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Want to Ace That Test? Get the Right Kind of Sleep

Jillian Dos Santos studies at her home in Columbia, Mo. In 2013, she <a mce_thref="http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/03/13/to-keep-teenagers-alert-schools-let-them-sleep-in/">successfully advocated for a later start times at her high school</a>.

Want to Ace That Test? Get the Right Kind of Sleep

By Benedict Carey

Sleep. Parents crave it, but children and especially teenagers, need it. When educators and policymakers debate the relationship between sleep schedules and school performance and — given the constraints of buses, sports and everything else that seem so much more important — what they should do about it, they miss an intimate biological fact: Sleep is learning, of a very specific kind. Scientists now argue that a primary purpose of sleep is learning consolidation, separating the signal from the noise and flagging what is most valuable.

School schedules change slowly, if at all, and the burden of helping teenagers get the sleep they need is squarely on parents. Can we help our children learn to exploit sleep as a learning tool (while getting enough of it)?

Absolutely. There is research suggesting that different kinds of sleep can aid different kinds of learning, and by teaching “sleep study skills,” we can let our teenagers enjoy the sense that they’re gaming the system.

Sleep isn’t merely rest or downtime; the brain comes out to play when head meets pillow. A full night’s sleep includes a large dose of several distinct brain states, including REM sleep – when the brain flares with activity and dreams – and the netherworld of deep sleep, when it whispers to itself in a language that is barely audible. Each of these states developed to handle one kind of job, so getting sleep isn’t just something you “should do” or need. It’s far more: It’s your best friend when you want to get really good at something you’ve been working on.

So you want to remember your Spanish vocabulary (or “How I Met Your Mother” trivia or Red Sox batting averages)?

Easy. Hit the hay at your regular time; don’t stay up late checking Instagram. Studies have found that the first half of the night contains the richest dose of so-called deep sleep — the knocked-out-cold variety — and this is when the brain consolidates facts and figures and new words. This is retention territory, and without it (if we stay up too late), we’re foggier the next day on those basic facts. I explained this to my daughter, Flora, who was up until 2 a.m. or later on many school nights, starting in high school. She ignored it, or seemed to. Learning Arabic is what turned her around, I think. She wants to be good at it, and having to learn not only a new vocabulary but also a completely different writing system is, in the beginning, all retention.

 
Why Did the Los Angeles Superintendent Resign?

Why Did the Los Angeles Superintendent Resign?

Brenda Iasevoli

In his efforts to improve his district, John Deasy took risks and made impressive gains. He also made mistakes and earned some enemies along the way.

Los Angeles Unified School Superintendent John Deasy resigned on Thursday, ending weeks of speculation over whether he’d be ousted by the school board or leave the post of his own accord.

“Needless to say this has been hard work, in fact exhausting, work.” The beleaguered superintendent wrote in his resignation letter. “I have neglected my family, my health, and my parents’ heath. We all carry the ball for a while, and then give it to others to continue. I have had this amazing opportunity and privilege. I am proud and honored, but it is time for a transition.”

After three-and-a-half years, much of it mired in controversy over technology missteps like the rollout of a $1.3 billion iPad program and a court case that struck down teacher tenure laws in California, the schools chief and the board have agreed to part ways.

Deasy will stay with the nation’s second largest school district on a paid “special assignment” through the end of the year, while his predecessor as schools chief, Ramon Cortines, will fill the position until a new superintendent can be tapped. Cortines served a brief stint as Los Angeles Unified superintendent in 2000 and held the position again from 2009 to 2011, when Deasy took over.

Deasy’s tenure has been contentious because of what his critics say was his unwillingness to compromise on hot-button issues, including teacher evaluation and employment. But he also presided over improved test scores and graduation rates even as the district was mired in debt. Suspension rates have dropped dramatically and dropout rates are on the decline.

School board member Steve Zimmer believes at least some of those improvements will continue if the new superintendent is equally committed and can also find ways to bring along some of Deasy’s opponents. “I don’t think the ending of the Deasy era is a happy moment,” says Zimmer. “How do we keep our urgency and refocus our energy on the collaboration needed to bring the change this district needs?”

Under Deasy’s leadership, the projected graduation rate for the 2013–2014 school year is 77 percent, an increase of 12 percentage points over the previous school year, and almost 30 points higher than the rate for 2008.  While dropout rates have declined more slowly, with a three-percentage-point drop from the previous year, the suspension rate has seen a drop from 8 percent in 2008 to today’s 1.5 percent, largely a result of Los Angeles Unified’s ban on suspensions for “willful defiance,” back in May 2013.

.....................................

Zimmer credits Deasy with leading the way on restructuring school discipline policies. “He is someone who relentlessly combs data through an equity lens,” says Zimmer. “He uncovered the willful defiance issue and no one could turn away from it. The effort will have lasting impact for educational equity in Los Angeles.”

But on other controversial issues, he was often a lone crusader who failed to win critical support from the school board.

Take the Vergara v. California trial, which in June overturned state’s laws governing teacher tenure, seniority, and dismissal. Deasy was the prosecution’s star witness. According to Zimmer, who supports some of the changes in teacher protection, Deasy never even discussed the case with the school board. Zimmer was particularly disturbed that Deasy seemed to enjoy taking down laws that were put in place to protect the 28,000 teachers he leads.

