Making Unique Observations in a Very Cluttered World

Friday, 24 May 2013

Some statin drugs do seem to raise users' risk of diabetes, study suggests -

Some statin drugs do seem to raise users' risk of diabetes, study suggests - 

Some cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins appear to put users at an elevated risk of developing diabetes, a new study reports.

The work, by Toronto scientists, suggests that higher potency statins increase the diabetes risk, while for lower dose statin brands the elevated risk is not seen.

At the end of the day, the cholesterol-lowering benefits of the drugs may outweigh the diabetes risks in many cases, said senior author Dr. Muhammad Mamdani. But he suggested it makes sense to try to use a lower dose statin when possible.

"If a patient has a really high LDL" — the dangerous form of cholesterol — "then maybe you do need the high powered stuff like Lipitor and rosuvastatin or Crestor and you can actually go a bit higher on the dose," said Mamdani, director of the applied health research centre at the St. Michael's Hospital's Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute.

"But for most of the patients you could probably get away with using something like pravastatin or even lovastatin.... I'd say for the vast majority of patients, those would be just fine."

Pravastatin, which is sold as Pravachol or Selektine, has actually been shown to be protective against diabetes in some studies. Lovastatin is sold under the brand name Mevacor.

Mamdani estimated the risk as follows: "For every 1,000 patients who takes one of the higher potency statins, you're going to see six to 10 additional patients being diagnosed with diabetes. ... Had you used pravastatin, you would have seen between six to 10 fewer patients with diabetes."

"So the risks aren't huge," he continued. "But there are a lot of people taking these high potency statins. In fact, atorvastatin is by far — by far — the most popular statin."

The possible link between taking some statins and diabetes has been seen in the past. In fact, Health Canada warned in January that statin users may have a small increased risk of developing the condition and changed the labelling on the drugs to reflect that fact.

But previous studies have found conflicting results, so Mamdani and some colleagues conducted another. They looked at the records of more than 470,000 people 66 and older in Ontario who did not have diabetes when they started taking a statin, and found three brands of the drugs seemed to increase their diabetes risk.

The three drugs were atorvastatin, rosuvastatin and simvastatin, which are sold as Lipitor, Crestor and Zocor respectively.

The researchers said no increased risk was seen with fluvastatin (which is sold under the brand names Lescol, Canef and Vastin) or lovastatin.

Mamdani said there isn't an across-the-board answer here. "I don't think it should be . . . 'Everybody ditch the statin that you're on and take pravastatin.' It really should be left to the physician and the patient to see where the patient is at."

"(But) if you're one of the I think majority of patients who probably could do well on pravastatin, that's a conversation the patient may want to have with their physician."

The study was published in BMJ, a journal of the British Medication Association. The work was done by researchers at Toronto General Hospital, the Institute of Clinical Evaluative Studies, Sunnybrook Research Institute and the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute.


America’s Bubble Economy Is Going To Become An Economic Black Hole -

America’s Bubble Economy Is Going To Become An Economic Black Hole - 

What is going to happen when the greatest economic bubble in the history of the world pops?  The mainstream media never talks about that.  They are much too busy covering the latest dogfights in Washington and what Justin Bieber has been up to.  And most Americans seem to think that if the Dow keeps setting new all-time highs that everything must be okay.  Sadly, that is not the case at all.  Right now, the U.S. economy is exhibiting all of the classic symptoms of a bubble economy.  You can see this when you step back and take a longer-term view of things.  Over the past decade, we have added more than 10 trillion dollars to the national debt.  But most Americans have shown very little concern as the balance on our national credit card has soared from 6 trillion dollars to nearly 17 trillion dollars.  Meanwhile, Wall Street has been transformed into the biggest casino on the planet, and much of the new money that the Federal Reserve has been recklessly printing up has gone into stocks.  But the Dow does not keep setting new records because the underlying economic fundamentals are good.  Rather, the reckless euphoria that we are seeing in the financial markets right now reminds me very much of 1929.  Margin debt is absolutely soaring, and every time that happens a crash rapidly follows.  But this time when a crash happens it could very well be unlike anything that we have ever seen before.  The top 25 U.S. banks have more than 212 trillion dollars of exposure to derivatives combined, and when that house of cards comes crashing down there is no way that anyone will be able to prop it back up.  After all, U.S. GDP for an entire year is only a bit more than 15 trillion dollars.

But most Americans are only focused on the short-term because the mainstream media is only focused on the short-term.  Things are good this week and things were good last week, so there is nothing to worry about, right?

Unfortunately, economic reality is not going to change even if all of us try to ignore it.  Those that are willing to take an honest look at what is coming down the road are very troubled.  For example, Bill Gross of PIMCO says that his firm sees "bubbles everywhere"...

