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Monkey See, Monkey Brew

Coffee can be good for you. But what about monkey spit?
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Coffee isn't generally considered a health-enhancing beverage, but recent research suggests the caffeinated brew may have gotten a bad rap. Reports in recent months have suggested java junkies enjoy a surprising number of health benefits, including a lower likelihood of developing deadly cardiovascular disease.

The latest is a Japanese study, which suggests women who drink coffee may lessen their risk of developing cancer of the uterus. The Asian nation's health ministry monitored 45,000 women between the ages of 40 and 69 over a 15-year period. It found those who drank more than three cups of coffee a day were 60 percent less likely to develop cancerous tumors in the uterus, compared with those who drank the brew less than twice a week. The reasons given for this difference are speculative, although researchers suspect it is a function of lower insulin levels among coffee drinkers.

With all this good coffee press, it's a perfect time to introduce a new coffee product to the market. Thus, coming to a specialty store shelf near you is R Miguel Monkey Parchment coffee. Described as a "high-end" (read: pricey) product, it is derived from coffee beans chewed on by rhesus monkeys in India.

According to the Drinks Business Review, "The monkeys are said to select the ripest coffee beans to eat in their native forests, which they chew on and spit out; the company then picks up these beans for use in its coffee. The monkey enzymes reportedly enhance the flavor of the beans."

We anxiously await the outcome of studies on the health benefits of simian saliva.

The Coming Scofflaw Problem: Fly Tipping

The concept of pay-as-you-throw — that is, charging households for the amount of refuse they create, rather than hauling it all away for a flat fee — is gradually gaining acceptance in the United States. Approximately one-quarter of Americans pay their trash bills under such a system, including the entire populations of Minnesota, Oregon and Washington. With evidence showing that such plans increase recycling and decrease greenhouse gas emissions, that number seems destined to grow.

But in the United Kingdom, resistance to the concept has been vehement — at least if you believe the accounts in the always-entertaining British tabloid press. Noting that Britain recycles only 18 percent of its rubbish, compared with 58 percent in Germany, the Labour Party government of Prime Minister Gordon Brown has proposed a "bin tax." Pilot programs are scheduled to get under way in selected municipalities next year.

The opposing Conservative Party, in full populist mode, has vociferously attacked the plan, with Parliament member Eric Pickles declaring: "The only thing bin taxes will do is fuel a surge in fly tipping and increase backyard burning."

"Fly tipping" is a Britishism for throwing your garbage into your neighbor's can. Backyard burning of rubbish is self-explanatory; nevertheless, the vividly descriptive headline in the Sept. 6 Daily Telegraph is worth reading in its entirety: "Bin taxes could lead to health risk from burning rubbish."

"Bin taxes will tempt struggling families to burn their rubbish to avoid charges, endangering public health in the process, a government report has warned," the accompanying piece notes, quoting the aforementioned Mr. Pickles as he blasts "Labour's toxic taxes." So if you see little plumes of smoke arising from residential neighborhoods the next time you're flying into Heathrow, you'll know why. After all, a pound burned is a pound saved.

I'd Like a Satanic Suite, With a King Bed

Interested in seeing the world without destroying it at the same time? "Green hotels" are springing up around the globe, including the now-under-construction Planet Traveller in Toronto. That youth hostel will be heated by a geothermal energy system, meaning it will emit only one-quarter the carbon of an ordinary hotel.

In September, Metropolis magazine profiled some of the greenest hotels on the planet, noting that "the Scandinavian industry seems to be years ahead of everyone else" in this arena. The editors were particularly impressed with the Stockholm-based Scandic Hotel chain, which is striving for zero carbon emissions by the year 2025. Guests are expected to play their part; the units feature a three-bin recycling system in the guest room. In this country, the Proximity Hotel in Greensboro, N.C., utilizes both geothermal energy and solar panels, as well as "regenerative elevators," which feature "a special drive system that captures energy normally released during braking."

Then there's the Ambrose, an "eco-boutique" hotel in Santa Monica, Calif. The Los Angeles Times gave the facility a mixed review in September, noting approvingly the "recycling bin under the bathroom sink" and the hotel's "free rides in a biodiesel-fueled London taxi." On the other hand, writer Valli Herman noted, "the front-desk clerk at first didn't understand my request for non-allergenic pillows," asking, "Non-angelic?"

This Is Your Grandpa on Drugs. And the Web.

Baby boomers tend to be pessimistic about the future and rate their quality of life lower than that of people older and younger than themselves, according to an analysis of survey data by the Pew Research Center's Social & Demographic Trends project. This middle-age malaise provides an interesting backdrop for the 2007 National Survey on Drug Use & Health, which reports use of illegal drugs among 50-somethings is increasing in a big way.

For boomers aged 50 to 54, illicit drug use — including marijuana, cocaine and hallucinogens — rose from 3.4 percent in 2002 to 5.7 percent in 2007. The increase was even larger for those aged 55 to 59; illicit drug use rose from 1.9 percent in 2002 to 4.1 percent in 2007. In contrast, illicit drug use among those aged 12 to 17 declined from 11.6 percent to 9.5 percent over that same five-year period.

A spokesman for the Office of National Drug Control Policy noted that drug use "is a behavior you carry with you as you march through the demographic tables." In other words, the demographic most likely to have turned to street-corner drugs is now squarely in middle age — and still getting high in significant numbers.

To be sure, we boomers aren't all stuck in the '60s, hanging onto our bongs like security blankets. In a report titled "Entertainment Trends in America," also unveiled in September, the market research firm NPD Group reported that of baby boomers who use the Internet, 41 percent report spending time on social networking sites, such as MySpace and Facebook. In addition, 61 percent spend time on sites featuring streaming or downloadable video. Russ Crupnick, the entertainment industry analyst who wrote the report, said it debunks the "ongoing misperception that certain Web activities are the exclusive domain of young people."

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