Monthly Archives: September 2018

Caught on camera: The fossa, Madagascar’s elusive top predator

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Fossa (Cryptoprocta ferox) at the Houston Zoo. Josh Henderson, CC BY-SA

Mention wildlife on Madagascar and the first thing listeners probably picture is the island’s famed lemurs. As many people know, these unique primates are found nowhere else, and are the most endangered group of mammals in the world. But few people realize that lemurs’ fate is directly bound up with that of Madagascar’s largest predator, the fossa (Cryptoprocta ferox), which is threatened by some of the same pressures.

Fossa are terrier-sized, cat-like relatives of mongoose with tails as long as their bodies. Like other top predators such as lions and wolves, they play a critical ecological role regulating the populations of their prey.

Like much of Madagascar’s wildlife, fossa are found nowhere else in the world. But scientists know little else about them, including how many fossa there are. They are rare, difficult to see in the wild, and lack unique coat patterns that would make it easy to distinguish individual animals.

I worked on a team of researchers from the United States and Madagascar that spent seven years surveying Madagascar’s largest protected area – a zone the size of Connecticut – with trail cameras to see if we could determine how many fossa were there. We found that this area holds a significant portion of the global fossa population, and is likely the last stronghold for this unique species. Our research provides key information that can help correctly assess fossas’ threatened status and lay the basis for appropriate conservation action.

An alert fossa looks out over the rainforest.

Madagascar’s top carnivore

Fossa weigh about 20 pounds and can prey on most of Madagascar’s other species. They are capable hunters on land and in the trees, using their tails for balance and killing by biting through their prey’s skulls. One study found that fossa were largely responsible for two lemur family groups disappearing from forests over a two-year period. Fossa, like other top predators, help keep prey populations at a level that their habitat can support, and rid the population of diseased and weak individuals.

Fossa also exhibit some very interesting behaviors. They are one of nine mammalian species whose sexually immature females go through a period of transient masculinization. During this phase, their clitorises enlarge and grow spines to look like an adult male fossa’s penis. Researchers think this helps sexually immature females avoid the aggressive attentions of males looking for females with which to mate.

In the deciduous forests of western Madagascar, scientists have discovered that male and female fossa will gather together at the same spot year after year to mate. Otherwise, however, fossa were thought to be solitary until 2010, when researchers observed three male fossa working together to kill a lemur. Since then, some male fossa have been seen to team up with another male or two to hunt prey and protect a larger territory than solitary males. And in 2015, our study captured photos suggesting that male fossa in the eastern rainforests will also associate.

Two male fossa captured on camera in northeastern Madagascar.
Asia Murphy

Lack of funding and political instability has made it hard for Madagascar’s government and conservation organizations to study the fossa. Because of their elusive nature, it is particularly hard to figure out basic things, such as how many fossa there are in an area. And without good numbers, scientists can’t assess whether a species is threatened or develop plans for protecting it.

Tracking fossa with cameras

Automatic cameras, known as camera traps, are a standard tool for collecting information on elusive wildlife in remote areas. The only thing “trapped” is the animal’s digital image.

Our images showed what type of habitat fossa used, when they were active, and how they co-existed with other carnivores such as dogs. Variations among individual animals, such as scars, tail width and kinkiness, and the presence and number of ear nicks, made it possible to start picking out certain fossa from the population and “follow” them from one camera to another.

One of our top goals was assessing how many fossa were present in the reserve and how close together they were. Determining density is key for conserving species. Once we knew know how many fossa there were, on average, in a unit of area such as square kilometer, we could estimate how many there were in the entire region and compare between different protected areas.

Flat Tail, seen in 2008 as a young pup (left) and 2013 as a mature male (right). We were able to follow this fossa as he grew up thanks to his strange and unique tail tip.
Asia Murphy & Zach Farris

The value of a number

Over a seven-year period we ran 15 surveys across seven study sites in the reserve. For months on end, we set up cameras, checked them, downloaded data and then moved cameras to survey as much area as possible. In all of this time, I never personally saw a fossa, but two local field assistants saw fossa in the trees once or twice.

Next came three years of analyzing photos, recording which animals had identifying marks and how far those marked fossa moved during their daily activities. Finally, nearly a decade after the very first survey in Masoala-Makira, we had a population estimate.

We calculated the fossa population in Masoala-Makira at 1,061, give or take around 500 animals. This worked out to about 20 fossa per 100 square kilometers. In other words, we had a small town of lemur-eating carnivores living in an area the size of Connecticut.

Why is this important? Because our colleague Brian Gerber did a similar study in southeastern Madagascar, with one important difference: He applied his estimate to the area of all of Madagascar’s protected forests. He estimated there to be 8,626 fossa in the entire world.

Only two protected areas were large enough to hold enough fossa that the population could stay stable, at the very least, despite individuals dying or being killed. We showed that Masoala-Makira is one of them. And as the largest protected area in Madagascar, it will be home to fossa long after they disappear elsewhere due to hunting and habitat loss.

The next priority is to survey Madagascar’s other protected area large enough to hold a self-sustaining population, the Zahamena-Mantadia-Vohidrazana complex, to better estimate the global fossa population. And local governments need to attempt to curb hunting within protected areas and control feral dogs and cats, which can kill native species and spread diseases.

Rare and charismatic species typically get the most conservation attention, especially through events like National Geographic’s Big Cat Week. In fact, however, there are four times more lions than fossa in the entire world. Maybe it’s time for Fossa Friday.

The Conversation

The research discussed in this article was funded by: the NSF GRFP, National Geographic Society, Sigma Xi, WCS Madagascar, Virginia Tech, PTES, IdeaWild, and Cleveland Metroparks Zoo.

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Spray-on antennas unlock communication of the future

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Spraying an antenna onto a flat surface. Drexel University Nanomaterials Lab, CC BY-ND

Hear the word “antenna” and you might think about rabbit ears on the top of an old TV or the wire that picks up radio signals for a car. But an antenna can be much smaller – even invisible. No matter its shape or size, an antenna is crucial for communication, transmitting and receiving radio signals between devices. As portable electronics become increasingly common, antennas must, too.

