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Archive for August, 2009

Smoking still kills more men than women, because men started smoking substantial numbers of cigarettes long before women did. But, because so many men have now quit, male death rates from smoking are decreasing in many European countries where female death rates from smoking are still increasing. Taking men and women together, smoking causes about 0.7 million deaths per year in the 27 countries of the present European Union, including 0.3 million deaths per year before age 70 (more than one of five of all deaths before age 70). Those killed by tobacco before age 70 lose, on average, about 23 years of life (and those killed by tobacco at older ages lose, on average, about 8 years).

We are all for equality between the sexes, but this is not quite what we had in mind.

Sir Richard Peto, professor of medical statistics at the University of Oxford, UK, said “In Western Europe tobacco causes more premature deaths than anything else does, and among both men and women about a quarter of those who smoke throughout adult life will be killed by tobacco before they are old, unless they can manage to stop smoking.”

There are solutions which make quitting tobacco far easier than it once was. Eating a healthy diet can make cigarettes seem less appealing. If the nicotine cravings are too difficult to beat then invest in an e-cigarette so you can get your fix without the cancer.

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Leslie Bennetts writes in MSNBC (Chores for two: Why men don’t pitch in) explaining how she gets her husband to pitch in for household chores.

Yes, dear readers, it’s true: Maintaining some semblance of parity in your marriage requires you to deploy the same kinds of nasty tactics you swore you would never stoop to as a parent but nonetheless found yourself using the minute you actually had a kid. Bribery and punishment work; so do yelling and complaining. Threats are also effective, as long as everyone knows you mean business. With husbands, tender blandishments and nooky are particularly useful, as is the withholding of the aforementioned.

Dr. Helen takes the time to explain nicely why those actions are actually teaching her children all the wrong lessons:

No, ma’am, you are teaching your children that mommy is a nagging bitch and that you hold men in such contempt that you view them as children to do your bidding. You are teaching them that psychological warfare is the only way to get what you want. You overlook your husband’s strong points and what he brings to your family and see yourself, as you mention, as a heroine. Your narcissism is deafening and while you may think you are “striking a blow” for all womankind here, you are doing nothing more than teaching your children that manipulation and threats are the way to engage in a “loving” relationship.

Rachel Lucas whips out the clue-bat and administers a vicious beating, sarcasm style:

Another thing I’ll be sure never to do, from now on as I fully manifest my inner bitch-martyr, is to ever stop for one fucking MINUTE to think about how I am singlehandedly causing every young man who reads my articles to run screaming in terror the minute a girl utters the word “marriage” to him. I will not worry that my words do nothing but a disservice to other women, confirming ugly stereotypes and mens’ worst fears about taking on a wife. It’s not MY problem if men are too weak and immature to sign up for a life closely resembling a forced death march.

Moron Pundit clearly and effectively shows how Leslie Bennetts is wrong by simply placing the shoe on the other foot:

Yes, dear readers, it’s true: Maintaining some semblance of sexual activity in your marriage requires you to deploy the same kinds of nasty tactics you swore you would never stoop to as a parent but nonetheless found yourself using the minute you actually had a kid. Bribery and beating work; so do yelling and bullying. Threats are also effective, as long as everyone knows you mean business (a convenient ‘fall down the stairs’ always works). With wives, throwing things, pushing her around and body blows are particularly useful, as is telling her you only do it because you love her after the aforementioned.

Ace joins in on the action:

But as to the real, bigger point: As was said of Tom in Miller’s Crossing, “I’ve never met anyone who made being a son-of-a-bitch such a point of pride.”Feminism seems to be teaching women that narcissism, unpleasantness, selfishness, and hectoring, nagging, domineering, insufferable behavior are somehow virtues to be praised.

We would like to thank Leslie Bennetts for airing dirty personal laundry in public, so the rest of us can learn a valuable lesson about what not to do.

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If the members of the American medical establishment were to have a collective find-yourself-standing-naked-in-Times-Square-type nightmare, this might be it. They spend 30 years ridiculing Robert Atkins, author of the phenomenally-best-selling ”Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution” and ”Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution,” accusing the Manhattan doctor of quackery and fraud, only to discover that the unrepentant Atkins was right all along. Or maybe it’s this: they find that their very own dietary recommendations — eat less fat and more carbohydrates — are the cause of the rampaging epidemic of obesity in America. Or, just possibly this: they find out both of the above are true.

