January 30, 2009

Life without Lawyers

One of the best essays so far this year.  Philip Howard in the Wall St. Journal on How Modern Law Makes Us Powerless
 
Calling for a "new era of responsibility" in his inaugural address, President Barack Obama reminded us that there are no limits to "what free men and women can achieve."
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But there's a threshold problem for our new president. Americans don't feel free to reach inside themselves and make a difference. The growth of litigation and regulation has injected a paralyzing uncertainty into everyday choices. All around us are warnings and legal risks. The modern credo is not "Yes We Can" but "No You Can't." Our sense of powerlessness is pervasive.

Those who deal with the public are the most discouraged. Most doctors say they wouldn't advise their children to go into medicine. Government service is seen as a bureaucratic morass, not a noble calling. Make a difference? You can't even show basic human kindness for fear of legal action. Teachers across America are instructed never to put an arm around a crying child.
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We have lost the idea, at every level of social life, that people can grab hold of a problem and fix it. Defensiveness has swept across the country like a cold wave. We have become a culture of rule followers, trained to frame every solution in terms of existing law or possible legal risk. The person of responsibility is replaced by the person of caution. When in doubt, don't.
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The flaw, and the cure, lie in our conception of freedom. We think of freedom as political freedom. We're certainly free to live and work where we want, and to pull the lever in the ballot box. But freedom should also include the power of personal conviction and the authority to use your common sense.
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The overlay of law on daily choices destroys the human instinct needed to get things done. Bureaucracy can't teach. Rules don't make things happen. Accomplishment is personal. Anyone who has felt the pride of a job well done knows this.
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Freedom has a formal structure. It has two components:

1) Law sets boundaries that proscribe what we must do or can't do -- you must not steal, you must pay taxes.

2) Those same legal boundaries protect an open field of free choice in all other matters.

The forgotten idea is the second component -- that law must affirmatively define an area free from legal interference. Law must provide "frontiers, not artificially drawn," as philosopher Isaiah Berlin put it, "within which men should be inviolable."

This idea has been lost to our age.

George Will says of Howard's new book  "2009’s most needed book on public affairs.”"

"Life Without Lawyers: Liberating Americans from Too Much Law" (Philip K. Howard)

Imagine the possibilities.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:25 PM | Permalink

PMS alerts

Hey guys,  never be blindsided again.  Sign up for PMSbuddy alerts for "those times when things can get intense for what may seem to be no reason at all.

It all started with a 28-year-old bloke in Australia. 

Soon to be an app for the iPhone.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:40 AM | Permalink

Redheads

Is prejudice against redheads, the last acceptable prejudice?

 Baby Redhead

Simply red

In 15th-century Germany, redheads were seen as witches - 45,000 were tortured and murdered. Meanwhile, Egyptians burned gingers alive, and the Greeks reckoned they turned into vampires when they died.
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t the same time there are fears that gingers may be extinct by 2060 because only 2% of the world's population are gingers, and that number is shrinking.

Maybe it was the first. 

Just little more than a year ago, ancient DNA retrieved from the bones of two Neanderthals revealed the gene for red hair and pale skin.

 Neanderthal Redhead

Now maybe, probably, there was as much variety in skin and hair color among Neanderthals as we find in humans, but no one knows why they all died out.  Did both humans and Neanderthals evolve the MC1R gene?  Or was it the result of intermarriage?

Did the famous redheads in history,  Napoleon, Lizzie Borden, Emily Dickinson, Thomas Jefferson, James Joyce, Vincent Van Gogh. Elizabeth I , Winston Churchill and Lucille Ball, carry with them genes from a non-human ancestor?

-Woman Redhead Natural Portrait

Mark Twain, another redhead, wondered about the same thing, only he concluded, "While the rest of the species is descended from apes, redheads are descended from cats."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:34 AM | Permalink

Adult stem cells reset immune systems in MS patients

This comes to late for my sister Debby who has had MS for more than 30 years but it offers great hope for early phase MS.

Stem cells 'reset' immune system in MS patients in study.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease that impairs movement and coordination, while causing muscle weakness, cognitive impairment, slurred speech and vision problems.
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But in the decade or more after onset, MS is characterised by gradual but irreversible neurological impairment. There is no known cure.

In clinical trials, a team of scientists led by Richard Burt of Northwestern University in Chicago essentially rebuilt the immune system of 21 adults -- 11 women and 10 men -- who had failed to respond to standard drug treatments.

First they removed defective white blood cells that, rather than protecting the body, attacks the fatty sheath, called myelin, that protects the nervous system.

The immune systems were then replenished with so-called haemopoeitic stem cells -- extracted from the patient's bone marrow -- capable of giving rise to any form of mature blood cell.
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The procedure "not only seems to prevent neurological progression, but also appears to reverse neurological disability," concluded the study, published in the British medical journal The Lancet.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:25 AM | Permalink

January 28, 2009

The Sacrosanct Pill

It's wise to be wary of the pill

According to the International Federation of Catholic Medical Associations, an alarming rise in male infertility in developed nations is possibly caused by the quantities of synthetic female hormones, particularly estrogen, in the food chain and water. These quantities are directly attributable to increased use of the contraceptive pill and hormone replacement therapy.
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Indeed, according to Canberra Hospital professor Peter Collignon, an opponent of recycling sewage water into the potable supply, estrogen can be more of a problem in recycled water than microbes because it cannot be filtered out and we simply do not know how well it breaks down. Just as the Romans drinking from lead cups unwittingly caused infertility in themselves, perhaps we are seeing after 30 years of contraceptive pill use the long-term effects of introducing artificial estrogen into our wider environment. So you see this is not just a preoccupation of the misogynistic old Vatican.

__
The evidence that synthetic hormones can have grotesque environmental effects has actually been around for a long time and it is mounting. As long ago as the 1980s, studies were done in the US which showed the effects of estrogen pollution on wildlife, famously alligators in Florida with deformed genitals.
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There are so many reasons for being wary of the contraceptive pill. Why are we not questioning its prevalence?

The reason is, of course, that it is the sacred cow of the sexual revolution. One imaginative letter writer claimed the Catholic view of the pill was that it was "the great Satan", and actually that is not a bad description. It was marketed as an instrument of sexual freedom, and it has provided that, particularly for men. But one might ask if for women it has been the means of sexual liberation or just a way of turning us into empty vessels for sex? Is it like the sexual revolution itself: a pretty and alluring package that turns out to be - for both sexes - like a series of empty boxes, one inside the other. At the end, there is nothing but an empty box.

It's astonishing when you think of it.  If there were any other cause for worldwide male infertility and environmental degradation, people would be up in arms.

Where is the EPA?  Where is the UN?  Where is the outrage?

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:58 PM | Permalink

Damage from Concussions

Maybe they don't pay professional athletes enough.  Take a look at the photo below to see the effect that repeated concussions have on a formerly healthy brain.

 Healthy + Damaged Brain

Until recently, the best medical definition for concussion was a jarring blow to the head that temporarily stunned the senses, occasionally leading to unconsciousness. It has been considered an invisible injury, impossible to test -- no MRI, no CT scan can detect it.

But today, using tissue from retired NFL athletes culled posthumously, the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy (CSTE), at the Boston University School of Medicine, is shedding light on what concussions look like in the brain. The findings are stunning. Far from innocuous, invisible injuries, concussions confer tremendous brain damage. That damage has a name: chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

Dead athlete's brains show damage from concussions.

CTE has thus far been found in the brains of six out of six former NFL players.

"What's been surprising is that it's so extensive," said McKee. "It's throughout the brain, not just on the superficial aspects of the brain, but it's deep inside."

CSTE studies reveal brown tangles flecked throughout the brain tissue of former NFL players who died young -- some as early as their 30s or 40s.

McKee, who also studies Alzheimer's disease, says the tangles closely resemble what might be found in the brain of an 80-year-old with dementia.

"I knew what traumatic brain disease looked like in the very end stages, in the most severe cases," said McKee. "To see the kind of changes we're seeing in 45-year-olds is basically unheard of."

