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Why Greenland’s black ice should terrify you

From Slate

There are several potential explanations for what’s going on here. The most likely is that some combination of increasingly infrequent summer snowstorms, wind-blown dust, microbial activity, and forest fire soot led to this year’s exceptionally dark ice. A more ominous possibility is that what we’re seeing is the start of a cascading feedback loop tied to global warming.

Box mentions this summer’s mysterious Siberian holes and offshore methane bubbles as evidence that the Arctic can quickly change in unpredictable ways.

This year, Greenland’s ice sheet was the darkest Box (or anyone else) has ever measured. Box gives the stunning stats: “In 2014 the ice sheet is precisely 5.6 percent darker, producing an additional absorption of energy equivalent with roughly twice the US annual electricity consumption.”

Perhaps coincidentally, 2014 will also be the year with the highest number of forest fires ever measured in Arctic.

Box ran these numbers exclusively for Slate, and what he found shocked him. Since comprehensive satellite measurements began in 2000, never before have Arctic wildfires been as powerful as this year. In fact, over the last two or three years, Box calculated that Arctic fires have been burning at a rate that’s double that of just a decade ago. Box felt this finding was so important that he didn’t want to wait for peer review, and instead decided to publish first on Slate. He’s planning on submitting these and other recent findings to a formal scientific journal later this year.

Japan earthquake has raised pressure below Mount Fuji, says new study

Geological disturbances caused by 2011 tremors mean active volcano is in a ‘critical state’, say scientific researchers

So should Japan be on red alert? “We cannot establish a direct relation of cause and effect between quakes and volcanic eruptions, even if statistically the former lead to an increase in the latter,” Brenguier says. “All we can say is that Mount Fuji is now in a state of pressure, which means it displays a high potential for eruption. The risk is clearly higher.”

Science, however, has no way of predicting when this might happen. But there is a precedent. The last eruption of Mount Fuji occurred in 1707. It projected almost a billion cubic metres of ash and debris into the atmosphere, some of which reached Tokyo (then called Edo) 100km away. It was preceded, 49 days earlier, by a magnitude 8.7 quake to the south of Japan that, in conjunction with the tidal wave it raised, claimed more than 5,000 lives. This time, more than three years have already passed since the Tohoku quake. But that does not mean that Mount Fuji, under the constant supervision of Japanese geologists, is slumbering.

Come what may, the method developed by the Franco-Japanese team for investigating volcanic areas should improve the accuracy of efforts all over the world to assess the risk of major volcanic eruptions.

So if there is intelligent life out there, why hasn’t anyone contacted us

It could be we are in a remote part of space that no one cares about.  We are the Moose Jaw of planets.

The Americas may have been colonized by Europeans long before anyone in a small Inuit tribe in far northern Canada realized it had happened. There could be an urbanization component to the interstellar dwellings of higher species, in which all the neighboring solar systems in a certain area are colonized and in communication, and it would be impractical and purposeless for anyone to deal with coming all the way out to the random part of the spiral where we live.

There are a lot of interesting hypothesis of why we haven’t had our first contact.  The following is the scariest.

There are scary predator civilizations out there, and most intelligent life knows better than to broadcast any outgoing signals and advertise their location.

This is an unpleasant concept and would help explain the lack of any signals being received by the SETI satellites. It also means that we might be the super naive newbies who are being unbelievably stupid and risky by ever broadcasting outward signals. There’s a debate going on currently about whether we should engage in METI (Messaging to Extraterrestrial Intelligence—the reverse of SETI) or not, and most people say we should not. Stephen Hawking warns, “If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn’t turn out well for the Native Americans.” Even Carl Sagan (a general believer that any civilization advanced enough for interstellar travel would be altruistic, not hostile) called the practice of METI “deeply unwise and immature,” and recommended that “the newest children in a strange and uncertain cosmos should listen quietly for a long time, patiently learning about the universe and comparing notes, before shouting into an unknown jungle that we do not understand.” Scary.