Wearable monitors, flexible smart clothes, industrial sensors and medical sensors will be much more effective if their antennas are lightweight and flexible – and possibly even transparent. We and our collaborators have developed a type of material that offers many more options for connecting antennas to devices – including spray-painting them on walls or clothes.

Our materials science lab focuses on nanomaterials, which are more than 100,000 times thinner than a human hair. In 2011, researchers in the Drexel University Materials Science and Engineering Department developed a way to combine metals with carbon or nitrogen atoms to create a material that’s a few atoms thick, very strong and good at conducting electricity. We call these materials MXenes (pronounced “maksens”), and we can make them with different metals – including titanium, molybdenum, vanadium and niobium.

Our most recent work has identified that mixing MXenes with water lets us spray antennas on any surface, including a brick wall or a glass window – and even use an inkjet to print an antenna on paper. This creates new opportunities for smaller, lighter, more flexible antennas to accompany devices that are also being made from more varied and versatile materials.

Antennas aren’t quite everywhere – yet

Researcher Asia Sarycheva holds up an MXene antenna.
Drexel University Nanomaterials Group, CC BY-ND

Smart watches and electronic car key fobs might seem advanced, but researchers are working on many more options, including hospital gowns that can sense patients’ heart and breathing rates, and stitches that monitor healing after surgery. They’ll need antennas too – which are sterile, flexible, strong and even machine-washable.

Another type of antenna is making its way into the world, too. Many credit and debit cards, as well as U.S. passports, contain what are called RFID tags, tiny electronic chips that carry identifying information and transmit them to sensors that validate transactions or certify the identity of the document’s carrier.

RFID tags are even more commonly used in industry, tracking components in manufacturing processes, individual boxes and containers in large shipments and even controlling workers’ access to specific areas of an office or factory.

A wide range of uses

Since Drexel’s 2011 discovery of MXenes, researchers around the world have been testing out how they work in a variety of tasks. Some early successes have included energy storage devices, electromagnetic interference shielding, water filtration, chemical sensing, structural reinforcement, cancer treatment and gas separation.

How MXenes can shield electromagnetic radiation.

All of these approaches take advantage of the physical and electrical properties of MXenes: They’re transparent to light, electronically conductive, chemically stable and strong.

Simple spraying

We have been exploring how to use another physical attribute MXenes have: They love water. When we mix sheets of two-dimensional titanium carbide MXene with water, we get a stable water-based ink. We can spray or print that ink on any surface, and when the water evaporates, what’s left behind is layers of MXene – an MXene antenna.

When we do this with a titanium carbide MXene, the resulting antenna is very good at transmitting and directing radio waves, even when it’s applied in a very thin layer. Our initial testing suggests it can perform as well as more commonly used antennas made of gold, silver, copper or aluminum. And because it’s so much thinner, an MXene antenna can be effective in spaces too small for other antenna materials – even as small as one-thousandth the thickness of a sheet of paper.

Spraying MXene antennas on surfaces.

Comparing to other antennas

When we made MXene antennas slightly thicker – more like one-tenth the thickness of a piece of paper – it could still outperform antennas made of other high-tech nanomaterial-based antennas, including carbon nanotubes, graphene and nano-silver ink.

In addition, the MXene antennas were far easier to make. Other nanomaterials fabrication processes require mixing the electronically capable ingredients with other materials to help them stick to each other, and heating them all together to strengthen their interconnections. Our MXene antennas are made in two steps: Mix the MXenes with water, and spray it on with an airbrush.

This means antennas could be airbrush-sprayed almost anywhere, by almost anyone, for nearly any purpose. This new material type opens a wide range of new possibilities for electronic devices that can be anywhere and still communicate effectively.

The Conversation

Yury Gogotsi is affiliated with the Materials Research Society (Board of Directors) and Jilin University (Distinguished Foreign Professor)

Asia Sarycheva and Babak Anasori do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Paper-based electronics could fold, biodegrade and be the basis for the next generation of devices

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A foldable, biodegradable battery based on paper and bacteria opens a new opportunity in electronics. Seokheun Choi/Binghamton University, CC BY-ND

It seems like every few months there’s a new cellphone, laptop or tablet that is so exciting people line up around the block to get their hands on it. While the perpetual introduction of new, slightly more advanced electronics has made businesses like Apple hugely successful, the short shelf life of these electronics is bad for the environment.

Modern electronics are filled with circuit boards on which various metals and plastics are soldered together. Some of these materials are toxic – or break down into toxic substances. There are efforts underway to boost recycling of e-waste, recovering materials that can be reused and properly disposing of the rest. But most devices end up added to the growing piles of e-waste in landfills.

Circuit boards and other electronics can really pile up.
AP Photo/Michael Conroy

Instead of adding more trash to these ever-growing piles, there is an opportunity to create electronics that are biodegradable. That’s why other researchers and I are looking to the emerging field of paper-based electronics – known as “papertronics.” They’re flexible – even foldable – sustainable, friendly to the environment and low-cost.

But to be truly eco-friendly, papertronics can’t use traditional batteries, which are made of metals and caustic acids, to store and discharge electricity. Recently, my chemist colleague Omowunmi Sadik and I developed a paper battery that’s recyclable and biodegradable, as well as reliable enough to actually use. The key is bacteria.

Flexible bio-batteries

I’ve developed flexible batteries, batteries powered by saliva and more. I figured that when seeking to power paper-based electronics, it made sense to try to make a battery out of paper. Fortunately, paper is a good potential battery material: It’s flexible, a good insulator – which makes it a good platform for mounting electronic components on – and absorbs and releases fluids easily. We added polymers – poly (amic) acid and poly(pyromellitic dianhydride-p-phenylenediamine) – to improve those electrical characteristics.

