Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Idaho Ag-Gag Law Muzzles Activists

By Elana Pisani on March 3, 2014

Idaho passed a new ag-gag law this past week that will limit animal advocates’ from exposing factory farm cruelty.

The new law, signed on Friday by Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter makes it illegal to secretly film animal abuse on Idaho farms. The punishment includes jail time and a fine of $5,000.

The legislation was passed after the exposure of animal abuse on a Idaho dairy farm in 2012 by the animal rights organization, Mercy For Animals.

Workers at Bettencourt Dairy were caught on video abusing cows and one worker was subsequently prosecuted for the abuse. However, this law will make it illegal to expose animal abuse on farms in the future.


Idaho joins Utah and Iowa in enacting legislation that curtails the uncovering of farm animal abuse and allowing the public to know exactly where their food is coming from.


The Ag Gag Laws: Hiding Factory Farm Abuses From Public Scrutiny

Cody Carlson Mar 20 2012


politicians in Iowa bowed to corporate pressure when they passed a law designed to stifle public debate and keep consumers in the dark. Instead of confronting animal cruelty on factory farms, the top egg- and pork-producing state is now in the business of covering it up. As one of the people this new law is designed to silence, I'm concerned that Iowa is shooting the messenger while letting the real criminals go unpunished.

HF 589 (PDF), better known as the "Ag Gag" law, criminalizes investigative journalists and animal protection advocates who take entry-level jobs at factory farms in order to document the rampant food safety and animal welfare abuses within. In recent years, these undercover videos have spurred changes in our food system by showing consumers the disturbing truth about where most of today's meat, eggs, and dairy is produced. Undercover investigations have directly led to America's largest meat recalls, as well as to the closure of several slaughterhouses that had egregiously cruel animal handling practices. Iowa's Ag Gag law -- along with similar bills pending in other states -- illustrates just how desperate these industries are to keep this information from getting out.

The original version of the law would have made it a crime to take, possess, or share pictures of factory farms that were taken without the owner's consent, but the Iowa Attorney General rejected this measure out of First Amendment concerns. As amended, however, the law achieves the same result by making it a crime to give a false statement on an "agricultural production" job application. This lets factory farms and slaughterhouses screen out potential whistleblowers simply by asking on job applications, "Are you affiliated with a news organization, labor union, or animal protection group?"

Sound absurd? Two years ago, I had to answer a similar question when I applied to work at the nation's second biggest egg producer, located in Thompson, Iowa. If the Ag Gag law had been in effect then, I might be writing this article from a cell.

As a Humane Society of the United States investigator, I worked undercover at four Iowa egg farms in the winter of 2010. At each facility, I witnessed disturbing trends of extreme animal cruelty and dangerously unsanitary conditions. Millions of haggard, featherless hens languished in crowded, microwave-sized wire cages. Unable to even spread their wings, many were forced to pile atop their dead and rotting cage mates as they laid their eggs.


The Ag Gag laws pretend to be about preventing "fraud," but they actually perpetuate it. They protect a system where consumers are regularly deceived into supporting egregious animal suffering, deplorable working conditions, and environmental degradation.

They protect guys like Billy Jo Gregg, a dairy worker who was convicted of six counts of animal cruelty in 2010 after being caught punching, kicking, and stabbing restrained cows and calves at an Ohio farm.


Perhaps most egregiously, the Ag Gag laws also protect the slaughterhouses that regularly send sick and dying animals into our food supply, and would prevent some of the biggest food safety recalls in U.S. history.

But they don't protect the USDA inspector that had his job threatened after reporting these violations. That inspector had to tip off a Humane Society investigator, and only then was the plant closed.


Spy Drones Expose Smithfield Foods Factory Farms

The Republicans are trying to make it illegal to show this to the public. Some states have already passed such laws.

Posted on December 30, 2014

“Spy Drones Expose Smithfield Foods Factory Farms”: SINCE 2012, the director of “Speciesism: The Movie” has been secretly using spy drones to investigate and expose the environmental devastation caused by factory farms. In this video, the drones capture shocking aerial footage of several massive facilities that supply pigs for Smithfield Foods

Published on Youtube on Dec 17, 2014

A clear illustration of how Wall Street banks helped cause the crisis by encouraging subprime lenders to make risky loans.

At the same time, wages have been stagnating or decreasing, and pensions have been decreased or eliminated.

Dec. 24, 2014
By Nancy J. Altman, Eric R. Kingson

(Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from a new book, “Social Security Works! Why Social Security Isn’t Going Broke and How Expanding It Will Help Us All,” published by The New Press, 2015, all rights reserved. Order a copy here.)

It’s not widely recognized, but Social Security is gradually weakening. Still the most important source of retirement income for the vast majority, Social Security benefits have been chipped away, and will be roughly 24 percent lower for workers born after 1959.

Here’s why.

In 1983 Congress passed legislation that included significant reductions in benefits. Very importantly, the 1983 legislation raised Social Security’s full retirement age from age 65 to 67, a change that is still being phased in. The 1983 amendments set the Social Security “full retirement age” at 66, gradually phased in for those born in 1943 through 1954. It will then gradually increase to age 67, fully phased in for those born after 1959.


because of the way that Social Security benefits are calculated, raising the age defined in the Social Security Act as the “retirement age” by one year is mathematically indistinguishable from about a 6.5 percent cut in retirement benefits, whether one retires at age 62, 67, 70, or any age in between. Raising the statutorily defined retirement age sounds like it should mean that if you work longer, you will eventually get what you would have gotten. But you never actually do catch up. If the definition of retirement age is changed to be an older age, you always get less than you would have without the change.


The 1983 enactment, which gradually phases in a two-year increase in the full retirement age from age 65 to age 67, has already lowered benefits by around 6.5 percent. When fully phased in, the change will cut the benefits of those born in 1960 or later by around 13 percent.

In addition to increasing the full retirement age, the 1983 legislation delayed the annual automatic cost of living adjustment by six months, from June to January. Again, it’s a bit complicated to understand without knowing the details of benefit calculations, but this delay translates into a 1.4 percent cut for everyone, now and in the future.


In addition to increasing the full retirement age, the 1983 legislation delayed the annual automatic cost of living adjustment by six months, from June to January. Again, it’s a bit complicated to understand without knowing the details of benefit calculations, but this delay translates into a 1.4 percent cut for everyone, now and in the future.


'How Morgan Stanley Pushed Risky Subprime Mortgage Lending'

Updated by Danielle Kurtzleben on December 30, 2014

Court filings say Morgan Stanley, a major Wall Street bank, pushed subprime lender New Century into making riskier and riskier mortgage loans, the New York Times reports.
The filings include damning emails, showing that Morgan Stanley employees knew about and even joked about some borrowers' inability to pay on their mortgages.
The Justice Department is now investigating the connection between Morgan Stanley and New Century.


At the height of the pre-crisis housing bubble, in 2006, New Century was the nation's second-largest subprime mortgage originator, and Morgan Stanley was regularly the biggest buyer of the company's subprime mortgages. New Century made the loans, which Morgan Stanley then bought and repackaged into mortgage-backed securities, which it in turn sold to investors. Morgan Stanley's position as one of New Century's biggest customers helped give the bank heavy influence into the lender's practices, the Times writes. (Now defunct, New Century filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2007.)


An internal Morgan Stanley report directly stated that the bank was "involved in almost every strategic decision that New Century makes in securitized products," the Times reports.


Among the filings was evidence of employees' knowledge of the poor quality of these mortgages. Due diligence executive Pamela Barrow joked in an email about "first payment defaulting straw buyin' house-swappin first time wanna be home buyers."

In addition, when lower-ranking due diligence employees tried to alert her to the bad mortgages Morgan Stanley was buying, Barrow shrugged them off.

"good find on the fraud :)," she wrote to one, adding that she would no longer be using his services.


This isn't just a big deal because it's another instance of a big bank being accused of wrongdoing in the run-up to the crisis. It's also a clear illustration of how Wall Street banks helped cause the crisis by encouraging subprime lenders to make risky loans.


in July, the SEC charged Morgan Stanley with misrepresenting the delinquency statuses of mortgage-backed securities to investors


Unique Sulawesi frog gives birth to tadpoles

Public Release: 31-Dec-2014
University of California - Berkeley

University of California, Berkeley, herpetologist Jim McGuire was slogging through the rain forests of Indonesia's Sulawesi Island one night this past summer when he grabbed what he thought was a male frog and found himself juggling not only a frog but also dozens of slippery, newborn tadpoles.

He had found what he was looking for: direct proof that the female of a new species of frog does what no other frog does. It gives birth to live tadpoles instead of laying eggs.

