Saturday, September 29, 2012

Sat 29th Sept Todays News

Death of my town

Reader Ian visits Tarcoola, on the Nullabor, where my father once taught - and where I was one of his two grade seven students:
Some 12 months or so ago I had the opportunity to travel from Ceduna directly North up what is known as “Googs Track” where upon it joins the Trans Continental Railway somewhat West of Tarcoola.

I was struck by the infrastructure of the town yet it is apparently abandoned save one home which was occupied. Perhaps there were a few more residents but certainly no other signs of life that we saw.

Yet, here is a town with substantial buildings and homes in good to excellent condition, left to eventually succumb to the elements. The main hall of the school is in remarkably good condition still with the various cups & trophies from past successes lining the walls. The post office looks like it needs sweeping out and a rinse out and it would be no worse than any other post office in the cities of Australia. Perhaps better?  The supermarket and hospital are in similar condition. Many homes look like they would be immediately liveable with only a rudimentary clean.

Other buildings of course are not so good but I saw none that I felt would be best served by a bulldozer pushing them over.

I struck me at the time the shame of it all. Here is a town with an obviously long history now virtually abandoned simply because the trains to Perth or Alice Springs/Darwin have no need to stop.
No work left, so it’s empty.
I think of Tarcoola when I read about Aboriginal bush settlements where there is no work, either. Just lots of welfare. 


About that rain that wouldn’t fill a dam…

Among the excuses Melbourne Water offered for not building a dam but a hugely expensive desalination plant that’s not now needed:

New dams do not create any new water. They simply take it from somewhere else—either from farmers who currently rely on it or from the environment…

Climate change—while the Mitchell has flooded recently, investing billions of dollars in another rainfall-dependent water source in the face of rapidly changing climate patterns is very risky.
Relying on “the science”, of course: 

From The Age, August 30, 2009:

“A three-year collaboration between the Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO has confirmed . . . that the 13-year drought is not just a natural dry stretch but a shift related to climate change . . .
“In the minds of a lot of people, the rainfall we had in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s was a benchmark, [said the bureau’s Bertrand Timbal]. . .

But Melbourne’s water storages today:

(Thanks to reader Jeff.)


The Ashby cave-in: Is Roxon up to the job?

Attorney-General Nicola Roxon is a trained lawyer, right? So how did she get into this god-awful mess? Did she get carried away by the Government’s culture of abuse?
JAMES Ashby is threatening defamation and contempt of court action against Attorney-General Nicola Roxon after settling with the government over his claim of sexual harassment against Speaker Peter Slipper.

The federal government said today it had settled with Mr Ashby for $50,000, ending legal action in which he claimed the commonwealth had failed to provide a safe workplace while working for Mr Slipper.
Mr Ashby said he would continue to pursue his boss over sexual harassment claims…
But the saga took a new turn tonight after Ms Roxon said the government did not “resile from arguments that we’ve previously made before the court that the (Ashby) claim was vexatious”.
In a statement, Mr Ashby said he would consider defamation and possible contempt of court proceeding against the Attorney-General.
“In the statement today by the Commonwealth Attorney-General, Ms Nicola Roxon, she has repeated the allegations against Mr Ashby that his claim is vexatious (and thus an abuse of process), despite the fact the commonwealth has agreed to withdraw its application alleging abuse of process.

“The Attorney-General’s statement may also be read as suggesting that it was Mr Ashby who initiated the withdrawal and settlement of the case, when the opposite is in fact the situation...”

And Roxon’s statement does indeed seem misleading:

Ms Roxon said the government had made clear it believed the case was “an abuse of process and brought for an improper purpose”.

“We don’t resile from arguments that we’ve previously made before the court that the claim was vexatious,” she said.
“However, as Mr Ashby has now withdrawn his claim, our abuse of process claim will be withdrawn as well.”
The sudden reversal to pay Ashby compensation over the odds knocks the logical ground from the Speaker’s own fight against his former employee’s charges of sexual harassment and endangers the minority Gillard government’s survival…

But Labor’s legal disaster is made much worse by the behaviour of frontline ministers - notably Attorney-General Nicola Roxon and Foreign Minister Bob Carr - accusing Ashby of making baseless claims of sexual harassment, rehearsing his lines like a “kabuki actor” and of abusing process for political ends.
Ashby was publicly humiliated and attacked for raising sexual harassment claims by ministers who pile in on a daily basis screaming discrimination, vilification, sexism, homophobia and prejudice.

The commonwealth has now conceded it was at fault in not providing Ashby with an environment safe from sexual harassment, conceded there was no abuse of process, ordered parliamentary bosses and MPs be counselled on sexual harassment and paid generously for the mistake.

The sad thing is that such vicious and threatening political behaviour is not the exception for this government, but the rule.


Labor, out of money, mounts a class war for more

In its recovery strategy Gillard Labor now runs two great risks arising from party identity. First, its pro-trade union and anti-business character is sharply illuminated as an electoral negative, and, second, its pro-public sector and sceptical private sector outlook is dangerously entrenched…
The key to Gillard’s strategy in office lies in the contemporary weakness of the party… With Labor research showing that 37-38 per cent of people identify as Labor supporters but, across the past 18 months, only 28-32 per cent are Labor voters, the arithmetic task is simple - to reconvert ALP supporters into voters.

That means invoking Labor tradition… It fits into Wayne Swan’s projection of true Laborism by attacks on Clive Palmer, Gina Rinehart and Andrew Forrest for allegedly misusing their power and opposing his mining tax....

The upshot is a series of “true Labor” policies in disability insurance, school funding, dental care and, in the quest to achieve a budget surplus, a foreshadowed crackdown on corporate tax relief, superannuation concessions for higher income earners and other benefits for families on incomes above $120,000.

This is the opposite political strategy to the Hawke-Keating 1980s reform era. They enshrined the notion of aspirational voters attracted by deregulation of markets, tax reform, superannuation benefits and investment opportunities…
In his critique last year of the Rudd-Gillard era, Keating said: “It (Labor) has created a new society and it has to be the party of the new society. It can’t be the party of the old society. Labor must be the party of those people who gained from the pro-market growth economy that we created. Labor must be open to the influences of this middle class, to people on higher incomes. And I don’t think it is.”

That is an understatement. These days Keating’s ideas are heretical. The strategy he propounds is antithetical to the Gillard Labor Party with its emphasis on the traditional Labor base, redistribution, big spending programs and seeking a surplus via new penalties on the investment class.
Labor has been driven to the Left in part because it suffered from the failure of the Left - a failure to realise big spending needed big earning to support it. Plus, of course, there was that old fascination for utopian schemes and a planned economy - in the shape this time of a carbon tax. Now, with the money gone, it’s driven to loot business and the rich, while chanting class war slogans as cover.
Needs must.


And they say Rudd’s chance has gone

Fascinating invitation. But an even more fascinating leak:

Dr Yudhoyono, who was also attending the General Assembly and sat next to the Prime Minister during the week, wanted the former PM and foreign minister to be part of a panel he was chairing on how emerging powers would reshape global politics. The Prime Minister did not have a formal bilateral meeting with Dr Yudhoyono in New York…

Dr Yudhoyono had offered to pay all Mr Rudd’s expenses to attend the forum as his official guest…
Sources close to Mr Rudd said the invitation was ultimately turned down because of the difficulties it would create for Ms Gillard in lobbying for votes for the UN Security Council seat.
So considerate yesterday. but not today.


