Friday, September 25, 2015

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

http://www.aarp.org/money/taxes/info-2006/volunteer_aarp_tax_aide.html

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

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Expansion of relief for inaccurate 1095 Marketplace documents

http://blog.cms.gov/2015/03/20/an-update-for-consumers-about-corrected-1095-as/

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Today, the Department of the Treasury is expanding the relief it announced previously on February 24, which will mitigate any harm to tax filers. If you enrolled in Marketplace coverage, received an incorrect Form 1095-A, and filed your return based on that form, you do not need to file an amended tax return. The IRS will not pursue the collection of any additional taxes from you based on updated information in the corrected forms. This relief applies to tax filers who enrolled through the Federally-facilitated marketplace or a state-based marketplace.

As before, you still may choose to file an amended return. Treasury intends to provide additional information to help tax filers determine whether they would benefit from filing amended returns. You also may want to consult with you tax preparers to determine if you would benefit from amending. For more information on the Treasury announcement, see Treasury’s statement and consumer FAQs.

While Treasury expects that in the vast majority of cases the impact on a consumer’s tax refund or bill, if any, will be very small, we know that we have a responsibility to identify these issues quickly, understand the impact and reach out to you with the information you need. Issues that negatively impact your experience are not acceptable and we are focused on providing a smoother consumer experience. If you have not received your original or corrected form or have any questions about the information on your form, reach out to the Marketplace call center or your state Marketplace.

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Obamacare Tax Extension - between March 15 and April 30

http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/obamacare-deadline/feds-grant-obamacare-tax-extension-n309601

There's another Obamacare break — the administration is offering a special enrollment period for Americans who didn't realize they would have to pay a tax if they don't have health insurance.

"This special enrollment period will allow those individuals and families who were unaware or didn't understand the implications of this new requirement to enroll in 2015 health insurance coverage through the federally facilitated marketplace," the Health and Human Services Department said in a statement. People will be able to sign up for private health insurance on the Obamacare exchanges between March 15 and April 30.

"If consumers do not purchase coverage for 2015 during this special enrollment period, they may have to pay a fee when they file their 2015 income taxes," HHS said.

Also Friday, government officials acknowledged they goofed when they sent tax forms to about 800,000 Americans who got federal subsidies last year through Obamacare. Those people will receive corrected forms to use in filing their 2014 taxes.

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http://www.cms.gov/Newsroom/MediaReleaseDatabase/Press-releases/2015-Press-releases-items/2015-02-20.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/02/20/obamacare-deadline-extension_n_6720496.html

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Snow melting 16 days earlier in Wyoming mountains

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/snow-melting-16-days-earlier-in-wyoming-mountains/

By/ Becky Oskin/Livescience.com/March 26, 2015

The spring snowmelt now comes more than two weeks earlier than it did in the 1970s in Wyoming's Wind River Range, a new study finds.

The trend is part of a larger snow shortfall across the Western United States documented by many researchers. Several independent studies have found the spring snowmelt starts up to 20 days earlier in the West than in the past because there's less snow falling each winter and warmer spring weather means the snow that does fall melts earlier. The double whammy is hurting water resources in states, such as Wyoming, that rely on snowmelt.

"Earlier snowmelt impacts the water resources of most of the state of Wyoming, which has been undergoing a drought since 1999," Dorothy Hall, lead author of the study and a senior research scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said in a statement.

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Tthe forgetful side effect of frequent recall

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2015-03/uob-nio031115.php

Public Release: 16-Mar-2015
University of Birmingham

A new study from the University of Birmingham and the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences unit in Cambridge has shown how intentional recall is beyond a simple reawakening of a memory; and actually leads us to forget other competing experiences that interfere with retrieval. Quite simply, the very act of remembering may be one of the major reasons why we forget.

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Over the course of four selective retrievals the participants in the study were cued to retrieve a target memory, which became more vivid with each trial. Competing memories were less well reactivated as each trial was carried out, and indeed were pushed below baseline expectations for memory, supporting the idea that an active suppression of memory was taking place.

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Dr Wimber continued, "Forgetting is often viewed as a negative thing, but of course, it can be incredibly useful when trying to overcome a negative memory from our past. So there are opportunities for this to be applied in areas to really help people."

The team note that being able to decode how the brain goes about suppressing competing information needs to be acknowledged in a number of situations; not least in the judicial process.

Dr Wimber said, "It has significance for anything that relies on memory, but a really good example is that of eyewitness testimonies. When a witness is asked to recall specific information about an event, and they are quizzed time and time again, it could well be to the detriment of associated memories - giving the impression that their memory is sketchy. In fact, the repeated recall is causing them to forget these details."

The findings of this research are not restricted to specific memory types. Semantic memory, episodic memory and even recently acquired short-term memories are impacted by the forgetful side effect of frequent recall.

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Oncologists reveal reasons for high cost of cancer drugs in the US, recommend solutions

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2015-03/mc-orr031215.php

Public Release: 16-Mar-2015
Mayo Clinic

Increasingly high prices for cancer drugs are affecting patient care in the U.S. and the American health care system overall, say the authors of a special article published online in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

"Americans with cancer pay 50 percent to 100 percent more for the same patented drug than patients in other countries," says S. Vincent Rajkumar, M.D., of Mayo Clinic Cancer Center, who is one of the authors. "As oncologists we have a moral obligation to advocate for affordable cancer drugs for our patients."

Dr. Rajkumar and his colleague, Hagop Kantarjian, M.D., of MD Anderson Cancer Center, say the average price of cancer drugs for about a year of therapy increased from $5,000 to $10,000 before 2000 to more than $100,000 by 2012. Over nearly the same period the average household income in the U.S. decreased by about 8 percent.

In the paper, the authors rebut the major arguments the pharmaceutical industry uses to justify the high price of cancer drugs, namely, the expense of conducting research and drug development, the comparative benefits to patients, that market forces will settle prices to reasonable levels, and that price controls on cancer drugs will stifle innovation.

"One of the facts that people do not realize is that cancer drugs for the most part are not operating under a free market economy," says Dr. Rajkumar. "The fact that there are five approved drugs to treat an incurable cancer does not mean there is competition. Typically, the standard of care is that each drug is used sequentially or in combination, so that each new drug represents a monopoly with exclusivity granted by patent protection for many years."

Drs. Rajkumar and Kantarjian say other reasons for the high cost of cancer drugs include legislation that prevents Medicare from being able to negotiate drug prices and a lack of value- based pricing, which ties the cost of a drug to its relative effectiveness compared to other drugs.

The authors recommend a set of potential solutions to help control and reduce the high cost of cancer drugs in the U.S. Some of their recommendations are already in practice in other developed countries.

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•Eliminate "pay-for-delay" strategies in which a pharmaceutical company with a brand name drug shares profits on that drug with a generic drug manufacturer for the remainder of a patent period, effectively eliminating a patent challenge and competition.

[Drug companies also pay generic companies to not make drugs even after the patent has run out.]

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Solar could meet California energy demand 3 to 5 times over

And scientists are discovering how to make more efficient solar devices, so even less space could supply enough solar power.

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2015-03/ci-scm031315.php

Public Release: 16-Mar-2015
Carnegie Institution

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New work from Carnegie's Rebecca R. Hernandez (now at University of California Berkley), Madison K. Hoffacker, and Chris Field found that the amount of energy that could be generated from solar equipment constructed on and around existing infrastructure in California would exceed the state's demand by up to five times. It is published by Nature Climate Change.

"Integrating solar facilities into the urban and suburban environment causes the least amount of land-cover change and the lowest environmental impact," Hernandez explained.

Just over 8 percent of all of the terrestrial surfaces in California have been developed by humans--from cities and buildings to park spaces. Residential and commercial rooftops present plenty of opportunity for power generation through small- and utility-scale solar power installations. Other compatible opportunities are available in open urban spaces such as parks.

Likewise, there is opportunity for additional solar construction in undeveloped sites that are not ecologically sensitive or federally protected, such as degraded lands.

"Because of the value of locating solar power-generating operations near roads and existing transmission lines, our tool identifies potentially compatible sites that are not remote, showing that installations do not necessarily have to be located in deserts," Hernandez said.

