April 30, 2010

Bankrupting America

Take 2 minutes to watch the video below, Is Washington Bankrupting America?

From a new site that promises to keep an eye on who is BankruptingAmerica.org

According to a recent GWU Battleground poll, 74 percent of likely voters are “extremely” or “very” concerned about the current level of government spending.  And 58 percent think the level of spending is unsustainable.

Is the public right? Is Washington bankrupting America? Some facts from the video:

Spending per household has risen over 40 percent in the last 10 years – and is set to do so again in the next 10 – pushing debt (and interest on the debt) to unprecedented levels.  But that’s just a result of past spending.

Add in our government’s $106 trillion in future spending commitments – that cannot be paid for – and it becomes clear that our government’s spending is setting the country down a path toward bankruptcy.

We can solve it, but politicians will have to make tough choices.

Increasing taxes can’t do the trick ($106 trillion is equivalent to taking all of the taxable income from every American nine times over), nor is it fair to saddle taxpayers with a problem created by government irresponsibility.

We need real spending reform.
Merely returning to the spending per household levels of the 1990s would balance the budget in three years.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:09 PM | Permalink

What the loss of papyrus meant to the West

Things I never knew before.

How Islam Destroyed The Literary Inheritance Of The Classical World  by John O’Neill

The real end of the Classical Age, as increasing numbers of historians are beginning to understand, occurred not in the fifth century, but during the seventh — immediately after the arrival of Islam on the world stage. And it was in the seventh century that Classical Civilization disappeared both from Western Europe and from the Middle East and North Africa.
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The first author, as far as I am aware, to identify the true cause of Classical civilizations’s disappearance was Belgian medievalist Henri Pirenne, whose posthumously published Mohammed et Charlemagne (1938), ignited a debate that has not yet come to an end.Pirenne showed that it was the Arab conquest of the Middle East and North Africa, in the seventh century, that marked the real boundary between the world of Classical antiquity and that of the Middle Ages.
The Mediterranean, he showed, previously the world’s main artery of trade, now became a hunting-ground of pirates and slave-traders; and the great cities of the West, of Gaul, Spain, and Italy, whose prosperity was dependent upon the Mediterranean trade, began to die. (It should be noted that the closing of the Mediterranean had little to do with regular warfare, and was rather the result of the Islamic teaching of perpetual war against unbelievers — a teaching which encouraged small-scale actions carried out by individuals and led to a virtual tidal wave of piracy). In Mohammed et Charlemagne, Pirenne documented the sudden disappearance of luxury products of the East which had, until the start of the seventh century, been commonplace in Gaul, Spain and Italy.
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Pirenne found that,
from the latter half of the seventh century, Europe became impoverished both culturally and economically with a speed that could only be described as astonishing.
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Henri Pirenne noted that one of the products of the East which disappears in the seventh century is papyrus. Until the first quarter of the seventh century, Egyptian papyrus is ubiquitious in the records and documents of western Europe. By the second half of the seventh century it disappears completely, to be replaced by parchment. Now parchment, of course, was immensely expensive in comparison with papyrus, and there can be no doubt that the loss of the papyrus supply would by itself have had a devastating effect upon the state of literacy and literature in Europe. Pirenne himself recognized this, and rightly saw
the disappearance of papyrus from the West as a seminal event in Europe’s history.

 Papyrus Scroll

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The one institution in Europe that could save the Classical works was the Church: And we know that, from the middle of the seventh century many monasteries had large collections of the “pagan” authors. Indeed, the great majority of the literature of Greece and Rome that has survived into modern times was preserved by the monks of the sixth and seventh centuries.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:05 PM | Permalink

Increasingly alienated from government

When Peggy Noonan is on the money, she can't be beat, like today with The Big Alienation.

We are at a remarkable moment. We have an open, 2,000-mile border to our south, and the entity with the power to enforce the law and impose safety and order will not do it. Wall Street collapsed, taking Main Street's money with it, and the government can't really figure out what to do about it because the government itself was deeply implicated in the crash, and both political parties are full of people whose political careers have been made possible by Wall Street contributions. Meanwhile we pass huge laws, bills so comprehensive, omnibus and transformative that no one knows what's in them and no one—literally, no one—knows how exactly they will be executed or interpreted. Citizens search for new laws online, pore over them at night, and come away knowing no more than they did before they typed "dot-gov."

It is not that no one's in control. Washington is full of people who insist they're in control and who go to great lengths to display their power. It's that no one takes responsibility and authority. Washington daily delivers to the people two stark and utterly conflicting messages: "We control everything" and "You're on your own."
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The American president has the power to control America's borders if he wants to, but George W. Bush and Barack Obama did not and do not want to, and for the same reason, and we all know what it is. The fastest-growing demographic in America is the Hispanic vote, and if either party cracks down on illegal immigration, it risks losing that vote for generations.

But while the Democrats worry about the prospects of the Democrats and the Republicans about the well-being of the Republicans,
who worries about America?

No one. Which the American people have noticed, and which adds to the dangerous alienation—actually it's at the heart of the alienation—of the age.

In the past four years, I have argued in this space that
nothing can or should be done, no new federal law passed, until the border itself is secure. That is the predicate, the commonsense first step. Once existing laws are enforced and the border made peaceful, everyone in the country will be able to breathe easier and consider, without an air of clamor and crisis, what should be done next. What might that be? How about relax, see where we are, and absorb. Pass a small, clear law—say, one granting citizenship to all who serve two years in the armed forces—and then go have a Coke. Not everything has to be settled right away. Only controlling the border has to be settled right away.

Instead, our national establishments deliberately allow the crisis to grow and fester, ignoring public unrest and amusing themselves by damning anyone's attempt to deal with the problem they fear to address.
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The American people fear they are losing their place and authority in the daily, unwinding drama of American history. They feel increasingly alienated from their government. And alienation, again, is often followed by deep animosity, and animosity by the breaking up of things. If our leaders were farsighted not only for themselves but for the country, they would fix the border

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:50 PM | Permalink

Cuddle spray

Forget Viagra, what most women want more of from their men is more cuddling

Scientists develop spray to make men more affectionate using 'cuddle' hormone oxytocin

Scientists have invented what women want in a man - the sensitivity spray.

They say it is capable of turning the most macho of hunks into a dewy-eyed baby-kisser who says all the right things and stops going down the pub.

Researchers of the Neuromudlation of Emotion - NEMO - faculty at the Friedrich-Wilhelms-University of Bonn say the spray uses the hormone oxytocin, sometimes called 'the cuddle chemical' as it stimulates affectionate feelings in humans.

The scientists worked with researchers at the Babraham Institute in Cambridge and the results of their work are published today FRI in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:29 AM | Permalink

Misusing History

Thomas Sowell on Misusing History

Slavery is a classic example. The history of slavery across the centuries and in many countries around the world is a painful history to read — not only in terms of how slaves have been treated, but because of what that says about the whole human species — because slaves and enslavers alike have been of every race, religion, and nationality.

If the history of slavery ought to teach us anything, it is that human beings cannot be trusted with unbridled power over other human beings — no matter what color or creed any of them are. The history of ancient despotism and modern totalitarianism practically shouts that same message from the blood-stained pages of history.

But that is not the message that is being taught in our schools and colleges, or dramatized on television and in the movies. The message that is pounded home again and again is that white people enslaved black people.
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Just as Europeans enslaved Africans, North Africans enslaved Europeans — more Europeans than there were Africans enslaved in the United States or in the 13 colonies from which the nation was formed.

The treatment of white galley slaves was even worse than the treatment of black slaves who picked cotton. But there are no movies or television dramas about it comparable to Roots, and our schools and colleges don’t pound it into the heads of students.

The inhumanity of human beings toward other human beings is not a new story, much less a local story. There is no need to hide it, because there are lessons we can learn from it. But there is also no need to distort it, so that sins of the whole human species around the world are presented as special defects of “our society” or the sins of a particular race.
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Those who mine history for sins are not searching for truth but for opportunities to denigrate their own society, or for grievances that can be cashed in today at the expense of people who were not even born when the sins of the past were committed.

An ancient adage says: “Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof.” But apparently it is not sufficient for many among our educators, the intelligentsia, or the media. They are busy poisoning the present by the way they present the past.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:04 AM | Permalink

April 28, 2010

Nasty, brutish and short

"During the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that conditions called war; and such a war, as if of every man, against every man.

"To this war of every man against every man, this also in consequent; that nothing can be unjust. The notions of right and wrong, justice and injustice have there no place. Where there is no common power, there is no law, where no law, no injustice. Force, and fraud, are in war the cardinal virtues.

"No arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death: and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short."

