Sunday, February 28, 2021

Biden's stimulus plan is popular. The GOP needs to accept that.

Congressional republicans blocked most of President Obama's attempts to stimulate the economy in order to deliberately slow down economic recovery from the Great Recession, in order to make Obama look bad and help their own party.  The effects of the slow recovery on people's lives helped fuel the anger that led to the increase in right-wing violence, including the attempt to overthrow the government on Nov. 6.  But republicans are still using the same tactics.


Feb. 26, 2021, 5:35 AM EST
By Hayes Brown, MSNBC Opinion Columnist

There may be no creature on this planet more stubborn than a Republican member of Congress. President Joe Biden's Covid-19 stimulus package is chugging along, with Democrats in the both the House and the Senate committed to its passage. And yet as a whole, the GOP caucus is still digging in its heels. But its reluctance reflects a partisan commitment to obstruction, not what Americans want.


But whether Republicans like it or not (and they don't) the bill as it stands is the only game in town right now. In response, they are pretty transparent about their efforts to obstruct like the dickens in the hope that they can turn around and blame Democrats for not getting anything done for Americans in the 2022 midterm elections. In effect, they're running the same play that they used effectively at the beginning of the Great Recession over a decade ago. But 2021 isn't 2009, and it's truly wild that Republicans can't see that yet.


A poll by Quinnipiac University taken in the last week of January found that 68 percent of respondents were on board with Biden's plan, including about 37 percent of Republicans. A New York Times/SurveyMonkey poll taken the next week bumped that approval up to 72 percent of respondents and 43 percent of Republicans surveyed. But most eye-popping was this week's news that a new Morning Consult/Politico survey found that 60 percent of Republicans asked were at least somewhat supportive of the $1.9 trillion package. Overall, 76 percent of the respondents in that poll wanted the bill signed into law.


Even elected Republicans back this bill, as long as they aren't coastal elites who spend their days in Washington, D.C. Out in the real heartland — places like Arizona, Texas and Oklahoma — mayors of cities in need of help are throwing their support behind Biden's stimulus efforts. As Mayor Bryan Barnett of Rochester Hills, Michigan, told USA Today, his constituents aren't interested in "the games being played in Washington." (And I've been to Rochester Hills, Michigan; it's not exactly a bastion of liberalism.)


And yet, when the package passed out of the House Budget committee on Monday, it was on a party-line vote, with all 16 Republican members voting nay. The same day that Biden was asking Republicans to listen to their voters, House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., sent out a message to his caucus urging a no vote.


Now, there's still a chance that Republicans' cynical gamble will pay off for them politically. By fall 2010, just ahead of the midterms, the GOP's anti-Obama mantra had sunk in with voters — more than two-thirds of Americans thought the 2009 stimulus bill was "a waste" by then. But Democrats may have learned their lesson: Go big or go home. They aren't budging on the size and scope of the bill, making it less likely that its effects are forgotten quickly.

All this means that I, for one, am looking forward to the midterm commercials in 2022, when Republican members of the House are touting the benefits of the package while bending over backward to avoid citing where the funding came from. But we'll know. And we'll remember how hard they worked to block it.

Electricity needed to mine bitcoin is more than used by 'entire countries'

Lauren Aratani
Sat 27 Feb 2021 03.00 EST
Last modified on Sat 27 Feb 2021 03.03 EST

It’s not just the value of bitcoin that has soared in the last year – so has the huge amount of energy it consumes.

The cryptocurrency’s value has dipped recently after passing a high of $50,000 but the energy used to create it has continued to soar during its epic rise, climbing to the equivalent to the annual carbon footprint of Argentina, according to Cambridge Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index, a tool from researchers at Cambridge University that measures the currency’s energy use.


Bitcoin mining – the process in which a bitcoin is awarded to a computer that solves a complex series of algorithms – is a deeply energy-intensive process.

“Mining” bitcoin involves solving complex math problems in order to create new bitcoins. Miners are rewarded in bitcoin.


The amount of electricity used to mine bitcoin “has historically been more than [electricity used by] entire countries, like Ireland”, said Benjamin Jones, a professor of economics at the University of New Mexico who has researched bitcoin’s environmental impact. “We’re talking about multiple terawatts, dozens of terawatts a year of electricity being used just for bitcoin … That’s a lot of electricity.”


The energy wasted by plugged-in but inactive home devices in the US alone could power bitcoin mining for 1.8 years, according to the Cambridge Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index.

But environmentalists say that mining is still a cause for concern particularly because miners will go wherever electricity is cheapest and that may mean places that use coal. According to Cambridge, China has the most bitcoin mining of any country by far. While the country has been slowly moving toward renewable energy, about two-thirds of its electricity comes from coal.


A single transaction of bitcoin has the same carbon footprint as 680,000 Visa transactions or 51,210 hours of watching YouTube, according to the site.

A paper from 2018 from the Oak Ridge Institute in Ohio found that one dollar’s worth of bitcoin took 17 megajoules of energy, more than double the amount of energy it took to mine one dollar’s worth of copper, gold and platinum. Another study from the UK published last year said that computer power required to mine Bitcoin quadrupled in 2019 compared with the year before, and that mining has had an influence in prices in some power and utility markets.


Republicans sued over proxy voting in the pandemic. Now they're using it to speak at CPAC.

Christal Hayes

Feb. 27,2021

House Republicans were furious over the summer when the House made unprecedented changes allowing lawmakers to designate a proxy and vote on their behalf amid traveling concerns due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

They held news conferences. They lobbied their members against using the proxy function. House Republican leadership even led a lawsuit over the change, calling it unconstitutional.

But now it appears quite a few members of the GOP have changed their tune. And a host of Republicans designated proxies, each citing the "ongoing public health emergency," to travel to Florida for the Conservative Political Action Conference.

Since Thursday, when CPAC began its annual conference, nearly two dozen House Republicans have written letters to the House clerk to notify they would be absent due to the COVID-19 pandemic and designated a proxy to vote on their behalf. Others, including several CPAC speakers, designated proxies to cast their vote before Thursday.


"Apparently hypocrisy has become a tenant of the Republican Party," Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., wrote on Twitter, noting the months the GOP has complained about proxy voting. "Let me get this straight: these Members can’t vote in person because of the pandemic, but they manage to attend CPAC?...They were even maskless at this super spreader event! It’s outrageous."

Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., agreed, writing on Twitter that these Republicans were skipping a vote on a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package to be at the annual conservative conference.


The list of Republicans who wrote letters appointing a proxy include speakers at CPAC on Friday, such as Reps. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla.; Greg Steube, R-Fla.; Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C.; and Ted Budd, R-N.C. Rep. Mark Green, R-Tenn., who is speaking Saturday at the conference, signed onto a lawsuit against proxy voting.

Several others speaking Saturday at CPAC also signaled they would vote by proxy, including Reps. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz.; Devin Nunes, R-Calif.; Mike Kelly, R-Penn.; Lauren Boebert, R-Colo.; and Jim Banks, R-Ind.


Napping is in the genes and not a 'behavioural choice,' Harvard study finds


Max Stephens
Sun, February 28, 2021, 3:57 PM

Napping is in the genes and not a "behavioral choice," a Harvard study has found.

Through examining the genomes of nearly half a million people from the UK, scientists discovered that daytime napping is “biologically driven”.

Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital identified 123 regions in the human genome, which were associated with daytime napping.

Digging deeper into the data, they identified three potential napping mechanisms.

The first two, dubbed "disrupted sleep" and "early morning awakening" refer to people who nap because they either did not get enough sleep the night before or woke up at the crack of dawn.

The third referred to sleep propensity - how much sleep is required by a particular individual.

Dr Dashti said: "This tells us that daytime napping is biologically driven and not just an environmental or behavioural choice."


It comes after findings from the British Medical Journal that a five-minute nap in the afternoon can improve the memory and keep the brain more agile.

People who took regular afternoon naps appeared to speak more fluently and remember things better than those who did not break up the day with some sleep, according to the study.

Friday, February 26, 2021

Truth is stranger than fiction

Feb. 26, 2021

When I saw friends posting that gilded statue of Donald Trump on Facebook yesterday, I assumed it was some kind of joke.  Found out today that it is actually being displayed at CPAC !

Costco makes profit while paying employees more than Walmart

Dan Price

12:55 PM · Feb 26, 2021

Min wage
Costco: $16
Walmart: $11

Average pay
Costco: $24
Walmart: $15

Employees on food stamps (subsidized by you)
Costco: Virtually none
Walmart: More than any other company

Founder net worth
Costco: not a billionaire
Walmart: over $220 billion; up $30 billion in pandemic

This Popular Condiment Is Helping Save Sea Turtles From One of Israel’s Worst Oil Spills


 Olivia Rosane
Feb. 25, 2021 02:21PM EST

Rescue workers in Israel are using a surprising cure to save the sea turtles harmed by a devastating oil spill: mayonnaise!