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The team's work shows it is possible to substantially increase the fraction of California's energy needs met by solar, without converting natural habitat and causing adverse environmental impact and without moving solar installations to locations remote from the consumers.

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Pollution levels linked to stroke-related narrowing of arteries

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2015-03/nlmc-pll031315.php

Public Release: 16-Mar-2015
NYU Langone Medical Center / New York University School of Medicine

Air pollution has been linked to a dangerous narrowing of neck arteries that occurs prior to strokes, according to researchers at NYU Langone Medical Center.

The scientists analyzed medical test records for more than 300,000 people living in New York, New Jersey or Connecticut. They found that people living in zip codes with the highest average levels of fine-particulate-matter pollution were significantly more likely to show signs of narrowing (stenosis) in their internal carotid arteries, compared to those living in zip codes with the lowest pollution levels.

•••••

Medical researchers have noticed since the 1950s that episodes of high air pollution can bring temporary jumps in local heart attack and stroke cases. More recent studies have linked heart attack and stroke risks to long-term pollution exposures as well, including PM 2.5 exposures.

•••••

The researchers' analysis showed that subjects in the top fourth of tri-state zip codes, ranked by average PM 2.5 levels, were about 24 percent more likely than those in the bottom quarter to have shown signs of stenosis--defined as a narrowing by at least half--in either internal carotid artery.

"Our study was a population study, so it can't establish cause and effect, but it certainly suggests the hypothesis that lowering pollution levels would reduce the incidence of carotid artery stenosis and stroke," says Dr. Newman.

Scientists aren't yet sure how air pollution contributes to vascular disease. Studies have indicated that it may do so in part by causing adverse chemical changes to cholesterol in the blood, by promoting inflammation, and by making blood platelets more likely to form clots.

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Study: Past warming increased snowfall on Antarctica, affecting global sea level

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2015-03/osu-spw031315.php

Public Release: 16-Mar-2015
Oregon State University

A new study confirms that snowfall in Antarctica will increase significantly as the planet warms, offsetting future sea level rise from other sources - but the effect will not be nearly as strong as many scientists previously anticipated because of other, physical processes.

That means that many computer models may be underestimating the amount and rate of sea level rise if they had projected more significant impact from Antarctic snow.

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So Clark and his colleagues looked to the past to examine ice core data to see what they could learn about the future. They found that ice cores taken from the Antarctic Ice Sheet captured snow accumulation over time - and they could match that accumulation with established temperature data. They focused on a period from 21,000 years ago to 10,000 years ago - when the Earth gradually came out of the last ice age.

What they found was that Antarctica warmed an average of 5 to 10 degrees (Celsius) during that period - and for every degree of warming, there was a 5 percent increase in snowfall.

"The additional weight of the snow would have increased the ice flow into the ocean offsetting some of the limiting effect on sea level rise," said Katja Frieler, a climatologist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany and the lead author of the study. "It's basic ice physics."

The scientists found that the ice core results agreed with projections from three dozen computer models used to calculate future changes in snowfall. The end result, Clark said, is that projected increasing snowfall will still have a limiting effect on sea level rise, but that impact will be some 20 percent less than previously expected.

"Looking at the past gives us more confidence in anticipating what will happen in the future," Clark noted. "The validation through ice core studies helps ground truth the computer models."

Clark, a professor in Oregon State's College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, was coordinating lead author on sea level change for the fifth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report.

Zinc acetate lozenges may help shorten symptoms associated with the common cold

I have found zinc in various forms & doses helpful when I am sick. I take lower doses more frequently. I judge how much is right for me by how long it takes before I stop feeling better.
For me, about 23 mg every two hours or 50 mg every 4 hours works.
Be sure to take with food, to avoid nausea!
Pay attention to your body.

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2015-03/uoh-hdz031615.php

Public Release: 16-Mar-2015
University of Helsinki

According to a meta-analysis published in BMC Family Practice, high dose zinc acetate lozenges may help shorten diverse symptoms associated with the common cold.

The common cold is an infection caused by over a hundred viruses, and it is a major cause of days off school or work and visits to a doctor.

A previous meta-analysis of three randomized trials found that high dose zinc acetate lozenges shorten the duration of colds by 42%. Since all of the three studies reported the duration of diverse respiratory symptoms and of systemic symptoms such as muscle ache and headache, Harri Hemilä from Helsinki, Finland and Elizabeth Chalker from Sydney, Australia decided to investigate whether there are differences in the effect of zinc lozenges on different common-cold symptoms.

When zinc acetate lozenges dissolve in the mouth, zinc ions are released into the saliva of the pharyngeal region where the levels are consequently high. Therefore the effects of zinc lozenges might be greatest on symptoms of the pharyngeal region such as sore throat, and less on nasal symptoms. However, when Hemilä and Chalker pooled together the results of the three studies, they found no evidence that the effects of zinc lozenges are less for nasal symptoms compared with respiratory symptoms originating from lower anatomical regions.

According to the calculations by Hemilä and Chalker, high dose zinc acetate lozenges shortened the duration of nasal discharge by 34%, nasal congestion by 37%, sneezing by 22%, scratchy throat by 33%, sore throat by 18%, hoarseness by 43%, and cough by 46%. Furthermore, they found strong evidence that zinc lozenges also shortened the duration of muscle ache by 54%. On the other hand, there was no evidence of zinc effect on the duration of headache and fever. However, the latter two symptoms were infrequent in the three studies and therefore no definite conclusions can be drawn on headache and fever.

Adverse effects of zinc were minor in the three studies. Therefore Hemilä and Chalker conclude from their research that "zinc acetate lozenges releasing zinc ions at doses of about 80 mg/day may be a useful treatment for the common cold, started within 24 hours, for a time period of less than two weeks."

Losing weight substantially reduces atrial fibrillation

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2015-03/acoc-lws031615.php

Public Release: 16-Mar-2015
American College of Cardiology

Obese patients with atrial fibrillation who lost at least 10 percent of their body weight were six times more likely to achieve long-term freedom from this common heart rhythm disorder compared to those who did not lose weight, according to a study presented at the American College of Cardiology's 64th Annual Scientific Session.

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Sufficient sleep is important for healthy sexual desire

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2015-03/w-ssi031615.php

Public Release: 16-Mar-2015
Wiley

In a study of 171 women, those who obtained more sleep on a given night experienced greater sexual desire the next day. Reflecting sleep's impact on sexual desire, each additional hour of sleep increased the likelihood of sexual activity with a partner by 14%.

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Gaye Children give their side on 'Blurred Lines' Verdict

I wasn't at the trial, and haven't yet listened to the two songs, so I don't have an opinion on whether the verdict was right, or if the Gaye children's statements are accurate.

http://www.billboard.com/biz/articles/news/legal-and-management/6502546/gaye-children-pen-open-letter-to-set-the-record

By Colin Stutz | March 18, 2015

Marvin Gaye's children have written an open letter in hopes to "set the record straight on a few misconceptions" surrounding their winning case against Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams over the 2013 hit "Blurred Lines."

Nona Gaye, Frankie Gaye and Marvin Gaye III's joint letter explores the lasting legacy of their father's "Got to Give It Up," which a jury recently ruled had been copied by Thicke and Williams.

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An Open Letter from the Children of Marvin Gaye 3/18/15

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However, most songwriting begins with an organic approach; a songwriter brings his or her influences to the table and then works creatively from a blank slate in the crafting of their song to ensure originality and the integrity of their creation. If Mr. Thicke and Mr. Williams had tried to create a new song and coincidentally infused "Got to Give It Up" into their work, instead of deliberately undertaking to "write a song with the same groove," we would probably be having a different conversation.

[I would say this is not accurate. Many songs are written to fit into a certain genre. Eg., blues songs often follow a certain pattern, and try to have a blues sound. Rock & Roll songs try to sound like Rock & Roll, etc.]

Like most artists, they could have licensed and secured the song for appropriate usage; a simple procedure usually arranged in advance of the song's release. This did not happen. We would have welcomed a conversation with them before the release of their work. This also did not happen.

[They would not have done this unless they considered their song to be the same as another.]

