Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Eating Your Veggies: Not As Good For You?

By M.J. Stephey

The Gist:

If the economy isn't grim enough for you, just check out the February issue of the Journal of HortScience, which contains a report on the sorry state of American fruits and veggies. Apparently produce in the U.S. not only tastes worse than it did in your grandparents' days, it also contains fewer nutrients — at least according to Donald R. Davis, a former research associate with the Biochemical Institute at the University of Texas, Austin. Davis claims the average vegetable found in today's supermarket is anywhere from 5% to 40% lower in minerals (including magnesium, iron, calcium and zinc) than those harvested just 50 years ago. (Read about Americans' Incredible, Edible Front Lawns.)

Highlight Reel:

1. On the Difficulty of Comparing "Then" and "Now:" Davis is quick to note that historical data can sometimes be misleading, if not altogether inaccurate. Take early measurements of iron in foods: because scientists failed to sufficiently remove clinging soil, iron levels appeared unusually high in certain vegetables like spinach, (which gave rise to the myth that it contained exorbitant amounts of the mineral — a myth further propagated by the popular cartoon character, Popeye). Then again, good historical data provides the only real-world evidence of changes in foods over time, and such data does exist — one farm in Hertfordshire, England, for example, has archived its wheat samples since 1843.

2. On the So-Called "Dilution Effect:" Today's vegetables might be larger, but if you think that means they contain more nutrients, you'd be wrong. Davis writes that jumbo-sized produce contains more "dry matter" than anything else, which dilutes mineral concentrations. In other words, when it comes to growing food, less is more. Scientific papers have cited one of the first reports of this effect, a 1981 study by W.M. Jarrell and R.B. Beverly in Advances in Agronomy, more than 180 times since its publication, "suggesting that the effect is widely regarded as common knowledge." (See pictures of fruit.)

Less studied, though, is the "genetic dillution effect," in which selective breeding to increase crop yield has led to declines in protein, amino acids, and as many as six minerals in one study of commercial broccoli grown in 1996 and '97 in South Carolina. Because nearly 90% of dry matter is carbohydrates, "when breeders select for high yield, they are, in effect, selecting mostly for high carbohydrate with no assurance that dozens of other nutrients and thousands of phytochemicals will all increase in proportion to yield."

2. On the "Industrialization" of Agriculture: Thanks to the growing rise of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, modern crops are being harvested faster than ever before. But quick and early harvests mean the produce has less time to absorb nutrients either from synthesis or the soil, and minerals like potassium (the "K" in N-P-K fertilizers) often interfere with a plant's ability to take up nutrients. Monoculture farming practices — another hallmark of the Big Ag industry — have also led to soil-mineral depletion, which, in turn, affects the nutrient content of crops.

The Lowdown:

If you're still not buying the whole "organic-is-better" argument, this study might convince you otherwise. As Davis points out, more than three billion people around the world suffer from malnourishment and yet, ironically, efforts to increase food production have actually produced food that is less nourishing. Fruits seem to be less affected by genetic and environmental dilution, but one can't help but wonder how nutritionally bankrupt veggies can be avoided. Supplementing them is problematic, too: don't look to vitamin pills, as recent research indicates that those aren't very helpful either.

The Verdict: Skim

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Semiconductor Tech Diagnoses Eye Disease Over the Internet

By Alexis Madrigal

An imaging analysis technique developed to find defects in semiconductors is being used to diagnose the eye problems associated with diabetes over the internet.

Pictures of diabetic patients' retinas, the inner surface of the eye, are uploaded to a server that compares them to a database of thousands of other images of healthy and diseased eyes. Algorithms can assign a disease level to the new eye image by looking at the same factors, mainly damage to blood vessels, that an eye doctor would.

Right now, ophthalmologist Edward Chaum of the University of Tennessee double checks the system's work, but he expects the algorithms to be diagnosing patients on its own within three months.

"At that point, the system becomes completely automated with just oversight from me," Chaum said. "That's unique. There isn't anything like that going on anywhere in the world."

Chaum's work goes beyond telemedicine, in which physicians connect to patients through data networks, to automated medicine. There are huge advantages to the system: Chaum is expensive, while a bit of computer processing power is cheap. Also, like other telemedicine systems, it moves images over the internet, instead of patients through a health care network, which is easier for everyone involved. Patients get faster, cheaper care and doctors can spend their time treating patients that computers have already spotted as needing help. Increasing acceptance of these types of technologies could mean better medical care for people in areas of the country and world in which access to doctors is limited.

"We don't want to manage the patients, we want to manage the images [of their eyes] and leverage the power of the connectivity of the internet and image analysis methods," Chaum said. "We collect large numbers of images and manage that data and do the screening through data processing."

More than 25 million Americans suffer from diabetes, which, if left untreated, can cause blindness, among other physical problems. The huge numbers of people who need to be screened for diabetes-linked eye problems have created a problem that our health care system, and its relatively small number of ophthalmologists, is not well-structured to solve. Because of the time and expense involved, only half the people who should be getting screened so they won't go blind actually go in for tests. But new technology could help, reducing the cost and increasing the availability of screening for the eye problems that impair the vision of thousands of patients each year.

In the rural, poor areas of the Mississippi Delta where the special internet-linked retinal cameras are being installed, preventative care could be transformed for a population in which diabetes affects up to 20 percent of the population.

"Basically, we're putting these cameras in communities in which there are no eye doctors," Chaum said. "Certainly, there are no retina specialists who can diagnose and refer those patients in a way that makes sense to get them in for the care that they need at the time that they need it."

The project spun out of a chance visit by Chaum to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. He listened to Ken Tobin, an engineer at the lab, who'd developed the image-processing ideas for the semiconductor industry. In that world, they'd used huge databases filled with images of defective products to help engineers spot similar types of failures.

As Tobin described his work looking for defects in the wafers to the visiting Tennessee faculty, Chaum realized the same image-recognition system could be geared to find diseased eyes by using his huge database of retinal pictures (like those at the top of this story).

"As he was describing his methodology to me, it became very clear that what he was doing was exactly what I do as a physician when I'm examining a patient with diabetic retinopathy," Chaum said. "I look for specific features that are present in that retina and I go into my own [mental] library — thousands and thousands of patients I've seen over the eyars — to say, 'This is diabetic retinopathy of a certain level.'"

After several years of collaboration, Chaum has successfully transferred that knowledge from his brain into the server that does the calculations.

"The computer is a reflection of my perspective," Chaum said.

Now, Tobin claims that the system correctly identifies between 90 and 98 percent of the diabetic patients, tagging patients on a scale from healthy to severe versions of the disease.

"We're looking for lesions. They are like the defects on a semiconductor device. White spots or dark spots," Tobin said. "By finding those and knowing how many there are, and certain combinations of bright and dark lesions, we can tell not just whether they have the disease but how bad it is."

The retinal images are particularly well-suited for analysis by computers. Tobin describes them as nearly two-dimensional with well-defined areas of light and dark. Other areas of the body are tougher. Mammograms and lung X-rays, for example, look at areas with more depth and less well-defined disease indicators.

"In a chest x-ray, you are looking for things that are sort of cloud-shaped amongst other cloud-shaped objects," Tobin said. "It's not really something where it's at a point where it could replace an oncologist or radiologist."

That's why automated diagnosis faces an uphill battle for widespread acceptance in the health care industry. The presence of a doctor just seems necessary — and institutions are loathe to take chances with a computer misdiagnosis when doctors do a generally adequate job.

It doesn't help automated diagnosis that, as described in a review article on the use of computers in diagnosis, early missteps led many medical practitioners to write off the technique based on outdated technology from the previous decades. One doctor wrote, "We do not see much promise in the development of computer programs to simulate the decision-making of a physician."

The other big hurdle is that insurance companies require a doctor's sign-off for reimbursement. Practically, that's a deal-breaker for most clinics.

Chaum and Tobin's automated system could be groundbreaking in providing the first in-the-field test of an automated diagnostic system that the pair are confident will work. That could turn some heads in the medical field and get more doctors thinking about how to treat more patients for less money by using technology.

