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On adoptees from China

Adopted in China, Seeking Identity in America

Molly Feazel desperately wants to quit the Chinese dance group that her mother enrolled her in at age 5, because it sets her apart from friends in her Virginia suburb. Her mother, though, insists that Molly, now 15, will one day appreciate the connection to her culture.

Qiu Meng Fogarty, 13, prefers her Chinese name (pronounced cho mung) to Cecilia, her English name. She volunteers in workshops for children in New York adopted from China "so that they know it can all work out fine," she said.

Since 1991, when China loosened its adoption laws to address a growing number of children abandoned because of a national one-child policy, American families have adopted more than 55,000 Chinese children, almost all girls. Most of the children are younger than 10, and an organized subculture has developed around them, complete with play groups, tours of China and online support groups.

Molly and Qiu Meng represent the leading edge of this coming-of-age population, adopted just after the laws changed and long before such placements became popular, even fashionable.

Molly was among 61 Chinese children adopted by Americans in 1991, and Qiu Meng was one of 206 adopted the next year, when the law was fully put into effect. Last year, more than 7,900 children were adopted from China.

As the oldest of the adopted children move through their teenage years, they are beginning — independently and with a mix of enthusiasm and trepidation — to explore their identities. Their experiences offer hints at journeys yet to come for thousands of Chinese children who are now becoming part of American families each year.

Those experiences are influenced by factors like the level of diversity in their neighborhoods and schools, and how their parents expose them to their heritage.

"We're unique," Qiu Meng said.

A view that Molly does not share. "I don't see myself as different at all," said Molly, whose friends, her mother said, all seem to be "tall, thin and blond."

The different outlooks are normal say experts on transracial adoption.

Most Americans who bring Chinese children to the United States are white and in the upper middle class.

Jane Brown, a social worker and adoptive parent who conducts workshops for adopted children and their families, says the families should directly confront issues of loss and rejection, which the children often face when they begin to understand the social and gender politics that caused their families in China to abandon them.

Ms. Brown also recommends that transracial adoptive families address American attitudes on race early, consistently and head on.

"Sometimes parents want to celebrate, even exoticize, their child's culture, without really dealing with race," said Ms. Brown, 52, who is white and who has adopted children from Korea and China.

"It is one thing to dress children up in cute Chinese dresses, but the children need real contact with Asian-Americans, not just waiters in restaurants on Chinese New Year. And they need real validation about the racial issues they experience."

The growing population is drawing the attention of researchers. The Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, a research group based in New York, is surveying adopted children from Asia who are now adults to try to find ways to help the younger children form healthy identities.

Nancy Kim Parsons, a filmmaker who was adopted from Korea, is making a documentary comparing the experiences of adults who had been adopted a generation ago from Korea with the young children adopted from China.

South Korea was the first country from which Americans adopted in significant numbers, and it is still among the leaders in international adoptions, along with Russia, Guatemala, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, India and Ethiopia. The experiences of those adopted from Korea have provided useful lessons for families adopting from China.

Hollee McGinnis, 34, the policy director at the Donaldson institute, was adopted from South Korea by white parents and was raised in Westchester County. Ten years ago, she started an adult support group, called Also Known As, which now also mentors children adopted from China.

"College was when I really began trying to understand what other people saw in my face," she said. "Before then I didn't really understand what it meant to be Asian."

It is a process McKenzie Forbes, 17, who was adopted from China and raised in towns in Virginia and West Virginia where there are few other Asians, is just starting to absorb. For her, college holds the promise of something new.

"I am feeling ready to break out a little bit," McKenzie said. "When I am around other Asians, I feel a connection that I don't feel around other people. I can't explain it exactly. But I think it will be fun to meet other people and hear their stories."

McKenzie, who was accepted by Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, applied only to universities with Asian student groups. Confident and pensive, she likes classical music and punk rock. She is wild about Japanese anime, a hobby she hopes to turn into a career, and to travel to Japan. Exploring China, she said, "is what everyone would expect."

Adopted at 2, McKenzie is among the oldest of the current wave of children adopted from China. Like many Americans adopting from overseas at the time, McKenzie's family turned to China because of a movement started in 1972 by the National Association of Black Social Workers discouraging the placement of African-American children with white adoptive families.

"With an African-American child we had no guarantee that the mother or a social worker wouldn't come and take the child away," McKenzie's mother, Maree Forbes, said. "With the children from China, we felt safe that there wouldn't be anyone to come back to get them."

McKenzie has a younger sister, Meredyth, 15, also adopted from China, and brothers Robert and John, 11-year-old twins, adopted from Vietnam. The family left Culpepper, Va., when McKenzie was 5, after children at school ostracized her because she is Chinese.

More frequent than outright racism though, McKenzie and Meredyth said, are offenses of ignorance. They were called out of class at their current school, for example, because a counselor wanted them to take an English language test for immigrant students. "We probably spoke better English than the instructor," Meredyth said.

The experience has been different for Qiu Meng Fogarty. As she recovered from a fit of giggles about something having to do with a boy, Qiu Meng looked at her friends Celena Kopinski and Hope Goodrich, who were also adopted from China, and breathed a cheery sigh.

"It's like we're related," she said, sitting on her bed in her home on Manhattan's Upper West side. "It's nice because we're all on the same page. We don't have to be like, 'Oh, you're adopted?' or 'Oh, yeah, I'm Chinese,' It's just easy."

The three girls have been friends for as long as they can remember. Their parents helped form Families With Children From China, a support group started in 1993 that now has chapters worldwide.

Some teenagers lose interest in the group because many of its activities focus on younger children. But Qiu Meng, a perky wisp of a girl with an infectious laugh, is still enthusiastically involved. She sold "Year of the Dog" T-shirts at a Chinese New Year event in January, and is a mentor at group workshops.

She said she remembers how hard it was to talk about painful things when she was younger and children at school would stretch their eyes upward and tease her. "There aren't a lot of children who can talk openly and easily about things like that," she said. "So it feels good to be able to help them."

Last summer, Qiu Meng, Celena and Hope attended a camp for children adopted from around the world. When it ended, counselors gathered the campers in a circle and connected them with a string. The campers all went home with a section of the string tied to their wrists, as a reminder their shared experience.

When a volleyball coach later told Qiu Meng to cut off the string for a game, she carefully tucked it away, took it home and hung it on her bedroom wall among numerous Chinese prints and paintings.

The teenagers all acknowledge that they are just beginning a long process of self-definition, and even though Molly is still trying to persuade her parents to allow her to quit the Chinese dance class, she admits privately that she benefits from the struggle.

