Friday, February 26, 2010

GOP Rep. Dean Heller claims extending unemployment benefits is creating ‘hobos.’

The Philosophy of Me
links to the following,_hugely_popular_author_and_inspiration_to_right-wing_leaders,_was_a_big_admirer_of_serial_killer_

So what, and who, was Ayn Rand for and against? The best way to get to the bottom of it is to take a look at how she developed the superhero of her novel, Atlas Shrugged, John Galt. Back in the late 1920s, as Ayn Rand was working out her philosophy, she became enthralled by a real-life American serial killer, William Edward Hickman, whose gruesome, sadistic dismemberment of 12-year-old girl named Marion Parker in 1927 shocked the nation. Rand filled her early notebooks with worshipful praise of Hickman. According to biographer Jennifer Burns, author of Goddess of the Market, Rand was so smitten by Hickman that she modeled her first literary creation -- Danny Renahan, the protagonist of Renahan, the protagonist of her unfinished first novel, The Little Street -- on him.

What did Rand admire so much about Hickman? His sociopathic qualities: "Other people do not exist for him, and he does not see why they should," she wrote, gushing that Hickman had "no regard whatsoever for all that society holds sacred, and with a consciousness all his own. He has the true, innate psychology of a Superman. He can never realize and feel 'other people.'"

This echoes almost word for word Rand's later description of her character Howard Roark, the hero of her novel The Fountainhead: "He was born without the ability to consider others."

Bunning Whines About Missing Basketball Game, Tells Dems ‘Tough Sh*t’ On Unemployment Benefits

Yesterday, the House of Representatives passed an extension of unemployment benefits on a voice vote. The Senate, however, has yet to act on the same measure, as various senators are throwing up procedural roadblocks. On Wednesday night, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) asked for unanimous consent to approve an extension, only to see the motion blocked by Sen. Jim Bunning (R-KY) over “a dispute over how [the bill] should be funded.”

Late last night, Democrats made repeated attempts to pass the extension by unanimous consent, and Bunning blocked them all. He then complained that the Democrats’ insistence on trying to ensure that unemployment benefits not expire had caused him to miss a college basketball game.

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Single Men, Unhappily Married Men May Have Higher Risk of Fatal Stroke

ScienceDaily (Feb. 25, 2010) — Single or unhappily married men may have an elevated risk of fatal stroke in the coming decades, according to a large study presented at the American Stroke Association's International Stroke Conference 2010.

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Considering age at death and adjusting for socioeconomic status, obesity, blood pressure, smoking habits and family size, as well as existing diabetes and heart disease at the time of the earlier survey, single men had a 64 percent higher risk of fatal stroke than did married men. That figure is comparable to the risk of fatal stroke faced by men with diabetes, said Uri Goldbourt, Ph.D., author of the study.

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In an analysis of the 3.6 percent of men who had reported dissatisfaction in their marriage, adjusted risk of a fatal stroke was also 64 percent higher, compared with men who considered their marriages very successful.

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Suffocating Head Lice Works in New Treatment

ScienceDaily (Feb. 25, 2010) — A new non-neurotoxic treatment for head lice has been found to have an average of 91.2% treatment success rate after one week, and to be safe in humans from six months of age and up. This is the finding of a study recently published in Pediatric Dermatology.

Benzyl Alcohol Lotion 5% (known as UlesfiaTM) works by suffocating lice, a method which has been attempted by treating with household items such as mayonnaise, olive oil and petroleum jelly. Studies have shown that overnight treatments with these home remedies may initially appear to kill lice, but later a "resurrection effect" occurs after rinsing, because lice can resist asphyxiation. This is accomplished by the louse's ability to presumably close its spiracles, the external entry points to the breathing apparatus, when submerged. Unlike commonly used asphyxiant remedies, scanning electron microscopy appears to indicate that benzyl alcohol lotion effectively asphyxiates lice by "stunning" the spiracles open, allowing the lotion, comprised of mineral oil and other inactive ingredients, to infiltrate the "honeycomb" respiratory apparatus and kill lice.

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"Existing over-the-counter head lice treatments contain neurotoxic pesticides as active ingredients, resulting in potential toxicity and other problems, including lengthy applications, odor, ineffective treatment. Resistance has also become a problem now that lice have had such prolonged exposure to these products," said study author Terri L Meinking, PhD, of Global Health Associates of Miami, USA. "This leaves practitioners, parents and patients hoping for a safe, non-neurotoxic cure."

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"Existing over-the-counter head lice treatments contain neurotoxic pesticides as active ingredients" means that they damage nerves, including the brain. What kind of society do we have that we think that healthy brains are less important than being free of head lice?


Why BPA Leached from 'Safe' Plastics May Damage Health of Female Offspring

ScienceDaily (Feb. 25, 2010) — Here's more evidence that "safe" plastics are not as safe as once presumed: New research published online in The FASEB Journal suggests that exposure to Bisphenol A (BPA) during pregnancy leads to epigenetic changes that may cause permanent reproduction problems for female offspring. BPA, a common component of plastics used to contain food, is a type of estrogen that is ubiquitous in the environment.

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Taylor and colleagues made this discovery by exposing fetal mice to BPA during pregnancy and examining gene expression and DNA in the uteruses of female fetuses. Results showed that BPA exposure permanently affected the uterus by decreasing regulation of gene expression. These epigenetic changes caused the mice to over-respond to estrogen throughout adulthood, long after the BPA exposure. This suggests that early exposure to BPA genetically "programmed" the uterus to be hyper-responsive to estrogen. Extreme estrogen sensitivity can lead to fertility problems, advanced puberty, altered mammary development and reproductive function, as well as a variety of hormone-related cancers. BPA has been widely used in plastics and other materials. Examples include use in water bottles, baby bottles, epoxy resins used to coat food cans, and dental sealants.

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Why Symptoms of Schizophrenia Emerge in Young Adulthood

ScienceDaily (Feb. 25, 2010) — In reports of two new studies, researchers led by Johns Hopkins say they have identified the mechanisms rooted in two anatomical brain abnormalities that may explain the onset of schizophrenia and the reason symptoms don't develop until young adulthood. Both types of anatomical glitches are influenced by a gene known as DISC1, whose mutant form was first identified in a Scottish family with a strong history of schizophrenia and related mental disorders. The findings could lead to new ways to treat, prevent or modify the disorder or its symptoms.

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Taken together, Sawa says, results of both studies suggest that these anatomical differences, which seem to be influenced by the DISC1 gene, cause problems that start before birth but surface only in young adulthood.

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HIV Drug Given to Protect a Fetus Should Be Avoided for One Year After Childbirth

February 25, 2010

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Women given the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) prevention drug nevirapine to protect their fetus should not use an HIV-drug regimen that contains nevirapine for at least one year after childbirth, say researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB).

A new UAB study found that while nevirapine works well to prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission, a single dose of nevirapine in infected pregnant women can trigger resistance to some forms of the AIDS-drug cocktail known as combination antiretroviral treatment (ART). This nevirapine-induced resistance fades after about 12 months and no longer hinders ART, says UAB Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology Jeffrey S.A. Stringer, M.D., the study's lead author.

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Income Disparity,0,1591265.column

By Tim Rutten
February 24, 2010

On the eve of our worst financial crisis since the Depression, the United States was -- from an economic standpoint, at least -- a less equal nation than at any time since the Gilded Age.

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We have a pre-recession portrait of American inequality because, in 1992, the Clinton administration asked the Internal Revenue Service to begin tracking the incomes and tax payments of the country's 400 richest households. During the George W. Bush years, the IRS continued to collect the data, but -- you'll be shocked to know -- didn't release it to the public.

Last week, the figures for 2007 were quietly made available, and, as David Cay Johnston, who formerly covered tax policy for the New York Times and now teaches at Syracuse University's law school, points out, "The incomes of the top 400 American households soared to a new record high in dollars and as a share of all income in 2007, while the income tax rates they paid fell to a record low."

Between 2006 and 2007, according to the IRS, the average income of the country's 400 top taxpayers rose 31%, from $263.3 million to $344.8 million. At the same time, their effective income tax rate declined more than half a percentage point, from 17.17% in 2006 to 16.62% in 2007.

That's all of a piece with trends documented by economists Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty, whose research into global income patterns shows that between 1992 and 2007, America's 400 richest households increased their average income by 399%, while the bottom 90% of the country's households gained just 13%. (Those percentages, by the way, reflect inflation-adjusted dollars.)

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Here's a telling example: Over the last 10 years, financial managers enjoyed the largest occupational gains in income. Their average annual salary climbed from $96,302 to $112,632. At the same time, the wages of their executive secretaries and administrative assistants actually fell, from $45,058 to $44,075. Retail sales clerks, janitors, preschool teachers and medical assistants also experienced declining annual incomes.