The worst part about the way other respected people in the medical community treated Dr. Atkins is in the way they acted contemptuously towards scientific principles.

In fact, when the American Medical Association released its scathing critique of Atkins’s diet in March 1973, it acknowledged that the diet probably worked, but expressed little interest in why.

The prevailing theory, that eating more carbohydrates and fewer fats was better for health, was itself a new and untested hypothesis at one point.

The alternative hypothesis also comes with an implication that is worth considering for a moment, because it’s a whopper, and it may indeed be an obstacle to its acceptance. If the alternative hypothesis is right — still a big ”if” — then it strongly suggests that the ongoing epidemic of obesity in America and elsewhere is not, as we are constantly told, due simply to a collective lack of will power and a failure to exercise. Rather it occurred, as Atkins has been saying (along with Barry Sears, author of ”The Zone’‘), because the public health authorities told us unwittingly, but with the best of intentions, to eat precisely those foods that would make us fat, and we did. We ate more fat-free carbohydrates, which, in turn, made us hungrier and then heavier. Put simply, if the alternative hypothesis is right, then a low-fat diet is not by definition a healthy diet. In practice, such a diet cannot help being high in carbohydrates, and that can lead to obesity, and perhaps even heart disease.

Given the spectacular failure of such low fat, high carb diets to cause people to lose weight and improve their health, the medical community should have been more open to other ideas. More importantly, Dr. Atkins’ hypothesis proved correct and was easily verified after only a few years on the market.

Here is how the nonsense got started:

It was Ancel Keys, paradoxically, who introduced the low-fat-is-good-health dogma in the 50’s with his theory that dietary fat raises cholesterol levels and gives you heart disease. Over the next two decades, however, the scientific evidence supporting this theory remained stubbornly ambiguous. The case was eventually settled not by new science but by politics. It began in January 1977, when a Senate committee led by George McGovern published its ”Dietary Goals for the United States,” advising that Americans significantly curb their fat intake to abate an epidemic of ”killer diseases” supposedly sweeping the country. It peaked in late 1984, when the National Institutes of Health officially recommended that all Americans over the age of 2 eat less fat. By that time, fat had become ”this greasy killer” in the memorable words of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, and the model American breakfast of eggs and bacon was well on its way to becoming a bowl of Special K with low-fat milk, a glass of orange juice and toast, hold the butter — a dubious feast of refined carbohydrates.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest advocates neither science nor anything in the public’s interest until today. We will cover that in a future post.

According to Katherine Flegal, an epidemiologist at the National Center for Health Statistics, the percentage of obese Americans stayed relatively constant through the 1960’s and 1970’s at 13 percent to 14 percent and then shot up by 8 percentage points in the 1980’s. By the end of that decade, nearly one in four Americans was obese. That steep rise, which is consistent through all segments of American society and which continued unabated through the 1990’s, is the singular feature of the epidemic. Any theory that tries to explain obesity in America has to account for that.

Some scientists blame fast food, sedentary lives, and genes designed to store food as fat for the obesity epidemic.

This theory makes perfect sense and plays to our puritanical prejudice that fat, fast food and television are innately damaging to our humanity. But there are two catches. First, to buy this logic is to accept that the copious negative reinforcement that accompanies obesity — both socially and physically — is easily overcome by the constant bombardment of food advertising and the lure of a supersize bargain meal. And second, as Flegal points out, little data exist to support any of this. Certainly none of it explains what changed so significantly to start the epidemic. Fast-food consumption, for example, continued to grow steadily through the 70’s and 80’s, but it did not take a sudden leap, as obesity did.

Examining genetics reveals an important clue to the truth:

It is also undeniable, note students of Endocrinology 101, that mankind never evolved to eat a diet high in starches or sugars. ”Grain products and concentrated sugars were essentially absent from human nutrition until the invention of agriculture,” Ludwig says, ”which was only 10,000 years ago.” This is discussed frequently in the anthropology texts but is mostly absent from the obesity literature, with the prominent exception of the low-carbohydrate-diet books.

As our regular readers are aware, smart people easily support stupid ideas, all the more so if the new idea on the scene challenges their preconceived conception of what’s right.

