Thursday, October 30, 2014

Most "charity" does not go to poor

The Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University
Patterns of Household Charitable Giving
by Income Group, 2005

The Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University and Google partnered in early 2007 to estimate how much of the charitable giving by households in the U.S. focuses on the needs of the poor. This analysis finds that less than one-third of the money individuals gave to nonprofits in 2005 was focused on the needs of the economically disadvantaged. Of the $250 billion in donations, less than $78 billion explicitly targeted those in need.

Only 8 percent of households’ donated dollars were reported as contributions to help meet basic needs--providing food, shelter, or other necessities. An estimated additional 23 percent of total private philanthropy (including donations from foundations, corporations, and estates) went to programs specifically intended to help people of low income--either providing other direct benefits (such as medical treatment and scholarships) or through initiatives creating opportunity and empowerment (such as literacy and job training programs).



Some Americans Boosted Charitable Giving In Recession; The Rich Did Not

Bill Chappell
Oct. 6, 2014

As times got tough in the recent recession, the less well-off of America's citizens became more generous when giving to charity. But at the same time, wealthy Americans cut the proportion of their incomes they donated, according to a new study that analyzed data from tax returns.


Child poverty in the U.S. is among the worst in the developed world

The link below has a state-by-state map of child poverty rates by state

By Christopher Ingraham October 29, 2014

The United States ranks near the bottom of the pack of wealthy nations on a measure of child poverty, according to a new report from UNICEF. Nearly one third of U.S. children live in households with an income below 60 percent of the national median income in 2008 - about $31,000 annually.

In the richest nation in the world, one in three kids live in poverty. Let that sink in.

The UNICEF report pegs the poverty definition to the 2008 median to account for the decline in income since then - incomes fell after the great recession, so measuring this way is an attempt to assess current poverty relative to how things stood before the downturn.

With 32.2 percent of children living below this line, the U.S. ranks 36th out of the 41 wealthy countries included in the UNICEF report. By contrast, only 5.3 percent of Norwegian kids currently meet this definition of poverty.

More alarmingly, the share of U.S. children living in poverty has actually increased by 2 percentage points since 2008. Overall, 24.2 million U.S. children were living in poverty in 2012, reflecting an increase of 1.7 million children since 2008. "Of all newly poor children in the OECD and/or EU, about a third are in the United States," according to the report. On the other hand, 18 countries were actually able to reduce their childhood poverty rates over the same period.


Poverty rates are generally higher in Southern states, and lower in New England and Northern Plains states.


But UNICEF's relative poverty measure is still useful in that economies are relative, too. Thirty thousand dollars goes much, much further in Eritrea than it does in Kansas. And while you might be able to get by - barely - raising a family on $30,000 in rural Kansas, try doing that in any of the nation's pricey urban and suburban areas, where many of America's poor actually live.


Feed and Freeze

I wrote this song after reading a few years ago that there are children in our country who routinely lose weight in the winter because their families cannot afford both enough food and heat. And of course people need more food when they are cold.

And things are worse now (May 2014), with the cutback of food and unemployment benefits while so many people are still unable to find jobs. There are still almost three people out of work for every job opening. And not all "job openings" are really job openings.

Oct. 2014, still about two people out of work for every so-called job opening.

Feed and Freeze
copyright 2001 Patricia M. Shannon

If I feed my my children, they will freeze
'cause the gas bill is so high.
When they say "Mama, mama, can I have some food",
sometimes I just break down and cry,
sometimes I just break down and cry.

They don't understand that I don't have enough food
for them to have their fill.
I have to pay the heating bill
'cause it's cold enough to kill;
it's cold enough to kill;

We turn the thermostat way down
and wear a lot of clothes.
We hang out at the Waffle House,
but the heating bill just grows and grows,
the heating bill just grows.


They say you'll be a big success
if you work really hard.
But I slave all day at the fast food place
and the minimum wage is my reward,
the minimum's my reward

They say they can't pay anymore,
the economy's too slow;
Profits are down, but they gave a raise
and a bonus to the CEO;
a big bonus to the CEO.


Daylight Savings Time ends Sunday, Nov. 2, 2014

Turn your clocks back one hour.

Spring forward, fall back.

House GOP’s lawyers give up on anti-Obama lawsuit

By Steve Benen
Oct. 30, 2014

More than four months after House Republicans announced their historic plan to sue President Obama, the litigation, like so many initiatives from GOP lawmakers, has become a fiasco. Josh Gerstein and Maggie Haberman reported overnight that the Republicans’ lawyers have given up on the case – again.

House Speaker John Boehner’s still-unfiled lawsuit against President Barack Obama for exceeding his constitutional power is in more trouble.

For the second time in two months, a major law firm has backed out of an agreement to pursue the case, sources say.

Apparently, the attorneys responsible for the case decided to give up “in recent weeks,” but we’re just learning about their decision now. Boehner’s office wouldn’t comment on why they quit the case, though a spokesperson for the Speaker told Politico, “The litigation remains on track, but we are examining the possibility of forgoing outside counsel and handling the litigation directly through the House.”


To appreciate the severity of the fiasco, consider this timeline of events:

* June 24: House Republican leaders acknowledge their plan to sue President Obama. They weren’t sure why they wanted to file the case, but GOP officials intended to think of something.

* July 10: Speaker Boehner formally releases a bill authorizing his anti-Obama litigation. The Republicans’ case intended to force the implementation of an obscure provision of the Affordable Care Act which Republicans don’t actually want to see implemented.

* August 25: House Republicans agree to pay a D.C. law firm $500 an hour, in taxpayer money, to handle the case.

* September 18: The Republicans are forced to pick a different D.C. law firm after their first lawyers gave up on the case, who hadn’t even filed the lawsuit.

* September 19: A federal appeals court throws out a lawsuit extremely similar to the one GOP leaders intend to file.

* October 29: The public learns that the Republicans’ second set of lawyers have also given up on the case, which still hasn’t been filed.



Taxpayers Will Dish Out $350,000 for the House to Sue Obama

The link below shows a copy of the contract:

Aug. 25, 2014
Russell Berman

How much does it cost to sue the president? Half a grand an hour, or a total of $350,000, if you're the House of Representatives.

The House Committee on Administration announced on Monday that it has retained the law firm BakerHostetler and appointed attorney David Rivkin to lead the House's lawsuit against President Obama, which Republicans approved on a party-line vote last month.

According to a copy of the contract posted on the committee's website, the House (i.e. John Q. Taxpayer) will pay a rate of $500 an hour with a "firm cap" of $350,000 for the lawsuit.

As outlined by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), the House plans to accuse Obama of exceeding his constitutional authority by delaying the employer mandate in his healthcare law without permission from Congress.

[Note that the Republicans oppose the employer mandate, so they are suing the president for doing something they want him to do!]


Democrats weren't buying it, and the chairman of the party's campaign committee, Rep. Steve Israel (N.Y.), released a statement calling the contract an "outrageous waste of taxpayer dollars."

This outrageous waste of taxpayer dollars is yet another reminder of House Republicans’ misguided priorities. Only in John Boehner’s world does it make sense to pay lawyers $500 per hour to work on a partisan lawsuit while refusing to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 for hardworking Americans trying to feed their families."


Globally, more than one-third of child deaths are attributable to undernutrition.


Bread for the World

How you can help

Globally, women suffer disproportionately from hunger,
disease, and poverty. Especially in developing countries, the
low status of rural women—social, economic, and political—
contributes to high rates of food insecurity and malnutrition
among children as well. Where there is hunger and poverty,
there is almost always poor access to maternal and child
health care.
• Malnourished women give birth to malnourished
children and are at risk of death during childbirth.
• Malnutrition increases the risk that a pregnant women
who is HIV-positive will pass the virus on to her baby.
• Women suffer twice the rate of malnutrition as men.
Girls are twice as likely to die from malnutrition as

The opposite is true too:
• A child born to a mother who can read is 50 percent
more likely to survive past her fifth birthday.
• Each extra year of a mother’s education reduces the
probability of infant mortality by 5 percent to 10


Among children in the developing world younger than
5, an estimated one third—195 million children—are
stunted, and 129 million are underweight.


• In the developing world, 13 percent of children under
5 years old are wasted (they weigh too little for their
height). Five percent, or about 26 million children, are
severely wasted.
• In developing countries, 16 percent of infants, or one in
six, weigh less than 3.3 pounds (2,500 grams) at birth.


