Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Too much of a good thing


Why Some People Shake Off The Flu In A Couple Of Days, While Others Suffer Longer, Or Die
ScienceDaily (Mar. 30, 2009) — For some people it is a certainty: as soon as the annual flu season gets underway, they are sure to go down with it. It is little comfort to know that there are other people who are apparently resistant to flu or overcome the illness after just a couple of days. It is this phenomenon that is now being investigated by researchers at the Helmholtz Center for Infection Research, using various strains of mice.

"Where there are many scientific works dealing solely with the flu virus, we have investigated how the host reacts to an infection," says Klaus Schughart, head of the Experimental Mouse Genetics research group. In infection experiments the researchers have now discovered that an excessive immune response is responsible for the fatal outcome of the disease in mice. This overreaction has genetic roots.

For their investigations the researchers injected seven different inbred mouse strains with the same quantity of type Influenza A flu viruses. All of the animals within one mouse strain are genetically identical, like identical twins. However, one strain differs from another just like different individuals in the human population. To their surprise, the researchers were able to identify strong differences in the progression of the influenza between the seven strains. In five of the strains the illness was mild: the animals lost weight, recovering completely after seven to eight days. However, in two of the mouse strains the animals lost weight rapidly and died after just a few days.

The researchers looked for reasons for these differences: they investigated how the immune system of the animals responds to the virus. "The mice die from their own immune defences, which are actually supposed to protect them against the virus. The immune system produces too many messengers, which have a strong activating effect on the immune cells. These cells then kill tissue cells in the lungs that are infected with the virus," says Schughart. At the same time, these overactive cells also destroy healthy lung tissue. In mice that died the researchers also found one hundred times more viruses than in animals that survived. "It appears that the animals have specific receptors on their cells that make them more receptive to a severe viral infection." Flu infections in humans could take a similar course, here too, genetic factors could favour a severe progression of the illness. "It is only now that we are beginning to understand the role played by the genetic factors of the host and what increased receptiveness means in the case of influenza," says Schughart.

Every year between 10,000 and 30,000 people in Germany die from influenza, the majority via pathogens of the Influenza A type. There are various sub-types of the main type A, in which the composition of the virus envelope differs. H1N1 and H3N2 are the most widely-distributed flu strains amongst humans, H5N1 the familiar avian flu virus. The H stands for the protein haemagglutinin, with which the virus latches onto the cells of the airways, infecting them. In order for the newly-created flu viruses to leave the host cells, in turn, they require neuraminidase (N). To evade an immune response the virus changes the H and N characteristics constantly. Sometimes light, sometimes heavy: the result is a completely new virus type with a new number, with the consequences generally a severe global flu pandemic.

They killed her patient. Then they tried to hide it.

I suggest reading the whole article


The patient died because of a series of unfortunate anesthetic complications, compounded by inadequate medical response.
Because maternal deaths are now so rare, my state, like most states, mandates an official investigation. The investigation is conducted by the hospital, and evaluated by the Department of Health. As a participant at a critical juncture in this woman’s care, I was interviewed extensively by a senior member of the obstetrics department and a member of the hospital administration.

I was very angry at the care the patient received from the anesthesiologists, because I believed that her death had been entirely avoidable. I did not hide my anger during the interview, going to so far as to say that I felt that the anesthesiologists had essentially killed the patient. The people who interviewed me seemed uncomfortable with my conclusions and with my anger. They repeatedly suggested alternative explanations for the unfortunate incident, but I was not swayed. Others might reach different conclusions, I acknowledged, but this was my conclusion.

Several years later I was contacted by my medical malpractice insurance carrier and advised that a malpractice case had been filed against the anesthesiologists. This was not surprising. Virtually every maternal death is followed by a malpractice suit, even when the death was unavoidable. As a participant in the patient’s care, I would be deposed by the patient’s lawyer. Consistent with its obligations, the malpractice insurer had hired a lawyer to defend me during the deposition.
She found out that the hospital had falsified her original statement. Fortunately, her husband is a lawyer, and insisted she make copies. Otherwise, she would not have been believed.

FDA: Avoid pistachios amid salmonella scare

Another thanks to Bush for saving tax dollars by cutting back on regulation of businesses because it wasn't necessary.


updated 2 hours, 14 minutes ago
FRESNO, Calif. - Federal food officials are warning Americans not to eat any food containing pistachios because of possible contamination by salmonella, in another food scare sure to rattle consumers already upset by the contamination of peanuts with the same bacteria.

The Food and Drug Administration said central California-based Setton Pistachio of Terra Bella Inc., the second-largest U.S. pistachio processor, was voluntarily recalling more than 2 million pounds (900,000 kilograms) of its roasted nuts shipped since last fall.

"Our advice to consumers is that they avoid eating pistachio products, and that they hold onto those products," said Dr. David Acheson, assistant commissioner for food safety. "The number of products that are going to be recalled over the coming days will grow, simply because these pistachio nuts have then been repackaged into consumer-level containers."

Two people called the FDA complaining of gastrointestinal illness that could be associated with the nuts, but the link hasn't been confirmed, Acheson said. Still, the plant decided to shut down late last week, officials said.

The recalled nuts are a small fraction of the 55 million pounds (25 million kilograms) of pistachios that the company's plant processed last year and an even smaller portion of the 278 million pounds (126 million kilograms) produced in the state in the 2008 season, according to the Fresno-based Administrative Committee for Pistachios.
Fabia D'Arienzo, a spokeswoman for Tulare County-based Setton Pistachio, said the company was only recalling certain bulk roasted in-shell and roasted shelled pistachios that were shipped on or after September 1.

How insurers secretly blacklist millions with common ailments

I have always suspected that the reason Bush was so in favor of computerized medical records was at the behest of health insurance companies, to make it easier for them to deny coverage for those with pre-existing conditions.


By John Dorschner | Miami Herald

Trying to buy health insurance on your own and have gallstones? You'll automatically be denied coverage. Rheumatoid arthritis? Automatic denial. Severe acne? Probably denied. Do you take metformin, a popular drug for diabetes? Denied. Use the anti-clotting drug Plavix or Seroquel, prescribed for anti-psychotic or sleep problems? Forget about it.

What's more, you can discover that if you lie to an insurer about your medical history and drug use, you will be rejected because data-mining companies sell information to insurers about your health, including detailed usage of prescription drugs.

Rating Agencies: Moody’s, S&P, and Fitch


Structured financial products, from RMBS to CDOs, lay at the heart of the global credit and financial meltdown. The process of creating, rating and selling this paper is complex. As we have learned after the fact, the rating agencies were not (as they claim) passive participants who just happened to misunderestimate the likelihood of future defaults. Rather, when they placed precious triple-A ratings on all sorts of mortgage-backed and related securities, they were active participants — collaborators, according to The Wall Street Journal:

“Helping spur the boom was a less-recognized role of the rating companies: their collaboration, behind the scenes, with the underwriters that were putting those securities together. Underwriters don’t just assemble a security out of home loans and ship it off to the credit raters to see what grade it gets. Instead, they work with rating companies while designing a mortgage bond or other security, making sure it gets high-enough ratings to be marketable.” 1

Jesse Eisinger of Portfolio was the first mainstream reporter to call the ratings agencies out in a substantive way. He noted that this collaboration, not surprisingly, led to “benign ratings of securities based on subprime mortgages.”2 Not only did the initial ratings prove to be too generous, the agencies were much too slow in downgrading housing-related bonds when mortgage defaults and foreclosures started to rise.

The paper that eventually collapsed found its way onto the balance sheets of many banks, funds and other firms. Had “the securities initially received the risky ratings” they deserved (and many now carry) the various pension funds, trusts, and mutual funds that now own them “would have been barred by their own rules from buying them.” 3

Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, economics professor at Columbia University in New York observed:

“I view the ratings agencies as one of the key culprits. They were the party that performed that alchemy that converted the securities from F-rated to A-rated. The banks could not have done what they did without the complicity of the ratings agencies.” 4

This error in judgment — placing AAA ratings on subprime-based loans and the structured products built on top of them — wasn’t merely the function of bad ratings judgment; rather, it was a conscious business decision. The Journal noted that rating agency fees were twice as big on subprime paper vs. prime-based loans. 5 Bloomberg estimated that from 2002 to 2007, the agencies garnered fees on $3.2 trillion in subprime-based mortgages and, yet, regulators found that Moody’s and S&P didn’t have enough people and didn’t adequately monitor the thousands of fixed-income securities they were grading. 6

In 2008, the House Oversight Committee opened a probe into the role of the bond-ratings agencies in the credit crisis and Congress held a hearing on the subject, featuring a now infamous instant message exchange: “We rate every deal,” one S&P analyst told another who dared to question the validity of the ratings process. “It could be structured by cows and we would rate it.” 7

While it was the investment banks that sold the junk paper, it was the rating agencies that tarted up the bonds. It was the equivalent of putting lipstick on a pig: This paper could never have danced its way onto the laps of so many drooling buyers without the rating agencies’ imprimatur of triple-A respectability.

