Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #7920 on: Jan 21st, 2013, 10:15am »
Loneliness, Like Chronic Stress, Taxes the Immune System, Researchers Find
Jan. 19, 2013 — New research links loneliness to a number of dysfunctional immune responses, suggesting that being lonely has the potential to harm overall health.
Researchers found that people who were more lonely showed signs of elevated latent herpes virus reactivation and produced more inflammation-related proteins in response to acute stress than did people who felt more socially connected.
These proteins signal the presence of inflammation, and chronic inflammation is linked to numerous conditions, including coronary heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, arthritis and Alzheimer's disease, as well as the frailty and functional decline that can accompany aging.
Reactivation of a latent herpes virus is known to be associated with stress, suggesting that loneliness functions as a chronic stressor that triggers a poorly controlled immune response.
"It is clear from previous research that poor-quality relationships are linked to a number of health problems, including premature mortality and all sorts of other very serious health conditions. And people who are lonely clearly feel like they are in poor-quality relationships," said Lisa Jaremka, a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research at Ohio State University and lead author of the research.
"One reason this type of research is important is to understand how loneliness and relationships broadly affect health. The more we understand about the process, the more potential there is to counter those negative effects -- to perhaps intervene. If we don't know the physiological processes, what are we going to do to change them?"
The results are based on a series of studies conducted with two populations: a healthy group of overweight middle-aged adults and a group of breast cancer survivors. The researchers measured loneliness in all studies using the UCLA Loneliness Scale, a questionnaire that assesses perceptions of social isolation and loneliness.
Jaremka will present the research January 19 at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology annual meeting in New Orleans.
The researchers first sought to obtain a snapshot of immune system behavior related to loneliness by gauging levels of antibodies in the blood that are produced when herpes viruses are reactivated.
Participants were 200 breast cancer survivors who were between two months and three years past completion of cancer treatment with an average age of 51 years. Their blood was analyzed for the presence of antibodies against Epstein-Barr virus and cytomegalovirus.
Both are herpes viruses that infect a majority of Americans. About half of infections do not produce illness, but once a person is infected, the viruses remain dormant in the body and can be reactivated, resulting in elevated antibody levels, or titers -- again, often producing no symptoms but hinting at regulatory problems in the cellular immune system.
Lonelier participants had higher levels of antibodies against cytomegalovirus than did less lonely participants, and those higher antibody levels were related to more pain, depression and fatigue symptoms. No difference was seen in Epstein-Barr virus antibody levels, possibly because this reactivation is linked to age and many of these participants were somewhat older, meaning reactivation related to loneliness would be difficult to detect, Jaremka said.
Previous research has suggested that stress can promote reactivation of these viruses, also resulting in elevated antibody titers.
"The same processes involved in stress and reactivation of these viruses is probably also relevant to the loneliness findings," Jaremka said. "Loneliness has been thought of in many ways as a chronic stressor -- a socially painful situation that can last for quite a long time."
In an additional set of studies, the scientists sought to determine how loneliness affected the production of proinflammatory proteins, or cytokines, in response to stress. These studies were conducted with 144 women from the same group of breast cancer survivors and a group of 134 overweight middle-aged and older adults with no major health problems.
Baseline blood samples were taken from all participants, who were then subjected to stress -- they were asked to deliver an impromptu five-minute speech and perform a mental arithmetic task in front of a video camera and three panelists. Researchers followed by stimulating the participants' immune systems with lipopolysaccharide, a compound found on bacterial cell walls that is known to trigger an immune response.
In both populations, those who were lonelier produced significantly higher levels of a cytokine called interleukin-6, or IL-6, in response to acute stress than did participants who were more socially connected. Levels of another cytokine, tumor necrosis factor-alpha, also rose more dramatically in lonelier participants than in less lonely participants, but the findings were significant by statistical standards in only one study group, the healthy adults.
In the study with breast cancer survivors, researchers also tested for levels of the cytokine interleukin 1-beta, which was produced at higher levels in lonelier participants.
When the scientists controlled for a number of factors, including sleep quality, age and general health measures, the results were the same.
"We saw consistency in the sense that more lonely people in both studies had more inflammation than less lonely people," Jaremka said.
"It's also important to remember the flip side, which is that people who feel very socially connected are experiencing more positive outcomes," she said.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #7926 on: Jan 22nd, 2013, 10:08am »
With 2 percent inflation target, Japan signals new strategy to boost economy
By Chico Harlan, Tuesday, January 22, 2:20 AM
SEOUL — Japan’s central bank on Tuesday doubled its inflation target to 2 percent, a main pillar in the country’s new aggressive strategy to break away from a two-decade economic stagnation.
