Study of French postmen’s testicles is an Ig Nobel winner

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The researchers taped thermometers to men’s testicles to try to work out if both are the same temperature. Photograph: Dan Tuffs/Rex

There comes a time in a scientist’s life when the surest route to global fame involves a bevy of naked French postmen with thermometers taped to their testicles.

At least that is the case for Roger Mieusset, a fertility specialist at the University of Toulouse, whose unlikely studies have earned him one of the most coveted awards in academia: an Ig Nobel prize.

Unlike the more famous – and rather more prestigious – Nobel prizes, which will be announced in Scandinavia next month, the Ig Nobels honour work that “first makes people laugh, and then makes them think”.

Ten awards were handed out on Thursday at the annual ceremony at Harvard University in the US, where an eight-year-old girl was on duty to enforce the one-minute rule on winners’ speeches with the devastating line: “Please stop, I’m bored.”

Now in their 29th year, the awards included a chemistry prize for Japanese scientists who calculated how much saliva a typical five-year-old produces in one day (half a litre); an engineering prize for an Iranian inventor’s nappy-changing machine; and an economics prize for Dutch researchers who discovered that banknotes can spread infectious microbes, and none more so than the Romanian leu.

Italian scientists won the medicine prize for pursuing the idea that pizzas offer protection against death, a question they never quite managed to answer.

Mieusset and his accomplice, Bourras Bengoudifa, recruited French postmen to settle a mystery that has received precious little attention: whether a man’s testicles are both the same temperature. Having crunched the numbers from delicately placed sensors, Mieusset only deepened the mystery. According to his studies, the left one is warmer, but only when a man has his clothes on. Mieusset has invented heated pants for men to wear as an aid to contraception – he appears to be the sole purveyor of the unorthodox intervention.

Britain’s pride was upheld by Francis McGlone, a researcher at Liverpool John Moores University, who shared the Ig Nobel peace prize. As part of an international team, McGlone helped map out which parts of the body are most pleasurable to scratch. The ankles ranked highest, the researchers found, and then the back and forearm.

As is standard for the annual event, winners pay their own way to Harvard, where the prizes are handed out by bona fide Nobel laureates. The winners each receive a cash prize: a now-obsolete $10tn bill from Zimbabwe.

Patricia Yang and David Hu, both engineers at Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, celebrated their second Ig Nobel prize at the ceremony. The researchers bagged their first in 2015 for discovering the “law of urination”, which states that all mammals empty their bladders in about 21 seconds. This year, as part of a larger team, the two share the physics prize for working out how wombats make cube-shaped faeces. The feat, thought to be unique in the animal world, helps them construct stable piles of dung to mark their territory. Contacted about the prize, Yang said: “It solidifies my belief that curiosity brings joy and surprise in science.”

Source: Ian Sample in The Guardian. Read complete article here.

Fossil DNA Reveals New Twists in Modern Human Origins

Humans today are mosaics, our genomes rich tapestries of interwoven ancestries. With every fossil discovered, with every DNA analysis performed, the story gets more complex: We, the sole survivors of the genus Homo, harbor genetic fragments from other closely related but long-extinct lineages. Modern humans are the products of a sprawling history of shifts and dispersals, separations and reunions — a history characterized by far more diversity, movement and mixture than seemed imaginable a mere decade ago.

But it’s one thing to say that Neanderthals interbred with the ancestors of modern Europeans, or that the recently discovered Denisovans interbred with some older mystery group, or that they all interbred with each other. It’s another to provide concrete details about when and where those couplings occurred. “We’ve got this picture where these events are happening all over the place,” said Aylwyn Scally, an evolutionary geneticist at the University of Cambridge. “But it’s very hard for us to pin down any particular single event and say, yeah, we’re really confident that that one happened — unless we have ancient DNA.”

The events that do get pinned down therefore tend to be relatively recent, starting with the migration of modern humans out of Africa 60,000 years ago, during which they interacted with hominin relatives (like the Neanderthals and Denisovans) they met along the way. Evidence of interbreeding during any migrations before then, or during events that transpired earlier within Africa, has been elusive.

Now that’s starting to change. In part because of greater computational power, “we’re starting to see the next wave of methods development,” said Joshua Akey, a professor of genomics at the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics at Princeton University. “And that’s allowing us to start making new inferences from the data … that the previous generation of methods couldn’t make.”

Read the complete article on Quantamagazine.org here.

Benefits of farming vertically

MANY FOODIES pin the blame for farming’s ills on “unnatural” industrial agriculture. Agribusinesses create mono-cultures that destroy habitat and eliminate historic varieties. Farmers douse their crops with fertilizer and insecticide, which poison streams and rivers—and possibly human beings. Intensive farms soak up scarce water and fly their produce around the world in airplanes that spew out carbon dioxide. The answer, foodies say, is to go back to a better, gentler age, when farmers worked with nature and did not try to dominate it.

