December 22, 2008

Cliff Young. What a man!

What a remarkable story. 

The Legend of Cliff Young: The 61-year-old Farmer Won the World's Toughest Marathon

An Unlikely Competitor

Every year, Australia hosts 543.7-mile (875-kilometer) endurance racing from Sydney to Melbourne. It is considered among the world's most grueling ultra-marathons. The race takes five days to complete and is normally only attempted by world-class athletes who train specially for the event. These athletes are typically less than 30 years old and backed by large companies such as Nike.

In 1983, a man named Cliff Young showed up at the start of this race. Cliff was 61 years old and wore overalls and work boots. To everyone's shock, Cliff wasn't a spectator. He picked up his race number and joined the other runners.

The press and other athletes became curious and questioned Cliff. They told him, "You're crazy, there's no way you can finish this race." To which he replied, "Yes I can. See, I grew up on a farm where we couldn't afford horses or tractors, and the whole time I was growing up, whenever the storms would roll in, I'd have to go out and round up the sheep. We had 2,000 sheep on 2,000 acres. Sometimes I would have to run those sheep for two or three days. It took a long time, but I'd always catch them. I believe I can run this race."

When the race started, the pros quickly left Cliff behind. The crowds and television audience were entertained because Cliff didn't even run properly; he appeared to shuffle. Many even feared for the old farmer's safety.


The Tortoise and the Hare

All of the professional athletes knew that it took about 5 days to finish the race. In order to compete, one had to run about 18 hours a day and sleep the remaining 6 hours. The thing is, Cliff Young didn't know that!

When the morning of the second day came, everyone was in for another surprise. Not only was Cliff still in the race, he had continued jogging all night.

Eventually Cliff was asked about his tactics for the rest of the race. To everyone's disbelief, he claimed he would run straight through to the finish without sleeping.

Cliff kept running. Each night he came a little closer to the leading pack. By the final night, he had surpassed all of the young, world-class athletes. He was the first competitor to cross the finish line and he set a new course record.

When Cliff was awarded the winning prize of $10,000, he said he didn't know there was a prize and insisted that he did not enter for the money. He ended up giving all of his winnings to several other runners, an act that endeared him to all of Australia.

What a remarkable man.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:43 AM | Permalink

"A strong sense of absence"

Peggy Noonan with some sane words in Who We (Still) Are.

That's the big thing at the heart of the great collapse, a strong sense of absence. Who was in charge? Who was in authority? The biggest swindle in all financial history if the figure of $50 billion is to be believed, and nobody knew about it, supposedly, but the swindler himself. The government didn't notice, just as it didn't notice the prevalence of bad debts that would bring down America's great investment banks.

All this has hastened and added to the real decline in faith—the collapse in faith—the past few years in our institutions. Not only in Wall Street but in our entire economy, and in government. And of course there's Blago. But the disturbing thing there is that it seems to have inspired more mirth than anger. Did any of your friends say they were truly shocked? Mine either.

The reigning ethos seems to be every man for himself.

This is a good time to remember who we are, or rather just a few small facts of who we are. We are the largest and most technologically powerful economy in the world, the leading industrial power of the world, and the wealthiest nation in the world. "There's a lot of ruin in a nation," said Adam Smith. There's a lot of ruin in a great economy, too. We are the oldest continuing democracy in the world, operating, since March 4, 1789, under a vibrant and enduring constitution that was formed by geniuses and is revered, still, coast to coast. We don't make refugees, we admit them. When the rich of the world get sick, they come here to be treated, and when their children come of age, they send them here to our universities. We have a supple political system open to reform, and a wildly diverse culture that has moments of stress but plenty of give.

The point is not to say rah-rah, paint our faces blue and bray "We're No. 1." The point is that while terrible challenges face us—improving a sick public education system, ending the easy-money culture, rebuilding the economy—we are building from an extraordinary, brilliant and enduring base.
Mr. Shultz laid out some particulars of his own optimism. There is "the ingenuity, the flexibility, the strengths of the national economy." The labor force: "We are so blessed with human talent and resources." And the American people themselves. "They have intelligence, integrity and honor."

We should experience "the current crisis" as "a gigantic wake-up call." We've been living beyond our means, both governmentally and personally. "We have to be willing to face up to our problems. But we have a capacity to roll up our sleeves and get down to work together.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:01 AM | Permalink

December 20, 2008

In The Bleak Midwinter

In a poll of some of the world's leading choirmasters and choral experts, In the Bleak Midwinter was named as the best Christmas carol.

The lyrics by Christina Georgina Rossetti (1830-1894) were published posthumously.

1. In the bleak mid-winter
  Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
  Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
  Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
  Long ago.

2. Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him
  Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
  When He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
  A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty,
  Jesus Christ.

3. Enough for Him, whom cherubim
  Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk
  And a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels
  Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
  Which adore.

4. Angels and archangels
  May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
  Thronged the air,
But only His mother1
In her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the Beloved
  With a kiss.

5. What can I give Him,
  Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
  I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man
  I would do my part,
Yet what I can I give Him,
  Give my heart.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:56 PM | Permalink

Lully Lulla Lullay

A Coventry Carol from the 16th century

Lully, lulla, thou little tiny child,
By by, lully lullay, thou little tiny child,
By by, lully lullay.
O sisters too, How may we do
For to preserve this day
This poor youngling,
For whom we do sing,
By by, lully lullay?
Lully, lulla, thou little tiny child,
By by, lully lullay, thou little tiny child,
By by, lully lullay.
Herod, the King, In his raging,
Charged he hath this day
His men of might,
In his own sight,
All young children to slay.
Lully, lulla, thou little tiny child,
By by, lully lullay, thou little tiny child,
By by, lully lullay.
That woe is me, Poor child for thee!
And ever morn and day,
For thy parting
Nor say nor sing
By by, lully lullay!

