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Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Why do we laugh?

New study considers possible evolutionary reasons behind this very human behaviour

Carlo Valerio BellieniUniversità di Siena

Tetra Images LLC/ Alamy
A woman in labour is having a terrible time and suddenly shouts out: “Shouldn’t! Wouldn’t! Couldn’t! Didn’t! Can’t!”

“Don’t worry,” says the doctor. “These are just contractions.”

Until now, several theories have sought to explain what makes something funny enough to make us laugh. These include transgression (something forbidden), puncturing a sense of arrogance or superiority (mockery), and incongruity – the presence of two incompatible meanings in the same situation.

I decided to review all the available literature on laughter and humour published in English over the last ten years to find out if any other conclusions could be drawn. After looking through more than one hundred papers, my study produced one new possible explanation: laughter is a tool nature may have provided us with to help us survive.

I looked at research papers on theories of humour that provided significant information on three areas: the physical features of laughter, the brain centres related to producing laughter, and the health benefits of laughter. This amounted to more than 150 papers that provided evidence for important features of the conditions that make humans laugh.

By organising all the theories into specific areas, I was able to condense the process of laughter into three main steps: bewilderment, resolution and a potential all-clear signal, as I will explain.

This raises the possibility that laughter may have been preserved by natural selection throughout the past millennia to help humans survive. It could also explain why we are drawn to people who make us laugh.

Here come the vultures, coming for your eyes

Private Equity Sees the Billions in Eye Care as Firms Target High-Profit Procedures

 

From Review of Ophthalmology


Christina Green hoped cataract surgery would clear up her cloudy vision, which had worsened after she took a drug to fight her breast cancer.

But the former English professor said her 2019 surgery with Ophthalmology Consultants didn’t get her to 20/20 vision or fix her astigmatism — despite a $3,000 out-of-pocket charge for the astigmatism surgical upgrade. Green, 69, said she ended up feeling more like a dollar sign to the practice than a patient.

“You’re a cow among a herd as you just move from this station to this station to this station,” she said.

Ophthalmology Consultants is part of EyeCare Partners, one of the largest private equity-backed U.S. eye care groups. It is headquartered in St. Louis and counts some 300 ophthalmologists and 700 optometrists in its networks across 19 states. The group declined to comment.

Switzerland-based Partners Group bought EyeCare Partners in 2019 for $2.2 billion. Another eye care giant, Texas-based Retina Consultants of America, was formed in 2020 with a $350 million investment from Massachusetts-based Webster Equity Partners, a private equity firm, and now it says on its website it has 190 physicians across 18 states. Other private equity groups are building regional footprints with practices such as Midwest Vision Partners and EyeSouth Partners. Acquisitions have escalated so much that private equity firms now are routinely selling practices to one another.

In the past decade, private equity groups have gone from taking over a handful of practices to working with as many as 8% of the nation’s ophthalmologists, said Dr. Robert E. Wiggins Jr., president of the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

They are scooping up eye care physician practices nationwide as money-making opportunities grow in medical eye care with the aging of the U.S. population. Private equity groups, backed by wealthy investors, buy up these practices — or unify them under franchise-like agreements — with the hopes of raising profit margins by cutting administrative costs or changing business strategies. They often then resell the practices at a higher price to the next bidder.

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

White nationalism is a political ideology that mainstreams racist conspiracy theories

We have been down this road before

Sara KamaliUniversity of California San Diego

U.S. President Joe Biden delivers a prime-time speech on Sept. 1, 2022,
 in Philadelphia. Alex Wong/Getty Images
In September 2022, President Joe Biden convened a summit called United We Stand to denounce the “venom and violence” of white nationalism ahead of the midterm elections.

His remarks repeated the theme of his prime-time speech in Philadelphia on Sept. 1, 2022, during which he warned that America’s democratic values are at stake.

“We must be honest with each other and with ourselves,” Biden said. “Too much of what’s happening in our country today is not normal. Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic.”

A white man dressed in navy blue suit with a white shirt and red tie hugs a smiling woman on stage.
Former President Donald Trump embraces Kari Lake, the Arizona
GOP candidate for governor, at a rally on July 22, 2022.
 
