Friday, September 25, 2015

Feel Good: Volunteer With AARP Foundation Tax-Aide for 2016

Feb. 2015

Help people and give your mind a workout, too.

AARP Foundation Tax-Aide is the nation's largest volunteer-run tax preparation and assistance service. And we want you to join us.

We started in 1968 with just four volunteers at one site preparing 100 tax returns. AARP Foundation Tax-Aide now involves more than 35,000 volunteers and serves 2.6 million taxpayers annually at more than 5,000 sites nationwide. In fact, we're one of the most effective volunteer programs in America.

But even though we've grown a lot, we're still all about the grassroots. You'll be helping people in your own community with a much-needed service that's free, individualized and has no strings attached.

Almost four out of five people who turn to AARP Foundation Tax-Aide are 60 or older. Household incomes aren't high. For many of them, a tax refund could mean they won't have to choose between paying for groceries and keeping the lights on.

Who volunteers?

People like you. And there's a role for everyone.

Good with numbers? Be a tax volunteer.

You'll work with taxpayers directly; filling out tax returns and helping them seek a refund. Experience isn't necessary — we'll train you on the latest tax preparation forms and software.

Skilled in all things digital? Be a technology coordinator.

You'll manage computer equipment, ensure taxpayer data security and provide technical assistance to volunteers at multiple sites.

Love working with people? Be a greeter.

You'll welcome taxpayers, help organize their paperwork and manage the overall flow of service.

Want to help us get the word out? Be a communications coordinator.

You'll promote AARP Foundation Tax-Aide and recruit volunteers in your community.

Have a knack for running things? Be a leadership or administrative volunteer.

Manage volunteers, make sure program operations run smoothly, track volunteer assignments and site activities, and maintain quality control.

Speak a second language? You're urgently needed!

We have a big demand for bilingual speakers. Dedicated translators who can assist our volunteers are also welcome.

Get the joy and satisfaction of helping others by applying to join the AARP Foundation Tax-Aide volunteer team today! Your expertise will be appreciated more than you can imagine.

AARP Foundation Tax-Aide is offered in conjunction with the IRS.

Sign up to be an AARP Foundation Tax-Aide Volunteer. Go

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Eating a Mediterranean diet could cut womb cancer risk

Public Release: 27-May-2015
Cancer Research UK

Women who eat a Mediterranean diet could cut their risk of womb cancer by more than half (57 per cent), according to a study published today (Wednesday) in the British Journal of Cancer*.

The Italian researchers looked at the diets of over 5,000 Italian women to see how closely they stuck to a Mediterranean diet and whether they went on to develop womb cancer**.

The team broke the Mediterranean diet down into nine different components and measured how closely women stuck to them. The diet includes eating lots of vegetables, fruits and nuts, pulses, cereals and potatoes, fish, monounsaturated fats but little meat, milk and other dairy products and moderate alcohol intake.

Researchers found that women who adhered to the Mediterranean diet most closely by eating between seven and nine of the beneficial food groups lowered their risk of womb cancer by more than half (57 per cent).

Those who stuck to six elements of the diet's components reduced their risk of womb cancer by 46 per cent and those who stuck to five reduced their risk by a third (34 per cent).

But those women whose diet included fewer than five of the components did not lower their risk of womb cancer significantly.


Challenging students benefit from limit setting

Public Release: 27-May-2015
Academy of Finland

The teacher's interaction style can either foster or slow down the development of math skills among children with challenging temperaments. This was shown in the results of the study "Parents, teachers and children's learning" carried out at the University of Jyväskylä, Finland.

Ph.D. Jaana Viljaranta, along with her colleagues, studied the role of teachers' interaction styles in academic skill development among children with different temperamental characteristics.

A child's challenging temperament may show up in the classroom, for example, as low task-orientation and lack of concentration, or as a tendency to intense negative emotional expressions. Viljaranta et al. found that a child's challenging temperament evokes two kinds of response styles among teachers. On the one hand, teachers try to regulate the child's behavior via clear limit setting and instructions, and on the other hand they try to impact the child's behavior via guilt-inducing techniques and by appealing to his/her emotions. In the study by Viljaranta et al., limit setting was found to be beneficial for children's math skill development, whereas guilt-inducing techniques led to slower math skill development especially with girls.

Iowa researchers find ending Medicaid dental benefit costly

And this does't count costs from other health effects. Eg., tooth & gun problems can cause heart problems, even brain infection.

Public Release: 27-May-2015
University of Iowa

A new study suggests that states may not save as much money as anticipated by eliminating adult dental coverage under Medicaid.

The study from University of Iowa researchers looked at California, which decided to end adult dental coverage under Medicaid in mid-2009. Some 3.5 million low-income adults in the Golden State lost dental benefits.

The researchers found those adults made more than 1,800 additional visits annually to hospital emergency departments for dental care after losing the benefit. In all, California spent $2.9 million each year in Medicaid costs for dental care in emergency departments, up from $1.6 million before the state eliminated the adult dental care benefit. That's a 68 percent increase in costs, when factoring inflation.

Since 2010, five states -- Arizona, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and South Dakota -- have either curtailed or eliminated adult dental benefits under Medicaid. Other states, notably Illinois and Missouri, are considering some limits to coverage.

"I think the important point here is although the Medicaid dental benefit for adults is optional, savings derived from dropping the benefit are somewhat eaten up by the increased costs from adults seeking dental care in hospital emergency departments," said Astha Singhal, a postdoctoral researcher in the UI College of Dentistry and corresponding author on the paper, published this month in the journal Health Affairs.

Fifteen states, including Iowa, currently offer comprehensive dental benefits for low-income adults.

The states' deliberations come as the federal government, under the Affordable Care Act, will pick up upwards of 90 percent of the Medicaid bill to states that offer dental benefits to adults through 2020. After that, the costs will shift gradually to states.


Other states have shown similar increases, according to other analyses.

Oregon saw a doubling of emergency department visits for unmet adult dental needs after eliminating the Medicaid benefit in 2003. It has since restored the benefit. Meanwhile, Maryland experienced a 12 percent increase in the rate of emergency department visits by adults for dental care after dropping the Medicaid benefit in 1993.

"Providing dental coverage facilitates access to dental care, whereas when cutting dental benefits, patients have no option but to go to hospital emergency departments, which are not equipped to treat them appropriately," said Singhal, who has a research appointment in the UI's Public Policy Center.

'Do' is better than 'don't' when it comes to eating better

Public Release: 27-May-2015
Cornell Food & Brand Lab

Tell your child or spouse what they can eat and not what they can't. Telling your child to eat an apple so they stay healthy will work better than telling them not to eat the cookie because it will make them fat. A new Cornell discovery shows that "Don't" messages don't work for most of us.

These new findings cast a dim light on the many public health campaigns that have used a fear approach to convince us to eat better, such as telling us: don't eat candy or drink chocolate milk, or eat red meat because of harmful consequences. The Cornell study findings show that focusing on Do is better than on Don't. That is, stressing the benefits of eating healthy foods is more effective than warning against the harms of eating unhealthy foods.


Lives lost for the same preventable reason

I have always worn a seatbelt, but when I first started driving, cars did not yet have shoulder harnesses. I have been saved by serious injury by my seatbelt, and a shoulder harness helps significantly more.

By David Rutter
May 26, 2015

Reeve Mathew was 10. John Forbes Nash Jr. was 86.

One was a bright child from Gurnee. The other was a famed Nobel Prize winning mathematician.

They shared nothing obvious in life except for the manner in which their lives ended Saturday.

They were killed in car crashes in which the drivers of vehicles in which they were passengers lost control and crashed into medians on turnpikes. Mathew died on I-94. Nash died in New Jersey.

Then they were ejected from their cars. The impact of their bodies hurtling from the vehicle, and crashing into a protective barrier near the roadside killed them.

One was a child on his way to church. Another was the Princeton mathematician whose strange, odd, but fulfilling life was profiled in the movie "A Beautiful Mind." Russell Crowe played Nash in the movie.

What Reeve and Nash also shared was the way in which they could have survived the crash had they exercised the option.

They could have worn their seat belts, but police investigators said they did not.
State police: Boy, 10, dies, another badly hurt in Gurnee wreck

Breaking News
State police: Boy, 10, dies, another badly hurt in Gurnee wreck

See all related

Nash's wife, Alicia, also perished Saturday for the same lack. She, too, was ejected from the backseat of a taxi as it sped down the New Jersey Turnpike on Saturday before careening out of control and striking a median.


Americans involved in motor vehicle crashes who didn't wear safety belts are an astounding 47 times more likely to die than those who did, a Federal Highway and Safety Administration study found.

The death rate for those wearing a seat belt in crashes was less than 1 in 2,000. But for those not secured, the rate was almost 22 in 1,000 — 46.9 times higher than those buckled up. Those not wearing belts were also 10 times more likely to suffer an incapacitating injury.