Then, to store energy in the battery, in place of the metals and acids that react chemically to generate electrons, we added bacteria. When these batteries are eventually commercialized, they’ll use bacteria that are safe for humans and the environment and well-contained to reduce any other contamination.

Because the paper is rough and porous, the bacteria stick to it, and generate their own energy by breaking down almost any available organic material, including plant material or wastewater. At the moment, we’re prepackaging source material, but it could also come from the environment. This chemical reaction produces electrons. Normally in a bacterial reaction, those electrons would bond with oxygen, but we’ve built our battery to limit oxygen and substitute an electrode, meaning we can capture the electron flow and use it to power devices.

We were concerned that oxygen could get into the paper and interrupt the electron flow between the bacteria, decreasing the battery’s efficiency. We found that while that does happen, it has minimal effects. That’s because so many bacterial cells are so tightly attached to the paper fibers; they form a multi-layer biofilm that shields the chemical reaction from most oxygen.

We also wanted a battery that could biodegrade. The bacteria in the battery itself, once they’re done releasing energy, can break down the paper and polymers into harmless components. In water, our battery easily biodegraded, without any special equipment or other microorganisms to aid in the breakdown.

The polymer-paper structures are lightweight, low-cost and flexible. That flexibility also allows for the batteries to fold like a normal piece of paper, or be stacked on top of each other. That lets more battery power fit into smaller spaces.

A group of folded batteries can power a paper-based electronic device.
Seokheun Choi/Binghamton University, CC BY-ND

Promises and opportunities

Papertronics can be particularly useful in remote areas with limited resources because they’re powered by bacteria that can inhabit even the most extreme of conditions and break down nearly any material to produce electrons. They don’t need a well-established power grid, either. In addition, though paper batteries are designed to be disposable after they’re used, their materials are recyclable – and new batteries can be created from recycled paper.

As revolutionary as paper-based bio-batteries are for future electronic devices, they’re fairly straightforward to make. The polymers and bacteria can be blended with paper in traditional manufacturing processes, including roll-to-roll printing and screen printing – or even be painted or poured right onto paper.

Other materials can also be added to the paper batteries – like metals, semiconductors, insulators and nanoparticles. These and other substances can add more properties and capabilities to paper-based devices, opening new doors for the next generation of electronics.

The Conversation

Seokheun Choi receives funding from the National Science Foundation and the Office of Naval Research.

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Shrinking the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is a disaster for paleontology

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Landscape of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah, one of the most abundant fossil fields in the world. P. David Polly, 2018, CC BY-ND

In the early 1980s, paleontologists Jeff Eaton and Rich Cifelli started digging for fossils in one of the most inaccessible regions of the United States: the Kaiparowits Plateau of southern Utah. They were looking not for dinosaurs, but for ancestral mammals. Mammals almost litter the fossil record after dinosaurs became extinct 65 million years ago, but they were rare before then. Eaton and Cifelli ventured onto the Kaiparowits to comb its rocks for mammals’ tiny teeth and bones.

Not only did these two scientists find fossil mammals, they uncovered one of the most complete sequences of vertebrate fossils anywhere in the world from the time when dinosaurs still ruled. What Eaton and Cifelli discovered in Utah showed that life on land was unexpectedly becoming more diverse at a time when life in the oceans was being decimated by chemical changes.

Their work demonstrated the tremendous paleontological potential of the Kaiparowits Plateau and the nearby Circle Cliffs and Grand Staircase regions. Rocks in this remote region span the entire Mesozoic Era – the so-called Age of Reptiles – and by the early 1990s were producing scientifically important fossils from all three of its periods, the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous.

Almost 2 million acres, about a third of 1 percent of federal land, were included in the monument.
P. David Polly, 2018, CC BY-ND

On Sept. 18, 1996, President Bill Clinton set aside these federal lands as Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The goal was to protect their paleontological treasures, preserve their hundreds of archaeological sites and keep one of America’s last wildernesses intact.

Decades of ongoing research in this region have literally rewritten what scientists know about Mesozoic life, especially about the ecosystems that immediately preceded the final extinction of the dinosaurs. Paleontologists like me know that the still-pristine Grand Staircase-Escalante region has divulged only a fragment of its paleontological story.

But the Trump administration has systematically cut entire chapters of that narrative out of the national monument, including key segments of what Clinton’s original proclamation called “one of the best and most continuous records of Late Cretaceous terrestrial life in the world.” The changes not only are at odds with scientific goals for which the monument was created, but researchers contend they endanger the unique natural heritage that belongs to us all.

What national monument designation means

National monuments are not memorials to famous Americans. They’re a special category of federal land, used to conserve special historical, archaeological and scientific resources.

In the 1906 Antiquities Act, Congress granted the president power to establish national monuments on government land to protect these types of resources. In total, 640 million acres are held in trust for the American people. The majority of this land is available for mixed uses, including wildlife conservation, livestock grazing, mining and petroleum extraction, scientific study and recreation, as mandated by Congress in the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976.

National monuments come into play when historical or scientific resources on those lands are endangered by one or more of those uses or when special attention would enhance them. It was the value of the paleontological resources and the pristine condition of the wilderness around the Kaiparowits Plateau that triggered Bill Clinton’s Grand Staircase-Escalante proclamation in 1996.

Skeleton of the carnivorous dinosaur Teratophoneus being airlifted out of its excavation site on the Kaiparowits Plateau.
P. David Polly, CC BY-ND

Monument status confers funding through the National Conservation Lands System to restore, maintain and develop designated national heritage resources on federal land. At Grand Staircase, these funds help pay for paleontological field crews, for helicopter lifts of excavated specimens from inaccessible areas and for conservation of those specimens back in the lab. Just as Fort McHenry National Monument in Maryland would not realize its value as a historic site if its buildings were not maintained, so too would Grand Staircase fail to live up to its potential if its fossils were not studied.

The management plan for the original Grand Staircase placed priority on paleontological research. It established the position of monument paleontologist to coordinate field researchers from around the world, to survey and document paleontological sites, and to ensure that fossils collected from the monument are placed in museums and universities where they remain the property of the federal government and are accessible to those who wish to study them.

