Depression Is Only Partly a Psychological Condition. 


 

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While the symptoms of depression are marked by changes in the brain, the cause of the disease may ultimately lie in the body, specifically in a family of proteins called cytokines that set off inflammation.

Essential to healing physical wounds and kicking the immune system into action, inflammation tells the body it is ill. And as everyone knows, having an illness easily triggers a negative mindset that can easily turn depressive in cases of prolonged or chronic health problems. What physicians call “sickness behavior” is remarkably similar to depression: an unwillingness to get out of bed, eat well, or be productive.

While being physically ill causes inflammation, it is far from being the only cause. Modern life itself seems to be a state which our body responds to negatively.

George Slavich, a clinical psychologist at the University of California in Los Angeles, has studied depression for years and has come to prioritize the body over the mind when discussing causes of the disease: “I don’t even talk about it as a psychiatric condition any more,” he says. “It does involve psychology, but it also involves equal parts of biology and physical health.”

While being physically ill causes inflammation, it is far from being the only cause. Modern life itself seems to be a state which our body responds to negatively.

Eating a diet high in trans fat and sugar triggers inflammation by activating the large amount of cytokines stored in the gut. Studies have also found that rejection and social isolation can promote inflammation in the body, a phenomenon that sociologists have seen rise as individuals become wealthier and rely less on their surrounding community for wellbeing.

 

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The U.S. fertility rate just hit a historic low. Why some demographers are freaking out.


The United States is in the midst of what some worry is a baby crisis. The number of women giving birth has been declining for years and just hit a historic low. If the trend continues — and experts disagree on whether it will — the country could face economic and cultural turmoil.

According to provisional 2016 population data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday, the number of births fell 1 percent from a year earlier, bringing the general fertility rate to 62.0 births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44. The trend is being driven by a decline in birthrates for teens and 20-somethings. The birthrate for women in their 30s and 40s increased — but not enough to make up for the lower numbers in their younger peers.

A country’s birthrate is among the most important measures of demographic health. The number needs to be within a certain range, called the “replacement level,” to keep a population stable so that it neither grows nor shrinks. If too low, there’s a danger that we wouldn’t be able to replace the aging workforce and have enough tax revenue to keep the economy stable. Countries such as France and Japan that have low birthrates have put pro-family policies into place to try to encourage couples to have babies. The flip side can also be a problem. Birthrates that are too high can strain resources such as clean water, food, shelter and social services, problems faced by India, where the fertility rate has fallen over the past few decades but still remains high.

The debate now is about whether the United States is headed toward a “national emergency,” as some have feared, or whether this is a blip and the birthrate will level off soon.

“It’s about millennials,” says Donna M. Strobino, a professor of population, family and reproductive health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

 Here’s a look at some surprising takeaways from recent research about the sex lives of the millennial generation. (Claritza Jimenez/The Washington Post)

Those supposedly entitled young adults with fragile egos who live in their parents’ basements and hop from job-to-job — it turns out they’re also much less likely to have babies, at least so far. Some experts think millennials are just postponing parenthood while others fear they’re choosing not to have children at all.

Strobino is among those who is optimistic and sees hope in the data. She points out that the fall in birthrates in teens — an age when many pregnancies tend to be unplanned — is something we want and that the highest birthrates are now among women 25 to 34 years of age.

“What this is is a trend of women becoming more educated and more mature. I’m not sure that’s bad,” she explained.

Indeed, as fertility treatments have extended the age of childbearing, the birthrates among women who are age 40 to 44 are also rising.

Frey attributed the decline in birthrates to a women’s “lifestyle” choice as well as the fact the economy has been in a funk. Times of economic downturn or uncertainty tend to cause a drop in birthrates, but when things turn around they tend to bounce back in a kind of catch-up period.

“Every year I say when the economy is getting better then we’ll start having more children,” he said, “and I’m still expecting that to happen.”