The damage affects the parts of the brain that control emotion, rage, hypersexuality, even breathing, and recent studies find that CTE is a progressive disease that eventually kills brain cells.

One man Chris Nowinski, once a Harvard football star, is responsible for starting these studies in the first place.

"I realized when I was visiting a lot of doctors, they weren't giving me very good answers about what was wrong with my head," said Nowinski. "I read [every study I could find] and I realized there was a ton of evidence showing concussions lead to depression, and multiple concussion can lead to Alzheimer's."

Nowinski decided further study was needed, so he founded the Sports Legacy Institute along with Dr. Robert Cantu, a neurosurgeon and the co-director of the CSTE. The project solicits for study the brains of ex-athletes who suffered multiple concussions.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:04 PM | Permalink

Coffee Good

More evidence that coffee is good for you, in the short term and the long.

Coffee Linked to Lower Dementia Risk

Drinking coffee may do more than just keep you awake. A new study suggests an intriguing potential link to mental health later in life, as well.
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After controlling for numerous socioeconomic and health factors, including high cholesterol and high blood pressure, the scientists found that the subjects who had reported drinking three to five cups of coffee daily were 65 percent less likely to have developed dementia, compared with those who drank two cups or less.
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First, earlier studies have
linked coffee consumption with a decreased risk of type 2 diabetes, which in turn has been associated with a greater risk of dementia. In animal studies, caffeine has been shown to reduce the formation of amyloid plaques in the brain, one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease. Finally, coffee may have an antioxidant effect in the bloodstream, reducing vascular risk factors for dementia.

Dr. Kivipelto noted that previous studies have shown that coffee drinking may also be linked to a reduced risk of Parkinson’s disease.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:40 AM | Permalink

January 26, 2009

Long exposure

 Lightouse-Long-Exposure

Just an amazing photo of a lighthouse from Neatorama

that reminds me of the logo for Fidelity Investments which, despite its long exposure of years on millions of pieces of paper,  I'm sure most of you couldn't recall the logo I didn't remind you.

 Fidelity Logo

Another that I love is this long exposure of the Eiger peak in Switzerland. 

Eiger Peak Switzerland At Night

These are the mountains above Grindelwald, high in the Jungfrau, where I did the best and scariest skiing in my life.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:28 PM | Permalink

"'This was devastating news and would have an enormous impact on my life."

The headline says it all.

Mother's fury at dead daughter's fiance's plan to have baby with his sister using frozen IVF embryos.

I think this is grotesque.  No doubt the boyfriend is grieving, but this action is entirely misplaced, an example of personal selfishness trumping the well-being of a child.    Imagine the burden the child will have to carry: her biological mother dead, her surrogate mother, the sister of her father and no one on the scene to mother her.    Certainly not the grandmother.

Not only was her daughter buried against the mother's wishes, the former boyfriend will have no contact with her, so that even if the child is born, the grandmother who is also grieving the death of her daughter, will never see her.

'This was devastating news and would have an enormous impact on my life. It is also something I believe Kay would be against.'

Mrs Bates has stayed in Australia fighting to bring her daughter's body home after, she said, Miss Stanley was buried there against her wishes.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:59 PM | Permalink

More on Checklists

More on Checklists via the news junkie at  Maggie's Farm

The brain is a careless beast. Mostly, I blame my carelessness on the limited capacity of working memory - it can hold seven discrete items, plus or minus two - which means that we're constantly forcing ideas to exit the stage of awareness.
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To be honest, it's a little terrifying that a simple checklist could have such dramatic consequences. But the point is that surgeons are constantly shifting their attention from one task to the next, which means that the item that just occupied their mental scratchpad (like that sponge, or the administration of anesthesia) is now gone. That's why a checklist can be so helpful: it forces the doctors to think, if only for a moment, about what they've just forgotten.

One commenter said
When I was Navy nuke on a submarine, we had to do EVERYTHING by the book (aka checklist) no matter how mundane or routine the task. The reason surgeons may be chafing at using a "simple checklist" is simple: ego. Yes, turnaround in a hospital is important, but it pales in comparison to surgeon's "smarter than thou" culture which breeds doctors who know and do everything with their memory and memory alone. While US medicine has a not-too-stellar record for accidents and gaffes, the US Navy (surprisingly) has never had an accident worth noting (sometimes, with 18 year old recent high school grads!). These "checklists" should have been embraced DECADES ago.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:55 AM | Permalink

"American generosity under fire"

Given all the problems we have to face and solve, you would think some people wouldn't be trying to fix what's not broken and, in fact, works amazingly well.

But that is the case, as identity politics worms its way into the world of philanthropy.

Heather MacDonald on Never Enough Beauty, Never Enough Truth

American philanthropy is the envy of the world. ....Americans have evolved a unique civic culture of giving and entrepreneurial problem solving. From 1995 to 2002, charitable donations as a percentage of GDP were nearly six times higher in the United States than in France and 14 times higher than in Germany. In 2007, America’s charitable giving amounted to $306 billion.
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Yet American generosity is under fire. A growing number of activists and politicians argue that foundations should meet diversity targets in their giving and on their staffs. If foundations fail to diversify “voluntarily,” threaten the race, ethnicity, and gender enforcers, they risk legislation requiring them to do so. In other words, the diversity police, having helped bring on the subprime meltdown through mortgage-lending quotas, now want to fix philanthropy. And instead of rebuffing this power grab, the leaders in the field have rolled over and played dead.
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Its spokesmen have embraced the two false premises of the diversity movement: that the skin color and sexual profile of foundation and nonprofit personnel are meaningful performance indicators, and that philanthropic enterprises can be pigeonholed as benefiting this or that particular “diverse” group.
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She goes on to outline how saving the lives of 14,000 New Yorkers, mainly poor, black and Hispanic, is a direct result of the revolution in policing begun under Mayor Guiliani and Police Commissioner Bratton based on a think-tank idea, "Broken windows policing"

No one could have foreseen what the ultimate outcome of the ideas leading up to New York’s crime conquest would be, not even the philanthropists who supported them. Yet that intellectual labor has done more for minority uplift than New York’s multibillion-dollar social-services apparatus ever has—not just by saving lives but by creating the irreducible condition for economic development in the inner city: public safety.

The diversity campaign is oblivious to the complex power of ideas in the world. Those who would direct philanthropy into preconceived channels think that they already know the answers to the world’s problems and need only to appropriate the funding for those answers. But no one can predict how ideas will play out in practice or who will be their beneficiaries. The public good is best served by giving maximum freedom to the creative spirit.
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And in the meantime, don’t imply that the world has too much beauty and knowledge already. It doesn’t. It can always use more.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:54 AM | Permalink

January 24, 2009

'Because when you guys are my age, the whole thing is going to fall apart.'

I don't know about you, but I'm getting awfully nervous about all these bailouts and stimulus plans.

Cary Doctorow at Boing Boing says the Bailout costs more than the Marshall Plan, the Louisiana Purchase, the moonshot, S&L bailout, Korean War, New Deal, Vietnam war and NASA's lifetime budget COMBINED.

There seems to be no shame I just wonder how Merrill Lynch paid out $15 billion in bonuses after it took $10 billion from TARP.  John Carney calls it Wall Street's Sick Psychology of Entitlement

Even the sharpest critics of the bailout never imagined that it would be used to make wealthy idiots even wealthier.

It seems to have embarrassed Bank of America sufficiently that they have shown the door to former Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain.
Mr. Thain resigned from Bank of America on Thursday following news that Merrill Lynch had rushed out its year-end bonuses, paying them just before Bank of America completed its acquisition of Merrill Lynch and sought $20 billion in additional government bailout money.

Nick Gillespie says
taxpayers now guarantee some $8 trillion in inscrutable loans to a financial sector that collapsed from inscrutable loans.

Political interference seen in bank bailout decisions
"It's totally arbitrary," says South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford. "If you've got the right lobbyist and the right representative connected to Washington or the right ties to Washington, you get the golden tap on the shoulder," says Gov. Sanford, a Republican.

Instapundit hit a bullseye when he wrote
This is not so much a stimulus, as a massive transfer of wealth from the politically unconnected to the politically connected.

