Saturday, February 28, 2009

Why aren't we being leaders?

Published: February 14, 2009
New Delhi
So I am attending the Energy and Resources Institute climate conference in New Delhi, and during the afternoon session two young American women — along with one of their mothers — proposition me.

“Hey, Mr. Friedman,” they say, “would you like to take a little spin around New Delhi in our car?”

Oh, I say, I’ve heard that line before. Ah, they say, but you haven’t seen this car before. It’s a plug-in electric car that is also powered by rooftop solar panels — and the two young women, recent Yale grads, had just driven it all over India in a “climate caravan” to highlight the solutions to global warming being developed by Indian companies, communities, campuses and innovators, as well as to inspire others to take action.

They ask me if I want to drive, but I have visions of being stopped by the cops and ending up in a New Delhi jail. Not to worry, they tell me. Indian cops have been stopping them all across India. First, they ask to see driver’s licenses, then they inquire about how the green car’s solar roof manages to provide 10 percent of its mileage — and then they try to buy the car.

We head off down Panchsheel Marg, one of New Delhi’s main streets. The ladies want to show me something. The U.S. Embassy and the Chinese Embassy are both located on Panchsheel, directly across from each other. They asked me to check out the rooftops of each embassy. What do I notice? Let’s see ... The U.S. Embassy’s roof is loaded with antennae and listening gear. The Chinese Embassy’s roof is loaded with ... new Chinese-made solar hot-water heaters.

People Are Consistently Overly Optimistic When Asked To Predict Their Own Future Behavior

No surprise here. When I was having to make estimates for how long it would take to finish writing, testing, and documenting a program for a government contract, I multiplied my first estimate by 3, because I had learned from experience that it usually took me about three times as long as I thought it would. So I usuall met my estimates. But it seemed that most people could learn from their own experience, but would always underestimate. This study gives a technique that might be able to get more accurate estimates.

ScienceDaily (Feb. 26, 2009) — The next time a contractor tells you the kitchen remodeling will be done in six weeks, you might ask him to get real and reconsider his estimate.

People often fail to remember that the world is not ideal when they predict when they will complete a project, how frequently they will exercise, or how much money they will save. However, a subtle reminder of the difference between ideal and realistic predictions can yield a more accurate estimate, according to new research from Duke University's Fuqua School of Business and the Wisconsin School of Business.

In a series of experiments, Duke Marketing Professor Kurt Carlson and Professor Robin J. Tanner of Wisconsin found that people were consistently overly optimistic when asked to predict their own future behavior.
Carlson and Tanner found that unrealistic expectations could be overcome by asking people to make two sets of predictions: when they would complete a task "in an ideal world," followed by a straightforward prediction of when they might actually complete the task. Participants who answered both questions reported inflated intentions in the ideal-world scenario, but significantly more realistic predictions in response to the second question.
"By asking people how they would perform in an ideal world, and following up by asking how they would perform without reference to the ideal world, we get people to think about the factors that can impede their performance," Tanner said. "It's a way of helping people heed the many factors that can keep them from behaving as they would like to."

"We've known for a long time that people underestimate how long it will take to complete a project -- look at the Big Dig in Boston. What we have not known is how to fix the problem," Carlson said. "Now we do."

Friday, February 27, 2009

Why U.S. health costs are so high

I found out about this only because I happened to notice it in yesterday's Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC). When I did searched on &, I found them in the finance section, and that was because of the effect of the FDA complaint on the stock price.

Feds accuse Forest Labs of promotion kickbacks
Federal suit alleges drugmaker Forest Laboratories offered kickbacks for prescriptions
Wednesday February 25, 2009, 4:43 pm EST

BOSTON (AP) -- Drugmaker Forest Laboratories Inc. offered kickbacks to doctors for prescribing its antidepressants Celexa and Lexapro and pushed the drugs for unapproved use on children, according to a complaint filed Wednesday by federal prosecutors.

The New York-based drugmaker offered cash payments, expensive meals and entertainment to induce doctors and others to prescribe the drugs, the complaint said. It also accused Forest of promoting Celexa for pediatric use, even though a study showed it was no more effective than a placebo for children.

The allegations were contained in a suit the Department of Justice filed in federal court alleging Forest triggered thousands of fraudulent claims to federal health care programs like Medicaid.

Forest executive Frank Murdolo said he hasn't seen the complaint and could not comment on it. But he said it stemmed from a federal government investigation into his company's marketing practices that dates back to 2004.

The vice president of investor relations said Forest has disclosed this investigation in filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

"It's the formalization of that investigation, basically, but it's not new as far as a disclosure issue to the company," he said.

The complaint also said the Celexa study found that more patients taking the drug attempted suicide or reported suicidal thoughts than those taking the placebo. The Food and Drug Administration denied Forest's request to sell the drug for children, but that failed to dissuade the drugmaker.

"Over the course of more than half a decade, Forest illegally marketed two related antidepressant drugs, Celexa and Lexapro, for off-label use in pediatric patients when both drugs had been approved only for adult use," the complaint states.

Pharmaceutical companies are prohibited from promoting drugs for uses not approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Simple Retro Toys May Be Better For Children Than Fancy Electronic Toys

ScienceDaily (Nov. 26, 2007) — The recent recalls of various children’s toys have parents and would-be Santas leery this holiday season, but it may just be the thing to push consumers to be more creative about the toys they buy their young children.

“Old-fashioned retro toys, such as red rubber balls, simple building blocks, clay and crayons, that don’t cost so much and are usually hidden in the back shelves are usually much healthier for children than the electronic educational toys that have fancier boxes and cost $89.99,” says Temple University developmental psychologist Kathy Hirsh-Pasek.

The overarching principle is that children are creative problem-solvers; they’re discoverers; they’re active, says Hirsh-Pasek, the Lefkowitz Professor of Psychology at Temple and co-director of the Temple University Infant Lab. “Your child gets to build his or her imagination around these simpler toys; the toys don’t command what your child does, but your child commands what the toys do.”
Hirsh-Pasek and Golinkoff, co-authors of Einstein Never Used Flashcards, offer parents the following advice, guidelines, and questions to ask themselves when choosing the proper toys for their young children:

Look for a toy that is 10 percent toy and 90 percent child -- “A lot of these toys direct the play activity of our children by talking to them, singing to them, asking them to press buttons and levers,” Hirsh-Pasek says. “But our children like to figure out what is going on by themselves. I look for a toy that doesn’t command the child, but lets the child command it.”

* Toys are meant to be platforms for play -- “Toys should be props for a child’s playing, not engineering or directing the child’s play,” Golinkoff adds. “Toys must awaken the child’s imagination and uniqueness.”
* How much can you do with it? -- “If it’s a toy that asks your child to supply one thing, such as fill-in-the-blank or give one right answer, it is not allowing children to express their creativity,” says Hirsh-Pasek. “I look for something that they can take apart and remake or reassemble into something different, which builds their imagination. Toys like these give your child opportunities to ‘make their own worlds.’”
* Look to see if the toy promises brain growth -- “Look carefully at the pictures and promises on the box,” Hirsh-Pasek says. “If the toy is promising that your child is going to be smarter, it’s a red flag. If it is promising that your child is going to be bilingual or learn calculus by playing with it, the chances are high that this is not going to happen – even with a tremendous amount of parental intervention.”
* Does the toy encourage social interaction? -- “It is fine for your child to have alone time, but it is great for them to be with others,” says Golinkoff. “I always look to see if more than one child can play with the toy at the same time because that’s when kids learn the negotiation skills they need to be successful in life.”

“This advice is not about marketing, but about what we know from 30 years of child psychology about how children learn and how they grow,” says Hirsh-Pasek.

Golinkoff adds, “The irony is that the real educational toys are not the flashy gadgets and gismos with big promises, but the staples that have built creative thinkers for decades.”

Natural sounds are disappearing

One night last year, I heard birds singing around midnight. A few days later, I read that a lot of birds have started singing at night instead of during the day, because there is too much human noise for them to hear each other.

Defender of quiet places
Acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton says natural sounds are disappearing.
By Richard Mahler
from the February 27, 2009 edition

I checked in with Gordon Hempton the other day. The adventurer answered his cellphone while shoveling gravel outside his Washington State home. I was fortunate. Mr. Hempton is frequently off in the wilderness, recording pristine sounds of the natural world. You may have heard his soundtracks of rain forests dripping, surf crashing, streams burbling, frogs croaking, birds trilling, and so on. The self-described "sound tracker" is an activist in defense of Earth's ambience, which Hempton says is disappearing faster than it can be preserved. Why? We simply make too much noise.