Kelty to Labor: hands off super

Union great Bill Kelty warns desperate Labor off looting super to balance its books:
Mr Kelty said further changes to superannuation risked undermining confidence in the system at a time when years of volatile markets and low earnings had already made it vulnerable.

“ I think you’ve got to be very careful about changing the tax system and increasing it because there is increased uncertainty,” Mr Kelty told The Weekend Australian.

“These are decisions for a generation and when you start tampering with it then you don’t tamper with it for the day, you tamper with it for a generation.

“So you don’t want to tamper too much with that and say in addition to the relative decline in earnings, what we are going to do is impose another adjustment process, that is a higher level of tax on it,” he said. “That, I think, would be a very silly thing to do.”


McGeough and surrendering free speech to the Muslim mob

I can’t read Paul McGeough’s piece in the Sydney Morning Herald as anything other than a no-but-yes argument to censor criticism of Islam to placate Muslim mobs overseas:
The greater test is for the West. After decades of happily making the rights and aspirations of ordinary Arabs subservient to global demands for energy and ‘’stability’’, which the likes of Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, clung to until minutes before last year’s collapse of the Mubarak regime, the West now needs to be more respectful of the demands of the Arab masses as expressed by their newly accountable leaders....
This is not to say that the West must cave in to Arab demands to criminalise blasphemy. But patience and a preparedness to work with, rather than against, the new leaders as they attempt to bed down democracy amid chaos could pay dividends when, say, Egypt’s President Mohammed Mursi moves on his stated wish to rewrite aspects of Cairo’s peace treaty with Israel...
That reads as McGeough - who infamously liked Israeli security forces to ”hyenas” - trying to bribe conservatives into trading Israel’s security for their free speech, which in truth we should insist on both.
But which “demands of the Arab masses as expressed by their newly accountable leaders” does McGeough suggest we “work with, rather than against”?  McGeough helpfully lists them, and suggests they are no big deal:
After similar pitches from Yemen’s new President, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, and Tunisia’s President, Moncef Marzouki, the Secretary-General of the 21-strong Arab League, Nabil Elaraby, argued: “If the international community has criminalised bodily harm, it must just as well criminalise psychological and spiritual harm.” Elaraby gave notice that the Arab League would push ahead with calls for global restrictions on insults to all religions.
The US has a body of law on hate crimes. And according to a 2009 survey, 43 per cent of Americans agree that people should not be allowed to speak offensively about religion in public.

Californian university professor Lawrence Rosenthal, in addressing the legality of the Innocence of Muslims, told reporters: “The thing that makes this particularly difficult for the US is that we treat what most of us would refer to as hate speech as constitutionally protected speech and Americans don’t appreciate how unusual this position seems in the rest of the world.” 
When we criminalise argument against certain ideas - which is all religion is - we have shackled our minds and left ourselves defenceless against what may harm us. When we do so only in response to violence, we have given ourselves up to the mob.
McGeough’s infatuation with the primitive has led him to urge the rest of us to surrender to it, too.


On the boats come

No sign at all of the boats slowing:
A HEAVILY laden boat of asylum seekers has been intercepted near Christmas Island as more vessels arrive despite Labor’s embrace of the Pacific solution.

The boat, carrying 198 people, is the largest to arrive since August 13, the date the government has declared people ‘’at risk’’ of offshore processing.
Total capacity planned for Nauru and Manus island: 2100
Boat people arrivals since Nauru and Manus Island “solutions” announced: 3200
The latest interception brings the total number of arrivals this year to 167 boats carrying 10,912 asylum-seekers and 246 crew, the largest figure on record.


How on earth is a pedophile given responsibiity for children?

Hard to believe:
A PAEDOPHILE was given parental responsibility for 19 vulnerable Aboriginal children and his organisation handed $5 million in taxpayer funding by the same government department which had classified him as a risk to juveniles years earlier.

The chief executive of the Hunter Aboriginal Children’s Services, Steven Andrew Larkins, was convicted last month of child sexual assault and fraud charges after he was caught with child pornography.

But the Department of Family and Community Services had known that Larkins was a risk to children as he was suspected of sexually abusing a boy in the 1990s when he was a scout leader.

Larkins applied for a ‘’working with children check’’ with the department’s screening unit in 2003. The allegations meant Larkins was deemed to be ‘’medium risk’’ and was not cleared to work unsupervised with children.
Yet he was still able to obtain the powerful position of parental responsibility for 19 children whose care had been given to HACS by the department over nine years.


Open our borders to France’s new refugees

We should welcome the jet people - refugees from the oppression of the new socialist republic of France. I’m sure they and their wealth-producing talents will fit in very well:
But the budget dismayed business by opting for tax hikes—including a 75 percent tax on those earning over one million euros a year—by holding public spending and not cutting government jobs.
It’s hard to exaggerate the economic strife Europe spent itself into.
The budget breakdown indicated that France needs to make 36.9 billion euros ($48 billion) in savings if it is to meet its target of reducing its budget deficit from an anticipated level of 4.5 percent of GDP this year to the EU ceiling of three percent in 2013…
The French economy is currently flat-lining and latest data on jobs—unemployment has topped three million, around ten percent of the workforce—and consumer confidence point to that trend continuing into the winter.
Ministry budgets were slashed by 8.9 percent for next year and public sector wages frozen for a third year as Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy battles to trim one of the euro zone’s biggest deficits…
The central government sees budget savings of 13 billion euros in 2013, with spending down 7.3 percent—not including social security and interest payments—and income rising 4 percent thanks to a 15 percent leap in value-added tax take…

A quarter of all Spanish workers are unemployed and tens of thousands have been evicted from their homes since a housing bubble burst in 2008 and plummeting consumer and business sentiment tipped the country into a four-year economic slump.


Top Intel Official Backtracks on Libya,
Says Initial Assessment Premature

  • Director of National Intelligence James Clapper appears to take the blame for the Obama administration's changing narrative on the U.S. Consulate attack in Libya, as spokesman says officials based initial comments on intelligence officials' guidance.


The Next Solyndra? Solar Power Firm Banks on Gov't

Industry analysts question the federal backing of solar power company SoloPower, calling the move 'risky'


City Urged to Oppose
Anti-Prayer Campaign

After Colorado city cancels prayers at meetings due to atheists' complaints, second city considers fighting back


Unraveling the secrets of black holes

A peek at swirling matter around a giant black hole verifies that it is the source of a monstrous blast of energy thousands of light-years long, researchers say.
Bursts of energy known as relativistic jets spew out matter at close to the speed of light. These jets can travel across an entire galaxy, suggesting they can affect the evolution of the galaxy.
"For a long time, astronomers have theorized that black holes and the matter swirling around them were responsible for the jets we see in some galaxies, but we've never had a telescope with the resolving power to verify this,"said study lead author Sheperd Doeleman, an astronomer at MIT's Haystack Observatory in Westford, Mass.
Now, "by making a virtual Earth-sized telescope that links radio dishes from Hawaii to California, we were able to achieve the necessary magnification power," Doeleman told [Photos: Black Holes of the Universe]

