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Archive for March 4th, 2009

Two food additives act like estrogen on your body

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Scientists in Italy are reporting development and successful use of a fast new method to identify food additives that act as so-called “xenoestrogens” — substances with estrogen-like effects that are stirring international health concerns.

They used the method in a large-scale screening of additives that discovered two additives with previously unrecognized xenoestrogen effects.

In the study, Pietro Cozzini and colleagues cite increasing concern about identifying these substances and about the possible health effects. Synthetic chemicals that mimic natural estrogens (called “xenoestrogens,” literally, “foreign estrogens”) have been linked to a range of human health effects. They range from reduced sperm counts in men to an increased risk of breast cancer in women.

In the course of that work, they identified two previous unrecognized xenoestrogens. One was propyl gallate, a preservative used to prevent fats and oils from spoiling. The other was 4-hexylresorcinol, used to prevent discoloration in shrimp and other shellfish. “Some caution should be issued for the use of propyl gallate and 4-hexylresorcinol as food additives,” they recommend in the study.

Cripes. Propyl gallate is in a lot of prepared foods. It’s used in vegetable oil, meat products, potato sticks, chewing gum and chicken soup. Phew!

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Written by Ed Campbell

March 4, 2009 at 10:00 pm

Mexican troops enter drug war inside Ciudad Juarez

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Daylife/Reuters Pictures

More than 1,500 Mexican troops have moved into a city on the US border being fought over by rival drug gangs. Soldiers moved into Ciudad Juarez to try to regain control of a city in which more than 2,000 people have been murdered over the past year.

Officials say they intend to have 7,000 troops and police in position by the end of the week.

Rival gangs are battling for control of the city, which is a key entry point for drug smuggling into the US.

Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora said the troops were there in support of the local authorities. “Ciudad Juarez worries us deeply,” he said in an interview with Reuters news agency. “It is the reason why there is a response by the federal government to support the request of local authorities. Public safety is a shared responsibility among the federal, state governments and municipalities.”

At the moment, I’m worrying and waiting to hear from kin who are on the way back home from the Sea of Cortez. With a group of retirees, they’re traveling in a convoy of 5th-wheelers, hoping the effect of the group will keep them safely back over the border.

Yes, I tried to convince them not to go in the first place. They headed down for a few extra weeks of warmth – just before the U.S. government began cautioning travelers.

And who the hell ever listens to me? :)

Written by Ed Campbell

March 4, 2009 at 6:00 pm

Obama sees $40 billion annual savings in spending reforms

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Daylife/Reuters Pictures

President Barack Obama says the U.S. government was paying too much for things it did not need and has ordered a crackdown on spending he declared was “plagued by massive cost overruns and outright fraud.”

Obama said wasteful spending was a problem across the whole government but he zeroed in on the defense industry after earlier citing a project to build a new presidential helicopter fleet as an example of the procurement process “gone amok.”

“The days of giving defense contractors a blank check are over,” Obama told reporters. He ordered a reform of the way the government did business, a move he said would save taxpayers $40 billion a year and help cut the budget deficit.

“Far too often spending is plagued by massive cost overruns, outright fraud and the absence of oversight and accountability,” Obama said. “We are spending money on things we don’t need and we are paying more than we need to pay and that is completely unacceptable.”

We will end unnecessary no-bid and cost-plus contracts that run up a bill that is paid by the American people,” Obama said. Critics say cost-plus contracts invite abuse because they allow companies to charge the government costs plus a fixed profit no matter how poor their performance.

“I reject the false choice between securing this nation and wasting billions of taxpayers’ dollars,” he said.

I’ve had personal experience with a couple aspects of this crap. Cost-plus? You betcha. I worked on one weapons system that had the cost doubled. Why not? We had a guaranteed 6% profit on top of whatever the corporation reported as cost. That doubled the total profits.

The same was true back in the day working on nuclear power generation of electricity. GE and Westinghouse and all their grazing buddies could figure out how to make an outhouse cost a million bucks. Run it past Congress and the last thing they wanted to do was take the cost of doing business apart to sift out the lies. Where would they go to be paid as lobbyists after they left Congress?

Written by Ed Campbell

March 4, 2009 at 4:00 pm

Cricket attack survivor condemns Pakistan security

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Click on the photo for video
Daylife/Reuters Pictures

Chris Broad, the former England batsman turned match referee who escaped unhurt from the commando-style ambush on the Sri Lankan cricket squad, voiced his anger today at the failures of the Pakistan security forces.

