How the city hurts your brain

Sex and the City in Serbian.

“Sex and the City” in Serbian.

I am a bit late posting this one, but it is a fascinating article about the effect that Urban environments have on the brain:

“Scientists have begun to examine how the city affects the brain, and the results are chastening. Just being in an urban environment, they have found, impairs our basic mental processes. After spending a few minutes on a crowded city street, the brain is less able to hold things in memory, and suffers from reduced self-control. While it’s long been recognized that city life is exhausting — that’s why Picasso left Paris — this new research suggests that cities actually dull our thinking, sometimes dramatically so.

“The mind is a limited machine,”says Marc Berman, a psychologist at the University of Michigan and lead author of a new study that measured the cognitive deficits caused by a short urban walk. “And we’re beginning to understand the different ways that a city can exceed those limitations.”

One of the main forces at work is a stark lack of nature, which is surprisingly beneficial for the brain. Studies have demonstrated, for instance, that hospital patients recover more quickly when they can see trees from their windows, and that women living in public housing are better able to focus when their apartment overlooks a grassy courtyard. Even these fleeting glimpses of nature improve brain performance, it seems, because they provide a mental break from the urban roil.

This research arrives just as humans cross an important milestone: For the first time in history, the majority of people reside in cities. For a species that evolved to live in small, primate tribes on the African savannah, such a migration marks a dramatic shift. Instead of inhabiting wide-open spaces, we’re crowded into concrete jungles, surrounded by taxis, traffic, and millions of strangers. In recent years, it’s become clear that such unnatural surroundings have important implications for our mental and physical health, and can powerfully alter how we think.” –  How the city hurts your brain –

Also see the recent “All in the Mind” episode “Greening the Psyche”  in which the same topic is explored from the discipline of Environmental Psychology:

Intuitively we sense that nature relaxes us — even small pockets of green in the concrete urban jungle seem to make a difference. But finding good scientific evidence for how and why has been more difficult — until now. Crime rates, academic performance, aggression and even ADHD. Could a bit of greening make all the difference? And, ecology on the couch — a self described ‘ecotherapist’ with novel techniques.

Social unrest in Europe, Britain begins to collapse

Dispair looms.

“Angst”, street art from Belgrade, Serbia, 2008

Gaza and the the Obama inauguration took attention away from the growing chaos across the world as the global economic crisis hits home. Eastern Europe and the Baltics saw riots, Iceland too.

ISN Security Watch picked up on this story as it was happening, noting that:

“Major riots in Latvia, Lithuania and Bulgaria are spurred by the global financial crisis and declining standards of living…

Not one, but three anti-government riots took place in Eastern Europe last week. But with all eyes fixated on the conflict in Gaza and the inauguration of the new US president, the world’s attention was elsewhere – even though these violent demonstrations could very well be a worrying harbinger of things to come later this year.

Most media typically interpreted the events in Bulgaria, Latvia and Lithuania as simply responses to the global financial crisis and the unpopular policies that governments have been forced to adopt to escape economic meltdown. Case closed.

Yet, contrary to what editorial writers in the US and Western Europe might believe, large-scale demonstrations do not take place in the “wild” East very often, and certainly not those that degenerate into violence, attacks on government buildings and looting. This is a big deal, but how big? And if these are really economically motivated disturbances, why exactly now?

Yesterday the Washington Post picked up on the story, claiming that the Economic Crisis is fuelling unrest in E. Europe:

Europeans have compared the unrest to events of the 1960s and even the 1930s, when the Great Depression fueled political upheaval across the continent and gave rise to isolationism and fascism. But no ideology has tapped into public anger and challenged the basic dominance of free-market economics and democratic politics in these countries. Instead, protesters appear united primarily by dashed economic hopes and hostility against the ruling authorities. – Economic Crisis Fuels Unrest in E. Europe –

The question I am asking myself is, “Hhow long before this spreads to Britain and even the USA”?