The researchers used their new array, known as the Event Horizon Telescope, to look at "the base of the famous jet in the galaxy called M87," about 54 million light-years from Earth, Doeleman said.
The center of virtually every galaxy is home to a supermassive black hole millions to billions of times the mass of the sun. Scientists have long suspected that relativistic jets came from the accretion disks of gas and dust pulled toward these black holes by the black holes' immense gravity, whirling like water flowing around a bathtub drain.
The new array combined data from three observatories in Hawaii, California and Arizona to look at the relativistic jet in M87, which has a central black hole about 7 billion times as massive as the sun and about as wide as the solar system.
The size of the region the relativistic jet originated from matches the estimated size of the innermost stable circular orbit of M87's accretion disk. This area is about five times the size of the solar system, or 750 times the distance from Earth to the sun.
"It is remarkable to me to think that we have the ability to measure the size of the region where matter orbits a black hole just before it disappears from our universe forever," Doeleman said.
Scientists were unsure whether relativistic jets need a spinning black hole to form, and if so, whether they were more likely to arise when accretion disks spin in the same direction as their black holes. The researchers found "the size of the jet launch point was so small that the best explanation is that the black hole has to be spinning and the orbiting matter has to be moving in the same direction as the black hole is spinning — think of the planets orbiting in the same direction as the sun is spinning," Doeleman said.
"Our result is just the tip of the iceberg," Doeleman added. "We've used just three stations in a global Earth-sized virtual telescope to peer deep inside a relativistic jet. We are about to add critical new stations to this Event Horizon Telescope, which will bring us closer to imaging a black hole boundary than we have ever been before."
The scientists detailed their findings online Sept. 27 in the journal Science

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Ouch! New technology makes dental trips even worse

Dental patients afraid of visiting the dentist may have a new reason to worry, according to experts who say an increasingly popular laser technique doesn’t deliver on its promise of early cavity detection.
So called “laser fluorescence” detectors like Kavo’s popular Diagnodent and Air Technique’s Spectra purport to assist in the early detection of surface cavities (called dental caries or occlusals). But experts say the new devices are easily abused, and can lead to unnecessary dental surgery.
“They’re not necessary,” ADA spokesman Matthew Messina told “We can do excellent dental work with traditional X-ray, visual, and hand exams alone.”
A study published in April by the American Dental Association concurs, finding “a large number of false-positive results with these devices, which limits their use as a principal diagnostic tool.” Traditional visual exams and X-rays remain the preferred diagnostic method since they are more than enough to root out cavities, the study found.
But that hasn’t stopped the gadgetry from becoming a staple in many dental offices around the nation, however. According to the ADA, laser fluorescence use in dentist's offices rose from 10 percent in 2003 to to 16 percent in 2006, the most recent data available. Assuming growth stayed constant, it’s possible the gizmos may be used by more than one in four dentists.
Las Vegas resident Michelle Smith claimed the number of cavities diagnosed in her son jumped from zero to four between six-month check-ups, but only after his dentist acquired a Diagnodent. She sought a second opinion from another dentist, who detected and treated only one verified cavity.

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Could the Benghazi attack be Obama’s Tet?

In late January, 1968 the Viet Cong southern insurgents, supported by North Vietnamese regulars, attacked 36 of 44 provincial capitals inside South Vietnam. Communist forces breached the perimeter of Saigon’s Tan Son Nhut Air Base, headquarters for the U.S. command. They also attacked Saigon’s presidential palace while a Viet Cong squad briefly occupied the grounds of the U.S. embassy.

North Vietnam’s Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap, architect of the Tet Offensive, sought to spark a general uprising and collapse of the South Vietnamese army leaving the Americans without an ally. A campaign of border attacks, including besieging a 5,000-man U.S. Marine garrison at Khe Sanh in northwestern South Vietnam, diverted attention from the enemy buildup around Saigon and other major cities.

The Tet Offensive proved a tactical defeat for the Communists. There was no general uprising. The South Vietnamese army, on the whole, fought well. Except for fighting to retake the ancient imperial capital at Hue, the Offensive was over in days. By the end of March 1968, more than 58,000 Viet Cong and North Vietnamese troops were dead. The United States lost 3,895 killed in action while the South Vietnamese forces suffered 4,954 dead. The utterly decimated Viet Cong never again posed a significant battlefield threat. In April 1975, Saigon fell to four corps of North Vietnamese regulars.

The September 12, 2012 terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Tripoli pales by comparison, the deaths of American Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other brave men notwithstanding. Even the mob breaching the walls of the U.S. embassy in Cairo and anti-American rioting across the Moslem world fall short of the historic proportions of the Tet Offensive. There are, however, useful analytical analogies.

Both events occurred in election years. President Lyndon Johnson set up the political narrative in late 1967 by calling home our man in Saigon, Gen. William C. Westmoreland, who then dutifully toed the line that victory was within sight. In the wake of the administration’s overly positive assessments, the Tet Offensive devastated American will. Tet was an enormous intelligence failure driven by political pressures to accentuate the positive and downplay or ignore contrary analyses.

The Benghazi debacle shares Tet’s political DNA. In the aftermath, Fox News broke the news that the attack was a terrorist act and not the result of spontaneous mob action. It took the administration a week to admit the true nature of the Benghazi attacks. The extent to which the attacks on diplomatic posts throughout the Muslim world were coordinated begs attention.

The media figured in both cases, but with different effects. Tet marked a turning point in media coverage of the Vietnam War. In 1968, the American media lined up against the Johnson administration by magnifying the effect of the Tet Offensive. Consider the impact of execution of a Viet Cong by the Saigon police chief Nguyen Loc Loan and the emphasis placed on the brief occupation of the U.S. embassy grounds by a VC squad, a minor skirmish in an otherwise successful and relatively brief battle to regain control of Saigon. It was Walter Cronkite’s post-Tet pronouncement that victory was no longer attainable that fostered the crumbling of Lyndon Johnson’s reelection hopes. In the end, Tet exposed the administration’s flawed strategic policies, something that turned military victory into a strategic defeat marking the turning point in the U.S. war in Vietnam.

Conversely, in September 2012, the media connived to deflect blame from Obama administration policies. For a week, with the exception of Fox News, the media maintained the fiction that the Benghazi attack resulted from mob action; mostly by ignoring it to focus instead on Republican candidate Mitt Romney’s “premature” criticism blaming failed policies of the Obama administration. When the truth of an al Qaeda inspired attack became “self evident,” the media shifted attention to Romney’s remarks made weeks ago concerning the nature of Obama’s core supporters.

The Benghazi attack indicates Al Qaeda is very much alive and dangerous despite the death of Usama bin Laden. Apologies by President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton for an obscure internet video added fuel to an explosive anger fulminating from an Islamic psyche unfathomable to American liberals fixated on feel good multicultural mantras alien to the realities of Islamist fanaticism. 
The president and secretary of state have endangered US. diplomatic and military personnel as well as Americans traveling and working overseas. In the wake of Tet President Johnson, understanding the ramifications of his failures, declined to seek reelection. President Obama and his media lapdogs continue to fix blame elsewhere.
Dr. Earl Tilford is a military historian and fellow for the Middle East & terrorism with The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. A retired Air Force intelligence officer, Dr. Tilford earned his PhD in American and European military history at George Washington University. From 1993 to 2001, he served as Director of Research at the U.S. Army’s Strategic Studies Institute. In 2001, he left government service for a professorship at Grove City College, where he taught courses in military history, national security, and international and domestic terrorism and counter-terrorism.

