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Entries from blogs tagged with “Social Responsibility”

The Moment of Truth - Fox’s new show

The Fox channel had its debut showing of "The Moment of Truth" Weds. evening following American Idol.

The show works something like this: pick a contestant and ask them fifty personal questions behind the scenes to get to know them and their vices and flaws.

Next, hook them up to a lie detector test in front of an audience, their spouse, their friends, and even their employer. Then comes the fun part as the contestant is asked the first six questions, which answered truthfully puts 10,000 dollars in their pocket.

It isn't as easy as it sounds, however, because some of the questions are down right demented! Some random questions from last night's show were

:"Are you addicted to gambling?"

"Are you currently a member of the hair club for men?"

"As a personal trainer, have you touched a female client more than was required of you?"

"Have you used the internet to flirt with other women?"

"Have you stolen a peek at another man's privates during a shower?"

"Have you had a sexual fantasy during mass?"

"Have you gone through a co-workers belongings without their knowledge?"

"Have you delayed having children because you don't think your spouse is your lifelong partner?"

The friends/spouse/employers have one out - they can push a large button that is centered between them (one time only) if they do not want to hear the person answer the question that was asked. The problem with that is it will be replaced with another question and the other question just might be worse then the first.

After the initial six questions, that can earn the contestant 10,000 if answered correctly, the next five questions, if answered truthfully, can get the contestant up to the 25,000 dollar mark. The higher you go, the harder and more revealing the question. Answer all 21 questions truthfully and you have $500,000 in your pocket. You may not have a job to go back to, your wife, husband, and friends have probably abandoned you, but you decide how important money really is in your life.

This show is destined to be a hit - audiences love to see people squirm in the hot seat, see their lives (and their friends and families lives) destroyed right in front of them - and the contestant most probably will end up leaving with nothing.

This reminded me of the games we played as teenagers: truth or dare and twenty questions.

Would you risk it all and tell the truth for $500,000?

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Juno and the ‘A’ word

Juno is one of the latest movies to portray a young girl who gets pregnant and in a matter of minutes goes from considering abortion to deciding on adoption. Ellen Goodman in a recent column about these films considers the message they send to 13 year old girls.Actually Juno's decision is rare. According to the Children's Bureau (a division of the United States Department of Health and Human Services) less than 1% of children born to never married women are relinquished for adoption. According to Planned Parenthood more than half of teen pregnancies result in birth so most young women keep the child. Many of these mothers become school dropouts and live in poverty. That is another story.Juno's decision to find an adoption family while not rare is unusual. There are between 118,000 and 127,000 adoptions per year in this country. Nobody keeps good statistics on Juno's type of adoptions but it is considerably less than the 500,000 that are through state child welfare agencies. In Kansas the Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services reports that there were 715 adoptions during the last fiscal year. I am not sure that is our share of the national total.When Juno meets the potential adoptive parents she flippantly asks why they don't go to China where it is easy to adopt. I wouldn't give away her line which is very funny. Adoptions from other countries represent about 15% of the total. Many of these are from China. As an adoptive father I wish that they were more frequent. The Urban League in a report on foster care and adoptions states that there are 100,000 children in foster care awaiting adoption. In Kansas, SRS reports that there were 853 children awaiting adoption at the end of the last fiscal year.Juno's search for adoptive parents is at least haphazard and amounts to looking through the classified section of a local free paper. The prospective parents look wonderful. Both parents are good looking and their home suggests that they have plenty of income. As the story develops flaws are hinted at that become real but again I wouldn't spoil that for those who have yet to see the movie. Did she pick the right parents? That is a question that looms large over the field of adoption. There have been two recent articles in the Journal World that represent two contrasting adoptive families. A January 14 article reported on a Haysville couple who adopted a girl and the father sexually assaulted her. A January 20 article reported that a Lawrence native was appointed an appellate judge who has a passion for children, has been a foster parent and has adopted 3 children.In the Haysville tragedy SRS apparently did all that they could to find a safe home for the child. They conducted a more complete investigation than Juno but failed. The truth is that there is little anyone can do to predict the outcome of an adoptive placement. Background checks for abuse or criminal behavior are helpful but far from foolproof. It is simply not possible to predict the outcome of a decision to approve a family for adoption. Fortunately the Haysville adoptive outcome is rare. Adoptive families work out as well as other types of families. If you haven't seen Juno, go before it leaves town. Talk to your 13 year old daughters. Support adoption.

