Upward Spirals – New Study

Upward Spirals
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University of London study analyzes the upward spirals generated by positive experience, mood, and decision making, compared with the contrary downward ones

It’s long been known that mood biases our judgments and perceptions, but this effect has usually been regarded as irrational or disadvantageous. A new theory published Tuesday in Trends in Cognitive Sciences argues that mood draws on experiences and can, in fact, help us quickly adapt to changes in our environment. For example, experiencing unexpected gains on the stock market should improve a trader’s mood. That positive mood may then cause the trader to take more risks, essentially helping her adapt more quickly to a market that is generally on the rise.

According to the new theory, as people learn from experiences that are colored by their mood, their expectations come to reflect not only the reward associated with each particular state (such as each stock), but also recent changes in the overall availability of reward in their environment. In this way, the existence of mood allows learning to account for the impact of general environmental factors.

“This effect of mood should be useful whenever different sources of reward are interconnected or possess an underlying momentum,” says one of the study’s lead authors, Eran Eldar of University College London. “That may often be the case in the natural as well as in the modern world, as successes in acquiring skills, material resources, social status, and even mating partners may all affect one another.”

Eldar and his colleagues note that positive or negative moods maximize their usefulness by persisting only until expectations are fully in accordance with changes in rewards. (That may be why happiness eventually returns to a baseline level even following highly significant changes in circumstances, including winning the lottery.)

For instance, a negative mood that persists may cause a person to perceive many subsequent outcomes as worse than they really are, leading to a downward spiral. This might turn mood into a “self-fulfilling prophecy” and lead to the onset of a depressive episode. Therefore, by defining a potential function for mood and describing the learning processes that underlie it, the new theory may lead to a better understanding of the causes of mood disorders.

“We think that this novel approach may help reveal what predisposes particular individuals to bipolar disorder and depression,” Eldar says.

Because moods are ubiquitous and have significant impacts on our lives, it is likely that they have conferred a significant competitive advantage throughout the course of evolution. Being moody at times may be a small price to pay for the ability to adapt quickly when facing momentous environmental changes.

This work, “Mood as Representation of Momentum,” was completed by Eldar, Rutledge, Dolan, and Niv, was funded in part by the Wellcome Trust’s Cambridge UCL Mental Health and Neurosciences Network grant, the Max Planck Society, and an Army Research Office award, and was published in Cell’s Trends in Cognitive Sciences.

Processed Meat Is Carcinogenic – World Health Organization

processed meat
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Salami, sausage, ham and bacon — the latest study by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has found a strong link between processed meat and bowel cancer, as well as evidence for probability of such a link also between red meat and bowel cancer.

IARC, which is the World Health Organisation’s cancer research body, classifies compounds’ carcinogenic properties on a scale of decreasing certainty. In group 1 are agents that are definitely carcinogenic to humans; in 2A those that are probably carcinogenic to humans; 2B includes those that are possibly carcinogenic to humans; 3, includes not classifiable agents; and in group 4, those that are probably not carcinogenic to humans.

Processed meat “refers to meat that has been transformed through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking, or other processes to enhance flavour or improve preservation”, includes things like salami, sausage, ham and bacon, and has been ranked in group 1 by IARC, in the same category as tobacco and alcohol.

According to the study, for every 50 grams of processed meat consumed daily, the risk of colorectal cancer increases by 18 per cent.

In their press release Dr Kurt Straif, Head of the IARC Monographs Programme, said: “For an individual, the risk of developing colorectal cancer because of their consumption of processed meat remains small, but this risk increases with the amount of meat consumed. In view of the large number of people who consume processed meat, the global impact on cancer incidence is of public health importance.”

Although the study scores red meat better than processed meat, its 2A classification means it is now on par with glyphosate, a herbicide contained in products such as Monsanto’s Round-Up, the probably carcinogenic properties of which made headlines earlier in the year. However according to IARC, eating red meat is not just linked to bowel but to pancreatic and prostate cancer too.

Meat industry groups and the research institutes they fund reject that eating meat is on par with smoking or other lifestyle causes to cancer, such as alcohol consumption, obesity and lack of exercise. Nutritionists also argue that the benefits of eating red meat regularly, in combination with plenty of fruit, fibre and exercise, counteract the risk to colorectal cancer.

