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Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Godzilla vs. Kong: Who should win?

Serious science, ridiculous premise

Kiersten FormosoUSC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

Hollywood has picked a winner, but what does the science say? Courtesy of Warner Bros Entertainment

The 2021 film “Godzilla vs. Kong” pits the two most iconic movie monsters of all time against each other. And fans are now picking sides.

Even the most fantastical creatures have some basis in scientific reality, so the natural world is a good place to look to better understand movie monsters. I study functional morphology – how skeletal and tissue traits allow animals to move – and evolution in extinct animals. 

I am also a huge fan of monster movies. 

Ultimately, this is a fight between a giant reptile and a giant primate, and there are relative biological advantages and disadvantages that each would have. The research I do on morphology and biomechanics can tell us a lot about this battle and might help you decide – #TeamGodzilla or #TeamKong?

So, you're getting your shot today. Congratulations!

For more cartoons by Ted Rall, CLICK HERE.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Cathy and I got our second doses today


Yeah, probably just a coincidence


Seriously, don't feed the bears

DEM Reminds Residents to Remove Backyard Food Sources That Attract Black Bears

The Department of Environmental Management (DEM) is reminding Rhode Islanders to remove potential food sources from their properties as black bears emerge from hibernation.

Black bears are generally shy and will avoid interactions with humans. Until their natural food sources become more available in the spring, black bears may visit bird feeders, beehives, chicken coops, rabbit hutches, and compost piles in search of food. 

Bears can become dependent on readily available backyard food sources and quickly become a nuisance. Black bears have an excellent sense of smell and will investigate odors they identify as an easy meal – and will regularly frequent a site once a food source is identified.

DEM reminds the public to become "bear aware" by:

How restaurants can kill you

Frequent consumption of meals prepared away from home linked to increased risk of early death


Dining out is a popular activity worldwide, but there has been little research into its association with health outcomes. 

Investigators looked at the association between eating out and risk of death and concluded that eating out very frequently is significantly associated with an increased risk of all-cause death, which warrants further investigation. 

Their results appear in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, published by Elsevier.

Eating out is a popular activity. The US Department of Agriculture recently estimated that Americans' daily energy intake from food away from home increased from 17 percent in 1977-1978 to 34 percent in 2011-2012. At the same time, the number of restaurants has grown steadily, and restaurant-industry sales are forecasted to increase significantly.

Although some restaurants provide high-quality foods, the dietary quality for meals away from home, especially from fast-food chains, is usually lower compared with meals cooked at home. Evidence has shown that meals away from home tend to be higher in energy density, fat, and sodium, but lower in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and protective nutrients such as dietary fiber and antioxidants.

Birx Says Most Covid Deaths in US Were Preventable

But SHE was a major part of the problem

By Kenny Stancil, staff writer for Common Dreams

Birx with her famous scarves covered for Trump's disasterous
pandemic policies that, by her own admission, caused 400,000+
unnecessary deaths
After Former White House coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx said this weekend that hundreds of thousands of Covid-19 deaths in the United States could have been avoided had the previous administration responded more quickly and purposefully, Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu of California slammed the official for enabling former President Donald Trump's "malicious incompetence."

During an interview featured in a CNN documentary titled Covid War: The Pandemic Doctors Speak Out, which aired Sunday, CNN chief medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta asked Birx to describe "how much of an impact" she thinks it would have made had public authorities taken earlier and more decisive action to mitigate the spread of the virus.

"I look at it this way: The first time, we have an excuse. There were about 100,000 deaths that came from that original surge," Birx told Gupta. "All of the rest of them, in my mind, could have been mitigated or decreased substantially."

The national Covid-19 death toll is approaching 550,000, which means that, if Birx's assessment of the country's pandemic response is correct, more than 400,000 Americans died—and millions of loved ones suffered—unnecessarily as a result of political negligence. One journalist called the admission "utterly devastating."

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Rhode Island needs to pass bills aimed at stopping mass shootings

Mass shootings should not be “normal” 

In the wake of the recent mass shootings in Atlanta and Boulder, Representatives Justine Caldwell (D-Dist. 30, East Greenwich, West Greenwich) and Jason Knight (D-Dist. 67, Barrington, Warren) called on the General Assembly to enact their two pieces of legislation targeted at preventing mass shootings like those and the one at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.

