Tuesday, March 18, 2008

europa moon

A new vaccine lowers blood pressure in hypertensive people, a study shows. The finding breaks ground in a field dominated by drug therapy.

Surges in blood pressure make physical exertion possible, but chronically elevated pressure spells trouble. Scientists have entertained the idea of immunizing people against high blood pressure for decades, but it hasn't been easy. The only other vaccine to reach the testing stage in people failed to reduce blood pressure.

A vaccine may augment or offer an alternative to blood pressure medications, known to cause side effects.

Several compounds orchestrate blood pressure changes, including a small protein called angiotensin. When cleaved by an enzyme, angiotensin signals blood vessels to constrict, increasing pressure.

Researchers created the new vaccine by binding angiotensin to a harmless fragment of a virus. The protein "is then recognized by the immune system as a virus," says study coauthor Martin Bachmann, an immunologist at Cytos Biotechnology in Schlieren, Switzerland. The immune system makes antibodies against angiotensin and pulls it out of circulation.

Bachmann and his colleagues gave 48 people with mild-to-moderate high blood pressure three injections of the vaccine over 12 weeks. http://louis1j1sheehan.blog.ca/
Some received higher doses than others. Another 24 volunteers received sham injections. All patients used devices that monitored their blood pressure regularly day and night.

Two weeks after the last shot, those getting a higher dose of vaccine averaged systolic (top number) blood pressure that was 9 points less than those getting the placebo shots, the researchers report in the March 8 Lancet. The diastolic (bottom number) reading dropped only 4 points, a difference that could reflect chance.

However, compared with the sham-injection group, participants getting the higher vaccine dose had reductions of 25 points for the systolic reading and 13 points for the diastolic during early morning, when their risk of stroke is highest.

The antibodies circulate in the body for 17 weeks, less time than most vaccines.

The biggest problem doctors face in treating hypertension is patients' failure to take their pills, says Sheila Gardiner, a cardiovascular physiologist at the University of Nottingham, England. The vaccine approach might offer convenience, she says. "It's definitely better than taking pills day after day."

And though the blood pressure decrease may seem small, Gardiner says, even 5 points in the diastolic reading decreases the risk of heart failure and stroke by one-third.

It remains unclear whether the vaccine could engender a reaction against one's own tissues, says Ola Samuelsson, a nephrologist at Sahlgrenska University Hospital in Göteborg, Sweden. He expects pharmaceutical companies to conduct long-term tests that might answer that question.

The vaccine doesn't appear to be 100 percent effective, he says, and that's just as well. Some angiotensin in circulation would allow blood pressure to crank up in case of trauma.

With Bear Stearns Cos. cratered by a cash crunch, investors turned a nervous eye on the other big Wall Street companies, worried that they, too, could become vulnerable if markets turned against them.

Brokerage shares, already massacred this year, plunged Friday, reflecting the nervousness around firms like Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Merrill Lynch & Co. and Morgan Stanley.

Aside from Bear, whose shares fell 47%, Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. incurred the most investor wrath. Shares of the firm, which is Bear's closest cousin on Wall Street, tanked 15%. Investors invoked the 1998 liquidity squeeze that battered Lehman as a reason to bail on the stock.

In a statement Friday, a Lehman spokeswoman said: "Our liquidity position has been and continues to be very strong. We consider the liquidity framework under which we have operated for almost a decade to be a competitive advantage."

Investors were astonished at the speed of Bear's demise, which added to the jitters. http://louisjsheehan.blogstream.com/
On a conference call Friday, Bear executives said the firm's liquidity suddenly worsened over the past week. Bear's plight indicates how important it is to have enough ready cash on hand to replace liquidity that is withdrawn by creditors.

Sanford Bernstein analyst Brad Hintz explained the nightmare that can befall a broker in a liquidity squeeze. "As lenders demand their money, a broker has no choice but to sell assets and shrink its balance sheet. At some point the liquid assets are all gone and the firm cannot sell the illiquid ones," he said.

Brokerages amass large cash piles -- often called liquidity reserves in their financial statements -- that are meant to see them through rocky periods in the markets. Analysts are now trying to assess whether these liquidity reserves, which measure the amount of high-quality assets that brokerages could easily sell, are sufficient.

Compared with other brokerages, Bear's cash reserve gives it the least cushion for a cash crisis. This same analysis makes Lehman's cash cushion look slimmer than its peers', although on other measures it is just as strong.

Brokerages break out the size of this emergency cash in their financial filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. To gauge its sufficiency, the reserve can be compared to the main type of debt that brokerages rely on to finance their operations. This debt is called collateralized borrowing, because to get the loans the brokerages have to pledge assets as security to the creditor. If these creditors pull back sharply, a brokerage is in deep trouble.

From public comments by Bear executives Friday, it appears much of the liquidity squeeze was caused by a pulling back by creditors that had extended loans based on collateral provided by Bear. These types of creditors "were no longer willing to provide financing," Samuel Molinaro, Bear's chief financial officer, said on the Friday call.

Bear would have been particularly exposed to this withdrawal, because its emergency cash pile was small compared to this debt. On Nov. 30, that cash reserve of $17 billion was only about 17% of the $102 billion owed through secured financings.

If the prices of assets Bear had pledged fell, the brokerage would have had to post a payment to the creditor called margin. http://louis0j0sheehan.livejournal.com/15433.html
One big purpose for the emergency funds is to have the cash to make margin payments during a credit-markets crisis. "My guess is that Bear did not adequately stress-test and didn't have enough liquidity to meet those margin payments," said Michael Peterson, director of research at Pzena Investment Management.

Like Bear, Lehman is a big bond player and also one of the smaller Wall Street firms. But it is on sturdier ground than Bear, many investors said. "I'm pretty comfortable with Lehman's liquidity," said Mr. Peterson, whose firm owns Lehman shares. "The lessons of 1998 were not at all lost on Lehman."

Aiming to make its balance sheet sturdier after 1998, Lehman became less reliant on short-term borrowing, which can dry up quickly. At the end of November, it had $28 billion in debt coming due in the following 12 months, well below the $34.9 billion in its liquidity reserve. "What gives me comfort right now is that Lehman has very little short-term debt," Mr. Peterson said.

The firm's emergency-cash pile was 19% of its $182 billion in secured financings, putting it below the numbers for Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch. At those firms the emergency cash was 38%, 39% and 34%, respectively, of collateralized financings.

Yesterday, Lehman announced that it closed a new $2 billion unsecured credit line that was "substantially oversubscribed."

In a crunch, Lehman may be able to raise cash by selling another big pool of liquid assets, which is valued at more than $60 billion. Adding that to the liquidity cash reserve gives Lehman a potential $100 billion cash pile, equal to 54% of collateralized financing. http://pub25.bravenet.com/journal/post.php?entryid=23334
That is ahead of some other brokers and far stronger than Bear's 31%.

In addition, the debt that comes from the collateralized financing typically is matched by a similar loan to another customer, which creates an asset. When offset against each other, the collateralized financing liability becomes much smaller. In Lehman's case, it is about $20 billion, which is only about 60% of its emergency cash.

The smallest voltmeter in the world has produced a shocking revelation: Lurking deep inside an ordinary cell are electric fields strong enough to cause a bolt of lightning.

While it has long been gospel that cell membranes contain strong electric fields, researchers have generally assumed that 99.9 percent of a cell’s volume was electrically dormant. But when University of Michigan biophysical chemist Raoul Kopelman, the tiny voltmeter’s inventor, flooded rat brain cells with the devices, he detected fields as strong as 15 million volts per meter throughout.

This is the first time the voltmeter has been used in a study, and its potential is as exciting as Kopelman’s find. It is roughly one-thousandth the size of any other voltmeter; thousands can fit in a single cell and still take up only one-millionth of the cell’s volume. The device is filled with voltage-sensitive dye that gives off green to red light in proportion to the surrounding electric field. The light is then measured using a microscope, yielding a three-dimensional map of the electric fields.

Kopelman plans to continue using his device to probe cells for clues about what happens when diseases or toxins injure them.

On January 3, 2008, more than a hundred thousand people gathered at the Sri Durga Malleswara temple in southern India, setting the stage for disaster. When the crowd surged forward to garland a statue of the goddess Durga, six were trampled and killed.

