Tuesday, December 31, 2013

No shortage of STEM workers


Liz PeekThe Fiscal Times
December 4, 2013


A recent piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education by Michael Anft notes that most of the reports urging schools to expand their science and math offerings have been underwritten by the technology industry.

Most research not funded by Silicon Valley finds that other than petroleum engineers currently benefiting from the fracking boom, most STEM grads — those specializing in chemistry or mechanical engineering, for instance — have seen flat or falling wages, suggesting a labor surplus.

At a recent Congressional hearing on H-1B visas, Hal Salzman, professor of Public Policy at Rutgers University, reports that we are educating 50 percent more IT grads every year than there are job openings. Salzman cites a report he co-authored last April for the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute which concluded, “The United States has more than a sufficient supply of workers available to work in STEM occupations.” The study noted that the flow of students into STEM fields has been strong over the past decade, and that “the number of U.S. graduates with STEM majors appears to be responsive to changes in employment levels and wages.” In other words, the marketplace is working as it should — more than enough reason for the feds to butt out. - See more at: http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/Columns/2013/12/04/Obamas-Immigration-Sop-Silicon-Valley#sthash.N4bvXyci.dpuf

A report this past spring from Georgetown University’s Public Policy Institute ranked unemployment by majors: almost 15 percent of recent Information Systems graduates were without work, the highest of any major, compared to 7.9 percent for college graduates overall. Nearly 9 percent of computer science majors were unemployed, compared to 4.8 percent for nursing, for instance.

Joblessness for STEM workers tend to be lower than for the population overall, but has risen over the past few years. Further, from 2000 to 2011, the average hourly wage for workers with a bachelor’s or advanced degree in computer and math occupations rose less than half a percent per year — from $37.27 to $39.24 in 2012 dollars. Surely if there were an acute shortage of such laborers, wages would have jumped more sharply.

Why then the push for more STEM students? There is no question that it behooves Silicon Valley to have more applicants competing for their jobs. Charges of trying to suppress wages gain credence from incidents like that involving Molina Healthcare Inc., which processes Medicaid and Medicare paperwork for the government. In 2010, the day after Molina received Department of Labor approval for adding 40 H-1B workers, the company hired 40 workers from India and fired a roughly equivalent number of U.S. programmers, managers and analysts.


Pollution Rising, Chinese Fear for Soil and Food

Libertarian paradise.

Sounds like what happened in the past in the U.S., before environmental laws, and is still going on places like coal areas.


Published: December 30, 2013

CHENJIAWAN, China — The farm-to-table process in China starts in villages like this one in the agricultural heartland. Food from the fields of Ge Songqing and her neighbors ends up in their kitchens or in the local market, and from there goes to other provinces. The foods are Chinese staples: rice, cabbage, carrots, turnips and sweet potatoes.

But the fields are ringed by factories and irrigated with water tainted by industrial waste. Levels of toxic heavy metals in the wastewater here are among the highest in China, and residents fear the soil is similarly contaminated. Though they have no scientific proof, they suspect that a spate of cancer deaths is linked to the pollution, and worry about lead levels in the children’s blood.

“Of course I’m afraid,” said Ms. Ge, in her 60s, pointing to the smokestacks looming over her fields and the stagnant, algae-filled irrigation canals surrounding a home she shares with a granddaughter and her husband, a former soldier. “But we don’t do physical checkups. If we find out we have cancer, it’s only a burden on the children.”


In recent years, the government has conducted widespread testing of soil across China, but it has not released the results, adding to the fear and making it more difficult for most Chinese to judge what they eat and pinpoint the offending factories.

An alarming glimpse of official findings came on Monday, when a vice minister of land and resources, Wang Shiyuan, said at a news conference in Beijing that eight million acres of China’s farmland, equal to the size of Maryland, had become so polluted that planting crops on it “should not be allowed.”


Americans on Wrong Side of Pay Gap Run Out of Means to Cope

The article quotes Republicans who blame President Obama, when it has been the Republicans who have blocked most of his attempts to stimulate the economy. It is the Republicans who pushed thru the anti-stimulus sequesters.


Rising income inequality is starting to hit home for many American households as they run short of places to reach for a few extra bucks.

As the gap between the rich and poor widened over the last three decades, families at the bottom found ways to deal with the squeeze on earnings. Housewives joined the workforce. Husbands took second jobs and labored longer hours. Homeowners tapped into the rising value of their properties to borrow money to spend.

Those strategies finally may have run their course as women’s participation in the labor force has peaked and the bursting of the house-price bubble has left many Americans underwater on their mortgages.

“We’ve exhausted our coping mechanisms,” said Alan Krueger, an economics professor at Princeton University in New Jersey and former chairman of President Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers. “They weren’t sustainable.”

The result has been a downsizing of expectations. By almost two to one -- 64 percent to 33 percent -- Americans say the U.S. no longer offers everyone an equal chance to get ahead, according to the latest Bloomberg National Poll. The lack of faith is especially pronounced among those making less than $50,000 a year, with close to three-quarters in the Dec. 6-9 survey saying the economy is unfair.


The diminished expectations have implications for the economy. Workers are clinging to their jobs as prospects fade for higher-paying employment. Households are socking away more money and charging less on credit cards. And young adults are living with their parents longer rather than venturing out on their own.

In the meantime, record-high stock prices are enriching wealthier Americans, exacerbating polarization and bringing income inequality to the political forefront. Even independent government agencies like the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Reserve have been dragged into the debate.


Even those with college degrees are having trouble keeping up, he said. While they earn more than those with less schooling, they’ve seen no real wage growth in recent years. The median income of men 25 years of age and older with a bachelor’s degree was $56,656 last year, 10 percent less than in 2007 after taking account of inflation, according to Census data.

“It’s very difficult for anyone middle-income and lower,” said Ryan Sekac, 26, a mechanical engineer in Westerly, Rhode Island. “There was a time when it was easier.”


Government policies also play a role. The Treasury Department, for instance, taxes capital gains racked up by the wealthy on the sale of shares, bonds and other assets at about half the rate of ordinary income. The top 1 percent captured 95 percent of the gains in incomes in the first three years of the recovery, based on analysis of tax returns by Saez.


Across companies in the S&P 500, the average multiple of CEO compensation to that of rank-and-file workers is 204, up 20 percent since 2009, according to data compiled by Bloomberg in April.


Atlanta Family Finds Richness in Giving

I heard this earlier today. This family saw a man with a sign saying he was homeless & hungry. One of the family members remarked that a person in a nearby luxury car could help if they didn't spend so much money on the car. Then they realized the same applied to them. They downsized their spending by half, selling their big home & buying a smaller one. The give the difference to help others.


By Scott Casavant
Dec. 31, 2013

Up until the mid-2000s, the Salwens were a typical well-off Atlanta family. Successful careers allowed parents Kevin and Joan to buy a grand and beautiful home, and their children Hannah and Joe got to enjoy all the luxuries and all the stuff that came along with their parents’ success.


Here are Kevin and Hannah Salwen telling their story, upon which they based their book, The Power of Half.

Cholesterol levels linked to early signs of Alzheimer's in brain


JoNel Aleccia NBC News
Dec. 31, 2013

High levels of “good” HDL cholesterol and low levels of the “bad” LDL kind are not just helpful for your heart, they’re better for your brain as well, a new study finds.

In fact, the wrong levels of the two types of cholesterol are associated with more of the protein deposits in the brain associated with the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

That’s according to the first study to look at the relationship between specific cholesterol levels and brain amyloid deposits in living humans, not just autopsy patients. It’s published Monday in the journal JAMA Neurology.


11 must-watch events to light up 2014 sky

See the following link for the list

Joe Rao Space.com
Dec. 31, 2013

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Bernie Sanders Exposes 18 CEOs who took Trillions in Bailouts, Evaded Taxes and Outsourced Jobs

Of course, this does not mean we couldn't find plenty of such things among the other signers of the letter.


by: Jason Easley more from Jason Easley
Thursday, October, 25th, 2012

Sen. Bernie Sanders fired back at 80 CEOs who wrote a letter lecturing America about deficit reduction by released a report detailing how 18 of these CEOs have wrecked the economy by evading taxes and outsourcing jobs.


Many of the CEO’s who signed the deficit-reduction letter run corporations that evaded at least $34.5 billion in taxes by setting up more than 600 subsidiaries in the Cayman Islands and other offshore tax havens since 2008. As a result, at least a dozen of the companies avoided paying any federal income taxes in recent years, and even received more than $6.4 billion in tax refunds from the IRS since 2008.

Several of the companies received a total taxpayer bailout of more than $2.5 trillion from the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department.

Many of the companies also have outsourced hundreds of thousands of American jobs to China and other low wage countries, forcing their workers to receive unemployment insurance and other federal benefits. In other words, these are some of the same people who have significantly caused the deficit to explode over the last four years.


