Friday, May 31, 2013

The Human Body: Anatomy, Facts & Functions

Human body systems.  

The human body is everything that makes up, well, you. The basic parts of the human body are the head, neck, torso, arms and legs.

Body systems

Our bodies consist of a number of biological systems that carry out specific functions necessary for everyday living.

The job of the circulatory system is to move blood, nutrients, oxygen, carbon dioxide, and hormones, around the body. It consists of the heart, blood, blood vessels,arteries and veins.

The digestive system consists of a series of connected organs that together, allow the body to break down and absorb food, and remove waste. It includes the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, rectum, and anus. The liver and pancreas also play a role in the digestive system because they produce digestive juices.

The endocrine system consists of eight major glands that secrete hormones into the blood. These hormones, in turn, travel to different tissues and regulate various bodily functions, such as metabolism, growth and sexual function.

The immune system is the body's defense against bacteria, viruses and other pathogens that may be harmful. It includes lymph nodes, the spleen, bone marrow, lymphocytes (including B-cells and T-cells), the thymus and leukocytes, which are white blood cells.

This Plane Crashed Into An Apartment Full of Sleeping People

This Plane Crashed Into An Apartment Full of Sleeping People  

A small plane smashed through the roof of an apartment building in Northern Virginia just after midnight on Friday. Amazingly, only one of the six people sleeping in the apartment was hurt.

Two kids and four adults were asleep in the apartment's bedrooms when the single-engine Cessna 177B apparently ran out of fuel and crashed into the three-story apartment complex in Herndon, Virginia.

The pilot and passenger work for an aerial photography company and were collecting infrared imagery over the Washington metropolitan area when electrical problems and a stalled engine possibly caused by running out of fuel dropped the two-seater out of the night sky and into the apartment's living room.

Both pilot and passenger were hurt, with 61-year-old pilot William Larson suffering "serious but not life threatening injuries." The resident suffered minor injuries, WTOP reported.

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Leading neuroscientist: Religious fundamentalism may be a ‘mental illness’ that can be ‘cured’

University of Oxford Neuroscientist Kathleen Taylor (Twitter)

A leading neurologist at the University of Oxford said this week that recent developments meant that science may one day be able to identify religious fundamentalism as a “mental illness” and a cure it. 

During a talk at the Hay Literary Festival in Wales on Wednesday, Kathleen Taylor was asked what positive developments she anticipated in neuroscience in the next 60 years. 

“One of the surprises may be to see people with certain beliefs as people who can be treated,” she explained, according to The Times of London. “Somebody who has for example become radicalised to a cult ideology – we might stop seeing that as a personal choice that they have chosen as a result of pure free will and may start treating it as some kind of mental disturbance.”

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Is a 'Starbucks of Pot' What Corporate Cannabis Really Needs?


Jamen Shively is high on cannabis legalization.

For someone who only lit up for the first time ever last year, Shively, a former Microsoft manager, sure has mastered all the heady pro-pot talking points. He likens the growth of green legalization, recently spurred by Washington State and Colorado voting to legalize small amounts of cannabis for recreational use, to the crumbling of the Berlin Wall. When the Seattle Times asked him if he's at all worried about the Feds shuttering his plans to open up a national chain of pot shops, he waxed Jedi: "Darth," Shively began, cribbing Obi-Wan Kenobi, "if you strike me down, I will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine." 

You might be cringing. But there's no way around it: When you're a business person looking to capture a massive slice of a potentially massive pie, you have to talk the talk, winking and nodding as if you've been there all along. You have to sidle up, in this case, to a crowd that is maybe quite wary of some of the ripples starting to emanate from proverbial Big Pot. Medical pot users and stoners alike just loOooOve Star Wars, or something. Right? So does Jamen. He is one of you! And together--you, the affluent Baby Boomer user to whom Shively's proposed chain would expressly target and cater--you'll forever change the arc of history, bong in hand. 

Bribing Our Way To Peace?


You gotta give U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry credit for persistence -- or maybe just perverseness -- in his efforts to restart the Middle East "peace process." Given the complete failure of the past two decades of peace-processing, you might also wonder why he's bothering. My guess is that he does realize that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is still a significant problem for the United States, as well as a source of continued human suffering. The fighting in Syria and the continued struggles in Iraq, Egypt, and elsewhere may command more attention these days, but the situation in Israel/Palestine remains a potent source of anti-Americanism and a constant headache for every president. Plus, Kerry is an ambitious guy, and who wouldn't like to be the hero who finally managed to put this century-old conflict to rest? 