“You take something that needs a scalpel and careful instrumentation and instead you take out the sledgehammer,” says Zimmer. “Deasy wasn’t careful enough to avoid the perception that he enjoyed using the sledgehammer.  He fought for things he really believed in, which is fine, but he wasn’t careful about how it would be perceived by the people who have to teach our kids everyday.”

 
WH: Klain’s work handing out stimulus money good experience for Ebola czar

White House: Ron Klain’s work handing out stimulus money good experience for Ebola czar

Byron York

President Obama’s choice of veteran Democratic politico Ron Klain to serve as Ebola czar stunned many Republicans. Their first objection is that Klain has no experience in public health or infectious diseases. But in a larger sense, GOP critics see Klain, a former chief of staff for Vice Presidents Al Gore and Joe Biden, more as a political operative than a potential leader of the fight against Ebola.

What qualifies Klain for the job, the formal title of which is Ebola Response Coordinator? First, the White House makes no claim of any expertise in health matters. Instead, officials point to Klain’s impressive Washington resume — the jobs with Gore and Biden, plus chief of staff for Clinton administration Attorney General Janet Reno and top positions with Senate Democrats.

But those are job titles. What specifically has Klain done in those positions that would prepare him for the Ebola assignment? White House officials cite Klain’s work in Biden’s office, overseeing the dispensing of billions of federal dollars through the American Recovery Act, better known as the stimulus, as evidence that Klain can handle a problem like Ebola.

“He helped oversee implementation of the Recovery Act, a major interagency and intergovernmental project,” wrote White House spokesman Eric Schultz in response to an emailed question. “Under Klain’s watch, that team: 1) Met and exceeded the plan for deploying the stimulus on time, in a complex interagency scenario involving almost every agency of the federal government; 2) Operationalized an unprecedented commitment to transparency — quarterly reports on Recovery.gov, overseen by Independent Recovery Transparency and Accountability Board; and 3) Defied expectations for the very low level of fraud — widely acclaimed at the time.”

 
Obama admin. to allow thousands of Haitians into U.S. without visas

President Obama attends a news conference in the East Room at the White House in Washington, Aug. 9, 2013. (Associated Press) ** FILE **

Obama admin. to allow thousands of Haitians into U.S. without visas

- The Washington Times

The ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee took the Obama administration to task Friday for its “irresponsible” plan to allow as many as 100,000 Haitians to immigrate to the U.S. without a visa.

Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa said the administration’s Haitian Family Reunification Parole Program — which will allow thousands of Haitians awaiting a U.S. visa to enter the country and legally apply for work permits — is “an irresponsible overreach of the executive branch’s authority.”

 
Dutch Biker Gang Joins Fight Against Islamic State

Dutch Biker Gang Joins Fight Against Islamic State

Members of the Dutch motorcycle gang "No Surrender" have joined Kurdish Peshmerga forces in Iraq to fight against Islamic State.

 
Longing for a Person That Can’t Love You Back

Longing for a Person That Can’t Love You Back

By Suzanne Lachmann, Psy.D.

Are you losing yourself in a friendship/sexual relationship in which you give of yourself without getting much if anything in return?

If you are in love with a person with whom you have a friendship/sexual relationship, who is kind, compassionate and a "good friend", but is unable to reciprocate your adoration, it can be extraordinarily painful to navigate that relationship in a way that is not consuming for you. It’s hard not to feel as if you are losing yourself. In order to be "in" it and keep it alive, you continually infuse life into the relationship, if you can call it that, by having to compromise your well-deserved longings for more. You try to convince yourself that you are okay with less in return, just to keep the connection. You may pretend it is not so, but this experience levels you and shatters you over and over. You become more confused about what you deserve and can have in this or any potential romantic relationship for that matter. It also heightens the desire, the incentive, the overwhelming "need" to win over this person once and for all so that your self-esteem will be "restored."

 
The Nightmarish Politics of Ebola, Part 2

An ambulance carrying Amber Joy Vinson, the second health-care worker to be diagnosed with Ebola in Texas, arrives at Emory University Hospital on October 15th.

The Nightmarish Politics of Ebola, Part 2

By John Cassidy

 In a country with a population of more than three hundred million, just two people who haven’t travelled to West Africa have contracted Ebola, and they both treated Duncan when he was dying in an isolation ward. It is well established that most victims of the disease only become contagious when they develop noticeable symptoms, such as vomiting and diarrhea. So far as we know, the people who were with Duncan in a Dallas apartment after he arrived from Liberia and started to get sick appear to be fine. When President Obama said on Wednesday, “It is not like the flu. It is not airborne.… The likelihood of widespread Ebola outbreaks in this country are very, very low,” he was only restating what virtually every health expert has been saying for months.

At this stage, though, such reassurances are wearing a bit thin. To many ordinary Americans, two Dallas nurses going down with Ebola is a serious outbreak of the disease, and they fear that it won’t remain confined to Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital. Even granted that the current dangers of Ebola have been greatly overblown, this isn’t a wholly irrational posture. After all, in the early stages of any outbreak of an infectious disease, the chances of getting sick are vanishingly small.

It’s all very well for the Centers for Disease Control to call for calm. But with the news that Vinson contacted the C.D.C. before setting out for Dallas, public confidence in the agency and its leader, Tom Frieden, has taken another hit.
 
