What’s In The News

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Week in Review

International

            The Obama Administration wants to keep the International Space Station, a $100 billion orbital research outpost that is a project of 15 nations, flying until at least 2024, according to NASA.

            The extension will give the U.S. space agency more time to develop the technologies needed for eventual human missions to Mars, the long-term goal of NASA's. Keeping the station in orbit beyond 2020 also opens a window for commercial companies and researchers to benefit from U.S. investment in the Space Station.

NASA’s cost for operating the station, which flies about 250 miles above Earth, is about $3 billion a year. About half that cost is spent on transporting crew and cargo.

“Ten years from today is a pretty far-reaching, pretty strategic-looking vision,” NASA Associate Administrator Bill Gerstenmaier told reporters. “This extension … opens up a large avenue of research onboard station. It also changes the perspective for the commercial (transportation) providers. Now they can see a market that extends to at least 2024,” he said.

In addition to commercial U.S. cargo ships and planned passenger space taxis, companies and research organizations are beginning to make use of the station's unique microgravity environment to develop a range of new products and technologies, including medications and off-the-shelf, shoebox-sized satellites.

The prime partners in the venture, with the United States, include Russia, Europe, Japan and Canada. It has been permanently staffed by rotating crews of astronauts and cosmonauts since 2000.

Extending the station “is not a U.S.-only decision,” Gerstenmaier said. “We talk to our partners about this. They want to go forward with this. It’s just working through the government approval,” he said. “We’re prepared to do what we have to do if the partners choose to take a different path,” Gerstenmaier added.

A technical review by prime station contractor Boeing shows the station’s laboratories, structural frame and other hardware are safe to fly until 2028, program manager John Shannon said.

“If the physical hardware continues to operate the way we believe it does ... that leaves the door open in the future to extend,” Gerstenmaier said. At the end of its life, the station will be steered down into the atmosphere, where it will incinerate. Re-entry will take place over an ocean so any debris will not threaten populated areas.

            Retired U.S. basketball star Dennis Rodman, visiting North Korea with fellow U.S. basketball players, said in a published statement that he had been drinking when he suggested that an American jailed by North Korea was himself to blame for landing in prison.

Rodman, who calls himself a friend of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, caused quick responses to his comments on an American missionary imprisoned by Pyongyang.

In a statement issued by his public relations firm in the United States, Rodman said: “I want to apologize. I take full responsibility for my actions. It had been a very stressful day. Some of my teammates were leaving because of pressure from their families and business associates. My dreams of basketball diplomacy were quickly falling apart. I had been drinking. It’s not an excuse but by time the interview happened I was upset. I was overwhelmed.”

He added: “I embarrassed a lot of people. I'm very sorry. At this point, I should know better than to make political statements. I’m truly sorry.” Rodman’s current visit to North Korea has drawn criticism from human rights activists and the family of imprisoned U.S. missionary Kenneth Bae after Rodman appeared to suggest in an interview peppered with obscenities that Bae, rather than the North Korean authorities, was responsible for his incarceration.

Bae’s sister, Terri Chung, has said her family was outraged by Rodman's comments and that he should use his access to the North Korean leader to advocate on Bae’s behalf, rather than “hurl outrageous accusations”: “It is clear to me, however, that there is nothing diplomatic about his trip,” Chung said in a statement. “He is playing games with my brother’s life.”

Bae, 45, was sentenced to 15 years hard labor for state subversion in North Korea, where he was detained in 2012 while leading a tour group. The Supreme Court said he used his tourism business to form groups aimed at overthrowing the government.

The fading basketball star’s trips had been financed by Irish bookmaker Paddy Power, although it has now withdrawn its funding.

National

            Texas’ view of future of their public library looks a lot like an Apple Store: Rows of glossy iMacs. iPads mounted on a tangerine-colored bar invite readers.

And hundreds of other tablets stand ready for checkout to anyone with a borrowing card. Even the librarians imitate Apple’s dress code, wearing matching shirts and that standard-bearer “hoodie.” This $2.3 million library does not have – you guessed it – any actual books.

            That makes Bexar County's BibiloTech the Nation’s only bookless public library, a distinction that has attracted scores of digital bookworms, plus emissaries from as far away as Hong Kong, who wants to learn about the idea.

“I told our people that you need to take a look at this. This is the future,” said Mary Graham, vice president of South Carolina’s Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce. “If you’re going to be building new library facilities, this is what you need to be doing.”

All-digital libraries have been on college campuses for years. However, the county made history when it decided to open BiblioTech. It is the first bookless public library system in the country, according to information gathered by the American Library Association.

Residents are taking advantage now. The library is on pace to surpass 100,000 visitors in its first year. Finding an open iMac among the four dozen at BiblioTech is often difficult after the nearby high school lets out.

About half of the facility’s e-readers are checked out at any given time, each loaded with up to five books. One of BiblioTech’s regulars is a man teaching himself Mandarin.

