Archive for February, 2012

How Your Cat Is Making You Crazy

Friday, February 10th, 2012

– I might have laughed this one off except that I recalled posting something similar a few years ago so I went digging and found the earlier article here: 

“Textbooks today still make silly statements that schizophrenia has always been around, it’s about the same incidence all over the world, and it’s existed since time immemorial,” he says. “The epidemiology literature contradicts that completely.” In fact, he says, schizophrenia did not rise in prevalence until the latter half of the 18th century, when for the first time people in Paris and London started keeping cats as pets. The so-called cat craze began among “poets and left-wing avant-garde Greenwich Village types,” says Torrey, but the trend spread rapidly—and coinciding with that development, the incidence of schizophrenia soared.


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Jaroslav Flegr is no kook. And yet, for years, he suspected his mind had been taken over by parasites that had invaded his brain. So the prolific biologist took his science-fiction hunch into the lab. What he’s now discovering will startle you. Could tiny organisms carried by house cats be creeping into our brains, causing everything from car wrecks to schizophrenia? A biologist’s science- fiction hunch is gaining credence and shaping the emerging science of mind- controlling parasites.

NO ONE WOULD accuse Jaroslav Flegr of being a conformist. A self-described “sloppy dresser,” the 63-year-old Czech scientist has the contemplative air of someone habitually lost in thought, and his still-youthful, square-jawed face is framed by frizzy red hair that encircles his head like a ring of fire.

Certainly Flegr’s thinking is jarringly unconventional. Starting in the early 1990s, he began to suspect that a single-celled parasite in the protozoan family was subtly manipulating his personality, causing him to behave in strange, often self-destructive ways. And if it was messing with his mind, he reasoned, it was probably doing the same to others.

The parasite, which is excreted by cats in their feces, is called Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii or Toxofor short) and is the microbe that causes toxoplasmosis—the reason pregnant women are told to avoid cats’ litter boxes. Since the 1920s, doctors have recognized that a woman who becomes infected during pregnancy can transmit the disease to the fetus, in some cases resulting in severe brain damage or death. T. gondii is also a major threat to people with weakened immunity: in the early days of the AIDS epidemic, before good antiretroviral drugs were developed, it was to blame for the dementia that afflicted many patients at the disease’s end stage. Healthy children and adults, however, usually experience nothing worse than brief flu-like symptoms before quickly fighting off the protozoan, which thereafter lies dormant inside brain cells—or at least that’s the standard medical wisdom.

But if Flegr is right, the “latent” parasite may be quietly tweaking the connections between our neurons, changing our response to frightening situations, our trust in others, how outgoing we are, and even our preference for certain scents. And that’s not all. He also believes that the organism contributes to car crashes, suicides, and mental disorders such as schizophrenia. When you add up all the different ways it can harm us, says Flegr, “Toxoplasma might even kill as many people as malaria, or at least a million people a year.”

The perp

An evolutionary biologist at Charles University in Prague, Flegr has pursued this theory for decades in relative obscurity. Because he struggles with English and is not much of a conversationalist even in his native tongue, he rarely travels to scientific conferences. That “may be one of the reasons my theory is not better known,” he says. And, he believes, his views may invite deep-seated opposition. “There is strong psychological resistance to the possibility that human behavior can be influenced by some stupid parasite,” he says. “Nobody likes to feel like a puppet. Reviewers [of my scientific papers] may have been offended.” Another more obvious reason for resistance, of course, is that Flegr’s notions sound an awful lot like fringe science, right up there with UFO sightings and claims of dolphins telepathically communicating with humans.

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Hackers fail to extort $50,000 from Symantec, as pcAnywhere source code is published

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

Symantec has confirmed that a file made available on the internet for anyone to download, does contain the source code for an old version of its pcAnywhere product.

For a short while last month, before releasing a patch, Symantec advised customers to disable their pcAnywhere installations because of concern that hackers could exploit vulnerabilities.