Here are the 18 CEO’s Sanders labeled job destroyers in his report. (All data from Top Corporate Dodgers report.)

1). 1. Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan
Amount of federal income taxes paid in 2010? Zero. $1.9 billion tax refund.
Taxpayer Bailout from the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department? Over $1.3 trillion.
Amount of federal income taxes Bank of America would have owed if offshore tax havens were eliminated? $2.6 billion.

2). Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein ...

3). JP Morgan Chase CEO James Dimon ...

4). General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt

5). Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam ...

6). Boeing CEO James McNerney, Jr. ...

7). Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer

8). Honeywell International CEO David Cote

9). Corning CEO Wendell Weeks

10). Time Warner CEO Glenn Britt

11). Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier

12). Deere & Company CEO Samuel Allen

13). Marsh & McLennan Companies CEO Brian Duperreault

14). Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs

15). Tenneco CEO Gregg Sherill

16). Express Scripts CEO George Paz

17). Caesars Entertainment CEO Gary Loveman

18). R.R. Donnelly & Sons CEO Thomas Quinlan III


Just heard a program on copyright on NPR. Amusing to hear people arguing against copyright. NPR is open source, available to all, depending mostly on contributions. The result: they don't get enough individual donations, so the have to depend on corporate donors, who influence the programming to their own benefit.

The take-over of radio by big business has resulted in boring, interchangeable songs that don't threaten their interests. No protest songs allowed. Some people still write songs about things like the condition of workers, the poor, the misdoing by corporations, but most people aren't going to hear them.

If Republican Led ‘Real America’ Was a Country It Would Be the 3rd Poorest on Earth

And the Republican-led states get back more in federal taxes than they pay. If the Republican states seceded, they would be even worse off, unless they received foreign aid from the rest of the states.


December, 28th, 2013


Republican governors, primarily from Southern states and all ALEC alumni, are running a television ad campaign touting the achievements of Republicans in Southern states they intend on spreading to the rest of the country. It is doubtless the America they created in the South is the goal the Koch brothers, Republicans, and American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) have for the entire nation. However, if the entire country ever resembled the Southern United States, it would rival the poorest third world nation on the planet and besides less-than-poverty wages, 30% of children living in dire poverty, and religious fundamentalism as higher education, it would be very deadly indeed.

As if the Southern states did not already distinguish themselves with seriously depressing statistics in every quality of life category, eleven of the top 12 states with the highest mortality rates are located in the South. As a contrast, the top 10 states with the lowest mortality rates are in the Northeast and Western United States and of the 25 states that are above the national average, 19 are blue and just six are red. Conversely, of the 25 states below the national average, 17 are red and just eight are blue. It is no coincidence that states with no environmental policies, little to no access to healthcare or insurance, and no workplace regulations are uniquely Republican-controlled Southern states and all contribute to the higher than normal mortality rates.

Every factor contributing to higher than normal mortality rates is the result of conservative policies that were paid for by the Koch brothers and enacted by ALEC with propaganda from Americans for Prosperity, the Heritage Foundation, and Wall Street. They are all organizations representing corporations benefiting from low wages, no corporate taxes, no environmental protections, no labor protections, and no healthcare for what Southerners call the real America.


The State of US Health, 1990-2010

OECD : Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, a forum of 34 countries committed to democracy and the market economy

We have been going down in health relative to other advanced democracies.
Eg., life expectancy at birth has gone down from 20th to 27th position.
I know there are many people who still thing the U.S. is first in life expectancy, which has not been true for many years.


The Journal of the American Medical Association
JAMA. 2013;310(6):591-606. doi:10.1001/jama.2013.13805.
Original Investigation | August 14, 2013

Years of life lost due to premature mortality (YLLs) were computed by multiplying the number of deaths at each age by a reference life expectancy at that age. Years lived with disability (YLDs) were calculated by multiplying prevalence (based on systematic reviews) by the disability weight (based on population-based surveys) for each sequela; disability in this study refers to any short- or long-term loss of health. Disability-adjusted life-years (DALYs) were estimated as the sum of YLDs and YLLs. Deaths and DALYs related to risk factors were based on systematic reviews and meta-analyses of exposure data and relative risks for risk-outcome pairs. Healthy life expectancy (HALE) was used to summarize overall population health, accounting for both length of life and levels of ill health experienced at different ages.



Among 34 OECD countries between 1990 and 2010, the US rank for the age-standardized death rate changed from 18th to 27th, for the age-standardized YLL rate from 23rd to 28th, for the age-standardized YLD rate from 5th to 6th, for life expectancy at birth from 20th to 27th, and for HALE from 14th to 26th.


improvements in population health in the United States have not kept pace with advances in population health in other wealthy nations.

Girl, 12, denied weight-loss surgery for rare illness

And by the time she's old enough, her health might be too bad for surgery.


JoNel Aleccia NBC News
Dec. 28, 2013

Surgery to remove a brain tumor two years ago has left a 12-year-old Texas girl with a heartbreaking condition that makes her gain massive amounts of weight — even though her body thinks it’s starving.

Doctors say a gastric bypass operation is the only thing that can help Alexis Shapiro, who is 4-foot-7 and weighs 198 pounds. But the U.S. military, which provides her family’s health insurance, says it won’t pay for the $50,000 weight-loss procedure because she’s too young.

“Our reviewers have denied your request for Roux-En-Y Gastric Bypass,” reads the rejection notice sent this month.

Alexis’ parents — and her doctor — are protesting the decision from insurer TRICARE, which they say sentences the child to a fate of dangerous health problems and social isolation caused by hypothalamic obesity, which is packing on at least 2 pounds every week.


Saturday, December 28, 2013

Health Insurer Caught Falsely Cancelling Thousands of Health Plans


Sun Nov 10, 2013

Following the report that Insurer Humana was fined $65,000 in Kentucky for sending out 6,500 misleading cancellation letters for low-premiums plans only to be automatic re-enrolled in high cost plans before these customers were given a chance to shop on the open exchange for a better and cheaper plan - we now have a new report that Anthem Blue Cross is being sued for tricking people into dropping their "grandfathered" plans.

Think that's bad, well this is even worse.


“Blue Cross successfully enticed tens of thousands of its individual policyholders to switch out of their grandfathered health plans and forever lose their protected grandfathered status,” states the lawsuit. “Blue Cross concealed information about the consequences of switching plans and intentionally misled its policyholders to encourage the replacement of grandfathered policies.”

----- [read the whole article. Some people in California are suing Anthem Blue Cross for doing the same thing. The article contains info on how to contact the California Department of Insurance]

Friday, December 27, 2013

Ancient Ocean Sediments Show Mass Die-Offs in Eras of High CO2


17 May 2011

A new study of prehistoric ocean sediments from an era of high carbon dioxide concentrations shows that warm oceans with high CO2 levels and low-ocean conditions have experienced mass extinctions of marine organisms. Scientists from the UK and Australia examined ocean sediment samples off the coast of western Africa from the late Cretaceous period, 85 million years ago, an epoch of high atmospheric CO2 levels. The researchers found a significant amount of organic matter from marine organisms buried within the deoxygenated sediment layers, indicating that these organisms suffered mass die-offs as CO2 levels rose, ocean temperatures increased, and the oceans held less oxygen. Martin Kennedy from the University of Adelaide in Australia said the research showed that these extinctions occurred over periods of only hundreds of years or possibly less, and took place with only modest changes in CO2 and oxygen levels in the oceans.


tags: historical global warming, historical climate change,

Atmospheric Oxygen Decline Due to Fossil Fuel Combustion

This is another issue I have wondered about. When something is burned, what is happening is that some substance is combining with oxygen to produce energy. Burning fossil fuels should remove some oxygen from the air.

I don't know that the fact that the air in cities can have significantly less oxygen proves is really a sign that we are not yet being adversely affected. I and others sometimes feel it is hard to breathe at times, and feel much better away from cities, in natural areas, like walking in the woods.


Karen Villarante-Tonido, Philippines
Original Post: Feb. 14, 2012

There has been much focus on the negative impacts of rising carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in the atmosphere due to fossil fuel combustion in recent years. This is not surprising, considering the large percentage of fossil fuel CO2 that continues to accumulate in the atmosphere since the industrial revolution. Because the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is small relative to other gases (only about 0.038%), the excess CO2 generated from burning of fossil fuels creates an impact large enough to affect global temperature, climate, ocean chemistry and consequently, human and animal health, welfare and the environment.

In contrast, it is only recently that some attention has been directed towards the impact of fossil fuel burning on the level of oxygen in the atmosphere. New research shows that atmospheric oxygen levels have been declining while CO2 levels are rising due to fossil fuel combustion. This problem has only been brought to light fairly recently since the technology for taking measurements of minute variations in atmospheric oxygen has only been available in the late 1980s (Klusinske, 2010).

