Goodnight. Sleep Clean.


SLEEP seems like a perfectly fine waste of time. Why would our bodies evolve to spend close to one-third of our lives completely out of it, when we could instead be doing something useful or exciting? Something that would, as an added bonus, be less likely to get us killed back when we were sleeping on the savanna?

“Sleep is such a dangerous thing to do, when you’re out in the wild,” Maiken Nedergaard, a Danish biologist who has been leading research into sleep function at the University of Rochester’s medical school, told me. “It has to have a basic evolutional function. Otherwise it would have been eliminated.”

We’ve known for some time that sleep is essential for forming and consolidating memories and that it plays a central role in the formation of new neuronal connections and the pruning of old ones. But that hardly seems enough to risk death-by-leopard-in-the-night. “If sleep was just to remember what you did yesterday, that wouldn’t be important enough,” Dr. Nedergaard explains.

In a series of new studies, published this fall in the journal Science, the Nedergaard lab may at last be shedding light on just what it is that would be important enough. Sleep, it turns out, may play a crucial role in our brain’s physiological maintenance. As your body sleeps, your brain is quite actively playing the part of mental janitor: It’s clearing out all of the junk that has accumulated as a result of your daily thinking.

Recall what happens to your body during exercise. You start off full of energy, but soon enough your breathing turns uneven, your muscles tire, and your stamina runs its course. What’s happening internally is that your body isn’t able to deliver oxygen quickly enough to each muscle that needs it and instead creates needed energy anaerobically. And while that process allows you to keep on going, a side effect is the accumulation of toxic byproducts in your muscle cells. Those byproducts are cleared out by the body’s lymphatic system, allowing you to resume normal function without any permanent damage.

The lymphatic system serves as the body’s custodian: Whenever waste is formed, it sweeps it clean. The brain, however, is outside its reach — despite the fact that your brain uses up about 20 percent of your body’s energy. How, then, does its waste — like beta-amyloid, a protein associated with Alzheimer’s disease — get cleared? What happens to all the wrappers and leftovers that litter the room after any mental workout?…




NGOs sound alarm on Colombia’s child victims of sexual violence and forced prostitution

In a 2009 file photo, demonstrators protesting against violence in Colombia, perform during a rally entitled “Women at the Square” in Bogota. REUTERS/Fredy Builes

by Anastasia Moloney

BOGOTA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Nearly 50,000 Colombian children, most of them girls, were raped and or sexually abused by warring factions in the country’s armed conflict between 2008 and 2012, said a new report that also raised the alarming issue of children being used in “networks of forced prostitution” in regions where foreign contractors work in the oil industry.

For five decades Colombia has been mired in fighting between state security forces, leftist rebels and right-wing paramilitary militias. All of these armed groups, along with drug-running criminal gangs, are responsible for sexual violence against children, said the study by Oxfam International and 10 non-governmental organisations.

Colombia has no national register for sexual violence against children, and little nationwide research has been done on the issue, making it difficult to gauge the extent of the problem, and in turn for the government to provide adequate support to child victims of sexual violence.

“The numbers are appalling. It’s an underreported problem. We couldn’t know the characteristics of victims. We don’t know their exact ages, if they are Afro-Colombian or indigenous. Knowing this is important because it conditions the response the Colombian government has to give to children,” said Diana Arango, Oxfam’s coordinator of the campaign “Rape and other Violence”, which includes the study.

“We also need to know who is perpetrating these acts. On the registers it just says armed actor and doesn’t say if it’s an illegal armed group or a legal group (security forces),” she told Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The study, billed as the first of its kind, says at least 48,915 children under the age of 18, including 7,602 boys, suffered some type of sexual violence, such as rape, sexual exploitation and forced prostitution at the hands of armed groups between 2008 and 2012.

The figures in the report combine data held by various government institutions that have received reports from children, sometimes accompanied by their parents, who say they were victims of sexual abuse by armed groups.


The report notes sexual violence against children is not just happening in Colombia’s conflict-ridden areas and in the ranks of the country’s two rebel groups – the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the smaller National Liberation Army (ELN), which are both known to recruit child soldiers.

There are growing concerns that children are used in “networks of forced prostitution” in Colombia’s remote Amazon jungle provinces in the country’s south, where foreign contractors employed in the oil sector work, the report said.

