Friday, August 30, 2013

Eating whole fruits linked to lower risk of Type 2 diabetes

Public release date: 29-Aug-2013
Contact: Todd Datz
Harvard School of Public Health

Boston, MA — Eating more whole fruits, particularly blueberries, grapes, and apples, was significantly associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, according to a new study led by Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) researchers. Greater consumption of fruit juices was associated with a higher risk of type 2 diabetes. The study is the first to look at the effects of individual fruits on diabetes risk.


Thursday, August 29, 2013

School-age drinking increases breast cancer risk

Public release date: 28-Aug-2013
Contact: Jim Goodwin
Washington University School of Medicine

Here's a sobering fact for millions of young women heading back to school: The more alcohol they drink before motherhood, the greater their risk of future breast cancer.

That's according to new research from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis that, for the first time, links increased breast cancer risk to drinking between early adolescence and first full-term pregnancy. Previous studies have looked at breast cancer risk and alcohol consumption later in life or at the effect of adolescent drinking on noncancerous breast disease.


If a female averages a drink per day between her first period and her first full-term pregnancy, she increases her risk of breast cancer by 13 percent,” said co-author Graham Colditz, MD, DrPH, associate director for cancer prevention and control at Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine.


The researchers also found that for every bottle of beer, glass of wine or shot of liquor consumed daily, a young woman increases her risk of proliferative benign breast disease by 15 percent. Although such lesions are noncancerous, their presence increases breast cancer risk by as much as 500 percent, Liu said.


'Safe' levels of environmental pollution may have long-term health consequences

Public release date: 29-Aug-2013
Contact: Cody Mooneyhan
Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology

Bethesda, MD—If you're eating better and exercising regularly, but still aren't seeing improvements in your health, there might be a reason: pollution. According to a new research report published in the September issue of The FASEB Journal, what you are eating and doing may not be the problem, but what's in what you are eating could be the culprit.


"This report that confirms something we've known for a long time: pollution is bad for us," said Gerald Weissmann, M.D., Editor-in-Chief of The FASEB Journal. "But, what's equally important, it shows that evaluating food contaminants and pollutants on an individual basis may be too simplistic. We can see that when "safe" levels of contaminants and pollutants act together, they have significant impact on public health."

Old whooping cranes show young ones the way

John Roach NBC News
Aug. 29, 2013

When endangered whooping cranes fly their routes to summer breeding grounds, the old birds play a crucial role in showing the young birds where to go.

"This learning takes place over many years," Thomas Mueller, an expert on animal migration at the University of Maryland and lead author of a study on the cranes' migration habits, told NBC News. "It is a long-term process."

The finding adds new support for the idea that at least some of the bird's migratory behavior is learned from experience rather than all of it being the result of information encoded in genes, he noted.


Fast food strikes go super-sized in clash over wages

Jeff Cox
Aug. 29, 2013

The battle to boost the minimum wage escalated Thursday when thousands of workers at hundreds of fast food restaurants in 50 U.S. cities walked off the job to demand decent pay.

From San Diego to New York, workers stopped flipping burgers, frying fries, and slathering on secret sauce in what organizers called the largest strikes against the nation's fast food companies ever.

"You're trying to go up and you're just going down," said protester Shantel Walker, 31, of Brooklyn who makes $7.25 working at a Papa John's in Manhattan. "All of us are in the same financial crunch. We're trying to take care of our families and our livelihood."


Workers mobilized in cities from Alameda, Calif., to West Haven, Conn., and across the nation, including several demonstrations in New York City. To date, strikes have been held in one city or the other, or in regions, but nothing like Thursday's national push, according to organizers.


The strike comes as a growing number of minimum wage fast food workers are not teenagers, but adults trying to support families, particularly since the Great Recession. Only 16 percent of fast food industry jobs now go to teens, down from 25 percent a decade ago. More than 42 percent of restaurant and fast-food employees over the age of 25 have at least some college education, including 753,000 with a bachelor's degree or higher, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.


... Scott DeFife, executive vice president of policy and government affairs at the National Restaurant Association.

"Nine out of ten salaried restaurant workers, including owners and managers, started as hourly workers. The fact is, only five percent of restaurant employees earn the minimum wage and those that do are predominantly working part-time and half are teenagers," DeFife added.

He said that restaurant jobs provide workers with valuable skills, such as a strong work ethic, that would help them advance their careers.

[Making a little more than the minimum wage doesn't keep you out of poverty. Most restaurant workers are not and never will be salaried.]


Strikers have complained that while revenue is up about 13 percent at fast-food restaurants as of August, it's not being passed on to the workers.


The protests come 50 years after Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. led hundreds of thousands of Americans in a March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. One of their demands was to raise the federal minimum wage to $2 a hour, roughly equivalent to $15 in today's dollars.

Worldwide Ban On Flame Retardant - updated

This stuff might be the culprit in the epidemic of hyperactive thyroids in cats.
One of my cats has this problem, and I had a couple of others that had it.

8/29/2013 Added link on the effects of these chemicals.

Aug. 26, 2013 — The flame retardant HBCD may no longer be produced or used. This was decided by representatives from over 160 countries in late May at a UN conference on chemicals in Geneva. Empa's extensive research on HBCD, formerly used as a flame retardant for plastics, electronics and textiles, and especially for insulation panels in buildings, contributed to the new regulation of HBCD under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs).


Flame retardants in consumer products are linked to health and cognitive problems

By Liza Gross,April 15, 2013
Synthetic chemicals added to consumer products to meet federal and state flammability standards are showing up in waterways, wildlife and even human breast milk.

Studies in laboratory animals and humans have linked the most scrutinized flame retardants, called polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs, to thyroid disruption, memory and learning problems, delayed mental and physical development, lower IQ, advanced puberty and reduced fertility. Other flame retardants have been linked to cancer. At the same time, recent studies suggest that the chemicals may not effectively reduce the flammability of treated products.

The potential risks of flame retardants have been known for some time. In 1977, brominated tris was banned from use in children’s pajamas after researchers showed that it could damage DNA in animals. Two PBDEs, penta and octa, were pulled from the U.S. market in 2004. But another chemical that was removed from pajamas decades ago based on evidence that it could mutate DNA is still being used in furniture and some other baby products.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Air Quality

This government site lets you find the air quality measurements for your area, and gives separate measurements for particulate matter and ozone.

Perception of Marijuana as a 'Safe Drug' Is Scientifically Inaccurate, Finds Review of Teen Brain Studies

Aug. 27, 2013 — The nature of the teenage brain makes users of cannabis amongst this population particularly at risk of developing addictive behaviors and suffering other long-term negative effects, according to researchers at the University of Montreal and New York's Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

"Of the illicit drugs, cannabis is most used by teenagers since it is perceived by many to be of little harm. This perception has led to a growing number of states approving its legalization and increased accessibility. Most of the debates and ensuing policies regarding cannabis were done without consideration of its impact on one of the most vulnerable population, namely teens, or without consideration of scientific data," wrote Professor Didier Jutras-Aswad of the University of Montreal and Yasmin Hurd, MD, PhD, of Mount Sinai. "While it is clear that more systematic scientific studies are needed to understand the long-term impact of adolescent cannabis exposure on brain and behavior, the current evidence suggests that it has a far-reaching influence on adult addictive behaviors particularly for certain subsets of vulnerable individuals."


"Data from epidemiological studies have repeatedly shown an association between cannabis use and subsequent addiction to heavy drugs and psychosis (i.e. schizophrenia). Interestingly, the risk to develop such disorders after cannabis exposure is not the same for all individuals and is correlated with genetic factors, the intensity of cannabis use and the age at which it occurs. When the first exposure occurs in younger versus older adolescents, the impact of cannabis seems to be worse in regard to many outcomes such as mental health, education attainment, delinquency and ability to conform to adult role," Dr Jutras-Aswad said.


The Ocean Is Going To Start Confusing Fish And Dissolving Seashells


Ocean acidification driven by increasing atmospheric carbon levels is a substantial threat to marine life, a new study has confirmed.

The study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, analyzed 167 studies on the effects of ocean acidification on corals, crustaceans, mollusks, fishes and echinoderms, a group which includes starfish and sea urchins. The studies included data on effects of ocean acidification on more than 150 species of marine life, which the researchers then matched up to different climate scenarios to get a sense of how each species would respond to different levels of ocean acidification.

They found that at atmospheric carbon concentrations of 500 to 650 parts per million — levels that are predicted by 2100 — corals, echinoderms, mollusks and fish were negatively impacted, though crustaceans such as crabs and lobsters were relatively unaffected. When atmospheric carbon concentrations rose above 650 ppm, all groups studied were harmed.


