Study: U.S. Water Shortage Is Not So Dire

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (UPI) — While drought and water restrictions paint a bleak picture of the U.S. water supply, researchers at the University of Florida say conditions aren’t so bad.

Previous assessments of urban water supplies typically used what is known as a “runoff-based approach” that takes into account factors such as river flows and rainfall amounts, researchers said, but other factors should also be taken into consideration.

Those previous assessments did not consider the infrastructure used to maintain urban water supplies, such as water stored in aquifers, lakes, reservoirs or water that’s pumped in to an area and stored, they said.

Jim Jawitz, a University of Florida soil and water science professor, and Julie Padowski, who earned her doctoral degree from UF and is now a postdoctoral researcher at Stanford University, said using the runoff-based approach suggests 47 percent of the total U.S. population is vulnerable to water scarcity issues.

However, they said, when infrastructure was accounted for the number dropped to just 17 percent of the population.

But despite the good news about water, Padowski said, conservation should be a front-and-center topic for many years to come.

“As population growth increases, we don’t have more resources to tap — we can’t just find another lake or another river to dam,” she said. “It’s going to come down to sharing, conservation and efficiency.”

Building Of Ancient U.S. Mound Studied

ST. LOUIS (UPI) — Researchers say evidence suggests a massive earthen mound in Louisiana was built in less than 90 days, an incredible achievement for early hunter/gatherers.

The earthen works at Poverty Point have been described as one of the world’s greatest feats of construction by an archaic civilization of hunters and gatherers, and have been nominated for recognition on the UNESCO World Heritage List that includes such famous cultural sites as the Taj Mahal, Machu Picchu and Stonehenge.

“What’s extraordinary about these findings is that it provides some of the first evidence that early American hunter-gatherers were not as simplistic as we’ve tended to imagine,” said study co-author T.R. Kidder, an anthropology professor at Washington University in St. Louis.

The researchers analyzed how one of the massive earth constructions, known as Mound, A was constructed about 3,200 years ago along a Mississippi River bayou in northeastern Louisiana.

“Our findings go against what has long been considered the academic consensus on hunter-gather societies — that they lack the political organization necessary to bring together so many people to complete a labor-intensive project in such a short period,” Kidder said in a university release.

Mound A had to have been built in a very short period because an exhaustive examination reveals no signs of rainfall or erosion during its construction, the researchers said.

“We’re talking about an area of northern Louisiana that now tends to receive a great deal of rainfall,” Kidder said. “Even in a very dry year, it would seem very unlikely that this location could go more than 90 days without experiencing some significant level of rainfall. Yet, the soil in these mounds shows no sign of erosion taking place during the construction period.”

To complete such a construction within 90 days would have required the full attention of about 3,000 laborers, the researchers estimate.

Fish Stem Cells May Repair Human Eyesight

EDMONTON, Alberta (UPI) — Zebrafish, often used in genetics studies, may hold the key to repairing damaged retinas and returning eyesight to people, Canadian researchers say.

Scientist at the University of Alberta report a zebrafish’s stem cells can selectively regenerate damaged photoreceptor cells.

Geneticists have known for some time that unlike human stem cells, stem cells in zebrafish can replace damaged cells involved in many components of eyesight.

Rods and cones are the most important photoreceptors. Rods provide night vision while cones give a full color view during daylight.

To date almost all success in regenerating photoreceptor cells has been limited to rods, not cones, the researchers said.

What had not been determined, Alberta biologist Ted Allison said, was whether stem cells could be instructed to only replace the cones in a retina, with important implications for human eyesight.

“This is the first time in an animal research model that stem cells have only repaired damaged cones,” Allison said. “For people with damaged eyesight repairing the cones is most important because it would restore daytime color vision.”

The next research, he said, is to identify the particular gene in the zebrafish genome that activates repair of damaged cones.

African Vultures Face Poisoning Risk

DURHAM, England (UPI) — African vultures foraging on private farmland risk encountering dead cattle treated with veterinary drugs that are poisonous to them, British researchers say.

