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Saturday, October 31, 2009

Out of network fees cheat consumers

Syracuse University is in the forefront of fixing this injustice (which is shocking, but somehow not surprising), however, I've heard nothing about this on CNN or other news (Larry's dad told me about it). Odd, since it seems important.

Syracuse University will play a leading role in reforming a financial trap in the U.S. health insurance system that may be costing consumers millions of dollars.

A new nonprofit company is being set up at SU to create a database that will determine how much insurance companies nationwide must pay when patients see doctors who do not have contracts with the insurers. It also will create a Web site where consumers can easily get this payment information in advance, something they cannot do now.

The new database will replace a system state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo says is rigged to benefit insurers and leave consumers with unexpected, excessively high medical bills.

Cuomo was in Syracuse Tuesday to announce the creation of FAIR Health Inc., a nonprofit at SU that will be funded with about $100 million his office has obtained in settlements since January with 13 health insurers, including Excellus. That nonprofit is being established to fix health insurance reimbursement problems uncovered as part of a lengthy investigation by Cuomo’s office.That investigation found health insurers determine payment rates for doctors who don’t have contracts with them — known as out-of-network doctors — by using data supplied by Ingenix, a subsidiary of UnitedHealth, the nation’s second biggest insurer. Cuomo said Ingenix had a vested interest in setting rates low so companies could underpay patients for out-of-network services.

About 70 percent of U.S. families with health insurance have plans that allow them to visit out-of-network doctors. When they use those doctors, patients are responsible to pay the portion of the bill not paid by insurers. Patients often go out of network when they seek the services of out-of-town specialists.

In New York, Cuomo’s investigation showed consumers were underpaid by as much as 28 percent. As part of the settlements, the insurers agreed to stop using Ingenix and use the new system that will be established at SU.“I believe these health insurance companies have unjustly earned hundreds of millions of dollars under-reimbursing consumers,” Cuomo said. He said his office is suing the insurers to get them to refund money to consumers.

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Friday, October 30, 2009

Health care rally


I would have been at this rally with my friend Terry, but being home 2 days with Caleb this week, I was behind in my work and couldn't get away.

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

More on the flu

Scary - the CDC reports that deaths among children has jumped over the past week the most (20%) since the outbreak. This strain is hitting kids hard.

The NY governor has declared a state of emergency in the state. No big deal really - mostly it allows ancillary health professionals (dentists, midwives!) to administer the vaccine. But as symbolism, it's creepy.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Some much needed additional protection

Good news - it only took 11 years, but hate crimes legislation was signed by Obama today.

President Obama signed major civil rights legislation on Wednesday, making it a federal hate crime to assault people based on sexual orientation, gender and gender identity. The new measure expands the the scope of a 1968 law that applies to people attacked because of their race, religion or national origin. The U.S. Justice Department will have expanded authority to prosecute such crimes when local authorities don't.

The provision, called the Matthew Shepard & James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act is attached to a defense authorization bill. It is named after Matthew Shepard, a gay college student tortured and killed in 1998, and James Byrd Jr., a black man who was chained to a pickup truck and dragged to his death the same year.

The measure expands current hate crimes law to include violence based on gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. To assure its passage after years of frustrated efforts, Democratic supporters attached the measure to the must-pass defense policy bill over the steep objections of many Republicans.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

"Next Generation" rocket launched


Cool news.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida — NASA successfully launched the prototype for a new generation of space rocket, advancing its plans to return man to the Moon by 2020.

The Ares I-X, the tallest rocket in the world, blasted off at 11:30 am from Cape Canaveral in Florida, carrying with it the US space agency's lofty ambitions for human space flight.

The rocket is the prototype of the Ares I, designed to carry a new capsule-shaped crew module called the Orion into low Earth orbit for missions to the International Space Station, the Moon, and beyond.

"I can't say enough about this team," said Doug Cooke, associate administrator for the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate at NASA headquarters in Washington. "They've been together probably a little over three years now, and they went from a concept to flying this vehicle in that period of time, which is the first time this has been done by a human spaceflight team in a long time."