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Locals reveal background of man charged with rape and murder of Jill Meagher

THE accused killer and rapist of ABC worker Jill Meagher was yesterday described as a "smiling easygoing average Joe" and a keen fitness fanatic.
Adrian Ernest Bayley, a muscular 41-year-old who spent time at Fenix Fitness gym in Coburg, married at age 18 after his then girlfriend fell pregnant.
He went on to have another baby by her. One child would now be aged in the 20s; the other, a teenager.
Mr Bayley, born on July 14, 1971, did an apprenticeship in 1993 and qualified as a pastry cook, and was regularly employed.
But his six-year marriage ended in separation in 1995.
The same year, he began another relationship and had two more children, a son and a daughter.
It was shortly after that relationship broke down, in July 2000, that he changed his surname by deed poll from Edwards to Bayley.
A neighbour at that time said he lived in a boarding house in Wyndham Vale.
"It's a rooming house for divorced men on low incomes," landlord Mark Stevens said.
"It's $55 a week, cheap rent, and just a room to live to start people off and get the basics. He would only have been here a year or two - it's a place for unemployed people who have nowhere to go."

It appears Mr Bayley resided in several locations before settling, six months ago, in a granny flat at the back of a picket-fenced home in a quiet and small residential street in Coburg.
The owner said he was a respectful and co-operative tenant. "He's been very courteous in the house," said the landlady, who declined to be named.
Neighbour Dale Trotter said he saw at least two cars pull up outside the house about 2am on Saturday - 17 minutes after Ms Meagher was last seen on CCTV on Sydney Rd, Brunswick

"I saw some cars rock up. I didn't suspect anything of it," Mr Trotter said.
Members of Fenix Fitness gym said they remember Mr Bayley often working out on his own.
"He was pretty easygoing. He was confident, but most of those boys are," said a woman, who requested that her name not be used. He seemed friendly, always had a smile on his face.
"He really just came across like your average Joe."
Friends said he sometimes appeared nervous and edgy.
"You would consider him - if you didn't know him - to be absolutely normal," a former friend said.
"(But he had) a tendency to withdraw. He kept to himself."
Neighbour Peregrine Sellick said he saw Mr Bayley about three times in recent months, going to and from his home.
"He would walk out with his head down, get into his car and go. He never seemed like the kind of person I wanted to communicate with."
Another friend, who did not want to be named, said Mr Bayley was a "fitness freak" who was "smart".
Mr Bayley's Facebook page, which shows he has nine friends, describes his favourite activities as the gym, movies, music and anything outdoors. He describes himself as a Buddhist.
A favourite quote, listed on the page, reads: "Power of mind is infinite, while brawn is limited."
- with Angus Thompson

- No mention of his convictions for rape? - Weasel
Kylie Minogue's new single Flower from album The Abbey Road Sessions is about having a child

KYLIE Minogue has revealed she fears she may never become a mother.
Minogue said her new single Flower is "a love song to the child I may or may not ever have.''
The highly-personal ballad was written by Minogue in 2007 as she was undergoing treatment for breast cancer.
Previously only performed live, Minogue has finally recorded Flower on her new album The Abbey Road Sessions.
The lyrics include "I'm waiting for your gentle whisper, distant child. ... can you feel me as I breathe life into you ... I know one day you'll amaze me.''
"People who have heard the lyrics have asked if I'm feeling broody,'' Minogue said. "They don't realise the story of the song. It's a love letter to the child I may or may not ever have. I was coming out of (cancer) treatment.
"You're told `We can't determine what your future's going to be, this is what you're up against'. Somehow within me I thought okay, I have to be realistic but I have to be hopeful as well.''

Minogue, 44, who has been dating boyfriend Andres Velencoso since 2008, said she has not completely ruled out becoming a parent one day.
"Without sounding too cosmic or out-there I feel there's a spirit there,'' Minogue said. "I don't know whether it will become anything else or not. It's a weird one to talk about. I'm consistently asked 'Are you going to have children?' and I hate the question. Now I've got a song that is pretty much about just that. The song is still a question. It's a question I don't know the answer to.''
Minogue also used the song to make music video directorial debut with an enigmatic black and white shoot for Flower which she launched on her Twitter feed this week.
But Minogue has also found time to poke fun at herself this week exposing her famous backside in a new parody of advertising.
Directed by her friend Katerina Jebb, Minogue sports a low-cut gown which leaves nothing to the imagination.
"I was shocked when I saw it,'' Minogue admitted. "I managed to find that dress in my wardrobe, of course I didn't wear it exactly as it's supposed to be worn. I'm glad people are getting it, that it's satire. Kat is a very serious artist but she's got a wicked sense of humour as well. There's a whole series to come with Tilda Swinton, Kristen Scott Thomas and more. I wouldn't have done that for anyone else, but she's a good friend. I think we nailed that one.''
Flower is available now, The Abbey Road Sessions are released on October 26.

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Power bills could drop in industry shake-up

POWER bills could be lower next year under a move to make the electricity and gas industries more competitive.
The State Government announced yesterday that over the next three years, homeowners could pay less for power than the rates set by the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal.
Energy Minister Chris Hartcher said it would lower bills and be better for the industry.
"If our terms of reference were in place this year, regulated retail prices would have been about 2 per cent lower," he said.
"The former government locked in terms of reference that set the regulated price too high. We want to allow for more flexibility to place downward pressure on electricity prices while still allowing for a competitive market."
He said the government would consider deregulating the energy market, but not any time soon.
"Until we are confident competition in the energy market has been found to be effective - that is, giving NSW customers the best and cheapest price available - the government will continue to provide a regulated price option," Mr Hartcher said.
Energy Retailers Association of Australia chief executive Cameron O'Reilly said the government should consider deregulating the energy market, as is the case in Victoria.
"Since (Victoria) moved to price deregulation in 2009 households (have) new products and more choice," Mr O'Reilly said.
He said this wouldn't necessarily result in lower power bills.
"More than 85 per cent of retail electricity bills are determined by the wholesale cost of electricity and network charges as well as green schemes - all of which retailers have to pass through to end consumers," he said.

When are your babies old enough to start school?