A member of the Asian group of fanged frogs, the new species was discovered a few decades ago by Indonesian researcher Djoko Iskandar, McGuire's colleague, and was thought to give direct birth to tadpoles, though the frog's mating and an actual birth had never been observed before.

"Almost all frogs in the world - more than 6,000 species - have external fertilization, where the male grips the female in amplexus and releases sperm as the eggs are released by the female," McGuire said. "But there are lots of weird modifications to this standard mode of mating. This new frog is one of only 10 or 12 species that has evolved internal fertilization, and of those, it is the only one that gives birth to tadpoles as opposed to froglets or laying fertilized eggs."

Frogs have evolved an amazing variety of reproductive methods, says McGuire, an associate professor of integrative biology and curator of herpetology at UC Berkeley's Museum of Vertebrate Zoology.

Most male frogs fertilize eggs after the female lays them. About a dozen species, including California's tailed frogs, have evolved ways to fertilize eggs inside the female's body. However, the mechanisms of internal fertilization are poorly understood in all but California's two species of tailed frogs, the latter of which have evolved a penis-like organ (the "tail") that facilitates sperm transfer. Whereas the tailed frogs deposit their fertilized eggs under rocks in streams, the other frogs previously known to have internal fertilization give birth to froglets - miniature replicas of the adults.


More than 1.5 million cancer deaths averted during 2 decades of dropping mortality

Public Release: 31-Dec-2014
American Cancer Society

Jan. 6, 2015-The American Cancer Society's annual cancer statistics report finds that a 22% drop in cancer mortality over two decades led to the avoidance of more than 1.5 million cancer deaths that would have occurred if peak rates had persisted. And while cancer death rates have declined in every state, the report finds substantial variation in the magnitude of these declines, generally with the states in the south showing the smallest decline and in the Northeast the largest decline.


Largely driven by rapid increases in lung cancer deaths among men as a consequence of the tobacco epidemic, the overall cancer death rate rose during most of the 20th century, peaking in 1991. The subsequent, steady decline in the cancer death rate is the result of fewer Americans smoking, as well as advances in cancer prevention, early detection, and treatment.


"The continuing drops we're seeing in cancer mortality are reason to celebrate, but not to stop," said John R. Seffrin, PhD, chief executive officer of the American Cancer Society. "Cancer was responsible for nearly one in four deaths in the United States in 2011, making it the second leading cause of death overall. It is already the leading cause of death among adults aged 40 to 79, and is expected to overtake heart disease as the leading cause of death among all Americans within the next several years.


Each year, Cancer Facts & Figures includes a Special Section that focuses on a specific, timely cancer topic. This year, the report highlights breast carcinoma in situ. An estimated 60,290 new cases of breast carcinoma in situ are expected to be diagnosed in 2015, accounting for about one in five breast tumors diagnosed in women. Although in situ breast cancer is a relatively common diagnosis, it is not as widely known or understood as invasive breast cancer.

The term "carcinoma in situ" describes abnormal cells that have not invaded nearby tissues, but that look very similar to cells of invasive carcinoma when viewed under a microscope. For many years, it was assumed that these cells were potentially able to become invasive, and that in the absence of treatment, they would eventually progress to cancer. More recent research indicates that the transition from normal tissue to carcinoma in situ to invasive carcinoma involves a series of molecular changes that are more complex and subtle than the older view based on microscopic appearances. Long-term follow-up studies of patients with carcinoma in situ also find that even without treatment, not all patients develop invasive cancer.

The vast majority (83%) of in situ breast cancers will be ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS). DCIS refers to abnormal cells lining the breast duct that appear similar to those of invasive breast cancers, but are still within the tissue layer of origin. It is most often detected by a mammogram. While DCIS cannot spread to other organs and cause serious illness or death, it has the potential if left untreated to evolve into invasive cancer and is considered a true cancer precursor. Studies of women with DCIS that was untreated because it was originally misclassified as benign found that 20 to 53% were eventually diagnosed with an invasive breast cancer.

Lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) refers to cells that look like cancer cells growing within the walls of the lobules of the milk-producing glands of the breast. LCIS is not generally thought to be a precursor of invasive cancer, but is considered a marker for increased risk of developing invasive breast cancer.

The authors say they hope that the information in the Special Section will help patients facing the disease, as well as friends, family, and others who can provide support and perspective for women who are newly diagnosed and those living after a diagnosis of DCIS or LCIS.

Reheating your pasta might make it significantly better for you

BEC CREW 17 OCT 2014

Most of us are aware that pasta isn’t the most slimming meal around, but it’s too delicious to avoid. It sounds like complete nonsense, but does simply letting your pasta cool down before reheating it make it less fattening? Michael Mosley from BBC News decided to investigate.

The reason pasta is so fattening is that it’s a form of carbohydrate, and when carbohydrates are digested in your stomach, they're broken down and absorbed as simple sugars. These sugars cause your blood glucose levels to sky-rocket, and this prompts an influx of insulin from the pancreas as the body tries to even everything out again.

If the insulin has done its job properly, the sudden rise in blood glucose will fall just as quickly, and once this happens, guess what? You’re hungry again. This is why nutritionists have been pushing wholemeal and multi-grain varieties of bread over white bread, because being very high in fibre, they promote a slower and more gradual release of glucose into our blood streams.

But is there a way to alter the pasta you’ve just cooked to make your body digest it more like fibre? Mosley looked into the results of an experiment that was carried out in a recent episode of the BBC 2 series, Trust Me, I'm a Doctor, and found that cooking pasta and then cooling it down changes its structure so it becomes a form of 'resistant starch’.

Unlike carbohydrates, resistant starch resists digestion by the enzymes in our stomachs - and the sudden highs and lows of blood glucose that result from it - and instead continues travelling to the large intestine, where it acts more like dietary fibre.

This means that if you cook some pasta and let it cool down, your body will digest it like it’s fibre instead of carbohydrates,


"Just as expected, eating cold pasta led to a smaller spike in blood glucose and insulin than eating freshly boiled pasta had. But then we found something that we really didn't expect - cooking, cooling and then reheating the pasta had an even more dramatic effect. Or, to be precise, an even smaller effect on blood glucose. In fact, it reduced the rise in blood glucose by 50 percent. This certainly suggests that reheating the pasta made it into an even more 'resistant starch'. It's an extraordinary result and one never measured before.”


In Face Of Historic Floods, Malaysians Set Out To Rescue Stranded Pets

by Emily Atkin Posted on December 29, 2014

There is at least some good news coming out of the unprecedented flooding in Malaysia and Thailand this week: for some stranded cats and dogs, help is on the way.

Volunteers at the S.I. Home Shelter in Shah Alam, Malaysia, are heading out into the flood-ravaged areas of Kemaman and Pekan to rescue dogs, cats, and other animals displaced by the floods, according to a report in The Star, a Malaysian news website. So far, the flooding has killed 24 people and forced the evacuation of 160,000 people. The Malaysian government is calling it the worst in 30 years.


pets and livestock have been called the “silent victims” of flooding, often forgotten in the chaos of evacuation and looked for later.


December is already the peak of rainy season in Thailand and Malaysia, thanks to the strengthening of the northeast monsoon. As Van Dam explains, every year strong high pressure develops over Eastern Europe and China, strengthening northeasterly winds from the South China Sea, which bring heavy rainfall over Malaysia and southern Thailand.

This year, however, was worse than normal. Meteorologist Jim Andrews said the areas have had “way more [rainfall] than they would normally,” noting that rain has been pouring over the area for the last two weeks.

Scientists say climate change, a phenomenon caused by greenhouse gas emissions, makes precipitation events more extreme and increases the likelihood that those events will occur in some areas of the world. That’s because when carbon dioxide is emitted from burning fossil fuels and destroying tropical forests, it traps heat in the atmosphere, raising the planet’s average temperature. A warmer atmosphere is able to hold more moisture, meaning more water vapor is available to fall as rain, snow, or hail when storms occur.

That finding has been confirmed by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Climatic Data Center, the National Climate Assessment, and multiple peer-reviewed scientific papers.

Seventeen U.S. Cities on Track for Hottest Year

By Brian Kahn
Dec. 30, 2014

The globe is on track for its warmest year on record. But global average temperature watchers won't be the only ones feting record heat when the clock strikes midnight on Wednesday. A number of U.S. urban areas will also join in the record-setting festivities while not a single major urban area will be raising a glass to record cold. In fact, it's been nearly 30 years since a major U.S. city had a record cold year.


The heat in the western U.S. come courtesy of a big ridge of high pressure that's been in parked in place for a chunk of the year, trapping warm weather. That pattern has turbocharged California's drought and some research has tied the development and longevity of that ridge to climate change.