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We Don’t Have to Like It!

I started this with the idea of mentioning the production of "Mere Mortals" by the the E.M.U. Theatre, a fund-raiser to support the EMU and Ecumenical Christian Ministries. Before I go farther, I hope you consider supporting both the EMU and the ECM.And the title "We Don't Have to Like it" is NOT about the production. It's about other things. But if you just want to support the EMU and ECM, you can stop right here, go to the link, find out when and where it is, and just go.Anyway, if you're still with me.....as I did a little searching so that I could write something without appearing as clueless as I actually am, I found a few things. One of them was the link in the first paragraph.......and that got me to thinking....and that usually means trouble.I've heard a lot of the same stuff you've heard about the Oread Inn development and I realize that I don't really know that much about it. Or the neighborhood. Or the economic benefits to Lawrence. Or maybe a whole lot more...Even if I did know more, I don't believe everything I read or hear.There are, however, a couple of things I do know. I've been through that area and I sort of know what it's like. I just kind of like it. From what I can tell the E.C.M. does more good than harm. Maybe a lot more... But it seems to me to be a benefit to the community.The other thing I know is I just don't like the idea of an eight story building there. Even if it is a modern, attractive building. Especially if it's a hotel that will probably cost more than I'll ever be willing to spend to stay there. No, I just don't like it. And I don't think I "have" to like it. And I don't think I need to know any more about it to not like it.If someone were to tell me that I don't know enough, that it will help care for sick and hungry children, then I would admit that I'm wrong and I don't know enough.But I don't think that is the case. So I think I know enough. And I am not for it. And it will take someone with a lot of important reasons for me to change my mind.Now...I don't really like to be "against" things, my personal philosophy is to be "for" things. So I could say that I'm "for" the E.C.M. or "for" preserving that community. But, in this case, I have to be honest with myself and just admit that I'm against the Oread Inn development.Oh, I realize it will probably be built. And it may even end up getting the land where the E.C.M is now. Twenty years from now it may well be a landmark of our community.Maybe I won't even mind it so much then, if I'm around.But I don't like it now. And I don't have to, and the reasons I have are good enough. I hear you asking, "What's the point of all this?" I know you are, because that's what my wife asked me.It's not that I'm against the Oread Inn (although I am).It is that we can't understand everything. Even I can't and my mom says I'm the smartest guy in the world. So I'm suggesting that we do the best we can and that we try to be fair and unbiased while trying not to oversimplify things.In the end, though, I don't want to feel bad because I can't understand everything about everything. I don't think you should either.And even though I have limitations, my opinion is still important. It might even be valid. But regardless, it is still all right to express it.

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So Much to See #4

Previous: So Much to See #3
Next: So Much to See #5

Here is this week's first picture. It might be anywhere (in Lawrence). It might be anything. Guess if you think you know it.No hints this time, in a day or so I'll add an ever so slightly larger image.

http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/blogs/entry_img/2008/Jan/20/DSC_0728a.JPG

OK, here is a slightly bigger picture.
http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/blogs/entry_img/2008/Jan/21/DSC_0728b.JPG

Obviously the first small image wasn't hard enough. Here is a still larger one.
http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/blogs/entry_img/2008/Jan/22/DSC_0728c.JPG

Come on. I know you can't wait. Here is an even larger portion of the picture. Only one more to go.

http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/blogs/entry_img/2008/Jan/23/DSC_0728d.JPG

And the complete picture, of Hobbs field:
http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/blogs/entry_img/2008/Jan/23/DSC_0728.JPG

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Snowflakes abortion and cloning

The other day there was a report that scientists have been able to simulate the development of snowflakes with a relatively simple computer model based on our understanding of the physics of water. The report noted that the model works but that scientists still don't understand why it works so well.  So notice, the underlying principles are understood pretty well- but the model suggests that at some higher level of snowflake organization there are interactions going on that we still don't understand.

Now what does this have to do with abortion and cloning? It suggests that if we are going to talk about these issues related to human existence we need to think carefully about reasoning behind our positions. For instance, on the abortion issue, and the same thing applies to human cloning, we hear phrases such as "Life begins at conception". Sounds nice but conception simply is the formation of a zygote from the egg and sperm. Of course the egg and sperm are cells and alive themselves and yet we don't worry too much about the fate of millions of unfertilized eggs and all those unlucky sperm that don't find an egg.