"If my parents didn't push, I know I would just drop it all completely," she said. "And then I wouldn't have anything to fall back on later."

Molly, Qiu Meng and McKenzie said they would not have wanted to grow up any other way, and they all said they would one day like to adopt from China. "It's a good thing to do," Qiu Meng said. "And since I'm Asian, they wouldn't look different."

On the ETA's new ceasefire

Basque Fighters Set a Cease-Fire After Four Decades

SEVILLE, Spain, March 22 — The militant Basque separatist group ETA, which has killed more than 800 people and terrorized Spanish society for nearly 40 years, on Wednesday announced a permanent cease-fire, saying that it would turn its attention to achieving independence for the Basque region of Spain through politics.

A permanent cease-fire, which the group said would take effect on Friday, has been the paramount objective of successive Spanish governments since the establishment of democracy here in 1977.

"This could be the beginning of the end," Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero said in a rare appearance before reporters in Madrid.

But Mr. Zapatero also said it was important to treat the announcement with caution, echoing concerns of victims' groups, who urged politicians to remember what they described as ETA's history of deceit and unfulfilled promises.

"This government will tackle this new situation with prudence, with calm," he said, "fully aware that after so many years of suffering, we have a tough, long, difficult road ahead of us."

The government is expected to begin preparing for negotiations with ETA, which Mr. Zapatero promised in May to open if the group agreed to renounce violence permanently.

The negotiations are expected to focus on Basque demands for more autonomy and on persuading ETA to hand over its weapons and disband. Mr. Zapatero would not say on Wednesday when the talks would begin.

ETA, whose acronym stands for Basque Homeland and Liberty in the Basque language, has called cease-fires before, but never in such categorical terms, explicitly describing the move as permanent.

The group made the announcement in a statement sent to Radio Euskadi, a Basque radio station, on Wednesday morning. Three ETA members later appeared on Basque public television, their heads covered with white veils and black berets, to read the statement to the public.

"The objective of our decision is to advance the democratic process," the statement says. "Overcoming the conflict is possible, here and now. That is the desire and the will of ETA."

Juan Avilés, director of the Institute for the Investigation of National Security, a research and teaching organization in Madrid, said the announcement represented a victory for Mr. Zapatero, who he said had taken a big political risk in declaring that he was willing to negotiate with ETA if it agreed to give up violence.

"But the big question is what did the government offer to get this," he said in a telephone interview. "There surely were contacts of some kind between the government and ETA beforehand."

The government has said repeatedly that it has not made contact with ETA to negotiate a cease-fire.

ETA's statement on Wednesday included a call for all of its members to abandon violence, but Spanish government officials said they could not rule out the possibility that splinter groups might ignore the cease-fire.

But they said that was unlikely, citing the structured and hierarchical nature of ETA. "That is not a serious source of concern right now," said an official in the prime minister's offices who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the cease-fire. "The conditions are favorable enough that the possibility of further violence is not being seriously contemplated."

ETA was founded in 1959 with the goal of establishing an independent Basque state encompassing sections of northern Spain and southern France.

After one of its members fatally shot a Civil Guard officer in 1968, the group made attacks that, over the years, killed 817 people, including nearly 350 civilians, according to figures from the Interior Ministry. The attacks have included assassinations of politicians, car bombs placed outside police stations and indiscriminate bombings in parks and shopping centers.

ETA's last fatal attack was in May 2003, and the organization is widely considered to be weaker now than at any point in its history. Scores of arrests over the past two years have thinned its leadership ranks and led some investigators to contend that ETA no longer has the capacity to carry out large attacks.

Investigators had been saying for more than a year that the main question was when ETA would renounce violence, not if.

Speculation that a cease-fire was near grew in recent months, fueled by statements by Spanish officials, in public and private, hinting that a cease-fire was imminent.

Nevertheless, ETA continued to bomb businesses, parks and other public spaces, including three attacks this month, as part of what investigators call an extortion campaign to persuade companies and business executives to give the group money. These bombings, usually preceded by a warning by telephone to local authorities or newspapers, appeared intended to avoid serious injuries.

The group's embrace of violence, investigators said, might also have wavered after the train bombings in Madrid on March 11, 2004. The public outrage after those attacks, which killed 191 people and are thought to have been carried out by Islamic militants, possibly convinced ETA that terrorism was not politically profitable, these investigators say.

On the eradication of Guinea Worm. We're all about conservation and saving the animals until it comes to an animal we don't like, aren't we? (Not that the Guinea Worm deserves saving, I'm just saying.)

Dose of Tenacity Wears Down a Horrific Disease

OGI, Nigeria — Whatever secrets the turgid brown depths of the Sacred Pond of Ogi may keep, there is one they betray quite easily: why it is so infuriatingly hard to wipe even one disease off the face of the earth.

Ogi is one of the last areas of Nigeria infested with Guinea worm, a plague so ancient that it is found in Egyptian mummies and is thought to be the "fiery serpent" described in the Old Testament as torturing the Israelites in the desert.

For untold generations here, yardlong, spaghetti-thin worms erupted from the legs or feet — or even eye sockets — of victims, forcing their way out by exuding acid under the skin until it bubbled and burst. The searing pain drove them to plunge the blisters into the nearest pool of water, whereupon the worm would squirt out a milky cloud of larvae, starting the cycle anew.

"The pain is like if you stab somebody," said Hyacinth Igelle, a farmer with a worm coming out of a hand so swollen and tender that he could not hold a hoe. He indicated how the pain moved slowly up his arm. "It is like fire — it comes late, but you feel it even unto your heart."

Now, thanks to a relentless 20-year campaign led by former President Jimmy Carter, Guinea worm is poised to become the first disease since smallpox to be pushed into oblivion. Fewer than 12,000 cases were found last year, down from 3 million in 1986.

Mr. Carter persuaded world leaders, philanthropists and companies to care about an obscure and revolting disease and help him fight it. His foundation mobilized volunteers in tens of thousands of villages to treat the drinking water the worms live in.

But the eradication effort has already taken a decade longer than expected. And sometimes, when the world beyond their farthest sorghum field or camel-grazing spot takes an interest in them, the villagers fight the message.

Guinea worm's Latin name is dracunculiasis, or "affliction with little dragons," but in Africa it is often called empty granary because of its tendency to erupt at harvest time, rendering farmers unable to work. It ought to be almost ridiculously easy to wipe out, because it has a complex life cycle in which humans, worms, fleas and shallow ponds each must play their parts perfectly. Any missing link disrupts the chain of transmission.