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World warming unhindered by cold spells: scientists

By David Fogarty, Climate Change Correspondent, Asia David Fogarty, Climate Change Correspondent, Asia – Thu Feb 25, 10:22 am ET
SINGAPORE (Reuters) – The pace of global warming continues unabated, scientists said on Thursday, despite images of Europe crippled by a deep freeze and parts of the United States blasted by blizzards.

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"It's not warming the same everywhere but it is really quite challenging to find places that haven't warmed in the past 50 years," veteran Australian climate scientist Neville Nicholls told an online climate science media briefing.

"January, according to satellite (data), was the hottest January we've ever seen," said Nicholls of Monash University's School of Geography and Environmental Science in Melbourne.

"Last November was the hottest November we've ever seen, November-January as a whole is the hottest November-January the world has seen," he said of the satellite data record since 1979.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said in December that 2000-2009 was the hottest decade since records began in 1850, and that 2009 would likely be the fifth warmest year on record. WMO data show that eight out of the 10 hottest years on record have all been since 2000.

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Scientists say global warming is not uniform in all areas and that climate models predict there will likely be greater extremes of cold and heat, floods and droughts.

"Global warming is a trend superimposed upon natural variability, variability that still exists despite global warming," said Kevin Walsh, associate professor of meteorology at the University of Melbourne.

"It would be much more surprising if the global average temperature just kept on going up, year after year, without some years of slightly cooler temperatures," he said in a written reply to questions for the briefing.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

IRA car bomb damages N. Ireland courthouse

I think the Muslim fundamentalists who are killing for their faith, and using it as an excuse to subjugate women, are very wrong, and doing evil. But this behavior is not unique to Islam. It has been engaged in by Christians. (And other religions, but I am discussing Christianity because it is by far the dominant religion in the U.S.)

When this subject has arisen in conversation, people will say, well yes, but the Christians were behaving like this several hundred years ago, they don't do it now.

But that is not true. The examples that come immediately to mind are Northern Ireland and Bosnia.

There was violence between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland for a long time, until a little over 10 years ago. The Catholic fighters wanted a united Ireland, because they would be in the majority and have power. The Protestants want to remain part of Britain, because they are in the majority in N. Ireland.

Associated Press Writer
updated 8:53 p.m. ET, Mon., Feb. 22, 2010

DUBLIN - Irish Republican Army dissidents detonated their first car bomb in nearly a decade Monday night, damaging a courthouse but injuring nobody in an attack designed to rattle Northern Ireland's peace process.

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IRA dissidents opposed to Northern Ireland's 1998 peace accord had not successfully exploded a car bomb since 2001. Since then more than a dozen car bombs have failed to detonate or been intercepted by police before they could reach their targets.


The civil war in the former Yugoslavia was less than 20 years ago, where the Serbians were the aggressors against the Croats and Muslims. The "Muslims" were obviously identified by their religion, but it was rare that the media identified the religion of the Serbs and Croats. I saw a letter to the newspaper that referred to the Serbs as Hindus, and that seemed to be a common mistake. Few people were aware that the Serbs and Croats were of two Christian denominations.

The Serbs are Orthodox Christians.
The Croats are Catholic.

The feature of the Croatian and Bosnian wars that has caught the world's attention has been the Serbian expulsion of Croats, Muslims and smaller nationalities from their native areas in an effort to make the regions purely Serbian. This policy of 'ethnic cleansing' is responsible for the huge wave of Muslim refugees flooding into many European countries. The detention camps where Serbs are holding large numbers of Muslim prisoners are not, however, places of extermination in the Nazi sense. The primary Serbian goal is to remove Muslims from an area comprising about two-thirds of Bosnia so that this territory can be merged into one lump with the two autonomous Serbian regions of Croatia and Serbia proper. This will be 'Greater Serbia'.

At the same time, the Croatian army has helped Croats in Bosnia to take over much of the west of the republic that lies near Croatia's Adriatic coast. Just as the Serbs have declared an 'Independent Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina', so the Croats have proclaimed an autonomous region of Herzeg-Bosnia with Mostar as its capital. De facto, Croatia has colluded with Serbia in carving up Bosnia, although it has escaped with much less international censure.

The real losers, then, are the Muslims, who have been left with almost no land. Both Serbs and Croats have claimed that Muslims are not a genuine nationality but are 'really' Serbs or Croats beneath their religion. Both have also claimed Bosnia-Herzegovina as part of their own historic territory. The Muslims might once have preferred to stay in a united Yugoslavia where their ethnic and religious rights were protected, but now they are locked in a struggle for their very survival.

Underemployed Report Spending 36% Less Than Employed

February 23, 2010
Underemployed Report Spending 36% Less Than Employed
Gallup's new daily metric estimates that 30 million U.S. workers were underemployed in January
by Jenny Marlar

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Gallup's daily measure of U.S. employment reveals that 19.9% of the U.S. workforce was underemployed during the month of January, translating to close to 30 million Americans who are working less than their desired capacity. Those who were underemployed reported spending 36% less than those who were employed, $48 per day versus $75 per day.

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Gallup data spotlight the stressors faced by 30 million underemployed Americans. Underemployed Americans report spending 36% less than their employed counterparts on average, potentially costing the U.S. economy hundreds of millions of dollars as underemployment continues to remain high. Compared with employed respondents, underemployed respondents also report greater difficulty in affording basic necessities, have lower levels of access to healthcare, have less satisfaction with their financial resources, and evaluate their lives less favorably.

Workers' share of America's pie is shrinking

I have to admit I'm surprised this in Yahoo. My observation is that they tend to favor business. Could it be that some in business are finally coming to understand that if people don't have money, they can't buy the stuff business sells? Although I do notice this article does NOT mention the fact that the share of income and wealth in the U.S. has been increasingly shifted to the top small portion of the population. Now, that omission is more in line with what I have come to expect from Yahoo news.;_ylt=AnNpHbD_nq0f.y0HA5TgDKms0NUE;_ylu=X3oDMTFldGlhNm4wBHBvcwMyMTUEc2VjA2FjY29yZGlvbl9vcGluaW9uBHNsawN3b3JrZXJzMzlzaGE-

By David R. Francis David R. Francis – Mon Feb 22, 6:12 pm ET

American labor isn't getting its full share of the nation's output.

Indeed, its share is at a "record low," says Charles McMillion, chief economist at MBG Information Services, a Washington consulting firm. "Labor has no leverage." So wages have been "depressed, stagnant, or falling" for some 30 years.

Much of that lost compensation went to business and its owners. Last year, for example, businesses raised workers' hourly pay a little (2.2 percent) but cut their hours a lot (5.1 percent). The result? The remaining workforce became considerably more productive, creating more goods and services per hour worked.

Ideally, business and labor would share about equally in productivity gains. Over the past three decades, though, business has reaped the bigger share. For every dollar of goods and services the United States produced in 1974, all employees reaped about 59 cents. Last year, their share had fallen to 55 cents. In a $14 trillion economy, that amounts to hundreds of billions of dollars in lost wages every year.

One reason for that grim slide is the globalization of the American economy. Mr. McMillion estimates 1 billion people in the world are unemployed or grossly underemployed and thus willing to work for tiny wages in comparison with those paid to most Americans.

Another reason is the perpetual war against trade unions by much of business and many antiunion politicians of both parties. For example, Republicans on the House Committee on Education and Labor routinely dispatch an e-mail to the press attacking the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) or some White House appointment, such as a nominee to the National Labor Relations Board.

EFCA was the top priority of organized labor, which had high hopes for labor-law reform when President Obama took office a year ago. But "it's not going to go anywhere soon" in Congress, notes John Schmitt, an economist at the liberal Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington. With solid Republican opposition and a few Democratic no votes, the bill could not reach the 60 votes needed to escape a Senate filibuster.

Opposition to EFCA, popularly known as "card check," centers on its provision that a union could get recognition in a factory or office if it got a majority of workers to sign a card saying they wanted union representation. The company then couldn't insist on a Department of Labor supervised secret ballot of the workers on the union question.

It sounds undemocratic. Not often mentioned, however, is that management under EFCA could override a card-check vote by convincing 30 percent of the workers to ask for an election. Given the extraordinary measures many employers use to avoid unionization – pressuring workers to vote no and firing pro-union leaders – that 30 percent threshold might not be particularly high.

Firing pro-union workers is illegal. But penalties are so small and company-instigated delays are so long that unions have a tough time winning organizing campaigns and sometimes a harder time negotiating a contract.

In 60 percent of the cases, it takes at least a year to get a contract, says Mr. Schmitt. In 30 percent of the cases, it takes at least two years. A judge may order a return to negotiations but has no power to impose a penalty for the delay.

Modifying labor law in favor of unions won't necessarily reverse large economic trends at work. But unions see it as a step toward stopping the steady erosion of worker pay.

