Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Tom Paxton sings "I Am Changing My Name to Fannie Mae"

I'm looking forward to hearing Tom Paxton at Eddie's Attic tomorrow night.

Citigroup asks Treasury if it can pay bonuses

What a lot of nerve. Most of us with jobs feel lucky we have a job. These are the people who helped cause the economic crisis, and they want a bonus

updated 3:59 p.m. ET, Wed., April 29, 2009

NEW YORK - Citigroup Inc. is worried about losing employees, and trying to figure out how to retain them.

Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit has talked with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner about the possibility of paying special bonuses to keep demoralized workers from getting poached by competitors, a person familiar with the matter said. The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity, was not authorized to disclose details about the private talks.

In particular, the New York-based bank is hoping to free its highly profitable energy-trading unit, Phibro, from federal compensation limits, the Wall Street Journal reported late Tuesday. The Treasury has not made a decision on the request, the paper said, and the amount of bonuses requested wasn’t disclosed.

A Treasury Department spokesman would not comment on the matter, and Citigroup said in a statement that it has not presented the Treasury Department “with a specific plan for retaining our people. We have also not discussed any specific plan or program designed to give people additional cash bonus payouts.”

Citigroup has received $45 billion in federal bailout funds over the past several months, and the government has agreed to insure a pool of more than $300 billion in Citigroup assets. Soon, the government will own a 36 percent stake in the bank. Companies that have accepted federal bailout funds are under tighter limits on how much they pay top executives.

The restrictions are intended to prevent the type of taxpayer outrage that ensued after the bailed-out American International Group paid $165 million in retention bonuses to employees despite having received more than $180 billion in federal funds.

higher drug co-pays discourage patients from starting treatment

No surprise in these findings.

Public release date: 28-Apr-2009
Contact: Warren Robak
RAND Corporation

Patients newly diagnosed with hypertension, diabetes or high cholesterol are significantly more likely to delay initiating recommended drug treatment if they face higher co-payments for medications, according to a new RAND Corporation study.

The delay was significant across all conditions, but the impact was largest among patients who had not previously used prescription drugs, according to the study published in the April 27 edition of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

While several studies have established that higher drug co-payments discourage some patients from taking their medications, the new RAND Health study is the first to examine the impact higher out-of-pocket costs have on patients who are beginning drug treatment after being diagnosed with a chronic illnesses.

"Our study clearly shows that out-of-pocket costs reduce patients' willingness to start treatment for their chronic illnesses," said lead author Dr. Matthew D. Solomon, the study's lead author and an adjunct researcher at RAND, a nonprofit research organization. "It is indisputable that avoiding treatment for these conditions will lead to higher rates of heart attack and stroke."

The study included 272,474 retirees who received health coverage from their former employers from 1997 to 2002 and were covered by 31 different health plans. Researchers focused on 17,183 people from this group who were newly diagnosed with diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol, examining their records to see when they began to fill prescriptions for needed medications.

For each of the conditions, patients who had higher out-of-pocket costs were less likely to start prescription drug therapy compared to other patients in the study. For example, among those newly diagnosed with high blood pressure, those starting drug treatment within a year of diagnosis dropped from 55 percent to 40 percent when their co-payment doubled. After five years, the difference was 82 percent to 66 percent, according to the study.

Similar differences were seen among those diagnosed for the first time with diabetes and high cholesterol, according to researchers. Patients starting drug treatment within a year of diagnosis with high cholesterol dropped from 40 percent to 31 percent when patients' out-of-pocket costs doubled. After five years, the difference was 64 percent to 54 percent. Among patients with diabetes, those starting drug treatment within a year of diagnosis dropped from 46 percent to 40 percent when co-pays doubled. After five years, the difference was 69 percent to 63 percent

"Along with behavioral and lifestyle modification, prescription drug therapy is the cornerstone of management for these diseases," said Solomon, who also is a medical resident at Stanford University. "If left untreated, each of these conditions will increase a person's risk for having a potentially fatal cardiovascular event, such as a heart attack or stroke."

The study also showed that patients who had no experience with medications were even less likely to begin recommended drug treatment, an indication that some patients may have a preference against medication use.

Solomon said the new RAND study holds implications for policymakers and insurance officials interested in creating policies to improve medication compliance and raise the quality of care. In addition, it should highlight for physicians the types of patients who may be most likely to ignore recommended drug treatments.

"Epidemiologic studies tell us that we do a terrible job of treating patients with these conditions. Now we know one reason why," Solomon said.

Genetic risk for anxiety does not have to be destiny

Public release date: 29-Apr-2009
Contact: Jayne Dawkins

Philadelphia, PA, April 29, 2009 – A growing body of basic animal research and studies of abused and neglected children provide a strong basis of support for the hypothesis that individuals with particular genotypes are at greater risk for depression, anxiety disorders, and problems with the abuse of alcohol and other substances. These gene-by-environment interactions are so powerful that some might assume that these genotypes identify people who are predestined to negative life outcomes.

However, a new study in the May 1st issue of Biological Psychiatry (, published by Elsevier, challenges this view. Investigators studied infant monkeys from four different rearing conditions to examine how social context and different forms of early adversity interact with genotype to influence behavior.

Animals reared in small social groups were more likely to be aggressive and anxious, particularly among those with a low activity MAOA genotype. However, no genotype effects were evident in monkeys reared in larger social cages.

There are some circumstances in a child's development – such as abusive parenting – that everyone would agree constitutes "adversity." This study suggests, however, that other, more subtle features of the broader social environment influence development, and that genes that affect our behavioral responses are sensitive to these influences. So even though an infant may be reared with its nurturing mother, the relative absence of other social partners, for both the mother and the infant, can result in the infant developing an anxious style of responding to challenges, particularly if it possesses a "risky" genotype.

Of particular significance, said senior author John Capitanio, Ph.D., is "that animals that were raised in rich, complex settings with mothers, other kin, and peers, were completely protected from the potentially deleterious effects of having the 'risky' form of the MAOA gene."

Highlighting the importance of this study's findings, John Krystal, M.D., editor of Biological Psychiatry, noted that "we now urgently need research that can tell us whether genetics can help us to do a better job in matching particular maltreated children to supportive interventions. It would seem that in the case of some of the negative consequences of childhood maltreatment, genetics is not destiny but it may seem so if society doesn't provide these children with help that they need."

Repeatedly working when ill boosts risk of long term sick leave

Some people don't really have a choice. A single day w/o pay can be a problem. Several days may mean not being able to pay the utility bill or rent. And they may very well be fired. I was talking to a young man working at a face food place (I think Taco Bell) a few months ago. He had previously worked at Waffle House. A lady who worked the shift after his had pneumonia, and he drove her home. (Most of the people who work for WH can't afford a car.) Note that his own shift was over. Both were fired. Having worked at Waffle House between IT jobs, he was probably fired because he was supposed to stay until there was someone to replace him.

Public release date: 29-Apr-2009
Contact: Emma Dickinson
BMJ-British Medical Journal

Repeatedly going to work when ill significantly boosts the chances of having to take long term sick leave later on, reveals research published ahead of print in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

Going to work when ill is an increasingly recognised phenomenon known as "sickness presence," but relatively little is known about the long term impact of this behaviour.

The researchers randomly selected almost 12,000 Danes of working age, who had been in continuous employment for at least a year, to answer questions on their attitudes to work, preparedness to take time off when ill, and general health.

They were asked how many times in the preceding year they had gone to work ill when it would have been reasonable to have stayed at home.

Their responses were married up with official records detailing periods of sick leave taken, and lasting at least a fortnight, over the next 18 months.

Poor general health, a heavy workload, work-family life conflicts, a good level of social support, holding a senior post, and obesity featured most often among those who repeatedly came to work, despite being ill.

Workers who had done this at least half a dozen times were 53% more likely to end up going off sick for two weeks, and 74% more likely to take more than two months of sick leave, compared with those who did not come to work when ill.

These findings held true even after taking account of known risk factors for long term sick leave, previous bouts of lengthy sickness absence, and prevailing health.

Short periods off sick may allow workers to cope better with the stresses of a demanding job, and, overall, the evidence is that employment is good for health, say the authors. But long term sick leave is associated with difficulties finding work, they warn.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Caffeine Appears To Be Beneficial In Males, But Not Females, With Lou Gehrig's Disease

This study was with mice, so we can't know for sure that it will apply to people, although it's an indication that it might well do so. Physicist Stephen Hawking, author of "A Brief History of Time", has ALS, also known as "Lou Gehrig's Disease. He was recently hospitalized with a chest infection, but the most recent news I've seen (last Wed., April 22) is that he's recovering. I wish him well."