Wells can be drilled to prevent the afflicted from plunging their limbs into the village's drinking water. Or local water sources can be treated with a mild pesticide that kills the fleas that swallow the worm larvae and are, in turn, swallowed by the humans. Or every family can faithfully pour its water through a filter cloth each day, or drink through filtering straws. With unremitting effort, experts at the Carter Center now estimate, purging the last nine African countries of the disease could take five more years. Dr. Ernesto Ruiz-Tiben, technical director of its campaign, says he is sure that, at long last, victory is in sight.

Nigeria is in the homestretch. Last year, it reported only 121 new cases, down from estimates of 650,000 two decades ago.

Dr. Ruiz-Tiben has been fighting it for 22 years. And for all the success, he groans, "sometimes it's like dragging a dead elephant through a swamp by its tail."

A Pond's Dangers

In 2001, Jacob Ogebe, a field officer for the Carter Center Guinea Worm Eradication Program, was trying to track down every pond in the area surrounding Ogi. He treated each with Abate, a mild pesticide that left the water potable, but killed the microscopic fleas that carry Guinea worm.

But slowly, he realized that Ogi's villagers were misleading him. He heard rumors of a sacred pond, but no one would take him to it. "They kept leading me to other places," he said. "Then one day, I was treating another pond, and I got lost and discovered it."

Though it is only a triangular puddle about 20 feet on each side in a heavily trodden grove of trees, the villagers revere it. "We have laws here, so no one dirties it," Gabriel Egba, the pond's high priest, said in an interview on its edge.

The rules are painted on a metal sign. The sacred water may not be sold or bartered. Any animal that drinks must be killed. Anyone who bathes, fishes, urinates or dips an oily pot in it is to be fined. Fines range from 35 cents to a live goat.

The pond teems with whiskery fish, turtles and snakes. More important, villagers say they believe that the souls of their ancestors also dwell in it, and Mr. Egba officiates at the sacrifices of roosters and rams for anyone wishing to talk to them.

After Mr. Ogebe found the pond, he said, villagers tried to dissuade him from treating it. "Some of them offered me money to hide it," he said. "But I told my boss at the Carter Center. Then, each time I went to the village, people followed me around. There were threats on our lives."

But by November 2003, the Carter Center's office in Jos, the regional capital, had persuaded village leaders to treat it. Nigeria's political leaders, constantly on the defensive against foreign accusations that the government here is inept or corrupt, had developed a sudden interest in the country's increasingly successful Guinea worm eradication campaign. The Carter Center's office was able to send in its biggest gun, short of a visit from Mr. Carter himself: Gen. Yakubu Gowon, who ruled Nigeria from 1966 to 1975.

For General Gowon, whom Mr. Carter had met in 1997 and asked to join his work, the Guinea worm campaign had become a point of personal pride. At 32, he took power in a coup against military rulers who had overturned Nigeria's first democratic government, and he crushed a war of secession in Biafra that cost a million lives. Now in his 70's, he is an elder statesman with his own foundation, the Gowon Center, modeled on Mr. Carter's.

He feels, he said, "a sort of guilt" that he did nothing about the disease while he was in office. "It was never reported in those days," he said. "If we had known, I would have done something about it."

On the day of his visit to Ogi, he was greeted politely beneath the village's central tree and was personally invited to pour the Abate into the pond. But when he and the other dignitaries walked the several hundred yards through tall grass to it, they found many of the village's women forming a human wall around it.

"They had colors rubbed on their faces to show resistance," like Indian war paint, Mr. Ogebe said. "They were chanting songs of their refusal."

Sarah Pantuvo, General Gowon's Guinea-worm eradication director, said the women shouted: "This disease is a curse from our ancestors; it has nothing to do with the pond water! If we let you touch anything, the ancestors will deal with us. We heard them crying all night!"

"I was very angry," Ms. Pantuvo said.

But General Gowon tried to defuse the situation, telling the women: "You, the women who fetch water from this pond, were not consulted about treating it? You should have been."

He assured them that the Abate would not harm the fish, and he told them that if their ancestors were benign, they would not want their children to be sick, and would like the pond treated.

But the women would have none of it. "Why don't you go treat AIDS instead?" they shouted.

Finally, he backed down, saying he would return when the women were ready.

That evening, he visited Matthew Ogbu Egede, the paramount chief of the area around Ogi. Chief Egede was mortified.

"I am a Christian," he said in an interview. "I don't believe in anything about juju. These people objected out of ignorance. The devil made them object."

He convened a meeting of "the elites," a local chiefs council. Furious, they ordered the village to accept the pesticide treatment and pay a fine of "one very mighty native cow, plus goats, yams and kegs of palm wine," Chief Egede said. The council sent the general an effusive letter of apology.

"As Socrates of the old Greek people took a cup of hemlock poison from his people for the love of his state, so have you borne our people's churlish misbehaviour," it said, further comparing him to William Tyndale, who translated the Bible into English and was martyred for heresy, and to St. Polycarp, who smiled as he was burned at the stake.

Mr. Ogebe was allowed to treat the pond. Slowly, cases of Guinea worm disease died out in the area.

The mud hut in Ogi called the Guinea Worm Containment Center recently housed four patients, including Mr. Igelle, the farmer. There they are given buckets of water to cool their burning limbs, and three simple meals a day to keep them from working in the fields, where they might be tempted to soak a painful blister in a drinking pond.

Each sufferer had at least one yardlong worm painfully emerging, a few agonizing inches a day, carefully wound around a twig or bit of gauze.

"I blame myself, because I drank that water," said Mr. Igelle, 55, admitting that he had drunk from a stagnant pond when the water his wife had carefully filtered had run out as he worked in his far-off yam field. "Now my children go to the field to fetch food, and I tell them not to drink."

Though Mr. Igelle may be one of Ogi's last cases, migrant herders and farm laborers still pass through, and any one of them could have picked up a worm in the last year. It could come back.

A Cause in Need of a Leader

That such a mighty struggle would erupt over one pond gives a sense of how daunting a disease eradication campaign can be. Without a relentless leader, it will go nowhere. In the case of Guinea worm, that role is played by Mr. Carter, who in 1986 was hunting for projects for his new foundation.

He had a chat with a former aide, Dr. Peter Bourne, who was then leading a very ambitious effort, ultimately abandoned, by the United Nations to bring clean drinking water to every village in the world.

"He had slides of Guinea worm to show me," Mr. Carter said. "I was intrigued."

