Category: Culture

Star Trek Fans are Spocking $5 bills in Canada

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Bank of Canada executives have urged Star Trek fans to stop a campaign to deface currency as a tribute to late actor Leonard Nimoy.

A drive was launched in the aftermath of Nimoy’s death on Friday to ink the features of his most famous character, Star Trek’s Mr. Spock, on five dollar bills showing a portrait of Canada’s seventh prime minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier.

Har!

Thanks, The Big Picture

130 years of facial hair trends, in one chart

An interesting article comes with the research – done in 1976.

Which I find especially interesting because I’ve had a beard fulltime since 1979. Had the occasional beard before then – but, that was the start of this critter been here on my face ever since.

School administrators wouldn’t let me have a photo in my high school graduation yearbook unless I cut my sideburns. I guess I’ve always had a tendency to hair – though that finally is diminishing with age. Get my annual haircut, this week, in fact.

Oh, 1979. I was on a peak-bagging walk through the High Peaks region of New York State – in November. I was damned if I was going to shave using water from creeks a half-degree above solid. And any backpacker, mountain walker, worth their salt knows you don’t waste fuel on silly things like heating water for shaving.

Once I returned to what passed for civilization it dawned on me I not only liked the look of a full beard – I could sleep an extra five minutes before getting up to go to work if I didn’t shave.

Close enough for folk music.

Are diabetics dumb enough to share pen devices and [sometimes] needles

The FDA is adding a warning label on diabetes pen devices, making clear that the pens are intended for single patient use only and shouldn’t be shared, even if the needle is changed.

In an announcement on their website last week, the agency said they are trying to reduce the risk of serious infections from the sharing of multidose pens. They will require that pens and packaging with multiple doses of insulin or other injectable diabetes medicines carry a warning label stating “For single patient use only.”

The FDA will also add warnings in the prescribing information and to the patient Medication Guides, Patient Package Inserts, and Instructions for Use. There are several different brands of the pens on the market, including exenatide (Byetta), liraglutide (Victoza), pramlintide acetate (Symlin), insulin detemir (Levemir), and insulin glargine (Lantus).

Pen cartridges usually contain enough insulin for several doses. After a patient uses the pen, blood might be on the pen even when the needle is changed, said the FDA.

The FDA saw signs as early as 2008, when the Institute of Safe Medication Practices brought up the issue, that bloodborne pathogens could be shared with pens designed for one patient only. In 2009, a U.S. Army facility announced that more than 2,000 patients were infected with a pathogen when pens were shared, leading to the FDA issuing an alert.

And in 2013, the Veterans Health Administration notified 716 patients that they might have been exposed because the devices were shared…

C’mon, folks. A little sensible hygiene goes a long way. Injectable medication has always carried the risk of bloodborne infection when devices are shared. Not rocket science.

Mummified Buddhist discovered inside ancient Buddha statue

When you think of what your final resting place will be like, statue-mummification doesn’t usually come to mind. That was the case, however, for one Buddhist master immortalized within a religious idol.

Researchers at the Meander Medical Center in Amersfoort, Netherlands discovered the mummified remains of a monk inside a Chinese statue of Buddha. The remains, which are presumed to be of Buddhist master Liuquan of the Chinese Meditation School, are the first of its kind to be found. The remains are believed to date back to 1100 A.D.

The entire body was found inside, folded in the same resting position as the exterior of the Buddha statue.

Buddhist art expert Erik Brujin supervised a full CT scan and endoscopy of the Buddha. Samples were also taken of the mummies thoracic and abdominal cavities, revealing scraps of paper scribed with ancient Chinese characters.

Researchers believe this “living Buddha” may be an example of self-mummification, which entails a life of extreme solemnity and austerity. After a strict diet comprised of water, seeds, nuts, roots, tree bark, and special tea for 2,000 days, the monks would be sealed in a stone tomb.

Following another 1,000 days after the monk’s death, the tomb would be opened and the state of the body checked. Monks who had mummified would be placed in temples and venerated. Those who had not achieved mummification would be respected, but remain entombed. In the past, some believed this type of mummification was less a form of death, and more so a highly spiritual state and advanced form of enlightenment.

For those who choose to study the thoughts, writings on philosophy of Buddha the man, the twists and turns taken by those who turn that body of work into a religion are often little more than a curiosity. Still, I guess our species can be as interesting for the ways we kill ourselves – as the ways we kill others, the rationales we use to justify both.

