Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Smoking ban proves that secondhand smoke causes real harm

Smoking ban leads to major drop in heart attacks
Medical Writer
Dec 31,2008

A smoking ban in one Colorado city led to a dramatic drop in heart attack hospitalizations within three years, a sign of just how serious a health threat secondhand smoke is, government researchers said Wednesday. The study, the longest-running of its kind, showed the rate of hospitalized cases dropped 41 percent in the three years after the ban of workplace smoking in Pueblo, Colo., took effect. There was no such drop in two neighboring areas, and researchers believe it's a clear sign the ban was responsible.

The study suggests that secondhand smoke may be a terrible and under-recognized cause of heart attack deaths in this country, said one of its authors, Terry Pechacek of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

At least eight earlier studies have linked smoking bans to decreased heart attacks, but none ran as long as three years. The new study looked at heart attack hospitalizations for three years following the July 1, 2003 enactment of Pueblo's ban, and found declines as great or greater than those in earlier research...

Capital of the Khazars discovered in Russia

Image: Khazar warrior with captive

September 22, 2008
Ancient lost capital of the Jewish Khazar kingdom found
By The Associated Press

Russian archaeologists said Wednesday they had found the long-lost capital of the Khazar kingdom in southern Russia, a breakthrough for research on the ancient Jewish state.

"This is a hugely important discovery," expedition organiser Dmitry Vasilyev told AFP by telephone from Astrakhan State University after returning from excavations near the village of Samosdelka, just north of the Caspian Sea.

"We can now shed light on one of the most intriguing mysteries of that period -- how the Khazars actually lived. We know very little about the Khazars -- about their traditions, their funerary rites, their culture," he said.

The city was the capital of the Khazars, a semi-nomadic Turkic peoples who adopted Judaism as a state religion, from between the 8th and the 10th centuries, when it was captured and sacked by the rulers of ancient Russia.

At its height, the Khazar state and its tributaries controlled much of what is now southern Russia, western Kazakhstan, eastern Ukraine, Azerbaijan and large parts of Russia's North Caucasus region...

Monday, December 15, 2008

Sarah Palin reads newspapers--all of them

Fake Palin Saying Is Top Quote of the Year
AP Associated Press
Dec. 14, 2008

Sarah Palin lost the election, but she's a winner to a connoisseur of quotations. The Republican vice presidential candidate and her comedic doppelganger, Tina Fey, took the top two spots in this year's list of most memorable quotes compiled by Fred R. Shapiro.

First place was "I can see Russia from my house!" spoken in satire of Palin's foreign policy credentials by Fey on "Saturday Night Live."

Palin actual quote was: "They're our next-door neighbors and you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska, from an island in Alaska."

Palin also made the third annual list for her inability to name newspapers she reads. When questioned by CBS anchor Katie Couric, Palin said she reads "all of them, any of them that have been in front of me over all these years."...

Sunday, December 14, 2008

We encourage gangs and violence by giving them positive reinforcement in the form of publicity

Christopher Yanov points out that we've been giving positive reinforcment to gangs and violence by talking about them every chance we get. Didn't psychologists discover about a hundred years ago that the way to extinguish unwanted behavior is to ignore it? I don't mean that the police should ignore crimes; I mean that the rest of us should shift our focus to the good things kids do.

Focus on Achievement
Voice of San Diego
December 12, 2008

...[W]hy should youths from disadvantaged backgrounds have to be arrested first in order to have national service programs solicit their help? It would keep them out of trouble in the first place if such programs promoting positive behaviors became more entrenched in youth cultures.

...[P]revention programs that are "anti-anything" just further entrench the legitimacy of the targeted negative behavior. In a related example, politicians at all levels are encouraged to never mention their opponents' names during a campaign and prevention programs would be wise to take a page out of this play book. Gang prevention programs should shift their energies to focusing on the achievement of positive goals and not continue to (unintentionally) give credence to negative behaviors.

Case in point: For the five years before starting Reality Changers that I worked with youth from disadvantaged backgrounds, all we ever talked about was gangs and drugs. And guess what all of them did? Gangs and drugs, gangs and drugs ... spiraling towards more and more violent behaviors. However, for the past seven years at the Reality Changers program, all we ever talk is becoming the first person in each's family to go to college. And guess what all of them do? Go to college! These students from the same streets (and in many cases from the same families) have been able to transcend the code of the streets because they have entrenched themselves in a positive, goal-oriented culture.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Nobel prize winner Steven Chu says the planet needs rewiring

Concern for Climate Change Defines Energy Nominee
By Steven Mufson
Washington Post Staff Writer
December 12, 2008

The next secretary of energy, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Chu, recently compared the danger of climate change to a problem with electrical wiring in a house.