However, for those who fancy some purple-ruffles basil and mizuna with their lamb’s leaf lettuce, there is an alternative to nostalgia. And it involves more intensive agriculture, not less.

A vast selection of fresh salads, vegetables and fruit is on the way, courtesy of a technology called vertical farming. Instead of growing crops in a field or a greenhouse, a vertical farm creates an artificial indoor environment in which crops are cultivated on trays stacked on top of each other (see article). From inside shipping containers in Brooklyn, New York, to a disused air-raid shelter under London’s streets and an innocuous warehouse on a Dubai industrial estate, vertical farms are sprouting up in all sorts of places, nourished by investment in the business from the likes of Japan’s SoftBank and Amazon’s founder, Jeff Bezos.

This should cheer anyone who wants organic produce that has been grown without pesticides and other chemicals, and which has not been driven hundreds of miles in refrigerated lorries or flown thousands of miles in the belly of a plane. Such farms can greatly reduce the space needed for cultivation, which is useful in urban areas where land is in short supply and expensive. Inside, climatic conditions are carefully controlled with hydroponic systems supplying all the nutrients a plant needs to grow and recycling all but 5% of their water—which is incorporated in the crop itself. Specially tuned LED lighting generates only the wavelengths that the plants require to prosper, saving energy. Bugs are kept out, so pesticides are not needed. Foliage and fruit can be turned out in immaculate condition. And the harvests last all year round.

There is more. As they will remain safe and snug inside a vertical farm, long-forgotten varieties of fruit and vegetables can stage a comeback. Most of these old-timers have been passed over by varieties bred to withstand the rigors of intensive farming systems. A cornucopia of unfamiliar shapes, colors and flavors could arrive on the dinner table.

This glimpse of Eden is still some way off. The electricity bill remains high, principally because of the cost of powering the huge number of LEDs required to simulate sunlight. That means vertical farming can, for the time being, be profitable only for high-value, perishable produce, such as salad leaves and fancy herbs.

But research is set to bring the bill down and the costs of renewable energy are falling, too. In a hot climate such as Dubai’s extensive solar power could make vertical farms a valuable food resource, particularly where water is scarce. In a cold climate thermal, wind or hydroelectric power could play a similar role.

Some field crops, including staples such as rice and wheat, are unlikely ever to be suitable for growing in vast stacks. But as its costs fall thanks to further research, vertical farming will compete more keenly with old-fashioned greenhouses and conventional, horizontal farms where crops grow in the earth. As an extra form of food production, vertical farming deserves to be welcomed, especially by the people whose impulse is to turn their back on the future.

Source: The Economist magazine.This article appeared in the Leaders section of the print edition under the headline “Plant power”

The World’s Wealthiest Family Gets $4 Million Richer Every Hour.

From left: Jim Walton, Alice Walton, Jim’s wife Lynne McNabb Walton, Rob Walton’s wife Melani Lowman Walton and Rob Walton. Photograph: Rick T. Wilking / Stringer

The numbers are mind-boggling: $70,000 per minute, $4 million per hour, $100 million per day.

That’s how quickly the fortune of the Waltons, the clan behind Walmart Inc., has been growing since last year’s Bloomberg ranking of the world’s richest families.

At that rate, their wealth would’ve expanded about $23,000 since you began reading this. A new Walmart associate in the U.S. would’ve made about 6 cents in that time, on the way to an $11 hourly minimum.

Even in this era of extreme wealth and brutal inequality, the contrast is jarring. The heirs of Sam Walton, Walmart’s notoriously frugal founder, are amassing wealth on a near-unprecedented scale — and they’re hardly alone.

The Walton fortune has swelled by $39 billion, to $191 billion, since topping the June 2018 ranking of the world’s richest families.

America’s richest 0.1% today control more wealth than at any time since 1929, but their counterparts in Asia and Europe are gaining too. Worldwide, the 25 richest families now control almost $1.4 trillion in wealth, up 24% from last year.

To some critics, such figures are evidence that capitalism needs fixing. Inequality has become an explosive political issue, from Paris to Seattle to Hong Kong. But how to shrink the growing gap between the rich and the poor?

As the tension increases, even some billionaire heirs are backing steps such as wealth taxes.

“If we don’t do something like this, what are we doing, just hoarding this wealth in a country that’s falling apart at the seams?” Liesel Pritzker Simmons, whose family ranks 17th on the Bloomberg list, said in June. “That’s not the America we want to live in.”

