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Shooting at the Holocaust Museum in Washington

The Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. opened in 1993 as a memorial to the Jewish victims of the Nazi persecution during World War II. The museum contains belongings of some of the victims, film footage of witnesses, testimony of the atrocities committed by the Nazis, and pictures of the ghettos, gas chambers, and detention camps. The museum is a gruesome place that serves to remind us of the malice that one person can inflict on another.

On June 10, 2009, an 88-year old man who had a record as a white supremacist, brought a rifle into the museum and shot a guard. The shooter was immediately shot by security staff, thus preventing further chaos. At the time, there were many school children touring the museum and they fortunately escaped injury due to the fast action of the security staff.

In trying to find the motivation for the shooting, the news media have reported that the shooter had a long history of writing hateful racist and anti-Semitic diatribes, and that he had been arrested in 1981 for entering a Federal building with a handgun and a shotgun for the purpose of holding hostage the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board so that he could voice his opinions through the news media.

How is it that someone who emanates so much hatred and who has shown dangerous tendencies is free to walk the streets? It is equally incomprehensible that Muslims, Christians, and Jews should hate each other, given that the Biblical patriarch Abraham established the principles of monotheism practiced by all three religions. Frequently, Christians often forget that Jesus himself was Jewish. Is a harmonious world too much to hope for?

Learn about Famous Jews

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Lucky Numbers Gadget - New directions in the Internet

There is a revolution in the way people communicate with each other. Newspapers are getting thinner or going out of business. Television programs keep saying "go to our website for more details". Almost everybody has a cell phone, and cell phones have evolved into multi-function devices that, besides carrying voice messages, take pictures or act like Global Positioning System (GPS) devices that show maps and provide directions. The cell phones also can store and play your favorite music. Many of these advances are due to the way that the Internet is developing.

Google has become the major search engine in the world and neither Yahoo nor MSN (now Bing) comes close to the breadth and depth of coverage that Google offers. The greatest handicap for finding information has been the multiplicity of languages in the world. Google is making great strides in its statistical translation approach. A user can search in other languages and have the results translated into his native language. It is now possible to search information in Arabic or Russian even if you don't know these languages. The translations are somewhat rudimentary, but they are understandable. I can imagine that in twenty years many language barriers will disappear.

One of the latest trends in the Internet is the use of gadgets which perform functions such as displaying the weather, news, or other useful information. Gadgets are XML containers with HTML and JavaScript that may be easily manipulated within web pages. To get familiar with the technology, I developed the Lucky Numbers Gadget illustrated above. It is amazing what you can do with less than 90 lines of code. Anybody can now develop customized web pages by selecting the gadgets that they find most useful.

You can add the Lucky Numbers gadget to your iGoogle web page by pressing the button: Add to Google

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Nutrition of cruciferous Vegetables - Kale

Kale is a leafy green vegetable belonging to the Brassica family, a group of vegetables that includes cabbage, collard greens, and Brussels sprouts. Half a cup of chopped, boiled kale has only 18 calories, 30% of the daily requirement (RDA) of Vitamin C, and enough Vitamin A and Vitamin K for the whole day. Vitamin A is required for the formation of rhodopsin, a photoreceptor pigment in the retina. Vitamin K controls the formation of coagulation factors in the liver.

The sulfur-containing phytonutrients in cabbage, broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables have been shown to reduce the occurrence of a wide variety of cancers. It is thought that the sulfurous compounds activate detoxifing enzymes in the liver that help neutralize substances that are potentially carcinogenic.

A study found that people who ate the most cruciferous vegetables had a 29% lower risk of bladder cancer than those eating the least of this family of vegetables.[1] Another study found reduced intestinal polyps when the diet contained sulforaphane.[2] Sulforaphane is an isothiocyanate that is present abundantly in broccoli and cauliflower.

Kale, broccoli, and cabbage should be in your menu if you are trying to lose weight while maintaining good nutrition.