Increasing women’s income and status helps ensure better
health and nutrition for their children.
• Women are more likely than men to spend any
additional resources on their children—in one study
from Brazil, 20 times more likely.
• Half of the world’s smallholder farmers are women.
• The share of women employed outside agriculture
remains as low as 20 percent in South Asia, West Asia
and North Africa.
• Even when women are employed, they are typically
paid less and have less financial security than men.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

High milk intake linked with higher fractures and mortality


Contact: Emma Dickinson
BMJ-British Medical Journal
High milk intake linked with higher fractures and mortality
Further studies needed before any dietary recommendations can be made, say researchers

A high milk intake in women and men is not accompanied by a lower risk of fracture and instead may be associated with a higher rate of death, suggests observational research published in The BMJ this week.

This may be explained by the high levels of lactose and galactose (types of sugar) in milk, that have been shown to increase oxidative stress and chronic inflammation in animal studies, say the researchers.

However, they point out that their study can only show an association and cannot prove cause and effect. They say the results "should be interpreted cautiously" and further studies are needed before any firm conclusions or dietary recommendations can be made.


Women were tracked for an average of 20 years, during which time 15,541 died and 17,252 had a fracture, of whom 4,259 had a hip fracture.

In women, no reduction in fracture risk with higher milk consumption was observed. Furthermore, women who drank more than three glasses of milk a day (average 680 ml) had a higher risk of death than women who drank less than one glass of milk a day (average 60 ml).

Men were tracked for an average of 11 years, during which time 10,112 died and 5,066 had a fracture, with 1,166 hip fracture cases. Men also had a higher risk of death with higher milk consumption, although this was less pronounced than in women.

Further analysis showed a positive association between milk intake and biomarkers of oxidative stress and inflammation.

In contrast, a high intake of fermented milk products with a low lactose content (including yoghurt and cheese) was associated with reduced rates of mortality and fracture, particularly in women.



Tea and citrus products could lower ovarian cancer risk

Oct. 28, 2014

Research published today reveals that women who consume foods containing flavonols and flavanones (both subclasses of dietary flavonoids) significantly decrease their risk of developing epithelial ovarian cancer, the fifth-leading cause of cancer death among women.

The research team studied the dietary habits of 171,940 women aged between 25 and 55 for more than three decades.

The team found that those who consumed food and drinks high in flavonols (found in tea, red wine, apples and grapes) and flavanones (found in citrus fruit and juices) were less likely to develop the disease.

Ovarian cancer affects more than 6,500 women in the UK each year. In the United States, about 20,000 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year.


“The main sources of these compounds include tea and citrus fruits and juices, which are readily incorporated into the diet, suggesting that simple changes in food intake could have an impact on reducing ovarian cancer risk.

“In particular, just a couple of cups of black tea every day was associated with a 31 per cent reduction in risk.”


Breathe Easier: Get Your D

Oct. 28, 2014

Asthma, which inflames and narrows the airways, has become more common in recent years. While there is no known cure, asthma can be managed with medication and by avoiding allergens and other triggers. A new study by a Tel Aviv University researcher points to a convenient, free way to manage acute asthmatic episodes — catching some rays outside.

According to a paper recently published in the journal Allergy, measuring and, if need be, boosting Vitamin D levels could help manage asthma attacks. The research, conducted by Dr. Ronit Confino-Cohen of TAU's Sackler Faculty of Medicine, Meir Medical Center, and the Clalit Research Institute, and Dr. Becca Feldman of the Clalit Research Institute drew on the records of millions of patients and used physician diagnoses, rather than self-reports, for evidence of asthma episodes.


Do financial experts make better investments?

Contact(s): Andrei Simonov , Andy Henion
Oct. 28, 2014

Financial experts do not make higher returns on their own investments than untrained investors, according to research by a Michigan State University business scholar.


Nestling birds struggle in noisy environments


Contact: Jason Socrates Bardi
Acoustical Society of America

Nestling birds struggle in noisy environments
Ambient noise impairs critical vocal communication between nestling birds and their parents

WASHINGTON, D.C., October 29, 2014--Unable to fly, nestling birds depend on their parents for both food and protection: vocal communication between parents and offspring helps young birds to determine when they should beg for food and when they should crouch in the nest to avoid a predator seeking an easy meal.

A group of researchers from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia has found that ambient, anthropomorphic noise – from traffic, construction and other human activities – can break this vital communications link, leaving nestlings vulnerable or hungry.


Evolution of competitiveness


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Contact: Dr. Sebastian A. Baldauf
University of Bonn
Evolution of competitiveness
Scientists explain diversity in competitiveness and warn that too much emphasis on competition can have negative effects on human society

Virtually all organisms in the living world compete with members of their own species. However, individuals differ strongly in how much they invest into their competitive ability. Some individuals are highly competitive and eager to get access to high-quality resources, while others seem to avoid competition, instead making prudent use of the lower-quality resources that are left over for them. Moreover, the degree of competitiveness in animal and human societies seems to fluctuate considerably over time. A theoretical study published in "Nature Communications" this week sheds some new light on these findings. The authors demonstrate that the evolution of competitiveness has a strong tendency towards diversification. When competitiveness is externally favoured, it can destabilize animal and human societies and in extreme cases even threaten their survival.


The simple assumption that individuals with highest competitive ability are not able to make maximal use of the acquired resources suffices to explain the diversity in competitiveness observed in nature. If not too much is at stake, that is, if high-competitive individuals acquire only slightly better resources than low-competitive individuals, evolution leads to the stable coexistence of two types of individuals: one type does not invest into competition at all and is content with lower-quality resources, and a second type that invest an appreciable (but not maximal) part of their energy into being competitive. If much is at stake, such coexistence does not occur. Instead, the model predicts cyclical changes in competitive ability over time. For large periods, there is an arm's race to the top, leading to an ever-increasing degree of competitiveness in the population. This process continues until the costs of competitiveness become too high: competitiveness crashes to zero, but once there the whole rat race starts again. "Hence, the same model explains the coexistence of alternative strategies and the change of competitiveness in time", Baldauf says. "Moreover, the model can explain the variation in competitiveness across populations of the same species."


The study also considers how the evolution of competitiveness is affected by external factors. As an example, the authors considered the joint evolution of competitiveness in males and the evolution of preferences in females for either high- or low-competitive males. "We were interested in the question whether females evolve preferences for males with high-quality resources but little energy left for paternal care or for males that are content with low-quality resources but able to compensate by providing much care," says Leif Engqvist, co-author of the study. It turned out that females almost always evolved preferences for highly competitive males, even if mating with uncompetitive but caring males would have resulted in more offspring. These preferences, in turn, fuelled the males' arm's race towards higher and higher levels of competitiveness. Engqvist: "In stressful times, like periods of food shortage, this process can even lead to population extinction, since the investment in competition exceeds the value of the resources."

"Extreme care is required when transferring insights from a simple evolutionary model to humans", says Franjo Weissing from the University of Groningen. "Our article therefore does not say too much about competitiveness in humans. However, also in humans there is huge diversity in competitiveness, and individuals with highest competitive ability often seem least prudent in the exploitation of their resources. It is therefore tempting to speculate that the external stimulation of competitiveness by societal pressure, which is analogous to the stimulation of competitiveness by the female preferences in our model, can lead to such a wastage of resources that our future survival is threatened."


Prenatal phthalate exposures and anogenital distance in Swedish boys


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Contact: Carina Olsson
Swedish Research Council

Prenatal phthalate exposures and anogenital distance in Swedish boys

The first study to examine prenatal exposure to the phthalate DiNP finds it is associated with a shorter anogenital distance (AGD) in Swedish boys at the age of 21 months. These findings raise concern since animal research has linked DiNP exposure to a shorter AGD, and studies on humans have related shorter AGD to male genital birth defects as well as impaired reproductive function in adult males, and the levels of DiNP metabolites in humans are increasing globally.