After a frustrating Tuesday, when several attempts to launch were abandoned, the clouds finally parted long enough for the syringe-like rocket to shoot up into the blue sky above the Kennedy Space Center.

The booster section of the 327-foot (100-meter) rocket separated from a simulated upper stage after two and a half minutes before dropping to Earth and splashing down in the Atlantic awaiting retrieval.

"It's the most beautiful rocket launch I have ever seen," said program director Jeff Hanley when the applause had died down in the NASA control room. "I get tears in my eyes. It was very special."

More than 700 sensors should provide engineers with important data for fine-tuning the design of the rocket that with Orion is intended to replace NASA's aging fleet of space shuttles, which is due to be retired in 2010.

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Worse than Kitty Genovese

I cried when I watched this story on CNN. The crime is bad enough, but that people stood around watching and taking photos just leaves me speechless.

(CNN) -- For more than two hours on a dark Saturday night, as many as 20 people watched or took part as a 15-year-old California girl was allegedly gang raped and beaten outside a high school homecoming dance, authorities said.

As hundreds of students gathered in the school gym, outside in a dimly lit alley where the victim was allegedly raped, police say witnesses took photos. Others laughed.

"As people announced over time that this was going on, more people came to see, and some actually participated," Lt. Mark Gagan of the Richmond Police Department told CNN.

The witnesses failed to report the crime to law enforcement, Gagan said. The victim remained hospitalized in stable condition. Police arrested five suspects and more arrests were expected.

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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Return trip was difficult

The return trip started out a bit rocky and got worse. I tried to reserve a spot on the airport shuttle using the company's website, but after entering tons of information, the site froze and I gave up in disgust. However, in the morning, I checked out of the hotel, walked out the front door, and got right onto a shuttle, so that was easier than I expected.

I checked in at the airport with little difficulty, but the shuttle had dropped me off at a different terminal than my actual flight, so my uncle Dan and I needed to do a little maneuvering in order to meet. We went to Kevin and Julie's house, which is about 20 minutes from the airport. Julie had made some lovely snacks, but of course none were GF. Brian was camping with their girls and Becky was busy and couldn't join us. Dan drove me past their house on the way back to the airport.

Once I got back to the airport and went through security, things started to run off the rails. My cell phone was handed to the person who went through before I did. I got involved in trying to get it back and left my laptop in the scanner. I started down the hall to the gate, but they had closed the hallway for a security issue. We were routed upstairs and when I got to the gate, they had moved the flight back up the hall from where I came. By then the hall had been reopened, but I was quite a ways from my new gate. I had been looking for some decent food to buy to take along - something which has never been difficult in any airport, but Dallas, ick. I finally bought some fried rice at a Chinese place, which of course turned out to be almost inedible. Anyway, once I got onto the plane, I realized I didn't have my computer. I pushed my way through the crowd to get back to the agent. There were two people there, one was very unhelpful and almost rude, saying I had to get off the flight and try to get onto the next one, but the other person finally said she would walk up to security. I waiting just a couple of minutes when she returned with a security worker and my computer. I literally cried a bit from the relief.

My flight took off promptly and all was well until we reached Chicago. We were a few minutes late anyway, but our gate was occupied by a "disabled" plane and we had to wait about half an hour on the runway. That was all the time I had between flights, so I missed my connection.

I spoke to a (surly) American Airlines agent inside the airport, who sent me to another gate to get onto a later American flight. The agent at that gate wasn't warm or sympathetic, but wasn't outright surly, so that was an improvement. He said the next flight was in 3 hours, but it was full - he would put me on the standby list.

I had a drink in one of the airport bars and wandered around looking in shops and trying to find something decent to eat. I ended up getting a 10 minute massage, which helped more than the drink! I tried to get jasmine tea at the fancy tea kiosk, but of course they were out!

