Posts Tagged ‘science’

sunshine

Older adults who are severely deficient in vitamin D may be more than twice as likely to develop dementia or Alzheimer’s disease than those who don’t have a deficiency, according to the largest study of its kind, published Wednesday in the journal Neurology.

“We expected to find an association between low Vitamin D levels and the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, but the results were surprising — we actually found that the association was twice as strong as we anticipated,” noted lead researcher David Llewellyn of the University of Exeter Medical School in a news release.

Llewellyn looked at several years worth of data on 1,658 Americans ages 65 and older who had taken part in the National Heart, Blood and Lung Institute’s Cardiovascular Health Study. He and his team found that adults who were just moderately deficient in vitamin D had a 53 percent increased risk of developing dementia — the general term for any severe decline in mental ability — while the risk jumped to 125 percent for those who had a severe deficiency. Similarly, for Alzheimer’s disease — the most common type of dementia — the moderately deficient adults were 69 percent more likely to develop it, while the severely deficient had a 122 percent increased risk.

“Clinical trials are now needed to establish whether eating foods such as oily fish or taking vitamin D supplements can delay or even prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia,” Llewellyn said. “We need to be cautious at this early stage, and our latest results do not demonstrate that low vitamin D levels cause dementia. That said, our findings are very encouraging, and even if a small number of people could benefit, this would have enormous public health implications given the devastating and costly nature of dementia.”

Currently, more than five million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease, which is the sixth leading cause of death in the USA, according to the Chicago-based Alzheimer’s Association. One in three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. “We think this study is important,” Keith Fargo, director of scientific programs and outreach with the Alzheimer’s Association (a major funder of Llewellyn’s research), told Yahoo Health in response to the findings. “It’s a relatively large study, and it looks like it does show a pretty substantial link.… It just doesn’t show us why there is a link.” One hypothesis, Fargo noted, is that the brain — including the hippocampus, which is one of the first areas to break down with Alzheimer’s — is full of vitamin D receptors.

There has been a growing body of research on the disease’s connection with vitamin D — the main sources of which are sunshine and supplements, with minor sources including egg yolks and oily fish like salmon and sardines. Earlier this year, a study out of Denmark, for example, also showed a link between Alzheimer’s disease prevalence and low levels of vitamin D, while earlier studies conducted in Australia and France found tenuous connections between taking doses of vitamin D and having an improved memory. The vitamin has also been linked, in various studies, to preventing asthma, diabetes, and cancer.

“People tend to not believe vitamin D news, because it seems too good to be true,” John Cannell, MD, executive director of the California-based nonprofit Vitamin D Council, told Yahoo Health. “But vitamin D has a profound mechanism of action, as it’s really a steroid hormone that turns genes on and off, and no other vitamin works that way. There are at least 1,000 different genes directly influenced by vitamin D.” The council recommends a combination of cautious sun exposure combined with supplements in winter months.

Cannell called the new study’s findings “pretty exciting,” mainly because of its size and structure. “It’s important because it’s the first cohort study of a large population — meaning that it’s forward-looking, having followed people over several years,” he said. “The next step is a randomised controlled trial, but this is as close as you can get without that.”

(Yahoo Health)

Of course, Aussies and others who enjoy frolicking in the sunshine need to be careful of the other effect of drinking up Vitamin D through their skin – which is skin cancer, of course. As we all make sure we get some sunshine, let’s also remember the advice that adequate Vitamin D levels can be achieved with just 20 minutes exposure to sunshine a day.

Lung cancer cell division

Lung cancer cell division

 

A couple of dear friends have recently been struck low by the Big C, one of them terminally, and Mrs Wellthisiswhatithink recently had a skin cancer removed (a near-universal affliction in Australia if you hang around here long enough), so having come across this information on the Web we thought we’d share it.

HYPOCHONDRIAC ALERT

Many of the symptoms listed here can be caused by a dozen other things, other than cancer. So the message we are sending out is “if you experience these symptoms, don’t soldier on, don’t go into denial, go and see a medical professional and get checked”. With the advances in treatment for almost all kinds of cancer, early diagnosis saves lives. Maybe yours, or a loved one’s.

There are too many medical terms and descriptions in these signs for us to explain all of them. Google is your friend here.

THE COMMON SYMPTOMS OF CANCER

1. Losing weight at a rapid rate (among people not being on a diet): gasses, discomfort, digestive disorders, anorexia, recurring diarrhoea, constipation are the symptoms occurring most frequently in case of lung, stomach, kidney and large intestine cancer. If accompanied by a feeling of weakness, it can be a sign of blood loss or lack of proper elements building it.

2. Pain of unknown cause long-lasting stomach-ache can be the symptom of large intestine cancer, lumbalgia can be the sign of kidney cancer, pain in the chest can result from lung cancer. Bone aches can be caused by metastasis.

3. Haemoptysis, long-lasting hoarseness (over 3 weeks), persistent cough or change of its character can be caused by lung or larynx cancer.

4. Change in colour of moles and warts, ulceration and itching, ulceration of open wounds, burns and scalds can be the signs of skin cancer.

5. Excessive production of urine, backlog of urine, painful urinating, slow, time-consuming flow of urine, lumbago as well as backache can be the signs of prostate cancer.

6. Pain, vertigo, nausea, sight distortions (oversensitized sight, astigmatism), hearing impediment, upset balance and mental disorders can result from brain cancer.

7. Swallowing difficulties can be a symptom of throat, larynx, oesophagus and stomach cancer.

8. Feeling of fullness in epigastrium, aches and digestive disorders may be due to stomach cancer and other kinds of alimentary canal cancer, sometimes ovary cancer.

9. Blood in feces, black feces, alternating diarrhoea and constipation, mucus in feces, narrow (pencil-like) feces  are the symptoms of alimentary canal cancer, especially of large intestine and rectum.

10. Blood in urine (without the symptoms of urinary tracks inflammation), dysuria (compulsive urination, difficulties in urination) can accompany the urinary tracks cancer.

11. Improper bleeding from the genital tracks, pink or dark-red vaginal discharges, hypogastrium and lower limbs ache can be the signs of vagina, uterine cervix and uterus cancer.

12. Marks on skin and mucosus membrane (lips, oral cavity, genitals): not healing ulceration, change in marks appearance, occurrence of new skin marks of some specific features (irregular distribution of pigment, vague line between the mark and healthy skin, quick growth of the marks, bleeding, dripping).

13. Breast tumour (by approximately 15% – 25% can be impalpable), ulceration, the retraction of nipple, asymmetrical nipples, change of size or the shape of a nipple, its swelling and the marks around it, enlargement of lymphatic glands in the armpit, extension of veins in the breast skin, ulceration of breast skin, shoulder swelling, flat efflorescene in case of the so called advanced inflammation nipple cancer are often the symptoms of breast cancer.

14. Fever, tiredness, bones and joints ache, inclination to temporary anaemia and bleeding, impalpable tumour of abdominal cavity, as a result of spleen enlargement, that can be detected in gastro-bowel test.

15. You start feeling exhausted and notice aches in weird places on your body.

Remember, far better to suffer the momentary embarrassment of hearing your quack say “you silly old thing, that’s nothing, take an aspirin and a day off” than to hear them say a few weeks or months later, “I’m terribly sorry, it’s cancer, and it’s advanced”.

FiscalCliffAvery2Here is a quick selection of some Cancer Charities you may wish to consider helping, listed by country (those countries that provide our largest readership. There are hundreds more, this is just to get you started if you would like to make a donation or need advice or help. You might like also to consider remembering them in your Will. Even small donations can make a real difference, or as our old Mum used to say, “Many a mickle makes a muckle.”

