Tag Archives: Human brain

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Saturday/Sunday 13 & 14th December 2014

EU seeks to end misleading food labels this week


EU shoppers and restaurant-goers should know more about what they are eating under EU labeling law that takes effect from Saturday to protect allergy-sufferers, promote healthier eating and give consumers an informed choice.

The law is supposed to prevent consumers from being misled and insists on minimum font sizes to ensure they can read the information they are given.

Food producers will have to label meat that appears to be a single chunk but in fact is made of several pieces glued together as “formed meat”.

Packaging cannot feature pictures of fruit if the product, such as a yoghurt, contains no fruit. Allergens, such as nuts, will also have to be listed, including in restaurants and cafes.

“The new rules put the consumer first by providing clearer information, and in a way that is manageable for businesses,” Vytenis Andriukaitis, the EU Commissioner in charge of health and food safety, said in a statement.

The legislation was agreed by EU member states in 2011, but the food industry was given three years to get ready for the implementation date of Dec. 13.

With the exception of food already in stock, produce on sale from Saturday will have to comply with the new requirements on clear labeling.

In addition, rules on nutrition information, for instance the salt, fat and calorific contents, are also being phased in. They are currently voluntary but become mandatory from Dec. 13, 2016.

Members of the European Parliament from across the political spectrum welcomed the rules as marking the end of misleading information.

“Consumers are given the opportunity of informed choice,” said the biggest group in the European Parliament, the centre-right European People’s Party.

Representing the European Greens, Bart Staes said consumers would be able to know where meat, for instance, came from and so whether it had involved long-distance transportation of animals.

“Vegans and vegetarians and people with allergies will have an easier time finding what they want,” Staes said, although he added he was unhappy about the exemption for alcoholic drinks, which are often high in calories.

Stroke a high risk for Well-Educated people suffering from memory lapses


People who have attained a high level of education and also complain of memory lapses may suffer a higher risk of strokes as shown in a new study. Men and women as well are equally applicable to the said results. Though researchers put it in the reverse way, the previous studies have shown how strokes resulting in memory lapses.

An associate professor of neuroepidemiology named Arfan Ikran is associated at the Erasmus University, Rotterdam, in The Netherlands.

The researchers tracked nine thousand people in Rotterdam for a period of 20 years- all the participants of the study were over 50 years of age. These subjects were asked to answer questionnaires regarding their experiences about memory problems. They found that a considerable number of the 9000 taken in for the study were already experiencing memory problems, and of them, 1134 had suffered strokes. They also conducted an analysis of the data collected and found that individuals who were experiencing memory problems had a much higher risk of being affected by stroke.

They found that there is about 39 percent increased risk of a stroke among people who had memory complaints if their level of education is high. The linkage between subjective memory complaints as well as Alzheimer’s disease among well-educated is high is comparable from the findings of the study. The journal American Heart Association journal ‘Stroke’ published the said research.

The leading author of the study says that they have yet to research further in the issue. He also claims that the team would like to make certain assessments and analyze them to know if people who complain about repeated lapses in memory or any other memory changes should be considered as primary targets for risk assessments, and that those people would also be needed to assess their risk of stroke.


Why Our Brains are wired to ignore Climate Change?

Don’t even think about it –


George Marshall explores the scientific thinking on how we perceive this issue

Environmental activists: A new social movement looking for action on climate change is gathering momentum.

The tide is starting to rise behind a new social movement looking for action on climate change. It could be seen in the 400,000 people who marched in New York on September 21st. There were no big speeches and no top table on the day. Just thousands of banners from church groups, students and unions, and lots of green hearts drawn by people who were there to tell the world they are on a personal mission to act on this issue.

If you were to point to three people among the crowd who deserve credit for getting everyone else there, you would probably pick out Bill McKibben of 350.org, the scientist James Hanson and the author Naomi Klein. All three feature on the dust cover of George Marshall’s latest book. They each acknowledge its importance in setting out what we have been getting wrong in communicating about climate change and how we might start putting it right from here.

This book is no page-turner or populist rant. It is a marketing manual for this new social movement. It is not all geology or meteorology but instead pulls together some of the best scientific thinking on how we perceive this threat in our minds. He argues that we have failed to engage the emotional side of our minds and tries to understand the spiritual and creative stories that could break us out of our guilt ridden, fearful and frozen response.

That failure to win over people’s hearts has seen the tide of popular support for climate action recede over the last seven years. If you look at any survey of what issues people immediately care about, climate will be at the bottom; only there at all because it was put on the list of options to choose between. Not only is there a public silence on the issue, there is even a silence about that silence itself.

The financial crisis and the breakdown of international climate negotiations did not help, but our biggest mistake has been how the issue has been framed in public debate. Marshall does not blame people for that. This is what is known as a ‘wicked problem’. Incredibly complex, contradictory, and constantly changing. You can’t learn about a wicked problem without trying solutions, but every solution creates consequences and new wicked problems.

He argues that we have got it wrong by concentrating on the “tailpipe” emissions rather than looking to directly restrict the source of the problem, which is the fossil fuel extractive industries. The Power of One campaign in Ireland is cited as an example of where the first approach has failed, by putting all the onus on the individual. What we need is not the power of one but the power of all.

Social movements need real targets, and a narrative of opposition needs an opponent, so he understands how McKibben has taken the approach of using the Keystone pipeline decision and fossil-fuel divestment campaigns as a way of gaining some important immediate victories.

However he believes we need bigger co-operation narratives that can bring people together on a common cause. He advises we drop the ecostuff, especially polar bears, and instead relate solutions to climate change to the sources of our own happiness. We should emphasise that action on climate change can make us proud to be who we are.

Marshall recognises that there will be a spectrum of approaches and recommends we keep an open mind and listen to what critics have to say. He interviews leading climate deniers in the US in the course of writing the book. A visit to the Climate Gathering in the Burren College of Art in the spring of 2013 also provided him inspiration. It was organised to consider this question of what new narratives around climate change will work. Everyone there agreed that the deniers have been winning the battle by framing the issue in a way that appeals to certain cultural cues that resonate with large sections of society.

To win people back Marshall believes we could learn something from the world religions. The existing climate change narrative contains no language of forgiveness. It requires people to accept their entire guilt and responsibility with no option for a new beginning. We need to make that beginning through a process of transforming the destructive feelings of guilt, blame and anger into positive emotions such as empathy and reconstruction.

That new beginning is happening and you can see new narratives appear in campaigns across the world. In the UK climate groups have ditched the slogan Stop Climate Chaos and taken up instead a For the Love Of campaign. It is starting to work. Watch this social movement grow.

Dispute between Ryanair and local council over massive banner in airline HQ


The sign on top of the Ryanair HQ in Airside, Swords which an Bord Pleanala say should be removed. 

A massive banner hanging on Ryanair’s new headquarters in Dublin “does not currently provide any useful information” and the local council wants it removed.

But the airline has dug its heels in and taken a planning dogfight to An Bord Pleanala, which next year will have the final say in the spat.

The huge sign claims that Ryanair “saved Europe €9.1bn in 2013”, but Fingal County Council insists the banner is “unacceptable”.

The council’s planning officer said the message on the sign should be communicated by other means.

“The current signage displayed does not direct or provide any useful information,” added the officer, noting that Ryanair said the banner could be used in future to advertise jobs with the airline.

“Both advertisements would be more usefully conveyed through television, radio, and the print media or through the internet,” the official added.

But the airline is not taking the decision lying down.

It has paid €4,500 to lodge an appeal with An Bord Pleanala, which will make a ruling on the case by April.

Ryanair claims in its appeal that it’s the “largest airline in the world” and points out that it’s a major employer in Fingal.

New climate change road map after marathon negotiations


Sleepless delegates end Lima talks with foundations for major agreement next year

Late-night wrangling between UN members in Lima secured agreement between developing and rich nations on a framework to cut pollution.

After a marathon round of negotiations in Lima, sleepless delegates from all over the world have produced a road map that should lead to a historic international agreement on climate change in Paris next December.

But the Lima Call for Climate Action, brokered by Peruvian environment minister Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, was strongly criticised by observers as weak, heavily compromised and inadequate to the challenge of tackling global warming.

As representatives of nearly 190 countries convened for the final plenary session in the early hours of Sunday morning, climate activists chanted outside the large tented hall, holding banners demanding justice for the poor.

“Our concerns have proven to be tragically accurate,” said Jagoda Munic, chair of Friends of the Earth International.

‘Desperately lacking’

“This text is desperately lacking in ambition, leadership, justice and solidarity for the people worst-hit by the climate crisis.”

Greenpeace’s Martin Kaiser said governments “have just kicked the can further down the road by shifting all the difficult decisions into the future . . . Time is running out and solutions must be delivered before climate chaos becomes inevitable.”

Former president Mary Robinson said Lima had managed to keep the multilateral UN process alive, but did not “give confidence that the world is ready to adopt an equitable and ambitious, legally binding climate agreement in Paris next year”.

Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly, whose place was taken at the conference by Minister for Energy and Natural Resources Alex White, said the negotiations had been “difficult” and paid tribute to Peru for having secured a “broad consensus”.