"Quiet is going extinct," laments the acoustic ecologist, a fancy title for an expert on the environment of sound. In the background, I hear the grating of stones against metal.
..."Wherever there are lots of people, there's a lot of noise," he says. "Some cultures are louder than others. For instance, I've visited a few developing nations where the only acceptable volume on a boom box is all the way up."

Our conversation confirms my conclusion that the mechanical clamor of the Industrial Revolution and the electronic beep of the Information Age are conspiring to obliterate a balm of stillness that once soothed humankind. That's a tragic loss, in my estimation, because retreats into nature allowed our ancestors to maintain their equilibrium. I'm convinced that a walk in the woods or through a meadow helped keep them sane. This is where they developed the resilience to handle whatever personal challenge or crisis was at hand. Scientific studies confirm the capacity of "quiet alone time" to reduce stress, expand insight, and promote a sense of well-being.

Restorative time in the open air is when many of us touch the fullness of possibility, waking up to the cause and effect of our lives. Escaping what one poet called "the world of the made" opens doors to the yearning heart, the wisdom of intuition, the miracle of problem solving, and the truth of experience. On hikes near my home I reconnect to some of my strongest passions, fondest wishes, and happiest memories. Such reveries allow us, as Henry David Thoreau reported from Walden Pond, to "be completely true to ourselves."

Yet according to a study published last February, Americans are becoming increasingly disconnected from nature. Since the late 1980s, the percentage of our population hiking, camping, or visiting national parks and forests has fallen 1 percent annually. One consequence may be decreased societal interest in conservation.

Experts blame the trend on lives too crammed with activity to get away from it all. But nature's quiet is a healthy antidote. If we embrace the stillness and serenity of our natural world, we may willingly release some of the busy behaviors that imprison us indoors. Gordon Hempton calls such getaways "the think tank of the soul." Here we may find that less really is more, that a simpler life can be a richer one, and that the calming sounds of planet Earth are worth saving.

Restore Yourself

This song didn't turn out exactly as I thought when I started it. It had a mind of its own on where it wanted to go ;)

Restore Yourself
copyright 2008 Patricia M. Shannon
(can be sung to tune of "Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel")

Come walk among the trees awhile with me,
and listen to the birds which sing so sweet.
They do not spend their time in mowing lawns,
an action to which most of us are pawns.

Restore yourself by contact with the earth,
from whence we came and where we shall return.

The birds and beasts which live among the trees,
and meadows swaying lovely in the breeze,
they do not think the grass an enemy,
polluting air and ear with foul machine.

We were not made to sit all day on chairs,
in buildings made of cold concrete and steel,
and stare at writings on a monitor,
and talk with fingers to electron gods.

Come smell the earthy fragrance of the woods,
with sweet perfume of mint and wild rose;
cleanse your nostrils of the stink of Lysol spray,
which only brain-washed patsys can endure, much less enjoy.

One Tin Soldier - sung by three-year old girl

This is so sweet.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Vitamin B And Folic Acid May Reduce Risk Of Age-related Vision Loss

Note: Folic Acid is a B vitamin

ScienceDaily (Feb. 23, 2009) — Taking a combination of vitamins B6 and B12 and folic acid appears to decrease the risk of age-related macular degeneration in women, according to a report in the February 23 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a leading cause of vision loss in older Americans, according to background information in the article. Treatment options exist for those with severe cases of the disease, but the only known prevention method is to avoid smoking. Recent studies have drawn a connection between AMD and blood levels of homocysteine, an amino acid. High levels of homocysteine are associated with dysfunction of the blood vessel lining, whereas treatment with vitamin B6, vitamin B12 and folic acid appears to reduce homocysteine levels and may reverse this blood vessel dysfunction.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

FDA didn’t inspect syringe plant despite reports

More excellent results from the "do away with government regulation because business will self-regulate" crowd.

And I notice that this information was made available more than a year later, after the election last year. And it will be forgotten by the next election.

updated 6:17 p.m. ET, Wed., Feb. 25, 2009

RALEIGH, N.C. - A North Carolina syringe factory linked to hundreds of sicknesses and five deaths operated for almost two years without an inspection despite a series of complaints that its needles were dirty or filled with colored particles.

Court documents in the North Carolina case show the U.S. Food and Drug Administration only inspected the AM2PAT Inc. plant in December 2007 after an outbreak of illness was reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Federal investigators contend that the company was so consumed with maximizing profits that it shipped syringes filled with saline and the blood-thinner heparin from a dingy facility without ensuring they were sterile. Authorities are now searching for the Chicago-based company’s CEO Dushyant Patel, who was indicted last week. They believe he fled to his native India.

In 2007, before the outbreak of illness was traced back to the company’s syringes, the FDA received more than a dozen reports of problems with AM2PAT’s products. Some reported “orange specks” floating inside the unopened syringes, while others reported “yellow sediment” or “muddy brown” syringes filled with floating white specks.

22-month gap
FDA records show the agency first received complaints of particles in AM2PAT syringes in November 2005. FDA spokeswoman Siobhan DeLancey said the company was inspected in January 2006 but then wasn’t checked again until the December 2007 inspection: a gap of 22 months.

DeLancey did not have an immediate explanation for why the facility wasn’t inspected for so long. But inspections at AM2PAT were frequent by FDA standards. A Government Accountability Office report issued last year found the agency was more likely to inspect manufacturers like AM2PAT every five years.

“Typically a firm is inspected within two years,” DeLancey said. “They’d prefer to do them faster, but there’s always that resources issue that we have.”

The FDA declined this week to release its inspection reports detailing its January 2006 and December 2007 visits to the plant in Angier, about 20 miles south of Raleigh. DeLancey said those reports could be released through a Freedom of Information Act request, which is pending.
AM2PAT, which also sold products under the name Sierra Pre-Filled, produced syringes of heparin and saline, which are often used on already vulnerable patients during cancer treatments, kidney dialysis and other procedures. Along with five deaths, prosecutors say the tainted product sickened up to 300 people, with some of the illnesses resulting in spinal meningitis and permanent brain damage.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Cowley said a person who had the title of “microbiologist” at the company was a teenager who had dropped out of high school. Photographs that prosecutors introduced as evidence also show a “clean room” with a window fan patched with duct tape. Other photos show a rundown facility with paint chipping from the floor and syringes piled high on a table.

Drug Industry Controls Many Scientific Societies And Journals

ScienceDaily (Feb. 23, 2009) — A paper in the journal Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics by its editor Giovanni A. Fava deals with the issue of intellectual freedom in medical research.

This freedom may be endangered by several issues that are critically examined and several examples are quoted to support the statements. The drug industry has full control of many scientific societies, journals and clinical practice guidelines. Members of special interest groups act as editors, reviewers and consultants to medical journals, scientific meetings and non-profit research organizations, with the task of systematically preventing the dissemination of data which may be in conflict with their interest. Censorship may be the result of direct prevention of publication and dissemination of findings by the pharmaceutical company itself (displaying its power as an advertiser in medical journals, a supporter of meetings and the owner of the data).

"You will never find a certain type of article in a journal which has drug advertisements" Fava says.

Yet, there are more subtle forms of censorship. One has to do with setting a financial threshold for publishing research findings (free access journals). The issue is not open access to self-selected information, but discrimination of independent sources within information overload, Fava says.

Another subtle form of censorship is by counteracting published information with massive doses of propaganda (e.g., manipulated interpretation of clinical trials). Filtering information (selective perception), engineering opinions, using the public relations industry and marginalizing dissident cultures are the well-known modalities of action.

Yet, according to Fava, it is deliberate self-censorship which may yield the most dangerous effects. One way to address the problem has to do with the value that is represented by investigators who opted for not having any substantial conflicts of interest (i.e. being an employee of a private firm; being a regular consultant or in the board of directors of a firm; being a stockholder of a firm related to the field of research; owning a patent directly related to the published work).

The paper provides several suggestions for preserving intellectual freedom in medicine, based on research evidence which is available.

Journal reference:

1. Fava, G.A. Preserving Intellectual Freedom in Clinical Medicine. Psychother Psychosom, 2009;78:1-5

Adapted from materials provided by Journal of Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, via AlphaGalileo.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Lowering Your Cholesterol May Decrease Your Risk Of Cancer

ScienceDaily (Feb. 24, 2009) — Current research suggests that lowering cholesterol may block the growth of prostate tumors.

High cholesterol not only leads to atherosclerosis and heart disease, but may also contribute to cancer growth and progression. Prostate cancer is the most common non-skin cancer in the United States, affecting approximately 1 in 6 men. Prostate tumors accumulate high levels of cholesterol, and tumor incidence correlates with eating a high fat/high cholesterol diet "Western" diet. In addition, prostate tumor progression has been linked to serum cholesterol levels.

