Saturday, February 9, 2002 to  Thursday, February 14, 2002
F r i d a y ,  F e b r u a r y  1 5,  2 0 0 2
M o n d a y ,  F e b r u a r y  1 8,  2 0 0 2
Tuesday, February 19, 2002 to Sunday, February 24, 2002

You Snooze (too much), You Lose?
Friday, February 15, 2002

Excerpts from article describing why seven hours of sleep may be well-advised ...

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... people who reported sleeping more than eight hours a night have a 15 percent greater chance of dying, for any reason, than people who sleep seven hours a night. The same holds true for those who slept less than four or five hours, found researchers from the University of California, San Diego, and the American Cancer Society.

New research finds an association
between the duration of sleep and
the length of a person's life

... even if further research confirms that short or long sleepers have higher mortality rates, experts say they will still stress the importance of a good night's sleep, because living longer does not necessarily mean living better.

... 'Sleeping your life away' could be more than a saying. Excessive sleeping may increase your risk of an early death by up to 15%. So hints a new analysis of data collected on one million people by the American Cancer Society. The figures cast doubt on the reputed benefits of eight hours' sleep a night.

People with the longest lives get only seven hours of sleep each night, find psychiatrists at the University of California, San Diego. Why seven is the magic number is not clear. And sleeping more appears to be riskier than sleeping less. On the short side, increased mortality kicks in only when you get below four hours.

This unprecedented peek into the habits of so many people claims to be the first to determine the relationship between sleep and mortality, while controlling for other factors such as weight, smoking and exercise.

Currently, the average American gets about six-and-a-half hours sleep, much lower than the standard recommendation of eight hours. The new analysis suggests that patients may seek treatments unnecessarily in attempts to attain the eight-hour target. ...

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Parrot Intelligence
Friday, February 15, 2002

(sample grey parrot - not a
picture of Griffin)

Excerpts from article describing evidence that language and intelligence are more widespread and complex in the animal kingdom than previously thought:

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Meet Griffin, the grey parrot, whose astonishing vocal and physical skills are demonstrating just how smart the avian world really is.

Griffin has recently begun to play with objects and speaks English in a way that raises fascinating questions about the thought processes going on inside a bird's brain.

The parrot will stack different-sized bottle caps in the right order, for example. He will also mix up the English words he has learned, and will say simple phrases, like "wanna green nut".

This type of behaviour was once thought to be exclusive to humans, great apes, and monkeys. Griffin suggests Parrots should be added to the list. ...

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Humans Will 'Sail to the Stars'
Saturday, February 16, 2002

Excerpts from article describing the manner in which humans may, some day, be able to travel to distant locales ...

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Scientists have presented new ideas for the future exploration of planets that circle far-away stars. Unlike today's relatively small space vehicles such as the shuttle, the cosmic craft of tomorrow will have to be the size of small cities and be constructed in orbit.

... the 200 or so volunteers who went on a mission would have to realise that they were taking up a one-way ticket and would most probably never live to see the ship's final destination.

... transporting large numbers of people across the galaxy would require vast vessels driven by gigantic sails, blown across deep space by intense bursts from a giant laser.

New propulsion systems are
needed to go to the stars

... An interstellar ship would be like an ark, carrying everything the colonists might need, including greenhouses for growing food and sophisticated manufacturing facilities.

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Triumph of America Made Flesh - Britney Spears, A to Z
Sunday, February 17, 2002

Excerpts from article describing the way in which Britney personifies America ...

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She makes Madonna look matronly. She's global capitalism in a micro-mini. She's junk food. Britney is the triumph of America made flesh - one more time

Soon after I started to investigate Britney Spears, I got the feeling that I was outnumbered by her. At the age of 20, she has exponentiated. She long ago established herself, according to the accountants, as 'the bestselling female artist during any one-week period in music history'.

... She has become a collective fantasy, whose image inflames cyberspace. Search engines spend much of their time servicing requests for 'Britney naked'. One internet site compounds 1,001 other Britney sites, each of which opens into labyrinthine photo-galleries and encyclopaedic libraries of tittle-tattle.

... Wherever you look, she is there - inside my head, and also lurking, as I discovered, in every letter of the alphabet.

A is for America, which Britney nubilely, precociously, go-gettingly embodies. The country is a permanent adolescent like her; she enacts its brash, mercenary dreams and its constitutional guarantee that everyone's wishes will come true. 'Go for what you want,' her mother told her when entering her in television talent quests at the age of nine.

... B is for Brittany, which is perhaps what her parents - back in those benighted days before we had SpellCheck to help us - named her after. To her family, she is known as Brit-Brit.