But Ciara Kirrane, co-ordinator of the Stop Climate Chaos coalition, who was attending her first UN climate conference, expressed dismay that Ireland was among the few countries which had failed to pledge support for the Green Climate Fund.

‘Climate finance’

Alden Meyer, policy director with the Union of Concerned Scientists, noted “deep and long-standing divisions on major issues including climate finance”, saying these had “nearly derailed the process in Lima” and could even block a deal in Paris.

However, conference president Mr Pulgar-Vidal said delegates had left Lima “with a far clearer vision of what the draft Paris agreement will look like as we head into 2015 and the next round of negotiations in Geneva” – scheduled for February.

UN climate chief Christiana Figueres said they reached “a new level of realism and understanding about what needs to be done now, over the next 12 months and into the years and decades to come if climate change is to be truly and decisively addressed”.

New solidarity

The Like-Minded Developing Countries group had feared that “ghosts of the past would be resurrected” – a reference by Malaysia to the shambles of the 2009 climate summit in Copenhagen – but instead Lima had forged a new solidarity among them.

UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon called on all parties, especially the world’s major economies, to submit “ambitious national commitments well in advance of Paris” and said he would be working Peru and France on an “action agenda” for Paris.

Lima Call for Climate Action – main points:

l Calls for an “ambitious” agreement in Paris next December, based on the “differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities” of developed and developing countries.

l Intended nationally determined contributions (or INDCs) are to be submitted in the first quarter of 2015 by countries that are “ready to do so”, but with no review of their adequacy.

l Countries may set targets to cut emissions that go beyond their current pledges, and the UNFCCC secretariat will report back on their collective impact in November 2015.

l Rich countries are to continue providing financial support to more vulnerable poorer countries, starting with the $10 billion already pledged to the UNFCCC’s Green Climate Fund.

l The final text also restored the promise of a loss-and-damage mechanism for poor countries in the frontline of climate change, a scheme that had been dropped from an earlier version of the agreement.


News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Thursday 27th November 2014

New rules will allow blood samples to be taken from unconscious drivers


Tightening of drink driving rules as part of Christmas road safety campaign

Under the new rules, medical authorities may take a sample from a driver who has been incapacitated and is unable to provide consent to the procedure.

A major tightening of road safety rules, including measures to take blood samples from drivers injured in crashes, will come into effect on Thursday.

Minister for Transport Pascal Donohoe will announce the closure of a loophole, which allowed drunken drivers to avoid blood tests through being unconscious or by claiming injury, at the launch of the annual Christmas road safety campaign.

Under the new rules, medical authorities may take a sample from a driver who has been incapacitated and is unable to provide consent to the procedure.

A driver will be asked on regaining capacity whether they consent to the issuing of a certificate of the test results based on the sample.

The certificate stating the level of alcohol in the bloodstream may be used in a subsequent prosecution.

If  the driver refuses to allow the sample to be used, the refusal will be an offence in much the same way that refusing to provide a sample to the gardaí is currently an offence.

Penalties for this offence can include disqualification from driving.

New drug testing

Mr Donohoe will also announce the immediate introduction of new roadside impairment testing for drugs.

The testing will provide An Garda Síochána with additional powers.

Drivers can be asked to perform a range of balance and co-ordination movements, which may indicate if they have been driving while under the influence of drugs.

These tests are non-technological, cognitive tests and will typically involve touching the nose or walking in a straight line.

The Department of Transport was told international experience has shown these tests to be sufficiently precise and objective enough to be used in court.

The new tests will be an important added resource to gardaí in identifying and prosecuting intoxicated drivers, and are seen as a significant new tool for the gardaí in enforcing the law against drug driving.

New breathalyser machines.   

Further development of the drug testing system will be incorporated in the forthcoming Road Traffic Bill, the heads of which are expected to be published in coming weeks.

It is understood this will involve legal provision for new “breathalyser type” machines that can test spittle for drugs.

Mandatory Alcohol Testing will become known as Mandatory Impairment Testing to reflect the changes.

Mr Donohoe will also name a number of driving offences to be added to the penalty points list.

It is understood these will affect learner and novice drivers among others.

The tightening up of the rules comes amid mounting concern over the number of people being killed on the State’s roads, which is set to rise for the second year in a row.

As of Wednesday morning, 179 people had lost their lives on the State’s roads since the beginning of the year, eight more than the figure of 171 for a similar period in 2013.

The total number of deaths in 2013 was 190 and there is concern figures for 2014 will exceed that number.

Road deaths numbers hit a record low in 2012 when 162 people lost their lives.

Majority of undocumented migrants are long-term residents


One in five undocumented people have lived in the State for more than 10 years, according to new research.

The study for the Migrants Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI) estimates there are between 20,000 and 26,000 undocumented migrants living here at present.

The overwhelming majority (81%) have been in Ireland for five years or more and 21% have been in the country for more than 10 years.

Some 86.5% of those entered the country legally and subsequently became undocumented.

A similar percentage of (87%) are working and more than half have a third-level education.

The five most common nationalities among undocumented people living here are: Filipino, Chinese, Mauritian, Brazilian and Pakistani.

The research is the first of its kind and involved 540 responses from undocumented migrants.

MRCI spokeswoman Helen Lowry said the survey was the first of its kind and provided an accurate picture of undocumented migrants in the country.

She said it was clear most undocumented migrants were long-term residents in Ireland.

She added: “Given that one third of those surveyed have children living in Ireland, the Government simply cannot continue to ignore this population and hope they will all just leave.

“Undocumented migrants are part of our communities, they have put down roots, made Ireland their home – and for many of these children, Ireland is the only home they have known.”

In a case study published as part of the research one undocumented person living here, referred to as Abdullah, compared the experience of undocumented migrants living in the State with undocumented Irish in the United States.

“This research shows that most undocumented people are like me: young, hard-working, educated and committed to Ireland both financially and emotionally,” he said.

“Last year my father passed away; it was so hard for me not being there. All we’re asking for is a chance to come forward and regularise our situations – to be able to visit our families, to move on with our lives and to stop constantly looking over our shoulders.”

The research will published by John Douglas, president of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, this morning.

Ted Nealon was an ‘unique political politician with a good brain’,

Say’s Taoiseach Kenny


Cross-party tributes paid to late politician, journalist and broadcaster

Ted Nealon: Taoiseach Enda Kenny said of him: “In every role he gave of his best, not alone as an exemplary public servant, but as an exemplary, compassionate and dignified human being”

The late Ted Nealon had a “unique political brain of enormous capacity”, Taoiseach Enda Kenny has told the Dáil. In a tribute to the former Fine Gael TD and minister of state, Mr Kenny said Mr Nealon had an exceptional career in politics and journalism. He died in January, aged 84.

“In every role he gave of his best, not alone as an exemplary public servant, but as an exemplary, compassionate and dignified human being,” Mr Kenny said. “In every interaction, he recognised the other person’s humanity and dignity, which explains why when Ted’s passing was announced it was met with such personal sadness and fond affection in the former constituency of Sligo-Leitrim.’’

On behalf of the Labour Party, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin said Mr Nealon had carved that rare path from prominent current affairs journalist and broadcaster to minister of state.

Mr Howlin recalled that he was editor and founder of Nealon’s Guide to the Dáil and Seanad. “It was one of the most important works in introducing the innate love most Irish people have of the political systems here and giving us the factsheet to work on,” Mr Howlin added.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said Mr Nealon was a “ground-breaking person in terms of media and politics’’. He himself could trace his real engagement with politics toRTÉ 7 Days TV programme, on which Mr Nealon had worked as a journalist.

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams said people like Ted Nealon and Brian Farrell had modernised people’s understanding of politics, particularly in their detailed approach and the encyclopaedic knowledge they had. “His work as a journalist obviously empowered him and gave him particular insights as to how he would function as a deputy,” Mr Adams added.

Independent TD Shane Ross, on behalf of the technical group, said Mr Nealon had starred in RTÉ’s general election programme of 1973 because of his extraordinary amount of knowledge.

As a young man, Mr Ross added, he had a versatile sporting career as a Gaelic footballer with Sligo and playing rugby for Lancashire.

Deadly future heatwaves in the UK could kill thousands

“warn our scientists”


Britain will experience three times as many heatwaves as it does now by 2100

Today’s children will face deadly heatwaves which could kill thousands more people by the end of the century, the Royal Society has warned.

If governments do not get a handle on global warming by 2100, Britain will experience three times as many heatwaves as it does now with the death toll rising

Around 2,000 people die each year in the UK because of hot weather, with the elderly at most risk. But that could rise to at least 6,000 in the next century and probably higher because the percentage of over-65s is rising dramatically.

There will also be three times as many floods annually and twice as many droughts, the Royal Society predicts in its new report ‘Resilience to Extreme Weather’ which was published on Thursday.

Experts claim the government must implement new strategies for mitigating the devastation caused by extreme weather including res-establishing flood plains; building dams; increasing reservoir capacity; planting new forests near coasts and creating artificial reefs and coastal barrages.