Suppose, he said, you had a small electrical fire at home and a structural engineer told you there was a 50 percent chance your house would burn down in the next few years unless you spent $20,000 to fix faulty wiring.

"You can either continue to shop for additional evaluations until you find the one engineer in 1,000 who is willing to give you the answer you want -- 'your family is not in danger' -- or you can change the wiring," Chu said in a presentation in September.

Because of the danger of climate change, he said, the United States and other countries also need to make some urgent repairs. He said governments need to "act quickly" to implement fiscal and regulatory policies to stimulate the deployment of technologies that boost energy efficiency and "minimize" carbon emissions...

He said that people who said they were uncertain whether climate change is being caused by humans were "reminiscent of the dialogue in the 1950s and '60s on tobacco." (At that time, many argued that there was insufficient evidence linking smoking to cancer.)

He put aside the atomic and molecular biophysics research he had been doing as a Stanford University professor to become head of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in 2004 and steer it toward projects aimed at slashing the country's emissions of greenhouse gases that hasten climate change. He created the Helios Project, a center that seeks to use solar energy to generate chemical fuel at a low cost.

The laboratory's scientists, including 11 Nobel laureates, have altered yeast and bacteria into organisms that produce gasoline and diesel, improved techniques for converting switchgrass into the sugars needed to produce transportation fuel, and used nanotechnology to improve the efficiency of photovoltaic cells used in solar panels, among other projects...

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Justice in a genocide case

The human race seems to have developed a bad habit of regularly committing genocide. This has to stop. How? Evil has to be nipped in the bud, before it becomes out of control.

Rwandan Musician Sentenced to 15 Years for Role in Genocide
New York Times
December 2, 2008

A well-known Rwandan musician, Simon Bikindi, has been convicted of incitement to genocide and sentenced to 15 years in prison for his role in the hate campaign against Tutsi that led to the 1994 genocide.

The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda found Mr. Bikindi guilty of using a public-address system along roads in Rwanda in June 1994 to call on Hutu to rise up and exterminate the Tutsi.

He was acquitted of five other related charges.

The panel of judges said some of Mr. Bikindi’s songs had played a role in a propaganda campaign to promote contempt for the Tutsi population, and to incite Hutu to attack and kill Tutsi. But they said prosecutors had not proved that Mr. Bikindi’s music could be linked directly to any specific attacks or killings.

Mr. Bikindi, 54, is the first entertainer to be found guilty of a genocide-related charge.

Nearly 30 other people have been found guilty by the Tanzania-based United Nations tribunal of leading, organizing, inciting or financing the ethnic killing in Rwanda. The guilty include politicians, military officers, clergymen, businessmen and journalists.

The atrocities in Rwanda began in April 1994, and in less than four months, the Hutu majority killed an estimated 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu. Many were hacked to death, often with government-issued machetes.

In 1994, Mr. Bikindi was the country’s most famous musician. He sang, played several instruments, wrote intense lyrics and led a dance troupe. He also acted as a cheerleader at Hutu government rallies and was a strong presence at an influential government radio station.

Mr. Bikindi has argued that neither he nor his songs ever killed anyone.

Prosecutors had singled out three of Mr. Bikindi’s popular rap lyrics promoting ethnic hatred, which they said had been widely broadcast and were sung by mobs as they killed their victims.

Atheists object to Kentucky homeland security training about God

Image: Michelangelo's concept of God in
"Creation of the Sun and Moon"
from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel

Atheists Sue Over Homeland Security Law
Associated Press
December 3, 2008

A group of atheists filed a lawsuit Tuesday seeking to remove part of a state anti-terrorism law that requires Kentucky's Office of Homeland Security to acknowledge it can't keep the state safe without God's help...

Of particular concern is a 2006 clause requiring the Office of Homeland Security to post a plaque that says the safety and security of the state "cannot be achieved apart from reliance upon almighty God" and to stress that fact through training and educational materials.

The plaque, posted at the Kentucky Emergency Operations Center in Frankfort, includes the Bible verse: "Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain."