The Bank of Japan’s new commitment, coupled with the government’s splurge of spending on public works projects, represents a controversial rethink about the way developed countries should repair their crisis-battered economies.
Under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, elected last month, Japan has turned away from the well-worn practices followed by economies under duress — conventions that call for austerity and debt reduction. Japan, instead, is trying to spend its way out of a recession rather than cutting back.
The goal is to shake the world’s third-largest economy from two of its most unrelenting problems, chronic deflation and a strong currency, which hurts Japan’s exporters by making their products more expensive overseas. But the strategy represents a particular gamble for a nation already with the highest debt burden in the developed world, at 220 percent of the gross domestic product.
If Japan’s public works spending does stimulate the economy, and if the central bank’s monetary easing weakens the yen, Japan could break from its prolonged slump. Investor confidence would rise, the gross domestic product would grow and the government would take in more tax revenue to cover its debts.
But some economic analysts, noting decades of mismanaged Japanese public spending, fear Abe’s stimulus will help little more than the enormous construction and business firms that support his conservative party.
“Spending money is not a bad thing, but [the government] needs a much clearer method of making sure that the money they spend is on high-return projects,” said Robert Feldman, Morgan Stanley’s chief economist for Japan. “No more bridges to nowhere.”
Skeptics also note that Japan’s government has no clear plans for deregulation or restructuring — long-term moves that could help the economy after stimulus spending runs out.
At a news conference last week in Washington, International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde said Japan’s fiscal and monetary package is not “particularly appropriate,” unless the country also shows a “determination to change the debt trajectory and reduce the deficit.”
Japan’s strategy has “caused a stir in international policy circles,” according to a note from Barclays Bank researchers, but the strategy is unlikely to spur copycats — even if it works. In Europe, central bankers are likely to stay conservative as a way to reestablish credibility in the euro. And in the United States, though aggressive monetary easing is already in place, there is little political appetite for a major government stimulus package.
The Bank of Japan decision Tuesday was controversial in its own right, because it was made under intense pressure from the central government. Since his election campaign, Abe has called on the central bank — equivalent to the Federal Reserve in the United States — to loosen monetary conditions and set a far more audacious inflation target.
By law, the central bank is independent from the Japanese government, but some economists say that Abe is trying to circumvent that. He has considerable leverage, too: In April, he’ll appoint the bank’s next governor, presumably one with policy preferences to match his own.
After its two-day meeting ended Tuesday, the central bank and the government released a joint statement in which both sides pledged to “strengthen their policy coordination.”
The bank’s new inflation target was widely anticipated. The bank said it would expand its asset purchasing program beginning in January 2014, when it will begin buying up government bonds and other forms of debt worth 13 trillion yen ($145 billion) monthly. This purchasing, the bank said, will go on for as long as necessary.
There are questions about whether Japan can hit its new inflation target. Under the current program, Japan has failed to hit its 1 percent goal. This attempt will use the same basic tools — interest rates at virtually zero, coupled with asset purchasing.
Still, Japan’s new fiscal and monetary policies have already prompted some short-term market gains. Since Abe rolled out his economic policies in mid-November, the yen has weakened 13.5 percent against the dollar, relieving some of the strain on Japanese export giants like Toyota and Sony. Meantime, the Nikkei stock index has soared above 10,500 for the first time in nearly two years, staging its most prolonged rally since 1987, according to Bloomberg.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #7927 on: Jan 22nd, 2013, 10:11am »
Spy Bases: 9 Secretive HQs of the World’s Intelligence Agencies
By Robert Beckhusen 01.22.13 6:30 AM
Architecture is a language, one used by institutions to say something about themselves.
The same basic principle is true for the world's spy agencies. All show their secrecy in their buildings, while some may appear starkly utilitarian, and some may even be frightening and alienating. But they also have their quirks and differences, whether it be an isolated complex hidden by trees, in a location that's never been officially disclosed, or a prominent complex built by superstar architects and put on prominent display in the middle of a capital city.
From Virginia to Berlin to Moscow, here are nine of them.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #7929 on: Jan 22nd, 2013, 10:20am »
When hearing goes, mental capacity often follows
Cause of declines difficult to pinpoint
By Laura Sanders Web edition: January 21, 2013
Older people with hearing loss may suffer faster rates of mental decline. People who have hearing trouble suffered meaningful impairments in memory, attention and learning about three years earlier than people with normal hearing, a study published online January 21 in JAMA Internal Medicine reveals.
The finding bolsters the idea that hearing loss can have serious consequences for the brain, says Patricia Tun of Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., who studies aging. “I’m hoping it will be a real wake-up call in terms of realizing the importance of hearing.”