Of course, the lack of seat belts also causes $50 billion in medical costs for those who survive.


India Heat Wave Death Toll May Be Vastly Underestimated

In addition, the heat may cause a medical condition that doesn't cause immediate death, but results in the person dying sooner than they would have. Eg., a heart attack or kidney failure.

by Tia Ghose, Staff Writer | May 27, 2015

A heat wave scorching India this week has already killed at least 1,000 people, according to Indian authorities, but that number may be a huge underestimate, one researcher says.

It's possible that thousands more have died as a result of the blistering conditions but that their deaths might not have been attributed to the heat wave, said Dr. Gulrez Shah Azhar, a community health researcher and policy analyst at Rand Corp. in Santa Monica, California.

Heat waves can be especially harsh on people with pre-existing health conditions, such as heart disease and dehydration. That's because heat waves can overtax the body, making it difficult for people with these conditions to deal with the illness and they often are more likely to die as a result, Azhar said.

And this heat wave could be a harbinger, as climate models suggest heat waves may become more frequent and intense in the coming decades, researchers say.

Right now, the central-southern states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh in India are scorching hot, with temperatures reaching a peak of 118 degrees Fahrenheit (48 degrees Celsius) in the state of Telangana last week, the BBC reported.


But as shocking as the death toll seems, it may be a huge underestimate, Azhar said. That's because people who die as a result of heat don't necessarily die of heatstroke or heat rash. Instead, they die of heart attacks, kidney failure, dehydration or other medical conditions that were exacerbated by the heat, Azhar said.

For instance, in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad in 2010, authorities reported 50 deaths attributed to a weeklong heat wave. But in a 2010 study detailed in the journal PLOS ONE, Azhar and his colleagues found that 1,344 more people died during the hottest week than is typical for the region during cooler periods. (Two-thirds of these excess deaths were of women, though Azhar doesn't know why that is.)

What's more, India may be more prone to undercounting because authorities rely on death certificates to ascertain the cause of death. The homeless and those with no property to dispense are often not issued death certificates, Azhar said.


"Our lifestyle is making us more vulnerable to heat," Azhar said.

People in India used to stay indoors or in the shade during the hottest part of the day, drinking cold yogurt; if they had to venture outdoors, they would cover their heads with white cloth. Historically, houses in desert regions were built with high roofs, insulation and windows that kept out most of the sun's punishing rays. Nowadays, however, people have lost their knowledge of what to do during heat waves, he noted. Many also live in tin shacks in overcrowded megacities that, as urban heat islands, are several degrees warmer than nearby locales.


India Heat Wave Death Toll May Be Vastly Underestimated
by Tia Ghose, Staff Writer | May 27, 2015 10:57am ET
man in heat wave in kolkata
A local man in Kolkata, India covers his face to avoid the extreme heat on May 23, 2015. A heat wave in India has claimed at least 1,118 lives so far this year.
Credit: Saikat Paul/
View full size image

A heat wave scorching India this week has already killed at least 1,000 people, according to Indian authorities, but that number may be a huge underestimate, one researcher says.

It's possible that thousands more have died as a result of the blistering conditions but that their deaths might not have been attributed to the heat wave, said Dr. Gulrez Shah Azhar, a community health researcher and policy analyst at Rand Corp. in Santa Monica, California.

Heat waves can be especially harsh on people with pre-existing health conditions, such as heart disease and dehydration. That's because heat waves can overtax the body, making it difficult for people with these conditions to deal with the illness and they often are more likely to die as a result, Azhar said.

And this heat wave could be a harbinger, as climate models suggest heat waves may become more frequent and intense in the coming decades, researchers say. [The 8 Hottest Places on Earth]

Heat wave

Right now, the central-southern states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh in India are scorching hot, with temperatures reaching a peak of 118 degrees Fahrenheit (48 degrees Celsius) in the state of Telangana last week, the BBC reported. So far, at least 1,118 people have died in India as a result of the heat, according to authorities in India.

The furnacelike conditions are a result of weird wind circulation. By April, the atmospheric circulation above India usually reverses course, and air hovering over Somalia blows across the Arabian Sea, picks up moisture and then dumps that water over the subcontinent in the form of monsoon rains, said Raghu Murtugudde, an atmospheric and oceanic scientist at the University of Maryland in College Park.

But that hasn't happened yet.

"If you look at surface winds and wind anomalies, they're coming straight from the northwestern deserts of India into this region, so it's just bringing dry, hot air instead of the moist air that should be coming off the Arabian Sea and bringing some showers," Murtugudde told Live Science.

As in other heat waves, many of the victims were working outdoors during the hottest part of the day, or were homeless. The elderly and the very young are also more susceptible to heatstroke.

Vast undercount

But as shocking as the death toll seems, it may be a huge underestimate, Azhar said. That's because people who die as a result of heat don't necessarily die of heatstroke or heat rash. Instead, they die of heart attacks, kidney failure, dehydration or other medical conditions that were exacerbated by the heat, Azhar said.

For instance, in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad in 2010, authorities reported 50 deaths attributed to a weeklong heat wave. But in a 2010 study detailed in the journal PLOS ONE, Azhar and his colleagues found that 1,344 more people died during the hottest week than is typical for the region during cooler periods. (Two-thirds of these excess deaths were of women, though Azhar doesn't know why that is.)

What's more, India may be more prone to undercounting because authorities rely on death certificates to ascertain the cause of death. The homeless and those with no property to dispense are often not issued death certificates, Azhar said.

Adapting to the heat

India has always been hot, yet people didn't routinely die of heatstroke, where the body can't keep its body temperature low enough to maintain functioning. And some of the hottest places on Earth, where the mercury routinely reaches temperatures similar to those seen in India, don't see such dramatic heat-related death tolls. So why are so many people dying as a result of the heat in India?

"Our lifestyle is making us more vulnerable to heat," Azhar said.

People in India used to stay indoors or in the shade during the hottest part of the day, drinking cold yogurt; if they had to venture outdoors, they would cover their heads with white cloth. Historically, houses in desert regions were built with high roofs, insulation and windows that kept out most of the sun's punishing rays. Nowadays, however, people have lost their knowledge of what to do during heat waves, he noted. Many also live in tin shacks in overcrowded megacities that, as urban heat islands, are several degrees warmer than nearby locales. [What 11 Billion People Mean for the Planet]

However, there's some progress being made. After the deadly summer of 2010, when hundreds of people in India died a result of the blazing heat, Azhar and his colleagues worked with city officials in Ahmedabad to develop simple ways to prevent heat-related deaths.

In unpublished work, they found that simple interventions, such as sending people text messages alerting them of high temperatures, or keeping parks and homeless shelters open on the hottest days, could reduce the number of deaths during heat waves, Azhar said. Authorities could also limit the problem by avoiding scheduled blackouts or water cuts on the hottest days, Azhar added.

India should figure out how deal with the heat waves, as the high temperatures are not going away anytime soon, said Subimal Ghosh, a civil engineer at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, in what is now Mumbai. In a study published in April in the journal Regional Environmental Change, Ghosh and his colleagues found that heat waves may come earlier in the year, and may affect regions normally not plagued by extreme temperatures.

"With the increase of global warming, the occurrence of heat waves will increase," Ghosh told Live Science.

Intense heatwave in India continues, death toll rises to 1412

May 27, 2015

The death toll due to intense heat wave sweeping across many parts of the country continued to mount and reached 1412 on Wednesday, with only Andhra Pradesh and Telangana accounting for 1360 deaths.


The plains of Uttar Pradesh continued to reel under scorching heat with mercury in Agra on Wednesday crossing the 46 degrees (117F) mark, making it the hottest place in the state.


Opossums: The Unsung Heroes Against Lyme Disease And Other Tick-Borne Diseases

Several states in the U.S. are reporting record populations of ticks and increasing tick-borne disease transmission, like Lyme disease, but clearing your yard of these blood suckers might be only one opossum away. Yes, that giant rat-looking animal that plays dead when threatened and hisses like the devil’s spawn when scared is actually extremely beneficial to humans and other mammals. Opossums’ diets include snakes, snails, slugs, mice, rats, and carrion. Perhaps the most intriguing item on an opossum’s daily menu is an even more dreaded human foe: the tick. Opossums’ voracious appetite for ticks can nearly obliterate a tick population.

Scientist Rick Ostfeld points out that few ticks survive a run in with an opossum. These animals, often called filthy, are actually remarkable groomers and spend almost all of their free time grooming themselves. Ticks are attracted to these mammals, but most of them never survive on an opossum’s body long enough to taste a single drop of blood.

“So these opossums are walking around the forest floor, hoovering up ticks right and left,” Ostfeld explained, “killing over 90% of these things, and so they are really protecting our health.”

Michigan State University entomologist Howard Russell told the Detroit Free Press that the tick population is increasing. Russell says that both male and female ticks feed on blood and these thirsty bloodsuckers can transmit diseases like Lyme and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.