"What we're trying to show is that at least in a screening environment, we can take the ophthalmologist out of the loop," Tobin said.

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Recession threatens to burn out pot clubs

By Tamara Barak Aparton

Business at The Green Cross medical marijuana dispensary has slowed due to the poor economy.

SAN FRANCISCO – One might guess that tough economic times would only fuel the desire for mind-altering substances. For San Francisco’s cannabis clubs, however, nothing could be further from the truth.

The deepening economic crisis has hit the dispensaries hard, forcing the nonprofit collectives to cut staff, business hours and donations to charities.

Charlie Alazraie, manager of Bay Area Safe Alternatives, said business has dropped about 60 percent since summer, as the economy forces patients to buy smaller quantities. Alazraie had to let go of one full-time employee and two part-time workers at the small Western Addition collective.

Also halted were donations to soup kitchens and low-cost health clinics that serve many of BASA’s patients. The previously profitable collective was hit with a penalty last quarter after paying their sales tax late for the first time.

“This year we’re going to be so much in the red, I don’t want to find out. I know it’s going to be ugly,” Alazraie said. “We’re in arrears with our vendors, with architects, with everything.”

The collective has always had a commitment to provide free medical marijuana for those in impossible situations — people who are critically ill and living in poverty were subsidized with money set aside from sales. In the past, the number of people who qualified hovered around 36. Today, there are 60.

The recession hit right after many San Francisco pot clubs had spent tens of thousands of dollars to comply with legislation passed in 2005 requiring them to meet city permit regulations.

Kevin Reed, founder of the Green Cross, which delivers medical marijuana to patients in San Francisco, said his sales are down 25 percent in the past 40 days, and dropped 45 percent in the past two weeks.

To survive, the collective cut its hours and cut its 12 employees’ pay by $2 an hour.

“It’s amazing to me,” Reed said. “It’s an industry I never thought could be affected.”

Reed said he thought marijuana would be a recession-proof product, much like alcohol.

“I always heard that if the economy went bad, people would be depressed,” he said. “The whole theory got blown out the window for me.”

The cost of the pot hasn’t risen, but the $300-an-ounce price tag has become a heavy burden for people who have lost their jobs and cut back on expenses. Insurance does not cover medicinal marijuana.

“The only busy day we’ve had in the past 40 days is when we offered a one-third off discount for veterans,” Reed said. “It seemed like half the veterans in the state signed up.”

Green sector

The recession is weighing on medical pot sales in The City.

30 Known medical marijuana dispensaries (clubs and delivery services) in San Francisco

2 Known medical marijuana dispensaries (clubs and delivery services) in San Mateo

$103 Cost of state medical marijuana card

$300 Approximate cost of an ounce of medical marijuana

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OCEANSIDE: 'Miracle' recovery astounds man's family

By PAUL SISSON - Staff Writer

Mike Connelly is greeted by his wife, Loris, at Tri-City Medical Center on Monday. (Photo by Bill Wechter - staff photographer)

OCEANSIDE ---- Mike Connelly's family and many of his nurses are calling him a miracle man ---- and doctors are hard-pressed to disagree.

The 56-year-old Vista man's heart stopped in late January and he lay in a coma for 96 hours before his family tearfully gave the OK for physicians at Tri-City Medical Center to disconnect life support.

That's when Connelly woke up.

His stepson, Mike Cooper, was reading Scripture beside Connelly's hospital bed last week when he saw a tear slide down the man's cheek.

Cooper said he didn't think that was significant until he left the room and started walking down the hallway, only to hear shouts from a family member still at Connelly's side.

"He said Mike was responding," Cooper said. "I didn't believe him, but I went back in there, and it was true. You would say his name, and he would turn his head toward you. It was a miracle."

Though doctors had pronounced Connelly's case hopeless and said his brain would never recover, today he is showing steady progress. Those same doctors say Connelly seems headed for a full recovery.

Martin Nielsen, Connelly's pulmonary doctor, said it is not a stretch to call the sudden recovery miraculous.

"When we get a guy like Mike Connelly, it's almost like a miracle," Nielsen said. "I've never seen anybody come back like he has."

Connelly's ordeal started at his home around 6 a.m. Jan. 31, when he developed an arrhythmia ---- an electrical short circuit in the heart muscle that causes the vital organ to stop beating, usually with no warning.

Connelly's wife, Loris, said she awoke to the sound of choking.

She found her husband slumped forward in his easy chair, a half-eaten bowl of Raisin Bran in his lap, in the living room of the couple's Vista apartment.

At 6 feet 8 inches and more than 250 pounds, Connelly is not easy to move.

His wife was unable to get him out of his chair and onto the floor by herself.

"I found him totally unconscious," she recalled Monday. "I couldn't find a pulse. I couldn't find any air. He wasn't breathing."

Fearing her husband was dead, Loris Connelly called 911. According to NorthComm fire dispatch records, the call came in at 6:10 a.m. and paramedics arrived at the apartment on Shadowridge Drive at 6:16 a.m.

Nielsen said that when paramedics arrived, Connelly's heart had stopped beating.

He said an electrocardiogram tape recorded during resuscitation efforts showed that paramedics performed CPR and delivered multiple shocks with a portable defibrillator for about 35 minutes before they were able to get the man's heart beating again.

Although no one knows exactly how long Connelly's brain went without oxygen, Nielsen said it had to be at least 10 minutes. That length of time, he said, usually results in severe brain damage if a patient ever regains consciousness.

"Generally, the rule of thumb is if you go for more than four minutes without oxygen, you will see severe damage to the brain," Nielsen said.

Paramedics drove the unconscious man to Tri-City Medical Center, where doctors decided that inducing hypothermia was Connolly's best chance for survival.

They used special cooling blankets to drop his temperature from the normal 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit to about 93 degrees.

The cold, Nielsen explained, helps keep the brain from swelling and has been shown in clinical studies to reduce brain damage.

After 24 hours of cooling, doctors tried to bring Connelly out of an induced coma, but every time they did, he suffered seizures.

Seizures, Nielsen said, are usually a sign that a patient is not going to recover. The family prepared for the worst, but prayed nonetheless.

Connelly woke up a few days later.

Sitting in his hospital room Monday, Connelly conversed with family members and joked with nurses, some who have taken to calling him the "miracle man."

He said his chest aches from the CPR.

"Judging by the way my sternum feels, I'm pretty lucky," he said. "This is all still sinking in, and I think it will be for a long time."

In the 12 days since he awoke, Connelly has suffered muscle spasms ---- some violent ---- that have only recently begun so subside, his wife said.

Loris Connelly said she will always cherish the moment she saw her husband come around.

"When I finally heard the word 'hope,' that's the best word I ever heard," she said.

Family friends set up a "miracle man" trust fund at Wells Fargo Bank to help the Connellys defray the cost of his long hospital stay.

Donations can be made care of Marilyn Cipriani, 1075 Shadowridge Drive. Unit 70, Vista, CA 92081.

Contact staff writer Paul Sisson at (760) 901-4087 or

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Feeling frazzled? 8 ways to decrease stress

Music can have a calming effect on the brain, whether you're facing a medical procedure or just trying to wind down before bedtime.

By Elizabeth Svoboda

Poor cortisol: It means well but just doesn't know when to quit. Produced by your adrenal glands, this "stress hormone" helps regulate blood pressure and the immune system during a sudden crisis, whether a physical attack or an emotional setback. This helps you to tap into your energy reserves and increases your ability to fight off infection.

Trouble is, relentless stress can keep this survival mechanism churning in high gear, subverting the hormone's good intentions. Chronically high cortisol levels can cause sleep problems, a depressed immune response, blood sugar abnormalities, and even abdominal weight gain. "When cortisol spikes, it tells the body to eat something with a lot of calories — a great survival tactic if you need energy to flee a predator but not if you're fretting over how to pay bills," says nutritional biochemist Shawn Talbott, PhD, author of "The Cortisol Connection."

Fortunately, an antidote to the body's fight-or-flight mode has evolved: the relaxation response. Here are eight surprising ways to invoke it — and in some cases, cut your cortisol levels almost in half.

