Thursday, February 28, 2019

The Ocean Is Running Out of Breath, Scientists Warn

By Laura Poppick on February 25, 2019

Escaping predators, digestion and other animal activities—including those of humans—require oxygen. But that essential ingredient is no longer so easy for marine life to obtain, several new studies reveal.

In the past decade ocean oxygen levels have taken a dive—an alarming trend that is linked to climate change, says Andreas Oschlies, an oceanographer at the Helmholtz Center for Ocean Research Kiel in Germany, whose team tracks ocean oxygen levels worldwide. “We were surprised by the intensity of the changes we saw, how rapidly oxygen is going down in the ocean and how large the effects on marine ecosystems are,” he says.

It is no surprise to scientists that warming oceans are losing oxygen, but the scale of the dip calls for urgent attention, Oschlies says. Oxygen levels in some tropical regions have dropped by a startling 40 percent in the last 50 years, some recent studies reveal. Levels have dropped more subtly elsewhere, with an average loss of 2 percent globally.

Ocean animals large and small, however, respond to even slight changes in oxygen by seeking refuge in higher oxygen zones or by adjusting behavior, Oschlies and others in his field have found. These adjustments can expose animals to new predators or force them into food-scarce regions. Climate change already poses serious problems for marine life, such as ocean acidification, but deoxygenation is the most pressing issue facing sea animals today, Oschlies says. After all, he says, “they all have to breathe.”

A warming ocean loses oxygen for two reasons: First, the warmer a liquid becomes, the less gas it can hold. That is why carbonated beverages go flat faster when left in the sun, Oschlies says. Second, as polar sea ice melts, it forms a layer of buoyant water at the sea surface above colder, more saline waters. This process creates a sort of lid that can keep currents from mixing surface water down to deeper depths. And because all oxygen enters this habitat at the surface—either directly from the atmosphere or from surface-dwelling phytoplankton producing it during photosynthesis—less mixing means less of it at depth.


Climate models projecting future change have also routinely underestimated the oxygen losses already observed around the world’s oceans, he and his colleagues reported in Nature last year—another reason why this trend calls for more attention, he says.


As oxygen-rich regions become scarcer, current fish habitats will also shrink and force economically important species—such as tuna, which globally generate an estimated $42 billion annually—into new ranges. In the northeastern tropical Atlantic researchers have found habitat for tuna as well as billfish fisheries shrank by 15 percent from 1960 to 2010 (pdf) due to oxygen loss.

Coastline fisheries can also face the added pressure of agricultural runoff fertilizing algal blooms that consume copious oxygen as they decay—as has long been the case in the Gulf of Mexico near the mouth of the Mississippi River. These “dead zones” force some fishes to seek higher oxygen areas on the edges of their typical ranges. This can help fishermen find them because the fishes congregate in these condensed areas, but it also provides a false sense of abundance and will not be sustainable in the long-term, Seibel notes.


Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Scientists stunned by discovery of 'semi-identical' twins

Nicola Davis
Wed 27 Feb 2019 17.00 EST

A pair of twins have stunned researchers after it emerged that they are neither identical nor fraternal – but something in between.

The team say the boy and girl, now four years old, are the second case of semi-identical twins ever recorded, and the first to be spotted while the mother was pregnant.


Twins are normally either identical or fraternal. In the case of identical, one egg is fertilised by one sperm, but the resulting ball of cells splits in two, giving rise to two offspring with identical genetic material. In the case of fraternal, or non-identical, twins, two eggs are fertilised, each by a different sperm. The resulting siblings arise from the same pregnancy, but are no more genetically similar than siblings from the same parents born at a different time.

Faced with a puzzling scenario, Gabbett and colleagues report in the New England Journal of Medicine that they took samples from the two amniotic sacs, allowing them to investigate the genomes of the twins during the pregnancy.

The results, they say, reveal a very unusual situation: the twins are semi-identical or “sesquizygotic”.

“What we have got is a sequence of unusual events,” said Gabbett.

The situation is believed to arise when two sperm cells fertilise a single egg. In the latest case, one sperm carried an X chromosome among its genetic material, and the other carried a Y chromosome.

After fertilisation the chromosomes from the two sperm cells and the single egg got bundled into three “genetic packages”: one contained chromosomes from both sperm – meaning it contained two sets of genetic material from the father, but none from the mother. The other two packages each contained the same set of chromosomes from the mother, as well as genetic material from one of the two sperm, giving rise to either XX (female) or XY (male) cells.

As the fertilised egg divided and the ball of cells grew, those containing only chromosomes from the two sperm died. However, those containing chromosomes from both the egg and a sperm cell continued to divide.

“Then what happens is that little ball of cells splits into two, and that is why you have twins,” said Gabbett, adding that these offspring have a greater genetic similarity than fraternal twins, but are not identical.

But the situation is not that straightforward: some of both embryos’ cells contained two X chromosomes, while other cells contained an X and a Y chromosome.

Gabbett added since one twin was a boy and the other a girl, the ratio of each of these types of cell differed: one embryo contained a greater number of XY cells, so developed male, while the other had a high proportion of XX cells and developed female.


Gabbett said that while there might be other, unreported, cases of sesquizygotic twins, it remains a very unusual phenomenon.


NPR misleads by omission.

Since the 2018 election, I have heard NPR mention several times the fact that Republicans won the Senate while Democrats won the House. It came up again in commentary after Cohen's testimony, talking about whether it would affect elections. As in ALL the other times I heard, NPR did NOT mention that a MAJORITY of voters voted for Democrats. Republicans only gained seats in the Senate because of the fact that all states have the same number of Senators, no matter the vast differences in population, and because only 1/3 of the Senate seats are up for a vote in any one election, and this election happened to favor Republicans.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

A mom found videos on YouTube Kids that gave children instructions for suicide

By Doug Criss, CNN
Updated 5:28 PM ET, Mon February 25, 2019

Most parents feel pretty safe letting their children watch YouTube Kids, the child-friendly version of the video platform.
But disturbing videos recently found by some moms show the social media site may not be safe for kids at all.
A Florida mother said she has found clips on YouTube and YouTube Kids that gave children instructions on how to kill themselves.
Free Hess said the first time she saw such a video was back in July when another mom alerted her to it after she and her son were watching cartoon videos on YouTube Kids. Spliced in the middle of one of the videos was footage of a man in sunglasses telling children how to slit their wrists.


Monday, February 25, 2019

The world's healthiest countries, ranked

By Ashley Welch
February 25, 2019

Spain just surpassed Italy as the world's healthiest nation. That's according to this year's edition of the Bloomberg Healthiest Country Index, which ranks 169 countries based on factors that contribute to overall health.

Six of the top 10 countries were in Europe, with Italy ranking second. In contrast, the United States didn't even break into the top 30, ranking at number 35, one notch worse than last year.


To come up with the rankings, Bloomberg researchers graded nations based on several factors including life expectancy, while giving penalties for health risks such as obesity and tobacco use. Environmental factors like access to clean water and sanitation were also taken into account.

The results mirror other research that came out last fall looking at future life expectancies in 195 countries and territories around the world. In that study, published in the international medical journal The Lancet, Spain also ranked first, with a projected life expectancy of 85.8 years by 2040. The United States ranked 64th.


Greener Childhood Associated With Happier Adulthood

February 25, 20193:12 PM ET
Jonathan Lambert


A study published Monday in the journal PNAS details what the scientists say is the largest investigation of the association between green spaces and mental health.

Researchers from Aarhus University in Denmark found that growing up near vegetation is associated with an up to 55 percent lower risk of mental health disorders in adulthood. Kristine Engemann, the biologist who led the study, combined decades of satellite imagery with extensive health and demographic data of the Danish population to investigate the mental health effects of growing up near greenery.


After accounting for those potential confounding factors, the researchers found that growing up near green space was associated with a lower risk of developing psychiatric illness in adulthood by anywhere from 15 percent to 55 percent, depending on the specific illness. For example, alcoholism was most strongly associated with lack of green space growing up, and risk of developing an intellectual disability was not associated with green space.


"Green space seemed to have an association that was similar in strength to other known influences on mental health, like history of mental health disorders in the family, or socioeconomic status," says Engemann. What's more, the effect of green space was "dosage dependent" — the more of one's childhood spent close to greenery, the lower the risk of mental health problems in adulthood.


Lambert suggests the explanation might run deep, evolutionarily speaking. She says we evolved surrounded by green space, and something about being exposed to our "native" environment might have powerful physiological and psychological effects.


Decline in bogong moth numbers leaves mountain pygmy possums starving

Graham Readfearn
Sun 24 Feb 2019 18.01 EST
Last modified on Mon 25 Feb 2019 01.19 EST

Numbers of unique Australian moths that migrate in their billions to alpine areas have crashed, ecologists say, putting extra pressure on the endangered mountain pygmy possum.

