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No, Turkey Doesn’t Make you Sleepy – but it may Bring More Trust to Your Thanksgiving Table


By Kevin Bennett

‘Tis the season for giblets, wattles and snoods – oh my. On Thanksgiving and Christmas, Americans consume about 68 million turkeys – one for about every five of us. In fact, 29 percent of all turkeys gobbled down in the U.S. are consumed during the holidays.

And where turkey is being eaten, there is inevitably talk of tryptophan – a naturally occurring chemical found in turkey and other foods. This building block of protein often takes the blame for eaters feeling sleepy soon after the Thanksgiving meal.

Science has cleared tryptophan, though – it’s not the culprit when it comes to drowsiness after the feast. There are far more important factors leading to those post-turkey comas, not least of which is my Uncle Clarence’s story about parking at the airport. Add that to free-flowing booze combined with a load of carbohydrates followed by plenty more booze and you have a foolproof recipe for dozing off on the couch. Turkey, chicken, lamb and beef all contain roughly the same amount of tryptophan – ranging from 0.13-0.39 grams per 100 grams of food – yet the sleepiness myth has never surrounded those other foods.

Overeating and drinking are more likely at the root of your post-feast nap. Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock.com

So tryptophan is off the snooze-inducing hook. But researchers in the Netherlands suggest it does have a different psychological effect: They’ve discovered that doses of tryptophan (chemically known as L-tryptophan and abbreviated TRP) can promote interpersonal trust – that feeling you get when you look somebody in the eye, shake her hand and think, “I can cooperate with this person and she would reciprocate.”

In a study published in the journal Psychological Science, pairs of volunteers were each given an oral dose of 0.8g of TRP or a placebo. For comparison, a 100g standard serving of turkey about the thickness of a deck of playing cards contains about 0.31g of tryptophan.

Each duo then sat in separate cubicles and played a game where one person (the truster) was given US$7 and had to decide how much to transfer to the other person. The transferred money was then multiplied by three and the trustee could give back part of the tripled money.

The more money you’re willing to give away in the first place, the greater your return in the end – but you have to trust the other person to cooperate. A very simple and profitable game if played right.

The researchers found that the TRP group gave $4.81 on average and the placebo group offered only $3.38. This is a sizable 42 percent increase in transferred money between the two groups.

So what’s going on? Here’s the brain science behind how the tryptophan-trust connection works.

TRP is an essential amino acid found in many foods including eggs, soybeans, chocolate, cheeses, fish, nuts and, of course, turkey. The brain region associated with interpersonal trust – known as the medial prefrontal cortex – is powered by the neurotransmitter serotonin. Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers found throughout the body that transmit signals from one nerve cell to another.

Our bodies synthesize many neurotransmitters from simple amino acids which are readily available in our food and can be quickly converted in a small number of biosynthetic steps. The neurotransmitter serotonin is controlled in part by the release of TRP. This means that as you increase levels of TRP you’re able to release serotonin in the brain region specially designed to process trust. Think of a flashing neon sign that reads “trust this person, trust this person.”

A plate of turkey won’t convince you to buy into Cousin Gerald’s pyramid scheme. Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock.com

Keep in mind, however, that our decisions to trust or not to trust do not rely solely on ingesting TRP. In the real world we take into account personality factors, how well we know someone, previous cooperation with that person, tone of voice, eye contact, body language and so on. These all have a hand in shaping the conscious and unconscious rules that govern our pro-social behavior and trust preferences.

So this holiday season, eat your turkey (or salmon or cashews or cottage cheese or chocolate) and remember that few things are more pleasurable than the joy that comes from sharing a holiday meal with loved ones. Science shows us that tryptophan can promote social bonding, but there still is no substitute for giving thanks. Trust me.

Kevin Bennett is an Assistant Teaching Professor of Psychology, Pennsylvania State University. This was first published in The Conversation.