Meanwhile, Larry looked up flights on his computer at home, confirming that there were several with other airlines. I went back to the gate where I was put on standby and spoke to the agent again. I asked what would happen if I didn't get on the next flight. He said there was one more flight, but it was also full. I wasn't rude or aggressive, but I did ask if there was any way I could get on a flight with another airline. He made a call (which I don't think he was required to do) and he sent me to another terminal to take a flight that had a guaranteed seat (on United). What a relief!!

Walking to the other terminal, I passed through a hallway with beautiful public art work. And the other terminal had much better food - I got a wonderful great salad garnished with nuts and fruit.

The flight left and arrived right on time. I got back to Syracuse a few hours later than planned, but Larry brought the kids to meet me, which made it all worthwhile.

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Off to a rocky start

Terri's alarm went off at 6:15 and by the time I got back to sleep, my alarm went off, so I've been groggy all morning. I forgot to bring my deoderant - $5 for a mini one in the hotel gift shop. French toast for breakfast, so I've had to make due with (stale) snacks that I brought along. Allergies are raging - kleenex count so far today - 10. Hurricane in the gulf, so all it's one, and will do for the next day or so, is rain. And the hotel's idea of a comfortable internal temperature is something between cold and arctic. Otherwise, a great first day in Dallas.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Flying off to Dallas

I don't really like traveling. I mean, I love going places, I just don't like getting there. I worry before I leave - afraid I'm going to forget something important, something that won't be easy to replace once I'm there, like medications. And airline travel is no fun anymore - it used to be an adventure but now it's almost punishment - delayed flights, lost luggage and the aggravation of security.

And the food is such a hassle. I have to take food with me wherever I go, in case I can't find anything that I can eat when I get hungry. I ask for GF meals at the meetings, but I'm never confident that what they give me is safe. And the truth is, I hate asking - I hate explaining, usually to multiple people, what my limitation is. It's gotten better in recent years - people are more likely to know what I'm talking about. But it's still an endless pain in the ass.

On the other hand, I get to go somewhere new, and my office pays for everything. I get to stay in a nice hotel and eat mostly great food. And bonus this trip - I get to have dinner with a friend I never see and I get to expense it. What's not to like?

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

First female drill instructor commandant

WOW! I love this story, which I saw on CNN this morning:

1st female drill sgt. school commandant named
By Susanne M. Schafer

The Associated Press

COLUMBIA, S.C. — The first woman chosen by the Army to lead its school for drill sergeants said Thursday she does not expect any trouble commanding the service’s toughest instructors. “It doesn’t matter if you are male or female,” Command Sgt. Maj. Teresa King said in a telephone interview. “I have always found that if you enforce your standards, people will respect you.”

King, 47, said she hopes her selection will inspire other women in the military. “If I can do it, other female soldiers can,” she said.

Last year, the Army consolidated its three schools for the famously tough instructors at Fort Jackson, the service’s largest training installation.

Only topflight soldiers are allowed to enter the school, which graduates about 120 drill sergeants a year.

King, a native of Clinton, N.C., said she feels like she is going home by taking command of the school. The 28-year Army veteran went through her basic and advanced training at Fort Jackson.

She entered her training as a drill instructor just three years after joining the Army. “I was very young when I became a drill sergeant. Now I am going back to where I was when I started,” she said. Her drill sergeant school was at Fort Dix, N.J., she said.

Her latest promotion is another one of the “firsts,” in her career, she said, explaining that she was the first female first sergeant named to support the Headquarters and the Headquarters Company attached to the 18th Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg, N.C.

“I was responsible for about 500 paratroopers, 22 sergeant majors, 22 colonels and three general officers,” she said with a laugh, explaining how she was undaunted by working with so many senior warfighters. “It definitely is an infantryman’s company.”

King has held a wide variety of posts in the service, including serving as the top enlisted adviser to NATO’s military commander in Europe.