Naps Help Babies Learn and Retain New Information

ScienceDaily (Feb. 22, 2010) — Anyone who grew up in a large family likely remembers hearing "Don't wake the baby." While it reinforces the message to older kids to keep it down, research shows that sleep also is an important part of how infants learn more about their new world.

Rebecca Gomez, Richard Bootzin and Lynn Nadel in the psychology department at the University of Arizona in Tucson found that babies who are able to get in a little daytime nap are more likely to exhibit an advanced level of learning known as abstraction.

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Midday Nap Markedly Boosts the Brain's Learning Capacity

ScienceDaily (Feb. 22, 2010) — If you see a student dozing in the library or a co-worker catching 40 winks in her cubicle, don't roll your eyes. New research from the University of California, Berkeley, shows that an hour's nap can dramatically boost and restore your brain power. Indeed, the findings suggest that a biphasic sleep schedule not only refreshes the mind, but can make you smarter.

Conversely, the more hours we spend awake, the more sluggish our minds become, according to the findings. The results support previous data from the same research team that pulling an all-nighter -- a common practice at college during midterms and finals -- decreases the ability to cram in new facts by nearly 40 percent, due to a shutdown of brain regions during sleep deprivation.

"Sleep not only rights the wrong of prolonged wakefulness but, at a neurocognitive level, it moves you beyond where you were before you took a nap," said Matthew Walker, an assistant professor of psychology at UC Berkeley and the lead investigator of these studies.

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These findings reinforce the researchers' hypothesis that sleep is needed to clear the brain's short-term memory storage and make room for new information, said Walker, who presented his preliminary findings on Feb. 21, at the annual meeting of the American Association of the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in San Diego, Calif.

Since 2007, Walker and other sleep researchers have established that fact-based memories are temporarily stored in the hippocampus before being sent to the brain's prefrontal cortex, which may have more storage space.

"It's as though the e-mail inbox in your hippocampus is full and, until you sleep and clear out those fact e-mails, you're not going to receive any more mail. It's just going to bounce until you sleep and move it into another folder," Walker said.

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Ice Shelves Disappearing on Antarctic Peninsula

ScienceDaily (Feb. 22, 2010) — Ice shelves are retreating in the southern section of the Antarctic Peninsula due to climate change, according to new data. This could result in glacier retreat and sea-level rise if warming continues, threatening coastal communities and low-lying islands worldwide, experts say.

Research by the U.S. Geological Survey is the first to document that every ice front in the southern part of the Antarctic Peninsula has been retreating overall from 1947 to 2009, with the most dramatic changes occurring since 1990. The USGS previously documented that the majority of ice fronts on the entire Peninsula have also retreated during the late 20th century and into the early 21st century.

The ice shelves are attached to the continent and already floating, holding in place the Antarctic ice sheet that covers about 98 percent of the Antarctic continent. As the ice shelves break off, it is easier for outlet glaciers and ice streams from the ice sheet to flow into the sea. The transition of that ice from land to the ocean is what raises sea level.

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Retreat along the southern part of the Peninsula is of particular interest because that area has the Peninsula's coolest temperatures, demonstrating that global warming is affecting the entire length of the Peninsula.

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Monday, February 22, 2010

Small differences can mean big changes

From a comment from a post on global warming:

RB said in reply to Bruce Wilder...

"Now, he's being asked to accept more rules, more expense, because of changes measured in fractions of a degree, per decade!"

When you talk about climatic averages, you ought to be careful in interpreting the numbers: for example, the Medieval Warm period when a greater portion of Greenland was inhabitable and the Little Ice Age when the Thames repeatedly freezed over represented climatic average temperatures of around +/- 0.6C

Reply Feb 21, 2010 at 08:35 AM


More on jobs bill

By Tami Luhby, senior writerFebruary 22, 2010: 7:21 PM ET

NEW YORK ( -- The Senate voted Tuesday [obvious typo. Today is Monday] to push forward a $15 billion jobs creation bill that would give businesses a tax break for hiring the unemployed.

Five Republicans -- including newly elected Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass. -- reached across the aisle to approve the procedural measure, which passed by a 62-30 vote. One Democrat did not support it. A final vote on the bill should take place in a few days.

The 4-prong bill would:

*Exempt employers from Social Security payroll taxes on new hires who were unemployed;

*Fund highway and transit programs through 2010;

*Extend a tax break for business that spend money on capital investments like equipment purchases;

*Expand the use of the Build America Bonds program, which helps states and municipalities fund capital construction projects.

The legislation is a scaled-down version of an $85 billion bipartisan draft bill that was crafted by Senators Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.

However, the bill does not extend the deadline to apply for unemployment benefits and the COBRA health insurance subsidy. Some 1.2 million people will run out of benefits after Feb. 28 if the deadline is not extended. Lawmakers are looking to pass a separate, 15-day extension to give them time to enact a longer fix.

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In addition to Brown, the Republican senators backing the measure were Kit Bond of Missouri, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, and George Voinovich of Ohio. Democrat Bill Nelson of Florida voted against it.

Brown helps Democrats advance jobs bill

updated 16 minutes ago

WASHINGTON - A Democratic "jobs" bill has advanced past a GOP filibuster in the Senate, helped along by the vote of the chambers newest Republican.

Scott Brown of Massachusetts was joined by several other Republicans to help Democrats defeat a filibuster orchestrated by GOP leaders by a 62-30 tally. The tally sets up a vote on Wednesday to actually pass the measure.

The bill would allow businesses that hire unemployed workers to forgo paying Social Security payroll taxes on them through December and give them another $1,000 credit if new workers stay on the job a full year.

Most Republicans opposed the measure because Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada stripped out provisions they had sought and wouldn't allow them to try to restore them.


Saturday, February 20, 2010

fourth warmest January for globe

Posted by: JeffMasters, 2:33 PM GMT on February 19, 2010

The globe recorded its fourth warmest January since record keeping began in 1880, according to NOAA's National Climatic Data Center. NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies rated January 2010 as the 2nd warmest January on record, behind January 2007. January 2010 global ocean temperatures were the 2nd warmest on record, next to 1998. Land temperatures in the Southern Hemisphere were the warmest on record, but in the Northern Hemisphere, they were the 18th warmest. The relatively cool Northern Hemisphere land temperatures may have been due to the well-above average amount of snow on the ground--January 2010 snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere was the 6th highest in the past 44 years. Global satellite-measured temperatures for the lowest 8 km of the atmosphere were the warmest on record in January, according to both the University of Alabama Huntsville (UAH) and RSS data sets. This was the second time in the past three months that the UAH data set has shown a record high global atmospheric temperature.

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This analysis is performed in An observationally based energy balance for the Earth since 1950 (Murphy 2009) which adds up heat content from the ocean, atmosphere, land and ice. To calculate the Earth’s total heat content, the authors used data of ocean heat content from the upper 700 metres. They included heat content from deeper waters down to 3000 metres depth. They computed atmospheric heat content using the surface temperature record and the heat capacity of the troposphere. Land and ice heat content (eg – the energy required to melt ice) were also included.

[See Figure 1 above.]

A look at the Earth’s total heat content clearly shows global warming has continued past 1998. So why do surface temperature records show 1998 as the hottest year on record? Figure 1 shows the heat capacity of the land and atmosphere are small compared to the ocean (the tiny brown sliver of “land + atmosphere” also includes the heat absorbed to melt ice). Hence, relatively small exchanges of heat between the atmosphere and ocean can cause significant changes in surface temperature.

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Figure 1 also underscores just how much global warming the planet is experiencing. Since 1970, the Earth’s heat content has been rising at a rate of 6 x 1021 Joules per year. In more meaningful terms, the planet has been accumulating energy at a rate of 190,260 GigaWatts. Considering a typical nuclear power plant has an output of 1 GigaWatt, imagine 190,000 nuclear power plants pouring their energy output directly into our oceans.


Deficit vs jobs

There's a lot of concern about the deficit, and plans to cut back on government programs. It is very unfortunate that Reagan & Bush-2 saddled our country with such huge deficits. But if we can stimulate demand, it will lead to more jobs, which will lead to more taxes being paid, which will help the deficit at the same time as helping our fellow human beings. Cutting government programs right now will increase the number of people out of work, which will lead to decreased demand, which will lead to fewer jobs, which is the last thing we need right now.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Senate 'holds': Where just one senator makes a majority

By David Lightman | McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON — The shadowy practice of Senate "holds" — the power of one lawmaker to block nominations or legislation indefinitely — is a big reason that the Senate is gridlocked.

In an age when information flies across the Internet instantly, the Senate continues to conduct crucial business with this throwback to a time when gentlemen's agreements were the chief currency of the legislative process. In fact, holds appear to be more popular than ever.

There's no easy way for the public to learn what's being held up or who's responsible.

