segunda-feira, 31 de maio de 2010

At Play in the Field of the Mind

This monumental book—more than 900 pages long, 30 years in the making, at once grand and intricate, breathtakingly inclusive and painstakingly particular—exhaustively explores the biological evolution of human behavior and specifically the behavior of children. Melvin Konner, an anthropologist and neuroscientist at Emory, weaves a compelling web of theories and studies across a remarkable array of disciplines, from experimental genetics to ethnology. He ranges back to the earliest, egg-laying mammals, discusses topics as seemingly modern as cross-gender identity conflicts, and draws on scientific work examining all manner of species with which humans share distinct characteristics. (In the way we teach our young, for instance, Konner points out that we resemble cats large and small far more than we do our closer genetic relatives, the large primates.) The organization of these disparate puzzle pieces is itself a tour de force. Though the sheer volume of information and the not infrequent appearance of terms like synaptogenesis and N-methyl-D-aspartate glutamate receptor can be daunting, Konner’s style is conversational (if sometimes occluded) and his tone is, well, kind. To read this book is to be in the company of a helpful and hopeful teacher who is eager to share what he’s found.
Dividing the book into four often overlapping “levels of observation”—the genome, the nervous system, society, and culture—Konner assesses the development of the brain from the first vertebrates through the hominins, with their slow-growing, enormous, super-energetic brains. This development depended on a high-quality diet of fruit and then cooked foods, both plant and animal, and particularly aquatic fauna—not to mention the grandmothers and other “helpers at the nest” who ensured that children were fed. In fact, human brains are so large that were they to reach full size in utero, women’s bodies would not be able to deliver them. Much of the brain’s growth occurs after birth: the human brain more than doubles in volume during the first 12 postnatal months, and nearly doubles again over the subsequent 12 months. This means that infants, with their far from fully developed brains, are extraordinarily helpless for a long period after birth. One reason humans evolved into creatures that walked upright may have been so that mothers could carry offspring who could not yet cling to them.
Konner then explores the genetic and neurological foundations of basic temperament and gender identity and of formative behaviors such as infant attachment and the acquisition of language, and he describes the interrelationship between the biology and psychology of puberty. Unlike animals that hurtle from infancy to puberty, the humans who have escaped the risks of infancy but not yet embarked on the risks of adulthood experience a sort of mini-transformation during the “five-to-seven shift,” and emerge with markedly enhanced powers of cognition into a period of slow growth. This prolonged halcyon phase, sandwiched between the confusion of early life and the intensity of adolescence, seems evolutionarily designed to imbue children with the culture that our enormous brains make possible—the culture that our species (almost) alone can claim.
The sine qua non of culture is socialization, a process we share with many other species. For mammals, it begins with an extreme bond between mother and offspring—a bond that has existed since early in the age of the dinosaurs, when even the infants of egg-laying mammals could feed directly from their mothers’ bodies and demand attention by crying. (Mammalian young cried at high pitches that their mothers could hear but reptilian predators could not.) Although the mother-child bond forms the core relationship, we are cooperative breeders. There is “ample evidence,” developed most prominently by the pathbreaking anthropologist Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, that “human mothers have always gotten help” from fathers, grandmothers, older siblings, and other relatives. Still, some evidence suggests that kinship is not the be-all and end-all it is often believed to be. Research on the !Kung hunter-gatherer society, for example, shows no particular advantage to having a full complement of parents and grandparents, and in cases in which children have few kin, other adults apparently take up the slack, supporting the idea that indeed, it takes a village. Crucially, the many years that human females live after menopause confer a unique advantage on the species, in that grandmothers are almost always involved in child care, allowing their children, particularly their daughters, to produce more and healthier children.
Konner is especially interested in play, which is not unique to humans and, indeed, seems to have been present, like the mother-offspring bond, from the dawn of mammals. The smartest mammals are the most playful, so these traits have apparently evolved together. Play, Konner says, “combining as it does great energy expenditure and risk with apparent pointlessness, is a central paradox of evolutionary biology.” It seems to have multiple functions—exercise, learning, sharpening skills—and the positive emotions it invokes may be an adaptation that encourages us to try new things and learn with more flexibility. In fact, it may be the primary means nature has found to develop our brains.
Finally, Konner argues that even if culture is as subject to the laws of evolution as other aspects of physiology and behavior, it is, in its complex forms, unique to our species. (He does emphasize, however, that humans share with other animals a host of qualities and emotions—love, grief, altruism, heroism, loyalty, shame, dignity, awe, thought—that have wrongly been ascribed to humans alone.) Humans may not be the only ones who teach, but we alone create and build in a cumulative way, and we alone suspend ourselves in “webs of significance we ourselves have spun,” as Konner, borrowing from Clifford Geertz, elegantly puts it.
Ultimately, Konner is attempting to construct a sort of theory that encompasses all of human life. The evolutionary processes he describes are the way in which at every level—the genome, the nervous system, society, and culture—we, who carry along information accumulated over billions of years, continually interact with the environment, and thereby learn and change in response to it. Children, who are shaping and organizing their very selves, experience this most powerfully. And it should not be surprising, he speculates, if children—in the midst of the most exploratory phase of human life, thanks to “their huge, fast-growing, thoroughly dynamic brains”—have throughout the history of the species often been at the vanguard of cultural innovation.
This book is the flower of an astoundingly productive and innovative period of scholarship on evolutionary behavior; it sums up a generation’s worth of thinking and research. But although a work of singular importance, it’s not flawless. Konner’s efforts sometimes flag: his writing fails to sustain a consistent precision and focus. Relatedly, at times Konner seems overwhelmed by the encyclopedic nature of his project. When he sifts and assesses evidence, he’s always judicious and often brilliantly imaginative. Too often, though, The Evolution of Childhood reads like a compilation of research and findings rather than a work that distills that material to create an elegant synthesis—this book hasn’t been subjected to the rigorous and comprehensive editing that a work of such significance demands. But only a book of such staggering ambition can be faulted for failing to achieve consistent greatness.