“Forced prostitution and sexual exploitation of children is something that is happening more and more in the country,” said Arango…






The Landscape-Scarring, Energy-Sucking, Wildlife-Killing Reality of Pot Farming


Starting about 90 miles northwest of Sacramento, an unbroken swath of national forestland follows the spine of California’s rugged coastal mountains all the way to the Oregon border. Near the center of this vast wilderness, along the grassy banks of the Trinity River’s south fork, lies the remote enclave of Hyampom (pop. 241), where, on a crisp November morning, I climb into a four-wheel-drive government pickup and bounce up a dirt logging road deep into the Six Rivers National Forest. I’ve come to visit what’s known in cannabis country as a “trespass grow.”“This one probably has the most plants I’ve seen,” says my driver, a young Forest Service cop who spends his summers lugging an AR-15 through the backcountry of the Emerald Triangle—the triad of Humboldt, Mendocino, and Trinity counties that is to pot what the Central Valley is to almonds and tomatoes. Fearing retaliation from growers, the officer asks that I not use his name. Back in August he was hiking through the bush, trying to locate the grow from an aerial photo, when he surprised a guy carrying an iPod, gardening tools, and a 9 mm pistol on his hip. He arrested the man and alerted his tactical team, which found about 5,500 plants growing nearby, with a potential street yield approaching $16 million.

“This is unicorns and rainbows, isn’t it?” says wildlife ecologist Mourad Gabriel as he stuffs a garbage bag with trash the growers left behind.

Today, a work crew is hauling away the detritus by helicopter. Our little group, which includes a second federal officer and a Forest Service flack, hikes down an old skid trail lined with mossy oaks and madrones, passing the scat of a mountain lion, and a few minutes later, fresh black bear droppings. We follow what looks like a game trail to the lip of a wooded slope, a site known as Bear Camp. There, amid a scattering of garbage bags disemboweled by animals, we find the growers’ tarps and eight dingy sleeping bags, the propane grill where they had cooked oatmeal for breakfast, and the backpack sprayers they used to douse the surrounding 50 acres with chemical fertilizers and pesticides. The air smells faintly of ammonia and weed. “This is unicorns and rainbows, isn’t it?” says Mourad Gabriel, a former University of California-Davis wildlife ecologist who has joined us at the site, as he maniacally stuffs a garbage bag with empty booze bottles, Vienna Beef sausage tins, and Miracle-Gro refill packs.

According to federal stats, trespass grows in California alone account for more than one-third of the cannabis seized nationwide by law enforcement, which means they could well be the largest single source of domestically grown marijuana. Of course, nobody can say precisely how much pot comes from indoor grows and private plots that are less accessible to the authorities. What’s clear is that California’s marijuana harvest is vast—”likely the largest value crop (by far) in the state’s lineup,” notes the Field Guide to California Agriculture. Assuming, as the guide does, that the authorities seize about 10 percent of the harvest, that means they would have left behind more than 10 million outdoor plants last year, enough to yield about $31 billion worth of product. That’s more than the combined value of the state’s top 10 legal farm commodities…







10 Shameful Ways America Abuses Its Own Citizens

By Jodie Gummow

Land of the free? More like home of the exploited.

Recently,  Human Rights Watch released its  World Report evaluating each country’s human rights practices around the globe. The United States fared poorly in safeguarding the rights of its own population, with those hit hardest by abuse typically the most vulnerable in the society, including racial and ethnic groups, minorities, the poor, immigrants, prisoners and the elderly. Here are 10 key areas identified by HRW where the United States fell short in upholding and preserving human rights.

1. Harsh sentencing. The United States has the world’s largest incarcerated population in the world with 760 inmates per 100,000 residents and an estimated 2.2 million people behind bars. Our country holds about five percent of the world’s population, yet houses around  25 percent of its prisoners. Mass incarceration in the United States is the result of decades of punitive sentencing regimes, including life-without-parole sentences, high mandatory minimum sentences and  three-strikes laws, with  nearly half of current federal inmates serving time for drug-related crimes.