News reports suggest that Kerry is trying to advance this goal by employing a time-honored tool of Middle East diplomacy: bribery. No, I don't mean direct under-the-table payoffs to key leaders (although the United States has done plenty of that in the past and I wouldn't rule it out here). Instead, I mean offering the various parties big economic incentives to lure them back to the table. Back in the 1970s, for example, Henry Kissinger got Israel to withdraw from the Sinai by promising it enormous military aid packages and assorted other concessions. Jimmy Carter did the same thing when he brokered that Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty in 1979, and U.S. largesse also greased the subsequent peace deal between Israel and Jordan in 1994. When domestic politics make it impossible to use sticks, carrots are all you have left.

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8 drugs that exist in nature

Aspirin comes from willow bark. Heroin is made from poppy buds. And more! 

 A police official squeezes a poppy pod, releasing the milky substance that, when dried, becomes raw opium. 

Most drugs today, legal and otherwise, are synthesized in a laboratory. But most medical and recreational drugs originally began in the wild, growing naturally in forests, fields, and deserts. Some can still be found there. Here are some of the country's better known drugs, in their natural, pre-processed form.

1. Opium poppy (heroin, morphine, codeine).

These Death Valley Stones Seem to Move by Themselves, But No One Has Ever Seen It Happen


Scattered about the Racetrack Playa in Death Valley California are large rocks with mysterious zig-zagging trails behind them. The trails are evidence that these rocks have moved, as much as 820 feet in a single winter, leaving zig-zag trails across the ground. There are over 150 such animate rocks. And yet, no one has ever seen them move. 

In 1972 a team of scientists set out to unravel the mystery. They named a group of stones and did surveys of the area over a seven-year period. A 700-pound block dubbed Karen, which didn't move at all while under study, was entirely missing when they returned years later. A sighting of the 700-pound Karen was later made over half a mile from the survey site. 

Teams have continued to study the phenomenon and believe that winter ice and strong winds, which can reach upwards of 90 miles per hour, are responsible for the stones' movement. 
More photos of The Sailing Stones of Racetrack Playa can be seen on Atlas Obscura.

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Why Do We Love To Make And View Art?

Our Artful Brain

What it takes to take in, say, a Picasso


What is it about our species that we make art and view art and love art? I’m thinking of the ancient cave paintings in France and Spain, begun 40,800 years ago—the age of the oldest red-painted dot to be accurately dated. (It’s found in a cave called El Castillo in the Spanish province of Cantabria.) The high cave-art era occurred between 17,000 and 12,000 years ago. How modern they seem, those lyrical representations of bison, horse, mammoth, ibex, deer, and auroch (pronounced OUR-rock, an ancestor of the dairy cow). They were made by drawing curved lines in charcoal and adding shadows and highlights in mineral-derived colors such as red ochre to convey movement and three-dimensionality.

How we see—how the brain perceives what the eyes take in—is entangled with how we see art, how we make art. This is one thread in the book The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain by neuroscientist Eric R. Kandel. If I were going to be washed up on a desert island with my choice of 10 books, along with, I would hope, a good supply of espresso, this thick and handsome volume—a tapestry of art history, psychology, creativity studies, and brain science—would be one of them.

Billionaire Advice For 2013 College Grads: Oprah, Melinda Gates, Steve Case And More


The world’s billionaires are, by definition, some of the most successful people on the planet — often building their own companies and changing the world with a new product or a huge philanthropic endeavor. This makes them natural candidates to give advice to young college graduates who are just starting out in the world. 

This year, a handful of billionaires gave commencement addresses, including media powerhouse Oprah Winfrey, global philanthropist Melinda Gates, and AOL AOL +2.15% co-founder Steve Case. Here are some choices passages from their speeches:

Oprah Winfrey: We All Want To Be Understood

“I have to say the single most important lesson I learned in 25 years is there’s a common denominator in our experience… We want to be validated. We want to be understood. I’ve done over 35,000 interviews in my career and as soon as that camera shuts off, everyone always turns to me and says, ‘Was that OK?’ I heard it from President Bush. I heard it from President Obama… I even heard it from Beyonce in all her Beyonceness!” -Harvard University

New Artificial Heart Is Part Cow, Part Pump


Every year between 2,000 and 3,000 people in the United States get a new heart from an organ donor. About the same number of people remain on waiting lists and many die before they ever get a chance at a transplant.