ANXIOUS parents are spending hundreds of dollars having their children assessed by psychologists to find out whether they are emotionally ready to start school.
They are using the psychologist's report to decide if they should hold their child back for a year - in the hope it will give them an advantage.
Some children are tested for their IQ, others for behaviour and emotional maturity.
Early Childhood Australia chief executive Sam Page said yesterday parents were more likely to get their child assessed if they planned to send them to school at a younger age.
"It's about the child's maturity ... their emotional and social capacity," Ms Page said.
Adolescent psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg said 15 per cent of his clients were parents seeking an opinion about their child's readiness for school.
"Very often I see these parents ... it's a very big deal for them. Many parents are holding their children back - they think it's an advantage. This is a trend that has increased over the last 10 years," he said.
"There are three clocks inside kids - the physical maturity clock, the intellectual maturity clock and emotional maturity. You assess all three and make a recommendation."
Dr Carr-Gregg said parents should have a compelling reason to hold their child back from starting school.
"The whole thing is a little bit of a gamble," he said.
"There's an unprecedented level of anxiety around whether their kids are developing normally. Sometimes I think we should just let kids be kids."
Children can start kindergarten at the beginning of the school year if they turn five on or before July 31 in that year. By law, all children must be enrolled by their sixth birthday.
Research shows delaying school entry does not give students any advantage after the age of seven.
The trend to start school later - dubbed "the greying of kindergarten" - has seen more than 30 per cent of NSW students held back by their parents.
But a longitudinal study of Australian children found the initial headstart experienced by older students quickly vanishes.
It does make a difference early on, says Dr Ben Edwards, who has studied the phenomena for the Australian Institute of Family Studies: "At the age of six or seven years we do find some gaps but thereafter there are no real gaps."
Boys were far more likely to be held back than girls.
M aria Roots has no doubt her four-year-old daughter Isabelle is ready for big school.
Isabelle will not turn five until April next year, by which time she will have spent much of term one in her first year at school at Our Lady of the Way at Emu Plains.
Ms Roots said Isabelle would have a flying start to school life because she had been in daycare or pre-school since she was eight months and was familiar with learning programs, and seeing other children socialise through her older brother's Jayden's school experience.
"She has also been to the local primary school many times and has seen what happens there so that is a big advantage," she said.
"It was mentioned at preschool - whether to hold kids back from starting school and that more people were doing that.
"People may think it benefits the child, gives them an advantage later and helps them to avoid any social or emotional issues but it depends on the child's personality.
"In Jayden's first months at school he was invited to six birthday parties at which the kids were a year older than him."
Tim Hamilton of Allambie Heights on the northern beaches will start his four-year-old son Zachary next year.
Mr Hamilton said Zachary, who will turn five in January, was "months ahead" of his elder brother Archie in basic skills at the same age because of the two years he had spent in a well-run pre-school.
"Zachary is much more school-ready than his brother was," he said.
"Seventy-five per cent of the children with him (Zachary) at pre-school will go to school with him.
"Archie, now in year 2, was born at the end of March and it was a difficult decision for us about whether to send him when he was four or hold him back a year (until he was almost six).
"It was our first experience with the Education Department. Archie picked things up quickly - he was mature emotionally."


Sex case against Peter Slipper proceeds

JAMES Ashby will press ahead with his sexual harassment claim against Speaker Peter Slipper after settling his dispute with the federal government, which has so far spent more than $700,000 fighting the case.
With the case set to return to the Federal Court in Sydney next week, it was announced yesterday that a settlement between Mr Ashby and the Commonwealth had been reached for $50,000, with a added commitment to providing "an improved education program" for MPs and staff about sexual harassment.
The government has also withdrawn its abuse of process case against Mr Ashby.
The settlement came just months after both Attorney-General Nicola Roxon and Leader of the House Anthony Albanese, who compared the case to Watergate, each made public claims including that Mr Ashby's case was an abuse of process, that he had breached his employment provisions and had acted politically to harm Mr Slipper.
Ms Roxon said the Commonwealth had been thinking of the taxpayer when it settled for an amount above what was a reasonable calculation of Mr Ashby's losses.
Last month, the Federal Court agreed to allow Mr Slipper to remove the word "unlawful" from documents it had filed about Mr Ashby providing diary extracts to his boss's political rival Mal Brough and Daily Telegraph journalist Steve Lewis, as Judge Stephen Rares was told considerable "time, trouble and expense" would be saved.

The real unemployment problem: fewer people chasing fewer jobs

Former Labor Senator John Black, now head of demographic profiler Australian Development Strategies, warns unemployment is much worse than the official figures suggest:
Normally, the potential workforce in Australia (civilians 15 years and over) grows by about 240,000 people a year. At a 66 per cent participation rate, about 160,000 join the labour force and 80,000 are classified as “not in the labour force” (including retirees, students, home carers).

Of the 160,000 in the workforce, about 5 per cent, or 8000, are unemployed. This unemployment rate measure is usually a fairly sensitive indicator of when and where workers are moving from the ranks of the employed into those of the unemployed or in the opposite direction.
But this is the normal picture and the current statistics are anything but normal. In the 12 months to August 2012, only 47,200 joined the labour force and a massive 190,600 people were added to those not in the labour force. These 47,200 new workers were joined in employment by 10,000 persons who had been unemployed 12 months earlier, implying an extra 57,200 jobs were created during the year to August.

So, labour force growth was about 110,000 less than we would expect, and these potential workers went into the group regarded as not in the labour force, as hidden unemployed or discouraged workers, instead of joining the labour force, either as employed or unemployed. If they had been chasing a job and joined the labour force as unemployed persons, then our unemployment rate would have been about 6.2 per cent instead of 5 per cent in August.


On the boats come

No sign at all of the boats slowing:
A HEAVILY laden boat of asylum seekers has been intercepted near Christmas Island as more vessels arrive despite Labor’s embrace of the Pacific solution.

The boat, carrying 198 people, is the largest to arrive since August 13, the date the government has declared people ‘’at risk’’ of offshore processing.
Total capacity planned for Nauru and Manus island: 2100
Boat people arrivals since Nauru and Manus Island “solutions” announced: 3200
The latest interception brings the total number of arrivals this year to 167 boats carrying 10,912 asylum-seekers and 246 crew, the largest figure on record.

Add two more on Friday. It’s as if the word has got out that Nauru, now with 150 asylum seekers, is full already:
The first - carrying 72 people - was discovered by the Australian Customs vessel, Hervey Bay, about five nautical miles offshore.

The second - carrying 63 people - was detected by HMAS Ararat to the north east of Christmas Island. 


Alan Jones says Julia Gillard's dad 'died of shame'

VETERAN broadcaster and 2GB host Alan Jones has claimed Prime Minister Julia Gillard's father died of "shame" because of the political "lies" his daughter told.
He told a group of 100 Young Liberals that John Gillard's death was the fault of his proud child.
He went on to suggest Ms Gillard's tears of grief, for a man she publicly said she "will miss for the rest of my life", were what sparked a sudden leap in political polling for her.
Mr Gillard, a former psychiatric nurse, died in Adelaide on September 8, age 83.
The remarks occurred during Mr Jones' 50-minute speech at the annual $100-per-head Sydney University Liberal Club President's Dinner, on the top floor of Sydney's Waterfront restaurant in The Rocks last Saturday.
After referring to Ms Gillard's track record with telling the truth to voters over issues including the carbon tax, Mr Jones said her father's death was caused by the Prime Minister herself.
"The old man recently died a few weeks ago of shame," Mr Jones told a group of party members and MPs, including Alex Hawke, Ray Williams and Sussan Ley.
"To think that he had a daughter who told lies every time she stood for parliament.
"Every person in the caucus of the Labor Party knows that Julia Gillard is a liar."
Some members of the audience gasped with surprise.
Theradio star went on to say Ms Gillard had enjoyed a recent spike in polls sparked by her tears. He also said she was being given an easy ride by the "brainwashed" Liberal Party who had backed down because she was a woman.
Organisers of the dinner were not aware a journalist from The Sunday Telegraph, who had purchased a ticket, was present.
While paying tribute to her father in parliament on September 19, Ms Gillard spoke of the rough and tumble of politics and how that affected the family.
She said her father "felt more deeply than me, in many ways, some of the personal attacks that we face in the business of politics, but I was always able to reassure him that he had raised a daughter with sufficient strength not to let that get her down".
Mr Jones made several mentions about why Liberal leader Tony Abbott should be Australia's next PM.
"His overweening weakness is his humility. You will never ever hear this bloke argue his ability, his virtue, or indeed his competence," he said.
"He is a man of incomparable integrity and conviction."
The broadcaster said it was vital every member of Mr Abbott's party united behind their leader in the lead-up to the election. Mr Jones said some members of the Labor caucus were scared of the Liberal leader and others thought he was sexist.
Yesterday Mr Jones did not respond to approaches from The Sunday Telegraph.
The event was staged by Sydney University Liberal Club president and aspiring MP Alex Dore. Mr Jones has endorsed his political endeavours.
Yesterday, Mr Dore said Mr Jones had not made the comments about Ms Gillard's father. Later, informed there was a recording of the speech, his position changed.
"It was a very long speech and I did not hear it. I have always found Alan to be respectful," Mr Dore said.
He said there was "no need" to "pick apart Alan's speech. All you are doing is reducing it to a very small thing which distracts from the issues facing Australia".
Mr Williams would not be drawn on Mr Jones' remarks.
"I will just let this one go through to the keeper, the room was a bit a noisy at the time, I can't remember him saying it," he said.
Fellow MPs Mr Hawke and Ms Ley could not be reached.
Mr Abbott had previously expressed his condolences for the Prime Minister.
"This is a tragic time for (Ms Gillard) and we all feel for her at this very sad time," he told parliament. "It is a remarkable parent who produces a prime minister of this country."
During the five-hour event, three spoof songs were sung by Young Liberals member Simon Berger, Woolworths' government realtions manager.