To examine the role of high cholesterol in prostate cancer, Dr. Keith Solomon and colleagues fed mice a high fat/high cholesterol "Western" diet. They found that high cholesterol levels promoted tumor growth and that Ezetimibe (Zetia™), which blocks the absorption of cholesterol from the intestine, could prevent this increased tumor growth. Ezetimibe also blocked a cholesterol-mediated increase in angiogenesis, the growth of new blood vessels required for tumor progression. These data suggest that reducing cholesterol levels may inhibit prostate cancer growth specifically by inhibiting tumor angiogenesis.

psychedelic looking bouncing fish is a new species, dubbed 'psychedilica'

ScienceDaily (Feb. 24, 2009) — "Psychedelica" seems the perfect name for a species of fish that is a wild swirl of tan and peach zebra stripes and behaves in ways contrary to its brethren. So says University of Washington's Ted Pietsch, who is the first to describe the new species in the scientific literature and thus the one to select the name.

Psychedelica is perhaps even more apt given the cockamamie way the fish swim, some with so little control they look intoxicated and should be cited for DUI.

Members of Histiophryne psychedelica, or H. psychedelica, don't so much swim as hop. Each time they strike the seafloor they use their fins to push off and they expel water from tiny gill openings on their sides to jettison themselves forward. With tails curled tightly to one side –which surely limits their ability to steer – they look like inflated rubber balls bouncing hither and thither.

While other frogfish and similar species are known to jettison themselves up off the bottom before they begin swimming, none have been observed hopping. It's just one of the behaviors of H. psychedelica never observed in any other fish, says Pietsch, UW professor of aquatic and fishery sciences and curator of fishes at the UW Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture.
Adults of H. psychedelica are fist-sized with gelatinous bodies covered with thick folds of skin that protect them from sharp-edged corals as they haunt tiny nooks and crannies of the harbor reef. Fins on either side of their bodies have, as with other frogfish, evolved to be leg-like, and members of H. psychedelica actually prefer crawling to swimming.

The species has a flattened face with eyes directed forward. It's something Pietsch, with 40 years of experience studying and classifying fishes, has never seen before in frogfish. It causes him to speculate that the species may have binocular vision, that is, vision that overlaps in front, like it does in humans. Most fish, with eyes on either side of their head, don't have vision that overlaps; instead they see different things with each eye.

Cyclical Competition Of Three Species Favors Weakest As Victor

So maybe our definition of "weak" and "strong" is the problem. Eg., individual tigers are "stronger" than individual lions, but a group of lions will kill off a group of tigers, because the lions work together, while tigers are loners.

ScienceDaily (Feb. 24, 2009) — The extinction of species is a consequence of their inability to adapt to new environmental conditions, and also of their competition with other species. Besides selection and the appearance of new species, the possibility of adaptation is also one of the driving forces behind evolution. According to the interpretation that has been familiar since Darwin, these processes increase the “fitness” of the species overall, since, of two competing species, only the fittest would survive.
I would say "adaptation" is the consequence of "selection".

LMU researchers have now simulated the progression of a cyclic competition of three species. It means that each participant is superior to one other species, but will be beaten by a third interaction partner. “In this kind of cyclical concurrence, the weakest species proves the winner almost without exception,” reports Professor Erwin Frey, who headed the study. “The two stronger species, on the other hand, die out, as experiments with bacteria have already shown.
Ecosystems are composed of a large number of different species, which interact and compete with one another for scarce resources. This competition between species in turn affects the probability with which the individual can reproduce and survive – a matter of life and death, as it were. All of these processes are also largely probabilistic and lead to fluctuations that ultimately lead to the extinction of species. We know that up to 50 species become extinct every day on Earth, which at this high rate can be attributed to the influence of man.
Theoretical ecologists and biophysicists are therefore intensively researching conditions and mechanisms that affect the biodiversity of Earth. Cyclic dominance is a particularly interesting constellation of species competing with each other. It means that each participant is superior to one other interaction partner, but will be beaten by a third. In ecosystems, this would be three subpopulations – in the simplified model – which dominate in turn. In fact, communities of subpopulations following such rules have been identified in numerous ecosystems, ranging from coral reef invertebrates to lizards in the inner Coast Range of California.

Such cyclical interaction is also familiarly termed “rock-paper-scissors” interaction. This is where the rock blunts the scissors, which cut the paper, which in turn wraps around the rock. Together, these non-hierarchical relationships form a cyclical motion.
Using game theory, one can also study the collective development of populations. In their study, the scientists working with Frey developed elaborate computer simulations in order to calculate the probabilities with which species in cyclical competition will survive. The games started off with three species coexisting in the systems, and ran until two species became extinct – with the third being the only remaining survivors. “What we saw was that in large populations, the weakest species would – with very high probability – come out as the victor,” says Frey.

This “law of the weakest” even held true when the difference between the competing species was slight. “This result was just as unexpected for us,” reports Frey. “But it shows once more that chance plays a big part in the dynamics of an ecosystem. Incidentally, in experiments that were conducted a couple of years ago on bacterial colonies, in order to study cyclical competition, there was one clear result: The weakest of the three species emerged victorious from the competition.”

Monday, February 23, 2009


Sometimes the nice guy gets the girls. At least that's how it is for striped mice. A research team led by Carsten Schradin (University of Zurich and University of the Witwatersrand) studied the breeding strategies of striped mice in South Africa. They found that dominant males who controlled breeding groups had lower testosterone levels than subdominant males. "What is unusual about this society is that the dominant males are in fact the most sociable, often grooming other group members," Schradin says. "It is the smaller and solitary living males, which roam from one group to another, that have the highest testosterone levels." The roaming males try to coerce females to mate, which, as one might imagine, is less successful than establishing a breeding group.

Carsten Schradin, Michael Scantlebury, Neville Pillay, and Barbara K├Ânig, "Testosterone levels in dominant sociable males are lower than in solitary roamers: physiological differences between three male reproductive tactics in a sociably flexible mammal," 173:March

Young smokers increase risk for multiple sclerosis

Public release date: 20-Feb-2009
Contact: Jenine Anderson
American Academy of Neurology
Young smokers increase risk for multiple sclerosis

SEATTLE – People who start smoking before age 17 may increase their risk for developing multiple sclerosis (MS), according to a study released today that will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology's 61st Annual Meeting in Seattle, April 25 to May 2, 2009.

The study involved 87 people with MS who were among more than 30,000 people in a larger study. The people with MS were divided into three groups: non-smokers, early smokers (smokers who began before age 17), and late smokers (those who started smoking at 17 or older), and matched by age, gender, and race to 435 people without MS.

Early smokers were 2.7 times more likely to develop MS than nonsmokers. Late smokers did not have an increased risk for the disease. More than 32 percent of the MS patients were early smokers, compared to 19 percent of the people without MS.

"Studies show that environmental factors play a prominent role in multiple sclerosis," said study author Joseph Finkelstein, MD, PhD, of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, in Baltimore, MD, which conducted the study in collaboration with Veterans Affairs MS Center for Excellence. "Early smoking is an environmental factor that can be avoided."

Sunday, February 22, 2009

What states rights?

Republicans claim to be for "states rights", but they only seem to feel that way in support of evil, such as segregation.

Obama Orders EPA to Reconsider California Waiver on Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Monday January 26, 2009

U.S. President Barack Obama has ordered the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to reconsider its decision to deny California a waiver under the Clean Air Act, which would have enabled California and 17 other states to impose stricter-than-federal limits on greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles.

Decision to Deny California Waiver Unprecedented
Under President Bush, the EPA denied California’s request for the waiver in December 2007, shortly after a federal court upheld the California law and the state’s right to regulate greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming. It was the first time the EPA had ever denied a request for a Clean Air Act waiver, a move that prompted California to sue the agency.

Clean Coal - oxymoron

We sometimes hear talk of "clean" coal, meaning reduction in pollution from burning it.
However, even if we could reduce pollution from burning coal to zero, the mining of coal would still be harmful to us. Especially heinous is Mountaintop Removal mining.

Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining

"It's like having a gun held on you with the hammer back and not knowing when the man's gonna pull the trigger."

One of the greatest environmental and human rights catastrophes in American history is underway just southwest of our nation's capital. In the coalfields of Appalachia, individuals, families and entire communities are being driven off their land by flooding, landslides and blasting resulting from mountaintop removal coal mining.

Mountaintop removal is a relatively new type of coal mining that began in Appalachia in the 1970s as an extension of conventional strip mining techniques. Primarily, mountaintop removal is occurring in West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee. Coal companies in Appalachia are increasingly using this method because it allows for almost complete recovery of coal seams while reducing the number of workers required to a fraction of what conventional methods require.

