Europe against GMO crops! Please, sign the Avaaz petition!
I already did. It's us who decide, not Monsanto!!!

A long waited post, sorry for the delay.
So, at first, this post was provoked by the first article, in which the Saudis want compensation for the oil we fail to use. I found this absolutely outrages since it goes against the very idea of efficiency - what's the point in minimizing your consumption, if the money you pay are the same. Even if you don't pay them directly, but trough taxes, it's the same. It's disgusting and it's even more disgusting because it happens on such a major scale. We have the same problem in Bulgaria, with basic needs like electricity and water increasing their prices to compensate for improving insulation and efficiency, but this is a problem of a country still striving to become normal. But the request that Saudis make is much more than that - it's global! And even though their black-mailing isn't successful so far, the very idea that they put it forward and discuss it openly, is very worrying. Because it's simply wrong. Sure, we could compensate them if they don't have the means to change their income sources, but they make plenty of money selling oil. They can do everything they want, without any help, so why the fuck do they think we owe them even more money?! And anyway, it's like Microsoft wanting compensation from Linux users for not using Windows. It's ridiculous. You pay for what you need and use, not for what you don't need.
You think this is controversy, but wait there's more!

Like the earnings of the Federal Reserve during crisis. Is it just me that finds something wrong in this? Let's see, the whole world is on its knees, producers barely surviving, the banking system in USA needs tons of money to be saved and yet the Feds manage to earn billions? What kind of financial system exactly is this? Note the other news too - that price of stocks on the financial markets across the world drop, because of the eventual ban of risky investment by president Obama.
You remember my posts "health care or health joke?" ? What about the financial system we live in, is it normal? I'm not an economist, but in my mind, money are just a measure of the usefulness of your service to others. And the financial system is supposed to act like a healthy environment for your money, so that you and your money are safe, secure and well-fed and the society can continue functioning flawlessly. But what it turns out to be - a system in which the less paid you are, the more money it makes? The less secure the world, the richer it gets? And not only this, but obviously, the very idea of banning highly risky investments by big institutions, is shaking markets all over the world! You don't have to be a genius to know that something is very wrong here. It's like the system became a breathing organism, living according to its own rules, not necessarily compatible with ours . And that's true, of course, but the question is, are we happy with it or no? Is this the best we can come up with? I'm perfectly realist that in any system, someone will win/earn and someone will have to lose and will follow its own dynamics after getting enough density of resources. But for me, it's a measure of our civilization the efficiency of that system in terms of number of winners/number of losers + over all effect on human life. And so far, I'm not convinced this system is the best. It's like too many ghost appeared in it and they move uncontrollably (or maybe not) and such our money and our time and our energy, for the sake of the unknown beneficiary. And this isn't a conspiracy! It's reality. And this reality is under our control, if we want to change it. The question is do we want to?

P.S. More or less unrelated to this is the last article, in which the charges against the Blackwater guards who did a little carnage in Iraq were dismissed. So much about justice.

  1. Saudis Seek Payments for Any Drop in Oil Revenues
  2. Asia stocks slide on Obama plan
  3. Federal Reserve earned $45 billion in 2009
  4. Judge Drops Charges From Blackwater Deaths in Iraq

Saudis Seek Payments for Any Drop in Oil Revenues

By JAD MOUAWAD and ANDREW C. REVKIN, October 13, 2009

Saudi Arabia is trying to enlist other oil-producing countries to support a provocative idea: if wealthy countries reduce their oil consumption to combat global warming, they should pay compensation to oil producers.

The oil-rich kingdom has pushed this position for years in earlier climate-treaty negotiations. While it has not succeeded, its efforts have sometimes delayed or disrupted discussions. The kingdom is once again gearing up to take a hard line on the issue at international negotiations scheduled for Copenhagen in December.

The chief Saudi negotiator, Mohammad al-Sabban, described the position as a “make or break” provision for the Saudis, as nations stake out their stance before the global climate summit scheduled for the end of the year.

“Assisting us as oil-exporting countries in achieving economic diversification is very crucial for us through foreign direct investments, technology transfer, insurance and funding,” Mr. Sabban said in an e-mail message.

Petroleum exporters have long used delaying tactics during climate talks. They view any attempt to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by developed countries as a menace to their economies.

Saudi Arabia is highly dependent on oil exports, which account for most of the government’s budget. Last year, when prices peaked, the kingdom’s oil revenue swelled by 37 percent, to $281 billion, according to Jadwa Investment, a Saudi bank. That was more than four times the 2002 level. At one point in 2008, the average gasoline price in the United States surpassed $4 a gallon.

A recent study by the International Energy Agency, which advises industrialized nations, found that the cumulative revenue of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries would drop by 16 percent from 2008 to 2030 if the world agreed to slash emissions, as opposed to the projection if there were no treaty.

But with oil projected to average $100 a barrel, the energy agency estimated that OPEC members would still earn $23 trillion over that period.

But not every oil-exporting country is falling in line with the Saudi position. Some have been trying a different approach that has earned the backing of environmental groups. For example, Ecuador, OPEC’s newest member, said last year that it was willing to freeze oil exploration in the Amazon forest if it got some financial rewards for doing so. source


Asia stocks slide on Obama plan

Jan. 22, 2010, Raju Gopalakrishnan

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Asian stock markets skidded on Friday and commodity prices fell across the board after U.S. President Barack Obama proposed new restrictions on banks that spurred selling of risky assets.