“With vaccines rolling out, all of us are looking forward to Rhode Island and America getting back to normal. But Atlanta and Boulder remind us that before the pandemic upended our lives, mass shootings were normal in this country.

“We cannot accept this. Mass shootings do not have to be normal; America is the only country where they are. We know what we can do to make them less common and less deadly. We can create limits on the guns most often used to perpetrate them and on the high-capacity magazines used by shooters to inflict more damage faster,” said Representative Caldwell.

Mass shootings cause singular harm in their communities. They cause Rhode Islanders and Americans to be scared to go to movie theaters, to grocery stores, or to other locations where mass shootings have occurred.

Representatives Caldwell and Knight are sponsoring bans on the sale of assault weapons (2021-H 5556) and high-capacity magazines (2021-H 5554) because specific weapons are disproportionately used by shooters who want to inflict maximum damage on a large number of people gathering in public places.



Sure, why not?


Can you imagine what would happen if this was proposed for Ninigret Pond?

Floating solar farms could help reduce impacts of climate change on lakes and reservoirs

Lancaster University

(Credit: Giles Exley)

Floating solar farms could help to protect lakes and reservoirs from some of the harms of climate change, a new study suggests.

However, given the complex nature of water bodies and differing designs of solar technologies, there could also be detrimental ecosystem impacts of deploying floating solar arrays.

Conventional solar farms are controversial due to the amount of land they take up. This is leading to increasing interest in floating solar farms – making use of the additional space that bodies of water provide.

So far, there are three commercial-size floating solar arrays in the UK, and hundreds more across the world. The number of installations is likely to grow significantly in coming decades as demand rises for renewable energy sources with more countries committing to net zero carbon targets.

However, little is known about the impacts – both positive and negative – these floating solar farms are having on the lakes and reservoirs they are installed on – until now.

Two studies show how good vaccine decisions lessened impact of pandemic

Flu shots helped make flu season disappear, prioritizing front-line health care workers keep them on the job

By Will Collette

Two reports issued on the same day highlight the rewards for the community from good vaccine decisions.

Both report summaries appear below.

The first report says that people who got this year’s flu vaccine (as Cathy and I did), not only didn’t get the flu but faced lower risk from COVID. Getting vaccinated for flu did lower our risk of contracting COVID and, according to the data, people who had gotten flu shots had generally milder cases.

The second report discusses the positive effect on the battle against COVID that was gained by giving front-line health care workers top priority to get vaccinated against COVID when the first vaccines were approved. It immediately reduced the number of positive cases and may have saved our health care system from collapsing during the winter COVID surge.

Both studies underscore the value of getting vaccinated, not just for yourself, but for your whole community.

Here are the two reports:

Why can't the IRS just send Americans a refund – or a bill?

The case for simplified taxes 

Beverly MoranVanderbilt University

U.S. taxpayers spend more than $2 billion annually in tax preparation fees.
 Nora Carol Photography/Getty Images
The Internal Revenue Service has postponed the April 15 tax filing deadline to May 17. 

If taxpayers need even more time to file federal returns, the agency added, they can request an extension until Oct. 15.

“This continues to be a tough time for many people, and the IRS wants to continue to do everything possible to help taxpayers navigate the unusual circumstances related to the pandemic, while also working on important tax administration responsibilities,” said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig.

The announcement may come as welcome news for many Americans, but it also raises an important question: Why should taxpayers have to navigate the tedious, costly tax filing system at all?

Monday, March 29, 2021

People gave up on flu pandemic measures a century ago when they tired of them – and paid a price

We can either learn from history or repeat it

 J. Alexander NavarroUniversity of Michigan

Armistice Day celebrations on Nov. 11, 1918, worried public health experts as people crowded together in cities across the U.S. AP Photo

Picture the United States struggling to deal with a deadly pandemic.

State and local officials enact a slate of social-distancing measures, gathering bans, closure orders and mask mandates in an effort to stem the tide of cases and deaths.