He’s used to taking it on the chin. That’s what makes Jay Leno relatable.

Jay Leno's comedy career began when he was in college. (Post)

He’s used to taking it on the chin. That’s what makes Jay Leno relatable.

Geoff Edgers

This year’s Mark Twain Prize honoree appeals to Middle America with his PG-rated humor. After “The Tonight Show,” there was no question about whether he would return to stand-up.

Over his career, Leno has certainly reached a wide audience, particularly the mainstream market known as Middle America. This skill made Leno the commercial king of late night. It also turned him into a punching bag. Letterman, crushed when passed over in favor of Leno when Johnny Carson retired in 1992, takes swipes at him from his perch at CBS. ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel has blasted Leno as a sellout “who hasn’t been a good stand-up in 20 years.” That came in 2010, after Leno, who had stepped down from “The Tonight Show,” returned after the celebrated flameout of his successor, Conan O’Brien. In that drama, Leno, the corporate lackey, was recast as bully.

Jerry Seinfeld, a longtime Leno friend, still bristles at the attacks.

“There’s no story,” says Seinfeld. “Conan’s ratings on ‘The Tonight Show’ are not a secret. It’s like Hurricane Sandy. We can chart exactly what happened here.”

For Bill Maher, the O’Brien debacle provides prime evidence that Leno is anything but a showbiz weasel. In fact, he could probably use a handler.

“The reason Jay Leno lost his job twice when he was number one is because he had nobody whispering into the ears of those idiots at NBC,” said Maher. “Whereas Conan had somebody saying, ‘Hey, you’ve got to get rid of that old guy.’ ”

Jay Leno doesn’t act like a star. He travels alone, carrying his own garment bag with his suit. In his typical uniform — denim shirt and jeans — he walks into the closest restaurant in Lancaster, orders a rack of ribs and fills a plastic cup with soda from a self-serve dispenser.

He is approachable and warm to all, partly because that’s just his nature.

Presenters at Leno gigs don’t get riders demanding chilled San Pellegrino or bouncers guarding the green room. One time, Leno says, he was so low-key with a booker, he showed up to find no microphone. “You said you didn’t need anything,” Leno remembers being told, adding that he did the show unamplified.

“Show business is not that hard,” Leno says backstage in Lancaster. “People make it difficult. I don’t want to be a pain in the ass.”

 
Bitter last days of The Greatest

Bitter last days of The Greatest

By David Jones for the Daily Mail

His tongue as fast as his fists but today Ali can barely walk - ground down by Parkinson's and beset by a venomous family feud.

Back in his imperious heyday, Muhammad Ali was acutely aware that he was carving his place in history. 

A fearless champion of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement and the anti-Vietnam War protest, as well as the boxing ring, he was one of those rare sportsmen who have shaped the course of world events.

Determined to ensure he would be remembered as he saw himself and not as others saw him, Ali — who was never short of self-admiration — therefore embarked on an extraordinary project designed to burnish his image for posterity.

When he was away from home — which was very often — he would wire the phone in his hotel room to a whirring, spool-reel tape-machine, dial up one of his nine (acknowledged) children and record their rambling, intimate conversations.

Knowing this so-called ‘audio-diary’ would become a key primary source for future chroniclers of his story, he was particularly keen to present himself as a devout family man, which couldn’t have been further from the truth.

Even Ali’s most loyal defenders wouldn’t pretend that his personal life has been anything other than a protracted train-wreck. 

Three bitter divorces, a series of affairs, two illegitimate daughters, and a procession of other children who claim him as their father stand testimony to that.

Until now, few outside Ali’s inner circle were aware the many hours of tape-recordings existed.

The athlete (pictured in 1974 when he was the heavyweight champion of the world) will be grateful the new film does not remind his admirers of the tragic figure he has become  
 
Russian tennis boss banned for calling Venus, Serena ‘the Williams brothers’

Venus (l.) and Serena Williams are called 'the Williams brothers' by the head of the Russian Tennis Federation who also referred to the American stars as 'scary.'

Russian tennis boss banned for calling Venus, Serena ‘the Williams brothers’

BY David Harding - NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

The president of the Russian Tennis Federation has been banned from the women's tour for a year and fined $25,000 for calling Venus and Serena Williams "the Williams brothers."

Shamil Tarpischev made the comments on a Russian television chat show earlier this month.

Urgant went on to say: "I have tremendous respect for them (the Williams) but once one of the sisters passed next to me and I found myself in her shadow for about 40 seconds."

The Russian tennis boss said the sisters were "scary" to look at.

 
How High Is Your Horizon?

How High Is Your Horizon?

By Lawrence T. White, Ph.D. and Steven Jackson

A team of researchers crammed themselves into a classroom in Japan. They passed out art supplies to the students and said, “Draw a landscape with a horizon.” On the other side of the world, the same scene played out in a Canadian classroom. Later, the researchers closely examined one detail—the placement of the horizon line. Why?

The placement of the horizon in a piece of art tells us a lot about the culture in which that art was made. If the horizon is high on the page, the field of information is deep, and there’s ample room for contextual details in the frame. This kind of visual layout reflects a holistic cognitive style, which is more common in East Asian cultures. If the horizon is low on the page, there’s less background space in the frame, and more of the page is taken up by one or two objects in the foreground. This kind of visual layout reflects the analytic style that is more common among Westerners.