Disasters like this kill hundreds of people a year and have typically been hard to prevent. But now an intervention may be at hand, thanks to crowd simulations developed by Paul M. Torrens, a geographer at Arizona State University. http://louis9j9sheehan.blog.com/2841488/
Torrens’s computer simulations let planners drop a few thousand virtual people into a burning building, then sit back and take notes—with heat coming only from the computer itself. The specific scenarios Torrens creates could show firefighters how to save the most people, tell architects where to place exits or barriers in stadiums, and guide police forces in corralling unruly mobs.

Most traditional methods for simulating the movement of crowds treat individuals as purely physical, with no social or emotional reactions. Torrens’s model, on the other hand, turns each individual into an “avatar” with an artificial mind. Avatars can plan their own route, adjust their path on the fly, and even respond to the body language of fellow cybercitizens who may be jostling them.

Each avatar’s awareness in Torrens’s simulations derives from a “vision cone”—a field of view—that pro–jects into the world of the simulation itself. As the simulated crowd moves, an avatar reacts to anything that comes within its cone, whose dimensions may change depending on how quickly that avatar is moving or whether it is panicked—both speed and panic will make the cone narrower. Also influencing the dimensions of the cone are personal attributes like age, disabilities, and body type. The system relies mostly on the auton–omy of the avatars, enabling Torrens to create realistic computerized simulations for almost any situation or length of time.

The model is already functional, but Torrens, who is funded by the National Science Foundation to the tune of $1.15 million, is busy upping the avatars’ IQs. He is also in talks with a few interested parties, including the Scottsdale, Arizona, police department, which may want the system customized for its internal use. Even the U.S. Department of Justice is reviewing a proposal.

Torrens thinks this is just the start. He sees the day when his simulations could be modified to model disease transmission through casual contact, shopping on a crowded street, or pedestrian safety at a traffic intersection. http://blogs.ebay.com/mytymouse1/home/_W0QQentrysyncidZ526811010
His latest project: a riot module to test ways of containing civil turmoil.

On the Arantix Mountain Bike from newbie Delta 7 Sports, the typical solid-cylinder tubing has been replaced by an airy, see-through lattice woven from a carbon-fiber composite and bundled in Kevlar string. The resulting gossamer web may look delicate, but pound for pound this quirky construction—called IsoTruss—is stronger than steel, aluminum, and titanium. It’s even stronger than solid carbon composites, the current front-runners among ultralight bike frames.

Like other carbon-fiber frames, this one is baked: Long, thin strands of carbon atoms, organized in a hexagonal pattern and coated with epoxy resin, are put in an oven at 255 degrees Fahrenheit for four hours of curing. Unlike other carbon-fiber frames, though, the Arantix could withstand a direct shrapnel hit. The lattice structure isolates damage to a single element instead of shattering under pressure, Delta 7 says.

Despite all its empty spaces, the handmade Arantix frame costs a hefty $6,995 (a full bike is $11,995). At 2.75 pounds, it falls just short of a featherweight record among mountain bikes, but the IsoTruss easily supports the 200-pound-plus Clydesdale racers that its competitors shun. Our advice? Skip the frame: It would be cheaper (and healthier) to go on a diet.

Could there be another planet lurking in the dark, frigid outskirts of the solar system?

This isn’t as silly as it seems at first. No, I’m not talking Nibiru or any of that other nonsense (and it is nonsense), I’m talking about an actual planet, Earth-sized or so, that could be orbiting the Sun well beyond Pluto Neptune.
Why would we think there might be one out there?
We see some stars in the midst of forming planets. The stars are surrounded by thick disks of material, and in some we can actually see gaps in the disk, dark rings like the gaps in Saturn’s rings, that we think are due to forming planets gobbling up material in the ring. You’d think the disk would fade away with distance form the star, like our air gets thinner with altitude. But some disks appear to have sharp outer edges. This can be caused by a planet orbiting outside the disk; its gravity sweeps up the material and over time cleans up everything farther out. In one disk, this sharp boundary indicates a planet 200 AU out (an AU is the distance of the Earth to the Sun, about 150 million kilometers or 93 million miles).
Neptune orbits at 30 AU from the Sun, so 200 AU is a long way out. Could a planet like that have formed in our solar system? Maybe. Thing is, while our proto-planetary disk has been gone for billions of years, we do have lots of objects out past Neptune: the Trans-Neptunian Objects (they have lots of names, including Kuiper Belt Objects). These are basically giant balls of ice, some hundreds of miles across. As a group they form a puffy disk of objects stretching from Neptune’s orbit outward… but they seem to abruptly stop past about 50 AU out from the Sun. That’s called the Kuiper Cliff, the cause of which is unknown. Incidentally, it’s not because they’re too faint to see (that is, they’re there but we can’t spot them); at that distance we should have spotted lots of them by now.
Not only that, but a lot of these objects have orbits that are tilted more and are more elliptical than you’d expect if they just formed a long time ago and were left alone. Theyir orbits don’t bring them in very close — they tend to stay outside of Neptune’s orbit — but again, this is something that needs to be explained.
Could it be that there is another massive planet orbiting the Sun, way out there, which has swept up the objects gravitationally, creating the Kuiper Cliff and tossing the iceballs into tilted, oval orbits?
A newly released paper shows that may very well be the case. A team of scientists ran a whole mess of simulations, and found that a small planet (in this case, around half the size of the Earth) could have formed inside Neptune’s orbit (where there was plenty of material in the early solar system), gotten tossed into a bigger orbit by Neptune, and then knocked around the orbits of the iceballs, distorting their orbits and creating the Kuiper Cliff.
This idea is not new, but this new research is a provocative indicator of such a planet’s likelihood of existence. I’m not saying it’s out there, but it’s worth looking for. http://louiscjcsheehan.blogspot.com/
In fact, I’ve been saying that since about 1998 or so, when I worked on Hubble and was involved with a project that found a truncated disk around another star. I even worked with another astronomer on the team to investigate whether the robotic telescopes used to look for Near Earth Asteroids could spot such a planet.
It’s not all that easy. It wouldn’t be too faint to see, necessarily, but it’s a big sky. At that distance, the planet would move slowly, and the orbital motion would be hard to distinguish given the procedures used by NEA searches. We tried to convince some of them to modify their software to look for Planet X (yes, why not, though now it would be Planet IX), but we were met with mixed success. The fact that no one has discovered this planet shows you that this is still hard to do.
But maybe, just maybe, with this new research we’ll get people looking more seriously. It’s amazing to me that we can understand so much about galaxies and hugely distant objects, but find that there may be surprises waiting for us in our own back yard.

If you've checked the grammar of a Microsoft Word document, you may have encountered a baffling number. The readability formula purports to represent the text's appropriate grade level. But it has its roots in research from 60 years ago.

Before computers, reading researchers attempted to quantify the ease of a work of writing using short excerpts and simple formulas. Despite computing advances, Word still follows the same model: It multiplies 0.39 by the average number of words per sentence, adds that to 11.8 times the average number of syllables per word, and subtracts 15.59 from the total. The result is the supposed minimum grade level of readers who can handle the text in question.

Similar formulas are used by textbook publishers and in dozens of states' guidelines for insurance policies. http://louisijisheehan.blogspot.com/
Is it possible to quantify the readability of a given text? Do you ever use these formulas? Share your thoughts in the blog comments.

From the beginning, these formulas were known to be problematic. A 1935 paper laid out more than 200 variables that affect readability. Most formulas incorporate just two, and not because they are the most important but because they are the easiest to measure. Then they're mashed together, with weights set according to how the formulas work on standard texts.

"Everyone is waiting for this magic bullet that's very easy," says Karen Schriver, who runs an Oakmont, Pa., communication-design research company. But her experience with clients who have overly relied on these formulas have suggested that "maybe it's just a stupid idea."

Noting that the same passage's score can differ by three grade levels or more, depending on the formula, readability consultant Mark Hochhauser says, "One of the things the field really needs is an updated formula."

Even neurolinguist G. Harry McLaughlin says of his own, widely used SMOG Readability Formula, "The theoretical basis is c---."

The formulas treat writing as a mere collection of words and spaces. Word meaning and sentence structure don't figure. George Weir, a philosopher and computer scientist at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, says Word's readability test thinks grade-schoolers could handle the nonsense passage, "Acuity of eagles whistle truck kidney. Head for the treacle sump catch and but. What figgle faddle scratch dog and whistle?" Similarly, "Had lamb little a Mary" and "Mary had a little lamb" score identically.