Professor Georgina Mace, Chair of the working group for the report said: “We are not resilient to the extremes of weather that we experience now and many people are already extremely vulnerable.

“If we continue on our current trajectory the problem is likely to get much worse as our climate and population change.

“By acting now we can reduce the serious risks for our children and grandchildren.”

Scientists calculated the impact of climate change and population changes on the chances of people being affected by floods, droughts and heatwaves around the world.

In the UK a dense and increasingly ageing population means that heatwaves were the most serious threat. The British population is expected to swell to 75 million by 2011 with a huge rise in the number of pensioners.

More than 2,000 British deaths were attributed to the warmest summer for 500 years in 2003. Last year, up to 760 people died in England alone during the July heatwave.

Scientists adopted a “worst case” scenario by assuming an increase in average temperatures around the world of 2.6 – 4.8C by 2100.

But global warming is on course to reach this level unless governments agree to a meaningful strategy for cutting greenhouse gas emissions at critical talks next year.

The researchers defined a heatwave as a run of five days during which night-time temperatures are at least 5C above the norm.

The report issued an urgent call to both governments and private companies to do more to address extreme weather hazards.

The experts recommended that big engineering projects should be combined with natural ecosystem-based approaches such as re-establishing flood plains, protecting coastlines with mangrove forests, and planting vegetation.

The scientists also warned that unless companies improved the way they handle weather risks their credit ratings could suffer.

Co-author Rowan Douglas, chairman of the Willis Research Network – which advises public and private institutions on risk, said it was important that city planners also factor in the increased likelihood of extreme weather events.

“At a macro level, we will re-build most of the world’s cities in the next 30 years, literally,” he said. “We have a choice whether to build them to be vulnerable or resilient.”

The report did not look at wind damage, which poses the greatest potential risk to property in the UK.

Prof Joanna Haigh, Professor of Atmospheric Physics and Co-Director of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change and Environment, Imperial College London, said:

“Following widely-reported projections of global mean temperature rise this report spells out very clearly the potential impact of climate change on the lives of real people across the globe.

“While it is impossible to predict the occurrence of a particular extreme weather event in a given place it is clear that the risk of occurrence of such events is increasing, and the potential impacts disastrous.”

Prof Andrew Watkinson, Professor of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia (UEA), added:“This timely report reminds us that extreme weather events affect us all, that we are not as resilient to current extreme events as we could be and that the nature of extreme events is likely to change in the future.”

Dr Grant Allen, Atmospheric physicist at the University of Manchester, said: “One thing is for sure – what once was an extreme weather event will become more normal. It is essentially a widening of the weather spectrum: more frequent floods, droughts, heatwaves and hurricanes.”

Our brain neurons know what is virtual or what is real

A new study shows us?


Neurons in the brain react differently to virtual reality than they do to real-life environments, shows a study. 

The finding can be significant for people who use virtual reality for gaming, military, commercial, scientific or other purposes.

“The pattern of activity in a brain region involved in spatial learning in the virtual world is completely different than when it processes activity in the real world,” said Mayank Mehta, a professor of physics, neurology and neurobi ..

For the study, Mehta led a team focusing on the hippocampus, a region of the brain involved in diseases such as Alzheimer’s, stroke, depression, schizophrenia, epilepsy and post-traumatic stress disorder.

To test whether the hippocampus could actually form spatial maps using only visual landmarks, the researchers devised a non-invasive virtual reality environment.

They studied how the hippocampal neurons in the brains of rats reacted in the virtual world without the ability to use smells and sounds as cues.

The scientists were surprised to find that the results from the virtual and real environments were entirely different.

“The neural pattern in virtual reality is substantially different from the activity pattern in the real world. We need to fully understand how virtual reality affects the brain,” Mehta noted.

When people walk or try to remember something, the activity in the hippocampus becomes very rhythmic.

Those rhythms facilitate the formation of memories and our ability to recall them.

Mehta hypothesizes that in some people with learning and memory disorders, these rhythms are impaired.

By retuning and synchronising these rhythms, doctors will be able to repair damaged memory as “the need to repair memories is enormous,” he concluded.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Friday 13th February 2014

Seventy nine year old activist Margaretta D’Arcy transferred to Mountjoy prison


Artists (79) was serving second month of sentence in Limerick before being moved

Artist and peace activist Margaretta D’Arcy has been transferred from Limerick Prison to Mountjoy in Dublin, her family confirmed today.

Artist and peace activist Margaretta D’Arcy has been transferred from Limerick Prison to Mountjoy in Dublin, her family confirmed today.

The 79-year-old Aosdána member, who is entering the second month of a three-month sentence, was informed that she was to be transferred to the Dóchas women’s prison this morning , her son Finn Arden said.

“I spoke to her by telephone and she was in good form,” Mr Arden said.

His mother was imprisoned in mid-January for refusing to sign a bail bond to uphold the law and keep away from unauthorised zones at Shannon airport, following imposition of a suspended sentence for illegal incursion of the runway at Shannon on October 7th, 2012.

She is suffering from cancer and has arthritis.

Earlier this month, the Department of Justice said there are no plans to offer her early release from prison on compassionate grounds.

Former UN assistant secretary general Denis Halliday has appealed to Minister for Justice Alan Shatter as have a number of MEPs and several TDs, but the department has said that Mr Shatter believes resolution of the matter “rests entirely with the individual concerned”, as stated in the Dáil.

Ms D’Arcy has been visited in a private capacity by Sabina Coyne, wife of President Michael D Higgins, and Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams, and was in court again earlier this week relating to protests over US military use of Shannon.

The seriousness of the climate situation has yet to sink in nationally


We are witnessing a displaced fury against windmills and pylons rather than tackling the real threat to our future
It is tempting to imagine that a sea change in Ireland’s on-again, off-again relationship with the reality of climate change has occurred in recent times, as extreme weather events have yet again battered our coastline, inundated farms and flooded urban areas, with the latest wave of damage running to more than €100 million.
Minister for Finance Michael Noonan, visiting areas ofLimerick hit by flooding, commented: “I think we all now believe in climate change . . . the defences that were here, with the new climates that we are having all around the world, are no longer adequate.”
Next up was Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin. “When calm is restored I think we have to do some serious thinking about long-term flood defences because clearly climate change is a reality.”
Then Brian Hayes, Minister of State for the Office of Public Works, said the OPW had identified some 250 at-risk locations for repeated flooding. The costs of trying to defend these locations, he warned, would run into “tens of billions of euros”.
Meanwhile, Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Opposition leader Micheál Martin both agreed that climate change was indeed real. The one who doesn’t seem to have got the memo was Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan. As the storms rolled in and the flood waters rose higher, Hogan chose instead to join Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney in celebrating securing a renewal of the environmental vandalism that will be Ireland’s latest derogation from the EU nitrates directive.
“Whether we have scientific evidence or not in relation to climate change, it looks as if we’re going to have these types of weather patterns in the future,” said Hogan. This was about as close to uttering the “c” word as he has managed in 2½ years. And yes Minister, there is evidence alright, mountains – and lakes – of it, in fact.
Tipping point: Not everyone is so conflicted. The world is “perilously close” to a climate tipping point, IMF managing director Christine Lagarde warned recently.
With a culinary flourish, she added: “unless we take action, future generations will be roasted, toasted, fried and grilled”.
The public service broadcaster RTE with a budget in excess of €300 million, should have a team covering climate and environment with the depth and passion lavished on business or sports. Instead, it scrapped its solitary environment post.
Rosy future: The Marian Finucane Show on Sunday featured an economist gushing about the rosy future of improved labour market opportunities his three-year-old daughter would enjoy by the mid-2030’s.
Meanwhile, the World Bank’s 2012 document Turn Down the Heat projects that global average temperatures will break the plus 2 degrees “point of no return” by the end of that decade. This locks us into a future of food and fresh water shortages, devastating and intensifying weather extremes, coastal inundation, desertification, ocean acidification and mass extinction events. This shocking reality has barely made a dent in our national discourse.
Quite how anyone imagines the global economy could survive such relentless disruption has become the question that dare not speak its name.
RTÉ’s failure on environmental reporting is a tragedy. The print media have hardly fared much better. RTÉ’s audience council is now inviting the public to comment on its communication of climate change. Submissions close next Monday.
Interestingly, Met Éireann’s head of forecasting, Dr Gerry Fleming, pointedly avoided linking the ratcheting up of extreme weather events in Ireland to climate change, stating: “it’s our grandchildren or great grandchildren who will make that call”. His British counterpart, the Met Office’s chief scientist, Dame Julia Slingo, had no such reservations. “All the evidence suggests there is a link to climate change . . . there is no evidence to counter the basic premise that a warmer world will lead to more intense daily and hourly rain events.”
The clamour for answers is gathering pace yet, oddly, the outrage is not being directed against the real enemy, an energy system utterly dependent on coal, oil and peat-burning. In our displaced fury, we are, Don Quixote-style, tilting instead at “ugly” windmills and pylons.
Amid the gloom, some positive news: An Taisce has just established a new climate change committee (disclosure: I’m a member) to take a more forceful approach to communicating this crisis and challenging Ireland’s dangerous do-nothing consensus.