Scientists believe the “astonishing” drop in bogong moth numbers is linked to climate change and recent droughts in areas where the moths breed.

At the same time checks on the endangered mountain pygmy possum, which exists only in Australia’s alpine regions, have revealed dead litters in the pouches of females. The moths are a key food source for the possums as they wake from hibernation.


Prof Lesley Hughes, an ecologist at Macquarie University and councillor at the Climate Council of Australia, said the potential role of climate change in the decline of the moths and possums were what ecologists and climate scientists had predicted.

“Unfortunately the general predictions of the ecological risks of climate change are now turning into observations for particular species. And it should be no surprise we are seeing these impacts in the alpine zone, long recognised as one of the most vulnerable ecosystems to climate risks.

“Sometimes these changes can appear to happen abruptly – one year there are millions of moths and the next almost none. This shows how particular extreme events, such as droughts or severe bushfires, can suddenly tip a species over the edge, with flow-on effects to others in the ecosystem.”


Friday, February 22, 2019

How a money manager to the super-wealthy used his “collection” of famous friends to avoid a prison sentence for molesting young girls

By Jane Coaston and Anna North Updated Feb 22, 2019, 10:39am EST

Jeffrey Epstein could have gone to prison for life.

The money manager was accused of sexually abusing dozens of underage girls at his Palm Beach mansion between 2001 and 2006. But as Julie K. Brown reports at the Miami Herald, he ultimately got just 13 months in a county jail, thanks to a deal signed by Alexander Acosta, then the US Attorney for Miami and now President Trump’s secretary of labor. On Thursday, a federal judge ruled that Acosta’s team broke the law by concealing the agreement from more than 30 girls who said Epstein abused them, Brown reports.

Epstein has said that any encounters he had with his accusers were consensual, and that he believed they were 18 at the time.

The story of how Epstein got such a light sentence — and who was involved — is a master class in the power dynamics that have been exposed by the #MeToo movement but have yet to truly change.


The fact that Epstein is free today is a reminder that the American justice system has long been all too willing to ignore the words of girls and women, especially when they accuse a wealthy and influential man. It’s a reminder that those with enough money and connections, from Epstein to Harvey Weinstein, can often manipulate the legal system to serve their own ends. And it shows how one powerful person can protect not just himself but anyone who might be connected to him, all while exploiting those who are powerless.


because Epstein was able to keep all the details of his prosecution quiet, it’s impossible for the public to know exactly who else was involved in his crimes. By protecting himself, Epstein may have been able to protect his famous friends as well.


The FBI had prepared a 53-page sex crimes indictment for Epstein in 2007 that could have sent him to prison for life, according to the Herald. Instead, he cut a deal with Alexander Acosta, then the US attorney in Miami, which allowed him to serve just 13 months — not in federal or state prison, but in a private wing of a Palm Beach county jail.

He was granted work release to go to a “comfortable office” for 12 hours a day, six days a week, despite the fact that the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Department prohibited work release for sex offenders.

Epstein’s deal, called a “non-prosecution agreement,” granted immunity to “any potential co-conspirators,” meaning that if any of Epstein’s powerful friends were involved in his crimes, they would face no consequences. And Acosta agreed that the deal would be kept secret from the victims, preventing them from showing up in court to try to challenge it.


However, a ruling on February 21 by federal Judge Kenneth A. Marra gave those who reported abuse by Epstein some hope. Marra ruled that prosecutors under Acosta violated the Crime Victims’ Rights Act by hiding the non-prosecution agreement from more than 30 girls who said Epstein abused them, as Brown reports at the Herald. The judge did not overturn Epstein’s plea deal; instead, he gave prosecutors 15 days to work with the victims — now in their 20s and 30s — and their attorneys to arrive at a settlement. It’s not clear whether that settlement could include further prosecution for Epstein.


Acosta, who helped Epstein serve his time in an office rather than a prison cell — and measure it in months, not years — oversees Trump’s Labor Department, which is responsible for, among other things, preventing human trafficking.


Thursday, February 21, 2019

Climate disasters cost the world $650 billion over 3 years — Americans are bearing the brunt: Morgan Stanley

Tom DiChristopher
Published 6:27 AM ET Thu, 14 Feb 2019 Updated 8:30 AM ET Thu, 14 Feb 2019

Climate-related disasters have cost the world $650 billion over the last three years, and North America is shouldering most of the burden, according to a new report from Morgan Stanley.

While governments and corporations are taking steps to mitigate the impacts of climate change, Morgan Stanley says private enterprises need to strongly consider preparing for a world gripped by more frequent and intense weather events, rising sea levels, changes to agriculture and the spread of infectious disease. Those outcomes will have a lopsided effect across industries, raising risks for some and creating opportunities for others.

"We expect the physical risks of climate change to become an increasingly important part of the investment debate for 2019," Morgan Stanley equity strategists Mark Savino, Jessica Alsford and Victoria Irving said in a research note Wednesday.

At $650 billion, the three-year price of climate disasters totals just over a quarter of a percent of global gross domestic product, the analysts say. The investment bank warns that the situation may only get worse, noting that damages associated with global warming could total $54 trillion by 2040, according to a UN panel composed of the world's top climate scientists.


President Donald Trump continues to cast doubt on the consensus among climate scientists and U.S. government agencies that greenhouse gas emissions from human activity are warming the planet. His administration, backed by congressional Republicans, is seeking to boost fossil fuel production and push through a broad rollback of Obama-era policies aimed at lowering U.S. emissions.

After the U.S., Asia is most exposed to the cost of climate disasters, absorbing $180 billion in economic damages, equal to 0.24 percent of regional GDP, Morgan Stanley says.


In the near term, Morgan Stanley sees climate change posing risk of negative disruptions to a dozen sectors, from agriculture to oil and gas production. Just four sectors — capital goods, home improvement retail, lodging and construction machinery — could reap benefits from those near-term disruptions.

Over the longer term, structural changes are seen negatively impacting nine sectors, including many of the industries that also face near-term hurdles. Real estate, leisure and consumer retail are also on the list. Other sectors, like auto manufacturing, biotechnology, health care and pharmaceuticals, insurance, mining and utilities, could find opportunity in structural change.

Drilling down, the four main vectors that Morgan Stanley identifies — sea-level rise, weather events, changes in agriculture and infectious disease — will impact sectors in different ways.


Climate change has made urban pollution more dangerous and thunderstorms more destructive.

By Eric Roston
February 19, 2019, 3:00 AM EST

Air pollution is the sixth-biggest killer worldwide—more than alcohol use, kidney failure or too much salt. The cause, as we all know, is the burning of fossil fuels, which generates soot and other airborne particles that hang in the atmosphere.

In a new example of the vicious cycles spun up by climate change, research from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology suggests for the first time that pollution is lingering longer over cities and summer storms are becoming more powerful.


The problem has to do with how the atmosphere’s changing heat structure, which is directly related to global warming, drives massive weather systems in regions where most people live. High in the atmosphere, these “extratropical cyclones” are powered by the mix of warm and cool air, and are the force behind blizzards, nor’easters and everyday thunderstorms. In cities, their winds typically blow away air pollution after a few smog-filled summer days. In the South, they keep powerful storms moving along. But that’s been changing.

While climate change has intensified hurricanes and made seas rise, the circulation of these huge weather systems has been weakening. The result is cities swathed for days in pollution and whole regions more vulnerable to sudden, torrential storms.

“Summertime weather isn’t ventilating American cities at the rate that it did in the past,” Gertler said.

Extratropical cyclones live off the temperature difference between southern and northern latitudes. As the Arctic warms, which it’s doing twice as fast as the global average, that difference is shrinking, and gradually restructuring weather in the hemisphere.


The amount of energy available to thunderstorms is “increasing at a pretty significant rate,” or 13 percent, Gertler said, potentially making them stronger. That change, coupled with additional moisture in the atmosphere, is leading to more rainfall from short, intense bursts.


Energy execs spend big at Trump hotel 'Disneyland'

Dylan Brown and Hannah Northey, E&E News reporters Energywire: Wednesday, February 20, 2019

The Trump International Hotel rolled out the red carpet last summer for the two coal companies that have done the most to curry favor with the owner of the Washington, D.C., luxury destination: President Trump.

Murray Energy Corp. CEO Bob Murray and Heath Lovell, a top spokesman for magnate Joe Craft's Alliance Resource Partners LP, were "VIP Arrivals" for one-night stays on June 20, 2018, according to a list obtained by The Washington Post.

Under their names, hotel staff wrote the pair paid a "High Rate" — putting them on a lengthy list of hotel guests since Trump took office who are actively lobbying the White House on energy.

