December 31, 2010

One or two things that may help

On the occasion of his 50th birthday, Father James Martin tweeted the 12 things he wished he had known when he was 25.

1. First up: Stop worrying so much! It's useless. (I.e. Jesus was right.)

2. Being a saint means being yourself. Stop trying to be someone else and just be your best self. Saves you heartache.

3. There's no right way to pray, any more than there's a right way to be a friend. What's "best" is what works best for you.

4. Remember three things and save yourself lots of unneeded heartache: You're not God. This ain't heaven. Don't act like a jerk.

5. Your deepest, most heartfelt desires are God's desires for you. And vice versa. Listen. And follow them.

6. Within you is the idea of your best self. Act as if you were that person and you will become that person, with God's grace.

7. Don't worry too much about the worst that can happen. Even if it happens, God is with you, and you can handle it. Really.

8. You can't force people to approve of you, agree with you, be impressed with you, love you or even like you. Stop trying.

9. When we compare, we are usually imagining someone else's life falsely. So our real-life loses out. I.e. Compare and despair.

10. Even when you finally realized the right thing, or the Christian thing, to do, it can still be hard to do. Do it anyway.

11. Seven things to say frequently: I love you. Thank you. Thank you, God. Forgive me. I'm so happy for you! Why not? Yes.

12. Peace and joy come after asking God to free you -- from anything that keeps you from being loving and compassionate.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:05 PM | Permalink

The Old Year, Auld Lang Syne


The year has become old and exhausted. Most of us are looking forward to a New Year, a fresh start and new possibilities.   

Many will make New Year's resolutions even though those resolutions will 'barely last longer than a week'.

Before the old year is gone, take a look back and list your top ten or twelve moments of the year that you want to remember. Take a look back through your calendar if you must.

It's so easy to forget as the years roll on, but if you make a list at the end of each year, you'll be memorializing those moments, those people you met you want never to forget. You'll be glad you did. Now, next year and much later in your life. If you do this every year, you will have memories like a string of pearls, all from your lists.

As Peggy Noonan writes today

The question it asks is clear: Should those we knew and loved be forgotten and never thought of? Should old times past be forgotten? No, says the song, they shouldn't be. We'll remember those times and those people, we'll toast them now and always, we'll keep them close. "We'll take a cup of kindness yet."

Now is the best time to do it for Auld Lang Syne.

Should old acquaintance be forgot,

and never brought to mind ?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and old lang syne ?

For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we'll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.
And surely you'll buy your pint cup !
and surely I'll buy mine !
And we'll take a cup o' kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 6:59 AM | Permalink

December 30, 2010

EU abolishes Christmas

EU abolishes Christmas in its new daily planner aimed at schoolchildren says Archbishop Crammer.

These daily planners, of which three million have produced (courtesy of the taxpayer), include the holidays of Jews, Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus, but there is not one mention of Christian holidays.

Despite Christians manifestly constituting the vast majority of the European Union.

The page for December 25th is completely empty, and at the bottom is the following message: "A true friend is someone who shares your worries and your joy.”

Easter's gone too.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:16 PM | Permalink

Hoping Walmart will save them

I don't think any political issue has outraged me as much as the chaos brought by the man-made drought central California because of absurd political decisions made to protect the delta smelt, nevermind the impact on real lives.

"We don't want welfare, we want water"

Finally, a federal judge finally brought some Judicial Sanity to the matter by ruling that human beings are part of the ecosystem as well as the smelt.

He also ripped into the environmental regulators for their junk science "guesstimates," stating that their shut-off "lacked factual and scientific justification, while effectively ignoring the irreparable harm (their regulations) have inflicted on humans and the human environment,"

But the worst part of these decisions is the high human cost. California's communities have suffered terrible disruption, with unemployment as high as 45% in some towns and farm workers forced to stand in food lines for bags of Chinese-grown carrots near fields they once harvested.

It's even worse than I thought. Thomas Lifson calls it Manmade famine in America

Fresno, California is not yet a sister city of Kiev, Ukraine, but the two cities, capitals of rich agricultural regions, share a history of mass hunger caused by central governments indifferent to the suffering of their people, in the pursuit of ideological goals. Investor's Business Daily explains:

Fresno is the agricultural capital of America. More food per acre in more variety can be grown in the fertile Central Valley surrounding this community than on any other land in America - perhaps in the world.

Yet far from being a paradise, Fresno is starting to resemble Zimbabwe or 1930s Ukraine, a victim of a famine machine that is entirely man-made, not by red communists this time, but by greens.

The federal government is unresponsive, the state government is bankrupt, one out of four families in Fresno is going hungry. So what are local newspapers and county officials doing about it? They are hoping Walmart will save them!

Local newspapers and Fresno County officials are trying to rally Facebook users to vote for Fresno in a corporate contest sponsored by Wal-Mart for $1 million in charity food donations for the hungry. Fresno, a city of 505,000, has taken the national lead because 24.1% of Fresno's families are going hungry.


Fresno shouldn't know the meaning of hunger or poverty, given its natural bounty. It's high time the greens who did this to the richest farmland in the country be held accountable. Far from bringing greenery, their disruptive agendas have left central California a wasteland.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:55 PM | Permalink

The Balm of Silence

I love snowstorms and snow days for the quiet they bring. The Anchoress is right. For 2011: Unwrap the Silence

We have allowed silence to become a gift forgotten, one we only consent to unwrap when all of our alternative bows and strings have been unraveled, and our diversions have been utterly played out. Our inability to be silent puts our minds and our souls at a disadvantage, because it robs us of the ability to wonder, and if we are not wondering at the impossible perfection of the world in its creation—if we are not wondering at spinning atoms and Incarnations—then we are lost to humility, and to experiencing gratitude.

And, without gratitude, we cannot develop a reasoned capacity for joy.

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Sereba Davies reviews the new BBC Two series on The Great Silence which she calls both moving and profound.

This three-part series not only discusses Catholicism but also offers the agnostic an intelligent way in to understanding some of its fundamental ideas, without taking on the full panoply of organised religion. It suggests, instead, that we be silent.

Father Christopher Jamison, the Abbot of Worth and star of BBC Two’s The Monastery a few years ago, believes that silence is the window to the soul, and the soul the window to God. In the series, Father Christopher invites five volunteers to spend a week at St Beuno’s, a Jesuit Centre in Wales, not speaking.

She compares what she sees in the series

In the programme, after middle-aged entrepreneur John, voluble mother of two Trish and the others finally calm down enough to shut up – something which takes most of episode one – the attention they are forced to pay to themselves starts to have an effect. All five recruits get very upset, facing losses and traumas they’ve had to brush under the carpet. Neither Trish nor advertising executive Carrie have given themselves the space to grieve for their deceased fathers; John has an adolescence of abuse still to get over. Now they have to face doing so.

with her experience on Buddhist Vipassana silent retreats and finds similarities

On the face of it, with their hours of sitting stock still, these demand something very different from the Bible reading and prayer that takes place at St Beuno’s. But despite the difference in activities, this welling up of emotions was also my experience and that of those around me. The silence, it seems, may be a critical element in both practices, despite their different trappings.

What is astonishing is what happens after their emotional unburdening, every one of these agnostics, if not atheists, went on to have some sort of spiritual revelation.

The third phase of deep silence, after you’ve listened a while to your restless thoughts, and then observed the emotions that arise when you give them space, involves a wonderful sense of peace which is remarkable in its contrast to the petty anxieties that normally govern our lives

Is silence a necessary pre-condition to this wonderful sense of peace? It would seem so and yet we do everything we can to avoid it because initially it makes us so uncomfortable.   

No Silence, Please, We're Americans writes Tim Muldoon.