European shares <.FTEU3> were also expected to fall on the proposals, which would prevent banks or financial institutions that own banks from investing in, owning or sponsoring a hedge fund or private equity fund.

The restrictions could limit leverage in the financial system and the role of risk-taking by hedge funds, but analysts said passage of the proposals in the U.S. congress was not assured and it was too early to read too much into the market reaction.

Commodity prices fell because the proposed U.S. regulations were seen as diminishing capital flows from banks, which have provided liquidity for investors.

Oil and copper languished near four-week lows, gold flirted with a three-week low and platinum lost ground, while agricultural commodities sagged.

U.S. stocks fell as much as 2 percent overnight, the worst one-day percentage fall since October, as financial shares in particular were hit by Obama's plan.

The rules would also bar institutions from proprietary trading operations, unrelated to serving customers, for their own profit. These bets have been enormously profitable for the banks but can hold huge risks for the financial system if they go wrong.

Global markets had already recoiled in recent weeks on fears that Chinese demand would slow as Beijing taps the brakes on its roaring growth to stave off inflation and keep the economy from overheating.

Mixed data from the United States, meanwhile, have fueled concerns that the pace of its economic recovery may be slowing, and that corporate profits may not be as strong as first expected this year. source

Federal Reserve earned $45 billion in 2009

By Neil Irwin, January 12, 2010
Washington Post Staff Writer

The Federal Reserve made record profits in 2009, as its unconventional efforts to prop up the economy created a windfall for the government.

The Fed will return about $45 billion to the U.S. Treasury for 2009, according to calculations by The Washington Post based on public documents. That reflects the highest earnings in the 96-year history of the central bank. The Fed, unlike most government agencies, funds itself from its own operations and returns its profits to the Treasury.

The numbers are good news for the federal budget and a sign that the Fed has been successful, at least so far, in protecting taxpayers as it intervenes in the economy -- though there remains a risk of significant losses in the future if the Fed sells some of its investments or loses money on its stakes in bailed-out firms.

This turn of events comes as the banks that benefited from the Fed's actions are under the microscope. Starting at the end of the week, major banks are expected to announce significant earnings and employee bonuses.

As it happens, the Fed's earnings for the year will dwarf those of the large banks, easily topping the expected profits of Bank of America, Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan Chase combined.

Much of the higher earnings came about because of the Fed's aggressive program of buying bonds, aiming to push interest rates down across the economy and thus stimulate growth. By the end of 2009, the Fed owned $1.8 trillion in U.S. government debt and mortgage-related securities, up from $497 billion a year earlier. The interest income on those investments was a major source of Fed profits -- though that income comes with risks, as the central bank could lose money if it later sells those securities to reduce the money supply.

The Fed also made money on its emergency loans to banks and other firms and on special programs to prop up lending, such as one that supports credit cards, auto loans, and other consumer and business lending. Those programs impose interest and fees on participants, with the aim of ensuring that the Fed does not lose money.

The Fed also charges fees for operating the plumbing of the financial system, such as clearing checks and electronic payments between banks.

From its revenue, the Fed deducts operating expenses, such as employee salaries, then returns to the Treasury almost all of the earnings that remain. The largest previous refund to the Treasury was $34.6 billion, in 2007.

"This shows that central banking is a great business to be in, especially in a crisis," said Vincent Reinhart, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a former Fed official. "You buy assets that have a nice yield, and your cost of funds is very low. The difference is profit."

Fed officials do not make policy with an eye toward maximizing profits. They are charged by law with managing the nation's money supply to keep employment high and prices stable, and earnings fluctuate depending on a wide range of factors as they pursue that goal. In the crisis, the central bank's policy has been to create money and use it to buy a wide variety of assets, which in turn pay interest.

In effect, the unprecedented range of actions taken to address the crisis has made the Fed's balance sheet more like that of a private bank. A firm such as Bank of America takes money from depositors, whom it pays little or nothing in interest, and lends it out at significantly higher rates. The Fed, similarly, takes money that banks keep on deposit, at a rate of 0.25 percent, and lends it to the U.S. government by buying Treasury securities and, lately, to home buyers and other private borrowers though more exotic investments.

While that resulted in higher earnings in 2009, it exposes the Fed to more risks down the road. source

Judge Drops Charges From Blackwater Deaths in Iraq

By CHARLIE SAVAGE, December 31, 2009

WASHINGTON — In a significant blow to the Justice Department, a federal judge on Thursday threw out the indictment of five former Blackwater security guards over a shooting in Baghdad in 2007 that left 17 Iraqis dead and about 20 wounded.

The judge cited misuse of statements made by the guards in his decision, which brought to a sudden halt one of the highest-profile prosecutions to arise from the Iraq war. The shooting at Nisour Square frayed relations between the Iraqi government and the Bush administration and put a spotlight on the United States’ growing reliance on private security contractors in war zones.

Investigators concluded that the guards had indiscriminately fired on unarmed civilians in an unprovoked and unjustified assault near the crowded traffic circle on Sept. 16, 2007. The guards contended that they had been ambushed by insurgents and fired in self-defense.