... C is for Cola, Pepsi to be precise, which paid Britney £63,000 per second to jive and jiggle through the commercial breaks on this year's Superbowl telecast. The show concluded with her performance of an anthem entitled 'The Joy of Pepsi'.

... D is for Dolls, which Britney collects and also merchandises. ... You can buy your own Britney, position her plastic limbs at will or have her do striptease routines.

... E is for Evil, which Britney incarnated at the age of 11 when cast as a diabolical infant in a Broadway play based on the horror film, The Bad Seed. She shrieked, hollered and rampaged through the theatre in a fit of devilish ecstasy.

... F is for Fan Base. Those battalions of randy teens are intrepid.

... G is for Geek and Goob, which Britney sometimes calls herself.

... H is for Horse. Britney does not ride, but could once be seen - thanks to some digitally manipulated pixels - enjoying equine sex in a remote corner of the internet. Is it for this that Al Gore invented the information highway?

... I is for Implants, euphemised by Britney as ''that whole boob thing''. She denies having been pumped full of silicone, and says: 'I just grew.'

... J is for Justin Timberlake from the boy band *Nsync, who is Britney's sweetheart.

... K is for Kinesiology, in which Britney's brother, Bryan (as I said, it's an alliterative household) majored at college. Don't ask me for details of the curriculum. Maybe it involves the study of Britney's piston-pumping, arm-flailing dance routines.

... L is for Lolita and Lubrication, which go together. Britney defines herself as a nymphet in Crossroads: 'I'm not a girl but I'm not yet a woman,' she caterwauls. Though she has sternly said: 'I don't want to be part of someone's Lolita thing', one of her handlers must have studied Nabokov's novel.

... M is for Moroccan vibe, which is how Britney describes the decorative style of her Los Angeles pad.

... N is for Na-Na-Na-Na-Na, the first line of a song in Crossroads.

... O is for Octaves, of which Britney possesses four.

... P is for Prayer, in which Britney places a reverent trust. A sign in her Louisiana neighbourhood benignly advises: 'Drive Carefully, Live Prayerfully.' Every night before she sleeps, she does what she calls 'my devotional'. God pays particular attention to Britney's murmured nocturnal requests, and, like an obliging aerial DJ hosting a phone-in programme, immediately answers them.

'I would pray "I hope my song plays on a certain radio station that's really big", and it would happen. Then, "I hope they play the video on MTV", and they did.' Our Father once reached down from heaven to grab Britney's leg and pull a muscle in it during a dance routine: 'I think it was Him giving me a sign that I needed a break. I thank Him for it.'

... So far, Britney has not mimicked Madonna by masturbating with a crucifix, but if she did she would probably have divine approval. Can God be a dirty old man?

... Q is for Quotations, inspirational slogans copied by Britney into her Prayer Journal. This chronicles her 'spiritual journey', the celestial equivalent of the more carnal car trip in Crossroads, which leads from Louisiana to California where Britney at last surrenders her expensive virginity.

... R is for the Republican Party, which dotes on Britney. During the election campaign in 2000, a Bush aide called her 'one of our greatest assets'.

... It's this merchandising operation, swollen by deals with Sunglass Hut and Tommy Hilfiger as well as Pepsi, that the Republicans admire. Britney sometimes refers to 'my package'. By this, she does not mean the straining tops and jutting bottoms she wears but to her product profile, her demographic reach and her market penetration. Britney is global capitalism in a micro-mini.

S is for Satisfaction. ... Britney often tells her adolescent constituents to be proud of their sexuality, though she then confusingly adds that they should not have sex before marriage.

... T is for Totally, Britney's favourite adverb.

... Asked whether she and Justin understood each other, she cooed: 'We totally do.' And, with a grateful glance at the sky, she once asserted: 'I am totally blessed.'

... U is for Umbilical Piercing. A diamond stud twinkles in Britney's navel (and, while we're taking physiological inventory, she also has a daisy tattooed on her toe). Her tummy bud is an innie, not an outie, so the incision was excruciating. 'I guess I don't have a good flap,' she said afterwards. 'You're supposed to have a flap of skin that's thin, but mine's thick.' Can't you just feel her pain?

V is for Virginity, which Britney prizes and has sought to preserve. Supporting the sacred pledge made by the young Christians who adhere to a cult of chastity called True Love Waits, she famously but non-committally said: 'I want to wait to have sex until I'm married.' Then, sounding increasingly less convinced, she added: 'I do. I want to wait. But it's hard.'

Her defloration, so agonisingly delayed, at last occurs in Crossroads. ... The Baptist babe has given herself to a fallen angel, who may be the bearer of the above-mentioned bad seed. If they felt the earth move beneath the motel bed, it must have been the San Andreas fault tearing open to protest at America's loss of innocence.