There's noise everywhere. In our homes are screens and speakers with images and sounds of every sort. There are signs outside, along the roads, in the stores, on automobiles. There are screens in gas stations, in doctors' offices, restaurants. There are speakers in airports, on elevators, in our cars. We are bombarded by externally-generated thoughts that muscle in on our own. And often they simply replace our own: hence the tendency to brand our Facebook pages with favorite songs, movies, TV shows, and so on, which allow us "plug and play" personalities. In such a context, silence is like withdrawal.

And there's the rub: we've become addicted to noise, anything that distracts us from cultivating the practice of careful thinking, reflection, and its natural consequent: prayer. For when we think, and reflect upon the things we think about, one effect is a sense of wonder at it all.

Muldoon says most of us perceive silence as alien and do everything we can to avoid it.

Distraction is normal in our culture. Contemplativeness, silence and solitude are not.

This is not a new phenomenon.

Blaise Pascal, a gambler, mathematician, physicist, writer and Catholic philosopher wrote in his Pensees, that great masterpiece of French prose published  after his death in 1670:

" I have often said that the sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room, "

"Christianity for Modern Pagans: Pascal's Pensees" (Peter Kreeft, Blaise Pascal)

What is it like to read Pascal these days? Peter Kreeft describes it in the preface to his book.

It is like a roller coaster or an Irish country road or like an underwater cave: you don't know what to expect....Suddenly, without warning, an arrow pierces your heart. You instantly become very, very quiet. You stop breathing. Time stand still. You listen, really listen. To your heart. Pascal no longer speaks from the page of a book, or from history, from the past. It is exactly as if you were haunted, possessed by his ghost.

And you know, you just absolutely know, you have touched the Truth.

What happened to time is the question Kreeft posed to most every one he met for years and no one gave him an adequate answer until he read Pascal's answer.

We want to complexify our lives. We don’t have to, we want to. We wanted to be harried and hassled and busy. Unconsciously, we want the very things we complain about. For if we had leisure, we would look at ourselves and listen to our hearts and see the great gaping hole in our hearts and be terrified, because that hole is so big that nothing but God can fill it.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:12 PM | Permalink


The scientific evidence is in says Kevin Purdy at Lifehacker to support one of my favorite practical tips.   

BOUNCE dryer sheets keep away bees and mosquitoes from you and gnats from garden.   

They will also freshen your drawers and suitcases, eliminate static electricity from your television screen, and deodorize shoes and sneakers

Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:56 PM | Permalink

December 29, 2010

The ten most under-reported studies from 2010

The ten most under-reported studies from 2010

One: Breastfeeding improves boys’ literacy.

Two: California’s gay-on-gay violence is violent.

Three: American teens face culture of rejection.

Four: UK’s healthcare unhealthy

Five: Kids embrace abstinence-only education strategies.

Six: Softer-and-gentler dinosaurs were vegetarians.

Seven: Natural climate changes killed dinosaurs.

Eight: Schools are failing boys.

Nine: Burp — beer is good for your bones

Ten: Christophobia alive and well in Muslim World

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A dew-covered damselfly. More Jewels in the Morning Sunshine.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:22 AM | Permalink

An atheist argues that belief in God makes you a better person, both morally and practically

Theodore Dalrymple, an atheist, argues belief in God makes you a better person, both morally and practically.

Why religion is good for us

Over the years, my attitude to religion has changed, without my having recovered any kind of belief in God. The best and most devoted people I have ever met were Catholic nuns. Religious belief is seldom accompanied by the inflamed egotism that is so marked and deeply unattractive a phenomenon in our post-religious society. Although the Copernican and Darwinian revolutions are said to have given man a more accurate appreciation of his true place in nature, in fact they have rendered him not so much anthropocentric as individually self-centred.


Far from being humiliating, the humility of the religious person is deeply consolatory. The secularist is often embittered by the inevitable dissatisfactions of human existence, which are so much at variance with his infinite expectations; by contrast, the religious person appears to have a mature understanding and acceptance of disappointment and limitation. He is not like a child who is continually having his toys snatched from his hand.

--Moreover, the religious idea of compassion is greatly superior, both morally and practically, to the secular one. The secular person believes that compassion is due to the victim by virtue of what he has suffered; the religious person believes that compassion is due to everyone, by virtue of his humanity.

-- The secularist de-moralises the world, thus increasing the vulnerability of potential victims and, not coincidentally, their need for a professional apparatus of protection, which is and always will be ineffective, and is therefore fundamentally corrupt and corrupting. If a person is not a victim pure and simple, the secularist feels he is owed no compassion.

--The religious person, by contrast, is unembarrassed by the moral failings that lead people to act self-destructively because that is precisely what he knows man has been like since the expulsion from Eden. Because he knows that man is weak, and has no need to disguise his failings, either from himself or from others, he can be honest in a way that the secularist finds impossible.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:06 AM | Permalink

December 28, 2010

Complementarity of Desire

Dennis Prager looks at What Men Want

He most wants to be admired by the woman he loves.

and What Women Want

What a woman most wants is to be loved by a man she admires.


And what is it that women most admire in a man? From decades of talking to women on the radio and, of course, from simply living life, I have concluded that an admirable man is one who has three qualities: strength, integrity, ambition.

All three are needed. Strength without integrity is machismo. Integrity without strength or without ambition makes a man a milquetoast. And ambition without integrity makes for a successful crook.

He concludes

The beauty of all this is that it all comes together for men, for women, and for society.
Women get what they want most: to be married to and loved by a man they admire. Men then attain what they want most: to be admired by the woman they love. And society gets the thing it most needs: admirable men.
Unfortunately, none of this is taught at college.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:14 PM | Permalink

December 27, 2010

On the Third Day of Christmas

As a mighty snowstorm wails about us, it's fine time to experience more of Christmas on the web.

Singing your heart out at Christmas is good for you.  

In England, the charity Heart Research UK encourages everyone to sing for the benefits it brings

"As it's an aerobic activity singing improves heart health with related benefits to overall health and is linked to longevity, stress reduction, and general health maintenance.

"Singing also brings a great amount of happiness. It is impossible to sing well with a long face because it affects your pitch. Keeping the positive momentum up is essential. If we smile as we sing then people soon feel the benefit in more ways than one."

Professor Graham Welch says the human body is integrated.

"The physical, mental and emotional - these three things are interwoven.

"Because music is multi-sited in the brain and we're also involving ourselves in strong aerobic activity and singing is a form of exercise, it means there's a release of what's called the pleasure hormone.

"But when we sing we also see a measurable decrease in stress hormones like cortisol - a direct correlation in the physical endocrine system." And communal singing - like in a choir, a church service or even a singsong in the pub - helps boost our sense of self-esteem.

Yo Yo Ma plays and Alison Krauss, she of absolute angelic voice, sings The Wexford Carol, the oldest extant carol in the West, first sung more than 900 years ago in County Wexford, Ireland.

Father Barron, in his inimitable way, comments on the spiritual ancestors of Jesus,   On the genealogy of Jesus  The beginning of St Matthew's Gospel - which itself begins the New Testament - situates Jesus among the people of Israel. Sprinkled among his forbearers were Abraham, Jacob, David, Solomon and also a prostitute, a murderer, an outsider and several people about whom we know nothing. Barron says God entered fully into the ambiguity of the human condition and all the dysfunction of the human family. That is the good news.

Pope Benedict in his Christmas message said
Dear brothers and sisters listening to me here in Rome and throughout the world, I joyfully proclaim the message of Christmas: God became man; he came to dwell among us. God is not distant: he is "Emmanuel", God-with-us. He is no stranger: he has a face, the face of Jesus.

