Thursday, February 28, 2013

Without Top Predators, CO2 Emissions Skyrocket

By Julia Whitty | Tue Feb. 19, 2013

Top predators do more than regulate prey populations (think wolves and deer). They also regulate carbon dioxide emissions. At least they do in freshwater ecosystems—where if you take away the top predators CO2 emissions rise a staggering 93 percent.

This according to a new paper in the latest Nature Geoscience that holds ramifications for a lot more than marshes. "Predators are disappearing from our ecosystems at alarming rates because of hunting and fishing pressure and because of human induced changes to their habitats," said lead author Trisha Atwood, at the University of British Columbia.

I wrote in an earlier post here on research showing how the loss of biodiversity (itself often a function of the loss of top predators) likely alters CO2 dynamics and other issues of global change as much as greenhouse gases.


Food web theory posits that predators influence the exchange of CO2 between ecosystems and the atmosphere by altering processes like decomposition and primary production (a function of the numbers and diversity of plants).

To test that theory, the researchers experimented on three-tier food chains in experimental ponds, streams, and bromeliads in Canada and Costa Rica by removing or adding predators. Specifically by adding or removing three-spined stickleback fish (Gasterosteus aculeatus) and the invertebrate predators stoneflies (Hesperoperla pacifica) and damselflies (Mecistogaster modesta). When all the predators were removed the ecosystems emitted a whopping 93 percent more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.


Billionaires Secretly Funded Vast Climate Denial Network

By Suzanne Goldenberg | Fri Feb. 15, 2013

This story first appeared on the Guardian website as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Conservative billionaires used a secretive funding route to channel nearly $120 million to more than 100 groups casting doubt about the science behind climate change, the Guardian has learned.

The funds, doled out between 2002 and 2010, helped build a vast network of think tanks and activist groups working to a single purpose: to redefine climate change from neutral scientific fact to a highly polarizing "wedge issue" for hardcore conservatives.

The millions were routed through two trusts, Donors Trust and the Donors Capital Fund, operating out of a generic town house in the northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC. Donors Capital caters to those making donations of $1 million or more.


By 2010, the dark money amounted to $118 million distributed to 102 think tanks or action groups which have a record of denying the existence of a human factor in climate change, or opposing environmental regulations.

The money flowed to Washington think tanks embedded in Republican party politics, obscure policy forums in Alaska and Tennessee, contrarian scientists at Harvard and lesser institutions, even to buy up DVDs of a film attacking Al Gore.

The ready stream of cash set off a conservative backlash against Barack Obama's environmental agenda that wrecked any chance of Congress taking action on climate change.


Suzanne Goldenberg
The Guardian, Thursday 14 February 2013

Conservative billionaires used a secretive funding route to channel nearly $120m (£77m) to more than 100 groups casting doubt about the science behind climate change, the Guardian has learned.

The funds, doled out between 2002 and 2010, helped build a vast network of thinktanks and activist groups working to a single purpose: to redefine climate change from neutral scientific fact to a highly polarising "wedge issue" for hardcore conservatives.

The millions were routed through two trusts, Donors Trust and the Donors Capital Fund, operating out of a generic town house in the northern Virginia suburbs of Washington DC. Donors Capital caters to those making donations of $1m or more.


Recipients included some of the best-known thinktanks on the right. The American Enterprise Institute, which is closely connected to the Republican party establishment and has a large staff of scholars, received more than $17m in untraceable donations over the years, the record show.

But relatively obscure organisations did not go overlooked. The Heartland Institute, virtually unknown outside the small world of climate politics, received $13.5m from the Donors Trust.

Americans for Prosperity, the Tea Party group seen as the strike force of the conservative oil billionaire Koch Brothers, received $11m since 2002.


Some of the groups on the Donors Trust list would have struggled to exist without being bankrolled by anonymous donors.

The support helped the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (Cfact), expand from $600,000 to $3m annual operation. In 2010, Cfact received nearly half of its budget from those anonymous donors, the records show.

The group's most visible product is the website, Climate Depot, a contrarian news source run by Marc Morano. Climate Depot sees itself as the rapid reaction force of the anti-climate cause. On the morning after Obama's state of the union address, Morano put out a point by point rebuttal to the section on climate change.

The gregarious Morano is a former aide to the Republican senator Jim Inhofe notorious for declaring climate change the greatest hoax on mankind.


Wednesday, February 27, 2013

How to find low cost spay/neuter programs for pets

SpayUSA provides referrals to over 1,500 low cost sterilization programs and clinics nationwide with 5,000 veterinarians in the network as of 2011.

Scalia: Voting Rights Act Is ‘Perpetuation Of Racial Entitlement’

Those who think it doesn't matter who is president, take note. It's not true. For one thing, their appointments to the supreme and appeals courts are lifetime appointments, and can affect our whole lives, and those of our children.

Scalia's comment is esp. outrageous coming just a few months after our democracy was subverted by the election of a majority of Republicans to the U.S. House, when a majority of Americans voted for Democrats, due to gerrymandering by Republican governor's, an election where many minorities were deliberately deprived of their right to vote by Republican governments

I remember the days of literacy tests, the days when minorities were liable to be beaten, even killed, for trying to vote.

By Nicole Flatow and Ian Millhiser posted from ThinkProgress Justice on Feb 27, 2013

There were audible gasps in the Supreme Court’s lawyers’ lounge, where audio of the oral argument is pumped in for members of the Supreme Court bar, when Justice Antonin Scalia offered his assessment of a key provision of the Voting Rights Act. He called it a “perpetuation of racial entitlement.”


His inflammatory claim that the Voting Rights Act is a “perpetuation of racial entitlement” came close to the end of a long statement on why he found a landmark law preventing race discrimination in voting to be suspicious.

It should be noted that even one of Scalia’s fellow justices felt the need to call out his remark. Justice Sotomayor asked the attorney challenging the Voting Right Act whether he thought voting rights are a racial entitlement as soon as he took the podium for rebuttal.

Why Isn’t Wall Street Paying Back Taxpayers For Being ‘Too Big To Fail’?

By Pat Garofalo posted from ThinkProgress Economy on Feb 27, 2013

During a Senate Banking committee hearing on Tuesday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) grilled Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke on whether Wall Street banks should have to pay back U.S. taxpayers for the implicit funding advantage those banks receive by virtue of being viewed as “too big to fail.” According to a Bloomberg News study, big banks are essentially subsidized by about $83 billion per year because investors anticipate that those banks will be saved by the government if they get in trouble.

“These big financial institutions are getting cheaper borrowing to the tune of $83 billion in a single year simply because people believe the government would step up and bail them out. If they are getting it, why shouldn’t they pay for it?” asked Warren:


Hostess Workers' Pension Money Diverted For Other Uses: Report

by Bonnie Kavoussi,
December 11th 2012

Hostess Brands acknowledged for the first time in a news report Monday that the company diverted workers' pension money for other company uses.

The bankrupt baker told The Wall Street Journal that money taken out of workers' paychecks, intended for their retirement funds, was used for company operations instead. Hostess, which was under different management at the time the diversions began in August 2011, said it does not know how much money it took.

"It's not a good situation to have," Hostess CEO Gregory Rayburn told the WSJ.


In November, a judge approved Hostess' plan to pay $1.8 million in bonuses to 19 executives, according to CNBC. Rayburn declined to take a bonus but also avoided a company-wide pay cut that he imposed, Hostess told HuffPost.

Twinkies are unlikely to go extinct, since Hostess is in talks with 110 buyers about its brands. But the snack cake genre may need a revamp, as Americans have become increasingly health- and quality-conscious.

The Scary Truth About How Much Climate Change is Costing You

by Coral Davenport,
February 19th 2013

NORFOLK, Va.—Jimmy Strickland can tell you exactly how much money rising sea levels have cost his business. In 1989, he opened his accounting firm in a one-story brick building near Norfolk’s historic cobblestoned Hague district, which surrounds one of this low-lying city’s many tidal rivers.

Dressed in pinstripes and a large, gold class ring, the white-haired Strickland is a consummate Southern gentleman—and also a consummate small-business owner. In his soft coastal accent, he tells the story of how the rising tides of Norfolk have eroded his bottom line. “I was here for 14 years, and nothing happened. We had no idea this area flooded. It had never happened before,” Strickland says. “Then, over the past 10 years, we had three big ones.”