ScienceDaily (Apr. 21, 2009) — Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a fatal disease that damages key neurons in the brain and spinal cord. The disease causes progressive paralysis of voluntary muscles and often death within five years of symptoms. Although ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) was discovered over a century ago, neither the cause nor a cure have been found, but several mechanisms seem to play a role in its development, including oxidative stress.
According to Ms. Seevaratnam, “If we were to extrapolate these results to human patients with ALS, then coffee appears to be beneficial for men, both reducing oxidative stress and cell death, and increasing antioxidants. But for women, caffeine appears to be harmful. Women with the disorder may want to restrict caffeine consumption, or switch to decaffeinated products which contain the antioxidants, but with little caffeine.”

Cats at Work

A Kent library has been visited almost every day for two years by its own "puss in books", the council has said.

Fidel, an eight-year-old black cat, turns up at Deal library almost every day while his owners are at work.

He spends the day on his favourite blue chair, only leaving the building when he sees his owners arriving home.

Staff say they have never tried to encourage Fidel with food and even used to put him outside when he first began to visit them, but he always came back.

Heather Hilton, district manager for Deal Library, said: "Fidel certainly seems to like coming here and he's very popular with our customers.

"I think he's a bit of an art critic too because we sometimes see him examining the pictures on the gallery wall," she added.

A spokeswoman for Kent County Council which runs the library said Fidel was such a "dedicated customer" that he sometimes arrived before staff and could be found waiting at the front door.

Fidel is a rescue cat, whose owners chose him from a local sanctuary after he was found abandoned in a flat in Deal.

Police at a north London railway station have got mice running scared - after recruiting a 13-year-old cat.

Tizer was adopted by British Transport Police (BTP) from the Cats Protection charity in September and inducted into the force as an honorary constable.

In his role as the Chief Mouser Pc Tizer walks around King's Cross rail station to keep it rodent-free.

An "essential member" of the team, he has unfettered access to all areas and shares an office with a senior officer.

'Playing fetch'

Insp Roy Sloane, who enlisted the tabby, said: "Pc Tizer is already an essential member of the team.

"Since we got him we haven't seen any mice in the building at all... Prior to his arrival we were spending a fortune on pest control and it wasn't really working."

Insp Sloane said he visited the charity's adoption centre in north London with the aim of finding a cat to clean up the station's rodent problem.

He met Tizer, who arrived at the centre in August after his owner died.

Insp Sloane, who shares his office with Pc Tizer, added that his feline colleague helps other officers "de-stress" and has given a boost to the force's morale.

"Everyone is always asking after him, and he is probably the most popular member of staff," he said.

Cats Protection Adoption Centre acting deputy manager Alex Davies said: "He loves being around people, and likes nothing more than playing fetch with his toy spider."

Veteran GOP Sen. Specter switches parties

April 27: Only about 21 percent of Americans admit to being Republicans. MSNBC’s Ed Schultz and a political panel discuss how the number of people who believe in the GOP is smaller than the number of people who believe in ESP.


NBC News and news services
updated 1 minute ago

WASHINGTON - Veteran Republican Sen. Arlen Specter announced Tuesday that he is switching parties, a move would give Democrats a filibuster-proof 60 seats if Al Franken is seated in the Minnesota race.

"I have decided to run for re-election in 2010 in the Democratic primary," the Pennsylvania senator said in a statement.

"I now find my political philosophy more in line with Democrats than Republicans," Specter said, adding that the "change in party affiliation does not mean that I will be a party-line voter any more for the Democrats that I have been for the Republicans."

In March, Specter issued a statement saying there is no way he would switch parties.

"To eliminate any doubt, I am a Republican, and I am running for reelection in 2010 as a Republican on the Republican ticket," he said at the time.

Considering the way the Republican party is acting and talking, it would be hard for any decent person to admit to being a Republican. I'm sure I'm not the only person who has wondered for a long time why Arlen Specter was still in the Republican party, other than a sense of loyalty, and the kind of inertia that causes us to stay in the wrong jobs for too long.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

U.S. Executed Japanese Soldiers for Waterboarding

By David Neiwert Friday Apr 24, 2009 4:00pm
We made a mistake the other day when Paul Begala left Ari Fleischer dumbstruck by saying:

BEGALA: We -- our country executed Japanese soldiers who water- boarded American POWs. We executed them for the same crime that we are now committing ourselves. How do you defend that?

We chided Begala slightly because we thought he wasn't quite right on the facts:

Actually, Fleischer could have countered Begala by pointing out that we didn't actually execute the Japanese soldiers convicted of the war crime of waterboarding American prisoners -- we just sentenced them to 15 years' hard labor.

But now, Begala makes clear he knew whereof he spoke:

But I was not referring to Asano, nor was my source Sen. Kennedy. Instead I was referencing the statement of a different member of the Senate: John McCain. On November 29, 2007, Sen. McCain, while campaigning in St. Petersburg, Florida, said, "Following World War II war crime trials were convened. The Japanese were tried and convicted and hung for war crimes committed against American POWs. Among those charges for which they were convicted was waterboarding."

Sen. McCain was right and the National Review Online is wrong. Politifact, the St. Petersburg Times' truth-testing project (which this week was awarded a Pulitzer Prize), scrutinized Sen. McCain's statement and found it to be true. Here's the money quote from Politifact:

"McCain is referencing the Tokyo Trials, officially known as the International Military Tribunal for the Far East. After World War II, an international coalition convened to prosecute Japanese soldiers charged with torture. At the top of the list of techniques was water-based interrogation, known variously then as 'water cure,' 'water torture' and 'waterboarding,' according to the charging documents. It simulates drowning." Politifact went on to report, "A number of the Japanese soldiers convicted by American judges were hanged, while others received lengthy prison sentences or time in labor camps."

The folks at Politifact interviewed R. John Pritchard, the author of The Tokyo War Crimes Trial: The Complete Transcripts of the Proceedings of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East. They also interviewed Yuma Totani, history professor at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, and consulted the Columbia Journal of Transnational Law, which published a law review article entitled, "Drop by Drop: Forgetting the History of Water Torture in U.S. Courts."

We apologize to Begala for the error.

We'll be waiting a long time, I expect, for all those right-wingers out there who claim waterboarding isn't torture to apologize to the world.

More African-Americans die from causes that can be prevented or treated

Public release date: 23-Apr-2009
Contact: Jennifer Combs
RWJF Health & Society Scholars Program

Two-thirds of the difference between death rates among African Americans and Caucasians are now due to causes that could be prevented or cured, according to a new study appearing in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. The study, "Black-White Differences in Avoidable Mortality in the United States, 1980-2005," found that death from preventable or treatable conditions represented half of all deaths for individuals under age 65 and accounted for nearly 70 percent of the black-white mortality difference.

"People should not be dying prematurely from stroke, hypertension, diabetes, colon cancer, appendicitis or the flu. Our study shows that while much progress has been made, our health care system is still failing to meet the very basic needs of some Americans. Many disparities can be conquered by focusing more on public policies that promote prevention and by ensuring that all Americans have access to good quality health care," said James Macinko, who conducted the research as a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Scholar at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the lead author of the study.

The major reason for the black-white mortality gap—representing about 30 percent of the gap for men and 42 percent for women—is due to conditions that have effective treatments, the study found. Disparities were most pronounced for conditions or diseases for which deaths can be prevented, such as diabetes, stroke, infectious and respiratory diseases, preventable cancers, and circulatory diseases like hypertension.

The conditions analyzed included premature deaths from common infectious diseases, cervical cancers, appendicitis, maternal deaths, hypertension, stroke, diabetes, peptic ulcers and traffic accidents, all of which could be avoided through medical care or health policy changes. The study suggests that the reinforcement of policies that improve access to quality medical care will be important to reducing death disparities.

"As the nation turns its attention to health care reform, we now know that much can be done to reduce racial and ethnic health care disparities and to improve the health care for all Americans," said Macinko. "We also have a lot to learn from other health care systems that measure performance based on preventable deaths."

To analyze the death disparity among African Americans and Caucasians, the scholar used "avoidable mortality," a commonly used measure of health system performance in Europe. It is defined as premature death under age 65 from conditions responsive to medical care, changes in public policy, or behaviors. Over the last decade, avoidable mortality has declined less rapidly in the United States than in other industrialized nations.

"Avoidable mortality gives us one way to assess the shortcomings of our health care system, particularly in the area of prevention," said Irma T. Elo, Ph.D., co-author on the report and an associate professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. "It can help to identify where preventable disparities are greatest and aid in directing resources to where they can improve the health of vulnerable populations."