Endangered white-backed vultures across southern Africa often shun national parks, preferring to forage further afield where they can encounter dead cattle or even poisoned carcasses intended to control other carnivores such as jackals, researchers at Durham University reported.

The problem is not limited to Africa, the researchers said. In India, several vulture species are on the verge of extinction due to accidental poisoning from cattle carcasses containing anti-inflammatory drugs administered by farmers.

There is concern such drugs, non-lethal to cattle yet fatal to vultures, could become more widely used in Africa, they said.

Vultures prefer to feed in savannah grassland habitats and away from other competing carnivores such as lions, and will go to considerable lengths to find food, Durham biologist Stephen Wills said.

“We found that young vultures travel much further than we ever imagined to find food, sometimes moving more than 220 kilometers (135 miles) a day,” he said. “Individuals moved through up to five countries over a period of 200 days, emphasizing the need for conservation collaboration among countries to protect this species.”

The researchers tracked six immature African white-backed vultures using GPS tracking collars.

“In the past, we believed that protecting nature reserves and conservancies was the way to go but tracking devices show that vultures are spending very little time in protected areas, and this makes conserving these birds much more difficult,” said Kerri Wolter of the vulture conservation program VulPro.

“Given the distances that vultures forage, we cannot conserve these birds ‘in-country’ but have to work together with conservation organizations, governments and neighboring countries to safeguard vulture species across the globe.”

No One More Empathic Than A Woman In 50s

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (UPI) — Younger and older U.S. adults show less empathy, but middle-aged adults report more empathy, with women in their 50s the most empathy, researchers say.

Sara Konrath, Ed O’Brien and Linda Hagen all of the University of Michigan,  Daniel Gruhn at North Carolina State University analyzed data on 75,000 U.S. adults from three separate large samples of American adults, two from the nationally representative General Social Survey.

“Overall, late middle-aged adults were higher in both of the aspects of empathy that we measured,” Konrath said in a statement. “They reported that they were more likely to react emotionally to the experiences of others, and they were also more likely to try to understand how things looked from the perspective of others.”

The study, scheduled to be published in the Journals of Gerontology: Psychological and Social Sciences, found consistent evidence of an inverted U-shaped pattern of empathy across the adult life span, with younger and older adults reporting less empathy and middle-aged adults reporting more.

Earlier research by O’Brien, Konrath and colleagues found declines in empathy and higher levels of narcissism among young people today as compared to earlier generations of young adults.

More research is needed in order to understand whether this pattern is really the result of an individual’s age, or whether it is a generational effect reflecting the socialization of adults who are now in late middle age, the study said.

‘Freezing’ Is A Part Of The Fear Response

COLD SPRING HARBOR LABORATORY, N.Y. (UPI) — U.S. scientists say they have a better understanding of how “freezing” is part of the fear response.

Study leader Bo Li, assistant professor, and Professor Z. Josh Huang of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory examined the how fear responses are learned, controlled and memorized.

They show that a particular class of neurons in a subdivision of the amygdala — part of the brain that processes memory and emotional reactions — might be part of the circuit that controls fear learning and memory.

In particular, a region called the central amygdala was thought to be a passive relay for the signals relayed within this circuit.

Li and colleagues observed neurons in a region of the central amygdala called the lateral subdivision, “lit up” in a particular strain of mice while studying this circuit.

“Neuroscientists believed that changes in the strength of the connections onto neurons in the central amygdala must occur for fear memory to be encoded, but nobody had been able to actually show this,” Li said in a statement. “We find that the fear memory in the central amygdala can modify the circuit in a way that translates into action — or what we call the fear response.”

The findings were published in Nature Neuroscience.

Expert: How To Avoid Super Bowl Binging

DALLAS (UPI) — For those keeping to their New Year’s resolution of eating healthier or losing weight, a Super Bowl party need not be a dieter’s downfall, a U.S. expert says.

Lona Sandon, a clinical nutritionist at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, said for those who made the pledge to lose weight, there are ways to stay on track if invited to a fast-food, calorie-laden Super Bowl party.