The condiment can both help break down the tar that has coated even the turtles' insides and clean out their system, Guy Ivgy, a medical assistant at the National Sea Turtle Rescue Center in Michmoret, explained to The Associated Press.

"They came to us full of tar. All their trachea from inside and outside was full of tar," he said.

Tar from a mysterious oil spill began washing up on Israeli beaches last week, as EcoWatch reported previously. The spill is being called one of the worst ecological disasters in the nation's history, and has now covered most of Israel's 120 miles of coastline along the Mediterranean, according to The Associated Press. It has now also spread to the coastline of Lebanon.

The spill has generated around 1,000 tons of tar, which has seriously affected wildlife, including sea turtles. The injured turtles have been taken to the National Sea Turtle Rescue Center, which is north of Tel Aviv. Ivgy told The Associated Press Tuesday that the center was currently treating 11 turtles. Yaniv Levy, the center's founder and director, told Haaretz the same day that the center was treating 27 turtles total and six for tar damage specifically.

The tar-coated turtles have to be cleaned both inside and out, Levy explained.

"They all got here with a coat of tar on their heads, and in their eyes, nostrils, mouth, digestive system and stomach," he said. "With this kind of damage they have no chance to survive without treatment. We removed the tar from their nostrils and eyes so they could breathe and see."


Arctic ice loss forces polar bears to use four times as much energy to survive

Phoebe Weston
Wed 24 Feb 2021 08.50 EST

Polar bears and narwhals are using up to four times as much energy to survive because of major ice loss in the Arctic, according to scientists.

Once perfectly evolved for polar life, apex predators are struggling as their habitats shrink and unique adaptations become less suited to an increasingly ice-free Arctic, researchers say.

The mammals are physiologically designed to use as little energy as possible. Polar bears are primarily “sit and wait” hunters, adapted to catching seals by breathing holes, and narwhals have evolved to dive very deep for prey without making fast movements. Now, however, they are having to work much harder to stay alive, according to a review article published in Journal of Experimental Biology.

Polar bears feed mainly on the energy-rich blubber of ringed and bearded seals, but this food source is harder to come by. The sea ice on which they hunt has shrunk by 13% every decade since 1979. Studies show that polar bears now swim for an average of three days to find seals, or search for less energy-dense terrestrial food sources, forcing them to travel greater distances.

Land-based resources are unlikely to compensate for the decline in seal feeding opportunities, meaning the bears are significantly more vulnerable to starvation. “A polar bear would need to consume approximately 1.5 caribou, 37 Arctic char, 74 snow geese, 216 snow goose eggs (ie 54 nests with four eggs per clutch) or 3m crowberries to equal the digestible energy available in the blubber of one adult ringed seal,” researchers write in the paper.


Falling sperm counts 'threaten human survival', expert warns

I've been concerned about this for years, although it might be for the longtime good of life on earth.  Few people = less consumption = less damage.  But it is also affecting other species.


Miranda Bryant
Fri 26 Feb 2021 02.00 EST

Falling sperm counts and changes to sexual development are “threatening human survival” and leading to a fertility crisis, a leading epidemiologist has warned.

Writing in a new book, Shanna Swan, an environmental and reproductive epidemiologist at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, warns that the impending fertility crisis poses a global threat comparable to that of the climate crisis.

“The current state of reproductive affairs can’t continue much longer without threatening human survival,” she writes in Count Down.

It comes after a study she co-authored in 2017 found that sperm counts in the west had plummeted by 59% between 1973 and 2011, making headlines globally.

Now, Swan says, following current projections, the median sperm count is set to reach zero in 2045. “That’s a little concerning, to say the least,” she told Axios.

[I am doubtful it will do that.  Like other species, humans have to be variable in how sensitive we are to pollutants.  And there are some parts of the world which are not exposed.  Time will tell.]


Between 1964 and 2018 the global fertility rate fell from 5.06 births per woman to 2.4. Now approximately half the world’s countries have fertility rates below 2.1, the population replacement level.

While contraception, cultural shifts and the cost of having children are likely to be contributing factors, Swan warns of indicators that suggest there are also biological reasons – including increasing miscarriage rates, more genital abnormalities among boys and earlier puberty for girls.

Swan blames “everywhere chemicals”, found in plastics, cosmetics and pesticides, that affect endocrines such as phthalates and bisphenol-A.

“Chemicals in our environment and unhealthy lifestyle practices in our modern world are disrupting our hormonal balance, causing various degrees of reproductive havoc,” she writes.

She also said factors such as tobacco smoking, marijuana and growing obesity play a role.

Pesticide imidacloprid threatens future for key pollinator

News Release 26-Feb-2021
University of Guelph

An insecticide used to control pest infestations on squash and pumpkins significantly hinders the reproduction of ground-nesting bees -- valuable pollinators for many food crops, a new University of Guelph study has revealed.

This first-ever study of pesticide impacts on a ground-nesting bee in a real-world context found female hoary squash bees exposed to imidacloprid dug 85 per cent fewer nests, collected less pollen from crop flowers and produced 89 per cent fewer offspring than unexposed bees.

"Because they're not making nests and not collecting pollen, they cannot raise offspring," said Dr. Susan Willis Chan, a post-doc in the School of Environmental Sciences (SES), who conducted the study with Dr. Nigel Raine, holder of the Rebanks Family Chair in Pollinator Conservation in SES. "That means imidacloprid-exposed populations are going to decline."

Neonicotinoids (or neonics) are neurotoxic insecticides that kill insects by attacking their nervous systems, affecting learning, foraging and navigation in many kinds of bees. Farmers use the neonic imidacloprid to control cucumber beetles, the most damaging crop pest for squash and pumpkins.

Many species of ground-nesting bees, including the hoary squash bee, are responsible for pollination of numerous fruits, vegetables and oilseed crops in North America, said Chan.

"Solitary ground-nesting bees make up about 70 per cent of bee species. It's a really important ecological group and is also really important in crop pollination," she said.

However, these ground-dwellers are often overlooked when it comes to evaluating the impacts of pesticides on pollinators, she added.


Prioritizing the oldest for COVID-19 vaccines saves more lives, potential years of life


News Release 26-Feb-2021
University of California - Berkeley


Challenging the idea that older people with shorter life expectancies should rank lower in coronavirus immunization efforts, new UC Berkeley research shows that giving vaccine priority to those most at risk of dying from COVID-19 will save the maximum number of lives, and their potential or future years of life.

The findings, published Feb. 25 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, address the ethical dilemma of who should be first in line for a limited supply of vaccine shots amid a contagion that so far has killed 500,000 in the United States and 2.4 million globally.

"Since older age is accompanied by falling life expectancy, it is widely assumed that means we're saving fewer years of life," said study lead author Joshua Goldstein, a UC Berkeley professor of demography.

"We show this to be mistaken," he added. "The age patterns of COVID-19 mortality are such that vaccinating the oldest first saves the most lives and, surprisingly, also maximizes years of remaining life expectancy."


New research finds exercise may help slow memory loss for people living with Alzheimer's dementia


News Release 26-Feb-2021
IOS Press


Promising new research shows aerobic exercise may help slow memory loss for older adults living with Alzheimer's dementia.


"Our primary finding indicates that a six-month aerobic exercise intervention significantly reduced cognitive decline in comparison to the natural course of changes for Alzheimer's dementia. However, we didn't find a superior effect of aerobic exercise to stretching, which is likely due to the pilot nature of our trial. We don't have the statistical power to detect between-group differences, there was substantial social interaction effect in the stretching group, and many stretching participants did aerobic exercise on their own." Yu said.


Judge Merrick Garland has been tutoring 2nd graders at Northeast DC elementary school for 21 years

 Author: Bruce Leshan
Published: 8:22 PM EST February 22, 2021
Updated: 12:31 AM EST February 23, 2021

"It goes to show the character of the man," says a D.C. mom whose children have gone from struggling to honor roll since Judge Garland started tutoring them.

He's been nominated for Supreme Court justice and Attorney General, but Judge Merrick Garland's favorite work may be at J.O. Wilson Elementary School in Northeast D.C.

He has tutored children at the school for more than two decades.


For nearly 22 years, a teacher at JO Wilson Elementary has picked a second grader to work with the judge. "I think that's the longest we've ever had anyone just stick to it," said Charlene Wilburn, a second-grade teacher, in a video released by the White House, when President Obama nominated him to the Supreme Court in 2016.