In addition, the firm says that in January someone claiming to be the hacker responsible for the data theft tried to extort $50,000 from the firm in exchange for not releasing Symantec’s stolen source code.

– More..


the free and fairly elected representative of the people’s will…

Saturday, February 4th, 2012

I commented the other day on-line to some friends that “The stories that are coming out of Russia with respect to voter fraud perpetrated by Putin’s party are utterly blatant.

One of them responded with the quote from a book he’d read:

Until the late 1960s, political commentators regularly noted that the votes of [Texans] could be, and were, bought and sold like cattle futures; if one bribed acommunity’s patron, he could usually ensure 90-plus percent voter support for the appropriate candidate. In the 1941 Texas Senate race, Lyndon B. Johnson won 90 percent of the vote in […six…] counties by making a single telephone call to local boss George Parr, even though the same six counties had given 95 percent support to his opponent in the governor’s race the year before. Johnson returned to the Senate in 1948 by “winning” 99 percent of the vote in Parr’s home county, where voter turnout was a preposterous 99.6 percent.

– From American Nations, by Colin Woodard, pp 30, 31.

This make me particularly sad when I think that many of the 57,000 Americans that gave their lives fighting in the Vietnam War did so under LBJ’s leadership.   They were told that he was the free and fairly elected representative of the people’s will.  I wonder what they’d think now.


– research thanks to Alan T.


Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

“If you do not change your direction, you are likely  to end up where your are heading.” “Lao Tzu~~

US Census Bureau: 1/2 Americans Low-income or Poor

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

WASHINGTON (AP) — Squeezed by rising living costs, a record number of Americans — nearly 1 in 2 — have fallen into poverty or are scraping by on earnings that classify them as low income.The latest census data depict a middle class that’s shrinking as unemployment stays high and the government’s safety net frays. The new numbers follow years of stagnating wages for the middle class that have hurt millions of workers and families.

Mayors in 29 cities say more than 1 in 4 people needing emergency food assistance did not receive it. Many formerly middle-class Americans are dropping below the low-income threshold — roughly $45,000 for a family of four — because of pay cuts, a forced reduction of work hours or a spouse losing a job.

States in the South and West had the highest shares of low-income families, including Arizona, New Mexico and South Carolina, which have scaled back or eliminated aid programs for the needy. By raw numbers, such families were most numerous in California and Texas, each with more than 1 million.

About 97.3 million Americans fall into a low-income category, commonly defined as those earning between 100 and 199 percent of the poverty level, based on a new supplemental measure by the Census Bureau that is designed to provide a fuller picture of poverty. Together with the 49.1 million who fall below the poverty line and are counted as poor, they number 146.4 million, or 48 percent of the U.S. population. That’s up by 4 million from 2009, the earliest numbers for the newly developed poverty measure.

Even by traditional measures, many working families are hurting.

Following the recession that began in late 2007, the share of working families who are low income has risen for three straight years to 31.2 percent, or 10.2 million. That proportion is the highest in at least a decade, up from 27 percent in 2002, according to a new analysis by the Working Poor Families Project and the Population Reference Bureau, a nonprofit research group based in Washington.

Among low-income families, about one-third were considered poor while the remainder — 6.9 million — earned income just above the poverty line. Many states phase out eligibility for food stamps, Medicaid, tax credit and other government aid programs for low-income Americans as they approach 200 percent of the poverty level.

Paychecks for low-income families are shrinking. The inflation-adjusted average earnings for the bottom 20 percent of families have fallen from $16,788 in 1979 to just under $15,000, and earnings for the next 20 percent have remained flat at $37,000. In contrast, higher-income brackets had significant wage growth since 1979, with earnings for the top 5 percent of families climbing 64 percent to more than $313,000.

– More…

– Research thanks to John P.


a personal letter…

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

Sorry, Buddy, if I seem like I’ve been ignoring you.   The two-month trip to the U.S. was a major drop out for me with respect to keeping up with E-Mails.