Learn more about vitamins

[1] Zhao H, Lin J, Grossman HB, Hernandez LM, Dinney CP, Wu X. Dietary isothiocyanates, GSTM1, GSTT1, NAT2 polymorphisms and bladder cancer risk. Int J Cancer. 2007 May 15;120(10):2208-13. 2007. PMID:17290402.

[2] Hu R, Khor TO, Shen G, Jeong WS, Hebbar V, Chen C, Xu C, Reddy B, Chada K, Kong AN. Cancer chemoprevention of intestinal polyposis in ApcMin/+ mice by sulforaphane, a natural product derived from cruciferous vegetable. Carcinogenesis. 2006 May 4; 2006. PMID:16675473.

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Ectomorph, Mesomorph, and Endomorph Body Types

Body Types

In the 1940's, psychologist William Herbert Sheldon proposed a classification of human physique into three categories. An ectomorph is a thin person with small muscles and a delicately built body. A mesomorph has well-defined muscles, large bones, and a torso that tapers to a well-defined waist. An endomorph has a rounded stocky body. The words endomorphic, mesomorphic and ectomorphic are still used to describe body types in association with weight training for the purpose of gaining muscle, but modern science is dispelling the idea that body shape is an intrinsic feature that cannot be altered. Only the bones seem to remain constant as a person gains or loses weight.

When I developed the Calorie Restriction Calculator, one of the criticisms was that it does not take into consideration the body types. If it were possible to quantify the body type, the calculation of %CR could be made more accurate. Recently, I came across some digital human modeling work done under Professor Zoran Popović at the University of Washington. His team has used measurements from 250 human body models and created a parametrization set that allows generation of a variety of applications for human body modeling, including: morphing, texture transfer, statistical analysis of shape, and the modification of multiple correlated parameters such as the weight and height of an individual.[1,2] The software makes it possible to visualize how persons look when they get fat or lose weight.

[1] Digital Humans. [link]
[2] The space of human body shapes: reconstruction and parameterization from range scans. [link]

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What is the difference between diets?

Before and After

As the waistlines of Americans expand, so do the number of diet books in library shelves. There is such a huge number of diet books, that it is impossible to figure out which one is the best. Every doctor who writes a book claims to have a superior diet, and all doctors criticize each other's diets. The average person is completely confused because they don't know whom to trust. The problem is compounded because anybody, even celebrities who know nothing of nutrition, can write diet books.

The purpose of a diet is to provide guidelines for healthful eating, but most diet books also give advice about how to lose excess weight. A basic diet is supposed to provide adequate amounts of protein, essential fatty acids, vitamins, and trace minerals. The total number of calories can then be regulated to allow weight loss or to maintain weight. The differences in the diets like Atkins, South Beach, Ornish, and others, depends on the proportions and sources of proteins and fats. The Atkins diet allows a variety of meats, whereas the Ornish diet is mostly vegetarian. The big differences in the diets seem to be:

How much exercise should you get? Some diets emphasize exercise as a way of burning extra calories and firming up muscles.

How much protein should you eat? Protein provides satiety and makes you less hungry. High protein diets like the Protein Power Plan or the Zone Diet say that approximately 30% of the calories should come from protein sources such as meats, poultry, fish, and dairy.

What percent of your diet should be fat? The range can be anywhere from 15% to 50%. The Ornish diet tends toward the lower end of the range. The types of fats are also important. Fats are structural components of the body. The brain, for example, consists of 60% fat. Hydrogenated fats and trans fats are harmful for the heart and the brain. Polyunsturated fats, like those in walnuts, reduce cholesterol levels, whereas saturated fats from animal fats and tropical oils like coconut and palm kernel, increase cholesterol levels.

How many calories should you eat? This depends on whether you want to lose weight or maintain weight for a specific level of activity. Sedentary people need fewer calories than people who exercise. One hour of vigorous exercise burns approximately 400 calories.

What proportion of carbohydrates should you eat? This usually is decided by the amount of protein and fat in the diet. The real question is what type of carbohydrates should be consumed. Starchy carbohydrates don't have enough vitamins and nutrients to meet normal requirements, and excess starch is stored as fat in the body. Leafy green and non-starchy vegetables are nutritionally superior.