It's a good thing that the majority of boomers plan on working in retirement, because more and more will have no other choice,

I want some TARP, they're giving money away for free

Ann Rand Poster

After reading Atlas Shrugged: From Fiction to Fact in 52 years by the senior economics editor of the Wall St Journal, the book seems prescient.
For the uninitiated, the moral of the story is simply this: Politicians invariably respond to crises -- that in most cases they themselves created -- by spawning new government programs, laws and regulations. These, in turn, generate more havoc and poverty, which inspires the politicians to create more programs . . . and the downward spiral repeats itself until the productive sectors of the economy collapse under the collective weight of taxes and other burdens imposed in the name of fairness, equality and do-goodism.

A few weeks ago I started a post entitled "What are we afraid of".  I didn't publish it because it was all too depressing, so instead I just focused on just how big is a trillion.    But I want to include some quotes by the Anchoress
I wonder if we are finally moving past the adolescent angst, and the numbness, and ... simply waking up to the fact that a bunch of loud, exploitative so-called “friends” crashed the house, called it a party, drank all the liquor, cracked Mom’s prize crystal egg and then decided to have a tug-of-war donnybrook on the front lawn before toilet papering the trees, puking and passing out. The press? Some “friends.” Congress? Some “statesmen.”

Hungover, we’re stumbling around, and realizing that if we do not start demanding adult behavior, adult leadership, less spin and a little honesty, not only from our leadership and our “elites” but from each other, we’re not going to be around to demand much of anything, of anyone.

She in turn quotes Peggy Noonan
In terms of public support, Mr. Obama shouldn't get too abstract. He should be thinking hardhats. People want to make their country stronger—literally, concretely, because the things they fear (terrorism, global collapse) are so huge and amorphous. Lately I think the biggest thing Americans fear, deep down—the thing they'd say if you could put the whole nation on the couch and say, "Just free associate, tell me what you fear?"—is, "I am afraid we will run out of food. And none of us have gardens, and we haven't taught our children how to grow things. Everything is bought in a store. What if the store closes? What if the choke points through which the great trucks travel from farmland to city get cut off? I have two months of canned goods. I'm afraid."

But it was this anecdote that Peggy Noonan told in 2005 that really got me.
Do people fear the wheels are coming off the trolley? Is this fear widespread? A few weeks ago I was reading Christopher Lawford's lovely, candid and affectionate remembrance of growing up in a particular time and place with a particular family, the Kennedys, circa roughly 1950-2000. It's called "Symptoms of Withdrawal." At the end he quotes his Uncle Teddy. Christopher, Ted Kennedy and a few family members had gathered one night and were having a drink in Mr. Lawford's mother's apartment in Manhattan. Teddy was expansive. If he hadn't gone into politics he would have been an opera singer, he told them, and visited small Italian villages and had pasta every day for lunch. "Singing at la Scala in front of three thousand people throwing flowers at you. Then going out for dinner and having more pasta." Everyone was laughing. Then, writes Mr. Lawford, Teddy "took a long, slow gulp of his vodka and tonic, thought for a moment, and changed tack. 'I'm glad I'm not going to be around when you guys are my age.' I asked him why, and he said, 'Because when you guys are my age, the whole thing is going to fall apart.' "

Mr. Lawford continued, "The statement hung there, suspended in the realm of 'maybe we shouldn't go there.' Nobody wanted to touch it. After a few moments of heavy silence, my uncle moved on."

Lawford thought his uncle might be referring to their family--that it might "fall apart." But reading, one gets the strong impression Teddy Kennedy was not talking about his family but about . . . the whole ball of wax, the impossible nature of everything, the realities so daunting it seems the very system is off the tracks.

And--forgive me--I thought: If even Teddy knows . ..

Atlas shrugged.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:12 AM | Permalink

January 20, 2009

Surviving a Plane Crash with 'Deliberate Calm"

One in ninety million.  That's your odds of dying in a plane crash.  Even if you are in a plane crash, your chance of survival is 95.7%.

Yet many people believe "if this plane goes down, we're all dead and there's nothing we can do about it."

Why do people perceive the danger to be so great? Barnett studied the front page of The New York Times and found the answer. Page-one coverage of airplane accidents was sixty times greater than reporting on HIV/AIDs; fifteen hundred times greater than auto hazards; and six thousand times greater than cancer, the second leading killer in America after heart disease.

Ben Sherwood explains in The Great Plane Crash Myth.

One dangerous consequence of the Myth of Hopelessness is that when people believe there’s nothing they can do to save themselves, they put themselves in even greater peril.

The crew of the US Airways Flight 1549 behaved quite differently

'Deliberate calm' guided crew

In recent years, neuroscientists have been able to see what happens inside the brain when people, like Sullenberger, are forced to make decisions under pressure. Though the typical assumption is that some people don't feel fear -- that they are somehow less scared than the rest of us -- that assumption turns out to be false. The fear circuits in the brain, such as the amygdala, generate their response automatically; it's almost certain that everyone on board Flight 1549 was terrified.

What, then, allows people like Sullenberger to make effective decisions in harrowing circumstances? How do they keep their fear from turning into panic? Scientists have found that the crucial variable is the ability to balance visceral emotions against a more rational and deliberate thought process, which is centered in the prefrontal cortex. This balancing act is known as metacognition -- a sort of thinking about thinking.
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Pilots have a different name for this skill: They call it "deliberate calm," because staying calm under fraught circumstances requires both conscious effort and regular practice.
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The important lesson of US Airways Flight 1549, however, is that no matter how difficult or unprecedented the problem, we have the ability to look past our primal emotions and carefully think about how we need to think. Metacognition allows a person to remain calm when every bone in his body is telling him to panic. It

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:35 AM | Permalink

Driving while old

Despite growing numbers on the road, fewer older drivers died in crashes and fewer were involved in fatal collisions during 1997-2006 than in years past. ... Crash deaths among drivers 70 and older fell 21 percent during the period, reversing an upward trend, even as the population of people 70 and older rose 10 percent. Compared with drivers ages 35-54, older drivers experienced much bigger declines in fatal crash involvements.

This runs counter to what most of us think.  Turns out  people limit their own driving as they get older.  They know themselves and know their own limits.

The oldest drivers were more likely to say they restricted their own driving. Drivers 80 and older were more than twice as likely as 65-69 year-olds to self-limit driving by doing such things as avoiding night driving, making fewer trips, traveling shorter distances, and avoiding interstates and driving in ice or snow. The percentage of drivers who said they limit their driving increased with each added degree of impairment.

People under 25 are the most dangerous ones on the road, 188%  more likely to cause crashes than middle-aged adults.

Let's hear it for Age, Wisdom and Driving

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:19 AM | Permalink

January 18, 2009

Mathematicians on Dating

A new study shows that refusing to sleep with a partner on the first date could be one of the keys to making a successful match.

Researchers used a mathematical model to show that more reliable men were willing to wait longer before having sex for the first time.
By contrast, less suitable men were not as likely to continue dating.

Professor Robert Seymour, from University College London (UCL), who created the model, said: "Longer courtship is a way for the female to acquire information about the male. "By delaying mating, the female is able to reduce the chance that she will mate with a bad male.

"A male's willingness to court for a long time is a signal that he is likely to be a good male.

"Long courtship is a price paid for increasing the chance that mating, if it occurs, will be a harmonious match which benefits both sexes. This may help to explain the commonly held belief that a woman is best advised not to sleep with a man on a first date."

Refusing to have sex on the first date increases the chance of finding a good man.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:21 AM | Permalink

Big Bang

Dr. Robert Jastrow, an American astronomer, physicist and cosmologist, was the founding director of the NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Director Emeritus of Mount Wilson Observatory and Hale Solar Laboratory, a personal agnostic, authored a book called God and the Astronomers which concluded
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“For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.”

Big Bang Evidence for God by Frank Turek.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:18 AM | Permalink

January 16, 2009

Walk-Ins

The difference between men and women explained.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:35 AM | Permalink

Hero of the Miracle on the Hudson

 Plane-Hudson People On Wings

The 155 passengers and crew who were rescued safely after the crash landing of  the U.S. Airways plane on the Hudson River can thank God and their lucky stars that Chesley Sullenberger was their pilot.