Minister Reilly says Rehab cannot be forced to comply with public pay policy


Rehab will hold meeting next week to decide whether to disclose CEO’s salary

The Minister for Health has admitted that Rehab cannot be forced to abide by public pay policy.

But James Reilly says the government expects organisations receiving major public funding to pay staff at similar rates to public servants.

The Dáil Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has agreed to hold a hearing with Rehab “in the next fortnight” to discuss pay and funding issues.

Meanwhile, the Rehab board of directors is meeting next Monday to decide whether to reveal the salary package of its chief executive, Angela Kerins.

The Chairman of the Group, Brian Kerr, said last month that the remuneration of the CEO is a matter for the Rehab Group board – and since the last voluntary disclosure of her salary in April 2011, there has been no formal request from any relevant authority to do so again.

In a statement on January 23rd, Mr. Kerr said some of the pressure that has been placed on Ms. Kerins and her family has been entirely unfair and very personal.

Minister Reilly says the government will not stop until it has full transparency in bodies that receive State funding. But he is ruling out an independent inquiry.

The human brain now reacts to emoticons naturally,

says neuroscientists


The humble smiley face or ‘emoticon’ is now much more than a simple pattern of colons and symbols. According to a recent study, the human brain now reacts emotionally to seeing them on our screens.

With the advent of text messages as one of the most popular forms of communication, human beings as a physically emotive people meant some messages were lost in translation without the addition of a 🙂 or 😛 to indicate their mood.

Now, according to a team of neuroscientists, we have used emoticons so often in the past 40 years that the human brain now recognises them as human faces.

The report was published in Social Neuroscience and titled Emoticons in mind: An event-related potential study involving 20 participants in the study.

As part of the experiment, the 20 people were shown images of upright and inverted faces, emoticons and meaningless strings of characters. The participants’ facial responses, known in neuroscience as the N170, showed that inverted faces “produces a larger and later N170 while inverting objects which are perceived featurally rather than configurally reduces the amplitude of the N170.”

The first documented use of the emoticon was by Scott E Fahlman from Carnegie Mellon University, who suggested that the smiley face be used as an indication of when something is a joke or not.

2014 Google Science Fair seeks entries from teens 13-18 worldwide


2014 Google Science Fair is seeking entries from teens worldwide

Students aged 13-18 who have a concept for changing the world are invited to submit their ideas to the fourth annual Google Science Fair and be in with a chance of winning some pretty spectacular prizes.

Students from around the world may enter the Google Science Fair. All they need to participate is curiosity and an internet connection, Clare Conway of Google Science Fair team wrote on Google’s Official Blog.

Students have until 12 May to submit their projects. The winners will be announced at a finalist event at Google headquarters in Mountain View, California, on 22 September.

M/s Conway also detailed the prizes that are up for grabs.

“This year’s grand prize winner will have the chance to join the Virgin Galactic team at Spaceport America in New Mexico as they prepare for space flight and will be among the first to welcome the astronauts back to Earth, a 10-day trip to the Galapagos Islands aboard the National Geographic Endeavour and a full year’s digital access to Scientific American magazine for their school.

“Age category winners will have a choice between going behind the scenes at the LEGO factory in Billund, Denmark, or an amazing experience at either a Google office or National Geographic.”

If there is global warming this is what Britain look like


The possibility that global warming might have something to do with the extraordinary weather is now rapidly floating up the agenda.

It is an all too familiar sight these days as Father Thames reclaims his ancient sovereignty over his flood plain. A Street, in Oxford, has become a river, banked by sodden suburban homes. Its inhabitants have taken to canoes instead of cars. But this time there is something else: people are holding a banner: “Can we talk about climate change now?”

Well, I guess they can. At first, the possibility that global warming might have something to do with the extraordinary weather – which has dumped nearly 300 Windermeres of water on Britain in two months – was little discussed. But it is now rapidly floating up the agenda.

After years avoiding what used to be his trademark issue, David Cameron has now twice voiced his strong suspicion of a link with climate change, most recently in a passionately delivered peroration at Tuesday’s press conference.

Junior environment minister Dan Rogerson, standing in for the more sceptical Owen Paterson, agreed on Thursday that global warming was to blame. And Lib Dem Energy Secretary Ed Davey accused some Conservatives of “parroting the arguments of the most discredited climate change deniers” – only for his deputy, Michael Fallon, to hit back by denouncing “unthinking climate change worship”.

More significantly, Dame Julia Slingo, the Met Office’s chief scientist, judged that “all the evidence” suggested that climate change helped cause the “most exceptional period of rainfall in 248 years”. She was launching an official study that fingered increasingly heavy rains, sea-level rise in the Channel, and an increasing intensity of Atlantic storms hitting Britain as possible signs of its effects.

The report also cited the “extreme cold” of the North American winter, stretching all the way down to New Orleans, which has even forced a polar bear at a Chicago zoo to take refuge indoors. Indeed, last month Michigan became the chilliest place on the planet, beating the South Pole: water thrown from buckets turned to ice in mid-air, while the 200-strong community of Hell, west of Detroit, froze over.

California, meanwhile, is suffering its most severe drought in a century; Australia has just had its hottest year on record, and Argentina sweltered through some of its worst heat in December. And Arctic Norway has been so hot and dry that it has experienced three major wildfires in two months, while Greenland has been basking in a heatwave.

None of this, let it quickly be said, can clearly be attributed to climate change. Even the Met Office report said “it is not possible, yet, to give a definitive answer”, leading Lord Lawson to protest: “It’s just this Julia Slingo woman” making an “absurd statement”. More clarity may come – a 2011 study found that global warming made the devastating floods in 2000 at least twice as likely to happen – but firm conclusions are, at the least, premature.

Nor is it clear that such “extreme events” have increased because of climate change. But what does seem to be certain – and has been consistently predicted for decades – is that these will become more intense as the world warms up and injects greater energy into the weather system. So the lesson of this winter’s weather and the other extremes around the world is that – whatever their cause – this is what climate change is expected to look like. Or as one former Tory ministerial adviser put it to me: “We are watching the trailer of the movie called Global Warming.”

That undermines a reassuring view that seems to have been adopted by Mr Paterson – that climate change will do more good than harm for most of this century and is, as he put it, “something we can adapt to over time”.

This approach rests on over-simple calculations of longer growing sessions, the fertilising effects of increased carbon dioxide in the air, and reduced deaths from cold in developed countries (the fate of the poor, who suffer throughout, is glossed over), which pay scant attention to the effects of extreme weather.

But these, as we are finding out, can be extremely disruptive. So far only a tenth as many homes have been inundated as in the 2007 floods, but 70 per cent of the fire and rescue services are caught up in the biggest mobilisation since the Second World War.

Fishermen have been stranded in port, tens of thousands of families have lost power, and much of the country almost came to a halt this week as roads and bridges closed, and rail links were smashed: rail chiefs warn that hundreds of places on railway lines are at risk and that services will be disrupted for months. The estimated cost, 1 per cent of GDP, threatens the recovery. So what will the feature film be like?

It’s time to do more than talk about it.

In with a chance: rhinos have just been given more protection

Prince William makes his mark on the wild side

Now for some good news: the agreement this week, between 46 countries in London, to clamp down on the illegal wildlife trade (since the original treaty to control it was agreed 41 years ago). It comes not a moment too soon; the trade is driving the rhino, the elephant and many less spectacular species toward extinction.

It also marks the emergence of a new big player on the international environmental stage, joining his father and grandfather. The Duke of Cambridge has shown this week that – just like the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Edinburgh – he is a force to be reckoned with. It was en route to the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, on the Royal Yacht Britannia, that an abiding love of nature was instilled in Prince Philip as he tried out a new camera by taking pictures of seabirds. This led, in time, to him effectively lobbying governments as head of the World Wildlife Fund.

Prince Charles has taken the issue even further, campaigning on a host of issues, and increasingly using his convening power to bring governments together. His son joined him in making this week’s meeting a success. Let’s hope it’s just a beginning.

Homes built of fungi (but will there be mushroom inside?)

We’ve gone through the Stone, Bronze and Iron Ages to the Atomic one. But what’s next? Promoters of a new building technique, about to be tried out in New York claim it’s going to be – wait for it – the “Mushroom Age”. In future, they hope, we’ll live in self-growing houses made of fungi.

Don’t worry, it’s not like the Smurfs’ spotty homes. This will be very hi-tech, if organic, stuff – based on bricks made of corn stalks and mushroom cells that grow to form blocks in any shape an architect dreams up. And once they are laid, the bricks go on growing, meshing together and strengthening construction.

The first such building, three giant joined-together towers, is to open at the Museum of Modern Art PS1 in Queens in June to provide cool (in more senses than one) seating for people attending its summer concerts. Pedro Gadanho, of the museum, believes the material “could change the way people build”.