Yet considering the massive damage they are directly responsible for, the rating agencies have all escaped relatively unscathed. Given their key role in the crisis — were they corrupt or incompetent or both? — one might have thought an Arthur Anderson-like demise was a distinct possibility. Warren Buffett should consider himself lucky — he is Moody’s biggest shareholder, and is fortunate the scandal hasn’t tarnished his reputation.

Why money messes with your mind


Daniel Ariely of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is one of them. He suggests that modern society presents us with two distinct sets of behavioural rules. There are the social norms, which are "warm and fuzzy" and designed to foster long-term relationships, trust and cooperation. Then there is a set of market norms, which revolve around money and competition, and encourage individuals to put their own interests first.
The trick is to get the correct balance between these two mindsets. Numerous psychological studies have found a general trade-off between the pursuit of so-called extrinsic aspirations - such as wealth, but also fame and image - and intrinsic aspirations, such as building and maintaining strong personal relationships. People who report a focus on the former score low on indicators of mental health, and those strongly motivated by money are also more likely to find their marriage ending in divorce.

This is not to say that we shouldn't focus at all on extrinsic aspirations. Everyone needs money for those parts of their lives governed by market norms, and it's well known that financial strain can bring depression, perceived loss of control and reduced life expectancy

Monday, March 30, 2009

Month Of Conception Linked To Birth Defects In United States


ScienceDaily (Mar. 30, 2009) — A study published in the April 2009 issue of the medical journal Acta Pædiatrica is the first to report that birth defect rates in the United States were highest for women conceiving in the spring and summer.

The researchers also found that this period of increase risk correlated with increased levels of pesticides in surface water across the United States.

Studying all 30.1 million births which occurred in the U.S. between 1996 and 2002, the researchers found a strong association between the increased number of birth defects in children of women whose last menstrual period occurred in April, May, June or July and elevated levels of nitrates, atrazine and other pesticides in surface water during the same months. While many of these chemicals, including the herbicide atrazine which is banned in European countries but permitted in the U.S., are suspected to be harmful to the developing embryo, this is the first study to link their increased seasonal concentration in surface water with the peak in birth defects in infants conceived in the same months.

The correlation between the month of last menstrual period and higher rates of birth defects was statistically significant for half of the 22 categories of birth defects reported in a Centers for Disease Control database from 1996 to 2002 including spina bifida, cleft lip, clubfoot and Down's syndrome.

"Elevated concentrations of pesticides and other agrochemicals in surface water during April through July coincided with significantly higher risk of birth defects in live births conceived by women whose last menstrual period began in the same months. While our study didn't prove a cause and effect link, the fact that birth defects and pesticides in surface water peak during the same four months makes us suspect that the two are related," said Paul Winchester, M.D., Indiana University School of Medicine professor of clinical pediatrics, the first author of the study.

"Birth defects, which affect about 3 out of 100 newborns in the U.S., are one of the leading causes of infant death. What we are most excited about is that if our suspicions are right and pesticides are contributing to birth defect risk, we can reverse or modify the factors that are causing these lifelong and often very serious medical problems," said Dr. Winchester, a Riley Hospital for Children neonatalogist.

Birth defects are known to be associated with risk factors such as alcohol, smoking, diabetes or advanced age. However, the researchers found that even mothers who didn't report these risk factors had higher overall birth defect rates for babies conceived from April to July.
Co-authors of this study, which was funded by the Division of Neonatalogy of the Department of Pediatrics of the IU School of Medicine, were Jordan Huskins, B.A., a fourth year I.U. School of Medicine student, and Jun Ying, Ph.D. of the University of Cincinnati.

Too Much Red Meat May Shorten Life Span


By Amanda Gardner
healthday Reporter – Mon Mar 23, 11:47 pm ET

MONDAY, March 23 (HealthDay News) -- Diets high in red meat and in processed meat shorten life span not just from cancer and heart disease but from Alzheimer's, stomach ulcers and an array of other conditions as well, a U.S. National Cancer Institute study has found.

In fact, reducing meat consumption to the amount eaten by the bottom 20 percent seen in the study would save 11 percent of men's lives and 16 percent of women's, according to the study.

"The consumption of red meat was associated with a modest increase in total mortality," said Rashmi Sinha, lead author of the study in the March 23 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine.

"This fits together with the findings of the American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Cancer Society, which recommend limiting the consumption of red meat," added Sinha, who is a senior investigator with the nutrition epidemiological branch in the cancer epidemiology and genetics division at the Cancer Institute. "This is something new in the sense of mortality."

Previous studies of red meat had mostly found an association with cancer incidence. The authors pointed out that many pooled studies had been conducted by vegetarian groups.

Last year, U.S. National Cancer Institute researchers reported that a quarter-pound hamburger or a small pork chop eaten daily could put you at increased risk for a variety of cancers. The message from the latest study echoes that finding: The more red meat and processed meat you eat, the greater your risk for dying of cancer.
Men and women eating the highest amount of red meat were found to have a 31 percent and 36 percent, respectively, higher risk of dying from any cause than those eating the least amount.

Women eating the most processed meat were 25 percent more likely to die early than those eating the least of this type of meat, while men had a 16 percent increased risk, the study found.

Causes of death for those in the study included diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, ulcers, pneumonia, influenza, liver disease, HIV, tuberculosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and more.

Dying from cancer also was more likely among those eating the most red meat: 22 percent higher for men, 20 percent for women. The risk for death from cancer increased 12 percent for men and 11 percent for women who ate the greatest amount of processed meat.

Similarly, the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease was higher by 27 percent for men and 50 percent for women; for processed red meat, the risk was 9 percent higher for men and 38 percent higher for women.

However, people who ate the most white meat showed a lower risk of dying.

The authors also noted a 24 percent higher risk of dying from heart problems among men who had never smoked and who ate more white meat. Women faced a 20 percent higher risk.

Meat contains many carcinogens as well as saturated fat, which might explain the increased mortality risk, the authors stated.

Dr. Jay Brooks, chairman of hematology/oncology at Ochsner Health System in Baton Rouge, La., described the study's findings as "provocative."

"The question is how much of it is the meat and how much is the extra calories," Brooks said. "Calories per se are a strong determinant for death from cancer and heart disease. This should make us think about our calorie intake."

Crabs Not Only Suffer Pain, But Retain Memory Of It


ScienceDaily (Mar. 28, 2009) — New research published by a Queen's University Belfast academic has shown that crabs not only suffer pain but that they retain a memory of it.

The study, which looked at the reactions of hermit crabs to small electric shocks, was carried out by Professor Bob Elwood and Mirjam Appel from the School of Biological Sciences at Queen's and has been published in the journal Animal Behaviour.

Professor Elwood, who previously carried out a study showing that prawns endure pain, said his research highlighted the need to investigate how crustaceans used in food industries are treated.

Hermit crabs have no shell of their own so inhabit other structures, usually empty mollusc shells.

Wires were attached to shells to deliver the small shocks to the abdomen of the some of the crabs within the shells.

The only crabs to get out of their shells were those which had received shocks, indicating that the experience is unpleasant for them. This shows that central neuronal processing occurs rather than the response merely being a reflex.

Newly Pregnant Smokers Have a 15-Week Window to Quit


By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter by Steven Reinberg
healthday Reporter – Fri Mar 27, 11:47 pm ET

THURSDAY, March 26 (HealthDay News) -- Pregnant women who quit smoking before the 15th week of pregnancy reduce their risk of premature birth and having small babies to that of nonsmoking women, a new study finds.

It's known that smoking during pregnancy increases the risk of miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, premature birth, small babies, stillbirth and neonatal death, but no study until now has determined whether stopping smoking in early pregnancy reduces the risks of small babies and premature births, the study authors said.

"Pregnant women who smoke should be encouraged and assisted to become smoke-free early in pregnancy," said lead researcher Dr. Lesley McCowan, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Auckland in New Zealand.

Women who don't quit smoking by 15 weeks are three times more likely to give birth prematurely and twice as likely to have smaller babies, compared to women who stopped smoking, McCowan said.

The findings were published in the March 27 online issue of BMJ.

For the study, McCowan's team collected data on 2,504 pregnant women. Eighty percent did not smoke, 10 percent had quit smoking and 10 percent were current smokers.

There was no difference in the rate of spontaneous premature birth between women who did not smoke and those who had stopped by week 15 (4 percent vs. 4 percent). The same was true for having smaller babies (10 percent vs. 10 percent), the researchers found.

However, women who continued to smoke had higher rates of spontaneous preterm birth than woman who quit (10 percent vs. 4 percent) and higher rates of smaller babies (17 percent vs. 10 percent).

The study also found that women who stopped smoking weren't more stressed than women who continued to smoke, McCowan noted.
"Babies that live in 'smoking homes' have a much higher risk of respiratory ailments, such as asthma and pneumonia and SIDS. In addition, women are more susceptible to the cancer-causing effects of cigarette smoke than men. The tobacco industry specifically targets women, despite this well-known fact," he said.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Multi-generational living hard on women's hearts


Fri Mar 27, 2:55 pm ET

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Women, but not men, who live in households with a spouse, children, and parents have double the risk for a coronary event, such as a heart attack or need for heart surgery, as women who live only with a spouse, according to research from Japan.