Shrinking the site

But now Eaton and Cifelli’s original dig sites are no longer part of the monument. President Donald Trump cut them last December, along with more than 700 other documented paleontological sites.

Map of Trump’s cut from Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (bolded areas) with number of known excluded paleontological sites in each.
P. David Polly, 2018, CC BY-ND

Based on a recommendation by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Trump issued a proclamation that reduced Grand Staircase to almost half its original size. His text asserts that the cuts “take into account” the findings of two decades of paleontological research in order to determine “the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects of … scientific interest.”

Roughly 1 in 3 of the thousands of sites discovered at the monument have now been excluded. And many more sites remain to be found because large areas have not been fully surveyed. The change in status means that new research in the excluded areas will have lower priority and less support.

In August, the Department of Interior issued a draft management plan for the areas that have been removed from monument, now available for public comment. It offers options that range from protecting paleontological resources with the same rules as before, to actively prioritizing mineral and gas extraction in the excluded areas. The former would be great for science; the latter could be devastating. Some fossil-rich areas of the excluded parts of the monument could be targets for shale gas extraction, others could be singled out for coal or uranium mining.

Depending on the outcome of the current management plan consultation, areas now excluded from the monument may not receive the same priority for conservation and research.

Why ongoing protection is needed

Paleontology, like any science, rests on the principle of verifiability. Science is a process in which scientists revisit old data time and time again to verify earlier findings, to ask new questions and to apply new technology.

The scientific process means that paleontologists routinely return to sites where major discoveries were made in the past. For example, when Tyrannosaurus rex was discovered in 1902, scientists had no way of precisely dating the rocks in which it was found nor did they have any inkling that it was one of the last dinosaurs standing before a massive asteroid crashed into the Earth. Only by applying radiometric dating and rare earth element analysis at those classic sites more than 100 years later have we come to understand the demise of dinosaurs.

The skull of the new ceratopsian dinosaur Machairoceratops, whose discovery site at Grand Staircase has been excluded from the monument.
Lund et al., 2016, CC BY

Paleontologists work at Grand Staircase because of its unique fossil record, of course, but also because they know the sites will remain intact. Verifiability has become increasingly important; every paleontologist has faced a situation where they cannot answer a pressing question because a key fossil has been misplaced or a critical site has been destroyed.

Scientific ethics dictate that we curate scientifically important specimens in accessible public repositories like museums and do our best to preserve the sites they come from. Places like national monuments and national parks that prioritize protection of fossil sites are therefore prime research areas. That permanent protection has been rescinded from more than 700 sites in active research areas is almost inconceivable to paleontologists.

Because of the potential impact the cuts are likely to have on science, the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology – of which I am the current president – joined with Grand Staircase Partners and Conservation Lands Foundation in a lawsuit to reverse them. The case’s argument is that presidents do not have the authority to unprotect resources at national monuments and that scientifically important paleontological resources have indeed been excised. The case is currently pending in U.S. District Court.

This ‘duck-billed’ dinosaur’s Latin name is Grypsosaurus monumentensis, in honor of its discovery at the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
Charles R. Peterson, CC BY-NC-ND

Vertebrate fossils are rare, so much so that each one usually tells a unique part of the story of life. Mammal species like the ones that Eaton and Cifelli discovered in the 1980s were probably spread over much of the continent in the Cretaceous, but precious few of them have ended up in the fossil record and only a few of those have been discovered. Grand Staircase is an extraordinary place with an unusual density of these rare fragments of life’s past, one where their geological context is still intact. That’s why paleontologists are concerned about its future.

The Conversation

P. David Polly receives funding from the US National Science Foundation, the Institute for Museum and Library Services, UK Natural Environment Research Council, and the Leverhulme Trust. He is president of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology.

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Why the unemployment rate will never get to zero percent – but it could still go a lot lower

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The U.S. Labor Department continues to release wonderful news for U.S. workers.

Just this week, on Sept. 20, the agency said that the number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits reached the lowest level in almost 49 years. Unemployment benefits track changes in the number of workers who are laid off by companies. When few companies lay off workers, this signals a tight labor market and often means unemployment rates are likely to drop further.

As for the official U.S. unemployment rate, it continues to trickle downward and was last at just 3.9 percent during August, which was the lowest level since the late 1960s.

With the economy still strong, just how low could it go? And could the unemployment rate ever get to zero?

Economics often gets a bad rap as the “dismal science,” I and many of my colleagues are actually quite optimistic people who often search for how good things can get – not how bad.

The definition of unemployed

Many people may think that they know what the U.S. unemployment rate means and what it measures. After all, how complicated could it be, people either have a job or they don’t?

The official definition, however, is far from simple. To be considered unemployed, a person must pass three tests.

First, the person has to be immediately available to work. If a company asks you to start today, you must be able to say “yes” to be considered unemployed. Searching for a job that starts weeks or months from now does not count.

Second, to be unemployed someone cannot be working, even a tiny bit. Driving for a car company like Uber or Lyft while looking for a job means a person is not classified as unemployed but instead is counted as working.

Lastly, a person has to be actively searching for a job. Active searching means doing something that could result in an employer contacting a job seeker. Spending hours cruising internet job boards doesn’t count, unless a person sends in at least one resume or contacts a company directly.

Types of unemployment

Economists divide the reasons people are unemployed into five reasons: cyclical, structural, seasonal, frictional and institutional. For the unemployment rate to become zero, all five would have to disappear.

Cyclical unemployment happens because the economy goes through periodic cycles of booms and busts. During the Great Recession from 2007 to 2009, businesses needed far fewer workers because they were selling less. With the economy expanding today, businesses now need more workers, so currently almost no one is unemployed for this reason.

Structural unemployment occurs when a worker’s skills no longer match any business need. The economy is constantly evolving and new types of jobs are being created, while old jobs are destroyed.

Decades ago when I was in high school, some of my friends took stenography classes to get jobs as secretaries. Stenography was a type of shorthand used so bosses could dictate letters, which were typed up later.

