Posts Tagged ‘science’


Every now and then, a revolutionary technological advance comes along and changes how we live our daily lives.

Li-Fi might just be the next one.

This amazing idea is like Wi-Fi, but much, MUCH, faster.


Having just been trialled for the first time in real life, Li-Fi was found to live up to scientists’ claims that it operates up to 100 times faster than Wi-Fi technologies.

And if you picture such genius inventions to have been born of a ‘light-bulb moment’, well this one most certainly was.

Li-Fi is a wireless technology that transmits high-speed data using visible light communication (VLC).

It means, within the next five years, you could be accessing the Internet using the light-bulbs in your home.

This would reportedly be safer from a data security perspective as well, protecting the data being sent, because light cannot pass through walls.

The technology was brought from research labs – where scientists achieved speeds of 224 gigabits per second – to real life by an Estonian start-up company, Velmenni.

Estonia? Yup.

“Currently we have designed a smart lighting solution for an industrial environment where the data communication is done through light,” Deepank Solanki, CEO of Velmenni, told IBTimes UK.

In another project, the company has set up a Li-Fi network in an office space to provide Internet access for a private client.

The man who invented Li-Fi, Professor Harald Haas from the University of Edinburgh, said that current infrastructure is suitable for integration of Li-Fi.

In a Ted talk broadcast in 2011 he demonstrated how, by flickering the light from a single LED, he could transmit far more data than a cellular tower.

“All we need to do is fit a small microchip to every potential illumination device,” Haas said.

If it does all turn out to be that easy, you really could be downloading that favourite movie or TV series of yours in a flash – a flash of light.


One night about a year ago Mrs Wellthisiswhatithink turned the late night TV shopping channel on.

It was an accidental act, in truth, but we found ourselves taken by the subject matter: to wit, buying a new camera at what looked like an amazingly low price.

NikonIt turned out, of course, that it wasn’t an especially great price, and we could have walked round the corner and bought it at the same price and got some professional advice into the bargain.

But no matter. We had always wanted a nice camera, as opposed to taking snaps using the iPhone, not that the remarkable and ubiquitous little device didn’t actually take nice snaps, but this one seemed very swish and a nice colour, and the front pointy bit went in and out really far, so in we dove.

Anyhow, as a sign for how ludicrously busy all our lives have become, this weekend is almost the first chance we have had to play with the camera, at Smiths Beach on gorgeous Phillip Island, in Victoria, Australia.

Of course, as you will have discovered previously, Dear Reader, the new technological age sits somewhat heavily on our prematurely aging shoulders. Fresh from wrestling with things that go bing, we now found ourselves poking with uncertain, stubby little fingers at a camera for which a high-flying degree in advanced sub-atomic particle physics would be inadequate preparation.

There is not one, not two, but fully three ways to make the telephoto thingy whiz in and out. meaning, of course, that it does so when one least expects it to.

Press the wrong button, and the playback screen turns into a mass of statistics and charts telling you why you have just messed up the last shot taken. Trying to get back to just seeing the photo on its own again without the accompanying science takes fully half an hour of increasingly frantic thumbing through the “destructions” as Mrs W calls all manuals, which as with most things seems to be written in a sort of pig-din Japlish which defies easy translation.

The little diagrams of buttons on the camera would be very helpful if one didn’t need a magnifying glass to see which buttons they refer to, (dagnabbit, knew we left something out of the beach bag), as the whole booklet is clearly written for people with A1 20-20 vision aged 18, which as it emanates from the Land of the Rising Yen is somewhat curious as we never yet met a Nipponese who could see past the end of their nose without glasses as thick as the bottom of a Coke bottle, so quite who the manual is aimed at is something of a mystery.

Meanwhile the little twirly thing on the top offers you fully twenty “shooting modes”, and heaven forbid you should try and photograph a sunny Aussie beach in “Night Portrait” mode, as the seagulls flying by suddenly all look like Ring Wraiths or Dementors come to drive us back into the cottage.

Plumping for “Scenic” seems like a safe option, until you realise the sub-Menu offers you fully fifteen variations of scenic to choose from. Choosing between “Cloudy” and “Dusk” looks tricky to the untrained eye …

Seagull at dusk. Or cloudy. You choose.

Seagull at dusk. Or cloudy. You choose.

Then, when one finishes the hour-long process of turning the damn thing on, one realises that there is actually more to taking a good photo than pointing and pressing. More digital photos (and before them, bazillions of miles of film) must have been taken of waves crashing on rocky seashores than almost any other subject matter you care to name. One very quickly realises that taking a good photo of a wave is clearly nigh-impossible. There is that wildly improbable nexus of the right camera, the right setting, the right moment, and that indefinable “eye” that true photographic geniuses have.

Which we, Dear Reader, do not.

Looking west at Smiths Beach

Luckily, the world is such an intensely beautiful place that it is impossible to entirely stuff up photographing it even with one’s new techno-rich clicky thing. We did, we think, nevertheless manage to make the photos quite big and a suitable format for desktop wallpapers. Feel free to nick any you like.

