Posts Tagged ‘Texas’

By Jeanna Bryner

Congress is talking about spending a bunch of money on the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (or SETI) for the first time in 25 years.

The U.S. House of Representatives has proposed a bill that includes $10 million in NASA funding for the next two years “to search for technosignatures, such as radio transmissions, in order to meet the NASA objective to search for life’s origin, evolution, distribution, and future in the universe.” Such technosignatures would come in the form of radio waves that have the telltale features of being produced by TV- or radio-type technologies. An intelligent civilization could also produce those signals intentionally to communicate with other civilizations like ours.

“If it passes, it would definitely be a sea-change in Congressional attitude since Sen. [Richard] Bryan terminated NASA’s SETI program, the High Resolution Microwave Survey, in 1993,” renowned astronomer Jill Tarter, former diretor of the SETI Institute, told Live Science in an email.

Here’s what Tarter is referring to: In 1992, a huge NASA SETI initiative was launched in order to build instrumentation so that observatories could comb the cosmos for signals from alien civilizations. For instance, the high resolution microwave survey was hooked up to the Arecibo telescope in Puerto Rico for just that. A year later, however, Nevada Sen. Bryan shut it down, and “SETI” became an unmentionable.

“[Bryan] made it clear to the administration that if they came back with SETI in their budget again, it wouldn’t be good for the NASA budget,” Tarter told Marina Koren of The Atlantic. “So, we instantly became the four-letter S-word that you couldn’t say at headquarters anymore, and that has stuck for quite a while.”

She added that the funding proposal seems to be an extension of the efforts of Rep. Lamar Smith, R–Texas, to bring attention to the search for life beyond Earth when he was the chairman of the House Science Committee. (Smith, who announced that he will retire at the end of his term this year, is a known denier of human-caused climate change.)

If the legislation clears the House and passes the Senate, the result would be huge. “It allows for new instrumentation to be built, and data collected and analyzed at scale, by a global community,” Tarter said of the $10 million.

Of course, the hunt for intelligence beyond Earth has not stopped, as private companies and other organizations have funded it, but a buy-in from the federal government is a big deal. [7 Huge Misconceptions about Aliens]

“You need to remember that this is an authorization bill, not an appropriations bill. Even if it passes, the appropriators may not provide any SETI funding in their bill. But if they do, that would be a very big deal,” said Tarter, who was the basis for the heroine Ellie Arroway in Carl Sagan’s novel “Contact” and in the adapted movie by the same name.

Tarter is admittedly ecstatic about the possibility of such a federal focus on SETI. But you don’t become the director of the SETI Institute by keeping your feet on the ground.

“Bring it on! But don’t stop there,” Tarter said about the potential funding. “Earthlings everywhere are fascinated with this search and care about the answer. So, we should create an international endowment for searching for intelligent life beyond Earth. The backers should be private individuals, enlightened corporations, U.S. federal agencies and agencies from other governments around the world.”

She added, “By smoothing out the funding roller coaster that has characterized this research field from the beginning, it will be possible to attract the best and brightest minds with the best ideas from everywhere, and commit to the long-term search efforts that might be required for success.”

Are alien greetings just around the corner? Tarter said we have the technology now to search for more distant and fainter signals in ways we haven’t tried before. “But that doesn’t guarantee success in the ‘near future.’ The cosmos is vast, and we may not yet be looking in the right way, although we are doing the best job possible with what we now know.”

The “correct perspective on timing,” Tarter said, is summed up in a line from a paper published in 1959 in the journal Nature by Giuseppe Cocconi and Philip Morrison: “‘The probability of success is difficult to estimate; but if we never search, the chance of success is zero,'” Tarter said.

https://www.livescience.com/62529-congress-search-for-intelligent-aliens.html?utm_source=notification

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Psychological sciences doctoral student Marci Horn (left) conducts a name-face memory test as part of a study at the Center for Vital Longevity.

New research from the Center for Vital Longevity (CVL) at The University of Texas at Dallas suggests that subjective complaints about poor memory performance, especially in people over 60, could be a useful early marker for the onset of mild cognitive decline, which sometimes foreshadows Alzheimer’s disease.