"There is hardly any public record of who places holds, how it is done (often by letter to the party leader), how many holds are placed on any bill or how long they will be honored by the majority leadership," a 2008 Congressional Research Service study said. Senate Democratic and Republican leaders' offices this week couldn't provide any firm data on holds.

As a result, "one senator can subvert the entire democratic process. We don't have the Senate confirming political appointees promptly, and that means decisions are not made at agencies," said Melanie Sloan, the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a watchdog group.

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The tactic has soared into the limelight recently because of some well-publicized holds. In one, Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., blocked Martha Johnson's confirmation as the head of the General Services Administration because he was annoyed by how the agency handled complaints about a troubled Kansas City federal center.

Once President Barack Obama complained publicly after a nine-month delay, the Senate approved Johnson unanimously; even Bond ended up backing her.

Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., recently held up the nominations of dozens of Obama administration appointees as he sought to draw attention to the Air Force's refueling tanker program and an FBI terrorism analysis center he hoped would bring jobs to his state. He dropped most of his holds after he got the White House's attention.

Sen. Bernard Sanders, a Vermont independent, briefly made a public effort to stall Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke's bid for a second term. Bernanke also was confirmed eventually, with 70 votes.

Obama maintained earlier this month that 63 nominees were being held up because of Republican holds, and he threatened to make "recess appointments," which don't need Senate confirmation, if the logjam didn't break. On Feb. 11, the Senate quickly confirmed 27 nominees whose holds had been lifted, though some top picks at the Pentagon and the Treasury Department are still stalled.

"It's not as though they were dissatisfied by the qualifications of the nominees. They say, 'I'll just take hostages,' until they get attention," said Norman Ornstein, an expert on Congress at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative research center.

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The system was supposed to be more transparent. In 2007, the Senate began requiring senators to place notices in the Congressional Record within six days of declaring their intentions to place holds. Sloan's group found in December, however, that the new rules have been "disregarded by senators of both parties."

One end run is the practice of merely threatening a hold, rather than placing it. That has the same effect as placing a hold, but it doesn't trigger the formal process that requires disclosure.

Then there's the "tag team" hold, in which senators block someone for a few days, then hand off the hold to another senator, skirting the rule requiring timely disclosure.

At least three Republican senators reportedly used that tactic last year to delay the nomination of Harvard Law School professor Cass Sunstein as the White House's regulatory czar.

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Older Brains Make Good Use of 'Useless' Information

ScienceDaily (Jan. 25, 2010) — A new study has found promising evidence that the older brain's weakened ability to filter out irrelevant information may actually give aging adults a memory advantage over their younger counterparts.

A long line of research has already shown that aging is associated with a decreased ability to tune out irrelevant information. Now scientists at Baycrest's Rotman Research Institute have demonstrated that when older adults "hyper-encode" extraneous information -- and they typically do this without even knowing they're doing it -- they have the unique ability to "hyper-bind" the information; essentially tie it to other information that is appearing at the same time.

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"We found that older brains are not only less likely to suppress irrelevant information than younger brains, but they can link the relevant and irrelevant pieces of information together and implicitly transfer this knowledge to subsequent memory tasks," said Campbell.

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"This could be a silver lining to aging and distraction," said Dr. Hasher, senior scientist on the study. "Older adults with reduced attentional regulation seem to display greater knowledge of seemingly extraneous co-occurrences in the environment than younger adults. As this type of knowledge is thought to play a critical role in real world decision- making, older adults may be the wiser decision-makers compared to younger adults because they have picked up so much more information."


An Ominous Warning on the Effects of Ocean Acidification

15 Feb 2010: Analysis
by carl zimmer

A new study says the seas are acidifying ten times faster today than 55 million years ago when a mass extinction of marine species occurred. And, the study concludes, current changes in ocean chemistry due to the burning of fossil fuels may portend a new wave of die-offs.

The JOIDES Resolution looks like a bizarre hybrid of an oil rig and a cargo ship. It is, in fact, a research vessel that ocean scientists use to dig up sediment from the sea floor. In 2003, on a voyage to the southeastern Atlantic, scientists aboard the JOIDES Resolution brought up a particularly striking haul.

They had drilled down into sediment that had formed on the sea floor over the course of millions of years. The oldest sediment in the drill was white. It had been formed by the calcium carbonate shells of single-celled organisms — the same kind of material that makes up the White Cliffs of Dover. But when the scientists examined the sediment that had formed 55 million years ago, the color changed in a geological blink of an eye.

“In the middle of this white sediment, there’s this big plug of red clay,” says Andy Ridgwell, an earth scientist at the University of Bristol.

In other words, the vast clouds of shelled creatures in the deep oceans had virtually disappeared. Many scientists now agree that this change was caused by a drastic drop of the ocean’s pH level. The seawater became so corrosive that it ate away at the shells, along with other species with calcium carbonate in their bodies. It took hundreds of thousands of years for the oceans to recover from this crisis, and for the sea floor to turn from red back to white.

The clay that the crew of the JOIDES Resolution dredged up may be an ominous warning of what the future has in store. By spewing carbon dioxide into the air, we are now once again making the oceans more acidic.

Today, Ridgwell and Daniela Schmidt, also of the University of Bristol, are publishing a study in the journal Natural Geoscience, comparing what happened in the oceans 55 million years ago to what the oceans are

experiencing today. Their research supports what other researchers have long suspected: The acidification of the ocean today is bigger and faster than anything geologists can find in the fossil record over the past 65 million years. Indeed, its speed and strength — Ridgwell estimate that current ocean acidification is taking place at ten times the rate that preceded the mass extinction 55 million years ago — may spell doom for many marine species, particularly ones that live in the deep ocean.

“This is an almost unprecedented geological event,” says Ridgwell.

When we humans burn fossil fuels, we pump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, where the gas traps heat. But much of that carbon dioxide does not stay in the air. Instead, it gets sucked into the oceans. If not for the oceans, climate scientists believe that the planet would be much warmer than it is today. Even with the oceans’ massive uptake of CO2, the past decade was still the warmest since modern record-keeping began. But storing carbon dioxide in the oceans may come at a steep cost: It changes the chemistry of seawater.

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An International Comparison of Small Business Employment

An International Comparison of Small Business Employment
John Schmitt and Nathan Lane
August 2009

An important part of our national identity is built around the idea that – thanks to low taxes, limited regulation, unfettered labor markets, and a national spirit of entrepreneurship – the United States offers an environment for small business that is unmatched anywhere else in the world.

The international economic data, however, tell a different story about the state of U.S. small business. By every measure of small-business employment, the United States has among the world’s smallest small-business sectors (as a proportion of total national employment).

One interpretation of the data presented here is that self-employment and small-business employment may be a less important indicator of entrepreneurship than we have long thought. Another reading of the data, however, is that the United States has something to learn from the experience of other advanced economies, which appear to have had much better luck promoting and sustaining small-business employment.

One plausible explanation for the consistently higher shares of self-employment and small-business employment in the rest of the world’s rich economies is that all have some form of universal access to health care. The high cost to self-employed workers and small businesses of the private, employer-based health care system in place in the United States may act as a significant deterrent to small start-up companies, an experience not shared by entrepreneurs in countries with universal access to health care.

We use the most recently available, internationally comparable data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to measure the share of employment in small businesses in 22 rich democracies. The OECD data demonstrate that:

• The United States has the second lowest share of self-employed workers (7.2 percent) – only Luxembourg has a lower share (6.1 percent). France (9.0 percent), Sweden (10.6 percent), Germany (12.0 percent) the United Kingdom (13.8 percent), Italy (26.4 percent) and 14 other rich countries all have higher proportions of self-employment.

• The United States has among the lowest shares of employment in small businesses in manufacturing. Only 11.1 percent of the U.S. manufacturing workforce is in enterprises with fewer than 20 employees. Eighteen other rich countries have a higher share of manufacturing employment in enterprises of this size, including Germany (13.0 percent), Sweden (14.4 percent), France (18.0 percent), the United Kingdom (18.1 percent), and Italy (30.9 percent). Only Ireland (9.6 percent) and Luxembourg (8.5 percent) have a lower share of manufacturing employment in enterprises with fewer than 20 employees. (Raising the cutoff for a small business to fewer than 500 employees does not significantly alter the relative position of the United States.)

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

In Landmark Campaign Finance Ruling, Supreme Court Removes Limits on Corporate Campaign Spending

Most people who read this probably already know about this, but I'm including it for anybody who missed it, and for future reference.

I know people who don't vote because they think it doesn't make a difference who is elected. I have tried to tell them it does. Eg., the president nominates people to the supreme court. I have stopped capitalizing "supreme court" because of its actions in helping Bush steal the election of 2000. This ruling confirms my lack of respect for the current court.