Thomas Hobbes (1568-1679)


It sounds mighty like what Jeffrey Gettleman describes in Africa's Forever Wars

There is a very simple reason why some of Africa's bloodiest, most brutal wars never seem to end: They are not really wars. Not in the traditional sense, at least. The combatants don't have much of an ideology; they don't have clear goals. They couldn't care less about taking over capitals or major cities -- in fact, they prefer the deep bush, where it is far easier to commit crimes. Today's rebels seem especially uninterested in winning converts, content instead to steal other people's children, stick Kalashnikovs or axes in their hands, and make them do the killing. Look closely at some of the continent's most intractable conflicts, from the rebel-laden creeks of the Niger Delta to the inferno in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and this is what you will find.

What we are seeing is the decline of the classic African liberation movement and the proliferation of something else -- something wilder, messier, more violent, and harder to wrap our heads around. If you'd like to call this war, fine. But what is spreading across Africa like a viral pandemic is actually just opportunistic, heavily armed banditry. My job as the New York Times' East Africa bureau chief is to cover news and feature stories in 12 countries. But most of my time is spent immersed in these un-wars.
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Most of today's African fighters are not rebels with a cause; they're predators. That's why we see stunning atrocities like eastern Congo's rape epidemic, where armed groups in recent years have sexually assaulted hundreds of thousands of women, often so sadistically that the victims are left incontinent for life. What is the military or political objective of ramming an assault rifle inside a woman and pulling the trigger? Terror has become an end, not just a means.

This is the story across much of Africa, where nearly half of the continent's 53 countries are home to an active conflict or a recently ended one. Quiet places such as Tanzania are the lonely exceptions; even user-friendly, tourist-filled Kenya blew up in 2008. Add together the casualties in just the dozen countries that I cover, and you have a death toll of tens of thousands of civilians each year. More than 5 million have died in Congo alone since 1998, the International Rescue Committee has estimated.
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Even if you could coax these men out of their jungle lairs and get them to the negotiating table, there is very little to offer them. They don't want ministries or tracts of land to govern. Their armies are often traumatized children, with experience and skills (if you can call them that) totally unsuited for civilian life. All they want is cash, guns, and a license to rampage. And they've already got all three. How do you negotiate with that?

The short answer is you don't. The only way to stop today's rebels for real is to capture or kill their leaders.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:56 PM | Permalink

Two Americas: public bureaucrats and the people

I've been posting on the huge problem of public pensions for some time.  I'm glad to see that people are waking up and seeing it for what it is like Fred Barnes on the New Fat Cats

John Edwards was right. There are two Americas, just not his two (the rich and powerful versus everyone else). The real divide today is, on one side, the 20 million people who work for state and local governments and the additional 3 million who’ve retired with fat pensions. On the other, the rest of us, roughly 280 million Americans. In short, there’s a gulf between the bureaucrats and the people.

Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey puts his fight with teachers and their union in roughly those terms. He says there are “two classes of citizens in New Jersey: those who enjoy rich public benefits and those who pay for them.”
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he pension explosion has created a fiscal crisis in many states, cities, and towns across the country, California being the worst off. Not only are pensions for government workers a perilously unfunded liability for many states, their soaring cost is causing sharp cuts in other programs.

“Paying for those pension promises is already crowding out funding for higher education, for parks, and for other areas like health care
  .  .  .  and that crowding out is only going to get worse,” California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said last week.
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State pension funds have gone up 2,000 percent in the past decade. The unfunded pension debt in California is $500 billion, according to a new study by Stanford University’s public policy program. It’s seven times greater than the state’s general obligation bonds, says Schwarzenegger adviser David Crane.

A staggering pension shortfall “is not just [in] California,” Crane told me. “It’s every state.” Nationwide, unfunded retirement benefits are $3.2 trillion, according to Chris Edwards of the Cato Institute. On top of that, he estimates the unfunded debt for the health coverage of state and local government retirees is $1.4 trillion.

Who's to blame?  Well, in California, you can blame Jerry Brown for the California's half-trillion pension mess.

"Thank" Jerry Brown. As Governor "Moonbeam" of California in 1978, he signed the "Dill Act," which gave California public employees the right to collective bargaining.

Brown, who has been governor, Oakland mayor, and attorney general, now wants to be California governor...again. Four big, grateful government labor unions are backing him...again.

Here's Meg Whitman on California Pension Reform

We must raise the retirement age for non–public safety workers from 55 to 65. We must require state employees to contribute a larger portion of their salary to help pay for their retirement benefits. We must extend the vesting period, and we must bring new government workers in under a different deal where they receive a defined-contribution retirement plan similar to the 401(k) plans that most taxpayers have.

Jerry Brown, who enacted collective bargaining for the public-employee unions during his governorship in the 1970s, bears direct responsibility for the unfunded liability in our state retirement system. Brown has teamed up with union bosses to attack my policies and my business background because, for them, pension reform is unacceptable. They believe your tax money is their entitlement.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:47 PM | Permalink

Euro-crisis

Greece is Europe’s very own subprime crisis

This is going to be the most important week in the 11-year history of Europe’s monetary union. By the end of it we will know whether the Greek fiscal crisis can be contained or whether it will metastasize to other parts of the eurozone.
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Unless we hear some implausibly good news from Athens by Friday, it will soon blow up.

The blow-up has started

Standard & Powers first lowered its rating of Greek bonds, then Portugal's and today Spain's.

Heightened concerns over  Europe

On Tuesday, a vice president of the European Central Bank said that the euro zone was facing its biggest challenge since the adoption of the Maastricht Treaty in 1997. Austerity measures in Greece and Portugal are already causing unrest there. Transportation workers in both countries protested on Tuesday, leaving train stations deserted because of strikes.

Officials from Standard & Poor’s said the main reason for downgrading the debt of Greece and Portugal was the prospect that forced austerity packages would be an even bigger drag on economic growth.

It is the most vicious of circles: stagnating economies are forced to cut back more, which reduces their ability to generate revenue and thus pay off their debts. As part of the euro zone, these countries do not have the ability to print their own money to stimulate growth and bolster exports, so increasing debt and an increasing prospect of default result.

Walter Russell Mead on Europe in Crisis

Europe once again has blundered its way into a major crisis.
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The Greek meltdown is on the surface just another financial crisis: yet another delusional country pursuing the path of least resistance has made promises it can’t keep to public and private sector workers.  Now the bill must be paid and the IMF called in to reorganize the national finances.

If that were all, it would not be so bad, but something much bigger and more troubling is involved.
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The internal problem stems from the fact that the euro, widely hailed as Europe’s greatest initiative, is starting to look like a strategic mistake.  Europe’s countries and cultures may be too different to live under the same set of economic policies.
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This is a political crisis for Europe rather than a financial crisis because the only way out for the PIGS involves a large bailout from the northern countries led by Germany and France.  Germans especially don’t want to pay.  It has been clear for some time that the Greeks cheated and lied their way into the eurozone, and for years they have pursued selfish and foolish economic policies.  Why, Germans ask with some force and logic, should German taxpayers who cannot retire until their late sixties.
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It’s too soon to say where this latest euro-crisis is heading, but serious economic or political disturbances in Europe will soon affect us over here — and not in a good way.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:26 PM | Permalink

Why am I not surprised?

Do you know what the chief actuary for Medicare wrote in a memorandum to his boss, the secretary for HHS, Kathleen Sibelius, about the costs of the new health bill a week before the final vote on the health care bill?  Why weren't we told?  Why am I not surprised?

The Prowler reports

Sebelius's staff refused to review the document before the vote was taken.

"The reason we were given was that they did not want to influence the vote," says an HHS source. "Which is actually the point of having a review like this, you would think."...

"We know a copy was sent to the White House via their legislative affairs staff," says the HHS staffer, "and there were a number of meetings here almost right after the analysis was submitted to the secretary's office.
Everyone went into lockdown, and people here were too scared to go public with the report."

James Capretta summarizes

The actuary says that the legislation will increase health care costs, not reduce them — by about $300 billion over a decade.

The actuary also says that the financial incentives in the bill will lead many employers to stop offering coverage altogether. That means about 14 million people with job-based insurance today will lose it. Moreover, he estimates that the cuts in Medicare Advantage will reduce enrollment by 7 million people. So much for keeping the Democrats’ other mantra of “keeping the coverage you have today.”
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The memo says the Medicare cuts will total nearly $600 billion through 2019, and that they will almost certainly jeopardize access to care for seniors by driving scores of institutions into financial distress.
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The various taxes and fees on insurers and producers of drugs and devices will largely get passed on to consumers, says the memo. In other words, these taxes will hit the middle class hard and drive their premiums up, not down.

The actuary says the new long-term care insurance program created in the bill faces “a significant risk of failure” due to adverse selection — meaning that the program will attract the kind of enrollment that will require higher costs than can be covered by the premiums collected.