Mario Tama/Getty Images
While that message may resonate among many Democratic voters, it’s unclear whether it will have any impact on any Republicans whom Biden described as “dominated and intimidated” by former President Donald Trump, or on independent voters who have played decisive roles in elections, and will continue to do so, particularly as their numbers increase.

It’s also unclear whether Trump-endorsed candidates can win in general elections, in which they will face opposition not only from members of their own party but also from a broad swath of Democrats and independent voters.

What is clear is that this midterm election cycle has revealed the potency of conspiracy theories that prop up narratives of victimhood and messages of hate across the complex American landscape of white nationalism.

It's pointless to argue

For more cartoons by Jen Sorenson, CLICK HERE

 

KILL on sight


 

Why do woodpeckers peck?

New discovery about bird brains sheds light on intriguing question

Brown University

From Fake Science, not Brown
While a woodpecker’s bill-hammering is a familiar sound — and sometimes too familiar, for those who’ve had a woodpecker take up residence in their yard — the mechanisms and motivations driving the birds to engage in this behavior haven’t been well understood.

Until now.

A team of researchers led by a Brown University biologist has discovered new insights into how the woodpecker’s brain works. The discovery suggests their drums may have evolved through vocal learning, which is the same way that songbirds learn to make their own more melodious sounds.

In a study published in PLOS Biology, the researchers describe how they found evidence of specialized gene expression in the forebrains of woodpeckers that was anatomically similar to that of birds who communicate by singing. 

The researchers hypothesize that the same brain mechanisms that helped birds develop the motor control involved in creating and voicing songs is also what helped woodpeckers develop their drumming system of communication.

This discovery expands what is known not just about woodpeckers, but about the evolution of birds in general, said study author Matthew Fuxjager, an associate professor of ecology, evolution and organismal biology with the Division of Biology and Medicine at Brown University.

Study finds high levels of PFAS in school uniforms

What are they thinking? 

University of Notre Dame

In yet another example of the prevalence of the hazardous chemicals known as PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) in consumer products, industrial products and textiles, researchers have found notably high levels in school uniforms sold in North America.

In a study published in Environmental Science and Technology Letters, scientists at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana University, the University of Toronto and the Green Science Policy Institute analyzed a variety of children's textiles. Fluorine was detected in 65 percent of samples tested.

But concentrations were highest in school uniforms -- and higher in those uniforms labeled as 100 percent cotton as opposed to synthetics.

Is the pandemic over?

Up to 400 Americans DIE of COVID every day, so the answer is NO

William HaukUniversity of South CarolinaLisa MillerUniversity of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, and Wayne AuUniversity of Washington, Bothell

Life is more normal now than it has been in years, as 
people do away with  masks and social distancing.
 Stefan Tomic/E+ via Getty Images

President Joe Biden’s declaration that “the pandemic is over” raised eyebrows and the hackles of some experts who think such messaging could be premature and counterproductive.

But to many Americans who have long since returned to pre-COVID 19 activities and are now being forced back into the office, the remark may ring true.

The problem is that what “back to normal” feels like may differ from person to person, depending on the individual’s circumstances and by what criteria they are judging the pandemic to be over. The Conversation asked three scholars of different parts of U.S. society affected by the pandemic – public health, education and the economy – to evaluate just how “over” the pandemic is in their worlds. This is what they said:

Monday, September 26, 2022

Let’s Be Honest

During a campaign, some people will say anything

By Deborah Carney, Charlestown Town Council President and candidate for re-election

This op-ed originally ran as a Letter to the Editor of the Westerly Sun. It is reprinted here with the permission of the author. 

Election season is upon us. It’s time for the spin.

A recent letter to the Editor regarding the Conservation Development Ordinance attacked candidates endorsed by Charlestown Residents United (CRU) as being against protecting the environment, which could not be further from the truth. 

That letter failed to include one of the fundamental differences between the candidates endorsed by CRU and the group the writer supports, the CCA.  The difference is, CRU endorsed candidates actually listen and consider the concerns of our fellow residents. 

The CRU-endorsed candidates support conservation, not confiscation of land. 

During the public hearing on the ordinance, the Council listened to testimony from both those in favor of the ordinance and those opposed. Clearly, all those who spoke care deeply about Charlestown and being environmentally responsible.  Where opinions diverged was in the language of the proposed ordinance. 