“It’s really inexpensive, almost cheaper than anything,” adds its designer, David Benjamin. It emits no carbon, it requires almost zero energy, and doesn’t create any waste (eventually it’s composted). Enough, in short, to turn a Smurf green.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Friday 18th October 2013

Merkel and Schaeuble are friends of Ireland says Michael Noonan


German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, left pic. gestures as he speaks to German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Not clear yet if Ireland will need a lifeline to exit bailout

GERMAN finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble is a friend of Ireland who would do nothing damaging to the country, Finance Minister Michael Noonan said tonight.

The comments come just days after Mr Schaeuble signalled Europe’s bailout pot was unlikely to pay some of the cost of our multi billion euro bank bailout, despite hopes from the Government to the contrary.

“They don’t have a lot of leverage on us now that we’re nearly out of the (bailout) programme. He wouldn’t do anything that would be damaging to Ireland, ” Mr Noonan told the Dublin Economics Workshop being held in Limerick.

“He’s a friend as is Chancellor Merkel.”

The German comments earlier this week appeared to be the latest blow to Ireland after the country’s second biggest party insisted the Government must raise the 12.5pc corporation tax rate.

Reports last week said early coalition talks between the social democratic SPD and Angela Merkel’s conservative CDU were snagged on Irish issues. The SPD is also completely opposed to the direct recapitalisation of troubled European banks through the European Stability Mechanism (ESM)

Mr Noonan reiterated in the Budget that our 12.5pc rate will be maintained. He said tonight that Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore has a good relationship with the SPD and that there was a “bit of diplomatic activity going on in the background” to ensure that nothing is said in the negotiations to form a coalition that would damage Ireland’s interests.

On elements of the Budget, Mr Noonan said “taking things away from people is always very difficult.”

“It’s probably the hardest thing in politics,” he said.

He said some people had been calling on the Government not to scale back from the originally planned €3.1bn adjustment, but that there had to bepolitical management, pointing out there were little protests following Tuesday’s Budget announcement.

The minister also said that the announcement in the Budget of measures to tackle aggressive tax avoidance by multinationals had not sparked threats from companies to leave the country.

“Actually there’s been a very good international response and by lookingafter our reputation, I think we have enhanced Ireland as a location for foreign direct investment.”

Mr Noonan said the banking sector in Ireland wasn’t sufficient to carry an economy to which he would aspire.

“Im not sure that any banking sector in Europe is at this stage, because they’ve all deliveraged so much,” he said.

Mr Noonan is travelling to Strasbourg and Frankfurt next week to meet with the European Commission and European Central Bank, and the following week to the IMF in Washington, to discuss exiting the bailout.

He said no decision had been made on seeking a so called precautionary credit line, a form of overdraft, to ease the country’s full return to the money markets.

“There is a strong view that we don’t need alternative arrangements. Im risk averse on all these things so Ill take the best advice I can get, we’ll reflect on it and see what our next move will be.”

Funding of €15 million promised for mental health says Minister Lynch 


Mental Health Minister Kathleen Lynch has said she has been assured that €15 million that was due in 2014 for mental health would be restored in 2015 and that she was not disappointed with the €20 million provided in last week’s budget.

She also said she hoped that mental health would secure the full €35 million in 2015 in line with the Programme for Government. Therefore, she hoped that €50 million would be given to mental health in 2015, €35 million as per the Programme for Government and €15 million due from 2014.

Speaking to IMN, Minister Lynch said it was now time to take a step back and review the value that has been provided and service delivered for mental health.

She also said one of her priorities was to ensure that all the promised community mental health posts are in place where they are needed, with a particular emphasis on child and adolescent, old age and intellectual disability mental health teams.

The Programme for Government commits to ringfencing “€35 million annually from within the health budget to develop community mental health teams and services as outlined in A Vision for Change”.

According to the Minister, it is now a good time to consolidate what has been achieved to ensure that resources received to date are utilised to the best possible extent for mental health.

In a statement to IMN, the Department of Health said “mental health has again succeeded in obtaining a substantial ringfenced allocation, within the overall budgetary context. The current economic environment presents a significant challenge for the health system generally in delivering services.  However, mental health is being treated as a priority in so far as we can”.

“This €20 million means that, despite serious resource pressures overall, funding of €90 million has been made available since 2012, up to the end of 2014, that has been specifically earmarked for mental health and suicide prevention,” the Department stated.

The actual amount of funding to be provided to run the mental health service will not be available until the HSE publishes its Service Plan for 2014 in the coming weeks.

The national coalition Mental Health Reform has given a guarded welcome to last week’s Budget announcement.

According to Dr Shari McDaid, Director of Mental Health Reform: “While we welcome the commitment to invest €20 million in 2014 in community mental health services, we had hoped to see the Government fully honour their Programme for Government commitment of €35 million for community mental health services. We are concerned that the €20 million investment will not translate into the needed staff on the ground.”

Sleep cleans the human brain of toxins


The brain uses sleep to wash away the waste toxins built up during a hard day’s thinking, researchers have shown.

The US team believe the “waste removal system” is one of the fundamental reasons for sleep.

Their study, in the journal Science, showed brain cells shrink during sleep to open up the gaps between neurons and allow fluid to wash the brain clean.

They also suggest that failing to clear away some toxic proteins may play a role in brain disorders.

One big question for sleep researchers is why do animals sleep at all when it leaves them vulnerable to predators?

It has been shown to have a big role in the fixing of memories in the brain and learning, but a team at the University of Rochester Medical Centre believe that “housework” may be one of the primary reasons for sleep.

“The brain only has limited energy at its disposal and it appears that it must choose between two different functional states – awake and aware or asleep and cleaning up,” said researcher Dr Maiken Nedergaard.

“You can think of it like having a house party. You can either entertain the guests or clean up the house, but you can’t really do both at the same time.”


Their findings build on last year’s discovery of the brain’s own network of plumbing pipes – known as the glymphatic system – which carry waste material out of the brain.

Scientists, who imaged the brains of mice, showed that the glymphatic system became 10-times more active when the mice were asleep.

Cells in the brain, probably the glial cells which keep nerve cells alive, shrink during sleep. This increases the size of the interstitial space, the gaps between brain tissue, allowing more fluid to be pumped in and wash the toxins away.

Dr Nedergaard said this was a “vital” function for staying alive, but did not appear to be possible while the mind was awake.

She told the BBC: “This is purely speculation, but it looks like the brain is losing a lot of energy when pumping water across the brain and that is probably incompatible with processing information.”

She added that the true significance of the findings would be known only after human studies, but doing similar experiments in an MRI machine would be relatively easy.

Commenting on the research Dr Neil Stanley, an independent sleep expert, said: “This is a very interesting study that shows sleep is essential downtime to do some housekeeping to flush out neurotoxins.

“There is good data on memory and learning, the psychological reason for sleep. But this is the actual physical and chemical reason for sleep, something is happening which is important.”

Dr Raphaelle Winsky-Sommerer, a lecturer in sleep at Surrey University, said: “It’s not surprising, our whole physiology is changing during sleep.

“The novelty is the role of the interstitial space, but I think it’s an added piece of the puzzle not the whole mechanism.

“The significance is that, yet again, it shows sleep may contribute to the restoration of brain cell function and may have protective effects.”

Many conditions which lead to the loss of brain cells such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease are characterised by the build-up of damaged proteins in the brain.

The researchers suggest that problems with the brain’s cleaning mechanism may contribute to such diseases, but caution more research is needed.

The charity Alzheimer’s Research UK said more research would be needed to see whether damage to the brain’s waste clearance system could lead to diseases like dementia, but the findings offered a “potential new avenue for investigation”.

Screening significantly reduces death from prostate cancer


(Right picture) Prostate Cancer Picture

The long-running European Randomised Study of Screening for Prostate Cancer (ERSPC) last week published its 11-year follow-up results, which add weight to their original findings by confirming that screening does significantly reduce deaths from prostate cancer.

Published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the study finds that a man who undergoes prostate-specific antigen (PSA) testing will have his risk of dying from prostate cancer reduced by 29 per cent.

Screening for prostate cancer is controversial. Prostate cancer can develop so slowly that it will never cause problems during a man’s lifetime. A major consideration for any national screening protocol, regardless of disease type, is to weigh up the possibility someone will have needless treatment against saving lives.

“The difficulties around screening for prostate cancer occur because the PSA test is not a specific test for prostate cancer; it can only indicate that a man may have a problem with his prostate gland that needs further investigation. Up to two-thirds of men with a raised PSA do not have prostate cancer, therefore routine PSA testing of all men could lead to much anxiety and alarm,” concluded a 2010 analysis on the subject. The US Preventive Services Task Force continued: “The evidence is insufficient to recommend for or against routine screening for prostate cancer using PSA testing or digital rectal examination (DRE).”

Many doctors also argue against PSA testing for men who are in their 70s or older, because even if prostate cancer were detected, most men could be dead of something else before the cancer progressed. Others argue against PSA testing for men who are too young, because too many men would have to be screened to find one cancer, and too many men would therefore have treatment for cancer that would not progress.