Today voice recognition and word processing software has eliminated the need for stenographers. If any of my friends are still looking for a stenography position, they would be considered structurally unemployed.

The only way to eliminate structural unemployment is to prevent new ideas and inventions. This is not something most people want so the economy always has some structural unemployment.

Seasonal unemployment is when there is no work because of weather or time conditions. For example, lifeguards who protect swimmers are usually hired in summertime and then laid off in the fall. Little can be done about seasonal unemployment since control of the weather and seasons are beyond human control. This means we always will have some seasonal unemployment.

Frictional unemployment arises because searching for a job does not always provide instantaneous results. It takes time for businesses looking for workers and people wanting jobs to find each other.

The U.S. government tracks the number of open jobs each month via the JOLTS survey. During this past summer, there were almost 7 million open jobs at the same time that 6.3 million people were considered unemployed.

Frictional unemployment explains why millions could be without work even if there are more vacancies. Faster communication helps reduce frictional unemployment, but as long as people and businesses take time to interview and make up their minds, this type of unemployment too will exist.

Finally, institutional unemployment arises when wages are too high and cannot fall. This is one reason why some people argue against raising the minimum wage rate to US$15 per hour.

Critics claim that if businesses are forced to pay higher wages, they will cut back their hiring of the low-skilled and boost unemployment. Others argue changing the minimum wage has little impact on employment.

In my mind, institutional unemployment could theoretically be zero. The only question is at what minimum wage rate this happens.

More room to fall

Even though some types of unemployment could zero out, others will always remain – meaning the overall rate will never reach zero percent. But then what’s the minimum rate of unemployment even the healthiest economy should expect?

The Congressional Budget Office takes a rather pessimistic view of the matter and concludes that the bare minimum of unemployment is over 4 percent – perhaps viewing the recent figures as anomalies.

Still, past experience suggests the jobless rate could continue to fall, despite the dour Congressional Budget Office perspective.

Using data that stretch back to 1948 shows that the unemployment rate has, in fact, been quite a bit lower than the current level. For a period of 13 months in 1952 and 1953, the rate was consistently below 3 percent and fell to just 2.5 percent in May of 1953, the lowest recorded value as the economy expanded to support the Korean War.

And in the late ‘60s, the last time the rate was so low, it was under 3.5 percent from September 1968 to May 1969. In total, the unemployment rate has been below the current level for 88 months since 1948.

Just how low the unemployment rate will go today is still an open question. But, if the economy keeps growing at the current pace, I believe there is a small chance of reaching the old record of 2.5 percent.

The Conversation

Jay L. Zagorsky does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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MMA Picks and Preview for UFC Fight Night 137

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UFC Fight Night 137 will take place this weekend from Sao Paulo, Brazil. This card has changed numerous times due to 7 different injuries and the main event has been changed 3 times. They think they have the final card set in place but we still have about a day and a half for that to change and we haven’t gotten to the weigh-ins yet! Stay Tuned…..

UFC Fight Night 137 Main Event Breakdown

The Main Event for UFC Fight Night 137 was originally supposed to be Glover Teixeira vs. Jimi Manuwa. Teixeira injured his shoulder a few weeks back, and forced him out of the fight. That left Manuwa without an opponent. Insert Thiago Santos (18-6).

Santos stepped in and began an abbreviated fight camp but satisfied the UFC because he is from Brazil, and they would replace one popular Brazilian with another popular Brazilian and not lose out on ticket sales. Santos was training for the fight, as was Manuwa, but Manuwa ended up tearing his hamstring, which sidelined him. Insert Eryk Anders (11-1).

Anders is coming in fresh off a 3rd round KO victory over Tim Williams, less than a month ago at UFC Fight Night 135. Anders didn’t particularly look good in that fight and according to many scorecards, he was actually losing that fight. That being said, he caught Williams getting off the mat with his hands down and got the KO win.

In Santos last fight, he welcomed UFC newcomer Kevin Holland to the octagon by taking him into deep waters and winning a unanimous decision. Santos is a tough striker to deal with because he throws a lot of kicks but for Anders, he likes to stand up and would be perfectly happy with this fight being a striking match.

I think Santos will be a bit much for Anders. I lean with Santos here to get the win by finish and excite the Brazilian crowd.

Handicapping Prediction: Thiago Santos -152

UFC Fight Night 137 Main Card

#12 Thiago Santos vs. Eryk Anders
#14 Alex Oliveira vs. Carlo Pedersoli
Sam Alvey vs. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira
Renan Barao vs. Andre Ewell
#13 Randa Markos vs. Marina Rodriguez

UFC Fight Night 137 Prelims

Charles Oliveira vs. Christos Giagos
Francisco Trinaldo vs. Evan Dunham
Luis Henrique vs. Ryan Spann
Augusto Sakai vs. Chase Sherman

UFC Fight Night 137 Early Prelims

Sergio Moraes vs. Ben Saunders
Mayra Bueno Silva vs. Gillian Robertson
Thales Leites vs. Hector Lombard
Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos vs. Luigi Vendramini
Livinha Souza vs. Alex Chambers

UFC Fight Night 137 Top Plays – Gillian Robertson -140

Our top play this week for UFC Fight Night 137 is Gillian Robertson over Mayra Bueno Silva. You’re getting some decent odds on this fight of Robertson -140. Robertson has fought a much tougher caliber of opponent and will be facing a fighter that is making her UFC debut. Silva was found on the Brazil Dana White Contender Series after she submitted Mayana Kellen in the first round with a Ninja Choke.

I think Robertson’s experience of already fighting under the big lights will be a key factor here. I expect Silva to come in extremely excited to fight in front of her hometown and then go through a major adrenaline dump, which will leave her gassed in the second round. Robertson wins here!

UFC Fight Night 137 Underdog with a Shot Play – Evan Dunham +196

This fight comes down to the style and flow of the expect pace of the fight. For starters, Trinaldo has really struggled with keeping up the pace of a fight and standing across from him is a cardio machine! Evan Dunham can push the pace of a fight and continue pushing until his opponent breaks.

