Greatest Curse of Modern Times
News and Site Updates Archive 2009/04/30
I mean, we've had all these awful pictures from the prison in Iraq and these sort of memos floating around about justifying torture, all this kind of
- Ron Reagan
30 Apr '09 - "The truth is that mortality is even higher than what's being reported by authorities, at least in the hospital where I work. It kills 3 to 4 patients daily and has been for weeks. There is great fear. Increasingly younger patients age 20 - 30 die before our helpless eyes; there is great sadness among health professionals here." - Antonio Chavez, Specialist Doctor, Respiratory Diseases and Intensive Care, Mexican National Institute of Health, Mexico City... Do surgical masks stop a person from getting the flu? No. They may reduce the wearer's fear - but probably increase fear in anyone who doesn't have one to wear themselves... A major weakness in the US is an employment system where most workers aren't paid - or even face being let go - if they're sick enough to stay home from work. Combine this with a broken healthcare system where roughly 1 in 6 have no ready access to a doctor. What America's failure to mandate employer-paid sick-days means is that most Americans who don’t feel well go to work anyway, in part for fear of losing their jobs and in part because they already live so close to the margin that they can't afford to miss a few days’ pay. The result: offices, buses, subways and elevators in coming weeks will be full of highly infectious people who really should be home recuperating. When it comes to communicable diseases, we better accept that we have to be our brothers’ keepers or we'll become their vectors instead.
All Karen's worries melted when she touched down in Dubai in 2005. "It was an adult Disneyland," she says. "Life was fantastic - you had these amazing big apartments, a whole army of your own staff, and paid no taxes at all. It seemed like everyone was a CEO. We partied the whole time." Her husband Daniel bought 2 properties. "We were drunk on Dubai," she says. But for the first time, he was beginning to mismanage their finances. "We're not talking huge sums, but he seemed confused. It was so unlike him, I was surprised. We got into a bit of debt." After a year, she found out why: Daniel was diagnosed with a brain tumour. "Before I came here, I didn't know anything about Dubai law. I assumed if all these big companies come here, it must be pretty [much] like any liberal democracy." No one told her there's no concept of bankruptcy - you get into debt and can't pay, you go to prison. "When we realised that, I sat Daniel down and said we needed to get out of here. He was guaranteed a payoff when he resigned; we thought to take the money, clear the debt, and go." So Daniel resigned – but he was given less than his contract suggested and some debt remained. As soon as you quit your job in Dubai, your employer must inform your bank. If you have debt not covered by savings, then all accounts are frozen and you can't leave the country. "Suddenly our cards stopped working. We had nothing - we were thrown out of our apartment." She can't speak about what happened next for a long while; she is shaking. Daniel was arrested and taken away on the day of their eviction. Now Karen lives in her Range Rover in a car park. (Have they no friends or family? How much debt is involved and for what? What sort of company was Daniel working for? Were they just glad to be rid of him? There are too many details omitted here.)
Rita Levi Montalcini, a Nobel Prize-winning scientist, says that even though she's now 100, her mind - thanks to experience - is sharper than when she was 20. Her advice? "Above all, don't fear difficult moments. The best comes from them"... Alyssa Peterson objected to interrogation techniques used on prisoners. She refused to participate after only 2 nights working in the unit known as the cage. Army spokespersons for her unit decline to describe the interrogation techniques she objected to, saying all related records have now been destroyed. According to the official report on her death, Alyssa had earlier been reprimanded for showing empathy for the prisoners. One moving part of that report is: "She said that she didn't know how to be 2 people; she couldn't be one person in the cage and another outside the wire." Peterson was next assigned to the base gate where she monitored Iraqi guards and was also sent to suicide prevention training. But on the night of 15 September 2003, Army investigators conclude she shot and killed herself with her service rifle. A notebook she had been writing was found next to her body but its contents were redacted in the official report. The use of abusive interrogation — widely considered torture — as part of Bush’s quest for a rationale to invade Iraq came to light as the Senate issued a major report tracing the origin of the abuses and President Obama opened the door to prosecuting former US officials for approving them. Let’s say this slowly: the Bush administration wanted to use 9/11 as a pretext to invade Iraq, though Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. So it tortured people to make them confess to a nonexistent link. There's a word for this... I found The Daily Show's discussion on torture compelling. Cliff May puts forth reasoned arguments, I guess - but Jon Stewart says the things I'd say were I as eloquent as he is. However, Stewart says one thing with which I must absolutely disagree - that he'd like bin Laden cloned so he could be killed every year during the Superbowl - an absolutely stupid statement even if he meant it to be funny. Personally, I think it's FAR from conclusive that bin Laden was directly responsible for events on 9/11; to accept his guilt without due process (in my opinion) goes too far. Note: This response has made me change my mind somewhat.