 
Wonder Woman: Why Role Models Matter to Young Girls

Wonder Woman: Why Role Models Matter to Young Girls

By Jean Kim, M.D.

Positive media role models can make a big impact on young girls. Wonder Woman taught me confidence and strength and that black hair is beautiful

 
Amid Assurances on Ebola, Obama Is Said to Seethe

Amid Assurances on Ebola, Obama Is Said to Seethe

Beneath the calming reassurance that President Obama has repeatedly offered during the Ebola crisis, there is a deepening frustration, even anger, with how the government has handled key elements of the response.

Those frustrations spilled over when Mr. Obama convened his top aides in the Cabinet room after canceling his schedule on Wednesday. Medical officials were providing information that later turned out to be wrong. Guidance to local health teams was not adequate. It was unclear which Ebola patients belonged in which threat categories.

“It’s not tight,” a visibly angry Mr. Obama said of the response, according to people briefed on the meeting. He told aides they needed to get ahead of events and demanded a more hands-on approach, particularly from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “He was not satisfied with the response,” a senior official said.

The difference between the public and private messages illustrates the dilemma Mr. Obama faces on Ebola — and a range of other national security issues — as he tries to galvanize the response to a public health scare while not adding to the sense of panic fueled by 24-hour cable TV and the nonstop Twitter chatter.

“Part of the challenge is to be assertive, to be in command, and yet not feed a kind of panic that could easily evolve here,” said David Axelrod, a close adviser to the president in his first term. “It’s not enough to doggedly and persistently push for answers in meetings. You have to be seen doggedly and persistently pushing for answers.”

For two turbulent weeks, White House officials have sought to balance those imperatives: insisting the dangers to the American public were being overstated in the news media, while also moving quickly to increase the president’s demonstration of action.

READ ARTICLE

 
Oxfam: World must do more to stop Ebola becoming ‘disaster of our time’

Ebola crisis, Monrovia, Liberia - 14 Oct 2014

Oxfam: World must do more to stop Ebola becoming ‘disaster of our time’

David Batty

Charity says international community has two months to curb deadly virus but laments crippling shortfall in military support.

Countries must step up efforts to tackle the spread of Ebola in west Africa by providing more troops, funding and medical staff to prevent it from becoming the “definitive humanitarian disaster of our generation”, Oxfam has warned.

The charity said the world had less than two months to curb the deadly virus, which has killed 4,500 people, but noted a crippling shortfall in military personnel to provide logistical support across the countries worst affected – Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Its stark warning came as Britain and the US said the international community will be responsible for a substantial loss of life in west Africa and a greater threat across the world unless the financial and medical response to Ebola was greatly increased. The US secretary of state, John Kerry, said a failure to respond could turn Ebola into “a scourge like HIV or polio”.

Oxfam said that while Britain was leading the way in Europe’s response to the epidemic, countries which have failed to commit troops – including Italy and Spain – were “in danger of costing lives”.

 
Drinking Coffee, for Your Health

Drinking Coffee, for Your Health

Research suggests that a person's consumption of the beverage is determined in part by his or her DNA—and that its benefits could extend beyond a caffeine buzz.

By Andrew Giambrone

A study released last Tuesday by an international consortium of caffeine scholars may help explain why some of these customers visited more often than others. Spearheaded by Marilyn Cornelis, a research associate at the Harvard School of Public Health, the team investigated the link between genetics and coffee consumption. By analyzing DNA as well as data on 120,000 adults of European and African-American heritage, the researchers identified eight genetic variants that predispose individuals to seek out and drink caffeine.

“Our results show that people are naturally consuming the amount of coffee that allows them to maintain their optimal level of caffeine” to get that good caffeine feeling without becoming jittery, Cornelis told me. “If we need more, we’re reaching for it.”

Biology may or may not be destiny, but what’s clear is that recent research has suggested a myriad health benefits to the prosaic (and sometimes romanticized) pastime of drinking coffee. In 2012, the New England Journal of Medicine published a study that showed coffee drinkers may have a lower risk of death. By using data from the National Institutes of Health (NIH)-AARP Diet and Health Study, which involved more than 400,000 participants and 52,000 deaths, the researchers found that those who drank coffee were less likely to report having diabetes, or to perish from “most major causes of death in both men and women, including heart disease, stroke, injuries and accidents, diabetes, and infections.” Overall, people who drank at least two cups of coffee a day had a 12.5 percent lower chance of dying during the 14 years in which the study was conducted than those who didn’t. Still, the same study found that coffee-drinkers were more likely to smoke, and that drinking coffee did not have a significant effect on cancer incidence. Likewise, a study published in 2013 by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health linked coffee consumption to a 50 percent reduction in suicide risk among both men and women.

“We need to understand why so many people like and drink coffee, and if we use that understanding to investigate coffee drinking in better detail, we might begin to understand the major illnesses that affect mankind”

 
The Violent Side of Friday Night Lights

The Violent Side of Friday Night Lights

Seven players were arrested at a high school for raping their teammates. You can draw a line from there through Steubenville, Penn State, and the NFL.

There’s a new scandal in football and this time it’s not in the NFL or college.