Oh then but I mean "Human life begins at conception". But here is a little thought experiment. Consider a cow. Is a cow zygote a cow? If you think a human zygote is a human then perhaps a cow zygote is a cow. Ask your self does that make sense? I haven't tried this but I think that most people upon thinking about it would agree with me that a cow zygote is not a cow, anymore than a water molecule is a snowflake. "Snow flakiness" is really a set of emergent properties that arise because of the way that water molecules interact given conditions conducive to snow flake formation.

I think you see where I am going. If a cow zygote is not a cow then "cowness" must emerge from the genetic, developmental and environmental influences on the developing embryo. There is no mystical essence of cow. Since humans are animals-as I tell my students special animals but still animals- what Daniel Dennett calls a euprimate- then a human zygote is not a human being. "Humanness" emerges just as "cowness" does. There is no mystical essence of human.

Now conduct the converse experiment. Start with a new born baby. Is the baby human in the sense of a person having rights? Sure, at least some basic rights. Does a woman have a right to kill it? I think most of us my self included would agree-not under most circumstances. Suppose the baby is one week from full term...here you get some disagreement but I suspect just about everyone would agree this is not something that ought to be done lightly. It offends our sense of person hood.

But here we see the germ of the obvious conflict-what about medical necessity to save the life of the mother? A fetus though is not an embryo-so that slogan "abortion stops a beating heart" is only true some of the time. But the closer and closer we get to full term the more the fetus becomes invested in our minds with "humanness".

Calling a zygote a cow does not make sense at all-calling a cow fetus a cow (OK a calf) doesn't make sense either, but I think lots of us start to get a bit uncomfortable even about cow fetuses. "Do they suffer?" "Could it survive?" We at least begin to have empathy toward it. We can clearly see the future cow in the cow fetus. And we do for humans, hence the proposals to make women going for late term abortions see sonograms. And hence the appeal to empathy embedded in the partial truth of the beating heart slogan.

Well what about cloning to produce embryonic stem cells for therapy or research? Consider the following. Is harvesting an early stage embryo from a mother to get embryonic stem cells wrong? Is harvesting an early stage embryo fertilized and cultured in a "test tube" wrong? How about, as was just allegedly done, removing a human skin cell nucleus, placing it in a zygote which has had its nucleus removed, treating and culturing the resulting cell, letting it divide into a little ball of embryonic cells and harvesting stem cells- does that really strike you with the same sense of wrongness- or wrong at all?

Or how about this which by the way has been done, I believe in mice- a cell from the body is coaxed into dividing into a little ball of cells that behave like embryonic cells. Let's take one more scenario, we take a cell from the body treat it to effectively deprogram it to form a stem cell useful for therapy. By the way in all these cases from the third one on we are technically dealing with cloning! But we are not making a human being, and I think even abortion absolutists would have a hard time finding much wrong with the last scenario even though it conflicts with the idea that abortion is wrong because it kills a potential human.

However, we as a species love to draw lines. That's what Roe v. Wade tried to do with abortion. It put that line where abortions are allowable at the point when a fetus (which by the way is not the same thing as an embryo) is viable and of course that line is a moving target as technology improves. Roe v. Wade was also dealing with another line-the line at which a person's right to make their own reproductive decisions conflicts with society's stake in the developing fetus. From my perspective Roe v. Wade was not as Cal Thomas claims "a reflection of our decadence and deviancy" but an attempt to find a balance between these two conflicting lines and an attempt to resolve a conflict heightened by changes in reproductive technology such as the pill.

Maybe we do want as a society to draw the abortion line at conception. But many of the arguments are based merely on slogans-"right to life" "woman's right to choose". Perhaps we will get further if we scrap these extremes and the name calling and the absolutism that goes along with them and think about how we as persons emerge from zygotes and realize that people of good faith might draw their lines in different places. Likewise with cloning, we need to consider the conflicts involved and realize that people of good faith can disagree just as they can about where to draw the lines about abortion.

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Bad News on the Cholesterol Front?