Apparently, the pen is so mighty that the US can’t risk one particular foreign journalist even flying into their airspace. An Air France flight from Paris to Mexico was barred from flying over the US last week because one of the plane's passengers was a prominent reporter whose name appears on the US no-fly list. (The plane had no plans to land in the US.) The flight had to be diverted to the French Caribbean island of Martinique (presumably for refueling) before continuing its journey. The reporter, Columbian-born Hernando Calvo Ospina, writes for French newspaper Le Monde Diplomatique. He has frequently denounced the role of the US in Latin America and was on his way to Nicaragua where he is currently researching a book on the CIA. The co-pilot said this action was extraordinary and was the first time such a thing had happened to an Air France plane. (I guess that'll show Ospina!) Critics claim that, instead of simply targeting known extremists who pose a potential danger in the "war against terror", the secret terrorist watch list of individuals forbidden to fly into or out of the US has been abusively extended to peaceful critics of US policy... Two Iowa men were convicted of 1st-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison in 1978 for the death of a retired police officer. After serving 25 years of their sentence, their convictions were set aside. Evidence showed police and prosecutors had failed to share evidence that pointed to another man and moreover some of the witnesses had recanted their testimony over the years. The men want to sue the former prosecutors, who say they are immune because "they were acting within the scope of their job." The case is now slated to be heard by the US Supreme Court.
Why does so much Viagra spam
fill your mailbox? Consider this: If you go to South America to buy a kilo of cocaine, it's likely to cost you thousands even if you aren't killed before you manage to buy it. But you can
buy a kilo of sildenafil, the active ingredient in Viagra, for £35 and make 10,000 10-milligram tablets that sell illegally for around £10 each over the internet. That's a profit of almost
£100,000. It's much more lucrative than class A drugs and the penalties for getting caught are much lower. Of 36 batches of drugs bought online last year, almost 2/3 were found to be either
counterfeit or of dangerously poor quality. One delivery, for 16 Plavix heart pills (which were real), came wrapped in a copy of the Mumbai Daily News. There were no patient
instructions, but there were 2 free Viagra pills (which turned out to be fake) and a letter thanking the buyer for their custom. Fake drugs - not all bought online - cause huge numbers of deaths
worldwide. Investigators report finding pills made from rat poison, cement, floor polish, chalk, rice flour, lead paint and concentrations of real active ingredients that are so low or so high as to
be dangerous... Several times a day, for several days, you
induce pain in someone. You control the pain with morphine until the final day of the experiment, when you replace the morphine with saline solution. Guess what? The saline takes the
pain away. This is the placebo effect: somehow, sometimes, a whole lot of nothing can be very powerful. Except it's not quite nothing. When Fabrizio Benedetti of the University of
Turin in Italy carried out the above experiment, he added a final twist by mixing naloxone, a drug that blocks the effects of morphine, with the saline. The shocking result? The pain-relieving
power of saline solution disappeared.
Researchers found that a 4-inch increase in waist size is associated with about a 15% increase in risk for heart disease, both in people of normal weight with a body mass index of 25 and in the obese with an index above 30. What this means is that fat around internal organs is associated with increased risk. (Hey! If you go from a 24-inch waist to a 52-inch waist your risk for heart disease is greater than 100%!) On a typical day, 4 of 5 children and 2 of 3 adults drink sugar-sweetened beverages. Teen boys drink more than a quart, on average, every day. A 12-ounce can of soda or juice typically has 10 - 12 teaspoons of sugar and 150 or more calories; the popular 20-ounce bottle size has nearly 17 teaspoons of sugar and 250 calories. Sugared beverages are the leading source of added sugar in the diet of young Americans. Drink one can of a sugary beverage every day for a year and don't cut back on calories elsewhere and you can gain up to 15 pounds (7 kilos). Women who drink more than 2 servings of sugary beverages a day have a 40% higher risk of heart disease. (Is this in addition to the increased-waist-size risk?) Oddly, women with wide hips and a low waist-hip ratio have been shown in a study to be smarter and to have smarter kids. Curvy women consistently outscore their skinny counterparts in cognition tests; also, a child's cognitive performance is directly linked to the mother's waist-hip ratio. This study relied on data from more than 16,000 women in the US National Center for Health Statistics database. Not only do women with higher levels of estradiol tend to have larger breasts, a low waist-to hip ratio and attractive faces - all attributes which draw attention from the opposite sex - they are also found to have higher mating standards, consistently choosing men with high testosterone levels. The most surprising finding was that they were more likely to cheat on their partners, although not to indulge in casual sex. It seems that attractive women capitalise on their looks by repeatedly trading their partners for a better long-term mate when the opportunity arises. (This is a heart risk of a very different sort.)