... W is for Wedding. Never mind about the devilish scenario described in the previous entry. Britney's marriage will be pantheistic, since she intends to wed the universe (having already coupled, at least in their imaginations, with a goodly proportion of the men in it).

... X is for XXX, which is what some think Britney should be rated. In one of her concerts, she made callisthenic love to the kind of pole lapdancers like to impale themselves on, and in Crossroads she performs in a karaoke bar wearing spiked-heel boots, ravished cut-offs, a studded belt and a threadbare T-shirt with FREEDOM emblazoned across it.

For a Rolling Stone session with the photographer David LaChapelle, she seethed in her frilly bedroom as if it were a tart's boudoir, then went outdoors to push a tiny bicycle wearing tinier shorts with BABY spelled out in diamanté across one of her butt cheeks.

... Y is for Y-Fronts, which she dances in at the beginning of Crossroads. The scene sums up Britney's teasing appeal: she is singing in her bedroom, using a spoon as her microphone.

... Z is for Zits, ... Britney's fatal flaw ... 'I love junk food,' says Britney unrepentantly. Which is just as well, because, come to think of it, that's pretty much what Britney is. Like junk food, she sells instant gratification and, in doing so, she triumphantly Americanises the supine earth. ...

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Grumpy People Born That Way
Sunday, February 17, 2002

Excerpts from article which describes the evidence that a small active area of the brain predisposes grumpy individuals to being naturally inclined towards anxiety, irritability, and anger. ...

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Grumpy people seldom need reasons to be in a bad mood, but scientists have come up with the perfect excuse: they are born that way.
So there is no point in telling the Victor Meldrews and Albert Steptoes of the world to cheer up - their brains are simply designed to be more grumpy than others.

Psychologist Dr David Zald of Vanderbilt University in Nashville has identified a tiny part of the brain which he believes governs people's tendency to have regular bouts of irritability, anxiety or anger. The more active that part of the brain, the more likely someone is to suffer bad moods.

'It looks like it is this part of the brain's activity that regulates people's mood. It is also a part of the brain that controls sweating, stomach acidity and heart rate and other physical feelings associated with stress and bad moods,' said Zald.

The culprit is a postage stamp-sized bit of the brain called the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, which lies an inch or two behind the right eye.

... Those who experienced a lot of bad moods were also revealed to have a lot of extra activity in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex. ...

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The End of Tooth Decay?
Sunday, February 17, 2002

Excerpts from article detailing a newly discovered way to eliminate tooth decay:

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Scientists believe they have found a way to stop tooth decay using a genetically modified mouthwash. US researchers have developed the spray and it is hoped clinical trials will begin in both the UK and US by the end of this year.

Details of the research were presented to the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in Boston.

... Tooth decay is caused not by sugar but by a bacterium which lives in the mouth and turns the sugar into lactic acid. It is this acid which affects the teeth.

Professor Jeffrey Hillman, of the University of Florida has genetically altered the bacterium called Streptococcus mutans into a form which does not produce lactic acid and therefore does not cause tooth decay.

Experiments on animals have shown the GM bacterium took the place of the bad bacterium once it was in the mouth.

The GM bacterium did not cause tooth decay even when rats were fed a high-sugar diet, and it even appeared sugar helped the bacterium to colonise the surface of the tooth.

Professor Hillman told the BBC: "Our approach has the potential, if it works the way we anticipate that it will, of eliminating most tooth decay." ...

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Cannabis Medical Tests
Monday, February 18, 2002

Excerpts from article detailing the likely OK to use cannabis in the UK for some medical treatments within two years:

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Advocates say cannabis could be
a source of treatments

... Hundreds of multiple sclerosis sufferers in the UK are already being treated with cannabis-based medicines in clinical trials funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC).

Ministers are also looking at the possibility of using them for post-operative pain relief and have promised to recommend that the Medicines Control Agency licenses the treatments if the success of earlier experiments is repeated.

... Drug companies have isolated the active ingredients in cannabis and made them available in the form of a pill or a spray.

Neither gives a "high" - but some patients say the pills make them nauseous.

Cannabis has long been favoured by many MS and cancer sufferers for its pain-relieving properties. They say it also stimulates their appetite without the unpleasant side effects of many alternatives currently available on prescription.

... Supporters of medical marijuana say the drug can prevent nausea caused by cancer chemotherapy, alleviate muscle spasms from multiple sclerosis, relieve chronic pain and help in the treatment of anorexia, glaucoma, epilepsy and mood disorders.

Opponents say it damages the ability to concentrate and can have other harmful side effects.

Though several countries allow medical use of marijuana, only Canada licenses patients to grow and possess it.