Instead of licensing our father's song and giving him the appropriate songwriter credit, Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams released "Blurred Lines" and then filed a pre-emptive lawsuit against us, forcing us into court. [Did the Gaye children contact them & demand royalties before the lawsuit was filed? If so, the lawsuit is understandable.] They sought to quickly affirm that their song was "starkly different," than "Got to Give It Up." The Judge denied their motion for Summary Judgement, and a jury was charged with determining the "extrinsic and intrinsic similarities" of the songs. The jury has spoken.

We wanted to also make clear that the jury was not permitted to listen to the actual sound recording of "Got to Give It Up." Our dad's powerful vocal performance of his own song along with unique background sounds were eliminated from the trial, and the copyright infringement was based entirely on the similarity of the basic musical compositions, not on "style," or "feel," or "era," or "genre." His song is so iconic that its basic composition stood strong. We feel this further amplifies the soundness of the verdict.

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How the jury in the ‘Blurred Lines’ case was misled

Do people really think that only one song with a similar "feel" should be written? That would be crazy.

http://theconversation.com/how-the-jury-in-the-blurred-lines-case-was-misled-38751

Wendy Gordon
William Fairfield Warren Distinguished Professor and Professor of Law at Boston University
Mar. 17, 2015

Last week, a jury in California decided that Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke should pay $7.4 million to the family of Marvin Gaye, finding that Williams' and Thicke’s 2013 song “Blurred Lines” unlawfully copied Gaye’s 1977 hit “Got to Give It Up.”

At play here is whether or not the composition of “Got to Give It Up” (ie, what can be reflected in sheet music) was too closely copied in the music produced by Thicke and Williams. It’s a different question from comparing the recorded tracks, which do have some obvious similarities. For example, “Blurred Lines” and “Got to Give It Up” are both dominated by falsetto male voices that are high, shrill and happy. [This should not show copyright infringement.] But Gaye’s copyright registration was on hand-lettered sheet music that directs neither an upbeat mood nor use of a falsetto vocal technique.

Recognizing this discrepancy, the judge only permitted the jury to hear renditions of the sheet music and stripped-down, edited versions of the Gaye sound recording. On the surface, this would have made it more difficult for Gaye’s family to win: compared to Gaye’s recorded version of “Got to Give It Up,” the simpler, stripped down versions probably sound far less like “Blurred Lines.” Nevertheless, the jury ruled for the Gaye estate.

So what happened?

A closer look shows that the judge erred in his instructions to the jury by blurring the lines between what does and doesn’t constitute copyright infringement.

It’s crucial for a jury to be told that “unlawful copying” only arises if the claimant’s evidence satisfies two tests: the factual question of “did they copy,” and the subsequent question of whether the copying was legally improper.

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In copyright law, the second criterion is particularly fuzzy. The courts give various (unhelpful) names to this second test, such as “substantial similarity” or “improper appropriation.” Essentially the judge will ask the jury whether the copying of protected elements was “too much.”

But big problems arise when only the first criterion (whether any copying took place to begin with) is emphasized to an extent that it drowns out the second.

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Copying something original is often perfectly lawful, not to mention ethical. People find inspiration in past works all the time. Copying an idea – even an idea that’s original – is not merely within the law: it’s encouraged by it.

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What’s not lawful is to copy too much expression – that is, the details of the copied artist’s aesthetic and organizational choices. At some point, as these details accumulate, enough expression might be copied to be considered “substantial.”

The difference between lawful copying of ideas and “substantial” copying of expression is what the jury should have focused on in the Blurred Lines case – at least, if they were persuaded that copying occurred.

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Finally, Instruction 43 – a confusing welter of legal jargon – also suggests to jurors that copying an idea can count as infringement. The jurors are told, among other things, to notice if the claimant’s work and the other work possess a similarity of ideas. The instruction then tells jurors that they can find infringement if they perceive that the “total concept and feel” of the two works “are substantially similar.” The instruction does not tell the jurors to disregard any similarity in “concept and feel” that results merely from the same ideas being used in the works being compared. As a result, the jury may think itself duty-bound to find infringement if two songs have the same “feel” simply because the songs share the same idea – in which case, the jury will have been led to a misguided conclusion.

Because of the trial court’s poor instructions, a retrial of the “Blurred Lines” controversy might eventually be ordered by the Court of Appeal for the Ninth Circuit (less formally known as the “Court of Appeal for the Hollywood Circuit”).

Unfortunately, the Ninth Circuit’s own copyright decisions are full of similar confusions, and leave open the exact possibility exposed by the the “Blurred Lines” case: that use of a predecessor’s idea might result in infringement.

Artists seek inspiration from the past. Through borrowing and building upon ideas and “grooves” from those who came before, culture evolves. In this respect, the “Blurred Lines” verdict sets bad precedent for artists – and for the rest of us.

It’s no wonder that the outcome of this case makes musicians nervous.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Environmental tobacco smoke is associated with periodontitis in US non-smokers

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2015-03/iaa-ets031215.php

Public Release: 13-Mar-2015
International & American Associations for Dental Research

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Periodontitis affects approximately 47% of adults in the United States and the U.S. Surgeon General has concluded that cigarette smoking is one of its causes. Despite numerous adverse health effects of environmental tobacco smoke (ETS), an association between periodontitis and this "second-hand smoke" in non-smokers remains questionable. In this study, the researchers aimed to investigate the association between serum cotinine and periodontitis among U.S. non-smokers.

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The percentage (95%CL) of non-smokers with serum cotinine levels ?0.015ng/ml was 57.4% (54.5, 60.3) and 31% (28.1, 33.9) had moderate/severe periodontitis. The unadjusted odds of moderate/severe periodontitis was 62% higher [OR(95%CL)=1.62(1.32, 1.98)] among the exposed compared to the unexposed. There was no significant effect modification by race/ethnicity (p >0.9). In the fully adjusted analysis, non-smokers exposed to ETS had 1.45 times the odds of moderate/severe periodontitis as unexposed non-smokers [OR(95%CL)=1.45(1.18, 1.77)]. ETS exposure was significantly associated with greater odds of moderate/severe periodontitis among adult U.S non-smokers.

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Prolonged shortened sleep increases blood pressure at night

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2015-03/mc-pss031315.php

Public Release: 13-Mar-2015
Mayo Clinic

People exposed to prolonged periods of shortened sleep have significant increases in blood pressure during nighttime hours, Mayo Clinic researchers report in a small study of eight participants.

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During the nighttime, in the sleep restriction phase compared to the normal sleep phase, systolic (top number) and diastolic (bottom number) blood pressure averaged 115/64 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) versus 105/57 mm Hg, respectively, researchers found. Furthermore, the expected fall in blood pressure during the night was suppressed when subjects had inadequate sleep. They also found that nighttime heart rate was higher with sleep restriction than in normal sleep.

"We know high blood pressure, particularly during the night, is one of the major risk factors for heart disease, and Americans typically do not get enough sleep," says lead author Naima Covassin, Ph.D., Mayo Clinic cardiovascular diseases research fellow. "For the first time, we demonstrated that insufficient sleep causes increases in nighttime blood pressure and dampens nocturnal blood pressure dipping by using a controlled study that mimics the sleep loss experienced by many people".

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Republican Budget Plans Get Two-Thirds of Cuts From Programs for People With Low or Moderate Incomes

http://www.cbpp.org/cms/?fa=view&id=5289&utm_source=feedburner

By Richard Kogan and Isaac Shapiro
March 23, 2015

The budgets adopted on March 19 by the House Budget Committee and the Senate Budget Committee each cut more than $3 trillion over ten years (2016-2025) from programs that serve people of limited means. These deep reductions amount to 69 percent of the cuts to non-defense spending in both the House and Senate plans.

Each budget plan derives more than two-thirds of its non-defense budget cuts from programs for people with low or modest incomes even though these programs constitute less than one-quarter of federal program costs. Moreover, spending on these programs is already scheduled to decline as a share of the economy between now and 2025.[1]

The bipartisan deficit reduction plan that Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles (co-chairs of the National Commission on Federal Policy) issued in 2010 adhered to the basic principle that deficit reduction should not increase poverty or widen inequality. The new Congressional plans chart a radically different course, imposing their most severe cuts on people on the lower rungs of the economic ladder.