There's such a bedbug outbreak plaguing the US that the Environmental Protection Agency hosted its first-ever bedbug summit. The tiny reddish-brown insects have infested swanky hotels, college dorms, hospitals, and homeless shelters. They live in the crevices and folds of mattresses, sofas, drapes and sheets. Most often right before dawn, they emerge to feed on human blood. They climb the walls to the ceiling and jump down on feeling a heat wave. Attracted by warmth and the presence of CO2, the bug pierces the skin of its host with two hollow tubes. With one tube it injects its saliva (which contains anticoagulants and anesthetics) while with the other it withdraws the blood of its host. After feeding for about 5 minutes, the bug returns to its hiding place. The bites cannot usually be felt until some minutes or even hours later. They don't carry diseases but their bites can itch terribly. Hotels/motels with bedbug infestations generally have a detectable sweet-like, musty odour that insects release. Search for this odour under mattresses and along headboards. If your room has a wooden chair and/or a sofa with crevices, smell them, too. If present and you have nowhere else to stay, consider sleeping in the bathtub (at least leave your shoes and suitcases there overnight - or else use a freestanding luggage rack with metal legs). Keep a flashlight nearby when sleeping to immediately observe suspected activity during the night without having to get up out of bed, thereby giving them time to hide in safety. (And if you spot them, then do what?) People who live in NYC (which has been infested for several years) may buy a 2nd-hand mattress (or sofa or curtains or even a sleeping bag) online that's infected, or they may buy a new mattress from a company that offers to pick up and dispose of the old mattress. If an old bedbug-infected mattress shares the truck with your new one being delivered, perhaps the bugs then expand into your neighbourhood?
The first SprintCam v3 showreel;
made for an exhibition, the mostly 1,000 frame-per-second shots were filmed during a rugby competition in Paris. (The photo image is a frame from jello/jelly being dropped - it amazingly bounced
twice while remaining perfectly intact)... About 22 million workers are covered by defined benefit plans,
while about 66 million are covered by defined contribution plans. Both groups have been hit hard by the economic crisis, but in different ways. Employees covered by a
defined benefit plan may not feel terribly worried about the current economic crisis, because their retirement benefits are supposedly guaranteed. But
employers behind those pensions are now struggling to fund the long-term promises they have made. Companies that offer pension plans are squeezed by sudden declines in assets, increases in
liabilities and changes in the law that now force them to make up the shortfall faster than in the past. Recently enacted funding rules require underfunded pension plans (and that's most of the big
ones) to suck needed cash from salaries and jobs just when suffering companies need scarce resources to survive. Many might have to lay workers off, walk away from their pensions, shut down the
plant. Companies have to make difficult decisions - many are thinking about whether they should file for bankruptcy in order to unload their retiree promises. Workers in a
defined contribution plan have almost complete discretion over whether to participate, how much to contribute, how to invest, and how and when to withdraw
funds - and evidence indicates that they're making mistakes at every step along the way. They don't join the plan, they don't contribute enough, they don't diversify their holdings, they overinvest
in company stock, they take out money when they switch jobs and they don't annuitize at retirement. A number of employers are scaling back or eliminating matching contributions in the face of a
slowing economy. Many older workers have been left with little choice but to keep working to make up the sudden shortfall. That's bad news for workers and also for companies trying to stay
competitive. Defined contribution plans place too much of a burden on the individual; private-sector defined benefit plans place too much burden on the employer; public sector pensions shift the
burden to entire communities of taxpayers and threaten to drag down local economies. Oh, and the the biggest problem is the near-insolvency of Social Security. Solution? Work until you
die, I guess. The retirement of the future will be "guaranteed" only for people who earn and save like mad.
On the upper left is a map of roads of the world - one of a series showing the world's connectedness.