King calls for Rice resignation over Libya story, Kerry defends

A top Republican called Friday for U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice to resign over her "misleading" statements on the Libya terror attack -- escalating a brewing battle between lawmakers and the administration over the changing narrative.
Rep. Peter King, the New York Republican who heads the House Homeland Security Committee, told National Review that he thinks Rice should resign over the controversy. He was referring to her repeated claims during interviews on the Sunday after the attack that the strike was a “spontaneous” reaction to protests in Cairo over an anti-Islam film -- though officials now acknowledge it was a coordinated terror attack.
"She is America's foreign policy spokesman to the world," King said. "The fact is she gave out information which was either intentionally or unintentionally misleading and wrong, and there should be consequences for that. And I don’t see how she didn’t know how … that information was wrong.”
He called for a “full investigation.”
King’s statement, the first call by a top-ranking lawmaker for a resignation in connection with the controversy, triggered a swift response from Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., who leapt to Rice’s defense. Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he was “deeply disturbed by efforts to find the politics instead of finding the facts in this debate.”
“Everyone who cares about the four fallen Americans in Benghazi would do well to take a deep breath about what happened and allow Secretary Clinton's proactive, independent investigation to proceed,” he said in a statement. “I’m particularly troubled by calls for Ambassador Rice’s resignation. She is a remarkable public servant for whom the liberation of the Libyan people has been a personal issue and a public mission. She's an enormously capable person who has represented us at the United Nations with strength and character.”
King’s statement, though, was a sign he perhaps wasn’t satisfied by the claim by the nation's top intelligence official Friday that administration officials who initially said the attack was spontaneous did so based on intelligence officials' guidance.
The statement by Shawn Turner, spokesman for Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, was put out late Friday -- the statement appeared to take the blame for the confusion, and also marked a complete reversal from the administration’s initial claims about the origin of the strike.
"As we learned more about the attack, we revised our initial assessment to reflect new information indicating that it was a deliberate and organized terrorist attack carried out by extremists," Turner said. "It remains unclear if any group or person exercised overall command and control of the attack, and if extremist group leaders directed their members to participate. However, we do assess that some of those involved were linked to groups affiliated with or sympathetic to Al Qaeda."
Turner, though, sought to explain that officials who discussed the attack as spontaneous did so based on intelligence community assessments.
"In the immediate aftermath, there was information that led us to assess that the attack began spontaneously following protests earlier that day at our embassy in Cairo," he said. "We provided that initial assessment to Executive Branch officials and members of Congress, who used that information to discuss the attack publicly and provide updates as they became available. Throughout our investigation we continued to emphasize that information gathered was preliminary and evolving."
However, sources have told Fox News that intelligence officials knew within 24 hours the attack that left the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans dead was terrorism, and that they suspected it was tied to Al Qaeda.
It's unclear, then, why the intelligence community told Executive Branch officials it was spontaneous. In the midst of the changing story, King and other Republicans have complained that they were misled by the administration. They pointed to briefings as well as Rice’s Sunday show comments.
Meanwhile, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are raising questions about security at the compound in Benghazi. All members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee wrote to the State Department on Thursday asking for additional details about security at U.S. diplomatic posts and for a fuller explanation of the attacks on U.S. compounds in Libya, Egypt and Yemen.

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Ancient burial shroud made of nettles

Ancient scraps of fabric found in a grave in Denmark are not made of cultivated flax as once believed, but instead are woven from imported wild nettles, suggesting the grave's inhabitant may have traveled far for burial.
This discovery, announced Friday, Sept. 28 in the journal Scientific Reports, casts a new light on the textile trade in Bronze Age Europe, said study researcher Ulla Mannering, an archaeologist at the University of Copenhagen.
"Since the Stone Age, they had very well-developed agriculture and technology for producing linen textiles," Mannering told LiveScience. "So it's really unusual that a society which has established agriculture would also take in material from things that are not of the normal standardized agricultural production" — in other words, wild plants.
A luxurious shroud
The soft and shiny fabric dates back to between 940 B.C. and 750 B.C., making it about 2,800 years old. It was discovered in Voldtofte, Denmark, at a rich Bronze Age burial ground called Lusehøj. The Bronze Age ran from about 3200 B.C. to 600 B.C. in Europe.
The fabric was wrapped around a bundle of cremated remains in a bronze urn. It was a luxurious piece of material, Mannering said. [10 Weird Ways We Deal With the Dead]

"The fibers we get from the European nettle are very, very fine and soft and shiny, and we often say this is a sort of prehistoric silk textile," Mannering said. (Silk, made from insect cocoons, is known for its shimmery texture.)
Previous analysis pegged the Danish fabric as woven from flax, a plant widely cultivated in the region. But along with nanophysicist Bodil Holst of the University of Bergen in Norway, Mannering and her colleagues used advanced methods to reanalyze the scraps of cloth. By studying the fiber orientation as well as the presence of certain crystals found in plants, the researchers were able to learn that the fabric is not flax at all, but nettle, a group of plants known for the needlelike stingers that line their stems and leaves.
Nor is the nettle local, Mannering said. Different soil regions contain different variations of elements. The variation of one of these elements, strontium, found in the fabric, was not local to Denmark, suggesting the plants the textile was made from grew elsewhere.
There are a few regions that match the strontium profile, the researchers found, but the most likely candidate is southwest Austria. The bronze burial urn holding the remains is from Austria, Mannering said, and it makes sense that the fabric might be too.
A well-traveled man?
Despite these imported grave goods, the remains appear to be those of a Danish man, Mannering said. The personal objects in the grave, such as two razors, suggest he was a Scandinavian, albeit perhaps a well-traveled one, she said.
"Maybe he died in Austria and was wrapped in this Austrian urn and Austrian textile and was brought back to Denmark in this condition and then put in a big burial mound," Mannering said. "The personal objects that were placed inside the urn together with this textile and the bones indicate that he is a male of Scandinavian origin, but it doesn't mean that he couldn't have died abroad."
Bronze Age Europeans lived an agricultural life and traded many goods with one another, especially the bronze that gave the era its name, Mannering said. The nettle fabric may have been an ancient luxury good for Bronze Age elite, she said.
"It shows that they also knew how to get fibers from wild plants, and they wanted these fibers probably because of their very different and unique appearance," she said.