Phthalates are used as plasticizers in soft polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and found in a large number of commonly used consumer products. Due to reported health risk, di-isononyl phthalate (DiNP) has been introduced as a replacement for diethyl hexyl phthalate (DEHP) as a plasticizer in soft PVC. This raises concerns since animal data suggest that DiNP may have anti-androgenic properties similar to DEHP. In addition, biomonitoring data show that human DiNP metabolite levels are rapidly increasing globally. The anogenital distance (AGD) - the distance from the anus to the genitals - is a marker that has been used in animal studies to assess reproductive toxicity. While several studies have examined phthalates such as DBP, DEHP and AGD in humans, none has included DiNP.


What did we find?

Most of the phthalate metabolites were associated with a shorter AGD, however, not all associations reached significance. The strongest and significant associations were found between a shorter AGD and DiNP metabolites.

What does it mean?

These findings call into question the safety of the recent substitution of DiNP for DEHP in soft PVC, particularly since a shorter male AGD has been shown to be related to male genital birth defects in children (such as hypospadias and undescended testis) and impaired reproductive function in adult males (such as decreased fertility, impaired semen quality and lower serum testosterone levels) and the fact that human levels of DiNP are rapidly increasing globally, says Carl-Gustaf Bornehag, professor in Public Health Sciences at Karlstad University and responsible for the current study.


HPV infections in women eradicated by AHCC, Japanese mushroom extract

I would be cautious using this if you have an auto-immune disease.


Contact: Julie McQuain
JMPR Associates, Inc.

HPV infections in women eradicated by AHCC, Japanese mushroom extract
Results of human pilot study presented at SIO meeting in Houston

(October 29, 2014, Beaverton, OR) New research presented at the Society for Integrative Oncology (SIO) 11th International Conference in Houston, TX showed for the first time that it is possible to eliminate HPV infection in women using a readily available nutritional supplement, AHCC.

The study, presented by Dr. Judith A. Smith, Pharm.D., associate professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) Medical School, was selected for special research platform presentation as "Best of SIO."

"HPV is associated with 99% of cervical cancers as well as many other life threatening cancers," said Dr. Smith. "Patients who learn that they have HPV, and their doctors, are understandably frustrated because all we can do is monitor them for the abnormal changes associated with cancer. What we need is a safe, effective treatment for HPV before the cancer occurs."

In the study ten women who tested HPV-positive with the Cervista HPV HR Test were treated orally with the Japanese mushroom extract AHCC (active hexose correlated compound) once daily for up to six months. Five achieved a negative HPV test result – three with confirmed eradication after stopping AHCC – and the remaining two responders continue on the study.

Further investigation in a formal phase II randomized placebo controlled study is now being enrolled at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) Medical School. HPV study website.

"With this study, for the first time, we've shown it's possible to eradicate HPV in women using AHCC for only 3 months or up to 6 months," said Dr. Smith, whose research has a specific focus on the safe and effective use of nutritional and herbal supplements with pharmacologic modalities as it relates to women's health and cancer. "We've been studying the efficacy of AHCC's integration with common chemotherapy agents for over a decade, and had previously eradicated HPV infections with AHCC in three orthotopic mouse models. This study confirms the previous results," she said.

AHCC works as an immunotherapy that uses a body's own immune system to help fight disease. Human and in-vivo studies have shown that AHCC increases the number and/or activity of Natural Killer (NK) cells, dendritic cells, and cytokines, which enable the body to effectively respond to infections and block the proliferation of tumors.


HPV (human papilloma virus) is the most common sexually transmitted virus in the United States. Up to 70% of sexually active adults will acquire HPV at some point in their lives. Human papillomavirus DNA has been detected in 99.7% of cervical cancer biopsies, yielding the largest causative relationship of any cancer. (1) According to the Centers for Disease Control, several other cancers are related to HPV, including 95 percent of anal cancer, 60 percent of oropharyngeal cancer, 65 percent of vaginal cancer, 50 percent of vulvar cancer and 35 percent of penile cancer.


Same Votes, Different Districts Would Change Results

October 29, 2014 | Robin Smith
Duke University

Researchers at Duke University have developed a mathematical model that shows how changes in North Carolina’s congressional voting districts could affect election outcomes.

Focusing on the last election, the researchers varied the state’s congressional districts to calculate what the outcome of the 2012 U.S. House of Representatives elections might have been had the state’s districts been drawn to emphasize nonpartisan boundaries. The team re-ran the election 100 times -- using the same votes as in 2012 and tweaking the voting map with only the legal requirements of a redistricting plan in mind. Not once did they get the split of Democratic and Republican seats seen in the actual election.

The researchers hope the study will bolster calls for redistricting reform in the 2016 election season.


During the 2012 elections in North Carolina, Republicans took nine of the state’s 13 U.S. House seats although 51 percent of the two-party vote went to Democratic candidates.

The gerrymandering that led to these results isn’t unique to North Carolina or any specific party. Both Democrats and Republicans have used it for political advantage over the years. However, new technology makes it possible to draw partisan districts with increasing precision.

“North Carolina’s 12th and 4th congressional districts in particular look a little crazy,” said study co-author and Duke senior Christy Vaughn, who is originally from Taylorsville, N.C.


After re-running the election 100 times, with a randomly drawn nonpartisan map each time, the average simulated election result was 7 or 8 U.S. House seats for the Democrats and 5 or 6 for Republicans. The maximum number of Republican seats that emerged from any of the simulations was eight. The actual outcome of the election -- four Democratic representatives and nine Republicans – did not occur in any of the simulations.


The model isn’t meant as a tool for creating new voting districts, the researchers say.
“Our districts aren’t perfect,” Vaughn said.

But the methods they used can identify when a particular set of district boundaries may misrepresent the will of the people, and quantify the potential effects on an election. “This gives us a way to judge how reasonable a proposed redistricting is and what we should expect under a given set of boundaries,” Mattingly said.

The researchers hope the study will bolster calls for redistricting reform in the 2016 election season in North Carolina and other states. Any changes in the districting process would most likely go into effect after the next national Census in 2020, when states again redraw the boundaries of their congressional maps to reflect changes in their population.

Brain responses to disgusting images help reveal political leanings


Contact: Paula Brewer Byron
Virginia Tech
Brain responses to disgusting images help reveal political leanings
On verge of Election Day, Virginia Tech scientists find that biology influences political ideology

Maggot infestations, rotting carcasses, unidentifiable gunk in the kitchen sink – how much your brain responds to disgusting images could predict whether you are liberal or conservative.

In a study to be published in an upcoming issue of Current Biology, an international team of scientists led by Virginia Tech reports that the strength of a person's reaction to repulsive images can forecast their political ideology.

"Disgusting images generate neural responses that are highly predictive of political orientation even when those neural responses don't correspond with an individual's conscious reaction to the images," said Read Montague, a Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute professor who led the study. "Remarkably, we found that the brain's response to a single disgusting image was enough to predict an individual's political ideology."

In a brain scanner, participants were shown disgusting images, such as dirty toilets or mutilated carcasses, mixed with neutral and pleasant images, such as landscapes and babies.

Afterward, the subjects took a standard political ideology inventory, answering questions about how often they discuss politics and whether they agreed or disagreed with hot-button topics such as school prayer and gay marriage.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, scientists from the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute – in collaboration with researchers from University College London, Rice University, the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, and Yale University – recorded brain activity of the subjects responding to the images.

Responses to disgusting images could predict, with 95 percent to 98 percent accuracy, how a person would answer questions on the political survey.


Conservatives tend to have more magnified responses to disgusting images, but scientists don't know exactly why, Montague said.

The responses could be a callback to the deep, adverse reactions primitive ancestors needed to avoid contamination and disease. To prevent unsavory consequences, they had to learn to separate the canteen from the latrine.

Montague points out that we're not necessarily hardwired to respond on instinct alone. He uses height as an analogy.

"Genetics predetermines height – but not fully," Montague said. "Nutrition, sleep, and starvation can all change someone's ultimate height. But tall people's children tend to be tall, and that's a kind of starting point. If we can begin to understand that some automatic reactions to political issues may be simply that – reactions – then we might take the temperature down a bit in the current boiler of political discourse."

People are unique among animals in their degree of cognitive control. Montague calls it a behavioral superpower.

"People can deny their biological instincts for an idea – think of hunger strikes for political reasons," Montague said. "That requires a high degree of cognitive control, and that's the point."

The takeaway message for Election Day?

"Think, don't just react," Montague said. "But no one needs neuroscience to know that's a good idea."


Nasa-funded study: industrial civilisation headed for 'irreversible collapse'?