It was Dr. Ralph Keeling who made observations of the level of atmospheric oxygen over a period of about 20 years (See Figure 1 below). From his stations stretching north from Antarctica to areas in and around the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans (specifically, in La Jolla, California and Cape Grim, Tasmania), Dr. Keeling found a 0.0317% decline in atmospheric oxygen from 1990 to 2008 (Klusinske, 2010).

----- [see graph at link above]

Dr. Keeling estimated that the about three oxygen (O2) molecules are lost every time a single CO2 molecule is produced by fossil fuel combustion. When CO2 is produced during fossil fuel combustion, O2 from the atmosphere is used up in the process. From the molecular formula of CO2 alone, it seems that only two O2 molecules are lost every time one CO2 molecule is produced. But Dr. Keeling explained that the Oxygen:Carbon combustion ratio of a fossil fuel depends on its hydrogen content. He said it can vary from 1.2 for coal, 1.45 for liquid fuels and 2.0 for natural gas. While considering these factors, Dr. Keeling came up with the 3:1 ratio of oxygen lost per carbon dioxide produced.

The burning of fossil fuels may also potentially cause a decline in atmospheric oxygen levels indirectly by affecting oxygen-producing organisms such as phytoplankton.


Photosynthesis accounts for 98% of the world’s oxygen output while the splitting of water molecules by ultraviolet (UV) radiation accounts for the remaining 1-2%. Photosynthesis by phytoplankton species is said to produce oxygen that equals half of the world’s oxygen output. The other half is produced by photosynthesis in terrestrial plants.


Because of the varied effects of ocean acidification and warming on different phytoplankton species, it is also unclear whether the increase in fossil fuel CO2 actually causes a decline in atmospheric oxygen levels.

At this point, it is already known that atmospheric oxygen is declining. What surprised Dr. Ralph Keeling was the finding that the rate of oxygen decline was less than he expected. It was less than what could be accounted for by fossil fuel combustion. With the reality of deforestation, conversion of agricultural land into urban and industrial areas and destruction of natural ecosystems, the rate of oxygen decline is even expected to be greater, but it was not the case. (Johnston, 2007)

There are several theories that might explain this finding, according to Dr. Keeling and Scrips marine chemist, Andrew Dickson. One is that plants could be growing more rapidly (plant biomass increasing) since there is more carbon dioxide and nitrogen available for plant growth. And because farming practices have become more efficient, some areas have become reforested and thus, more plants are available for oxygen production, thereby buffering the effects of oxygen decline. (Johnston, 2007)

But like any other system, the ability of nature to adapt and buffer environmental changes is not limitless. There is a need to mitigate abuses to the environment and prevent the current situation from worsening.


For instance, the production of biochar will definitely accelerate deforestation, which could further decrease oxygen output. Also, “biochar itself is an oxygen sink in the course of degrading in the soil” (Ho, 2009). In the end, this proposal could be dangerous to humans and animals alike.

At the moment, the percentage of oxygen decline is too small to worry about. The oxygen in the air remains abundant despite the reported decline. Nevertheless, we should not be complacent or laid-back. The current high concentration (20.95%) of oxygen in the atmosphere is what humans and oxygen-breathing animals need to survive. Lack of oxygen can cause serious implications on our health.

Enclosed spaces with an oxygen concentration of 19.5% instead of the current 20.95% is already said to be oxygen-deficient (Ho, 2009). A concentration below 19.5% is no longer healthy and safe for humans and animals. At this concentration, it is difficult for the body to bring oxygen to all its cells and organs, a feat necessary for the system to function efficiently. First and foremost, this places a strain on the heart, which struggles to pump blood fast enough to oxygenate all cells of the body. If blood is not oxygenated enough, then the heart will have to work much harder. Aside from heart disease, cancers and other degenerative diseases can develop at these very low oxygen concentrations and at even lower concentrations of 6% to 7%, life can no longer be sustained. (Tatchell, 2008)


Although atmospheric O2 levels are gradually declining as CO2 continues to accumulate in the air from fossil fuel combustion, fortunately an O2 crisis is not yet a likely scenario. Oxygen is quite abundant in the atmosphere that even when fossil fuel reserves (mostly coal) are exhausted, the maximum potential loss in oxygen is only small (Broecker, 1970). The oxygen decline of 0.0317% is considered not significant and should not arouse serious concern at this point. Mr. Ray Langenfelds of Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) Australia further adds that this level of oxygen reduction actually has no impact on our breathing (Science Daily, 1999). He said that typical oxygen fluctuations indoors or in city air can actually be greater than this.

In fact, scientists agree that today, oxygen levels are even less than 20.95% in certain areas such as densely populated, polluted city centers and industrial complexes (Tatchell, 2008). According to a UN adviser, Professor Ervin Laszlo, “Currently the oxygen content of the Earth’s atmosphere dips to 19% over impacted areas, and it is down to 12% to 17% over the major cities” (Tatchell, 2008). Hence, the oxygen decline currently recorded is still not a serious environmental concern at this point.


But perhaps the most obvious and simple solution to the problem of declining oxygen levels in the atmosphere is to decrease, if not completely stop fossil fuel burning while shifting to non-carbon based sources of energy (Johnston, 2007), stop deforestation and destruction of natural ecosystems and plant trees.

A Looming Oxygen Crisis and Its Impact on World’s Oceans

I have been wondering about this. Any first year student of chemistry knows that the warmer a liquid is, the less gas it can contain. That's what causes the bubble when you boil water, the dissolved air being expelled from the water.

Also, the burning of fossil fuels causes a decrease in oxygen in the air, and thus would add to the decrease of oxygen in oceans.


by carl zimmer
05 Aug 2010

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill is overshadowing another catastrophe that’s also unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico this summer: The oxygen dissolved in the Gulf waters is disappearing. In some places, the oxygen is getting so scarce that fish and other animals cannot survive. They can either leave the oxygen-free waters or die. The Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium reported this week that this year’s so-called “dead zone” covers 7,722 square miles.

Unlike the Deepwater Horizon disaster, this summer’s dead zone is not a new phenomenon in the Gulf. It first appeared in the 1970s, and each summer it has returned, growing bigger as the years have passed. Its expansion reflects the rising level of fertilizers that farmers in the U.S. Midwest have spread across their fields.


In 2008, scientists reported that new dead zones have been popping up at an alarming rate for the past 50 years. There are now more than 400 coastal dead zones around the world.

As serious as these dead zones are, however, they may be just a foreshadowing of a much more severe crisis to come. Agricultural runoff can only strip oxygen from the ocean around the mouths of fertilizer-rich rivers. But global warming has the potential to reduce the ocean’s oxygen content across the entire planet. Combined with acidification — another global impact of our carbon emissions — the loss of oxygen could have a major impact on marine life.

Scientists point to two reasons to expect a worldwide drop in ocean oxygen. One is the simple fact that as water gets warmer, it can hold less dissolved oxygen. The other reason is subtler. The entire ocean gets its oxygen from the surface — either from the atmosphere, or from photosynthesizing algae floating at the top of the sea. The oxygen then spreads to the deep ocean as the surface waters slowly sink.

Global warming is expected to reduce the mixing of the ocean by making surface seawater lighter. That’s because in a warmer world we can expect more rainfall and more melting of glaciers, icebergs, and ice sheets. Since freshwater is less dense than salt water, the water at the ocean’s surface will become lighter. The extra heat from the warming atmosphere will also make surface waters expand — and thus make them lighter still. The light surface water will be less likely to sink — and thus the deep ocean will get less oxygen. Instead, more of the oxygen will linger near the surface, where it will be used up by oxygen-breathing organisms.

The prospect that global warming could reduce the ocean’s oxygen has led some scientists to wonder if the predicted decline has already begun. It’s a maddeningly hard thing to determine, however. We can be very confident that humans have driven up the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere because scientists have recorded a steady increase over the course of decades. The signal of human-produced carbon dioxide is stronger than the noise of nature’s ups and downs.

Fluctuations in oxygen levels, on the other hand, are a lot noisier.


In recent years some worrying signals have started to emerge from the noise. In 2006, for example, oxygen levels off the coast of Oregon dropped to record lows. Reefs that had been packed with rockfish and other animals suddenly became ecological ghost towns. Instead of agricultural run-off, studies on the Oregon dead zone suggest that global warming was partly responsible. Higher temperatures have reduced the oxygen in the ocean currents that deliver water to the Oregon coast.

It’s much harder for scientists to figure out what’s happening in the open ocean than along the coastlines, because the records are far spottier. But some recent studies have also offered cause for worry. In April, for example, Lothar Stramma of the University of Kiel and his colleagues published a study in Deep Sea Research in which they compared records of oxygen levels in the tropical ocean from two periods: from 1960 to 1974 and from 1990 to 2008. In some regions, the oxygen levels have gone up, the scientists found, but in most places they’ve gone down. In fact, the area of the global ocean without enough oxygen for animals to survive (less than 70 micromoles per kilogram to be exact) expanded by 4.5 million square kilometers (1.7 million square miles). That’s an area about half the size of the United States.