Five studies tested the idea that living abroad and creativity are linked. They all discovered that time spent travelling abroad does not matter; only living abroad is related to increased creativity. Researchers conclude that psychological transformations must occur in people forced to adjust to new cultures. Perhaps this makes study-abroad programmes and job assignments in other countries important tools in fostering competitive innovation back home... There are 3 light switches on the ground-floor wall of a 3-storey house. Two of the switches do nothing, but one of them controls an old-fashioned light bulb in a fixture on the wall in the rear of the hallway on the top floor. When you begin, the bulb is off. You can only make one visit up to the top floor. So how do you work out which switch is the one that controls this light? Give yourself one minute to come up with a creative solution. (The answer is at the bottom of this page.) If you don't get the answer, what should you do? Try moving to another country. (I have one I would recommend!)... Bolivian President Evo Morales suggested during President Obama's recent visit to Latin America that the United States may have been behind an assassination attempt against him. Obama responded: "I just want to be absolutely clear that I am absolutely opposed and condemn any efforts at violent overthrows of democratically elected governments - wherever it happens in the hemisphere. That is not the policy of our government." Excuse me? Did I get that right? NOT "wherever it happens in the WORLD" but "wherever it happens in the hemisphere"? Which hemisphere would that be? Western? Or Southern? (This could be important in deciding to which country you might move for your creativity increase.)
When Julien Petillon wanted to see how long salt marsh-dwelling wolf spiders could survive underwater, he submerged them and waited until they died. Spiders are known for their resilience to being underwater, so it was no surprise that the dozens of wolf spiders he used took almost 24 hours to grow still. But, as they lay drying in the lab, to his surprise the spiders began to twitch. He found that wolf spiders can live up to 40 hours underwater by slipping into a brief suspended animation. Other spiders use their silk as protection against water, but wolf spiders, who are often found living in salt marshes, spin hardly any silk and have apparently evolved coma-like states to survive high tide cycles... Joao Correa, 43, had a bathroom emergency 30 minutes into a Delta Air Lines flight from Honduras to Atlanta, but found the single coach aisle on the Boeing 737 blocked by a beverage cart. He asked if he could use the lavatory in business class, but was told no. When the cart wasn't moved after a few minutes, he ran for the business class lavatory. The flight attendant put up her arm to block him. He pulled her arm down and used the business class toilet anyway. He was arrested after the plane landed more than 2 hours later, held for 2 days in jail, then charged with a felony - interference with a flight crew. "I'm devastated," the Ohio man said. "I've never had any event with the police in my life." From the "Comments" section: "Air travel lost its glamour long ago. Now it has all the cachet of riding a bus. From the ridiculous charade of going through the 'security theatre' in the airport to the gross mistreatment of economy class passengers (as Mr Correa found out), air travel for most of us has been transformed into an act of extreme endurance." Or this: "What would the charge have been if the gentleman dropped his pants, squatted down in the aisle in front of the drinks cart, and took care of business right there and then?" Or: "Mechanical application of rules without regard to context is just plain stupid." Frankly, I hate flying (except maybe on Qantas or Air New Zealand).
Strange food art... If you're a person who's always late, you'll get in trouble. People who are always late think they're only sometimes late, so if you think you're sometimes late, you're probably in trouble. The basic problem with being late is that you reveal too much about yourself. In the end, being late reveals either disrespect or incompetence, both of which are important things to not have at work - and if you do have them, you should try to hide them by being on time, always. Sometimes people are on time to meetings but they don’t have the report which was due. Forget the excuses because everyone in the room will see you as incapable. There are shades of incapable. There is incapable of doing the report so you procrastinate. There is perceiving that you're incapable even though you are capable which makes you incapable with low self-esteem. There is overloaded and did not get to the report which really means you can't set limits at work, which translates to low self-esteem, or worse yet, no knowledge of your own limits. You must fix these problems! It doesn’t matter how much you know about business, if you’re late, you undermine your success. Before you can change your behaviour, you have to understand why you're chronically late. Perhaps you don’t mind taking the risk of being late because you don’t want to risk being early and waiting for others. Perhaps you feel trapped by authority and use lateness to feel free. Perhaps you have poor organisational skills and find it difficult to plan a realistic schedule, calculating how long each task will take and how long it'll take to get where you need to be on time. Or perhaps you unconsciously or even consciously wish to avoid the people you're supposed to meet or the places you are going (lateness can be a form of passive-aggressive behaviour). If you want to stop being chronically late, the most important thing to do is decide you really want to start being on time. Punctuality demonstrates responsibility.
He looks like a cross between a battered children's toy and a pink potato.