While Attorney General Eric Holder has  urged for changes in federal sentencing guidelines to reserve the harshest penalties for the most serious drug traffickers, low-level and nonviolent drug offenders still remain subject to  disproportionately long sentences and are often left with no choice but to accept plea bargains from prosecutors or face arbitrarily fixed minimum sentences.

While the number of death sentences in the United States per year has fallen, 32 states still impose the death penalty, despite the fact that its usage has been found to be contrary to international law. Last year alone,  42 people were executed and 10 people have been executed as of March this year.

2. Abysmalprison conditions. Prison conditions continue to be typified by overcrowding, rampant physical abuse,  prison rape, barely edible food, unsanitary conditions and inadequate access to medical and mental healthcare facilities for inmates. Likewise, lengthy sentences have resulted in a growing number of elderly incarcerated people posing serious health challenges to correctional authorities ill-equipped to handle the aging prison population. Over  26,000 persons aged 65 and older were incarcerated in state and federal prisons in 2011, representing a 62 percent increase over five years.

Last year,  30,000 inmates of a California state prison went on a hunger strike to rally against inhumane conditions and the use of solitary confinement in jails. Still, prisoners continue to be held in the Special Housing Unit, or the SHU, often for weeks or months on end. Prolonged solitary confinement amounts to “ cruel punishment or torture” under international law and is scientifically proven to cause serious mental and physical suffering.

3. Youth detention. In nearly all jurisdictions in the United States, youth offenders are tried in adult courts and sentenced to serve time in adult jails. It is estimated that more than 95,000 youths under 18 were held in adult prisons in 2011 where they are subject to solitary confinement. In 2012, the Supreme Court  struck down mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juvenile offenders convicted of homicide, calling into question almost 85 percent of all juvenile cases in the country, according to HRW.

In a positive move, California enacted a law in September providing for  the possibility of review for about 5,000 young people sentenced to life in prison. However, many states have yet to comply with recent Supreme Court decisions, which means life-without-parole sentences for youth homicide crimes are still executed. More alarming, HRW found that  nearly every youth offender serving life-without-parole reported physical violence or sexual abuse by inmates or corrections officers.

4. Poverty and justice. The link between poverty and criminal justice remains apparent with the majority of poor defendants suffering in pretrial detention because they are simply too poor to post bail or pay the high court fees and surcharges. According to  HRW, 60 percent of jail inmates are confined pending trial because they lack financial resources to secure release, which costs this country approximately $9 billion a year…







No, You Don’t Need God to be a Good Person — Why Don’t Many Americans Get This?

By CJ Werleman

Most of the developed world agrees that you don’t need religion to be moral.

This week, Pew Research Center published the results of a  survey conducted among 40,080 people in 40 countries between 2011 and 2013. The survey asked a simple question: is belief in God essential to morality? While clear majorities say it is necessary, the U.S. continues to be an outlier.

In 22 of the 40 countries surveyed, the majority says it is necessary to believe in God in order to be a moral person. “This position is highly prevalent, if not universal, in Africa and the Middle East,” says the report. No surprise there, but Asian and Latin countries such as Indonesia (99%), Malaysia (89%), the Philippines (99%), El Salvador (93%), and Brazil (86%) all fell in the highest percentile of respondents believing belief in a god (small G) is central to having good values.

>Interestingly, clear majorities in all highly developed countries do not think belief in god to be necessary for morality, with one exception only: the U.S.A.

Only 15 percent of the French population answered in the affirmative. Spain: 19%. Australia: 23%. Britain: 20%. Italy: 27%. Canada: 31%. Germany 33%. Israel: 37%.

So what of the U.S.? A comparatively eye-popping 53 percent of Americans essentially believe atheists and agnostics are living in sin. Despite the fact that a research analyst at the Federal Bureau of Prisons determined that atheists are thoroughly under-represented in the places where rapists, thieves and murders invariably end up: prisons. While atheists make upward of 15 percent of the U.S. population, they only make up 0.2 percent of the prison population.

With the exception of the U.S. and China, the survey finds that those “in richer nations tend to place less emphasis on the need to believe in God to have good values than people in poorer countries do.” The chart illustrates this point:

Staying with the U.S., this correlation between a high rate of poverty and high degree of religiosity is supported by a 2009 Pew Forum “Importance of Religion” study that determined the degree of religious fervor in all 50 states. The study measured a number of variables including frequency of prayer, absolute belief in God, and so forth. Led by Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas, nine of the top 10 most religious states were southern. Oklahoma ruined the South’s clean sweep by sneaking in at number seven.