Many people use the rabies excuse for ridding their properties of opossums, but that justification is a false one. According to Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation, opossums are “rarely found to be rabid and appear to be resistant to many viral diseases such as distemper, parvovirus, and feline hepatitis” and this resistance to diseases is also seen with Lyme. The Poughkeepsie Journal reports that opossums don’t seem to be very good transmitters of Lyme disease even if they didn’t eat almost all of the ticks they encounter.

Ticks do transmit Lyme disease, and Lyme affects around 300,000 Americans a year. An opossum, normally viewed as nothing more than a filthy nuisance – stealing garbage, garden surplus and chicken eggs – kills over 5000 ticks on any given week. This super exterminator also kills venomous snakes and small rodents and cleans up carrion from our yards and fields. Perhaps allowing opossums to also steal some chicken eggs and garden veggies is a fair trade for decreasing tick-borne diseases like Lyme and all of the other benefits they offer.

Fact or Fiction?: A "Base Tan" Can Protect against Sunburn

An SPF of 2 means it takes twice as long to burn. So if it takes you a half hour w/o a tan, a tan of SPF 2 should mean it takes an hour. Which is not inconsiderable.

By Dina Fine Maron | May 22, 2015


Scientists came to this conclusion after studying the tanned buttocks of dozens of volunteers. In study after study they have found that a base tan affords almost no protection against future ultraviolet exposure. In fact, it actually puts otherwise pale people at risk of developing skin cancers. A base tan only provides an SPF, or sun protection factor, of 3 or less, according to the U.S. surgeon general. For beachgoers, that means if a person would normally turn pink after 10 minutes in the sun, an SPF 2 base tan would theoretically buy her another 10 minutes—or 20 minutes in total—before she burns. That, says David Leffell, the chief of dermatologic surgery and cutaneous oncology at Yale University School of Medicine, is “completely meaningless” in terms of providing protection.


Getting a base tan from a tanning bed appears to be an even worse idea than preemptively exposing yourself to the sun. One study published this year looked at tanning from UVA light (the main staple of tanning beds) and found that the protection from future burn would not even meet an SPF 1.5 threshold. What’s worse, the body does not protect itself very effectively against the UVA rays that predominate in most tanning beds so indoor tanning can cause serious damage to your skin. Recent estimates suggest indoor tanning causes about 419,000 cases of skin cancer in the U.S. every year, which is almost double the number of cases of lung cancer linked to smoking. Still, UVA is often chosen for tanning beds because its longer wavelength penetrates deeper into the skin and is less likely to cause sunburn. The body will readily redistribute its existing melanin in response to UVA exposure—which results in immediate skin darkening—but UVB rays are better at triggering several more long-term protective mechanisms in response to cellular damage. Those include the production of more melanin, skin thickening and signaling DNA repair systems that try to correct for mutations before they are carried forward, says Heather Rogers, professor of dermatology at the University of Washington School of Medicine.


Number of extremely hot temperatures are increasing

James Hansen, Makiko Sato (National Aeronautics and Space Administration Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Columbia University Earth Institute, New York, NY 10025)
Reto Ruedy (Trinnovim Limited Liability Company, New York, NY 10025)

March 29, 2012


“Climate dice,” describing the chance of unusually warm or cool seasons, have become more and more “loaded” in the past 30 y, coincident with rapid global warming. The distribution of seasonal mean temperature anomalies has shifted toward higher temperatures and the range of anomalies has increased. An important change is the emergence of a category of summertime extremely hot outliers, more than three standard deviations (3σ) warmer than the climatology of the 1951–1980 base period. This hot extreme, which covered much less than 1% of Earth’s surface during the base period, now typically covers about 10% of the land area. It follows that we can state, with a high degree of confidence, that extreme anomalies such as those in Texas and Oklahoma in 2011 and Moscow in 2010 were a consequence of global warming because their likelihood in the absence of global warming was exceedingly small. We discuss practical implications of this substantial, growing, climate change.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Free-Market Dogma has Jacked Up our Electricity Bills

May 26, 2015
David Cay Johnston

Free-market dogma has jacked up our electricity bills: A new analysis shows that people pay 35 percent more for electricity in states that abandoned traditional regulation of monopoly utilities in the 1990s compared with states that stuck with it. ....

You might think that the higher prices in the 15 states with markets would encourage investment, creating an abundance of new power plants. That, at any rate, is what right-wing Chicago School economic theories on which the electricity markets were created say should happen. The validity of these theories, and flaws in how they were implemented, matter right now because Congress is considering a raft of energy supply bills that include some expansion of the market pricing of wholesale electricity. ...

Yet just 2.4 percent of new electric generating capacity in 2013 “was built for sale into a market,” electricity-market analyst Elise Caplan showed in a study last fall... The rest were built in states with traditional regulation or under long-term supply contracts that essentially guaranteed repayment of loans to build the plants.

Here’s another measure of failure: Areas covered by electricity markets have 60 percent of America's generating capacity, but enjoyed just 6 percent of new generation built in 2013.

If unregulated markets are invariably better, as the Chicago School holds, why was 94 percent of new generating capacity built in traditionally regulated jurisdictions? ...

SEC charges Atlanta investment firm, two executives accused of defrauding city's police, firefighter pension funds

These are not the only public employee pension funds that have suffered from such behaiour by private consultants.

Phil W. Hudson
May 21, 2015

The Securities and Exchange Commission charged an Atlanta-based investment advisory firm and two executives with fraud.

According to the SEC, Gray Financial Group, its founder and president Laurence O. Gray, and its co-CEO Robert C. Hubbard IV are accused of selling unsuitable investments to pension funds for the city’s police and firefighters, transit workers and other employees.

The SEC’s Enforcement Division alleges the company and its two executives breached their fiduciary duty by steering these public pension fund clients to invest in an alternative investment fund offered by the firm despite knowing the investments did not comply with state law. Georgia law allows most public pension funds in the state to purchase alternative investment funds, but the investments are subject to certain restrictions that Gray Financial Group’s fund allegedly failed to meet.

The SEC’s Enforcement Division alleges that Gray Financial Group has collected more than $1.7 million in fees from the pension fund clients as a result of the improper investments.


Babies can think before they can speak

Public Release: 26-May-2015
Babies can think before they can speak

Humans are able to learn abstract relations even before the first year of life

Northwestern University

Two pennies can be considered the same -- both are pennies, just as two elephants can be considered the same, as both are elephants. Despite the vast difference between pennies and elephants, we easily notice the common relation of sameness that holds for both pairs.

Analogical ability -- the ability to see common relations between objects, events or ideas -- is a key skill that underlies human intelligence and differentiates humans from other apes.

While there is considerable evidence that preschoolers can learn abstract relations, it remains an open question whether infants can as well. In a new Northwestern University study, researchers found that infants are capable of learning the abstract relations of same and different after only a few examples.


Dedre Gentner, a co-author of the study and professor of psychology at Weinberg, said, "The infants in our study were able to form an abstract same or different relation after seeing only 6-9 examples. It appears that relational learning is something that humans, even very young humans, are much better at than other primates."

For example, she noted that in a recent study using baboons, those animals that succeeded in matching same and different relations required over 15,000 trials.


Cannabis use can be prevented, reduced or delayed

Public Release: 26-May-2015
University of Montreal

Responding to rapidly shifting legal and cultural environments, researchers at the University of Montreal and CHU Sainte-Justine Children's Hospital have found a way to prevent, reduce or delay cannabis use amongst some at-risk youth. Cannabis users are at risk of neurocognitive deficits, reduced educational and occupational attainment, motor vehicle accidents, exacerbation of psychiatric symptoms, and precipitation of psychosis. Adolescents are particularly at risk due to the developing nature of their brain. Youth who have used marijuana have been shown to have less ability to sustain their attention and control their impulse control and have impaired cognitive processes. "Marijuana use is highly prevalent among teenagers in North America and Europe," explained Dr. Patricia Conrod, who led the study. "As attitudes and laws towards marijuana are changing, it is important to find ways to prevent and reduce its use amongst at-risk youth. Our study reveals that targeted, brief interventions by trained teachers can achieve that goal."


People who are sensitive to anxiety or negative thinking, or who are impulsive or sensation-seeking are known to be at greater risk of substance abuse.


What is the most humane way to kill a cane toad?

Public Release: 26-May-2015
University of Sydney

Like many pests, cane toads are killed in their thousands in Australia every year, especially by community-based 'toad-busting' groups. New research has now revealed the most humane way to do it.

"We need to offer a humane death to the toads - it's not their fault they were brought to Australia 80 years ago - but until now nobody has been sure how to do it," said Professor Rick Shine, from the University of Sydney's School of Biological Sciences.