Cut cortisol 20 percent
Say "Om."
Subjects who practiced Buddhist meditation significantly decreased both cortisol and blood pressure in a six-week Thai study. Similarly, participants who meditated daily for four months decreased the hormone by an average of 20 percent in a study at Maharishi University, while levels in the nonmeditating control group actually went up slightly. Visit to learn meditation's other stress-relieving benefits.

Cut cortisol elevation 66 percent
Make a great iPod mix.
Music can have a calming effect on the brain, especially while you're facing down a major stressor. When doctors at Japan's Osaka Medical Center played tunes for a group of patients undergoing colonoscopies, the patients' cortisol levels rose less than those of others who underwent the same procedure in a quiet room. Even if an invasive gastrointestinal exam isn't in your immediate future, you can forestall cortisol spikes in other stressful situations — when hosting dinner for your in-laws, for instance — by queueing up background music. And to wind down faster at bedtime, listen to something soothing instead of watching TV.

Cut cortisol 50 percent
Hit the sack early — or take a nap. What's the difference between getting six hours of sleep instead of the suggested eight? "Fifty percent more cortisol in the bloodstream," Talbott says. When a group of pilots slept six hours or less for seven nights while on duty, their cortisol levels increased significantly and stayed elevated for two days, found a study at Germany's Institute for Aerospace Medicine. The recommended eight hours of nightly shut-eye allows your body enough time to recover from the day's stresses, Talbott says. When you fall short of the mark, take a nap the next day — Pennsylvania State University researchers found that a midday snooze cut cortisol levels in subjects who'd lost sleep the previous night.

Cut cortisol 47 percent
Sip some black tea.
The "cup that cheers" has deep associations with comfort and calm — just think of how the English revere their late-afternoon teatime. As it turns out, science confirms the connection: When volunteers at University College London were given a stressful task, the cortisol levels of those who were regular black-tea drinkers fell by 47 percent within an hour of completing the assignment, while others who drank fake tea experienced only a 27 percent drop. Study author Andrew Steptoe, PhD, suspects that naturally occurring chemicals such as polyphenols and flavonoids may be responsible for tea's calming effects.

Cut cortisol 39 percent
Hang out with a funny friend. The pal who keeps you in stitches can do more than distract you from your problems — her very presence may help temper your hormonal stress response. Simply anticipating laughter is enough to reduce cortisol levels by nearly half, according to researchers at Loma Linda University. (If your favorite Tina Fey clone can't meet for coffee, you may be able to achieve the same stress-melting effect by popping in a DVD of "The Office" or "Groundhog Day.")

Cut cortisol 31 percent
Schedule a massage. A little pampering can rub your stress levels the right way. After several weeks of massage therapy, subjects' cortisol levels decreased by nearly one-third, on average, according to studies at the University of Miami School of Medicine and elsewhere. In addition to keeping cortisol under control, massage sessions reduce stress by promoting production of dopamine and serotonin, the same "feel good" hormones released when we socialize with pals or do something fun.

Cut cortisol 25 percent
Do something spiritual. Religious ritual fortifies many people against everyday pressures, and it can also lower cortisol secretion, report University of Mississippi researchers. Churchgoing study subjects had lower levels of the stress hormone, on average, than those who did not attend services at all. If organized religion isn't of interest to you, try developing your spiritual side by taking a walk in nature's "cathedral" — in the woods or along a beach — or volunteering for a charity.

Cut cortisol 12 percent to 16 percent
Chew a piece of gum. Next time you feel frazzled, try popping a stick of gum into your mouth to instantly defuse tension, suggest new findings from Northumbria University in the United Kingdom. While under moderate stress, gum chewers had salivary cortisol levels
that were 12 percent lower than nonchewers and also reported greater alertness than their gum-deprived counterparts. One possible mechanism: In past experiments, chewing gum increased blood flow and neural activity in select brain regions.

Copyright© 2009 Rodale Inc.

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A Promising Treatment for Athletes, in Blood


Peter DaSilva for The New York Times

Dr. Allan K. Mishra, examines a tube containing platelet rich plasma used to mend tendons and ligaments without surgery.

Two of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ biggest stars, Hines Ward and Troy Polamalu, used their own blood in an innovative injury treatment before winning the Super Bowl. At least one major league pitcher, about 20 professional soccer players and perhaps hundreds of recreational athletes have also undergone the procedure, commonly called platelet-rich plasma therapy.

Experts in sports medicine say that if the technique’s early promise is fulfilled, it could eventually improve the treatment of stubborn injuries like tennis elbow and knee tendinitis for athletes of all types.

The method, which is strikingly straightforward and easy to perform, centers on injecting portions of a patient’s blood directly into the injured area, which catalyzes the body’s instincts to repair muscle, bone and other tissue. Most enticing, many doctors said, is that the technique appears to help regenerate ligament and tendon fibers, which could shorten rehabilitation time and possibly obviate surgery.

Research into the effects of platelet-rich plasma therapy has accelerated in recent months, with most doctors cautioning that more rigorous studies are necessary before the therapy can emerge as scientifically proven. But many researchers suspect that the procedure could become an increasingly attractive course of treatment for reasons medical and financial.

“It’s a better option for problems that don’t have a great solution — it’s nonsurgical and uses the body’s own cells to help it heal,” said Dr. Allan Mishra, an assistant professor of orthopedics at Stanford University Medical Center and one of the primary researchers in the field. “I think it’s fair to say that platelet-rich plasma has the potential to revolutionize not just sports medicine but all of orthopedics. It needs a lot more study, but we are obligated to pursue this.”

Dr. Neal ElAttrache, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ team physician, used platelet-rich plasma therapy in July on a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in the throwing elbow of pitcher Takashi Saito. Surgery would have ended Mr. Saito’s season and shelved him for about 10 to 14 months; he instead returned to pitch in the September pennant race without pain.

Dr. ElAttrache said he could not be certain that the procedure caused the pitcher’s recovery — about 25 percent of such cases heal on their own, he said — but it was another encouraging sign for the nascent technique, which doctors in the field said could help not just injuries to professional athletes but the tendinitis and similar ailments found in the general population.

“For the last several decades, we’ve been working on the mechanical effects of healing — the strongest suture constructs, can we put strong anchors in?” Dr. ElAttrache said. “But we’ve never been able to modulate the biology of healing. This is addressing that issue. It deserves a lot more study before we can say that it works with proper definitiveness. The word I would use is promising.”

Platelet-rich plasma is derived by placing a small amount of the patient’s blood in a filtration system or centrifuge that rotates at high speed, separating red blood cells from the platelets that release proteins and other particles involved in the body’s self-healing process, doctors said. A teaspoon or two of the remaining substance is then injected into the damaged area. The high concentration of platelets — from 3 to 10 times that of normal blood — often catalyzes the growth of new soft-tissue or bone cells. Because the substance is injected where blood would rarely go otherwise, it can deliver the healing instincts of platelets without triggering the clotting response for which platelets are typically known.

“This could be a method to stimulate wound healing in areas that are not well-vascularized, like ligaments and tendons,” said Dr. Gerjo van Osch, a researcher in the department of orthopedics at Erasmus University Medical Center in the Netherlands. “I call it a growth-factor cocktail — that’s how I explain it.”

Dr. van Osch and several other experts said they had used the procedure as a first option before surgery for reasons beyond its early results. There is little chance for rejection or allergic reaction because the substance is autologous, meaning it comes from the patient’s own body; the injection carries far less chance for infection than an incision and leaves no scar, and it takes only about 20 minutes, with a considerably shorter recovery time than after surgery.

Because of those apparent benefits, the consensus among doctors is that the procedure is worth pursuing. However, several doctors emphasized that platelet-rich plasma therapy as it stands now appeared ineffective in about 20 to 40 percent of cases, depending on the injury. But they added that because the procedure costs about $2,000 — compared with $10,000 to $15,000 for surgery — they expected that with more refinement, insurance companies would eventually not only authorize the use of PRP therapy but even require it as a first course of treatment.