The glycemic-index concept and the idea that starches can be absorbed into the blood even faster than sugar emerged in the late 70’s, but again had no influence on public health recommendations, because of the attendant controversies. To wit: if you bought the glycemic-index concept, then you had to accept that the starches we were supposed to be eating 6 to 11 times a day were, once swallowed, physiologically indistinguishable from sugars. This made them seem considerably less than wholesome. Rather than accept this possibility, the policy makers simply allowed sugar and corn syrup to elude the vilification that befell dietary fat. After all, they are fat-free.

David Ludwig, M.D., Ph.D., the Harvard endocrinologist, runs a pediatric obesity clinic.

He does not recommend the Atkins diet because he says he believes such a very low carbohydrate approach is unnecessarily restrictive; instead, he tells his patients to effectively replace refined carbohydrates and starches with vegetables, legumes and fruit. This makes a low-glycemic-index diet consistent with dietary common sense, albeit in a higher-fat kind of way. His clinic now has a nine-month waiting list.

Note the common themes prevailing here which are evident in other areas, and which will continue to pop up again and again:

  • Government stepping in with ambiguous evidence in an effort to provide a solution to a problem which may not exist. Government bureaucracy increases to handle this new “problem”, which requires increasing tax revenue.
  • Smart, very educated people unable to see past the end of their noses, even when doing so means accepting common sense.
  • The “experts” offer all sorts of advice which revolve around the idea that John Smith, typical citizen, cannot be held responsible for his actions. For example, “it’s not your lack of self control that’s making you fat, just blame the fast food industry for making food too cheap and delicious”.

Replacing individual responsibility with reliance on government is something which has been going on this country for several decades, and is coming to a head over the recent universal government healthcare bill. The only cure is for citizens to pay attention and to remain ever vigilant against encroaching tyranny.

Many experts do not see cradle to grave reliance on government as a flaw, but as a desirable goal. They truly believe that the average American is a moron unable to handle serious decisions, perhaps slightly smarter than cabbage. It is that brand of “we know what’s best for you” elitism which may bear the greatest responsibility for the obesity epidemic.

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Two of our favorite people, Dr. Helen and Barbara Oakley (of Evil Genes fame) discuss the politicization of the American Psychological Association in this video Diagnosis Liberal: Most Psychologists Suffer From Acute Liberal Derangement Syndrome from PJTV.

Many people do not trust psychologists and with good reason. They exclude half of the population or more due to their leftist politics.

Barbara Oakley, Ph.D., P.E.,  was previously featured in an earlier post, Kiss My APA!

Is the APA a non-partisan 501(c)(3) or an organization of partisan hacks? Listen to the show and decide for yourself.

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Be A Savvy Daddy

We recommend checking out Savvy Daddy, a great parenting resource geared towards fathers. We aren’t knocking the mommyblogger revolution, but sometimes a dad needs more tailored advice.

The site has a “survival guide” and “conversations” on such topics as how to talk with your daughter about her period, how to decide on the whole spanking thing, and how old is too old to let your kids see you naked.

They have a good set of core values.

There is no one right way to be a savvy daddy because every kid is different (and there’s no such thing as one “right” way). In fact, we may learn the most from dads we don’t agree with. Our goal at savvy daddy is not agreement or consensus or convincing you that our way is better (because it’s not!). Rather, our goal is to unleash thoughtful, intentional, and savvy daddying. However, we do hold to a set of core values that guides our approach:

  1. Character matters – We believe generosity, respect, and integrity are important so that our kids can grow up into responsible, productive, and happy contributors to the world.
  2. Enjoy it! – Part of being a great dad is sincerely enjoying it! We believe in delighting in our kids for who they are today, not just who they may become tomorrow.
  3. Every kid is unique – We believe every child is unique in his/her passions, gifts, talents, and personality, and it’s our job as dads to help them reach their full potential.
  4. Have fun! – Being a dad is fun because kids are fun! Admit it – your inner child is just looking for an excuse to get out!
  5. Better caught than taught – We believe that the best lessons we teach our kids are through our example, not our words.
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    Is “C-V Distance” The New Phrenology?

    Phrenology is pseudo-scientific (a.k.a. baloney) theory which claims to be able to determine personality traits based on skull shape.

    Kim Wallen, professor of psychology and behavioral neuroendocrinology at Emory University has proposed the idea that the clitoral-vaginal distance can be a physiological indication of a woman’s ability to experience a vaginal orgasm.

