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Hiccupping actually helps babies to develop

November 14, 2019

Most of us don’t know why we get the hiccups. They arrive as unexpected and annoying interludes in our otherwise orderly days—and we use a variety of questionable (and even silly) methods to get rid of them.

However, now scientists at University College London have discovered that hiccups might play a crucial role in our early development—by helping babies to regulate their breathing, MSN reports.

In a study led by Lorenzo Fabrizi, a specialist in Neuroscience, Physiology, and Pharmacology at the university, researchers who monitored 13 newborn babies found that hiccupping triggered a large wave of brain signals that could aid in their development.

Indeed, Fabrizi said in a statement, this brain activity might help babies “to learn how to monitor the breathing muscles,” eventually leading to an ability to control breathing voluntarily.

He added: “When we are born, the circuits which process body sensations are not fully developed, so the establishment of such networks is a crucial developmental milestone for newborns.”

Since the babies involved in the study were pre-term and full-term, ranging from 30 to 42 weeks gestational age, the scientists believe this development could be typical of the final trimester of pregnancy.

According to the researchers, fetuses and newborn infants often hiccup, MSN reported.

The phenomenon is seen as early as nine weeks into pregnancy, and pre-term infants—those born at least three weeks premature—spend approximately 15 minutes hiccupping every day.

The pre-term and full-term newborns involved in the study had electrodes placed on their scalps and sensors on their torsos to monitor for hiccups.

The researchers found that contractions in the babies’ diaphragms produced three brainwaves, and believe that through the third brainwave babies may be able to link the ‘hic’ sound of the hiccup to the physical contraction they feel.

Kimberley Whitehead, the study’s lead author, told CNN: “The muscle contraction of a hiccup is quite big

Most of us don’t know why we get the hiccups. They arrive as unexpected and annoying interludes in our otherwise orderly days—and we use a variety of questionable (and even silly) methods to get rid of them.

However, now scientists at University College London have discovered that hiccups might play a crucial role in our early development—by helping babies to regulate their breathing, MSN reports.

In a study led by Lorenzo Fabrizi, a specialist in Neuroscience, Physiology, and Pharmacology at the university, researchers who monitored 13 newborn babies found that hiccupping triggered a large wave of brain signals that could aid in their development.

Indeed, Fabrizi said in a statement, this brain activity might help babies “to learn how to monitor the breathing muscles,” eventually leading to an ability to control breathing voluntarily.

He added: “When we are born, the circuits which process body sensations are not fully developed, so the establishment of such networks is a crucial developmental milestone for newborns.”

Since the babies involved in the study were pre-term and full-term, ranging from 30 to 42 weeks gestational age, the scientists believe this development could be typical of the final trimester of pregnancy.

According to the researchers, fetuses and newborn infants often hiccup, MSN reported.

The phenomenon is seen as early as nine weeks into pregnancy, and pre-term infants—those born at least three weeks premature—spend approximately 15 minutes hiccupping every day.

The pre-term and full-term newborns involved in the study had electrodes placed on their scalps and sensors on their torsos to monitor for hiccups.

The researchers found that contractions in the babies’ diaphragms produced three brainwaves, and believe that through the third brainwave babies may be able to link the ‘hic’ sound of the hiccup to the physical contraction they feel.

Kimberley Whitehead, the study’s lead author, told CNN: “The muscle contraction of a hiccup is quite bigit’s good for the developing brain because it suddenly gives a big boost of input, which helps the brain cells to all link together for representing that particular body part.”

She added that hiccups have no known advantage for adults, and suggested they could be an example of “a hangover from early periods of our life that persists into later life.”

The same researchers have previously theorized that a baby’s kicks in the womb may help it to create a mental map of its own body.

Their new findings may show the same process occurring internally.

Research contact: @MSNi

Over and out: Nike to complete pilot with Amazon Retail; sell its own products directly

November 14, 2019

Nike is breaking up with Amazon, Bloomberg reports. The athletic shoe and apparel brand will stop selling its products directly through Amazon Retail—ending a pilot program that began in 2017.

