“Why I planted genetically modified maize on my Welsh farm”

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I find myself accused of a number of heinous acts including “infecting” Wales with GM, acting irresponsibly and possibly of breaking the law. Not bad for a Welsh peasant who simply wishes to try – with the support of the scientific community – to facilitate the introduction of a new and valuable technology into Welsh agriculture.

So what is the precise nature of my supposedly “ill-informed”, “illegal” and “irresponsible” behaviour? The seeds I planted are maize varieties on the EU’s “common list” of approved crops. As such, my legal advice is that it is lawful to plant them within the EU. But according to some of my detractors those rules apparently do not apply in Wales.

Then there is the charge that I have “infected Wales with GM“. With what I ask? Genetic modification is a process as opposed to a product and as such cannot be bought or sold any more than “keyhole surgery”. The analogy of GM technology as a contagion is simply false.

Have I removed consumer choice? Again, I believe not. That choice was taken away several decades ago – unless you choose to survive entirely on wild fruit and nuts. We are all either wearing or consuming plant products that have been bred using technology that involves artificially manipulating plant genes. I can’t think of a single crop plant in the UK that has not been bred by artificially mutating its genes using chemicals or radiation. The group of techniques that are commonly referred to as genetic manipulation are simply more precise and safer ways of doing the same thing…

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Surgical masks protect against colds and flu

They may look silly but a new study finds surgical masks are your best protection against a cold or the flu.

Donning a face mask — either a surgical mask or a P2/N95 respirator mask (high particulate filter mask) — boosts protection from severe respiratory illnesses such as influenza and SARS, say researchers from the University of New South Wales (UNSW). These are not necessarily the same as the dust masks that some people use when cleaning or doing construction work.

In the study, adult mask wearers in the home were four times more likely than non-wearers to be protected against respiratory viruses, including the common cold. The findings…have global implications and are particularly relevant to efforts to combat the spread of flu pandemics and other emerging respiratory diseases such as SARS…

“In a crisis, vaccine development is likely to be delayed and drugs may be in short supply or not available at all,” MacIntyre said. “Limited supplies will be directed first to front line health workers, so masks are an important means of protection for the community, who otherwise may be last in line for vaccines and drugs…”

Wearing a mask is also effective for the raft of common cold viruses that make families sick each winter. But you have to wear it…

I’m such a hermit that I’m seriously considering wearing a mask when I go to town once a week for grocery shopping. I doubt if I have built-in resistance to anything but dog hair.

Beckham’s ‘Goldenbuns’ are good luck for AC Milan. WTF?

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From four leaf clovers to a severed rabbit’s foot, when it comes to lucky mascots reason and taste often go out of the window.

No more so than at AC Milan where one charm is being held responsible for the team’s recent upturn in fortunes on the pitch: David Beckham’s bottom.

Since Beckham’s arrival at the San Siro, the England midfielder has started every game and scored his first goal in last weekend’s demolition of Bologna.

But as he walked away after celebrating the goal, Clarence Seedorf and Andrea Pirlo both stroked his left bum cheek.

This was apparently because they believe Beckham’s posterior has as much to do with Milan’s revival as his sweet right foot.

“Italy is a superstitious country, people touch things for luck,” an AC Milan spokesperson told UK newspaper “The Sun.”

“Now the players are doing the same thing with Becks’ bottom. He is seen as lucky.”

Whose bottom will Louis Hamilton squeeze before his next start for McLaren? Race car drivers are just as weird as footballers.

‘Cello scrotum’ exposed – as a hoax

A medical ailment that has worried male members of string sections across the music world for over 30 years has been exposed as a hoax. Male cellists of the world can breathe easy again.

A senior British lawmaker confessed to making up the condition known as “cello scrotum” — which relates to chafing from the instrument — after reading about another musically-related ailment called “guitarist’s nipple” in the British Medical Journal in 1974.

Elaine Murphy, who is a member of The House of Lords and a trained doctor, came clean about the prank she devised with husband John in a letter to the BMJ published on Wednesday.

She said: “Perhaps after 34 years it’s time for us to confess that we invented cello scrotum…

Since people still are referencing the mythic ailment, she decided it’s time to give it up. Bravo – for letting the foolishness of folks who quote “common knowledge” go on for so long without ever checking for facts.

List of tainted peanut butter items points out commodity sleaze

Daylife/AP Photo by Elliott Minor

For the nation’s grocery shoppers, the list of foods that might contain salmonella-tainted peanut butter has grown so quickly that keeping up seems daunting.

There are boxes of Valentine’s candy, frozen cookie dough and dog biscuits, chicken satay, peanut butter cups and stuffed celery.

The large and varied list of products points up the many layers involved in producing packaged foods…

Investigators tracked the salmonella outbreak to the Peanut Corporation of America, a factory in Blakely, Georgia, that makes peanut butter and peanut paste. It sells to institutions like schools and nursing homes and to other companies, like Kellogg’s, which turns the butter or paste into products like peanut-butter-filled crackers.

The plant, which is closed, packed peanut butter in bulk ranging from 5 to 1,700 pounds, much of which was shipped to institutions. Phew! Does your school cafeteria buy a 1700-lb jar of peanut butter?