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This information depicts the striking imbalance of the House and Senate budget plans. They turn a blind eye to the principle that the nation’s fiscal problems should not be addressed by imposing more hardship on the poorest and most vulnerable Americans. They ignore other alternatives to reducing the deficit, most notably by failing to reduce the more than $1 trillion a year in tax expenditures (deductions, exclusions, credits, and other preferences), which disproportionately benefit high-income households and many of which essentially operate as entitlements provided through the tax code, as former Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan has noted.

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California Statewide Snowpack Now Below Record Low Benchmark

http://www.wunderground.com/news/california-snowpack-below-record-low-benchmark

Chris Dolce
Published: March 24, 2015

Snowpack in California has reached a new low milestone that has not been seen in more than 30 years. It's just the latest chapter in the dire drought now entering its fourth year.

According to the California Nevada River Forecast Center, snowpack statewide was just nine percent of average as of March 23. That figure breaks the previous snowpack record for this point in the snow season, set back during the 1976 to 1977 season.

"That's not a typo, it's now in single digits," the River Forecast Center said in a Facebook post announcing the new low.

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This snow water content is very important for the water supply in California. As the snow melts later in the spring, it helps to replenish reservoirs in the state. As of March 23, all reservoirs near the Sierra Nevada and in northern California were at 60 percent or less capacity, according to the California Department of Water Resources.

Although northern California reservoirs got a boost from heavy rainfall in February, snow was confined to the highest elevations. This means the moisture-laden storm systems did very little to help the mountain snowpack.

Teen cannabis users have poor long-term memory in adulthood

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2015-03/nu-tcu030915.php

Public Release: 12-Mar-2015
Northwestern University

Teens who were heavy marijuana users - smoking it daily for about three years -- had an abnormally shaped hippocampus and performed poorly on long-term memory tasks, reports a new Northwestern Medicine study.

The hippocampus is important to long-term memory (also known as episodic memory), which is the ability to remember autobiographical or life events.

The brain abnormalities and memory problems were observed during the individuals' early twenties, two years after they stopped smoking marijuana.

Young adults who abused cannabis as teens performed about 18 percent worse on long-term memory tests than young adults who never abused cannabis.

"The memory processes that appear to be affected by cannabis are ones that we use every day to solve common problems and to sustain our relationships with friends and family," said senior author Dr. John Csernansky, the Lizzie Gilman professor and chair of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

•••••

Previous research by the same Northwestern team showed poor short-term and working memory performance and abnormal shapes of brain structures in the sub-cortex including the striatum, globus pallidus and thalamus.

"Both our recent studies link the chronic use of marijuana during adolescence to these differences in the shape of brain regions that are critical to memory and that appear to last for at least a few years after people stop using it," said lead study author Matthew Smith, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Feinberg School of Medicine.

The longer the individuals were chronically using marijuana, the more abnormal the shape of their hippocampus, the study reports. The findings suggest that these regions related to memory may be more susceptible to the effects of the drug the longer the abuse occurs.

The abnormal shape likely reflects damage to the hippocampus and could include the structure's neurons, axons or their supportive environments.

•••••

The groups in the study started using marijuana daily between 16 to 17 years of age for about three years. At the time of the study, they had been marijuana free for about two years. A total of 97 subjects participated, including matched groups of healthy controls, subjects with a marijuana use disorder, schizophrenia subjects with no history of substance use disorders, and schizophrenia subjects with a marijuana use disorder. The subjects who used marijuana did not abuse other drugs.

The study also found that young adults with schizophrenia who abused cannabis as teens performed about 26 percent more poorly on memory tests than young adults with schizophrenia who never abused cannabis.

•••••

Because the study results examined one point in time, a longitudinal study is needed to definitively show if marijuana is responsible for the observed differences in the brain and memory impairment, Smith said.

"It is possible that the abnormal brain structures reveal a pre-existing vulnerability to marijuana abuse," Smith said. "But evidence that the longer the participants were abusing marijuana, the greater the differences in hippocampus shape suggests marijuana may be the cause."

Some genes 'foreign' in origin and not from our ancestors

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2015-03/bc-sg031015.php

Public Release: 12-Mar-2015
BioMed Central

Many animals, including humans, acquired essential 'foreign' genes from microorganisms co-habiting their environment in ancient times, according to research published in the open access journal Genome Biology. The study challenges conventional views that animal evolution relies solely on genes passed down through ancestral lines, suggesting that, at least in some lineages, the process is still ongoing.

The transfer of genes between organisms living in the same environment is known as horizontal gene transfer (HGT). It is well known in single-celled organisms and thought to be an important process that explains how quickly bacteria evolve, for example, resistance to antibiotics.

HGT is thought to play an important role in the evolution of some animals, including nematode worms which have acquired genes from microorganisms and plants, and some beetles that gained bacterial genes to produce enzymes for digesting coffee berries. However, the idea that HGT occurs in more complex animals, such as humans, rather than them solely gaining genes directly from ancestors, has been widely debated and contested.

Lead author Alastair Crisp from the University of Cambridge, UK, said: "This is the first study to show how widely horizontal gene transfer (HGT) occurs in animals, including humans, giving rise to tens or hundreds of active 'foreign' genes. Surprisingly, far from being a rare occurrence, it appears that HGT has contributed to the evolution of many, perhaps all, animals and that the process is ongoing, meaning that we may need to re-evaluate how we think about evolution."

•••••

The team were able to identify the likely class of organisms the transferred genes came from. Bacteria and protists, another class of microorganisms, were the most common donors in all species studied. They also identified HGT from viruses, which was responsible for up to 50 more foreign genes in primates.

Some genes were identified as having originated from fungi. This explains why some previous studies, which only focused on bacteria as the source of HGT, originally rejected the idea that these genes were 'foreign' in origin.

The majority of HGT in primates was found to be ancient, occurring sometime between the common ancestor of Chordata and the common ancestor of the primates.

The authors say that their analysis probably underestimates the true extent of HGT in animals and that direct HGT between complex multicellular organisms is also plausible, and already known in some host-parasite relationships.

•••••

Political liberals display greater happiness, study finds

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2015-03/uoc--pld031015.php

Public Release: 12-Mar-2015
University of California - Irvine

What does it mean to be happy? Is it how happy you say you are, or is it how happy you act? Previous research has found that political conservatives report being happier than political liberals. But UC Irvine psychologists have discovered that those on the left exhibit happier speech patterns and facial expressions.

"The so-called 'happiness gap' between liberals and conservatives is more complicated than we thought," said Sean Wojcik, a doctoral student in psychology & social behavior at UCI and lead author of the study, which appears this month in Science.

Prior findings that political conservatives are happier than political liberals have been based on self-reports of happiness. But claims about one's happiness - just like claims about one's intelligence or morality - can be inflated by the desire to see oneself in a positive light.

"If you want to know how happy someone is, one way to do it is to just ask them, and this logic has been relied upon heavily in research on subjective well-being," said Peter Ditto, UCI professor of psychology & social behavior and co-author of the paper. "But another way to think about it is that happy is as happy does, and looking at happiness-related behavior avoids the issue of someone striving to present him- or herself as a happy person."

•••••

Specifically, the psychologists analyzed millions of words from Congressional Record transcripts and the photographs of every member of Congress, as well as 47,000 tweets and nearly 500 photos from LinkedIn. They found that contrary to the pattern of greater conservative happiness found in self-report questionnaires, liberals more frequently employed positive language in their speech and writing and smiled more intensely and genuinely in photographs.

"We were surprised by how consistently happiness-related behavior was predicted by having a liberal political ideology," Wojcik said. "We saw similar patterns of emotional language and smiling behavior among Congress members, Twitter users and LinkedIn users."

These results belie the self-reports of greater happiness among those who lean to the political right, and Wojcik has an explanation. "People tend to report all kinds of traits and abilities in an overly favorable way," he said. "If you ask people to rate themselves across almost any set of positive traits - intelligence, social skills, even driving ability - most will rate themselves above average. We observed that effect to be stronger among conservatives than liberals."

But this isn't necessarily a bad thing. "There's research saying that self-enhancement is related to improved social relations, productive and creative work, and other beneficial outcomes," Wojcik noted.

