Menu Bar

Home           Calendar           Topics          Just Charlestown          About Us

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Slyke of hand, Part 3: The Plan from Hell

More than a decade in the making of a sloppy P.O.S.

By Will Collette

I am taking on the challenge of CCA senior Town Council member Bonnie Van Slyke who published an 8-theses editorial titled “Ignore Deception And Focus On Accomplishments.”

Rather than write one giant article, I am breaking up Bonnie’s eight claims into more digestible chunks. In this installment, the theme is overblown claims. 

It’s the common practice of the Charlestown Citizens Alliance to turn their problematic performance into grand triumphs. Pretty much every one of Van Slyke’s eight claims share that feature, but none more than this, her third item:·        

Comprehensive Planning for the Future—Our Comprehensive Plan for the next 20 years was certified by the state of Rhode Island. The town now has protection from outside influences and can begin to implement the plan’s policies, goals, and action items.

Wow! Let’s start with a simple fact: the plan was eight years late. The old plan expired in 2013. Planning Commissar Ruth Platner who was primarily responsible for crafting the plan promised in 2012 that the plan would be done on time. She failed to do that by a lot. 

Then there’s the less simple but easily provable fact that the Comprehensive Plan Platner submitted is crap. It checked enough of the boxes to get state approval but it’s still crap. 

Here’s why. 

First, the Plan focuses almost entirely on retaining Charlestown’s “rural character,” a term that is never defined but is, in my opinion, Charlestown’s version of Jim Crow. 

The Plan envisions a continuing, relentless increase in the amount of land taken off the tax rolls and held as open space. The Plan envisions a to-the-death fight against anything that bumps up against Platner’s vision of Charlestown as a rustic colonial village, circa 1675. 

According to the Plan (Chapter 11, pages 4-5), Charlestown’s total area is 59.3 square miles of which 22.5 square miles (37.9%) are water. Tax Assessor data on page 5 shows 59.7% of Charlestown’s land area is either tax “exempt” or undeveloped. Altogether, that means that 45 of Charlestown’s 60 square miles are open space. That’s 75% and that’s a lot of open space. 

Open space and “rural character” are the only issues Charlestown’s new Plan addresses with any seriousness. The rest is a muddle of superficiality, omission, misrepresentation and especially in the Transportation and Energy sections, pure nonsense. 

The Plan leaves out or botches just about every other aspect you would expect to see in a municipal Comprehensive Plan. Some of the worst sections include: 

Transportation (Chapter 8) which is, I think, the most ineptly handled part of the Plan is the chapter on. Because Charlestown is a self-contained rural paradise, the Plan envisions no need whatsoever for public transportation. In our Charlestown utopia, all citizens will walk or ride bikes to their jobs and destinations. (8-3). Seriously. 

Or if need be, you can drive your own car. But if you don’t have a car or you are too old or infirm to ride a bike or walk, the only option the plan offers you is Uber (Chapter 8, page 20). Again, seriously. 

Our never-ending war with the Narragansetts and institutional racism rate barely a mention even though they are a stain on the town’s character. We fight efforts of the tribe to improve its economic condition, opposing Tribal efforts here, as well as in towns far from Charlestown. We deny the Tribe their sovereignty. But there is an interesting segue into … 

Affordable housing, which the Plan admits we don’t have enough. Charlestown’s record is among the worst in the state. However, in this Plan, there is a vague reference to some type of collaboration with the Narragansetts to help them build affordable housing for their own members. 

The Plan ignores the historical fact that Charlestown has fought and blocked all prior efforts by the tribe to build affordable housing. Plus, Charlestown consistently holds that the Tribe may build NOTHING without the town’s expressed approval, which is a deal-breaker for the Tribe. 

And the town has even gone so far as to ask the state to exempt Charlestown from the affordable housing mandate because we’re special and, well, “rural character.” 

Here's the latest rundown on Charlestown and affordable housing by HousingWorks RI at Roger Williams University:

New technologies for residential wind energy, like this wind
power wall
, are silent, efficient but illegal in Charlestown.
Energy (Chapter 6) gets only lip-service. Even though the town’s most valuable properties are the most vulnerable to climate driven sea level rise and catastrophic storms, the best this plan can do is offer a taskforce (i.e. a discussion group) to talk about a problem that is well past that stage. 

