Archive for May, 2006

Wednesday May 31, 2006

May 31, 2006 - 11:09 am 1 Comment

Updated Big Mac Index from the Economist. Ah, the complexities of currency and the notion of purchasing power parity. Most countries want their currencies to be relatively cheap in order to promote net exports and GDP growth. Then again, RPPP is supposed to eliminate a competitive advantage from a nominal exchange rate depreciation in the longer term as a result of an arbitrage argument. (I’m still not sure why absolute PPP would hold – I believe there must be a fundamental disparity in the real exchange rate due to divergent standards of living across countries.)

As we can see, China’s currency is still rather undervalued, but in perspective, perhaps not to as great a degree comparatively to other countries (EX: Asian Tigers, former USSR). I recall an article in Souleles’ supplements which actually argued that China’s currency is sustainable and not as undervalued as suggested. I’ll look for the article tonight. Likewise, look at Iceland and Norway’s currency overvaluation – we never hear about it, I suppose, because it makes our imports more competative. Regardless, I’d say most of the currency pressures on China is less due to economic necessity as popular political rhetoric.

Tuesday May 30, 2006

May 30, 2006 - 11:12 am 1 Comment

According to a Federal Trade Commission survey in 2003, about 10 million Americans — 1 in 30 — had their identities stolen in the previous year, with losses to the economy of $48 billion. Subsequent surveys, by Javelin Strategy and Research, a private research company, found that the number of victims had declined to nine million last year but that the losses had risen to $56.6 billion.

This fact is quite disturbing, but very unsurprising, considering the amount of information companies have stored on individuals.

2468 US military troops dead in Iraq. There hasn’t been any positive news in the New York Times since as long as I can remember.

Source: http://www.indybay.org/archives/archive_by_id.php?id=4714&category_id=48

Since the March 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, the civilian death toll resulting from the conflict remains a topic rarely discussed by American politicians or corporate media. While the Pentagon has refused to provide an estimate of Iraqi casualties, other groups have used various methods to arrive at the numbers of Iraqis killed. Iraq Body Count website states that up to 42,000 have lost their lives, while The Lancet, a respected British medical journal, reported that a study in 2004 found that over 100,000 Iraqi civilians had died due to the U.S. invasion.

Monday May 29, 2006

May 29, 2006 - 10:43 pm 1 Comment
What astounding numbers! For the pursuit of information, journalists are willing to take large risks, perhaps even give up their lives in order to make sure reporting is objective and expedient. The fact that the Iraq war has cost more lives than Vietnam and WWII is not, however, surprising to me. I strongly believe that in general, the public’s demand for accountability has increased greatly, thereby reinforcing the need for accurate journalism. Is it possible to even imagine the government undertaking a propaganda campaign as waged by the US Office of War Information, by Britain’s Political Warfare Executive, or by Hitler’s propagandist Joseph Goebbels? [Or, more sinisterly, perhaps the US government has waged a full-scale propaganda war, but has been so successful that I could not detect it.]

Quite ironic at the same time, however, is the simple fact that people nowadays are probably less well informed of current events, despite the more accurate and reliable reporting. I wonder how many Americans can actually point to Iraq on a map. With modern day entertainment distractions, keeping track of the news is no longer a prime concern. What a shame when these people have the power of a vote!

War in Iraq Becomes the Deadliest Assignment for Journalists in Modern Times

By some reckonings, the death of two journalists working for CBS News on Monday firmly secured the Iraq war as the deadliest conflict for reporters in modern times.

Since the start of the war in 2003, 71 journalists have been killed in Iraq, a figure that does not even include the more than two dozen members of news media support staff who have also died, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. That number is more than the 63 killed in Vietnam, the 17 killed in Korea, and even the 69 killed in World War II, according to Freedom Forum, a nonpartisan free speech advocacy group.

“It is absolutely striking,” said Ann Cooper, the executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. While cautioning that the recorded number of journalists killed in past conflicts may be inexact, she said: “We talk to veteran war correspondents who have covered everything going back to Vietnam and through Bosnia. Even those who have seen a number of different wars say they have never seen something like this conflict.”