Last Friday, seven members of New Jersey’s Sayreville War Memorial High School were arrested for sexually assaulting their teammates. The boys, ages 15 to 17, were arrested for “aggravated sexual assault, aggravated criminal sexual contact, conspiracy to commit aggravated criminal sexual contact, criminal restraint, and hazing for engaging in an act of sexual penetration upon one of the juvenile victims.”

Far from an isolated act of brutality perpetrated by a few bad actors, a high school football team allegedly engaged in ritualized torture, and according to an unnamed 14-year old who spoke with the New York Times, “It’s been going on for a long time.”

On Monday, Superintendent of Schools Richard Labbe cancelled the remainder of the season, stating, “there was enough evidence to substantiate there were incidents of harassment, intimidation and bullying that took place on a pervasive level, on a wide-scale level, and at a level in which the players knew, tolerated and in general accepted.”

This is rape culture and in many places, it’s a part of football. What allegedly happened at Sayreville indicates there is a culture in which chronic rape was normalized and even possibly condoned. (To be clear, this isn’t an indictment of high school football in particular or football players as a whole. The game itself can still be beautiful, breathtaking and a point of communal pride.)

Rape culture is a much larger, far more pervasive society-wide problem that has flourished within some parts of football, as generations have been taught that a militaristic, power-worshipping mindset is the only way to teach kids how to play the game.

The exercise of that power manifests itself in multiple ways. For Sayreville, it meant punishing and humiliating the weak, ritualistically subjecting them to humiliation and debasement. But the fact that this brutality took the form of a sexual assault isn’t a random occurrence and it’s on the rise. As Bloomberg News reported in 2013 “More than 40 high school boys were sodomized with foreign objects by their teammates in over a dozen alleged incidents reported in the past year, compared with about three incidents a decade ago.”

This is rape culture and in many places, it’s a part of football.

 
Supreme Court allows Texas to use voter ID law

Supreme Court allows Texas to use voter ID law

The Supreme Court in a pre-dawn order Saturday said Texas could proceed with its strict voter ID law in next month’s election, despite a lower court’s ruling that it was unconstitutional.

The court gave no reasoning for its decision, but Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented, joined by Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

“The greatest threat to public confidence in elections in this case is the prospect of enforcing a purposefully discriminatory law, one that likely imposes an unconstitutional poll tax and risks denying the right to vote to hundreds of thousands of eligible voters,” Ginsburg wrote.

An appeals court had said it was too close to the election to stop what has been described as the nation’s strictest photo ID law.

But Ginsburg said the court had shirked its duty, since a district court after a full trial had said the law was written with discriminatory intent and could keep an estimated 600,000 registered voters from casting ballots.

It was the fourth time in recent weeks that the Supreme Court has been called on to decide whether changes in election laws approved by Republican-controlled state legislatures could be used in next month’s crucial midterm elections.

The states said the changes were made to combat voter fraud, protect the public’s confidence in the electoral process and establish uniformity. Civil rights groups and Democrats who challenged the law said they were meant to suppress minority voting.

In each case, the court neither confronted the merits of the laws, nor did the majority explain its reasoning. The justices let changes go forward in Ohio and North Carolina, but the stopped a new voter ID law in Wisconsin.

 
Anatomy of an Obama cave

Anatomy of an Obama cave

Barack Obama is pictured. | AP Photo

It was just a matter of time.

Sure, President Barack Obama had for close to two weeks resisted calls for an “Ebola czar.” Indeed, since the outbreak of the virus, he had insisted that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention should lead the administration’s response. And as recently as Wednesday, his top spokesman stressed that the White House was doing fine without designating one high-level official to focus solely on the issue.

But to many in Washington, it was a question not of if but when Obama would cave to congressional and public demands for him to assert himself on Ebola by appointing a point-person to manage the issue, especially once Democrats started joining the Republican chorus of criticism.

 
Secret space plane lands at US air force base after unknown two-year mission

Still from video made available by the Vandenberg Air Force Base shows an infrared view of the X-37B unmanned spacecraft.

Secret space plane lands at US air force base after unknown two-year mission

Associated Press in Vandenberg Air Force Base, California 

Resembling a small space shuttle, the X-37B landed in southern California after a 674 days in orbit on a secret mission

A top-secret space plane landed Friday at an air force base on the southern California coast.

The plane spent nearly two years circling Earth on a classified mission. Known as the X-37B, it resembles a mini space shuttle.

It safely touched down at 9.24am Friday, officials at Vandenberg Air Force Base said.

Just what the plane was doing during its 674 days in orbit has been the subject of sometimes spectacular speculation.

Several experts have theorized it carried a payload of spy gear in its cargo bay. Other theories sound straight out of a James Bond film, including that the spacecraft would be able to capture the satellites of other nations or shadow China’s space lab.

The US air force's first unmanned re-entry spacecraft landed at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

The X-37B program has been an orphan of sorts, bouncing since its inception in 1999 between several federal agencies, Nasa among them. It now resides under the air force’s rapid capabilities office.

The plane that landed Friday is one of two built by Boeing. This is the program’s third mission, and began in December 2012.

The plane stands 9.5ft tall and is just over 29ft long, with a wingspan under 15ft. It weighs 11,000lbs and has solar panels that unfurl to charge its batteries once in orbit.

 
Do Detroit's water shutoffs violate international law? UN to investigate.