A Spring day on a beach in rural Victoria is probably the best balm for the soul imaginable. Even when your camera is just another way of reminding you that the world is hurtling ever onward to a place where you no longer really belong.

No, these photographs are not very good.


Looking East

But the world is. The world rocks.

(Gettit? The world rocks. Oh, never mind …)



Wellthisiswhatithink’s Mum used to scoff oysters with cheerful excess until one day she ate a bad one. She was so crook she never touched another one for the next thirty years till old age carried her off.

Well, oysters now appear to be an important link in the transmission of norovirus among humans, according to new research from China.

Norovirus — better known as “cruise-ship flu,” “stomach flu” or “winter vomiting flu” — is one of the world’s most common causes of gastrointestinal distress. Although most patients recover after a few days of misery, and sometimes ruined vacations, the virus can sadly be lethal to infants, older adults and people with weak immune systems.

It is highly infectious — especially in confined environments like ships — but exactly how it is transmitted has been a mystery.

The unwashed hands of food workers have been blamed. But recently, scientists at North Carolina State University built a “vomiting machine” that showed tiny infectious droplets of vomit can fly through the air to infect other people, just as droplets from a sneeze will do.

In the current study, published last month in Applied and Environmental Microbiology, researchers analyzed the genetic sequences of 1,077 samples of noroviruses found in oysters. Some sequences had been stockpiled in genetic databases since 1983.

The scientists found that 80 percent of the known human noroviruses matched those found in oysters. The majority of the matches were in oysters from coastal waters, more likely to be contaminated with human sewage.

Noroviruses mutate very quickly, as do influenza viruses, and big outbreaks usually begin after a new strain emerges. There was a “convergence” between new strains circulating in oysters and those circulating in humans, the researchers also found.

Yongjie Wang, a food science specialist at Shanghai Ocean University and lead author of the study, concluded that oysters were an important reservoir for human noroviruses — a place where they can hide between outbreaks and mutate. They also can be transmitted back to humans, presumably when oysters are eaten raw. A way to detect noroviruses in oyster flesh and in the beds where they grow needs to be developed, Dr. Wang said.

Alternatively, avoid enclosed spaces where people are vomiting, and go easy on the seafood buffet.

(NY Times)

  • Study of Holocaust survivors finds trauma passed on to children’s genes
  • New finding is first example in humans of the theory of epigenetic inheritance: the idea that environmental factors can affect the genes of your children
  • The team’s work is the clearest sign yet that life experience can affect the genes of subsequent generations.

In a fascinating study discussed in the Guardian newspaper and elsewhere, it seems that genetic changes stemming from the trauma suffered by Holocaust survivors are capable of being passed on to their children, the clearest sign yet that one person’s life experience can affect subsequent generations.

holocaustThe conclusion from a research team at New York’s Mount Sinai hospital led by Rachel Yehuda stems from the genetic study of 32 Jewish men and women who had either been interned in a Nazi concentration camp, witnessed or experienced torture or who had had to hide during the second world war.

They also analysed the genes of their children, who are known to have increased likelihood of stress disorders, and compared the results with Jewish families who were living outside of Europe during the war. “The gene changes in the children could only be attributed to Holocaust exposure in the parents,” said Yehuda.

Her team’s work is the clearest example in humans of the transmission of trauma to a child via what is called “epigenetic inheritance” – the idea that environmental influences such as smoking, diet and stress can affect the genes of your children and possibly even grandchildren.

The idea is still highly controversial, as scientific convention states that genes contained in DNA are the only way to transmit biological information between generations. However, our genes are modified by the environment all the time, through chemical tags that attach themselves to our DNA, switching genes on and off. Recent studies suggest that some of these tags might somehow be passed through generations, meaning our environment could have and impact on our children’s health. If so, it will provide a whole new area of preventative health care.

Other studies have proposed a more tentative connection between one generation’s experience and the next. For example, girls born to Dutch women who were pregnant during a severe famine at the end of the second world war had an above-average risk of developing schizophrenia. Likewise, another study has showed that men who smoked before puberty fathered heavier sons than those who smoked after.

GenesThe team were specifically interested in one region of a gene associated with the regulation of stress hormones, which is known to be affected by trauma. “It makes sense to look at this gene,” said Yehuda. “If there’s a transmitted effect of trauma, it would be in a stress-related gene that shapes the way we cope with our environment.”

They found epigenetic tags on the very same part of this gene in both the Holocaust survivors and their offspring, the same correlation was not found in any of the control group and their children. Through further genetic analysis, the team ruled out the possibility that the epigenetic changes were a result of trauma that the children had experienced themselves.

“To our knowledge, this provides the first demonstration of transmission of pre-conception stress effects resulting in epigenetic changes in both the exposed parents and their offspring in humans,” said Yehuda, whose work was published in Biological Psychiatry.

It’s still not clear how these tags might be passed from parent to child. Genetic information in sperm and eggs is not supposed to be affected by the environment – any epigenetic tags on DNA had been thought to be wiped clean soon after fertilisation occurs.

However, research by Azim Surani at Cambridge University and colleagues, has recently shown that some epigenetic tags escape the cleaning process at fertilisation, slipping through the net. It’s not clear whether the gene changes found in the study would permanently affect the children’s health, nor do the results upend any of our theories of evolution.