In a landmark decision, the Supreme Court rules corporations can spend unlimited amounts of money to elect and defeat candidates. One lawmaker describes it as the worst Supreme Court decision since the Dred Scott case justifying slavery. We speak with constitutional law professor, Jamin Raskin. [includes rush transcript]

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JAMIN RASKIN: Good morning, Amy.

Well, we’ve had some terrible Supreme Court interventions against political democracy: Shaw v. Reno, striking down majority African American and Hispanic congressional districts; Bush v. Gore, intervening to stop the counting of ballots in Florida. But I would have to say that all of them pale compared to what we just saw yesterday, where the Supreme Court has overturned decades of Supreme Court precedent to declare that private, for-profit corporations have First Amendment rights of political expression, meaning that they can spend up to the heavens in order to have their way in politics. And this will open floodgates of millions, tens of millions, hundreds of millions of dollars in federal, state and local elections, as Halliburton and Enron and Blackwater and Bank of America and Goldman Sachs can take money directly out of corporate treasuries and put them into our politics.

And I looked at just one corporation, Exxon Mobil, which is the biggest corporation in America. In 2008, they posted profits of $85 billion. And so, if they decided to spend, say, a modest ten percent of their profits in one year, $8.5 billion, that would be three times more than the Obama campaign, the McCain campaign and every candidate for House and Senate in the country spent in 2008. That’s one corporation. So think about the Fortune 500. They’re threatening a fundamental change in the character of American political democracy.

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Walking Linked to Eased Osteoarthritis

ScienceDaily (Feb. 15, 2010) — "Progressive walking" combined with glucosamine sulphate supplementation has been shown to improve the symptoms of osteoarthritis. Researchers writing in BioMed Central's open-access journal Arthritis Research and Therapy found that patients who walked at least two bouts of 1500 steps each on three days of the week reported significantly less arthritis pain, and significantly improved physical function.

Dr Kristiann Heesch worked with a team of researchers from The University of Queensland, Australia, to carry out the trial in 36 osteoarthritis patients (aged 42-73 years). All patients received the dietary supplement for six weeks, after which they continued to take the supplement during a 12-week progressive walking program. The program, called Stepping Out, includes a walking guide; a pedometer; weekly log sheets and a weekly planner, all intended to help patients adopt the exercise regime.


I can recommend glucosamine for arthritis in the hip from personal experience. It might take more than the dosage recommended on the bottle. It's kind of expensive, but not as expensive as a hip replacement.

Small differences

Coldest Place in Solar System: Our Moon
Seth Borenstein, Associated Press

June 18, 2009 -- Astronomers have found the coldest spot in our solar system and it may be a little close for comfort. It's on our moon, right nearby. NASA's new Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter is making the first complete temperature map of the moon. It found that at the moon's south pole, it's colder than far away Pluto. The area is inside craters that are permanently shadowed so they never see sun.

"It's sort of like a faint glow and that's your only source of heat," said David Paige, a University of California, Los Angeles, scientist who is part of the NASA team. "Right here in our own backyard are definitely the coldest things we've seen in real measurements."

Temperatures there were measured at 397 degrees below zero. That's just 62 degrees higher than the lowest temperature possible.

Pluto is at least a degree warmer even though it is about 40 times farther away from the sun.


The earth and moon are the same distance from the sun. The reason the earth is not as cold as the sun is that the earth has greenhouse gases. The gravity on the moon is too weak to hold onto gases. To expect that we can increase the amounts of greenhouse gases w/o it having an effect on our temperatures just doesn't make sense, unless there are enough negative feedback loops to counteract it. Unfortunately, so far we have seen more effects from positive feedback loops than from negative ones.

Eg., when the temperature is warmer, more water evaporates from the oceans, and water is a greenhouse gas, causing additional warming.

The assertion that small differences don't matter is clearly nonsense. Just consider body temperature. A very small addition of body heat, causing a fever, can kill us.
Consider our body temperature in kelvin degrees, in which absolute zero (no heat) is 0K, so that temperature ratios reflect the ratio of the amount heat represented.

To convert kelvin to Fahrenheit: K = (F + 459.67) * 5/9
So 98.6F = 310.15k 105F = 313.71K
313.71 = 310.5 + 310.5*0.0115
So, 105F is only 0.0115 = 1.15% hotter than 98.6F

Biologists and physicists could give many examples of small differences causing large effects.


Republicans might block jobs bill

Sen. Reid doesn't have the votes to pass $15 billion version of jobs legislation
By Jay Heflin - 02/17/10 02:31 PM ET

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) lacks the votes to begin debating his targeted jobs bill, according to sources monitoring the legislation.

Reid needs 60 votes to open debate on the $15 billion jobs bill. The vote is scheduled for Monday, when lawmakers return from the Presidents Day recess.

“I understand Reid does not have the votes for cloture on Monday on his jobs bill,” one source said.

A Reid spokesman said the vote is in the hands of Republicans. Democrats have 59 senators in their conference.

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The centerpiece to Reid’s bill is a $13 billion tax credit employers can claim for hiring employees who have been out of work for more than 60 days. But not all Democratic senators support the initiative.

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) has raised the concern that a shortage in customer demand could render the tax break useless.

“There’s a question of whether that puts the cart before the horse,” said Nelson. “If I don’t have enough customers for my product, hiring more people is not going to help and tax credits are not going to be to my advantage.”

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, has noted the Congressional Budget Office's estimate that extending unemployment insurance would create more jobs than providing tax credits to employers who hire new workers.

A spokeswoman for the majority leader said her boss would extend unemployment insurance before its expiration by the end of the month. Lobbyists see this as the best vehicle for advancing many of the provisions in the Baucus-Grassley jobs proposal put aside by Reid.

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South Carolina Lawmaker Seeks to Ban U.S. Currency Read more:

Well, this helps me feel less embarrassed that I live in Georgia!

February 17, 2010

A bill introduced in the South Carolina legislature would disallow U.S. currency as legal tender in the state, reports the Palmetto Scoop.

The bill introduced by State Rep. Mike Pitts (R) would ban what he calls "the unconstitutional substitution of Federal Reserve Notes for silver and gold coin" in South Carolina.

"If the bill were to become law, South Carolina would no longer accept or use anything other than silver and gold coins as a form of payment for any debt, meaning paper money would be out in the Palmetto State."


Updating the blog

I have been working later than usual, and the last few days, when I tried to update this blog after work, I couldn't get onto . I don't know if it is just busy at that time or other problems. I realized after I went home that I can e-mail postings, so I'll have to brush up on that. Haven't needed to do it for a couple of years.

I just discovered they added "pages". I don't know how long it's been available. So of course, I immediately thought of putting green living tips there. I have been planning on starting a blog entry, that I would update and change the post date to make it show up again, but the "pages" is much better. If anybody has things to add to it, feel free to make suggestions.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Reduced Fertility Linked to Flame Retardant Exposure

ScienceDaily (Jan. 28, 2010) — Women with higher blood levels of PBDEs, a type of flame retardant commonly found in household consumer products, took longer to become pregnant compared with women who have lower PBDE levels, according to a new study by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley.

The study, to be published Jan. 26 in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, found that each 10-fold increase in the blood concentration of four PBDE chemicals was linked to a 30 percent decrease in the odds of becoming pregnant each month.

"There have been numerous animal studies that have found a range of health effects from exposure to PBDEs, but very little research has been done in humans. This latest paper is the first to address the impact on human fertility, and the results are surprisingly strong," said the study's lead author, Kim Harley, adjunct assistant professor of maternal and child health and associate director of the Center for Children's Environmental Health Research at UC Berkeley's School of Public Health. "These findings need to be replicated, but they have important implications for regulators."

PBDEs, or polybrominated diphenyl ethers, are a class of organobromine compounds that became commonplace after the 1970s when new fire safety standards were implemented in the United States. The flame retardants are used in foam furniture, electronics, fabrics, carpets, plastics and other common items in the home.

Studies have found widespread contamination of house dust by PBDEs, which are known to leach out into the environment and accumulate in human fat cells. Studies also suggest that 97 percent of U.S. residents have detectable levels of PBDEs in their blood, and that the levels in Americans are 20 times higher than in their European counterparts. According to the researchers, residents in California are among those experiencing the highest exposures, most likely due to the state's relatively stringent flammability laws.

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It is not entirely clear how PBDEs might impact fertility. A number of animal studies have found that PBDEs can impair neurodevelopment, reduce thyroid hormones, and alter levels of sex hormones. Both high and low thyroid hormone levels can disrupt normal menstrual patterns in humans, but this study did not find a link between PBDE exposure and irregular menstrual cycles.

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Keeping up with the ever-expanding range of chemicals in our environment is challenging, the researchers noted. As PBDEs are being phased out, they are being replaced with other brominated compounds. "We know even less about the newer flame retardant chemicals that are coming out," said Harley. "We just don't have the human studies yet to show that they are safe."