Charlestown did a good thing when it sponsored a brief “Solarize Charlestown” program to allow homeowners to install solar panels at a group discount. Cathy and I were one of those households, but there were only about 30 of us. 

On the other hand, this is a fine way to generate energy according
to the CCA
Charlestown could, but doesn’t, drive green energy use by offering tax credits, lining up more group deals and by changing its current NIMBY-minded anti-wind power ordinance that has resulted in not one single application for residential wind power installation. 

The Plan does note another form of energy that exploits our dense tree cover: we can burn more wood (Ch. 6, pgs. 9-10). 

Except wood burning isn't on anyone’s list of green energy sources even though, technically, it is renewable. 

Jobs and the economy (Chapter 9). The Plan says we like things just the way they are, thank you very much, where we have few jobs in town other than tourism-related and services (Chapter 9, page 7). These are the only sectors where the Plan envisions any growth. But one glaring problem is that these are generally very low-paying jobs. 

Since we have an inadequate supply of affordable housing, almost no affordable rentals and no public transportation links, where are these tourism and service workers supposed to come from? 

The Plan also notes the continuing trend for Charlestown’s population to get older. Who is supposed to take care of Charlestown’s growing elderly population? The Plan doesn’t say. 

Maybe Charlestown will shuttle in service workers and, of course, get them out of town by sundown. The Plan doesn't say.

Fair taxation. Tax policy is one of the most effective ways to encourage people to do good things and discourage bad things. We already have a lot of tax breaks in place to encourage conservation and open space, the only real priorities in Charlestown’s Comprehensive Plan. 

But we don’t use our taxing power to help residents and local businesses conform to town ordinances, such as dark sky lighting, improved septic systems, porous paving, landscaping, etc. When Charlestown mandates expensive changes, it ought to offset the cost through tax credits. 

Tax breaks could encourage residents to volunteer at the chronically under-staffed Charlestown Fire District. 

Tax breaks could drive conversion to solar, wind and geo-thermal use by businesses and residences. 

We should revisit giving permanent residents a Homestead Tax Credit, as Narragansett has done with great success. Last time this was proposed, there was an revolt by non-resident property owners but since then, driven by the pandemic, many of these rich rebels have made Charlestown their home. 

We need to clean up improper zoning (where property is taxed as open space or recreational but is in fact commercial or residential). Ruth Platner promised to clean that up 10 years ago. 

We need to end the tax breaks for Charlestown’s two fake Fire Districts (Shady Harbor and Central Quonnie). These two fire districts have no fire stations, fire trucks or fire fighters, but they do own shoreline – and they restrict access, as well as recreational facilities and lots of valuable beach property. Shady Harbor pays NO Charlestown property taxes and Central Quonnie pays tax on ridiculously low assessments. 

Does anyone remember Phil Armetta? He owned the COPAR quarries
that once operated in Charlestown and Westerly. Even though
he was convicted on organized crime charges and served time in
federal prison, Town Administrator Mark Stankiewicz allowed him a
business permit to operate a sand and gravel operation on Route 91.
Rogue industries and abandoned quarries. Finally, this Plan does not deal with these two chronic problems. Charlestown does not have a comprehensive ordinance to deal with the problems caused by operating quarries – the CCA-dominated Council chickened out and only passed a tepid, limited scope ordinance. 

We have nothing in the Plan to deal with all the abandoned quarries all over town. The town does have one ordinance: it is a crime to swim in an abandoned quarry. Quarries are indeed dangerous; dozens of people die in them every year. 

The year after the Copar Quarry closed, a young man was killed in afall off its high walls. Instead, why not use these open pits as sites for solar farms? 

Charlestown does not have a “Bad Actor” ordinance or policy that screens out businesses with bad track records from getting permits or contracts. 

If Charlestown had a Bad Actor policy, it could have stopped COPAR from taking over the Morrone quarry on Route 91 or more easily defeated the Dollar Store (they have a record of chronic labor violations). 

Ruth Platner took eight extra years to come up with Charlestown’s new Comprehensive Plan. When you review how poorly the Plan deals with institutional racism, transportation, energy and climate change, housing, jobs and the economy, an aging population, tax justice and blighted quarries, you have to wonder what she actually did during those eight years. 

You also have to wonder if Bonnie Van Slyke actually read the Plan before coming up with her little tribute to it.