This message is ever new, ever surprising, for it surpasses even our most daring hope. First of all, because it is not merely a proclamation: it is an event, a happening, which credible witnesses saw, heard and touched in the person of Jesus of Nazareth! Being in his presence, observing his works and hearing his words, they recognized in Jesus the Messiah; and seeing him risen, after his crucifixion, they were certain that he was true man and true God, the only-begotten Son come from the Father, full of grace and truth

One can reflect endlessly on the implications for all of us the startling, astonishing news of the Incarnation of God in a little tiny baby in the little town of Bethlehem. Bing Crosby tells the story of One solitary life.
He never owned a home. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family. He never went to college. He never put His foot inside a big city. He never traveled two hundred miles from the place He was born. He never did one of the things that usually accompany greatness. He had no credentials but Himself…

--Nineteen long centuries have come and gone, and today He is a centerpiece of the human race and leader of the column of progress. I am far within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, all the navies that were ever built; all the parliaments that ever sat and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as has that one solitary life.

As Christians celebrate around the world, in Iraq, the requiem for that country's Christians may be tolling.
After Al-Qaida's October 31 massacre at a central Baghdad church, thousands of Christians have decided that their homeland is no longer safe. [...] "Contacting the authorities forces us to identify ourselves, and we aren't certain that some of the people threatening us aren't the people in the government offices that are supposed to be protecting us," one Christian Iraqi told the newspaper Sawt al-Iraq. Others have reported masked men coming to their homes at night and demanding that they "convert to Islam, leave or die."
Defying all the threats, hundreds of Catholics packed Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad
The attack has left many reeling. "Last year, we were all gathering" for Christmas, said Uday Saadallah Abdal. But "this year, I went to the house, and I saw it was empty... I was crying all night, because no one was here any more," he said.
The 28-year-old said two of his brothers were killed in the attack - one of the priests, Father Thair, and another brother Raed. His mother was also shot three times, and is hospitalised in France. "I feel that their souls are still there in the church; that is why I came. They encourage me to come here despite all the danger and threats.
More violence against Christians as 38 killed in Nigerian Christmas Weekend Attacks
Local police suspect radical Muslim group Boko Haram, which has a history of anti-Christian violence, in the church attacks. In the northern town of Maiduguri, armed men dragged the pastor of Victory Baptist Church out of his home and then shot him to death. Two men rehearsing for the carol service at the church and two people walking nearby were also killed. Afterwards, the mob set the church and pastor’s house on fire, according to The Associated Press. Also within the same city and on the same day, another group of men attacked the Church of Christ in Nigeria and killed an elderly security guard.

Now for the fascinating and astonishing astronomical explanation for the star of Bethlehem, the King Star at Word Around the Net .

For a long time people speculated on what this could have been: a nova, a comet, a meteorite, and so on. Each time a little more information was discovered, people got a little closer, but it was the study of Rick Larson which has uncovered the best case yet for the actual star and what it was. The full explanation of this is at --
--What they saw which caught their attention was this: Jupiter went into apparent retrograde motion three times around Regulus. It circled over and over - saying "king, king, king" as Larson puts it - which caught the attention of the magi. And what's more, the constellation (again recognized by both Persia and Rome) which Regulus is found is what we call Leo, the lion. The lion is the sign of the tribe of Judah, the ruling tribe of the Israelites. This wouldn't have been significant if the Jewish people had not been so important to and noticed by the Persian people, particularly Daniel and Esther.

-- A few months after the king dance around Regulus, Jupiter aligns with Venus. So now you have the king star, the biggest star in the night sky, lining up almost exactly with the mother star, the brightest star in the night sky. That was enough for the magi to get moving. If they weren't sure what was going on the first event, they had a pretty good idea what was happening now. Because this wasn't something that anyone alive had ever seen before - it happens roughly ever 155 years - and after the first event, it was too significant to ignore.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:54 PM | Permalink

December 25, 2010

"Alpha and Omega is sitting in Mommy's lap"

Merry Christmas to all my readers.

Pope Benedict at Midnight Mass

This child has ignited the light of goodness in men and has given them strength to overcome the tyranny of might. This child builds his kingdom in every generation from within, from the heart.


Cantare amantis est says Saint Augustine: singing belongs to one who loves. Thus, down the centuries, the angels’ song has again and again become a song of love and joy, a song of those who love. At this hour, full of thankfulness, we join in the singing of all the centuries, singing that unites heaven and earth, angels and men. Yes, indeed, we praise you for your glory. We praise you for your love. Grant that we may join with you in love more and more and thus become people of peace.

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Monsignor Charles Pope, Touched by God at Christmas

The infinite is an infant. He who looks down upon all creation now looks up from a cradle. He who spoke worlds into existence, now sounds forth with the cry of an infant. Another old Latin hymn captures mystery and the warmth of the moment: Alpha et O, matris in gremio (Alpha and omega is sitting in mommy’s lap). And from his mother’s lap he beckons us to approach and touch him. This day, we touch our God, and God touches us.

the Lord didn’t just come to get us out of trouble, but to get into trouble with us. Today the Lord meets us where we are. And some us are in trouble right now. All of us have known trouble. And the Lord loves us enough to get down into the trouble with us. You see, he is not born in a palace, or even a comfortable place. He is not born into privilege, He is born in poverty. He is, at least for now, homeless, born in a smelly cave intended for animals, unfit for human habitation. Soon enough he and his family will have to flee for their lives and live as refugees in a strange and foreign land. Later he will endure trials and temptations in the desert, exhausting journeys as he preaches and teaches, inept disciples, fickle crowds, mounting persecution and hatred, crucifixion and horrifying death. Yes, the Lord knows our trouble, first hand.

Cosmic Greetings from NASA 2010 via Vanderleun
Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:09 PM | Permalink

December 22, 2010

'Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent'

Christmas is almost here. Billboard called Cynthia Clawson "The most awesome voice in gospel music"

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:50 AM | Permalink

December 20, 2010

"It's a downward spiral" UPDATED

It's not just the federal government that's in a precarious financial position.

The Day of Reckoning is at hand.

San Francisco set aside $9.7 million to cover the costs of lifetime health care benefits for municipal retirees and their dependents. It's going to cost the city $4.4 billion to provide what they promised
To put the $4.4 billion liability in perspective, San Francisco has borrowed $2.6 billion through general obligation bonds in its entire history.

All city employees hired before 2009 were promised lifetime health care after five years of work. The coverage includes all dependents, and it does not matter how long before retirement the employee stopped working for the city.
Just where do they think they are going to get the money?

The weak cities and states are getting weaker in the municipal bond markets so their cost of borrowing is increasing.
Underlying this dynamic are issuers struggling not just with budget woes but with higher borrowing costs that end up inflating budget deficits. That prompts still more borrowing and also can result in ratings downgrades that can further raise borrowing costs.

"It's a downward spiral," said George Rusnak, national director of fixed income for Wells Fargo Private Bank.

UPDATED. I simply can not grasp the enormity of the $2 trillion that could take down 100 U.S. cities next year asThe Guardian reports
More than 100 American cities could go bust next year as the debt crisis that has taken down banks and countries threatens next to spark a municipal meltdown, a leading analyst has warned.

Meredith Whitney, the US research analyst who correctly predicted the global credit crunch, described local and state debt as the biggest problem facing the US economy, and one that could derail its recovery.

"Next to housing this is the single most important issue in the US and certainly the biggest threat to the US economy," Whitney told the CBS 60 Minutes programme on Sunday night.

"There's not a doubt on my mind that you will see a spate of municipal bond defaults. You can see fifty to a hundred sizeable defaults – more. This will amount to hundreds of billions of dollars' worth of defaults."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 6:15 PM | Permalink

Pass phrase not password

A good primer on How to Fix Your Terrible, Insecure Passwords in Five Minutes.

Protect yourself with a pass - phrase instead of a pass word.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 5:52 PM | Permalink

Common sense that's funny, not boring

Funny and practical, I loved this piece by Gregory Sullivan at Maine Family Robinson, The Top Ten Dumb Things Other People Want You To Do To Wreck Your House and Save Money . As a contractor and carpenter, he's seen and worked at good houses and bad ones and knows what he is talking about. As a writer he's funny as all get out. Just take a look at his bio.