The mass shooting eventually led Iraq to insist, during negotiations on a new status of forces agreement in 2008, on a provision that eliminated immunity from Iraqi law for American contractors. source

I'm sure you already know how fascinated I am on brain and its functioning. So here are some shortened by me articles that offer interesting new ways to think about brain.
I suggest if you're not interested to at least read the last two articles which suggest a way to improve memory and ability to learn by combining memory exercises with physical exercises. And also, if you suffered a brain trauma, like me, to be able to recover faster by a specific diet. I think this information is pretty important for everyone.
As for the other articles, they are all very interesting. Why? Because I think people often underestimate the effect our physiology and especially brain chemistry has on our actions and thoughts. We consider ourselves as independent creatures who merely use our bodies as vessels for our spirit/personality. But if you check the articles, you'll see that they prove there is a lot of interference between brain and personality. The chemicals in our brain can change our mood, space-time perceptions, our desires and vice versa - our psychological states do affect our body chemistry. And this is so powerful knowledge. From the one side, it's clear we're extremely dependent over the balance of substances in our brains. Think of the first article - to kill your wife while you sleep. You may not even hate her. You dream of violence, because of the incorrect balance in your brain, your body isn't paralised (something that is normal while you sleep) and you commit something horrible. Can you be blamed? The court in this case obviously decided that no, you cannot be blamed. If you ask me, that's a bit of an underestimation of the situation - if you have a medical problem that led to hurting someone, you should be treated in an appropriate institution, until the problem is fixed. Otherwise, this could repeat. Anyway.
From the other side, we know that chemicals in our brain can be change consciously by our will - for example, sex/chocolate/diet/exercises increase the concentration of important neurotransmitters and oxygen. Which mean that if their lack (as in depression) can damage our perception of details and so on, then by doing specific things we can improve our perception. One article I didn't include claimed that even our time perception is modified by our experience - the more details on 2 time-separated events people have (more intervening memories), the more time they think that has passed.
The main question for me is if our perception of everything is so dependent on the chemistry in our heads then how we can be sure of anything at all. Sure, the major things are usually not affected, but the details often are crucial for our lives. For example, if someone has looked at us in a bad or a good way, what exactly certain intonation of his/her voice mean - such things are very dependent on our mood. Maybe the moral is that we have to be more moderate in our reactions to other people. Maybe the moral is other. But those articles were very interesting for me. Enjoy!

  • Can you be blamed for sleepwalking crimes?
  • The world looks different if you're depressed
  • Older brains make good use of 'useless' information
  • Protein drink may aid brain injury
  • Aerobic exercise grows brain cells

Can you be blamed for sleepwalking crimes?

A man strangles his wife while dreaming about fighting off intruders in his sleep. Does that make him mad, bad or innocent? Recent research is helping to unpick these issues, and may help reveal who, if anyone, bears responsibility in such cases.

Last week, British man Brian Thomas appeared in court on a murder charge after strangling his wife as they slept in their camper van. The prosecution withdrew the charges after three psychiatrists testified that locking him up would serve no useful purpose. The judge said that Thomas bore no responsibility for his actions.

The case has cast a spotlight on the use of such sleepwalking defences in court. n Minneapolis.

Thomas had a genuine sleep disorder, but Cramer-Bornemann is concerned that in many other cases, the sleepwalking and other sleep-related defences are misused. Studies on the causes of sleepwalking may eventually make it easier to identify who has a genuine sleep disorder that could occasionally result in violence, and who is making it up.

Last month, Ursula Voss of Bonn University in Germany and colleagues reported that even during lucid dreaming – a state in which some people claim to be able to control their dreams – some areas of the brain associated with intent stayed offline, while other areas associated with consciousness were active. "As long as you are in a dream, you have no free rein on your actions and emotions," says Voss (Sleep, vol 32, p 1191).

Although this research didn't look specifically at sleepwalkers, it tallies with a previous study by Claudio Bassetti at the University of Zurich in Switzerland, who once managed to manoeuvre a sleepwalker into a brain scanner during a sleepwalking episode. He found the sleepwalker also showed no activation in the areas of the brain associated with intent, though emotional areas and those associated with movement were active (The Lancet, DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(00)02561-7).

"Our judgement is off and our ability to act out emotionally is on," says Rosalind Cartwright of the Sleep Disorder Service and Research Center in Chicago. She believes a confirmed diagnosis of sleepwalking would make a strong defence in court, but says better tests are needed to establish who has a genuine sleep disorder.

source

The world looks different if you're depressed

DEPRESSION really does change the way you see the world. People with the condition find it easy to interpret large images or scenes, but struggle to "spot the difference" in fine detail. The finding hints at visual training as a possible treatment.

Depressed people have a shortage of a neurotransmitter called GABA; this has also been linked to a visual skill called spatial suppression, which helps us suppress details surrounding the object our eyes are focused on - enabling us to pick out a snake in fallen leaves, for instance.

Now Julie Golomb and colleagues at Yale University are trying to link this ability with major depressive disorder (MDD). Golomb asked 32 people to watch a brief computer animation of white bars drifting over a grey and black background, and say which way they were moving. A quicker response gave a higher score. Half of the group had good mental health, while the rest had recently recovered from depression.

When the image was large, the recovered volunteers found the task easier, which means they would do better in the forest scenario. But they performed less well than the other group when looking at a small image. "Their ability to discriminate fine details was impaired, which is the sort of perception that we tend to use on a daily basis," says Golomb. source

Older brains make good use of 'useless' information

January 20, 2010

A new study has found promising evidence that the older brain's weakened ability to filter out irrelevant information may actually give aging adults a memory advantage over their younger counterparts.