He is lead author on research showing that a once-popular method, currently outlawed nationally and internationally by animal ethics committees as inhumane, is actually a simple and ethical way to kill a toad. The research by the University of Sydney, Monash University and the University of Wollongong is published today in the journal Biology Open (paper attached).

The researchers implanted small data-loggers in the brains of cane toads to measure any pain responses. They then put the toads into a refrigerator for a few hours, before transferring them to a household freezer. The toads quietly slipped into unconsciousness as they froze, and their brains did not register any evidence of pain during the process.

Professor Shine said: "This procedure was a widespread method for humanely killing amphibians and reptiles for many years until about 20 years ago, but animal ethics committees decided it was inhumane because the animals' toes might freeze while their brains were still warm enough to detect pain. However, our work shows that in cane toads at least, the toad just drifts off into torpor as it cools down, and its brain is no longer functioning by the time its body begins to freeze."


At least 800 have died in a heat wave that has melted roads in India

Vivek Nemana
May 26, 2015

At least 800 people have died in a major heatwave that has swept across India, melting roads in New Delhi as temperatures neared 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit).


Large parts of India, including the capital New Delhi, have endured days of sweltering heat, prompting fears of power cuts as energy-guzzling air conditioners work overtime.

The Hindustan Times daily said the maximum temperature in the capital hit a two-year high of 45.5 degrees Celsius (113.9F) on Monday -- five degrees higher than the seasonal average. [that's 9 degrees Fahrenheit higher.]


The paper carried a front-page photo of a main road in the city melting in the heat, its zebra pedestrian crossing stripes curling and spreading into the asphalt.


Honesty can keep companies' stock prices up during hard times

So now we might start seeing fake honesty, where company executives say the take responsibility, while really blaming others, which means they won't take steps to improve their own practices.

Public Release: 26-May-2015
University of Missouri-Columbia

Honesty is the best policy, and a new study from the University of Missouri finds that companies can benefit when they publicly accept the blame for poor performance. Researchers found companies that performed poorly yet blamed other parties -- such as the government, competitors, labor unions or the economy -- experienced a significant blow to their stock and had difficulty recovering. Companies that accepted blame and had a plan to address their problems stopped the decline in their share prices after their announcement, but those companies that blamed others continued to experience falling share prices for the entire year following their public explanation.

"Honesty is appreciated, especially when it's a difficult message from leaders," said Stephen Ferris, professor and senior associate dean at the MU Trulaske College of Business. "Investors will accept a forthright recognition of an honest mistake, expecting that corrective actions are likely to follow. When firms explain a negative event as due to an external cause, company leaders can appear powerless or dishonest to shareholders."


Ferris said that just taking responsibility was not the entire solution. When companies accepted the blame, they also had to explain how they were going to fix the problem.


"Typically, we found firms that blamed themselves also wanted investors to know that they had identified the problem and that they were expecting to improve their performance in the future," Ferris said. "Following these announcements, we noticed a striking separation between companies that accepted responsibility for their performance problems and those that blamed others. Those companies accepting responsibility saw their share price stabilize over the next several months, while those that blamed others continued to experience falling share prices."

Ferris said several factors could be the cause of trying to lay blame on external forces. Those factors include arrogance, pride, fear of litigation, and the inability of company leaders to see their own shortcomings. Of those companies that blamed external factors, 44 percent replaced their CEOs in the following year compared to only 32 percent of companies who accepted responsibility.

Tall Trees Sucked Dry by Global Warming

By Elizabeth Harball and ClimateWire | May 26, 2015

A well-known scientific principle describing how water moves through plants can help explain why trees may struggle to survive as the planet warms, scientists say in a new study.

Using an equation called Darcy’s law, the research also helps explain why iconic giant trees like the California redwood could be especially vulnerable to rising temperatures. The concept was outlined in a paper published this month in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Plants’ vascular systems can be likened to bunches of straws, explained lead author Nathan McDowell, a researcher at Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Earth and Environmental Sciences Division, meaning water moves from the roots to the branches through tension.

The atmosphere pulls water through plants’ systems, and “the warmer and drier the air is—which is what climate change is doing—it’s increasing the evaporative demand,” said McDowell. “The warmer the air is, the more water it can hold, so it sucks harder on those straws.”

To keep from dehydrating, plants start to close their stomata—the openings in leaves through which they take in CO2.

But as stomata close during a drought, they can’t photosynthesize as effectively, McDowell said, preventing trees from taking advantage of more CO2 in the atmosphere.

“It’s like going to a buffet with duct tape over your mouth,” said McDowell.

Bigger trees, of course, have longer “straws” moving water through their systems than shorter trees, meaning they have to close their stomata even more, resulting in greater stress to the plant, McDowell explained.

For this reason, the study states, Darcy’s law shows that “shrubby, low-statured plants are most likely to survive, whereas tall, old-growth forests are particularly vulnerable to warming climate.”


But McDowell said it’s important to note that his paper has consequences that apply to more places than just today’s current drought hot spots.

“The big punch line of the paper is that globally, everywhere, temperatures are going up,” he said.

Because Darcy’s law applies to all plants, tall tree species around the world could be vulnerable to climate change. That includes many beyond the U.S. Southwest and other regions where scientists are already fairly certain forest ecosystems are likely to suffer.


Glancing at greenery on a city rooftop can markedly boost concentration levels

Public Release: 25-May-2015
University of Melbourne

A University of Melbourne study shows that glancing at a grassy green roof for only 40 seconds markedly boosts concentration.

The study, published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, gave 150 students a boring, attention-sapping task. The students were asked to press a key as a series of numbers repeatedly flashed on a computer screen, unless that number was three.

They were given a 40-second break midway through the task to view a city rooftop scene. Half the group viewed a flowering meadow green roof, the other half looked out onto a bare concrete roof.

After the break, students who glanced at the greener vista made significantly less errors and demonstrated superior concentration on the second half of the task, compared to those who viewed the concrete roof.

The green roof provided a restorative experience that boosted those mental resources that control attention, researchers concluded.


"It's really important to have micro-breaks. It's something that a lot of us do naturally when we're stressed or mentally fatigued," Dr Lee added. "There's a reason you look out the window and seek nature, it can help you concentrate on your work and to maintain performance across the workday.

"Certainly this study has implications for workplace well-being and adds extra impetus to continue greening our cities. City planners around the world are switching on to these benefits of green roofs and we hope the future of our cities will be a very green one."


Governor says deadly flooding is worst ever seen in Texas area

Global warming is causing more extreme rainfalls and snowfalls. Warmer water evaporates faster. Warmer air hold more moisuture. The atmosphere has more moisture than it used to. When conditions change, this results in heavier precipitation, rain or snow.

By voting for climate denialists, by not changing our own habits, we have chosen this.

Jim Forsyth
May 25, 2015

Texas Governor Greg Abbott on Monday likened the ferocity of flash flooding that killed at least three people to a tsunami, and authorities said a dam had given way in a state park.

Abbott declared states of disaster in 24 counties and flew over the area south of Austin to assess the damage caused by tornadoes, heavy rainfall, thunderstorms and flooding that forced evacuations and rooftop rescues and left thousands of residents without electricity.

"This is the biggest flood this area of Texas has ever seen," Abbott said.

"It is absolutely massive - the relentless tsunami-type power of this wave of water," he said.

He described homes that were "completely wiped off the map" by the dangerous weather system that struck Texas and Oklahoma.


The National Weather Service reported 4.5 inches (11.5 cm) of rain fell in 90 minutes at Marquette, in central Kansas, washing out roads.

The bodies of a 14-year-old boy and his dog were found in a storm drain in the Dallas suburb of DeSoto on Monday, police said. Two other people killed in the storm were described as an unidentified man found dead in San Marcos, Texas, and a firefighter who was swept into a storm drain in Oklahoma.

The New York Times said a Tulsa, Oklahoma, woman also died on Saturday after her automobile hydroplaned on a highway.

Twelve people were listed as missing in Texas, including eight from an extended family from Corpus Christi who were vacationing in a home in Wimberley. The building was washed into the raging Blanco River, according to officials and the family's church.


Parts of the area have received more than 1-1/2 feet (46 cm)of rain since May 1, six times what it typically receives in all of May, said.


tags: extreme weather,

Global warming is causing more extreme storms

John Abraham
Feb. 9, 2015

Scientists have known for decades (more than a century actually) that increases in greenhouse gases will cause the Earth to warm. What is less clear is how this warming will impact the weather we experience on a daily, monthly, or yearly basis. Recent research shows that we are already feeling the changes.

So, how might a warm planet be different from the planet we inherited? Increased temperatures can cause more heat waves, more droughts, more intense rainfall, higher water-vapor levels, sea-level rise, changes to ocean acidity, more intense winds, etc. Of course, some of these are not “weather” (ocean acidification and sea-level rise), but I include them because they are well-known and significant ways in which climate change expresses itself.

