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Archive for December, 2011

As many people know, I am armed to the teeth.

(Wakizashi and scabbard – got one)

OK, maybe that was a bit abrupt. Let me try again…

(Dagger from the film ‘Eragon’ – got it)

I have a bit of a collection of knives, swords, machetes, daggers, bayonets, nightsticks, as well as other various and sundry sharp and pointy objects around the house.

(Machete from the movie ‘Book of Eli’ – got two, one large and one small)

While it might be a bit of an exaggeration to say my apartment is ‘bristling with weaponry’, as one of my dear friends recently put it, I do admit to having a few lethal items scattered here and there about the place.

(Bayonet and scabbard from the American Indian Wars – got it)

I’m sure there are all kinds of psychological studies showing why guys are attracted to knives, swords and other weapons. All I know is that I like them. I like looking at them. I like holding them. I admire their design. I really don’t try to analyze it further than that.

(Smith & Wesson Texas Hold ‘Em Bowie Knife – got it)

This is clearly one of those things where the fantasy and mental image far exceed and improve upon the reality. For example, you couldn’t pay me enough to get into a sword fight or knife fight.

(Full-size katana with inscription – got it)

And yet, the thought of being able to fight with those weapons intrigues me, albeit not to the extent that I would actually want try to do it!

(Japanese tanto dagger – got one)

Sometimes, you just have to enjoy the simple little things in life.

Wishing everyone a very happy New Year. All the best to all of you in 2012. And thank you so much for reading the Kosher Samurai. It has been such an enormous pleasure for me to share some of my scribblings.

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As usual, I spent the Jewish Sabbath this past weekend in Toronto.

This year, the Xmas holidays spilled over into the following Monday and Tuesday. Also, I was able to leave work very early Friday morning, so I had the good fortune to spend most of Hanukah in The Heart of the Old World! Woohoo!

(Latkes – aka Jewish hashbrowns)

Depending on your taste, we were either blessed or cursed with a snow-free holiday season. For me, this was just fine. Now while I despise heat and sunshine, I am also no fan of snow and ice. Most of the festive week, therefore, was a kind of grey overcast cool damp depressing wonderful time. Couldn’t have asked for more!

(Sufganiyot – aka Jewish doughnuts)

It was a great week with friends, loved ones and, of course, my SigOth, SG. A blur of Hanukah parties, blended-family get-togethers, synagogue services, shopping, shiurim, meals with friends (new and old) and loved ones, and good old-fashioned quantity time together.

Today is the last day of Hanukah. May everyone continue to have a joyous and blessed holiday season, filled with happiness, love and good times!

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While packing to go off on a bit of a Festivus vacation and spend some time with my dear SigOth, SG, I kept browsing the science sites.

Here is a small sampling of some of the more amusing titles out there today, all of them legit!

Scientists Discover Deep-Fried Planets!

Whole New Meaning for Thinking on your Feet: Brains of Small Spiders Overflow into Legs!

Infectious Fungus, Thought to be Asexual, Isn’t!

Was Saint Paul Struck Blind and Converted by Lightning?

Robots Interact, Snub Humans!

How to Break Murphy’s Law!

Why We Feel Nostalgic During the Holidays!

Evolution of Genitals: Shape Matters More than Size!

And they say scientists are boring!

Kosher Samurai is shutting down for the holidays!

We’ll be back in the first week of January.

Have a wonderful holiday season.

Happy Hanukah, Happy Festivus,

Merry Xmas and a very Happy New Year!!

Sincerely, The Kosher Samurai

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OK… Right off the bat, introductions of sorts are in order.

The Cast of Characters

Exhibit One: My daughter, 22-year-old university graduate, planning to make aliyah (i.e. emigrate to Israel) in the very near future.

T.A.: Exhibit One’s Israeli boyfriend from the seaside city of Ashdod (south of Tel Aviv). Surfer dude. In Canada for a visit.

Exhibit Two.: My son, 19-year-old university student, presently on end-of-year break.

S.G.: My significant other (a.k.a. SigOth, a.k.a. girlfriend)

(Bentley – Der Meshigineh Hint)

Bentley (Der Meshigineh Hint): (Yiddish: The Crazy Dog): My son, Exhibit Two’s dog… a bizarre cross between a Labrador Retriever and a Mastiff. Big, slobbery, overly-friendly, über-snuggly, has no concept of personal space, and nosy to a fault.