The split reflects a massive pivot in Nike’s retail strategy. It also follows the hiring of ex-EBay Inc. Chief Executive Officer John Donahoe as the company’s next CEO, effective January 13, 2020—a move that signaled the company is going even more aggressively after e-commerce sales, apparently without Amazon’s help.

Indeed, the footwear titan says the move is just one piece of its plan to shift to a “more direct, personal” retail experience.

Specifically, the company said in a statement, “As part of Nike’s focus on elevating consumer experiences through more direct, personal relationships, we have made the decision to complete our current pilot with Amazon Retail. “We will continue to invest in strong, distinctive partnerships for Nike with other retailers and platforms to seamlessly serve our consumers globally.”

Nike said it will continue to use Amazon’s cloud-computing unit, Amazon Web Services, to power its apps and Nike.com services, Bloomberg reported.

Amazon, through a spokeswoman, declined to comment. The company has been preparing for the move, according to two people familiar with the matter. It has been recruiting third-party sellers with Nike products so that the merchandise is still widely available on the site, they said. Amazon has also been working to stem the flow of counterfeits on the site through various initiatives, including one project that lets brands put unique codes on their products to make it easier to identify fakes.

Nike shares rose as much as 1.4% in New York trading Wednesday, while Amazon was off as much as 0.6.

The question now, according to Bloomberg, is whether other Amazon partners follow Nike’s lead. The financial news outlet said, “Few other brands possess the kind of muscle Nike has, so it may be harder for them to leave.”

“Nike has enormous reach and its products are in demand, so it can afford to be selective about where its products are distributed because customers will come find Nike where it is offered,” Neil Saunders, managing director at GlobalData Retail, said in an interview. “I don’t think as many brands can be as selective as Nike.”

For years, the only Nike products sold on Amazon were gray-market items—and counterfeit—sold by others. Nike had little control over how they were listed, what information about the product was available and whether the products were even real.

That changed in 2017, when Nike joined Amazon’s brand registry program. Executives hoped the move would give them more control over Nike goods sold on the e-commerce site, more data on their customers, and added power to remove fake Nike listings. The news of the Amazon tie-up, which Nike executives called a “small pilot,” sent shoe-retailer stocks tumbling and left many wondering if other major Amazon holdouts would quickly follow.

But Nike reportedly struggled to control the Amazon marketplace. Third-party sellers whose listings were removed simply popped up under a different name. Plus, the official Nike products had fewer reviews and, therefore,received worse positioning on the site.

Analysts said physical sporting-goods retailers would benefit from Nike’s departure from Amazon.

Research contact: @business

Taylor: Trump cared more about politically motivated Biden ‘investigations’ than ally Ukraine

November 14, 2019

Ambassador William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, on Wednesday said that America’s Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland told a member of his staff in July that President Donald Trump cared more about a politically motivated investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden than he did about longtime ally Ukraine.

According to a report by The Hill, Taylor—who delivered public testimony under oath at the first televised impeachment inquiry—talked to Sondland on July 26.

That conversation came just one day after a now-infamous phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on July 25—during which the U.S. president allegedly tried to coerce the new leader into announcing that he would investigate the Biden family by withholding $400 million in congressionally approved military aid to the small nation.

 Taylor said his staffer, whom he did not name, overheard a phone call between Sondland and Trump during which the president asked the EU ambassador about the investigations.

“Ambassador Sondland called President Trump and told him of his meetings in Kyiv. The member of my staff could hear President Trump on the phone, asking Ambassador Sondland about ‘the investigations,’” Taylor said, according to The Hill’s report.

“Ambassador Sondland told President Trump that the Ukrainians were ready to move forward. Following the call with President Trump, the member of my staff asked Ambassador Sondland what President Trump thought about Ukraine. Ambassador Sondland responded that President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden, which [Trump attorney Rudy] Giuliani was pressing for,” he continued.