AUSTRALIA

www.canteen.org.au – helping youth suffering from cancer
www.kidswithcancer.org.au – supporting children with cancer and the hospitals treating them
acrf.com.au - peak cancer research body
www.nbcf.org.au – National Breast Cancer Foundation in Australia
http://canceraustralia.gov.au/affected-cancer/cancer-support-organisations – a government website pointing to hundreds of cancer charities and support organisations, with links to organisations in every state

AMERICA

https://donate.cancer.org/index – American Cancer Society, direct link to their donation page
http://cancerrecovery.org/ – Cancer Recovery, links a number of charities together, in the US and overseas
http://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/ – National Breast Cancer Foundation, probably the most respected organisation of its type

UK

http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/ – Cancer Research UK
http://www.braintumouruk.org.uk/ – Brain Tumour UK, specifically providing for research into brain cancer, and cash support for those suffering from the illness.
www.leukaemiacare.org.uk – provides financial assistance for those suffering from leukaemia and related blood disorders
http://www.breakthrough.org.uk/ - leading breast charity research and support group

WORLDWIDE

http://www.wcrf.org/ - worldwide research and advocacy group dedicated to cancer prevention.

Looks good. Doesn't necessarily do you good.

Looks good. Doesn’t necessarily do you good.

There are a vast number of online ads currently pushing the Garcinia Cambogia diet, claiming it to be a wonder for weight loss, because it contains HCA, a kind of citric acid, which is claimed in a million breathless online ads (and elsewhere) to produce weight loss.

Sadly, before you part with your $49.95, be aware that the brouhahaha is just that – a load of marketing froth and bubble.

And it could even harm you.

Here’s the relevant Wikipedia extracts:

Hydroxycitric acid (HCA) is a derivative of citric acid that is found in a variety of tropical plants including Garcinia cambogia and Hibiscus subdariffa.

Biological effects

Laboratory and animal studies of HCA have produced results that indicate a potential for modulation of lipid metabolism. However, a clinical study has demonstrated that HCA has no effect in terms of weight loss or reduction of fat mass. A 1998 randomised controlled trial looked at the effects of hydroxycitric acid, the purported active component in Garcinia gummi-gutta, as a potential anti-obesity agent in 135 people. The conclusion from this trial was that “Garcinia cambogia failed to produce significant weight loss and fat mass loss beyond that observed with placebo”.

And a meta-analysis published in 2010 revealed that gastrointestinal adverse effects were twice as likely for users of hydroxycitric acid.

One HCA product had to be withdrawn because of liver toxicity.

In a study in Zucker rats, which are genetically predisposed to obesity, Garcinia cambogia extract containing HCA showed that high doses led to significant suppression of epididymal fat accumulation, but also had high testicular toxicity. However, this study has been criticised because of possible contamination of the HCA used and various design flaws.

Like all things, peeps, there IS no short cut to weight loss. The solution? Walk more, eat less. Er, that’s it.

ImageMany mental illnesses are as bad for you as smoking, research has suggested.

Life expectancy for people with mental health problems is less than for heavy smokers, experts have found.

Serious mental illness can reduce a person’s life expectancy by 10 to 20 years, when the average reduction in life expectancy for heavy smokers is eight to 10 years, according to researchers from Oxford University.

But critically, mental health has not been the same public health priority as smoking, they said.

The study, published in the journal World Psychiatry, analysed previous research on mortality risk for a whole range of problems – mental health issues, drug and alcohol abuse, dementia, autistic spectrum disorders, learning disability and childhood behavioural disorders.

The authors examined 20 papers looking at 1.7 million people and over 250,000 deaths. They found that the average reduction in life expectancy for people with bipolar disorder was between nine and 20 years, it was 10 to 20 years for schizophrenia, between nine and 24 years for drug and alcohol abuse, and around seven to 11 years for recurrent depression.

The loss of years among heavy smokers was eight to 10 years.

“We found that many mental health diagnoses are associated with a drop in life expectancy as great as that associated with smoking 20 or more cigarettes a day,” Dr Seena Fazel of the Department of Psychiatry at Oxford University said.

“There are likely to be many reasons for this. High-risk behaviours are common in psychiatric patients, especially drug and alcohol abuse, and they are more likely to die by suicide.

The stigma surrounding mental health may mean people aren’t treated as well for physical health problems when they do see a doctor.

Many causes of mental health problems also have physical consequences and mental illness worsen the prognosis of a range of physical illnesses, especially heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

Smoking is recognised as a huge public health problem.

There are effective ways to target smoking, and with political will and funding, rates of smoking-related deaths have started to decline.

We now need a similar effort in mental health.”

Dr John Williams, head of neuroscience and mental health at the Wellcome Trust, which funded the study, added: “People with mental health problems are among the most vulnerable in society.

This work emphasises how crucial it is that they have access to appropriate healthcare and advice, which is not always the case.

We now have strong evidence that mental illness is just as threatening to life expectancy as other public health threats such as smoking.”

At the Wellthisiswhatithink desk, like most people, we have had a few run ins with mental illness in the family and friends coterie. Thankfully, the stigmas associated with mental illness is reducing – albeit achingly slowly. Especially as it is increasingly understood that mental illness does not betoken “weakness” or “badness” but rather chemical imbalances in the brain that are no more the sufferer’s “fault” than, say, diabetes.

We warmly welcome this research finding and trust it is widely studied at government level. A heap of misery can be lifted off the shoulders of sufferers and their families through early intervention, prompt care and adequate treatment with “talking therapy” and medication.

Assuming Government now longer feels itself morally bound to take action (it seems simple need is the least strong motivator for many Governments worldwide now, sadly, as you can see below) then what about this thought?

mental-illness-not-contagiousJust imagine the hurricane of productivity and wealth that would be released if mentally ill people became weller, faster, and more thoroughly well, and lived that way longer.

Yes, that’s something we’d like to see in our shiny new hard-headed neo-con austere world.

Meanwhile, here’s some additional reading on how Government in rich “advanced” countries consistently fails the mentally ill:

UK: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/cuts-send-rates-of-mental-health-disorders-among-young-soaring-9392996.html

UK: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/mar/12/risks-deep-cuts-mental-health

Australia: http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/mental-health-funding-cuts-spark-fears-of-social-mess-20140518-38hz9.html

Australia: http://www.businessinsider.com.au/these-two-budget-charts-show-how-much-money-joe-hockey-is-cutting-from-hospitals-and-schools-2014-5

USA (four stories): http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tag/mental-health-budget-cuts/

USA: http://www.forbes.com/sites/theapothecary/2013/10/10/mental-health-loses-funding-as-government-continues-shutdown/

workoutAs we work in a creative environment, we probably spend more time than most thinking about how to preserve and enhance the capacity of our brains. In the advertising industry, you’re often said to be “only as good as your last idea”. Which is why this research echoed with us. Anything we can use to keep our ideas fresh and flowing is good news!

But, a brain workout?

Yep, it’s a thing.

Fact: We are outliving our brains. Life expectancy in the developed world is now about 80 years old. And the trend towards longer living is speeding up. With better nutrition, shelter and medical care, girls have a one in three chance of living to 100, while boys have one in four.

And the problem?

Well, our cognitive brain performance actually peaks in our early 40s. That means mental functions like memory, speed of thinking, problem-solving, reasoning, and decision-making decline in the last 30 or 40 years of life. Ironically, as we accumulate “life wisdom”, we gradually lose the ability to access it and use it. And as our population ages, and we retire nearer 70 than 60, for example, this becomes critically important.

The truth is most people don’t consider their brain health until they’re faced with injury, disease, or simply getting old. But just as we’ve come to realise that we can improve our physical health through diet and exercise, we can improve our cognitive health too.  It’s simply a matter of engaging in the right mental workouts.

Science now strongly supports the fact that our brains are one of the most modifiable parts of our whole body. Our brains actually adapt from moment to moment, depending on how we use them; they either decline or improve, and which direction they go depends on us and the way we challenge them.

exercising brainA research team at the Center for Brain Health at The University of Texas at Dallas is working on how to improve brain performance at all ages, and their findings show that making our brains stronger, healthier, and more productive requires actually changing the way we use them every single day.  And that’s where daily changes come in.