[As someone who values truth, I would rather be in touch with reality than believe a lie.]

The study was also co-authored by Arpine Hovasapian of UC Irvine, Jesse Graham of the University of Southern California, and Matt Motyl of the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Toddlers in trouble

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2015-03/nu-tit031215.php

Public Release: 12-Mar-2015
Northwestern University

CHICAGO --- A father's depression during the first years of parenting - as well as a mother's - can put their toddler at risk of developing troubling behaviors such as hitting, lying, anxiety and sadness during a critical time of development, according to a new Northwestern Medicine study.

This is one of the first studies to show that the impact of a father's depression from postpartum to toddlerhood is the same as a mother's. Previous studies have focused mostly on mothers with postpartum depression and found that their symptoms may impact their children's behavior during early, formative years.

"Father's emotions affect their children," said Sheehan Fisher, lead author of the study. "New fathers should be screened and treated for postpartum depression, just as we do for mothers."

•••••

Mothers and fathers who are depressed may not make as much eye contact or smile as much as parents who are not depressed. The more disengaged parents are from their child, the greater the risk the child will have forming close attachments and healthy emotions, Sheehan said.

"Depression affects the way people express emotions, and it can cause their behavior to change," Sheehan said.

Previous studies have shown that fathers are at a greater risk of depression after the birth of a child than at any other time in a typical male's life. This study found that a father's mood during postpartum is important to the trajectory of his depression three years later and significant for predicting his child's behavior during toddler years.

"Early intervention for both mothers and fathers is the key," Sheehan said. "If we can catch parents with depression earlier and treat them, then there won't be a continuation of symptoms, and, maybe even as importantly, their child won't be affected by a parent with depression."

•••••

•Fighting between parents did not contribute to children's bad behaviors as much as having a depressed parent did.

Exercise may help keep seniors moving longer despite old age brain decline

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2015-03/aaon-emh030515.php

Public Release: 11-Mar-2015
American Academy of Neurology

Older people who are physically active may be protecting themselves from the effects of small areas of brain damage that can affect their movement abilities, according to a new study published in the March 11, 2015, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Many older people have small areas of damage in their brains seen on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) as white matter hyperintensities. Higher levels of this damage have been linked to more problems with movement, such as difficulty walking. But this new study found that people who were the most physically active did not have a drop-off in their movement abilities, even when they had high levels of brain damage.

"These results underscore the importance of efforts to encourage a more active lifestyle in older people to prevent movement problems, which is a major public health challenge," said study author Debra A. Fleischman, PhD, of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. "Physical activity may create a 'reserve' that protects motor abilities against the effects of age-related brain damage."

The study involved 167 people with an average age of 80. The

•••••

The results remained the same after researchers adjusted for other factors that could affect the relationship, such as body mass index (BMI), depression and vascular disease.

Fleischman noted that the study does not determine whether physical activity causes people to preserve their movement abilities; it only shows the association.

Rat brains point to lead's role in schizophrenia

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2015-03/cums-rbp031115.php


Public Release: 11-Mar-2015
Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health

A study of the brains of rats exposed to lead has uncovered striking similarities with what is known about the brains of human schizophrenia patients, adding compelling evidence that lead is a factor in the onset of schizophrenia.

•••••


"The similarities in the brain structure and neuronal systems between what we see in lead-exposed rats and human schizophrenia patients are striking, and adds to a growing body of literature suggesting that early lead exposure primes the brain for schizophrenia later in life," says senior author Tomás Guilarte, PhD, chair of Environmental Health Sciences at the Mailman School.

In a related finding, the researchers found that rats exposed to lead had a much stronger reaction to cocaine than healthy rat controls. In the experiment, lead-exposed rats that were injected with cocaine ran around in their cages at twice the distance of lead-free control rats. The rat behavior is meaningful because it mirrors what is seen in schizophrenia patients, who are known to have a heightened response to the drug.

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In Los Angeles, Cleaner Air Is Helping Children Breathe Easier

http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/plugged-in/2015/03/19/in-los-angeles-cleaner-air-is-helping-children-breathe-easier/

By Melissa C. Lott | March 19, 2015

Children’s lungs are growing substantially stronger as air pollution in Southern California decreases.

The Los Angeles area had struggled with air pollution for decades. But, according to new research published this month in the New England Journal of Medicine, recent local air quality improvements appear to have led to a positive shift in children’s respiratory health. All told, researchers observed a 10% increase in lung growth in children between the ages of 11 to 15 compared to previous groups in their ongoing Children’s Health Study (CHS).

•••••

“Lungs develop very rapidly from age 11 to 15 and when children are done growing – which is toward the end of their teen years – that is really the most lung function that they will have for the rest of their lives. An important criteria that is used by physicians to diagnose respiratory disease is whether or not lung function is below 80% of what is should be. And when we looked at that outcome, we saw that half as many children fell below that criteria if they were breathing cleaner air in the 2000s, compared to their cohorts who were breathing more polluted air back in the in the 1990s.”

•••••

Conducted by researchers at the University of Southern California, the ongoing study’s latest batch of results document large gains in lung development in children between the ages of 11 and 15 from 2007 to 2011 compared to children of the same age in the same communities from 1994-98 and 1997-2001. At the same time, researchers observed significant air quality improvements in terms of both NOx and PM2.5 levels.

•••••

10 Words Every Girl Should Learn

http://www.alternet.org/gender/10-words-every-girl-should-learn#.VRG7--K001g.facebook

By Soraya Chemaly / The Huffington Post
July 5, 2014

"Stop interrupting me."

"I just said that."

"No explanation needed."

•••••

We socialize girls to take turns, listen more carefully, not curse and resist interrupting in ways we do not expect boys to. Put another way, we generally teach girls subservient habits and boys to exercise dominance.

•••••

A woman, speaking clearly and out loud, can say something that no one appears to hear, only to have a man repeat it minutes, maybe seconds later, to accolades and group discussion.

•••••

These behaviors, the interrupting and the over-talking, also happen as the result of difference in status, but gender rules. For example, male doctors invariably interrupt patients when they speak, especially female patients, but patients rarely interrupt doctors in return. Unless the doctor is a woman. When that is the case, she interrupts far less and is herself interrupted more. This is also true of senior managers in the workplace. Male bosses are not frequently talked over or stopped by those working for them, especially if they are women; however, female bosses are routinely interrupted by their male subordinates.

•••••

In the wake of Larry Summers' "women can't do math" controversy several years ago, scientist Ben Barres wrote publicly about his experiences, first as a woman and later in life, as a male. As a female student at MIT, Barbara Barres was told by a professor after solving a particularly difficult math problem, "Your boyfriend must have solved it for you." Several years after, as Ben Barres, he gave a well-received scientific speech and he overhead a member of the audience say, "His work is much better than his sister's."

Most notably, he concluded that one of the major benefits of being male was that he could now "even complete a whole sentence without being interrupted by a man."

•••••

It's not hard to fathom why so many men tend to assume they are great and that what they have to say is more legitimate. It starts in childhood and never ends. Parents interrupt girls twice as often and hold them to stricter politeness norms. Teachers engage boys, who correctly see disruptive speech as a marker of dominant masculinity, more often and more dynamically than girls.

•••••

Men speak more, more often, and longer than women in mixed groups (classrooms, boardrooms, legislative bodies, expert media commentary and, for obvious reasons religious institutions.) Indeed, in male-dominated problem solving groups including boards, committees and legislatures, men speak 75% more than women, with negative effects on decisions reached. That's why, as researchers summed up, "Having a seat at the table is not the same as having a voice."

Even in movies and television, male actors engage in more disruptive speech and garner twice as much speaking and screen time as their female peers. This is by no means limited by history or to old media but is replicated online. Listserve topics introduced by men have a much higher rate of response and on Twitter, people retweet men two times as often as women.

These linguistic patterns are consequential in many ways, not the least of which is the way that they result in unjust courtroom dynamics, where adversarial speech governs proceedings and gendered expression results in women's testimonies being interrupted, discounted and portrayed as not credible according to masculinized speech norms. Courtrooms also show exactly how credibility and status, women's being lower, are also doubly affected by race. If Black women testifying in court adopt what is often categorized as "[white] women's language," they are considered less credible. However, if they are more assertive, white jurors find them "rude, hostile, out of control, and, hence [again], less credible."

