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Wednesday, July 17, 2019

How humans and chickadees understand each other

Hear them roar
By Katie Willis
animals being jerks chickadee GIFIs there something universal about the sounds we make that allows vocal learners—like songbirds—to figure out how we’re feeling? 

Sounds like it, according to new research by University of Alberta scientists.

The researchers examined the elements within vocalizations that indicate a level of arousal such as fear or excitement. They found that both humans and black-capped chickadees can detect arousal levels in other species. 

“The idea is that some species can understand other species’ vocalizations,” explained Jenna Congdon, PhD student in the Department of Psychology

“For instance, a songbird is able to understand the call of distress of a different type of songbird when they are in the presence of a predator, like an owl or a hawk. Or, for example, if your friend scared you and you screamed. Both of these are high-arousal vocalizations, and being able to understand what that sounds like in a different species can be very useful.”

EDITOR'S NOTE: Chickadees are a year-round presence at our bird feeders and one of my favorite birds, especially when I am loading the feeders. Bold and fearless, they come very close while I am pouring the seed and, I swear, they yell at me to go faster. "DEE-DEE-DEE-DEE-DEE," five loud exclamations. Translation: "Hurry the Hell up!" They repeat this chant until I finish and step back, whereupon they are the first birds to eat.   -Will Collette

Trump’s banker exits investment banking

One Less Wheeler Dealer
By Phil Mattera for the Dirt Diggers Digest

Image result for deutsche bank & TrumpIt’s unfortunate that 18,000 people will lose their jobs in the process, but it is good news that Deutsche Bank is leaving the investment banking business. 

The world is better off with one less wheeling and dealing financial player that has repeatedly flouted all kinds of laws and regulations.

That tarnished record dates back to the late 1990s, when Deutsche Bank acquired New York-based Bankers Trust, which was testing the limits of what a commercial bank could do while getting embroiled in a series of scandals.

Just a few months after the acquisition was announced, Bankers Trust pleaded guilty to criminal charges that its employees had diverted $19 million in unclaimed checks and other credits owed to customers over to the bank’s own books to enhance its financial results. The bank paid a $60 million fine to the federal government and another $3.5 million to New York State.

Deutsche Bank was also having its own legal problems during this period. In 1998 its offices were raided by German criminal investigators looking for evidence that the bank helped wealthy customers engage in tax evasion. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

"Once you stop caring, you feel better"

A Border Patrol Agent Reveals What It’s Really Like to Guard Migrant Children
By Ginger Thompson for ProPublica

ImageThe Border Patrol agent, a veteran with 13 years on the job, had been assigned to the agency’s detention center in McAllen, Texas, for close to a month when the team of court-appointed lawyers and doctors showed up one day at the end of June.

Taking in the squalor, the stench of unwashed bodies, and the poor health and vacant eyes of the hundreds of children held there, the group members appeared stunned.

Then, their outrage rolled through the facility like a thunderstorm. One lawyer emerged from a conference room clutching her cellphone to her ear, her voice trembling with urgency and frustration. “There’s a crisis down here,” the agent recalled her shouting.

Image result for immigrant children in US detention
At that moment, the agent, a father of a 2-year-old, realized that something in him had shifted during his weeks in the McAllen center. 

“I don’t know why she’s shouting,” he remembered thinking. “No one on the other end of the line cares. If they did, this wouldn’t be happening.”

As he turned away to return to his duties, the agent recalled feeling sorry for the lawyer. “I wanted to tell her the rest of us have given up.”

"It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition"

July 29: paddling and weaving

 From Water to Land...
From Kayaking to Weaving!
 Thursday, July 29th,
9am Till Noon.
Join Lorén Spears, Tomaquag Museum Executive Director, 
for basket weaving ...
and WPWA's Kassi Archambault
for a gentle paddle up Frying Pan Pond!
Leaving land in the morning, we will enjoy the breeze coming off the river and the cool water. This wide section of the Wood River is great for beginners and absolutely beautiful. So far this season, osprey and painted turtles have been a common sight!  Kassi is a certified Kayak Safety Instructor. When asked, she can offer tips to improve paddling techniques. Lorén will point out traditional basket weaving materials present along the riverbanks. Late morning July heat will bring us into the WPWA Welcome Center for weaving. With plenty of space, materials and great guided instruction from Lorén, each teen and adult will complete weaving aspen splints into a small basket.
 Go to to register. 
Date: Monday, 7/ 29
Rain Date: Tuesday, 7/ 30
Time: 9 am - 12 noon
Cost:  $65
Kayaks will be provided with your registration! 
 Go to to register.  
For More Information visit the registration site, or contact Kassi :, 401-539-9017
Our Contact Information
Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Association
203 Arcadia Road
Hope Valley, RI 02832

20 Overlooked Benefits of Distributed Solar Energy

Study Outlines Advantages of Solar on Rooftops, Other Developed Areas
By UC Davis

To watch this video on YouTube:

A study provides the most complete list yet of the advantages of solar energy — from carbon sequestration to improvements for pollinator habitat. The paper offers a new framework for analyzing solar projects to better understand the full suite of benefits.