Tallying dynastic dollars isn’t an exact science. Fortunes backed by decades and sometimes centuries of assets and dividends can obfuscate the true extent of a family’s holdings. The net worth of the Rothschilds or Rockefellers, for instance, is too diffuse to value. Clans whose wealth is currently unverifiable are also absent.

But of those we can track, most are reaping the rewards of ultra-low interest rates, tax cuts, deregulation and innovation. Koch Industries, for instance, has a venture-capital arm. The latest generation of Waltons is establishing its own enterprises.

Other big gainers include the owners of fashion house Chanel and Italy’s Ferrero family, whose brands include Nutella spread and Tic Tac mints. In India, the fortune of the Ambani family swelled $7 billion, to $50 billion.

In all, the world’s 25 richest families have $250 billion more wealth, compared to last year.

See more detail on the top richest families and read more the the Bloomberg article here.

The Wartime Spies Who Used Knitting as an Espionage Tool

A woman knitting, Washington DC, 1941. Photo from the Library of Congress/LC-USF34-014621-D.

During World War I, a grandmother in Belgium knitted at her window, watching the passing trains. As one train chugged by, she made a bumpy stitch in the fabric with her two needles. Another passed, and she dropped a stitch from the fabric, making an intentional hole. Later, she would risk her life by handing the fabric to a soldier—a fellow spy in the Belgian resistance, working to defeat the occupying German force.

Whether women knitted codes into fabric or used stereotypes of knitting women as a cover, there’s a history between knitting and espionage. “Spies have been known to work code messages into knitting, embroidery, hooked rugs, etc,” according to the 1942 book A Guide to Codes and Signals. During wartime, where there were knitters, there were often spies; a pair of eyes, watching between the click of two needles.

When knitters used knitting to encode messages, the message was a form of steganography, a way to hide a message physically (which includes, for example, hiding morse code somewhere on a postcard, or digitally disguising one image within another). If the message must be low-tech, knitting is great for this; every knitted garment is made of different combinations of just two stitches: a knit stitch, which is smooth and looks like a “v”, and a purl stitch, which looks like a horizontal line or a little bump. By making a specific combination of knits and purls in a predetermined pattern, spies could pass on a custom piece of fabric and read the secret message, buried in the innocent warmth of a scarf or hat.

A knitting pattern, to non-knitters, may look undecipherable, and not unlike a secret code to begin with. This could cause paranoia around what knitting patterns might mean. Lucy Adlington, in her book Stitches in Time, writes about one article that appeared in UK Pearson’s Magazine in October 1918, which reported that Germans were knitting whole sweaters to send messages—perhaps an exaggeration.

Read the complete article on Abstract Obscura here.

Why Was Trumponomics a Flop?

On Wednesday, the Federal Reserve cut interest rates, even though the unemployment rate is low and overall economic growth remains decent, though not great. According to Jay Powell, the Fed’s chairman, the goal was to take out some insurance against worrying hints of a future slowdown — in particular, weakness in business investment, which fell in the most recent quarter, and manufacturing, which has been declining since the beginning of the year.

Obviously Powell couldn’t say in so many words that Trumponomics has been a big flop, but that was the subtext of his remarks. And Trump’s frantic efforts to bully the Fed into bigger cuts are an implicit admission of the same thing.

But why has Trumponomics failed to deliver much besides trillion-dollar budget deficits? The answer is that both the tax cuts and the trade war were based on false views about how the world works.

Republican faith in the magic of tax cuts — and, correspondingly, belief that tax increases will doom the economy — is the ultimate policy zombie, a view that should have been killed by evidence decades ago but keeps shambling along, eating G.O.P. brains.

The record is actually awesomely consistent. Bill Clinton’s tax hike didn’t cause a depression, George W. Bush’s tax cuts didn’t deliver a boom, Jerry Brown’s California tax increase wasn’t “economic suicide,” Sam Brownback’s Kansas tax-cut “experiment” (his term) was a failure.

What went wrong? Business investment depends on many factors, with tax rates way down the list. While a casual look at the facts might suggest that corporations invest a lot in countries with low taxes, like Ireland, this is mainly an illusion: Companies use accounting tricks to report huge profits and hence big investments in tax havens, but these don’t correspond to anything real.

There was never any reason to believe that cutting corporate taxes here would lead to a surge in capital spending and jobs, and sure enough, it didn’t.

Read the complete article by Paul Krugman on the New York Times here.

Trump’s racist Cummings attack

In its response to Donald Trump’s racist attack on congressman Elijah Cummings, the editorial board of the Baltimore Sun said it “would not sink to name-calling in the Trumpian manner”.