Church Group Members Threatened With Arrest for Handing Out Biscuits, Coffee to the Homeless

Aug. 26, 2013

A North Carolina church group said they were prevented from handing out food to the homeless after police threatened them with arrest, according to their website.

For the past six years, volunteers from Love Wins Ministries frequented Moore Square in Raleigh, N.C., on Saturdays and Sundays to give out hot coffee and a breakfast sandwich to those in need, according to the church group's website.

But when volunteers went down to their usual weekend spot to dole out the 100 sausage biscuits and the gallons of coffee they had brought to feed the crowds who had gathered Saturday morning, they were also greeted by officers with the Raleigh Police Department, according to a statement on the church group's website.

"An officer said, quite bluntly, that if we attempted to distribute food, we would be arrested," the Rev. Hugh Hollowell wrote on the group's website. "We asked the officers for permission to disperse the biscuits to the over 70 people who had lined up, waiting to eat. They said no. I had to face those who were waiting and tell them that I could not feed them, or I would be arrested."

The Raleigh police were there to enforce a city ordinance that bans the distribution of food in any of the city's parks, ABC Raleigh, N.C., station WTVD-TV reported.

While the group said it was aware they could not use the park itself, they had set up on the sidewalk for the past six years without issue, their website said.

"No representative from the Raleigh Police Department was willing to tell us which ordinance we were breaking, or why, after six years and countless friendly and cooperative encounters with the Department, they are now preventing us from feeding hungry people," Hollowell wrote.

In addition, the group learned it would need to apply for a permit to use the park, which costs $800 a day, their website said.


Sunday, August 25, 2013

Engaging in a Brief Cultural Activity Can Reduce Implicit Prejudice

August 22, 2013
For Immediate Release
Contact: Anna Mikulak
Association for Psychological Science

A small cue of social connection to someone from another group — such as a shared interest — can help reduce prejudice immediately and up to six months later, according to new research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

“Our research shows that even a brief opportunity to take part in another group’s culture can improve intergroup attitudes even months later,” says psychological scientist and lead researcher Tiffany Brannon of Stanford University.
Decades of research in psychology show that extended relationships between people from different groups — such as between roommate pairs and long-standing friends — can improve attitudes toward other groups.

Even small cues like a common birthday have been shown to bring people together and lead them to share common goals and motivations. Brannon and Stanford professor Gregory Walton wanted to investigate whether such small cues might impact people’s engagement with, and attitudes toward, other groups.


The 'whole' problem with recycling

People can really be weird.

Public release date: 22-Aug-2013
Contact: Jamie Hanlon
University of Alberta

UAlberta researcher sheds light on why some recyclable items still end up in the trash

Findings from a University of Alberta researcher shed new light on what may be stopping people from recycling more.

Jennifer Argo, a marketing professor in the U of A's Alberta School of Business, says that people are psychologically hard-wired to believe that products that are damaged or that aren't whole—such as small or ripped paper or dented cans—are useless, and this leads users to trash them rather than recycle them. To circumvent overcrowding landfills and environmental problems, Argo says consumers and manufacturers can take steps to override the urge to toss wholly recyclable items.

"We can change the way products look. We can change the way people perceive them too in terms of their usefulness," she said.

Every scrap is sacred

From their observations and study findings, Argo and co-author Remi Trudel of Boston University found that once a recyclable item ceased to retain its whole form—whether a package that was cut open or a strip of paper torn from a whole piece—users demonstrated an alarming tendency to throw it in the garbage. The process, she says, is seemingly autonomic and likely related to our literal definition of garbage as something being worthless. When it comes to blue-binning it versus using the circular filing system, the size of the object does not matter; the trick, she says, is getting people to recognize that for themselves.

"We gave one group of participants a small piece of paper and asked them to do a creative writing task and just tell us what this paper could be useful for," said Argo. "As soon as they did that, 80 per cent of the time it went into the recycling. It was an automatic flip that it became useful to them again."

The other challenge to changing recycling habits comes into play when the product, while still whole, is somehow damaged, imperfect or spoiled. Using a common household item from the study as an example, Argo says although some people crush their cans to make more room in the recycling bag, they overwhelmingly reject a can that is pre-crushed or otherwise dented or damaged. Again, she points out, it is all in the way the usefulness of the can's current condition is perceived.

"People see it as a damaged good that is not useful anymore in any way—what can you do with a crushed can?" Argo said. "If the can came to you crushed and you had to make the decision, our research shows that it's going in the garbage."

The Stress and Cancer Link: ‘Master-Switch’ Stress Gene Enables Cancer’s Spread

Ohio State University

COLUMBUS, Ohio – In an unexpected finding, scientists have linked the activation of a stress gene in immune-system cells to the spread of breast cancer to other parts of the body.

Researchers say the study suggests this gene, called ATF3, may be the crucial link between stress and cancer, including the major cause of cancer death – its spread, or metastasis. Previous public health studies have shown that stress is a risk factor for cancer.


Saturday, August 24, 2013

Human Brains Are Hardwired for Empathy, Friendship

Aug. 22, 2013 — Perhaps one of the most defining features of humanity is our capacity for empathy -- the ability to put ourselves in others' shoes. A new University of Virginia study strongly suggests that we are hardwired to empathize because we closely associate people who are close to us -- friends, spouses, lovers -- with our very selves.

"With familiarity, other people become part of ourselves," said James Coan, a psychology professor in U.Va.'s College of Arts & Sciences who used functional magnetic resonance imaging brain scans to find that people closely correlate people to whom they are attached to themselves. The study appears in the August issue of the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.
"Our self comes to include the people we feel close to," Coan said.


Literally we are under threat when a friend is under threat. But not so when a stranger is under threat."


People need friends, Coan added, like "one hand needs another to clap."

Flu Shot May Halve Heart Attack Risk in Middle Aged With Narrowed Arteries

Aug. 22, 2013 — The flu shot seems to almost halve the risk of heart attacks in middle aged people with narrowed arteries, finds research published in the journal Heart.


A recent respiratory infection was more common among those patients who'd had a heart attack and doubled the risk.

But after taking account of other influential factors, such as age, high cholesterol, and smoking, flu did not increase heart attack risk. But vaccination against the infection did seem to be protective, decreasing the risk of a heart attack by 45%.
Previous research suggests that infections such as flu might encourage blood to thicken or prompt an inflammatory response in arteries that are already diseased, so sparking the development of a blockage.


Single Injection May Revolutionize Melanoma Treatment

I hope this works, especially because I have a friend with melanoma.

Aug. 22, 2013 — A new study at Moffitt Cancer Center could offer hope to people with melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. Researchers are investigating whether an injectable known as PV-10 can shrink tumors and reduce the spread of cancer. PV-10 is a solution developed from Rose Bengal, a water-soluble dye commonly used to stain damaged cells in the eye. Early clinical trials show PV-10 can boost immune response in melanoma tumors, as well as the blood stream.


Teen Driver Music Preferences Increase Errors and Distractibility

Aug. 23, 2013 — Teens listening to their preferred music while driving commit a greater number of errors and miscalculations, according to a new study from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev researchers that will be published in the October issue of Accident Analysis and Prevention.


Friday, August 23, 2013

Thanks To Budget Cuts, The Forest Service Is Out Of Money To Fight Wildfires


The U.S. Forest Service has nearly depleted its budget for fighting wildfires at the peak of wildfire season, a development which has forced the agency to divert $600 million in funds from timber and other areas to continue fighting fires.

As of Wednesday, the agency was down to $50 million after spending $967 million this year on fighting wildfires. So far in 2013, 33,000 wildfires have burned in the Western U.S., spanning 5,300 square miles and destroying 960 homes and 30 commercial buildings.
This year is the second consecutive year and the sixth year since 2002 that the Forest Service has had to divert funds for fighting fires. The Forest Service’s wildfire fighting budget was slashed by $115 million by automatic, across-the-board sequester cuts that went into effect earlier this year. In addition, a wildfire reserve fund created in 2009, known as the FLAME Act has dropped from $413 million in 2010 to $299 million this year after sequestration. These cuts come as costs to fight wildfires each year are soaring: during the 1990s, the federal government spent less than $1 billion a year fighting wildfires, but since 2002, it’s spent a yearly average of more than $3 billion.

These cuts and the trend of the Forest Service’s depleting funds are made all the more troubling by warnings that wildfires will only become more intense and more frequent and as the climate warms — already, wildfire seasons last about two months longer than in previous decades.


Columbia, South Carolina Criminalizes Homelessness In Unanimous Vote

America, the gracious, friendly Southerners of the Christian land of the free!