It is not correct to think these are future changes that will impact our children or their children. Rather, these changes can be detected now. And, as the years progress, we are detecting more significant changes.

This new paper provides up-to-date understanding of how extreme weather is changing in the USA. The paper looks at the USA, partly because there are excellent records there. We show that increases in intense precipitation have occurred in all regions of the continental USA and “further changes are expected in the coming decades”. It is a second of two papers that were published to the community of civil engineers so that future infrastructure can be designed with changing weather patterns in mind.

The physical mechanism that influences changes to precipitation is largely the moisture-carrying ability of the atmosphere. (For those of us who are sticklers for exactness, the atmosphere doesn’t “carry” moisture but this is the common phrase which represents the saturation pressure changes with temperature). Basically, when it gets warmer, the air “has” more water (humidity). But that water doesn’t stay in the atmosphere forever, it rains [or snows] out quickly.

So, more moisture equals more rain. Not only that but when you increase moisture in the atmosphere, you tend to get heavier downpours. So, when it rains, it really rains. There are other aspects to changes in precipitation that are noted, for instance, changes to large-scale atmospheric wind patterns push wet and dry regions to different parts of the planet. So, this is complicated, a lot of things are happening at the same time.

Every part of the continental United States has experienced increased very intense precipitation events. The further northwest you go, the larger the increase. As you travel to the Southwest, the increases become much smaller.

But haven’t scientists also told us that the drier areas will become drier and the wetter areas will become wetter? How does this adage conform to the recent paper? Well, it turns out that if you get an increase in intense precipitation, it doesn’t mean that your location will be wetter. It may just mean that the rain you get falls in heavier downpours. Also, the “wetness” and “dryness” of an area doesn’t just depend on how much precipitation occurs. It also depends on temperature, areas that heat up will see their water evaporate more.


tags: extreme weather

EU dropped pesticide laws due to US pressure over TTIP, documents reveal

The ultra-rich who do these things can afford to buy organic food. They can afford to buy and run air purifiers in their homes. And they don't work in or by the fields where these poisons are applied.

Arthur Neslen Brussels
Friday 22 May 2015

EU moves to regulate hormone-damaging chemicals linked to cancer and male infertility were shelved following pressure from US trade officials over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) free trade deal, newly released documents show.

Draft EU criteria could have banned 31 pesticides containing endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs). But these were dumped amid fears of a trade backlash stoked by an aggressive US lobby push, access to information documents obtained by Pesticides Action Network (PAN) Europe show.


The result was that legislation planned for 2014 was kicked back until at least 2016, despite estimated health costs of €150bn per year in Europe from endocrine-related illnesses such as IQ loss, obesity and cryptorchidism – a condition affecting the genitals of baby boys.


Earlier this year, 64 MEP’s submitted questions to the commission about the delay to EDC classifications, following revelations by the Guardian about the scale of industry lobbying in the run up to their abandonment. Sweden, the European Parliament and European Council have brought court proceedings against the commission for the legislative logjam.

Just weeks before the regulations were dropped there had been a barrage of lobbying from big European firms such as Dupont, Bayer and BASF over EDCs. The chemical industry association Cefic warned that the endocrines issue “could become an issue that impairs the forthcoming EU-US trade negotiations”.


A common theme in the lobby missives was the need to set thresholds for safe exposure to endocrines, even though a growing body of scientific results suggests that linear threshold models – in which higher doses create greater effects – do not apply to endocrine disruptors.

“The human endocrine system is regulated by hormones and the hormone receptors are sensitive to low doses,” said Hans Muilerman, PAN Europe’s chemicals coordinator. “In animal toxicity studies, effects are seen from low doses [of endocrines] that disappear with higher ones. But in the regulatory arena, lower doses are not tested for.”


Monday, May 25, 2015

Anticipating temptation may reduce unethical behavior, research finds

Public Release: 22-May-2015
Society for Personality and Social Psychology

Why do good people do bad things? It's a question that has been pondered for centuries, and new research published by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology may offer some insights about when people succumb to versus resist ethical temptations.

"People often think that bad people do bad things and good people do good things, and that unethical behavior just comes down to character," says lead research author Oliver Sheldon, PhD. "But most people behave dishonestly sometimes, and frequently, this may have more to do with the situation and how people view their own unethical behavior than character, per se."

In a series of experiments, participants who anticipated a temptation to act unethically were less likely to then behave unethically, relative to those who did not. These participants also were less likely to endorse unethical behavior that offered short-term benefits, such as stealing office supplies or illegally downloading copyrighted material. The study was published online in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin on May 22, 2015.

"Self-control, or a lack thereof, may be one factor which explains why good people occasionally do bad things," says Sheldon, an assistant professor of organizational behavior at Rutgers University.


Birds 'weigh' peanuts and choose heavier ones

Public Release: 22-May-2015
Laboratory of Behavioral Ecology and Evolution at Seoul National University

Many animals feed on seeds, acorns or nuts. The common feature of these are that they have shells and there is no direct way to know what's inside. How do the animals know how much and what quality of food is hidden inside? A simple solution would be to break the shells, which often takes time and effort -- it would be a big disappointment to know that it's rotten or bad after the hard effort of opening the nuts!

Can animals evaluate the food hidden inside the nuts? This is especially important for some animals who cache the food items for later use without opening and checking each item. We can detect which one is heavier by moving the items up and down several times and focusing on the "feeling of heaviness" we perceive. Humans can also detect the quality of a water melon by knocking on it.

A new study published in Journal of Ornithology suggests that some birds can also use similar tricks in choosing the peanuts from the feeder.


Drs. Sang-im Lee, Piotr Jablonski, Maciej and Elzbieta Fuszara, the leading researchers in this study, together with their students and helpers, spent many hours delicately opening shells of hundreds of peanuts, changing the contents and then presenting them to the jays in order to see if the birds can figure out the differences in the content of identically looking peanut pods (peanuts in shell).

"When we presented the jays with ten empty and ten full identically looking pods (pods without or with three nuts inside), we noticed that after picking them up the birds rejected the empty ones and accepted the full peanuts, without opening them." says Dr. Sang-im Lee of Seoul National University


A series of similar experiments with identically looking normal nuts and nuts that were 1g heavier (pods with some clay added) confirmed that jays always were able to distinguish and preferred the heavier nuts. How did they know which were empty without opening them? The researchers used slow motion videos to see what happens when the bird is deciding whether to drop or take away the peanut pod. "We found out that birds shake the nuts in their beaks. We think that these movements may provide them with the information generally similar to our feeling of "heaviness" when we handle an object in our hands", says Dr. Jablonski.

In another experiment the researchers prepared one type of peanut pods by opening the shell, removing two out of the three nuts and closing the shell again. The second type of pod was prepared by opening a small pod, which normally contains only one nut, and closing it. Thus, the jays were to choose between nuts of similar content and mass but of different size. "The jays figured out that the larger pods did not weigh as much as they should and the birds preferred the smaller pods, which weighed as expected for their size", comments Dr. Fuszara. They behaved as if they knew that "something is wrong" with the larger nuts.


Breastfeeding protects against environmental pollution

Public Release: 22-May-2015
University of the Basque Country


The aim is to assess how exposure to environmental pollution during pregnancy affects health and also to examine the role of diet in physical and neurobehavioural development in infancy. Lertxundi's study focusses on the repercussions on motor and mental development during the first years of life caused by exposure to the PM2.5 and NO2 atmospheric pollutants.

Never before has such a recent, significant evaluation been made of the effect of pollution particle matter (PM2.5) on the development of motor capacity and that of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) on mental development between the prenatal phase and until the baby is 15 months old. What is more, it has been sustained over time since it was started in 2006. "In the foetal phase the central nervous system is being formed and lacks sufficient detoxification mechanisms to eliminate the toxins that build up," pointed out Aitana Lertxundi.


One result of the study is that the existence of an inverse relationship has been detected between exposure to pollution particle matter and the motor development of babies. [Ie., the higher the exposure to pollution, the less the motor development of babies.]


The analysis of the data also shows that neither the PM2.5 particle matter nor the NO2 exert a harmful effect on babies breastfed on mother's milk for at least four months.


Pseudo-Patriots - 7/9/2014 added link to video

The sheet music is available free at

Video at following link.

The instrumental created from the program that created the sheet music is available at

copyright Patricia M. Shannon 1996

They say that they are patriots because they love to wave the flag,
but they throw their trash along the road, and pour used oil down the drain.
They say that they are patriots because the pledge they love to say,
but they never bother to turn out the lights when they go home for the day.

How can we be patriots and not do all we can
to protect the earth upon which all our lives depend?
How can we be patriots and not help our fellow men?
What else is a country, but its people and its land?

They say that they are patriots because, they will always choose
to vote to build more prisons, while cutting funding for our schools.
They say that they are patriots, Star Spangled Banner they do sing,
but to their big gas-guzzlers they selfishly do cling.