But it did enumerate some of the president’s failings in office and liken him to a creature he said “infested” Cummings’ congressional district: a rat.

“We,” the board wrote, “would tell the most dishonest man to ever occupy the Oval Office, the mocker of war heroes, the gleeful grabber of women’s private parts, the serial bankrupter of businesses, the useful idiot of Vladimir Putin and the guy who insisted there are ‘good people’ among murderous neo-Nazis that he’s still not fooling most Americans into believing he’s even slightly competent in his current post. Or that he possesses a scintilla of integrity.

“Better to have some vermin living in your neighborhood than to be one.”

The editorial was one of a number of powerful and widely shared responses to Trump’s attack on Cummings, including an emotional address to camera by Victor Blackwell, a weekend CNN anchor.

Trump attacked the House oversight chairman, a powerful political foe, early on Saturday morning. Without offering evidence, he accused him of neglecting his district, Maryland’s seventh, and of unspecified corruption which the president said should be investigated. He returned to the theme on Sunday, broadening the attack to House speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California representative but also a Maryland native.

The attack on Cummings, who is African American, struck a familiar note, coming two weeks after Trump told four non-white Democratic congresswomen to “go back” to the places they came from, regardless of the fact three were born in the US and all are American citizens.

Read the complete article on The Guardian newspaper here.

Leak Reveals How Mauritius Siphons Tax From Poor Nations to Benefit Elites

Bob Geldof’s firm wanted to buy a chicken farm in Uganda, one of the poorest countries on earth. But first, an errand.

After soaring to fame in the 1980s for organizing Live Aid and other anti-famine efforts, the former Boomtown Rats rocker had shifted to the high-powered world of international finance. He founded a U.K.-based private equity firm that aimed to generate a 20% return by buying stakes in African businesses, according to a memorandum from an investor.

The fund’s investments would all be on the African continent. Yet its London-based legal advisers asked that one of its headquarters be set up more than 2,000 miles away on Mauritius, according to a new trove of leaked documents.

The tiny Indian Ocean island has become a destination for the rich and powerful to avoid taxes with discretion and a financial powerhouse in its own right.

One of the discussion points in the firm’s decision: “tax reasons,” according to the email sent from London lawyers to Mauritius.

Geldof’s investment firm won Mauritius government approval to take advantage of obscure international agreements that allow companies to pay rock-bottom tax rates on the island tax haven and less to the desperately poor African nations where the companies do business.

In 2012, American philanthropist Craig Cogut and his multibillion-dollar private equity firm, Pegasus Capital Advisors, looked 9,217 miles from the firm’s home base in Stamford, Conn., for a place to locate the management headquarters of one of its new investments. What unfolded is a textbook case of the way businesses can prosper by using Mauritius’ offshore tools.

A Pegasus fund had bought Six Senses, a luxury spa and hotel brand with more than 30 operations on four continents. Frequented by Hollywood stars and other global glitterati, Six Senses drips in luxury. Villas on private islands in the Seychelles, off East Africa, cost as much as $15,000 a night. The Al Bustan Palace spa in Oman, one of the less affluent countries on the Arabian Peninsula, offers private men- and women-only beaches and personalized face scrubs made with locally grown clove and myrrh.

As a “resident” firm of Mauritius, Sustainable Luxury could take advantage of the country’s super-low, effective maximum corporate tax rate: 3%. Sustainable Luxury also applied for — and received — special legal status from the government of Mauritius, allowing it to benefit from tax treaties between Mauritius and countries where Six Senses had spas and hotels. Treaties allow companies to reduce or entirely avoid common taxes received on cross-border payments, including interest, dividends and royalties.

Sustainable Luxury listed Oman among 11 countries where the company had investments and wished to apply for a special status and document issued by the government of Mauritius, according to company board meeting minutes. That document would allow the company to cut taxes paid to countries around the world that signed treaties with Mauritius. The leaked files don’t say whether the company ever received the document.

Read the complete article on ICU here.

 

Pro-Trump Republican charged with felony theft

Danielle Stella was arrested twice this year in Minneapolis suburbs over allegations that she shoplifted items worth more than $2,300 from a Target and goods valued at $40 from a grocery store. She said she denied the allegations.

Stella, 31-year-old special education teacher, was reported this week to be a supporter of the baseless “QAnon” conspiracy theory about Donald Trump battling a global cabal of elite liberal paedophiles.

This week Stella also described Minneapolis as “the crime capital of our country”. She has in the past complained that local police were “overworked and overburdened” and said that, if elected, she would work to reduce crime.

In a series of text messages, Stella said: “I am not guilty of these crimes. In this country I am innocent until proven guilty and that is the law.”

