Later On

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

Archive for April 25th, 2008

More doubts: the North Korean/Syrian reactor story

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Two columns well worth reading have a detailed set of reasons to doubt the veracity of the story about North Korea helping Syria build a nuclear reactor. Glenn Greenwald and Juan Cole both set out reasons for doubt, and then of course there’s the long history of Administration lying.

Written by Leisureguy

25 April 2008 at 3:07 pm

Interesting Fallows post on Robert Gates

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Worth reading. Here’s a snippet:

… two speeches early this week by the Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, about what he thinks is wrong with the culture of the professional military.

Gates starts out miles ahead simply by not being the man he replaced at the Pentagon, the odious Donald Rumsfeld. And even though Gates has implemented essentially the same Administration policy and administered the same gigantic budget that Rumsfeld left him, he has defended and explained his policies in ways suggesting that he has noticed, thought about, and attempted to address opposing views. This is in contrast to the haughty sneering-away of opposition so familiar from the Rumsfeld days.

In back-to-back speeches this Monday to the Air Force leadership at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama and then to the Army leadership at West Point, Gates revived what had always been the best part of Rumsfeld’s approach in the Pentagon. This was a willingness to challenge the cautious, yes-man aspects of today’s professional military culture. Rumsfeld gave all such questioning a bad name by his contemptuous disregard for professional military judgment in the runup to the Iraq war. But Gates still had a point — and he made it in a surprising way.

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25 April 2008 at 3:01 pm

The gap between pundits and people

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Good article by David Sirota:

If television is the nation’s mirror, then no two TV characters reflect the intensifying “two Americas” gap better than Chris Matthews and Jimmy McNulty.

A recent New York Times profile of Matthews describes a name-dropping dilettante floating between television studios and cocktail parties. The article documents the MSNBC host’s $5 million salary, three Mercedes and house in lavish Chevy Chase, Md. Yet Matthews said, “Am I part of the winner’s circle in American life? I don’t think so.”

That stupefying comment sums up a pervasive worldview in Washington that is hostile to any discussion of class divides. Call it Matthews-ism – an ideology most recently seen in the brouhaha over Barack Obama’s statement about economic dislocation.

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Written by Leisureguy

25 April 2008 at 2:58 pm

Posted in Democrats, Election, Media

Now that’s a model airplane

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A-10 Warthog model

I’ve always liked the A-10 Warthog, although the Air Force strongly resisted building it. (Brief history here.) The Air Force really does not like flying ground-support missions. The Air Force is all about strategic bombing—at least the power in the Air Force lies with those guys. But the A-10 was built and it turned in a great performance. Now a 10-foot 1:5 scale model has been made, which flies by radio control. Photos here, and article here.

Written by Leisureguy

25 April 2008 at 2:43 pm

Posted in Daily life

PBS on the Pentagon propaganda compaign

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Via ThinkProgress:

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25 April 2008 at 12:10 pm

Galaxies colliding

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Thanks to Matt for passing along the link to this showcase of 59 pairs of galaxies in collision.

Written by Leisureguy

25 April 2008 at 12:04 pm

Posted in Science

Polar bears and extinction

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The Bush Administration may have doomed the polar bear to extinction… (Slide show: 16 photographs of polar bears in the wild.) Read the article, which begins:

Last summer, the Arctic lost more sea ice than ever before—nearly a half-million square miles, the size of Texas and California combined—devastating the polar bear’s frozen habitat. Yet, in February, despite a huge outcry, Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne proceeded with a $2.66 billion oil-and-gas-drilling-lease sale that some of his own scientists believe will further doom the U.S. polar bear. Visiting the Alaskan town of Kaktovik, the author reports on this new crisis.

by Michael Shnayerson May 2008

There’s one place, and one place only, to see polar bears in America.

You have to travel to the country’s northernmost point, the very apex of Alaska’s North Slope, to the permafrost shores that stretch out on either side from the Inupiat town of Kaktovik.