During the public hearings, many property owners, not “moneyed developers,” expressed their concerns with the new ordinance.  These are our neighbors that have been good stewards of their land and are now being vilified because they opposed this ordinance. 

The author of that letter erroneously stated that Councilor Grace Klinger and I put “at risk Charlestown’s environmental protections and benefiting outside speculators over Charlestown’s residents.”   

This couldn’t be further from the truth.

For over 30 years, Charlestown had a Residential Cluster Subdivision Ordinance which protected the environment by providing for “permanent preservation of open space, particularly large contiguous areas within the site proposed for development, or linked to offsite protected areas; and to locate development on sites best suited for development, while avoiding land which is ecologically, agriculturally or historically important.” 

Councilor Grace Klinger and I voted in favor of an amendment that would have addressed the concerns of those opposed to the Conservation Development Ordinance; the CCA-backed councilors voted against it.  

It would have kept the existing Cluster Subdivision language and added the Conservation Development option for the property owner, not “moneyed developers” to decide which option worked best for them.   

To be clear, the vote in favor of this ordinance was not a vote to protect the environment versus not protecting the environment.  The environment was already being protected 

There is a difference between the candidates endorsed by CRU and those endorsed by the CCA.  CRU candidates will listen to the residents, consider concerns, and incorporate solutions.  We support the conservation of land, not the confiscation of land 

Please don't be fooled by one-sided reporting. CRU candidates will continue to listen to all of Charlestown’s residents, continue to protect our environment, and continue to protect the rights of property owners.  

I respectfully ask for your vote and ask you to please consider voting for Grace Klinger, Lorna Persson, Rippy Serra, and Stephen Stokes for Town Council; Patricia Stamps and Gabrielle Godino for Planning Commission; and Charlie Beck for Town Moderator.

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When canvassing, this is one household you may want to skip


 

Welcome to the new abnormal

Looking back at America’s summer of heat, floods and climate change

Shuang-Ye WuUniversity of Dayton

Much of the South and Southern Plains faced a dangerous heat
wave in July 2022, with highs well over 100 degrees for several days.
 Brandon Bell/Getty Images
The summer of 2022 started with a historic flood in Montana, brought on by heavy rain and melting snow, that tore up roads and caused large areas of Yellowstone National Park to be evacuated.

It ended with a record-breaking heat wave in California and much of the West that pushed the power grid to the breaking point, causing blackouts, followed by a tropical storm that set rainfall records in southern California. A typhoon flooded coastal Alaska, and a hurricane hit Puerto Rico with more than 30 inches of rain.

In between, wildfires raged through California, Arizona and New Mexico on the background of a megadrought in Southwestern U.S. that has been more severe than anything the region has experienced in at least 1,200 years. Near Albuquerque, New Mexico, a five-mile stretch of the Rio Grande ran dry for the first time in 40 years. Persistent heat waves lingered over many parts of the country, setting temperature records.

At the same time, during a period of five weeks between July and August, five 1,000-year rainfall events occurred in St. Louis, eastern Kentucky, southern Illinois, California’s Death Valley and in Dallas, causing devastating and sometimes deadly flash floods. Extreme rainfall also led to severe flooding in Mississippi, Virginia and West Virginia.

Molecular delivery system developed at URI shows promise against bladder cancer

Research shows that a cancer-seeking molecule can successfully target bladder cancer with diagnostic and therapeutic agents

By Kevin Stacey

pHLIP-ICG can locate cancerous lesions and illuminate them
with a fluorescent molecule, making them potentially easier
for surgeons to see and remove.
A research team from the University of Rhode Island and The Miriam Hospital in Providence has demonstrated a potential new weapon in the fight against bladder cancer.

The researchers showed that a cancer-seeking molecule called pHLIP used in combination with an FDA-approved fluorescent dye called ICG can successfully target tumors in human bladders, lighting up cancerous lesions to make them easier for surgeons to see and remove. In a separate experiment reported in the same study, the researchers showed that pHLIP® peptides combined with a powerful toxin called amanitin could penetrate and kill bladder cancer cells in a petri dish. 

The researchers say the findings could set the stage for a potential clinical trial to test the effectiveness of pHLIP-based treatments in patients with non-muscle invasive bladder cancer.