Strickland wants a more permanent solution. He has thought about selling the building, but he’s worried that after being hit by three floods in 10 years, he’ll have a hard time finding a buyer. Instead, he’s looking into elevating the structure on stilts. Local contractors have bid the job at $1.5 million to $2 million. He’d like to use the post-Sandy $250,000 from FEMA to help offset the cost, but the federal government pays for cleanup only, not prevention.


And Strickland fully expects someone, whether it’s him or taxpayers, to pay more in the future, as sea levels climb higher. “In the last couple of years, we’ve seen more and more evidence of the waters rising,” the accountant says. “I’m just a small businessman. I’m looking at my building, on the impact of this on me and my employees; but other people are going to start thinking, am I going to want to relocate my business here?”


rapidly rising sea levels due to climate change. Among the chief causes for that rise, according to the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, are carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels, which trap heat in the Earth’s atmosphere, melting polar ice sheets and driving up the tides. Over the past century, the planet’s sea levels have risen about 8 inches. Globally, scientists now project sea levels to rise another 1 to 4 feet by the end of this century.


In the 1980s, when then-Rep. Al Gore, D-Tenn., first sounded the alarm about climate change, it was a frightening specter, but it sounded far off, like someone else’s future. But that future is starting to arrive. Scientists and economists agree that we’re now experiencing the measurable, real-world effects of human-caused climate change. Those effects are hitting Americans where they notice first—in their wallets. Climate change is quantifiably slowing economic growth, raising government spending, and creating new layers of risk and uncertainty for investors.

Michael Roberts, an agricultural economist at the University of Hawaii who has studied the impact of global warming for the National Bureau of Economic Research, says, “We’re starting to see the first price tags on climate change.”

Firefox Pocket

I find the Pocket feature of Mozilla Firefox browser really useful, even more so because my internet connection at home is slow.

I can save a link to the pocket, then read the article later when I have more time.

I can save several links while reading a news site, and then read the text version, which is much faster than having to wait for a bunch of the same graphic downloads over and over.

Reports of rare superbug jump in US, CDC says

More bad news which is boring because we've known it was happening for decades and chose not to address it. And it was something anybody who understands evolution would know would happen.

by JoNel Alecci
Feb. 27, 2013

A sharp jump in the number of rare but potentially deadly types of a superbug resistant to nearly all last-resort antibiotics has prompted government health officials to renew warnings for U.S. hospitals, nursing homes and other health care settings.

The move comes just as researchers in Israel are reporting that people colonized with dangerous CRE -- Carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae -- can take more than a year before they test negative for the bacteria, making it more difficult to control -- and raising the risk of wider spread.

Reports of unusual forms of CRE have nearly doubled in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported this month. Of 37 cases of rare forms of CRE, including the alarming NDM -- New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase -- 15 have been reported since last July.


Health officials have been worried about them for more than a decade, particularly the KPCs, or carbapenemase-producing Klebsiella pneumonia, which have now been reported in 43 U.S. states, the CDC reports.


Why some people love the burn of hot chili peppers

By Tia Ghose
Feb. 26, 2013

Pain isn't always a pain. Sometimes it can actually feel good.

People experience pleasure during a painful stimulus if the stimulus turns out to be less bad than they were expecting, new research suggests.


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Suppressed South Carolina Climate Change Report Warns of Big Impacts

No surprise that the politicians suppressed this report. They don't want property they own to decrease in value until they've sold it at a profit to some sucker who doesn't understand what is going to happen.

By Climate Guest Blogger on Feb 26, 2013

By Shiva Polefka

South Carolina news outlet reported on Sunday that an official, comprehensive assessment of dramatic climate change impacts looming large in South Carolina’s future was buried and barred from release, apparently due to political pressure.

According to, the report, completed by a working group of 18 senior state scientists under the auspices of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, or DNR, found that the Palmetto State faces an average temperature rise of as much as 9 degrees Fahrenheit over the next 70 years. Along with the heat would come increases in wildlife disease, loss of habitat for wild game, degradation of the state’s valuable recreational and commercial fisheries, increases in “dead zones” off the state’s coast, and salt water intrusion into coastal rivers and freshwater aquifers.

The report also issued a dramatic warning: As South Carolina’s climate warms, it could face in-migration of harmful invasive species from Florida, including piranha and Asian swamp eels.

Even more alarming than piranhas and eels, however, is the possibility that South Carolina’s conservative state government may have suppressed the report — intended for public education and planning purposes — for political reasons.

Despite detailing major risks to vital state industries and natural resources, the document was never released after its completion in 2011. reports that it recently “obtained” a copy but that it otherwise remains unavailable to the public. While the previous head of DNR, John Frampton, reportedly wanted to release the document for public review, he retired suddenly before the release occurred, after what he claimed was pressure to resign from an administrative appointee of Governor Nikki Haley.


Deformed otter penises raise concern for humans

By now, such things are getting boring. Sperm counts in human males have been declining around the world for years. Pollution is growing, causing various ills, we are devastating the whole earth for the sake of short-term profits for a few ultra-rich people. We are depleting our top soil and drinkable water supplies rapidly. We have known about these problems for decades. And we choose not to do enough about these problems because it would inconvenience us.

Feb. 26, 2013
By Marc Lallanilla

Scientists are concerned about the deformed sex organs of England's otters — and what it might mean for humans.

The furry mammals are found in rivers throughout Britain, but male otters aren't what they used to be. An alarming number of them now have shrunken penis bones (baculum), as well as undescended testicles (cryptorchidism) and cysts on sperm-carrying tubes, according to a new report written by Cardiff University scientists.

The results are based on analyses of samples from 755 otter carcasses collected around England and Wales between 1992 and 2009.


Though scientists aren't yet able to identify a single cause for the deformed sex organs, one leading suspect is a class of chemical pollutants known as endocrine disruptors.


Though scientists are still sifting through the evidence, there are many researchers who believe the prevalence of endocrine disruptors might be linked to a worldwide drop in sperm quality and quantity in humans.

As the top predator in England's rivers and lakes, the BBC reports, otters are an indicator species whose health reveals much about the well-being of the entire aquatic ecosystem. Health problems discovered in otters, Chadwick said, "could be a warning for all mammals really, which include us humans."


Monday, February 25, 2013

Republican leader will propose Federal Law that Ends Overtime Pay for hourly workers

But then the workers would have to pay taxes on this money they didn't get.

Eric Cantor will propose Federal Law that Ends Overtime Pay for hourly workers

Mon Feb 25, 2013

In Eric Cantor's February 2013 speech, he said he wanted to propose Federal Law that would end overtime pay for hourly workers. Currently, the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA), signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, mandates that certain workers get paid "time + 1/2" for overtime work. Eric Cantor wants to eliminate that law. Because -- ya know -- workers not getting paid for overtime hours worked out so good for workers before FDR enacted that Law.


met privately with House Republicans to discuss one of the policies he had emphasized: a policy that would allow workers to convert overtime compensation into time off. “I gave a talk today about helping people and about finally focussing on legislation that has understandable benefits right away,” Cantor said. He explained that it would help parents who wanted to go on a field trip or attend a teacher conference. “What I want to see is how we can communicate this, communicate the benefit. How are we going to build a coalition and get it done?”


Eric Cantor wants to pass a Federal Law to eliminate overtime pay but not overtime labor. Meaning, naturally, that the law Eric Cantor wants to propose will mean that millions of hourly workers in America would a) not be able to afford their family vacation, and b) might have to work overtime during a scheduled family vacation all without extra pay.

Since Eric Cantor has not given anyone in the media a copy of his proposed Bill, all we can do is look back at the 2003 Republican Bill that would end the Federal Law requiring workers get actual money in exchange for extra hours worked.

One of the many problems with the 2003 Bill was that the Bill did not actually "require" employers to give their hourly workers the "family flex time" when the worker wanted to use it:

Requires the employer to permit use of comp-time accrued under such an option program within a reasonable time after the employee's request if such use does not unduly disrupt the employer's operations.

Also, Under H.R. 1119, employees who work overtime hours in a given week might not receive any pay or time off for that work until more than a year later, at the employer’s discretion.

Therefore, without receiving any interest or security, the employees, in essence, give their overtime pay to the employer in the hopes of getting it back some time later as paid time off.

Hourly worker's overtime pay was put at risk of loss in the event of business failure and closure, bankruptcy, or fraud. In short, H.R.1119 was nothing more than a scheme to allow employers to avoid paying for overtime, a scheme that would result in longer hours, lower incomes, and less predictable workweeks for hourly workers.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Former Republican senator reveals he fathered a child with daughter of another Republican senator

The reason this is noteworthy is because of the way the Republicans like to pretend to be morally superior.

