Sunday, December 20, 2009

Eight ancient drinks uncorked by science

By John Roach, contributor


Throughout human history, alcoholic beverages have treated pain, thwarted infections and unleashed a cascade of pleasure in the brain that lubricates the social fabric of life, according to Patrick McGovern, an archaeochemist at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

For the past several decades, McGovern's research has focused on finding archaeological and chemical evidence for fermented beverages in the ancient world. The details are chronicled in his recently published book, “Uncorking the Past: The Quest for Wine, Beer, and Other Alcoholic Beverages.”

He argues that the mind-altering effects of alcohol and the mysterious process of fermentation may explain why these drinks dominated entire economies, religions and societies. He’s found evidence of fermented beverages everywhere he's looked, which fits his hypothesis that alcohol "had a lot to do with making us what we are in biological and cultural terms."

The author, shown here examining an ancient pottery sherd, spoke with about his research. Click the "Next" arrow above to learn about 8 ancient drinks uncorked by science.

China: First known brew

While the human relationship with alcohol may trace back to our ancestors, the earliest chemical evidence for an alcoholic beverage dates back 9,000 years to the ancient village of Jiahu in China's Henan province.

Based on the analysis of residues extracted from pottery fragments, McGovern and colleagues concluded that the people were drinking a mixed wine-and-beer-like beverage made with grapes, hawthorn fruit, rice and honey. The finding was published in December 2004. The following year, McGovern collaborated with Sam Calagione and his crew at the Dogfish Head Brewery in Delaware to re-create the millennia-old drink. Their creation, called Chateau Jiahu, won a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival in 2009.

"We worked hard on getting this interpretation right. Since it does represent the oldest alcoholic beverage, it was really gratifying to get that gold tasting award,"

Iran: Earliest evidence for barley beer
Courtesy of University of Pennsylvania
Iran: Earliest evidence for barley beer

Which came first: bread or beer? The question remains unresolved, but evidence suggests barley was first cultivated about 10,000 years ago – the same time humans were abandoning the hunter-gatherer lifestyle and sowing the seeds of civilization. What was the catalyst for the transition? A steady supply of barley bread is one possibility. Brewing copious amounts of barley beer is another.

"From a pragmatic standpoint, the question is really a-no brainer," McGovern writes in his book. "If you had to choose today, which would it be? Neolithic people had all the same neural pathways and sensory organs as we have, so their choice would probably not have been much different."

Some of the earliest chemical evidence for beer comes from residues – calcium oxalate, known as beerstone – inside a jar excavated at the Godin Tepe archaeological site in the Zagros Mountains of Iran that is dated to between 3400 and 3100 B.C.

Turkey: Mixed drink for Midas?

In 1957, University of Pennsylvania Museum researchers working at the Gordion archaeological site near Ankara, Turkey, broke through the wall of an elaborate tomb dated to between 740 and 700 B.C. that research suggests was the burial site of the fabled King Midas, or his father and king, Gordius. Among the remains in the tomb were the body of a 60- to 65-year-old male and the largest Iron Age drinking set ever found: 157 bronze vessels that were presumably used during the occupant's farewell feast.

In the late 1990s, McGovern and his colleagues analyzed residues inside the vessels and found evidence for a mixed beverage of grape wine, barley beer and honey mead. In March of 2000, he challenged microbrewers to make a representative concoction – and in the process prove or disprove that such grog was a plausible, enjoyable drink. Sam Calagione of the Dogfish Head brewery came through with what has become his most celebrated beverage: "Midas Touch."

Phoenicia: Active in the wine trade

Analysis of a pottery jar, or amphora, pulled up from a late 8th century B.C. shipwreck in the Mediterranean off the coast of Israel offers a strong hint that the wine trade flourished as a result of Phoenician enterprise originating from the coast of Lebanon and Syria, according to McGovern.

He and his colleagues discovered that the amphora was filled with a tree-resin-infused wine. What's more, the bottle had been sealed with resin to prevent the liquid from leaking out and oxygen getting in and spoiling the wine. Other Phoenician shipwrecks found throughout the Mediterranean dating to between 1000 B.C. and 400 B.C. also contained vast stores of wine.

"Some of the people working on that area say that the wine trade was really what transferred culture from the eastern Mediterranean to the western Mediterranean, because all of these ships are just chock-full of wine-related artifacts," McGovern said.

Chile: New World’s first fermented drink?

The earliest evidence for human occupation in the New World is found at Mount Verde, Chile, an inland archaeological site that dates to about 13,000 years before present. The discovery of the site in 1977 raised the possibility that the first migrants across the land bridge between Siberia and Alaska took a water route to get to South America, not a slower-going overland trek as previously thought.

