Waiting for the Pied Piper


News and Site Updates Archive 2008/12/16

Government's view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases:
If it moves, tax it.  If it keeps moving, regulate it.  And if it stops moving, subsidise it.

- Ronald Reagan

16 Dec '08 - The US Outstanding Public Debt as of 16 Dec 2008 at 01:29:18 AM GMT was $10,608,404,935,672; since the estimated population of the United States was 305,281,762 at that time, then each citizen's share of that debt was $34,749.55.  (That means my family owed $138,998.21?!?)  Has the debt gone up or down since then?  (Guess.)  Visit the US National Debt Clock and find out.

Economic crisis impact by country from 6 (very strong negative) to 0 (no impact).  From Pierre Audoin Consultants webinar (sorry - registration required). US stealth-bomber manufacturer Northrop Grumman is patenting a system to detect unknown unknowns against which Rumsfeld famously warned when asked where the evidence was that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, saying: "There are known knowns - there are things we know that we know.  There are known unknowns - that is to say, there are things that we now know we don't know.  But there are also unknown unknowns - things we do not know we don't know."  That could change.
Racing toward zero?  Central banks have been cutting interest rates to battle the global credit crunch.  How far rates have fallen between August 2007 and early December 2008: the white dots are from August 2007, red dots early December 2008. Photographs that take full advantage of opportunity.

Happiness may be something like a cold - you can catch it from someone else.  A next-door neighbour’s joy increases one’s chance of being happy by 34%, but a neighbour down the block has no effect.  A friend living half a mile away is good for a 42% bounce, but the effect is almost half that for a friend two miles away.  A friend in a different community altogether can win an Oscar without making you feel better - you have to see the happy person and be in physical and temporal proximity.  This means if you come home in a bad mood you'll not only be affecting your spouse and children but their best friends and even your mother-in-law.  But if you're happy, life can achieve a sort of mellowship...  A professor at Central China University has said that America must "repay its debts" and "lead a more frugal life."  If the US asks China to buy more of its debts, the professor suggested that China should demand the following conditions:

  1. The US should cancel the limits on high-tech exports to China and allow China to acquire advanced technology and high-tech companies from the US.
  2. The US must open its financial system to Chinese financial institutions, allowing all Chinese firms to open branches and develop business in the US.
  3. The US should allow Europe to cancel the ban against selling weapons to China.
  4. The US should stop selling military weapons to Taiwan.
  5. The US should allow Chinese tourists to travel freely in the US.
  6. The US should never restrain China's exports to the US and force renmimbi appreciation in the name of domestic protectionism and employment.
And if we don't do what China wants?  "Then China's choice is simple: rationally adjust the structure of its foreign currency reserve assets and avoid the risk of US national debt according to market rules."  TranslationYou people are broke.  We are going to make the rules from now on.  If you don't do what we want, we will dump all our US dollar foreign currency reserves and crash your economy even worse than it has already crashed.

"Any man who rides a bus to work after the age of 30 can count himself a failure in life." - Margaret Thatcher...  A basic paradox governs humanity’s relationship with roads.  We like them wide, clear and quick, but such circumstances often kill us.  Road fatalities will be the 3rd largest global cause of death by 2020.  More people die each month on American roads than were killed in the 11 September attacks.  The majority of deaths spring from egregious human error, yet we persist in labelling them "accidents".  Such events are normal, not deviations - but to recognise this means accepting an unwelcome truth: over millennia, evolution has equipped us to deal with the demands of horses and carts, not horsepower.  Driving kills because it is too complicated for our poor brains.  Several fascinating tidbits here (via SciTechDaily)...  No two enhancements are equivalent in every way, and some of the differences have moral relevance.  For example, the benefits of education require some effort at self-improvement whereas the benefits of sleep do not.  Enhancing by nutrition is invasive in a way that reading is not.  The opportunity to benefit from Internet access is less equitably distributed than the opportunity to benefit from exercise.  Cognitive-enhancing drugs require relatively little effort, are invasive and for the time being are not equitably distributed, but none of these provides reasonable grounds for prohibition.  Drugs may seem distinctive among enhancements in that they bring about their effects by altering brain function, but in reality so does any intervention that enhances cognition - including exercise, nutrition and sleep, as well as instruction and reading.  In short, cognitive-enhancing drugs seem morally equivalent to other, more familiar, enhancements (excluding marijuana, of course).  Employers are generally free to require employees to have certain educational credentials or to obtain them.  Should schools and employers be allowed to require pharmaceutical enhancement as well?  If we answer "no" to this question, could coercion occur indirectly, by the need to compete with enhanced classmates and colleagues?