Broad…castigated Pakistan for not providing the “presidential-style security” that had been promised. He accused the security services of fleeing from the attack and leaving the match-officials van as “sitting ducks”

He also refuted reports that he had been a hero and had helped to save the life of the Pakistani umpire Ahsan Raza, who remains in a critical condition in a Lahore hospital. “I wasn’t a hero, I was lying on the van floor,” he said.

Although still unaware of reports that Pakistan had been forewarned of a potential terrorist attack, Broad’s anger was palpable.

“After the incident there was not a sign of a policemen anywhere,” he said. “They had clearly gone, left the scene and left us to be sitting ducks. I am extremely angry that we were promised high-level security and in our hour of need that security vanished and we were left open to anything that the terrorists wanted.

I am extremely fortunate to be here today. Questions need to be asked of Pakistan security. They promised security and it wasn’t there when we needed it.

RTFA. A tale of undisciplined and incompetent Pakistan security forces. The survivors are lucky the thugs who attacked weren’t thorough. I wouldn’t trust Pakistan police with guarding cheese from an aardvark.

Written by Ed Campbell

March 4, 2009 at 2:00 pm

Drinking traditional green or black tea can reduce stroke risk

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Drinking at least three cups of green or black tea a day can significantly reduce the risk of stroke, a new UCLA study has found. And the more you drink, the better your odds of staving off a stroke…

The UCLA researchers conducted an evidence-based review of all human observational studies on stroke and tea consumption found in the PubMed and Web of Science archives. They found nine studies describing 4,378 strokes among nearly 195,000 individuals, according to lead author Lenore Arab, a professor of medicine in the division of general internal medicine and health services research at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

“What we saw was that there was a consistency of effect of appreciable magnitude,” said Arab, who is also a professor of biological chemistry. “By drinking three cups of tea a day, the risk of a stroke was reduced by 21 percent. It didn’t matter if it was green or black tea.”

And extrapolating from the data, the effect appears to be linear, Arab said. For instance, if one drinks three cups a day, the risk falls by 21 percent; follow that with another three cups and the risk drops another 21 percent…

“These findings are so exciting,” she said. “If we can find a way to prevent the stroke, or prevent the damage, that is simple and not toxic, that would be a great advance.”

Although a randomized clinical trial is needed to confirm this effect, the findings suggest that drinking three cups of green or black tea a day could help prevent an ischemic stroke.

The Lipton Tea folks who funded the initial computational analysis got their money’s worth. They were bright enough to take “common knowledge” about tea drinkers and put it to the test.

Of course, junk science whiners won’t check the follow-on peer review or the clinical studies. They’ll just worry about who funded the original study. Ah, well.

Written by Ed Campbell

March 4, 2009 at 12:00 pm

Posted in Geek, Science

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San Diego military jet crash was avoidable

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Daylife/Reuters Pictures

Mechanical breakdowns compounded by human error led to the crash of a US marine jet in December that killed four people on the ground, the marines said. The jet was having engine problems and attempting to land at Miramar air base in San Diego when it crashed…

The F-18 fighter jet destroyed two houses in suburban San Diego after the pilot ejected out of the aircraft when it lost power approaching Miramar air base. Four members of one family were killed, including two babies, their mother and their grandmother, who was visiting from South Korea.

The right engine of the plane gave out with an oil leak shortly after it took off from the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln on a training flight, marine Col John Rupp told a news briefing.

Instead of opting to land at Naval Air Station North Island, on the tip of a peninsula in San Diego Bay, the pilot attempted to make it to Miramar Marine Corps Air Station – several miles inland with residential communities nearby.

North Island is approached over water and there are fewer buildings to hit if things go wrong. Air traffic controllers told the pilot three times that he was cleared to land at North Island, flight tapes released by the Federal Aviation Administration revealed.

As the jet approached Miramar, its other engine failed and the pilot safely ejected.

Didn’t do folks on the ground any good, though.

Written by Ed Campbell

March 4, 2009 at 10:00 am

Florida Utility starts first solar feed-in tariff in the U.S.

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Utilities and policymakers have started to warm up to feed-in tariffs for residential and commercial solar systems over the last few years — proposing programs to buy surplus power from customers’ photovoltaic systems as a way to encourage installations. Now there’s something to show for all the buzz: Gainesville Regional Utilities, or GRU, of Florida has launched a feed-in tariff program modeled after those in Europe, the first U.S. city to implement such an incentive for clean energy.

GRU has set an initial rate of 32 cents per kilowatt-hour for customers who sign up in the first two years of the program. At the end of next year, the city-owned utility will evaluate the market and set a rate for 2011 (expected to be less than the initial 32 cents). Contracts will guarantee fixed rates for 20 years.