The world’s most valuable resource is no longer oil, but data


The data economy demands a new approach to antitrust rules

A NEW commodity spawns a lucrative, fast-growing industry, prompting antitrust regulators to step in to restrain those who control its flow. A century ago, the resource in question was oil. Now similar concerns are being raised by the giants that deal in data, the oil of the digital era. These titans—Alphabet (Google’s parent company), Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft—look unstoppable. They are the five most valuable listed firms in the world. Their profits are surging: they collectively racked up over $25bn in net profit in the first quarter of 2017. Amazon captures half of all dollars spent online in America. Google and Facebook accounted for almost all the revenue growth in digital advertising in America last year.

Such dominance has prompted calls for the tech giants to be broken up, as Standard Oil was in the early 20th century. This newspaper has argued against such drastic action in the past. Size alone is not a crime. The giants’ success has benefited consumers. Few want to live without Google’s search engine, Amazon’s one-day delivery or Facebook’s newsfeed. Nor do these firms raise the alarm when standard antitrust tests are applied. Far from gouging consumers, many of their services are free (users pay, in effect, by handing over yet more data). Take account of offline rivals, and their market shares look less worrying. And the emergence of upstarts like Snapchat suggests that new entrants can still make waves.

But there is cause for concern. Internet companies’ control of data gives them enormous power. Old ways of thinking about competition, devised in the era of oil, look outdated in what has come to be called the “data economy” (see Briefing). A new approach is needed.

Quantity has a quality all its own

What has changed? Smartphones and the internet have made data abundant, ubiquitous and far more valuable. Whether you are going for a run, watching TV or even just sitting in traffic, virtually every activity creates a digital trace—more raw material for the data distilleries. As devices from watches to cars connect to the internet, the volume is increasing: some estimate that a self-driving car will generate 100 gigabytes per second. Meanwhile, artificial-intelligence (AI) techniques such as machine learning extract more value from data. Algorithms can predict when a customer is ready to buy, a jet-engine needs servicing or a person is at risk of a disease. Industrial giants such as GE and Siemens now sell themselves as data firms.

This abundance of data changes the nature of competition. Technology giants have always benefited from network effects: the more users Facebook signs up, the more attractive signing up becomes for others. With data there are extra network effects. By collecting more data, a firm has more scope to improve its products, which attracts more users, generating even more data, and so on. The more data Tesla gathers from its self-driving cars, the better it can make them at driving themselves—part of the reason the firm, which sold only 25,000 cars in the first quarter, is now worth more than GM, which sold 2.3m. Vast pools of data can thus act as protective moats.

Access to data also protects companies from rivals in another way. The case for being sanguine about competition in the tech industry rests on the potential for incumbents to be blindsided by a startup in a garage or an unexpected technological shift. But both are less likely in the data age. The giants’ surveillance systems span the entire economy: Google can see what people search for, Facebook what they share, Amazon what they buy. They own app stores and operating systems, and rent out computing power to startups. They have a “God’s eye view” of activities in their own markets and beyond. They can see when a new product or service gains traction, allowing them to copy it or simply buy the upstart before it becomes too great a threat. Many think Facebook’s $22bn purchase in 2014 of WhatsApp, a messaging app with fewer than 60 employees, falls into this category of “shoot-out acquisitions” that eliminate potential rivals. By providing barriers to entry and early-warning systems, data can stifle competition.

Who ya gonna call, trustbusters?

The nature of data makes the antitrust remedies of the past less useful. Breaking up a firm like Google into five Googlets would not stop network effects from reasserting themselves: in time, one of them would become dominant again. A radical rethink is required—and as the outlines of a new approach start to become apparent, two ideas stand out.

The first is that antitrust authorities need to move from the industrial era into the 21st century. When considering a merger, for example, they have traditionally used size to determine when to intervene. They now need to take into account the extent of firms’ data assets when assessing the impact of deals. The purchase price could also be a signal that an incumbent is buying a nascent threat. On these measures, Facebook’s willingness to pay so much for WhatsApp, which had no revenue to speak of, would have raised red flags. Trustbusters must also become more data-savvy in their analysis of market dynamics, for example by using simulations to hunt for algorithms colluding over prices or to determine how best to promote competition (see Free exchange).