Before we can really perform at peak levels with our brains, we all must first abandon toxic habits that are depleting brain resources, and also incorporate complex thinking into our daily routines.

So are you ready to make your brain smarter? Here are a few scientifically proven ways to do it.

Quiet Your Mind

“Don’t make rash decisions!” In a word, slow down. And give your mind a break, now and then.

Somewhere along the line, we’ve all been given that advice, and as part of our career has been “helping people to make better decisions more easily” with the business “decisions, decisions” we warmly applaud the idea. Unwonted speed in decision making is often a recipe for failure, and sometimes those failures can cascade disastrously through an organisation, when if a little time had been taken for reflection, and we had employed tried and tested decision-making tools, we would have made our chances for success much greater.

Why take a break? Well, the brain can often better solve complex problems when you step away to reflect on ideas and crucial decisions rather than acting without weighing choices.

Shhhhhhhhh.

Shhhhhhhhh.

A halt in constant thinking slows your mind’s rhythms, allowing it to refresh.

Put a knotty problem in your subconscious, be confident that a solution will occur to you – indeed, say, “my subconscious is going to solve this” out loud – and then forget about it for a while. More often than not, a solution will occur when you least expect it. Your subconscious mind will pop out an answer without you wearing yourself out worrying the problem to death.

As a simple rule to give your brain a chance to help you, employ a “Five by Five” principle where you take a break from whatever you’re doing five times a day for at least five minutes to reset your brain.

When we let our brain work behind the scenes, we have our best “a-ha!” moments. And don’t we all want more of those?

In the Wellthisiswhatithink dungeon we find ours occur in the shower. So often, in fact, that we sometimes take a long, hot, relaxing shower when we don’t really “need” one, because the insights seem to flow so easily!

Translate Your World

Move away from surface-level, uninspired thinking and eschew predictable thoughts by pushing past the obvious and really think.

There is so MUCH to think about. How do you decide what you MUST think about? Answer: synthesise.

There is so MUCH to think about. How do you decide what you MUST think about? Answer: synthesise.

For example, if you were asked what a movie was about, you, like most people, you would often give a play-by-play of events that occurred, full of detail.

But to boost brainpower, think instead of the major themes of the film and relate it to personal situations in your own life and how they apply.

As an exercise, think back on one of your favourite movies or books from the past year and generate five to eight different short take-home messages you can glean from it.

This consciously analytical or critical process, which is called “synthesised thinking”, strengthens the connections between different areas of our brains. Our brains actually become quickly jaded by routine – by driving through the treacle of vast amounts of information – since they were actually built to dynamically shift between details and the big picture. When you’re a cave man being chased by wolves, it becomes unimportant to be able to describe each wolf in fine detail, and very important to work our which one is closest to you and likely to catch you, and what to do about that. Get the idea?

Our brains also hate information downloading, so it helps to think like a reporter. What really matters in the story? Don’t get overwhelmed by information flow – in fact, demand that you are relieved from it.

When taking in large amounts of information, try to explain it in a few sentences. Kick off your meetings with provocative big ideas. Power important email messages with simple but thought-evoking subject lines.

Stop Multi-tasking. Really. STOP.

We have written before about how we are inundated with more and more tasks every day.

Nu-uh. Not going to happen.

Nu-uh. Not going to happen.

Relentless simultaneous input and output fatigues the brain and reduces productivity and efficiency. You may think that by doing two or three things at once – like participating in “corridor meeting” on your way to somewhere else while tapping out a couple of emails on your smart phone –  you are actually moving faster through your day. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Our to-do lists keep getting longer while performance and accuracy slip. So, when working on higher-order thinking tasks that matter, allow your focus to be completely uninterrupted for at least 15 minutes at a time and then gradually increase the length of those intervals.

And remember – you can never do everything. There will always be “something” on your list of things to do. Worrying about the length of the list is a sure-fire way to increase your stress, and stress reduces your ability to think clearly.

So prioritise your lists, and be comfortable with the fact that “everyone dies with something on their list”.

Move Your Feet

Recently published research shows that aerobic exercise stimulates positive brain change and memory gains faster than we previously thought possible.

Adding regular aerobic exercise that elevates your heart rate to your routine at least three times a week for an hour won’t just help with physical health, it will also increase brain blood flow to key memory centres in the brain and improve our memory for facts. When you combine complex thinking with aerobic exercise, brain health benefits are amplified. You don’t have to become a gym junkie – a brisk walk round the block or your local park is an excellent choice.

Works just as well in an office as it does on a 747.

Works just as well in an office as it does on a 747.

And here’s a thought: if you really can’t get away from your desk, what about doing some of those “sitting in your place” exercises that they now recommend to help prevent Deep Vein Thrombosis on aircraft?

Roll your neck, shrug your shoulders, shake your hands, waggle your feet, push them up and down.

Anything that improves circulation and muscle use will help your brain, too.

Action this day.

Until recently, we thought that cognitive decline was an inevitable part of getting old, but the good news is that’s officially not the case.

Toxic physical and mental habits and a life on autopilot are key culprits for unnecessary cognitive decline. Research has shown that healthy adults who use these strategies can regain lost cognitive performance, improve blood flow in the brain, speed up communication between its regions and expand its structural connections.

See results fast!

Just like all those ads for food supplements and gym memberships, you can actually evoke some of these positive changes in a matter of hours. Adopting this new, healthier way of thinking translates into immediate real-life benefits that support our ability to make decisions, think critically, reason and plan.

In other words, shaping your brain by engaging in the right kind of daily mental exercise has the power to reverse brain aging and actually make you smarter, more creative, and less stressed.

So boost your brainpower! You have nothing to lose, and much to gain.

This core of this article was originally written by Sandra Bond Chapman, PhD, author of “Make Your Brain Smarter,” who is founder and chief director of the Centre for Brain Health, and a Distinguished University Professor at The University of Texas at Dallas. Wellthisiswhatithink has added to it substantially.

sausage
An estimated 12 million people worldwide are infected by syphilis each year. Most (an estimated 90 per cent) are in the developing world. But since 2000, rates in developing countries have also been on the up. WTF?

Syphilis infections were in decline in the developed world until the 1980s and 1990s, due to widespread use of freely available antibiotics. But rates have been increasing in the US, UK, Australia and Europe – primarily among men who have sex with men. And antibiotic-resistant strains of the killer disease are spreading, too.

The bacterium that causes syphilis. Nasty little fucker.

The bacterium that causes syphilis. Nasty little fucker.

In 2004, 1,956 Syphilis cases were notified to the Australian Department of Health’s Disease Surveillance System. Between 2004 and 2010 this figure increased by 25 per cent, and last year (2013), 3,461 cases were clocked up. Most are in urban or suburban areas, and in men – and specifically, men who have sex with men.

Dr Kit Fairley has been the Director of the Melbourne Sexual Health Clinic since 2001. In that time, he’s seen the incidence of syphilis increase dramatically.

“In the past two decades, syphilis has increased all over the developed world. It was absent for about twenty years, then in the early 2000s we saw it come back with a vengeance,” he says.

“It took us a while to pick up on syphilis. What was probably happening was that firstly, doctors hadn’t seen it for 20 years and found it difficult to recognise. And secondly, we have a generation of gay men who had never seen or had to worry about syphilis before.”

A sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by the Treponema pallidum bacteria, syphilis manifests in four progressive stages: primary, secondary, latent and late, or tertiary.

It’s been around since at least the fifteenth century, and while no one can quite agree where it came from, but it’s a dead cert that syphilis (“the great pox”) moves through four fetching stages. Painless sores and ulcers akin to an ingrown hair appear in the primary stage, and rashes, hair loss, fevers and general tiredness in the secondary stage. There are no symptoms in the stealthy latent stage, just detection by blood test. These stages of syphilis are all treatable; it’s the infamous tertiary or late stage that put paid to Napoleon, Oscar Wilde and Hitler, and is the one that will make you go slowly crazy then kill you. There are some wince-inducing, NSFW images of the various stages here, if you must. Then again, if you’re having unprotected sex, whether you are male or female, gay, bi, or straight … well, maybe you should go look.