Rina: An ill-tempered parrot. Presently residing at the house of my girlfriend, S.G. (see above), it belongs to a Rabbi of our mutual acquaintance.

Scene: SG’s House (Toronto)

‘Twas the night before Hanukah and all through the house, not a creature was stirring…

Yeah, right… and then I woke up!

My dear darling SigOth, SG, had the kind-hearted and generous, yet misplaced, hospitality to invite me and The Kiddie-Winkers (i.e. Exhibits One and Two, along with my daughter’s boyfriend, T.A.) over to her house for a pre-Hanukah family get-together with her and her kids, BE and ES.

It sounded like such a good idea. The extended-blended Fam coming together for a warm, cozy, haimish (i.e. homey) evening. What could go wrong?

The fly in the proverbial ointment, the wrench in the works, the banana peel on the sidewalk, as it were? The Livestock.

And I’m not referring to the rodent rodeo down in the basement… the assorted rabbits, gerbils, etc.

I’m referring to two unexpected animal guests… Bentley (The Hound of the Baskervilles) and Rina (The Squawker that Devoured Cleveland!

(Rina – a bird with NO sense of humour)

SG was bird-sitting for several days while Rina’s owners were out of town.

Exhibit Two didn’t want to leave Bentley home alone because, when left to his own devices, Bentley leans toward the ‘destructive when bored.’

Rina lives in this elaborate and quite large bird palace. Rina is known to squawk rather loudly and enthusiastically.

Exhibit One is not a fan of loud noises, especially of the sudden and unannounced variety. Oh, and did I mention that Exhibit One also has a mild case of ornithophobia?

Rina is usually confined to her spacious and well-appointed cage, constantly aware of her surroundings, especially the people near her. Bentley, on the other hand, basically wanders around in a kind of stunned cloud of his own making.

I suppose a clash was inevitable but I did not expect it to be so sudden. No sooner had Bentley entered SG’s house than he strolled over to the Parrot Palisades to check out the occupant in his own inimitable ‘up close and personal’ manner.

Bentley is not a small dog. Huge pretty well sums him up.

(Bentley’s honker before Rina’s impromptu rhinoplasty procedure)

Rina, always in a foul (no pun intended) mood, upon seeing Bentley’s oversized schnozz giving her the olfactory once over, wasted no time in expressing her displeasure. Her can-opener of a beak was clamped onto Bentley honker in a flash, leaving no doubt in his mind as to who the alpha animal was in SG’s house.

I am sure the neighbours all heard his piteous cries of pain and surprise.

Exhibit One jumped vertically, a good 18 inches clear of the sofa cushions. A personal best. Luckily, TA was nearby to catch her on re-entry.

BE and ES said words to the effect of “Holy Smokes! Did you see THAT??”

Exhibit Two executed the perfect Face Palm.

SG and I merely sighed and shook our heads.

Oh, there’s no place like home for the holidays!

Wishing everyone a wonderful holiday season. May it be filled with good times together with friends and loved ones!

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A year-end sampling of some of the responses, comments and opinions received from our readers… (translated from the original Chiropteran, various Hexapodan languages and dialects, Arachnidan, Anuran and Zombese).

(A gallery of familiar faces)

Dear Kosher Samurai…

A close friend recommended I read your blog, saying that I would most likely enjoy your views on me and those like me. “Finally!” I thought, “Someone’s going to tell the truth about my Order, Families, Genera and Species!” It was with a hopeful anticipation that I began going through your posts. What a disappointment! I cannot imagine more biased, unfair and uninformed viewpoints as those espoused in your blog. You swing between gross stereotypes and cutesy-homey caricatures. While you profess an affection for my kind, you have an unusual way of showing it.

We deserve better.

A Bat

(You tawkin’ ’bout me??)

Dear Kosher Samurai…

We’ve kept silent for far too long. We are confident we speak for all of us when we say that we’ve had enough of being grist for your mill. Why don’t you pick on someone your own size for a change? Why do you always taunt and belittle the smallest of creatures? I don’t see you writing any snide remarks about hippos or rhinos. What’s the matter? Chicken? (No offence to chickens, of course. We’re sure you’ll be planning a blog article denigrating them, too).

Lay off, you bully!

The Ants

(Mmmmmm….)

Hey!

Zombie Good. Blog Bad!

A Zombie

(Hang in there!)