“Bladder cancer can be a devastating disease, and case rates are rising particularly here in Rhode Island,” said Yana Reshetnyak, a physics professor at URI and a study co-author. “Our results suggest that pHLIP peptides could potentially be used to aid in fluorescence-guided surgeries or in targeting therapeutics to bladder and perhaps other urinary tract cancers.”

The study is published in the journal Frontiers in Urology.

Billions of Dollars in Benefits Go Unused

Inflation Takes a Toll on Seniors, while help is there

 

Millions of older adults are having trouble making ends meet, especially during these inflationary times. Yet many don’t realize help is available, and some notable programs that offer financial assistance are underused.

A few examples: Nearly 14 million adults age 60 or older qualify for aid from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (also known as food stamps) but haven’t signed up, according to recent estimates. 

Also, more than 3 million adults 65 or older are eligible but not enrolled in Medicare Savings Programs, which pay for Medicare premiums and cost sharing. And 30% to 45% of seniors may be missing out on help from the Medicare Part D Low-Income Subsidy program, which covers plan premiums and cost sharing and lowers the cost of prescription drugs.

“Tens of billions of dollars of benefits are going unused every year” because seniors don’t know about them, find applications too difficult to complete, or feel conflicted about asking for help, said Josh Hodges, chief customer officer at the National Council on Aging, an advocacy group for older Americans that runs the National Center for Benefits Outreach and Enrollment.

Many programs target seniors with extremely low incomes and minimal assets. But that isn’t always the case: Programs funded by the Older Americans Act, such as home-delivered meals and legal assistance for seniors facing home foreclosures or eviction, don’t require a means test, although people with low incomes are often prioritized. And some local programs, such as property tax breaks for homeowners, are available to anyone 65 or older.

Even a few hundred dollars in assistance monthly can make a world of difference to older adults living on limited incomes that make it difficult to afford basics such as food, housing, transportation, and health care. But people often don’t know how to find out about benefits and whether they qualify. And older adults are often reluctant to seek help, especially if they’ve never done so before.

“You’ve earned these benefits,” Hodges said, and seniors should think of them “like their Medicare, like their Social Security.”

Here’s how to get started and some information about a few programs.

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Down With the Corporate Bean-Counters Who Spy on Their Workers

When overpaid corporate boneheads substitute slogans and computer metrics for real solutions, they're admitting that they are the problem.

JIM HIGHTOWER for Creators.com

For generations, workers have been punished by corporate bosses for watching the clock. But now, the corporate clock is watching workers! They count this as progress.

Called "digital productivity monitoring," it's an integrated computer system including a real-time clock, camera, keyboard tracker and algorithms to provide a second-by-second record of what each employee is doing. 

Jeff Bezos, boss of Amazon, pioneered use of this ticking electronic eye in his monstrous warehouses, forcing hapless, low-paid "pickers" to sprint down cavernous stacks of consumer stuff to fill online orders, pronto — beat the clock, or be fired.

Trust us


 

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How disease spreads in large crowds

Typical movement behavior at large events increases risk of spreading infectious diseases

Universiteit van Amsterdam

What is the typical movement behaviour of visitors to large events, such as concerts, and what does this mean for the risk of spreading infectious diseases like COVID-19? 

A group of researchers from the Informatics Institute at the University of Amsterdam, together with an epidemiologist from the Utrecht University, set out to investigate using data from events in a large stadium in Amsterdam. Their results have now been published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports.

Following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, governments around the world responded with social distancing measures including the cancellation of events involving the gathering of large crowds. Although it is intuitively clear that crowded events present a high level of risk for the spread of an infectious disease like COVID-19, a lot depends on specifically how people move in crowds. 

Despite a large body of scientific research on both crowd dynamics and human mobility in the past decades, surprisingly little is known about human movement in the specific context of large, crowded events.

Organic Hemp Farm in Hopkinton First of its Kind in Rhode Island Cannabis Industry

New growth industry for RI's agriculture

By Colleen Cronin / ecoRI News staff

Lovewell Farms in Hopkinton is the only certified-organic
hemp farm in Rhode Island. (Colleen Cronin/ecoRI News)
Among the horse barns and turf fields of South County lies an agricultural endeavor looking to provide high-quality cannabis crops that won’t get you high.