Like its boner-killer cousins HPV (Human Papillo Virus, a.k.a. warts) and herpes, syphilis is passed from person to person by skin-to-skin contact. You can catch it through oral, vaginal or anal sex with a person who has primary or secondary syphilis; the secondary stage’s characteristic rash (back, hands, feet and chest alert) is particularly contagious. More rarely, it can be transmitted from mother to baby during pregnancy (congenital syphilis).

It’s tricky, says Dr Fairley, because it can be caught multiple times, and is very easy to catch – even when you’re practising sex that is safe, from an HIV perspective.

“Classically, syphilis is known as the great mimicker; the rash it gives is like any other rash from any other infection. But it’s very treatable, and once you’ve been treated, it’s gone. You don’t need ongoing treatment, as with HIV,” says the doc.

“Even if you’re using condoms for anal sex, it’s possible to catch syphilis through oral sex or even by masturbating someone, if the person you’re in contact with has a lesion.”

So do we have another sexual health epidemic on our hands?

No, says the doc, but there’s no doubt that syphilis is a serious STI.

“If you don’t treat it, it leads to substantial health consequences; problems with the heart and brain, hearing and eyesight. Here in Melbourne we’ve seen a few tertiary cases, where people are having trouble with their eyesight and hearing.”

Early recognition is key.

“If you’re a gay man having regular sex with different people, it’s important that you have regular checks, even if, from an HIV perspective, you’re practising safe sex. We recommend a full sexual health check up every six months.”

And there’s always room for improvement. Improved public health communications against at-risk target audiences would seem to be a no-brainer. In fact, public health boffins have yet to implement a highly effective control program for syphilis.

“We need to work harder on early symptom recognition and testing, and make it easier for people to have regular testing,” says Dr Fairley.

“We’re working on programs to make it easier for gay men to be tested, like home testing, and testing in clubs. Every time you test for HIV, ask to be tested for syphilis as well; it doesn’t mean any extra needles.”

“We’re also pushing to change the legislation around blood tests, so that when you see a doctor you can have five or six tests from a single referral slip, without having to return to your doctor every time you want to get tested.”

Treatment is simple – one or perhaps a series of penicillin injections. This sure as hell beats the mercury and arsenic treatments that were the go until well into the nineteenth century, and would often kill a sufferer long before the syphilis itself.

Ladies, you do not want this.

Ladies, you do not want this.

The spread of the disease from it’s current spike in the gay community to the broader sexually-active community is also, of course, a potential problem.

Many men who have gay sex also have sex with women.

Many women, especially since the HIV infection scare has dulled, and who are covered by oral contraception, have sex with gay-active bisexual men.

It is worth those women remembering that there are no fewer than 32 sexually transmitted diseases that having sex without a condom makes them much more vulnerable to.

Syphilis, as you can see, is just one of the most unpleasant.

(From the Vine, with additional reporting by Wellthisiswhatithink.)

A Mayo Clinic trial has made a breakthrough in the fight against cancer, with more trials to come.

A dose of 100 billion units of measles – enough to inoculate 10 million people – has successfully knocked widespread blood cancer into remission, says a groundbreaking new test from the Mayo Clinic.Having been through chemotherapy treatments and two stem cell transplants, 50-year-old Stacy Erholtz was running out options in her battle against myeloma, a blood cancer that affects bone marrow, when scans showed she had tumours growing throughout her body.

As part of a radically new two-patient clinical trial, doctors at the Mayo Clinic injected Erholtz with the measles vaccine, with an immediate reaction.

 

Are we on the verge of a new treatment for cancer?

Are we on the verge of an exciting new treatment for cancer?

 

Five minutes into the hour-long process, Erholtz got a terrible headache. Two hours later, she started shaking and vomiting. Her temperature hit 41 degrees, Stephen Russell, the lead researcher on the case, told The Washington Post.

Evan – the name given to the tumour on Erholtz’s forehead by her children – began to shrink within 36 hours. Over several weeks, the tumour – and the accompanying tumours spreading throughout her body – disappeared. Evan was no more.

The viruses succeeded by binding to cancer cells and using them to replicate. The process destroys the cells, and the body’s immune system attacks what’s left since it’s marked as viral material. This test also gave doctors a benchmark for the virus dose needed to reduce cancer in patients — 100 billion infectious units instead of the standard 10,000 units.

Although Erholtz has been completely cleared of the disease, there are still potential hurdles to overcome. Now that her immune system has experience fighting the measles virus, the treatment wouldn’t be as effective a second time ; the body would attack the virus before it could take over the cancer cells.

The treatment wasn’t successful in the second patient. While Erholtz’s tumours were mostly in her bone marrow, the other patient’s tumours were mainly in her leg muscles, the Star-Tribune reported. Russell said more research is needed to know how the nature of the tumour affects the virus.

The next step for this method is another clinical trial, which is expected to launch by September, to see if the massive measles dose works on a large number of patients.

As for Erholtz, her next step is an annual checkup next month, but she’s optimistic.

“We don’t let the cancer cloud hang over our house, let’s put it that way, or we would have lived in the dark the last 10 years,” Erholtz told the Star Tribune.

Wellthisiswhatithink says: Let’s hope that this might be a major step forward in our understanding of how to treat this illness which strikes terror into so many. Humankind has beaten killer illnesses before, and there’s no fundamental reason why we can’t beat cancer … Alzheimer’s … HIV.
Let us also salute those patients who have the courage to accept experimental treatment from scientists and medicos, with no guarantee of success. It’s too easy for us to dismiss the role they play with “well, what else are they going to do?”: the answer is, they could choose a less disruptive and more peaceful route towards the end of their lives. In undergoing what can be disturbing and distressing treatment with no certainty of success they demonstrate not only their own personal determination, but they also blaze a course for the rest of us. We owe them our gratitude.
(Yahoo Health and Others)

From Jonathan Amos. Science correspondent, BBC News

Thwaites Glacier is a huge ice stream draining into the Amundsen Bay

Thwaites Glacier is a huge ice stream draining into the Amundsen Bay

 

In a finding which will add heat to the ongoing climate change debate, key glaciers in West Antarctica are in an irreversible retreat, a study team led by the US space agency (Nasa) says. It analysed 40 years of observations of six big ice streams draining into the Amundsen Bay and concluded that nothing now can stop them melting away.

Although these are abrupt changes, the timescales involved are likely measured in centuries, the researchers add. If the glaciers really do disappear, they would add roughly 1.2m to global sea level rise.

The new study has been accepted for publication in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union, but Nasa held a teleconference on Monday to brief reporters on the findings.

Prof Eric Rignot said warm ocean water was relentlessly eating away at the glaciers’ fronts and that the geometry of the sea bed in the area meant that this erosion had now entered a runaway process.

West Antarctica is one of the least accessible parts of the planet and it takes a huge effort to research the changes under way there. Now the scientists involved have the benefit of repeated flights, copious satellite images and data from field trips to work on. There is still a lot they do not understand about the pace of change and therefore the speed with which the melt will contribute to sea level rise. But the more detailed the research, the sharper the picture of rapid change.

“We present observational evidence that a large section of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet has gone into a state of irreversible retreat; it has passed the point of no return,” the agency glaciologist explained.

“This retreat will have major consequences for sea level rise worldwide. It will raise sea levels by 1.2m, or 4ft, but its retreat will also influence adjacent sectors of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet which could triple this contribution to sea level.”

The Amundsen Bay sector includes some of the biggest and fastest moving glaciers on Earth.

