Saturday, April 19, 2014

What It’s Like to Spend 20 Years Listening to Psychopaths for Science

By Greg Miller

Kiehl [Kiehl] is a neuroscientist at the Mind Research Network and the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, and he’s devoted his career to studying what’s different about the brains of psychopaths — people whose lack of compassion, empathy, and remorse has a tendency to get them into trouble with the law.


Kiehl recounts the story in a new book about his research, The Psychopath Whisperer. He has been interviewing psychopaths for more than 20 years, and the book is filled with stories of these colorful (and occasionally off-color) encounters.


WIRED: How do real life psychopaths differ from ones we see on TV or in movies?

Kent Kiehl: One of the biggest differences is that psychopaths are way more common than people believe. About one in 150 people will meet the stringent clinical criteria for the disorder. That means hundreds of thousands of them are out and about in the population. The majority of them don’t commit violent crimes, but they lead this sort of disorganized, nomadic life, and they tend to eventually end up in some sort of trouble. Hollywood hasn’t done a good job of portraying the average psychopath. For the most part, they’ve taken the extreme view, with the Hannibal Lecters and more sensationalized people like that. It’s actually far more common and banal.

WIRED: People also tend to confuse psychopathy and psychosis — what’s the difference?

Kiehl: Right. With psychopathy the main features are lack of empathy, guilt, and remorse — and impulsivity. Psychosis is a fragmentation of the mind where you have hallucinations and delusions. It’s a very different disorder. You almost never find someone who has psychotic delusions and even moderate levels of psychopathic traits.


WIRED: What is known at this point about what’s different about their brains?

Kiehl: We’ve found that psychopaths have 5 to 10 percent reduced gray matter density in and around the limbic regions [a network deep in the brain that's important for emotional processing]. We’ve also found — and a group in Germany has published a similar finding — that the tissue that connects the limbic system to the frontal lobes is disrupted. There have also been lots of studies published showing reduced responsivity in those circuits during emotional processing and moral decision making.


WIRED: Can psychopaths change?

Kiehl: I’m so encouraged by the pioneering work that’s occurring at places like the Mendota Juvenile Treatment Center in Wisconsin, where people are taking high risk youths [who show signs of developing psychopathic traits] and treating them with various intensive programs to try to reduce the odds that they’ll reoffend.

The treatments that seem to be making a big difference emphasize positive reinforcement rather than punishment. Yes, they’re incarcerated at the time and that’s their punishment for the crimes they’ve done, but the facilities instead of only punishing them when they do something bad actually reward them when they do something good. If they interact positively with staff they’re given a small reward, like maybe a video game in their cell for the weekend. Similarly, with this segment of the population, if you use positive reinforcement they’re much more likely to do what you want them to do.


WIRED: Does it really make sense to devote the resources for intensive therapy to such a small minority?

Kiehl: If you look at just the published literature on the Mendota Juvenile Treatment Center, for every $10,000 the state of Wisconsin has invested on that program, it returned over $70,000 in reduced incarceration and criminal justice costs in the next four years. Boys that go through the treatment stop accumulating infractions that lengthen their sentence. When they get out, they stay out longer and they commit less violent crime, which is the most expensive kind of crime from a societal perspective.

WIRED: If we already have interventions that work, why do we need all the brain research?

Kiehl: The current programs aren’t perfect. They reduce violent recidivism by 50 percent. But 10 to 15 percent of kids still reoffended violently, despite the best psychological treatment. What the brain science might do is help inform the cognitive treatment process so maybe you could determine that the easy to treat kids might be ready for release after six months, but these other kids need a full year or more of treatment. You might be able to use the neuroscience to improve the decision making. That’s the sort of thing we’re hoping to do.


Friday, April 18, 2014

Study: Half of jailed NYC youths have brain injury

A neurologist who studied adult violent criminals found evidence that most of them had brain damage, usually due to child abuse from their parents.

Apr 18, 2014

About half of all 16- to 18-year-olds coming into New York City's jails say they had a traumatic brain injury before being incarcerated, most caused by assaults, according to a new study that's the latest in a growing body of research documenting head trauma among young offenders.

Experts say the findings, published this week in The Journal of Adolescent Health, could lead to better training for correction officers on how to deal with the possible symptoms of such trauma, which include problems with impulse control and decision-making.


The peer-reviewed study was based on medical brain injury questionnaires given to 300 boys and 84 girls inside the nation's second-largest jail system in 2012.

The study found nearly 50 percent of both boys and girls reported traumatic brain injuries that resulted in a loss of consciousness, amnesia or both. And they said 55 percent of those injuries were caused by assaults. [And there must be more injuries that are not remembered, or that did not cause such dramatic symptoms.]

Previous studies show the rate of traumatic brain injury among adolescents who aren't incarcerated is about 15 to 30 percent, said Dr. Homer Venters, an assistant health commissioner in New York City and one of the study's authors.

Brain injuries are often undiagnosed or misdiagnosed because people with them don't necessarily show obvious, immediate signs of injury. But research about them has increased in recent years, as combat veterans and children who play contact sports have displayed symptoms, experts said.

A growing body of research shows that inmates whose brains have been jolted by trauma are linked to higher rates of breaking jailhouse rules, substance abuse and greater difficulty re-entering society after detention, said John D. Corrigan, a professor in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Ohio State University and a national expert on head injuries.


"What's happening with many of these kids, these young adults in the criminal population, is they're having them early in life," and their consequences aren't noticed until later, he said.


An estimated 60 percent of adult prisoners have a brain injury, according to a study of prisoners in South Carolina. Not all correction departments screen inmates for the injury - a practice public health officials say should change.


And in the United Kingdom, a national campaign on the issue has resulted in a commission that found almost two-thirds of young inmates suffered from head trauma, which University of Exeter researchers found in 2010 is associated with earlier, repeated and more time spent in custody.


Pennsylvania Teen Convicted Of A Crime For Recording Bullies At School

By Carimah TownesApril 15, 2014

A 15-year old boy with ADHD, comprehension delay disorder, and an anxiety disorder recorded classmates bullying him in school. But instead of reprimanding the tormentors, school officials targeted the boy for wiretapping — and he was later convicted of disorderly conduct by a district judge.

Using an iPad, a student at South Fayette High School in Pennsylvania whose name is undisclosed, recorded a seven minute video of his peers trying to harass him. In the recording, two other students discuss pulling the victim’s pants down, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune Review. And a loud noise is heard further into the recording, after which a student said, “I was just trying to scare him.”

According to the victim, being bullied is a daily occurrence. Speaking to South Fayette District Judge Maureen McGraw-Desmet, he explained, “This wasn’t just a one-time thing. This always happens every day in that class.” He revealed that he used the iPad to expose what was happening to him. “Because I always felt like it wasn’t me being heard,” the boy told McGraw-Dismet.

The high school staff knew about the bullying prior to the iPad incident. Assistant Principal Aaron Skrbin testified that Shea Love, the victim’s mother, previously voiced concerns about the tormentors. Last October, she approached the school when a classmate targeted the victim with spitwads — but Skrbin did not “[classify] that as bullying.”

When school officials learned about the recording, Principal Scott Milburn contacted local police on February 12, for what he considered a “wiretapping incident.” After approaching the boy for questioning, South Fayette Lieutenant Robert Kurta told him to dispose of the recording, and charged him with disorderly conduct. In Pennsylvania, the low-level crime is known as a “summary offense,” and does not typically result in jail time for juveniles. Nonetheless, they can stay on a juvenile’s criminal record. McGraw-Desmet later upheld the charges, fining the student “a minimum of $25.” The 15-year old was also ordered to pay court costs. Love is currently trying to get the decision reversed.