Taylor said that Sondland made the comments following a meeting with a top Zelensky aide, Andriy Yermak, in Ukraine. Taylor said he was not aware of the details when he testified behind closed doors in connection with the impeachment inquiry last month and that he was including it for “completeness.”

“I reported this information through counsel to the State Department’s Legal Adviser, as well as to counsel for both the Majority and the Minority on the Committee. It is my understanding that the Committee is following up on this matter,” Taylor said.

Sondland, who testified privately before the committees before Taylor, has also corrected his remarks to say that he told Yermak during a meeting on September 1 that aid to Ukraine would not likely flow until Kyiv made a public statement about pursuing investigations related to 2016 election interference and Burisma, a Ukrainian energy firm with ties to Hunter Biden.

Sondland has sought to distinguish the issue of Burisma from the Bidens, though other witnesses have connected the two. Trump specifically named Biden on the call with Zelensky in July.

As The Hill noted, the Trump Administration eventually released military aid to Ukraine, and Kyiv did not make a public statement about pursuing investigations sought by Giuliani and Trump.

Trump has insisted he did nothing wrong in his interactions with Zelensky, describing the July 25 phone call as “perfect” and accusing Democrats of a partisan effort to damage him politically. Trump has said he wanted Ukraine to investigate “corruption” and that his comments had nothing to do with politics.

Research contact: @thehill

An AI model can predict when each of us will die—but its developers don’t know how

November 13, 2019

The “die” has been cast—and an AI model knows it. It seems like something out of a thriller or a science fiction movie: Researchers from Pennsylvania healthcare provider Geisinger have trained an artificial intelligence model to predict which patients are at a high risk of dying within the next yearNew Scientist reports.

The researchers tasked an AI model with examining the results of 1.77 million electrocardiogram tests conducted on nearly 400,000 participants in order to predict who was at a high risk of dying within the next year. The goal: To detect patterns that could indicate future cardiac problems, including heart attacks and atrial fibrillation.

As a control, the research team ran two versions of the AI: In one, the algorithm was given only raw ECG data, which measures voltage over time. In the other, it was fed ECG data in combination with patient age and sex.

The results were impressive (and a little scary). The AI model performed better than existing methods, according to the researchers, at distinguishing between patients who would die within a year and those who would survive.

No matter what, the voltage-based model was always better than any model you could build out of things that we already measure from an ECG,” Brandon Fornwalt, lead researcher of the study at Geisinger, told New Scientist.

The model even detected heart problems in patients who were previously cleared by cardiologists.

That finding suggests that the model is seeing things that humans probably can’t see, or at least that we just ignore and think are normal,” Fornwalt added. “AI can potentially teach us things that we’ve been maybe misinterpreting for decades.”

But there’s one major catch with Geisinger’s AI: The researchers still are struggling to explain exactly how it works.

Research contact: @GeisingerHealth

Are you really a ‘Director of First Impressions,’ or is this a case of putting lipstick on a pig?

November 13, 2019

Underwater Ceramic Technician? Shaft Serviceman? Brand Warrior? Job titles used to be straightforward. They conveyed areas of responsibility, levels of knowledge, and status within an organization.

However, according to Fit Small Business—a New York City-based digital resource for SMBs—thanks to a diverse economy and an historically talented workforce, companies and job-seekers are finding creative ways to stand out.

This trend, FSB says in a November 12 press release, “has paved the way for absurd titles like Waste Removal Engineer (a.k.a. Trash Collector) and Director of First Impressions (a.k.a. Receptionist). These inflated titles not only exaggerate a person’s skill set and expertise, but they also tend to emphasize meaningless distinctions that can create a toxic work culture.”