    In fact, there’s even an easy “rule of thumb,” Wallen says: Clitoris-vagina distances less than 2.5 cm — that’s roughly from the tip of your thumb to your first knuckle — tend to yield reliable orgasms during sex. More than a thumb’s length? Regular intercourse alone typically might not do the trick.

    Princess Marie Bonaparte, a psychoanalyst, studied this phenomena in the 1920’s, and gathered c-v and orgasm data.

    Recently, Wallen dug up Bonaparte’s measurements and analyzed them with modern statistical techniques. Sure enough, he found a striking correlation. Now he is hoping to do his own measurement study.

    As of now it remains plausible, but uncertain. We will withhold judgment until a modern scientific study is done. Some data has been gathered to indicate how widespread the problem may be.

    Preliminary work has revealed that only about 7% of women always have orgasms with sex alone, he says, while 27% say they never do.

    Dr. Wallen also preaches positivity:

    “Personally, I don’t think the inability to experience no-hands, penis-only intercourse with orgasm says anything about a happy sex life,” he says. “Maybe it could allow couples to be a bit more inventive in how they have sex.”

    Dr. Wallen is the author of Reproduction in Context: Social and Environmental Influences on Reproduction, which examines reproductive behaviors in animals ranging from turtles and lizards to humans and nonhuman primates from the perspectives of ethology, endocrinology, behavioral genetics, and evolutionary ecology.

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    Comments Are Now Open

    In light of the last post being our 100th, and our growing readership, we have decided to give the comments system a trial run.

    • You must be logged in to comment.
    • Comments must be approved before they appear.
    • Comments automatically close on posts after a week.

    We hope fostering discussion will help create a more dynamic and interesting experience for our readers.

    ~ The 3 Monkeys

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    Face It, You’re Being Judged

    An interesting new study investigated how women determine attractiveness in male faces.

    “We have found that women evaluate facial attractiveness on two levels — a sexual level, based on specific facial features like the jawbone, cheekbone and lips, and a nonsexual level based on overall aesthetics,” said Robert G. Franklin, graduate student in psychology working with Reginald Adams, assistant professor of psychology and neurology, Penn State. “At the most basic sexual level, attractiveness represents a quality that should increase reproductive potential, like fertility or health.”

    The study asked women to rate the attractiveness of male and female faces in two categories – as dates and lab partners. First a baseline was established by one group. A second group of women where then asked to perform the same evaluation on the same facial images, but the some of the images were split horizontally.

    By dividing the faces in half and disrupting the test subjects’ total facial processing, the researchers believed that women would rely more on specific facial features to determine attractiveness. They thought that this sexual route would come into play particularly when the participants saw faces that were suited as hypothetical dates rather than lab partners. The study showed exactly that.

    The participating women were heterosexual, so the second group’s non-sexual evaluation of a split image featuring a female face closely matched the evaluation of the first group. The second group’s split face choices for date worthy males closely correlated with the first group as well.

    The bottom line is that, at a statistically significant level, splitting the faces in half made the women rely on a purely sexual strategy of processing male faces. The study verifies that these two ways of assessing facial appeal exist and can be separated for women.

    Attractiveness has a component that is independent of culture & society.

    Researchers have long known that women’s biological routes of sexual attraction derive from an instinctive reproductive desire, relying on estrogen and related hormones to regulate them. The overall aesthetic approach is a less reward-based function, driven by progesterone.

    How this complex network of hormones interacts and is channeled through the conscious brain and the human culture that shapes it is a mystery.

    Men, don’t forget to look your best when you leave the house because you are always being judged and evaluated by women, like a piece of meat at the butcher shop.

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    The Center for Disease Control released new data for 2007 (based on 90% of all USA death certificiates) showing that mortality rates dropped again (by over 2%) to 760/100,000 population. It’s been dropping for the past 8 years, and viewed longer term is half of what it was 60 years ago. Interestingly death rates from heart disease dropped a staggering 5% and even cancer dropped 2%.

    We consider that factual information to be good news, yet we are faced with a contradiction here because America is fatter than ever.

    We are told to be prepared for an epidemic of diabetes, high blood pressure, elevated blood lipids because of this. Every doc has seen blood sugar drop, blood pressure lowered, lipids come down in people with any/all of the above when they are able to lose a significant amount of weight.