A long line of research has already shown that aging is associated with a decreased ability to tune out irrelevant information. Now scientists at Baycrest's world-renowned Rotman Research Institute have demonstrated that when older adults "hyper-encode" extraneous information - and they typically do this without even knowing they're doing it - they have the unique ability to "hyper-bind" the information; essentially tie it to other information that is appearing at the same time.

"We found that older brains are not only less likely to suppress irrelevant information than younger brains, but they can link the relevant and irrelevant pieces of information together and implicitly transfer this knowledge to subsequent memory tasks," said Campbell.

"This could be a silver lining to aging and distraction," said Dr. Hasher, senior scientist on the study. "Older adults with reduced attentional regulation seem to display greater knowledge of seemingly extraneous co-occurrences in the environment than younger adults. As this type of knowledge is thought to play a critical role in real world decision- making, may be the wiser decision-makers compared to younger adults because they have picked up so much more information." source

Protein drink may aid brain injury

Monday, December 7 08:45 pm

Drinks containing a cocktail of protein components could prove an effective treatment for mental impairment caused by brain injuries, a study has suggested.

Scientists came to the conclusion after feeding a mixture of amino acids to brain-damaged mice.

The right balance of brain chemicals was restored in the animals and their learning ability returned to normal levels. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins and an essential part of the diet.

Those given to the mice in their drinking water, leucine, isoleucine and valine, are known as branched chain amino acids (BCAAs). They are vital for the creation of two brain chemicals which play a key role in the functioning of nerves.

The two neurotransmitters glutamate and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) work together to keep brain activity in balance. Glutamate excites neurons, stimulating them to fire, while GABA inhibits them. If neurons are too excited or not excited enough, the brain does not function properly. This often occurs after a traumatic brain injury (TBI) of the sort that can happen in road accidents or on the battlefield.

Examination of slices of tissue from the hippocampus - the brain's memory centre - showed that BCAA restored the normal balance of neural activity in injured mice. Dr Cohen said if the results were reproduced in humans, patients with traumatic brain injuries could be given the amino acids in a drink.

Providing BCAAs in the diet may prove more effective than injecting them, he said. source

Aerobic exercise grows brain cells

(PhysOrg.com) -- Aerobic exercises such as running or jogging have long been known to be good for the health, but now new research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) has shown that it also stimulates the growth of new brain cells and improves the memory and ability to learn. source

Ok, after the strip search of a teenage girl on suspicions she hides drugs, the situation in US schools seems to become worst. Read the article, it's very interesting, especially if you read it from the source (I edited some details).
The problem is obvious - should a kid be suspended just because of an infraction that can be related to weapons. Especially if this kid doesn't have a history of aggressions. I mean - it's one thing that a kid which likes fighting with others bring a knife and other if a kid without any traces of misbehavior brings it. What does it mean discriminatory? If the punishment is based on behaviour, previous infractions and a report of psychologist then it shouldn't lead to discrimination. I hate how people overreact on color basis, because this is bad for both sides. But to sacrifice good kids for the sake of your clean hands, that's bad. It's obviously and absolutely bad. Because if an A-grader, a good kid with hopes and dreams is so severely punished for something so stupid, how do you expect that kid to forget and continue his/her life?

I'm not saying that all those cases are over-reacting, there are violent children, but those violent children should be under careful monitoring and in those cases, it's pretty easy to differ an innocent infraction from dangerous one. Of course, if the infraction repeats, that is another story, but by choosing to punish the children for something so stupid, aren't we destroying part of their personalities? Sure, rules should be obeyed. But we have the right not to obey them. And we have to understand what happens when we don't. We must face a punishment that is proportional to our misconduct and intentions. If a kid that wants to eat with his new utensils is punished with the same intensity as a kid who wanted to hurt a classmate, then how that kid will make the difference in the intentions. How s/he will understand what is good and what is bad, if both are punished the same way?! This is obviously wrong. If you want the country to be full of robots and criminals, sure, continue this practice. But if you want creative and interesting and responsible personalities - this has to stop. Really!

Sure, accidents happen, and no measures can guarantee they won't. But the very fact such items are forbidden and bringing them to school will make a kid face punishment should be enough as a precaution. What is the next step otherwise - putting metal detectors and scanners everywhere?! Strip-searching everyone on entry?! That cannot be a normal treatment of a person.

It’s a Fork, It’s a Spoon, It’s a ... Weapon?


Published: October 11, 2009
NEWARK, Del. — Finding character witnesses when you are 6 years old is not easy. But there was Zachary Christie last week at a school disciplinary committee hearing with his karate instructor and his mother’s fiancé by his side to vouch for him.

Zachary’s offense? Taking a Cub Scout utensil that can serve as a knife, fork and spoon to school. He was so excited about joining the Scouts that he wanted to use it at lunch. School officials concluded that he had violated their zero-tolerance policy on weapons, and Zachary now faces 45 days in the district’s reform school.

Spurred in part by the Columbine and Virginia Tech shootings, many school districts around the country adopted zero-tolerance policies on the possession of weapons on school grounds. More recently, there has been growing debate over whether the policies have gone too far.

But, based on the code of conduct for the Christina School District, where Zachary is a first grader, school officials had no choice. They had to suspend him because, “regardless of possessor’s intent,” knives are banned.

But the question on the minds of residents here is: Why do school officials not have more discretion in such cases?