Whether the gene in question is switched on or off could have a tremendous impact on how much stress hormone is made and how we cope with stress, said Yehuda. “It’s a lot to wrap our heads around. It’s certainly an opportunity to learn a lot of important things about how we adapt to our environment and how we might pass on environmental resilience.”

The impact of Holocaust survival on the next generation has been investigated for years – the challenge has been to show intergenerational effects are not just transmitted by social influences from the parents or regular genetic inheritance, said Marcus Pembrey, emeritus professor of paediatric genetics at University College London.

“Yehuda’s paper makes some useful progress. What we’re getting here is the very beginnings of a understanding of how one generation responds to the experiences of the previous generation. It’s fine-tuning the way your genes respond to the world.”

Can you inherit a memory of trauma?

Researchers have already shown that certain fears might be inherited through generations, at least in animals.

Scientists at Emory University in Atlanta trained male mice to fear the smell of cherry blossom by pairing the smell with a small electric shock. Eventually the mice shuddered at the smell even when it was delivered on its own.

Despite never having encountered the smell of cherry blossom, the offspring of these mice had the same fearful response to the smell – shuddering when they came in contact with it. So too did some of their own offspring.

On the other hand, offspring of mice that had been conditioned to fear another smell, or mice who’d had no such conditioning had no fear of cherry blossom.

The fearful mice produced sperm which had fewer epigenetic tags on the gene responsible for producing receptors that sense cherry blossom. The pups themselves had an increased number of cherry blossom smell receptors in their brain, although how this led to them associating the smell with fear is still a mystery.


The implications of this study are surely enormous. One can only imagine the impact on children of parents living in vicious war zones like Syria and Iraq. The children of parents suffering the horrors of famine in Africa. What changes are we wreaking in our gene pool from the modern day stress of living in overcrowded urban environments, especially those that are grindingly poor, such as in Mexico, Brazil, the Phillipines, India and elsewhere?

And very close to home, what are the impacts on the eventual descendants of the poor people trapped in seemingly never-ending detention in the Australian  immigration system: people who have already suffered the trauma of leaving their homes as refugees, escaping persecution.

We have often heard “the sins of the fathers are vested in the children”. Now it seems their innocent suffering may be, too.

‘Heat dome’ covers the Middle East to bring temperatures up to bring ‘feels like’ temperatures up to 74 degrees.

An “heat dome” has fallen on the Middle East to create “feels-like” temperatures as high as 74 degrees. The people of Iraq were given a four-day holiday last week after the government declared soaring temperatures too much to deal with. Authorities in the Middle East cautioned residents to drink plenty of water and stay out of the sun.

earth on fire
The Iranian port city of Bandar-e Mahshahr recorded an extreme feels-like temperature of 74 degrees on Friday based on a calculated heat index. The formula combined the actual air temperature that peaked at 46 degrees with the highest humidity – or dew point – temperature reading that topped 32 degrees. A dew point exceeding 26 degrees is said to be oppressive on the human body as it struggles to deal with the heat through perspiration.

“That was one of the most incredible temperature observations I have ever seen, and it is one of the most extreme readings ever in the world,” said AccuWeather meteorologist Anthony Sagliani in a statement. Sagaliani pointed to a high-pressure system that has cloaked the region since July for the heat surge, making one of the world’s hottest places even hotter.

The heat dome is a high pressure ridge over the region which makes normal hot temperatures seem even hotter.

The UK’s Telegraph newspaper reported that the “heat index” – a measurement of what weather feels like – is the highest ever recorded. The scientists monitoring the heat index say Iran are probably enduring among the hottest temperatures ever experienced by humans.

Meanwhile it has been warm across the globe with the north-west US and eastern Pacific starting to feel the effects of El Nino in recent weeks following the deaths of hundreds in May’s heat wave across South Asia.

climate-change-denial-350x242And Australia has since an unusually early start to bushfire season with one blaze in the Blue Mountains being fought into its forth day only two weeks after the mountains were blanketed in snow. Northern Australia also had record-breaking July with Gympie noting its hottest July day since records began in 1908 with the temperature reaching 29.4 degrees, according to the Bureau of Meteorology.

It’s happening.

And it may already be too late to prevent the low end of temperature rise predictions, let alone the high end. Tell someone.


Woman finds twin growing in her brain

Yamini Karanam got quite a surprise when doctors revealed the results of her brain tumour. Photo: GoFundMe

Yamini Karanam got quite a surprise when doctors revealed the results of her brain tumour.

In fact, it wasn’t a tumour at all. It was her embryonic twin.

The 26-year-old found herself struggling with reading and speaking and was diagnosed with a brain tumour that was feared to be cancerous.

“Problems with reading comprehension, listening comprehension. If a couple people were talking in a room, I wouldn’t understand what was happening,” Karanam said.

After many discussions with confused medical staff, Karanam underwent keyhole surgery.

Doctors made a half-inch incision into Karanam’s brain that enabled an endoscope to reach and carefully chisel away at the ‘tumour’.