Fire is an important and under-appreciated part of global climate change

Public release date: 23-Apr-2009
Contact: Lily Whiteman
National Science Foundation

Fire must be accounted for as an integral part of climate change, according to 22 authors of an article published in the April 24 issue of the journal Science. The authors determined that intentional deforestation fires alone contribute up to one-fifth of the human-caused increase in emissions of carbon dioxide, a heat-trapping gas that increases global temperature.
Jennifer Balch, a member of the research team and a postdoctoral fellow at NCEAS, explains that there are bigger and more frequent fires from the western U.S. to the tropics. There are "fires where we don't normally see fires," she said, noting that it is in the humid tropics that a lot of deforestation fires are occurring, usually to expand agriculture or cattle ranching. "Wet rainforests have not historically experienced fires at the frequency that they are today. During extreme droughts, such as in 97-98, Amazon wildfires burned through 39,000 square kilometers of forest."

Saturday, April 25, 2009


This is the original poem. The previous is a parody of it. This original poem used to be thought to be from 1692, but it is of much more recent authorship.
Max Ehrmann (1872–1945), a poet and lawyer from Terre Haute, Indiana, is its author. He first copyrighted it in 1927

Deteriorata (Fluke of the Universe)

Some things about the web are so great. I used to hear this on public radio in Huntsville, AL. I couldn't find a copy. It was out of print. It's so great to see it available.
According to the third video, and internet search, it's available on "Greatest Hits of the National Lampoon".
CD and mp3 download are avaiable at

Educating Referring Clinicians About Benefits/Risk of Advanced Imaging Leads to Drop in Imaging Exams

For Release: April 23, 2009
Unnecessary advanced imaging (CT, MRI and nuclear medicine) can be significantly reduced by providing a simple intervention of education to ordering physicians of the risks, benefits and alternatives of various imaging modalities, according to a study performed at Staten Island University Hospital in Staten Island, NY.

“Given the increased awareness of radiation from radiologic studies and increasing costs of medical imaging we hypothesized that a simple intervention of education will reduce unneeded studies and thereby decrease cost and radiation doses to patients,” said Joseph Platnick, MD, lead author of the study. “The study found that targeted education of referring clinicians led to a 26% reduction in the number of advanced radiologic studies ordered. There was an 18% reduction of CTs in the study period,” he said.

“CTs and nuclear medicine studies impart radiation to patients. Many patients have multiple scans over numerous admissions and these radiation doses are cumulative and have been shown to increase the patients’ risk of cancer,” said Dr. Platnick.

“While advanced imaging certainly plays a major and necessary role in patient care there are times when studies are not needed. Eliminating these studies is imperative to control the ballooning costs of healthcare without compromising on health care,” he said.

Lice can be nice to us

Wed, 22 Apr 2009 16:29:00 GMT
Parasite infestations might have a good side. Wild mice from a Nottinghamshire forest have given experts at The University of Nottingham clues as to the importance of some parasites, such as lice, for the conditioning of a “natural” immune system.

Jan Bradley, Professor of Parasitology, said: “Our understanding of mammalian immunology is largely based on rodents reared under highly unnatural pathogen and stress-free conditions. Analysing the immune response in wild populations can give crucial insights into how the immune system functions in its natural context.”

Many health problems in modern humans are caused by over-active immune responses. The immune system should be able to tell the difference between foreign invaders and its own body cells. But sometimes it can mistake self proteins for non self proteins triggering an attack on its own body and causing an autoimmune disease such as arthritis, asthma, diabetes or multiple sclerosis. Or the body can mistake a harmless substance as a threat causing an allergic response.

The authors say some parasites may exert a moderating effect on the function of a key component of the immune system, which could help reduce overall immune reactivity and the risk of developing immune dysfunctions.

Their research, published in the open access journal BMC Biology, links the louse Polyplax serrata to a strong dampening of certain immune responses in wild wood mice. This implies that other mammals, such as modern humans, that develop in artificial environments may have less regulated, overactive immune systems precisely because they are not exposed to parasites throughout their lives.

The researchers speculate that the louse is able to exert some kind of immuno-suppressive effect, possibly directly by secreting some substance into the mice from its saliva, or indirectly by transmitting bacteria or other pathogens.

Professor Bradley said: “Much like laboratory mice, people in developed countries are currently exposed to a very different profile of infections to that encountered by their ancestors. It is possible that the immune dysfunctions we see today are the result of immune systems moulded by evolution for a set of challenges completely different to those encountered in modern times.”

Research shows disparities in quality of care for kidney cancer patients with Medicare

What would be of relevance to me is what happens to people with kidney cancer who don't have health insurance at all.

Public release date: 25-Apr-2009
Contact: Lisa Bailey
Fox Chase Cancer Center

CHICAGO (April 26, 2009)—Does a person's insurance coverage affect their access to quality cancer care? According to researchers at Fox Chase Cancer Center, insurance coverage may not only affect a patient's access to health care, but also the quality of care they receive. Research findings, presented today at the American Urological Association's Annual Meeting, may have implications for a national debate on healthcare reform.

"We discovered a discrepancy in the type of surgical treatment patients are offered based on their health insurance," says Robert G. Uzzo, MD, chairman of the department of surgery at Fox Chase and the study's lead author. His research evaluated differences in surgical treatment for kidney cancer based on a patient's health insurance carrier. The study explored this question in one specific area of medicine, but the results may have implications for other areas of medicine as well.

The study results showed that kidney cancer patients with Medicare as their primary payer were more likely to have their kidney surgically removed entirely (radical nephrectomy) whereas those with private insurance were offered surgery to preserve organ function (partial nephrectomy).

"The notion that the kind of insurance you have can affect the quality of the care you receive has implications for the ongoing discussion about national health care reform. This research raises important questions for the government to consider," adds Uzzo. "As our national leaders begin to discuss health care reform, it will be important to keep in mind that who pays for the care can affect the quality of care received."

Kidney cancer is commonly treated by surgically removing the entire organ, but this is often unnecessary. Due to its technical demands, however, kidney-sparing surgery remains widely underutilized except at high-volume academic centers, where surgeons are experienced not only in resection of very complex kidney tumors but also in minimally-invasive techniques to treat patients with kidney cancer.

There are numerous long-term health benefits to patients when the non-cancerous portion of the kidney can be preserved. These include preserving maximum kidney function, reducing the risk of dialysis down the road and a longer life expectancy.

Uzzo's study evaluated the potential impact of a patient's primary insurance status as it relates to the likelihood of the patient undergoing a radical or partial nephrectomy. The study relied on inpatient discharge data from nearly 42,000 adult patients in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania over a six-year period.

The study results revealed that disparities in quality of care exist. Patients 65 and over, with Medicare coverage, were significantly less likely to undergo kidney-sparing surgery for treatment of renal malignancy (kidney cancer) than patients whose primary payer was a private insurance carrier.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Students Least Informed About Environmental Science Are Most Optimistic

No big surprise.
Several years ago, before Bush was elected, some people were asking why it mattered whether the average person has is knowledgable about science. My answer was that it was important to help us decide who to vote for. That Bush got enough votes to get into office showed how true that is.

ScienceDaily (Apr. 23, 2009) — Will problems associated with environmental issues improve in the next two decades? According to an analysis of student performance on PISA 2006--an international assessment of 15-year-olds--students who are the best informed about environmental science and the geosciences are also the most realistic about the environmental challenges facing the world in the next 20 years. Meanwhile, students who are least informed in these areas are the most wildly optimistic that things will improve.
A PISA assessment is done every three years. PISA 2006 focused on science, assessing the knowledge and skills of more than 400,000 students in 57 countries around the world.
The report looks at two broad areas: achievement, or "scientific literacy," and students' attitudes about the environment. In the area of achievement, American students' performance was typical of other PISA assessments, with scores in the middle of the pack.
Seventeen percent of American students demonstrated the highest level of proficiency (referred to as Level A), indicating that they could consistently identify, explain and apply scientific knowledge to a variety of environmental topics. They also demonstrated the ability to link different information sources and explanations and use evidence from those sources to justify decisions about environmental issues. At the other end of the spectrum, 42 percent of American students performed at or below Level D. Students at this level showed difficulties answering questions containing scientific information relevant to basic environmental phenomena or issues.

As World Warms, Water Levels Dropping In Major Rivers

Not surprising, but a reminder not to waste water.

ScienceDaily (Apr. 22, 2009) — Rivers in some of the world's most populous regions are losing water, according to a comprehensive study of global stream flows.

The research, led by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colo., suggests that the reduced flows in many cases are associated with climate change, and could potentially threaten future supplies of food and water.

