Can We Love Ourselves the Way We Love Our Children?

I read it in the Breast-feeding Chair. It made me weep. It was an oddly painful read, this celebration of my 21-year-old self: the young woman it describes has everything to offer and the dauntless self-possession to offer it. According to the essayist, she has talent, curiosity and pluck. I remember her. And I know how rough her life will become, just a few short years after this was sent to the scholarship committee. I want to tell her, “Stay there! Roam those cobblestone streets, holding something by Virginia Woolf, for as long as you can. Meet friends in pubs where you can pet cats and talk about Antigone vs. Creon and never leave! Your mother will die too soon, and your heart will break in multiple ways for many years.”

If the things my mentor generously wrote about me were true then, are they still true? Did I squander any of that faith I earned? The scholarship that essay helped me win asked me to promise to “fight the world’s fight.” Had I? Do I?

My life has not, in many ways, ended up as I’d imagined. I thought my profession would be different. I thought I’d never get divorced. I presumed my kids would have a grandmother. I was certain I’d own a home, maybe have a master bathroom with two sinks.

And yet, I had no idea how fulfilled I’d be by the career I somehow created in a city where the cost of living means we must budget carefully so we can have some choice of where our kids go to school, even if it means we rent a two-bedroom sans washer/dryer; how I’d marry again — to a treasure of a man I never would have dated in college; how I’d finally become a mother through a journey so itinerant that my gratitude for my wee family makes me weep at least once a week. Or maybe that’s perimenopause.

But there’s no time to ponder existential questions; there are kindergartens to visit. I watch my daughter, her hair sprouting in doggy ear pigtails, wearing sequin stars, stride with curiosity into one of them. Nice ladies from the admissions team take her away from me, and she’ll be assessed in the room where it happens. I don’t know what she will say or whether she will draw a self-portrait with impressive details like nostrils — which are said to increase her chances of admission.

I do know she’s unburdened by anyone’s notions of promise. It’s not my business to assign her dreams for her future. She’s already my dream and has been since the moment of conception — or rather, since the implantation of the Day 5 Grade A blastocyst. She is formed; she has launched herself.

That’s it, then, I think, as I sit in a school lobby waiting for my girl to be returned to me, her hair bouncing as she runs into my outstretched arms: Can we love ourselves the way we love our children? It’s time I see myself as I see my daughter. A self-evaluation through the eyes of a mother I lost long ago.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/08/well/family/private-school-kindergarten-admissions-parenting.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Need a Breath of Fresh Air? Hotels to the Rescue

Forget free wine hours and on-demand workout videos. An increasing number of hotels around the world are now providing guests the option to book rooms with filtration and purification systems that minimize threats of air pollution and offer cleaner air.

“Interior air quality can be abysmal,” said Beth McGroarty, research director for The Global Wellness Institute, a nonprofit organization for the wellness industry. “Hotels are combating this by installing high-tech systems in some of their rooms that improve the air their guests are breathing.” The quest for clean air is part of the growing interest in wellness travel, Ms. McGroarty said.

Outside conditions could certainly be a larger factor. According to data released last year by the World Health Organization, nine of 10 people globally breathe polluted air. Many top urban destinations, particularly in developing nations, have been recognized for unhealthy smog conditions. Wildfires are becoming more frequent, affecting the air quality of hundreds of miles. And travelers with respiratory conditions or allergies may especially benefit from breathing cleaner air.

Most hotel properties generally charge a higher nightly rate for their clean air rooms, compared with their standard rooms, and while the amount varies depending on the hotel, a stay can be 5 percent to 7 percent more expensive.

After wildfires in California, a new partnership

In January, the 556-room InterContinental San Francisco installed Molekule air purifiers in 30 of its rooms as part of a pilot project. According to Molekule’s chief executive, Dilip Goswami, the two-foot tall, cylindrical devices plug into a power outlet and eliminate mold, bacteria, chemicals, allergens and viruses through the company’s patented air purification technology.

Harry Hobbs, an area director of engineering for InterContinental Hotels, said that indoor air quality is more important to the hotel following the wildfires that occurred last year in Paradise, Calif., about a three-hour drive away. “Even though the wildfires weren’t near the city, they affected the air quality, and many of our guests asked us for masks and filters because they had breathing difficulties. Our staff was also uncomfortable,” he said. “After this initial trial, I want to offer cleaner air in more rooms and more hotels.”

Clean air that starts with deep cleaning

The hotel wellness company Pure Wellness has designed “Pure Rooms,” available in 300 hotels globally and spanning several companies including Marriott, Hampton Inn, Embassy Suites and Hyatt.

Pure Rooms are guest rooms that have been deep cleaned with plant-based and microbial-resistant cleaners, developed to prevent the growth of fungus, bacteria and mold on surfaces. The rooms are also equipped with portable air purifiers.