By Erin McClam Feb. 20, 2013

Former Sen. Pete Domenici of New Mexico revealed Wednesday that he fathered a child outside his marriage three decades ago with the daughter of another former senator.


His mother, Michelle Laxalt, is the daughter of Paul Laxalt, a Republican who represented Nevada in the Senate for 12 years before leaving in 1987.


Kansas Lawmaker With Ties to Oil and Gas Industry Introduces Bill Opposing Sustainable Development

This is utterly flabbergasting! It's one thing to be evil, depraved, slimy scum. It's another to advertise it to the public.

By Andrea Peterson on Feb 20, 2013

Yet another thing the matter with Kansas: A legislator on the committee that recently introduced legislation that would force teachers to misinform students about the science of climate change has introduced a bill to prohibit use of public funds to promote sustainable development.

Amazingly, he claims to be unable to see how his ties to the oil and gas industry could present a conflict of interest, as the Topeka Capitol Journal reports:


The bill, HB 2366, prohibits public funds from being used “either directly or indirectly, to promote, support, mandate, require, order, incentivize, advocate, plan for, participate in or implement sustainable development” which it defines as “a mode of human development in which resource use aims to meet human needs while preserving the environment so that these needs can be met not only in the present, but also for generations to come, but not to include the idea, principle or practice of conservation or conservationism.”

According to Kansas Sierra Club spokesman Zack Pistora, the bill appears to be an extension of an anti-U.N. resolution driven by Agenda 21 conspiracy theories proposed by Rep. Hedke last year that was linked to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and Americans for Prosperity(AFP) — both of which reportedly have funding ties to Kansas the oil and gas billionaires, the Koch brothers.

The House Energy and Environment Committee of which Rep. Hedke is chairman will also be hearing a proposal to roll back Kansas’s renewable energy standards this week, despite their success at attracting new jobs and wind projects to the state. Both the proposal to roll back renewable energy standards and the bill that would force teachers to mislead students about the facts surrounding climate science also appear to have originated from ALEC.

In the Coal Fields, Peabody Creates a Novel Way to Get Rid of Pensions

Friday, 04 January 2013 10:03
By Mike Elk, In These Times

Morgantown, West Virginia - If you are an individual struggling with debt, your options are limited. But if you are a coal company, you may be able to take advantage of a creative new strategy to shed your obligations.

Over the past decade, Peabody Energy and Arch Coal, the nation's largest coal companies, offloaded large amounts of retiree healthcare obligations to new companies that now face bankruptcy. The United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) says that the spin-offs were designed to fail in order to clean the companies' books of their retiree debts.

In 2007, Peabody Energy spun off a new company, Patriot Coal, which inherited 10 unionized mines in Kentucky and West Virginia. Along with the mines, Patriot took on $557 million in healthcare obligations to UMWA retirees. In 2008, Patriot bought Magnum, which had been similarly spun off from Arch Coal three years earlier. From Magnum, Patriot inherited another $500 million in obligations to retired miners, according to the UMWA.

Oddly, for a 5-year-old company, Patriot wound up with nearly three times as many retirees as active employees, more than 90 percent of whom never worked for the company. Overburdened by its debts, in July of 2012 Patriot declared bankruptcy.

In bankruptcy court, Patriot is seeking to be released from its pension and retirement obligations to some 10,000 UMWA retirees, covering more than 20,000 beneficiaries which total more than $1.3 billion.


“Without healthcare a lot of us wouldn't survive; we wouldn't even afford medication," says retired Patriot miner Clifton Tennant. “There is no doubt in my mind they did this to get out of their obligations. I fulfilled my obligations to Patriot and I feel like I was a good employee.”

A local doctor who treats many Patriot retirees say he is deeply worried that bankruptcy could take away their healthcare. “I have some Patriot retirees and I have some of Patriot active miners--one of whom has put off retiring 'cause he doesn't know what he is going to do,” says Dr. Michael Schreoring of Fairmont, W. Va. "They work in one of the more dangerous occupations in the country. Many of them have medical problems related to that; it’s not just not fair. It’s going to be a tragedy for them. I find it disgusting that corporations can actually pull these kind of shenanigans.”

Many of the miners note that they have already made sacrifices to keep their retirement benefits. “I started in the mines in 1971,” says retired Patriot miner Bill Lemley. "In 1971 we had two weeks of vacation and the coal company told us when to take it. Thirty-five years later I still had two weeks of vacation and the company told us when to take it. We didn't strive for more vacation and the right to take it when we wanted it. We gave that up to keep our healthcare and keep our retirements.”

Kenneth Quinnell

Patriot Coal filed a motion in the Bankruptcy Court of the Eastern District of Missouri to be allowed to pay $6 million to 120 senior executives, company managers and office personnel. The company's top six executives would receive no bonuses in the plan, but the bonuses are being condemned by working families and retirees the company is attempting to deny health care coverage.


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Synthetic chemicals could affect fertility, health, WHO says

Not really news to people who keep up with science news. But many people don't keep up with such news, so it's important that it is getting into the popular media.

By Robert Evans, Reuters
Feb. 19, 2013

Synthetic chemicals in everyday products are likely to be at least the partial cause of a global surge in birth deformities, hormonal cancers and psychiatric diseases, a United Nations-sponsored research team reported on Tuesday.

These endocrine-disrupting chemicals or EDCs may also be linked to a decline in the human sperm count and female fertility, to an increase in once-rare childhood cancers and to the disappearance of some animal species, they said.

"It is clear that some of these chemical pollutants can affect the endocrinal (hormonal) system and ....may also interfere with the development processes of humans and wildlife species," the report says.

Arctic sea ice volume now one-fifth its 1979 level

Posted by: Dr. Jeff Masters, 2:52 AM GMT on February 19, 2013

The stunning loss of Arctic sea ice extent in recent years is undeniable--satellite measurements have conclusively shown that half of the Arctic sea ice went missing in September 2012, compared to the average September during 1979 - 2000. But the extent of ice cover is not the best measure of how the fire raging in Earth's attic is affecting sea ice--the total volume of the ice is more important. But up until 2010, we didn't have the measurements needed to say how the total volume of ice in the Arctic might be changing. Scientists relied on the University of Washington PIOMAS model, which suggested that the loss of Arctic sea ice volume during September might be approaching 75% - 80%. The model results were widely criticized by climate change skeptics as being unrealistic. However, in April 2010, a new satellite called Cryostat-2 was launched, which can measure ice volume by beaming pulses of microwave energy off of the ice. With two years of data to Cryosat-2 data to analyze, the results of the PIOMAS model have now been confirmed by a study published on-line in February 2013 in Geophysical Research Letters. In a University of Washington news release, co-author Axel Schweiger said, "people had argued that 75 to 80 percent ice volume loss was too aggressive. What this new paper shows is that our ice loss estimates may have been too conservative, and that the recent decline is possibly more rapid."


Why care about Arctic sea ice loss?
If you remove an area of sea ice 43% the size of the contiguous U.S. from the ocean, like occurred in September 2012, it is guaranteed to have a significant impact on weather and climate. The extra heat and moisture added to the atmosphere as a result of all that open water over the pole may already be altering jet stream patterns in fall and winter, bringing an increase in extreme weather events. The record sea ice loss in 2012 also contributed to an unprecedented melting event in Greenland. Continued sea ice loss will further increase melting from Greenland, contributing to sea level rise and storm surge damages. Sea ice loss will also continue to crank up the thermostat over Arctic permafrost regions. This will potentially release a significant fraction of the vast amounts of carbon currently locked in the permafrost, further accelerating global warming.

Monday, February 18, 2013


Understanding is a form of ecstasy. - Carl Sagan

I heard this great quote yesterday, on the public radio progam "On Being". It was an interview with Natalie Batalha, a research astronomer at NASA Ames Research Center and a mission scientist with the Kepler Space Telescope. The program is titled "On Exoplanets and Love".

I have to admit, I am not optimistic about the future of the human race, and she is. Hopefully, she's right.

Health reform plan for 'uninsurables' winds down

Feb. 17, 2013

WASHINGTON -- Citing financial concerns, the Obama administration has begun quietly winding down one of the earliest programs created by the president's health care overhaul, a plan that helps people with existing medical problems who can't get private insurance.

In an afternoon teleconference with state counterparts, administration officials said Friday the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan, or PCIP, will stop taking new applications. People already in the plan will not lose coverage.

Designed as a stopgap solution until the law's full consumer protections are in effect next year, PCIP has served more than 135,000 people, a lifeline for patients with serious medical problems such as cancer and heart failure. But Congress allocated a limited amount of money, and the administration's technical experts want to make sure it doesn't run out.


Starting next January 1, insurance companies will no longer be able to turn anyone away because of poor health. At the same time, the federal government will begin subsidizing coverage for millions of individuals who have no access to employer plans. That means many of the people currently in the PCIP program may end up with lower premiums once the government's financial help is factored in.


Sunday, February 17, 2013

FDA Approves First Bionic Eye for the Blind

February 14, 2013

The U.S. Department of Energy announced today that its support for a decade of revolutionary research has contributed to the creation of the first ever retinal prosthesis – or bionic eye – to be approved in the United States by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for blind individuals with end-stage retinitis pigmentosa.

“The development of the artificial retina is just one more example of the unique value of our National Laboratories and research universities,” said Energy Secretary Steven Chu. “While no one can predict a breakthrough before it happens, the investments we’re making in research pay enormous dividends for our economy and improve our lives.”

The artificial retina, dubbed the Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System (developed and manufactured by Second Sight Medical Products Inc, Sylmar, California) may prove to be an aid to those blinded by the disease retinitis pigmentosa, which can run in families and is estimated by the National Institutes of Health to affect about 1 in 4,000 people in the United States. Over the ten year lifetime of the project, the Department provided $75.2 million for the development of technologies aimed at advancing artificial retinas like the Argus II, which was based on work by a consortium of scientists using advanced technologies developed by several of the Department’s National Laboratories.

The Argus II can partially restore the sight of blind individuals after surgical implantation. Clinical trials demonstrated that totally blind individuals could safely use the device to successfully identify the position and approximate size of objects and detect movement of nearby objects and people.

The Argus II operates by using a miniature camera mounted in eyeglasses that captures images and wirelessly sends the information to a microprocessor (worn on a belt) that converts the data to an electronic signal and transmits it to a receiver on the eye. The pulses travel to the optic nerve and, ultimately, to the brain, which perceives patterns of light and dark spots corresponding to the electrodes stimulated. Blind individuals can learn to interpret these visual patterns.


More information about the FDA’s announcement today is available at

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Deep Roots of Catastrophe: Partly Molten, Florida-Sized Blob Forms Atop Earth's Core

Interesting article.

Feb. 6, 2013 — A University of Utah seismologist analyzed seismic waves that bombarded Earth's core, and believes he got a look at the earliest roots of Earth's most cataclysmic kind of volcanic eruption. But don't worry. He says it won't happen for perhaps 200 million years.


Is Lead Poisoning Behind Some Juvenile Crime?

Feb. 11, 2013 — Lead is a common element but is found in old paints (including those once used on children's toys), soil, old piping, water, and the atmosphere from lead-containing vehicular fuels, even drinking vessels. At high dose it is lethal but also causes seemingly trivial symptoms such as headaches. However, in children lead can also lead to irreversible damage to the organs, the kidneys in particular, and the nervous system including the brain. Early detection to contaminated sources is important to prevent children coming to harm but exposure is not always apparent. The effects of high lead exposure amongst children can result in 'learning disabilities', behavioral problems, lowered intelligence, stunted growth, and hearing impairment.

Miller suggests that exposure to harmful quantities of lead may lead to juvenile delinquency. "Very small amounts of lead are associated with toxicity," she says. "There have been discrepancies amongst researchers in determining the levels indicating lead poisoning. Thus, it has been reported that levels as low as 10 micrograms per deciliter show enough lead exposure to diagnose lead poisoning."

Other studies suggest 45 micrograms per deciliter. She adds that public education regarding the ongoing problem of lead exposure is now needed to save young people from the potentially devastating effects of this toxic metal. "Lead poisoning has a progressive effect over time and its symptoms are those experienced by most people, such as headaches and abdominal pain," says Miller. "Because these symptoms are so common, this allows detection to go unnoticed, hence the need for education regarding sources of lead exposure."

"Published research shows that lead exposure and criminality is linked to evidence of poorer intelligence, low communication skills, and behavioral problems, such as vandalism and bullying," Miller adds. Other studies have found delinquent juveniles to have raised concentration of lead in their bones compared to that in "non-delinquent" juveniles.

How You Treat Others May Depend On Whether You're Single or Attached

Feb. 11, 2013 — With Valentine's Day looming, many married couples will wish marital bliss for their single friends. At the same time, many singles will pity their coupled friends' loss of freedom. People like to believe that their way of life -- whether single or coupled -- is the best for everyone, especially if they think their relationship status is unlikely to change, according to a study forthcoming in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

The study suggests that this bias may influence how we treat others, even in situations where relationship status shouldn't matter.

Research shows that feeling "stuck" within a particular social system leads people to justify and rationalize that system.


Ironically, people may idealize their own status as a way of dealing with the unsatisfactory aspects of that status.

Participants who were led to perceive greater stability in their relationship status judged same-status job candidates more positively, although they weren't more likely to hire them. Participants were more likely to vote for a same-status political candidate, however, when they had information that gave them an excuse to express their bias.

When the data from all four studies were combined into one analysis, the results showed that perceived stability led both coupled and single participants to treat others like them more favorably.

Negative Stereotypes About Boys Hinder Their Academic Achievement

Feb. 12, 2013 — Negative stereotypes about boys may hinder their achievement, while assuring them that girls and boys are equally academic may help them achieve. From a very young age, children think boys are academically inferior to girls, and they believe adults think so, too. Even at these very young ages, boys' performance on an academic task is affected by messages that suggest that girls will do better than they will.


Minimum Wage Then and Now

Think Progress sure nailed Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), supposedly one of the sharper tools in the Tea Party shed. Blackburn lectured today’s workers that they needed to learn responsibility like she did when she worked retail as a teenager, before expecting any socialistic increase in the minimum wage.

Trouble is, she forgot about that old debbil inflation, and didn’t seem to realize the $2.15 an hour she was getting paid in that worker’s paradise of Mississippi would in today’s dollars be worth significantly more than the wage Obama is calling for now. Even the minimum wage of $1.60 in 1968-70 was the equivalent of $10.56 today. So Blackburn was inadvertantly making Obama’s point for him.

As it happens, I’m the same age as Blackburn, and at roughly the same time as her I started working as a part-time school janitor at the princely sum of $1.30, because there was a separate, lower minimum wage then for local government employees. Even that crappy wage is worth $8.13 now, or well above the $7.25 minimum wage.

Sometimes the “good old days” really weren’t that bad by comparison to conditions today. You’d think a “conservative” would understand that.

Friday, February 15, 2013

FDA approves first retinal implant for rare eye disease

updated 2/14/2013

The U.S. health regulator approved the first implantable device for treating a rare, genetic, eye disease that can lead to blindness.

The device, made by Sylmar, California-based Second Sight Medical Products Inc, includes a small video camera, a transmitter mounted on a pair of eyeglasses, a video processing unit and an implanted artificial retina.

The video processing unit transforms images from the video camera into electronic data that is wirelessly transmitted to the retina inside the eye.

The eye disease, called retinitis pigmentosa (RP), damages the light-sensitive cells that line the retina, resulting in the gradual loss of side vision and night vision, and later of central vision.

The device is named Argus II and is intended for use in adults aged 25 years or older with bare or no light perception in both eyes, an intact inner layer retina function and a previous history of the ability to see forms, FDA said.

Study Suggests Link Between Untreated Depression and Response to Shingles Vaccine

Feb. 14, 2013 — Results from a new study published in Clinical Infectious Diseases suggest a link between untreated depression in older adults and decreased effectiveness of the herpes zoster, or shingles, vaccine. Older adults are known to be at risk for shingles, a painful condition caused by the reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus, and more than a million new cases occur each year in the U.S. The vaccine boosts cell-mediated immunity to the virus and can decrease the incidence and severity of the condition.


Effective Treatment for Common Gynecological Problem, Suggested by New Study

A problem to be aware of is that progesterone can cause depression in some people.

Feb. 14, 2013 — New research from the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute (LA BioMed) found a progestogen-only treatment halted bleeding in women suffering from extremely heavy periods, according to the study published online by the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

"Excessive uterine bleeding is a common problem we see in gynecological practices and emergency rooms. It can interfere with women's daily activities and put them at risk for anemia and other more serious health consequences caused by blood loss," said Anita L. Nelson, MD, a LA BioMed lead investigator and corresponding author of the study. "Until now, there has been no Food and Drug Administration-approved products for short-term treatment of this condition. Based on our study, we conclude that this new progestogen-only treatment is effective in stopping acute abnormal uterine bleeding."

Within five days of receiving the therapy, bleeding had ceased in 44 of the 48 women in the study, and the other four were only experiencing spotting. The mean time to bleeding cessation was 2.6 days, leading the researchers to conclude the progestogen-only treatment was an effective short-term therapy for acute abnormal uterine bleeding.


Love of Musical Harmony Is Not Nature but Nurture

It would be interesting to see research on this in childhood. If children aren't exposed to sounds used in another language before a certain age, they lose the ability to distinguish those sounds.

Feb. 14, 2013 — Our love of music and appreciation of musical harmony is learnt and not based on natural ability, a new study by University of Melbourne researchers has found.

ssociate Professor Neil McLachlan from the Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences said previous theories about how we appreciate music were based on the physical properties of sound, the ear itself and an innate ability to hear harmony.

"Our study shows that musical harmony can be learnt and it is a matter of training the brain to hear the sounds," Associate Professor McLachlan said.

"So if you thought that the music of some exotic culture (or Jazz) sounded like the wailing of cats, it's simply because you haven't learnt to listen by their rules."

The researchers used 66 volunteers with a range of musical training and tested their ability to hear combinations of notes to determine if they found the combinations familiar or pleasing.

"What we found was that people needed to be familiar with sounds created by combinations of notes before they could hear the individual notes. If they couldn't find the notes they found the sound dissonant or unpleasant," he said.

"This finding overturns centuries of theories that physical properties of the ear determine what we find appealing."

Coauthor on the study Associate Professor Sarah Wilson also from the Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences said the study found that trained musicians were much more sensitive to dissonance than non-musicians.

"When they couldn't find the note, the musicians reported that the sounds were unpleasant, whereas non-musicians were much less sensitive," Assoc. Prof Wilson said.

"This highlights the importance of training the brain to like particular variations of combinations of sounds like those found in jazz or rock."

Depending on their training, a strange chord or a gong sound was accurately pitched and pleasant to some musicians, but impossible to pitch and very unpleasant to others.

"This showed us that even the ability to hear a musical pitch (or note) is learnt," Assoc. Prof Wilson said.


Common Chemicals Linked to Osteoarthritis

Feb. 14, 2013 — A new study has linked exposure to two common perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) with osteoarthritis. PFCs are used in more than 200 industrial processes and consumer products including certain stain- and water-resistant fabrics, grease-proof paper food containers, personal care products, and other items. Because of their persistence, PFCs have become ubiquitous contaminants of humans and wildlife. The study, published in Environmental Health Perspectives, is the first to look at the associations between perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), and osteoarthritis, in a study population representative of the United States.

We found that PFOA and PFOS exposures are associated with higher prevalence of osteoarthritis, particularly in women, a group that is disproportionately impacted by this chronic disease," said Sarah Uhl, who authored the study along with Yale Professor Michelle L. Bell and Tamarra James-Todd, an epidemiologist at the Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital. The research was the focus of Uhl's Master's of Environmental Science Program at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.


they found clear, strong associations for women, but not men. Women in the highest 25% of exposure to PFOA had about two times the odds of having osteoarthritis compared to those in the lowest 25% of exposure.

Although production and usage of PFOA and PFOS have declined due to safety concerns, human and environmental exposure to these chemicals remains widespread.


Whiny passengers on cruise ship

How would the passengers from the cruise ship which lost power for several days have survived on the long sea voyages endured by those who settled our country, and even worse for those brought here as slaves. There is no doubt that some, maybe many, of these passengers, who can afford a luxury cruise, are the kind who say of the poor in our country that they have it great because they are better off than the poor in some other countries. But they themselves can't take a few days of inconvenience.

Haven't noticed anybody ask what God was trying to send. Maybe that if they have enough time and money to go on a cruise, they should be doing something for those less fortunate and for future generations. I recognize that probably some of the passengers are good people, just taking a dream vacation.

Feb 15 (Reuters) - A passenger from the stricken Triumph cruise ship sued Carnival Corp on Friday over "horrifying" conditions, including being forced to wade through human feces from overflowing toilets after power was knocked out by a fire.

The lawsuit by Cassie Terry of Brazoria County, Texas, alleged Carnival failed to provide a seaworthy vessel and sanitary conditions, according to court documents.

Terry suffered physical and emotional harm, including anxiety, nervousness and the loss of the enjoyment of life, according to the complaint filed in federal court in Miami.

The Russian Meteor Exposes The Dangers Of Cutting Space Funding

By Andrea Peterson posted from ThinkProgress Economy on Feb 15, 2013

It seems a little late to talk about the potential dangers from above as an asteroid 150 feet across flies by closer than the moon and more than 400 people have been injured by a meteor in Russia. But if there is one thing that today’s headlines highlight, it’s that we do not have the capacity to protect ourselves from space.

As hyperbolic as that may sound, it’s true: Asteroid 2012 DA14, the hunk of rock hurtling 17,000 miles above us today, wasn’t discovered until last year — too late to do anything about it, had it been on a collision course. According to comments from Ed Lu, a former astronaut and head of a nonprofit dedicated to protecting humanity from asteroids, “[w]e only know the locations and trajectories of about 1 percent of asteroids this size or larger [...] So for every one of these, there’s 99 out there we don’t know about.”

Had 2012 DA14 hit the Earth, the impacts would have been comparable to the 1908 Tungusta Event that devastated 2.150 square km with an estimated 10 and 20 megaton explosion. But while, the Tungusta Event hit an isolated pocket of Eastern Russia, because of our lack of interstellar observational capacity we don’t yet know where the next major impact will hit — or if it will be a few hundred feet across like in Tungusta, or up to 20 kilometers like the asteroid that new evidence shows struck Australia between 298 and 360 million years ago.

Despite the evidence that space represents some very real risks to humanity, President Obama’s 2012 budget proposal decreased NASA’s overall budget by $59 million, to $17.7 billion with another marginal decrease in the 2013 proposed budget. While that may seem minor, the NASA budget has decreased from above 5 percent of GDP at the height of the space race to around half a percentage point today,


Boston Meteorologist Links New England Blizzard To Climate Change

By Jeff Spross on Feb 14, 2013

The unusually powerful blizzard that slammed into New England earlier this month prompted a Boston meteorologist to speak out unusually bluntly on the ties between climate change and extreme weather events.

After being asked about the increase in extreme weather around the world by the interviewer — citing Hurricane Sandy, flooding, the record-breaking drought in midwest — WCVB Chief Meteorologist Harvey Leonard laid out the scientific case for how climate change is driving these recent events:

Climate scientists, most of them who have been working on this issue, that’s exactly what they have been predicting: that over time, we would see more extremes — more drought, more heavy precipitation events, stronger storms….

If you think about that and you go forward, and sea level starts to rise, and we have more population living on the coast, we have more structures on the coast — more in harms way — and then the storms become a little bit worse, and the sea levels higher to begin with, then you could have even worse effects.


As with a baseball player on steroids, where no one hit can be said to be “caused” by the steroid use, this isn’t about whether global warming “caused” an extreme weather. Instead, the steroid use ups the overall prevalence (and distance) of unusual hits, and global warming does the same for extreme weather events. In the case of the New England blizzard, global warming means temperatures aren’t dropping quite as far below freezing as they did before, and sea surface temperatures specifically are up. That can increase moisture flow into storms, resulting in heavier snowfall.

By pushing up the overall temperature in the planet’s climate system, climate change — spurred by the global warming caused by human carbon emissions — increases the strength of storms, and makes flooding, drought, heat waves, and wildfires all more intense and prevalent. Munich Re, the world’s largest reinsurer — and thus a firm with an obvious financial stake in properly understanding catastrophic weather events — released a study in 2012 noting an uptick in these events worldwide since 1980, and their entanglement with climate change.


The price tag for extreme weather disasters in 2012 in the United States has been pegged at $188 billion, a taste of the economic damage that’s likely to come.

Arctic Death Spiral Bombshell: CryoSat-2 Confirms Sea Ice Volume Has Collapsed

And we are in a part of the climate cycle that is normally associated with cooler temperatures.

By Joe Romm on Feb 14, 2013

The sharp drop in Arctic sea ice area has been matched by a harder-to-see, but equally sharp, drop in sea ice thickness. The combined result has been a collapse in total sea ice volume — to one fifth of its level in 1980.

Back in September, Climate Progress reported that the European Space Agency’s CryoSat-2 probe appeared to support the key conclusion of the Pan-Arctic Ice Ocean Modeling and Assimilation System (PIOMAS) at the University of Washington’s Polar Science Center: Arctic sea ice volume has been collapsing much faster than sea ice area (or extent) because the ice has been getting thinner and thinner.

Now the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the UK’s primary agency for funding and managing environmental sciences research, has made it official. In a Wednesday press release, they report:

Arctic sea ice volume has declined by 36 per cent in the autumn and 9 per cent in the winter between 2003 and 2012, a UK-led team of scientists has discovered….


Many experts now say that if recent volume trends continue we will see a “near ice-free Arctic in summer” within a decade. And that may well usher in a permanent change toward extreme, prolonged weather events “Such As Drought, Flooding, Cold Spells And Heat Waves.”

It will also accelerate global warming in the region, which in turn will likely accelerate both the disintegration of the Greenland ice sheet and the release of the vast amounts of carbon currently locked in the permafrost.


“Other people had argued that 75 to 80 percent ice volume loss was too aggressive. What this new paper shows is that our ice loss estimates may have been too conservative, and that the recent decline is possibly more rapid.”

------ [Predictions for global warming and its effects have been persistently conservative, as scientists don't want to make unduly alarmist predictions.]

L.A. deputies who celebrate shootings are fired

Posted: 02/08/2013

Seven members of a L.A. sheriff’s deputies secret clique that prides itself on celebrating shootings of mostly Latino and black gang bangers have been notified they are about to be fired, according to officials.

The secret group known as the Jump Out Boys prides itself on aggressive policing, much of it in Latino communities, and brands its members with matching tattoos of a red-eyed oversized skull bearing the clique acronym and a bony hand holding a revolver.

Smoke is tattooed over the gun’s barrel for members who have been involved in at least one shooting.

Those seven officers aren’t being fired for any known criminal behavior but apparently for tarnishing the department’s reputation and unethical conduct at a time when it is struggling through a federal investigation.


The existence of the secret clique was first reported last year by the Los Angeles Times, as well as the discovery of a pamphlet describing the group’s creed.

“We are alpha dogs who think and act like the wolf, but never become the wolf,” the pamphlet stated in one passage likening criminals to wolves. “We are not afraid to get our hands dirty without any disgrace, dishonor or hesitation… sometimes (members) need to do the things they don’t want to in order to get where they want to be.”

Shortly after the clique’s existence became known, the captain of the division told his deputies that they “shamed the department by forming the group and urged those responsible to identify themselves,” according to reports.

When one deputy came forward naming six others, all seven were placed on paid leave.

According to one clique member who spoke anonymously with the Times, the group compared itself to an Ivy League fraternity and the Boy Scouts

“We get called a gang within the badge? It’s unfair,” he said. “People want to say you have a tattoo. So do fraternities. Go to Yale. Are they a gang?…. Boy Scouts have patches and they have mission statements, and so do we.”

Even a drink a day boosts cancer death risk, alcohol study finds

By JoNel Aleccia, Staff Writer, NBC News
Feb. 14, 2013

The first update of alcohol-linked cancer deaths in the U.S. in three decades shows that booze can be blamed for nearly 20,000 deaths a year -- and it’s not just the heavy drinkers.

Certainly those who downed three or more drinks a day accounted for most of the deaths from seven kinds of cancer, up to 60 percent, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Public Health.

But consuming just 1.5 drinks a day -- or less -- was associated with up to 35 percent of those cancer deaths, suggesting that any alcohol use carries some risk.

“For non-drinkers, it’s another reason to feel happy they don’t drink,” said Dr. Timothy Naimi, the study’s director and an associate professor at the Boston University Schools of Medicine and Public Health. “For drinkers, it shows that when it comes to cancer, the less you drink, the better.”


ndeed, the cancer findings are likely to be a buzzkill for people who thought they were off the hook for health risks from moderate drinking. Several studies have suggested that those who imbibe “moderately’’ -- up to one drink a day for women, up to two for men -- may boost their heart health, cut cholesterol, and avoid diabetes.

“We love hearing about studies that say that wine and chocolate and sex are good for us,” said Naimi. “And we’ve always been in search of snake oil.”


(In the U.S., a drink is generally regarded as one 12-ounce bottle of beer, a 5-ounce glass of wine or 1.5 ounces of liquor.)

The new study focuses solely on alcohol and cancer deaths and doesn’t venture into the long-simmering debate about the possible benefits of moderate drinking, added Naimi, who is an expert in the area.

“Anything that’s a leading cause of death is not a good preventive agent,” Naimi added.

But Eric Rimm, an associate professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health said while the new study provides a valuable update of alcohol's effect on cancer deaths, it doesn't change his mind about the positive effects of moderate drinking on heart disease.

"I think they've pooh-poohed the heart benefits, which is as strong as any evidence can be," Rimm said, noting that studies have shown that those who don't drink have a 50 percent higher risk of heart attack than those who do. "I don't think it can be pooh-poohed," he said.

Naimi countered that studies that show benefits from moderate alcohol use are potentially flawed because they compare non-drinkers and drinkers, who may be healthy -- or not -- for other reasons than alcohol use. Non-drinkers may abstain because of existing health problems, for instance, while moderate drinkers might have other factors, such as education, wealth and lifestyle choices that boost their health independent of alcohol. Besides, there’s never been a “gold standard” study that addresses the issue, Naimi said.

But other advocates of the health effects of moderate drinking acknowledge that when it comes to alcohol, less is better.

“When I talk about heart-healthy diets, my first words are not, ‘Have a glass of wine,’” said Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, director of the women and heart disease program at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York.

She says she has been known to recommend having a glass of wine with dinner, but “we can certainly get the health benefits from other places and other foods.”


Watch asteroid 2012 DA14 buzz past harmlessly, via streaming video

By Alan Boyle, Science Editor, NBC News
Feb. 15, 2013

The best way for most of us to watch asteroid 2012 DA14 come within 17,200 miles of Earth on Friday, and then recede harmlessly into the cosmos, is to fire up your Web browser and watch the show online. Pictures of the space rock, which is about half the length of a football field, are already starting to roll in.

NASA's experts on near-Earth objects say that the time of closest approach will come at 2:25 p.m. ET, when the asteroid is zooming above the eastern Indian Ocean at a speed of almost 17,500 mph (7.8 kilometers per second). It'll be too dim to see with the naked eye, but observers in Australia, Asia and Europe might be able to follow it with binoculars or small telescopes if they know exactly where to look. (If you want to try it, follow the directions at the bottom of this item.)


Experts estimate that asteroids the size of 2012 DA14 hit our planet every 1,200 years or so, exploding with the energy of a 2.5-megaton atomic bomb: The last such impact struck a remote region of Siberia without warning in 1908, flattening 820 square miles of forest. If an object that big were to hit in just the wrong place, it could wipe out a city. Coincidentally, a much smaller meteoroid came down over Russia on Friday, sparking a fireball and a glass-shattering shock wave.

Even though the 150-foot-wide (45-meter-wide) asteroid is the biggest object of its kind to be seen coming this close to Earth, its orbit is so well-known that NASA's Near-Earth Object Program can rule out any chance of collision in the foreseeable future. And even though 2012 will fly 5,000 miles closer than satellites in geosynchronous orbit, NASA says its mostly south-to-north orbital path goes through a "sweet spot" that keeps it far away from those satellites — as well as from other spacecraft that are in closer orbits, including the International Space Station.


Other telescopes, spread out from Australia to Israel to the Canary Islands to the U.S., will be gathering optical data — and the images from some of those telescopes will be shared on Friday. Here's the viewing schedule:

Noon ET: NASA plans to start streaming near-real-time imagery of the asteroid's flyby, as provided by telescopes in Australia and Europe, weather permitting. Watch JPL video on Ustream.

2 p.m. ET: To mark the time of closest encounter, NASA will present a half-hour program with commentary from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The show will feature computer animations as well as any live or near-real-time imagery that becomes available from telescopes in Australia. Watch video on or Ustream. ( also plans to stream the show.)