What kind of animal is he? (Click image to
enlarge)... Ways to boost your brain's performance: the usual stuff, of
course, like sleeping enough, exercising, socialising, avoiding stress, challenging yourself. Also, eat salmon, nuts, dark chocolate, seeds, good oils, eggs; avoid too many carbs, drink green tea,
coffee and not much alcohol. Dance. Babysit. Travel. Play games. Use your other hand for simple tasks. Don't get angry. Go to the country. (Live long and
prosper)... The unprecedented explosion of the US fiscal deficit raises the spectre of
high future inflation. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the president’s budget implies a fiscal deficit of 13% of gross domestic product in 2009 and nearly 10% in
2010. Even with a strong economic recovery, the ratio of government debt to GDP would double to 80% in the next 10 years. Inflation rises when demand exceeds supply. A fiscal
deficit raises demand when the government increases its purchase of goods and services or, by lowering taxes, induces households to increase their spending. If the fiscal deficit is not accompanied
by an increase in the money supply, the fiscal stimulus will raise short-term interest rates, blocking the increase in demand and preventing a sustained rise in inflation. So the potential
inflationary danger is that the large US fiscal deficit will lead to an increase in the supply of money. This inevitably happens in developing countries that do not have the ability to issue
interest-bearing debt and must therefore finance their deficits by printing money. Unfortunately, the supply of money in the US is already increasing. The deep recession means that there is
no immediate risk of inflation but long-term interest rates don't yet reflect the very real future risk... Wouldn't it be nice if our eyes were more like telescopes, able to gather light over time
to see galaxies in the night sky which would otherwise be invisible? This impressive composite image (total exposure time
40 hours) of a wide region of the northern winter sky illustrates some of the intricate, glowing nebulae that you'd be able to see. (I'd like it better if they added enough false colour that I could
tell which ones were closer.)
While wet weather may cause gloom, it sharpens the memory and improves recall. Those who feel in a good mood because it's sunny are able to remember less well, according to memory tests carried out by Australian researchers. Shoppers in a negative mood show better memory and higher discrimination ability; a worse mood helps focus attention on surroundings and leads to a more thorough and careful thinking style. Happiness increases confidence and forgetfulness... Michael Crichton's life and death may have made a good plot for one of his books. It seems he left a secret trust, specifically excluded his previous 4 wives, and reminded his executor that his current wife had a prenuptial agreement with him stating that she would receive a very limited part of his fortune - and he wanted to be sure that agreement was honoured. His only child - by wife number 4 - is one of the beneficiaries of his secret trust, though it is unknown what portion she gets. (The rest goes to his friends and family.) The amount of money involved is likely quite large - during good times, Crichton's income was something in excess of US$100 million per year. The trouble is, Crichton overlooked one little thing - wife number 5 was pregnant. The child, his only son, was born several months after his death. As an "omitted child" (not specifically mentioned in his father's will), the boy is entitled to up to 1/3 of Crichton's estate. The boy's mother has (understandably) applied to be named guardian of her son's property. An ironic detail: Crichton was a medical doctor (though he never practiced). What caused his death? Throat cancer - from his years of smoking.
The Espresso Book Machine prints and binds books on demand in as little as 5 minutes. It prints 105 pages per minute and binds the completed book in in full-colour covers while customers wait. More than 400,000 books are currently available on the EBM and more than 1 million titles are expected to be available soon. EBMs are found in the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and Egypt and cost about US$175,000 each... Wooly pigs?! Shown is a young red mangalitza pig. I couldn't really find any description of the "feel" of the pig's coat, though I suspect it's a bit like a stiff hairbrush - not exactly something you'd want to pet and I suspect in summers the coat becomes caked with mud and uh - stuff. Nevertheless, it makes him kinda cute... The dream job offer is this: get paid $10,000 a month for 6 months to drink wine, learn and talk about wine, eat good food, live rent free in Healdsburg, California and play the occasional game of poker with a laid-back staff. The ideal candidate must combine an engaging personality and an enthusiasm for all things wine with experience at tweeting, blogging, and keeping photo and video diaries. The ad is expected to draw as many as 10,000 applications for the position of wine country correspondent... In the last 98 years, more than 100 billion Crayola crayons have been made; they currently come in 120 colours including 23 reds, 20 greens, 19 blues, 16 purples, 14 oranges, 11 browns, 8 yellows, 2 grays, 2 coppers, 2 blacks, 1 white, 1 gold and 1 silver. Here is a list of all colours along with their hex codes and RGB values. (You never know when this will come in handy!)
The Lifestyle Forms and Display Company designs and produces
mannequins and clothing forms at a plant in Brooklyn, New York.
ANSWER TO THE BRAIN TEASER: Turn switch 1 on for a few minutes, then turn it off. Turn switch 2 on and run upstairs. Is the bulb on? (If so, then the answer is switch #2.) If not, is it warm? (If so, then the answer is switch #1.) If not, then the answer must be switch #3 - unless the bulb has burned out.
One of the most feared expressions in modern times is "The computer is down."
- Norman Ralph Augustine
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