The money spent at Trump International seeps into the pockets of a self-proclaimed "energy dominance" president.

Trump refuses to sever business ties with the Trump Organization, which began leasing the Old Post Office building from the federal government three years before the president clinched the White House. The hotel is now at the center of lawsuits in New York, Maryland and the District of Columbia. Prosecutors argue Trump is illegally profiting off his presidency, seeking a declaration he's violating the U.S. Constitution's emoluments clause.


Oil, coal, natural gas and mining interests have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars at hotel events frequented by top administration officials, according to documents E&E News and the Sierra Club obtained under FOIA. Federal workers regularly stop by what one Department of Energy staffer called "Republican Disneyland."

No group spent more at Trump International during last year's midterm elections than America First Action Inc. — and few industries gave the pro-Trump super political action committee more money than the energy industry.

America First Action spent at least $395,068 on rooms, food at steakhouse BLT Prime and lodging at the hotel, according to Federal Election Commission reports. The group did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


CLIMATE PILE-UP: Global Warming’s Compounding Dangers

See the article at the link below for how this problem is affecting and is projected to affect various regions.

Recent research shows that unchecked warming pollution could bring concurrent climate crises to U.S. cities by midcentury — and that emissions cuts could reduce the danger.


There are a few ways that climate change can produce compounding threats. Greenhouse gas emissions increase atmospheric temperature, in turn boosting the capacity of the air to hold moisture. Combined with the heat, that enhances the evaporation of water from soil. In drier areas, these processes can result in drought, boost heat waves, and ripen the conditions for wildfires. In places that are commonly wet, on the other hand, heightened water evaporation results in excess rain [and snowfall] — which can fall on saturated soil and lead to floods. In the oceans, meanwhile, warmer water evaporates faster, potentially increasing wind speeds and boosting the downpours released by hurricanes, whose surges can be aggravated by sea level rise.


Start with health. Mora’s team found evidence of deaths as a result of hyperthermia during heat waves, asphyxiation during wildfires, injuries during storms, and drowning during floods. Other studies documented respiratory problems delivered by dust during droughts, mold in the wake of storms, and pollen from longer flowering periods. And the researchers found that climate change had eased the conditions for the spread of diseases, including cholera, encephalitis, and malaria. In the United States, wildfire smoke leads to billions of dollars in healthcare costs every year, according to researchers at the Environmental Protection Agency.

Second, consider food and water. The researchers found that temperature shifts experienced to date have contributed to disruptions in crop, livestock, and fisheries supplies. In 2003, when Europe was struck by a historic heat wave, about a third of the continent’s crops were lost. Three years earlier, more than three quarters of Kenya’s livestock died as a result of drought. In America’s Great Plains, years with strong heat waves tended to bring several thousand additional cattle deaths. Warming has contributed to drinking water shortages by encouraging drought and glacial retreat — and the quality of drinking water has been affected by heavy precipitation, hurricanes, and wildfires. In 2015, a group of scholars led by A. Park Williams of Columbia University found that climate change had worsened the California drought that began in 2011 by somewhere between 15 and 20 percent.

As for infrastructure, Mora and his colleagues reviewed numerous cases in which roads, railways, electrical grids, housing, and airports were damaged by weather and climate disasters. In 2003, a heat wave, which increased demand for electricity, left some 50 million people without power in Canada and the northeastern United States; Hurricane Sandy stripped some eight million Americans of power. Last year’s Camp Fire in Northern California destroyed nearly 19,000 buildings, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Those infrastructure losses often fed into broader economic damages. But the researchers found that the sources of economic damage were far broader than infrastructure. In 2015 alone, drought cost California’s agriculture sector $1.8 billion. 1992’s Hurricane Andrew pushed twelve insurance firms into insolvency — and more recently, subsequent to Mora’s analysis, Pacific Gas & Electric declared bankruptcy in the wake of the Camp Fire. Heat waves raised the costs of healthcare and reduced labor productivity. In the United States, the number of weather and climate disasters causing at least a billion dollars in damages has trended upward in recent years: 2018 recorded 14 such billion-dollar events, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Finally, hazards that have been broadly linked to climate change affected people’s security, forcing some to abandon their communities and, in some parts of the world, encouraging conflict over diminishing resources. In the United States, Hurricane Harvey contributed to an uptick in homelessness after years of decline, according to the Houston Chronicle. There is also evidence that some U.S. heat waves, which have generally become more intense as the climate has warmed, temporarily increased rates of rape and theft, according to research reviewed by the University of Hawaii-led team.

These dangers are not drawn from a vision of a darker future. Each of these impacts has already arrived. The natural hazards that produce these dangers — from rising seas and extreme precipitation to wildfire risk and stronger heat waves — are for the most part worsening, as humanity continually pours more heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere.

The warming of 1°C (1.8°F) that humanity has caused since the start of the industrial era represents just a fraction of the 3°C to 5°C (5.4°F to 9°F) of warming that the world can expect this century on its current emissions trajectory. In 2018, humans likely emitted more greenhouse gases than in any other year in history. Without deep cuts to warming emissions, the future will be significantly hotter, and more dangerous.


By 2095 — well within the lifetimes of children born today — the differences in outcomes across emissions scenarios would become profound. By that time, 18 of the 244 U.S. locations assessed, or roughly 7 percent, are projected to face the equivalent of at least 4 extreme and concurrent climate hazards, should warming pollution grow unabated. 64 locations, or 26 percent, could face the equivalent of at least 3 crises. Mobile, Alabama and Pensacola, Florida are projected to face the equivalent of roughly 4.5.

Such changes stand in stark contrast to the smaller changes projected under deep emissions cuts. (Such an outcome would require that emissions peak around 2020, that they fall to zero around 2070, and that humanity removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in the years that follow.) In Detroit and Flint, Michigan, the level of damage projected under unabated emissions is nearly five times higher than that expected under deep cuts to warming pollution at the end of the century. In Anchorage, Alaska, high emissions would worsen the damage nearly 17-fold relative to deep cuts to warming pollution.


Such profound dangers may appear to lie far from the United States’ borders. But their aftershocks will come close to home. Climate impacts in one area can have worldwide consequences. Heat-driven agricultural losses, for instance, can shape global food prices. Sea-level rise, drought, and other hazards can prompt international migration. Indeed, such effects have already materialized — and with more warming pollution, they could worsen. At stake in humanity’s emissions choices is not just the possibility of a climate pile-up in the United States, but of simultaneous devastation around the world.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

US hate groups have seen ideas enter mainstream in Trump era, report finds

Jason Wilson
Wed 20 Feb 2019 11.52 EST
First published on Wed 20 Feb 2019 11.30 EST

A new report from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) says that hate groups in the US have continued to surge in the Trump era, and that the president himself has helped to mainstream hate by “fueling fears of a white minority country”.

The Alabama-based SPLC – one of the most long-standing and widely-cited anti-hate organizations – counted 1,020 hate groups in the United States in 2018, up 7% from the previous year.

This represented an all-time high since the SPLC began counting hate groups, beating the previous record in 2011, when the far right’s angry reaction to the Obama presidency was peaking.

In a press conference, Heidi Beirich, the director of the SPLC’s Intelligence Project blamed in part the “words and imagery coming out of the Trump administration” which have been “heightening the fears” of demographic replacement.

The report points to a range of murders and violent attacks – like a mail-bombing spree that targeted Democrats and media organisations and a mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue – as evidence that the conspiracy-fueled far right is increasingly willing to commit extreme acts.

Another similar recent report from the Anti-Defamation League suggested that extremist murders in the United States in 2018 were carried out almost exclusively by the far right.

But the SPLC also points to the increasingly strident expression of far right ideas in conservative media, and from Republican politicians, as evidence that hate is being mainstreamed.


Neo-Nazi in coast guard plotted attack on Democrats and journalists, say prosecutors

Jon Swaine
Wed 20 Feb 2019 19.09 EST
First published on Wed 20 Feb 2019 18.32 EST

A neo-Nazi serving as a lieutenant in the US coast guard has been caught plotting to attack Democratic members of Congress, including congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and well-known media personalities, according to prosecutors.

Christopher Hasson intended “to murder innocent civilians on a scale rarely seen in this country,” according to a filing to federal court in Maryland. Law enforcement officers seized 15 guns and 1,000 rounds of ammunition from his home.


He used far right slogans spread in recent years by some supporters of Donald Trump, warning that “liberalist/globalist ideology” was destroying white Americans and discussing conspiracies by “((((People))))” – a styling frequently applied online by the far right to the names of Jews.


Prosecutors said that on 17 January, Hasson began compiling a spreadsheet of prominent people “consistent with the types of people who Breivik identifies as ‘traitors’ and targets for an attack”.