For McGovern, another intriguing possibility at Monte Verde is telling hints that these early Americans were drinking a fermented beverage. Though a drinking vessel or jug for chemical analysis has yet to be found, botanical debris at the site includes several fruits and starchy foods that could have been made into a buzz-giving drink.

"Humans are very innovative when it comes to figuring out how to make a fermented beverage, so if you've got fruits or other starchy materials that could be chewed or made into a sweet food or beverage, they'd discover how to do it. ... We just don't have the hard evidence for it yet," McGovern said.

Honduras: Wine and chocolate

Chocolate, almost anyone will attest, is tasty stuff. But long before humans were turning cacao beans into delicious deserts, they were making a wine from the sweet pulp that fills the cacao pods. "The initial motivation for focusing in on the chocolate tree and domesticating it would have been this fermented beverage," McGovern said.

The earliest evidence for this cacao-based wine comes from chemical analysis of pottery fragments recovered at the Puerto Escondido site in Honduras dating to as early as 1400 B.C. Nearly all the fragments tested had the fingerprint compound for cacao, theobromine. And these vessels clearly were intended to hold a liquid or a beverage, McGovern said.

Cacao-based fermented drinks were popular throughout Mesoamerica, evolving into a mixed beverage during Aztec and Mayan times that may have even included the addition of mind-altering substances such as peyote or hallucinogenic mushrooms. Honey, chilis, scented flowers and spices were the usual additives.

McGovern's research once again led to collaboration with Calagione at Dogfish Head to re-create a representative concoction of this centuries-old tradition. The creation, called Theobroma, is brewed with cocoa powder and nibs from the Aztec region of Soconusco, honey, chilis and fragrant tree seeds called annatto – though it lacks the illicit kick.

Peru: Burning down the house

For some reason or other, a pre-Incan civilization known as the Wari abandoned their outpost atop Cerro Baul, a mountain about 50 miles from the Pacific Ocean in southern Peru. Before they departed, archaeological evidence indicates that they had a grand bash replete with ceremonial smashing of mugs full of alcoholic beverage and then literally burned down the house.

The drink of choice for the Wari was made from the fruit of the pepper tree Schinus molle. The largest known production facility for making the beverage was found at Cerro Ba�l. In addition to vats for making the beverage and thousands of pepper-tree seeds and stems, archaeologists found shawl pins worn by women, an indication that they were responsible for making the beverage.

Egypt: Beer helped build the pyramids

For many a manual laborer, even today, few things are as rewarding after a long day's work than a mug of beer. The ancient Egyptians knew this. The workers who built the Great Pyramids, for example, were paid in a daily allotment of bread and beer, noted McGovern. Just how deep in time the Egyptian beer-making tradition goes is uncertain, but pottery remains from Hierakonpolis, in Upper Egypt, suggest that the craft was under way perhaps as early as 3500 B.C.

Chemical analyses suggest that barley was mashed and beer was made at the site and other sites nearby. If so, they would be the earliest breweries in the world. "They seem to be making beer on a very large scale," McGovern said. "It was probably involved in large-scale architectural projects in which the workers, just like at the pyramids, were paid in bread and beer."

Even bacteria get lonely

Bacteria locked in solitary confinement change behavior in strange ways

Getty Images
When scientists trapped samples of Staphylococcus aureus (shown here) in glass cages, the bacteria acted disturbed and "talked" to themselves.

By Eric Bland
updated 12:42 p.m. CT, Fri., Dec . 18, 2009

Humans in solitary confinement can go crazy, talking to themselves and trying to break free. Now scientists from New Mexico and New Hampshire are reporting that bacteria locked in solitary confinement know they are locked up, talk to themselves, and try to break free of their imprisonment.

The research could have important health implications, from how an individual bacterium can trigger full-blown infections to how a single human cancer cell can metastasize into a deadly tumor.

"There are many real-world situations where bacteria find themselves alone," said Jeff Brinker, a scientist at the University of New Mexico and co-author of a recent paper in the journal Nature Chemical Biology. "When the bacteria are confined they turn on these virulence pathways," causing infections.

A human locked up in solitary confinement can see the walls around them, touch their rough surfaces, hear their pleas and curses echoing around the cell. Bacteria lack these senses, but they do have excellent noses. They smell the walls around them, using a chemical process known as quorum sensing.

Quorum sensing is how bacteria communicate with each other, and with the world around them. Bacteria send out specific chemicals, often called autoinducers, that diffuse away, their concentration decreasing the farther away the chemical travels. Low levels of autoinducers usually means that a bacterium is alone. High levels of autoinducers means there are many bacteria.