The European Randomised Study of Screening for Prostate Cancer, initiated in the early 1990s, aimed to evaluate the effect of screening with PSA testing on death rates from prostate cancer. The trial involved 182,000 men between the ages of 50 and 74 years in seven European countries randomly assigned to a group that was offered PSA screening at an average of once every four years or to a control group that did not receive such screening.

During a median follow-up of almost nine years, the cumulative detected incidence of prostate cancer was 820 per 10,000 in the screening group and 480 per 10,000 in the control group. Deaths from these cancers in this time was much lower.

There were 214 prostate cancer deaths in the screening group and 326 in the control group, a difference of 7.1 men per 10,000 in the tested group compared to the control. The researchers concluded two years ago that PSA-based screening did reduce the rate of death from prostate cancer by 20 per cent, but that this was associated with a high risk of over-diagnosis: 1,410 men would need to be screened and 48 additional cases of prostate cancer would need to be treated to prevent just one death from prostate cancer.

Now, the 11-year follow-up results have confirmed that a man who undergoes PSA testing will have his risk of dying from prostate cancer reduced by 29 per cent. By extending the patient follow-up to an average of 11 years, the study shows that 31 per cent fewer men than previously indicated would need to be diagnosed with cancer to save one life.

As Professor Fritz Schroeder, the international coordinator of the ERSPC study and Professor of Urology, Erasmus Medical Centre, The Netherlands, explains: “Extending the follow-up period strengthens the argument for screening. But it does not decide it. Even so, the risk reduction trend in our study is promising and it is imperative that we continue the follow-up. So far, only about 30 per cent of all men in the study have died. If a larger reduction of prostate cancer mortality is seen by further extending the study beyond the current median of 11 years, we can determine with greater certainty whether the benefit of screening outweighs the disadvantages.

“Screening programmes for prostate cancer will not be feasible until the medical communities can confidently balance the risk of reducing death from prostate cancer with these unacceptably high levels over diagnosis and overtreatment,” adds Prof Schroeder.

Compared with the US, individual PSA testing started late in most European countries and meant that only a relatively small number of men taking part in the control arm of the ERSPC study had previously taken a PSA test.

“This makes the ERSPC study fundamentally different from the US-based Prostate, Lung, Colorectal, and Ovarian (PLCO) Cancer screening trial where there was a high contamination rate in the control arm, with at least 44 per cent of participants already PSA-tested prior to being randomised into the study,” says Prof Schroeder.

The PLCO study has been unable to demonstrate any difference in prostate cancer mortality between the two arms of the study.

The ERSPC study and the PLCO study are the scientific world’s main chances to determine the benefits of screening for prostate cancer.

If a relevant difference of 20 per cent or more is shown in these trials at an acceptable cost in terms of quality of life and money, it can be expected that governments worldwide will introduce screening programmes for prostate cancer, which will then be included into paid healthcare policy packages.

“The great hope of all investigators is that this in fact will happen and that early diagnosis can be offered to all men at risk to decrease the burden of suffering and potential death from prostate cancer,” says Pror Schroeder.

Asteroid could collide with Earth in 2032, says Ukrainian astronomers


Scientists say there is a chance an asteroid could hit our planet in 2032, creating an explosion 50 times greater than the most powerful nuclear bomb.

Astronomers say the 1,345-foot (410m) rock could pass by or hit the Earth on 26 August 2032.

The asteroid was discovered moving through the Camelopardalis – or Giraffe – constellation by scientists at the Crimean Astrophysical Observatory in southern Ukraine last week.

“I was watching the Giraffe constellation, monitoring it as part of our comet search programme,” astronomer Gennady Borisov said.

“The first observations show that it moves quickly and is relatively close.”

Astronomers in Italy, Spain, the UK and Russia have now confirmed the presence of the rock, and it has been added to the Minor Planet Center’s list of potentially hazardous asteroids.

If it hit the Earth, the asteroid would create an explosion equivalent to 2,500 megatons of TNT, or 50 times greater than the most powerful nuclear bomb ever used.

However, in reality the threat is minor, with astronomers putting the chance of direct impact at one in 63,000 – the likelihood being that its orbit will miss our planet by some 1.7 million kilometres.

But this did not stop Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin announcing that the asteroid would pose a “great challenge for our national space industry” on Twitter.

Mr Rogozin has previously pushed for the development of anti-asteroid defence systems, like former MP Lembit Opik in the UK.

Nasa played down the possibility of impact, with Don Yeoman, manager of the administration’s Near-Earth Object Profram Office, saying: “The current probability of no impact in 2032 [is] about 99.998 per cent.

“This is a relatively new discovery. With more observations, I fully expect we will be able to significantly reduce, or rule out entirely, any impact probability for the foreseeable future.”

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Friday/Saturday 11th & 12th October 2013

Our financial crisis was caused by greed says Central Bank Chief


“Greed, disregard for risk” and “gross mismanagement” helped cause the banking crisis, according to the new deputy head of the Central Bank.

In his first public address since being appointed the deputy governor of the Central Bank, Cyril Roux questioned whether an ever-increasing amount of rules and directives is the best way to regulate the banking industry, or if there needs to be a switch to a so-called principles-based framework.


In a hard-hitting speech, he hinted at a shift in focus for regulators, away from a focus on what banks do and instead focusing on bankers themselves.

He said: “Few would dispute that some of the most galling failures have had very little to do with capital requirements and everything to do with greed coupled with disregard for the risks, or gross misjudgment about them.”

The focus of banking regulation tends to be on guarding against the risk of damaging bank runs, he said.

In contrast, supervision of the securities industry – including bond and share dealing – grew out of the need to protect investors, he said.


Mr Roux was speaking at a conference on regulation held by the Central Bank in Dublin yesterday.

Five years after the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the start of the financial crisis, he asked whether “we have fully seized the opportunity” of the crisis to tackle the issue of how best to regulate the sector.

Financial regulation is ultimately a product of the political process, he said.

Figuring out how best to resolve the “conundrums” involved will be achieved through democratic dialogue.

French-born Mr Roux replaces Matthew Elderfield who left the bank in the summer to work for Lloyds Bank in London.

Small businesses in Ireland upbeat about the next 12 months   

Ireland’s small business community is upbeat about its prospects for the next 12 months, with most respondents to a survey saying they expect further improvements in trading conditions in the coming year.

The latest quarterly SME Business Trends survey, covering the third quarter of the year, from sectoral lobby group ISME details positive movement in 11 of the 12 confidence indicators. A reading of 15% — up from 5% in the previous quarter — of firms expecting to increase employment in the next year marks the best figure in this regard since the end of 2007.

ISME chief Mark Fielding said: “It is imperative that the budget next Tuesday does nothing to stifle the positive sentiment and trends in the indigenous SME sector. While the majority of SMEs continue to battle out of recession, the mindset is positive and cautiously expansionary. The main focus must remain on cost curtailment, and any government budgetary intervention must not interfere with the turnaround.”

The last quarter saw a fall in the percentage of SMEs exporting goods — from 29% to 22% — but this was the only indicator to show a decline. Profitability expectations went from 0% in the second quarter to 14% at the end of September, putting the rating in positive mode for the first time since the beginning of the economic downturn.

The survey also shows SMEs have increased appetite for investment — the level of firms investing in their business is up from 16% to 26% on a quarter-by-quarter basis, with the level of firms planning future investment up from 20% to 23%.

Over half of young Irish people suffer a mental health problem by age 24


Young Irish people have a higher rate of mental health difficulties than their peers in Europe and the USA, with more than half suffering a significant problem by the age of 24.

The mental disorder could involve a young person experiencing a behavioural or psychological problem either causing them distress or anxiety, such as a bereavement.

More seriously, it could see the young person suffering from a mood disorder such as depression, experiencing psychosis, or having suicidal thoughts.

By their mid-20s, nearly 75pc have engaged in binge drinking, with one in five meeting the criteria for mental health problems linked to this behaviour at some time in their lives.

The findings from research by the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) showed one in five young Irish adults aged 19-24 and one in six young people aged 11-13 are experiencing mental disorder.

The ‘Mental Health Of Young People in Ireland’ report pointed out that suffering psychological stress in early life leaves young people at increased risk during their adult years.

Professor Mary Cannon of the RCSI said: “Our research shows that high numbers of teenagers and young adults in Ireland are experiencing mental ill-health at any given time.

“For the first time in Ireland, we have evidence. . . that young people who experience mental ill-health during adolescence have higher rates of mental disorders and substance misuse during their young adult years.”

High numbers of young adults aged 19-24 engaged in the misuse of alcohol and drugs, according to the findings of the RCSI Psychiatric Epidemiology Research across the Lifespan (PERL) Group.

“Of particular concern is that three out of four young adults met lifetime criteria for binge drinking. The research also reveals that almost one in five (19pc) had thought about suicide,” said Prof Cannon.

The research involved surveying and interviewing more than 400 people between the ages of 11 and 24. It is the first time such comprehensive data about disorders among young people in Ireland was published.

“Our research points to high levels of self-injurious behaviour and suicidal thoughts among Irish youth,” she said.

“For young adults, just under one in 10 had engaged in deliberate self-harm and one in five experienced suicidal thoughts.