In order to project how global warming will alter oxygen in the oceans, climate scientists are developing a new generation of computer models. The models are still too crude to capture some important features of the real world, such as the way winds can change how deep water rises in upwellings. But the models are good enough to replicate some of the changes in oxygen levels that have already been recorded. And they all predict that the oxygen in the world’s oceans will drop; depending on the model, the next century will see a drop of between 1 and 7 percent.


In his new book, Gasping Fish and Panting Squids: Oxygen, Temperature and the Growth of Water-Breathing Animals, Pauly argues that getting oxygen is the most important constraint on the growth of fishes and many other marine animals. That’s because it takes a lot of energy to extract oxygen from water, and the bigger animals get, the more energy they have to invest.


Pauly and his colleagues predict that the drop in the ocean’s oxygen and pH levels will together reduce the world’s fish catch by 20 to 30 percent by 2050.


A drop in oxygen may also cause the ocean's bacteria to change. Bacteria that need oxygen will no longer be able to thrive in oxygen-free zones of the ocean. But these dead zones will foster the growth of many species of bacteria for whom oxygen is toxic. Some of these oxygen-hating microbes produce nitrogen compounds that are among the most potent greenhouse gases ever measured. In other words, a drop in oxygen levels could further intensify global warming.

Unless we find a way to rein in our carbon emissions very soon, a low-oxygen ocean may become an inescapable feature of our planet. A team of Danish researchers published a particularly sobering study last year. They wondered how long oxygen levels would drop if we could somehow reduce our carbon dioxide emissions to zero by 2100. They determined that over the next few thousand years oxygen levels would continue to fall, until they declined by 30 percent. The oxygen would slowly return to the oceans, but even 100,000 years from now they will not have fully recovered. If they’re right, fish will be gasping and squid will be panting for a long time to come.

8 unexpected habits of happy people


By Melissa Breyer
Thu, Dec 26 2013

1. They go to parks ...

2. They live in Scandinavian countries ...


4. They have satisfying jobs — and if not, they quit ...


8. They don’t try to be … happy?
Oops. Now that we’ve told you the secrets for happiness, we’re here to dash your dreams. A prominent study shows that making happiness a personal goal will actually stand in the way of your achieving it. The researchers found that women who valued happiness more reported being less happy and more depressed than women who didn't place much importance on the goal.

"Wanting to be happy can make you less happy," said study researcher Iris Mauss. "If you explicitly and purposely focus on happiness, that appears to have a self-defeating quality."

Good news?

Listening to the news, a few minutes ago they were saying that housing prices were up, and that was good. Then they said lower gas prices are good.

There is something warped about the idea that high housing prices are good, especially when salaries are not going up at the same rate. Who would say it would be good if the price of food was going up? Unless we're homeless, if we weren't living in our own house we would be renting, and rents tend to go up regularly. As long as we can sell our house for what we owe, we are usually doing better than if we were renting. Of course, the problem is that houses have been over-priced, so that eventually prices fell to less than was owed. The problem was caused by home prices being higher than was sustainable. To go back to that situation is just setting people up for another bust.

Science confirms: Politics wrecks your ability to do math

I don't believe it is just politics, it's anything you have an emotional stake in.

I saw this in a math course once, with a logic problem. Not a political one, but a parent who couldn't deal with the mathematical meaning of "OR" when it came to telling his child something. It's possible he was being humorous, but it didn't seem to be the case.


By Chris Mooney

Everybody knows that our political views can sometimes get in the way of thinking clearly. But perhaps we don’t realize how bad the problem actually is. According to a new psychology paper, our political passions can even undermine our very basic reasoning skills. More specifically, the study finds that people who are otherwise very good at math may totally flunk a problem that they would otherwise probably be able to solve, simply because giving the right answer goes against their political beliefs.


For study author Kahan, these results are a fairly strong refutation of what is called the “deficit model” in the field of science and technology studies — the idea that if people just had more knowledge, or more reasoning ability, then they would be better able to come to consensus with scientists and experts on issues like climate change, evolution, the safety of vaccines, and pretty much anything else involving science or data (for instance, whether concealed weapons bans work). Kahan’s data suggest the opposite — that political biases skew our reasoning abilities, and this problem seems to be worse for people with advanced capacities like scientific literacy and numeracy. “If the people who have the greatest capacities are the ones most prone to this, that’s reason to believe that the problem isn’t some kind of deficit in comprehension,” Kahan explained in an interview.


Our first instinct, in all versions of the study, is to leap instinctively to the wrong conclusion. If you just compare which number is bigger in the first column, for instance, you’ll be quickly led astray. But more numerate people, when they sense an apparently wrong answer that offends their political sensibilities, are both motivated and equipped to dig deeper, think harder, and even start performing some calculations — which in this case would have led to a more accurate response.

“If the wrong answer is contrary to their ideological positions, we hypothesize that that is going to create the incentive to scrutinize that information and figure out another way to understand it,” says Kahan. In other words, more numerate people perform better when identifying study results that support their views — but may have a big blind spot when it comes to identifying results that undermine those views.


tags: thinking, judgement, statistics

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Idiocy of State Rankings


The Atlantic magazine, October 2013
Sommer Mathis Sep 18 2013


The vast range of communities contained within the United States is one of our greatest assets, but it is also responsible for some of our silliest conclusions about ourselves. A scan of a given day’s headlines confirms that there’s nothing quite so irresistible as a juicy ranking, and for good reason. Who doesn’t want to know how their neighbors stack up against the rest of the country? Trouble is, comparing things like consumer habits among states that have tremendous differences in income, geographic footprint, natural resources, and—perhaps most fundamental—ratio of urban to rural populations is often a waste of time.


This isn’t to say that all state rankings are worthless—it’s perfectly reasonable to compare states on, say, per capita education spending (as this magazine did just last year), or days of sunshine per year. But when it comes to tracking consumer behavior, it’s most logical to compare big cities with big cities, small cities with small cities, and otherwise economically and geographically similar regions with one another.


The Case Against High-School Sports


The Atlantic magazine, October 2013
Amanda Ripley Sep 18 2013

The United States routinely spends more tax dollars per high-school athlete than per high-school math student—unlike most countries worldwide. And we wonder why we lag in international education rankings?

Amanda Ripley Sep 18 2013, 8:24 PM ET
Darren Braun

Every year, thousands of teenagers move to the United States from all over the world, for all kinds of reasons. They observe everything in their new country with fresh eyes, including basic features of American life that most of us never stop to consider.

One element of our education system consistently surprises them: “Sports are a big deal here,” says Jenny, who moved to America from South Korea with her family in 2011.


By contrast, in South Korea, whose 15-year-olds rank fourth in the world (behind Shanghai, Singapore, and Hong Kong) on a test of critical thinking in math, Jenny’s classmates played pickup soccer on a dirt field at lunchtime. They brought badminton rackets from home and pretended there was a net. If they made it into the newspaper, it was usually for their academic accomplishments.

Sports are embedded in American schools in a way they are not almost anywhere else. Yet this difference hardly ever comes up in domestic debates about America’s international mediocrity in education. (The U.S. ranks 31st on the same international math test.) The challenges we do talk about are real ones, from undertrained teachers to entrenched poverty. But what to make of this other glaring reality, and the signal it sends to children, parents, and teachers about the very purpose of school?


From the beginning, though, some detractors questioned whether tax money should be spent on activities that could damage the brain, and occasionally leave students dead on the field.


Last year in Texas, whose small towns are the spiritual home of high-school football and the inspiration for Friday Night Lights, the superintendent brought in to rescue one tiny rural school district did something insanely rational. In the spring of 2012, after the state threatened to shut down Premont Independent School District for financial mismanagement and academic failure, Ernest Singleton suspended all sports—including football.


That first semester, 80 percent of the students passed their classes, compared with 50 percent the previous fall. About 160 people attended parent-teacher night, compared with six the year before. Principal Ruiz was so excited that he went out and took pictures of the parking lot, jammed with cars. Through some combination of new leadership, the threat of closure, and a renewed emphasis on academics, Premont’s culture changed. “There’s been a definite decline in misbehavior,” says Desiree Valdez, who teaches speech, theater, and creative writing at Premont. “I’m struggling to recall a fight. Before, it was one every couple of weeks.”

Suspending sports was only part of the equation, but Singleton believes it was crucial. He used the savings to give teachers raises. Meanwhile, communities throughout Texas, alarmed by the cancellation of football, raised $400,000 for Premont via fund-raisers and donations—money that Singleton put toward renovating the science labs.