Neoneocon in her usual way puts her finger on it in The calm before the storms

The problem is that most Americans’ trust in the ability of Congress to solve such things, or even to tackle them in a way that will not make them worse, is nonexistent. The idea that our representatives would listen to our concerns, be responsive to our needs, and then have the intelligence to craft solutions based on common sense and/or intelligent thought or even well-meaning effort has been waning over the years but has finally evaporated. If there had been any lingering faith in Congress, HCR erased it.
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We assume that the cure will be worse than the disease. We expect that the bills will be rushed through without proper debate and enacted at the stroke of midnight, like evil spells in a fairy tale. We are no longer surprised at the depth and breadth of the corrupt and shady behind-the-scenes deals involved. We know the legislations will be lengthy and complex. We do not think our representatives possess the intelligence to even understand the bills they pass—that is, if they bother to read them at all—and either do not appreciate their negative consequences or actually intend them to do us harm. We know that, just when we think we’ve driven a fatal stake into the heart of an unpopular bill, it rises and staggers forward to attack us.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:42 AM | Permalink

Laughter is the best medicine and the best exercise

Forget going to gym – 'laughercise' session just as good for you

CURLING up with laughter has similar effects on the body as pumping iron in the gym, a study has shown.

Sessions of mirthful laughter – dubbed "laughercise" by researchers – enhance mood, reduce stress hormones, boost
the immune system and lower blood pressure and levels of "bad" cholesterol, researchers have found.

Like physical exercise, they also appear to stimulate appetite, offering a potential way to help malnourished patients who are off their food.

Laughter has long been thought of as the "best medicine" but recent research has shown that it really can have health benefits.

Previous research by US scientists led by Californian physician Dr Lee Berk has demonstrated how laughter improves mood, reduces stress and activates immune system cells, especially those which combat cancer.

Laughter has also been shown to benefit blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

The latest study from Dr Berk's team suggests that some of the effects of laughter mirror those of repetitive exercise.

-Laughter-Gorilla

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:54 AM | Permalink

Council of Dads

When Bruce Feller was told he had a rare and serious form of bone cancer, he immediately worried about his twin daughters.  How would they live without him?  How best to pass on his life lessons to his daughters at their different stages of life?

“Would they wonder who I was? Would they wonder what I thought? Would they lack for my approval, my discipline, my voice?”

Then he realized how he could give that to them even if he wasn’t there. He appointed a
Council of Dads, men from different stages of his life who would try to fill his role. He reached out to these men in a letter that spelled out his wishes.

“I believe my daughters will have plenty of opportunities in their lives,” he wrote. “They’ll have loving families. They’ll have welcoming homes. They’ll have each other. But they may not have their dad. Will you be their dad?”
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Feiler set some early rules for his council: no family, only friends. No women, only men. He wanted council members to represent different elements of his personality. He wanted a dad to take his girls to a sporting event, a dad to buy them a ridiculous future gadget we can’t even fathom, a dad who would sit through the dance recitals.

He found six men to fill his many roles: a nature-loving dad, a travel dad, camp counselor dad. He also wanted them to come from different times his life: the childhood pal, the book agent, the college friend. They all accepted the challenge, sometimes poignantly. Feiler writes that one council member, who lost his own father when he was a child, said, “The most important thing a parent can do, I believe, is water a child profusely with love. I would water your children with love.”

Another told Feiler that by creating a council, he had ensured that his voice would never be forgotten because his girls would be surrounded “with voices that will, in the totality of symphony, create sounds of their father.”

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Reading more about Bruce at his website, Bruce says the Council of Dads turns out to be less about parenting and more about friendship and closing the divide between close friends and children.

Now he wants to take his concept worldwide.  He's encouraging others to set up their own councils via his website
Council of Dads

He has partnered with the National Fatherhood Initiative and is working to put how-to pamphlets on 1,500 military bases for members of the armed forces.

“It resonates with them because they spend time away from their children and it’s a professional hazard that they might die,” he said.

USA Weekend interviews the six friends to learn what they have to share. It takes a village of dads.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:45 AM | Permalink

April 26, 2010

"This is what decadence looks like"

Ross Douthat has the ultimate skewering of Comedy Central's cowardly decision to self censor South Park because it mentioned the name of Mohammed.

.... But because it’s a reminder that Islam is just about the only place where we draw any lines at all......

There, the standards are established under threat of violence, and accepted out of a mix of self-preservation and self-loathing.
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This is what decadence looks like: a frantic coarseness that “bravely” trashes its own values and traditions, and then knuckles under swiftly to totalitarianism and brute force.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:52 AM | Permalink

April 25, 2010

They came with respect for age. They didn’t see age as a disability.”

I have remarked that in the end, we will have to take care of each other, but it's already happening as A Graying Population is cared for by a Greying Work Force.

In an aging population, the elderly are increasingly being taken care of by the elderly. Professional caregivers — almost all of them women — are one of the fastest-growing segments of the American work force, and also one of the grayest.

A recent study by PHI National, a nonprofit organization that advocates on behalf of caregivers, found that in 2008, 28 percent of home care aides were over age 55, compared with 18 percent of women in the overall work force.

The organization projects that from 2008 to 2018, the number of direct care workers, which includes those in nursing homes, will grow to 4.3 million from 3.2 million. The percentage of older caregivers is projected to grow to 30 percent from 22 percent.

The average caregiver in Rhode Island from Home Instead Senior Care, the private agency that employs Ms. Antonaccio, is about 60, said Valerie Topp, chief operating officer for the state franchise. Younger aides often do not work out, Ms. Topp said, adding that clients frequently ask that the agency not send over someone too young.

“The older ones came to us after being family caregivers, so they understood the stresses that families were under,” Ms. Topp said. “They came with respect for age. They didn’t see age as a disability.”

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:53 AM | Permalink

April 22, 2010

New Eye on the Sun

-Ultraviolet-View-Sun

This ultraviolet image of the sun was taken on March 20,2010 by NASA's recently launched Solar Dynamics Observatory or SDO.  NASA's New Eye on the Sun.

"These initial images show a dynamic sun that I had never seen in more than 40 years of solar research,” said Richard Fisher, director of the Heliophysics Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "SDO will change our understanding of the sun and its processes, which affect our lives and society. This mission will have a huge impact on science, similar to the impact of the Hubble Space Telescope on modern astrophysics.”

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:16 PM | Permalink

Ecopragmatist

I've always liked Stewart Brand and so I'm ready and eager for the Brand New Green.

The question I ask myself now,” Brand tells us when he gets to nuclear power, is: “What took me so long? I could have looked into the realities of nuclear power many years earlier, if I weren’t so lazy.”
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"Fear of radiation is a far more important health threat than radiation itself.” “Reactor safety is a problem already solved,” and the new reactors are even safer than the old.
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It’s an indubitable historical fact that the developed world was poised to break free from a carbon-centered energy economy 30 years ago. Greens locked us back into it. By demonizing nukes so effectively, they boosted U.S. coal consumption by about 400 million tons per year. We would instantly cut our coal consumption in half if we could simply conjure back into existence the 100-plus nuclear plants that were in the pipeline three decades ago. If global warming is a problem, Brand and his ex-friends own it.
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Brand explains that Old Greens are intellectual “hedgehogs”—they start with a grand theory and then shore it up with mounds of factoids dredged up to reinforce what they already believe. “Foxes, on the other hand, are skeptical about grand theories, diffident in their forecasts, and ready to adjust their ideas based on actual events. Hedgehogs don’t notice or care when they’re wrong. Foxes learn. Hedgehogs are great proponents, but foxes are invariably better forecasters and policy makers.”

Peter Huber, the author of the piece, concludes with a quote from The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald"

Better late than never, I suppose. But still. “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”

It is hard to overestimate the damage to the cause of conservation by environmentalists.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:55 AM | Permalink

Optimizing our human potential

Distrust, discontent, anger and partisan rancor is how the Pew Research Center titled their latest survey which shows that only 22% of us say they can trust the government to do the right thing always or most of the time.  That means 78% of us don't trust the government to do the right thing most of the time.

Walter Russell Mead in Go Home, Mae West  says it's time for power to start drifting back to the states and local communities and away from Washington.