A new study partly-sponsored by Nasa's Goddard Space Flight Center has highlighted the prospect that global industrial civilisation could collapse in coming decades due to unsustainable resource exploitation and increasingly unequal wealth distribution.

Noting that warnings of 'collapse' are often seen to be fringe or controversial, the study attempts to make sense of compelling historical data showing that "the process of rise-and-collapse is actually a recurrent cycle found throughout history." Cases of severe civilisational disruption due to "precipitous collapse - often lasting centuries - have been quite common."


It finds that according to the historical record even advanced, complex civilisations are susceptible to collapse, raising questions about the sustainability of modern civilisation:

"The fall of the Roman Empire, and the equally (if not more) advanced Han, Mauryan, and Gupta Empires, as well as so many advanced Mesopotamian Empires, are all testimony to the fact that advanced, sophisticated, complex, and creative civilizations can be both fragile and impermanent."

By investigating the human-nature dynamics of these past cases of collapse, the project identifies the most salient interrelated factors which explain civilisational decline, and which may help determine the risk of collapse today: namely, Population, Climate, Water, Agriculture, and Energy.

These factors can lead to collapse when they converge to generate two crucial social features: "the stretching of resources due to the strain placed on the ecological carrying capacity"; and "the economic stratification of society into Elites [rich] and Masses (or "Commoners") [poor]" These social phenomena have played "a central role in the character or in the process of the collapse," in all such cases over "the last five thousand years."

Currently, high levels of economic stratification are linked directly to overconsumption of resources, with "Elites" based largely in industrialised countries responsible for both:

"... accumulated surplus is not evenly distributed throughout society, but rather has been controlled by an elite. The mass of the population, while producing the wealth, is only allocated a small portion of it by elites, usually at or just above subsistence levels."

The study challenges those who argue that technology will resolve these challenges by increasing efficiency:

"Technological change can raise the efficiency of resource use, but it also tends to raise both per capita resource consumption and the scale of resource extraction, so that, absent policy effects, the increases in consumption often compensate for the increased efficiency of resource use."

Productivity increases in agriculture and industry over the last two centuries has come from "increased (rather than decreased) resource throughput," despite dramatic efficiency gains over the same period.

Modelling a range of different scenarios, Motesharrei and his colleagues conclude that under conditions "closely reflecting the reality of the world today... we find that collapse is difficult to avoid."


In both scenarios, Elite wealth monopolies mean that they are buffered from the most "detrimental effects of the environmental collapse until much later than the Commoners", allowing them to "continue 'business as usual' despite the impending catastrophe." The same mechanism, they argue, could explain how "historical collapses were allowed to occur by elites who appear to be oblivious to the catastrophic trajectory (most clearly apparent in the Roman and Mayan cases)."

In both scenarios, Elite wealth monopolies mean that they are buffered from the most "detrimental effects of the environmental collapse until much later than the Commoners", allowing them to "continue 'business as usual' despite the impending catastrophe." The same mechanism, they argue, could explain how "historical collapses were allowed to occur by elites who appear to be oblivious to the catastrophic trajectory (most clearly apparent in the Roman and Mayan cases)."

The two key solutions are to reduce economic inequality so as to ensure fairer distribution of resources, and to dramatically reduce resource consumption by relying on less intensive renewable resources and reducing population growth:

"Collapse can be avoided and population can reach equilibrium if the per capita rate of depletion of nature is reduced to a sustainable level, and if resources are distributed in a reasonably equitable fashion."


Although the study based on HANDY is largely theoretical - a 'thought-experiment' - a number of other more empirically-focused studies - by KPMG and the UK Government Office of Science for instance - have warned that the convergence of food, water and energy crises could create a 'perfect storm' within about fifteen years. But these 'business as usual' forecasts could be very conservative.

Techo-Utopianism and the TED talk

Benjamin Bratton
December 2013

In our culture, talking about the future is sometimes a polite way of saying things about the present that would otherwise be rude or risky.

But have you ever wondered why so little of the future promised in TED talks actually happens? So much potential and enthusiasm, and so little actual change. Are the ideas wrong? Or is the idea about what ideas can do all by themselves wrong?


So my TED talk is not about my work or my new book – the usual spiel – but about TED itself, what it is and why it doesn't work.

The first reason is over-simplification.

To be clear, I think that having smart people who do very smart things explain what they doing in a way that everyone can understand is a good thing. But TED goes way beyond that.

Let me tell you a story. I was at a presentation that a friend, an astrophysicist, gave to a potential donor. I thought the presentation was lucid and compelling (and I'm a professor of visual arts here at UC San Diego so at the end of the day, I know really nothing about astrophysics). After the talk the sponsor said to him, "you know what, I'm gonna pass because I just don't feel inspired should be more like Malcolm Gladwell."

At this point I kind of lost it. Can you imagine?

Think about it: an actual scientist who produces actual knowledge should be more like a journalist who recycles fake insights! This is beyond popularisation. This is taking something with value and substance and coring it out so that it can be swallowed without chewing. This is not the solution to our most frightening problems – rather this is one of our most frightening problems.

So I ask the question: does TED epitomize a situation where if a scientist's work (or an artist's or philosopher's or activist's or whoever) is told that their work is not worthy of support, because the public doesn't feel good listening to them?

I submit that astrophysics run on the model of American Idol is a recipe for civilizational disaster.


TED of course stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design, and I'll talk a bit about all three. I Think TED actually stands for: middlebrow megachurch infotainment.


The key rhetorical device for TED talks is a combination of epiphany and personal testimony (an "epiphimony" if you like ) through which the speaker shares a personal journey of insight and realisation, its triumphs and tribulations.

What is it that the TED audience hopes to get from this? A vicarious insight, a fleeting moment of wonder, an inkling that maybe it's all going to work out after all? A spiritual buzz?

I'm sorry but this fails to meet the challenges that we are supposedly here to confront. These are complicated and difficult and are not given to tidy just-so solutions. They don't care about anyone's experience of optimism. Given the stakes, making our best and brightest waste their time – and the audience's time – dancing like infomercial hosts is too high a price. It is cynical.

Also, it just doesn't work.


A better 'E' in TED would stand for economics, and the need for, yes imagining and designing, different systems of valuation, exchange, accounting of transaction externalities, financing of coordinated planning, etc. Because states plus markets, states versus markets, these are insufficient models, and our conversation is stuck in Cold War gear.

Worse is when economics is debated like metaphysics, as if the reality of a system is merely a bad example of the ideal.

Communism in theory is an egalitarian utopia.

Actually existing communism meant ecological devastation, government spying, crappy cars and gulags.

Capitalism in theory is rocket ships, nanomedicine, and Bono saving Africa.

Actually existing capitalism means Walmart jobs, McMansions, people living in the sewers under Las Vegas, Ryan Seacrest … plus – ecological devastation, government spying, crappy public transportation and for-profit prisons.


As for one simple take away ... I don't have one simple take away, one magic idea. That's kind of the point. I will say that if and when the key problems facing our species were to be solved, then perhaps many of us in this room would be out of work (and perhaps in jail).

But it's not as though there is a shortage of topics for serious discussion. We need a deeper conversation about the difference between digital cosmopolitanism and cloud feudalism


If we really want transformation, we have to slog through the hard stuff (history, economics, philosophy, art, ambiguities, contradictions). Bracketing it off to the side to focus just on technology, or just on innovation, actually prevents transformation.

Instead of dumbing-down the future, we need to raise the level of general understanding to the level of complexity of the systems in which we are embedded and which are embedded in us. This is not about "personal stories of inspiration", it's about the difficult and uncertain work of demystification and reconceptualisation: the hard stuff that really changes how we think. More Copernicus, less Tony Robbins.

At a societal level, the bottom line is if we invest in things that make us feel good but which don't work, and don't invest in things that don't make us feel good but which may solve problems, then our fate is that it will just get harder to feel good about not solving problems.

In this case the placebo is worse than ineffective, it's harmful. It's diverts your interest, enthusiasm and outrage until it's absorbed into this black hole of affectation.


In Liberia, Home Deaths Spread Circle of Ebola Contagion


The family of the sick man, who had endured Ebola’s telltale symptoms for six days, took him by taxi to treatment centers here in the capital twice, only to be turned back at the gate each time for lack of beds. He died at home, his arms thrashing violently and blood spewing out his mouth, in front of his sons.