Stress may play a role in this increased risk, as about a quarter of the women living in a three-generation household or living with a spouse and parent reported high stress. Fewer women were highly stressed when they lived alone, with a spouse, or with a spouse and child, Professor H. Iso and colleagues report in the journal Heart.

Iso, of Osaka University, and colleagues assessed coronary heart disease events and deaths in relation to the living arrangements reported by nearly 91,000 Japanese men and women who were 40 to 69 years old.

Over 11 years of follow up, Iso's team noted no significant impact on CHD incidence among the men in the study.

However, among the women, those living in three-generation households had twice the risk for heart-related events as women living only with a spouse. Moreover, women living with spouses and parents had triple the risk for heart problems compared with women living only with a spouse.

These findings are relevant for Japanese health policy, Iso and colleagues surmise, particularly in light of the increasing female workforce, the declining marriage rate, and the rapid aging of the population in Japan.

SOURCE: Heart, April 2009.

Lower costs lure U.S. patients abroad for treatment

Of course, many people can't even afford to go to another country in the first place. I thought I was going to end up on disability because of cataracts. Fortunately, baby boomers started retiring, and young people got smart and stopped going into IT, so business was forced to start hiring old people, and I was able to get a decent-paying job again. All the state of Georgia could do for me was give me a couple of forms to fill out requesting charity from the Lions Club and the Shriners. And people are not eligible for medicare until they have been on disability for two years, unless they have ALS or turn 65.


By Danielle Dellorto
CNN Medical Producer

NEW DELHI, India (CNN) -- "I was a walking time bomb. I knew I had to get on that plane if I wanted to be around to see my grandkids."

Sandra Giustina is a 61-year-old uninsured American. For three years she saved her money in hopes of affording heart surgery to correct her atrial fibrillation. "They [U.S. hospitals] told me it would be about $175,000, and there was just no way could I come up with that," Giustina said.

So, with a little digging online, she found several high quality hospitals vying for her business, at a fraction of the U.S. cost. Within a month, she was on a plane from her home in Las Vegas, Nevada, to New Delhi, India. Surgeons at Max Hospital fixed her heart for "under $10,000 total, including travel."

Giustina is just one of millions around the world journeying outside their native land for medical treatment, a phenomenon known as "medical tourism." Experts say the trend in global health care has just begun. Next year alone, an estimated 6 million Americans will travel abroad for surgery, according to a 2008 Deloitte study. "Medical care in countries such as India, Thailand and Singapore can cost as little as 10 percent of the cost of comparable care in the United States," the report found.
Companies such as Los Angeles-based Planet Hospital are creating a niche in the service industry as medical travel planners. One guidebook says that more than 200 have sprung up in the last few years. "We find the best possible surgeons and deliver their service to patients safely, affordably and immediately," said Rudy Rupak, president of Planet Hospital. "No one should have to choose between an operation to save their life or going bankrupt."

True Hero


updated 9:17 a.m. EDT, Fri March 27, 2009
BALTIMORE, Maryland (CNN) -- Dr. Carnell Cooper, a Baltimore surgeon, is saving lives inside and outside the operating room.

Since becoming a trauma surgeon 16 years ago, he has dedicated himself to treating the many young African-American men who've been shot, stabbed or beaten, only to see them return to the ER with another severe injury just months later.

But when one of his patients was readmitted with a fatal gunshot wound to the head in 1996, it changed Cooper's life.

"The night that we pronounced that young man dead and my colleagues said there's really nothing we can do in these situations. ... I just didn't believe that," said Cooper, 54. "From that day forward, I said, 'Let's see what we can do.' "

Cooper created the Violence Intervention Program (VIP) at the Shock Trauma Unit of the University of Maryland Medical Center, the state's busiest hospital for violent injuries. It became one of the country's first hospital-based anti-violence programs.

"We approached this problem like any public health crisis, like heart disease or smoking," he said. "We tried to work on the root causes."

Since 1998, VIP has provided substance abuse counseling, job skills training and other support services to nearly 500 trauma victims.

"Using that scalpel blade to save their life is the first step," Cooper said. "The next step is to try to keep them from coming back."

A 2006 study by Cooper and his colleagues, published in the Journal of Trauma, showed that people in the program were six times less likely to be readmitted with a violent injury and three times less likely to be arrested for a violent crime.
VIP helps connect its members with additional support services, such as GED classes, conflict resolution, mentoring and parenting skills. A peer support group also meets at the hospital once a week.

The success of Cooper's program has made it a model for others around the country and inspired the doctor to develop a larger initiative, the Violence Prevention Program, which includes other hospital-based efforts targeting young people in at-risk communities.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Drinking very hot tea can increase the risk of throat cancer

Years ago, I read that an increased risk of oral cancer in Japanese men, vs. women, had been traced to the fact that the men ate first, then the women and children. So the food was hotter when the men ate it. I admit, I felt it was poetic justice.


People are advised to wait a few minutes before drinking a cup of freshly-boiled tea today as a new study, published on bmj.com, finds that drinking very hot tea (70°C or more) can increase the risk of cancer of the oesophagus, the muscular tube that carries food from the throat to the stomach.

The study was carried out in northern Iran, where large amounts of hot tea are drunk every day.

But an accompanying editorial says these findings are not cause for alarm and the general advice is to allow foods and beverages to cool a little before swallowing.

Cancers of the oesophagus kill more than 500,000 people worldwide each year and oesophageal squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC) is the commonest type. In Europe and America, it is mainly caused by tobacco and alcohol use and is more common in men than in women, but drinking hot beverages is also thought to be a risk factor.

Golestan Province in northern Iran has one of the highest rates of OSCC in the world, but rates of smoking and alcohol consumption are low and women are as likely to have a diagnosis as men. Tea drinking, however, is widespread, so researchers set out to investigate a possible link between tea drinking habits and risk of OSCC.

They studied tea drinking habits among 300 people diagnosed with OSCC and a matched group of 571 healthy controls from the same area. Nearly all participants drank black tea regularly, with an average volume consumed of over one litre a day.

Compared with drinking warm or lukewarm tea (65°C or less), drinking hot tea (65-69°C) was associated with twice the risk of oesophageal cancer, and drinking very hot tea (70°C or more) was associated with eight-fold increased risk.

Likewise, compared with drinking tea four or more minutes after being poured, drinking tea less than two minutes after pouring was associated with a five-fold higher risk.

There was no association between the amount of tea consumed and risk of cancer.

Drop in daddy long legs is devastating bird populations

This is from a British university. The daddy long legs referred to is a winged insect. In the U.S., a daddy long legs is a relative of spiders, with long, skinny legs.


Warm summers are dramatically reducing populations of daddy long legs, which in turn is having a severe impact on the bird populations which rely on them for food.

New research by a team of bird experts, including Newcastle University’s Dr Mark Whittingham, spells out for the first time how climate change may affect upland bird species like the golden plover – perhaps pushing it towards local extinction by the end of the century.

It also points a way forward to how we can attempt to strengthen habitats to help wildlife adapt to our changing climate and prevent such consequences.

Previous research has shown how changes in the timing of the golden plover breeding season as a result of increasing spring temperatures might affect their ability to match the spring emergence of their cranefly (daddy long legs) prey.

The new research, published today in the scientific journal Global Change Biology, shows the true effects are much more severe.

Higher temperatures in late summer are killing the cranefly larvae, resulting in a drop of up to 95 per cent in the number of adult craneflies emerging the following spring. With these craneflies providing a crucial food source for a wide range of upland birds like the golden plover, this means starvation and death for many chicks.

“The population of Golden Plovers in our study will likely be extinct in around 100 years if temperature predictions are correct and the birds cannot adapt to feed on other prey sources,” explains Newcastle University’s Dr Mark Whittingham, who worked on the study with scientists from RSPB Scotland and Aberystwyth and Manchester universities.

$710,000 Breguet Watches Sell in U.S.


By Thomas Mulier

March 27 (Bloomberg) -- Breguet diamond-encrusted “double tourbillon” watches that cost about 800,000 Swiss francs ($710,000) are selling within days of their delivery to the U.S., Swatch Group AG Chairman Nicolas Hayek said, a sign that demand for the most-expensive luxury goods still exists.

“We’re selling very many of them,” Hayek said in an interview yesterday at the world’s largest annual watch fair in Basel, Switzerland. “Every one we send to the United States is sold within less than one week.”

The highest end of Swiss watches has seen a smaller drop in orders than mid-range and cheap timepieces. Exports of Swiss watches wholesaling for more than 3,000 francs fell 6.6 percent in February, while the entire market fell 22 percent. Breguet, which sold timepieces to Napoleon, Winston Churchill and Russian Tsar Alexander the First, makes double tourbillon watches one at a time, keeping quantities very limited. The company declined to comment on how many it sells.