We see bubbles everywhere, and that is not to be dramatic and not to suggest they will pop immediately. I just suggested in the bond market with a bubble in treasuries and bubble in narrow credit spreads and high-yield prices, that perhaps there is a significant distortion there. Having said that, it suggests that as long as the FED and Bank of Japan and other Central Banks keep writing checks and do not withdraw, then the bubble can be supported as in blowing bubbles. They are blowing bubbles. When that stops there will be repercussions.

And unfortunately, it is not just the United States that has a bubble economy.  In fact, the gigantic financial bubble over in Japan may burst before our own financial bubble does.  The following is from a recent article by Graham Summers...

First and foremost, Japan is the second largest bond market in the world. If Japan’s sovereign bonds continue to fall, pushing rates higher, then there has been a tectonic shift in the global financial system. Remember the impact that Greece had on asset prices? Greece’s bond market is less than 3% of Japan’s in size.

For multiple decades, Japanese bonds have been considered “risk free.” As a result of this, investors have been willing to lend money to Japan at extremely low rates. This has allowed Japan’s economy, the second largest in the world, to putter along marginally.

So if Japanese bonds begin to implode, this means that:

1)   The second largest bond market in the world is entering a bear market (along with commensurate liquidations and redemptions by institutional investors around the globe).

2)   The second largest economy in the world will collapse (along with the impact on global exports).

Both of these are truly epic problems for the financial system.

And of course the entire global financial system is a giant bundle of debt, risk and leverage at this point.  We have never seen anything like this in world history.  When you step back and take a good, hard look at the numbers, they truly are staggering.  The following statistics are from one of my previous articles entitled "Why Is The World Economy Doomed? The Global Financial Pyramid Scheme By The Numbers"...

-$70,000,000,000,000 - The approximate size of total world GDP.

-$190,000,000,000,000 - The approximate size of the total amount of debt in the entire world.  It has nearly doubled in size over the past decade.

-$212,525,587,000,000 - According to the U.S. government, this is the notional value of the derivatives that are being held by the top 25 banks in the United States.  But those banks only have total assets of about 8.9 trillion dollars combined.  In other words, the exposure of our largest banks to derivatives outweighs their total assets by a ratio of about 24 to 1.

-$600,000,000,000,000 to $1,500,000,000,000,000 - The estimates of the total notional value of all global derivatives generally fall within this range.  At the high end of the range, the ratio of derivatives to global GDP is more than 21 to 1.

The financial meltdown that happened back in 2008 should have been a wake up call for the nations of the world.  They should have corrected the mistakes that happened so that nothing like that would ever happen again.  Unfortunately, nothing was fixed.  Instead, our politicians and the central bankers became obsessed with reinflating the system.  They piled up even more debt, recklessly printed tons of money and kicked the can down the road for a few years.  In the process, they made our long-term problems even worse.  The following is a recent quote from John Williams of shadowstats.com...

The economic and systemic solvency crises of the last eight years continue. There never was an actual recovery following the economic downturn that began in 2006 and collapsed into 2008 and 2009. What followed was a protracted period of business stagnation that began to turn down anew in second- and third-quarter 2012. The official recovery seen in GDP has been a statistical illusion generated by the use of understated inflation in calculating key economic series (see Public Comment on Inflation). Nonetheless, given the nature of official reporting, the renewed downturn likely will gain recognition as the second-dip in a double- or multiple-dip recession.

What continues to unfold in the systemic and economic crises is just an ongoing part of the 2008 turmoil. All the extraordinary actions and interventions bought a little time, but they did not resolve the various crises. That the crises continue can be seen in deteriorating economic activity and in the panicked actions by the Federal Reserve, where it proactively is monetizing U.S. Treasury debt at a pace suggestive of a Treasury that is unable to borrow otherwise.

And there are already lots of signs that the next economic downturn is rapidly approaching.

For example, corporate revenues are falling at Wal-Mart, Proctor and Gamble, Starbucks, AT&T, Safeway, American Express and IBM.

Would revenues at Wal-Mart be falling if the economy was getting better?

U.S. jobless claims hit a six week high last week.  We aren't in the danger zone yet, but once they hit 400,000 that will be a major red flag.

And even though we are still in the "good times" relatively speaking, the federal government is already talking about tightening welfare programs.  In fact, there are proposals in Congress right now to make significant cuts to the food stamp program.

If food stamps and other welfare programs get cut, that is going to make a lot of people very, very angry.  And that anger and frustration will get even worse when the next economic downturn strikes and millions of people start losing their jobs and their homes.

