Sunday, December 31, 2006

'Molecular condom' to combat HIV

The liquid formulated by a University of Utah team turns into a gel-like coating when inserted into the vagina.

Then, when exposed to semen, it returns to liquid form and releases an anti-viral drug to attack HIV.

However, the technology, featured in the Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, is still around five years away from being tested in humans.

And the researchers predict it will be around 10 years before it might be in widespread use.

Researcher Dr Patrick Kiser said: "The ultimate hope for this technology is to protect women and their unborn or nursing children from the Aids virus."

The Utah project is part of a worldwide research effort to develop "microbicides" - drug-delivery systems such as gels, rings, sponges or creams to prevent infection by HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

They are seen as a way for women to gain power by protecting themselves from HIV, particularly in impoverished nations where Aids is widespread, where rape is rampant, or, where conventional condoms are taboo, not reliably available or where men resist using them.

Short-term effect

First-generation microbicides now being tested are expected to be available within four years and to be 50-60% effective.

However, Dr Kiser said they lasted only for a short time, meaning they had to be used shortly before sex.

The potential advantage of his technology is that it would be much longer lasting.

"We're shooting for a microbicide delivery system that would be used once a day or once a month," he said.

Tests have already shown that their 'hydrogel' is unlikely to cause significant side effects, or discomfort.

It is designed not to dehydrate vaginal cells, which can trigger infections, and not to be diluted by other fluids.

The next stage will be to see whether anti-viral drugs incorporated into the hydrogel can be released with the same efficiency as in the lab.

Indeed the researchers are hopeful that because the gel would be much thinner inside a woman than it was in the lab tests, the release of drugs should be even more effective.

High hopes

Yusef Azad, of the National Aids Trust, said: "Millions of women currently have little control over their sexual health and microbicides could put the power of preventing HIV into women's hands.

"It is vitally important that sufficient funding is channelled into the development of effective microbicides so that women have a range of options of products such as gels, liquids and creams that could provide a barrier to contracting HIV during sex."

Roger Pebody, treatment specialist for the HIV charity Terrence Higgins Trust said microbicides were one of the biggest hopes for preventing new HIV infections in the near future.

He said: "This is one of many projects that are in the early stages of development, however other microbicides could be as little as five years away."

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Saved by an Angel

MANY PEOPLE fervently believe in angels and in the reality of protective guardian angels who watch over them. Skeptics dismiss the idea as mere folklore and fantasy. Time and again, however, amazing stories are told of personal experiences with mysterious beings who appear seemingly out of nowhere at pivotal moments to lend comfort, provide physical assistance and even save lives. They often disappear just as mysteriously. Are these beings truly of the angelic realm? Whoever – or whatever – they are, you’ll have a hard time convincing the authors of the following true stories that they are not real.

Angel in the Back Seat

I was driving home one morning on a snow-covered highway that had been closed by the highway department due to a huge snow storm. I was very tired and fighting sleep every mile I drove.

Finally, I could stay awake no longer... and I drifted off to sleep while driving. I had just nodded off when a large hand reached up between the seats and grabbed me by the right shoulder and gave me a vigorous shaking that very quickly woke me up. I quickly turned to see who had hidden himself in the back. Imagine my surprise when I turned the overhead light on and saw only an empty back seat! I began driving again when once again I became sleepy... and yes, it happened again, only this time I heard an audible voice from the back seat shout while shaking me, “WAKE UP!” That did it! I was now totally WIDE AWAKE and I remained that way all the way to where I lived. I told my family what happened and we came to the conclusion that my guardian angel, who was riding with me, decided to keep me awake until I made it home safely. – Roger Wheat

Angel Flew Interference

It was 2:30 a.m. and a frigid February blizzard was in progress in Ohio. I was still wired, just having completed my musical performance in a night club near the military base, so decided to do the drive now. I cranked up the radio and merrily set off for home. I became aware that I was the only car moving on the interstate. Others were pulled off the road buried under a couple of feet of snow. I was plowing through deep fresh snow as if it weren't there. I finally became aware that I had never turned on my windshield wipers. I'm barreling along at 75 mph and there was not a speck of snow on my windshield! This snow was sticking to everything and everybody else, why not me? I continued driving at that speed for the entire trip on the interstate... without turning on my wipers! No snow accumulated on the car until I approached the exit ramp. When I made that exit I was inundated with the heavy wet stuff and my wipers could not work fast enough to keep the windshield clear. I drove the rest of the way home at about 20 mph. I was highly amused and extremely grateful when a mental image appeared showing me my guardian angel flying interference for me throughout the entire trip. Thanks for keeping me safe. – Pat Pfeffer

Angel's Message

It was a dull, winter afternoon. I was met by a sudden urge to get up and have a drink. I walked over to the sink in a sort of trance and turned the tap. Instead of water, a white mist erupted from the tap and filled the kitchen. The mist was sucked into the cupboard under the stairs, and I was forced to drag my feet along and open the door. What I found almost made me have a heart attack: a man, cramped into the small space between the vacuum cleaner and the boiler tank, walked out and greeted me. "Hi," he said. He was dressed rather formally. I watched as he sat himself down. "Please sit," he told me. "I have come from heaven, and I have come with a message: Your mother in Spain is ill and requires medicine she cannot get. You are to go there and deliver it to her in person, then tell her Howard sends his love." Howard was my father; he had passed away only weeks before. When I asked the man who he was, he simply got up and walked upstairs. I left for Spain the day after. Sure enough, when I got there, my mother was in bed and had a large lump on her throat. She hadn't left the house since the day before and couldn't move. I delivered the angel's message and she nodded, "I know," she said with a sly smile.

World Economy at Risk From Chaos of Bush Regime

The world survived 2006 without a major economic catastrophe, despite sky-high oil prices and a Middle East spiralling out of control.

But the year produced abundant lessons for the global economy, as well as warning signs concerning its future performance.

Unsurprisingly, it brought another resounding rejection of fundamentalist neo-liberal policies, this time by voters in Nicaragua and Ecuador. In neighbouring Venezuela, Hugo Chavez had an overwhelming electoral victory: at least he had brought some education and health care to the poor barrios, which previously had received little of the benefits of the country's enormous oil wealth.

Perhaps most importantly for the world, voters in the US gave a vote of no-confidence to President George Bush, who will now be held in check by a Democratic congress.

When Bush assumed the presidency in 2001, many hoped he would govern competently from the centre. More pessimistic critics consoled themselves by questioning how much harm a president could do in a few years. We now know the answer: a great deal.

Never has the U.S.�s standing in the world�s eyes been lower. Basic values that Americans regard as central to their identity have been subverted. The unthinkable has occurred: an American president defending the use of torture, using technicalities in interpreting the Geneva Conventions and ignoring the Convention on Torture, which forbids it in any circumstances.

Likewise, whereas Bush was hailed as the first �MBA president�, corruption and incompetence have reigned under his administration, from the botched response to Hurricane Katrina to its conduct of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In fact, we should be careful not to read too much into the 2006 vote: Americans do not like being on the losing side of any war. It was this failure, and the quagmire into which the U.S. had once again so confidently stepped, that led voters to reject Bush.

