Wednesday, September 30, 2009


"We judge ourselves by our ideals; others by their actions. It is a great convenience." -- Howard Zinn

Grayson's Apology

Making ends meet on $21,834 a year

There is also the fact that things don't last as long as they used to, so we have to buy more of them in a given amount of time

Andrea Orr September 24, 2009

In the wake of the U.S. Census Bureau's recent report on the number of Americans living in poverty, it’s a good time to ask, What is poverty, anyway? The Census Bureau says that in 2008, it was an annual income of $17,330 or less for a family of two adults and one child, $21,834 for a family of four with two children, with additional increases for larger families.

The way the thresholds graduate with the family size and get adjusted every year for inflation would seem to suggest they are carefully-considered limits, above which a family should be able to eke out the most modest of livings. But as anyone who has tried to pay for housing, food and other essentials on a low income understands, the costs of life’s most basic necessities can easily exceed take-home pay. Moreover, costs of living vary tremendously from place to place, making the notion of a single, nationwide poverty threshold faulty by definition.

Where in the country can a family of four keep a roof over its head and food on the table for $22,000 a year, before taxes, and still having something left over for health care and transportation? In 2007, EPI took a detailed look at basic costs in different parts of the country and built the Basic Family Budget Calculator, which assembled the costs of basic housing, food, child care, transportation, health care, taxes, and other necessities in different regions of the country. Besides offering detailed data on how much costs vary across rural and urban areas and different geographic regions, the calculator shows that poverty thresholds are too low just about everywhere.

Take Peoria, Illinois, often considered your typical American town. A family of four living in Peoria would, according to the Family Budget Calculator, likely require an annual income of $42,324, including $623 per month for housing and $643 for food, based on 2007 costs. That’s almost double the 2008 poverty threshold. Other regions would require a much higher income. In Chicago, for example, the Basic Family Budget Calculator says a family of four would need $48,800. On New York’s Long Island, where housing costs even more, the annual budget for a family of four shoots up to $71,913 a year. Basic family budgets in some other regions of the country come in much lower. Rural Arkansas comes in at $37,338 a year; rural Texas at $38,862. These regions are comparatively inexpensive, but still have costs for essentials that easily exceed incomes at the official poverty threshold.

In examining different family budgets around the country, it is also worth noting that the federal minimum wage -- even after its July increase to $7.25 per hour -- equates to an annual salary of $14,500 per year based on a 2,000-hour work year, which is just barely above the 2008 poverty threshold of $14,051 for a family of two.

Of course, each family has its own unique set of expenses. Just as some may cut costs by sharing housing with relatives, others may face exceptionally steep costs in the form of gasoline and car maintenance for long commutes, or medical care for a special-needs child. While it would be impossible to account for all the variables affecting an individual family’s housing, food, and other costs all around the country, the Family Budget Calculator attempts to get at the bare bones expenses. It estimates housing costs based on non-luxury, “privately-owned, decent, and safe rental housing” at the 40th percentile, or that which costs less than 60% of the rentals on the local market. Food cost estimates come from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “low-cost” food plan. Average transportation costs are based on the National Household Travel Survey and consider only travel related to work and other non-social purposes such as essential errands.

Critics of the Census Bureau’s existing methodology for calculating poverty thresholds note that it is based on an outdated formula that was put in place in the 1960s, and has not evolved with family budgets. Not only have overall costs gone up since then, but the portion of incomes spent on food, housing and other essentials has changed dramatically. This commentary notes that during the 1960s, the typical family spent a third of its budget on food, but today food consumes just one-seventh of its budget on food, with other essentials such as health care consuming much more. If that would seem to suggest that food has gotten cheaper, it also highlights the problem of calculating poverty as a multiple of food costs, under the formula that was established decades ago and is still used today. The Census Bureau acknowledges that because of this longstanding formula, it is no longer possible to say what share of a poverty-level income would go toward specific categories of consumption. Simply adjusting food costs for inflation over the past 40 years, in other words, would not be enough to keep the poverty threshold current.

The National Academy of Sciences is one of a number of groups that have proposed an updated method for calculating poverty. This report notes that if the Census adopted that new method, it would result in millions of additional Americans below the poverty threshold and would nearly double the number of seniors living in poverty, to about 20% of the over-65 population.

One in four households has suffered a layoff over the past year



57% of voters are close to someone who has been laid off; 61% are close to someone who has had their hours or pay cut. And 44% of households have experienced one or the other in the past year.

From chart on page 10,
24% had someone in their household laid off
37% had someone in their household with hours and/or pay cut

Two meter (2.18722 yards) sea level rise unstoppable

By Gerard WynnPosted 2009/09/30 at 9:12 am EDT

OXFORD, England, Sep. 30, 2009 (Reuters) — A rise of at least two meters in the world's sea levels is now almost unstoppable, experts told a climate conference at Oxford University on Tuesday.

"The crux of the sea level issue is that it starts very slowly but once it gets going it is practically unstoppable," said Stefan Rahmstorf, a scientist at Germany's Potsdam Institute and a widely recognized sea level expert.

"There is no way I can see to stop this rise, even if we have gone to zero emissions."

Rahmstorf said the best outcome was that after temperatures stabilized, sea levels would only rise at a steady rate "for centuries to come," and not accelerate.

Most scientists expect at least 2 degrees Celsius warming as a result of man-made greenhouse gas emissions, and probably more. The world warmed 0.7-0.8 degrees last century.

Rahmstorf estimated that if the world limited warming to 1.5 degrees then it would still see two meters sea level rise over centuries, which would see some island nations disappear.

His best guess was a one meter rise this century, assuming three degrees warming, and up to five meters over the next 300 years.

"There is nothing we can do to stop this unless we manage to cool the planet. That would require extracting the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. There is no way of doing this on the sufficient scale known today," he said.

Scientists say that ice melt acquires a momentum of its own - for example warming the air as less ice reflects less heat, warming the local area.

"Once the ice is on the move, it's like a tipping point which reinforces itself," said Wageningen University's Pier Vellinga, citing various research.

"Even if you reduce all the emissions in the world once this has started it may be unstoppable. I conclude that beyond 2 degrees global average temperature rise the probability of the Greenland ice sheet disintegrating is 50 percent or more."

"(That) will result in about 7 meters sea level rise, and the time frame is about 300-1,000 years."

Delegates from about 190 nations are meeting in Bangkok to try to speed up U.N.-led negotiations to replace the Kyoto Protocol with a tougher climate pact.

Speakers in Oxford used history to back up their arguments on rising seas. Three million years ago the planet was 2-3 degrees warmer and the sea 25-35 meters higher, and 122,000 years ago 2 degrees warmer and 10 meters higher, they said.

"What we now see in Greenland, Antarctica could be a temporary phenomena but it could also be the start of what we saw 122,000 years ago," said Vellinga.

Sea levels have risen about 20 centimeters in the past century and that effect was accelerating, speakers said.

That rise was adding to storms such as that in the Philippines, although that single event couldn't be attributed to climate change, said Rahmstorf.

"Of course the flooding from a given storm event would be less severe if we hadn't added those extra centimeters.

About 40 million people worldwide live in flood plains, said Southampton University's Robert Nicholls. That is 0.6 percent of the global population and 5 percent of global wealth, because of valuable assets such as airports and power plants.

He was confident that coastal protection could hugely reduce lost land and assets. The cost of that speakers put at anywhere from 50 billion euros ($72.85 billion) a year by 2020 to up to $215 billion a year by 2100.


On top of the economic problems, and on-going tradegies from various environmental and political troubles, this week has brought a string of natural disasters. Typhoon Ketsana devastated the Philippines Saturday and Vietnam Tuesday, with Typhoon Parma headed their way, possibly striking the Philippines as soon as Friday; a tsunami caused by an underground earthquake hit American Samoa hard yesterday (Tuesday); an earthquake today in Indonesia has trapped thousands.

Please donate to a disaster relief organization. Here's the donation site for the Red Cross. I'll post more later today.

I suggest choosing the option to donate where the need is greatest. After a well-publicized disaster they often get more than they need for that disaster, while falling short for less-publicized disasters, or those that occur shortly after.

updated 32 minutes ago

PADANG, Indonesia - A powerful earthquake rocked western Indonesia Wednesday, trapping thousands under collapsed buildings — including two hospitals — and triggering landslides. At least 75 people were killed on Sumatra island and the death toll was expected to climb sharply.