Statistics show that millions of students are bullied every year, and that teachers only intervene in 4 percent of incidents.


Poor People’s Lives Are Getting Shorter

By Tara Culp-ResslerApril 18, 2014

Although life expectancy has been rising for Americans as a whole, the people who live in this country aren’t necessary sharing those gains equally. Wealthy people are enjoying longer lifespans than lower income Americans, according to a new analysis from Brookings Institute researchers, and the gap is threatening to get wider.

By the age of 55 years old, the average American man in the richest 10 percent of the county can expect to live another 35 years. But the average man in the poorest 10 percent only has about 24 years left. And the discrepancy is even starker among women, since low-income women’s life expectancy has actually been declining:

----- [See link above for graphs. Live expectancy has decreased for the bottom 40% of women!

It’s not entirely surprising that poverty is an indicator of a shorter life span. Economic insecurity has a long list of negative effects on physical and mental health. People living in poverty are less likely to have access to quality food and clean air, and they’re more likely to struggle to afford the medical care they need.

What’s most concerning is the fact that poverty is worsening, and extreme income inequality continues to widen the gulf between the richest and the poorest sectors of the country.


A recent study conducted by Harvard researchers estimated that as many as 17,000 people will die directly as a result of their states refusing to expand Medicaid.

Wealthiest Households Accounted for more than 80% of Postrecession Rise in Incomes

This continued the trends already established before the recession/depression.


A recent article by Labor Department senior economist Aaron Cobet highlights the sharp disparity between the wealthiest and poorest Americans in the aftermath of the 2007-2009 recession.

“While average income has returned to pre-recession levels, income gains have been distributed unevenly,” Mr. Cobet said.

The economist mined Labor Department data to show that the top 20% of earners accounted for more than 80% of the rise in household income from 2008-2012. Income fell for the bottom 20%.


The International Monetary Fund has warned that rising income inequality is weighing on global growth.


In American Politics, the Wealthy Get What They Want - See more at:

Not news, just comfirmation of the obvious.

Rob GarverThe Fiscal Times
April 17, 2014


Martin Gilens of Princeton and Benjamin I. Page of Northwestern conducted an extensive study of how major questions of public policy were decided over the course of the 20 years between 1981 and 2002. Their conclusions, scheduled for publication in the Fall issue of the journal Perspectives on Policy, were not happy ones for people who believe that the United States is a majoritarian democracy.

“When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy,” they write.

This is not to say that the average voter’s policy choices are never realized. The study found that in a large number of cases, the policy preferences of the median voter and the economic elite coincide. The most significant finding relates to the instances where the majority of voters disagree with the economic elite.

“In the United States, our findings indicate, the majority does not rule — at least not in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes,” the study finds. “When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organized interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the U.S. political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it.”


the data suggests “the net alignments of the most influential, business oriented groups are negatively related to the average citizen’s wishes.”


Thursday, April 17, 2014

California Drought/Polar Vortex Jet Stream Pattern Linked to Global Warming

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 6:56 PM GMT on April 16, 2014

From November 2013 - January 2014, a remarkably extreme jet stream pattern set up over North America, bringing the infamous "Polar Vortex" of cold air to the Midwest and Eastern U.S., and a "Ridiculously Resilient Ridge" of high pressure over California, which brought the worst winter drought conditions ever recorded to that state. A new study published this week in Geophysical Research Letters, led by Utah State scientist S.-Y. Simon Wang, found that this jet stream pattern was the most extreme on record, and likely could not have grown so extreme without the influence of human-caused global warming. The study concluded, “there is a traceable anthropogenic warming footprint in the enormous intensity of the anomalous ridge during winter 2013-14, the associated drought and its intensity."


GM Risked Lives to Save 25 Cents Per Car

Adds up to a lot that can go to the CEO.

Eric PianinThe Fiscal Times
April 17, 2014

Until now, one of the most perplexing questions in the General Motors scandal is why the storied manufacturer waited more than a decade to recall 1.6 million compact cars with faulty ignition switches that contributed to more than a dozen deaths across the country.


Yet, on Wednesday, two prominent highway safety advocates charged that GM in 2001 intentionally chose an inferior design for an ignition switch that it installed in Chevrolet Cobalts, Saturn Ions and other compact cars that the company now concedes contributed to at least 31 crashes and 13 fatalities – many of them involving young people.

The failure of airbags to deploy in many of those accidents has been linked to a serious defect in the ignition switch.


The question of whether to address the faulty ignition switch came up again in 2005, the same year that a 16-year-old girl named Amber Marie Rose was killed in a crash in Maryland while driving a 2005 Cobalt when her air bag failed to deploy. GM decided not to change the faulty ignition switch because by then it would have added about a dollar to the cost of each car, according to an internal GM document provided to congressional investigators.


“It was cost over safety,” Ditlow said in an interview yesterday. “GM made a decision in 2001 to pick the cheaper part over the safer part at a cost savings of no more than 25 cents and that decision then cost the consumers’ untold numbers of lives over the years. Basically GM was saying that consumers’ lives weren’t worth 25 cents.”


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

At least 1 in 20 adult outpatients misdiagnosed in US every year


Contact: Stephanie Burns
BMJ-British Medical Journal

At least 1 in 20 adult outpatients misdiagnosed in US every year

Equal to 12 million people nationwide; half of errors potentially harmful, say researchers

At least one in 20 adults is misdiagnosed in outpatient clinics in the US every year, amounting to 12 million people nationwide, and posing a "substantial patient safety risk," finds research published online in BMJ Quality & Safety.

Half of these errors could be potentially harmful, say the authors, who add that their findings should prompt renewed efforts to monitor and curb the numbers of misdiagnoses.

To date, patient safety improvements have largely focused on hospital stays and issues such as infections, falls, and medication errors, say the authors. But most diagnoses are made in outpatient clinics, where patients are looked after by several different healthcare teams and few safety concerns are ever reported.


Did GM Reject Safer Ignition Switch Design in 2001 Because of Cost?

By Rich Gardella and Talesha Reynolds
Apriil 16, 2014

Newly released internal GM documents reveal that the company in 2001 considered -- and rejected – an ignition switch design that two prominent safety advocates say could have avoided the problem that led the automaker to recall millions of vehicles this year. The company’s decision to reject the safer switch was motivated by cost, the advocates say.

They say GM documents show that design was the same one GM quietly began providing years later, in 2006, as a replacement part, and is now beginning to add to all recalled vehicles.


GM has recalled 2.6 million vehicles -- Chevy Cobalts and HHRs, Pontiac G5s, Pursuits and Solstices and Saturn Ions and Skys, from model years 2003 to 2007 – because the ignition switch problem could cause ignitions to slip from “run” to “accessory” or “off” positions while being driven. That could cause vehicles to stall, shutting down power brakes and power steering and preventing airbags from deploying. GM acknowledges that the faulty ignition switch has been linked to 32 crashes and 13 deaths.


Online piracy is bad. Here's how to make sure your kids understand that.

Susan Jennings, Digital First Media
April 10, 2014


It wasn’t until years later while working as a journalist in a newsroom that was getting ready to add a pay wall that I began to fully understand the real-world effect of expecting that all online content should be free.

The people producing that content – whether they’re musicians, actors or writers like me -- are professionals working to support their families. By demanding that their music, films, shows, games or stories be available free of charge, I’m making it more difficult for them to make a living.