Why We Don’t Like Stories in Which the Mentally Ill Heroine Recovers

Basically people who recover undermine how psychiatry is practiced now.

The story of modern psychiatry, for many, is triumphant one. The quick-and-dirty history goes like this: Human ingenuity and scientific advances led us from the dark ages of hydrotherapy and solitary confinement to cognitive-behavioral therapy and expertly prescribed medications. While we used to believe the mentally ill were unwell as a result of wayward behavior or demonic possession, we now know that psychic anguish is the result of brain chemistry and nurture, and we’re working harder to analyze the former. We moved, in other words, from mental illness as a moral failure to mental illness as a medical condition.

But if you zoom in on the late 1940s through the early ’60s, a different battle is being waged—a battle between those who believed mental illness was biologically located in the brain, and those who thought mental illness was a matter of emotional disturbance. Back then, those intent upon transforming psychiatry into a reputable science (as opposed to a touchy-feely art) worked tirelessly to develop new methods of medical intervention for the mentally ill. The best-known method was “psychosurgery” (aka lobotomy), which was introduced by neurologist Egas Moniz in 1936. In 1949, Moniz won the Nobel Prize for his work on psychosurgery, and by 1951, the operation had been performed close to 20,000 times.1
Contrast this obsession with the physical brain—slicing it, shocking it, or tranquilizing it—with the ethos held by Chestnut Lodge, the elite private institution where Joanne Greenberg began treatment in 1948. The clinicians at Chestnut Lodge fervently believed that no patient, however psychotic, was impervious to psychotherapy. The champion of this viewpoint was the Lodge’s most famous employee, the gifted psychoanalyst Frieda Fromm-Reichmann. Fromm-Reichmann was Greenberg’s primary analyst and, in both the novel and in real life, led her from insanity to wellness. In the book, Fromm-Reichmann is “Dr. Fried,” and Greenberg so positively depicted the humble German that for years she received letters from struggling fans desperate to track down Dr. Fried and undergo analysis with her. 

Fromm-Reichmann immediately recognized something special in her teenaged patient: Greenberg was quick-witted, well-read, and seemed to retain an appetite for life that many of the doctor’s older, chronically ill patients had lost long ago. Greenberg’s symptoms were often referred to as “florid”—interpretable, extravagant, and suffused with meaning, like a story. When Joanne was struggling, Fromm-Reichmann openly empathized. When she began to retreat, the doctor begged to follow. “Take me along with you,” Dr. Fried tells Deborah during a session. She insisted to her young patient that they must pose a united front. “I believe that you and I,” Greenberg has her say in Rose Garden, “can beat this thing.” And, together, that’s just what they did.

This narrative is a little too pat for our contemporary sensibilities. Perhaps that’s why the book is not as well known as, say, Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. (The Bell Jar still sells briskly; the fiftieth-anniversary paperback edition is ranked 1,730 on Amazon, compared to Rose Garden’s 21,792.2) But Rose Garden does not appeal for another reason: It’s easier to think of the psychiatry of yore as entirely backward and as the poetic casualties of it—Plath, Arbus, Sexton—as victims of that ignorance. Their tragic stories, paradoxically, make us feel more secure in the march of psychiatric progress.

The demise of these women—and the subsequent autopsy of past mental healthcare failures that their paper trails encourages—permits us to rest serenely in the knowledge that the world is moving steadily toward a more scientific, humane psychiatry. But, one has to wonder if this is entirely the case. Frieda Fromm-Reichmann spent four years with Joanne Greenberg; she hiked up to the Disturbed Ward to see patients when they were lying limp in restraints. Now, psychiatrists evaluate patients for 45 minutes before diagnosing them and sending them off to fill prescriptions, and many patients go months between appointments. Efficiency is the goal here; medication the cure, meaningful human connection a distant second priority. It is increasingly rare to find a psychiatrist who also performs talk therapy, despite its many proven benefits.