She added: “If I was guilty of crimes, I would never run for public office, putting myself in the public eye under a microscope to be attacked by all political sides.”

An attorney for Stella, Joshua London, declined to comment.

Stella is accused of stealing 279 items valued at $2,327.97 from a Target store in Edina, to the south-west of Minneapolis, on 8 January this year. She was arrested for the alleged theft after security staff called the police.

A criminal complaint filed to Hennepin county district court alleged Stella was seen leaving the store without paying for most of her haul, after “scanning only a few other items” that were valued at about $50.

Stella’s candidacy has attracted interest from the far-right conspiracy website InfoWars, which broadcast an interview with her this week. Stella laughed and nodded as the host, J Owen Shroyer, called Omar “a witch” and said: “Everything about her is a fraud.”

Describing Minneapolis during the interview as America’s “crime capital”, Stella falsely claimed that crime in the city had risen by 80% over the past year. According to Minneapolis police data, there has been a 10.7% uptick in serious crime year-on-year, following a 16.5% decline in 2018.

Court records say that in 2009, Stella pleaded guilty to driving while impaired from alcohol and fleeing a police officer. The latter charge was prosecuted as a felony but later classified as a gross misdemeanour as part of Stella’s plea.

Read the complete article in the Guardian newspaper here.

My breast reduction: why I had the surgery

Carla Jenkins … ‘I felt as if I had been through a battle and had emerged victorious.’ Photograph: Robert Perry

Three days before Christmas 2015, when I was 19, I had my breasts reduced in size. Sitting alone in my flat after the operation at Ross Hall hospital in Glasgow, I confronted my scars for the first time, and I cried.

It was not the first time that I had cried over my body, but these were not the tears of a miserable, frustrated teenager. I felt as if I had been through a battle and had emerged victorious. Holding those stitched-up breasts, a manageable 32E down from a 34GG, I was finally, gloriously me.

After Simona Halep was crowned the 2019 Wimbledon champion, I wondered if she had felt the same after her surgery 10 years ago. Halep, then a 17-year-old rising star, had felt that her chest was affecting her game, and opted to have her breasts reduced from a 34DD to a 34C. “It’s the weight that troubles me,” she said at the time. “My ability to react quickly – my breasts make me uncomfortable when I play.”

Today, as a 23-year-old journalist, I still feel the magnitude of my decision, and its impact not just on my body, but on my mental health and every other aspect of my life. I no longer need to hide my body under layers of clothing or sleep in a particular position to avoid strain. I can sit up straight without attracting stares, or accusations of being attention-seeking. Most liberating of all, the operation freed me from chronic headaches, and back and neck pain that had led me to take painkillers every day.

Patient satisfaction is high: in 2012, a 10-year retrospective analysis of 600 consecutive patients at a single institution in the US found that more than 95% of them would opt to have the surgery again. It concluded that there was a demonstrable improvement in the patient’s quality of life, regardless of their weight and size or how much breast tissue was removed.

The NHS criteria are supported by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, which includes the Royal College of Surgeons and the independent assessors the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. A patient must have had a steady BMI of less than 27; their breasts must be of “massive disproportion to body habitus”; they could or should have “intractable intertrigo” (inflammation caused by skin-to-skin friction), “asymmetry greater than one cup size” and “significant psychological distress”.

But many women who have sought to have their surgery covered have complained of inconsistencies and lack of transparency over how to qualify. Amy Hill, a 23-year-old personal trainer, was initially rejected for a breast reduction despite a bra size of 28KK. “I hated my breasts – they were a constant strain on me,” she says.

Getting a bra was impossible. When she went to Bravissimo, a specialist shop with the slogan “inspiring big-boobed girls to feel amazing”, they told her that they didn’t make them in her size. “I cried in the changing rooms.”

For the best part of a year, she wore a bikini top. “It was all that would fit me. I would always attract unwanted attention: people thought they were fake. You could always see them. They were enormous.”

When Hill was told that she did not meet the criteria for a reduction – “they told me they didn’t affect me mentally enough” – she blacked out, she says. “I was so desperate for it. For someone to turn around and tell me ‘no’ – it devastated me.”

Source: Carla Jenkins article. Read the complete article on The Guardian here.

The $20bn plan to power Singapore with Australian solar

There are ambitious solar and wind projects planned for both the Northern Territory and the Pilbara in Western Australia. Photograph: Alice Solar City/AAP

 

 

 

 

 

 

The desert outside Tennant Creek, deep in the Northern Territory, is not the most obvious place to build and transmit Singapore’s future electricity supply. Though few in the southern states are yet to take notice, a group of Australian developers are betting that will change.

If they are right, it could have far-reaching consequences for Australia’s energy industry and what the country sells to the world.

