Later On

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

Archive for April 4th, 2009

CDC study finds dangerous chemical in baby food

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From the Scientific American:

Perchlorate, a hazardous chemical in rocket fuel, has been found at potentially dangerous levels in powdered infant formula, according to a study (pdf) by a group of Centers for Disease Control scientists. The study, published last month by The Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology, has intensified the years-long debate about whether or how the federal government should regulate perchlorate in the nation’s drinking water.

According to the CDC, perchlorate exposure can damage the thyroid, which can hinder brain development among infants. For nearly a decade, Democratic members of Congress, the Department of Defense, the White House and the Environmental Protection Agency have been fighting about how much perchlorate in water is too much.

In the new study, CDC scientists tested 15 brands of infant formula and found perchlorate in all of them.  The names of the brands weren’t revealed because the CDC says the study "was not designed to compare brands." But the study does say that the formulas with the highest perchlorate levels are the most popular. The most contaminated brands were lactose-based as opposed to soy-based and accounted for 87% of the infant formulas on the market in 2000, the latest data available from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The study points out that when perchlorate-contaminated powdered formula is mixed with water that also contains traces of the chemical, as many drinking water sources around the country do, the final concoction can become particularly harmful to babies.

"As this unprecedented study demonstrates, infants fed cow’s milk- based powdered formula could be exposed to perchlorate from two sources – tap water and formula. That suggests that millions of American babies are potentially at risk," said Anila Jacob, a physician and a senior scientist with Environmental Working Group, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit that posted the study on its Web site…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 April 2009 at 4:00 pm

Private health insurance: nothing like it

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Interesting how the following is more attractive to some than a government-run single-payer plan. This story is John Dorschner:

Trying to buy health insurance on your own and have gallstones? You’ll automatically be denied coverage. Rheumatoid arthritis? Automatic denial. Severe acne? Probably denied. Do you take metformin, a popular drug for diabetes? Denied. Use the anti-clotting drug Plavix or Seroquel, prescribed for anti-psychotic or sleep problems? Forget about it.

This confidential information on some insurers’ practices is available on the Web — if you know where to look.

What’s more, you can discover that if you lie to an insurer about your medical history and drug use, you will be rejected because data-mining companies sell information to insurers about your health, including detailed usage of prescription drugs.

These issues are moving to the forefront as the Obama administration and Congress gear up for discussions about how to reform the healthcare system so that Americans won’t be rejected for insurance.

It’s especially timely because growing numbers are looking for individual health insurance after losing their jobs. On top of that, small businesses, which make up the bulk of South Florida’s economy, are frequently finding health policies too expensive and are dropping coverage, sending even more people shopping for insurance.

The problem is, material available on the Web shows that people who have specific illnesses or use certain drugs can’t buy coverage.

”This is absolutely the standard way of doing business,” said Santiago Leon, a health insurance broker in Miami. Being denied for preexisting conditions is well known, but when a person sees the usually confidential list of automatic denials for himself, “that’s a eureka moment. That shows you how harsh the system is.”

A 50-year-old Broward County man, with two long-standing medical conditions, saw the harshness for himself when surfing the Web trying to learn why insurers kept denying him coverage. He was shocked to find several insurers’ instructions to sales personnel, usually called the Guide to Medical Underwriting and often marked “confidential and proprietary.”

”I think it’s atrocious what’s going on,” he said. “Basically, they’re taking only the healthy so they can get the fattest profits. If you really need insurance, then you can’t get it.”

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 April 2009 at 3:57 pm

Evan Bayh

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Ezra Klein has a couple of interesting posts as he tries to figure out Evan Bayh:

The strange case of Evan Bayh

Why did Evan Bayh vote for Kyl-Lieberman?

Worth clicking through to read if you like politics.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 April 2009 at 3:52 pm

Posted in Congress, Democrats

Supreme Court backs power plants over fish

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Interesting story in the Seattle Times that begins:

The Supreme Court said Wednesday that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) may consider whether protecting fish and other aquatic creatures is worth the cost of the most advanced upgrades for older power plants, a defeat for environmentalists who had challenged the government’s position.

The court ruled 6-3 that such cost-benefit decisions are allowed under the Clean Water Act as the agency moved to require more than 500 older power plants to upgrade the ways they draw water to cool machinery. Water-intake systems kill 3.4 billion fish and shellfish each year, the EPA estimated.

But the technology that could bring the older plants more in line with new plants would cost about $3.5 billion annually, the EPA said.