Dear Kosher Samurai…

What is it with you and frogs? And while we’re at it, what possessed you to write an article about some unholy hybrid of frog and bat? What kind of sicko are you, anyway? Like we don’t have enough problems with humans taking away our wetland habitats! Now we have to deal with jerks like you?

Get stuffed!

The Frogs

(Scarab Beetle. If they were good enough for Pharoah…)

Kosher Samurai…

We have to warn you, we are pretty steamed at the wise-cracks you publish regularly about us. You are a nasty little man who is probably tapping away at the keyboard out of sheer frustration at your pathetic excuse for a life. Just remember… we know where you live. Sleep tight, sucker!

The Bugs & Beetles

(Why pull a leg when you can pull eight?)

Dear Kosher Samurai…

We are going to presume that you do not harbour any deep-seated ill-feelings towards us. We are going to presume that you are merely bored and are trying to find amusement where you can. We can understand this. We’ve been around a lot longer that you have and, trust us, we know from boredom. We will take it at face value that you find us amusing. We only wish we could say the same about you and your blog. We do not hold you in contempt nor should you hold us in contempt. We take you at your word that you enjoy Entomology perhaps a bit more than we enjoy Anthropology. Let’s just step back, take a breath… and begin the new year with a mutual resolution to be more sensitive to each other, shall we? We hope you enjoy the holidays and we wish you and your loved ones well.

The Arachnid Alliance

(I see you, Buddy!)

Hey, Samurai…

Not cool, man. You are SO finished!

The Insects

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A little snap judgment goes a long way toward making friends: According to a new study from the University of California, Berkeley, all it takes is 20 seconds to decide whether or not a stranger is trustworthy.

(Would I lie to you??)

Researchers recruited 24 couples and asked each person to talk about a time when he or she had suffered. Meanwhile, cameras recorded the reactions of the speaker’s partner. A separate group reviewed the videos, and was able to identify fake compassion in the reacting partners within 20 seconds.

After researchers took DNA samples of the study participants, it turned out that 60 percent of the least-trusted participants lacked a gene receptor, GG genotype, that may control your compassion and empathy. The receptor helps regulate your body’s level of oxytocin, which past studies have linked to feelings of trust, empathy, and generosity, explains Alexsandr Kogan, Ph.D., a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Toronto and the study’s lead author. [1]

Widely known as the “cuddle” or “love” hormone, oxytocin is secreted into the bloodstream and the brain, where it promotes social interaction, bonding and romantic love, among other functions.

“What ultimately makes us kind and cooperative is a mixture of numerous genetic and non-genetic factors. No one gene is doing the trick. Instead, each of these many forces is a thread pulling a person in one direction or another, and the oxytocin receptor gene is one of these threads,” Dr. Kogan said.

(My kind of place!)

Of those rated most trustworthy, 90 percent carried the gene. But since the gene is only linked to perceptions of sincerity, it doesn’t mean you’re unsympathetic if you don’t have it, the study authors say. Observers could weed out the sincere from the dishonest because, Dr. Kogan says, “there are certain behaviors that are found to be signals of trust and support.

“It’s remarkable that complete strangers could pick up on who’s trustworthy, kind or compassionate in 20 seconds when all they saw was a person sitting in a chair listening to someone talk,” said Dr. Kogan.

 “People can’t see genes, so there has to be something going on that is signaling these genetic differences to the strangers,” Kogan said. “What we found is that the people who had two copies of the G version displayed more trustworthy behaviors – more head nods, more eye contact, more smiling, more open body posture. And it was these behaviors that signaled kindness to the strangers.”

(Honesty is the best policy, except if you are an exquisite liar)

OK, enough nerd-speak. Let’s get down to the good stuff. How can we spot the liars fast!?

Whether you’re dealing with a salesman, a new colleague, or a blind date, you can identify bogus behavior if you know what to look for, says Marc Salem, Ph.D., a behavioral psychologist and the Men’s Health resident expert on non-verbal behavior. Look out for these signs:

1. Inconsistent behaviour
“If normally someone is very still, and suddenly they become very animated, or vice versa, that change-up is a red flag,” Salem says. The same goes if a person is speaking smoothly and rapidly, but suddenly their speech becomes more deliberate or clipped. “Shifts from the norm are red flags for deceit,” he adds.

2. A steady gaze
“When people think or contemplate, it’s natural for them to break eye contact and look around,” Salem explains. If a person’s gaze is too constant, they’re either not listening or consciously trying to earn your trust. Both are signs of insincerity.