The second principle is to loosen the grip that providers of online services have over data and give more control to those who supply them. More transparency would help: companies could be forced to reveal to consumers what information they hold and how much money they make from it. Governments could encourage the emergence of new services by opening up more of their own data vaults or managing crucial parts of the data economy as public infrastructure, as India does with its digital-identity system, Aadhaar. They could also mandate the sharing of certain kinds of data, with users’ consent—an approach Europe is taking in financial services by requiring banks to make customers’ data accessible to third parties.

Rebooting antitrust for the information age will not be easy. It will entail new risks: more data sharing, for instance, could threaten privacy. But if governments don’t want a data economy dominated by a few giants, they will need to act soon.

Vitamin C kills tumor cells with hard-to-treat mutation


PET scans reveal glucose-hungry tumors (here lung masses) that may be susceptible to vitamin C therapy.

PET scans reveal glucose-hungry tumors (here lung masses) that may be susceptible to vitamin C therapy.

Maybe Linus Pauling was on to something after all. Decades ago the Nobel Prize–winning chemist was relegated to the fringes of medicine after championing the idea that vitamin C could combat a host of illnesses, including cancer. Now, a study published online today in Science reports that vitamin C can kill tumor cells that carry a common cancer-causing mutation and—in mice—can curb the growth of tumors with the mutation.

If the findings hold up in people, researchers may have found a way to treat a large swath of tumors that has lacked effective drugs. “This [could] be one answer to the question everybody’s striving for,” says molecular biologist Channing Der of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, one of many researchers trying to target cancers with the mutation. The study is also gratifying for the handful of researchers pursuing vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, as a cancer drug. “I’m encouraged. Maybe people will finally pay attention,” says vitamin C researcher Mark Levine of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

In 1971, Pauling began collaborating with a Scottish physician who had reported success treating cancer patients with vitamin C. But the failure of two clinical trials of vitamin C pills, conducted in the late 1970s and early 1980s at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, dampened enthusiasm for Pauling’s idea. Studies by Levine’s group later suggested that the vitamin must be given intravenously to reach doses high enough to kill cancer cells. A few small trials in the past 5 years—for pancreatic and ovarian cancer—hinted that IV vitamin C treatment combined with chemotherapy can extend cancer survival. But doubters were not swayed. “The atmosphere was poisoned” by the earlier failures, Levine says.

A few years ago, Jihye Yun, then a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, found that colon cancer cells whose growth is driven by mutations in the gene KRASor a less commonly mutated gene, BRAFmake unusually large amounts of a protein that transports glucose across the cell membrane. The transporter, GLUT1, supplies the cells with the high levels of glucose they need to survive. GLUT1 also transports the oxidized form of vitamin C, dehydroascorbic acid (DHA), into the cell, bad news for cancer cells, because Yun found that DHA can deplete a cell’s supply of a chemical that sops up free radicals. Because free radicals can harm a cell in various ways, the finding suggested “a vulnerability” if the cells were flooded with DHA, says Lewis Cantley at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City, where Yun is now a postdoc.

Cantley’s lab and collaborators found that large doses of vitamin C did indeed kill cultured colon cancer cells with BRAF or KRAS mutations by raising free radical levels, which in turn inactivate an enzyme needed to metabolize glucose, depriving the cells of energy. Then they gave daily high dose injections—equivalent to a person eating 300 oranges—to mice engineered to develop KRAS-driven colon tumors. The mice developed fewer and smaller colon tumors compared with control mice.

Cantley hopes to soon start clinical trials that will select cancer patients based on KRAS or BRAFmutations and possibly GLUT1 status. His group’s new study “tells you who should get the drug and who shouldn’t,” he says. Cancer geneticist Bert Vogelstein of Johns Hopkins University, in whose lab Yun noticed the GLUT1 connection, is excited about vitamin C therapy, not only as a possible treatment for KRAS-mutated colon tumors, which make up about 40% of all colon cancers, but also for pancreatic cancer, a typically lethal cancer driven by KRAS. “No KRAS-targeted therapeutics have emerged despite decades of effort and hundreds of millions of dollars [spent] by both industry and academia,” Vogelstein says.

Others caution that the effects seen in mice may not hold up in humans. But because high dose vitamin C is already known to be safe, says cancer researcher Vuk Stambolic of the University of Toronto in Canada, oncologists “can quickly move forward in the clinic.”