Once the signal reaches a certain threshold, or quorum, the bacteria change their behavior, turning some genes on, turning other genes off. The bacteria become an organized pack, known as a biofilm, instead of lone wolves. In a biofilm, certain bacteria are responsible for protection, others for food, and still others for replication. A biofilm can be anything from the brown scum on river rocks to the yellow mucus hacked up during a lung infection.

But what happens when there are high levels of autoinducers but only one bacterium?

Until now the technology to create glass cages 20 micrometers wide to hold bacteria three to four micrometers long didn't exist. Now nanotechnology has advanced to the point where scientists can trap these tiny organisms in glass cages and watch the imprisoned bacteria, in this case Staphylococcus aureus, talk to themselves.

The conversations are angry. The bacteria know their messages, or quorum sensing molecules, are going nowhere. If the chemicals can't move anywhere then neither can much larger bacteria. If bacteria can't move it means they are trapped, either inside a tissue or inside another cell, usually a macrophage, that is attempting to destroy the invading cell.

Either way, bacteria needs to get out, and they activate genes that will help them escape. The Staph produces lysosomes, chemical bombs that eat away at whatever they touch, and releases them into the environment around it. Since the cage is glass, the lysosomes are ineffective, but the bacteria continue to pound the walls with them.

A bacterial change like this isn't supposed to happen. A quorum of chemicals from dozens, hundreds of bacteria packed close together is supposedly the only way for a bacteria to alter its gene expression.

"This is really a way for cells to fight back, to adapt to any condition a cell finds itself in," said Brinker. "All that's needed is a quorum of one."

Staph bacteria can cause serious, life-threatening infections in humans. The new research could eventually have important applications in finding ways to stop individual Staph cells, and other pathogens, from becoming full-blown infections. Equally important, however, is the new research's implications for cancer, says Brinker and other scientists, including Carrie Rinker-Schaeffer, a scientist at the University of Chicago.

Just like invading Staph, a cancer cell that breaks off from the main tumor can find itself trapped, isolated, and trying to figure out where it is using chemical signals. Scientists don't know which chemicals metastatic cancer cells use, but they expect to start finding them soon.

Whether the cells involved are invading pathogens or metastatic cancer cells, "these are some very complicated questions," said Rinker-Schaeffer. "But if you take the process of bacterial infection and metastatic cancer colonization and line them up, the similarities are amazing."

© 2009 Discovery Channel

Thursday, December 17, 2009

From Hiroshima to 9/11, a girl's origami lives on

By Wayne Drash, CNN
December 17, 2009 4:08 a.m. EST
Sadako Sasaki, a survivor of the Hiroshima atomic bombing, made this red origami crane while dying of leukemia.
Sadako Sasaki, a survivor of the Hiroshima atomic bombing, made this red origami crane while dying of leukemia.
  • Origami crane, made by girl that inspired a nation, is now on display at 9/11 center
  • Sadako Sasaki survived the Hiroshima bombing; made origami in hopes of beating leukemia
  • Her brother recently donated an original crane as message of peace
  • "Even in death, we're going to carry on that little girl's wish," center's co-founder says

This holiday season, CNN highlights inspiring acts of kindness and generosity in a special series called "Giving in Focus: The 12 Days of Goodness."

(CNN) -- When Sadako Sasaki lay in her hospital bed sick with leukemia, she showed her father origami cranes from local school girls. "When you fold 1,000 paper cranes, you will get well," her dad responded.

Sadako was just 12. Hoping to get better, she began folding tiny origami cranes, using paper from get-well gifts and wrappers from medicine. She had survived the atomic bombing of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. Yet 10 years later, her fragile body suffered the effects of exposure to radiation.

"Please treasure the life that is given to you," Sadako said before her death on October 25, 1955. "It is my belief that my small paper crane will enable you to understand other people's feelings, as if they are your own."

Sadako's death inspired a memorial in Japan's Hiroshima Peace Park, complete with a statue of her holding a golden crane. Now, one of her last origami cranes resides in a new memorial thousands of miles away, in the country that dropped the bomb.

It was given to the Tribute WTC Visitor Center in New York by her aging brother.

"I thought if Sadako's crane is placed at Ground Zero, it will be very meaningful," says Masahiro Sasaki, in an education program produced by the tribute center and the Japan Society. "Commonly, in Japan, the crane is regarded as a symbol of peace. But for us, in the Sasaki family, it is the embodiment of Sadako's life, and it is filled with her wish and hope."