“There are plenty of tricks and tips for both partygoers and party hosts to help provide alternatives to full-throttle calorie binging,” Sandon said in a statement.

— Eat a lower-calorie meal just before going to the party or a salad so you already feel full.

— Drink water instead of other drinks to help you feel full during the party.

— Drink water instead of beer when eating salty foods.

— Instead of depriving yourself of favorite foods, eat smaller portions. You’re less likely to binge eat if you don’t feel deprived.

— Wait 15 to 20 minutes before going back for seconds or dessert.

— Take a small sampling of the items you would like to taste.

— Make your selections, then move away from the serving table.

— Ask for a smaller plate and allow yourself one serving.

— If going back for seconds, pick the veggies: grape tomatoes, celery sticks, red pepper sticks, baby carrots.

Grilling: An Open Source Of Flame

DALLAS (UPI) — Grilling can provide some tasty dishes for a Super Bowl party, but it also can cause unexpected burns, scalding and fires, a U.S. physician says.

“When you’re smelling the barbecue, it’s easy to forget that grills — both gas and charcoal — are still an open source of flame and a potential danger,” Dr. Brett Arnoldo, a burn surgeon at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, said in a statement.

Arnoldo and his colleagues say:

— Don’t pour water directly on coals. Beware of steam that can rise up unexpectedly and scald.

— Use baking powder to help contain grease fires. Always have an extinguisher nearby in case flames get out of control or something catches fire.

— Keep charcoal fluid out of the reach of children and pets and away from any source of heat, including grills, fire pits and chimneys.

— Never leave a lit grill unattended. Children and pets should remain at least 3 feet from a grill to help avoid burns or accidentally knocking over the grill.

— Don’t lean directly over the grill. Be aware of clothing such as scarves, shirt tails or apron strings that can catch fire when bending over. Consider flame-retardant oven mitts and long utensils to avoid burns.

— Never try to move a hot grill. Wait for coals to cool off before disposing.

Burning charcoal produces carbon monoxide, a colorless and odorless gas so never burn charcoal indoors or in tents, RVs, campers or other enclosed spaces, Arnoldo said.

Tackling Diabetes At The Super Bowl Party

DALLAS (UPI) — Parties can present a challenge for those with diabetes, so it’s important to have a game plan before tackling the Super Bowl spread, a U.S. expert says.

“Managing diabetes is really about making healthy food choices and controlling portions,” Dr. Deborah Clegg, a diabetes nutritional specialist at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, said in a statement.

If hosting a party, include healthy options and for those trying to control diabetes bring some food yourself or coordinate with other family and friends with diabetes to ensure the table includes healthier options, Clegg said.

Clegg suggests zero “penalties” for eating these foods:

— Salad options, including sugar-free and low-calorie dressings.

— Unlimited beverages such as water, unsweetened tea, coffee and calorie-free diet sodas.

— Grilled fish, skinless chicken or turkey, and/or soy-based “veggie” burgers.

— Low or non-fat cheeses, yogurt and skim milk.

Five-yard penalties — go sparingly and watch portion sizes of these foods:

— Other vegetables in more limited amounts such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, artichokes, carrots, cauliflower, cabbage, eggplant and okra.

— Fruit such as apples, peaches and most berries.

— Whole grain options for rice, pasta and breads in small portions.

— Beans/legumes such as kidney, pinto or black beans, chick peas and lentils.

15-yard penalty for consumption of these items:

— Cookies, pies, desserts.

— Potato chips, high-fat dips and high-fat crackers.

— Regular sodas, alcohol and sweetened beverages.

Jobs That Pay On Two Years Of College

CHICAGO (UPI) — A four-year college degree still counts, but there are jobs that pay well with less education, U.S. employment firm CareerBuilder said Thursday.

CareerBuilder, along with Economic Modeling Specialists, compiled a list of top-paying jobs that require an associates degree, which is two years of schooling at the college level.

Among the top-paying jobs that require two years of college are radiation therapist and dental hygienist, which average pay of more than $70,000 annually.

Paying an average of $60,000 or more are nuclear medicine technician, registered nurse, fashion designer, diagnostic medical sonographer and aerospace engineering and operations technician.