One drawback is that patients will have to come into a clinic for vitamin C infusions, ideally every few days for months, because vitamin C seems to take that long to kill cancer cells, Levine notes. But Cantley says it may be possible to make an oral formulation that reaches high doses in the blood—which may be one way to get companies interested in sponsoring trials.

Smoking ban: Number of UK smokers falls by nearly two million in 10 years


The number of smokers in Britain has fallen by 1.9 million since the smoking ban was introduced in England a decade ago, according to Cancer Research UK.

Health campaigners are celebrating the 10th anniversary of the legislation prohibiting smoking from almost all enclosed public spaces, including offices, factories, pubs, restaurants and railway stations.

Smoking rates are now at their lowest ever recorded and the ban has been an “enormous success” with a significant impact on public health, said the charity’s chief executive.

“As well as protecting people from the deadly effects of passive smoking, we’ve also seen big changes in public attitudes towards smoking,” said Sir Harpal Kumar.

“It’s now far less socially acceptable and we hope this means fewer young people will fall into such a potentially lethal addiction.”

Cancer Research UK’s statistical information calculated the number of adult cigarette smokers in Great Britain had dropped nearly 20 per cent from an estimated 10.2 million in 2007 to 8.3 million in 2016.

The proportion of 16- to 24-year-olds who smoke had fallen to 17 per cent from 26 per cent in 2007, a record low and the biggest drop among all age groups.

A poll of more than 4,300 people for the charity found that just 12 per cent favoured reversing the laws.

But Sir Harpal warned “the job is far from done” as there are still more than 8 million smokers in Britain and “tens of thousands of children taking up the deadly addiction every year”.

“We need this Government to continue focusing on tobacco and we urge it to publish the Tobacco Control Plan for England as soon as possible.”

A long-running Ash/YouGov survey showed support for the smoke-free legislation in England had increased from 78 per cent of all respondents when it came into effect in 2007 to 83 per cent now, primarily due to an increase in support among smokers from 40 per cent to 55 per cent.

Ash chief executive Deborah Arnott said: “Over the last decade the Ash/YouGov survey is evidence of high, and growing, public appetite for government action to reduce smoking prevalence.

“It’s especially telling that one of the most important factors in this growth is support by smokers — and this is happening at the same time as the numbers of people smoking have fallen to the lowest on record.”

Public Health England chief executive Duncan Selbie said: ”The smoke-free legislation has been extraordinary in the way we now experience and enjoy pubs, clubs, restaurants and so many other public places.

“Young people have not had to experience the smoke-filled bars and clubs that once choked their parents and workers. They’ve grown up in a world where smoking is no longer socially acceptable.

“The law has played a key part in the huge cultural change we have seen in the past decade, especially among younger people, a change that has literally saved thousands from disabling chronic diseases and premature death.”

 A spokesman for smokers’ group Forest said: ”It’s disingenuous to suggest the smoking ban has been a significant factor in reducing smoking rates.

“For five years after 2007 smoking rates fell in line with the pre-ban trend. The most substantial fall in smoking rates happened after 2012, a period that coincided with the increasing popularity of e-cigarettes.

“Attempts to force people to quit are invariably counter-productive. Education and support for less harmful products is the way to go, not prohibition and other restrictive practices.”

This String Quartet Was Composed by Brainwaves. 


This is a fascinating project in which neurology and music collide in a moving way. (Oliver Sacks would’ve loved it.) It’s about the creation of a string-quartet composition called “Activating Memory,” and its creators are called the “Paramusical Ensemble.” Each of its members is a severely motor-impaired individual at the Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability in London, England.

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The composers generated all of the parts using nothing but brainwaves. They were connected via electroencephalogram electrodes to a brain-computer music interface (BCMI) system that allowed each person to compose their part on-the-fly by selecting from among four phrases for live musicians to play — really, it’s as much a performance by the composers as it is by the musicians.

The project was led by composer Eduardo Reck Miranda for the Interdisciplinary Centre for Computer Music Research (ICCMR) at Plymouth University.