Garland stays with the child at least until they go off to middle school. "This is an opportunity to affect a child's life," said Garland in the White House video. "This is an enormous opportunity to watch someone go from being a hesitant reader to a good reader."

The judge has recruited dozens of other people at the courthouse to help tutor too. "I think he's very committed to the students and making sure they know there are people in places of power that care about them," said Carolyn Lerner, a mediator at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, where Garland is chief judge.


Thursday, February 25, 2021

Allergy season starts earlier each year due to climate change and pollen transport


News Release 25-Feb-2021


Allergy sufferers are no strangers to problems with pollen. But now - due to climate change - the pollen season is lasting longer and starting earlier than ever before, meaning more days of itchy eyes and runny noses. Warmer temperatures cause flowers to bloom earlier, while higher CO2 levels cause more pollen to be produced.

The effects of climate change on the pollen season have been studied at-length, and according to some scientists, has grown by as much as 20 days in the past 30 years, at least in the US and Canada.


Mortality rises among public when health workers get sick in an outbreak, model suggests


News Release 25-Feb-2021
Penn State


When healthcare workers become ill during a disease outbreak, overall case counts and mortality rates may significantly increase, according to a new model created by researchers at Penn State. The findings may help to improve interventions that aim to mitigate the effects of outbreaks such as COVID-19.


Menthol cigarettes helped recruit estimated 10 million extra US smokers over 38 years


News Release 25-Feb-2021
...And they were responsible for 378,000 premature deaths, calculate researchers


Menthol cigarettes helped recruit an estimated extra 10 million US smokers between 1980 and 2018, reveals the first study of its kind, published online in the journal Tobacco Control.

And these products were responsible for 378,000 premature deaths and a cumulative total of 3 million years of life lost during this period, estimate the researchers.

Menthol cigarettes were first created in 1926 but only started to become widely used between 1957 and 1962.

Because menthol produces a cooling sensation in the throat and airways, so curbing the irritation and harshness of cigarette smoke, mentholated cigarettes are thought to encourage young people to start smoking as well as make it harder for smokers to quit.

The 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act gave the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the power to ban menthol in cigarettes, but this power hasn't yet been exercised.


Decrease in peanut allergy among infants after guideline changes


News Release 25-Feb-2021
Murdoch Childrens Research Institute


Changes to food allergy guidelines has led to a 16 per cent decrease in peanut allergy among infants, according to new study.

The research, led by the Murdoch Children's Research Institute (MCRI) and to be presented at the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology Virtual Annual Meeting this Sunday, also found a significant increase in parents introducing peanut into their babies' diet since the guideline changes.

Introducing peanut early in a child's life has been shown to prevent peanut allergy during randomised controlled trials. But MCRI PhD candidate and study lead author Victoria Soriano said this research was the first to test the approach in homes and to analyse what impact the guideline changes have had on peanut allergies.

International infant feeding guidelines changed in 2016 to recommend introduction of peanut and other allergenic foods before 12 months.


Plant-based diets improve cardiac function, cognitive health


News Release 25-Feb-2021
Boston University School of Medicine


What if you could improve your heart health and brain function by changing your diet? Boston University School of Medicine researchers have found that by eating more plant-based food such as berries and green leafy vegetables while limiting consumption of foods high in saturated fat and animal products, you can slow down heart failure (HF) and ultimately lower your risk of cognitive decline and dementia.


Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Older women who ate more plant protein had lower risk of premature, dementia-related death


News Release 24-Feb-2021
Journal of the American Heart Association report
American Heart Association


Postmenopausal women who ate high levels of plant protein had lower risks of premature death, cardiovascular disease and dementia-related death compared with women who ate less plant proteins, according to new research published today in the Journal of the American Heart Association, an open access journal of the American Heart Association.

Previous research has shown an association between diets high in red meat and cardiovascular disease risk, yet the data is sparse and inconclusive about specific types of proteins, the study authors say.


Among the key findings:

    Compared to postmenopausal women who had the least amount of plant protein intake, those with the highest amount of plant protein intake had a 9% lower risk of death from all causes, a 12% lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease and a 21% lower risk of dementia-related death.
    Higher consumption of processed red meat was associated with a 20% higher risk of dying from dementia.
    Higher consumption of unprocessed meat, eggs and dairy products was associated with a 12%, 24% and 11% higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, respectively.
    Higher consumption of eggs was associated with a 10% higher risk of death due to cancer.
    However, higher consumption of eggs was associated with a 14% lower risk of dying from dementia, while higher poultry consumption was associated with a 15% lower risk.

"It is unclear in our study why eggs were associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular and cancer death," said lead study author Wei Bao, M.D., Ph.D., an assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. "It might be related to the way people cook and eat eggs. Eggs can be boiled, scrambled, poached, baked, basted, fried, shirred, coddled or pickled or in combinations with other foods. In the United States, people usually eat eggs in the form of fried eggs and often with other foods such as bacon. Although we have carefully accounted for many potential confounding factors in the analysis, it is still difficult to completely tease out whether eggs, other foods usually consumed with eggs, or even non-dietary factors related to egg consumption, may lead to the increased risk of cardiovascular and cancer death."


NCI study finds people with SARS-CoV-2 antibodies may have low risk of future infection


News Release 24-Feb-2021
NIH/National Cancer Institute


People who have had evidence of a prior infection with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, appear to be well protected against being reinfected with the virus, at least for a few months, according to a newly published study from the National Cancer Institute (NCI). This finding may explain why reinfection appears to be relatively rare, and it could have important public health implications, including decisions about returning to physical workplaces, school attendance, the prioritization of vaccine distribution, and other activities.


Diet high in poor quality carbohydrates increases heart disease and death


News Release 24-Feb-2021
McMaster University


A global study of people living on five continents has found a diet high in poor quality carbohydrates leads to a higher risk of heart attacks, strokes, and death.

The higher risks of a diet high in poor quality carbohydrates, called a high glycemic diet, were similar whether people had previous cardiovascular disease or not.


Those people consuming a diet in the highest 20 per cent of glycemic index were 50 per cent more likely to have a cardiovascular attack, stroke, or death if they had a pre-existing heart condition, or 20 per cent more likely to have an event if they did not have a pre-existing condition.

These risks were also higher among those people who were obese.


"PURE study papers have already indicated that not all carbohydrates foods are the same. Diets high in poor quality carbohydrates are associated with reduced longevity, while diets rich in high quality carbohydrates such as fruit, vegetables and legumes have beneficial effects," he said.

PHRI research investigator Mahshid Dehghan added: "This study also makes it clear that among a diverse population, a diet low in both its glycemic index and load has a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and death."

Most fruits, vegetables, beans, and intact whole grains have a low glycemic index, while white bread, rice, and potatoes have a high glycemic index.


Alternating lockdown strategy can help defeat COVID-19 and sustain socio-economic activity


News Release 24-Feb-2021
Bar-Ilan University


Social distancing - from mobility restrictions to complete lockdowns -- can take many weeks, possibly even months, a potentially devastating outcome for social and economic stability. One of the challenges is that the sick cannot be selectively isolated, since many of the spreaders remain pre-symptomatic for a period ranging from several days to as much as two weeks - invisible spreaders who continue to be socially active. Hence, it seems that without a population-wide lockdown isolating the carriers cannot be achieved effectively.

To bypass this challenge, researchers from Israel's Bar-Ilan University, led by Prof. Baruch Barzel, devised a strategy based on alternating lockdowns: first splitting the population into two groups, then alternating these groups between lockdown and routine activity in weekly succession. Together with isolation of the symptomatic spreaders and the adoption of everyday prophylactic behaviors, this strategy can help defeat the virus, while sustaining socio-economic activity at a 50% level. This strategy was recently published in the journal Nature Communications.

In the alternating lockdown routine, society is partitioned into two groups, with little interaction between them -- one half active this week, and the other active only the next. This will already slow the spread, but its main advantage is that it helps isolate the invisible spreaders, such as those who are pre-symptomatic carriers still in the incubation period. "Consider an individual who became infected during their active week. They are now in their pre-symptomatic period - the most dangerous stage, in which they are invisible spreaders. The crucial point is that, according to the alternating lock-down routine they are now scheduled to enter their lockdown phase," explains Prof. Barzel, of Bar-Ilan's Department of Mathematics. "Staying at home for another week, they will most likely begin to exhibit symptoms, and therefore remain in isolation until full recovery. Indeed, if following a week of lockdown they show no symptoms, they are most likely uninfected and can partake in social and professional activities during their active week. Therefore, alternating lockdown with full isolation of symptomatic spreaders ensures that at all times, the majority of invisible spreaders are inactive, as their incubation period is naturally directed towards their lockdown phase."