sexta-feira, 28 de maio de 2010

What Can We Do About PVC, indeed...

(So cute. So filled with PVC)

Annie Leonard, director of The Story of Stuff Project, creator of the internet video sensation, and author of The Story of Stuff: The Book.

PG: Why is PVC at the top of your "worst offenders" toxins list? Why should we avoid it, and what are some better alternatives?
ANNIE SAYS: PVC is just one of many toxic materials in common use. But it makes me especially furious because so many safer alternatives exist! And it's the most toxic type of plastic at all stages of its life (production, use, disposal). Workers in vinyl chloride production factories have higher rates of liver cancer, brain cancer, lung cancer, lymphomas, leukemia and liver cirrhosis. Chemical additives in PVC, like phthalates (a group of suspected carcinogens and known reproductive toxins, which are put in PVC to make it more flexible) can leach out, migrating from toys into our children, from packaging into our food, and from our shower curtains into the air we breathe. Americans toss out up to 7 billion tons of PVC every year, with 2 to 4 billion tons of that going to landfills, where it leaches its toxic additives into the soil, water, and air. 

There’s no need to keep using it. If it was some toxic but life-saving material, then we could have a debate. But it just isn’t needed. Already dozens of companies have phased it out of products. Even whole cities have placed restrictions on it in Europe but it still permeates our homes, schools and hospitals (although many hospitals are phasing it out; visit Healthcare Without Harm for more information). 

