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"Never Use The Pool As A Toilet"

Thursday, June 18, 2009
From the New York Times:

"A swimming pool can offer relief from summer heat, but swimmers should know what they are jumping into. It could be a soup of nasty parasites.

Reports of gastrointestinal illness from use of public pools and water parks have risen sharply in recent years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The leading culprit is a microscopic organism that lives in human feces."

[. . .]

"'People should not swim or allow their children to swim when they have diarrhea, Ms. Hlavsa said. 'The water you swim in is shared with everyone,' she said. “So what one swimmer does has consequences for all the swimmers."

[. . .]

"In addition to not swimming while ill with diarrhea, health experts say people should shower before swimming and never use the pool as a toilet. Parents should wash young children before they enter the pool and take them on frequent bathroom breaks. Children in diapers require vigilant attention."

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Where're Bono and Angelina Jolie When You Really Need Them?

Monday, June 9, 2008
From the New York Times's Jeffrey Gettleman:

"Discrimination against albinos is a serious problem throughout sub-Saharan Africa, but recently in Tanzania it has taken a wicked twist: at least 19 albinos, including children, have been killed and mutilated in the past year, victims of what Tanzanian officials say is a growing criminal trade in albino body parts."

"[T]he killings go on. They have even spread to neighboring Kenya, where an albino woman was hacked to death in late May, with her eyes, tongue and breasts gouged out. Advocates for albinos have also said that witch doctors are selling albino skin in Congo."

"Police officials said the albino killings were worst in rural areas, where people tend to be less educated and more superstitious. They said that some fishermen even wove albino hairs in their nets because they believed they would catch more fish."

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Well, Do Cell Phones Cause Cancer of Not?

Sunday, June 8, 2008
From the New York Times:

"Last week, three prominent neurosurgeons told the CNN interviewer Larry King that they did not hold cellphones next to their ears. 'I think the safe practice,' said Dr. Keith Black, a surgeon at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, 'is to use an earpiece so you keep the microwave antenna away from your brain.'"

"Along with Senator Edward M. Kennedy's recent diagnosis of a glioma, a type of tumor that critics have long associated with cellphone use, the doctors' remarks have helped reignite a long-simmering debate about cellphones and cancer."

Some scary stuff here.

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Student Loans No Longer For Everyone

From the New York Times:

"Some of the nation's biggest banks have closed their doors to students at community colleges, for-profit universities and other less competitive institutions, even as they continue to extend federally backed loans to students at the nation's top universities."

"The practice suggests that if the credit crisis and the ensuing turmoil in the student loan business persist, some of the nation's neediest students will be hurt the most. The difficulty borrowing may deter them from attending school or prompt them to take a semester off. When they get student loans, they will wind up with less attractive terms and may run a greater risk of default if they have to switch lenders in the middle of their college years."

"Some loan companies have exited the student loan business entirely, viewing it as unprofitable in the current environment. By splitting out community colleges and less-selective four-year institutions, some remaining lenders seem to be breaking the marketplace into tiers. Students attending elite, expensive, public and private four-year universities can expect loans to remain plentiful. The banks generally say these loans are bigger, more profitable and less risky, in part perhaps because the banks expect the universities' graduates to earn more."

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When Forgetfulness Equals Wisdom

Wednesday, May 21, 2008
From the New York Times:

"Some brains do deteriorate with age. Alzheimer’s disease, for example, strikes 13 percent of Americans 65 and older. But for most aging adults, the authors say, much of what occurs is a gradually widening focus of attention that makes it more difficult to latch onto just one fact, like a name or a telephone number. Although that can be frustrating, it is often useful."

"For example, in studies where subjects are asked to read passages that are interrupted with unexpected words or phrases, adults 60 and older work much more slowly than college students. Although the students plow through the texts at a consistent speed regardless of what the out-of-place words mean, older people slow down even more when the words are related to the topic at hand. That indicates that they are not just stumbling over the extra information, but are taking it in and processing it."

"Such tendencies can yield big advantages in the real world, where it is not always clear what information is important, or will become important. A seemingly irrelevant point or suggestion in a memo can take on new meaning if the original plan changes. Or extra details that stole your attention, like others’ yawning and fidgeting, may help you assess the speaker’s real impact."