How do you spread your calorie intake over time?
Some diets say that it better to eat five small meals throughout the day to minimize insulin spikes. Other diets advocate taking most of the calories in one main meal to get the body into a ketogenic, fat-burning mode during the fasting period.

The success of a diet to lose weight depends on being able to maintain a lower calorie intake without being deprived. This is easier to achieve with high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets.

Learn more about weight control and diets

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FDA warns Cheerios about cholesterol claims

Cheerios cholesterol claim

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sent a notice to General Mills, the maker of Cheerios, saying that the claims that the cereal lowers cholesterol and treats heart disease are inappropriate. The FDA allows food labels to highlight some health benefits, but the language of those statements is highly regulated.

One of the missions of the FDA is to protect the public from snake oil salesmen who want to make a buck selling fake elixirs for health and longevity. The FDA is heavily lobbied by the pharmaceutical industry, and the agency often rules against claims for natural products that would divert profits away from drug manufacturers. The claim from General Mills that Cheerios can "lower cholesterol 4 percent in 6 weeks" is objectionable to the FDA because companies are not allowed to quantify the benefit of foods.

We never hear the whole story. The level of cholesterol in the body is regulated by the balance of saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fatty acids in our diet. The level is also affected by the cholesterol in animal products that we eat, by hydrogenated fats, and by the amount of soluble fiber in our diet. Oats are a good source of soluble fiber, and it is an ingredient of Cheerios. (Learn more about controlling cholesterol)
Promise Fat Free Nonfat Margarine Promise Fat Free Nonfat Margarine

The FDA tries to protect consumers from false claims, but it does a very poor job. The rules for food labeling have so many loopholes, that PAM cooking spray, which is basically 100% fat, can claim that it can be used for "Fat Free Cooking" by specifying an unrealistically small serving size. Also, Promise Fat Free Nonfat Margarine can claim that a serving has 0 grams of fat by hiding all the fatty acids as mono- and diglycerides.

In 2003, I wrote a letter to the FDA asking for changes to the labeling rules to prevent these abuses, but my request was denied. You can read about it in the web pages about Food Labels.
Learn about Food Labels

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Foraging for mushrooms and bamboo shoots

Bamboo Shoots Bamboo Shoot cross section
Bamboo Shoots

After almost one week of continuous spring rains, the trees are green and the the ground is moist. These conditions promote the growth of mushrooms and bamboo. A nice walk in the woods will bring you closer to nature, burn up some calories and, if you are lucky, you can find some edible mushrooms, berries, or bamboo shoots.

Bamboo shoots are frequently used in Chinese cooking. They are also a favorite food of Panda Bears. Bamboo shoots are low in calories and contain a significant amount of B vitamins and minerals. 100 grams of raw bamboo shoots have only 27 calories and the following nutrients:
Nutrients in Bamboo Shoots

Next time that you go for a walk, keep your eyes open. You can enjoy nature, and perhaps find a nice edible treat.
Learn about the benefits of exercise.

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Swine flu forces students and parents to work from home

Don't Pollute e-commute

Many schools across the country have closed because of swine flu infections. This has forced some parents to stay at home to take care of the kids. These unexpected changes in schedules are a hardship for the parents and for the firms that employ them because it reduces productivity.

Some firms provide employees with the opportunity to work from home. The work-at-home programs may be called telecommuting, e-commuting, e-work, or telework. The firms that allow working from home may also provide equipment, such as computers, modems, and internet access. The most effective way to work from home requires a connection for the computer and a separate line for the telephone so that both can be used at the same time.

When a significant portion of the employees work from home, a company is able to reduce its office space. In addition, a company that allows telecommuting may be able to hire qualified individuals who live far away or who, because of disabilities or other obligations, may not be able to drive to the company location.

