Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for January 20th, 2008

Caffeine and miscarriages

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Be careful:

Too much caffeine during pregnancy may increase the risk of miscarriage, a new study says, and it suggests that pregnant women may want to reduce their intake or cut it out entirely.

Many obstetricians already advise women to limit caffeine, although the subject has long been contentious, with conflicting studies, fuzzy data and various recommendations given over the years.

The new study, to be published Monday in The Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, finds that pregnant women who consume 200 milligrams or more of caffeine a day — the amount in 10 ounces of coffee or 25 ounces of tea — may double their risk of miscarriage.

Pregnant women should try to give up caffeine for at least the first three or four months, said the lead author of the study, Dr. De-Kun Li, a reproductive and perinatal epidemiologist at the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research in Oakland, Calif.

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Written by Leisureguy

20 January 2008 at 5:05 pm

Homeless vets

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Bad situation:

  Peter Mohan traces the path from the Iraqi battlefield to this lifeless conference room, where he sits in a kilt and a Camp Kill Yourself T-shirt and calmly describes how he became a sad cliche: a homeless veteran.

There was a happy homecoming, but then an accident — car crash, broken collarbone. And then a move east, close to his wife’s new job but away from his best friends.

And then self-destruction: He would gun his motorcycle to 100 mph and try to stand on the seat. He would wait for his wife to leave in the morning, draw the blinds and open up whatever bottle of booze was closest.

He would pull out his gun, a .45-caliber, semiautomatic pistol. He would lovingly clean it, or just look at it and put it away. Sometimes place it in his mouth.

“I don’t know what to do anymore,” his wife, Anna, told him one day. “You can’t be here anymore.”

Peter Mohan never did find a steady job after he left Iraq. He lost his wife — a judge granted their divorce this fall — and he lost his friends and he lost his home, and now he is here, in a shelter.

He is 28 years old. “People come back from war different,” he offers by way of a summary.

This is not a new story in America: A young veteran back from war whose struggle to rejoin society has failed, at least for the moment, fighting demons and left homeless.

But it is happening to a new generation. As the war in Afghanistan plods on in its seventh year, and the war in Iraq in its fifth, a new cadre of homeless veterans is taking shape.

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Written by Leisureguy

20 January 2008 at 12:39 pm

Plastics in people and Morgellons disease

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The Wife wondered after reading the post on the presence of plastics in people whether it could be related to Morgellons disease, now being investigated by the CDC. Certainly it would be the case that the amount of BPA in people would vary widely, probably along a bell curve, from barely detectable to enormous amounts. If enormous amounts were required to trigger something like Morgellons disease, you would expect it to be rare…

Written by Leisureguy

20 January 2008 at 11:25 am

Posted in Daily life, Medical

FBI covers up crime

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This is bad:

The FBI has been accused of covering up a key case file detailing evidence against corrupt government officials and their dealings with a network stealing nuclear secrets.

The assertion follows allegations made in The Sunday Times two weeks ago by Sibel Edmonds, an FBI whistleblower, who worked on the agency’s investigation of the network.

Edmonds, a 37-year-old former Turkish language translator, listened into hundreds of sensitive intercepted conversations while based at the agency’s Washington field office.

She says the FBI was investigating a Turkish and Israeli-run network that paid high-ranking American officials to steal nuclear weapons secrets. These were then sold on the international black market to countries such as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

One of the documents relating to the case was marked 203A-WF-210023. Last week, however, the FBI responded to a freedom of information request for a file of exactly the same number by claiming that it did not exist. But The Sunday Times has obtained a document signed by an FBI official showing the existence of the file.

Edmonds believes the crucial file is being deliberately covered up by the FBI because its contents are explosive. She accuses the agency of an “outright lie”.

“I can tell you that that file and the operations it refers to did exist from 1996 to February 2002. The file refers to the counterintelligence programme that the Department of Justice has declared to be a state secret to protect sensitive diplomatic relations,” she said.

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Written by Leisureguy

20 January 2008 at 11:18 am

Posted in Bush Administration, GOP, Government

Tagged with ,

Justice, Texas-style

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Amazing:

They say everything is bigger in Texas. And sure enough, if you’ve ever seen a bigger legal mess than the case of Texas Supreme Court Justice David Medina, we’d love to hear about it.Last June, the Medinas’ house burned down in a fire that spread to two other houses, causing a total of about $900,000 in damages. Investigators suspected arson when they found an accelerant in the Medinas’ garage where the fire started. And the discovery that the house had been in foreclosure a year earlier deepened their suspicion. Medina and his wife gave conflicting accounts of the judge’s whereabouts at the time of the fire.

So Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal (R) duly convened a grand jury to examine the evidence. After deliberating three months past the scheduled end of its term, the jurors told prosecutor Vic Wisner on Thursday to prepare the indictments.

Wisner refused.

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Written by Leisureguy

20 January 2008 at 11:11 am

Posted in GOP, Government

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The war toll

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Written by Leisureguy

20 January 2008 at 11:08 am

Enforced frugality of food

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Enforced by prices:

 Rising prices for cooking oil are forcing residents of Asia’s largest slum, in Mumbai, India, to ration every drop. Bakeries in the United States are fretting over higher shortening costs. And here in Malaysia, brand-new factories built to convert vegetable oil into diesel sit idle, their owners unable to afford the raw material.

This is the other oil shock. From India to Indiana, shortages and soaring prices for palm oil, soybean oil and many other types of vegetable oils are the latest, most striking example of a developing global problem: costly food.

The food price index of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, based on export prices for 60 internationally traded foodstuffs, climbed 37 percent last year. That was on top of a 14 percent increase in 2006, and the trend has accelerated this winter.

In some poor countries, desperation is taking hold. Just in the last week, protests have erupted in Pakistan over wheat shortages, and in Indonesia over soybean shortages. Egypt has banned rice exports to keep food at home, and China has put price controls on cooking oil, grain, meat, milk and eggs.

According to the F.A.O., food riots have erupted in recent months in Guinea, Mauritania, Mexico, Morocco, Senegal, Uzbekistan and Yemen.

“The urban poor, the rural landless and small and marginal farmers stand to lose,” said He Changchui, the agency’s chief representative for Asia and the Pacific.

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Written by Leisureguy

20 January 2008 at 10:59 am

Posted in Daily life

Quieting the chatter in the mind

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Written by Leisureguy

20 January 2008 at 10:35 am

Posted in Daily life

When you stint on infrastructure investment

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Bad things happen because politicians don’t much like working on the dull stuff: maintaining the infrastructure (water mains, sewage systems, roads, bridges, dams, parks, schools, and the like). That kind of work is work and it doesn’t lead much to dramatic announcements and moments of glory—it just makes things better.

And now, after years of bumbling with education from kindergarten through PhD programs, the bill is coming due (but note the cynical comment at the link):

 Aerospace

Roughly a quarter of the nation’s 637,000 aerospace workers could be eligible for retirement this year, raising fears that America could be facing a serious skills shortage in the factories that churn out commercial and military aircraft.

“It’s a looming issue that’s getting more serious year by year,” said Marion Blakey, the president and chief executive of the Aerospace Industries Association. “These are real veterans. It’s a hard workforce to replace.”

The AIA, which represents aircraft manufacturers and suppliers, has designated the potential skills drain as one of its top 10 priorities in this year’s presidential race. One of the major unions that represent aerospace workers also is embracing the issue in a rare alliance between labor and management.

“It’s not a problem that’s coming,” said Frank Larkin, the spokesman for the 720,000-member International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. “It’s here.”

The issue particularly resonates in aircraft manufacturing centers such as the Dallas-Fort Worth area in Texas, the St. Louis metropolitan area, the Puget Sound region in Washington state and Wichita, Kan., which bills itself as the “Air Capital of the World.”

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Written by Leisureguy

20 January 2008 at 10:21 am

Posted in Business, Government

Reading people

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Some are naturally quite good at reading people. Lyndon Johnson, for example, said that if you couldn’t tell, immediately on walking into a room, who there was for you and who was against you, then you shouldn’t go into politics. I think he did indeed have the ability to read people almost immediately. At the other extreme, one of the problems that people with Asperger’s syndrome have is an inability to pick up on social cues and to read people. That can be remedied by coaching and teaching as explicit rules what most people know instinctively. (BTW, a new book on Asperger’s has recently been published: Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s.)
These musings were prompted by a post I read recently on how to figure people out. It’s an interesting read. Lyndon Johnson would have thought it was obvious—as would have Bismarck. But for many, it will be an eye-opener.