Artificial hearts are currently used as a stopgap measure while patients wait to get a donor heart. By definition the hearts only last a certain amount of time. That can be years — one made by SynCardia Systems, Inc. has lasted up to 1,374 days — but it’s still not a permanent solution. On top of that, an artificial heart requires a “driver” that has to be worn outside the body and connects through the skin — increasing the chance for infection.

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The Trial That Gave Vodou A Bad Name 

An engraving–probably made from a contemporary artist’s sketch–shows the eight Haitian “voodoo” devotees found guilty in February 1864 of the murder and cannibalism of a 12-year-old child. From Harper’s Weekly.

It was a Saturday, market day in Port-au-Prince, and the chance to meet friends, gossip and shop had drawn large crowds to the Haitian capital. Sophisticated, French-educated members of the urban ruling class crammed into the market square beside illiterate farmers, a generation removed from slavery, who had walked in from the surrounding villages for a rare day out.

The whole of the country had assembled, and it was for this reason that Fabre Geffrard had chosen February 13, 1864, as the date for eight high-profile executions. Haiti’s reformist president wished to make an example of these four men and four women: because they had been found guilty of a hideous crime—abducting, murdering and cannibalizing a 12-year-old girl. And also because they represented everything Geffrard hoped to leave behind him as he molded his country into a modern nation: the backwardness of its hinterlands, its African past and, above all, its folk religion.

 For the rest of the story:

How A War Hero Became A Serial Bank Robber

Army medic Nicholas Walker returned home from Iraq after 250 combat missions, traumatized and broken. His friends and family couldn’t help him. Therapy couldn’t help him. Heroin couldn’t help him. Pulling bank heists helped him.  

How A War Hero Became A Serial Bank Robber 

Around 11:45 on the morning of Saturday, April 23, 2011, a young man wearing sunglasses and a blue hoodie walked into a U.S. Bank in Lyndhurst, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland. His name was Nicholas Walker, and in his right hand he carried a green Hi-Point .45 pistol. Walker approached one of the teller windows, jostling to the side a woman who was already being helped, and pointed the weapon briefly at Rosa Foster, a bank employee facing him from the other side of a bulletproof glass wall. A video camera captured the moment. Foster, who was pregnant at the time, later told the Lyndhurst police that the robber said, “You know what this is,” before demanding that she hand over the cash from her register, which she promptly did, passing bundles of bills in $100, $50, and $20 denominations, $7,426 in total. Walker stuffed the money into a white plastic bag. Then he ran out through the same door he had entered.

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U.S. Says Self-Driving Cars Could Save Lives


The Transportation Department says that driverless cars should not yet be allowed, except for testing, but noted that some safety features could save lives, Claire Cain Miller and Matthew L. Wald report in The New York Times.

On Thursday, the department made its first formal policy statement on autonomous vehicles. In a nonbinding recommendation to the states, it said that driverless cars should not yet be allowed except for testing. But it said that semiautonomous features, like cars that keep themselves centered in lanes and adjust their speed based on the location of the car ahead, could save lives.

The statement, from the department’s highway safety agency, comes as companies, led by Google, have made significant technological strides in making cars that drive themselves, but still face daunting legal, regulatory and cultural hurdles before the cars are widely available to drivers. It is the latest example of the tension between technological innovation and regulation, which move at very different speeds.

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WWII Drug: The German Granddaddy of Crystal Meth

Crystal meth is notorious for being highly addictive and ravaging countless communities. But few know that the drug can be traced back to Nazi Germany, where it first became popular as a way to keep pilots and soldiers alert in battle during World War II.

Photo Gallery: Crystal Meth's German Roots  

"Alertness aid" read the packaging, to be taken "to maintain wakefulness." But "only from time to time," it warned, followed by a large exclamation point. 

The young soldier, though, needed more of the drug, much more. He was exhausted by the war, becoming "cold and apathetic, completely without interests," as he himself observed. In letters sent home by the army postal service, he asked his family to send more. On May 20, 1940, for example, he wrote: "Perhaps you could obtain some more Pervitin for my supplies?" He found just one pill was as effective for staying alert as liters of strong coffee. And -- even better -- when he took the drug, all his worries seemed to disappear. For a couple of hours, he felt happy.