This might be an even greater tragedy with regard to treatment of schizophrenia, where holistic treatment—that is, one that recognizes both the medical and the emotional components and allows for feedback between the two—might hold particular promise. According to Dr. Allen J. Frances of Duke Medical School and the author of Saving Normal: An Insider’s Revolt Against Out-of-Control Psychiatric Diagnosis, DSM-5, Big Pharma, and the Medicalization of Ordinary Life, “Cognitive therapy and social skills therapy are very valuable in treating schizophrenia, but they are rarely available.” And the idea of “complete recovery” is downplayed.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that my wife Wendy has struggled with depression for most of her life.   As she has written about before, like many others, she was sexually abused for an extended period growing up and it took a toll on her as she has grown older. It has never gone away and returns with a vengeance each and every summer and causes chaos and pain around here until fall.

This is the process we have to go through to get help.

She needs to go to her family doctor who prescribes depression medication and then writes a referral to the psychiatrist.  Since that is a year to two year wait, she goes back to her family doctor who ups her medication, ups it again, ups it again and then realizes it doesn’t work.  So then she is weaned off her medication and then the doctor does it again.  If that doesn’t work.  Repeat.

Finally she gets to see the psychiatrist (18 months later), she walks in, explains her situation, he tells her she has PTSD and then gives her a prescription for a stronger medication.  Out in 10 minutes.  

That medication may or may not work.  If not, she can go back and is back out in five minutes with a new prescription.  If it does work, it works for about 8 months and then when she tries to go back, she is told that her file is closed.  She needs another referral (and a year wait).

That is what is covered by Saskatchewan Health.  What she really needs is talk therapy as well which is not covered by Saskatchewan Health and runs over $100 a session.   Since it isn’t part of her health care or any kind of continuum of care, the therapist and psychiatrist don’t talk which means that once summer went spent thousands on therapy that did nothing because Wendy’s medication was off.

What we are told is that Wendy’s condition will be with her for the rest of her life and she just needs to keep taking her medication.  In some ways that may be correct but the reality is that it doesn’t have to be as bad as it is or as costly if we spent the resources to treat mental illness like we do other illnesses.  I think that is what makes people so uncomfortable, we know we can do better but do not because of a shortage of psychiatrists and clinical psychologists in our system.  Heck we don’t even benchmark mental illness treatment in Saskatchewan.  How do we hope to get better when we don’t define success?

It’s been a frustrating process to see Wendy struggle like this.  Her public presence like many is far different then her private one and I have been more than willing to move to get her treatment.  We have explored selling the house and our stuff and moving south to the United States but the equity in our house won’t touch long term treatment costs.  So like a lot of families and people who struggle with depression, we stay and try our best to work in the cycle of madness and fight the assumption that mental illness can’t he cured.

The slow death of the US space program

This is a must read on the slow decline of the US Space program and NASA

The failure by the American government to prepare for the shuttle’s inevitable retirement, and to articulate a plan for what was to come next, is for Chris Kraft an unmitigated disaster.

He just might know. As America’s first flight director, he is the man for whom mission control is named.

During his nine decades Chris Kraft has observed the entire arc of U.S. and Russian history in space, from the early days of desperately trying to catch the Soviets in space, to beating them to the moon, to now hitching rides to the space station on Russian capsules and being threatened by Russian officials.

“The cancellation of the space shuttle may be the biggest blunder ever made by the United States,” Kraft said. “It’s fairly obvious that no one in the government thought through what they were about to bring about when they made that decision.”

Kraft isn’t alone. A Houston scientist who studies the moon, Paul Spudis, served on a Presidential Commission tasked with implementing President Bush’s vision in 2004. What has happened since then, he said, is appalling.

“I’ve never seen such a screwed up mess in my life as the way NASA is right now,” he said.