What we are witnessing right now is the calm before the storm.  Let us hope that it lasts for as long as possible so that we can have more time to prepare.

Unfortunately, this bubble of false hope will not last forever.  At some point it will end, and then the pain will begin.

Read more -

NASA Mission To Lasso Asteroid Could Eventually Cost More Than $2.6 Billion -

NASA Mission To Lasso Asteroid Could Eventually Cost More Than $2.6 Billion - 

Surrounded by engineers, NASA chief Charles Bolden inspected a prototype spacecraft engine that could power an audacious mission to lasso an asteroid and tow it closer to Earth for astronauts to explore.

Bolden checked on the progress Thursday a month after the Obama administration unveiled its 2014 budget that proposes $105 million to jumpstart the mission, which may eventually cost more than $2.6 billion.

Engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California and Glenn Research Center in Ohio are developing a thruster that relies on ion propulsion instead of conventional chemical fuel.

Once relegated to science fiction, ion propulsion — which fires beams of electrically charged atoms to propel a spacecraft — is preferred for deep space cruising because it’s more fuel-efficient. Engine testing is expected to ramp up next year.

During his visit to the JPL campus, nestled in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains northeast of Los Angeles, Bolden viewed an engineering model of the engine and peered through a porthole of a vacuum chamber housing the prototype.

NASA is under White House orders to fly humans to an asteroid as a stepping stone to Mars. Instead of sending astronauts to the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, as originally planned, the space agency came up with a quicker, cheaper idea: Haul the asteroid close to the moon and visit it there.

Bolden said the original concept was impractical given the flat budget and praised the alternative as “ingenious.”

“If you can’t get to the asteroid, bring the asteroid to you,” Bolden said.

The space agency would launch an ion-powered unmanned spacecraft to snare a yet-to-be-selected small asteroid in 2019 and park it in the moon’s neighborhood. Then a spacewalking team would hop on an Orion space capsule that’s currently under development and explore the rock in 2021.

Besides preparing astronauts for an eventual trip to Mars, NASA said the asteroid-capture mission is designed to test technologies to deflect threatening space boulders on a collision course with Earth.

“Anytime that you can get up close to an asteroid and understand its composition and its characteristics … that’s getting to know the enemy,” said Don Yeomans, who heads NASA’s Near Earth Object Program at JPL.

Scientists have a dozen potential small asteroids in mind for the mission, but Yeomans said more observations are needed before settling on a target. Whatever asteroid NASA chooses to redirect, it won’t pose a threat to Earth because it would burn up if it inadvertently plunged through the atmosphere, scientists said.


Wireless bio-absorbable circuits could kill bacteria -

Wireless bio-absorbable circuits could kill bacteria - 

Remote-controlled, dissolvable electronic implants have been created that could help attack microbes, provide pain relief and stimulate bone growth.

The spread of bacteria resistant to antibiotics – popularly called superbugs – is threatening to put the clock back 100 years to the time when routine, minor surgery was life-threatening. Some medical experts are warning that otherwise straightforward operations could soon become deadly unless new ways to fend off these infections are found.

Bacteria often evolve clever ways of evading chemical assaults, but they will always struggle to resist the old-fashioned way of killing them: heating them up. It takes only a relatively mild warming to kill bugs without discomfort or harm to tissues. So imagine if little electric heaters could be implanted into wounds and powered wirelessly to fry bacteria during healing before dissolving harmlessly into body fluids once their job is done.

This is just one potential application of the bio-absorbable electronic circuits made by John Rogers of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and his co-workers. The idea itself is not new: Rogers and others have previously reported biodegradable flexible circuits and electronic devices that can be safely laid directly onto skin. But their success in making their circuits wireless could prove crucial to many potential applications, especially in medicine.

The hope is that radio waves can be used both for remote control of the circuits – to turn them on and off, say, and to provide the power to run them, so that there’s no need for implanted batteries. This kind of radio-frequency (RF) wireless technology is becoming ever more widespread, in food packaging, livestock labelling, tagging of goods in shops for security and in dustbins to monitor recycling, for example.

To make RF circuits, you need semiconductors and metals. Those don’t sound like the kinds of materials our bodies will dissolve, but Rogers and colleagues used layers of non-toxic substances so thin that they disintegrate in water or body fluids. For the metal parts, they used films of magnesium at least half as thin as the average human hair. Magnesium is not only harmless but in fact an essential nutrient: our bodies typically contain about 25g (0.9oz) of it already. For semiconductors, they used silicon membranes 300 nanometres (millionths of a millimetre) thick, which also dissolve in water. They used magnesium oxide as an insulating material when required.