Monday May 29, 2006

May 29, 2006 - 7:38 pm 2 Comments

What a wonderful DI experience! Although we ended up not winning anything this year, I am surprisingly fine with the situation, considering the amount of fun and excitement I experienced during the past four days. [Actually, that's not fully true. We would have won 3rd place if I had found the yellow smilie ping pong ball, worth 30 points. When I think about my mishap, my heart constricts. We honestly had the best design, one of the funniest story lines, and the most innovative approach to the challenge. What a shame!] It’s true that it’s not just the idea that counts, but the actual execution. Next year, we’ll know to practice.

This year’s team was truly the best. Thanks to everyone who went and made it such a unique experience. Even during the 12 hour endurance competition, we stayed awake and motivated (although in part by feelings of intense disdain for the challenge masters). Next year, we’ll come prepared, fully knowledgeable of the “formula” to succeed in DIExtreme. I don’t think I’ve laughed as much as I did during DI in a long time. Our team has an assortment of talents in arts/technical design and a natural internal chemistry (Becca is an amazing artist, Lauren is an idea powerhouse, and Jeisun and Oliver together = engineering success and constant amusement). I think we lost on the basis of inexperience and a series of mishaps that culminated in a “mild catastrophe”. For example, we’ll know to bring much more materials for the super max combination than just relying on plain cardboard. Moreover, there’s a strong possibility of doing a long-term challenge next year at the collegiate level!

Ah, after DI, I do not wish to go back to my normal life – what wonderful memories were made in the strenuous times of performance and idea generation. I leave for Hong Kong in approximately 10 days…still need to go over fixed income instruments. I have to contact a certain Whang-Ki…be prepared, little boy!

Thursday May 18, 2006

May 18, 2006 - 10:39 pm 3 Comments

So much has happened, I do not know even where to begin. Work at FINCA has been rewarding. This past Tuesday, the entire office celebrated the retirement of John Hatch – a legend in the microfinance industry considered as great as Muhammad Yunus of the Grameen Bank. Although I am just a newbie in the office, listening to everyone share his or her experiences with John over the past few decades made me realize that despite the cynicism that seems to naturally accompany age, idealists and the ability to believe wholeheartedly in a vision still exist.

I admit that sometimes I lose sight of the larger picture in pursuit of practical concerns. With age comes experience, and eventually, disillusionment as pressures of time and limited resources finally catch up. I always wonder when there will be a shift from “I will definitely accomplish this in the future” will become “it’s the future, and I have not yet accomplished.” I suppose most people would just lower their standards and delude themselves into thinking that they have met all their objectives.

I refuse to let this process happen to me.

Even though the work at FINCA is not always very attractive (EX: phone calls to summer research fellows to hound them for their paperwork), I am motivated by the belief that even though my contribution may be trivial, I’m still aiding the process of international development. I very much believe in the mission and the purpose of the organization, and am continually astounded by how much it has achieved. (I’ll put some stats up sometime next week). Most of the people in the office are young idealists – many with former careers in investment banking and corporate law, but made a career switch when they discovered their personal goals did not align well enough.

I consider myself very lucky – this summer, I get to see both worlds, non-profit and profit in two of the most interesting cities in the world.

On a different note, I have experienced some rather interesting moments at home. For example, yesterday, my mom and I were out running, and half-way, heavy rain and lightening rudely greeted us. Since we still had approximately 1.5 miles left before arriving home, I told my mom I would run ahead, get an umbrella, and come back for her. By the time I got home, I seriously did not differ too much from a drowned cat. I grabbed the umbrella and then headed back to “save” my mother, though honestly, it didn’t help much because she was completely soaked through too.

Another interesting story…last Saturday, I played on my sister’s spring league ice hockey team. Although the age range is supposedly Bantam/Midget (13-18), seriously half of the boys seemed to be not a day older than 10. Heh…I felt very old…

As for less intellectual entertainment, I saw V for Vendetta, Corpse Bride, and Les Choristes. V for Vendetta is such an amazing movie, and Les Choristes was very touching with beautiful music. I’ve also been addicted to CSI. Although I get nightmares and cannot stand the gruesome storylines, I cannot tear myself away from the television.

Ah, Home is happiness.