The public responds with widespread compliance mixed with more than a hint of grumbling, pushback and even outright defiance. As the days turn into weeks turn into months, the strictures become harder to tolerate.

Theater and dance hall owners complain about their financial losses.

Clergy bemoan church closures while offices, factories and in some cases even saloons are allowed to remain open.

Officials argue whether children are safer in classrooms or at home.

men with a streetcar
No mask, no service on streetcar in 1918. 
Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Many citizens refuse to don face masks while in public, some complaining that they’re uncomfortable and others arguing that the government has no right to infringe on their civil liberties.

As familiar as it all may sound in 2021, these are real descriptions of the U.S. during the deadly 1918 influenza pandemic. 

In my research as a historian of medicine, I’ve seen again and again the many ways our current pandemic has mirrored the one experienced by our forebears a century ago.

As the COVID-19 pandemic enters its second year, many people want to know when life will go back to how it was before the coronavirus. 

History, of course, isn’t an exact template for what the future holds. But the way Americans emerged from the earlier pandemic could suggest what post-pandemic life will be like this time around.

Sick and tired, ready for pandemic’s end

Like COVID-19, the 1918 influenza pandemic hit hard and fast, going from a handful of reported cases in a few cities to a nationwide outbreak within a few weeks. Many communities issued several rounds of various closure orders – corresponding to the ebbs and flows of their epidemics – in an attempt to keep the disease in check.

These social-distancing orders worked to reduce cases and deaths. Just as today, however, they often proved difficult to maintain. By the late autumn, just weeks after the social-distancing orders went into effect, the pandemic seemed to be coming to an end as the number of new infections declined.

masked typist at work
People were ready to be done with masks as soon as it looked
like the flu was receding.
 PhotoQuest/Archive Photos via Getty Images
People clamored to return to their normal lives. Businesses pressed officials to be allowed to reopen. 

Believing the pandemic was over, state and local authorities began rescinding public health edicts. The nation turned its efforts to addressing the devastation influenza had wrought.

For the friends, families and co-workers of the hundreds of thousands of Americans who had died, post-pandemic life was filled with sadness and grief. Many of those still recovering from their bouts with the malady required support and care as they recuperated.

At a time when there was no federal or state safety net, charitable organizations sprang into action to provide resources for families who had lost their breadwinners, or to take in the countless children left orphaned by the disease.

For the vast majority of Americans, though, life after the pandemic seemed to be a headlong rush to normalcy. Starved for weeks of their nights on the town, sporting events, religious services, classroom interactions and family gatherings, many were eager to return to their old lives.

Taking their cues from officials who had – somewhat prematurely – declared an end to the pandemic, Americans overwhelmingly hurried to return to their pre-pandemic routines. They packed into movie theaters and dance halls, crowded in stores and shops, and gathered with friends and family.

Officials had warned the nation that cases and deaths likely would continue for months to come. The burden of public health, however, now rested not on policy but rather on individual responsibility.

Predictably, the pandemic wore on, stretching into a third deadly wave that lasted through the spring of 1919, with a fourth wave hitting in the winter of 1920. Some officials blamed the resurgence on careless Americans. Others downplayed the new cases or turned their attention to more routine public health matters, including other diseases, restaurant inspections and sanitation.

Despite the persistence of the pandemic, influenza quickly became old news. Once a regular feature of front pages, reportage rapidly dwindled to small, sporadic clippings buried in the backs of the nation’s newspapers. The nation carried on, inured to the toll the pandemic had taken and the deaths yet to come. People were largely unwilling to return to socially and economically disruptive public health measures.

masked barber shaves a customer
No matter the era, aspects of daily life go on even during a pandemic. 
Chicago History Museum/Archive Photos via Getty Images
It’s hard to hang in there

Our predecessors might be forgiven for not staying the course longer. First, the nation was eager to celebrate the recent end of World War I, an event that perhaps loomed larger in the lives of Americans than even the pandemic.

Second, death from disease was a much larger part of life in the early 20th century, and scourges such as diphtheria, measles, tuberculosis, typhoid, whooping cough, scarlet fever and pneumonia each routinely killed tens of thousands of Americans every year

Moreover, neither the cause nor the epidemiology of influenza was well understood, and many experts remained unconvinced that social distancing measures had any measurable impact.