Thank too the ad hoc flotilla of commuter ferries and water taxies that came within minutes to pluck them from the icy waters of the Hudson.  That Quick Rescue Kept Death Toll at Zero


For a moment after the water landing, it was a picture of eerie calm, the airplane floating on its belly in the center of the river near West 48th Street under a bright sky. A witness in a penthouse apartment called it a perfect landing, as if on cement.

But very soon the water was churned by an ad hoc flotilla of boats and ferries flying the flags of almost every city, state and federal agency that works the waters around New York City. They sped toward the slowly sinking jet, a rescue operation complicated by river currents that kept dragging the plane south, as its passengers climbed aboard the wings to await help
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The operation was not without improvisation: Four New York police officers commandeered a Circle Line boat picking up tourists and commuters at 42nd Street and hurried to the jet. Two officers stayed on the ferry and tied themselves to two detectives, John McKenna and James Coll, who stepped onto the wing and helped people onto rescue boats, the police said.

The big hero was Sully the pilot who showed he had more than enough of the right stuff.  He was trained, experienced, prepared and knew what to do.

 Chesleysullenberger

Airliners are not meant to glide, although occasionally they have to. The pilot of this one, Capt. Chesley B. Sullenberger III, is certified as a glider pilot, according to Federal Aviation Administration records.

Captain Sullenberger, known as Sully, flew the F-4 for the United States Air Force for seven years in the 1970s after graduating from the United States Air Force Academy. He joined USAir, as it was called at the time, in 1980 and became a “check airman,” training and evaluating new pilots or those changing to new aircraft or moving up to captain. He also was an accident investigator for the union, the Air Line Pilots Association.

When all were out,
the pilot walked up and down the aisle twice to make sure the plane was empty, officials said.

"It would appear that the pilot did a masterful job of landing the plane in the river and then making sure everybody got out," New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said of the veteran pilot and Air Force Academy graduate.

UPDATE: In the London Times, Giles Whittell writes Heroism: one great decision and no panic.

He made one blindingly good decision, and didn't panic. That was the heroism. All the rest was training, quick thinking by the people on the commuter ferries beneath him, and a wonderfully sturdy aircraft.
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Sully Sullenberger kept his nerve, and his eyes open. Such is heroism - fleeting and priceless.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:56 AM | Permalink

January 15, 2009

Re-valorization of the trades

I can't resist quoting Camille Paglia.  She says things no one else dares. 

 Camille Paglia

Last month she wrote this

Computers alone will never solve the educational crisis in this country: They are tools and facilitators, not primary conveyors of knowledge. Packing his team with shiny Harvard retreads, Obama missed a golden opportunity to link his public works project with a national revalorization of the trades. Practical training in hands-on vocational skills is desperately needed in this country, where liberal arts education has become a soggy boondoggle, obscenely expensive and diluted by propaganda and groupthink.

A reader wrote her back

"Revalorization of the trades": You've perfectly articulated what I've thought for years. Time to remove the stigma and recognize trades for the skilled and professional work they are (and to bring that level of professionalism to them).

As a college writing professor, I see many students who clearly don't want to be on the university path but are there because their parents want them to be and are willing to foot the bill. It's all so misdirected. Wouldn't our society and citizens be better served if we quit thinking of vo-tech types as "flunkies" and second-stringers?

Marna Krajeski

Paglia responds.


I agree with you completely!
The American system of higher education has become an insane assembly line -- bankrupting families to process hapless students through an incoherent, haphazard and mediocre liberal arts curriculum. In the '60s, there was a brief moment when middle-class young men were dropping out of college to become silversmiths or leather workers in San Francisco or Greenwich Village. As the product of an Italian-American immigrant family where the crafts were honored, I cheered that development and prayed that it would continue. But it sputtered out -- probably because the recession of the 1970s was a cold dose of reality.

Perhaps there's hope of change because of the
tens of thousands of liberal arts graduates with expensive degrees who are finding themselves out of work and depressingly marginalized in a society where the manual trades offer guaranteed employment at relatively high wages. A dose of Buddhism might do people good: Sweeping garden sand into oceanic designs around ornamental rocks is considered a spiritual exercise in Asia. I say that landscaping, construction, carpentry, metalworking and all the other trades should be promoted by primary education as worthy careers for both men and women. The pre-college rat race is a sadomasochistic imposition on the young that robs them of free will and saps their vital energies. When will they rebel?

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:20 AM | Permalink

Canine Freestyle

Pet dogs rival humans for emotional satisfaction

 Playing With Dog

After playing with their dogs, their owners experience a burst of oxytocin, the hormone linked to infant care and romantic love.

After watching this YouTube, the dog Rookie has burst after burst while dancing with his owner, Carolyn Scott.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:59 AM | Permalink

"By the time you need it, it's way too late"

What hedge fund managers do when they feel paranoid and start to hunker down.

During the final months of 2008, as the financial markets imploded, talk on trading desks turned to food and water stockpiles, generators, guns, and high-speed inflatable boats.
--
Preparations, in Lange’s case, include a storeroom in his basement in New Jersey stacked high with enough food, water, diapers, and other necessities to last his family six months; a biometric safe to hold his guns; and a 1985 ex-military Chevy K5 Blazer that runs on diesel and is currently being retrofitted for off-road travel. He has also entertained the idea of putting an inflatable speedboat in a storage unit on the West Side, so he could get off the island quickly, and is currently considering purchasing a remote farm where he could hunker down. “If there’s a financial-system breakdown, it could take a year to reset the system, and in that time, what’s going to happen?” asks Lange.
--
He’s not the only one. In his book Wealth, War, published last year, former Morgan Stanley chief global strategist Barton Biggs advised people to prepare for the possibility of a total breakdown of civil society. A senior analyst whose reports are read at hedge funds all over the city wrote just before Christmas that some of his clients are “so bearish they’ve purchased firearms and safes and are stocking their pantries with soups and canned foods.”
--
It’s like insurance,” says an investor who has stockpiled MREs and a hand-cranked radio. “And by the time you need it, it’s way too late.”

via Suicide of the West

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:45 AM | Permalink

Teaching Kids Manners

Doctor Perri Klass writes For kids' good health, teach them manners

My favorite child-rearing book is "Miss Manners' Guide to Rearing Perfect Children," by Judith Martin, who takes the view that manners are at the heart of the whole parental enterprise. I called her to ask why. "Every infant is born adorable but selfish and the center of the universe," she replied. It's a parent's job to teach that "there are other people, and other people have feelings."

The conversations that every pediatrician has, over and over, about "limit setting" and "consistently praising good behavior" are conversations about manners.
--

I like Miss Manners' approach because it lets a parent respect a child's intellectual and emotional privacy: I'm not telling you to like your teacher; I'm telling you to treat her with courtesy. I'm not telling you that you can't hate Tommy; I'm telling you that you can't hit Tommy. Your feelings are your own private business; your behavior is public.
--

But that first big counterintuitive lesson - that there are other people out there whose feelings must be considered - affects a child's most basic moral development. For a child, as for an adult, manners represent a strategy for getting along in life, but also a successful intellectual engagement with the business of being human.

I love the graphic by Jillian Tamaki that accompanies the piece in the International Herald Tribune.

 Naughty Child

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:38 AM | Permalink

Checklists cut surgery deaths by one third in Boston

Harvard researchers report in the Boston Globe

Deaths and complications dropped by an astounding one-third when operating room doctors and nurses completed a simple safety checklist before, during, and after surgery, according to a study led by Harvard researchers.

The eight hospitals that participated in the international study collectively reduced complications during hospital stays from 11 percent of patients before they began using the checklist to 7 percent of patients when using the checklist. Deaths dropped from 1.5 percent of patients to 0.8 percent.

"It was beyond anything we expected," said Dr. Atul Gawande, senior author of the Harvard School of Public Health paper and a surgeon at Brigham and Women's Hospital. The impact of all the items on the checklist "put together seems to have produced these really remarkable results," he said.
--
Completing the checklist out loud as a team is crucial to uncovering lapses that lead to problems, said Dr. Alex Haynes of the Harvard School of Public Health, the lead author and a surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital.