Known as Sun Cable, it is promised to be the world’s largest solar farm. If developed as planned, a 10-gigawatt-capacity array of panels will be spread across 15,000 hectares and be backed by battery storage to ensure it can supply power around the clock.

Overhead transmission lines will send electricity to Darwin and plug into the NT grid. But the bulk would be exported via a high-voltage direct-current submarine cable snaking through the Indonesian archipelago to Singapore. The developers say it will be able to provide one-fifth of the island city-state’s electricity needs, replacing its increasingly expensive gas-fired power.

After 18 months in development, the $20bn Sun Cable development had a quiet coming out party in the Top End three weeks ago at a series of events held to highlight the NT’s solar potential. The idea has been embraced by the NT government and attracted the attention of the software billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes, who is considering involvement through his Grok Ventures private investment firm.

The NT plan follows a similarly ambitious proposal for the Pilbara, where another group of developers are working on an even bigger wind and solar hybrid plant to power local industry and develop a green hydrogen manufacturing hub. On Friday, project developer Andrew Dickson announced the scale of the proposed Asian Renewable Energy Hub had grown by more than a third, from 11GW to 15GW. “To our knowledge, it’s the largest wind-solar hybrid in the world,” he says.

Ross Garnaut, former advisor to Labor governments who is now professor of economics at the University of Melbourne and chairman of the Australian-German Energy Transition Hub, makes the case that there is another way ahead. In a recent lecture series that is being turned into a book, he lays out his analysis of how Australia, with the best renewable energy resource in the developed world, could expand its energy production while significantly reducing global emissions.

“If you have the transmission of electricity over very large distances between countries, then the flow of energy changes from liquid fuels – oil and LNG – to electrons. Ultimately, that’s a vastly more efficient way to transport energy. The incumbents just won’t be able to compete.”

Read the  complete article on  The Guardian newspaper here.

To Delay Death, Lift Weights

Strength training is good for you. Photo from Studio Firma/Stocksy.

 

 

 

 

 

Two relatively new papers offer some eye-opening insights into the benefits of strength training, even for people who consistently blow the aerobic exercise guidelines out of the water.

The first is an analysis of the link between strength, muscle mass, and mortality, from a team at Indiana University using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The design was pretty straightforward: They assessed 4,440 adults ages 50 or up who had their strength and muscle mass assessed between 1999 and 2002. The researchers checked back in 2011 to see who had died.

For muscle mass, they used a DEXA scanner to determine that 23 percent of the subjects met one definition of “low muscle mass,” with total muscle in the arms and legs adding up to less than 43.5 pounds in men or 33 pounds in women. For strength, they used a device that measures maximum force of the knee extensors (the muscles that allow you to straighten your knee) and found that 19 percent of the subjects had low muscle strength.

The results, published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, found that those with low muscle strength were more than twice as likely to have died during the follow-up period than those with normal muscle strength. In contrast, having low muscle mass didn’t seem to matter as much

The message here? Function matters more than what you look like. That doesn’t mean you can afford to let your muscle melt away as you age; having a good reserve of muscle mass may be important, for example, if you end up having to spend time in the hospital at some point. But it’s good news for those of us who struggle to put on muscle but persist in slogging through a reasonable number of pull-ups and other strength exercises.

The other study took aim at the perception that strength training is an afterthought in public health guidelines. Most of us remember that we’re supposed to get at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week. Reams of data support the beneficial health effects of hitting this goal.

But the guidelines also suggest doing “strength-promoting exercise” at least twice a week—a clause that’s often forgotten and the benefits of which are usually framed in terms of avoiding frailty and improving quality of life, rather than actually extending it.

Researchers in Australia analyzed data from 80,000 adults in England and Scotland who completed surveys about their physical activity patterns starting in the 1990s. The headline result was that those who reported doing any strength training were 23 percent less likely to die during the study period and 31 percent less likely to die of cancer. Meeting the guidelines by strength training twice a week offered a little extra benefit.

One interesting (and, for me, reassuring) detail: Strength training in a gym and doing body weight exercises seemed to confer roughly equivalent benefits. So you don’t necessarily need to heave around large quantities of iron.

There’s some evidence that strength training may reduce blood pressure but increase artery stiffness, effectively canceling out the heart benefits. This study can’t answer that question, but the findings do suggest that ditching aerobic exercise entirely may not be optimal. And indeed, the best outcomes of all—a 29 percent reduction in mortality risk during the study—accrued to those who met both the aerobic and strength-training guidelines.

So, in summary, strength training is good for you. Does that really tell you anything you didn’t know? Perhaps not.