To the left is a mountain of cash worth $100 in Zimbabwe.  After the collapse of the agriculture sector in 2000, the inflation in that country skyrocketed to 231,000,000% a year.  Unemployment went up to 80% and 1/3 of country’s population left.  In August, the government devalued the Zimbabwe dollar by removing 10 zeros from notes - but inflation continued.  They've got a pretty good chance of hitting billion dollar notes again by the end of this year...  Having an imperfect body may come with substantial benefits for some women - the hormones that make women physically stronger, more competitive and better able to deal with stress also tend to redistribute fat from the hips to the waist.  But studies have shown that a curvy waist-to-hip ratio of 0.7 or lower is associated with higher fertility and lower rates of chronic disease.  Studies have also shown that men prefer a ratio of 0.7 or lower when looking for a mate.  The preference makes perfect sense because the low ratio is a reliable signal of a healthy, fertile woman.  But in data from 33 non-Western populations and 4 European populations, the average waist-to-hip ratio for women is above 0.8.  Why are most women significantly higher?  Androgens, a class of hormones that includes testosterone, increase waist-to-hip ratios in women by increasing visceral fat, which is carried around the waist.  Increased androgen levels are associated with increased strength, stamina, and competitiveness - these women may survive when times are really tough...  Women who present themselves as confident and ambitious in job interviews are viewed as highly competent but also lacking social skills.  Women who present themselves as modest and cooperative, while well liked, are perceived as low on competence.  By contrast, confident and ambitious male candidates are viewed as both competent and likable and therefore are more likely to be hired as a manager than either confident or modest women.  Thus, in performance settings where confidence and ambition are required to get ahead, men have a clear advantage.

Carpet in the ballroom of the Marriott Solana in Southlake, Texas.  The floor is flat but the carpet pattern makes it look hilly...  Consider "enhancement technologies" mentioned above in light of the fact that we've begun to read some of our genes just through our appearance.  Women's waist and hip sizes, for example, tell a man something about the robustness of her immune system, her strength and stamina in a crisis, her fertility.  The shape of her face telegraphs her testosterone levels.  If she enhances her appearance through surgery, what she is does is transmit false information about the genes she can offer potential offspring.  He is deceived about something that may add up to be quite important over generations.  The same goes for muscles on a man that exceed anything he'd normally form.  He is telling her that his potential gene contribution to strength in future sons will be exceptional - a lie.  This goes for toupees, makeup, scents, liposuction, bariatric surgery - we're an easily-led-astray bunch.  Would mind-enhancing drugs be deceptive in the same way?  I think not.  A drug can't make you smarter than your genetic potential - at least at this point - I don't think.  It merely allows reaching more potential than circumstances had allowed 'til now.  I also think anti-ageing measures are acceptable for the same reason - they restore a "younger" self.  A nose job, on the other hand, deceives.  But of course it's natural for people to maximise mate potential any way they can.  I'm going to conclude that morals float with the age in which they're imposed.

“Body Swapping” Illusion: The technique is simple.  A subject stands or sits opposite the scientist, as if engaged in an interview.  Both are wearing headsets, with special goggles; the scientist’s contain small film cameras.  The subject's goggles are rigged so that the subject sees what the scientist sees: to the right and left are the scientist’s arms, and below is the scientist’s body.  To add a physical element, each person squeezes the other’s hand, as if in a handshake.  Now the subject can see and "feel" the new body.  In a matter of seconds, the illusion is complete.  In a series of studies, using mannequins researchers find that subjects say they not only feel they've taken on the new body, they unconsciously cringe when it's poked or threatened...  A professor at MIT performed an experiment wherein he passed out sheets of paper listing several products, including wine, wireless mouse and keyboard, wireless trackball, a box of Belgian chocolates, and a design book - each with a blank beside it for a price and a tickbox.  He asked participants to write the last 2 digits of their social security numbers in each blank for price, then tick beside each product whether or not they were willing to pay that price for that item.  Next, he had an auction where the participants actually bid on these items by writing down the maximum amount they were willing to pay.  The students with the highest-ending social security digits bid highest, while those with the lowest-ending numbers bid lowest.  The top 20%, for instance, bid an average of $56 for the cordless keyboard; the bottom 20% bid an average of $16.  The social security number had served as an unconscious "anchor" - a trick marketers know well when marking down prices...  "In selecting an investment, an investor should adopt the same attitude one might find appropriate in looking for a spouse: it pays to be active, interested, and open minded, but it does not pay to be in a hurry." - Warren Buffett