•••••

People often ask me what to teach girls or what they themselves can do to challenge sexism when they see it. "What can I do if I encounter sexism? It's hard to say anything, especially at school." In general, I'm loathe to take the approach that girls should be responsible for the world's responses to them, but I say to them, practice these words, every day:

"Stop interrupting me,"

"I just said that," and

"No explanation needed."

BP joins list of companies fleeing Alec

http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2015/mar/23/alec-bp-british-petroleum-companies-conservative-lobbyist

Mar. 23, 2015
Amy Westervelt

British Petroleum is the latest company to pull its membership from the American Legislative Exchange Council (Alec), the oil company announced on Monday. The oil giant is now the second oil and gas company to leave the conservative nonprofit that acts as a conservative lobbying group.

BP’s departure follows a wave of exits by tech companies from Alec at the end of last year. Google, Yahoo, Facebook, eBay and Yelp all cut ties with the organization following criticism by environmental nonprofits for drafting model legislation that denies any human contribution to climate change.

•••••

BP’s exit comes a few months after Occidental Petroleum (Oxy) announced that it would depart from Alec, and a year after ConocoPhillips, an American multinational energy corporation, did the same. All companies have stayed tight-lipped about precisely why they’ve chosen to leave the group, but a proxy statement for Oxy’s annual shareholder meeting, held in May 2014, sheds some light on the subject. In it, the Needmor Foundation, which holds 800 shares of Oxy stock, proposes that the company review and evaluate its relationships with various trade groups (pdf). In regards to leaving Alec, the foundation wrote:

Alec has been associated with contentious anti-immigration, voter identification and Stand Your Ground, legislation. More recently, Alec initiatives have opposed climate change policies and efforts to weaken state renewable energy standards with the Heartland Institute. Occidental Petroleum is a member of Alec and funds its work. We believe this partnership may bring significant reputational and business risk to the company.

•••••

'Sugar papers' reveal industry role in 1970s dental program

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2015-03/uoc--pr030615.php

Public Release: 10-Mar-2015
University of California - San Francisco

A newly discovered cache of industry documents reveals that the sugar industry worked closely with the National Institutes of Health in the 1960s and '70s to develop a federal research program focused on approaches other than sugar reduction to prevent tooth decay in American children.

An analysis of those papers by researchers at UC San Francisco appears March 10, 2015 in the open-source scientific journal, PLOS Medicine.

The archive of 319 industry documents, which were uncovered in a public collection at the University of Illinois, revealed that a sugar industry trade organization representing 30 international members had accepted the fact that sugar caused tooth decay as early as 1950, and adopted a strategy aimed at identifying alternative approaches to reducing tooth decay.

Meanwhile, the National Institutes of Health had come to the conclusion in1969 that focusing on reducing consumption of sucrose, "while theoretically possible," was not practical as a public health measure.

•••••

Kearns discovered the papers in a collection that was left to the University of Illinois library by the late Roger Adams, a professor emeritus of organic chemistry who served on the Sugar Research Foundation (SRF) and the scientific advisory board of the International Sugar Research Foundation (ISRF), which became the World Sugar Research Organization.

The analysis showed that in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the sugar industry funded research in collaboration with allied food industries on enzymes to break up dental plaque and a vaccine against tooth decay. It also shows they cultivated relationships with the NIDR and that a sugar industry expert panel overlapped by all but one member with the NIDR panel that influenced the priorities for the NIH tooth decay program. The majority of the research priorities and initial projects largely failed to produce results on a large scale, the authors found.

"These tactics are strikingly similar to what we saw in the tobacco industry in the same era," said Glantz, whose similar discovery in the 1990s of tobacco industry papers led to massive settlements between the industry and every U.S. state, and to the Department of Justice's successful prosecution of the major tobacco companies and their research organizations under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. The Legacy Tobacco Documents Library at UCSF now contains 14 million of those documents.

"Our findings are a wake-up call for government officials charged with protecting the public health, as well as public health advocates, to understand that the sugar industry, like the tobacco industry, seeks to protect profits over public health," Glantz added.

•••••

"There is robust evidence now linking excess sugar consumption with heart disease, diabetes and liver disease, in addition to tooth decay," said Schmidt, who also is principal investigator on the UCSF-led SugarScience initiative. "Times have definitely changed since that era, but this is a stark lesson in what can happen if we are not careful about maintaining scientific integrity."

Monday, March 23, 2015

We're all losers to a gadget industry built on planned obsolescence

http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2015/mar/23/were-are-all-losers-to-gadget-industry-built-on-planned-obsolescence

Mar. 23, 2015
Rosie Spinks

It’s hard to deny that the smartphone has in part changed the world in favour of consumers. It helps us avoid expensive SMS costs thanks to online messaging apps, undercut taxi and hotel companies with the likes of Uber and Airbnb, and generally serves as a remote control to the sharing economy.

But when you shift the focus from what our devices help us access to how we access the devices themselves, the picture is less rosy.

Once we own a new device, we often can’t replace its batteries or take it to an independent repair shop for a simple fix. In fact, proprietary screws on Apple products often prevent us from opening Apple devices at all. It’s standard practice for companies to plan obsolescence into their products — including by introducing software upgrades that aren’t compatible with existing hardware (pdf) — and they simultaneously profit from the fact that the average laptop has a high likelihood of breaking within 3-4 years.

Equally, while the smartphone is a device that’s intended to be taken everywhere — the pub, the loo, on a run — it is fragile and desirable enough to be rendered useless with just a few drops of water or an opportunistic thief. All this leads collaborative economy expert Rachel Botsman to ask: why is it consumers who take on all the risk?

“It’s almost unbelievable that consumers haven’t stood up and said the planned obsolescence of the gadget industry is absolutely obscene and not serving them,” says Botsman. “But it’s because no one has yet cracked a subscription model to electronics that takes the responsibility away from the consumer and puts it on the company to provide better products.”

Consumers aren’t the only losers here, the environment is too. Due to a lack of clear economic incentives and methods, globally only 12% (pdf) of smartphone upgrades involve older devices being sold or traded for the new one. This means ecologically damaging devices end up languishing in drawers and eventually landfills.

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Hormone replacement therapy for postmenopausal women: Does it help or harm your heart?

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2015-03/w-hrt030915.php

Public Release: 10-Mar-2015
Wiley

New evidence published today in the Cochrane Library shows that hormone replacement therapy does not protect post-menopausal women against cardiovascular disease, and may even cause an increased risk of stroke.

HRT, now more commonly known as hormone therapy, is widely used for controlling menopausal symptoms. It has also been used for the prevention of cardiovascular disease in post-menopausal women. This latest evidence looked at the effects of using hormone therapy for at least six months and involved more than 40,000 women across the world.

The length of time women were on treatment, varied across the trials from seven months to just over 10 years.

Overall, the results showed no evidence that hormone therapy provides any protective effects against death from any cause, and specifically death from cardiovascular disease, non-fatal heart attacks or angina, either in healthy women or women with pre-existing heart disease. Instead the findings showed a small increased risk of stroke for post-menopausal women.

The authors also explored how much of an effect there was of starting HRT earlier. They found some evidence that women who started treatment within the first 10 years of their menopause, when menopausal symptoms are most common, seem to have a small protection against death and heart attacks, and no increased risk of stroke. But even in this group, the risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) increased.

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Study shows product placement, branding growing in popular music

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2015-03/uocd-cds030915.php

Public Release: 10-Mar-2015
University of Colorado Denver

DENVER (March 10, 2015) - As branding and advertising creep into almost every facet of life, a new study from the University of Colorado Denver shows it's now making substantial inroads into popular music.

The study examined in detail the yearly top 30 Billboard songs from 1960 to 2013 - a total of 1,583 - and found a steep increase in `advertainment' or the use of product placement, branding and name dropping among the most popular music in the nation.

In 2006 alone, 20 of the top 30 songs, or two out of three, included at least one reference to a person, place or product, the study said.

•••••

Gloor found a total of 1,544 product references in the five decades of songs he analyzed with more than half occurring between 2000 and 2010. Automobiles were favorites with Mercedes-Benz, Bentley, Corvette, Cadillac and Chevrolet among the most popular products mentioned.