"Saying it verbally codifies things more than simply having one person check a box," Haynes said. It requires more attention, he said, and a greater sense of collective responsibility.

I posted The Art of Managing Extreme Complexity in the ICU over a year ago which excerpted chunks of Atul Gawande's article in the New Yorker.

One doctor looked at what happens when procedures are too complex to carry out reliably from memory alone by taking a page from pilot checklists.

Checklists help people with memory recall and make explicit the minimum, expected steps in complex processes.

What checklists do you use?

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:09 AM | Permalink

January 13, 2009

New and Improved and Free

Probably the best investment you can make in your own health and that of your family is to put together your family health history. 

The Surgeon General agrees.  He's upgraded and simplified the software and it's all free.  Better  yet,  when you share your family health tree with a relative, the software can "'reindex" so that relative becomes the center of his or her own tree and all that information you share takes its proper place.


Tracking red flags in family history

A good family health history is more important than a gene test in predicting your future medical needs, but it's hugely underused. Today, the government begins offering a free new service to try to change that - helping people compile a health history at home, e-mail it to relatives who can fill in the gaps, and even pop it into their doctors' computers.

"That is an amazingly positive investment," acting Surgeon General Steven Galson, whose office spearheaded the initiative, said. "You're going to help your doctor learn a lot more about you by spending those 20 minutes, and you can share that invested time around your family and with your physicians."


The goal: Just as people create ancestral family trees, create a family "health tree." It may sound old-fashioned in this era of gene discovery. But genetics specialists use these "pedigrees" to look for patterns of inherited illnesses that can provide a powerful window on someone's brewing health risks.

"Family health history is the first genetic test, but it encompasses much more than genes," says James O'Leary of the nonprofit Genetic Alliance.

A family's shared environmental or lifestyle factors are key, too. Add those together, and a family health tree "is the way you identify what is important to pay more attention to," he explains.
---
A survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found fewer than 30 percent of Americans have ever collected health information from relatives to compile such a history.


Today, the site reopens - at
https://familyhistory.hhs.gov - after a high-tech facelift.

It's private; users download the information to their own computers. Then they can e-mail a tree-in-progress to relatives to fill in missing information.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:38 AM | Permalink

January 12, 2009

Childhood spirituality boots well-being

Children happy with spirituality

The spiritual lives of children has come under close scrutiny by two different sets of researchers who reached the same conclusion. Spirituality is a good thing for youngsters, a positive influence.

It makes them happier - and healthier.

"Children who were more spiritual were happier," said a University of British Columbia study released Friday, which methodically quantified the typical ups and downs in a young life.

The study, which questioned 320 children from four public schools and two religious schools about their spiritual practices, revealed that happiness was boosted by 26 percent among those children in touch with an "inner belief system."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:13 AM | Permalink

The "Food Champions"

Richard Fernandez at The Belmont Club brings more news of the craziness that has infected the British government.

WRAP your head around this. The Telegraph reports that “food champions” will literally be coming to homes in Britain to make sure they don’t throw away leftovers, eat spoiled groceries and do not otherwise harm the planet.

Home cooks will also be told what size portions to prepare, taught to understand “best before” dates and urged to make more use of their freezers.

The door-to-door campaign, which starts tomorrow, will be funded by the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), a Government agency charged with reducing household waste.

The officials will be called “food champions”. However, they were dismissed last night as “food police” by critics who called the scheme an example of “excessive government nannying”.

But it's not just the government. 

some restaurants in Britain are using CCTV cameras to gather evidence against diners who complain about poor food and service in their establishments. One woman, sent a letter complaining of bad food, poor service and high prices said, “she was left astonished by the restaurant’s response. Simon Offen, the catering manager, emailed her to say he disputed her version of events after he had ‘watched and listened with interest to the video recording of her table’.” The British Hospitality Association believed the practice of recording the mastications of diners at their tables “odd”.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:10 AM | Permalink

'Cancer-free' comes at a cost

Now, that a 'Cancer-free' baby is born in London, what will she die of?

The first child in Britain known to have been screened as an embryo to ensure she did not carry a cancer gene was born Friday, a spokesman for University College London told CNN.

Genetic screening allows lab-fertilized embryos to be tested for genes likely to lead to later health problems.

Her embryo was screened in a lab days after conception to check for the BRCA-1 gene, linked to breast and ovarian cancer.

People with the gene are known to have a 50-80 percent chance of developing breast or ovarian cancer in their lifetime.

Not everyone is thrilled with this development.

"This is not a cure for breast cancer," said Josephine Quintavalle, co-founder of Comment on Reproductive Ethics, which describes itself as group that focuses on ethical dilemmas related to reproduction.

What do you think about testing embryos for gene defects?

"This is simply a mechanism for eliminating the birth of anybody (prone to) the disease," she said. "It is basically a search-and-kill mechanism."

She opposes the procedure because embryos found to carry disease-causing genes often are discarded. She says that is essentially murder.

"They will be destroyed," she said. "They will never be allowed to live."
--

Quintavalle opposes any form of in-vitro fertilization where embryos are "killed," she said. But she is particularly troubled by the idea of screening an embryo for the BRCA-1 gene because carriers of the gene do not always develop the disease, and the disease is not always fatal.

"The message we are sending is: 'Better off dead than carrying (a gene linked to) breast cancer,'" she said. "We have gone very much down the proverbial slippery slope."
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Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:00 AM | Permalink

Why Health Care Costs Will Continue to Rise

We All Want Longer, Healthier Lives.  But It's Going to Cost Us.

Arresting the growth of health care spending in the United States is impossible. The policies and programs we're suggesting will either accelerate the upward trend or slow it temporarily, but they won't stop it. Health care costs will go up year by year until you die, and probably until your children die, too.

This difficult truth, which has emerged over the past half-century, is leading the United States and the rest of the industrialized world into a new era of humankind.
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For most of recorded history, food production was the chief goal of human labor. In the United States, that time is long gone. We spend a little less than 10 percent of our income on food, down from 25 percent in 1930. We spend twice as much -- 21 percent -- on shelter. But health care -- that's where we really get our wallets out.

Last year, 16 percent of the nation's gross domestic product went for health care, about $7,600 per person. In terms of human effort, health care is the new food. By 2016, when it reaches 20 percent of GDP, it will be the new shelter. If it grows at its present rate through the first three-quarters of this century, it will consume 38 percent of GDP by 2075. It will then be the new food and shelter.

This isn't a mistake. If it were, we might have a chance of stopping it. It's success -- the way things are supposed to be, and the way we want them to be.

"At the end of the day, when it comes to controlling health care costs, the enemy is us," said Drew Altman, head of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. "Americans want the latest and best in health care technology, and we want it down the street, and we want it now."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:41 AM | Permalink

January 11, 2009

Religious Faith Cultivates a Sense of Gratitude

To regret religion is, in fact, to regret our civilization and its monuments, its achievements, and its legacy. And in my own view, the absence of religious faith, provided that such faith is not murderously intolerant, can have a deleterious effect upon human character and personality. If you empty the world of purpose, make it one of brute fact alone, you empty it (for many people, at any rate) of reasons for gratitude, and a sense of gratitude is necessary for both happiness and decency. For what can soon, and all too easily, replace gratitude is a sense of entitlement. Without gratitude, it is hard to appreciate, or be satisfied with, what you have: and life will become an existential shopping spree that no product satisfies.

Theodore Dalrymple in City Journal on What the New Atheists Don't See

A few years back, the National Gallery held an exhibition of Spanish still-life paintings. One of these paintings had a physical effect on the people who sauntered in, stopping them in their tracks; some even gasped. I have never seen an image have such an impact on people. The painting, by Juan Sánchez Cotán, now hangs in the San Diego Museum of Art. It showed four fruits and vegetables, two suspended by string, forming a parabola in a gray stone window.

