Crop Circles Appear In Washington Wheat Field

WILBUR, Wash. (UPI) — A Washington state couple said crop circles that mysteriously appeared in their wheat field are likely tied to crop circles from previous years.

Greg and Cindy Geib of Lincoln County, north of Wilbur, said they noticed the crop circles in their wheat field Tuesday, KHQ-TV, Spokane, Wash., reported Tuesday.

The farmers said crop circles appear in the area every couple of years and this year must have been their turn. The couple said they do not know who is behind the crop circles, but they joked about them being made as signs from aliens.

Scavenger Hunt Leads To Vow Renewal

ORANGE, Texas (UPI) — A Pennsylvania man said he brought his wife to Texas to conclude a three-year scavenger hunt that ended with a surprise vow renewal ceremony.

Rich Jones, who met his wife, Terri, when they were both working at DuPont in Orange, Texas, said the hunt began with a skeleton key he gave his wife for their 22nd wedding anniversary and concluded when Terri arrived in Orange Saturday to find Rich had re-assembled most of the original wedding party for a surprise vow renewal ceremony, the Houston Chronicle reported Tuesday.

“It’s fun to know he loved me that much, to do all this,” Terri said.

Rich said his wife was worth the effort.

“Our marriage has been great,” he said.

Zombies Drown Out Westboro Baptists

DUPONT, Wash. (UPI) — A demonstration by the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church in Washington state was interrupted by dozens of counter-protesters dressed as zombies.

Melissa Neace, 27, of Spanaway, said she rallied the zombie hoards on Facebook after discovering eight members of the Kansas-based church were planning a demonstration Sunday at the Joint Base Lewis-McChord in DuPont, The News Tribune, Tacoma, Wash., reported Tuesday.

Westboro’s lawyer sent a fax to DuPont Police Chief Ron Goodpaster about the church’s plans to gather “for a public demonstration/outdoor religious service regarding the judgment of God with respect to the dangers of promoting homosexuality, and the rest of the filthy manner of life and idol worshipping of this nation.”

Neace said her aim was to pull attention away from the protest.

“We wanted to turn something negative around, into something people could laugh at and poke fun at,” she said. “It was the easiest way to divert attention from something so hateful.”

Police Use Chopper In Snake Search

PLYMOUTH, England (UPI) — Authorities in Britain said a police helicopter with a thermal imaging camera attempted to locate a 4-foot snake that eluded capture.

Police in Plymouth, England, said the snake, believed to be a boa constrictor, was spotted slithering on a busy street last week and three locals managed to trap it in a trash bin, but it forced its way out before animal authorities could retrieve it, The Sun reported Tuesday.

“We got it in the bin about three times but even with six hands pushing on the lid it was too powerful. It was getting angry so we backed off,” said resident Bernard Brotherton, 53.

Police said they used a helicopter with a thermal imaging camera in an attempt to locate the reptile, which is believed to have been a pet that was set free by an owner who could not keep it.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals urged residents to be cautious if they spot the non-venomous snake.

“Snakes of that type are usually docile but we’d encourage people not to handle it,” RSPCA representative Jo Barr said.

Canada Extends Life Of Penny Coins

OTTAWA (UPI) — The Canadian government has given doomed copper pennies six more months to circulate so as not to disrupt the Christmas and holiday shopping season.

In the Conservative government’s March budget, it was announced the coins would be phased out of circulation by this fall and the last pennies were stamped by the Royal Canadian Mint in May.

However, the federal finance ministry announced this week the one-cent coins won’t start being retrieved by banks until February so as not to disrupt the December shopping season, the Toronto Star said.

The copper-coated steel pennies cost 1.6 cents each to produce and many Canadians discard them as trash. UPI has observed homeless people who beg in Toronto throwing pennies down sewers.

The government said there would be an $11 million dollar annual saving by abandoning the lowest-value coin.

Retailers will have to round prices up or down to the nearest 5-cent value when the pennies begin to disappear, while non-cash transactions will still include cents-value, the report said.

Photos Prove Apollo Moon Flags Still Stand

GREENBELT, Md. (UPI) — NASA says new photographs from its Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter show most of the American flags planted on the moon by Apollo astronauts are still standing.

Each of the six manned Apollo missions that put down on the moon’s surface planted an American flag in the lunar soil. The one flag not still upright is the one planted during the first moon landing by the crew of Apollo 11, NASA officials said.

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera images were taken of each Apollo site, they said.