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Ancient U.S. Weapon Makes a Surprise Reappearance in Syria

Watch enough YouTube videos of the fighting in Syria, and you’ll start to notice it: a long-tubed gun, mounted on the back of either a jeep or large, fast pickup. Usually it’s blasting bunkers, blockhouses, fortified positions, or places where snipers are hiding. It even goes after tanks. And whenever it fires, the gun seems to kick up way more hell behind it than what it sends out the barrel’s front end. It’s the M40 106mm recoilless rifle, an American-made, Vietnam-vintage weapon that got dropped from the Army and Marine inventory back during the early 1970s. Until recently, the 106mm hadn’t seen much action in the irregular wars that have swept the globe. Then M40s somehow came into the hands of rebels in Libya and Syria. Suddenly, the 106mm – light, cheap, easily transportable, simple to operate, and packing a punch all out of proportion to its modest size — has emerged as a possible Great Asymmetric Weapon of the Day.

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Revealed: The Awesome Explanation for the Moon’s Extra Gravity

top10_space_moon  In 1968, just a year before the historic Apollo 11 Moon landing, NASA scientists discovered something that could have sent astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins plunging to their deaths: an unexpected gravitational force—one so strong it caused the unmanned Lunar Orbiter spacecraft to violently shake up and down as it orbited Earth’s neighbor.

The cause, NASA determined, was the presence of “mascons,” or mass concentrations of especially dense rock just below the surface of the Moon, with much stronger pulls than the rock that surrounds them. Scientists adjusted accordingly to land the Apollo. But for decades, a pressing question lingered: how could these mascons—not found anywhere on Earth—even exist in the first place?

Today, as published in Science, we finally have an answer. In short: blame the asteroids—and the make-up of the Moon itself.

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How Does Internet Porn Affect Teens?

New Study Says: We Have No Idea!

online porn  

How has the ubiquity of online porn affected the sexual development of children and teens? The scientific consensus is: We have no idea.

A new comprehensive report from Middlesex University London (undertaken on behalf of England’s Children’s Commissioner) is titled “Basically … Porn Is Everywhere,” but clear insights into the effects of that material are nowhere to be found. Researchers sifted through hundreds of studies from around the world that have attempted to draw conclusions about young people’s relationships to online porn. Results were inconclusive. Most of these studies don’t agree on what pornography is. They don’t agree on what age “young people” are. They can’t confirm how often these young people (whoever they are) actually watch porn (whatever that is).

Despite widespread fear about the increasingly deranged version of human sexuality depicted by online porn, “it is unclear whether pornography is more extreme and violent today than in the past.” (For what it’s worth: One study found that while bestiality is easier to find online, depictions of rape are more a VHS and DVD thing.) And when it comes to pornography use among children and teens who then go on to engage in risky sexual behaviors or even become sex offenders, “causal relationships cannot be established.” In fact, the total lack of insight into the much-feared cause-and-effect relationship between porn use and sexual abuse caused the study’s authors to question whether it’s even “possible to conduct research into causality.” If not, they wrote, “perhaps it is time to ask different questions.”

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The World’s Priciest Produce


If you’ve ever felt a little pain in your wallet when shelling out extra coin for those organic avocados or heirloom tomatoes that looked too good to pass on, you can take solace in the fact that you could have spent much more on your produce. From melons to mushrooms, the international elite have not hesitated to spend thousands to get their vegetal fix.

Here are some of the most expensive plants that have been on the market over the past few years.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Bomb Didn't Beat Japan... Stalin Did

Have 70 years of nuclear policy been based on a lie?


The U.S. use of nuclear weapons against Japan during World War II has long been a subject of emotional debate. Initially, few questioned President Truman's decision to drop two atomic bombs, on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But, in 1965, historian Gar Alperovitz argued that, although the bombs did force an immediate end to the war, Japan's leaders had wanted to surrender anyway and likely would have done so before the American invasion planned for November 1. Their use was, therefore, unnecessary. Obviously, if the bombings weren't necessary to win the war, then bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki was wrong. In the 48 years since, many others have joined the fray: some echoing Alperovitz and denouncing the bombings, others rejoining hotly that the bombings were moral, necessary, and life-saving.  