"It is one of the most egregiously and breathtakingly unconstitutional actions by a state legislature that I've ever seen," said Edwin F. Kagin, national legal director of Parsippany, N.J.-based American Atheists Inc. The group claims the law violates both the state and U.S. constitutions...

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

College-age kids at risk for mental problems

"All good students have a touch of "obsessional" personality that helps them work hard to achieve. But that's different from an obsessional disorder that makes people inflexible and controlling and interferes with their lives..."

1 in 5 young adults has personality disorder
December 1, 2008

CHICAGO (AP) — Almost one in five young American adults has a personality disorder that interferes with everyday life, and even more abuse alcohol or drugs, researchers reported Monday in the most extensive study of its kind.

The disorders include problems such as obsessive or compulsive tendencies and anti-social behavior that can sometimes lead to violence. The study also found that fewer than 25 percent of college-aged Americans with mental problems get treatment.

...Experts praised the study's scope — face-to-face interviews about numerous disorders with more than 5,000 young people ages 19 to 25 — and said it spotlights a problem college administrators need to address.

Study co-author Dr. Mark Olfson of Columbia University and New York State Psychiatric Institute called the widespread lack of treatment particularly worrisome. He said it should alert not only "students and parents, but also deans and people who run college mental health services about the need to extend access to treatment."

Counting substance abuse, the study found that nearly half of young people surveyed have some sort of psychiatric condition, including students and non-students...

"For many, young adulthood is characterized by the pursuit of greater educational opportunities and employment prospects, development of personal relationships, and for some, parenthood," the authors said. These circumstances, they said, can result in stress that triggers the start or recurrence of psychiatric problems.

The study was released Monday in Archives of General Psychiatry...

Personality disorders showed up in similar numbers among both students and non-students, including the most common one, obsessive compulsive personality disorder. About 8 percent of young adults in both groups had this illness, which can include an extreme preoccupation with details, rules, orderliness and perfectionism...

All good students have a touch of "obsessional" personality that helps them work hard to achieve. But that's different from an obsessional disorder that makes people inflexible and controlling and interferes with their lives, he explained.

Obsessive compulsive personality disorder differs from the better known OCD, or obsessive-compulsive disorder, which features repetitive actions such as hand-washing to avoid germs.

OCD is thought to affect about 2 percent of the general population. The study didn't examine OCD separately but grouped it with all anxiety disorders, seen in about 12 percent of college-aged people in the survey...

Substance abuse, including drug addiction, alcoholism and other drinking that interferes with school or work, affected nearly one-third of those in both groups.

Slightly more college students than non-students were problem drinkers — 20 percent versus 17 percent. And slightly more non-students had drug problems — nearly 7 percent versus 5 percent.

In both groups, about 8 percent had phobias and 7 percent had depression.

Bipolar disorder was slightly more common in non-students, affecting almost 5 percent versus about 3 percent of students.

Too much TV leads to child obesity, smoking, alcohol, pregnancy and poor school performance

Lots of TV and Web harms kids' health
Dec 2, 2008

Spending a lot of time watching TV, playing video games and surfing the Web makes children more prone to a range of health problems including obesity and smoking, U.S. researchers said on Tuesday.

U.S. National Institutes of Health, Yale University and the California Pacific Medical Center experts analyzed 173 studies done since 1980 in one of the most comprehensive assessments to date on how exposure to media sources impacts the physical health of children and adolescents...

The studies offered strong evidence that children who get more media exposure are more likely to become obese, start smoking and begin earlier sexual activity than those who spend less time in front of a screen, the researchers said.

Studies also indicated more media exposure also was linked to drug and alcohol use and poorer school performance, while the evidence was less clear about an association with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, they added.

"I think we were pretty surprised by how overwhelming the number of studies was that showed this negative health impact," NIH bioethicist Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, one of the researchers in the report released by the advocacy group Common Sense Media, said in a telephone interview.

...One study cited in the report found that children who spent more than eight hours watching TV per week at age 3 were more likely to be obese at 7. And research shows that many U.S. children, even toddlers, watch far more.

Dr. Cary Gross of Yale University.. said TV and other media content can have a profound impact on children's attitudes and beliefs, most notably among teens.

He cited a U.S. study by the RAND research organization published in November that showed that adolescents who watched more programing with sexual themes had a higher risk of becoming pregnant or causing a pregnancy.

Thirteen of 14 studies that evaluated sexual behavior found an association between media exposure and earlier initiation of sexual behavior, the researchers said.