3. Not enough mouth
Coughing, clearing the throat frequently, or any other gesture of covering the mouth can indicate that a person is trying to hide something, Salem says. The same goes for a shoulders-down, hunched-body pose. That’s a sign of caution, he adds, and indicates a person is not opening himself up completely.

4. A quick smile
A genuine smile changes a person’s whole face, Salem says. Their eyes light up, and their cheeks and eyebrows rise along with the corners of their mouth. That smile also takes a few seconds to fade. A fake smile appears in an instant, and disappears just as quickly.

(The Truth is Out There! I Want to Believe!)

There you have it, folks. A quick and easy, down and dirty way to size up the person across from you.

Trustworthy or a lying sack of you-know-what?

Facial profiling? You bet! Bring it on!

______________________________________________________________

[1] Dr. Kogan’s co-authors are UC Berkeley psychologist Dacher Keltner; Laura Saslow, a postdoctoral student at UCSF; Emily Impett, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Toronto; Christopher Oveis, an assistant professor at UC San Diego, and Sarina Saturn, assistant professor of psychology at Oregon State University.

Sources:

Article in PsychologicalScience.org, quoting from… The Body Odd on MSNBC:  Markham Heid’s How to Spot a Liar in 20 Seconds Flat.

UC Berkeley News Centre: Yasmin Anwar’s Is a stranger genetically wired to be trustworthy? You’ll know in 20 seconds.

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Wandering, as I am wont to do, through the pages of ScienceDaily.com, I thought… how about checking out the latest studies in arachnid sex!? Which brought me in pretty quick order to their recent article…

Bigger, Scarier Weapons Help Spiders Get the Girl!

Yes, boys and girls, size matters… at least to male jumping spiders… at least when it comes to weapons.

(Yikes. This guy is the Marty Feldman of the spider world!)

OK, let me back-track a little bit.

The article begins, “If you’re a red-headed guy with eight bulging eyes and a unibrow, size does indeed matter for getting the girl. More specifically, the bigger a male jumping spider’s weapons appear to be, the more likely his rival will slink away without a fight, leaving the bigger guy a clear path to the waiting female.”

(Duke University graduate student Cynthia Tedore. Smart AND gorgeous!)

Duke University graduate student Cynthia Tedore wanted to know what visual signals matter most to magnolia green jumping spiders, which have an impressive array of eyes, including two giant green ones that face forward. The benefit of these huge green eyes is key to Tedore’s studies and findings.

(Magnolia Green Jumping Spider. OK smart. Not so gorgeous)

Vision is clearly important to these quarter-inch animals, which can be “very predaceous and aggressive,” when love is in the air.

In Tedore’s lab in the basement of Duke’s biological sciences building, wire shelves are covered with row after row of Lucite boxes, each holding an individual chartreuse jumping spider.

How does she test the ‘more is more’ theory? Using female spider silk to put them in a competitive mood, Tedore pits the male spiders against one another in a one-on-one cage match! Rage in a Cage. Hell in a Cell. All in the name of science! [1]

So what did Tedore discover? Over the course of 68 of these cage matches, the male with the bigger chelicerae (heavy, bristling fangs hanging in front of their mouth parts), usually scared the other guy off without a fight.

(Male magnolia green jumping spider sporting an impressive pair of chelicerae)

“The males wave their forelegs at each other for a period, and then the smaller male runs off,” Tedore said. “That’s why we think they’re using vision to size each other up. Most of the time, the smaller one will run away before it comes to blows.”

Seven of the matches were scored as ties. Seventeen of the contests turned into shoving matches, with the spiders butting chelicerae against each other. Occasionally one would flip an opponent on his back, then chase and pounce on him. Tedore had to break up a couple of contests before time expired so that nobody got hurt. [2]

Tedore said her work provides another glimpse into how these creatures, which have tiny brains and never met their parents, manage to make decisions and navigate their world. “I don’t really think of them as conscious, but they’re following rules of some kind. I think of them more as robots.”

(Magnolia green jumping spider. When it comes to girls, more is more!)

In her next series of experiments, Tedore is pitting males against video images of other males that have artificially exaggerated chelicerae and altered colors. [3]

I… can’t… wait!!!

______________________________________________________________

[1] I’m liking this girl more and more!

[2] Seriously, now… how can you NOT like this girl!!??

[3] Cynthia… you are my idea of a wonderful woman!

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