Dr. Mishra said that he was particularly encouraged by PRP therapy’s effectiveness on chronic elbow tendinitis, or tennis elbow. For a 2006 study published by The American Journal of Sports Medicine, he used the treatment on 15 of 20 patients who were considering surgery; the five others received only anesthetic. Two months later, the patients receiving PRP therapy noted a 60 percent improvement in pain measurements, compared with 16 percent for the control group.

Dr. van Osch is performing a double-blind, randomized study on 54 patients with Achilles’ tendon injuries, while doctors in the United States, India, Sweden and elsewhere are performing formal trials on PRP therapy’s performance with rotator-cuff shoulder strains, partial knee-ligament tears and bone fractures. Studies also are examining PRP therapy’s possible use in conjunction with surgery, which a group in Spain used on Achilles’ tendon ruptures and found recovery time reduced.

“The guy who plays softball on weekends, the woman who runs a 5k race every now and then, they suffer very common injuries,” said Samir Mehta, the chief of the orthopaedic trauma service at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania who has performed PRP therapy on nine patients. “It’s for those people that we hope that this therapy’s uses can be more apparent.”

The possibilities of platelet-rich plasma are certainly apparent to the Steelers. Mr. Polamalu, an All-Pro safety, had the procedure for a strained calf after a playoff game and, although the injury was not considered particularly serious, he returned healthy enough the next Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens to return an interception 40 yards for a touchdown.

The technique played its most glaring role with Mr. Ward, a receiver who left that Baltimore game in the first quarter with a sprain of the medial collateral ligament in his right knee. The next day, he was injected with a form of PRP therapy called autologous conditioned plasma, which features different proportions of platelets and other cells. Along with strenuous rehabilitation and hyperbaric oxygen therapy, Ward recovered enough to make two catches in the Super Bowl, in which the Steelers beat the Arizona Cardinals.

“I was next in line, the next guinea pig,” Mr. Ward said, referring to Mr. Polamalu’s experience with platelet-rich plasma. “I think it really helped me. The injury that I had was a severe injury, maybe a four- or six-week injury. In order for me to go out there and play in two weeks, I don’t think anyone with a grade-2 M.C.L. sprain gets back that fast.”

Professional sports teams have great financial incentive to pursue decreasing athletes’ rehabilitation even one week. Last year, Major League Baseball’s 30 teams had 519 players spend 28,602 days on the disabled list — representing $455 million in total salary sitting idle — according to data compiled by Baseball Prospectus.

“Let’s say a soccer player is out six weeks — if you can cut a week or two off, that equates to two, three, four games,” said Dr. Michael Gerhardt, the team physician for Major League Soccer’s Chivas USA and Los Angeles Galaxy clubs. He said that he had administered PRP therapy to about 20 players with medial collateral ligament injuries and had found an average decrease in recovery time of 25-30 percent.

But most doctors said that if platelet-rich plasma was scientifically proven to be safe and effective, its largest effects would be on the amateur, weekend-warrior athletes for whom sports was recreation and healthy lifestyle. Stanford’s Dr. Mishra said: “It’s not just the professional athlete who needs to get back to their game. Everyone wants to get back to what they do for play or for work.”

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Booze 'improves bedroom moves'


BOTTOMS UP: Alan Mantova thinks beer is a bloke's best friend but Tylah Rees and Kisha White aren't sure. Picture: JUSTIN SANSON

BOTTOMS UP: Alan Mantova thinks beer is a bloke's best friend but Tylah Rees and Kisha White aren't sure. Picture: JUSTIN SANSON

TERRITORY blokes knew it all along and now it's official - alcohol improves a man's performance in the bedroom.

Despite the traditional views about the effects of booze on a man's sex life, a new study suggested moderate drinking protected against impotence in the long term.

Darwinite Alan Mantova, 50, welcomed the study's findings - and he could already see its effects.

Surrounded by two Territory bombshells while having a beer in a Darwin bar, Mr Mantova said he understood the social benefits of alcohol.

"I haven't heard of this study," he said.

"But I definitely know it's important for your social life. And if you don't have a social life, you don't have the rest as well."

Australian researcher Kew-Kim Chew made the surprising discovery that alcohol improved rather than damaged men's sex life.

Dr Chew, who works for the Institute for Medical Research, surveyed 1770 Australian men anonymously.

He said he found men who drank within safe guidelines had better erectile functions than teetotallers.

Owner of the Winnellie Hotel Brian Peckover had his own theory.

He said a glass of beer was like a lion hunting in Africa.

"Just like lions picking off the weakest wildebeest, beer just kills off all your bad brain cells and leaves the good ones," he said.

But Tylah Rees, who works at the Honey Pot, was not convinced - at least about booze's short-term effects in the bedroom: "It takes longer and some fall asleep," she said.

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6 Reasons Why a Little Glass of Wine Each Day May Do You Good

By Debra Gordon
From Health magazine

The list of wine’s benefits is long—and getting more surprising all the time. Already well-known as heart healthy, wine in moderation might help you lose weight, reduce forgetfulness, boost your immunity, and help prevent bone loss.

With America likely to edge out France and Italy in total wine consumption in the near future, according to one analyst, and with women buying more than 6 out of every 10 bottles sold in this country, we’re happy to report that wine may do all of the following:

1. Feed your head
Wine could preserve your memory. When researchers gave memory quizzes to women in their 70s, those who drank one drink or more every day scored much better than those who drank less or not at all. Wine helps prevent clots and reduce blood vessel inflammation, both of which have been linked to cognitive decline and heart disease, explains Tedd Goldfinger, DO, of the University of Arizona School of Medicine. Alcohol also seems to raise HDL, the so-called good cholesterol, which helps unclog your arteries.

2. Keep the scale in your corner
Studies find that people who drink wine daily have lower body mass than those who indulge occasionally; moderate wine drinkers have narrower waists and less abdominal fat than people who drink liquor. Alcohol may encourage your body to burn extra calories for as long as 90 minutes after you down a glass. Beer seems to have a similar effect.

3. Boost your body’s defenses
In one British study, those who drank roughly a glass of wine a day reduced by 11% their risk of infection by Helicobacter pylori bacteria, a major cause of gastritis, ulcers, and stomach cancers. As little as half a glass may also guard against food poisoning caused by germs like salmonella when people are exposed to contaminated food, according to a Spanish study.

4. Guard against ovarian woes
When Australian researchers recently compared women with ovarian cancer to cancer-free women, they found that roughly one glass of wine a day seemed to reduce the risk of the disease by as much as 50 percent. Earlier research at the University of Hawaii produced similar findings. Experts suspect this may be due to antioxidants or phytoestrogens, which have high anticancer properties and are prevalent in wine. And in a recent University of Michigan study, a red wine compound helped kill ovarian cancer cells in a test tube.

5. Build better bones
On average, women who drink moderately seem to have higher bone mass than abstainers. Alcohol appears to boost estrogen levels; the hormone seems to slow the body’s destruction of old bone more than it slows the production of new bone.

6. Prevent blood-sugar trouble
Premenopausal women who drink one or two glasses of wine a day are 40 percent less likely than women who don’t drink to develop type 2 diabetes, according to a 10-year study by Harvard Medical School. While the reasons aren’t clear, wine seems to reduce insulin resistance in diabetic patients.

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Outrage brewing over proposed 1,900% beer tax hike


PORTLAND, Ore. -- Five Oregon state lawmakers want to impose a hefty tax on beer and have introduced a bill that brewers say would cripple them.

Video: Brewers hopping mad over tax

Four Portland legislators joined a Springfield senator to introduce Oregon House Bill 2461, which would impose a $49.61 tax on each barrel of beer produced by Oregon brewers.

The tax would raise revenue for the state at a time when budgets are running in the red. Specifically, the bill says it would fund prevention, treatment and recovery programs for those addicted to alcohol and other substances.

The bill's language defends the tax by arguing alcoholism and “untreated substance abuse” costs the state $4.15 billion in lost earnings as well as more than $8 million for health care and nearly $1 billion in law enforcement-related expenditures.

What do you think of the proposed beer tax?

Good idea

Tax too high

Bad idea


Oregon ranks 49th among states in its malt beverage taxation rate, which has not been raised in 32 years, according to HB 2461.

