Oh, well, phew then

Residents of a city in southern Argentina got a scare when a series of powerful explosions shook homes and buildings, but the cause turned out to be a natural wonder: a meteor disintegrating overhead.
It was an ordinary Wednesday afternoon in General Roca, a city of 85,000 people, when suddenly a series of loud blasts caused buildings to shake and windows to rattle.
“Everything trembled,” said Martin Soria, the local mayor.
Police, firefighters and emergency workers rushed to the scene, but found no evidence of a bomb, earthquake or calamity.

And?

Finally, scientists pieced together the reason: A meteor had entered the Earth’s atmosphere some 10,000 metres (33,000 feet) overhead, traveling at 1,500 miles per hour.
“It took everyone by surprise because it entered the atmosphere over an inhabited area. If it had fallen over the desert, the sea, Antarctica, we would never have known,” said astronomer Roberto Figueroa, head of the nearby Neuquen observatory.

He estimated Wednesday’s meteor measured about 12 metres in diameter before breaking into three fragments.

I do sorta doubt that it was 12 metres in diameter. But, to take them at their word.

It was just 900 tonnes of rock moving at 1,500 mph. Phew, nowt to worry about then.

Sure, the law is the law

The kid’s lemonade stand in Ottawa:

lemonade

On Monday, the Andrews visited the federal agency to apply for a permit. Perhaps conscious of the many who had framed the girls’ foray into Ottawa’s byzantine bureaucracy as a struggle of David against Goliath, an agency spokesperson apologised to the young entrepreneurs and offered to waive the C$35 permit fee.

In a later statement, the agency defended its earlier actions and made it clear that no exceptions would be made for the girls. “Given the location of the lemonade stand, the Conservation Officer acted in good faith in applying the federal land use rules in place.”

The situation could have been handled differently, it acknowledged. “Children’s lemonade stands are a time-honoured summer tradition that contributes to a lively capital and the NCC wants to encourage these activities whenever possible.” Officials said the girls’ permit application would be likely expedited so that they could have the stand up and running by this weekend.

The timeline was questioned by the girls’ father who pointed to the magnitude of paperwork being demanded for the stand. “The girls can’t provide proof of insurance. They can’t provide a site map. And so on and so forth,” he told CTV News. “So I expect that there’s going to have to be some … modification of the normal bureaucracy here.”

Site map?

Can we hang all the bureaucrats yet?

Interesting question

The company demolishing the defunct Didcot power station in Oxfordshire, where at least one person died on Tuesday, had not previously worked on a power station.

So how many power stations are dismantled each year/decade?

Obviously there’s a first time any company does something too. We cannot possibly operate an economy on the idea that only those who have previously done something be allowed to do it again. But I do wonder: are power stations something that we dismantle, say, 10 a decade of? In which case there will be a number of firms around who have done this. Or is it less than this, meaning that it’s odds on that anyone doing it will have demolition experience, but not necessarily of power stations?

Bollocks

Citing the US Surgeon General, Frieden said, “There is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke. Tobacco smoke contains over 7,000 chemicals including roughly 70 that can cause cancer.”

Paracelsus: the dose is the poison.

This surprises me

And while scientists are reasonably confident that about a fifth of vertebrates – including the charismatic panda, tiger and black rhino – are threatened,

The panda and the rhino, yes. But the tiger?

Last I heard there were something like 25,000 tigers in private hands (possibly not entirely le mot juste, adult tigers are as likely to eat hands as be in them) in the US alone.

I have absolutely no idea at all, even of the order of magnitude, of what the \”natural\” wild population would be. But I could imagine that 25k for an apex predator could be about right. I\’d be astonished if it were 250k for example and know damn well that it\’s not 2.5 million.

Anyone actually know?

The latest baby food scare

Last night there were calls for urgent new safety rules to control the presence of the poisons in foods intended for young children.

Researchers found feeding infants twice a day on the shop-bought baby foods such as rice porridge can increase their exposure to arsenic by up to fifty times when compared to breast feeding alone.

The findings come as officials at the Food Standards Agency and the European Commission are conducting an urgent review to establish new limits for the long term exposure of these contaminants in food.

The products tested by the researchers were made by major baby food manufacturers including Organix, Hipp, Nestle and Holle – some of which are available in British supermarkets.

50 times! Wow!

Among the baby foods found to contain elevated levels of arsenic, cadmium and lead in the tests by the researchers was Organix First Organic Whole Grain Baby Rice, which they found contained two micrograms of arsenic per portion, along with 0.03 micrograms of cadmium and 0.09 micrograms of lead. This product is sold by Boots in the UK.

Ahhh….a microgram or two. 2 ppm (parts per million). Or the cadmium, 30 ppb (parts per billion).

These metals certainly can be dangerous, but as we know it\’s the dose that is the poison. Whether these metals are dangerous at these levels is something a little unknown. Certainly, they\’re below the currently accepted limits for what we think does cause damage. In fact, it\’s only in the last couple of decades that we\’ve been able to test to these levels at less than exorbitant cost.