“Both of our studies (found) many of the young people who were experiencing mental health difficulties had not sought help,” Prof Cannon added.

‘DISCORD’ “We found that experiences of family discord, intimate relationship abuse and stress related to death, health, work and relationships were implicated in young people’s risk of experiencing a mental disorder.

“We also found that being of a minority sexual orientation was associated with mental ill-health among young adults.”

The report was launched by Junior Health Minister Kathleen Lynch.

She said: “I would appeal to any young person who thinks they may have a mental health issue not to suffer in silence and to seek help.”

New Alzheimer’s treatment breakthrough as British scientists pave way for a simple pill cure


Historic ‘turning point’ hailed as UK researchers discover how to halt death of brain cells, opening new pathway for future drug treatments

Scientists have hailed an historic “turning point” in the search for a medicine that could beat Alzheimer’s disease, after a drug-like compound was used to halt brain cell death in mice for the first time.

Although the prospect of a pill for Alzheimer’s remains a long way off, the landmark British study provides a major new pathway for future drug treatments.

The compound works by blocking a faulty signal in brains affected by neurodegenerative diseases, which shuts down the production of essential proteins, leading to brain cells being unprotected and dying off.

It was tested in mice with prion disease – the best animal model of human neurodegenerative disorders – but scientists said they were confident the same principles would apply in a human brain with debilitating brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s.

The study, published today in the journal Science Translational Medicine, was carried out at the Medical Research Council’s (MRC) Toxicology Unit at the University of Leicester.

“It’s a real step forward,” team leader Professor Giovanna Mallucci said. “It’s the first time a substance has been given to mice that prevents brain disease. The fact that this is a compound that can be given orally, that gets into the brain and prevents brain disease, is a first in itself… We can go forward and develop better molecules and I can’t see why preventing this process should only be restricted to mice. I think this probably will translate into other mammalian brains.”

In debilitating brain diseases like Alzheimer’s, the production of new proteins in the brain is shut down by a build-up of “misfolded proteins” or amyloids. This build-up leads to an “over-activation” of a natural defence mechanism that stops essential proteins being produced. Without these proteins to protect them, brain cells die off – leading to the symptoms of diseases like Alzheimer’s.

The compound used in the study works by inhibiting an enzyme, known as PERK, which plays a key role in activating this defence mechanism. In mice with prion’s disease, it restored proteins to protect brain cells “stopping the disease in its tracks”, restoring some normal behaviours and preventing memory loss.

Although the compound also produced significant side effects in mice, including weight loss and mild diabetes, which was caused by damage to the pancreas, Professor Mallucci said it would “not be impossible” to develop a drug that protected the brain without the side effects and that work towards doing so had been “very promising”.

The breakthrough was greeted with excitement by scientists, who nonetheless cautioned that it remained a significant proof of principle and a possible basis for new treatments, rather than a guarantee of an Alzheimer’s cure in the near future.

 A Computer graphic of a vertical (coronal) slice through the brain of an Alzheimer patient.

Professor Roger Morris, acting head King’s College London’s department of chemistry, said: “This is the first convincing report that a small drug, of the type most conveniently turned into medicines, stops the progressive death of neurons in the brain as found, for instance, in Alzheimer’s disease. True, this study has been done in mice, not man; and it is prion disease, not Alzheimer’s, that has been cured.  However, there is considerable evidence that the way neurons die in both diseases is similar; and lessons learned in mice from prion disease have proved accurate guides to attenuate the progress of Alzheimer’s disease in patients.”

“From finding the first effective drug in a mouse, to having an effective medicine in man, usually takes decades to bring to fruition, in the very few cases in which it is successful. So, a cure for Alzheimer’s is not just around the corner. However, the critical point of principle made by Professor Mallucci’s study is that a drug, given orally, can arrest neuro-degeneration caused by amyloid in the brain.

”This finding, I suspect, will be judged by history as a turning point in the search for medicines to control and prevent Alzheimer’s disease.“

David Allsopp, professor of neuroscience at Lancaster University said that the study had thrown up ”very dramatic and highly encouraging results“, but said that more research was needed to overcome the “problematic side-effects” and to prove the technique would be effective against other disease like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

There are currently 800,000 people in the UK with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause. The number of people living with the condition is set to break one million by 2021, and represents an enormous health burden for the NHS and the social care system. Parkinson’s affect 1 in 500 people and around 127,000 people suffer from the condition.

Dr Eric Karran, director of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “Targeting a mechanism relevant to a number of neurodegenerative diseases could yield a single drug with wide-reaching benefits, but this compound is still at an early stage. It will be important for these findings to be repeated and tested in models of other neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease. While Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, other diseases that cause dementia are also characterised by the abnormal build-up of proteins in the brain.

“If this process is also working overtime in these conditions too, targeting it could be a promising avenue for investigation. However, what is true in animals does not always hold true in people and the ultimate test for this compound will be to see whether it is safe and effective in people with these diseases.”

Irish greenhouse emissions rise raises fears over our stance on pollution


The 3% rise in agricultural emissions was driven by a surge in animal numbers, particularly cattle and sheep.

Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions rose in 2012 for the first time in six years, according to new research.

The statistics, released yesterday by the state-run Environmental Protection Agency, showed that carbon emissions jumped by 1pc to 57.92 million tonnes last year – breaking a downward trend that started more than half a decade ago.

The unexpected rise raises questions about Ireland’s commitments under the Kyoto Protocol – the international treaty that set binding obligations on industrialised countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

Some 192 states have ratified it, including all UN members except Andorra, Canada, South Sudan and the US.

Kyoto research has found that most known reserves of fossil fuels will need to remain unburned to prevent temperatures rising more than 2pc above normal levels.

In Ireland, agriculture shouldered most of the blame last year, accounting for about a third of Irish CO2 emissions, the single largest contributor, followed by energy generation and transport.

The 3% rise in agricultural emissions was driven by a surge in animal numbers, particularly cattle and sheep.

This is partly the result of government plans to expand milk production, and will continue with the removal of milk quotas in 2015.

Sheep stock numbers alone rose by 9pc due to a favourable market.

The 6pc increase in emissions from energy generation was driven by an increase in the use of carbon-intensive coal, which has dropped in price, while the cement industry was mostly to blame for a rise in industrial emissions. CO2 levels generated by cement projects grew by a massive 18pc.

Emissions by some sectors still dropped, helping to mitigate results. Residential emissions dropped 6pc, compared with 2011 levels, after higher-than-average temperatures lowered demand for heat from households.

Transport emissions were also down, a fifth year of decline after significant growth in the run-up to the recession. Tightened consumer spending coupled with increases in motor tax and vehicle registration tax has reduced the number of cars on the roads in recent years. But transport emissions in 2012 were still a massive 113pc higher than in 1990.

Though Ireland should still meet its targets under the Kyoto Protocol, the EPA yesterday said the increase in emissions in 2012 “points to the significant challenges ahead”.

The agency is calling for greater efficiency on farms, less car travel and reduced energy use and energy loss in households.

Why do icicles have their ridges? Science has an answer


Sure, Ruffles have ridges, but why do icicles? Well, it turns out it’s all about the salt.

A team of scientists at the University of Toronto has discovered that the salt in water is responsible for the distinctive ripples seen in the ice stalactites that grow from eaves and on bridges during the winter.

Other contaminants as well probably contribute to the formation of the characteristic bumps, says senior author Stephen Morris, an experimental physicist at the University of Toronto.

“We didn’t expect this, but it turns out that very slightly dirty water — like Toronto tap water — produces nice ripply icicles,” says Morris of the research, which is published this week in New Journal of Physics.

“And pure water, or even just distilled water which is pretty pure but not super pure, produces smooth icicles with no ripples on them.”

His team was trying to figure out why icicles form with ripples.

It may be blue sky research, Morris acknowledges, though it’s completely serious. Figuring out how ice forms and why it takes the shapes it does is important for dealing with ice buildup on planes, ships and bridges, among other things.

“There’s a huge engineering field concerning ice buildup and this is directly connected to ice buildup,” Morris says.

“In fact, the icicle is just about the simplest kind of ice buildup you could ask for. And we don’t understand it. It’s surprising.”

The thinking has been that the ripples are the result of surface water tension effects on the thin water film that flows over the ice as it forms. Surface tension is what allows small insects to dance on the water of a lake, for instance.

It’s known that adding soap to water reduces the surface tension, so Morris’s group added soap to water to see if it affected the shape of icicles. But icicles made from soapy water didn’t form ripples.

As the work progressed, however, the team realized there was a difference between icicles made from distilled water and from regular water from the tap.

“Toronto tap water is very close to pure water and we didn’t believe initially that it would make any difference using tap water or really pure water. But it does,” Morris says.

The effect is noticeable in a picture of three icicles formed in the experiment — a smooth icicle made of distilled water, a moderately ridged one made with distilled water plus a little salt and a carbuncled icicle made from distilled water plus a lot of salt. The image can be seen on a Flickr page Morris set up.

He says it’s not clear why salt has this effect, but it’s worth studying. Morris does other research into why substances that are smooth develop bumps — roads, for instance — and he says the work is all linked.