Brewers hopping mad over tax

Brewers say Oregon's low beverage taxation rate is what makes the state such an attractive place for crafting beers. The state’s brewery guild claims it would also amount to the single largest beer tax hike in the nation's history.

Laurelwood Public House & Brewing Co. owner Mike De Kalb said the tax may sound like a good idea in this economic climate, but he believes it would cost jobs and not raise enough new tax revenue to justify the increase.

“We’re a family-owned, local Portland business. We don’t want to see something cost taxpayers more than the revenue it would bring in,” De Kalb said.

De Kalb said Oregon would potentially lose its prominence as a craft-brew destination and that some small breweries could potentially go out of business. He said Laurelwood could possibly face job cuts as well. Prior versions of the beer tax bill have exempted small breweries but this one does not, he added.

$1.50 more, or just 15 cents?

“If that tax is passed it would mean consumers would pay $315 million more (in 2009) to buy the same amount of beer they bought in 2008," De Kalb claimed. "A pint of beer would go from $4.50 to $6.”

Rep. Ben Cannon, one of the bill's sponsors, questions whether the true hit to consumers would be as high as beer makers claim. He told KGW his office measured the increase at 15 cents per glass not $1.50.

But Kurt Widmer of Widmer brewing told KGW that in order to keep profit margins constant, he'd increase his price to distributors, who in turn would likely increase prices to retailers, making the 15 cent per class estimate unrealistic.

House Bill 2461 has been introduced by Portland Reps. Ben Cannon and Michael Dembrow, Portland Sens. Jackie Dingfelder and Diane Rosenbaum, and Springfield Sen. William Morrisette.

Original here

'Most of What We Eat Is not Real Food'

Legendary California chef Alice Waters, who is a jury member at this year's Berlin International Film Festival, talks to SPIEGEL ONLINE about why we need to change the way we eat, Obama's support for the food movement and how to forage in Switzerland in the winter.

The "eat local" movement has become a force to be reckoned with in the United States in recent years, going from the fringes to the mainstream as more and more people become interested in eating better and minimizing their carbon footprint. The kind of locally grown, sustainable organic food that was once a California phenomenon can now be found at stores and farmers markets across the country.


Click on a picture to launch the image gallery (9 Photos)

One of the pioneers of that movement is chef Alice Waters, who transformed her state's cooking in the 1970s into world-renowned "California cuisine" with her Berkeley restaurant Chez Panisse. Inspired by her experiences in France, she promoted the use of produce from local farms that is in season and advocated planting vegetable gardens in schools.

More than 30 years later, Waters is promoting sustainable agriculture as tirelessly as ever. She is now vice president of the international Slow Food movement, which promotes regionally grown goods and local culinary traditions. In November, Waters wrote an open letter to then President-elect Barack Obama, offering her services as an adviser and urging him to plant a vegetable garden on the White House lawn.

This February she enjoys another distinction: The self-confessed movie buff is a member of the jury at the Berlin International Film Festival. This year's festival features a number of films relating to the new food movement, including the documentary "Food, Inc.," which is highly critical of industrial food production, and the Slow Food portrait "Terra Madre."

SPIEGEL ONLINE talked to Alice Waters about the rise of the Slow Food movement and why the fight for real food needs to be taken to Washington.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What's wrong with the food we eat today?

Alice Waters: Most of it is not real food, in my opinion. Real food is grown by people who take care of the land, who refrain from herbicides and pesticides and everything that chemical agribusiness is putting into the food. It's food that's grown for taste, and it's grown in a way that pays people a good wage for their work -- it's not grown at somebody else's expense. As the Slow Food folks say, it's good, clean and fair. Generally we're supporting a system that is not.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: You've been promoting the use of locally grown ingredients since the 1970s. Do you feel things are getting better?

Waters: It's kind of incredible -- the globalization of food is, of course, omnipresent now, but there's also been this counter movement of organic and sustainable food that is rising up in countries around the world. I never knew, way back then, that so many other people in the US were doing the same thing -- we didn't know each other. But now we have met, and we've met globally through Slow Food. And it's very, very good this meeting, because we feel empowered.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: In which places is the use of sustainable local food particularly well developed?

Waters: There are a lot of places where things are pretty far along in the US -- Northern California is one of those places, Vermont is another. But I think it's very important that we bring this movement together in a very public way. We need to gather our forces together. And it seems to me right now that Washington, DC is the place we need to go.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What do you hope Obama will do to promote good food?

Waters: He's already done one remarkable thing in relation to food. He hired as his private chef a young person from Chicago (editor's note: Sam Kass) who is extremely outspoken, both about sustainable food and also about food in schools. He has actually been out talking to people about it and it's all over the newspapers now, which is a really good thing. Plus Obama is sending his children to a school in Washington (editor's note: Sidwell Friends), which I have visited, that is very interested in eco-gastronomy. They're interested in sourcing their food and they have built a green cafeteria.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What should we do as consumers in order to eat better?

Waters: We have to uncover. We have to forage. I talk about foragers -- that's what I call the person who goes out in the woods or out in the neighborhood and starts finding food, like a mushroom forager. The first thing we have to look for is grass-fed beef (Ed's note: Food activists oppose the production of corn-fed beef because it helps to spread E. coli infections and the transport of corn comes with a massive carbon footprint). That alone could change the climate on the planet. The production of beef is one of the biggest problems we have.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Eating local is fine if you live in California or Italy, where there is a large selection of locally grown produce. But what happens if you live in a region like northern Europe, with its long, cold winters and short growing seasons?

Waters: That's what everyone always says. But no matter where you are, you can find things. Every region has its own products. For example, I went to Davos in Switzerland and I cooked a dinner in the mountains in the snow on Jan. 20, using only things from that region. We just don't think that there is anything there, but we eat differently in the winter than in the summer -- it's just different food. We had a forager out there in Davos. First of all, he found this beautiful red polenta that's only from that place, ground from a special red corn. Then we had cured meats that were exceptional -- little dried sausages unusually spiced with herbs from the mountains. We had lovely cheeses. We toasted nuts and seasoned them with spices. We found wholegrain bread cooked in a wood oven. We found kale down in the valley. We found baby mountain goat and we braised it. We found the best apples I've ever tasted and we made an apple tart. It's just endless.

Original here

A World Without Chocolate?


It's hard to imagine Valentine's Day without chocolate, but some scientists say that it's possible that chocolate could one day be in short supply.

Photo: It's hard to imagine Valentine's Day without chocolate, but some scientists say that it's possible that chocolate could one day become extinct.
It's hard to imagine Valentine's Day without chocolate, but some scientists say that it's possible that chocolate could one day become extinct.
(Getty Images)
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What would the world be like without this decadent, delectable and divine dessert?

Watch the story today on Planet Green's "Focus Earth" with Bob Woodruff.

Historians say the Aztecs discovered chocolate more than 3,100 years ago and it was revered to the point of worship. Cocoa beans were linked to the feathered serpent god of agriculture and creation called Quetzalcoatl. If you believe the myth, Quetzalcoatl descended from the heavens on the beam of a morning star, carrying a cocoa tree stolen from paradise.

In its early form, chocolate was consumed as a celebratory beer-like beverage described as foamy and reddish and flavored with chilli water, aromatic flowers, vanilla and wild bee honey.

It was also food fit for an army. Legend has it that French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte carried chocolate morsels on his military campaigns in the 19th century, eating it to conserve energy.

Scientists say that now it is chocolate's sustainability that needs to be monitored. The Ghana-based Nature Conservation Research Center warns that chocolate may become as rare and expensive as caviar within 20 years.

A number of factors, including climate change, are affecting the farming and production of cacao, or the cocoa plant.

Howard Shapiro, global director for plant science and external research for confectionery manufacturing Mars Inc. of McLean, Va., said measures must be taken soon to prevent shortages of chocolate.

"If nothing was done, and the temperature was to rise, and the rainfalls were to change and drought became more prevalent ... without looking into new farming practices, then there should be a problem, and there might likely be a problem," he said.