The editorial staff at FSB has evaluated hundreds of inflated titles—and has created a list of the 15 most inflated job titles of 2019.  The best of the best (or the worst of the worst, depending on how you see them) are the following:

  • Underwater Ceramic Technician: Your average dishwasher
  • Therapeutic Integration Specialist: A fancy term for a teacher’s aide
  • Sandwich Artist: A staff member at your nearby Subway restaurant
  • Director of First Impressions. Lavish jargon for a receptionist
  • Loss Prevention Officer. A mall cop
  • Meat Distribution Engineer: A title used to describe the kind folks who staff the deli counter at your local supermarket
  • Trust and Safety Wrangler: A term for the community moderator who polices online sites for malicious activity and content
  • Waste Removal Engineer:  Your friendly neighborhood trash collector
  • Reprographics Associate: A fancy name for an individual who specializes in making copies and sending out faxes
  • Customer Happiness Hero:  An elaborate alternative for customer service representative
  • Vision Clearance Engineer: Another term for the window washer
  • Shaft Serviceman: The industry jargon for an individual who works in a mine
  • Brand Warrior:  A marketing associate
  • Actions and Repercussions Adviser: A more befitting moniker for the human resources officer
  • Digital Prophet: A website marketing manager

Research contact: @FitSmallBiz

Is Nikki Haley positioning herself to replace Mike Pence on Trump’s 2020 ticket?

November 13, 2019

She is one of the few Trump Administration headliners who has departed while still on good terms with the president. And on her current book tour, Nikki Haley, the former ambassador to the United Nations, has characterized the POTUS as “truthful.”

Now, political pundits are asking, does Haley have an agenda? And more specifically, is she angling to replace Mike Pence on the 2020 GOP ticket as vice president?

Less than three months ago, Yahoo News pointed out on November 12, Haley shut down speculation that she was seeking to replace VP Mike Pence.

“Enough of the false rumors,” she tweeted on August 21. “Vice President Pence has been a dear friend of mine for years. He has been a loyal and trustworthy VP to the President. He has my complete support.”

But the speculation has resumed during Haley’s promotional tour for her new book, which some observers—including the hosts of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough—believe is doubling as an audition for the role of Trump’s running mate.

Haley’s book, entitled With All Due Respect: Defending America With Grit and Grace, which was released on Tuesday, November 12, is respectful toward Trump and dismissive of some of his other cabinet members, including former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and ex-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, whom she says tried to recruit her to “save the country” by undermining Trump, Yahoo reports.

She writes, “Kelly and Tillerson confided in me that when they resisted the president, they weren’t being insubordinate, they were trying to save the country. ‘We are doing the best we can do to save the country,’ they said. We need you to work with us and help us do it.”

Both Kelly and Tillerson have denied that they were on a mission to undermine Trump. (Kelly told The Washington Post that if providing the president “with the best and most open, legal and ethical staffing advice … is ‘working against Trump,’ then guilty as charged.”)

Haley says she refused to go along with the idea. “Go tell the president what your differences are, and quit if you don’t like what he’s doing,” Haley described her response to CBS News anchor Norah O’Donnell.  “But to undermine a president is really a very dangerous thing.”

In an interview with NBC’s “Today” show, the former South Carolina governor said she told Trump about Kelly and Tillerson’s back-door approach.

In the same interview, Yahoo reports, Haley defended Trump’s requests for Ukraine to investigate his political rivals in exchange for military aid — the basis of the House Democrats’ ongoing impeachment inquiry.

While she refused to say whether she agreed with Trump that his July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was “perfect,” Haley echoed a White House talking point that there was no pressure put on Zelensky.

Research contact: @YahooNews

First adult molars are ‘living fossils’ that hold a health record dating back to the womb

November 12, 2019

Researchers at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada announced some simply jaw-dropping findings on November 11: They have discovered that a person’s first permanent molars carry a life-long record of health information dating back to the womb—storing vital information that can connect maternal health to a child’s health, even hundreds of years later.

Dentin, the material under the enamel that makes up the bulk of a tooth, forms in microscopic layers that compare to the rings of a tree. Adequate formation of those layers is dependent on Vitamin D. Dark streaks develop in periods when the body is deprived of the critical nutrient, usually because of a lack of sunlight.