A study by the Institute for Policy Innovation found that piracy of sound recordings alone results in an annual loss of $12.5 billion to the U.S. economy, in addition to more than 70,000 lost jobs and $2 billion in lost wages.

I know that when my kids are old enough to go online, we’ll make sure to include a discussion about digital piracy along with conversations about safely using social media and protecting their online identities.


Any of these actions could subject you to civil or criminal liability. Offenders could face paying thousands of dollars in damages or fines and end up with a felony record and jail time.


Beyond all the legal concerns, there’s always a potential that you could put your computers and mobile devices at risk for malware and unwanted viruses when downloading files from an unknown source.


These days, there are plenty of places you go to find legitimate and affordable entertainment online.

If your kids are looking for options, point them to iTunes, Pandora, Rhapsody or Spotify for music or Hulu, Netflix or Amazon for video. This content can be accessed for free, via a monthly subscription, or for a one-time fee.

And if they whine about having to pay a dollar for their new favorite song, remind them that if they really love the song and the artist, then they should be willing to support them.

How to get rich: blackmail


The Federal Trade Commission says operator John Fanning improperly harvested personal information from Facebook to create “Jerk” and “Not a Jerk” profiles.

Fanning, 50, who previously co-founded the music-download service Napster, violated federal fair-trade laws when he falsely led consumers to believe that the content was created by users, according to an FTC complaint.

From 2009 to 2013, created profiles for more than 73 million people and allowed users to post remarks like, “Omg I hate this kid he’s such a loser,” the FTC says.

People were told they could revise their status by paying $30, according to the complaint, which seeks a court order against and its use of the personal information.


Hotelier Harris Rosen pledges college money for Parramore kids

Thank you, Mr. Rosen

April 10, 2014|By Lauren Roth, Orlando Sentinel

Hotelier Harris Rosen is pledging to pay for the college educations of children in Orlando's Parramore neighborhood, modeling the effort after the nationally recognized Tangelo Park program that he started 20 years ago.


Orlando Commissioner Daisy Lynum said the guarantee of college scholarships has the potential to transform Parramore, a downtown community with about 2,000 children that has struggled for decades with poverty and crime.

"This is a great big deal," Lynum said. "The ultimate result could be being able to bring African-American middle-class families back into Parramore, which has been our goal."

Rosen hasn't specified yet exactly how much he would contribute. He would not comment for this story, saying his efforts are still in the early stages.

To make it happen, Rosen envisions an early-childhood program that aligns preschools with a full-day pre-kindergarten, as well as completion of a public kindergarten-to-eighth-grade school slated to open in 2017 in Parramore, de la Portilla said.

Rosen made national news after he promised to pay for the educations of every Tangelo Park student who got into college.


Several years ago, frustrated that other philanthropists haven't started similar programs, he began looking into duplicating it himself, his advisers said.


Scott Stump
April 17, 2013

Harris Rosen went from a childhood in a rough New York City neighborhood to becoming a millionaire whose company owns seven hotels in Orlando, but his self-made success is not his proudest achievement.

Twenty years ago, the Orlando, Fla. neighborhood of Tangelo Park was a crime-infested place where people were afraid to walk down the street. The graduation rate at the local high school was 25 percent. Having amassed a fortune from his success in the hotel business, Rosen decided Tangelo Park needed some hospitality of its own.


Rosen, 73, began his philanthropic efforts by paying for day care for parents in Tangelo Park, a community of about 3,000 people. When those children reached high school, he created a scholarship program in which he offered to pay free tuition to Florida state colleges for any students in the neighborhood.

In the two decades since starting the programs, Rosen has donated nearly $10 million, and the results have been remarkable. The high school graduation rate is now nearly 100 percent, and some property values have quadrupled. The crime rate has been cut in half, according to a study by the University of Central Florida.

"We've given them hope,’’ Rosen said. “We've given these kids hope, and given the families hope. And hope is an amazing thing."


Tomgram: Astra Taylor, Misogyny and the Cult of Internet Openness

I am certainly aware of the fact that women tend to have less time for doing things outside of housework and taking care of men and children. Even an elderly gay man who dislikes women will have women willing to drive him to church and other events, and bring him meals.

Posted by Astra Taylor at 7:53am, April 10, 2014

[Note for TomDispatch Readers: We’ve got a special offer for you today. Below, you’ll get a taste of Astra Taylor’s new book about the Internet as a system for inequality, The People’s Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age. (Musician David Byrne, no less, praises her “inspiring insights” and calls her book “beautifully written and highly recommended.” As is obvious from her intro, Rebecca Solnit also considers it a milestone book.) For a donation of $100 to this website, Taylor will sign a personalized copy of the book to you. And believe me, since TomDispatch is not exactly Google and takes no advertising, every dollar you give really does help keep us afloat. Check out our donation page for more details on the offer. (And one note: Taylor is, at the moment, on tour with a band. She won’t be back in New York to sign books until the 23rd, so be patient and it will come.) Tom]

----- [see link above to take advantage of their offer]

The Internet arose with little regulation, little public decision-making, and a whole lot of fantasy about how it was going to make everyone powerful and how everything would be free. Free, as in unregulated and open, got confused with free, as in not getting paid, and somehow everyone from Facebook to Arianna Huffington created massively lucrative sites (based on advertising dollars) in which the people who made the content went unpaid.


And at a certain juncture, she turns to gender. Though far from the only weak point of the Internet as an egalitarian space -- after all, there’s privacy (lack of), the environment (massive server farms), and economics (tax cheats, “content providers” like musicians fleeced) -- gender politics, as she shows in today’s post adapted from her book, is one of the most spectacular problems online.


As a start, in the perfectly real world women shoulder a disproportionate share of household and child-rearing responsibilities, leaving them substantially less leisure time to spend online. Though a handful of high-powered celebrity “mommy bloggers” have managed to attract massive audiences and ad revenue by documenting their daily travails, they are the exceptions not the rule. In professional fields like philosophy, law, and science, where blogging has become popular, women are notoriously underrepresented; by one count, for instance, only around 20% of science bloggers are women.


Many prominent women have spoken up about their experiences being bullied and intimidated online -- scenarios that sometimes escalate into the release of private information, including home addresses, e-mail passwords, and social security numbers, or simply devolve into an Internet version of stalking. Esteemed classicist Mary Beard, for example, “received online death threats and menaces of sexual assault” after a television appearance last year, as did British activist Caroline Criado-Perez after she successfully campaigned to get more images of women onto British banknotes.


Those posting with female usernames, researchers were shocked to discover, received 25 times as many malicious messages as those whose designations were masculine or ambiguous.


Over the last few months, a number of black women with substantial social media presences conducted an informal experiment of their own. Fed up with the fire hose of animosity aimed at them, Jamie Nesbitt Golden and others adopted masculine Twitter avatars. Golden replaced her photo with that of a hip, bearded, young white man, though she kept her bio and continued to communicate in her own voice. “The number of snarky, condescending tweets dropped off considerably, and discussions on race and gender were less volatile,” Golden wrote, marveling at how simply changing a photo transformed reactions to her. “Once I went back to Black, it was back to business as usual.”


It’s not that women and people of color aren’t doing innovative work in reporting and cultural criticism; it’s just that they get passed over by investors and financiers in favor of the familiar.