"I hope by talking about that small wish for peace, the small ripple will become bigger and bigger."

The delicate red crane, smaller than a fingernail, is on display at the center. Hanging near it are origami cranes that were placed on the fence around Ground Zero after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Another 10,000 cranes from families and colleagues of Japanese victims of 9/11 surround Sadako's.

Every time I visit the World Trade Center site, I wonder where my son was and where he suffered.
--Tsugio Ito, Hiroshima survivor

"This little girl believed that the world could be made better if we all worked together," says Lee Ielpi, the co-founder of the center, whose grown son, Jonathan, was killed on September 11.

"It sends that beautiful message: Even in death, we're going to carry on that little girl's wish. ... I'm so tickled we can carry on her wish."

Meriam Lobel, the center's curator, says staffers were speechless when Masahiro Sasaki presented the gift. "He lifted it out with this little, tiny tweezer and there was this beautiful red glistening crane," Lobel says. "It was like a gem, like a little red ruby."

For Tsugio Ito, the symbolism of the crane holds special meaning.

"When the atomic bomb was dropped, I was exercising in the schoolyard at the elementary school. My brother was a student at the high school," he says in the center's educational program.

He survived. His brother was killed in the bombing.

Fast forward six decades. Ito's son was working for Fuji Bank in the South Tower of the World Trade Center on September 11. Kazushige Ito, 35, was one of 24 Japanese killed on 9/11.

"After September 11, we waited for him to call. One month passed, then two months, then I came to accept that perhaps this means he is gone," he told the center. "Every time I visit the World Trade Center site, I wonder where my son was and where he suffered."

What happened that day only reinforces "how important it is to have peace."

"We must have peace," Ito says. "I feel that stronger now than ever before."

Tom Johnson has been active on the board of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation ever since 9/11 when terrorists killed 2,976 people. His 26-year-old son, Scott, was among the victims.

When he visits the center, he cherishes two items in particular: his son's death certificate, which lists "homicide" as his cause of death, and Sadako's origami crane.

"You have to derive some kind of message of meaning that will make the world heal," he says.

Sadako's brother says the spirit of his sister lives on in the crane, "because she had a heart of kindness." He had five of her original cranes. He hopes to give the others away to museums on other continents.

"As a victim of war or a victim of terrorism, we share the same grief, and share the sense of duty to tell the stories to our children and our children's children," he says.

"Although the incidents were different, I hope we can help each other work for world peace from now on."

Ben & Jerry's bagels? Chick-fil-A's burgers?

By Stacy Conradt, Mental Floss
December 17, 2009 9:42 a.m. EST
Dunkin' Donuts was born after its founder tried delivering breakfast, lunch to factory workers.
Dunkin' Donuts was born after its founder tried delivering breakfast, lunch to factory workers.
  • Some famous fast food joints originally planned to cook up something else
  • High cost of bagel equipment sent Ben and Jerry into ice cream business
  • Creator of Popeye Chicken started out selling doughnuts
  • Dunkin' Donuts' founder started out with truck delivering breakfast, lunch to factories

(Mental Floss) -- Ben & Jerry's Bagels? Sonic Steakhouse? Be glad that some of our favorite quick-service places evolved into what they are today.

1. When Ben and Jerry decided to go into business, they really wanted to make bagels. But the equipment required to make bagels was rather expensive, so they researched a cheaper product and settled on ice cream.

Although they've released plenty of other breakfast-related ice cream flavors -- Cinnamon Buns, Coffee & Biscotti and Maple Grape Nut among them -- they have yet to create a lox and bagel-flavor. Maybe it's in production?

2. Glen Bell, the founder of Taco Bell (who knew the "Bell" represented a person?), started his career in the fast food business with a meager hot dog stand. It did so well that he sold it and opened a bigger and better stand, and he started selling tacos for 19 cents out of a side window. Before long, the hot dogs were playing second banana to the tacos, and Bell decided to switch the business.

Mental Floss: 10 secret fast food menu items

3. What if Tim Hortons' Timbits actually referred to chicken nuggets? It could have gone that way -- the ex-hockey player originally focused his post pro-sports career on hamburgers and opened a few burger joints in Toronto and North Bay. They didn't do so well.

They retooled the concept and reopened as a small doughnut shop housed in an old gas station, selling coffee for 25 cents and doughnuts for 69 cents per dozen. Today, Tim Hortons employs 100,000 people and has more than 3,000 stores (mostly in Canada, but the company is expanding into the U.S.)

