Top two officers in US Nuclear Command fired this week

The Air Force fired the general in charge of its nuclear missiles on Friday, just two days after a Navy admiral with top nuclear weapons responsibilities was sacked. Both men are caught up in investigations of alleged personal misconduct, adding to a cascade of turmoil inside the nation’s nuclear weapons force.

The Air Force removed Maj. Gen. Michael Carey, a 35-year veteran, from his command of 20th Air Force, responsible for all 450 of the service’s intercontinental ballistic missiles. Carey…will be reassigned pending the outcome of an investigation into personal misbehavior, the service said.

The Air Force would not specify what Carey is alleged to have done wrong, but two officials with knowledge of the investigation indicated that it was linked to alcohol use…

Removing senior officers in the nuclear force is rare but has happened twice this week.

On Wednesday the Navy said Vice Adm. Tim Giardina, the second-in-charge at U.S. Strategic Command, was fired amid an investigation of gambling issues. He was demoted from three- to two-star rank and reassigned to a Navy staff job until the investigation is completed.

Together, the Carey and Giardina firings add a new dimension to a set of serious problems facing the military’s nuclear force. The ICBM segment in particular has had several recent setbacks, including a failed safety and security inspection at a base in Montana in August, followed by the firing of the colonel there in charge of security forces. In May, The Associated Press revealed that 17 Minuteman 3 missile launch control officers at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., had been taken off duty in a reflection of what one officer there called ‘‘rot’’ inside the ICBM force…

The only anonymous comments so far are from people obviously glad to say that sex and crime weren’t involved. There’s a hell of a comment on what our military is all about. I won’t wander off into my usual rant about the money we waste with over 750 foreign bases. Suffice it to say the cost of every member of every military service stationed outside the United States costs taxpayers double what it would be if they were here at home. Isn’t this what we’re supposed to be defending? Not Guam. Not Kazakhstan. Not the Azores.

If we did bring our troops home from the 150 or so countries where they’re stationed, we could put them to work, you know. Only a dimwit tries to ignore the infrastructure continuing to collapse around us. Highways, railroads, bridges, airports, schools – all could use something more than a lick of paint to bring them up to safe standards. We wouldn’t be the first nation to assign our military to useful domestic tasks. I think it’s overdue.

House Republicans vote to shut down prefrontal cortex

In an escalation of the stalemate gripping Washington, House Republicans voted today to shut down the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that controls reasoning and impulses.

The resolution, which passed with heavy Tea Party support, calls for a partial shutdown of the brain, leaving the medulla and cerebellum, sometimes referred to as the “reptilian brain,” up and running.

The Tea Party caucus cheered the passage of the bill, which was sponsored by Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, who called the measure “long overdue.”

House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) offered no timetable for restarting the prefrontal cortex, telling reporters, “It will most certainly remain shut down during any negotiations with the President. That’s the only leverage we have.”

Representative Bachmann agreed: “The President can go ahead and put a gun to our heads. There’s nothing there…”

While the G.O.P.’s decision to shut down the prefrontal cortex rattled Wall Street, the neuroscientist Davis Logsdon said it should be seen as little more than a symbolic vote, noting, “It’s actually been shut down since the 2008 election.”

Har. In fact, that’s a double-har!

Peanut butter test helps to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease

A dollop of peanut butter and a ruler can be used to confirm a diagnosis of early stage Alzheimer’s disease, University of Florida Health researchers have found.

Jennifer Stamps, a graduate student in the UF McKnight Brain Institute Center for Smell and Taste, and her colleagues reported the findings of a small pilot study in the Journal of the Neurological Sciences.

Stamps came up with the idea of using peanut butter to test for smell sensitivity while she was working with Dr. Kenneth Heilman…UF College of Medicine’s department of neurology…She noticed while shadowing in Heilman’s clinic that patients were not tested for their sense of smell. The ability to smell is associated with the first cranial nerve and is often one of the first things to be affected in cognitive decline…

She thought of peanut butter because, she said, it is a “pure odorant” that is only detected by the olfactory nerve and is easy to access.

In the study, patients who were coming to the clinic for testing also sat down with a clinician, 14 grams of peanut butter — which equals about one tablespoon — and a metric ruler. The patient closed his or her eyes and mouth and blocked one nostril. The clinician opened the peanut butter container and held the ruler next to the open nostril while the patient breathed normally. The clinician then moved the peanut butter up the ruler one centimeter at a time during the patient’s exhale until the person could detect an odor. The distance was recorded and the procedure repeated on the other nostril after a 90-second delay.

The clinicians running the test did not know the patients’ diagnoses, which were not usually confirmed until weeks after the initial clinical testing.

The scientists found that patients in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease had a dramatic difference in detecting odor between the left and right nostril — the left nostril was impaired and did not detect the smell until it was an average of 10 centimeters closer to the nose than the right nostril had made the detection in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. This was not the case in patients with other kinds of dementia; instead, these patients had either no differences in odor detection between nostrils or the right nostril was worse at detecting odor than the left one…

Stamps and Heilman point out that this test could be used by clinics that don’t have access to the personnel or equipment to run other, more elaborate tests required for a specific diagnosis, which can lead to targeted treatment. At UF Health, the peanut butter test will be one more tool to add to a full suite of clinical tests for neurological function in patients with memory disorders.

OK. Get out the peanut butter. And no cheating.

Ancient DNA unravels Europe’s genetic diversity

Ancient DNA recovered from a time series of skeletons in Germany spanning 4,000 years of prehistory has been used to reconstruct the first detailed genetic history of modern-day Europeans.

The study…reveals dramatic population changes with waves of prehistoric migration, not only from the accepted path via the Near East, but also from Western and Eastern Europe.

The research was a collaboration between the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA…researchers from the University of Mainz, the State Heritage Museum in Halle, Germany, and National Geographic Society’s Genographic Project. The teams used mitochondrial DNA extracted from bone and teeth samples from 364 prehistoric human skeletons ‒ ten times more than previous ancient DNA studies.

“This is the largest and most detailed genetic time series of Europe yet created, allowing us to establish a complete genetic chronology,” says joint-lead author Dr Wolfgang Haak of ACAD. “Focussing on this small but highly important geographic region meant we could generate a gapless record, and directly observe genetic changes in ‘real-time’ from 7,500 to 3,500 years ago, from the earliest farmers to the early Bronze Age.”

“Our study shows that a simple mix of indigenous hunter-gatherers and the incoming Near Eastern farmers cannot explain the modern-day diversity alone,” says joint-lead author Guido Brandt, PhD candidate at the University of Mainz. “The genetic results are much more complex than that. Instead, we found that two particular cultures at the brink of the Bronze Age 4,200 years ago had a marked role in the formation of Central Europe’s genetic makeup.”

Professor Kurt Alt (University of Mainz) says: “What is intriguing is that the genetic signals can be directly compared with the changes in material culture seen in the archaeological record. It is fascinating to see genetic changes when certain cultures expanded vastly, clearly revealing interactions across very large distances.” These included migrations from both Western and Eastern Europe towards the end of the Stone Age…

Dr Haak says: “None of the dynamic changes we observed could have been inferred from modern-day genetic data alone, highlighting the potential power of combining ancient DNA studies with archaeology to reconstruct human evolutionary history.”

Fascinating stuff. Work which wouldn’t have been at all practical a decade or so back in time.

My personal pleasure was taking part in an early National Geographic DNA track of my patriarchal DNA from Africa through the steppes of Central Asia to Scotland – perfectly in line with the research of Gerhard Herm and his anthropological history of “The Celts”.

Capabilities are advanced enough that I may try an updated go-round with NatGeo.