The Huffington Post | By Eleanor Goldberg
Posted: 08/22/2013

City council members in Columbia, S.C., recently voted unanimously to criminalize homelessness.

Concerned that Columbia has become a “magnet for homeless people,” and that businesses and the area’s safety are suffering as a result, council members agreed on Aug. 14 to give people on the streets the option to either relocate, or get arrested, according to the city’s “Emergency Homeless Response” report.

Cooperative homeless people will be given the option to go to a remote 240-person bed emergency shelter, which will be open from September to March. The shelter will also be used as a drop-off for people recently released from prison and jail, too.

A hotline will be set up for passersby to “report” a homeless person that needs to be removed, additional police will be dispensed to monitor the streets and vans will escort the homeless to the shelter.


there are an estimated 1,621 homeless people living in Columbia and the surrounding area, 25 percent of whom are members of families with children, a figure that could overwhelm the designated shelter.


According to ThinkProgress, clients at the shelter will not be allowed to leave the premises without permission and a police officer will stand guard at the road leading to the building.


But a number of other cities have taken such punitive measures as of late.

Just last month, Tampa Bay, Fla., passed an ordinance, which will allow police to arrest people sleeping on the streets and put them behind bars.

There, many argued that such a measure both punishes the taxpayers and the homelessness.

"It costs roughly $50 a day to incarcerate one homeless person for one day. And during the last homeless count that took place, we had 356 homeless people in jail," Amanda Mole, editor of the Tampa Epoch, told HuffPost Live. "With those numbers we spent about 6.6 million dollars a year in Hillsborough County alone just on incarcerating the homeless."


Can't eat money

Seen on Facebook

Only when the last tree has died
and the last river has been poisoned
and the last fish has been caught
will we realize that we can't eat money.~Cree Indian proverb

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

High BPA Levels in Children Associated With Higher Risk of Obesity and Abnormal Waist Circumference

Aug. 19, 2013 — Children who have higher levels of Bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical previously used in many products for kids, like baby bottles and plastic toys, had a higher odds of obesity and adverse levels of body fat, according to a new study from University of Michigan researchers.


"Studies in adults had shown an association between high BPA levels and obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, but little was known about its effects in children," says Donna Eng, M.D., lead author of the study and recent graduate of the Pediatric Endocrinology Fellowship at C.S. Mott Children's Hospital.


Copper May Contribute to Alzheimer's Disease

This does not contradict the preceding post on the possible effect by excess iron. Something like Alzheimer's usually has multiple contributing factors.

Aug. 19, 2013 — Copper appears to be one of the main environmental factors that trigger the onset and enhance the progression of Alzheimer's disease by preventing the clearance and accelerating the accumulation of toxic proteins in the brain.

That is the conclusion of a study appearing today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"It is clear that, over time, copper's cumulative effect is to impair the systems by which amyloid beta is removed from the brain," said Rashid Deane, Ph.D., a research professor in the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) Department of Neurosurgery, member of the Center for Translational Neuromedicine, and the lead author of the study. "This impairment is one of the key factors that cause the protein to accumulate in the brain and form the plaques that are the hallmark of Alzheimer's disease."

Copper's presence in the food supply is ubiquitous. It is found in drinking water carried by copper pipes, nutritional supplements, and in certain foods such as red meats, shellfish, nuts, and many fruits and vegetables. The mineral plays an important and beneficial role in nerve conduction, bone growth, the formation of connective tissue, and hormone secretion.

However, the new study shows that copper can also accumulate in the brain and cause the blood brain barrier -- the system that controls what enters and exits the brain -- to break down, resulting in the toxic accumulation of the protein amyloid beta, a by-product of cellular activity. Using both mice and human brain cells Deane and his colleagues conducted a series of experiments that have pinpointed the molecular mechanisms by which copper accelerates the pathology of Alzheimer's disease.


Excess Iron May be Implicated in Alzheimer's Disease

Moderation is usually the best course.

Aug. 20, 2013 — Alzheimer's disease has proven to be a difficult enemy to defeat. After all, aging is the No. 1 risk factor for the disorder, and there's no stopping that.

Most researchers believe the disease is caused by one of two proteins, one called tau, the other beta-amyloid. As we age, most scientists say, these proteins either disrupt signaling between neurons or simply kill them.

Now, a new UCLA study suggests a third possible cause: iron accumulation.

Dr. George Bartzokis, a professor of psychiatry at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA and senior author of the study, and his colleagues looked at two areas of the brain in patients with Alzheimer's. They compared the hippocampus, which is known to be damaged early in the disease, and the thalamus, an area that is generally not affected until the late stages. Using sophisticated brain-imaging techniques, they found that iron is increased in the hippocampus and is associated with tissue damage in that area. But increased iron was not found in the thalamus.
The research appears in the August edition of the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.


Myelin is produced by cells called oligodendrocytes. These cells, along with myelin, have the highest levels of iron of any cells in the brain, Bartzokis says, and circumstantial evidence has long supported the possibility that brain iron levels might be a risk factor for age-related diseases like Alzheimer's. Although iron is essential for cell function, too much of it can promote oxidative damage, to which the brain is especially vulnerable.


We found that the amount of iron is increased in the hippocampus and is associated with tissue damage in patients with Alzheimer's but not in the healthy older individuals -- or in the thalamus. So the results suggest that iron accumulation may indeed contribute to the cause of Alzheimer's disease."

But it's not all bad news from this study, Bartzokis noted.
"The accumulation of iron in the brain may be influenced by modifying environmental factors, such as how much red meat and iron dietary supplements we consume and, in women, having hysterectomies before menopause," he said.


July 2013: Earth's 6th Warmest July on Record

And we are in a part of the climate cycle that is usually cooler than average.

Posted by: Dr. Jeff Masters, 3:20 PM GMT on August 21, 2013

July 2013 was the globe's 6th warmest July since records began in 1880, according to NOAA's National Climatic Data Center (NCDC). NASA rated it the 10th warmest July on record. The year-to-date period of January - July has been the 6th warmest such period on record. July 2013 global land temperatures were the 8th warmest on record, and global ocean temperatures were the 5th warmest on record. July 2013 was the 341st consecutive month with global temperatures warmer than the 20th century average. Global satellite-measured temperatures in July 2013 for the lowest 8 km of the atmosphere were 10th or 8th warmest in the 35-year record, according to Remote Sensing Systems and the University of Alabama Huntsville (UAH), respectively. Wunderground's weather historian, Christopher C. Burt, has a comprehensive post on the notable weather events of July 2013 in his July 2013 Global Weather Extremes Summary. The big stories that he highlights are the extraordinary heat waves in the central portion of Russia’s Arctic region and in eastern China. Both heat waves were unprecedented for their respective locations. Extreme heat has killed at least 40 people in China since July 1. Also, Greenland measured its hottest temperature on record July 30th when the mercury hit 25.9°C (78.6°F) at Maniitoq Mittarfia during an unusually strong local wind event called a foehn.


Six billion-dollar weather disasters hit Earth during July. The most damaging of these were in China: the on-going drought in Central and Eastern China that has cost $6 billion this year, and significant flooding across nearly every section of China between the 7th and 17th, which left 305 people dead or missing, and cost $4.5 billion. The world-wide tally of billion-dollar weather disasters so far in 2013 is nineteen, and the U.S. total is five, according to the July 2013 Catastrophe Report from insurance broker Aon Benfield:


Get Ready For Food Prices To Go Way Up, Thanks To Climate Change


Climate change will likely push food prices up 20 to 40 percent, regardless of cuts to future carbon emissions, new research in the journal Climatic Change concluded. Staple crops like rice, wheat, and grains — which make up the vast majority of global diets, especially for the poor — could see the biggest hits, with big costs for global economic welfare.


The big hits to food production come from altered rainfall patterns and regional soil moisture due to climate change. That in turn changes agriculture and trade patterns for the worst, though the researchers did find crops relying on irrigation fared better than those relying on rain. But in the end, less production means less supply, which means higher prices.


On the domestic front, America’s corn growers have already seen their bushel yields reduced by one billion in 2011 thanks to drought. In Texas specifically, the heat and lack of water has cut beef and rice production, and squashed the cotton industry by about 50 percent. It could be a prelude of more to come worldwide.

Trouble Holding a Job? Maybe You Were Bullied as a Kid

August 20, 2013

Kids who are bullied often face a range of health and personal problems later in life, a new study finds.
Serious illness, struggling to hold down a regular job, and poor social relationships are just some of the adverse outcomes. The results, published in the journal Psychological Science, highlight the extent to which the risk of health, wealth, and social problems is heightened by exposure to bullying—and in doing so is one of the first studies to look into the effects beyond just health.