Mountaintop removal involves clear cutting native hardwood forests, using dynamite to blast away as much as 800-1000 feet of mountaintop, and then dumping the waste into nearby valleys, often burying streams. While the environmental devastation caused by this practice is obvious, families and communities near these mining sites are forced to contend with continual blasting from mining operations that can take place up to 300 feet from their homes and operate 24 hours a day. Families and communities near mining sites also suffer from airborne dust and debris, floods that have left hundreds dead and thousands homeless, and contamination of their drinking water supplies.

In central Appalachian counties, which are among the poorest in the nation, homes are frequently the only asset folks have. Mining operations have damaged hundreds of homes beyond repair and the value of homes near a mountaintop removal sites often decrease by as much as 90%. Worst of all, mountaintop removal is threatening not just the people, forest and mountaints of central Appalachia, but the very culture of the region. Coal companies frequently claim that mountaintop removal is beneficial for the people, economy and the environment, but the facts just don’t hold up.

Microsoft, Intel Firings Stir Resentment Over Visas

Feb. 20 (Bloomberg) -- Microsoft Corp.’s plan to eliminate U.S. workers after lobbying for more foreigner visas is stirring resentment among lawmakers and employees.

As many as 5,000 employees are being shown the door at Microsoft, which uses more H1-B guest-worker visas than any other U.S. company. Some employees and politicians say Microsoft should get rid of foreigners first.

“If they lay people off, are they going to think of America first or are they going to think of the world first?” Chuck Grassley, a Republican Senator from Iowa, said in an interview. He sent a letter to Microsoft Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer the day after Microsoft announced the job cuts last month, demanding Ballmer fire visa holders first.

Across the technology industry, some of the biggest users of H1-B visas are cutting jobs, including Intel Corp., International Business Machines Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co. The firings at Microsoft, the world’s largest software maker, came less than a year after Chairman Bill Gates lobbied Congress for an expansion of the visa program.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Lack of insurance drives El Pasoans across the border for healthcare

HOUSTON – (Feb. 20, 2009) – One-third of El Paso’s residents cross the Texas-Mexico border to Ciudad Juarez to purchase medication and health care services, according to a study by researchers at The University of Texas School of Public Health El Paso Regional campus.

Results from this study are published in the February issue of the Journal of the National Medical Association.
The study found while 33 percent travel from El Paso to Ciudad Juarez, only 5.2 percent travel from Ciudad Juarez to El Paso seeking more affordable and easily accessible medication and health care services.
According to Mexico’s National Institute of Statistics, Geography and Informatics, 62.3 percent of Ciudad Juarez residents are enrolled in government insurance plans, which provide them with more overall access to healthcare. Cardenas’ study found that 59.6 percent of El Paso residents and 82.8 percent of Ciudad Juarez residents were insured.

Mountain gorillas in dire straits, DNA reveals

What a headline. I would say it's obvious the mountain gorillas are in dire straits even w/o DNA tests. The DNA tests are helpful for showing the situation more accurately, but even the previous estimate of 716 mountain gorillas living in the wild is horribly low.

21 January 2009 by Linda Geddes

MOUNTAIN gorillas are in more trouble than we thought. Fewer of them are living in Uganda's Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (BINP) than previous estimates suggest. This is one of only two places worldwide where the gorillas survive in the wild.
According to this method, there are 336 gorillas left in the 331-square-kilometre national park. But when Guschanski's team analysed DNA samples from each pile of dung using a new genetic counting method, the population estimate dropped by 10 per cent to 302. This suggests that some individuals had been counted twice using the old technique (Biological Conservation, DOI: 10.1016/j.biocon.2008.10.024).
The estimate of 380 for the mountain gorillas living in the other main reserve - Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo - may be more accurate, as the gorillas are more accustomed to human contact and can therefore be counted directly.

Genetic Risk For Substance Use Can Be Neutralized By Good Parenting

ScienceDaily (Feb. 16, 2009) — A genetic risk factor that increases the likelihood that youth will engage in substance use can be neutralized by high levels of involved and supportive parenting, according to a new University of Georgia study.
Involved and supportive parenting is a very powerful tool, and Brody said it’s relatively simple to implement. Some examples include regularly spending time with your child, communicating with them so that you can gauge how they’re doing, providing emotional support and helping them with their material and day-to-day needs such as homework.

Words of wisdom

I got these off
posted by

Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth. ~Albert Einstein

All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.
~Arthur Schopenhauer

In politics, nothing happens by accident. If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way. ~FDR
I disagree with this one. It gives politicians too much credit for wisdom, intelligence, and foresight.

Select Roses Survive With Minimal Care

When I had a house, I planted a bunch of roses. I used to order ladybugs and store them in the refrigerator, putting some out on the rose bushes every few days. They really kept down the aphids.

ScienceDaily (Feb. 17, 2009) — Roses have long been a favorite of gardeners, but they often require a lot of work to thrive. And the emphasis on organics has more home gardeners concerned about the environment and reluctant to use pesticides.

W. A. Mackay of Texas A&M University led a study comparing several varieties of roses to determine which grow best with minimal care under certain conditions. The results were published in the American Society for Horticultural Science journal HortTechnology.

Flower number, flower size, visual estimate of flowering percentage, plant vigor and overall plant performance were rated for 116 varieties of roses from Spring 2000 through 2002. No pesticides or fertilizers were used to grow the roses. Four plants represented each variety, and only varieties with three or four plants surviving the experiment were used in the statistical analysis.

Additional tests were run on a subset of rose varieties to assess their nutrient levels. Monthly recordings were also taken to rate each variety's disease resistance by noting symptoms of petal blight, powdery mildew, and black spot, some of the most common ailments of roses. Plants that were grown on their own roots had significantly better appearance ratings and survival rates than plants that were grafted.

'RADrazz' (Knock Out™) was the best-performing rose overall, which the study contributes to its "vigorous growth and attractive foliage." Trumpeter® was the worst-performing rose. Out of all the roses that performed well in the study, 15 are recommended as low-maintenance for growing in Texas.

The study also found differences in performance between classes of roses, with Polyanthas being best in overall performance and Hybrid Tea roses being worst. Based on the results of this study, selected varieties were chosen for an expanded nationwide study to develop the EarthKind™ collection of roses.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Pot calling the kettle black

This is really easy on the U.S. government and agriculture big business. I remember reading about the suit they brought to The World Trade Organization. The U.S. gov't opposed even labeling GM food, because Europeans wouldn't buy it. I finally found a reference to that, which I included.

This reminds me of a few years, when the U.S. government, at the behest of the big agriculture industry, tried to make it illegal for milk companies to truthfully label milk from cows that had not been treated with Genetically engineered Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH/BST).

The Republican politicians are against big government, except to help their ultra-rich contributors.

AFTER a decade of exporting its genetically modified [GM] crops all over the world, the US is preparing to block foreign GM foods from entering the country - if they are deemed to threaten its agriculture, environment or citizens' health, that is.

The warning was given to the US Department of Agriculture, which polices agricultural imports, by its own auditor, the Office of Inspector General (OIG): "Unless international developments in transgenic plants and animals are closely monitored, USDA could be unaware of potential threats that particular new transgenic plants or animals might pose to the nation's food supply."

The OIG expects the number of GM crops and traits, and the number of countries producing them, to double by 2015, raising the risks of imports of GM crops unknown to the USDA.

The report urges the USDA to strengthen its links with countries where research is exploding, such as China, India and Brazil. China, for example, is ready to launch the world's first commercial GM rice, but it has yet to be approved by the USDA. Problems will arise, says the OIG, when new GM products enter the US undeclared - the USDA would be unprepared to test or even identify them.

The OIG cautions against blocks on imports that could be seen as trade barriers, however. In 2006, the World Trade Organization ruled in favour of the US, arguing that the European Union's stringent regulations on GM crops were anti-free trade.


GUARDIAN (London) Monday July 31, 2000

New trade war looms over GM labelling
Paul Brown in Washington

Europe and the United States are on a collision course over the issue of
the labelling of genetically modified food which threatens to spark a
trade war.

Washington has warned the EU that it is considering making a formal
complaint to the World Trade Organisation in Geneva on the grounds that
labelling GM products is unfair discrimination against US goods and
therefore a restraint of trade. The US says it will ask the WTO to impose
sanctions against EU exports if GM labels are not removed from supermarket
A spokeswoman for the US food and drug administration, which insists that
only nutritional information should be on the label, said: "This is
getting extremely serious. We regard requiring GM labelling as economic
fraud. Our view is that we would not have allowed these products on the
market if they were not safe, they are the same as non-GM food, so they do
not require a label. In fact, to label them is trade discrimination and
therefore wrong."
The FDA and other regulators decided in May to look again at the issue
after US organic and other food producers began to label food GM-free. No
final decision has been made but officials believe that to conform with
regulations the food would have to be 100% non-GM, a difficult feat in a
country where almost all processed food contains some GM maize or soya.