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FBI Report: Hartford Sees Increase in Hate Crimes


Fran Wilson, Staff Writer

HARTFORD — Hartford reported four hate crimes in 2017, according to the 2018 Federal Bureau of Investigation report.

That’s an increase from 2016, mirroring the national trend of an uptick in hate crimes in 2017 compared to 2016.

Of the 107 Connecticut law enforcement agencies that provided information about crimes motivated by hate, only 42 agencies reported 111 hate crimes.

Nationwide, law enforcement agencies reported 7,175 hate crimes in 2017.  In 2016, there were 6,121 hate crimes reported. The majority of victims, or 59.6 percent, were targeted because of a bias toward race, ethnicity or ancestry, according to the report.

The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program releases an annual report. Law enforcement agencies submitted criminal incidents that were motivated by bias toward race, ethnicity, ancestry, religion, sexual orientation, disability, gender and gender identity.

This year, there was a sharp increase with crimes motivated by bias toward religion–the second most common reason individuals were targeted. In 2017, 20.6 percent of the total number of criminal incidents were motivated by hate toward individuals based on religion. There was a 23 percent increase in overall religious based crimes and a 37 percent spike in anti-Jewish offenses.

The other hate crimes were motivated by sexual orientation, 15.8 percent; disability, 1.9 percent; gender identity 1.6 percent and gender 0.6 percent.

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Former Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez in Court Again


By Ann-Marie Adams,  Staff Writer

HARTFORD —  Should former Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez keep his pension after being convicted of corruption?

That’s what a judge will decide on Wednesday in Hartford Superior Court.

Attorney George Jepsen sued last year to revoke or reduce Perez’s $2,300 pension. That’s because state law allows for the revocation or reduction of corrupt public officials’ retirement benefits. Perez has been collecting that pension since October 2016.

Perez resigned in 2010 after being charged and convicted for taking about $40,000 in kitchen and bathroom improvements from Hartford developer, Carlos Costa. Costa was a city contractor on a Park Street development project.

Perez’s conviction was overturned by the Appellate Court in 2013 and upheld by the Connecticut Supreme Court in 2016. However, Perez pleaded guilty to taking a bribe and attempted first-degree larceny by extortion last August after the state moved to retry him.

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Hartford Groups Form Coalition to Help Reduce Gun Violence


By Fran Wilson, Staff Writer

HARTFORD — A group of community organizations has formed a coalition in an effort to stave off gun violence in Hartford and will kick off several initiatives at a public safety fair on Nov. 17.

The event will be from 11:a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Wilson-Gray YMCA at 444 Albany Ave. in Hartford. It’s free and open to the public.

The fair will feature  information on ways to prevent and reduce violence, raise awareness and address trauma. The fair will also have information on a range of services for recovery and addiction, re-entry employment and job training, health and wellness information.

Since 2013, Hartford has had 644 gun shootings, officials said. This year’s total number of shootings has increased by 24 percent. For example, in 2018 there were more than 120 shootings incidents by October, compared to 115 total shooting incidents in 2017. The majority of these incidents have been concentrated in poorer city neighborhoods, officials said.

In the midst of this violence, community based organizations have been providing a variety of response efforts to prevent further violence and to save lives.

The coalition includes COMPASS Youth Collaborative, Hartford Communities That Care, United Against Violence, Peace Center of Connecticut and the Wilson-Gray YMCA.

 

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Community Forum on Immigrants Amidst Hate


By Fran Wilson, Staff Writer

Immigrants and allies will gather in December to discuss ways to deal with anxiety spawned by hate incidents or deportation and offer viable resources to cope.

The event “The Changing Face of America: Immigrants as Assets” is scheduled for Dec. 6 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the University of Connecticut Hartford Campus, 10 Prospect Street, Room 146 in Hartford.

The event comes after news of an alarming increase in reports of hate incidents around the country since 2016. Reports range from vandalism and hate-fueled graffiti to physical attacks and shootings.