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How I beat diabetes with the 'Duke diet'

Unless they’ve won the lottery or inherited a great deal of money, no one wakes up one day and suddenly cries out: “I’m rich!” Creating and developing wealth is a process that takes time.  The same thing holds true for diabetes. If you’re not born with it, diabetes is a disease that some people develop over a period of time, as was the case for me.
According to the American Diabetes Association, 25.8 million children and adults in the United States – 8.3 percent of the population – have diabetes,  and this is expected to double in 10 years.  There are three pages of basic diabetes statistics, and they are frightening.  This is a disease growing at epidemic proportions, yet most people don’t understand diabetes and how it affects us.
In the spring of 2009, I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.  I was 53 years old, weighed in excess of 250 pounds (my normal weight had always been 188 pounds). I felt miserable.  I suffered from constant fatigue and was always irritable.  I experienced continual hunger, thirst and had to urinate constantly.  Worst of all, I lost my sex drive.
This didn't happen overnight.  Despite what I thought was a healthy diet, I had been consuming far too many carbohydrates, especially for breakfast.  Americans in particular eat desserts for breakfast.  Croissants, sticky buns, buttered bagels and cereals loaded with sugar and processed carbohydrates are breakfast staples for most Americans.  
Most people wrongly assume diabetes is about consuming sugar in the form of candy and sweets, but for many people (especially me) simple carbohydrates are the real enemy.  Refined carbohydrates like white bread, rice and pasta are immediately converted to sugar and wreak havoc on the human body.
My breakfast (at 7 a.m.) consisted of shredded wheat (pure carbs) with a banana and a bagel (more carbs).  By 10:30 a.m., I was always ravenously hungry and would eat some sort of fruit to hold me over until lunch.  My lunch usually consisted of pasta primavera, which – because of the vegetables – I mistakenly presumed to be healthy.  At age 49, despite regular exercise (running and weights), I began gaining 12 – 15 pounds a year and at age 53 found myself obese, miserable and a type 2 diabetic.
I went for a physical and discovered that my fasting blood sugar level was unacceptably high and my doctor prescribed Metformin, which helps manage insulin levels.  He recommended I see an endocrinologist, who immediately informed me that I was a type 2 diabetic.

Type 2 is the most common form of diabetes, and according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, “When you have Type 2 diabetes, your fat, liver, and muscle cells do not respond correctly to insulin. This is called insulin resistance. As a result, blood sugar does not get into these cells to be stored for energy.  When sugar cannot enter cells, high levels of sugar build up in the blood. This is called hyperglycemia.”  If left unchecked, it will eventually damage nerves, blood vessels and lead to stroke and heart disease.
With the help of the Internet, I began doing research and found Duke University’s Diet & Fitness Center, which had a one week program specializing in diabetes.  Duke’s basic concept is that diets don’t work and you must adjust and (permanently) maintain a new lifestyle. Most diets treat people as abstractions, whether it involves 10 or 10,000 people. Duke considers the individual and after consulting with a doctor and a nutritionist, a diet is devised for that specific person. My week at Duke was a huge success, resulting in a loss of eight pounds.

The Duke diet is always based on a well-rounded healthy approach to eating. The biggest change for me was to eliminate the refined carbohydrates in my diet.  Refined carbohydrates were replaced with whole grains. White rice, pasta, potatoes, bagels and most breads were out.  I started combining two whole grain sugarless cereals – Uncle Sam’s & Ezekiel—along with a hard-boiled egg for breakfast, which usually kept me sated until noon. Lunch now consists of a healthy salad topped with tuna, chicken or salmon. If I have a sandwich, it's always on multi-grain bread with unprocessed fresh meat or fish.
The most significant lesson I learned at Duke is the importance of due diligence. People will research a stock they want to buy or a vacation they want to take, but they know very little about their own bodies. I now follow a healthier diet, but in no way do I consider it restrictive.

My doctors say my current health is excellent. As soon as I eliminated all of the bad carbs and balanced my diet, my body responded very quickly. The constant thirst and urination disappeared in a week. My sex drive came back and then some.  All my numbers (triglycerides and cholesterol) are lower than they were 20 years ago. 
As long as I maintain my weight and exercise regularly, I no longer need to test my blood on a daily basis, although I do so occasionally.  As for hard boiled eggs, I eat two a day and have seen no rise in my cholesterol as a result. The lowest my weight has been in the past two years is 186 pounds.  It is currently 193 pounds, but my goal weight is 183 pounds, which will reduce my belly fat and help my pancreas deliver insulin more effectively. 
My doctors believe as long as I continue the proper combination of diet and exercise I will not encounter the negative effects of diabetes, so I consider that a victory. As far as I’m concerned – I’ve beaten diabetes.
Rob Taub is a writer and comedian. He is host of Tech Hub on WOR AM radio.

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I Can Haz Productivity? Why You Should Look at Cute Animals at Work
Megan Gannon, News Editor
Date: 27 September 2012 Time: 12:43 PM ET

Here's a defense for when your boss catches you watching kitten videos on the job: New research shows looking at cute images of baby animals may actually improve your work performance, inspiring more fine-tuned attention and careful behavior.
Perhaps unsurprisingly this new study comes from researchers in Japan, where kawaii (Japanese for "cute") reigns. From the characters of "Hello Kitty" and "Pokémon's" Pikachu, cute creatures stir positive feelings, researchers say, because they resemble babies with their big eyes and large heads.
Seeing baby faces is known to trigger care-giving impulses in humans, and some research has even suggested cute images may encourage friendliness. In the new study out of Hiroshima University, published online this week in the journal PLoS ONE, researchers show that these impulses can transfer outside of baby care and social situations to tasks that require narrow focus and concentration.