The study, published in Nature Sustainability, was conducted by researchers from the University of California, Davis; Lancaster University in the United Kingdom; the Center for Biological Diversity; and 10 other organizations.

It suggests a framework for understanding more completely, and ultimately quantifying, the benefits of solar energy, identifying 20 frequently overlooked advantages. For example, solar panels paired with native plant restoration can add habitat while also increasing panel efficiency.

I hate ticks, continued

Ticks spread plenty more for you to worry about beyond Lyme disease 
Jerome Goddard, Mississippi State University

When it comes to problems caused by ticks, Lyme disease hogs a lot of the limelight. But various tick species carry and transmit a collection of other pathogens, some of which cause serious, even fatal, conditions.

In fact, the number of tick-borne disease cases is on the rise in the United States. 

The range where various species of ticks live in North America may be expanding due to climate change

Researchers continue to discover new pathogens that live in ticks. And new, invasive tick species keep turning up.

In my career as a public health entomologist, I’ve been amazed at the ability of ticks to bounce back from all the ways people try to control them, including with pesticides. 

Ticks excel at finding new ecological niches for survival. So people and ticks frequently cross paths, exposing us to their bites and the diseases they carry.

Here are some of the lesser-known, but growing, threats from ticks.

Trump wants to open door to even MORE corruption

The Trump administration wants to dismantle the agency overseeing 2 million federal workers – and weaken safeguards against partisanship
Matthew May, Boise State University

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The U.S. government has put expertise and competence ahead of political considerations when it hires people for more than 135 years.

As a result of changes made during President Chester Arthur’s administration, the vast majority of government jobs can only be awarded on the basis of merit. Prospective employees historically had to complete a competitive exam and today must complete detailed applications, undergo interviews and get their background checked. Employees also cannot be fired or demoted for political reasons.

These rules apply to all but about 4,000 politically appointed employees among the 2 million people who work for the federal government, not counting postal service workers. Those only require presidential support and, for around 1,200 of these jobs, Senate confirmation.

The Trump administration is taking several steps that could remove safeguards against partisanship and nepotism in the federal workforce. Among other things, it is pushing to dissolve the Office of Personnel Management, which oversees the administration of the civil service system. Democrats are objecting to this move.

As a public administration researcher, I look at how political partisanship influences the relationship between government employees and elected officials.

To understand why scholars like me and other experts are concerned that dismantling OPM could harm the civil service system by making it more partisan, it is helpful to understand why the U.S. moved toward a merit-based system in the first place.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Does corporate welfare work?

Why states and cities should stop handing out billions in economic incentives to companies
Nathan Jensen, University of Texas at Austin

Image result for gina raimondo and corporate incentivesEDITOR'S NOTE: Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo uses "corporate welfare" as her main tool to try to lure businesses to come to Rhode Island despite decades of experience and research showing the inefficacy of that approach. But aside from that, what about this basic question: if we have to pay someone to come here, how loyal to Rhode Island are they likely to be?   - Will Collette

U.S. states and cities hand out tens of billions in taxpayer dollars every year to companies as economic incentives.

These businesses are supposed to use the money, typically distributed through economic development programs, to open new facilities, create jobs and generate tax revenue.

But all too often that’s not what happens, as I’ve learned after doing research on the use of tax incentives to spur economic development in cities and states across the country, particularly in Texas.

Recent scandals involving economic development programs in New Jersey, Baltimore and elsewhere illustrate just what’s wrong with these programs – and why I believe it’s time to end this waste of taxpayer dollars once and for all.

Tariffs for Dummies

Daunting challenge

Can we feed 11 billion people while preventing the spread of infectious disease?
University of Notre Dame

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Rhode Island was dramatically changed by the
huge influx of Irish immigrants fleeing famine
Within the next 80 years, the world's population is expected to top 11 billion, creating a rise in global food demand -- and presenting an unavoidable challenge to food production and distribution.