 The proposed weekly succession is aimed to sustain a functional economy in these challenging times. The researchers believe that, providing an outlet for people to continue their social and professional activity, at least at 50% capacity, will, in and of itself encourage cooperation, as it relaxes some of the individual stress endured under lockdown.

Study finds human-caused North Atlantic right whale deaths are being undercounted


News Release 24-Feb-2021
As recent sightings of entangled whales raise alarm, scientists say annual counts of right whale carcasses do a poor job of indicating true death toll
New England Aquarium


A study co-authored by scientists at the New England Aquarium has found that known deaths of critically endangered North Atlantic right whales represent a fraction of the true death toll. This comes as the death of a calf and recent sightings of entangled right whales off the southeastern United States raise alarm.


The scientists concluded that known deaths of the critically endangered species accounted for only 36% of all estimated death from 1990 to 2017.

"Our work has shown that 83% of identified right whales have been entangled one or more times in fishing gear, and an increasing number of these events result in severe injuries or complex entanglements that the whales initially survive. But we know their health becomes compromised and they eventually succumb and sink upon death," said Amy Knowlton, senior scientist with the Aquarium's Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life.

The study--led by Richard Pace and Rob Williams and co-authored by Knowlton, New England Aquarium Associate Scientist Heather Pettis, and Aquarium Emeritus Scientist Scott Kraus--determined that several factors interact to cause undercounting of human-caused mortalities of marine mammals. First, in order for a human-caused mortality to be determined, a whale carcass must float or strand, be detected before decomposition or scavenging occurs, be evaluated to determine cause of death, and then have that result reported. In the absence of any of these steps, information about the cause of mortality can easily be lost.

Additionally, a number of right whales have been observed entangled or injured from vessel strikes and never seen again. This suggests they died and their carcasses were not discovered.

"We have long known that the number of detected right whale carcasses does not align with the number of whales that disappear from the sightings records," Pettis said. "Since 2013 alone, we have documented 40 individual right whales seen with severe injuries resulting from vessel strikes and entanglements that disappeared following their injury. This study allowed us to quantify just how underrepresented true right whale mortalities are when we rely on observed carcasses alone."

The estimated population number for North Atlantic right whales stands at just over 350 whales. Right whales are one of the most endangered large whale species in the world, facing serious ongoing threats from vessels and fishing gear.


Bearded seals are loud -- but not loud enough


News Release 24-Feb-2021
Vocal threshold may hamper survival of this Arctic species
Cornell University


During mating season, male bearded seals make loud calls to attract a mate--even their "quiet" call could still be as ear-rattling as a chainsaw. Bearded seals have to be loud to be heard over the cacophony of their equally loud brethren. And, increasingly, the noise humans make is adding to the underwater din and could have serious consequences.


From spring through early summer, the under-ice habitat near Utqiagvik, Alaska, is flooded with the vocalizations of male bearded seals--a sound that can be best described as "otherworldly." These elaborate vocalizations are essential for bearded seal reproduction, but in the rapidly changing Arctic soundscape, where noise from industrial activities is predicted to dramatically increase in the next 15 years, bearded seals may need to adjust their calling behavior if they are going to be heard above the noise generated by ships and commercial activities. But the bearded seals can only do so much.

Fournet and colleagues listened to thousands of recorded bearded seal vocalizations from Arctic Alaska spanning a two-year period. Each call was carefully measured and compared to the concurrent ambient noise conditions. What they found is that bearded seals do call louder as their underwater acoustic habitat gets noisier, but there is an upper limit to this behavior. As expected, when ambient noise gets too high, bearded seals are no longer able to compensate in order to be heard. As a result, as ambient noise conditions increase, the distance over which individuals can be detected goes down.

"Given that these are reproductive calls, it is likely that the seals are already calling as close to as loudly as possible-the males very much want to be heard by the females," Fournet says. "So, it is unsurprising that there is an upper limit. I'm grateful that we have been able to identify that limit so we can make responsible management choices moving forward."

While this work has intrinsic conservation value, a major impetus for pursuing this research is the value of bearded seals-or ugruk in the Inupiaq language-to Alaska Native communities in the high Arctic. Bearded seals are at the center of subsistence and cultural activities in Inupiaq communities. Threats to bearded seals are by extension threats to the communities that rely on them.

"This work never would have happened without the insight and guidance of Arctic communities," Fournet says. "It was their energy that led the Cornell Lab to place hydrophones in the water. It is our job to continue listening."

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Light activity, such as gardening or walking, preserves women's mobility during aging


News Release 23-Feb-2021
University of California - San Diego


One in four women over age 65 is unable to walk two blocks or climb a flight of stairs. Known as mobility disability, it is the leading type of incapacity in the United States and a key contributor to a person's loss of independence. New research from Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health and Human Longevity Sciences at UC San Diego suggests that light-intensity physical activity, including shopping or a casual walk, may protect mobility in older women.

Published in the February 23, 2021 online issue of JAMA Network Open, researchers found that women who did not have a mobility disability at the start of the study, and who spent the most amount of time doing light-intensity activities, were 40 percent less likely to experience loss of mobility over a six-year period.

"Older adults who want to maintain their mobility should know that all movement, not just moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, counts," said senior author Andrea LaCroix, PhD, MPH, Distinguished Professor and chief of the Division of Epidemiology at Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health. "We found that, among older women, light-intensity physical activity preserves mobility later in life."


Adults in the United States age 65 and older struggle to meet physical activity guidelines, which recommend 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per week. There is no available guidance on how much light activity people should do, largely because very few studies have investigated it. Study authors said their data suggests that light activity is likely important for maintaining mobility, which is essential for healthy aging. Older adults with mobility disability experience more hospitalizations and spend more on health care. Women bear a disproportionate burden of mobility disability.

"The highest levels of light-intensity physical activity are unnecessary. After five hours of activity, we observed no further increase in benefit," said first author Nicole Glass, MPH, a doctoral candidate in the San Diego State University/UC San Diego Joint Doctoral Program in Public Health. "In addition, our results showed that light-intensity physical activity was associated with preserved mobility regardless of the amount of higher-intensity physical activities, such as brisk walking, jogging or running, the women engaged in. So whether you exercise or not, higher light-intensity physical activity is healthy."

Low-income families have high awareness of healthy eating but struggle to access good food


News Release 23-Feb-2021
University of York


Low-income families have a high awareness of healthy diets but can't afford good quality and nutritious food, new research shows.

The University of York study, in partnership with N8Agrifood, showed that participants tried to eat as much fruit and vegetables as they could within financial constraints, avoiding processed food wherever possible. But there was widespread acknowledgement that processed food was often more accessible than healthy options because of its lower cost.


"The findings suggest that educational interventions are likely to be less effective in tackling food insecurity and poor nutrition among people living on a low income, as the people who took part in our study had good knowledge about healthy diets, but quite simply couldn't afford to buy what was needed to maintain a recommended healthy diet."

Participants reported that access to healthy and fresh food was further constrained by geographic access. The availability of fresh and healthy food in local shops was perceived to be poor, but the cost of travelling to large supermarkets, where the quality and diversity of food may be better, was considered prohibitively expensive.

Awareness of being priced out of nutritious and fresh food because of low income reinforced the stigma of living with poverty and was a very visible and everyday example of socio-economic inequality particularly for parents and caregivers, who were keen to ensure their children had access to a healthy diet.

One respondent said, "It's not nice to feel you can't buy food that is healthy or better because it's more expensive."

Other participants acknowledged that processed food was often more accessible than 'healthy' options because of its lower cost with one person saying: "Healthy food is expensive and unhealthy food is cheap."


'You are not alone': Former far-right activists launch project to fight online radicalization


Feb. 23, 2021, 4:08 PM EST / Updated Feb. 23, 2021, 4:08 PM EST
By Aaron Franco

As Samantha watched pictures and livestreams of the Jan. 6 Capitol attack on her smartphone, she realized something: She knew these people.

She knew their faces from parties and from conversations where they’d shared personal details about their lives. Some, she believed, were brought more fully into their extreme beliefs because of work she did as a recruiter for Identity Europa, an organization that the Anti-Defamation League calls a “white supremacist group” and says was responsible for nearly half of the white supremacist propaganda distributed on college and university campuses in 2017 and part of 2016.

“It [was] like a mini existential crisis all at once, of just kind of: ‘Who am I? Who was I? Who are these people? Do I play any role in their lives?’” said Samantha, who asked that her last name be withheld to protect her and her family from potential violence.

As the day unfolded, she started messaging and calling two other people, both of whom had also been caught up in the far right. All three were horrified by what they were seeing, and all three decided that day to do something about it.

Out of that discussion they started a project called Future Freedom. Part media venture, part virtual support group, the group’s goal is to provide an off-ramp for far-right extremists who were radicalized online in the same ways they themselves once were.