Professor Dieter Wolke of the University of Warwick and William E. Copeland of Duke University Medical Center led the team, looking beyond the study of victims and investigating the impact on all those affected—the victims, the bullies themselves, and those who fall into both categories: “bully-victims.”


The “bully-victims” presented the most significant health risk for adulthood, being over six times more likely to be diagnosed with a serious illness, to smoke regularly, or to develop a psychiatric disorder.


All of the groups were more than twice as likely to have difficulty in keeping a job or commit to saving, and as such displayed a higher propensity for being impoverished in young adulthood.


Though there was no real difference in the likelihood of being married or having children, all groups showed signs of having difficulty forming social relationships, particularly when it came to maintaining long-term friendships or good ties with parents in adulthood.


Monday, August 19, 2013

Democratic North Carolina State Senator Resigns From Office To Help People Get Voter ID

By: Jason EasleyAug. 19th, 2013

Many Democrats talk about fighting back against voter suppression, but North Carolina state senator Ellie Kinnaird resigned from office today in order to work on a grassroots project to help people obtain voter IDs.

In a statement annoucing her resignation, Sen. Kinnaird said:


I am working with others on a grass-roots project to make sure everyone in the state has a proper voter ID so that no votes are denied, even though the Voter ID bill is aimed at exactly that – repressing the vote.


Coasts should prepare for rising seas

Aug 19, 1:09 PM (ET)

NEW YORK (AP) - Coastal communities should assume floods are going to happen more frequently and realize that spending now on protective measures could save money later, according to a report issued by a presidential task force charged with developing a strategy for rebuilding areas damaged by Superstorm Sandy.

Most of the report's 69 recommendations focus on a simple warning: plan for future storms in an age of climate change and rising sea levels. It calls for development of a more advanced electrical grid and the creation of better planning tools and standards for storm-damaged communities.


Study finds only the wealthy get represented in the Senate

Is anybody surprised?

By Eric W. Dolan
Monday, August 19, 2013

Members of the U.S. Senate do not respond equally to the views of all their constituents, according to research to be published in Political Research Quarterly next month. Senators overall represent their wealthiest constituents, while those on bottom of the economic rung are neglected.

“The fact that lower income groups seem to be ignored by elected officials, although not a new finding, remains a troubling observation in American politics,” Thomas J. Hayes of Trinity University wrote in his study.

The study used data from the 2004 National Annenberg Election Survey to compare constituents’ political opinion to the voting behavior of their Senators in the 107th through 111th Congresses. With more than 90,000 respondents, the NAES is the largest public opinion survey conducted during presidential elections.

In all of the five Congresses examined, the voting records of Senators were consistently aligned with the opinions of their wealthiest constituents. The opinions of lower-class constituents, however, never appeared to influence the Senators’ voting behavior.

The neglect of lower income groups was a bipartisan affair. Democrats were not any more responsive to the poor than Republicans.


Hayes found that middle-class opinion was only represented in two of the Congresses examined. In the 110th and 111th Congresses, when Democrats controlled both the Senate and the House, the voting records of Senators reflected the opinions of middle-class constituents as well as upper-class constituents.


Sunday, August 18, 2013

Voters don't know deficit has gone down

Moment of Truthiness
Published: August 15, 2013


I wondered on my blog what a similar survey would show today, with the deficit falling even faster than it did in the 1990s. Ask and ye shall receive: Hal Varian, the chief economist of Google, offered to run a Google Consumer Survey — a service the company normally sells to market researchers — on the question. So we asked whether the deficit has gone up or down since January 2010. And the results were even worse than in 1996: A majority of those who replied said the deficit has gone up, with more than 40 percent saying that it has gone up a lot. Only 12 percent answered correctly that it has gone down a lot.

¶ Am I saying that voters are stupid? Not at all. People have lives, jobs, children to raise. They’re not going to sit down with Congressional Budget Office reports. Instead, they rely on what they hear from authority figures. The problem is that much of what they hear is misleading if not outright false.


A Stark Choice: Extreme Heat or Dirty Fuels

By Stephen Leahy
Sunday, August 18, 2013

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Aug 15 2013 (IPS) - Two reports released Wednesday reveal the dangerous gap between science and politics. New climate research shows that extreme events such as the severe heat wave in the U.S. last year will double in 2020, increase 400 percent by 2040, and then get far worse without significant carbon reductions.

Meanwhile, an analysis shows Canada cannot meet its weak 2020 carbon emissions reduction target even as it plans to triple the size of its massive tar sands operations in coming decades.

Canada’s has no credible carbon reduction plan and has done virtually nothing on climate since Stephen Harper’s government came to power in 2006, said activists.


Canada, the United States and other countries pledged to reduce their total carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 17 percent compared to 2005 levels by the year 2020 under what is known as the Copenhagen Accord. Scientists say that target is too weak and will result in global temperatures rising by at least 3.5C, a very dangerous level of climate change.

Those high temperatures will likely produce heat extremes that kill people, animals and crops, and blanket 85 percent of the planet’s land area in summer by 2100, German and Spanish scientists reported late Wednesday.

“That’s what our calculations show for a scenario of unabated climate change,” said co-author Dim Coumou of Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK).

Shockingly, it is already too late to prevent a doubling of heat waves by 2020 and four-fold increase by 2040, concludes the study published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

The reason for this is that burning enormous amounts of fossil fuels over the past 50 years has added 40 percent more heat-trapping CO2 gas to the atmosphere. Even if all human sources of CO2 emissions ended today, temperatures will continue to rise from the present 0.8C of additional warming to as much as 1.1. to 1.5C due to a time lag in the climate system, scientists say.

And those temperatures would not decline for a very long time.


The U.S. is on target to make its meet its Copenhagen reduction pledge. However, Canada’s abysmal environmental record has come to the attention of the Barack Obama administration. President Obama recently said that he would only approve the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline if it “does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution”. The long-delayed Keystone XL would bring 800,000 barrels of tar sands bitumen (heavy oil) to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast.


Saturday, August 17, 2013

Love and Work Don't Always Work for Working Class in America, Study Shows

Aug. 13, 2013 — The decline and disappearance of stable, unionized full-time jobs with health insurance and pensions for people who lack a college degree has had profound effects on working-class Americans who now are less likely to get married, stay married, and have their children within marriage than those with college degrees, a new University of Virginia and Harvard University study has found.


"Working-class people with insecure work and few resources, little stability, and no ability to plan for a foreseeable future become concerned with their own survival and often become unable to imagine being able to provide materially and emotionally for others," said Sarah Corse, an associate professor of sociology in U.Va.'s College of Arts & Sciences and the study's lead author. "Insecure work changes peoples' non-work lives."


According to Corse and Silva, wages for the non-college-educated have fallen dramatically in the United States as manufacturing work has been outsourced to other countries, greatly reducing the number of high-paying union jobs with good benefits.
Increasingly, the jobs available to those without a college degree are service-sector jobs, many of which are short-term and/or part-time and lack benefits, they said.
"These are foundational changes in the labor market for the working class and they broadly affect people's lives," they said. "Our interviewees without college degrees expressed feelings of distrust and even fear about intimate relationships, and had difficulty imagining being able to provide for others."
College-educated middle-class workers, with material, cultural, and intellectual resources, are more resilient, however, when faced with the effects of possible insecure work in tough times, and therefore are more able to commit to marriage and to planning families.

Autism Four Times Likelier When Mother's Thyroid Is Weakened

Aug. 13, 2013 — Pregnant women who don't make nearly enough thyroid hormone are nearly 4 times likelier to produce autistic children than healthy women, report scientists from the Houston Methodist Neurological Institute and Erasmus Medical Centre in an upcoming Annals of Neurology.


"It is increasingly apparent to us that autism is caused by environmental factors in most cases, not by genetics," said lead author Gustavo Román, M.D., a neurologist and neuroepidemiologist who directs the Nantz National Alzheimer Center. "That gives me hope that prevention is possible."

The researchers also found that autistic children had more pronounced symptoms if their mothers were severely deficient for T4, also called thyroxine. Mild T4 deficiencies in mothers produced an insignificant increase in autistic children's symptoms.
The most common cause of thyroid hormone deficiency is a lack of dietary iodine -- because both the thyroid hormones, T3 and T4, contain that element.


It is well established that expecting mothers' poor thyroid function (whether caused by poor diet, disease, or genetics) can lead to serious problems with fetal brain development, but only in the last 10 years or so has hypothyroidism been implicated as a possible cause of autism spectrum disorders.


Six Months of Fish Oil Reverses Liver Disease in Children With Intestinal Failure

Aug. 14, 2013 — Children who suffer from intestinal failure, most often caused by a shortened or dysfunctional bowel, are unable to consume food orally. Instead, a nutritional cocktail of sugar, protein and fat made from soybean oil is injected through a small tube in their vein.

For these children, the intravenous nutrition serves as a bridge to bowel adaptation, a process by which the intestine recovers and improves its capacity to absorb nutrition. But the soybean oil, which provides essential fatty acids and calories, has been associated with a potentially lethal complication known as intestinal failure-associated liver disease, which may require a liver and/or intestinal transplant. Such a transplant can prevent death, but the five-year post-transplant survival rate is only 50 percent.
Previous studies have shown that replacing soybean oil with fish oil in intravenous nutrition can reverse intestinal failure-associated liver disease. However, the necessary duration of fish oil treatment had not been established in medical studies.
Now, a clinical trial conducted at the Children's Discovery and Innovation Institute at Mattel Children's Hospital UCLA has found that, compared with soybean oil, a limited duration (24 weeks) of fish oil is safe and effective in reversing liver disease in children with intestinal failure who require intravenous nutrition. The researchers believe that fish oil may also decrease the need for liver and/or intestinal transplants -- and mortality -- associated with this disease.


Watermelon Juice Relieves Post-Exercise Muscle Soreness

Tart cherry juice is also helpful.

Aug. 14, 2013 — Watermelon juice's reputation among athletes is getting scientific support in a new study, which found that juice from the summer favorite fruit can relieve post-exercise muscle soreness. The report in ACS' Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry attributes watermelon's effects to the amino acid L-citrulline.


Children Exposed to Lead Three Times More Likely to Be Suspended from School

Aug. 14, 2013 — Children who are exposed to lead are nearly three times more likely to be suspended from school by the 4th grade than children who are not exposed, according to a new University of Wisconsin-Madison study funded jointly by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Wisconsin Partnership Program Education and Research Committee.


Skin Cream Ingredient May Stop Effects of Parkinson's On Brain Cells \

Aug. 15, 2013 — The active ingredient in an over-the-counter skin cream might do more than prevent wrinkles. Scientists have discovered that the drug, called kinetin, also slows or stops the effects of Parkinson's disease on brain cells.


Consuming a High-Quality Diet Is Associated With Lower Risk of Pancreatic Cancer

Aug. 15, 2013 — People who reported dietary intake that was most consistent with the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans had lower risk of pancreatic cancer, according to a new study published August 15 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.


Soft Drinks Linked to Behavioral Problems in Young Children

Aug. 16, 2013 — Americans buy more soft drinks per capita than people in any other country. These drinks are consumed by individuals of all ages, including very young children. Although soft drink consumption is associated with aggression, depression, and suicidal thoughts in adolescents, the relationship had not been evaluated in younger children. A new study scheduled for publication in The Journal of Pediatrics finds that aggression, attention problems, and withdrawal behavior are all associated with soft drink consumption in young children.


Don’t use Dallas compounding pharmacy products, FDA warns

Maggie Fox NBC News
Aug. 16, 2013

The Food and Drug Administration took an unusual step on Friday, warning patients and health care providers to stay away from sterile products made by a Dallas-based compounding pharmacy called NuVision.


The FDA says its inspections show the sterility of products made by NuVision cannot be guaranteed, but the pharmacy says it doesn’t have to meet FDA standards.


A cause of bee deaths

Which of course makes one wonder what these poisons are doing to humans.

Jaymi Heimbuch
Science / Natural Sciences
July 26, 2013

Scientists had struggled to find the trigger for so-called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) that has wiped out an estimated 10 million beehives, worth $2 billion, over the past six years. Suspects have included pesticides, disease-bearing parasites and poor nutrition. But in a first-of-its-kind study published today in the journal PLOS ONE, scientists at the University of Maryland and the US Department of Agriculture have identified a witch’s brew of pesticides and fungicides contaminating pollen that bees collect to feed their hives. The findings break new ground on why large numbers of bees are dying though they do not identify the specific cause of CCD, where an entire beehive dies at once.

The researchers behind that study in PLOS ONE -- Jeffery S. Pettis, Elinor M. Lichtenberg, Michael Andree, Jennie Stitzinger, Robyn Rose, Dennis vanEngelsdorp -- collected pollen from hives on the east coast, including cranberry and watermelon crops, and fed it to healthy bees. Those bees had a serious decline in their ability to resist a parasite that causes Colony Collapse Disorder. The pollen they were fed had an average of nine different pesticides and fungicides, though one sample of pollen contained a deadly brew of 21 different chemicals. Further, the researchers discovered that bees that ate pollen with fungicides were three times more likely to be infected by the parasite.

The discovery means that fungicides, thought harmless to bees, is actually a significant part of Colony Collapse Disorder.


And it is not just the types of chemicals used that need to be considered, but also spraying practices. The bees sampled by the authors foraged not from crops, but almost exclusively from weeds and wildflowers, which means bees are more widely exposed to pesticides than thought.

The authors write, "[M]ore attention must be paid to how honey bees are exposed to pesticides outside of the field in which they are placed. We detected 35 different pesticides in the sampled pollen, and found high fungicide loads.


Quartz notes, "Bee populations are so low in the US that it now takes 60% of the country’s surviving colonies just to pollinate one California crop, almonds. And that’s not just a west coast problem—California supplies 80% of the world’s almonds, a market worth $4 billion."

Baa! O'Hare turns to goats to clear airfield brush

Jason Keyser The Associated Press
Aug. 14, 2013

In a remote corner of O'Hare International Airport, far from its high-profile modernization mega project, a decidedly more low-tech initiative is being carried out by a barnyard band of goats, sheep, llamas and wild burros.

The mission of the roughly two dozen animals: to mow the grass. And lots of it.


Other airports have similar programs, including at San Francisco International, which uses a company called Goats R Us to clear brush each spring in an effort to protect nearby homes from potential fires. The other airports are in Atlanta and Seattle.


Thursday, August 15, 2013

'American Idol's' Justin Guarini: I skip meals to feed my wife and kids

Anna Chan
Aug. 15, 2013

"American Idol's" season one runner-up, Justin Guarini, has learned the hard way that fame is fleeting. In a post on his website, the singer reveals that he's on hard times and sometimes skips meals so his loved ones can eat.

"I have spent days skipping meals in order to make sure I have enough. To make sure my children, and my wife have enough," Guarini wrote.


"There was a time when I could have thrown down cash for a house, and had any number of lovers in and out the door. A flashy car and clothes to match. An ego to trump them all," he wrote about the height of his fame. "Now I rent a home filled with love. I have a wife whom I love and who loves me (me!) and who lifts me up. Children who give me cherubic-lipped kisses before I leave for work and who are the most delicious morsels of joy and peace and prosperity."

Though he may not have much cash, Guarini told a fan in the comments, "I am a pretty wealthy individual. I have more riches than I can count. Most of them come in the form of smiles and drool ... but they make me feel like a gazillionaire!"

Despite the happiness his family brings to him, the "Idol" alum admits that he's "terrified." "I am struggling to make each day meet the next without breaking down and curling up. Sometimes I envy people who sit at a desk every day (at least you know where your next meal is coming from)."


Iams, Eukanaba dry pet foods recalled over salmonella fears

Maggie Fox NBC News
Aug. 15, 2013

Nearly 30 different types of cat and dog food are being recalled by the Procter & Gamble Company because they could possibly be contaminated with Salmonella, the Food and Drug Administration said Thursday.

No human or pet has been reported sick, the FDA says, but says the company is recalling the dry food because it might be contaminated.

“Salmonella can affect animals eating the products and there is risk to humans from handling contaminated pet products, especially if they have not thoroughly washed their hands after having contact with the products or any surfaces exposed to these products,” the FDA said in a statement.

“Pets with Salmonella infections may be lethargic and have diarrhea or bloody diarrhea, fever, and vomiting. Some pets will have only decreased appetite, fever and abdominal pain. Infected but otherwise healthy pets can be carriers and infect other animals or humans. If your pet has consumed the recalled product and has these symptoms, please contact your veterinarian.”


Comparing U.S. & World Covers for TIME Magazine

Go to the article to see the difference. The ones for the U.S. are illustrations for a lighter-weight topic. The ones for the rest of the world are about an important topic for the world.

FRI NOV 25, 2011
Writing by David Harris Gershon

Each week, TIME Magazine designs covers for four markets: the U.S., Europe, Asia and the South Pacific. Often, America's cover is quite, well – different.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Man denied life-saving surgery over 26-cent insurance dispute

Many people don't have health insurance to start with.

Eric Pfeiffer
Aug. 13, 2013

A man seeking treatment for a life-threatening illness had his health further jeopardized when his employer and health insurance company tried to cancel his coverage over a 26-cent dispute.

The New Jersey Star-Ledger reports that in January, 33-year-old Sergio Branco was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia. Left untreated, the illness can be fatal.

When the truck driver took time off work to seek treatment under the Family and Medical Leave Act, he was told that treatment for the leukemia required a bone-marrow transplant that would cost about $500,000, even with insurance.

To make matters worse, when Branco returned to work after his federally guaranteed leave time, he was promptly laid off.

Branco and his family weren’t worried, because they knew he was eligible for extended coverage under the government’s COBRA program.

The family also launched a fundraising site for Branco’s leukemia treatments.

The monthly fee for Branco’s COBRA insurance is $518.26. When his wife sent in the first payment, she erroneously made out the check for $518, forgetting to add the 26 cents.

Thus began an extended feud among the family, Branco's former employer Russell Reid, the insurance company handling his COBRA and even the Department of Labor.

Paychex, the company handling the COBRA payments, cashed the check but did not notify the Branco family of the payment error. In the middle of Branco’s treatment, he was informed by the hospital that he didn’t have insurance.


It took several months, but on Aug. 9, the parties involved finally agreed to put Blanco back on the COBRA coverage. Blanco’s surgery is now scheduled to take place on Friday.

"The Department of Labor said the company will reinstate him from May 'til now," Mara Branco told the paper. "They said the company did it wrong. I am super happy. It’s like a weight has lifted off my shoulder. It’s better than winning the lottery."

If you'd like to donate to the Blanco's medical fund, you can find more information here.

How the railroad owners got rich

From Scientific American magazine, March 2013, reprinted from 1931:

“The hours of labor exacted by some of the Brooklyn railroad companies are so many and the work is so severe that it is astonishing that men can perform the labor and live. The Brooklyn Central Railroad Company requires seventeen and a half hours of labor per day, and allows no time for procuring meals; the food necessary to sustain life being eaten in the cars. The compensation for conductors and drivers is $1.35 per day.”

Monday, August 12, 2013

Chemicals That Promote Obesity Down the Generations

Air Date: Week of August 9, 2013

Diet and exercise are seen as the key factors that cause obesity, but new research suggests that certain chemicals called obesogens contribute to the global weight problem. Bruce Blumberg, professor of developmental and cell biology at the University of California at Irvine tells host Steve Curwood that the effects of an obesogenic chemical he studied seem to persist for several generations.


BLUMBERG: An obesogen, according to us, is a chemical that somehow causes the body to store more fat. And it can do that by making more fat cells, by putting more fat into those cells, or can do that indirectly by changing how the metabolism works or by making you hungrier, or by making you less able to sense that you’ve had enough to eat.

CURWOOD: Bruce Blumberg is a professor of Developmental Biology at UC Irvine. And here’s the startling part of his research. Not only has his team confirmed earlier work showing that certain persistent organic pollutants can act as obesegens, they have found that initial exposures can echo down through at least three generations to make animals fat. This study used the chemical TBT – tributyltin --which was widely used as anti-fouling paint until a few years ago.

BLUMBERG: So we exposed pregnant mice to very low doses of tributyltin, and we knew from our previous work that would give us an effect on the babies that were so exposed - that would be - we would call that the F-1 generation. And we asked the question what happens if we bred those babies and the babies of those babies and checked whether there were subsequent effects.

CURWOOD: And what happened?

BLUMBERG: So what we found is that the effects persisted in the grandchildren and greatgrandchildren. And that some of the effects were actually stronger in the greatgrandchildren who had never been exposed.


CURWOOD: Now this study is lab mice, how well do you think these findings might translate to humans?

BLUMBERG: 100 percent.

CURWOOD: Really?

BLUMBERG: The reason I say that is because tributyltin - TBT - works through a hormone receptor called PPAR gamma. And we know there are pharmaceutical drugs that target that same receptor that make people fat. So if I have a chemical tributyltin that activates the same receptor, you would expect the same effect.


CURWOOD: One of the most startling things that’s in your report is your citation of a study that showed eight different species of animals including pets, laboratory animals, and feral rats, living in proximity to humans have become obese in parallel with the human obesity epidemic. And the odds of this being a coincidence was something like 10 million to 1 against.

Dr. Bruce Blumberg (photo: Bruce Blumberg)

BLUMBERG: 10 million to 1. Yes.

BLUMBERG: You can make the argument, if you talk to...the mainstream obesity community will make the argument that it’s all about diet and exercise, calories in and calories out. And I don’t see how you can explain the increase in obesity of animals, including wild animals, by calories in and calories out. It’s got to be something else. It has to be the nature of the calories. It has to be a chemical, an environmental factor, to which they’re exposed to now, that they were not previously exposed to, that underlies that.

CURWOOD: So who’s most susceptible to tributyltin exposure?

BLUMBERG: Tributyltin will make animals and humans fat at any stage of life. We’re particularly concerned with prenatal exposures because that’s where you have the capability to have transgenerational effects. You won’t cause, or we don’t believe that you will...exposing an adult will cause transgenerational effects on their offspring. But we know from our experiments, that exposing embryos to a chemical like tributyltin will cause transgenerational effects.


BLUMBERG: It says to me that the most important way that we can change obesity is not by treating obese people, but by preventing them from becoming obese in the first place, by preventing these exposures, which can include chemical exposures, but it can also include exposures to improper diet. There’s a fair bit of data that says exposing mom to a high fat or junk food diet makes the babies prefer that kind of food. There’s some kind of a programming event that’s not well understood that’s going on there. So it’s not just chemical exposures. Chemical exposures and dietary factors, and the nature of diet early in life, is the area that needs to be addressed to make inroads into solving this obesity problem that we face today.


Human and plant evolution

I had a couple of thoughts when I heard this show, related to human evolution related to plants.

(1) Humans evolved along with the plants we eat, including the toxins they contain. If we are exposed to fewer of these toxins, it may be harmful in some ways, similarly to the apparent rise in allergies due to having less contact with germs. Eg., if we make extra amounts of some substance to detoxify a toxin, when the toxin is decreased, it might have harmful effects. If we make extra amounts of a substance to make up for some that the toxin causes to be decreased, when the toxin is decreased, we may end up with too much of that substance.

(2) It has been suggested that cooking helped us develop bigger brains, by making more energy available from a given amount of food. Cooking destroys some plant toxins, so that might have had effects on human health. I would guess that we have been eating cooked food long enough to have reduced any possible negative effects. And if the body no longer needed to use as many resources to deal with toxins in our food, more resources would be available to develop a bigger brain.

How Insects Influence Plant Evolution
Air Date: Week of August 9, 2013

From the spiciness of the chili pepper to horseradish’s bitter bite, many plant traits are evolutionary adaptations to insect attacks. Cornell biologist Anurag Agrawal explains to host Steve Curwood just how speedily plants can evolve and adapt when insect populations change.


And for millenia, insects - such as the silk worm – have in turn helped guide the evolution and defenses of plants.
A new 5 year study from researchers at Cornell University in Science Magazine focuses on the critical role insects can play in plant evolution, and how speedy that evolution can be.
The lead author is Anurag Agrawal, Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Cornell.


AGRAWAL: Yeah, there’s been a long history of circumstantial evidence that many of the traits plants have are adaptations to insect herbivores. If you think about the things we eat, what makes horseradish spicy? Horseradish is spicy because of a series of compounds called glucosinolates that we believe have evolved by natural selection to ward off insects. You know, the poisons that make milkweed so famous? - you know, same expectation. What’s nicotine? Nicotine is a neurotoxin of tobacco that has evolved by natural selection to ward off insects.


CURWOOD: Please describe the specifics of your study for us – what were you looking at?

AGRAWAL: Well, what we did is we set out experimental plots here at Ithaca, New York to examine the impact insect herbivores have on the plants, and removed insects from half of the plots using an insecticide treatment, and over a very quick period of time – about five years, five generations of the plants we were studying, the common Evening Primrose, it’s a wildflower – removal of insects resulted in the evolution of two very critical plant traits: How early the plants flower and the production of a toxin in the fruits of those flowers. When we removed insects, the plants were able to relax those defenses. They flowered earlier and they produced less of those toxins in their fruits.


AGRAWAL: Well, it’s complicated, and I appreciate the question. Insecticides certainly have been a very valuable tool in the production of agricultural crops, and I think that what it tells us is that when we take insects out of the picture – using things like insecticides – we are encouraging plants throughout the evolutionary process to relax their defenses.

