Not sustainable

In 2012 the top 1 percent of American households collected 22.5 percent of the nation’s income, the highest total since 1928.

The richest 10 percent of Americans now take a larger slice of the pie than in 1913, at the close of the Gilded Age, owning more than 70 percent of the nation’s wealth. And half of that is owned by the top 1 percent.

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The revenge business

In The Princess Bride, Mandy Patinkin gets the greatest line:  “My name is Inigo Montoya.  You killed my father.  Prepare to die.” During a visit to CIA headquarters recently, he reportedly got a lecture from the man whose role he’s now playing on TV, John Brennan, about keeping America’s relentless extremists at bay (as the New York Times put it).  The Times doesn’t say whether Patinkin used one of his trademark lines on Brennan: “I have been in the revenge business so long, now that it’s over, I don’t know what to do with the rest of my life.”

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Going boldly

The Associated Press reports:  NASA’s Voyager I probe has left the solar system, boldly going where no machine has gone before. Thirty-six years after it rocketed away from Earth, the plutonium-powered spacecraft has escaped the sun’s influence and is now cruising 11-1/2 billion miles away in interstellar space, in the vast, cold emptiness between the stars, NASA said Thursday.

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A different kind of “enabling”

U.S. Government agencies charged with “protecting” us are, according to reports, working long and hard to make sure that our on-line activities are not protected.  Documents released by former intell officer Edward Snowden indicate that NSA is sabotaging all kinds of measures intended to make the internet safe for communications and commerce.  According to the documents, the agency has built “backdoors” into systems, to enable it to circumvent security, and has even broken the SSL protocols that encrypt a lot of our on-line activity.  A “Sigint Enabling Project” costing $254.9 million a year “actively engages the U.S. and foreign IT industries to covertly influence and/or overtly leverage their commercial products’ designs” to make them “exploitable” or hackable, according to the documents.  Google pushed back on the assertion of an NSA back door into its system, but the company admitted “We provide user data to governments only in accordance with the law.”  (It didn’t say whose interpretation of the law it abides by.)

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Intriguing research on obesity

Researchers have fund that, in the words of the New York Times, “The trillions of bacteria that live in the gut — helping digest foods, making some vitamins, making amino acids — may help determine if a person is fat or thin.”  Scientists were puzzled by pairs of human twins in which one was obese and other other lean.  They took “gut bacteria” from both of them and put them, separately, into mice.  The mice with bacteria from fat twins grew fat; those that got bacteria from lean twins stayed lean.

And then … they did more.  They created mouse food that was “healthy” — with fruits and vegetables and low fats — and that was less healthy — with no fruits or vegetables and with lots of fat, and they fed them to the mice with the twins’ bacteria.  The result:  The fat mice that got food high in fat and low in fruits and vegetables kept the gut bacteria from the fat twins and remained fat. The thin twins’ gut bacteria took over only when the mice got pellets that were rich in fruits and vegetables and low in fat.

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Fearing big business more than big government

As the media run story after story about how the U.S. Government is building systems that give it access to any and all of their electronic activity (e-mail, purchases, voip, etc.), the Pew Internet Center released a study today indicating that a whopping 86 percent have used various tools on the internet to conceal their identity.  According to the study, people have something to hide – at least from complete strangers trying to profit from knowing what they do online. They are trying to clean up their digital footprints by clearing browsing histories, deleting social media posts, using virtual networks to conceal their Internet Protocol addresses, and even, for a few, using encryption tools. Sara Kiesler, an author of the report and a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, said “It’s not just a small coterie of hackers. Almost everyone has taken some action to avoid surveillance.”

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Irish Emigration

Ireland’s Central Statistics Office yesterday released figures showing an extraordinary rate of emigration — driven by the financial crisis.  Almost 400,000 people have left Ireland since 2008.  In the 12-month period from April 2012 to April 2013, one person was leaving the country to live abroad every six minutes.  Most are going to the UK, Australia and Canada in search of work.  A lot of Irish have returned home during the past five years as well — about 277,000 of them.  That translates into a net out-migration of about 120,000.

For a country of about 4.5 million people, this means a net loss of 2.5 percent of the population, no?  If I’ve got the math right, in the U.S. that rate would mean 7.8million people.

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Tipping isn’t enough

A paper entitled “Cleaning House: The Impact of Information Technology Monitoring on Employee Theft and Productivity” — by three academics — studied how staff at 392 restaurants in 39 states stole from their employers.  Other studies estimated that employees stole 1 percent of revenue, which is a lot in a business that typically works on a 2 to 5 percent profit margin.  “Theft alert” software was installed in the restaurants, and the scope of the pilfering became clearer:  after installing the monitoring software, the revenue per restaurant increased by an average of $2,982 a week, or about 7 percent.

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Quiet, please

From an op-ed in today’s New York Times:  Our capacity to tune out noises — a relatively recent adaptation — may itself pose a danger, since it allows us to neglect the physical damage that noise invariably wreaks. A Hyena (Hypertension and Exposure to Noise Near Airports) study published in 2009 examined the effects of aircraft noise on sleeping subjects. The idea was to see what effect noise had, not only on those awakened by virtual fingernails raking the blackboard of the night sky, but on the hardy souls who actually slept through the thunder of overhead jets.

The findings were clear: even when people stayed asleep, the noise of planes taking off and landing caused blood pressure spikes, increased pulse rates and set off vasoconstriction and the release of stress hormones. Worse, these harmful cardiovascular responses continued to affect individuals for many hours after they had awakened and gone on with their days.

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A man of greater faith

A former physician in India was troubled that sorcerers, gurus, babas, astrologers, godmen and other mystical entrepreneurs — usually with a religious bent — were cheating and manipulating people who went to them with problems.  He was an advocate for banning animal sacrifice, magical treatments for snake bites, and the sale of magic stones, according to the New York Times.  It all ended last week, when assassins shot him at point-blank range.

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