To read the earlier installments of "Slyke of Hand":

Slyke of Hand, Part 1The Big Lie, Charlestown-style

Slyke of Hand, Part 2: Spit in my face and call it rain

Obviously, Biden's fault

By Joel PettLexington Herald Leader


I'm sure they're very fine people

By Nick Anderson


Statewide report finds R.I. students lacking access to media literacy education

R.I. school district rankings released during National Media Literacy Week

Tony LaRoche

In an age awash in misinformation, toxic social media, and deep political and cultural divisions, students need to learn how to critically analyze media messages. 

But not enough Rhode Island students are getting opportunities for media literacy education either at school or at home.

Most Rhode Island elementary and secondary students do not receive media literacy education, according to findings from a survey and interviews with over 500 educators, parents, and community leaders. 

This new report provides an overview of the research findings resulting from a statewide study of the level of media literacy integration in RI schools. The study includes the opinions of school educators, administrators, parents, elected public officials, and community members, along with interviews with 30 respondents who provided more in-depth information.

The study was conducted by Media Literacy Now Rhode Island and Renee Hobbs, professor of communication studies at the University of Rhode Island, in collaboration with URI’s Social Science Institute for Research, Education and Policy.

Smells like witch spirit

How the ancient world’s scented sorceresses influence ideas about magic today

Perfumes, potions and witches have been entwined for centuries.
 Frederick Stuart Church/
Smithsonian American Art Museum/Wikimedia Commons
Most perfume ads suggest that the right scent can make you sexy, alluring and successful. A blend by Black Phoenix Alchemy Labs, meanwhile, offers to make you smell like Hecate, the three-faced Greek goddess of witchcraft.

As a classics scholar who studies both magic and the senses in the ancient world, this idea of a witch-inspired perfume fascinates me – and “Hecate” is just one of many magic-inspired fragrances available today.

What does a witch smell like, and why would you deliberately perfume yourself like one?

Smells are impossible to see or touch, yet they affect us emotionally and even physically. That’s similar to how many people think of magic, and cultures around the world have connected the two. My current research is focused on how magic and scent were linked in ancient Rome and Greece, ideas that continue to shape views of witches in the West today.

Greeks and Romans of all walks of life believed in magic and used spells ranging from curses to healing magic and garden charms. Magical handbooks from the time show that Greco-Egyptian magicians used fragrance extensively in their rituals, even scented inks, and doctors believed strong-smelling plant species to be more medically effective than others. 

The gods themselves were thought to smell sweet, and places they touched retained a pleasant odor, making scent a sign of contact with the divine.

Cruel scam targets the unemployed nationwide

Scammers Are Using Fake Job Ads to Steal People’s Identities

By Cezary Podkul for ProPublica
It has become a ubiquitous internet ad, with versions popping up everywhere from Facebook and LinkedIn to smaller sites like Jobvertise: Airport shuttle driver wanted, it says, offering a job that involves picking up passengers for 35 hours a week at an appealing weekly pay rate that works out to more than $100,000 a year.

But airports aren't really dangling six-figure salaries for shuttle drivers amid some sudden resurgence in air travel. 

Instead, the ads are cybercriminals’ latest attempt to steal people’s identities and use them to commit fraud, according to recent warnings from the FBI, the Federal Trade Commission and cybersecurity firms that monitor such threats. 

The U.S. Secret Service, which investigates financial crimes, also confirmed that it has seen a “marked increase” in sham job ads seeking to steal people’s personal data, often with the aim of filing bogus unemployment insurance claims.

Saturday, October 30, 2021

America's founders didn’t believe your sacred freedom means you can do whatever you want

Vaccine mandates are as American as apple pie

Maurizio ValsaniaUniversità di Torino

Protests against mandates and quarantines get the Founding Fathers’ ideas wrong. 
George Rose/Getty Images
President Joe Biden has mandated vaccines for a large part of the American workforce, a requirement that has prompted protest from those opposed to the measure.

Meanwhile, a similar move in New York City to enforce vaccinations has resulted in more than a dozen businesses’ being fined for flouting the rules.

The basic idea behind the objections: Such mandates, which also extend to requirements to wear masks and quarantine if exposed to COVID-19, are a breach of the Constitution’s 14th Amendment, which states that “no state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.”

The objectors ask: Aren’t mandates un-American?

As a scholar who has spent decades trying to unravel the hurdles that mark the beginning of this nation, I offer some facts in response to that question – a few very American facts: Vaccination mandates have existed in the past, even though they have similarly sparked popular rage.

No vaccination foe, no latter-day fan of the Gadsden Flag’s “DONT TREAD ON ME” message, would ever gain the posthumous approval of the American founders.

George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton and the rest of the group cultivated different visions about America. But they agreed on one principle: They were unrelenting on the notion that circumstances often emerge that require public officials to pass acts that abridge individual freedoms.

Happy MAGA-Halloween


Guess which one


Bat comeback in time for Halloween

Little Brown Bats Slowly Recover from Deadly Fungus

 By TODD McLEISH/ecoRI News contributor 

USFWS/Ann Froschauer 

Surveys of bat maternity roosts in barns and attics around Rhode Island suggests that populations of little brown bats, which had declined by 95-98 percent across the Northeast as a result of a deadly fungus, are beginning to recover.

“It’s speculative at this point, but from what I see anecdotally and in the data, we’re seeing evidence of recovery,” said Charles Brown, a wildlife biologist with the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) who monitors bat populations in the state. “It seems like they hit bottom — at least I hope they did — and we’re seeing evidence of the bats rebounding and recovering to some degree.”

Once considered the most common bat in the region, little brown bats are one of the species most significantly impacted by white-nose syndrome, a fungus found in the caves where the bats hibernate. 

First discovered in 2006 in a cave in upstate New York, the fungus soon spread to bat hibernation caves throughout the Northeast. It has now been detected in 35 states and seven Canadian provinces, and it has been confirmed as a cause of death for 12 North American bat species.

Some viruses can be nice, others are just going through a phage

Viruses are both the villains and heroes of life as we know it

Ivan ErillUniversity of Maryland, Baltimore County

Bacteriophages are viruses that infect bacteria and play a potential role in
the evolution of life. 
/Science Photo Library via Getty Images
Viruses have a bad reputation. They are responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic and a long list of maladies that have plagued humanity since time immemorial. Is there anything to celebrate about them?

Many biologists like me believe there is, at least for one specific type of virus – namely, bacteriophages, or viruses that infect bacteria. When the DNA of these viruses is captured by a cell, it may contain instructions that enable that cell to perform new tricks.

The mighty power of bacterial viruses

Bacteriophages, or phages for short, keep bacterial populations in check, both on land and at sea. They kill up to 40% of the oceans’ bacteria every day, helping control bacterial blooms and redistribution of organic matter.

Bacteriophages are viruses that kill specific types of bacteria.

Their ability to selectively kill bacteria also has medical doctors excited. Natural and engineered phages have been successfully used to treat bacterial infections that do not respond to antibiotics. This process, known as phage therapy, could help fight antibiotic resistance.

Recent research points to another important function of phages: They may be nature’s ultimate genetic tinkerers, crafting novel genes that cells can retool to gain new functions.

More ‘disease’ than ‘Dracula’

How the vampire myth was born

Modern vampires like Dracula may be dashing, but they certainly
weren’t in the original vampire myths. 
Archive Photos/ Moviepix via Getty Images
The vampire is a common image in today’s pop culture, and one that takes many forms: from Alucard, the dashing spawn of Dracula in the PlayStation game “Castlevania: Symphony of the Night”; to Edward, the romantic, idealistic lover in the “Twilight” series.

In many respects, the vampire of today is far removed from its roots in Eastern European folklore. 

As a professor of Slavic studies who has taught a course on vampires called “Dracula” for more than a decade, I’m always fascinated by the vampire’s popularity, considering its origins – as a demonic creature strongly associated with disease.

Explaining the unknown

The first known reference to vampires appeared in written form in Old Russian in A.D. 1047, soon after Orthodox Christianity moved into Eastern Europe. The term for vampire was “upir,” which has uncertain origins, but its possible literal meaning was “the thing at the feast or sacrifice,” referring to a potentially dangerous spiritual entity that people believed could appear at rituals for the dead. 

It was a euphemism used to avoid speaking the creature’s name – and unfortunately, historians may never learn its real name, or even when beliefs about it surfaced.

The vampire served a function similar to that of many other demonic creatures in folklore around the world: They were blamed for a variety of problems, but particularly disease, at a time when knowledge of bacteria and viruses did not exist.

Friday, October 29, 2021

How the plague shaped Halloween

From Black Death to COVID-19, pandemics have always pushed people to honor death and celebrate life

Nükhet VarlikRutgers University - Newark

Death waits for no man – and pandemics drive the point home. Pieter Brueghel the Elder: 'The Triumph of Death'CC BY

After last year’s Halloween was very much plagued by doubt and worry thanks to a global pandemic with no clear end in sight, Halloween 2021 may feel especially exciting for those ready to celebrate it. Thanks to ongoing vigilance and continuing vaccination efforts, many people in the U.S. are now fortunate enough to feel cautiously optimistic after all those awful months that have passed since March 2020.

Etching from Jean-Jacques Manget 'Traite de la peste' 1721.
Etching of a plague doctor in the era’s personal
protective equipment.
Photo 12/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
I am a historian of pandemics. And yes, Halloween is my favorite holiday because I get to wear my plague doctor costume complete with a beaked mask.

But Halloween opens a little window of freedom for all ages. It lets people move beyond their ordinary social roles, identities and appearances. It is spooky and morbid, yet playful. 

Even though death is symbolically very much present in Halloween, it’s also a time to celebrate life. The holiday draws from mixed emotions that resonate even more than usual during the COVID-19 era.

Looking at the ways survivors of past pandemics tried to celebrate the triumph of life amid widespread death can add context to the present-day experience. Consider the Black Death — the mother of all pandemics.

Black Death birthed a new death culture

The Black Death was a pandemic of plague, the infectious disease caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis. Between 1346 and 1353, plague rampaged across Afro-Eurasia and killed an estimated 40% to 60% of the population. 

The Black Death ended, but plague carried on, making periodic return visits through the centuries.

The catastrophic effects of plague and its relentless recurrences changed life in every possible way.

Who ya gonna believe?

By Mike LuckovichAtlanta Journal-Constitution


The monster within

By Drew ShenemanThe Star-Ledger


"Who's a hyped up boy?"

Behavior resembling human ADHD seen in dogs

University of Helsinki

"Our findings can help to better identify, understand and treat canine hyperactivity, impulsivity and inattention. Moreover, they indicated similarity with human ADHD, consolidating the role of dogs in ADHD-related research," says Professor Hannes Lohi, head of a canine gene research group at the University of Helsinki.

"Dogs share many similarities with humans, including physiological traits and the same environment. In addition, ADHD-like behaviour naturally occurs in dogs. This makes dogs an interesting model for investigating ADHD in humans," says doctoral researcher Sini Sulkama.

Professor Lohi's research group collected data on more than 11,000 dogs by conducting an extensive behavioural survey. 

Hyperactivity, impulsivity and inattention were examined using questions based on a survey utilised in human ADHD research. The goal of the study was to identify environmental factors underlying canine ADHD-like behaviour and potential links to other behavioural traits.

Video: Hubble Space Telescope Spotted Something Scary

A real death star

Red Giant Star CW Leonis

Just in time for Halloween, the red giant star CW Leonis offers us a view of orange-red “cobwebs” that are dusty clouds of sooty carbon engulfing the dying star. Credit: ESA/Hubble, NASA, and Toshiya Ueta (University of Denver), Hyosun Kim (KASI)

Creepy Look At A Star Weaving A Dust Web

The drama of death among stars can look pretty eerie at times. This photo of the aging red giant star CW Leonis seems like something out of a Halloween tale. The star looks like it’s entrapped inside wispy orange spider webs that wrap around the star. Beams of light shine through the dust, like sunbeams on a partly cloudy day. 

As it runs out of fuel, the star “burps” shells of sooty carbon that escape into space. The carbon was cooked up in the star’s core as a waste product of nuclear fusion. Anyone with a fireplace knows that soot is a nuisance. 

But carbon ejected into space provides raw material for the formation of future stars, planets, and maybe even life. On Earth, complex biological molecules consist of carbon atoms bonded with other common elements.

This is a time-lapse set of images of the aging red giant star CW Leonis, taken on three dates: 2001, 2011, and 2016. The star is embedded inside gossamer cobwebs of dust encircling the star. These are really shells of carbon dust blown off the star. As they expand into space they change shape, as seen between the Hubble Space Telescope exposures. Brilliant searchlight beams from the star’s surface poke through the dust. These beams change orientation through the different dates the Hubble photographs were taken. Credit: Animation: ESA/Hubble, NASA, STScI, Acknowledgment: Toshiya Ueta (University of Denver), Hyosun Kim (KASI), M. Zamani

An essential tool for making bootleg or peeping tom videos

Can Facebook’s smart glasses be smart about security and privacy?

Is he looking at you or looking at personal information about you?
 CSA Images via Getty Images
Facebook’s smart glasses ambitions are in the news again. The company has launched a worldwide project dubbed Ego4D to research new uses for smart glasses.

In September, Facebook unveiled its Ray-Ban Stories glasses, which have two cameras and three microphones built in. The glasses capture audio and video so wearers can record their experiences and interactions.

The research project aims to add augmented reality features to smart glasses using artificial intelligence technologies that could provide wearers with a wealth of information, including the ability to get answers to questions like “Where did I leave my keys?” Facebook’s vision also includes a future where the glasses can “know who’s saying what when and who’s paying attention to whom.”

Several other technology companies like Google, Microsoft, Snap, Vuzix and Lenovo have also been experimenting with versions of augmented or mixed reality glasses. Augmented reality glasses can display useful information within the lenses, providing an electronically enhanced view of the world. For example, smart glasses could draw a line over the road to show you the next turn or let you see a restaurant’s Yelp rating as you look at its sign.

However, some of the information that augmented reality glasses give their users could include identifying people in the glasses’ field of view and displaying personal information about them. It was not too long ago that Google introduced Google Glass, only to face a public backlash for simply recording people. Compared to being recorded by smartphones in public, being recorded by smart glasses feels to people like a greater invasion of privacy.

As a researcher who studies computer security and privacy, I believe it’s important for technology companies to proceed with caution and consider the security and privacy risks of augmented reality.

Thursday, October 28, 2021

We Need to Tax the Billionaires Right Now

This moment may not last to make sure the outrageously wealthy pay their fair share.


Illustration by Kevin Siers on Cagle Cartoons.
We are in a historic (and potentially very brief!) political moment when progressives have a real shot at winning a path-breaking tax on the nation’s super-wealthy.

Just over the past week, a billionaire wealth tax proposal has suddenly moved from the edge to the very center of the negotiating table for President Biden’s sweeping Build Back Better agenda.

What explains the shift? The reasons are both negative and positive.

On the negative side: Kyrsten Sinema.

Last week, the Arizona Senator took a break from high-roller fundraising to inform her colleagues that she opposes even partially undoing the tax rate cuts on corporations and wealthy individuals that Republicans enacted (and she voted against) in 2017. 

This sent Democrats scrambling for new revenue sources, and Senator Elizabeth Warren and others are sounding optimistic that Sinema might be open to a billionaire tax.

Again on the negative side: pandemic profiteering.

U.S. billionaires have run wild during the crisis, making themselves nearly impossible to defend. Since March 2020, their combined wealth has ballooned by over $2.1 trillion, a gain of 70 percent, according to research by Americans for Tax Fairness and the Institute for Policy Studies. And instead of deploying their fortunes for good on this planet, billionaires have captured headlines with their outer space adventures.

In the positive side: activists taking on the billionaire class.

Many groups that once focused exclusively on poverty are now tackling the top end of the inequality problem and demanding that the rich pay their fair share of expanded child tax credits, universal pre-K, affordable home care, and the many other vital investments in the Build Back Better plan.

Now THIS is how to handle trick or treating

For more cartoons by Keith Knight, CLICK HERE.


How do you tell them apart?


Flu and heart disease

The surprising connection that should convince you to schedule your shot

Houston Methodist

If you have heart disease or risk factors for heart disease, you already know about the increased risk of heart attack and stroke. 

But did you know that coming down with the flu can substantially increase the risk of a serious or even fatal cardiac event? 

Or that getting the influenza vaccine can substantially reduce that risk, even if you do wind up contracting the seasonal virus?

Probably not, if annual influenza vaccination rates are any indication, especially if you're under the age of 65. 

According to a Houston Methodist review published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, Americans with heart disease continue to have low vaccination rates every year despite higher rates of death and complications from influenza.

The flu vaccination rate for American adults who are less than 65 years of age and have heart disease is less than 50%, compared to 80% in older adults with heart disease.

Decades of hype turned protein into a superfood

We spend millions on protein supplements but should we?

 Hannah Cutting-JonesUniversity of Oregon 

A protein-rich shake is often the way many people try to get more
of this nutrient into their diets. andresr E+ via Getty Images
Do you ever blend up a protein smoothie for breakfast, or grab a protein bar following an afternoon workout? If so, you are likely among the millions of people in search of more protein-rich diets.

Protein-enriched products are ubiquitous, and these days it seems protein can be infused into anything – even water. 

But the problem, as Kristi Wempen, a nutritionist at Mayo Clinic, points out, is that “contrary to all the hype that everyone needs more protein, most Americans get twice as much as they need.”

Many of us living in the most economically developed countries are buying into a myth of protein deficiency created and perpetuated by food companies and a wide array of self-identified health experts. 

Global retail sales of protein supplement products – usually containing a combination of whey, casein or plant-based proteins such as peas, soy or brown rice – reached a staggering US$18.9 billion in 2020, with the U.S. making up around half of the market.

I am a food historian and recently spent a month at the Library of Congress trying to answer the question of why we have historically been – and remain – so focused on dietary protein. I wanted to explore the ethical, social and cultural implications of this multibillion-dollar industry.

Artificial Intelligence Is Smart, but Does It Doesn’t Play Well With Others

Not exactly "The Terminator," at least not yet


Humans find AI to be a frustrating teammate when playing a cooperative game together, posing challenges for “teaming intelligence,” study shows.

When it comes to games such as chess or Go, artificial intelligence (AI) programs have far surpassed the best players in the world. These “superhuman” AIs are unmatched competitors, but perhaps harder than competing against humans is collaborating with them. Can the same technology get along with people?

In a new study, MIT Lincoln Laboratory researchers sought to find out how well humans could play the cooperative card game Hanabi with an advanced AI model trained to excel at playing with teammates it has never met before. In single-blind experiments, participants played two series of the game: one with the AI agent as their teammate, and the other with a rule-based agent, a bot manually programmed to play in a predefined way.

The results surprised the researchers. Not only were the scores no better with the AI teammate than with the rule-based agent, but humans consistently hated playing with their AI teammate. They found it to be unpredictable, unreliable, and untrustworthy, and felt negatively even when the team scored well. A paper detailing this study has been accepted to the 2021 Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems (NeurIPS).

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Rich Jerks in Space

The frivolous use of large amounts of resources by the very rich is a problem for the economy and society.

DEAN BAKER, by The World in Transition (CEPR)

As a big fan of the original Star Trek, I have to confess that it was kind of neat to see Captain Kirk actually go into space. 

But there is a real issue here about the silly games of the super-rich that is worth some thought.

There have been numerous stories and papers about the huge increase in the wealth of the super-rich since the pandemic began. Virtually all of this is due to the run-up in the stock market during this period. 

Part of that is bounce back, the S&P 500 lost almost one-third of its value between its pre-pandemic peak in February of 2020 and its pandemic trough a month later. If we want to tell a really dramatic story we can start at the pandemic trough and take the rise in the stock market from March 20th.

But even if we are being serious, there has been an extraordinary runup in the stock market in the last twenty months. The S&P 500 is more than one-third higher than its pre-pandemic peak.

There are several different explanations for this increase. One is simply that low-interest rates generally boost stock prices. Interest rates did plummet during the pandemic shutdown, with the 10-year Treasury rate falling from a bit over 1.8 percent in February of 2020 to lows of under 0.6 percent last summer. As a general rule, lower interest rates will mean higher stock prices.

But this explanation will not go too far: the interest rate on 10-year Treasury bonds is currently over 1.6 percent. The gap between a 1.8 percent pre-pandemic Treasury yield and the current 1.6 percent yield could only explain a small portion of the rise in the stock market.

A second possibility is that stock investors are genuinely optimistic about the outlook for future profits. People are often confused about what the stock market is supposed to measure. Stock investors don’t give a damn about the future of the economy, they are asking about the future profits of Amazon, Facebook, and other stocks that they hold. If they think that their profit picture looks good, then they are willing to pay more for their shares.

This could be because they think that the economy will do well and that all the doomsayers in the media don’t have a clue. If the economy has strong growth in 2022 and 2023 and corporations get their share in higher profits, then high stock prices might be justified.

An alternative story would be that they expect the recent shift from wages to profits to continue. In this case, profit growth could be strong even if economic growth is not. This would again mean that all the people whining in the media, about companies being squeezed by rising labor costs, are clueless. But, what else is new?