As Deanna Zandt and others have pointed out, such real-world lack of diversity is also regularly seen on the rosters of technology conferences, even as speakers take the stage to hail a democratic revolution on the Web, while audiences that look just like them cheer. In early 2013, in reaction to the announcement of yet another all-male lineup at a prominent Web gathering, a pledge was posted on the website of the Atlantic asking men to refrain from speaking at events where women are not represented. The list of signatories was almost immediately removed “due to a flood of spam/trolls.”


In a similar vein, collaborative filtering sites like Reddit and Slashdot, heralded by the digerati as the cultural curating mechanisms of the future, cater to users who are up to 87% male and overwhelmingly young, wealthy, and white. Reddit, in particular, has achieved notoriety for its misogynist culture, with threads where rapists have recounted their exploits and photos of underage girls got posted under headings like “Chokeabitch,” “Niggerjailbait,” and “Creepshots.”


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Stressful environments genetically affect African-American boys


Contact: B. Rose Huber
Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs

Stressful environments genetically affect African-American boys

Stressful upbringings can leave imprints on the genes of children as young as age 9, according to a study led by Princeton University and Pennsylvania State University researchers. Such chronic stress during youth leads to physiological weathering similar to aging.

A study of 40 9-year-old black boys, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that those who grow up in disadvantaged environments have shorter telomeres — DNA sequences that generally shrink with age — than their advantaged peers. The researchers also report that boys with genetic sensitivities to their environment have shorter telomeres after experiencing stressful social environments than the telomeres of boys without the genetic sensitivities. These sensitivities are based on gene variants related to the serotonin and dopamine pathways — neurotransmitters essential for relaying information between the brain and body.


The researchers wanted to focus on African American boys because past studies have shown that boys may be more sensitive to their environment.


the researchers found that living in a disadvantaged environment was associated with 19 percent shorter telomeres by age 9. For boys predisposed to being sensitive to their environment, this negative association was even stronger.


I think it's very striking that these findings are in children at age 9, because you are talking about accelerated aging or stress-mediated wear and tear on your body, which make you more vulnerable to all kinds of illnesses and diseases. To say that you can see this by 9 years old is a very strong statement," Geronimus said.

Rabbits kept indoors could be vitamin D deficient


Contact: Diana Yates
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Rabbits kept indoors could be vitamin D deficient

Rabbits that remain indoors may suffer from a lack of vitamin D, researchers report in a new study. In rabbits kept as pets or used in laboratory studies, the deficiency could lead to dental problems, undermine their cardiovascular health, weaken their immune systems and skew scientific findings.

The study found that regular exposure to artificial ultraviolet B light for two weeks doubled rabbits' serum vitamin D levels – an increase not seen in animals raised in artificial light lacking UVB radiation. Future studies will seek to determine optimal levels of UVB exposure and vitamin D levels in rabbits, guinea pigs, chinchillas and other animals.


New Attacks on Smart Phones

Scanning 2D barcodes, finding free Wi-Fi access points, sending SMS messages, listening to music, and watching MP4 videos: these are very common activities that we do using our smartphones. Can you imagine that simply doing these things can get your smarphones infected with "worms" that can not only steal personal information from your phone, but also infect your friends's phones.

Sound scary? It will not be long before worms like this spread among smartphones. What makes the attacks feasible is an emerging technology called HTML5-based app development, and it has been rapidly gaining popularity in the mobile industry. When the adoption of this technology reaches certain threshold, attacks like this will become quite common, unless we do something to stop it. A recent Gartner report says that by 2016, fifty percent of the mobile apps will be using HTML5-based technologies.


Lashing out at your spouse? Check your blood sugar

I have seen children come into a restaurant cranky & crying, and after eating become smiling & happy.


Contact: Brad Bushman
Ohio State University

Lashing out at your spouse? Check your blood sugar

Lower levels of blood sugar may make married people angrier at their spouses and even more likely to lash out aggressively, new research reveals.

In a 21-day study, researchers found that levels of blood glucose in married people, measured each night, predicted how angry they would be with their spouse that evening.

At the end of the 21 days, people who had generally lower levels of glucose were willing to blast their spouses with unpleasant noises at a higher volume and for a longer time than those who had higher glucose levels.

The study shows how one simple, often overlooked factor – hunger caused by low levels of blood glucose - may play a role in marital arguments, confrontations and possibly even some domestic violence, said Brad Bushman, lead author of the study and professor of communication and psychology at The Ohio State University.

Blood glucose levels can be brought up most quickly by eating carbohydrates or sugary foods.

"People can relate to this idea that when they get hungry, they get cranky," Bushman said.

It even has a slang term: "hangry" (hungry + angry).

"We found that being hangry can affect our behavior in a bad way, even in our most intimate relationships," he said.


"Even those who reported they had good relationships with their spouses were more likely to express anger if their blood glucose levels were lower."


Why does low blood sugar make people more prone to anger and aggression?

Bushman said that glucose is fuel for the brain. The self-control needed to deal with anger and aggressive impulses takes energy, and that energy is provided in part by glucose.

"Even though the brain is only 2 percent of our body weight, it consumes about 20 percent of our calories. It is a very demanding organ when it comes to energy," he said.

"It's simple advice but it works: Before you have a difficult conversation with your spouse, make sure you're not hungry."

Lower salt intake likely to have had key role in plummeting cardiovascular disease deaths


Contact: Stephanie Burns
BMJ-British Medical Journal

Lower salt intake likely to have had key role in plummeting cardiovascular disease deaths in past decade

Average salt intake fell by 15 percent in 2003-11 in England; heart disease and stroke deaths fell by around 40 percent

The 15% fall in dietary salt intake over the past decade in England is likely to have had a key role in the 40% drop in deaths from heart disease and stroke over the same period, concludes research published in the online journal BMJ Open.

But average intake across the nation is still far too high, warn the authors. And much greater effort is needed to curb the salt content of the foods we eat, they insist.

Dietary salt is known to increase blood pressure, which is itself a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke.


UT Dallas study: Youth who fail to envision future commit more crimes


Contact: Brittany Hoover
University of Texas at Dallas

UT Dallas study: Youth who fail to envision future commit more crimes

In a UT Dallas study involving serious youth offenders, the answer to one open-ended question predicted the teenagers' offending patterns for the next seven years: "How long do you think you'll live?"

According to the study, having little hope for the future encourages offending over time.

Author Dr. Alex Piquero said the study found those who don't view a very long life ahead of them offend at very high rates and commit more serious offenses, while those who believe they're going to die much later in life offend much less.

"In a lot of distressed communities and for a lot of offenders, they don't see a future," said Piquero, Ashbel Smith Professor of criminology at UT Dallas. "They think, 'Why do I have to go to school? I'm not going to make it past 21.' And in many of our interviews with these kids, they basically said, 'I'm not going to make it until next week, so why would I even care?'"

The youths' perceptions about how long they would live also impacted how they interpreted the consequences of offending, according to the study.

Teens who anticipated early death were more likely to focus on "the here and the now," Piquero said. They're impulsive; they don't think about the risks of their behavior.

The paper, published online in Justice Quarterly on March 27, used data from a seven-year study of serious youth offenders to examine what has been a relatively uncharted area of empirical research.


"How do we get them to think about a long future?" Piquero asked. "We have to tell them there are rewards for educational and employment investments down the road. The rewards will be fruitful. They'll take some hard work, and they'll take some time, but you can attain those kinds of things."

people of color live in neighborhoods with more air pollution than whites


Contact: Rhonda Zurn
University of Minnesota

Groundbreaking nationwide study finds that people of color live in neighborhoods with more air pollution than whites

Gap results in an estimated 7,000 deaths each year among people of color from heart disease alone

A first-of-its-kind study by researchers at the University of Minnesota found that on average nationally, people of color are exposed to 38 percent higher levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) outdoor air pollution compared to white people.