Note that no one is saying that there\’s anything dodgy going on either. These are simply the trace amounts picked up as plants grow in various soils. This itself can indeed be a problem: there are areas around Chilcompton in Somerset where you\’re advised not to eat home grown cabbages because of the lead content picked up from the soils.

Me, given my suspicious little mind, think that this is where the root of the story is:

She added that breast feeding until babies were six months old appeared to be the best way to keep infants\’ exposure to these toxic contaminants as low as possible as they seemed to be filtered out by the mothers\’ body.

Yup, the female body is prettyy good at acting as a filter for such metals. Levels will be lower in milk than in the mother\’s body for example. But I can\’t help feeling that this is more of another shot in the ongoing \”breast is best\” wars than actually truly independent research into the toxicity of baby foods.

I mean, seriously, 30 ppb Cd? I\’d be surprised if your average potato wasn\’t at around that level.

Hmmm

\”I cannot talk to you properly now,\” an air traffic controller at Madrid\’s Barajas Airport told The Sunday Telegraph in a half whisper, his voice quavering on his mobile.

\”There are civil guards here, with pistols. If we don\’t start work now, we will be arrested.

Threatened with immediate imprisonment for sedition if they did not obey their new military commanders, and the show of force as in Madrid, the controllers capitulated.

Harsh but fair I feel.

Ever longer working hours and heart disease

Well, we know how this is going to get reported, don\’t we?

Staying late in the office or working overtime is bad for the heart, researchers warned yesterday.

A large study of British civil servants found that those who regularly worked 10 or 11-hour days were up to 60 per cent more likely to suffer heart disease or die younger than those who worked shorter hours.

It\’s the ever longer working hours that is killing us all and therefore we should ban long working hours….perhaps by signing up to the European 48 hour working week and the like.

What will be missed is the detail of the study:

Marianna Virtanen, who led the study at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health in Helsinki and University College London, said that possible explanations for the link included “hidden” high blood pressure that is not always picked up, stress, anxiety or depression, and being a “Type A” personality who is highly driven, aggressive or irritable.

What they have shown is a correlation, not causation. It might be, as the researchers themselves point out, that those who desire to work those longer hours are those who are more susceptible to heart disease.

There is also the interesting point that, as working hours have fallen over the past couple of centuries then the incidence of heart disease has gone up. Yes, there are interesting reasons for that too (like we now live long enough to get heart disease) but it most certainly ain\’t \”long hours cause heart disease\” in a simple sense.

Won\’t stop people claiming it is though.

The costs of smoking

Report out today telling us all how much smoking costs business.

Smokers cost British companies more than £2bn ($3.2bn) last year, according to a study funded by the NHS and published on Friday.

In the first estimate of the direct cost to companies of staff who smoke, the London School of Economics said businesses lost £1.1bn from smoking-related illness absences, £914m from smoking breaks and £133m from fire damage. Indirect costs could be as high as a further £1.1bn.

So, err, half of the two billion comes from the costs of smoking breaks, not from hte costs of smoking.

This is thus showing us the costs of the smoking ban, not the costs of smoking.

Anyone remember what the figure they used for the costs of second hand smoke to business were? Higher or lower than £900 million?

E Numbers Hysteria

You really do have to hand it to our MPs and Lords: knowing arses from elbows is clearly an advanced manouvre for them.

All artificial colourings in food and soft drinks should be banned, a parliamentary committee urged yesterday in a report on the effect of diet on the brain.

The associate parliamentary food and health forum – a grouping of parliamentarians and outside experts such as nutritionists, doctors and the food industry – says at the end of a year-long inquiry that the Food Standards Agency should be taking a tougher line on E-numbers and additives, which some studies suggest may over-stimulate children\’s brains and make them hyperactive.

Now, it might be true that some of these chemicals are not quite what we want to feed into a growing brain. I would put the onus on parents to make this decision, but I\’m aware that there are those who might disagree. But that isn\’t my point here, rather, it\’s the insanity of their actual proposal.

For E numbers are not in fact some creation of the devil\’s spawn. It\’s simply a labelling system. There are certain things which are put into food and so that everyone knows what they can and cannot use when and where a single labelling system was drawn up for all in the EU. Not even I am against clarity through such cooperation (I might whine about the use of criminal law etc, but having information presented clearly is just fine by me).

Some E numbers do describe things made in the lab: others do not.

E140 Chlorophylls, Chlorophyllins:

Green colour occurs naturally in the cells of all plants and responsible for photosynthesis. A fairly unstable dye, which tends to fade easily (see E141). Not easy to obtain in a pure form and commercially available chloroyphyll usually contains other plant material impurities. The usual sources are nettles, spinach and grass with the chloroyphyll being extracted using acetone, ethanol, light petroleum, methylethylketone and diachloromethane. Lutein, E161b, may be extracted at the same time. Can be used for dyeing waxes and oils, used in medicines and cosmetics eg in chewing gum, fats and oils, ice cream, soaps, soups, sweets and, obviously, green vegetables. Has no maximum recommended daily intake and is not subject to any prohibitions.