A couple of reports hold bad news for some of us with high cholesterol. According to the New York Times, Zetia a cholesterol lowering drug that acts on cholesterol from food may not be effective. Zetia is probably best known as one of two cholesterol lowering medicines in Vytorin. The other cholesterol medicine in Vytorin , the statin Zocor is believed to be both relative safe and effective.What is interesting is that Merck and Shering-Plough, the companies that make these drugs repeatedly missed deadlines in reporting these these clinical trial results, meanwhile heavily marketing Vytorin. This trial, a small scale clinical trial involving 720 patients, was designed to see if the combination of Zocor and Zetia would have an enhanced cholesterol lowering effect and reduce the build up of plaques in arterial walls that lead to heart attacks.Zetia did lower cholesterol but unexpectedly increased plaque formation, raising concerns about its safety. Merck and Shering-Plough are conducting longer term clinical studies to examine of Zetia on the rate of heart attacks. The hope of the drug companies of course is that Zetia will be shown to lower the risk of heart attacks. But the the small scale clinical results related must have drug company executives sweating.Also, Merck and Shering-Plough are being investigated by the House Energy and Commerce Committee as to reasoning for the company's suspicious delay in reporting the clinical results.The finding that Zetia lowered cholesterol but seemed to increase the rate of plaque formation has led a few scientists to wonder if the link between cholesterol levels, specifically Low Density Lipoprotein or LDL, and heart disease is as simple as we currently believe. This concern is discussed in a second Times article here. This link is so well accepted that the FDA typically approves LDL lowering drugs if they are safe and lower LDL levels in the absence of completed long term clinical trials, on the drug's effectiveness at actually reducing heart attacks.Meanwhile large scale clinical trials on the experimental cholesterol lowering drug, torcetrapib, produced by Pfizer, were halted when scientists found that while the drug raised high density lipoproteins (HDL) and lowered LDL levels, contrary to expectations the drug increased the rate of heart attacks. This was bad news for Pfizer which desperately needs a new drug to replace Lipitor which is due to loose patent protection in 2010. Possibly, Pfizer went right away to long term clinical trials to save time. If so it probably was a wise decision in retrospect.Clearly lowering LDL levels and overall cholesterol level is a good thing, but there is a lot we don't understand about the details connecting cholesterol levels to build up of plaques and heart disease. Personally, I am on a statin (a generic of Zocor) and see no reason to stop taking it-it does lower LDL levels, unlike the pizza I just ate.These results do call into question again the way in which drugs are tested. The current system creates a clear conflict of interest between the ethical responsibilities of clinicians and scientists involved in drug testing and the high economic stakes for the drug companies. So how should we test drugs, and what should the role of drug companies be in drug testing? Can government's ability to oversee drug testing be enhanced? If so who will pay?

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Hearse in a roundabout

In a hearse, there goes the dearly departed,stuck in a roundabout;round and round he goes;where he'll stop,nobody knows;hell or heaven, will have to wait;because Lawrence thinks it has traffic "woes;"slow that final funerial route.

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Hearse in a roundabout

In a hearse, there goes the dearly departed,stuck in a roundabout;round and round he goes;where he'll stop,nobody knows;hell or heaven, will have to wait;because Lawrence thinks it has traffic "woes;"slow that final funerial route.

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Do Computers Suck?

Do computers make you more productive, or do you spend so much time struggling that sometimes you wonder if they are worth the trouble?Do you have a questions about computers or the internet and how they work? Post your questions and I'll try to answer some in future posts.

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Brother Can You Spare A Tax Cut?

Today's middle-class workers are experiencing, like never before, job instability related to international competition, technological advances and outsourcing of jobs to China and India. Yet, our belief in the American Dream spurs us to strive ever harder in the face of greater unemployment levels; rising healthcare and energy costs; and the current housing crisis.Until recently, our economy has experienced a rise in overall growth and productivity; some say due to the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. Many businesses have experienced record profits while the middle class worker has seen decreases in wages and skyrocketing healthcare and energy costs. For some of these workers, the promised trickle down effect has come too late. Recently, talk of a recession has the stock markets falling and Washington considering an economic stimulus package. That has lobbyists and special interest groups scrambling to grab a piece of the pie, while Democrats and Republicans fight over economic ideological differences. Back in the real world more and more Americans are falling below the poverty line and middle class workers, like the forgotten Everyman in E. Y. Harburg's "Brother Can You Spare A Dime," ponder:"They used to tell me I was building a dream,And so I followed the mob.When there was earth to plow or guns to bear,I was always there, right on the job.They used to tell me I was building a dream,With peace and glory ahead --Why should I be standing in line, just waiting for bread?"