Finally, there were no effective flu vaccines to rescue the world from the ravages of the disease. In fact, the influenza virus would not be discovered for another 15 years, and a safe and effective vaccine was not available for the general population until 1945. Given the limited information they had and the tools at their disposal, Americans perhaps endured the public health restrictions for as long as they reasonably could.

A century later, and a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, it is understandable that people now are all too eager to return to their old lives. The end of this pandemic inevitably will come, as it has with every previous one humankind has experienced.

If we have anything to learn from the history of the 1918 influenza pandemic, as well as our experience thus far with COVID-19, however, it is that a premature return to pre-pandemic life risks more cases and more deaths.

And today’s Americans have significant advantages over those of a century ago. We have a much better understanding of virology and epidemiology. We know that social distancing and masking work to help save lives. Most critically, we have multiple safe and effective vaccines that are being deployed, with the pace of vaccinations increasingly weekly.

Sticking with all these coronavirus-fighting factors or easing off on them could mean the difference between a new disease surge and a quicker end to the pandemic. COVID-19 is much more transmissible than influenza, and several troubling SARS-CoV-2 variants are already spreading around the globe. The deadly third wave of influenza in 1919 shows what can happen when people prematurely relax their guard.

[Deep knowledge, daily. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter.]The Conversation

J. Alexander Navarro, Assistant Director of the Center for the History of Medicine, University of Michigan

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Call the Fear Department


What you should know BEFORE and AFTER you get your COVID shot


EDITOR'S COMMENTS: We received our first dose at the mass vaccination site at Sockanossett in Cranston. VERY well organized by the RI National Guard. Efficient, pleasant with very little waiting. Handicapped parking going in was very convenient BUT when you exit, you are on the other side of the building. Had to push Cathy's chair some distance. I will try to find a more convenient exit when we get our second shot on March 31.

I went inside the Westerly CVS on one of the days when they were giving shots. While CVS has modified the store lay-out to accommodate the process, it did not compare well with the National Guard site, largely due to space considerations. I saw a lot of elderly patients sitting and waiting for their shots, something I didn't see in Cranston. But if you figure in the travel time, it may take less time to get your shots at CVS. 
- Will Collette

Trout fishing season opens early on Wednesday, April 7

Golden Rainbow Trout and Sebago Salmon Among the Species Being Stocked by DEM in RI Lakes, Ponds, Rivers, and Streams

The Department of Environmental Management (DEM) announces that Rhode Island trout stocked lakes, ponds, rivers and streams will open for fishing at 6 a.m. on Wednesday, April 7. 

DEM will be filing an emergency regulation opening the freshwater trout fishing season early this year in order to eliminate the large crowds that often accompany the traditional Opening Day of trout fishing season in April. 

Please observe the law – fishing before the official Opening Day in any trout stocked waters is illegal and considered poaching. Have respect for your fellow anglers.

"We're excited to welcome anglers to our state's beautiful freshwaters this spring to experience the thrill of reeling in the first trout of the season," said DEM Director Janet Coit. 

"Rhode Islanders continue to seek out ways to stay active outdoors while keeping their distance from others, and fishing is an ideal activity that you can safely enjoy on your own by practicing social distancing and not gathering in groups. DEM is proud to support freshwater fishing through our stocking program, and the gorgeous golden rainbow trout and Sebago salmon we're putting in local waterways for the beginning of the fishing season will bring added excitement to anglers of all ages."

During the COVID-19 public health emergency, fishing should be enjoyed as a solitary experience or with members of your immediate household, not as a group activity. Check and current Executive Orders for current guidance on group sizes for social gatherings. 

How good is the AstraZeneca vaccine – and is it really safe?