The American people need to feel that they are citizens and power-holders rather than consumers and spectators passively watching the political circus.  Otherwise our society will slowly unravel and the fabric of our common political life will steadily weaken.  The sense of civic responsibility and the dignity that come from actively participating in self-government are necessary elements in the virtue that makes our form of government work and that keeps the economy strong.  If we lose these priceless assets American society will be fatally undermined.
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In some ways, the Progressives were the opposite of what we need today.  They believed that centralization of power and professionalization of government service were the most important items on the reform agenda.  To some degree, today’s reformers will need to undo the work the Progressives did.  The original Progressives harnessed new techniques of management and information control to create large, professionally-administered government bureaucracies.  Today we need to use new techniques and technologies to break those bureaucracies down, to make small units of government more powerful, and to make government at all levels more responsive and more user-friendly.  In virtually every case this will involve taking on government employees, reducing their numbers, eliminating their job security and cutting back on unsustainable retirement and other benefit levels.

The blogger Shrinkwrapped looks at the debt and financial crisis that threatens to engulf us and says we are Balancing on a Pin.  The source of his hope will surprise you.

We need to begin thinking about aging in a new way.  We cannot afford to lose the accumulated wisdom of our elderly.  Adding a decade (or two or ten) to our working life would be a revolutionary change that would dramatically improve our chances of survival as a species and a Civilization.  If we continue our current trajectory, we will face a possibly Civilization destroying crunch within a relatively short time frame (20-40 years.)  Interestingly, this is the same time frame that Ray Kurzweil and others have postulated for a technological Singularity.

We have survived (so far) the existential danger of the atom bomb; we will face new existential dangers as our technology (especially biotech and nanotech) matures.  The balance between Libido and Entropy remains finely tuned.  We would be remiss to eschew the benefits from optimizing our human potential.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:12 AM | Permalink

April 21, 2010

Losing our culture, losing ourselves

A profoundly depressing look at the culture of dependency in two former steel towns, one in Northern England, the other in Wales.

Steel Yourself by Theodore Dalrymple

If anyone doubts the existence or reality of a dependency culture, he should visit one of these two towns. They are East European communist towns with a bit more consumer choice, but not much the better for that, and in some respects worse, in so far as there is less intellectual ferment in them.

The people do not walk so much as trudge, plastic bags hanging from them like heavy fruit. They are grey-faced, bowed-down, prematurely aged, arthritic before their time. An astonishing proportion of them need (or at any rate use) walking sticks from their thirties onwards. Many of them are enormously fat, and one can imagine them completely immobile by the age of sixty. The small children – overwhelmingly illegitimate, of course, for more than half of children born in Britain are now illegitimate, and the poorer the area (except for Indian and Pakistani immigrants) the higher the proportion – are devoid of the sweetness of young childhood, instead having a fixed look of malice on their faces by the age of three. Ferret-faced young men, attired in international ghetto costume, often with a hood, stand around talking to one another, at least a third of their words being ‘fuck’ or one of its cognates. The young women are all highly sexualised without being in the least alluring. Their fate is to have children by more than one of the ferret-faced young men.

Hopelessness, indifference, apathy is everywhere, omnipresent like the gases of the atmosphere. No Indian or African slum has ever affected men in the same way: this is far, far worse. Energy is dissipated before it is expended, as if by some kind of magnetism. The people are not starving – if anything, the problem is the reverse – nor are they living in physically intolerable housing conditions, though their houses are depressingly ugly. That so many are festooned with satellite dishes is a bad sign: where satellite dishes are many and prominent, the people are bored and listless. Litter lies everywhere and many people do not clear it even from their own front yards, preferring to wade their way through it to their front doors.

 Abandonned-Church-3

About the loss of religion in both places, Dalrymple writes

the town in the North of England had once been dominated by a magnificent 15th Century church, originally Catholic, of course, but now Anglican. It was totally irrelevant to the life of the town, if life is quite the right word for what went on there.
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With complete disregard for the aesthetics of this church – a magnificent monument in a wasteland of man-made hideousness - cheap modern furniture had been installed, and even (in place of a lady chapel) a kitchenette, complete with plywood cladding, used for the doling out of tea to lonely old ladies.

Please do not misunderstand me: I am not against the doling out tea to lonely old ladies; indeed, I am much in favour of it. But I do not think that a fifteenth century church is the right place for it, especially if the interior of the church has to be spoiled in the process, and the fact that the Church of England thinks that this is all right accounts in some part for its demise. The kitchenette was visible and obvious evidence of the Church’s lack of belief in transcendence, in anything other than the most earthbound of values. (The ancient tombstones had also been removed from the grass around the church for reasons of public safety.) 
Imagine that.

Father James Schall looks at What Civilizes Us

Yet something strange is always found in civilizations. At their best, all have some relation to an order that is more than civic. This social order, by being what it is, likewise points to what transcends man. Indeed, for man to be himself, he needs to transcend himself. If nothing is found beyond him, he ends up less than human.

 Abandoned-Church2



He refers to the study of Christianity by the Chinese communists, one I referenced in 2006, Christians in China in a review of the book Jesus in Beijing.

But another factor has been a very open-minded approach by many Chinese intellectuals into such phenomena as the remarkable historical primacy of Western civilization around the world. How could this happen? What were the core principles of Western civilization that enabled it, time and again, to correct itself rather than plunge into cyclical and eventually permanent decline? Many concluded that it was Christian ethics and the dynamism of a faith based on a profound hope in the future and a belief that history was not cyclical, as Buddhism and even Confucianism proclaimed, but linear, and with a specific end goal.

Chinese Church Wave

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At first, we thought [the power of the West] was because you had more powerful guns than we had. Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. Next we focused on your economic system. But in the past twenty years, we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity.

Schall then goes on

Was Christianity a mere sidelight or was it Europe's heart? Were the Chinese scholars more perceptive than the European politicians? Is Europe dying for the same reason the Chinese populace has no belief in anything?

Pell recalls the 1983 remark of Solzhenitsyn that "Men have forgotten God." This forgetfulness is not neutral. It has practical consequences on whether life is worth living. If the individual has no meaning other than what he gives himself – the current doctrine – what is he? Who cares? A world filled with poor, numerous, meaningless people cannot really find motivation to reestablish the moral dignity that makes a civilization humane and honorable.
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Civilization points not to itself but to what is beyond itself. When it does not, as the Chinese worry, we lose even ourselves.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:58 AM | Permalink

April 20, 2010

If only the United Nations were what we wish it to be

If only the United Nations were what we wish it to be.    But it's not.

A group of 40 auditors from around the world examined the United Nations climate change report and gave it an F.

The team, recruited by the climate-change skeptics behind the website NoConsensus.org, found that 5,600 of the 18,500 sources in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) Nobel Prize-winning 2007 report were not peer reviewed.

"We've been told it's 100 percent peer-reviewed science. But thousands of sources cited by this report have been nowhere near a scientific journal."
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According to Lafromboise, much of the scientific research published by the U.N. cited press releases, newspaper and magazine clippings, student theses, newsletters, discussion papers, and literature published by green advocacy groups.

The U.N. is spending $732 million for peacekeeping in Haiti.    Two-thirds of the money is going to pay for the salary, perks and upkeep of its own personnel of which the U.S. pays 27%. This is over and above the $733 million in humanitarian aid given by countries and individuals and in addition to the $15 billion pledged by the international community.

They are apparently ineffectual on the ground as Haitian corruption creates a nightmare where police and bureaucrats hold American vehicles hostage for exorbitant fees and starving refugees wait for water.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:52 PM | Permalink

April 19, 2010

The Beauty of the Enemy

-Pollen

Microscopic images reveal the invisible enemies of hay fever sufferers.

The pictures - captured using a scanning electron microscope - highlight the amazing variety of pollens that float invisibly through the air.
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The grains are between 1.5 and 10 hundredths of a millimetres across - making them too small to see with the naked eye.
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These images were captured by Swiss photographer Martin Oeggerli using a £250,000 scanning electron microscope stored in his cellar.

"People know a lot about pollen, what with so many hay fever sufferers during the summer," he said. "So it's funny to think that until now a lot of them will have never seen the grains before.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:47 AM | Permalink

Living in a False Reality

Two very interesting articles on Islam by Muslims that I admit discouraged me when I saw again how political correctness has put discussion of certain topics 'off limits' making us even more incapable of dealing with the reality of the world that faces us.

The first by Raymond Ibrahim asks Whether Marco Polo was an Islamophobe.

Here, then, is the problem: If today it is “Islamophobic,” that is, irrational, to claim that Islam advocates war against and subjugation for infidels, permitting the latter to be abused, plundered, and enslaved in the process — what does one make of the fact that, some 700 years ago, the same exact claims were made by our Venetian traveler?  Indeed, what does one make of the fact that, centuries before and after Polo, a diverse host of writers — including John of Damascus (d.749) Theophanes the chronicler (d.818), Francis of Assisi (d.1226), Joinville the crusader (d.13th century), and Manuel the Byzantine emperor (d.1425) — all made the same “Islamophobic” observations about Islam? (The latter’s writings, when merely quoted by the pope, caused an uproar in the Muslim world.) This, of course, is to say nothing of the countless Muslim ulema who regularly affirm that Islam teaches war, subjugation, slavery, and plunder vis-a-vis the infidel, tracing it back to the words of the Koran and Muhammad.