Kaktovik, population 300, is brutally cold most of the year, and to a newcomer it seems pretty bleak: a hodgepodge of wind-whipped cottages and Quonset huts on little Barter Island, set against the Beaufort Sea. The polar bears like it, though. In the early-autumn dusk, they rise out of the Arctic water like spectral figures, soft white smudges nearly undetectable on the gray horizon. Stealthily, in utter silence, they advance from three sides onto a beachlike peninsula just past Kaktovik’s gravel airstrip. If they were hungry, and you were their only meal in sight, those cute white creatures, also the world’s largest land predators, would tear you apart in an instant. But by the time I arrived, in mid-September, they’d been dining for days on prey already dead: the stinking remains of bowhead-whale carcasses.

The bone pile is the aftermath of Kaktovik’s annual whale hunt. Bowheads are officially endangered, but Inupiat are allowed, in deference to their native traditions, to take a limited number. The Kaktovik hunters take their quota of three, haul them in to this shallow shore, then carve up and cart off a winter’s worth of meat. That’s when the bears move in.

On my first night, I sat in an old panel van near the bone pile with M. A. Sanjayan, 41-year-old Sri Lankan–born lead scientist of the Nature Conservancy, and several others, the van’s headlights illuminating first one, then 3, then 20 bears as they materialized out of the gathering dark. On all fours the bears looked roly-poly and adorable. Huggable. Most appeared to be females: smaller, at an average 450 pounds, than males, which can reach 1,500 pounds. Padding around the bone pile, they gave no sign of their awesome power to regard any creature they see as prey.

For some time we watched the bears feast in the headlights’ glow—a thrilling sight, but a sad one, too. By this time, the bears should have been readying to go back on the sea ice, hunting for seals. But each year now, after Alaska’s brief and partial summer thaw, the ice off Kaktovik re-forms later and later. The bears aren’t natural land animals; without the bone pile, they might starve as they prowl the shore like shipwreck survivors into late October or even November, waiting for the ice to appear.

Eventually, even the sight of two dozen foraging polar bears gets a bit eye-glazing—like one of those classic eight-hour, single-shot Andy Warhol movies. And so I was dozing off when a loud thump, right by my head, abruptly woke me.

There, gazing at me from a distance of three inches, was a female polar bear on her hind legs, her huge front pads on the window, her giant claws clicking against the glass. For a long moment she stared at me intently, emotionlessly, sizing me up. This was no whimsical creature in a Coca-Cola ad. This was the ruler of the Arctic, with not a scintilla of fear in her gaze. Her paws were almost as big as snowshoes because, like snowshoes, they help keep the bear from pushing through fragile ice as she walks.

Polar bears, when they stand up, I was reminded, are about twice as large as when they’re on all fours. This female was perhaps six feet tall; males can easily exceed nine feet. If she had wanted to, our curious new friend could easily have pushed the van over on its side, smashed the windshield, and scooped us out. Our only real protection was her lack of hunger.

Those close encounters would occur at least once a night that week. Getting Kaktovicked, we came to call it. But the bears, who finally picked the whale bones clean and started back out on the re-formed ice, were about to get a far ruder surprise.

They were about to be Bushwhacked.

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Written by Leisureguy

25 April 2008 at 11:04 am

Good way to portion control

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And good tips for cooking a mixed diet—i.e., when one of two is vegetarian and the other omnivore. Read the post, which begins:

Reader Suzi no miko left this great comment:

I am a vegetarian and my husband is not (slight issue…). When I make Bento for the two of us I end up making a bunch of different things because he wants meat in his Bento almost every day. He’s also on the South Beach Diet thing and won’t eat rice, carrots, corn, potatoes, soba, fruit, etc… This page had been very helpful to us (more specifically me) and thanks to our bento boxes making portion control easy and the tips on packing from you we have collectively lost about 50 pounds.

That is really great – congratulations to Suzu no miko and her husband! Bentos are a great weight loss aid, as I’ve written before, because portion control is much easier than with large or more open containers.