Other glaciers melting too

Pine Island Glacier (PIG), over which there has been intense research interest of late, covers about 160,000 sq km, or about two-thirds the area of the UK.

Like the Thwaites, Smith, Haynes, Pope, Smith and Kohler Glaciers in this region – the PIG has also been thinning rapidly.

And its grounding line – the zone where the glacier enters the sea and lifts up and floats – has also reversed tens of km over recent decades.

What makes the group of glaciers especially vulnerable is that their bulk actually sits below current sea level with the rock bed sloping inland towards the continent. This is a geometry, say scientists, that invites further melting and further retreat.

The new study includes radar observations that map the underlying rock in the region, and this finds no ridge or significant elevation in topography that could act as a barrier to the glaciers’ reverse.

“In our new study, we present additional data that the junction of the glaciers with the ocean – the grounding line – has been retreating at record speeds unmatched anywhere in the Antarctic,” said Prof Rignot.

Recent European Space Agency satellite data has also recorded the glaciers’ thinning and retreat.

“We also present new evidence that there is no large hill at the back of these glaciers that could create a barrier and hold the retreat back. This is why we conclude that the disappearance of ice in this sector is unstoppable.”

The researcher, who is also affiliated to the University of California, Irvine, attributed the underlying driver of these changes to global warming.

This, together with atmospheric behaviours influenced by a loss of ozone in the stratosphere, had created stronger winds in the Southern Ocean that were now drawing more warm water towards and under the glaciers.

Dr Tom Wagner, the cryosphere program scientist with Nasa, said it was clear that, in the case of these six glaciers, a threshold had been crossed.

“The results are not based on computer simulations or numerical models; they are based on the interpretation of observations,” he told reporters.

“And I think this is an important point because this sometimes can get lost on the general public when they’re trying to understand climate change and the implications.”

Prof Rignot and colleagues put no real timescales on events, but a paper released by the journal Science to coincide with the Nasa media conference tries to do just this.

It does include computer modelling and was led by Dr Ian Joughin, a glaciologist at the University of Washington’s Applied Physics Laboratory. The study considers the particular case of Thwaites Glacier.

Collapse “inevitable”

In the model, Dr Joughin’s team is able to reproduce very accurately the behaviour of the glacier over the past 20 years. The group then runs the model forwards to try to forecast future trends. This, likewise, indicates that a collapse of the glacier is inevitable, and suggests it will most likely occur in the next 200 to 500 years.

Prof Andy Shepherd, from Leeds University, UK, is connected with neither Rignot’s nor Joughin’s work.

He told BBC News: “[Joughin's] new simulations are a game changing result, as they shine a spotlight on Thwaites Glacier, which has until now played second fiddle to its neighbour Pine Island Glacier in terms of ice losses. There is now little doubt that this sector of West Antarctica is in a state of rapid retreat, and the burning question is whether and how soon this retreat might escalate into irreversible collapse. Thankfully, we now have an array of satellites capable of detecting the tell-tale signs, and their observations will allow us to monitor the progress and establish which particular scenario Thwaites Glacier will follow.”

Prof Shepherd said the EU’s newly launched Sentinel-1a radar satellite would have a unique capability to assess the glaciers’ grounding lines. “As soon as the satellite reaches its nominal orbit, we will turn its eye on Thwaites Glacier to see whether it has indeed changed as predicted.”

Wellthisiswhatithink says:

This finding is particularly significant because it effectively adds 1 metre of sea level rise to most current forecasts. At 1 metre (the sea level rise most people accept as inevitable by 2100) the damage to coastal areas is relatively slight. But each additional metre causes more problems for humanity. As you can see here:

http://www.globalwarmingart.com/sealevel?lat=NaN&lng=NaN&zoom=2


									
Obama state of the union

All the rhetorical flourish is still there, but has Obama, in reality, run out of puff?

The BBC commentator on Obama’s annual address to America mentioned him having had the idealism beaten out of him.

At the Wellthisiswhatithink outpost we find that perceptively accurate, and as a corollary  think that the speech was a lost opportunity to appeal over the heads of the Republican leadership and make a general appeal for genuine national unity and bi-partisanship.

Yes, any President has a perfect right to point to falling unemployment and so on, but Obama often tends to the triumphal in his commentary on current events and the performance of his administration, and in our opinion it’s always the wrong note to strike, and right now, especially so.

Despite having supported him in general since before the primaries, and still doing so, we think it’s fair to say that he has generally been a disappointment as a president, with some good marks for attempting things that matter (whatever one thinks of Obamacare seeking to extend health cover in the USA is laudable and productive – a healthier nation is not only morally correct it’s also good sense economically) but then again the expectations on him at the start were ludicrous, born of both his soaring rhetoric and the excitement of the country actually electing someone who was half black.

It is too early to write his political obituaries, and we think (others will disagree) that he will ultimately win praise for co-ordinating an effective response to the financial/Wall Street collapse. (The alternative, after all, was unthinkable.) But he has squandered his political capital, and a new style and approach would recover some of it and leave the refuseniks on the right blind-sided.

The problems America faces are very substantial, so it is questionable whether anyone would do a really “good” job at the moment – the weaknesses are structural and ingrained, not at surface level. We are not sure the American people are ready for the pain of a root-and-branch reform of the Government, though unquestionably the size of their Government, at all levels and under both parties, is vastly over-bloated. If the pain of restructuring was accompanied by less overt politicking, more transparency and more obvious progress towards recovery it might be welcomed. But we are not holding our breath.

In general, whilst a recovery is underway, it is weak, patchy, and it will do nothing to address the overall problem of Government (and private) debt. Congressional sabre-rattling cannot obscure the fact that besides cutting social programs there are no real solutions being offered. There seems no appetite at all on the right for increased taxes – an inevitable component of any long-term effort to solve the debt crisis that needs to accompany reducing expenditure – nor for cutting back the ludicrously large military budget. As always, political posturing wins out over simple commonsense.

As the website “Science Progress” pointed out three years ago, “As the debate in Washington pivots this week from deficit reduction to job creation, progressives and conservatives will be vying to convince the American people that they have the best plan to get America working again. But any jobs plan will fall flat if it doesn’t lay out a strategy for investing in innovation. Conservative proposals largely echo now-defunct Reagan-era thinking that tax cuts alone can spur the private sector to create jobs. Yet effective corporate tax rates are lower today than they were under President Reagan and are certainly much lower than many of our competitor nations. The same is true of the effective tax rate for top-, middle-, and low-income families. Tax cuts neither created the jobs of the past nor will they create the jobs of the future. Investing in innovation will.

Innovation is what has created the bulk of American jobs today and it will most certainly be the force that creates the jobs of tomorrow. America is home to the world’s best jobs and most prosperous economy quite simply because we’ve invented and made the things that the world wants to buy. And then we’ve invented ways to make those things better, faster, and cheaper.

The cotton gin, the trans-continental railroad, interchangeable parts, assembly line manufacturing, the automobile, the airplane, the personal computer, the photovoltaic solar cell, GPS technology, the Internet, the mapping of the human genome, the iPhone—these inventions and the companies that produce them have directly or indirectly supported millions of American jobs.”

President Barack Obama delivers a speech on innovation at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, N.Y. But America needs to move beyond fine words and onto a national effort.

President Barack Obama delivers a speech on innovation at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, N.Y. But America needs to move beyond fine words and onto a national effort.

Indeed, as President Barack Obama said in his 2011 State of the Union address, “In America, innovation doesn’t just change our lives. It is how we make our living.” Yet progress is painfully slow.

This goes neatly to the real issue behind everything, which is that whilst America will continue to be a vast and powerful player in world markets, it has really not wrestled with the growth of Asia and what it means, and it shows no real signs of doing so. As the middle class in Asia grows and provides adequate markets for its rulers to sell to, their desire/need to sell their goods cheaply to the West will fall, as will their appetite for bailing out the West with their profits to keep the overseas markets liquid. At that point, all economic hell breaks loose.

