November 2016


Florida’s “stand-your-ground” law has resulted in a 41 percent increase in gun-related -homicides rates in the state, a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association concludes.

Prior to enactment of the law under former Gov. Jeb Bush in 2005, there was an average of 49 gun-related deaths per month in Florida from 1999 to 2004. From 2005 to 2014, the average rate spiked to 69 deaths per month, an increase of 40.8 percent.

At the same time, homicide rates went down in four comparable states — New York, New Jersey, Ohio, and Virginia — that do not have stand-your-ground laws.

“The implementation of Florida’s stand-your-ground self-defense law was associated with a significant increase in homicides and homicides by firearm but no change in rates of suicide or suicide by firearm,” JAMA reports.

mp-446-vikingOverall homicide rates in Florida rose from an average rate of 82 per month to 99, a 21 percent increase.

Researchers from the University of Oxford, along with the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine in the United Kingdom, used date from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control for their analysis.

“Our study shows that the enactment of the law is linked with a sudden reversal in the decline in homicide rates and homicide rates have risen particularly where guns are involved,” said Lead author Dr David Humphreys, Associate Professor of Evidence-Based Social Intervention and Policy at the University of Oxford. “We hope these findings will inform the ongoing debates about the implications that Stand Your Ground laws may have for public safety in Florida and other US states.”

The latest high profile stand your ground case is still grinding through the courts after almost three years, meanwhile.

The law was cited by Curtis Reeves, a retired police captain who said he shot a man in self-defense during an argument about texting in a movie theater north of Tampa. He said he believed he was being attacked and pulled his gun under threat.

A hearing on the defense position is slated for February.

The stand-your-ground law provides that people who fear their life is in danger, or face serious physical harm, are entitled to defend themselves with lethal force, both in their home and in a public place.

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U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan’s survey on Obamacare is going viral on social media. It does give people an opportunity to weigh in on whether or not they support the Affordable Care Act, but you have to listen to a commercial for repeal before registering your vote.

The phone number is 202-225-3031. When I called it I at first got a busy signal, but called back and got through immediately. Some people have reported a minute or longer wait before being able to hit “1” to support the ACA or “2” to oppose it.

But there’s widespread determination to scrap the ACA so the survey seems something like an academic exercise.

An interesting article last week on the Forbes website supports the contention that ACA repeal will be harder than anyone imagines for one simple reason: Prior attempts to kill the law were supported with the knowledge that they would be unsuccessful.

ACA opponents were happy to talk the talk, but now they have to walk the walk.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

There are media rumblings, in the aftermath of the election, that the Affordable Care Act might remain largely intact, or at least partially intact.

Don’t bet on it.

One popular provision of the ACA, which keeps adult children on their parents’ insurance policies until they are 26, doesn’t cost that much and it’s entirely plausible that this could survive.

But there are other reports that President-Elect Donald Trump may be interested in keeping the requirement that insurers cover pre-existing conditions, and this is where things get sticky.

The idea behind mandatory insurance coverage in the ACA was that risk would be spread out by getting healthy younger people to purchase a plan. If health insurance isn’t mandatory, and insurers can’t turn anyone down, people may not buy insurance until they get sick.

Of course, insurers could offer coverage for those with pre-existing conditions as long as they can charge whatever they feel is necessary to maintain profit margins. Under the ACA, an insurer can only charge based on age on and whether or not an individual is a smoker or non-smoker.

Let’s say the ACA was scrapped, but insurers were required to issue policies regardless of pre-existing conditions. Someone with breast cancer, for example, could be offered coverage at — just to throw out a figure — $5,000 a month.

Effectively, that would put policies out of reach for most people.

So trying to dismantle the ACA piecemeal doesn’t make much sense.

One alternative under consideration would allow consumers to buy policies across state lines. The question is, what does your local provider network look like? Having coverage on paper is pretty useless if you have to travel 100 miles to see a specialist.

At this point, there’s no reason to believe that the Republican health care agenda, which includes repeal of the ACA, won’t be vigorously pursued starting in January. Look for a switch to Medicaid block grants to states so they can run programs as they see fit, with limited federal control.

It’s also quite possible that Medicare could become a voucher program since that has been a goal of House Speaker Paul Ryan, although he prefers to call it “premium support.” Ryan has proposed gradually raising the Medicare age to 67 starting in 2020 and offering seniors tax credits to subsidize the premiums.

If you’re 66 and battling prostate cancer, and are faced with buying a health insurance policy on the open market, good luck.

Of course all of these proposals would face opposition, particularly from Senate Democrats who hold 48 seats. So getting legislation to the White House could take some time.

But not too much time.

As the Democrats learned in 2008, parties that control both Congress and the White House often have just two years to enact their big-ticket items. Beyond that, they risk the wrath of voters in the next congressional election.

The 2018 campaign isn’t that far away, and it may begin sooner than you think.

No wonder so many Americans have flocked to the Sun Belt over the last several decades — sunshine is one of the most important factors in good mental health.

Even if you have to deal with heat and humidity, or air pollution, it doesn’t matter as long as you can soak up enough rays between sunrise and sunset, a new study by Brigham Young University finds.

“That’s one of the surprising pieces of our research,” said Mark Beecher, a BYU psychologist whose study was published in the Journal of Affective Disorders. “On a rainy day, or a more polluted day, people assume that they’d have more distress. But we didn’t see that.

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A sunny day always cheers people up. (Credit: Arba Hatashi via Wikimedia Commons)

“We looked at solar irradiance, or the amount of sunlight that actually hits the ground. We tried to take into account cloudy days, rainy days, pollution … but they washed out. The one thing that was really significant was the amount of time between sunrise and sunset.”

The gloomy, short, late-fall and winter days in the northern tier of states start to wear pretty thin by the time the Christmas holidays roll around. Daylight Saving Time ends this Sunday, Nov. 6. The sun will set in Chicago at 4:38 p.m. By Thanksgiving, it will set at 4:23 p.m.

The sky starts getting that slate-gray evening look around 4 p.m. when you’re still stuck in your office cubicle and notice that the cars down on the street are switching on their headlights.

It’s a prime time of the year for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which sends many in cold northern climates to the therapy couch until the skies start brightening up toward spring.

Unless of course you can squeeze in a sunny winter break in Florida or Arizona.

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Red Green said: “If the women don’t find you handsome, they should at least find you handy.”

And now that bit of Possum Lodge wisdom has found a basis in scientific research. An international team of scientists found that female stickleback fish judge males on how adept they are at building a nest that can withstand changing water conditions.

Female sticklebacks prefer tighter nests when oxygen levels are high and looser ones when levels are low. The most desirable males change the design of the nests depending on the oxygen content of the water.

Incredibly, they do it all without duct tape.

Male sticklebacks play a very fins-on role in raising their young. They “have to work really hard as dads, using their fins to fan water through the nest to supply the eggs with the oxygen they need to develop,” said biologist Iain Barber, lead researcher at the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom.

“If the water is low in oxygen, then having a looser, more open nest allows more oxygen to reach the eggs, but it probably comes at the expense of increasing the risk of them being discovered by predators.”

Megan Head, who conducted the experiments, noted that looks and behavior still play a role for the stickleback, though. “Interestingly,” she said, “this flexibility was limited to their nest preferences.” Females were still drawn to the most aggressive suitors.