The results will be published May 15 in the American Meteorological Society's Journal of Climate. The research was supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF), NCAR's sponsor.
The scientists, who examined stream flows from 1948 to 2004, found significant changes in about one-third of the world's largest rivers. Of those, rivers with decreased flow outnumbered those with increased flow by a ratio of about 2.5 to 1.

Several of the rivers channeling less water serve large populations, including the Yellow River in northern China, the Ganges in India, the Niger in West Africa and the Colorado in the southwestern United States.

In contrast, the scientists reported greater stream flows over sparsely populated areas near the Arctic Ocean, where snow and ice are rapidly melting.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Poem for Earth Day - A Piece of Paradise

A Piece of Paradise
copyright 2001 Patricia M. Shannon

Walking my dog in the evening,
I hear the crickets call.
How peaceful is the quiet
after the sun falls.

I feel I've found a piece of paradise
to spend delightful days,
listening to the sounds of nature
and watching the squirrels play.

After spending too much time
cooped up in a cube,
I feel full of freedom
when I come out to the woods.

Breathing in the clear, clean air,
I feel so energized;
I need the comfort of the woods
more than I realize.


Stopping by a waterfall,
much to my delight,
I see a mini-rainbow
shining in the bright moonlight.

A hooty owl says "Who are you?"
A loon sings a jazz song.
The stars put on a light show.
while some bull frogs thrum along.


Sleepy-Time Blues

In honor of my nephew, Elliot. Just have to imagine the pronouns changed to masculine.

Sleepy-Time Blues
copyright 2000 Patricia M. Shannon

I know my child has the sleepy-time blues
by her droopy eyes and her fretful cry;
she says she doesn't want to go to sleep,
so I hold her in my lap and sing a lullaby.

Oh, those sleepy time blues,
yeah, yeah, yeah, those sleepy time blues.

There's so many things she wants to see,
so many things she wants to do,
she doesn't want to go to sleep,
might miss out on something new.


I wonder if she might be scared,
to be lying helpless there;
does she think someone might come along
and do her harm while she's unaware?


Now that she's grown and has a child,
she wishes she could take a nap,
she gets so sleepy after lunch,
but duty calls, and that is that.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Old Ice at Record Low in Arctic as Melting Season Begins

Posted by: JeffMasters, 1:33 PM GMT on April 20, 2009
March 2009 Northern Hemisphere sea ice extent was the 6th lowest since 1979, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. The record March low was set in 2006, and it has now been nearly two years since we have set any record monthly minimums for Arctic sea ice. While it is good news that the area of sea ice coverage has not been reaching record lows recently, there is concern about the recent record loss of thick, multi-year ice in the Arctic. Strong winter winds pushed a considerable amount of multi-year-old ice out of the Arctic this year, leaving the Arctic Ocean with its lowest amount of old sea ice on record (Figure 1). Sea ice more than two years old fell below 10% for the first time since satellites began observing the ice in 1979. This is a factor of three lower than the 30% coverage for the period 1981 through 2000.

Figure 2. These images show declining sea ice age, which indicates a thinning Arctic sea ice cover more vulnerable to melting in summer. Ice older than two years now accounts for less than 10% of the ice cover. Image credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center, courtesy J. Maslanik and C. Fowler, University of Colorado.

As the ice melting season begins this year, the exceptionally low amount of old, thick ice leaves the Arctic very vulnerable to melting. Air temperatures over the Arctic Ocean this past winter were 1 - 2°C (1.8 - 3.6°F) above average, and a continuation of conditions this warm would probably cause record melting of the Arctic ice cap this summer. On the other hand, the amount of 1 - 2 year old in the Arctic increased in 2008 compared to 2007, so if the Arctic experiences below average temperatures this summer and throughout 2010, the potential exists for old ice to make a comeback. However, the Arctic has experienced very warm temperatures in excess of 1°C above average for most of the past decade (Figure 2). The latest Arctic Report Card 2008 concludes that "it is becoming increasingly likely that the Arctic will change from a perennially ice-covered to an ice-free ocean in the summer". The best hope I see for the Arctic sea ice to recover in the next few years is for a major volcanic eruption in the tropics to create a "Volcanic Winter" cooling effect for a year or two. Such an eruption would probably not allow for a complete recovery of Arctic sea ice, but might delay the transition to a summertime ice-free state by several years.

I Love to Walk

I just got back from taking a walk to get a break from work. It's a beautiful sunny, breezy day, that reminded me of this poem/song I started writing on a day like today.

I Love to Walk
copyright 1996 Patricia M. Shannon

I love to walk with the wind in my face,
and the sun on my back so warm,
thru wild-flower meadows that sway in the breeze,
delighting my eyes on every side,
with treasures big and small.

I love to walk in a gentle rain
with the air so fresh and pure;
but my dog does not agree,
she doesn't like to put her feet
in grass that's damp with dew.

We love to walk, my dog and I,
where ever we can go,
up rocky hills, down country roads,
in do-good city walk-a-thons,
we love to be outdoors.

We love to walk in a shady woods
on a muggy summer's day,
surrounded by the sounds of life,
with birds and bees, crickets and frogs,
in harmonious counterpoint.

We'd even walk in shopping malls
if they'd let dogs in;
in winter it would be just great
to have a place with central heat
where we could stretch our legs.


Monday, April 20, 2009

1 in 5 Americans is postponing health care

Based on past experience, this study will generate comments from conservatives on many blogs telling lies about how well our country compares in health care, in order to neutralize the real facts. They know that for most people, once they form a belief, it is almost impossible to change their beliefs, so they try to get their misinformation out first.

updated 10:20 a.m. ET, Mon., April 20, 2009

WASHINGTON - Twenty percent of Americans say they have delayed or postponed medical care, mostly doctor visits, and many said cost was the main reason, according to a survey by Thomson Reuters released on Monday.

That figure is up since 2006, the last time the question was asked on the survey, when 15.9 percent of people said they had postponed or canceled medical care in the past year.

"The results of this survey have serious implications for public health officials, hospital administrators, and healthcare consumers," Gary Pickens of the Healthcare division of Thomson Reuters, who led the study, said in a statement. "We are seeing a positive correlation between Americans losing their access to employer-sponsored health insurance and deferral of healthcare."
Pickens and colleagues found the percentage of households with employer-sponsored insurance declined to 54.6 percent in 2009 from 59 percent in early 2008. The percentage of adults covered by Medicaid, the state-federal health insurance plan for the poor, rose to 14.5 percent in 2009 from 11.9 percent in 2008.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Limbaugh's Dirty Little Secret of Radio "Success"

My pet name for this hatemonger is Rash Limburger. A conservative corrected me with an affronted air one time, which I think is so funny. I'm supposed to care about the feelings of this jerk (ie., Rash)? Years ago, I stopped caring about the feelings of people who don't care about other people's feelings, but are oh so sensitive that we are supposed to be careful of their feelings.

Bill Mann
TV-Radio critic,
Posted April 12, 2009 | 04:22 PM (EST)

Ever wonder why Rush "Boss" Limbaugh's syndicated radio show is all over the place like the proverbial cheap suit?

If you do much driving in rural areas -- e.g. between cities -- "Boss" Limbaugh's bloviations are often the only thing you can pick up on a car radio. Hey, that's what CD players are for.

Did Rush accrue hundreds of local radio affiliates across the country because his political views are mainstream? That's obviously not it. OK, so why IS his show so "popular?" Why do hundreds of stations around the country carry his show, the most widely syndicated talkfest in the country?

Glad you asked.

The real story is not generally well-known. The only reason I know is through my covering the business of radio for years for several major daily newspapers and also, for industry trade magazines like Radio World.

It's because -- ready for this? -- Rush's show was, and presumably still is, given away for free to many local radio stations.

This shocker is because of a little-known practice in broadcast syndication called a "barter deal." (Barter deals were briefly mentioned in Michael Wolff's first-rate recent piece on Rush in Vanity Fair).

Here's how a barter deal works: To launch the show, Limbaugh's syndicator, Premiere Radio Networks -- the same folks who syndicate wingnut du jour Glen Beck -- gave Limbaugh's three hours away -- that's right, no cash -- to local radio stations, mostly in medium and smaller markets, back in the early 1990's.

So, a local talk station got Rush's show for zilch. In exchange, Premiere took for itself much of the local station's available advertising time (roughly 15 minutes an hour) and packed the show with national ads it had already pre-sold.

Think Gold Bond Medicated Powder.

It's a very sweet deal for local radio station owners, explained Bill Exline a respected radio broker (he helped people buy and sell local stations). "Not only does the local station get three hours of free programming," Exline explained, "but that's one less local talk-show host on staff they need. It makes small- and medium-market radio properties more profitable and attractive by cutting down staff expenses."