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Rummaging around the cryosphere

Today I was looking for information related to changes in the Arctic sea ice and found the National Snow and Ice Data Center, (NSIDC) - yes there is such a thing- run out of the University of Colorado. There is even a word for the snow and ice and glaciers that make up the frozen water part of this planet-the cryosphere. Seems like a minor environmental niche until you think about the important role that ice plays not only in the energy budget of the Earth by altering the reflectivity of the planet, but also ecologically.http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/blogs/entry_img/2008/Jan/16/news_glacierpairs.jpgThe NSIDC has a great series of graphics related to sea ice and glaciers. For instance, here are two shots of Muir Glacier from the same vantage point, one taken in 1941 and the second taken in 2004. The difference is quite sobering though I am sure those people who don't think we need to be concerned about climate change can put a positive spin on all the vegetation present in 2004. Of course not all glaciers are melting. Climate change is much more complex than we sometime think.http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/blogs/entry_img/2008/Jan/16/nasa_snowdunes.jpgThere is lots of information about the polar regions including some features, quite new to me. For instance, in the Antarctic, there are structures called megadunes. These features are so large that a person on the surface doesn't really notice them, and it is only with satellite imagery that they can be properly visualized. How they form is not clear, but they seem to be made by the winds carving into the ice rather than by wind deposited snow.I don't think anyone is seriously thinking that the cryosphere will disappear completely. Also, the movie Waterworld may be a great story but it is just that-were all the ice to melt the Earth would not end up completely covered in water. Even during the warmest part of the Creataceous period roughly 90 million years ago, there is evidence of extensive glaciation. But the best available models predict rapid loss of the arctic sea ice as discussed in this post from RealClimate.In fact, during the late 1960's and early 1970's the concern among some scientists was that we might soon enter another ice age. Global warming skeptics are fond of pointing this out. There were several reasons for thinking this might be plausible. First it was thought that statistically we have been in a relatively long interglacial period so the thought was maybe we are just due for a period of cooling. This was re-enforced by a short term cooling trend that began in the 1940's. Next, some scientists thought that the effects of dust and soot in the air might counteract the warming due to the excess carbon dioxide produced by human activity.Global warming skeptics often conveniently ignore the fact the issue wasn't the reality of human induced global warming, but that other factors might counteract it. New Scientist has an article discussing the global cooling idea that meshes well with what I remember of these debates, ongoing when I was an undergraduate.Curiously the cooling idea has been been advanced again by some scientists who hypothesize that global warming might have the paradoxical effect of cooling the climate in Europe. The basic idea is that fresh water added to the North Atlantic would stop the flow of heat via ocean currents to Europe. However, scientists are still debating this possibility and improved understanding of ocean currents heat transfer in the ocean suggests that this cooling will not happen.So the ice is melting. But we must be careful not to ascribe all that melting to human activity. For example, a recent report,summarized in Science Daily, suggests that at least some of the melting of the Greenland ice cap might be due to heat from inside the Earth. There is a Lawrence Kansas connection since one of the scientists involved, Timothy Leftwich at Oregon State University, is a post doc associated with a consortium called CRESIS, the Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets. KU is the lead institution for the consortium.
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So Much to See #3

Previous: So Much to See #2
Next: So Much to See #4

Where is it? What is it?This is visible from one of the main streets of town (as defined by me).Each day or so I'll add a larger image or hint.http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/blogs/entry_img/2008/Jan/14/DSC_0725a.JPGHints:
1. Not on the west side of town.
2. Slightly larger image
http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/blogs/entry_img/2008/Jan/16/DSC_0725ab.JPGAnd the answer is:
East Heights Early Childhood and Family Center (formerly East Heights Elementary)
http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/blogs/entry_img/2008/Jan/17/DSC_0725.JPG

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The New Highway 59 is Coming to Town, or Maybe NOT?

