Consuming Guilt

“Yes, everyone is a fussy eater these days. The obvious culprit is California, where celebrity dieting whims are turned into gastronomic trends, but I suspect the blame lies much further north, at Starbucks’ HQ in Seattle. Starbucks, after all, can serve a cup of coffee 19,000 different ways, with five varieties of milk (whole, non-fat, “half & half”, organic and, of course, soy). The effect has been to escalate all food choice throughout America, and therefore the world.” (Times Online via robot wisdom)

Ravenous black hole enjoys star-studded banquet

“The inexorable spiral of matter down the gullet of a giant black hole has been captured in unprecedented detail by the Very Large Telescope in Chile.

NGC 1097, a spiral galaxy about 45 million light years from Earth, glows relatively brightly at its centre. That suggests a black hole is devouring surrounding stars and gas there, but the light’s glare has overwhelmed any detailed images of the process.

Now, astronomers have used one of the VLT’s four 8-metre telescopes to take near-infrared images of matter whirling towards the galaxy’s heart.” (New Scientist)

U.S. Gives Florida a Sweeping Right to Curb Medicaid

“Under the waiver, Florida will establish ‘a maximum per year benefit limit’ for each recipient and fundamentally change its role. The state will largely be a buyer rather than a manager of health care.

In an interview, Alan M. Levine, secretary of the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, estimated that no more than 5 percent of Medicaid recipients would hit their annual limits. At that point, Mr. Levine said, ‘the health plan will still be responsible for providing services to the consumer, but the state’s reimbursement would be limited to that amount.’

Asked whether the beneficiary would be responsible for paying costs beyond the limit, he said: ‘That can happen today. There are arbitrary limits and caps embedded in the state Medicaid program, limits on home health services, doctors’ visits, prescription drugs.’

For each beneficiary, Florida will pay a monthly premium to a private plan. Insurance plans will be allowed to limit ‘the amount, duration and scope’ of services in ways that current law does not permit.” (New York Times )

SBS shows troops burning Taliban bodies

“SBS has broadcast footage of what it says is United States soldiers burning two dead Taliban fighters as they faced Mecca and using the charred and smoking corpses in a propaganda campaign in southern Afghanistan.

The Dateline report, broadcast on Wednesday night, said US soldiers burnt the bodies for hygiene reasons but then a US psychological operations unit broadcast a propaganda message on loudspeakers to Taliban fighters, taunting them to retrieve their dead and fight.” (theage.com.au)

Scientists Bridle at Lecture Plan for Dalai Lama

Interesting controversy rages around plans for the Dalai Lama to address the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting about the research in which he is collaborating on the cognitive effects of meditation practice. Over five hundred researchers have signed a petition urging the lecture be canceled, fearing the loss of credibility to the field because “it will highlight a subject with largely unsubstantiated claims and compromised scientific rigor and objectivity.” Supporters of the Dalai Lama say that many of the petitioners are of Chinese descent and motivated politically. As a college undergraduate thirty years ago, I was a research assistant to then-graduate student Richard Davidson in his fledgling research into the psychological effects of meditation. Davidson is now the Dalai Lama’s major neuroscientist collaborator and the object of the petitioners’ discontent, partly because he is a meditator himself or, as one of the drafters of the petition puts it, a “declared believer playing a dual role as advocate and researcher,” a characterization which Davidson, quite rightly in my estimation, considers overblown.