Why visit your boyfriend in the slammer when you can chat online?

Arizona mother Cathy Seymour’s 16-year-old son was arrested in August 2013 for allegedly shooting a detention officer to death and was charged with first-degree murder as an adult and held in a jail.

Now she uses her laptop and a video link to spring him from maximum security detention in the 4th Avenue Jail in downtown Phoenix, take him on a virtual tour of some of his favorite places and visit with family and friends.

“If there’s Wi-Fi and you have a laptop, you don’t have to stay in your home,” she says of the recently installed pay-per-view system that links a video terminal in the jail to her laptop at a cost of $5 for 20 minutes.

“His favorite spot is McDonald’s, so we went to McDonald’s … I’ll show him, like, the street … He gets to see other people … He gets to see my mom and dad and church,” said Seymour, who spoke to Al Jazeera America on the condition that her son not be named.

She is among thousands of family members nationwide using pay-per-view video chats to connect with loved ones who are incarcerated. The technology is gaining traction in jail systems across the U.S. in a push by the for-profit prison industry to monetize inmate contact.

At the end of 2014, 388 U.S. jails — about 1 in 8 — offered pay-per-view video visits, and the service was also available in 123 prisons, according to a study by the nonprofit Prison Policy Initiative (PPI).

Since the report was published in January, the PPI has become aware of at least 25 additional jails that have implemented the technology. Once video visitation systems are in place, most jails eliminate in-person family visits, securing a captive market for private firms. Seven companies dominate the market, and for 20 minutes, they charge from $5 in Maricopa County, Arizona, to $29.95 in Racine County, Wisconsin…

For Seymour, the pay-per-view video visits help her maintain a relationship with her teenage son, with whom she shares as many as four video chats a day. “He’s in an ugly place now … I don’t agree with the sheriff on much, but there is benefit to it,” she said of the system…

The boom in for-profit video visitation is also transforming the way lawyers work with their clients. Some criminal defense attorneys, like Marci Kratter in Phoenix, find much to like.

Before the system went live in November, Kratter had to drive to a jail, park, sign in and go to a visitation area to wait for her client in what she described as an “at least a two-hour ordeal.” Now with video visitation, “it’s 20 minutes. You do it from your desk … As far as rapport building goes and trust, when you can check in with [your clients] every week, they know you’re thinking about them.”

RTFA. Many variations on the theme – as you would expect. A predictable number of jailers are more interested in vacuuming every last greenback from the wallets of relatives, friends, lawyers. Some are more interested in security. You ain’t smuggling in smack or a cell phone over an internet connection.

There is a lawsuit started by defense attorneys in Travis County against Securus, the sheriff’s office and other county officials. It charges that video visits were used to illegally record attorneys’ confidential calls with their clients…using the info gained against clients and other prisoners. I’d be shocked, shocked I tell you – if something like that actually happened.

Y’all know how deeply we trust law enforcement in America. Right?

First genetic test submitted by 23andMe approved by the FDA

A test for Bloom syndrome carrier status, a rare condition seen mainly in Ashkenazi Jews (and uncommon among them as well), was approved by the FDA — remarkable primarily because it’s the first time a direct-to-consumer test for a specific genetic condition has won the agency’s OK.

The decision was also notable because the test will be sold by 23andMe, the company that initially began selling a panoramic health-risk test directly to consumers and was slapped down by the FDA. The agency told the firm that it had to seek formal approval for each and every specific component of the test, with proof that the tests were accurate, that consumers could provide proper samples, and that they could understand the results and their health implications.

Although the FDA was widely criticized for discouraging innovation and preventing people from getting access to their own genomic data, 23andMe promised that it would comply with the agency’s demands.

First out of the box for 23andMe was the carrier status test for Bloom syndrome, which is marked by short stature, extreme sun sensitivity, and increased cancer risk. About one in 107 people of Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry carry the gene, two copies of which are needed to cause the clinical syndrome, according to 23andMe…

Additionally, 23andMe conducted a “user comprehension” study with its results report to confirm that individuals understood them and the implications for family planning decisions.

Good news for everyone interested in easy access to knowledge about their genetic factors particularly as they relate to inherited conditions. Easy – in that you needn’t cave to the medical-industrial complex. Good news especially because it looked from the start that the FDA was out for a classic bureaucratic shutdown of an entreprenuerial challenge to the status quo.