She said she is slated to take command of the drill instructor’s school in September.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

WH war on Fox

Needless to say, I got a huge kick out of this story: White House advisers claim that the Fox News network is a GOP mouthpiece whose programming always presents an agenda rather than just facts. This is from the AP:

Last week, White House communications director Anita Dunn said Fox News operates "almost as either the research arm or the communications arm of the Republican Party." On Sunday, Rahm Emanuel, President Barack Obama's chief of staff, said, "It is not a news organization so much as it has a perspective."

In response to the criticism, Fox News executive Michael Clemente on Sunday accused the White House of continuing to "declare war on a news organization" rather than focusing on issues such as jobs and health care.

Fox News commentators Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity have been strong Obama critics, and Bill O'Reilly has taken tough looks at the administration. Obama avoided "Fox News Sunday" when he visited five Sunday morning news shows last month; three aides carried the administration's message on Afghanistan, health care and the economy this Sunday to ABC, CBS, CNN and NBC, but not Fox; and a recent White House blog post accused Beck of lying. Beck has called Obama a racist.

Karl Rove, a Fox News contributor and former White House adviser to President George W. Bush, said the Obama administration is trying to demonize Fox News for asking questions officials do not like. He compared Obama's approach to that of President Richard Nixon: "This is a White House engaging in its own version of the media enemies list," Rove said on Fox News Sunday. "And it's unhelpful for the country and undignified for the president of the United States to so do."

Appearing on ABC's This Week, senior Obama adviser David Axelrod said Fox News shouldn't be treated as a news organization. "You know, I'm not concerned. Mr. Murdoch has a talent for making money, and I understand that their programming is geared toward making money. The only argument Anita was making is that they're not really a news station. ... It's not just their commentators, but a lot of their news programming. It's really not news. It's pushing a point of view."

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

WRJ at Anyela's


I'm in the back by the fireplace.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Capitalism: A Love Story

Larry was interested in this movie (somewhat surprisingly) so after Alana's BD party, we enlisted our regular sitter and trotted off to the mall to see it. A small crowd filled a small theater (with many more black people than I could have imagined). The movie was good, but not great. I already knew everything he covered and I think he could have been (and I expected him to be) a lot more hard hitting than he was. Not a waste of time, but not out of the park either. To add insult to injury - the clerk misunderstood me when I asked for the tickets and we gave our money to that Jamie Foxx dreck Law Abiding Citizen.

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Friday, October 16, 2009

Excellent drug policy news

Finally, the Obama administration stands up for something! I'm thrilled about this:

WASHINGTON - Pot-smoking patients or their sanctioned suppliers should not be targeted for federal prosecution in states that allow medical marijuana, prosecutors were told Monday in a new policy memo issued by the Justice Department.

Under the policy spelled out in a three-page legal memo, federal prosecutors are being told it is not a good use of their time to arrest people who use or provide medical marijuana in strict compliance with state law.

The guidelines being issued by the department do, however, make it clear that federal agents will go after people whose marijuana distribution goes beyond what is permitted under state law or use medical marijuana as a cover for other crimes.

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Depression

I can feel it creeping up my chest and tickling the back of my throat, trying to make me cry. Not all the time, just a couple of times a day. Most of the time, the almost overwhelming busyness of life keeps it at bay - there's always so much to do, I'm constantly checking my watch to see if I can squeeze in one more thing from my To Do List. But then, once in awhile, when I stop for a moment, its tendils slither out and up and in. Last night, I opened the medicine cabinet and took out the Magic Pills left over from last winter. I didn't take one, I just looked at them and put them back. I'm waiting, though I'm sure it's futile. First, I'll get the Full Spectrum Light and see if it helps.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Great song

This hilarious video was posted on FB by my friend Natalie - "Things not to say to your wife" sung to the tune of Green Day's "I hope you had the time of your life." Very funny! Larry laughed.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

WHY?

White model in blackface for French Vogue fashion spread. Ick.