A month or so ago, I happened to notice the highway construction for the new 59 highway the path for utility lines south of Lawrence. Recently, I drove around the area east of "old" 59 between N650 and N1100 Rd. Based on my travels, I did this ROUGH map of what the path into town appears to be. Note that this map only shows the highway starting from N600/650 Rd (1.5 miles east of Zarco south of town).Well, it appears this is actually the path for utility lines into town. Well, it was fun creating the map and taking the pictures. I recently posted on the subject of making mistakes and tolerance. In light of that, this is an interesting turn of events.
View Larger Map
The blue balloon is near where E1450 connects to N600/650. This following image shows the road north (towards Lawrence).
The yellow balloon marks where the highway crosses N800 Rd. The image below looks north towards town.http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/blogs/entry_img/2008/Jan/12/DSC_0685a.JPGThe red balloon identifies where the highway crosses N1000 Rd (Wells Overlook Rd). The next image looks north.http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/blogs/entry_img/2008/Jan/12/DSC_0691b.JPGAnd finally, this image looks the other way, back south across Wells Overlook Rd.http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/blogs/entry_img/2008/Jan/12/DSC_0694a.JPG
The road continues on past N1100 Rd, but sorry, no pictures yet.

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The Ant and the Elephant

There is a wonderful article in the NY Times science section reporting on some work by Todd Palmer, an ecologist at the University of Florida. Dr. Palmer's work is good illustration of how very different groups of organisms can be connected in very subtle and counter intuitive ways. Dr. Palmer studies the role of certain species of aggressive ants which in part protect Acacia trees from large herbivores including elephants. Acacia trees are one of the dominant types of trees in many parts of Africa so this is a very important study.Dr. Palmer and his associates tested the hypothesis that the trees would grow better long term in the absence of elephants and other large herbivores. For 10 years they followed the fate of Acacias in control plots and experimental plots which excluded the herbivores.They found something quite unexpected. Over time, in the absence of the elephants, the Acacias produced less sap for the ants, and other species of insects, harmful to the Acacias, invaded the trees. The net result was that over time the Acacias actually did worse when there were no elephants to feed on them.Given the threat that large mammals in Africa are under, this study should remind us of the complex and subtle interdependencies that have evolved in natural systems. Removing certain keystone species such from an ecosystem can have, what Palmer terms, a cascading effect on the rest of the ecosystem.The other thing is that when we focus on conserving a single species, say in a zoo or greenhouse, we lose the context in which the species evolved. This diminishes our understanding of that species and the sorts of adaptations it evolved to its original environment. For instance many orchids produce lots of extra sap. In some orchids, the sap is actually secreted from the leaves. I have tasted the sap produced by some of my orchids and it is very sweet. If you grow certain species of orchid at home the leaves get sticky an often will get a fungus. So why the sap?At least part of the answer again, is perhaps to attract certain species of aggressive ants for protection. So what might the implication be? Consider that orchid species. We take that species out the community in which it evolved, grow it in a green house. Over a number of generations it becomes just another domesticated species. A pretty flower perhaps but one that has lost its context, like an artifact in a museum.By the way, there is a Kansas connection to this story since much of the now classic work on ant - Acacia interactions was done by Dr. Dan Janzen who taught at KU from 1965-68.

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The Power of One Word

One WordI don't know Kelly Tilghman except that she is a sports broadcaster and she is friends with Tiger Woods.During coverage last week, she inadvertently used the word "lynch" when jokingly suggesting that the only way other players could beat him was by removing him from the competition. It was unfortunate, and she apologized to the audience and to Tiger. Tiger released a statement that he understood that there was no ill intent.But that was not enough. Al Sharpton has called for her dismissal. The Golf Channel, who initially supported her, has suspended her for two weeks and her future is unclear.People make mistakes. Sometimes those mistakes are careless and intolerable. Sometimes the consequences are serious and we should do something about it. That is the case here.The mistake, however, is being made by those who are looking for publicity at the expense of others. Racism still exists in this country, but this episode is not really about that problem.The problem is that there are some who spread fear to increase their own power and influence. The fear that they spread makes me concerned that I might say something that people construe differently than I'd intended. It happened to her. It could happen to me and, no matter what your color or religion, it might even happen to you. That is the fear that I am left with. And to be honest, the thought that speaking out against this will cause me to be labeled a racist leaves me just a touch nervous.There are a lot of words that bring back memories of troubled times. One single word can have tremendous consequences.Sometimes, when people make mistakes, we should consider one word as our response:Tolerance.