Both schools of thought, however, assume that the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki with new, more powerful weapons did coerce Japan into surrendering on August 9. They fail to question the utility of the bombing in the first place -- to ask, in essence, did it work? The orthodox view is that, yes, of course, it worked. The United States bombed Hiroshima on August 6 and Nagasaki on August 9, when the Japanese finally succumbed to the threat of further nuclear bombardment and surrendered. The support for this narrative runs deep. But there are three major problems with it, and, taken together, they significantly undermine the traditional interpretation of the Japanese surrender.

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When Men Experience Sexism

There are some practices and policies that are unfair to men. But this fact should unite men with feminists, not drive them apart.  


Posters encouraging men to fight in World War I and World War II (Library of Congress).

Can men be victims of sexism?

An NPR Morning Edition report this week suggests strongly that the answer is "yes." As Jennifer Ludden reports, after divorce men can face burdensome alimony payments even in situations where their ex-wives are capable of working and earning a substantial income. Even in cases where temporary alimony makes sense—as when a spouse has quit a job to raise the children—it's hard to understand the need for lifetime alimony payments, given women's current levels of workforce participation. As one alimony-paying ex-husband says, "The theory behind this was fine back in the '50s, when everybody was a housewife and stayed home." But today, it looks like an antiquated perpetuation of retrograde gender roles—a perpetuation which, disproportionately, harms men.

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What Causes Late Night Snack Cravings?


What is it that makes a “midnight snack” so irresistible? Short answer: blame your ancestors.

A recent study published by the journal Obesity found that late night snack cravings are the work of the body’s circadian system, which acts as an internal clock to control when the body performs certain habitual tasks. It’s the circadian system that increases cravings for sweet, starchy, or salty foods in the evenings. This urge is a remnant of a now-defunct survival mechanism in which eating large meals at night would help our ancestors store energy in times of famine.

Much like the human appendix, evolution and changes in human eating habits have rendered it obsolete; however, unlike the mostly harmless appendix, this former survival tactic is now a huge contributor to morbid obesity. Snacking at night is counterproductive for the body, because sleeping doesn’t expend the same energy—and calories— as one’s daily activities do.

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Why Iran's Hackers Might Be Scarier Than China's


China is spying on US companies, but Iran is targeting the power grid. 

May was a grim month for American cybersecurity. First, the Obama administration accused China of hacking government computers, potentially to exploit weaknesses in the US military. Then, US officials announced that hackers, believed to be sponsored by the Iranian government, had successfully broken into computer networks that run US energy companies, giving Iran the means to sabotage power plants. This week, the Washington Post reported that Chinese cyberspies had hacked more than two dozen big-name US weapons programs, including the F-35 fighter jet, an army program for downing ballistic missiles, and the Navy's Littoral Combat ship. Not all cyberthreats are equal, but one question remains: Who poses the greater danger—Chinese or Iranian hackers?

To date, Chinese hackers have gotten more public attention, thanks to a February 2013 New York Times investigation of a top-secret government hacking operation based in Shanghai, and high-profile attacks, originating from China, on US media outlets. But experts point out that though China has greater capabilities for cyberwarfare and is actively stealing US military secrets, Iran's attacks could ultimately be more worrisome, because its hackers are targeting critical infrastructure and developing the ability to cause serious damage to the United States' power grid.

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Why We Can’t Send Humans to Mars Yet (And How We’ll Fix That)

Going to Mars  

While humans have dreamed about going to Mars practically since it was discovered, an actual mission in the foreseeable future is finally starting to feel like a real possibility. 

But how real is it?

NASA says it’s serious about one day doing a manned mission while private companies are jockeying to present ever-more audacious plans to get there. And equally important, public enthusiasm for the Red Planet is riding high after the Curiosity rover’s spectacular landing and photo-rich mission.

Earlier this month, scientists, NASA officials, private space company representatives and other members of the spaceflight community gathered in Washington D.C. for three days to discuss all the challenges at the Humans to Mars (H2M) conference, hosted by the spaceflight advocacy group Explore Mars, which has called for a mission that would send astronauts in the 2030s.

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Where is the best country to be a child?

The data in this year's UN report on children throws up as many surprises as predictable patterns. In which country are children most likely to die before they reach the age of 5? Where are teenage girls most likely to believe wife-beating is justified? And which countries have improved the most for children since 1990?  


Unicef's latest report looks at the lives of children in almost 200 countries, giving special consideration to those living with a disability. Source: UNICEF/Guardian

Statistics aren't always child's play, as this new release from the United Nations demonstrates today. The UN Children's Fund (Unicef) have published their annual State of the World's Children report and it makes for some complicated reading. Not least because the references in the report run into the hundreds and have varying degrees of reliability.