Nitrogen dioxide comes from sources like vehicle exhaust and power plants. Breathing NO2 is linked to asthma symptoms and heart disease.


The health impacts from the difference in levels between whites and nonwhites found in the study are substantial. For example, researchers estimate that if nonwhites breathed the lower NO2 levels experienced by whites, it would prevent 7,000 deaths from heart disease alone among nonwhites each year.


The researchers found that in most areas, lower-income nonwhites are more exposed than higher-income whites, and on average, race matters more than income in explaining differences in NO2 exposure. They also found that New York, Pennsylvania and Illinois had the largest exposure gaps between whites and nonwhites, irrespective of income.


New Method of Screening Children for Autism Spectrum Disorders Works at 9 Months Old

April 14, 2014

Researchers, including a team from Children’s National Health System, have identified head circumference and head tilting reflex as two reliable biomarkers in the identification of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) in children that are between 9 and 12 months of age.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ASD is identifiable as early as two years old, although most children are not identified until after the age of four. While a number of studies have reported that parents of children with ASD notice developmental problems in children before their first birthday, there has yet to be a screening tool to identify those children.


“As with all developmental delays, especially ASD, the sooner we can identify those children who are at risk, the sooner we can intervene and provide appropriate treatment. In other words, the sooner we identify these delays, the better the outcome for those affected.”

Charitable donation discrepancies: Why are some countries more generous than others?


Contact: Mary-Ann Twist
University of Chicago Press Journals

Charitable donation discrepancies: Why are some countries more generous than others?

When it comes to charitable giving, some countries open their collective wallets more than others. According to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, people who live in countries that promote equality in power and wealth are more likely to donate money than those who live in societies that expect and accept inequality.


Across several studies, the authors looked at the extent to which a country's overall power distance—the extent to which a society expects and accepts inequality in power or wealth—impacts prosocial behaviors like donating money, volunteering time, or helping a stranger.

Their findings indicated that people in countries with higher levels of inequality feel less responsibility for helping others. Examining the issue even further, the authors asked study participants to donate to a cause for which the need was uncontrollable (providing food after a natural disaster) versus controllable (offering nutrition and health education for obese and sedentary individuals).

When the need was uncontrollable, power distance did not have a negative effect on charitable behavior. Also, the authors noted that when individuals are focused on communal relationships, they saw a genuine concern for others and a greater sense of responsibility to offer help.


"It's not always the case that individuals in societies with inequality are less charitable. Rather, there are some conditions in which people feel less responsibility to offer aid due to the acceptance of inequality and are therefore less likely to engage in charitable behavior." the authors conclude.


Study examines vitamin D deficiency and cognition relationship


Contact: Bonnie Davis
Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center

Study examines vitamin D deficiency and cognition relationship

WINSTON-SALEM – April 15, 2014 – Vitamin D deficiency and cognitive impairment are common in older adults, but there isn't a lot of conclusive research into whether there's a relationship between the two.

A new study from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center published online ahead of print this month in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society enhances the existing literature on the subject.


"With just the baseline observational data, you can't conclude that low vitamin D causes cognitive decline. When we looked four years down the road, low vitamin D was associated with worse cognitive performance on one of the two cognitive tests used," Wilson said. "It is interesting that there is this association and ultimately the next question is whether or not supplementing vitamin D would improve cognitive function over time."


Cultivating happiness often misunderstood

Of course we would like to be "happy", but that is not the only goal for most people.

Stanford Report, April 14, 2014

The paradox of happiness is that chasing it may actually make us less happy, a Stanford researcher says.

So how does one find happiness? Effective ways exist, according to new research.

One path to happiness is through concrete, specific goals of benevolence – like making someone smile or increasing recycling – instead of following similar but more abstract goals – like making someone happy or saving the environment.

The reason is that when you pursue concretely framed goals, your expectations of success are more likely to be met in reality. On the other hand, broad and abstract goals may bring about happiness' dark side – unrealistic expectations.

Those are the conclusions of a study recently published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology by Jennifer Aaker, a social psychologist and the General Atlantic Professor of Marketing at Stanford Graduate School of Business. Co-authors are Melanie Rudd, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Houston, and Michael Norton, an associate professor of business at Harvard University. Rudd, who studied under Aaker at Stanford as a doctoral student, was the lead author on the study.


Aaker said, "Although the desire for personal happiness may be clear, the path to achieving it is indefinite. One reason for this hazy route to happiness is that although people often think they know what leads to happiness, their predictions about what will make them happy are often inaccurate."

One underappreciated way to increase one's own happiness is to focus on elevating the happiness of others.


when people pursue abstract prosocial goals and expect their relentless giving to result in tremendous and rapid change for the better – and it fails to materialize – they can suffer from "helper burnout," which can negatively impact happiness.


Real-time audio of corporal punishment shows kids misbehave within 10 minutes of spanking

A new study based on real-time audio recordings of parents practicing corporal punishment discovered that spanking was far more common than parents admit, that children were hit for trivial misdeeds and that children then misbehaved within 10 minutes of being punished.


“From the audio, we heard parents hitting their children for the most extraordinarily mundane offenses, typically violations of social conventions,” Holden said. “Also, corporal punishment wasn’t being used as a last resort. On average, parents hit or spanked just half a minute after the conflict began.”


In 90 percent of the incidents, noncompliance was the immediate cause, such as sucking fingers, eating improperly, getting out of a chair, and going outside without permission. In 49 percent of the incidents, the parent sounded angry prior to spanking or hitting. On average, less than 30 seconds elapsed from the time when parents initiated nonviolent discipline to when they used corporal punishment. In 30 of the 41 incidents, the children misbehaved again within 10 minutes of being hit or spanked. The youngest child hit was 7 months old. One mother hit her child 11 times in a row.
Most remarkably, the researchers noted an unusual finding: The rate of corporal punishment exceeded estimates in other studies, which relied on parents self-reporting. Those studies found that American parents of a 2-year-old typically report they spank or slap about 18 times a year.

“The average rate we observed using the real-time audio equates to an alarming 18 times a week,” said Holden, a professor in the SMU Department of Psychology who has carried out extensive research on spanking.


“Although spanking advocates may acknowledge these incidents as inappropriate use of corporal punishment, evidence indicates that mothers who report their child gets spanked are also more likely to report physical abuse of that child,” the authors noted.

tags: child abuse

The Single Mother, Child Poverty Myth

The truth is, many of the men available for marriage to poor women would just make things worse for the family.

Posted by Matt Bruenig on April 14, 2014

I see it often claimed that the high rate of child poverty in the US is a function of family composition.


One big problem with this claim is that family composition in the US is not that much different from family compositions in the famed low-poverty social democracies of Northern Europe, but they don't have anywhere near the rates of child poverty we have.

A number of studies have tested this family composition theory using cross-country income data and found, again and again, that family composition differences account for very little of the child poverty differences between the US and other countries.


Why the poverty rates differ so much is not mysterious: it's almost entirely about transfers (i.e. welfare programs). You can see this by looking at the poverty rate of children in single parent homes prior to taxes and transfers compared to the same poverty rate after taxes and transfers:

High poverty rates for children in single mother families is a policy choice. In the US, we decide in favor of it. In the Nordic social democracies, they decide against it.