Written by Leisureguy

20 January 2008 at 10:08 am

Posted in Daily life

Tagged with

The shifts of global economy

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Asia Times Online has an interesting article:

In this article, I will examine the common thread running between five different stories that surfaced this week:

  • Mitt Romney’s pledge to save Michigan’s auto industry, that apparently won him the Republican nomination from the state.
  • Mounting credit losses and attendant capital raising by US banks.
  • The World Bank’s most recent acknowledgment of the corruption that plagues most of its projects, this time involving healthcare projects in India.
  • China’s further tightening of lending conditions at its commercial banks even as it announces explicit price curbs on key food and other products.
  • The launch in India of the world’s cheapest car.
  • On the face of it, there is not much linking these stories. The state of Michigan, for example, plays host to America’s once-mighty automotive industry. That’s not the only reason it is in the news these days – the state also has the dubious distinction of being in the top five most delinquent states for personal finance (you know, credit card debt repayment, mortgage repayment and all that sort of thing).

    Things are so bad that some economist wags are calling the state Michi-Gone: yes, humor is among the various talents that economists do not possess. It is easy to make the link between the declines of the auto industry and the personal wealth of the state’s citizens, but that’s not the full story.

    Add to this the question of why the auto companies squandered their hard-won prosperity from the nineties (Of black swans and greedy oilmen, Asia Times Online, January 5, 2008) and a more complex picture emerges. With a strong US dollar that was helped along by billions in so-called safe-haven flows following the Asian financial crisis, America simply had too much money, which is usually the first condition for capital misallocation. That is what led banks and smaller financial companies to lend willy-nilly for mortgages, credit cards and the like essentially to people chasing the American dream – ie a house of your own with a two-car garage and excessive cholesterol intake.

    These inflows kept the US dollar strong thereby making Americans less worried about the steady rise in oil prices and a concomitant feed through into inflation. This house of cards could have fallen long back but for the deflationary impact of China adding manufacturing capacity in every conceivable industry, which helped to keep prices low in the US. Asians also had the good habit of saving more than they spent, and also shipping the piggy banks to New York for investment in anything that their honest Wall Street advisers told them to buy (The robbery of the century, Asia Times Online, July 14, 2007.)

    Unfortunately, along the way some Chinese decided to properly urbanize their own cities, live in beautiful modern buildings rather than old shanties along the Yangtze. In doing so, the delicate price equilibrium underpinning low inflation in the US (and Europe) swung out of control and unleashed greater inflation, in turn pushing central banks to raise rates. Rising interest rates in turn made bankrupt the people borrowing money they couldn’t pay for houses they couldn’t afford on incomes they didn’t have.

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    Written by Leisureguy

    20 January 2008 at 9:55 am

    Dolphins playing a game

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    They clearly are using the bubble rings in play.

    Written by Leisureguy

    20 January 2008 at 9:44 am

    Posted in Daily life

    Threats to reason

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    Dan Hind is editorial director of The Bodley Head publishing in London and author of The Threat to Reason (published by Verso). This essay is based on a talk he gave in November 2007 at the RSA (Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures & Commerce) in London.

    The Enlightenment is in mortal danger from irrational forces. We know this because its self-styled defenders continually tell us so. Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins declares, in tones which make the flesh creep, that “primitive darkness is coming back”. Politician Dick Taverne warns that “the new Rome that science built is under siege by the barbarians”. In this magazine (New Scientist, 8 October 2005, p 39) we learn that “After two centuries in the ascendancy, the Enlightenment project is under threat. Religious movements are sweeping the globe preaching unreason, intolerance and dogma, and challenging the idea that rational, secular inquiry is the best way to understand the world.”

    Other forms of unreason join religion to threaten the enlightened inheritance. Scientific medicine faces a fight to the death with homeopathy, reiki and other snake oil. Postmodernism and New Ageism have also supposedly debauched the public’s capacity to make reasonable judgements. As a result, experts tell us, a new mood of distrust has undermined public faith in science – an unintentionally revealing form of words.

    No one would want to deny the challenges to the Enlightenment that are posed by fundamentalist religion and the other forces of unreason. But if we consider the facts dispassionately, it becomes clear they do not deserve top billing among the enemies of free inquiry. In fact, the institutions that noisily lay claim to the enlightened inheritance – the corporation and the state – pose a much more serious, pervasive threat to reason. In recent years many honest scientists have discovered that their own employers can be far more effectively hostile to science than any of its self-declared enemies.

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    Written by Leisureguy

    20 January 2008 at 9:42 am

    Strong opinion on diet

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    Gary Taubes is a journalist and author based in New York City. His book The Diet Delusion is published this week by Vermilion. He writes:

    For the past century, the advice to the overweight and obese has remained remarkably consistent: consume fewer calories than you expend and you will lose weight. This prescription seems eminently reasonable. The only problem is that it doesn’t seem to work. Neither eating less nor moving more reverses the course of obesity in any but the rarest cases.