“Everything is connected in physics. Even the most trivial phenomenon can turn out to be important,” he says.

“Crystal growth — and an icicle is a crystal — is a huge field in engineering.”

News Ireland daily BLOG Thursday

Thursday 20th June 2013

John F Kennedy daughter Caroline and ‘eternal flame’ arrives in Dublin


The Torch arriving at Dublin airport (right picture) and Caroline Kennedy with President Higgins pictured left.  The eternal flame taken from the grave will light emigrant monument for 50th anniversary of US president’s visit.

An eternal flame taken from the grave of former US president John F Kennedy arrived into Dublin airport today ahead of the 50th anniversary of his visit

It is the first time since the assassination of Kennedy in 1963 that the family has allowed a flame to be taken from the Kennedy grave at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington

JFK’s daughter Caroline Kennedy and sister Jean Kennedy Smith, as well as Taoiseach Enda Kenny, will use the torch to light an emigrant flame in New Ross on Saturday.

It will symbolise all the emigrants, including JFK’s great-grandfather Patrick Kennedy, who left Ireland to start new lives in the US, the UK, Australian, Canada and other countries across the world.

Minister of State at the Department of Defence Paul Kehoe returned this morning from Washington with a colour party from the Irish Defence Forces.

The flame was passed from the Defence Forces to the Irish Naval Service in a ceremony. The Navy will take the flame from Dublin to New Ross on board the LE Orla.

Also greeting the flame were staff and children from Scoil Mhuire National School in Campile, New Ross. “It is particularly poignant that some of their relatives were present fifty years ago in Dunganstown when President Kennedy visited the homestead,” Mr Kehoe said.

The flame was also met in Dublin airport by Minister of State for the Gaeltacht Dinny McGinley, the charge d’affaires from the US embassy John Hennessey-Niland and the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces, Lt General Sean McCann. He thanked the US embassy for their assistance in organising events for the week to commemorate the visit of JFK.

Members of the Kennedy family, including Congressman Joe Kennedy III, were among those who took part in the ceremony at Arlington on Tuesday when a member of the defence forces took the flame.

75 year old woman recalls meeting JFK in 1963


Breda Hickey, 75, stood among the ranks of diplomats in Dublin’s Phoenix Park when President Kennedy called out to her and took her by the hand.

“It was magic. He was the most extraordinary man I’ve ever seen in my life,” she said.

Ms Hickey, who grew up in Enniscorthy, Co Wexford and lives in Raheny, followed up her 1963 embassy trip by getting on board the Navy vessel LE Orla to pay her respects at the flame taken from the eternal one on JFK’s grave.

The pensioner was allowed on board by Lieutenant Commander Conor Kirwan as it berthed at Sir John Rogerson’s Quay in Dublin.

Fifty years on, Ms Hickey was just as excited to see the flame – to be used to light an Emigrant Flame at the Kennedy’s ancestral home in Wexford – but wishes she had met his daughter Caroline Kennedy.

“As a matter of fact when I shook John F’s hand I actually couldn’t say a word which was very disappointing to me really,” she said. “I would have love to have shaken Caroline’s hand this morning and say the things I wanted to say at that time.”

The flame from the grave in Arlington Memorial Cemetery in Virginia is being taken by the Navy to Wexford as part of a series of engagements to commemorate the June 1963 trip.

The LE Orla’s Sub Lieutenant Ciaran O’Shea walked Ms Hickey on deck. “I hoped to see some of the Kennedys, but I’m delighted I got to see the flame,” she said.

Ms Hickey revealed fond memories of JFK, who she described as tall, sun tanned and “absolutely gorgeous with a beautiful smile”. “It was the most magical day of my life, it really was,” she said.

National Treasury Management Agency auction raises €500 million


Short term bills will mature in September

The NTMA sold €500 million in short term treasury bills this morning.

The National Treasury Management Agency has sold €500 million of treasury bills, reaching the target set for the sale.

The auction, which covered bills that will mature in September, attracted bids of almost three times what was on offer. That was slightly lower than last month’s auction, which attracted bids of 3.6 times the total available bills.

Senior analyst with Danske Bank Markets Owen Callan said the slight fall was not a surprise.

“This morning’s slightly lower issue levels and bid-to-covers are not unexpected, given the rather volatile and negative reaction to the FOMC last night, as well as the more general sell-off in fixed income, credit markets and risk generally over the past month,” he said.

Today’s auction saw bills sold at an annualised yield of 0.20 per cent, compared with 0.125 per cent last month.

Two beached whales found on Laytown Co Meath coastline


A whale was helped back to sea after beaching at Laytown 20 local people

Two pilot whales beached themselves within 8km of each other on the Co Meath coastline.

A whale was discovered on Laytown beach and was assisted back to sea by around 20 people

They included members of the Boyne Fishermen’s Rescue and Recovery Service, The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, the Defence Forces, Skerries Coast Guard and Skerries RNLI.

A lifeboat made its way to the scene where crew members got into the sea and helped manoeuvre the whale back into deeper water.

The whale was guided back out to sea and prevented from turning back to shore.

Shortly after another whale was found dead on the beach near Mornington.

At first, rescuers believed it was the same whale, but it was later decided it was a different whale.

Map of human brain gives three-dimensional reconstruction in great detail


Researchers use a special tool called a microtome to cut some 7,400 wafer-thin sheet sections from a brain preserved in paraffin wax into tiny slivers 20 micrometers thick.

Researchers in Germany and Canada have produced a new map of the human brain — not the sort that shows every brain cell and its every connection or the kind that shows broad patterns of activity in brain regions, but a work of classic anatomy, done with high technology that shows a three-dimensional reconstruction of a human brain in unprecedented detail.

The new map, called BigBrain, is 50 times as detailed as previous efforts and will be available to researchers everywhere, said Katrin Amunts of the Institute of Neuroscience and Medicine in Jülich, Germany, the lead author of a report on the project in the current issue of Science.

BigBrain depicts a specific human brain, that of a 65-year-old woman. It was preserved in paraffin after her death, sliced into 7,400 sections and photographed at a microscopic level just above that of viewing individual cells. Its portrait will serve, the researchers said, as an anatomical framework that other researchers can use as a reference, whether they are investigating large patterns of brain function or small details.

This kind of anatomical map is not what neuroscientists are pursuing in the new brain initiative from the Obama administration, nor does it show the expression of genes or connectivity that other projects are pursuing. But David Van Essen, a neuroscientist at Washington University in St. Louis and a principal investigator in the Human Connectome Project, which uses M.R.I. images of active human brains, described the work as a “technological tour de force,” adding that the three-dimensional reconstruction could help distinguish the many small areas of the brain with greater accuracy.

US boy hears for first time after ground-breaking implant


A 3-year-old boy shows his delight as his face lights up after hearing the world for the first time, thanks to an auditory brain stem implant.

“He likes sound,” young Grayson’s mom Nicole Clamp, said he enjoys the stimulus, the input. He’s curious, and he definitely enjoys it.”

Grayson Clamp was born without his cochlear nerves, or the auditory nerve that carries the sound signal from the cochlea in the inner ear to the brain. His parents tried giving him a cochlear implant, but it did not work.

They then enrolled Grayson in a research trial at University of North Carolina Hospitals in Chapel Hill, N.C. Three weeks ago, he became the first child in the U.S. to receive an auditory brain stem implant.

The procedure involves placing a microchip on the brain stem to bypass the cochlear nerves altogether. The person perceives and processes sound, which travel through tubes in his ear.

Dr. Craig Buchman, Grayson’s head and neck surgeon at UNC, explained to CBSNews.com that the devices were made several years ago for adults who have tumors in their cochlear nerves, but it has never been approved for use in children in the United States.. While the implants were able to give back some hearing to the adults that received them, they were not as effective as cochlear implants.

However, Buchman’s team’s theory was that if the auditory brain stem implant was put in a young child, they may be better at processing the sounds.

“One of the reasons we really were interested in this study, children have enormous potential because of their brain plasticity,” he said. “They have enormous potential to interpret sounds…. I don’t know what he hears and how he’s going to use it, but only time will tell.”

Grayson was the first chosen because he had high cognitive abilities and used cued speech, a visual system based on phonetics used to communicate. That way, doctors could see if he was hearing anything and responding to sound stimuli.

When he heard his father calling him for the first time, his face lit up with shock. Buchman said he was pleased with Grayson’s responses.

The child still has to go in for frequent checkups to fine tune the device in order to give him the best hearing possible.

“We don’t know exactly what it’s like for him,” Nicole explained. “We don’t know exactly what he hears. His brain is still trying organize itself to use sound.”

In total, Buchman’s team has evaluated 10 children who all have similar problems with missing nerves. Right now, they’re limiting the study to younger children who don’t have that many additional health or cognitive issues to see what the potential of the device is. If they are successful, they are hoping that older children who haven’t learned how to speak because of their hearing problems may be given a chance to finally hear and talk.

As for Grayson, he’s already benefiting from his new hearing abilities, “It’s been phenomenal for us,” his father Len Clamp said.