In California, the city of Newport Beach floated the concept of a bookless branch in 2011 until a backlash put stacks back in the plan. Nearly a decade earlier in Arizona, the Tucson-Pima library system opened an all-digital branch, but residents who said they wanted books ultimately got their way.

Graham toured BiblioTech in the fall and is pushing Charleston leaders for a bond measure in 2014 to fund a similar concept, right down to the same hip aesthetic reminiscent of Apple.

Political

            New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie apologized for highway lane closures over one of the busiest bridges in the country, ordered by his aides as political retribution, saying he had “no knowledge or involvement” in what happened.

He sought to assure New Jerseyans the actions are not typical of the way his administration does business. “This is the exception, not the rule,” he told a news conference.

Christie, who had previously assured the public his staff had no involvement in the road closings, said he fired Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly, saying, “… because she lied to me.”

Kelly was the latest casualty in a scandal that threatens Christie’s second term and possible run for president in 2016. Documents show she arranged traffic jams to punish the mayor, in a local town, who didn’t endorse Christie for re-election.

A regional transportation issue is now thrust into a national conversation raising new questions about the governor’s ability to lead the country. The U.S. attorney in New Jersey, Paul Fishman, said he was “reviewing the matter to determine whether a federal law was implicated.” The legislature is also investigating.

Christie focused repeatedly on how upset he was that his staff didn’t tell him the truth when asked about the closures. “What did I do wrong to have these folks think it was OK to lie to me?” he asked rhetorically. Email and text messages obtained by news organizations indicated that the lane closings were retribution against the mayor of Fort Lee for not endorsing Christie for re-election.

“Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” Kelly wrote in August in a message to David Wildstein, a top Christie appointee on the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. A few weeks later, Wildstein closed two of three lanes connecting Fort Lee to the heavily-traveled George Washington Bridge, which runs between New Jersey and New York City.

CHristie also told Wildstein he didn’t want him working any longer as a consultant to the Republican Governors Association, which Christie heads this year.

The messages do not directly implicate Christie, but they contradicted his assertions that the closings were not punitive and that his staff was not involved. Christie acknowledged that was a lie, because his staff didn'’ tell him what they had done.

He also said he had “no knowledge or involvement in this issue, in its planning or execution” and was stunned by the “abject stupidity that was shown.” He said he was “embarrassed and humiliated” by his staff. At the same time, he said he accepted responsibility.

“I am responsible for what happened. I am sad to report to the people of New Jersey that we fell short,” he said. Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich called it “appalling” that the traffic jams appear to have been deliberately created.

Health

            An Israeli firm has developed 3-D holographic imaging technology that allows doctors to see a patient’s anatomy “floating” in mid-air during real-time medical procedures. The company says successful trials of its system demonstrate that science fiction has become science fact.

 

            A new study suggests patients’ expectations can make a big difference in how they feel after treatment for a migraine. Boston researchers recruited 66 migraine patients in an attempt to quantify how much of their pain relief came from a medication and how much was due to what's called the placebo effect, the healing power of positive belief.

More than 450 headaches later, they reported that it's important for doctors to carefully choose what they tell patients about a powerful medicine – because the message could help enhance its benefits,or blunt them.

“Every word you say counts, not only every gram of the medication,” said Harvard professor Ted Kaptchuk, who led the new study with a team at Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital.

First, the patients who suffer regular migraines agreed to forgo pain relievers for several hours during one attack, recording their symptoms for comparison with later headaches. Then for each of their next six migraines, the patients were given a different pill inside an envelope with a different message.

Sometimes they were told it was an effective migraine drug named rizatriptan, a positive message. Other times they were told it was a placebo, a dummy pill, suggesting no benefit. Still other times they were told the pill could be either one, a neutral message.

Sometimes the doctor’s message was true – they were told they got rizatriptan and they really did. Sometimes it was false because researchers had secretly switched the pills. Mixing up the possibilities allowed researchers to tease out how the same person's pain relief differed from migraine to migraine as his or her expectations changed.

The real migraine drug worked better than the dummy pill. People who knew they were taking a placebo still reported less pain than when they’d left their migraine untreated, the researchers found.

Patients’ reports of pain relief more than doubled when they were told the migraine drug was real than when they were told, falsely, that it was a fake, the team reported in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

People reported nearly as much pain relief when they took a placebo that they thought was the real drug as they did when they took the migraine drug while believing it was a fake. “The more we gave a positive message to the patient, the bigger the placebo effect was,” Kaptchuk said.

Scientists have long known that some people report noticeable improvements in pain and certain other symptoms when they're given a placebo, which can be a sugar pill or sham surgery or some other benign intervention. Some studies even have documented that a placebo actually can spark a biological effect.

Dr. Mark Stacy, vice dean for clinical research at Duke University Medical Center, who wasn’t involved with the work, said it shows “the power of positive thinking may be helpful in taking care of your migraine.”

 

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