Majority of Americans in favor of normalizing relations with Cuba

A strong majority of Americans – and an even greater percentage of Floridians – support normalizing relations with Cuba, according to a poll released on Tuesday by the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think tank.

In an apparent boost to efforts to end the half-century-old economic embargo against Cuba, the poll found that 56 percent of respondents nationally favored changing U.S. Cuba policy, a number that rose to 63 percent when just counting Florida residents.

Supporters of the embargo said the poll was…blah, blah, blah…and said it was unlikely to have any impact in Washington. They got the last part right.

The poll comes on the back of a series of surprise political announcements in recent days that could challenge longstanding U.S. policy towards the communist-run island.

On Friday, Florida’s former Republican Governor Charlie Crist, who is running for the office again in November – this time as a Democrat – said in a TV interview that he supports lifting the embargo.

Also last week, Alfonso Fanjul, a wealthy Cuban American sugar baron in Florida and a major political donor, spoke publicly for the first time about trips he has made to the island in an interview with the Washington Post, and his interest one day in investing there.

The poll, conducted by a Republican and a Democratic pollster, found that only 35 percent of Americans, and 30 percent of Floridians, opposed improving ties with Cuba.

I hope folks don’t presume there’s anything about US foreign policy based on enlightened self-interest. Self-interest, perhaps, for Exxon-Mobil, reactionary politicians stroking their money base, and, of course, participants in the corporate welfare division of the military-industrial complex.

Meanwhile, Europeans, Asians, Latin-Americans spend their own tourist gold in Cuba.

Celebrate science and reason — it’s Darwin Day

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Darwin Day, according to the International Darwin Day Foundation, is “a global celebration of science and reason held on or around Feb. 12, the birthday anniversary of evolutionary biologist Charles Darwin”. The idea of the celebration arose in 1993 as part of the activities of the Stanford Humanist Community, then headed by biologist Robert Stephens. And in the intervening 21 years, it has proliferated, with hundreds of events listed in cities around the world…

As an evolutionary biologist, and a scientist who finds great joy and meaning in communicating with the public, I am thrilled that there is a day around which so many events and seminars can be organised. That these activities celebrate evolutionary biology, science, and reason is particularly special.

I laud the work of the Darwin Day Foundation and all the organisations and people who make Darwin Day a highlight for curious, open and intellectually alive citizens. The Evolution & Ecology Research Centre, which I direct at UNSW, has been running a veritable fiesta of the Darwinian, with a conference and public lectures last week, and a seminar by eminent evolutionary psychologist Martin Daly on Tuesday 11th.

But it bears reflecting on the importance and modern relevance of Darwin himself.

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25 year-review finds no lives saved by annual mammography

Annual mammography failed to reduce breast cancer mortality in women, ages 40 to 59, compared with physical examination or routine care, according to 25-year follow-up data from a Canadian screening program.

Women screened annually by mammography for 5 years had had a breast cancer mortality hazard of 1.05 compared with the control group during the screening period. During follow-up for a mean of 22 years, the mammography group had a breast cancer mortality hazard of 0.99 versus the control group. Neither value was statistically significant…

The findings suggest a need to reassess the value of screening mammography…

The publication drew a quick and forceful response from the American College of Radiology (ACR) and the Society of Breast Imaging (SBI). In a joint statement, officials of the two organizations characterized the results as “an incredibly misleading analysis based on the deeply flawed and widely discredited Canadian National Breast Screening Study (CNBSS).”

Noting the 32% rate of cancer detection by mammography, the ACR and SBI said “this extremely low number is consistent with poor-quality mammography.” Mammography alone should detect twice that many cancers, they added. The organizations noted that a prior outside review of the CNBSS confirmed the poor quality of mammography in the study…

Dr. Anthony Miller and colleagues reported 25-year follow-up data from the CNBSS, which began in 1980. All women, ages 50 to 59, had annual clinical breast examinations, as did women 40 to 49 in the mammography arm. Younger women in the control arm had a clinical breast exam at enrollment, followed by usual care.

The study included 89,835 women enrolled at 15 centers in six Canadian provinces. During the 5-year mammographic-screening period, 666 invasive cancers were diagnosed in the mammography arm and 524 in the control group. During the 25-year follow-up period, 180 women randomized to mammography died of breast cancer, as did 171 in the control group.

The hazard ratio (HR) for breast cancer-specific mortality during the screening period was 1.05 for mammography versus control…

The authors of an accompanying editorial noted that some evidence suggests that improved treatment, rather than breast cancer screening, has fueled the decline in breast cancer mortality in recent years. Regardless of the rates found in different studies, overdiagnosis represents a larger problem…

Referring directly to the ACR and SBI, Miller said the study’s outcome “has to be unwelcome to this highly financially conflicted group, but which will be of substantial interest to policy makers in considering the future of screening for breast cancer.”

Been a spell since I’ve been involved with folks working in oncology. Just as long since I’ve dedicated sufficient reading and online investigation to have an opinion I’d risk someone’s life on.

Please, read the whole article. There are answers – and answers to questions raised by the answers.

Canadians have a private beer fridge at Sochi Olympics


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Canadians are doing well in the medal count, and they get free booze?

Canadian Olympians craving a cold one can get a free beer from the fridge at Canada’s Olympic House in Sochi, where Molson has placed one of its high-tech dispensers.

But it’s not for international use. Prospective beer drinkers need to swipe their Canadian passport for the fridge to open.

Molson tried out the concept around Europe over the summer – and it was a world-class hit with traveling Canadians and thirsty friends.