Many on the list have also been frequent subjects of abuse from Republicans including Trump. The list included “poca warren”, which prosecutors said was an apparent reference to senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. Trump has nicknamed Warren “Pocahontas” for her claim to have distant native American heritage.

Hasson’s spreadsheet also named the Democratic senators Richard Blumenthal, Tim Kaine, Chuck Schumer, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris and Cory Booker. In addition to Ocasio-Cortez and Omar, it featured House speaker Nancy Pelosi, along with Representatives Maxine Waters, Sheila Jackson Lee and Beto O’Rourke.

It also included cable news presenters such as Scarborough, MSNBC’s Chris Hayes and Ari Melber, and CNN’s Don Lemon, Chris Cuomo and Van Jones.

Supreme Court strikes blow against states that raise revenue by hefty fines, forfeitures

Richard Wolf, USA TODAY Published 10:17 a.m. ET Feb. 20, 2019 | Updated 3:26 p.m. ET Feb. 20, 2019

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously Wednesday that states cannot impose excessive fees, fines and forfeitures as criminal penalties.

The decision, which united the court's conservatives and liberals, makes clear that the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against "excessive fines" applies to states and localities as well as the federal government.


The practice often leads low-income defendants further into poverty, crime, prison and recidivism, the liberal Southern Poverty Law Center and libertarian Cato Institute argued in court papers. The American Bar Association noted that nearly two-thirds of prisoners have little prospect of paying the fines and fees after their release.


Trump Officials Tried To Rush Nuclear Technology To Saudis, House Panel Finds

February 19, 201912:55 PM ET
Heard on All Things Considered

The Trump administration sought to rush the transfer of American nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia in potential violation of the law, a new report from the House Oversight and Reform Committee alleges.

Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings' staff issued an "interim staff" report Tuesday, citing "multiple whistleblowers" who raised ethical and legal concerns about the process.

"They have warned about political appointees ignoring directives from top ethics advisers at the White House who repeatedly and unsuccessfully ordered senior Trump administration officials to halt their efforts," the report states. "They have also warned of conflicts of interest among top White House advisers that could implicate federal criminal statutes."


Being informed.

The news business is important for the functioning of our democracy, but it is important to read and/or listen to a variety of sources. Headline writers not reflecting the information in the article is especially common. I have seen headlines that directly contradicted what was in the article. And some people only pay attention to the headlines. When I was in graduate school, I saw a fellow student looking at the headlines showing in the window of the newspaper vending machine. (Shows how long ago I got my M.A. in mathematics :) ) She said she only had time to read the headlines.

I see too many people on Facebook sharing links with inflammatory headlines which do not even reflect what is in the article, much less reality.

Of course, the news media are humans, so the articles themselves can omit important facts, sometimes have false facts. Some outlets are more prone to this than others. And the rush to have the latest news can cause accidental reporting that is not factual.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Why Russian trolls stoked US vaccine debates

By Jacqueline Howard, CNN
Updated 9:41 AM ET, Fri August 24, 2018

Russia's meddling online went beyond the 2016 US presidential election and into public health, amplifying online debates about vaccines, according to a new study.

The recent research project was intended to study how social media and survey data can be used to better understand people's decision-making process around vaccines. It ended up unmasking some unexpected key players in the vaccination debate: Russian trolls.

The study, published in the American Journal of Public Health on Thursday, suggests that what appeared to be Twitter accounts run by automated bots and Russian trolls masqueraded as legitimate users engaging in online vaccine debates. The bots and trolls disseminated both pro- and anti-vaccine messages between 2014 and 2017.


When it came to the Russian troll accounts, the researchers found 253 tweets containing the #VaccinateUS hashtag among their sample. Among those tweets with the hashtag, 43% were pro-vaccine, 38% were anti-vaccine, and the remaining 19% were neutral.

By posting a variety of anti-, pro- and neutral tweets and directly confronting vaccine skeptics, trolls and bots "legitimize" the vaccine debate, the researchers wrote in the study.

"This is consistent with a strategy of promoting discord across a range of controversial topics -- a known tactic employed by Russian troll accounts. Such strategies may undermine the public health: normalizing these debates may lead the public to question long-standing scientific consensus regarding vaccine efficacy," they wrote.


Between 2014 and 2017, the Internet Research Agency trolls were running many social media experiments to build division among Americans, said Patrick Warren, an associate professor of economics at Clemson University. Warren was not involved in the study but has conducted extensive research on Russian trolls.


Warren added that he was not surprised to learn about Russian trolls posting vaccine-related tweets.


"I don't know if it would seem strange once you understand their goal, which is basically to divide both sides against the middle. They're going to grab onto all of those social issues. So for example: black lives matter, all lives matter; immigrants are destroying America, immigrants are great for America," Warren said.

"It's basically the hot-button political issues of the day. They're happy to grab onto whatever is salient," he said. "I think that they want us focused on our own problems so that we don't focus on them.

"If most of our energies are focused internally with divisions inside of the United States -- or divisions between the United States and, say, Europe -- that leaves a window open for Russia to expand its sphere of influence.


Some facts for tax season

I volunteer for Tax-Aide, and have been doing taxes for a couple of weeks. I have seen some falsehoods being posted on Facebook about taxes and refunds. I didn't like the new tax bill, but I also don't like lies.

Usually when people's refunds are lower, it's because the withholding tables used last year caused less withholding, because they were meant to make withholding close to what was owed. People got more money during the year, leading to a lower refund. Many people prefer to have more withheld and get a bigger refund, but that doesn't mean people are paying more overall.

You can deduct medical expenses & property taxes. Because of the standard deduction being so much higher (while exemptions were deleted), more people will pay less by using the standard deduction than by itemizing than used to be the case. The purpose of the standard deduction is to enable most people not to have to itemize.

Woman who called Michelle Obama an 'ape' defrauded FEMA of $18K

Feb. 17, 2019, 6:16 PM EST
By Janelle Griffith

The West Virginia woman who made national headlines in 2016 when she was placed on leave from a county development organization over a demeaning Facebook post about then-first lady Michelle Obama has now pleaded guilty to defrauding the Federal Emergency Management Agency out of thousands of dollars of disaster benefits.

Pamela Taylor, 57, admitted on Tuesday that she falsely registered for more than $18,000 in FEMA disaster benefits after historic flooding in Clay County, West Virginia, in June 2016, the U.S. attorney's office said in a statement. Those floods killed 23 people.

Taylor claimed that her primary residence was damaged in the flood and that she was staying in a rental property, the prosecutor's office said. Her home was not damaged, however, and she still lived there.


Taylor published a controversial post about Obama following Donald Trump's election as president that said: "It will be refreshing to have a classy, beautiful, dignified First Lady in the White House. I'm tired of seeing a Ape in heels."

Saturday, February 16, 2019

It doesn't take much for soldiers to feel cared for

Public Release: 14-Feb-2019
University of Washington Health Sciences/UW Medicine


Today, with military personnel being more mobile, researchers tested out the effectiveness of caring texts sent to active-duty military.


Comtois said the most significant finding was that the caring contacts reduced the odds of a suicide attempt. The contacts lowered the risk from 15 percent to 9 percent.

"Caring contacts is an entirely different way to engage and take care of suicidal individuals," she said. "It can both prevent suicidal behavior and provide support over periods of stress and transition."


Military personnel historically have had a lower rate of suicide than the general population, Today, however, veterans have a 50 percent higher incidence of suicide than the general population, according to the Department of Veteran Affairs Suicide Data Report, 2006-2016. In 2018, the U.S. military experienced the highest number of suicides among active-duty personnel in at least six years. A total of 321 active-duty members took their lives during the year (57 Marines, 68 sailors, 58 airmen, and 138 soldiers), according to

In this study, just under 14 percent of text responses mentioned difficulty and adversity, but after a few exchanges with a clinician, the service member felt better, said Amanda Kerbrat, a research scientist with the UW Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.

"Most people didn't seem to need much to get the message that someone cared and was looking out for them," she said.


E-cig users develop some of the same cancer-related molecular changes as cigarette smokers

Public Release: 14-Feb-2019
University of Southern California

A small USC study shows that e-cig users develop some of the same cancer-related molecular changes in oral tissue as cigarette smokers, adding to the growing concern that e-cigs aren't a harmless alternative to smoking.

The research, published this week in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, comes amid a mushrooming e-cig market and mounting public health worries. On a positive note, recent research found vaping is almost twice as effective as other nicotine replacement therapies in helping smokers quit.

But among adolescents, vaping now surpasses smoking, and there's evidence that e-cig use leads to nicotine addiction and future smoking in teens.


Besaratinia emphasized that the molecular changes seen in the study aren't cancer, or even pre-cancer, but rather an early warning of a process that could potentially lead to cancer if unchecked.