The researchers, led by anthropologist Megan Brickley, had previously established that such microscopic defects remain in place and can be read later, in the same way a tree trunk can show years of good and poor growth. Because teeth do not decay as rapidly as flesh and bone, they can retain such information for hundreds of years post-mortem.

Combined with other data, Brickley says in a university press release, patterns in dentin can create rich banks of knowledge about past conditions, including the health impacts of living in low-light environments.

“It’s a living fossil of your life, starting in utero,” Brickley says. “Conceivably, it would be possible to remove the molar of anyone and compare their health to the evidence in the tooth.”

Early colonial settlers in Canada, for example, who were often wrapped head to toe, even in summer, commonly developed conditions such as rickets, or died prematurely from other conditions related to poor access to vitamin D.

Now the same team of researchers has established the value of such records, which begin during the original formation of teeth in the fetal stage, for reflecting the health of the mother during pregnancy. All of the body’s primary or “baby” teeth, which start forming in utero, are lost in childhood.

The first permanent molars—which emerge around age six—also start forming in utero and stay in the mouth throughout one’s adult life, where they retain a record of Vitamin D intake dating back to the mother’s pregnancy.

That record provides a critical intergenerational link that can offer valuable clues connecting maternal health to the eventual fate of a child.

“We’ve been able to set out really clear evidence that there is part of the first permanent molar that records what happened in the life of the mother,” Brickley says. “This is a tool that people can use. It can be used in current health research, and in bio-archaeological research.”

The researchers examined modern and archaeological tooth samples, including teeth taken from two skeletons from 19th century Quebec—one from a three-year-old girl who had survived rickets as a toddler, and one from a young man. The toddler’s undescended molar showed that her mother had suffered a Vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy—a possible clue to the child’s early death. The young man’s molar also showed his mother had suffered Vitamin D deficiency, raising the possibility of a connection between his mother’s health and his early death.

In that time, Brickley explained, social practices and weather conditions meant that pregnant women in particular would have had very little exposure to the sun, before it became clear how necessary sunlight or substitute sources of Vitamin D are to good health.

Research contact: brickley@mcmaster.ca

Greater Chicago Food Depository plans massive kitchen that will provide home-delivery of 4 million meals annually

November 12, 2019

The Greater Chicago Food Depository is cooking up plans that will provide what it describes as a “seismic shift” in the scale and dispersal of its operations, as it anticipates mounting demand for home deliveries from the elderly, people with disabilities, and others who can’t always to make it to a food pantry, The Chicago Tribune reported on November 11.

The Midwest’s largest food bank plans to build a 40,000-square-foot kitchen on a vacant lot adjacent to its headquarters on Chicago’s Southwest Side, where it will prepare meals for home delivery. Once fully operational, the kitchen will be able to produce 4 million meals a year.

The $50 million project, which it plans to fund with philanthropic help, represents a major expansion of the mission of the food bank, which primarily gathers and delivers groceries to food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters and other organizations throughout Chicago and Cook County.

With the population of older adults poised to explode, and many people still struggling to put food on the table despite the nation’s economic recovery, the food bank had a “deeply sobering” realization that a new strategy was necessary to address the need, CEO Kate Maehr told the Tribune.

“We have a recovery that has left many people without their own personal safety net, underemployed, and there is a new tidal wave of need that is poised to hit this community, and we have a responsibility to be ready for that,” she said. “This is a seismic shift.”

The food depository estimates that there is currently an unmet annual need of about 10 million home-delivered meals for low-income older adults and people with disabilities who have a hard time leaving their homes in Cook County. That number could grow to 13.8 million by 2030 as the population ages.

The number of adults over 65 in Cook County is expected to rise 48% by 2030, the news outlet reports—adding about 117,000 lower-income older adults to the area, according to an analysis by the food depository based on census and other projections.

The food depository plans to deliver the meals it prepares at its facility to its community partners, who will then do the last-mile deliveries to people’s homes. Some groups may use the meal service to hold communal dinners to bring people together.