If none of those cut it, air traffic controllers earn an average of $113,547 per year with a two-year degree, CareerBuilder said.

But Brent Rasmussen, president of CareerBuilder North America, said a four-year degree has its rewards.

“Nearly one in five employers — 18 percent — reported that their educational requirements for jobs in their organizations have increased over the last five years,” Rasmussen said.

Options for workers with four-year degrees include petroleum engineer jobs that average $122,242; airline pilots, co-pilots and flight engineers, who earn an average $105,518, and nuclear engineers who earn an average of $99,715.

Four year degrees can also help land a job as a computer hardware engineer, software developer, chemical engineer, electronics engineer, actuary or atmospheric and space scientist, all of which average $90,000 per year or better, CareerBuilder said.

First-Time Jobless Claims Rise By 38,000

WASHINGTON (UPI) — The U.S. Labor Department said first-time jobless benefits claims rose by 38,000 in the week that ended Saturday.

Initial claims for unemployment benefits had dipped to pre-recession levels in the previous two weeks with a decline of 42,000. The latest week erased most of that gain.

The department said Thursday that the previous week’s estimate of 330,000 was left unrevised.

For the week ending Saturday, total first-time unemployment benefits claims came to 368,000. The four-week rolling average for the week increased by 250 to 352,000.

In the current week, the unadjusted advance number of first-time unemployment benefits claims under state programs totaled 366,596 for the week, a 70,429 drop from the previous week, the Labor Department said.

For the comparable week of 2012, there were 422,287 initial claims.

Job Cuts Relatively Stable In January

CHICAGO (UPI) — U.S. layoff announcements were relatively muted in January, a private outplacement firm said Thursday.

The job cuts total was 24 percent higher than December 2012, but 24 percent lower than January 2012, the firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas said.

There were 32,556 announced job cuts in December and 40,430 in January. December’s figure gave 2012 the lowest total since 1997.

January’s total is the third lowest for the first month of the year since 1993, when the firm began keeping records, outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas said in a statement.

In January, financial and retail companies posted the most layoffs with 8,578 and 6,676 job cuts announced, respectively. For the financial sector that was a slight rise from January 2012, but for retailers it was a 46 percent decline from the first month last year.

Chief Executive Officer John Challenger said the relatively low layoff numbers indicate “that employers do not foresee a prolonged decline in economic activity.”

“In fact, recent data showing increased consumer spending … suggest that the economy is heading upward in the early part of the new year,” Challenger said.

Spending Growth Slowed In December

WASHINGTON (UPI) —  U.S. consumer spending rose marginally in December — half the pace of November’s gain — the Commerce Department said Thursday.

Consumers spent $22.6 billion more than they did in November, as spending rose 0.2 percent after rising 0.4 percent in November. But the gain was outpaced by a 2.6 percent rise in personal incomes, the department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis said.

With income growth rising faster than spending, disposable Income, sums taken in above and beyond what was spent on basic needs, rose 2.7 percent in the month.

The bureau said incomes in November and December were “boosted by accelerated and special dividend payments to persons and by accelerated bonus payments and other irregular pay … in anticipation of changes in individual income tax rates.”

Dividend and bonus pay was accelerated to beat a likely income tax increase. In early January, the tax rate was raised for individuals earning $400,000 per year or above and for households with total earnings of $450,000 per year or above.

Mortgage Rates Climb In Week

WASHINGTON (UPI) — Long-term U.S. mortgage rates rose in the week that ended Thursday, with the incline defining a new trend,  the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp. said.

In the week, 30-year interest rates hit a high unseen since September. Coming off of a historic low reached Nov. 21. However, rates are perceptibly starting “to trend higher amid a growing economy led in part by the recovering housing market,” Freddie Mac said.

In the week, the average 30-year fixed-rate mortgage interest rate rose from 3.42 percent to 3.53 percent with an average 0.7 point, Freddie Mac said.

One point is equal to 1 percent of the amount of the loan and is typically paid up front. It includes a corresponding discount on the loan’s long-term interest rates.