One point that Suzu no miko brought up is something I have to deal with too: how to make a vegetarian-based bento that an omnivore, or a bigger eater, would feel satisfied with. I often show the bigger-portion version of each complete bento, but here are some general tips: …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

25 April 2008 at 10:41 am

Health insurers find they charge too much

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It’s a long road that has no turning. Reed Abelson reports in the NY Times:

It is never a good thing if many of your customers can no longer afford what you are selling.

The UnitedHealth Group, which announced disappointing first-quarter earnings on Tuesday, said the weakening economy was causing fewer businesses and employees to sign up for its health insurance. UnitedHealth, whose stock fell sharply on the report, also cut its overall profit outlook for 2008.

“We are clearly being impacted by the declining economic outlook,” Stephen J. Hemsley, the company’s chief executive, told investors Tuesday.

While he acknowledged the company’s own missteps, Mr. Hemsley said that fewer employers — particularly small businesses — were offering health coverage to their workers, and that when they did, fewer employees were choosing to enroll.

As one of the nation’s largest insurers and the first to report earnings this period, UnitedHealth’s results have raised anxiety about the industry’s challenges. While some analysts say UnitedHealth has simply hit a trough in the industry’s normal business cycle, others are worried about more fundamental challenges to the insurance business model.

In recent years, despite soaring medical costs, insurers have made big profits by keeping premiums well ahead of health care inflation. But analysts say that business strategy may be reaching its limits, with companies finding it harder to raise prices without losing substantial numbers of customers.

“The market is not growing — it’s shrinking,” said Sheryl Skolnick, a health care analyst for CRT Capital Holdings in Stamford, Conn.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

25 April 2008 at 10:22 am

“GM” means “Good for Monsanto”

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The biotechnology industry has invoked the need for genetically modified (GM) crops to meet the growing global food crisis. For example, Archer Daniels Midland called itself the “supermarket to the world” in its ads. But a recent study carried out on soybeans in Kansas found that GM crops produced significantly less food than their conventional counterparts. A GM soybean from Monsanto produced 70 bushels per acre, compared to 77 per acre for a virtually identical unaltered soybeans. Even after adding extra nutrients that Monsanto’s weedkiller, Roundup, seems to block, production was only brought up to the same level as the non-engineered plants. An earlier study in Nebraska found similar results. Monsanto said “it was surprised by the extent of the decline found by the Kansas study, but not by the fact that the yields had dropped. It said that the soya had not been engineered to increase yields, and that it was now developing one that would.” Others are skeptical. Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute, said that “the physiology of plants was now reaching the limits of the productivity that could be achieved.” The International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development has also “concluded that GM was not the answer to world hunger.” And, “when asked if GM could solve world hunger,” the chief scientist at the British Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Professor Bob Watson, said, “The simple answer is no.”

Source: The Independent (UK), April 20, 2008

Written by Leisureguy

25 April 2008 at 10:18 am

Where Andy Stern is taking the SEIU

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Earlier I blogged an article about Andy Stern, which focused on the good. Now here’s an article that shows the dark side:

I’m Zenei Triunfo-Cortez, RN, one of four members of the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee’s Council of Presidents. I have been a direct care nurse for over thirty years, currently in the post-anesthesia unit.

Thank you to OpenLeft for sponsoring this debate between CNA/NNOC and SEIU. We’ve come to a turning point in the labor movement: a choice between a progressive, democratic, feminist social movement committed to single-payer healthcare reform, as represented by CNA/NNOC, or company unionism based on corporate partnerships, as represented by Andy Stern of SEIU International. Forward or back?

This debate is happening in a historical moment. Stern has just sent 200 staff members to California and paired them up with several hundred local staffers, with the goal of an unprecedented two-part takeover of CNA and United Healthcare Workers-West of SEIU, his harshest internal critics. Moreover, it comes in the aftermath of a humiliating display of thuggery by SEIU in Michigan, repeated episodes of CNA/NNOC nurse leaders being followed and harassed at their homes and nursing stations by SEIU staffers, and a fortunate victory in Ohio over an unprecedented, company-sponsored worker election.

