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Monday, June 11, 2007A Shocking Idea
Most people know that nerves work by passing electrical currents from cell to cell. But you might be surprised to learn that no one knows exactly how anesthetics stop nerves from carrying pain signals.
That's why two scientists believe that we really don’t know how nerves work after all.
According to their controversial theory, electricity is just a side effect of how nerves really operate: by conducting high-density waves of pressure that resemble sound reverberating through a pipe.
"Nerves are supposed to work like a series of electrical transistors," said Andrew Jackson, a physicist at the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen, Denmark. "This picture is at best flawed."
If correct, Jackson and Thomas Heimburg, a Niels Bohr biophysicist and co-author of a recent paper describing their theory, would turn a long-held (and Nobel Prize-winning) theory on its head.
Alan Hodgkin and Andrew Huxley won the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine in 1963 for describing the electric transmission of impulses along nerves -- a now widely accepted theory known as the Hodgkin-Huxley model.
Anyone convicted of a crime knows a debt to society often must be paid in jail. But a slice of Californians willing to supplement that debt with cash (no personal checks, please) are finding that the time can be almost bearable.
For offenders whose crimes are usually relatively minor (carjackers should not bother) and whose bank accounts remain lofty, a dozen or so city jails across the state offer pay-to-stay upgrades. Theirs are a clean, quiet, if not exactly recherché alternative to the standard county jails, where the walls are bars, the fellow inmates are hardened and privileges are few. . . .
“It seems to be to be a little unfair,” said Mike Jackson, the training manager of the National Sheriff’s Association. “Two people come in, have the same offense, and the guy who has money gets to pay to stay and the other doesn’t. The system is supposed to be equitable.”
But cities argue that the paying inmates generate cash, often hundreds of thousands of dollars a year — enabling them to better afford their other taxpayer-financed operations — and are generally easy to deal with. . . .
What should we think about these "upgrades"? Certainly, one could hardly blame one convicted of a "relatively minor" crime for wanting to take advantage of this option. And, these upgrades might well provide a useful source of revenue. I wonder, though: Why stop at $82.00 per day? I would think that corrections agencies could fill their "upgrade" cells while charging substantially more. What if it turned out that many of those convicted of "relatively minor" offenses were willing to pay, say, $1000 per day -- or $10,000 per day -- not to avoid the loss of physical freedom associated with punishment, but to avoid the non-trivial risks of being harmed by other inmates? What would this willingness tell us about the extent to which we are failing in (what I take to be) our obligation to protect those we incarcerate?
I assume we don't want to say that these risks are "part of" the punishment that is justly imposed upon those convicted of crimes. So, if someone buys their way out of those risks, it is not -- is it? -- that they are buying their way out of duly imposed "punishment." But, once we acknowledge that there are non-essential, unpleasant incidents of punishment that we *are* willing to allow people to pay to avoid, then how do we justify imposing those incidents on those who cannot (or simply do not) pay to avoid them
Born minutes apart and with almost identical looks, there seems little to set Lauren and Hannah Bernaba apart from any other pair of newborn twins.
But the girls are the world's first twins to be born on the same day to two different women.
First, biological mother Amy Bernaba gave birth to Lauren, weighing 7lb 10oz, then, half an hour later, surrogate mum Torry Keay delivered 7lb 3oz Hannah.
The double pregnancy happened after Mrs Bernaba and husband George had undergone IVF treatment for 12 years in an effort to conceive a baby brother or sister for their son Jeremy, now 15.
Eventually, doctors decided that 40-year- old Mrs Bernaba would almost certainly be unable to carry another baby because of a problem with her immune system.
So they tried an extremely unusual procedure, implanting eggs fertilised by Mr Bernaba's sperm into her womb and also into surrogate Mrs Keay's.
Mrs Keay became pregnant, and against all the odds so did Mrs Bernaba. Both women had straightforward pregnancies before giving birth on May 27 in neighbouring rooms in a Los Angeles hospital.