That’s why long-term solution for America has to be innovation. The country cannot compete with a vast Asian population producing run-of-the-mill goods more cheaply. Creating and manufacturing products that reflect the finest pinnacle of American ingenuity and forceful determination is really the only option available. Goods that the rest of the world want to buy, and are willing to pay a premium for. To his credit Obama did mention the need for new hi-tech industry hubs. But those remarks already seem to have disappeared without trace in the commentariat. Yet public investment in the human genome project, for example, had a return on investment of more than 14,000 percent in terms of economic output per federal dollar invested since 1988, and has led to the creation of millions of biotech jobs that could not have existed without it. Similarly, a seemingly tiny investment of the Defense Advanced Research Agency, or DARPA, spawned the Internet, giving rise to trillions of dollars in worldwide economic activity, new businesses, and, more importantly, new ways of doing business.

It seems so obvious, yet the political elite seem unable to bend their mind to the opportunity. Fort example, the response to the speech from Republican Cathy McMorris Rodgers was timid, one might almost say “vapid”. One tweeted review of it read “We have a plan. The plan is to come up with a plan.” Quite.

In our view there is little doubt that the entrepreneurial flair for which the country is famous is flagging: running a business now seems as much about rapidly merging your firm with someone else’s, taking a big payoff and bonus tranche of shares, and heading off to enjoy your new found wealth – aided and abetted by so-called rain-maker brokers who exist merely to grease the wheels of deals that make little or no economic sense, as often as not, beyond enriching the participants – as it is about dreaming new dreams, innovating, creating markets, and selling to them.

One of the reasons is that many American businesspeople have spent their entire careers wallowing around managing businesses cautiously to avoid a loss rather than to create a profit – and doing so for so long that they have actually never experienced the sort of drive and courage needed to create real new wealth. They are risk-averse managers, not passionately-driven owners. There are honourable exceptions, of course, but not many, and their numbers decline.

All that stuff? That’s not capitalism. That’s corporate laziness. And the Republicans are as much to blame as anyone else, for markedly failing to use their cosy relationship with corporate barons to urge them to do something useful with their economic power instead of just lining their own pockets, for fear of the endless flow of donations into their re-election coffers drying up.

A President who dared to tackle all that nonsense? Who put the country’s problems squarely in front of the population, and dared Americans to recapture their brighter past?

Yes, we’d like to see that. No, we don’t expect it. Especially from a man who seems to have lost much of his appetite.

Incidentally, one curiosity. The speech is a constitutional tradition given in front of a joint session of all the members Congress each year. The exception is one “designated survivor” who remains separate in a secure location in case the Congress and President are wiped out in an attack on the Capitol. This year, it was Obama’s Energy Secretary, Ernest Moniz, who also happens to be an expert on nuclear weapons. Cheerful thought.

What's wrong with this picture? Quite right: finger food is an abomination.

What’s wrong with this picture? Quite right: finger food is an abomination to the Lord.

From AAP

Grab a glass of red – it seems to be a rejuvenating drink again.

Red wine goes in and out of health fashion. But now it’s back as a possible preventer or fighter of ageing diseases.

That good news for wine lovers comes thanks to the efforts of 30 researchers from around the globe.

They’ve produced a paper saying that under certain conditions SIRT1, the human sirtuin protein known to combat many age-related diseases, can be activated by resveratrol and other sirtuin-activating compounds (STACs).

Resveratrol is a natural compound in red wine, their article in the journal Science says.

Resveratrol was hailed for doing this in 2003.

But follow-up studies called its sirtuin-activating abilities into question.

Now these researchers have shown SIRT1 can indeed be activated by resveratrol and other STACs in the laboratory, but only under certain conditions.

The results suggest STACs remain, for now, a viable strategy for addressing many diseases associated with aging, such as cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and type 2 diabetes, the journal says.

Sadly, my GP reckons one glass of red wine a day is healthy, two or more just gives my blood pressure a kick. Given that I have never understood the concept of opening a decent bottle of red and not finishing it, this is only partly cheery news.

Then again, it is a matter of time until they pronounce that in fact generations of Froggies and Eyeties are right, and necking a quick bottle or two of ruby throat charmer with every dinner is, in fact, a good idea.

To prepare for that glorious day, and with an eye on our national export figures, we provide below James Halliday’s Top Ten Aussie red wines under AUD$20 a bottle, so you overseas types can experience something other than Jacob’s Creek, although that remarkable staple winemaker often makes the list and is always reliable.

Halliday is Australia’s foremost wine writer and his comments accompany each recommendation, all vintages are current, and we make an occasional comment too.

The McGuigan Black Label Red – is an approachable, medium bodied style with a nice combination of ripe, soft fruit flavours and the perfect balance of tannin to provide some structure. Not only a great wine to have around great friends and family, but also at home when paired with a wide array of cuisine including barbecued meats and salads.

Artillery Place Grapeshot Shiraz – McLaren Vale is known for producing Shiraz of the utmost power and balance. With its maritime influences and ancient soils perfect for viticulture, Shiraz simply thrives in the region. Artillery Place harness this ability perfectly with their Grapeshot Shiraz. Layers of purple and blue fruits complemented by regional pepper and spice, this is a Shiraz crying out to be paired with juicy steak or slow-cooked Osso Bucco.

Annie’s Lane Shiraz – a typically full flavoured Clare Valley Shiraz from the crew at Annie’s Lane; exhibiting ripe, plummy fruit characters with a touch of spice and some regional minty notes.

Riddoch’s Cab Sav – John Riddoch was the man responsible for putting Coonawarra in South Australia on the map after establishing the Coonawarra Fruit Colony in 1891. Today, Coonawarra and its famous ‘terra rossa’ strip of limestone rich soil is home to some of Australia’s greatest Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards. This Riddoch Cabernet is an exciting expression of the region with its deep purple colour, spicy plum, chocolate and toasty vanillan aromas which are followed by a luscious palate of blueberry and accompanying eucalypt accented spice. (I have just ploughed through a dozen of these at home – not all at once, I hasten to add – and I can confirm it is remarkable value and very easy drinking.)

Chris Ringland Shiraz – has been one of Australia’s most loved wines over the past few years with its immense concentration of bold, forboding fruit. Chris Ringland, the man behind such famous names as Three Rivers and Rockford Basket Press Shiraz, creates a wine that is made from mature Northern Barossa vines and shows dark mass of concentrated black and blue fruits, laced with sweet mocha and wrapped in a smooth, velvety texture. Not for the faint of heart, the CR Shiraz is improving vintage on vintage.

Tanunda Hill Shiraz – tThe Barossa Valley is renowned across the world for producing rich, ripe, full-bodied Shiraz the envy of most. Micro-climates within the Barossa can also provide individual nuances – much like this Tanunda Hill Shiraz which embraces the warmer temperatures experienced by the vineyard on Gomersal Road. Spice, blueberry, mocha and dark chocolate all play their part in a sumptuous Shiraz experience that lingers on the taste buds for an extended time.

The Bowler’s Run Cabernet Merlot – Bowler’s Run wines continue to prove sure fire winners for the price savvy consumer. Fresh and fruit driven, this delicious, youthful blend has loads of sweet blackcurrant cabernet fruit flavour with the supple texture of Merlot.

Make a friend for life: treat Mrs Wellthisiswhatithink to some Church Block.

Make a friend for life: treat Mrs Wellthisiswhatithink to some Church Block.

Wirra Wirra Church Block – Church Block first appeared back in 1972 under the watchful eye of Greg Trott who was taken by one of the original vineyards that ran alongside the small Bethany Church, across the road from Wirra Wirra’s old ironstone cellars. Over the last 4 decades, Church Block has become one of Australia’s favourites with its rich, full-bodied style consisting of swathes of black and blue fruits and a nice, smooth finish that seems to last ever so long for such an affordable red wine. (A gorgeous concoction of Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, and Merlot, this is a continuing “yes, please” for Mrs Wellthisiswhatithink. Amazingly consistent and at around AUD$18 a bottle in Australia it rivals top European and American wines costing five or six times more.)