Not a single urban area in the U.S. experienced record cold, despite the cold air outbreaks that froze much of the East for the first few months of the year. Some metro areas, such Kansas City, Mo., and Fayetville, Ark., are headed for a top 10 coldest year, but most major cities east of the Mississippi had just cool or near-average temperatures.


And when it comes to global record coldest year, you'd have to go back even further. Way further in fact. It's been over a century since the world's coldest year on record with 1909 setting the record and 1911 tying it.

Going back to 1880 — the year recordkeeping began — the global average temperature has risen by 1.5°F. In the U.S., temperatures have risen about 2°F since 1895 with a large portion of that rise coming since 1970. That rise in temperatures has also helped increase the number of daily record highs set compared to record lows. If greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated, the U.S. average temperature could climb up to another 10°F by the end of the 21st century.

2014 Officially the Warmest Year on Record

Dec. 30, 2014

With seven consecutive months of new high temperatures, NOAA says this year's record was fueled by the warming oceans.

Some Fisher chopped walnuts, pecans recalled over possible Salmonella

Dec. 31, 2014

An Illinois company is recalling some packages of Fisher brand nuts over possible Salmonella contamination.

The affected products are 8-oz. plastic bags of Fisher Chopped Walnuts and 8-oz. plastic bags of Fisher Pecan Cookie Pieces, which are finely chopped pecans.

They may have been sold online or at stores in 9 states: Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.

Salmonella bacteria can cause serious illness, especially in young children, the elderly, or people with compromised immune system. Symptoms include fever, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. In rare cases, it can be fatal.


Monday, December 29, 2014

Risks of e-cigarettes emerge

Vaping is better than smoking, but it's not benign
By Janet Raloff
December 16, 2014

Electronic cigarettes are marketed as a safer alternative to inhaling the combustion products of tobacco. And to some extent, that’s correct.

“There’s no question that a puff on an e-cigarette is less toxic than a puff on a regular cigarette,” says Stanton Glantz of the University of California, San Francisco.

But that’s an advantage only for people already addicted to nicotine, he warns. In fact, his research shows, manufacturers target their electronic cigarettes to nonsmokers too — including teens and tweens. Electronic devices dispense water vapor laced with flavors and often a hefty dose of nicotine. These vapors may be far from benign, studies in 2014 suggested.

Researchers in Italy reported that people exhale less nitric oxide, indicating lung inflammation, right after vaping (SN: 7/12/14, p. 20). RTI International in Research Triangle Park, N.C., reported that the median diameter of vaping particles runs between 200 and 300 nanometers, comparable in size to cigarette smoke particles. And particles that people inhale while vaping are likely to settle deep in the lung, RTI’s team concluded.

Inhaled e-cig vapors also make some germs hard to kill, researchers reported in May. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, grew faster in rodents exposed to e-cigarette vapors. In test tubes, MRSA bacteria exposed to vapors developed coatings that made them difficult to kill by one of the body’s natural antibiotics.

A solvent used in many flavored e-cig liquids can transform into a family of carcinogens that includes acetaldehyde and the suspected carcinogen formaldehyde, Maciej Goniewicz of the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, N.Y., and colleagues reported. So-called second-generation e-cigarettes that run hotter — to dispense more flavor and nicotine — pose the biggest risk, his team showed (SN: 6/28/14, p. 9). And e-cigarette vapors can contain nitrosamines, agents suspected of triggering lung cancer in smokers.

Nicotine is also not benign. It can change the brain’s structure as it develops into young adulthood, notes Glantz. That’s one reason why he is concerned by federal data reported in 2014 showing that from 2011 to 2013, the number of U.S. children in grades 6 through 12 who had tried vaping doubled — to 6.8 percent


Cities are brimming with wildlife worth studying

By Kate Baggaley
December 29, 2014

Stanley Gehrt took a late-night drive to the cemetery on Chicago’s South Side. Its gate was locked, so he jumped the fence. In the trap he had set earlier, Gehrt found a young male coyote. He drugged it and carried it away.


Since 2000, Gehrt has equipped more than 850 Chicago-based coyotes with ear tags or microchips for identification. He follows the movements of more than 400 of these coyotes using radio and GPS collars.

“When we started, we didn’t think there was going to be much of a study there,” he says. Coyotes usually need large, natural areas to survive, so he expected they would be scarce on the streets of the Windy City. “We were wrong.” He puts Chicago’s coyote population at about 2,000, although he suspects that there are probably many more.

Gehrt is not the first scientist to be surprised by how wildlife can flourish in urban habitats. Most people associate living things with pristine lands far from subways and parking lots, and consider urban territory to be a degraded, beat-up version of nature. But cities are fully functioning ecosystems, and humans are not their only citizens.


their research has revealed some unexpected creatures thriving on land that people consider their domain. A few even serve as model citizens, quietly contributing their cleaning services to the benefit of city dwellers.


He has found coyotes navigating abandoned railway lines, waiting for a stoplight to change and traffic to pause at congested intersections before crossing, and raising kits on top of a parking garage in the shadow of Soldier Field, home of the Chicago Bears. Leery of humans, city coyotes must wait until night falls to venture out to forage. During those limited dark hours, they patrol home ranges more than four times larger than they would need in the suburbs. Clogged with human settlements, city land offers fewer spots to find food.


Like coyotes, bats have managed to thrive in cities, at least in Central Texas. Han Li, an ecologist at Baylor University in Waco, is investigating how bats use the varied urban landscape across the city. He records the bats’ echolocation calls, films them, and occasionally catches them in skeins of fine mesh called mist nets. Within the one small metropolis of Waco, he has identified eight of the nine bat species that inhabit Central Texas.


When most New Yorkers sit on a bench to enjoy a steaming hot dog or a bag of chestnuts, they don’t think about what happens to the crumbs they inadvertently scatter on the ground. But ants and rodents devour much of the food dropped across the city; they may be earning their keep as a mini garbage service.


New York also has tenants that are even easier to miss than ants, but might offer a different type of utility. McGuire, of Barnard College, has found a surprisingly wide diversity of microscopic fungi and bacteria on New York City’s green roofs, where plants and soil insulate the buildings beneath them and absorb storm water before it becomes runoff.

Many of these microbes are beneficial to plants growing in stressful environments — such as the shallow, nutrient poor, sun-drenched soil on Manhattan rooftops. The beneficial fungi snuggle in and on plant roots, growing filaments that search the soil for nutrients the plants require. In turn, the plants provide their resident fungi with sugars from photosynthesis.

Some of the fungi that McGuire identified in the soil are also thought to protect plants from pathogens and drought. Other fungi she found, among them species of Penicillium and Aspergillus, have the capacity to degrade certain pollutants, such as the hydrocarbons in car and factory exhaust.


Year of birth significantly changes impact of obesity-associated gene variant

Anotehr possibility might be chemical exposures.

Public Release: 29-Dec-2014
Massachusetts General Hospital

Investigators working to unravel the impact of genetics versus environment on traits such as obesity may also need to consider a new factor: when individuals were born. In the current issue of PNAS Early Edition a multi-institutional research team reports finding that the impact of a variant in the FTO gene that previous research has linked to obesity risk largely depends on birth year, with no correlation between gene variant and obesity in study participants born in earlier years and a far stronger correlation than previously reported for those born in later years.


"We know that environment plays a huge role in the expression of genes, and the fact that our effect can be seen even among siblings born during different years implies that global environmental factors such as trends in food products and workplace activity, not just those found within families, may impact genetic traits," says Rosenquist, an instructor in Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. "Our results underscore the importance of interpreting any genetic studies with a grain of salt and leave open the possibility that new genetic risk factors may be seen in the future due to different genetically-driven responses to our ever-changing environment."


New research shows nearly half the children in Mexico impacted by lead poisoning

From: Blacksmith Institute for a Pure Earth
Published December 11, 2014 11:36 AM

December 11, 2014 – In November 2014, the journal Annals of Global Health published "Blood Lead Levels in Mexico and Pediatric Burden of Disease." The research concluded that although blood lead levels (BLL) have decreased significantly in Mexico over the past 35 years, they remain significantly elevated. In urban areas, the post-leaded gasoline average BLL is still more than 4.5 times higher than the level in the US (5.52 vs 1.2 ug/dL).

Researchers in the study estimate that this will result in 820,000 disability adjusted life years (DALYs) lost, with a lead-induced loss of as much as 5 IQ points on average in Mexican children aged 0 to 4 alone. And this is considering children in urban areas alone. In rural areas, where robust data was not available, the results are expected to be much worse.

This means that nearly half the population of Mexican children have a BLL that is above the threshold where intelligence and behavior is affected. To compare, only 2.5% of children in the United States hit this threshold.

The cause is traditional Mexican pottery. Leaded glaze is used extensively throughout Mexico. Acid from spicy food causes lead from the glaze to leach into the food, and then into the people eating the food. And it stays in the body, affecting neurological development and causing other problems.

