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While You Were Sleeping: July 2014 

The gist of what you may have missed.

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After several months of analysis, Harvard scientists have concluded that a 19th-century French text in the university's library is bound in human skin. Residing in Harvard's Houghton Library since 1934, Des destinées de l'ame is Arsène Houssaye's meditation on the soul and the afterlife. The writer presented his treatise to friend and bibliophile Dr. Ludovic Bouland in the mid-1880s, and Bouland subsequently bound the text with skin from the back of an unidentified female mental patient. In a handwritten note he added to the book, Bouland stated, "A book about the human soul deserved to have a human covering." Anthropodermic bibliopegy—the binding of books with human flesh—was in fact a quite common practice as early as the 16th century. With techniques like peptide mass fingerprinting, and with specific information regarding the book's origins, scientists ruled out of the possibility of it being bound with the skin of more common sources such as sheep or cattle. Harvard believes to hold at least one other anthropodermic book, a French translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses in its Countway Library's Center for the History of Medicine.
Sources: New York Times, Houghton Library Blog

In an effort to encourage the uninsured to seek coverage under the Affordable Care Act, hospitals across the country have begun cutting charity care to their lower- and middle-income patients. The new law has significantly reduced federal aid given to hospitals that treat the poor and uninsured, placing a financial strain on many medical centers and leading them to charge co-payments, regardless of a patient's insurance coverage or income. Though some centers still offer financial aid to those at or below the $11,670 poverty line, the changes have proven difficult for patients with low annual incomes, for whom even low-cost ACA plans are too expensive or who simply aren't aware of coverage options. Many fear that rather than drive patients to sign up for coverage under the new law, cutting charity care will only discourage them from receiving important medical care altogether. New insurance policies have also created problems for hospitals in the 24 states that have not yet expanded Medicaid—they now receive considerably reduced federal aid and no Medicaid payments to make up the difference.
Source: New York Times

Could Facebook be the new frontier for law enforcement officials? After a four-year investigation, the NYPD has used Facebook evidence to carry out the largest gang takedown in New York City history. On June 4, the department indicted over 100 alleged members of three warring gangs, the Make It Happen Boys and their ally Money Avenue, and the rival 3 Staccs. Of the members indicted 40 were arrested, 39 were already in jail, and the remainder are still at large; most are teenagers or young 20-somethings. Criminal charges include murder, both fatal and nonfatal shootings, stabbings, and robberies. The NYPD's 200-page indictment is reported to reference the word "Facebook" at least 300 times and to have uncovered 75 to 80 percent of its evidence from posts or correspondences on the social media site. Said one suspect in an online exchange, "Once we take down one from your block, we'll be good." Some city locals have referred to the gang members as "Facebook dummies," claiming that they assisted in their own arrest by recklessly posting incriminating information online.
Source: Vice News

According to documents released by Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency intercepts global communications to retrieve large collections of images, then used in advanced facial recognition programs. Gathering millions of images daily, the NSA has significantly increased its use of facial recognition as a means of locating and tracking individuals suspected of terrorist activity. The documents suggest that the agency now considers image communication of equal importance as written and oral. Other local and national enforcement agencies have used drivers' licenses, Facebook, and passports in their identification programs, but the NSA has exclusive access to private communications. Certain groups are concerned about what this could mean for Americans' privacy. Though the agency requires court approval for images obtained through surveillance, Congress has yet to issue laws specifically protecting privacy for face-recognition data. The precision of the technology itself is also in question. The NSA's facial recognition software has produced some impressively accurate results, but not without occasional, glaring errors.
Sources: New York Times, Washington Times

Five months after Colorado became the first state to allow the sale of the drug for recreational use, law enforcement officials, doctors, and legalization opponents are highlighting a series of recent problems as cautionary tales for states reconsidering their marijuana laws. In Denver, a man raved about the end of the world and fatally shot his wife just hours after buying a package of marijuana-infused candy. Supporters argue that this case is an anomaly; opponents say it's just the tip of the iceberg. Some hospital officials say they are treating growing numbers of children and adults sickened by potent doses of edible marijuana, while sheriffs in neighboring states complain of an influx of stoned drivers. Supporters point out that violent crimes in Denver are down this year, and the crime rate over all is down by about 10 percent. There is still little hard data available, though, and because of the lag in reporting health statistics, it may take years to understand the societal impact of legalized marijuana.
Source: New York Times

It might be time to move to Seattle. While President Obama's proposal to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 remains blocked by congressional gridlock, the famously liberal city struck a blow against income inequality when its city council voted unanimously to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. The victory did not come without concessions—a last-minute addition to the regulation allows employers to pay a lower training wage to teenagers. Councilwoman Kshama Sawant, one of the country's few elected socialists, offered amendments intended to force big businesses to pay the higher wage sooner and strip out the training wage, but they were voted down. Despite the concessions, advocates hope that the council's actions will lead other cities to consider similar measures. Local businesses have already threatened to sue.
Source: Los Angeles Times

A new study combining three decades of data from 188 countries, published in the medical journal Lancet, found that not one country has reduced its obesity rate in 33 years and nearly 30 percent of the world's population is overweight or obese. Women are more likely to be obese than men, especially in poorer countries. While there are patterns, obesity is not evenly distributed by region, ethnic group, or national income levels. Thirteen percent of the world's obese people live in the US, and 62 percent live in poor or middle-income countries. Asia remained relatively unaffected, while the Middle East saw the greatest increases. Africa was especially random; island nations like Mauritius and the Seychelles had obesity rates nearly 10 times those of Ethiopia and Burundi. Relatively prosperous South Africa had the highest female obesity rates, but obesity was also surprisingly high in poor nations, like South Sudan.
Source: New York Times-

Last year, the percentage of students who defaulted on their loans in two years reached 10 percent—the highest rate in almost two decades, according to the Department of Education. The problems caused by the excessive debt aren't limited to just financial difficulties, though; several studies have shown that debt is also associated with mental and physical health problems, particularly in young people. A study from Northwestern University linked debt to high blood pressure as well as poor self-reported mental and general health. Studies have long shown links between debt and depression, and the psychological issues associated with debt can lead to broader health problems, like poor dietary choices, low physical activity, and substance abuse.
Source: Time

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