In short, the word “Islamophobia” is a ruse — also permitted in Islam under the doctrine of taqiyya — meant to paralyze all discussion concerning Muslim doctrine; and it has been successful: the United Nations has already presided over a conference titled “Confronting Islamophobia” and a Council of Europe summit condemned “Islamophobia.” Moreover, the influential Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) regularly lambasts the specter of Islamophobia, calling it the “worst form of terrorism,” and publishing two reports on the phenomenon.

The second by Sheik Yer' Mami delivers a scathing indictment of the New York Times

First, in its delinquent reports of what was happening in Nazi Germany in the 1930s, again with the deeply misleading coverage of the Stalin's forced famine in the Ukraine by Walter Duranty for which he received the Pulitzer prize.

He helped, by commission, to convey a false reality concerning the Soviet Union and its murderous policies, just as the owners of the Times helped, by deliberate omission and de-emphasizing, to convey a false reality concerning the Nazis and their murderous policies, and chief and earliest victims, the Jews of Germany and then of Eastern Europe.

And it continues today with its lack of coverage of the ideology of Islam.

And The New York Times continues, in ways little and big, to ignore the reality of Islam. It is a case of individual folly and mediocrity – the egregious Tom Friedman comes immediately to mind, and so too does Nicholas Kristof.  But then there are the reporters.
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Thus the Times is worse than useless. It is not a guide to understanding the world, or the threat to the wellbeing of non-Muslims everywhere from those who take their Islam seriously, either now, or possibly, as a result of any number of promptings (some political and many personal) in the future.
The Times has performed disgracefully, and after the disgraces of the 1930s, it’s quite something to find it failing so badly, with such dangerous consequences, again.

Let us take, for example, something very small, something so small that it never appeared in the Times as a full-fledged article, but rather as a small paragraph under the rubric “World News.” The Paper of Record took the story – The Times does this more and more – from the AP.

Here it is: “Muslims Try to Pray in Spanish Cathedral.”
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You know, a story that were truthful would go something like this:

A deliberately-planned display of Muslim force took place in the cathedral of Cordoba on April 2, in the very middle of Holy Week, the holiest time of the year for Christians. Nearly 120 Muslims from Austria slowly filtered into the cathedral, so as not to attract the attention of guards and, using walkie-talkies, arranged to meet at a certain time, in one of the naves of the cathedral. There a number of them began, in the hush of the Christian services, to turn toward Mecca and prostrate themselves, and to loudly chant in unison. When asked by the security guards to please stop, they refused, and began to threaten the guards who, in turn, had to call for reinforcements from the Spanish police. When the Spanish police arrived, thus further disrupting the holy hush of ancient sacrifice, and the spiritual tranquility of the Christian worshippers, they found the Muslims unwilling to stop. At least one pulled out a knife, and at least two of the Spanish guards, one policeman and one from the cathedral detail, were wounded sufficiently to go to the hospital.

UPDATE:  Neoneocon writes about the power of words to distort reality, especially if these words are mandated by the government.

Joe Lieberman seems to get it:

“This is not honest,” Lieberman said on “Fox News Sunday.” “Three thousand Americans were killed not by some amorphous group of violent extremists or environmental extremists or white supremacist extremists. They were violent Islamist extremists motivated and organized by the ideology preached by Osama bin Laden.”

“And unless we’re honest about that,” he said, “we’re not going to be able to defeat this enemy.

Of course, it will take a lot more than honest language to defeat terrorism. But honest language is a requisite step, and dishonest language fools no one. The Obama administration’s refusal to call things by their proper names communicates nothing but pandering and weakness rather than resolve and strength.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:43 AM | Permalink | TrackBack

Pension apartheid

Little did I know when I wrote Who's Next about our skyrocketing debt and how we will ever pay it, that other countries besides Argentina have looked with salivating glee at private pension plans.

Argentina seizes pension funds to pay debts

Here is a warning to us all. The Argentine state is taking control of the country’s privately-managed pension funds in a drastic move to raise cash.

So, over $29bn of Argentine civic savings are to be used as a funding kitty for the populist antics of President Cristina Kirchner. This has been dressed up as an anti-corruption and efficiency move. Aren’t they always?

Now the seizure happened in October but somehow I never read about it until recently.

Argentina to seize pension funds, markets tank

Argentina's center-left President Cristina Fernandez on Tuesday signed a bill for a government takeover of the $30 billion private pension system in a daring and unexpected move that rocked domestic markets.

Critics said the government was looting pension funds ahead of a tough budget year when it has to find billions of dollars to pay and service debt, but the president said the private pension fund administrators were the looters.
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"The failed experiment" of private pensions is finished, ANSES Director Amado Boudou said at the ceremony with Fernandez, before hundreds of political supporters.

The reform took Argentina's 10 pension fund administrators, known as AFJPs, by surprise and an industry group decried government claims that the funds had performed badly.

"The AFJP system is a solid mechanism that can be perfected, that has had an almost constant growth trend in the 14 years of its existence," Sebastian Palla, president of the Union of Argentine Retirement and Pension administrators, said in a statement.

Then I read The man who stole your old age: How Gordon Brown secretly imposed a ruinous tax that has wrecked the retirements of millions.

So, on one fateful night in that suite overlooking Hyde Park, they decided that, once in power, they would launch a massive multi-billion-pound raid on a gold-plated, copper-bottomed sector of the British economy  -  its pension funds.

Up until this point, company pension funds had enjoyed an important tax break on the financial investments they made in order to build up the capital from which employees could be paid when they retired. By long tradition, the funds paid no tax on the dividends they received from those investments.

The view of Brown and his penthouse cronies was that this concession had to stop.
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Gordon Brown decided pension funds were a ripe target and knowingly destroyed what was once one of the great pension systems in the world. Eleven million people with company pensions and a further seven million with personal pensions were affected by the sleight of hand dreamt up in that posh Park Lane penthouse.

But it's even worse writes Alex Brummer, the city editor of the Daily Mail in his new book,  The Great Pensions Robbery.

Public sector pension pots soared while everyone else suffered

Most public sector schemes still operate a retirement age of 60 whereas the rest of us have to soldier on to 65 to get our reward.

Public sector pensions are also not just salary-linked but index-linked to keep pace with inflation.

As the size of the public sector has ballooned under New Labour by up to one million workers, so the number of active members of these final-salary schemes has soared - from 4.2 million in 1995 to 5.2 million in 2007.
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The Institute of Directors describes this mismatch in pension provision between those working for government and those in the entrepreneurial sector of the economy as nothing short of 'apartheid'.

And it is potentially dangerous as well as unfair.

'If private sector workers rebel against paying other people's pensions, we are heading for strife,' warns pensions expert Ros Altmann. 'I'm not saying that public sector workers don't deserve generous pensions. They do. But so does everybody else.'
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As for the other half who have tried to save for a comfortable old age, those in the private sector have seen their pensions plundered, while those in the public sector, though feather-bedded for the moment, have a system that is ruinously expensive, unsustainable and can no longer be defended.

Doesn't that sound distressingly like what could happen here?  Take a look at Steven Malanga's piece on The Beholden State. How public-sector unions broke California.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:41 AM | Permalink

April 16, 2010

"I felt like a token presence in the world"

During my years volunteering for hospice, I had a patient named Bob.  Bob was dying of ALS, and told me he had been suicidal for more than two years, to the point, he told me, that if he could have gone to Kevorkian, he would have taken the flight.  (He later changed his mind and was very glad he hadn’t committed suicide, a lesson that assisted suicide advocates refuse to acknowledge.)  I asked him why he had wanted to kill himself.  It wasn’t because he was becoming progressively disabled, but rather, he told me.  “First my friends stopped visiting me. Then my friends stopped calling me. Then, my friends stopped calling my wife, and I felt like a token presence in the world.”

I only saw Bob truly distraught once.  I was called by his wife to please come over right away.  When I got there, Bob was beside himself.  Why?  Again, it wasn’t his by now total quadriplegia, but because somebody came over to talk about a concern with his children and acted as if he were a potted plant, not talking to him directly, and when he was involved at all in the conversation, the question was directed to his wife.  That made Bob feel objectified and isolated, leading to profound despair.

Wesley J. Smith on the Importance of Treating Alzheimer's and Other Ill and Disabled People - as People

Here is part of his excerpt of an interview in Der Spiegel about Richard Taylor, a  university professor who has suffered for 9 years with early onset Alzheimer's.