1: CFLs: You don't have to pass laws to force people to do things if they make any sense. Exhibit A: We'll soon be squinting at things using only the wan, greenish-yellow, light-like waves dribbling out of the expensive, delicate, miniature Superfund sites screwed into our lamps where a proper lightbulb used to go. Yes, Compact Fluorescent Lightbulb use is already the law of the land, phased in over a period of years. We're supposed to pay quintiple for one-fifth the light, all to save us from the dreaded "waste heat." I live in western Maine. "Waste heat" is as mythical a beast as I've heard of. Rarer than honest State Senators and more elusive than pretty girls that pay for their own drinks. I'm thinking of going back to Coleman lanterns instead.

2. Venting Clothes Dryers Indoors

3. Boarding up Your Fireplace

4. Blanketing Your Water Heater

5. Spray In Insulation

6. Space Age Windows and Doors

7. Open Floor Plans

8. Low Flow Shower Heads

9. Ceiling Fans

10 Elaborate Tax-Subsidized Boilers

Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:43 PM | Permalink

December 16, 2010

NASA's Aboutface

Forget global warming. Now, NASA is saying

the Sun drives almost every aspect of our world's climate system and makes possible life as we know it. ...

According to scientists' models of Earth's orbit and orientation toward the Sun indicate that our world should be just beginning to enter a new period of cooling -- perhaps the next ice age...

Climate Change: It's the Sun Stupid

The science "consensus" has not only collapsed, it has raised the white flag and confessed that the skeptics were right all along. I think we can stick a fork in the climate change agenda. A few nuts will continue to wander the streets, mumbling to themselves and each other. But as a significant political agenda, I think it's over.

Elsewhere in Australia, CO2 is causing SuperWheat

CO2 is called a fertiliser, it’s a CO2 fertilisation effect which means that carbon dioxide is a food source for plants if you will, that’s the carbon that goes into the bulk of the biomass of the plant. So raising levels of CO2 actually increases that growth, increases the biomass and in agriculture, increases the yield. Given, of course, that there’s sufficient water and sufficient nitrogen and that is what we’re seeing here. We have a number of different varieties in this trial and we’re seeing overall on average 20 per cent yield increase due to elevated CO2.

The question is whether Can environmentalism be saved from itself?

Before they were sucked into the giant vortex of global warming, environmentalists did useful things. They protested against massive Third World dams that would ruin both natural and human habitats. They warned about invasive species and diseases that could tear through our forests and wreck our water systems. They fought for national parks and greenbelts and protected areas. They talked about the big things too – such as how the world could feed another three billion people without destroying all the rain forests and running out of water. They believed in conservation – conserving this beautiful planet of ours from the worst of human despoliation – rather than false claims to scientific certainty about the future, unenforceable treaties and radical utopian social reform.

“How high a price must the world pay for green folly?” asked the thinker Walter Russell Mead. “How many years will be lost, how much credibility forfeited, how much money wasted before we have an environmental movement that has the intellectual rigour, political wisdom and mature, sober judgment needed to address the great issues we face?”

The answer is too high, too many and too much. Please grow up, people. You have important work to do.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 5:54 PM | Permalink

"Inadvertently, indirectly, infertility has become the Pill’s primary side effect."

Unexpected result

New York magazine looks at the impact of the Pill after 50 years. Waking Up from the Pill

The fact is that the Pill, while giving women control of their bodies for the first time in history, allowed them to forget about the biological realities of being female until it was, in some cases, too late. It changed the narrative of women’s lives, so that it was much easier to put off having children until all the fun had been had (or financial pressures lessened). Until the past couple of decades, even most die-hard feminists were still married at 25 and pregnant by 28, so they never had to deal with fertility problems, since a tiny percentage of women experience problems conceiving before the age of 28. Now many New York women have shifted their attempts at conception back about ten years. And the experience of trying to get pregnant at that age amounts to a new stage in women’s lives, a kind of second adolescence. For many, this passage into childbearing—a Gail Sheehy–esque one, with its own secrets and rituals—is as fraught a time as the one before was carefree.

Suddenly, one anxiety—Am I pregnant?—is replaced by another: Can I get pregnant? The days of gobbling down the Pill and running out to CVS at 3 a.m. for a pregnancy test recede in the distance, replaced by a new set of obsessions. The Pill didn’t create the field of infertility medicine, but it turned it into an enormous industry. Inadvertently, indirectly, infertility has become the Pill’s primary side effect.

And ironically, this most basic of women’s issues is one that traditional feminism has a very hard time processing—the notion that this freedom might have a cost is thought to be so dangerous it shouldn’t be mentioned.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 5:41 PM | Permalink

December 15, 2010

Alzheimer's is like a clogged drain

Insights Give Hope for New Attack on Alzheimer's

The first sign the disease is developing — before there are any symptoms — is a buildup of amyloid. And for years, it seemed, the problem in Alzheimer’s was that brain cells were making too much of it.

But now, a surprising new study has found that that view appears to be wrong. It turns out that most people with Alzheimer’s seem to make perfectly normal amounts of amyloid. They just can’t get rid of it. It’s like an overflowing sink caused by a clogged drain instead of a faucet that does not turn off.


Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:55 AM | Permalink

Fountain of youth?

Is lenalidomide the fountain of youth?

Eureka! Now scientists discover the drug that could give you a longer and healthier life

Until now it has merely been the stuff of fairy tales and science fiction.

But a ‘fountain of youth’ drug which could help pensioners stay fit and healthy long into old age has been unveiled by doctors.

In tests, tiny amounts of the drug lenalidomide massively boosted immune system chemicals key to fighting off invaders from bugs to tumours.

Concentrations of one of the protective compounds rose more than 100-fold.

---And the minuscule amounts of the drug needed mean that treatment is likely to be side-effect free, the doctors behind the breakthrough believe.

_Fountain of youth.jpg

Image is a detail from the painting Fountain of Youth by Lisa Zwerling

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:50 AM | Permalink

December 13, 2010

Being a Serf

The Middle Ages are back in the news.

Maybe being a serf wasn't so bad after all! Medieval Britons were twice as rich as the poor in the Third World today.

Living standards in medieval England were far above the 'bare bones subsistence' experience of people in many of today's poor countries, a study claims.

Research led by economists at the University of Warwick shows that the average income per head was £638 - double the average income of today's poorest nations..... the paper, entitled British Economic Growth 1270-1870 and published by the Warwick's Centre on Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE).

How much of an effect did the building of the great cathedrals have on their lives? The economic legacy of gothic cathedral building


The accomplishments of the Gothic cathedral builders are immense. They are usually examined in terms of technical and artistic achievement, however, This seems shortsighted in view of their economic ramifications. The legacy of these works can be seen in technology, specialization and mobility of labor, and procedures in accounting. They thus served as a vehicle for the transformation of feudal society to the early capitalism which generated our modern world.

For a flavor of the Middle Ages and the impact of the building of a cathedral on the lives of many, nothing is better than Ken Follett's Pillars of the Earth.

"The Pillars of the Earth" (Ken Follett)

The book is itself a phenomenon.

Published in September 1989 to rave reviews, it was on the New York Times bestseller list for eighteen weeks. It also reached the No. 1 position on lists in Canada, Great Britain, and Italy, and was on the German bestseller list for six years. It was voted the third greatest book ever written by 250,000 viewers of the German television station ZDF in 2004, beaten only by The Lord of the Rings and the Bible. When The Times (London) asked its readers to vote for the sixty greatest novels of the last sixty years, The Pillars of the Earth was placed at No. 2, after To Kill a Mockingbird. (The sequel, World Without End, was No. 23 on the same list.) In November 2007, Pillars became the most popular choice of the Oprah Winfrey Book Club, returning to No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list. The miniseries, produced by Ridley Scott and starring Ian McShane and Matthew Macfadyen, is due for broadcast in 2010.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:48 PM | Permalink

Boston Dawna

A 59-year-old woman of passion and purpose, she is an "outlandish but celebrated crime stopper" - Boston Dawna.