“We had to carry him home two times because they could do nothing for us,” said Eric Gweah, 25, as a team of body collectors came to retrieve the corpse of his father, Ofori Gweah, 62. “The only thing the government can do is come for bodies. They are killing us.”

So many Ebola victims are dying at home because of the severe shortage of treatment centers here in Monrovia, Liberia’s capital, that they are infecting family members, neighbors and others in a ballooning circle of contagion.

Only 18 percent of Ebola patients in Liberia are being cared for in hospitals or other settings that reduce the risk of transmission by isolating them from the rest of the population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Unless that rate reaches 70 percent, the center predicted this week, Ebola cases will keep soaring.


In the coming weeks, the United States military will try to overhaul the fight against Ebola in Liberia, home to 1,580 of the 2,800 Ebola deaths so far recorded in West Africa. The 3,000-strong American mission will not treat patients, but will build as many as 17 treatment centers, with a total of 1,700 beds, and try to train 500 health workers a week.

But building the centers is expected to take weeks and it is unclear who will run them, especially since the disease has decimated Liberia’s already weak health care system and the fear of Ebola has long kept many international aid workers away.

“I’ve worked in many crises for more than 20 years, and it’s the first time I can see a situation that nobody wants to come,” said Jean-Pierre Veyrenche, who is heading the World Health Organization’s efforts to build treatment centers here. “There’s plenty of money, so that’s not the issue.”

“People are afraid to come — that’s it,” he added.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

'Born and raised' Texans forced to prove identities under new voter ID law

Texas made international news! The Guardian is a British newspaper.

Ed Pilkington in Austin, Monday 27 October 2014

Eric Kennie is a Texan. He is as Texan as the yucca plants growing outside his house. So Texan that he has never, in his 45 years, travelled outside the state. In fact, he has never even left his native city of Austin. “No sir, not one day. I was born and raised here, only place I know is Austin.”

You might think that more than qualifies Kennie as a citizen of the Lone Star state, entitling him to its most basic rights such as the ability to vote. Not so, according to the state of Texas and its Republican political leadership. On 4 November, when America goes to the polls in the midterm elections, for the first time in his adult life Eric Kennie will not be allowed to participate.

Ever since he turned 18 he has made a point of voting in general elections, having been brought up by his African American parents to think that it is important, part of what he calls “doing the right thing”.


But this year is different. Kennie is one of an estimated 600,000 Texans who, though registered to vote, will be unable to do so because they cannot meet photo-identification requirements set out in the state’s new voter-ID law, SB14 .

The law, which has been deemed by the courts to be the strictest of its kind in the US, forces any would-be voter to produce photographic proof of identity at polling stations. It was justified by Governor Rick Perry and the Republican chiefs in the state legislature as a means of combatting electoral fraud in a state where in the past 10 years some 20m votes have been cast, yet only two cases of voter impersonation have been prosecuted to conviction.

Earlier this month a federal district judge, Nelva Gonzales Ramos, struck down the law, slamming it as a cynical ploy on the part of Republicans to fend off the growing strength of the minority electorate in Texas by “suppressing the overwhelmingly Democratic votes of African Americans and Latinos”. She linked SB14 to a long history of racial discrimination in state elections spanning back generations, and declared the new law to be an unconstitutional poll tax.

But last week, in the early hours of 18 October, when most Texans were sleeping, the US supreme court snuck out a one-line judgment that allowed the voter ID restrictions to be applied this election cycle. Without any explanation, a majority of the justices effectively threw Eric Kennie and many thousands of others like him – particularly black, Hispanic and low-income Texans – into a state of democratic limbo.

“This is the first time the courts have allowed a law that actually keeps people from voting to go into effect, even though a judge found it was passed for the purpose of making it harder for minorities to vote,” said Wendy Weiser, head of the democracy programme at the Brennan Centre for Justice.

Before SB14 came into effect, Kennie was able to vote by simply showing a voter registration card posted to his home address. Under the vastly more stringent demands of the new law, he must take with him to the polling station one of six forms of identification bearing his photograph. The problem is, he doesn’t have any of the six and there’s no way he’s going to be able to acquire one any time soon.


And then there’s the sixth method of identification allowed under the law. It’s a new form of photo-ID card created specifically for voting under SB14, known as an election identification certificate (EIC).

To get an EIC, Kennie needs to be able to show the Texas department of public safety (DPS) other forms of documentation that satisfy them as to his identity. He presented them with his old personal ID card – issued by the DPS itself and with his photo on it – but because it is more than 60 days expired (it ran out in 2000) they didn’t accept it. Next he showed them an electricity bill, and after that a cable TV bill, but on each occasion they said it didn’t cut muster and turned him away.

Each trip to the DPS office involved taking three buses, a journey that can stretch to a couple of hours. Then he had to stand in line, waiting for up to a further three hours to be seen, before finally making another two-hour schlep home.

In one of his trips to the DPS last year they told him he needed to get hold of a copy of his birth certificate as the only remaining way he could meet the requirements and get his EIC. That meant going on yet another three-bus trek to the official records office in a different part of town.

The cost of acquiring a birth certificate in Texas is $23, which may not sound much but it is to Kennie. He is poor, like many of the up to 600,000 Texans caught in the current voter ID trap.


I asked him how much $23 means to him. His said what he does when he feels flush with money is decide to splurge on a special treat for himself and his friends. “I do chicken Tuesday at Popeyes.”

What’s that, I asked.

“Two pieces of fried chicken for 99 cents – one dollar seven with tax. When things are good I might get five or 10 boxes and hand them out to my neighbours.”

So what passes as a reckless binge for Eric Kennie – a splurge on about $10 worth of fried chicken – is less than half of what he spent getting himself a copy of his birth certificate.

The outcome was perhaps predictable by now: the birth certificate wasn’t up to scratch either. When he took it to the DPS (another three buses there, three buses back, another two hours waiting in line) they told him that the name on the birth certificate didn’t match the name on his voter registration card. The birth certificate has him down as Eric Caruthers – his mother’s maiden name – even though his parents were married at the time he was born.

I asked Kennie how it felt having been through so many hoops only to be told that he still couldn’t vote because of a bureaucratic cock-up that occurred 45 years ago. “It makes me hurt deep down inside, it really do,” he said.

Kennie said he would like the people who came up with the idea of SB14 to put themselves in his shoes, like Eddie Murphy in the movie Trading Places. “Let me change identity with them for a whole day. Let them deal as me, Eric Kennie, and let me take their name. Then see how they feel. I think they’d see things differently then. I guarantee you, they wouldn’t make it to the end of the day.”

It is small consolation, but Kennie is not alone. African Americans and low-income people are among the hardest hit by SB14, with research showing that black voters are three times more likely than whites to lack the identification requirements obligated under the new law.


“What’s happening here is that the state of Texas is using tax dollars consciously to suppress their own voters. It’s absolutely about intimidation,” Kamin said.

At the headquarters of the Texas Democratic party in Austin, the voter protection director Sondra Haltom spends hours on the phone every day trying to help individuals negotiate the Kafkaesque bureaucratic maze that SB14 has created. She said she was finding that many older people are struggling because they have no birth certificates – a common problem for those from rural parts of Texas where births used to be handled by midwives and records were scanty.


Students are also bumping up against the lack of student ID cards on the list of approved identification under the voter-ID law. On Wednesday, Haltom dedicated several hours dealing with the case of a man from the Dallas area who had fallen into a classic catch-22. He didn’t have a photo-ID card so he went to ask for a copy of his birth certificate, only to be told – inaccurately – that he couldn’t get his birth certificate without a valid photo ID.


In Eric Kennie’s case, there is no clear way out of the morass. He could go to court and ask for the name on his birth certificate to be changed to correct the error, but that would take hiring a lawyer for a fee that he could not afford.

Or he could swallow his pride and take up the identity given on his birth certificate – turning himself into Eric Caruthers. He doesn’t want to do that – he said it would make his deceased father “turn in his grave”. It would also be profoundly ironic: he would in effect be impersonating someone else in order to get around a law ostensibly designed to root out impersonation at the polls.

The one thing he is not prepared to do is to give up the fight. Though he has admitted defeat this election cycle, he is determined to find a way through the mess and regain his vote.