Antidepressant could stop deadly sepsis, study suggests

Public Release: 14-Feb-2019
University of Virginia Health System

An antidepressant drug used to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder could save people from deadly sepsis, new research from the University of Virginia School of Medicine suggests.

Sepsis is a significant cause of death around the world. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Infection calls it "the body's extreme response to an infection." Essentially, the body's immune response spirals out of control, and the normally beneficial inflammation becomes harmful. The result can be tissue damage, organ failure or even death.


Gaultier and his team have identified a drug that could offer that treatment - and previous safety testing of the drug could fast-track it into use in hospitals around the country.


The UVA researchers were looking at a little-studied biological process inside our cells when they determined it has an important role in regulating inflammation. They began studying it partly because there are already drugs that can affect players in the process.

"Inflammation, most of the time, is good. It's when it gets out of control that we need to modulate it," Gaultier said. "Inflammation is a very precisely controlled reaction. When we need it and have too much, it's a problem, but when we don't have enough, it's also a problem."

To evaluate the potential of one drug, the antidepressant fluvoxamine, to stop sepsis, Gaultier's team tested it in a mouse model of the disease. The drug worked very effectively, they found.

While the drug will need to be tested in people to determine its effectiveness at battling human sepsis, previous testing to determine its safety should accelerate that process.


Researchers reveal brain connections that disadvantage night owls

I feel much better now that I am retired and don't have to force my sleep patterns to fit day jobs.

Public Release: 14-Feb-2019
University of Birmingham

'Night owls' - those who go to bed and get up later - have fundamental differences in their brain function compared to 'morning larks' , which mean they could be disadvantaged by the constraints of a normal working day.

Research led by the University of Birmingham found that individuals whose internal body clock dictates that they go to bed and wake up very late (with an average bedtime of 2:30am and wake-up time of 10:15am) have lower resting brain connectivity in many of the brain regions that are linked to the maintenance of consciousness.

Importantly, this lower brain connectivity was associated with poorer attention, slower reactions and increased sleepiness throughout the hours of a typical working day.


around 40-50 per cent of the population identify as having a preference for later bed times and for getting up after 8.20am the researchers say much more needs to be done to explore negative implications for this group.

The lead researcher, Dr Elise Facer-Childs, of the University of Birmingham's Centre for Human Brain Health, says: "A huge number of people struggle to deliver their best performance during work or school hours they are not naturally suited to. There is a critical need to increase our understanding of these issues in order to minimise health risks in society, as well as maximise productivity."


"To manage this, we need to get better at taking an individual's personal body clock into account - particularly in the world of work. A typical day might last from 9am-5pm, but for a night owl, this could result in diminished performance during the morning, lower brain connectivity in regions linked to consciousness and increased daytime sleepiness. If, as a society, we could be more flexible about how we manage time we could go a long way towards maximising productivity and minimising health risks."

Diet drinks may be associated with strokes among post-menopausal women

Public Release: 14-Feb-2019
Stroke Journal Report
American Heart Association

Among post-menopausal women, drinking multiple diet drinks daily was associated with an increase in the risk of having a stroke caused by a blocked artery, especially small arteries, according to research published in Stroke, a journal of the American Heart Association.


Compared with women who consumed diet drinks less than once a week or not at all, women who consumed two or more artificially sweetened beverages per day were:

23 percent more likely to have a stroke;
31 percent more likely to have a clot-caused (ischemic) stroke;
29 percent more likely to develop heart disease (fatal or non-fatal heart attack); and
16 percent more likely to die from any cause.

Researchers found risks were higher for certain women. Heavy intake of diet drinks, defined as two or more times daily, more than doubled stroke risk in:

women without previous heart disease or diabetes, who were 2.44 times as likely to have a common type of stroke caused by blockage of one of the very small arteries within the brain;
obese women without previous heart disease or diabetes, who were 2.03 times as likely to have a clot-caused stroke; and
African-American women without previous heart disease or diabetes, who were 3.93 times as likely to have a clot-caused stroke.


New Trump policy makes it easier for big tech to discriminate, insiders say

Sam Levin in Oakland
Fri 8 Feb 2019 06.00 EST

The Trump administration is making it easier for tech companies to discriminate against workers, with a policy that impedes efforts to close the gender pay gap in Silicon Valley, current and former US labor officials said.

A new US Department of Labor (DoL) “transparency” directive is forcing DoL officials to disclose preliminary details about anti-discrimination investigations to the targets of the inquiries, which, current and former DoL employees say, enables those companies to evade enforcement efforts and conceal potential violations while cases are ongoing. It’s as if the FBI or the Internal Revenue Service had to give an advanced heads-up to entities they were investigating, the DoL employees say.

A longtime DoL employee not authorized to speak publicly described the policy as a “giveaway to government contractors”, adding that “transparency” was a misnomer: “The objective of this directive is to try to weaken [DoL] enforcement.”


The changes could be particularly beneficial for Silicon Valley firms, which make hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars each yearby providing a range of software products and other services to federal agencies. The new directive effectively helps those tech corporations avoid scrutiny, labor experts warn, despite growing recognition that white men in tech make higher salaries than women and minorities doing equivalent work – in violation of equal pay laws.


Cannabis smoking in teenage years linked to adulthood depression

Nicola Davis
Wed 13 Feb 2019 11.00 EST
Last modified on Wed 13 Feb 2019 15.50 EST

Scientists believe they have identified about 60,000 cases of depression in adults under 35 in the UK, and more than 400,000 in the US, that could be avoided if adolescents did not smoke cannabis.


After taking into account factors including age, mental health issues at the outset and socioeconomic status, the results linked cannabis use to a greater likelihood of later developing clinical depression, having suicidal thoughts or making a suicide attempt. The odds of attempting suicide were almost 3.5 times worse among those who used cannabis before the age of 18 than those who did not – although the authors note the figure is imprecise.


The key psychoactive ingredient of cannabis is THC, or delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, which binds to receptors in the brain that are particularly common in regions important for emotion and learning as well as rational thinking. Density of such receptors in these regions peaks during adolescence. That, together with the fact that young people’s brains are still developing, had led to increasing concern about the impact of cannabis on young users, Cipriani said.

The link to depression might be down to the presence of receptors which bound THC in parts of the brain where the neurotransmitters serotonin and noradrenaline were produced, he said.


While the authors of the study say the apparent effects are of modest size, they stress the impact is far from negligible. By applying the results to the known prevalence of clinical depression among adults under the age of 35, they conclude that one in 14 cases within this age group could be avoided if teenagers did not use the drug.


the studies began before highly potent cannabis became commonplace.

“We know from studies of psychosis that the risk is much greater with daily use of modern high-potency cannabis than old-fashioned low-THC varieties,” he said.


tags: drug use, drug abuse

Friday, February 15, 2019

What the pesticides in our urine tell us about organic food

Four or five months after I started eating mostly organic, I noticed that I felt better. I didn't know it was affecting my feelings of well being until I experience the difference.

Kendra Klein and Anna Lappé
Fri 15 Feb 2019 09.02 EST


This just-published peer-reviewed study helps answer a question many of us ask when deciding whether to reach for the conventional or organic option at the store: does organic really make a difference? The results say yes, a big difference. Choosing organic can protect you from exposure to toxic pesticides.

This study, led by researchers at University of California, Berkeley and Friends of the Earth, and co-authored by one of us, tracked pesticide levels in four families from across the country for two weeks. The first week, the families ate their typical diets of non-organic food; the following week, they ate completely organic. Urine samples taken over the course of the study were tested for pesticides and the chemicals pesticides break down into, called metabolites.

The results? Of the 14 chemicals tested, every single member of every family had detectable levels. After switching to an organic diet, these levels dropped dramatically. Levels across all pesticides dropped by more than half on average. Detectable levels for the pesticide malathion, a probable human carcinogen according to the World Health Organization, decreased a dramatic 95% .

Malathion was just one of the pesticides found in this study that are part of a group called organophosphates, which have long concerned public health experts because of their impact on children’s developing brains. Created as nerve agents in World War II, organophosphates have been linked to increased rates of autism, learning disabilities, and reduced IQ in children. The organophosphate chlorpyrifos, found in all of the family members, is so worrisome to public health that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) planned to ban it in 2017 – a proposal dropped by the Trump administration. In the wake of inaction from the administration, Hawaii passed the first state level chlorpyrifos ban in 2018; and Representative Nydia Velázquez introduced a federal bill to ban it.


Many of these pesticides are now understood to cause cancer, affect the body’s hormonal systems, disrupt fertility, cause developmental delay for children or Parkinson’s, depression, or Alzheimer’s as we age. This study shows that eating organic can dramatically decrease the pesticides you’re exposed to.