First, a bit of background:

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Written by Leisureguy

25 April 2008 at 10:11 am

Posted in Daily life

Tagged with

Drugs to think

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Interesting post at Mind Hacks:

In the wake of the Nature survey that found that 20% of scientists admit to using brain enhancing drugs, Wired has just published an article detailing what drugs their scientist readers use to keep on keepin’ on.

Although the drugs issue is obviously the headline-grabber, the publication also has a great feature on cognitive enhancement that largely covers tips, tricks and techniques to boost your mental skills that aren’t drug-related.

The article itself is anecdotally interesting, but has a curious tone throughout:

Surprisingly large numbers of people appear to be using brain-enhancing drugs to work harder, longer and better. They’re popping pills normally prescribed for narcolepsy or attention-deficit disorder to improve their performance at work and school.

“We aren’t the teen clubbers popping uppers to get through a hard day running a cash register after binge drinking,” wrote a Ph.D. research scientist who regularly takes a wakefulness drug called Provigil, normally prescribed for narcolepsy. “We are responsible humans.”

Whenever people talk about using drugs, they’re always keen to distance themselves from that sort of drug user. You know, the ones that aren’t responsible.

This belies the fact that most people use most drugs with few problems. Even teen clubbers popping uppers.

While all drugs have risks and illicit street drugs increase the health risks and definitely have an impact on body and brain function, it’s only a minority of drug users who have problems that interfere with their daily lives.

For example, a recent study found that 4% of Australian workers use the (fairly nasty) drug methamphetamine. The figure rises to over 11% for 18-29 year olds. That more than 1 in 10.

While the study found that using methamphetamine significantly increases chances of a range of health problems, it’s still the minority of users that report significant problems. This is the typical pattern for studies on drug use.

In other words, drugs are bad for you but most people manage the risks. A small minority, of course, don’t, and die instantly or suffer long-term consequences.

The benefit and using and abusing prescription drugs for ‘brain doping’ is largely in the fact that you can be sure of the purity of the product and that probably (depending on how you acquire them) you’re not funding a vicious criminal network.

At the end of the day though, the process is the same, whether you’re using legal drugs, illegal drugs, for recreation or for performance.

Just make sure you’re educated about the risks and know the consequences. Just like everything else in life.

Written by Leisureguy

25 April 2008 at 10:06 am

Posted in Daily life, Drug laws

Shakespeare makeover

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At last, Shakespeare for today’s youth:

Generations of schoolchildren have complained of the inaccessibility of Shakespeare’s classic works.

However, with the help of a British satirist, the Ali G generation will have no trouble relating to Hamlet’s woes when they read: “Dere was somefing minging in de State of Denmark.”

In Martin Baum’s updated version of 15 of Shakespeare’s classic plays in “yoof speak”, the Danish prince, who is re-named ‘Amlet, asks: “To be or not to be, innit?”, and Romeo pines for his “fit bitch Jools”.

Mr Baum’s chav-speak Shakespeare, which takes its title from ‘Amlet’s query, includes titles such as Macbeff, Much Ado About Sod All, De ‘Appy Bitches of Windsor, De Taming of de Bitch, Two Geezas Of Verona and All’s Sweet That Ends Sweet, Innit.

Following the well-trodden path of modern interpretations of the Bard’s works, Mr Baum, 48, says his versions, while abridged, remain true to the original formats of Shakespeare’s classics, retaining “the important sexist, duplicitous, cross-dressing and violent moments that made William Shakespeare well wicked.”

Mr Baum’s version of Romeo and Juliet sets the scene for the star-crossed lovers with: “Verona was de turf of de feuding Montagues and de Capulet families.

“And coz they was always brawling and stuff, de prince of Verona told them to cool it or else they was gonna get well mashed if they carried on larging it with each other.”