Lovewell Farms, Rhode Island’s only certified-organic hemp farm, produces a wide range of cannabidoil (CBD) products under a model of education, sustainability, and advocacy.

Since the company started in founder and co-owner Mike Simpson’s Providence kitchen about four years ago, Lovewell has invested a lot of time sharing information about the benefits of and debunking the myths about CBD.

Traveling to farmers markets around the state is part of the company’s marketing and sales strategy, and Simpson said he’s seen the look of bewilderment in people’s faces when they start to approach Lovewell’s booth and realize he’s selling a cannabis product.

“I say it all day long to people… ‘It’s not pot. It’s cannabis, but it’s not THC,’” said Colette Chisholm, Lovewell’s regional wholesale manager.

CBD is only one of about 100 cannabinoids produced by the cannabis plant. Unlike THC, CBD is a non-psychoactive drug. After the passage of the federal 2018 Farm Bill Act, hemp became legal to cultivate and sell in all 50 states.

Even though they look exactly alike and even smell similar during harvest season, THC plants and hemp plants have different chemical compositions. Hemp has higher levels of CBD concentration and less than 0.3 percent THC, so the products they produce likely won’t get a user high.

Name-calling in politics grabs headlines

Many voters don’t like it 

Beth L. FossenIndiana University

A voter and her child cast a ballot during the midterm primary
elections in Virginia in June 2022. Alex Wong/Getty Images
Spending on political advertising is setting records in the midterm elections. But evidence shows that negative messages might discourage voters from casting ballots altogether.

As the 2022 midterms get closer, political attacks in campaign advertisements are on the rise.

In November, Rep. Paul Gosar shared an anime cartoon video showing him physically attacking Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat, and President Joe Biden.

That same month, Rep. Ilhan Omar called her Republican colleague Rep. Lauren Boebert a buffoon and a bigot on Twitter. Even the official White House Twitter account has gotten in on the politically divisive action, making recent headlines when it snapped back in August 2022 at several Republican members of Congress who criticized the Paycheck Protection Program – after they themselves had their loans forgiven.

Uncivil messages by politicians have become more and more common in the last decade. Political attacks are now a regular occurrence in an increasingly polarized political environment, encouraging voters to get mad and plan to vote ahead of Election Day in November.

But that doesn’t mean these kinds of advertisements and personal attacks actually work.

I study political marketing and, as a former campaign manager and political consultant, have seen politicians use uncivil strategies firsthand with the hopes of getting themselves elected. My research on political advertising suggests that highly polarized communications could be losing their persuasive power and can even backfire in the upcoming midterms, hurting a candidate’s chances.

Saturday, September 24, 2022

Conspiracy theories are dangerous even if very few people believe them

A threat to democracy, public health and more

Keith Raymond HarrisRuhr University Bochum

Lies don’t have to spread far to cause problems. 
numismarty/iStock/Getty Images Plus
There is an open question among pundits and researchers: Do more Americans believe in conspiracy theories now than ever before?

But as a scholar of conspiracy theories and their believers, I am concerned that focusing on how many Americans believe conspiracy theories can distract from their dangers.

Even if most people dismiss conspiracy theories or accept them only in some limited sense, leaving very small numbers of true believers, the high visibility of these false ideas can still make them dangerous.

Association without belief

Philosophers often suppose people can explain their actions in terms of what they want to do or get, and what they believe. However, many of people’s actions are guided not by explicit beliefs but rather by gut feelings. These feelings aren’t set in stone. They can be influenced by experience.

This principle is taken to heart by advertisers who aim to influence behavior, not by changing how people think but how they feel. Manipulating feelings in this way can be accomplished by subtly associating a product with desirable outcomes like status and sex.

This can also take a negative form, as in political attack ads that aim to associate an opponent with threatening imagery and descriptions. Forging similar mental associations is one way in which conspiracy theories, like other misinformation, might have consequences even without being believed.

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Statewide school construction program has invested more than $2.2 billion in funding to repair or replace over 200 school buildings across 31 districts in Rhode Island

Treasurer Magaziner Celebrates Progress of Historic Investment in Rhode Island Public Schools 

General Treasurer Seth Magaziner celebrated the progress of the historic investment made in Rhode Island schools through a once-in-a-generation plan to repair or replace Rhode Island's public school buildings that provides enhanced state funding for public school districts. As co-chair of the Rhode Island School Building Task Force, Treasurer Magaziner led the development of the statewide school construction program that was overwhelmingly approved by voters in 2018.   