But the Middle East chaos wrought by the Bush years also represents a central risk to the global economy. Since the Iraq war began in 2003, oil output from the Middle East has not grown as expected to meet rising world demand. Although most forecasts suggest oil prices will remain at, or slightly below, present levels, this is largely due to a perceived moderation of growth in demand, led by a slowing U.S. economy.

Of course, a slowing U.S. economy constitutes another major global risk. At the root of the U.S.�s economic problems are measures adopted early in Bush�s first term. In particular, the administration pushed through a tax cut that largely failed to stimulate the economy because it was designed to benefit mainly the wealthiest taxpayers. The burden of stimulation was placed on the Federal Reserve, which lowered interest rates to unprecedented levels.

While cheap money had little effect on business investment, it fuelled a real estate bubble, which is bursting, jeopardising households that borrowed against rising home values to sustain consumption.

This economic strategy was not sustainable. Household savings became negative for the first time since the Great Depression, with the country borrowing $3bn a day from foreigners. But households could continue to take money out of their houses only as long as prices continued to rise and interest rates remained low. Thus, higher interest rates and falling house prices do not bode well for the U.S. economy.

According to estimates, roughly 80% of the increase in employment and almost two-thirds of the increase in gross domestic product in recent years stemmed directly or indirectly from real estate.

Making matters worse, unrestrained government spending further buoyed the economy during the Bush years, with fiscal deficits reaching new heights, making it difficult for the government to step in now to shore up economic growth as households curtail consumption.

Many Democrats, having campaigned on a promise to return to fiscal sanity, are likely to demand a reduction in the deficit, which would further dampen growth.

Meanwhile, persistent global imbalances will continue to produce anxiety, especially for those whose lives depend on exchange rates. Though Bush has long sought to blame others, it is clear the U.S.�s unbridled consumption and inability to live within its means is the major cause of these imbalances. Unless that changes, global imbalances will continue to be a source of global instability, regardless of what China or Europe do.

In light of these uncertainties, the mystery is how risk premiums can remain as low as they are.

With the dramatic reduction in the growth of global liquidity as central banks have successively raised interest rates, the prospect of risk premiums returning to more normal levels is itself one of the major risks the world faces today.

Joseph E. Stiglitz is a Nobel laureate in economics and professor of economics at Columbia University.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Ford Disagreed With Bush About Invading Iraq

Former president Gerald R. Ford said in an embargoed interview in July 2004 that the Iraq war was not justified. "I don't think I would have gone to war," he said a little more than a year after President Bush launched the invasion advocated and carried out by prominent veterans of Ford's own administration.

In a four-hour conversation at his house in Beaver Creek, Colo., Ford "very strongly" disagreed with the current president's justifications for invading Iraq and said he would have pushed alternatives, such as sanctions, much more vigorously. In the tape-recorded interview, Ford was critical not only of Bush but also of Vice President Cheney -- Ford's White House chief of staff -- and then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who served as Ford's chief of staff and then his Pentagon chief."Rumsfeld and Cheney and the president made a big mistake in justifying going into the war in Iraq. They put the emphasis on weapons of mass destruction," Ford said. "And now, I've never publicly said I thought they made a mistake, but I felt very strongly it was an error in how they should justify what they were going to do."

In a conversation that veered between the current realities of a war in the Middle East and the old complexities of the war in Vietnam whose bitter end he presided over as president, Ford took issue with the notion of the United States entering a conflict in service of the idea of spreading democracy.

"Well, I can understand the theory of wanting to free people," Ford said, referring to Bush's assertion that the United States has a "duty to free people." But the former president said he was skeptical "whether you can detach that from the obligation number one, of what's in our national interest." He added: "And I just don't think we should go hellfire damnation around the globe freeing people, unless it is directly related to our own national security."

The Ford interview -- and a subsequent lengthy conversation in 2005 -- took place for a future book project, though he said his comments could be published at any time after his death. In the sessions, Ford fondly recalled his close working relationship with key Bush advisers Cheney and Rumsfeld while expressing concern about the policies they pursued in more recent years.

"He was an excellent chief of staff. First class," Ford said. "But I think Cheney has become much more pugnacious" as vice president. He said he agreed with former secretary of state Colin L. Powell's assertion that Cheney developed a "fever" about the threat of terrorism and Iraq. "I think that's probably true."

Describing his own preferred policy toward Saddam Hussein's Iraq, Ford said he would not have gone to war, based on the publicly available information at the time, and would have worked harder to find an alternative. "I don't think, if I had been president, on the basis of the facts as I saw them publicly," he said, "I don't think I would have ordered the Iraq war. I would have maximized our effort through sanctions, through restrictions, whatever, to find another answer."

Ford had faced his own military crisis -- not a war he started like Bush, but one he had to figure out how to end. In many ways those decisions framed his short presidency -- in the difficult calculations about how to pull out of Vietnam and the challenging players who shaped policy on the war. Most challenging of all, as Ford recalled, was Henry A. Kissinger, who was both secretary of state and national security adviser and had what Ford said was "the thinnest skin of any public figure I ever knew."

"I think he was a super secretary of state," Ford said, "but Henry in his mind never made a mistake, so whatever policies there were that he implemented, in retrospect he would defend."

In 1975, Ford decided to relieve Kissinger of his national security title. "Why Nixon gave Henry both secretary of state and head of the NSC, I never understood," Ford said. "Except he was a great supporter of Kissinger. Period." But Ford viewed Kissinger's dual roles as a conflict of interest that weakened the administration's ability to fully air policy debates. "They were supposed to check on one another."

That same year, Ford also decided to fire Defense Secretary James R. Schlesinger and replace him with Rumsfeld, who was then Ford's White House chief of staff. Ford recalled that he then used that decision to go to Kissinger and say, "I'm making a change at the secretary of defense, and I expect you to be a team player and work with me on this" by giving up the post of security adviser.

Kissinger was not happy. "Mr. President, the press will misunderstand this," Ford recalled Kissinger telling him. "They'll write that I'm being demoted by taking away half of my job." But Ford made the changes, elevating the deputy national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, to take Kissinger's White House post.

Throughout this maneuvering, Ford said, he kept his White House chief of staff in the dark. "I didn't consult with Rumsfeld. And knowing Don, he probably resented the fact that I didn't get his advice, which I didn't," Ford said. "I made the decision on my own."

Kissinger remained a challenge for Ford. He regularly threatened to resign, the former president recalled. "Over the weekend, any one of 50 weekends, the press would be all over him, giving him unshirted hell. Monday morning he would come in and say, 'I'm offering my resignation.' Just between Henry and me. And I would literally hold his hand. 'Now, Henry, you've got the nation's future in your hands and you can't leave us now.' Henry publicly was a gruff, hard-nosed, German-born diplomat, but he had the thinnest skin of any public figure I ever knew."