5 questions answered

Maureen FerranRochester Institute of Technology

The AstraZeneca vaccine is already in use in many places. 
AP Photo/Christophe Ena
On March 22, AstraZeneca released results from its U.S. clinical trial showing that its vaccine is 79% effective and with no serious side effects. Overnight, the National Institutes of Health issued a statement, saying the board charged with ensuring the accuracy of the trial expressed concern that the company may have included “outdated information” in the trial. This unusual announcement is the latest in a series of questions over how effective and how safe the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is. Maureen Ferran, a virologist at the Rochester Institute of Technology, answers five questions about the AstraZeneca vaccine.

1. How does it work?

The AstraZeneca vaccine is a viral vector vaccine, much like the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. This type of vaccine uses a harmless adenovirus to deliver genetic instructions for a protein from SARS-CoV-2 into your cells. Your cells then make that protein, and your body will recognize the foreign protein and activate an immune response that will protect you from future infection. 

While the Johnson & Johnson vaccine uses a human adenovirus, the AstraZeneca vaccine uses an adenovirus that normally causes the common cold in chimpanzees. This virus can’t replicate in the human body or get you sick.

Ethics, smethics. Dr. Birx looks to cash in

Birx Joins Air-Cleaning Industry Amid Land Grab for Billions in Federal Covid Relief

 Kaiser Health News

This story also ran on The Guardian. It can be republished for free.

The former top White House coronavirus adviser under President Donald Trump, Dr. Deborah Birx, has joined an air-cleaning company that built its business, in part, on technology that is now banned in California due to health hazards.

The company is one of many in a footrace to capture some of the $193 billion in federal funding to schools.

Birx is now chief medical and science adviser of ActivePure Technology, a company that counts 50 million customers since its 1924 start as the Electrolux vacuum company and does nearly $500 million annually in sales. 

Its marketing includes photos of outer space, a nod to a 1990s breakthrough with technology to remove a gas from NASA spaceships. 

The company’s own studies show that, in its effort to create the “healthiest indoor environments in North America,” it leveraged something less impressive: the disinfecting power of ozone — a molecule considered hazardous and linked to the onset and worsening of asthma.

In an interview with KHN, CEO Joe Urso acknowledged that its air cleaners that emit ozone account for 5% of sales, even though its marketing repeatedly claims “no chemicals or ozone.”

Conflicts between the science and marketing claims of an air purification company are nothing new to academic air quality experts. 

They warn that the industry — which sells to dental offices, businesses and gyms — is laser-focused on school officials, who are desperate to convince parents and teachers their buildings are safe. 

Children can be particularly susceptible to the chemical exposure some of these devices potentially create, experts say.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

One out of ten Charlestown workers are unemployed

We need to get Charlestown back to work

By Will Collette

Charlestown’s prosperous appearance is a façade, especially in the beach neighborhoods south of Route One. In fact Charlestown has been hit very hard by the Pandemic Recession and our recovery is stalled.

We showed some good signs last October, with joblessness falling to 6.3% but that was just a fluke. Now we’re back up again to 9.9% which is also the annualized average rate Charlestown suffered in 2020. It’s shocking to compare that to Charlestown’s 2019 average which only 4%.  

Statewide unemployment is currently at 7.3%. In Charlestown, it’s 9.9%. In addition to job losses in such traditional statewide employers as construction, services and manufacturing, the bottom fell out of our local tourism industry.

We’re not seeing any interest in addressing our serious joblessness problem from the Charlestown Citizens Alliance (CCA Party) that has ruled Charlestown for the past decade.

Their two biggest priorities at the moment are (1) buying properties at prices way above assessed value [for examples, click HERE and HERE] and (2) recruiting volunteers to pick up trash.

Last February, the CCA also made a big deal about working with RI-CAN, Charlestown’s main food pantry, to raise money for COVID relief. According to the CCA, they “raised almost $10,000.” And that’s fine until you compare it to the $13,050 the CCA raised for their 2020 election, collecting almost all of it in 30 days before the election.

Charity is good but jobs are better.

I think more effort needs to go into coming up with ways to help the 400 Charlestown households where an earner is looking for a job but can’t find one. There are no statistics available for how many of our neighbors have dropped out of the job market but we know they are there and need help, too.

If we are going into a third coronavirus wave, as our statistics suggest, no amount of Dan McKee small business boosterism is going to help.