Read the complete article in Outside here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Home from hospital

I’m back home after another short stay in hospital. Doctors seem to have gotten proper medication now and confirmed earlier suspicions regarding a new problem with my health. Sheesh. Getting old is a pain in the arse.

I’ll be getting back to making more puzzles as I regain my strength. Nice to be back home.

A bed by a window

China v America; A new kind of cold war

 

 

 

 

Source: The Economist magazine.

FIGHTING OVER trade is not the half of it. The United States and China are contesting every domain, from semiconductors to submarines and from blockbuster films to lunar exploration. The two superpowers used to seek a win-win world. Today winning seems to involve the other lot’s defeat—a collapse that permanently subordinates China to the American order; or a humbled America that retreats from the western Pacific. It is a new kind of cold war that could leave no winners at all.

As our special report in this week’s issue explains, superpower relations have soured. America complains that China is cheating its way to the top by stealing technology, and that by muscling into the South China Sea and bullying democracies like Canada and Sweden it is becoming a threat to global peace. China is caught between the dream of regaining its rightful place in Asia and the fear that tired, jealous America will block its rise because it cannot accept its own decline.

The temptation is to shut China out, as America successfully shut out the Soviet Union—not just Huawei, which supplies 5G telecoms kit and was this week blocked by a pair of orders, but almost all Chinese technology. Yet, with China, that risks bringing about the very ruin policymakers are seeking to avoid. Global supply chains can be made to bypass China, but only at huge cost. In nominal terms Soviet-American trade in the late 1980s was $2bn a year; trade between America and China is now $2bn a day. In crucial technologies such as chipmaking and 5G, it is hard to say where commerce ends and national security begins. The economies of America’s allies in Asia and Europe depend on trade with China. Only an unambiguous threat could persuade them to cut their links with it.

It would be just as unwise for America to sit back. No law of physics says that quantum computing, artificial intelligence and other technologies must be cracked by scientists who are free to vote. Even if dictatorships tend to be more brittle than democracies, President Xi Jinping has reasserted party control and begun to project Chinese power around the world. Partly because of this, one of the very few beliefs which unite Republicans and Democrats is that America must act against China. But how?

For a start America needs to stop undermining its own strengths and build on them instead. Given that migrants are vital to innovation, the Trump administration’s hurdles to legal immigration are self-defeating. So are its frequent denigration of any science that does not suit its agenda and its attempts to cut science funding (reversed by Congress, fortunately).

Another of those strengths lies in America’s alliances and the institutions and norms it set up after the second world war. Team Trump has rubbished norms instead of buttressing institutions and attacked the European Union and Japan over trade rather than working with them to press China to change. American hard power in Asia reassures its allies, but President Donald Trump tends to ignore how soft power cements alliances, too. Rather than cast doubt on the rule of law at home and bargain over the extradition of a Huawei executive from Canada, he should be pointing to the surveillance state China has erected against the Uighur minority in the western province of Xinjiang.

Read the complete article on The Economist magazine site here.

The future of housing looks nothing like today’s

When Lisa Cini and her husband, kids, and rescue dog moved in with her parents and grandmother a few years ago, the Ohio-based architect pored over the design of her 94-year-old grandma’s bedroom “apartment.” An Alzheimer’s diagnosis made security and mobility important, but her ideas went beyond extra locks and grab-bars; she felt it was crucial that she have her own living room within the family home.

“It’s interesting, when we’re younger and full of life, when we’re just doing life so hard, we have to find time to sleep. But when we get old, when we’re slowing down so much, we have to work to find ways to do more life and less sleep,” Cini recalls in her book about living with four generations under one roof. Designing a separate living room gave her grandma a space to hang out, engage, and entertain visitors outside of her bedroom, a subtle but important distinction. “Her living room really helps her keep living life,” Cini observes.

Cini’s situation–four generations under one roof–was an unusual one, compared to the way most Americans have lived over the past century, when socioeconomic forces have made it normal for Americans to live as nuclear families, in contrast to the last few thousand years of human history.

But for complex reasons that still puzzle researchers, multigenerational households are now on the rise once more. As many as 41% of Americans buying a home are considering accommodating an elderly parent or an adult child, according to a survey conducted by John Burns Real Estate Consulting. Living with your parents (or your adult children) has plenty of potential benefits–everyone tends to save money, it can potentially benefit health outcomes, and you get to spend more time together.

The emphasis on physical and financial independence at every stage of adulthood has high incurred costs, though. The first is the massive accumulation of capital, from money to land to natural resources to labor, necessary to supply the cars, airports, fuel, roads, land, and housing for a country of 327 million people who want to live conspicuously apart.