I asked Micro Power & Light Co., which sells readability-testing software, to evaluate a memorable 2004 Wall Street Journal front-page article. Four different formulas found it to be comprehensible to 10th-graders, thanks in part to its short sentences. http://louiskjksheehan.blogspot.com/

The reason for the frequent periods: The article was about a new book written without verbs, and the article mimicked its subject, making for intentionally tough reading.

Word length is an imperfect measure. "Important" and "elephant" are long words that are easy for most readers, Dr. Schriver notes. Conversely, frustrated crossword solvers encounter plenty of uncommon three-letter words, such as adz, auk and lea. She adds that no formulas account for document layout -- even short sentences with lean words are challenging when printed in an eight-point type.

The formulas have their defenders. Readability consultant William DuBay calls them "good enough," and adds, "They've been extremely beneficial for millions of readers." Among other uses, they were implemented to simplify newspaper writing a half-century ago, he says.

Some researchers are trying to make the formulas better, using new databases and computing power. Prof. Weir aims to create a formula that incorporates the frequency of words and word combinations in typical English writing, meaning "the" and "adz" finally can be distinguished.

Several more-advanced readability formulas already have been developed. None are as convenient, or as criticized, as the Flesch-Kincaid formula Microsoft uses. Developed by readability researcher Rudolf Flesch in 1948, it was modified by psychologist J. Peter Kincaid in a study for the U.S. Navy in 1975, using reference passages. "Do not swing, twirl, or play with the nightstick" is part of a passage deemed appropriate for seventh-graders. Instructions that included, "All the jet streams of the Northern Hemisphere have their southern analogues" required a college degree.

The formula was tweaked once more by Microsoft when the company incorporated it into Word in 1993. Grade-level scores were capped at 12. Reed Shaffner, Microsoft's product manager for Word, told me that the formula was changed in 2003, at least for Windows users. http://louis1j1sheehan1esquire1.blogspot.com/
Those users can see results up to grade level 14, while Mac users won't get results above level 12.

Why cap the results at all? "It's a user-experience thing," Mr. Shaffner says. Essentially, Microsoft is concerned about the readability of readability-formula results.

Prof. Kincaid, who today is the head of a modeling and simulation program at the University of Central Florida, tried unsuccessfully to get the formula corrected years before it finally was. Nevertheless, when he wants to use his own formula, he lets Word do the calculation.

That's rare. "I write long sentences and no computer is going to tell me how to write," Prof. Kincaid says. "I'm going to write the way I want to write."

"With all his unashamed enthusiasm, Elagabalus was not the man to establish a religion; he had not the qualities of a Constantine or yet of a Julian; and his enterprise would perhaps have met with little success even if his authority had not been annulled by his idiosyncrasies. The Invincible Sun, if he was to be worshipped as a sun of righteousness, was not happily recommended by the acts of his Invincible Priest."

Contemporary or near-contemporary historians sealed the reputations of many of the Roman emperors shortly after their deaths. Among the good ones were Augustus, Trajan, Vespasian and Marcus Aurelius. Those with names that have lived in infamy include Nero, Caligula, Domitian and Elagabalus.

"At the same time, he will learn of the Romans' discernment, in that these last [Augustus, Trajan, Vespasian, Hadrian, Pius, Titus and Marcus] ruled long and died by natural deaths, whereas the former [Caligula, Nero, Vitellius and Elagabalus] were murdered, dragged through the streets, officially called tyrants, and no man wishes to mention even their names."

During this time he caused the murder of his co-ruler, his brother Geta, and his supporters, raised the pay for soldiers, waged campaigns in the East where Macrinius was to have him assassinated, and implemented the (Constitutio Antoniniana 'Antonine Constitution'). http://louis2j2sheehan2esquire.blogspot.com/
The Antonine Constitution was named for Elagabalus whose imperial name was Varius Avitus Bassianus Marcus Aurelius Antoninus. It extended Roman citizenship throughout the Roman Empire.
Macrinus Easily Rises to the Imperial Purple
Caracalla had appointed Macrinius to the influential position of praetorian prefect. Because of this lofty position, three days after Caracalla's murder, Macrinius, a man without senatorial rank, was powerful enough to compel the troops to proclaim him emperor.

Less competent as military leader and emperor than his predecessor, Macrinius suffered losses in the East and wound up making settlements with the Parthians, Armenians, and the Dacians. http://louis2j1sheehan2esquire.blogspot.com/
Defeats and Macrinius' introduction of a two-tiered pay for soldiers made him unpopular with the soldiers.
Caracalla's mother had been Julia Domna of Emesa, Syria, second wife of the emperor Septimius Severus. She had conceived the idea of propelling her great-nephew to the throne, but ill health prevented her involvement. The grandson of her sister Julia Maesa was Varius Avitus Bassianus who would soon be known as Elagabalus.

Sir Ronald Syme calls one of the biographies of the time, Aelius Lampridius' The Life of Antoninus Heliogabalus, a "farago of cheap pornography." One of the contentions made by Lampridius is that Julia Symiamira (Soaemias), Julia Maesa's daughter, had made no secret of her liaison with Caracalla. In the year 218, Varius Avitus Bassianus was performing the hereditary family function of high priest of the sun god whose worship was popular with the troops. A family resemblance to Caracalla probably led them to believe Varius Avitus Bassianus (Elagabalus) the illegitimate son of the more popular emperor Caracalla.

"The artful Maesa saw and cherished their rising partiality, and readily sacrificing her daughter's reputation to the fortune of her grandson, she insinuated that Bassianus was the natural son of their murdered sovereign. The sums distributed by her emissaries with a lavish hand silenced every objection, and the profusion sufficiently proved the affinity, or at least the resemblance, of Bassianus with the great original."

One of the legions near their family hometown proclaimed Elagabalus emperor, naming him Marcus Aurelius Antoninus on May 15, 218. Other legions joined the cause. Meanwhile, still other troops rallied to defend Macrinius. http://louis3j3sheehan3esquire.blogspot.com/
On June 18 Elagabalus' faction won in battle. The new emperor was 14.

*I don't remember the source of that Syme quote. It is referred to on The Toynbee Convector.

"I can't imagine that many people went in for this kind of prank. Having said that, I suppose Elagabalus' guests were relieved to have been subjected to something so relatively harmless!"
As emperor, Varius Avitus became known by the Latinized version of the name of his Syrian god El-Gabal. Elagabalus also established his god as the principal one of the empire. He further alienated Rome by taking honors upon himself before they had been awarded him -- including substituting his name for that of Macrinius as consul.

In both the message to the senate and the letter to the people he styled himself emperor and Caesar, the son of Antoninus, the grandson of Severus, Pius, Felix, Augustus, proconsul, and holder of the tribunician power, assuming these titles before they had been voted, and he used, not the [na]me [of Avitus,] but that of his [pretended] f[ather]... [and] commanded that if anyone resisted him, he should call on the soldiers for assistance....

Herodian, Dio Cassius, Aelius Lampridius and Gibbon have written about Elagabalus' femininity, bisexuality, transvestism, and forcing a vestal virgin to break vows that were so solemn any virgin found to have violated them was buried alive.

He appears to have worked as a prostitute and may have sought the original transgendering operation. If so, he didn't succeed. When he tried to become a gallus, he was convinced to undergo circumcision, instead. http://louis4j4sheehan4esquire.blogspot.com/
To us the difference is immense, but to Roman men, both were humiliating.

Although Elagabalus killed many of his political enemies, especially supporters of Macrinius, he wasn't a sadist who tortured and put an inordinate number of people to death. He was an attractive, hormonally charged teen with absolute power, the high priest of an exotic god and a Roman emperor from Syria who imposed his eastern customs on Rome. J.B. Bury believes that with the universal citizenship grant of Caracalla, a universal religion was necessary. The time for a unified religion may have been right when Elagabalus tried to institute it, but because of his flamboyance and failure to behave like a proper Roman, he failed. It was another century before Constantine could impose a universal religion.
Ultimately, like most of the emperors of the period, Elagabalus was killed by his soldiers, after less than four years in power. He was 17. His first cousin Alexander Severus, also from Emesa, Syria, succeeded him.

His father Calpornius held both civic and clerical offices when Patrick was born to him in the late fourth century (c. A.D. 390). Although the family lived in the village of Bannavem Taberniaei, in Roman Britain, Patrick would one day become the most successful Christian missionary in Ireland, its patron saint, and the subject of legends.