Still, some school administrators argue that it is difficult to distinguish innocent pranks and mistakes from more serious threats, and that the policies must be strict to protect students.

Critics contend that zero-tolerance policies like those in the Christina district have led to sharp increases in suspensions and expulsions, often putting children on the streets or in other places where their behavior only worsens, and that the policies undermine the ability of school officials to use common sense in handling minor infractions.

For Delaware, Zachary’s case is especially frustrating because last year state lawmakers tried to make disciplinary rules more flexible by giving local boards authority to, “on a case-by-case basis, modify the terms of the expulsion.”

In Zachary’s case, the state’s new law did not help because it mentions only expulsion and does not explicitly address suspensions. A revised law is being drafted to include suspensions.

In Baltimore, around 10,000 students, about 12 percent of the city’s enrollment, were suspended during the 2006-7 school year, mostly for disruption and insubordination, according to a report by the Open Society Institute-Baltimore. School officials there are rewriting the disciplinary code, to route students to counseling rather than suspension.

In Milwaukee, where school officials reported that 40 percent of ninth graders had been suspended at least once in the 2006-7 school year, the superintendent has encouraged teachers not to overreact to student misconduct.

Charles P. Ewing, a professor of law and psychology at the University at Buffalo Law School who has written about school safety issues, said he favored a strict zero-tolerance approach.

“There are still serious threats every day in schools,” Dr. Ewing said, adding that giving school officials discretion holds the potential for discrimination and requires the kind of threat assessments that only law enforcement is equipped to make.

In the 2005-6 school year, 86 percent of public schools reported at least one violent crime, theft or other crime, according to the most recent federal survey.

And yet, federal studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and another by the Department of Justice show that the rate of school-related homicides and nonfatal violence has fallen over most of the past decade” source

Haiti, 2010

Ok, a very short publication.
I just want to express my sorrow for the people in Haiti. Earthquakes are one of the scariest things that could happen to us and I'm really sorry for what happened there. It's hard to even imagine it, but this quake was very strong, if it happened in my city, the result would have been the same, but multiplied by 10. It's amazing how much damage such event can cause, but it's even more amazing to imagine how the world you lived in, can change in 1 minute. That's all it takes! After this, you don't have a home, don't have a job, probably you don't have a bank account. You walk on the street and you have nowhere to go, because there isn't anything special or human any more. I think this is the utter nightmare of every person. Because we build our towers and our lives and everything looks so certain. Even the bad things that can happen to you, they are bound in our human lives. While such disasters simple erase everything. And that is really really sad. And I think, we all have to think, what if we were on their places. Because we're all helpless to the major disasters. And yeah, of course, we have to do everything we can to comfort them, to help them rebuild their lives. Because it's very scary not to have a life, not to have a home, not to have anyone to help you.
I can only hope that humanitarian aid will be sent swiftly. Honestly, I'm little bit disappointed by US reaction - those rescuers and other aid should have been sent 1 hour after it became clear there is no communication and that there are major damage. And that much can be seen trough satellite images. Time is essential here and we waited for too long. And while the rest of the word is far, USA, Cuba, Mexico were the closest neighbors. They should have helped immediately.
Anyway, not time to blame anyone. I pray for the souls of all those people, who didn't make it. And for all those who did make it long enough to see the destruction, the chaos and the pain.
I can only hope that they receive help as soon as possible. Because that's what makes us human - the help that we're able to provide to those in need.
I can only pray that the rest of the year will be much better.

Today, I chose to post on swine flu, because scientists say the second wave (though it's actually 3d for Americas) will come in January-February so I figured the best way to be useful will be to give a little summary of what happened during the previous waves so that you know what to do during the next ones.

I think everyone by now knows that the swine flu isn't what the media panic told us it will be (luckily). Myself I managed to catch both the swine and the seasonal flu and well, they were both disgusting though if you ask me which one was worst - well, the swine flu!But still, it wasn't that different from the normal flu I get every year two times. But I must admit I also was quite scared by the medias. I even got my Tamiflu (which was a miracle since we didn't have that many in Bulgaria). Did it help? Not at all. In the end, I had to be on antibiotics for two weeks. Not very fun, indeed. So, my over all conclusion is that once again, we were all victim of media fun and heavy lobbying for the pharmaceutical companies. I mean how many doses of both Tamiflu and vaccines were ordered? A lot. Are they very effective - as you will see from the articles I posted - not really much. Then why did we have to order them on the first place?

Of course, this epidemic could have gone way worst than what actually happened. And preparing a vaccine isn't a bad idea, neither is having a medicament to fight the virus. The real problem wasn't in science - it was in media abuse of the public fears. Because as it is, the swine flu is more or less as lethal as the seasonal. I have my suspicions that the original virus was more lethal, which would explain the whole madness with the vaccines and also the interesting fact that it was targeting and killing pregnant women. But so far the virus is mutating in the better for us direction. And for me, this time should be used to think of better antivirals that can be used in the more complicated cases and also for better vaccines if the virus mutates in worst direction. And those studies should be government funded and used only if the situation gets worst. I know this goes against the holy principle of capitalism but let's be fair - such studies cost a lot, if a company invest in them, it won't profit unless the situation gets worst or they manage to manipulate the public into thinking the situation is already worst. Is it their fault that they want a return for their investments? No. But do we have to pay all those money if there isn't a need (or get unneeded shots of vaccines)? No. Then the only way to have the technology developed is trough non-profit studies.