Ford added, "Any criticism in the press drove him crazy." Kissinger would come in and say: "I've got to resign. I can't stand this kind of unfair criticism." Such threats were routine, Ford said. "I often thought, maybe I should say: 'Okay, Henry. Goodbye,' " Ford said, laughing. "But I never got around to that."

At one point, Ford recalled Kissinger, his chief Vietnam policymaker, as "coy." Then he added, Kissinger is a "wonderful person. Dear friend. First-class secretary of state. But Henry always protected his own flanks."

Ford was also critical of his own actions during the interviews. He recalled, for example, his unsuccessful 1976 campaign to remain in office, when he was under enormous pressure to dump Vice President Nelson A. Rockefeller from the Republican ticket. Some polls at the time showed that up to 25 percent of Republicans, especially those from the South, would not vote for Ford if Rockefeller, a New Yorker from the liberal wing of the Republican Party, was on the ticket.

When Rockefeller offered to be dropped from the ticket, Ford took him up on it. But he later regretted it. The decision to dump the loyal Rockefeller, he said, was "an act of cowardice on my part."

In the end, though, it was Vietnam and the legacy of the retreat he presided over that troubled Ford. After Saigon fell in 1975 and the United States evacuated from Vietnam, Ford was often labeled the only American president to lose a war. The label always rankled.

"Well," he said, "I was mad as hell, to be honest with you, but I never publicly admitted it."

Google removes sex-positive sites from search results

In recent weeks, Google has been changing its search algorithms and now many sex websites have been dropped. It seems to have coincided with changes they made relating to their pay-for-play keyword ad program, AdSense. What's disturbing to me (besides the harm it's done to small businesses over the holidays) is that Google's snafu seems to have dropped more sex-positive businesses (that focus on accurate sex ed) than big-gun, mainstream adult businesses (that sell unsafe sex toys and skanky product). To me, this also shows the huge problem with having a monoculture wherin a single business is depended on to provide a communication service. They screw one thing up, and an essential feature (like access to accurate search result information) disappears. For instance, I remember talking to Johannes at Monochrom a few weeks back in Vienna, and he was upset that Google had just totally dropped from the search results, when it had been coming up first (now only the .com comes up).

It used to be that if you searched for Good Vibes, Comstock Films, Tiny Nibbles and Violet Blue, you'd get each of these sites in the top rankings or on the first page (SafeSearch off, natural results). No more. However, if you search for Adam and Eve or Vivid, you get the mainstream sex toy and porn sites on the first page.

So, as Tony Comstock explains eloquently in his post about how his indy film business has been seriously affected, if people read about any of these entities in a magazine and then go to search for them, searchers don't find what they're looking for. Unsafe sex toys and "interracial" porn from huge companies, no problem, but books and toys from women-owned sex-positive healthy sex businesses? No.

Tony actually pointed this out to me this morning; I actually don't Google myself very often but Tiny Nibbles used to come out as the first result -- especially important to me when a woman has been running around using my name *as her business*. But Babeland had put together this excellent post about how they'd been suddenly dropped before the holiday season, and I hadn't had time to research it and do a post; now it seems to be corrected. Comstock Films and many others are realizing that they're affected too. My page ranking is seriously FUBAR in a weird way that can only be a mistake; search for "HOWTO: give an erotic gift (for the holidays and beyond)" and you get Fleshbot, Viviane's Sex Carnival... and then the actual post I did about ten days ago. Conversely, search for "great news for schizophrenics" (a post on Jamie Zawinski's blog) and it's the first Google entry result.

It seems to me that Google screwed something up -- something, we will never know, because they are secretive and proprietary. And for people who depend on tools like Google Search to mine the internet for accurate links to news, people, articles, and everything else that makes media happen, well, we just have to keep in mind that Google isn't as accurate as it used to be. It's just lame the way the reshuffling has happened -- we in the sex-positive communities have worked so hard to make a place for ourselves outside the huge, entrenched old-boys' distribution network that companies like Adam and Eve and Vivid take for granted (and still exclude indies from). I truly believed that things like Google made the playing field a whole lot more even for those of us struggling against gender stereotypes, sex-negative portrayals of healthy sexuality and -- yes, even abstinence education.
And, I'm all for thinking that one should always first jump to the conclusion of stupidity (mistakes) and not malice, but one reader writes, "why would any company compromise its product (any search for 'tiny nibbles' should reasonably come up with the result '') unless there was a reason? my guess: money. they didn't get rid of *all* sex sites, so it's not because the christian right forced a change. rather, they quietly changed their search algorithms so that the big companies would be prominent and the small independent businesses would be lost."

The most expensive stamp in the world

Usually when you hear about an item purchased for $2.3 Million, you expect it to be something like a grandiose house, or maybe a heavily modified car, you surely don’t think of a stamp that was printed in Sweden, in the year 1855.

But that’s not the only surprising thing about the most expensive stamp in the world named Treskilling Yellow - The stamp samples are actually a result of an unnoticed mistake in stamp-printers and were later discounted in 1858.

The question of how many stamps of this kind have been printed remains unanswered, but only 1 copy is known to exist, which was sold for $2.3 Million in 1996, a whopping $71 Billion per kilogram.

2006: The year in astronomy

The year 2006 was one of things lost and found. The solar system lost its former ninth planet and NASA lost a long-serving Mars probe, but scientists found good evidence for dark matter, signs of liquid water flows on present-day Mars, and a planet just a few times more massive than Earth around another star.

The year opened with the spectacular return to Earth on 15 January of the Stardust mission, which had spent years travelling to and from Comet Wild 2 to collect samples to be examined in the laboratory.

Early analysis of the samples led to the surprising finding that although the comets were formed in the frigid outer solar system, some of the building blocks must have been transported there from very close to the Sun, because they appear to have been heated above 1000°C.

In other comet news this year, the close passage of a disintegrating comet by the Earth in April gave astronomers a rare view of what may be a common fate for comets.
Planet crisis

Some say Pluto is just an overgrown comet, and the International Astronomical Union controversially voted to redefine the term "planet" in a way that excludes Pluto, relegating the former ninth planet to a second class of "dwarf planets".

Pluto's demotion was partly prompted by the confirmation earlier in the year that at least one object in the distant reaches of the solar system is bigger than Pluto. Initially called Xena, or the "tenth planet", it was given the official name Eris, after the Greek goddess of discord.

Amidst all the controversy, the New Horizons spacecraft continued towards its planned 2015 encounter with Pluto, following its January launch.
Land of lakes

NASA's Cassini spacecraft went on dazzling scientists and the general public with its investigation of Saturn and its moons. About 100 lakes of liquid methane or ethane, or both, were revealed on Saturn's largest moon, Titan, making it only the second body – after the Earth – known to have surface liquids fed by rain and rivers. Vast fields of dunes were also revealed on the Titan's surface, probably made of frozen hydrocarbon particles.

Cassini also found a giant storm raging at Saturn's south pole, somewhat reminiscent of a hurricane, a faint new ring around the planet, and ripples in a previously known ring perhaps resulting from a comet or asteroid strike in the 1980s.