“Unless you go through it, you're not going to understand it,” Samantha said. “And like even older generations of this stuff, no one is being approached in alleyways anymore.”


Robertson spent years producing YouTube videos warning of “the nightmare of mass immigration” in Europe and “a genocide against the white population” in South Africa — videos that received millions of views and helped propel far-right figures like Lauren Southern, Tommy Robinson and Infowars host Alex Jones into notoriety.

He now believes that work, which he says contained “racist tropes,” influenced many of the people who were inside the Capitol on Jan 6. 

“A lot of it was genuinely fake, and a lot of it was genuinely misinformation. A lot of it was funded by nefarious groups that don't care about you,” Robertson said. “And as someone that made that content, I'm telling you directly that a lot of it was not correct, was lies.”


“My life was spiritually devoid. My life felt very empty,” Cain said. “And when I would have that phone in my pocket and just be able to instantly tap into this online world, which was engaging, and I'd turn on Caolan's videos, and it felt like this whole world where we were saving Western civilization.”

Now, all three hope to share their stories of radicalization and redemption — ones they believe are unique to the internet era and the political environment surrounding  Donald Trump’s election as president in 2016 — to help people escape.


Now rebuilding her life far from the hate group she was once immersed in, Samantha says no single fact or phrase will convince someone inside the movement to leave. She, Cain and Robertson all got drawn into the movement through different paths, and they all had their own reasons for leaving.

But they all still believe redemption is possible for anyone willing to find it.

“All I can say is that it's worth it,” Samantha said. “It's hard, and it's devastating. And you lose everything, and then you lose more. But once you are completely empty, you can rebuild life to be whatever you want it to be. And it is so difficult, but it is so worth it.”

Monday, February 22, 2021

Human-Made Stuff Now Outweighs All Life on Earth


By Stephanie Pappas on December 9, 2020

Humanity has reached a new milestone in its dominance of the planet: human-made objects may now outweigh all of the living beings on Earth.

Roads, houses, shopping malls, fishing vessels, printer paper, coffee mugs, smartphones and all the other infrastructure of daily life now weigh in at approximately 1.1 trillion metric tons—equal to the combined dry weight of all plants, animals, fungi, bacteria, archaea and protists on the planet. The creation of this human-made mass has rapidly accelerated over the past 120 years: Artificial objects have gone from just 3 percent of the world’s biomass in 1900 to on par with it today. And the amount of new stuff being produced every week is equivalent to the average body weight of all 7.7 billion people.

The implications of these findings, published on Wednesday in Nature, are staggering. The world’s plastics alone now weigh twice as much as the planet’s marine and terrestrial animals. Buildings and infrastructure outweigh trees and shrubs. “We cannot hide behind the feeling that we’re just a small species, one out of many,” says study co-author Ron Milo, who researches plant and environmental sciences at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel. These numbers should be a wake-up call, he adds. They tell us “something about the responsibility that we have, given that we have become a dominant force,” Milo says.





Periodontal disease increases risk of major cardiovascular events


News Release 21-Feb-2021
Forsyth Institute


People with periodontitis are at higher risk of experiencing major cardiovascular events, according to new research from Forsyth Institute and Harvard University scientists and colleagues.


Structured exercise program, not testosterone therapy improved men's artery health


News Release 22-Feb-2021
Hypertension Journal Report
American Heart Association

Twelve weeks of exercise training improved artery health and function in middle-aged and older men (ages 50-70 

years) with low-to-normal testosterone levels, while testosterone therapy provided no benefits to the arteries, according to new research published today in Hypertension, an American Heart Association journal.


Long-term exposure to low levels of air pollution increases risk of heart and lung disease


News Release 22-Feb-2021
Circulation Journal Report
American Heart Association


Exposure to what is considered low levels of air pollution over a long period of time can increase the risk of heart attack, stroke, atrial fibrillation and pneumonia among people ages 65 and older, according to new research published today in the American Heart Association's flagship journal Circulation.

Air pollution can cause harm to the cardiovascular and respiratory systems due to its effect on inflammation in the heart and throughout the body.


Acid reflux disease may increase risk of cancers of the larynx and esophagus


News Release 22-Feb-2021


Results from a large prospective study indicate that gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which also causes heartburn symptoms, is linked with higher risks of various cancers of the larynx (or voice box) and esophagus. The study is published early online in CANCER, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society.

GERD, a gastrointestinal disorder that affects approximately 20 percent of U.S. adults, occurs when stomach acid flows back into the esophagus, where it can cause tissue damage. Research indicates that this damage may put patients at risk of developing a type of cancer called esophageal adenocarcinoma.


Female heart disease patients with female physicians fare better


News Release 22-Feb-2021
American College of Cardiology


Female physicians have better patient outcomes compared with their male peers, while female patients are less likely to receive guideline-recommended care when treated by a male physician, according to a systematic review from the American College of Cardiology's Cardiovascular Disease in Women section published today in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

While women make up over 50% of internal medicine residents, only 12.6% of cardiologists are female. A dedicated effort to increase diversity in the cardiovascular field could help to lower implicit bias, often considered an important factor in health care disparities.

In a detailed systematic review, researchers looked at 13 studies examining the patient-physician gender relationship across multiple specialties and its role in the care patients receive. Of these, eight studies examined patient outcomes based on physician gender. The researchers found data supporting the suggestion that a patient's outcomes may be positively influence if they are treated by a physician of the same gender. 


Loss of sense of smell and taste may last up to 5 months after COVID-19


News Release 22-Feb-2021
American Academy of Neurology


People with COVID-19 may lose their sense of smell and taste for up to five months after infection, according to a preliminary study released today, February 22, 2021, that will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology's 73rd Annual Meeting being held virtually April 17 to 22, 2021.


Salt reduction will prevent nearly 200,000 cases of heart disease and save £1.64bn


News Release 22-Feb-2021
Queen Mary University of London


England's salt reduction programme will have led to nearly 200,000 fewer adults developing heart disease and £1.64 billion of healthcare cost savings by 2050, according to research by Queen Mary University of London.

However, the researchers warn that the recent stalling of salt reduction programmes is endangering the potential health gains, as salt intake remains significantly higher than recommended levels.

Excess salt intake is strongly linked with raised blood pressure and increased risks of cardiovascular disease, as well as kidney disease, gastric cancer and osteoporosis. Raised blood pressure is responsible for half of the burden of ischemic heart disease and more than 60 per cent of strokes.


A sleep disorder associated with shift work may affect gene function


News Release 22-Feb-2021
Going on holiday has a restorative effect on changes in DNA
University of Helsinki


Long-term sleep deprivation is detrimental to health, increasing the risk of psychiatric and somatic disorders, such as depression and cardiovascular diseases. And yet, little is known about the molecular biological mechanisms set in motion by sleep deprivation which underlie related adverse health effects.


The study proved the dynamic nature of DNA methylation, which was particularly emphasised in the activity of NMDA glutamate receptors. The strongest evidence was gained from the GRIN2C receptor: the methylation level of a specific CpG base pair in the regulatory region was lower during the work period in subjects suffering from shift work disorder. However, this change was reversed after the holiday period.

"Based on the results, we can deduce that changes to the DNA methylation of white blood cells are associated with shift work disorder. These changes, such as low methylation levels observed during the work period, are probably linked to sleep deprivation and related inflammatory consequences which DNA changes may mediate," says doctoral student Alexandra Lahtinen, MSc, from the University of Helsinki.

"Sufficient rest and recovery are important for everyone, but especially important for people with a background of long-term sleep deprivation due to, for example, living habits or irregular working conditions. Having said that, it's positive that the subjects recovered from at least some of the changes related to shift work disorder observed in the study," says Professor Tiina Paunio from the University of Helsinki and the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, who was the principal investigator of the study. 

High fructose diets could cause immune system damage


News Release 22-Feb-2021
Swansea University


New research by Swansea scientists in collaboration with scientists at the University of Bristol and the Francis Crick institute in London has indicated that consuming a diet high in the sugar fructose might prevent the proper functioning of peoples' immune systems in ways that has, until now, largely been unknown.

Fructose is commonly found in sugary drinks, sweets and processed foods and is used widely in food production. It is associated with obesity, type 2 diabetes and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and its intake has increased substantially throughout the developed world in recent years. However, understanding the impact of fructose on the immune system of people who consume it in high levels, has been limited until now.

The new study published in the journal Nature Communications shows that fructose causes the immune system to become inflamed and that process produces more reactive molecules which are associated with inflammation. Inflammation of this kind can go on to damage cells and tissues and contribute to organs and body systems not working as they should and could lead to disease.