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Monday, October 12, 2009

Green rehab of foreclosed houses

Great story on NPR:

Phoenix is one of the nation's fastest-growing and most sprawling metropolitan areas. Cheap and plentiful land has led to an ever-expanding ring of suburbs, and commuting downtown can take longer than an hour. Now, a small developer is buying up foreclosed houses near mass transit lines in the city, renovating them to green building standards, and marketing them to young professionals who may be tired of commuting.

Story also mentioned that the ridership on the new rail system has been greater than expected!

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Friday, October 09, 2009

Obama wins Nobel Peace Prize

I was surprised at first, but then heard that the prize was awarded for his commitment to diplomacy and to create momentum for peace. I'm buying it!

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Thursday, October 08, 2009

Syracuse airport in bottom 10 for on time arrivals

Not happy to hear this on the news this morning, especialy considering that I'm flying to Dallas in less than 2 weeks.

One of every four flights to Syracuse arrives late — by an average of almost an hour — giving it the 10th worst on-time arrival performance among the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas, according to a report released today by the Brookings Institution.

The report, “Expect Delays: An Analysis of Air Travel Trends in the United States,” said 74.6 percent of flights to Syracuse’s Hancock Airport arrived within 15 minutes of their scheduled arrival times during the 12 months period that ended in June. Nationally, 78.4 percent of flights arrived on time during the same period. The average delay in Syracuse was 56.6 minutes, the report said.

Syracuse’s on-time performance actually improved 4.5 percentage points compared with the previous 12 months, matching a recent national trend attributed to a reduction in air travel. But Adie Tomer, a research analyst for Brookings’ Metropolitan Policy Program and co-author of the report, warned that air passenger levels will grow and on-time performance will likely resume its decline as the economy bounces back.

While the national average for all delayed arrivals is now nearly one hour, the number of airline flights landing at least two hours late has more than doubled in the last two decades, with the vast majority of the delays concentrated in 26 metropolitan areas, New York tops among them, the report said.

Syracuse Aviation Commissioner Anthony Mancuso said Hancock’s poor showing in the ranking has nothing to do with anything going on at the airport. He blamed congestion at the major airports from which many of the flights to Hancock originate. He said half of the 60 flights a day that arrive at Hancock come from airports in New York City, Philadelphia and Atlanta — three metro areas that have among the worst on-time arrival performances in the nation.

The New York metro area had the worst on-time performance, with just 66.3 percent of flights into the area’s three main airports arriving on time. Nineteen of Hancock’s daily arrivals — nearly a third of all its flights — come from those three airports. Philadelphia was fourth worst at 73.4 percent, and Atlanta was sixth worst at 73.6 percent. Chicago, from which five daily flights arrive at Hancock, also is known for having lots of air traffic congestion. It had the 31st worst on-time performance in the Brookings ranking, which was based on data from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Irving Kristol

Nice column by Jacob Weisberg in the latest issue of Newsweek, discussing the legacy of Irving Kristol. Here's some excerpts:

The passing of Irving Kristol last month at the age of 89 coincided with the death, at a much younger age, of the intellectually serious conservatism he did so much to foster. As a liberal who was fond of both, I've been feeling the loss.
. . .
Those on the right frustrated with the paltry politics of today's GOP may find some inspiration looking back at Kristol's best work, which was done in the late 1960s and 1970s when he was hovering somewhere between left and right. With his friend Daniel Bell, Kristol in 1965 founded The Public Interest, one of the really important American political magazines, and went on to edit it for the next 40 years.
. . .
"Neo-conservatism is not at all hostile to the idea of the welfare state, but it is critical of the Great Society version of the welfare state," Kristol wrote in 1976 (in NEWSWEEK). His well-known formulation was that a neoconservative is a "liberal who has been mugged by reality." But the goal of the neoconservatives—in those days, principally focused on domestic rather than foreign policy—remained better government, more mindful of tradition and respectful of the values of the people.