Cacao grows in rainforest conditions with high biodiversity. David Croft, the British chocolate company Cadbury's conformance and sustainability director, said, "cocoa isn't a traditional farmed crop. If you go to West Africa, it's cocoa trees underneath forest canopy or underneath a canopy of shade trees. So it's important we help to maintain that natural eco-system if we want cocoa to thrive and to flourish."

Preserving 'the World's Favorite Treat'

Because there is a huge global demand for chocolate, farmers are now being forced to clear the forest and use hybrid seeds to produce higher output in a shorter amount of time. There are consequences to this kind of farming. One of them is soil erosion and a shorter lifespan for the cacao trees. When the trees die and the land is infertile, farmers move onto another patch, clearing forests and adding to the already existing problem of deforestation.

There's also the issue of disease. As with any other crop, pests are a problem. They can spoil and devastate entire cacao growing regions. Eventually, if all the aforementioned challenges are not met, they will lead to an overall shortage of cacao and, thus, chocolate, experts say.

But for all you chocoholics, before you go and hoard all those candy bars, top chocolate companies like Mars and Cadbury are doing something about it.

The companies are training farmers in sustainable cacao cultivation and working with scientists to map the genome of the cocoa bean, which could help battle crop disease and perhaps even improve flavor.

"I am quite optimistic with the ongoing activities, the genome, farmer training, understanding the problems, that we believe the plants will survive and thrive in the future using the techniques that we know and we can bear on the production of this wonderful crop," Shapiro said.

Similar efforts are being employed at Cadbury.

"In the last two years, Cadburys has really upped the game, to create more sustainable chocolate, cocoa supply chains particularly," Croft said. "We're managing all the factors reasonably well at the moment and there's a lot of anticipatory work going on, looking at cocoa trees that are more temperature tolerant, looking at cocoa trees that are more saline tolerant so that as climate change begins to impact them, we have crops that will work through that change."

In 20 years, he said, chocolate "will still be the world's favorite treat."

Original here

GM, Chrysler ask for $21.6 billion more

By Chris Isidore, senior writer

NEW YORK ( -- General Motors and Chrysler LLC said Tuesday they could need an additional $21.6 billion in federal loans between them because of worsening demand for their cars and trucks.

The two firms, in documents submitted to the Treasury Department, also detailed plans to cut 50,000 jobs worldwide by the end of the year. GM said it plans to close five more plants in the next few years and confirmed it will drop some of its weaker brands.

When all is said and done,GM (GM, Fortune 500) said that by 2011 it could need a total of $30 billion, which includes the $13.4 billion in Treasury loans it has already received. In the near term, GM will most certainly need $9.1 billion in additional loans and could require another $7.5 billion in the next two years if auto sales don't improve.

Chrysler said it now needs a total of $9 billion, up from the $4 billion Treasury loan it received in December. Chrysler said it will need that money by March 31.

GM also accelerated its job cut plans, saying that it would eliminate 47,000 jobs over the course of 2009. The company said it would cut about 20,000 jobs in the United States, or about 22% of its remaining U.S. staff.

Previously, GM called for U.S. job cuts of between 20,000 to 30,000 workers, but it had stretched out those reductions through 2012.

The company said it plans to close five additional U.S. plants by 2012 --in addition to the 12 planned closings announced in December. Executives would not identify the plants that would be closed.

"Our plan is significantly more aggressive because it has to be," said GM Chairman Rick Wagoner.

Experts said that the request for additional dollars are not a surprise, given how bad auto sales have been since the December plea for help.

"The most important issue is not what the automakers are going to do to cut costs, but rather what the government is going to do to stimulate car sales," stated Jeremy Anwyl, CEO of car sales tracker "No automaker is viable under the current market conditions, and so far the spending package appears to spread money too thin to actually make much of a difference in any one area."

Some economists argued that the problems detailed in the plans show that GM and Chrysler are already failed companies.

"When consumers refuse to buy your product, that's the economy telling you you're bankrupt," said Rich Yamarone, director of research at Argus Research. "

But Yamarone said it may make sense to give them the money they need, even if it's good money after bad, because the battered U.S. economy can't weather the halt of operations at GM and Chrysler right now.

GM added it plans to phase out the Saturn brand by the middle of 2011 if it is unable to sell or spin-off the brand. GM is also looking to sell its Saab brand, and will look for help from the Swedish government to support Saab until a buyer is found.

Chrysler said it plans to cut about 3,000 jobs, or 6% of its workforce, and reduce capacity by another 100,000 vehicles this year as it tries to adjust to reduced demand. It also said it has won the concessions from the United Auto Workers union and its creditors that were demanded under terms of the loan from the Treasury Department.

The companies had a deadline of Tuesday to update the government on the status of their turnaround plans. The new plans highlighted a worsening forecast for sales, and more job cuts at the companies in the coming months.

Bankruptcy could be 'cataclysmic'

A newly-appointed auto panel will review both plans and determine by March 31 if GM and Chrysler can be viable in the long run. Specifically, the Treasury Department is looking for details about the progress of negotiations with creditors and the UAW.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs issued a statement late Tuesday saying that the panel would be reviewing the plans and that "We appreciate the effort that these companies and their stakeholders have made."

The automakers' request for a $34 billion federal bailout in December fell short when Senate Republicans blocked passage of the request. The Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress have grown since then.

While both plans are more than 100 pages each, they have only limited details about the latest deals reached with the United Auto Workers union to shed costs, as well as about GM's efforts to shed much of its unsecured debt, as required under the terms of its existing loans.

GM is struggling under a $35 billion mountain of unsecured debt. It hopes to shed about two-thirds of that debt with a swap of debt for equity with its bond holders.

But the company was not able to reach a deal with the bond holders by Tuesday's deadline, although it did include a letter from their committee's financial and legal advisers saying that they are "prepared to recommend that the committee approve and support the bond exchange" proposed by GM.

If the federal panel looking at the plans rules either company is not viable, it could recall the outstanding loans, a move that would likely force them into bankruptcy. In a statement, Chrysler chairman Robert Nardelli said he believes additional federal help is the best course for both Chrysler and the battered U.S. economy.

"We believe the requested working capital loan is the least-costly alternative and will help provide an important stimulus to the U.S. economy and deliver positive results for American taxpayers," said Nardelli in the statement.

To that end, the companies also submitted an analysis of what would happen if it filed for bankruptcy. In a reorganization scenario, GM said it might need up to $100 billion in additional federal loans to finance their operations during a two-year reorganization. Chrysler said it would need up to $20 billion to $25 billion.

If it was forced to liquidate, Chrysler estimated there would be a loss of 2 million to 3 million jobs, resulting in a $150 billion reduction in federal tax revenue over three years.

Nardelli added that a Chrysler bankruptcy would have a "cataclysmic" impact on the auto parts supplier industry, which would affect operations and production at all automakers.

Sales forecast: From bad to worse

The other member of Detroit's so-called Big Three, Ford Motor (F, Fortune 500), requested a credit line of $9 billion from Congress in December.

But Ford said it would not to have to tap the line of credit unless conditions in the auto market and economy deteriorated more than expected.

Since then, demand for cars and trucks has gone from bad to worse, with January sales falling to their lowest level in 26 years. The automakers and industry experts have also slashed sales forecasts for 2009 and beyond.

Chrysler has been among the hardest hit in the industry though. Sales plunged 54% from year-earlier levels in December and January, and the company left most of its 12 North American assembly plants idled throughout January due to weak demand and excess inventory.

In addition to the job and production cuts, the company pledged to further lower costs by eliminating a manufacturing shift and discontinuing three models.

"We fully understand the need to adapt to significantly reduced annual U.S. sales," said Nardelli in Chrysler's statement.

The company now expects industrywide U.S. sales this year of only 10.1 million vehicles, which would be a 40-year low. It believes sales from 2010 through 2012 will average only 10.8 million a year.

GM's U.S. sales forecast for 2009 is close to Chrysler's estimate - around 10.5 million cars and light trucks. But it is far more optimistic about a rebound in sales from 2010-2012.

Separately, UAW president Ron Gettelfinger said in a statement Tuesday that the union had "reached tentative understandings with Chrysler, Ford and General Motors on modifications to the 2007 national agreements."