Travelers can find a room with these air-filtration systems on the company’s website. Vinny Lobdell Jr., the company’s president, said that the company will add more rooms in another 200 hotels this year, and Pure Rooms usually comprise between 3 percent to 5 percent of a hotel’s total room inventory.

In-room purifiers, worldwide

The wellness technology company Delos is behind the “Stay Well” designation of more than 1,000 hotel rooms found globally, including those in Wyndham, Marriott and MGM Grand hotels.

One of their key features is a wall-mounted air-purification filter that aims to reduce allergens and microbes. For Wyndham’s 50 hotels in North America, the rooms are now a brand standard: According to Danica Boyd, the company’s vice president of brand operations, all of its properties will have at least some Stay Well rooms by the end of this year.

Clean air where it’s needed most

When The Oberoi in New Delhi reopened last year following a renovation, air purifiers were installed throughout the hotel, including in all the rooms, to combat the worsening issue of Delhi’s polluted air. More than 40 of the new purifiers filter exterior air as it enters the building; the hotel also measures the quality of the interior air twice a day.

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[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/12/travel/air-quality-hotel-air-purifiers.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Against Romance: An Un-Valentine – The New York Times

For more than half of our lives, though, we have stayed together. We went to graduate school in the United States, and traveled all over the world. Eventually, we even had children. Our daughter was born in Taiwan, where Gil was completing his Ph.D. research while I was teaching English and writing freelance. Our son was born two years later in the United States, where Gil got a job as a professor.

If in all the years we’ve been together, I haven’t seriously considered separating, it’s because even at times when things between us seemed wrong, I couldn’t bear the thought that in ending our relationship, I would lose Gil.

Of the two of us, I’m the more capricious. I’m a flirt, easily distracted by a meaningful glance or the touch of a good-looking man. Gil prefers to spend his mental energy on academic problems rather than frivolous romantic fantasies. I’ve often developed crushes, which Gil tends to take in stride because he mostly just finds them pointless. When I confessed to an infatuation with someone I didn’t seriously want to be with, his response sobered me up: “Then why are you wasting your time?” he asked.

He really doesn’t understand the appeal of romance. I’m a sentimental romantic at heart, but because of him I’ve learned to appreciate that there are many other pursuits — raising children, caring for the world, writing, travel, adventure — that are more rewarding than romance. As exciting and intoxicating romance is, it doesn’t need to dictate our lives.

But there are times — especially after I have watched certain romantic movies — when I panic and think my life is all wrong because our last candlelight dinner consisted of cold leftovers during an electrical blackout, and nowadays, when Gil and I are awake in bed, it’s most likely that we are reading. When I look at ourselves through a romantic lens, I see a pathetically passionless couple, held together by habit and inertia, and I start fantasizing about eloping with a more ardent lover.

Of course, after more than 25 years in a relationship, the fire of passion has dimmed to a glow of familiarity, and now that we have children our interactions are often limited to the coordination of schedules and squabbles about the fair distribution of responsibilities. We can fight in shorthand because we’re so well acquainted with each other’s grievances that we don’t need to go through the whole argument anymore.

But when, during my moments of marital doubt, I look at other men as potential lovers, I realize there aren’t many with whom, after 25 years, I’d still get along as well as with Gil. Maybe it’s just because we’ve grown intertwined, like two trees that need each other for support.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/08/well/family/against-romance-an-un-valentine.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Some Songbirds Have Brains Specially Designed to Find Mates for Life

If Cupid wanted to make two songbirds fall in love, he’d have better luck aiming at their brains. That’s because songbirds, which form lifelong mating pairs, have brain systems perfectly tuned to fit together.

While you sort through the messages of admirers, deciding who to make your Valentine, consider finches.

Young males in this family of feathered crooners learn the song of their father, perfect it and perform it as adults to attract a lifelong mate. It’s loud, elaborate and precise. With their songs they say “chirp, chirp — my brain is healthy, and my body is strong. That’s something you’re into, right?”

A female finch also learns the songs of her father from a young age, but she doesn’t perform. She’s the critic. She analyzes every detail of a potential mate’s song, compares it to her father’s example and decides if this performer is one she’d like to keep around. If she detects a song is too simple or off in any way, she’ll have nothing to do with its performer. She’s very picky, as she should be, because the mate she chooses will help raise their young — till death do they part.

Over the past decade, researchers looking into the chickpea-sized brains of finches have discovered that each sex uses what’s called its sound control system to convert sound waves to social messages and then use them to find mates, kind of how humans use vocal sounds to communicate. And while these systems are well-developed and finely tuned in both sexes of songbirds, the wiring is different.

“The biggest difference between male and female brains of the same species is found in songbirds,” said Sarah Woolley, a neuroscientist who studies finches at Columbia University’s Zuckerman Institute.

Dr. Woolley’s lab has been looking into the acoustic systems of zebra, bengalese and long-tailed finches to see how their brains take in and process sounds — learning, performing and analyzing different parts of them to make sense of songs.