 

Friday May 12, 2006

May 12, 2006 - 8:16 pm 2 Comments

Yes, I find the phenomenon detailed below to be quite tragically true. Am I myself guilty of committing such a grave transgression? Haha, nope! I tend to go bother professors in person.

To: Professor@University.edu Subject: Why It’s All About Me

Correction Appended

One student skipped class and then sent the professor an e-mail message asking for copies of her teaching notes. Another did not like her grade, and wrote a petulant message to the professor. Another explained that she was late for a Monday class because she was recovering from drinking too much at a wild weekend party.

Jennifer Schultens, an associate professor of mathematics at the University of California, Davis, received this e-mail message last September from a student in her calculus course: “Should I buy a binder or a subject notebook? Since I’m a freshman, I’m not sure how to shop for school supplies. Would you let me know your recommendations? Thank you!”

At colleges and universities nationwide, e-mail has made professors much more approachable. But many say it has made them too accessible, erasing boundaries that traditionally kept students at a healthy distance.

These days, they say, students seem to view them as available around the clock, sending a steady stream of e-mail messages — from 10 a week to 10 after every class — that are too informal or downright inappropriate.

“The tone that they would take in e-mail was pretty astounding,” said Michael J. Kessler, an assistant dean and a lecturer in theology at Georgetown University. ” ‘I need to know this and you need to tell me right now,’ with a familiarity that can sometimes border on imperative.”

He added: “It’s a real fine balance to accommodate what they need and at the same time maintain a level of legitimacy as an instructor and someone who is institutionally authorized to make demands on them, and not the other way round.”

While once professors may have expected deference, their expertise seems to have become just another service that students, as consumers, are buying. So students may have no fear of giving offense, imposing on the professor’s time or even of asking a question that may reflect badly on their own judgment.

For junior faculty members, the barrage of e-mail has brought new tension into their work lives, some say, as they struggle with how to respond. Their tenure prospects, they realize, may rest in part on student evaluations of their accessibility.

The stakes are different for professors today than they were even a decade ago, said Patricia Ewick, chairwoman of the sociology department at Clark University in Massachusetts, explaining that “students are constantly asked to fill out evaluations of individual faculty.” Students also frequently post their own evaluations on Web sites like ratemyprofessors.com and describe their impressions of their professors on blogs.

Last fall, undergraduate students at Syracuse University set up a group in Facebook.com, an online network for students, and dedicated it to maligning one particular instructor. The students were reprimanded.

Professor Ewick said 10 students in one class e-mailed her drafts of their papers days before they were due, seeking comments. “It’s all different levels of presumption,” she said. “One is that I’ll be able to drop everything and read 250 pages two days before I’m going to get 50 of these.”

Kathleen E. Jenkins, a sociology professor at the College of William and Mary in Virginia, said she had even received e-mail requests from students who missed class and wanted copies of her teaching notes.

Alexandra Lahav, an associate professor of law at the University of Connecticut, said she felt pressured by the e-mail messages. “I feel sort of responsible, as if I ought to be on call all the time,” she said.

Many professors said they were often uncertain how to react. Professor Schultens, who was asked about buying the notebook, said she debated whether to tell the student that this was not a query that should be directed to her, but worried that “such a message could be pretty scary.”

“I decided not to respond at all,” she said.

Christopher J. Dede, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education who has studied technology in education, said these e-mail messages showed how students no longer deferred to their professors, perhaps because they realized that professors’ expertise could rapidly become outdated.

“The deference was probably driven more by the notion that professors were infallible sources of deep knowledge,” Professor Dede said, and that notion has weakened.

Meanwhile, students seem unaware that what they write in e-mail could adversely affect them, Professor Lahav said. She recalled an e-mail message from a student saying that he planned to miss class so he could play with his son. Professor Lahav did not respond.

“It’s graduate school, he’s an adult human being, he’s obviously a parent, and it’s not my place to tell him how to run his life,” she said.

But such e-mail messages can have consequences, she added. “Students don’t understand that what they say in e-mail can make them seem very unprofessional, and could result in a bad recommendation.”

Still, every professor interviewed emphasized that instant feedback could be invaluable. A question about a lecture or discussion “is for me an indication of a blind spot, that the student didn’t get it,” said Austin D. Sarat, a professor of political science at Amherst College.