Of course, it's not just children in single mother households that have elevated poverty rates in the US. The US has massively higher child poverty rates across all family types:


We plunge more than 1 in 5 of our nation's children into poverty because we choose to. It would be easy to dramatically cut that figure, but we'd rather not.

How to get rich: steal other people's land, kill them if they protest

Surge in deaths of environmental activists over past decade

Nina Lakhani, Tuesday 15 April 2014

The killing of activists protecting land rights and the environment has surged over the past decade, with nearly three times as many deaths in 2012 than 10 years previously, a new report has found.

Deadly Environment, an investigation by London-based Global Witness documents 147 recorded deaths in 2012, compared to 51 in 2002. Between 2002 and 2013, at least 908 activists were killed in 35 countries – with only 10 convictions. The death rate has risen in the past four years to an average of two activists a week, according to the report, which also documents 17 forced disappearances, all of whom are presumed dead.

Deaths in 2013 are likely to be higher than the 95 documented to date, the environmental rights organisation warned, with under-reporting and difficulties verifying killings in isolated areas in a number of African and Asian nations.


"Many of those facing threats are ordinary people opposing land grabs, mining operations and the industrial timber trade, often forced from their homes and severely threatened by environmental devastation," the report said. Others have been killed for protests over hydroelectric dams, pollution and wildlife conservation.


Oliver Courtney, senior campaigner at Global Witness, said: "There can be few starker or more obvious symptoms of the global environmental crisis than a dramatic upturn in killings of ordinary people defending rights to their environment and livelihoods from corporate and state abuse. Yet those responsible almost always get away with it, because governments are failing to protect their citizens and the international community is not paying enough attention to their plight."

The insatiable global appetite for gold, silver and other minerals is powering extractive industries in countries with weak institutions, and is linked to at least 150 deaths since 2002. This includes 46 extrajudicial killings of demonstrators around mining sites across Peru. There were also deaths linked to protests against contamination, waste disposal and conservation of coastlines and wildlife.

Indigenous communities are particularly hard hit. Several in Guatemala and Honduras told the Guardian that they were unaware their territory has been sold until machinery and security guards working for mining or hydroelectric companies appeared overnight. Their resistance efforts have been denigrated as anti-development and dozens of community leaders face dubious criminal and civil charges.

China's air pollution leading to more erratic climate for US, say scientists

Jonathan Kaiman in Beijing
Tuesday 15 April 2014

China's air pollution could be intensifying storms over the Pacific Ocean and altering weather patterns in North America, according to scientists in the US. A team from Texas, California and Washington state has found that pollution from Asia, much of it arising in China, is leading to more intense cyclones, increased precipitation and more warm air in the mid-Pacific moving towards the north pole.

According to the team's findings, which were released on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, these changes could ultimately contribute to erratic weather in the US.


Mid-latitude storms develop off Asia and they track across the Pacific, coming in to the west coast of the US," said Ellie Highwood, a climate physicist at the University of Reading. "The particles in this model are affecting how strong those storms are, how dense the clouds are, and how much rainfall comes out of those storms."

China is fighting to contain the environmental fallout from 30 years of unchecked growth. Of 74 Chinese cities monitored by the central government 71 failed to meet air quality standards, the environmental ministry said last month.


Study finds signs of brain changes in pot smokers


A small study of casual marijuana smokers has turned up evidence of changes in the brain, a possible sign of trouble ahead, researchers say. The young adults who volunteered for the study were not dependent on pot, nor did they show any marijuana-related problems.

"What we think we are seeing here is a very early indication of what becomes a problem later on with prolonged use," things like lack of focus and impaired judgment, said Dr. Hans Breiter, a study author.

Longer-term studies will be needed to see if such brain changes cause any symptoms over time, said Breiter, of the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and Massachusetts General Hospital.


Murat Yucel of Monash University in Australia, who has studied the brains of marijuana users but didn't participate in the new study, said in an email that the new results suggest "the effects of marijuana can occur much earlier than previously thought." Some of the effect may depend on a person's age when marijuana use starts, he said.

Another brain researcher, Krista Lisdahl of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, said her own work has found similar results. "I think the clear message is we see brain alterations before you develop dependence," she said.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Climate Change Drying Out Southwest Now, With Worse To Come For A Third Of The Planet

By Joe Romm on April 11, 2014

Two new studies confirm that warming-driven climate change is already drying the U.S. Southwest and other parts of the globe. More worrisome, nearly a third of the world’s land faces drying from rising greenhouse gases — including two of the world’s greatest agricultural centers, “the U.S. Great Plains and a swath of southeastern China.”

These studies add fuel to the growing bonfire of concerns about climate change and food security. As I wrote in the article on Dust-Bowlification I did for the journal Nature in 2011, “Feeding some 9 billion people by mid-century in the face of a rapidly worsening climate may well be the greatest challenge the human race has ever faced.”

The fact that global warming is already drying out large parts of the planet — and that it is on track to get much, much worse — is well understood by climate scientists.


Published this month in the journal Climate Dynamics, the study estimates that 12 percent of land will be subject to drought by 2100 through rainfall changes alone; but the drying will spread to 30 percent of land if higher evaporation rates from the added energy and humidity in the atmosphere are considered. An increase in evaporative drying means that even regions expected to get more rain, including important wheat, corn and rice belts in the western United States and southeastern China, will be at risk of drought.


We have been warned about this by leading climatologists for nearly a quarter of a century, now. The time to act was a long time ago, but now is infinitely better than later if you are at all concerned about how we are going to feed 9 billion people post-2050.

Antidepressant use in pregnancy linked to autism risk in boys

By/ Serena Gordon April 14, 2014

Boys with autism were three times more likely to have been exposed to antidepressants known as SSRIs in the womb than typically developing children, according to new research.

The new study also found that boys whose mothers took SSRIs -- drugs including Celexa, Lexapro, Paxil, Prozac and Zoloft -- during pregnancy were also more likely to have developmental delays.

Results of the study were published online April 14 and in the May print issue of Pediatrics.

"We found prenatal SSRI exposure was almost three times as likely in boys with autism spectrum disorders relative to typical development, with the greatest risk when exposure is during the first trimester," said study co-author Li-Ching Lee, an associate scientist in the department of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, in Baltimore.

While the study found an association between prenatal use of SSRI antidepressants and autism risk in boys, it did not prove cause-and-effect.

The study authors were quick to point out that there are risks to both the mother and fetus from untreated depression.


Lunar eclipse tonight

Much of the U.S. will not be able to see it because of cloudy skies.

In 2014, there are two solar eclipses and two total lunar eclipses

The lunar eclipse tonight is the first of four consecutive total lunar eclipses in 2014 and 2015.

The term, Blood Moon, has recently become popular while referring to the total lunar eclipses of the tetrad that will occur in 2014 and 2015. This term has no technical or astronomical basis and it is unclear where such a description comes from.

One theory about why these eclipses are being called Blood Moon eclipses comes from the fact that the full Moon can sometimes appear bright coppery red during a total lunar eclipse.

Where is the eclipse visible:

West in Europe, South/East Asia, Much of Australia, Much of Africa, Much of North America, Much of South America, Pacific, Atlantic, Indian Ocean, Antarctica

Shows various locations being able to see at least parts of the eclipse. Links show info for specific locations.