Yet the debate on the health effects of processed and red meat is nothing new, and neither are the recommendations by health practitioners to limit the amounts consumed to reduce the risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease – although the IARC study falls short of setting a safe recommended amount for red meat.

Environmentalists  have too been highlighting for sometime how an increasingly intensive meat industry – responsible for much deforestation, carbon emissions, reliant on fossil fuels and addicted to antibiotics,  is not a sustainable source of food for people and planet.

Even if one doesn’t accept the latest findings by IARC, it seems there are many reasons to limit our processed and red meat intake. Whether a healthy heart or a healthy planet is your thing, good old moderation may well just do the trick.

By Annalisa Dorigo

US Warships On Way To Spratly Islands

US Warships On Way To Spratly Islands
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The Pentagon has confirmed that it will go forward with plans made public last month to sail US Navy ships to the contested Spratly Islands, where China is undertaking large construction projects.

The Arleigh Burke Class Destroyer U.S.S. LASSEN (DDG-82) has been deployed to the South China Sea, sending a message to Beijing that China’s recent claims to the territory are not recognized, according to analysts.

China’s claims to both disputed islands as well as islands belonging to other nations, such as Japan’s Senkaku Islands, have become increasingly aggressive.

The Spratlys, claimed variously by Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam, in addition to China, have become the site of Chinese man-made island construction projects in what has become known as an “artificial land reclamation” enterprise. The locations of the projects are the subject of longstanding and ongoing claims by the other countries.

“Make no mistake: the United States will fly, sail and be deployed wherever it allowed the international law,” stated US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter two weeks ago.

The US has consistently warned China to restrain itself in the region. Among concerns are those regarding the way in which China enforces its territorial claims.

By James Haleavy

Brits Polled On China And Tibet

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A YouGov poll commissioned by campaign group Free Tibet on the eve of the state visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping has found that 69% of respondents agree with the Dalai Lama’s comment that UK policy towards China is about “money, money, money.” Just 8% disagreed with the Tibetan spiritual leader’s full statement, made in an interview in September: “Money, money, money. That’s what this is about. Where is morality?”

The poll also shows that seven in ten (69%) believe that protecting human rights in Tibet is more important than or as important as maintaining good trade relations with China. Only 14% considered human rights in Tibet to be less important than trade relations.

The poll arrives amidst widespread concern that the UK is unwilling to risk provoking Beijing’s ire with public support for Tibet or human rights. No members of the government met the Dalai Lama on his trip to the UK this September and on his recent trip to China, Chancellor George Osborne refused to be drawn on human rights in public statements, winning praise from Chinese state media for “not finding fault over the human rights issue.” Instead, Mr Osborne declared that it was Britain’s goal to be China’s “best partner in the West.”

Free Tibet director Eleanor Byrne-Rosengren said:

“Just last week in a meeting at the Foreign Office, Free Tibet was told that commercial interests do not drive UK policy on China. Our poll confirms just how few people outside Whitehall find that claim credible. The UK has sunk so low in its desperation to curry favour with Beijing that David Cameron isn’t so much rolling out the red carpet as lying under it.

“British policy on Tibet and human rights in China is shameful. Human rights defenders in Tibet and China are paying with their lives and freedom for standing up to China’s government while this government is unwilling to stand up to Beijing at all. The Dalai Lama asked ‘where is morality?’. Right now, it isn’t found in Downing St and the British people know it.”

Tibet campaigners will be staging demonstrations throughout Xi Jinping’s visit, including at Downing St on 21 October as Xi meets Mr Cameron. The will carry a large banner saying Cameron: has China bought your silence? Speak out on Tibet. A digital “advan” will also follow the president in London, carrying a Tibetan flag and a separate image of David Cameron gagged by a Chinese flag, saying Warning: Chinese president in town. Don’t mention Tibet or human rights.

By Alistair Currie

Breivik Will Make First Public Appearance

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Norwegian political mass killer Anders Breivik cannot be refused in his hope to meet the national court, according to the judge in the matter. Breivik is suing his country for alleged human rights violations regarding his imprisonment.