That's partly because this Unicef report has made an admirable effort to look at national differences of a world-wide issue facing millions of children around the world: disability. We take a look at some of the disability concerns the report highlights, as well as other trends in everything from children's nutrition to education around the world.

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Suffer the little children

Childhood mortality rates differ for boys and girls.

IT MIGHT be thought that in poor countries, girls would live harder lives than boys. It is true that they can be less well treated within the family and often go to school for shorter periods (though most at least go to school). But child-mortality figures show a more complex picture. In Africa childhood mortality among boys is far higher than among girls, according to new figures from UNICEF that break down mortality by sex for the first time. 


Mt. Everest's filthy secret: It's a dump

Exhausted climbers have left behind a trail of debris — and lots of excrement.

Please pick up after your climb.  

The world this week is celebrating the 60th anniversary of the first successful effort to reach the top of the world's highest peak. But environmental activists are using the occasion to call attention to the tons and tons of garbage — and human excrement — that have been left on Mt. Everest's slopes in the decades since Sir Edmund Hillary and his Nepalese Sherpa guide, Tenzing Norgay, made their historic climb. And the picture they are painting isn't pretty.

Here, a look at the mess, by the numbers:

Expeditions that try to reach Everest's 29,029-foot peak in a typical year. "There were just people everywhere," one climber, Ayisha Jessa of London, tells the International Business Times.

Conservative estimate of the number of people who have reached the top in the past 60 years. Everest is no longer "a wilderness experience," says mountaineer Graham Hoyland. "It's a McDonald's experience."

Climbers who reached the top of Everest in just one day in 2012.

Scientists fear female libido booster too effective

female viagra  
Worried that the “female Viagra” could work too well? (Photo via Gabriel Delgado / Wikimedia Commons).

Women looking to get their freak back may soon be able to pop a new breed of lust drug: Lybrido.

But scientists developing the desire pill sometimes called “female Viagra” confided in one writer an unusual worry. They fear the libido-booster may work too well.

(And the problem with that is …?)

Journalist Daniel Bergner, whose story on the still-being-developed wonder drug was published last week in the New York Times Magazine, says researchers worry about creating an orgasm-hungry nympho. Yeah, the author expressed surprise at that, too.

“More than one adviser to the industry told me that companies worried about the prospect that their study results would be too strong, that the F.D.A. would reject an application out of concern that a chemical would lead to female excesses, crazed binges of infidelity, societal splintering,” Bergner writes.

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10 Fascinating Things About State Politics You Probably Didn’t Know

States place industrial plants near downwind borders to pass on environmental costs, state legislatures have stopped growing to keep up with population growth, and other lessons from the 13th annual State Politics and Policy Conference.


I just came back from the 13th annual State Politics and Policy Conference, held this year in Iowa City, Iowa. I’m a big fan of this conference—it reliably features really innovative work on state politics, which unfortunately rarely gets a lot of national (or international) attention. The lessons we glean from state politics are actually incredibly valuable for people concerned with American politics. The U.S. state political systems are all largely based on the federal government, but they feature interesting variations and quirks that offer useful lessons about things like governing structures, representation, regulations, reform, and so on.

Anyway, here are a few interesting things I learned during my visit to the conference this year. I’ve linked the relevant paper or poster where available.

01. Elected judges write in more readable language than appointed judges do. However, elected judges facing a potentially difficult re-election campaign use more obfuscatory language on controversial decisions. (Michael Nelson)

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One will really amaze you, the other just eats his mates

Pink slug  

Relics: The pink slug, above, eats mould and moss. 

High in the mists that shroud Mount Kaputar, near Narrabri in north-western NSW, scientists have discovered a secret world.

By day it is an isolated pocket of snow gums, wrapped in straggling native vines.
People tend to focus on the cute and cuddly bird and mammal species like koalas. But these little invertebrates drive whole ecosystems. 
But on rainy nights, it is the domain of giant, fluorescent pink slugs - up to 20 centimetres long - and carnivorous, cannibal land snails that roam the mountaintop in search of their vegetarian victims.

''It's just one of those magical places, especially when you are up there on a cool, misty morning,'' said Michael Murphy, a national parks ranger for 20 years, whose beat covers the mountain top.