“From the LROC images it is now certain that the American flags are still standing and casting shadows at all of the sites, except Apollo 11,” LROC principal investigator Mark Robinson wrote in a blog post. Astronaut Buzz Aldrin reported that the flag was blown over by the exhaust from the ascent engine during liftoff of Apollo 11, and it looks like he was correct!”

Researchers examining photos taken of the same spots at Apollo site at various times in the day observed shadows circling the point where the flags were thought to be.

“Intuitively, experts mostly think it highly unlikely the Apollo flags could have endured the 42 years of exposure to vacuum, about 500 temperature swings from 242 F during the day to -280 F during the night, micrometeorites, radiation and ultraviolet light, some thinking the flags have all but disintegrated under such an assault of the environment,” James Fincannon, of the NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, wrote in the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal.

Robinson, however, called the photos “convincing.”

“Personally I was a bit surprised that the flags survived the harsh ultraviolet light and temperatures of the lunar surface, but they did,” Robinson wrote. “What they look like is another question (badly faded?).”

Shoppers' Visual Focus Drives Purchases

MONTREAL (UPI) — The position of products on store shelves can influence consumers’ ultimate choice because a shopper’s eye has a very central focus, Canadian researchers say.

“Consumers are more likely to purchase products placed in the middle of a display — without even being aware of it,” Onur Bodur, a business professor at Concordia University in Montreal said.

Because of that, long lines of horizontally arranged products at eye level are the norm when it comes to the shopping experience, researchers said.

Bodur and his colleagues used eye-tracking devices to record how location influences choices for products as varied as vitamins, meal replacement bars and energy drinks, a Concordia release said Tuesday.

Their findings suggest consumers narrow their visual focus to the central option in a product display area in the final five seconds of the decision-making process, the point at which they determined which option to choose.

The process is a subconscious one, the researchers said, with participants in the study saying they were not aware of any conscious visual focus on one area of the display over another.

A fuller awareness of buying behaviors could lead to more informed choices, Bodur said.

“By using this newfound knowledge that visual attention is naturally drawn to the center of a display, consumers can consciously train themselves to make a more thorough visual scan of what’s on offer.”

Women Make More Money As PA Than MD

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (UPI) — If women’s primary motivation is money, they should forget becoming a primary care physician and become a physician’s assistant instead, U.S. researchers say.

Study authors M. Keith Chen and Judith Chevalier of the Yale School of Management used data from thousands of doctors and physician’s assistants — wages and hours worked for males and females in both professions — collected by the Robert Wood Johnson Community Tracking Physician Survey and the American Academy of Physician Assistants.

The study, published in the Journal of Human Capital, found a wage gap; female doctors earned a lower hourly wage than male doctors, but also most women doctors didn’t work enough hours to make their expensive training pay off compared with working as a physician’s assistant.

Early in their careers, male and female doctors work similar hours, but once women reach ages 31-35, they have children and their hours drop from 50 hours a week to 40 hours a week through age 55, the researchers said.

The net present value of becoming a doctor for the median man was about $2.3 million, while the value of becoming a physician’s assistant was about $1.9 million. However, for the median woman, becoming a doctor offered no such advantage. The net present value for women of becoming a doctor was about $1.67 million, while the net present value of becoming physician’s assistant was $1.68 million, the study said.

Net present value is a calculation used to determine if the gains from a long-term venture are worth the costs.

Consumer Spending Flat In June

WASHINGTON (UPI) — Consumer spending was essentially flat for the second consecutive month in June, the U.S. Commerce Department said Tuesday.

Adjusted for inflation, spending was down 0.1 percent, after rising 0.1 percent in May and 0.2 percent in April.

Incomes rose 0.5 percent, or $61.8 billion, after rising 0.3 percent in May.

Economists expected incomes to rise 0.4 percent, while spending was expected to rise 0.1 percent.

Private wages and salary disbursements rose by $31.9 billion in June after rising $9.7 billion in May.

The department said the closely watched core consumer prices, which excludes food and energy items, rose 0.2 percent in June after rising 0.1 percent in May.

With incomes rising faster than spending, savings rose from $472.4 billion in May to $529.5 billion in June. The personal saving rate rose to 4.4 percent in the month from 4 percent in May.

Home Prices Up In May From April

NEW YORK (UPI) — U.S. home prices rose April to May, the second consecutive month of gains, the Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller report said Tuesday.

Home prices rose 2.2 percent in both the 10-city and 20-city indexes after rising 1.3 percent in both indexes in April, which was the first rise in seven months.