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In recent years, many cats have developed hyper-active thyroids (hyperthyroidism). One of the factors that increase the chances of a cat getting this is exposure to these chemicals. I have had a bunch of cats, but never had one get hyperthyroidism until after I moved to my current manufactured home. So far, two of my cats have developed it. Before this, I lived in homes that were built before these chemicals came into common use.


Despite millions in tax credits, wind energy firms aren't hiring

Besides being interesting in it's own right, this article shows the problem with the kind of "stimulus" the Republicans want. They oppose direct help to workers. The only kind of "stimulus" they support are tax cuts, and bailouts of big business. But while business owners are, of course, for tax cuts and credits for themselves, they admit they won't hire if they can't sell their products. And they can't sell their products to people who can't afford them because they are out of work, or make to little to afford to buy.

This Republican ideology was one of the factors that led to this lousy recession/depression in the first place. The only reason the economy didn't crash long ago was because of easy credit, and the housing price bubble. The income of workers has been going down, allowing for inflation, for years. The only reason middle-class family incomes have kept pace with inflation is that more women are working. It takes two incomes to be as well off as one income used to provide.

Another factor was deregulation of the financial industry, another thing the Republicans favor.

So now that their ideology has crashed our economy, the only remedies they want is - more of the same! In addition to the true believers, there is the fact that they are trying to keep the Democrats from being effective, hoping people will blame the Democrats for not solving the problem, and lead to the Republicans regaining power. Since most people are unaware of what's going on, the Republican strategy might very well work.;_ylt=Ap8msgGnOTTDcbInyRZvlHWs0NUE;_ylu=X3oDMTFlZThjY2xmBHBvcwM4NgRzZWMDYWNjb3JkaW9uX3BvbGl0aWNzBHNsawNkZXNwaXRlbWlsbGk-

By Renee Schoof, McClatchy Newspapers Renee Schoof, Mcclatchy Newspapers – Thu Feb 4, 5:53 pm ET

WASHINGTON — Despite the Obama administration's efforts to create jobs making wind turbines in America, some companies say that sluggish demand for wind energy is holding them back.

The U.S. installed more wind power last year — 9,900 megawatts, or enough to power 2.4 million homes — than in any other year.

The growth in wind farm installations in the U.S. was a product of federal stimulus spending. Nonetheless, wind equipment manufacturers cut as many as 2,000 jobs last year. According to the American Wind Energy Association , a trade group, the drop in U.S. jobs is due, in part, to the lack of a long-term national policy that would require a certain percentage of American electricity to come from renewable sources.

About half the wind turbines installed in the U.S. were made overseas.

A check with some of the companies that want to get into the wind manufacturing business found that even some that qualified for clean-energy manufacturing tax credits aren't able to create jobs quickly because they don't see enough demand for wind energy.

Basset Mechanical of Kaukauna, Wis. , qualified for a $868,500 tax credit to manufacture wind turbine towers and foundation parts. Chris Linn , the vice president for marketing and business development, said the company won't purchase the new equipment needed to receive the tax credit until it has enough sales volume to justify it.

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Hexcel Corp. , which makes material for wind turbine blades for the Danish maker Vestas, used $3 million in tax credits for work on a plant in Windsor, Colo. The facility is open, but it's operating at relatively low capacity because of the sparse demand, Hexcel spokesman Michael Bacal said.

Hexcel qualified for $8.1 million in tax credits, but it's unlikely that it will complete more of its facility or take the rest of the credits this year. It might use them in 2011 or 2012, however, depending on demand, Bacal said. When fully operational, the plant will hire about 80 to 90 people.

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Monday, February 15, 2010

Chocolate lovers could be lowering their risk of stroke

Public release date: 12-Feb-2010
Contact: Julie Saccone
St. Michael's Hospital
Chocolate lovers could be lowering their risk of stroke: Study
Preliminary data show possible health benefits of eating chocolate

TORONTO, On – February 12, 2010 – Giving chocolates to your Valentine on February 14th may help lower their risk of stroke based on a preliminary study from researchers at St. Michael's Hospital. The study, which is being presented at the American Academy of Neurology in April, also found that eating chocolate may lower the risk of death after suffering a stroke.

"Though more research is needed to determine whether chocolate is the contributing factor to lowering stroke risk, it is rich in anti-oxidants and that may have a protective effect against stroke," explains Dr. Gustavo Saposnik, a neurologist at St. Michael's Hospital.

Chocolate is rich in antioxidants called flavonoids which may help lower the risk of strokes.

Authored by Sarah Sahib, the research analyzed three studies involving chocolate consumption and stroke risk. One showed there was no association between flavonoid intake and risk of stroke or death. In contrast, a second study found an association with stroke for chocolate consumption once a week as opposed to none per week. The third study suggested flavonoid intake from eating chocolate weekly lowered death caused by a stroke.

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bonobos share like humans

Public release date: 12-Feb-2010
[ Print | E-mail | Share Share ] [ Close Window ]

Contact: Cathleen Genova
Cell Press
Buddy, can you spare a banana? Study finds that bonobos share like humans

New research suggests that the act of voluntarily sharing something with another may not be entirely exclusive to the human experience. A study published in the March 9th issue of Current Biology, a Cell Press publication, observed that bonobos—a sister species of chimpanzees and, like chimps, our closest living relatives—consistently chose to actively share their food with others.

"It has been suggested that only humans voluntarily share their food," says lead study author Brian Hare from Duke University in North Carolina. "However, the food sharing preferences of the unusually tolerant bonobos have never been studied experimentally." Dr. Hare and Suzy Kwetuenda from the Lola ya Bonobo Sanctuary for orphaned bonobos in the Democratic Republic of the Congo conducted a study with unrelated pairs of hungry bonobos.

In the study, bonobos had to choose whether to eat some food by themselves or to give another bonobo access to it. The test subjects had the opportunity to immediately eat the food or to use a "key" to open a door to an adjacent empty room or a room that had another bonobo in it. The test subjects could easily see into the adjacent rooms, so they know which one was empty and which was occupied.

"We found that the test subjects preferred to voluntarily open the recipient's door to allow them to share highly desirable food that they could have easily eaten alone—with no signs of aggression, frustration, or change in the speed or rate of sharing across trials," explains Dr. Hare. "This stable sharing pattern was particularly striking since in other, nonsharing contexts, bonobos are averse to food loss and adjust to minimize such losses."

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Earthquake concerns shake energy projects

Disappointing, but not surprising.

By Charles Q. Choi
updated 1:28 p.m. ET, Wed., Dec . 16, 2009

Hard times are now bedeviling geothermal energy projects that risk triggering earthquakes as they delve miles deep into the Earth to tap clean and virtually limitless energy.

One such enhanced geothermal system, as they are known, caused a magnitude 3.4 quake in Basel, Switzerland, in 2006. A case in court against the head of the firm behind the work, Markus Häring of Geothermal Explorer, started yesterday on charges of property damage.

Meanwhile, a company running a federally funded enhanced geothermal system in California, AltaRock Energy, declared Dec. 11 it was abandoning the project, just one day after Switzerland permanently shut down the Basel system.

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Conventional geothermal energy taps into energy near the surface. Enhanced geothermal systems, on the other hand, drill more than a mile down to access hot dry rock or magma, and pressurized fluid is pumped in to generate steam that can drive turbines. Scientists note the technology remains a promising source of alternative energy, but caution that its risks need more research and open discussion so that people and authorities don't overreact.

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The drawback of enhanced geothermal systems is the fact that they can trigger earthquakes. The pressurized water forced into the rock generates micro-earthquakes. It can also interact with existing deep faults, potentially causing larger temblors.

That is precisely what happened in Basel. The city has a history of earthquakes — in 1356, the city was severely damaged by a magnitude 6.7 quake, the largest ever recorded in central Europe, Giardini noted in a commentary that will be published in the Dec. 17 issue of the journal Nature.

"Basel was probably one of the worst places one could have started from," Giardini said. "Enhanced geothermal systems in the future probably should not focus on cities with a past of devastating earthquakes."

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A number of other enhanced geothermal systems are active in Europe, some of which have been linked with earthquakes.

At two megawatts, the European Hot Dry Rock geothermal energy project in France will be the largest commercial enhanced geothermal system in operation. It was linked with magnitude 2.9 activity, but was adapted to reduce quake risk, and is scheduled to begin generating electricity in January. The work there is carried out in a more rural area without a known history of large earthquakes.

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Energy-Efficient Lighting Made Without Mercury

ScienceDaily (Feb. 15, 2010) — RTI International has developed a revolutionary lighting technology that is more energy efficient than the common incandescent light bulb and does not contain mercury, making it environmentally safer than the compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulb.

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RTI's technology, which was funded in part by the Department of Energy's Solid-State Lighting program, centers around advancements in the nanoscale properties of materials to create high-performance, nanofiber-based reflectors and photoluminescent nanofibers (PLN). When the two nanoscale technologies are combined, a high-efficiency lighting device is produced that is capable of generating in excess of 55 lumens of light output per electrical watt consumed. This efficiency is more than five times greater than that of traditional incandescent bulbs.

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Additionally, RTI's technology produces an aesthetically pleasing light with better color rendering properties than is typically found in CFLs. The technology has demonstrated color rendering indices in excess of 90 for warm white, neutral white, and cool white illumination sources.

"Because lighting consumes almost one-fourth of all electricity generated in the United States, our technology could have a significant impact in reducing energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions," Davis said. "The technology also does not contain mercury, which makes it more environmentally friendly and safer to handle than CFLs and other fluorescent lamps."

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Senate Republicans: Filibuster everything to win in November?

By David Lightman | McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans are using the filibuster to limit and often derail Democrats' initiatives, paralyzing the Senate and making it nearly impossible to accomplish even the most routine matters.

The filibuster strategy "makes the Senate dysfunctional," said Mark Strand, the president of the Congressional Institute, a nonpartisan research group. That, in turn, blocks the Obama administration's agenda, but it also sours public opinion on Washington, with polls showing clear public disdain for Congress in particular. Republicans think voters will reward them for that in November.

However disruptive it is to governance, their extensive use of the filibuster — extended debate to block a decisive vote — could prove to be a valuable campaign asset this fall. Democrats used similar tactics in 2006 and won enough seats to gain a Senate majority. Now Republicans hope it's their turn.


The statement that "Democrats used similar tactics in 2006" does not seem consistent with the graph in the same article.

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"Republicans are gambling they can convince the American people Democrats can't get much done, and at the moment, their gamble is paying off," said former Sen. Bob Kerrey, a Nebraska Democrat and the president of the New School in New York.

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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Toward Safer Plastics That Lock in Potentially Harmful Plasticizers

ScienceDaily (Feb. 6, 2010) — Scientists have published the first report on a new way of preventing potentially harmful plasticizers -- the source of long-standing human health concerns -- from migrating from one of the most widely used groups of plastics. The advance could lead to a new generation of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastics that are safer than those now used in packaging, medical tubing, toys, and other products, they say.

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Helmut Reinecke and colleagues note that manufacturers add large amounts of plasticizers to PVC to make it flexible and durable. Plasticizers may account for more than one-third of the weight of some PVC products. Phthalates are the mainstay plasticizers. Unfortunately, they migrate to the surface of the plastic over time and escape into the environment. As a result, PVC plastics become less flexible and durable. In addition, people who come into contact with the plastics face possible health risks. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission in 2009 banned use of several phthalate plasticizers for use in manufacture of toys and child care articles.

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Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Insurer Denies Life-Prolonging Treatment To Five-Year-Old Boy With Cancer

One of the worst abuses of private insurance companies is the practice of using spurious reasons to deny claims for medical treatments, which are often necessary for saving patients’ lives.

Kyler Van Nocker’s story shows that even 5-year-old kids are not exempt from this insurance company abuse. Van Nocker has neuroblastoma, which is a very rare form of childhood cancer that targets the nervous system and creates tumors throughout the body.

Due to successful treatment in 2007, Van Nocker’s cancer went into remission, giving him 12 months of pain-free life. Unfortunately, in Sept. 2008, the cancer returned, and Van Nocker was once again in need of treatment. Unfortunately, his health insurer, HealthAmerica, refused to pay for one form of treatment doctors believe could save his life (MIBG treatment) because they consider it “investigational/experimental” since it has yet to be approved by the FDA.

Yet in April 2008, the insurer approved cheaper treatment for Van Nocker that was also “experimental,” prompting Philadelphia Daily News columnist Ronnie Polaneczky to ask, “So why, pray tell, is HealthAmerica playing the ‘experimental therapy’ card in the case of the MIBG treatment Kyler now needs? Gee, money couldn’t have anything to do with the decision, could it?”

Van Nocker’s parents are suing HealthAmerica, citing the fact that the company has apparently been dishonest about its criteria for the types of treatment it will cover and is denying payment for treatment in this case because of the high cost of the procedure — $110,000 pays for only two rounds of MIBG treatment. “These companies have to be brought to the courthouse to get them to do the right thing,” says the VanNockers’s family attorney. “This child needs this treatment, or else.”

The sad truth is that Van Nocker is certainly not alone in having his claim denied by a major health insurer. The California Nurses Association (CNA), a nurses’ union and health care advocacy group, recently released a comprehensive study of claims denials across California. The study found that the six largest insurers in California rejected 47.7 million claims in the first half of 2009, nearly 22 percent of all claims submitted.

The United States is the only industrialized nation without cradle-to-the-grave, universal health care. In no other developed country would a child with cancer have to go without care because an insurance company decided it was not profitable enough to cover him

Third-hand smoke a danger to babies, toddlers

updated 44 minutes ago
Add a new health threat to smoking: In addition to the harm caused by actually smoking and exposure to second-hand smoke, so-called third-hand smoke may also pose a threat, particularly to babies and toddlers.

A new study reveals that the residue of nicotine that lingers on surfaces can react with another chemical in the air to form potent carcinogens — chemicals linked to various cancers. While first-hand smoke is that inhaled directly by the smoker and second-hand is the smoke exhaled (and inhaled by others), third-hand smoke is the residue from second-hand smoke.

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And the study's findings, detailed in the Feb. 8 issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, indicate that opening a window or deploying a fan to ventilate the room while a cigarette burns does not eliminate the hazard of third-hand smoke.



I will probably not be posting as much as usual because of a combination of having so much to do at work, a new work computer to get set up, a work laptop to get set up, and a lingering case of the bug that's going around.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Heavy snowfall in a warming world

Dr. Jeff Masters' WunderBlog
Last Updated: 5:23 PM GMT on February 08, 2010

A major new winter storm is headed east over the U.S. today, and threatens to dump a foot or more of snow on Philadelphia, New York City, and surrounding regions Tuesday and Wednesday. Philadelphia is still digging out from its second top-ten snowstorm of recorded history to hit the city this winter, and the streets are going to begin looking like canyons if this week's snowstorm adds a significant amount of snow to the incredible 28.5" that fell during "Snowmageddon" last Friday and Saturday. Philadelphia has had two snowstorms exceeding 23" this winter. According to the National Climatic Data Center, the return period for a 22+ inch snow storm is once every 100 years--and we've had two 100-year snow storms in Philadelphia this winter. It is true that if the winter pattern of jet stream location, sea surface temperatures, etc, are suitable for a 100-year storm to form, that will increase the chances for a second such storm to occur that same year, and thus the odds have having two 100-year storms the same year are not 1 in 10,000. Still, the two huge snowstorms this winter in the Mid-Atlantic are definitely a very rare event one should see only once every few hundred years, and is something that has not occurred since modern records began in 1870. The situation is similar for Baltimore and Washington D.C. According to the National Climatic Data Center, the expected return period in the Washington D.C./Baltimore region for snowstorms with more than 16 inches of snow is about once every 25 years. This one-two punch of two major Nor'easters in one winter with 16+ inches of snow is unprecedented in the historical record for the region, which goes back to the late 1800s.

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Global warming skeptics regularly have a field day whenever a record snow storm pounds the U.S., claiming that such events are inconsistent with a globe that is warming. If the globe is warming, there should, on average, be fewer days when it snows, and thus fewer snow storms. However, it is possible that if climate change is simultaneously causing an increase in ratio of snowstorms with very heavy snow to storms with ordinary amounts of snow, we could actually see an increase in very heavy snowstorms in some portions of the world. There is evidence that this is happening for winter storms in the Northeast U.S.--the mighty Nor'easters like the "Snowmageddon" storm of February 5-6 and "Snowpocalypse" of December 19, 2009. Let's take a look at the evidence. There are two requirements for a record snow storm:

1) A near-record amount of moisture in the air (or a very slow moving storm).
2) Temperatures cold enough for snow.

It's not hard at all to get temperatures cold enough for snow in a world experiencing global warming. According to the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, the globe warmed 0.74°C (1.3°F) over the past 100 years. There will still be colder than average winters in a world that is experiencing warming, with plenty of opportunities for snow. The more difficult ingredient for producing a record snowstorm is the requirement of near-record levels of moisture. Global warming theory predicts that global precipitation will increase, and that heavy precipitation events--the ones most likely to cause flash flooding--will also increase. This occurs because as the climate warms, evaporation of moisture from the oceans increases, resulting in more water vapor in the air. According to the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, water vapor in the global atmosphere has increased by about 5% over the 20th century, and 4% since 1970. This extra moisture in the air will tend to produce heavier snowstorms, assuming it is cold enough to snow.