Soon after, on a human rights mission to Pakistan, he mentioned the disease to Mohammad Zia ul-Haq, then the president. "General Zia didn't know anything about it," he said, "but his prime minister had come from a village with Guinea worm."

It turned out that 2,000 villages did, but villagers never reported it, thinking it was "a curse of God, or some confluence of planets, or came from drinking goat blood."

President Zia told a general to wipe it out, and in 1993, Pakistan became the first country to do so.

Mr. Carter himself first saw the worms in Ghana in 1988, in a village where 300 of 500 inhabitants were disabled by it.

"My most vivid memory was of a beautiful young 19-year-old-or-so woman with a worm emerging from her breast," he said. "Later we heard that she had 11 more come out that season."

He arranged for a well to be drilled, "and when we went back a year later, they had zero cases — zero."

But drilling, at $1,500 a well, is prohibitive. Filtering out the larvae-carrying fleas is cheaper. At a lunch in 1989 with Edgar M. Bronfman, the Seagram's liquor heir, Mr. Carter explained the technique with a damask napkin. Mr. Bronfman, who held a major stake in the DuPont chemical company, had its scientists develop a tough but fine mesh.

Other donations followed: Abate larvicide from the BASF chemical company, pipes with steel mesh filters from a Norwegian power company, $16 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

When Mr. Carter started organizing his campaign, his experts estimated that eradication would take 10 years. Asked if he worried that the worms would outlive him, he grinned and shook his head.

"I don't have any doubt that it will be eradicated during my active service," he said. "The discouraging thing is the extreme cost. I have to keep explaining to donors why it costs so much for these last few cases."

An Army of Volunteers

While his campaign could not have succeeded without a large vision and contributions to match, the eradication of a disease ultimately depends on the dedication of workers in the field.

In rural Nigeria, as is true everywhere when literacy rates are low and telephones rare, everything must be done face to face. Twenty years ago, the Carter Center began its campaign by surveying 95,000 villages in Nigeria alone, sending someone to each one to ask if it had any cases of Guinea worm.

In each of the 6,000 villages that did, a team had to be formed to visit the authorities, explain the campaign and ask them to pick a "Guinea worm volunteer," someone who could read and write, would be willing to track each case, teach others how to roll worms out on a stick and keep their larvae out of drinking water.

The volunteers are unpaid. "They get a T-shirt, and people look up to them," said Dr. Cephas Ityonzughul, a consultant for the Carter Center's program in central Nigeria.

Supervisors like Mr. Ogebe are also unpaid but may get the use of a bicycle or motorbike, which in rural Africa are major status symbols. They also receive a Carter Center backpack full of sterile bandages.

Part of their job is to fight folk-medicine habits that sometimes die harder than any disease.

In a village north of Ogi, a traditional healer, Yahaya Sarki, demonstrated his own "worm treatment." Plucking a short iron blade from his straw roof, he whetted it on his stone doorstep and heated it on a hot coal. Then he mimed how he would plunge it into the emerging worm's head.

"The idea is to burn the worm to death," Dr. Ityonzughul explained, "but as soon as you touch it, it recoils and tries to find an exit elsewhere. It's very brutal, and it frequently causes tetanus. In 2002, we lost two volunteers to it. But in northern Nigeria, it's used in almost all cases. I've given up fighting it. No matter what I say, they do it anyway."

"Besides," he added of the victims, "it incapacitates them. They can't walk, so they don't put it in the water."

People also pick off their dressings, saying "the worm must breathe," he said. He has tried paying them a few cents to keep wounds bandaged, but it rarely works.

Still, he is not easily put off his mission, though tactics are not always as public and confrontational as they were in Ogi.

"We have paid people to put Abate in the sacred ponds secretly," he admitted.

He described a northern village that practiced both ancestor worship and Islam, which considers dogs unclean.

"They refused the Abate," he said, adding with a grin: "But someone killed a dog and threw it in their sacred pond. People stopped drinking the water — and Guinea worm cases went down."

On Austin's vegan firehouse

Firefighters Gone Vegan? Even Austin Is Impressed

AUSTIN, Tex. — The image of big brawny firefighters devouring platters of four-alarm chili, sizzling steaks and double cheeseburgers is as much a part of firehouse lore as brass fire poles and heroic Dalmatians.

"They're dinosaurs, they're big meat eaters," said Joseph T. Bonanno Jr., a former New York City firefighter and the author of "The Firehouse Grilling Cookbook" (Broadway Books, 1998).

But not here.

In this health-conscious state capital, sometimes called the People's Republic of Austin, maverick behavior is nothing out of the ordinary. But when Jimmy John's, the local sandwich joint, names a sandwich after you, "the Engine 2 Veggie Sandwich"; when People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals gives you an award for "Animal-Friendly Firehouse of the Year"; and when people call out to passing fire trucks, "Are y'all the vegans?" even Austin is taking notice.

The five firefighters of Team C at Firehouse 2 — Rip Esselstyn, James Rae, Matt Moore, Derick Zwerneman and Scott Walters — now eat vegan, taking turns whipping up plant-based fare like meatless and cheeseless pizza, pasta primavera and spinach enchiladas.

It did not happen because they shared a love of sprouts.

A routine cholesterol test left Specialist Rae, 37, shaken. The American Heart Association ranks anyone with a level of 240 or more high risk; Specialist Rae's hit 344.

"I was floored, scared," he said. "I had no clue."

All but one of his male relatives had succumbed to heart disease by age 59. Specialist Rae's father, the sole survivor, had a heart attack and then triple bypass surgery in his mid-50's.

The team's nutrition guru came to his aid. Firefighter Esselstyn, 43, a professional triathlete for a decade before joining the department in 1997, was living proof that meat was not necessary for hard work and endurance. He became a vegetarian in 1986 and a vegan in 2002. He persuaded the group to rally around Specialist Rae and start cooking vegan dishes.

Firefighter Esselstyn knew through his father's work that a strict vegan diet would help. His father, Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn Jr., had been a general surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic and still conducts research there.

Dr. Esselstyn's 12-year trial with patients with what looked like terminal heart disease showed that a very-low-fat, plant-based diet with cholesterol-lowering medicine could bring striking improvement.

Heart disease "never need exist," Dr. Esselstyn said, but if it does, "it never need progress."

His son cited another reason for improving Specialist Rae's health.

"J. R. became more of a liability than an asset to us," Firefighter Esselstyn said, glancing at his partner with a half-smile. "Do I want a guy with a bad ticker dragging me out?"