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:48 PM | Permalink

December 18, 2008

Red wine and marijuana

Via Ronnie Bennett, the pre-eminent elder blogger comes this news

Memory can be an issue as we get older even without fear of dementia. Now, two new studies each have a different idea of what might help. You could try
marijuana. Or, some different researchers suggest red wine. Make of it what you will.

Clicking on the links I found Scientists are high on the idea that marijuana reduces memory impairment

The more research they do, the more evidence Ohio State University scientists find that specific elements of marijuana can be good for the aging brain by reducing inflammation there and possibly even stimulating the formation of new brain cells.

The research suggests that the development of a legal drug that contains certain properties similar to those in marijuana might help prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Though the exact cause of Alzheimer’s remains unknown, chronic inflammation in the brain is believed to contribute to memory impairment.

Any new drug’s properties would resemble those of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the main psychoactive substance in the cannabis plant, but would not share its high-producing effects. THC joins nicotine, alcohol and caffeine as agents that, in moderation, have shown some protection against inflammation in the brain that might translate to better memory late in life.

And Red, red wine: How it fights Alzheimer's

Reporting in the Nov. 21 issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry, David Teplow, a UCLA professor of neurology, and colleagues show how naturally occurring compounds in red wine called polyphenols block the formation of proteins that build the toxic plaques thought to destroy brain cells, and further, how they reduce the toxicity of existing plaques, thus reducing cognitive deterioration.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:18 AM | Permalink

"Going to prison or going to hell just doesn't matter to these men"

Why are men less religious? It may be form of risk-taking, impulsivity just as criminal behavior is.

For decades researchers have pondered a mysterious gender disparity in religious commitment. It turns out they may have been asking the wrong question, according to a University of Washington religious scholar.

Instead of asking why women are more religious than men, they should have been asking why men are less religious than women, said Rodney Stark, a UW professor of sociology and comparative religion.

"When you turn the question around it starts to get us somewhere and the evidence pretty strongly points to physiology, not socialization," said Stark, author of two papers exploring what seems to be a universal trend in religious rates around the world.

Stark said lower rates of male religiousness is a form of risk-taking behavior just as criminality is, and men are far more likely to commit crimes than women.

"Any phenomenon that occurs in many and very different social and cultural settings necessitates explanations that are equally general, which tends to rule out most social and cultural factors," he wrote in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion.

"Recent studies of biochemistry imply that both male irreligiousness and male lawlessness are rooted in the fact that far more males than females have an underdeveloped ability to inhibit their impulses, especially those involving immediate gratification and thrills."

The upshot is that some men are shortsighted and don't think ahead, and so "going to prison or going to hell just doesn't matter to these men," Stark said.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:45 AM | Permalink

People of the Screen and People of the Book

A marvelous essay by Christine Rosen, People of the Screen in which she describes two different classes, people of the screen and people of the book.

Boy-Illuminated Monitor

As he tried to train himself to screen-read—and mastering such reading does require new skills—Bell made an important observation, one often overlooked in the debate over digital texts: the computer screen was not intended to replace the book. Screen reading allows you to read in a “strategic, targeted manner,” searching for particular pieces of information, he notes. And although this style of reading is admittedly empowering, Bell cautions, “You are the master, not some dead author. And that is precisely where the greatest dangers lie, because when reading, you should not be the master”; you should be the student. “Surrendering to the organizing logic of a book is, after all, the way one learns,” he observes.

The reason you can’t “screw up” a Dostoevsky novel is that you must first submit yourself to the process of reading it—which means accepting, at some level, the author’s authority to tell you the story. You enter the author’s world on his terms, and in so doing get away from yourself. Yes, you are powerless to change the narrative or the characters, but you become more open to the experiences of others and, importantly, open to the notion that you are not always in control. In the process, you might even become more attuned to the complexities of family life, the vicissitudes of social institutions, and the lasting truths of human nature. The screen, by contrast, tends in the opposite direction. Instead of a reader, you become a user; instead of submitting to an author, you become the master. The screen promotes invulnerability. Whatever setbacks occur (as in a video game) are temporary, fixable, and ultimately overcome. We expect to master the game and move on to the next challenge. This is a lesson in trial and error, and often an entertaining one at that, but it is not a lesson in richer human understanding.
Such is the end of the tragedy we are now witness to:
Literacy, the most empowering achievement of our civilization, is to be replaced by a vague and ill-defined screen savvy. The paper book, the tool that built modernity, is to be phased out in favor of fractured, unfixed information. All in the name of progress.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:42 AM | Permalink

The Death of Reason

Michael Novak on Science and Religion

Of course, many today hold that all this talk about God, Creator, Prime Intelligence, and the Act of Existence is gibberish. Yet even they must admit that it was to their good fortune that, in a small family of cultures, a decisive number of inquirers, scholars, and copyists of ancient manuscripts did learn to expect pervasive intelligibility in the universe because of their faith in an ordering Intelligence. That is why they were willing to invest most of the hours of their humble lives in preparing the way for modern science.

In other words, the belief shared by (at first) a few million of the Earth’s inhabitants that a light emanates from the Creator of the world, and suffuses all things, gave them a strong motivation for devoting their lives to scientific efforts. They wanted to learn more about God by studying the world He made. (The great scientist Johannes Kepler held that two books teach us about God: the Book of Nature and the Book that reveals what we otherwise could not learn about God.)

Today, roughly half of all scientists are atheists. Yet, insofar as they are scientists, they share the same confidence that the sacrificing of one’s whole life to the pursuit of asking questions is a noble and worthy vocation. In this conviction, they act as if they believed in God. Perhaps some of them see this old belief in a Creator as a scaffolding that was necessary for building up the edifice of science, but that we can now safely kick away.

But they would do well to recall that poignant passage in Nietzsche, in which Zarathustra hears that God is dead. Contemplating what the death of God means for the death of reason, Nietzsche writes, “Zarathustra wept.”