How did this prudent outlook devolve into the spectacle of ostensibly intelligent people cheering on Sarah Palin? Through the 1980s, the neoconservatives became more focused on political power and less interested in policy. They developed their own corrupting welfare state, doling out sinecures and patronage subsidized by the Olin, Scaife, and Bradley foundations. Alliances with the religious right skewed their perspective on a range of topics. They went a little crazy hating on liberals. Over time, their best qualities—-skepticism about government's ability to transform societies and rigorous -empiricism—fell by the wayside. In later years, you might say Kristol and the neoconservatives got mugged by ideology. Actually, they were the muggers. "It becomes clear that, in our time, a non--ideological politics cannot survive the relentless onslaught of ideological politics," Kristol wrote in 1980. "For better or for worse, ideology is now the vital element of organized political action."

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Tuesday, October 06, 2009

"Oprah Feeling"

Chicago's answer to Montreal - 21,000 people's synchronized dance to the Black Eyed Peas' song (lyrics altered slightly!) on Michagan Avenue - aka the Miracle Mile. Montreal had a measly 172. Awesome!! How did all those people learn the moves??? It was Oprah's kick off party for her 24th season (that's pretty awesome too!)

Monday, October 05, 2009

First Monday in October


Supreme Court is back in session! Welcome aboard Justice Sotomayor!

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Planet news

Giant ring discovered around Saturn - much bigger than the seven ring circle that we already know about. So cool - really influences the way we think about our galaxy.

The Spitzer Space Telescope has discovered the biggest but never-before-seen ring around the planet Saturn, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory announced late Tuesday.

The thin array of ice and dust particles lies at the far reaches of the Saturnian system and its orbit is tilted 27 degrees from the planet's main ring plane, the laboratory said.

JPL spokeswoman Whitney Clavin said the ring is very diffuse and doesn't reflect much visible light but the infrared Spitzer telescope was able to detect it. Although the ring dust is very cold — minus 316 degrees Fahrenheit — it shines with thermal radiation.

The bulk of the ring material starts about 3.7 million miles from the planet and extends outward about another 7.4 million miles. The newly found ring is so huge it would take 1 billion Earths to fill it, JPL said.

Saturn's moon Phoebe orbits within the ring and is believed to be the source of the material.
The ring also may answer the riddle of another moon, Iapetus, which has a bright side and a very dark side.


The ring circles in the same direction as Phoebe, while Iapetus, the other rings and most of Saturn's other moons go the opposite way. Scientists think material from the outer ring moves inward and slams into Iapetus.

"Astronomers have long suspected that there is a connection between Saturn's outer moon Phoebe and the dark material on Iapetus," said Hamilton. "This new ring provides convincing evidence of that relationship."

The Spitzer mission, launched in 2003, is managed by JPL in Pasadena. Spitzer is 66 million miles from Earth in orbit around the sun.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Swine flu redux

I was completely convinced that the swine flu was mostly hype until I read this CDC report - they are noting some very disturbing trends - unlike seasonal flu, swine flu is worse for kids (ages 5 -24) than for the elderly, and a third of kids who have died were otherwise healthy (had no underlying health problems, no compromised immune systems, etc). Lots of kids will get it and be fine, but some will crash, fast. People are concerned about "adverse reactions" to the immunization, but death is an adverse reaction to the disease - that is a much bigger concern for me!

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Friday, October 02, 2009

Girls ROCK!

Very excited to see two women win the Nobel prize in medicine (they shared it with a third person - a man). Their research will likely lead to effective cancer treatments.

Three American scientists who made key discoveries about how living cells age have received the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

The winners are Elizabeth Blackburn of the University of California, San Francisco; Carol Greider of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore; and Jack Szostak of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

The scientists all study telomeres — structures that act like caps on the ends of chromosomes and protect them when cells divide. Chromosomes are the long strands of DNA that contain a living creature's genetic code.

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Thursday, October 01, 2009

Noah's memorial service - video

Mike Martin sent me this video of Leo and I speaking at Noah's memorial service in July (don't worry, the picture gets rotated right after it starts).

video