If the Bard was living today, Mr Baum writes on his website, he would “still be writing in the Globe turf, getting loads of respect from the Stratford upon Avon massive and producing works of pure genius.”


Written by Leisureguy

25 April 2008 at 9:56 am

Posted in Art, Books, Daily life

And more on why the new bill is important

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Again from Bob, an article from the Buffalo News Washington Bureau Chief Jerry Zremski:

Some women have been refusing to get the test to detect a gene that causes breast cancer out of fear its discovery might cost them their jobs, but all that should change under a bill the Senate passed Thursday that’s expected to become law as soon as next week.

The 95-0 Senate vote culminated Rep. Louise M. Slaughter’s 13-year battle for legislation banning genetic discrimination, which Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., called “the first civil rights bill of the 21st century.”

Supporters said the bill will not only help save the lives of those with the breast cancer gene, but also those of countless other people who may be predisposed to other diseases.

Now such people will be able to get genetic testing and begin preventive care without fear of losing their jobs or health insurance, said Slaughter, D-Fairport.

“This legislation not only will stamp out a form of discrimination, but will allow us to realize the tremendous lifesaving and life-altering potential of genetic research,” she said. “This will usher in a whole new era in health care.”

Slaughter said some doctors have been recommending that their patients not get the test for a gene that causes breast cancer, out of fear that the mere presence of that gene could be revealed to insurers or employers who would want to cut their ties to anyone likely to develop the disease.

But under the bill, employers would be barred from using genetic information in making hiring, firing or promotion decisions. In addition, health insurance companies could not use genetic information to set premiums or decide whether someone is eligible for coverage.

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Written by Leisureguy

25 April 2008 at 9:51 am

Very good news for all of us

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From the Wall Street Journal, via Bob:

With a unanimous Senate vote Thursday, Congress is poised to clear landmark legislation barring insurers and employers from discriminating based on a person’s genetic makeup, a move many employers dislike but one that could accelerate both genetic testing and research on personalized medicine.

After more than a decade of deliberation, the Senate cleared the bill 95-0 Thursday. The same bill is expected to sail through the House early next week — just as a similar measure did a year ago — and on to President Bush, who is expected to sign it.

The legislation would bar insurance companies from denying health coverage or charging higher premiums based on a person’s genetic information. It would also bar employers from using genetic information to make hiring, firing and other job-placement decisions. It applies to people who have genes that carry the risk of disease, but not to those who already have the disease.

“Since no one is born with perfect genes, each one of us is a potential victim of genetic discrimination,” said Rep. Louise M. Slaughter (D., N.Y.), a microbiologist, who has introduced the bill each term since 1995. “By prohibiting the improper use of genetic information, this bill encourages Americans to undergo the testing necessary for early treatment and prevention of genetic-based diseases.”

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25 April 2008 at 9:48 am

Cheating: determinism vs. free will

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Does your belief in determinism (or free will) making you more or less likely to cheat? Determinists will, of course, say that the question is meaningless: if you cheat, it’s not a matter of choice, since there is no (true) choice, merely the illusion of choice. OTOH, even if determinism is true, you can (or—more properly—are forced to by being pre-determined) measure the difference in cheating rates between those who believe in determinism and those who believe in free will. And someone has done an experiment to find out what happens:

Do we have free will? While some may see the question as trivial, it’s a challenging topic that has been actively debated for centuries. Whether or not you believe a god is involved, a case can be made that free will is simply an illusion, and that every “decision” we make is completely controlled by factors outside of an individual’s control.

Yet others have argued that a belief in free will is essential to morality. If we don’t actually have any control over the decisions we make, how can we be held accountable for them? Several studies have suggested that when kids believe their achievements are due to innate ability rather than their own effort, they are less likely to persist at similar tasks in the future. But until recently, no study has attempted to directly study belief in free will and how it affects behavior.