Breguet, founded in 1775 by Abraham Louis Breguet, invented and patented the tourbillon, a device that’s designed to keep an automatic watch more precise. The rotating sphere counteracts the effect of gravity, which can throw automatic watches off. The tourbillon is one of the most complicated watch mechanisms, and having two makes a watch even more precise.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Lights out in 84 countries for Earth Hour 2009

I was at a restaurant at Earth Hour last year, and was happy the restaurant lowered the lights for it.


By CARYN ROUSSEAU, Associated Press Writer – Fri Mar 27, 5:00 am ET

CHICAGO – The lights are going down from the Great Pyramids to the Acropolis, the Eiffel Tower to Sears Tower, as more than 2,800 municipalities in 84 countries plan Saturday to mark the second worldwide Earth Hour.

McDonald's will even soften the yellow glow from some Golden Arches as part of the time zone-by-time zone plan to dim nonessential lights between 8:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. to highlight global climate change.
The Commonwealth Edison utility said electricity demand fell by 5 percent in Chicago and northern Illinois during last year's Earth Hour, reducing about 840,000 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions.
"Earth Hour makes a powerful statement that the world is going to solve this problem," said Carter Roberts, chief executive of the World Wildlife Fund, which sponsors Earth Hour. "Everyone is realizing the enormous effect that climate change will have on them."

Seven times more municipalities have signed on since last year's Earth Hour, which drew participation from 400 cities after Sydney, Australia held a solo event in 2007. Interest has spiked ahead of planned negotiations on a new global warming treaty in Copenhagen, Denmark this December. The last global accord, the Kyoto Protocol, is set to expire in 2012.

Vindictiveness doesn't pay


Vindictiveness doesn't pay. This has been demonstrated by a current study at Bonn and Maastricht Universities. According to this study, a person inclined to deal with inequity on a tit-for-tat basis tends to experience more unemployment than other people. Vindictive people also have less friends and are less satisfied with their lives. The study appears in the current edition of the Economic Journal.

We tend to live by the motto "tit for tat". We repay an invitation to dinner with a counter-invitation; when a friend helps us to move house, we help to move his furniture a few months later. On the other hand, we repay meanness in the same coin. Scientists speak here of reciprocity. A person who repays friendly actions in a like manner is said to behave with positive reciprocity, and one who avenges unfairness acts with negative reciprocity.

Positive and negative reciprocity are interdependent traits: many people incline to positive reciprocity, others more to negative; others, again, incline to both. The researchers from Bonn and Maastricht wanted to discover what influence these traits of character have on parameters such as "success" or "satisfaction with life". For this, they resorted to data from the so-called "socio-economic panel". This contains information gathered by the Deutsche Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung (German Institute for economic Research) in its annual surveys. These involve around 20,000 respondents from all over Germany and cover a diversity of topics.

The researchers in Bonn used this instrument to discover something about the attitudes to reciprocity of the participants in the study. They were to state, for example, to what extent they would repay a favour or, on the other hand, an insult on a tit-for-tat basis. "Both positive and negative reciprocity are widespread in Germany", declares Professor Dr. Armin Falk of Bonn University, summarising the results.

Positively reciprocal People perform more Overtime

The researchers then related these data to other results of the survey, whereby they stumbled upon a number of interesting correlations: "Thus, positively reciprocal people tend on average to perform more overtime, but only when they find the remuneration fair", declares Professor Dr. Thomas Dohmen of Maastricht University. "As they are very sensitive to incentives, they also tend to earn more money".

This is in stark contrast to vindictive people. With these people, the equation "more money = more work" does not always apply. Even pay cuts are not an effective means of bringing negatively reciprocal people back into line. Ultimately the danger arises that they will take revenge – for example, by refusing to work, or by sabotage. "On the basis of these theoretical considerations it would be natural to expect that negatively reciprocal people are more likely to lose their jobs", Falk explains: "A supposition which coincides with our results. Consequently, negatively reciprocal people experience a significantly higher rate of unemployment".

And in other respects, too, vindictiveness is not a maxim to be recommended. Anyone who prefers to act according to the Old Testament motto of "An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth" has on average less friends – and is clearly less than satisfied with his or her life.

Hormone-mimics in plastic water bottles - just the tip of the iceberg?


Plastic packaging is not without its downsides, and if you thought mineral water was ‘clean’, it may be time to think again. According to Martin Wagner and Jörg Oehlmann from the Department of Aquatic Ecotoxicology at the Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, plastic mineral water bottles contaminate drinking water with estrogenic chemicals. In an analysis1 of commercially available mineral waters, the researchers found evidence of estrogenic compounds leaching out of the plastic packaging into the water. What’s more, these chemicals are potent in vivo and result in an increased development of embryos in the New Zealand mud snail. These findings, which show for the first time that substances leaching out of plastic food packaging materials act as functional estrogens, are published in Springer’s journal Environmental Science and Pollution Research.

Wagner and Oehlmann looked at whether the migration of substances from packaging material into foodstuffs contributes to human exposure to man-made hormones. They analyzed 20 brands of mineral water available in Germany – nine bottled in glass, nine bottled in plastic and two bottled in composite packaging (paperboard boxes coated with an inner plastic film). The researchers took water samples from the bottles and tested them for the presence of estrogenic chemicals in vitro. They then carried out a reproduction test with the New Zealand mud snail to determine the source and potency of the xenoestrogens.

They detected estrogen contamination in 60% of the samples (12 of the 20 brands) analyzed. Mineral waters in glass bottles were less estrogenic than waters in plastic bottles. Specifically, 33% of all mineral waters bottled in glass compared with 78% of waters in plastic bottles and both waters bottled in composite packaging showed significant hormonal activity.

By breeding the New Zealand mud snail in both plastic and glass water bottles, the researchers found more than double the number of embryos in plastic bottles compared with glass bottles. Taken together, these results demonstrate widespread contamination of mineral water with potent man-made estrogens that partly originate from compounds leaching out of the plastic packaging material.

The authors conclude: “We must have identified just the tip of the iceberg in that plastic packaging may be a major source of xenohormone* contamination of many other edibles. Our findings provide an insight into the potential exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals due to unexpected sources of contamination.”
*man-made substance that has a hormone-like effect

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Protein from tick saliva studied for potential myasthenia gravis treatment

I included this, even though it has so far only been shown to work in rats, because of the title of the article. While a serious subject, the heading appealed to my sense of humor.


Looking for a better treatment for the autoimmune disease myasthenia gravis, researchers have found that a protein in tick saliva shows promise in limiting the severity of the disease in an animal model in a study published in the Annals of Neurology.

"This disease can leave patients weak and on breathing machines, and conventional treatments can be toxic," said Henry Kaminski, M.D., chair of the department of neurology and psychiatry at Saint Louis University and one of the nation's leading experts on myasthenia gravis. "There is a real need for better treatments. This study is a step in that direction."

Myasthenia gravis is a highly debilitating, chronic neuromuscular disorder that affects about 400 to 600 per 1 million people, and roughly 1,100 to 1,700 people in the St. Louis area. Symptoms include weakness in the arms and legs, chronic muscle fatigue, difficulty breathing, difficulty chewing and swallowing, slurred speech, droopy eyelids and blurred or double vision.

While drugs like prednisone, a corticosteroid, can be effective in treating the disorder, they also can carry a host of severe side effects, including pronounced weight gain, osteoporosis, glaucoma and diabetes.

Other treatments, intravenous immunoglobulin and plasmapheresis, which involve blood plasma, are expensive and can have rare but serious side-effects such as infections, heart attacks and stroke.

Doctors believe that myasthenia gravis is caused by an overreaction of the complement system, a component of the immune system that specifically defends against parasites, bacteria and other pathogens. Antibodies block nerve receptors at the neuromuscular junction, the place where nerves connect with muscles, and then activate complement which prevents muscle contraction from occurring, causing weakness.

To impede the complement system's misplaced response, researchers hope a new class of drugs, called complement inhibitors, may stop the body's defense system from attacking itself.

Other researchers discovered that rEV576, a protein found in tick saliva, works as a complement inhibitor, allowing ticks to avoiding setting off an immune response in their human host.

SLU researchers in collaboration with Varleigh Limited tested the protein on two groups of rats with mild and severe models of myasthenia gravis. The health of rats that were given the complement inhibitor rEV576 improved, with reduced weakness and weight loss.

Researchers hope rEV576 could have therapeutic value in human myasthenia gravis. And, because ticks apply themselves to people without causing a reaction, researchers are optimistic that rEV576 will not cause allergic reactions or other negative side effects.

"Complement inhibitors are a completely new class of drugs," said Kaminski. "This one will probably prove to be superior to what we've seen. Since complement is activated in many diseases such as Alzheimer's, stroke and rheumatoid arthritis, our studies may be important for other diseases."

New View Of The Way Young Children Think


ScienceDaily (Mar. 25, 2009) — For parents who have found themselves repeating the same warnings or directions to their toddler over and over to no avail, new research from the University of Colorado at Boulder offers them an answer as to why their toddlers don't listen to their advice: they're just storing it away for later.