... Marijuana is a Class B drug in Britain, and possession is punishable by up to five years in jail. The government has said it intends to reclassify it as Class C, meaning that possession, though still illegal, would not be an arrestable offense.

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  • BBC
  • CBS News [link inactive]

Facing Your Genetic
Destiny (sections regarding diabetes)

Monday, February 18, 2002

Excerpts from article detailing the ways in which genetic testing may impact both diseased and otherwise healthy individuals, as well as information regarding the genetic causality of diseases:

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... The use of predictive gene tests is still limited to a handful of relatively rare and highly hereditary diseases.

But that scenario is about to change: scientists in academic and corporate laboratories are tirelessly digging through human DNA to find genetic variations that make individuals susceptible to common diseases, including
Alzheimer’s, cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and stroke.

Risky Antigens

Humans with HLA variants "DR 3 and DR 4" have a 15 times greater risk of getting juvenile diabetes.

... certain HLA flavors were often associated with inflammatory and autoimmune diseases, such as juvenile diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis (see chart).

... subsequent studies on twins and families have revealed strong hereditary components to virtually all common disorders -- from diabetes, asthma, hypertension and cancer to many mental disorders, including depression, schizophrenia and autism.

... Geneticists distinguish between monogenic disorders --in which a single gene rules as an absolute master-- and multifactorial disorders.

The latter result from "criminal gangs" of genes --often tens of them-- and the influence of environmental variables, such as diet and smoking habits, as well as infections or contact with toxic agents.

Thousands of known monogenic diseases, such as cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophies and retinitis pigmentosa, are caused by single defective genes and are inherited in a predictable way.

... But most common disorders are instead multifactorial. Individual genetic variations may render someone susceptible, but they are neither necessary nor sufficient to cause such a disease.

People with a genetic tendency toward diabetes, for example, have an increased statistical chance of being affected one day but are also likely to live in good health to a ripe old age.

On the other hand, people without any evident predisposition may become diabetics, against all odds.

Therefore, genetic tests for multifactorial disorders give only an estimated risk; they will never indicate whether the disease will actually develop.

Twin Studies

Probability that both identical twins are affected by

Juvenile (insulin-dependent) diabetes - 53 %
Non-insulin dependent diabetes - 40 to 80 %

Probability that both fraternal twins are affected by

Juvenile (insulin-dependent) diabetes - 11 %
Non-insulin dependent diabetes - 10 to 40 %

Boomerang or Not?

The following common disorders come with varying degrees of genetic risk. That risk, if it is known, can sometimes be lessened through preventive measures. Other times, it cannot. In these cases, the results of a genetic test can, like a boomerang, lead
nowhere and so their value is questionable.


Affects one in 10 people older than age 65.

Genetic risk - Researchers have recently identified variants of a susceptibility gene in chromosome 2 (CAPN10). Another 10 regions of the genome are associated with the disorder.

Prevention - Sports, diet, smoking cessation

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Autoimmune disease. Affects one to three in 1,000 people under the age of 20.

Genetic risk - HLA variants DR3 and DR4 increase the risk 15-fold. Another 15 regions in the genome probably contain predisposing genes.

Prevention - No prevention is currently available

... experts agree that the utility of a predictive test depends on the possibility of an effective prevention.

Most likely, a growing number of diseases will be preventable in the future with drugs, vaccines, or gene therapies and stem cell transplants.

When that happens, many predictive tests, which now are useless and even dangerous, will become powerful tools for helping us to secure our health.

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  • Scientific American [link inactive]

Hubble Capabilities to be Enhanced Tenfold
Monday, February 18, 2002

Excerpts from article describing a Hubble Space Telescope upgrade which will dramatically expand its capabilities:

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NASA’s fourth servicing mission for the Hubble Space Telescope, scheduled to lift off on Space Shuttle Columbia on February 28, will give the orbital observatory a series of midlife upgrades that includes the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS), a new instrument package that will increase Hubble’s already formidable capacity for discoveries tenfold, according to the leader of the team that built it.

“If you had two fireflies 6 feet apart in Tokyo, Hubble’s vision with ACS will be so fine that it will will be able to tell from Washington, D.C., that they were two different fireflies instead of one.”

... there’s an outside chance that the ACS might even be powerful enough to obtain “direct evidence” -- i.e., an image of some type -- of planets in other, nearby solar systems. Although planets have been detected around many stars, all of them have been inferred through the gravitational wobbles they impart to their stars, rather than detected through a direct image of the planets themselves.

... All the ACS instruments take advantage of new techniques and technology developed since Hubble’s inception to deliver increased observing power at greatly reduced costs. In comparison to the Wide Field Camera II, another instrument already in use in Hubble, the ACS will provide two times the observational area, two times the resolution, and four times the sensitivity. ...

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