Subjective memory is a person’s unscientific self-evaluation of how good his or her memory is, and whether, in that person’s opinion, there has been any worsening of memory through age. While some changes may be undetectable to others and are often too subtle to register on cognitive tests, the person subjectively believes that memory is slipping.

Published recently in Psychology and Aging, the research from Dr. Karen Rodrigue’s lab at CVL examined subjective memory complaints in nearly 200 healthy adults, ages 20 to 94. Previous studies suggest that subjective memory complaints are not necessarily indicative of cognitive decline, and may stem from underlying conditions such as anxiety and depression, which have been shown to impede memory.

The current study measured mood and screened out depressed individuals. Researchers also measured participants for known risk factors for memory loss and Alzheimer’s, such as higher levels of beta-amyloid in the brain and the presence of a gene variant called ApoE4. These factors were taken into account to examine whether subjective memory alone was a reliable correlate of actual memory ability.

The study focused on associative memory — for example, remembering word pairs and name-face pairs. This type of memory is particularly sensitive to age-related decline, and the most common complaint of aging individuals.

The study found that a person’s intuitive or intrinsic assessment of his or her own memory was actually a reliable predictor of performance on the laboratory memory assessment. This result was particularly true for individuals with genetic risk for memory loss.

“Our findings show that subjective memory can be a reliable indicator of memory performance, even in cognitively healthy adults,” said psychological sciences doctoral student Marci Horn, the lead author of the study. “The same people who self-report memory problems may also have other risk factors associated with increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.”

The researchers also found that men who had higher amyloid levels reported the most subjective memory complaints in the study. Previous studies had not uncovered a sex-specific relationship, nor did they account for the genetic and amyloid risk factors in these associations, the researchers said.

The strongest correlation of subjective memory complaints with actual cognitive performance was in study participants older than 60, when people are generally at greater risk for Alzheimer’s disease.

“It seems that awareness of memory changes may be a reliable indicator of one’s current memory ability, and may serve as another harbinger of future loss, as this relationship was strongest in those with known risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease, namely ApoE4 genotype and beta-amyloid burden in the brain,” said Rodrigue, the senior author of the study and assistant professor in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences (BBS). “We are following these individuals over time to further test this idea.”

Dr. Kristen Kennedy, an assistant professor in BBS, also was an author of the study. The research was funded in part by grants from the National Institutes of Health.

https://www.utdallas.edu/news/2018/4/30-32929_Subjective-Memory-May-Play-Role-in-Signaling-Cogni_story-wide.html?WT.mc_id=NewsHomePageCenterColumn

Texas lawmakers on Friday approved carrying handguns openly on the streets of the nation’s second most-populous state, sending the bill to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who immediately promised to sign it and reverse a ban dating to the post-Civil War era.

Gun owners would still have to get a license to carry a handgun in a visible holster.

The state, known for its Wild West cowboy history and some the nation’s most relaxed gun laws, has allowed concealed handguns for 20 years. Concealed handgun license holders are even allowed to skip the metal detectors at the state Capitol, as state troopers providing security assume they’re armed.

But Texas was one of only six states with an outright ban on so-called open-carry, and advocates have fought to be allowed to keep their guns in plain sight. Cast as an important expansion of the Second Amendment right to bear arms in the U.S. Constitution, it became a major issue for the state’s strong Republican majority.

“We think of Texas being gun-happy, but we didn’t afford our citizens the same rights most other states do,” said Rep. Larry Phillips, a Republican from Sherman, one of the bill’s authors.

The House gave final approval on a mostly party-line 102-43 vote, drawing gleeful whistles from some lawmakers. A short time later, the Senate passed it 20-11, also along party lines, with all Republicans supporting it and all Democrats opposing.

Within minutes of the bill passing, Abbott sent a Twitter message that he’ll sign it.

The bill passed after lawmakers made concessions to law enforcement groups, who had been upset by an original provision that barred police from questioning people carrying guns if they have no other reason to stop them.

The final bill scrapped that language, meaning police will be able to ask Texans with handguns in plain sight if they have proper licenses.