“The literature on health effects from lead exposure is extensive and definitive,” says Dr. Jack Caravanos, Director of Research for Blacksmith Institute for a Pure Earth. Lead toxicity has been linked to cognitive impairment (including but not necessarily limited to lowered IQs), cardiovascular effects, low birth weight, added economic costs, overall diminished life expectancy, and possibly even increased rates of violent crime.


The economic impacts of IQ loss and disease are significant. In the US, research has found that by reducing BLL by just 1 ug/dl, the country has achieved savings of $17.2 billion annually. Similar cost-benefit calculations in Mexico City alone have shown a net loss of $1 billion per year.


Mexico has a regulatory framework that prohibits the use of lead glazes in pottery. However, these regulations have not been enforced and there appear to be no active plans within government agencies to deal with this issue.
[This will please libertarians.]


Fortunately, there is a solution. A lead-free glaze, recently developed, works with boron instead of lead. It looks and works almost identically to the traditional leaded glazes. It burns in traditional low temperature kilns and has a lower cost than the traditional lead glaze. Artisans who have converted to it have been uniformly impressed, and have no plans to revert to lead-based glaze. And yet the vast majority of producers still use the traditional lead glazes. Less than 100 potters have converted to date, out of an approximated 40,000 active kilns.


Blacksmith Institute for a Pure Earth is an international non-profit environmental and health organization dedicated to identifying and cleaning up the poorest communities throughout the world where high concentrations of toxins have devastating health effects. For more information, visit


Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Last Quiet Places: Silence and the Presence of Everything

Transcript for an On Being radio show. The following link contains a button to listen to the radio show.

May 10, 2012

Krista Tippett, host: Gordon Hempton says that silence is an endangered species. He's an acoustic ecologist — a collector of sound all over the world. He defines real quiet as presence — not an absence of sound, but an absence of noise. The Earth as Gordon Hempton knows it is a "solar-powered jukebox." Quiet is a "think tank of the soul." We take in the world through his ears.

Gordon Hempton: Not too long ago it was assumed that clean water's not important, that seeing the stars is not that important. But now it is. And now I think we're realizing quiet is important and we need silence. That silence is not a luxury, but it's essential.

Ms. Tippett: "The Last Quiet Places." I'm Krista Tippett. This is On Being — from APM, American Public Media. Gordon Hempton lives in Joyce, Washington, near Olympic National Park, a place he calls "the listener's Yosemite." He's recorded inside Sitka spruce logs in the Pacific Northwest, thunder in the Kalahari Desert, dawn breaking across six continents. His work appears in movies, soundtracks, videogames, and museums. And Gordon Hempton may have invented "silence activism" — the other animating passion of his life.


Mr. Hempton: In other words, I had been paying a lot of attention to people, but I really hadn't been paying a lot of attention to what is all around me. It was on that day that I really discovered what it means to be alive as another animal in a natural place. That changed my life. I had one question and that was how could I be 27 years old and have never truly listened before?


Mr. Hempton: Sound is incredibly important. I'm always floored when I hear over and over again from our modern culture how important vision is. OK, sound is kind of important, but, boy, vision is just …

Ms. Tippett: We're very picture-centered, aren't we?

Mr. Hempton: Well, of course, we're picture-centered because there's so much noise pollution in our modern world today that we become auditory. But I want to go back for a moment and let's just forget about the modern world and let's just look at evolution. Some animal species are actually blind. The ability to see is not essential for survival. There are blind animal species in the back of the caves, in the bottom of the oceans and stuff like this, but sound is so important that every higher vertebrate species has the ability to hear.




When you're in a quiet place, your listening horizon extends for miles in every direction. When you hear an elk call from miles away, it turns into a magic flute as the result of traveling through this place that has the same acoustics as a cathedral.


Ms. Tippett: You have said that silence, and you mean that silence you just described, is an endangered species. I mean, is it right?

Mr. Hempton: Oh, boy! Silence is so endangered, we even need another word for it. Silence is on the verge of extinction. Places in nature that never have any noise pollution are already gone. The modern measure of silence is the noise-free interval. Now we might think the noise-free interval should be measured in hours for places that are very distant on the planet and even some places here that are isolated such as Olympic National Park off the northwest corner of Washington State. But if a place can have a noise-free interval of only 15 minutes or longer during daylight hours, it's added to the list that I've collected for 30 years called, The List of the Last Great Quiet Places. At last count, here in the United States, there were only 12. None of them are protected.


Ms. Tippett: I remember having a conversation once with a rabbi who works with the spirituality of children. She was talking about really practical things parents can do to nurture their children's inner lives. One of them was, she said, just create silence.


Mr. Hempton: Well, children of all ages and adults too make their choices based on their experience to a much less degree than what they're told. That's why it's more important than ever that we do take those backpacking trips into wilderness areas, that we do allow them to get to that — through that first one or two days of sheer boredom and then they make that adjustment. They feel their body coming into tune, that ringing of the ears ceases to exist. They meet in unexpected wildlife just right there on their shoulder practically, right?

They notice things at night. They overcome how there are no streetlights and things really do get dark and spooky at night and how they wake up safely and that there is a grander experience in nature, but most of all, their thoughts will empty out too and they'll have that in their experience.


Mr. Hempton: Well, children of all ages and adults too make their choices based on their experience to a much less degree than what they're told. That's why it's more important than ever that we do take those backpacking trips into wilderness areas, that we do allow them to get to that — through that first one or two days of sheer boredom and then they make that adjustment. They feel their body coming into tune, that ringing of the ears ceases to exist. They meet in unexpected wildlife just right there on their shoulder practically, right?

They notice things at night. They overcome how there are no streetlights and things really do get dark and spooky at night and how they wake up safely and that there is a grander experience in nature, but most of all, their thoughts will empty out too and they'll have that in their experience. Mr. Hempton: Well, children of all ages and adults too make their choices based on their experience to a much less degree than what they're told. That's why it's more important than ever that we do take those backpacking trips into wilderness areas, that we do allow them to get to that — through that first one or two days of sheer boredom and then they make that adjustment. They feel their body coming into tune, that ringing of the ears ceases to exist. They meet in unexpected wildlife just right there on their shoulder practically, right?


Ms. Tippett: You make some pretty stunning statements in your writing, just to take this a little bit farther, that research shows that in noisy areas people are less likely to help each other.

Mr. Hempton: Yes.

Ms. Tippett: And how do you explain that?

Mr. Hempton: The explanation really goes all the way to silence. When we can speak in silence, you can hear not just my words, but you can hear my tone, what I mean even beyond the words. In fact, it's really not the words that are important. It's the tone. It's the overall message, the context. When we're in a noisy place in urban environments, we become isolated and we exhibit antisocial behavior because we are cut off from a level of intimacy with each other and we're less in touch. We're busy not listening to this, not seeing that, not doing that. We aren't opening up and being where we are.


Mr. Hempton: Well, when you really listen, when you really keep your mind open and listening to another person — and by the way, I highly recommend that if a person wants to increase their ability to understand another person that they start out listening to nature because you're totally uninvested in the outcome of nature. You can just take it all in, all the expressions. And isn't it wonderful that, when a bird sings, that we do hear it as music? The bird doesn't sing for our benefit. So there's a lot of joy in that listening, and when we become better listeners to nature, we also become better listeners to each other so that, when another person is speaking with you, you don't have to search for what you want them to say. You can, you know, dare to risk what they really are trying to say and, you know, ask them too: Is this really what you're saying? And feel your own emotional response as they talk about risky subjects like how it is being a parent in the world that it is today.


Mr. Hempton: But you have brought up something really important to me and that is about our ancient past. When I go to a quiet place, I get to challenge assumptions. And one of the major assumptions is that the human ear is tuned to hear the human voice. If that were true, that's an assumption that audiologists, scientists who study human hearing, have believed for a long time, that our ears evolved to hear the human voice.

Ms. Tippett: Right.

Mr. Hempton: But if, if — yeah, I know. But if that were true, we'd be the first species on planet Earth, OK, to have evolved so separate and protected from the rest of nature.

So my natural curiosity was to look at the range of human hearing and these equal-loudness contours. And we have a very discreet bandwidth of supersensitive hearing and that's between 2.5 and 5 kilohertz in the resident frequencies of the auditory canal. Is there something in our ancestors' environment that matches our peak hearing human sensitivity? Because most of what I'm saying right now, except for the "s" sounds and the high-pitched sounds, falls well below that range. And, indeed, there's a perfect match: birdsong. Birdsong [laugh].

Ms. Tippett: Mm-hmm.