Is 16 Minutes the Best We Can Do for Tornado Warnings?

For now, yes. But Congress would like to change that.


For those caught in the path of the EF 4 tornado in Oklahoma last week, 16 minutes were all they had to prepare themselves for the 200 mph winds that would flip cars, twist steel, and all but complete destroy a 1.3 mile-wide swath of the town.

Sixty or so years ago, they would have been lucky to have any warning at all. A form of the National Weather Service has been issuing tornado warnings only since 1938. Previously, the word "tornado" had been banned by the Army Signal Corps, which used to monitor the weather. To the corps, tornadoes were much too unpredictable to track, and the word incited more panic than meaningful response.

The House Environment Subcommittee is drafting a bill to spur forecasting research and technology procurement in the National Weather Service, in part, to extend lead times for tornado warnings. The National Weather Service had previously received $23.7 million in funds for forecasting in the Sandy Relief bill. The current bill would seek spur forecasting research investments (there's no specific dollar figure yet), and to replace satellite systems that will degrade over the next few years.

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Here's Your Smart Lock of the Future, Today

Here's Your Smart Lock of the Future, Today  

In an ever increasing world of connected smart things, the most important home appliance, the front door lock, is just now getting automated. August, co-founded by Yves Behar and Jason Johnson, today announced the company's first product, a $200 lock aptly named Smart Lock. Now you never have to pull out your key or even your phone when your hands are full. You don't even need extra copies to dole out to friends and family.

The keyless entry system connects to your iPhone through Bluetooth—the low energy kind—-allowing you to control who gets to come or go, straight from your phone or desktop. Best of all, you don't even need to replace the entire lock to make it smarter.

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What is Augmented Reality?

Eye Movement Control  
Augmented reality effectively blurs the line between what is real and what is generated by a computer. The basic concept behind augmented reality is that images and sounds are superimposed over what the user experiences in the real world, effectively striving toward a "Minority Report" or "Iron Man" style of interactivity.

This type of reality should not be confused with virtual reality. Virtual reality creates computer-generated environments for you to interact in while maintaining a sense of immersion. Augmented reality (also known as AR), on the other hand, tends toward realism and adds visual, audio and other sensory to the natural world as it exists now.

True augmented reality

In 2009, the MIT Media Lab’s Fluid Interfaces Group presented what was called SixthSense, a device that combined the use of a camera, small projector, smartphone and mirror. The device hangs from the user’s chest in a lanyard fashion from the neck. Four sensor devices on the user's fingers can be used to manipulate the images projected by SixthSense.

Another device of note is Google Glass, an augmented reality device shaped into a set of glasses. It displays on the user’s lens screen via a small projector and responds to voice commands, overlaying images, videos and sounds onto the screen for only the user to experience.

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Deep-Sea Worms Can't Take the Heat

These tube worms, over three feet tall, live off the "smoke" particles from the vent.


Hot pink tube worms living on scalding deep-sea hydrothermal vents actually like to keep things relatively cool, according to a study published today (May 29) in the journal PLOS ONE.

Superheated water — at temperatures of more than 750 degrees Fahrenheit (400 degrees Celsius) — spews from the vents. An entire ecosystem clings to the chimneylike columns, with worms and many other species consuming each other and the mineral-laden hydrothermal fluids. Exploring the deep-sea vents helps scientists determine the upper temperature limits for life.

The fleshy pink Pompeii worm (Alvinella pompejana) is one of the most extreme of the deep-sea creatures, perching its long, bristly tubes right next to the shimmering vent fluids. Earlier research had pegged the Pompeii worm's comfort zone as high as 140 F (60 C), far beyond that of other animals. But genetic and protein studies showed the worm's tissues would unravel at such high temperatures, just like raw eggs change when cooked. [Life at the Hydrothermal Seep (Video)]

High Blood Pressure Linked to Declining Brain Function

WASHINGTON — High blood pressure, particularly in the arteries that supply blood to the head and neck, may be linked with declining cognitive abilities, according to a new study from Australia.

Researchers found that people with high blood pressure in the central arteries — including the aorta, the largest artery in the human body, and the carotid arteries in the neck — performed worse on tests of visual processing, and had slower thinking and poorer recognition abilities.

Typically, blood pressure measurements are taken from the brachial artery in the arm, but looking at the health of the central arteries may be a more sensitive way to assess cognitive abilities, said study researcher Matthew Pase, of the Center for Human Psychopharmacology at Swinburne University in Melbourne. The central arteries directly control bloodflow to the brain.