But we know providing people with information about the benefits of choosing organic foods is not enough. Far too many of us don’t have the choice. Today, billions of our tax dollars are subsidizing pesticide-intensive agriculture while organic programs and research are woefully underfunded. This misdirection of public dollars is one of the reasons many people across the country still don’t have access to, or can’t afford, organic food.


Storm creates chaos in California with flooding, mudslides

Made worse by the fact that global warming has caused an increase in the moisture content of air.


Waves of heavy rain pounded California on Thursday, trapping people in floodwaters, washing away a mountain highway, triggering a mudslide that destroyed homes and forcing residents to flee communities scorched by wildfires last year.

At least two people died as the powerful system swept in from the Pacific Ocean and unleashed damaging rain, snow and wind.

The system was moving across the U.S. West into Wyoming and Colorado after walloping Northern California and southern Oregon a day earlier.

The National Weather Service reported staggering rainfall amounts across California, including more than 9.4 inches (24 centimeters) over 48 hours at one location in the San Bernardino Mountains east of Los Angeles.


North of San Francisco, a mudslide barreled over cars, uprooted trees and sent a home sliding down a hill and smashing into another house in Sausalito.


The storm followed more than a week of severe weather in the Pacific Northwest and was the latest in a series of storms that has all but eliminated drought-level dryness in California this winter. It’s fueled by an atmospheric river — a plume of moisture stretching across the Pacific Ocean nearly to Hawaii.


Atmospheric rivers are long bands of water vapor that form over an ocean and flow through the sky. Formed by winds associated with storms, they occur globally but are especially significant on the West Coast.


Netflix Made $845 Million In Profits And Paid $0 In Taxes Under New GOP Tax Law

Sahid Fawaz February 7, 2019

Chances are you, and everyone else you know, paid more in taxes than Netflix did thanks to the Republican tax plan.

The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy reports:

“The popular video streaming service Netflix posted its largest-ever U.S. profit in 2018­­—$845 million—on which it didn’t pay a dime in federal or state income taxes. In fact, the company reported a $22 million federal tax rebate.


Netflix’s tax avoidance should come as no surprise to those who followed the debate leading up to the passage of the new tax law: A 2017 ITEP report identified Netflix as one of 100 profitable Fortune 500 corporations that paid a 0 percent federal income tax rate in at least one profitable year between 2008 and 2015. In fact, Netflix did it twice, and paid an average tax rate of 13.6 percent over the eight-year period, meaning that the company sheltered more than half of its profits from the 35 percent federal income tax rate in effect at the time.

Leading up to the 2017 tax battle, the hope of reformers was that Congress would take a fiscally responsible approach and weed out loopholes that made Netflix’s tax avoidance possible. Instead, GOP leaders who championed the law and President Trump chose to focus on cutting the corporate tax rate as far as possible—from 35 to 21 percent—while leaving in place special breaks and loopholes.”

For the rest of the article, visit the ITEP here.

Thinking about thinking

We need to break the habit of simplistic either/or thinking. I don't know how much this might be built into human thinking, but it is surely encourage by our education, where we have single-choice test questions. It is our choice whether to make an effort to cultivate a more balanced way of thinking.

Honda Ridgeline Recalled Because Car Wash Soap May Break It

By: Anthony Karr
Feb 15, 2018


the company will have to inspect 106,683 examples of the pickup for a potential fire risk. This might sound like a pretty common service recall in the industry, but the reason for it this time is rather unusual. NHTSA says that exposure to acids, including car wash soaps, may result in the fuel pump feet port cracking, thus increasing the risk of fire.


Honda is already talking to its dealers and will be notifying owners of affected vehicles soon. Ridgelines from model years 2017, 2018, and 2019 are affected, and Honda promises, if necessary, to install a new fuel pump cover to protect the pump from acids. The recall is scheduled to begin on March 7 and owners are advised to contact Honda for more details. All fixes will be free of charge.


Thursday, February 14, 2019

Amazon Will Pay a Whopping $0 in Federal Taxes on $11.2 Billion Profits

And Amazon tries to extort welfare for itself from states where it might locate part of its business.

By Laura Stampler
Feb. 14, 2019

Those wondering how many zeros Amazon, which is valued at a trillion dollars, has to pay in federal taxes might be surprised to learn that its check to the IRS will read exactly $0.00.

According to a report published by the Institute on Taxation and Economic (ITEP) policy Wednesday, the e-tail/retail/tech/entertainment/everything giant won’t have to pay a cent in federal taxes for the second year in a row.

This tax-free break comes even though Amazon almost doubled its profits from $5.6 billion to $11.2 billion between 2017 and 2018.

To top it off, Amazon actually reported a $129 million 2018 federal income tax rebate—making its tax rate -1%.


But even though Trump previously blasted Amazon for its limited state taxes—a single presidential tweet caused the company’s shares to fall by 9%—ITEP notes that its non-existent federal tax payment is a result of the Trump Administration’s corporation-friendly tax cuts. The think tank writes that the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act not only decreased corporate tax rates from 35% to 21%, but it also didn’t close “a slew of tax loopholes that allow profitable companies to routinely avoid paying federal and state income taxes on almost half of their profits.”


Weedkiller 'raises risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma by 41%'

Glyphosate is the active ingredient in products such as Roundup, Rodeo Aquatic Herbicide, and Eraser.

Carey Gillam
Thu 14 Feb 2019 10.13 EST
First published on Thu 14 Feb 2019 01.00 EST

A broad new scientific analysis of the cancer-causing potential of glyphosate herbicides, the most widely used weedkilling products in the world, has found that people with high exposures to the popular pesticides have a 41% increased risk of developing a type of cancer called non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

The evidence “supports a compelling link” between exposures to glyphosate-based herbicides and increased risk for non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), the authors concluded, though they said the specific numerical risk estimates should be interpreted with caution.

The findings by five US scientists contradict the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) assurances of safety over the weed killer and come as regulators in several countries consider limiting the use of glyphosate-based products in farming.


Why America’s New Apartment Buildings All Look the Same

I am posting this because within a half hour after seeing it, I saw a report on a massive fire in the Atlanta area.

by Justin Fox
Feb. 13, 2019

These buildings are in almost every U.S. city. They range from three to seven stories tall and can stretch for blocks. They’re usually full of rental apartments, but they can also house college dorms, condominiums, hotels, or assisted-living facilities. Close to city centers, they tend toward a blocky, often colorful modernism; out in the suburbs, their architecture is more likely to feature peaked roofs and historical motifs. Their outer walls are covered with fiber cement, metal, stucco, or bricks.

They really are everywhere, I discovered on a cross-country drive last fall, and they’re going up fast. In 2017, 187,000 new housing units were completed in buildings of 50 units or more in the U.S., the most since the Census Bureau started keeping track in 1972. By my informal massaging of the data, well over half of those were in blocky mid-rises.


The number of floors and the presence of a podium varies; the key unifying element, it turns out, is under the skin. They’re almost always made of softwood two-by-fours, or “stick,” in construction parlance, that have been nailed together in frames like those in suburban tract houses.


In the U.S., stick framing appears to have become the default construction method for apartment complexes as well. The big reason is that it costs much less—I heard estimates from 20 percent to 40 percent less—than building with concrete, steel, or masonry.


They’re also comfortable with wood. “You can make mistakes and you can cut another piece,” says Michael Feigin, chief construction officer at AvalonBay Communities Inc., the country’s fourth-biggest apartment owner. “With concrete and steel, it’s just a lot more work to fix problems.” If supplies run out, adds Kenneth Bland, a vice president at the trade group American Wood Council, builders “know they can run to the nearest big box and get what they need.”

They can also run to the nearest big-box store to find workers. Stick construction allows builders to use cheaper casual labor rather than often-unionized skilled tradespeople. And it makes life easier for electricians, plumbers, and the like because it leaves open spaces through which wires, pipes, and ducts can run. Still, there’s a reason why stick wasn’t the default for big apartment buildings until recently, and why these buildings are limited in height: Sticks burn.


By the second half of the 20th century, the suburbs were where America was moving, and as they evolved from bedroom communities into a new kind of city, the stick building evolved with them—into forms such as the “dingbats” of Los Angeles (one or two stories atop a carport) and the parking-rich garden-apartment complexes outside Atlanta, Dallas, and other metropolises.


The advance of the mid-rise stick building has come with less fanfare, and left local officials and even some in the building industry surprised and unsettled. “It’s a plague, and it happened when no one was watching,” says Steven Zirinsky, building code committee co-chairman for the New York City chapter of the American Institute of Architects. What caught his attention was a blaze that broke out in January 2015 at the Avalon apartments in Edgewater, N.J., across the Hudson River from his home. “When I could read a book in my apartment by the flame of that fire,” he says, “I knew there was a problem.” Ignited by a maintenance worker’s torch, the fire spread through concealed spaces in the floors and attic of the four-story complex, abetted by a partial sprinkler system that didn’t cover those areas. No one died, but the building was destroyed.