St Hallet “Gamekeeper’s” Shiraz – St Hallett and Shiraz goes hand in hand when you start talking about the Barossa. Blended from over 100 parcels of Shiraz that enter the winery, this great value wine is suitable for almost any food match you can think of. As they say at St Hallett, don’t be shy.

Annie’s Lane Cabernet Merlot – ripe and generous, the leafy, minty characters of Cabernet are complemented by the softness and plummy fruit coming from the Merlot. A nice touch of sweet oak completes the picture.

Taylor’s Cabernet Sauvignon – consistently good value for money, this Clare Valley Cabernet from Taylors shows ample varietal blackcurrant flavour seasoned with some attractive sweet oak. The tannins are firm but nicely in balance. (Another South Australian wonder. Consistently is right – it hardly seems to vary in quality year on year despite differing seasons – often better than wines costing three times as much.)

Taylors Shiraz – continues to be one of the most outstanding value for money Shiraz available. Widely acclaimed by many critics, this Shiraz is true to its region and variety, showing ripe plum and blackberry fruit with minty notes in the background. A touch of vanillin oak adds some wonderful interest.

Seppelt Chalambar Shiraz – This label is offering some of the best value Shiraz on the market. Spicy elegant characters of Grampians fruit is expertly combined with the fuller flavour of Bendigo Shiraz.

Wyndham Estate Bin 555 Shiraz – with a history going back to George Wyndham and his planting of vines in 1830, this heritage is honoured with varietal styles like this Shiraz. Rich plum and berry fruit flavours complemented by soft tannins and well-integrated oak. A great wine with a variety of red meat and tomato based pasta dishes.

Penfold’s Koonunga Hill Shiraz – this supple, elegant and beautifully aromatic wine shows classic blackcurrant and cedar characters, supported by the gentle oak maturation that is so distinctively Penfolds.

Other good value reds include: Mount Langi Billi Billi Shiraz, Deakin Estate Shiraz, Thorn-Clarke Shotfire Quartage, Sandleford Rosé, Majella ‘The Musician’ Cab Shiraz, Jacob’s Creek Cab Shiraz or Cav Sav, Turkey Flat Rosé, and Teusner The Riebke Shiraz.

About as good as it gets ...

About as good as it gets …

And if you’re celebrating something special, here’s Wellthisiswhatithink’s “Once In A Lifetime” recommendation, with the appropriate tasting notes, circa AUD$550 a bottle and climbing.

Henschke Hill of Grace Shiraz 2005

If Penfold’s Grange Hermitage is the greatest example of a multi-regional Shiraz, then surely the Hill of Grace is the greatest single site expression of the variety.

Hill of Grace is carefully crafted by Stephen & Prue Henschke from an 8ha site in the Eden Valley.

The 2005 is a stunning, layered masterpiece.

Near the top are rose petals, violets and Turkish Delight.

Aromas of fruits of the forest and mulberry emerge next, sitting atop deep-seated spice, tar and anise.

Truly an incredible Australian wine.

These amazing “black marble” views of Earth at night – twinkling city lights, raging wildfires, and colourful auroras – are lit up in new dazzling night-time views of the earth courtesy of a newly launched NASA-NOAA satellite that’s equipped with a sensor to reveal the planet at night.

The photos are stitched together from individual shots much as we would stitch together a “panoramic” photo of a scene using our new sooper-dooper digital cameras. The images are made possible by sensors which detect light in a range of wavelengths from green to near-infrared and uses filtering techniques to observe dim signals such as city lights, gas flares, auroras, …

They provide a fascinating view of the population density of our planet, as well as clearly revealing the new “power centres” of China, India, Indonesia, and Brazil.

The “dark heart” of Africa shows as clearly as anything could how this vast continent is still largely un-urbanised and under-developed with only the western coastal areas and Johannesburg in South Africa breaking universal darkness from the populated Mediterranean strip to the Cape of Good Hope. The clustering of population on the coasts of Australia is also in stark contrast to its desert centre.

 

earth at night

dnb-united-states-lrg-jpg_220311
The huge density of population on the east of the United States, and of the West Coast, stands in stark contrast to the much emptier grasslands, mountains and desert of the centre and West. And here, the new concentrations of urbanisation in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the states of the Arabian Gulf show how the area has grown in significance in the last fifty years, to rival nearby Europe.

europe africa
Similarly, this fascinating shot reveals India, Pakistan, Korea, Japan and China in all their resurgent night-time glory. Incidentally, those lights in the north-eastern interior of Australia are not cities, unless that is somehow evidence of the recent mining boom and they are huge well-lit open cast mines, gas flares and so on, which is possible. I actually suspect it may also be lightning.

city-lights-asia-night-8k-jpg_220311

For those familiar with the UK and North-Western Europe, this one is easy to decipher. London and Paris very clear, of course, plus the population centres of Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg, Northern Germany and so on.

london-lights-2012087-lrg-jpg_220324
In the UK, left to right, you can clearly make out Plymouth, Swansea and Cardiff on the Welsh side of the Bristol Channel, Bristol itself, Liverpool and Manchester with the midland “spine”of England to their right, back to the South Coast and there is Bournemouth and Southampton, London is clear, of course, and then up north Newcastle, Sunderland and Middlesborough on the right, and Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen in Scotland. You can clearly see Dublin and Belfast in Ireland, too.

Interesting, too, how the Alps cut a swathe through the south of Europe, with no lights at all except in a few valleys and lake areas.

All those people – eating, sleeping, dancing, driving, watching sport, making love, listening to music, watching TV. One world, with much more that unites us than divides us.

Gotta love science!

 

 

In case you hadn’t noticed – and Dear Reader, if you had not, then exactly where have you been? – the Guinness Book of Records just officially announced that Asia-Pop artist Psy has just officially become the most watched video ever on video-sharing site YouTube. Ever. Phew.

I really like the song. The original (very funny) video can be seen here:

And a live performance here:

But the really fascinating story is that the first video has now been watched – get this – 879,634,089 times. 

And the live performance is already over 150 million views, too.

As one of the posters put it on the YouTube of the first video, “let’s aim for a billion hits on New Year’s Eve”. A billion views? Of one pop song? A BILLION? Really?

Now as at June 30 this year, this was the breakdown of internet users in the world.

Two billion and four hundred and five million and some users worldwide. Getting on for half of them are dancing with their legs like John Wayne and waving an imaginary lasoo in the air ...

Two billion and four hundred and five million and some users worldwide. Getting on for half of them are dancing with their legs bowed like John Wayne and waving an imaginary lassoo in the air … Er, well, why not?

That means, essentially, that about half of the world’s Internet users have viewed the video on YouTube, let alone seen it on TV, on other websites, heard it on the radio, danced to it in a club … now that’s a hit, eh? I even have a vague memory of myself waving my arm around one night at Fusion nightclub at Crown, but honestly I was a bit over-trained by that stage so I might have just been waving my arms around aimlessly anyway. Pop music and I have an interesting relationship after I’ve had a few beverages. Think Rowan Atkinson on speed.

And now look at that big red wedge. That’s Asia. 44.8% of world Internet usage.

So can anyone still think that the 21st century is not going to be the Asian century? They are taking Western culture, merging it with their own, creating something vibrant and new, and then selling it brilliantly, both to their fellow Asians, and to the West.

Somehow, you know, I really don’t think my passable schoolboy French, which I have always been so proud of, is going to be much of an achievement – or of much use – in my declining years. Quel dommage.

At least, thanks to the abundance of brilliant Asian restaurants of all types in Melbourne, I can now say “thank you” in about a dozen nearby languages.  Cám ơn. Xie xie. M goi. Arigato. Komapsumnida. Terima kasih. Khawp khun. Khawp jai. Istuti. Shukriya. The effort is always greeted with a polite smile and sometimes genuine pleasure. The fact that the people serving us all speak my language – often near-perfectly – is never lost on me.