I’ve just gone back and looked through the several E-Mails you’ve sent me over that time.   Drilling ANWAR, the Keystone Shale Oil Pipeline, the rising medical costs for G20 nations, some ragging on Obama and the collection of 50 amazing and concerning statistics to do with the U.S.  I also noted that you liked the fellow in New Mexico who is building energy sustainable homes.

It’s all interesting and debatable.   Most of it, however, I don’t think worth debating at the level presented.   Don’t misunderstand me, my friend.   That is not intended to be a rebuff to you nor is it me ragging on you.

I have several large-scale reactions to things like these issues now days.

First, I sincerely doubt that anything significant can be done about them.  And that leads me to question how much of the valuable life-time I have left I want to spend agonizing over them.

Debating them seems largely futile to me.  You and I are both intelligent, sincere and well-meaning with regard to these issues but we have not, over many years of discussing these issues, been able to agree on the causes and solutions to many of them.

If that’s true, then how likely is it that either of us could engage in debates with others and hope to sway many of them to our POV?

Most times, we (the royal ‘we’) end up talking to the already-converted who believe as we do.   That seems a particular waste of time to me.

I tend strongly to be a systems thinker and before I dig into the detail of a given issue, like say the Keystone Pipeline, I will back off and see if the issue makes more sense to regard from a higher meta level.   I think, as a systems thinker would, that this is very obviously the most penetrating and productive approach.  But I also find it very much a minority POV and thus valid and yet largely irrelevant at the same time.

The more I study the foibles of human thinking, the more I realize that we are very imperfect beings with regard to our abilities to seek truth without being swayed by our previously ensconced viewpoints.  I.e., we very largely see what we want to see and that most of us, when learning this, assume that it is a great truth that afflicts virtually everyone else – ourselves being excluded, of course.   I’m in this boat as well, I suspect.

We listen at the radio telescopes to a galaxy with 100 billion stars in which the latest research tells us that virtually every sun has planets.   Against this news, the Drake Equation has been begging the question for decades now as to why we haven’t heard from other civilizations out there.

I greatly fear that the very drives and imperatives that pool and collect when inanimate matter arises via evolution, complexity and the second law of thermodynamics into beings with intelligence and self awareness, that these self-same drives and imperatives are the factors that cause them to destroy themselves every time on the cusp of their technological adolescence.

All the greed and waste we see around us is nothing but, to me, the higher level expressions of those same biological imperatives that served all of world’s evolving creatures so well until one of them, us; Homo Sapiens, arose with such a powerful adaption (generalized intelligence) that it broke the balances of forces that had always held things in rough balance and let us dominate the biosphere unopposed.

Now, still living out those imperatives to go forth and propagate, we’ve filled the planet up and are threatening to bring the biosphere to wreck and ruin.

I don’t think humanity, as a collective, have the insight, intelligence or will to transcend this deeply inbred tendency.   And I doubt that the vast majority of species on planets of distant stars have had these in sufficient quantities either, or we’d probably have heard from them by now.

So, on a very personal level, I’m just thinking mostly these days about how I want to spend the rest of my time in a reasonably responsible way and enjoy the life I have left to me.  Sidewalk cafes, good books, ancient ruins and the sun on my shoulders all sounds good.

Cheers, my friend,


Bus boss gives his workers an $18m thank you

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

It was a heavy discussion, but Melbourne’s Grenda family had no trouble agreeing what they would do when they sold their bus business: hand out A$15 million ($18.2 million) in thank-you bonuses to staff.

Based on length of service, that means an average of A$8500 apiece, with some getting A$30,000 or so.

“You only get where you are by having very good people,” family head and business boss Ken Grenda, 79, said.

He told Melbourne Radio 3AW he sat down with sons Geoff and Scott to figure out what they would do when they sold the 67-year-old family business for A$400 million.

“We all had totally the same idea that we’d give something back to our people. So we examined a formula and we all agreed it should be done.”

Grenda Corporation staff were overwhelmed.

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