Power scavenger

One of the simplest but most important components of an RF circuit is an antenna, which picks up the radio waves. Rogers and colleagues made these from long strips of magnesium foil deposited onto thin films of silk. Being non-toxic, biodegradable, strong and relatively cheap, silk makes the ideal base for such devices. These antennae, typically about four inches long, dissolve completely in water in about two hours. Although being buried beneath radio wave-absorbing body tissue would hamper performance, they should still receive enough signal for low power applications the researchers are considering.

The researchers have also made a variety of standard circuit components: capacitors, resistors, and crucially, diodes and transistors. Transistors are particularly complex structures, requiring delicately patterned films of a semiconductor like silicon doped with other elements and sandwiched with metal electrodes and insulating layers. Using silicon membranes, along with magnesium and its oxide, Rogers' team made versions that dissolve within hours.

One of the first full circuits that they have made is an RF “power scavenger”, which can convert up to 15% of the radio waves it absorbs at a particular frequency into electrical power. Their prototype, measuring about 10cm (4in) by 4cm (1.6 in), can pick up enough power to run a small commercial light-emitting diode. The team can control the rate at which these devices dissolve by fine-tuning the molecular structure of the silk sheets on which they are laid down or between which they are sandwiched. This way, they can make devices that last for a week or two – about the length of time needed to ward off bacteria from a healing wound.

As well as deterring bacteria, Rogers says that implantable, bio-absorbable RF electronics could be used to stimulate nerves for pain relief, and to stimulate bone re-growth, a process long proven to work when electrodes are placed on the skin or directly on the bone. Conceivably they could also be used to precisely control drug release from implanted reservoirs.


Scores of TGI Fridays in New Jersey 'busted for selling caramel-colored rubbing alcohol as top-shelf scotch' -

Scores of TGI Fridays in New Jersey 'busted for selling caramel-colored rubbing alcohol as top-shelf scotch' - 

At one bar, a mixture that included rubbing alcohol and caramel coloring was sold as scotch. In another, premium liquor bottles were refilled with water - and apparently not even clean water at that.
State officials provided those new details Thursday on raids they conducted a day earlier as part of a yearlong investigation dubbed Operation Swill.
Twenty-nine New Jersey bars and restaurants, including 13 TGI Fridays, were accused of substituting cheap booze - or worse - for top-shelf brands while charging premium prices.

As part of Operation Swill, investigators collected 1,000 open bottles of vodka, gin, rum, scotch, whiskey and tequila from the wells of the bars, state Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa said.
‘This alleged scheme is a dishonest ruse to increase profits and is a slap in the face of the consumer,’ Chiesa said.
Within seven days, the establishments must turn over records to help state authorities determine how many patrons were overcharged and by how much. 
They also will have to inform the state which employees were at work the days samples were covertly taken earlier this year.

State officials would not say what establishment used the rubbing alcohol or which one used dirty water, or water not from a tap. They said no health issues were reported.
TGI Fridays Inc. said it was conducting its own investigation, working with the franchisee that owns the 13 restaurants cited, The Briad Group.

Applebee's, Kearny
Bell's Tavern, Lambertville
Blackthorn Restaurant, Parsippany
The Brick House, Wyckoff
Brunswick Grove, East Brunswick
Café 34, Matawan
Cucina Calandara, Fairfield
Graziano's Ristorante, Chesilhurst
Italian Affair, Glassboro
Murray's, Dover
Railroad Café, East Rutherford
Ruby Tuesday, Bridgewater
Sona Thirteen, Morristown
Sunset Tavern, Burlington
TGI Fridays in Clifton; East Hanover; East Windsor; Freehold; Hamilton; Hazlet; Linden; Marlboro; North Brunswick; Old Bridge; Piscataway; Springfield and West Orange
Villari's Lakeside, Gloucester Township
Yesterday's, Marmora

Briad, based in Livingston, said it ‘takes great pride in the quality of food and drink’ served at its TGI Fridays franchises and was troubled and surprised by the allegations. It said in an emailed statement it would take immediate steps to correct any problems it identified.
‘We want every assurance possible that our guests can continue to feel confident in the great food and drink they order at our T.G.I. Friday's restaurants,’ said Rick Barbrick, president of The Briad Restaurant Group.
Operation Swill started after the state began receiving more complaints than usual about possibly mislabeled drinks, said the director of the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control, Michael Halfacre.
An informant with knowledge of the industry contacted the agency in the fall to help in the investigation, he said.
In January and February, investigators went to 63 establishments they suspected were scamming liquor customers.
They ordered drinks neat - that is, without ice or mixers - and then covertly took samples for testing.