Scientists -- and many parents -- have long believed that children's brains operate like those of little adults. The thinking was that over time kids learn things like proactively planning for and understanding how actions in the present affect them in the future. But the new study suggests that this is not the case.

"The good news is what we're saying to our kids doesn't go in one ear and out the other, like people might have thought," said CU-Boulder psychology Professor Yuko Munakata, who conducted the study with CU doctoral student Christopher Chatham and Michael Frank of Brown University. "It also doesn't go in and then get put into action like it does with adults. But rather it goes in and gets stored away for later."

"I went into this study expecting a completely different set of findings," said Munakata. "There is a lot of work in the field of cognitive development that focuses on how kids are basically little versions of adults trying to do the same things adults do, but they're just not as good at it yet. What we show here is they are doing something completely different."
Using pupillometry to determine the time at which children exerted mental effort, the speed of their responses for each type of sequence and the relative accuracy of those responses, the researchers found that children neither plan for the future nor live completely in the present. Instead, they call up the past as they need it.

"For example, let's say it's cold outside and you tell your 3-year-old to go get his jacket out of his bedroom and get ready to go outside. You might expect the child to plan for the future, think 'OK it's cold outside so the jacket will keep me warm,' " said Chatham. "But what we suggest is that this isn't what goes on in a 3-year-old's brain. Rather, they run outside, discover that it is cold, and then retrieve the memory of where their jacket is, and then they go get it."

Munakata doesn't claim to be a parental expert, but she does think their new study has relevance to parents' daily interactions with their toddlers.

"If you just repeat something again and again that requires your young child to prepare for something in advance, that is not likely to be effective," Munakata said. "What would be more effective would be to somehow try to trigger this reactive function. So don't do something that requires them to plan ahead in their mind, but rather try to highlight the conflict that they are going to face. Perhaps you could say something like 'I know you don't want to take your coat now, but when you're standing in the yard shivering later, remember that you can get your coat from your bedroom."

Listening To Pleasant Music Could Help Restore Vision In Stroke Patients


ScienceDaily (Mar. 25, 2009) — Patients who have lost part of their visual awareness following a stroke can show an improved ability to see when they are listening to music they like, according to a new study published March 23 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The new study looked at three patients who had lost awareness of half of their field of vision as a result of a stroke. The patients completed tasks under three conditions: while listening to their preferred music, while listening to music they did not like and in silence. All three patients could identify coloured shapes and red lights in their depleted side of vision much more accurately while they were listening to their preferred music, compared with listening to music they did not like or silence.

For example, in one task, patients were asked to press a button when they could see a red light appear. One patient could point out the light in 65% of cases while he was listening to music he liked, but could only recognise the light in 15% of cases when there was no music or music he did not like being played.

The researchers believe that the improvement in visual awareness seen in these patients could be as a result of patients experiencing positive emotions when listening to music that they like. The team suggest that when a patient experiences positive emotions this may result in more efficient signalling in the brain. This may then improve the patient's awareness by giving the brain more resources to process stimuli.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

IBM to lay off 5,000 US-based workers

Golly, isn't it a mystery why fewer young people want to go into IT? (sarcasm alert)


Posted on Wed Mar 25, 2009 7:14PM EDT
SAN FRANCISCO - IBM Corp. plans to lay off about 5,000 U.S. employees in a new round of job cuts, the Associated Press has learned. The move reflects IBM's aggressiveness in shifting labor to lower-cost regions like India and keeping its profits aloft at a time when other technology companies' earnings are tumbling.

An IBM manager knowledgeable about the plans said the cuts will come from the services division and workers will be informed Thursday. The person spoke on condition of anonymity Wednesday because he was not authorized to discuss the plan publicly.

The layoffs were reported earlier by The Wall Street Journal.

The cuts will affect about 4 percent of IBM's U.S.-based work force, which totaled 115,000 at the end of 2008. In a sign of how quickly IBM is staffing up in emerging markets, last year IBM had nearly as many workers in Brazil, China, India and Russia — 113,000 — as it did in the U.S.

IBM now has about 400,000 employees worldwide.

Unlike many other tech companies that have recently announced layoffs, IBM has managed to become more profitable despite the recession. IBM's cost-cutting, global footprint, and focus on services and software, which are often more lucrative than hardware, are key reasons why. IBM's net income was up 18 percent last year to $12.3 billion.

In January, Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM cut thousands of U.S. jobs in sales, software and hardware. IBM didn't give the precise number, saying it fell below an amount that would require disclosure.

Other tech companies are also doing big layoffs.

Hewlett-Packard Co. is slashing 24,600 positions, 8 percent of its 320,000-employee work force, in a three-year restructuring as part of its acquisition of Electronic Data Systems Corp. HP paid $13.9 billion for EDS in a bid to compete better against IBM for technology-services contracts.

Microsoft Corp. said in January it was cutting 5,000 jobs, the first mass layoffs in the company's history, after profit in the latest quarter fell 11 percent to $4.17 billion.

IBM's shares ended Wednesday down 35 cents at $97.95.

Cities Deal With a Surge in Shanty Towns


Published: March 25, 2009

FRESNO, Calif. — As the operations manager of a outreach center for the homeless here, Paul Stack is used to seeing people down on their luck. What he had never seen before was people living in tents and lean-tos on the railroad lot across from the center.

“They just popped up about 18 months ago,” Mr. Stack said. “One day it was empty. The next day, there were people living there.”

Like a dozen or so other cities across the nation, Fresno is dealing with an unhappy déjà vu: the arrival of modern-day Hoovervilles, illegal encampments of homeless people that are reminiscent, on a far smaller scale, of Depression-era shantytowns. At his news conference on Tuesday night, President Obama was asked directly about the tent cities and responded by saying that it was “not acceptable for children and families to be without a roof over their heads in a country as wealthy as ours.”
Guillermo Flores, 32, said he had looked for work in the fields and in fast food, but had found nothing. For the last eight months, he has collected cans, recycling them for $5 to $10 a day, and lived in a hand-built, three-room shack, a home that he takes pride in, with a door, clean sheets on his bed and a bowl full of fresh apples in his propane-powered kitchen area.
Wow, that's a lot of cans. I know because I picked up cans a few years ago when I was out of work.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Madoff’s 19th Century Forerunner Shows Flaws of Rules

Some say that we should not pass laws that would penalize AIG retroactively for using our tax money to give big bonuses to their executives who created their problems. I don't think retroactive laws should be common, but when people use their creativity to come up with a new way to enrich themselves at the expense of others, which is not covered by law , it is not right that they should be able to get away with it simply because their actions were not anticipated by decent people.


By Tom Cahill

March 20 (Bloomberg) -- John Sadleir, a British member of parliament, newspaper publisher, bank and railroad chairman, lay down under a bush on London’s Hampstead Heath and sipped poison prussic acid from a silver jug.

His suicide on Feb. 16, 1856, exposed a fraud that would wipe out at least three companies and cause “ruin and misery and disgrace to thousands -- aye to tens of thousands,” as Sadleir correctly predicted in a final letter to a friend.

Charles Dickens, Anthony Trollope and at least three other Victorian novelists used Sadleir as the inspiration for fictional villains. And in a note that foreshadowed the response to Bernard Madoff, 70, who last week pleaded guilty to defrauding investors of as much as $65 billion, politicians found him an inspiration for increased regulation.

“Whenever frauds like Sadleir’s or Madoff’s are exposed, people clamor for government regulation,” said George Robb, a professor at William Patterson University in Wayne, New Jersey, and author of “White-Collar Crime in Modern England: Financial Fraud and Business Morality 1845-1929” (Cambridge University Press, 1992). “The problem with regulation is it’s always reactive, they solve the last scandal. In 10 years people forget and crooks figure out a way to circumvent it.”

Less than a year after Sadleir’s death, two more bank frauds came to light, one of which also ended in suicide, according to Robb. The scams helped accelerate the Banking Crisis of 1857, a panic that started in the U.S. and spread to the U.K., prompting one of the last bank runs in Britain until Northern Rock Plc, the U.K. bank nationalized in 2008.

Adair Turner, chairman of the Financial Services Authority, this week called for “profound” regulatory change to prevent future financial crises.

Parliament went through a similar exercise after Sadleir’s fraud in 1856, including Treasury select committee hearings. Among the results was the introduction of limited liability banks in which each investor was liable only for the amount of money he put into the company, a change designed to protect shareholders from the misdeeds of others.

Within a decade, the U.K. had another panic, the commercial crisis of 1866, blamed in part on the limited liability rules.

C. Hoare & Co., a family-owned bank that’s operated on London’s Fleet Street since 1672, credits its status as the sole U.K. bank to reject limited liability for its success in navigating the credit crisis unscathed.

“Unlimited liability, the joy of it is it keeps you jolly nervous,” Chief Executive Officer Alexander Hoare said in an interview. “Everything apart from the shirt on our back is at risk.”

Single Alzheimer’s Gene Protects People, Double Gene Does Harm

Single Alzheimer’s Gene Protects People, Double Gene Does Harm

By Elizabeth Lopatto

March 12 (Bloomberg) -- One copy of the mutant gene A673V, and a person is protected from Alzheimer’s disease. Two copies, and he or she is guaranteed to get it.