Mr. Hempton: Why would it have any benefit to our ancestors to be able to hear faint birdsong? Why would our ears possibly have evolved so that we could walk in the direction of faint birdsong? Birdsong is the primary indicator of habitats prosperous to humans.


Ms. Tippett: Gordon Hempton is founder and vice president of The One Square Inch of Silence Foundation, based in Joyce, Washington. His books include, together with John Grossman, One Square Inch of Silence: One Man's Quest to Preserve Quiet. He's also produced more than 60 albums of natural soundscapes. And he has dug into his personal archives and compiled a collection of sound for us: Hawaiian beach caves, wild elk, grass wind.


Early caregiving experiences have long-term effects on social relationships, achievement

Date: December 18, 2014
Source: Society for Research in Child Development

A new study has found that sensitive caregiving in the first three years of life predicts an individual's social competence and academic achievement, not only during childhood and adolescence, but into adulthood. The study used information from 243 individuals who were born into poverty, came from a range of racial/ethnic backgrounds, and had been followed from birth to age 32.


Sensitive caregiving is defined as the extent to which a parent responds to a child's signals appropriately and promptly, is positively involved during interactions with the child, and provides a secure base for the child's exploration of the environment.


Scientific report shows police body-cameras can prevent unacceptable use-of-force

In both police and civilians.

Date: December 24, 2014
Source: University of Cambridge

As Obama pledges investment in body-worn-camera technology for police officers, researchers say cameras induce 'self-awareness' that can prevent unacceptable uses-of-force seen to have tragic consequences in the US over the past year -- from New York to Ferguson -- but warn that cameras have implications for prosecution and data storage.

Hunter-gatherer past shows our fragile bones result from inactivity since invention of farming

Date: December 22, 2014
Source: University of Cambridge

Latest analysis of prehistoric bones show there is no anatomical reason why a person born today could not develop the skeletal strength of a prehistoric forager or a modern orangutan. Findings support the idea that activity throughout life is the key to building bone strength and preventing osteoporosis risk in later years, say researchers.

Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) uses copyright law as censorship canard again

It's easy to predict that we will see musicians and writers who want their copyrighted work protected being snookered into posting petitions on Facebook that actually attack their own rights.

Dec 4, 2014 by Ellen Seidler

Censorship is a dirty word, laden with negative connotations and so it’s not surprising to see the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) dust if off (again) for use in its ongoing PR efforts to undermine rights of creators who use legal means to protect their works from online theft. The “censoring speech online” hyperbole was an effective battle cry during the SOPA debate, so why not use the same rhetoric to gin up opposition to artists’ rights and copyright law?

This time EFF’s sites are set on the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the law (passed in 1998) that set up a system whereby copyright holders could facilitate the removal of their pirated content from websites that publish it without authorization.


Per usual, her post is written as though online piracy is a benign, practically non-existent problem. In fact, not once does she address the ways in which copyright infringement damages filmmakers, authors, musicians, photographers and other creators. Don’t people working in these fields deserve protection too? Apparently not, at least as far as the EFF is concerned.

In EFF’s world, copyright itself is a a form of censorship


From a creator’s perspective the DMCA is clumsy and ultimately weighted against rights holders. Go ahead and upload a movie to YouTube. Yeah, there’s fine print under “suggestions” that politely asks, “Please be sure not to violate others’ copyright or privacy rights,” but users don’t actually have to submit any proof of ownership. It’s the job of rights holders to search for, and submit a DMCA notice to request the removal of their content day after day after day.

If an uploader responds with a counter-notice, it’s the rights holder who has to go to court to enforce a takedown. Most indie creators don’t have the money to initiate a lawsuit so in many cases it’s the uploader that–in this game–gets the last word as the content ends up back online. The default mode for YouTube and the rest of the web is “go for it.” In the end, the DMCA is all we have to fight back.


Speaking of “transparency,” it’s worth pointing out that Ms. Sutton also conveniently fails to acknowledge her organization’s own ties to the tech industry, entities that would have a vested interest in seeing the DMCA gutted. Her omission undermines any credibility she may have in terms of her overall arguments. Until she, and those she represents are willing to be transparent about their funding sources, and how this money influences their mission, how can we take her complaints seriously?


Royal Society Special Issue on Global Warming Details ‘Hellish Vision’ of 7°F (4°C) World — Which We May Face in the 2060s!

by Joe Romm Posted on June 2, 2011

One of the greatest failings of the climate science community (and the media) is not spelling out as clearly as possible the risks we face on our current emissions path, as well as the plausible worst-case scenario, which includes massive ecosystem collapse. So much of what the public and policymakers think is coming is a combination of

The low end of the expected range of warming and impacts based on aggressive policies to reduce emissions (and no serious carbon-cycle feedbacks)
Analyses of a few selected impacts, but not an integrated examination of multiple impacts
Disinformation pushed by the anti-science, pro-pollution crowd

In fairness, a key reason the scientific community hasn’t studied the high emissions scenarios much until recently because they never thought humanity would be so self-destructive as to ignore their warnings for so long, which has put us on the highest emissions path


Warming of 7F is certainly not the worst-case in the scientific literature (see M.I.T. doubles its 2095 warming projection to 10°F “” with 866 ppm and Arctic warming of 20°F and “Our hellish future: Definitive NOAA-led report on U.S. climate impacts warns of scorching 9 to 11°F warming over most of inland U.S. by 2090 with Kansas above 90°F some 120 days a year “” and that isn’t the worst case, it’s business as usual!“).


But for the first time, “A hellish vision of a world warmed by 4C within a lifetime has been set out by an international team of scientists,” as the UK’s Guardian describes it:

A 4C rise in the planet’s temperature would see severe droughts across the world and millions of migrants seeking refuge as their food supplies collapse.


What is “worst-case” is that if we stay on the high emissions pathway and the carbon cycle feedbacks turn out to be strong (as observations and paleoclimate data suggest they will be) then it could happen by the 2060s. It could look something like this [temperature in degrees Celsius, multiple by 1.8 for Fahrenheit]:


Also, while Betts et al. does a better job of incorporating carbon-cycle feedbacks into their modeling than virtually anyone else, I do not believe that they incorporate any feedback of methane emissions from the tundra or methane hydrates — and that is certainly the most worrisome of all of the carbon-cycle feedbacks


… a 4°C world would be facing enormous adaptation challenges in the agricultural sector, with large areas of cropland becoming unsuitable for cultivation, and declining agricultural yields. This world would also rapidly be losing its ecosystem services, owing to large losses in biodiversity, forests, coastal wetlands, mangroves and saltmarshes, and terrestrial carbon stores, supported by an acidified and potentially dysfunctional marine ecosystem. Drought and desertification would be widespread, with large numbers of people experiencing increased water stress, and others experiencing changes in seasonality of water supply. There would be a need to shift agricultural cropping to new areas, impinging on unmanaged ecosystems and decreasing their resilience; and large-scale adaptation to sea-level rise would be necessary. Human and natural systems would be subject to increasing levels of agricultural pests and diseases, and increases in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events.

In such a 4°C world, the limits for human adaptation are likely to be exceeded in many parts of the world, while the limits for adaptation for natural systems would largely be exceeded throughout the world. Hence, the ecosystem services upon which human livelihoods depend would not be preserved. Even though some studies have suggested that adaptation in some areas might still be feasible for human systems, such assessments have generally not taken into account lost ecosystem services.


In the coming decades, one of the most serious impacts of climate change is projected to be the consequences of the projected increases in extreme weather events. For example, climate change-induced changes in precipitation patterns and changes in climate variability would increase the area of the globe experiencing drought at any one time from today’s 1 per cent to a future 30 per cent by the end of the twenty-first century


Only a few days of high temperatures near flowering in wheat, groundnut and soybean can drastically reduce yield, while maize losses could potentially double owing to floods in the USA; and the AVOID study estimated that, in a 4°C (7.2°F) world, 50 per cent of fluvial flood-prone people would be exposed to increased flood risk compared with approximately 25 per cent in a 2°C (3.6°F) world.


However, this paper is not intended as a message of futility, but rather a bare and perhaps brutal assessment of where our ‘rose-tinted’ and well intentioned (though ultimately ineffective) approach to climate change has brought us. Real hope and opportunity, if it is to arise at all, will do so from a raw and dispassionate assessment of the scale of the challenge faced by the global community. This paper is intended as a small contribution to such a vision and future of hope.


responses that might be most appropriate for a 2°C world may be maladaptive in a +4°C world; this is, particularly, an issue for decisions with a long lifetime, which have to be made before there is greater clarity on the amount of climate change that will be experienced. For example, a reservoir built to help communities adapt to moderate temperature increases may become dry if they continue to increase, or coastal protection designed for 2°C may be overcome at 4°C. This will require systems that are flexible and robust to a range of possible futures. Third, for some of the more vulnerable regions, a +4°C world may require a complete transformation in many aspects of society, rather than adaptation of existing activities, for example, high crop failure frequency in southern Africa may require shifts to entirely new crops and farming methods, or SLR (sea level rise) may require the relocation of cities.


it must always be repeated that for far, far less than the cost of so-called adaptation, we could dramatically reduce the likelihood of the worst of these impacts with technologies are available today or in the process of being commercialized.