These fires often bring a local outcry to restrict stick apartments. The Atlanta suburbs of Sandy Springs and Dunwoody enacted bans on wood-frame buildings above three stories, but they were later overturned by the Georgia legislature. There’s also talk of new regulations in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Massachusetts, and Maryland. But the place where legislative action seems most likely is New Jersey.


Glenn Corbett, a former firefighter who teaches fire science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, took me on a tour of some of New Jersey’s “toothpick towers,” as he calls them, pointing out places that fire engines can’t reach and things that could go wrong as the buildings age. “You’re reintroducing these conflagration hazards to urban environments,” he says. “We’re intentionally putting problems in every community in the country, problems that generations of firefighters that haven’t even been born yet are going to have to deal with.”


Heading south: Warming to change how US cities feel in 2080

Updated Feb 13, 11:06 AM; Posted Feb 13, 11:06 AM

The climate in New York City in 60 years could feel like Arkansas now. Chicago could seem like Kansas City and San Francisco could get a Southern California climate if global warming pollution continues at the current pace, a new study finds.


"The children alive today, like my daughter who is 12, they're going to see a dramatic transformation of climate. It's already under way," said study lead author Matt Fitzpatrick. He's an ecology professor at the University of Maryland's Center for Environmental Sciences in Frostburg, Maryland, which won't quite measure up to its name with climate more like current day southern Kentucky.


The 540 cities on average move 528 miles to the south climate-wise, if carbon emissions keep soaring. If the world cuts back, the cities move on average 319 miles.

The city that moves the most is Wasilla, Alaska, which if emissions aren’t cut back could feel like eastern Wisconsin, 11 degrees warmer in the summer. It’s a change of about 2,720 miles.


Racial disparities in US cancer deaths are shrinking, study finds

By Jacqueline Howard, CNN
Updated 10:01 AM ET, Thu February 14, 2019

Racial disparities in cancer deaths between black and white patients in the United States are receding -- but more progress is needed to completely close the gap for some cancer types and age groups, according to a new study.

Among men, the overall cancer death rate was 47% higher for blacks than for whites in 1990, but that difference dropped to 19% in 2016, and the disparity has been nearly eliminated in men younger than 50, according to the study published in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians on Thursday.

Among women, the disparity decreased from 19% in 1990 to 13% in 2016 and was nearly eliminated for women 70 and older.


Tuesday, February 12, 2019

History repeats itself

Looking for an article in a back issue of Scientific American, I saw the following in the contents of the Aug. 1991 issue.:

Antiscience Trends in the U.S.S.R.

A prominent Soviet scientist traces the reasons underlying the current surge in superstitions, cults and antitechnological protests in his country
By Sergei Kapitza

The Psychological Trap of Freelancing

By Charlotte Cowles
Feb. 8, 2019


People who attach dollar signs to their time — or “value time like money” — tend to be overwhelmingly less happy than those who don’t, because their nonworking hours suddenly seem less important. “Free” time gets tainted with guilt because there’s a cost associated with it.

Many Americans fall into this trap. A 2016 study found that 63 percent of respondents valued money over time, while the smaller percentage of people who valued time over money reported greater well-being than the larger group. This correlation was consistent even after researchers controlled for factors like income — which complicates the assumption that prioritizing time over money is a luxury that only rich people can afford.


Monday, February 11, 2019

A Princess Vanishes. A Video Offers Alarming Clues.

By Vivian Yee
Feb. 10, 2019

The princess known as Sheikha Latifa had not left Dubai, the glittering emirate ruled by her father, in 18 years. Her requests to travel and study elsewhere had been denied. Her passport had been taken away. Her friends’ apartments were forbidden to her, her palace off-limits to them.

At 32, Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum went nowhere without a watchful chauffeur.

“There’s no justice here,” she said in a video she secretly recorded last year. “Especially if you’re a female, your life is so disposable.”

So it was with a jolt of astonishment that her friends overseas read a WhatsApp message from her last March announcing that she had left Dubai “for good.”


Within a few days of setting sail on the Indian Ocean in the Frenchman’s yacht, bound for India and then the United States, the sheikha went silent. She has not been seen since, except in a few photos released in December by her family, which says she is safely home after surviving what they said was a kidnapping.

Yet thanks to the video she made before fleeing, her face and voice have made their way around the world, drawing more than two million views on YouTube, spurring avid news coverage and marring Dubai’s image as a world capital of glitz and commerce.

Like the young women who have fled Saudi Arabia’s restrictive regime, Sheikha Latifa has made sure no one can forget how few freedoms are allotted to women in the Middle East’s most conservative societies — or how costly crossing Dubai’s ruler can be.


Fearing for her life if she was caught, she said she was recording the video in case she failed.

“They’re not going to take me back alive,” she said. “That’s not going to happen. If I don’t make it out alive, at least there’s this video.”

Sheikha Latifa first faced rigid restrictions after her sister’s failed escape attempt years earlier.


When she was 14, her older sister Shamsa escaped from her family’s security detail on a trip to England. Her father, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, owns a large estate there and a prominent thoroughbred racing stable, Godolphin.

News reports at the time said Emirati personnel eventually tracked Shamsa to a street in Cambridge, forcing her into a car. When a Scotland Yard detective began investigating her case as a kidnapping, Dubai authorities refused to let him interview her. The case dead-ended there.

Sheikha Latifa said Shamsa, the only of 30 siblings to whom she was close, had been drugged into docility ever since.

Horrified by Shamsa’s treatment, Sheikha Latifa said she tried to escape across the border to Oman. Retrieved almost immediately, she said she was held in solitary confinement for more than three years.

Emirati family law allows women to be punished for disobeying, and she said she was frequently pulled out of bed to be beaten, deprived of medical care and, until the final few months, even a toothbrush.

Even after she was released at 19, her life was defined by her family’s constraints as much as by its wealth.


Eating 'ultraprocessed' foods accelerates your risk of early death, study says

By Susan Scutti, CNN
Updated 11:59 AM ET, Mon February 11, 2019

The quick and easy noshes you love are chipping away at your mortality one nibble at a time, according to new research from France: We face a 14% higher risk of early death with each 10% increase in the amount of ultraprocessed foods we eat.

"Ultraprocessed foods are manufactured industrially from multiple ingredients that usually include additives used for technological and/or cosmetic purposes," wrote the authors of the study, published Monday in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine. "Ultraprocessed foods are mostly consumed in the form of snacks, desserts, or ready-to-eat or -heat meals," and their consumption "has largely increased during the past several decades."

This trend may drive an increase of early deaths due to chronic illnesses, including cancer and cardiovascular disease, they say.

In the United States, 61% of an adult's total diet comes from ultraprocessed foods, in Canada, it is 62%, and in the UK, that proportion is 63%, a recent study found. Yet research also indicates that eating ultraprocessed foods can lead to obesity, high blood pressure and cancer, the study authors say.


Further studies are needed to confirm these results, the authors say. Still, they speculate that the additives, the packaging (chemicals leech into the food during storage) and the processing itself, including high-temperature processing, may be the factors that negatively affect health.


Fitzgerald recommends that people look not only at the front of a package when they buy ready-made meals, but also at the back.
"Look at the ingredients list. Do you understand all those ingredients that go into your foods?" she asked. Buy only those products "with the least number of ingredients and with ingredients you understand."

More than 99,000 pounds of chicken are being recalled from Walmart, Winn-Dixie, and other stores

Kate Taylor
Feb. 11, 2019

More than 99,000 pounds of chicken are being recalled due to egg contamination concerns.

VICS Acquisition is recalling 99,975 pounds of chicken products that contain eggs, an ingredient that is not mentioned on the packaging, the US Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced on Sunday.

The chicken was sold under the brands Happi Foodi Bloody Mary Inspired Chicken, as well as Southeast Grocers Brand Marsala Chicken and Southeast Grocers Brand Mediterranean Herb Chicke


Sunday, February 10, 2019

They Have Worked on Conflicts Overseas. Now These Americans See ‘Red Flags’ at Home.

They address dehumanization on both sides of the political divide. To deny that this happens on one's own side, and that the other side must be motivated by evil reasons, is exactly an example of dehumanizing others.

Please read the whole article.

By Sabrina Tavernise
Feb. 4, 2019

Paula Green has spent much of her life working on conflicts abroad. In places like Bosnia, Rwanda and Myanmar, Dr. Green, an American psychologist, brings together survivors of war, helping them see past their differences so they can live with one another again.

But recently, she began seeing some warning signs in the United States, flashes of social distress that she recognized from her work abroad, and after 29 years of peacemaking in other places, she decided to turn her lens on her own society.