We\’re going to ban the use of chlorophyll in food now, are we? Bye bye to all green vegetables then.

E160a Alpha-carotene, Beta-carotene, Gamma-carotene

Orange or yellow plant pigments, found mainly in carrots, green leafed vegetables and tomatoes, which the human body converts into \’Vitamin A\’ in the liver. Fades on exposure to light. Can be commercially manufactured in the laboratory but beta-carotene, with some alpha-carotene and gamma-carotene present, is normally extracted from carrots and other yellow or orange fruits and vegetables with hexane. Used in butter and soft margarines, coffee sponge cakes, milk products and soft drinks.

This is to go too? This is what is the stupidity: they\’ve confused the labelling system, the E numbers, with things that might do harm. But E numbers are simply a labelling scheme, nothing else. A blanket ban on the use of things with E numbers is insane.

E101 & E101a Riboflavin

Riboflavin is yellow or orange-yellow in colour and in addition to being used as a food colouring it is also used to fortify some foods. It can be found in such foods as baby foods, breakfast cereals, sauces, processed cheese, fruit drinks and vitamin-enriched milk products as well as being widely used in vitamin supplements. Also known as vitamin B2 occurs naturally in milk, cheese, leafy green vegetables, liver and yeast but exposure to light will destroy the Riboflavin in these natural sources. In processed foods it is very likely to be Genetically Modified as it can be produced synthetically using genetically modified Bacillus subtilis, altered to both increase the bacteria production of riboflavin and to introduce an antibiotic (ampicillin) resistance marker. It is an easily absorbed, water-soluble micronutrient with a key role in maintaining human health. Like the other B vitamins, it supports energy production by aiding in the metabolising of fats, carbohydrates and proteins. Vitamin B2 is also required for red blood cell formation and respiration, antibody production, and for regulating human growth and reproduction. It is essential for healthy skin, nails, hair growth and general good health, including regulating thyroid activity. Any excess is excreted in the urine but as the human body does not store Riboflavin it is thought deficiency is common. Riboflavin also helps in the prevention or treatment of many types of eye disorders, including some cases of cataracts. It may assist bloodshot, itching or burning eyes and abnormal sensitivity to light.

Cretins, simply cretins.

E150 Caramel

See?

Can we hang them all?

(Looking at the actual report, they took evidence on tartrazine alone and then decided that all artificial colourings should be banned. Swing bastards, swing.)

Joy! Joy

More bansturbation!

Motorists could be banned from smoking behind the wheel of their own cars while driving them as part of their job, it has emerged.

Isn\’t that wonderful? Your car, with no one else in it, becomes another place where you may not smoke. It gets better too:

Prof Richard West, the Government\’s leading smoking adviser, has called for a complete ban on smoking at the wheel.

He said: "It may seem draconian but the Government should legislate."

Not even the fig leaf about passive smoking is there. Just, I\’m agin it so it should be banned.

Now, where did the wife put that festive length of hempen rope she bought to lower my blood pressure….

Astonishing

Almost 13 million adults are risking their health by drinking too much because of a failure to appreciate both the increasing strength of alcoholic drinks and the trend for larger measures, Government statisticians have revealed.

No, not the fact they\’re now  saying that as wine has got stronger astonishing, now we need to define a large glass as three units, but this:

Men are advised to drink no more than 21 units per week and women only 14.

Just a few weeks ago it was revelaed that there is no medical basis for that advice at all. It was simply made up out of thin air. In fact, in order to have the same health risks as a teetotaller, men need to be consuming 60 units a week.

Now I don\’t mind information campagns about public health, but I would rather like them to be accurate. Consumption of alcohol follows (as with so many other things), in its health effects, a curve. A U shaped one. And the bottom of the U is well beyond what we\’re being told are the safe drinking limits.

So stop lying already, eh?

The Lollipop Lady

Ok, this seems fair enough. Lollipop ladies wear reflective coats in order to be seen, so if they\’re not wearing one then they shouldn\’t be doing the lollipop job. I\’m not saying I totally agree, but I can at least see the logic:

A lollipop lady has been banned from wearing festive fancy dress because of safety fears.

But after a complaint by two parents, the city council said she could not take children across the road unless she wore her reflective coat.

So, let\’s have a look at the costume:

\"\"

Erm, a reflective coat is actually going to be more visible than that? So, no, it\’s no reasonable and the \’elfn\’safety police should burn in hell.

How is This Possible?

A really rather wonderful scientific result:

Bar staff have seen huge health benefits from the ban on smoking in public places, a study by the Tobacco Control Collaborating Centre in Warwick – funded by Cancer Research UK – has found. Researchers tested the air quality in 40 pubs, bars and restaurants across the country and measured the level of cotinine – the metabolic byproduct of nicotine – in the blood of those who worked there.

Quite amazing how you can measure the effect of smoking in public places by measuring something on private property really, isn\’t it?