But a new article published in Nature Sustainability describes how the increase in population and the need to feed everyone will also, ultimately, give rise to human infectious disease, a situation the authors of the paper consider "two of the most formidable ecological and public health challenges of the 21st century."

The article, "Emerging human infectious disease and the links to global food production," is the first to draw connections between future population growth, agricultural development and infectious disease.

"If we start exploring how increasing population and agriculture will affect human diseases, we can prepare for and mitigate these effects," said Jason Rohr, the Ludmilla F., Stephen J. and Robert T. Galla College Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of Notre Dame. 

"We need to anticipate some of the problems that may arise from an explosion of human population in the developing world."

Image result for immigrant caravans
Hunger and hardship has forced thousands to seek asylum in the US,
despite hostility and brutal actions by the Trump administration
According to the article, the fastest area of population growth expected by the year 2100 will occur in the developing world where disease control, surveillance and access to health care already face significant challenges. 

Currently, some estimates suggest that infectious disease accounts for 75 percent of deaths in developing countries in tropical regions. 

Each year in the United States, an estimated 48 million people suffer from foodborne infections, and foodborne illnesses have been linked to imported food from developing countries -- where sanitation and food safety is lacking or poorly enforced. 

New cars are safer, but women most likely to suffer injury

Disturbing findings about seat belts
University of Virginia

crash test car GIFCars built in the last decade have been shown to be safer than older models, including in the most common types of crashes -- frontal collisions. 

However, a new study conducted by researchers at the University of Virginia's Center for Applied Biomechanics shows that women wearing seat belts are significantly more likely to suffer injury than their male counterparts.

Belted female auto occupants have 73% greater odds of being seriously injured in frontal car crashes compared to belted males (after controlling for collision severity, occupant age, stature, body mass index and vehicle model year). 

The difference in risk is greatest for injury to the lower extremities, but also occurs with several other types of injury.

Langevin Votes to prevent war with Iran

House passes National Defense Authorization Act

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At least 1 million were killed in the war between Iran and Iraq, 1980-1988. 
Congressman Jim Langevin (D-RI), a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee and Chairman of the Subcommittee on Intelligence and Emerging Threats and Capabilities, issued the following statement after voting in favor of H.R. 2500, the Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 220-197. 

Langevin voted to advance the bill out of the House Armed Services Committee in June.

“This year’s defense authorization provides funding for a strong national defense strategy that advances American interests at home and abroad. It includes a 3.1 percent pay raise for our service members, numerous provisions to support military families such as a repeal of the ‘Widow’s Tax’, and key investments to bolster our nation’s defense capabilities. In particular, the procurement of an additional Virginia-class submarine, to be manufactured in part at General Dynamics Electric Boat in Quonset Point, will help support Rhode Island’s robust defense industrial sector.
“During floor consideration, I supported Representative Ro Khanna’s amendment to make clear that there is no existing authorization for the President to go to war with Iran. The President’s reckless actions, especially his withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement, have escalated tensions with the Iranian regime. Today’s vote makes clear that the President cannot initiate a war unilaterally as that power is reserved to Congress in the Constitution. I hope the amendment’s passage will also serve to help smooth the path to diplomatic reengagement with Iran.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Shark porn

Lurking behind the clickbait, a story of risk and reality.
monterey bay aquarium sharks GIFOur story starts 103 years ago – not only before basic cable, but before Hollywood became Ground Zero for showbiz. The situation begins at the Jersey Shore.

On July 1, 1916, a 25-year-old man bled to death, pulled to shore in front of the Engleside Hotel in Beach Haven, a popular getaway spot for Philadelphians. 

Six days later and 45 miles to the north, a hotel bell captain was dismembered, and newspapers began to take notice. On July 12, a young boy and his attempted rescuer died in a tidal creek.

Sharks as man-eaters became a phenomenon for the first time, and shark-hunting became a macho competition. And it was literally overkill, since humans kill roughly a million sharks for every one human killed by sharks. More on that later.

In 1974, Peter Benchley, took the 1916 frenzy and added a fictionalized version of Frank Mundus, a party-boat skipper who fancied himself as the Captain Ahab of sharks. "Jaws" was such an instant best-seller that one only had a year to wait for the movie. It was a box office blockbuster.

As the story goes, young director Steven Spielberg tried to beg off the project. And years later, Benchley revealed his regrets about the whole thing, insisting that he loved sharks and had no intention of promoting their demise.

Good starting point