charges were filed in only two of those cases. For several years, it has been the policy of the Clark County prosecutor's office not to file charges unless there is proof of "some general criminal intent ... to put the child in harm's way," says chief deputy DA Tom Carroll.

But in Memphis, Tenn., District Attorney General William L. Gibbons scoffs at the notion that he wouldn't charge someone — especially a parent — who claims to have simply forgotten a child.

"It frankly boggles my mind that a parent can forget that a child is in a vehicle for two hours," says Gibbons, whose office has prosecuted five cases involving nine parents and day-care workers since 1998.

Earlier this year, the state Supreme Court ordered Gibbons to grant pretrial diversion to youth minister Stephen McKim. McKim was late for a church meeting and forgot his 7-month-old daughter Mia in the back seat — even though the day care center was at the church.

Under diversion, the charge would be dismissed after two years if McKim successfully fulfills certain court requirements. Gibbons thinks that's getting off too easy.

"We're not talking in most cases about sending anyone to prison," he says. "We are talking about placing someone on probation, maybe requiring them to go to some parenting classes or something like that, and giving them a felony record as a result of what happened. And I think that's reasonable."

Not surprisingly, the harshest treatment is reserved for those who intentionally left their children. According to the AP's analysis, those people are nearly twice as likely to serve time than people who simply forgot the child. And on average, they received sentences that were 5 1/2 years longer.

In 2004, Tara Maynor was sentenced to 12 1/2 to 60 years in prison on two counts of second-degree murder after leaving her two children in a car for four hours outside a suburban Detroit beauty parlor while she got a massage and hairdo. She told police she was "too stupid to know they would die."

Just last month, Karla Edwards pleaded guilty in Aiken, S.C., to homicide by child abuse for leaving her 15-month-old son, Zachary Frison, in a car for nine hours in April 2006 while she worked at a home-improvement store. When Edwards was unable — or unwilling — to explain her actions, the judge sentenced her to 20 years.

But in many cases, police, prosecutors and judges must wrestle with whether to charge, try and punish an already grieving parent.

In Lexington, Ky., Fayette Circuit Judge James Ishmael said the question of what to do with Leon Jewell was perhaps the toughest of his career.

According to police, Jewell admitted buying beer and vodka at a liquor store on Aug. 1, 2005, and drinking in his SUV on the way home. When his wife returned home from work later that day, she found 9-month-old Daniel, the couple's only child, still strapped in his car seat.

Jewell pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter. Despite the prosecutor's recommendation of seven years, Ishmael placed the clearly remorseful and devastated Jewell on probation and ordered alcohol treatment.

But six months later, on what would have been Daniel's second birthday, Jewell got drunk and was kicked out of his treatment program. Ishmael sent him to prison for seven years; Jewel expressed his torment in a letter to the judge.

"When I was last before you (you) told me there are worse places than jail," he wrote. "And you are correct. Where ever I am is the worst place in the world. ... I have violated man's laws. I have violated God's laws."

Judges often attempt to craft creative penalties: An Idaho mother was ordered to make a video about her case to be used in birthing classes. In addition to spending eight months in prison, a Louisiana baby sitter was ordered to pay the dead girl's funeral expenses and to make a $500 annual donation to the hospital that treated her. Some day-care workers have been prohibited from supervising young children during their probation.

So what of Kevin Kelly? What did he deserve?

Would it influence your opinion to know that the day Frances died, May 29, 2002, the Manassas engineer was watching 12 children alone while his wife and oldest daughter were abroad visiting a cancer-stricken relative?

Does it matter that when he returned home that day, he'd asked two teenage children — both of baby-sitting age — to attend to their younger siblings while he went back to school for another daughter who was late getting out of an exam?

Or that during the next seven hours, he was accosted by an air conditioning repairman with news that he was going to have to spend several thousand dollars on a new unit? That he fixed lunch, did laundry, mended a gap in the fence that the little ones were using to escape the yard, drove to the store for parts to fix his air conditioner, took a son to soccer practice and fixed a leaking drain pipe in the basement?

Prince William County Commonwealth's Attorney Paul L. Ebert concluded that Kelly's failure to ask after Frances for seven hours rose to the level of a crime. Kelly was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment. The jury recommended a year in prison.

But Circuit Judge Rossie D. Alston Jr. had what he thought was a more humane solution. He ordered Kelly to spend one day a year in jail for seven years and to hold an annual blood drive around the anniversary of his daughter's death.

Kelly is still a convicted felon. He cannot vote, and his job was affected because he is barred from certain government properties.