How can we be patriots and not do all we can
to prevent the earth from turning into barren sands?
How can we be patriots and not lend a helping hand?
What else is a country, but its people and its land?

They say that they are patriots, because it fills them with such glee
to send our young folks overseas to be killed by enemies.
They say that they are patriots, but they would never think
to tutor some poor kids to help them stay out of the clink.

A country's not a piece of cloth, or words we say by rote;
a country's not a song we sing before we watch a sport.
And love's not just a feeling, it's something that we do,
every day, in every way, in everything we choose.

China's CO2 emissions have been plummeting lately

The U.S. has much higher CO2 emissions per person than China.

Updated by Brad Plumer on May 22, 2015

Arguably the most important climate story in the world right now is the question of what's happening in China. A recent analysis by Greenpeace International found that China's carbon dioxide emissions have plunged nearly 5 percent, year over year, in the first four months of 2015:

That's ... unexpected. Ever since 2000, China's CO2 emissions have been rising at a relentless pace, as the country rocketed itself out of poverty by burning billions of tons of coal for electricity, heat, and industry. China is now the world's biggest CO2 emitter, getting two-thirds of its energy from coal, and officials have long assumed emissions would keep rising until 2030 or so. It's a big reason global warming forecasts look so dire.

But suddenly, China's emissions are falling, spurred by a sharp decline in coal use. As Greenpeace's Lauri Myllyvirta explains, China's coal consumption dropped in 2014 for the first time this century. Then, in the first four months of 2015, coal use fell another 8 percent, year on year — which translates to a roughly 5 percent decline in CO2 emissions.


1) Be very, very wary of China's energy statistics

This caveat deserves to go up high. Glen Peters, a researcher at the University of Oslo, pointed out that China's coal consumption numbers are notoriously unreliable, and often get revised significantly years later.


2) The 2014 coal drop was likely due to a surge of hydropower and dip in industrial activity


3) China is trying to shift away from heavy industry — but it's not yet clear what that means for coal


4) China's coal trajectory can have a big impact on climate change


Yukon's record breaking temperatures enter second week

Yukon's hot, dry weather continues to shatters records across the territory as a heat wave enters its second week, keeping fire crews on high alert.

David Millar, a retired meteorologist based in Whitehorse, says temperatures broke records in seven communities Saturday and he expects further records to be set Sunday.

Some records had been in place for more than half a century before temperatures climbed Saturday.

Millar says Whitehorse reached 27.4C (81.32F), eclipsing the old record 24.4 C from 1960.


The heat wave is also contributing to extreme fire danger in most of the territory. There are 31 wildfires burning across Yukon. The only areas where fire danger is considered moderate are Old Crow and Teslin.


Across the territory, wildfires have burned 1,300 hectares (3212 acres) so far this year.


tags: extreme weather,

Massive India heatwave kills at least 500 so far

At least 500 people are reported to have died in a heatwave sweeping India, with temperatures reaching 48C (118F) in some areas.


Heatwave conditions have been prevailing in the two worst-affected southern Indian states since mid-April, but most of the deaths have happened in the past week.


"The majority of the victims are people who have been exposed to the sun directly, usually aged 50 and above and from the working classes," news agency AFP quoted P Tulsi Rani, special commissioner of Andhra Pradesh's disaster management department, as saying.

"We are asking them to take precautions like using an umbrella, using a cap, taking a huge quantity of liquids like water and buttermilk, and wearing cotton clothing," he added.


The meteorological department said the sweltering conditions were likely to continue for a few more days.

"No relief" is expected in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Delhi and other northern states for the next four days, and the "heatwave will continue," an official said.


Meteorological officials said the heatwave was due to a lack of rain.


tags: extreme weather,

Feds Find Criminal Wrongdoing in GM Ignition Switch Defect

I guess libertarians and conservatives will find it bad that the government is interfering in the leaders of a business doing they what to do.

Federal investigators have found evidence of wrongdoing in General Motors' failure to disclose a defect tied to at least 84 deaths, and are seeking a substantial penalty from the company, NBC News has confirmed.


Some former GM employees are under investigation and could face criminal charges, the Times reported.

General Motors has offered a compensation plan to those affected by the faulty ignition switches, including incidents that occurred before its 2009 bankruptcy. A U.S. bankruptcy judge ruled last month will not have to face dozens of lawsuits accusing it of concealing the defect.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Where Has All the Growth Gone?

Salvatore Babones
June 27, 2012

We all know that the recession has hit families hard, but even mainstream newspapers and magazines have finally caught onto the fact that American household incomes have been stagnant for decades. The Federal Reserve recently reported that the median household income has fallen more than 6% since 2001 (adjusted for inflation). And yet … the economy has grown most of that time.

In fact, were American national income in 2010 distributed to people and households in the same proportions as it was in 2001, the median household income would now be 6% higher than in 2001, not 6% lower. In other words, there’s been enough growth to compensate for the rising number of households, and then some. If the realonomy grew with the economy, we’d all be fine.

Where has all the money gone? Again the answer is no surprise. It’s gone to the very rich. Not the merely rich. The very rich.

Even the merely rich have seen stagnant or declining incomes since the turn of the century. Federal Reserve data show that the 10% of households in America are actually slightly poorer than they were ten years ago. Even the top 1% have seen only minor gains since 2001. For real income growth, you have to look to the top 0.1% or 0.01%.

There the gains have been substantial. The incomes of the top 0.01% don’t show up in surveys, but they do show up in tax data. The World Top Incomes Database (WTID) uses IRS data to compute average real incomes for tax-filing households. Figures are available for all households, the top 10 percent, the top 1 percent, and even the top 0.01% of households.

These data show that for the top 0.01 percent of tax filing households — that’s the top 1 in 10,000 — incomes rose an average of 29% between 2001 and 2010. These households account for just 30,000 of so people. It’s these lucky 30,000 who’ve garnered nearly all of the growth in the US economy over the past ten years.


A Voice From the 1%

I suggest reading the whole article.

Oct 21, 2011

The impetus behind the Occupy Wall Street movement - a vague sense that the rich are getting ever richer while everyone else suffers - was confirmed by a recent report from the Social Security Administration showing that while total employment and average wages remained stagnant, the number of people earning $1 million or more grew by 18% from 2009 to 2010. Those figures give real substance to the "We are the 99%" slogan, yet Republicans continue to insist, despite all evidence to the contrary, that if anything those "job creators" deserve an even greater share of our national income. The Tea Party, meanwhile, has launched its own "53%" movement, inexplicably rallying the working class to the defense of the wealthy. The one group rarely heard from in this rancorous debate is the 1%, whose incomes and taxes are its focus. I am one of them, and here is my perspective, which may surprise you.


I was not amazed but disgusted when John Boehner and his crew tried to justify the extremity of their position by rebranding the wealthy as "job creators." While true in a very basic sense, it obscures the fact that jobs are a cost that is voluntarily incurred only as a result of demand. Hiring has no correlation at all to profits or to income - none. Let me keep more of my money without increasing customer demand and I will do just that - keep it. Perhaps I will spend a little more of it, though probably not, but even if I do it won't help the economy very much. Here is another secret of the well-to-do: we don't really buy much more stuff than everyone else. It may be more expensive stuff, sure, but I don't buy cars, or appliances, or furniture, or anything else more frequently than the average consumer. The things I do spend more money on are services such as travel, entertainment, restaurants and landscaping, none of which generate well-paying middle class jobs. There, in a nutshell, is the sad explanation of what has happened to the American economy over the last 25 years of "trickle down" economics.


My family is from one of the poorest counties in the country, in rural Appalachia. My grandfather was a coal miner who left school after 5th grade to help support his impoverished family. My grandmother wasn't allowed to attend high school because according to her parents women didn't need an education. I never knew my father. My mother and I subsisted on food stamps for several years. I got my first job at 13, working as a bus boy for $2 an hour, and I have never been unemployed in the 37 years since. I worked my way through college, which I paid for myself. When I started my career I worked 60+ hour weeks every week for nearly 15 years before that effort began to pay off. I employ nearly 20 people, I have no debts, and I have no doubt that I have earned every penny I have.

And yet, I am living proof of Elizabeth Warren's maxim that no one gets rich on their own. If not for the UMWA helping to secure a living wage for my grandfather, I would probably have had to leave school to help support my family, as he had done. If not for my grandmother's passionate belief in the value of the education she was denied I would never have aspired to go to college at all, and if not for my mother teaching me to love books, I would never have been able to succeed there. If not for my wife I would never have been inspired to work as hard as I did to see what I could become in life. How many smart, talented children don't have those positive influences? How many have exactly the opposite?

My good fortune did not end there. It was sheer luck, rather than moral virtue, that I never had the criminal record many of my less fortunate friends did when I was young. It was sheer luck that neither I nor any of my family members ever had a major illness, or accident, or disability, despite lacking health insurance much of the time. How different my life could easily have been! How different the lives of others still could be.