Truth, justice, and Boston Dawna’s way

She inhales cigarettes and exhales F-bombs. She keeps her smokes and her cellphone in her bra, so she can get to them quickly. There was a time when she carried real handcuffs, but she has busted so many bad guys — and lost so many handcuffs — that she started buying novelty ones in bulk from a sex-toy store. The criminals never noticed.

“That’s because,’’ she likes to say, “criminals are [expletive] dumb.’’

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:42 AM | Permalink


The Economist interviews Oliver Sachs who is face-blind and writes that 2.5% of the population is like him, suffering from prosopagnosia.

One can react and respond in all sorts of different ways to blindness. Some people will avoid embarrassment and confusion and all social contact. Others will become extremely attentive to matters of dress and movement and voice, so much so that they become tuned automatically to how people are dressed and how they move. For my part I think I’m good at recognising posture and movement. I’m a little bit on the reticent side—that’s a primary characteristic of face blindness. People should perhaps "out" themselves. In the book I tell a story where a man goes to a physician and says he can't recognise people, and so his life has become "a round of apology and offence". The matter must be aired. If people know you're face blind you don't have to apologise.

"The Mind's Eye" (Oliver Sacks)

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:22 AM | Permalink

December 10, 2010


I have too much to do that I've been putting off for too long. So expect light blogging until the end of the year.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:20 AM | Permalink

The New California Aristocracy

Across the country we have a Pension Tsunami. One example: 10 former San Diego city employees split $61 million in pensions
This is not an isolated case
There are 9111 retired California government workers that we know of who receive pensions in excess of $100,000.
It's the new California Aristocracy
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:18 AM | Permalink

December 9, 2010

What has happened to marriage?

The new report from the State of Our Unions which monitors the current health of marriage and family life in America has sobering implications for the future of the country.

New data indicate that trends in nonmarital childbearing, divorce, and marital quality in Middle America increasingly resemble those of the poor, where marriage is fragile and weak. Yet among the highly educated and affluent, marriage is stable and appears to be getting even stronger.

W. Bradford Wilcox, a co-author of the report, finds that shifts in marriage attitudes, increases in unemployment, and declines in religious attendance are among the trends are driving the retreat from marriage in Middle America. When Marriage Disappears

Ross Douhat comments on The Changing Culture War

We’ve known for a while that America has a marriage gap: college graduates divorce infrequently and bear few children out of wedlock, while in the rest of the country unwed parenthood and family breakdown are becoming a new normal. This gap has been one of the paradoxes of the culture war: highly educated Americans live like Ozzie and Harriet despite being cultural liberals, while middle America hews to traditional values but has trouble living up to them.

This means that a culture war that’s often seen as a clash between liberal elites and a conservative middle America looks more and more like a conflict within the educated class — pitting Wheaton and Baylor against Brown and Bard, Redeemer Presbyterian Church against the 92nd Street Y, C. S. Lewis devotees against the Philip Pullman fan club.


But as religious conservatives have climbed the educational ladder, American churches seem to be having trouble reaching the people left behind. This is bad news for both Christianity and the country. The reinforcing bonds of strong families and strong religious communities have been crucial to working-class prosperity in America. Yet today, no religious body seems equipped to play the kind of stabilizing role in the lives of the “moderately educated middle” (let alone among high school dropouts) that the early-20th-century Catholic Church played among the ethnic working class.

--This, in turn, may be remembered as the great tragedy of the culture war: While college-educated Americans battle over what marriage should mean, much of the country may be abandoning the institution entirely.

This is Chilling News for Children

The precipitous decline of marriage among the moderately educated middle is a serious and enormous social problem. After all, stable family life is associated with all sorts of salubrious outcomes—behavioral, educational, and economic–just as unstable or non-existent family life is associated with all sorts of social pathologies. What’s more, if stable family life doesn’t help pave the way for social mobility, then we run the risk of introducing or making more permanent just the kind of class structure that can give the lie to the American Dream.

Is Middle America giving up on marriage?

Dr. Andrew Cherlin} and Dr. [Bradford] Wilcox say that the trends are troubling not because of some puritanical value on marriage, but because of the clear links between strong marriage and happiness, economic prosperity, and children’s well-being. “Their health, wealth, and happiness are all increased when women, and especially men, stay married,” says Wilcox, who notes that children are also much more likely to thrive when their parents stay married. Moreover, Dr. Cherlin notes that about half of all nonmarriage cohabiting unions - including those with children - break up within five years. “You could argue that there’s nothing wrong with living together,” he says. “But if it makes the family lives of children more unstable, then that’s a concern.”

The Economist reported three years ago in The Frayed Knot that the widening 'marriage gap' is breeding inequality.

Middle-class kids growing up with two biological parents are “socialised for success”. They do better in school, get better jobs and go on to create intact families of their own. Children of single parents or broken families do worse in school, get worse jobs and go on to have children out of wedlock. This makes it more likely that those born near the top or the bottom will stay where they started. America, argues Ms Hymowitz, is turning into “a nation of separate and unequal families”.


Marriage itself is “a wealth-generating institution”, according to Barbara Dafoe Whitehead and David Popenoe, who run the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University. Those who marry “till death do us part” end up, on average, four times richer than those who never marry. This is partly because marriage provides economies of scale—two can live more cheaply than one—and because the kind of people who make more money—those who work hard, plan for the future and have good interpersonal skills—are more likely to marry and stay married. But it is also because marriage affects the way people behave.

More evidence that marriage affects the way people behave. Study: Marriage makes for good men: good men marry

I close with a quote from Representative Michael Pence.

"You would not be able to print enough money in a thousand years to pay for the government you would need if the traditional family continues to collapse."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:59 AM | Permalink

Live with the end in mind

Zen Habits on The Key to Dying Happy

To die happy, you must live life with that end in mind. Live a life of purpose.


Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:22 AM | Permalink


Narcissistic personality disorder describes a condition is which there is an inflated sense of self-importance and an extreme preoccupation with one's self. A malignant self-love.

Every one knows the type and most can point to narcissists among their acquaintances or friends.   The decision to eliminate from the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is puzzling, so I was pleased to learn that Not every one is pleased.

One of the sharpest critics of the DSM committee on personality disorders is a Harvard psychiatrist, Dr. John Gunderson, an old lion in the field of personality disorders and the person who led the personality disorders committee for the current manual.

Asked what he thought about the elimination of narcissistic personality disorder, he said it showed how “unenlightened” the personality disorders committee is.

“They have little appreciation for the damage they could be doing.” He said the diagnosis is important in terms of organizing and planning treatment.

“It’s draconian,” he said of the decision, “and the first of its kind, I think, that half of a group of disorders are eliminated by committee.”

A recent study showed that Narcissistic students don't mind cheating on their way to the top.   

What is a therapist to do with these budding white collar criminals?

In Narcissism - The Malady of Me, Benedict Carey writes

Most people can smell it from across the company cafeteria, and in the most precious precincts of places like New York, Los Angeles and London, it’s a familiar scent.


Narcissism was always a natural. Its technical definition describes a devastatingly vulnerable person, compensating for a deeply imprinted inadequacy with a desperate need for admiration, and a grandiose self-image.


A word like that is not going anywhere, regardless of what the experts working on the DSM decide. On the contrary: in recent months some of the researchers pushing to drop the diagnosis have softened their stance; the betting now is that the diagnosis is going to remain in the final revision. The term, like so many people it describes in life and in treatment, cannot be so easily ignored.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:05 AM | Permalink

December 8, 2010

The Deepening Hole


Chart of the day calls this the Chart of the year.