Fra Juan Sánchez Cotán 001

Even if you did not know that Sánchez Cotán was a seventeenth-century Spanish priest, you could know that the painter was religious: for this picture is a visual testimony of gratitude for the beauty of those things that sustain us. Once you have seen it, and concentrated your attention on it, you will never take the existence of the humble cabbage—or of anything else—quite so much for granted, but will see its beauty and be thankful for it. The painting is a permanent call to contemplation of the meaning of human life, and as such it arrested people who ordinarily were not, I suspect, much given to quiet contemplation.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:45 PM | Permalink

January 10, 2009

The Welcome Return of an Old Virtue - Thrift

Ruth Graham on Pennies Earned

Like piety and self-denial, however, thrift now seems more quaint than urgent. We can blame formerly easy credit for that, perhaps, or a creeping conventional wisdom that says that shopping is the only response to national troubles. ....
--

But if there was a sliver of good news coming out of autumn’s Wall-Street-to-Main-Street bloodletting, it was that thrift, despite its unfashionable status, is poised for a comeback. In October, the John Templeton Foundation hosted a forum to discuss an important new report,
“For a New Thrift: Confronting the Debt Culture,” which begins with a call to give more Americans “opportunities to save and build wealth.” Sixty-two scholars signed on to the report, which was produced by the Institute for American Values and several other think tanks from across the ideological spectrum. Panelist David Blankenhorn, one of the report’s authors, organized thrift into three qualities: industry, or work ethic; frugality, or spending less than we earn; and trusteeship, or wisely giving back to worthy causes. Together, they make for a life not of grim tightfistedness, but of generosity, fulfillment, and eventual abundance.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:38 AM | Permalink

Unintended consequences of the Pill

Pill inventor slams---pill

 Djerassi, Austrian, Inventor Pill

Eighty five year old Carl Djerassi the Austrian chemist who helped invent the contraceptive pill now says that his co-creation has led to a "demographic catastrophe."
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The Austrian chemist was one of three whose formulation of the synthetic progestogen Norethisterone marked a key step toward the earliest oral contraceptive pill.

Djerassi outlined the "horror scenario" that occurred because of the population imbalance, for which his invention was partly to blame. He said that in most of Europe there was now "no connection at all between sexuality and reproduction." He said: "This divide in Catholic Austria, a country which has on average 1.4 children per family, is now complete."
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The head of Austria's Catholics, Cardinal Christoph Schonborn, told an interviewer that the Vatican had forecast 40 years ago that the pill would lead to a dramatic fall in the birth rate in the west. Schonborn told Austrian TV that when he first read Pope Paul VI's 1968 encyclical condemning artificial contraception he viewed it negatively as a "cold shower." But he said he had altered his views as, over time, it had proved "prophetic."
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He also pointed to the "devastating ecological effects of the tons of hormones discarded into the environment each year. We have sufficient data to state that one of the causes of masculine infertility in the West is the environmental contamination caused by the products of the 'pill'." Castellvi noted as well that the International Agency for Research on Cancer reported in 2005 that the pill has carcinogenic effects.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:30 AM | Permalink

Fueled by Bacon, Cheese and Butter

Is there nothing bacon can't do?

    -Bacon, Canadians Southpole

Three Canadian men have claimed a new record for the fastest trek across Antarctica to the South Pole.


Ray Zahab, Kevin Vallely and Richard Weber said they had completed the 1,130 km (700 miles) journey in 33 days, 23 hours and 30 minutes.

They hey suffered white-out but survived on a high-calorie diet of deep-fried bacon, cheese and butter. 

From MSNBC

Zahab and his teammates — Kevin Vallely of North Vancouver and Richard Weber of Alcove, Quebec — documented their journey on their Web site, using their satellite phone to post photos and podcasts along the way. They pulled 170-pound sleds of equipment, with Zahab traveling on foot and on snowshoes while the other two men skied. At night, they hunkered down in a tent to sleep.

The men suffered altitude sickness, vertigo and massive, painful blisters. They kept themselves fueled with a 7,000-calorie-a-day diet of deep-fried bacon, cheese and huge chunks of butter.

"I am dying for pizza," Zahab said with a sigh Friday. "All I've been thinking about is pizza."

He was longing, too, for his 6-month-old daughter, Mia Sahara, and wife of two years, Kathy.

"All I would do is think about them and think about how I would spend the day with them and how I would never complain about changing a diaper again," he said.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:27 AM | Permalink

January 9, 2009

Deadly Scrubs

Yeew.  Guess what happened when hospitals stopped providing freshly-laundered scrubs for their doctors and nurses.

Hospital Scrubs Are a Germy, Deadly Mess. Bacteria on doctor uniforms can kill you.

Dirty scrubs spread bacteria to patients in the hospital and allow hospital superbugs to escape into public places such as restaurants. Some hospitals now prohibit wearing scrubs outside the building, partly in response to the rapid increase in an infection called "C. diff." A national hospital survey released last November warns that Clostridium difficile (C. diff) infections are sickening nearly half a million people a year in the U.S., more than six times previous estimates.

The problem is that some medical personnel wear the same unlaundered uniforms to work day after day. They start their shift already carrying germs such as C.diff, drug-resistant enterococcus or staphylococcus. Doctors' lab coats are probably the dirtiest. At the University of Maryland, 65% of medical personnel confess they change their lab coat less than once a week, though they know it's contaminated. Fifteen percent admit they change it less than once a month. Superbugs such as staph can live on these polyester coats for up to 56 days.

Do unclean uniforms endanger patients? Absolutely

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:48 PM | Permalink

Just how big is a trillion?

Everett Dirksen, one time Minority Leader of the Senate from 1959 to 1969, may be most famous for the quote, "A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon, you're talking real money"

That's back when they were talking billions.  Now that President-elect Obama warned us that we may be looking at "trillion-dollar deficits for years to come,"  I wondered just how big is a trillion compared to a billion in a way that I could grasp the difference.

Just how big is one trillion  Thomas Sowell writes

One way to get some idea of the magnitude of a trillion is to ask: How long ago was a trillion seconds?

A trillion seconds ago, no one on this planet could read and write. Neither the Roman Empire nor the ancient Chinese dynasties had yet come into existence. None of the founders of the world's great religions today had yet been born.

That's what a trillion means. Put a dollar sign in front of it and that's what the current bailout may cost.

Let's look at that again  How Big is 1 Million, Billion, Trillion

A million seconds is 13 days.
A billion seconds is 31 years.
A trillion seconds is 31,688 years.

A million minutes ago was – 1 year, 329 days, 10 hours and 40 minutes ago.
A billion minutes ago was just after the time of Christ.

A million hours ago was in 1885.
A billion hours ago man had not yet walked on earth.

A million dollars ago was five (5) seconds ago at the U.S. Treasury.
A billion dollars ago was late yesterday afternoon at the U.S. Treasury.
--

The country has not existed for a trillion seconds.
Western civilization has not been around a trillion seconds.
One trillion seconds ago – 31,688 years – Neanderthals stalked the plains of Europe.

These trillions and trillions are  real money that will have to be paid back.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:44 PM | Permalink

January 8, 2009

'There's no one to bail out America'

I don't know whether it's not as bad as we think or even worse.

Some people see the Good News from a Bad Year

The last 12 months may prove not to be the most fondly recalled in recent American history, but things aren't all that bad. Most social indicators are still moving in the right direction. In general, our standard of living continues to improve. Advances in technology are helping us beat the diseases most likely to kill us; giving us more leisure time; making us more comfortable; giving us more convenience; and with the Internet, putting much of the world—quite literally—at our fingertips.

It unnerves me that no one really knows what to do about the financial mess we're in. 

Michael Lewis sees The End of the Financial World as We Know It

AMERICANS enter the New Year in a strange new role: financial lunatics. We’ve been viewed by the wider world with mistrust and suspicion on other matters, but on the subject of money even our harshest critics have been inclined to believe that we knew what we were doing. They watched our investment bankers and emulated them: for a long time now half the planet’s college graduates seemed to want nothing more out of life than a job on Wall Street. 