In the first part of the experiment, 48 college students were asked to complete a game not unlike Milton Bradley's "Operation." Using tweezers, they had to pluck out 14 tiny pieces from holes in the body of a "patient." After one round of the game, half of the students looked at seven images of baby animals (considered the cute images) while the others viewed pictures of adult animals.
Then the participants tried their hand at the operation task again. The students who had just looked at the baby animal pictures were able to pluck out more of the game pieces than they had before, while the others hardly improved their performance. [Photos: World's Cutest Baby Animals]
Previous studies have shown that humans slow down their speech when talking to babies, and the Japanese researchers speculated that viewing the cute images may have had a similar effect — slowing the behavior of the students who saw the cute baby animal images and improving their accuracy in the game. In addition, the researchers suspect the baby-animal group got a boost in nurturing feelings, something that would likely benefit performance in the care-related task that involved helping someone (even if that someone was an anthropomorphic game board).
To challenge these possible explanations, the researchers set up the same experiment with 48 new participants and some slight changes. Instead of the operation task, the students looked at clusters of numbers from which they had to figure out how many times a certain digit appeared. They were told to provide as many accurate answers as possible within three minutes, adding an element of time pressure. And this time, the researchers divided the students into three groups -- two groups looked at either the baby or adult animal pictures as before, while the third group looked at mouth-watering pictures of sushi, steak and other food.
The findings from the first experiment held true. The students who looked at the baby animal pictures did much better on the number matrix task the second time around, while the others did not significantly improve. The key to good performance in this task was narrowing focus to zoom in on the designated number, the researchers said. And indeed, in another experiment, the researchers found the cute-picture-viewing participants were better at honing in on local features than identifying big-picture elements of visual stimuli.
"Kawaii things not only make us happier, but also affect our behavior," wrote the researchers, led by cognitive psychologist Hiroshi Nittono. "This study shows that viewing cute things improves subsequent performance in tasks that require behavioral carefulness, possibly by narrowing the breadth of attentional focus."
They said these effects could benefit drivers and office workers — as if you needed another reason to keep that pandacam tab open on your browser.

Feeling Down? Spirituality Can Boost Your Mood
Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience Senior Writer
Date: 28 September 2012 Time: 12:49 PM ET
In 2008, then-presidential candidate Barack Obama got himself into trouble by saying "bitter" voters "cling to guns or religion" in response to hard times. Obama later apologized and recanted the statement, but new research suggests he may not have been entirely wrong.
People do turn to spiritualityafter a bad day, according to a study published online Aug. 1 in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. And good news for spiritual folks, it works.
"We find that having a really spiritual day, committing to a power higher than yourself, carefully considering a purpose larger than yourself, it ends up leading to a lot of well-being," said study researcher Todd Kashdan, a psychologist at George Mason University in Virginia. "We find profound levels of meaning in life, greater positive emotions, less negative emotions, higher self-esteem."
Spirituality and happiness
A number of studies have found links between spirituality and happiness. A sense of spirituality, defined as the search for the sacred to differentiate it from organized religion, has even been linked to young women having more sex, perhaps because they feel a greater sense of interconnectedness and intimacy with others.
But most researchers have looked at the link between spirituality in a broad sense, with surveys that ask people about their spirituality in general. Kashdan and his colleagues wanted a day-to-day view. So they asked 87 college students to fill out daily online diaries about their emotions, their spiritual feelings and their self-esteem. They then looked at how spirituality matched up with daily emotional ups and downs.
The participants were a mix of religions, with 34 percent identifying as Catholic, 18 percent as Protestants, and the rest a mix of atheists, Buddhists, Eastern Orthodox, Mormons, Muslims and other faiths.
The diary analysis first found that daily spirituality is associated with a boost in self-esteem and positive mood. The reason, Kashdan told LiveScience, seems to be that spirituality gives people a sense of meaning in life. People's life meaning statistically explained 100 percent of spirituality's positive effect on mood, and 93 percent of the self-esteem boost. [8 Ways Religion Impacts your Life]
Sad today, spiritual tomorrow
For people who are high in spirituality, a bad day was linked to an increase in spiritual behavior, such as meditation or prayer, the next. A good day was associated with fewer spiritual behaviors.
"If today you're in a funk … tomorrow you're much more likely to be spiritually inclined, to engage in spiritual practices and double down on your focus on things that transcend humanity," Kashdan said.
In turn, a spiritual day today led to a happier tomorrow, with people reporting greater meaning in life the day after they'd engaged in spiritual practices.
The same was not true for non-spiritual people, who became even less likely to engage in spiritual practices after a bad day.
The findings highlight how "clinging" to religion shouldn't necessarily be seen in a negative light, Kashdan said.
"Happiness is fleeting, but profound meaning is something like a stable architecture you can work with," Kashdan said. "If I know I have this profound meaning, it sticks with me despite bad things happening."
New Theory on Why Men Love Breasts
Natalie Wolchover, Life's Little Mysteries Staff Writer
Date: 26 September 2012 Time: 06:34 PM ET
Why do straight men devote so much headspace to those big, bulbous bags of fat drooping from women's chests? Scientists have never satisfactorily explained men's curious breast fixation, but now, a neuroscientist has struck upon an explanation that he says "just makes a lot of sense."
Larry Young, a professor of psychiatry at Emory University who studies the neurological basis of complex social behaviors, thinks human evolution has harnessed an ancient neural circuit that originally evolved to strengthen the mother-infant bond during breast-feeding, and now uses this brain circuitry to strengthen the bond between couples as well. The result? Men, like babies, love breasts.
When a woman's nipples are stimulated during breast-feeding, the neurochemical oxytocin, otherwise known as the "love drug," floods her brain, helping to focus her attention and affection on her baby. But research over the past few years has shown that in humans, this circuitry isn't reserved for exclusive use by infants.
Recent studies have found that nipple stimulation enhances sexual arousal in the great majority of women, and it activates the same brain areas as vaginal and clitoral stimulation. When a sexual partner touches, massages or nibbles a woman's breasts, Young said, this triggers the release of oxytocin in the woman's brain, just like what happens when a baby nurses. But in this context, the oxytocin focuses the woman's attention on her sexual partner, strengthening her desire to bond with this person.
In other words, men can make themselves more desirable by stimulating a woman's breasts during foreplay and sex. Evolution has, in a sense, made men want to do this.
Attraction to breasts "is a brain organization effect that occurs in straight males when they go through puberty," Young told Life's Little Mysteries. "Evolution has selected for this brain organization in men that makes them attracted to the breasts in a sexual context, because the outcome is that it activates the female bonding circuit, making women feel more bonded with him. It's a behavior that males have evolved in order to stimulate the female's maternal bonding circuitry." [Why Do Men Have Nipples?]
So, why did this evolutionary change happen in humans, and not in other breast-feeding mammals? Young thinks it's because we form monogamous relationships, whereas 97 percent of mammals do not. "Secondly, it might have to do with the fact that we are upright and have face-to-face sex, which provides more opportunity for nipple stimulation during sex. In monogamous voles, for example, the nipples are hanging toward the ground and the voles mate from behind, so this didn't evolve," he said. "So, maybe the nature of our sexuality has allowed greater access to the breasts."
Young said competing theories of men's breast fixation don't stand up to scrutiny. For example, the argument that men tend to select full-breasted women because they think these women's breast fat will make them better at nourishing babies falls short when one considers that "sperm is cheap" compared with eggs, and men don't need to be choosy.  
But Young's new theory will face scrutiny of its own. Commenting on the theory, Rutgers University anthropologist Fran Mascia-Lees, who has written extensively about the evolutionary role of breasts, said one concern is that not all men are attracted to them. "Always important whenever evolutionary biologists suggest a universal reason for a behavior and emotion: how about the cultural differences?" Mascia-Lees wrote in an email. In some African cultures, for example, women don't cover their breasts, and men don't seem to find them so, shall we say, titillating.
Young says that just because breasts aren't covered in these cultures "doesn't mean that massaging them and stimulating them is not part of the foreplay in these cultures. As of yet, there are not very many studies that look at [breast stimulation during foreplay] in an anthropological context," he said.
Young elaborates on his theory of breast love, and other neurological aspects of human sexuality, in a new book, "The Chemistry Between Us" (Current Hardcover, 2012), co-authored by Brian Alexander.

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