After hitting the nadir of job losses relative to our peak inter-recession employment, we have essentially flatlined for far longer than any other post-recession period. Nothing in the data shows a hint that we will soon break out of that pattern either, and Ben Bernanke says we’ll probably go four to five more years on this same trajectory.

The Wall Street Journal reports that 14% of the population, almost 43 million people, collected food stamps last month, up 16% from one year ago.

As Walter Russell Mead writes, even the New York Times is warning: Blue State Armageddon on the Way

The global financial crisis could be heading to a blue state near you: that is the latest grim news from the New York Times: “Mounting Debts by States Stoke Fears of Crisis.“ Normally a cheerleader for the free spending (in bluespeak, compassionate) policies of the public sector union dominated, high tax, high cost states like California, Illinois and New York, the Times now warns that fiscal ruin could be at hand.

The problem is state debt. New York, California and Illinois look more like Greece to their bondholders every day.

--A deeply disturbing graph shows a true panic underway as investors pull money out of mutual funds that invest in municipal bonds even faster than at the height of the market collapse in October 2008.

--If things go wrong in the markets for blue state debt, watch out. If big blue states like New York, California and Illinois hit a point of market failure when private investors will no longer buy their bonds, Washington will have to decide what to do. Fast. It will be ugly, and it will hurt. ...

The fiscal meltdown of the big blue states, if financial Armageddon actually arrives, will be the biggest domestic crisis for the American people since the Depression, and the biggest crisis for the Democratic Party since the Civil War. ...

James Pethokoukis muses whether there is a Secret GOP plan: Push states to declare bankruptcy and smash unions.

Congressional Republicans appear to be quietly but methodically executing a plan that would a) avoid a federal bailout of spendthrift states and b) cripple public employee unions by pushing cash-strapped states such as California and Illinois to declare bankruptcy. This may be the biggest political battle in Washington, my Capitol Hill sources tell me, of 2011.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:10 AM | Permalink

Moment of Birth, MRI scan

A German mother agreed to give birth inside an MRI machine and so Doctors produce first-ever MRI scan at the moment of birth.


Gynecologist Ernst Beinder at Berlin's Charité Hospital said the birth proceeded normally and the machine filmed all the movements and processes that went on inside the womb.

They were even able to use the machine to monitor the baby's heart beat. 'We can now see all the details we previously could only study with probes,' he said.

'These images are fascinating and proved yet again that every birth is a small miracle,' said Beinder. The hospital said several expectant mothers had volunteered to participate in the experiment and five more births would be imaged with an MRI machine.

While most MRI machines are tube-shaped, the Charité team developed a special 'open' scanner which provided the necessary room for midwives and the mother during the birth.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:51 AM | Permalink

"I'll die in debt"

I'll die in debt, say one in three

Nine out of 10 people have run up unsecured debt and many fear they will never be able to pay back what they owe, a survey has claimed.

Around 89pc of people aged between 18 and 35 said they owed money on a credit card, loan or overdraft, the research showed.

A third of people admitted they did not think they would ever be debt-free, 54pc of whom said they would always need to borrow money in order to fund the lifestyle they wanted.

One in five of these people also claimed they were not worried about the possibility of their debts being passed on to their next of kin if they died before they were repaid.

Two in three people worry about having enough money, but most don't do anything about it.

Nearly two-thirds of people are worried about their finances, but most are failing to take steps to improve their situation, a survey reveals today.......

But despite being concerned about money, only 14 per cent had taken time to identify their financial priorities and plan towards them.

This was down from 26 per cent two years ago, while 27 per cent admitted they had never drawn up a budget.

Instead, one in three said they were counting on winning the lottery to improve their fortunes.

These surveys took place in England. but I suspect the results would be similar here. Our politicians are even worse.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:15 AM | Permalink

December 7, 2010

Alien self-concepts

Annie Gottlieb in Elegy for Experience

I hardly know anyone under 40 (and few enough over 40) who isn’t on one antidepressant or another; what we considered an existential and deeply individuating ordeal, they conceptualize as a chemical imbalance. What they don’t seem to realize is that “my serotonin” or “my dopamine” is every bit as much a subjective fantasy as “my libido” or “my anima.” We have no direct, sensory experience of our neurotransmitters! They are concepts without any emotional color or content, without any associations except for the prestige of science, an authority that derives from the very fact that it speaks a language we cannot relate to. This is an alienating fantasy of one’s self, not as a cosmos of experience, but as a chemical robot in need of a tune-up by an expert. This robot has no inner space; it is solid-state.


With so many people self-medicating to deal with their feelings and pain, I was not at all surprised that Drugs were found in 33% of killed drivers.

According to a National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) report released Tuesday, one-third of all drug tests on drivers killed in motor vehicle accidents came back positive for drugs ranging from hallucinogens to prescription painkillers last year.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:31 AM | Permalink

"He brought a sense of tranquility and faith back to the people"

Rev David Beaumont, a Franciscan priest from Hempstead, N.Y. is the American missionary who brings solace to a drug-torn Mexican region.

When Beaumont arrived here 20 years ago as a young missionary, the roads were unpaved, there was no electricity, and there was little to eat besides beans and tortillas. He'd been sent to serve dirt-poor Pima Indians, some of whom were still living in caves, but they ran and hid whenever he arrived in their villages.

"Sometimes I think it was easier back then," said Beaumont, 50, laughing at that memory as he rumbled along a dirt road in a pickup truck and the tattered brown friar's habit he wears over bluejeans. With his long beard and hair, and 6-foot-3 frame, he is an emissary for peace, humility and love in one of the largest and most dangerous drug-growing areas in the world.

Today, Beaumont speaks four local indigenous languages, and English so seldom that his pronunciation has taken on a Mexican lilt. "David has dedicated his life to this place," said Cesar Lozano, an apprentice friar on a one-year assignment to help Beaumont. "He embraces the people wherever he goes, and he does not judge them. He is completely devoted to Christ."


Beaumont has also lived in the Sierra Madre long enough that he does not mention the cartels by name, nor speak out against growing marijuana and opium poppies. The friar's habit is not a bulletproof vest.

"I know the first person who planted marijuana here," Beaumont said, laughing again. "He still comes to Mass sometimes."

After a particularly vicious killing of a 73-year-old man, the people were terrorized.

Three weeks later, Beaumont organized a religious procession along the highway. A thousand people came, marching with icons of Saint Francis and the Virgin of Guadalupe. "The message we wanted to send was: We live here, we have the right to live here, and we will continue to live here," Beaumont said. The Pimas returned to their homes.

"He brought a sense of tranquility and faith back to the people," said Isaul Holguin, a town official in Yecora. "They feel he protects them." The military also put a new checkpoint along the highway. The armed men from Chihuahua have not come back.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:22 AM | Permalink

A simple, carefree childhood

What should a four-year old know?

Much less than we realize and much more

One mom posted a laundry list of all of the things her son knew. Counting to 100, planets, how to write his first and last name, and on and on. Others chimed in with how much more their children already knew, some who were only 3. A few posted URL’s to lists of what each age should know. The fewest yet said that each child develops at his own pace and not to worry.

It bothered me greatly to see these mothers responding to a worried mom by adding to her concern, with lists of all the things their children could do that hers couldn’t. We are such a competitive culture that even our preschoolers have become trophies and bragging rights. Childhood shouldn’t be a race.


So here, I offer my list of what a 4 year old should know.

1. She should know that she is loved wholly and unconditionally, all of the time.

2. He should know that he is safe and he should know how to keep himself safe in public, with others, and in varied situations. He should know that he can trust his instincts about people and that he never has to do something that doesn’t feel right, no matter who is asking. He should know his personal rights and that his family will back them up.