Compared with other senses, hearing is often overlooked, Tun says. “We are made to interact with language and to listen to each other, and it can have damaging effects if we don’t.”
Frank Lin of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and colleagues tested the hearing of 1,984 older adults. Most of the participants, who averaged 77 years old, showed some hearing loss — 1,162 volunteers had trouble hearing noises of less than 25 decibels, comparable to a whisper or rustling leaves. The volunteers’ deficits reflect the hearing loss in the general population: Over half of people older than 70 have trouble hearing.
Over the next six years, these participants underwent mental evaluations that measured factors such as short-term memory, attention and the ability to quickly match numbers to symbols. Everybody got worse at the tasks as time wore on, but people with hearing loss had an especially sharp decline, the team found. On average, a substantial drop in performance would come about three years earlier to people with hearing loss.
Lin cautions that the study has found an association between hearing loss and mental abilities; the researchers can’t conclude that hearing loss directly causes the decline. Yet more and more studies are turning up ways that diminished hearing could damage the brain. A person who can’t hear well might avoid social situations, and isolation is known to be bad for the brain. “You gradually become more socially withdrawn,” Lin says. “Social isolation is a major, major factor for dementia and cognitive decline.”
Other studies suggest that when people struggle to interpret and decode words, their brains divert energy away from other tasks, such as memory. Audiologist and psychologist Kathy Pichora-Fuller says that this brain drain happens to everyone, even people without hearing loss. Studies have shown that people are worse at remembering things when they’re in a noisy room, for instance. People with hearing loss may be constantly diverting a large swath of their brainpower, leaving less for other mental tasks, says Pichora-Fuller, of the University of Toronto Mississauga.
More studies are needed to explore exactly how hearing loss is related to mental decline. Lin and his colleagues hope to study whether improvements in hearing brought about by hearing aids or other treatments translate to improvements in mental functioning. “The ultimate question is, can we do anything about it?” he says. “And we honestly just don’t know at this point.”
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #7930 on: Jan 22nd, 2013, 11:26am »
New Zealand environmental advocate launches campaign to ban cats as pets
January 22, 2013 Associated Press
WELLINGTON, New Zealand – Gareth Morgan has a simple dream: a New Zealand free of pet cats that threaten native birds. But the environmental advocate has triggered a claws-out backlash with his new anti-feline campaign.
Morgan called on his countrymen Tuesday to make their current cat their last in order to save the nation's unique bird species. He set up a website, called Cats To Go, depicting a tiny kitten with red devil's horns. The opening line: "That little ball of fluff you own is a natural born killer."
He doesn't recommended people euthanize their current cats -- "Not necessarily but that is an option" are the site's exact words -- but rather neuter them and not replace them when they die. Morgan, an economist and well-known businessman, also suggests people keep cats indoors and that local governments make registration mandatory.
"I say to Gareth Morgan, butt out of our lives," Bob Kerridge, the president of the Royal New Zealand Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, told the current affairs television show Campbell Live. "Don't deprive us of the beautiful companionship that a cat can provide individually and as a family."
For thousands of years, New Zealand's native birds had no predators and flourished. Some species, like the kiwi, became flightless. But the arrival of mankind and its introduction of predators like cats, dogs and rodents has wiped out some native bird species altogether and endangered many others.
"Imagine a New Zealand teeming with native wildlife, penguins on the beach, kiwis roaming about in your garden," Morgan writes on his website. "Imagine hearing birdsong in our cities."
But many New Zealanders are against the campaign. Even on Morgan's website, 70 percent on Tuesday were voting against making their current cat their last.
And the science remains unclear. Some argue that cats may actually help native birds by reducing the population of rodents, which sometimes feed on bird eggs.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #7931 on: Jan 22nd, 2013, 11:27am »
Chinese workers hold bosses hostage over 2-minute toilet breaks
Published January 22, 2013 Associated Press
BEIJING – Hundreds of Chinese factory workers angry about strictly timed bathroom breaks and fines for starting work late held their Japanese and Chinese managers hostage for a day and a half before police broke up the strike.
About 1,000 workers at Shanghai Shinmei Electric Company held the 10 Japanese nationals and eight Chinese managers inside the factory in Shanghai starting Friday morning until 11.50 p.m. Saturday, said a statement from the parent company, Shinmei Electric Co., released Monday. It said the managers were released uninjured after 300 police officers were called to the factory.
A security guard at the Shanghai plant said Tuesday that workers had gone on strike to protest the company's issuing of new work rules, including time limits on bathroom breaks and fines for being late.