A male’s system is designed to recognize the songs of other males and copy his father’s. If he doesn’t learn, perfect and memorize his father’s song within the first 90 days of life, when his brain is especially malleable, he never will. He still sings, but “he sings a disaster,” said Dr. Woolley. “And the females want nothing to do with him.”

When a female’s brain is young and malleable, she tunes into her father’s song, memorizes it and then stores it as a template for evaluating a mate’s song later. This example reminds her that she didn’t die, and her father helped ensure that. Perhaps something similar will work for her offspring.

Females tend to prefer elaborate songs with more syllables.

How well the birds learn depends on a genetic predisposition to tune into sounds specific to their species. But experience is important too. Because social relationships are so powerful, a baby bird reared by the wrong species, Dr. Woolley has found, can learn the wrong species’ song even if its biological father’s song is audible.

“The magic of the songbird is that vocal learning is incredibly rare to find in animals,” said Dr. Woolley. “No ape can do it (except the human), no monkey can do it, and no rodent can do it.” And she believes that by understanding more about how songbirds use their brains to make sense of sound, she can learn more about how humans use theirs to develop a spoken language early to communicate later in life.

For songbirds that form bonds with members of the same sex for life, songs, though still important message bearers, may be less important for finding a match.

And although some humans may be less interested in words than other aspects like looks, scent, youth, money, power or whatever we find attractive in a partner, birdsongs remind us that good communication, in any pair, makes love possible. “The way that people fall in love, is talking to each other,” Dr. Woolley said.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/13/science/songbirds-brains-mates.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

A Rare Bird Indeed: A Cardinal That’s Half Male, Half Female

A bird hopping outside the window lately is the strangest that Shirley and Jeffrey Caldwell have ever seen.

Its left side is the taupe shade of female cardinals; its right, the signature scarlet of males.

Researchers believe that the cardinal frequenting the Caldwells’ bird feeder in Erie, Pa., is a rare bilateral gynandromorph, half male and half female. Not much is known about the unusual phenomenon, but this sexual split has been reported among birds, reptiles, butterflies and crustaceans.

No one can be sure the bird is a gynandromorph without analyzing its genes with a blood test or necroscopy, but the split in plumage down the middle is characteristic of the rare event, according to Daniel Hooper, an evolutionary biologist at the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology.

He said that gynandromorphs could theoretically be created through the fusion of two developing embryos that were separately fertilized.

It’s also possible that a female produces an egg that contains both copies of her sex chromosomes, Z and W, and is then fertilized by two sperm, each with a Z chromosome. (While human sex chromosomes are labeled XX for females and XY for males, female birds are ZW and males are ZZ.) Scientists aren’t precisely sure how such an egg yields a chick with both ZW and ZZ cells.

The split runs down the middle of the bird simply because vertebrates develop in a bilaterally symmetrical way. Although one side would largely be ZW and the other ZZ, previous research suggests there is some mixing of cells in the bird’s body.

But in essence, each side of the bird would be largely the brother or sister of the other. Genes other than those that confer gender also are affected.

Sex determination in mammals is controlled by a gene on the Y chromosome that stimulates the development of testes, the hormones of which regulate development of the rest of the organism. That’s why gynandromorphism is so rarely seen in mammals, Dr. Hooper said.

He doesn’t see any reason that cardinals would be more likely to be of mixed sex than other creatures, but their color contrast by gender makes them particularly noticeable.

Female cardinals are taupe-colored and quieter than their brightly hued mates. In addition to their red color, male cardinals sing more often and with more complicated tunes, both to declare their territory and to attract females.

In 2008 Brian Peer, a professor of biology at Western Illinois University in Macomb, Ill., began studying a cardinal with a similar split down the middle. Over the next two years, he made more than 40 visits to the backyard of a retired high school biology teacher whose bird feeder had attracted a right-half female, left-half male bird — the opposite of the Caldwells’ cardinal.

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An expert in the behavior of cowbirds, Dr. Peer, was hoping to see whether the cardinal would behave more like a female or a male. Unfortunately, he never saw the bird with others, though he disagreed with the notion that the cardinal was lonely — many cardinals never successfully mate in the wild, he said.

Dr. Peer watched the bird over two winters, but it eventually was pushed out of the teacher’s yard by a male cardinal that aggressively defended its territory. The gynandromorph wasn’t seen again.

Gynandromorphs are believed to be infertile, although the cardinal in the Caldwells’ yard appears to have paired off with a male bird. Dr. Hooper said it’s too soon to know whether that male is the mixed-bird’s father or mate, and whether it will stick around for mating season.

While birds have a pair of ovaries, the only functional one is on the left side — which in this cardinal is female, so it is theoretically possible that it could lay eggs, Dr. Hooper said. He would expect any offspring to be genetically conventional, because its egg cells would have only one sex chromosome.

Dr. Hooper said he would love to be able to study the bird in-depth, to learn more about its genetics and also to understand how its brain functions: In gynandromorphs, half of the brain, too, is female, and half male.