Her surgeon, Dr. Hrayr Shahinian, explained to Karanam when she woke that the ‘tumour’ was a teratoma which was her embryonic twin complete with bone, hair and teeth.

Yamini Karanam woke the the news that her ‘tumour’ was a teratoma, which was her embryonic twin complete with bone, hair and teeth. Photo: NBC

She joked about how the ‘tumour’ was actually her ‘evil twin sister who’s been torturing me for the past 26 years’.

Dr Shahinian said this is the second time he has found a teratoma in his work, having performed over 7000 of these procedures.


Lake Learmonth at sunrise on the summer solstice … you can almost hear the magpies saying good morning

Today, I was woken, as I often am, by the sound of the Australian magpie, sitting on my roof, carolling away.

When I first came to Australia, some 25 years ago, having only been in the country a few days, I was taken camping by friends at a very pretty spot called Lake Learmonth, near the Victorian country town of Ballaraat. About an hour and a half north of Melbourne.

At about 5 or 5.30 am (having not been asleep very long), I sat bolt upright in my tent, when the most astonishing noise from the depths of some awful Hell broke over my head like an aural tsunami.

I flung open the tent and stood up in my undies, still lily-white from the northern winter, (me, not the undies; they were a sort of off white) and utterly panicked. I must have made an amusing spectacle for the numbers of hardy, bronzed Aussies that were already up and about, gathering wood for barbecues, showering, getting boats rigged for an early morning sail, or fishing.

When I had gathered myself, I soon surmised that on the ground nearby was a single black and white bird, singing away for all it was worth, hoping to be chucked a scrap of spare bacon in all probability, and with the most astonishing collection of sounds I had ever heard.

Warbles, cat calls, obbles, wobbles, doodles, melodious notes held apparently forever, soaring trills, clicks, coughs* … a seemingly endless repertoire of noise. No, it wasn’t Armageddon. It was a single bird.

Needless to say, it was some time before my Aussie hosts allowed me to forget that I had been so terrified of one small black and white bird looking for some free breakfast that I ran around the campsite in my smalls.

Anyway, lying in bed this morning listening to the morning chorus which I have now, of course, grown to love, it occurred to me that you, Dear Reader, might like to hear what all the fuss was about.

The first video is an exceptional sound file, although poor for seeing the bird. The second is not so good for the sound, although still good, but lets you see the birds clearly.

And there’s another good sound file for you to listen to here:

The other bird we hear regularly, of course, especially when my wife is selling her beautiful handmade glass at lovely Warrandyte market by the Yarra River, is the Kookaburra, a member of the Kingfisher family, and the iconic “laughing”  Australian bird.


The Australian Magpie was first described by English ornithologist John Latham in 1802 as Coracias tibicen, the type collected in the Port Jackson region. Its specific epithet derived from the Latin tibicen “flute-player” or “piper” in reference to the bird’s melodious call.[1][2] An early recorded vernacular name is Piping Roller, written on a painting by Thomas Watling, one of a group known collectively as the Port Jackson Painter,[3] sometime between 1788 and 1792.[4] Tarra-won-nang,[3] or djarrawunang, wibung, and marriyang were names used by the local Eora and Darug inhabitants of the Sydney Basin.[5] Booroogong and garoogong were Wiradjuri words, and carrak was a Jardwadjali term from Victoria.[6] Among the Kamilaroi, it is burrugaabu,[7] galalu, or guluu.[8] It was known as Warndurla among the Yindjibarndi people of the central and western Pilbara.[9] Other names used include Piping Crow-shrike, Piper, Maggie, Flute-bird and Organ-bird.[2] The term Bell-magpie was proposed to help distinguish it from the European Magpie but failed to gain wide acceptance.[10]

*One of the best-known New Zealand poems is “The Magpies” by Denis Glover, with its refrain “Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle”, imitating the sound of the bird.

The bird was named for its similarity in colouration to the European Magpie; it was a common practice for early settlers to name plants and animals after European counterparts.[4] However, the European Magpie is a member of the Corvidae, while its Australian counterpart is placed in the Artamidae family (although both are members of a broad corvid lineage).

Magpies are ubiquitous in urban areas all over Australia, and have become accustomed to people. A small percentage of birds become highly aggressive during breeding season from late August to early October, and will swoop and sometimes attack passersby. The percentage has been difficult to estimate but is significantly less than 9%.[81] Almost all attacking birds (around 99%) are male,[82] and they are generally known to attack pedestrians at around 50 m (150 ft) from their nest, and cyclists at around 100 m (300 ft).[83] Attacks begin as the eggs hatch, increase in frequency and severity as the chicks grow, and tail off as the chicks leave the nest.[84]

These magpies may engage in an escalating series of behaviours to drive off intruders. Least threatening are alarm calls and distant swoops, where birds fly within several metres from behind and perch nearby. Next in intensity are close swoops, where a magpie will swoop in from behind or the side and audibly “snap” their beaks or even peck or bite at the face, neck, ears or eyes. More rarely, a bird may dive-bomb and strike the intruder’s (usually a cyclist’s) head with its chest. A magpie may rarely attack by landing on the ground in front of a person and lurching up and landing on the victim’s chest and peck at the face and eyes.[85]

Magpie attacks can cause injuries, typically wounds to the head and particularly the eyes, with potential detached retinas and bacterial infections from a beak used to fossick in the ground. A 13-year-old boy died from tetanus, apparently from a magpie injury, in northern New South Wales in 1946. Being unexpectedly swooped while cycling is not uncommon, and can result in loss of control of the bicycle, which may cause injury. In Ipswich, a 12-year-old boy was killed in traffic while trying to evade a swooping magpie on 16 August 2010.