A group led by a researcher in Italy came to that conclusion after finding a man who was diagnosed with early-onset dementia at age 36. His sister has mild cognitive impairment, according to a study published in the journal Science. The scientists said both siblings had two copies of the A673V gene. Six of their relatives aged 21 to 88 had one copy of the mutation each, and didn’t have Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer’s is most likely caused by beta amyloid, which clumps in the brain, choking neurons, Snyder said. Beta amyloid is created when another substance, amyloid precursor protein, is snipped in two places by enzymes.

After discovering the man and his sister, scientists led by Fabrizio Tagliavini of the Carlo Besta National Neurological Institute, in Milan, cultured cells from the patients who had no copies, one copy or two copies of the A673V mutation and studied how the genes affected live proteins.

Lab experiments showed that more beta amyloid proteins were created by the cells with two copies of the mutation, and the beta amyloid was also more likely to clump together. Cells with one copy of mutated A673V produced less beta amyloid clumps than those with no copies, the experiments showed.

Religious Patients More Likely to Seek End-of-Life Cancer Care

Interesting. A major attraction of religion is that it claims to offer life after death that is better than life on earth. So one might expect believers to be less afraid of death. However, my personal experience with a few friends and family when they were dying does not show this to be the case. Eg., my grandmother, who was quite religious, wondered if Got was punishing her for something by giving her cancer. It just added to her distress.


By Elizabeth Lopatto

March 17 (Bloomberg) -- Patients who used religious faith to cope with their advanced cancer were three times more likely to receive intensive life-prolonging treatment than those not relying on spiritual beliefs, according to a Harvard University study.

The faith-oriented patients were more likely to use ventilation to breathe or have CPR administered in the week before they died, according to the study, published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association. They wanted physicians to take “heroic measures” to keep them alive, and were less likely to have do-not-resuscitate orders, living wills or someone designated as their health-care proxy.

It isn’t clear why these patients pursue more aggressive treatment, said Andrea Phelps, a senior medical resident at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston and the study’s lead author. It may be that people with a strong sense of faith are more optimistic or are more satisfied with their quality of life, Phelps said. Doctors should be sensitive to religious beliefs and help plan care accordingly, Phelps said.

Monday, March 23, 2009

9th warmest February on record

The winter just ending and the previous one have been mostly mild here in the Atlanta area, with a few cold spells. But I have noticed that some people remember them as really cold; it seems those few frigid times take over their memories. An example of why scientific learning depends on keeping records.


Posted by: JeffMasters, 12:35 PM GMT on March 20, 2009
Global temperatures in February remained about where they've been the past year, with Earth recording its 9th warmest February on record, according to statistics released by the National Climatic Data Center. This past winter was the eighth warmest winter on record (December-February), and the January-February year-to-date period was also the eighth warmest. The most notable extreme February heat occurred February 7 in southern Australia. Many locations set new all-time hottest temperature records, including an all-time state record for Victoria when temperatures reached 48.8°C (119.8°F) in Hopetoun, shattering the previous record of 47.2°C (117.0°F) set in January 1939. The extreme heat was accompanied by very dry conditions that contributed to the development of deadly wildfires that killed 210 people. The most notable cold conditions for the winter of 2008/2009 occurred in the United Kingdom, which had its coldest winter since 1995/1996.

For the contiguous U.S., February temperatures were the 27th warmest in the 114-year record, according to the National Climatic Data Center. The month was very dry, ranking as the 8th driest February. New Jersey and Delaware had their driest February ever recorded. The winter of 2008/2009 (December - February) ranked as the 5th driest winter on record, and the year-to-date January - February period was the driest ever such period. Texas recorded its driest winter. Thanks to all the dry weather, the U.S. has only seen about 50% of normal tornado activity in 2009, according to NOAA's Storm Prediction Center. On March 19, 2009, 21% of the contiguous United States was in moderate-to-exceptional drought. This is unchanged from January.

Love among elephants

From "U.S. News & World Report" Special Collector's Edition magazine "Mysteries of Science", on sale thru July 14, 2009, page 29:
by Marc Bakoff

A recent trip to Kenya and Tanzania opened my eyes to the world of elephants. While we were watching a group of wild elephants living in the Samburu Reserve in northern Kenya, we noted that one of them, Babyl, walked very slowly. We learned that she was crippled and that she couldn't travel as fast as the rest of the herd. However, we saw that the elephants in Babyl's group waited for her. When I asked our guide, the elephant expert Iain Douglas-Hamilton, about this he said that these elephants always waited for Babyl, and they's been doing so for years. Douglas-Hamilton said the matriarch even fed her on occasion.

Inadequate Vitamin D Levels Linked To High Use Of Narcotic Medication By Patients In Chronic Pain


ScienceDaily (Mar. 20, 2009) — Mayo Clinic research shows a correlation between inadequate vitamin D levels and the amount of narcotic medication taken by patients who have chronic pain. This correlation is an important finding as researchers discover new ways to treat chronic pain.
This study found that patients who required narcotic pain medication, and who also had inadequate levels of vitamin D, were taking much higher doses of pain medication — nearly twice as much — as those who had adequate levels. Similarly, these patients self-reported worse physical functioning and worse overall health perception. In addition, a correlation was noted between increasing body mass index (a measure of obesity) and decreasing levels of vitamin D. Study results were published in a recent edition of Pain Medicine.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Exposure To Insecticide May Play Role In Obesity Epidemic Among Some Women


ScienceDaily (Mar. 20, 2009) — Prenatal exposure to an insecticide commonly used up until the 1970s may play a role in the obesity epidemic in women, according to a new study involving several Michigan State University researchers.

More than 250 mothers who live along and eat fish from Lake Michigan were studied for their exposure to DDE – a breakdown of DDT. The study, published as an editor’s choice in this month’s edition of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, analyzed DDE levels of the women’s offspring.

Compared to the group with the lowest levels, those with intermediate levels gained an average of 13 pounds excess weight, and those with higher levels gained more than 20 pounds of excess weight.

“Prenatal exposure to toxins is increasingly being looked at as a potential cause for the rise in obesity seen worldwide,” said Janet Osuch, a professor of surgery and epidemiology at MSU’s College of Human Medicine, who was one of the lead authors of the study. “What we have found for the first time is exposure to certain toxins by eating fish from polluted waters may contribute to the obesity epidemic in women.”

Though DDT was banned in 1973 after three decades of widespread use, the chemical and its byproducts remain toxic in marine life and fatty fish. The study was funded by a $300,000 grant from the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
“These findings not only apply to the offspring of women in our cohort but to any woman who has been exposed to high levels of DDE when she was growing in her mother’s womb,” Osuch said. “Mothers with the highest DDE levels are women who have consumed a lot of fish or high-fat meats.”

If You Don't Show Your Disgust, Your Emotions May Stay Negative


ScienceDaily (Mar. 18, 2009) — One of the most recognizable facial expressions is disgust: the expression displayed by an individual who is exposed to a nauseating image or horrifying story. But what happens when this emotion is not expressed? When the person keeps a straight face – either intentionally or unintentionally – and pretends that nothing is wrong?

As Judith Grob discovered, such people experience more negative emotions. ‘They look at the world with negative eyes because they cannot get rid of their feelings of disgust by expressing them. A botox treatment also has an effect on emotional experience, therefore, and not on wrinkles alone’.

Grob will receive her PhD on 19 March 2009 at the University of Groningen.

It is not always advisable to give free rein to one’s emotions. A laughing fit during a funeral is regarded as highly inappropriate, as is a loud quarrel in a restaurant. In such situations, it is wise to regulate one’s emotions, the more so because this is socially desirable. But it is not sensible to suppress feelings habitually, says Grob: ‘Previous research had already revealed that people who often suppress their emotions tend to be less healthy’.

The suppression of disgust in particular has negative consequences, Grob discovered, even in people who are not aware that they are no longer capable of expressing it ‘because their facial muscles have been paralysed by a botox treatment, for example’. People who express their disgust feel this emotion more intensely for a short period and then think a lot about related subjects. ‘However’, says Grob, ‘when they find themselves in a new situation, the feeling has completely disappeared. This means that they are no longer bothered by it’.

Subjects who were asked to suppress their disgust when shown images of, for example, a dirty toilet or a film depicting an amputation were able to do so. ‘But the emotion then found its way into the open through other channels’, says Grob. ‘At the cognitive level, they began to think about disgusting things much more often and also felt much more negatively about other issues. The same phenomenon occurs in a situation where you are not allowed to think of something, say a white bear. Precisely because you are trying to suppress that thought, it becomes hyperaccessible’.

It is interesting that this negative spiral is evident with both conscious and unconscious suppression. ‘We asked some subjects to hold a pen between their lips without telling them the reason. The pen specifically inhibited the facial muscles that people use to express disgust. The same pattern of effects was found in these subjects as in the subjects who suppressed their emotions consciously’. The negative consequences of suppression are thus attributable to suppressed muscles and not to suppressed thoughts.