On an annual basis, prices are still off, showing a 1 percent decline in the 10-city index and a 0.7 percent decline in the 20-city index. In April, the annual decline for the larger index stood at 1.5 percent.

Atlanta is the only city with double-digit annual declines with its pricing index off 14.5 percent. “However, this is an improvement over the minus 17 percent annual decline in April,” the report said.

“With May’s data, we saw a continuing trend of rising home prices for the spring,” said David Blitzer, chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Indices.

Markey Seeks To Block CNOOC Deal

WASHINGTON (UPI) — Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., has asked the Treasury Department to block a merger that would give royalty-free U.S. oil to China.

In a letter to the department sent Monday, Markey said the merger between Chinese oil company CNOOC Ltd. and Canadian firm Nexen Inc., should be blocked “until, at a minimum, parties to the merger agree to pay royalties to the U.S. taxpayer on all oil produced off American shores or relinquish any ownership interest in these leases.”

The Hill newspaper reported that Nexen has two oil field leases in the Gulf of Mexico that were obtained under the Deepwater Royalty Relief Act of 1995, which granted royalty waivers to companies to encourage offshore oil development.

That act was made into law when the price of oil was low. Although prices have risen, an appellate court decision in 2009 said the Interior Department was stuck with the uncapped royalty waivers on any leases issued between 1996 and 2000, the newspaper said.

Not Everyone Gets Obamacare Rebates

WASHINGTON (UPI) — Don’t hold your breath waiting for a rebate from a U.S. insurance company, a law professor advised.

The new healthcare act requires insurance companies with high administrative costs — those deemed not paying out enough in insurance benefits — return money in one of a variety of forms to their customers.

Some companies are sending rebates. Cash in hand is a clear selling point for the law, The New York Times reported Monday.

But it doesn’t mean a check is on the way.

“I’ve been trying to explain that to people — that very few people would be getting a check,” Timothy Jost, a professor at Washington and Lee University, told the Times.

The Department of Health and Human Services said insurance companies would return $1.1 billion to customers in 2012.

In Vermont, the average rebate check is expected to be $807 per family. In Alaska it will be $622 per family; in Alabama, $518.

Two states, New Mexico and Rhode Island do not have insurance companies that return too little to consumers, as defined by the law, so there will be no checks sent in those states.

The cap for companies has been set at 80 percent. Companies returning less than 80 percent to consumers in the form of insurance benefits need to pay down to that level. For companies that handle large employers, insurance companies must pay 85 percent back to consumers in the form of benefits.

There are 75 million insured customers who could see money returned to them, but only 12.8 million will get rebates in 2012, the Obama administration said.

Companies can also lower their administrative costs-to-payout ratio using other means, such as lowering premiums, the newspaper said.

Children Exercise If Parents Do

DENVER (UPI) — Parents worried their children don’t get enough exercise should increase their physical activity and their kids will follow, U.S. researchers advise.

Kristen Holm, assistant professor of Medicine at National Jewish Health, and colleagues found when parents increase their daily activity — measured by a pedometer — their children increase theirs as well.

“It has long been known that parent and child activity levels are correlated,” Holm said in a statement. “This is the first intervention-based study to prospectively demonstrate that when parents increase their activity, children increase theirs as well. The effect was more pronounced on weekends.”

The study involved 83 families enrolled in a family-based intervention designed to prevent excess weight gain among overweight and obese children ages 7-14. Parents and children participated in a program based on the small-changes approach promoted by the America on the Move initiative.

Children and parents were encouraged to increase their physical activity by walking an additional 2,000 steps per day.

The study, published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health, found mothers in all 83 families participated in the program, while 34 fathers participated.

On days that mothers reached or exceeded their 2,000-step goal, children took an average of 2,117 additional steps, compared to 1,175 additional steps when mothers did not reach their goal. Father-child activity showed a similar pattern.

Overall, for each 1,000 additional steps a mother took, the child took 196 additional steps.

Romance Is Over When Photos Are Stashed

LONDON (UPI) — The point at which people put an ex-partner’s photo away after a split is usually when they are emotionally ready to move on, a British psychologist says.

“It’s not surprising that nearly half of us keep some kind of visual memento of past partners — this goes for partners who were divorced or died as well — a photo generates strong emotions as it unleashes memories of past attachment and times,” Corinne Sweet, behavioral psychologist said in a statement.