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:12 AM | Permalink

Talking About Money

In The Madoff Inheritance, Daniel Henninger of the Wall St. Journal says

A big lesson of the past year is that we all should be talking more about money. One reason we don't talk about money is we are afraid of what we might learn.
Though living in an era of fantastic money tales, it is remarkable how little serious literature is written about money in business or money in politics. In fiction or drama characters can be made to say truths real people would never tell a journalist.

That's what he found in The Vosey Inheritance, a 1914 British play adapted by David Mamet that played off Broadway last year.

One answer emerges from the Voysey drama when Edward tells wealthy family friend George Booth and Vicar Colpus that he plans to admit the fraud and face justice (Mr. Voysey having conveniently died). They try to talk him out of it. They want Edward to continue the scheme. For them, at least, the scheme seems to work. They want to believe it can still work. Edward demurs, and they are outraged that he will not continue business as usual.

 Vosey Inheritance

From the New York Times review of The Vosey Inheritance

Edward Voysey ( Michael Stuhlbarg), who has just inherited the reins of the firm and breaks the bad news, is the only member of the family moved to shame at the discovery that the just-deceased paterfamilias had been bilking clients to support his brood in style. Edward is determined to call in the law, come clean, and face the consequences.
The wonderful Fritz Weaver plays Voysey père, whose casual admission, in the first scene, that he has been monkeying with the business sets Edward on his voyage of disillusionment. (The business is a firm of solicitors, which translates, practically speaking, to personal bankers or brokers.)

Coolly explaining to his perturbed son the practice of borrowing from one client’s account to pay dividends due to another, he sighs, “Oh, why is it so hard for a man to see clearly beyond the letter of the law!”

It is not so hard, if such double vision serves a man’s personal interest. After their father’s sudden death and the revelation of his free-form accounting, Edward’s brothers profess perfunctory shock and dismay. But they also begin bringing him around to the idea that little good will come from airing dirty laundry that had, after all, been kept from public view for 30 years with little injury to any of the parties involved.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:06 AM | Permalink

December 17, 2008

Global warming scaremongering

What I didn't know.  Scientists Opposing the UN/IPCC on Global Warming 12 times the Number of IPCC Scientists,

From the Senate Report The UN global warming conference currently underway in Poland is about to face a serious challenge from over 650 dissenting scientists from around the globe who are criticizing the climate claims made by the UN IPCC and former Vice President Al Gore.  Set for release this week, a newly updated U.S. Senate Minority Report features the dissenting voices of over 650 international scientists, many current and former UN IPCC scientists, who have now turned against the UN. The report has added about 250 scientists (and growing) in 2008 to the over 400 scientists who spoke out in 2007. The over 650 dissenting scientists are more than 12 times the number of UN scientists (52) who authored the media hyped IPCC 2007 Summary for Policymakers.The U.S. Senate report is the latest evidence of the growing groundswell of scientific opposition rising to challenge the UN and Gore. Scientific meetings are now being dominated by a growing number of skeptical scientists.

I always thought the so-called climate crisis was way, way overblown.

Warming fears are the “worst scientific scandal in the history…When people come to know what the truth is, they will feel deceived by science and scientists.” - UN IPCC Japanese Scientist Dr. Kiminori Itoh, an award-winning PhD environmental physical chemist.

“The IPCC has actually become a closed circuit; it doesn’t listen to others. It doesn’t have open minds… I am really amazed that the Nobel Peace Prize has been given on scientifically incorrect conclusions by people who are not geologists,” - Indian geologist Dr. Arun D. Ahluwalia at Punjab University and a board member of the UN-supported International Year of the Planet.

“The models and forecasts of the UN IPCC "are incorrect because they only are based on mathematical models and presented results at scenarios that do not include, for example, solar activity.
” - Victor Manuel Velasco Herrera, a researcher at the Institute of Geophysics of the National Autonomous University of Mexico

It is a blatant lie put forth in the media that makes it seem there is only a fringe of scientists who don’t buy into anthropogenic global warming.” - U.S Government Atmospheric Scientist Stanley B. Goldenberg of the Hurricane Research Division of NOAA.

“Even doubling or tripling the amount of carbon dioxide will virtually have little impact, as water vapour and water condensed on particles as clouds dominate the worldwide scene and always will.” – . Geoffrey G. Duffy, a professor in the Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering of the University of Auckland, NZ.

“Many [scientists] are now searching for a way to back out quietly (from promoting warming fears), without having their professional careers ruined.” - Atmospheric physicist James A. Peden, formerly of the Space Research and Coordination Center in Pittsburgh.

“Creating an ideology pegged to carbon dioxide is a dangerous nonsense…
The present alarm on climate change is an instrument of social control, a pretext for major businesses and political battle. It became an ideology, which is concerning.” - Environmental Scientist Professor Delgado Domingos of Portugal, the founder of the Numerical Weather Forecast group, has more than 150 published articles.

“The [global warming] scaremongering has its justification in the fact that it is something that generates funds.” - Award-winning Paleontologist Dr. Eduardo Tonni, of the Committee for Scientific Research in Buenos Aires and head of the Paleontology Department at the University of La Plata

The last rings truest to me. 

I'm all for frugality and for reducing pollution at the source.  But why,  when the greatest greenhouse gas, accounting for 95% of the greenhouse effect  is water vapor are we so worried about carbon dioxide?  After all,

Carbon dioxide comprises less than 4/10000ths of the earth atmosphere and of that amount, a mere 3% is generated by mankind.


Last week the AP science writer Seth Borenstein reported Obama Left with Little Time to Curb Global Warming.

Scientists called the report  "irrational hysteria," "horrifically bad" and "incredibly biased."

"If the issues weren't so serious and the ramifications so profound, I would have to laugh at it," said David Deming, a geology professor at the University of Oklahoma who has been critical of media reporting on the climate change issue.