“I do need to vote, I really do,” he said. “It’s too late for me, but this is for the next generation. They need us to get out the people who harm us and bring in folk who will make things a little better. So I’m going to keep on. I’m going to stay focused, roll with the punches and do what I got to do.”

How White People Got Snookered

I suggest you read the whole article at the link:

Quinn Norton
Oct. 17, 2014

There’s a perception that whiteness is working for white people. It’s not. Whiteness is one of the biggest and most long-running scams ever perpetrated.

[Read the article for an account of how bond labor for people of various places, including Ireland, morphed into slavery for one group.]


As of the 18th century whites could not be permanently enslaved as they sometimes had been before, and black slaves could never work their way to freedom. The whites were told this was because God had made the blacks inferior to the whites, just as the whites were inferior to the superior classes that owned property. It’s worthwhile to remember that they didn’t give whites political rights, they didn’t give whites the vote — that would not happen then nor at the revolution and independence. Whites didn’t get the vote until the presidency of Andrew Jackson. Property owners, both of land and slaves, were the only ones who could vote. That included black land and slave owners until various states passed laws in the early 18th century to take their franchise away.

This plan worked gorgeously. It broke all efforts of the majority of people, African or European, to fight for civil and political rights in America against a landed class that literally ruled everything. It reduced a portion of the people to the status of the negro slave, and gave the poor but now white people a precious and entitled inch to stand above the permanently enslaved on the social ladder. The next thing the politicians did sealed the deal: they paid poor whites a bounty for runaway slaves, and often made them overseers for slaves, turning every poor white in America into a prison guard against the people who had once been their neighbors and allies.


As the aristocrats and their successors traveled around the world through the colonial age, Europeans all over would find or define a group within the colonial territory and elevate it above the other groups, give it some privileges, though never enough to challenge the intruding rulers. In exchange for this slightly elevated status, the rulers would make those people do the colonial dirty work, and usually keep them slightly more well off than their fellows. Over time, these slightly elevated people often tried to keep their European masters in power even after the people realized how evil colonialism was, maintaining the system both to keep above their fellows and out of fear of retaliation for the dirty work they’d done. The most familiar contemporary case of this practice people will recognize is the Belgian categorization of Tutsis and Hutus, and the tragedy that still hangs over that arrangement over a century later. But really, the idea started in Virginia.


The great thing about the divide-and-conquer of creating white-skin privilege is that you don’t have to give people thusly bought off anything more, and American power structures didn’t. In places with black slavery, the whites suffered terribly.


There is a simple truth to American history for the majority of people who have ever been American: the worse the black experience, the worse everyone else’s experience, including whites. Driving down (or eliminating) black wages, while always agreeable to whites, drove white pay lower than their European counterparts for most of our history. The labor movement that got its start in America took longer to make progress here, especially in terms of hours and working conditions, largely because employers pitted whites against black or immigrant labor, splitting the movement. Civil and political rights in America only ever had to be better for whites than they were for blacks, preserving that furious inch of superiority that was the defining quality of whites.


It is to the political benefit of the existing system to keep whites, especially poor whites with little more than their whiteness to be proud of. It makes for a predictable political group. Whites thus managed will vote and flock to issues as reliably as tides.


We’ve spent the last few hundred years throwing out every Isaac Newton or Albert Einstein or Jonas Salk or Tim Berners-Lee who didn’t happen to be white, and didn’t happen to be a man. That’s a terrible thing to have done to those brilliant and now lost people. It’s a much worse thing to have done to the rest of humanity,


White exceptionalism runs to both negatives and positives. Whether whites are seen as intellectually and spiritually superior or morally abhorrent, the argument that whites are intrinsically different from the rest of humanity has all the same flaws as any such argument. There are no intrinsically innocent and wise peoples of the earth, we are all the same wonderful and terrible creatures. Every community produces gentle geniuses and violent monsters.


Just as American exceptionalism has been used to prevent sensible change—“Americans have the best healthcare in the world! We must retain the present system to keep that!” (Hint: America does not, in fact, have the best healthcare in the world)—white exceptionalism has been used to keep whites and non-whites from asking why society doesn’t work in obviously more sensible ways.


White exceptionalism, and even the elitism of old, finds their end in this age of global troubles. There is no sanity in maintaining these standards of difference. All our children share one destiny — to live their lives at the bottom of the same polluted gravity well, trying, and usually failing, to get their needs met as the acid seas encroach the land and the great variety of life dies before us.


No one living is responsible for creating this system, and no one living is really at fault for being caught in its workings. But there is no deus ex machina that will descend from the heavens and set it right. We will have to reach across this chasm ourselves. White people must join the world in fighting the pernicious ideas that created their category. Not because it is merely moral, but because without arriving at the principles contained in black liberation, humanity as we know it will surely pass from this earth.

Australia Blasted by Record Heat — Again

By John Upton
Oct. 27, 2014

Strange early-season temperatures again dogged sweaty Australians over the weekend, with Saturday’s continent-wide average maximum topping 97°F — a record for October.

Spring heat waves that have been baking the continent in recent weeks are “consistent” with the modeled effects of global warming in Australia, said Tom Knutson, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration climate modeler.

But global warming alone couldn’t explain the unseasonably hot weather. It’s likely that climate change has juiced natural heat waves, raising their temperatures and worsening their effects, Knutson said. [Nothing different from what climate scientists have been saying.]

Knutson led research, published a month ago in the annual extreme-weather issue of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, that found human-caused global warming contributed about 1.5°F to Australia’s unusual temperatures in 2013. That was in addition to 1.2°F of additional heat, over and above typical temperatures, that was produced by natural variability. [In other words, global warming contributed more than normal variation to that heat wave.]

Together, greenhouse gases and natural fluctuations created a scorching hot year Down Under that left previous records in its dust. The temperatures were so high last year that the Australian government was forced to develop new colors for its weather maps.

While Knutson hasn’t conducted any modeling to try to explain the most recent bouts of extreme Australian heat, he says a similar contribution from anthropogenic warming was likely, combined with a larger contribution from natural variability.

“For the recent event,” Knutson says, “the contribution from natural internal variability I'm sure is much greater than the anthropogenic contribution.”



by Katie Valentine Posted on October 27, 2014

On Saturday, Australia’s average high temperature of 97.5°F broke the record for the hottest October [equivalent to April north of the equator] day since record-keeping began in 1910. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, this weekend’s heat wave set records for daily high temperatures at 20 stations throughout the country. The town of St. George reached a high of 108.6°F on Sunday, and the suburbs surrounding Ipswich and Brisbane hit 106°F.

A spokesman from Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology told the Sydney Morning Herald that the heat wave was significant not just for its high temperatures, but for its duration. Wanaaring, Australia set a record of eight days of 95°F temperatures, a stretch of time that beats the town’s previous record of seven days in 1997. Broken Hill, Australia also experienced a longer stretch of October heat than usual: five days of 95°F or higher weather, up from the town’s previous October record of three days in a row.

“These are all occurring generally about a week early and the extent is longer than observed before,” he said.


Australia’s Climate Council, a privately-funded group that works to quantify the impacts climate change is already having in the country, issued a report this year that found that eight of the country’s hottest summers in history have occurred in the past 15 years. That heat has helped make the country’s bushfire season longer and more intense — an effect similar to climate change’s impact on the U.S.’s wildfire season.

Despite this extreme heat, however, Australia’s federal leadership has done little to address the threat of climate change. Instead, the country has cut funding for key climate groups and initiatives since [conservative] Prime Minister Tony Abbott took office in 2013. Abbott’s administration eliminated Australia’s Climate Commission, an independent panel of experts which used to receive government funding to study the impacts of climate change (the group got enough private funding to come back as the Climate Council, and continues to publish). This month, Abbott’s administration also proposed to cut the country’s renewable energy target, a cut that the BBC reports is likely to hit Australia’s renewable energy companies.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Global Warming Has Doubled The Risk Of Extreme Winters In Europe

by Jeff Spross Posted on October 27, 2014

Global warming has doubled the chances that any given winter in Europe or northern Asia will be unusually severe, according to new research.

Specifically, temperatures have risen at the poles much faster than around the rest of the planet, leading to the collapse of Arctic sea ice coverage and altering weather patterns in the northern hemisphere. The research was recently published in Nature Geoscience, and relied on a the combined output of 100 different simulations — “the most comprehensive computer modeling study to date,” as The Guardian put it.