A survey for Friends Reunited, a social network, indicated 21.6 million Brits have held onto photographs of former partners following a break-up.

Women were more sentimental than men, with 61 percent claiming they keep the photos as they highlight a part of their life they don’t want to forget, versus 56 percent of men.

But men may be hiding more from their partners than their mates realize — 20 percent in a current relationship who have photos of their ex-partners said they have hidden photos of an ex due to fear of disapproval from their new partner, compared to 9 percent of women.

However, 12 percent of men said they kept photos of their ex-partners because they still have feelings for their ex, compared to 5 percent of women.

“The main reason people hide their photos — especially men — is probably due to a fear of their current partner’s jealousy, or of evoking comparisons in terms of attractiveness and sexiness, etc.,” Sweet said in a statement. “Emotionally mature partners will be able to accept you have a past love-life.”

Smiling During Stress May Help The Heart

LAWRENCE, Kan. (UPI) — People who smile even though they don’t feel like it had lower heart beat levels, U.S. researcher suggest.

Psychological scientists Tara Kraft and Sarah Pressman of the University of Kansas conducted a series of experiments involving 169 participants from a Midwestern university.

The study involved two phases — training and testing. During the training phase, participants were divided into three groups, and each group was trained to hold a different facial expression.

For the testing phase, participants were asked to work on multitasking activities. What the participants didn’t know was that the multitasking activities were designed to be stressful.

Compared to participants who held neutral facial expressions, the study participants who were instructed to smile had lower heart rate levels after recovery from the stressful activities.

“The next time you are stuck in traffic or are experiencing some other type of stress, you might try to hold your face in a smile for a moment,” Pressman said in a statement. “Not only will it help you ‘grin and bear it’ psychologically, but it might actually help your heart health as well!”

The findings were published in Psychological Science.

Study: Tanning Bed Sunburn Frequent

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. (UPI) — College-age women who use tanning beds reported frequent sunburn, increasing their risk of cancer, U.S. researchers say.

Researchers at the Center of Excellence at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, East Tennessee State University, Pennsylvania State University and Northwestern University, said the study involved 198 female students from two universities with a mean age of 19.

Lead author Jerrod L. Stapleton, a behavioral scientist at the Center of Excellence, said previous research on redness of the skin/sunburn in relation to tanning bed use relied on study participants’ long-term memory.

In this study, participants were required to make a series of diary entries during a 12-week period to document whether sunburn was a result of their tanning bed use.

During the study period, 37 percent did not engage in indoor tanning, an additional third used indoor tanning two to 10 times and nearly 12 percent reported more than 20 sessions.

The study, published in Translational Behavioral Medicine, found two-thirds of participants reported at least one case of sunburn related to an indoor tanning session, half of respondents reported two or more episodes and 36 percent reported three or more instances.

Among those who used indoor tanning, 1,429 indoor tanning sessions were reported, with 1-in-5 sessions resulting in sunburn.

NYC Pushes Breastfeeding Over Formula

NEW YORK (UPI) — New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s latest initiative promotes breastfeeding over infant formula, officials said.

While new mothers who favor bottle feeding will still be able to do so, beginning Sept. 3 nurses in New York City will have to sign out the baby formula in hospitals participating in the initiative, the International Science Times reported.

The program, first announced in May, will be optional, the report said.

“Human breast milk is best for babies and mothers,” city Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said when the program was announced in May.

The International Science Times said the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends babies be breastfed for the first six months for protection against illnesses and allergies. The report said formula fed babies are at a higher risk for diabetes and ear infections, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has concluded.

Not everyone is happy.

“If they put pressure on me, I would get annoyed,” Lynn Sidnam, told the New York Post.

Deal Reached To Avert U.S. Government Shutdown

WASHINGTON (UPI) — A tentative deal to avoid a federal government shutdown was reached Tuesday, removing the funding as an election issue, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said.

The Nevada Democrat said he, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Democratic President Barack Obama had agreed on a measure that will keep federal agencies going until the end of March, Roll Call reported.

“This agreement reached between the Senate, the House and the White House provides stability for the coming months, when we will have to resolve critical issues that directly affect middle-class families,” Reid said in a statement.

“I hope that we can face the challenges ahead in the same spirit of compromise.”

Politico reported the lawmakers set spending at $1.047 trillion, the level set in the 2011 Budget Control Act. The Washington publication noted the amount is above the $1.028 trillion Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., had called for in his budget proposal.

Politico said sources expect final votes on the measure won’t take place until September.