3. She should know how to laugh, act silly, be goofy and use her imagination. She should know that it is always okay to paint the sky orange and give cats 6 legs. ....

she also gives good advice to parents.
2. That the single biggest predictor of high academic achievement and high ACT scores is reading to children. Not flash cards, not workbooks, not fancy preschools, not blinking toys or computers, but mom or dad taking the time every day or night (or both!) to sit and read them wonderful books.
3. That being the smartest or most accomplished kid in class has never had any bearing on being the happiest. We are so caught up in trying to give our children “advantages” that we’re giving them lives as multi-tasked and stressful as ours. One of the biggest advantages we can give our children is a simple, carefree childhood.

via Kottke's Childhood isn't a race
Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:09 AM | Permalink

Aspirin the Wonder Drug

My mother used to call aspirin "the wonder drug" because it worked so effectively and nobody really knew how. All they knew was this extract from willow bark reduced fever and treated pain.

Aspirin, acetyl salicylic acid, we learned prevents strokes and heart attacks. Now new studies show that Daily aspirin 'can cut cancer death rate by 50 per cent'

The study has led to the 100-year-old painkiller – costing just 1p a tablet – being hailed as ‘the most amazing drug in the world’. Experts say healthy middle-aged people who start taking low-dose aspirin around the age of 45 or 50 for 20 to 30 years could expect to reap the most benefit, because cancer rates rise with age.

The study, published in The Lancet medical journal, looked at eight trials where heart patients were allocated daily aspirin or dummy treatment for five years.

The heart benefits had already been reported – this time the researchers wanted to discover what happened to death rates from cancer. They found dramatic results, with aspirin linked to fewer deaths from a host of cancers.

After five years of taking aspirin, death rates fell by 34 per cent for all cancers and 54 per cent for gastrointestinal cancers.


Aspirin was the trade name registered in 1899 by the German Company Bayer, but, as part of the war reparations specified in the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, it lost its status as a registered trademark in France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

_aspirin crystals .jpg

Aspirin crystals as seen in a color-enhanced electron micrograph by Annie Cavanagh and Dave McCarthy

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:33 AM | Permalink

December 6, 2010

Are we all doomed?

Max Hastings writes We're all doomed!!! We still haven't woken up to how much poorer the West is going to be in the future...
One of the most important lessons I have learned as a historian is that, until something earth-shaking happens, even informed and intelligent people find it hard to imagine that their comfortable daily lives could suddenly be wrenched out of true, familiar landmarks swept aside. Human beings are creatures of habit: we assume that what was yesterday, and is today, will still be so tomorrow.
The world will probably come out the other side of its current troubles — but only probably. We are living in more dangerous times than the world has known since at least the Fifties. Even the most enlightened seers do not dare to prophesy how the story will end.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:00 AM | Permalink

December 3, 2010

Why no life insurance?

I don't understand how families with young children don't think it's necessary to have life insurance. In 2004, 90% of such families had life insurance; in 2009, only 77% did.

Households with life insurance at lowest level in 50 years.

Only 44% of households have an individual life insurance policy, and 30% have no individual or employer-provided life insurance, according to a recent survey by LIMRA, an industry-sponsored group. Some 11 million households with children younger than 18 — viewed as families with the greatest need for coverage — have no life insurance.

The drop in insurance coverage comes at a time when premiums for term life insurance are significantly lower than they were a decade ago. For example, a 35-year-old healthy man can purchase a $500,000, 20-year term policy for about $25 a month, according to ING, a financial institution that sells life insurance.

Among the reasons offered for lack of coverage are the economic downturn, procrastination, and fewer insurance agents.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:56 AM | Permalink

College debt bubble

Let this be a warning to prospective college students. Too much debt can prevent you from buying a house or even finding a mate. And you'll never be rid of it. This debt is not dischargeable in bankruptcy.

Is the college debt bubble ready to explode?

In some respects, the student loan crisis looks remarkably like the subprime mortgage crisis. First, outstanding student loan debt has ballooned: It grew roughly four-fold in the last decade to $833 billion as of June — surpassing outstanding credit card debt for the first time.


As a result of easy credit, declining grants and soaring tuition costs, more than two-thirds of students graduated with debt in 2008 — up from 45 percent in 1993. The average amount is $24,000, according to the Project on Student Debt.

Tales of beleaguered borrowers abound. Kelli Space, 23, borrowed nearly $200,000 to get a bachelor's degree in sociology from Northeastern University — $12,000 in federal loans and $189,000 from Sallie Mae. Space, who lives with her parents and works full-time, started a Web site called, soliciting donations to help meet her debt obligation, which comes to $891 monthly. That number rises to $1,600 next November.


While the housing collapse's impact was wide-ranging — wreaking havoc on a multitude of industries and market participants — the primary losers in this debacle are the borrowers. Lenders can't repossess a college degree, and changes to the bankruptcy law in 1984 and 2005 mean borrowers can't charge off their obligations the way they can shed credit-card, mortgage or even gambling debt when they file for bankruptcy. (

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:15 AM | Permalink

Light of the World

According to Forbes Magazine, Pope Benedict is the fifth most powerful man in the world just behind Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and just ahead of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Called the "highest earthly authority for 1.1. billion souls", one-sixth of the world's population, he was anoted for "healing old wounds" in September when he became the first pope to visit London's Westminster Abbey.

"Light of the World: The Pope, The Church and The Signs Of The Times" (Peter Seewald, Pope Benedict XVI)

Last week Light of the World, a far-ranging and candid interview of Pope Benedict by Peter Seevald , was published here in the United States by Ignatius Press. For those of you who don't have the time or the inclination to read the whole book, yet are interested in what he has to say, I offer you this review by Robert Barron.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:58 AM | Permalink

December 2, 2010

"The goodies were supposed to go on forever because they were promised to the people by right."

Richard Fernandez on the Euro crisis in Europe and The uproar caused by the collision between the immovable force of positive rights and the irresistible object of bankruptcy.

The goodies were supposed to go on forever because they were promised to the people by right. Promising these “positive rights” to the citizenry was long regarded as the hallmark of enlightened government, especially by those who admired Europe and felt that the American-style Bill of Rights, essentially limiting government, was a relic of the Dark Ages.


All over the continent, protesters demanded that the spending continue. It has been going on for so long it hardly seems possible that the music is finally stopping.


Keep the party going, say the protesters. The problem is the munchies are gone and the beer kegs are tapped out. And the power man is waiting outside to disconnect the light. The music can’t play for much longer. The National Post describes the descent of the Welfare State into bankruptcy using Portugal as a case study. In the long tradition of European societies, it defined its citizen’s rights not in terms of what government could not do to them, but of what government promised to give them.


Why are the inmates bolting? The uproar caused by the collision between the immovable force of positive rights and the irresistible object of bankruptcy. Europeans are demanding their “rights” and while their governments are tying to find the right words to say, “we’re broke”. But it is being spoken in a whisper. The European leaders are probably afraid of what happens if the party crowd finds out that the stash is truly, truly gone. Finito. Acabado. Kaput. That the enchanted castle is mortgaged to the hilt; that the repo man is right outside the door. The Euro crisis isn’t just the crisis of a single currency. It is reality’s referendum on the Welfare State project. The real significance of a collapse in Spain or Italy isn’t simply that it means the end of the Euro, but that it signifies the end of a lie. You just can’t write a check that you can’t cash.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:30 PM | Permalink

More Hidden Beauty

From the starrier skies in the heavens

Scientist find 200 sextillion more stars in the sky.


300,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. That's 300 sextillion.

to the amazing human mind.

A NYT slideshow of The Beautiful Mind.


This image uses data from an MRI taken from a live human subject to show how the human visual cortex is organized: the center of the gaze is magenta, the periphery is the dark blue.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:20 AM | Permalink

The most persecuted religion in the world

Report shows that Christians are the most persecuted religion in the world.

Out of every ten people, seven can not live their faith in full freedom. And the most persecuted religion is Christianity, with at least 200 million people suffering from discrimination.