Why do you wake up before your alarm?

Your body clock alarm is just as accurate as the one on your phone: your body naturally takes note of what time you want to wake up and wakes you up.

There’s evidence you can will yourself to wake on time, too. Sleep scientists at Germany’s University of Lubeck asked 15 volunteers to sleep in their lab for three nights. One night, the group was told they’d be woken at 6 a.m., while on other nights the group was told they’d be woken at 9 a.m..

But the researchers lied-they woke the volunteers at 6 a.m anyway. And the results were startling. The days when sleepers were told they’d wake up early, their stress hormones increased at 4:30 a.m., as if they were anticipating an early morning. When the sleepers were told they’d wake up at 9 a.m., their stress hormones didn’t increase — and they woke up groggier. “Our bodies, in other words, note the time we hope to begin our day and gradually prepare us for consciousness,” writes Jeff Howe at Psychology Today.

Silencing Scientists

An editorial in the New York Times this weekend

Over the last few years, the government of Canada — led by Stephen Harper — has made it harder and harder for publicly financed scientists to communicate with the public and with other scientists.

It began badly enough in 2008 when scientists working for Environment Canada, the federal agency, were told to refer all queries to departmental communications officers. Now the government is doing all it can to monitor and restrict the flow of scientific information, especially concerning research into climate change, fisheries and anything to do with the Alberta tar sands — source of the diluted bitumen that would flow through the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. Journalists find themselves unable to reach government scientists; the scientists themselves have organized public protests.

There was trouble of this kind here in the George W. Bush years, when scientists were asked to toe the party line on climate policy and endangered species. But nothing came close to what is being done in Canada.

Science is the gathering of hypotheses and the endless testing of them. It involves checking and double-checking, self-criticism and a willingness to overturn even fundamental assumptions if they prove to be wrong. But none of this can happen without open communication among scientists. This is more than an attack on academic freedom. It is an attempt to guarantee public ignorance.

It is also designed to make sure that nothing gets in the way of the northern resource rush — the feverish effort to mine the earth and the ocean with little regard for environmental consequences. The Harper policy seems designed to make sure that the tar sands project proceeds quietly, with no surprises, no bad news, no alarms from government scientists. To all the other kinds of pollution the tar sands will yield, we must now add another: the degradation of vital streams of research and information.

The Last Great Telescope

The Green Bank Telescope (GBT) is the world’s largest fully steerable radio telescope and the world’s largest land-based movable structure. It is part of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) site at Green Bank, West Virginia, USA. NRAO is located in the National Radio Quiet Zone, a 13,000 mile zone where all radio transmissions are either limited or banned outright, to help the telescope function properly. With the growing popularity of radio-array telescopes, the GBT may end up being the last single-dish telescope of its kind built in the world. 

Killing the Great Barrier Reef killers

Scientists are injecting Crown of Thorns starfish with dry acid to kill them before they can kill the reef.  Now they are using bile from the stomach of ox’s to do the same thing.  Fascinating video.

Saskatoon Afternoon Rountable with David Kirton: The new royal baby and the 33rd Street Bridge

Angela Hill, Dave Kirton, and I talk about the Royal baby and the proposed idea to put a bridge across 33rd Street.

Listen here

The greatest comment in the history of the Internet

It’s in response to this blog post on Yahoo!’s Puck Daddy blog.

Comment on John Tortorella's firing

I challenge you to find one weirder.

Bed bugs ‘dodge insecticides’ with molecular tricks

As someone who has to battle bed bugs from time to time at work, this worries me.

Bed bugs use a range of tactics to render insecticides useless, a study suggests.

Infestations are on the rise around the world, but the pests are growing resistant to some chemicals.

Now scientists have found 14 genes associated with a number of biological changes.

These include the development of a thicker skin that stops poisons from penetrating, and mutations that prevent toxins from hitting the nervous system.