Do Detroit's water shutoffs violate international law? UN to investigate.

By Henry Gass

Two UN human rights officials will visit Detroit this weekend to investigate whether widespread water shutoffs in the city are a violation of international law.

The visit is coming in the wake of a letter sent to the UN Human Rights Council detailing potential human rights violations apparent in the water shutoffs. The letter – authored by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan – argues that the shutoffs are unjustified because many of those affected can't afford to pay their bills. The letter also says that the shutoffs disproportionately affect Detroit’s African-American residents.

"In a city where nearly 40 percent of residents live below the federal poverty line," the letter reads, "thousands of residents are at risk of losing water service because they simply cannot afford to pay the bills. "

The water shutoffs have turned into a flashpoint of Detroit's ongoing bankruptcy proceedings, which represents the largest municipal bankruptcy in US history. The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department shut off water services to more than 27,000 customers in the first nine months of 2014, and the shutoffs triggered mass protests in the city over the summer when the DWSD accelerated the process.

 
What the 2014 oil crash means

What the 2014 oil crash means

By MICHAEL LEVI

Prices are falling—fast. Is that good or bad news for the United States?

Oil prices are in free-fall. That’s good economic news for the United States, even if it ends up meaning a serious hit to the shale drilling bonanza. Whether you cheer or boo the plunge, though, depends a lot on where you live and what work you do.

A barrel of Brent crude – the most important global oil price – costs almost $30 less than its late-June high, a decline of more than 25 percent. Nearly half of that drop has come in the last two weeks.

The last time oil prices seemed this unhinged was during the 2008 financial crisis (though prices actually fell further during early 2012). That’s unnerving to many. But the U.S. energy scene has changed dramatically since then. An oil boom has cranked up U.S. production and slashed imports, challenging conventional wisdom on the economic and geopolitical fronts. It used to be clear that falling oil prices were great news for the United States. But it’s not obvious that that’s still the case.

Falling crude prices will crimp oil producers’ profits and, eventually, deter them from drilling. That hurts the U.S. economy. But the benefit to consumers still outweighs that. Amid all the excitement about the rise of U.S. oil production, many appear to have forgotten the United States still consumes far more oil than it produces. A sustained $30 decline in oil prices translates into more than $200 billion a year of savings for U.S. consumers through lower prices for gasoline, diesel, jet fuel and home heating oil. Much of that windfall will be plowed back into the economy as consumers spend their cash, multiplying its impact just like an economic stimulus policy. (Citigroup estimates that falling oil prices would deliver a $1.1 trillion stimulus to the global economy if they were sustained.) Two hundred billion dollars is comparable to the amount the oil and gas industry spends each year on all production in the United States. Even if investment were cut in half – something no one expects to happen at current prices – the benefits of lower oil prices would greatly outweigh these costs.

 
Are Over Half the Works on the Art Market Really Fakes?

Are Over Half the Works on the Art Market Really Fakes?

A new study claims that over 70 percent of artworks for sale are either fakes or misattributions. If that’s true, are galleries and the art-loving very rich being taken for fools?

“Fakes are works by other artists that are passed off as works by more important artists. Forgeries are works made deliberately to resemble the real thing.”

In centuries past, it was absolutely normal for an owner of a fine painting to have a competent artist come and make one or more copies, which they would hang at a different house, if they had several houses, or give to a relative or a friend. And if they sold a valuable picture, they would always have a copy made.

The result is that an enormous number of the pictures hanging in English country houses are not in fact painted by whom they are supposed to be.

Museums are said by many in the art world to be more heavily infiltrated by fakes than private collections, as a collector who discovers he owns a fake can sometimes offload it to a museum for a tax credit. The museums, some art-world insiders say, go along with the ruse so as not to alienate their important donors, and stick the dubious work in the basement.

However, the question of just how much work on the open market really is fake, forged, or misattributed is one that has bedeviled the industry for years. It is also extremely sensitive—none of the leading auction houses would even comment on the issue to the Daily Beast.

 
Pope Francis rents out Sistine Chapel to Porsche

Pope Francis rents out Sistine Chapel to Porsche

Pope Francis rents out Sistine Chapel to Porsche

Pope Francis is allowing the endangered Sistine Chapel to be rented out for a corporate event, with the proceeds to benefit the needy — while at the same time cracking down on visitors to the world’s most famous church.

Porsche will be the first to hold an outside fundraiser amid Michelangelo’s fragile frescoes. The luxury German auto giant is offering an exclusive tour of Rome, including a concert inside the chapel, at a cost of more than 4,000 euros ($5,100) a pop.

At the same, the Vatican said Thursday that it would cap the annual number of visitors at 6 million to protect the Renaissance masterpieces from the tourist hordes. Dust, sweat and human breath have damaged the 500-year-old paintings, including the famous creation scene of God’s outstretched arm giving life to Adam. Antonio Paolucci, head of the Vatican Museums, said “radical intervention” was needed to preserve the paintings, prompting the Vatican to install new climate and lighting systems to cut down on heat, humidity and dust.

 
Patek Philippe’s Best-Kept Secret

Patek Philippe’s Best-Kept Secret

By Michael Clerizo
 
Hong Kong Triads May Gain From Occupy Central

Hong Kong Triads May Gain From Occupy Central

Hong Kong triads may gain power as pro-democracy protests continue, one risk expert says. WSJ's Ramy Inocencio talks to Steve Vickers, CEO of risk consultancy SVA.

 
Rand Paul claims Ebola is 'incredibly contagious' and.....

Paul walks through a crowd of young Republicans at the state GOP headquarters. 

Rand Paul claims Ebola is 'incredibly contagious' and .....

White House is being dishonest about how easily it can spread.

By Francesca Chambers and Associated Press

Sen. Rand Paul told a group of college students on Wednesday that Ebola is 'incredibly contagious' and can spread from a person who has the disease to someone standing three feet away and said the White House should be honest about that.

His comments directly conflict with statements from world health authorities who have dealt with Ebola outbreaks since 1976.

Paul, a doctor and a presumed GOP presidential contender, made his comments during a stop at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire. In his remarks, he suggested Ebola could spread at a cocktail party attended by someone who is symptomatic, according to CNN video footage.

The Kentucky senator told a conservative radio show host that 'we should not underestimate the transmissibility' of the virus and warned that society may not be 'making sound, rational, scientific decisions' about Ebola 'because of political correctness.' 

'It's a big mistake to downplay and act as if "oh, this is not a big deal, we can control all this." This could get beyond our control,' Paul, who has an MD in optometry from Duke University, told Laura Ingraham.

'My suspicion is that it's a lot more transmissible than that if people who are taking every precaution are getting it.'

 
Matt Lauer's Wife filed Divorce papers in 2006

Not a pretty picture: In divorce paprs filed in 2006, Matt Lauer's wife Annette (above) said her husband was 'extremely controlling'

Matt Lauer accused of 'inhuman treatment and physically endangering the well-being of his wife.

In divorce papers filed by Annette Lauer in 2006, Matt Lauer is described as 'extremely controlling' and accused of 'cruel and inhuman treatment'

By Chris Spargo for MailOnline

Divorce papers filed by the wife of Matt Lauer nearly a decade ago which came out this week accuse the popular morning show host of some shocking behavior. Annette Lauer filed the papers in 2006 stating that Matt valued his work over his family and was 'extremely controlling.' Furthermore, Annette claimed at the time she suffered 'cruel and inhuman' treatment at the hands of her husband, who also demonstrated 'extreme anger and hostility towards her.'

Matt and Annette Lauer

Matt filed his own legal action days later, saying any 'cruel and inhuman treatment' he may have exhibited was 'provoked' by his wife. 

A source close to the couple said of the papers, 'These divorce papers were filed more than eight years ago and revoked three weeks later. In New York at that time, irreconcilable differences could not be considered grounds for divorce. A spouse had to prove cruel and in-humane or unsafe treatment, which meant that lawyers had to use those exact terms to establish grounds.' 

That same source added, 'Matt and Annette just happily celebrated their 16-year wedding anniversary over dinner with their three children.' 

 
How Old People Will Decide Your Future

How Old People Will Decide Your Future

Older voters are the electorate’s fast growing demographic – and a major reason Republicans can win big in 2016.

The political impact of shifting demographics is a hot topic. Judging from the coverage, it would be easy to assume that more liberal younger voters or rising number of Hispanics were the only significant demographic trend.

But that’s neglecting the fastest growing segment of the electorate: older voters.

As an Atlantic piece put it, “America is about to get really old.” In the 2012 election, those 65 years or older were 17 percent of the total vote. But by 2030 those numbers will nearly double, and over 30 percent of the electorate will be over 65. To put this in perspective, the Hispanic vote will probably be only about 15 percent of the electorate by 2030.

Yet the potential impact of older voters seems lost in the current political discussion. In contrast to previous cycles where the debate has been dominated by issues of particular concern to seniors - topics like Medicare, prescription drug prices, and social security – the battle over older voters has been muted by louder arguments, like gender issues, beheadings and disease. For every stock footage shot of a senior on cable news there are dozens of concerned women, terrorists and Ebola horrors.

Yet everyone seems to agree that the higher turnout of senior voters in an off year election is one of the key advantages favoring Republicans, and has been a growing GOP advantage in recent presidential elections. Older voters comprised the greatest increase in Republican voter share between the 2008 and 2012 election. McCain won 65-plus Americans by 8 points, and Romney increased his share to 12 points. If similar rates of increase continued, it would quickly become a dominant factor in elections.

The trend of decreased interest among younger voters and increased among older appears to be accelerating this year. A Pew Research Center poll released Monday found that “25 percent of adults 65 and older were closely following the midterm elections, compared with 5 percent of adults ages 18-29.” 
 
U.S. Air Force personnel put up a 25-bed hospital in Liberia.

In Liberia, U.S. Soldiers Race Ebola

Liberia was barely able to respond to the needs of its people before the outbreak of Ebola. Subsequently, the U.S. and other countries are essentially creating a health system from scratch on extreme deadlines.

American and Liberian soldiers hammer, saw and sweat in the afternoon sun here in a frenetic campaign to build the county’s first Ebola-treatment unit. Soon, the soldiers will have floodlights to work round-the-clock shifts.

The unfolding epidemic has killed more than 4,400 people, mostly in West Africa. Everything in Liberia was needed weeks ago, and the Ebola-treatment centers are no exception. A month ago, President Barack Obama vowed to build 17 units. Soldiers have yet to complete one.

....................................

Liberia’s health infrastructure was barely able to respond to the needs of its people before the outbreak. Ebola has since steamrolled it. As a result, the U.S. and other countries are essentially creating a health system from scratch on extreme deadlines.

The challenges are huge: Power outages and a lack of basic medical supplies are among them. Decrepit roads and heavy rains plague construction sites. Doctors and nurses were already in short supply because of years of low pay.

How fast the U.S. and international effort in West Africa comes together could determine whether the virus is largely contained in West Africa—or spreads more aggressively abroad. Cases have surfaced in the U.S., Spain and Germany. The World Health Organization said this week that there could be as many as 10,000 new cases a week in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone by the end of 2014. That followed its criticism that the international community was too slow to respond.

Now the U.S. and others fighting Ebola are bringing to West Africa the sophisticated facilities these countries have lacked.

Before the outbreak, Liberia’s only lab capable of testing blood for highly infectious diseases was the Liberian Institute on Biomedical Research—a compound of World War II-era buildings and rusted cages that used to house chimpanzee test subjects. The bat-infested facility could only process 40 blood specimens a day and the electricity only worked intermittently.

 
Corporate Egg Freezing

What if electively freezing one’s eggs is not a means of empowerment but a surrender to corporate control?

Corporate Egg Freezing

By Rebecca Mead

Apple and Facebook’s offer might be the kind of employee benefit whose principal beneficiary is the company.

Deferring childbearing from one’s twenties or early thirties until one’s later thirties or forties certainly has its appeal for the woman with ambitions beyond motherhood. Lots of women have chanced it, even before egg freezing came along and supplied a possible, if not entirely reliable, form of counter-infertility insurance. Still, even with this tantalizing suggestion of reproductive liberty, it’s hard to figure out exactly how long to postpone. A woman might skip having children in her twenties or thirties in order to focus on her career, only to discover by her forties that its demands—not to mention the encroachment of middle age—make motherhood even less manageable than it appeared at twenty-five or thirty.

And it seems overly optimistic to hope that, with nature’s deadlines subverted, a woman’s decision about whether or when to bear children might become an entirely autonomous choice—hers alone to make, independent of cultural and professional pressures as well as biological ones. Might Apple and Facebook’s offers of egg freezing be, in fact, the kind of employee benefit whose principal beneficiary is the company? What if, rather than being a means of empowerment—whereby a young woman is no longer subject to anything so quaintly analog as the ticking of a biological clock—freezing one’s eggs is understood as a surrender to the larger, more invisibly pervasive force of corporate control?

Such skepticism is buttressed by a defining paradox of contemporary life, which is that while most of us have willingly surrendered a large measure of our privacy and even our decision-making to tech companies for the sake of convenience or pleasure, many of us remain queasily uncomfortable with the terms of the tradeoff. We may tolerate the disconcerting specificity of Facebook’s targeted ads as they appear alongside our friends’ latest photos; we may even, on occasion, find ourselves grateful for the suggestion, and make an online purchase with which we are afterward quite delighted. But we remain alive to the conviction that Facebook’s best interests and our own are unlikely to be in alignment. We feel ourselves to be uneasily balanced between submission and suspicion. The suggestion that such companies might, through an apparently generous employee benefit, obliquely engineer the reproductive choices of their employees is unsettling in its devil’s-bargain familiarity.

The inclusion of egg freezing as an employee benefit partakes of the techno-utopian fantasy on which companies like Facebook and Apple subsist—the conviction that there must be a solution to every problem, an answer to every question, a response to every need, if only the right algorithm can be found. But the difficulties that an American woman continues to face in her efforts to reconcile having a career with being a mother are more than faulty code to be debugged. Rather, they are vast and systemic: the limited availability of subsidized care for preschool children, the resistance of corporate culture to flexible or reduced hours for the parents of young children, the lack of federally mandated, paid family leave.
 
The Exercise Cost of Soda and Juice

The Exercise Cost of Soda and Juice

James Hamblin

When people think about sugar calories in terms of physical activity, they choose well.

What if nutrition labels told people exactly what calories meant, in practical terms? A bottle of Coke could dole out specific exercise requirements. The calories herein, it might say, are the equivalent of a 50-minute jog. The decision to drink the Coke then becomes, would you rather spend the evening on a treadmill, or just not drink the soda?

Some would say that's a joyless, infantilizing idea. The implication that people can't understand calorie counts is unduly cynical. Have a Coke and a smile, not a Coke and a guilt-wail. Others would protest on grounds that it's impossible to make this kind of exercise requirement universal to people of all ages, body sizes, and levels of fitness. Everyone burns calories at different rates. But Sara Bleich, an associate professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, is not among these people. She describes these labels as her dream.

For the past four years, translating nutrition information into exercise equivalents has been the focus of Bleich's increasingly popular research endeavor. Her latest findings on the effectiveness of the concept are published today in the American Journal of Public Health. In the study, researchers posted signs next to the soda and juice in Baltimore corner stores that read: “Did you know that working off a bottle of soda or fruit juice takes about 50 minutes of running?” or “Did you know that working off a bottle of soda or fruit juice takes about five miles of walking?” (And, long as those distances and times may seem, they may even underestimate the magnitude of the metabolic insult of liquid sugar.)

 
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