It’s beautiful to watch these patients have the opportunity to be creative and interact with each others in a way their impairments don’t ordinarily allow. And given how acutely music reaches to the emotional areas of our brains, it’s understandable why researchers were careful to keep making sure it wasn’t just to much for the composers to handle. The official performance was in July 2015.

With patients like this, it’s easy to forget that they’re still people in there. A couple of the patients communicate at the end of the video how they feel about their performance.

Contraceptive pill could increase breast cancer risk more than experts first thought, study finds


Nonetheless, experts say birth control has a positive effect on the lives of women

 Taking the contraceptive pill could increase your risk of breast cancer more than previously feared, new research suggests.

A study from the University of Michigan has revealed that some commonly prescribed birth control pills may quadruple levels of synthetic oestrogen and progesterone hormones.

Both of which are thought to play a part in stimulating breast cancers to grow, which is why some breast cancer patients are prescribed hormone therapy to block their effects on cancer cells.

The research showed that blood taken from women who use birth control pills contained much higher levels of hormones compared to women who don’t.

And, that four out of seven formulations tested were found to quadruple the levels of progestin, a synthetic version of the hormone progesterone.

Another formulation also resulted in 40 per cent higher exposure to ethinyl estradiol,  synthetic version of oestrogen.

Despite the findings, the study’s lead author, human evolutionary biologist Beverly Strassmann, stressed that the contraceptive pill has had such a positive effect on the lives of so many women.

But, that it’s also important for companies to design birth control pills in a way that doesn’t contribute to a greater risk of breast cancer.

“Not enough has changed over the generations of these drugs and given how many people take hormonal birth control worldwide — millions — the pharmaceutical industry shouldn’t rest on its laurels,” she said.

Previously commenting on the links between breast cancer and birth control, the NHS states that, “the baseline risk of women of a fertile age developing breast cancer is small,” and that “Unfortunately, there are often no easy answers when weighing up the benefits and risk.”

Cancer Research UK currently advises that as little as one per cent of breast cancers in women are a result of oral contraceptives.

“The protective effects of the pill against womb and ovarian cancers last longer than the increased risks of breast and cervical cancers,” it says.

“Overall, this means that the protective effects outweigh the increased risk of cancer if you look at all women who have taken the pill.”

New bill would allow farmers to sue Monsanto if GMO crops invade their property


Small farm owners in Oregon have been in a deadlock against the GMO giant Monsanto over legislation concerning their crops.

In the past Monsanto have been able to spread their GMO pesticides wherever they liked, putting non-GMO farmers at risk of selling contaminated produce which would compromise their livelihoods.

GMO’s are also the cause of certain super-powered weeds that take over crops, which the farmers are unable to successfully get under control due to their unnatural strength and resilience.

On the whole, Monsanto have made business for regular farmers particularly tough in recent years, but it might all be about to change.

A bill is under consideration which, if passed, would put into practice the following paragraph (the bill) “Allows cause of action against patent holder for genetically engineered organism present on land without permission of owner or lawful occupant.”

Meaning Monsanto would have no right to carry on their dirty work where they are clearly not wanted by the farmers.

The House Bill 2739 could put an end to the bulling farmers have faced in the past when Monsanto seeds ended up where they shouldn’t have been. Farmers in have been threatened with having their farming license revoked due to unwanted GMO particles.

Oregon are also considering another House Bill this year which concerns GMO farming. Bill 2469 if passed, will allow local governments to restrict the use of GMO’s where they see fit.

In ancient Persia, engineers mastered a sustainable technology to store ice throughout the scorching summer


 In the hot, dry deserts of Ancient Persia in around 400 B.C.E, long before the invention of electricity, engineers mastered a sustainable technology to store ice throughout the scorching summer.
 Yakhchāl were ancient evaporation coolers with a dome shape above ground and subterranean storage space for ice, food, and other perishables. This effective method of storing ice in the middle of the desert may seem complex, but in reality, it was a simple technique that even the poorest could afford.
Yakhchal in Yazd, Iran By Pastaitaken - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, //commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4944242 

Exterior and interior (dome) of the yakhchal in Meybod, Iran... By User:Ggia - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, //commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16870139

Exterior and interior (dome) of the yakhchal in Meybod

 

Exterior and interior (dome) of the yakhchal in Meybod, Iran. By User:Ggia - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, //commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16870113

Exterior and interior (dome) of the yakhchal in Meybod, Iran.