Material hardship taking a mental and physical toll on young adults during pandemic


News Release 22-Feb-2021
Syracuse University 

 As the United States approaches the one-year anniversary of the start of COVID-19 lockdowns, a new study by researchers from Syracuse University and the University of Texas at San Antonio shows that material hardship - difficulty paying for food, bills and healthcare - is taking a toll on the mental and physical health of young adults.

In the study, "Material hardship, perceived stress, and health in early adulthood," the researchers found that young adults ages 24-32 who are struggling to meet their basic needs are more likely to report poor health, depression, sleep problems and suicidal thoughts.

According to the Urban Institute's Health Reform Monitoring Survey, one in three adults have reported experiencing material hardship during the pandemic. For this recent study, material hardship was measured by asking more than 13,300 young adults if they had difficulty paying for food, bills and health care, and to report their stress levels.

"Specifically, they were asked if they worried about running out of food before they had money to get more; had trouble paying utility, phone and rent/mortgage bills; and lacked health insurance or thought they should get medical care but did not," said Syracuse University professor and research team member Colleen Heflin. "Using this information, we analyzed how hardship and stress levels impact health outcomes, including self-rated health, depression, sleep problems and suicidal thoughts."


Air pollution puts children at higher risk of disease in adulthood


News Release 22-Feb-2021
Stanford University


Children exposed to air pollution, such as wildfire smoke and car exhaust, for as little as one day may be doomed to higher rates of heart disease and other ailments in adulthood, according to a new Stanford-led study. The analysis, published in Nature Scientific Reports, is the first of its kind to investigate air pollution's effects at the single cell level and to simultaneously focus on both the cardiovascular and immune systems in children. It confirms previous research that bad air can alter gene regulation in a way that may impact long-term health - a finding that could change the way medical experts and parents think about the air children breathe, and inform clinical interventions for those exposed to chronic elevated air pollution.

"I think this is compelling enough for a pediatrician to say that we have evidence air pollution causes changes in the immune and cardiovascular system associated not only with asthma and respiratory diseases, as has been shown before," said study lead author Mary Prunicki, director of air pollution and health research at Stanford's Sean N. Parker Center for Allergy & Asthma Research. "It looks like even brief air pollution exposure can actually change the regulation and expression of children's genes and perhaps alter blood pressure, potentially laying the foundation for increased risk of disease later in life."


Among their findings: Exposure to fine particulate known as PM2.5, carbon monoxide and ozone over time is linked to increased methylation, an alteration of DNA molecules that can change their activity without changing their sequence. This change in gene expression may be passed down to future generations. The researchers also found that air pollution exposure correlates with an increase in monocytes, white blood cells that play a key role in the buildup of plaques in arteries, and could possibly predispose children to heart disease in adulthood. Future studies are needed to verify the long-term implications.


Overall, respiratory diseases are killing more Americans each year, and rank as the second most common cause of deaths globally.

"This is everyone's problem," said study senior author Kari Nadeau, director of the Parker Center. "Nearly half of Americans and the vast majority of people around the world live in places with unhealthy air. Understanding and mitigating the impacts could save a lot of lives."

Yale scientists repair injured spinal cord using patients' own stem cells


News Release 22-Feb-2021
Yale University


Intravenous injection of bone marrow derived stem cells (MSCs) in patients with spinal cord injuries led to significant improvement in motor functions, researchers from Yale University and Japan report Feb. 18 in the Journal of Clinical Neurology and Neurosurgery.

For more than half of the patients, substantial improvements in key functions -- such as ability to walk, or to use their hands -- were observed within weeks of stem cell injection, the researchers report. No substantial side effects were reported.


"Similar results with stem cells in patients with stroke increases our confidence that this approach may be clinically useful," noted Kocsis. "This clinical study is the culmination of extensive preclinical laboratory work using MSCs between Yale and Sapporo colleagues over many years."

"The idea that we may be able to restore function after injury to the brain and spinal cord using the patient's own stem cells has intrigued us for years," Waxman said. "Now we have a hint, in humans, that it may be possible." 

500,000 lives lost to Covid-19 in U.S.

By Elliott Ramos, Pedro Barquinha and Jiachuan Wu
Feb. 22, 2021

The United States on Sunday hit the half-a-million mark for the number of lives claimed by Covid-19.

Nearly a year since the coronavirus was declared a pandemic on March 11, 2020, 100,000 Covid-19 deaths in the U.S. was the low estimate. Early on, cities such as New York and Chicago were hit hard, particularly in communities of color. Then, hot spots in nursing homes and meatpacking plants began to emerge as the virus hit suburban and rural communities.

The death toll in the U.S. would eventually eclipse that of every other country, and has claimed many more lives since then.

Scroll through the map to trace Covid-19 deaths across the country from the first death to the hardest-hit county.


Genetics leaves little doubt that humans wiped out passenger pigeons

Considering the vast numbers of passenger pigeons there were before humans started slaughtering them in vast numbers, it would be very surprising if humans weren't the cause of their extinction.


3 February 2021
By Christa Lesté-Lasserre

The eye-catching birds of North America that went extinct during the last century weren’t experiencing genetic decline before their disappearance – which suggests humans were probably responsible for their extinction.

“These charismatic species that went extinct in the early 1900s – and one of them in 1988 – appear to have been doing just fine historically over tens of thousands of years, until European colonisation [of North America],” says Brian Tilston Smith at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.


The only parrot native to the US, along with a woodpecker, the passenger pigeon, the prairie chicken and a warbler, were among the colourful birds that once roved the New World in abundance before recently – and dramatically – dying out, says Smith.

To learn more about why they did so, Smith and his collaborators ran DNA sequencing on 100-year-old skin samples from conserved birds in the American Museum of Natural History, representing five recently extinct species: the heath hen (Tympanuchus cupido cupido), the passenger pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius), the ivory-billed woodpecker (Campephilus principalis), the Carolina parakeet (Conuropsis carolinensis), and the Bachman’s warbler (Vermivora bachmanii).


It was only in the last few decades before their disappearance that the five extinct birds showed signs of loss of genetic diversity as they headed rapidly towards extinction, says Smith.

This points to human behaviour as the primary culprit, he says. European settlers cut down forests, killed crop-raiding birds, and shot birds for sport, and these activities correspond with the rapid decline in bird numbers.

Why such human activities drove some bird species to extinction and not others remains a mystery, says Smith. Some birds might have created more competition for crops, or have been easier to shoot, or needed larger and older forests to nest in. “The ones that went extinct tended to be larger, but a lot of large species survived,” he says.


The psychology of radicalization


News Release 22-Feb-2021
NYU Abu Dhabi researcher sheds new light on the psychology of radicalization
The paper explores how to reverse this potentially violent form of addiction by restoring an individual's psychological needs and how challenging their ideology is counterproductive
New York University


Abu Dhabi, UAE, February 22, 2021: Learning more about what motivates people to join violent ideological groups and engage in acts of cruelty against others is of great social and societal importance. New research from Assistant Professor of Psychology at NYUAD Jocelyn Bélanger explores the idea of ideological obsession as a form of addictive behavior that is central to understanding why people ultimately engage in ideological violence, and how best to help them break this addiction.

In the new study, The Sociocognitive Processes of Ideological Obsession: Review and Policy Implications which appears in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, Bélanger draws from evidence collected across cultures and ideologies to describe four processes through which ideological obsession puts individuals on a path toward violence.

The first is moral disengagement: ideological obsession deactivates moral self-regulation processes, which allows unethical behaviors to happen without self-recrimination. The second is hatred: ideologically obsessed individuals are ego-defensive and easily threatened by information that criticizes their beliefs, which leads to greater hatred and potentially violent retaliation. Third, ideological obsession changes people's social interactions, causing them to gravitate toward like-minded people - networks -- who support their violent thinking. And finally, these individuals are prone to psychological reactance, which makes them immune to communications that attempt to dissuade them from violence.

"As we seek ways to prevent and combat violent radicalization, we must understand this behavior as an addiction to an ideology, rooted in a feeling of absence of personal significance," said Belanger. "Common approaches, like trying to provide information that counters someone's hateful ideology, are not only futile, but often counterproductive. To steer people away from ideologically-motivated violence, we must focus on their psychological needs, such as meaning and belonging, and helping them attain richer, more satisfying, and better-balanced lives."

For breakthroughs in slowing aging, scientists must look beyond biology


News Release 22-Feb-2021
Incorporating social and behavioral factors alongside biological mechanisms is critical for improving aging research, according to a trio of studies by leading social scientists
University of Southern California


A trio of recent studies highlight the need to incorporate behavioral and social science alongside the study of biological mechanisms in order to slow aging.