If it is necessary to walk near the nest, wearing a broad-brimmed or legionnaire’s hat or using an umbrella will deter attacking birds, but beanies and bicycle helmets are of little value as birds attack the sides of the head and neck.[90] Eyes painted on hats or helmets will deter attacks on pedestrians but not cyclists.[91] Attaching a long pole with a flag to a bike is an effective deterrent.[92] As of 2008, the use of cable ties on helmets has become common and appears to be effective.[93] Magpies prefer to swoop at the back of the head; therefore, keeping the magpie in sight at all times can discourage the bird. Using a basic disguise to fool the magpie as to where a person is looking (such as painting eyes on a hat, or wearing sunglasses on the back of the head) can also prove effective. In some cases, magpies may become extremely aggressive and attack people’s faces; it may become very difficult to deter these birds from swooping. Once attacked, shouting aggressively and waving one’s arms at the bird should deter a second attack. If a bird presents a serious nuisance the local authorities may arrange for that bird to be legally destroyed, or more commonly, to be caught and relocated to an unpopulated area.[94] Magpies have to be moved some distance as almost all are able to find their way home from distances of less than 25 km (15 mi).[95] Removing the nest is of no use as birds will breed again and possibly be more aggressive the second time around.[96]


Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott (L), and Australian Health Minister Peter Dutton (R) during a press conference in Sydney, Australia, 5 November 2014.


As we have pointed out before, Australia has been slow and mealy-mouthed in sending aid/health workers to try and control the Ebola outbreak at source.

Yet even now some small move has been made, as PM Abbott and Health Minister Dutton have been dragged kicking and screaming to the table, people around the world, and indeed at home, could be forgiven for being a little confused about Australia’s response to the Ebola crisis.

The government has been sending out somewhat mixed signals over what help it can offer, as is now pointed out for the world to read on the front page of the BBC website in the UK. Nice.

First, the Abbott government refused to send any official medical or military personnel to West Africa, a decision for which he was widely criticised on this blog, inside Australia, and overseas, at the same time as President Barack Obama was saying the US should be encouraging health workers to volunteer to go to the frontline.

Mr Abbott has now bowed to pressure and announced Australia will be contributing A$20m (£11m; $17m) to help fund a British Ebola response clinic being set up in Sierra Leone. However, the prime minister has been vague about who will be staffing it.

The Australian side of the operation has been contracted out to the private health provider Aspen Medical and Abbott suggested most of the staff would be recruited locally, but contradictorily health officials in Sierra Leone have said the principal thing they are lacking is qualified local doctors.

Meanwhile, the managing director of Aspen Medical, Glenn Keys, has said around 350 Australians have registered with the company to go and help.

What is clear is that the prime minister is sticking by his line that no government medical teams or military personnel will be dispatched.

Mr Abbott said the decision to contract in Aspen had been reached after Britain agreed to treat any Australians who become infected while in West Africa, something the Australian leader had said was his principal concern.

It’s now emerged though, that the European Union had already made a similar offer to treat Australian staff that Mr Abbott had rejected.


How many innocent lives could Australian workers have saved in the last few weeks? We will never know.

How many innocent lives could Australian workers have saved in the last few weeks? We will never know.


Yet the media in Australia have been perfectly silent in asking him “Why?”, and still are. Especially as the end result is Australia’s response has looked very tardy and been delayed by crucial weeks. Meanwhile the poor of West Africa continue to face death rates from Ebola of up to 90% of all those infected.

Add to that the strong criticism Australia has faced after it became the first developed country to ban the issuing of visas to anyone from Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia. The Sierra Leonean government called the move “discriminatory” and “counter-productive” suggesting it created a climate of panic.

As the BBC say, anyone who’s visited Australia will know they take a tough line on bio-security. There are strict rules about bringing in food products due to fears of bringing in disease.

But given that only a handful of people have been tested for suspected Ebola in Australia and all have tested negative, the government here risks being accused of showing a lack of compassion in the eyes of many around the world.

What is more important is that if this outbreak is not stopped AT SOURCE, and somehow transmits itself into other poor areas of the world with bad sanitation and inadequate health services – the rest of Africa, India, Pakistan, Central and Southern America, great swathes of South East Asia, even China – then we would be looking at an Armageddon scenario. In the face of which, Abbott and Dutton looked nothing more nor less like rabbits stuck in the headlights. So much for “strong leadership”, eh?

obama in churchMeanwhile, the political and media beat up worldwide on the outbreak has continued, with near hysteria levels, in the USA in particular.

A couple of weeks back we predicted that there wouldn’t be another Ebola case in the USA in the next seven days. It’s now 14 and counting.

