New Sun Newsbriefs

Science Says Naps Are Good
France Bucking Anti-Nap Trend

Plenty of studies over the years have shown that naps improve cognition and response time. Now a recent study provides additional snooze-friendly news: individuals who take half-hour naps at least three times a week have a 37 percent lower risk of death from heart disease.

Unfortunately for healthy nap enthusiasts around the world, the American-style 9-to-5 workday and anti-nap ethos are becoming the norm.

In China for example, businesses that typically began at 8 a.m. and ended at 6 p.m.—with a break after lunch for dozing—are increasing switching to the 9-to-5 schedule.

The Spanish government eliminated the siesta for civil servants in 2005, and has launched a campaign to reform the workday and end the siesta for all! "The siesta is not rational, it's not efficient and it does not pay in terms of family life," said Pasqual Maragall, former president of Catalonia.

In Mexico, former President Ernesto Zedillo ended the nap for government workers in 1999.

The only country bucking this trend is France, where there is nothing guilty about pleasure and where the health minister recently announced that the government would study the effects of afternoon naps! Go France!

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Girl Scout Cookies Free of Trans Fats, Almost

The Girl Scouts have marked their 90th year in the cookie business by getting most of the artificial fat out of all varieties of their iconic treats, which had been under attack by a few health-focused consumer groups.

The scouts are quick to point out that the new recipes aren't technically trans-fat-free, and have been careful not to bill the updated cookies as health food. Even with the changes, most varieties are still high in sugar and saturated fat.

''Like any snack food, you talk about moderation,'' said Girl Scout USA Vice President, Denise J. Pessich. ''We know we aren't selling broccoli.''

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Gates Foundation and Canada Unite

The Canadian government and Bill Gates announced an initiative to establish a research institute to develop an AIDS vaccine, committing a total of $119 million to the project.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said his government has pledged $95.3 million to a new fund called the Canadian HIV Vaccine Initiative, while the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has promised up to $24 million.

The money will help build a new research facility and support Canadian scientists to work with partners around the world. The goal is the manufacture of a preventative vaccine within a decade.

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Bright Future for Cocoa

Medical researchers are looking for ways to make brains work better. A nice cup of the right kind of cocoa could hold the promise of promoting brain function as people age.

One potential source of help may be flavanols, an antioxidant found in cocoa beans that can increase blood flow to the brain, researchers said at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Tests were given to women, who were asked to do a complex task while their brains were being studied with magnetic resonance imaging.

Among the women given drinks of cocoa high in flavanols, there was a significant increase in blood flow to the brain compared with subjects who did not drink the cocoa.

When flavanols were added to the food of mice, they showed improved ability to solve a maze and remembered it longer than mice without the flavanol.

But the cocoa typically sold in markets is low in flavanols, which usually are removed because they impart a bitter taste. Also, the findings do not mean people should indulge in chocolate.

''Chocolate is a delight. It can never be a health food because we have a calorie problem,'' said Norman Hollenberg of Harvard Medical School. But, he added, in cocoa a lot of fat is removed from the chocolate. ''I see a bright future for cocoa,'' he said.

Hagen Schroeter of Mars Inc., the candy company that paid for some of the research reported Sunday, said that cocoa long has been studied for potential medical benefits. He noted that in addition to cocoa, flavanols occur in other foods such as fruits, tea and wine.

Mars last year announced plans to market a line of products under the name CocoaVia which is high in flavanols. Other major chocolate companies, including Hershey's, have started promoting the flavanol content of their dark chocolates.

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Alabama's Bald Eagle Population Soars

The Alabama bald eagle population has increased from 417 nesting pairs in 1963 to more than 8,500. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to remove the bird from the Endangered Species List in June.

The bald eagle, one of the nation's most popular birds, draws watchers by the dozen to Lake Guntersville, where the birders wait in the cold at dawn or dusk to see an eagle fly or glide to its nest.

''People come from all over wanting to see those eagles,'' said Mark Jackson, chief ranger at Lake Guntersville State Park.

''It's a success story, something a lot of people have worked a long time to get to,'' said Keith Hudson, the state biologist chiefly responsible for tracking the eagle's progress in Alabama. ''We didn't know what would happen or if they would ever recover at all.''

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Merle Haggard Exploring Green Energy

Merle Haggard is thinking about setting up an alternative energy business in his oil-rich hometown of Bakersfield, California.

The 69-year-old country music legend said he's considering buying a second home near his native Oildale and founding a ''sensible'' green energy project to help the United States kick its fossil-fuel habit.

The project with local resident and actor Charlie Napier could also feature a museum and live music venue.

Haggard's friend Willie Nelson has championed the development of alternative fuels, developing the BioWillie brand of biodiesel for truckers.

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Man Wins $25,000 Lottery Two Days in Row

An airline pilot from Maplewood, Minnesota won a $25,000 lottery jackpot -- two days in a row. Raymond Snouffer Jr. matched the winning numbers 11-14-23-26-31 on Saturday, February 16 to win the Northstar Cash drawing with odds of about 170,000 to 1, Minnesota Lottery officials said.

On the following Sunday, Snouffer stuck with 11 and switched to 3-7-19-28 -- and won again.

Lottery officials said such a sequence was so farfetched that the odds against it were "virtually incalculable."

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Bacon Uses "6 Degrees" Fame for Charity

Kevin Bacon says he used to think the "'six degrees of Kevin Bacon" game was a joke that would die out, "going the way of eight-track cassettes and pet rocks" -- but it hasn't, so he is using it to help charity.

Bacon, and the nonprofit Network for Good, started a website called The site includes a feature to search more than 1 million charities.

Visitors also can see which charities celebrities are supporting financially. And there's a link to an eBay site where people can bid on ''celebrity swag'' from the Sundance Film Festival.

"A lot of people are really, really strongly connected to what celebrities are doing," Bacon said. "So why not have a place where you could also find out what charities they care about, what causes are important to them, and be able to donate right there?"

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Harvard Study Shows Flowers in Home Enhance Mood (Big Surprise!)

A behavioral research study, conducted by Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, uncovered that when fresh-cut flowers are present in the home people feel more compassionate toward others, have less worry and anxiety and feel less depressed.

The research showed that those who lived with flowers for less than a week felt an increase in enthusiasm, energy and compassion toward others. Overall, people simply felt less negative after being around flowers at home, and even in the workplace, for just a few days.

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NY Mayor Bloomberg's Philanthropic Generosity

The private philanthropic foundation that Mayor Michael Bloomberg says he will run full time after leaving office in 2009 is starting to take shape. He has named the organization the Bloomberg Family Foundation, and has begun to assemble a staff that will work in a Manhattan building he recently bought.

Once up and running, the foundation is expected to take over all of the Mayor's charitable giving.

His past donations amount to hundreds of millions of dollars. Recipients include medical research facilities, arts groups and educational institutions.

He announced he is pouring $125 million into a worldwide campaign against smoking, a cause he says is often overlooked in philanthropy. He also has pledged $10 million to the World Trade Center memorial, a project where he recently took over efforts to raise $300 million.

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