"The mean global temperature, at least as measured by satellite, is now the same as it was in the year 1980. In the last couple of years sea level has stopped rising. Hurricane and cyclone activity in the northern hemisphere is at a 24-year low and sea ice globally is also the same as it was in 1980."

Deming said the article is further evidence of the media's decision to talk about global warming as fact, despite what he says is a lack of evidence.
James O'Brien, an emeritus professor at Florida State University who studies climate variability and the oceans, said that global climate change is very important for the country and that Americans need to make sure they have the right answers for policy decisions. But he said he worries that scientists and policymakers are rushing to make changes based on bad science.

"Global climate change is occurring in many places in the world," O'Brien said. "But everything that's attributed to global warming, almost none of it is global warming."

He took issue with the AP article's assertion that melting Arctic ice will cause global sea levels to rise.

"When the Arctic Ocean ice melts, it never raises sea level because floating ice is floating ice, because it's displacing water," O'Brien said. "When the ice melts, sea level actually goes down.

"I call it a fourth grade science experiment. Take a glass, put some ice in it. Put water in it. Mark level where water is. Let it melt. After the ice melts, the sea level didn't go up in your glass of water. It's called the Archimedes Principle."

He called sea level changes a "major scare tactic used by the global warming people."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:31 AM | Permalink

Top this

 Xmas Tree Through Roof

This Christmas tree can't be topped.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:26 AM | Permalink

"We all hoped, but we knew deep down it was too good to be true, right?"

Robert Chew on How I Got Screwed by Bernie Madoff

I think everyone knew the call would come one day. We all hoped, but we knew deep down it was too good to be true, right? I mean, why wasn't everyone in on this game if it was so strong and steady? We deluded ourselves into thinking we were all smarter than the others. When it came to the investment game, we had it figured. And what was the game anyway? The way it was vaguely described to us was that the "New York people" had a system whereby they placed a series of instant trades — at once with futures, currencies and stocks — and out of this magic recipe fell a tiny 1% guaranteed, no-risk profit for the group. You do that 20 times a year, take away management fees and, voilà, a steady 15% return. Man, these guys were good.

But of course the call did come, as it always does with such things. It was not an ordinary Ponzi scheme we were all part of; it was the biggest in the history of the world, valued at some $50 billion. Lucky us. Small investors, institutions, hedge funds, global banks, pension funds — all fell victim to usual suspects: a smooth huckster and greed.

You never want to hear the words that come with such a phone call. "We are all wiped out."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:48 AM | Permalink

The Sacred Images of Our Time

From Hubble's most amazing photographs from 2008, the sacred images of our time, revealing the wonders of creation.

 Hubble Cetus

Photographed on October 27-28, this image of two interacting galaxies in the constellation Cetus some 400 million light-years away is truly awesome.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:45 AM | Permalink

December 15, 2008

The Yawn Explained

I've wondered about this all my life.  Why do we yawn? 

Now, the Discovery channels claims to answer that question. It Cools Your Brain

If your head is overheated, there's a good chance you'll yawn soon, according to a new study that found the primary purpose of yawning is to control brain temperature.
The finding solves several mysteries about yawning, such as why it's most commonly done just before and after sleeping, why certain diseases lead to excessive yawning, and why breathing through the nose and cooling off the forehead often stop yawning.
The key yawn instigator appears to be brain temperature.

The new findings also explain why tired individuals often yawn, since both exhaustion and sleep deprivation have been shown to increase deep brain temperatures, again prompting a yawn-driven cool down. Yawning additionally appears to facilitate transitional states of the brain, such as going from sleep to waking periods.

"Bouts of excessive yawning often precede the onset of seizures in epileptic patients, and predict the onset of headaches in people who suffer from migraines," he added.

Now  I recall when I used to suffer from migraines, I yawned a lot.

But Discovery solved the puzzle of why yawning is so contagious

 Yawning, Contagious

photomontage by Zachary Scott

Some  contend it's the capacity for empathy, but why do we yawn just thinking about it?

Steve Platek, a cognitive neuroscientist at Drexel University is the go-to expert.

Platek says he thinks it has to do with empathy. The way he sees it, the more empathetic you are, the more likely it is that you'll identify with a yawner and experience a yawn yourself. In a recent study, Platek looked at contagious yawning in people with "high empathy," "low empathy" and everything in between. He found that higher empathy meant more yawn-susceptible and lower empathy meant more yawn-immune.

But that wasn't proof enough. So Platek put volunteers in M.R.I. machines and made them yawn again and again to pinpoint the areas of the brain involved. When their brains lighted up in the exact regions of the brain involved in empathy, Platek remembers thinking, "Wow, this is so cool!"

Some yawning researchers - of which there are few - have identified many types of yawns. There's the contagious yawn, the I'm-tired yawn and the I-just-woke-up yawn. There's the threat yawn, which is the my-teeth-are-bigger-than-yours yawn that's so popular with primates. ("People do it, too," says Platek, "but unfortunately, we don't have scary teeth anymore.") There's also the sexual yawn. (One scientist claims that yawns are used in seduction.)

At some point, you have to wonder: why study yawning? It's quirky, interesting, but not important, right? Wrong, says Platek. Nearly every species on the planet yawns: insects, fish, birds, reptiles, mammals. "Yawning is such a primitive neurological function," Platek says, "it's a window into what happened during the evolution of the brain."

The good thing about yawning is that it's not boring. "Scientists like me usually go to conferences and give talks about technical mumbo jumbo," Platek says. "The audience always yawns, and we're up there thinking, Oh, man, they're so bored! But when I give a talk about yawning and they yawn, I think: Sweet! They're paying attention!"

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:52 PM | Permalink


 Retina Nebula

If you're not following the daily new photo of Hubble Space Telescope Advent Calendar at The Big Picture, you are missing some extraordinary  beautiful images never before seen by humans.  Above is the Retina Nebula, a dying star.