But while Specialist Rae adhered to the diet at the firehouse, he was not as strict outside. He became what he calls a flexitarian, someone who occasionally eats meat or fish. When that did not lower his cholesterol enough, he switched to the vegan diet based on fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. Now, he said, his cholesterol is under 200, and he calls the way he eats "a way of life."

While Team C eats vegan at work — each man shops and cooks dinner twice a month — the other two members, Lieutenant Walters and Firefighter Zwerneman, are not always such purists at home.

At a recent party catered by a barbecue restaurant, Firefighter Zwerneman did not stick to just the beans, a mistake he later realized.

"The next night I was paying for it," he said. "I felt sort of the way I did after my first couple of tofu dinners, which didn't go so well either. But now I'm one of the weirdos like everybody else."

For the other 10 men in Firehouse 2, the vegan diet has not gone down so easily. Inside the freezer are a bag of cheeseburgers, French fries and a package of beef next to vegan offerings. One firefighter even put up provocative posters on the walls, including one that reads, "Beef. It's What's for Dinner."

Firefighter Esselstyn and the others shrug it off.

"Seventy percent of our calls are medical," he said. "Every day we see the ravages of people eating to their heart's content." If not for Specialist Rae's cholesterol, he said, "there would have been someone else, someone prediabetic or obese who would have prompted us."

To reach the public, Team C has a Web site — — with goofy pictures of the men posing with fruits and vegetables, campy biographies, health links, and recipes like Paul McCartney's enchiladas, tortilla pie and Station 2's award-winning wraps.

Even the firehouse carnivores benefit from the vegan cookery, routinely scavenging leftovers. As Edward Roel, a driver on the B shift, admitted, "They taste good."

On how changing work hours change public transportation

Expanding Workday Makes Its Mark on Transit

The first train of the day pulls out of the Croton-Harmon station at 4:56 a.m., almost a full hour before sunrise, but it is not early enough for Ben Hoyer.

Mr. Hoyer, like a fast-growing cohort of commuters, wants to get to Grand Central Terminal even earlier than is now possible. By 6 a.m., Mr. Hoyer said, the demands of his job as the head stock trader for an investment firm have already piled up. He is looking forward to next week when the train will start its run 11 minutes sooner and deposit him in Manhattan at 5:45 a.m.

"Work is fast-paced, and I need every minute I can get," said Mr. Hoyer, 36, who lives with his wife and two children in Briarcliff Manor, about 30 miles north of the city.

For people like Mr. Hoyer, the limits of the workday have been redefined. Forget 9 to 5, some New Yorkers are pulling 6-to-5 shifts, while others are working 9 to 9. To fit them in, some transit systems that were conceived in a less-flexible era are revamping their service and rewriting their schedules.

In April, the Metro-North Railroad will embark on the biggest addition to its service in 20 years, with the express goal of giving each of its customers the chance to reach Manhattan before 6 a.m. For those burning the candle at the other end, the railroad plans to run more trains back to the suburbs after 7:30 p.m.

On the Long Island Rail Road, the 5 a.m. train from Babylon to Manhattan was so packed that some riders had to stand. So this month, to ease the overcrowding, the railroad added a second train that arrives at Pennsylvania Station at 6:08 a.m., said Brian Dolan, a spokesman for the L.I.R.R. He said the number of passengers on trains arriving between 6 and 7 a.m. rose by about 1,000, or 8 percent, in the past three years, but was essentially flat after 7.

Just four years ago, New Jersey Transit did not have any trains arriving at Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan between 5:30 and 6 a.m. Now it has three. Since 2002, it has also doubled the number of trains leaving Penn Station from 7:30 to 8 p.m. to four, said Penny Bassett Hackett, a spokeswoman for New Jersey Transit.

"What we've experienced is a wider rush hour," she said. Predawn car and truck traffic into Manhattan has been increasing, too. Half a million more vehicles crossed the Hudson River into the city between 4 and 6 a.m. last year than in 2000, although inbound traffic declined between 6 and 10 a.m. But the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels and the George Washington Bridge, attributed most of that shift to an off-peak discount that it started offering five years ago to drivers who pay tolls with E-ZPass.

The peaks of the commuter traffic known to some transit officials as "human high tides" still occur just before 9 a.m. and just after 5 p.m., but more and more commuters are straying from the herd. And the shift extends beyond New York. On Chicago's Metra train service, the fastest growth in ridership last year came on trains arriving between 6:30 and 7 a.m. at Union Station in downtown and those departing between 6 and 6:45 p.m., said Tom Miller, a Metra spokesman.

For Metro-North, which carries more than 130,000 commuters to and from Manhattan each weekday and whose three main lines extend north and northeast of New York City, the fastest growth is coming before 7 a.m. and after 7:30 p.m., said Robert C. MacLagger, the director of operations planning for Metro-North.

The railroad's officials said they were especially surprised by the strong appetite for trains leaving long before breakfast time. When they surveyed riders on early-morning trains in January, most of the passengers said they wanted to arrive in the city earlier, in many cases 15 or 30 minutes earlier, said Jeffrey Olwell, Metro-North's manager of market research.

Some of those early birds are adjusting to the merging of global financial markets and the steady march toward round-the-clock trading of stocks and bonds. Some, like Wayne Bosse, a tile-setter and carpet installer from Peekskill, N.Y., are racing into the city to ply their trades before the office buildings fill up. Others are staying late to exchange information with colleagues and clients in Asia whose workday is just beginning, Mr. MacLagger said.

"On both ends, it's the globalization of economics and who you're doing business with that's driving it," he said.

As recently as 20 years ago, only one of every 68 morning commuters to Grand Central arrived by 7 a.m. Last year, one of every 13 did, for a total of 5,306 early-morning arrivals on the average weekday.

In the evenings, the number of people leaving Grand Central between 4 and 7 p.m. fell last year and, at a little more than 50,000, was about the same as it was in 1995. But the ranks of those filing on to trains there between 7 and 10 p.m. have grown by about 2,000 in the past 10 years to more than 19,000.

With more passengers working through supper, the late-evening trains often resemble chuck wagons, with some passengers balancing whole meals on their knees while others grumble about the smell and the mess.

On the 9:07 p.m. train to New Haven one night last week, Kendra Johnson was huddled over a chicken dinner with a side of pasta salad, a position she finds herself in three nights a week, she said.

"By the time I get home, I am just so exhausted that I don't want to make anything for dinner, and it is easier to pick things up and eat on the train," said Ms. Johnson, 27, who lives in Stamford, Conn., and works as an assistant to an executive at a large company in downtown Manhattan.