Additionally, Dunham is very difficult to finish. In his 25 pro fights, Dunham has only lost 3 fights by getting finished, 2 by KO and 1 by submission. That tells me that chances are he will go the distance in this fight and with Trinaldo having the late round cardio issues, I lean to Dunham. As a basic 2/1 underdog, he brings some decent value!

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Friday Night Baseball: San Francisco Giants at St. Louis Cardinals

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For the San Francisco Giants, this is a season of what could have been. Hampered by injuries, they have seen Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, Brandon Belt, Buster Posey and more spend time, in some cases significant time, on the disabled list. Just never able to get healthy enough to be consistent, it has been a frustrating season in for the Giants.

For the Cardinals, they are still trying to hang on to a postseason spot. While they are 5.5 games out in the NL Central, the Cardinals currently hang on to the second wild-card spot by 1.5 games over the Rockies. As a result, every game matters down the stretch.

On Friday, the San Francisco Giants (72-81) will travel to Busch Stadium to take on the St. Louis Cardinals (84-69). For the Giants, they will send ace Madison Bumgarner (6-6, 3.14 ERA) to the mound to square off with the Cardinals’ John Gant (7-6, 3.53 ERA). First pitch is scheduled for 8:15 pm ET.

The money line for Friday night’s game is set at the San Francisco Giants +130 and the St. Louis Cardinals -150. The over/under on total runs scored stands at 7.5.

Giants Trying To Finish Season Out Strong

Despite the injuries, the Giants still want to finish the season out on a strong note. They will look to southpaw Madison Bumgarner to do just that on Friday. On the season, Bumgarner is a disappointing 6-6 with a 3.14 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and opponents are hitting .231. While those numbers aren’t awful, he has been hampered by injuries and has only thrown 117.2 innings.

In that time, he has 98 strikeouts, 41 walks and has allowed 13 home runs. He recently had a rough patch over a couple games where he went a combined 11 innings allowing 11 earned runs. In his last start, though, he showed glimpses of his ace status by going 6 innings of scoreless ball in a 3-0 win over the Colorado Rockies.

On the offensive side, there just hasn’t been a whole lot to love. Brandon Crawford remains a constant in the Giants’ lineup, but even he has not had the greatest of years. He is hitting .259/.324/.398 with a .722 OPS. He has 27 doubles, 2 triples, 13 home runs, 52 runs batted in and 60 runs scored. With Posey and Belt now injured, McCutchen traded and others struggling, the offense just struggles to score runs many nights.

Cardinals Looking To Secure Playoff Spot

The St. Louis Cardinals know every game is important, and they will look to John Gant to take care of Friday’s game. On the season, Gant is 7-6 with a 3.53 ERA, 1.25 WHIP and opponents are hitting .211 against him. In 107 innings, he has 90 strikeouts, 51 walks and has allowed 9 home runs. In his last outing, a 17-4 loss to the Dodgers, Gant had a tough time of it going 4.1 innings, allowing 6 earned runs and striking out 4. He will look for better results Friday.

Offensively, Marcell Ozuna finally appears to be heating up. The outfielder has hit .324/.365/.632 with a .997 OPS over the last month. In those 30 days he has 6 home runs, 15 runs batted in, and 15 runs scored. While the Cardinals had hoped to get this level of production all season long, they will probably be happy if Ozuna is playing his best entering the postseason.

Cardinals Keep Wild Card Lead Intact

This one is a tough one to pick. On paper, you would think Bumgarner would be the more solid pitcher based off of his track record, but he has been anything but consistent this year, Offensively, you have to like the Cardinals offense significantly better, even if players like Matt Carpenter has been struggling as of late. Ultimately, I have to go with the Redbirds in this one.

I don’t know if they get to Bumgarner, but I also don’t think the Giants will be able to put much on the board. As a result, I think it could become a bullpen game, and in that scenario, I think the Cardinals are much more likely to strike. Take the Cardinals at -150.

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NFL Week 3: Buffalo Bills at Minnesota Vikings

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The Buffalo Bills travel to take on the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday and it could be a game that really gets ugly. The Bills started their season by being outscored 78-23 in their first two games whereas the Vikings have started the season 1-0-1 with the tie coming against the Packers.

The Bills had hoped that this would be the year they could contend for an AFC North crown but it seems like instead they are going to contend for the first draft pick in the draft. The Vikings will contend for the NFC North crown along with the Bears and Packers so this could be an easy game that helps them improve their standings within the conference. The Vikings open the betting at -16.5.

Buffalo Bills Look Terrible

The Bills have really struggled to open the season. They got blasted by the Ravens in the season opener 47-3 and then lost to the Chargers 31-20 in a game that was a little more respectable. Buffalo is having a tough time scoring the ball only putting up an average of 11.5 points a game but they allow 39 points a game.

Their passing game is not working at all as they have averaged 171.5 passing yards a game. Nathan Peterman was benched in the first game of the year after going 5-of-18 for 24 yards in the early going. This led the way for rookie Josh Allen to come in and over the last game and a half he has thrown for 319 yards on 24-of-48 passing. Both quarterbacks combine for one touchdown pass against four interceptions.

The Bills rushing attack isn’t much better. LeSean McCoy leads the team with 61 yards on 16 carries and almost half of those yards came on one carry. As a team, the Bills have run the ball 44 times for 167 yards which is just 3.8 yards per carry.

Minnesota Looks to Stay Unbeaten

The Vikings are off to a better start than the Bills, but it could be better. They defeated the 49ers in the season opener 24-16 but then last week tied the Packers 29-29. The Vikings have thrown the ball very well to open up the season with new quarterback Kirk Cousins.

Cousins has completed 55-of-84 passes for 669 yards. He has thrown six touchdowns through two games against one interception. The running game hasn’t been great but there has been enough there to keep the defense honest. As a team, the Vikings have rushed for 184 yards on 50 carries and no touchdowns. The defense has been very good as they have only allowed 22.5 points a game but most of that has come on short drives.