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This Isn't Good

Friday, May 16, 2008
From the New York Times:

"Scientists do not quite know what to call them, they are so new. But folks in the damp coastal belt south of Houston have their own names (some of them printable) for the little invaders now seemingly everywhere: on the move underfoot; infesting woodlands, yards and gardens; nesting in electrical boxes and causing shorts; and even raising anxiety at Hobby Airport and the Johnson Space Center."

"The ant is a previously unknown variety with a staggering propensity to reproduce and no known enemies. The species, which bites but does not sting, was first identified here in 2002 by a Pearland exterminator, Tom Rasberry, who quickly lent his name to the find: the crazy rasberry ant."

"Variants of the species found in Colombia have been known to asphyxiate chickens and even attack cattle by swarming over their eyes, nasal passages and hooves, according to the Center for Urban and Structural Entomology at Texas A&M, which is conducting much of the research on the ants."


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You're Elitist! No, You're Elitist! Nuh-uh! Uh-huh!

Sunday, April 13, 2008
Don't you just love the fuss everyone seems to be making over the comments Barack Obama made in San Francisco? In case you've forgotten, in reference to the working class Reagan Democrats the Democratic presidential hopeful has been struggling to win over, Senator Obama said:
You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them. And it's not surprising, then, they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.
Ever since the Huffington Post first reported on Obama's characterization of working-class Pennsylvanians as "bitter," the blogosphere, radio, newspapers, and television have been buzzing with excitement. Hillary Clinton and her supporters, of course, have jumped at the opportunity to portray Obama as hopelessly disconnected from blue collar America and, consequently, a horrible choice for the Democratic nomination. Mr. Obama, facing a potentially campaign-destroying firestorm, chose to respond to the criticism by acknowledging that while his wording mightn't have been wisely-chosen, his statements were actually, as the New York Times's Katharine Q. Seelye and Jeff Zeleny put it, "an expression of populist sympathy for a displaced working class," as indeed they could be interpreted. Not surprisingly, the Huffington Post continues to overflow with commentary on Mr. Obama's sentiments, both critical and supportive. While the website's bloggers tend to agree with Erin Kotecki Vest's assertion that "Senator Barack Obama is DEAD ON when he talks about the bitterness of residents," the people commenting on postings continue to stir the argument about whether or not such comments could be construed as evidence of either Obama's inability to speak enough like a politician to inspire confidence in his candidacy or of the elitist views that will inevitably alienate the working backbone of America if he becomes president (italics in the original). And it goes on and on, ad nauseum.

What's so funny about the whole ordeal, of course, is that both Hillary Clinton and John McCain--two of the people least in touch with America's working class--have been licking their chops at the prospects of twisting Obama's words around to make him appear elitist. Because, you know, they get Larry the Cable Guy or something.

And it certainly doesn't help that Obama made his comments in a "closed" environment, a detail lending an air of secrecy to the proceedings and fueling the "well, we weren't supposed to hear it, so it must be bad!" crowd. Still, I'm not saying that Barak Obama is, in fact, in touch with the working class; in fact, I doubt any Washington politician really, truly understands what it is like to live under the poverty line in a nation with a failing economy -- at least not at any time in recent memory -- but it really seems like a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

Granted, we get to hear a load of platitudes in the wake of Obama's statement. For instance, Hillary reminds us, she "grew up in a church-going family, a family that believed in the importance of living out and expressing our faith," so she understands the people Barak Obama so clearly misunderstands. "The people of faith I know don't 'cling to' religion because they're bitter," Senator Clinton told supporters in Indianapolis yesterday, they "embrace faith not because they are materially poor, but because they are spiritually rich."

Then people cheer.

And more people get killed in Iraq. But who's paying attention?

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Frontotemporal Dementia Produces Great Art, Pain

Wednesday, April 9, 2008
From BoingBoing.net:

"In 1994, Dr. Adams became fascinated with the music of the composer Maurice Ravel, her husband recalled. At age 53, she painted 'Unravelling Bolero' a work that translated the famous musical score into visual form.