A new phase in the exploration of Venus began with the arrival in orbit of the European Space Agency's Venus Express spacecraft, which promptly returned images of a curious double vortex structure in the clouds above the planet's south pole. There were also hints that Venus's surface might be older than previously believed, preserving a much longer record of its history.
Recent water

ESA's SMART-1 spacecraft ended its lunar observing mission in a deliberate crash landing on the Moon, destroying itself in a flash of light and producing a small crater.

Two new Sun-observing missions were launched in 2006, NASA's Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) mission and JAXA's Hinode (formerly Solar-B), which has already returned some initial results, including video of evolving plasma loops in the Sun's atmosphere.

A fleet of robotic probes at Mars delivered many new discoveries this year. A new NASA spacecraft, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter arrived in orbit in March, and began returning stunning images of the Martian surface, including a portrait of the rover Opportunity next to Victoria crater and a view of sand dunes carved with gullies.

But NASA experienced disappointment at Mars as well this year, with the disappearance of its 10-year-old Mars Global Surveyor. Before it disappeared, however, it returned images showing changes suggestive of recent water flow in gullies that it had been monitoring.
Unstoppable rovers

Radar sounding suggested there is a lot of water locked up in the form of ice buried beneath the surface near the planet's south pole.

Other research suggested that weird sand geysers erupt on Mars, and that toxic dust rains onto its surface.

NASA's unstoppable Spirit and Opportunity rovers surpassed the 1000 Martian day mark in 2006, despite having been originally rated for only 90 days on the Red Planet.

One of Spirit's wheels seized up permanently, but even that led to a new discovery by gouging a track in the Martian soil and revealing a buried layer of sulphates, yet more evidence of past water on the Red Planet.

While parked for six months during Mars's southern hemisphere's winter, Spirit created the most detailed panoramic view of the planet ever made. Opportunity finally arrived at the 800-metre-wide Victoria crater, returning some beautiful pictures of its own, and was looking for a good way into the crater when the year ended.
Earth-like planets

There were also many new discoveries about planets beyond our solar system. Astronomers found the smallest planet yet around a normal star, with just 3 to 11 times the mass of Earth. There were also some oddities, including a puffed up planet with a density less than that of a wine cork, two objects with the mass of planets orbiting each other instead of a star, and dusty discs around two hypergiant stars, suggesting planets might form even in the turbulent environment near these enormous suns.

Beyond our own galaxy, more progress was made in understanding gamma-ray bursts - the most powerful explosions in the universe. Analysis of an unusual gamma-ray burst called GRB 060218 suggested it was not powered by a star collapsing to form a black hole – thought to be the case for most of the observed long gamma-ray bursts – but may have been a less massive star collapsing to form a highly magnetised neutron star instead.

And two more GRBs detected in May and June may result from an entirely unknown process.
Big bang leftovers

The larger-scale universe made headlines this year as well. Physicists John Mather and George Smoot were awarded a Nobel prize for their work with the COBE satellite, which detected the first variations in the cosmic microwave background leftover from the big bang.

Scientists saw the gravitational effects of dark matter in isolation for the first time by studying a region of space where a colossal collision between galaxy clusters separated it from ordinary matter, results that were hailed as proof of dark matter's existence.

Of course, other scientists put forward arguments against dark matter, saying that modified gravity theories could explain astronomical observations.

A survey of the most distant supernova ever seen revealed some precious new information about dark energy, the mysterious force that is speeding up the universe's expansion and whose properties make it very difficult to study.

The new observations showed that dark energy has been present for at least the past 9 billion years and that its strength cannot have varied much during that time.
Solar system in a can

Among the more bizarre things announced this year, scientists proposed building a spacecraft carrying a miniature solar system to test for subtle gravitational effects due to hidden extra dimensions, and a team of astronomers suggested observations of a quasar indicated it was powered by an exotic ball of plasma called a MECO rather than a black hole.

The future appeared to hold promise as well, as the European Southern Observatory approved plans to build a giant 42-metre infrared and visible-light telescope, four times bigger than any existing telescope that observes at these wavelengths.

NASA announced that it would send a space shuttle mission to the Hubble Space Telescope in 2008 to extend the venerable observatory's life and install more powerful instruments. Hubble recovered twice in 2006 from the temporary shutdown of its main camera.

Chess Player Banned 10 Years For Cheating With Bluetooth, Computer

An Indian chess player was banned Tuesday from competition for 10 years after he was caught using a Bluetooth headset sewn into a cap earlier this month to get help from a computer.

The All India Chess Federation slapped the 10-year sanction on Umakant Sharma, who had been using a Bluetooth device stitched into a cap he typically pulled down over his ears. According to the federation, Sharma's accomplices relayed moves made by a computer chess program to him via the Bluetooth headset. Bharat Singh Chauhan, the AICF treasurer, showed the cap and Bluetooth device at a meeting convened Tuesday that decided Sharma's punishment.

Sharma was found out during a random check at a New Delhi tournament Dec. 4; he had been seeded second in the tournament.

The World Chess Federation (Federation Internationale des Echecs, or FIDE) bars the use of mobile devices during play. "It is strictly forbidden to bring mobile phones or other electronic means of communication, not authorized by the arbiter, into the playing venue," the group's rules read. "If a player's mobile phone rings in the playing venue during play, that player shall lose the game."

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

HD disk format wars are over

THE NEXT GENERATION disk format has been settled once and for all. Thanks to the due diligence, hard work and unprecedented cooperation between the media companies, the hardware vendors and the OS vendor, we finally have a solution. It is quite easy, Piracy, the better choice(TM).

Yes, in a year where Sony rootkitted it's customers, lied to my face about their actions (hi John, still have your number, kisses), and fell flat with anything related to Blu-Ray, things couldn't get worse right? Well, the other camp, HD-DVD is only slightly less nasty, but still unacceptable. Standing shoulder to shoulder, they both failed in the market.

MS and the media companies sold you out hoping to reap more and more profits. Let me just say I held out no hope that they would behave in anything less than a socially irresponsible fashion, but the depths of their depravity did end up shocking me.

Then came the PC makers, the dumb sheep that they are. There seems to be a race to see who can pass the buck quickest in this camp. From my dealing with them last CES where they said 'we have to screw our customers, we were asked nicely to', to the blaming of people up and down the food chain from them, it is a comic scenario. Pathetic.

Then comes the chipmakers, AMD and Intel, and the respective platforms, Live and VIIV. What laughable efforts those are. A year and a half ago, I said that Intel sold you out, and they did. The DRM infested nightmares of consumer rights removal that are the media platforms have one thing in common, the content mafia is quite adamant that they are still too insecure. The strategy from Intel was to start at a middle ground and push to the consumer side of things as time went on.

Instead, they started out as MS's bitch and were beaten into submission like a redheaded stepchild. Now they have the glorious job of jumping at the every whim of the media companies, way to hold your head high Intel! I would say the same for AMD, but to this day, I am not sure what Live does, if it really exists.