In fact, this was predicted years ago.Global warming skeptics regularly have a field day whenever a record snow storm pounds the U.S., claiming that such events are inconsistent with a globe that is warming. If the globe is warming, there should, on average, be fewer days when it snows, and thus fewer snow storms. However, it is possible that if climate change is simultaneously causing an increase in ratio of snowstorms with very heavy snow to storms with ordinary amounts of snow, we could actually see an increase in very heavy snowstorms in some portions of the world. There is evidence that this is happening for winter storms in the Northeast U.S.--the mighty Nor'easters like the "Snowmageddon" storm of February 5-6 and "Snowpocalypse" of December 19, 2009. Let's take a look at the evidence. There are two requirements for a record snow storm:

1) A near-record amount of moisture in the air (or a very slow moving storm).
2) Temperatures cold enough for snow.

It's not hard at all to get temperatures cold enough for snow in a world experiencing global warming. According to the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, the globe warmed 0.74°C (1.3°F) over the past 100 years. There will still be colder than average winters in a world that is experiencing warming, with plenty of opportunities for snow. The more difficult ingredient for producing a record snowstorm is the requirement of near-record levels of moisture. Global warming theory predicts that global precipitation will increase, and that heavy precipitation events--the ones most likely to cause flash flooding--will also increase. This occurs because as the climate warms, evaporation of moisture from the oceans increases, resulting in more water vapor in the air. According to the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, water vapor in the global atmosphere has increased by about 5% over the 20th century, and 4% since 1970. This extra moisture in the air will tend to produce heavier snowstorms, assuming it is cold enough to snow.

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Friday, February 05, 2010

GOP's Shelby blocks Dem nominees

updated 2:46 p.m. ET, Fri., Feb. 5, 2010

WASHINGTON - Democrats are criticizing a Republican senator from Alabama for blocking every one of the president's nominees over spending disputes involving his state.

Sen. Richard Shelby has placed a "hold" on every nomination, which delays the Senate from acting on them. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs on Friday called the tactic a "poster child" for what's broken in Washington and said the senator is preventing qualified nominees from serving in important government positions.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Shelby's move is holding up about 70 appointments, including a critical top Defense Department position overseeing deployments to the war in Afghanistan.

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Senators frequently block individual appointments, but Shelby's blanket hold is unusual. His spokesman issued a statement about the holds Friday, citing concerns about a contract for an Air Force refueling tanker that could be built in Alabama and a new FBI explosives center that Shelby wants built there. Shelby argues the projects are critical national security priorities.

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Thursday, February 04, 2010

Eco-Friendly Way of Decomposing BPA-Containing Plastic

ScienceDaily (Feb. 3, 2010) — Just as cooking helps people digest food, pretreating polycarbonate plastic -- source of a huge environmental headache because of its bisphenol A (BPA) content -- may be the key to disposing of the waste in an eco-friendly way, scientists have found. Their new study is in ACS' Biomacromolecules.

Mukesh Doble and Trishul Artham note that manufacturers produce about 2.7 million tons of plastic containing BPA each year. Polycarbonate is an extremely recalcitrant plastic, used in everything from screwdriver handles to eyeglass lenses, DVDs, and CDs. Some studies have suggested that the BPA may have a range of adverse health effects, sparking the search for an environmentally safe way of disposing of waste plastic to avoid release of BPA.

The scientists pretreated polycarbonate with ultraviolet light and heat and exposed it to three kinds of fungi -- including the fabled white-rot fungus, used commercially for environmental remediation of the toughest pollutants. The scientists found that fungi grew better on pretreated plastic, using its BPA and other ingredients as a source of energy and breaking down the plastic. After 12 months, there was almost no decomposition of the untreated plastic, compared to substantial decomposition of the pretreated plastic, with no release of BPA.


Positive Example Leads to Altruistic Behavior

ScienceDaily (Feb. 4, 2010) — Seeing someone perform a virtuous deed (especially if they are helping another person), makes us feel good, often eliciting a warm, fuzzy feeling in our chest. This positive, uplifting emotion, known as "elevation," might make us feel great, but is it enough to get us to go out and perform good acts ourselves? According to new findings reported in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, the answer may be yes.

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Mother's Exposure to Bisphenol A May Increase Children's Chances of Asthma

Usually, I would not put this in my blog, because the study only involves mice, and human studies have not yet been done. But this chemical has already been linked to so many health problems, I felt it was important enough to report on, esp. because it may affect children.

ScienceDaily (Feb. 4, 2010) — For years, scientists have warned of the possible negative health effects of bisphenol A, a chemical used to make everything from plastic water bottles and food packaging to sunglasses and CDs. Studies have linked BPA exposure to reproductive disorders, obesity, abnormal brain development as well as breast and prostate cancers, and in January the Food and Drug Administration announced that it was concerned about "the potential effects of BPA on the brain, behavior and prostate gland of fetuses, infants and young children."

Now, mouse experiments by University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston researchers have produced evidence that a mother's exposure to BPA may also increase the odds that her children will develop asthma. Using a well-established mouse model for asthma, the investigators found that the offspring of female mice exposed to BPA showed significant signs of the disorder, unlike those of mice shielded from BPA.

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The UTMB researchers said that although more work is needed to determine the precise mechanism of that response, it almost certainly has its roots in the property of BPA thought to contribute to other health problems: its status as an "environmental estrogen." Environmental estrogens are natural or artificial chemicals from outside the body that when consumed mimic the hormone estrogen, activating its powerful biochemical signaling networks in often dangerous ways. In a 2007 Environmental Health Perspectives paper, for example, Midoro-Horiuti, Goldblum and UTMB professor and current study co-author Cheryl Watson described how adding small amounts of environmental estrogens into cultures of human and mouse mast cells -- common immune cells packed with allergic response-inducing chemicals such as histamine -- produced a sudden release of allergy-promoting substances.

"Our results show that we have to consider the possible impact of environmental estrogens on normal immune development and on the development and morbidity of immunologic diseases such as asthma," Midoro-Horiuti said. "We also need to look at doing more epidemiological studies directly in humans, which is possible because BPA is so prevalent in the environment -- all of us are already loaded with it to a varying extent. For example, it should be possible to determine if children who have more BPA exposure are more likely to develop asthma."


Use of Acetaminophen in Pregnancy Associated With Increased Asthma Symptoms in Children

ScienceDaily (Feb. 4, 2010) — Children who were exposed to acetaminophen prenatally were more likely to have asthma symptoms at age five in a study of 300 African-American and Dominican Republic children living in New York City. Building on prior research showing an association between both prenatal and postnatal acetaminophen and asthma, this is the first study to demonstrate a direct link between asthma and an ability to detoxify foreign substances in the body. The findings were published this week in the journal Thorax.

The study, conducted by the Columbia Center for Children's Environmental Health at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, found that the relationship was stronger in children with a variant of a gene, glutathione S transferase, involved in detoxification of foreign substances. The variant is common among African-American and Hispanic populations. The results suggest that less efficient detoxification is a mechanism in the association between acetaminophen and asthma

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Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Forests Are Growing Faster

Forests Are Growing Faster, Ecologists Discover; Climate Change Appears to Be Driving Accelerated Growth

ScienceDaily (Feb. 2, 2010) — Speed is not a word typically associated with trees; they can take centuries to grow. However, a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has found evidence that forests in the Eastern United States are growing faster than they have in the past 225 years. The study offers a rare look at how an ecosystem is responding to climate change.

For more than 20 years forest ecologist Geoffrey Parker has tracked the growth of 55 stands of mixed hardwood forest plots in Maryland. The plots range in size, and some are as large as 2 acres. Parker's research is based at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, 26 miles east of the nation's capital.

Parker's tree censuses have revealed that the forest is packing on weight at a much faster rate than expected. He and Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute postdoctoral fellow Sean McMahon discovered that, on average, the forest is growing an additional 2 tons per acre annually. That is the equivalent of a tree with a diameter of 2 feet sprouting up over a year.

Forests and their soils store the majority of the Earth's terrestrial carbon stock. Small changes in their growth rate can have significant ramifications in weather patterns, nutrient cycles, climate change and biodiversity. Exactly how these systems will be affected remains to be studied.

Parker and McMahon's paper focuses on the drivers of the accelerated tree growth. The chief culprit appears to be climate change, more specifically, the rising levels of atmospheric CO2, higher temperatures and longer growing seasons.

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During the past 22 years CO2 levels at SERC have risen 12%, the mean temperature has increased by nearly three-tenths of a degree and the growing season has lengthened by 7.8 days. The trees now have more CO2 and an extra week to put on weight. Parker and McMahon suggest that a combination of these three factors has caused the forest's accelerated biomass gain.

Ecosystem responses are one of the major uncertainties in predicting the effects of climate change.

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