The reports come amid heightened fear and anxiety within immigrant and minority communities, fueled by the rhetoric and policies from the current administration.

At the community conversation, experts will offer replicable strategies to change the narrative on immigration and build support for better policies at community and state levels. Participants will find out how to push back with programs and policies that propel immigrants as assets. And they will learn about resources and allies to help immigrants faced with the anxiety of separation, deportation and the wave of anti-immigrant sentiment in our nation.

Participants include Tess Reagan, Greater Hartford Legal Aid, Denzil Mohammed, Immigrant Learning Center, Alok Bhatt, Connecticut Immigrant Rights Alliance, Christina Gill, Greater Hartford Legal Aid, Homa Nacify, Hartford Public Library, Fiona Vernal, University of Connecticut, Ann-Marie Adams, The Hartford Guardian.

The community conversation will be hosted by The Hartford Guardian.

For more information, email editor@the hartfordguardian.com.

Related: 

Immigrant Couple’s New Britain Pizzeria Burglarized

CAIR: Spike in Hate Crime Against Muslims

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State Rep. Matt Ritter Reelected House Majority Leader


By Fran Wilson, Staff Writer

HARTFORD —  Democratic lawmakers re-elected Hartford State Rep. Matt Ritter to be House Majority Leader. Ritter will be formally installed as Majority Leader on Jan.9.

The Democratic caucus met on Thursday and selected their leaders.

Ritter(D-Hartford) is a lifelong resident of Hartford who was first elected to the House in 2010, unseating Kenneth Green in a Democratic primary. Ritter served on Hartford City Council for three years prior to his bid for the General Assembly.

On Tuesday, he ran unopposed in for the 1st House District, which encompasses the West End of Hartford. He will serve his third term.

Ritter is among several House Representatives that were reelected on Tuesday, shoring up Hartford’s status as a solid democratic city with 87 percent of the voters for Governor-Elect Ned Lamont.

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Act Up Theater to Present Annual Performance: Ebony Annie


HARTFORD — Act Up, a community-based theater group, will present its third annual performance with the play, Ebony Annie.

The three-day event will be at the Annie Fisher Montessori Magnet School on Dec. 6, 7 and 8 at 7 p.m. There will also be a matinee performance on Dec. 8 at 3 p.m.

The Broadway-style performance will approach the classic play Annie from a unique and relevant angle, organizers said. The mother-daughter duo Faithlyn and Tyler directed the multicultural cast of more than 50 urban youth and community members.

This version, presenters said, explodes with high energy and comedy that will have the audience laughing and singing.

Act Up Theater strives to make positive impact in Hartford by offering children and adults the opportunity to express themselves. Act Up also recognizes social justice issues pulled from today’s culture and addresses them through the power of the arts.

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Hartford Democratic Incumbents Win Races


HARTFORD — Democratic incumbents easily trounced challengers in thier quest to return to the General Assembly.

Incumbent Sen. John Fonfara, a Democrat who represents Senate District 1, easily won his seat over Republican Challenger Barbara Rhue and Green Party Challenger Barbara Barry. Fonfara garnered 10,860 votes over Rhue’s 1,945 and Barry’s 259.

Incumbent Sen. Doug McCory ran unopposed.

Democratic Reps. Matt Ritter and Minnie Gonzalez, both of whom ran unopposed, will return to the General Assembly to represent District 1 and District 3 respectively.

Rep. Julio Concepcion in District 4 beat his challengers Republican Bryan Nelson, and Working Families candidate Kennard Ray. Concepcion garnered 2,659 votes over Nelson’s 330 and Ray’s 309. Mary Sanders of the Green Party garnered 57 votes.

District 5 Rep. Brandon McGee beat Republican candidate Charles Jackson. McGee captured 6,474 votes over Jackson’s 1,144.