Shocking, isn't it, that Limbaugh would allow jobs to be cut to advance his dubious career? Not to mention helping to make small radio stations far less local?

Major-market right-wing talk stations, like San Francisco's KSFO-AM ("Reichstag Radio") have to pay actual money, of course, to carry Boss Limbaugh's daily proclamation-a-thon. (Note: KSFO, which I referred to as "Sieg Heil on Your Dial" in my column when it first switched to righty talk, is the same station that gave hatemonger Michael Savage his first radio megaphone).

Radio sources say that small- and medium-market stations still get Limbaugh's show for free, or pay only a token amount of cash for it. I asked Michael Harrison, editor of radio-syndicator-friendly Talkers magazine about this, and he claimed he didn't know how many Limbaugh affiliates still barter. .

So, when you hear Rush bellowing as you're passing through Birdseed Junction, Beanblossom, or Pyrite, just remember: The radio station's getting what it paid for. Or, more accurately, DIDN'T pay for.

Poorer kids often depressed as teenagers

updated 12:34 p.m. ET, Wed., Jan. 7, 2009

Children from poor families are more likely than their peers to be depressed as teenagers, with effects that can ultimately make it harder to climb out from poverty, a new study suggests.

The study, which followed nearly 500 Iowa families for a decade, found that children in poorer families were at greater risk of depression symptoms by adolescence. These teenagers, in turn, were more likely to "grow up" faster — including having sex, leaving home or getting married at an earlier-than-average age.

This cycle, the study found, eventually put kids at risk of substantial obstacles in young adulthood, such as low education levels, unemployment and a lack of stable relationships in their lives.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Where you live may impact cancer survival

updated 6:10 p.m. ET, Mon., April 13, 2009

NEW YORK - A study of neighborhoods suggests that modifiable factors, not genetics, underlie the racial disparities that have been seen in survival of breast and prostate cancer.

While "large city" studies have shown considerable racial disparities in cancer survival, the new study shows that racial disparities virtually disappear in studies that focus on smaller populations, such as neighborhoods within larger cities.

Our tax dollars at work

Ed Liddy Keeps AIG Profits High by Denying Medical Claims for Iraq, Afghanistan Injuries
By: Jane Hamsher Friday April 17, 2009 12:30 pm

Ed Liddy's having a rough week of it. First, Ed Towns wants to know if AIG used TARP money to pay public relations firms to attack critics of the AIG bailout:

Under Rules X and XI of the House Rules, the Committee is investigating allegations that taxpayer funds invested by the federal government in AIG may have been used to pay public relations firms to attack critics of AIG and the federal bailout.

Then, we learned that "dollar a year" Ed has a $3 million stake in Goldman Sachs. Which doesn't look too good, considering Goldman got $13 billion funneled through AIG as a counterparty when Liddy was at the helm. But don't worry, he had nothing to do with it:

“A.I.G. is a large institution that engages in standard commercial activity with companies all over the world,” Ms. Pretto said. “These activities are handled in the normal, day-to-day course of business and rarely, if ever, rise to the level of the C.E.O.”

So, the defense seems to be -- $13 billion in government money out the door to Goldman, but Liddy couldn't be bothered. If it helped the value of his Goldman stock, happy coincidence.

Now it turns out that AIG, who recorded hundreds of millions of dollars in profits for taxpayer-funded medical policies for civilian contractors working in Iraq and Afghanistan, are routinely denying "the most serious medical claims":

The insurance system for civilian contractors has generated profits for the providers, primarily AIG, the war zone's dominant player. Insurers collected more than $1.5 billion in premiums paid by U.S. taxpayers and have earned nearly $600 million in profit, according to congressional investigators.

A military audit deemed AIG's premiums "unreasonably high."

Insurance companies initially rejected 44% of claims from contractors involving serious injuries and more than half of all claims related to psychological stress, records show. As a result, civilians maimed or traumatized in the war zone often must wage lengthy court battles for medical care and benefits.

Liddy may claim that he only makes a dollar a year in salary from AIG, but he has an "undisclosed stock package" at AIG as well.

Elijah Cummings is calling on Liddy to resign. But look at the bright side -- as long as he's still around, he makes Steve Rattner look good.

Some comments to the article

Earl - back in the day (over 15 years ago) I was lawyering for a firm that did insurance defense. I had, independent of my work, befriended someone who was working as an adjuster at AIG.

This is one of the ways that firms develop contacts in insurance companies which then lead to cases being sent out to that firm, with the concomitant legal fees.

I started working on business development with this adjuster, being wholly upfront about it. And, since the adjuster was a friend, it was mutually open.

After we started working toward developing a business relationship, I sat down to discuss it with the senior partner, since I was a mere associate at the time. He was all pleased that I was working to develop more business and so on.

Until I told him the name of the company I was working on was “AIG”.

He said: “Stop. Don’t bother with them. I never want AIG in here. Not only do they not pay on claims (not a bad thing from a defense perspective), but they don’t pay their lawyers either. They nickel and dime you and make you wait forever.”

So, FWIW (and this does not mitigate AIG’s horrendous conduct in not paying claims), they screw everyone. They’re equal opportunity offenders.
AIG has been slow paying, not paying and under paying claims since 1984 that I am aware of. I am sure they continue to pay claims slow, under paying or not paying in all 100 of their companies in which they operate. When they get sued for bad faith they stonewall, cheat, and otherwise litigate one to death and then they defraud their defense attorneys by not paying them, slow paying them and then if they pay, under pay. It has been a very profitible scam over a lot of years for them.

It must be understood the AIG’s entire business model is to not pay claims. This was related to me by a guy who is a former high level corporate finance guy. The smaller you are the harder they will fight the payout. A simple proven can’t miss strategy.

Note that they were eager to pay the giant financial institutions in full for their swaps. Note also that smaller players in CDOs didn’t make out so good. I am trying to track this down but I suspect that many of them are being offered as little as 20 cents on the dollar on their bets with AIG.

No matter how bad you think all this stuff is it is much much worse.

Friday, April 17, 2009

A tree grows in - a lung?

The CNN announcer made the disclaimer that they have not verified this independently.

Doctors in Russia claim they found a 2-inch fir tree growing in a 28-year-old man's lung.

Switching Tower Lights Could Save Birds

Emily Sohn, Discovery News
April 15, 2009 -- Millions of birds die every year from nighttime collisions with communication towers. But there may be a simple way to save tons of avian lives -- without tearing down towers or sacrificing airplane safety.

All we have to do, suggests a new study, is change some light bulbs so that steady lights become blinking lights.

"The potential is that all the communication towers in the world could potentially be changed to be better," said Terry Rich, director of Partners in Flight, a bird conservation group, in Boise, Idaho. He was not involved with the new study.

"That would save millions and millions of birds," Rich said. "It's hugely important. It's hard to overemphasize what the potential is."

An estimated 4 or 5 million birds die each year in the United States from flying into communications towers, said Joelle Gehring, lead author of the new study, though some estimates range as high as 50 million birds a year. Migratory songbirds are the most common victims of tower collisions. And most run-ins happen at night, which is when these birds tend to travel.

Why Susan makes us cry

I'm listening to the Susan Boyle video again, and understanding why she makes us cry.
It's not just the beauty of her voice, she also has a sincere emotional quality to her singing.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Upright Positions Shorten First Stage Labor

ScienceDaily (Apr. 16, 2009) — Lying down during the early stages of childbirth may slow progress, according to a new systematic review. Cochrane Researchers found that the first stage of labour was significantly shorter for women who kneel, stand up, walk around, or sit upright as opposed to lying down.

Using data from 21 studies carried out in developed countries since the 1960s, involving 3,706 women, the researchers found that the first stage of labour was around an hour shorter in those who adopted upright positions compared to those who lay down.

"In most developing countries, women stand up or walk around as they wish during the early stages of birth with no ill effects," says Annemarie Lawrence, who works at the Institute of Women's and Children's Health at the Townsville Hospital in Queensland, Australia. "This review demonstrates that there is some benefit and no risk to being upright and or mobile during first stage labour."

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Rational stupidity

I think a more realistic, but less catchy, title would be "rational stupid actions. And of course, if a politician changes their mind, they will be jumped on by their opposition, and accused of lying."