The Fiscal Year 2023 Budget passed by the Rhode Island General Assembly contains $300 million of funding to extend the statewide school construction program, including a $250 million bond proposal for voters to consider on the 2022 ballot.   

Viruses may be ‘watching’ you

Some microbes lie in wait until their hosts unknowingly give them the signal to start multiplying and kill them

Ivan ErillUniversity of Maryland, Baltimore County

Phages can sense bacterial DNA damage, which triggers them to
replicate and jump ship. Design Cells/iStock via Getty Images Plus
After more than two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, you might picture a virus as a nasty spiked ball – a mindless killer that gets into a cell and hijacks its machinery to create a gazillion copies of itself before bursting out. For many viruses, including the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, the “mindless killer” epithet is essentially true.

But there’s more to virus biology than meets the eye.

Take HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. HIV is a retrovirus that does not go directly on a killing spree when it enters a cell. Instead, it integrates itself into your chromosomes and chills, waiting for the right moment to command the cell to make copies of it and burst out to infect other immune cells and eventually cause AIDS.

Exactly what moment HIV is waiting for is still an area of active study. But research on other viruses has long hinted that these pathogens can be quite “thoughtful” about killing. Of course, viruses cannot think the way you and I do. 

But, as it turns out, evolution has endowed them with some pretty elaborate decision-making mechanisms. Some viruses, for instance, will choose to leave the cell they have been residing in if they detect DNA damage. Not even viruses, it appears, like to stay in a sinking ship.

My laboratory has been studying the molecular biology of bacteriophages, or phages for short, the viruses that infect bacteria, for over two decades. Recently, my colleagues and I have shown that phages can listen for key cellular signals to help them in their decision-making. Even worse, they can use the cell’s own “ears” to do the listening for them.

Human Trafficking’s Newest Abuse

Forcing Victims Into Cyberscamming

by Cezary Podkul, with Cindy Liu for ProPublica

The ads on the Telegram messaging service’s White Shark Channel this summer had the matter-of-fact tone and clipped phrasing you might find on a Craigslist posting. But this Chinese-language forum, which had some 5,700 users, wasn’t selling used Pelotons or cleaning services. It was selling human beings — in particular, human beings in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, and other cities in southeast Asia.

“Selling a Chinese man in Sihanoukville just smuggled from China. 22 years old with ID card, typing very slow,” one ad read, listing $10,000 as the price. Another began: “Cambodia, Sihanoukville, six Bangladeshis, can type and speak English.” 

Like handbills in the days of American slavery, the channel also included offers of bounties for people who had run away. (After an inquiry from ProPublica, Telegram closed the White Shark Channel for “distributing the private information of individuals without consent.” But similar forums still operate freely.)

Fan, a 22-year-old from China who was taken captive in 2021, was sold twice within the past year, he said. He doesn’t know if he was listed on Telegram. All he knows is that each time he was sold, his new captors raised the amount he’d have to pay to buy his freedom. In that way, his debt more than doubled from $7,000 to $15,500 in a country where the annual per capita income is about $1,600.

Fan’s descent into forced labor began, as human trafficking often does, with what seemed like a bona fide opportunity. He had been a prep cook at his sister’s restaurant in China’s Fujian province until it closed, then he delivered meals for an app-based service. In March 2021, Fan was offered a marketing position with what purported to be a well-known food delivery company in Cambodia. 

The proposed salary, $1,000 a month, was enticing by local standards, and the company offered to fly him in. Fan was so excited that he told his older brother, who already worked in Cambodia, about the opportunity. Fan’s brother quit his job and joined him. By the time they realized the offer was a sham, it was too late. Their new bosses wouldn’t let them leave the compound where they had been put to work.

Unlike the countless people trafficked before them who were forced to perform sex work or labor for commercial shrimping operations, the two brothers ended up in a new occupation for trafficking victims: playing roles in financial scams that have swindled people across the globe, including in the United States.