Britain is in dire trouble In an extraordinary and terrifying column last weekend, Iain Martin writing in the Telegraph, showed how Gordon Brown has brought Britain to the edge of bankruptcy:

The country stands on the precipice. We are at risk of utter humiliation, of London becoming a Reykjavik on Thames and Britain going under. Thanks to the arrogance, hubristic strutting and serial incompetence of the Government and a group of bankers, the possibility of national bankruptcy is not unrealistic.

Continue reading

Submission in the Netherlands

Bruce Bawer has a searing piece on the shameful prosecution of Dutch MP Geert Wilders for “Hate Speech” because of his controversial film “Fitna“.

It is a disgrace for the Netherlands, once a liberal country, now cowed by Islamist censorship. As Bawer writes:

The appalling decision to try Wilders, the Freedom Party’s head and the Dutch Parliament’s only internationally famous member, for “incitement to hatred and discrimination” against Islam is indeed an assault on free speech. But no one who has followed events in the Netherlands over the last decade can have been terribly surprised by it. Far from coming out of the blue, this is the predictable next step in a long, shameful process of accommodating Islam—and of increasingly aggressive attempts to silence Islam’s critics—on the part of the Dutch establishment. – Submission in the Netherlands by Bruce Bawer, City Journal 22 January 2009

It is ironic that we are less than a month away from the 20th anniversary of the Rushdie Affair, where arguably theIslamist attack on Western fredoms of speech and though started:. Christopher Hitchens  has a great article about  it in Vanity Fair, starting:

When Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa on novelist Salman Rushdie for The Satanic Verses, it was the opening shot in a war on cultural freedom. Two decades later, the violence continues, and Muslim fundamentalists have gained a new advantage: media self-censorship. –  “Assassins of the Mind”,  Vanity Fair, Feb 2009

The situation in Europe is deteriorating fast, and it is the formerly most enlightened and liberal countries – Denmark and The Netherlands –  that are deteriorating fastest.

UPDATE 1: You can contribute to Geert Wilder’s defence fund at his website –

UPDATE 2: Check out Pat Condell’s scathing but brilliant defense of Wilders:

An Excerpt From ‘The Symposium’ ~ By Plato

This was my reading that I gave at my friend Jason’s wedding last year. I recently found it again and thought it would make a lovely post

“Humans have never understood the power of Love, for if they had they would surely have built noble temples and altars and offered solemn sacrifices; but this is not done, and most certainly ought to be done, since Love is our best friend, our helper, and the healer of the ills which prevent us from being happy.

To understand the power of Love, we must understand that our original nature was not like it is now, but different. Human beings each had two sets of arms, two sets of legs, and two faces looking in opposite directions.

Now these creatures were so powerful and lofty in their notions that they even conspired against the gods. Thereat Zeus and the other gods were perplexed; for they felt they could not slay them, nor could they endure such sinful rioting. So Finally Zeus in all of his wisdom said “Methinks I can contrive that men shall give over their iniquity through a lessening of their strength.” and so saying, he sliced each human being in two.

Now when our first form had been cut in two, each half longed for its fellow to come to it again; to fling their arms about each other and in mutual embrace yearn to be grafted together as once they were. Thus anciently is mutual love ingrained in mankind.

Well, when one happens on their own particular half, the two of them are wondrously thrilled with affection, intimacy, and love, and are hardly to be induced to leave each other’s side for a single moment. These are they who continue together throughout life. No one could imagine this to be the mere amorous connection: obviously the soul of each is wishing for something else that it cannot express. Suppose that Hephaestus should ask “Do you desire to be joined in the closest possible union, that so long as you live, the pair of you, being as one, may share a single life?” Each would unreservedly deem that he had been offered just what he was yearning for all the time.

The craving and pursuit of that entirety is called Love. If we make friends with the gods and are reconciled, we shall have the fortune that falls to few in our day of discovering our proper favorites. Love brings this about; it restores us to our ancient life, and heals and helps us into the happiness of the blessed.”