People who view the world with negative eyes experience more negative emotions. ‘If they also suppress these emotions, they will soon enter a negative spiral. This is something to take into account in a society where more and more people allow their facial muscles to be paralysed by botox treatments for the sake of beauty’, says Grob.

NASA: Environmental disaster avoided on ozone loss


By SETH BORENSTEIN, AP Science Writer Seth Borenstein, Ap Science Writer – Thu Mar 19, 5:09 pm ET
WASHINGTON – Here's rare good news about an environmental crisis: We dodged disaster with the ozone layer. A NASA study about ozone-munching chemicals from aerosol sprays and refrigeration used a computer model to play a game of what-if. What if the world 22 years ago didn't agree to cut back on chlorofluorocarbons which cause a seasonal ozone hole to form near the South Pole?

NASA atmospheric scientist Paul Newman said the answer is a "bizarre world."

By 2065, two-thirds of the protective ozone layer would have vanished and "the ozone hole covers the Earth." And the CFCs, which are long-lived potent greenhouse gases, would have pushed the world's temperature up an extra 4 degrees.

In mid-latitudes like Washington, DNA-damaging ultraviolet radiation would have increased more than sixfold. Just 5 minutes in the summer sunshine would have caused a sunburn, instead of 15. Typical midsummer UV levels, now around 10 or 11, would have soared to 30. Summer thunderstorms in the Northern Hemisphere would have been much stronger.

"It is a real horrible place," Newman told The Associated Press.

But that dreadful scenario was "a world avoided," according to the paper published this week in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics.

After scientists raised warnings in the early 1970s — later earning a Nobel Prize — 193 nations agreed in the1987 treaty called the Montreal Protocol to cut CFC emissions. CFCs had been used in air conditioning, aerosol sprays, foam packaging and other products.

Newman, the co-chair of the protocol's scientific panel, said the study provides hope that the world can do the same thing on another looming but even harder to solve environmental problem: Global warming.

"There's a huge lesson to be learned here," said Paul Wapner, director of Global Environmental Politics at American University. "In significant cases, human beings can get together and arrive at international or global principles and avoid ecological catastrophe."

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Our tax dollars at work

My prediction is that Republicans will extract parts of these videos and present them out of context. They will string together parts of videos to be intentionally misleading. Since they have acted this way in the past, using accusations w/o videos, it would be wishful thinking to assume they will not continue to act in their habitual ways. In fact, I have had such tactics used against me on a personal level at work by conservatives. And Republicans have put up a web site using a Democrat party-sounding name that is scurrilous.


GOP 'trackers' stalk Dems in hunt for 'macaca' moment
The National Republican Congressional Committee is sending out video "trackers" to ask provocative questions of Democratic members of Congress. The trackers, who are congressional committee staffers, were earlier reported by Congress Daily, a specialty publication distributed largely on Capitol Hill.

NRCC spokesman Paul Lindsay told McClatchy that Democratic complaints were "whining," adding that "The modern-day world of campaign politics demands that we track our opponents' steps and missteps. We have nothing to hide when it comes to asking tough questions, but it appears that Democrats do when it comes to answering them."

The NRCC doesn't require its questioners to identify themselves as partisans on grounds that anyone has a right to approach a member of Congress and ask a question. It wouldn't say how many lawmakers have been questioned: A GOP statement said that, "Videos are posted on a case-by-case basis."

Republicans say they're simply trying to hold Democratic lawmakers accountable. Since the Internet became an important part of campaigns, it's not been unusual for candidates of any party to be tracked by their opponents.

"We've had trackers following us around before, but they were there to observe," said Andrew Stoddard, communications director for Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., who recently was ambushed by a GOP interviewer.
Some experts doubt that Republicans will gain much political mileage from running these crudely-made video ambushes on YouTube; some suggested that the tactic could backfire if the party picks the wrong target.

"What they're doing now," Stoddard said, "takes things to a whole new level."

Facemasks Help Prevent Adverse Cardiovascular Effects Caused By Pollution


ScienceDaily (Mar. 19, 2009) — Diesel exhaust causes arteries to lose their flexibility. Researchers found that exposure to engine pollution resulted in arterial stiffness in a group of healthy volunteers.

Nicholas Mills from the University of Edinburgh worked with a team of researchers to investigate the cardiovascular damage that can be caused by inhaling diesel smoke. He said, "Acute exposure to diesel exhaust is associated with an immediate and transient increase in arterial stiffness. This may, in part, explain the increased risk for cardiovascular disease associated with air pollution exposure".

The authors invited a group of 12 non-smoking young men to cycle on exercise bikes while breathing air that had either been filtered or been contaminated with smoke from a diesel engine. They found that when the subjects were exposed to the polluted air, the blood vessels in their wrists temporarily lost the ability to expand and contract. According to Mills, this can have serious consequences, "Stiff arteries can result in raised blood pressure and reduced blood flow in the heart. Arterial stiffness plays an important role in hypertension and is an independent predictor of mortality."

There is, however, something that cyclists and pedestrians in smog shrouded cities can do to limit the vascular effects caused by diesel exhaust. In a separate article also published in Particle and Fibre Toxicology, researchers report how wearing a facemask reduces exposure to airborne pollution particles and leads to a reduction blood pressure and improved heart rate control during exercise in a city centre environment. Jeremy Langrish from the University of Edinburgh said, "We tested a range of facemasks that differed widely in their efficiency as particle filters. In general, those masks designed to reduce occupational exposure to dusts in the workplace were more efficient than those marketed to cyclists and pedestrians."

The authors say, "This simple intervention has the potential to protect susceptible individuals and reduce cardiovascular events in cities with high concentrations of ambient air pollution."

Diet Rich In Calcium Aids Weight Loss In People With Calcium Deficient Diets


ScienceDaily (Mar. 19, 2009) — Boosting calcium consumption spurs weight loss, according to a study published in the most recent issue of the British Journal of Nutrition, but only in people whose diets are calcium deficient.

Angelo Tremblay and his team at Université Laval's Faculty of Medicine made the discovery in a 15-week weight loss program they conducted on obese women. The participants consumed on average less than 600 mg of calcium per day, whereas recommended daily intake is 1000 mg. In addition to following a low calorie diet, the women were instructed to take two tablets a day containing either a total of 1200 mg of calcium or a placebo. Those who took the calcium tablets lost nearly 6 kg over the course of the program, the researchers found, compared to 1 kg for women in the control group.

"Our hypothesis is that the brain can detect the lack of calcium and seeks to compensate by spurring food intake, which obviously works against the goals of any weight loss program," said Angelo Tremblay, holder of the Canada Research Chair in Environment and Energy Balance. "Sufficient calcium intake seems to stifle the desire to eat more," he added.

Consuming sufficient calcium is therefore important to ensuring the success of any weight loss program. According to the researcher, over 50% of obese women who come to the clinic run by his research team do not consume the recommended daily intake.

Professor Tremblay and his team have studied the link between calcium and obesity for several years. Their first findings, published in 2003, revealed that women who consumed diets poor in calcium had more body fat, bigger waistlines, and higher bad cholesterol levels than those who consumed moderate or large amounts of calcium. A second study showed that the more people reduced their consumption of dairy products over the six-year period examined, the more weight and body fat they gained and the bigger their waistlines grew. In 2007, Angelo Tremblay and his team established a direct link between calcium and a lower cardiovascular risk profile among dieters.

In addition to Angelo Temblay, this study was co-authored by Geneviève Major, Francine Alarie, and Jean Doré.

I used to get a craving for beans. I would eat 2 or 3 cans at a sitting! I was also getting sick with colds and flu a lot. Since I had found that zinc helped me when I was sick, I thought I might have a temporary deficiency of zinc, so I started taking it daily for awhile. My health greatly improved. But I found I have to take extra zinc on a continuing basis to stay healthy. After I started taking extra zinc, my craving for beans went away. And guess what beans are a good source of? Zinc, of course.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Depressed People Have Trouble Learning 'Good Things In Life'


ScienceDaily (Mar. 19, 2009) — While depression is often linked to negative thoughts and emotions, a new study suggests the real problem may be a failure to appreciate positive experiences.

Researchers at Ohio State University found that depressed and non-depressed people were about equal in their ability to learn negative information that was presented to them.

But depressed people weren’t nearly as successful at learning positive information as were their non-depressed counterparts.

“Since depression is characterized by negative thinking, it is easy to assume that depressed people learn the negative lessons of life better than non-depressed people – but that’s not true,” said Laren Conklin, co-author of the study and a graduate student in psychology at Ohio State.

Key To Happiness Is Gratitude, And Men May Be Locked Out

I have had periods of severe depression, so I work to prevent it. I am always trying to find things to be grateful about. If I twist my ankle, and don't sprain it, I feel grateful. (I have had 7 or 8 sprained ankles, at least three on each one.) If I almost spill a pot of food on the floor and manage to catch it, I feel grateful. This is a deliberate practice that I use to have a happier life. And I'm always looking for the humor in things. I certainly wouldn't say we should feel wonderful no matter what, but as long as we are alive, we might as well feel as good as we can under the circumstances. Expecting someone who has recently lost a loved one, or lost their job, etc., to be cheerful is extremely insensitive and uncaring.