Judge Helen Anenaes Sekulic told government lawyer Marius Kjelstrup Emberland that she could not see the court had any authority to refuse to meet the prisoner if that was his desire.

Breivik has not appeared in public since 2012 when his sentence was handed down for the killing of 77 political targets — family members of the ruling Norwegian Labour Party — during a group retreat on Utoya Island in 2011.

The government lawyer had requested that Breivik appear via video link, but Breivik’s laywer Oystein Storrvik argued that the court would have to see Breivik in person in order to properly understand the effect of his prison conditions.

Breivik is alleging that the conditions of his imprisonment violate articles 3, 8, and 12 of the European Convention of Human Rights. Breivik alleges that he is enduring torture and infringements on his right to private and family life, home and correspondence, as well as, effectively, being barred from finding a marriage partner.

Read more: Breivik May Hunger Strike To Death

Tony Blair Warns US To Take Muslim Extremism More Seriously

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In a speech delivered at New York’s 9/11 Memorial Museum Tuesday, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair told Americans that there is significant support for Islamic extremists and their beliefs among Muslims around the world.

Blair said that while the majority of Muslims “detest extremism,” the percentage that harbor “dangerous” religious prejudice is still large and would have to be rooted out if the threat of Islamic violence were to be quelled.

Read more: 42 Percent of Muslims Polled by Pew Research Think Suicide Bombing and Other Violence Against Civilians Are at Least Occasionally Justified

“The conspiracy theories which illuminate much of the jihadi writings have significant support even amongst parts of the mainstream population of some Muslim countries,” said Blair.

“There are millions of schoolchildren every day in countries round the world – not just in the Middle East – who are taught a view of the world and of their religion which is narrow-minded, prejudicial and therefore, in the context of a globalized world, dangerous.”

Blair also said that attempts to attack Islam’s prejudicial ideas may be considered to be attacks on all Muslims — not just attacks on extremists — but that those concerns have to be overcome in order to address the issue.

Read more: Islamic terrorists have committed 25,000 separate violent acts worldwide that resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths in last 15 years

“If large numbers of people really do believe that the desire of the USA or the west is to disrespect or oppress Islam, then it is not surprising that some find recourse to violence acceptable in order to reassert the ‘dignity’ of the oppressed,” he said.

“If young people are educated that Jews are evil or that anyone who holds a different view of religion is an enemy, it is obvious that this prejudice will give rise, in certain circumstances, to action in accordance with it.

Read more: Religious Persecution and Violence on the Rise Worldwide, Mostly in Muslim and Asian Nations – Report

“The reality is that in parts of the Muslim community a discourse has grown up which is profoundly hostile to peaceful coexistence. Countering this is an essential part of fighting extremism.”

By James Haleavy

England Bans Bags

EU plastic bag law
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Legislation that bans supermarkets from giving out free plastic bags to their customers has finally kicked in in England. Gone are the days of plastic bags bonanza: from today, shoppers will have to pay 5p for each thin-gauge supermarket plastic bag they require.

Some 8.5 billion single-use bags plus some 500,000 reusable were used in 2014 by customers in UK supermarkets, weighing a total of 68,600 tonnes.

In England alone, 19 million single-use plastic bags are given out daily.

Similar legislation already in place in Ireland and Denmark, with France also following suit, has shown to have greatly reduced plastic bags use almost overnight.

The new measure, a welcome step according to environmentalists, applies however only to supermarkets with over 250 employees and does not include other types of bags, such as paper bags. It is therefore deemed to not be going far enough, and to be sending the public mixed messages.

Critics argue that the behaviour change such ban is designed to encourage will be hindered by smaller shops being exempt, with people being able to carry out as normal whenever shopping at these smaller establishments.

While legislation in England may not yet go far enough, it is nonetheless a good step in helping to reduce the amount of plastic blighting our landscapes, choking our wildlife, and finding its way to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch a floating garbage dump twice the size of Texas.

By Annalisa Dorigo

Video used to drum up support for a similar ban in California: