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The not-silent killer: noise pollution

It was almost like living near the ocean. Inside the apartment, the sound washed over you in an undulating, neverending wave, punctuated by the occasional honking cry of the Skylark or Mustang. At rush hour came the frequent squeal of brakes, and at least once a day, the dull thudding whine of a metal-on-metal meeting. Yes, I'll never forget our first apartment in Hollywood, the double-paned "soundproof" windows of which were only ten feet from the 101 Freeway overpass, where you couldn't see the traffic but you could never stop hearing it, even while you slept.

The other bonus was the view: there was a wide embankment built up against the freeway just outside our never-used "porch," where the residentially-challenged would congregate to catch 40 winks, engage in battle with bottles and sticks (I believe the internet hath dubbed them "bumfights"), and even pursue more amorous objectives 'neath double-wide sleeping bags. As it turned out, it was easy enough to not look out the window -- but the one thing you can't shut off is your ears. It seemed to affect me more profoundly than my wife, who at one point claimed she "hadn't heard the freeway for months" (liar!) and even now prefers to have the television on in the background while reading or writing, which continues to baffle me.

I had to face up to the fact that perhaps I was just more sensitive to sound than she, even though by any objective standard, my hearing is no better. Was there something wrong with me? Why weren't my double-paned windows enough? Well, according to a groundbreaking new study detailed in New Scientist and The Daily Telegraph (I wonder if they still use a telegraph there), noise pollution is a problem for everyone, and not only does it have a "huge impact on health," it may even be responsible for three in every hundred deaths traditionally blamed on heart attack and stroke. Here's why:

Noise is linked with heart attack and stroke because it creates chronic stress that keeps our bodies in a state of constant alert. Research published last year by Germany's Federal Environmental Agency in Berlin shows that even when you are asleep, your ears, brain and body continue to react to sounds, raising levels of stress hormones. However, if these stress hormones are in constant circulation, they can cause long-term physiological changes that could be life-threatening. The end result can be anything from heart failure and strokes to high blood pressure and immune problems.

They go on to estimate that since nearly 7 million people die from heart disease in Europe every year, that equals about 210,000 deaths attributable to noise pollution every year. Furthermore, even if it doesn't kill you, it can have other negative impacts: when schools are built in especially noisy areas, information retention and test scores go down. Chronic exposure to noise can cause tinnitus. And people who haven't slept as well during the night are more likely to have accidents during the day (thereby creating the sort of freeway noises that give other people noise fatigue -- a vicious cycle!)

Since that first infamous apartment in fabulous Hollywood, we've intentionally sought out the quietest parts of LA, and lived in blissful peace for lo these several years. But I'll never forget what it was like to live with constant noise -- and that millions of people (and millions more each year, as our cities grow) still live with it every day. What does your neighborhood sound like?

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9 Things You Should Keep in Mind Around Someone Observing Ramadan
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To mark the ninth (and most holy) month in the Islamic calendar, Muslims around the world observe Ramadan. Often compared to Lent in Christianity and Yom Kippur in Judaism, Ramadan is all about restraint. For one month, Muslims observing Ramadan fast during the day and then feast at night.

By abstaining from food and water (as well as sex, smoking, fighting, etc.) during daylight, Muslims strive to practice discipline, instill gratitude for what they have, and draw closer to Allah. To be respectful and not annoy observers, here are nine things you should never say or do to someone observing Ramadan.

1. DON'T JOKE ABOUT WEIGHT LOSS.

A traditional iftar meal.
A traditional iftar meal.
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Although it might be tempting to joke about Ramadan being a good excuse to lose weight, it is a time for spiritual reflection and is a serious matter. Observers undertake the challenge of fasting for religious and spiritual reasons rather than aesthetic ones. And, once the sun sets each night, many Muslims prepare a hearty iftar (the meal that breaks the fast) of dates, curries, rice dishes, and other delicious foods. The suhoor (the pre-dawn meal) is often fresh fruit, bread, cheese, and dishes that are high in fiber and complex carbohydrates. So the idea of a cleanse is pretty far from their minds.

2. DON'T MAKE ASSUMPTIONS.

An Indian Muslim student recites from the Quran in a classroom during the holy month of Ramadan.
NOAH SEELAM, AFP/Getty Images

There are approximately 1.8 billion Muslims around the world, but not all of them observe Ramadan the same way. Although most observant Muslims fast for Ramadan, don't assume that every Muslim you meet has the same methods, traditions, and attitudes towards fasting. For some, Ramadan is more about prayer, reading the Qur'an, and performing acts of charity than merely about forgoing food and drink. And for those who may be exempted from the daily fasting, such as pregnant or nursing women, the elderly, or those with various health conditions, they might not appreciate the reminder from nosey busy-bodies that they aren't participating in the traditional way.

3. SAY "RAMADAN MUBARAK" INSTEAD OF "HAPPY RAMADAN."

A sign which reads
A sign which reads "Ramadan Kareem" in Arabic is seen pictured in front of the Burj Khalifa in downtown Dubai.
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Rather than wishing someone a happy Ramadan, being more thoughtful with your choice of words can show that you understand and respect the sanctity of their holy month. Saying "Ramadan Mubarak" or "Ramadan Kareem" are the traditional ways to impart warm wishes—they both convey the generosity and blessings associated with the month. The actual party comes after Ramadan, when Muslims celebrate Eid al-Fitr, an up to three-day festival that involves plenty of food, time with family, and gifts.

4. DON'T BE A FOOD PUSHER.

Muslim woman saying no to an apple.
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Even if the idea of not eating or drinking all day might be unfathomable to you, don't push food onto anyone observing Ramadan. While fasting all day for a month can cause mild fatigue, dehydration, and dizziness, don't try to convince participating Muslims to eat or drink something—they are fully aware of any side effects they may feel throughout the day. Instead, be respectful of their decision to fast and offer to lend a hand with something like chores, errands, or anything unrelated to food.

5. ACCEPT THAT WATER ISN'T ON THE MENU.

Dates and a glass of water.
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Muslims who observe Ramadan don't sip any liquids during daytime. No water, coffee, tea, or juice. Zilch. Going without water is even harder than going without food, so be aware of the struggle and accept it. It's all part of the sacrifice and self-discipline inherent in Ramadan.

6. RESPECT PEOPLE'S PRIVACY.

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Some Muslims choose not to fast during Ramadan for medical or other personal reasons, and they may not appreciate being badgered with questions about why they may be eating or drinking rather than fasting. Children and the elderly generally don't fast all day, and people who are sick are exempt from fasting. Other conditions that preclude fasting during Ramadan are pregnancy, breastfeeding, and menstruation (although, if possible, people generally make up the days later).

7. BE MINDFUL OF ENERGY LEVELS.

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Eschewing food and drink for hours at a time can cause lethargy, so be aware that Muslims observing Ramadan may be more tired than usual. Your Muslim friends and coworkers don't stop working for an entire month, but they may tweak their schedules to allow for more rest. They may also stay indoors more (to prevent overheating) and avoid unnecessary physical activity to conserve energy. So, don't be offended if they aren't down for a pick-up game of basketball or soccer. We can't all be elite athletes.

8. DON'T OBSESS OVER FOOD AND HUNGER.

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One of the worst things you can do to someone on a new diet is to obsess over all the cheeseburgers, pizza, and cupcakes they can't have. Similarly, most Muslims observing Ramadan don't want to have in-depth conversations about all the food and beverages they're avoiding. So, be mindful that you don't become the constant reminder of how many hours are left until sundown—just as you shouldn't joke about weight loss, you shouldn't call attention to any hunger pangs.

9. DON'T BE AFRAID TO EAT YOUR OWN FOOD.

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Although it's nice to avoid talking about food in front of a fasting Muslim, don't be afraid to eat your own food as you normally would. Seeing other people eating and drinking isn't offensive—Muslims believe that Ramadan is all about sacrifice and self-discipline, and they're aware that not everyone participates. However, perhaps try to avoid scheduling lunch meetings or afternoon barbecues with your Muslim colleagues and friends. Any of those can surely wait until after Ramadan ends.

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