    This contradiction has given us a catalogue of clinical literature almost mind-boggling in its internal inconsistency. “Dietary therapy remains the cornerstone of [obesity] treatment and the reduction of energy intake continues to be the basis of successful weight reduction programs,” observes The Handbook of Obesity, a textbook edited by George Bray, Claude Bouchard and W. P. T. James, three of the most respected names in obesity research, and first published in 1998. It then goes on to acknowledge that the results of such therapy “are known to be poor and not long-lasting”.

    In truth, the very idea that such advice might benefit obese people borders on the nonsensical, presupposing as it does that they are either unconcerned about their weight, ignorant, or stubbornly unwilling to do anything about it. None of these notions has a shred of evidence to support it, yet health authorities still repeat their mantra: obesity is caused by overeating; eating less is the cure. Any attempt to argue otherwise is treated as quackery.

    In any other discipline, the failure to demonstrate that a superficially obvious therapy actually works might persuade researchers to question the assumptions on which that therapy is based. Yet in obesity research, it is never the basic hypothesis that is questioned. Instead, the patient is blamed for a lack of moral fortitude. The existence of an obesity epidemic – and, indeed, a diabetes epidemic along with it – has not altered this situation. Rather, it has led researchers and health authorities to presume that entire nations have been ignoring their advice.

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    Written by Leisureguy

    20 January 2008 at 9:39 am

    Forced energy frugality

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    Peak Oil is hovering nearby, and we now have to look at Peak Coal:

    Ask most energy analysts how much coal we have left, and the answer will be some variant of “plenty”. It is commonly agreed that supplies of coal will last for well over a century; coal is generally seen as our safety net in a world of dwindling oil supplies. But is it? A number of recent reports suggest coal reserves may be hugely inflated, a possibility that has profound implications for both global energy supply and climate change.

    The latest “official” statistics from the World Energy Council, published in 2007, put global coal reserves at a staggering 847 billion tonnes (see Diagram). Since world coal production that year was just under 6 billion tonnes, the reserves appear at first glance to be ample to sustain output for at least a century – well beyond even the most distant planning horizon.

    Mine below the surface, however, and the numbers are not so reassuring. Over the past 20 years, official reserves have fallen by more than 170 billion tonnes, even though we have consumed nowhere near that much. What’s more, by a measure known as the reserves-to-production (R/P) ratio – the number of years the reserves would last at the current rate of consumption – coal has declined even more dramatically. In February 2007, the European Commission’s Institute for Energy reported that the R/P ratio had dropped by more than a third between 2000 and 2005, from 277 years to just 155. If this rate of decline were to continue, the institute warns, “the world could run out of economically recoverable reserves of coal much earlier than widely anticipated”. In 2006, according to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy, the R/P fell again, to 144 years. So why are estimates of coal reserves falling so fast – and why now?

    One reason is clear: consumption is soaring, particularly in the developing world. Global coal consumption rose 35 per cent between 2000 and 2006. In 2006, China alone added 102 gigawatts of coal-fired generating capacity, enough to produce three times as much electricity as California consumed that year. China is by far the world’s largest producer of coal, but such is its appetite for the fuel that in 2007 it became a net importer. According to the International Energy Agency, coal consumption is likely to grow ever faster in both China and India.

    Another less noticed reason is that in recent years many countries have revised their official coal reserves downwards, in some cases massively, and often by far more than had been mined since the previous assessment. For instance, the UK and Germany have cut their reserves by more than 90 per cent and Poland by 50 per cent. Declared global reserves of high-quality “hard coal” have fallen by 25 per cent since 1990, from almost 640 billion tonnes to fewer than 480 billion – again, larger than could be accounted for by consumption.

    At the same time, however, many countries including China and Vietnam have left their official reserves suspiciously unchanged for decades, even though they have mined billions of tonnes of coal over that period.

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    Written by Leisureguy

    20 January 2008 at 9:08 am

    Energy frugality

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    A couple of notes. First, smart appliances are on the way:

    Smart devices that turn down household heating when energy prices peak can not only save consumers money but also ease the load on power grids.

    The US Department of Energy equipped 112 homes in Washington state with meters that receive updates on energy prices every 5 minutes. Homeowners also received devices which could regulate their heating systems. They programmed in an ideal temperature and how many degrees they were willing to have it vary in response to a price change. The system – called GridWise – combined this information with thermostat and price readings and switched the heating off and on in response.

    GridWise saved households 10 per cent on electricity bills over the course of a year and reduced peak demand on the energy grid by up to 15 per cent.

    And the bill passed will bring big changes:

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    Written by Leisureguy

    20 January 2008 at 9:01 am

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