4. What if Dunkin' Donuts had a fleet of vehicles that drove around like the ice cream man, selling sweet, sweet carbs to anyone who could scrounge up some change? Well, they used to, sort of.

After working for just such an ice cream company, William Rosenberg used his war bonds and borrowed some money to start a mobile catering business that delivered breakfast and lunch to factory workers. He noticed that his best sellers by far were coffee and doughnuts, and decided to base the whole business around them. Seems to have worked out OK. (I still like the idea of doughnuts coming to me, though.)

5. On the other hand, Al Copeland, who created Popeyes Chicken & Biscuits, started out in the doughnut biz and ended up in poultry. He sold his car to purchase a Tastee Donut franchise from his brother and then decided to fry chicken instead of crullers. The first one failed, even with the tagline "So fast you get your chicken before you get your change."

But the second version succeeded, making him a multimillionaire. The name, by the way, came from Popeye Doyle from "The French Connection" -- not Popeye the Sailor Man.

Mental Floss: 15 companies that originally sold something else

6. How about a Sonic Steakhouse? The founder, Troy Smith, had big plans for an upscale steak eatery when he originally entered the restaurant business. He opened a small diner called Troy's Pan Full of Chicken to generate revenue for the bigger steakhouse and realized somewhere in the middle of things that he was making a load of money selling just root beer, hamburgers and hot dogs every week. He decided to stick with the low-brow menu and scrap the sirloin.

7. Wilbur Hardee, obviously the founder of Hardee's, ran several inn-style restaurants in North Carolina and took that time to study the habits of his patrons. He got rid of the inns and opened his first quick-service place, selling 15-cent hamburgers under the Hardee's name until the chain was purchased by Carl's Jr. in 1997.

8. Speaking of Carl's Jr., Carl Karcher came from similar humble beginnings. Like a lot of the great fast-food giants, Karcher started with a hot dog stand he and his wife purchased by taking a $311 loan out on their car. They also sold tamales. Somehow, I don't think Paris Hilton biting into a big, juicy tamale would have had quite the same effect as Paris Hilton biting into a big, juicy Six Dollar Burger, do you?

9. Chick-fil-A started out as Dwarf Grill (now Dwarf House), a full-service restaurant housed in a tiny little building with a tiny little door. The original can still be found in Hapeville, Georgia, complete with diminutive door (it has a regular door as well). What might be shocking to Chick-fil-A die-hards is that the Dwarf Houses offer steakburgers and hamburgers. Gasp!! What would the "Eat Mor Chikin" cows think?!

Mental Floss: Was there really a Granny Smith? Fruit and veggie origins

10. Finally, of course, there's McDonald's. Like our other frankfurter entrepreneurs, Dick and Mac McDonald started with a mere hot dog stand in Monrovia, California. They upgraded, but burgers weren't really their main focus -- they planned to capitalize on their delicious BBQ. They were mistaken.

Several years later, they noticed that burgers were the item keeping the store alive and decided to switch exclusively to burgers, shakes, and fries. These days, I suppose they do a little bit of all of that, and more (yes, even the McHotDog).

For more mental_floss articles, visit

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

10 worst phrases to use at office

10 worst phrases to use at office

By Frances Cole Jones, author of "The Wow Factor"
December 16, 2009 10:44 a.m. EST
Some phrases are over used while others are wrongly used, according to the author.
Some phrases are over used while others are wrongly used, according to the author.
  • Some phrases uses at the office drive one author crazy
  • She doesn't want anyone picking her brain or requesting some sweat equity
  • Says all history is past and you can't get more unique than plain unique
  • She's also tired of things being drilled down and balls tossed into her court

(CAREERBUILDER) -- YouGov published its list of the 10 worst business sayings months ago. Some I more than agreed with ("thinking outside of the box," "blue-sky thinking," "heads up"); some didn't bug me too much ("at the end of the day," "going forward," "credit crunch").

But it also got me thinking about my own version of the 10 worst business sayings. Consequently, I compiled my own list, complete with definitions and -- most importantly -- the reasons they were included.

The first three top my list for their gross factor, pure and simple. Why? Because regardless of the people or situation in question, I've found that the overt or indirect referencing of bodily functions in a business environment gets me down.

1. Pick your brain: Substituted when someone simply wants to ask you something. "Do you mind if I just pick your brain?"

2. Throw it against the wall and see what sticks: Often used to describe a haphazard approach to presenting a motley product line, batch of ideas, etc. "Well, let's just throw these against the wall and see what sticks."

3. Sweat equity: Offered up when asking people to give their time and talent, and payment is not available. "We can't pay you your rate now, but -- when we do start making money -- you'll definitely have sweat equity."