"The workers demanded the scrapping of the ridiculously strict requirements stipulating that workers only have two minutes to go to the toilet and workers will be fined 50 yuan ($8) if they are late once and fired if they are late twice," said the security guard, surnamed Feng. "The managers were later freed when police intervened and when they agreed to reconsider the rules."
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #7933 on: Jan 23rd, 2013, 08:00am »
GOP critics get opportunity to grill Secretary Clinton on Benghazi
By Julian Pecquet 01/23/13 05:00 AM ET
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will testify Wednesday that her agency is moving full speed ahead with recommendations to avoid a repeat of the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans.
Clinton’s appearances before House and Senate committees are expected to be her last before she hands over the reins to Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), whose nomination hearing is Thursday. She’ll seek to limit the fallout from the deadly attack that tarnished her reputation as a successful head of the State Department.
Clinton has accepted responsibility for the findings of a bipartisan Accountability Review Board (ARB) that skewered the department’s “systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies” in a report issued last month. She has also endorsed the group’s 29 recommendations.
Republicans have been clamoring for her to testify before she leaves office, with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) making her appearance a prerequisite to Kerry’s nomination hearing. They’re expected to hammer the Obama administration for both the Benghazi fiasco and the resurgence of al Qaeda-linked groups in nearby Mali and Algeria, where three Americans were killed last week when militants took over a natural-gas facility.
Lawmakers say they still have plenty of questions. The two parties have new leaders on both the House and Senate Foreign Affairs panels, and Wednesday’s hearings will be their first public performance in their new role.
“The key here is the disconnect between what State Department personnel said were the security needs and the lack of response,” Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), the new chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told The Hill. “That’s the mystery.”
Royce said the panel also had questions about the decision not to fire anyone for the security failings, despite earlier reports that four people had been reprimanded.
The State Department is promising that Clinton will answer any questions asked of her.
“What the secretary will do tomorrow is be available to Congress, first and foremost, to update them on the implementation of the ARB’s recommendations, but also to answer any questions they have of her,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Tuesday. “As she’ll make clear tomorrow, all of the recommendations are currently being implemented, but there will be plenty of implementation work that needs to be carried forward by her successor.”
Nuland said four people were put on administrative leave because of the report’s recommendations, including Assistant Secretary of Diplomatic Security Eric Boswell, who resigned from his current position.
Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.), the new ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, told Fox News that he didn’t expect any “bombshells” from Wednesday’s hearing regarding what happened at the U.S. mission in Benghazi on the night of Sept. 11.
“It’s been four and a half months, and we’ve all gone through myriads of cables, [the Senate] Homeland Security [Committee] issued a report, we’ve all been through the private testimony in classified settings,” he said. “I don’t think there will be bombshells, but I think — especially with what’s happening throughout North Africa right now — I think there will be a lot of questions about just the overall policies of this administration as it relates to AQIM [al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb].”
In a statement, he said he’ll press for a “top-to-bottom review of all foreign assistance programs and State Department authorities to ensure that they are being conducted in line with American strategic national interests.”
The Senate hearing will be chaired by Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who will take over the gavel if Kerry is confirmed. He told MSNBC that he wanted to focus on Congress’s role in providing funding to ensure diplomatic posts are safe. At current funding levels, just three of the 24 high-risk locations could be brought up to higher safety standards per year.
“It’s also about what we are willing to do in Congress to make sure that these posts in high-risk countries are brought up to standard so we can protect our diplomatic corps as they still engage in robust diplomacy,” Menendez said.
Clinton’s supporters don’t expect her to suffer long-term damage from the hearing. She remains a formidable politician and Democrats’ best shot at keeping the presidency in 2016, and Republicans are likely to hold their fire and avoid the aggressive attacks that derailed Obama’s first choice for secretary of State, Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice.
“It happened on her watch, but you have to put this in a broader context,” said former State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley. “That’s why I think it will be interesting to see where the committee goes in terms of tying Benghazi to what has happened since in Mali and Algeria.”
No matter how Wednesday’s hearing transpires, the Obama administration can expect to face questions on Benghazi for a long time to come.
Several House Oversight Committee members “just came back from a trip where we looked at Algeria, Morocco, Lebanon, Turkey, Israel and Cyprus, because what we’re looking at, of course, is the efficiency and effectiveness of all of these decisions of building and securing,” panel Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) told The Hill. National Security subpanel Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) “has a series of hearings that will be related — some of them lessons learned from Benghazi.”
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #7934 on: Jan 23rd, 2013, 08:03am »
Big words, little action in UK's campaign against Sahara jihadists
6:42am EST By Maria Golovnina and Mohammed Abbas
LONDON (Reuters) - Britain has vowed a tough response against militants in North Africa, but behind its tough language lies the ugly reality of a fast-shrinking army, deep budget cuts and little U.S. interest in another costly war in a distant desert.