Patrick's first encounter with the land to which he would devote his life was an unpleasant one. He was kidnapped at age sixteen, sent to Ireland, and sold into slavery. While Patrick worked there as a shepherd, he developed a deep faith in God. One night, during his sleep, he was sent a vision of how to escape. http://louis6j6sheehan6esquire.blogspot.com/
So much he tells us in his autobiographical Confession.

Unlike the work of the same name by the theologian, Augustine, Patrick's Confession is short, with few statements of religious doctrine.
In it Patrick describes his British youth and his conversion, for, although he was born to Christian parents, he did not consider himself Christian before his captivity. Another purpose of the document was to defend himself to the very Church that had sent him to Ireland to convert his former captors. Years before Patrick wrote his Confession, he wrote an angry Letter to Coroticus, the British King of Alcluid (later called Strathclyde), in which he condemns him and his soldiers as compatriots of the demons, because they had captured and slaughtered many of the Irish people Bishop Patrick had just baptized. Those they didn't kill would be sold to "heathen" Picts and Scots. Although personal, emotional, religious, and biographical, these two pieces and Gildas Bandonicus' Concerning the Ruin of Britain (De Excidio Britanniae) provide the main historical sources for fifth century Britain.

Upon Patrick's escape from his approximately six years of slavery, he went back to Britain, and then to Gaul where he studied under St. Germain, bishop of Auxerre, for twelve years before returning again to Britian. There he felt a calling to return as a missionary to Ireland. He stayed in Ireland for another thirty years, converting, baptizing, and setting up monasteries.

Sub-Roman Britain: An Introduction
Christopher Snyder looks at the sources for early Britain, particularly in the writings of Patrick and Gildas.

Gildas: from Concerning the Ruin of Britain (De Excidio Britanniae)
From Medieval Sourcebook, chapters 23-26 of Gildas' work on the fall of Britain.

Ecole Glossary entry on Gildas the Wise who was born c. 500 in Arecluta, Strathclyde, and traveled in Ireland, besides writing his history of the Celts in Britain.

Various legends have grown up concerning St. Patrick, the most popular of the Irish saints.

St. Patrick was not well-educated, a fact he attributes to early captivity. Because of this, it was with some reluctance that he was sent as missionary to Ireland, and only after the first missionary, Palladius, had died. Perhaps it's because of his informal schooling in the meadows with his sheep that Patrick came up with the clever analogy between the three leaves of the shamrock and the Holy Trinity. http://louis8j8sheehan8esquire.blogspot.com/
At any rate, this lesson is one explanation for why St. Patrick is associated with a shamrock.

St. Patrick is also credited with driving the snakes out of Ireland. There were probably no snakes in Ireland for him to drive out, and it is very likely that the story was meant to be symbolic. Since Patrick converted the heathen, the snakes are thought to stand for the pagan beliefs or evil. Where he was buried is a mystery.
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Among other places, a chapel to St. Patrick at Glastonbury claims he was interred there. A shrine in County Down, Ireland, claims to possess a jawbone of the saint which is requested for childbirth, epilectic fits, and to avert the evil eye.

While we don't know exactly when he was born or died, this Roman British saint is honored by the Irish, especially in the United States, on March 17 with parades, green beer, cabbage, corned beef, and general revelry. While there is a parade in Dublin as the culmination of a week of festivities, Irish celebrations on St. Patrick's Day itself are predominantly religious.

Basics About Hercules (Greek: Heracles/Herakles): Hercules was a half-brother of Apollo and Dionysus because their father was Zeus. Zeus, disguised as Alcmene's husband Amphitryon, paid a conjugal visit to Hercules' mother, Alcmene. Hercules and his twin, mortal, half-brother, Iphicles, son of Alcmene and the real Amphitryon, were in their cradle when a pair of snakes visited them. Hercules happily strangled the snakes, possibly sent by Hera or Amphitryon, thereby launching an extraordinary career that included the well-known 12 labors Hercules performed for his cousin Eurystheus.

Here are more of Hercules' deeds and feats with which you should be familiar.
Instruction of Hercules: Hercules was talented in many areas. Castor of the Dioscuri taught him to fence, Autolycus taught him to wrestle, King Eurytus of Oechalia in Thessaly taught him archery, and Orpheus' brother Linus, son of Apollo or Urania, taught him to play the lyre. [Apollodorus.]

Cadmus is usually attributed with introducing letters into Greece, but Linus taught Hercules, and the not very academically inclined Hercules broke a chair over Linus' head and killed him. Elsewhere, Cadmus is credited with killing Linus for the honor of introducing writing to Greece. http://louis1j1sheehan1.blogspot.com/
[Source: Kerenyi, Heroes of the Greeks]
Hercules and the Daughters of Thespius: King Thespius had 50 daughters and wanted Hercules to impregnate them all. Hercules, who went hunting with King Thespius each day, was unaware that each night's woman was different (although he may not have cared), and so he impregnated 49 or 50 of them. The women gave birth to 51 sons who are said to have colonized Sardinia.
Hercules and the Minyans: The Minyans were exacting a heavy tribute from Thebes -- the usually cited birthplace of the hero -- while it was ruled by King Creon. Hercules encountered the Minyan ambassadors en route to Thebes and cut off their ears and noses, made them wear their bits as necklaces, and sent them back home. The Minyans sent a military force, but Hercules defeated it and freed Thebes from the tribute.

Creon rewarded him with his daughter Megara for his wife.
The Augean Stables Reprised, With Dishonor: King Augeas had refused to pay Hercules for cleaning his stables during the 12 Labors, so Hercules led a force against Augeas and his twin nephews. Hercules contracted a disease and asked for a truce, but the twins knew it was too good an opportunity and so continued to try to annihilate Hercules' forces. When the Isthmian Games were about to begin, the twins set out for them, but by this time, Hercules was on the mend. He dishonorably attacked and killed them, and then went to Elis where he installed Augeas' son, Phyleus, on the throne in place of his treacherous father.
Madness of Hercules: Euripides' tragedy Hercules Furens is one of the sources for the madness of Hercules. The story, like most of those involving Hercules, has confusing and contradictory details, but in essence, Hercules, returning from the Underworld in some confusion, mistook his own sons, ones he had with Creon's daughter Megara, for those of Eurystheus. Hercules killed them and would have continued his murderous rampage had Athena not lifted the (Hera-sent) madness or ate. Many consider the 12 Labors Hercules performed for Eurystheus his atonement. Hercules may have married Megara to his nephew Iolaus before leaving Thebes forever.
Fight With Apollo: Iphitus was the son of Apollo's grandson Eurytus, father of the beautiful Iole. In Book 21 of the Odyssey, Odysseus obtains the bow of Apollo when he helps in the hunt for Eurytus' mares. http://louis3j3sheehan3.blogspot.com/
Another part of the story is that when Iphitus came to Hercules looking for the missing dozen mares, Hercules welcomed him as a guest and then hurled him to his death from a tower. This was another dishonorable murder for which Hercules needed to atone. The provocation may have been that Eurytus denied him the prize of his daughter that Hercules had won in a bow-shooting contest.
Possibly in search of atonement, Hercules arrived at the sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi, where the murderer was not allowed sanctuary. Hercules took the opportunity to steal the tripod and cauldron of Apollo's priestess.

Apollo came after him and was joined by his sister. On Hercules' side, Athena joined the fight. It took Zeus and his thunderbolts to put an end to the fighting, but Hercules still hadn't made atonement for his act of murder.

* Apollo, Asclepius, and Admetus

Omphale: For atonement Hercules was to endure a similar term to the one Apollo had served with Admetus. Hermes sold Hercules as a slave to the Lydian queen Omphale. In addition to getting her pregnant and tales of transvestism, the story of the Cercopes and the Black-bottomed Hercules comes from this period. Omphale (or Hermes) also set Hercules to work for a treacherous robber named Syleus. With wanton vandalism Hercules demolished the thief's property, killed him, and married his daughter Xenodike.
Deianeira: The final phase of Hercules' mortal life involves his wife Deianeira, daughter of Dionysus (or King Oineus) and Althaia.

* Exchange and the Maiden

When Hercules was taking his bride home, the centaur Nessus was to ferry her across the Euenos River. The details are varied, but Hercules shot Nessus with poisoned arrows when he heard the screaming of his bride being ravaged by the centaur. The centaur persuaded Deianeira to fill her water jug with blood from his wound, assuring her it would be a potent love potion should Hercules' eye ever start to wander. http://louis1j1sheehan1esquire.blogspot.com/
Instead, it was a potent poison. When Deianeira thought Hercules was losing interest and preferring Iole to herself, she sent him a robe drenched in the centaur's blood. Hercules put it on and his skin burned.