Unlike other toxics that are added to a myriad of products, it is also easy to recognize PVC, so you can keep much – probably not all – of it out of your life. PVC containers are often labeled with a little 3 in a recycling logo on the bottom; get in the habit of checking. PVC is also readily identifiable by its horrible smell – think new shower curtain. Consider a fabric shower curtain instead of that plastic one. Store your leftovers in glass jars. Download Pass Up the Poison Plastic: The PVC-Free Guide for Your Family and Home

Whenever I do accidentally buy something (a new extension cord or a raincoat for my daughter) without realizing it contains PVC, I pack up the product and send it back to the manufacturer with a letter explaining why the product is unacceptable. If I can't find the manufacturer, I send it to the Vinyl Institute, an industry trade group in Washington DC. These guys make big bucks to defend the producers of PVC, so I figure they can deal with it. 

It’s toxic. It’s unnecessary. It shouldn’t be in our consumer products. You can help by joining the Poison Plastic Campaign led by the Center for Health, Environment, and Justice in New York City.


terça-feira, 18 de maio de 2010

segunda-feira, 17 de maio de 2010

quinta-feira, 13 de maio de 2010

Cutest thing in a very long time

Cats and kids (and Happy very belated Mother's Day)

(This map shows Mother’s Day celebration dates around the world, from iLoveCharts ;)

We had this great 10 year old cat named Jack.
Jack was a great cat, and the kids would carry him around and sit on him and nothing ever bothered him.
He used to hang out and nap all day long on an old mat in our bathroom.

Well we have three kids, and at the time of this story, they were 4-year-old, 3 years old and 1 year old. The middle one is Sam. Sam really loved chapstick. LOVED it! He kept asking to use my chapstick and then he'd lose it.
So finally one day I showed him where in the bathroom I kept my chapstick and how he could use it whenever he wanted to but he needed to put it right back in the drawer when he was finished.

Last year on Mother's Day, we were having the typical rush around, trying to get ready for Church with everyone crying and carrying on. My two boys were fighting over the toy in the
cereal box. I was trying to nurse my little one at the same time I was putting on my make-up. Everything was a mess and everyone had long forgotten that this was a wonderful day to honor me and the amazing job that is motherhood.

We finally had the older one and the baby loaded in the car and I started looking for Sam. I searched everywhere and I finally rounded the corner to go into the bathroom. And there was my boy.

He was applying my chapstick very carefully to Jack's . . . butt. Sam looked right into my eyes and said "Chapped."

Now if you have a cat, you know that he is right -- their little bottoms do look pretty chapped. And, frankly, Jack didn't seem to mind. And the only question to really ask at that point was whether it was the first or the hundredth time.

And THAT is my favorite Mother's Day moment ever because it reminds us that no matter how hard we try to civilize these glorious little creatures, there will always be that day when you realize they've been using your chapstick on the cat's ass.

terça-feira, 11 de maio de 2010

sexta-feira, 7 de maio de 2010

Livros Infantis para a Casa das Mães de Tires

Tenho agora este desafio enorme que é tentar que as reclusas da Casa das Mães de Tires, depois das celas se fecharem às 19 horas, se sentem com os filhos ao colo e lhes contem uma história.

Ao falarem comigo hoje, disseram que não sabem o que lhes hão de dizer ou contar. Provavelmente também nunca ninguém lhes pegou ao colo e contou uma história.

Pensei que, através da leitura de livros infantis, fosse mais fácil para elas estabelecer o contacto, intensificar os laços afectivos e estimular o desenvolvimento das crianças.
Lembrei-me então de lançar um apelo a quem  puder divulgar este pedido, junto de escolas, pais, associações, etc.
O objectivo é angariar  livros para crianças, filhas das reclusas, até aos 3 anos.
O meu email é . Se alguém estiver interessado em contribuir, poderá contactar comigo e eu farei chegar os livros à Casa das Mães.

quarta-feira, 5 de maio de 2010

terça-feira, 4 de maio de 2010

Dot to Dot Wallpaper

Any age of child, teenager or adult will love this unusual wall covering. Just paste this original wallpaper to your walls in the usual way, then use pencils or pens to join up the dots to their heart’s content. You’ll all be amazed as the pattern begins to emerge!

Cox and Cox