The Vikings have forced opposing teams to kick eight field goals on the young season which is great and have only allowed three touchdowns. The Vikings need this win to be able to keep pace with the Packers as the next two opponents for the Vikings are the Eagles and Rams, both away.

Pick and Prediction

The Bills are struggling mightily, the Vikings are not. This is a game that could get out of hand pretty quickly. The Vikings are going to look to get the run game going early on in the game and then use that to supplant the passing game. If the Bills don’t come out and put points up early, then the Vikings are going to end up running away with the game due to their defense. The last thing the Bills want to do is to throw the ball down the field. The Vikings should be able to take this one comfortably, so take the Vikings and the points. Bet the Vikings -16.5.

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The Week In Sports Betting: FanDuel Sportsbook Glitch Nearly Causes Apocalypse

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Happy Friday! And not just any Friday, mind you. It’s the Friday before another holiday weekend — if you count football as a holiday, of course. Or, I guess maybe some folks get Monday off to observe National Punctuation Day (cc: boss)?

Whatever, the weekend is here, and nobody is more relieved about it than FanDuel. The company had a whale of a week, enduring a 48-hour stretch alone in the harsh spotlight.

We’ll start our Friday recap with a look at New Jersey sports betting as we often do, but we’ll go straight to FanDuel Sportsbook at The Meadowlands this time.

FanDuel Sportsbook makes national headlines

Hey, great news for FanDuel Sportsbook this week! It was the center of attention across both industry and mainstream headlines alike, even earning some primetime TV coverage from ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt.

You’ve probably heard the reason by now, though, so you know it wasn’t exactly the SportsCenter segment FanDuel envisioned.

A systems malfunction generated a drastic pricing mistake during an 18-second window in a Sunday afternoon NFL game, spawning a dozen errant tickets totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars — about as much as Drake lost during his weekend in Atlantic City.

FanDuel initially offered to settle at the intended odds, but a tsunami of criticism forced a reconsideration. Following a tweet from Denver kicker Brandon McManus, the company announced it would pay the obviously glitched tickets in full.

The gaffe is a medium-sized one in the grand scheme of things, and reactions ranged from ‘Why are we even talking about this non-issue?” to “The entire world is ending.”

Regardless of where you stand, an error of this magnitude should not happen. It likely will happen again, though, and this PR-driven solution doesn’t necessarily establish a precedent for next time. In fact, we still have a lot of the same questions we had before FanDuel yielded to the pressure.

News from other states … and districts

We’ve had to expand this subheading from NFOS to NFOSAD for the week. The District of Columbia is suddenly interested in joining the party.

  • D.C.: Councilman Jack Evans says he plans to introduce a bill to legalize DC sports betting under the oversight of the lottery. A previous effort to do so in the late 1980’s never moved forward, but we’re in a brave new world in 2018.
  • West Virginia: The WV sports betting industry is off to a good start, it seems, but something strange is afoot. A growing rift between lawmakers, the lottery, and the governor — and some apparent meddling from the leagues — threatens to stifle progress.
  • Mississippi: Regulators released the numbers for the first month of Mississippi sports betting. Commercial casinos reported more than $6 million in wagers and close to $650,000 in revenue in August, not bad. The Choctaw nation, which also offers sports betting in the state, announced a new deal with IGT this week.

If you want a sense of where the five states with legal sports betting stack up against each other, the PlayUSA power panel released its first Sports Betting Power Rankings this week.

Congress ready to talk it out?

Well, would you look at that: D.C. appears in another section, two being a new all-time record for the mighty District. Our representatives in Congress say they’re ready to conduct their own hearing on sports betting next week.

The roster isn’t published yet, but a source says the NFL is likely to testify. The American Gaming Association (definitely) and Las Vegas Sands (probably) will send representatives, too. It’s not clear if Sen. Orrin Hatch or Sen. Chuck Schumer are attending, but you’d expect to see appearances from the two men spearheading the federal effort.

The House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigation will conduct the hearing on Sept. 27.

Takes and tidbits

Considering how much attention that FanDuel hiccup attracted and the buzz surrounding NFL betting in general, the week was actually rather tame. Here are a few crumbs of news still clinging to the bottom of the page this week.

  • 5-minute major, cross-promoting: The Vegas Golden Knights and William Hill announced they’re partnering up. The alliance between a team and a dedicated sports betting company is the first of its kind for any US league, let alone the timid NHL. Again, a brave new world.
  • Oh, Canada: Tribal group Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment (& Eventually Sports Betting) is exploring more opportunities beyond its territory. In addition to a new property in Korea, Mohegan has agreed to take over operations of Casino Niagara and Fallsview near the NY/Canada border.

Let’s see, what else … no new sportsbooks in New Jersey this week … certainly no new states with sports betting…

Oh! A Nevada bettor did hit a $5 NFL parlay for like $85,000, that was pretty cool.

And that WV situation is pretty kooky, but Wheeling Island unveiled its new sports bar this week. The property is already approved for sports betting, but it says it’s not quite ready to open the windows just yet.

I mean, this doesn’t really relate to sports betting, but a Pittsburgh woman is suing Rivers Casino for using surveillance to snoop on her cell phone at the behest of her ex-husband. That’s seems like a thing you’d want to read.

That’s it, honestly. You officially know as much as we know about what happened over the last five days. Enjoy your weekend, ladies and gents, and those observing more traditional holidays this time of year.

The post The Week In Sports Betting: FanDuel Sportsbook Glitch Nearly Causes Apocalypse appeared first on Legal Sports Report.

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Legislative Sausage Making: How We Got UIGEA

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This is the third article in the Legislative Sausage Making series for Legal Sports Report. In this series, we will break down how federal gaming statutes evolved.

As there have been continued calls for the federal government to step in and establish some uniformity out of the ashes of PASPA, we have produced this series to take a look at just how difficult and time consuming it has been historically to pass gaming legislation in Congress. (A hearing is scheduled for next week.)