The study also showed a direct link between product placement and brand awareness. For example, Gloor said that after the 2002 Busta Rhymes hit single `Pass the Courvoisier,' sales of the cognac jumped 10 to 20 percent that year. Run DMC's song `My Adidas,' Gloor said, had a similar impact on those sneakers.

Place names also increased dramatically since 1960. Aside from famous seaside towns mentioned in hits like the Beach Boys' `Surfin' USA,' there were few locations mentioned in the 1960s and 70s. That grew steadily in the 80s and 90s. In 2006, some 9 percent of Billboard's top songs referenced specific place names.

Another trend is the artist dropping their own name. There was only one name reference in 1964, four in 1974, one in 1984, 39 in 1994 and 130 in 2004. One potential reason for this is that many radio deejays no longer identify the songs or artists they play, so singers must do it themselves, Gloor said.

According to Gloor, all this is also happening due to seismic changes in the music industry.

"In today's music business, artists and their stakeholders have had to take non-traditional approaches in navigating the marketplace," he said. "It has become increasingly important to emphasize marketing the artist as a brand rather than focusing so much on the sale of recordings."

The study noted that singer CeeLo Green had revenues of over $20 million in 2011 with the smallest amount of that coming from music sales. The rest were derived from marketing and branding opportunities.

"Artist and music business mogul Jay-Z has been specifically pointed out as someone who uses mentions of brand names `as a way of marking his authenticity as a self-made businessman,''' the study said.

•••••

Another finding showed that pop songs have become much longer since the 1960s and 70s when Top 40 radio stations favored shorter songs. The average number of words in a song from 1960 was 185, while in 2010 it was 489 or a 164 percent increase.

The increased length appeals to businesses like Pandora, a free Internet music provider, which can lower their licensing fees by playing longer songs during a consumer's listening time, since they pay a per-song fee, Gloor said.

"Many people thought music was the last bastion free of marketing but that train has left the station. Many musicians these days make less money from their recorded work so they must become marketing entities since the music doesn't entirely pay the bills," Gloor said. "People could get sick of it and there could be a backlash but for now this is the new reality."

High levels of vitamin D is suspected of increasing mortality rates

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2015-03/uoc-hlo031015.php

Public Release: 10-Mar-2015
University of Copenhagen - The Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences

The level of vitamin D in our blood should neither be too high nor to low. Scientists from the University of Copenhagen are the first in the world to show that there is a connection between high levels of vitamin D and cardiovascular deaths.

In terms of public health, a lack of vitamin D has long been a focal point. Several studies have shown that too low levels can prove detrimental to our health. However, new research from the University of Copenhagen reveals, for the first time, that also too high levels of vitamin D in our blood is connected to an increased risk of dying from a stroke or a coronary.

The results have just been published in the world-renowned Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism.

•••••

we have looked at the connection between their deaths and their levels of vitamin D," Professor at the Department of Clinical Medicine, Peter Schwarz explains.

The conclusion is clear: the study confirms that there is indeed a correlation between mortality rates and too low levels of vitamin D, but the new thing is that the level of vitamin D can also be too high.

"If your vitamin D level is below 50 or over 100 nanomol per litre, there is an greater connection to deaths. We have looked at what caused the death of patients, and when numbers are above 100, it appears that there is an increased risk of dying from a stroke or a coronary. In other words, levels of vitamin D should not be too low, but neither should they be too high. Levels should be somewhere in between 50 and 100 nanomol per litre, and our study indicates that 70 is the most preferable level," Peter Schwartz states.

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Link between autism genes and higher intelligence, study suggests

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2015-03/uoe-lba031015.php

Public Release: 10-Mar-2015
University of Edinburgh

Genes linked with a greater risk of developing autism may also be associated with higher intelligence, a study suggests.

Researchers have found new evidence linking genetic factors associated with autism to better cognitive ability in people who do not have the condition.

The relationship between autism and intelligence is not clear, researchers say. Although up to 70 per cent of individuals with autism have an intellectual disability, some people with the disorder have relatively well-preserved, or even higher than average, non-verbal intelligence, the team says.

Autism is a developmental disability that can cause significant language and speech difficulties. Non-verbal intelligence enables people to solve complex problems using visual and hands-on reasoning skills requiring little or no use of language.

Researchers at the Universities of Edinburgh and Queensland analysed almost 10,000 people recruited from the general population of Scotland. Individuals were tested for general cognitive ability and had their DNA analysed.

The team found that even among people who never develop autism, carrying genetic traits associated with the disorder is, on average, linked to scoring slightly better on cognitive tests.

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Move over Mozart: Study shows cats prefer their own beat

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2015-03/uow-mom031015.php

Public Release: 10-Mar-2015
University of Wisconsin-Madison

MADISON, Wis. -- As more animal shelters, primate centers and zoos start to play music for their charges, it's still not clear whether and how human music affects animals.

Now, a study from the University of Wisconsin-Madison shows that while cats ignore our music, they are highly responsive to "music" written especially for them. The study is online at Applied Animal Behaviour Science.

"We are not actually replicating cat sounds," says lead author Charles Snowdon, an emeritus professor of psychology. "We are trying to create music with a pitch and tempo that appeals to cats."

The first step in making cat music is "to evaluate music in the context of the animal's sensory system," he says. Cats, for example, vocalize one octave higher than people, "So it's vital to get the pitch right. Then we tried to create music that would have a tempo that was appealing to cats." One sample was based on the tempo of purring, the other on the sucking sound made during nursing.

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The cats were significantly more positive toward cat music than classical music. They began the positive response after an average of 110 seconds, compared to 171 seconds for the human music. The slow responses reflected the situation, Snowdon says. "Some of them needed to wake up and pay attention to what was going on, and some were out of the room when we set up."

The cats showed almost the same number of aversive responses to each type of music.

The study follows a 2009 report by Snowdon and Teie, which showed that a monkey called the cotton-top tamarin responded emotionally to music composed specifically for them. That work led Snowdon and Teie to believe that "the same features that are effective in inducing and communicating emotional states in human music might also apply to other species." These features include pitch, tempo and timbre.

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Snowdon says the field has labored under mistaken premises. One is the frequency problem: Animals hear different ranges than we do. Researchers who played Mozart to rats in Japan proved that the animals were ignoring frequencies below 4,000 hertz, meaning that most human music is irrelevant to them.

The second misconception is that all classical music will be calming, when it may in fact be invigorating, angry or ominous.

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Salt affects organs

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2015-03/uod-sao031015.php

Public Release: 10-Mar-2015
University of Delaware

You may think you're one of the lucky ones who can eat all the salty snacks and convenience foods you want and still register low numbers on the blood pressure cuff. But, new research suggests you may not be so lucky after all.

A review paper co-authored by two faculty members in the University of Delaware College of Health Sciences and two physicians at Christiana Care Health System provides evidence that even in the absence of an increase in blood pressure, excess dietary sodium can adversely affect target organs, including the blood vessels, heart, kidneys and brain.

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Potential effects on the arteries include reduced function of the endothelium, which is the inner lining of blood vessels. Endothelial cells mediate a number of processes, including coagulation, platelet adhesion and immune function. Elevated dietary sodium can also increase arterial stiffness.

Farquhar and Edwards have done previous work in this area, with one study showing that excess salt intake in humans impairs endothelium-dependent dilation and another demonstrating that dietary sodium loading impairs microvascular function. In both cases, the effects are independent of changes in blood pressure.

They review their work and the growing body of evidence to support a deleterious effect of dietary salt on vascular function independent of blood pressure in a recent invited paper in Current Opinion in Nephrology and Hypertension.

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Regarding the kidneys, evidence suggests that high sodium is associated with reduced renal function, a decline observed with only a minimal increase in blood pressure.

Finally, sodium may also affect the sympathetic nervous system, which activates what is often termed the fight-or-flight response.

"Chronically elevated dietary sodium may 'sensitize' sympathetic neurons in the brain, causing a greater response to a variety of stimuli, including skeletal muscle contraction," Farquhar says. "Again, even if blood pressure isn't increased, chronically increased sympathetic outflow may have harmful effects on target organs."