College students say that e-mail makes it easier to ask questions and helps them to learn. “If the only way I could communicate with my professors was by going to their office or calling them, there would be some sort of ranking or prioritization taking place,” said Cory Merrill, 19, a sophomore at Amherst. “Is this question worth going over to the office?”

But student e-mail can go too far, said Robert B. Ahdieh, an associate professor at Emory Law School in Atlanta. He paraphrased some of the comments he had received: “I think you’re covering the material too fast, or I don’t think we’re using the reading as much as we could in class, or I think it would be helpful if you would summarize what we’ve covered at the end of class in case we missed anything.”

Students also use e-mail to criticize one another, Professor Ahdieh said. He paraphrased this comment: “You’re spending too much time with my moron classmates and you ought to be focusing on those of us who are getting the material.”

Michael Greenstone, an economics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said he once received an e-mail message late one evening from a student who had recently come to the realization that he was gay and was struggling to cope.

Professor Greenstone said he eventually helped the student get an appointment with a counselor. “I don’t think we would have had the opportunity to discuss his realization and accompanying feelings without e-mail as an icebreaker,” he said.

A few professors said they had rules for e-mail and told their students how quickly they would respond, how messages should be drafted and what types of messages they would answer.

Meg Worley, an assistant professor of English at Pomona College in California, said she told students that they must say thank you after receiving a professor’s response to an e-mail message.

“One of the rules that I teach my students is, the less powerful person always has to write back,” Professor Worley said.

Correction: Feb. 22, 2006

Thursday May 11, 2006

May 11, 2006 - 10:20 pm 1 Comment

At FINCA, I share an office with John Hatch, founder of the organization. I work in the research department, and have been pouring over data sets, financial statements, and various publications.

A short biography of FINCA and John Hatch can be found on: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microcredit

The official site: www.villagebanking.org
Granted, going to the office means waking up everyday at 7 AM and commuting for 1.75 hours every day, but I suppose it’s worth it in the long run. I just need to remind myself from time to time.

Thursday May 11, 2006

May 11, 2006 - 9:47 pm 1 Comment

The article below highlights the tension between progress and the preservation of culture and tradition – a theme I’ve been consistently pondering. In the spirit of Vargas Llosa’s “El Hablador” (the Nukaks parallel the Machiguengas in many facets), which I meticulously studied last semester, the Nukaks confront the paradox of modernization. Lacking a concept of the future, money, and beaucracy, they simply desire to enter a world completely foreign to them in order to pursue greater opportunity. The true motive behind such an action is still completely unknown.

How can we help such a population? To provide aid and encourage modernization erodes human diversity, but to restrict such programs, violates respect and perhaps engenders dependency.

The role of anthropologists in this process is quite fascinating. Inevitably, any form of contact will erode the core beliefs of the Nukaks, just like the missionaries have done.

May 11, 2006
New York Times

Leaving the Wild, and Rather Liking the Change

SAN JOSÉ DEL GUAVIARE, Colombia — Since time immemorial the Nukak-Makú have lived a Stone Age life, roaming across hundreds of miles of isolated and pristine Amazon jungle, killing monkeys with blowguns and scouring the forest floor for berries.

But recently, and rather mysteriously, a group of nearly 80 wandered out of the wilderness, half-naked, a gaggle of children and pet monkeys in tow, and declared themselves ready to join the modern world.

“We do not want to go back,” explained one man, who uses the sole name Ma-be, and who arrived with the others at this outpost in southern Colombia in March. “We want to stay near town. We can plant our own food. In the meantime the town can help us.”

While it is not known for sure why they left the jungle, what is abundantly clear is that the Nukak’s experience as nomads and hunter-gatherers has left them wholly unprepared for the world they have just entered.

The Nukak have no concept of money, of property, of the role of government, or even of the existence of a country called Colombia. They ask whether the planes that fly overhead are moving on some sort of invisible road.

They have no government identification cards, making them nonentities to Colombia’s bureaucracy.

“The Nukak don’t know what they’ve gotten themselves into,” said Dr. Javier Maldonado, 27, a physician who has been working with them.