Several recent severe winters in Europe have already been associated with the recent years where the melting of the Arctic ice cap was most severe. And by the 2030s, the Arctic is expected to be completely free of ice in the late summer.

The finding pounds home the point that, rather than simply delivering an evenly-spread increase in heat around the planet, global warming leads to more instances of extreme weather in all forms, as well as wider swings to more extreme temperatures for different regions. “The origin of frequent Eurasian severe winters is global warming,” Professor Masato Mori at the University of Tokyo — the paper’s lead author — told The Guardian.


“The agreement between observations in the real world and these computer models is very important in giving us more confidence that this [doubled risk of severe winters] is a real effect,” Professor Adam Scaife, a climate change expert at the United Kingdom’s Met Office who was not part of the research team, also told The Guardian.

“The balance of evidence suggests this is real.”

The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), due out November 2, will warn that climate change may have “serious, pervasive and irreversible” impacts on human society, according to Reuters. The IPCC has found a 95 percent certainty that global emissions of greenhouse gases from human use of fossil fuels have been the primary driver of global temperature increases since the 1950s. And because the effect of carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere is cumulative, further global temperature increases and melting Arctic ice are a veritable certainty. But the report also added that “a combination of adaptation and substantial, sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions can limit climate change risks.”



One-third of foster kids returned to their family are abused again

Some people should not have the care of children. Eg., people low on empathy.


Contact: Benjamin Augereau
University of Montreal
One-third of foster kids returned to their family are abused again

This news release is available in French.

One in three children who have been reunified with their families after being placed in foster care will be maltreated again, according to a study into Quebec's youth protection system by Marie-Andrée Poirier and Sonia Hélie of the University of Montreal's School of Social Services. The study, the first of its kind in the world, was undertaken in the wake of a new law intended to improve the family stability of youth receiving child protection services.


The study found that 33% percent of these children subsequently required further assistance from youth protection services, and the researchers found that two factors were particularly influential as to whether or not a child would fall into this category. Firstly, age. "Children aged three to five were most at risk of being abused or neglected again. This is due to their vulnerability and the constant care that they need," Poirier said. The number of attempts that have been to reunite the child with his or her biological family is the second factor, at least amongst the youngest participants in the study. "It's not instability with regards to the foster families with whom the child has been that plays a role, but rather the back-and-forth between the biological family and other settings. We believe that young children are more sensitive to the outcomes of failures to reunite the biological family and that this has an effect on their sense of attachment."


tags: child abuse

Future-focused women stand up to global warming with taxes, checkbook


Contact: Jeff Joireman
Washington State University
Future-focused women stand up to global warming with taxes, checkbook
WSU researcher finds future-oriented women most likely to fight global warming

Politicians who discredit global warming risk losing a big chunk of the female vote. A new study found women who consider the long-term consequences of their actions are more likely to adopt a liberal political orientation and take consumer and political steps to reduce global warming.

Jeff Joireman, associate professor of marketing at Washington State University, demonstrated that "future-oriented" women are the voting bloc most strongly motivated to invest money, time and taxes toward reducing global warming.

Previous studies have shown that women and those with liberal viewpoints are more likely to act to protect the environment than men and conservatives. Joireman's model helps explain why this occurs and is the first to document the combined influence of gender and concern for the future.


"Decisions that affect global warming pose a dilemma between what is good for individuals in the 'here and now' versus what is good for society and the environment 'in the distant future,'" he said.

"Unfortunately, it can take several decades for the lay public and lawmakers to realize there is a problem that needs fixing. This is clearly the case with global warming, as the consequences of our current lifestyle are not likely to be fully realized for another 25 to 50 years."


For the study, he focused on the personality trait called "consideration of future consequences."

Those who score high on the trait scale tend to be very worried about the future impacts of their actions, while those with lower scores are more concerned with immediate consequences.


Women scored higher than men on liberal political orientation, environmental values, belief in global warming, and willingness to pay to reduce global warming when their concern with future consequences was high.

But, it wasn't a simple gender difference. Women scored lower than men on liberal political orientation and willingness to pay when their concern with future consequences was low.

Tribal Narcissism

I discovered this in the Sept./Oct. issue of "Psychology Today".

By Jeffrey Kluger, published on September 02, 2014 - last reviewed on September 10, 2014


narcissists, like it or not, are also all of us. You may not be a narcissist and no single member of your social circle may be a narcissist, but collectively—in our communities, our nations, our political parties, our sports team loyalties, and, scarily, in our races and religions—we are all narcissists. There's personal narcissism and tribal narcissism—and that second kind can be a global affliction.

The narcissism of a tribe can be a wonderful, terrible, lovely, bloody, life-giving, life-taking thing—sometimes all at once. It's present in the harmless exhibitionism of the sign-waving, face-painted fans at the Super Bowl or the World Cup. It's in the faintly darker, more jingoistic chants of "U.S.A! U.S.A.!" that may accompany an Olympic hockey win or an ill-planned invasion of Iraq. It's part of every company softball game ever played—techies versus sales, design versus manufacture—and every blue state versus red state argument ever had. It's the Whigs versus the Tories, the Bolsheviks versus the Mensheviks, the Union versus the Confederacy. It's soldiers who race into the field risking death and ducking crossfire to save a wounded comrade and then, that job done, turn their fire outward and take other lives with the same resolve and pride with which they just saved one.

Human beings are social creatures—a very important adaptation allowing soft, slow, fangless, clawless ground-dwellers like us to survive. But being social implies bands, and bands imply favoring your own above all others. And because we're rational creatures, too—creatures who like to feel good about ourselves and don't like to think we seize land and resources and mates simply because we're greedy—we tell ourselves that we favor our own kind because we're smarter, prettier, better, more virtuous, more caring—a superior breed of people in a world filled with lesser ones.

Those feelings may exist in us naturally and unavoidably, but they are also dangerously easy to manipulate—with an anthem, a chant, a little scrap of flag.


Race began as a few bits of coding that reflected nothing more than the climactic and geographical adaptations a migrating species had to make if it were going to survive in a new land—darker pigmentation to afford protection from the sun in tropical latitudes, lighter skin to absorb what sunlight there is in cold, damp northern regions. "We didn't start off as a multiracial species," says psychologist Liz Phelps, the director of New York University's Lab of Learning, Decisions, and the Neuroscience of Affect. "We have races simply because we dispersed."

But early in human history, those differences began to take on an outsize meaning for us. Like it or not, the tribe you know is much more inclined to protect you than is the tribe you don't, whose members see you as alien at best and a competitor for resources at worst. No sooner are children old enough to toddle away from the campfire than they develop a sharp antenna for otherness, perceiving differences they may never have noticed before.


Water On the Moon Came from Solar Wind

I saw this in the weekly magazine "New Scientist" Oct. 11, 2014

By Charles Q. Choi, Contributor | October 08, 2014

Water trapped in rocks on the moon's surface probably originated mostly from streams of energetic particles blasted from the sun and not from cosmic impacts from comets, researchers say.


Less posting this week

I will probably be doing less posting this week because I'll be doing door-to-door canvassing for the election next week.

And I'll be a poll worker on election day.

Insightful mathematics for an optimal run

Oct. 27, 2014

Sure, we can become better runners by hydrating well, eating right, cross training, and practice. But getting to an optimal running strategy with equations? That’s exactly what a pair of mathematicians from France propose in a paper published this month in the SIAM Journal on Applied Mathematics.

“By modeling running in the form of equations and then solving them, we can predict the optimal strategy to run a given distance in the shortest amount of time,” says Amandine Aftalion, who co-authored the paper with Frederic Bonnans.

The model uses a system of ordinary differential equations. Aftalion explains: “Our model relies on two basic principles: energy is preserved, and acceleration (or variations of velocity) is equal to the sum of all forces. This leads to a system of differential equations coupling the unknown variables of the runner (velocity, propulsive force and anaerobic energy), and dependent on physiological parameters such as maximal oxygen uptake and total available anaerobic energy.”


A well-know study conducted by Joseph Keller in 1974 concluded that running a race requires an athlete to keep an almost constant speed for optimal effectiveness. Keller assumed that a runner keeps his or her maximal oxygen uptake at a constant value, whereas this value is seen to gradually increase to its maximal value during a race and then drop off at the end. In this paper, Aftalion and Bonnans argue that physiological measurements demonstrate that runners do not keep a constant speed, usually tending to vary their speed by an order of 10%. The authors show that varying one’s velocity rather than running at a constant velocity allows one to run longer. This is done using optimal control theory.