From The Star by Gerard Vanderleun

The night sky, now so thin and distant, so seldom really seen, was to them as thick and close as a handful of coal studded with diamonds. They could turn it in their mind's eye even as it turned above them. They reclined on their hill sides, their roofs, or in rooms built for viewing and marking the moon and the stars. They watched it all revolve above them and sang the centuries down. They remembered. They kept records and told tales. They saw beings in the heavens -- gods and animals, giants and insects, all sparking the origins of myth -- and they knew that in some way all was connected to all; as above, so below, "on Earth as it is in Heaven". They studied the patterns of it all and from those repeating patterns fashioned our first science, astrology.

It is a central tenet of our faith in science that the new will encompass the old in one endless and eternal conservation of sense and sensibility. In this cathedral we worship a database. We can see outward to the edge of what is, and downward into time was to (almost) the moment of Creation. We can see inward into (almost) the mute heart of matter. We have the proven method. We have the hard evidence. We know that nothing is, in time, beyond our knowing. All doubt has been removed. We are the Alpha and Omega. Our science is now as eternal and as deeply grounded in truth as... well, as astrology was in 5 B.C.

Sages and mystics, Eliot and Clarke, and a host of others have all had their turns with the story of The Star. In the end it remains what it was when it began, a story. The story of a road trip by three astrologers, kings, wise men. A journey by men who saw something special in the heavens and determined to follow it wherever it led, no matter what the cost.

To see something special. To see something beyond yourself and your imaginings. To follow it wherever it leads. To always remain prepared for miracle. That is the inner music of the story of The Star. Like all stories that survive, it is the music of the heart and not of the head, and like the heart, it will endure.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:42 AM | Permalink

The patterns of travelers

Just watch the air traffic


Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:58 AM | Permalink

Carbs may turn out to be really good for you

Cutting out the carbs may help you lose weight  -  but it can also help you lose your memory.

A study has found that dieters who avoid starchy foods do worse in mental tests than those who are allowed some pasta, bread and potatoes.

Carbohydrates are such an important source of energy for the brain that mental performance drops after just a week on an Atkins-style diet, the scientists found.

Women who cut out carbohydrates 'could lose their memory.'

The new study, carried out by scientists at Tufts University in Boston, America, looked at the impact of low-carb diets on the brain power of 19 women aged 22 to 55. The volunteers were put on either a low-calorie balanced diet or a low-carb diet.

Within a week, the ten women taking the low-carbohydrate diet were far worse at mental tests than those on the conventional low-calorie diet.

The tests looked at attention, long-term and short-term memory, visual attention and spatial memory.

The low-carb dieters showed a gradual decline in memory tasks compared with the low-calorie dieters.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:30 AM | Permalink

December 14, 2008

"Poised for Perfection"

Her wedding day began and "everything was poised for perfection".

The £2,000 dress fitted Sophie Clarke just so, her father was sitting next to her in a beautiful horse-drawn carriage, and she was heading for the church to marry the man of her dreams.

Until her dream ends in terror as animal bolts and leaves her in the road.

'Instead the horse just slammed into the car, throwing me right over. I opened my eyes to see the wheel of the carriage just inches away from my face. I was hanging out of the carriage, but luckily Dad had his hand on me.

'Somehow Dad pulled me back in, but when he saw a bend coming up in the road he knew we wouldn't make it and decided to push me out. I hit the ground and it's a bit of a blur from then.'

 Bride Side Of Road

Sophie was rushed to hospital on a stretcher after being thrown from her bridal carriage when the horse bolted

She added: 'I had spent three years planning the ceremony and had even made handmade invitations. But none of that seems important any more. I am just so glad to be alive.'

 Groom Karl

  Groom Karl was in shock at the scene of the accident

And there should be a happy-ever-after for Miss Clarke too. The couple have rescheduled their wedding for January, and are planning a smaller, more intimate ceremony.

She explained: 'I had a life-changing experience. It put into perspective for me that all of the fancy things, the posh invites and parties are not important.

'The only important thing is becoming Karl's wife.'

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:20 PM | Permalink

In Holland, "people carry cards that read, "Please don't kill me."

Why the 'right to die" is  fashionable nonsense.

This is why in the Netherlands, the supposedly enlightened pioneer of euthanasia, more than a quarter of “physician-assisted” deaths occur without any request from the patient-victim and people carry cards that read: “Please don’t kill me.” Some persist in calling this “dignity in dying”, but the Dutch health ministry recently admitted that a third of “physician-assisted deaths” had “complications”, such as delays in the poison taking effect, vomiting and even patients waking up afterwards. Dignified, it is not.

Perhaps the most compelling evidence given to the House of Lords came from Dr Bert Keizer, who worked as a geriatrician in Amsterdam for a quarter of a century and carried out many “physician-assisted suicides”– the basis of his book Dancing with Mr D. Dr Keizer told our legislators: “It is useless to worry about the slippery slope.
Once a society has decided that euthanasia is allowed in certain cases, one is on it. Thus in Holland we have given up the condition that a patient must be in a terminal situation. Next, mental suffering was allowed [as a reason]. Then one’s future dementia was suggested as a reason for a request for death . . . I believe, on the grounds of the more than 1,000 deathbeds I attended, that euthanasia is a blessing in certain exceptional situations, yet I would rather die in a country where euthanasia is forbidden but where doctors do know how to look after patients in a humane manner.”

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:07 PM | Permalink

December 7, 2008

Pity the Poor Children

Another idiotic decision in England, this time by Oxford University Press.

Words associated with Christianity and British history taken out of children's dictionary.

Oxford University Press has removed words like "aisle", "bishop", "chapel", "empire" and "monarch" from its Junior Dictionary and replaced them with words like "blog", "broadband" and "celebrity". Dozens of words related to the countryside have also been culled.

The publisher claims the changes have been made to reflect the fact that Britain is a modern, multicultural, multifaith society.

But academics and head teachers said that the changes to the 10,000 word Junior Dictionary could mean that children lose touch with Britain's heritage.