Ice was collected during winters from the nearby mountains and brought to the yakhchāl, and most also had qanats (underground channels) to carry water from nearby sources

 Rising to about 60 feet in height, the structure of the yakhchāl above the ground was a massive mud brick dome. Bellow the ground there was an empty space up to 5000 cubic meters with very thick walls, measuring at least 2 meters at the base. The walls were made out of a type of mortar called sarooj; a mixture composed of sand, clay, egg whites, lime, goat hair, and ash in very specific proportions. This mortar was resistant to heat transfer and it was also thought to be completely waterproof.

The structure often contained a system of windcatchers, which helped in bringing temperatures inside down to frigid levels during the summer.

Yakhchal near Kerman, IranBy Zereshk - //en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Yakhchal.jpg, Public Domain, //commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=349610

Yakhchal near Kerman, Iran

 

Nishapur - Omar Khayyam MausoleumBy آرمین - Own work, Public Domain, //commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31908001

Nishapur – Omar Khayyam MausoleumBy

Some of the yakhchāls that were built hundreds of years ago still remain intact. In present-day Iran, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan, the term yakhchāl is also used to refer to modern household refrigerators.

More Than 30 Billion Light-Years Away, Hubble Captures the Most Distant Galaxy Ever Found


IN BRIEF

A new image taken using the Hubble Space Telescope has given us an image of the farthest galaxy ever imaged. More than 30 billion light-years away, we see it as it was 13.4 billion years in the past.
GOING THE EXTRA MILE

While much has been said about the planned successors to NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope (WFIRST and the James Webb), Hubble has shown that it can still perform admirably. In fact, a recent announcement has just added another notch to the list of Hubble’s achievements.

An international team of astronomers has used the space telescope to shatter the cosmic distance record by measuring the farthest galaxy ever seen in the universe. This bright, infant galaxy, named GN-z11, is seen as it was 13.4 billion years in the past (just 400 million years after the Big Bang).

“We’ve taken a major step back in time, beyond what we’d ever expected to be able to do with Hubble. We see GN-z11 at a time when the universe was only three percent of its current age,” explained principal investigator Pascal Oesch.

 Astronomers are trying to focus on the first galaxies that formed in the universe and, with this discovery, they are closing in on them. The observations brought astronomers to a realm of galaxies that was previously thought to be reachable only with NASA’s upcoming James Webb Space Telescope.
LOOKING BACK IN TIME

Scientists measure astronomical distances by determining the “redshift” of a galaxy, which is a result of the expansion of the universe. To break this down a bit, redshift is a result of light being stretched to longer (and consequently redder) wavelengths as space expands as the light travels to our telescope. By measuring this redshift, we are able to obtain a precise measure of where the light traveled from.

The previous galaxy that was a record holder had a redshift of 8.68, which means we see it as it was some 13.2 billion years in the past. GN-z11, in comparison, has a redshift of 11.1, which puts it at the aforementioned 13.4 billion years and 200 million years closer to the Big Bang. The researchers estimate that the record could only be surpassed with the help of the James Webb Space Telescope.

Notably, scientists at Texas A&M University and the University of Texas at Austinpreviously found galaxy z8_GND_5296, which is a staggering 30 billion light-years away. Thanks to the expansions of the universe, GN-z11 is (at the present time) even more distant than this.

SO, WHAT’S THE GALAXY LIKE?

Even though it is far away, we still know a lot about it (relatively speaking).

The imaging of GN-z11 reveals it is 25 times smaller than our galaxy and has one percent of our galaxy’s mass in stars. It is growing fast, forming stars at a rate 20 times greater than our galaxy. This is part of the reason why the galaxy is unexpectedly bright when imaged.

The results also provide new clues about the nature of the very early universe, but while these results are exciting, it is but a tantalizing preview of the observations that the James Webb Space Telescope could offer after it is launched into space in 2018.

GN-z11 Farthest Galaxy
The Galaxy GN-z11 as imaged by the researchers. Credit: NASA
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