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Friday, March 20, 2015

Thirty years of above average temps - the new normal

A problem is that weather reports that mention how much the temperature deviated from normal will now be showing warmer days as "normal", making it less apparent to the average person that the temperature is warming.

Like when temps are compared to the 20th century average, this neglects the fact that human activity had been causing warming before the 20th century, so our impact has been even greater than those statistics show.



By Eric Holthaus
Mar. 19, 2015

On Wednesday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that Earth’s global temperature for February was among the hottest ever measured. So far, 2015 is tracking above record-warm 2014—which, when combined with the newly resurgent El Niño, means we’re on pace for another hottest year in history.

In addition to the just-completed warmest winter on record globally (despite the brutal cold and record snow in the eastern U.S.), new data on Thursday from the National Snow and Ice Data Center show that this year’s peak Arctic sea ice reached its lowest ever maximum extent, thanks to “an unusual configuration of the jet stream” that greatly warmed the Pacific Ocean near Alaska.

But here’s the most upsetting news. It’s been exactly 30 years since the last time the world was briefly cooler than its 20th-century average. Every single month since February 1985 has been hotter than the long-term average—that’s 360 consecutive months.

More than just being a round number, the 30-year streak has deeper significance. In climatology, a continuous 30-year stretch of data is traditionally what’s used to define what’s “normal” for a given location. In a very real way, we can now say that for our given location—the planet Earth—global warming is now “normal.” Forget debating—our climate has officially changed.

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Since disasters disproportionately impact the poor, climate change is increasingly an important economic and social justice issue. The pope will visit the United States later this year as part of a broader campaign by the Vatican to directly influence the outcome of this year’s global climate negotiations in Paris—recent polling data show his message may be resonating, especially with political conservatives and nonscience types. Two-thirds of Americans now believe that world leaders are morally obligated to take steps to reduce carbon.

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Cyclone Pam is a consequence of climate change since all weather is affected by the planet’s now considerably warmer climate. The spate of extreme storms over the past decade—of which Pam is the latest—is entirely consistent in science with the hottest ever decade on record.



The statement was from the government of the Philippines, the previous country to suffer a direct strike by a Category 5 cyclone—Haiyan in 2013. As chair of the Climate Vulnerable Forum negotiating bloc, the Philippines also called for a strengthening of ambition in the run-up to this year’s global climate agreement in Paris.

The cost of disasters of all types is rising around the globe as population and wealth increase and storms become more fierce.

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Before you sign a contract to buy or sell a house


From a post by a Facebook friend:

"I had a call from a friend of a friend. The dear lady is in a contract to sell her house, and needs advice. The buyer has a real estate agent, but the seller doesn't. Unfortunately I cannot legally advise someone once they have entered a contract. So unless you are well versed in real estate transactions, my advice is to hire a real estate professional BEFORE you enter a sales contract."

Gwinnett Couple Sentenced in $1.4M Medicaid Fraud Case

An unemployed person who stole some food would go to jail. Doctors who steal more $1.4 million ($1,407,325.50) get work release and probation.

http://patch.com/georgia/lilburn/gwinnett-couple-sentenced-14m-medicaid-fraud-case

By Scott Bernarde (Patch Staff) March 11, 2015

A Gwinnett County couple pleaded guilty to Medicaid fraud, but will avoid prison time, the Georgia Attorney General’s Office announced.

Olufemi Afuape and Oluyemisi Afuape, both of Lilburn, pleaded guilty to single counts of Medicaid fraud and conspiracy to defraud the state in a scheme that submitted $1.4 million in fraudulent claims, the office said in a news release.

Oluyemisi Afuape, the wife, was sentenced to three years house arrest. Olufemi Afuape was sentenced to three years work release at the Gwinnett Detention Center, followed by 12 years of probation.

They were ordered to pay $1,407,325.50 in restitution to the Georgia Department of Community Health.

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Afuapes billed the children’s Medicaid numbers for physical, occupational and speech therapy without regard to whether the services were medically necessary and without regard to whether the services were actually delivered. Children genuinely in need of therapy did not receive services and children who did not require therapy services nevertheless had their Medicaid numbers billed for therapy on a daily basis.

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For the First Time Ever, a Prosecutor Will Go to Jail for Wrongfully Convicting an Innocent Man

Finally. Many people who have been freed after they were proved to be innocent of a crime for which they spent decades in prison, sometime on death row, were convicted on the basis of deliberately false testimony by police and/or prosecutors, and/or hiding evidence that would have indicated innocence.

But the sentence was way to light. Ten days in jail for unjustly sending someone to jail for 25 years!

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mark-godsey/for-the-first-time-ever-a_b_4221000.html

Nov. 8, 2013

Today in Texas, former prosecutor and judge Ken Anderson pled guilty to intentionally failing to disclose evidence in a case that sent an innocent man, Michael Morton, to prison for the murder of his wife. When trying the case as a prosecutor, Anderson possessed evidence that may have cleared Morton, including statements from the crime's only eyewitness that Morton wasn't the culprit. Anderson sat on this evidence, and then watched Morton get convicted. While Morton remained in prison for the next 25 years, Anderson's career flourished, and he eventually became a judge.

In today's deal, Anderson pled to criminal contempt, and will have to give up his law license, perform 500 hours of community service, and spend 10 days in jail. Anderson had already resigned in September from his position on the Texas bench.

What makes today's plea newsworthy is not that Anderson engaged in misconduct that sent an innocent man to prison. Indeed, while most prosecutors and police officers are ethical and take their constitutional obligations seriously, government misconduct--including disclosure breaches known as Brady violations--occurs so frequently that it has become one of the chief causes of wrongful conviction.

What's newsworthy and novel about today's plea is that a prosecutor was actually punished in a meaningful way for his transgressions.

I give speeches about the Innocence Movement, and tell stories from real cases, all around the world. No matter where I am, when I finish speaking the first question usually is, "What happened to the police/prosecutors who did this to the poor guy?" The answer is almost always, "Nothing," or worse, "The police officer was promoted and now is the chief of his department." The adage that the powerful go unpunished is no truer or more visible than with police officers and prosecutors in America--even when they send innocent people to prison from their misconduct.

My client Roger Dean Gillispie of Dayton, Ohio, for example, spent 20 years in prison as a result of police misconduct. In 2007, we presented overwhelming evidence that the police officers, like Anderson in the Morton case, failed to turn over evidence to the defense before trial that would have cleared Gillispie. We also supplied the court with evidence that the police officer in charge had harassed and intimidated witnesses helpful to the defense, and had manipulated the evidence. Before going to court to clear Gillispie, we met with the local prosecutors, hopeful that they wouldn't tolerate such misconduct and would do a thorough (and neutral) investigation to get to the truth. Instead, they simply denied everything in knee-jerk fashion, and fought to keep Gillispie in prison until a federal court finally found government misconduct and threw out his charges in December 2011. To this day, the police officer in the case has not been investigated by a neutral, independent body. The only thing he has received is promotions.

Rogue cops and prosecutors going unpunished is the rule rather than the exception. In Illinois, two police officers whose improperly grueling interrogation techniques led to the wrongful conviction of Juan Rivera and others were not penalized when their 3rd degree tactics came to light. Rather, they were recently hired at taxpayer expense to teach interrogation courses to other police officers around the state.

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Fortunately, there is something very simple that judges across the country can do to eradicate this problem. All judges, state and federal, should issue the standing "ethical rule order" proposed by the Hon. Nancy Gertner and Innocence Project Co-Founder Barry Scheck. The proposed order requires prosecutors to disclose, pre-trial, all evidence that "tends to negate the guilt of the accused or mitigates the offense." Details regarding the proposed ethical rule order, including all the justifications supporting it, can be found in this article by Barry Scheck.

The reason such standing ethical rule orders are important is that they allow prosecutors, like Ken Anderson, to be held in criminal contempt if they are later found to have engaged in misconduct. Anderson could be punished today only because such an order had been issued in the Morton case.

[This should be in the law for all cases, not left up to individual judges, who may not themselves be committed to justice. Some judges have actually come out and stated that we should not try to discover cases of innocent people being convicted, because it would cause people to lose faith in the justice system!]

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