Male songbirds have many more neural connections in their brains to allow them to sing complex tunes, and he wonders how a half-and-half brain would affect this cardinal’s ability to learn, evaluate and produce song, as well as its desire to do so.

“I would imagine,” he said in an email, “there simply just isn’t a complete neural network for producing a song or the right hormonal cocktail in the brain circulating to motivate the bird to sing one even if it could.”

Butterflies can also be gynandromorphs, said Josh Jahner, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Nevada, Reno, either half-and-half or by even more varied proportions.

In his research, Dr. Jahner found that the wings of gynandromorphic butterflies are similar to the wings of typical butterflies — though male and female colorations appear on the same insect. But each gynandromorph’s genitalia is different from every other’s, Dr. Jahner said. Figuring out why may help scientists understand the rules of development.

For her part, Shirley Caldwell is enjoying both the attention and the opportunity to watch the unusual cardinal and to look for patterns in its daily activities. “It’s been very rewarding as far as learning about the bird,” she said. “It’s a once-in-a lifetime thing. And it’s fun.”

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/09/science/cardinal-sex-gender.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Andromeda Is Coming for Our Milky Way Galaxy, Eventually

The apocalypse has been postponed.

Astronomers have long known that the Andromeda galaxy, a.k.a. Messier 31, a swirling city-state of a trillion stars — plus all the accouterments of gas, dust, dark matter and black holes — is rumbling through the cosmos right toward us at 68 miles per second.

Five years ago astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope calculated that M31 would hit our Milky Way galaxy head on 3.9 billion years from now.

That collision, they said, would initiate a series of do-si-do encounters that would splash streamers of stars and gas across space, and end with the two galaxies merged into a single, supergiant globe of stars.

New data have now revised this forecast. It turns out that the Andromeda galaxy is also going about 20 miles per second sideways. As a result, it will take a more winding path toward us, won’t arrive for another 4.5 billion years and won’t hit so hard, at least not at first, according to a paper in the Astrophysical Journal.

“The earlier results suggested a more head-on collision, and the new results suggest a more glancing blow,” wrote Roland van der Marel, of the Space Telescope Science Institute, and lead author of the paper, in an email.

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But the ending will be the same, he said: the merger of both galaxies into a cosmic monstrosity.

So enjoy the extra half-billion years here in the tranquil suburbs of the Milky Way.

This reprieve, if it can be called one, is the latest tidbit in a cornucopia of data from Gaia, a European spacecraft tasked with measuring the precise positions, velocities and other attributes of more than a billion stars in the Milky Way and other nearby galaxies.

The data have provided new insight into the history, dynamics and future of the Local Group, the small cluster of galaxies to which the Milky Way belongs. Joining us is the Andromeda galaxy, a slightly larger twin of the Milky Way, about 2.5 million light years distant, and, slightly farther away, a smaller spiral in the Triangulum constellation called M33. Other members of the group include a few dozen dwarf galaxies such as the Large and Small Magellanic clouds — puffs of light visible in the Southern hemisphere.

By precisely measuring the motions of stars in M31 and M33, Dr. van der Marel and his colleagues were able to measure the sidelong trajectories of those two galaxies for the first time, and determine that Andromeda is not coming straight at us. Instead it will sideswipe our galaxy, like an out-of-control driver, 4.5 billion years from now.

That event will be less dramatic than it sounds, however. Because galaxies are mostly empty space, they will pass through each other like ghosts. The chances of stars or planets actually colliding are the inverse of astronomical, astronomers say. But gravity will disrupt the stars and strew them across space in vast, spectacular ribbons. Eventually the stars will collect themselves into a giant elliptical galaxy.

The supermassive black holes that anchor the core of each galaxy will find each other and slowly circle inward. In the end they will collide, producing one of those space-quivering explosions of gravitational waves detected by the LIGO antennas.

The data also allowed the astronomers to refine their knowledge of the motions of M33. That galaxy, they concluded, is still on its first trip into the center of the Local Group from farther out in space. Eventually it will enter a wide orbit around the merged galaxies, until, slowed by friction, it spirals into the center and joins the crowd.

“But this will take a long time after the elliptical galaxy has formed,” Dr. van der Marel said. “Billions of years.”

You might ask what the view from Earth will be like by then. If our world exists at all in that far future, it will be a cinder: Long before the galaxies collide, the dying Sun will billow into a red giant and roast it.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/08/science/andromeda-milky-way-galaxy-collision.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

How a Rose Blooms: Its Genome Reveals the Traits for Scent and Color

The scent of a rose fades over time, and has for hundreds of years.

For centuries, generations of breeding in the quest for longer blooms and petals in shades of nearly every hue have dulled the sweetest smells that once perfumed gardens around the world.

French researchers have now figured out precisely which genes make a rose smell so sweet, and where to tinker in the genome to enhance its distinctive scent.