Some geomagnetic storms have been more memorable than others.
An 1859 event knocked out the entire US telegraph system.
A 1989 storm provided a delightful display of Northern Lights as far south as Cuba
but also shorted out the entire Canadian province of Quebec, throwing 6 million people into the dark in only 90 seconds.
A geomagnetic storm several times as powerful as 1989's is a distinct possibility over the next 30 years.
That could knock out 50 to 70% of the US power system, requiring repairs that could take years and threatening basic food and water supplies.

Who are these royal mystery persons from the past?  (Click on each photo to find out)...  I just read where approximately 80% of North Americans will suffer from lower back pain at some point in their lifetimes, and for 85% per cent of them the pain is chronic.  That would imply that 68% of North Americans have chronic back pain.  Can that really be?  Interesting that the term "North America" was used to identify the group - when in English, North America is often used to refer to the United States and Canada exclusively.  Alternatively, usage may include Mexico (as with North American Free Trade Agreement) and other entities such as Belize and parts of the Caribbean.  In Latin America, Spain, Portugal, and some other parts of Europe, North America usually designates a subcontinent (subcontinente in Spanish) of the Americas containing Canada, the United States, and Mexico, and often Greenland, Saint Pierre and Miquelon, and Bermuda.  Somewhere in one of those places must be a lot of people with chronically bad backs...  Have you considered the fact that 12:46am comes before 11:05am?  The disadvantages commonly voiced in comparing the 12-hour notation to the 24-hour clock are: confusion about the correct notation for noon and midnight, confusion about which day "midnight" falls into, the difference between midnight at the start and at the end of a given date, the fact that the lexicographical order does not match the chronological order, implementation in software and digital electronics is more complicated and typographically, the a.m. and p.m. terms require more space.  What are the disadvantages of a 24-hour clock?  Think about a 24-hour-clock chiming midnight.

Straight Up Chess brings you the first vertical wall-mounted chess boards. They look good and are eye-catching - but I can't help but think that the player on the bottom has a built-in advantage (via Neatorama)...  Etiquette-Based Medicine: Doctor - when you visit a patient in the hospital, please do the following:
• Ask permission to enter the room.
• Wait for an answer.
• Introduce yourself (show your ID badge).
• Shake hands.
• Sit down (smiling if appropriate).
• Explain your role on the health care team.
• Ask how the patient feels about being in the hospital.

Interactive LED coffee table - a fluid twinkling until you move your arm over it, then (using a network of 32 active and passive near-infrared optical sensors), a wave of bright lights follows any movement.  US$1,895 plus shipping...  Operant conditioning for zoo animals: Located just south of Asheboro, the North Carolina Zoo is seated on a 1,500 tract of land in the Uwharrie Mountains; 500 acres have been developed into one of the largest "natural habitat" zoos in the US.  Keepers there occasionally need to get the animals into the barn, for instance if a tornado or hurricane is approaching.  So they've trained all animals to respond to a sound played over a loudspeaker.  Whenever the sound is played they go to the barn to get a reward.  This is done daily so that the keepers know animals will respond in an emergency.  Every species is trained to come to a unique sound so that they can all be rounded up, or a single species can be isolated as the situation demands...  Pneumonia is a big problem in hospitals everywhere, even in the developed world.  Patients who are intubated can be contaminated with pneumonia only 2 or 3 days after the tube is put in place.  But nurses found that if patients — even unconscious ones — have their teeth brushed 3 times a day, the onset of pneumonia can be reduced by as much as 50%.

The Ganzfeld procedure exposes the participant to "unstructured" sensations usually by placing half ping-pong balls over the eyes so they can only see diffuse white light and by playing white noise through headphones.  It is used to induce hallucinations and sensory distortions which are likely to occur in the absence of clearly defined sensory experiences.  You can simulate the Ganzfeld procedure in your own home by taping two half ping-pong balls over your eyes and listening to the radio tuned to static in an evenly lighted room...  A group of students at Brunel University in Middlesex, England took a driving test in a car simulator when they were sober, then, in what must have been a dream assignment for a student, they were all ordered to go and get drunk in the student bar.  They slept, and the next morning they did the test again.  By this point their blood-alcohol levels were at a legal level, below 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood, but after the amount they had all put away, they were still a touch delicate.  The results were startling.  Participants drove, on average, 10 miles per hour faster than the 30mph speed limit, without realising they were doing so.  They drove more erratically, swerving from lane to lane, struggled to drive within lane markings and committed more than twice as many traffic violations.  The students would have all passed a breathalyser test...  The Appropriate Use of Less and Fewer: Use fewer to describe countable things.  Use less to describe uncountable quantities, collective amounts, and degree.  These terms are not interchangeable!  If you can insert "much" as a modifier, then use "less"; if you can substitute "many", use "fewer".  Example: Fewer law suits result in less litigation.