For some info on GM food,

For info on Bovine Growth Hormone:

How the rich avoid taxes

It wasn't enough that the Republicans greatly reduced taxes for the ultra-rich. They had to avoid them as much as possible so they would have more to gamble in the financial markets. If you read the whole article, it sounds like something from a crime novel.

IRS claims Swiss bank UBS kept US account secret

By CURT ANDERSON – 5 hours ago

MIAMI (AP) — Swiss bank UBS AG used coded language in internal e-mails and memos, created hundreds of sham offshore entities and lied to U.S. officials in an elaborate scheme to conceal the overseas accounts of wealthy Americans, the Internal Revenue Service claimed in federal court documents.

The IRS filed the documents this week seeking to force the bank to turn over records for an estimated 52,000 U.S customers who allegedly violated American tax laws by concealing Swiss accounts worth at least $14.8 billion.

"UBS systematically violated and circumvented its obligations .... all in order to help its U.S. clients conceal from the IRS their Swiss accounts at UBS," IRS agent Daniel Reeves said in the affidavit, which charges that the scheme ran from 2000 to 2007.

The internal bank e-mails and memos obtained by the IRS were included in the 305-page filing.
At least one UBS adviser used code language in e-mails to describe his business dealings, adding that "orange" meant euros; "green" was U.S. dollars; and "blue" signified British pounds. The e-mail from this adviser, "Dieter," that a "C" was $100,000, a "nut" was $250,000 and a "swan" $1 million.

The e-mail goes on to describe a transaction involving "2.5 orange nuts" and "2.05 green nuts," ending with "all clear?"

Role Of Apples In Inhibiting Breast Cancer

ScienceDaily (Feb. 18, 2009) — Six studies published in the past year by a Cornell researcher add to growing evidence that an apple a day -- as well as daily helpings of other fruits and vegetables -- can help keep the breast-cancer doctor away.

In one of his recent papers, published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry (57:1), Rui Hai Liu, Cornell associate professor of food science and a member of Cornell's Institute for Comparative and Environmental Toxicology, reports that fresh apple extracts significantly inhibited the size of mammary tumors in rats -- and the more extracts they were given, the greater the inhibition.

"We not only observed that the treated animals had fewer tumors, but the tumors were smaller, less malignant and grew more slowly compared with the tumors in the untreated rats," said Liu, pointing out that the study confirmed the findings of his preliminary study in rats published in 2007.

Violent Media Numb Viewers To The Pain Of Others

ScienceDaily (Feb. 19, 2009) — Violent video games and movies make people numb to the pain and suffering of others, according to a research report published in the March 2009 issue of Psychological Science.

The report details the findings of two studies conducted by University of Michigan professor Brad Bushman and Iowa State University professor Craig Anderson.

The studies fill an important research gap in the literature on the impact of violent media. In earlier work, Bushman and Anderson demonstrated that exposure to violent media produces physiological desensitization—lowering heart rate and skin conductance—when viewing scenes of actual violence a short time later. But the current research demonstrates that violent media also affect someone's willingness to offer help to an injured person, in a field study as well as in a laboratory experiment.

"These studies clearly show that violent media exposure can reduce helping behavior," said Bushman, professor of psychology and communications and a research professor at the U-M Institute for Social Research.

"People exposed to media violence are less helpful to others in need because they are 'comfortably numb' to the pain and suffering of others, to borrow the title of a Pink Floyd song," he said.

'Suicide By Cop'

ScienceDaily (Feb. 19, 2009) — “Suicide by Cop” (SBC) is a suicide method in which a person engages in actual or apparent danger to others in an attempt to get oneself killed or injured by law enforcement. A new study in the Journal of Forensic Sciences examined the prevalence of this phenomenon among a large sample of officer-involved shootings.

Results show that SBC occurs at extremely high rates, with 36 percent of all shootings being categorized as SBC. The findings confirm the growing incidence of this method of suicide, with SBC cases more likely to result in the death or injury of the subjects 50 percent of the time.

Science Suggests Access To Nature Is Essential To Human Health

I know from experience that nature can have a beneficial effect on my mood.

ScienceDaily (Feb. 19, 2009) — Elderly adults tend to live longer if their homes are near a park or other green space, regardless of their social or economic status. College students do better on cognitive tests when their dorm windows view natural settings. Children with ADHD have fewer symptoms after outdoor activities in lush environments. Residents of public housing complexes report better family interactions when they live near trees.

These are only a few of the findings from recent studies that support the idea that nature is essential to the physical, psychological and social well-being of the human animal, said Frances Kuo, a professor of natural resources and environmental science and psychology at the University of Illinois. Kuo will present her own and other findings on the subject at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Chicago on Feb. 13.

“Humans are evolved organisms and the environment is our habitat,” Kuo said. “Now, as human societies become more urban, we as scientists are in a position to look at humans in much the same way that those who study animal behavior have looked at animals in the wild to see the effect of a changing habitat on this species.”

Humans living in landscapes that lack trees or other natural features undergo patterns of social, psychological and physical breakdown that are strikingly similar to those observed in other animals that have been deprived of their natural habitat, Kuo said.

“In animals what you see is increases in aggression, you see disrupted parenting patterns, their social hierarchies are disrupted,” she said.

Considerable research has found that violence and aggression are highest in urban settings devoid of trees and grass, for example.

Kuo has studied how access to nature influences crime and conflict resolution among residents of public housing facilities in Chicago. These facilities provide an ideal laboratory for studying the “green effect,” she said, because their occupants are randomly assigned to standard housing units, some of which have grass and trees nearby.

In a 2001 study of the Robert Taylor Homes (recently demolished), Kuo and her colleague, U. of I. landscape architecture professor William Sullivan, found that those who lived in housing units with no immediate view of or access to nature reported a greater number of aggressive – including violent – conflicts with partners or children than their peers who lived near trees and grass.

In another 2001 study, Kuo and Sullivan looked at two years of crime statistics in relation to specific addresses in the Ida B. Wells public housing facility in Chicago. After controlling for other factors, the researchers found that crime rates were highest for residences with little or no proximity to nature. Identical units with views of grass and trees were associated with significantly less crime.

“Roughly 7 percent of the variation in crime that can’t be accounted for by other factors can be accounted for by the amount of trees,” Kuo said.

Humans suffer a variety of negative social effects when living in barren landscapes. Kuo and her colleagues have shown that these effects include decreased civility, less supervision of children outdoors, more illegal activity, more aggression, more property crime, more loitering, more graffiti and more litter.

“We might call some of that ‘soiling the nest,’ which is not healthy,” she said. “No organisms do that when they’re in good shape.”

Certain psychological problems are also likely to appear more often in those lacking access to nature, she said.

“In our studies, people with less access to nature show relatively poor attention or cognitive function, poor management of major life issues, poor impulse control,” she said.

Other researchers have found that access to nature positively influences a person’s mood, life and work satisfaction, she said.

Kuo has seen such psychological effects in children with ADHD. In a 2001 study, she and her colleagues asked parents of children with ADHD which after-school activities worsened – and which soothed – their children’s symptoms. The parents consistently reported that outdoor activities in natural settings lessened their children’s ADHD symptoms more than activities conducted indoors, or in built environments outdoors.

In a 2008 study, Kuo and a colleague, Illinois postdoctoral researcher Andrea Faber Taylor, studied children with ADHD who went on field trips in green or manmade environments. After the trips, other researchers (who didn’t know where the kids had been) tested their concentration. Children with ADHD had significantly better concentration after a walk in a park than in an urban setting. The difference was comparable to what is achieved with standard ADHD medication, Kuo said, although “no one knows how long the green effect will last.”

More recent studies by various teams in Japan, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the U.S., are showing that access to nature – or lack thereof – can also have significant physical effects. A large-scale study in the Netherlands found that general health is predicted by the amount of green space within a 1-mile or 3-mile radius, Kuo said. Another study found that elderly Japanese adults lived longer when their homes were within walking distance of a park or other green space. These effects were independent of their social or economic status.

While none of these studies proves conclusively that nature is essential to optimal functioning in humans, Kuo said, the body of evidence strongly points in that direction.

“So when people say: ‘As a scientist, would you say that we know this now? Do we know that people need nature?’ I say: ‘As a scientist I can’t tell you. I’m not ready to say that,’ ” Kuo said. “ ‘But as a mother who knows the scientific literature, I would say, yes.’ ”

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Planet Earth: Avoiding The Hothouse And The Icehouse Of The Future

Hopefully, we will be smart enough and lucky enough for our species to survive that long.