Many sports and other electives tend to have lower student-to-teacher ratios than math and reading classes, which drives up the cost. And contrary to what most people think, ticket and concession sales do not begin to cover the cost of sports in the vast majority of high schools (or colleges).


Many of the costs are insidious, Roza has found, “buried in unidentifiable places.” For example, when teacher-coaches travel for game days, schools need to hire substitute teachers. They also need to pay for buses for the team, the band, and the cheerleaders, not to mention meals and hotels on the road. For home games, schools generally cover the cost of hiring officials, providing security, painting the lines on the field, and cleaning up afterward.


Basis public charter schools, located in Arizona, Texas, and Washington, D.C., are modeled on rigorous international standards. They do not offer tackle football; the founders deemed it too expensive and all-consuming. Still, Basis schools offer other, cheaper sports, including basketball and soccer. Anyone who wants to play can play; no one has to try out.


The average Basis student not only outperformed the typical American student by nearly three years in reading and science and by four years in math, but outscored the average student in Finland, Korea, and Poland as well. The Basis kid did better even than the average student from Shanghai, China, the region that ranks No. 1 in the world.


How the NFL Fleeces Taxpayers

Read the article at the following link to learn more about how extremely rich owners are getting government donations for their football teams.

This article is an excerpt from Easterbrook's book "The King of Sports"


The Atlantic magazine, October 2013
Gregg Easterbrook Sep 18 2013

Last year was a busy one for public giveaways to the National Football League. In Virginia, Republican Governor Bob McDonnell, who styles himself as a budget-slashing conservative crusader, took $4 million from taxpayers’ pockets and handed the money to the Washington Redskins, for the team to upgrade a workout facility. Hoping to avoid scrutiny, McDonnell approved the gift while the state legislature was out of session. The Redskins’ owner, Dan Snyder, has a net worth estimated by Forbes at $1 billion. But even billionaires like to receive expensive gifts.


The National Football League is about two things: producing high-quality sports entertainment, which it does very well, and exploiting taxpayers, which it also does very well. Goodell should know—his pay, about $30 million in 2011, flows from an organization that does not pay corporate taxes.

That’s right—extremely profitable and one of the most subsidized organizations in American history, the NFL also enjoys tax-exempt status. On paper, it is the Nonprofit Football League.


Nearly all NFL franchises are family-owned, converting public subsidies and tax favors into high living for a modern-day feudal elite.


Judith Grant Long, a Harvard University professor of urban planning, calculates that league-wide, 70 percent of the capital cost of NFL stadiums has been provided by taxpayers, not NFL owners. Many cities, counties, and states also pay the stadiums’ ongoing costs, by providing power, sewer services, other infrastructure, and stadium improvements. When ongoing costs are added, Long’s research finds, the Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Kansas City Chiefs, New Orleans Saints, San Diego Chargers, St. Louis Rams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Tennessee Titans have turned a profit on stadium subsidies alone—receiving more money from the public than they needed to build their facilities. Long’s estimates show that just three NFL franchises—the New England Patriots, New York Giants, and New York Jets—have paid three-quarters or more of their stadium capital costs.


Many NFL teams have also cut sweetheart deals to avoid taxes. The futuristic new field where the Dallas Cowboys play, with its 80,000 seats, go-go dancers on upper decks, and built-in nightclubs, has been appraised at nearly $1 billion. At the basic property-tax rate of Arlington, Texas, where the stadium is located, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones would owe at least $6 million a year in property taxes. Instead he receives no property-tax bill, so Tarrant County taxes the property of average people more than it otherwise would.


For Veterans Day last year, the NFL announced that it would donate cash to military groups for each point scored in designated games. During NFL telecasts that weekend, the league was praised for its grand generosity. The total donation came to about $440,000. Annualized, NFL stadium subsidies and tax favors add up to perhaps $1 billion. So the NFL took $1 billion from the public, then sought praise for giving back $440,000—less than a tenth of 1 percent.


In too many areas of contemporary life, public subsidies are converted to private profit. Sometimes, such as with the bailout of General Motors, once the subsidies end, society is better off; sometimes, as with the bailout of AIG, subsidies are repaid. Public handouts for modern professional football never end and are never repaid. In return, the NFL creates nothing of social value—while setting bad examples, despite its protests to the contrary, regarding concussions, painkiller misuse, weight gain, and cheating, among other issues. The No. 1 sport in a nation with a childhood-obesity epidemic celebrates weight gain; that’s bad enough. Worse, the sport setting the bad example is subsidized up one side and down the other.


In 2010, the National Football League moved its annual Pro Bowl away from Honolulu for the first time in 30 years. At the very time Hawaii was cutting its budget for public schools, state lawmakers voted to pay the NFL $4 million per game to bring the event back to their capital. The lawmakers’ gift-giving was bad enough. What was disgraceful was that the rich, subsidized owners of the NFL accepted.


Older engineers battle age discrimination

Age discrimination is also a big problem in IT. Younger people saw this happening to older people and are rightly reluctant to go into these fields. So the response of employers is not to end the age discrimination, but to claim that they need to bring in workers from other countries.


Apr 2, 2013

Many employers discriminate against older engineers, according to Larry Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute.

"They all want the newest kids coming out and discriminate against people that know a lot and can learn more material," Mishel said yesterday on The Daily Circuit. "For some reason, the employers consider people 35 and older in engineering on 'the other side of the game.'"

What Every Business Needs to Know About Using Music For Business Purposes

See the article at the link for more details, including the definition of several musical licensing terms, such as "Mechanical License"

I was talking to a relative a couple of years ago, and they were surprised to find out that it takes money to create a recording. And of course, years of practice, and much money for equipment, whether performing or producing music.



Most businesses use music in some capacity to create the right ambiance, draw a crowd or even to pacify holding telephone customers. The right music can influence purchasing decisions, how fast patrons at a restaurant eat and how satisfied customers feel in their dealings with your business. For these reasons, music is a valuable asset to your business. However, it is also a valuable asset to those that create it. A license is generally required for all public uses of music including use on a company website, at a holiday party, at conferences, in waiting rooms, in promotional videos and even use as background music to enhance a consumers experience. Proper music licensing not only supports the livelihood of its creators but also keeps your business out of court.


Stretchers, shears and tiny bunny screams—making that angora sweater is rarely pretty


By Heather Timmons November 29, 2013

Swedish retailers H&M and AB Lindex and Denmark’s IC Companys have ceased production of angora products in response to a PETA campaign showing videos of rabbits at angora farms in China screaming in pain as their fur is torn off.


China has dominated the angora production business for decades, after overtaking France in the 1960s, and now provides more than 90% of the fiber used to make everything from sweaters to underwear. Low labor costs and the “sub-standard nature” of China’s angora farms helped this rise, this Australian analysis of the industry (pdf) says.

Even when live rabbits aren’t being obviously traumatized like the ones shown in the PETA videos, angora production is rarely pretty


In France the method of harvesting angora was traditionally plucking—albeit after the rabbits have eaten a chemical depilatory that makes it easier to remove the hair—in a process that’s spread over several days to “minimize stress on the rabbit,” according to “Rabbit Production,” a book on the topic reissued in May:


In the the US, the bunnies aren’t fed a depilatory and “coats are often removed in one session by pulling tufts between the thumb and index finger.” China’s angora production seems to take that several steps further, PETA observed: Workers were “violently ripping the fur from the animals’ sensitive skin as they screamed at the top of their lungs in pain,” after which the rabbits “appeared to go into shock, lying motionless inside their tiny, filthy cages.”

For angora fans who are turned off by these harvesting methods, there is another way. A cottage industry of “cruelty-free” angora has sprung up, with small-scale angora breeders who recommend either gentle brushing or careful, slow shearing.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Solar activity not a key cause of climate change, study shows



Contact: Catriona Kelly
University of Edinburgh

Climate change has not been strongly influenced by variations in heat from the sun, a new scientific study shows

Climate change has not been strongly influenced by variations in heat from the sun, a new scientific study shows.

The findings overturn a widely held scientific view that lengthy periods of warm and cold weather in the past might have been caused by periodic fluctuations in solar activity.

Research examining the causes of climate change in the northern hemisphere over the past 1000 years has shown that until the year 1800, the key driver of periodic changes in climate was volcanic eruptions. These tend to prevent sunlight reaching the Earth, causing cool, drier weather. Since 1900, greenhouse gases have been the primary cause of climate change.

The findings show that periods of low sun activity should not be expected to have a large impact on temperatures on Earth, and are expected to improve scientists' understanding and help climate forecasting.


Getting excited helps with performance anxiety more than trying to calm down, study finds

I'll have to try this when I sing my songs at open mics.