Unbeknown to her, Ravel also suffered from a brain disease whose symptoms were identical to those observed in Dr. Adams, said Dr. Bruce Miller, a neurologist and the director of the Memory and Aging Center at the University of California, San Francisco. Ravel composed 'Bolero' in 1928, when he was 53 and began showing signs of his illness with spelling errors in musical scores and letters..."
[Full Post]

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Alzheimer's Research Still Lagging

Monday, April 7, 2008
From the New York Times:

The new approach to dealing with Alzheimer's Disease:

"If Dad wants to polish off the duck sauce in a Chinese restaurant like it's a bowl of soup, why not? If Grandma wants to help out by washing the dishes but makes a mess of it, leave her to it and just rewash them later when she's not looking. Pull out old family pictures to give the patient something to talk about. Learn the art of fragmented, irrational conversation and follow the patient's lead instead of trying to control the dialogue.

Basically, just tango on. And hope somebody will do the same for you when your time comes. Unless the big breakthrough happens first."
[Full Story]

Harrowing.

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A Breath of Fresh Air. Seriously.

Sunday, April 6, 2008
From the New York Times:

"Once scoffed at as a luxury major, philosophy is being embraced at Rutgers and other universities by a new generation of college students who are drawing modern-day lessons from the age-old discipline as they try to make sense of their world, from the morality of the war in Iraq to the latest political scandal. The economic downturn has done little, if anything, to dampen this enthusiasm among students, who say that what they learn in class can translate into practical skills and careers. On many campuses, debate over modern issues like war and technology is emphasized over the study of classic ancient texts."

It's nice to read this. Really, really nice.

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Fewer Kids Admitted to Big-Name Universities

Wednesday, April 2, 2008
From the New York Times:

On gaining admission to elite colleges: "'I know why it matters so much, and I also don't understand why it matters so much,' said William M. Shain, dean of admissions and financial aid at Bowdoin. 'Where we went to college does not set us up for success or keep us away from it.''
[Full Story]

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On Obamarama

Tuesday, March 18, 2008
The New York Times's William Kristol argues "there's something creepy" about "Generation Obama":

"The more you learn about him, the more Obama seems to be a conventionally opportunistic politician, impressively smart and disciplined, who has put together a good political career and a terrific presidential campaign. But there's not much audacity of hope there. There's the calculation of ambition, and the construction of artifice, mixed in with a dash of deceit -- all covered over with the great conceit that this campaign, and this candidate, are different."
[Full article]

Last week, in an entry on Sobriquet Magazine's main blog, we posted the following editorial comments:

I am astonished by the overwhelming outpouring of support among my 18-35 year-old peers for Barack Obama's presidential candidacy. I should emphasize that I am not particularly concerned with the possibility that Mr. Obama will become the next president of the United States, as I am sure he will be about as effective a leader as any of the current candidates. What concerns me, however, is the blind acceptance with which so many young people seem to embrace Obama's message. Bearing a message of hope as consistently vague as it is enthusiastic, Obama seems to have channeled the spirit of Beatlemania as effectively as any politician. Now, messages of hope and progress have always drawn the enthusiasm of socially-concerned, altruistic idealists--as should be the case--but the unquestioning enthusiasm with which Obama's brand of political optimism has been accepted suggests that the widespread dissatisfaction many Americans feel towards the Bush-Cheney era has weakened the healthy skepticism with which we normally scrutinize political rhetoric to a point when unremarkable statements dressed in decidedly eloquent, powerful oratory are welcomed as both novel and genuinely profound. Again, I am not saying that Mr. Obama's upbeat message is anything but a positive thing, but I hesitate to dismiss his lack of political experience, his inconsistent legislative record, or his astonishing self-importance (three traits many candidates share) as irrelevant to an evaluation of his candidacy as so many people seem to do. Therein lies the problem: Mr. Obama is as glib, as charming, as eloquent as any politician ought to be but we've lost our skepticism as a nation. In our haste to usher out what many perceive as a shamefully bleak era in American history, we have suppressed our skeptical nature, the hallmark of critical thinking and that is the problem with Barak Obama's candidacy. He has channeled the zeitgeist of a dissatisfied nation into an infectiously electric frenzy and very few commentators seem comfortable questioning whether such a splenetic mass mentality is healthy. If Mr. Obama wins the Democratic nomination, I suspect we will see some of these issues raised in the media and I suspect they will be spun as part of a conservative agenda, but they are not meant to favor the John McCain ticket or even a Hillary Clinton-headed Democratic slate. What I fear is reactionary fervor, blind acceptance as the result of sheer disdain, and a moment in our history when we lose an opportunity to reflect upon the consequences of jumping on a jingoistic bandwagon in the wake of a horrible tragedy by simply jumping on another bandwagon after the first one crashes.

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