It can be quite rational to behave stupidly. That’s the claim of this new paper (pdf) by Anne Sibert and Hamid Sabourian - which might explain why highly paid bankers made such a horrible mess.
To see what they mean, start from the premise that bankers are paid not by results, but by perceived competence.
Now, put yourself in the position of a banker who has gone long of mortgage derivatives - toxic assets, to use a phrase I hate - in the belief that the US housing market will continue to boom. You then get a signal that the boom might turn to bust. What do you do?
The obvious thing is to sell your position. But this might not be rational. If you do this, you incur a certain loss. Your bosses think: “Hey, this guy doesn’t know what he’s doing. One moment he tells us to go long of CDOs, the next he’s selling. We don’t need to give this putz a big bonus; who’d be daft enough to hire him?” This certain loss is offset by only a possible gain - the possibility that the market really will bust before the bonus season.
The desire to appear competent - to stick with your previous position - can therefore lead rational people to stick with assets that may well lose money. This happens because our trader is concerned to maintain his reputation, as this determines his salary. Indeed, say Sibert and Sabourian:
It is possible for all experts to continue to predict an event that they know is virtually certain not to occur.
Worse still, the better our trader has been in the past, the more likely he is to be wrong. This is because his response to signs that his original position might be mistaken would be: “There are always noisy signals that I might be mistaken. I’ve been right to ignore them in the past. What’s different now?” As Sibert and Sabourian say: “more competent experts do not necessarily make better predictions.”
There are, at least, two takeaways here. First, bad incentives can cause rational people to look as if they are acting stupidly. To an outsider, our trader looks like he’s committing some combination of the confirmation bias or over-confidence. But in fact, he’s acting rationally, maximizing his expected utility.
It’s not, of course, just in banks where this problem arises. Politicians might stick with bad policies, because the cost of doing a “U-turn” and signalling incompetence would outweigh the benefit of adopting the right policy.
Second, all this might explain why it is banks, rather than hedge funds, who have suffered most. In both, payment depends partly upon actual results and partly upon perceived competence. But in banks, it’s the latter that is (a little?) more important. And the desire to preserve perceived competence might have led to rational irrational behaviour.
From a comment to this article

The great George Polya made an important related point. He said that mathematicians and scientists instinctively looked for cases that disproved their theories while other people tended to look for cases that confirmed them.

People's Misperceptions Cloud Their Understanding Of Rainy Weather Forecasts

ScienceDaily (Apr. 15, 2009) — If Mark Twain were alive today he might rephrase his frequently cited observation about everyone talking about the weather but not doing anything about it to say, "Everyone reads or watches weather forecasts, but many people don't understand them."
He'd do that because new research indicates that only about half the population knows what a forecast means when it predicts a 20 percent chance of rain, according to researchers at the University of Washington.

Writing in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, the researchers said the confusion comes because people don't understand what the 20 percent chance of rain actually refers to. Many people think it means that it will rain over 20 percent of the area covered by the forecast or for 20 percent of the time period covered by the forecast, said Susan Joslyn, a UW cognitive psychologist and senior lecturer.

"When a forecast says there is 20 percent chance of rain tomorrow it actually means it will rain on 20 percent of the days with exactly the same atmospheric conditions," she said. "With the exception of the probability of precipitation, most weather forecasts report a single value such as the high temperature will be 53 degrees. This is deterministic because it implies that forecasters are sure the high temperature will be 53 degrees. But forecasting is probabilistic and 53 degrees is in the middle of the range of possible temperatures, say 49 to 56 degrees."

Energy Drinks Work -- In Mysterious Ways

ScienceDaily (Apr. 15, 2009) — Runners clutching bottles of energy drink are a common sight, and it has long been known that sugary drinks and sweets can significantly improve athletes' performance in endurance events. The question is how?

Clearly, 'sports' drinks and tablets contain calories. But this alone is not enough to explain the boost, and the benefits are felt even if the drink is spat out rather than swallowed. Nor does the sugary taste solve the riddle, as artificial sweeteners do not boost performance even when they are indistinguishable from real sugars.

Writing in the latest issue of The Journal of Physiology, Ed Chambers and colleagues not only show that sugary drinks can significantly boost performance in an endurance event without being ingested, but so can a tasteless carbohydrate – and they do so in unexpected ways.

The researchers prepared drinks that contained either glucose (a sugar), maltodextrin (a tasteless carbohydrate) or neither, then carefully laced them with artificial sweeteners until they tasted identical. They asked endurance-trained athletes to complete a challenging time-trial, during which they rinsed their mouths with one of the three concoctions.

The results were striking. Athletes given the glucose or maltodextrin drinks outperformed those on 'disguised' water by 2 - 3% and sustained a higher average power output and pulse rate, even though didn't feel they were working any harder. The authors conclude that as-yet unidentified receptors in the mouth independent from the usual 'sweet' taste buds must be responsible. "Much of the benefit from carbohydrate in sports drinks is provided by signalling directly from mouth to brain rather than providing energy for the working muscles," explained Dr Chambers.

The team then used a neuro-imaging technique known as fMRI to monitor the athletes' brain activity shortly after giving them one of the three compounds. They found that both glucose and maltodextrin triggered specific areas of the brain associated with reward or pleasure, while the artificial sweetener did not. This acts to reduce the athletes' perception of their workload, suggest the authors, and hence enables them to sustain a higher average output.

Their findings support the emerging 'central governor hypothesis' – the theory that it is not the muscles, heart or lungs that ultimately limit performance, but the brain itself, based on the information it receives from the body. Stimulating the brain in certain ways – such as swilling sugary drinks – can boost output, perhaps giving athletes that all-important edge over their rivals.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Susan Boyle gets her chance. Beautiful

Wow, wow, wow. I'm glad she finally got her chance.
She appeared on a reality TV show called "Britains' Got Talent" Saturday, April 11th

(CNN) -- In the space of a few minutes and a few notes unemployed Scottish charity worker Susan Boyle won over 3,000 fans. In the space of a few days and YouTube she has grabbed the attention of millions.

And she also reportedly has A-list fans like Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher.

She didn't play or dress the part of a star on reality TV show "Britain's Got Talent" -- but within seconds of beginning to sing, the auditorium knew she was one.

Boyle, 47, told the show she had never been married or kissed, and lives in Scotland with her cat Pebbles.

She still lives in her childhood home in Blackburn, West Lothian, and believes a promise to her mother Bridget who died age 91 in 2007 got her on the TV show.

The town, in northeast Scotland, is a former cotton and mining center which now attracts commuters to nearby Aberdeen, the key city for the region's North Sea oil industry.

"I wanted to fulfill a wish to my mother that I wanted to do something with my life. Not only that but I felt like I had a bit more to offer,'" she told Scottish TV's "Five-thirty" show.

As she revealed her dream to be a professional singer -- as big as Elaine Paige -- many in the 3,000 crowd in The Clyde Auditorium, Glasgow, Scotland, were smirking or even laughing.

Seconds later the first gasps emerged as she sang the opening lines of "I Dreamed a Dream' from "Les Miserables."

About five minutes later a standing ovation and the praise of the judges, including the show's creator Simon Cowell, were ringing in her ears.

Judge Piers Morgan wrote on the show's Web site: "I watched her performance back again last night, I texted Simon in Hollywood: 'My god, Susan was even better than I remembered -- she's unbelievable.' He agreed, and I could almost feel his beady little eyes going 'KERCHING!' down the line from his new Beverly Hills mansion.

"For, unless I am a brainless aardvark -- which might, sadly, be true -- then this West Lothian villager is going to sell a lot of records once this series is over."

New fans also clogged the message board, many along the lines of Surfer1960's: "I am just blown away by her voice."

She was more critical, saying: "They say that television makes you look fat and it certainly did. I looked like a garage."

Britain's Press Association reported Moore and Kutcher apparently watched Boyle on YouTube. About five million others have also tuned in to YouTube since Saturday's TV show.

Sign of the times

On the way to work this morning, I saw the following sign in front of a house:

Tax returns
1/2 price

Recession fueling right-wing extremism

No surprise, it's what usually, maybe always happens, during such times. And there has been an obvious increase recently in right-wing comments on;_ylt=AtF9mtLWZoVZ7C2vQhV_dhus0NUE;_ylu=X3oDMTJzaDUwdmY3BGFzc2V0A25tLzIwMDkwNDE0L3VzX3VzYV9zZWN1cml0eV9leHRyZW1pc3RzBGNwb3MDNwRwb3MDMTYEc2VjA3luX3RvcF9zdG9yeQRzbGsDcmVjZXNzaW9uZnVl
By Jane Sutton Jane Sutton – 5 mins ago

MIAMI (Reuters) – Right-wing extremists in the United States are gaining new recruits by exploiting fears about the economy and the election of the first black U.S. president, the Department of Homeland Security warned in a report to law enforcement officials.

The April 7 report, which Reuters and other news media obtained on Tuesday, said such fears were driving a resurgence in "recruitment and radicalization activity" by white supremacist groups, antigovernment extremists and militia movements. It did not identify any by name.

