Archive for February 18th, 2010

Breath-holding record holder: 19 minutes, 20 seconds

| February 18, 2010 | 2 Replies
Breath-holding record holder:  19 minutes, 20 seconds

How long can you hold your breath? I once did it for 2 minutes and I thought I was doing something impressive. It turns out that people who train hard and use exotic techniques can hold their breath for extremely long periods of time. Beware, though, that it is a dangerous hobby.

Discovery News reports on the most recent record-breaker:

A Swiss freediver held his breath underwater for 19 minutes and 21 seconds, according to news reports this week. The gasp-inducing feat beat the previous world record by 19 seconds, and blew away the record of 17 minutes and four seconds that magician David Blaine set on Oprah Winfrey’s talk show in 2008.

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New Pew Study shows declining religious membership among younger Americans

| February 18, 2010 | 3 Replies
New Pew Study shows declining religious membership among younger Americans

Pew has just released a new study showing that young Americans are less religiously active than their elders:

By some key measures, Americans ages 18 to 29 are considerably less religious than older Americans. Fewer young adults belong to any particular faith than older people do today. They also are less likely to be affiliated than their parents’ and grandparents’ generations were when they were young. Fully one-in-four members of the Millennial generation – so called because they were born after 1980 and began to come of age around the year 2000 – are unaffiliated with any particular faith.

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The problem with politicians

| February 18, 2010 | Reply
The problem with politicians

Colin Beavan (No Impact Man) sums it up like this at his blog:

[T]he politics of Washington are defunct. The Democratic politicians want to beat the Republicans. The Republican ones want to beat the Democratic ones. They are, like the rest of us, scared for their jobs!

But the American people? We just want to get along with each other and solve problems. We want happy lives and to be kind to our neighbors. We want leaders who care about us more than their own careers.

Americans are often under the illusion that we have meaningful choices when we vote in national elections, but that is dangerously simplistic. Big money and commercial media pre-designate the candidates who qualify as “serious candidates” long before the citizens vote. Those candidates who prevail are those that have given sufficient winks and nods to big money such that they continue to get well-funded. To compound things, big money likes the status quo. Hence, Barack Obama’s continuing lovefest with Wall Street (Disclosure: I voted for Obama but I’m sorely disappointed–yet I still think he is far preferable to McCain-Palin).

There are no easy solutions to this problem. The start of a solution, in my opinion, is to give smart, “non-connected” and non-monied people a real chance to get elected. There are several “clean money” campaign reform proposals floating about (for details on one of these, see this post by Lawrence Lessig). The purpose of clean-money elections is the radical idea promoted by the Founding Fathers: that We the People would self-govern.

The topic Colin Beavan raises today is the most important political topic out there, in my opinion. Without an honest, open and self-critical deliberative process, we don’t actually have a democracy. With the current system of private-money elections (especially in the wake of Citizens United), we don’t have an honest, open and self-critical deliberate process. What we have instead, is what Beavan has described: a big expensive game where politicians do anything and say anything to maintain their power and perks.

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How Good Need Medical Evidence Be to Prevent Quackery?

| February 18, 2010 | 3 Replies
How Good Need Medical Evidence Be to Prevent Quackery?

Here is an interesting observation posted in a medical journal. It concludes:

Advocates of evidence based medicine have criticized the adoption of interventions evaluated by using only observational data. We think that everyone might benefit if the most radical protagonists of evidence based medicine organised and participated in a double blind, randomised, placebo controlled, crossover trial of the parachute.

So, do we really know if parachutes are better than a placebo for surviving skydiving? Alt-Med advocates are all over this one.

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The fearmongering strategy

| February 18, 2010 | Reply
The fearmongering strategy

At Newsweek, Daniel Klaidman describes fearmongering as a political strategy:

Americans are historically a tough lot. But the policies and rhetoric of the Bush-Cheney years, which set the tone for the current GOP attacks, are infantilizing: be very afraid, we’re told, and let the government take care of you. The tough-guy bluster has led to a permanent state of anxiety—and a slew of counterproductive policies, from harsh visa restrictions to waterboarding. Our politicians rail about apocalyptic threats while TSA officers pat down toddlers at the airport. The irony is that many potentially lethal terror attacks—from United Flight 93 to Richard Reid to the underwear bomber—have been foiled by regular citizens.

Echoes of this.

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