Both companies will tout absolutely huge sales figures, and MS will point to incredible Media Center sales, up thousands of percent this year alone. Let me clue you in on something, MCE used to mean that you needed a tuner, you had to meet certain requirements for power, speed and functionality. These boxes flopped so badly it was laughable, selling more restrictions for more money is not a bright marketing strategy.

Now, MCE is sold instead of XP home. The requirements? None really, so basically all sales that were home are now MCE. I defy you to find any retail customer who actually uses it in that fashion, maybe 1% do.

With the proliferation of MCE, both Live and VIIV stickers moved out into mainstream boxes. Damn those things sell like hotcakes, umm, what do they get me besides DRM infections again? No, really, I mean it, WTF do they do? Anyone? So, both Intel and AMD are jumping up and down over the 'successes' of their respective DRM for manufacturer kickback programs. Be still my beating heart.

Basically, what we have is a series of anti-consumer DRM infections masquerading as nothing in particular. They bring only net negatives to anyone dumb enough to pay money for them, and everything is better than these offerings. They sell in spite of the features they tout, not because of them. The manufacturers still have the balls to look you in the eye and say that they are selling because of the programs/features/DRM. Marketers, what a laugh riot.

In the end, every step in this chain of consumer woe that is Blu-Ray, HD-DVD, Live, VIIV, HDCP, MCE and Vista is flopping. And that is where the better choice comes in. The consumers have voted with their dollars, and are staying away in droves. All the walls of the walled gardens are being built higher and higher, with the occasional brick landing on the head of someone who pulls out a credit card. Buy now, there is a brick with your name on it whistling down, operators are standing by.

In the mean time, Piracy, the better choice (tm) flourishes. If you take 10 minutes to look around, you will see that every HD movie is now available on P2P networks. I haven't bothered to get one, so I can't comment on the quality, but it sure looks like availability is there. What was an underground clique in the 1980s and 1990s has become mainstream and so vastly much easier to do that it is laughable. Before the technology hits 1% market penetration it is comprehensively cracked and better for the consumer than the legit versions.

The lawsuits, threats, purchased governance and stern speeches could not prevent the children of Warner Music from pirating, the less moneyed masses are a lost cause. (Funny how he wasn't sued though, kind of makes you wonder...) As of right now, anyone can get any music or movie they want, for free, much more easily than they can through legal DRM infected channels. Piracy, the better choice (tm).

If you try and purchase any of this content, you descend into a DRM nightmare of incompatibility and legal mires. Your monitor will not work with your Blu-Ray drive because your PC decided that a wobble bit was set wrong. You just pissed away $6K on a player, media center PC and HD TV for nothing, you lose. The Warner CEOs kids have a nice new car to play their pirated CDs in though.

On the other hand, if you downloaded that content, in HD no less, you save the $1000 on the Blu-Ray player, $30 on the movie, and it works seamlessly out of the box. The available content is much higher with piracy, and it is quite on-demand. You don't need to sign up, give them your details to be sold to marketers who call during dinner and spam you, you just get the content you want, when you want, how you want. There is no iTunes/Plays for (not) Sure incompatibility, it just works. Piracy, the better choice(tm).

On the down side, the RIAA/MPAA/PATSY/TOOLBOY have sued probably 10,000 people now, and each 'settlement' is, well lets just use $5000 for the sake of round numbers. Now, the conservative estimates of P2P usage was around 30 million people, but I am pretty damn sure that is far lower than the actual usage. Last time I saw anything serious, it was 35M and growing fast. Lets just assume that it is now 50M users.

10,000 * $5,000 = $50,000,000. The net cost to each P2P user, assuming everyone out there settles is $1. To look at it another way, if you look at it in the worst case light, you have a 1 in 5000 chance of getting nailed. A lot of people buy lottery tickets with far far worse odds than that, and spend more than $5000 doing so every few years. To be even more cynical, hands up everyone who personally knows someone who got sued by the RIAA. Now, hands up everyone who knows someone who downloaded music or movies. Any guesses which one is bigger? Piracy, the better choice (tm).

What do we end up with? A year or more where the CE industry pushed, pulled, legislated and litigated their way to obscurity. Along the way, they killed yet another promising consumer technology, well 5 or 6 actually, and made Intel and AMD their bitches. We all were on the verge of losing this format and DRM infection war until a dark horse champion emerged to snatch victory from the jaws of evil. Piracy, the better choice(tm).

Avian flu reportedly jumped from birds to humans in Egypt

Several cases of avian flu have spread from poultry to humans in the Nile Delta, the Egyptian health authorities said this week as they worked to wipe out the outbreak among chickens and ducks.

A 15-year-old girl died Monday, a day after the death of a woman in her 30s whose family members showed symptoms of infection.

Egypt has reported nine confirmed human deaths from H5N1 avian flu since it was first found in birds in February and in a person in March.

At that time, the health and veterinary authorities canceled duck-hunting season, banned imports of live birds and forbade city dwellers to raise birds at home.

Officials also began culling diseased flocks and vaccinating healthy ones. They ran into early problems like vaccine shortages and widespread disregard for the new regulations by poor rural people who could ill afford to lose birds raised for food and sale.An Egyptian newspaper, The Daily Star, reported that 30 million birds had been slaughtered since then, mostly from the poultry industry, which suffered major losses.

Reports of the disease tapered off over the summer, but reappeared in September in the delta, an important stopover for migrating birds, with many moving through in December. Even in warmer climates, the disease peaks in cooler months.

The Egyptian Health Ministry offered sketchy details on the deaths. It sometimes takes the World Health Organization several days to confirm cases.

Local news media reports suggest that there have been about 20 suspected human cases in the northern part of Egypt.

At least three were among 33 members of an extended family that lived in a compound in Hanut in Gharbiya Province. The woman who died last weekend, her brother and a niece were said to have fallen ill after slaughtering ducks for a cousin's wedding.

Local reports said the authorities had declared an emergency and were trying to kill all the birds for 400 meters, or about a quarter-mile, around the compound, but were frustrated by residents who had hidden birds under beds.

Slaughtered birds were buried at a cemetery, streets were cleaned, and all 33 family members were tested.

As of the latest WHO update on Nov. 29, avian flu had infected 258 people worldwide, killing 154 of them. Indonesia had the most deaths, followed by Vietnam and Thailand. But Indonesia, Egypt and possibly China appear to have the most active outbreaks at the moment.

Monday, December 25, 2006

55% of dog owners, 37% of cat owners buy presents for their animal friends

Like so many Americans, Woody Daniels hews to holiday tradition for his family, stuffing two stockings late on Christmas Eve when the house is quiet.“Winston gets all kinds of gifts, he's so spoiled. He'll get several kinds of treats, a bit of nip, and I'm getting him a stuffed mouse this year so he stops bringing me real ones,” said Daniels, who lives in North Park.