This is one reason the collapse of our financial system has inspired not merely a national but a global crisis of confidence. Good God, the world seems to be saying, if they don’t know what they are doing with money, who does?
--
What’s interesting about the Madoff scandal, in retrospect, is how little interest anyone inside the financial system had in exposing it. It wasn’t just Harry Markopolos who smelled a rat. As Mr. Markopolos explained in his letter, Goldman Sachs was refusing to do business with Mr. Madoff; many others doubted Mr. Madoff’s profits or assumed he was front-running his customers and steered clear of him. Between the lines, Mr. Markopolos hinted that even some of Mr. Madoff’s investors may have suspected that they were the beneficiaries of a scam. After all, it wasn’t all that hard to see that the profits were too good to be true. Some of Mr. Madoff’s investors may have reasoned that the worst that could happen to them, if the authorities put a stop to the front-running, was that a good thing would come to an end.

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Rather than tackle the source of the problem, the people running the bailout desperately want to reinflate the credit bubble, prop up the stock market and head off a recession. Their efforts are clearly failing: 2008 was a historically bad year for the stock market, and we’ll be in recession for some time to come. Our leaders have framed the problem as a “crisis of confidence” but what they actually seem to mean is “please pay no attention to the problems we are failing to address.”

Could it be that our elites have become more impressionable and so too easily snookered?

more removed from everyday problems, more trusting of what they hear, and more likely to adopt unthinking viewpoints based on brand or emotion.

Bernard Madoff proves the point. Here he is, in the most numbers-dominated part of our economy, and no one questioned his numbers. He sold himself to people on the basis of brand, and he got access to more marks by using the smart, rich and famous to introduce him to more of the smart, rich and famous.
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Elites are on information- and time-management overload, and the result is that they have been making big decisions with less information, not more. They throw their hands up in the face of adversity and complexity, relying upon the judgment of others instead of forming their own.

The entire financial crisis was started by small microtrends overlooked by some of the best and brightest minds at institution after institution.

Maybe we're all easily snookered.  After all, isn't social security the largest Ponzi scheme of all?

The problem is that generations of U.S. workers have been misled to believe that Social Security's annual surpluses accumulate in a trust fund that will be used to meet future costs. But like Madoff's investment fund, these assets are largely smoke and mirrors.

All surplus Social Security taxes that the Treasury collects are spent immediately, used to pay for government programs or interest on the national debt. In exchange, the Treasury gives Social Security nonmarketable special-issue government securities: IOUs. That's what accumulates in the trust fund.

These promissory notes are backed by nothing of tangible value, other than the political promise that Washington will come up with a way to redeem them when they're needed.

That day of reckoning is coming soon. Social Security actuaries have estimated that benefit payments will exceed revenues starting in 2016, less than a decade from now.

--
Just as the schemes of Charles Ponzi and Bernard Madoff collapsed, Social Security will become unsustainable when payroll taxes no longer cover program benefits. Then, benefits will have to be cut or more money will have to be pumped into the system through increased payroll taxes, higher income taxes or increased borrowing.

I just want to know when our elected officials will begin to deal with the serious entitlement crisis that can no longer be put off.  After all, there's no one to bail out America.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:45 AM | Permalink

The Caring Collaborative

From the New Old Age blog, comes news of how aging boomers can care for each other when childless and without family

I learned I wasn’t alone in my fear when a New Old Age post last July, “Single, Childless and ‘Downright Terrified,’” drew more than 400 comments. Leaving aside an unpleasant back and forth among readers about whether those of us without families have chosen (and thus deserve) our solitary lives, it was a mournful chorus of women, and some men, with no special someone to sit by their hospital bed or bring them chicken soup in the event of illness.

Well, while some of us have been worrying, others are working to create a community-based model for people, particularly those who live alone, to band together and take care of each other. It’s called the Caring Collaborative, piloted in New York City last fall with plans for replication, and it’s the latest innovative project of The Transition Network, a membership organization of 5,000 women crossing the Rubicon from careers to retirement and from youth to old age.
--

This is no amateurish kitchen-table project. Rather the Caring Collaborative is a foundation-funded, computerized operation that includes a service corps — members enrolled in the time bank — and an information exchange for sharing health-related expertise, connecting people newly-diagnosed with a disease to those who know the ropes and compiling lists of member-recommended doctors, products and services.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:22 AM | Permalink

Only 9% of Americans believe that abortion should be legal for any reason at any time

An astonishing survey on how Americans feel about abortion.

The survey of 2,341 adults, conducted online December 10-12, also found that laws limiting or regulating abortion enjoyed support as high as 95 percent among those expressing support or opposition to the six kinds of laws examined in the survey:

95 percent favor laws ensuring that abortions be performed only by licensed physicians
88 percent favor informed consent laws (i.e., that require abortion providers to inform women of potential risks to their physical and psychological health and about alternatives to abortion)
76 percent favor laws that protect doctors and nurses from being forced to perform or refer for abortions against their will
73 percent favor laws that require giving parents the chance to be involved in their minor daughter's abortion decision
68 percent favor laws against partial-birth abortion (i.e., aborting a child already partially delivered from the mother), and
63 percent favor laws preventing the use of taxpayer funds for abortions.
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Only 9 percent said abortion should be legal for any reason at any time during pregnancy.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:19 AM | Permalink

Smart Cookies

The Smart Cookies on How to Make More Dough in 2009

A bit of background: The Smart Cookies were born in 2006, when, instead of starting a book club, five thirty-somethings from Vancouver, British Columbia formed a finance group. In order to participate, each member had to take a hard, honest look at her finances, spending habits and money goals. They vowed to be frank with one another about their finances and areas of improvement. So far, the Smart Cookies have paid down debt, switched careers and saved money in creative ways. They recently brought their message to the masses with a book, “The Smart Cookies’ Guide to Making More Dough” (Random House).
--

Sandra: New Year’s resolutions are tough to keep because we generally make promises to ourselves that are too hard to keep. This year don’t resolve to cut back but instead find yourself $100 dollars worth of hidden money each month. Scan through your cell phone bill and your credit card bill. I bet you’ll find almost $100 in charges you can negotiate on. Finding money you already have - now that is something easy to stick to.

Sound like the book will be worthwhile reading.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:16 AM | Permalink

January 6, 2009

With a Revolver Under the Sofa Cushion

I think the best argument for our Second Amendment's right to bear arms is that the elderly, the disabled and those otherwise vulnerable do not have to live in fear but can protect themselves with a licensed gun. 

That's just what a 91-year-old man in Florida did when he repelled two home invaders with his 38 caliber revolver to protect his wife of 72 years.

Terror erupted in the Johnsons' heavily barred house on Lake Stanley Road shortly after 4 p.m. Tuesday as the couple watched TV news. She was sitting in her wheelchair. He was sitting nearby on the sofa.

That's when a stranger stepped through the back door.

"What are you doing? What are you doing?" Berlie Mae Johnson, 90, remembered asking as the man stepped on her shiny-clean tile floor. "By then, he had the gun to my head. I don't know what all I said."

The man ordered the couple: "Be quiet. Don't say a word. Don't move."

Overcome by shock and fear, Berlie Mae Johnson said she couldn't move as a second man wearing a stocking over his face started to come through a sliding-glass door from the backyard.

"It's terrible. You don't know what [they're] going to do. You expect at any moment . . ." she said, her voice breaking. "I can't hold up. My nerves are shot. He'd probably have killed me."

But the love of her life was ready.

Her husband, who goes by Johnny, had his stainless-steel Police Special revolver tucked under a cushion on the sofa. He has been protective, she said, ever since they met at a Church of God service in Cocoa during the Great Depression.

"You don't think, man. You do what you have to do," Johnson said of how he grabbed his revolver as the second intruder entered. "He saw the gun and, boy, he was gone."

Shifting his aim, Johnson fired at the man still holding a gun to his wife's head.

"I shot as plain in his middle as I could have," said Johnson, describing how the man jumped and ran out the door. "I think I missed."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:15 AM | Permalink

The New Elizabethans

And now – metaphorically and literally – we may be losing it. Seen from the perspective of the non-westerner, this may be a good thing (though I doubt we are moving into a new era of opportunity for the wretched of the earth), but most of us will not like it. "Oh, lucky Granny and Grandpa!" our future grandchildren may say: "They were Elizabethans."