Telecommuting provides a "green" alternative to driving. You don't use gasoline. You don't have to fight traffic. You don't pollute and you reduce your carbon footprint. However, you need to have discipline to get your work done in spite of the distractions that can be found at home. You cannot just surf the internet or play solitaire and expect to get paid.

Learn more about working from home

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Native Americans wiped out by comet explosion over Canada

Clovis Spear Point
Clovis spear point

Approximately 15,000 years ago, the Earth started coming out of an ice age. There were glaciers several miles thick in North America which trapped great volumes of water, and the sea level was 130 meters (426 feet) lower than today. As the weather warmed, a land bridge opened between Alaska and Siberia in what is now the Bering strait. This allowed humans to walk from Asia to America and establish new colonies.

At the time, the wildlife in North America was like Africa. There were huge animals like mammoths, giant sloths, camels, and saber tooth tigers. The Clovis people, who had spread throughout what is now the United States, hunted these animals with finely-crafted flint spear points and arrow heads. And then, around 12,900 years ago, all the large animals disappeared from North America, and with them, the Clovis culture.

It was long thought that the Clovis people had annihilated the megafauna, but new studies reveal that the large animals and the Clovis people themselves were destroyed by a comet explosion over south-east Canada, around the great lakes. The explosion was so bright and so intense that it ignited much of the vegetation of North America. The forest fires created a layer of black dirt which became mixed with a thin dusting of microscopic diamonds from the comet.[1,2] The smoke and dust from the impact blocked the light of the sun for many years and the global temperature dropped, creating a rapid return to glacial conditions. Without vegetation, the large herbivores could not survive, and the carnivores were left with nothing to eat. The catastrophe started what is now called the Younger Dryas cool interval, which was a period of cold weather lasting approximately 1300 years.
band of dark sediment at Murray Spring, Arizona Younger Dryas cooling event

A band of dark sediment at Murray Spring, Arizona contains evidence for a cosmic impact that started an abrupt period of global cooling and a mass extinction in North America. Similar deposits have been found in five other widely separated locations: Bull Creek, Oklahoma, Gainey, Michigan, Topper, South Carolina, as well as Lake Hind, Manitoba, and Chobot, Alberta, in Canada. The highest concentrations of extraterrestrial impact materials occur in the Great Lakes area.
Geologic and Biological Timeline of the Earth

[1] D. J. Kennett, et al., Nanodiamonds in the Younger Dryas Boundary Sediment Layer, Science 2 January 2009: Vol. 323. no. 5910, p. 94. DOI: 10.1126/science.1162819 [link]

[2] University of Cincinnati. "Exploding Asteroid Theory Strengthened By New Evidence Located In Ohio, Indiana." ScienceDaily 3 July 2008. [link]

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Swine flu panic causes bizarre behavior

Egypt began slaughtering the roughly 300,000-350,000 pigs in the country Wednesday as a precautionary measure against the spread of swine flu even though no cases have been reported there yet, according to Health Ministry spokesman Abdel Rahman. This is a fairly useless measure because the mutated Influenza A H1N1 virus responsible for the outbreak can be transmitted from person to person and does not require a pig host.

Israel's ultra-Orthodox deputy health minister, Yakov Litzman, has stated that the swine flu is unkosher. "We won't call it swine flu. We will call it Mexican flu.", he said. Pork is considered unclean by Orthodox Jews, and it is a constant source of friction in Israel between the Kosher community and those who eat pork. Indeed, calling the disease the "Mexican Flu" will make everyone feel better, and a pig by any other name will smell as sweet.

The first case of the flu in Mexico was a four year old boy who is now recuperating. Mexico's Health Minister, Jose Angel Cordova, said that in addition to 151 deaths, another 2000 persons had been admitted to the hospital with "grave pneumonia", and at least half of them had since made a full recovery. It is thought that the virus mutated into a virulent form at a village called La Gloria in the state of Veracruz, where residents have long complained about the smell and flies from a nearby pig farm. The facility, Granjas Carroll de Mexico, is partly owned by Smithfield Foods, a Virginia-based US company and the world's largest producer and processor of pork products.

Learn about hygiene

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