But waiting in line recently at the All Saints Catholic Church to donate blood, he said he is happy for the chance to honor his daughter by helping to save lives.

"The judge was very, very merciful," he said as his red-haired children scurried around giving snacks and stickers to donors. "And I'm very grateful for what he did in allowing me to stay with my family and support my family."


EDITOR'S NOTE: AP researcher Monika Mathur performed data analysis for this report; National Writer Martha Mendoza also contributed.


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When punk ruled in the Garden City

Against all odds, punk rock rocked Victoria 30 years ago; a new project recalls the era
Mike Devlin
CanWest News Service

Blade, of the punk rock band the Dishrags, performs in 1978.
CREDIT: Ian Lindsay, Vancouver Sun, Files
Blade, of the punk rock band the Dishrags, performs in 1978.

Few knew what they were creating, if they were creating anything at all.

Even fewer had an idea their music would go on to have a lasting impact -- let alone be captured for posterity in a book and on CD nearly 30 years later.

They played for fun, not profit. The music was scrappy, loud and angry. If their friends liked it, so much the better. If their parents hated it, they succeeded on some nefarious level.

It was the late '70s and early '80s, and acts concerned with writing and playing this new brand of music -- punk rock -- were popping up everywhere from Oak Bay to Sidney.

For years, the genre had been rallying youths in New York and London, even in sunny San Francisco. But unbeknownst to many, punk was alive and well in the B.C. capital, thanks to a cluster of then-unknown, now-legendary Garden City bands: Nomeansno, the Neos, Infamous Scientists, the Dishrags, Red Tide and the Dayglo Abortions.

There were no dreams of super-stardom, but there were loads of raw talent, as evidenced by the comprehensive assembly of music, photos and stories included in the book/two-CD set All Your Ears Can Hear: Underground Music in Victoria, B.C., 1978-1984.

The 79-page, 79-song project took six years to complete and stands as the most comprehensive collection of punk material and memorabilia in the city's history.

"Personally, I feel this project is a vindication of sorts, and I'm sure a lot of the other bands will feel the same way," says Marcus Pollard, singer for new wave act The Clicks, which disbanded in 1982. "It wasn't Paris in the '20s, but it was definitely an important scene."

The heavy lifting for the non-profit, volunteer-driven project was done by a trio who didn't want to see the city's rich history dissolve due to foggy memories and deteriorating tape.

Self-styled audio archivist Jason Flower was the project's go-getter, digging up long-lost cassettes and getting in touch with members of acts, now grown men and women, who hadn't uttered the word "punk" in decades.

But he was the right person for the job. "I'm not afraid to call somebody up who hasn't spoken to anybody in 20 to 30 years," he says.

Kev Smith, bassist for the seminal hardcore act the Neos, edited much of the copy, as he was a ground-floor cog in the machine. And yet even he was amazed at what they uncovered during the process.

"Victoria was so culturally isolated in those days, it's hard for people who weren't even born yet or never lived here to understand," he says. "For all that stuff in the book to have happened in that era, it's pretty remarkable."

Ricky Long, who played in a number of bands from the era, wound up investing his own money to keep the project afloat. "When you're dealing with one band it's easy, when you're dealing with 48, it's not," Long says. "We are older men with lives. I have three children. And that was the brick wall in the process."

All Your Ears Can Hear spotlights a time when the city was finding its feet, from the underground up. But Victoria isn't as sleepy anymore. Nomeansno still tour and record, as do the Dayglo Abortions.

Neo's records sell for hundreds of dollars on the Internet (see sidebar). And various members of the Victoria contingent, such as ex-Jerk Ward and Red Tide member Stephen McBean, have found success in Vancouver.

"It's kind of strange, kind of depressing, kind of exciting," says Black Mountain frontman McBean, whose band toured with U.K. stars Coldplay and appeared on this year's soundtrack to the film Spider-Man 3."

McBean will join Long in a reformed Jerk Ward for the All Your Ears Can Hear release party Saturday at Logan's Pub. Also on the bill are long-dormant acts Automatic Shock, House of Commons and The Slivers.

Queen guitarist wraps studies for doctorate

Wed Jul 25, 8:43 PM ET

Brian May, the lead guitarist from rock band Queen, is close to earning his doctorate in astrophysics -- more than 35 years after quitting his studies to become a rock star.

May arrived on the island of La Palma in Spain's Canary Islands several days ago to conduct astronomical observations in support of his thesis, according to a statement by the Institute of Astrophysics of the Canary Islands.

His thesis, "Radial Velocities in the Zodiacal Dust Cloud," is the last component of his PhD studies, and May expected to complete his work on Wednesday.

