Hump Day Art


A new study covering 17 EU countries says that far more honeybees are dying in the UK and other parts of northern Europe than in Mediterranean countries.

The European Commission says it is Europe's most comprehensive study so far of bee colony deaths.

Winter mortality was especially high for bees in Belgium (33.6%) and the UK (29%) in 2012-13. But in spring-summer 2013 France was highest with 13.6%.

Bumblebees and other wild bees were not studied, nor were pesticide impacts.

The study, called Epilobee, described 10% as an acceptable threshold for bee colony mortality - and Greece, Italy and Spain were among the countries with rates below that threshold.

The mortality percentages are national estimates based on representative samples. All 17 countries applied the same data collection standards, the report says.

The survey covered almost 32,000 bee colonies.

But there is also much concern about death rates among wild bees, which are vital pollinators too.

Last year the EU introduced a ban on four chemicals called neonicotinoids which are used in pesticides.

They are believed to be linked to the collapse of bee colonies across Europe, though there is a heated scientific debate over the chemicals' impact and many experts say further studies are needed.

The Commission wanted pesticide impacts to be included in the Epilobee study, but it was overruled by member states' governments.

Bee stress map below:

Bee expert Dr. Reese Halter explains the importance of bees for pollinating crops, producing beneficial honey and other medicinal food substances, and most importantly for sustaining the world's natural life cycle. 

A conservation biologist who has traveled the globe studying bees, Dr. Reese offers unique insights into where bees originally came from, how they function, and how certain human interventions are disrupting their normal activity and even killing them off.

"To begin to tantalize the wonderment of this critter ... the next time any one of us takes a hearty teaspoon of honey, would you believe that that's 6,000 miles, 10,000 kilometers, that a dozen bees have spent their entire foraging lives - three weeks, seven days a week working - to make that one teaspoon," says Dr. Reese.

You can listen to Dr. Reese's full interview with host Russell Scott here:

Sex Slavers Sentenced

A court in Argentina has sentenced 10 people to up to 22 years in jail for the kidnapping and sexual exploitation of a young woman, Marita Veron.

The defendants were all cleared of abducting her in 2012, but a new trial was ordered after her mother, Susana Trimarco, appealed.

NOTE:  Marita's mother, Susana Trimarco, said she would continue to look for her missing daughter.

She said "justice has been done".

The case shone a light on sex trafficking in Argentina after Ms Trimarco rescued many women in the search for her daughter.

Ms Veron disappeared from the city of San Miguel de Tucuman when she was 23 years old, but has never been found.

Sex workers reported spotting her in several locations in the country, where they said she was forced to work as a prostitute.

The court in the north-western province of Tucuman handed down sentences of 22 years in prison to two brothers, Jose and Gonzalo Gomez.

Seven other defendants received sentences of at least 10 years; a 10th accused was given 15 days of house arrest.

"I never found Marita, but justice has been done," Ms Trimarco said after the sentencing.

"I do not mean with this that I'm not going to keep fighting.

"We will continue until the day we will know what they did with Marita," the Argentine newspaper, La Nacion, quoted her as saying.

Last December, a court in Tucuman overturned an earlier ruling which had cleared the defendants.

Their acquittal in December 2012 caused outrage in Argentina, with thousands taking to the streets in Tucuman and the Argentine capital, Buenos Aires, in protest.

Ms Veron had been on her way to a local hospital for a medical appointment when she was abducted.

As her mother launched a campaign to find her, the case soon became a symbol of the fight against human trafficking in Argentina.

The information she gathered led to police raids in which dozens of sexually exploited women were rescued.

Ms Trimarco's campaign also helped bring about new laws against human trafficking in Argentina.

In 2007, she set up a foundation, the Fundacion Maria de los Angeles, named after her missing daughter, which has helped rescue victims of sexual exploitation and human trafficking.

She was also among those given the first US Secretary of State International Women of Courage award in 2007 by Condoleezza Rice, for her efforts against human trafficking.


Angels Protect Chinese

Hospitals in Beijing will recruit 1,500 "guardian angels" to protect their doctors from violent attacks by patients.

In recent years, angry patients have killed a number of Chinese doctors, often citing frustration at how they have been handled by the healthcare system.