Although the rose genome has been mapped before, a newly published version is far more complete, indicating which genes tend to travel together — scent and color, for instance — and which genes are responsible for continuous blooming, among other traits.

“I think it’s a huge improvement on the current rose sequence,” said Rob Martienssen, a plant biologist and professor at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island.

“A lot of these genes were known before, but it’s a very nice way of putting them all together and showing their history. And I think it’ll be very important for breeding,” said Dr. Martienssen, who was not involved in the new study.

The new sequence is one of the most complete maps of a plant’s genetics. By identifying genes with great precision, it will be useful for breeding plant species other than the rose, as well, he said.

Now, to develop a new type of rose, breeders typically make thousands of hybrid offspring, looking for the combination of traits they want. Then, they have to select and identify the offspring that have the desirable trait. It’s a process that can take up to 10 years and require lots of greenhouse space and land, as well as water, said Mohammed Bendahmane, a senior author on the paper and research director at the École Normale Supérieure de Lyon, in France.

With data from the more detailed sequence of the rose genome, this process should be significantly shortened, reducing the cost and energy consumption needed to introduce new species, he said.

Because of centuries of breeding, most of the modern rose cultivars have four copies of genes, two from each parent — rather than the more typical one from each parent. This complexity makes the genome tricky to sequence and to assemble. To circumvent this, the researchers created a rose with just a single copy of each of the genes.

Dr. Bendahmane and his colleagues and partners started with a rose variety called Rosa chinensis “Old Blush,” which originated in China and was introduced to Europe in the 18th century. European rose breeders hybridized their plants with some from China to take advantage of the continuous blooming, scent signatures and color of the Asian plants.

The researchers also sequenced genomes from ancestral rose species and newer hybrids to understand the composition and the structure of modern roses and the origin of important traits.

“Now we can combine the information from genetics that have been done before, together with our data from the genome, including gene diversity and structure, to discover which of the ancestral botanical roses participate in which trait,” Dr. Bendahmane said.

Up-to-date gene sequencing technology also allowed the team to develop a more detailed genetic map, said Todd Mockler, a principal investigator at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, who was not involved in the new research.

“If you only have 80 percent of the genome, you wonder what’s in the 20 percent you’re missing,” he said, noting that previous sequences often missed genes involved in disease. “The completeness is a big deal.”

Dr. Mockler, whose team sequenced 400 plant genomes last year, said the paper marked a new “democratization” of plant research. A decade ago, a study like this one would have cost $20 million or more, he said, and would have been feasible only for high-value, high production crops like wheat, corn and soy. Now, he said, such detailed sequencing is becoming much cheaper and more widely available.

Editing the genes of crops like roses — to reduce pesticide and water use, for instance — will also become more realistic now that there’s a good road map of those genes, he said.

“The big challenge is you need to know what to edit,” Dr. Mockler said. “You can’t just randomly start editing. You have to know what to target. The only way to know that is to have a genome sequence.”

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/30/science/rose-genome-gene-editing.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Police Officer Is ‘Murdered for Her Uniform’ in the Bronx

On a corner in the Bronx strained by steady rancor over unsolved crimes, and distrust of the police, Officer Miosotis Familia was a balm.

She had earned a reputation as “a good policewoman” in the short time she was assigned to an R.V.-style police command post at East 183rd Street and Morris Avenue, two miles north of Yankee Stadium, a longtime resident, Roma Martinez, said. She waved hello; she spoke Spanish.

But long before she arrived, a hostility toward law enforcement personnel was building in Alexander Bonds, who had been in and out of prisons and jails for 15 years and was slipping into severe mental illness. Last year he warned in a Facebook video that he would not back down if he encountered police officers on the streets: “I got broken ribs for a reason, son. We gonna shake.”

His girlfriend called 911 on Tuesday night and told the police that Mr. Bonds “was acting in a manic, depressed state — paranoid,” a law enforcement official said. When officers arrived, he had gone.

ImageMiosotis FamiliaCreditNew York Police Department

About three hours later, with Fourth of July fireworks still going off, Mr. Bonds strode up to Officer Familia’s command post and fired a .38-caliber revolver through a window, killing her with a bullet to the head. She was the first female New York Police Department officer killed in the line of duty since the Sept. 11 attacks, and only the third female officer killed in a combat-type encounter in the department’s history.

The New York City police commissioner, James P. O’Neill, said in a message to officers that she was “assassinated without warning, without provocation, in a direct attack on police officers assigned to safeguard the people of New York City.” And once again the city was plunged into mourning over a targeted police killing that appeared to result in part from a swirl of mental illness and anger at the police, two and a half years after a man with a similar history fatally shot two officers through their patrol car windows.

In the command post around 12:30 a.m., Officer Familia’s partner, Vincent Maher, pleaded for help over the radio: “My partner’s shot! My partner’s shot!” His call drew scores of officers and turned stretches of Independence Day festivities into a crime scene.