“And Buddy gets new tennis balls, food treats and some toys, including his favorite stuffed hamburger. They don't make that one anymore, so I keep putting the same one in his stocking year after year. He never seems to notice.”

Winston is a cat, Buddy a dog, and their owner is among millions of Americans who are including their pets as part of the family in holiday celebrations.

The 63 percent of U.S. households that own at least one pet will account for an estimated $38.4 billion in spending in 2006, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association.

A significant chunk of that will be spent around the holidays. A survey done by the association found that 55 percent of dog owners and 37 percent of cat owners planned to buy their pets holiday presents this year.

A great deal more money and effort will be invested in cute photos, processing and postage as the holiday greetings of untold numbers of families are sent in the form of cards bearing images not of them or their kids, but of their pets.

And some dogs and cats have somehow initiated gift exchanges. Darby and Cadha, a pair of cairn terriers who live in Ocean Beach, were busy last week wrapping gifts, with the help of their owner, Dee McMillen, for relatives back East.

“This year my dogs are sending Fortune Snookies, fortune cookies for dogs,” McMillen said, as the dogs took a break to work out with a tennis ball.

“They have cute sayings, like: 'What happens at the dog park stays at the dog park'; and 'You had me at, Here, boy!' They're sending them to their cousins in Michigan,” she said.

“They've already opened their own presents – rope toys this year. They love them.”

Not everyone is crazy about the idea of buying gifts for dogs and cats, however.

“Dear Abby” got a letter this month from the mother in a struggling Alaska farm family of four whose sister-in-law insisted the couple buy gifts for her dog and wrap them, “because the dog likes opening packages!”

“I told her we don't ask people to purchase gifts for our kids, and we don't purchase gifts for other people's pets,” the mom wrote. “Now she's offended.” (Abby sided with the mom.)

Yet, many pet owners wouldn't think of letting the holidays pass without presents for the family pooch or puss.

On a shopping spree last week at Muttropolis, a high-end pet-gift shop in La Jolla, Sondra Gemmill and her mixed-breed Sadie paid particular attention to the multiflavored chew sticks.

“Sadie is absolutely part of our family,” Gemmill said, sampling a “human grade,” scone-like Harvest Apple treat herself. “We'll have smoked turkey for dinner and she will, too – a little bit, anyway.”

Gemmill, who also has a cat named Ollie, was willing to spend a few bucks on “bully sticks” and other chews. But she passed on the $209 collars embedded with crystals, and the $275 top-end dog bed.

“Feel that fabric,” said Johanna Karcher of the sales staff. “It's made of chenille fabric and is supposed to look like a powder puff. These beds are very popular; we're on our second shipment of these.”

For those interested in sending Christmas cards with photos of their dogs, Puptown Doggy DayCare in downtown San Diego makes it easy. They dress up clients' dogs in Santa hats and antlers, pose them next to wreaths and ornaments and send the photos home.

“My wife, Pam, is at Costco right now turning Shadow's photo into our Christmas card,” said Fred Hollinger of Coronado.

“We always send pictures of our dog on our Christmas cards. Our son, who is 20 now, thinks we're crazy. He says stuff like, 'You guys should be put in an insane asylum. You love that dog more than you love me.' ”

Petco, which reports it racks up more sales during the holiday season than at any other time of year, offers to take your pet photos and weave them into a tapestry throw (for furniture or hanging) or a canvas suitable for framing.

Anne Perry of El Cajon said she and husband, Joe, have sent friends and family Christmas cards bearing their dogs' photos for the past five years. It's a matter of taste.

“We weren't lucky enough to have children and we're at the age where a cute picture of our dogs (Molly, a golden retriever, and Colby, a cocker spaniel) is much nicer to send than a photo of two middle-aged people,” she explained.

“These dogs really are our family.”

Library researcher Merrie Monteagudo contributed to this report.

We'll all be cyborgs someday, scientist says

In Casino Royale, the latest James Bond movie, Bond is implanted with a microchip that allows headquarters to track his whereabouts and monitor his vital signs.

If a British cybernetics expert is right, the day will come when most people are implanted with chips -- and the real-life chips will do a lot more than Bond's does in the movie.

Kevin Warwick, a professor of cybernetics at the University of Reading, has first-hand knowledge. In 1998, he had a chip surgically inserted into his left arm, becoming he believes the first human ever implanted with a computer chip.

Since then, he's had a more sophisticated chip connected directly to his nervous system. He is still working toward his grandest experiment: having a chip implanted in his brain.

''I want to become a cyborg,'' he said with an infectious grin. ``I can see the advantages.''

A cyborg, for the record, is a mixture of man and machine. And cybernetics is the study of communication and control between humans and computers.


Warwick, who is 52, presides excitedly over the apparent chaos at the university's MAD lab. (The name stands not for madness but Mobile Autonomic Devices.)

Cables and machine parts litter the work benches. On the floor, two robots the size of model cars race around, mapping their environment and learning how not to bump into things. Nearby, a robot with a skull for a head works on combining the input from his various senses -- audio, video, ultrasonics, radar and infrared -- to interpret what's going on around it.

And in another lab on campus, computers are being controlled by living tissue taken from the brains of rats.

But Warwick's most daring experiments have been on himself. On Aug. 24, 1998, as the BBC filmed, doctors made a small incision in Warwick's left arm, slid in a thin inch-long glass capsule, and stitched him back up.

The capsule contained silicon microchips that announced Warwick's presence to other computers. His office doors swung open as he approached. Lights flicked on as he entered. His computer said hello and told him how many e-mails were waiting.

That chip stayed in for a couple of weeks. It's now on display at the Science Museum in London.

In 2002, doctors sliced open Warwick's left wrist and implanted a much smaller and more sophisticated device. For three months, its 100 electrodes were connected to his median nerves, linking his nervous system to a computer.

''I moved my hand, and my neural signals were sent over the Internet to open and close a robot hand,'' he said.

Not only that: The robotic hand had sensors. As it grasped a sponge or an eyeglasses case, it sent information back to Warwick.

''It was tremendously exciting,'' Warwick said. ``I experienced it as signals in my brain -- which my brain was quite happy to recognize as feedback from the robot hand's fingertips.''


The research has significant medical implications.

Paralyzed people might regain movement if one chip were implanted above the break in the nerves and another below to receive the impulses, Warwick said.

More intelligent chips in the brains of people with Parkinson's disease might sense when tremors were on the way and signal the brain to stop them.

''It's like a computer brain out-thinking a human brain,'' he said.

But Warwick's biggest experiment, in which he will have a chip implanted in his brain, is seven or eight years away. He will attempt thought communication -- ''literally the first brain-to-brain communication,'' he said.

''That excites me beyond all proportion,'' he said. ``Nothing is going to stop me from doing that.''


Not everyone approves of Warwick. From time to time, he receives missives from people he calls ''religious extremists'' telling him he is tampering with God's work.

And in an opinion piece this month in the Toronto Star, Kevin Haggerty, an associate professor of criminology at the University of Alberta, called Warwick part of the ''advance guard'' trying to expand chip technology as widely as possible. The day will come, Haggerty warned, when all people will be chipped and the government will be able to track them all the time, recording their smallest behavioral traits.