But as I’ve said before, I think that Charlestown can help itself. Reminders of how to do that are scattered all over Charlestown in the work left behind by the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps and Works Project Administration. Example: the stone bridge over the Pawcatuck on Route 91. There's a section on other such projects in the most recent newsletter from the Charlestown Historical Society.

We have an experienced Department of Public Works and we have lots of work that needs to be done around the town such as tending and improving accessibility to town owned public lands, carrying out projects either planned or delayed due to bids that were too high and yes, even picking up that roadside litter.

We have $400,000 budgeted for the much-needed make over of the Charlestown Animal Shelter (above), but all the bids we have received are at least $300,000 more. So let’s put that on the list.

We have budgets for planned as well as delayed projects, a healthy budget surplus plus Charlestown is currently slated to receive $780,000 through Joe Biden’s American Rescue plan to be used for pandemic recovery. We can also table the plans for bloated land deals, such as Tucker Estates.

Rather than pay almost three times the assessed value of that property to a Wakefield developer, we should redirect the $500,000 we would otherwise waste to putting Charlestown unemployed workers on the job on other town properties.

Many of Charlestown’s unemployed work construction – I’ll bet some have been forepersons on jobs – who can do the work.

Charlestown’s Department of Public Works and Department of Parks and Recreation have hired and managed part-time and seasonal workers before and no doubt will continue to do so.

So what I am suggesting is a concerted effort to do what we’ve done before (though on a larger scale), with the money we have, to do the work that needs to be done and do it with townsfolk who need a job.

You could call it the Charlestown Conservation and Construction Corps (CCCC). While we remain in the grips of the pandemic and its related recession, it would be a shame to miss the opportunity to really help our neighbors, and ourselves in the bargain.

Republicans finally release their infrastructure plan


Please explain


High emotional intelligence 'can help to identify fake news'

Smarter people are less likely to be fooled. Duh. 

University of Strathclyde

Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images/TNS
People with high levels of emotional intelligence are less likely to be susceptible to 'fake news', according to research at the University of Strathclyde.

The study invited participants to read a series of news items on social media and to ascertain whether they were real or fictitious, briefly describing the reasons for their answers. 

They were also asked to complete a test to determine their levels of emotional intelligence (EQ or emotional quotient) and were asked a number of questions when considering the veracity of each news item.

Researchers found that those who identified the types of news correctly were most likely to score highly in the EQ tests. There was a similar correlation between correct identification and educational attainment.

Why you should get a COVID-19 vaccine – even if you've already had the coronavirus

The researchers don't know how long you have immunity after a COVID infection

Jennifer T. GrierUniversity of South Carolina

Vaccination produces a much stronger and more consistent immune 
response than infection. Andriy Onufriyenko/Moment via Getty Images

A few weeks ago, a message popped up in the corner of my screen. “What do you think about people who have recently had COVID–19 getting the vaccine?” 

A friend of mine was eligible for a COVID–19 vaccine, but she had recently gotten over an infection with SARS–CoV–2. 

More people are becoming eligible for vaccines each week – including millions of people who have already recovered from a coronavirus infection. Many are wondering whether they need the vaccine, especially people who have already been infected.

I study immune responses to respiratory infections, so I get a lot of these types of questions. A person can develop immunity – the ability to resist infection – from being infected with a virus or from getting a vaccine. However, immune protection isn’t always equal. 

The strength of the immune response, the length of time that the protection lasts and the variation of the immune response across people is very different between vaccine immunity and natural immunity for SARS–CoV–2. COVID–19 vaccines offer safer and more reliable immunity than natural infection.

6 tips to help you detect fake science news

Hint: if they cite Dr. Oz or Dr. Phil as sources, that's a clue 

Marc ZimmerConnecticut College

If what you’re reading seems too good to be true, it just might be. 
Mark Hang Fung So/UnsplashCC BY
I’m a professor of chemistry, have a Ph.D. and conduct my own scientific research, yet when consuming media, even I frequently need to ask myself: “Is this science or is it fiction?”

There are plenty of reasons a science story might not be sound. Quacks and charlatans take advantage of the complexity of science, some content providers can’t tell bad science from good and some politicians peddle fake science to support their positions.

If the science sounds too good to be true or too wacky to be real, or very conveniently supports a contentious cause, then you might want to check its veracity.

Here are six tips to help you detect fake science.

Saturday, March 27, 2021

VIDEO: This is the deficit we really need to reduce

To watch this video on YouTube:


Blind opposition, explained


Priorities, again


Preventing dam failure

Removal of Potter Hill Dam would improve Pawcatuck River fish passage, reduce flooding risks

By CYNTHIA DRUMMOND/ecoRI News contributor

The Potter Hill Dam in Westerly, R.I., was originally built in the 1780s and is failing. (Cynthia Drummond photos)

Rhode Island residents, state legislators, and municipal officials were recently presented with several options regarding the future of the deteriorating Potter Hill Dam, which once powered Westerly’s Potter Hill Mill.

During a March 18 online public information meeting, participants applauded the proposal to remove the only remaining dam on the Pawcatuck River, but some residents worried that removing the dam would significantly lower the water level of the river, draining wetlands and impacting wells and property values.

Funded by a $100,000 grant, the first funding of a multiyear award from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the project has received additional monetary and in-kind donations totaling $112,500.

Embrace the bugs

To help insects, make them welcome in your garden – here's how

Brian LovettWest Virginia University

An insect-friendly wildflower swath at California State University,
Fullerton’s arboretum.TDLucas5000/FlickrCC BY
As winter phases into spring across the U.S., gardeners are laying in supplies and making plans. 

Meanwhile, as the weather warms, common garden insects such as bees, beetles and butterflies will emerge from underground burrows or nests within or on plants.

Most gardeners know how beneficial insects can be for their plots. Flies pollinate flowers. Predatory bugs, such as the spined shoulder bug, eat pest insects that otherwise would tuck into garden plants.

As a scientist whose research involves insects and as a gardener, I know that many beneficial insect species are declining and need humans’ help. If you’re a gardener looking for a new challenge this year, consider revamping all or part of your yard to support beneficial insects.

DeJoy to Unveil Plan to Slash Post Office Hours, Hike Postage Prices

Senate needs to confirm Biden nominees to postal board so DeJoy can be fired

By Jake Johnson, staff writer for Common Dreams

Graeme Jennings/Bloomberg News
In the face of growing calls for his ouster, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy is reportedly expected to unveil a plan to slash Post Office hours, hike postage prices, and extend first-class delivery times—changes likely to worsen nationwide mail slowdowns that began following implementation of DeJoy's initial round of operational reforms last year.

According to the Washington Post, which first reported the details of the new plan, "DeJoy is expected to emphasize the need for austerity to ensure more consistent delivery and rein in billions of dollars in financial losses" that Democratic lawmakers and postal advocates say are largely attributable to a 2006 law requiring USPS to prefund retiree benefits decades in advance.

"Most of DeJoy's changes will not face regulatory road blocks. The postmaster general unilaterally controls operating hours at post offices, and the board of governors appears to back DeJoy's changes to delivery times," the Post reported.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Something to talk about on your next Zoom meeting

Zoom paid $0 in federal income taxes on 4,000% profit increase during pandemic

"If you paid $14.99 a month for a Zoom Pro membership, you paid more to Zoom than it paid in federal income taxes even as it made $660 million in profits last year."

By Jake Johnson, staff writer for Common Dreams 

The U.S.-based online video chat platform Zoom has seen its profits skyrocket by 4000% during the Covid-19 pandemic thanks to the growing reliance on remote work and schooling, but an analysis by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy finds that the company didn't pay a dime in federal corporate income taxes on its 2020 windfall.

The reason, according to ITEP senior fellow Matthew Gardner, lies mainly in Zoom's "lavish use of executive stock options," a common tactic of big corporations looking to skirt their federal tax obligations.

"Companies that compensate their leadership with stock options can write off, for tax purposes, huge expenses that far exceed their actual cost," Gardner explained. "This is a strategy that has been leveraged effectively by virtually every tech giant in the last decade, from Apple to Facebook to Microsoft. Zoom's success in using stock options to avoid taxes is neither surprising nor (currently) illegal."