Officers chased Mr. Bonds, 34, who wore a black hooded sweatshirt, black pants, black sneakers and black gloves. When they confronted him, he pointed his five-shot Ruger revolver at them and fired, a preliminary investigation indicates. The officers — a sergeant and a patrol officer — shot him dead. A bystander struck during the shootout was in stable condition.

“He clearly had to look at her to get the kind of target acquisition it would take to shoot somebody in the head,” a law enforcement official said. “It does not appear that he fired a whole lot of shots at her. So it looked like a straight-up assassination.”

The attack underlined a challenge bedeviling New York City as crime falls to record lows: how to marshal public health resources and coordinate city agencies to treat the most violent and vulnerable citizens, many of them afflicted as Mr. Bonds was by serious mental illness.

An aunt, Nancy Kearse, 55, said Mr. Bonds was released from a Bronx hospital only last week after a breakdown in June. His condition had been diagnosed as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, she said, and he had been taking anti-psychotic medication. She said he had been admitted to Bellevue Hospital Center several times in the last 15 years.

Officer Familia, 48, who was known for a no-nonsense demeanor in her 12 years in the Police Department, grew up in Washington Heights in Manhattan amid the crack cocaine epidemic. She became a police officer in her mid-30s, after ending an earlier try at the Police Academy. She raised a daughter who is now in college and twins, all while caring for her mother in an apartment two miles north of where she was killed.

“She was a warrior, tell you the truth,” John Cuello, a nephew, said. “She was a fighter, she was tough — and that was the job for her.”

She was assigned to the 46th Precinct in the northwest Bronx before an on-duty leg injury resulted in her being sent to the Bronx courts, a sometimes glum place where her sunny disposition and her desire to be active set her apart. She had made 76 arrests over her career, 23 of them in felonies. She had recently been assigned to the R.V.-style truck stationed on East 183rd Street, which was put there as a deterrent to a rash of gang- and crew-related shootings, among them a daytime triple shooting. The police arrested a man in March in connection with that crime. A law enforcement official said two crews on opposite sides of the Grand Concourse had been warring.

For some residents who said the city too often skimps on police resources in the Bronx, the mobile command post offered a measure of assurance.

Three miles south, outside the apartment where Mr. Bonds lived on the Rev. James A. Polite Avenue in the Morrisania neighborhood, residents said he had often spoken with addicts before they took drug purchases from other men on the block. He had been on parole since May 2013, after being locked up for eight years on a robbery conviction in Syracuse. He had also been convicted of selling drugs near a school and had been arrested on suspicion of punching an officer in Queens in 2001 with brass knuckles.

Alexander Bonds in April 2013.CreditNew York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision

Since his release in 2013, though, he appeared to have minimal police contact and had complied with the conditions of his parole. In the video he posted online about the police, many of his complaints stemmed from what he described as dangerous conditions in state prisons and a lack of accountability for guards.

On July 4, Mr. Bonds returned from work at a fast-food restaurant around 7:30 p.m. and began drinking with friends on the corner, a neighbor said.

His behavior alarmed his girlfriend, who, around 9 p.m., called the police several times as she followed him down a street farther south in the Bronx and reported that he was paranoid and manic, a law enforcement official said. Asked by the operator if he was armed or violent, the girlfriend said no, the official said.

Officers and an ambulance crew reached the street where the woman was calling from, but Mr. Bonds had left. The officers classified the call as for an emotionally disturbed person and left.

Soon after midnight, Mr. Bonds was dressed in an all-black outfit that officials believe he was using to escape undetected and carrying a revolver that had been reported stolen several years ago in West Virginia. He passed a deli, turned toward the mobile command post, cinched his hood tighter over his face and then fired one shot through a passenger-side window, said J. Peter Donald, a police spokesman.

There was no indication that Mr. Bonds said anything before he fired, and detectives said they did not believe he knew Officer Familia. She was in uniform at the front of a fully lighted truck, a situation in which officers tend to feel at ease, police officials said. Officer Familia was taken to St. Barnabas Hospital, where she was pronounced dead about three hours after the shooting.

“Make no mistake: Officer Familia was murdered for her uniform and for the responsibility she embraced,” Mr. O’Neill wrote in the message to the department. “And for the N.Y.P.D., regularly achieving lower and lower crime figures means absolutely nothing when one of our own is brutally shot and killed.”

The attack revived memories of killings of police officers such as those in Iowa last year and in Brooklyn in 2014, when two officers — Wenjian Liu and Rafael L. Ramos — sitting in a patrol car in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn were fatally shot by a man who had traveled to the city from Baltimore vowing to kill officers. The man, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, who had a history of mental illness, then killed himself with the same gun.

It also renewed worries in the Police Department about the risk of officers being targeted in their cars. The department has recently installed bulletproof protection on the doors of more than 2,000 patrol cars; in January the city allocated funding for bulletproof window panels on 3,800 cars and last month received its first delivery of 500 pairs of windows.