----- [See the link at the top for more viewing possibilities]

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Right Kind of Early Praise Predicts Positive Attitudes Toward Effort

Feb. 12, 2013 — Toddlers who hear praise directed at their efforts, such as "your worked hard on that" are more likely to prefer challenging versus easy tasks and to believe that intelligence and personality can improve with effort than do youngsters who simply hear praise directed at them personally, such as "you're a good girl," new research at the University of Chicago reveals.

"The kind of praise focused on effort is called 'process praise' and sends the message that effort and actions are the sources of success, leading children to believe they can improve their performance through hard work," said Elizabeth Gunderson, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Temple University and lead author on the study conducted while she was a graduate student at the University of Chicago.

Another form of praise called "person praise" is focused on the child's characteristics. Parents using person praise might say "you're a big boy," for instance.


Short-term laboratory studies have found that process praise results in greater persistence and better performance on challenging tasks, while person praise, which sends the message that a child's ability is fixed, results in decreased persistence and performance.

In the new study the scholars found that the percentage of process praise parents used when their children were one to three years old significantly predicted whether children welcomed challenges, had strategies for overcoming failure, and thought intelligence and personality were malleable five years later.


Helicopter Parenting Can Violate Students' Basic Needs

Feb. 12, 2013 — When is it time for parents to back away? A new study shows that college students with overcontrolling parents are more likely to be depressed and less satisfied with their lives. This so-called helicopter parenting style negatively affects students' well-being by violating their need to feel both autonomous and competent.


Parental overinvolvement may lead to negative outcomes in children, including higher levels of depression and anxiety. Studies also suggest that children of overinvolved or overcontrolling parents may feel less competent and less able to manage life and its stressors. In contrast, evidence suggests that some parental involvement in children's lives facilitates healthy development, both emotionally and socially.

Children's need for autonomy increases over time as they strive to become independent young adults. Among college administrators, concern is shared that parents do not adjust their level of involvement and control as their child grows up and, instead, practice helicopter parenting.


Single-celled organisms keep life on earth in balance

Feb. 13, 2013 — The greatest battle in Earth's history has been going on for hundreds of millions of years -- it isn't over yet -- and until now no one knew it existed, scientists reported Feb. 13 in the journal Nature.

In one corner is SAR11, a bacterium that's the most abundant organism in the oceans, survives where most other cells would die and plays a major role in the planet's carbon cycle. It had been theorized that SAR11 was so small and widespread that it must be invulnerable to attack.

In the other corner, and so strange-looking that scientists previously didn't even recognize what they were, are "Pelagiphages," viruses now known to infect SAR11 and routinely kill millions of these cells every second. And how this fight turns out is of more than casual interest, because SAR11 has a huge effect on the amount of carbon dioxide that enters the atmosphere, and the overall biology of the oceans.


"In general, every living cell is vulnerable to viral infection," said Giovannoni, who first discovered SAR11 in 1990. "What has been so puzzling about SAR11 was its sheer abundance; there was simply so much of it that some scientists believed it must not get attacked by viruses."

What the new research shows, Giovannoni said, is that SAR11 is competitive, good at scavenging organic carbon, and effective at changing to avoid infection. Because of that, it thrives and persists in abundance even though it's constantly being killed by the new viruses that have been discovered.


SAR11 has several unique characteristics, including the smallest known genetic structure of any independent cell. Through sheer numbers, this microbe has a huge role in consuming organic carbon, which it uses to generate energy while producing carbon dioxide and water in the process. SAR11 recycles organic matter, providing the nutrients needed by algae to produce about half of the oxygen that enters Earth's atmosphere every day.

This carbon cycle ultimately affects all plant and animal life on Earth.

Urgent PC update: Microsoft issues 57 security fixes

Rosa Golijan Feb. 13, 2012

As it does on the second Tuesday of every month, Microsoft celebrated "Patch Tuesday" this week. Perhaps in an attempt to keep us all extra safe on Valentine's Day, the software giant went all out, issuing fixes for 57 flaws, making this one of its biggest security updates in recent memory.

Jonathan Ness, who leads the Microsoft Security Response Center engineering team, notes that this update includes twelve "security bulletins" which address 52 common vulnerabilities and exposures. Five of the bulletins have a severity rating of "critical" and seven are deemed "important." This means that they address exploitable issues, ones that could cause quite a headache if left unpatched. You better get your mouse pointer to that good ol' "Update" button, stat! Affected Microsoft products run the gamut: Windows, Internet Explorer, Office and more.


Folic acid in pregnancy may reduce autism risk

If we had a better, more natural diet, this wouldn't be such a risk.

Feb. 12, 2013
By Catherine Winters

Women who take folic acid supplements before becoming pregnant, as well as early in pregnancy, may reduce the risk of having a child with an autism spectrum disorder, according to a new study.


Women who had taken folic acid supplements in early pregnancy had a 40 percent reduced risk of having a child with autistic disorder than did women who had not taken the supplement. No reduction in risk was shown for Asperger syndrome or PDD-NOS.

During the study, researchers examined detailed information about the mother's supplement intake that had been gathered as part of the MoBa study. (At the study's start, food in Norway was not fortified with folic acid, a B vitamin, so supplements were the women's only source of the nutrient.)


The researchers also investigated whether taking other supplements during early pregnancy, including omega-3 fatty acids and cod liver oil, influenced the risk of autistic disorder, but they found no such association.

Folic acid is a B-vitamin needed for DNA synthesis and repair. It helps prevent neural tube defects, including spina bifida, in the developing fetus. Folate, the naturally occurring form of folic acid, is found in green leafy vegetables, peas, lentils, beans, eggs, yeast and liver. In the United States, grain products, such as cereal, bread and flour, are fortified with folic acid.

Since it can be hard to obtain enough folate from food, the March of Dimes recommends that all women of childbearing age get 400 micrograms of folic acid daily from a multivitamin. Pregnant women should continue taking 400 mcg of folic acid through early pregnancy.

Typically, the neural tube closes 28 days after conception (gestational week six), according to the study researchers, and the development of basic brain structures occurs 15 to 56 days after conception (during gestational weeks five to 10.)

The new study only shows an association between the use of folic acid supplements and a lower risk of autistic disorder. It does not establish a cause-effect link.


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

How Foreign Students Hurt U.S. Innovation

Why is it acceptable to point out that large numbers of educated immigrants compete for American jobs and reduce wages for the educated, but it is not acceptable to point out the same thing in regards to low-income immigrants. If course, the people who judge are usually educated people who are hurt by competition by educated immigrants, but benefit from the low wages of the poor.

February 12, 2013 12:21 PM
by Norman Matloff

In the old days, the U.S. program for foreign-student visas helped developing nations and brought diversity to then white-bread American campuses. Today, the F-1 program, as it is known, has become a profit center for universities and a wage-suppression tool for the technology industry.

International students are attractive to strapped colleges because they tend to pay full tuition or, in the case of public institutions, pay more than full price in out-of-state rates.

Last year, this was taken to a new level at California State University, East Bay, a public institution just south of Oakland. The school directed its master’s degree programs to admit only non-California students, including foreign students. Even before this edict, international students made up 90 percent of its computer-science master’s program.

The pursuit of foreign students by U.S. schools affects not only college access for Americans but also their careers. Back in 1989, an internal report of the National Science Foundation forecast that a large influx of F-1 doctoral students in science, technology, engineering and math — the STEM fields — would suppress wages. The stagnant salaries would then drive the American bachelor’s degree holders in these fields into more lucrative areas, such as business and law, after graduation, and discourage them from pursuing STEM doctorates.

This projection was dead-on. Contrary to the industry lobbyists’ claim of student shortages in these fields, an extensive 2007 Urban Institute study found that the U.S. has plenty of STEM graduates at the bachelor’s degree level, but few go on to graduate work in the field.

The shift has spawned a new term, “diversion,” alluding to the STEM grads who are diverted to other fields. Other professions use similar talents but pay much more and have brighter job prospects. Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan has also advocated importing foreign workers to hold down wages (at all degree levels) in the technology industry. Financially, “it’s crazy to go into STEM” if you are a young person who is talented in math, as Anthony Carnevale, the director of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, put it.

Yet, seemingly oblivious to this troubling situation, President Barack Obama is proposing that we give special green cards to all foreign graduate students in these fields. Republican Senators Orrin Hatch and Marco Rubio, among others, have made similar proposals.

To such boosters, every foreign student is a future Nobel laureate. As Democratic Representative Zoe Lofgren, author of one proposal, has said, “You can’t have too many geniuses.” To be sure, there are individual students from abroad who prove her point: the game changers. Yet the average quality of the international STEM students is lower than that of the Americans.