"The move from slowing fundamental processes of aging in laboratory animals to slowing aging in humans will not be as simple as prescribing a pill and watching it work," Moffitt said. "Compared to aging in laboratory animals, human aging has many behavioral/social in addition to cellular origins and influences. These influences include potential intervention targets that are uniquely human, and therefore are not easily investigated in animal research."

Several of these human factors have big impacts on health and mortality: stress and early life adversity, psychiatric history, personality traits, intelligence, loneliness and social connection, and purpose in life are connected to a variety of late-life health outcomes, she explained. These important factors need to be taken into account to get a meaningful prediction of human biological aging.


 "It's vital that geroscience advances be delivered to everyone, not just the well-to-do, because individuals who experience low education, low incomes, adverse early-life experiences, and prejudice are the people who age fastest and die youngest."


Crimmins examined data that was collected in 2016 from the Health and Retirement Study, a large, nationally representative study of Americans over the age of 56 that incorporates both surveys regarding social factors and biological measurements, including a blood sample for genetic analysis. For the study, she focused the five social hallmarks for poor health outcomes:

    low lifetime socioeconomic status, including lower levels of education
    adversity in childhood and adulthood, including trauma and other hardships
    being a member of a minority group
    adverse health behaviors, including smoking, obesity and problem drinking
    adverse psychological states, such as depression, negative psychological outlook and chronic stress

The presence of these five factors were strongly associated with older adults having difficulty with activities of daily living, experiencing problems with cognition, and multimorbidity (having five or more diseases). Even when controlling for biological measurements - including blood pressure, genetic risk factors, mitochondrial DNA copy number and more - the social differences, as well as demographic factors such as age and gender, explained most of the differences in aging outcomes between study subjects, she said. However, biological and social factors aren't completely independent from one another, Crimmins added, which is why she advocates for further incorporation of social and behavioral factors in aging biology research.

"Variability in human aging is strongly related to the social determinants of aging; and it remains so when extensive biology is introduced as mediating factors. This means that the social variability in the aging process is only partly explained by the biological measures researchers currently use," she said.


"Brief, intermittent, low-dose stressors can lead to positive biological responses, improving resistance to damage, which is called hormesis," Epel explained. For example, physiological hormetic stressors include short term exposure to cold, heat, exercise, or hypoxia. Hormetic stress turns on mechanisms of cell repair and rejuvenation. "In contrast, a high dose of a chronic exposure can override these mechanisms, resulting in damage or death," she added. Thus, toxic stress can accelerate biological aging processes, whereas hormetic stress can slow aging.


Are conservatives criticizing Cruz for copying Trump? - clarified 2/22/2021

Feb. 20, 2021

A lot of people are blasting Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz for flying to Cancun in Mexcio as his state struggles with power outages and freezing temperatures.  Trump got 52.06% of the 2020 presidential vote in Texas.  These people should not object to Cruz doing this, since it is exactly the kind of thing Trump does.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

An Ex-KGB Agent Says Trump Was a Russian Asset Since 1987. Does it Matter? By Jonathan Chait

Since I care about truth, I think it matters.  I agree it probably won't matter to Trump's fans.  But I hope some are enough attached to reality and decency to care.  Although it seems doubtful, given the things they already know Trump has done, that they don't care about.


By Jonathan Chait

Feb. 20, 2021

In 2018, I became either famous or notorious — depending on your point of view — for writing a story speculating that Russia had secret leverage over Trump (which turned out to be correct). The story’s most controversial suggestion was that it was plausible, though hardly certain, that Russia’s influence over Trump might even date back as far as 1987.

Here is what I wrote in that controversial section:


I conceded it was probably just a coincidence that Trump came back from his trip to Russia and started spouting themes that happened to dovetail closely with Russia’s geopolitical goal of splitting the United States from its allies. But there was a reasonable chance — I loosely pegged it at 10 or 20 percent — that the Soviets had planted some of these thoughts, which he had never expressed before the trip, in his head.

If I had to guess today, I’d put the odds higher, perhaps over 50 percent. One reason for my higher confidence is that Trump has continued to fuel suspicion by taking anomalously pro-Russian positions. He met with Putin in Helsinki, appearing strangely submissive, and spouted Putin’s propaganda on a number of topics including the ridiculous possibility of a joint Russian-American cybersecurity unit. (Russia, of course, committed the gravest cyber-hack in American history not long ago, making Trump’s idea even more self-defeating in retrospect than it was at the time.) He seemed to go out of his way to alienate American allies and blow up cooperation every time they met during his tenure.

He would either refuse to admit Russian wrongdoing — Trump refused even to concede that the regime poisoned Alexei Navalny — or repeat bizarre snippets of Russian propaganda: NATO was a bad deal for America because Montenegro might launch an attack on Russia; the Soviets had to invade Afghanistan in the 1970s to defend against terrorism. These weren’t talking points he would pick up in his normal routine of watching Fox News and calling Republican sycophants.

A second reason is that reporter Craig Unger got a former KGB spy to confirm on the record that Russian intelligence had been working Trump for decades. In his new book, “American Kompromat,” Unger interviewed Yuri Shvets, who told him that the KGB manipulated Trump with simple flattery. “In terms of his personality, the guy is not a complicated cookie,” he said, “his most important characteristics being low intellect coupled with hyperinflated vanity. This makes him a dream for an experienced recruiter.”

That’s quite similar to what I suggested in my story:

    Russian intelligence gains influence in foreign countries by operating subtly and patiently. It exerts different gradations of leverage over different kinds of people, and uses a basic tool kit of blackmail that involves the exploitation of greed, stupidity, ego, and sexual appetite. All of which are traits Trump has in abundance.

This is what intelligence experts mean when they describe Trump as a Russian “asset.” It’s not the same as being an agent. An asset is somebody who can be manipulated, as opposed to somebody who is consciously and secretly working on your behalf.


To be clear, while Shvets is a credible source, his testimony isn’t dispositive. There are any number of possible motives for a former Soviet spy turned critic of Russia’s regime to manufacture an indictment of Trump. But the story he tells is almost exactly the possibility I sketched out. And it fits the known facts about how Russian intelligence works and what Trump has done pretty tightly.

One thing I have changed my mind on since my story ran is the effect any this would have on the American public even if it were proven.


If something like the most sinister plausible story turned out to be true, how much would it matter? Probably not that much. Don’t get me wrong: Russia having secret channels of leverage over an American president isn’t good. I have merely come to think that even if we could have confirmed the worst, to the point that even Trump’s supporters could no longer deny it, it wouldn’t have changed very much. Trump wouldn’t have been forced to resign, and his Republican supporters would not have had to repudiate him. The controversy would have simply receded into the vast landscape of partisan talking points — one more thing liberals mock Trump over, and conservatives complain about the media for covering instead of Nancy Pelosi’s freezer or antifa or the latest campus outrage.

One reason I think that is because a great deal of incriminating information was confirmed and very little in fact changed as a result. In 2018, Buzzfeed reported, and the next year Robert Mueller confirmed, explosive details of a Russian kompromat operation. During the campaign, Russia had been dangling a Moscow building deal that stood to give hundreds of millions of dollars in profit to Trump, at no risk. Not only did he stand to gain this windfall, but he was lying in public at the time about his dealings with Russia, which gave Vladimir Putin additional leverage over him. (Russia could expose Trump’s lies at any time if he did something to displease Moscow.)


The truth, I suspect, was simultaneously about as bad as I suspected, and paradoxically anticlimactic. Trump was surrounded by all sorts of odious characters who manipulated him into saying and doing things that ran against the national interest. One of those characters was Putin. In the end, their influence ran up against the limits that the character over whom they had gained influence was a weak, failed president.

Texas Deputies Pay for Hotel Room That Stranded Family Was Unable to Afford amid Winter Storm


By Joelle Goldstein February 18, 2021 03:40 PM


Random acts of kindness often go a long way — and for one family in Texas, it was the reason they had warm shelter overnight during the state's unprecedented winter storm.

On Wednesday, Captain Marcus Kinnard-Bing with the Harris County Sheriff's Office tweeted that his District 5 deputies had responded to a call at a local hotel.

The hotel — which can be identified in Kinnard-Bing's photo as the La Quinta Inn by Wyndham Houston Cy-Fair in Houston — had told authorities that the "patron couldn't afford the room for the night," according to the tweet.

Refusing to let the family be out in the cold, Kinnard-Bing said his deputies took action.

"Being that he has a family with small children and the inclement weather, deputies paid out of their pocket for the family to have a room for the night," Kinnard-Bing explained.