The study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, also suggests that some of the bugs are producing higher levels of enzymes that help to metabolise insecticides more quickly.

Others genes are associated with proteins that interfere with the way the deadly chemicals are carried around the bed bugs’ bodies.

Subba Palli, professor entomology from the University of Kentucky in the US and an author of the study, said that the hardy insects were using a combination of these molecular tricks.

“Some used four different mechanisms, some three and so on,” he explained.

“Bed bugs are employing more than one mechanism of resistance to avoid insecticide toxicity.”

Video: Reduce the lead time for Mental Health and Addictions patients in RUH Emergency

 

The Saskatoon Health Region is being driven by Lean Management.  Like any management theory it has a website, newsletters and even some videos.  While the video production quality is horrible, here is a video on how the Saskatoon Health Region is trying to improve intake and evaluation for Mental Health & Addiction Services at RUH.

Fitness on 25th

So with DeeAnn gone from the Lighthouse, my new office mate is a psychologist who loves to run.  Jeff started to pester me about joining a gym non-stop and I was ignoring it until I decided to take this hike through the backcountry.  As part of the training, I decided to get a Nike Fuel Band to monitor my movement and get myself motivated.  Well that didn’t work out too well.  Well actually it worked too well as it showed me missing my goal of 3000 Nike Fuel every day.  This is how a Nike Fuel Band works.

Basically it taunts you for being inactive.  It’s clever.  It’s not rude as to be mean spirited but it sits there and reminds you that you are no where close to your Nike Fuel goal (for me it’s 3000) and I am surprised how much it bothers me.

After several days of not hitting 3000 (or even coming close), I decided to head down to the YWCA and hit the gym at Fitness on 25th.  Three of my co-workers also came and for 30 minutes we hit the elliptical or the treadmill and had a pretty good work out.  The problem is that it still didn’t get me enough Nike Fuel so tomorrow I am walking to work, walking to the gym, working out, and then walking home… all in the pursuit of the magical Nike Fuel.

I don’t know how long my level of motivation will last the Nike Fuel Band got me to the gym and is making me walk a lot more.  I still hate doing it but lazing around on the sofa isn’t doing a lot for me either.

Now back to Fitness on 25th.  I decided to join there because I believe in the work that the YWCA does in Saskatoon (and know some of their staff).  We have a good relationship with them at The Lighthouse and it’s kind of on my way home from work.  It has 4 treadmills, a bunch of ellipticals and stairclimbers for cardio, a bunch of free weights and stationary bikes.  I spent some quality time on the elliptical which gave my legs a brutal workout and got my right shoulder moving.

The YWCA gym is older but it was quiet and not very busy when we go at 4:00 p.m.  It does offer a free two week trail which I would advise you to check out.  I am not thrilled with having to sign up for a year but I understand why they do it.

Monday

The weekend that was: The lowlight of the weekend was that I was fiddling with a power adaptor with my right hand and jerked my hand away violently when I got shocked.  Of course my right shoulder is the shoulder with the torn rotator cuff.  I have had both shoulders operated on, I have wrecked both MCL and ACLs, I have even had nails go into my feet.  Nothing was as painful as that pain was.  I just screamed in pain for a minute while walking over and sitting down before I passed out.

I was hoping the pain would pass but now every time I use my right hand, there is incredible pain in the shoulder which can’t be a good thing.  Back to my family doctor on Tuesday to see what we can do now.

On Sunday I watched the Lions lose to the Green Bay Packers at Jeff’s place with Sean.  Doing that brought up a lot of Detroit Lions memories and none of them are good.  Wayne Fontes, Scott Mitchell, Matt Millen, 0-16… at least the food was good.

On my to-do list this week: Other than seeing a doctor…

Procrastinating about: Going to see my doctor…

Book I’m in the midst of: The Triumph of the City by Edward Glaesar

Music that seemed to catch my attention this past week: The new Sheepdogs album.

How I’m feeling about this week: Pain.