"Maybe you'd like to see the Telescope we are working in," May, 60, wrote on his Web site on Wednesday.

"Galileo ... Galileo ... how full of coincidences life is," he added, referring to the lyrics in Queen's hit song "Bohemian Rhapsody."

After submitting his thesis at Imperial College, London, he will have to wait until university assessors approve his work to be granted his PhD next year.

May was studying astrophysics at Imperial College when he formed Queen with singer Freddie Mercury and drummer Roger Taylor in 1970. He dropped his doctorate research into interstellar dust as the band met with increasing success.

After Mercury's AIDS-related death in 1991, May recorded several solo albums and set up the Brian May Band.

But his interest in astronomy continued, and he co-wrote "Bang! The Complete History of the Universe" with Patrick Moore and Chris Lintott, which was published last year.

Earlier this month, the writer of such Queen hits as "We Will Rock You" and "Fat Bottomed Girls" was granted an honorary doctorate from Exeter University in Devon, England.

Henry Rollins: Post-Punk Pundit

Interview: On television, onstage, and abroad, the former Black Flag singer walks a fine line between supporting the troops and hating the war.

July 25, 2007

Audio from this interview is available here: (stream | download)

Henry Rollins is best known as the frontman for the hardcore punk band Black Flag and later for his solo project the Rollins Band.

He performs regularly as a spoken word artist and a comedian, and has written and published books of prose and poetry. Rollins is a radio and TV personality, actor, and voice-over artist. He's done several USO tours to Iraq since the war began.

Mother Jones recently spoke with Henry Rollins about his USO tours, punk rock, the newest season of his television show, and the art of storytelling.

Mother Jones: The first thing I wanted to ask you about was your USO tours. Can you tell me about how and why you got involved doing those tours?

Henry Rollins: I do it because that's my way of protesting the war, and it's my custodial duty to go behind this president that started this needless war that's hemoraging everything from needless lives to money and everything else. And the fact that the soldiers don't dictate policy; they just go and do what they are told, leads me to believe I don't really have a beef with the troops, I have a beef with the people who sent them into where they are deployed. So I go and I meet these people without any hesitation and I quite like them.

MJ: And can you tell me what your interactions with the troops are like?

HR: You meet them in hospitals, you meet them on the ground, in the mess hall, sometimes there's a meet and greet situation set up where you shake hands, tell stories, whatever. Sometimes you're just at dinner, kind of holding court. It's called a handshake tour, what I do. Sometimes they ask you to go up and speak for 20 or 30 minutes. I do all of that.

MJ: And is there anything that you've felt or seen during these tours to Iraq that you weren't prepared for?

HR: In parts of Iraq, when you go the motor pool, and you see vehicles that need to be repaired, and why they need to be repaired, like bullet clusters where the driver's head was, you know, thankfully it's bulletproof glass, or the sides of these vehicles looking like the biggest bullet possible just tore through it. And you realize someone tried to kill these guys. And that's pretty arresting.

MJ: Have these experiences changed the way you think about the war at all, having met so many people one on one, face to face?

HR: No. [The war] was a bad idea. It never was a good idea. It's an illegal war. We're not there for the purposes that George W. Bush says. He has a perfect situation there because if you leave it now, you leave these people who did not ask for your incursion; you leave these people in worse shape than when you got there. And so no, I don't think anything different about it, I just feel it more acutely, and at this point it's now more of a personal thing. I get letters from the wives saying my husband died. I get letters from the moms. I got a letter from one mom who wants me to write a letter to her son to try and talk him out of joining the Army. I get letters from wives who miss their husbands, moms what to tell me regretfully that their son, who loved my DVDs, and his friends, who all love my DVDs, and they all listen to my CDs out there, he died two days ago and she had to tell somebody. A guy who shot and killed a child mistakenly, he writes me and asks me to give him good reason why he shouldn't kill himself. These are the letters I get, and I get them pretty often. So this thing is a very personal experience for me. It's more than just something I see on the news.

MJ: A USA Today article I saw talked to Al Franken and other people who had done USO tours and they mentioned one occasion in which you kind of slipped and made some disparaging comments about Dick Cheney, and there was mixed reaction from troops. Is that difficult, to go and not let your ideas about the war come out?

HR: No. Because the war they are fighting and the war you speculate on from the safety of your home are two different things. There really is a disconnect. And so, I don't think it would be anything but deleterious to morale to go out there and say "this is a bogus war, man." Anything that could be deleterious or distracting to these people is not on.

MJ: One last question about the military; when you were younger, was the military ever something you considered?

HR: No.

MJ: Why not?