The next three were included because of their cliché factor. Like "thinking outside the box" and "blue-sky thinking," their overuse means they no longer catch our attention.

4. It's not rocket science: Used most often when pointing out to someone that the task he's been asked to complete isn't, in fact, complicated. "After all, it's not rocket science."

5. The ball's in your court: This phrase is usually thrown around (pun intended) to let others know that you've reached your limit with regard to handling a situation. "I've now done everything I can. After this, the ball's in your court."

6. Drill down: This is too often used to denote the vigor with which a person or team will be pursuing an objective. "Yes, Bob and I are really going to drill down on that."

The following three made my list thanks to their redundancy:

7. I, personally: Since something that is said by you is, by definition, personal, I see no need to include both words. For example, when you take the "personally" out of the following sentence, the meaning doesn't change. "Well, I, personally, don't think that X should take precedence over Y."

8. Quite unique (and its compatriots "very unique," "really unique" and "most unique"): Despite the fact that things that are unique can't be qualified, I see this all the time. "Our store has the most unique items." Um ... no. You can, however, say, "Our store is filled with unique items." I have no trouble with that.

9. Past history: This one drives me wild every time I hear it, "Well, based on past history ..." History is, by definition, something that occurred in the past, so why on earth say "past"?

And, finally, the most overused phrase in a business context:

10. Urgent (and its frequent companion "crisis"): I include these because, as I'm sure you've discovered, the use of either, or both, of these words does little to resolve what might be going on. Instead, they either ratchet up the tension or make others wonder why you are so out of control.

What do I recommend you use instead? I would substitute the use of "immediate" for "urgent," and "situation" for "crisis," as both convey the need for action but leave others room to bring their own skills and intelligence to bear -- while reflecting well on your own.

Frances Cole Jones is the author of "The Wow Factor: The 33 Things You Must (and Must Not) Do to Guarantee Your Edge in Today's Business World."

© 2009. All rights reserved. The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

What not to wear in 5 countries

What not to wear in 5 countries
How to dress in countries where it really matters
Think twice about wearing your favorite Hawaiian shirt to the board meeting in Dubai.
View related photos

Want to wear a Hawaiian shirt to your board meeting in Silicon Valley? Be our guest. But in Dubai? Not so fast. Here’s how to dress appropriately where and when it matters.


At a meeting: In Dubai, women's pantsuits should be sheeny and glam; men's duds are buffed, black, and paired with slim ties.
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On the street: The mall, not the street, is the social arena. In Dubai, girls in T-shirts (their shoulders covered out of respect and as a remedy against the freezing AC blasts) tote the latest Louis Vuittons. Carry a pashmina to cover up in case you find yourself in a traditional souk—although you'll see miniskirts and shorts, they're for people who know the city well enough to avoid ultra-conservative quarters. On men, reflective aviators abound, as do Gucci sandals.

At a party: Go glam to the gills: No Swarovski is too shiny and no Giuseppe Zanotti is too high. Men wear Y3 trainers and tailored blazers over graphic tees.

P.S. Put on clean socks if you're going to a local's house in Dubai—you'll leave your shoes at the door.


At a meeting: Israelis take pride in dressing down: Jeans are more common in Israel than jackets and ties, and business formal often means no more than a button-down and khaki pants. For women, skirts are better than trousers for meetings with religious colleagues. But in liberal Tel Aviv, anything goes—particularly trendy dresses from boutiques on Dizengoff and Shenkin streets.

On the street: It's South Beach style in resorty Eilat and Tel Aviv, where cotton shorts and tank tops are de rigueur during the hot summer months. Everywhere in Israel is fairly casual, but Jerusalem, Galilee, and Tiberias get colder winters and call for more conservative dress. In these places, long skirts are ideal for women, and everyone covers up at Jewish and Christian religious sites, with high necks and long sleeves.

At a party: Secular celebrations call for jeans and nice tops; for religious ceremonies or weddings, cover past the elbows and below the knees.

P.S. Far from frumpy, Israel's a burgeoning fashion hub: Lanvin's Alber Elbaz and designer Yigal Azroel hail from the Holy Land.


At a meeting Twenty years ago, "Chinese fashion" meant dark Mao pantsuit uniforms; in China today, work clothes are still homogenous suits and ties, even on the hottest summer days. Businesswomen go without makeup and jewelry, and everyone shies away from conspicuous consumption to show they're focused on the business at hand.