Zoom reported $660 million in pre-tax profits in 2020, a massive leap from its 2019 pre-tax profits of $16 million. Eric Yuan, Zoom's founder and CEO, accurately described 2020 an as "unprecedented year" for the nine-year-old company in its latest earnings report.

MY rights


Toxic algae below, death from above. April 8 on-line discussion

Coastal State Discussion Webinar: Detecting the Next Harmful Algal Bloom

Meredith Haas

Alfred Hitchcock’s famous film, The Birds, was inspired by a bizarre event in Monterey Bay in 1961 where crazed birds were seen crashing into buildings, cars, and street signs. 

The culprit: domoic acid, a neurotoxin produced by a specific species of phytoplankton that, if ingested, can cause animals to become disoriented or have seizures. 

In humans, it can also cause seizures as well as short-term memory loss or worse in severe cases.

In 2016, an unprecedented harmful algal bloom with detectable levels of domoic acid spanned across New England. It prompted a recall of over 5 tons of potentially infected shellfish in Maine and the first-ever bay-wide closure for shellfishing in Rhode Island as a precaution though toxicity never reach harmful levels. 

The presence of domoic acid also led to another closure of shellfish harvesting in Narragansett Bay the following year. The cause of these events remains unknown, and the implications for local economies and human health prompted research to better understand and monitor Pseudo-nitzschia, the genus of plankton responsible for producing domoic acid.

Standing by Dr. Lee

Bandy Lee sues Yale, says university fired her over efforts to expose Donald Trump’s mental illness

As Dr. Bandy X. Lee’s frequent publisher, we, the editors of, believe she has made vital contributions to our understanding of public mental health, and she responsibly underscored the damaging effects of deeply mentally ill Donald Trump’s grip on the most powerful job in the world.

Trump’s delusions, which are well-documented and were noticed for decades, have resulted in the spread of baseless conspiracy theories, numerous acts of deadly violence and the failed Jan. 6 attempt to overthrow our government.

Collateral damage from Trumpism continues. Yet, some Trump followers who embraced his delusions appear to be recovering from their own temporary loss of rationality and mental well-being.

Yale University fired Lee, an established professor on its medical school faculty, citing the misnamed Goldwater Rule. That non-governmental policy — a gag order in Lee’s view — directs mental health professionals to hold their tongues about the mental well-being of officials.

American citizens discuss Trump’s mind every day around their kitchen tables, in public forums and on national television. To deny the citizenry the insights of educated mental health professionals is more than absurd; it is an attack on the very principle of American democratic self-governance.

We believe every one of her opinion columns and interviews falls well within the boundaries of the highest standards of responsible journalism.

The rule is itself of dubious provenance and relevance. And, it is outdated. Yet one of America’s leading universities clings to this orthodoxy in firing Lee after 17 years on its medical school faculty for advancing and widening human understanding of public mental health and the deleterious effects of governance by a leader who suffers from severe delusions.

All Americans should be deeply disturbed at Yale’s implicit attack on robust public debate by punishing Lee and seeking to intimidate other well-informed mental health scholars about our elected leaders and their fitness to hold office. This is especially so for anyone whose finger can press the nuclear button.

We have published more than 40 articles by Lee and expect to post more. We believe every one of her opinion columns and interviews falls well within the boundaries of the highest standards of responsible journalism. Her writing also advances our mission, which is to cover what politicians do not what they say and to encourage citizens to take their rightful ownership of our government.

Maybe skip the Saugys

Eating processed meat could increase dementia risk

University of Leeds

Scientists from the University's Nutritional Epidemiology Group used data from 500,000 people, discovering that consuming a 25g serving of processed meat a day, the equivalent to one rasher of bacon, is associated with a 44% increased risk of developing the disease.

But their findings also show eating some unprocessed red meat, such as beef, pork or veal, could be protective, as people who consumed 50g a day were 19% less likely to develop dementia. 

The researchers were exploring whether there is a link between consumption of meat and development of dementia, a health condition which affects 5%-8% of over 60s worldwide.

Their results, titled Meat consumption and risk of incident dementia: cohort study of 493,888 UK Biobank participants, are published today in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.