“The piece that hasn’t come out yet is that peanut butter isn’t like spinach or ground beef because it has a really long shelf life,” said Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

DeWaal and other critics of the federal food safety system said that because peanut butter was considered a low risk for contamination, plants could sometimes go without inspection for a decade.

I imagine one of the reasons peanut paste is so often a filler in food products is the long shelf life. Like, why worry about freshness?

UPDATE: Hiding out in bankruptcy.

Mysterious 25-cent charges on credit cards


Have you seen a suspicious charge for 25 cents on your credit card recently? If so, you’re not alone.

Credit card customers around the country now are reporting a mystery charge for a quarter from an entity called Adele Services in Melville, N.Y. A Boston Globe reporter has determined there is no such business registered in the state.

No one quite knows what is behind these 25-cent charges. The most-likely theory is that these nominal amounts are being run to see if a credit card is active. If the charge goes through, the criminals know they can later hit those cards for larger charges.

You’ve have to go through your credit card statement line item by line item. You must dispute any unrecognized charges — even if it is for 25 cents! The issue is not the 25 cents; it’s that a criminal may have your credit card number.

Could even be a computer-generated card-number scheme. A million times 25-cents is enough money to buy a Congressman.

All ‘Borderless’ aid groups ain’t always independent or apolitical

Ethiopians line up at a Doctors Without Borders clinic
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Back in 1971, in the wake of the famine in Biafra, Nigeria, Bernard Kouchner, now the French foreign minister, and a group of close friends sat around a table in Paris and founded Médecins Sans Frontières, or Doctors Without Borders, a private association that provides assistance to victims of natural or man-made disasters and armed conflict.

Since then, their “borderless” philosophy has become a global phenomenon.

“It was really Doctors Without Borders that launched the concept of borderless humanitarian aid as a duty,” said Aurelia Chaudagne, president of Studies Without Borders, whose goal is to help students in war-torn countries study in France. “This notion holds considerable weight with us and was really at the origin of our action.”

In my personal experience, what extended knowledge I have of Doctors Without Borders, I believe they live up to their reputation. Their ranks include my former personal physician – who I really miss. He’s capable of an interesting eclectic conversation as well as being a helluva doctor.

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Aspirin is still the original wonder drug

Simple aspirin may prevent liver damage in millions of people suffering from side effects of common drugs, alcohol abuse, and obesity-related liver disease, a new Yale University study suggests.

The study documents that in mice, aspirin reduced mortality caused by an overdose of acetaminophen, best known by the brand name Tylenol. It further showed that a class of molecules known as TLR antagonists, which block receptors known to activate inflammation, have a similar effect as aspirin.

Since these agents seem to work by reducing injury-induced inflammation, the results suggest aspirin may help prevent and treat liver damage from a host of non-infectious causes, said Wajahat Mehal, M.D.. “Many agents such as drugs and alcohol cause liver damage, and we have found two ways to block a central pathway responsible for such liver injury,” Mehal said. “Our strategy is to use aspirin on a daily basis to prevent liver injury, but if it occurs, to use TLR antagonists to treat it.”

Promising drugs that have failed clinical trials because of liver toxicity might be resurrected if combined with aspirin, Mehal said.

I’m one of those elderly geeks whose physician simply told me several years ago – “Take a baby aspirin every day! It will help prevent a number of ailments and it ain’t ever going to harm you.”

Ready to send in your checks to “SarahPAC”?

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Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has formed Sarahpac, a political action committee to raise and donate money to candidates for political office.

According to its Web site, sarahpac.com, the PAC is “dedicated to building America’s future, supporting fresh ideas and candidates who share our vision for reform and innovation.”

“Our country, founded on conservative principles and the fight for freedom, must confront the challenges of the 21st century with integrity, innovation, and determination,” the site pronounces. “SarahPAC believes energy independence is a cornerstone of the economic security and progress that every American family wants and deserves.”

It goes on to say that SarahPAC’s No. 1 priority is “building a strong and prosperous economy that recognizes hard work, innovation and integrity by rewarding small businesses and hard-working American families.” Other key goals are healthcare, education and government reform and “believes the Republican Party is at the threshold of an historic renaissance that will build a better future for all.”

If you believe all that crap – hey, send her a check!

Number of Internet users exceeds 1 billion in December

An Internet bar in Beijing
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Global Internet usage reached more than 1 billion unique visitors in December, with 41.3 percent in the Asia-Pacific region, according to a report released by ComScore.

The study looked at Internet users over the age of 15 who accessed the Net from their home or work computers. Europe grabbed the next largest slice of the global Internet audience, with 28 percent, followed by the United States, with an 18.4 percent slice. But Latin America, while comprising just 7.4 percent of the global Internet audience, is the region to watch, noted Jamie Gavin, a ComScore senior analyst.

“The U.S. is slowing down in its growth and momentum, but Latin America, with social networking and the mobile Internet, is expected to gain momentum over the next few years,” Gavin said…

A closer look at countries within the regions reveals that China accounted for the most Internet users worldwide, with a 17.8 share of unique visitors. The United States ranked second, with 16.2 percent, and Japan ranked a distant third, at 6 percent.

Keeps on rolling along.