In the latest case, a 45-year-old man from Jiangsu province stabbed his doctor to death on Tuesday because he was unhappy with a circumcision operation. "(He) was dissatisfied with the treatment outcome and the medical expenses," the state media reported.

Doctors and nurses in hospitals are violently attacked every two weeks on average, the state media said, by patients angry at long waiting times, high medical bills and haughty or uncaring doctors. Many hospitals now have security officers on their premises.

The campaign in Beijing will recruit volunteer students, medical staff and other patients to act as buffers between doctors and patients, defusing arguments and smoothing tensions, suggested Xinhua, the state news agency.

"Patients will understand doctors better after talking with our volunteers," said Feng Guosheng, the head of the Beijing Municipal Administration of Hospitals. He added that the "guardian angels" would provide "hospital guidance" and "psychological intervention".

He said 21 hospitals had already begun training the volunteers and assigning them to patients. He added that hospitals should also listen to the volunteers about any systemic problems they uncover.

Han Meng, a representative for the project, said it would allow doctors and nurses to focus on their work without fear.

The government has promised to root out corruption in the healthcare system, and the Health Ministry said in February it would target patients who bribe doctors for better treatment.

In 2012, the Lancet, a medical journal, wrote that "China's doctors are in crisis". A letter to the journal from a Chinese medical student, Li Jie, said "the deteriorating relationship between doctors and patients has turned medical practice in China into a high-risk job".

Tuesday AM

Swedish city (Gothenburg - above) has embarked on an experiment in limiting the workday to six hours in an effort to improve productivity.

A section of employees of the municipality of Gothenburg will now work an hour less a day than the seven hours customary in the Scandinavian social democracy famed for its work-life balance.

The measure is being self-consciously conceived of as an experiment, with a group of municipal employees working fewer hours and a control group working regular hours - all on the same pay. The groups’ performances will then be compared.

It is hoped that the experiment will ultimately save money by making employees more productive in their working hours.

Mats Pilhem, the city’s Left-wing deputy mayor, told The Local Sweden that he hoped “staff members would take fewer sick days and feel better mentally and physically after working shorter days".

The measure comes as a new labor agreement in France orders employees to avoid checking their professional emails and phones after work while employers are legally obliged to ensure workers come under no pressure to keep up-to-speed out of working hours.

Anna Coote, Head of Social Policy at the New Economics Foundation, a UK-based think tank, welcomed the proposals.

“Shorter working hours create a more committed and stable workforce,” Ms Coote told The Telegraph. “There are indications you can make savings by reducing working hours,” she added, citing an experiment in Utah where public sector workers were given a three-day weekend.

According to OECD data, there is a correlation between shorter working hours and greater productivity. 

The Greeks are the hardest working members of the OECD, putting in more than 2,000 hours a year compared with the Germans’ 1,400, but their workers are 70 per cent less productive than their Teutonic counterparts.

Blue collar workers in the US work about 8 to 10 hours a day and in some cases work 12 hour days with 3 days off one week and 4 days off the following week.  

However, white collar workers continue to spend around 50-60 hours on the job while feeling guilty if they do not work at night and on the weekends as well.


No More Ties

JERUSALEM — Relations between Israeli and Palestinian leaders continued a downward spiral with a new Israeli directive to its ministers to halt cooperation with their Palestinian counterparts.  

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered government ministries to stop high-level communications with corresponding Palestinians, halting assorted economic and civilian cooperation efforts.

Netanyahu’s directive was an Israeli response to the “Palestinian abrogation of their commitments and violation of understandings,” said an Israeli official speaking on condition of anonymity. The official declined to say whether the government was planning to impose further sanctions on thePalestinian Authority.

The recent disruption of the peace talks erupted after Israel delayed the planned release of a group of Palestinian prisoners in an attempt to secure a Palestinian commitment to continue the talks past April.

In response, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas submitted to the United Nations requests to join 15 international conventions, after which Israel canceled the prisoner release altogether, sending the talks into deep crisis.

Despite the disruptions in negotiations, Israeli and Palestinian officials have  continued to work cooperatively to some degree on issues related to the environment, agriculture, tourism and infrastructure. Contacts at ministerial and top officials levels are now suspended, permitting only lower field-level cooperation, Israeli media reported.

Security coordination is exempt from the directive and will continue as usual. Also exempt is Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, head of Israel’s negotiation team that has met several times in recent days with the Palestinian and U.S. delegates seek an end to the crisis.