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On the street: Arms, chest, and back should be covered, but "China is not puritanical," says Qin Herzberg, co-author of "China Survival Guide: How to Avoid Travel Troubles and Mortifying Mishaps". "Dressing unconventionally won't offend anyone. It's a question of presenting oneself in the best light." Although Chinese women wear conservative cuts, shirts are sometimes transparent, leaving the bra in full view.

At a party: Exaggerated styles and silhouettes by Comme des Garçons, Martin Margiela, and Yohji Yamamoto are currently hot (in a monochromatic palette, of course).

P.S. "Chinese women would be loath to wear any footwear without straps, because it shows too much of the foot," says Herzberg. "The style also reminds them of flip-flops, which are seen as cheap."


At a meeting: Hillary Clinton, you're in luck—pantsuits are okay anywhere in India; choose cotton or linen in summer, and accessorize with a colored scarf or dangly earrings to keep up with vividly dressed locals, who wear bold diaphanous saris to boardrooms in Bangalore and Mumbai. (Men, don't be afraid to wear color, too—you certainly won't feel out of place.)


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On the street: Unless you're here to visit a Bollywood star, designer clothes aren't right for Indian city streets. A sari won't work, either: "Western women look silly because they can't wrap or tie it right," says Barbara Crossette, author of "India: Old Civilization in a New World". Instead, wear drawstring pants, leather toe sandals, and a nice cotton tee. Men can go super-comfy in a kurta, or knee-length tunic, usually worn with cotton or linen bottoms; the women's version is called a kameez.

At a party: Since beautiful silk is readily available, women commission local seamstresses to make sleek knee-length tunics with side slits and legging-like pants worn bunched at the ankles. But your jewels are what you'll really be judged by: "Indians have their jewelry made to order; no one buys off the shelf," Crossette says. Men wear short-sleeved button-downs, slacks, and loafers.

P.S. Sandals are easiest when touring, since you can slip them off quickly before entering temples. And a word to the wise: Ankle bracelets are out.


At a meeting: "The Japanese word for dress shirt, wai shatsu, comes from the English for 'white shirt,' which gives you an idea of the range of colors worn at work," says Dan Rosen, professor at Tokyo's Chuo Law School, who recommends basic black suits. In 2005, the government launched a Cool Biz initiative meant to lower AC costs by encouraging lighter work attire; it's been met with fierce resistance by the jacket-and-tie-loving Japanese working class.

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On the street: For Tokyo youth, nothing's too studied or over-the-top, so the laissez-faire American norm is seen as slovenly. Women should wear heels, makeup, and a dose of frills, and men must be clean shaven and must spend time on their hair.

At a party: Agnès B. and Louis Vuitton are the easiest icebreakers, since the Japanese love labels—along with the stylish shapes by local designers like Yohji Yamamoto. No sweat suits, please!

P.S. Planning to shop in Japan? Note that Japanese sizes run significantly smaller than those in the States. If you wear a medium in the United States, a Japanese XL might be a squeeze.


In an instant, these people became everyday heroes
December 10, 2009 8:37 a.m. EST


* Heroic acts occurred across the country as reported by CNN's affiliates
* Among them: A postal worker helps a mother whose baby is unconscious
* Off-duty emergency worker pulls a woman from a van after it crashes into an icy pond
* Man sees 75-year-old stuck on train tracks and pulls him to safety

(CNN) -- A man sees a 75-year-old man stuck on railroad tracks and pulls him to safety. An off-duty emergency worker pulls a woman from a van after it crashes into an icy pond. An NBA star saves a woman from drowning.

A postal worker helps a mother whose baby is unconscious. A father goes into a house engulfed in flames to save two of his children, then returns to save the family's pet.

These are examples of everyday people who, when confronted with a life-or-death situation, jumped in to do what they could -- and became rescuers and heroes. takes a look at some of the stories of heroic acts that happened throughout the country in the past 12 months.

NBA player saves woman from drowning

Donté Greene is used to being looked up to. He is a 6-foot-11 player for the Sacramento Kings of the NBA. But on Memorial Day he became a lifesaver.

Greene and some friends were on a boat in the American River near Discovery Park in Sacramento, California. Greene told CNN affiliate KCRA that he heard some yelling and then a splash.

A woman had been pulling a ladder onto her boat, and she was thrown into the water when the driver pulled away. Greene saw the woman flailing in the water and dived in.

"I honestly don't even think I was thinking -- I was just reacting," he told KCRA. "I was pretty confident in my swimming abilities."

Read the story at the KCRA web site

Off-duty EMT makes icy pond rescue

Tony Gerdom, an emergency medical worker from Iowa, was driving off-duty on December 7 when the van in front of him suddenly swerved off the icy road and fell into a pond. The cold weather had frozen the locks and windows on the van, trapping driver Kathy Van Steenvik.