Despite differing over the desirability of implantation, Warwick and Haggerty agree on a great deal.

For one thing, the procedure is now more common.

More and more pet owners are taking advantage of chip implants that transmit identification to veterinarians.

Still, Warwick said, important questions will have to be answered for humans.

''Is it OK to upgrade? What about the people who don't upgrade?'' he asked. ``If they don't upgrade, they could become some sort of subspecies.''

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Newly Found Gene Mutation Banishes Pain

A Pakistani teenager who entertained street crowds by walking on hot coals and sticking knives through his arms has led scientists to find a genetic defect that renders its carriers unable to feel pain.

Scientists at the University of Cambridge in England pinpointed the cause: a defect in a gene that codes for a protein on the surface of pain-sensing nerve cells.

They found mutations in a gene for a particular protein called the 1.7 sodium channel. This is a sort of gate that opens and shuts on the surface of the nerve cells. When the gate opens, sodium ions flood into the cell, causing it to fire. In children with the defect, the gate is welded shut. So their pain nerves cannot fire.

A report in the journal Nature details six individuals with the mutation in three related families. They feel no pain, but are apparently normal in every other way, sensing both touch and temperature.

Pain experts think that if they can find a drug to block the same protein that is disabled in the Pakistani children, it could be the safest and most effective painkiller ever devised.

For now, doctors marvel at the idea there are some people who never know what it's like to hurt. But those with the mutation also can't tell when they break a bone or suffer a cut. As young children, they sometimes injure themselves without knowing. But they eventually learn to compensate.

But pain teaches crucial lessons about danger -- and people with the pain-blocking gene may not learn those lessons. The Pakistani street performer who led to to the discovery died before his 14th birthday, after falling from a roof.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Alcohol 'may prevent arthritis'

In the Swedish study, mice whose water contained 10% alcohol had a lower risk of rheumatoid arthritis.

The team said it was not possible to say exactly how much alcohol would have the same effect for humans.

But UK arthritis experts cast doubt on the relevance of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences study findings for treating human disease.

Low or moderate alcohol intake has been shown to benefit people in a number of ways, such as lowering the risk of heart disease.

But drinking too much causes complications including liver damage.

Translation 'not possible'

In the study carried out by a team at Gothenburg University, mice were given injections of collagen to induce rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

They were then either given untreated tap water, or water with 10% pure alcohol - a level which was not toxic to the livers - for between six and eight weeks.

RA was found to develop significantly more slowly in the mice given the alcohol, and had less severe symptoms once the disease did start to progress.

The researchers say alcohol may boost production of the male hormone testosterone.

This then restricts a key part of the mechanism which releases proteins called cytokines which cause inflammation.

The team also found that acetaldehyde, which is formed when the body processes alcohol, can produce similar protective effects.

Professor Andrzej Tarkowski, who led the research, said: "We can't translate these results to find out the therapeutic dose in humans.

"The mice were given a dose of 10% of alcohol in their water, but we don't know if it would be the same for humans. It would probably be lower."

He added: "One possibility would be to use acetaldehyde, which produced similar effects, but which could provide an alternative non-addictive treatment."

Testosterone 'offers protection'

Professor Alan Silman, incoming medical director at the Arthritis Research Campaign said: "Studies in humans have not shown any relationship either protective or in terms of increased risk between alcohol intake and rheumatoid arthritis.

"There is no really close mouse model of rheumatoid arthritis, and the collagen-induced arthritis may not be a particularly good human model."

But he added: "There is evidence to suggest that alcohol can increase testosterone and increased testosterone may protect against development of rheumatoid arthritis.

"And rheumatoid arthritis is rare in younger males and, at all ages, is more common in females.

"It is possible therefore that in this mouse model, alcohol may have had some effect in relation to arthritis.

"However it is doubtful whether this would have much influence in the human situation. "

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Lower-fat diet cuts breast cancer recurrence: study

Breast cancer is less likely to return in patients who stick to a low-fat diet, according to a study released on Saturday.

The study, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, involved 2,437 breast cancer survivors, some of whom reduced their daily fat intake by roughly 40 percent while the others stayed about the same as when they started.

The women with the lower-fat diets had a 24 percent lower risk of a recurrence than the other women, according to researchers led by Dr. Rowan Chlebowski of the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute in Torrance, California.

"To me, it seems like if women are asking what can they do themselves to prevent a recurrence, then this represents something that they can try," Chlebowski said in a telephone interview.

What role dietary fat plays in a woman's risk of developing breast cancer has been debated by cancer experts.

The American Cancer Society has noted that studies focusing on fat in the diet have not clearly shown this to be a breast cancer risk factor, although being overweight has been found to raise breast cancer risk, especially for women after menopause.

Chlebowski acknowledged that this study will not settle the issue. Women who took part in the study were recruited between 1994 and 2001 and were tracked through 2003. They entered the study with diets averaging about 57 grams (2 ounces) of fat per day, amounting to 30 percent of total calories.

Women in one group decreased their fat intake to 33 grams per day, or 20 percent of total calories, while the other women consumed 51 grams per day, or 29 percent of total calories.

About 9.8 percent of the women on lower-fat diets suffered breast cancer relapses, compared to 12.4 percent of women who did not have lower fat intake.

"A lifestyle intervention reducing dietary fat intake, with modest influence on body weight, may improve relapse-free survival of breast cancer patients receiving conventional cancer management," the researchers wrote.
Chlebowski said the study indicated that women with the faster-growing type of the disease, hormone receptor-negative breast cancer, may experience the largest reduction in relapse risk due to a lower-fat diet. This type of breast cancer is not fed by the hormone estrogen.

The researchers noted that women who ate less fat lost weight, and that the weight loss may have been at least partially responsible for lowering the relapse risk rather than the reduced fat intake alone.

Smithsonian TV deal irks investigators

Two filmmakers were refused access to the Smithsonian Institution's collections for their projects but researchers generally have not been restricted so far by the Smithsonian's semi-exclusive deal with a cable network, congressional investigators say.

The public has justifiable concerns nonetheless about the 30-year contract between the Smithsonian and Showtime Networks Inc., a cable network owned by CBS Corp., according to the
Government Accountability Office.

"It is too early to determine the long-term impact of the contract," Congress' investigative arm said in a report Friday. "Access to the Smithsonian's collections and staff for research purposes remains unchanged, but the direct impact on filmmakers will depend largely on how many request permission to use a substantial amount of Smithsonian content."

The GAO also criticized the Smithsonian for not providing enough information to the public about the contract and for assuring filmmakers their access would not suffer based on analyses that rely on "incomplete data and oversimplified criteria."

Investigators said the Smithsonian must give filmmakers better information about how the contract will affect them. The Smithsonian's secretary, Lawrence Small, agreed to comply by better explaining decisions made about filming requests.

The deal does not affect the use of Smithsonian collections for news or public affairs programs.