* Poisoned Clothing

He wanted to die, but was having trouble finding someone to set his funeral pyre alight so he could self-immolate. Finally, Philoctetes or his father agreed and received Hercules' bow and arrows as a thanks offering. These were essential for the Greeks in the Trojan War. As Hercules burned he was taken to the gods and goddesses and gained full immortality and Hera's daughter Hebe for his final wife.

In 1957, marketing executive James Vicary claimed that during screenings of the film Picnic, the words “eat popcorn” and “drink Coca-Cola” were flashed on the screen every five seconds for 1/3,000 second—well below the threshold of conscious awareness. Vicary said soda and popcorn sales spiked as a result of what he called “subliminal advertising.”

Psychologists had been studying subliminal messages since the late 19th century. It was Vicary’s ideas, presented in Vance Packard’s 1957 best seller, The Hidden Persuaders, that catapulted the concept of subliminal advertising into the public consciousness. Even though in a 1962 interview with Advertising Age Vicary admitted that the amount of data he’d collected was “too small to be meaningful,” subliminal messages continued to attract public—and commercial—interest.

In 1974, the FCC held hearings about the perceived threat of subliminal advertising and issued a policy statement saying that “subliminal perception” was deceptive and “contrary to the public interest.”

Concerns about subliminal advertising continued for decades. As recently as 2000 during the presidential race, the Republican National Committee ran an ad attacking the policies of Al Gore in which the word rats briefly flashed on the screen. Many suspected subliminal intent, which the ad’s creator denied.

Matthew Erdelyi, a psychology professor at Brooklyn College, says that while Vicary’s methods were controversial, new studies continue to suggest the use of subliminal perception in advertising could be effective. “There’s a lot of interest, but the subject matter is a little bit taboo,” he says. Still, if subliminal messages in advertising have a resurgence in the future, “nobody should be terribly surprised.”

“Emotional Well-Being Does Not Predict Survival in Head and Neck Cancer Patients” by James Coyne et al., published in the December 1, 2007, issue of Cancer.

Do emotions influence a cancer patient’s prognosis? In one of the largest, longest, and most controlled studies of its kind, researchers investigated whether the emotional state of cancer patients has any relationship to their survival.

University of Pennsylvania psychologist James Coyne and his colleagues followed 1,093 adults, all of whom had advanced head and neck cancer with nonspreading tumors. http://louis4j4sheehan4.blogspot.com/
All patients received standardized medical care through clinical trials run by the Radiation Therapy Oncology Group (RTOG).
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Clcik here!

At the start of the study, the participants completed a 27-item questionnaire used to evaluate the physical, social, and emotional quality of life in people with cancer and other chronic diseases. Five items targeted emotional state, asking patients to rate, on a scale of 0 to 4, the extent to which statements like “I feel sad” and “I am losing hope in my fight against my illness” had been true for them over the past seven days. The researchers then calculated a score for each person’s initial emotional well-being.

Coyne tracked patients for an average of nine years, until they either dropped out of the study or died. The study reported 646 deaths. Once the records for the participants were complete, researchers analyzed the data. “We were surprised to find absolutely no relationship” between emotion and survival, Coyne says.

The researchers then looked at emotion and survival in greater detail, examining data for the most buoyant optimists, the most despondent individuals, and patients with complicating factors like smoking. In none of these analyses did emotional well-being affect survival. Because the study was so large and long, it gathered far more information than previous investigations of emotion and cancer survival. In smaller studies, Coyne says, it can be difficult to tell whether deaths were related to a factor like emotion or were simply due to chance.

While the huge pool of subjects and the controlled clinical trial conditions give the study statistical heft, Coyne acknowledges a few limitations. Having only people with head and neck cancers in the study eliminates the variability of a group suffering from different forms of the disease, but it also eliminates information about whether patients with other forms of cancer would show the same results. http://louisjsheehan.blogspot.com/
Additionally, patients had to be judged “mentally reliable”—able to follow instructions and keep appointments—in order to qualify for the clinical trials, so their emotional scores might not represent the full spectrum of psychological states among cancer patients.

Coyne says this is the most in-depth study of its kind, and until a study with a similar sample size proves otherwise, he is convinced there is no conclusive relationship between emotional well-being and cancer survival. Many cancer patients struggling to maintain a positive outlook—and fearing that their lives depended on it—have contacted Coyne to express relief that their survival may not be dependent on their emotions. “Having a positive outlook is not going to extend the quantity of life,” Coyne says. “Not everybody is capable of being positive when they have cancer.”

• A 2004 study found that 72 percent of the public and 86 percent of cancer patients believe psychological factors affect cancer survival. Only 26 percent of oncologists agree.
• About 25 percent of breast cancer patients who joined support groups told researchers in a 2005 study that they attended to improve their immune systems.
• Four previous studies indicate that people with better psychological function do survive longer with cancer—but four others suggest that a healthier psychological condition predicts shorter survival time. More than a dozen studies have found no relationship between the two variables.
• A 2007 study found that the emotional, physical, and social questionnaire Coyne used is effective at predicting depression.
• Major depression afflicts about 25 percent of all cancer patients.
• The two clinical trials in Coyne’s study were conducted by the RTOG, which had a $13 million budget in 2007 and is funded by the National Cancer Institute.
• The American Cancer Society cited 1.4 million new cases of cancer in the United States in 2007 and more than 500,000 cancer deaths, with about 11,000 due to head and neck cancer.

While this study attempts to correct factors that muddied previous research, few experts think the question of cancer and emotion is closed. Stanford psychiatrist David Spiegel notes that coping strategies are an important part of the picture and that they were not addressed by Coyne’s research. http://louis5j5sheehan.blogspot.com/
He points to a study of breast cancer patients that provides evidence that survival has to do more with how people deal with emotions than how they feel. (Coyne believes the sample size in that study was inadequate and says larger studies oppose Spiegel’s contention.) Spiegel says support groups and other therapies might improve outcomes by helping patients manage stress and improve communication with doctors. Coyne acknowledges the possibility that psychological support could affect survival by mechanisms other than emotional well-being but says no methodologically sound study has yet shown a relationship.

The patient is unconscious; an ice pick protrudes from each eye socket. When the doctor steps back to take a photograph, one of the ice picks slips. The patient’s life ends in that instant. The doctor, unfazed, moves along to his next demonstration.

The doctor is Walter Freeman, pioneer of the infamous transorbital lobotomy, and the PBS documentary “The Lobotomist” tells the gruesome story of his rise and fall.

Freeman, the laboratory director at a mental hospital, spent many late nights bent over the dissecting table at the morgue. He was convinced that mental illness had its roots in the brain but couldn’t find any consistent differences between the brains of healthy and mentally ill individuals. Then he heard of a radical new treatment for mental illness: drilling into the skull and disconnecting the frontal lobe. The Portuguese neurologist Egas Moniz won the Nobel Prize in 1949 for inventing that procedure, but Freeman made it faster, easier, and more portable.

By the mid-1940s, Freeman was touring the country performing dozens of ice-pick lobotomies each day. He used picks from his own kitchen and carpenter’s hammers. Sometimes, for kicks, he’d operate left-handed. Physicians who gathered to watch would throw up and pass out—but patients often got better. Freeman could turn people who were smearing feces on walls and cowering naked under furniture into calm and docile citizens.

Unfortunately, along with their madness, they lost their personalities. http://louis2j2sheehan.blogspot.com/
Freeman fell from institutional favor in the mid-1950s, when long-term studies began to reveal his technique’s failings and drugs like Thorazine came to market. In response he moved his practice west and began to operate on new kinds of patients: discontented housewives, for example, and unruly children. One was four years old.

“The Lobotomist” raises questions that remain urgently relevant in an age when pharmaceutical companies help define what it means to be mentally ill. “Is the absence of pain what we should look for? The absence of caring? The absence of anxiety?” journalist Robert Whitaker asks in the film. “Is that a good thing—or is that what makes us human?”

Papa Freud didn’t leave his psychoanalytic offspring without issues. In Revolution in Mind: The Creation of Psychoanalysis (HarperCollins, $32.50), psychiatrist George Makari traces analysis from its birth trauma and jittery adolescence through a conflicted young adulthood. He reveals the constantly shifting landscape of analytic trends, the roundelay of alliances and betrayals, schools—and reform schools—of thought. Collaborations. Fallings-out. One colleague thought Sigmund Freud was actually planning to murder him over a disagreement.