IPCC: Cost of Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change Super-Affordable if We Act Now

By: Dr. Jeff Masters, 7:10 PM GMT on April 13, 2014

Climate change is a huge threat to civilization if we do nothing more to reduce it, but the costs are very affordable if we start now, said the Nobel-prize winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) today, in the third installment of their once-every-seven-years report on the climate. Today's report on mitigation--how we can slow down climate change--was the most hopeful of the reports, since it found that the cost of keeping global warming under the "dangerous" level of 2°C will only reduce "consumption growth" of the global economy by 0.06% per year if we start immediately and act strongly. Since consumption growth is expected to increase between 1.6% and 3% per year in the coming decades, we’re talking about annual growth that is, for example, 2% rather than 2.06%. This is a small price to pay to greatly decrease the risks of increased hunger, thirst, disease, refugees, and war outlined in the IPCC's frightening Working Group 2 report on risks and adaptation released two weeks ago. Today's report was authored by 235 scientists from 58 countries, and was approved by the governments of every nation of the world who cared to send a representative to the week-long approval meeting in Berlin, Germany.


Emissions of greenhouse gases are rising at a near-record pace. Greenhouse gas emissions grew 2.2% per year between 2000 - 2010, compared to a rate of 1.3% per year between 1979 - 2000. The increase was 3% per year between 2010 - 2011, and 1 - 2% from 2011 - 2012. About 76% of the greenhouse gases emitted were in the form of CO2, with 16% from methane. In 2010, ten countries accounted for about 70% of the world's CO2 emissions from fossil fuels and industrial processes. About half of the cumulative human-caused CO2 emissions between 1750 and 2010 have occurred in the last 40 years.


Keeping Earth's temperature rise below 2°C will have additional co-benefits. For example:
1) Reducing air pollution. The World Health Organization reported that in 2012 about 7 million people died--one in eight of total global deaths--as a result of air pollution exposure.
2) Improving energy security, leading to less price volatility and fewer supply disruptions.
3) Environmental protection.


Economic and population growth are the main drivers of greenhouse gas emissions. We've grown far more efficient at producing goods using less energy, meaning that the "energy intensity" of the global economy steadily declined from 2000 - 2010. However, increasing economic growth and population growth have outpaced the decline in energy intensity, resulting in higher greenhouse gas emissions. "Without additional efforts to reduce GHG emissions beyond those in place today, emissions growth is expected to persist driven by growth in global population and economic activities." If we take no additional measures to slow down human-caused climate change, the planet is expected to warm by about 4°C by 2100 compared to per-industrial levels. That's the same difference in temperature as between today's climate and the Ice Age.


If your school, chamber of commerce, church, library, or community club needs a local expert on climate science to come speak, the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) and the United Nations Foundation can help out, thanks to a new effort called The organization has more than 160 volunteer experts from al 50 states in a database that is searchable by geographic location, expertise, and languages spoken. If you are have expertise in climate science and are interested in volunteering for this network, please go to and create a profile. I have my own set of slides I use for such talks that anyone is welcome to borrow from, available at

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Welcome To Shawnee, Oklahoma: The Worst City In America To Be Homeless


Gary Lynn Roy was too poor to live indoors. At night, even when it was cold, even when it snowed, he slept outside. He had no choice.

There are plenty of reasons why he was poor. He’d earn occasional pay as a builder, but construction jobs were too few. Nor did it help that he and his twin brother Larry used to drink heavily together.


By late 2012, though, Gary seemed to be turning things around. He’d stopped drinking. He’d found a construction job. Things were looking up.

Then, while working on a roof one day, he fell. The impact broke both his legs. He couldn’t move without a walker, so construction work was out of the question. “Sleeping outside is hard enough, but then having a hard time getting around and being cold?” Blankenship told ThinkProgress. “He just had to be miserable.”


Roy died, as so many homeless do, surrounded by homes. He may have even helped build some of them, knowing he himself couldn’t afford to be in one. Authorities discovered his body the next day, lying in the snow. He would have been 50 today. He’ll forever be 49.


It didn’t have to be that way. Less than a mile from where Roy froze to death, there was supposed to be a brand new shelter for Shawnee’s homeless to come get a meal, supportive services, and a warm place to rest their heads, especially during the ravages of an Oklahoma winter. Blankenship’s non-profit had recently won a major grant — nearly half a million dollars — to upgrade its facilities into an overnight shelter that would serve the city’s homeless.

And yet the shelter was never built. A dozen blocks away from where Roy slept outside for the final time, there are still no beds. Standing between Roy and dozens of new shelter beds that night was one wealthy city commissioner and a city that has declared all-out war on its homeless residents.


But in January 2011, it looked as though the shelter situation was about to improve. Seven months before Branscum was killed and two years before Roy’s death, the Rescue Mission won a grant from the Affordable Housing Program, a private organization that funds affordable housing ventures across the country, for $450,000. The money was earmarked to convert the Rescue Mission from a faith-based food pantry and soup kitchen to a full-service shelter, complete with a commercial kitchen, bathrooms and showers, a day center, and enough beds for 23 men, 11 women, and three families.

Blankenship was ecstatic. The project would allow Shawnee to double its capacity to serve the city’s homeless population, and best of all, “it wouldn’t have cost the city a dime,” he told ThinkProgress. To this day, a news story about that grant is the very first thing visitors to Shawnee Rescue Mission’s website read.

All he needed before renovations could begin was a simple administrative tweak from the city commission to change the building’s zoning classification.

Commissioner James Harrod is a wealthy man. Not just wealthy for the Shawnee area, but wealthy for any area. Combing through city deeds and rental websites, ThinkProgress was able to identify at least 58 separate properties throughout Shawnee that he and/or his wife, Kaye Steele Harrod, own. Zillow, an online real estate database, estimates that the collective value of their real estate holdings is more than $3.5 million.

Like most homeowners, not to mention landlords, Harrod and his wife care a great deal about their property values. In fact, the couple once went so far as to sue the City Commission — which Harrod was serving on — in an attempt to block construction of a $4.5 million apartment complex that would serve some low-income residents because it was near some of their properties. The Commission had voted six to one to approve the project in 2003; Harrod cast the sole dissenting vote. Their lawsuit was eventually dismissed.


The public was on the Rescue Mission’s side. Of the 19 citizens who voiced their opinions about the re-zoning request at the first hearing on September 5th, three-quarters of them spoke in favor, while just five testified against. This overwhelming public support for the Rescue Mission was also evident in letters written to the Planning Commission after it solicited more input from residents. More than 30 letters poured in, favoring the new shelter nearly two-to-one.

One letter from J.R. Kidney, a police officer in Pottawatomie County for nearly two decades, gave a first-hand account of the need for another shelter. “I have had to help many people over the years find shelter, whether it is for a victim of domestic abuse or a homeless family,” Kidney wrote. “There are times when we are unable to get people the help they need at the facilities that are currently in place. Many times we cannot use those facilities for reasons due to their rules, no room etc.” Others like Linda Holley pointed to the inadequate supply of family shelter units in town. “It is heartbreaking to see a family torn apart when their child has to be taken away because there are not enough places in our town for families such as this to be sheltered together.”


Opponents of the plan, both citizens and officials, center their argument on two claims: first, that there was no need for a second shelter, and second, that the Rescue Mission shelter would hurt nearby property values and this was a cost that outweighed any benefits the project might bring.

Yet there is an inherent contradiction in making these claims simultaneously. Either there wasn’t demand for more shelter beds, in which case there would be little impact on the surrounding neighborhood, or there was demand for more shelter beds, in which case another shelter was necessary.