Environmentalists argued that the Clean Water Act requires remedies that "reflect the best technology available for minimizing adverse environmental impact," and that Congress understood it was nearly impossible to put a monetary value on the loss of wildlife. But Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that even the environmentalists acknowledged there was some limit to whether the most advanced technology was worth it.

"It seems to us, therefore, that the phrase ‘best technology available,’ even with the added specification ‘for minimizing adverse environmental impact,’ does not unambiguously preclude cost-benefit analysis," he wrote.

Power plants draw more than 214 billion gallons of water from U.S. waterways daily to cool power plants, "squashing," in Scalia’s words, billions of fish and other small aquatic creatures against intake screens or sucking them into the cooling systems. In newer plants, closed-cooling systems reduce the rate by 98 percent.

But it is extremely costly to implement such systems at older plants, and the EPA said less expensive plans would reduce the loss by 80 percent to 95 percent…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 April 2009 at 3:48 pm

Chocolate-topped bacon

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As a surprise for The Wife, I made her some chocolate-topped bacon. (She had previously made me a batch of chocolate chip cookies with squares of crisp bacon included—divine.) I used thick bacon on a rack on a rimmed baking sheet: 400º oven for 19 minutes was right for me, YMMV. After bacon cooled, I melted some milk chocolate and poured in a strip on the top of the bacon. (Milk chocolate for her; I’m a dark-chocolate fan myself.)

Pretty good, she says.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 April 2009 at 1:41 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Recipes

Sleeptracker supposedly awakens you at the right time

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Sleeptracker sounds good:

The Key to Waking Up Refreshed
Why is it so hard to wake up to a normal alarm clock? Because a normal alarm clock can’t detect where you are in your sleep cycle – a continuous cycle from deep sleep, to brief almost-awake moments, and back to deep sleep again. Occasionally, your alarm may catch you at an optimal, almost-awake moment and you wake up feeling refreshed, but usually you grope for the snooze button waking up tired and groggy.

Wake at Your Perfect Time
SLEEPTRACKER® puts an end to that tired feeling. Once you set its alarm window, it monitors your body and continuously looks for your optimal waking times so it can wake you at just the right moment. Imagine not feeling tired in the morning and getting a few extra minutes out of your day.

Has anyone tried this thing?

Written by LeisureGuy

4 April 2009 at 11:08 am

Joe Conason: The French are right (again)

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Very interesting column, which begins:

If the world is no longer enthralled by the “old Washington consensus” of privatization, deregulation and weak government, as British Prime Minister Gordon Brown proclaimed at the London G-20 summit, then now it is surely time to reconsider what that consensus has meant for us over the past three decades. We could begin by looking across the Atlantic at the “social market” nations of Europe — where support for families and children is less rhetorical and more real than here.

Most coverage of the summit failed to observe the stinging irony of the debate over stimulus spending that brought the United States into conflict with France and Germany. Today’s American demand that the French and Germans (along with the rest of wealthy Europe) should spend much more on government programs and infrastructure contrasts rather starkly with the traditional American criticism of Europeans for spending too much.

Not that the Obama administration’s complaint about the French and the Germans is necessarily wrong; the Europeans and especially France and Germany should overcome their fear of inflation and spend more to help relieve the global recession. But then we almost always have some complaint against the French — and the French often turn out to be right, as they were when they objected to the invasion of Iraq.

So when the French and other Europeans note pointedly that their societies routinely spend much more than ours to protect workers, women, the young, the elderly, and the poor from economic trouble, they’re merely making a factual observation. (France spends as much as 1.5 percent of GDP annually on childcare and maternity benefits alone.) Different as we are in culture and history, we might even learn something from their example, now that the blinding ideology of the past has been swept away.

By now, most Americans ought to know that Europeans treat healthcare as a public good and a human right, which means that they spend billions of tax dollars annually to insure everyone (although they spend less overall on the medical sector than we do). What most Americans probably still don’t know is that those European medical systems are highly varied, with private medicine and insurance playing different roles in different countries. Expensive as universal quality care has inevitably become, as technology improves and populations age, the Europeans broadly believe in their social security systems — because they provide competitive advantage as well as moral superiority.

From Europe’s perspective, the same can be said of the support its governments provide to families, from the entitlements available to pregnant women and new mothers and fathers, to universal child care and tuition-free higher education, to the special benefits that assist single parents. The challenges that working families face in a globalizing world where both parents work are mitigated by policies designed to encourage balance between home and workplace and adequate attention to children.

These “socialist” measures to protect families are far more effective, of course, than all of the Sunday shouting from American pulpits about the Biblical way of life. Perhaps the leadership of the religious right, still obsessed with stigmatizing gay couples, should take note…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 April 2009 at 10:24 am

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