The magnitude 7.6 quake struck at 5:15 p.m. local time (6:15 a.m. EDT), just off the coast of Padang city the U.S. Geological Survey said. It was along the same fault line that spawned the massive 2004 Asian tsunami that killed more than 230,000 people in a dozen countries.

updated 1 hour, 28 minutes ago

APIA, Samoa - A massive tsunami hurled by a powerful earthquake flattened Samoan villages and swept cars and people out to sea, killing at least 99 and leaving dozens missing Wednesday. The toll was expected to rise.
Four tsunami waves 15 to 20 feet high roared ashore on American Samoa, reaching up to a mile inland, Mike Reynolds, superintendent of the National Park of American Samoa, was quoted as saying by a parks service spokeswoman. news services
updated 7:35 p.m. ET, Tues., Sept . 29, 2009

HANOI/MANILA - A powerful typhoon slammed into central Vietnam on Tuesday, killing 32 people and flooding towns and villages along the country's long coastline after leaving a trail of death and destruction in the Philippines.

The death toll in the Philippines from Typhoon Ketsana rose to 246 while the economic cost was nearly $100 million, officials said. Philippine authorities braced for another storm that could hit later this week.

Ketsana, which struck Manila and surrounding provinces on Saturday, gathered strength across the South China Sea, made landfall in central Vietnam, where 170,000 were evacuated from its path. It was weakening as it headed west into Laos.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

N.F.L. a risk factor for dementia N

No surprise, given the nature of the game, and that it is known that concussions are a risk factor for Alzheimer's. I guess you say it is a no-brainer.

A study commissioned by the National Football League reports that Alzheimer's disease or similar memory-related diseases appear to have been diagnosed in the league's former players vastly more often than in the national population -- including a rate of 19 times the normal rate for men ages 30 through 49.

The N.F.L. has long denied the existence of reliable data about cognitive decline among its players. These numbers would become the league's first public affirmation of any connection, though the league pointed to limitations of this study.

The findings could ring loud at the youth and college levels, which often take cues from the N.F.L. on safety policies and whose players emulate the pros. Hundreds of on-field concussions are sustained at every level each week, with many going undiagnosed and untreated.

Double Standard

I remember several years ago when the Democrats published a recording of material somebody accidentally had access to, maybe from picking up a stray cell phone signal, can't remember the exact details. Oh, how the Republicans waxed indignant. I think charges were brought, on the same or similar ground that Acorn is using in its suit. But in that case, the Democrats weren't deliberately enticing and entrapping some Republicans to misbehavior, it was just Republicans being themselves.

"ACORN, the embattled anti-poverty advocacy group, took another hit today. Joining the Census Bureau, the Internal Revenue Service announced it is severing its ties with ACORN, which had been included in a volunteer tax assistance program that offered free advice to about 3 million low- and moderate-income taxpayers. The IRS said ACORN, embroiled in a scandal after employees were captured on hidden-camera video giving advice to a couple posing as a prostitute and her pimp, provided help on about 25,000 returns. This afternoon, ACORN released a letter, dated Monday, from CEO Bertha Lewis to the IRS saying that it was suspending its tax assistance activities."

ACORN though filed a lawsuit "suing conservative filmmakers James O’Keefe and Hannah Giles for secretly videotaping in their office." (Maryland, by the way, is what's called a two-party consent state when it comes to recording audio. In other words, both sides have to agree to allow recording to happen.)

Millions in contracts, no work completed

Contrast this with the quick cutting off of federal funds to Acorn, because of misbehavior by a couple of low-level employees. Also contrast it with the big bonuses paid to people whose financial institutions helped cause this bad recession, and whose companies were bailed out with our tax money.

By Mark Benjamin
Sept. 29, 2009 | A top official at Arlington National Cemetery steered millions of dollars to a handful of contractors operating a series of different companies over the past several years. When the contractors would leave one company and start another, the official would hire them again, yet the work they were hired to do has never been completed. The firms have ostensibly worked since 2003 to computerize burial records at the cemetery, but to date, despite receiving as much as $5.6 million, they have produced almost nothing in return.

The small group of contractors, all favored by Deputy Superintendent Thurman Higginbotham, includes one currently facing more than a dozen counts of child sex offenses and a company that a cemetery information technology manager felt was so unqualified to handle sensitive private data that the manager resigned in disgust.

Since the contractors have failed to produce, the cemetery continues to rely on a flurry of paper records in an attempt to keep up with around 30 burials a day. Paper goes missing, current and former workers there say, resulting in burial fiascoes that occur with disturbing frequency.

For example, Salon reported this past summer on workers who went to bury a service member in an active part of the cemetery only to find unknown, unmarked remains already there even though paper records said the grave was unoccupied. The cemetery at first claimed such things do not occur. When Salon produced the grave card labeled "CASKET IN GRAVE REMAINS UNKNOWN," and photos of the unmarked grave, the cemetery admitted the error -- but insisted that is the only case.

In a 2008 report to Congress, the cemetery admitted to poor record-keeping across the cemetery, including Section 60, the final resting place of troops killed in Afghanistan and Iraq. "There are numerous examples of discrepancies that exist between burial maps, the physical location of headstones, and the burial records/grave cards," the report admits. Despite that admission and the claims of current and former employees, top cemetery officials insist the correct remains are always beneath the headstones above them.

The process of trying to address Arlington's record-keeping problems by computerizing the burial process has been under way for at least six years. The cemetery's de facto boss, Higginbotham, has spearheaded the computerization efforts. The plan is to duplicate operations at other large cemeteries that already electronically handle burial records and next-of-kin data and track grave locations via satellite, making foul-ups far less likely.

Electronic systems to record grave information and track grave locations via satellite are relatively common. The Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati, for example, is a similar age and size to Arlington and has used computer systems and satellites to track graves for years. That cemetery did not return calls for comment on the cost of implementing that system. The Department of Veterans Affairs, which maintains more than 2.9 million grave sites at 130 national cemeteries in 39 states, tracks information on graves through its electronic Burial Operating Support System. In fact, family can track the locations of many veterans' graves right off the V.A. Web site using the "Nationwide Gravesite Locator." Arlington, which contains the remains of roughly 320,000 service members and their families, is run by the Army. The cemetery Web site does not offer any matching capability because it does not exist.

Interviews, internal cemetery e-mails and budget documents show that since 2003, to do this work Higginbotham has guided millions of dollars to a small cast of contractors operating under a succession of different company names. The contracts were also awarded through a bidding process that either eliminates any competition for bids or tightly limits competition. Internal e-mails show Higginbotham appearing to exert complete control over the awarding of the contracts. The companies, however, have produced almost nothing and the cemetery still relies almost exclusively on pieces of paper to track operations, leading to mistakes like the kind uncovered by Salon.


For reasons that remain unclear, in late 2006 Higginbotham and Greaux had an apparent falling out. Higginbotham steered the work to another company. An internal e-mail from a cemetery employee to Higginbotham on Sept. 8, 2006, asked about Greaux, "Do you still want him to be the 8A firm that does this?" The employee asked Higginbotham in that e-mail whether to drop Greaux, asking if Higginbotham "wants to consider another firm."

Higginbotham typed back on his BlackBerry: "Yes. ATG."

He was referring to Carlton Wells, who at that time was the chief operations officer at a company called Alpha Technology Group, with offices in Waldorf, Md., and Newalla, Okla.

E-mails show Higginbotham saying that the contract would go to ATG with no competition from other firms. An e-mail from Higginbotham to a government contracting official on Sept. 6, 2006, says, "It is my understanding that we are going sole source 8a." Sole source refers to a contract granted with no competition, a process carried out when only one firm can possibly perform the work. (Other companies can computerize burial operations using satellites and have done so successfully at other cemeteries.)

Once hired, Wells and Higginbotham worked closely with another ATG employee, Bobbie Garrett, to perform much of the nuts and bolts computer work at Arlington. In 2008, however, things got messy for Higginbotham and ATG. In October 2008, the Army Criminal Investigation Command launched an investigation into the cemetery after someone at Arlington impersonated Gina Gray, a former spokeswoman for the cemetery, online, and Gray appealed to Army investigators.

The Army investigation ultimately found wire fraud at Arlington and said Higginbotham had Garrett hack into Gray's government computer. Investigators were able to determine that Garrett had hacked into Gray's computer on Higginbotham's behalf and found e-mails from Higginbotham containing information from that computer, but could not prove conclusively that either of the men was the person who had sent out e-mails using Gray's account, pretending to be her. Investigators also cited Higginbotham for "false statements" during the probe, though the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Virginia declined to prosecute the case.

Ah, those law-and-order Republicans.


Records show that Wells and Garrett later teamed up again and quietly incorporated a new company, Optimum Technical Solutions, in Jacksonville, Fla., on March 18, 2009. In June, cemetery officials recently confirmed, Arlington hired Optimum Technical Solutions to do more of the same kind of work computerizing records, giving the firm a four-month contract worth $193,000.

That work was likely disrupted, however. U.S. marshals arrested Garrett on July 31 as he walked off a plane in Columbus, Ohio. He faces trial in December on more than a dozen counts of child sex abuse in Charles County, Md. Also that month, the former I.T. manager at Arlington resigned after Higginbotham forced the manager to ship two computer servers to Wells and Garrett in Florida containing the personal data -- including Social Security numbers -- of thousands of deceased soldiers and contact information on their next of kin. The I.T. manager quit after warning Higginbotham that the shipment violated privacy law.

Higginbotham and the revolving cast of contractors have almost nothing to show for the years-long effort to computerize burial records. Burials are managed by distributing dozens of paper schedules and more than 100 paper cemetery maps, according to cemetery documents. A report to Congress from fiscal year 2008 shows the cemetery had already spent $3.7 million on the project by the end of fiscal year 2006, and expected to spend an additional $1.885 million through fiscal 2009.

Homeless find temporary haven in tent camps

updated 10:03 a.m. EDT, Tue September 29, 2009
By Patrick Oppmann CNN

SEATTLE, Washington (CNN) -- In cities across the country, people with nowhere to live have done what many would have thought unthinkable before the economic crisis: moved into tents.

Tent camps once associated mainly with the "Hoovervilles" of the Great Depression are springing up in places as varied as Sacramento, California; Nashville, Tennessee; Pinellas County, Florida; Providence, Rhode Island; and Seattle, Washington.

The camps have often led to standoffs between local governments that say the camps violate housing ordinances and homeless rights advocates who argue that people struggling to get back on their feet need a permanent place to stay.

There are no definitive numbers on how many people have taken to living in homeless camps. A recent annual report from the Department of Housing and Urban Development showed an increase in homelessness among families while overall rates of homelessness stayed roughly the same.

But those numbers are only the initial waves of what could be a larger crisis, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

"This data is the canary in the coal mine," Nan Roman, the alliance's president, wrote on the group's Web site. "Homelessness is a lagging indicator of economic tides, so there is concern that this new information could foreshadow sharp increases in homelessness in the future." Video Watch as a CNN journalist spends days in a tent camp »

A year ago Terry Bailey, his wife and two teenage sons lived in Montana, where he worked as a truck driver for construction companies. But when the construction work dried up, the Baileys were faced with an onslaught of bills and no income.

"We are hard-working human beings that just can't make enough money to survive," Bailey said.

In a last-ditch attempt to avoid going bust, the Baileys moved to Seattle, where they heard there were jobs. Instead they found a high cost of living and few opportunities. City shelters, Bailey said, were often full and split up the family. The streets, he said, were too dangerous. Video Watch how homeless camps are multiplying »

With nowhere else to go, the Baileys found Nickelsville, a homeless tent camp named after Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, who camp residents claim has tried repeatedly to shut the camp down. The camp has roughly 80 residents and offers a safe haven for those without homes.

"This gives us a place where we can stay as a family," Bailey said. "We can stay together, we can prepare our food. We can live as a community with people who are in the same situation as us."

Before a homeless person can move into the camp, their names are checked against a county list of sex offenders to keep predators out. Drugs and alcohol are also prohibited, camp organizers said.

Camp resident Gregory Lewis said his drug addiction kept him living on the streets for years until he moved into Nickelsville. The camp, he said, helped him to get clean and "saved his life."

But life in the homeless camp is far from easy and never permanent. Residents live in cramped camping tents and in the last year have been forced to move nine times. The camp's latest location -- at a waterfront park overseen by the Port of Seattle -- may be closed down Wednesday as camp residents and city officials engage in their latest faceoff.

Port officials say the camp violates city codes. The officials add that they have tried to find the camp's residents another place to live. But Lewis said the camp is holding out for a permanent location.

[If officials can't find the camp's residents another place to live, how is it any kind of decency to shut them down. Is this what the U.S. is about? Is this what being a supposedly Christian nation is all about?]

"A lot of ... us want to be quote unquote 'normal,'" Lewis said. "I would like to be a contributing citizen to society with a good job and eventually help people like myself. When I am on the bus you wouldn't know I am homeless."

Monday, September 28, 2009

How Infant Pain Changes Sensitivity In Adults

Something I think is barbaric is circumcisions being done w/o anesthetic. I have heard a recording of a baby screaming during the procedure. Anybody who thinks the babies aren't in agony is plain stupid.

ScienceDaily (Sep. 25, 2009) — Scientists at Georgia State University have uncovered the mechanisms of how pain in infancy alters how the brain processes pain in adulthood.

Research is now indicating that infants who spent time in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) show altered pain sensitivity in adolescence. These results have profound implications and highlight the need for pre-emptive and post-operative pain medicine for newborn infants.

The study, published online in the journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, sheds light on how the mechanisms of pain are altered after infant injury in a region of the brain called the periaqueductal gray, which is involved in the perception of pain.

Using Sprague-Dawley rats, Jamie LaPrairie, a graduate student in associate professor Anne Murphy's laboratory, examined why the brief experience of pain at the time of birth permanently decreased pain sensitivity in adulthood.


While it's beneficial to decrease pain sensitivity in some cases, it's not good to be completely resilient to pain.

"Pain is a warning sign that something is wrong," Murphy explained. "For example, if your hand is in water that's too hot, pain warns you to remove it before tissue damage occurs."

[Decreased sensitivity to pain is connected to increased levels of delinquent behaviour as adults.]

Interestingly, while there is an increase in endorphin and enkephalin proteins in adults, there is also a big decrease in the availability of mu and delta opioid receptors. These receptors are necessary in order for pain medications, such as morphine, to work. This means that it takes more pain-relieving medications in order to provide relief as there are fewer available receptors in the brain. Studies in humans are reporting the same phenomenon.
The number of invasive procedures an infant experienced in the NICU is negatively correlated with how responsive the child is to morphine later in life; the more painful procedures an infant experienced, the less effective morphine is in alleviating pain.

The study by LaPrairie and Murphy has major implications for the treatment of infants in neonatal intensive care. On average, a prematurely born infant in a neonatal intensive care unit will experience 14 to 21 invasive procedures a day, including heel lance, insertion of intravenous lines, and intubation. All of these procedures are quite painful and are routinely conducted without prior analgesics or anesthetics.

"It's imperative that pain be treated," Murphy said. "We once assumed that a newborn infant is insensitive to pain, and this is clearly not the case. Even at that period of time, the central nervous system is able to respond to pain, and our studies show that the experience of pain completely changes the wiring of the brain in adulthood."

Global Increase In Atmospheric Methane Likely Caused By Unusual Arctic Warmth, Tropical Wetness

ScienceDaily (Sep. 28, 2009) — Unusually high temperatures in the Arctic and heavy rains in the tropics likely drove a global increase in atmospheric methane in 2007 and 2008 after a decade of near-zero growth, according to a new study. Methane is the second most abundant greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide, albeit a distant second.

NOAA scientists and their colleagues analyzed measurements from 1983 to 2008 from air samples collected weekly at 46 surface locations around the world. Their findings will appear in the September 28 print edition of the American Geophysical Union’s Geophysical Research Letters and are available online now.

“At least three factors likely contributed to the methane increase,” said Ed Dlugokencky, a methane expert at NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colo. “It was very warm in the Arctic, there was some tropical forest burning, and there was increased rain in Indonesia and the Amazon.”


Dlugokencky and his colleagues from the United States and Brazil note that while climate change can trigger a process which converts trapped carbon in permafrost to methane, as well as release methane embedded in Arctic hydrates – a compound formed with water - their observations “are not consistent with sustained changes there yet.”

It appears that the methane hydrates in the ocean depths has already started releasing methane stored in hydrates, but it is not yet getting into the atmosphere. I would expect that is at least partly because some organisms metabolize (eat) methane for energy, producing carbon dioxide, and the amounts of methane being released so far are small enough for them to fully utilize it. If that is what is happening, the good thing is that methane has a much stronger greenhouse effect than CO2. The bad thing is that CO2 acidifies the ocean, which is bad for life in the oceans, especially those which produce shells from calcium carbonate.

Scientists Find Successful Way To Reduce Bat Deaths At Wind Turbines

ScienceDaily (Sep. 28, 2009) — Scientists at the University of Calgary have found a way to reduce bat deaths from wind turbines by up to 60 percent without significantly reducing the energy generated from the wind farm. The research, recently published in the Journal of Wildlife Management, demonstrates that slowing turbine blades to near motionless in low-wind periods significantly reduces bat mortality.

"Biologically, this makes sense as bats are more likely to fly when wind speeds are relatively low. When it's really windy, which is when the turbines are reaping the most energy, bats don't like to fly. There is a potential for biology and economics to mesh nicely," says U of C biology professor Robert Barclay, who co-authored the paper with PhD student Erin Baerwald of the U of C as well as with Jason Edworthy and Matt Holder of TransAlta Corporation.

Last year, a groundbreaking Barclay-Baerwald study shed new light about the reasons for bat deaths under wind turbines in the Pincher Creek area. Researchers found that the majority of migratory bats in this southern Alberta location were killed because a sudden drop in air pressure near the blades caused injuries to the bats' lungs known as barotrauma. Although the respiratory systems in birds can withstand such drops, the physiology of bats' lungs does not allow for the sudden change of pressure.


Until recently, wildlife concerns regarding wind energy focused primarily on bird fatalities. But bat fatalities now outnumber those of birds due, in part, to efforts to mitigate bird deaths by wind turbines.

Most bats killed at wind energy facilities across North America are migratory tree bats, including hoary and silver-haired bats. The deaths occur during autumn migration from Canada and the Northern U.S. to the southern U.S. or Mexico.


U.S. Job Seekers Exceed Openings by Record Ratio

Published: September 26, 2009

Despite signs that the economy has resumed growing, unemployed Americans now confront a job market that is bleaker than ever in the current recession, and employment prospects are still getting worse.

Job seekers now outnumber openings six to one, the worst ratio since the government began tracking open positions in 2000. According to the Labor Department’s latest numbers, from July, only 2.4 million full-time permanent jobs were open, with 14.5 million people officially unemployed.

And even though the pace of layoffs is slowing, many companies remain anxious about growth prospects in the months ahead, making them reluctant to add to their payrolls.

“There’s too much uncertainty out there,” said Thomas A. Kochan, a labor economist at M.I.T.’s Sloan School of Management. “There’s not going to be an upsurge in job openings for quite a while, not until employers feel confident the economy is really growing.”

The dearth of jobs reflects the caution of many American businesses when no one knows what will emerge to propel the economy. With unemployment at 9.7 percent nationwide, the shortage of paychecks is both a cause and an effect of weak hiring.


Even after companies regain an inclination to expand, they will probably not hire aggressively anytime soon. Experts say that so many businesses have pared back working hours for people on their payrolls, while eliminating temporary workers, that many can increase output simply by increasing the workload on existing employees.

“They have tons of room to increase work without hiring a single person,” said Heidi Shierholz, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute Economist. “For people who are out of work, we do not see signs of light at the end of the tunnel.”


Though layoffs have been both severe and prominent, the greatest source of distress is a predilection against hiring by many American businesses. From the beginning of the recession in December 2007 through July of this year, job openings declined 45 percent in the West and the South, 36 percent in the Midwest and 23 percent in the Northeast.

Shrinking job opportunities have assailed virtually every industry this year. Since the end of 2008, job openings have diminished 47 percent in manufacturing, 37 percent in construction and 22 percent in retail. Even in education and health services — faster-growing areas in which many unemployed people have trained for new careers — job openings have dropped 21 percent this year. Despite the passage of a stimulus spending package aimed at shoring up state and local coffers, government job openings have diminished 17 percent this year.

Drinking water unsafe at thousands of schools

If you are interested in this issue, please see the whole article.
Another legacy from the years the Republicans were in power, for the Democrats to clean up.

updated 8:28 a.m. ET, Fri., Sept . 25, 2009

CUTLER, Calif. - Over the last decade, the drinking water at thousands of schools across the country has been found to contain unsafe levels of lead, pesticides and dozens of other toxins.

An Associated Press investigation found that contaminants have surfaced at public and private schools in all 50 states — in small towns and inner cities alike.

But the problem has gone largely unmonitored by the federal government, even as the number of water safety violations has multiplied.

"It's an outrage," said Marc Edwards, an engineer at Virginia Tech University who has been honored for his work on water quality. "If a landlord doesn't tell a tenant about lead paint in an apartment, he can go to jail. But we have no system to make people follow the rules to keep school children safe?"

The contamination is most apparent at schools with wells, which represent 8 to 11 percent of the nation's schools. Roughly one of every five schools with its own water supply violated the Safe Drinking Water Act in the past decade, according to data from the Environmental Protection Agency analyzed by the AP.

In California's farm belt, wells at some schools are so tainted with pesticides that students have taken to stuffing their backpacks with bottled water for fear of getting sick from the drinking fountain.

Experts and children's advocates complain that responsibility for drinking water is spread among too many local, state and federal agencies, and that risks are going unreported. Finding a solution, they say, would require a costly new national strategy for monitoring water in schools.

Schools with unsafe water represent only a small percentage of the nation's 132,500 schools. And the EPA says the number of violations spiked over the last decade largely because the government has gradually adopted stricter standards for contaminants such as arsenic and some disinfectants.

Many of the same toxins could also be found in water at homes, offices and businesses. But the contaminants are especially dangerous to children, who drink more water per pound than adults and are more vulnerable to the effects of many hazardous substances.

"There's a different risk for kids," said Cynthia Dougherty, head of the EPA's Office of Groundwater and Drinking Water.

Still, the EPA does not have the authority to require testing for all schools and can only provide guidance on environmental practices.

In recent years, students at a Minnesota elementary school fell ill after drinking tainted water. A young girl in Seattle got sick, too.


The problem goes beyond schools that use wells. Schools that draw water from public utilities showed contamination, too, especially older buildings where lead can concentrate at higher levels than in most homes.

In schools with lead-soldered pipes, the metal sometimes flakes off into drinking water. Lead levels can also build up as water sits stagnant over weekends and holidays.

Schools that get water from local utilities are not required to test for toxins because the EPA already regulates water providers. That means there is no way to ensure detection of contaminants caused by schools' own plumbing.

But voluntary tests in Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Seattle and Los Angeles have found dangerous levels of lead in recent years. And experts warn the real risk to schoolchildren is going unreported.

"I really suspect the level of exposure to lead and other metals at schools is underestimated," said Michael Schock, a corrosion expert with the EPA in Cincinnati. "You just don't know what is going on in the places you don't sample."


Saturday, September 26, 2009

Use Of Statins Favors The Wealthy, Creating New Social Disparities In Cholesterol

ScienceDaily (Sep. 24, 2009) — Since the introduction of statins to treat high cholesterol, the decline in lipid levels experienced by the wealthy has been double that experienced by the poor.

While statins are highly effective in reducing cholesterol and improving heart health, their use may have contributed to expanding social disparities in the treatment of cardiovascular disease, according to research by Virginia W. Chang, MD, PhD, of the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center and the University of Pennsylvania, and Diane S. Lauderdale, PhD, of the University of Chicago, published in the September issue of Journal of Health and Social Behavior.

"Income disparities in lipid levels have reversed over the past three decades," according to Dr. Chang, lead author and Assistant Professor of Medicine and Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. "High cholesterol was once known as a rich man's disease, because the wealthy had easier access to high fat foods (e.g., red meat). Now wealthy Americans are least likely to have high cholesterol, because they are more likely to be treated with statins, an expensive but highly effective pharmaceutical treatment to lower lipid levels."

While cardiovascular disease remains a leading cause of death in the U.S., mortality due to heart disease has declined dramatically since the 1980s. Researchers estimate that about one-third of that reduction is a result of pharmaceutical innovation, including the use of statins. Dr. Chang notes, "Though statins have a longer-run potential to reduce disparities by making it easier for everyone to lower cholesterol relative to lifestyle changes, they have yet to diffuse widely across all income levels."

This study was supported in part by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

Personality Traits Influence Weight Loss

ScienceDaily (Sep. 25, 2009) — Being too optimistic could harm weight loss efforts. Research published in BioMed Central's open access journal, BioPsychoSocial Medicine, reveals the psychological characteristics that may contribute to weight loss.

Hitomi Saito from Doshisha University, Japan, worked with a team of researchers to psychologically profile 101 obese patients undergoing combined counselling, nutrition and exercise therapy at the Kansai Medical University Hospital Obesity Clinic over a period of 6 months. Patients' psychosocial characteristics before and after attending the clinic were assessed using psychological questionnaires designed to identify patients' personality types. Patients who were able to improve their self-awareness through counselling were more likely to lose weight than those who were not. Optimism and self-orientation characteristics improved for most patients after the 6-month program, although this was not related to weight loss. In fact, patients who started the program with high levels of self-orientation and optimistic characteristics were less likely to lose weight.

This result supports previous findings that some negative emotion has a positive effect on behavior modification because patients care more about their disease. However, the overall improvement in optimistic ego state is not necessarily detrimental, as this increased optimism should result in patients maintaining the healthy lifestyle achieved at the clinic.

"It is important to enhance patients' self-effectiveness and self-control in order to reduce psychological stress and to maintain the weight loss," state the authors. However, they are careful to stress that: "The weight loss should be attributed not simply to the intervention of the clinical psychologists but to the total effect of the intervention of a holistic medical care team."

Time to wean Ga.’s jobless from taxpayer support, right guys?

12:58 pm September 23, 2009, by Jay

The official unemployment rate in Georgia is 10.2 percent, which means that more than one of 10 Georgians who want a job can’t find one. Unfortunately, that number that doesn’t fully describe how widespread the problem has become, because it doesn’t include those who have simply stopped looking in an economy in which a single advertised job can attract thousands of applicants.

All in all, almost 240,000 jobs have disappeared from Georgia in the last year.

Last night, the U.S. House of Representative voted 331-83 in favor of a 13-week extension of unemployment benefits in high-unemployment states, defined as those with an unemployment rate of 8.5 percent or higher for the last three months. That would include Georgia and 28 other states. The check isn’t a lot — it maxes out at $355 a week here in Georgia — but for many households it’s the only income they can depend upon.

(UPDATE: I just got off the phone with the state Department of Labor. According to their estimates, as many as 40,000 Georgians would lose their unemployment benefits by the end of the year — and in many cases their only source of income — without legislation extending those benefits.)

Six of Georgia’s 13 congressmen voted AGAINST extending unemployment benefits to fellow Georgians out of work.

They were:

U.S. Rep. Paul Broun, R-Athens, Phone (202) 225-4101

U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal, R-Gainesville, Phone (202) 225-5211

U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Marietta, Phone (202) 202-225-2931

U.S. Rep. John Linder, R-Duluth, Phone (202) 225-4272

U.S. Rep. Tom Price, R-Roswell, Phone (202) 225-4501

U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, Coweta County, Phone (202) 225-5901

I’ve included the Washington phone numbers of each of those congressmen just in case anybody wanted to phone their office to make their opinions heard. If you hear any interesting explanations for the vote, feel free to post those responses in the comments below.

I should also note that the bill next makes its way to the U.S. Senate, where Johnny Isakson (202-224-3643) and Saxby Chambliss (202-224-3521) will be asked to vote on it.


No surprise, all the Georgia congress person's voting against extending unemployment benefits are Republicans, including the one from my district.

Teenage Birth Rates Higher In More Religious States

ScienceDaily (Sep. 18, 2009) — Rates of births to teenage mothers are strongly predicted by conservative religious beliefs, even after controlling for differences in income and rates of abortion. Researchers writing in BioMed Central's open access journal Reproductive Health have found a strong association between teenage birth rates and state-level measures of religiosity in the U.S.


The religiosity of a state was determined by averaging the percents of respondents who agreed with the eight most conservative opinions possible in the Religious Landscapes Survey, such as 'There is only one way to interpret the teachings of my religion' or 'Scripture should be taken literally, word for word'.

According to Strayhorn: "Our findings by themselves do not, of course, permit causal inferences. But, if we may speculate on the most probable explanation, we conjecture that religious communities in the US are more successful in discouraging the use of contraception among their teenagers than they are in discouraging sexual intercourse itself."

A Chip For The Eye?

ScienceDaily (Sep. 21, 2009) — Visually impaired or blind patients with degenerative retina conditions would be very happy if they were able to regain mobility, find their way around, be able to lead an independent life and to recognize faces and read again. These wishes were documented by a survey conducted by a research team ten years ago to find out what patients’ expectations of electronic retina prostheses (retina implants) were.

Today these wishes look set to become reality, as the presentations to be given at the international symposium “Artificial Vision” on 19 September 2009 at the Wissenschaftszentrum Bonn demonstrate. The symposium is being staged by the Retina Implant Foundation and the Pro Retina Stiftung zur Verhütung von Blindheit (Pro Retina Foundation for the Prevention of Blindness), a foundation of the patients’ organization Pro Retina Deutschland e.V.

Scientists have been working on developing retina prostheses for more than twenty years now. Research has been conducted particularly intensively in Germany, where scientists and patients have worked in tandem and have succeeded in obtaining government funding. “Back then we didn’t want high-tech just for space and defence programs but finally high-tech for people as well,” Professor Rolf Eckmiller, a neuro-informatics specialist at the University of Bonn and a pioneer in the field, recalls.

This investment is now bearing fruit. The German research consortiums lead the field in this area of research. Three of the four research teams presenting their findings in Bonn are from Germany.

As the presentations show, all the electronic retina prostheses convey visual impressions, so-called phosphenes. Patients participating in a US study were able to distinguish light and dark and to register movement and the presence of larger objects. In addition, early reports from a project being conducted by a German research group led by Profesor Eberhart Zrenner at the University of Tübingen indicate that restoring visually impaired patients’ ability to read is not just wishful thinking. Some patients are able to read letters if these are eight centimetres high.

“We’re in the final run-up,” explains Professor Peter Walter from the University Eye Clinic in Aachen. Walter is scientific director of the symposium “Artificial Vision.” “The final studies prior to market launch have begun or are set to begin,” he says in his latest progress report. These studies are designed to test the long-term tolerability of the retina implants and their benefits in everyday life. The manufacturers expect the implants to be approved in 2011


Brain Reorganizes To Adjust For Loss Of Vision

ScienceDaily (Nov. 21, 2008) — A new study from Georgia Tech shows that when patients with macular degeneration focus on using another part of their retina to compensate for their loss of central vision, their brain seems to compensate by reorganizing its neural connections. Age–related macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness in the elderly. The study appears in the December edition of the journal Restorative Neurology and Neuroscience.

“Our results show that the patient’s behavior may be critical to get the brain to reorganize in response to disease,” said Eric Schumacher, assistant professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Psychology. “It’s not enough to lose input to a brain region for that region to reorganize; the change in the patient’s behavior also matters.”

In this case, that change of behavior comes when patients with macular degeneration, a disease in which damage to the retina causes patients to lose their vision in the center of their visual field, make up for this loss by focusing with other parts of their visual field.


Rare Cases Of Restored Vision Reveal How The Brain Learns To See

ScienceDaily (Sep. 18, 2009) — Cases of restored vision after a lifetime of blindness, though exceedingly rare, provide a unique opportunity to address several fundamental questions regarding brain function. After being deprived of visual input, the brain needs to learn to make sense of the new flood of visual information. Very little is known about how this learning takes place, but a new study by MIT neuroscientists suggests that dynamic information — that is, input from moving objects — is critical.

In the United States, as in most developed nations, infants with curable blindness are treated within a few weeks of birth. However, in developing nations such as India, there are relatively more instances of children born with curable forms of blindness that are left untreated for want of medical or financial resources. Such children face greatly elevated odds of early mortality, illiteracy and unemployment. Doctors have been hesitant to treat older patients because the conventional dogma holds that the brain is incapable of learning to see after age 5 or 6.

MIT brain and cognitive sciences professor Pawan Sinha, through his humanitarian foundation, Project Prakash (Sanskrit for "light"), has treated and studied several such patients over the past five years. The Prakash effort serves the dual purpose of providing sight to blind children and, in the process, tackling several foundational issues in neuroscience.

The new findings from Sinha's team, reported in the November issue of the Journal of Psychological Science, provide clues about how the brain learns to put together the visual world. They not only support the idea of treating blindness in older children and adults, but also offer insight into modeling the human visual system, diagnosing visual disorders, creating rehabilitation procedures and developing computers that can see.

This work builds on a 2007 study in which Sinha and graduate student Yuri Ostrovsky showed that a woman who had had her sight restored at age 12 had nearly normal visual processing abilities. These findings were significant since they challenged the widely held notion of a "critical age" for acquiring vision.

However, because they came across the woman 20 years after her sight was restored, the researchers had no chance to study how her brain first learned to process visual input. The new work focuses on three adolescent and young adult patients in India, and follows them from the time of treatment to several months afterward. It suggests that "not only is recovery possible, but also provides insights into the mechanism by which such recovery comes about," says Sinha.

Testing the patients within weeks of sight restoration, Sinha and his colleagues found that subjects had very limited ability to distinguish an object from its background, identify overlapping objects, or even piece together the different parts of an object. Eventually, however, they improved in this "visual integration" task, discovering whole objects and segregating them from their backgrounds.

"Somehow our brain is able to solve the problem, and we want to know how it does it or how it learns to do it," says Ostrovsky, lead author of the new paper.


Short-term stress enhances anti-tumor activity in mice

As in so many areas of life, balance is better than one extreme or the other.

Public release date: 21-Sep-2009
Contact: Ruthann Richter
Stanford University Medical Center
Short-term stress enhances anti-tumor activity in mice, Stanford study shows

STANFORD, Calif. - Public speaking, anyone? Or maybe a big job interview? Dry your palms and take a deep, calming breath; there may be a silver lining. Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine have shown that, at least in laboratory mice, bouts of relatively short-term stress can boost the immune system and protect against one type of cancer. Furthermore, the beneficial effects of this occasional angst seem to last for weeks after the stressful situation has ended. The finding is surprising because chronic stress has the opposite effect -- taxing the immune system and increasing susceptibility to disease.

"This is the first evidence that this type of short-lived stress may enhance anti-tumor activity," said Firdaus Dhabhar, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and a member of Stanford's Cancer Center, and Institute for Immunity, Transplantation and Infection. "This is a promising new way of thinking that calls for more research. We hope that it will eventually lead to applications that help us to care for those who are ill, by maximally harnessing the body's natural defenses while also using other medical treatments."

The study will be published in a future print issue of the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, and a review copy of the article is now available on the journal's Web site.

The researchers studied a particular type of skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma that is known to be vulnerable to attack by the immune system.

Understanding how the intricate two-step between stress and the immune system plays out in the dance hall of diseases like cancer is important for future therapies. Certain types of stress, such as the so-called fight-or-flight response to an immediate but temporary threat, has been shown to increase the recruitment of immune cells to the surface of the skin and the surrounding lymph nodes -- presumably in preparation for imminent injury.


But he is convinced that acute stress may be better for us than most of us think, and that bio-behavioral interventions are worth investigating. As long as you can return to a normal, psycho-physiological resting state within a few hours of a stressful event, you'll probably be fine.

"The key is not to let the stress response linger," he said.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Children Who Are Spanked Have Lower IQs

ScienceDaily (Sep. 25, 2009) — Children who are spanked have lower IQs worldwide, including in the United States, according to new groundbreaking research by University of New Hampshire professor Murray Straus. The research results will be presented Friday, Sept. 25, 2009, at the 14th International Conference on Violence, Abuse and Trauma, in San Diego, Calif.

"All parents want smart children. This research shows that avoiding spanking and correcting misbehavior in other ways can help that happen," Straus says. "The results of this research have major implications for the well being of children across the globe."

"It is time for psychologists to recognize the need to help parents end the use of corporal punishment and incorporate that objective into their teaching and clinical practice. It also is time for the United States to begin making the advantages of not spanking a public health and child welfare focus, and eventually enact federal no-spanking legislation," he says.

Straus found that children in the United States who were spanked had lower IQs four years later than those who were not spanked.

Straus and Mallie Paschall, senior research scientist at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, studied nationally representative samples of 806 children ages 2 to 4, and 704 ages 5 to 9. Both groups were retested four years later.

IQs of children ages 2 to 4 who were not spanked were 5 points higher four years later than the IQs of those who were spanked. The IQs of children ages 5 to 9 years old who were not spanked were 2.8 points higher four years later than the IQs of children the same age who were spanked.

"How often parents spanked made a difference. The more spanking the, the slower the development of the child's mental ability. But even small amounts of spanking made a difference," Straus says.

Straus also found a lower national average IQ in nations in which spanking was more prevalent. His analysis indicates the strongest link between corporal punishment and IQ was for those whose parents continued to use corporal punishment even when they were teenagers.

Straus and colleagues in 32 nations used data on corporal punishment experienced by 17,404 university students when they were children.

According to Straus, there are two explanations for the relation of corporal punishment to lower IQ.

First, corporal punishment is extremely stressful and can become a chronic stressor for young children, who typically experience corporal punishment three or more times a week. For many it continues for years. The research found that the stress of corporal punishment shows up as an increase in post-traumatic stress symptoms such as being fearful that terrible things are about to happen and being easily startled. These symptoms are associated with lower IQ.

Second, a higher national level of economic development underlies both fewer parents using corporal punishment and a higher national IQ.

The good news is that the use of corporal punishment has been decreasing worldwide, which may signal future gains in IQ across the globe.

"The worldwide trend away from corporal punishment is most clearly reflected in the 24 nations that legally banned corporal punishment by 2009. Both the European Union and the United Nations have called on all member nations to prohibit corporal punishment by parents. Some of the 24 nations that prohibit corporal punishment by parents have made vigorous efforts to inform the public and assist parents in managing their children. In others little has been done to implement the prohibition," Straus says.

"Nevertheless, there is evidence that attitudes favoring corporal punishment and actual use of corporal punishment have been declining even in nations that have done little to implement the law and in nations which have not prohibited corporal punishment," he says.

Widely considered the foremost researcher in his field, Straus is the co-director of the Family Research Laboratory and professor of sociology at the University of New Hampshire. He has studied spanking by large and representative samples of American parents since 1969. He is the author of "Beating The Devil Out Of Them: Corporal Punishment In American Families And Its Effects On Children."

He has been president of three scientific societies including the National Council on Family Relations, and has been an advisor to the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. Much of his research on spanking can be downloaded from

Straus's research was supported, in part, by a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health.;_ylt=AgBAIbAWXtHCs5ULwi8V7xWs0NUE;_ylu=X3oDMTFpa25xdnFoBHBvcwM1NARzZWMDYWNjb3JkaW9uX21vc3RfcG9wdWxhcgRzbGsDY2hpbGRyZW53aG9n

By using hitting rather than words or other means of discipline, parents could be depriving kids of learning opportunities. "With spanking, a parent is delivering a punishment to get the child's attention and to get them to behave in a certain way," said Elizabeth Gershoff who studies childhood development at the University of Texas, Austin. "It's not fostering children's independent thinking."

So when a child gets in a bind, he or she might do the right thing to keep from a spanking rather than figuring out the best decision independently, added Gershoff, who was not involved in Straus's current study.


Even though spanking has been shown to cause negative consequences, Gershoff said many parents still fall back on the behavior-shaping tool. As for why, she says it's a quick fix, though its seeming success is short-lived and the negative consequences often outweigh the positives. Parents also might have been spanked themselves and so continue the tradition.

I think parents like to hit their children as an outlet for anger they couldn't release on their own parents and bosses.

Sleep Loss Linked To Increase In Alzheimer's Plaques

ScienceDaily (Sep. 25, 2009) — Chronic sleep deprivation in a mouse model of Alzheimer's disease makes Alzheimer's brain plaques appear earlier and more often, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis report online this week in Science Express.

They also found that orexin, a protein that helps regulate the sleep cycle, appears to be directly involved in the increase.

Neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease often disrupt sleep. The new findings are some of the first indications that sleep loss could play a role in the genesis of such disorders.


Lasers From Space Show Thinning Of Greenland And Antarctic Ice Sheets

ScienceDaily (Sep. 24, 2009) — The most comprehensive picture of the rapidly thinning glaciers along the coastline of both the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets has been created using satellite lasers. The findings are an important step forward in the quest to make more accurate predictions for future sea level rise.

Reporting this week in the journal Nature, researchers from British Antarctic Survey and the University of Bristol describe how analysis of millions of NASA satellite measurements* from both of these vast ice sheets shows that the most profound ice loss is a result of glaciers speeding up where they flow into the sea.

The authors conclude that this 'dynamic thinning' of glaciers now reaches all latitudes in Greenland, has intensified on key Antarctic coastlines, is penetrating far into the ice sheets' interior and is spreading as ice shelves thin by ocean-driven melt. Ice shelf collapse has triggered particularly strong thinning that has endured for decades.

Lead author Dr Hamish Pritchard from British Antarctic Survey (BAS) says, "We were surprised to see such a strong pattern of thinning glaciers across such large areas of coastline – it's widespread and in some cases thinning extends hundreds of kilometres inland. We think that warm ocean currents reaching the coast and melting the glacier front is the most likely cause of faster glacier flow. This kind of ice loss is so poorly understood that it remains the most unpredictable part of future sea level rise."


See also;_ylt=Ap_Hj0qw.5xz.mpO9YzC5cWs0NUE;_ylu=X3oDMTJpaGJmbzNmBGFzc2V0A25tLzIwMDkwOTIzL3VzX2NsaW1hdGVfYW50YXJjdGljYQRwb3MDNwRzZWMDeW5fbW9zdF9wb3B1bGFyBHNsawNhbnRhcmN0aWNjb2E-

Georgia state parks free on Saturday

1:56 p.m. Wednesday, September 23, 2009
By Howard Pousner
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Saturday is National Public Lands Day, which may not sound like something you’d necessarily celebrate. But this may (especially if the weather is in a rare cooperative mood): Georgia State Parks and Historic Sites is offering free admission at 59 state parks and historic sites that day.

On Free Day in the Parks, the regular $5 parking fee will be waived, historic sites will open for free, and even anglers can skip purchasing a fishing license.

The celebration includes many family-friendly events and service projects. Tap your toes to picking and singing at the Dahlonega Gold Museum Historic Site’s Appalachian Jam.

Learn to canoe and catch trout during Outdoor Adventure Day at Unicoi State Park in Helen.

Listen for owls on a ranger-led night hike at Hamburg State Park in Mitchell. Watch molten iron become works of art at Fall at the Homestead at Red Top Mountain State Park in Cartersville. And youngsters can let it fly at a Kid’s Fishing Rodeo in the Okefenokee Swamp at Stephen C. Foster State Park near Fargo.

Find a full calendar of events at .

The parks also offer campsites (around $23 a night) and cottages, and its five lodges recently introduced lower weekday promotional rates that will be offered this weekend.

Free admission Saturday on Museum Day

By Howard Pousner
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

When Smithsonian magazine launched Museum Day, in which cultural spaces nationwide emulate the Smithsonian Institution’s free admission policy, it seemed novel. Five years later, in a pinched economy, it feels more like a necessity.

On Saturday, nine metro Atlanta museums and historic sites will participate by opening their doors gratis to visitors.

Participating will be the Archibald Smith Plantation Home, Roswell; Barrington Hall, Roswell; Bulloch Hall, Roswell; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Global Health Odyssey Museum, Atlanta; the Center for Puppetry Arts, Atlanta; the Hammonds House Museum, Atlanta; the High Museum of Art, Atlanta; the Marietta Museum of History; and the Museum of Design Atlanta.

Among the metro participants, the puppetry center offers a nice array of family-friendly options, with its “Puppets: The Power of Wonder” museum show plus three Jim Henson exhibits. Also, three performances of the family series show “The Adventures of the Gingerbread Man” will be half-price; the discounted tickets include free entrance to the center’s Create-A-Puppet Workshop.

For those interested in making a day trip, there are some worthy options, including the Bartow History Museum, the Booth Western Art Museum and the Tellus Northwest Georgia Science Museum, all in Cartersville; and the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, the Hay House and the Museum of Arts and Sciences, in Macon.

With 1,200 museums in all 50 states registered, Museum Day 2009 is the largest ever. To print out an admission card, good for two people, and see a complete list of participants, go to http:// museumday/admission.html.

Expect big jump in temperatures, U.N. warns

updated 8:41 p.m. ET, Thurs., Sept . 24, 2009

WASHINGTON - Earth's temperature is likely to jump six degrees between now and the end of the century even if every country cuts greenhouse gas emissions as proposed, according to a United Nations update.

Scientists looked at emission plans from 192 nations and calculated what would happen to global warming. The projections take into account 80 percent emission cuts from the U.S. and Europe by 2050, which are not sure things.

The U.S. figure is based on a bill that passed the House of Representatives but is running into resistance in the Senate, where debate has been delayed by health care reform efforts.

Carbon dioxide, mostly from the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and oil, is the main cause of global warming, trapping the sun's energy in the atmosphere. The world's average temperature has already risen 1.4 degrees since the 19th century.


Even if the developed world cuts its emissions by 80 percent and the developing world cuts theirs in half by 2050, as some experts propose, the world is still facing a 3-degree increase by the end of the century, said Robert Corell, a prominent U.S. climate scientist who helped oversee the update.


Global warming is speeding up, especially in the Arctic, and that means that some top-level science projections from 2007 are already out of date and overly optimistic. Corell, who headed an assessment of warming in the Arctic, said global warming "is accelerating in ways that we are not anticipating."

Because Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets are melting far faster than thought, it looks like the seas will rise twice as fast as projected just three years ago, Corell said. He said seas should rise about a foot every 20 to 25 years.

Other problems that have worsened since the 2007 report include the oceans getting more acidic — a threat to some sea creatures — and projections for regular long-term droughts in the U.S. Southwest.

"As sobering as this report is, it is not the worst case scenario," said U.S. Rep. Edward Markey, co-author of the bill that passed the U.S. House. "That would be if the world does nothing and allows heat-trapping pollution to continue to spew unchecked into the atmosphere."

I wonder if this takes into account the melting of the methane hydrates in the ocean depths, which appears to have already started?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Some wishes

Star Light, Star Bright
copyright 1994 Patricia M. Shannon
(I wrote a verse a day on the way to work
when I had a long commute, and my car
radio didn't work)

Oh please, start light, star bright,
first star I see tonight, oh yes,
I wish I may and I wish I might
have the wish I wish tonight.

I wish the whole world would live at peace,
and no one hungry be, oh yes,
and every child would have a home
in a loving family.

I wish political candidates
would be less negative,
and the media would give some news
that is more positive.


I wish for tolerance for those
who are not hurting anyone.
And that people would be careful
where they put their chewed up gum!

I wish that people would behave the way
they would like others to.
Then highway 85 would be less like
a rabies-infested zoo!


You Can't Trust A Tortured Brain

ScienceDaily (Sep. 22, 2009) — According to a new review of neuroscientific research, coercive interrogation techniques used during the Bush administration to extract information from terrorist suspects are likely to have been unsuccessful and may have had many unintended negative effects on the suspect's memory and brain functions.

A new article, published in the journal, Trends in Cognitive Science, reviews scientific evidence demonstrating that repeated and extreme stress and anxiety have a detrimental influence on brain functions related to memory.


Research has also shown that extreme stress has a deleterious effect on the frontal lobe and is associated with the production of false memories.

Neurochemical studies have revealed that the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex, brain regions integral to the process of memory, are rich in receptors for hormones that are activated by stress and sleep deprivation and which have been shown to have deleterious effects on memory. "To briefly summarize a vast, complex literature, prolonged and extreme stress inhibits the biological processes believed to support memory in the brain," says O'Mara. "For example, studies of extreme stress with Special Forces Soldiers have found that recall of previously-learned information was impaired after stress occurred." Waterboarding in particular is an extreme stressor and has the potential to elicit widespread stress-induced changes in the brain.

"Given our current cognitive neurobiological knowledge, it is unlikely that coercive interrogations involving extreme stress will facilitate release of truthful information from long term memory," concludes Professor O'Mara. "On the contrary, these techniques cause severe, repeated and prolonged stress, which compromises brain tissue supporting both memory and decision making."

A consistent decline in heart attack rates following the implementation of smoking bans

Date : 21 Sep 2009

Strongly enforced legislation to restrict smoking produces rapid and substantial reductions in community rates of heart attack, according to a meta-analysis published today in Circulation, the journal of the American Heart Association.(1) The analysis pooled 13 studies from regions in North America, Italy, Scotland and Ireland and, despite their geographical range, found a consistent reduced risk of hospitalisation for heart attack (acute myocardial infarction, AMI) of 17% (ie, a relative risk for AMI of 0.83) at 12 months following implementation of the law. The investigators added that this benefit "grows with time", reaching a gain of "about 36%" in three years.

The study was designed to determine the "consistent" effect of smoking bans on AMI rates in communities, and was therefore concerned with both the direct and second-hand effects of smoking. Several studies have shown that the effects of second-hand smoke on many biological mediators associated with AMI risk occur rapidly and are nearly as large as those from direct smoking. For example, a study reported last year showed that passive exposure to second-hand smoke in as short a time as 24 hours led to "sustained vascular injury" characterised by reduced endothelial function and activity of endothelial progenitor cells.(2) According to the American Heart Association's Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics 2009 Update, non-smokers exposed to second-hand smoke at home or at work have a 25-30% increased risk of developing heart disease.

Since the first smoking bans were introduced (the first in Europe was in 2004 in Ireland) there have been many reports showing a decline in hospital admissions for AMI following implementation. Indeed, such laws are the best current examples of a clear association between prevention policies and cardiovascular disease. In Europe reduced AMI rates following smoking bans have been reported from France (15% decrease), Italy (11.2%), and Ireland (11%).


What's most likely to bankrupt you - medical bills

Harvard researchers say 62% of all personal bankruptcies in the US in 2007 were caused by health problems -- and 78% of those filers had insurance.
[Related content: insurance, health insurance, bankruptcy, health care, bills]
By BusinessWeek

Medical problems caused 62% of all personal bankruptcies filed in the U.S. in 2007, according to a study by Harvard researchers. And in a finding that surprised even the researchers, 78% of those filers had medical insurance at the start of their illnesses, including 60.3% who had private coverage, not Medicare or Medicaid.

Medically related bankruptcies have been rising steadily for decades. In 1981, only 8% of families filing for bankruptcy cited a serious medical problem as the reason, while a 2001 study of bankruptcies in five states by the same researchers found that illness or medical bills contributed to 50% of all filings.

This newest, nationwide study, conducted before the start of the current recession by Drs. David Himmelstein and Steffie Woolhandler of Harvard Medical School, Elizabeth Warren of Harvard Law School and Deborah Thorne, a sociology professor at Ohio University, found that the filers were for the most part solidly middle class before medical disaster hit. Two-thirds owned their homes, and three-fifths had gone to college.

But medically bankrupt families with private insurance reported average out-of-pocket medical bills of $17,749, while the uninsured's bills averaged $26,971. Of the families that started out with insurance but lost it during the course of illnesses, medical bills averaged $22,658.

"For middle-class Americans, health insurance offers little protection. Most of us have policies with so many loopholes, co-payments and deductibles that illness can put you in the poorhouse," said lead author Himmelstein. "Unless you're Warren Buffett, your family is just one serious illness away from bankruptcy."


They found that a number of medical factors contributed to a family's financial disaster. More than 90% of medically related bankruptcies were caused by high medical bills directly or medical costs that were so high the family was forced to mortgage their home. The remaining 8% went bankrupt because a medical problem caused them to lose income.

The authors were not able to track credit card defaults caused by medical bills, but a 2007 study found that, of low- and middle-income households with credit card debt, 29% used their plastic to pay off medical expenses.

Individuals with diabetes, one of the most common chronic diseases in the U.S., and those with neurological illnesses such as multiple sclerosis had the highest costs, an average of $26,971 and $34,167, respectively. Hospital bills were the largest single expense for half of all medically bankrupt families.

Global Warming May Dent El Niño's Protective Shield From Atlantic Hurricanes, Increase Droughts

ScienceDaily (Sep. 24, 2009) — El Niño, the periodic eastern Pacific phenomenon credited with shielding the United States and Caribbean from severe hurricane seasons, may be overshadowed by its brother in the central Pacific due to global warming, according to an article in the September 24 issue of the journal Nature.

"There are two El Niños, or flavors of El Niño," said Ben Kirtman, co-author of the study and professor of meteorology and physical oceanography at the University of Miami's Rosentstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. "In addition to the eastern Pacific El Niño which we know and love, a second El Niño in the central Pacific is on the increase."

El Niño is a recurring warm water current along the equator in the Pacific Ocean that affects weather circulation patterns in the tropics. The eastern El Niño increases wind sheer in the Atlantic that may hamper the development of major hurricanes there. The central Pacific El Niño, near the International Dateline, has been blamed for worsening drought conditions in Australia and India as well as minimizing the effects of its beneficial brother to the east.

Article discusses computer models, and that recent weather patterns are consistent with the models.


"Currently, we are in the middle of a developing eastern Pacific El Niño event," said Kirtman, "which is part of why we're experiencing such a mild hurricane season in the Atlantic. We also anticipate the southern United States to have a fairly wet winter, and the northeast may be dry and warm."

Kirtman expects the current El Niño event to end next spring, perhaps followed by a La Niña, which he expects may bode for a more intense Atlantic hurricane season in 2010.


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

MIT retinal implant could help restore some vision

Public release date: 23-Sep-2009
Contact: Jen Hirsch
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Results: MIT engineers have designed a retinal implant for people who have lost their vision from retinitis pigmentosa or age-related macular degeneration, two of the leading causes of blindness. The retinal prosthesis would help restore some vision by electrically stimulating the nerve cells that normally carry visual input from the retina to the brain.

Why it matters: The chip would not restore normal vision but could help blind people more easily navigate a room or walk down a sidewalk. "Anything that could help them see a little better and let them identify objects and move around a room would be an enormous help," says Shawn Kelly, a researcher in MIT's Research Laboratory for Electronics and member of the Boston Retinal Implant Project.


Next steps: The research team, led by John Wyatt, MIT professor of electrical engineering and computer science, recently reported a new prototype that they hope to start testing in blind patients within the next three years, after some safety refinements are made. Once human trials begin and blind patients can offer feedback on what they're seeing, the researchers will learn much more about how to configure the algorithm implemented by the chip to produce useful vision.

Ozone Layer Depletion Leveling Off, Satellite Data Show

ScienceDaily (Sep. 22, 2009) — By merging more than a decade of atmospheric data from European satellites, scientists have compiled a homogeneous long-term ozone record that allows them to monitor total ozone trends on a global scale – and the findings look promising.

"We found a global slightly positive trend of ozone increase of almost 1% per decade in the total ozone from the last 14 years: a result that was confirmed by comparisons with ground-based measurements," said Diego G. Loyola R. who worked on the project with colleagues from the German Aerospace Center (DLR).

Ozone is a protective layer found about 25 km above us mostly in the stratospheric layer of the atmosphere that acts as a sunlight filter shielding life on Earth from harmful ultraviolet rays. The thinning of this layer increases the risk of skin cancer, cataracts and harm to marine life.


Childbearing Increases Chance Of Developing The Metabolic Syndrome

ScienceDaily (Sep. 23, 2009) — Childbearing is associated directly with future development of the metabolic syndrome - abdominal obesity, high triglycerides, insulin resistance and other cardiovascular disease risk factors - and for women who have had gestational diabetes, the risk is more than twice greater, according to a study co-authored by University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) researchers published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.


'The Age of Empathy' by Frans de Waal,0,2921618.story

By Sara Lippincott
September 20, 2009
Nature's Lessons for a Kinder Society
Harmony Books: 304 pp., $25.99

"Greed is out, empathy is in." So writes optimistic Dutch psychologist and primatologist Frans de Waal in the preface to his latest meditation on the similarities between apes and people.

"The Age of Empathy" might not strike you as the most accurate representation of a period in human history that will be remembered -- if we survive it -- for the War on Terror, nuclear wannabes, various genocides and looming Armageddon in the Middle East. But De Waal, perhaps sensing this, suggests an alternate reading: "Human empathy has the backing of a long evolutionary history -- which is the second meaning of 'age' in this book's title."


Over the years, De Waal has recorded many instances of ape empathy, even among the relatively bloodthirsty chimpanzees and particularly among the gentler bonobos. Like us, apes yawn when another yawns, return favors, bristle at the unfair distribution of goods and even kiss babies in pursuit of the top job: "[W]hen male chimps vie for high status, they . . . do the rounds with females, grooming them and tickling their offspring. Normally, male chimps are not particularly interested in the young, but when they need group support they can't stay away from them." This aperçu is accompanied by De Waal's sketch of a man closely resembling President George W. Bush hoisting a toddler aloft. ("Have you ever noticed how often politicians lift infants above the crowd? It's an odd way of handling them, not always enjoyed by the object of attention itself. But what good is a display that stays unnoticed?")

De Waal's principal thesis is that when contemplating our evolutionary heritage, we see ourselves more as natural-born competitors than natural-born empathizers and cooperators. "[U]ntil recently," he writes, "empathy was not taken seriously by science. Even with regards to our own species, it was considered an absurd, laughable topic. . . . " Some of us indeed have tended to think like Social Darwinist Herbert Spencer, who coined the phrase Darwin has been unfairly stuck with: "survival of the fittest." Indeed, some, like Hitler and the American and British eugenicists of the early 20th century, have tended to think that only the fittest ought to survive. But De Waal's readership is probably aware by now that altruism too has been built into the animal kingdom.

Nevertheless, he rightly argues that we modern humans need to recognize and cultivate our fellow feeling, "an innate age-old capacity" that has been naturally selected for -- for the excellent reason that without it we would have gone extinct long ago. "It's not as though we're asking our species to do anything foreign to it by building on the old herd instinct that has kept animal societies together for millions of years," he writes. "Every individual is connected to something larger than itself. . . . The connection is deeply felt and . . . no society can do without it."

De Waal bolsters his case with plentiful anecdotes of sweet-natured primates and contemporary examples of ill-advised human cold-bloodedness (Enron, the response to Hurricane Katrina). Along the way, you learn a lot of interesting primatological arcana, such as that apes can't swim and invariably defecate when excited. In concluding, De Waal points out that Adam Smith, the alpha male of free marketeers, has consistently been misunderstood. Smith's disciples "leave out an essential part of his thinking, which is far more congenial to the position I have taken throughout this book, namely, that reliance on greed as the driving force of society is bound to undermine its very fabric."

Monday, September 21, 2009

Dolphin bubbles

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Puff's Happy Ending

I used to cry over the ending of the song "Puff, the Magic Dragon", feeling sad for Pull to be alone, w/o his friend. So I wrote this ending, and now when I hear the song, I think of my verse, and am no longer sad.

Puff's Happy Ending
copyright 1983 Patricia M. Shannon

If Puff could see the future, he would not be so sad;
for Jackie soon will marry, and have a little lad.
He will tell his son why his own youth was not a bore,
then Puff the magic dragon, will have a friend once more.

In school, but no home

By Anne Williams
The Register-Guard
Appeared in print: Saturday, Sep 19, 2009

A report from the Oregon Department of Education on Friday offers yet more evidence of the recession’s toll on Oregon families.

The number of homeless students attending Oregon public schools surged to more than 18,000 in the 2008-09 school year, up 14 percent over the previous year and 122 percent over 2003-04, the first year the state took a count.

Numbers climbed in most Lane County districts, too, though the countywide increase in the number of students who were homeless at some point during the school year rose just over 7 percent. The Eugene district saw bigger growth, though, counting nearly 18 percent more homeless students — 743 — than the previous year.

“For this year, the causes are fairly obvious,” department spokesman Jake Weigler said, citing Oregon’s rising foreclosure rates and higher-than-average unemployment.


"Those Were the Days My Friends" - Helsinki version