Wednesday, May 31, 2006

'Rhythm Method' May Kill Off More Embryos Than Other Methods Of Contraception

Professor Bovens says the rhythm method of birth control may owe much of its success to the fact that embryos conceived on the fringes of the fertile period are less viable than those conceived towards the middle. Professor Bovens calculates that two to three embryos will have died every time the rhythm method results in a pregnancy. It will be interesting to see if this affects the extreme fringe of the so-called "right-to-lifers." My own experience with having conversations with them is that their real motivation to opposing contraception and abortion, even for a clump of a half-dozen cells, is that they consider pregnancy a fitting punishment for people having sex, more than any caring about the welfare of the potential baby.

global warming leading to more earthquakes?

I made a tentative prediction on 10/22/2005 that global warming might cause increased earthquakes, and least in some places, because of melting of glaciers releasing pressure on earthquake zones. I also made comments about this subject on 03/23/2006. At least two geophysicists (Jeanne Sauber with NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and Bruce Molnia with the US Geological Survey in Reston, Va.) are predicting this. They point out that it has happened in the past. For example, earthquake action picked up in places where the ice masses retreated some 10,000 years ago, Dr. Sauber notes.

dinosaur die-off, chicken or egg

There is an argument among some scientists about what caused the climate changes 65 million years ago that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs. Some believe it was due to an asteroid impact. Others blame it on massive volcanic action. Both have been shown to have occured at that time. It seems to me an obvious possibility that an asteroid impact could have triggered these massive lava flows, but I haven't seen this possibility discussed.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Too much of a good thing

The oil industry is running ads with the slogan “Carbon dioxide: they call it pollution; we call it life.” Unfortunately, our citizens are so poorly educated in science, and so well-trained to not think, that many people will probably be taken in by these ads. Presumbably, they were market-tested and found to be effective before being released.

Of course, carbon dioxide (CO2) is essential for life; w/o it our world would be an ice cube. However, a substance or activity in small or moderate quantities can be harmful or fatal in larger quantities. Eg., fat-soluble vitamins A and D. In fact, polar bear liver contains so much vitamin A, it is toxic.
Small amounts of arsenic have been shown to be necessary for the health of at least some animals. That doesn't keep it from being a poison and carcinogen at more than trace amounts.
Of course, if our citizens had a minimum of scienctific understanding, they would see the silliness of these ads. CO2 is a waste product for animals. Too high a concentration kills us by crowding out oxygen. We aren't likely to be in danger from that. The big problem is that we are increasing the amounts of greenhouse gases too quickly for much of nature, of which we are a part, and on which we are dependent, to adapt.
I have been feeling for awhile that the leaders of Mobile-Exxon, who fund many or most campaigns to resist dealing with the threat of increasing greenhouse gases, are sociopaths (the modern term for psycopaths), and now am really convinced.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Poor reasoning by jury

This is not very recent, but it has always troubled me, and the problem it presents has not disappeared.

Scott Peterson is the man who was found guilty of killing his pregnant wife, and sentenced to death, on the basis of circumstantial evidence. I would guess he probably did it. But it seems to me that when there is only circumstantial evidence, the death penalty is not appropriate. Especially troubling is the reason some jurors gave for deciding on the death penalty in this case.

Three jurors spoke at length in an emotional news conference after issuing the verdict, saying Peterson's own lack of visible emotion during the trial helped convince them it was the correct decision.
"A big part of it was at the end, the verdict -- no emotion, no anything. That spoke a thousand words," juror Richelle Nice said. Three jurors spoke at length in an emotional news conference after issuing the verdict, saying Peterson's own lack of visible emotion during the trial helped convince them it was the correct decision. (Full story)
"It just seemed to be the appropriate justice for the crime, given the nature and how personal it really was, against his wife and his child," said jury foreman Steve Cardosi.
"A big part of it was at the end, the verdict -- no emotion, no anything. That spoke a thousand words," juror Richelle Nice said.

I have seen similar comments reported in other trials, sometimes in regards to people who were retarded or psychotic.
This makes no sense to me. Children, especially boys, in our culture are often taught not to express emotion. I have often seen little boys who have been hurt being told to be a man, not to cry. I saw a baby girl, old enough to crawl, but not even yet a toddler, whose when the mother was leaving, and the baby started to show unhappiness, the mother scolded her and insisted she smile. I felt so sorry for the baby. I myself remember one time when I was feeling really miserable, people kept telling how good I looked! I have seen a study that found that some women who insist they are never unhappy, and who give the appearance of being happy, have high levels of stress hormones, and increased risk of death. The researchers felt the women had learned to suppress their awareness of negative emotion so they were not consciously aware of it, but it still had negative physical effects. I have had this happen myself. But someone smart enough to serve on a jury, which decides the fate of other people's lives, should know that you can't necessarily tell how a person is feeling by their outward appearance. Unfortunately, it's not the only cases that makes one wonder about the competency of the jurors.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

The American Idol auditions remind me of research I saw a few years ago that found that people often thought they were good in areas in which they were not. (Not a unique finding). The researchers noted that the reason was that, usually, the same qualities that are needed to do something well are also the qualities needed to judge whether a task was done well. Eg., in the case of American Idol, if someone is tone deaf. (Obviously this is not an absolute rule. A person could be not very good at sports, but be a good coach, including a good judge of how good a player is). In fact, people who are very good at something often did not value their gift because it came so easy to them, that it didn't seem anything special. When I asked someone at the start of the current A. Idol season if they were going to watch the audition show that night, they said no, they didn't think it was funny to see people being made unhappy. In general, I myself feel that way. But I think the reason I react differently to A. Idol is that the producers choose to show the people who are obviously narcissistic, and react with the typical narcissistic rage, and insisting that they are great. If they showed a lot of nice people who were just tone deaf, and were crushed by not getting into the show, that would not be funny. The singing is so pitiful, it is hilarious. And I'm not as nice a person as my co-worker. I kind of wish I were, except that since there are people who will take advantage of others with no qualms, we need people who will oppose them, which is the category I feel I am in. I would prefer to live in a world where everybody was nice, but that is not the way it is.

Polite drivers would be faster

"If All Drivers Were Polite, They Would Get Where They're Going Faster"
Included in the article is the point that letting people merge helps traffic flow, if you don't have to slow down to much, because the person merging is able to enter traffic at a higher speed. Shouldn't be surprising, but I've actually seen AJC vents criticizing mergers who slow way down before merging. Well, since people on Atlanta highways usually tail gate and try to keep people from merging in front of them, what do they expect the merger to do if they can't get into traffic right away?
Now, this is not inevitable human nature. People learn to be more or less competitive from their culture. Eg., driving in Atlanta, Georgia is vastly different from driving in Birmingham, Alabama. In Birmingham, it is the norm for drivers to let in other people who need to merge or change lanes. I don't know how to change Atlanta culture, but maybe somebody else can figure it out. That would solve a lot of problems that people complain about in other drivers (such as me) who are reacting to the prevailing conditions. Eg., in Atlanta, if I'm going to have to make a left turn, I get in the left lane way before my turn, in order to make sure I can make my turn. When I first moved here, I missed several left turns because people wouldn't let me over. If people were more polite, I would wait until I was closer to my turn to move into the left lane.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

cloning people?

There is a lot of concern about the possibility of closing people. No doubt, the kind of people who are a negative force in the world, such as Rush Limbaugh, would clone themselves if they could. But I am undecided whether I think it should be banned. All new technology has unexpected consequences, usually or almost always including negative consequences. But I have to say there are some people I would like to see cloned. Eg., Leonardo Da Vinci. Considering the things he was able to invent that would have worked if technology had been advanced enough, I would love to see what he could do today. I would like to see some composers cloned, esp. those whose died young, such as Mozart. I would like to have been able to clone my favorite cat!
There may be good arguments against cloning people, but the one about it depriving people of individuality is nonsense. Being a clone would not automatically deprive people of their own identity. Identical twins are clones. The five Dionne quintuplets were identical, thus clones, but each was an individual. Some chromosomes are randomly turned off and on in different cells of the body, esp. the X chromosome. The problem I would see in this regard is that I would expect that narcissistic people and power freaks would especially be attracted to cloning, seeing the children as an extensions of themselves, and being even less likely to allow the children to be themselves than with there regular children.

It's conceivable that it might be a good thing to have the capability, in case it would be helpful at some time. Eg., we might someday be in the position of the human race being decimated by some disease, and find the only person who is resistant to it is not fertile. I think that is highly unlikely, but it is also not impossible.

In regards to the recent research on the possibility of greatly increased life spans, the ability to find out what happens to humans and the rest of the world in the future is one of the big reasons I find the possibility of a greatly increased life span appealing.

special treatment for Limbaugh?

Rush Limbaugh has acknowledged abusing prescription drugs.
“Drug use, some might say, is destroying this country. And we have laws against selling drugs, pushing drugs, using drugs, importing drugs. ... And so if people are violating the law by doing drugs, they ought to be accused and they ought to be convicted and they ought to be sent up,” Limbaugh said on his television show on Oct. 5, 1995. During the same show, he commented that statistics that show blacks go to prison more often than whites for the same drug offenses only illustrate that “too many whites are getting away with drug use.”
So what happens when he, a millionaire makes his living by telling lies, is caught abusing drugs? He spent no time in jail. If he remains free of drugs for at least 18 more months (or at least is not caught using drugs), his criminal record will be erased.
I would like to see somebody investigate whether this judge shows such mercy to poor people. Our prisons are full of people whose only crime is non-violent drug offenses. When they get out, their record is not erased, making it hard to get a job. In some states, such as Georgia, their right to vote is permanently lost, unless they can get a waiver.
I would have liked to this wimp get at least 3 months in jail, so he could experience the reality of what it's really like.

Monday, May 22, 2006

longer life

Researchers are looking for ways to extend our healthy life spans. I know I would like to have more time to do such things as music. However, how will we support ourselves? It's easy to say we can change careers, but will employers hire a 60-year old with a new degree, but no experience in the new field? If we have to spend 100 years working and going to school, with little time for what we want to do, what's the use of that?

Gregory Stock, director of the Program on Medicine, Technology and Society at UCLA’s School of Public Health, says a doubled lifespan would "give us a chance to recover from our mistakes, lead us toward longer-term thinking...".
Since people are so resisting to changing opinions once they are formed, I'm afraid I am not that optimistic.

Friday, May 19, 2006

illegal immigration is not a capital offense

Federal authorities shot and killed the driver of a sport utility vehicle headed for Mexico Thursday after somebody reported seeing it pick up suspected illegal immigrants near the U.S. side of the Otay Mesa border crossing.
What in the world is going on here? I have some problems with the enormous numbers of Mexicans moving to the U.S., but illegal immigration certainly shouldn't be a capital offense. And this car was headed toward Mexico.

I notice that the accident that ended the career of a racehorse has been followed closely by the news media. I like animals, and I am interested in how this turns out. However, it seems like the press is giving more attention to this than to the killing (I would say murder) of someone because he he was suspected of transporting illegal immigrants.

lousy U.S. textbooks

This is an article on the poor state of textbooks, caused by the need for textbook publishers to satisfy politically oriented school boards.
Examples are easy to find. I explained to a young man that when oil is hydrogenated, it means that hydrogen atoms are added to the oil molecules. He insisted there was no change to the makeup of the fat, that hydrogenation was appled to the outside of the canned oil. Presumbably being cold, and thereby causing it to solidify from the low temperature. I tried to point out that if that were the case, the oil would return to liquid form at room temperature, but he was sure I was wrong. He appeared to be in his late teens, possibly early 20's, and he was about to go to some kind of science fiction event.
I also met several people said that they couldn't eat food cooked with solid vegetable shortening, because it was good for their hearts, but that they could eat all the beef they wanted, that it was not harmful.

No wonder the citizens of our country are overweight and unhealthy.

short-term vs long-term

In this article on hermaphodite nematodes, University of Maryland biology professor Eric Haag notes that "Over the years, there have been numerous species of nematodes that have become hermaphrodites. They can survive for millions of years, but eventually they go extinct. Meanwhile, the old-school male/female species seem to stick around long-term."
I guess to most of us, the idea of "millions of years" being short-term is kind of mind-boggling. But anyway, this is an example of how characteristics that may be beneficial in the short-term may be harmful, even fatal, in the long-term. Human nature may turn out to be an example. I sure hope not.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

help a soldier

See this web site ways to support our troops whose lives are in danger

Why punish victims

66% of Saudi women are obese or fat. They are restricted from exercising by Muslim fundamentalist. A writer named Muhammad al-Habdan distributes booklets that warns against such things as girls taking PE in schools and women going to fitness clubs. He writes : "There is no faster way to corrupt nations than the emancipation of women — that is getting her out on the street to entice men and ruin their morals."

Since men are so easily enticed and lacking in self-discipline, they are the ones who should be locked up and isolated from society, so that they can avoid temptation.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Why not return of income averaging

With all of the tax cuts for the ultra-rich, it would be nice to see a return of one that Reagan did away with, that can be really helpful to the middle-class : income averaging. Income averaging taxes on the average for a certain period of years, eg., 5 years. So if your income greatly increases or decreases, you have the option of calculating your average income for the last five years, and recalculating the taxes that would have been owed. If you would pay less tax by income averaging, you have the option to choose to do so.
For example, if you earned $10,000 for four years, then earned $35,000 , the average income for each year would be $15,000.
(These hypothetical tax rates are made up on the spur of the moment; they are only to show the mechanics of the calculations).
If the tax rate on $10,000 is zero, and the tax rate on $35,000 is 15%, the total taxes for the five years without income averaging would be 0.15*35,000 = $5250.
If the tax rate on $15,000 is 5% (which is 0.05), then with income averaging, the taxes for the five years would be 0.05*15,000*5 = $3750. So there would be a savings of $5250 - 3750 = $1500. In this example, if the tax rate on $15,000 was 7% or greater, you would be better off not doing income averaging.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

biofuels, other aspects

There is increasing interest in biofuels, created from organic matter.
There was a discussion of them on NPR this morning, which was interesting, but showed the usefulness of having a variety of inputs. The report was totally positive. I do think it is a largely positive development. But there are other aspects. NPR referred to the remains of crops in fields that would otherwise be burned or left to rot. Well, if they were going to be burned, going directly to greenhouse gas and particular air pollution, converting them to biofuels would certainly be a positive thing. But people who are into gardening or farming could have pointed out that when organic matter rots, in returns nutrients to the soil that have been taken out, enriching it, and improving the quality. In fact, this is how topsoil is created. We are losing large amount of topsoil every year. The program stated that burning biofuels would not affect the amount of greenhouse gases, that it would simply be returning to the atmosphere material (mostly carbon dioxide) that had recently been removed by plants using the energy of the sun. However, if left to decay naturally, much of the carbon would be taken up by new plant growth, and so not get into the air right away. Also, a certain amount would remain in the soil for some amount of time. Since most of the carbon might end up eventually as carbon dioxide in an agricultural setting, then to the extent that biofuels replace a like amount of fossil fuels, we would still have a some increase in greenhouse gases, but perhaps much less than relying solely on fossil fuels.

Another aspect is shown by the discovery a few months ago of a new mammal species. Scientists are concerned that it may become extinct before they can study it because the jungle is being cut down to plant palm trees from which to harvest oil to make biofuel. It would be unfortunate if in an effort to help the environment in one way by switching to biofuels, we hurt it in another way by encouraging the cutting down of forests and jungles.

We could cut back on our use fuel immediately with little effort. For example, we can turn off lights when we are not using them. I turn off the lights at my desk, as well as a nearby conference room and two printer rooms before I go home from work. We can keep our speed down and avoid quick starts and stops. We can buy fuel efficient cars, and energy efficient appliances. We can turn off the water while brushing our teeth. Etc. With 300 million people in the U.S., small actions add up.

Friday, May 12, 2006

desparate recruiters

Recruiters in Portland, Ore. signed up an 18-year old autistic man for the army.

More problems with Diebold voting machines?

Officials in Pennsylvania and California have issued urgent directives in recent days about a potential security risk in Diebold Election System touch-screen voting machines. Computer scientists said the problem might allow someone to tamper with a machine's software. The owner of Diebold is a fervent Republican.

Contestants for dumbest crooks

Four young males thought to be involved in six Minneapolis burglaries left a video camera with a tape of themselves in a stolen car.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Results of lack of birth control

In Romania, there are horrifying conditions for children abandoned by parents who can't afford to care for them. The government has not provided adequate funding for their care. A good conservative government, I guess, saving the taxpayers money.

Chinese age bank

What a neat idea. In a city in China, volunteers who help the elderly get credits for help when they are elderly.

It wouldn't work very well here, though, with people moving so much.

Health care costs

Private insurers like Aetna pay 80 cents of every dollar for health care, while the rest goes for overhead, including executive salaries and the lobbying efforts in Congress.
Medicare pays 98 percent of what it collects for health care.

More tax cuts for the super-rich

The House passed today, and the Senate is expected to pass Thursday, Pres. Bush's tax cut bill. Middle-income households are expected to get an average tax cut of $20. But 0.02 percent of households (2 out of 10,000) will receive average tax cuts of $42,000.

At the same time, the national debt is baloonning, putting Social Security and Medicare at risk.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Poor having more unwanted pregnancies
Poor women in the U.S. are having more unwanted pregnancies. State and federal programs have increasingly focused on abstinence rather than contraception. Many social conservatives say woman should refrain from sexual intercourse until she is ready to have a child. So it's not enough to be poor and unable to afford many kinds of entertainment or activities, and stressed out because you don't have enough money for your expenses. Poor women are supposed to give up sex, unless they are ready to have a child.

Poor people are human beings. They have a need for closeness with a romantic partner. They have normal physical urges, which have to be strong enough, in enough people, to ensure that people procreate, or else the human race would die out.

Over the years, I have observed that conservatives seem to consider poor people as machines, here to serve the better-off. At the same time they criticize poor people for not being superior to those better off. Eg., they shouldn't spend money to buy a TV. Well, they can't afford to go to the movies, unless they live close enough to walk to a $.99 second-run theater, or can take the bus there. They can't afford to go to concerts or to travel. It seems they should spend their free time staring at the walls. Oh, I forgot. Conservatives don't think they should have free time. They should be working two jobs. The actuality is that even if a person is capable of working two jobs while staying healthty, and doesn't have any children or elderly who need care, many low-wage jobs have erratic hours. The workers find out by looking at the schedule whether they are supposed to work the next day, and what time. If they don't come, they may be fired or suspended. Besides, they are living beings. It is wrong to expect them to live in misery, in order to make others more comfortable.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Fill 'er up with Day-gas

The AJC this past weekend had a small column about a series of comments in the Vent section.
It started with the charming claim : "My grandson is more beautiful than a Degas pastel."
It culminated with the comment : "It takes so much Monet to buy Degas to make da van Gogh, one fill-up and you're baroque.

Americans sicker than British

A recent study shows that white, middle-aged Americans are much sicker (on average) than their counterparts in Britain.
Although researchers included as possible factors more stress in the U.S. from job insecurity, longer hours on the job, and fewer vacation days, not mentioned was the amount of sleep citizens get in each country. It would not be unexpected that the longer hours and more days of work in the U.S. are resulting in less sleep. Previous studies have shown that the average U.S. citizen does not get enough sleep. Since insufficient sleep lowers the immune system, increases the likelihood of obesity because of effects on hormones (a non-instinctive result), and increases the risk of death from all causes, if we get less sleep than the British, that should explain part of the difference.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Pesticides in cotton

Bt (Biotech) cotton has been genetically engineered to contain Bt toxin, a naturally occuring insecticide. The good news is that farmers need fewer chemical insecticides, and insect diversity is not affected, when compared with conventional cotton. I noticed that although evaluations included uncultivated fields beside the cotton fields, this article did not mention how the uncultivated fields compared with the cotton fields in terms of biodiversity.
A factor of concern is the effect of the Bt or other insecticides on humans. In the past, cotton has not been subjected to the same restraints on the use of pesticides as food crops, despite the fact that cottonseed oil is widely used in processed foods. Many pesticides are fat-soluble. Since the current administration has repeatedly decreased standards for public health in favor of business profits, I doubt that this has changed for the better.

Another aspect not mentioned in this article is that insects have been evolving resistance to pesticides. Bt is unlikely to be an exception. Breeding it into cotton seems likely to hasten the development of resistance.

Also ignored is the likelyhood that the Bt cotton will interbreed with other wild and domesticated crops. Since it confers protection to some insects, I would expect the spread of the Bt genes to spread rapidly in plants, at least until insets gain resistance. This should result in resistance developing even more quickly.

If the Bt genes do spread to other plants, what will be the effects on human and animal health?

Motivation to change job

One of the Austrlians trapped in a mine has resigned since being underground, and asked for a newspaper to look for a new job.
Can't blame him.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Daylight Saving Time

I don't know anybody who likes daylight savings time (DST). But it has been coming earlier and ending later for several years. In fact, it has been decreed that next year it will begin 3 weeks earlier, and will end later. The excuse is saving energy. Now, I care deeply about our environment, upon which our very lives depend, as well as the economy. But I am not persuaded that DST helps us in that respect. What are the effects.
1) People are likely to stay up later, getting even less sleep.
2) More people will be driving home from work in the heat of the day, with all there individual car air conditioners on, lowering gas milage, and increasing smog levels.
3) This is the one I suspect is the real reason for this increase in DST.People will be more likely to go to the store and recreational aread and spend money.

Now, this is supposed to be a democracy, but we have never been offered a chance to vote on this matter. Looking at how our leaders have been delaying and blocking solutions to our environmental problems for the sake of profits for big business, it is ludicrous to believe them when they say DST is for the good of the environment.

Claims about capital gains

The Bush administration cut capital gains taxes. The excuse is that the cuts will supposedly make people more likely to invest in companies, which will be good for the economy. This argument was mentioned this morning on NPR. What supporters ignore is that most people who buy stock do not buy them from the company. They buy stock from other individuals. The stock was probably issued by the company years ago. So you're not helping the company any by buying its stock. However, you might be helping the company officers who have large stock options.