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Kansas financial supports for grandparents and other relative caregivers

In response to my last post on grandparents raising their grandchildren a comment was made that SRS pays the grandparents as they would anyone else.We, the citizens of Kansas through SRS, do not assist all grandparents equally. This gets very technical and there are many different types of assistance but I will briefly identify the major types of available financial help. The information below is the latest that I have and may not be current.There are at least 4 different ways that grandparents can obtain financial assistance for raising grandchildren. Each has different rules and reimbursement rates. Then there are those grandparents who may be struggling financially and are asked to assume care of a grandchild but not told of available financial assistance. But that is another story.Grandparents raising grandchildren can obtain financial assistance through:1.Temporary Assistance for Families (TAF) typically provides assistance of about $175 month and medical insurance through Medicaid. The last data I had was that about 500 grandparents in Kansas are receiving this assistance.2.Grandparent caregivers have access to adoption assistance as any other family who adopts through the state child welfare system. Yes, when asked, many grandparents are ready and willing to adopt their grandchildren. SRS reports that nearly 200 children per year are adopted by relatives. We can assume that most of these are grandparents. Not all of these receive financial help.There is a maximum of $400 per month allowed for subsidized adoption. There are also provisions for up to $1000 per child for one time purchases for such items as bedroom furniture, special equipment for handicaps, home modifications, lifts for vans, or respite care. There is an additional $2000 for non-recurring adoption expenses. SSI eligible children may receive up to $500 per month. If the child is eligible for Home and Community Based Services the adoption subsidize maximum is $500 per month plus a $200 special needs payment. 3.Subsidized permanent guardianship - In 1999 the Kansas Legislature allocated $1,000,000 of TAF funds to subsidize permanent guardianship. The maximum subsidy is $225 per month, which supplements child only TAF benefits including a medical card, if the child qualifies for child only TAF. The allocated amount was never used. In recent years about $170,000 of these funds were expended. SRS reports nearly 200 children per year receiving this type of assistance.4.Grandparents are eligible to be licensed foster parents and receive the same reimbursement as any other licensed foster parent. That is about $550 per month. All of this is very complicated and it is unreasonable to expect grandparents who simply want to step up and help the family understand all of this. Certainly we can design a less complex system that provides needed help and honors those grandparents willing to help raise the next generation.

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Darnell Jackson’s Grandmother

Darnell is receiving a lot of press due to the start of a stellar senior year on the basketball court. Part of this press is being reminded of how important his grandmother was to him and her sad death.Being part of a much older generation I had fewer grandparents and was only somewhat close to a grandmother who took care of me for a short time when my mother was hospitalized.Grandmothers may be more important today that ever before. The US Census reports that 32,582 Kansas children were living with a grandparent in 2006. For 21,278 of these children their grandparents are responsible for them. That is Census speak for they are raising their grandchildren.There are a host of reasons that children are being raised by their grandparents and the Census Bureau does not list them. Situations that I have been aware of include poverty, parental drug abuse and incarceration. These grandparents are providing a wonderful service for their children, grandchildren and the state regardless of the reason. The Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services (SRS) is the parent for many children needing an alternative home. During the last fiscal year SRS reports that there were 10,025 children in out of home placement. This is less than half as many children as the grandparents in Kansas are taking care of. SRS also places about 25% of children with relatives and it is likely that many of these relatives are grandparents. As taxpayers we pay for the care of the children in SRS custody. That is another reason to be grateful to those grandparents who have accepted the responsibility to raise their grandchildren. As anyone who has raised children knows it is not always easy juggling child care, jobs and other responsibilities and these grandparents face the same challenges. The more than 21,000 Kansas children in grandparent households were cared for by 19,000 grandparents. Most are relatively young with 17,000 between the ages of 30 and 59 and 13,000 are in the labor force. In other words these are grandparents with lots of other responsibilities and they still took on the task of taking care of the next generation of their family.If you know of a grandparent raising a child, thank her or him.

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‘Sham’ Treatments in Medicine