I understand too that but for food stamps, I would have gone hungry as a child, that but for public subsidies and federally guaranteed loans I could never have afforded college. I know that without the internet and airports, both of which were developed with federal taxes, I could not earn an income even close to what I make today. That all seems so obvious to me that I don't understand how anyone could question it, and those are just a few of the many reasons I am happy to pay my fair share of taxes, whatever that share maybe. Paying a lot of taxes just means you make a lot of money, and it is hard, frankly, to complain about that.


Extreme weather already on increase due to climate change, study finds

Karl Mathiesen
April 27, 2015

Extreme heatwaves and heavy rain storms are already happening with increasing regularity worldwide because of manmade climate change, according to new research.

Global warming over the last century means heat extremes that previously only occurred once every 1,000 days are happening four to five times more often, the study published in Nature Climate Change said.

It found that one in five extreme rain events experienced globally are a result of the 0.85C global rise in temperatre since the Industrial Revolution, as power plants, factories and cars continue to pump out greenhouse gas emissions.


What represents an extreme day varies depending on the background climate. In the south-east of England, for example, temperatures used to reach 33.2C once every 1,000 days, but are now happening as much as once every 200 days.

Future warming will bring a more volatile, dangerous world, even if the world manages to keep temperature rises within a 2C limit to which governments have committed, Fischer’s research found. On average, any given place on Earth will experience 60% more extreme rain events and 27 extremely hot days.

Numbers of extreme weather events spiral even higher at a rise of 3C, a level of warming that the world is on track to exceed with current levels of manmade global greenhouse gas emissions.


The study shows warming of the atmosphere increases the number of times temperatures reach extreme levels and evaporates more water from the oceans. It is from this hotter, wetter background that extreme weather events emerge.

Longer events, such as heat waves and prolonged rainy periods, will also occur more often.

“When we talk about 15-day precipitation or 15-day heat waves rather than one-day cases, one very robust finding is the longer the period the higher the fraction that is attributable to warming,” said Fischer.


tags: extreme weather

Heat wave continues to lash India; death toll rises to 368

These are the ones that have been reported.

By: Press Trust of India | New Delhi | Updated: May 24, 2015

Kota recorded maximum of 45.5 (113.9F) degree celsius while Bikaner and Barmer registered day temperature of 44.6 (112.28F) and 44.2 (111.56F) degrees, respectively.

At least 145 people died due to intense heat wave in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana since Saturday, raising to 368 the death toll in the blistering weather conditions which continued in many parts of the country on Sunday, including national capital Delhi.


Reports from some districts are still being compiled.


tags: extreme weather

Climate change altering frequency, intensity of hurricanes

Climate models predicted this. At warmer temps, wind shear increases, which can prevent some hurricanes, but the ones that do form are stronger because of the added energy from the higher heat.

May 22, 2015

Climate change may be the driving force behind fewer, yet more powerful hurricanes and tropical storms, says a Florida State geography professor. In a paper published by Nature Climate Change, Professor Jim Elsner and his former graduate student Namyoung Kang found that rising ocean temperatures are having an effect on how many tropical storms and hurricanes develop each year.

"We're seeing fewer hurricanes, but the ones we do see are more intense," Elsner said. "When one comes, all hell can break loose."


Hurricanes can form when ocean waters are 79 degrees Fahrenheit or more. As the warm water evaporates, it provides the energy a storm needs to become a hurricane. Higher temperatures mean higher levels of energy, which would ultimately affect wind speed.

Specifically, Elsner and Kang projected that over the past 30 years, storm speeds have increased on average by 1.3 meters per second - or 3 miles per hour - and there were 6.1 fewer storms than there would have been if land and water temperatures had remained constant. "It's basically a tradeoff between frequency and intensity," Elsner said.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Earth is roughly 1.53 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than it was last century.


tags: extreme weather

Friday, May 22, 2015

Huge Insurance Company Cites Climate Change As Reason For Divesting From Coal

by Natasha Geiling Posted on May 22, 2015

Citing climate change as a major threat, one of the world’s largest insurance companies has pledged to drop its remaining investment in coal assets while tripling its investment in green technologies.

At a business and climate change conference held this week in Paris, AXA — France’s largest insurer — announced that it would sell €500 million ($559 million) in coal assets by the end of 2015, while increasing its “green investments” in things like renewable energy, green infrastructure, and green bonds to €3 billion ($3.3 billion) by 2020.

During the announcement on Friday, AXA’s chief executive Henri de Castries spoke about the threat that climate change poses to the environment, and the responsibility of insurance companies to deal with those threats. Last year, AXA paid over €1 billion ($1.1 billion) globally in weather-related insurance claims, citing climate change as a “core business issue” already driving an increase in weather-related risks.

“The facts are undeniable. If we think we can live in a world where temperatures would have increased by more than 2 degrees [Celsius] we’re just fooling ourselves,” de Castries said.

Later, in an interview with Bloomberg Television, de Castries called climate change “an extremely large risk.”

“Insurers are the mirror of what happens in the economy and in the society,” he said. “We try to increase what we do on the prevention side.”

A study published in Nature in January found that in order to limit global warming to 2°C, 80 percent of the world’s current coal reserves would need to remain unused from 2010 and 2050.


Partly human yeast show a common ancestor's lasting legacy

Public Release: 21-May-2015
University of Texas at Austin

Despite a billion years of evolution separating humans from the baker's yeast in their refrigerators, hundreds of genes from an ancestor that the two species have in common live on nearly unchanged in them both, say biologists at The University of Texas at Austin. The team created thriving strains of genetically engineered yeast using human genes and found that certain groups of genes are surprisingly stable over evolutionary time.


Although yeast consist of a single cell and humans have trillions of cells organized into complex systems, we share thousands of similar genes. Of those, about 450 are critical for yeast's survival, so researchers removed the yeast version of each one and replaced it with the human version and waited to see whether the yeast would die. Creating hundreds of new strains of yeast, each with a single human gene, resulted in many newly engineered strains -- nearly half, in fact -- that could survive and reproduce after having human genes swapped in for their ordinary ones.

"Cells use a common set of parts and those parts, even after a billion years of independent evolution, are swappable," said Edward Marcotte, professor in the university's Department of Molecular Biosciences and co-director of the Center for Systems and Synthetic Biology (CSSB). "It's a beautiful demonstration of the common heritage of all living things -- to be able to take DNA from a human and replace the matching DNA in a yeast cell and have it successfully support the life of the cell."


This kind of gene swap experiment between humans and yeast has been done for single genes before, but this is the first large-scale study to swap hundreds of gene pairs. The large number of tests allowed team member Jon Laurent, a graduate student in the CSSB and co-author of the paper, to look for underlying rules for what makes a gene swappable.

Surprisingly, the best predictor of whether two genes could be successfully swapped was not how similar their genetic sequences were, but rather which modules they were part of. A module is a group of genes that work together to do something useful, such as produce cholesterol to build cell walls. All the genes from the same module tended either to be swappable between humans and yeast, or not.


Infections can affect your IQ

Public Release: 21-May-2015
Aarhus University

New research shows that infections can impair your cognitive ability measured on an IQ scale. The study is the largest of its kind to date, and it shows a clear correlation between infection levels and impaired cognition.

Anyone can suffer from an infection, for example in their stomach, urinary tract or skin. However, a new Danish study shows that a patient's distress does not necessarily end once the infection has been treated. In fact, ensuing infections can affect your cognitive ability measured by an IQ test:

"Our research shows a correlation between hospitalisation due to infection and impaired cognition corresponding to an IQ score of 1.76 lower than the average. People with five or more hospital contacts with infections had an IQ score of 9.44 lower than the average. The study thus shows a clear dose-response relationship between the number of infections, and the effect on cognitive ability increased with the temporal proximity of the last infection and with the severity of the infection. Infections in the brain affected the cognitive ability the most, but many other types of infections severe enough to require hospitalisation can also impair a patient's cognitive ability. Moreover, it seems that the immune system itself can affect the brain to such an extent that the person's cognitive ability measured by an IQ test will also be impaired many years after the infection has been cured," explains MD and PhD Michael Eriksen Benrós, who is affiliated with the National Centre for Register-Based Research at Aarhus BSS and the Mental Health Centre Copenhagen, University of Copenhagen.


"Infections can affect the brain directly, but also through peripheral inflammation, which affects the brain and our mental capacity. Infections have previously been associated with both depression and schizophrenia, and it has also been proven to affect the cognitive ability of patients suffering from dementia. This is the first major study to suggest that infections can also affect the brain and the cognitive ability in healthy individuals."


Experiments on animals have previously shown that the immune system can affect cognitive capabilities, and more recent minor studies in humans have also pointed in that direction. Normally, the brain is protected from the immune system, but with infections and inflammation the brain may be affected. Michael Eriksen Benrós' research suggests that it may be the immune system that causes the cognitive impairment, not just the infection, because many different types of infections were associated with a decrease in cognitive abilities.