DHS had no specific information about pending violence and said threats had so far been "largely rhetorical."

But it warned that home foreclosures, unemployment and other consequences of the economic recession "could create a fertile recruiting environment for right-wing extremists."

"To the extent that these factors persist, right-wing extremism is likely to grow in strength," DHS said.

The report warned that military veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with combat skills could be recruitment targets, especially those having trouble finding jobs or fitting back into civilian society.

The department "is concerned that right-wing extremists will attempt to recruit and radicalize returning veterans in order to boost their violent capabilities," the report said.

DHS spokeswoman Sara Kuban said on Tuesday the report was one of an ongoing series of threat assessments aimed at "a greater understanding of violent radicalization in the U.S."

A similar assessment of left-wing radicals completed in January was distributed to federal, state and local police agencies at that time.

"These assessments are done all the time, this is nothing unusual," Kuban said.

The Department of Homeland Security was formed in response to the September 11 attacks of 2001 and has focused largely on threats from Islamist extremists.

The report said domestic right-wing terrorist groups grew during the economic recession of the early 1990s but subsided as the economy improved.

Government scrutiny disrupted violent plots following the April 1995 bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City by Army veteran Timothy McVeigh which killed 168 people.


"Despite similarities to the climate of the 1990s, the threat posed by lone wolves and small terrorist cells is more pronounced than in past years," the report said.

The Internet has made it easier to locate specific targets, communicate with like-minded people and find information on bombs and weapons, it said.

Extremist groups are preying on fears that President Barack Obama, the first African American U.S. president, would restrict gun ownership, boost immigration and expand social programs for minorities, the report said.

It said such groups were also exploiting anti-Semitic sentiment with accusations that "a cabal of Jewish financial elites" had conspired to collapse the economy.

"This trend is likely to accelerate if the economy is perceived to worsen," the report said.

Lack of 'team spirit' at work tied to depression;_ylt=AsX_JPSIeD1V8t2IIojBMp6s0NUE;_ylu=X3oDMTFhZWdnN2F0BHBvcwM0BHNlYwN5bl9tb3N0X3BvcHVsYXIEc2xrA2xhY2tvZjM5dGVhbQ--

By Anne Harding Anne Harding – Tue Apr 14, 12:24 pm ET

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Poor team spirit at the workplace may do more than drag down morale, it can make people depressed, according to the findings of a new study published in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

"As depressive disorders are a major cause of work disability and account for a considerable proportion of the disease burden, more attention should be paid to psychosocial factors at work," lead author Dr. Marjo Sinokki of the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health in Turku told Reuters Health via e-mail.

While investigators have studied how social support and autonomy on the job, as well as job security, affect people's mental and physical health, less is known about how team interaction influences health, Sinokki and her colleagues point out.

To investigate, they looked at "team climate," or the way that people feel about the quality of communication in their work environment, in a nationally representative sample of 3,347 Finnish workers 30 to 64 years old.

People were asked on a five-point scale ranging from "I fully agree" to "I fully disagree" about four possible descriptions for their workplace: "Encouraging and supportive of new ideas," "Prejudiced and conservative," "Nice and easy," and "Quarrelsome and disagreeing."

The World Health Organization (WHO) Composite International Diagnostic Interview was used to assess the subjects' mental health and criteria from the Diagnosis and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) were used to diagnosis mental disorders.

The study participants were then divided into three groups based on their test results.

People with a poor work climate, who felt it was highly prejudiced and quarrelsome, were 61 percent more likely to be depressed, the researchers found. These workers were also at greater risk of anxiety. However, once the investigators accounted for how much control people had over their work and the nature of their job demands, this relationship disappeared.

This part of the study couldn't determine whether a bad work environment caused depression or whether depressed people perceived their workplace in a more negative way.

A second part of the study correlated team climate ratings with antidepressant use over the next 3 years. The researchers found subjects with the worst work environment were 53 percent more likely to purchase these drugs.

This provides evidence that a disagreeable work environment can cause depression, Sinokki noted, but she also said more research to examine depression and work environment over time is needed to clarify the relationship.

An unpleasant social environment at work could influence depression risk by increasing job stress, which could in turn affect factors like smoking, alcohol use, or exercise, the researcher noted.

SOURCE: Occupational and Environmental Medicine, published online April 9, 2009.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Tea Parties

A comment from one of my favorite blogs. A good point.

Jeff Darcy says...

BTW, am I the only one who thinks the "tea party" idea is absurd? The original Boston Tea Party was a protest against the repeal of a tax and the allowance of free trade, and could well be considered (especially considering who was behind it) an act of domestic-tea-industry protectionism. How is that good symbolism for libertarians today?

Posted by: Jeff Darcy | Link to comment | April 13, 2009 at 06:45 AM

Inheritance Tax

The sunset provision was a way for the Bush administration to hide the long-term effects of their budgets on future deficits and national debt.

The estate tax is levied when wealth is transferred at death. When people die, their assets are
typically distributed to relatives, other designated individuals, or charities. If people have
substantial wealth in their estate, an estate tax is paid before their wealth is passed on. This means that it is not a person who pays estate tax, but the executors on behalf of an estate. The tax is levied when an estate is settled, not at the time of death, as some opponents of the tax claim.
A surviving spouse can receive the entire estate of his or her deceased spouse, regardless of its size, without paying any estate tax. Similarly, funds donated to charity are 100 percent
deductible and reduce the size of the estate, thereby reducing or eliminating the estate tax owed.
Only households with multiple millions or billions in net worth pay an estate tax. In 2006,
individuals receive a $2 million exemption from the estate tax and couples receive a $4 million
exemption. As a result, it is estimated that less than one-third of one percent (0.27 percent) of all estates will pay the federal estate tax in 2006, about one out of every 370 estates. Based on census projections for 2006, 2.3 million people will die in 2006 and only about 6,300 will have taxable estates.
In other words, 99.7 percent of all people who die in the U.S. this year will be able to pass on 100 percent of their assets free of any estate tax.

In May 2001, Congress passed the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001
(EGTRRA), which included provisions to phase out and temporarily repeal the estate tax. This
law incrementally raised the amount of wealth exempted by the tax from $675,000 in 2001 to
$3.5 million in 2009. In 2010, the estate tax will be repealed for one year. But in 2011, the entire tax law will sunset and the estate tax will revert to the pre-2001 law, but with a $1 million wealth exemption. The reason for this odd sunset provision of the law is that the long-term expense of abolishing the estate tax would be extremely high, estimated at about $1 trillion for the decade beginning in 2012. In 2001, estate tax repeal advocates were unable to marshal the 60 votes needed to suspend Senate “pay as you go” rules. These Senate rules required that a tax cut be offset with budget cuts and/or revenue increases. Congressional tax-cutters needed to mask the long-term costs of their tax cuts, and they expected to build additional political support to return in later years to make the tax cuts “permanent.” However, their efforts in 2002, 2003, and 2005 have so far failed to secure the needed Senate votes to permanently repeal the estate tax.
The estate tax foes, meanwhile, have infused the debate with a steady stream of myths and
misleading statements. Among their biggest whoppers is that the estate tax costs nearly as much
– or as much – to collect as it brings into the treasury. In fact, the annual revenue from the estate
tax is more than double the entire budget of the IRS.
Another ready talking point has been the argument that the levy represents a double tax. This one
is particularly ironic in the case of the wealthy families because most of their assets have yet to be taxed a first time, let alone a second. A study commissioned by the pro-repeal AFBI assumed that 70 percent of wealthy families’ assets were in the form of untaxed, unrealized capital gains. For many families, the AFBI’s researchers said, the figure was as high as 90 percent.
Note that capital gains are not taxed until the gain is realized.

A final argument against the estate tax – castigated as the “death tax” by its critics – is that it represents an unjust levy against hard work and thrift. But most of the members of the superwealthy families profiled in this report are unqualified to make such claims themselves. In only a handful of the families profiled in this report is the individual who actually earned the fortune still alive. Thus, most of the members of these families can attribute their wealth to inheritance, not to their own hard work.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

McCain’s former economic adviser flips on Bush tax cuts

Though economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin spent the 2008 presidential campaign advising Sen. John McCain to defend the Bush-era tax cuts, he now thinks they should be allowed to expire on Dec. 31, 2010 due to “the prospect of an Argentina-style fiscal meltdown.” Said Holtz-Eakin: “If you ask: ‘Who pays the taxes?’, it’s the first step toward not having the answer be: ‘Our kids.’”

Same genes can be good or bad

This is an interesting comment on the article of the link. As the commenter pointed out, usually only the link between certain genes and risk of problems from negative experiences is noted in such studies. The idea of “plasticity genes” makes sense of the high percentage of people who experience depression at some point in their life. If the genes were solely negative, they wouldn't be so common. I have seen other hypotheses about this, but this one makes the most sense.

Some time in the past, I read of a study on men who inherit a certain gene that makes them resistant to learning from punishment. The researchers noted that if these boys had abusive parents, they were likely to end up in prison. If they had nurturing parents, they were the stuff of explorers, astronauts, etc.

Increasing evidence is beginging to indicate that the GXE interaction you have described may actually mischaracterize these processes. And this is because the so-called “vulnerability genes” that seem to make certain individuals more likely to succumb to problematic functioning (e.g., depression) in the face of adversity (e.g., negative life events), appear also to make people carrying these same genes more likely to BENEFIT from supportive experiences, including the simple absence of adversity, than those not carrying these putative “risk alleles”. This suggests that the disproportionate focus on adversity, genes, and psychopathology may have led to mischaracterizing what may actually be “plasticity genes” that make some individuals more susceptible to environmental influences–for better and for worse, depending on the nature of the environment they experience, not just for worse when they encounter adversity. Email me and I would be happy to share work documenting this.
Jay Belsky (
— Jay Belsky

Facing hard times, Shriners may close hospitals

updated 2:49 p.m. ET, Thurs., April 9, 2009

GREENVILLE, S.C. - Shriners Hospitals, which has provided free care to children since before the Great Depression, is considering closing a quarter of its facilities as donations stagnate, costs increase and the charity's endowment shrivels.

The group's director says it's the only viable option.

Officials at the Florida-based organization say it is siphoning $1 million a day from its endowment to balance the budget for 22 hospitals in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Meanwhile, they say, that fund has fallen to $5 billion from $8 billion in less than a year because of the sputtering stock market and a charitable giving slump that has hurt philanthropies nationwide. The fund has been declining since 2001. The group will vote this summer on the closures.

"Unless we do something, the clock is ticking and within five to seven years we'll probably be out of the hospital business and not have any hospitals," Ralph Semb, chief executive officer of Shriners Hospitals for Children, told The Associated Press.
Widely known today for burn and orthopedic care for children, the Shriners Hospitals system opened in 1922 with a facility in Shreveport, La., that specialized in treating polio. By the 1960s, the group had hospitals nationwide and expanded its care to include spinal cord injury rehabilitation, cleft lip and palate care and medical research.

More than 1 million children have been treated at the hospitals, which were created by the fraternal organization of the same name whose members are known for wearing red fezzes and driving miniature cars in parades. The care is free to all.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Appendix Isn't Useless at All: It's a Safe House for Good Bacteria

By Duke Medicine News and Communications

DURHAM, N.C. – Long denigrated as vestigial or useless, the appendix now appears to have a reason to be – as a "safe house" for the beneficial bacteria living in the human gut.

Drawing upon a series of observations and experiments, Duke University Medical Center investigators postulate that the beneficial bacteria in the appendix that aid digestion can ride out a bout of diarrhea that completely evacuates the intestines and emerge afterwards to repopulate the gut. Their theory appears online in the Journal of Theoretical Biology.

"While there is no smoking gun, the abundance of circumstantial evidence makes a strong case for the role of the appendix as a place where the good bacteria can live safe and undisturbed until they are needed," said William Parker, Ph.D., assistant professor of experimental surgery, who conducted the analysis in collaboration with R. Randal Bollinger, M.D., Ph.D., Duke professor emeritus in general surgery.

The appendix is a slender two- to four-inch pouch located near the juncture of the large and small intestines. While its exact function in humans has been debated by physicians, it is known that there is immune system tissue in the appendix.

The gut is populated with different microbes that help the digestive system break down the foods we eat. In return, the gut provides nourishment and safety to the bacteria. Parker now believes that the immune system cells found in the appendix are there to protect, rather than harm, the good bacteria.

For the past ten years, Parker has been studying the interplay of these bacteria in the bowels, and in the process has documented the existence in the bowel of what is known as a biofilm. This thin and delicate layer is an amalgamation of microbes, mucous and immune system molecules living together atop of the lining the intestines.

"Our studies have indicated that the immune system protects and nourishes the colonies of microbes living in the biofilm," Parkers explained. "By protecting these good microbes, the harmful microbes have no place to locate. We have also shown that biofilms are most pronounced in the appendix and their prevalence decreases moving away from it."

This new function of the appendix might be envisioned if conditions in the absence of modern health care and sanitation are considered, Parker said.

"Diseases causing severe diarrhea are endemic in countries without modern health and sanitation practices, which often results in the entire contents of the bowels, including the biofilms, being flushed from the body," Parker said. He added that the appendix's location and position is such that it is expected to be relatively difficult for anything to enter it as the contents of the bowels are emptied.

"Once the bowel contents have left the body, the good bacteria hidden away in the appendix can emerge and repopulate the lining of the intestine before more harmful bacteria can take up residence," Parker continued. "In industrialized societies with modern medical care and sanitation practices, the maintenance of a reserve of beneficial bacteria may not be necessary. This is consistent with the observation that removing the appendix in modern societies has no discernable negative effects."

Several decades ago, scientists suggested that people in industrialized societies might have such a high rate of appendicitis because of the so-called "hygiene hypothesis," Parker said. This hypothesis posits that people in "hygienic" societies have higher rates of allergy and perhaps autoimmune disease because they -- and hence their immune systems -- have not been as challenged during everyday life by the host of parasites or other disease-causing organisms commonly found in the environment. So when these immune systems are challenged, they can over-react.

"This over-reactive immune system may lead to the inflammation associated with appendicitis and could lead to the obstruction of the intestines that causes acute appendicitis," Parker said. "Thus, our modern health care and sanitation practices may account not only for the lack of a need for an appendix in our society, but also for much of the problems caused by the appendix in our society."

Parker conducted a deductive study because direct examination the appendix's function would be difficult. Other than humans, the only mammals known to have appendices are rabbits, opossums and wombats, and their appendices are markedly different than the human appendix.

Parker's overall research into the existence and function of biofilms is supported by the National Institutes of Health. Other Duke members of the team were Andrew Barbas, Errol Bush, and Shu Lin.

Privatized Philly schools did not keep pace

Public middle-grades schools placed under private management in 2002 as part of a state-run overhaul of the Philadelphia School District did not keep pace with the rest of the city's public schools, according to a study published in the American Journal of Education.

The study, which tracked schools through 2006, found that test scores had improved in the privatized schools, but scores in the rest of the city's public schools improved at a much faster rate, leaving the privatized schools in the dust.

"By 2006, the achievement gap between the privatized group and the rest of the district was greater than it was before the intervention," says study author Vaughan Byrnes, a researcher at Johns Hopkins University. "Both groups improved, but the privatized schools improved at a slower rate."

Philadelphia became a national proving ground for public school privatization in 2002 when Pennsylvania state government officials took over the city's schools. As part of the restructuring effort, 45 of the worst performing schools were turned over to Edison Schools Inc. and several other private education management organizations. The rest of the city's schools remained under the control of the Philadelphia School District, which instituted its own reform efforts.

Byrnes' study analyzed reading and math scores from the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment test from 1997 to 2006 at 88 middle-grades schools. Most of the schools had either grades 6-8 or a K-8 configuration. The data allowed Byrnes to look at trend lines before and after the state intervention in both privatized and non-privatized schools.

"The schools placed under private management were significantly worse off than the rest of the district in 1997," Byrnes says. "But our data show that they were gaining on the rest of the district from 1997 to 2002—before the takeover." After the takeover, improvement at the privatized schools accelerated, but the rest of the district accelerated faster. As a result, the privatized schools were further behind the rest of the district by 2006 than they were before the takeover.

Byrnes says his results are consistent with previous research on Philadelphia school reform efforts.

Supporters of privatization have responded to previous critical findings by arguing that improvement in the privatized schools is stunted because these schools were the worst in the district. But this study casts serious doubt on that argument, because according to Byrnes' data, the privatized schools were not the district's worst.

"Five of the absolute worst schools in the district were restructured but remained under public control," Byrnes said. "Those schools did much better after 2002, outpacing the privatized schools, and perhaps even the rest of the district. That rules out the argument that the privatized schools improved more slowly because they were worse to start with."

Byrnes says that his study was not able to address potential differences in funding between the district and privatized schools.

"[T]here is no way to know whether the total per pupil funding was more or less in the district schools or the EMO (privatized) schools," Byrnes writes. "Therefore, the financial context of the school privatization is an issue that we were unable to examine here."