Dental Care in Belgrade

Here are the tools of lifelong dental health: Soft bristled toothbrush (Curaprox), toothpaste, floss and mouthwash. Daily dental care will save you trouble later.

Here are the tools of lifelong dental health: Soft bristled toothbrush (Curaprox), toothpaste, floss and mouthwash. Daily dental care will save you trouble later.

One of the good things about Belgrade is that there are loads of superb dentists, operating with state of the art equipment and to the highest clinical standards, but they cost about 75% less than their Western European colleagues.

There is pretty much nothing hat modern dentistry cannot fix these days. Missing teeth can be replaced by implants or crowns, teeth that used to be extracted are now saved by root canal therapy, gum recession can be fixed by gum transplants  and periodontal disease can be controlled by regular dental cleaning and bone transplants. All of it is pretty much painless (and in Serbia, inexpensive).

If you have been posted to Belgrade, stationed here on a project or are living here now, then give yourself the gift of total dental care.

Keeping your teeth for life is actually quite easy. Assuming you do not have a physical trauma (teeth knocked out) all you have to do is make sure you get routine professional care and practise daily self care, which means in essence, dental hygiene:

Professional Care

Professional care means regular dental check-up and seeking  professional help as soon as dental symptoms arise.

Here is how to organise Professional care in Belgrade:

  1. Find yourself a local dentist and go and see them for a check up. If you have a clinical problem they will fix it for you, if you have a cosmetic one, they can usually fix that too. Here are some recommended dentists in Belgrade.
  2. Your dentist may recommend that you get a mouth x-ray. They will give you a prescription for that and you go to the drop in centre.It takes 15 minutes.
  3. If you have no problems, they may recommend just a cleaning and check-up in 6 months. If you do, they will schedule you for the procedure.
  4. Many dentists give you their mobile phones and e-mail addresses. You can call them out of hours if you have pain, or you can e-mail them questions about your health. My dentist saw me  immediately when I had a tooth break after biting an olive stone, even tough I had no pain.
  5. Make sure you do not miss your appointment and go at least every 6 months.


The more important element of life long dental health is routine dental hygiene.

This is much easier than it may seem. Here is the formula, the holy trinity of lifelong dental health:

1. Brush your teeth at least twice a day with a soft toothbrush.

2. Floss all your teeth properly at least once a day, preferably before bed.

3. OPTIONAL: Use a good mouth rinse (mouthwash) for 30 seconds, also before bed

That is it!

The whole deal takes under a minute and if it becomes a habit, you will have healthy teeth and gums for a lifetime.

Some gotchas…

  • It is super important to use a very high quality soft-bristled toothbrush. Many people damage their teeth and gums with over brushing or using a hard toothbrush that wears away enamel and gums.My dentist recommends (and uses) Curaprox toothbrushes. Look for model 3969 (Supersoft) or 5460 (Ultrasoft). They are available in most Belgrade pharmacies for about 350 dinars.
  • Mouthwash is only to be used in conjunction with brushing and flossing, not as a replacement.
  • Chewing gum is also never a replacement for brushing and flossing.
  • Do not use cheap mouthwash. Bad mouthwash (mouth rinse) may actually hasten tooth decay if it contains too much alcohol or sugar.
  • Do not brush your teeth for 1 hour after eating acidic food.
  • It is best to brush and floss in the morning after breakfast. This way t=you do not ruin the taste of your food and you get the debris off your teeth for the start of the day,

Also see our discussion on dentists that broke out on the forums here.

Fried Pictures

Came across a great Serbian design company recently after it was suggested that two newcomers to Belgrade should see if they had any work on.

Fried Pictures || Creative production

Fried pictures was founded in 2005 by two entrepreneurs and award winning artists/ animators:

Vuk Tatalovic and Sinisa Sumina.

We produce memorable characters, great stories and above all high quality animation for long and short form projects.

We pride ourselves in mixing design and animation with 2d/3d graphics, live action and sound design through various broadcast, film and commercial projects.

Just check out some of their work…superb!