When asked if the Nukak were concerned about the future, Belisario, the only one in the group who had been to the outside world before and spoke Spanish, seemed perplexed, less by the word than by the concept. “The future,” he said, “what’s that?” He serves as a interpreter for the others. One of perhaps a few dozen indigenous communities living in relative seclusion in the Amazon basin, the Nukak have, in dribs and drabs, gone beyond the borders of their jungle world only since 1988, just as the world has intermittently found them.

In 2003 dozens of Nukak left the wilderness and arrived at San José del Guaviare, saying Colombia’s relentless civil war had encroached on their reserve and forced them to seek safety. Perhaps as many as 250 now live in settlements around the town, about as many as anthropologists suspect are still alive in the wilderness.

In recent years Nukak clans in the jungle have also had some contact with missionaries and with farmers and sedentary indigenous groups, who trade their crops for meat hunted by the Nukak, who picked up at least the notion of agriculture.

Though it is unclear how big the Nukak population once was, anthropologists believe that what little contact the Nukak have had with outsiders has most likely left them reduced by Western diseases, including influenza and the common cold, to which they have no natural defenses.

Janet Chernela, an anthropologist who has worked with the Nukak, said a study she had conducted showed that Nukak who abandon their nomadic lives and settle down, even temporarily, become susceptible to illnesses, including soil-transmitted diseases.

What little is known about this latest group is that it abandoned the Nukak National Park, which is nearly half the size of New Jersey, in the state of Guaviare. Belisario — who knows several of the towns outside the reserve, having been reared for part of his childhood by settlers who encroached on the jungle — led the way.

It was no easy journey, the Nukak told Dr. Maldonado, spanning nearly 200 miles from the eastern end of their reserve to this town, known locally as San José. They arrived in the central plaza malnourished and exhausted, as astonished by this world of low-slung jungle buildings, jeeps and paved roads as the townspeople here were astonished by them.

“When I’ve had some time to talk to them and asked where they came from, they just say ‘the bush,’ ” said Xismena Martínez, who oversees aid to the Nukak for San José. “But that could mean anywhere.”

The newly arrived Nukak do not provide much detail about why they left. They just say that “the Green Nukak,” a possible reference to Marxist guerrillas, who wear camouflage, told them to leave.

“The Green Nukak said we could not keep walking in the jungle, or else there would be problems,” explained Va-di, another Nukak man, whose words were translated from Nukak by Belisario. “The Green Nukak told us to go where it is safe.”

Colombian officials wonder if farmers growing coca, the crop used to make cocaine, may also have displaced the Nukak, who are peaceloving and unlikely to fight. Another theory is that another Nukak clan pushed this one out.

But because it is assumed that they fled the civil war, the Nukak are classified as displaced people, requiring the state to provide aid and help them return home, as long as it is safe. The government, though, cannot guarantee their safety.

Nor can officials force them to go back. So the town and the government are providing them food and clothing in a forest clearing called Aguabonita outside San José.

“We can’t say, ‘You’re a Nukak, go back to the bush,’ ” said Ramón Rodríguez, who is overseeing assistance efforts from the central government’s emergency aid organization, Social Action.

But even as the aid arrives, the donors are well aware that the largess could well doom the Nukak to a life of dependency, ensuring not only that they never return home but also that they never learn how to live in their new world.

“People want to protect them,” Ms. Martínez said. “To help them, we give them food and clothes. That doesn’t help them at all in the long term.”

What everyone agrees on is that the Nukak of Aguabonita must avoid the fate of the Nukak who came here in 2003 and now live in a clearing called Barrancón.

Now in their fourth year in the area, the Nukak in Barrancón lead listless lives, lolling in their hammocks awaiting food from the state. They do not work, nor have they learned Spanish. They also have no plans to return to the forest. “I think we will be here always,” said Martín, a young man who is considered a leader.

In Aguabonita, the scene on a recent day was full of commotion and laughter. Naked children tugged at the shirts of two foreign journalists, offering big smiles and hugs. The men quickly welcomed the visitors into a makeshift shelter, where they laughed at some of the questions and, it seemed, wholly innocently at their own odd predicament.

Are they sad? “No!” cried a Nukak named Pia-pe, to howls of laughter. In fact, the Nukak said they could not be happier. Used to long marches in search of food, they are amazed that strangers would bring them sustenance — free.

What do they like most? “Pots, pants, shoes, caps,” said Mau-ro, a young man who went to a shelter to speak to two visitors.

Ma-be added, “Rice, sugar, oil, flour.” Others said they loved skillets. Also high on the list were eggs and onions, matches and soap and certain other of life’s necessities.

“I like the women very much,” Pia-pe said, to raucous laughs.

One young Nukak mother, Bachanede, breast-feeding her infant as she talked, said she was happy just to stay still. “When you walk in the jungle,” she said, “your feet hurt a lot.”

The men still go into the jungle, searching for monkeys, a delicacy the Nukak cannot seem to live without. Monkeys are grilled, dismembered and boiled, then eaten piece by piece. The women still spend their time carefully weaving intricate wristbands and hammocks, using threads from palm leaves.

All live in shelters now, enjoy constant medical attention and, on weekends, stroll into town to take in the sights. “Nukak life is hard in the jungle,” Dr. Maldonado said. “You wake up thinking about food and you go hunt, you go search for nuts. So when they see us they think their food problems are over.”

That is not to say the Nukak do not have plans.

Ma-be explained that the idea is to grow plantains and yucca and take the crops to town. “We can exchange it for money,” he said, “and exchange the money for other things.”

But first they need to learn how to cultivate crops. The Nukak say they would like their children to go to school. They also say they do not want to lose traditions, like hunting or speaking their language. “We do want to join the white family,” Pia-pe said, speaking of Colombian society, “but we do not want to forget words of the Nukak.”

After a recent meeting with government officials, the Nukak were clear about what else they wanted: vehicles, drivers and doctors so a group of 15 Nukak could set off on a tour of the countryside, searching for a spot to settle down.

They do not ask for much — land to plant, preferably close to a town but also on the edge of a forest. They do not want armed men around, nor coca, they say.

“They will look to see if there are nuts, monkeys, water,” said Ms. Rodríguez, the town official handling the latest request. “If they find it, then, yes, that’s the spot.”

Wednesday May 10, 2006

May 10, 2006 - 10:12 am 2 Comments

Very interesting article below. The practice of infanticide and discrimination in the amount of care is prevalent throughout nature. Is it also common in human mothers? The concept parallels themes in Vargas Llosa’s “El Hablador”

One Thing They Aren’t: Maternal

Oh, mothers! Dear noble, selfless, tender and ferocious defenders of progeny all across nature’s phylogeny: How well you deserve our admiration as Mother’s Day draws near, and how photogenically you grace the greeting cards that we thrifty offspring will send in lieu of a proper gift.

Here is a mother guinea hen, trailed by a dozen cotton-ball chicks. Here a mother panda and a baby panda share a stalk of bamboo, while over there, a great black eagle dam carries food to her waiting young. We love you, Mom, you’re our port in the storm. You alone help clip Mother Nature’s bloodstained claws.

But wait. That guinea hen is walking awfully fast. In fact, her brood cannot quite keep up with her, and by the end of the day, whoops, only two chicks still straggle behind. And the mama panda, did she not give birth to twins? So why did just one little panda emerge from her den? As for the African black eagle, her nest is less a Hallmark poem than an Edgar Allan Poe. The mother has gathered prey in abundance, and has hyrax carcasses to spare. Yet she feeds only one of her two eaglets, then stands by looking bored as the fattened bird repeatedly pecks its starving sibling to death.

What is wrong with these coldhearted mothers, to give life then carelessly toss it away? Are they freaks or diseased or unnatural? Cackling mad like Piper Laurie in “Carrie”?

In a word — ha. As much as we may like to believe that mother animals are designed to nurture and protect their young, to fight to the death, if need be, to keep their offspring alive, in fact, nature abounds with mothers that defy the standard maternal script in a raft of macabre ways. There are mothers that zestily eat their young and mothers that drink their young’s blood. Mothers that pit one young against the other in a fight to the death and mothers that raise one set of their babies on the flesh of their siblings.

Among several mammals, including lions, mice and monkeys, females will either spontaneously abort their fetuses or abandon their newborns when times prove rocky or a new male swaggers into town.

