Science, you've come a long way.
More science: Chimps understand how fire works.
2) For those who suffer from depression, "mild depression" is an oxymoron. But a study today says those who suffer from "mild depression," get little benefit from anti-depressant drugs, according to the Los Angeles Times:
"There is no doubt that there are tremendous benefits from antidepressants, as our study showed," the lead researcher said. "But this study helps us resolve, to some degree, the question of how much benefit people can expect from the medicines themselves when symptoms are not severe."
We don't need more drugs, this Psychology Today blogger says, we need better treatment for an affliction more people are experiencing:
If we are to start to contain depression, the public needs to demand them and to agree to fund the research that will bring them into being. Once we have more effective treatments, then, yes, we can put all of our energy into making sure that sufferers are routed into them. But for now, the very first step should be on research, research that will help us understand why depression is such a tough nut to crack.
Tangent time: If we're connected like never before, how come fewer people say they have a close confidant, Lane Wallace asks in "Loneliness in Numbers."
Friendship is less demanding than a more intimate and vulnerable romantic connection, but the same principle applies. I've noticed, the more times I've moved, and the more people I've met, how much harder it is to keep up with all those friendships on any significant level. Acquaintances are easy to maintain with casual, group emails and Holiday notes. But real friends? They take time and energy--both to develop, and to nurture or maintain.
3) - Sixty-three percent of people know someone who has been unfaithful in their marriage, CBS reports today.
Nevertheless, a majority of Americans (53 percent) thinks getting a divorce is too easy and should be made more difficult to obtain than it is now, while one in four Americans thinks getting a divorce should be made easier. These numbers are similar to those found in polls conducted by the University of Chicago over the past 20 years.
4) All you need is YouTube.
5) It is wholly appropriate to bring back this video by MPR's Anna Weggel, originally produced a year ago, and continues to inspire awe.
If there's global warming, how come so much of the globe is freezing? It's all about Arctic oscillation, Robert Henson says in The Guardian:
What's different now is that climate change is gradually shifting the odds toward record-hot summers and away from record-cold winters. The latter aren't impossible; they're just increasingly hard to get, like scoring a straight flush on one trip to Vegas and a royal flush the next.
It's also critical to remember the "global" in global warming. Even if every inch of land in the northern hemisphere were unusually cold, that would only represent 20% of Earth's surface. There's plenty of warmth elsewhere around the world. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data through November hints that 2009 may end up ranked as the southern hemisphere's warmest year on record. For the planet as a whole, last year falls solidly among the 10 warmest years of the past 100. And despite all the talk about Earth having cooled since the late 1990s, this past decade trumps the 1990s as the warmest on record.
President Obama spoke yesterday of his concerns about airline security. Closer to home, there was a bomb scare at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport. Today's Question: Do you feel safe flying?
WHAT WE'RE DOING
Midmorning (9-11 a.m.) - First hour: A look at the new aviation security measures announced yesterday by President Obama.
Second hour: The cure for obesity. The guest is Dr. James Levine, endocrinologist and director of the Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis Center at the Mayo Clinic. His book "Move a Little, Lose a Lot." is now out in paperback.
Midday (11 a.m. - 1 p.m.) - First hour: Bioethicist Art Caplan
Second hour: An American RadioWorks documentary about the New Deal, called "Bridge to Somewhere." Here's the Web site.
Talk of the Nation (1-3 p.m.) - First hour: NPR's political editor Ken Rudin discusses the Democrats' leaky Good Ship Supermajority.
Second hour: All about plea bargains.
All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) - A window on a closed society, offered through the lives of ordinary North Koreans. What defectors from North Korea told writer Barbara Demick.
Five metro counties are collecting sales tax for a coordinated solution to transportation. Where's the money going? MPR's Dan Olson will tell all.
MPR's Lorna Benson has a Minnesota H1N1 update.(1 Comments)
It's been awhile since we've seen a story get as much reaction as an Associated Press-distributed story (based on a KSTP report) about pensions benefits at Augsburg Fortress Publishers. The original story has been taken off the MPR site, but here's what it said:
The publishing house of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is cutting off retirement benefits for current employees and retirees.
KSTP-TV reports that Augsburg Fortress sent notices to about 500 employees and retirees last week saying it will terminate its retirement plan March 5.
Former employee Karen Walhof told KSTP the letter stated that as of Dec. 31 the company owned members more than $24 million, but only had a third of the money in assets. If the company kept paying out monthly benefits, the plan would run out of money in five years.
Most people in the plan will receive some type of lump sum payment. Minneapolis-based Augsburg Fortress blamed the money problems on fewer book sales, shrinking ELCA congregations and increasing competition on the Internet.
The Associated Press issued a corrected version last night, but it had already circulated. Today, a public relations firm issued a clarification:
1. It was Augsburg Fortress that terminated the program, not ELCA. They are separate entities for this purpose. Augsburg has its own board and made the decision.
2. Benefits were not "cut off" for retirees and current employees. The vast majority in the defined benefit program will receive a lump sum payment in the coming weeks based on their time of service and retirement status. That is not a "cut off." Also, current employees have participated since 2005 in a defined contribution program similar to a 401(K), with a company match, that is not affected by this move.