ScienceDaily (Feb. 19, 2009) — By controlling emissions of fossil fuels we may be able to greatly delay the start of the next ice age, new research from the Niels Bohr Institute at University of Copenhagen concludes.

From an Earth history perspective, we are living in cold times. The greatest climate challenge mankind has faced has been surviving ice ages that have dominated climate during the past million years. Therefore it is not surprising that back in the relatively cold 1970's prominent scientists like Soviet Union climatologist Mikhail Budyko greeted man-made global warming from CO2 emissions as a way to keep us out of future ice ages. And there are still those around who feel that continued high fossil fuel emissions are good for this reason. But is the extreme global warming that would result from this a reasonable, and indeed necessary, price to pay to keep ice ages at bay?

In a new paper, Professor Gary Shaffer of the Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen, and also leader of the research team at the Danish Center for Earth System Science (DCESS), outlines a way to keep the Earth out of both Hot- and Icehouses for a half a million years into the future.

Ice ages start when conditions at high northern latitudes allow winter snowfall to persist over the summer for enough years to accumulate and build ice sheets. Such conditions depend mainly on summer solar radiation there and atmospheric CO2 concentration.
Professor Shaffer made long projections over the next 500,000 years with the DCESS Earth System Model to calculate the evolution of atmospheric CO2 for different fossil fuel emission strategies. He also used results of a coupled climate-ice sheet model for the dependency on atmospheric CO2 of critical summer solar radiation at high northern latitudes for an ice age onset.

The results show global warming of almost 5 degrees Celsius above present for a "business as usual" scenario whereby all 5000 billion tons of fossil fuel carbon in accessible reserves are burned within the next few centuries. In this scenario the onset of next ice age was postponed to about 170,000 years from now.

However, for a management scenario whereby fossil fuel use was reduced globally by 20% in 2020 and 60% in 2050 (compared to 1990 levels), maximum global warming was less than one degree Celsius above present. Similar reductions in fossil fuel use have been proposed by various countries like Germany and Great Britain.

In this scenario, combustion pulses of large remaining fossil fuel reserves were then tailored to raise atmospheric CO2 content high and long enough to parry forcing of ice age onsets by summer radiation minima as long as possible. In this way our present equable interglacial climate was extended for about 500,000 years, three times as long as in the "business as usual" case.

"It appears to be well established that the strong ice ages the Earth has experienced over the past million years were ushered in by declining levels of atmospheric CO2. Our present atmospheric CO2 level of about 385 parts per million is already higher than before the transition to these ice ages" Professor Shaffer notes and adds that "The Earth's orbit is nearly circular at present meaning that the present minimum in summer radiation at high northern latitudes is not very deep. We have already increased atmospheric CO2 enough to keep us out of the next ice age for at least the next 55,000 years for this orbital setup".

He concludes that "Fossil fuel reserves may be too valuable for regulating climate far into the future to allow the reserves to be consumed within the next few centuries. The price of extreme global warming to avoid ice ages is a high and indeed unnecessary price to pay."

Job growth comparisons

February 06, 2009
The Bush Boom: Employment

Lee Price emails us about the Bush Boom:

We now have job numbers for the entire 8 years of the Bush Administration. In the last 8 years, payroll jobs are up only 1.6% (0.2% annual rate). That's far and away the slowest 8 year gain on record. In the 8 years of Clinton, jobs grew by 20.7% (2.38% annual rate). In the 70 years of available data, jobs have grown at an annual rate of 2.2%. For the 62 years before Bush the average was 2.4%.

Not all the bad economic performance of the Bush years was Bush's fault--but at leeast 1/3 of it was. Not all of the good economic performance of the Clinton years was Clinton's responsibility--but my assessment is that roughly half of it was. And the Obama administration has so far made a very good start on pursuing a responsible and pro-American economic policy.

The Net Worth of Our Leaders (Top 25 from House, Senate, Executive)

This is an interactive table.
Eg., if you click on a party (Democrat or Republican), it looks like you will get a list of all of the members of Congress and the Executive branch for that party, but not their net worth.
If you then click on "Columns", you will get financial statistics.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

1 in 9 housing units vacant

So how is that $15,000 tax credit going to help the economy? It will supposedly help unemployed people in the housing construction business, and related businesses, but if it does, what happens to the empty houses?
You can be sure that it will result in such things as neighbors buying each others houses, and each getting the $15,000 credit. Then they might even sell the houses to each other again, so they don't have to move. I'm sure those of a criminal mind, like investment bankers, will come up with creative ways to benefit w/o helping those who really need it.

By Haya El Nasser and Paul Overberg, USA TODAY
A record 1 in 9 U.S. homes are vacant, a glut created by the housing boom and subsequent collapse.

"The numbers are further documentation of the gravity of the housing problem," says Nicolas Retsinas, head of Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies. "This inventory is delaying any kind of housing recovery."

The surge in empty houses, condominiums and apartments is creating a wave of problems for communities desperate to shore up property values and tax revenues that pay for services. Vacant homes create upkeep and safety problems that ripple through neighborhoods.

"It has a contagion effect," Retsinas says. "A house that is vacant is often a house that is less well kept up."

A construction frenzy began pushing the vacancy rate up in 2005 but empty homes sold quickly at that time.

"This is a different problem," says Dowell Myers, housing demographer at the University of Southern California. "It's high now because of lack of demand. Now, vacancies we see are from units that have been empty for a period of time."

Census numbers show:

• More than 14 million housing units are vacant. That number does not include an estimated 4.8 million seasonal or vacation homes, most of which are occupied part of the year. The combined vacancy rate of almost 15% is higher than during previous recessions: 11% in 1991 and 9.4% in 1984.

• About 3% of owned homes are vacant. In normal times, "maybe 1% should be vacant," Myers says.

• More than 9% of homes built since 2000 are vacant compared with about 2% for older homes.

• Homes priced at $500,000 or more are just as likely to be empty as homes that cost less than $100,000.

Historically, vacant housing was more of a concern in cities that have poor neighborhoods. Now, it has hit suburbs and new subdivisions.

"You have abandoned vacant housing in Detroit but you also have it in Henderson, Nev., and Mesa, Ariz. (suburbs of Las Vegas and Phoenix)," Retsinas says.

The stimulus bill before Congress contains $2 billion to help communities buy and fix foreclosed, vacant properties.

One place hit hard is Rialto, Calif., an inland town that boomed by offering shelter from astronomical housing prices in coastal Southern California. Property values have dropped 50% since 2007. In a 40-unit development, only four are occupied, says John Dutrey, housing program manager. Vacant homes, he says, bring "squatters, you have maintenance issues, security issues."

Second-hand Smoke May Cause Dementia

ScienceDaily (Feb. 13, 2009) — Exposure to second-hand smoke could increase the risk of developing dementia and other forms of cognitive impairment, according to research published on the British Medical Journal website.

A possible link between active smoking and cognitive impairment has already been established and previous findings also suggest that second-hand smoke exposure could be linked to poor cognitive performance in children and adolescents. However, this is the first large-scale study to conclude that second-hand smoke exposure could lead to dementia and other neurological problems.

The authors, Dr David Llewellyn and his research team from the University of Cambridge, Peninsula Medical School and the University of Michigan, examined saliva samples from almost 5000 non-smoking adults over the age of 50 using data from the 1998, 1999 and 2001 waves of the Health Survey for England (HSE). The participants had also taken part in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA).

The samples were tested for cotinine - a product of nicotine that can be found in saliva for about 25 hours after exposure to second-hand smoke. Participants in the study also provided a detailed smoking history. Never smokers and previous smokers were assessed separately.

The researchers used established neuropsychological tests to assess brain function and cognitive impairment. These focused on memory function, numeracy and verbal fluency – for example naming as many animals in a minute. The results of the tests were added together to provide a global cognitive function score.

Participants whose scores were in the lowest 10% were defined as suffering from some level of cognitive impairment.

The authors argue that the link between second-hand smoke and cognitive impairment could be explained given that heart disease increases the risk of developing dementia and second-hand smoke exposure is known to cause heart disease.

In an accompanying editorial, Dr Mark Eisner from the University of California, says that while the serious negative health effects of second-hand smoke like cancer and premature death have been established beyond doubt, there is still a lot to learn about the scale of illness caused by second-hand smoke.

He writes: "Emerging evidence suggests that parental smoking may impair childhood cognitive development. Later in life, second-hand smoke may cause cardiovascular disease and stroke, which are themselves linked to cognitive decline. Until now, however, the suspicion that passive smoking is bad for the adult brain had not been scientifically confirmed."

Second-hand Smoke May Cause Dementia

ScienceDaily (Feb. 13, 2009) — Exposure to second-hand smoke could increase the risk of developing dementia and other forms of cognitive impairment, according to research published on the British Medical Journal website.

A possible link between active smoking and cognitive impairment has already been established and previous findings also suggest that second-hand smoke exposure could be linked to poor cognitive performance in children and adolescents. However, this is the first large-scale study to conclude that second-hand smoke exposure could lead to dementia and other neurological problems.

The authors, Dr David Llewellyn and his research team from the University of Cambridge, Peninsula Medical School and the University of Michigan, examined saliva samples from almost 5000 non-smoking adults over the age of 50 using data from the 1998, 1999 and 2001 waves of the Health Survey for England (HSE). The participants had also taken part in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA).

The samples were tested for cotinine - a product of nicotine that can be found in saliva for about 25 hours after exposure to second-hand smoke. Participants in the study also provided a detailed smoking history. Never smokers and previous smokers were assessed separately.

The researchers used established neuropsychological tests to assess brain function and cognitive impairment. These focused on memory function, numeracy and verbal fluency – for example naming as many animals in a minute. The results of the tests were added together to provide a global cognitive function score.

Participants whose scores were in the lowest 10% were defined as suffering from some level of cognitive impairment.

The authors argue that the link between second-hand smoke and cognitive impairment could be explained given that heart disease increases the risk of developing dementia and second-hand smoke exposure is known to cause heart disease.

In an accompanying editorial, Dr Mark Eisner from the University of California, says that while the serious negative health effects of second-hand smoke like cancer and premature death have been established beyond doubt, there is still a lot to learn about the scale of illness caused by second-hand smoke.

He writes: "Emerging evidence suggests that parental smoking may impair childhood cognitive development. Later in life, second-hand smoke may cause cardiovascular disease and stroke, which are themselves linked to cognitive decline. Until now, however, the suspicion that passive smoking is bad for the adult brain had not been scientifically confirmed."

Mass Media Often Failing In Its Coverage Of Global Warming

ScienceDaily (Feb. 13, 2009) — "Business managers of media organizations, you are screwing up your responsibility by firing science and environment reporters who are frankly the only ones competent to do this," said climate researcher and policy analyst Stephen Schneider, in assessing the current state of media coverage of global warming and related issues.

Schneider, a coordinating lead author of chapter 19 in the report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published in 2007, is calling for the news media to employ trained reporters in covering global warming. He will be discussing this and other issues in the symposium "Hot and Hotter: Media Coverage of Climate-Change Impacts, Policies, and Politics," on Feb. 13, 2009 at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Chicago.

"Science is not politics. You can't just get two opposing viewpoints and think you've done due diligence. You've got to cover the multiple views and the relative credibility of each view," said Schneider, a senior fellow at Stanford's Woods Institute for the Environment. "But that is not usually the problem of the well-trained reporters, who understand what is credible.

"The problem is CNN just fired their science team. Why didn't they fire their economics team or their sports team?" "Why don't they send their general assignment reporters out to cover the Superbowl?" Schneider said. Researchers have to do their part, too, he said, by clearly explaining issues to reporters in succinct terms.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Gingrich: Recession recovery years away

Gingrich is a Republican. I have very negative feelings toward him, but at least he is willing to tell the truth about the current economic situation, which I admit surprised me.

By Julia Malone
Cox Washington Bureau
Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Washington —- Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said Monday that the U.S. economic downturn is much worse than political leaders admit and predicted the recovery will take three to five years.

The financial meltdown points to “a much more profound problem than people think” as American industries and education have lost ground to China and India, Gingrich said.

On the economy, the former Georgia lawmaker offered a revised position from last fall, when he said he would have voted for the $700 billion plan to rescue the financial markets. He now opposes that approach.

The bank losses are too high and still have not been fully disclosed, he said.

“We’d be much better off to encourage the rise of new banks and new institutions,” he said, adding that he now favors allowing U.S. automakers to go into bankruptcy where they could strike a deal with unions to restructure their companies.

“The level of change for all of us is going to be profound if we are going to go back to being the most competitive country in the world,” he said.

Study finds hidden phosphorous in fast food

updated 3:20 p.m. ET, Wed., Feb. 11, 2009

NEW YORK - People with advanced kidney disease are taught to avoid certain foods that are naturally high in the mineral phosphorus, which is difficult for their compromised kidneys to get rid of. But in a report published Wednesday, researchers warn that a fair amount of processed and fast food actually contains phosphorus additives, which can be just as harmful for people with advanced kidney disease.

Because high blood levels of phosphorus can lead to heart disease, bone disease, and even death among patients with advanced kidney disease, these patients must avoid certain meats, dairy products, whole grains, and nuts that are naturally high in phosphorus, the researchers note in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The problem, according to Dr. Ashwini R. Sehgal and colleagues at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, is that it has become an increasingly common practice by food manufacturers to include phosphate salts to processed foods.

These additives are used to enhance flavor and shelf life — particularly in meats, cheeses, baked goods, and beverages — and it is very hard for consumers to know whether or not these additives are present in products.

In a study of 279 kidney disease patients who had elevated blood phosphorus levels, Sehgal and colleagues were able to significantly lower phosphorus levels by teaching patients to avoid foods containing phosphorus additives.

Life Expectancy Slips in Poor Parts of America

New Study Shows Drop in Life Expectancy in Deep South, Parts of Midwest, Texas and Appalachia, Particularly for Women
April 22, 2008

A new nationwide study shows that depending on where you live, your life expectancy could actually be getting shorter, especially if you're a woman.

"One out of five American women have had their health either getting worse or at best not getting better," said Dr. Majid Ezzati of the Harvard School of Public Health.

The joint Harvard School of Public Health and the University of Washington study found that 4 percent of the male population and 19 percent of the female population experienced either decline or stagnation in mortality beginning in the 1980s.

Researchers say it comes down to preventable diseases and lagging public health care. The downward trend of life expectancy was most pronounced in just a few parts of the country, including the deep South, the southern portion of the Midwest, parts of Texas and Appalachia.

In these parts of the country, doctors say they're finding alarming increases in cancer, diabetes, heart and lung disease.

Friday, February 13, 2009

New Shock Absorber Harvests Energy From Bumps In The Road

Since there are about 18 speed bumps between the entrance of my mobile home park and my lot, I would be interested :-D

ScienceDaily (Feb. 13, 2009) — A team of MIT undergraduate students has invented a shock absorber that harnesses energy from small bumps in the road, generating electricity while it smoothes the ride more effectively than conventional shocks. The students hope to initially find customers among companies that operate large fleets of heavy vehicles. They have already drawn interest from the U.S. military and several truck manufacturers.

Senior Shakeel Avadhany and his teammates say they can produce up to a 10 percent improvement in overall vehicle fuel efficiency by using the regenerative shock absorbers. The company that produces Humvees for the army, and is currently working on development of the next-generation version of the all-purpose vehicle, is interested enough to have loaned them a vehicle for testing purposes.

Ignorance is bliss

Paul Krugman February 10, 2009, 11:22 am
Ignorance is bliss

That is, your ignorance is the drug makers’ (and the medical equipment makers’) bliss.

This is really unbelievable:

The drug and medical-device industries are mobilizing to gut a provision in the stimulus bill that would spend $1.1 billion on research comparing medical treatments, portraying it as the first step to government rationing.

Because freedom is all about laying out vast sums on medical treatments without knowing whether they’re actually doing any good.

Remember this the next time someone talks about “entitlement reform” (which will probably happen in the next three seconds or so.) Health care costs are the main reason long-term fiscal projections look so scary — and here we have corporate interest trying to prevent us, not from trying to spend our health dollar more wisely, but from even trying to find out what we get for the health care dollar.

This is truly vile.

Fed Calls Gain in Family Wealth a Mirage

Published: February 12, 2009

WASHINGTON — The leap in wealth that Americans thought they were enjoying over the last several years has already turned out to be a mirage, according to new estimates by the Federal Reserve.

In its triennial survey of consumer finances, released Thursday, the Fed found that the median net worth of American households increased by a seemingly healthy 17 percent between the end of 2004 and the end of 2007.

But the gains were wiped out by the collapse in housing and stock prices last year. Adjusting for those declines, Fed officials estimated that the median family was 3.2 percent poorer as of October 2008 than it was at the end of 2004. The new survey offers one of the first glimpses of how American families were positioned financially as the roof fell in on the economy, and it provides some sense of how much wealth has been destroyed since then. Indeed, the destruction of wealth is still in full swing: housing prices are still falling, more than two years after the bubble peaked.