    However, the theory which says America should be suffering health problems and increased mortality because of increased obesity is quite wrong.

    So why are death rates dropping and people living longer? Something must be wrong with the model — it’s pretty hard to quarrel with the data as being inadequate. Certainly the increased incidence of obesity should have produced something by this time (it started 30 years ago).

    It is an interesting question, and a few ideas are proposed. This is not an exhaustive list by any means.

    • People may be in engaging in more/ higher quality exercise.
    • Fewer people are regular smokers.
    • Better, more well informed doctors.
    • Better drugs on the market.

    We are not the only ones to notice the bogus nature of the BMI, and some other people have proposed alternatives based on the fact that a group of people of equal height and weight can have very different mortality rates.

    Also, when taking into account people who are skinny because they smoke a lot, there is still no indication that being overweight increases mortality.

    Linking, for the first time, causes of death to specific weights, they report that overweight people have a lower death rate because they are much less likely to die from a grab bag of diseases that includes Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, infections and lung disease. And that lower risk is not counteracted by increased risks of dying from any other disease, including cancer, diabetes or heart disease.

    The BMI is bogus. It bears repeating again and again because we still live in a system which judges your health, and thereby your insurance premiums based on this nonsense. Private insurance companies can be mandated to change this by Congress but the CDC and others enjoy the convenience provided by simply using national BMI data.

    If the government is using statistically invalid data to judge the health of Americans, can we trust them with actually running the healthcare system? Why should we trust a proposed system of hugely increased cost and responsibilities by officials who can’t bother getting the basic things right?

    Many public officials have been holding town hall meetings recently to try and sell the proposed healthcare legislation to the public. Take a few moments and read this compilation of important questions which need to be answered by the President and Congress before any healthcare reform bill gets voted into law.

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    Carl Zimmer has a new brief article up discussing an interesting point which was raised during his research for On The Origin Of Eukaryotes.

    No living eukaryote, whether animal, plant, fungus, or protozoan, has completely lost its mitochondria since that symbiotic milestone some 2 billion years ago. It wasn’t the only time that two species merged, however. Plants, for example, descend from algae that engulfed a species of photosynthesizing bacteria. Many protozoans have swallowed up photosynthetic partners as well.

    Absorbing an external organism through a cellular membrane and safely enclosing it in a bubble takes complex molecular machinery. One theory is that such a system evolved in eukaryotes, not prokaryotes, which gave them an advantage in integrating mitochondria.

    But today, there’s a provocative new alternative to consider. Maybe a lot of today’s prokaryotes are also the result of an ancient merger. The idea comes from James Lake of the University of California, Los Angeles, a veteran researcher on the early history of life. In my essay, I describe how Lake first proposed in the early 1980s that the host cell that gave rise to eukaryotes belonged to a lineage of prokaryotes he dubbed eocytes. Now, a quarter of a century later, new studies on genomes are strongly supporting his eocyte hypothesis.

    It is still not clear how prokaryotes handled fusion, but there is evidence that it happened. The double membrane of gram negative bacteria seem to be one indication of a bacteria swallowing another at some point in the ancient past.

    It will be interesting to see if Lake’s new hypothesis fares as well as his eocyte hypothesis is doing. If he’s right, this symbiosis had an impact on the history of life on par with the origin of eukaryotes. Gram-negative bacteria were the first photosynthesizers, for example, and were then swallowed up by the ancestors of plants. And the same lineage also gave rise to the bacteria that became our own mitochondria. Our cells, in other words, are not just microbes within microbes; they are microbes within microbes within microbes: a true Russian doll of evolution.

    Carl Zimmer is the author of Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea and Parasite Rex : Inside the Bizarre World of Nature’s Most Dangerous Creatures among others. We highly recommend these books.

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    Offensive Defense

    The world of insects can get pretty strange when it comes to the various exotic ways of survival and procreation for these tiny terrorists. For example, Aphidius ervi, a wasp, injects its eggs directly into aphids. When the eggs hatch, the larvae eat the aphid from the inside out.

    Acyrthosiphon pisum, the pea aphid, has an unusual defense mechanism against this attack. Some aphids are infected with the Hamiltonella defensa bacteria and with the APSE (A.pisum secondary endosymbiont) virus at the same time. When combined, both micro-organisms work together in the aphid to produce a toxic protein which kills the wasp larvae over 90% of the time.