3. The company's theoretical total liability is roughly $24 million, based on estimates of mortality and the time value of money, etc.. It doesn't "owe" people $24 million due in a defined period of time. They are different concepts and are commonly addressed as such.
4. The causes for the problem cited in your article are accurate, but incomplete. All those factors have been present for some time but were manageable from the point of view of maintaining retirement benefits. The key change was the market decline from 2007-2009. The portfolio fell sharply, as did most organizations', but AFP had to continue paying out close a quarter million dollars per month from that market bottom, which compromised its ability to capitalize on the market recovery. As the AP story said, if it did nothing we'd have run out of money in five years and some 300 current and former employees not currently collecting benefits would have received nothing.
This press release was also attached from the ELCA News Service:
CHICAGO (ELCA) -- Augsburg Fortress, the publishing ministry of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), announced in a Dec. 31, 2009, letter to participants that it will terminate its defined benefit retirement plan effective March 5. The action, approved by the board of trustees of Augsburg Fortress Dec. 18, affects 500 plan participants.
Not affected by the decision is the company's current retirement plan -- a defined contribution plan -- in which Augsburg Fortress' current employees can participate. That plan is a 403b plan "common for non-profit organizations," according to information from the publisher. Approximately 150 current employees are enrolled in this plan.
Most participants in the defined benefit plan will receive a lump sum payment, said Beth A. Lewis, president and chief executive officer, Augsburg Fortress, Minneapolis. The trustees amended the plan to provide for a "more equitable allocation of plan assets among plan participants," she wrote in the letter to plan participants. Without the amendment, more than half of the plan participants would have received nothing at all, Lewis wrote.
"We wanted to make certain that we had the most equitable distribution of assets possible," she said in an interview with the ELCA News Service. "If we had done nothing, the plan would have run out of money in approximately five years and left about 60 percent of those in the plan with no retirement benefits. We didn't think that was equitable or fair."
In 2005 the Augsburg Fortress board of trustees took action to freeze the defined benefit plan, and began offering its 403b plan to its employees. The costly defined benefit plan "has been underfunded for about nine years," Lewis said.
She explained that the defined benefit plan appeared to have enough funding to provide payments to plan participants for many years, but all of that changed when financial markets turned downward in 2008 and early 2009.
As of Dec. 31, 2009, the plan's retirement benefit obligations totaled about $24.2 million, the company said in a series of questions and answers sent to plan participants. The plan's assets were only $8.6 million.
The company said other options to fund the shortfall were considered, such as trying to find sources of external funding, declaring bankruptcy and selling company assets, or doing nothing. In the end, the board chose to terminate the plan and amend it to spread assets more equitably.
"This decision breaks our hearts," the document said. "But, among four bad options, we truly believe this is the best of them. Not good. Just the best of the hard choices facing us."
Augsburg Fortress is a separately incorporated unit of the ELCA churchwide organization. The company said it sought support from the churchwide organization, but was advised that it "has no obligations or fiduciary duties with respect to the Augsburg Fortress plan." The publisher's retirement plan is separate from any ELCA-sponsored retirement plan.
John Rahja, Augsburg Fortress' chief financial officer, said assets of the defined benefit plan are separate from the company's assets. "The plan operates independently from Augsburg Fortress. Terminating this plan really doesn't affect Augsburg Fortress operations and how we run our business day to day," he told the ELCA News Service.
The company reported to plan participants that it could not cover the retirement plan's shortfall "because of our own operational challenges resulting from fewer sales to shrinking ELCA congregations, and increasing competition from the Internet and publishers outside of the Lutheran tradition."
Rahja explained that a defined benefit plan is funded solely by the organization, and benefits are determined by average earnings and length of service. The current 403b defined contribution plan gives employees the option to contribute and the organization the option to match those contributions. Employees also determine how their retirement funds are invested, he said.(5 Comments)
Quietly, the price of gas is heading toward painful levels, and the law of supply and demand is being tested.
In our last big oil price run-up, we heard the problem was the rapidly expanding economies of China and India are requiring more oil. The U.S. Energy Information Bureau notes demand for gasoline is actually dropping in the U.S., and yet the price is going up.
The price jumped almost 10 cents a gallon -- to $2.75 at the big stores -- on Tuesday, according to TwinCitiesGasPrices.com., about $1 a gallon higher than a year ago. Unlike the previous run-up, the Twin Cities exceeds the national average price of gasoline.
Today the government announced the amount of gasoline put into storage was triple what most analysts had forecast. It's too cold for many people to drive, some analysts said.
"Between the API and the EIA numbers, this is not adding up to much of an argument for crude above $82 a barrel," said Addison Armstrong at Tradition Energy in Connecticut.
The bottom line? Playing catch-up with evildoers probably won't do much good, which is essentially what the TSA is doing with its embrace of full body scanning technology-along with its current rules about liquids and removing one's shoes, for that matter.Meanwhile, a study out today on homegrown terrorists finds that most of the ones who commit acts of violence -- or threatened to since 9/11 were U.S. citizens -- 63 of the 139 were U.S.-born, 22 were naturalized citizens and 25 legal residents.