Before Friday’s vote, police groups had demanded that Abbott veto the bill if it wasn’t taken out.

Gun control advocates have argued that open-carry is less about personal protection than intimidation. Gun rights groups have staged several large public rallies in recent years, sometimes at notable historical landmarks such as the Alamo, where members carried rifles in plain sight, which is legal.

The open-carry debate also stirred drama at the Capitol early in the legislative session, when gun rights advocates confronted one state lawmaker in his office. The lawmaker, Democrat Poncho Nevarez, was assigned a state security detail and House members voted to make it easier to install panic buttons in their offices.

“This session has been an alarming show of politicking that caters to a gun lobby agenda,” Sandy Chasse with the Texas Chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. “As a gun-owning Texas mom, this is not the Texas I want for my family or community.”

Just like the current concealed handgun law, the bill requires anyone wanting to openly carry a handgun to get a license. Applicants must be 21, pass a background check and receive classroom and shooting range instruction — although lawmakers have weakened those requirements since 2011.

Texas has about 850,000 concealed handgun license holders, a number that has increased sharply in recent years.

It also recognizes the concealed handgun licenses issued in more than 40 states, and license holders from those states will be allowed to openly carry their weapons in Texas once it becomes law.

“I have great faith in our concealed license holders that they will do the right thing and carry their gun appropriately,” said Sen. Craig Estes, the Wichita Falls Republican who sponsored the measure in that chamber.

Democrats such as Sen. Rodney Ellis of Houston said they fear violence on the streets.

“I hope we don’t have a host of Texans running around with a Rambo mentality,” Ellis said.

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/texas-poised-to-allow-open-carry-of-handguns/

Thanks to Pete Cuomo for bringing this to the It’s Interesting community..

parkland

Parkland Health & Hospital System in Dallas will raise its own minimum wage to $10.25 an hour next month, paying for the increase with money originally devoted to executive bonuses.

The lowest-level employees at the hospital currently make $8.78 an hour, and the increase will give about 230 workers a raise. Those workers were already making more than Texas’s minimum wage, which is the same as the federal $7.25 an hour rate. The move also means that every worker employed by Dallas county, inside and outside the hospital, will make more than $10.25 an hour.

The wage increase will cost the hospital about $350,000 a year. The expense will be covered with money from the upcoming quarter’s bonus pool for the hospital’s 60 vice presidents and top executives. That pool was between $750,000 and $1.2 million in the most recent quarter, and it’s between $3 million and $5 million for the full year.

Dr. Jim Dunn, the hospital’s executive vice president and chief talent officer, told Modern Healthcare that the decision was made in the hopes of improving workers’ morale and to provide a living wage. “We really want, in any way possible, to break down any gaps or anything between the top leaders and those who are closest to our patients,” he said. “We feel like it’s the right thing to do.”

Raising wages can help businesses’ bottom lines, as it can improve efficiency, make it easier to recruit workers and lower turnover. Losing employees to turnover is particularly expensive, as it can cost as much as 20 percent of a workers’ salary to replace an employee. Other companies have voluntarily raised their minimum wages lately, including the retailer Gap, which boosted its lowest pay to $10 an hour.

Funding a raise with executive compensation also makes sense, given the growing disconnect between pay at the top and the bottom. CEO pay is now 295.9 times the pay for their own workers, far higher than the 87.3-to-one ratio in the early 1990s. Average pay for a chief executive last year was $15.2 million, a 21.7 percent increase over 2010, while workers saw their pay fall by 1.3 percent in the same time. Corporate profits have also hit record highs as workers keep increasing their productivity, but they haven’t shared in that growth. If the minimum wage had kept up with rising productivity, it would be nearly $22 an hour, and if it had simply kept up with inflation since the 1960s it would be over $10 an hour.

President Obama and Congressional Democrats have pushed to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, but have been stymied by Republicans. In light of that inaction, some states have taken matters into their own hands, and three have passed a $10.10 minimum wage while Vermont put its at $10.50.

http://billmoyers.com/2014/06/16/hospital-uses-executive-bonus-money-to-give-its-workers-a-raise/