HR: I went to a military prep school for many years, and I graduated, and the last thing I wanted to do was be told to stand up. And I was into music. My father was Army, my step-brother was Navy, I come from Washington, D.C., and was surrounded by it, and never had any interest.

MJ: I'm glad you brought up music, because I wanted to shift gears and talk about music, specifically punk rock. Where do you think punk was able to succeed the most, and where do think punk failed the most?

HR: [Punk] gave music back to people. For a long time, when I was very young, I went to go see arena rock bands. I was 16 and it was all I could get in to see, legally. And I saw Led Zeppelin and Ted Nugent and Van Halen and all that. Me and [Minor Threat and Fugazi vocalist] Ian MacKaye would go to these concerts, and it was fun. You know, seeing Led Zeppelin did not suck, in the least. And then punk rock came along and all of a sudden you are standing five feet away from Dee Dee Ramone or the Bad Brains, or you're carrying in the gear with the band, or now you're in the band, and so music became this very immediate thing to me, where I could experience it from a very close-up vantage point instead of bringing binoculars, which I literally did to see Led Zeppelin. So I think it actualized music for a lot of young people. If you wrote the band, they would write back. You could meet the band. It became this thing that was a part of your life, not this thing that you paid a ticket for and through peanuts at. And that to me was huge. I think a lot of people became very inspired by that ethic of, you know, I'm gonna confront authority and really see what that's all about, and question authority, read between the lines, and be suspicious. And I never heard that in a Ted Nugent record.

Where did it fail? I don't know that it failed, I think it kind of just got absorbed into popular mainstream. When you hear a Stooges track or a Buzzcocks track or a Ramones track or a track by the Fall, or what have you, in a car ad, some people, whenever that happens, I get a letter saying "What a sellout." And I say "no man, we've arrived." The person making that ad grew up on that music. You're no longer confined to interstitial, instrumental music, you're gonna get Iggy Pop and the Teddy Bears singing I'm a punk rocker to sell a car. What would you rather hear? Some wanky keyboard or Iggy and the Teddy Bears? I know which one I'd rather hear, and I just hope they get paid quickly and double scale, because it's about time. I don't so much see the failure in as much as that anything that has been around for 30 years or more.

MJ: It's been an interesting trajectory to see you go from this kid from DC with long hair to this multimedia punk rocker who hangs out at William Shatner's house from time to time.

HR: Yeah, it's been an interesting ride. That's why I try to document it, because it does make for a good story, that's undeniable. And what do I think of it? Well, it's my life. And when you get a certain grip on it and you start doing what you want to do, that's a very powerful thing, and you start to see that a lot of people don't ever get their grip on that particular set of handle bars. There's a lot of mountain climbers trapped inside of bodies of people behind the counter at Kinkos.

MJ: You've done two seasons of The Henry Rollins Show on the Independent Film Channel, where you interview artists and invite bands to play. IFC seems to have given you complete freedom to do whatever you want on the show.

HR: Yeah, I think I called Karl Rove “Baby Huey Fat Fuck.” Yeah, I did that.

MJ: You're definitely taking that freedom and running with it. You're not afraid of dropping curse words or words like "neoconservative doushebag pundits." What's that like to have extreme freedom to do whatever you want?

HR: It's wonderful [laughs]. It's fantastic. And I love the hate mail I get, the unsigned, misspelled letters I get telling me to go back to Russia or wherever.

MJ: You also don't shy away from a gay joke here, or even poking fun at yourself quite a bit.

HR: Well you have to poke fun at yourself. But a "gay joke," now you have to be very careful there. When I say something that is "gay," you know [comedian] Jeneane Garofalo and I decided that we're taking 'gay' back. Where you can say "gay," or "that's pretty gay," and it's not a slight in any way, of anyone that is having a same-sex relationship. Because I have not one bit of homophobia in me. I mean, to me, I am in disbelief about how this country is just up in arms about same-sex unions. I mean they should just go and get a life and get on with themselves and not feel the need to stand outside of churches where two women are crazy enough to get married. To me, marriage is insane, but if two people want to do it, then as Americans, shouldn't you be saying "Yay, land of the free, home of the brave, and if two women want to get married, this is the perfect country for that kind of thing," because you couldn't really pull that off in Turkey or Saudi Arabia, without a little bit of turbulence. We shouldn't have that kind of thing here.

MJ: A few more things about the show I want to go back to. You did a funny piece on Wal-Mart that was animated. And if I'm not mistaken you called Wal-Mart the paradigm of capitalism. I'm just curious if you could elaborate a little bit.