But has the fever of commentary died down? Hardly. And why is so annoyingly obvious. The Republicans knew that by making Obama look “weak” on Ebola, by terrifying the population, in simple terms, then they would hurt the Democrats. And so they did, as seen in their “wave” of wins in the mid-terms on Tuesday just gone.

In fact, as is widely acknowledged, Obama’s response has been a small miracle of intelligent healthcare policy.

That he has not received the credit for acting smartly, promptly and effectively – not just in the USA, but in West Africa – is truly sickening.



There is a curious and well-known phobia where otherwise sane, rational people are scared of clowns.

The phenomenon is relatively recent, as the white-faced red-nosed version of clowns that some people find so alarming is a construction of the 20th century. Before that people with anxiety found something else to fixate on.

Now it seems there’s good reason to be worried. At least in Europe and the USA.

Clowns attack passers by

Freakish aggressive clowns, some allegedly armed with knives, pistols, and bats are driving French towns crazy, chasing down and attacking people.

In the southern port town of Agde, about 15 ‘clowns’ were arrested in a high school car park for ‘laughing manically’ while chasing people. In nearby Marseillan, a clown was detained for damaging a car.

In Montpellier: a ‘clown’ beat a man 30 times with an iron bar and then stole his wallet. Three motorists in the area also complained of “scary clowns.”

The French freak-clown wave began in the north a couple of weeks ago, in suburban Douai. In Bethune, a fake clown got a six-month suspended jail term for threatening passers-by.

A French police statement blames the web. “Since mid-October, a rumor inspired by videos published on the Internet has created the presence of threatening and aggressive clowns in France. Symptomatic of the impact of the Internet, this phenomenon can lead to damaging individual acts and disturbances to public order”.

The ‘clown craze’ is thought to have been triggered by a viral YouTube video and a recent episode of American Horror Story featuring a killer named Twisty.

Clown attack cases didn’t begin in France though: London’s Metropolitan Police dealt with 117 clown-related incidents in 2013.

In Portsmouth, UK, a masked figure began stroking passers-by in the city streets with a single red-gloved finger. As we come from Southampton, we’d believe anything of people in that particular locale.

US police have also made dozens of clown-related arrests, most prevalent in California.

Fear of clowns? It’s understandable.

But why be scared of the very look of a clown?

Coulrophobia – fear of clowns – is difficult to understand. They straddle a cultural nexus between fear and entertainment, but are generally intended to be affectionate, especially towards children.

The phobia may grow from the fascinating concept of “the uncanny valley”. The uncanny valley is a hypothesis in the field of human aesthetics which holds that when human features look and move almost, but not exactly, like natural human beings, it causes a response of revulsion among some human observers.

The “valley” refers to the dip in a graph of the comfort level of humans as something moves toward a healthy, natural human likeness but does not become entirely indistinguishable from a human. Examples of the effect can be found in the fields of robotics and 3D computer animation, among others. Unless the simalcrum is perfect, some people find it disturbing – and some find it so in the extreme.

The term was coined by the robotics professor Masahiro Mori as Bukimi no Tani Genshō (不気味の谷現象) in 1970. The hypothesis has been linked to Ernst Jentsch’s concept of the “uncanny” identified in a 1906 essay “On the Psychology of the Uncanny”. Jentsch’s conception was then elaborated by Sigmund Freud in a 1919 essay entitled “The Uncanny” (“Das Unheimliche”).

Mori’s original hypothesis states that as the appearance of a robot is made more human, some human observers’ emotional response to the robot will become increasingly positive and empathic, until a point is reached beyond which the response quickly becomes that of strong revulsion. However, as the robot’s appearance continues to become less distinguishable from that of a human being, the emotional response becomes positive once again and approaches human-to-human empathy levels.

This area of repulsive response aroused by a robot with appearance and motion between a “barely human” and “fully human” entity is called the uncanny valley. The name captures the idea that an almost human-looking robot will seem overly “strange” to some human beings, will produce a feeling of uncanniness, and will thus fail to evoke the empathic response required for productive human-robot interaction.

For robot, read clown. But why would humans react this way to something which is “almost” human, but slightly different, like a clown? The science is fascinating.


"What do you mean you don't want to have sex with me my pretty?"

“What do you mean you don’t want to have sex with me my pretty?”


A number of theories have been proposed to explain the cognitive mechanism underlying the uncanny valley phenomenon:

  • Mate selection. Automatic, stimulus-driven appraisals of uncanny stimuli elicit aversion by activating an evolved cognitive mechanism for the avoidance of selecting mates with low fertility, poor hormonal health, or ineffective immune systems based on visible features of the face and body that are predictive of those traits. Put simply, we avoid mating with weird looking people.
  • Mortality salience. Viewing an “uncanny” person elicits an innate fear of death and culturally-supported defences for coping with death’s inevitability.
  • We don’t want to get sick. Uncanny stimuli may activate a cognitive mechanism that originally evolved to motivate the avoidance of potential sources of pathogens by eliciting a disgust response. The more human someone looks, the stronger the aversion to its obvious defects, because (1) defects indicate disease, (2) more human-looking organisms are more closely related to human beings genetically, and (3) the probability of contracting disease-causing bacteria, viruses, and other parasites increases with genetic similarity. To some people, clowns look sick. We don’t want to catch whatever they’ve got.
  • They mess with our brains. Thanks to a concept called “Sorites paradoxes”, when we see a character with both human and nonhuman traits it undermines our sense of human identity by linking qualitatively different categories. That’s why quasi-human monsters like vampires are simultaneously attractive and scary. And why some Halloween costumes scare the bejeesus out of some people.
  • They just don’t measure up to our expectations. There is a concept of “violation of human norms” which says that if someone looks “almost” human, they elicit our model of a another human being and we have detailed normative expectations of how they will behave. Their non-human characteristics will be more noticeable than if they were trying to be something totally non-human, giving the human viewer a sense of strangeness. In other words, a clown stuck inside the uncanny valley is no longer being judged by the standards of a clown doing a passable job at pretending to be human, but is instead being judged by the standards of a human doing a terrible job at acting like a normal person.

So there you have it. If you’re frightened of clowns, you may have deep biological reasons to be so. Although frankly, we think having your new iPhone nicked by a hoodlum is the best reason to view with alarm someone approaching you in the street looking like a refugee from Billy Smart’s circus.

OCD-AlphaOrderOnce upon a time, as we have described before, we went down with a bad dose of OCD. That’s the illness caused by f***** up brain chemicals that makes people do things over and over again … tap their feet a certain number of times, never say the letter P, or, most commonly, check that they’ve turned the gas cooker off thirty times or wash their hands repeatedly in very hot water with lots of soap.

We got the germy version. Big time. So we will confess to being 100% more aware of hygiene issues than  the average poor sap, even if that is about 10,000 times less aware of it than we used to be, as we are largely recovered from the illness, thank the Lord.

But being a bit germ aware does actually make some sense in today’s very busy and rushed world. We often take shortcuts with personal hygiene nowadays, or lay ourselves open to risk simply by being unaware, and there are some really nasty bugs around. Anti-biotic resistant staph we know about, and the world is positively swimming in E.coli (literally, often) which can make us very unwell, not to mention salmonella, which can hospitalise or kill you. (We have had members of our family go down with it – mythology it ain’t.)

Er, no thanks,

Er, no thanks,

So here’s today’s list of ten things you really need to think about. Even if you haven’t got OCD.

Unless you/re eating in this toilet-themed restaurant in China you wouldn’t eat off your toilet. But you might be surprised at the items that are dirtier in your world.

So 1. Your cell phone.

Your cellphone is disgusting. Trust me. It is an absolute holiday resort for germs.

If you don’t believe me, go here, where you can actually find out how many germs are living on your trusted companion right now.

germs on cell phoneWe are actually quite careful about our phone’s hygiene level, and we got the result that currently, there are 674,100 germs living on our cell phone: that’s the equivalent of 135 toilet seats!

Not that we’re paranoid, or nuffink. But seriously, who washes their hands after using their cell phone?

No 2. Your BBQ grill

Now we know you would never glance at the BBQ and say “I’ll clean it after”, right? Not even once.

You will always rigorously clean your grill immediately after cooking on it, even if you’re sitting down by the pool with a belly full of Vic Bitter and sausages with the biggest food coma of all time on the horizon.

dirty bbqOr even if you did leave it till next time, just that once, you would never hope for the best and stick a steak on top of the charred leavings of last time, on the basis that all the new fire you’re about to crank up is bound to clean up anything that’s grown there since last time? Eh?

Yeah, We hear you.

Just be aware that any food left on your grill immediately becomes a five star Michelin restaurant for nasty bugs of all kinds just floating around merrily in the sunshine.

Cooking on an unclean grill is seriously risking a tummy upset for you and the crowd, at the very least.

3. Your “clean” laundry

clean laundryNot to put too fine a point on it, crap clings to your underwear, whether you can see it or not. When you throw your undies in tub, you transfer about 500 million E. coli bacteria to the machine.

On top of that, water tends to settle in the bottom of front-loading machines, making it a breeding ground for germs. Then you wash your clothes in that mess.

To make sure your clean clothes come out actually clean, do a load of whites first so you can use chlorine bleach to sanitise the machine.

Or dedicate a cycle to underwear and use the hottest water the undies will bear without shrinking with a color-safe bleach substitute.

Also, run an empty cycle with bleach once every month to keep your washer free of bacteria. Easey-peasey.

4. Your toothbrush

Careful. They bite back.

Careful. They bite back.

When you flush your toilet, it can spray aerosolised droplets over six metres, says Dr Philip Tierno Jr, director of microbiology and immunology at NYU’s Langone Medical Center and the author of The Secret Life of Germs. It’s called a “plume”. Such a pretty name for such a horrid thought.

One option is to put the lid of the loo down before flushing. But it’s only a partial solution because it usually isn’t a perfect seal.

So if you leave your toothbrush out on the bathroom sink, it will almost certainly be showered with tiny drops of whatever you just flushed.