Somehow though, I think that the way things are headed, “please” may very well end up being more useful word to know … it is hard to imagine that the West can ever now catch up with the sheer exuberance and hard work, not to mention massive human resources, of Asia.

The Australian government just announced yet another push to get us “Asia ready”. But it’s too little, too late, I fear. We are a massive country with a tiny population, and already decades behind Asia itself in genuinely understanding the potential of the area. We have inadequate knowledge of their languages, their customs, their culture, and their needs. Faced with a considerable degree of disinterest from the West until recently, they have simply decided to “do it for themselves”.

Apart from the resources under our land and sea I strongly suspect we are already largely irrelevant to the coming century. I don’t think Asia will take us over. I simply suspect we will become largely irrelevant. A social, cultural and business backwater. Europe is broke, and confused. America appears mired in debt, out of energy, and incapable of pulling together as a nation any more. In short: I am beginning to suspect that the West, as a whole, is really rather yesterday’s news.

Which is a shame, because Western culture is, we often forget, thousands of years old, (as we are constantly reminded Asian culture is), and it is a fascinating amalgam of influences stretching back to pre-history.

Whilst it is popular to denigrate Western culture (and it has been a curate’s egg, for sure) it has also been responsible for some of the most important advances in human history – specifically, the evolution from feudalism, anti-authoritarianism, rationalism, science, humanism, the rule of law, democracy, and that’s just to name just a few.

It will be a sad day indeed if those things gradually come to mean less and less to the world’s population.

So let us hope that Asia takes up some of those principles as enthusiastically as they have made short shirts, tight trousers, and syncopated pop music their own. We can only hope, as it is no longer our place to demand.

iris

I’m looking at you, Dear Reader. What do you make of this story?

So, it has recently been an interesting period, health-wise, for the Family Wellthisiswhatithink.

Fruit of One’s Loins and She Who Must Be Obeyed have been visiting a naturopath. A form of medical practitioner usually dismissed in my world as a “quack”. To say that I was skeptical would be like saying the Tea Party is mildly opposed to Obama’s economic spending. I was utterly cynical, warned them to watch for evidence of suggestions being implanted in their subconscious mind, to puncture open ended questioning and cold reading style enquiries, and above all not to deliver too much hard information in advance.

The process began with an Iridology session where the alternative health practitioner examined the eyes of the girls, and analysed them for various bodily flaws. I repeat, she was given virtually no prior medical information. Basically she takes a close up photo of the eye and looks at it.

Iridologists belive the eye reflects changes in the performance of the body over time, and that each place in the eye connotes a particular part of the body. They have a chart which lays out which bit of the eye relates to which part of the body.

Iridology chart

The Iridology chart – is it anything more than pretty colours?

Scientists, and the orthodox medical fraternity, call this nonsense. (Indeed, they claim the look of the eye is laid down at birth and never changes. In fact, that’s how eye recognition software can work.)

Anyhow, having examined their eyes she then took them through a re-setting of their chi, or electrical impulses, or whatever else one wants to call it, to address deficiencies or inflammations she had “spotted”.

This process involved holding in one hand a small impermeable glass vial with certain products inside it – grass seed, egg – and attempting to use the other arm to provide mild resistance to a pushing down motion from the practitioner. So the patient holds her arm out straight in front of them – the other one from the hand holding the vial – and tries to resist the naturopath pushing down on it.

Normally, the patient has no difficulty doing this. If the patient is sensitive to an item, for whatever reason, they find their arm weakened by the holding of the vial in the other hand, and the naturopath is able to push their arm down with little effort.

So far, so much utter nonsense, right? Well, yes. Except …

My wife is plagued by hay fever and this year is the second highest pollen count for the last 20 years. Usually she is a mess of running nose, itchy throat, weeping eyes and sneezing. Misery.

So far this year, she has had no hay fever. Not one sniffle. We await with interest the ever onward march of Spring which I have also been commenting on this week.

Not only that but also …

My daughter is anaphylactic to egg. That’s like the worst allergy you could possibly imagine. One allergist told us she was one thousand times more allergic to egg than the ordinary person.

cracked egg

Good morning. Fried, boiled, scrambled, or cooked with, I will kill you. Have a nice day.

As a result, she has carried an adrenalin-injecting pen with her since she was about 4.

Ingesting egg in any way produces a violent over-reaction from her body, including her breathing tube closing. In short, without prompt medical attention, and perhaps even then, egg is fatal for her.

Now, after a few treatments from the practitioner who we came to affectionately call “The Witch”, (which is a bit unfair, as she seems entirely sane and un-witch-like) she is virtually cured of her egg allergy. Certainly no longer in danger, it appears.

This diagnosis has been confirmed by a professional medical-doctor allergist. He simply cannot explain it, and nor can our GP.

She has been given egg under controlled conditions in hospital. Lots of it. She was fine apart from a mild remaining sensitivity to uncooked egg white.

(The naturopath believes she can fix that too.)

She has eaten, for the first time in her life, cakes, biscuits, pasta, pastries and other items all including egg or brushed with it. Her life is changed out of all recognition, and for the better.

I promised my family, if there was a good outcome, that I would investigate further. So, Dear Reader, I did.

Yesterday I went to said naturopath myself, dragging She Who Must Be Obeyed along with me for moral support. I gave her some basic medical information about me as I have one or two medical challenges currently which need fixing, and I didn’t want her operating in a vacuum. But I by no means told her my whole medical history.

She photographed my eyes.

She looked at my eyes.

And then she blew me out of the water.

“Have you ever experienced such and such?” she asked, pointing at what she called a lesion on the picture of my eye on-screen. It was her first question. Her first question.

Now without revealing the precise nature of what she spotted, let me just explain that Mr Wellthisiswhatithink endured, as a child, an extremely rare medical condition – less than 2% of children have it. And I repeat, this was the first thing she investigated. She didn’t start gently with “have you ever had bronchitis or shortness of breath?” or “do you get back pain?” (both of which, for a gentleman of some corpulent excess such as me would have been stone bonking certainties at some point).

No, she said “Have you ever experienced such and such?”

She had 98 chances to be wrong, and on top of that the question would also appear so bizarre as to create doubt and confusion in the mind of any patient. But she nailed it. And there was no way she could have known – none.

To my mind, the only possible conclusion is that there was something in my eye that indicated it to her.

Now if you go to Wikipedia or elsewhere and investigate iridology, you will find countless warnings, and many comments that no scientifically-valid trials ever prove it to be valid, and so on. I do not for one moment doubt the genuine-ness of those objections.

I do also know, however, that there is more to know about the human body that we know. And whether or not the reason that the process that this person goes works is what she thinks it is, nevertheless she is currently 3 for 3.

She then looked around my body – via the photographs of my eyes – and cheerfully reeled off a whole series of comments that made perfect sense given my recent medical history, and confidently predicted that doing this or that would help. At no stage did she argue I should reject or discontinue conventional medical treatment: in fact, very much the opposite, she offered to co-operate with my GP and insisted I carry on doing what he wants, too, although she did think that in due course some alternative therapies might make conventional ones less necessary.

So am I converted?

Well, I am certainly confounded. Astonished. Fascinated. Intrigued, and hopeful of good outcomes.

I will report back on my progress. Meanwhile, I’d love to know if you have experienced anything similar, or, indeed, the opposite.

Be assured: even as I write these words, I am shaking my head in bemusement that I would ever suggest that such “quackery” was seriously worth investigating. Perhaps some of you are too.

I can only confirm, everything you read above is true. I have no reason to exaggerate, or lie.

HORATIO
O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!

HAMLET
And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

Great article, beautifully written, about the vagaries of bad English like what she is written. Well done that man. Enjoy.

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