Last year, a commission appointed by the other top U.S. science agency, the National Institutes of Health, found that a severe oversupply has created a brutal job market for those who pursue doctorates in science research.

According to the report, graduates endure a gantlet of postdoctoral jobs (quasi-student positions that extend doctoral training) at low pay and long hours for years, all the while not knowing whether a permanent job will materialize in the end. For those who do eventually secure an academic position in biomedical research, the median age when starting the job is 37.

The NIH commission found that these bleak prospects may be dissuading the best and brightest Americans from entering careers in science research, and cited the large number of foreign postdoctoral researchers as a major cause of the glut of lab scientists. The Government Accountability Office has noted the relationship between that oversupply to the availability of foreign postdocs. About 54 percent of these postdocs are foreign.

Melting ‘Permafrost’ Releases Climate-Warming CO2 Even Faster Than We Thought

By Climate Guest Blogger on Feb 12, 2013

University of Michigan News Service

Ancient carbon trapped in Arctic permafrost is extremely sensitive to sunlight and, if exposed to the surface when long-frozen soils melt and collapse, can release climate-warming carbon dioxide gas into the atmosphere much faster than previously thought.

University of Michigan ecologist and aquatic biogeochemist George Kling and his colleagues studied places in Arctic Alaska where permafrost is melting and is causing the overlying land surface to collapse, forming erosional holes and landslides and exposing long-buried soils to sunlight.

They found that sunlight increases bacterial conversion of exposed soil carbon into carbon dioxide gas by at least 40 percent compared to carbon that remains in the dark. The team, led by Rose Cory of the University of North Carolina, reported its findings in an article to be published online Feb. 11 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Until now, we didn’t really know how reactive this ancient permafrost carbon would be — whether it would be converted into heat-trapping gases quickly or not,” said Kling, a professor in the U-M Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. EEB graduate student Jason Dobkowski is a co-author of the paper.

“What we can say now is that regardless of how fast the thawing of the Arctic permafrost occurs, the conversion of this soil carbon to carbon dioxide and its release into the atmosphere will be faster than we previously thought,” Kling said. “That means permafrost carbon is potentially a huge factor that will help determine how fast the Earth warms.”

Monday, February 11, 2013

Study Confirms Tea Party Was Created by Big Tobacco and Pollutocrat Kochs

By Climate Guest Blogger on Feb 11, 2013
By Brendan DeMille via DeSmogBlog

A new academic study confirms that front groups with longstanding ties to the tobacco industry and the billionaire Koch brothers planned the formation of the Tea Party movement more than a decade before it exploded onto the U.S. political scene.

Far from a genuine grassroots uprising, this astroturf effort was curated by wealthy industrialists years in advance. Many of the anti-science operatives who defended cigarettes are currently deploying their tobacco-inspired playbook internationally to evade accountability for the fossil fuel industry’s role in driving climate disruption.

The study, funded by the National Cancer Institute of the National Institute of Health, traces the roots of the Tea Party’s anti-tax movement back to the early 1980s when tobacco companies began to invest in third party groups to fight excise taxes on cigarettes, as well as health studies finding a link between cancer and secondhand cigarette smoke.


The common public understanding of the origins of the Tea Party is that it is a popular grassroots uprising that began with anti-tax protests in 2009.

However, the Quarterback study reveals that in 2002, the Kochs and tobacco-backed CSE designed and made public the first Tea Party Movement website under the web address


Texas Judge May Be Prosecuted for Allegedly Hiding Evidence As Prosecutor

Many cases of wrongful conviction were caused by prosecutors and/or police hiding or even falsifying evidence. They are rarely prosecuted.

By CHRISTINA NG (@ChristinaNg27)
Feb. 4, 2013

A Texas judge is expected to find out today whether he will be prosecuted for allegedly lying and concealing information in a case when he was a prosecutor that sent a man to prison for 25 years.

State District Judge Ken Anderson was the Williamson County district attorney in 1987 when Michael Morton was convicted of beating to death his wife, Christine Morton. Michael Morton was exonerated of the crime in 2011, after spending more than two decades in prison.

Now Anderson is accused of lying and concealing evidence that led to Morton's conviction. Morton was released from prison after a bloody bandana found 100 yards from his home in 1986 was finally DNA tested.

The bandana had Christine Morton's blood on it as well as DNA from a man identified in 2010 as Mark Alan Norwood. Norwood was later arrested and charged with the murder.

The bandana was ignored during the criminal trial.


"If what happened to me can happen to me, it can happen to anybody," Morton said. "I didn't have a criminal record. I lived in the good part of town. I had a nice house, career, a child, a wife, a dog. I was the average Joe Blow."


What do we really believe

From Facebook:

Don't tell me what you believe, show me what you do and I will tell you what you believe.

Texas Man Convicted in '81 Stabbing Death Freed

February 12, 2013

A 58-year-old Texas man was allowed to walk free Monday after spending half his life behind bars for a crime he didn't commit — the repeated stabbing of a woman whose body was found on a dirt road in rural North Texas.

Randolph Arledge was sentenced to 99 years in prison in 1984 for killing Carolyn Armstrong. But a state district judge in Corsicana, about 50 miles southeast of Dallas, agreed with prosecutors and Arledge's attorneys that he could no longer be considered guilty after new DNA tests tied someone else to the crime.

Judge James Lagomarsino agreed to release Arledge while the process of overturning his conviction is pending. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals must accept Lagomarsino's recommendation for the conviction to be formally overturned, a process that is considered a formality.

Arledge was wearing shackles around his wrists and ankles at the start of the hearing. He later was taken into a back room by two deputies to have the shackles removed. When he returned, Arledge hugged his two children. His daughter was 4 years old and his son 7 when he was sent to prison.


Like many wrongfully convicted inmates, Arledge was sent to prison with the help of faulty eyewitness testimony. Two co-conspirators in an armed robbery testified at his trial that he had admitted to stabbing someone in Corsicana and that he had blood on his clothes and knife, according to the filing by Arledge's attorneys.

One of those witnesses has since admitted to lying about Arledge due to a personal dispute, the filing said.

Arledge became the 118th person in Texas state courts to have his conviction overturned, according to the University of Michigan's national registry of exonerations.


Sunday, February 10, 2013

Support needed for children losing parent at early age

Public release date: 8-Feb-2013
Contact: Rosalind Dewar
SAGE Publications

A study exploring the impact of early parental death has revealed the long-term damage and suffering that can be experienced by individuals in adult life if appropriate levels of support are not provided at the time of bereavement. The new research, published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, describes the low self-esteem, loneliness, isolation and inability to express feelings of some individuals who lost a parent in childhood, with the effects felt for as long as 71 years after the bereavement.

The researchers found common themes that affect the experience of parental loss, including disruptions and continuity, the role of social networks and affiliations, and communication. Professor Mari Lloyd Williams, from the University of Liverpool, speaking on behalf of the research team of Dr Jackie Ellis and Professor Chris Dowrick, said: "Moving home and separation from family and friends makes adjustment to parental death significantly more difficult and increases stress in bereaved children. Long periods of disruption or living arrangements that do not meet the needs of the bereaved child means they are more likely to experience emotional difficulties and feelings of insecurity and loneliness in adult life."

Professor Lloyd Williams continues: "It is essential that bereavement support consists of far more than counselling that is frequently available and offered to bereaved children. Where possible they should remain in their existing social networks, live in the same area, go to the same school and maintain the same friendships." She adds that those working with bereaved families also need to ensure that support which increases stability, continuity and cohesion is introduced at every level of the family system. This should include essential practical support with household tasks such as housework, cooking, shopping and taking the children to school. "Our research suggests that if the social network addresses the necessary 'mothering or fathering' then a child does not appear to be affected in adult life."

"The findings from this study demonstrate the distress experienced as children and adults when they are not given clear and honest information at appropriate time points relevant to their understanding and experience", says Professor Lloyd Williams.


In Australia, Wind Power Is Already Cheaper Than Fossil Fuels, And Solar Is Right Behind

By Jeff Spross on Feb 10, 2013

According to the latest research from Bloomberg New Energy Finance, electricity from wind power can now be supplied more cheaply in Australia than power from either coal or natural gas — and solar and other forms of renewable energy aren’t far behind.

Older coal-fired power plants from the 70s and 80s still compete at lower prices than renewables — but only because their construction costs have depreciated. For the deployment of any new power generation in Australia, renewables now appear to be the way to go.