The New York Times described the tentative deal as a sharp contrast to previous episodes of brinkmanship that put the federal government on the verge of a shutdown. The agreement this time came well ahead of the Oct. 1 deadline for spending bills.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., told the Times he likely will not support the measure but conceded avoiding a debate over the funding issue was “a good idea.”

Sen. Thad Cochran, the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations panel, expressed the same sentiment to the Washington publication Roll Call.

“I think it’s a good idea to pass an appropriations bill as soon as we can,” the Mississippi Republican said. “The agencies and departments need to have something they can count on in term of budget numbers for the next fiscal year. So the sooner we do this, the better off we are going to be.”

White House Steps Up Iran Sanctions

WASHINGTON (UPI) — The White House Tuesday announced steps to strengthen sanctions on Iran for failing to meet its international obligations.

“First, I have approved a new Executive Order that imposes new sanctions against the Iranian energy and petrochemical sectors,” U.S. President Barack Obama said in a statement. “This action is designed to deter Iran from establishing payment mechanisms for the purchase of Iranian oil to circumvent existing sanctions, and utilizes the existing structure of our sanctions law, including exceptions for significant reductions in the purchase of Iranian oil. Additionally, existing sanctions on Iran’s petrochemical industry are expanded by making sanctionable the purchase or acquisition of Iranian petrochemical products. …

“Second, we have also taken a significant step to hold responsible institutions that knowingly enable financial transactions for designated Iranian banks. The Department of the Treasury today imposed sanctions on Bank of Kunlun in China and Elaf Islamic Bank in Iraq under the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act of 2010.”

Obama said the two banks have handled millions of dollars in transactions for Iranian banks subject to sanctions.

“By cutting off these financial institutions from the United States, today’s action makes it clear that we will expose any financial institution, no matter where they are located, that allows the increasingly desperate Iranian regime to retain access to the international financial system,” he said.

“Since taking office, we have presented the Iranian government with a clear choice: Come in line with your international obligations and rejoin the community of nations, or face growing consequences. With these actions, we are once again reaffirming our commitment to hold the Iranian government accountable for its actions.”

Woman Had 200 Cats In Her Home

MOORESVILLE, N.C. (UPI) — A North Carolina woman was arrested on animal cruelty charges after 200 cats were found in her home, and the search is on to find new owners for the animals.

The Mooresville, N.C., home of Angie Funderburk, 47, was visited Friday by Iredell County, N.C. Animal Control, which found the 900 square foot home was overrun with cats. Funderburk was arrested Monday.

WCNC-TV reported Tuesday that 49 cats had to be euthanized, and the animal shelter operated by the county is attempting to quickly find homes for the remaining 149.

“We don’t want to have to euthanize these cats. They’re highly adoptable, but we don’t have the space,” said shelter director Chris Royal, adding that cats were everywhere in the house when Animal Control arrived, including within the furniture.

“We had to cut the fabric on the furniture to get the cats out,” she added.

Prop 8 Reaches U.S. Supreme Court

SACRAMENTO (UPI) — Supporters of California’s Proposition 8, which bans gay marriage, said Tuesday they’ve taken their case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

ProtectMarriage.com said it filed a petition to the high court asking it to reverse an appeals court panel that struck down Prop 8.

California voters approved Prop 8, the California Marriage Protection Act, in 2008. It overturned a ruling by the California Supreme Court, which itself had overturned an earlier but similar proposition as unconstitutional.

But a federal judge declared Prop 8 unconstitutional, and three-judge appeals court panel in San Francisco agreed 2-1.

However, the panel stayed its ruling until Prop 8 supporters could ask the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit for a new hearing. The full circuit rejected the case, but on June 5 it gave Prop 8 supporters a 90-day stay to file a petition for review at the Supreme Court.

In a statement Tuesday, ProtectMarriage.com said its petition says “our Constitution does not mandate the traditional definition of marriage, but neither does our Constitution condemn it. Rather, it leaves the definition of marriage in the hands of the people, to be resolved through the democratic process in each state.”

“The Supreme Court has made it very clear that the age-old definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman is constitutional as a matter of state public policy,” lead counsel Charles J. Cooper with the Cooper & Kirk law firm, said in the statement. “The lower court decisions essentially rejected all relevant Supreme Court and appellate court precedent while attacking the character and judgment of millions of Californians. We are hopeful and confident that the Supreme Court will grant review and ultimately uphold its precedent and the will of the people.”