Not everyone can participate — the utility will add just 4 MW per year for the next decade in an effort to keep costs down for ratepayers, who will subsidize the $1.5 million program through their utility bills. According to the Gainesville Sun, the 4-MW-a-year cap will limit increases to between 3 and 5 percent. The Sun reported this weekend that GRU hit its 2009 cap with 35 contracts in just three weeks, and has already lined up customers for 60 percent of the 2010 allowance.

Feed-in tariff momentum is also picking up steam elsewhere in the U.S., and around the globe. Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, for example, is pushing for a feed-in tariff that would guarantee a rate for surplus electricity from residential solar systems for about a decade.

Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski proposed a feed-in tariff for solar energy projects modeled after the granddaddy of tariff systems, Germany’s, which encompasses all electricity from renewables.

I guess I’ll be sending a copy of this post to the County Commission, this morning. Our state legislature is meeting, right now – but, if you ain’t talking about subsidizing cows or chile, they ain’t likely to put pressure on our public utility.

As usual in the cowboy states, we have to rely on the Feds for homeowners and working people to get assistance for something progressive.

Written by Ed Campbell

March 4, 2009 at 8:00 am

Engineering students help bring the Internet to rural Africa

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Residents of rural Kenya now have e-mail accounts and Internet access thanks in part to the work of University of Michigan engineering students who enabled satellite-based service at three locations there. Their work was supported by Google.

Only five percent of Africans have access to the Web, compared with 74 percent of North Americans. Over the past year, undergraduates in two of Thomas Zurbuchen’s master’s level space systems design classes devised and built a satellite-based system that could inexpensively and easily bring the Web to underserved Africa. In November, three students brought their system to Kenya and installed it with help from local organizations there…

The ground stations they created use off-the-shelf technology and operate with solar power. The students realized that often, places without the Internet are places without reliable electricity…

When the semester ended, most students moved on. But a handful stayed on the project to build the prototypes and take them oversees.

Kelly Moran, Trisha Donajkowski and Joan Ervin, who recently graduated with master’s degrees in AOSS, brought the stations to Kenya. They spent 10 days there, hauling the equipment to various sites and working with residents and local organizations to install the Internet cafes.

It’s really that easy, you know. They used off-the-shelf components. Money was raised one way or another – it didn’t take a lot.

But, governments in developing nations don’t have any spare money. And it’s usually only geeks who think of providing useful stuff like wells and cookers, Web access and laptops and satellite dishes. Somehow, our nation is cluttered with individuals and organizations who think the 3rd World should remain – quaint.

Written by Ed Campbell

March 4, 2009 at 6:00 am

Obama reverses Bush destruction of endangered species act

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Barack Obama has restored protections for endangered species in a roll-back of one of the most contentious last-minute rule changes of the George Bush era.

“For more than three decades, the Endangered Species Act has successfully protected our nation’s most threatened wildlife, and we should be looking for ways to improve it – not weaken it,” Obama said today.

The rule change, which was made final in mid-December last year, left it up to government agencies to decide on their own whether new dams, logging or mining operations posed a threat to endangered species or their habitat. The rule also said that a project’s impact on climate change should no longer be a factor when taking into account its impact on wildlife.

The Bush-era changes amounted to rolling back the clock on 35 years of protocol.

Until the rule became final in December – about six weeks before Bush left the White House – it had been required to call on government biologists from the Fish and Wildlife Service or other agencies to deliver a threat assessment before giving the go-ahead to development.

Bush had argued such protections were a drag on the economy.

I doubt if Bush could spell “species”. He certainly couldn’t care less about biological studies and appropriate scientific methods for making such determinations.

Some of the corporate slash-and-burn brigade who own the Republican Party are threatening lawsuits over the reversal. They’re “worried” about profits and the economy. Well, profits, anyway.

Written by Ed Campbell

March 4, 2009 at 2:00 am

Oh Hallelujah! Michael Jackson’s Back! – UPDATED

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Michael Jackson may soon return to the stage, at least for a “special announcement.”

The pop star has scheduled a news conference Thursday at London’s O2 arena, the same venue where Prince sold out 21 nights in 2006, according to London’s Outside Organisation.

Although the short statement announcing Jackson’s news conference did not reveal any details, Britain’s Sky News reported Wednesday that the 50-year-old King of Pop has agreed to a series of summer concerts at the O2.

Rumors have circulated for years about a possible Jackson concert comeback, just as speculation has abounded about his physical and financial health.

Oh golly gee, who knows? Maybe he’s going to announce that he’s having the rest of his nose removed.

This is the poster awaiting commuters this morning in the London Underground

Written by K B

March 4, 2009 at 12:00 am

Posted in Culture

Tagged with , ,

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