Good science seems to have prevailed. Maybe reason and understanding are next. I hope.

Alaska becomes 3rd state with legal weed

Alaska on Tuesday became the third U.S. state to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, but organizers don’t expect any public celebrations since it remains illegal to smoke marijuana in public.

In the state’s largest city, Anchorage police officers are ready to start handing out $100 fines to make sure taking a toke remains something to be done behind closed doors.

Placing Alaska in the same category as Washington state and Colorado with legal marijuana was the goal of a coalition including libertarians, rugged individualists and small-government Republicans who prize the privacy rights enshrined in the Alaska state constitution.

When they voted 53-47 percent last November to legalize marijuana use by adults in private places, they left many of the details to lawmakers and regulators to sort out.

That has left confusion on many matters.

There’s a surprise, eh?

That’s left different communities across the state to adopt different standards of what smoking in public means to them. In Anchorage, officials tried and failed in December to ban a new commercial marijuana industry. But Police Chief Mark Mew said his officers will be strictly enforcing the public smoking ban. He even warned people against smoking on their porches if they live next to a park.

But far to the north, in North Pole, smoking outdoors on private property will be OK as long as it doesn’t create a nuisance, officials there said…

In some respects, the confusion continues a four-decade reality for Alaskans and their relationship with marijuana.

Alaska has been burdened sufficiently with conservatives, religious nutballs and rightwing libertarians to have had any number of changes over the last four decades about what to do over getting a little mellow, being a drunk, how and where to have sex. This is just part of the whole package.

Fortunately, the Leftish flavor of libertarianism plus progressive Dems and Independents seems to be prevailing this week.

The greatest conspiracy ever created — extra-terrestrial reptoid invasion

Last November, the political fate of America was once again put to a vote. But for the millions of Americans who believe in lizard people, this vote had bigger implications — like thwarting an ongoing plot of world domination.

The idea of shape-shifting lizards taking human forms in a plot to rule America and the world has become one of the most majestic and marvelous conspiracy theories created by mankind (or lizardkind, if you will). In 2008, “lizard people” found its way onto the Minnesota’s midterm ballot with some controversy.

As pundits continue to extrapolate on what the Republican win in the midterms means for the country, there are people around this country who hope their votes did something crucial — kept the country safe from lizard people for the next few years…

What is a lizard person?

It’s just what it sounds like.

Lizard people are cold-blooded humanoid reptilians who have the power to shape-shift into human form. According to David Icke, a new-age philosopher and one of the most prominent theorists in the lizard people game, these creatures have had their claws in humankind since ancient time, and world leaders like Queen Elizabeth, George W. Bush, the Clintons, and Bob Hope are all lizard people…

How many Americans believe in lizard people?

Back in April of 2013, Public Policy Polling conducted a poll about conspiracy theories like aliens, an impostor Paul McCartney, and, of course, lizard people. And the polling organization found that 4 percent of Americans believe in lizard people, while another 7 percent were unsure. Taken to its absurd extreme, that would imply around 12 million Americans, Philip Bump, a lizard person scholar and writer at the Washington Post, found. (Public Policy Polling is a serious outlet, but it’s also known for some trolly polls, so these results have to be taken with a grain of salt.)

Keep in mind that this might not be counting all the people who, in their heart of hearts, believe that lizard people exist but are nervous that they will be found out if they publicly disclose their beliefs.

RTFA for more of this crap.

Of course these folks haven’t as much support as people who think the Earth is flat.

Malcolm X challenged America’s vast political and social jailhouse

Fifty years ago today, assassins killed black power activist Malcolm X during a speech to the Organization for Afro-American Unity at New York City’s Audubon Ballroom. Although they ended the life of one of the 20th century’s most dynamic leaders, they did not kill his impact. His insights into racism and freedom are as necessary today as when he first spoke them. A half-century after his murder, Malcolm X may still be one of our best guides for making sense of American racism, the evil that once again roils the country in unrest.

Malcolm X’s enduring influence owes in part to the truth of his metaphors, his way with words and the relentlessness of his criticism — in particular, his depiction of the United States as a prison. In making the comparison, he gave voice to the confinement he saw in a white supremacy still evident.