Lab animals denied sugar for a prolonged period after learning to binge on it will work harder to get it when it's reintroduced.  They'll then consume more of it than they ever did before, suggesting craving and relapse behaviour.  Their motivation for sugar has grown.  Hungry rats that binge on sugar provoke a surge of dopamine in their brains.  After a month, the structure of the brains of these rats adapts to increased dopamine (showing fewer dopamine receptors than before).  There are also more opioid receptors.  These dopamine and opioid systems are involved in motivation and reward, controlling the wanting and liking of something.  Similar changes are seen in the brains of rats on cocaine and heroin.  Rats drink more alcohol than normal after their sugar supply is cut off, showing that bingeing forges changes in brain function mimicking those produced by cocaine, morphine and nicotine.  And after receiving a dose of amphetamine normally so minimal it has no effect, rats become significantly hyperactive - this increased sensitivity to psychostimulants is long-lasting...  Stung by the loss of more than $2.8 trillion in their net wealth, US households paid down debts in the 3rd quarter for the first time since at least 1952, the Federal Reserve reported Thursday.  It's the first decline in household debt ever recorded in the report...  "I find that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have." - Thomas Jefferson

Patrick Blanc weaves greenery into walls so effortlessly it looks as if it grows there naturally.  But perfection?  There are dozens of photos on the site but no word I could find of how he does it.  Even Nature has insects, disease and resource scarcity periods.  Are pesticides involved?  What maintenance is required?  How long can it be expected to last?  What is the price range?  Nevertheless, this kind of thing could add a lot of peaceful beauty to high-stress environments...  You can predict the rhetoric.  The Greens can be relied on to insist that any stimulation/job creation package should focus on eco-friendly development and public transport.  The Libertarian Party can be relied on to insist there be should be less government spending during this crisis.  Tory/Republican/National will propose cutting taxes and spending. Labour/Democrats will brag that things would have been far worse if they weren't so fiscally prudent.  And rest assured, the [oppressed minority] Party will find many ways to depict the financial crisis as another fine mess that [oppressing majority] have landed their people in...  Advertising before the economic crisis (a humourous campaign by an employment agency to convince viewers that it's time to look for another job) versus after the crisis (a campaign urging viewers to "be there when the market turns" no matter how hard life gets).

The Montados are the vast cork oak forests of the Alentejo region of southern Portugal.  They cover almost 1/3 of the country - an area the size of Wales - and provide 70% of the world's cork products, including 15 billion corks a year for wine bottles.  Cork is lightweight, impermeable to liquids, elastic, resilient and chemically inert.  It comes from the tree's thick spongy bark.  An average tree, which lives for 170 to 200 years, produces around 4,000 corks per harvest.  And each tree can be harvested about 17 times (every 9 years).  A cork tree cannot be harvested until it is 25 years old, and even then the cork is suitable only for floor tiles.  Nor does the 2nd harvest, when the tree is 34 years old, provide the right cork for bottle stoppers.  It is only the 3rd harvest, when the tree is about 43 years old, that it provides the right material...  Two of many good ideas for what you can do with a digital camera: Take a picture of the car's license plate next to yours if there is any concern that the driver may possibly scratch or dent your car on exit (say he or she has parked badly); take a "before" picture prior to dismantling some object for repairs (perhaps afterward you may find you can't quite remember where a particular piece went).  Via J-Walk.