Stowing your toothbrush in a cabinet away from the flying faeces might be a good idea. Running it through the dishwasher will also eliminate germs, according to a 2011 study in the American Journal of Dentistry.

As a minimum, run it under a hot tap before using, or an even easier option would be to soak your toothbrush in a mouthwash that contains cetylpyridinium chloride, like Listerine, for 20 minutes.

5. Your kitchen sponge

Your dish or surface sponge is probably the nastiest thing in your kitchen. It’s just out to get you, we tells ya’allkeep-kitchen-sponges-clean-1!

It’s damp and constantly in contact with bacteria, making it a prime place for germs to proliferate.

Rather terrifyingly, there’s a one in three chance your kitchen sponge has staph just sitting on it, according to a Simmons College study. (That’s twice the contamination rate of your toilet.) And it could be harbouring up 10 million bacteria per square inch.

What can you do? Watch it in very hot soapy water or even in a light solution of disinfectant before using. If that seems a step too far, then vinegar is a natural disinfectant, so try dousing it in that, rinse it out with clean hot water, then do the dishes. Throw old sponges and cloths away more often, and use new ones.

6. The buttons in an elevator

5Going up? That elevator button could be crawling with more bacteria than a toilet, a new study from the University of Toronto found. Up to 40 times more.

And another large study from Saudi Arabia found that 97 per cent of elevator buttons in offices and residential buildings are contaminated. One in 10 had germs that could cause food poisoning or sinus infections.

Using an alcohol-based hand sanitiser after you press the “up” button should kill any bacteria you picked up, the researchers say. And for elevator button read … door handles, stair handrails … etc.

Sure, it’s not healthy to be constantly using hand sanitiser all day long, but before you touch food that you’re going to put in your mouth? That’s actually a smart idea.

7. Your computer

keyboardHow often do you chow down a sandwich at your desk while tapping away at your computer? Those keys, and now your hands, are swarming in potentially harmful bugs. Especially if more than one person use the computer.

Your hands, the keyboard. Your hands, the sandwich. The sandwich, your mouth. Your mouth, your gut. You get the picture.

But it’s not just your keyboard. It’s other people’s keyboards. And their mice. And other people’s tablets. It’s all because too many people don’t wash their hands thoroughly after visiting the loo despite health experts warning that rushed or ignored hand washing can lead to diarrhoea,vomiting, food poisoning, flu and the spread of MRSA.

Stop it already!

Stop it already!

There’s a new problem looming. British media regulator Ofcom suggest that consumers are so addicted to smartphones and tablet computers that over one in ten – 11%, in fact – now view video content on a device such as the iPad in the bathroom. It’s estimated that around 20% of 18-24 year-olds do so on a regular basis.

And if they’re not washing their hands, you can be damn sure they’re not washing their bloody iPhones and iPads.

8. Your ATM

atm-germsSwab tests recently conducted of public surfaces in six major cities revealed that ATMs are among the worst carriers of illness-causing germs. Starting to get the picture? Anything that is touched regularly by lots of people is a potential source of infection. The problem is very simple – bank staff don’t head outside to clean the keypads on their ATM with anti-bacterial or disinfectant wipes.

The tests showed that 41% of automated teller machine keypads carry germs that can cause colds and the flu.

Washing your hands afterwards or a hand sanitiser after using an ATM will help you in only picking up cold hard cash, and not a cold along with it.

9. The petrol pump.

everything bathroomYour hands could actually be germier after washing them than they were before.

That’s no exaggeration: one 2011 study from the University of Arizona found that one in four refillable soap dispensers in public bathrooms was contaminated and pumped out bacteria.

Another study tested whether those potentially disease-causing germs could be left on your hands after washing.

The short answer: yup.

Hot air dryers can also blow up to 45 per cent more bacteria onto your hands, according to a study in the Journal of Applied Microbiology.

If you have a choice, use soap dispensers that have bags of soap in them that are replaced, rather than those that are refilled by pouring more soap into them.

It might sound nuts, but you can wash the taps (faucet) before you use them, and after washing your hands, use paper towels to dry off, and then use them to turn off the taps and open the door as you leave.

Better momentary embarrassment because someone looks at you strangely than a handful of gut-wrenching oooby-goobries.

So, feel better now? Yeah, us too. Remember these simple rules to drastically reduce the risk to yourself and others.

  • Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and hot water after going to the toilet.
  • Always wash your hands before eating.

It’s a warzone. Good luck out there.


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.


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.


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 – helping youth suffering from cancer – supporting children with cancer and the hospitals treating them – peak cancer research body – National Breast Cancer Foundation in Australia – a government website pointing to hundreds of cancer charities and support organisations, with links to organisations in every state

AMERICA – American Cancer Society, direct link to their donation page – Cancer Recovery, links a number of charities together, in the US and overseas – National Breast Cancer Foundation, probably the most respected organisation of its type

UK – Cancer Research UK – Brain Tumour UK, specifically providing for research into brain cancer, and cash support for those suffering from the illness. – provides financial assistance for those suffering from leukaemia and related blood disorders – leading breast charity research and support group

WORLDWIDE – 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:





USA (four stories):


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.



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.

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:

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.