Kathleen Vohs and Johnathan Schooler have found a way to study this question (though they can’t tell you whether they were predestined to do it or they came up with the idea through their own independent efforts!). They had 30 students read one of two passages by Francis Crick. The first passage argued that most scientists now recognize free will as an artifact of the way the brain works, that free will is simply an illusion and our actions are determined solely by genetics and the environment. The second passage discussed consciousness and did not bring up free will at all. Then the students were given a test to measure their belief in free will versus determinism.

Finally, the students were asked to take a computerized mental arithmetic test with twenty questions like 1 + 8 + 18 – 12 + 19 – 7 + 17 – 2 + 8 – 4 = X. Next came the key to the experiment: the experimenter told them there was a small computer “glitch” that caused the answer to be displayed shortly after the question appeared. To avoid the glitch, students had the space bar as soon as they saw each question. In fact, the computer recorded both the answers and whether or not the space bar was pressed. Here are the results:

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

25 April 2008 at 9:22 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

Tagged with

Should injured vets be allowed to vote?

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Bush doesn’t think so. Erin Ferns explains:

The ability of injured veterans to vote in November’s presidential election rests in the hands of Bush Administration officials, who have so far refused demands from advocates and lawmakers that the Department of Veterans Affairs help hospitalized veterans register to vote.

“‘It is an insult to those who have fought to spread democracy and freedom overseas to be denied the right to participate in their own democracy here at home,'” wrote Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and John Kerry (D-Mass.) to the Department of Veterans Affairs in March. “‘If each facility took a few simple steps to provide voter registration materials, the VA could do its part to guarantee access to voter registration.'”

In response, VA Secretary James Peake opposed efforts by lawmakers to get the federal agency to provide voter registration opportunities under the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 “‘without any legal basis or rational explanation,'” said Kerry, as reported by AlterNet’s Steven Rosenfeld on April 10.Peake claimed that “department policy restricts partisan political activities in VA facilities and the department also does not have the resources to be responsible for a large-scale voter registration effort,” wrote Rick Maze of the Marine Corps News on April 18.

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Written by Leisureguy

25 April 2008 at 9:16 am

Ultraviolet misinformation

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A review article published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) suggested that tanning at the beach or an indoor tanning booth can help avoid the dangers of vitamin D deficiency. However, the NEJM didn’t disclose that the article’s author, Michael Holick, has received more than $150,000 in research funding from the artificial tanning industry. Martin Weinstock, a dermatologist at Brown University and an expert on the link between tanning beds and skin cancer, says he informed NEJM Editor-in-Chief Jeffrey Drazen about Holick’s industry connections prior to the article’s publication, adding that “the quality of evidence” behind Holick’s recommendations was “poor.” The Indoor Tanning Association (ITA) has also hired Berman & Co., a notorious Washington, D.C. PR firm, to develop what ITA called “an aggressive media relations and public relations campaign.” Berman, who has created numerous web-based front groups for the food, alcohol and tobacco industries, created a new site called He’s also running advertisements that attack medical groups, calling the Skin Cancer Foundation and the American Academy of Dermatology part of the “sunscam industry” and dismissing as “hype” their warnings of the link between tanning and melanoma.

Source: The Cancer Letter, April 18, 2007

Written by Leisureguy

25 April 2008 at 9:12 am

Posted in Business, Daily life, Health

Hangtown Fry for breakfast

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This morning I made a Hangtown Fry. Pretty dang good. The amount of bacon and mushrooms is smaller than I expected—much smaller than I would have automatically used—which, I suppose, is why measurements are given. Anyway, very tasty and plenty of protein (and fat). Will have to eat a banana or a piece of bread to get some carbs in this meal.

Written by Leisureguy

25 April 2008 at 9:08 am

Posted in Daily life, Food

Megs and the magical morning sun

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Megs does love the morning sun. This photo is her about 5 minutes ago. Good day for her already. Click photo to enlarge.

Written by Leisureguy

25 April 2008 at 8:43 am

Posted in Cats, Megs

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