The directive came several hours after U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry addressed the crisis in the talks during a hearing of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee.

While noting both sides had taken “unhelpful” positions, Kerry suggested the delayed prisoner release followed by the announcement of a controversial housing plan tipped the talks over the edge. “And then … 700 settlement units were announced in Jerusalem and, poof, that was sort of the moment,” Kerry summarized.

So far, Netanyahu’s office has not responded publicly to Kerry’s comments, regarded as blaming Israel for the breakdown of the talks, but hawkish members of Netanyahu’s government rejected the notion. “Israel will never apologize for building in Jerusalem,” said Economy Minister Naftali Bennet.

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog called Wednesday’s directive an “unnecessary move” that would undermine Israeli interests and the business sector. Commenting to Israeli media, Herzog said “frustration and helplessness are no policy.”

Disappointment Looms

JERUSALEM — In an unusually pointed rebuke of an ally, Israel said on Wednesday that it was “deeply disappointed” by Secretary of State John Kerry’s  (above) remarks a day earlier that appeared to lay primary blame on Israel for the crisis in the American-brokered Middle East peace talks.

The Israeli-Palestinian dispute that has brought the talks to the brink of collapse appeared to be developing into an open quarrel between Israel and the United States, even as Israeli and Palestinian negotiators were said to be planning a third meeting here this week with American mediators to try to resolve the crisis.

In a sign that the sides were still far from reconciled, Israel on Wednesday directed its government ministers and senior ministry officials to refrain from meeting with their Palestinian counterparts, a move that officials said could delay bilateral projects.

The ban on contacts does not apply to the negotiators, and Israeli officials signaled that coordination between the two sides on security issues would continue. But it was intended to send a message that there would be no business as usual.

In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday, Mr. Kerry said that both the Israeli and the Palestinian sides bore responsibility for “unhelpful” actions, but that the precipitating event of the impasse was Israel’s announcement of 700 new housing units for Jewish settlement in an area of Jerusalem across the 1967 lines, in territory the Palestinians claim for a future state.

“Poof, that was sort of the moment,” Mr. Kerry said. “We find ourselves where we are.”

In what is being referred to here as the “poof speech,” Mr. Kerry laid out the chain of events that led to the verge of a breakdown.

Clearly stung by Mr. Kerry’s portrayal and his focus on the settlement issue, Israel countered on Wednesday that it was the Palestinians who had “violated their fundamental commitments” by applying last week to join 15 international conventions and treaties.

Mr. Kerry’s remarks “will both hurt the negotiations and harden Palestinian positions,” said an official in the office of the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

In Washington, Jen Psaki, a State Department spokeswoman, said at a briefing that Mr. Kerry was not blaming one side more than the other, “because they’ve both taken unhelpful steps.”  Read more:


T. G. I. F. Solitude

Sit a spell...

What is Happiness?

We all have different ideas of how to achieve total bliss. For some it's in the company of loved ones, for others it's following their passions -- but is there more to it when it comes to the bigger picture of happiness?

It turns out there are a lot of factors that can affect whether you're sporting a sunny disposition. Ranging from mindful presence to the scents in the air, you may not even know these influencers could be contributing to your overall life satisfaction. 

In honor of the International Day of Happiness, below are 27 scientifically-backed facts that you need to know about getting to your happy place.

  1. It's a choice
  2. The weather can influence happy feelings
  3. Happiness has a fragrance
  4. Music can elevate your happiness
  5. Happiness grows when you're older
  6. Giving to others can give you a happiness boost
  7. Joy is contagious
  8. Getting a little nostalgic can help you look on the bright side
  9. Happy people prefer deeper conversations
  10. Quick thinking is associated with positive feelings
  11. Job satisfaction can impact your happiness
  12. There are approximately 18 different types of smiles
  13.  Certain foods can make you happier
  14. Marriage protects against declines in happiness during adulthood
  15. Getting some shuteye can help you retain more positive thoughts
  16. The happiest country is in Europe
  17. Practicing gratitude can help you lead a happier life
  18. Pets make you happier
  19. People are happier in the mornings
  20. Exercise can make you a more exuberant person
  21. Our brains tend to have a negativity bias -- but it's possible to overcome it
  22. Your happiness minimally depends on external circumstances like owning a house or a car
  23. Experiences are worth more than possessions
  24. We shouldn’t constantly try to pursue happiness 
  25. Positive emotions can make you more resilient.
  26. There is a difference between a happy life and a meaningful one
  27. The older you get, the happier you are with ordinary moments


Preventing Success

The key fact is this: 

Even after you adjust for income and education, black Americans are more likely than any other group to live in neighborhoods with substantial pockets of poverty.

