A little Perspective

Published December 10, 2006

Walking, talking danger

Is walking and talking on a cell phone dangerous? Australian researchers observed more than 500 people crossing the street and found those on the phone appear more distracted than those who were not. In the study, which appears in Accident Analysis & Prevention, men on the phone crossed more slowly at intersections without traffic signals. And women on the phone not only crossed more slowly, but also were less likely to look at traffic before setting out or to wait for cars to stop.


100,000 contractors

There are about 100,000 government contractors operating in Iraq, not counting subcontractors, a total that is approaching the size of the 140,000-strong U.S. military force there, according to the military's first census of the growing population of civilians operating in the battlefield. The survey reflects the growing post-Cold War reliance on contractors for such jobs as providing security, interrogating prisoners, cooking meals, fixing equipment and constructing bases that were once reserved for soldiers.


Did Neanderthals need stay-home moms?

No division of labor between the sexes. That's a new explanation for the demise of the Neanderthals proposed by two anthropologists. The entire Neanderthal population seems to have hunted large game, Steven L. Kuhn and Mary C. Stiner write in Current Anthropology. Because modern humans exploited the environment more efficiently, by having men hunt large game and women gather small game and plant foods, their populations would have outgrown the Neanderthals' and would not have put women and children - their reproductive core - at risk. Neanderthal sites include no bone needles, no small animal remains and no grinding stones for preparing plant foods, implying robust Neanderthal women did the same hunting as men, with the whole population out to bring down large game. Meat of large animals yields a rich payoff, but even good hunters have bad days.


In good times more than in bad

Scientists who study relationships have long focused on how couples handle love's headaches, the cold silences and searing blowups, the child-care crises and work stress, the fallouts over money and ex-lovers. But the way that partners respond to each other's triumphs may be even more important for the health of a relationship, suggests a paper appearing in the current issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The study found that the way a person responds to a partner's good fortune - with excitement or passive approval, shared pride or indifference - is the most crucial factor in tightening a couple's bond, or undermining it. In the lab as in life, constructive support is generally better for a relationship than detachment, as many people have learned the hard way. In most relationships, positive events outnumber negative ones by at least four to one, studies have found, and "you get much more bang for your buck" by amplifying life's rewards than by soothing its bruises, a researcher said.


A line in the sand, a line in the textbook

The BBC reports that Israel's education minister has said school textbooks should show Israel's pre-1967 borders. Yuli Tamir said changes were needed to give Israeli children a proper understanding of their history. Currently, schoolbooks show Israel's territorial conquests in the 1967 war - the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights - as part of Israel. The BBC says international law deems them occupied land that Israel has illegally settled. The education minister's position is seen as a direct challenge to the Jewish settlement movement, a powerful interest group in Israel. "You cannot teach history without knowing the borders Israel used to have," Tamir, a founder of the advocacy group Peace Now, told army radio. Accused of politicizing the education system, she retorted that ignoring history did the same thing. The Israeli government has criticized the Palestinians and neighboring Arab states for using maps in classrooms that do not define the state of Israel, now 58 years old. The maps generally mark it as "Palestine."


The spray-on condom

A German institute is developing spray-on condoms. Rationale: Unlike regular condoms, which may not fit you, a spray-on is a custom job. A researcher says the technology consists of a "spray can into which the man inserts his penis." It "works by spraying on latex from nozzles on all sides. It's a bit like a car wash." Reuters reports the firm hopes to market the product by 2008, with the spray can costing $26; cartridges good for 10 applications ($13).


The face-heating Goodbye Weapon

Wired magazine reports that the Air Force has developed a face-heating weapon for crowd control. Called the Active Denial System, or ADS, Wired says, it has been certified safe and is ready to use. The ADS shoots a beam of millimeters waves, which are longer in wavelength than X-rays but shorter than microwaves in a standard microwave oven. The military argues that if used properly, ADS will produce no lasting adverse affects. Documents acquired for Wired News using the Freedom of Information Act claim that most of the radiation is instantly absorbed by the skin's top, heating it rapidly. Experimenters say the beam produces the "goodbye effect," or "prompt and highly motivated escape behavior." In tests, people reached their pain threshold in 3 seconds.