While federal hearings are often regarded as exciting for those of us who follow the industry, excitement should be tempered. Hearings, especially initial hearings, frequently never result in any additional action. For instance, the May 2016 House Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade hearing has resulted in next to no new movement from DC legislators.

  • Here is part one
  • Here is part two

In this third article in the series, we examine the process for passing the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA). That law makes it illegal to process payments for online gambling sites that are operating illegally in the US or a state.

At the same, the UIGEA exempts fantasy sports and some other forms of gaming. It does not apply to any form of wagering that a state explicitly legalizes.

The early internet gambling hearings

The first internet gambling hearings took place in 1997, under the hearing title Internet Crime Affecting Consumers.

The hearing marked the first testimony by a number of staunch internet gambling opponents. Sen. Jon Kyl opened the hearing by noting that legislation was necessary so that school children could be protected from accessing gambling sites.

Kyl was followed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California who testified about the pervasiveness of “pornography, bomb-making recipes, [and] recipes for manufacturing methamphetamine,” on the internet. This first hearing also featured the introduction of a pervasive theme: Internet crime is international, and attempting to combat crime internationally using US law enforcement is difficult.

A second hearing on UIGEA

In a second hearing later that year, Kyl once again testified and noted that legislation was necessary because the presumption was that non-sports related gambling was presumed legal when conducted online at the time.

Kyl noted that the proposed regulations, which would have modified the Wire Act, were widely supported by diverse groups, including “[the] Christian coalition and Ralph Nader’s consumer protection group, which probably agree on very little, support this legislation.”

During this same hearing, NFL lawyer Jeff Pash likened sports betting to a gateway drug that would lead to more severe gambling problems. The hearing also marked the first time that Congress heard calls to regulate online gambling. Those calls came from World Sports Exchange CEO Jay Cohen. (Unfortunately for Cohen, Congress did not heed his recommendation).

And even more hearings, fantasy sports too

In a series of hearings during the late 1990s, the introduction of the idea that fantasy sports should be separated from other types of betting emerged.

The idea of exempting fantasy sports was first proposed by Major League Baseball union lawyer Marianne McGettigan, who in addition to introducing the idea of exempting fantasy sports suggested that the legislation being debated would go so far in criminalizing activity under the Wire Act that a NASA essay contest for children would violate the proposed statute.

In 1999, NCAA representative Bill Saum testified that internet sports betting was sweeping across college campuses and that the easy access to online wagering increased the likelihood that there would be an attempt by an athlete to manipulate a game that they had wagered on.

The millennium closed without any internet gaming legislation, but Congress remained undeterred, pressing on in the 2000s with new bills.

The bills that would become UIGEA

The first hearing of the 2000s, related to bills that would become UIGEA, was one of the only hearings to feature testimony from an actual gambler, identified as John Doe.

He testified that if online gambling had been illegal, he may have been deterred from accessing sites. He also testified his belief that “fantasy sports betting,” could devolve into a serious problem for some individuals.

An athletic director from an NCAA school noted that point-shaving scandals ruin many lives including arrested players, coaches and teammates, and that there was a potential proclivity amongst male student athletes to wager on games they were participating in.

Months later, Sen. Edward Markey of Massachusetts highlighted that the proposed bills had become so riddled with exemptions that maybe his fellow lawmakers should spin a roulette wheel to determine which activities will be illegal. The inconsistency was also highlighted by other groups who cited exemptions for horse and dog racing and fantasy sports.

In a hearing on June 15, 2000, a lawyer testifying on behalf of the NFL endorsed most of the proposed legislation, but wanted the legislation to contain a provision that would require internet service providers to disconnect internet gambling websites.

The hearings in the 2000s also featured extensive testimony from various stakeholders testifying to Congress that the cat was already out of the bag by this point (in the early 2000s). It was noted that it was additionally problematic because, at the time, many of the gambling websites accepting US customers in this time of uncertain legality were in countries such as Australia and the United Kingdom.

Kyl, quoting a Harvard doctor, stated that “[a]s smoking crack cocaine changed the cocaine experience, I think electronics is going to change the way gambling is experienced.”

As the number of exemptions continued to pile up in the proposed bills, many who had not received an exemption began to speak up, including the National Indian Gaming Association, which articulated their desire that Indian gaming interests should be exempt.

After September 11th

The first UIGEA-related hearing of the post 9/11-era featured testimony from Rep. Jim Leach, who testified that more than one million Americans gamble on a daily basis and that this money is leaving the US economy and going offshore, occasionally to websites run by Russian organized crime and terrorist networks.

An NCAA representative argued that because the internet is widely available, internet gambling should be outlawed, stating that the internet “is fueling the growth of illegal sports gambling on college campuses across our country.”

By 2003, the gaming industry had begun to push back, with the COO of the Mirage Online Casino testifying that placing a prohibition on online wagering will not stop the practice; it will continue to exist as was the case in other prohibition eras.

By 2006, there were hopes that new legislation would clarify questions about whether the Wire Act applies to mobile and internet wagering.

One last hearing

The final hearing on legislation that would become UIGEA took place on April 5, 2006. The bill would pass months later as a rider to the Security and Accountability For Every Port Act. While UIGEA was attached as a last-minute rider to a bill certain to pass, suggestions that internet gambling legislation had not been vetted in Congress is not entirely accurate. In fact, there were more than 25 hearings that can be traced directly to the passage of UIGEA.

UIGEA did undergo extensive changes over the years, including numerous exemptions. Additionally, UIGEA evolved from a modification and modernization of the Wire Act into a quasi-criminal statute that has a primary impact on banking and financing institutions.

UIGEA remains a topic of conversation, as the exemptions peppered throughout the statute have had disparate effects across the gaming industry, despite several efforts to amend the statute, UIGEA remains as written when it passed in 2006.

The post Legislative Sausage Making: How We Got UIGEA appeared first on Legal Sports Report.

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