SPIEGEL: And your friends?

Taylor: They stopped calling too. I phoned them and asked how come we hadn’t had lunch in months. They said they didn’t know what to say to me anymore. I said, “just say ‘hello.” To which they replied, “but what would we talk about?” And I said, “why don’t we talk about George W. Bush, world peace, global warming, or your relationship with your wife or whatever we used to talk about?”

SPIEGEL: What did they say to that?

Taylor: “I didn’t know you were still interested in things like that.” They already see me as fading away. They expect me to evaporate in front of their eyes. But I’m still all an ocean.

It is absolutely heart-breaking and his conclusion that we have to increase our capacities to love our neighbor are absolutely right. 

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:17 PM | Permalink

The Scream of the Iceland volcano

 Iceland Volcano

A photograph of the ash spewing from the Iceland volcano that's now causing havoc in Europe.  Eyjafjallajökull is its name.

Health chiefs in Europe say 'Stay inside' especially if one has breathing problems.  For the second day, the vast ash cloud has shut down all airports in Britain and all flights in or out, stranding tens of thousands of travelers.

Below is the radar image showing the crater of the volcano

 2 Radarimage Iceland Volcano

One reporter saw the resemblance to the famous Edvard Munch painting, 'The Scream'.

Coincidentally, it is thought that the masterpiece was inspired by the blood red skies caused by the powerful volcanic eruption of Krakatoa in 1883.

In his diary Mr Munch wrote: 'I was walking along a path with two friends - the sun was setting - suddenly the sky turned blood red - I paused, feeling exhausted, and leaned on the fence - there was blood and tongues of fire above the blue-black fjord and the city - my friends walked on, and I stood there trembling with anxiety - and I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature.'

The picture was taken by the ELTA radar from an Icelandic Coast Guard airplane.

 Radar-Image  Iceland Volcano

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:56 AM | Permalink | TrackBack

April 15, 2010

"Clearly better without the booze"

No matter how old you are, alcohol, even in moderate amounts, can cause serious problems as you age and stopping can bring real benefits to the rest of your life.

The Aging Drinker

 Aging-Drinker

For years, therefore, medical groups have called for screening every patient, including older ones, for alcohol and other drug use. But as Ms. Sharp’s recently published study in The Journal of Applied Gerontology shows, many doctors still neglect to ask older patients about drinking. Her survey of 101 primary care physicians found that 73 percent reported screening new patients over 65 for alcohol use at their first appointments, and only 44 percent screened their existing patients.

Dr. Oslin’s 85-year-old patient, for instance, had seen a series of specialists, plus his primary care doctor, and all had missed his alcohol dependence.
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Perhaps, Ms. Sharp speculated, doctors don’t look for alcohol problems because they think older people can’t or won’t stop drinking anyway.
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But older people can indeed benefit from treatment or intervention. In fact, older people dependent on alcohol do better in treatment than younger people, Dr. Oslin has found. They’re more likely to attend therapy sessions and take prescribed medication, and less likely to relapse.
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It can be worth the fight. The 85-year-old he saw continued to abstain from drinking and continued seeing his psychiatrist. He was able to rejoin family activities and stopped taking antidepressants.

“He only lived another 14 months, but he was clearly better without the booze,” Dr. Oslin said. “The family got to see their husband and father again for the first time in a long time. They were very grateful that they had that year with him.”

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:55 AM | Permalink | TrackBack

Who's Next

Given that the country is sliding into debt so large we have trouble imagining its scope or the world of hurt  we're going to be in, this graph helps.

Willdebt

So, of course,  the government will have to look for money in any place they can find it.  A national sales tax or VAT is headed our way.  Make no mistake about it.    Charles Krauthammer explains

That’s where the value-added tax comes in. For the politician, it has the virtue of expediency: People are used to sales taxes, and this one produces a river of revenue. Every 1 percent of VAT would yield up to $1 trillion a decade (depending on what you exclude — if you exempt food, for example, the yield would be more like $900 billion).

It’s the ultimate cash cow. Obama will need it. By introducing universal health care, he has pulled off the largest expansion of the welfare state in four decades. And the most expensive. Which is why all of the European Union has the VAT. Huge VATs. Germany: 19 percent. France and Italy: 20 percent. Most of Scandinavia: 25 percent.

American liberals have long complained that ours is the only advanced industrial country without universal health care. Well, now we shall have it. And as we approach European levels of entitlements, we will need European levels of taxation.

That's bad enough, but far more worrisome is the recent move in Argentina to seize pension funds.

Argentina seizes pension funds to pay debts. Who's next?

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:39 AM | Permalink

Great teachers: Ben Chavis and James Gasque

In the year 2000, American Indian Public Charter School in Oakland, CA, was one of the worst-performing middle schools in the state. Not a single student tested above the fiftieth percentile on state or national exams in math, and only eight percent of sixth-graders and 17 percent of eighth-graders passed that bar in reading (the rate for seventh-graders was zero.) Class attendance rates hovered around 65 percent. Junk lined the hallways, trash and rubbish cluttered the sidewalks and alleys outside. Neighbors called the school "the zoo."

In Year 2008, American Indian Public Charter School had the highest test scores of any public school in Oakland. It ranked fifth among middle schools across the state.

An Educator for Indians and Capitalism

What happened? A new principal arrived, Ben Chavis. His story appears in a recent book by Chavis and Carey Blakely entitled Crazy Like a Fox: One Principal's Triumph in the Inner City

According to Chavis, among other things,
the school was trapped in a culturalist fantasy. In an effort to instill racial pride and respect American Indian tradition, school leaders developed a curriculum that included courses in drumming and bead-making. The school day started late because they believed "American Indians couldn't get up early in the morning." The first hours brought everybody together for a session in which students and teachers discussed their feelings and interests and worries. Meanwhile, truancy, vandalism, and failure continued.

When Chavis took office, it all changed. He substituted "culture" classes with basic math and reading coursework oriented on explicit disciplinary standards. He extended the school year. He assigned detention freely for slight infractions, including a saturday detention period. He gave out financial awards for perfect attendance. He brought local drug dealers and thugs into the school to meet the students and promised them $5 for every absent student they found on the streets and returned to campus. He implemented a four-part education model made up of 1) family, 2) accountability, 3) high expectations, and 4) free market capitalism. In fact, he says, he insisted on "a free market capitalistic mind-set in our students and staff." And he didn't complain that the school needed more money.

There is much more to tell about the year-by-year progress of the school, including the firing of incompetent and lazy staff as well as t
he expulsion of what can only be called a racial pathology destroying the school until Chavis took over. It is a remarkable story of a man of solid work-ethic values and entrepreneurial vision working miracles.

I wish Ben Chavez could be duplicated ten thousand times and sent around the country

Hat tip to the Barrister at Maggies Farm

Speaking of great teachers, the newly awarded Pulitzer Prize for commentary to Kathleen Parker of the Washington Post inspired her to write an encomium to the teacher who changed her life, A sprig of verbena and the gifts of a great teacher. 

He whirled. No perfectly executed pirouette can top the spin executed by Mr. Gasque that day. Suddenly facing the class, he flushed crimson and his voice trembled with rage.

"Don't. You. Ever. Laugh. At her. Again." he said. "She can out-write every one of you any day of the week."

It is not possible to describe my gratitude. Time suspended and I dangled languorously from a fluff of cloud while my colleagues drowned in stunned silence. I dangle even now, like those silly participles I eventually got to know. Probably no one but me remembers Mr. Gasque's act of paternal chivalry, but I basked in those words and in the thought that what he said might be true. I started that day to try to write as well as he said I could. I am still trying.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:42 AM | Permalink

April 14, 2010

Walking instead of back surgery

Taking a stairway to health

So this guy goes to the doctor for back pain and the diagnosis is pretty awful: The patient is going to need spinal surgery again, for the third time in three years.

Charles Fleming thought back on all the misery he'd endured the first two times he was cut open like a Christmas goose. He gave about two seconds' worth of consideration to the doctor's proposed disc-ectomy and said thanks, doc, but not just yet.

He couldn't face the knife again.

Just one problem: What to do about the crippling pain?
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He started modestly, covering two blocks or so in those early days, back in 2006. Then he got braver, and looser, and soon he was up to half a mile, followed by a mile, followed by long, therapeutic walks that felt really good. Much better than surgery, in fact.

Fleming is no doctor, but he thinks he has a reasonable medical explanation for this miracle cure called walking.

He ended up walking the historic staircases in Los Angeles and writing a book about them.