Gerdom took a tire iron and smashed the van's passenger side window to free the driver. A second man, Brian Ford, held onto him with a rope while Gerdom descended into the pond. Each man shrugged off his hero label.

"I'm just the lucky idiot that jumped in first," Gerdom told CNN affiliate WHO in Des Moines, Iowa.

"No matter how cold the water was, it's this overwhelming feeling that I helped save a life. It's tremendous," Ford said.

All three were treated at a hospital for minor hypothermia.

Read the story at the WHO web site

Postman delivers CPR to save baby

In Sacramento, California, Robert Sweeney had just about finished delivering the mail on December 11, 2008, when he heard a panicked mother's cry for help.

Her baby, 19-month-old Kelly Jimenez, appeared lifeless. Sweeney took the child, placed her on the grass in front of the woman's home and performed CPR while neighbors called 911. Sweeney revived the child before paramedics arrived, CNN affiliate KCRA reported.

Sweeney told KCRA that the emotion of the moment didn't hit him until he got back in his truck to go home. That's when he started crying.

"You don't ever think you would be in a situation like that," he said.

Read the story at the KCRA web site

Father saves children, family dog from burning home

A Michigan father jumped through flames to save his two youngest sons when an electrical fire set their house ablaze December 7.

Investigators told CNN affiliate WZZM in Grand Rapids, Michigan, that sparks from an electrical outlet set a living room curtain on fire.

After climbing up pitch-black stairs to rescue his 4-year-old and 2-year-old boys, Jonathan Brito went back in the house and pulled out Punchy, the family's dog, who was unconscious. Brito performed CPR and revived the dog, Brito's wife, Charlene Hernandez, told the station.

"He got the dog to breathe," she said. "[Punchy] coughed up some smoke and took off running."

Brito and Hernandez's other two children were at school when the fire started. The couple, who both work night-shift jobs, lost their clothes, furniture and some Christmas presents.

"Thank goodness everybody got out of the house safely," Brito said. "If I've got to jump through fire to save my kids' lives, that's what I'm going to do."

Read the story at the WZZM web site

Men honored for saving driver from tanker fire

Truck driver Ronald Tobias, 73, of Syracuse, Indiana, was trapped after his propane tanker truck flipped on its side and exploded. But rather than running from the flames, two people headed toward them.

Lonnie Hood, 30, from Acton, Indiana, and Robert Skaggs, 49, from Fortville, Indiana, each decided they had to try to help save Tobias on October 22. Hood was working on a nearby construction job and ran over. Skaggs was in his car on Interstate 465 when he saw flames behind him, stopped, and put his car in reverse.

"I just jumped off [a second-story roof] and ran to it. I don't know, I was kind of feeling something telling me to get over there," Hood told CNN affiliate WRTV of Indianapolis.

"I just kicked [the window] real hard and it went right in, and I just grabbed him up, me and another guy, and pulled him up to higher ground."

Added Skaggs, "For some reason, I just jerked the car off to the side, threw it in reverse and took off backwards toward it."

For their actions, they were awarded the Governor's Heroism Award by Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels.

Read the story at the WRTV web site

Bomb suspect hailed for railroad track rescue

Michael Woodson had already made news in Brevard County, Florida, as a bombing suspect when he rushed to help a man about to be run over by a train in April.

Woodson, 21, had been accused of filling a liquor bottle with black powder and setting it off at Brevard Community College to get out of class.

But in April he saved Michael Chergosky, 75, who was trying to cross railroad tracks in a motorized scooter.

Chergosky's scooter had become stuck in gravel, and Woodson ran over to pull the man to safety as a train approached, reported CNN affiliate WFTV in Orlando, Florida.

"As soon as I got to him I grabbed him out by the back of his collar, pulled him out of his wheelchair. [The train] missed him by four or five inches," Woodson told the station.

Several witnesses saw the rescue, and police said there's no doubt Woodson saved Chergosky, the station reported.

Read more about the rescue at the WFTV web site

The station reported later that Woodson was sentenced to probation, 15 weekends of work at a sheriff's work farm and banned from the school in a plea deal. The heroic deed was not mentioned in court, the station said.

Woodson said he never intended for the device to blow up, that it was just supposed to let off some smoke. The judge, who could have sentenced him to 15 years in prison, told Woodson he was lucky no one was injured.

"I hope that each and every day when you are standing out there in the sun you contemplate where your life could have gone if something else had happened," the judge said.

Read more about the case at the WFTV web site