HR: Yeah, it's getting things for cheap. And when you're in there and you're paying like $.40 for something or getting some Tylenol for like a dollar less, you buy it. But you also need to understand what it means long term. And it tests your metal as an American. Like how much trade debt do you really want to hand off to your kids?

MJ: One interview I thought was interesting was with Marilyn Manson, and you had a chance to talk about Columbine. What do you think that incident says about this larger connection between pop culture and youth violence and the media?

HR: I exchanged letters with a survivor of Columbine who asked me what I thought of all of it. For me it was a responsibility issue. You know, my beef is with the parents. I mean, you don't know your kid is making a pipe bomb in your garage? Why don't you pull your head out of your ass and go be a dad or a mom and police that kid. If the kid is making a pipe bomb, why don't you know? Why do you have guns around the house? I'm not saying ban guns, but why are there guns around the house that the kid can take, and why don't you know they're gone?

MJ: You have your own publishing company, and you've put out other works from people like Nick Cave, but also a lot of your own stuff. Why did you get into writing, and what do you think your strongest skills are as a writer?

HR: I'm not a very good writer. I'm working at it. What I have is access. I go places. I can get in and out of places and come at it with my $3.50 an hour mindset. All my big heroes are literary, writers. I'd love to meet Jimmy Hendrix or John Coltrane, but I'd much rather meet Thomas Wolfe, or F. Scott Fitzgerald, or [Albert] Camus, or [Charles] Baudelaire, or what have you. Words and books have always meant a lot to me. That someone can take words and string them together to where they will move me is just a hell of a thing. It's amazing to me; more amazing to me than music or painting. It's always been the written word or the spoken word, like a great lecture or a great lyric, or a great poem. To me it's just amazing. And I always aspire toward capturing that, or my version of it.

MJ: I saw you once in Tallahassee, Florida, years ago, and I remember feeling very surprised, because I was expecting you to be pissed off and angry and irate, but you came out and were just making people laugh. And people were really laughing. It wasn't what I was expecting.

HR: Most experiences I have survived I am able to have some fun with. There's some things that aren't funny, but most of the time, just the fact that you crawled out with all digits intact, there's some humor in there. And the farther and wider I go it's kind of hard not to come back with a story.

Gary Moskowitz is an online editorial fellow at Mother Jones.

Friday, July 27, 2007

More Indians in 'city of widows'

By Jyotsna Singh
BBC News, Delhi

Women in India
Widows are seen as a drain on resources
The number of young Hindu widows seeking refuge in India's holy city of Vrindavan - nicknamed "the city of widows" - is rising, a study says.

The study, funded by the United Nations women's organisation Unifem, found it was poverty, and not spirituality, that was driving women to Vrindavan.

The report said that poor and helpless women went to the northern city to escape "humiliation and dependence".

Nearly 15,000 widows are believed to be living on the streets of Vrindavan.

Widows are traditionally ostracised in India and the new study shows their plight remains pretty much unchanged.

Unaware of help

It says that almost 80% of the widows who come to Vrindavan - in the state of Uttar Pradesh - are from West Bengal, and a large number of them are very young.

All this is despite the fact that West Bengal has one of the highest pension schemes offered by the government for widows, almost $20 (£10) a month.

A well-known journalist, Usha Rai, carried out the research. She said that widows go to Vrindavan because often they are not aware of government policies to help them.

She said charities in Vrindavan are relatively well-off as they receive huge donations.

She recommended "rehabilitation and skilled training" for widows so that they are not dependant on charity alone.

But these women are often driven away because their families see them as a drain on their finances.

Peacock Revolution' Boosts Menswear Sales


Korean Gender Roles Collapsing
Metro Sexual: A New Male Image or Media Commodity?
Metrosexual Revolution Leads to Boom in Men's Bags
The Ties Have It
Vast Array of Beauty Treatments Targets Men
30-Something Men Embrace Unisex Cosmetics
Smart Marketing Targets Glamorous Old Boys
Korean Men in Grip of Plastic Surgery Craze
Most Korean Men Link Appearance to Success
Metrosexual Fad is a Boon for Retailers
“Make the waist slimmer,” Kim Ju-yeong, an office worker, told sales staff at a department store when he bought a semi-casual suit with an already slim waistline. The dress shirt he chose, with its smooth material, resembles a woman’s. “Though the shirt’s not comfortable when I’m working, it’s very chic and I like it,” he says.