"If we can estimate the blood pressure in central arteries, we might 

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Why Do Some Blond Kids Go Dark?


Some children start life as platinum blonds — often called "towheads" — but experience a darkening of hair color before they reach puberty. Just what causes this change in hue?

To begin: Your hair color is determined by the amount of natural pigment, called melanin, you have in your hair. Two distinct types of melanin exist — eumelanin and pheomelanin — and the ratio of these pigments guides hair color.

Eumelanin can be further broken up into two flavors: black and brown. Essentially, the more eumelanin you have in your hair, the darker it will be.

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Must Sharks Keep Swimming to Stay Alive?

As an obligate ram ventilator, a whale shark must continuously swim or die.


Sharks must constantly swim or they'll die, right? Actually, this tale isn't true for all shark species.

Like other fish, sharks "breathe" through their gills, which are respiratory organs akin to our lungs. As water passes over the gill's membranes, tiny blood vessels extract oxygen from the water. Carbon dioxide waste also passes from the shark's blood and out of its body through the gill tissue.

But just how the sharks force water over their gills differs among species.

Google Street View maps Galápagos Islands – in pictures

This summer, Google Street View users will be able to dive deep into the waters of the Galápagos and navigate across its inaccessible landscape, via 360-degree images of life on the remote volcanic islands, which includes giant tortoises, sea lions and iguanas. Hikers spent 10 days on the capturing panoramic images using backpack orb cameras weighing 42lbs and underwater equipment. The Galápagos national park, Charles Darwin foundation and the Catin Seaview Survey worked in collaboration to obtain the footage which will be 'stitched together' to create photographic tours

Galapagos island: Catlin Seaview Survey on land  

Daniel Orellana of Charles Darwin Foundation crossing a field of ferns to reach Minas de Azufre (naturally occurring sulfur mines) on the top of Sierra Negra, an active volcano on Isabela Island. The Google Maps team traveled for over three hours, hiking and on horseback, to reach this remote location.

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Inside Guántanamo Bay In Photographs


On assignment documenting Guantánamo Bay for this week’s issue of TIME, photographer Eugene Richards spent several days at the infamous detention facility. Here, Richards writes for LightBox about how he approached the assignment and the distinct challenges he faced working under the tight restrictions imposed on the media by the U.S. military. 

When TIME asked me to go to Guantánamo, I immediately thought back to 9/11 — to the smoke and ruin of that fatal day, to Bush’s declaration of the war on terror, then to the first images from the prison: of men in orange jumpsuits shackled, blindfolded, handcuffed, sensory-deprived. These men, often viewed in silhouette and on their knees in prayer, were often picked up on the battlefield in Afghanistan by military units, although some were captured after bounties of as much as $5000 per head were paid. My first thoughts were to 9/11, of interrogations, secrecy, torture and military might.

And then there was the series of military-issued disclaimers I would have to agree to. I wouldn’t be permitted to photograph, or even see, the detainees. I couldn’t show the guards’ faces, and I would only be able to photograph the pre-ordained locations within the camp. And finally, I had to agree to having my work edited — to turn over my cards so that images could be deleted or cropped as per the opinion of the public information staff accompanying me the entire assignment. ‘Can you make pictures out of nothing?’ I asked myself, then prepared for the trip.

CIA Torture Whistleblower's Dark Letter About His Life In Prison

Former CIA agent John Kiriakou, who blew the whistle on the US government’s use of torture under the Bush administration, is currently serving a 30 month sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution in Loretto, Pennsylvania. 

Below is a letter he recently sent his attorney Jesselyn Radack, who shared it (with John’s permission) with Firedoglake based on a pre-existing arrangement. The letter details his life in prison, including an incident in which prison officials attempted setup a confrontation between Kiriakou and a Muslim prisoner, telling Kiriakou he was the uncle of the Times Square bomber, when in reality the imam was in prison for refusing to testify in the Lackawanna Six case. Prison officials also lied to the Muslim prisoner, telling him that Kiriakou had called Washington after they met and had been ordered to kill him.

This letter is the first part in a series inspired by dinner table discussions between Jane Hamsher, Jesselyn Radack and John Kiriakou (and others) before he went to prison. John wanted to have his letters published so that he could still communicate and share his story with the outside world. 

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