In the first nine months since the contract took effect on Jan. 1, Smithsonian denied two of 117 filmmaking requests because of its new obligations to Showtime to restrict the commercial use of the Smithsonian name, the GAO found. Four other requests were approved, but only as exceptions to the new contractual rules that allow for up to six independent projects each year.

The Smithsonian's Board of Regents approved the contract with Showtime in November 2005, after approaching 18 major media companies to gauge their interest in gaining semi-exclusive rights to produce and commercially distribute audiovisual programs using Smithsonian trademarks and content.

The Smithsonian anticipates the new commercial programming will bring anywhere from $99 million to more than $150 million over the life of the contract.

That projection depends partly on the success of the programming, mainly a new cable channel, Smithsonian on Demand, jointly owned by Smithsonian and Showtime. Smithsonian projects the channel will reach 31 million households by 2010.

Filmmakers, historians, archivists, librarians and other researchers have criticized the venture for its confidentiality and its potential to limit public access to the Smithsonian's vast public resources.

Commonly referred to as "the nation's attic," the Smithsonian includes 19 museums and galleries, the National Zoo and nine research facilities.

Small told GAO investigators their findings were accurate. In a letter this month accompanying the GAO report, he said Smithsonian's expansion into television was long overdue and already generating "an exponential growth in filming projects" that could only have occurred by joining with a large, established multimedia corporation.

High IQ link to being vegetarian

Intelligent children are more likely to become vegetarians later in life, a study says.

A Southampton University team found those who were vegetarian by 30 had recorded five IQ points more on average at the age of 10.

Researchers said it could explain why people with higher IQ were healthier as a vegetarian diet was linked to lower heart disease and obesity rates.

The study of 8,179 was reported in the British Medical Journal.

Twenty years after the IQ tests were carried out in 1970, 366 of the participants said they were vegetarian -- although more than 100 reported eating either fish or chicken.

Men who were vegetarian had an IQ score of 106, compared with 101 for non-vegetarians; while female vegetarians averaged 104, compared with 99 for non-vegetarians.

There was no difference in IQ score between strict vegetarians and those who said they were vegetarian but who reported eating fish or chicken.

Researchers said the findings were partly related to better education and higher occupational social class, but it remained statistically significant after adjusting for these factors.

Vegetarians were more likely to be female, to be of higher occupational social class and to have higher academic or vocational qualifications than non-vegetarians.

However, these differences were not reflected in their annual income, which was similar to that of non-vegetarians. Lead researcher Catharine Gale said: "The finding that children with greater intelligence are more likely to report being vegetarian as adults, together with the evidence on the potential benefits of a vegetarian diet on heart health, may help to explain why higher IQ in childhood or adolescence is linked with a reduced risk of coronary heart disease in adult life."


However, she added the link may be merely an example of many other lifestyle preferences that might be expected to vary with intelligence, such as choice of newspaper, but which may or may not have implications for health.

Liz O'Neill, of the Vegetarian Society, said: "We've always known that vegetarianism is an intelligent, compassionate choice benefiting animals, people and the environment.

"Now we've got the scientific evidence to prove it. Maybe that explains why many meat-reducers are keen to call themselves vegetarians when even they must know that vegetarians don't eat chicken, turkey or fish."

But Dr. Frankie Phillips, of the British Dietetic Association, said: "It is like the chicken and the egg. Do people become vegetarian because they have a very high IQ or is it just that they tend to be more aware of health issues?"

Cannabis chocolate makers guilty

The campaign to legalise cannabis for therapeutic use suffered a setback yesterday when a couple who supplied chocolate bars laced with the drug to multiple sclerosis sufferers were found guilty of a criminal offence.

Lezley Gibson, 42, an MS sufferer, her husband Mark, also 42, and associate Marcus Davies, 36, from St Ives, Cambridgeshire, were found guilty of conspiring to supply cannabis at Carlisle Crown Court.

The couple, who run a gift shop in Alston, a village in the North Pennines, had argued that they were operating a not-for-profit service to ease the pain of MS sufferers. They said that they had done more to relieve sufferers’ pain than the NHS.

Mr Gibson argued that he had a defence in law because the drug, recently downgraded by the Government, was used for medicinal purposes.

The couple, who ran the campaign group THC4MS (Therapeutic Help from Cannabis for Multiple Sclerosis), say that they posted about 36,000 bars of “Canna-Biz” to more than 1,800 MS sufferers.

In each case they asked their clients for a note from a consultant, doctor or nurse confirming their diagnosis. They were then asked to make a donation, from £1.50 to £5, to cover the costs. But the 150g (5oz) bars containing 3.5g of cannabis were sent whether the money arrived or not. Mrs Gibson told the court that her dream of running her own hairdressing salon ended at the age of 21 when she was confirmed as having MS. She was told that within five years she would be incontinent and confined to a wheelchair. Mrs Gibson said that the steroids she was prescribed — the only conventional medicine she was ever given — made her balloon in weight and grow a beard. She turned to cannabis and found it therapeutic.

She and her husband took over the manufacture of the cannabis chocolate bars from Biz Ivol, an MS sufferer living in the Orkneys. Ms Ivol died in late 2004.

The operation developed through word of mouth. Mrs Gibson said: “Every time there was anything in the papers, on TV or radio, we would get messages from MS sufferers. They were knocking on the door or sending letters addressed to ‘The MS Lady’ in Alston. It was overwhelming.”

A succession of MS sufferers in wheelchairs testified to the efficacy of the drug. Michael Wood, who was forced to retire early from his job as a lawyer, said he found it of great benefit.

Mr Gibson said that each bar cost about £35 to make, but much of the cannabis was donated. He preferred to use organic chocolate such as Green & Black, which was then moulded in a £500 melting pot specially bought from Belgium.

He said they had not made any money from the project, although he agreed that he and his wife had used the proceeds to travel extensively to campaign for the drug’s legalisation.The couple returned home yesterday knowing that they will have to return to court late next month to receive their punishment. They have been assured by the judge that they will not be going to jail.

Lawrence Wood, chief executive of the Multiple Sclerosis Resource Centre (MSRC) charity, said: “When pop stars receive minor fines for repeated possession, yet those affected by MS are forced to get their cannabis from street dealers in order to make their lives bearable, it is time for society to take a long hard look at itself.”

Potted history
# Biz Ivol, an MS sufferer who died aged 56 in 2004, lived in Orkney, where she hit upon combining chocolate with cannabis to provide pain relief for non-smokers. In 2003 she was prosecuted for possessing, distributing and cultivating cannabis, but the Crown abandoned the case because of her failing health
# In 2004 Chris Baldwin, who suffered from leg spasms, was jailed for six months for running a Dutch-style coffee shop, the Quantum Leaf café in Worthing, Sussex
# Colin Davies, 48, a prominent campaigner who once handed the Queen a cannabis plant, was jailed for three years in 2002 for drugs offences committed at his Dutch Experience coffee shop in Stockport. He smoked a joint during a police raid on the café’s opening day