And anyway, we really have to start considering the scenario of viral outbreak that should be confined. Because with increased global movement, it's normal to expect such outbreaks. And the fight with them shouldn't stop our life (or the economy if you prefer) and should be done in the most effective way possible. I'm sure people are already thinking about it, but still, maybe we all have to think about it, to consider what we personally can do to improve our chances. For example this flu showed that it's much more efficient to have the masks on sick people than on healthy people. And so on. We have to be ready for the next wave of anything. Because it's our life, we have to protect it without being ridiculous (in the case with the masks the healthy people bought all the masks available and there were no masks for the sick).
One more important moral is that as the next article suggests, the vaccines were more available for some companies, than for people at risk. This is obviously wrong. The other wrong thing was to make vaccination obligatory for some people (or all). I don't know about you, but for me, my health should be decided only by me. If the disease isn't really pandemic and severely lethal, there is no authority to order me to vaccinate. I'm not against vaccines, don't get me wrong. I'm only against taking away my rights over my body.
Ok, finishing here, here are the articles. Enjoy!
  1. Confusion over giving antivirals to children with flu
  2. Corporate employers got scarce flu vaccine
  3. 5 million doses of nasal H1N1 vaccine recalled
  4. U.S. Reaction to Swine Flu: Apt and Lucky

Confusion over giving antivirals to children with flu

11 August 2009 by Andy Coghlan

A new study casts doubt over whether all children with swine flu should be given antiviral drugs such as oseltamivir (Tamiflu) or zanamivir (Relenza).

Some governments, including the UK's, insist that everyone with swine flu should be offered antivirals as part of a "safety first" strategy.

But the new study, published in the journal BMJ, suggests the strategy is misguided.

It concludes that treating children under 12 with antivirals does very little, shortening the duration of disease by just a day or so, and decreasing by just 8 per cent the likelihood that an infected child will spread it to others.

Also, Tamiflu causes additional vomiting in 5 per cent of children already vomiting because of their illness. Nor does it bring any benefits for asthmatics, as implied by advice from the UK government's Health Protection Agency.

His team's advice is for parents to treat mild flu symptoms with the usual medicines for controlling fever, plus plenty of rest and fluids. Even if complications develop, the value of giving antivirals to children is unknown, the researchers say. Another bonus of limiting treatment in children is that it will reduce the risk of the virus becoming resistant to the drugs, he says.

Responding, the British government's Department of Health said that the BMJ study is based on seasonal flu and so may not apply to swine flu.

Thompson accepts that his review only looked at seasonal flu. "But about two-thirds of the studies were influenza A, which is what the current strain is," he says. "So we would expect our results to be applicable to swine flu." (source)

Corporate employers got scarce flu vaccine

When the swine flu vaccine was most scarce, health officials gave thousands of doses to corporate clinics at Walt Disney World, Toyota, defense contractors, oil companies and cruise lines, according to a USA TODAY review of vaccine distribution data from three states.

USA TODAY examined how state health departments distributed H1N1 vaccine after public outcry last month over Wall Street firms such as Goldman Sachs receiving doses while doctors and hospitals encountered shortages. The data show other companies got the vaccine in October and early November. In some cases, early doses went to people not deemed most at risk by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Pallone said he would send the CDC a letter Tuesday asking it to revise guidelines to states on the use of corporate health clinics.

Each state health department must decide how to provide the vaccine to people most at risk, and employers are a legitimate venue, said Anne Schuchat, the CDC's immunization director. CDC's priority groups include pregnant women, people with chronic health conditions, health care workers and people ages 6 months to 24 years.

The Toyota Family Health Center in San Antonio, which got 2,120 doses, initially focused on the CDC's priority groups, but since Nov. 16 has offered the vaccine to any employee, contractor or family member, spokesman Craig Mullenbach said.

Of the 2.42 million doses in Texas and 2 million in Florida distributed through mid-November, fewer than 1% went to employers, according to USA TODAY's analysis of data obtained under state open-records acts. Thousands of registered providers — doctors, hospitals, schools, pharmacies — in Texas alone got no doses in that period.

Among companies that requested and received early doses and say they administered them to high-risk people:

• Florida: Walt Disney World got 2,200 doses for college-age theme park workers and members of its 100-person medical team. Universal Orlando Resort got 100 doses.

• Texas: Defense contractors Bell Helicopter got 100 doses and Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, 80. Chevron got 190; ExxonMobil, 160; Dow Chemical, 170; ConocoPhillips, 110.

• Georgia: No doses went to companies. Ravae Graham of the state health department said people in the priority groups "are typically only a small fraction of workers in the corporate sector."

California, New York and New York City are still deciding whether to release data to USA TODAY. source


5 million doses of nasal H1N1 vaccine recalled

Dec. 22, 2009

WASHINGTON - Drugmaker MedImmune is recalling nearly 5 million doses of swine flu vaccine because the nasal spray appears to lose strength over time, federal health officials announced Tuesday.

The vaccine recall is the second this month caused by declining potency and comes as public health officials urge millions of Americans to get vaccinated against swine flu.

The action affects more than 4.6 million doses, but the vast majority have already been used, according to the Food and Drug Administration. Agency officials said the vaccine was strong enough when it was distributed in October and November.

“The slight decrease in potency is not expected to have any effect on the protective effect of the vaccine,” said Norman Baylor, director of the FDA’s vaccine research office. “We are not recommending revaccination.”