Saturday, February 20, 2021

Georgia Republicans seek to end Sunday early voting, a popular election method for Black voters


John L. Dorman

Feb. 20, 2021


GOP lawmakers in the Georgia House of Representatives on Thursday unveiled a sweeping bill that would impose new restrictions on absentee voting and end early voting on Sundays, a day when Black churchgoers often head to the ballot box as part of "Souls to the Polls" voting drives.

The push for additional restrictions comes after President Joe Biden defeated former President Donald Trump in the state by roughly 12,000 votes last November, along with the dual victories of Democratic Sens. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff in last month's Senate runoff elections.


Just days ago, top GOP officials like Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan couldn't provide concrete reasoning as to why additional voting restrictions were necessary in the absence of any widespread voter fraud.

"I don't think we have identified a problem we are trying to solve," Duncan told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "I think this is an opportunity 'to update and modernize' voting in Georgia."

[In other words, they want to stack the deck in their own favor, against the will of the people.]


Georgia's actions follow the pattern of GOP-controlled legislatures across the country that are seeking to impose additional restrictions in the wake of Trump's reelection loss.


Friday, February 19, 2021

As Texas deep freeze subsides, some households now face electricity bills as high as $10,000

Feb. 19, 2021, 3:52 PM EST / Updated Feb. 19, 2021, 4:06 PM EST
By Leticia Miranda

As the Texas power grid collapsed under a historic winter storm, Jose Del Rio of Haltom City, in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, saw the electricity bill on a vacant two-bedroom home he is trying to sell slowly creep up over the past two weeks. Typically, the bill is around $125 to $150 a month, he said. But his account has already been charged about $630 this month — and he still owes another $2,600.

“If worse comes to worst, I have the ability to put it on a credit card or figure something out," Del Rio said. ”There is no one living in that house. All the lights are off. But I have the air at 60 because I don’t want the pipes to freeze.”

When he contacted Griddy, his electric company, they advised him to switch providers, Del Rio said.

Griddy's prices are controlled by the market, and are therefore vulnerable to sudden swings in demand. With the extreme weather, energy usage has soared, pushing up wholesale power prices to more than $9,000 per megawatt hour — compared to the seasonal average of $50 per megawatt hour.

In the face of the soaring costs, Griddy has been directing consumers to consider temporarily switching electricity providers to save on their bills.


Texas laws protect consumers from companies exploiting natural disasters for profit, but it is unclear if those laws can be extended to protect electric customers slapped with large bills, said Keegan Warren-Clem, a managing attorney at the nonprofit Texas Legal Services Center.

Federal programs such as the low-income housing energy assistance program might protect energy customers who qualify from the high charges, she said. If they don’t qualify for the federal program, a customer can look into bill assistance programs through charities or churches, she said.

“There are limited options available in the absence of action at the state level to provide consistent relief,” Warren-Clem said.


Royce Pierce and his wife, Danielle, who live in Willow Park, west of Dallas, have been watching their electricity bill tick up by nearly $10,000 in the last few days for their three-bedroom home. While the family told NBC News they consider themselves lucky because they’ve had power, the financial burden has come with additional challenges.

Since the family is on a variable rate plan with Griddy, the company automatically debits the bill as they use electricity. Danielle said she closed the debit card connected to their electricity bill because Griddy wiped it out. The family has been using separate accounts and credit cards to pay for necessities as the storm goes on.


Biden is poised to sign a major disaster declaration for Texas

What a contrast to Trump, who withheld aid to states that didn't vote for him.


By Ella Feb 19, 2021, 2:20pm EST 

President Joe Biden is preparing to sign a major disaster declaration for Texas, which has been devastated by the combination of a massive winter storm and an unprepared state electrical grid that caused widespread power outages for millions across the state.

“I’m going to sign that declaration once it’s in front of me,” Biden told reporters on Friday. “As I said when I ran, I’m going to be a president for all America — all. There’s no red or blue.”

Biden spoke to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday night, but his administration has been in touch with Texas officials and governors of surrounding states also impacted by the winter storm since last week. Biden administration officials said they quickly approved Abbott and other governors’ requests for federal emergency declarations in their states, which allows the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to get federal assistance to impacted residents. 


As of Thursday, Sherwood-Randall added that FEMA had provided 60 power generators and additional fuel support to facilities like hospitals, nursing homes, and water treatment plants. The federal agency is also providing 60,000 wool and cotton blankets, 225,000 meals, and other supplies after they were requested by Abbott, she said.


Post-transplant mortality among veterans enrolled in the VA and Medicare


News Release 18-Feb-2021
American Society of Nephrology


In a study of kidney transplant recipients dually enrolled in the Veterans Health Administration (VA) and Medicare, use of the VA for all post-transplant care was linked with a lower risk of death than care provided outside the VA through Medicare or use of both the VA and non-VA care. The study will appear in an upcoming issue of CJASN.


Genetic variants for skin color in African Americans linked to vitamin D deficiency


News Release 18-Feb-2021
The genome-wide association study paves a path where one day doctors could leverage information on a patient's genetics, skin color and lifestyle to better prescribe the correct dose of vitamin D supplementation to decrease the risk of certain cancers
City of Hope


One day physicians may be able to look at an African American's skin color and, with the help of other determinants, know if prescribing vitamin D supplements would lower that person's risk of getting cancers of the prostate, colon, rectum or breast.

"We should not shy from this new study looking at the genetics of skin color and its effects on vitamin D deficiency because being 'colorblind' is what has led to the widespread health disparities that we as a society are now trying to address," said Rick Kittles, Ph.D., director of the Division of Health Equities at Beckman Research Institute of City of Hope, a world-renowned independent research and treatment center for cancer, diabetes and other life-threatening diseases.

"Skin color has strong social and biological significance -- social because of race and racism and biological because over 70% of African Americans are vitamin D deficient, resulting in increased risk for cancer and cardiovascular disease," Kittles added. Notably, the difference in cancer death rates between African Americans and whites is 14%.


Studies have shown that individuals with darker skin pigmentation require longer or more intense ultraviolet radiation exposure to synthesize sufficient levels of vitamin D. In other words, if you have darker skin, you tend to make less vitamin D in the sun than people with lighter skin.


Study finds risk factor for blood clots occurs in more than 10 percent of transgender men using testosterone


News Release 18-Feb-2021
The Endocrine Society


-A potentially dangerous side effect of testosterone therapy for transgender men is an increase in red blood cells that can raise the risk of blood clots, heart attack or stroke, according to a new study published in the Endocrine Society's Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

Gender diverse people make up an estimated 0.6% of the U.S. population and are defined as having gender identity that is not aligned with their sex recorded at birth. Transgender men often undergo testosterone therapy as part of their gender-affirming treatment. Erythrocytosis, a condition where your body makes too many red blood cells, is a common side effect of testosterone therapy that can increase the risk of blood clots, heart attack or stroke.

"Erythrocytosis is common in transgender men treated with testosterone, especially in those who smoke, have high body mass index (BMI) and use testosterone injections," said lead study author Milou Cecilia Madsen, M.D., of the VU University Medical Center Amsterdam in the Netherlands. "A reasonable first step in the care of transgender men with high red blood cells while on testosterone therapy is to advise them to quit smoking, switch injectable testosterone to gel, and if BMI is high, to lose weight."


Scientists: Chemical pollution is a global threat that needs global action


News Release 18-Feb-2021
Green Science Policy Institute


An international group of scientists is calling for a global intergovernmental science-policy body for informing policymakers, business, and the public about reducing harm from chemical pollution. In a paper published today in Science, the group explains how limited and fragmented science-policy interactions on chemicals and waste have contributed to widespread health and environmental problems.


Exposure to a small fraction of the over 100,000 chemicals in use has been estimated to have contributed to over 1.3 million premature deaths in 2017. [These are the ones we are aware of.  We can be sure there are more that whose harm we have not measured.] Harmful chemicals include the PFAS that make our rain jackets waterproof but can cause cancer; pesticides that keep farmland clear of weeds and pests but contribute to killing bees; and metals from the disposal of our used digital devices and electric car batteries that pollute e-waste workers, their families and environment. Although such pollution is global, international decision makers do not have a way to stay informed regarding important new scientific findings, limiting their ability to address these threats in a timely fashion.

With the increasing amount and variety of chemicals in use, such harm will continue to grow. Global chemical sales were over US$5.6 trillion in 2017 and are projected to almost double by 2030. Even more concerning trends are projected for waste generation--the amount of plastic waste entering the ocean in 2025 is expected to be 10 times higher than in 2010.

The authors urge that a global intergovernmental science-policy body for chemicals and waste is necessary to tackle these problems. This body would be an analogous to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) for climate change and the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Service (IPBES) for loss of biodiversity. Such a panel would keep chemicals in use under review throughout their life cycles. It would also identify policy-relevant research needs and speed action to protect human and environmental health.