Other mothers, like pandas, practice a postnatal form of family planning, giving birth to what may be thought of as an heir and a spare, and then, when the heir fares well, walking away from the spare with nary a fare-thee-well.

“Pandas frequently give birth to twins, but they virtually never raise two babies,” said Scott Forbes, a professor of biology at the University of Winnipeg. “This is the dark side of pandas, that they have two and throw one away.”

It is also something that zoos with ever-popular panda displays rarely discuss.

“They consider it bad P.R. for the pandas,” Dr. Forbes said.

Researchers long viewed infanticide and similar acts of maternal skulduggery as pathological, a result of the mother’s being under extreme stress. A farmer’s child pokes around in a rabbit’s nest, for example, and the mother rabbit responds by methodically consuming every one of her eight baby bunnies. By standard reckoning, it made little genetic sense for a mother to destroy her young, and maternal nurturing was assumed to be a hard-wired affair.

More recently, scientists have accrued abundant evidence that “bad” mothering is common in nature and that it is often a centerpiece of the reproductive game plan.

In the blockbuster movie “The March of the Penguins,” the emperor penguins were portrayed as fairy parents, loving every egg they laid and mourning every egg that cracked before its time. Among the less storied royal penguins, a mother lays two eggs each breeding season, the second 60 percent larger than the first. Just before the second egg is laid, the mother unsentimentally rolls the first egg right out of the nest.

In Magellanic penguins, the mother also lays two eggs and allows both to hatch; only then does she begin to discriminate. Of the fish she brings to the nest, she gives 90 percent to the larger chick, even as the smaller one howls for food. In the pitiless cold of Antarctica, the underfed bird invariably dies.

Like penguins, many species that habitually jettison a portion of their progeny live in harsh or uncertain environments, where young are easily lost and it pays to have a backup. At the same time, the harshness and uncertainty make it virtually impossible for a mother to raise multiples, so if the primary survives, the backup must go. Sometimes the mother does the dirty work herself. More often, she leaves it to her preferred young to dispatch of its understudy.

When Douglas W. Mock of the University of Oklahoma began studying egrets in Texas three decades ago, he knew that the bigger babies in a clutch would peck the smaller ones to death. Still, Dr. Mock was caught off guard by what he saw — or failed to see. He had assumed that the murderous attacks would surely take place while Mom and Dad egret were out fishing.

“I figured that, if the parents were around, they’d try to block these things,” he said. “I have three older brothers, and I never would have made it if my parents hadn’t interceded.”

Instead, Dr. Mock witnessed utter parental indifference. The mother or father would stand by the side of the nest, doing nothing as one chick battered its sibling bloody. “The parent would yawn or groom itself and look completely blasé,” said Dr. Mock, author of “More Than Kin and Less Than Kind: The Evolution of Family Conflict.” “In the 3,000 attacks that I witnessed, I never saw a parent try to stop one. It’s as though they expect it to happen.”

Since then, siblicide under parental supervision has been observed in many bird species, including pelicans, cranes and blue-footed boobies.

One researcher watched a nest of African black eagles for three days as the larger eaglet alternated between tirelessly stabbing at its sibling and taking food from its solicitous mother’s mouth. There was prey to spare, but the mother did not bother feeding the second, abused baby. When the eaglet’s poor, tattered body was finally tossed to the ground, the researcher calculated that it had been pecked 1,569 times.

Pigs, too, have their own version of litter culling by sibling rivalry. Piglets are born with little eyeteeth that stick out sideways from their lower jaw, Dr. Mock said, and they use these teeth to slice at the faces of one another as they jockey for the best teats. The runt of the litter is so often sliced and bullied that it cannot get enough milk. It must spend every spare moment fighting to nurse and may get crushed by its mother.

In other cases, mothers turn infanticidal because they are born optimists, ever tuned to the sunny expectation that good times lie ahead. Each year they breed for a banquet, producing a maximum of begging bairns as the season starts; and when there is plenty of food, they will provision every young.

If the feast does not materialize, however, they cut their losses. Kangaroos have an elaborate method for child rearing through fat and lean years. In a good season, a mother may care for three offspring simultaneously, each at a different stage of development: the eldest, already hopping around on its own but still nursing; the second, a joey, which lives in her pouch and breast-feeds; and the youngest, an embryo stashed internally in a state of suspended animation.