Judy Klem, an investment banker from Milford, Conn., tries to cram some sleep into her four-hour round trip, which requires setting her alarm for 5 a.m. and leaves her eating dinner at 10 p.m. She resists carrying food onto the trains because she finds the habits of other passengers unappetizing.

"It's astonishing," Ms. Klem said. "People get really messy stuff. In the morning, people eat bananas and then drop the peels on the ground, so then the peels are on the train floor like in a cartoon."

But Ms. Klem, 53, said she understood how a stretched-out workday forces "weird accommodations" in people's lives. "They want to make sure that they get dinner before they have to go home and got to bed," she said.

Still, not all of those coming in before dawn or beating a late retreat are doing so because they have to; some are doing it because they can.

"I think mostly if you are in your 20's, you want to stay in the city in the evenings before you go back," said Mery Midence, 26, who works for a publishing company, as she caught a 9:10 p.m. train to Stamford last week.

Craig Hook said he had noticed a slight shift in the workout routines of some members of the Equinox Fitness Club next door to Grand Central that he manages. More people are showing up before 6 a.m., he said, but members are also having breakfast after their workouts and generally spending more time there.

"There's more flex time out there," Mr. Hook said. "It's not your basic banker's hours anymore. People don't work that way anymore."

Mr. Hoyer, the stock trader, who works at JANA Partners in the MetLife Building above Grand Central, may be the new prototype.

He rises at 4:25, rushes to the train and uses his cellphone to sort the 200 e-mail messages that have accumulated overnight. After checking in at the office on the trading in European markets, he usually dashes to the gym for a quick workout, grabs a cup of coffee and is back at his desk by 7:15 a.m., when most of his co-workers start arriving.

Though he said he rarely saw the light of day between October and April, Mr. Hoyer loves "the feeling of being up before anybody else in town and getting into the city to exercise and trade," he said. "Makes me feel like a real go-getter, I guess."

The Coast Guard. They not only discriminate against Jews (and other religious folk), but also (apparently) against lefties (items such as bags and umbrellas are commonly carried in ones nondominant hand).

Skullcap on Recruit's Head Keeps Him From Serving in Coast Guard

Jack Rosenberg wants to serve his country.

Mr. Rosenberg, a 34-year-old tire technician and a certified pilot from Spring Valley, N.Y., signed up for the Coast Guard Auxiliary last year, hoping to fly on search-and-rescue missions and the like.

He underwent a full military background check. He had several sets of fingerprints taken. He passed the boating test and the written course.

"But as soon as I got sworn in and got ready to put on the uniform," Mr. Rosenberg said, "the commander came to me and said it's going to be a problem."

The problem was on top of Mr. Rosenberg's head. He is a Hasidic Jew, and he wears a skullcap at all times except when showering or swimming. The skullcap clashed with the uniform.

Wearing a visible piece of religious garb violates Coast Guard regulations. It says so in the Coast Guard manual, right between "Umbrellas" ("Plain black or navy blue, expandable, straight handle. Must be carried in left hand.") and "Backpacks" ("Must be carried in left hand when in uniform"). "Religious Items," the manual says. "Concealed or worn only during religious services."

Mr. Rosenberg's main skullcap, a black velvet model, is about six inches across. On occasions when Coast Guard protocol calls for wearing the official cap, including most outdoor activities, it would conceal the skullcap.

But indoors, auxiliarists are not supposed to wear their caps. (They are also told not to wear them while walking to a plane at an airport; a blast of prop wash could lead to the undignified sight of an auxiliarist chasing his bounding cap across the tarmac.)

If Mr. Rosenberg had joined the Army, things might be different. Since 1987, in response to a lawsuit, the armed services have let members wear skullcaps, head scarves, and other religious garments "except under circumstances in which an item is not neat and conservative or its wearing shall interfere with the performance of the member's military duties."

Other organizations have dealt with similar controversies. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has eased its restrictions even as it fights a federal suit involving bus drivers who were not allowed to wear their Muslim head scarves.

But the Coast Guard does not answer to the Department of Defense, or to the transportation authority for that matter. It is under the Department of Homeland Security, and it has its own regulations.

Mr. Rosenberg said his flotilla commander, Arthur Ramirez, of the auxiliary unit based in Lincoln Park., N.J., tried to accommodate him.

"Is it possible," Commander Ramirez asked in an e-mail message, "that you could wear a 'miniature' yarmulke, small enough to be concealed by your hair?"

It would have to be very small indeed. Mr. Rosenberg is bald on top.

Commander Ramirez referred the matter to his supervisors, to no avail.

Things looked grim. Mr. Rosenberg's smart blue dress uniform hung unworn in a closet in his home in Rockland County. He was not about to compromise on the skullcap, which Orthodox Jews commonly wear to remind them of God's position above humankind.

"If my religion requires it," Mr. Rosenberg said, "there's not a choice."

A relative referred Mr. Rosenberg to a state assemblyman in Brooklyn, Dov Hikind, who has many Orthodox constituents. Mr. Hikind wrote on March 7 to the commandant of the Coast Guard, reminding him that a homeland security expert at the University of Maryland had recently called the Coast Guard "vastly understaffed and underresourced" and that turning away a willing volunteer might not be a good idea.

The commandant has not responded. But as it turns out, the Coast Guard's uniform board has its annual meeting this week in Washington.

One item up for discussion is whether to relax the restrictions on religious accessories to bring them in line with armed forces policy. The policy chief for the Coast Guard Auxiliary, Steve Minutolo, said he expected a change.

"I'd be striving to align as closely as possible with our D.O.D. counterparts," he said, adding that he had not heard of Mr. Rosenberg's case and that the proposal had been in the works long before Mr. Hikind's letter.

So it now looks as if Mr. Rosenberg may be able to take his uniform out of the closet after all. As long as he keeps his beard less than half an inch long, that is.

Or at least, as long as it looks as if he does.

"Do you know how long my beard is?" Mr. Rosenberg asked. He reached under his chin, undid a hidden black rubber band, and pulled and teased and pulled and teased until two long locks of hair flowed down from his chin to his navel.

"You just have to keep it up," he said.

On genetic illnesses among the Bedouin

A Hunt for Genes That Betrayed a Desert People

HURA, Israel — In a sky blue bedroom they share but rarely leave, a young sister and brother lie in twin beds that swallow up their small motionless bodies, victims of a genetic disease so rare it does not even have a name.

Moshira, 9, and Salame, 8, who began life as apparently healthy babies, fell into vegetative states after their first birthdays.