Interest rates for 30-year, fixed-rate loans were at 3.87 percent in the same week a year earlier.

Interest rates for 15-year fixed rate loans rose from 2.71 percent to 2.81 percent with an average 0.7 points. The average rate for 15-year loans with fixed rates stood at 3.14 percent a year earlier.

Rates for five-year adjustable rate mortgages climbed from 2.67 percent to 2.7 percent with an average of 0.6 points. A year earlier, rates for these loans averaged 2.8 percent.

One-year adjustable rate mortgages using 10-year bonds as a benchmark, averaged 2.59 percent with 0.5 points in the week, up from 2.57 percent in the previous week.

One-year Treasury-indexed loans were at 2.76 percent in the same week of 2012.

“Mortgage rates continued to trend upwards this week amid a growing economy led in part by the recovering housing market. For instance, new home sales totaled 367,000 in 2012, the most in three years and reflected the first annual increase in seven years,” said Frank Nothaft, vice president and chief economist at Freddie Mac.

City Considers Rat Bounty

ST. CLAIR SHORES, Mich., (UPI) —  Officials in a Michigan city said they are considering a $5-per-rat bounty to help combat the local rodent problem.

St. Clair Shores Acting City Manager Mike Smith said the bounty proposal is among the measures being considered by the city, which is also mulling more secure trash cans and education programs for residents on how to keep the rats away from their homes, WJBK-TV, Detroit, reported Thursday.

“When we first heard it, it was like oh come on. Really? A bounty. But then we talked about it some more. We said if it does help us find out where the issues are, it may be something worth considering. We know we’re not going to trap our way out of rats being in existence,” Smith said.

However, some residents fighting infestations said they think a bounty program would be a waste of funds.

“The bounty for the rats I think is kind of ridiculous,” homeowner Heather Hawkins said. “Five dollars a rat — I could’ve gotten $55 this summer. That’s $55 they could’ve put towards solving the problem.”

Monkeys Pick 49ers To Win Super Bowl

GALVESTON, Texas, (UPI) —  A Texas educational complex said its monkeys used iPads to predict the San Francisco 49ers will come out ahead of the Baltimore Ravens in the Super Bowl.

Moody Gardens Galveston Island said two saki monkeys were given an iPad and each tapped a different team’s logo to predict the outcome of Sunday’s big game, The Houston Chronicle reported Wednesday.

A third monkey, named Frankie, was given the iPad to cast the deciding vote, and he made his preference known by drawing frown faces on the Ravens’ logo.

“Frankie put frown faces all over the Ravens’ team [logo], so I think he’s pretty determined that San Francisco is gonna win,” said Jerri Hamachek, marketing and public relations manager at Moody Gardens.

Hamachek said the park’s biologists use iPads as part of en enrichment program designed to increase the activities of the monkeys while in captivity.

Ohio Senate Sign Misspells ‘Education’

COLUMBUS, Ohio, (UPI) —  A sign commissioned by the Ohio state Senate for the Statehouse misspells the word “education” as “educateion.”

Officials said the company hired to make the sign — which was meant to read “Finance-Education Subcommittee” — misspelled the word “education” as “educateion,” website StateImpact Ohio reported Wednesday.

The mistake was noticed before the sign was posted and was being corrected, officials said.

Dog Lights Stove Top Fire

SOUTH ELGIN, Ill.,  (UPI) —  Firefighters in Illinois said a dog turned on an oven burner and caused $100,000 worth of damage to a home.

South Elgin Fire Department Lt. Todd Erickson said they extinguished the flames Monday and discovered the fire originated from a stove burner that had been turned on, WBBM-TV, Chicago, reported Wednesday.

Firefighters spoke to the owner and discovered one of his dogs “was notorious for jumping up on the stove and turning on the burners,” Erickson said.

He said a pizza box on top of the stove then caught fire.

“The dog had jumped up, turned on the stove, lit the box and proceeded to start the cabinets on fire,” Erickson said.

Firefighters said the dog and other pets inside the house at the time of the incident were not injured.