"We have a certain Christian narrative which has given meaning to us over the last 2,000 years. To say it is all relative and replaceable is questionable," said Professor Alan Smithers, the director of the centre for education and employment at Buckingham University. "The word selections are a very interesting reflection of the way childhood is going, moving away from our spiritual background and the natural world and towards the world that information technology creates for us."

Among the words taken out:

Carol, cracker, holly, ivy, mistletoe

Dwarf, elf, goblin

Abbey, aisle, altar, bishop, chapel, christen, disciple, minister, monastery, monk, nun, nunnery, parish, pew, psalm, pulpit, saint, sin, devil, vicar
Coronation, duchess, duke, emperor, empire, monarch, decade

adder, ass, beaver, boar, budgerigar, bullock, cheetah, colt, corgi, cygnet, doe, drake, ferret, gerbil, goldfish, guinea pig, hamster, heron, herring, kingfisher, lark, leopard, lobster, magpie, minnow, mussel, newt, otter, ox, oyster, panther, pelican, piglet, plaice, poodle, porcupine, porpoise, raven, spaniel, starling, stoat, stork, terrapin, thrush, weasel, wren.

Acorn, allotment, almond, apricot, ash, bacon, beech, beetroot, blackberry, blacksmith, bloom, bluebell, bramble, bran, bray, bridle, brook, buttercup, canary, canter, carnation, catkin, cauliflower, chestnut, clover, conker, county, cowslip, crocus, dandelion, diesel, fern, fungus, gooseberry, gorse, hazel, hazelnut, heather, holly, horse chestnut, ivy, lavender, leek, liquorice, manger, marzipan, melon, minnow, mint, nectar, nectarine, oats, pansy, parsnip, pasture, poppy, porridge, poultry, primrose, prune, radish, rhubarb, sheaf, spinach, sycamore, tulip, turnip, vine, violet, walnut, willow.

Words put in: 

Blog, broadband, MP3 player, voicemail, attachment, database, export, chatroom, bullet point, cut and paste, analogue

Celebrity, tolerant, vandalism, negotiate, interdependent, creep, citizenship, childhood, conflict, common sense, debate, EU, drought, brainy, boisterous, cautionary tale, bilingual, bungee jumping, committee, compulsory, cope, democratic, allergic, biodegradable, emotion, dyslexic, donate, endangered, Euro

Apparatus, food chain, incisor, square number, trapezium, alliteration, colloquial, idiom, curriculum, classify, chronological, block graph.

Hat tip: Tom Gross who calls it '"cultural suicide".

Pity the poor children deprived, even if curious, of learning about the British heritage.  If they read any book written before 1950, they won't have a clue as to what the words mean and no way of finding out.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:00 PM | Permalink

"The Basic Male Tool Kit is Under Threat"

A whole host of common chemicals is feminizing the males of every class of vertebrate species writes Geoffrey Lean in The Independent.

It's official: Men really are the weaker sex

Evolution is being distorted by pollution, which damages genitals and the ability to father offspring, says new study.

The male gender is in danger, with incalculable consequences for both humans and wildlife, startling scientific research from around the world reveals.

The research – to be detailed tomorrow in the most comprehensive report yet published – shows that a host of common chemicals is feminising males of every class of vertebrate animals, from fish to mammals, including people.

It also follows hard on the heels of new American research which shows that baby boys born to women exposed to widespread chemicals in pregnancy are born with smaller penises and feminised genitals.

"This research shows that the basic male tool kit is under threat,"
Many have been identified as "endocrine disrupters" – or gender-benders – because they interfere with hormones. These include phthalates, used in food wrapping, cosmetics and baby powders among other applications; flame retardants in furniture and electrical goods; PCBs, a now banned group of substances still widespread in food and the environment; and many pesticides.

The report – published by the charity CHEMTrust and drawing on more than 250 scientific studies from around the world – concentrates mainly on wildlife, identifying effects in species ranging from the polar bears of the Arctic to the eland of the South African plains, and from whales in the depths of the oceans to high-flying falcons and eagles.

It concludes: "Males of species from each of the main classes of vertebrate animals (including bony fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals) have been affected by chemicals in the environment.  "Feminisation of the males of numerous vertebrate species is now a widespread occurrence.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:52 PM | Permalink

Cold sores and Alzheimer's

Well this surprised me.

Cold sore virus could be the clue to the cause of 60 per cent of Alzheimer's cases

The virus that causes cold sores may be one of the main causes of Alzheimer's disease, according to research that suggests that existing drugs could be used to treat the most common form of dementia.

Scientists at the University of Manchester have found new evidence that the herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV1) could be in up to 60 per cent of Alzheimer's cases.

The research, which was published in the Journal of Pathology, is in preliminary stages, but should the HSV1 role be confirmed, it could transform the way in which the debilitating disease is understood and treated.

The news is particularly exciting as products to treat the HSV1 virus are already widely available. Drugs including acyclovir and Zovirax have been on the market for many years, and are available over the counter.

'One thing that is exciting about our research is that we already have drugs that have been used for a relatively long time against HSV1, which are cheap and well tolerated. If we are right, there is a good chance we could make progress quite quickly,' said Professor Ruth Itzhaki, who led the research.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:21 PM | Permalink


Having grown up in a family of teasers, I'm glad some one has come out  In Defense of Teasing

In teasing, we learn to use our voices, bodies and faces, and to read those of others — the raw materials of emotional intelligence and the moral imagination. We learn the wisdom of laughing at ourselves, and not taking the self too seriously. We learn boundaries between danger and safety, right and wrong, friend and foe, male and female, what is serious and what is not. We transform the many conflicts of social living into entertaining dramas. No kidding.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:17 PM | Permalink

December 5, 2008

Learning to Speak Alzheimer's

Jane Gross of The New Old Age says the best self-help book for family members caring for one of their own with Alzheimer's is

"Learning to Speak Alzheimer's: A Groundbreaking Approach for Everyone Dealing with the Disease" (Joanne Koenig Coste)

The book preaches a counterintuitive approach she calls “habilitation,’’ which is a fancy word for entering the topsy-turvy reality of the cognitively impaired person rather than trying to force them into a world they no longer understand.