Tens of thousands of people from China, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam and elsewhere in the region have been similarly tricked. Phony job ads lure them into working in Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar, where Chinese criminal syndicates have set up cyberfraud operations, according to interviews with human rights advocates, law enforcement personnel, rescuers and a dozen victims of this new form of human trafficking. 

The victims are then coerced into defrauding people all around the world. If they resist, they face beatings, food deprivation or electric shocks. Some jump from balconies to escape. Others accept their lot and become paid participants in cybercrime.

Friday, September 23, 2022

Even though he doesn't actually read....

For Donald Trump, Information Has Always Been Power

by Andrea Bernstein for ProPublica

Series:
A Closer Look

Examining the News

Ever since the FBI came out of Mar-a-Lago last month with box after box of documents, some of them highly sensitive and classified, questions have wafted over the criminal investigation: 

Why did former President Donald Trump sneak off with the stash to begin with? Why did he keep it when he was asked to return it? And what, if anything, did he plan to do with it?

It’s true that Trump likes to collect shiny objects, like the framed Time magazine cover that was stowed, according to the U.S. Justice Department, alongside documents marked top secret. It’s true, as The Associated Press reported, that Trump has a “penchant for collecting” items that demonstrate his connection to famous people, like Shaquille O’Neal’s giant shoe, which he kept in his office in New York’s Trump Tower.

But I’ve covered Trump and his business for decades, and there’s something else people around him have told me over and over again: Trump knows the value of hoarding sensitive, secret information and wielding it regularly and precisely for his own ends. 

The 76-year-old former host of “The Apprentice” came up in the world of New York tabloids, where trading gossip was the coin of the realm. Certainly sometimes he just wanted to show off that he knew things about important people. But he also has used compromising information to pressure elected officials, seek a commercial advantage or blunt accountability and oversight.

What if

For more cartoons by Ruben Bolling, CLICK HERE.

 

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What your dog sees

Machine learning gives glimpse of how a dog's brain represents what it sees

Emory University

Scientists have decoded visual images from a dog's brain, offering a first look at how the canine mind reconstructs what it sees. The Journal of Visualized Experiments published the research done at Emory University.

The results suggest that dogs are more attuned to actions in their environment rather than to who or what is doing the action.

The researchers recorded the fMRI neural data for two awake, unrestrained dogs as they watched videos in three 30-minute sessions, for a total of 90 minutes. They then used a machine-learning algorithm to analyze the patterns in the neural data.

"We showed that we can monitor the activity in a dog's brain while it is watching a video and, to at least a limited degree, reconstruct what it is looking at," says Gregory Berns, Emory professor of psychology and corresponding author of the paper. "The fact that we are able to do that is remarkable."

The project was inspired by recent advancements in machine learning and fMRI to decode visual stimuli from the human brain, providing new insights into the nature of perception. Beyond humans, the technique has been applied to only a handful of other species, including some primates.

Walking your way to better health

Fall is an ideal time to start a regular walking program

With summer winding down and the return to a more structured schedule, September is an ideal time to consider starting or restarting a regular walking program.

The health benefits of walking are many, notes Gary Liguori, dean of the College of Health Sciences at the University of Rhode Island. Regular brisk walking can help you maintain a healthy weight, lose body fat, prevent or manage various health conditions (i.e., heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure), strengthen bones and muscles, increase energy levels, improve mood and memory, and reduce stress.

“It’s also very low impact on the joints, including ankles, knees, hips and lower back,” says Liguori. “If you walk with a friend, it can also be great for social interaction.”

The keys to maximizing the many benefits of walking is to be prepared and to set simple goals. The advice of Liguori is to Keep It Simple to Succeed, often called “KISS.” He recommends the following tips to begin a walking regime:

Stick to Masks: Face Shields Don’t Provide High-Level COVID Protection

Masks also protect you from flu

By UNIVERSITY OF EAST ANGLIA  

Face shields are popular because they do not obstruct breathing, allow for more natural conversation than face masks, and offer splash protection. Unfortunately, they do not provide high-level COVID protection.

The peer-reviewed study found that face shields did not give high levels of protection against external droplets.