The agency is looking into the problem but said it’s not uncommon for vaccines to lose strength over time. MedImmune’s vaccine has a recommended shelf life of about four months. The company has about 3,000 doses in its warehouses but does not know how many remain in the field, according to the FDA.

Last week, vaccine maker Sanofi Pasteur recalled hundreds of thousands of swine flu shots for children because tests indicated those doses lost some strength. Most of those doses had already been used, too.

Maryland-based MedImmune, a subsidiary of London-based AstraZeneca PLC, voluntarily recalled 13 lots of its vaccine, “due to a slight decrease in potency” discovered through routine quality control testing, said spokesman Tor Constantino.

In a telephone news conference on Tuesday, Dr. Anne Schuchat of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that 60 million Americans have received swine flu vaccine, and said intense monitoring for side effects has not turned up any safety concerns.

The vaccine supply has increased so much in recent weeks that she urged parents of children 10 and younger to get them a second dose, because studies show this age group needs two for optimal protection. source

U.S. Reaction to Swine Flu: Apt and Lucky

By DONALD G. McNEIL Jr., January 1, 2010

Although it is too early to write the obituary for swine flu, medical experts, already assessing how the first pandemic in 40 years has been handled, have found that while luck played a part, a series of rapid but conservative decisions by federal officials worked out better than many had dared hope.

The outbreak highlighted many national weaknesses: old, slow vaccine technology; too much reliance on foreign vaccine factories; some major hospitals pushed to their limits by a relatively mild epidemic.

But even given those drawbacks, “we did a lot of things right,” concluded Dr. Andrew T. Pavia, chairman of the pandemic flu task force of the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

About 10,000 people had died by mid-November, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated; the pandemic seems unlikely to reach even the lower end of a forecast of 30,000 to 90,000 deaths made in August by the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology.

The virus and the vaccine cooperated. While the former proved highly transmissible in children, it was only rarely lethal, remained susceptible to drugs and has not thus far mutated into an unpredictable monster. Vaccine supply was a problem, but one small dose was enough. (By contrast, an experimental avian flu vaccine protected people only when it was six times as strong.)

For that reason, the relatively cautious decisions by the nation’s medical leadership contained the pandemic with minimal disruption to the economy.

For example, in the early days, they ignored advice to close the Mexican border and pre-emptively shut school systems. They released part of the national Tamiflu stockpile, but did not give it to millions of healthy people prophylactically, as Britain did. They ordered vaccine made with a 50-year-old egg technology rather than experimental methods. They bought adjuvants — chemical “boosters” — that could have stretched the first 25 million vaccine doses into 100 million, but did not use them for fear of triggering a backlash among Americans made nervous by the messages of the antivaccine movement.

To alert the public without alarming it, a stream of officials — from doctors in the navy blue and scrambled-eggs gold of the Public Health Service to a somber President Obama in the White House — offered updates, at least twice a week for months.

It is now clear that this is the least lethal modern pandemic. The flu appears to kill about one of every 2,000 people who get it, American researchers say. By contrast, the Spanish flu of 1918 killed about 50 of every 2,000, and the 1957 and 1968 pandemics killed about 4 of every 2,000.

The flu has reached more than 200 countries and is still peaking in places like Eastern Europe and Russia. Even though there was no vaccine yet, it killed fewer than expected during the Southern Hemisphere’s winter, June through August.

Officials in the United States conceded that some mistakes were made.

For example, they could have spotted the new virus earlier if there had been better cooperation with Mexico.

Also, the government predicted in early summer that it would have 160 million vaccine doses by late October. It ended up with less than 30 million, leading to a public outcry and Congressional investigations.

Another controversial decision — sending a few early vaccine doses to Wall Street firms like Goldman Sachs and Citibank — was more of a bad public relations move than a bad public health one, experts said.

The government allotted vaccine to states based on population size. Some local health officials had thousands line up in parking lots for shots, some sent teams into schools and some relied on private doctors.

Distribution of the vaccine could have been focused more precisely, experts said, directing it to hospitals first, or to doctors treating children and pregnant women, or to cities with big outbreaks.

One real triumph, several experts said, was how little damage misinformation did.

This time, both the C.D.C. and the World Health Organization responded quickly to almost every rumor. At the epidemic’s height, they held several news conferences a week, taking questions by phone from all over the world.

Dr. Frieden said he thought a victory over the antivaccine movement had been scored. Nearly 60 million people have been vaccinated, including many pregnant women and children, with no surge in side effects.

source

Hello and Happy New 2010! I wish you all to be well and happy and smiling and hopefully, 2010 will be much much better for everyone than 2009.

I wondered what to post today, to make a good start of the new year, here's what I chose.

Although it doesn't seem to be very gay and joyful, it has some intrinsic moral which is good.