In 2015, the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio began tracking a small number of people with a history of violence and mental illness, but the program was slow to take shape. The city declined to say whether Mr. Bonds had been on its radar but said that 364 people were now in the program, up from 78 in its early stages.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/05/nyregion/nypd-bronx-police-shooting.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

6 Steps to Turn Regret Into Self-Improvement

Have you ever felt like life would be better if you had taken a different path? If only you had pursued that job, ended that relationship sooner or moved to a new city, everything would be just perfect.

Nonsense, of course. But it’s human nature to linger on those feelings of regret. We tend to look back and think that missed opportunities — real or imagined — could have set us on a different, possibly more rewarding path. Left unchecked, these emotions can become overwhelming sources of stress and anxiety.

But even painful emotions like regret can be powerful sources of inspiration. Whether you carry minor regrets that speak to your perfectionism, or you continuously cringe over more serious, “If only I …” thoughts, it’s possible to use regret as a lever to help you move ahead, rather than letting it weigh you down.

And there are good reasons for doing so. Researchers have found that obsessing over regrets has a negative impact on mood and sleep, it can increase impulsivity, and it be a risk factor for binge eating and misusing alcohol.

As a clinical psychologist, one of my most important tasks in helping people lead healthy, happy and meaningful lives is to teach them evidence-based strategies to manage their emotions. That includes how to use regrets to motivate them. I’ve found that even when people feel stuck in endless what ifs, it’s possible to recalibrate. Here’s how.

Step 1: Evaluate how you cope with regret

Many of us try to push pain away. Others ruminate about perceived mistakes. But whether you ignore or fixate on what’s troubling you, research has shown that it’s impossible to run from emotions without consequences. And in a vicious twist, dodging upsetting feelings actually makes them even more present: Suppressing our emotions can diminish our capacity for joy and potentially manifest as physical pain.

So instead of trying to ignore your regrets, it’s a better idea to practice acknowledging the experience. Try this: Start by slowing down and noticing your thoughts and sensations. Relax your face and hands, and think about accepting how you feel now without worrying you’ll feel this way forever. Reaching this middle ground between avoiding and dwelling will prove less depressing.

This is easier said than done, but consider the alternative: A 2014 study published in The Journal of General Psychology found that drowning in regret can compromise our ability to make wise decisions, and focusing on those negative emotions “undermined performance” on simple tasks.

However, researchers also found that when people find a silver lining in their regret, they are able to think more clearly.

“Regret can be a problem, but one benefit of regret is that it signals improvement is possible,” said Neal Roese, a professor of marketing at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University who focuses on the psychology of judgment and decision-making. “The trick is to avoid obsessing and pull out a lesson that can be applied in future situations.”

Further, when we find ourselves consumed by self-criticism, it can feel tempting to focus on quick fixes, like distracting ourselves, rather than taking steps to improve. And regrets that arise from inaction — i.e., missing opportunities — are particularly frustrating.

Take time to notice how you handled a recent regret. Did you pretend it meant less than it did? Or did you fall into a shame spiral? Once you figure out how you navigate these situations, you can start using your emotions to your advantage.

Step 2: Interrupt your obsessing

Once you’ve identified how you cope, it’s important to learn how to stop a regret spiral from happening, since thinking endlessly about it all but guarantees you’ll feel worse.

Take a moment to list the consequences of a recent regret spiral — like circling for hours over a mistake you made — and keep those notes for review. Did you feel better? Worse? Were there concrete lessons you learned? Or did you just feel bad? The point of this list is to realize that these spirals probably won’t lead you anywhere productive and, most likely, will leave you feeling stuck.

Next, think about the times you’re most tempted to ruminate on your regrets, like right before you go to sleep. Having this list handy will help you keep in mind that it’s wasted energy to focus on your regrets.

Finally, develop a set of concrete, alternative options that will engage you when you can feel yourself standing on the edge of a regret spiral about to fall in. The goal here is stop this type of thinking in its tracks before it consumes your energy. (Ideally, these choices don’t involve venting or scrolling through Instagram, both of which can keep regret churning.)

One activity I have my patients try is to list their favorite authors in alphabetical order. When your mind is focused on a project, it’s less likely to get derailed. Another idea: If you feel the grip of strong emotions, dip your face in ice water. (Really.)

“People become believers in this strategy once they get past the idea of plunging forward into a bowl of ice-water,” said Dr. Kathryn Korslund, an expert in Dialectical Behavior Therapy, a treatment that teaches people how to manage emotions. She said that dipping your face in ice water works because it increases activity in the parasympathetic nervous system, lowering your body temperature and heart rate, preventing emotions from intensifying.

If that seems too jarring, pop an ice cube in your mouth and focus on the sensations. You’ll find that it’s difficult to simultaneously replay your life’s mistakes while fully participating in doing something else.

Keep in mind: These activities aren’t meant to be a permanent solution. The goal is to regulate your emotions for a few minutes to then approach your situation with a little more clarity.

Step 3: Revisit your regret, then repeat these phrases

Remember that silver lining effect? This is how it works.