Contact: APA Public Affairs
American Psychological Association

Simple statements about excitement could have big effects, research shows

WASHINGTON – People who tell themselves to get excited rather than trying to relax can improve their performance during anxiety-inducing activities such as public speaking and math tests, according to a study published by the American Psychological Association.

"Anxiety is incredibly pervasive. People have a very strong intuition that trying to calm down is the best way to cope with their anxiety, but that can be very difficult and ineffective," said study author Alison Wood Brooks, PhD, of Harvard Business School. "When people feel anxious and try to calm down, they are thinking about all the things that could go badly. When they are excited, they are thinking about how things could go well."

Several experiments conducted at Harvard University with college students and members of the local community showed that simple statements about excitement could improve performance during activities that triggered anxiety. The study was published online in APA's Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.

In a trial involving karaoke, 113 participants (54 men and 59 women) were randomly assigned to say that they were anxious, excited, calm, angry or sad before singing a popular rock song on a video game console. A control group didn't make any statement. All of the participants monitored their heart rates using a pulse meter strapped onto a finger to measure their anxiety.

Participants who said they were excited scored an average of 80 percent on the song based on their pitch, rhythm and volume as measured by the video game's rating system. Those who said they were calm, angry or sad scored an average of 69 percent, compared to 53 percent for those who said they were anxious. Participants who said they were excited also reported feeling more excited and confident in their singing ability.

Since both anxiety and excitement are emotional states characterized by high arousal, it may be easier to view anxiety as excitement rather than trying to calm down to combat performance anxiety, Brooks said.

"When you feel anxious, you're ruminating too much and focusing on potential threats," she said. "In those circumstances, people should try to focus on the potential opportunities. It really does pay to be positive, and people should say they are excited. Even if they don't believe it at first, saying 'I'm excited' out loud increases authentic feelings of excitement."

Pregnant women need not avoid peanuts, evidence shows



Contact: Meghan Weber
Boston Children's Hospital

Peanut and tree nut allergy incidence lower among children whose mothers ate them during pregnancy

BOSTON (Dec. 23, 2013)—Women need not fear that eating peanuts during pregnancy could cause their child to develop a peanut allergy, according to a new study from Boston Children's Hospital published online Dec. 23 in JAMA Pediatrics.

"Our study showed increased peanut consumption by pregnant mothers who weren't nut allergic was associated with lower risk of peanut allergy in their offspring," says the study's senior author Michael Young, MD, of Boston Children's Division of Allergy and Immunology. "Assuming she isn't allergic to peanuts, there's no reason for a woman to avoid peanuts during pregnancy."


Hospital-diagnosed maternal infections linked to increased autism risk


Contact: Joshua Weisz
Kaiser Permanente

Hospital-diagnosed maternal bacterial infections during pregnancy were associated with an increased risk of autism spectrum disorders in children, according to a Kaiser Permanente study published Dec. 23 in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

The research contributes new evidence to a body of scientific literature on the role of infection in autism risk and points to areas for further examination.


"Though infections in pregnant women are fairly common, in this study most were not associated with an increased risk of autism," said Lisa A. Croen, PhD, research scientist with the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research and senior author of the study. "Only bacterial infections diagnosed in the hospital were associated with an increased risk."

"Infections diagnosed in a hospital setting were more common among mothers of children who developed an ASD compared with mothers of children who did not develop an ASD," Croen further explained.

Women with bacterial infections diagnosed during a hospitalization (including of the genitals, urinary tract and amniotic fluid) had a 58 percent greater risk of having a child with an ASD. While not very common in any of the mothers studied (1.5 percent of mothers of a child with ASD vs. 0.5 percent of mothers of a child without ASD), infections diagnosed during a hospitalization in the second trimester were associated with children having more than a three-fold increased risk of developing ASD.

"Infections diagnosed in an inpatient setting may represent more severe infections, and these were associated with increased risk of ASD," said Ousseny Zerbo, PhD, research fellow with the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research and the study's lead author.


Making Sad Sense of Child Abuse


Monday, December 23, 2013
Tel Aviv University


Now Dr. Carmit Katz of Tel Aviv University's Bob Shapell School of Social Work has found that when parents are physically abusive, children tend to accommodate it. But when the abuse is sexual, they tend to fight or flee it unless it is severe. The findings, published in Child Abuse & Neglect, help explain children's behavior in response to abuse and could aid in intervention and treatment.


"More than the type of abuse, it may be that children feel they have no choice but to endure abuse by their parents, who they depend on for love and support."

About 3.5 million cases of child abuse are reported in the United States every year. Similarly alarming situations exist in many other countries. Abused children often suffer from emotional and behavioral problems, which can later develop into sexual dysfunction, anxiety, promiscuity, vulnerability to repeated victimization, depression, and substance abuse.

Israel is not immune. In 2011, trained Israeli authorities interviewed more than 15,000 children following complaints of abuse. Previous research showed that half of children do not disclose anything in interviews, even when there is evidence of abuse. [For one thing, there is the fear that telling someone about it will result in even more severe treatment by the parents.]


Dr. Katz says the study teaches an important lesson when it comes to parental physical abuse. Just because children do not fight or flee their parents does not mean they are not being abused. Children need their parents to survive, and in some cases, parents love, care for, and support their children when they are not abusing them. Under these impossible circumstances, children often feel their best option is accommodation. In one interview in the study, a child said, "Daddy was yelling on me because I didn't do my homework, so I told him I am sorry you are right and brought him his belt." There were many similar examples.


tags: child abuse

Researcher says extensive use of antibiotics in agriculture creating public health crisis


Contact: Heath McCoy
University of Calgary

University of Calgary's Aidan Hollis advocates user fees on non-human antibiotics use

Citing an overabundance in the use of antibiotics by the agriculture and aquaculture industries that poses a threat to public health, economics professor Aidan Hollis has proposed a solution in the form of user fees on the non-human use of antibiotics.

In a newly released paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine, Hollis and co-author Ziana Ahmed state that in the United States 80 per cent of the antibiotics in the country are consumed in agriculture and aquaculture for the purpose of increasing food production.

This flood of antibiotics released into the environment – sprayed on fruit trees and fed to the likes of livestock, poultry and salmon, among other uses – has led bacteria to evolve, Hollis writes. Mounting evidence cited in the journal shows resistant pathogens are emerging in the wake of this veritable flood of antibiotics – resulting in an increase in bacteria that is immune to available treatments.

If the problem is left unchecked, this will create a health crisis on a global scale, Hollis says.


Wyoming May Act to Plug Abandoned Wells as Natural Gas Boom Ends

In some places, poor people are jailed because they can't pay a fine.


Published: December 24, 2013

Hundreds of abandoned drilling wells dot eastern Wyoming like sagebrush, vestiges of a natural gas boom that has been drying up in recent years as prices have plummeted.

The companies that once operated the wells have all but vanished into the prairie, many seeking bankruptcy protection and "unable" to pay the cost of reclaiming the land they leased. Recent estimates have put the number of abandoned drilling operations in Wyoming at more than 1,200, and state officials said several thousand more might soon be orphaned by their operators.

Wyoming officials are now trying to address the problem amid concerns from landowners that the wells could contaminate groundwater and are a blight on the land.

This month, Gov. Matt Mead proposed allocating $3 million to pay for plugging the wells and reclaiming the land around them. And the issue is expected to be debated during next year’s legislative session as lawmakers seek to hold drilling companies more accountable.


¶ The money would come from a conservation tax that oil and gas companies pay.

¶ Still, given the number of wells already abandoned and the concern that more will soon be deserted, the money is not expected to go far. The state estimated that closing the 1,200 wells already abandoned would cost about $8 million.


Governor Mead also wants the commission, which he sits on, to review the conservation tax and bonding requirements for drilling companies to determine whether they are sufficient.

¶ Currently, companies must pay a $75,000 blanket bond to cover all of the wells they operate — often numbering in the hundreds — on state and private land in Wyoming. Once a well stops producing and is deemed idle, the operator must pay up to $10 a linear foot in bonding to offset the cost of reclamation.

¶ But it is at that point that some companies drift into financial trouble and cannot pay the additional fees, leaving the state to scramble to make up the cost.


“There has been a lot of hand-holding and coddling over the years when it comes to oil and gas operators and their ability to pay the bonding,” said Jill Morrison, an organizer with the group.


The proposal is also backed by the Petroleum Association of Wyoming, which favors raising the conservation tax to help pay for plugging fees. The group also supports higher bond fees for operators with tenuous finances.

¶ “It’s how you weed out companies that are too risky to go into business with,” said the group’s president, Bruce Hinchey.

¶ But getting drilling companies who claim to be on the verge of collapse to take responsibility for wells they still technically own has proved difficult.


Daily drumbeat of child murders get little notice


By Bill Dedman Investigative Reporter NBC News
updated 12/12/2013

To mourn the 20 children and six educators killed a year ago at Sandy Hook elementary, residents of the Connecticut suburb of Newtown will take a quiet action on Saturday: placing candles in windows to remember the lives lost.

But who will put a candle in the window for the hundreds of American children each year killed in everyday violence, closer to home, usually by someone they knew?


Although mass killings are watersheds in the American consciousness, it's easy to forget that more than 900 children in the U.S. die in homicides each year. And most of them perish at the hands of a relative, according to an NBC News analysis of 25 years of homicide reports submitted by police to the FBI. Only seven of every 100 child homicides are committed by strangers. See the patterns in child homicides.


NBC News took a fresh look at killings of children, using detailed homicide reports submitted to the FBI by police departments across the nation from 1987 through 2011, the most recent available. The FBI records, for all ages, include 549,020 incidents with 574,774 victims. NBC focused on the homicides of 17,650 victims under age 12.

Four patterns emerge:

Few of the killers are strangers. Family members account for 51 percent of the killers. Other people known to the victim account for another 28 percent. Strangers are only 7 percent. And 13 percent of cases, the relationship status couldn't be determined.


Guns are not the No. 1 weapon in homicides of younger children. Why? Because so many of the children killed are very young. Babies rarely get shot, but they do get strangled or shaken, so the most often used "weapon" is hands or feet, at 34 percent. Next are guns, at 23 percent. The picture changes rapidly as one moves up the age range — older children can fight back or run away. By the time children are 3, the most common weapon in homicides is a gun.


America's schools and streets are safer than Americans know.

An average of 23 youths per year were the victims of homicides at elementary or secondary schools or on the way to a school event, from 1992 to 2011, according to the most complete federal study, by the U.S. Department of Education and the Bureau of Justice Statistics. And those deaths include all kinds of homicides — drug deals gone bad, fights over a girl — in a nation with 130,000 schools and more than 50 million students in grades K-12.

School violence is decreasing, just as the general crime rate has decreased steadily over the past 20 years. With the focus by the news media and public on crime, particularly gun crimes, the public is largely unaware that the gun homicide rate is down 49 percent from its peak in 1993. Most of the public believes incorrectly that gun crime is higher than two decades ago, according to a study from the Pew Research Center.


Still, no one is arguing that the number of deaths is low enough. A child aged 5 through 14 in America is about 13 times more likely to be murdered with a gun than children in Japan, Italy or other industrial countries, according to the Harvard School of Public Health.


tags: child abuse

Emmanuel Kelly singing "Imagine"


His journey to The X Factor stage is as extraordinary as his talent.

“I don't have a birth certificate, I don’t have a real passport, a surname – nothing. In some ways people say I’m a man without an identity,” Emmanuel said.
Born into warfare, Emmanuel was found after being abandoned by his parents – left in a shoe box in a park in Baghdad.

Emmanuel and his adopted brother Ahmed were both born without arms and legs, the result of chemical warfare in Iraq. For Moira Kelly, who was to become the pair's adopted mother, it was love at first sight.

Moira brought Emmanuel and Ahmed back to Australia for life changing surgery, and both boys were fitted with prosthetic limbs, allowing them to walk.


Emmanuel Kelly telling about his life, and singing "Imagine". Really incredible and heart-warming.


Emmanuel's mother is very amazing and inspiring in her own right:


Ex-Tiffany exec gets year in prison for $2 million jewelry theft

I bet she would have gotten a much longer sentence if she weren't rich.


By Patrick Garrity, NBC News
Dec. 23, 2013

A former Tiffany & Co executive will spend a year and a day in prison for stealing and re-selling more than $2.1 million of jewelry from the store's famed Fifth Avenue location in Manhattan.

Ingrid Lederhaas-Okun, 46, a former vice president of product development, delivered a tearful apology as she expressed to a federal judge her regret for the years-long theft from her longtime employer.


At Monday's hearing, Gardephe said Lederhaas-Okun's motivation was "difficult to explain." Lederhaas-Okun earned $360,000 a year at Tiffany from 2010 to 2012 and she and her husband, who has since the arrest sought a divorce, reported income of $700,000 to $900,000 during those years, the judge said.


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Child buys meals for strangers

I suggest reading the whole article at the following link:


Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2013
By Mark Davis, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

No one noticed the kid at first, and why would they? On the morning before Christmas, folks grabbing breakfast in the cafeteria at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite surely had other things on their minds.

Then, a patron stepped to the register to pay for a meal. The black-clad kid — some said he looked like a ninja, but others said, no, he was dressed for church — slipped from behind a counter. His hand was full of cash; his face, full of smile.

“Merry Christmas!” he said. “It’s on me!”

The startled diner didn’t know what to say, but finally managed a thanks. The kid slipped behind the counter again. Moments later, someone else readied to pay for breakfast. The kid was a lightning bolt, striking fast.

“Merry Christmas! It’s on me!”

More people brought their food to the register. It was the same: a small fist waving cash, a young face beaming. Each diner got an early present, courtesy of the kid in black.

When pressed, the kid said the money was supposed to have bought him a PlayStation 4, but that was OK: He already had a version of the game system.


And so it went. When the kid ran out of cash, his dad ponied up additional money; others dug into their pockets, or hit the ATM, then gave their money to the kid. By 12:30, the kid had spent about $500, fed maybe 100 people.

Then he was gone, a walking reminder that not all gifts come colorfully wrapped.


But Jerry had already made his point: The best gifts are those you give. Two thousand years ago, three men bearing gifts shared that message.

Meandering rivers of air

A commentor on Facebook commented on this:

As the difference in temperature between polar and tropical air masses drops, the energy gradient that powers the jet stream also drops. Result is the same as when a river reaches the sea. The Rossby waves are the jet stream equivalent of a river meandering, braiding etc on a flat plain. The gradient has reduced, so the meanders are more extreme. That is why you both have record heat and cold, as the arctic and tropical air masses push further into what was once on the wrong side!

From the NASA earth observatory:


acquired December 3 - 10

While the continental U.S. shivered through an abnormally cold spell in December 2013, Alaska experienced record-breaking heat. Both extremes were caused by an unusual kink in the northern hemisphere’s polar jet stream, which caused frigid Arctic air to move south and warm air to head north.

The jet stream is a fast-moving belt of westerly winds created by the convergence of cold air masses from the Arctic and warm air from lower latitudes. It’s common for it to have meanders called Rossby waves, but what was unusual in December 2013 was how amplified and contorted those waves became after a ridge of high pressure parked itself over Alaska.


This map of land surface temperature anomalies for December 3–10, 2013, shows the sharp contrast between Alaska and the western U.S. Based on data from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite, the map depicts 2013 temperatures compared to the 2001–2010 average for the same eight day period.

Areas with warmer than average temperatures are shown in red; near-normal temperatures are white; and areas that were cooler than the 2000-2011 base period are blue. Note that Land surface temperatures (LST) are distinct from the air temperatures that meteorological stations typically measure. LSTs indicate how hot the surface of the Earth would feel to the touch. From a satellite vantage point, the “surface” includes a number of materials that capture and retain heat, such as desert sand, the dark roof of a building, or the pavement of a road. As a result, daytime land surface temperatures are usually higher than air temperatures.

Smart machine

Warning: Geeky post!

From New Scientist Feedback section, Nov. 2, 2013

Tom Dobbs reported: Driving in France, he encountered roads labelled with both their national and their European designation - such as the "A 20 E 9". His satellite navigation gizmo spoke this aloud as something like "A twenty times 10 to the power 9".

So the gizmo understands scientific/engineering notation!

Not so helpful machinery

From New Scientist Feedback section, Nov. 2, 2013
Rowland Coles reported the attempts by his "smart" phone to assist with names leading it to dub the home of a friend with initials KW "Kilowatt home".

Medical Price Fixing

I suggest reading the whole article at the following link.


Washington Monthly July/ August 2013
By Haley Sweetland Edwards

On the last week of April earlier this year, a small committee of doctors met quietly in a midsized ballroom at the Renaissance Hotel in Chicago. There was an anesthesiologist, an ophthalmologist, a radiologist, and so on—thirty-one in all, each representing their own medical specialty society, each a heavy hitter in his or her own field.

The meeting was convened, as always, by the American Medical Association. Since 1992, the AMA has summoned this same committee three times a year. It’s called the Specialty Society Relative Value Scale Update Committee (or RUC, pronounced “ruck”), and it’s probably one of the most powerful committees in America that you’ve never heard of.

The purpose of each of these triannual RUC meetings is always the same: it’s the committee members’ job to decide what Medicare should pay them and their colleagues for the medical procedures they perform. How much should radiologists get for administering an MRI? How much should cardiologists be paid for inserting a heart stent?


In a free market society, there’s a name for this kind of thing—for when a roomful of professionals from the same trade meet behind closed doors to agree on how much their services should be worth. It’s called price-fixing. And in any other industry, it’s illegal—grounds for a federal investigation into antitrust abuse, at the least.


Medicare is not legally required to accept the RUC’s recommended values for doctors’ services and procedures, but the truth is, it doesn’t have much of a choice. There is no other advisory body currently capable of recommending alternative prices, and Congress has never given the CMS the resources necessary to do the job itself.


private insurance companies also use Medicare’s fee schedule as a baseline for negotiating prices with hospitals and other providers. So if the RUC inflates the base price Medicare pays for a specific procedure, that inflationary effect ripples up through the health care industry as a whole.


These manipulated prices are also a major reason why specialists are in oversupply in many parts of the country, while a worsening shortage of primary care providers threatens the whole health care delivery system.


And we’re not just talking about medical students here. Having the wrong kinds of doctors in the wrong places, with the wrong financial incentives, is one of the major reasons why Americans pay so much more for health care than do citizens in other advanced nations, and yet we live no longer.

----- [In fact, we live shorter than in many countries.]

The Bush administration, skittish of anything resembling government price setting, rejected the idea of establishing an independent council of advisers within the government. Instead, in 1991, they gave the task to the most powerful interest group in the industry, the AMA (which had, of course, graciously offered its services). “And that was the point where I knew the system had been co-opted,” Hsiao told me. “It had become a political process, not a scientific process. And if you don’t think it’s political, you only have to look at the motivation of why AMA wants this job.”


Perhaps the most damning aspect of the RUC’s methodology, however, is that, while its members often spend quite literally hours debating if a certain procedure takes three minutes or just two, the RUC never so much as flicks at the question of how much—or even whether—a procedure actually benefits patients. This failure, which is part of a broader flaw in federal health care policy, is enormously damaging to the practice of American medicine. Among other things, it means that many patients wind up undergoing expensive procedures for which more effective and less costly alternatives are available.



Most of the article is about some of Rand Paul's idiotic utterances. If you are reading this, you probably already have your mind made up about him.

Plus it costs money to move to a place with more jobs. And it probably wouldn't' do the long-term unemployed any good to do so, because there would still be a lack of enough jobs in the new place just not as dramatically so. And there would be plenty of people looking for work who had been unemployed for a shorter length of time. And employers would be more likely to hire someone from another location who already had a job or had been unemployed a short time than they would to hire a long-term unemployed person from their area.


Posted by Ezra Klein on December 23, 2013


Nationally, there are three job seekers for every one open position. But because unemployment is much higher in some cities than in others, the reality is that most people who've been unemployed for more than 26 weeks live in areas where there are four, five, six, seven and even eight job seekers for each open job. They're not being held back by their unemployment checks. They're being held back by mass unemployment.

The study Paul mentions points toward a real problem: Unemployment is self-perpetuating. Employers discriminate against the long-term unemployed. And so a cycle begins: Someone doesn't get hired because they're unemployed. That extends the length of their unemployment. That makes the next potential employer that much less likely to hire them. That further extends the time they've been unemployed. And so the cycle continues.

This isn't just theory. Northeastern University's Rand Ghayad sent out 4,800 fake resumes to job postings. Some of the resumes were from the new unemployed. Others showed longer spells of unemployment. The callback rate for the long-term unemployed was just 1 to 3 percent. For the newly unemployed, it was 9 to 16 percent.

The problem for the long-term unemployed isn't that their lavish government checks keep them from wanting jobs. It's that they can't get jobs -- in part because they're unemployed. And that makes them even less likely to get jobs in the future. The long-term unemployed are slowly becoming unemployable.

The federal government could move aggressively to put them back to work. It could hire them directly as teacher's aides and park rangers. It could pass a large tax cut for employers who hire new workers and and an even larger one for employers who hire the unemployed. It could invest hundreds of billions in infrastructure repair. Paul could be a powerful advocate if he took up the cause of getting them jobs now so they could get jobs later.

But Paul isn't fighting to do any of that. Instead, he's responding to their plight by cutting off the emergency benefits that are barely keeping them unemployed afloat. He isn't helping the unemployed get jobs. He's abandoning them to joblessness -- and so are a critical mass of his colleagues.

Inequality: Government Is a Perp, Not a Bystander


Dean Baker
Truth Out, December 23, 2013
See article on original website

In his speech on inequality earlier this month President Obama proclaimed that the government could not be a bystander in the effort to reduce inequality, which he described as the defining moral issue of our time.


Inequality did not just happen, it was deliberately engineered through a whole range of policies intended to redistribute income upward.

Trade is probably the best place to start just because it is so obvious. Trade deals like NAFTA were quite explicitly designed to place our manufacturing workers in direct competition with the lowest paid workers in the world. The text was written after consulting with top executives at major companies like General Electric. Our negotiators asked these executives what changes in Mexico’s law would make it easier for them to set up factories in Mexico. The text was written accordingly.

When we saw factory workers losing their jobs to imports from Mexico and other developing countries, this was not an accident. In economic theory, the gains from these trade deals are the result of getting lower priced products due to lower cost labor. The loss of jobs in the United States and the downward pressure on the jobs that remain is a predicted outcome of the deal.


The subsidy for too big to fail banks, which makes the Wall Street crew incredibly rich, is another way that the government redistributes money to the top. Bloomberg estimated the size of this annual subsidy for the Wall Street gang at $80 billion a year, more than the government spends on food stamps.


And the macroeconomic policy run by the government has also worsened inequality. Budgets are crafted by politicians, not the gods or nature. The decision not to run a more stimulatory policy to reduce unemployment is every bit as much a conscious act as would be the decision to try to bring the economy to full employment with further stimulus.

In other words, Congress and the president have decided to craft budgets that lead to tens of millions of people being unemployed or underemployed. As Jared Bernstein and I point out in our new book, high levels of unemployment put downward pressure on workers’ wages, especially those in the bottom third of the labor force. This means we have a federal budget that limits growth and employment in a way that redistributes income upwards.

[It is the Republicans who blocked a larger stimulus precisely in order to keep the economy down, in the expectation that it would lead to the voters turning against President Obama and electing a Republican president]

There is a much longer list of ways in which the government has acted to redistribute income upwards over the last three decades. I have a fuller discussion in my book, The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive (free download available).


US a laggard in adopting more secure credit cards

Seems like the U.S. tends to both over-regulate and under-regulate in ways that hurt ordinary people and help the power elite.

I try to avoid using my credit & debit cards, and use mostly cash.


Los Angeles TimesDecember 21, 2013

The massive data breach at Target this past week has again highlighted how the United States remains a relatively insecure backwater when it comes to credit card technology.

Over the last decade, most countries have moved toward using credit cards that carry information on embeddable microchips rather than magnetic strips. The additional encryption on so-called smart cards has made the kind of brazen data thefts suffered by Target almost impossible to pull off in most other countries.

Because the U.S. is one of the few places yet to widely deploy such technology, the nation has increasingly become the focus of hackers seeking to steal such information. The stolen data can easily be turned into phony credit cards that are sold on black markets around the world.

"The U.S. is one of the last markets to convert from the magnetic stripe," Randy Vanderhoof, director of the EMV Migration Forum. "There's fewer places in the world where that stolen data could be used. So the U.S. becomes more of a high-value target."

EMV stands for Europay, MasterCard and Visa and is the technology standard that involves placing an integrated circuit of some kind into a credit card. Most European and Asian countries began adopting the technology a decade ago, pushed by regulators in those countries.


The reasons the U.S. lags so badly in adopting smart cards are complicated, experts said. In part, there hasn't been the political will to demand that businesses and financial institutions make the change. Analysts also say the payment processing system in the U.S. is more complicated, with merchants, credit companies and banks reluctant to spend the big bucks it would take to convert a system with 1 billion credit cards to EMV from magnetic stripes.

"It's a function of our system of government and culture," said Ben Woolsey, director of marketing and consumer research for CreditCards.com, which enables consumers to compare credit card offers. "Moving in that direction is going to be costly for the card industry and retailers."

The good news for consumers is that the U.S. is indeed moving to embrace smart credit cards. In the last couple of years major card issuers have laid out road maps for upgrading the card technology, and many have set out to achieve this by October 2015.

At that point, major credit card companies will change their rules about who is liable for fraudulent purchases caused by security breaches. Under the new rules, the entity in the payment chain-merchant, credit card, banks-deemed to have the weakest security will be liable. Credit card companies can't make anyone adopt the technology, but they're giving them a hard nudge.

----- [What about liability of credit card companies who have weak security?]

Will Pelgrin, chief executive and president of the Center for Internet Security, said the new technology would be a big step forward in fighting fraud. But he also cautioned against thinking it would solve every problem. Hackers, he noted, are constantly evolving their strategies, and companies need to remain vigilant and continue to invest in securing and monitoring their networks even when the smart card era takes hold.