All the Big Names, and lots of lesser ones, make appearances. Many anecdotes, predictably, deal with sex. Felix Salten, the author of Bambi, wrote porn under an alias. Philosopher Otto Weininger, Makari tells us, “recommended a complete renunciation of sexuality even for propagation, published his magnum opus, and promptly committed suicide later that year.”

Some analysts held that masturbation caused madness; others thought it cured madness. Some were fanatical teetotalers, others wild libertines. One was even dubbed “the Pied Piper of carnality.” A major pillar of the early psychoanalysis movement, repeatedly accused of child molestation and other sexual excesses, fled his homeland; another famous analyst died in jail.

There were ethnic, racist, sexist, and religious hissy fits: Women were emotion machines destined for hysteria; blacks were inherently uncivilizable. Zurich’s Protestant analysts (Jung) maintained a tense relationship with Vienna’s Jewish group (Freud). Freud’s sexually perplexed protégé Fritz Wittels wrote, “As Sancho Panza rides behind Don Quixote, so syphilis behind Christianity.” Hungarian Jewish-born Max Südfeld, writing as Max Nordau, “believed Jews were disproportionately degenerate. To ameliorate this hereditary curse, Nordau lamely advised the practice of gymnastics.” Gymnastics? Pole-vault your way to stability? And what, exactly, does that pole represent?

Makari’s story portrays Freud as a complex, driven, troubled, egotistical visionary intent on establishing a legitimate new science but also a canny politician lusting for fame and success. http://louis0j0sheehan.blogspot.com/
To that end, the author writes, Freud was not above “borrowing” others’ ideas, adapting them to his own theories, even undermining colleagues’ contributions if he felt they threatened his primacy. Freud eventually admitted that—despite the most purely Freudian self-analysis in history—even he was not immune to the forces of repressed sexuality.

1) It’s a barred spiral.
You might know that the Milky Way is a spiral galaxy, perhaps the most beautiful galaxy type. You’ve seen ‘em: majestic arms sweeping out from a central hub or bulge of glowing stars. That’s us. But a lot of spirals have a weird feature: a rectangular block of stars at the center instead of a sphere, and the arms radiate away from the ends of the block. Astronomers call this block a bar, and, you guessed it: we have one.
Is fact, ours is pretty big. At 27,000 light years end-to-end, it’s beefier than most bars. Of course, space is a rough neighborhood. Who wouldn’t want a huge bar located right downtown?
2) There’s a supermassive black hole at its heart.
At the very center of the Galaxy, right at its very core, lies a monster: a supermassive black hole.
We know it’s there due to the effect of its gravity. Stars very near the center — some only a few dozen billion kilometers out — orbit the center at fantastic speeds. They scream around their orbits at thousands of kilometers per second, and their phenomenal speed betrays the mass of the object to which they’re enthralled. Applying some fairly basic math, it’s possible to determine that the mass needed to accelerate the stars to those speeds must tip the cosmic scales at four million times the mass of the Sun! Yet in the images, nothing can be seen. So what can be as massive as 4,000,000 Suns and yet not emit any light?
Right. A black hole.
Even though it’s huge, bear in mind that the Galaxy itself is something like 200 billion solar masses strong, so in reality the black hole at the center is only a tiny fraction of the total mass of the Galaxy. And we’re in no danger of plunging into it: after all, it’s 250,000,000,000,000,000 kilometers away.
It’s thought now that a supermassive black hole in the center of a galaxy forms along with the galaxy itself, and in facts winds blown outward as material falls in affects the formation of stars in the galaxy. So black holes may be dangerous, but it’s entirely possible the Sun’s eventual birth — and the Earth’s along with it — may have been lent a hand by the four million solar mass killer so far away.
3) It’s a cannibal.
Galaxies are big, and have lots of mass. If another, smaller galaxy passes too close by, the bigger galaxy can rip it to shreds and ingest its stars and gas.
The Milky Way is pretty, but it’s savage, too. It’s currently eating several other galaxies. They’ve been ripped into long, curving arcs of stars that orbit the center of the Milky Way. Eventually they’ll merge completely with us, and we’ll be a slightly larger galaxy. Ironically though, the galaxies add their mass to ours, making it more likely we’ll feed again. http://Louis2J2Sheehan2Esquire.US
Eating only makes galaxies hungrier.
4) We live in a nice neighborhood…
The Milky Way is not alone in space. We’re part of a small group of nearby galaxies called — get ready to be shocked — the Local Group. We’re the heaviest guy on the block, and the Andromeda galaxy is maybe a bit less massive, though it’s actually spread out more. The Triangulum galaxy is also a spiral, but not terribly big, and there are other assorted galaxies dotted here and there in the Group. All together, there are something like three dozen galaxies in the Local Group, with most being dinky dwarf galaxies that are incredibly faint and difficult to detect.
5) … and we’re in the suburbs.
The Local Group is small and cozy, and everyone makes sure their lawns are mowed and houses painted nicely. That’s because if you take the long view, we live in the suburbs. The big city in this picture is the Virgo Cluster, a huge collection of about 2000 galaxies, many of which are as large or larger than the Milky Way. It’s the nearest big cluster; the center of it is about 60 million light years away. We appear to be gravitationally bound to it; in other words, we’re a part of it, just far-flung. The total mass of the cluster may be as high as a quadrillion times the mass of the Sun.
6) You can only see 0.000003% percent of it.
When you got out on a dark night, you can see thousands of stars. But the Milky Way has two hundred billion stars in it. You’re only seeing a tiny tiny fraction of the number of stars tooling around the galaxy. In fact, with only a handful of exceptions, the most distant stars you can readily see are 1000 light years away. Worse, most stars are so faint that they are invisible much closer than that; the Sun is too dim to see from farther than about 60 light years away… and the Sun is pretty bright compared to most stars. http://louis-j-sheehan.net/page1.aspx

So the little bubble of stars we can see around us is just a drop in the ocean of the Milky Way.
7) 90% of it is invisible.
When you look at the motions of the stars in our galaxy, you can apply some math and physics and determine how much mass the galaxy has (more mass means more gravity, which means stars will move faster under its influence). You can also count up the number of stars in the galaxy and figure out how much mass they have. Problem is, the two numbers don’t match: stars (and other visible things like gas and dust) make up only 10% of the mass of the galaxy. Where’s the other 90%?
Whatever it is, it has mass, but doesn’t glow. So we call it Dark Matter, for lack of a better term (and it’s actually pretty accurate). We know it’s not black holes, dead stars, ejected planets, cold gas — those have all been searched for, and marked off the list — and the candidates that remain get pretty weird (like WIMPs). But we know it’s real, and we know it’s out there. We just don’t know what it is. Smart people are trying to figure that out, and given the findings in recent years, I bet we’re less than a decade from their success.
8) Spiral arms are an illusion.
Well, they’re not an illusion per se, but the number of stars in the spiral arms of our galaxy isn’t really very different than the number between the arms! The arms are like cosmic traffic jams, regions where the local density is enhanced. Like a traffic jam on a highway, cars enter and leave the jam, but the jam itself stays. The arms have stars entering and leaving, but the arms themselves persist (that’s why they don’t wind up like twine on a spindle).
Just like on highways, too, there are fender benders. Giant gas clouds can collide in the arms, which makes them collapse and form stars. The vast majority of these stars are faint, low mass, and very long-lived, so they eventually wander out of the arms. But some rare stars are very massive, hot, and bright, and they illuminate the surrounding gas. These stars don’t live very long, and they die (bang!) before they can move out of the arms. http://louis2j2sheehan.us/Blog/Blogger.aspx
Louis J. Sheehan Esquire