In the same study that found regret hinders our ability to solve problems, participants were asked to read the following two statements and recall at least one benefit from a regrettable event:

Afterward, participants showed “improved subsequent performance” on the same set of tasks they completed before finding the silver lining.

In other words, focusing on what you gained can help you pivot from the negative impacts of regret. And keep in mind that so much of your regret story is just that: a story. Researchers even label regretful “if only” stories as counterfactual thinking, since it’s impossible to know how things would have turned out had you made a different choice.

Step 4: Treat yourself like your ideal mentor would

Researchers at University of California, Berkeley, asked 400 students to write about their biggest regrets and found that self-compassion, not beating ourselves up, “spurs positive adjustment in the face of regrets.”

This “self-compassion led to greater personal improvement, in part, through heightened acceptance,” the researchers wrote, adding that “forgiveness stems from situating one’s shortcomings or failures — such as a regret experience — as a part of the common human experience.”

Imagine your mentor talking you down from a spell of regret. Would she focus on everything you did wrong? Or would she encourage you not to be so mean to yourself, and rather try to find the tangible, practical lessons you can learn from the experience?

When all else fails: Just talk to yourself like you’d talk to a friend.

Step 5: Clarify what matters to you

When you feel profound regret — the type that makes you wonder about your place in life, as opposed to regretting the dumb thing you said to your boss in the elevator — use the emotion as a springboard to examine what truly is important to you. Consider the values you most want to stand for, and the values that are core to your identity.

One of my clients came to see me after feeling guilty about how angrily she speaks to people. Together, we worked on utilizing her remorse to pinpoint the virtues she most cherishes — “I care about being nice rather than being right” was one — since focusing on the damage already done wouldn’t do her or her relationships any good.

Take the time to ask yourself why you feel such profound regret, and work backward to identify the values that are tied up in your feelings. Unraveling that knot can help you use that as motivation for personal growth.

Step 6: Take action

There’s a Japanese art called kintsugi. Literally translated, this means “golden repair.” But it’s much more than that.

Kintsugi is a philosophy of repairing broken things, like cracks in pottery, for example. Rather than hide an item’s imperfections, the reparation process highlights them. Those imperfections are considered part of an item’s history, and repairing it this way can add beauty to the original items — like using precious metal to fix cracks in pottery.

Make a list of regrets large and small, then brainstorm exactly how to take steps to remedy whatever is haunting you. The ultimate cure for anticipating regret isn’t feeling lousy or overthinking. It’s thoughtfully pursuing solutions, and using the wisdom gained through self-reflection to act.

Jennifer Taitz is a clinical instructor in psychiatry at University of California, Los Angeles, and the author of “How to be Single and Happy: Science-Based Strategies for Keeping Your Sanity While Looking for a Soul Mate” and “End Emotional Eating.”

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/07/smarter-living/6-steps-to-turn-regret-into-self-improvement.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

All the Ways We’ll Beat the Winter Blues This Season


Tweak Your Energy Field

Energy therapy is not exactly a science, but reiki and other alternative healing touch practices have become practically ubiquitous. Reiki is even offered at some hospitals as a gentle complementary treatment. But you don’t need to shell out for a private session to “shift your energetic field,” said Aki Hirata Baker, a reiki practitioner and a co-founder of Minka, a social justice-oriented wellness center in Brooklyn.

For urban clients feeling claustrophobic and overwhelmed, squished into globs of stinking humanity on the subway and in other small indoor spaces, Ms. Baker advises doing visualizations. In her own classes, she said she asks students: “What’s the strongest color they can imagine, or what’s the strongest material they can imagine?” Then she encourages them to “see that image, the color or the material, whooshing out of their skin to fill up their personal space, so they feel that they have more protection around their body.”


Say Hello to a Plant

Plants may be all the rage right now, but being in their presence has always had therapeutic benefits (and, you know, we need them to breathe). If buying a plant of your own isn’t on the menu, take a trip to a plant store, a greenhouse or a botanical garden and just hang out for a bit.

“When people are able to connect with nature, there are physical benefits,” said Joanne D’Auria, a school tour coordinator at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. The garden hosts “Chase Away the Winter Blues” outdoor tours between December and March, as well as tours of their indoor conservatory spaces. “The whole idea of seeing something green and beautiful is very uplifting,” Ms. D’Auria said.


Make a Hearty Stew

Me? I’m afraid of crockpots. They seem suspiciously simple. But cozy soups and stews, however simply made, are undeniably one of the upsides of winter.

“Stews and slowly simmered curries and dals and steamy bubbling stuff just smell so homey and comforting as they cook,” said Liana Krissoff, author of “Slow Cook Modern,” a book of recipes. “And if you’re using a slow cooker, you can kind of get that effect even if you can’t spend the whole day tending a pot on the stove.”

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/08/style/winter-blues-seasonal-affective-depression.html?partner=rss&emc=rss