“Political oppression and discrimination, come from countries like China, from Cuba, from North Korea, and from countries like Vietnam.”


“Places like Saudi Arabia where it's impossible for any Christian or indeed any other group, non-Muslim group, to organize and to have open public prayer. We think of places like Somalia, or we think of Sudan.”


The report also reveals that religious freedom has declined in the United States and Europe by the radicalization of secularism. Especially in countries like Spain, which prohibits the presence of religious symbols in public places. France was cited for the discrimination of Islamic communities and Germany for the hostility of some sectors against the Catholic Church because of its position on family issues and defense of life.

Here's an example of the radicalization of secularism: The Southern poverty Law Center has classified 18 pro-family groups as "hate" groups including the Family Research Council and the National Organization for Marriage.

In response, FRC president Tony Perkins charged that the SPLC was engaging in “a deliberately timed smear campaign” against FRC’s nearly 30 years of action “with civility and passion.”

“We hold to the indisputable fact that the family- a Dad, a Mom, and children - is the best building block of a good society, which is why we oppose efforts to transform it based on personal sexual preference,” he said in a Nov. 24 statement.

He called on the law center to apologize for its “slanderous attack and attempted character assassination.”

Maggie Gallagher, chairman of the board for the National Organization for Marriage, spoke about the SPLC article and list in a Nov. 29 interview with CNA. She called it an “absurd distraction” and a “very sad” move for “a once-great civil rights organization.”

“What we’re seeing now is the next phase of the gay rights movement,” she warned. She noted homosexual rights activist Dan Savage’s claim in the Washington Post that the country should get to a point where same-sex marriage isn’t debatable.

“This is part of the unfolding process of attempting to redefine Christian teaching on sex and marriage as the moral, legal and cultural equivalent of racism.”

“I do believe this is the goal of the architects of the gay marriage movement,” Gallagher stated. “And they’re making it very clear.

In a Nov. 29 e-mail to CNA, Princeton University law professor and National Organization for Marriage chairman emeritus Robert P. George compared the action to Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s smearing of opponents by accusing them of being communist sympathizers.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:18 AM | Permalink

In a kingdom called Fletcher High

More often than you would think, I come across a story that shows how wonderful people, even teen-agers, can be.

In a kingdom called Fletcher High, she defies Down label, and is elected Homecoming Queen.


Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:35 AM | Permalink

Facebook flings

Talk about the changing times. Purloined love letters, lipstick on the collar, mysterious phone hang-ups don't provide the evidence to divorce lawyers anything like the new

Marriage Killer: One in five American divorces now involve Facebook

Flirty messages and photographs found on Facebook are increasingly being cited as proof of unreasonable behaviour or irreconcilable differences. Many cases revolve around social media users who get back in touch with old flames they hadn’t heard from in many years.

Facebook was by far the biggest offender, with 66 per cent of lawyers citing it as the primary source of evidence in a divorce case. MySpace followed with 15 per cent, Twitter at 5 per cent and other choices lumped together at 14 per cent.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:25 AM | Permalink

The Perfect Storm

-approaching storm by Sean Heavey.jpg

"I photographed it for over two hours as it travelled between Glasgow and the town of Hinsdale. I can honestly say that the photograph does not do it justice. I caught the shot just as the sun was setting which brought out the colours so vividly. I felt that if you could walk inside the rain and the wind right into the centre of the storm and stare up, then you would be able to see God's eye."

Brian Healy, electrician and storm-chasing photographer in Montana, captures the extraordinary in his storm shots. This one is called the "mothership" or the "eye of God".

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:05 AM | Permalink

Schizophrenia the result of a virus?

Could schizophrenia be caused by a virus? A tantalizing thesis explored in The Insanity Virus by Douglas Fox in Discover Magazine

Schizophrenia has long been blamed on bad genes or even bad parents. Wrong, says a growing group of psychiatrists. The real culprit, they claim, is a virus that lives entwined in every person's DNA.

The facts of schizophrenia are so peculiar, in fact, that they have led Torrey and a growing number of other scientists to abandon the traditional explanations of the disease and embrace a startling alternative. Schizophrenia, they say, does not begin as a psychological disease. Schizophrenia begins with an infection.

The idea has sparked skepticism, but after decades of hunting, Torrey and his colleagues think they have finally found the infectious agent. You might call it an insanity virus. If Torrey is right, the culprit that triggers a lifetime of hallucinations—that tore apart the lives of writer Jack Kerouac, mathematician John Nash, and millions of others—is a virus that all of us carry in our bodies. “Some people laugh about the infection hypothesis,” says Urs Meyer, a neuroimmunologist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. “But the impact that it has on researchers is much, much, much more than it was five years ago. And my prediction would be that it will gain even more impact in the future.”

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:58 AM | Permalink

Amazing progress

Hans Rosling, a public health statistician is a genius in visualizing data, here the life expectancy and family income of 200 countries over 200 years in 4 minutes.

Watch the amazing progress of the human race.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:49 AM | Permalink

Obsolete and wonderful words

20 Obsolete English Words that Should Make a Comeback

I like "freck" which means to move swiftly or nimbly, "brabble" meaning to quarrel noisily about trifles and "quagswagging" which is the action of shaking to and fro.

And I especially like this wonderful short film of Words.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:12 AM | Permalink

December 1, 2010

"Socially worthless"

I've been reading What Good is Wall Street by John Cassidy in The New Yorker who argues that much of what investment bankers do is socially worthless.

For years, the most profitable industry in America has been one that doesn’t design, build, or sell a single tangible thing.

When the banking system behaves the way it is supposed is akin to a power utility, distributing money (power) to where it is needed and keeping an account of how it is used.....The other important role of the banking industry, historically, has been to finance the growth of vital industries, including railroads, pharmaceuticals, automobiles, and entertainment.


In effect, many of the big banks have turned themselves from businesses whose profits rose and fell with the capital-raising needs of their clients into immense trading houses whose fortunes depend on their ability to exploit day-to-day movements in the markets. Because trading has become so central to their business, the big banks are forever trying to invent new financial products that they can sell but that their competitors, at least for the moment, cannot.


Other regulators have gone further. Lord Adair Turner, the chairman of Britain’s top financial watchdog, the Financial Services Authority, has described much of what happens on Wall Street and in other financial centers as “socially useless activity”—a comment that suggests it could be eliminated without doing any damage to the economy.


Since 1980, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of people employed in finance, broadly defined, has shot up from roughly five million to more than seven and a half million. During the same period, the profitability of the financial sector has increased greatly relative to other industries. Think of all the profits produced by businesses operating in the U.S. as a cake. Twenty-five years ago, the slice taken by financial firms was about a seventh of the whole. Last year, it was more than a quarter. (In 2006, at the peak of the boom, it was about a third.) In other words, during a period in which American companies have created iPhones, Home Depot, and Lipitor, the best place to work has been in an industry that doesn’t design, build, or sell a single tangible thing


Despite all the criticism that President Obama has received lately from Wall Street, the Administration has largely left the great money-making machine intact. A couple of years ago, firms such as Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, and Goldman Sachs faced the danger that the government would break them up, drive them out of some of their most lucrative business lines—such as dealing in derivatives—or force them to maintain so much capital that their profits would be greatly diminished. “None of these things materialized,” Altman noted. “Reforms and changes came in, but they did not have a transformative effect.”

No wonder so many people have lost faith in Wall Street. In one of my best books of the year, The Big Short, Michael Lewis describes three financial guys who came to the sub-prime mortgage market late.
"It took us weeks to really grasp it because it was so weird, " said Charlie. "But the more we looked at what a CDO really was, the more we were like, Holy shit, that's just fucking crazy. That's fraud. Maybe you can't prove it in a court of law. But it's fraud."

"The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine" (Michael Lewis)

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:38 PM | Permalink