Field study shows how a GM crop can have diminishing success at fighting off insect pest

Typical human reaction, esp. when profits are concerned, to ignore warning signs of future problems.

Public Release: 21-May-2015
North Carolina State University

A new study from North Carolina State University and Clemson University finds the toxin in a widely used genetically modified (GM) crop is having little impact on the crop pest corn earworm (Helicoverpa zea) - which is consistent with predictions made almost 20 years ago that were largely ignored. The study may be a signal to pay closer attention to warning signs about the development of resistance in agricultural pests to GM crops.


"These findings are a reminder that we need to pay attention to potential clues about developing resistance," Reisig says. "We can't expect there to always be a new GM toxin available to replace the old one."


Fine particulate air pollution associated with increased risk of childhood autism

Public Release: 21-May-2015
Fine particulate air pollution associated with increased risk of childhood autism

University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences

Exposure to fine particulate air pollution during pregnancy through the first two years of a child's life may be associated with an increased risk of the child developing autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a condition that affects one in 68 children, according to a University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health investigation of children in southwestern Pennsylvania.


This type of pollution refers to particles found in the air that are less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, or 1/30th the average width of a human hair. PM2.5 includes dust, dirt, soot and smoke. Because of its small size, PM2.5 can reach deeply into the lungs and get into the blood stream. Southwestern Pennsylvania has consistently ranked among the nation's worst regions for PM2.5 levels, according to data collected by the American Lung Association.

"There is increasing and compelling evidence that points to associations between Pittsburgh's poor air quality and health problems, especially those affecting our children and including issues such as autism spectrum disorder and asthma," said Grant Oliphant, president of The Heinz Endowments. "While we recognize that further study is needed, we must remain vigilant about the need to improve our air quality and to protect the vulnerable. Our community deserves a healthy environment and clean air."


Based on the child's exposure to concentrations of PM2.5 during the mother's pregnancy and the first two years of life, the Pitt Public Health team found that children who fell into higher exposure groups were at an approximate 1.5-fold greater risk of ASD after accounting for other factors associated with the child's risk for ASD -- such as the mother's age, education and smoking during pregnancy. This risk estimate is in agreement with several other recent investigations of PM2.5 and autism.

A previous Pitt Public Health analysis of the study population revealed an association between ASD and increased levels of air toxics, including chromium and styrene. Studies by other institutions using different populations also have associated pollutants with ASD.


Bacteria cooperate to repair damaged siblings

Public Release: 21-May-2015
University of Wyoming

A University of Wyoming faculty member led a research team that discovered a certain type of soil bacteria can use their social behavior of outer membrane exchange (OME) to repair damaged cells and improve the fitness of the bacteria population as a whole.

Daniel Wall, a UW associate professor in the Department of Molecular Biology, and others were able to show that damaged sustained by the outer membrane (OM) of a myxobacteria cell population was repaired by a healthy population using the process of OME. The research revealed that these social organisms benefit from group behavior that endows favorable fitness consequences among kin cells.

Wall says, to the research group's knowledge, this is the first evidence that a bacterium can use cell-content sharing to repair damaged siblings.

"It is analogous to how a wound in your body can be healed," Wall says. "When your body is wounded, your cells can coordinate their functions to heal the damaged tissue."


These myxobacterial cells, in their native environments, must cope with factors that compromise the integrity of the cell, Wall says. Rather than looking out only for themselves like other bacterial species, the individual myxobacteria cells band together as a social group to assist their kin that become damaged.

"Myxobacteria are unusual for bacteria in that they have a true multicellular life," Wall says. "Researchers are interested in how the evolutionary transition occurred toward multi-cellularity; that is, how cooperation develops and single cells are not just interested in themselves. The Darwinian view is that each individual is out for themselves; 'survival of the fittest.'"

"When environmental cells come together, they compete with each other," Wall continues. "With OME, we think it allows myxobacteria cells to transition from a heterogeneous single cellular life to a more harmonious multicellular life."


"The most direct applicability could be for antibiotic resistance," Wall says. "Within the paper, Chris did an experiment where one strain of myxobacteria conferred antibiotic resistance to another strain. This works by the cells transferring their OM armor.


The Great Skills Gap Myth: Can't American Companies Find Qualified Workers?

03/30/2014 | Aaron M. Renn
One of the great memes out there in trying to diagnose persistently high unemployment and anemic job growth during what is still, I argue, the Great Recession is the so-called “skills gap”. The idea here is that the fact that there are millions of unfilled job openings at the same time millions of people can’t find work can be chalked up to a lack of a skills match between unemployed workers an open positions. To pick one random example out of many, here’s the way US News and World Report put it last year:

Some 82 percent of manufacturers say they can’t find workers with the right skills. Even with so many people looking for jobs, we’re struggling to attract the next generation of workers. The message about the opportunities in manufacturing doesn’t seem to be reaching parents and counselors who help guide young people’s career ambitions.

We face two major problems – a skills gap and a perception gap. Today’s modern, technology-driven manufacturing is not your grandparents’ manufacturing, yet for many, talk of the sector evokes images from the Industrial Revolution.

What’s interesting about this is that the “skills gap” continues to have tremendous resonance in public policy discussions I come across although it’s very easy to find many mainstream press articles that challenge it. So I want to take my shot at the problem.

Is there a skill gap? In select cases I’m sure there’s a mismatch in skill, but for the most part I don’t think so. I believe the purported inability of firms to find qualified workers is due largely to three factors: employer behaviors, limited geographic scope, and unemployability.

Let’s be honest, it’s in the best interest of employers to claim there’s a skills gap. The existence of such a gap can be used as leverage to obtain public policy considerations or subsidies. So there’s a self-serving element.

But beyond that, several behaviors of present day employers contribute to their inability to hire.

1. Insufficient pay. If you can’t find qualified workers, that’s a powerful market signal that your salary on offer is too low. Higher wages will not only find you workers, they also send a signal that attracts newcomers into the industry. Richard Longworth covered this in 2012. He explains that companies have refused to adjust their wages due to competitive pressures:

In other words, Davidson said, employers want high-tech skills but are only willing to pay low-tech wages.


2. Extremely picky hiring practices enforced by computer screening. If you’ve looked at any job postings lately, you’ll note the laundry list of skills and experience required. The New York Times summed it up as “With Positions to Fill, Employers Wait for Perfection.” Also, companies have chopped HR to the bone in many cases, and heavily rely on computer screening of applicants or offshore resume review. The result of this automated process combined with excessive requirements is that many candidates who actually could do that job can’t even get an interview. What’s more, in some cases the entire idea is not to find a qualified worker to help legally justify bringing in someone from offshore who can be paid less.

3. Unwillingess to invest in training. In line with the above, companies no loner want to spend time and money training people like they used to. I strongly suspect most of those over 50 machinists and such we keep hearing about learned on the job. Why can’t companies simply train people in the skills they need? When I started work at Andersen Consulting in 1992, we weren’t expected to have any specific skill. Instead, they were looking for general aptitude and spent big to train us in what we needed to know.


4. Aesthetic hiring. This one I think is specific to select industries, but in some fields if you don’t have the right “look”, you’re going to find it difficult. For example, the NYT Magazine just today has a major piece called “Silicon Valley’s Youth Problem” talking about this very issue. Hip, cool startups see their working environment and culture as critical to success. And that’s true, but those cultures aren’t very inclusive, which is why many Silicon Valley firms are continuously under fire for various forms of discrimination. When they’re trying to be the hot new thing, the last thing an app startup wants is some 55 year old dude with a pocket protector cramping their style, no matter how much of a tech guru he might be.


You frequently see the skills gap phrased in terms of specific geographies. For example, a state. Rhode Island has X number of unemployed people and Y number of unfilled jobs. So what do we do to match them up?

This type of thinking is too limited. I attended an hour brainstorming session on the Rhode Island skills gap a while back and not once did anyone suggest anything that crossed the state boundary. One person mentioned these technical high schools in Boston that produce grads with exactly the skills the market is needing. His idea was that Rhode Island needed to create these types of institutions. Not a bad idea, but I was struck that nobody thought about sending these Rhode Island employers who can’t find workers on the one hour drive to Boston to go hire some of those grads directly out of Boston’s high schools. Problem solved. And maybe while bringing some young, fresh blood into the state to boot.

Similarly, no one ever suggested that an unemployed person in Rhode Island might seek work out of state. Realistically, America has often solved unemployment problems through migration. People need to be willing to move to where the job opportunities are.

[One problem is that many people own a home, and would have a hard time selling it, at least for what they owe. And if you move, you lose your support network, which has been proven to be helpful to good health. I read a study once BI (before internet) that found that communities are held together by the people who have their roots there.]