The second is social isolation. The idea that it’s normal for each nuclear family to own a single-family home, connected to other people only by cars, is actually “radical,” as architect and cohousing development consultant Katie McCamant puts it. “It’s held up this great dream that not only Americans should strive so hard for, but the whole rest of the world looks to as a model now,” she says. “There’s been so much emphasis on independence and on privacy that we really designed community right out of our lives without knowing it.”

In short, for complex economic, social, and cultural reasons, what constitutes “normal” housing for seniors in America is changing. Culture may also play a role. “I think there’s a tighter connection just generationally between young adults and their parents,” says Chris Porter, an analyst at John Burns Real Estate Consulting who tracks housing trends. That closeness is influencing the senior housing market, as well as the way senior-focused housing is marketed. “We’re seeing the golf course as less of an amenity these days for senior housing,” says Porter, who has worked with several developers to redevelop golf courses as housing. “The real amenity for seniors is being near their kids and grandkids. I think that comes back to that connection between the boomers and their kids.”

Cini’s grandmother passed last year, and looking back, she has a few things she would do differently. Some have to do with small quality-of-life details: She wishes she would have added heated flooring to her grandma’s bathroom and a light under every stair. Others underline the challenges of designing for four generations with different expectations about technology. Even though she and her husband could control their Philips Hue lights from their phones, her dad missed the light switch. “It’s still about choice. I think we forget that that should be an option,” she says.

According to research by the AARP, almost 90% of seniors want to remain in their own homes as they age, also known as aging in place. That can be complex. For a multitude of reasons, living with your adult children, if you have them, isn’t always an option. Caregivers are increasingly hard to come by, and not all homes are designed for aging bodies.

There are other, subtle problems that aging in place can create, as the architect Katie McCamant points out. “What I hear a lot is when people first retire, they often say, ‘I’ve never been busier. I’m involved in all these clubs and these groups and doing this and that and volunteering there,’” she says. But all that activity usually depends entirely on the ability to drive. Take that away, and aging in place gets more complex. “You find out that my connection to all these things I’m so busy with is my car. And if I can’t drive, I’m totally cut off.”

Read the complete article on Fast Company here.

The US-China trading relationship will be fraught for years to come

China is happy to buy more American goods, including soyabeans and shale gas, in an effort to cut the bilateral trade deficit, a goal which is economically pointless but close to Mr Trump’s heart. It is willing to relax rules that prevent American firms from controlling their operations in China and to crack down on Chinese firms’ rampant theft of intellectual property. Any deal will also include promises to limit the government’s role in the economy.

The trouble is that it is unlikely—whatever the Oval Office claims—that a signed piece of paper will do much to shift China’s model away from state capitalism. Its vast subsidies for producers will survive. Promises that state-owned companies will be curbed should be taken with a pinch of salt. In any case the government will continue to allocate capital through a state-run banking system with $38trn of assets. Attempts to bind China by requiring it to enact market-friendly legislation are unlikely to work given that the Communist Party is above the law. Almost all companies, including the privately owned tech stars, will continue to have party cells that wield back-room influence. And as China Inc becomes even more technologically sophisticated and expands abroad, tensions over its motives will intensify.

At some point this year Mr Trump and Xi Jinping, his Chinese counterpart, could well proclaim a new era in superpower relations from the White House lawn. If so, don’t believe what you hear. The lesson of the past decade is that stable trade relations between countries require them to have much in common—including a shared sense of how commerce should work and a commitment to enforcing rules. The world now features two superpowers with opposing economic visions, growing geopolitical rivalry and deep mutual suspicion. Regardless of whether today’s trade war is settled, that is not about to change.

Source: The Economist Magazine.

Australian $50 note typo: spelling mistake printed 46 million times

bank note mistake

The Reserve Bank has confirmed a spelling mistake has been made on 46 million new Australian $50 notes. The typo misspells the word ‘responsibility’. Photograph: Daniel Pockett/AAP

 

 

 

 

 

 

The “new and improved” $50 banknote was rolled out in October last year, with a host of new technologies designed to improve accessibility and prevent counterfeiting.

But the yellow note also contains a typo that misspells the word “responsibility”.

The note features the Indigenous writer and inventor David Unaipon on one side, and Edith Cowan, Australia’s first female member of parliament, on the other – as it has since 1995.

The RBA has printed “micro-text” on the note with excerpts of Unaipon’s book, Legendary Tales of the Australian Aborigines, and Cowan’s first speech to parliament.

The small error occurred on Cowan’s side, in the text of her speech.

“It is a great responsibilty [sic] to be the only woman here, and I want to emphasise the necessity which exists for other women being here,” it says.

On Thursday, an RBA spokeswoman said the bank was “aware of it and the spelling will be corrected at the next print run”.

Read the complete article on The Guardian here.