Indeed, while one paper cited above asserts, “There is now little to no chance of maintaining the rise in global mean surface temperature at below 2°C,” that is only true in the political sense that the human race is choosing not to act, choosing not to stay below 2°C. We almost certainly have it within our scientific and technological power to do so, though it would take a WWII-scale effort globally
[In other words, we are too stupid.]



Saturday, December 27, 2014

Irreversible But Not Unstoppable: The Ghost Of Climate Change Yet To Come

If your car is headed for a collision, and you don't have time to stop, you don't give up and leave your foot on the accelerator. You take your foot off the accelerator & brake as hard as possible, to minimize the damage. It might mean the difference between breaking your neck and getting a bad whiplash injury.

by Joe Romm Posted on December 24, 2014

Unlike Scrooge, we don’t get a spirit to show us what the future holds if we don’t change our ways.

That’s what we have science for. In recent years, observations have confirmed the key projections climate scientists have been making for decades. But some of the most important impacts have been occurring much faster than scientists expected, including sea level rise. As recently as a decade ago, scientists did not expect that the great ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica would melt enough this century to contribute much to total sea level rise. Now, observations suggest they will be a primary if not the primary driver of sea level rise.


Yes, it seems unlikely that we will adopt the aggressive but near-zero-net-cost policies needed to stabilize at 450 ppm atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, and then quickly come back to 350 ppm, thanks in large part to the deniers, along with their political pals and media enablers. But the two biggest carbon polluters (China and U.S.) have struck a game-changing deal that could ultimately avoid some of the worst impacts — if other key countries join in and, then all countries pursue even stronger emissions cuts in the coming decades.


The question of whether it’s “too late,” doesn’t have one purely scientific answer. It does seem clear that the most dangerous carbon-cycle feedback — the defrosting permafrost — hasn’t kicked in yet but likely will within two decades, adding 0.4°F – 1.5°F to total global warming by 2100. On the other hand, part of the West Antarctic ice sheet now does appear close to if not past the point of irreversible collapse. That said, the worst case of sea level rise can still be avoided, as can many other of the most serious impacts.


Delay is very risky and very, very expensive. As the International Energy Agency has explained, “on planned policies, rising fossil energy use will lead to irreversible and potentially catastrophic climate change.”

“Delaying action is a false economy: for every $1 of investment in cleaner technology that is avoided in the power sector before 2020, an additional $4.30 would need to be spent after 2020 to compensate for the increased emissions.”

Action now will save trillions and trillions of dollars.

Five years ago a NOAA-led paper laid out some alarming predictions for our climate-changed future.

…the climate change that is taking place because of increases in carbon dioxide concentration is largely irreversible for 1,000 years after emissions stop … Among illustrative irreversible impacts that should be expected if atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations increase from current levels near 385 parts per million by volume (ppmv) to a peak of 450-600 ppmv over the coming century are irreversible dry-season rainfall reductions in several regions comparable to those of the “dust bowl” era and inexorable sea level rise.

And we know that large parts of the currently habited and arable land are at risk of turning into Dust Bowls, gravely threatening global food security.


the climate changes so far, both observed and committed to, are minor compared with the business-as-usual forecast for the end of the century. It’s further emissions we need to worry about. Climate change is like a ratchet, which we wind up by releasing CO2. Once we turn the crank, there’s no easy turning back to the natural climate. But we can still decide to stop turning the crank, and the sooner the better.


On our current emissions path, CO2 levels in 2100 will hit levels last seen when the Earth was 29°F (16°C) hotter.





California Is About To Make Egg Production More Humane, By Giving Hens 70 Percent More Space

by Ari Phillips Posted on December 27, 2014

Starting next year, 15 million egg-laying hens in California and millions more providing out-of-state eggs to Californians will be required to have 70 percent more space — going from a minimum of 67 square inches each (a little more than the space in an space 8 inches on each side) to nearly 116 square inches, about a 10.7-inch square of space per bird. California is the biggest consumer of eggs in the country, and this new regulations is part of a broader national effort to shift industry focus away from production efficiency to include animal and environmental welfare.

Chad Gregory, CEO of the United Egg Producers, told Bloomberg that the industry “can and will adapt” and that the push for bigger cages is part of a “larger consumer trend toward food that’s perceived as more humane and sustainable.”


Since the passing of the law, egg producers have sued a number of times, with all suits to date being dismissed. Two are currently under appeal, including one brought by a group of state attorneys general.


Some 95 percent of U.S. eggs are held in some kind of cage. But even making the cages bigger is viewed as a moderate step, As Humane Society’s Paul Shapiro told NPR this week, “The birds never go outside, are unable to spread their wings, and are essentially immobilized for their entire lives.”

That’s why some egg producers are going above and beyond the requirements by setting up completely cage-free barns with varying perches. As the LA Times editorial board notes, major food companies are following suit. For instance, Aramark, a food services company, has said that the 30 million eggs it buys ever year in the U.S. will come from cage-free hens by the end of the year. Burger King is committed to getting all of its eggs from cage-free hens by 2017.

This week, Starbucks announced plans to stop selling eggs from caged hens. The Seattle-based company also wants its suppliers to abandon other inhumane techniques such as fast-growth practices for poultry and dehorning and castration for other animals. Starbucks has more than 12,000 retail outlets across the country.


Faced With Melting Ice, The NHL Is Going Carbon Neutral

by Emily Atkin Posted on December 22, 2014

The National Hockey League is going carbon neutral.

On Thursday, the professional ice hockey league said it would buy enough renewable energy credits to completely offset its carbon footprint during the 2014-2015 season — an estimated total of 550,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide, or the emissions equivalent of 115,000 cars. The move is meant to raise awareness about the impacts of climate change, not only on the environment, but on the future of ice hockey itself.

“Our sport was born on frozen ponds and relies on winter weather,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. “Everyone who loves our game will benefit by taking an active role in preserving the environment and the roots of the game.”

The NHL’s announcement came the same day as a new study was published in the journal Nature Climate Change, documenting a steady decline in the length and availability of the outdoor ice skating season in Ottawa, Canada.


the NHL depends on cold weather and clean water more than any other league — not because its arenas and outdoor events are ice-based but also because many youth hockey players learn to play the game on frozen outdoor ponds. Those youth players are essential for making sure the league has future talent.


Hockey fans will likely rejoice at the latest news. According to the NHL, they are 11 times more likely to recycle than the average American adult, 19 times more likely to donate to environmentally-friendly causes, and 20 times more likely to pay for environmentally-friendly products and services.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Mauritania condemns man to death for 'insulting the prophet'

We have diplomatic relations with Mauritania.

By Kissima Diagana
Dec. 25, 2014
(Writing by Emma Farge; editing by Andrew Roche)

(Reuters) - Mauritania on Thursday condemned a man to death for "insulting the prophet", a human rights group said, a day after the country opened the trial of an anti-slavery activist.

Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mkhaitir, 28, was arrested a year ago for writing an article about the Prophet Mohammad and the caste system, an extremely sensitive subject in a West African country with deep social and racial divisions.


Separately, a court in the southern town of Rosso began proceedings on Wednesday against anti-slavery campaigner Biram Ould Dah Ould Abeiday and six members of his organization for "inciting violence, disrupting public order, contempt for authorities and membership of a non-recognized organization".

Biram Ould Abeid, a former presidential candidate, was arrested last month during a peaceful march. He could face a prison sentence of up to five years.


Saudi women drivers referred to terrorism court

We have diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia.

Dec 25, 12:19 PM (ET)

Two Saudi women detained for nearly a month in defiance of a ban on females driving were referred on Thursday to a court established to try terrorism cases, several people close to the defendants said.

The cases of the two, Loujain al-Hathloul and Maysa al-Amoudi, were sent to the anti-terrorism court in connection to opinions they expressed in tweets and in social media, four people close to the two women told The Associated Press.

They did not elaborate on the specific charges or what the opinions were. Both women have spoken out online against the female driving ban. Activists say they fear the case is intended to send a warning to others pushing for greater rights. The four people spoke on condition of anonymity because of fear of government reprisals.

The Specialized Criminal Court, to which their cases were referred, was established in the capital Riyadh to try terrorism cases but has also tried and handed long prison sentences to a number of human rights workers, peaceful dissidents, activists and critics of the government. For example, this year it sentenced a revered Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a vocal critic of the government, to death for sedition and sentenced a prominent human rights lawyer, Waleed Abul-Khair, to 15 years in prison on charges of inciting public opinion.