“Don’t be shocked when I say I was in prison,” he often told his audiences. “You’re still in prison. That’s what America means — prison…”

To Malcolm X, prison was more than its bricks and mortar. It was a metaphor for racism. Prisons use armed force to deny the mobility, insult the integrity and restrict the civic and political participation of its captives. And for the black audiences who heard Malcolm X speak — men and women who went to underfunded schools, worked dangerous and low-paying jobs where they could find them, faced harassment in employment lines or welfare offices, were forced to live in only certain neighborhoods and in many parts of the country were barred from voting by police and vigilante organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan — the United States did mean prison.

Prison, then, was an exaggerated form of the daily indignities black women and men faced. What made this metaphor ring so true is that black communities — years before the launch of the war on drugs — were already heavily policed and disproportionately incarcerated…

Imprisonment was the price of blackness. It respected neither class nor crime: Black people were incarcerated for protesting racism, engaging in antisocial activity or simply living in a neighborhood subject to pre-emptive policing.

At the time that Malcolm X began to challenge the prison of America in the late 1950s, the United States incarcerated fewer than 200,000 people in prisons and jails. Today, that number has metastasized to more than 2.3 million people, almost half of whom are black. Accounting for a mere 5 percent of the world’s population, the United States has 25 percent of the world’s prison population.

I was lucky to hear, to listen to this wonderful voice calling for freedom. The idiots who rail against Malcolm’s message as intimidating to whites illustrate their own guilt, their fears of being found out. Too ignorant to see that class is as critical as color.

I stood in the middle of hundreds of Black residents of Harlem in the 1950’s. Took the train to New York, to Harlem, to get to Lewis Micheaux’s National Memorial African Bookstore once every month or so. The only white face in a crowd filling an intersection and stopping all traffic from proceeding while a slender giant stood elevated on one corner. He spoke of freedom and justice. And more than once he recognized this class brother willing to stand and say, “Fix it, brother!”

Some of the best early days of my personal awakening.

Michele Bachmann inspired Factcheck.org to discredit lies about science

Four years ago, Michele Bachmann slammed Rick Perry—then the governor of Texas—for his executive order mandating HPV vaccinations. “I’m a mom of three children,” Bachmann said during a GOP presidential debate. “And to have innocent little 12-year-old girls be forced to have a government injection through an executive order is just flat out wrong.”

Bachmann, who at the time was a Republican congresswoman from Minnesota, expanded on her allegations the next day. “I will tell you that I had a mother last night come up to me here in Tampa, Fla., after the debate,” she said on the Today show. “She told me that her little daughter took that vaccine, that injection, and she suffered from mental retardation thereafter. It can have very dangerous side effects.”

Bachmann’s suggestion that the HPV vaccine is dangerous was completely false. “There is absolutely no scientific validity to this statement,” explained the American Academy of Pediatrics…

Enter Kathleen Hall Jamieson, the director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, which operates the nonpartisan Factcheck.org. Founded in 2003, Factcheck was one of the first websites devoted to refuting misleading assertions about US politics. Last month, Factcheck launched Scicheck, a new project that evaluates the scientific claims made by politicians. In just a few weeks, Scicheck has countered inaccurate statements about issues ranging from climate change to the economic impact of the Human Genome Project.

On this weeks’ episode of the Inquiring Minds podcast, I asked Jamieson what inspired her organization to focus on scientific issues. She credits Bachmann.

“When Michele Bachmann in the last election made an allegation about the effects of…a vaccine, in public space on national television…the journalists in the real context didn’t know how to respond to the statement as clearly as they ought to,” explains Jamieson. “The time to contextualize is immediately. That should have been shot down immediately…”

That just may be counting on the ignorant to counter the stupid.

But Jamieson is keenly aware that it isn’t enough to simply rebut inaccurate claims in real time. One of the key challenges facing science communication is that voters frequently get their news from highly ideological media outlets that sometimes misrepresent the scientific consensus on controversial issues. This has contributed to substantial gaps between what the general public thinks and what scientists think on a wide range of issues, from evolution to the safety of genetically modified foods.

I love showing crap statements from idjits like Bachmann to friends and family who are Recovering Republicans. Just to remind them why they left the Party.

Yes, I can remember when educated conservatives had a role and a voice in both of the two parties we’re allowed. That’s because I’m very old cranky geek.