The article is about the origin of spite - doing bad things even when it doesn't really make sense (from economical point of view if you like). I was very impressed that young child will deny candies for both not only if the s/he gets less than other child, but also s/he will also deny them when they are MORE. Which speaks of inherited sense of fairness (even if it's obvious that less candies are better than none) .
And then we see the same behavior when we punish people that try to profit from rules without adding to the common good - altruistic denial of personal benefit for the sake of cooperative behaviour. Which is also good. Just when a parent has to punish a child, even though it's just a unpleasant for him/her as to the child. But we do it for the child's sake.
And then we see the other end of the spectrum - people punishing good deed, just because it's fun (whatever this means, but obviously it could hide a lot particularly jealousy). And in case it really is fun, I find it somewhat strange - it speaks of lack of empathy or very perverted sense of humor.
Anyway, the moral is that spite can be constructive, as long as it's well controlled by the society. Otherwise, it's purely destructive. And maybe when we do something spiteful, we have to ask why we do it and is this the best way to obtain what we want. In the case when we're doing it just for the fun, maybe we have to consider why we find this fun - are we jealous, hurt, or unhappy with ourselves . And even the last possibility do we find it fun, because we internally want to feel free of pain and of the materialism of our Universe - meaning, don't we all want to be able to consider bad events fun or at least merely annoying? This is a kind of freedom, to be untouchable by others. But if this is what we want, we should do it to ourselves and not to the other, right?

I think there is a lot to consider here. Because we all have been mean to someone, justly or not. But if this doesn't bring us anything good then why should we do it at all? Or if we do it to get something for ourselves, then we maybe have to figure out what it is and if this is the only way to get it, then we shouldn't feel guilty about it. Because sometimes punishing others can be constructive. At least that is what the article says, right?

Are humans cruel to be kind?

... classical economics, which says that no rational person should ever reduce their own income just to slash someone else's. And yet that's exactly what we do. Classical economics, it turns out, is a pretty terrible predictor of how we actually behave.

Economists, anthropologists and evolutionary biologists have been teasing out how, used judiciously, spiteful behaviour can be one of our best weapons in maintaining a fair and ordered society. But intentions that are noble in one situation can be malicious in another - making spite a weapon that can all too easily backfire.

Human spite is something altogether subtler. Psychological motivations and social contexts influence our course of action. That requires a very special set of circumstances and skills, says Marc Hauser, a biologist at Harvard University. First, it needs a stable social grouping in which unrelated individuals interact regularly, and in which costs incurred retain relevance. What's more, you must also be able to spot when you're getting a raw deal, identify the guilty party, and be willing to do something about it.

That requires what Hauser has dubbed "floodlight" intelligence - the ability to see the big picture and combine many cognitive inputs over time. That, he suggests, might make both spite and reciprocity - the doing and returning of favours - uniquely human qualities.

If that's true, the floodlight is switched on at an early age. At a meeting of London's Royal Society in January, Hauser reported preliminary results from experiments in which children between 4 and 8 years old were offered varying numbers of sweets for themselves and another child unknown to them. They had to pull either a lever delivering the sweets, or another that tipped the sweets out of reach. Infants of all ages almost always rejected one sweet for themselves if the other child was set to receive more. The older children often also rejected sweets if they got more than the other child. Where that kind of concern about inequality disappears to is unclear, because we adults certainly don't have it.

What motivates this ignoble behaviour? A clue is provided by laboratory experiments known as public goods games. In a standard public goods game, each participant is given the same amount of money, some or all of which they can pay into a common pot. What's in the pot is then multiplied by the experimenters and divided equally between the players, so that even those who put in nothing get a share of its contents. The best outcome for all is if everyone puts their cash into the pot. But that does not naturally happen. In repeated rounds of the game, some individuals hold on to their own cash and hope to leech off other people.

Deterred by these freeloaders, the players who at first cooperate start to hold onto their cash. Cooperation breaks down entirely, and the whole group misses out on the bonus - society as a whole suffers. But allow participants to pay for the privilege of punishing defectors, and it is a very different game. Cooperative players eagerly part with still more of their cash to punish cheats - who soon learn that cooperation is the cheaper option (Nature, vol 415, p 137).

Simply, it seems that niceness needs nastiness. Our sense of fairness and our willingness to inflict damage on one another combine to encourage contributions to the common good and deter people from cheating. Researchers call this altruistic punishment.The benefits of this constructive spite might not be immediate, but they are real - in the long run, we all benefit more if we can ensure others in society toe the line.

Our brains are certainly wired to respond positively to this constructive form of spite. Although we might lose out financially, scans show that a region called the striatum, which responds to rewarding experiences, lights up during altruistic punishment (Science, vol 305, p 1254).

Altruistic punishment might bring an indirect benefit to us from society, and schadenfreude a direct benefit from a rival." But it also suggests that the line between the cooperative and competitive prompts for spiteful behaviour is blurry and subjective.

And there is evidence that, in some parts of the world, the rewards of spite can lead to counterproductive behaviour. Last year Karla Hoff, an economist at the World Bank, and her colleagues reported the results of experiments conducted in villages in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. In these tests, two players started out with 50 rupees each. The first could choose to give his to the second, in which case the experimenters added a further 100 rupees, giving the second player 200 rupees in total. The second player could decide to keep the money for himself, or share it equally with the first player. A third player then entered the game, who could punish the second player - for each 2 rupees he was willing to spend, the second player was docked 10 rupees.

The results were startling. Even when the second player shared the money fairly, two-thirds of the time the newcomer decided to punish him anyway - a spiteful act with seemingly no altruistic payoff. "We asked one guy why," says Hoff. "He said he thought it was fun."

The moral seems to be that, while spiteful behaviour can be a powerful force for keeping a society functioning smoothly, the structure of that society must be able to contain and channel those spiteful urges. "Social norms are a moral scaffold that keeps aggression and spite under control," says Herrmann. Societies that have strong laws tend to be those where individuals have a strong sense that they should treat strangers fairly - and are willing to punish cheats informally through gossip and ostracism. source

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