Mr Bernaba, who runs his own security business, saw Lauren delivered by Caesarean section before doctors told him Hannah was on the way.
He raced to watch her arrival and took photographs to show his wife.
Yesterday, the couple told of their joy as they settle in to life at home in Beverly Hills with the twins.
Mrs Bernaba said: "I feel so happy to have them. I can't stop smiling.
"All the strain and heartache I've been through in the past few years have definitely been worth it, just to have these very special twins."
Although the twins are not identical because they came from separate eggs, they look very alike and Mrs Bernaba said she is only now starting to tell them apart.
"They both have dark brown hair and big blue eyes, but Hannah has gold streaks in her hair and her eyebrows are slightly lighter.
"She is the lively one, while Lauren is more quiet and relaxed."
Spot The Fake Smile
This experiment is designed to test whether you can spot the difference between a fake smile and a real one
It has 20 questions and should take you 10 minutes
It is based on research by Professor Paul Ekman, a psychologist at the University of California
Each video clip will take approximately 15 seconds to load on a 56k modem and you can only play each smile once
Overall outlook on life
Confidence rating of your skill at discriminating between fake and real smiles.
More at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/humanbody/mind/surveys/smiles/index.shtml
All national exams should be abolished for children under 16 because the stress caused by over-testing is poisoning attitudes towards education, according to an influential teaching body.
In a remarkable attack on the government's policy of rolling national testing of children from the age of seven, the General Teaching Council is calling for a 'fundamental and urgent review of the testing regime'. In a report it says exams are failing to improve standards, leaving pupils demotivated and stressed and encouraging bored teenagers to drop out of school.
The attack comes in a study submitted to the House of Commons education select committee and passed to The Observer. The council says that schoolchildren in England and Wales are now the most tested in the world, facing an average of 70 tests and exams before the age of 16. Standard Assessment Tests, or Sats, currently taken by children at the ages of seven, 11 and 14, should be abolished, it concludes.
It says: 'The GTC continues to be convinced that the existing assessment regime needs to be changed.'
The submission, which has emerged as more than a million teenagers sit their GCSEs and A-levels, says teachers are being forced to 'drill' pupils to pass tests instead of giving a broad education.
Some are under such pressure from trying to keep schools at the top of league tables that they have gone further and fiddled results or helped children to cheat, according to Keith Bartley, chief executive of the council, the independent regulatory body set up by the government in 2000.
Yesterday, it emerged that Vanessa Rann, a 26-year-old teacher found hanged in her home, was being investigated for allegedly helping students to cheat in a GCSE exam.
'The pressure is on and it is growing,' Bartley, whose role includes advising ministers on education policy, said in an interview with The Observer. 'What we are saying to the government is that we do not think their policies are best serving the young people in this country or their achievement.
'The range of knowledge and skills that tests assess is very narrow and to prepare young people for the world they need a set of skills that are far broader.' Exams as they stood, he said, were 'missing the point'.
Bartley argued there was no need to have one day each year when the 'nation's 11 year olds were in a state of panic'. Instead, he called for a 'sampling' system under which less than 1 per cent of primary schoolchildren and less than 3 per cent of secondary students would take national tests. The move would in effect mean the end of school league tables, which are based on national test results. 'You do not have to test every child every four years to know whether children are making more or less progress than they used to,' he said.
To tell parents how individual children were doing, teachers would also be able to access a 'bank of tests' that they could use whenever they chose to make their own assessment on performance. The new system would bring England in line with Wales.
It is a shift that teachers, educationalists and parents are increasingly arguing for. Earlier this year Ken Boston, chief executive of the Curriculum and Qualifications Authority, called for the system to be overhauled because it was distorting what was being taught.
Psychologists have reported going into schools at unprecedented rates to tackle exam stress, with children as young as six suffering from anxiety.
Yet the government has so far refused to move. 'We are firmly committed to national testing and performance tables,' a spokeswoman for the Department for Education and Skills said.