Enraged by the death of British citizens in a hostage taking crisis in Algeria, Prime Minister David Cameron has called for a global response to jihadist threats in North Africa and warned it could take decades to tame the increasingly volatile region.
Unlike France, whose move to send troops to nearby Mali this month is an echo of its own colonial past in Francophone Africa, Britain faces the uphill task of finding a relevant role to play in what could be a new phase in the global war against terror.
Further dampening Cameron's hopes for coordinated action, his own government announced sweeping cuts to the army this week as recession-hit Britain struggles to plug a yawning budget gap.
"We've frankly run out of treasure to be doing this," a former senior military official told Reuters.
"The Americans are key," he said, adding that Britain realizes that unless it goes in with an enormous force it will not be decisively influential.
Unrest in North Africa has long been a headache for Western powers, but the region shot back to the top of global agenda after a bloody hostage siege in Algeria and France's intervention against Islamist fighters in neighboring Mali.
No sooner had French bombers started pounding rebels in northern Mali on January 11, than al Qaeda-linked militants struck back by storming a desert gas plant in Algeria in a hostage taking crisis in which dozens of people were killed.
Britain and its Western allies are concerned about the emergence of the so-called arc of instability spanning from Taliban bases in Pakistan all the way to Africa, which has allowed jihadists to regroup and entrench in places like Mali.
The growth of al-Qaeda's North African wing, known as Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, is at the heart of these concerns, as well as the rise of local copycat groups driven by a mixture of religious zeal, cross-border crime and separatism.
All three - France, the United States and Britain - are permanent U.N. Security Council members but their vision of how to tackle North Africa, with its treacherous terrain, porous borders and erratic tribal alliances, does not always overlap.
Seeking to jolt his Western allies into action, Cameron described North Africa as a "magnet for jihadists" this week, vowing to boost intelligence aid to Algeria and consider giving more help to France to fight Islamists in Mali.
Britain is providing France with two C-17 military transport aircraft for Mali and has pledged to send dozens of soldiers to a European Union mission to train Malian government forces.
Cameron's office has ruled out any direct military intervention but on Tuesday, the Times newspaper reported that British forces had been put on alert for a "fully-fledged battle against al Qaeda" in northern Africa.
Few experts take this possibility seriously, given Britain's dwindling military clout and budget constraints.
"I think what's being talked up now in terms of an existential threat is warming up the British public," said the military official, who was not authorized to speak publicly.
"But to be honest until someone with a Algerian, or Malian or Nigerian pedigree comes and puts a bomb in London on a bus, on the tube (metro), no one's going to take any notice. The popular opinion will be: 'It's not our problem'."
Bringing his rhetoric back to earth, Cameron's own defense ministry announced 5,300 job cuts in the army on Tuesday, the same day the prime minister chaired a national security council meeting to discuss developments in Africa.
ANOTHER LONG CONFLICT?
France, by contrast, was quick to send troops and fighter jets to Mali to stop the advance of Islamist rebels who had seized an area the size of Spain in the north and declared Sharia law, banned all music but the Islamic call to prayer.
France's motives are however entirely different.
Still haunted by the ghosts of its own colonial experience in Africa, France has a long history of interventionism on the continent, having launched dozens of operations there since the 1960s in a policy known as Françafrique.
But the U.S. response has been markedly muted. Already accelerating plans to pull out troops from Afghanistan, it has shown no desire to get dragged into another conflict that could overshadow President Barack Obama's second term in office.
Like other Western players, Washington is unnerved by the rise of militancy in the Sahara region but its involvement there has been confined to quiet intelligence gathering and sharing, predominantly alongside the Algerian government.
"The Americans since 9/11 have built up quite a strong presence in the Sahel, which they don't really communicate about very much," said Francois Heisbourg, a special adviser at the Foundation for Strategic Research, a Paris-based think-tank.
"I am not sure how strong the Brits are in terms of their own technical intelligence means in the region."
Washington is also anxious to avoid any repeat of its painful experience in Afghanistan where U.S. support for anti-Soviet mujahedeen eventually gave birth to al Qaeda itself.
In Mali, coup leader Captain Amadou Sanogo, who last year helped topple a Mali president seen in the West as a linchpin in its fight against al Qaeda in Africa - had been himself previously trained by the U.S. military.
(Additional reporting by Guy Faulconbridge in London, Adrian Croft in Brussels; Writing by Maria Golovnina; Editing by Giles Elgood)