More such common-sense and compassionate tips can be found in Ms. Koenig-Costes’s book and also in a recent interview she did with In the interview, she says that of all the things she wishes she had known when her late husband was diagnosed, none would have been more useful than the value of lying.
“The secret is to focus on one thing at a time. That’s all an Alzheimer’s person can do

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:22 AM | Permalink

Looking for Tips?

Merle Mann on how Real Advice Hurts

At their best, “tips” are a fine way to incrementally improve a process that you’re already dedicated to practicing on a regular basis. And, in that context, tips work.

For example, a tip on your golf swing may be very useful if you’re already playing three times a week and hitting a bucket of balls after work every day. But a subscription to a magazine about taekwondo will only be as useful as your decision to drag your fat ass into a dojo and start actually kicking people. Over and over. Otherwise, you’re just buying shiny paper every month.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:15 AM | Permalink

Wakeboard in the Piazza

 Venice Flood Wakeboard

In Venice, the worst floods in decades brings out Duncan Zurr who says it was his life-long ambition to wake board across St. Mark's Square.  Lots more photos there,

I suppose it's the equivalent of skiing down the middle of the Charles River which I did in the blizzard of 1978.  Of course, it was frozen over.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:47 AM | Permalink

December 4, 2008

Happiness as a Contagion

Happiness Can Spread Among People Like a Contagion reports the Washington Post

Happiness is contagious, spreading among friends, neighbors, siblings and spouses like the flu, according to a large study that for the first time shows how emotion can ripple through clusters of people who may not even know each other.

"You would think that your emotional state would depend on your own choices and actions and experience," said Nicholas A. Christakis, a medical sociologist at Harvard University who helped conduct the study published online today by BMJ, a British medical journal. "But it also depends on the choices and actions and experiences of other people, including people to whom you are not directly connected. Happiness is contagious."

One person's happiness can affect another's for as much as a year, the researchers found, and while unhappiness can also spread from person to person, the "infectiousness" of that emotion appears to be far weaker.

Other experts praised the study as a landmark in the growing body of evidence documenting the influence of personal connections and the importance of positive emotions.

"It's a pathfinding article," said Martin E.P. Seligman, a University of Pennsylvania psychologist. "It's totally original, and the findings are striking."

Stanley Wasserman, who studies social networks at Indiana University, said: "We've known that one's network ties are important, but we've never looked at anything on this scale. The implications are you can't look at individuals as little entities devoid of their social context."

The New York Times adds the following quotation of Christakis

There’s kind of an emotional quiet riot that occurs and takes on a life of its own, that people themselves may be unaware of. Emotions have a collective existence — they are not just an individual phenomenon.”

The subtle transmission of emotion may explain other findings, too. In the obesity and smoking cessation studies, friends were influential even if they lived far away. But the effect on happiness was much greater from friends, siblings or neighbors who lived nearby.
Another surprising finding was that a joyful coworker did not lift the spirits of colleagues, unless they were friends. Professor Fowler believes inherent competition at work might cancel out a happy colleague’s positive vibes.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:29 PM | Permalink

December 3, 2008

"The surprise of my life, at my age, to find I have a brother, and he lives six blocks away"

Whatever the topic, it flew right out of Lew's head as soon as his lunch companion, in reference to a mutual acquaintance, dropped a bomb on Lew's assumptions about his own privileged life.

You know, Lew, so-and-so was adopted. "Like you."

The words sent a jolt through him.


"I tried to keep a poker face," he says. "But I was stunned."

Lew hires a professional genealogist who specializes in tracing the roots of Jewish families.
Applebaum says when he told Lew about Jack, Lew was "as giddy as a little boy on his birthday. The joy came right through the telephone line."

Lifetime, no see: They're brothers.  They live six blocks apart.  And for 80 years, neither knew the other existed.

This is the bittersweet story of Lew and Jack, two grandfathers in their early 80s who, after a lifetime as strangers, discovered they are brothers.

"The surprise of my life," Lew says, "at my age, to find I have a brother, and he lives six blocks away."

"I've always wanted a brother," adds Jack. "But I don't know what having a brother is."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:24 AM | Permalink

Tap Dancing

I tapdanced as a young girl and later took it up again as a lawyer, taking lessons from old black man Stanley White who learned from the legendary Bojangles Robinson

Here's Sammy Davis paying tribute

Now the London Times says A new generation is discovering the joys of tap dancing

There's Tap Jam, a bi-monthly tap improvisation night with dancers aged 18 to 80

Back at Tap Jam the temperature is rising. The 130 people crammed into the basement at Digress, a bar on Beak Street, Soho, are a disparate lot. Young black men, old white ladies, super-cool Japanese students, well groomed hipsters in their middle years and twentysomething barflies. It's rare to find an 80-year-old retired secretary and a 31-year-old fire-eating belly dancer in the same place, but it happens at Tap Jam.

“When people think of tap dancing they think of Singing in the Rain and Mary Poppins,” says Dan Sheridan, another organiser. “Tap Jam makes them see it in a whole new light; this is American-style tap or hoofing.” And people are coming back for more. “When we started it was just us and our friends; now we've got a much wider audience.” And it's taking off all round the country.

I'm  getting the urge to take tap up again.  It's far more fun than the health club which now that I think of it is getting pretty boring.  Besides I love tap shoes.

Cockburn started tap in her early twenties. “I had always wanted to do it but was ill during my teenage years. As soon as I was well again I took it up. I think it's a fantastic thing; you can't have a sad tap dance, you can only be happy.”

Looking at the smiling faces around me, every colour and every age, I have to agree.