Now their dark eyes stare enormous and uncomprehending into the stillness of their room. The silence is broken only by the boy's sputtering breaths and the flopping noise his sister's atrophied legs make when they fall, like those of a rag doll, upon the mattress.

"I cannot bear it," said the children's father, Ismail, 37, turning to leave the room as his daughter coughs up strawberry yogurt his wife feeds her through a plastic syringe.

The sick children are Bedouin. Until recently their ancestors were nomads who roamed the deserts of the Middle East and, as tradition dictated, often married cousins. Marrying within the family helped strengthen bonds among extended families struggling to survive the desert. But after centuries this custom of intermarriage has had devastating genetic effects.

Bedouins do not carry more genetic mutations than the general population. But because so many marry relatives — some 65 percent of Bedouin in Israel's Negev marry first or second cousins — they have a significantly higher chance of marrying someone who carries the same mutations, increasing the odds they will have children with genetic diseases, researchers say. Hundreds have been born with such diseases among the Negev Bedouin in the last decade.

The plight of the community is being addressed by an unusual scientific team: Dr. Ohad Birk, a Jewish Israeli geneticist, and two physicians, Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, a Palestinian from the Gaza Strip, and Dr. Khalil Elbedour, himself a Bedouin from Israel.

They work together in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba at a genetics center with two neighboring branches, the Genetics Institute of Soroka Medical Center and the Morris Kahn Human Molecular Genetics Lab at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

Dr. Birk heads both institutions, which work to identify the mutant genes that cause these diseases. In the last two years, the center has identified eight mutant genes not previously associated with a disease, as well as dozens of new mutations in other genes that were already associated with diseases.

The findings are passed on to interested families who are given premarital genetic counseling and prenatal testing. More than 20 couples chose to end pregnancies over the past year, after doctors diagnosed in the fetuses terminal diseases that usually kill within the first few years of life.

But there are risks. In a small, closed society in which secrets are hard to keep, there is the danger of stigmatizing carriers and their families, subsequently lowering their chances for marriage should word get out that a genetic disease runs in the family.

The researchers try to minimize that risk by approaching families confidentially through their family doctors and offering them discreet testing, even in their own homes. Extensive genetic counseling is provided before and after testing. Results are given only in person by genetic counselors who walk individuals and families through the science and emotions of the process.

The researchers are also working closely with local Muslim leaders to spread a message about the benefits of genetic testing.

Many of the diseases among the Bedouins are not only rare but extremely severe. One such disease is aplasia cutis, in which babies are born with no skin on their skull. Some babies are born with neurological-spastic diseases and die within a few months. Other inherited conditions are blindness and severe mental retardation.

In a Bedouin tent camp south of Beersheba, Omar, 11, lives with an especially rare disorder known as "congenital insensitivity to pain with anhidrosis." Children with this disorder become their own worst enemies, burning and maiming themselves without feeling a thing.

Omar's body is covered with scrapes and bruises, and his left leg was amputated below the knee — a result of a septic infection that set in after he hurt himself. His mother, who like several others interviewed asked not to be identified for fear of being stigmatized, fears he will hurt or even kill himself if left alone, so she carries him constantly around the steep, rock-strewn slopes. But it is exhausting, and she also has to care for her 11 other children.

"He is glued to me," she said. "I am very supportive of testing so people won't suffer the way I have suffered."

The Beersheba research team seeks to identify the mutant genes behind such diseases through genetic linkage analysis, in which the genomes of affected and non-affected family members are scanned at 10,000 known points of variation using powerful Affymetrix chips.

Once researchers home in on the area where the defective gene is housed, the region is sequenced to find the specific mutant gene.

"It's very satisfying to be able to tell families" that the gene causing a particular illness has been identified, said Dr. Elbedour. Of course, he cautioned, it is not easy for families to receive the news that they carry a risky gene, and the knowledge is not a cure. But it can be a step toward prevention.

Identifying the disease-related genes may help researchers design drug therapies. The Israeli lab is working to do so. "We are actually finding pathways and the molecular basis for diseases," Dr. Birk said.

The team is focusing on Mendelian diseases, the relatively rare type caused by disorder in a single gene. But Dr. Birk said the research might also help the team members find genes that combine to cause more common problems like diabetes, epilepsy, asthma and obesity.

The findings on Mendelian disease could be used by the major Bedouin populations in neighboring Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia with similar gene mutations. But so far, Dr. Birk said, scientists in those countries have refused offers to collaborate.

"It's so essential and basic that we should be working together," he said. "It's funny. The only Middle Eastern people we are collaborating with are the Palestinians."

The cooperation sometimes falters. On a recent morning an exasperated Dr. Abuelaish stormed into Dr. Birk's office. He was furious that Israeli soldiers at the crossing from Gaza into Israel had made him wait two hours to pass through and then asked him to take off his shirt to make sure he was not wired with bombs.

Still, Dr. Abuelaish declares, "Medicine does not know borders."

Dr. Abuelaish, who works as an obstetrician and a gynecologist in the Jabalia refugee camp in Gaza, is one of the few Gaza Palestinians permitted to enter the country since Israel's recent withdrawal from Gaza, traveling to Beersheba once a week.

An estimated 140,000 Bedouins live in the Negev desert in the south of Israel bordering Gaza. Some of the families the researchers are studying have branches in both the Negev and Gaza.

One of the lab's breakthroughs was solving the genetic puzzle that caused members of three extended families to be born without eyes. One of the families was in Gaza, another in the Negev, and one was a Jewish family of Syrian-descent living in Jerusalem.

One member of the Gaza family is Ramzi Abu Aljidian, 24, who like his sister has eyelids but no eyes underneath them. He is pleased his family's participation in the research was fruitful.

"We want to prevent such cases in the future," said Mr. Abu Aljidian, who added that his condition persuaded him not to marry within the family. Mr. Abu Aljidian married a woman who is not a relative, and the couple have two normal, healthy children.

Dr. Abuelaish is the lab's connection to Gaza. A specialist in fetal medicine, he meets with families who have a history of genetic diseases, collects blood samples and draws up the detailed family trees of his patients.

"People need help, and we try to help them," he said. Access to the modern facilities in Israel is essential for his patients in Gaza because there are no genetic labs there.

In Beersheba, Dr. Abuelaish shows Dr. Birk a collection of X-rays he took of a brother and sister from Gaza who suffer from phocomelia, in which their limbs are short and twisted.