Not coincidentally, led again by Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas, nine of the top 10 poorest states are also found in the South, while northern and pacific states such as Wisconsin, Washington, California, New York, New Hampshire, and Vermont are among the least religious and the most economically prosperous…





Officers’ body cameras raise privacy concerns

Police Lapel Cameras660.jpg

LOS ANGELES –  Officers at thousands of law enforcement agencies are wearing tiny cameras to record their interactions with the public, but in many cases the devices are being rolled out faster than departments are able to create policies to govern their use.

And some rank-and-file officers are worried the technology might ultimately be used to derail their careers if, for example, an errant comment about a superior is captured on tape.

Most law enforcement leaders and civil liberties advocates believe the cameras will ultimately help officers because the devices give them a way to record events from their point of view at a time when citizens armed with cellphones are actively scrutinizing their every move.

They say, however, that the lack of clear guidelines on the cameras’ use could potentially undermine departments’ goals of creating greater accountability of officers and jeopardize the privacy of both the public and law enforcement officers.

“This is a brave new world that we’re entering here, where citizens and police both are going to be filming each other,” said Chuck Wexler, the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a nonprofit police research and policy organization.

The U.S. Justice Department has asked Wexler’s group to help develop guidelines for the cameras’ use, from when the devices should be turned on to how departments can protect the privacy of those who are inadvertently captured on the footage.

Equipping police with cameras isn’t a new concept. For decades police have used cameras mounted to the dashboards of their patrol cars — initially referred to with suspicion by officers as “indict-o-cams” until they discovered the footage exonerated them in most cases…







15 Red Flags Not to Ignore In Any Relationship

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by Brenda Della Casa

Ever feel as though you always find yourself in situations with the slightly shady? Take off the rose-colored glasses and pay attention to these bright red flags. Your sanity (and friends who care about you) will thank you.

1. Boundaries, What Are Those?

Whether it’s a “joke” at your expense, language you don’t appreciate, or pressing you to share information you have been clear you deem private, anyone who doesn’t respect your right to your own space (emotional, personal, physical or mental) is going to have you going from 0-to-frustrated in no time.

2. They Spill Your Secrets

Look, everyone has a slip-up now and then, but when the person you have sworn to secrecy just happens to slip right in front of the one person you asked them not to, chances are it wasn’t an accident. If it happens twice, you’ve got yourself a bonafide frenemy.

3. They Freak Out

In college, your roommate leaving you at the bar was dragged-out fight, drama-worthy, but we are all adults here. Unless there is a fire or a real reason to scream, yell, send 100 rapid-fire texts and run around like Charlie Sheen at a Hollywood Hills after-party, take freak outs as frustrating proof that the person in front of you can’t control their emotions. Whether this is caused by anxiety, immaturity and/or a tendency to bully, it’s not something you need to deal with.

4. They Stonewall You

Uh-oh, they are mad at you, or you have hit a topic they don’t like to discuss. You know what that means, you’re suddenly being told they won’t listen to what you have to say by way of jumping off of the phone, ignoring your texts/calls, reminding you they are stressed or saying it’s not the right time (again). No one likes discussing touchy topics, but if you are never heard, perhaps you should move on and converse with someone who actually cares about the feelings — and person — behind the words you’re trying to say.

5. They Lie

If your new pal or partner just changes the truth when they don’t like the way a conversation is going, it’s a huge red flag. No trust, no relationship. End of story.

6. They Get Too Close Too Soon

Yes, there are some people who just “click,” but bonds take time to build, so guess what? They don’t really love you on week two, and that new acquaintance has yet to earn the bestie title.

7. They Disrespect You

Everyone gets upset, has stress and gets pissed, but how we deal under pressure gives others a clear view into our character. Calling someone names or treating someone like your own personal verbal punching bag says more about them (and what you’ll be dealing with every time they get upset) than the words coming out of their mouth. Note: This is true even if they are berating that annoying customer service agent on the phone. People who can treat anyone that way will eventually treat everyone that way…