Fleming says there are roughly 400 staircases in Greater L.A., and he has "walked, measured, studied, photographed and mapped more than 275" of them in researching "Secret Stairs, A Walking Guide to the Historic Staircases of Los Angeles."
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There's something magical about the stair walks. You leave the known city behind and visit a quiet place built for an entirely different kind of living. Bungalows, some of them 100 years old, sit amid towering oaks and wildflowers, no roads or cars in sight.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 6:09 PM | Permalink

April 13, 2010

Spirituality for the Second Half of Life

Last weekend I went to a conference at Boston College called Living the Journey, Spirituality for the Second Half of Life.
The conference organizers hoped for 300; 950 came as if to underscore the tremendous thirst for meaning older people have. 

A few gleanings from a very well organized and presented conference which will be available on the web in about 2 weeks at the Church in the 21st century on its webcast page.

John Shea, a professor of Theology and Ministry, wondered why so many adults were satisfied with an image of God from their childhood and adolescence, what he termed a "superego" God with parent-like authority  interested in controlling us.  Our imaging of God is meant to develop as we ourselves develop and mature. 
An adult imaging of God is one transforming love and mutuality in an adult relationship, a living God in whom we personally experience a salvation from whatever imprisons us, a God of Love who offers us unconditional acceptance and a mutual indwelling, a God of mystery, a God of freedom, not freedom from but freedom to experience God as a Living God of wholeness and integrity.

Michael Himes, one of the most popular professors at Boston College, ended his lecture by talking about his mother whom he visits every night in a nursing home now that her dementia is quite advanced.  He spoke with great feeling about the hardest thing in the world is the inability to protect those we love the most .  Still we have to go on loving them knowing how much it will hurt.  One night, he sat in front of his mother and asked her if she knew who he was.  She looked at him for a very long time and then said, "I'm not sure I remember, but I think I love you very much."

That he says is the root experience.  One thing that doesn't disappear is the experience of having loved.

So I was struck this morning to read Alzheimer's Disease Sufferers Still Feel For Loved Ones Even If They Have Forgotten Them

Researchers have discovered that emotions out last memories and that patients with severe amnesia still get a warm feeling from meeting friends and relatives.

The effect is so strong that the scientists are convinced that regularly meeting up with patients with Alzheimer's can profoundly improve their mood.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:31 PM | Permalink

The Power of Denial

Richard Fernandez says people are looking for distractions so they don't have to face our real problems.

Two articles, one by Christopher Booker describing the impending bankruptcy of the UK and another by Victor Davis Hanson describing the catatonic walk over the financial edge by California are united by a single theme: the power of denial.
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What a whole generation of Western political leaders have done is abolish the future. Comprehensively and perhaps irretrievably. And since that hasn’t happened in two generations, very few can even come to terms with it. Victor Davis Hanson describes the bewilderment of Californians who find that, for the first time in living memory, tomorrow isn’t coming. It’s so absurd people treat the fact with disbelief. People continue to act rich even though they’re poor. They live as if that check will arrive tomorrow even though no one can give a reason why it should.
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Enviromental-Head-In-The-Sand


The end-point of a cancerous public culture is total alienation not complete togetherness. Things lead to their opposites. Political correctness becomes coded speech; over-regulation leads to black-markets; unrealistic human rights standards lead to rendition. Lies make everything unreal. Finally people forget who they are and even where things come from. VDH continues:

So I am as worried about the elite upscale yuppie as the poor illegal alien. The former have lost almost all connection with physical labor, the physical world, or the ordeal that civilization endures to elevate us from the savagery of nature.

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But maybe with a little more Keynesian stimulus and a little more borrowing we’ll turn the corner. Turn it because the corner has always been turned. Wrong. According to Christopher Booker Britain, at least, is not coming up for air. Blighty’s tomorrows have arrived. And there’s no check in the mail. Its public indebtedness has reached the point where interest charges alone are unsustainable. Like Jefferson County, t
he UK can’t pay the interest charges let alone the principal.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:31 AM | Permalink | TrackBack

April 9, 2010

"It is a communist chocolate hellhole and I'm here to stop it ever happening."

That's Eloi Cole, the man from the future.  How did I ever miss this story last week?

Man arrested at Large Hadron Collider claims he's from the future
By Nick Hide on 01 April 2010,

A would-be saboteur arrested today at the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland made the bizarre claim that he was from the future. Eloi Cole, a strangely dressed young man, said that he had travelled back in time to prevent the LHC from destroying the world.

The LHC successfully collided particles at record force earlier this week, a milestone Mr Cole was attempting to disrupt by stopping supplies of Mountain Dew to the experiment's vending machines. He also claimed responsibility for the infamous baguette sabotage in November last year.

Mr Cole was seized by Swiss police after CERN security guards spotted him rooting around in bins. He explained that he was looking for fuel for his 'time machine power unit', a device that resembled a kitchen blender.

Police said Mr Cole, who was wearing a bow tie and rather too much tweed for his age, would not reveal his country of origin. "Countries do not exist where I am from. The discovery of the Higgs boson led to limitless power, the elimination of poverty and Kit-Kats for everyone. It is a communist chocolate hellhole and I'm here to stop it ever happening."

This isn't the first time time-travel has been blamed for mishaps at the LHC. Last year, the Japanese physicist Masao Ninomiya and Danish string-theory pioneer Holger Bech Nielsen put forward the hypothesis that the Higgs boson was so "abhorrent" that it somehow caused a ripple in time that prevented its own discovery.

Professor Brian Cox, a former CERN physicist and full-time rock'n'roll TV scientist, was sympathetic to Mr Cole. "Bless him, he sounds harmless enough. At least he didn't mention bloody black holes."

Mr Cole was taken to a secure mental health facility in Geneva but later disappeared from his cell. Police are baffled, but not that bothered.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 5:28 PM | Permalink

Disruptive Foods

From Wired, 7 Disruptive Foods Changing the Way We Eat including non-sentient meat, bananas 2.0, salt water algae and organic pancake batter in a spray can.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 5:07 PM | Permalink

His mind's eye had gone blind

One day in 2005, a retired building surveyor in Edinburgh visited his doctor with a strange complaint: His mind’s eye had suddenly gone blind.

The surveyor, referred to as MX by his doctors, was 65 at the time. He had always felt that he possessed an exceptional talent for picturing things in his mind. The skill had come in handy in his job, allowing MX to recall the fine details of the buildings he surveyed. Just before drifting off to sleep, he enjoyed running through recent events as if he were watching a movie. He could picture his family, his friends, and even characters in the books he read.

Then these images all vanished. The change happened shortly after MX went to a hospital to have his blocked coronary arteries treated. As a cardiologist snaked a tube into the arteries and cleared out the obstructions, MX felt a “reverberation” in his head and a tingling in his left arm. He didn’t think to mention it to his doctors at the time. But four days later he realized that when he closed his eyes, all was darkness.

The Brain: Look Deep Into The Mind's Eye

We take visual imagination for granted. But the blank inner world of a patient called MX demonstrates the rich neural processes needed to create the images in our heads.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 5:03 PM | Permalink

"Pro-gay" attitude toward gender confusion damages children.

A letter sent to 14,800 school superintendents across the nation warns that "pro-gay" attitude toward gender confusion damages children

From a Letter to School Officials from the President of the American College of Pediatricians

...it is clear that when well-intentioned but misinformed school personnel encourage students to “come out as gay” and be “affirmed,” 8 there is a serious risk of erroneously labeling students (who may merely be experiencing transient sexual confusion and/or engaging in sexual experimentation).  Premature labeling may then lead some adolescents into harmful homosexual behaviors that they otherwise would not pursue.

Optimal health and respect for all students will only be achieved by first respecting the rights of students and parents to accurate information and to self-determination.  It is the school’s legitimate role to provide a safe environment for respectful self-expression for all students.
It is not the school’s role to diagnose and attempt to treat any student’s medical condition, and certainly not a school’s role to “affirm” a student’s perceived personal sexual orientation.

It is critical to the health of your students that you and your staff rely on accurate information regarding sexual orientation and gender confusion issues.  We urge you to review the enclosed information card, What You Should Know, and distribute it and this letter to your staff and to all interested parents and students. For more information, please visit www.FactsAboutYouth.com

I wonder how the Safe Schools Czar Kevin Jennings will respond.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:59 PM | Permalink

"Self-esteem is but a division of self-importance, which is seldom an attractive quality."

Theodore Darlrymple on Self-Esteem vs Self-Respect

That self-esteemists mostly know that they are about as sincere as Marie Antoinette playing shepherdess is illustrated by the following: When patients pretended to confide in me that they were suffering from low self-esteem, I used to reply that at least, then, they had got one thing right: they had valued themselves at their true worth. ....

Far from becoming angry, most patients - previously wretched - would begin to laugh, like those caught out in an obvious but relatively innocent attempt at a practical joke. Indeed, they were relieved: they no longer had to pretend anything, either to themselves or to others. We could then talk about the manifest deficiencies of their lives without resort to a vocabulary that acted as a smoke screen.

