…that my banner has changed.  Well, in years past, President Bush declared June as National Oceans Month.  Although I have not found anything about National Oceans Month for 2009, this is the first year that the United Nations is observing World Oceans Day, on June 8th.  This year’s theme is “Our Oceans, Our Responsibility”.  So, in the spirit of all things ocean, I have changed my banner.  I may even continue to change my banner to different ocean images throughout the month.  Who knows?


disney oceansGo watch the trailer, and check out the awesome ocean-themed logos for the different viewing sizes.  Or visit the official site.

For many, marriage is the ultimate sign of commitment.  Yet many Americans are still not able to marry.  A new study by researchers at North Carolina State University finds that gay and lesbian couples are forming long-term, committed relationships, even in the absence of marriage rights.

The study, published in the Journal of Family Issues, found that the institution of marriage is both more and less important to gay couples than previously believed.  More important in terms of legal rights- such as retirement and healthcare benefits; less important as a sign of commitment.

Forty gays and lesbians in 20 long-term cohabitating couples were interviewed on three research questions:

  1. How do long-term same-sex couples retrospectively explain their transition to a committed relationship?
  2. For couples who have had a commitment ceremony, what role do marriage and ceremonies play in commitment processes?
  3. For couples who have not had a commitment ceremony, how do they view marriage and ceremonies in relation to their union?

For many gay couples, commitment is ambiguous in the absences of major markers such as marriage–it makes it difficult to pinpoint when things first got serious.  Forty percent of the couples surveyed had participated in a commitment or marriage ceremony, but these ceremonies were not commitment-making moments in the relationship.  Rather, the ceremony served as a celebration of a preexisting commitment.

Just last week on my trip to Florida, I was involved in a discussion with some friends on the topic of marriage.  Over and over again, commitment and legal rights kept coming up, and good points for and against marriage kept popping up.  In truth, marriage really is stupid in terms of a sign of commitment.

Don’t get me wrong–I’m not saying I don’t want my big day with the white dress and the flowers, because I do.  What I’m saying is, commitment should be in the eyes of those in the relationship, and not in the eyes of the government.  If it wasn’t for the importance of those legal rights such as shared benefits, then I would say to hell with it, a piece of seagrass around my finger and the promise to love me forever would suffice.  But the sad truth is that legal rights are important, and they ensure the care of your loved ones- both your significant other and your children.  And those rights shouldn’t ever be denied to anyone.
Reczek, C., Elliott, S., & Umberson, D. (2009). Commitment Without Marriage: Union Formation Among Long-Term Same-Sex Couples Journal of Family Issues, 30 (6), 738-756 DOI: 10.1177/0192513X09331574

In the mid 1800s, a rare syndrome appeared for the first time in medical literature.  The case was that of Julia Pastrana, the world’s most famous bearded lady.  A new study, being published in today’s issue of the American Journal of Human Genetics, reveals molecular cues about the origin and development of this rare condition.

Congenital generalized hypertrichosis (CGH) covers a group of conditions characterized by excessive hair growth all over the body, regardless of age, gender or race. Congenital generalized hypertrichosis terminalis (CGHT) with gingival hypertrophy is a subgroup of CGH associated with an excess of dark hair, enlarged gums and distorted facial features, as was the case with Julia Pastrana.

The study, performed by scientists from the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, discovered the underlying cause for CGHT, with or without gingival hyperplasia.  High resolution genetic analyses were conducted on several members of three Chinese families with CGHT, and an individual with sporadic CGHT with gingival hyperplasia.  The researchers mapped the location of the gene on a chromosome, and found that genetic defects on chromosome 17q24.2-q24.3 were responsible for CGHT, regardless of whether or not the patient also exhibited gingival hyperplasia.

The three families with CGHT that were studied showed different DNA deletions on the identified chromosome region.  In the individual with a sporadic case of CGHT, the identified chromosome region had a DNA duplication.  These mutations affected four to eight genes in the identified region, establishing CGHT as a genomic disorder.


Sun et al. (2009). Report: Copy-Number Mutations on Chromosome 17q24.2-q24.3 in Congenital
Generalized Hypertrichosis Terminalis with or without Gingival Hyperplasia American Journal of Human Genetics, 84 (6)

In a new study published in the journal Science, researchers at Duke University Medical Center found that monkeys are able to think “could-have, would-have, should-have.”

The researchers created a “Let’s Make A Deal” style game for their two rhesus monkeys, in which the experimenters offered the monkeys an array of hidden awards.  During each trial, the monkeys choose from one of eight white squares arranged in a circle.  Each square had a color underneath, and each color had a corresponding reward.  In this game, the rewards were different amounts of juice.

After weeks of the game, the monkeys were trained to associate green with a high-value reward, and other colors with a low-value reward.  After receiving a reward, the monkeys were shown the other rewards he missed.

The researchers watched individual neurons in a region of the brain called the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), which monitors the consequences of actions and mediates resulting changes in behavior.

The researchers saw that the neurons in the ACC responded in proportion to the reward, and a greater reward elicited a greater neural response.  The same neurons responded when the monkeys saw the rewards they missed.


In the second part of the study, the researchers kept the high-value reward in the same position 60 percent of the time, or moved it one position clockwise.  The monkeys began to learn this pattern, choosing targets next to potential high-value targets more often (37.7 percent) than those next to low-value targets (16.7 percent).  People are more likely to gamble if they see the opportunity to win big.  Likewise, the monkeys were willing to take a risk in order to win a greater reward.  The researchers believe that the ACC neurons help the  monkeys make better choices in the future, which may be crucial in complex social environments.ResearchBlogging.org

Hayden, B., Pearson, J., & Platt, M. (2009). Fictive Reward Signals in the Anterior Cingulate Cortex Science, 324 (5929), 948-950 DOI: 10.1126/science.1168488

Have a Facebook account?  Love our national parks?  Well, Target is donating $3 million, and has selected 10 charities to compete for the money–including the National Park Foundation.

The percentage of votes per charitable organization will correlate to the charities’ portion of the $3 million.

Go to http://www.facebook.com/target from now until May 25, and enter your daily vote for the National Park Foundation.

© Grizzly Creek Films

© Grizzly Creek Films

Meet Casey Anderson, a native Montanan and a wildlife naturalist.  Not only has Casey had a lifetime full of wonderful experiences, but he has a great job preserving wildlife, and a very unique best friend.

© Grizzly Creek Films

© Grizzly Creek Films

Casey’s best friend, Brutus, is 6 inches taller than Shaquille O’Neal, and weighs 800 pounds.  Oh, and he happens to be a grizzly bear.

Interested?  Well then you should watch National Geographic Channel’s Expedition Grizzly featuring Casey Anderson, on Sunday, May 3, 2009, at 9pm ET/PT.

Told in the first person, this tale give viewers a chance to view the tale of an unlikely pair of friends, on a mission to chronicle the lives of Yellowstone’s vulnerable grizzly bears, educate people about grizzly conservation, and protect this incredible species.

Here’s a little sneak preview:

Vodpod videos no longer available.