When slab avalanches thunder into the valley, winter sports fans are in danger.  Researchers have now gained insight into the formation of these avalanches – especially regarding how they are remotely triggered by skiers in more gently inclined areas.  Everybody knows that skiers swishing down steep slopes can cause extensive slab avalanches.  But there is a less well known phenomenon: A person skiing a gentle slope in the valley triggers a slab avalanche on a steeper slope, sometimes several hundred metres further uphill.  This scenario doesn’t seem to make sense – yet it claims human lives year after year.  But what exactly happens when an avalanche is remotely triggered?...  Owning a home ties workers down.  Even in the best of times the cost and hassle of selling one home and buying another — one estimate tops $60,000 — tend to make workers reluctant to go where jobs are.  And these are not the best of times.  "If you own something," Mr Bush once declared, "you have a vital stake in the future of our country."  Presumably, then, citizens who live in rented housing, and therefore lack that "vital stake," can’t be properly patriotic.  Florida and California have experienced much steeper rises in unemployment than the nation as a whole - yet if homeowners can't sell their houses, they find it hard to go elsewhere...  A woman from India who was born almost completely blind (she was able to tell day from night but otherwise unable to perceive anything visually) had at the age of 12 surgery to correct her vision.  Almost overnight she was able to experience a whole new visual world.  But could she make sense of what she was seeing?  20 years later researchers who tested her vision found that she could complete nearly all of the tasks just as accurately as the others, although anecdotally it took her about 5 to 10 seconds longer than the people who had never experienced blindness.

Children generally discover through their own observations and experiences that Santa doesn't exist, and their parents confirm their discovery.  Children ask parents, for example, how Santa gets in the house if there's no chimney.  Even if parents say they leave the door unlocked, the child will figure out that Santa can't be everywhere at the same time and that reindeer can't be that fast.  Almost 25% of children in a 1896 study learned the truth about Santa from their parents, compared with 40% in 1979.  Those who didn't find out from their parents learned from other children.  Belief in Santa diminishes as children approach the age of reason.  Half of 7-year-olds in a 1980 study still believed.  In 1896, 54% of parents said they perpetuated the myth of Santa since it made their children happy; this compares to 73% in 1979 and 80% in 2000.  I have to ask: If children attribute the same supernatural powers to Santa as they do to God, why do they stop believing in Santa, but continue their belief in God?...  One in 4 Kiwis say the poor quality of their home has made someone living in them sick.  The country pays $475 million a year more than it needs to on household power bills due to poor insulation.  The cost of bringing homes up to minimum health and efficiency standards would be $20 million over a decade, or roughly $22,000 a household.  Two-thirds of New Zealand's 1.6 million homes were built between 1900 and the 1970s, before insulation became mandatory in 1979.  Research shows the worst places for ill health caused by living conditions coincide with those who avoid using electric heating because of the cost.

Could you paint a replica of the Mona Lisa using only 50 semi-transparent polygons?  Using an evolutionary algorithm, a computer programme paints the Mona Lisa in fewer than a million tries...  On a visit to China in 1994, I witnessed the ultimate foot fetish.  As an elderly woman came gliding towards me, peeping under the hem of her blue silk trousers I could see her broken feet, tiny black satin points that seemed barely to touch the earth.  I had never imagined that so cruel a mutilation could produce anything so graceful.  Cramming a dancer’s feet into pointe shoes and making her dance on them is hardly less barbaric, and the results far less beautiful.  In July 2007, Louboutin designed a series of crazily high-heeled shoes in which the wearer must walk on the tip of her big toe, to be photographed by David Lynch for an exhibition called Fetish at the Galerie du Passage.  The designer is now under pressure to produce a version of these entirely unwearable shoes for commercial sale.  Footbinding is no longer practised but, as soon as China opened to Western commerce, Chinese girls rushed to spend their hard-earned yuan on high-heeled shoes.  For 10 years Japanese girls have been hoisting their bottoms higher off the ground by wearing the highest heels of all.  Closer to home, women are prepared to spend hundreds of pounds on shoes they would never try to wear in public.  While feminists have been struggling to set women free, high heels have conquered the world...  In a letter to the Harvard community, President Drew Gilpin Faust announced that the school is "reconsidering the scale and pace of planned capital projects, including the University's development in Allston, and taking a hard look at hiring, staffing levels and compensation."  Many private colleges and universities are doing the same thing.  In response to falling endowments, some have considered suing their brokers for putting funds into risky investments, while others are trying to get a slice of any future congressional stimulus package.  Can clamor for a bailout be far behind?