The survey suggests that the boom years were not all that wonderful even before the crisis set in. And it indicates that many households will have to greatly increase savings rates, which were below 1 percent, to make up for some of the lost wealth.

Adjusted for inflation, the median household income actually edged down slightly over the three years ending in 2007. The mean, or average, household income jumped by a respectable 8.5 percent.

But a growing share of that income came from investment profits rather than from wages and salaries. And the wealth that Americans were building was overwhelmingly in the form of paper profits that vanished as quickly as they had appeared.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

3.6 Million Lost Jobs last year

I remember the 1974-1975 and 1981-1982 recessions, and not fondly.
February 6, 2009, 9:18 am

As part of the January jobs report that the Labor Department released today, it also revised all of the employment numbers for 2008. The news wasn’t good.

The government said that 385,000 more jobs were lost last year than it had initially estimated. That brings the total loss since December 2007 to 3.6 million jobs. To put that in some perspective, here are the worst employment losses, as a share of the work force, over the last 40 years:

1981-82: 3.1 percent
1974-75: 2.8 percent
Current (2007-09): 2.6 percent

Keep in mind that the numbers for those earlier recessions describe the absolute low point of the job market. The losses in this recession aren’t yet over — and may, in fact, be a long way from over.

A few weeks ago, I pointed out that the economy and the job market weren’t yet as bad as they had been in 1982. That’s still true. But the situation continues to get closer to what it was like in 1982. A broad measure of unemployment — which counts part-time workers who want to be working full time — is now almost 14 percent. At its highest point in 1982, it was just above 16 percent.

Pa. judges accused of jailing kids for cash

This is horrifying, but unfortunately, not astounding. By the time you get to my age, you know that many "respectable" business people are just a type of mafia boss.

updated 8:56 p.m. ET, Wed., Feb. 11, 2009

WILKES-BARRE, Pa. - For years, the juvenile court system in Wilkes-Barre operated like a conveyor belt: Youngsters were brought before judges without a lawyer, given hearings that lasted only a minute or two, and then sent off to juvenile prison for months for minor offenses.

The explanation, prosecutors say, was corruption on the bench.

In one of the most shocking cases of courtroom graft on record, two Pennsylvania judges have been charged with taking millions of dollars in kickbacks to send teenagers to two privately run youth detention centers.

“I’ve never encountered, and I don’t think that we will in our lifetimes, a case where literally thousands of kids’ lives were just tossed aside in order for a couple of judges to make some money,” said Marsha Levick, an attorney with the Philadelphia-based Juvenile Law Center, which is representing hundreds of youths sentenced in Wilkes-Barre.

Prosecutors say Luzerne County Judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan took $2.6 million in payoffs to put juvenile offenders in lockups run by PA Child Care LLC and a sister company, Western PA Child Care LLC. The judges were charged on Jan. 26 and removed from the bench by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court shortly afterward.

No company officials have been charged, but the investigation is still going on.
In Luzerne County, prosecutors say, Conahan shut down the county-run juvenile prison in 2002 and helped the two companies secure rich contracts worth tens of millions of dollars, at least some of that dependent on how many juveniles were locked up.

One of the contracts — a 20-year agreement with PA Child Care worth an estimated $58 million — was later canceled by the coun
Robert J. Powell co-owned PA Child Care and Western PA Child Care until June. His attorney, Mark Sheppard, said his client was the victim of an extortion scheme.

“Bob Powell never solicited a nickel from these judges and really was a victim of their demands,” he said. “These judges made it very plain to Mr. Powell that he was going to be required to pay certain monies.”

Yeah, sure. Then why didn't Powell report it to the FBI?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Excess vitamin E in pregnancy may harm baby

As in most things, balance is best.

Too much in diet can increase risks of infant being born with heart defect
updated 2 hours, 34 minutes ago

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Women who've just become pregnant may want to watch how much vitamin E they take in. It seems that high levels of vitamin E early in pregnancy may increase the risk of the baby being born with a heart defect, according to a Dutch research team.

They studied 276 mothers of children born with heart defects and 324 "control" mothers whose babies were free of heart defects.

When their infants were 16 months old, the mothers completed food frequency questionnaires for the 4 weeks prior to the study. According to the researchers, dietary patterns during this time are similar to those before the women became pregnant.

The likelihood of having a baby with a heart defect was 70 percent higher for women with the highest vitamin E intake from diet alone, compared to those with the lowest intake, the investigators found.

Georgia humor

Southeast News
Georgia Governor Seeks Limits on Biotech Lawsuits to Attract Firms

January 28, 2009

Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue is proposing tort reform legislation intended to protect Georgia-based biotech companies from product liability claims.

The proposed legislation would provide that Federal Drug Administration (FDA) approval is sufficient to protect against design defect and failure to warn lawsuits. Design defect lawsuits are based on the premise that a drug or device is faulty and caused injury, while failure to warn lawsuits maintain that health risks were not sufficiently communicated to doctors and patients.

The tort reform legislation, as proposed, would not apply if the biotech company has defrauded the FDA or the drug or device was used in an off-label manner.

Perdue says the legislation is intended to encourage biotech companies to locate in Georgia and support the companies that are currently located in the state. In order to qualify for the protection, companies would have to manufacture devices or sell pharmaceuticals, have corporate headquarters in Georgia and either employ more than 200 workers in manufacturing or research and development or have their principal place of research and development in Georgia.

"With this proposed legislation, we will cement our position as a leader in the biotech industry by enacting laws that respect the role of the federal Food and Drug Administration as the regulator of the safety of drugs and medical devices," said Gov. Perdue at the Georgia Chamber of Commerce's Eggs and Issues breakfast. "The FDA approval should mean something. It certainly should imply protection from tort lawsuits. The legislation will make Georgia an even more attractive environment for biotechnology companies."

"Georgia's stature in the biotech industry is growing, and this legislation will be a key tool in helping us recruit top-flight companies to the state," said Ken Stewart, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development. "Biotech is one of Georgia's strategic industries and provides the high-quality jobs we are focused on growing."

Georgia's stake in the biotechnology sector is buoyed by the presence in the state of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Carter Center, the American Cancer Society and CARE combined with research universities such as Georgia Tech, Emory University and the Medical College of Georgia. In May, Georgia will host the 2009 BIO International Convention for the first time, showcasing the state's importance in the industry.

Source: Georgia Department of Economic Development and
Find this article at:

Ga. Senate panel considers food safety changes
Associated Press Writer
The Associated Press
updated 5:35 p.m. ET, Mon., Feb. 9, 2009

ATLANTA - Georgia lawmakers are wrestling with whether to adopt new food safety rules after a state peanut plant was linked to a salmonella outbreak that has sickened hundreds of people nationwide and may have caused as many as eight deaths.

The Senate Agriculture Committee debated a measure Monday that would require food makers to alert state inspectors within a day if a plant's internal tests show its products are contaminated. The bill would also force the companies to conduct the tests at least once a year to supplement surprise state and federal inspections.

The proposal is a response to the salmonella outbreak linked to a Peanut Corp. of America plant in Blakely, Ga. Investigators say the Lynchburg, Va.-based company knowingly shipped salmonella-laced products even after internal tests showed they were contaminated.

State law did not require the company to share those test results, and state officials say they may have been able to stop the outbreak if they'd known about them sooner.

"This gives us the tool to give us the red flag if a facility has some problems," said state Sen. John Bulloch, the chairman of the committee and the measure's sponsor.

Food safety experts, government groups and industry lobbies say they don't know of any other state that requires food manufacturers to share internal data.

Bulloch delayed a vote on the measure until later this week as he waits for more industry response, but lobbyists who chimed in Monday were generally supportive.

Kathy Kuzava, president of the Georgia Food Industry Association, said the public needs to be reassured that private industry and the government are bolstering food safety efforts.

Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin called for the changes in the aftermath of the outbreak, but has tempered his remarks lately by urging Congress to adopt similar requirements.

"We could have a strong law in Georgia, but if it's not followed by Congress, we could find ourselves in a position of driving out business," Irvin told members of a House food safety panel.

His department came under fire after a state inspector who toured the plant in October noted only two minor violations, but less than three months later federal agents who swarmed the plant found roaches, mold, a leaking roof and other problems.

Irvin defended his inspectors Monday, saying the state didn't have the resources to match the federal agents. He said his inspector spent half a day probing the plant on foot, while federal agents spent about two weeks there and had a lift to inspect the roof.

He is also pressuring lawmakers grappling with $2.2 billion in cuts to Georgia's budget to bolster funding to his department, which has some 60 food inspectors and 15 unfilled positions.


On the Net:

Senate Bill 80: