Chas' Compilation

A compilation of information and links regarding assorted subjects: politics, religion, science, computers, health, movies, music... essentially whatever I'm reading about, working on or experiencing in life.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Orangutan and Hound Dog, Best Buddies



When Surya the orangutan meets a hound dog by the river, the two carry on like long lost friends.     

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At Last: the Truth about the Euro Crisis

At last, someone has said it. It ain't pretty, but it's pretty true:

Europe: No solution 'til it gets much worse
[...] By one count, this is the 17th summit dealing with the Euro crisis. Why do they all disappoint on a fundamental level?

The answer is fairly simple: The real solutions will require painful actions that conflict with national myths in key countries and the politicians do not believe the public is yet scared enough to accept that much pain.

Some political problems, like our own debt ceiling debate of last summer, cannot be solved until the very last moment, because the external pressure has to be so high that politicians can gain forgiveness for making painful choices.

It also becomes less attractive to do the wrong thing, because it would be clear that the politicians triggered the ensuing disaster.

The ultimate solution to the crisis will likely require the strong countries to guarantee the debts of the weak countries, a commitment national leaders cannot explain to their voters unless the alternative is the prospect of immediate disaster.

Germany has its lowest unemployment rate in years, making it a bit hard to convince the public that everything is going to pieces. The strong countries also do not trust the weak to make the necessary reforms to avoid having the guarantees from the strong nations turn into real costs when the struggling countries default.

Therefore, the ultimate solution will also require countries in the euro area to give centralized European authorities a veto power over their budgets. Voters in the weak countries are not yet frightened enough to allow their leaders to hand over this much power to Brussels or Frankfurt. [...]

The author believes they can get through it, but only at the height of the crisis, at the last minute. It seems inevitable. And what they are preparing for now.


Also see:

Euro Crisis an excuse for consolidation of power?

EU Member Nations to Sacrifice Sovereignty?
     

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Is Egypt's New President the Real Deal?


Egypt's new president to pick woman, Christian VPs
Cairo (CNN) -- Egypt's first ever democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, will make history in another way: by appointing a woman as vice president, his policy adviser told CNN.

He will also choose another vice president who is Christian, Ahmed Deif said.

The news came as the man Morsi beat for the presidency, Ahmed Shafik, left Egypt on a trip to Abu Dhabi, and as Cairo's administrative court overturned a rule that allowed the military to arrest people without a warrant.

"For the first time in Egyptian history -- not just modern but in all Egyptian history -- a woman will take that position," Deif told CNN's Christiane Amanpour on Monday, referring to one of the vice presidency slots. "And it's not just a vice president who will represent a certain agenda and sect, but a vice president who is powerful and empowered, and will be taking care of critical advising within the presidential Cabinet."

Although Morsi has previously argued for banning women from the presidency, he said before the election that as president he would stand for women's rights.

"The role of women in Egyptian society is clear," Morsi told Amanpour through a translator weeks before the runoff election. "Women's rights are equal to men. Women have complete rights, just like men. There shouldn't be any kind of distinction between Egyptians except that is based on the constitution and the law."

The Islamist figure, a Muslim Brotherhood leader, also promised to ensure rights of minorities.

Egypt "definitely" will not be an "Islamic Republic," Deif said Monday. [...]

Is it just window dressing, or will it be substantial? Only time will tell.

I don't expect miracles, and all politics has a certain amount of posturing. But I would really like to believe that it's true, for real, and that Egypt can solve it's difficulties. I've posted in the past about the Muslim Brotherhood's history, and it wasn't nice. Yet I've been told, and have read, that the modern Muslim Brotherhood is different; that they have evolved into something better.

I really hope that's true. We shall see. Actions speak louder than words.


Also see:

Omar Sharif and other Arabs in a changing world
     

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Vitamin D and Depression; which comes first?

Vitamin D Deficiency Linked to Depression
[...] The relationship between depression and vitamin D is likely a two-way street, Pathuk says. "People who have depression are at high risk for vitamin D deficiency because they stay indoors, don't exercise too much, and are likely not eating a healthy diet."

There are also vitamin D receptors in areas of the brain that help regulate behavior and emotion, she says.

"It is not unusual for people with depression to be deficient in vitamin D and treating the deficiency may make a huge difference in how they feel," Pathuk says.

If you are being treated for depression, ask your doctor to test your vitamin D levels. "If you are deficient, get treated," she says.

"People often feel better when they take vitamin D," says Michael Holick, MD, PhD. He is the director of the Vitamin D, Skin, and Bone Research Lab at Boston University. "One of the effects that vitamin D has on the brain is to improve serotonin levels -- which is the same chemical that many antidepressants act on."

"This is an interesting study," says Erin LeBlanc, MD. She is an endocrinologist and researcher at the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research in Portland. "It does show that vitamin D and its effects on things besides bone should be studied more." [...]

     

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Obama, Romney, and an Alien Invasion...

Sounds like the beginning of a bad joke. But it's part of a survey:

Most Americans Believe Government Keeps UFO Secrets, Survey Finds
[...] The survey, conducted ahead of National Geographic's new series Chasing UFOs, asked 1,100 Americans 18 and older for their extraterrestrial opinions.

As it turns out, the idea of aliens and UFOs isn't that farfetched to most Americans.

Here are some of the survey's most surprising findings:

-More than three quarters (77 percent) of those surveyed believe there are signs that aliens have visited Earth, and over half (55 percent) think Men in Black-style agents threaten those who report seeing them.

-More than a third (36 percent) believe aliens have already visited.

-Eighty percent believe the government has hidden information on UFOs from the public.

-Nearly two thirds (65 percent) think President Obama would be a better leader than Mitt Romney if an alien invasion were to happen. [...]

Obama a better leader during an alien invasion? I wonder why? Perhaps this explains it:


     

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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Dramatic Aurora seen in Oregon last Sunday


Auroral Lights Color the Skies
A double-burst of solar particles sparked auroral lights over the weekend, as expected — but at least in some parts of the world, the colors were not what you'd expect. Instead of the typical greenish glow, observers reported seeing reds, pinks, violets and even blues.

"It's been many years since I saw the blue in our auroras, but Saturday night they came back," John Welling reported in a note accompanying the photo he posted to SpaceWeather.com.

Pinks, reds and blues also dominated the scene captured on camera early Sunday by Brad Goldpaint, from a vantage point above Oregon's Crater Lake. Goldpaint says the opportunity came about "by pure coincidence."

"Capturing this famous light show had been a dream of mine for several years, but I could not have imagined the lights showing up in my own backyard!" Goldpaint wrote in an email.

The colors of the aurora depend on the wavelength of the light emitted when fast-moving, electrically charged particles from the sun interact with different types of atoms and ions in Earth's upper atmosphere. If the particles hit mostly oxygen atoms, the light will be in the greenish-yellowish-reddish range. Collisions with nitrogen atoms produce the blue, purple and deep red hues.

The altitude of the auroral glow also affects the color: At altitudes between 60 and 120 miles, the oxygen emissions tend toward the green side of the spectrum. At higher altitudes, you'll see more red. Blend all those colors, and you get a beautiful, wide-ranging palette. [...]

The site has more photos, and some video.
     

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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

"Tough Love" for Guppies? Can it really work?

I've been experimenting with keeping a cool/temperate water fish tank, keeping various fish that are said to tolerate temperatures on the cooler side. One of the fish that is often mentioned for this, is the Guppy.


There is also a great deal of argument about it. Guppy's are, in fact, from the tropics. Yet they have been known to do well at temperatures lower than many tropical fish like, and even survive temperatures even lower, for brief periods. This invariably leads to discussions about the hardiness of Guppies.

Some claim the natural hardiness of Guppies has been bred out of them, as they have become more and more in-bred in order to create fancier and more dramatic fish. But still others claim, that the hardiness of Guppies has more to do with how you keep them; that over-pampering them creates a "weak" fish.

Some of the most interesting posts I've seen on this topic, are on the GuppyTruth blog:

"Killing Them With Kindness" by Anthony Fischinger
[...] In Chicago in the 70's and 80's when I was growing up there were dozens of pet stores that had multiple tanks of fancy guppies. Some carried a dozen or more varieties and the quality of fish then was high enough to shock many new to the hobby today if they could travel back in time and sees them.

Fancy guppies at that time were hardy fish, recommended to all beginning fish keepers. They were a joy to keep and rarely got sick in my experience. A lot of friends I had in those days growing up kept guppies in peaceful community tanks, even some with angelfish, and the guppies thrived.

Back in those days, I did water changes and major tank cleaning once a year, since my mom hated water on the floors. I usually just added water to replace that lost by evaporation. I always had live plants in the tanks, and so did many others in those days. I think that was and remains a key to success-- the plants prevented ammonia spikes and nitrate buildup and provided a margin of safety when mistakes in overfeeding were made. The fish just seemed to be happier as well with some live plants in the tanks.

I also didn't realize it was important at the time, but aged tank water and the gunk in gravel contain infusoria that are both a food source for fry and a source of challenge to the immune system of the guppies.

[...]

The hygiene hypothesis basically contends that people raised in too sterile of an environment are more susceptible to nagging illnesses. I believe wholeheartedly and speak from experience that this also applies to keeping guppies. One of the biggest hurdles the guppy hobby needs to clear today is that of loving them to death. Expensive trios that die when moved to a new environment with good water parameters before fry are dropped is, to me, totally unacceptable, as are fish that need constant medication to stay alive. A lot of eager first time hobbyists are lost forever after a bad experience with expensive fish.

I was an experienced guppy keeper and was disgusted when I re-entered the hobby and found fish difficult to keep alive. Warning bells go off now for me when a breeder recommends elaborate preparations and attention to pH and hardness and medications, other than possible a bit of salt and worming/parasite medications for the arrival of a trio. Their directions might be meant to help a novice but they make me a bit nervous nonetheless. Let me say that as long as a breeder will stand by their fish and guarantee a drop of fry, I have no problem with them and would buy fish if needed without reservation. I also think a shift to sending fry packages versus trios would be of benefit to the hobby, as they acclimate easier.

Guppies should be able to tolerate a wide range of PH and hardness and a fairly wide range of temperature conditions, from acidic backwater filled with tannins to even full saltwater, and from the 50s to the 90s in temperature for at least short periods. I have had my fish survive in both during the last year, I had some fish outside in barrels in dark tannic waters and I gave culls to a friend that acclimated them to saltwater over 24 hours to use as feeders. I rescued some stunned fish from a barrel after an early fall freeze that dropped the water temperature to the low 40's, they were dying and wouldn't have lasted long but recovered fully.

I think the root of the problem is that we are killing them with kindness, raising them in sparkling clean tanks with frequent or constant water changes. A return to simpler methods of guppy husbandry is needed. I think a change is also needed in how we select our breeders. I used to think that inbreeding over too long of a period was the main problem, but mine eyes have seen the glory, so to speak, and I have seen that for even the weakest inbred fish there is hope of recovery of vigor, hardiness, and deportment through selection and husbandry. I have brought strains back from the brink of extinction in my fish room and so have others. The problem really doesn't seem to be the inbreeding like I originally thought, but instead selecting the wrong breeders out of a population. If you breed the two wrong fish, there will always be problems. You can't improve and win with a strain you can't keep alive.

Guppies need to be a pleasure to keep, not a burden. Vitality and deportment and favorable responses to stressful conditions need to be the, most important selection criteria if a strain is hard to keep. Perfection of conformation can be worked on conventionally once the fish are easier to keep healthy.

[...]

The best way to start a toughening process with a strain is with a new drop of fry. I keep up to several hundred fry in a 2.5 gallon tank for several weeks without changing the water, and they grow like weeds. The tank has a box filter with aragonite and floss in it. The tank is filled at least 50% by volume with hornwort. I like hornwort since it does well and grows very fast even under relatively weak lighting if you let it float. A cheap 4 foot shop light a few inches above a row of tanks is plenty to keep it going.

It you are doing this for the first time, shake out the filter that is ready for cleaning and seed the tank with a few ounces of the dirty looking water. This will add filter bacteria and some infusoria to help jump start the immune systems of the fry. Snails or some water in which they have been kept can be added to help seed the tank with some infusoria. If the tank is kept under 24 hour lighting, with a lot of plants or green water, several hundred fry can be kept in a 2.5 gallon tank for several weeks without the water parameters going out of whack.

When I feed, I push the plants aside, so there is a bare area of surface. I feed them decapsulated brine shrimp and spiralina flake and they grow nicely despite the crowding .By the end of 3 weeks there might be a half inch of mulm and detritus on the bottom and the tank walls might have a lot of algae on them.

I guess I am also selecting for fish that grow well despite crowding, though it didn't really hit me until I was writing this was selecting for fish that were able to tolerate crowding and stay healthy, I guess I got a two for one there. I dump the entire contents of the tank into a 29 gal and immediately remove all the males to their own tank. I scrub at least one or 2 sides of the 2.5 gallon tank with a diaper wipe and refill it for the next batch of fry. I do not try to get it sparkling clean.

As for the 29 gal tank, I might keep up to 500, one month to 2 month old fish in it during the culling process. My 29 gal is in front of a sunny South window and is green water. Sometimes, I will do a water change just so I can see the fish to cull and sort.

[...]

The toughening process can be gradual and I am giving a lot of detail so people can pick and chose what might work for them in their fish rooms. There is more than one way to go about the process as Greg has proved. I gradually let water go longer between changes, letting the interval go longer if the fish looked OK.

Also raise some fish outdoors between April and October, roughly between last and first frost. I take a few fish outdoors and acclimate them over an hour in bags in 55 gal barrels in partial shade in Spring when water temps are in the 50's and then add a cow patty to each barrel to grow green water and daphnia for them. I just give them anti-protozoal and anti-worm flake food when I bring the best of them indoors in the fall, usually when the water temps are in the 50's.

This is an additional and optional selection step for fitness that is hard to do indoors and I get a lot of extra gallons to raise fish in, most of which go to become feeders, only a few of the best come back indoors to the breeder tanks. My strains are relatively new so large numbers help, I have a lot of culling to do but they are still improving, I was told my fish made a good showing last year at the one show I took them to. Now that they are a pleasure to keep, I can spend the next few years fine tuning them, and the process will not be fraught with worry for their viability. [...]

These are just a few excerpts (I also added some extra paragraph breaks). There's LOTS more on his blog, fascinating stuff.

When I was a kid, I remember a friend of my mothers, who kept a 10 gallon tank. She hardly fussed with her's at all, and her tank was pretty healthy. The more I fussed with mine, the more problems I had. She said it was better not to disturb things too much. I eventually followed her example, and I also had better results. Reading about these guppies reminded me of that.

He's got other good posts too, like The Green Water Miracle, and Answers to questions people ask.

And of course, there was the post that originally lead me to his blog:

Cold Water Guppies
In April of 2004, I read an article in the April 2004 e-Bulletin of GuppyLabs entitled “The Full Blue of Rio de la Plata – Part One” by Rosario Arijon. In this piece, the author described how a certain Professor Daniel Tejedor, a man of impressive credentials, maintained a fish farm in Olidin, Uruguay where many varieties of ornamental fish were raised. Of specific note was the fact that the gentleman raised, among these various species, guppies that were perfectly adapted to breed at 18 degrees Celsius, and live at 14 degrees Celsius. That is 57.2 to 64.4 degrees Fahrenheit! “No way,” I thought. At the time, I was barely keeping my fragile IFGA strains alive at a constant 78 degrees Fahrenheit, and drops of fry were out of the question! Further, I would later find out I was dealing with some of the tougher strains. Was there a misprint in the GuppyLab’s article? It was just so inconceivable to me.

Over the years that followed, I would occasionally search the web for any other corroborative information on “cold water guppies”. I found some who swore they had some in ponds or in coldwater tanks with goldfish, but other forum members would always dismiss the claims as lies, or insist such guppies were, in fact, Gambusia (mosquito fish). One rather famous American guppy breeder claimed that he knew for a fact guppies would not reproduce below 70 degrees Fahrenheit, and as a long-time New England resident, he should know.

My interest in the subject was born out of a bit of necessity. As the owner and inhabitant of a 115-year-old Victorian cottage, things can get a bit, shall we say, “drafty” in winter. The fact is that the house does not get above 68 degrees from November until the first of April. Due to high utility bills, even those with modern homes typically set the thermostat to 70 degrees during the winter. In my case, with winter temperatures between 10 and 35 degrees Fahrenheit, my home never sees anything warmer than 68 degrees even with the furnace running non-stop. It is usually around 64 degrees through most of the winter.

[...]

The Great Recession of 2008/2009 found me returning to school for nursing, while pinching pennies to cope with ever-rising energy costs. If I was to have this many tanks of guppies, they would have to be able to survive at room temperature, whatever that “room temperature” was. Either that, or perhaps my living arrangements were better suited to goldfish. Cold water guppies were no longer some esoteric consideration, but a hard cold reality, no pun intended. [...]

Anyway, there's lots more. If you find the topic of Guppies and temperatures interesting, you'll appreciate it.

You might also find this shorter piece, by another Guppy breeder, to be of interest too.
     

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EU Member Nations to Sacrifice Sovereignty?

They may find it difficult not to:

Euro crisis: It's still not over
[...] Banking union: European Union leaders are expected to discuss plans to form a banking union in Europe when they hold a summit June 28-29.

The EU proposal would include a single deposit guarantee organization covering all banks in the union, something similar to the FDIC in the U.S..

There would also be a common authority and a common fund that would deal with bailouts needed for the cross-border banks that are major players in the European banking system.

In addition, there would be a single EU supervisor with ultimate decision-making powers for the major banks, and a common set of banking rules.

The move would represent a step towards greater centralization of European authority. But it remains to be seen if all 17 eurozone governments will agree to sacrifice sovereignty for the sake of the union. [...]

I've posted previously that those who've created this crisis are now using it to consolidate their power. Sure looks like it.

The article also mentions that France as well as Greece, are having elections on June 17th, which are expected to move both further left politically, probably in the hopes of avoiding austerity measures. I suspect that further consolidation of the EU will then be offered as the only possible solution. We shall see.
     

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Monday, June 11, 2012

The Joys of Keeping Ghost Shrimp as Pets

Maybe "joy" is too strong a word, but they are fun to keep, inexpensive, and easy to care for:


It’s a GHOST!
I love Ghost Shrimp! I have had an aquarium in my house for over 15 years, and I’ve always loved having a ghost shrimp in my tank. They are very neat and express cool movement, I personally think they are very entertaining to watch. Ghost Shrimp are also very inexpensive to purchase, at my local fish store you can get 3 for a dollar. Woohoo!

The Ghost Shrimp is also known as the Glass Shrimp because of its semi-translucent body. It is pretty awesome to look at their bodies and see the food that they have eaten! They like to feel secure so sometimes they will borrow in your substrate. You can provide sand or fine gravel to help them with this. Sometimes they will hide out in your plants as well.

Ghost Shrimp are scavengers which means they will pretty much eat anything. They do a great job at cleaning up your aquarium floor of uneaten flake foods. They also love algae wafers, nature algae, and pellets. Since they are so small, do not mix with large fish because they will get eaten! [...]

Follow the link, for a list of their care requirements.

I always wanted to try keeping them when I was a kid, but didn't. Better late than never! They are great scavengers, fun to watch, and a nice contrast to the aquarium fish.




Also see:

Life in the Bowl: The Ghost Shrimp

     

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Gout attacks, and purines in meat; the proof

Foods to Avoid if You Want to Avoid Gout Attacks
Gout Flare-ups Nearly 5 Times as Likely in People With Diets High in Some Meats, Seafood
May 30, 2012 -- If you have gout, you may want to pass on the liver and keep the anchovies off the pizza.

People who had the highest amounts of compounds called purines in their diets increased their risk of having a gout flare-up by almost five times compared to those eating the least purine-rich foods, a new study shows.

Foods with the highest purine content include liver, organ, and game meats, sardines, mussels, anchovies, herring, and beer.

Foods with moderate levels of purine include red meats, chicken, fish, asparagus, mushrooms, peas, beans, lentils, cauliflower, and spinach.

Although a purine-rich diet has long been considered a risk factor for recurrent gout attacks, this is the first large study to explore this connection and quantify it.

[...]

For the study, which appears in the journal Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, scientists tracked 633 people with gout and monitored their health online for one year. More than three-quarters of the volunteers were men, and their average age was 54.

During the study period, each person was asked to submit information about any gout attacks they had. These details included any potential triggers and dietary information for the two days leading up to the attack, their symptoms, and what drugs they were taking to manage the condition.

As a comparison, participants also provided this same information over a two-day period every three months when they did not have a gout flare-up.

Purine-rich foods can trigger a gout flare-up relatively quickly -- often within two days of eating higher amounts of them, researchers found.

The odds of a gout flare-up were greater when purine came from animal food sources than from plant sources.

"Avoiding or reducing purine-rich foods intake, especially of animal origin, may help reduce the risk of recurrent gout attacks," the study concludes.

I suspected as much. Vegetables high in purines don't trigger attacks in me, the way that certain meats, in certain quantities, will do.
     

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Sunday, June 10, 2012

Austerity, Spending, and Economic Growth

Alex Castellanos says Europe hasn't really embraced austerity yet:

Could austerity be the right cure for Europe's hangover?
(CNN) -- I never imagined we would find a no-win question to displace the genre's champ, "Have you stopped beating your wife?" Now, there is contender: "Does austerity work?"

Fareed Zakaria tells us it doesn't, faulting it for Europe's constriction. The problem is not a borderless European financial system, unable to quarantine nations sick with public and private debt. Oh, no, Zakaria writes, "The larger failure, shared across Europe, has been too much austerity."

In the Washington Post, Ezra Klein notes unemployment is "skyrocketing" across Europe and he contends the fault lies in shrinking budget deficits brought by spending cuts and tax increases. Klein tells us this is what austerity looks like "and it can be expected to reduce economic growth."

As the UK slides into a double-dip recession, economist Paul Krugman blames David Cameron's austerity. Borrowing from John Maynard Keynes, he tells us, "The boom, not the slump, is the right time for austerity."

Never mind that spending in Britain is virtually unchanged and other nations in Europe are spending more. Neal Reynolds writes that "austerity," as practiced in Euro27 countries, has actually increased government spending from 46% to 51% of Europe's GDP from 2006 to 2010.

Greece, where rioters protest "austeros," increased its public sector expenditures from 45.2 % of GDP to 50.1% tin he same period. As the Richmond Times-Dispatch noted, in 2011, 23 of the EU's 27 nations jacked up their spending levels. This year 24 will. Apparently, it is not austerity itself that constricts economies. The mere thought of austerity is enough to choke the eurozone to death.

Austerity seems to be working just fine for the masters of the practice, the Germans: We are counting on them to bail out the entire eurozone.

[...]

On June 17, the world will come to an end, as it often does. Ripples from Europe's unraveling will begin traveling to America. Greece will have an election. Greeks will vote to make Germans work until they are 67 so they can retire at 50. They will vote to make someone else pay their bills, fund their holidays and support their benefits.

They will be lectured about this by an American president who asks his own nation to make China pay its bills, fund its holidays and support its benefits. We can only hope he does it from the Hellenic state of California, which has also attempted to outsmart austerity. Remarkably, it hasn't grown jobs, just debt. [...]

Those who complain the most about austerity, are the ones who won't practice it. And they are the ones who are in shit-street financially, wanting someone else to bail them out. The rest of the article explains perfectly why they won't get gain, can't get gain, without some austerity pain first, because they spent (and continue to spend) money they didn't (and still don't) have. Castellanos says that asking whether austerity works is like asking a drinker if sobriety works. Those who are on a binge, (be it spending or drinking) aren't likely to agree.


Austerity alone isn't the answer though, to get things moving again. Jeffery Miron, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, offers this:

How to get economy growing fast
Cambridge, Massachusetts (CNN) -- In a recent discussion of what his administration might accomplish, Mitt Romney claimed that "by virtue of the policies that we put in place, we'd get the unemployment rate down to 6%, and perhaps a little lower," over a period of four years.

Is this goal attainable?

It is. Indeed, it is not that tough a task. If the United States avoids new growth-retarding policies, such as the tax hikes scheduled for January 1, the economy's natural adjustments will lower unemployment substantially. These include downward adjustments in wages, reallocation of job-seekers from slower to faster growing sectors and regions, reduced in-migration plus increased out-migration, and withdrawals from the labor force.

These adjustments do not always work quickly or for everyone (not every former construction worker can become a computer technician). But history suggests the adjustments do occur, as they have since the recession began. Over the next four years, they will continue to lower the unemployment rate, if not to 6%, at least near that territory.

The more important task for either presidential candidate is restoring the economy to its prerecession growth path. Real GDP has historically grown about 3% per year, and major downturns have been followed by strong recoveries. Within two to three years, therefore, output is typically "back where it would have been."

In this recession, the rapid recovery phase has so far been absent; real GDP is still well below where one would have predicted pre-2008, and with average growth under 3% since the recession ended, the gap grows larger every quarter.

So can Romney, or anyone, get us back to a higher growth rate? Yes. Here is a program that will restore U.S. economic performance: [...]

Miron goes on to list eight reforms that are needed, that make good sense. I suspect some Republicans may have a problem with #4, but the world is changing, including American demographics, and we're going to have to adapt to what IS.
     

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Yoga as Treatment for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Yoga May Improve Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis
People With Rheumatoid Arthritis Feel Better After 6 Weeks of Iyengar-Style Yoga
May 24, 2012 (Honolulu, Hawaii) -- Young patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) may feel better after practicing yoga for just six weeks, a new study shows.

Researchers reported their findings here last week at the American Pain Society's annual meeting.

[...]

An Alternative to Drugs

The UCLA researchers say some drugs for RA can pose additional risks for younger patients. So the researchers are looking for alternatives. They decided to try Iyengar yoga.

In Iyengar yoga, practitioners may use blocks, straps, cushions, and other props to stretch and strengthen their muscles.

The UCLA researchers recruited 26 women with RA. The women's ages ranged from 21 to 35. On average they had suffered from RA for 10 and a half years.

The researchers then assigned 11 of these women to classes in Iyengar yoga. They assigned the other 15 to a wait list for yoga classes.

After six weeks, they asked both groups about their condition. The group that practiced yoga said they were happier than when they started. They said they could better accept their pain. They also reported better general health and more energy.

The women on the wait list for yoga classes did not experience these improvements.

Even the women who did yoga did not report less pain or disability. That may be because the study was so short, says Lung. "But six weeks did a world of good for those involved."

Sluka says that physical exercise usually takes about eight weeks to show significant effects. All kinds of exercise can help with RA, she says. "Yoga is just another form of exercise," she says.

By strengthening muscles, exercise prevents joints from moving in uncomfortable ways. And it can activate parts of the nervous system that reduce pain.

The study is not conclusive, she points out, because it is very small. Also, there is a possibility that the people in the yoga group felt better just because they were doing something to help themselves, not specifically because they were doing yoga.

But the study is still worthwhile, Sluka says. It shows people with RA they have another option for getting exercise. "Some people like to run. Some people like to lift weights. Some people like to do yoga," she says. [...]

"blocks, straps, cushions, and other props"? Hmmm. Makes me curious to know more about Iyengar yoga.

Iyengar yoga, from Wikipedia:

Iyengar Yoga, created by B. K. S. Iyengar, is a form of Hatha Yoga known for its use of props, such as belts, blocks, and blankets, as aids in performing asanas (postures). The props enable students to perform the asanas correctly, minimising the risk of injury or strain, and making the postures accessible to both young and old. The development of strength, mobility and stability are emphasized through the asanas.

Iyengar Yoga is firmly on the traditional eight limbs of yoga as expounded by Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras.

A form of Hatha Yoga, it focuses on the structural alignment of the physical body through the development of asanas. Through the practice of a system of asanas, it aims to unite the body, mind and spirit for health and well-being. This discipline is considered a powerful tool to relieve the stresses of modern-day life which in turn can help promote total physical and spiritual well-being.[1]

Iyengar Yoga is characterized by great attention to detail and precise focus on body alignment. Iyengar pioneered the use of "props" such as cushions, benches, blocks, straps and sand bags, which function as aids allowing beginners to experience asanas more easily and fully than might not otherwise be possible without several years of practice. Props also allow elderly, injured, tired or ill students to enjoy the benefits of many asanas via fully "supported" methods requiring less muscular effort.

Standing poses are emphasized in Iyengar Yoga. They are said to build strong legs, increase general vitality, and improve circulation, coordination and balance, ensuring a strong foundation for study of more advanced poses.

[...]

Iyengar also developed extensively ways of applying his practice to various ailments, diseases, and disorders. Many of these sources of suffering, such as chronic backache, immunodeficiency, high blood pressure, insomnia, depression and menopause, have specific programs of Iyengar yoga associated with them. Iyengar himself worked with patients after patients had myocardial infarctions.[2] The asanas can be adjusted based on the patient’s stage of recovery.[3] These programs are formulated in their most advanced form at the centre of Iyengar Yoga: the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute located in Pune, India. [...]

The wiki page shows some of the straps, blocks and cushions in use, to give it context. Interesting.
     

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Gonorrhea is fast becoming untreatable

Yet another reason not to be promiscuous:

Untreatable Gonorrhea a Global Threat
Sex Bug Becoming Resistant to Last Known Treatment, WHO Warns
June 6, 2012 -- Gonorrhea is fast becoming untreatable, spurring an urgent call to action by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The WHO alert follows an even more strident warning by CDC researcher Gail A. Bolan, MD, and colleagues.

"It is time to sound the alarm," Bolan and colleagues wrote last February in the New England Journal of Medicine. Resistance to all known antibiotics, they warn, is "threatening our ability to cure gonorrhea."

Gonorrhea, sometimes called the clap, is a sexually transmitted disease. With more than 600,000 new cases a year in the U.S., it trails only chlamydia as the nation's most common STD.

Gonorrhea bacteria, Neisseria gonorrhoeae, have a long history of evading treatment:

In the 1940s, gonorrhea became resistant to sulfanilamide.
In the 1980s, gonorrhea became resistant to penicillin, tetracycline, chloramphenicol, erythromycin, and streptomycin.
By 2007, gonorrhea became resistant to fluoroquinolones, including ciprofloxacin.

When the dust cleared, there was only one line of defense against gonorrhea: third-generation cephalosporin antibiotics. The currently recommended cephalosporins are injectable ceftriaxone (preferred) and oral cefixime.

Untreatable Gonorrhea

Now wily gonorrhea bugs are becoming resistant to these drugs, too. Cefixime resistance increased 17-fold from 2006 to the first six months of 2011. Ceftriaxone resistance increased 10-fold.

Overall, less than 2% of gonorrhea are resistant to cefixime and only 0.5% are resistant to ceftriaxone. So why all the worry?

In the western U.S. -- and among men who have sex with men -- gonorrhea is becoming cephalosporin resistant much faster. It's the same pattern seen when the bug became resistant to fluoroquinolones.

As far as the CDC knows, there haven't yet been any treatment failures -- persistent gonorrhea despite treatment -- in the U.S. But then, only 2% of known U.S. gonorrhea cases are included in the CDC's gonorrhea surveillance program.

And treatment failures already have been seen in Japan, Norway, and the U.K. It's only a matter of time before the bug builds enough resistance to shrug off all existing treatments.

"The trends in decreased [cephalosporin] susceptibility that we're seeing, coupled with the history of emerging resistance and reported treatment failures in other countries, point to the likelihood of [U.S.] treatment failures on the horizon and the need for urgent action to prevent untreatable gonorrhea," CDC spokeswoman Nikki Mayes tells WebMD via email.

Ironically, one problem with tracking treatment-resistant gonorrhea is technology. State and local health labs used to have to culture gonorrhea bacteria in order to identify them. Now they use faster DNA tests.

But the new DNA tests can't yet tell whether gonorrhea is treatment resistant. That can only be done with old-fashioned cultures. And many labs no longer have the needed equipment or expertise for drug-susceptibility testing. Just as we're facing an onslaught of resistant gonorrhea, we're losing our ability to see it coming. [...]

The rest of the article deals with WHO's Gonorrhea Resistance Action Plan.

     

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Saturday, June 09, 2012

Ray Bradbury, RIP


Ray Bradbury dies at 91; author lifted fantasy to literary heights
Ray Bradbury, the writer whose expansive flights of fantasy and vividly rendered space-scapes have provided the world with one of the most enduring speculative blueprints for the future, has died. He was 91.

Bradbury died Tuesday night in Los Angeles, his agent Michael Congdon confirmed. His family said in a statement that he had suffered from a long illness.

Author of more than 27 novels and story collections—most famously "The Martian Chronicles," "Fahrenheit 451," "Dandelion Wine" and "Something Wicked This Way Comes"—and more than 600 short stories, Bradbury has frequently been credited with elevating the often-maligned reputation of science fiction. Some say he singlehandedly helped to move the genre into the realm of literature.

[...]

Bradbury's poetically drawn and atmospheric fictions—horror, fantasy, shadowy American gothics—explored life's secret corners: what was hidden in the margins of the official family narrative, or the white noise whirring uncomfortably just below the placid surface. He offered a set of metaphors and life puzzles to ponder for the rocket age and beyond, and has influenced a wide swath of popular culture--from children's writer R.L. Stine and singer Elton John (who penned his hit "Rocket Man" as an homage), to architect Jon Jerde who enlisted Bradbury to consider and offer suggestions about reimagining public spaces.

Bradbury frequently attempted to shrug out of the narrow "sci-fi" designation, not because he was put off by it, but rather because he believed it was imprecise.

"I'm not a science fiction writer," he was frequently quoted as saying. "I've written only one book of science fiction ["Fahrenheit 451"]. All the others are fantasy. Fantasies are things that can't happen, and science fiction is about things that can happen."

It wasn't merely semantics.

His stories were multi-layered and ambitious. Bradbury was far less concerned with mechanics—how many tanks of fuel it took to get to Mars and with what rocket—than what happened once the crew landed there, or what they would impose on their environment. "He had this flair for getting to really major issues," said Paul Alkon, emeritus professor of English and American literature at USC.

"He wasn't interested in current doctrines of political correctness or particular forms of society. Not what was wrong in '58 or 2001 but the kinds of issues that are with us every year."

Benford said Bradbury "emphasized rhetoric over reason and struck resonant notes with the bulk of the American readership—better than any other science fiction writer. Even [H.G.] Wells ... [Bradbury] anchored everything in relationships. Most science fiction doesn't."

Whether describing a fledgling Earthling colony bullying its way on Mars (" -- And the Moon Be Still as Bright" in 1948) or a virtual-reality baby-sitting tool turned macabre monster ("The Veldt" in 1950), Bradbury wanted his readers to consider the consequences of their actions: "I'm not a futurist. People ask me to predict the future, when all I want to do is prevent it."

He long maligned computers -- stubbornly holding on to his typewriter -- and hated the Internet. He said ebooks "smell like burned fuel" and refused to allow his publishers to release electronic versions of his works until last year, when he finally agreed that Simon & Schuster could release the first digital copy of "Fahrenheit 451."

Ray Douglas Bradbury was born Aug. 22, 1920, in Waukegan, Ill., to Leonard Spaulding Bradbury and the former Esther Marie Moberg. As a child he soaked up the ambience of small-town life — wraparound porches, fireflies and the soft, golden light of late afternoon — that would later become a hallmark of much of his fiction.

"When I was born in 1920," he told the New York Times Magazine in 2000, "the auto was only 20 years old. Radio didn't exist. TV didn't exist. I was born at just the right time to write about all of these things."

The cusp of what was and what would be -- that was Bradbury's perfect perch. "He's a poet of the expanding world view of the 20th century," Benford said. "He coupled the American love of machines to the love of frontiers."

As a child, Bradbury was romanced by fantasy in its many forms— Grimms Fairy Tales and L. Frank Baum(the author of "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz"), the world's fairs and Lon Chaney Sr., Buck Rogers and "Amazing Stories."

But with the magic came the nightmares. Bradbury spoke often of the night visions that kept him sweating and sleepless in the first decade of his life.

Writing became a release valve of sorts. He often told, and elaborately embroidered, the story of the epiphany that led him to become a writer. A visit to the carnival at 12 brought him face to face with Mr. Electrico, a magician who awakened Bradbury to the notions of reincarnation and immortality.

"He was a miracle of magic, seated at the electric chair, swathed in black velvet robes, his face burning like white phosphor, blue sparks hissing from his fingertips," he recalled in interviews. "He pointed at me, touched me with his electric sword—my hair stood on end—and said, 'Live forever.' " Transfixed, Bradbury returned day after day. "He took me down to the lake shore and talked his small philosophies and I talked my big ones," Bradbury said. "He said we met before. 'You were my best friend. You died in my arms in 1918, in France.' I knew something special had happened in my life. I stood by the carousel and wept."

From then on, he spent at least four hours a day every day, unleashing those night visions in stories he wrote on butcher paper.

After a series of moves, the Bradbury family settled in Los Angeles in 1934. Ray dabbled in drama and journalism, fell in love with the movies and periodically sent jokes to the George Burns and Gracie Allen radio show. He read constantly and his writing output steadily increased and improved. While at Los Angeles High, Bradbury became involved with the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society where he met and got critiques of his work from science fiction writers Heinlein, Henry Kuttner and Jack Williamson.

"It's a wonder that he survived because we were all ready to strangle him," the late Forrest J. Ackerman, a founder of the society, said in a 1988 Times story. "He was such an obnoxious youth -- which he would be the first to admit. He was loud and boisterous and liked to do a W.C. Fields act and Hitler imitations. He would pull all sorts of pranks."

Bradbury graduated in 1938, with not enough money for college. Poor eyesight kept him out of the military, but he kept writing.

[...]

But as he garnered respect in the mainstream, he lost some standing among science fiction purists. In these circles, Bradbury was often criticized for being "anti-science." Instead of celebrating scientific breakthroughs, he was reserved, even cautious.

Bradbury had very strong opinions about what the future had become. In the drive to make their lives smart and efficient, humans, he feared, had lost touch with their souls. "We've got to dumb America up again," he said.

[...]

Even in his later years, Bradbury kept up his 1,000-words-a-day writing schedule, working on an electric typewriter even when technology had passed it by. "Why do I need a computer ... all a computer is is a typewriter."

[...]

His 90th birthday, in 2010, was cause for a weeklong celebration in Los Angeles.

"All I can do is teach people to fall in love," Bradbury told Time magazine that year. "My advice to them is, do what you love and love what you do. … If I can teach them that, I've done a great job."

Most Americans make their acquaintance with Bradbury in junior high, and there are many who revisit certain works for a lifetime, his books evoking their own season.

In an interview in the Onion, Bradbury chalked up his stories' relevance and resonance to this: "I deal in metaphors. All my stories are like the Greek and Roman myths, and the Egyptian myths, and the Old and New Testament.... If you write in metaphors, people can remember them.... I think that's why I'm in the schools."

Benford suggests something else—at once simple and seductive.

"Nostalgia is eternal. And Americans are often displaced from their origins and carry an anxious memory of it, of losing their origins. Bradbury reminds us of what we were and of what we could be," Benford said.

"Like most creative people, he was still a child, His stories tell us: Hold on to your childhood. You don't get another one. I don't think he ever put that away." [...]

H.T. to Tammy Bruce, it was on her blog that I found the link to this LA Times article. It's worth visiting the post on her blog, too:

Iconic Author Ray Bradbury Has Died
Tammy is a big Ray Bradbury fan, and she has some video interviews with Bradbury, as well as her own interview with him in 2005.


I'll end with these excerpts from CNN:

Sci-fi legend Ray Bradbury dies
[...] "In my later years I have looked in the mirror each day and found a happy person staring back." he wrote in a book of essays published in 2005. "Occasionally I wonder why I can be so happy. The answer is that every day of my life I've worked only for myself and for the joy that comes from writing and creating. The image in my mirror is not optimistic, but the result of optimal behavior."

[...]

The biography released by his publisher quoted a story in which Bradbury recounted meeting a carnival magician, Mr. Electrico, in 1932. Electrico touched the 12-year-old Bradbury with his sword and commanded, "Live forever!"

"I decided that was the greatest idea I had ever heard," Bradbury said. "I started writing every day. I never stopped."

Sam Weller, Bradbury's biographer and friend, said in a posting on his website Wednesday, "I'll never see you again. I'll never see you again. I'll never see you again.

"The problem with death, you once said to me, is that 'it is so damned permanent,' " Weller's statement said.

Weller, in one of his books about Bradbury, quoted him as saying he would sometimes open one of his books late at night and cry out thanks to God.

"I sit there and cry because I haven't done any of this," he told Weller. "It's a God-given thing, and I'm so grateful, so, so grateful. The best description of my career as a writer is, 'At play in the fields of the Lord.' " [...]

     

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Tsunami Debri? We Ain't Seen nothin' Yet!

But it looks like we're gonna. The map below shows where the debris has spread so far. But if you follow the link below to the interactive version of the map, it has a slider on the bottom, that you can move to see the projected path of debris for the coming years, up to the year 2030.


If it's only gone this far, and yet we are already seeing debris, what's it gonna be like when it REALLY gets here? I guess we'll find out!

West Coast prepares for Japanese tsunami debris
[...] Beach cleanliness is vital to residents in Oregon, the only state whose entire coastline (362 miles) is public. Thousands of people turn out twice a year for beach cleanup events. Others adopt portions of the coastline, cleaning and monitoring them year-round.

So it's no surprise that residents are worried about the tsunami debris that ocean currents could bring ashore, Johnson says.

On Wednesday, Oregon officials confirmed that the dock that washed ashore earlier in the week was from the tsunami. The dock — 7 feet long, 19 feet wide and 66 feet long — is the first official piece of tsunami debris to reach the state.

Japanese officials estimate that 5 million tons of debris washed into the Pacific after the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). About 70% of that sank, leaving about 1.5 million tons floating.

Most of the debris still is north of Hawaii, says Nir Barnea, West Coast regional coordinator for NOAA's Marine Debris Program.

Scientists expect more debris to hit the West Coast in coming months and through 2014. [...]

Follow the link to see the interactive map.


Also see:

Japanese Illegal Aliens Exterminated in Oregon
     

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Japanese Illegal Aliens Exterminated in Oregon


Oregon officials worry about creatures on tsunami dock
When the tsunami hit the northern coast of Japan last year, the waves ripped four dock floats the size of freight train boxcars from their pilings in the fishing port of Misawa and turned them over to the whims of wind and currents.

One floated up on a nearby island. Two have not been seen again. But one made an incredible journey across 5,000 miles of ocean that ended this week on a popular Oregon beach.

Along for the ride were hundreds of millions of individual organisms, including a tiny species of crab, a species of algae, and a little starfish all native to Japan that have scientists concerned if they get a chance to spread out on the West Coast.

"This is a very clear threat," said John Chapman, a research scientist at Oregon State University's Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Oregon, where the dock washed up early Tuesday. "… It's incredibly difficult to predict what will happen next."

A dozen volunteers scraped the dock clean of marine organisms and sterilized it with torches Thursday to prevent the spread of invasive species, said Chris Havel, spokesman for the state Department of Parks and Recreation, which is overseeing the dock's fate.

The volunteers removed a ton and a half of material from the dock, and buried it above the high-water line, Havel said.

Biologists have identified one species of seaweed, known as wakame, that is native to Japan and has established in Southern California but has not yet been seen in Oregon, he said.

[...]

The dock tested negative for radiation, which was to be expected if the dock broke loose before the nuclear power plant accident triggered by the waves, said Havel.

Chapman said the dock float was covered with masses of algae, kelp, barnacles, mussels and other organisms.

"This is a whole, intact, very diverse community that floated across from Japan to here," he said. "That doesn't happen with a log or a thrown-out tire. I've never seen anything like this."

Of particular concern was a small crab that has run wild on the East Coast, but not shown up yet on the West Coast, and a species of algae that has hit Southern California, but not Oregon. The starfish, measuring about three inches across, also appears to be new to U.S. shores.

"It's almost certainly true that most of the things on this have not been introduced to this coast yet," Chapman said. "We're going to see more of these things coming." [...]

Too bad the critters had to survive all that way, just to be exterminated when they got here. Oh well. I guess it was the lesser of two evils.

As for more to come, follow the link and look at the spread map. Yikes!
We ain't seen nothing yet. And the potential for more invasive species arriving looks like it will grow.
     

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