Gettelfinger said "the changes will help these companies face the extraordinarily difficult economic climate in which they operate." But he declined to disclose specific terms of the tentative agreement and said that discussions were continuing.

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A New Hybrid Sprouts in the Shadow of the Prius


IN designing the 2010 Insight, Honda’s goal was to create a hybrid car that was not just practical, but would be priced within reach of eco-conscious buyers on a budget, providing a greener choice to customers who cannot afford a Civic Hybrid or a Toyota Prius.

That may sound easy, but it was perhaps a more daunting challenge than it seems. Consider that a hybrid gasoline-electric car is a fairly complicated machine, given all its batteries, electric motors, sensors, clutches and so forth. For instance, in the current-generation Prius, 370 patents cover the drivetrain alone. No wonder most hybrids are priced thousands of dollars above the equivalent gasoline models.

Also, recent gains in the Japanese yen against the dollar are putting upward pricing pressure on the Insight, which Takeo Fukui, Honda’s president, has said he wants to hold below $20,000 for the base model.

Although Honda will not announce prices until shortly before the new Insight goes on sale in early April, the numbers take on added importance as Toyota prepares to sell a redesigned Prius, which is expected to get better mileage, later in the spring. If the Insight can’t beat the Prius on economy, it will need to be a compelling value.

Honda says the Insight will go 40 miles on a gallon in city driving and 43 on the highway. Those numbers don’t seem particularly hybridlike — the gasoline-driven Smart Fortwo is rated 33/41 — especially for a car whose namesake, the 2000-6 Insight, was renowned for an economy rating that briefly touched 70 m.p.g. (Under the recently revised government formula, the 2006 Insight would have carried a combined city-highway rating of 52 m.p.g.)

“The original Insight was a fuel-economy champ,” Kurt Antonius, an American Honda spokesman said. “But it came at the expense of practicality and price, which limited its market potential.” That original Insight was a two-seater with very limited cargo space.

The 2010 Insight, like the Prius, is a functional five-door hatchback. “The new Insight could have had better fuel economy,” the chief engineer, Yasunari Seki, told me in December. “But then it would have cost more.”

Though the new Insight gets significantly lower mileage than the original, Honda has loaded it with an array of gauges and displays intended to coach drivers to be more economical. For instance, the speedometer’s background color changes from blue to green as one’s driving becomes “more environmentally responsible.” Readouts reward the frugal driver with an “eco score”; if you excel, you win a digital trophy surrounded by a wreath.

Mind the gauges and you can optimize your mileage — often, in excess of the E.P.A. ratings. In my initial testing of the Insight, at the press preview in Arizona, I failed to beat the E.P.A. numbers. This was the case even when driving solely in “Econ” mode, which counters a driver’s most wasteful tendencies by dampening the throttle response, adjusting the air-conditioning and maximizing the electric assist.

But some other journalists who drove a similar test route said they topped 60 m.p.g. In later testing, I did as well.

So, obviously, your mileage may vary.

But even before the Insight goes on sale, Toyota may have trumped Honda’s new hybrid ace. The redesigned 2010 Prius, unveiled in January at the Detroit auto show, is said to achieve an industry-leading 50 m.p.g. And while Toyota suggests that its next Prius will beat the Insight on mileage, it is likely to cost considerably more; the 2009 Prius starts at $24,095 and can approach $28,000 fully loaded.

Beyond the matter of mileage, the Insight has other issues. Styling is one, for the stubby hatchback looks, frankly, like a knock-off of the 2004-9 Prius. Even if you don’t consider that design a bit homely, as I do, you have to concede that once the redesigned Prius is on the road, the look of the old one will start to seem stale. The Insight will be stuck wearing out-of-fashion clothes for the next five years or so.

Honda insists that it didn’t have much latitude in developing a more distinctive look. “You speak of a similarity to Prius, but the fundamentals of aerodynamics and packaging will lead designers to a similar place regardless of the brand,” Mr. Antonius said. “A Ferrari 599, Corvette and Aston Martins share similar shapes based on what their packages are trying to accomplish.”

Mr. Antonius suggested that the new Insight drew some styling cues from its namesake. Its distinctive nose evokes the FCX Clarity, an experimental Honda powered by hydrogen fuel cells.

Those who opt for green vehicles seem to like making a public greener-than-thou statement. Hybrid versions of the Honda Civic, Toyota Camry and Chevrolet Malibu suffer in this regard because it is hard to tell them from conventional gasoline-only versions.

But there is no doubt that the Insight is a hybrid, or that it is a Honda. Outside and in, the Insight is engineered and equipped like a full member of the family. It seems well thought-out, is faithfully executed and feels substantial, though not as plush as the Civic Hybrid. The two cars share some content, but the company could not say how much.

Power comes from a slightly smaller version of Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist system. There is a 1.3-liter, 98-horsepower 4-cylinder engine assisted by a 13-horsepower electric motor-generator. The new Insight cannot start out from a stop in all-electric mode, but it can run on electric power alone at very low speeds.

Honda says engine tuning was skewed more toward pep and punch than maximum economy, but the Insight still feels pokey on the road. In “Econ” mode it is even slower.

The biggest enemy here is not the engine, but the continuously variable transmission — no manual or conventional automatic is offered — which sounds as if it needs a trip to Aamco. The CVT is a compromise between the efficiency of a manual and the ease of an automatic, but it seems noisy and coarse because it lets the engine race seemingly out of sync with the car’s speed.

Worse, base models lack stability control, which flies in the face of Honda’s “safety for everyone” campaign. To get this safety feature you must upgrade to the more expensive EX, which includes cruise control, multifuction display, heated mirrors and intermittent wipers. So the base model with the lowball price may not be an attractive bargain after all.

Despite a curb weight of just 2,723 pounds, the base Insight feels steady on the road; it is well-mannered, predictable and nimble if not quick. It feels not unlike the current Prius, which is to say it seems a little less sophisticated than the Civic Hybrid.

The electric power steering is just responsive enough. The Insight is a convenient, easily park-able size. And it will theoretically seat five, though three adults would not want to share the back seat. The Insight is slightly smaller outside than the current Prius, but a bit larger inside.

The nickel-metal-hydride battery pack and electronics unit is compact enough to fit under the rear cargo floor. That allows the rear seat backs to be folded down (not possible in a Civic Hybrid). In that configuration, the cargo area is a relatively cavernous 16 cubic feet.

It appears that in most specifications, Honda used the current Prius as its baseline, and it made slight improvements all around. All of which may be moot if the new Prius turns out to be a significantly better car.

Rivalry aside, if you can forget for a moment that the Insight is a hybrid — yes, that would seem to defeat the purpose — you can consider it against the standards of regular vehicles. It slots logically into Honda’s lineup above the $15,000 Fit (which gets 35 m.p.g on the highway) and the $16,000 gasoline Civic (up to 36 m.p.g.) and below the $24,000 Civic Hybrid (45 m.p.g.)

In that context, the new Insight is worth consideration as a good economy car, hybrid or not.

And isn’t it better to celebrate what the Insight is, rather than whine about what it is not?

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7 Banned Classics

Posted by Jill Harness

Many people are aware that Harry Potter, The Anarchist Cookbook and Stephen King books have been banned from schools around the country, but as many civilizations have figured out, censorship is a slippery slope. It is pretty strange to consider Shakespeare has not only been banned from public schools over sexual themes, but that censored editions have been out since the 1700s.

Photo Via florian.b [Flickr]

Of the Radcliffe Publishing list of the top 100 books of the past century, almost half have been challenged by schools, many are banned in whole countries. Here’s a few banned titles that just may surprise you:

*Note: Plot summaries may include spoilers. I know all you Neatorama readers are pretty intelligent, so I wouldn’t doubt if many of you have read these books. I’ve included the summaries to give an idea as to why the books may have been banned.

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

Plot: A soldier, Henry, on the Italian front meets and seduces a young woman, Catherine. Their relationship continues as he heals a knee that was injured in battle. By the time his knee is fully healed, Catherine is three months pregnant. Unfortunately, Henry has to return to the war and the Germans break through the Italian lines. The Italians charge the soldiers for treachery for letting the Germans defeat them. Henry escapes during another officer’s execution and runs away to Switzerland with Catherine. They live happily until Catherine gives birth to a stillborn and then dies in labor.