    Unfortunately for the pea aphid, the virus frequently disappears from the scene outside lab conditions, leaving the aphid vulnerable.

    In lab conditions, the alliance between bacterium and virus is a very stable one, but in the wild, H.defensa has a bad habit of spontaneously losing its all-important phage lodger. Even within a single aphid, only some bacteria have viral genes integrated into their own. No one knows why the virus should disappear so frequently. Perhaps it’s not an entirely welcome tenant and its presence carries some sort of cost that occasionally outweighs its benefits. Perhaps only phage-free H.defensa can be passed on from aphid to aphid.

    The bacteria is essentially useless for defense without the virus.

    Faced with an enemy that threatens them all, the virus, the bacterium and the aphid have formed an evolutionary alliance, with infection as its foundation.

    Bacteriophages currently play an important role for studying genetics in the laboratory. Their ability to infect bacteria may allow them to play a future role in defeating multi drug resistant strains of disease causing bacteria.

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    So… Why Sleep?

    Jerome Siegel, UCLA professor of psychiatry and director of the Center for Sleep Research at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA and the Sepulveda Veterans Affairs Medical Center is one scientist who is delving into the reasons behind our need for sleep.

    It was thought that sleep has to provide a neurological benefit which cannot be attained during an awake state because sleep puts an animal in a vulnerable state, and prevents other functions from being carried out, such as a searching for food. Different species have varying requirements as far as sleep duration and patterns. Migrating birds can be awake for days at a time, whereas bears go into hibernation in the winter.

    Siegel’s lab conducted a new survey of the sleep times of a broad range of animals, examining everything from the platypus and the walrus to the echidna, a small, burrowing, egg-laying mammal covered in spines. The researchers concluded that sleep itself is highly adaptive, much like the inactive states seen in a wide range of species, starting with plants and simple microorganisms; these species have dormant states — as opposed to sleep — even though in many cases they do not have nervous systems. That challenges the idea that sleep is for the brain, said Siegel.

    Animals, including humans, have a selective system which can shift from a sleeping state to an awake state in milliseconds if the right stimulus occurs. The answer then has to do with metabolism and energy conservation.

    In humans, the brain constitutes, on average, just 2 percent of total body weight but consumes 20 percent of the energy used during quiet waking, so these savings have considerable adaptive significance. Besides conserving energy, sleep invokes survival benefits for humans too — “for example,” said Siegel, “a reduced risk of injury, reduced resource consumption and, from an evolutionary standpoint, reduced risk of detection by predators.”

    “This Darwinian perspective can explain age-related changes in human sleep patterns as well,” he said. “We sleep more deeply when we are young, because we have a high metabolic rate that is greatly reduced during sleep, but also because there are people to protect us. Our sleep patterns change when we are older, though, because that metabolic rate reduces and we are now the ones doing the alerting and protecting from dangers.”

    It is an interesting hypothesis, but it still remains to be seen if it is in fact correct. If you are interested in this subject and would like a more in depth analysis, we recommend reading The Neural Control of Sleep and Waking.

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    Matt Holzmann explains in The Banality of Evil how the president and congressional leadership have lowered the mask and reveal that the various healthcare reform bills being circulated have nothing to do with fixing the healthcare system in the United States at all.

    Somewhere far removed,  bureaucrats make life and death decisions based on the numbers. With all of its faults, our current system values life much more highly. One of the chief theoreticians they seem to be listening to, Dr. Ezekiel Emmanuel, the White House Chief of Staff’s brother, has openly discussed the “life value” of infants and the elderly, noting that a child is not really self aware until the age of two. This is a very, very dangerous discussion.

    There are those who see governmental control over healthcare as a positive thing. Perhaps they are selfish and view a situation in which someone else is paying for their healthcare as worth supporting. It is also possible that some people view the need for universal coverage as a strong moral cause well worth championing.

    One of the fundamental virtues Americans have always held is the value of life. Whether it is in the care for sick infants or the billions spent on AIDS research or the heroic measures in the operating room on an inner city gunshot victim, or on the battlefield where our troops are indoctrinated with “no man left behind”, or our fundamental obligation under Medicare for the care of our elders,  we have almost always managed to do the right thing. We make herculean efforts to do so. There is a preferential option for the weak in our culture that we must never lose that is based upon our humanity and our faith.

    Unfortunately, supporters of universal government healthcare are quite wrong. The ideal of universal coverage is quickly lost in the harsh reality of finite budgets.

    The laws of our country governing commerce are made by a group of individuals who have never run a business, never met a payroll, have trouble with taxes and who consider major ethical violations to be unworthy of serious inquiry – and that is aside from the mysterious way in which they leave office as multi-millionares on a government salary. (Someone should write a book or something.) Thus far, they have managed to worsen the economy and lower their value in the eyes of the public to record depths.

    Putting that motley crew in charge of the healthcare decisions of millions of Americans would be far worse than doing absolutely nothing. It is not as though critics have failed to offer concrete solutions which can fix our system. The fault, it seems, is that the solutions would give government less control and if a system cannot be taken advantage of to create jobs for cronies or for graft it hardly seems likely to get made into law.

    The most damning argument is one of principle. The United Stated was founded on principle of liberty and in opposition to tyranny. We should keep those principles in mind in an important discussion of this magnitude.

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    Can Exercise Make You Fatter?

    Consider this an exercise on the laws of unintended consequences.

    Vigorous physical activity for at least 45 minutes will strengthen a person’s cardiovascular system and burn calories. It will also make that person hungry. When combined with the general tendency to overestimate calories burned during exercise and to underestimate calories in food defeat is all but guaranteed.

    For example, burning 300 calories during an hour’s worth of exercising and eating a delicious 600 calorie muffin as a post workout reward is a net gain. On an average day in which a person exercises more, they eat more.

    Weight training builds muscle, and a pound of muscle consumes more calories than a pound of fat but not enough to make much of a difference.

    According to calculations published in the journal Obesity Research by a Columbia University team in 2001, a pound of muscle burns approximately six calories a day in a resting body, compared with the two calories that a pound of fat burns. Which means that after you work out hard enough to convert, say, 10 lb. of fat to muscle — a major achievement — you would be able to eat only an extra 40 calories per day, about the amount in a teaspoon of butter, before beginning to gain weight.

    The human body is an exquisitely regulated machine which has certain homeostatic goals in mind and works ruthlessly to achieve them. To truly win this war an individual needs to fight against themselves and it is very difficult to do so.

    Arm yourself with data about how many calories are really being burned for various types of workout  routines and durations. Know the approximate caloric count of your favorite snack foods, like those sugar free muffins at the local bakery.

    Plan ahead and be aware of your body’s inclinations. If you are going to be hungry after an energetic workout be sure and have a low calorie and healthy snack immediately available. For a post exercise meal, choose your dining partners carefully.

    Good luck.

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    That Magic Slumber Number

    Scientists have been saying for years that 8 hours is the magic number needed for a good night’s rest. Most working Americans get less and it has a detrimental effect on health.

    Ying-Hui Fu, Ph.D at the University of California, San Francisco along with a team of scientists* found a mother and daughter with a mutated gene (DEC2) which is somehow responsible for their ability to thrive on only 6 hours of sleep.

    Scientists are still trying to unravel the mysteries of sleep.

    Sleep remains a relatively inscrutable biological phenomenon. Scientists know that it is regulated in large part by two processes: 1) circadian rhythms—genetic, biochemical and physiological mechanisms that wax and wane during a 24 hour period to regulate the timing of sleep, 2) and homeostasis – unknown mechanisms that ensure that the body acquires over time the necessary amount of sleep, nudging it toward sleep when it has been deprived, prompting it out of sleep when it has received enough.

    Genetically engineered mice who carried the mutated gene not only were getting less sleep in general, but also had a faster recovery time after a period of sleep deprivation.

    The specific function of DEC2 remains elusive.

    DEC2 could be involved in modulating “sleep quantity” alone, or it could be mediating both “sleep quantity” and “wakefulness-behavioral drive,” according to Fu. The latter drive, she says, is critical for the procurement of food, shelter, and mates and could be more potent in individuals with this mutation.

    *Co-authors of the study are Christopher R. Jones, MD, at the University of Utah; Nobuhiro Fujiki, PhD, and Seiji Nishino, PhD, both of Stanford University; Ying Xu, PhD, and Jimmy Holder, MD, PhD, both at the time of the study in the Fu lab; Bin Guo, PhD, of the University of California, Berkeley; and Moritz J. Rossner, PhD, of the Max-Planck-Institute of Experimental Medicine.

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