80,000 people died from the flu in the United States last winter

❝ An estimated 80,000 Americans died of flu and its complications last winter — the disease’s highest death toll in at least four decades

Flu experts knew it was a very bad season, but at least one found the size of the estimate surprising.

“That’s huge,” said Dr. William Schaffner, a Vanderbilt University vaccine expert. The tally was nearly twice as much as what health officials previously considered a bad year, he said…

❝ Last fall and winter, the U.S. went through one of the most severe flu seasons in recent memory. It was driven by a kind of flu that tends to put more people in the hospital and cause more deaths, particularly among young children and the elderly…

Making a bad year worse, the flu vaccine didn’t work very well. Experts nevertheless say vaccination is still worth it because it makes illnesses less severe and save lives.

❝ CDC officials called the 80,000 figure preliminary, and it may be slightly revised. But they said it is not expected to go down.

It eclipses the estimates for every flu season going back to the winter of 1976-1977…

There are no reasonable, educated, science or health-based excuses for NOT getting vaccinated. Allergic reactions? Yes. Anything else generally proves to be culturally spooky rationales.

I was a schoolboy when the first successful flu vaccines came along. Till then, we looked around among neighborhood friends and classmates after winter to see who had died. It was that stark.

A-Maize-ing Maize


photo ©Boxcar Farm, Llano, NM

❝ Corn is one of America’s favorite vegetables in the garden and on the plate. From the rainbow-colored ‘Glass Gem’ flint corn to the classic ‘Golden Bantam’ sweet corn, corn is grown in many backyards. Buttery corn on the cob is part of almost every child’s summer memories. Popcorn and movies are inseparable. Corn chowder with oyster crackers warms us in winter. Cornbread, succotash, and taco shells are a few other common ways we heartily consume corn.

❝ Corn (Zea mays subsp. mays) is known as “maize” in Mesoamerica and many places outside the U.S. and has its origins in a wild grass from Mexico called “teosinte.” Only five genes keep teosinte and corn from being genetically identical, and teosinte is the closest relative of today’s corn. All research and hypotheses point to the domestication of one of the four species of teosinte, Zea mays spp. parviglumis, about 9,000 years ago in Oaxaca by the Mayan people…

❝ No matter how domestication began, over thousands of years, the indigenous people of Mesoamerica bred a vast genetic diversity into maize that most crops never undergo. Maize was invented. Without human intervention, it would not be what it is today, and it would not continue to survive. Those ancient farmers were brilliant geneticists!

RTFA. Fascinating stuff. Reflect on your diet and nutrition; but, also other directions possible with this complex vegetable.

Iceland ignored “too big to fail” – and won!

Iceland found another way to clean up the financial crisis…Unlike the U.S., the country let its banks fail and bailed out lots of consumers.


Click to enlarge

❝ Last week, I was at an ETF conference in Reykjavík. As I was flying there, it dawned on me I know practically nothing of Iceland. What little understanding I had, had come second-hand, via Michael Lewis’ epic tale of Iceland’s financial collapse, “Wall Street on the Tundra.” His 10,000-word Vanity Fair missive is practically a Norse Saga of its own.

Lewis explores the Icelandic bubble in delicious detail. The short version is that the Icelandic banks scaled up their debts from a mere few billion dollars to over $140 billion, without growing the asset base at the same time. To quote Lewis quoting an economist, it was “the most rapid expansion of a banking system in the history of mankind…”

❝ Unlike here in the states or in Europe, the Icelanders told the bankers to piss off. Instead of bailing them out, they were sent into bankruptcy. The results were a fast and sharp decline, followed by a rapid, post-crisis economic recovery — faster and stronger than any other country in the world.

Excerpted from notes posted, today, on Barry Ritholtz’s blog…The Big Picture. At the end, he links to a larger piece he wrote for BLOOMBERG…Iceland Found Another Way to Clean Up a Financial Crisis. An interesting, educational read about an alternative solution to the Great Recession – that worked.

Completely separate; but, culturally important. Images of Iceland by Om Malik.

Shell and Exxon worried about the climate change they were causing – and told no one else…

❝ In the 1980s, oil companies like Exxon and Shell carried out internal assessments of the carbon dioxide released by fossil fuels, and forecast the planetary consequences of these emissions. In 1982, for example, Exxon predicted that by about 2060, CO2 levels would reach around 560 parts per million – double the preindustrial level – and that this would push the planet’s average temperatures up by about 2°C over then-current levels (and even more compared to pre-industrial levels).

❝ Later that decade, in 1988, an internal report by Shell projected similar effects but also found that CO2 could double even earlier, by 2030. Privately, these companies did not dispute the links between their products, global warming, and ecological calamity. On the contrary, their research confirmed the connections.

❝ The documents make for frightening reading. And the effect is all the more chilling in view of the oil giants’ refusal to warn the public about the damage that their own researchers predicted. Shell’s report, marked “confidential,” was first disclosed by a Dutch news organization earlier this year. Exxon’s study was not intended for external distribution, either; it was leaked in 2015.

I haven’t much concern for the excuses these firms and their peers raise to shield their greed, sophistry. Nor am I surprised at the culpability of our politicians, the ignorant acceptance of corporate lies by the US population in general. We are the poster child for advertising abuse and lies.

“Not a cough in a carload” indeed! Multiply that by millions and begin to comprehend the global crime we face – living in the belly of the beast that has been devouring the whole world for decades.

In 1960, ~half-million teens took a test that, now, may predict their risk of Alzheimer’s

❝ In 1960, Joan Levin, 15, took a test that turned out to be the largest survey of American teenagers ever conducted. It took two-and-a-half days to administer and included 440,000 students from 1,353 public, private and parochial high schools across the country — including Parkville Senior High School in Parkville, Md., where she was a student.

“We knew at the time that they were going to follow up for a long time,” Levin said — but she thought that meant about 20 years.

Fifty-eight years later, the answers she and her peers gave are still being used by researchers — most recently in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease. A study released this month found that subjects who did well on test questions as teenagers had a lower incidence of Alzheimer’s and related dementias in their 60s and 70s than those who scored poorly.

A worthwhile read. I have my own opinions. They probably fit in here somewhere with the work and analysis of these researchers. Like Jeff Bezos, my concern goes all the way into pre-school education.