During a severe drought, the mother will first refuse her breast to the autonomous juvenile, leaving it to forage as best it can. If the drought continues, her milk dries up and the joey dies and falls from her pouch. At that point, the embryo kept in cold storage begins to develop toward joeyhood. Tomorrow will surely be a better, wetter day.

Some mother hawks and owls are practical optimists, not only halving their brood when necessary but also eating them.

“Cannibalizing the victim serves the dual function of providing a timely meal and ensuring that there is one less mouth to feed,” Dr. Forbes, the University of Winnipeg biologist, writes in his new book, “A Natural History of Families.”

A hungry mother can be the stuff of nightmares — especially if it is the mother next door. Chimpanzees are exemplary mothers when it comes to caring for their own, said Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, a primatologist and the author of “Mother Nature: A History of Mothers, Infants and Natural Selection.”

Unlike humans, Dr. Hrdy said, the apes never abandon or reject their young, no matter how diseased or crippled a baby may be. Yet because female chimpanzees live in troops with other nonrelated females, a ravenous, lactating mother feels little compunction about killing and eating the child of a group mate. “It’s a good way to get lipids,” Dr. Hrdy said.

As meal plans go, cannibalism can be no-muss, no-fuss. A mother nurse shark has two uteri in which her babies develop, safe from the ocean’s predators. But the nurse shark is not a mammal, and she has no placenta. How to feed her fetal fish? On the fins and flesh of fellow fetal fish.

The mother incubates as many as 20 eggs per womb. The eggs hatch and start to grow, and when their jaws are sufficiently mature, they commence feeding on one another. By gestation’s end, just one sharklet emerges from each uterine chamber.

Extracting nutrients from one’s offspring need not be fatal, though. Among ants of the rare genus Adetomyrma, Dr. Forbes writes, “queens chew holes in their larvae and then consume the oozing fluid,” a practice that explains why the insects, found in Madagascar, are known as Dracula ants. The sampled larvae recover and mature into ants, but they bear lifelong scars of their early bloodletting.

There are voracious mothers and vampiric mothers, and then there are phantom mothers. In the annals of mammaldom, the maximal minimalist of a mother must surely be the rabbit. Only recently have scientists studied rabbit behavior closely enough to appreciate what a marvel of efficiency a breeding rabbit is, said Robyn Hudson of the National University of Mexico.

Rabbits live together in complex burrows, where an expecting female will build a little nest and line it with grass and fur that she plucks from her flank. When she is ready to give birth, she enters the chamber and in less than eight minutes plops out 10 pups, “like peas in a pod,” Dr. Hudson said.

Without bestowing on the litter so much as a single welcoming lick, the mother hops back out, closes up the entrance and leaves the helpless, furless newborns to huddle among themselves in the dark. Over the next 25 days, the mother will return to the nest for a mere two minutes a day, during which she crouches over the pups and they frantically nurse.

“Her milk is under high pressure, and it’s almost squirted into their mouths,” Dr. Hudson said. “You can see them visibly expand, like little grapes.”

Two minutes are up, and she’s out of there. On Day 26, she abandons them completely, and the bunnies must crawl from the nest and make their way in the world on their own.

The mother rabbit may seem awfully cold for a warmblood, but her aloofness makes sense. Rabbits are a highly popular prey, and many predators will pursue them into their burrows. To keep the fox from the nursery door, the mother rabbit shuns the room. Her absence may not make her pups’ hearts grow fonder, but it may keep those hearts thumping a little longer.

Wednesday May 10, 2006

May 10, 2006 - 9:42 am 1 Comment

Grades are in! After anxious, sleepless nights stemming from my perceived poor performance on all my finals, I was happily surprised with the continuation of my current academic record. After getting back my accounting final exam grade, I was completely shocked that my score (which I fretted over immensely, evidenced in my xanga posts) was approximately 2 standard deviations above the mean.

During finals week, I really beat myself up over my performance. Was it all for naught? How can I stop myself from worrying over done and finished things? (I’m beginning to think that worrying is in my nature)