According to a study cited in Science Daily, roughly 45% of internists responding to a survey about the use of placebos said that they had given placebos to their patients at least on occasion. Placebos are sometimes used to determine if the symptoms exhibited by a patient are in the mind or physical and controlling for the placebo effect is an important design issue in drug tests.The therapeutic use of placebos is controversial and given the notion of informed consent in medicine, perhaps unethical. But there is no doubt that the placebo effect is real and perhaps behind why many alternative therapies of dubious scientific standing such as "energy work" or homeopathy appear to work.Many of the physicians put a more benign spin on placebos. The physicians often defined placebos as being interventions "not expected to work" through any sort of known mechanism. Personally I would not want my physician to give me a placebo and strangely enough for the very reason that I believe in the mind body connection that alternative therapists often times misuse to justify their treatments. For instance, I got dragged to a workshop on "energy work" and "auras" last year and as you might guess I had to bite my tongue repeatedly to maintain some level of politeness at the drivel the speaker was feeding us. And yet the exercises did work. When asked to feel the boundaries of someone else's energy field, indeed I could feel SOMETHING.Of course the hard headed side of my was designing little experiments that could test whether or not there was any objective reality to this feeling. After all I ought to be able to measure some sort of energy and manipulate it experimentally. My suspicion is that what I felt was due to the power of suggestibility.I also do Yoga and when the instructor tells me to visualize my chakras, I know that chakras don't have any serious anatomical basis. I don't really have a third eye for instance- unless it is the imagination. I am suspending belief and harnessing that suspension to bring about physiological changes.Physician's use of placebos may well be justified in spite of the notion of informed consent. But wouldn't it be better if people could learn to harness their own powers of suggestion rather than be tricked into it either by well meaning physicians or by snake oil sellers of alternative therapies?

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Mercury and Autism: when is enough enough?

Today's Lawrence Journal World carried a report of a California study the says that autism is not related to mercury exposure from childhood vaccines. This study from my way of thinking is pretty convincing especially in light of independent studies that come to the same conclusion.For a number of years, some scientists and advocacy groups have been concerned that a mercury containing compound called thimerosal might be the cause of an increase in autism and perhaps other neurological disorders. What I found interesting in the Journal World's report was this comment by Geraldine Dawson from a group called Autism Speaks which advocates for autism research:"The bulk of the evidence thus far suggests that mercury is not involved, but I think parents still have many questions ... I think until parents are satisfied, we need to continue to examine the question."Now granted parents are generally the prime advocates for their children, as well they should be, but in terms of research Dawson's comments leads to a big question. Given the limits on research dollars, should we keep chasing after a hypothesized association between vaccines containing thimerosal and autism which the available epidemiological evidence says is weak at best given current vaccine protocols?How many parents do we have to satisfy? All of them? Some people will simply persist in not believing any amount of scientific research. Now don't get me wrong-mercury in the environment is an important issue and the effects of mercury on health are clear-but why should autism researchers be distracted because a few parents choose to discredit the science?Related Links:EPA mercury fact sheetCDC Mercury and Vaccine Fact SheetMercury Exposure and Child Development OutcomesMercury and Autism: A damaging delusionWhat parents should know about Thimersol and Vaccines

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Strong Women

Cal Thomas' column (last week) on Benazir Bhutto took me by surprise. It wasn't just the fact that he had sipped tea with her, an experience he said he would never forget, but that he called her a "strong woman" and pointed out that "leadership is more than biology. It takes a well-crafted ideology and goals beyond one's self." He believed Bhutto had them in abundance. He also stated that:"Women who are strong in the things that matter most - courage and character - are a threat to weak men without such traits. Some men will go to any length to oppress such women, even invoking the "will of God" as the ultimate justification, when God wants to liberate women (and men), not subjugate them to self-righteous sinners."Hmm. I agree with Thomas. One doesn't have to go outside the United States, or even Kansas, to find rantings when strong women are appointed to or seek positions of leadership in national life. It wasn't too long ago that Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church were attacked in some sections of the media simply because they were women. Do you remember any previous Speakers being ridiculed for the ties they wore, or the size of their biceps for that matter? The topic of Pelosi's pearls drew nearly as much attention as her appointment and, at one point, Hilary Clinton's cleavage was inflated to grab pretty large headlines.The US touts itself as the land of freedom, equality and opportunity but one wonders why a woman has not yet been elected to its highest office? England AND Ireland, small countries who could well fit into the state of Texas with plenty of room left over, have already had females in the top posts. England had its first woman Prime Minister nearly 30 years ago until she was ousted by the "Big Boys," and Ireland has experienced two female Presidents. And then there is Benazier Bhutto, the focus of Thomas' column, who became Prime Minister in a Muslim country. She balanced family life (with a husband and children ) with her political duties, and managed to retain her femininity. I know that comparisons are odious, but, in this case, they should give food for thought, even though some may choke in the process.I'm not saying that Hilary Clinton should be elected President simply because she's a woman; I'm saying that she shouldn't be ridiculed and dismissed just because she is. If she is the only women to emerge as a potential Presidential candidate, what is this saying about the women in America? Or what is it saying about the men?

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