"That's his hand," said Dr. Abuelaish, pointing to a 6-year-old boy who has three oversized fingers on one hand, two on the other. Like his older sister, he has legs that are only a few inches long. The two get around in wheelchairs that they roll down the dusty streets of their refugee camp.

The children, like many of the Gazans, do not have permission to enter Israel. Dr. Abuelaish must therefore document the clinical side of the cases as thoroughly as possible and take that documentation — together with blood samples and photographs — back to Israel.

The lab was sponsored by Morris Kahn, an Israeli philanthropist, and was championed by the acting president of Ben-Gurion University, Rivka Carmi, a genetics professor herself, specifically to research genetic diseases among the Bedouins. Its research has helped establish Israel as an important center for the study of genetic diseases among inbred peoples.

One of the main challenges facing the researchers is how to reach out to the people affected in a culturally sensitive way.

Bedouins are known for their pride and privacy, and illness is associated with weakness and a loss of family honor. The stigma of disease causes some families to balk at the idea of testing.

Muslim religious leaders have been drafted to help educate the members of the group about genetic problems, speaking out about the dangers of marrying relatives and increasing awareness of genetic testing and counseling. The imams also let families know that under Islam a woman can abort a fetus up to four months for health reasons.

"We are trying to convince people that to do a test is in their best interest," said Jomah al-Zodeah, 36, an imam in the Bedouin town Rahat. He and his two wives, cousins from either side of his family, recently had their blood tested by Dr. Elbedour.

Mr. Zodeah knows the toll of genetic disease; several children in his own extended family have died young.

Among the genes the Israeli genetics lab has identified is the one that caused Moshira and Salame's devastating disease. For years the children's parents, cousins who are both carriers of the gene that causes the illness, struggled over the decision of whether or not to have more children.

Just over two years ago they decided to take a chance. They had a baby girl who is free of the disease. Now pregnant again, their mother, Gazia, 30, was able for the first time to receive a prenatal test that determined the fetus she is carrying is indeed healthy. In her modern and immaculate home, Gazia has just finished feeding Moshira and Salame a liquid lunch through a plastic syringe. She muses on the better lives genetic research might bring.

"I hope everyone will have healthy children," she said.

On seals in Staten Island

Swimmers From the North Delight Scientists and Sightseers

The inhabitants of Hoffman and Swinburne Islands, man-made piles in Lower New York Bay off Staten Island, have tended to be there not because they particularly want to be, but because they have to.

In the 19th century, the islands were a holding area for new immigrants feared to be carrying diseases. Later, they housed soldiers with venereal disease, quarantined parrots and, until the 1940's, merchant marines in training.

But yesterday the 20 plump bathers lazing on rocks in front of ruined hospital buildings and paddling the flat waters off Swinburne had come of their own free will, and they seemed to be having a fine time. And for the scientists and students on a nearby boat, this was a very good thing.

The bathers were harbor seals, bewhiskered 250-pound ambassadors from the icy north, and they appeared as oblivious to the traffic whizzing by on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge two miles away as the drivers above were to them.

A few seals were first noticed on the islands in 2001, after decades of absence from New York Harbor. But as the seal population along the Atlantic coast has continued to recover and their wintering range has extended southward, the seasonal seals of Swinburne have returned and flourished.

"Look at them," marveled Paul L. Sieswerda, the curator of the New York Aquarium. "They're like bags of meat. They're huge."

The expedition was part of an annual seal count in the northeast that the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation, a rescue organization based in Suffolk County, has coordinated for the past decade.

Last year, 1,200 seals were spotted off Long Island and Connecticut alone. This year, for the first time, the count has included the waters off New York City. Donald E. Moore III, the director of the Prospect Park Zoo and another passenger on yesterday's voyage, said he had spotted 26 seals off Orchard Beach in the Bronx last week.

Hopes were high for yesterday's trip, which set out from Kingsborough Community College on a 46-foot former buoy tender that the college inherited from the Coast Guard. But the seals did not immediately run out to greet the visitors.

For an hour, the boat slowly circled the rock-rimmed islands, about halfway between Staten Island's South Beach and Coney Island. The only visible fauna were waterfowl — loons and scoters in the water, mergansers on the wing, and a colony of nesting cormorants weighing down the branches of a tree.

"See right at the point — halfway between the rock and the water?" Mr. Sieswerda asked as the boat rounded Hoffman Island. "That black thing? That looks like how a seal would look. But I'm pretty sure it's a rock. It hasn't moved."

More large black objects appeared on the shore. A cormorant! A tire!

"We're trying to take a snapshot of what's out here," Mr. Moore said, trying to make the best of the situation. "Even if we don't see anything, that's valuable info."

Then a distant glint, and another, and another one, closer.

"I got one bottling up by the pilings," Mr. Sieswerda said, referring to a seal's action of thrusting its nose straight up in the air. A few seconds later: "I've got two bananas now." Seals tense themselves into an upward-pointing banana shape when they are alarmed.

Soon Mr. Sieswerda had many bananas, as the seals took note of the boat and dived off the rocks.

But they did not disappear for long. Soon the waters all around the boat had sprouted curious, dog-snouted faces. (A swimming harbor seal looks a lot like a swimming Labrador retriever.)

Within 15 minutes, a dozen seals had clambered back onto the rocks. This, too, was excellent news.

"I'm interested in how the seals interact in the face of human presence," Mr. Moore said as the boat idled 100 feet offshore, close enough to count whiskers through a decent pair of binoculars. "It turns out these guys weren't too bothered by us."

The scientists wondered how they could share the sights. "This would be a great place to set up a camera," Mr. Moore said. The possibility of Cape-Cod-style seal-watching cruises was raised. "We're talking to a boat operator," Mr. Sieswerda said.

While the islands themselves, which belong to Gateway National Recreation Area, are closed to humans, Gateway's general superintendent, Barry Sullivan, said that people were welcome to watch the seals from an "appropriate distance" of 100 yards or more. The seals should be around for a few more weeks before heading north.

For good measure, the party spotted three more seals on the way back to the college just off Sea Gate, the gated community at Brooklyn's southwestern tip.

The students were elated. "I would never have expected that around Coney Island," said Avi Foster-Andres, a 20-year-old student in Kingsborough's maritime program and a Brooklyn native.

The scientists were elated too. "We've got seals in all five boroughs now," Mr. Moore said. "That's really cool."

Date: 2006-03-26 04:52 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
the vegan one is awesome. do you mind if i post it in the vegetarian comm?

Date: 2006-03-26 04:52 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
the vegan one is awesome. do you mind if i post it in the vegetarian comm?


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