ScienceDaily (Mar. 19, 2009) — With Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and high school and college graduations upcoming, there will be plenty of gift-giving and well wishes. When those start pouring in, let yourself be grateful—it’s the best way to achieve happiness according to several new studies conducted by Todd Kashdan, associate professor of psychology at George Mason University.

Gratitude, the emotion of thankfulness and joy in response to receiving a gift, is one of the essential ingredients for living a good life, Kashdan says. Kashdan’s most recent paper, which was recently published online at the Journal of Personality, reveals that when it comes to achieving well-being, gender plays a role. He found that men are much less likely to feel and express gratitude than women.

“Previous studies on gratitude have suggested that there might be a difference in gender, and so we wanted to explore this further—and find out why. Even if it is a small effect, it could make a huge difference in the long run,” says Kashdan.

In one study, Kashdan interviewed college-aged students and older adults, asking them to describe and evaluate a recent episode in which they received a gift. He found that women compared with men reported feeling less burden and obligation and greater levels of gratitude when presented with gifts. In addition, older men reported greater negative emotions when the gift giver was another man.

“The way that we get socialized as children affects what we do with our emotions as adults,” says Kashdan. “Because men are generally taught to control and conceal their softer emotions, this may be limiting their well-being.”

Payout for women who got breast cancer after night shifts

What about us evening people, whose normal body clocks are longer than 24 hours?
From other research, at least part of the increase in breast cancer may be from too little time in the dark, which affects the amount of a certain hormone (melatonin, I think). There is a street light that is not totally blocked by my curtains, so I sleep with a covering over my eyes, in the hopes that will reduce the chances of breast cancer.


updated 1:00 p.m. EDT, Mon March 16, 2009

By Mark Tutton
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(CNN) -- Employers in Denmark have started paying compensation to women who have developed breast cancer after working night shifts.

Thirty-eight eight women have so far received payments via their employers' insurance companies, the Danish National Board of Industrial Injuries told CNN.

To qualify for compensation, women must have developed breast cancer after having worked at least one night shift a week for 20 to 30 years.

The amount of compensation depends on the severity of claimants' illness and their ability to work.

The move came after the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the World Health Organization, concluded that night work is "probably carcinogenic to humans," in October 2007.

Ulla Mahnkopf developed breast cancer after 30 years working as a flight attendant for SAS, a job where night shifts were the norm.

She told the BBC that had she known the effects of night working she wouldn't have flown for so many years.

The IARC classifies the cancer risk of night work as "Group 2A" -- the same as using sun beds -- and just one group below confirmed carcinogens like asbestos and mustard gas.

The IARC reviewed published scientific literature and found that long-term night workers have an increased risk of breast cancer.

Dr Vincent Cogliano, Head of the IARC Monographs Program, told CNN that the evidence in humans is limited to breast cancer because researchers have historically studied nurses and flight attendants.

Cogliano said he would like to see studies carried out on different types of workers in other industrial settings.

He added that the human studies are consistent with laboratory research that exposes animals to changing patterns of light and dark to mimic the conditions of humans working at night.

It is thought that night work can disrupt the circadian system, which can alter sleep patterns, suppress melatonin production, and affect genes involved in tumor development.

"This is a very important topic and it needs more research," said Cogliano.

"Working at night or disrupting your sleep cycle is a widespread phenomenon and it is important to understand the health implications. There could be other cancers or other health implications involved."

Those most likely to do night shifts are those working in the health-care industry, hospitality, industrial manufacturing, news media and security workers.

Spring Has Sprung

Spring Has Sprung
copyright 1997 Patricia M. Shannon

Spring has sprung,
the flowers grow,
their pollen flows,
so does my nose.
Oh, hear it blow,
how it does glow.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Ex-Bush official: Many at Gitmo are innocent


SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - Many detainees locked up at Guantanamo were innocent men swept up by U.S. forces unable to distinguish enemies from noncombatants, a former Bush administration official said Thursday.

"There are still innocent people there," Lawrence B. Wilkerson, a Republican who was chief of staff to then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, told The Associated Press. "Some have been there six or seven years."

Wilkerson, who first made the assertions in an Internet posting on Tuesday, told the AP he learned from briefings and by communicating with military commanders that the U.S. soon realized many Guantanamo detainees were innocent but nevertheless held them in hopes they could provide information for a "mosaic" of intelligence.

"It did not matter if a detainee were innocent. Indeed, because he lived in Afghanistan and was captured on or near the battle area, he must know something of importance," Wilkerson wrote in the blog. He said intelligence analysts hoped to gather "sufficient information about a village, a region, or a group of individuals, that dots could be connected and terrorists or their plots could be identified."

Claims vetting incompetent
Wilkerson, a retired Army colonel, said vetting on the battlefield during the early stages of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan was incompetent with no meaningful attempt to discriminate "who we were transporting to Cuba for detention and interrogation."
In his posting for The Washington Note blog, Wilkerson wrote that "U.S. leadership became aware of this lack of proper vetting very early on and, thus, of the reality that many of the detainees were innocent of any substantial wrongdoing, had little intelligence value, and should be immediately released."

Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney fought efforts to address the situation, Wilkerson said, because "to have admitted this reality would have been a black mark on their leadership."

Wilkerson told the AP in a telephone interview that many detainees "clearly had no connection to al-Qaida and the Taliban and were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Pakistanis turned many over for $5,000 a head."

Some 800 men have been held at Guantanamo since the prison opened in January 2002, and 240 remain. Wilkerson said two dozen are terrorists, including confessed Sept. 11 plotter Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was transferred to Guantanamo from CIA custody in September 2006.

"We need to put those people in a high-security prison like the one in Colorado, forget them and throw away the key," Wilkerson said. "We can't try them because we tortured them and didn't keep an evidence trail."

But the rest of the detainees need to be released, he said.

Wilkerson, who flew combat missions as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam and left the government in January 2005, said he did not speak out while in government because some of the information was classified. He said he feels compelled to do so now because Cheney has claimed in recent press interviews that President Barack Obama is making the U.S. less safe by reversing Bush administration policies toward terror suspects, including ordering Guantanamo closed.

The administration is now evaluating what to do with the prisoners who remain at the U.S. military base in Cuba.

"I'm very concerned about the kinds of things Cheney is saying to make it seem Obama is a danger to this republic," Wilkerson said. "To have a former vice president fearmongering like this is really, really dangerous."

Strong Links Between Mothers' Diets And Health Of Their Children


ScienceDaily (Mar. 19, 2009) — A new report by University of Southampton academics emphasises the links between poor diet in mothers and ill health in their children, and calls for women of childbearing age to be made more aware of the importance of good nutrition.

The report "Early Nutrition and Lifelong Health," published this month by the British Medical Association Board of Science, looks at the evidence that the diets of women of reproductive age, and those of their foetuses and young children, are significant factors in influencing the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity, brittle bone disease and even some forms of cancer and mental illness, later in those children's lives.

Lead author Professor Mark Hanson, director of the Centre for the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease at the University of Southampton, comments: "Society and public health organisations need to pay much greater attention to these issues if the rising epidemic of these diseases is to be prevented. Tackling the diseases once children reach adulthood is often too late. By taking steps to improve maternal nutrition we could save many people from a lifetime of ill health."
According to the authors, unbalanced nutrition, whether too much or too little or of poor quality, can have long-term effects. In the UK, for example, many have diets low in certain nutrients although they have access to plentiful food.
"It's not only women who need to be careful about they quality of their food intake. Prospective fathers should also eat well and steps need to be taken to ensure that young people understand the importance of good nutrition as part of their lifestyle choices."
The report is available at http://www.bma.org.uk/health_promotion_ethics/child_health/

Cattle respond to magnetic fields from power lines


By RANDOLPH E. SCHMID, AP Science Writer Randolph E. Schmid, Ap Science Writer – Mon Mar 16, 5:21 pm ET

WASHINGTON – High-voltage power lines mess with animal magnetism. Researchers, who reported last year that most cows and deer tend to orient themselves in a north-south alignment, have now found that power lines can disorient the animals.

When the power lines run east-west, that's the way grazing cattle tend to line up, researchers led by Hynek Burda and Sabine Begall of the faculty of biology at the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany report in Tuesday's edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

They also found that cows and deer grazing under northeast-southwest or northwest-southeast power lines faced in random directions.

The research team studied cows and deer using satellite and aerial images.

In their report last August, Burda and colleagues suggested the north-south orientation was in response to the Earth's magnetic field.

The new study adds weight to the animals responding to magnetic effects, since power lines also produce a magnetic field. And the effect was most noticeable close to the power lines, declining as the magnetic field of the electric lines was reduced by distance.

Wind and weather can also affect which ways cows choose to face, but without such factors about two-thirds of them tended to align north-south when away from power lines.

The Earth's magnetic field is thought to be a factor in how birds navigate, and other animals also are believed to respond to it.