The meals prepared at the kitchen will include hot, cold and frozen meals, some individually packaged and others for communal eating, like a pan of lasagna. The goal is to produce healthy, restaurant-quality meals tailored to cultural, medical or dietary specifications, with user-friendly packaging.

“One thing we have learned with older adults and people with disabilities is that sometimes a package can create a real barrier to accessing healthy food,” Maehr told the newspaper.

The food depository’s expanded campus will include a nutrition education center and community cafe, run by a yet-to-be-announced partner organization, that will connect the new kitchen with the headquarters. The center will feature a demonstration kitchen for classes on how to prepare healthy food, for use by students, health care professionals and others in the community.

There also will be an urban garden for growing produce, run in partnership with a nonprofit.

The depository has promised that the new meal prep focus will not disrupt the its existing work collecting and delivering groceries across a network of 700 partners. The network received nearly 1.5 million visits to grocery programs like food pantries during the fiscal year that ended in June.

The food depository plans to break ground next summer and open by summer 2021. It has no public funds for construction at this point and is relying on donations to make it happen. The organization purchased the land where it plans to build for $3.6 million last December from BNSF Railway.

Research contact: krmaehr@gcfd.org

John Oliver: Lindsey Graham’s defense of Trump is he’s a ‘dumb baby’

November 12, 2019

This has not been a good week so far for “Baby Trump”—either the balloon or the POTUS, The Daily Beast reported on November 11.

On November 9, as the balloon version of Baby Trump floated over throngs of college football fans in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, it was attacked, slashed, and brought to ground. (The perpetrator has since been arrested.)

Then, comedian John Oliver opened his Sunday night, November 10, broadcast of HBO’s Last Week Tonight by taking aim at South Carolina GOP Senator Lindsey Graham’s latest defense of President Donald Trump in the impeachment inquiry—which, The Daily Beast said, Oliver likened to Graham calling Trump an “idiot.”

Describing the Ukraine scandal at the heart of impeachment as “Stupid Watergate II: The Scandal That’s Like Getting a Rubber Chicken Stuck in Your Ass,” Oliver first joked about the president seemingly discovering who’s really to blame for everything by playing a clip of Trump during a recent White House lawn press gaggle.

“It’s called the swamp,” Trump yelled. “And you know what happened? And you know what I did? A big favor. I caught the swamp. I caught them all. Let’s see what happens. Nobody else could have done that but me.”

Laughing, the HBO host said this could actually be “Donald Trump at his Donald Trump-iest” as it showed the president shouting something nonsensical before bragging about how great he was at doing it.

“Nothing there made sense,” Oliver declared. “And yet you just know in two days his website will be sold out of ‘I Caught the Swamp’ hats ’cause that’s the f**king world we live in right now.”

“But that wasn’t even the most desperate defense of the president employed this week,” he added. “That honor must go to Lindsey Graham—a man whose very face looks like a nana who just found out what ‘throuples’ are.”

Graham, as Oliver noted, recently insisted that the president was “incapable of forming a quid pro quo” when it came to dangling military aid in return for Ukraine investigating his political rivals, claiming it was because the Trump policy toward Ukraine was “incoherent.”

“So wait, to be clear here, Graham’s defense has gone from ‘there was no quid pro quo’ to ‘Trump is too dumb to do one?’” Oliver wondered aloud.

The comedian quipped that the South Carolina senator is essentially saying “the president’s an idiot” before explaining why Graham’s argument was “terrifying.”

“He’s like a baby, stumbling around aimlessly in a diaper full of his own boom-boom,” Oliver concluded. “And that is why he must stay in office and retain access to the nuclear codes!”

Research contact: @thedailybeast

TrumpTally

POTUS Approval Ratings
(Approval/disapproval of President Trump by U.S. adults, as established by key nationwide polling organizations)

November 2019

Nov. 4-8 Nov. 11-15 Nov. 18-22 Nov. 25-29

Polling Organization

Economist/YouGov 45/53
Politico/Morning Consult 41/55
Rasmussen Reports 49/50
Real Clear Politics (Average) 44/54

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