Thursday, December 25, 2014

Music As Torture

I would say that loud sound in general can be torture. I suspect the reason music is used is that they already have recordings of music.

November 30 2006
David Peisner


What these new "torture memos" do make clear, though, is that Greg Hartley, the former SERE instructor and interrogation trainer whom I spoke to for the story, was exactly right when he surmised that the way all these new "enhanced interrogation" techniques ended up in the arsenals of American interrogators was through SERE, the Special Forces school that trains American military personal to resist interrogation by foreign governments. As he said back then, "a lot of what's happening, a lot of the stuff you see that has gone wrong" -- everything from loud music to stress positions to waterboarding -- "I think is someone trying to overlay SERE techniques to interrogation." This, as it turns out, is exactly what happened. (It's worth pointing out that with regards to the most controversial interrogation technique authorized in these memos -- waterboarding -- Hartley, who had both been on giving and receiving end of this tactic at SERE said, "That's a horrible thing -- I can't imagine they ever approved that.") He also said that SERE was never intended to be interrogation training. It was meant to mimic the brutal tactics of our enemies, which were known to produce false confessions.


In May 2003, Shafiq Rasul was led from his cell at the Camp Delta detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to a small, drab interrogation booth. He sat down and a military police officer chained his leg irons to a metal ring in the center of the linoleum floor. Rasul had grown accustomed to this procedure since his arrival in Cuba nearly 18 months earlier. Every few weeks he'd be brought into the booth and questioned about people he knew, places he'd been, and what he and two friends, Ruhal Ahmed and Asif Iqbal -- all English citizens in their 20s -- were doing in Afghanistan in late 2001. This time was different. An interrogator walked into the booth, pressed play on a nearby stereo, and walked out. Rasul immediately recognized the sound coming from the speakers: It was Eminem's "Kim."


It wasn't long before he was back in the booth. This time, the room was pitch black except for the irregular flashes of a strobe light. Eminem had been replaced by loud, menacing heavy metal. The air-conditioning had been cranked way up, and Rasul was short-shackled -- his wrists fastened to his ankles, then shackled to the ring in the floor in what is known as a "stress position." He was left there for hours. "Being in that position is really stressful on your back," he says. "If you try to move, the chains start digging into your feet and wrists."

Rasul endured such "interrogation sessions" every day, sometimes twice a day, for nearly three weeks. Often, there was little or no interrogation taking place. After up to 12 hours in the booth with raging metal as his only companion, he'd just be marched back to his cell-now on the prison's isolation block.

Rasul, Ahmed, and Iqbal had been captured in Afghanistan in November 2001 by a Northern Alliance militia, and then transferred to U.S. custody. U.S. intelligence seemed to lose interest in Rasul after his first few months in Guantanamo.


But in 2003, U.S. agents found what they believed was a smoking gun: a videotape apparently showing the three men sitting in on an August 2000 meeting with Osama bin Laden and lead 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta. The increasing harshness of Rasul's treatment directly corresponded to this discovery and soon began having its desired effect. "It just starts playing with you," he says. "Even if you were shouting, the music was too loud -- nobody would be able to hear you. You're there for hours and hours, and they're constantly playing the same music. All that builds up. You start hallucinating."

Rasul's interrogators showed him the video and pressed him to admit he was at the meeting. After he initially denied the charge, the weeks-long barrage of metal, extreme cold, and strobe lights did its job and Rasul confessed.

There was only one problem: In August 2000, Shafiq Rasul couldn't have been breaking bread with bin Laden because, as investigators would soon confirm, he was attending university and working at the electronics store Curry's back in England. In early 2004, Rasul, Ahmed, and Iqbal were released without charges.

Rasul's ordeal may seem bizarre and disturbing, but it's hardly unique. Over the last five years, loud music has quietly become a valued tool in the Bush administration's war on terror.


The British blared white noise at Irish Republican Army suspects in the '70s but swore off the practice after the European Court of Human Rights ruled in 1977 that it was "degrading and inhuman." Israel's military employed loud music until 1999, when an Israeli Supreme Court judged that this exposure "causes the suspect suffering. It does not fall within the scope of...a fair and effective interrogation."


Dr. Stephen Xenakis, a psychiatrist, retired brigadier general, and former commander of the Southeast Regional Army Medical Command, says this sort of musical bombardment can indeed cause permanent damage. "It's really traumatizing to the brain," he says. "It will lead to anxiety and the kind of symptoms you get with post-traumatic stress disorder."


Tom makes an ethical distinction between blasting music for the purposes of interrogation and using it to disorient a recent capture. "If [the detainee] is accustomed to his surroundings and you force him to listen to Limp Bizkit, that's clearly an interrogation tactic," he says. "That would only be used in very rare situations, to annoy someone to the point where their only way out is you. To me, the only purpose of that is to drive somebody nuts, and that constitutes torture.


"Do I think it's inhuman? If it's too loud, absolutely it's inhuman. It's physical torture.


tags: noise pollution

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Muslim-Americans condemn terrorism

December 11, 2014
By Alan Howard

Recently, the Islamic Speakers Bureau of Atlanta, along with more than 30 mosques and Muslim organizations, put out a press release condemning the violence, terror and other criminal acts of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria as well as Boko Haram. This press release ( represents how Muslim-Americans feel about these actions.

As a person who regularly participates in interfaith panels around metro Atlanta and gives talks about Islam and Muslims to churches, synagogues, civic organizations and other groups, I find that one of the most regularly asked questions is, “Where is the Muslim condemnation of this violence?”

I would like to address this head-on. The fact is, every major American Muslim organization has condemned acts of violence against our fellow Americans since 9/11 to the Boston Marathon bombing and up to the press release mentioned above.

Muslim-Americans and Muslim-American organizations have condemned terrorism and violent acts by Muslims and non-Muslims for years, but this fact is not given the press the violent acts themselves garner.

An organization giving an unequivocal condemnation of a terrorist act is not as interesting as speculating about what group was involved in the action, or whether the perpetrator was acting alone or not. Thus, the wider Muslim community’s condemnations are lost in the background noise and are not given full weight. This leads to your average American asking, “Where are the Muslims condemning these violent acts?” The acts are being condemned, but the wider media landscape is not listening or giving Muslims a podium to speak from.

There is another issue I want to bring out into the open — a tendency in the media and American society to believe that if a conversation is not happening in the U.S., it does not exist. What do I mean by this? All around the world in predominantly Muslim countries, scholars and governments are working to counter the radicalization of individuals, and to educate their youth on the dangers of joining organizations that promote violence. But because these initiatives and conversations are happening elsewhere, the Western world is not paying attention to them.


Instead Of Throwing Out Old CDs, You Can Turn Them Into Beautiful Crafts

The following link for beautiful things to make from old CDs.
Eg., cut pieces out of the CD, glue to a plastic ornament to make ornaments that look like little disco balls.

Fresh and healthy on food banks’ wish lists

Adrian Rogers
Dec. 9, 2014


“Food insecurity” is linked to high rates of preventable diseases – obesity, hypertension, type 2 diabetes – and the organization is among hunger-relief groups working to offer nutritious options that can help stave them off.

It’s food-drive season, when seasonal demand ramps up at pantries and hunger-relief organizations put out a call to drum up donations. Specifically, they’re asking for “the most nutritious nonperishable food items possible,” said Melissa Cloninger, director of donor relations at Second Harvest, which provides food to 250 neighborhood food banks and meal centers in Eastern Washington and North Idaho.

In other words, not ramen noodles.

Instead, Cloninger said, the hunger-relief network encourages food-drive organizers to solicit whole-grain cereal that’s high in protein, canned meat and fish, peanut butter, hearty canned soups and stews, and beans.

One hunger-relief organization calls them “superfoods” – inexpensive, simple and nutrient-dense foods that can ward off chronic diseases linked to poor nutrition.


Homeless clients need food with pop-top lids.


Performance-based pay is a myth, study argues

Performance-based pay is a myth, study argues

November 30, 2014 12:30 pm • By David Nicklaus

Most companies will tell you they pay executives for performance, but a new study argues otherwise.

Boards usually don’t measure performance properly, and they do a poor job of matching it up with executives’ pay, the report’s authors say.

After studying 1,200 U.S. companies, they found that economic performance could explain only 12 percent of the variation in chief executives’ pay. Forty-four percent was explained by a firm’s size and the industry it was in.


what doesn’t get rewarded may not get done. The study suggests that pay incentives may make executives less willing to invest in the future: As a percentage of revenue, companies’ spending on research and capital projects has fallen 41 percent since 1998.


