Thursday, November 12, 2009

Flirting, 'open' prisons and drinking water

The News, Oct 25, 2009


Flirting, 'open' prisons and drinking water

By Omar R Quraishi

From time to time I get all kind of interesting and almost-weird news from this very good email listing. Sometimes the articles are quite news worthy as well and deserve to be in mainstream publications. Some fit well with the entertainment/leisure pages that some of our newspapers have started of late. A recent one that I got this week – from a website by the name of quoted researchers at the University of Washington as claiming that flirting – yes flirting! – was in fact good for one's health.

Lest I be accused of promoting promiscuity, let me first enumerate their reasons. The first was that it builds confidence and self-esteem in the individual. To quote verbatim: "A little harmless flirting can help you feel attractive again and confident about yourself. The only thing to keep in mind is setting boundaries. Make sure you and your partner are clear about what's okay when it comes to flirting. One simple rule of thumb: don't say or do anything you wouldn't do in the presence of your partner."

Now that should be food for thought for readers – and if people think that married couples (and I am talking about Pakistan) don't once in a while engage in harmless flirting then they better think again.


And now to Norway, a country known for being socially responsible and humane. A report by (a website that tracks stories and news reports from around the world), spoke of a prison system in the Scandinavian country which has facilities that would put many a resort to shame!

The correspondent wrote of visiting the island of Bastoey, said to be an "open prison" south of Oslo. The prison – if it can be called that – had around 115 detainees and these included murderers and rapists. The 'prison' had its own forest and sea-front and sports facilities like tennis courts and a slope where inmates could indulge in cross-country skiing. The detainees work around six hours every morning till afternoon after which they are free to return to their "comfortable wooden houses". The 'work' involves pretty much what one would see on a farm given that the "open-prison" is in fact located on what is a farm.

The report said that the prison was based on the Norwegian idea that "traditional, repressive prisons" do not work and only make inmates worse (perhaps those who doubt this view need to see the compelling US television series Oz). A former head of the prison was quoted as saying: "If you treat people badly, they will behave badly. Anyone can be a citizen if we treat them well, respect them, and give them challenges and demands."

The report pointed out that Norway was similar to other Scandinavian countries in this regard in that none had the death penalty or even life sentences – not even for murderers. In fact, the maximum jail term was 21 years and that the majority of convicts served two-thirds of it – or 14 years – before being released. And unlike in the US and other developed countries, convicts did not have their right to vote taken away, not even while serving their sentence. A professor of criminology at the University of Oslo put it well when she said that the reason prisons were kept "open" in Norway was so that people could see inmates as "human beings" they could identify with. The professor also said that in Norway the emphasis was not so much on punishment but on the issue of a prisoner's reintegration into society – and quite rightly so because that had repercussions, in case their was recidivism, on the larger population.

Norway's incarceration rate by the way is 66 per 100,000 inhabitants, compared to 738 per 100,000 inhabitants for America – Norway also has far less crime per capita than America.


And now – also something that one got through this news service – a study from UCLA according to which those who use the Internet are likely to have more brain activity compared to those with little experience of using the net. The report, quoted by Fox News, said that the results suggested that "Internet training can stimulate neural activation patterns and could stimulate neural activation patterns and could potentially enhance brain function and cognition in older adults".

The report said that the UCLA researchers worked with "24 neurologically normal volunteers between the ages of 55 and 78". Prior to the study, half the participants used the Internet daily, while the other half had very little experience. Age, educational level and gender were similar between the two groups. At the same time, the participants underwent MRI scans – to track their brain activity.

The report said that an initial MRI scan of participants with little Internet experience showed brain activity in the regions that control language, reading, memory and visual abilities. A second scan, carried out after they used the Internet at home, showed additional activity in the "middle frontal gyrus and inferior frontal gyrus" – both areas, the researchers say, known to be central to working memory and decision-making.

On a related note, researchers at the University of East London (as reported on a health blog and which quoted a medical journal by the name of Appetite) wanted to examine the effect of drinking water on cognitive power. According to them, a study of the effects of drinking water on children between six and seven years of age suggested that there was "significant" change after the child had drunk water. So there is certainly some medical merit as well to those who say that drinking water is good for you. The researchers recommended that drinking water right before an important meeting or, say, interview is likely to have increased potential for the individual in that chances are that his or her brain will perform better.

The writer is Editorial Pages Editor of The News.



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