Maria had asked her husband for a Nikon camera for her birthday - so she was a bit surprised when he headed for the bakery to pick it up.  (She got the real thing later)...  Inmates did not need to know the face of their "Dear Leader," as Kim is called.  Behind electrified fences, they tended pigs, tanned leather, collected firewood and laboured in mines until they died or were executed.  The exception is Shin, who is 26 and lives in a small rented room here in Seoul.  He is a thin, short, shy man, with quick, wary eyes, a baby face, and sinewy arms bowed from childhood labour.  There are burn scars on his back and left arm from where he was tortured by fire at age 14, when he was unable to explain why his soon-to-be-hanged mother had tried to escape.  The middle finger of his right hand is cut off at the first knuckle, punishment for accidentally dropping a sewing machine in the garment factory at his camp...  "Capitalism without bankruptcy is like Christianity without hell." - Frank Borman...  A bored post office worker tried to brighten up her days by stealing Lottery scratchcards.  She grabbed £19,000 worth over 14 months for the thrill of trying to land a huge cash prize.  But despite taking up to 10 cards a day when things were quiet, her biggest win was just £50.

If men have status or sex on their minds (for example, they are thinking about a promotion at work or an attractive opposite-sex individual), they will more quickly respond aggressively to a trivial insult.  The slight seems much more substantial then.  Men are especially likely to respond aggressively when there are other men around to watch the situation, suggesting that much of aggression is about display, rather than self-defense.  Statistics reinforce this idea; police reports show that "trivial altercations" is the leading reason for homicide...  One of Neefe's first students was a sullen, grubby, taciturn 10-year-old keyboard player named Ludwig van Beethoven.  He was the son of an alcoholic singer who had more or less beat music into him.  The kid seemed more like a charity case than a budding musician, but Neefe soon discovered that his talent could put him in the league of the musical phenomenon of the age, a child of freakish gifts named Mozart.  Ludwig was named for his grandfather, who had been Kapellmeister, head of the court musical establishment.  Old Ludwig's son, Johann van Beethoven, was a tenor in the choir; when his father died, Johann had made a bid to become Kapellmeister.  Everybody but Johann understood that was ludicrous: He was a competent singer and music teacher, otherwise hopelessly mediocre and a devotee of the bottle.  As often happens, the full ferocity of the father's blighted ambition landed on the son.  Johann van Beethoven intended to make his oldest child into another Mozart, or else.

Celebrity socialite Paris Hilton says she is "living proof" that not all blondes are dumb.  To demonstrate her great intelligence, she offers advice for coping with the global financial crisis: "You should wear happy colours"...  A popular kind of crimeware program creates a fake "pop-up" on your computer when you go to certain websites.  However, to the average person it may look like a legitimate Windows warning but when you click on it, the cybercriminal can install a program on your computer that records your every keystroke - from passwords to credit card information.  Computer experts say the best way to deal with pop-ups is to immediately press "control, alt, delete."  What's worse, experts say the bad guys are targeting child websites because kids may not know enough to not click on the pop-up and then they end up compromising their parents' computer without even knowing it...  Having a bad day?  Meet the guy who recently has been divorced twice, house foreclosed, mobile home burned down, dog killed, business went into bankruptcy and his brother died of a heart attack.  And he was killed on Friday (via Fark)...  Memorable Quotes: "It's not based on any particular data point, we just wanted to choose a really large number." — a Treasury Department spokeswoman explaining how the $700 billion number was chosen for the initial bailout, quoted on Forbes.com September 23.  "Anyone who says we're in a recession, or heading into one — especially the worst one since the Great Depression — is making up his own private definition of `recession.'" — commentator Donald Luskin, the day before Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy, The Washington Post, September 14.

Almost 1/3 of the world’s people don’t get enough iodine from food and water.  The result in extreme cases is large goiters that swell their necks, or other obvious impairments such as dwarfism or cretinism.  But far more common is mental slowness.  When a pregnant woman doesn’t have enough iodine in her body, her child may suffer irreversible brain damage and could have an IQ that is 10 to 15 points lower than it would otherwise be.  An educated guess is that iodine deficiency results in a needless loss of more than 1 billion IQ points around the world...  An analysis of the germs unleashed from a single commuter's sneeze showed that within minutes they are being passed on via escalator handrails or seats on trains and underground carriages.  A single sneeze expels 100,000 droplets of germs into the air at 90 miles per hour.  Individual droplets get transferred to handles, rails and other areas frequently held or touched.  Up to 10% of all commuters will come into contact with an area infected by that one sneeze.  Be considerate!  Use a tissue to cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough.  Commuters - wash your hands first when arriving home (a nice idea, but I doubt it catches on).

Thank God I'm an atheist.

- Luis Buñuel

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