Democratic State Rep. Edwin Vargas beat Republican challenger Michael Barlowski. Vargas of District 6 had 3,368 votes over Barlowski’s 485.

District 7 State Rep. Joshua Hall beat Giselle Jacobs, who was a petitioning candidate. Hall captured 3,742 votes over Jacobs’ 92.

Check back for updates.

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Hartford Gears Up for Nov. 6 Election, Check Both Sides of Ballot


By Fran Wilson, Staff Writer

HARTFORD — The election polls on Tuesday will be opened from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Gov. Dan Malloy is asking voters to check both sides of the ballot before they vote. This year, many of the ballots are double sided.

To view ballots before going to the poll, you can look it up at this page by clicking here.

To find your polling place, you can go to  http://myvote.ct.gov/lookup  to find each polling place.

To find out where you can register to vote on election day, click here http://myvote.ct.gov/EDR  and click here for more information: http://myvote.ct.gov/EDRInfo.

In response to Republican Governor Candidate Bob Stefanowski asking registrars to have challengers at the poll, Secretary of State Denise Merrill said voters should not be impeded in any way.

“Although we take great pains to ensure that only eligible voters are allowed to vote, we are also careful to avoid potential voter intimidation,” she said. “Challenges to the eligibility of voters should not be made lightly-they are made under oath and only when there is reason to believe they have merit, for good reason. Frivolous challenges are likely to slow down the voting process, or even cause some eligible voters to stay away.”

 

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New Federal Lawsuit Takes on Hartford’s 30-Year School Desegregation Effort — and Challenges the Value of Integration Itself


By Mark Keierleber

Standing outside one of the city’s high-performing magnet schools, LaShawn Robinson decried an enrollment process she believes was stacked against her black son.

Year after year, her oldest son, Jarod, applied to attend one of the city’s magnet schools, which enroll pupils through a competitive lottery. First on a waiting list three times, he was never selected. Without a chance for a quality education, he dropped out of school.

On this chilly October afternoon, Robinson spoke at a press conference outside Kinsella Magnet School of Performing Arts to explain why she is bringing a federal lawsuit against the state, its education department, and Hartford’s board of education.

The legal battle follows years of efforts to integrate Connecticut’s public school system, among the nation’s most segregated, with one of the widest racial achievement gaps.

But this isn’t your typical school desegregation lawsuit. It’s the process to integrate Hartford schools that Robinson is fighting.

In the federal lawsuit filed earlier this year, Robinson and seven other Hartford parents allege the magnet schools employ an unconstitutional “racial quota” that limits the number of black and Latino students to 75 percent of total enrollment while the lottery system to select students gives preference to white and Asian students from the more affluent suburbs.

“There are hundreds of empty seats, and we’re telling kids, ‘No, you can’t come in there because your quota is already met,’” said Robinson, a mother of five.

The suit is only the latest chapter in a thorny legal saga that has dragged on for close to three decades and has raised tough questions about the meaning and value of integration. The magnet school system, Robinson and her fellow plaintiffs allege, violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. Relying on that same amendment, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case that intentional racial segregation is unconstitutional because “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”

The lawsuit could have major ramifications, not just for Connecticut’s magnet schools but for the future of desegregation efforts nationwide as well. Attorneys with the Pacific Legal Foundation, a libertarian law firm based in California that represents the parents pro bono, make no secret of their aim to use the case to set a federal court precedent. Should the case progress to the Supreme Court, said Pacific Legal attorney Joshua Thompson, it could set a new standard that education leaders are “not permitted to discriminate against black or Hispanic kids in order to achieve a diverse student body.” In other words, they aim to prohibit educators from considering race as a factor when assigning students to schools.