Performance data from races helps in assessing this new model. “We are now able to identify the physiological parameters of a person through data of a good race on a given distance using several time measurements at regular distances in the race,” says Aftalion. “From this we can predict how to run an ideal race, both for a champion, helping him improve his performance and win a medal, as well as for a regular runner who lacks professional coaching and seeks help. Our predictions corroborate actual strategies used by professional athletes.”

“In the future, we plan to adapt our model to other sports such as biking, triathlons, or other endurance sports, maybe cross country skiing,” Aftalion says.


Researcher studies inmate-officer relationships in maintaining safety and security

October 27, 2014

Case Western Reserve University mental health researcher Joseph Galanek spent a cumulative nine months in an Oregon maximum-security prison to learn first-hand how the prison manages inmates with mental illness.

What he found, through 430 hours of prison observations and interviews, is that inmates were treated humanely and security was better managed when cell block officers were trained to identify symptoms of mental illness and how to respond to them.

In the 150-year-old prison, he discovered officers used their authority with flexibility and discretion within the rigid prison structure to deal with mentally ill inmates.


Conversely, Galanek said, if these inmates were sent to the segregation unit (“the hole”) to sit isolated for hours, their thoughts could lead to agitation and hallucinations that often bring on prison security problems. Mentally ill prisoners’ work was important and meaningful because it acted as a coping mechanism to decrease the impact of psychiatric symptoms, he said.

To gain such access to prison culture is highly unusual. In fact, such ethnographic studies have declined in past 30 years due to perceptions that researchers are seen as security risks within these highly controlled environments. But as a mental health specialist in Oregon’s Department of Corrections from 1996-2003, Galanek was uniquely prepared to navigate the prison for his research.

“They trusted me,” he said. “I knew how to move, talk and interact with staff and inmates in the prison.”


Sunday, October 26, 2014

Tribal Narcissism




Burden of Proof

“If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is an intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense."

Bertrand Russell

Failure is necessary for scientific advance

New Scientist & Slate Interview – Inspired by Porcupines

October 19, 2014
Jeff Karp


We don’t talk enough about failure in science. But nine times out of 10, when you conduct any experiment, you are going to fail. In many ways, we’ve been educated to think that failure is one direction and success is the other. But I think both can point in the same direction: Failure has to come first so success can follow. Understanding that, I’ve tried not only to rate failure as part of the scientific process in my lab but also to find ways to accelerate it.


No one ever gets it right the first time.


Driving faster can get you there more slowly

When you drive faster, you need to maintain more space between cars for safety. In Atlanta, where drivers tailgate at high speeds and in the rain, accidents are common, which blocks the road and slows down the traffic.

By Bob Dallas
October 20th, 2014 (Oct. 21, 2014 in print)

The times are a-‘changing, and so are the speed limits on the Perimeter (I-285). The Perimeter speed limits on the south side running below I-20 were raised to 65 mph several months ago. The Perimeter “Top End,” however — not so fast. There, the congestion, number of exits and safety concerns were significantly more impactful. While conditions on weekends and late nights supporting shifting the speed limit from 55 to 65 mph, peak hours suggested downshifting to a much lower speed.Before we protest too much, lowering the speed limit pre-peak is the most effective way to improve performance by averting the worst congestion during peak drive times.Why does this work? It avoids the accordion effect that creates stop-and-go traffic and significantly reduces the number of severe crashes that degrade the flow. Studies consistently show the optimal speed that accommodates the most vehicles is just under 45 mph. [ I read about studies showing this in print, but could never find it on-line. Surely there somewhere, in the 100,000 results.]


What Billionaires Really Spend Each Month

By Robert Frank
Oct. 23, 2014

Court filings related to different cases involving Wyly and Griffin offer a rare look into the real spending habits of billionaire families. While all billionaires are different, with some living large and others more frugal, the filings show the so-called burn-rate, or monthly spending, for many of today's upper crust can dwarf most people's annual incomes.

Take Wyly, a former billionaire who made his fortune from Michael's Stores and Sterling Software.


In court filings, Wyly filed his monthly expenses for the court's approval and the SEC is asking for an asset freeze. The SEC said Wyly has spent a total of $450 million over the past 10 years, "a burn-rate of approximately $3.75 million a month."

Of course, much of that may have been lawyer fees to battle the SEC. But the SEC says his everyday expense include $2,200 a month for "pool, home maintenance and landscaping," $2,000 a month for groceries, and $32,000 a month for "two personal writing assistants" (he's written several books). The salaries for the writing assistants and his housekeeper total $523,345 a year.

He pays $29,000 a month for the mortgage on his wife's bookstore, Explore Booksellers in Aspen, which is for sale. He also spends $7,000 a month "to support family and friends."

Wyly also reports paying more than $100,000 a month to his family office, which runs his investments and his finances.


In a similar vein, court filings from billionaire hedge funder Ken Griffin against his estranged wife Anne Dias Griffin seek to seek to paint a picture of a woman with a large personal budget. She's seeking to break their pre-nup and said Ken has cut off her credit cards and fired her staffers. She said he has an annual income of around $900 million a year. [$900 million a year = $900,000,000/year = $75,000,000/month = $2,465,753/day]


Largest City In South America Could Run Out Of Water In 100 Days

Global warming is causing an increase in droughts because warm water evaporates faster and warm air holds more moisture. Ironically, it also is resulting in more incidences of flooding, because eventually that air with more moisture comes into contact with cooler air.

by Joaquim Moreira Salles Posted on October 24, 2014

It’s one in the morning, and dozens of people are lining up at a series of public water taps in the Brazilian town of Itu, in the state of São Paulo. Most of the people that come to the taps at this early hour are elderly or families with children. They do so in order to avoid the large crowds that flock to the area seeking water throughout the day. “Yesterday I got here at five in the morning and there were six people. There were 60 people in line behind me by the time I left,” one of the locals told the Brazilian newspaper Folha de São Paulo.

This scene is repeating itself across the state, which is home to the seventh-largest metropolitan region in the world and responsible for a third of Brazil’s GDP. It is going through its worst drought in almost a century — the worst spring drought in history. During the last rainy season (October-February), São Paulo only received between a third and a half of its normal amount of rain. Since then it has only seen about 40 percent of the normal amount. The region is running dangerously low on water, with its reservoirs operating at under five percent capacity. The rainy season — which was supposed to start in late September or early October — is a month late, and no significant rains are predicted anytime soon. Some sources estimate the state, which is home to 44 million people, could run dry in less than 100 days.

“If the drought continues, residents will face more dramatic water shortages in the short term,” Vicente Andreu, the president of Brazil’s National Water Agency, told reporters. “If it doesn’t rain, we run the risk that the region will have a collapse like we’ve never seen before.”

In the city of São Paulo — South America’s largest — at least 60 percent of residents have experienced water shortages in the past month. The main reservoir feeding the city has become a dry bed of cracked earth. Volume is so low that authorities had to build 2 miles of pipes in order to salvage the remaining water. Reservoirs across the state are experiencing similarly low volumes. Cantareira, the biggest reservoir in the state, currently holds 3.2 percent of its normal load.

Outside the metropolitan area the situation is just as bad. Paulista (hailing from São Paulo) agriculture has long been a driver of the Brazilian economy, and the world is partially dependent on it for things like coffee. The drought is affecting commodity prices worldwide, according to the Wall Street Journal, and coffee prices are currently at a two and half year high with more rises to follow. Other crops like sugar cane and soy are also facing significantly reduced yields.

The drought is becoming a contentious issue in Brazil’s presidential elections. The incumbent Dilma Roussef blames her opponent’s party, which has governed São Paulo for 20 years, for mismanagement of the state’s water supply. Her opponent, on the other hand, blames the federal government for a lack of intervention. Some argue that officials should have seen this coming and implemented rationing and other preventive measures before the situation reached such dire straits.

In the long term, climate change could well exacerbate Sao Paulo’s problems. The IPCC says that the region is likely to become even drier in the period between September and November as warming continues.

[If the government had tried to take preventative measures, would people accept them?]