And, in fact, this is a story that I think is unfortunately really a big part of worldwide agriculture, and that is that we tend to select varieties of plants to grow that are diminished in their natural defensive capacities. If you take a wild plant that has survived out there for millions of years, it typically has a remarkable array of toxins and defense tactics to ward off pests.

About 10 percent of all plants produce hydrogen cyanide. We know hydrogen cyanide as a very general toxin – an anti-life compound – and it’s hydrogen cyanide that’s in 10 percent of the plants. It has no primary function, it doesn’t help the plant capture sunlight or produce seeds directly, what hydrogen cyanide does is it poisons insects that are trying to eat those plants.

One of the things that I think we do a little too well is we – either on purpose or inadvertently – we breed crops so that they have relaxed defenses and that increases our needs and our usage of pesticides, which I think we can all agree is problematic for the environment.

CURWOOD: Anurag Agrawal is Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Cornell University. Thanks so much for taking the time today!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Length of Human Pregnancies Can Vary Naturally by as Much as Five Weeks

Aug. 6, 2013 — The length of a human pregnancy can vary naturally by as much as five weeks, according to research published online August 7 in the journal Human Reproduction.

Normally, women are given a date for the likely delivery of their baby that is calculated as 280 days after the onset of their last menstrual period. Yet only four percent of women deliver at 280 days and only 70% deliver within 10 days of their estimated due date, even when the date is calculated with the help of ultrasound.

Now, for the first time, researchers in the USA have been able to pinpoint the precise point at which a woman ovulates and a fertilised embryo implants in the womb during a naturally conceived pregnancy, and follow the pregnancy through to delivery. Using this information, they have been able to calculate the length of 125 pregnancies.

"We found that the average time from ovulation to birth was 268 days -- 38 weeks and two days," said Dr Anne Marie Jukic, a postdoctoral fellow in the Epidemiology Branch at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (Durham, USA), part of the National Institutes for Health. "However, even after we had excluded six pre-term births, we found that the length of the pregnancies varied by as much as 37 days.

"We were a bit surprised by this finding. We know that length of gestation varies among women, but some part of that variation has always been attributed to errors in the assignment of gestational age. Our measure of length of gestation does not include these sources of error, and yet there is still five weeks of variability. It's fascinating."


Dementia Risk Tied to Blood Sugar Level, Even With No Diabetes

Aug. 7, 2013 — A joint Group Health-University of Washington (UW) study in the New England Journal of Medicine has found that higher blood sugar levels are associated with higher dementia risk, even among people who do not have diabetes.


For example, in people without diabetes, risk for dementia was 18 percent higher for people with an average glucose level of 115 milligrams per deciliter compared to those with an average glucose level of 100 mg/dl. And in people with diabetes, whose blood sugar levels are generally higher, dementia risk was 40 percent higher for people with an average glucose level of 190 mg/dl compared to those with an average glucose level of 160 mg/dl.

"The most interesting finding was that every incrementally higher glucose level was associated with a higher risk of dementia in people who did not have diabetes," said first author Paul K. Crane, MD, MPH, an associate professor of medicine at the UW School of Medicine, adjunct associate professor of health services at the UW School of Public Health, and affiliate investigator at Group Health Research Institute. "There was no threshold value for lower glucose values where risk leveled off."


So should people try to eat less sugar -- or foods with a lower "glycemic index"? Not necessarily, Dr. Crane said: "Your body turns your food into glucose, so your blood sugar levels depend not only on what you eat but also on your individual metabolism: how your body handles your food." But he does suggest that taking walks couldn't hurt: The ACT study has previously linked physical activity to later onset and reduced risk of dementia, including Alzheimer's disease.


How Parents See Themselves May Affect Their Child's Brain and Stress Level

Aug. 9, 2013 — A mother's perceived social status predicts her child's brain development and stress indicators, finds a study at Boston Children's Hospital. While previous studies going back to the 1950s have linked objective socioeconomic factors -- such as parental income or education -- to child health, achievement and brain function, the new study is the first to link brain function to maternal self-perception.

In the study, children whose mothers saw themselves as having a low social status were more likely to have increased cortisol levels, an indicator of stress, and less activation of their hippocampus, a structure in the brain responsible for long-term memory formation (required for learning) and reducing stress responses.


actual maternal education or income-to-needs ratio (income relative to family size) did not significantly predict cortisol levels or hippocampal activation.

The findings suggest that while actual socioeconomic status varies, how people perceive and adapt to their situation is an important factor in child development. Some of this may be culturally determined, Sheridan notes.


Why Does the American Middle Class Continue to Struggle Financially?

Aug. 11, 2013


consumption spending has risen most in four product categories that shape families' health, safety, and economic viability: health care, education, housing, and commuting costs.

• Prices in these four product markets have greatly outpaced both wages and prices in general.


• Americans may be systematically pressed to overspend on housing because access to better schools, public services, and transportation infrastructure varies considerably across communities, and better-heeled communities often restrict affordable housing developments. Americans may face a relatively high well-being penalty for living in more modestly-priced homes.

• Compared to other highly-developed countries, the U.S. does considerably less to control the personal financial burden borne by households to ensure access to these products and services essential to well-being.

• Soaring tuition and health care costs are not the principal drivers of household financial distress, but they constitute the fastest-growing problem.

• Cohen argues that our penchant to blame household spending problems on wastefulness or frivolities obscures the fact that Americans increasingly face a lose-lose dilemma in which they must choose between sustainable finances and access to quality schools, child care, medical care, public safety, and employment opportunities.

Cohen, a Canadian with a business background who studied at Princeton (Ph.D. sociology, 2007), also examines how other countries tackle the provision of essential services in different and potentially less financially damaging ways. "Canada's policies control the personal financial burden of accessing essential services, which might be why household finances are in better shape there," he says.

Perfect Perseids: How to take advantage of a prime meteor show

Alan Boyle, Science Editor NBC News
Aug. 9, 2013

August's Perseid meteor shower may be one of the most dependable sky shows of the year, but the viewing conditions can be as inconstant as the moon — literally. Fortunately, the moon's glare won't be a factor this year, which means the show should be about as good as it gets over the next few days.

The prime viewing hours should come Sunday night. Or is that Monday night? This year, some say the peak is Aug. 11-12, while others say Aug. 12-13. What's a stargazer to do??

"I can understand the confusion you mention, as the predicted peak is around 3 p.m. EDT on the 12th," Bill Cooke, head of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office at Marshall Space Flight Center, told NBC News in an email. "Since it occurs mid-afternoon, arguments can be made for the night of the 11th-12th, or the night of the 12th-13th. I am leaning toward the night of 11th, as there are usually more meteors seen leading up to the peak than after. ... If it were me, I'd go out both nights."


At its peak, observers could see an average of two flashes per minute, depending on viewing conditions. This is expected to be a better-than-average year because the moon will be just a few days past its new phase. The lunar crescent will be setting early in the evening, leaving glare-free skies during the midnight-to-dawn period that's most favorable for meteor sightings.


Friday, August 09, 2013

Are You The Blame For Soaring Concert Tickets

March 22, 2013
by Grady Shuman


Miles Copeland, owner of Ark 21 Records and former manager of Sting, admits that Sting and other artists have a lot of control over ticket prices. If they seem greedy, Copeland says, it's because they're being ripped off every day — not by Clear Channel, but by their fans.
"Five years, 10 years, 15 years ago … every time you wanted music, you'd go to a record store and you'd have to fork out money to buy records. Well nowadays they say it's just OK to steal," Copeland said.

Steal online, that is. Apparently, many of us simply cannot resist the temptation of downloading music from the Internet. But all that free music is not without a price.

"The public ought to realize as they're complaining about ticket prices, that they're forcing ticket prices up because stealing music from the artists eliminates that source of income.

Updated Firefox brings better security

When I checked to see what version of Firefox I have, clicking on Help/About Firefox, I found that I have version 22, and that Firefox was downloading the new version. I have it set to download updates to Firefox automatically.

Suzanne Choney NBC News
Aug. 7, 2013

Firefox 23, the newest version of the Web browser released Tuesday, has an updated look for its well-known fox logo and adds new features, including one that will help protect users from what's known as "man-in-the-middle attacks" and from eavesdroppers on Web pages labeled as secure.

If you've purchased anything online, for example, you know to make sure a Web page starts out with "https" instead of "http" before plunking your money down. The "s" means that the Web page is secure and encrypted. But sometimes https pages include content on them that is not secure. From now on, if you've hit upon such a page, Firefox will block what is known as "mixed content" by default. It's something that Internet Explorer and Chrome does as well.