One of those claiming that no need for additional shelter existed was Harrod. When ThinkProgress asked him about Roy’s death and whether critics who say there aren’t enough shelter beds in Shawnee, especially in the wintertime, are right, he responded, “That’s not true,” claiming that Roy had willfully decided not to go to the Salvation Army because it had too many rules. Similarly, according to the Commission’s staff report, the Rescue Mission “has not provided any demonstration of need” that the Salvation Army can’t cover.

Most interested citizens disagreed with this conclusion, even Salvation Army volunteers. “There simply is too much need for one organization to cover all the problems of the needy and homeless in our area,” one Shawnee Salvation Army volunteer, Raymond H. Mullen, wrote.


The other reason that residents gave for opposing the Rescue Mission proposal was its supposed effect on property values in the area. One of the primary people leading the charge was Kaye Steele Harrod. “Mrz Lizzies [Harrod’s home rental company] has invested $425,000 to $450,000 within 300 feet of the Mission and now property values have plummeted,” she wrote in a letter to the Commission, saying that tenants had recently moved out “due to their fears and not feeling safe and secure in their homes.” If the Commission were to approve the re-zoning request, she warned, “We would be promoting all homeless to come to Shawnee and receive free room and board.”

The staff report conceded that “a review of research papers and literature provides no information that homeless shelters decrease property values,” but it still argued that, “Based on letters from the public, the current limited operations at the facility (204 N. Louisa),” referring to the Rescue Mission’s food pantry and meal service, “appear to have had major impacts on the neighborhood.”

A review of research papers and literature provides no information that homeless shelters decrease property values.

But who wrote these letters? Of the 12 letters submitted to the Commission, five came from Kaye, Harrod’s daughter, or Harrod’s son-in-law. In other words, nearly half the opposition to the Rescue Mission came from relatives of Harrod.


ThinkProgress identified four rental properties owned by Kaye that are within two blocks of the Rescue Mission and reviewed property records as well as tax assessments over the past five years to see whether their claim that property values have plummeted had any merit. Zillow estimates that the property values have actually increased an average of 7 percent in the past five years. In addition, the Pottawatomie County Tax Assessor’s office confirmed that the taxable value of each property was unchanged since 2009.


Either way, the Harrod family’s letters achieved their intended effect. On October 10th, the Planning Commission unanimously rejected the Rescue Mission’s re-zoning application. When the matter came before the City Commission, which had the final say, on November 5th, Commissioner Harrod moved that the re-zoning request be denied and cast the first “no” vote. The Rescue Mission lost six to one. Without permission to re-zone the building, the group had no choice but to return the $450,000 grant. The shelter that seemed like a sure thing at the beginning of the year was now dead.

Harrod wasn’t done, though. Two weeks later, he requested that the Commission place a moratorium on the opening of any new homeless shelter in Shawnee. His daughter was one of the few who testified in favor. The motion passed five to one.


This Baby Has Whooping Cough, And Her Mother Wants More People To Get Their Vaccines


One Toronto-area mother has taken to Facebook to warn people about the dangerous consequences of skipping out on their recommended vaccines. At the beginning of this month, Meghan Mcnutt-Anderson posted the above photo of her five-week-old daughter, Brielle, on the social media site. Brielle is in the hospital with whooping cough — a preventable disease that can be deadly in very small children.
“This is why you immunize your children!” Mcnutt-Anderson wrote in an angry post that has now been shared over 35,000 times. “We have spent the last 3 days in the hospital at her bedside holding her up and patting her back as she coughs. You see, every time she coughs she stops breathing, turns blue and goes limp. She has too much mucous and her airways are too small to cough it up and they become blocked and we have to manually help her pass it. We will likely be doing this to Brielle for the next 2 weeks at least.”
Babies like Brielle are too young to receive a whooping cough vaccine and are reliant on what’s called herd immunity. If infants come into contact with older individuals who haven’t been vaccinated, they can easily contract the highly contagious bacterial infection.
Over the past several years, North America has been experiencing a dramatic resurgence of whooping cough, a public health issue that’s been directly tied to an increasing number of parents failing to vaccinate their kids. States that allow parents to easily opt their kids out of their recommended shots, like California and Washington, have struggled the most with the spread of this preventable disease.
“If you are considering not immunizing your children, think first about the people you put at risk who CAN’T get the immunization,” Mcnutt-Anderson pointed out in her Facebook post. “If our story makes one parent choose to immunize their children that otherwise wouldn’t have, lives can be saved.”
Mcnutt-Anderson isn’t the only parent trying to spread this message. An Illinois mother whose three sons have a genetic immune system deficiency, and therefore can’t get vaccines themselves, recently published a blog post imploring other parents to help protect them from contracting preventable diseases. Her kids are entirely reliant on herd immunity, and just one unvaccinated classmate could pose a serious threat. “If you are a parent who is vaccine-hesitant or who has chosen not to vaccinate, my plea to you is this: My kids are my heart and soul, just as yours are to you, and I need your help to keep them healthy and safe. I would do the same for you,” she explained.
But it’s already too late for other families, some of whom are now turning their personal tragedies into public health lessons for the broader community. Another mother in Illinois, whose six-day-old infant died from whooping cough two years ago, is currently lobbying the Illinois Department of Health to spread more information about vaccination to prevent other children from dying. And a Massachusetts mother is telling the story of her 9-week-old son’s death to encourage other people to take whooping cough seriously.
In addition to whooping cough, other preventable diseases like measles are also currently making a comeback. The vaccine that prevents measles, mumps, and rubella has been plagued by controversy thanks to the widely debunked theory that it can increase some kids’ risk of autism. Celebrities like Jenny McCarthy and Kristin Cavallari continue to give air time to this dangerous conspiracy theory. Meanwhile, measles outbreaks are worsening across the country, and public health officials are imploring Americans to make sure they’ve gotten all their shots.

Voters are told to hold everything - yes, everything - at some polling places

How lucky Florida is to be run by Republicans. [sarcasm]

April 9, 2014|By Anthony Man, Sun Sentinel

Broward and Palm Beach County voters can rest easy. Elections supervisors in the two counties say they won’t implement the restroom ban imposed by Miami-Dade County.

In the state’s most populous county, voters who need to go while waiting to vote aren’t allowed to do so.

The media office at the Miami-Dade County Elections Department didn’t respond to a request for information about the rule. But it’s detailed by county officials in email exchanges with a disability rights lawyer.

“It’s absolutely stunning,” said Marc Dubin director of advocacy for the Center for Independent Living of South Florida, which serves people with disabilities in Miami-Dade County. He’s a former senior trialattorney in the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, where he was responsible for ADA enforcement.

“It is a current policy of the Department of Elections. It’s in effect right now,” Dubin said.


Miami-Dade County’s Elections Department implemented the restroom denial policy for everyone after advocates for the disabled sought to ensure that all polling place facilities were accessible to people with disabilities.

A Feb. 14, 2014 email from Assistant County Attorney Shanika Graves states that “the [Elections] the Department’s policy is not to permit access to restrooms at polling sites on election days. Restrooms are open to voters during early voting because early voting is held at public facilities. However, public and private facilities are used as polling sites on election days. Private facilities are governed by private landlords, not the County. This policy was implemented to avoid situations where accessible restrooms would be available to some, but not all voters.”


In written testimony for the hearing, Dubin said the decision to close restrooms would “undoubtedly reduce the number of voters casting a vote on Election Day, and will significantly further reduce the ability of voters with mobility disabilities to participate in the electoral process…. How many voters, when learning that there is no restroom available, will simply choose not to vote?”