As sociologist Patrick Sharkey shows in his book Stuck in Place, 62 percent of black adults born between 1955 and 1970 lived in neighborhoods that were at least 20 percent poor, a fact that’s true of their children as well. An astounding 66 percent of blacks born between 1985 and 2000 live in neighborhoods as poor or poorer as those of their parents.

A recent report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation affirmed this fact. According to the foundation, only 50 percent of black children live in neighborhoods with a poverty rate below 20 percent, compared to a national average of 74 percent. Of course, the other way to say this is that 50 percent of black children live in neighborhoods with poverty rates of greater than 20 percent.

How does this stack up to white families? Here, Sharkey is indispensable: Among white children born through 1955 and 1970, just 4 percent live in high poverty neighborhoods. Or, put another way, black Americans live with a level of poverty that is simply unknown to the vast majority of whites.

It’s tempting to attribute this to the income disparity between blacks and whites. Since blacks are more likely to be poor, it stands to reason that they’re more likely to live in poor neighborhoods. 

But the fact of large-scale neighborhood poverty holds true for higher-income black Americans as well. Middle-class blacks are far more likely than middle-class whites to live in areas with significant amounts of poverty. Among today’s cohort of middle- and upper-class blacks, about half were raised in neighborhoods of at least 20 percent poverty. 

Only 1 percent of today’s middle- and upper-class whites can say the same.

In short, if you took two children—one white, one black—and gave them parents with similar jobs, similar educations, and similar values, the black child would be much more likely to grow up in a neighborhood with higher poverty, worse schools, and more violence.  Read more:

No Better Off

WASHINGTON (AP) — African-Americans and Latinos are losing economic ground when compared with whites in the areas of employment and income as the United States pulls itself out of the Great Recession, the latest State of Black America report from the National Urban League says.

The annual report, called "One Nation Underemployed: Jobs Rebuild America," noted that the underemployment rate for African-American workers was 20.5 percent, compared with 18.4 percent for Hispanic workers and 11.8 percent for white workers. Underemployment is defined as those who are jobless or working part-time jobs but desiring full-time work.

The report also said African-Americans are twice as likely as whites to be unemployed. The unemployment rate for blacks was 12 percent in February, compared with 5.8 percent for whites.

"Many Americans are being left behind, and that includes African-Americans and Latinos who are being disproportionately left behind by the job creation that we see," National Urban League President Marc Morial said.

Despite the dismal numbers, an analysis by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found African-Americans significantly more optimistic about their future standard of living than whites, regardless of income level, education or partisanship. 

Overall, 71 percent of blacks surveyed in the 2012 General Social Survey agreed that they have a good chance of improving their standard of living, outpacing the share among whites by 25 percentage points.

The survey found high optimism even among blacks who say racism is a cause for economic inequality.

Such findings illustrate "a level of optimism in the African-American community and it's important to lift that up," said La June Montgomery Tabron, president and CEO of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, which released similar findings this week in separate research.

The National Urban League is pushing for several economic measures, including an increase in the minimum wage, an issue being debated in Congress. Democrats backed by President Barack Obama want to force election-year votes on gradually increasing today's minimum to $10.10 by 2016, an effort that seems likely to fail in Congress. Republicans generally oppose the proposal, saying it would cost too many jobs.

"More must be done in post-recession America to try to help people and help communities close these gaps," Morial said.

The National Urban League derives its numbers from an "equality index" that is based on nationally collected data from federal agencies including the Census Bureau, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the National Center for Education Statistics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

With full equality with whites in economics, health, education, social justice and civic engagement set at 100 percent, the National Urban League said this year's equality index for blacks stands at 71.2 percent, a slight improvement over last year's index of 71.0 percent. However, the economic portion of the index dropped from 56.3 percent to 55.5 percent.

The equality index for Hispanics improved to 75.8 percent, compared with 74.6 percent last year, while the Hispanic economics index declined from 60.8 percent to 60.6 percent.