In fact, the authors classified one-fifth of companies as “value destroyers”: They earned less than their cost of capital. But if that measure doesn’t affect the pay plan, why should the CEO care?


People held in error were tortured

Torture is immoral. But it is even worse when done against the innocent.



For eight years since Mr. Bashmilah, 46, was released from C.I.A. custody, Ms. Satterthwaite and other advocates had been trying without success to get the United States government to acknowledge that it had held him in secret prisons for 19 months and to explain why. In the phone call on Wednesday, she told him that the Senate report listed him as one of 26 prisoners who, based on C.I.A. documents, had been “wrongfully detained.”


Mr. Bashmilah has told them of being tortured in Jordan before he was handed over to the C.I.A., which at times kept him shackled alone in freezing-cold cells in Afghanistan, subjected to loud music 24 hours a day. He attempted suicide at least three times, once by saving pills and swallowing them all at once; once by slashing his wrists; and once by trying to hang himself. Another time he cut himself and used his own blood to write “this is unjust” on the wall.


Among those that the report found to have been wrongfully imprisoned were some whose cases had already drawn public attention. Khaled el-Masri, a German citizen, was mistaken for someone with the same name, grabbed in Macedonia and flown to Afghanistan, where he spent four months in the C.I.A. jail known as the Salt Pit.


Among the others mistakenly held for periods of months or years, according to the report, were an “intellectually challenged” man held by the C.I.A. solely to pressure a family member to provide information; two people who were former C.I.A. informants; and two brothers who were falsely linked to Al Qaeda by Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the 9/11 planner, who “fabricated” the information after being waterboarded 183 times.


How Congress Snuck Changes to U.S. Environmental Policy into the New Budget Bill

The $1-trillion bill keeps agencies from acting on clean air and water and energy
December 17, 2014 |By Joshua A. Krisch and Josh Fischman

It took 1,603 pages of legalese to keep the U.S. government running for another year. That is the length of the 2015 Fiscal Year Omnibus Appropriations Bill,


It is not all about dollars. Congress also loaded the bill with special instructions, called policy riders, which dictate how government funds must be spent. Because the bill was rushed through just before the government ran out of money, and Congressional leaders did not want another government shutdown if the bill did not pass, lawmakers seized the opportunity to tack on controversial riders that might otherwise have been debated.

A lot of those 11th-hour mandates will affect science and environmental policy. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, for example, got $8.1 billion. That’s $60 million less than last year and the agency now has to operate at its smallest budget since 1989. But even that money comes with conditions. Although agriculture is a major source of atmospheric methane, Congress forbade the EPA from using its funds to require farmers to report greenhouse gas emissions from “manure management systems.” And the agency is no longer permitted to regulate farm ponds and irrigation ditches under the Clean Water Act.

Here are a few of the key riders and their effects in different areas:


The Export–Import Bank, the U.S.’s official export credit agency, must loan funds to companies to build coal-fired power plants overseas, reversing a previous ban.

The Department of Energy cannot develop and enforce new standards for more energy-efficient lightbulbs.


Funding for defense research went up, with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency receiving a 3.4 percent increase, plus additional funds for fighting Ebola. And space science clearly won the day, with NASA receiving $500 million more than it initially requested.


Raw Milk Sicknesses Rise

December 16, 2014 |By Dina Fine Maron

Got bacteria? That’s the question du jour for people on both sides of the debate about raw milk. That’s milk which has not undergone pasteurization, the century-old process of using heat to kill potentially harmful bacteria.

Thirty states allow consumers to buy raw milk. Proponents of raw milk contend that it provides health benefits and tastes better. Opponents note that more people are getting sick from bacteria in the raw milk. And the CDC recommends avoiding it. A new study finds that between 2010 and 2012, 5 percent of all U.S. food-borne outbreaks with a known source were tied to raw milk. An outbreak is defined as two or more cases of similar illness resulting from ingestion of the same food. The research is in the CDC journal Emerging Infectious Diseases. [Elisabeth A. Mungai, Casey Barton Behravesh and L. Hannah Gould, Increased Outbreaks Associated with Nonpasteurized Milk, United States, 2007–2012]


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

U.S. approaching ‘tipping points’ for sea level rise-related flooding earlier than expected

Dec. 18, 2014
American Geophysical Union

By 2050, a majority of U.S. coastal areas are likely to be threatened by 30 or more days of flooding each year due to dramatically accelerating impacts from sea level rise, according to a study published today in Earth’s Future, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.


The new study, presented at a press conference today at the AGU Fall Meeting in San Francisco, used data from NOAA tide gauges to show the annual rate of daily nuisance floods has drastically increased, even accelerating in recent years. This type of flooding is now five to 10 times more likely today than 50 years ago.

“Coastal communities are beginning to experience sunny-day nuisance or urban flooding, much more so than in decades past,” said William Sweet, oceanographer at NOAA’s Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services (CO-OPS) in Silver Spring, Maryland, and lead author on the study. “This is sea level rise. Unfortunately, once impacts are noticed, they will become commonplace rather quickly. We find that in 30-40 years even modest projections of global sea level rise – 1.5 feet by 2100 – will increase instances of daily high tide flooding to a point requiring an active, and potentially costly, response and by the end of this century, our projections show that there will be near-daily nuisance flooding in most of the locations that we reviewed.”


Smoking erases Y chromosomes

By Gunjan Sinha
4 December 2014

If cancer, heart disease, and emphysema weren’t bad enough, male smokers may have another thing to worry about: losing their Y chromosomes. Researchers have found that smokers are up to four times more likely to have blood cells with no Y chromosome than nonsmokers. That’s worrisome, they say, because a recent study found an association between Y chromosome loss and a shorter life span, as well as a higher risk of multiple cancers.


The only factors that correlated with high Y chromosome loss were age and smoking, the team reports online today in Science, with smokers 2.4 to 4.3 times more likely to be missing Y chromosomes in their blood cells than nonsmokers.

“It’s a fascinating observation,” says Charles Swanton, head of translational cancer therapeutics at the London Research Institute. The findings, he says, may explain why men have a slightly increased risk of death from the majority of cancers that, unlike breast or prostate cancer, are not specific to either sex. But the number of cells with abnormal chromosomes increases with age anyway, he notes, so the loss of Y may not be directly contributing to cancer. “It would be important to know the mechanism.”


Meanwhile, there is some reassuring news for smokers, Forsberg says. Y chromosome damage caused by smoking appears to be reversible and dose-dependent. Previous smokers were no more likely to have Y chromosome loss than those who have never smoked, he notes, so it’s never too late to quit.


China confirms its southern glaciers are disappearing

By Christina Larson
American Association for the Advancement of Science
22 December 2014

Glaciers in China that are a critical source of water for drinking and irrigation in India are receding fast, according to a new comprehensive inventory. In the short term, retreating glaciers may release greater meltwater, “but it will be exhausted when glaciers disappear under a continuous warming,” says Liu Shiyin, who led the survey for the Cold and Arid Regions Environmental and Engineering Research Institute in Lanzhou.


Study finds Facebook popularity hampers fundraising efforts

Public Release: 23-Dec-2014
University of Warwick

People with fewer friends on Facebook raise more money for charity than those with lots of connections, research by an economist at the University of Warwick has found.

Professor Kimberley Scharf analysed data from and found a negative correlation between the size of a group and the amount of money given by each donor - with the average contribution by each person dropping by two pence for every extra connection someone had on Facebook.

This research builds on and supports earlier analytical findings, published in the November issue of the International Economic Review by Professor Scharf, a Research Director at the University's Centre for Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE), that finds large social groups are less likely to share information about charitable causes when compared to those who are part of smaller circles - and that this results in less fundraising success.

In that paper, the phenomenon of 'free-riding' on information sharing is the main driver behind the findings - when people are part of a larger social group, they feel less of a need to share information about well performing charities because they're expecting other friends to share the information; but this concept of free-riding also extends to giving in social groups - friends expect other friends to stump up most of the cash and so they don't bother themselves.


But Prof Scharf also discovered that the amount a person can raise doesn't only depend on the number of friends they have online - those who complete tougher fundraising activities generate more cash.

"Whilst running is by far the most popular event on JustGiving, it is in fact individuals who complete triathlons that typically attract the largest number of donations and raise the most money in total," she added. "So doing something physically demanding and asking a small group of friends for their support is much more effective than relying on donations from lots of people for what would be perceived as a relatively less exerting activity."


Could playing Tchaikovsky's 'Nutcracker' and other music improve kids' brains?

Public Release: 23-Dec-2014
University of Vermont

Children who play the violin or study piano could be learning more than just Mozart. A University of Vermont College of Medicine child psychiatry team has found that musical training might also help kids focus their attention, control their emotions and diminish their anxiety. Their research is published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.