Since the gas clouds in the arms light up this way, it makes the spiral arms more obvious.
We see the arms because the light is better there, not because that’s where all the stars are.
9) It’s seriously warped.
The Milky Way is a flat disk roughly 100,000 light years across and a few thousand light years thick (depending on how you measure it). It has the same proportion as a stack of four DVDs, if that helps.
Have you ever left a DVD out in the Sun? It can warp as it heats up, getting twisted (old vinyl LPs used to be very prone to this). The Milky Way has a similar warp!
The disk is bent, warped, probably due to the gravitational influence of a pair of orbiting satellite galaxies. One side of the disk is bent up, if you will, and the other down. In a sense, it’s like a ripple in the plane of the Milky Way. It’s not hard to spot in other galaxies; grab an image of the Andromeda galaxy and take a look. At first it’s hard to see, but if you cover the inner part you’ll suddenly notice the disk is flared up on the left and down on the right. Andromeda has satellite galaxies too, and they warp its disk just like our satellite galaxies warp ours.
As far as I can tell, the warp doesn’t really affect us at all. It’s just a cool thing you may not know about the Milky Way. Hey, that would make a good blog entry!
10) We’re going to get to know the Andromeda galaxy a lot better.
Speaking of Andromeda, have you ever seen it in the sky? It’s visible to the naked eye on a clear, dark, moonless night (check your local listings). It’s faint, but big; it’s four or more degrees across, eight times the apparent size of the Moon on the sky.
If that doesn’t seem too big, then give it, oh, say, two billion years. Then you’ll have a much better view.
The Andromeda Galaxy and the Milky Way are approaching each other, two cosmic steam engines chugging down the tracks at each other at 200 kilometers per second. Remember when I said big galaxies eat small ones? Well, when two big galaxies smack into each other, you get real fireworks. Stars don’t physically collide; they’re way too small on this scale. But gas clouds can, and like I said before, when they do they form stars. So you get a burst of star formation, lighting up the two galaxies.
In the meantime, the mutual gravity of the two galaxies draw out long tendrils from the other, making weird, delicate arcs and filaments of stars and gas. It’s beautiful, really, but it indicates violence on an epic scale.
Eventually (it takes a few billion years), the two galaxies will merge, and will become, what, Milkomeda? Andromeway? Well, whatever, they form a giant elliptical galaxy when they finally settle down. In fact, the Sun will still be around when this happens; it won’t have yet become a red giant. Will our descendants witness the biggest collision in the history of the galaxy?
That’s cool to think about. http://louis4j4sheehan4esquire.blogspot.com/
Incidentally, I talk about this event a whole lot more, and in a lot more detail, in my upcoming book Death from the Skies! In case you forgot about that.
Until then, these Ten Things should keep you occupied. And of course, I only wanted to list ten things so I could give this post the cool title. But if there’s something you find surprising about the Milky Way, leave a comment! I don’t want to hog all the fun.

So, while Democrats scuffle, it's time for Republican Sen. John McCain to start thinking about picking his running mate.

Here's what he needs in a vice-presidential sidekick: A younger politician who is viewed as a potential president, and also can help win the South, woo social conservatives, and shore up Sen. McCain's weaknesses on economic policy. Oh, and being a woman would be nice, too.

The person who perfectly fits that description doesn't exist, of course, meaning this will be an interesting choice. It takes on greater importance for Sen. McCain because of the simple and unavoidable fact that he is 71 years old, and will be 72 by Election Day.

That inevitably invites questions about whether his running mate would be a suitable president. (Interesting trivia: Sen. McCain turns 72 on Aug. 29, one day after the Democratic national convention ends and three days before the Republican one begins. Which party will make a bigger fuss about his birthday?)

One could make a case for Sen. McCain making his choice early, to defuse the age issue a bit and draw attention away from the Democratic race. But the Democrats are busy slicing and dicing each other in their prolonged battle for their party's nomination, so maybe there's no advantage for Sen. McCain in drawing attention away from that.

Right now, there's no sign Sen. McCain is in a big hurry. He's just ordered advisers to undertake an in-depth study of how other candidates have gone about picking running mates. "It's going to be a big decision because it's going to be the first time voters are going to look at his decision-making process," says Scott Reed, who ran Republican Bob Dole's 1996 presidential campaign.

The vetting and guessing process already is under way, so it's a good time to look at three groups of contenders:

Fellow senators. There's a surprisingly short list of possibilities among Sen. McCain's Senate colleagues. He is friendly with Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, who is beloved by social conservatives, and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who has been a voice of intelligence and reason on the fight against terrorism. But Sen. Brownback didn't deliver Kansas for Sen. McCain (former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee won there), and Sen. Graham is probably only the second-most-plausible possibility out of South Carolina. (See governors below.)

The most intriguing Senate possibility is Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, who is reliably conservative and would give Republicans a bit of diversity that might help them in a year when Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are battling to represent the other side. But Sen. Hutchison represents a state that Republicans are highly likely to win anyway, and she isn't well known nationally.

Fellow presidential hopefuls. Former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson seems unlikely because, among other things, at age 65 he doesn't project the kind of youth desired to offset Sen. McCain's age. http://louis3j3sheehan3esquire.blogspot.com/
Louis J. Sheehan, Esquire
Louis J Sheehan
Louis J. Sheehan
Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani got along famously with Sen. McCain after dropping out of the race, but he actually would exacerbate doubts among social conservatives.

Mr. Huckabee showed great strength in two areas where Sen. McCain needs help: He's strong among social conservatives and in the South, where he beat Sen. McCain several times. But he may be too socially conservative for a general-election audience -- and would he be seen as presidential?

In many ways, the best running mate for Sen. McCain, on paper at least, might be former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. As a former businessman, his strength would be the domestic economy, which could be crucial in a campaign that may well be run in the midst of a recession. He won over economic conservatives in his own presidential effort, and he looks and sounds presidential.

But it never appeared that he and Sen. McCain much liked each other, so the big question is whether the chemistry is, or could be, right.

Governors. Interesting possibilities here. Charlie Crist of Florida is popular in his home state, one central to the general election, and was an important McCain backer. He isn't well known and scrutinized nationally, though.

Mark Sanford of South Carolina is young (47), with some Washington experience from his days in the House of Representatives, and he is popular among the party's economic conservatives for his crusades against government spending. Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, says Gov. Sanford is "perfect ideologically, solid on spending. He's governed as governor the way McCain says he'd govern as president." Haley Barbour of Mississippi would reassure party regulars of all stripes, but his background as a lobbyist is a problem.

Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, who matches Gov. Sanford in relative youth (also 47), was an early McCain backer and is deft on the kinds of real-world economic issues that aren't exactly Sen. McCain's strength. Mr. Norquist recently sang his praises for vetoing a state transportation plan that included tax increases. And Minnesota is an important swing state (though Gov. Pawlenty's support wasn't enough to prevent Sen. McCain from losing the state's caucuses to Mr. Romney).

Finally, here's an intriguing possibility: How about Louisiana's new governor, Bobby Jindal? He definitely provides youth (age 36), is a former Rhodes scholar who's actually worked on health-care reform while running Louisiana's health agency, and has experience in the House. As an Indian-American, he'd go a long way toward defusing the Republican Party's current image as anti-immigrant, and he's Catholic to boot, which helps with a key constituency. OK, he's probably too young -- but he sure is articulate and that, plus his nontraditional ethnic background, makes him appear to be a kind of Republican version of Sen. Obama.

The first South Korean astronaut, Yi So-yeon, is set to launch in April on a Russian rocket headed for the International Space Station.There are several stories here. One is that she is the first Korean astronaut, which is cool. The second is that she replaces Ko San, who was slated to be the first, but broke some rules the Russians have set. They appear to be minor infractions involving training manuals — the first was he sent a manual home by accident, he says, and a second violation involved getting a manual he was not supposed to receive — but the Russian space agency takes those rules seriously, and after formally apologizing twice, I don’t blame Korea for replacing him.
The third story is that Dr. Yi is young — 29 — and has a PhD in bioengineering. Wow. I had just gotten my degree when I turned 29, but I wasn’t also training to be an astronaut!
The fourth aspect of this is that Dr. Yi a woman. I wish this weren’t news, but a casual perusal of the list of space-travelers makes it clear it is. The good news is, in my opinion, soon this won’t be news. Women will travel in space as much as men, and eventually we’ll be an egalitarian space-faring species.
I look forward to that time very much, and so I wish Dr. Yi a good launch and journey, and hope that one day her travels won’t be news any more.

The symptoms of some genetic diseases are so nonspecific that it can take years for a child to be diagnosed. Even when a doctor suspects a specific disorder, such as Noonan syndrome, a developmental disorder that can affect the skeletal system, heart, eyes, language, and speech, but usually not intelligence, testing can cost thousands of dollars and sometimes requires months to complete. http://louis3j3sheehan3esquire.blogspot.com/
Louis J. Sheehan
Peter Hammond of University College London is developing a faster, potentially cheaper approach that uses computer analysis to spot facial characteristics associated with a variety of genetic disorders.