Where it’s been banned: Published in 1929, this novel caused trouble immediately. Boston banned the magazine it was originally published in, claiming the story was too sexual. Italy banned the book because of its portrayal of the army’s retreat from Caporatto. The Nazis burned the book in 1933. In 1939, Ireland banned the novel. In modern America, plenty of school districts have banned the publication for sexual content.

Source | A Farewell to Arms on Amazon

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Plot: The book’s plot uses the same story line as Tarzan. A couple of civilized people, Bernard and Lenina, enter a primitive society and bring a “savage” back into their modern society. The difference here is that these “civilized people” live in a futuristic world filled with castes, happy drugs, sex without reproduction and euthanasia. Love, sadness and families have become obsolete, as well as self-expression and exploration.

The Tarzan in this piece is the son, John, of an ex-civilized woman who now lives with the “savages.” John was raised with family, love and Shakespeare. When they return to the city, John becomes a spectacle for society types and even Lenina starts finding him interesting. John begins falling in love with Lenina even as he is disgusted with the modern world and her role in it. John finds he cannot escape this world and eventually kills himself to discontinue playing his role as a tourist spectacle.

Where it’s been banned: This text is one of the most frequently banned books in literary history. It was banned in Ireland the year it was published, 1932. Multiple school districts have restricted access to this book because the atheistic people in the futuristic society it depicts take drugs and have promiscuous sex to avoid emotional connections. There are a lot of people who try to compare this book to our modern society, but if that was accurate, would we still be banning it from school?

Source | Brave New World at Amazon

Catcher In the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Plot: A teenage boy, Holden Caulfield, runs away to New York after being expelled from reform school. The book is a first person narrative and over the course of the story, you learn about his brother’s passing and how that has affected his present state of mind. Throughout his adventure, he drinks, smokes, hits on adult women, gets beaten up by a pimp, is hit on by a past teacher and deals with many other activities that a teen shouldn’t be going through. He constantly complains about other people his age, calling them “phony” or stupid. The novel explores Holden’s psychological need to grow up after his brother’s death. It also does an excellent job depicting his desire to protect young children from becoming adults.

Where it’s been banned: In 1960, a teacher was fired from her job for requiring her eleventh grade class to read the book. Between 1961 and 1962, it was the most censored book in high schools and colleges. This novel has been banned in schools throughout America for being anti-white, blasphemous, profane, racist and overtly sexual. How anything can be racist and anti-white, I don’t know.

Update: I meant this statement as how the book can be racist against both blacks and whites at the same time, which is what the people condemning the book seemed to imply. Personally, I don’t think you can be racist against your self and persons of other races at the same time, I think it makes you more of a person hater than a racist. Although I’m sure many readers would still like to disagree with this.

Completely unrelated but interesting: many murderers read Catcher In The Rye shortly before committing their crimes.

Source | The Catcher in the Rye at Amazon

Fanny Hill or Memoirs of A Woman of Pleasure, John Cleland

Plot: Considered to be the first modern erotic novel, there are quite a few naughty bits in this book, if you want to read a bit, there’s an excerpt on the Wikipedia page. The story revolves around a young country girl who must leave her village due to poverty. She is forced to work at a brothel, but escapes with her true love before she loses her virginity. When her love is forced to leave the country, she has to take on a variety of male “acquaintances” in order to survive.

Where it’s been banned: This book was monumental to both English and American obscenity standards. A year after the book was released, John Cleland and the publisher were both arrested and charged with “corrupting the king’s subjects.” They subsequently stopped publishing the novel, but it still managed to become popular thanks to pirated editions circulating the country. Cleland attempted to clean up the book and republished it in 1750, but he was arrested again, although this time the charges were dropped. The book continued to be published underground and in 1963 there was an obscenity trial against a book seller carrying the novel. Although the defense lost, it helped to shift public opinion about obscenity laws in Britain. In 1970, the unabridged book was legally published for the first time.

Over in the states, the book was banned for obscenity in 1821. In 1963, a publisher tried to re-release the book under the title John Cleland’s Memoirs of A Woman of Pleasure. The book was also banned under this title, but the publisher, G.B. Putnam, challenged the ban. The Supreme Court ruled the novel did not meet the standards for obscenity. This was the last book to be banned by the US federal government.

Source | Fanny Hill - Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure at Amazon

Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

Plot: Set in 1930, it tells the tale of a Tom Joad, a recently paroled murderer, and his family of farmers. The group is forced to leave their home in Oklahoma that has fallen victim to the dust bowl storms. They hope to find better luck in California, though on their way out West, they constantly run into other families hoping for the same luck.

When they get to California, they find the farmers have bound together to exploit the massive amount of laborers offering their services. When workers begin to unionize, the Joads work as strike breakers and end up involved with a bloody strike, forcing Tom Joad to kill again. In the end, practically all of the family’s actions prove to be pointless as they are starving and homeless in California.

Where it’s been banned: Published in 1939, this Steinbeck story caused an uproar as soon as it was released. These days, the book seems to be fairly mild, with a few references to sex and some minor curse words, but the book was quite racy for its day. Kern county was one of the first places to ban the novel as they were insulted by how Steinbeck depicted their citizens. It was immediately burned by the East St. Louis library, banned from Buffalo, New York and Kansas City. Since then, it’s been banned in many high schools -mostly for bad language. A parent in Burlington, North Carolina said, “book is full of filth. My son is being raised in a Christian home and this book takes the Lord’s name in vain and has all kinds of profanity in it.”

Internationally, the book has had trouble too. In 1953, Ireland deemed the book obscene and banned it. In 1973, eleven publishers in Turkey were charged for “spreading propaganda unfavorable to the state.” Why Grapes of Wrath would be seen as unfavorable to Turkey, I have no idea. If you do, please tell me in the comments.

Source #1, Source #2 | The Grapes of Wrath at Amazon

Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence

Plot: Lady Chatterley’s husband has become paralyzed and impotent. She struggles to remain faithful to him, but ends up having an affair with the gamekeeper. The novel covers her struggle to live only mentally, although she proves to need physical stimulation as well.

Where it’s been banned: The Penguin Books 1960 British publication of Lady Chatterley’s Lover was one of the first novels tried under England’s 1959 obscenity law. This law gave publishers the right to release racy books, as long as the work was of literary merit. Penguin was found not guilty and the novel was legally available in England for the first time. The trial was later turned into a BBC show known as “The Chatterley Affair.”

Conversely, Australia not only found the book to be legally obscene, but also banned publication of a book depicting the British trial called The Trial of Lady Chatterley. A copy of the book was smuggled into the country anyway and published underground. Many people read the book and it eventually led to lesser censorship of books in the country.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover at Amazon

Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov

Plot: Humbert Humbert, is invited to move in with a woman who wants to sleep with him. He is about to say no, when he sees her 12 year old daughter, Lolita, playing in the yard. The woman discovers his ulterior motive and plans to send Lolita to boarding school but she is hit and killed by a car. Humbert tries to drug the Lolita to have his way with her, but she instead seduces him.

Humbert becomes Lolita’s guardian and falls in love with her although she has very little interest in him. She escapes his guardianship by making plans with another pedophile. Humbert tries to find Lolita and her abductor, but gets nowhere. Two years later, a married and pregnant Lolita contacts him requesting money. He brings her money and tries to get her to leave with him. She refuses. She does, however, give him information on her abductor and Humbert tracks down the man and kills him. Humbert goes to jail, where he writes a novel called Lolita.

Where it’s been banned: The book was released in 1955 and received little attention until author Graham Greene sang its praises in an interview with The London Times. After reading the statement, the editor of the Sunday Express replied that the book was “sheer, unrestrained pornography.” That’s when the book was banned in Britain and all imported copies were ordered to be seized by the customs department. By December 1956, France followed suit, although both countries repealed the ban in 1959. Argentina and New Zealand both banned the book in the following years.

Surprisingly, the book wasn’t criticized as much in America, in fact, in its first three weeks available it sold over 100,000 copies.

Original here