Kim isn’t alone in his flamboyant choices. Lotte Department Store plans to launch an accessories corner just for men on the fifth floor of its main store in fall since more and more people come to menswear shops to buy accessories like lapel pins and key chains. Lotte also plans to open more stores for men’s clothes. "Flamboyant fashion is in for men in their 20s and 30s, and even during the low season its popularity is soaring,” says a Lotte staffer. This so-called “peacock revolution” is a godsend for businesses during the spending slump.

◆Extravagance breathes life into consumer spending

Sales for conventional suits with the emphasis on comfort are stagnating, but sales of super-slim semi-formal suits have more than doubled in the first half of the year, according to the industry. Men’s casual brand Intermezzo presented an “extreme slim” collection for the fall, slimming down the width of current slim suits by another as 2.5 cm. “Thanks to the ‘perfect body’ syndrome among men, suits that expose the body silhouette are getting popular,” an Intermezzo staffer says.

Even traditional suit makers like Cheil Industry and LG Fashion are launching more flamboyant lines with emphasis on design. “Straight and boring clothes no longer hold their place in today’s market. Men in their 20s and 30s, in particular are buying extravagant suits, and their purchasing power doesn’t lag behind those in their the 40s,” an LG Fashion insider said.

Shinsegae Department store now runs outlets targeting men in their 20s and 30s such as the Rookieblue and MSF in its main store. The explosive popularity of men’s fashion has led to the fall of gender boundary for women’s brand. Women’s suit brand TIME has launched a line for men, TIME homme. Casual clothing brand Thursday Island, which mostly made clothes for women, introduced Thursday Island for Men, with others following the suit like codes-combine’s codes-combine for man and Beanpole’s Beanpole Homme.

◆Purses for men

More and more men’s accessories are also available. Every day, about 30 purses for men are being sold at Louis Vuitton and Prada in the Galleria department store. Watches, at one point nearly extinct because of cell phones, are back. And more than 5,000 items of men’s jewelry were sold on Internet shopping site Auction, 60 percent up from the year before. Small earrings and necklaces are especially popular. Kim Jung-hee from the Samsung Fashion Institute said, "In the past, comfort was the most important thing in men’s fashion, but now it’s style. The younger generation’s desire to stand out is reflected in their fashions as well.”

(englishnews@chosun.com )

Can pets sense illness?

The Magazine answers...

A cat has apparently "predicted" the deaths of 25 residents in a nursing home in the US. It seems fanciful but can pets detect illness or even death?

Oscar in the nursing home
Oscar displayed sudden affection for dying residents
The residents of Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Centre in Rhode Island would be forgiven for getting a little anxious if Oscar was to curl up next to them.

Not generally friendly to patients, this show of affection has been used to warn families that their loved one has not long to go.

Sounds far-fetched? Animal behaviour experts in the US say Oscar is probably smelling a chemical given off by the body.

Yes, dogs can sense cancer and epilepsy
And Jacqueline Pritchard, an expert in animal behaviour in the UK, agrees the explanation is biochemical, rather than psychic.

"I don't doubt that the cat in this case is sensing death approaching. There's little we really know about it but as the body is shutting down, I would hypothesise that the cat is sensing and smelling the organs shutting down."

But there could also be a more simple explanation for Oscar's "ability", she says.

A regular feature in the BBC News Magazine - aiming to answer some of the questions behind the headlines
"We change our behaviour when we know someone is dying, so animals will pick that up."

Dogs with an acute sense of smell and awareness are known to detect cancer and predict epileptic seizures.

A ground-breaking study by Dr John Church, published in 2004, claimed to prove in principle that dogs could detect bladder cancer in urine. Since then a pilot study at a charity in Buckinghamshire has continued the research.

There is also anecdotal evidence of dogs scenting a wide range of cancers such as lung, breast and skin, ahead of conventional diagnosis.


A woman in Wiltshire said her Chihuahua detected her breast cancer on three occasions, while a Dalmatian kept smelling a freckle that the owner discovered was a malignant tumour.

He doesn't get a crystal ball and headscarf and say 'I predict you will have one three weeks on Tuesday'
Tony Brown-Griffin on Ajay
The work of dogs in epilepsy is more advanced. The charity Support Dogs has provided 45 seizure alert dogs to epileptics such as Tony Brown-Griffin, 35, from Kent.

Twelve years ago, prior to her getting her first alert dog, she was suffering 12 major seizures a week and countless minor ones, so was housebound and childless. Now she is independent and a mother of two.

Ajay, a golden retriever, licks her left hand 40 minutes before a major seizure, which only happens twice a week now, so she can get herself out of harm's way.

Hannah and Milo
Seizure alert dogs accompany epileptics
"It's a major stress reduction. I don't have to worry about epilepsy at all unless my dog alerts me. Before I was thinking 'Do I have time to cross the road, will I have a seizure?'"

But neither Tony nor her husband knows exactly how Ajay is doing it, because the slight changes in Tony's behaviour prior to a seizure are imperceptible to them.

"He doesn't get a crystal ball and headscarf and say 'I predict you will have one three weeks on Tuesday' but whether it's a change in blood pressure or body temperature or whether I sweat or smell differently, or a combination of things.

"In the early days it was very difficult to go with the dog because I would feel so well but he was 100% accurate, 100% of the time."

Despite the persuasive evidence of dogs' prowess in these areas, the case of Oscar the cat is still a bit of a mystery, says animal psychologist Roger Mugford. Although they can detect illness, he has never known of pets picking up on impending death, and cats would be unlikely candidates to behave like this if they could.

45 provided by Support Dogs
Training can take between 12 and 18 months
During that time a client is matched with a dog
There is no preference for particular breeds
The way they warn owners varies
Facial expression, certain movement, a smell or pupil dilation are the kinds of changes they can pick up on
Source: Support Dogs

"The question is what motivates a cat to engage in this behaviour. Dogs being trained to detect cancer are trained with a pay-off of play if they do the right thing and if it's your own dog they have a familiar affectionate relationship and will pick the site of the tumour. But a cat in a nursing home?

"Dogs are very good at picking up on emotional changes and when people are depressed and inactive they are very good at comforting people in these circumstances. Elephants show the same altruistic tendencies, but not cats, they are very much more selfish, solitary creatures."

One theory about how dogs have evolved this capacity is that their wolf ancestors developed an ability to tell when one of the pack was sick.

But it is not just in health that the heightened senses of animals have proved to be more advanced than humans'.

Scientists remarked at how few wild animals died in the Asian tsunami in 2004, because they were able to sense the disaster and move to higher ground.

Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

I had a sick chicken a few months a go (we had eight at the time) and thought it very odd when my pet cat sought out the chicken and curled up next to her - an hour or so later the chicken was dead. The cat had never done this before or since with any of the other chickens.
sue, Hampshire

When I was a child we had a spaniel. When she was a pup she was friendly with a Labrador along the road. As they got older they didn't see one another. Suddenly one day, our spaniel turned up quite out the blue at the home of the Labrador, was given access to the house, sought out the Labrador, sniffed him for a short time and came back home. Two days later the Labrador died. The houses were about a quarter of a mile apart.
Mike, Edinburgh

I have always had at least one cat, and have noticed how they pick up on my mood. If I am upset or ill, my cat will come straight to me to provide comfort. I even observed this with a cat we took in from a rescue shelter, who would not come anywhere near me when I felt well! I think it is more extraordinary for a cat to do this (and they clearly do) despite being independent creatures, whereas a dog is dependant, and it is in their interest to keep their host happy.
Jane, Kent

Cats also show an empathy for people who are suffering a bereavement. When my father died, and my mother came to stay with us, both our cats would not leave her side and even slept on the bed with her, something we don't normally allow, but we could see the comfort she was getting from them.
Helen Waite, Appleton, Abingdon, UK

My family cat, also called Oscar, almost predicted our family dog's death. She had been ill for some time and we decided to have her put down at our house. Oscar and the dog had never been particularly friendly, but in the hours leading to her death, Oscar never left her side and was cuddling her. I don't know if it was psychic or due to him being able to tell biologically, but it was nice for the old dog.
Hilary, Edinburgh

I have known cats to behave in this way. When my mother was dying of cancer her normally aloof British Blue cat spent almost 24 hours a day lying next to her on the bed. More recently, when I was laid up earlier this year with glandular fever my two cats who never normally stay in the house during the day spent three days snuggled up with me on the sofa. I have also owned boxer dogs in the past, both of whom would spend hours cuddled up to whoever in the household was under the weather. There doesn't always need to be a logical explanation for these things - sometimes they just are!
Jane, Preston

Our budgie went into a squawking fit within seconds of our first gerbil dying. Three weeks later it did the same thing when our second gerbil died. Animal instinct needs further attention.
Brian, Slough

Animals may pick up pre-deceasement because of a change in chemicals given off by the person in question. This could be due to the breakdown of enzymatic activity. As to weather forecasting this could be due to the obvious one of high or low pressure. Other than that I am sure there is nothing paranormal involved although the theory is more exciting. People who have had a near death experience often claim to have travelled along a wide tunnel with a bright light and a sensation of peace. This is probably due to a lack of oxygen. All rather mundane but probably the more accurate.
Maurice de Ville, Chesterfield

I worked night shift in a care home and I would take my dog to work with me. One evening after bedding down the residents; myself and the other member of staff, were having a tea break, when my dog started pacing between me and a resident's room. After the second time he came back, we followed him, to the room only to discover the resident had died following a massive heart attack. I am convinced that animals are able to sense death.
Hazel O'Neill, Scotland

I do not agree that cats are very selfish and unfeeling. When I had a miscarriage and was in mourning my cat offered me more comfort than any human. He waited for me to sit down at 11am each day and purred and comforted me when I was crying. He definitely sensed my emotions and helped me recover more quickly.
J. Turner, Torquay Devon UK

For a large part of last year I was having several seizures a week, our dog (who we only got in December '05) was able to pick up on it and would alert my wife by walking beside her and nudging her. If we were at home alone, when I came round after a seizure I would always find him next to me. And he would stay with me until he felt I was okay.
Rick, Toronto, On, Canada

When I was a child living in Canada, we had a Russian wolfhound who never displayed the slightest sign of intelligence! But one day, he tore into the house in terror and hid in the basement, flatly refusing to come out. The weather was clear and fine and we could see and hear nothing unusual to have upset him. Exactly 40 minutes later (to the minute) we experienced a major, grade four, tornado which destroyed a vast majority of the county. Once the storm had passed, he came out of the basement and never entered it again!
Charlotte Cheshire, Telford, England

My cat always sits next to me when I feel unwell. She will stay there for hours, whilst normally she doesn't bother that much. OK - she may detect physical or behavioural changes in me which cause her to do this. Explain this one though. In the 80s, I lived in London and would come home most weekends. When I came in my mother would have a cup of tea waiting for me on the table. How did she know when to make it? Because about 5-10 minutes before I arrived home, my cat would sit in the window and start crying. Every single time. Sense of smell or detection of mood change? Probably not. I like to think it is psychic ability. I can't really think of another explanation.
Gill, Newport Gwent

I think there is an inexplicable and possibly mystic connection between animals and humans. My cat left our house and went to live up the road with an elderly neighbour. He lived there for over two years and in that time he never came home. The neighbour became ill and was taken to hospital. Although we were feeding the cat he never left her house. Then one day about two weeks later he suddenly showed up at house, curled up and went to sleep. About half an hour passed, and we received a phone call telling us our neighbour had died about half an hour ago. I've never been able to explain it but I do believe there are things that are just unexplainable.
Erica Fowler, London

Maybe the cat is going by biochemical signals and IS rewarded, by attention from the staff every time he gets it right? Another possible explanation would be that he is reverting to his wild state. In the wild he couldn't attack something the size of a person but if the person is dying the wild animal which detects that first is first in the queue for eating the body. Don't jackals etc gather long before someone is actually dead? At a less bloodthirsty level he might see people as a threat but very sick people don't have the energy to lash out while still being warm to cuddle up to. I have noticed that wild animals were much less fearful of me when I was ill and came closer. I assume this was because my movements were slower and more predictable. I looked less likely to attack them.
Louise, Edinburgh

Our old tabby, Kinky, climbed into the bed and curled up on my mother's stomach hours before she died. Lifted off, he climbed back up and resumed the same position. Kinky had never been affectionate toward my mother, and I found his behaviour inexplicable until I read the story about Oscar.
Mari, Honolulu, USA

I have heard of stories of cats leaving the home of someone who was dying a day or so before the death and not returning until a couple of days after the death. In fact I heard of one case where a woman knew she was terminally ill and knew it would be imminent as the cat left - and sure enough, the cat was right!
Lisa Perkins, Nottingham

I don't know how animals do this or whether it is just coincidental but I do know that my cat, Odin, woke me up one night with really loud wailing in my ear and pushing his head into my face and he seemed really alarmed. Eventually he calmed down and left me alone. The next morning it turned out there was an earthquake in Birmingham I think it was and scientists said that their detectors had detected it as far away as London. I cannot help but wonder if it was the earthquake he was trying to alert me to.
Andy, Bristol UK

A couple of coincidences, people make a silly superstitious association. Then when the moggy the curls up on their bed - superstition leads to psychosomatic illness in an already weakened person. Self-fulfilling prophecy and all that... Then again, maybe people on the way out just give off more heat) Statistical question - How many people does that cat settle down next to that don't imminently die? At any rate, let's hope someone has been sensible enough to check the cat isn't carrying any pathogens. Whatever, I think the cat should be re-housed. Maybe it's doing contract work for the grim reaper?
Dave Pritchard, Manchester

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I'm a Black Lab mix w/ a curly tail.