Mayor Tries To Get Quadricycles Off Street

LAKEWOOD, Ohio, (UPI) —  The mayor of an Ohio city said he is trying to close a legal loophole allowing Rhodes Cars — commonly called quadricycles — on city streets.

Lakewood Mayor Michael Summers said he has been speaking with Ryan Nowlin, chairman of the Public Safety Committee, about closing a city code loophole that allows the vehicles to be driven on the streets, the Sun (Cleveland) News reported Wednesday.

“[The way the code is currently,] Judge [Patrick] Carroll has said I can’t make [quadricycles] illegal,” Summers said. “The judge read the ordinance as it is on the books, and that ordinance dealt with toy vehicles. I worry this could create a safety hazard.”

Summers said he is concerned about the safety of the vehicles, which do not have seatbelts or lights.

“We’re talking about a 5-foot wide vehicle,” Summers said. “A car may not see it on the road, or a driver may get impatient and try to go around it. The backseat of the quadricycle is basically the backseat of a minivan attached to it.”

Senator: Health Exchange Like Holocaust

BOISE, Idaho, (UPI) —  An Idaho state senator, in an email and on her Twitter page, compared the health insurance exchanges mandated by the Affordable Care Act to the Holocaust.

State Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll, a Republican, said the federal government was taking advantage of private insurers and would “pull the trigger” on them in the future, the Boise Spokesman-Review reported Thursday.

“The insurance companies are creating their own tombs,” she said in an email. “Much like the Jews boarding the trains to concentration camps, private insurers are used by the feds to put the system in place because the federal government has no way to set up the exchange. Based on legislation and the general process that is written toward this legislation, the federal government will want nothing to do with private insurance companies. The feds will have a national system of health insurance and they will eliminate the insurance companies.”

Nuxoll defended her analogy, saying she wanted people to “hear the truth and to be aware that what is being presented before us is a socialistic program.”

“There is no disrespect for any group or people with the analogy,” she said.

In an email that was linked from her Twitter page, Nuxoll said a Spokesman Review reporter questioned her about the analogy, “implying that it was inappropriate and wrong to use the analogy.”

“My question to [the reporter] and all of you is; would it be any different had I changed the subject matter from Jews to Catholics? Or any other group of people that were victim to annihilation?” she wrote.

Sen. Brent Hill, also a Republican, said he didn’t fault Nuxoll because the matter “is a very emotional issue for a lot of people.”

Democratic Gov. Butch Otter’s legislation, which favors a state-based health insurance exchange program rather than a federally run exchange, was introduced in a Senate committee Tuesday and has the support of the state’s health insurance industry.

“I am shocked by that message,” said Marnie Packard, manager of Idaho government relations for PacificSource Health Plans, one of five major Idaho health insurers participating in a coalition advocating the state-based exchange. “I think that some of the terms that she used can be very offensive to a lot of people.”

Under the Affordable Care Act, the exchanges serve as an online portal for consumers to shop for health insurance.

Obama Uncle Seeks Permanent Residency

BOSTON, (UPI) —  Illegal alien Onyango Obama, President Barack Obama’s uncle, agreed to a December court date in Boston as he seeks to obtain permanent U.S. resident status.

A Kenyan national who was ordered deported in 1992, Onyango Obama is pinning his hopes on a federal immigration law that allows permanent U.S. residence for illegal aliens who entered the United States before 1972 and have demonstrated “good moral character,” the Boston Herald said Thursday, noting Obama was arrested for drunken driving in 2011.

The strategy was revealed in a brief hearing in Boston’s immigration court Wednesday before Judge Leonard I. Shapiro, the judge who granted asylum to Zeituni Onyango, Obama’s sister, in 2010.

Obama’s hearing Wednesday was advanced on the judicial calendar, preceding other immigration cases, but Boston immigration attorney Desmond FitzGerald said it was not a case of preferential treatment but of the simplicity of the case.

“It tells us the case has very clear issues that will not likely take a tremendous amount of time to adjudicate. Very likely the judge will be able to render a decision the day he hears the case.”

Obama’s next court date is Dec. 3.