Take a look at this Challenge between Gregory Hines and Sammy Davis Jr.  Wouldn't you like to be able to do that?

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:45 AM | Permalink

December 2, 2008

Distraction explains senior moments

Aging brings mental changes - including a slowdown of mere milliseconds - that drives us to distraction, Surveying the Brain for Origins of the Senior Moment in Science Journal by Robert Lee Holtz.

Ms. Puccinelli, 69 years old, said. "There is a lack of concentration. Because you're getting older, you get more concerned about it."

By recording the electrical activity of her mind at work, neurologist Adam Gazzaley at the University of California at San Francisco was using her healthy brain as a road map of mental changes that age brings to us all. In particular, Dr. Gazzaley and his colleagues were trying to understand why aging drives us all to distraction.
Among the brain circuits that focus attention and memory, his research suggests, aging is a matter of milliseconds. In experiments testing how well people of different ages could recall faces and landscapes, Dr. Gazzaley and scientists at UC Berkeley found that among older people, the brain was slightly slower -- 200 milliseconds or so -- to ignore irrelevant test information. That instant of interference was enough to disrupt a memory in the making, they found.

We don't ignore distractions as easily as we once did.  Of course, diet and exercise play a role, but so does education.
"With the right kind of training, we can take an older mind and make it younger," Dr. Gazzaley says. "The potential exists."

A good social life also helps.
An active social life also appears to slow the rate at which memory fails, researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health reported this past July in the American Journal of Public Health.

Despite its distractions, a healthy brain may also mellow with age. The roller-coaster rush of dopamine, a biochemical associated with heady feelings of reward, doesn't affect older people as strongly as it does the young, Dr. Berman reported this fall in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Is this evidence that, among older neurons and synapses, life can lose its savor? "I would suggest it shows that older people are appreciating life in a different way," says Dr. Berman.

In other words, the dopamine drop may be a biochemical marker of something else: t
he wisdom to accept with grace what we cannot change.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:43 PM | Permalink

The Dyspeptic, Skeptical Doctor

The Skeptical Doctor , an entire blog dedicated to the writings of Theodore Dalrymple, yields this gems from just the past month.

Dalrymple is the pen name for Dr. Anthony Daniels who was a prison doctor and psychiatrist for many years before retiring to France. 

On the meaning of his pen name, Daniels said he "chose a name hat sounded suitably dyspeptic, that of a gouty old man looking out of the window of his London club, port in hand, lamenting the degenerating state of the world."

 Theodore Dalrymple

When Good is Bad

Nowadays, when you ask people how they are, they are as likely to tell you that they are good as that they are well. It is as if you were inquiring after their moral rather than their bodily condition.

Of course, the two have seldom been more closely linked, health, diet and safety having replaced faith, hope and charity as the desiderata of the virtuous life.
There is an asymmetry in our moral assessment of ourselves: goodness comes from within, badness from without. People, as a general rule, don't ask for an explanation of their good behaviour: only their bad is mysterious to them. In many years of medical practice, no one has ever asked  me, "Do you think it could be my childhood that makes me so nice, doctor?"

Destructive Delusions

One of the most extraordinary outbreaks of popular delusion in recent years was that which attached to the possibility of "recovered memory" of sexual and satanic childhood abuse, and to an illness it supposedly caused, Multiple Personality Disorder. No medieval peasant praying to a household god for the recovery of his pig could have been more credulous than scores of psychiatrists, hosts of therapists and thousands of willing victims. The whole episode would have been funny had it not been so tragic.

And this dissection of the difference between conservatives and liberals, Pot, Meet Kettle.

Modern conservatives tend to see the locus of appropriate moral concern more in personal behavior than in social structure (I am not here concerned with whether they are right or wrong). They believe in personal responsibility rather than causation by abstract social forces. They do not believe in entitlement, their own or anyone else’s, or in an indefinite extension of rights. They do not believe in perfection, and they think that even improvement usually comes at a cost.

Modern liberals, by contrast, tend to focus their moral concern more distantly from themselves, on the more abstract political and economic sphere. For example, the personal sexual code does not concern or worry them much unless it is restrictive. They believe that bad behavior finds its origin in social forces rather than in man’s soul. They believe in everyone’s entitlements, which are never met quite sufficiently and need to be extended endlessly. For them, the perfect society will result in perfect people.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:27 PM | Permalink

December 1, 2008

What happened to the British character?

Polite, considerate, self-controlled, law-abiding, tolerant of all eccentricities, humble and modest  are adjectives once used to describe the British not that long ago.

Today, the British are often described as loutish, violent, drunken, sluttish, boastful and brutish.
the young British find themselves hated, feared, and despised throughout Europe, wherever they gather to have what they call “a good time.” They turn entire Greek, Spanish, and Turkish resorts into B-movie Sodoms and Gomorrahs. They cover sidewalks with vomit, rape one another, and indulge in casual drunken violence

Indictable crime has increased 900% since 1950

What happened to the British character?

Theodore Dalrymple explains from the inside what happened to The Quivering Upper Lip. 

When my mother arrived in England as a refugee from Nazi Germany, shortly before the outbreak of World War II, she found the people admirable, though not without the defects that corresponded to their virtues. By the time she died, two-thirds of a century later, she found them rude, dishonest, and charmless.
Lack of self-control is just as character-forming as self-control: but it forms a different, and much worse and shallower, character. Further, once self-control becomes neither second nature nor a desired goal, but rather a vice to avoid at all costs, there is no plumbing the depths to which people will sink.

Two things are worth noting about this shift in national character: it is not the first such shift in British history; and the change is not entirely spontaneous or the result of impersonal social forces.
The moralization of the British in the first third of the nineteenth century—their transformation from a people lacking self-control into exemplars of restraint—was the product of intellectual and legislative activity. So, too, was the reverse movement.

Habits become character. Perhaps they shouldn’t, but they do.

It's an essay with horrifying details and not to be missed.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:41 PM | Permalink