According to a recent study from the University of East Anglia, if you used a face shield during the epidemic, it probably didn’t provide you with a high degree of protection against Covid. A study released today evaluated 13 different types of face shields in controlled laboratory environments.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Migrants Confirm They Were Misled into getting onto planes for political stunts

Whether it's kidnapping, trafficking or just plain abuse, DeSantis and Abbott should be prosecuted

JON QUEALLY for Common Dreams

As Republican Governors Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas continued over the weekend to defend their plot to put refugees and migrants from Latin America on planes and busses to northern cities and communities, critics of the 'cruel' and 'immoral' actions have said the two should face investigation and ultimately criminal prosecution for misleading and mistreating the people at the center of their political gamesmanship.

Amid confirmed reports that many of the migrants sent to Martha's Vineyard last week by DeSantis had been misled by officials in Florida about the nature of their trip, immigration rights legal aides have said they intend to push for legal action to stop such abuses. As the New York Times reports:

The lawyers said they would seek an injunction in federal court early next week to stop the flights of migrants to cities around the country, alleging that the Republican governor had violated due process and the civil rights of the migrants flown from Texas to the small island off the coast of Massachusetts.

Like going after Al Capone for taxes

For more cartoons by Ted Rall, CLICK HERE.

 

So mean

 

By Chris Britt

New grant aims to improve understanding of aging differences between females and males

How multiple biological processes contribute to differences in aging between the sexes.

Brown University

A five-year, $12.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation will enable researchers from across the country, including three from Brown University, to identify mechanisms that drive differences in how males and females age.

The researchers will use the grant to create the IISAGE Biology Integration Institute, drawing experts from various fields to work together to determine how multiple biological processes contribute to differences in aging between the sexes and uncover their evolutionary histories.

Little is known about how or why females and males of different animal species age or why one sex outlives the other, said Erica Larschan, an associate professor of molecular biology, cell biology and biochemistry at Brown’s Warren Alpert Medical School. The researchers from Brown will focus on questions related to gene regulation.

Round Up inside your head

Horrifying: Commonly Used Agricultural Herbicide Can Cross the Blood-Brain Barrier

By THE BIODESIGN INSTITUTE AT ASU 

Scientists have demonstrated that glyphosate, a commonly used herbicide, can cross the blood-brain barrier. Researchers are exploring possible effects on the brain.

Neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s are among the most puzzling in medical research. The underlying causes of these conditions might be anything from dietary influences and lifestyle decisions to genetic factors and general cardiovascular health.

Various environmental pollutants have also been linked to the development or progression of neurological illness. Among them is glyphosate, a broad-spectrum herbicide. Glyphosate is a widely used herbicide that is used on agricultural crops all over the globe.

Joanna Winstone, Ramon Velazquez, and their colleagues at the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) investigate the consequences of glyphosate exposure on the brains of mice in a new study. 

For the first time, the study shows that glyphosate can successfully cross the blood-brain barrier and enter the brain. Once there, it raises levels of a key factor known as TNF-α (for tumor necrosis factor alpha).

TNF-α is a molecule with two faces. This pro-inflammatory cytokine is essential in the neuroimmune system, functioning to boost immune response and protect the brain. (Cytokines are a broad category of small proteins that are essential for proper cell signaling.)

Are we a "flawed democracy?"

US is becoming a ‘developing country’ on global rankings that measure democracy, inequality

Kathleen FrydlJohns Hopkins University

People wait in line for a free morning meal in Los Angeles in April
2020. High and rising inequality is one reason the U.S. ranks badly
on some international measures of development.
Frederic J. Brown/ AFP via Getty Images
The United States may regard itself as a “leader of the free world,” but an index of development released in July 2022 places the country much farther down the list.

In its global rankings, the United Nations Office of Sustainable Development dropped the U.S. to 41st worldwide, down from its previous ranking of 32nd. Under this methodology – an expansive model of 17 categories, or “goals,” many of them focused on the environment and equity – the U.S. ranks between Cuba and Bulgaria. Both are widely regarded as developing countries.

The U.S. is also now considered a “flawed democracy,” according to The Economist’s democracy index.

As a political historian who studies U.S. institutional development, I recognize these dismal ratings as the inevitable result of two problems. Racism has cheated many Americans out of the health care, education, economic security and environment they deserve. At the same time, as threats to democracy become more serious, a devotion to “American exceptionalism” keeps the country from candid appraisals and course corrections.