“People are making up stories about ‘the other’ — Muslims, Trump voters, whoever ‘the other’ is,” she said. “‘They don’t have the values that we have. They don’t behave like we do. They are not nice. They are evil.’”

She added: “That’s dehumanization. And when it spreads, it can be very hard to correct.”

Dr. Green is now among a growing group of conflict resolution experts who are turning their focus on the United States, a country that some have never worked on. They are gathering groups in schools and community centers to apply their skills to help a country — this time their own — where they see troubling trends.


“There are a lot of people who have been working internationally who are calling me up and saying, ‘Oh my gosh, what do we do? We have to do something,’” said Elizabeth Hume, a former conflict expert for the government, who is vice president of the Alliance for Peacebuilding, a professional association for conflict prevention experts.

“We are seeing some serious red flags,” she said, “things that make conflict experts like me really nervous.”

Conflict experts said while the United States is not nearly in the dire state of some of the other countries they work in, the resilience of American institutions was being tested. And the deterioration of political stability is always gradual.


Ms. Fields said the group was able to talk about hard things because of what came before: the feeling that the other side had heard them and that they had become, in a fundamental way, equals.

“I think we all expected it to be a lot harder than it was,” Ms. Fields said. “I really learned that no matter how differently we think or vote, if we take a moment to see the other person for who they are, as somebody with a family and a story, that made the hard stuff easier.”

She added: “It was about having a hard conversation in a soft place.”

Floods, fire and drought: Australia, a country in the grip of extreme weather bingo

Global warming has caused an increase in the moisture content of the atmosphere, and also more stalling of weather patterns, which is leading to more events of extreme flooding.

The denialism noted in the article ties back to my previous post, on moral decision making.

Adam Morton and Ben Smee in Townsville
Sat 9 Feb 2019 16.09 EST

The people of Townsville know about heavy rain, but this was new. Over the past fortnight, the northern Queensland city’s 180,000 residents have been hit by a monsoon strengthened by a low-pressure front that dragged moist air south from the equator to Australia’s top end.

It dumped an unprecedented 1.4 metres [4.6 feet] of rain in less than two weeks – roughly double what falls on London in a year.

The ensuing chaos has wrecked homes and caused hundreds of millions of dollars of damage to property. Two men have drowned and videos posted to social media have shown crocodiles climbing trees and taking to elevated highways in search of shelter.


Asked if he was concerned that climate change was making floods more extreme, he was clear: “If anyone mentions that, I’ll punch ‘em.”

“The weather events seem to be getting more extreme. Whether it’s manmade or natural or who knows.

“These people crying about climate change, they’ve got to look at how they live themselves. They’re still driving around in cars, they’re still wearing nice clothes. They’re using mobile phones. So give that up, I’ll start listening to you.

“City people are stalling us. We need the economy here to be boosted.”

In a city with nearly one in ten unemployed his view holds purchase. And so goes some of the public debate in Australia about the impact of rising greenhouse gas emissions.
See the previous post on how money affects moral decision making.


The north Queensland flooding is far from the only punishing event in what has been, even by the standards of the continent, a historically hostile summer.


Australia is, of course, no stranger to extreme weather - bushfire, flooding, rains and skin-peeling heat are central to its history and mythology - but the contrasts this southern summer have been particularly stark. Lesley Hughes, a professor of biology at Macquarie University and councillor with publicly funded communication body the Climate Council, says few parts of the continent have not experienced an extreme weather event in recent months.

More than 3000 kilometres to Townsville’s south, Tasmania is burning. For the second time in four years, dry lightning strikes sparked a series of blazes on the usually cool, temperate island, many of them in the vast world heritage wilderness area that covers nearly half its territory. In one 30-hour period in mid-January, an extended electrical storm danced across the summer sky, sending down more than 2400 lightning strikes without rain.


Elsewhere, communities in the sparsely populated Australian outback continue to deal with the fallout from a long-term drought. On social media, a Greens MP in New South Wales, David Shoebridge, highlighted a constituent forced to pay $70 a week on drinking water for her and her son after the raw water supply in the town of Walgett was turned off.


For most, the most obvious extreme weather shift has been the heat. January was Australia’s hottest month on record by a wide margin, with average national temperatures nearly a degree [nearly 2F] beyond the previous benchmark and 2.9 degrees [5.2F] warmer than the long-term mean. In New South Wales, the average temperature was nearly 6 degrees [10.8F] hotter than what has been considered normal for the past century.

Blair Trewin, senior climatologist with the Bureau of Meteorology, says: “Even taking into account the sustained long-term warming trend of a degree or so over a century, this is certainly at the far end of expectations.”


“For those people, work’s been hard to come by for a while and that’s been a real issue for people in Townsville,” she said.

“There’s not really been much put forward, and this region is really dependent on mining. People want to see jobs in mining, they want to see Adani go ahead. That’s the priority for people at the moment. Whether they agree with climate change, care about it or whatever, that’s a secondary priority to making ends meet now.


Lesley Hughes, who helped launch a Climate Council report called Weather Gone Wild, says emissions are effectively loading the dice to increase the likelihood of an extreme weather event. “What we are now observing is consistent with the climate science – as the Earth warms up, more extreme weather is inevitable,” she says.

In the case of the floods, a warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture, which in the event of a storm can mean heavier rain in a shorter space of time.

In the case of the Tasmanian fires, not only has the state become warmer (2.5 degrees above average in January) but low-pressure weather patterns that used to produce rain over the state have also moved further south as the climate has warmed, and evaporation rates have increased. Both increase the risk of dry lightning strike causing a blaze. Hobart, the Tasmanian capital, recorded just 0.4 millimetres of rain in January, the lowest on record.


tags: extreme weather, severe weather

Moral decision making.

By Julia Shaw
6 February 2019

Money changes our relationship with morality. The very existence of money, along with complex business and distribution channels, acts as a buffer between ourselves and the origin of our products. This can make us behave in ways that are deeply unethical.

I can prove it to you. Do you think animal torture is evil? And do you also eat factory-farmed meat? Many people who would strongly disagree, in principle, with animal cruelty also eat meat that has been raised in terrible conditions.


By reframing the same issue and adding a price tag we make some acts seem far less offensive. We can’t see them first hand, so they feel like they are unrelated to us. All we can see is the price.

Why? When we understand why we eat meat that we know has been raised in poor conditions, we can begin to understand many other forms of behaviour that conflict with deeply held moral principles.


With many decisions, including the choice to eat meat, the excuses we make are largely post hoc – after we have chosen to indulge we need to justify why the behaviour was OK, and why it is OK to do it again. And we need the excuses, or else we feel like bad people.

When we say one thing but do another, or hold inconsistent beliefs, psychologists call it cognitive dissonance. The term was developed by Leon Festinger, who first used it in 1957.


This was the first of many experiments to show that we often bring our beliefs in line with our behaviour, and that money can change the way we do this.

In 1962 Festinger further formalised his ideas. He stated that although we believe ourselves to be generally consistent – in our behaviours, beliefs and attitudes – sometimes we go rogue. This inconsistency he called dissonance, while consistency he called consonance. He summarised his cognitive dissonance theory as follows:

The existence of dissonance, being psychologically uncomfortable, will motivate the person to try to reduce the dissonance and achieve consonance.
When dissonance is present, in addition to trying to reduce it, the person will actively avoid situations and information which would likely increase the dissonance.


In addition to our own attempts to justify meat-eating, advertising and marketing can make it easier for us to do so. According to research by sociologist Liz Grauerholz on images of animals in popular culture, one way to make meat-eating seem acceptable is to dissociate it from the animal it came from.


This isn’t just relevant for meat-eating. When we turn animals or humans into objects, and thereby avoid the discomfort caused by knowing about the suffering behind consumer goods, we make it easier to be cruel. The same processes we see with meat, we see with all kinds of other morally unacceptable but common human behaviours that have to do with money.

We know that poverty causes great suffering, yet instead of sharing our wealth we buy another pair of expensive shoes. We fundamentally disagree with the idea of child labour or adults working under horrible conditions, but keep shopping at discount stores. We stay in the dark, to protect our delicate identities, to maintain the illusion that we are consistent and ethically sensible human beings.

In this constant effort to reduce cognitive dissonance, we may spread morally questionable behaviour to others. We begin to shape societies in ways to minimise our discomfort, to not remind us of our inconsistencies. We don’t want constant reminders. And, as Bastian and Loughnan argue, “through the process of dissonance reduction, the apparent immorality of certain behaviours can seemingly disappear.”

Hypocrisy can flourish in certain social and cultural environments. Social habits can cast a veil over our moral conflicts, by normalising behaviours and making them invisible and resistant to change.