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If you really think that the environment is less important than the economy, try holding your breath while you count your money. - Dr. Guy McPherson

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Emotional Behavior of Adults Could Be Triggered in the Womb

Aug. 6, 2013 — Adults could be at greater risk of becoming anxious and vulnerable to poor mental health if they were deprived of certain hormones while developing in the womb according to new research by scientists at Cardiff and Cambridge universities.


Study Questions Nature's Ability to 'Self-Correct' Climate Change

Aug. 6, 2013 — Forests have a limited capacity to soak up atmospheric carbon dioxide, according to a new study from Northern Arizona University.

The study, available online in the journal New Phytologist, aimed to explore how rising atmospheric carbon dioxide could alter the carbon and nitrogen content of ecosystems.

By performing tests on subtropical woodland plots over an 11-year period, the researchers found that ecosystem carbon uptake was not significantly increased by the high CO2 treatment—in contrast to expectations. While plants did contain more carbon when CO2 levels were increased, soil actually lost carbon due to microbial decomposition; both factors essentially balanced one another out.

"Nature cannot 'self-correct' entirely against climate change, and the scientific community has been both overestimating the impact of plants and underestimating the impact of soil microorganisms in how they absorb CO2 and ultimately impact global warming," said Bruce Hungate, director of the Center for Ecosystem Science and Society at NAU and lead author on the study.


An Extra Hour of TV Beyond Recommendations Diminishes Toddlers' Kindergarten Chances

Aug. 7, 2013 — Every hourly increase in daily television watching at 29 months of age is associated with diminished vocabulary and math skills, classroom engagement (which is largely determined by attention skills), victimization by classmates, and physical prowess at kindergarten, according to Professor Linda Pagani of the University of Montreal and the CHU Sainte-Justine children's hospital.


Hurricanes and Climate Change: Huge Dangers, Huge Unknowns

Posted by: Dr. Jeff Masters, 9:57 AM GMT on August 05, 2013

Hurricane Sandy's enormous $65 billion price tag put that great storm in third place for the most expensive weather-related disaster in U.S. (and world) history. Indeed, when we look at the list of most expensive U.S. weather-related disasters since 1980, hurricanes dominate, claiming six of the top ten spots. Drought is also a formidable presence, accounting for three of the other top-ten budget-busting disasters. Thus, a critical question for society is: how will our dangerous uncontrolled experiment of dumping massive amounts of heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the air affect droughts and hurricanes? For droughts, the answer is relatively straightforward--in general, dry parts of the world like the Southwest U.S. and Southern Europe are predicted to get drier. The worst droughts will get more extreme, wherever they occur, since it will be hotter. But for hurricanes, the uncertainties are greater. Since hurricanes are heat engines that extract heat energy from the oceans to power themselves, hurricane scientists are confident that the very strongest storms will get stronger by the end of the century, when Earth's land and ocean temperatures are expected to warm to levels unmatched since the Eemian Era, 115,000 years ago. Computer modelling work consistently indicates that greenhouse warming will cause the globally averaged intensity of tropical cyclones to shift towards stronger storms, with intensity increases of 2–11% by 2100. But hurricanes are fussy creations, and are sensitive to wind shear and dry air. Although the strongest storms should get stronger when "perfect storm" conditions are present, these "perfect storm" conditions may become less frequent in the future, due to the presence of higher wind shear and/or more dry air. Indeed, the climate models used to formulate the 2007 IPCC report suggested that we might see the strongest hurricanes getting stronger, but a decrease in the total number of hurricanes in the Atlantic (and worldwide) later this century. However, the latest set of models used to formulate the 2013 IPCC report, due out in September, show that the total number of hurricanes both globally and in the Atlantic may increase in both number and intensity, according to a paper published in July 2013 by one of our top hurricane scientists, Dr. Kerry Emanuel of MIT. Hurricane intensity may also increase, leading to a global increase of 40% of Category 3 and stronger hurricanes by 2100. However, the uncertainties in this research are great. We really don't know how global warming will affect the number of hurricanes and their intensity.

Austria and Slovenia Set All-time Heat Records; Record Heat in Shanghai, China

Posted by: Dr. Jeff Masters, 11:09 PM GMT on August 08, 2013

A historic heat wave is underway in Central Europe, where both both Austria and Slovenia set all-time national heat records on August 8. Three locations in Austria passed the 40°C (104°F) mark, beating the former national record of 39.9°C (103.8°F) set just last week, on August 3rd at Dellach im Drautal. The hottest spot today (yet to be officially confirmed), was Neusiedl/See, with a 40.6°C (105.1°F) reading. Slovenia also surpassed its national heat record on August 8, with a 40.8°C (105.4°F) reading at Cerklje ob Krki (former record: 40.6°C (105.1°F) at Crnomelj on July 5, 1950.) Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, has now passed its all-time heat record for six consecutive days with the highest reading being 40.2°C (104.4°) on August 8th. Records go back 150 years at this station.

China's most populous city, Shanghai, broke its all-time record for hottest temperature on record for the second time this summer on August 7, when the mercury topped out at 40.8°C (105.4°F). The previous record was set just the day before (40.6°C/105.1°F), and also on July 26th. Prior to this summer, the record for Shanghai was 40.2°C (104.4°F) during the summer of 1934. Records in Shanghai date back to 1872. Today (August 8th), the temperature peaked at 40.2°C (104.4°F), so Shanghai has had its four hottest days in its history this summer. Extreme heat was also experienced over South Korea and Japan today, and wunderground's weather historian Christopher C. Burt has the details in his latest post. Many more all-time heat records may have fallen in both Central Europe and East Asia, and Chris plans to update his post with all the latest records on Friday.

Extensive credit for researching these records goes to weather records researcher Maximiliano Herrera, who maintains a comprehensive set of extreme temperature records on his web site.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Sleep deprivation linked to junk food cravings

UC Berkeley
By Yasmin Anwar, Media Relations | August 6, 2013

A sleepless night makes us more likely to reach for doughnuts or pizza than for whole grains and leafy green vegetables, suggests a new study from UC Berkeley that examines the brain regions that control food choices. The findings shed new light on the link between poor sleep and obesity.


“What we have discovered is that high-level brain regions required for complex judgments and decisions become blunted by a lack of sleep, while more primal brain structures that control motivation and desire are amplified,” said Matthew Walker, a UC Berkeley professor of psychology and neuroscience and senior author of the study published today (Tuesday, Aug. 6) in the journal Nature Communications.

Moreover, he added, “high-calorie foods also became significantly more desirable when participants were sleep-deprived. This combination of altered brain activity and decision-making may help explain why people who sleep less also tend to be overweight or obese.”


‘American Carbon’ Enters World Economy And Atmosphere At Fastest Pace Ever

By Joe Romm on August 6, 2013

The UK Guardian has a must-read piece for those who believe the shale gas revolution will save us from climate catastrophe, “The rise and rise of American carbon.”

As illustrated in this chart, while U.S. carbon emissions have dropped somewhat in recent years — thanks to energy efficiency, renewables, the recession, and shale gas — America’s contribution to the global problem of ever-rising carbon production and consumption grows unabated.


Whatever benefit the shale-gas revolution has had in reducing US emissions — a benefit that would appear to be seriously vitiated by huge methane leaks according to yet another major NOAA study — it has also been vitiated by our continued coal extraction for export.

And that is entirely separate from the issue of how much of our carbon emissions we have outsourced to China by virtue of our exploding trade deficit with the biggest carbon polluter in the world. We know in the case of Britain that that “the increase in carbon emissions from goods produced overseas that are then used in Britain are now outstripping the gains made in cutting emissions here.”


Duncan Clark, Monday 5 August 2013

You've probably heard that US carbon emissions have been falling.


On the other hand, you may also have heard that US coal exports have increased as its domestic emissions have fallen.


To explore this issue I propose considering an unfamiliar metric: not carbon emissions but carbon extraction. After all, the climate doesn't care where a unit of carbon is burned; just whether it comes out of the ground and enters the atmosphere. It makes sense to ask, therefore, whether the US is now extracting more or less carbon than it was before the shale gas boom. Has coal production fallen enough to offset rising gas production?


Now let's stack all those fuels on top of each other to see total carbon extraction. The resulting graph shows that that there has been no decline in the amount of carbon the US is taking out of the ground. In fact, the trend is upwards. The latest year for which full data is available – 2011 – is the highest level on record, at 5288 MT of potential CO2, a fraction higher that the previous peak in 2008. Despite or because of the shale gas revolution, 'American carbon' is flowing into the global economy and atmosphere faster than ever.

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