It was a golden Elizabethan Age - we won't see its like again

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:07 AM | Permalink

Beer, blood sugar and big bottoms

A quick round-up of health stories you may have missed.

Beer marinade cuts steak cancer risk, The New Scientist

If you are frying a steak and mindful of your health, then marinate it in either beer or red wine. So say food scientists who measured amounts of a family of carcinogens found in fried steaks after steeping them in booze.

Blood Sugar Control Linked to Memory Decline

Spikes in blood sugar can take a toll on memory by affecting the dentate gyrus, an area of the brain within the hippocampus that helps form memories, a new study reports.
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“When we think about diabetes, we think about heart disease and all the consequences for the rest of the body, but we usually don’t think about the brain,” he said. “This is something we’ve got to be really worried about. We need to think about their ultimate risks not only for cardiovascular disease and metabolic disorders, but also about their cognitive skills, and whether they will be able to keep up with the demands of education and a fast-paced complex society. That’s the part that scares the heck out of me.”

Too much thinking 'can make you fat'

Researchers found the stress of thinking caused overeating with heavy thinkers seeking out more calories.
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Mr Chaput added: "Caloric overcompensation following intellectual work, combined with the fact we are less physically active when doing intellectual tasks, could contribute to the obesity epidemic currently observed in industrialised countries.
"This is a factor that should not be ignored, considering that more and more people hold jobs of an intellectual nature."

Sarcasm used to diagnose dementia

Researchers at the University of New South Wales found that patients under the age of 65 suffering from frontotemporal dementia (FTD), the second most common form of dementia, cannot detect when someone is being sarcastic.

The health benefits of a well-developed derriere may be good news to ears of many women

Big bottoms could be good for your health as the fat may protect against type 2 diabetes.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:05 AM | Permalink

Mom, Dad and God, the City and the Wilderness

After catching up on the Internet, here are some articles that caught my eye.

Girls Need a Dad and Boys Need a Mom  by Janice Shaw Crouse. 

The latest issue of The Journal of Communication and Religion (November 2008, Volume 31, Number 2) contains an excellent analysis of the importance of opposite-sex parent relationships.  The common sense conclusion is backed up with social science data and affirmed by a peer-reviewed scholarly article: girls need a dad, and boys need a mom. 
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The authors cited numerous studies that link religious beliefs and practices to a strong family unit and noted the fact that the most noticeable impact of religiosity is during adolescence.  The majority of studies found an inverse relationship between religiosity and high-risk adolescent behaviors (drinking, drug use, sexual activity, depression, etc.).  Other studies indicate a strong relationship between the family's religious belief and practice and a teen's emotional health and family well-being.  This is especially true of teenage boys.

While family communication and interaction is critical to high-quality relationships for children and adolescents, this study suggests that the opposite-sex parent is especially important in making children feel validated and encouraged.  This is true of boys as well as girls, but it is especially true of daughters.  Fathers have the greatest impact on their daughters' vitality as an adolescent college student.  Daughters with a strong relationship with their father are more self-confident, self-reliant, and are more successful in school and career than those who have distant or absent father

The nondenominational evangelist group known as the Gideons have given out 76.9 million free Bibles in 85 languages in 187 countries to hotels, hospitals, schools, prisons, and the military.  This year the Gideons celebrate 100 years of Bible distribution.

"This is not a church-sponsored, clergy-led effort," said Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, an umbrella group for evangelical churches and organizations. "It's individuals that go around and distribute Bibles. It's an astonishing accomplishment."  "What it's done is actually changed our culture. People expect there to be a Bible in a hotel room. There's hardly anything that's parallel to it."

Power of Wilderness Experiences As a Catalyst for Change in Young Offenders.

The researchers monitored the young people’s psychological health before and after the two wilderness trips, as well as during the months in between. At the outset behaviour was described as disruptive, disrespectful and undisciplined. However, as the programme progressed, the frequency of negative events reduced, criminal activity and substance abuse declined and the young people displayed less anti-social behaviour.

Findings of the self-reported measures of self-confidence, trust, belonging and connectedness to nature showed that after each wilderness experience, feelings increased and during the months in between levels fell, as participants had less contact with nature.

No wonder if the City hurts your brain.

Now scientists have begun to examine how the city affects the brain, and the results are chastening. Just being in an urban environment, they have found, impairs our basic mental processes. After spending a few minutes on a crowded city street, the brain is less able to hold things in memory, and suffers from reduced self-control.
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One of the main forces at work is a stark lack of nature, which is surprisingly beneficial for the brain. Studies have demonstrated, for instance, that hospital patients recover more quickly when they can see trees from their windows, and that women living in public housing are better able to focus when their apartment overlooks a grassy courtyard. Even these fleeting glimpses of nature improve brain performance, it seems, because they provide a mental break from the urban roil.

An atheist,  Matthew Parris writes I truly believe Africa needs God.

Now a confirmed atheist, I've become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people's hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.
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Faith does more than support the missionary; it is also transferred to his flock. This is the effect that matters so immensely, and which I cannot help observing.

First, then, the observation. We had friends who were missionaries, and as a child I stayed often with them; I also stayed, alone with my little brother, in a traditional rural African village. In the city we had working for us Africans who had converted and were strong believers. The Christians were always different. Far from having cowed or confined its converts, their faith appeared to have liberated and relaxed them. There was a liveliness, a curiosity, an engagement with the world - a directness in their dealings with others - that seemed to be missing in traditional African life. They stood tall.
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Removing Christian evangelism from the African equation may leave the continent at the mercy of a malign fusion of Nike, the witch doctor, the mobile phone and the machete.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:48 AM | Permalink

January 5, 2009

Thankful for everything

My apologies for not posting.  I came down with a mild case of the flu that laid me low following my Christmas Eve dinner for one brother and family, then evening Mass.  I collapsed into bed so I could get up early to clean up a huge mess of leftovers and dishes and finish packing before heading out for a noon dinner with my sister at her nursing home, and then on to Logan airport to fly cross-country to visit other two other sisters and two other brothers with their respective spouses and children in Tacoma. 

-Aurora-Borealis-Alaska-1

I took perhaps I took undue pride in having accomplished what can only be described as a Christmas family hat trick, in any event, I came down with the worse cold I've had in years.  I tried everything - garlic, decongestants, cough drops, Chinese herbs, vitamin C infusions, and honey but the cold still got worse.    It's a funny sensation to be feeling so miserable and yet so happy to be with my family and play with little ones.  In the end there was not a better place to be sick; I didn't have to do anything or be anywhere but in the  snowbound house on an island off Gig Harbor where wonderful meals appeared every night and everyone was happy.  There were dogs to walk, a snowy orchard, a steaming hot tub, plenty of books, games to play and my own room to collapse in.  While I had brought my laptop,  I had no energy for blogging.  I did manage to google for cold cures and came the Webutante and A Word or Two About Curing Colds.   I took her advice, bought Simply Saline in blue bottle and Zicam gel in a pump container and wouldn't you know, it worked.  I started feeling better immediately.      Just in time for a New Year's Eve dinner in Tacoma, hugs goodbye and the redeye flight back home.

My flight took literally two years and I arrived in Boston in the bright early morning on New Year's Day, clean and white with newly fallen snow.  So I had to dig my car out from snowdrifts at the economy lot and found my windshield cracked straight across from cold and ice to drive home, turn up the heat, make coffee, unpack, do laundry and catch up on emails before I could fall asleep with a heating pad and hot water bottle, thankful for everything.

Happy New Year everyone.

Home is where one starts from. As we grow older
The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated
Of dead and living. Not the intense moment
Isolated, with no before and after,
But a lifetime burning in every moment
And not the lifetime of one man only
But of old stones that cannot be deciphered.
There is a time for the evening under starlight,
A time for the evening under lamplight
(The evening with the photograph album).
Love is most nearly itself
When here and now cease to matter.
Old men ought to be explorers
Here or there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and the empty desolation,
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters
Of the petrel and the porpoise.
In my end is my beginning.

T.S. Eliot East Coker

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:21 PM | Permalink