Hammond first projects a pattern of thousands of dots onto a patient’s face and then takes photos of the face from different angles with a digital camera, capturing the positions of the dots. Software converts the data into a three-dimensional “map” of the person’s face and compares this map to models of the face shapes linked with various genetic syndromes, including Noonan, Williams, and Fragile X. If the computer analysis indicates, for example, wide-set eyes, low ears, a small jaw, and drooping eyelids, the program might match it with Noonan syndrome, which often includes these features. Among children with one of the genetic disorders for which Hammond has compiled a face shape model, this technique has demonstrated greater than 90 percent accuracy.

So far, Hammond has modeled 12 of the 30 disorders he has studied. But your hospital might not be able to afford a scan machine yet. Custom-made to Hammond’s specs, they cost $40,000 to $60,000 each.

Russian Jewish oligarchs seem to embrace Israel. The major reason behind their interest to the Promised Land is its non-extradition statute: Israeli law generally bans rendering a Jew to foreign prosecution. Israel is also notoriously lax on money laundering and foreign tax evasion: police investigate money laundering only when it coincides with a major tax evasion in Israel. Another reason why Russian oligarchs love Israel is because she is a backwater village to them susceptible to inexpensive takeover.

Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs invariably participate in those countries’ elections; large business there is inseparable from politics. The costs and difficulties involved in Russian and Ukrainian politics dwarf those of Israel. It is not unusual for a Ukrainian oligarch to spend $10-30 million for his own tiny party in parliamentary elections; contributions to large parties, especially in Russia run much higher. Parliamentary seats are sold at $4-10 million apiece. In comparison, the power in Israel comes on the cheap. Russian oligarchs see Israel as a political investment opportunity. For them, it is not only or even primarily a matter of profiting from politics, but mostly a way to realize their dreams of power. http://louis1j1sheehan1esquire1.blogspot.com/
They come so close to power in Russia and Ukraine but are always vulnerable to anti-Semitic rulers. In Israel, the oligarchs can finally dominate.

Israeli politics is very provincial. Even a no-one called Netanyahu rose to power by hiring American campaign managers and investing relatively little in advertising. Peace Now became prominent by using forty-year-old tricks of political campaigning. Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs possess vastly more sophisticated experience of managing political campaigns and imagine they can influence Israeli politics efficiently.

The oligarchs are way smarter than average Israeli politicians; it’s hard to find a person sillier than an average MK. But it takes luck rather than genius to become an oligarch in Russia, and the magnates often overestimate their political power. The oligarchs are proverbially hapless in politics, consistently losing their political investment on the advice of cheating campaign managers.
Thus we see Michael Cherny and Vadim Rabinovich investment in Lieberman going sour: after short-term success, Lieberman the phony predictably loses his support base. Cherny and Rabinovich bet on a commonsense idea of militant Russian identity in Israel, but once that idea failed to bring Lieberman’s electorate substantial improvement, they weren’t able to redefine his platform. With Likud making inroads into Lieberman’s Russian audience, and ad hoc parties such as the Pensioners’ taking their share of Russian voters, Lieberman’s project is doomed. Lieberman will retain some supporters, bent on taking him for messiah, but their number would guarantee him only an insignificant position in the Knesset. It is possible that Lieberman can heat up his voters with demagoguery once again, but his trend is downward. Lieberman’s case is the first Israeli instance of a widespread Ukrainian phenomenon: parties which depend on lone oligarchs are doomed. The oligarchs cannot allow their parties to be strongly anti-government, and so the parties lose their opposition identity, become mild and unattractive for voters. Lieberman’s oligarchic sponsors do not rationally depend on Israeli government as they make money elsewhere, but so far they habitually avoid alienating the ruling establishment.

Or consider a Jew with an odious last name, Gaydamak (gaydamaks are the worst anti-Semitic strain of Cossacks). He partners with KGB/ FSB in many businesses, from Soviet foreign debts to weapons sales, but now miraculously converted into Israeli philanthropist. Gaydamak was always frank about his social and eventually political ambitions in Israel. After the years of being derogatory called “Arkasha” by his KGB overseers, Gaydamak wants to become a political boss. http://louis6j6sheehan6esquire.blogspot.com/
Louis J. Sheehan, Esquire
Louis J Sheehan
His entourage of Israeli advisors is laughable, though; they play the king rather than trying to make him. In Israeli political vacuum, Gaydamak’s bizarre political party can get even 14 seats, but will hardly enter the Knesset in subsequent elections. Messianically minded Jews have elected a number of such single-session parties, and almost none of them staged a comeback. Gaydamak’s sensible social slogans target voters across the political spectrum, thus making him dangerous to every politician. Upon entering the Knesset, Gaydamak would likely be ostracized by fellow politicians. He can make a decent political figure: not prone to petty corruption and not very left.
Like other very rich Jews, Gaydamak cannot be right or Jewish: such stance would offend his Gentile friends and business partners. Olmert likewise describes Bush whose peace process kills the Jewish state as very friendly; Jewish values and interests are an uncivil obstacle in the friendly chat of ex-Jews with fellow Gentiles. It is impolite to stubbornly insist on Abraham’s right to Hebron and Jacob’s right to Schem when a friendly powerful Gentile wants to help you out of that mess with Arabs that his predecessors set up. It is ludicrous to speak of Jewish choosiness, truth of Judaism, and religious right to the land at business meetings and debauch parties. Gaydamak, accordingly, spends money to alleviate the harm done by defeatism rather than helps to achieve the victory; he helps Sderot refugees rather than outpost settlers.

Lev Levaev comes very close to being the fifth column. His major income source, trade in Russian diamonds, wholly depends on Putin’s whim; Levaev, therefore, have to carefully dance to Putin’s tune. And so Levaev sponsors the alien Russian culture in Israel; instead of integrating the Russian Jews into Israeli milieu, they are kept distinct. Levaev also fosters political ties between Israel and anti-Semitic Russia; his role is especially dangerous because of his contacts in the highest political echelons of Israel. Levaev cooperates with Putin and, for example, on Angola diamonds – with Mossad’s ex-chief Mossad Danny Yatom. It is plausible that he acts as a link between them, essentially abetting a high treason. Levaev, like other oligarchs, is left: an aggressive, religiously charged Jewish state is not good for his business. Superficially, Levaev supports Chabad charities, but his own shopping malls work on Shabbat. The Jewish schools Levaev sponsors in Russia and Ukraine are thinly disguised assimilationist shops which teach formalized religion, hateful to the children, instead of the real Judaism and Jewish values. Levaev is a typical religious atheist who separates God from business. Like Vyacheslav Kantor and so many others, Levaev chose the respectful position of Putin’s court Jew instead of simply being a person true to Judaism.

The latest Russian Jewish oligarch who established connection with Israel is Roman Abramovich. He survived Putin’s purges of Jewish oligarchs, and exhibits absolute loyalty to the Russian regime; a shred of loyalty to anti-Semitic Russia amounts to treason against Israel. Abramovich is far richer than any other Israeli oligarch and, considering his extravagant spending habits, can reach almost any political goal, if only temporarily. There is no doubt that Abramovich would be as left and pro-Russian as the other oligarchs. He has a history of social mega-projects in Chukotka, a far Siberian region where he serves as absentee governor. Abramovich is therefore likely to follow in Gaydamak’s steps, starting with huge cocktail parties and ending with pompous welfare projects. Given Abramovich’s track record of keeping low political profile in Russia, he is unlikely to exhibit political ambitions in Israel.

Putin’s tremendous influence on Russian Jewish oligarchs presents a problem. Putin is very different from previous Russian leaders: he is not a nomenclature bureaucrat who carefully charts his course, but a petty KGB officer turned corrupt businessman turned politician turned tsar. Putin is, in a sense, rootless; he lacks political fundamentals. His thinking is that of the proverbial “new Russian” businessman, entirely lacking strategic dimension. The nearest Western analogy is of a spoiled and not particularly bright child who suddenly became a large company’s CEO. Putin is unpredictable; he makes moves based on curiosity and desire to show his power. Now the Putin-controlled Jewish magnates can establish control over Israel. They can spend much more on elections than any Israeli party, and invest more in the electoral-oriented welfare than any charity. In all likelihood, the MAPAI-built security apparatus of Israel would grind the oligarchs. And we shouldn’t pity them.

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