The problem with low self-esteem is not self-dislike, as is often claimed, but self-absorption. However, it does not follow from this that high self-esteem is not a genuine problem. One has only to go into a prison, or at least a prison of the kind in which I used to work, to see the most revoltingly high self-esteem among a group of people (the young thugs) who had brought nothing but misery to those around them, largely because they conceived of themselves as so important that they could do no wrong. For them, their whim was law, which was precisely as it should be considering who they were in their own estimate. It need hardly be said that this degree of self-esteem is certainly not confined to young thugs. Most of us probably suffer from it episodically, as any waiter in any restaurant would be able to tell us.

In short, self-esteem is but a division of self-importance, which is seldom an attractive quality. That person is best who never thinks of his own importance: to think about it, even, is to be lost to morality.
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Self-respect requires fortitude, one of the cardinal virtues; self-esteem encourages emotional incontinence that, while not actually itself a cardinal sin, is certainly a vice, and a very unattractive one. Self-respect and self-esteem are as different as depth and shallowness.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:49 PM | Permalink

All-nighters may cure depression

Postpartum depression affects between 5 percent and 25 percent of new mothers.  Symptoms — including sadness, fatigue, appetite changes, crying, anxiety and irritability — usually occur in the first few months after child birth.  There is a simple way to alleviate postpartum depression in just a few hours: sleep deprivation.

If a depressed mother stays up all night, or even the last half of the night, it is likely that by morning the depression will lift. 
Although this sounds too good to be true, it has been well documented in over 1,700 patients in more than 75 published papers during the last 40 years.[1]  Sleep deprivation used as a treatment for depression is efficacious and robust: it works quickly, is relatively easy to administer, inexpensive, relatively safe and it also alleviates other types of clinical depression. Sleep deprivation can elevate your mood even if you are not depressed, and can induce euphoria. This throws a new light on insomnia.
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All this offers hope that studying sleep deprivation may lead to new, unique and rapid treatments for depression.

In Sleepless Nights, a Hope for Treating Depression

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:05 AM | Permalink

April 6, 2010

Natural sounds

As someone who listens to natural sounds - ocean waves, birdsong, croaking frogs and waterfalls - on my computer more than I do music, this story resonated with me.

"In Pursuit of Silence": How noise really is killing us

In his new book, "In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise," George Prochnik argues that this barrage of noise is more than just a nuisance; it poses a real threat to our cardiovascular system and mental health, our ability to concentrate, and, perhaps most dangerous of all, it turns our political discourse into a shrill barrage.
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The noise we suffer from today is more incessant. We have a different set of issues -- nighttime noise and air traffic being some of the most obvious culprits -- but in the 19th century, even people from the working class often lived in situations where it was easier to find an actual quiet space or a space where the sound of civilization was mixed with some kinds of natural sounds. It's important to remember that not all noises are created equal, and many surveys have demonstrated that people's reactions to noise vary wildly depending on whether they're natural or mechanical. Even at loud volumes sounds like birds singing and waterfalls are soothing.
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Noise wreaks havoc on all different parts of our bodies. The heart rate accelerates. We get vasoconstriction. It's been shown that the elevated blood pressure from nighttime noise continues all through the day. Even if we're not fully aroused by noise, sleep is fragmented. Loss of sleep is tied to all kinds of immune and heart problems, and a real laundry list of ailments. The really scary thing is even if we do habituate mentally to noise, that doesn't change what's happening to our bodies.
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Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:12 AM | Permalink

"Am I writing them off too soon?"

She was a palliative care doctor who came to regret some of the advice she gave her patients

Helping Patients Face Death, She Fought to Live

She said she thought of all the times that her own patients had argued that she was underestimating their capacity to get better. “Then am I writing them off too soon?” she mused. “When they do say, ‘Well, you don’t know me. I can, blah-blah-blah,’ that’s what I said, too, in my mind. ‘You don’t know me.’ You don’t know my husband, for sure.”
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She died without ever learning the extent of her disease. Her husband said that she had tumors in both lungs, her liver, the lining of her small intestines, her colon and her bones.

Dr. Lim said doctors at Massachusetts General might have been right in offering palliative care a year earlier. “She passed away in unfortunately quite a painful scenario,” she said. “Many people would not have chosen that route.”

Yet she respected Dr. Pardi’s choice and was not ready to write off her stubbornness as denial. “She was very much in control of the situation,” Dr. Lim said.

Dr. Lim attempted, in her own mind, to reconcile Desiree Pardi the palliative care doctor who believed in a peaceful death, with Desiree Pardi the patient who wanted to keep fighting.

Dr. Lim said she believed that “somewhere deep inside, she knew this was not fixable.” But Dr. Pardi “knew exactly how much she was willing to endure,” Dr. Lim added. “And she was able to endure a lot.”

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:56 AM | Permalink

Pedal Vision

I've always liked Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio but never than when he looked at his overweight inmates and instituted a new program called "Pedal Vision"

Arpaio gets inmates moving on electricity-generating cycles

The stationary bikes are customized so that as an inmate pedals, a connected television is powered once the cycle generates 12 volts of electricity.

One hour of pedaling equals one hour of television viewing for the inmates, according to Arpaio.

Arpaio said the inmates will only be able to watch television in the television room if they choose to pedal.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:42 AM | Permalink

Inner voice

Yes, I hear a voice when I read and never thought twice about it  until I read this.

Do you hear a voice in your head when you read? If not... you could be dyslexic

Professor Rod Nicolson, head of work psychology at the University of Sheffield, has been studying dyslexia for many years and was inspired to investigate internal speech after meeting Gary at a conference in 2004. He believes he has found a link between lack of inner speech and poor reading ability.

'Children start off having to say every word out loud,' he says. 'At some stage, as their reading improves, so does their ability to sight-read [to read in their heads] and that is the stage at which reading really takes off.

By the age of eight or nine, most children can read in their heads. The development of the inner voice seems to be automatic for most people, but our data suggests a link with fluent reading, in that the process of learning to sight-read actually helps inner-speech develop.

'Everyone assumes everyone else is the same. However, we have found not everyone has an inner voice and in those who don't, literacy levels are often poor.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:36 AM | Permalink

April 5, 2010

Smart Move

 Smart-Move Tape  Best tape ever for a move, via Book of Joe, here is Smart Move Tape, only $2.95 for a 30 foot long tape at U-Haul.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:25 AM | Permalink

April 1, 2010

A different kind of vet in Afghanistan

For the British forces in Afghanistan, the secret weapon  one that even the Taliban won't fight against, is a veterinarian, the "Herriott of Helmand".

The man who cares for goats

It may not feature very highly in Nato's counter-insurgency manual but British forces have discovered that one way to triumph in the most vital battle of the Afghan war, winning over the hearts and minds of the local population, is through their goats and sheep.
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"There is very little understanding among the local farmers of veterinary care or basic animal husbandry. So I split my time when I run clinics between treating the flocks and educating the farmers."

The education can be a painstaking process. "There is near-total ignorance about causes and spread of disease, breeding cycles and how milk is produced," he said. "If a goat stops milking, it is said to be 'Allah's will' rather than the fact that it has not bred for 18 months and therefore has no anatomical reason to produce milk."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:52 AM | Permalink

First reviews of Apple iPad

Walter Mossberg in the Wall Street Journal

I believe this beautiful new touch-screen device from Apple has the potential to change portable computing profoundly, and to challenge the primacy of the laptop. It could even help, eventually, to propel the finger-driven, multitouch user interface ahead of the mouse-driven interface that has prevailed for decades.....But first, st, it will have to prove that it really can replace the laptop or netbook for enough common tasks, enough of the time, to make it a viable alternative. ... the iPad lacks some of the features—such as a physical keyboard, a Webcam, USB ports and multitasking—that most laptop or netbook users have come to expect.

 Ipad

Xeni Jardin at Boing Boing calls the iPad a "touch of genius" in her first look.

Just as the iPhone, Palm Pré and Android phones scratched an itch we didn't know we had, somewhere between cellphone and notebook, the iPad hits a completely new pleasure spot. The display is large enough to make the experience of apps and games on smaller screens stale. Typography is crisp, images gem-like, and the speed brisk thanks to Apple's A4 chip and solid state storage. As I browse early release iPad apps, web pages, and flip through the iBook store and books, the thought hits that this is a greater leap into a new user experience than the sum of its parts suggests.
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"A stereo 3D video of a static object that you can rotate in real time," Theo says over the phone. "Honestly, I'm not sure where you go from there. Smellovision? Not a whole lot more you can do."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:16 AM | Permalink