If some of Thompson’s rhetoric sounds familiar, it’s not by accident. The legal battle in Connecticut is unfolding against the backdrop of a federal lawsuit challenging Harvard University that could reshape affirmative action admissions policies in higher education. In that lawsuit, Asian-American plaintiffs argue that Harvard’s admissions process, which considers a student’s race among other factors, is discriminatory. That case is largely expected to send the question of affirmative-action-based admissions back to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Cara McClellan of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, an attorney for the plaintiffs in Connecticut’s decades-long segregation battle, also represents Harvard student and alumni organizations that claim the elimination of race as a factor would lead to further discrimination against applicants of color.

Traveling from Boston to attend a recent Hartford town hall devoted to the Robinson case, McClellan argued that segregation is at the heart of academic achievement gaps between white and minority students.

“As long as we continue to segregate kids and send them to school based on segregated housing patterns, we’re going to continue to see the achievement gap play out,” she said. That inequity, she continued, is present in everything from resource allocations to hiring quality teachers.

A generation-long battle

In order to understand the stakes in the Robinson case, it is necessary to go back almost 30 years to an earlier — and still ongoing — lawsuit. In many ways, the fate of LaShawn Robinson and her son is bound up with that of another African-American family: Elizabeth Horton Sheff and her son, who began the legal fight to integrate Connecticut schools in 1989.

In its decision in that case, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that segregation between the city schools, which primarily serve low-income students of color, and those in the whiter, more affluent suburbs, violated the state constitution. As a result, Hartford’s magnet schools and an interdistrict transfer program, both designed to encourage voluntary integration, were created. A controversial part of the agreement declared a school segregated if its black or Latino student enrollment exceeds 75 percent.

Horton Sheff acknowledges that the magnet system is imperfect — in fact, her desegregation lawsuit is back in court nearly three decades later. But she argues that the plaintiffs in the Robinson suit, if successful, could dismantle years of progress at the expense of thousands of children in integrated schools.

“It is a voluntary system, so if people choose to stay in segregation, that is their right,” she said. “But they should not try to thwart the efforts of people who want a different kind of education, of families who seek choice.”

Elizabeth Horton Sheff speaks during a recent town hall event at the Hartford Public Library about her 30-year fight to desegregate the city’s public school system. A new federal lawsuit challenging the schools’ enrollment process threatens to derail efforts to integrate the city’s schools, she said. (Mark Keierleber)

Over the past decade, Connecticut has spent $3 billion on the desegregation effort. Nearly half of Hartford’s students — 22,000 in total — are enrolled in integrated schools, said Deuel Ross, an assistant counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

Although the Defense Fund deems the effort a success, several recent investigations by the local media have offered a more critical appraisal.

One report by the Hartford Courant challenged whether half of Hartford students actually attend integrated schools, putting the percentage closer to a quarter. Another found that the state hasmanipulated the enrollment lottery to benefit white and Asian students at the expense of black and Latino students in segregated neighborhood schools. Because some magnet schools struggle to enroll enough Asian and white children, the investigation found, some minority students have been stuck on the waiting list.

The result is that some schools have eliminated entire grades and others have lost their magnet status altogether. Critically, according to the Courant, some magnet schools that are unable to attract enough white or Asian children leave desks unfilled rather than enroll additional minority children, in order to maintain diversity. Meanwhile, the Connecticut Mirror found that while more suburban students applied to attend the schools last year than children from the city, Hartford youth have better odds of winning than those from the suburbs.

A state education department spokesman didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment on the lawsuits.

The Courant investigations drew the attention of Pacific Legal’s Thompson. “I thought it was a grave injustice,” he said, adding that children should be able to attend the magnet schools without race being a factor. “Schools are there to educate the kids, and the kids that are most in need of this education are being kept out because of their skin color.”

Ross rejects the notion that Hartford’s schools are constrained by quotas set in the Horton Sheff agreement. Schools are under-enrolled, he said, because the state caps the number of magnet seats it’s willing to fund. Moreover, he said, a handful of magnet schools each year are noncompliant, enrolling minority students at rates higher than 75 percent.

This year, with thousands of students on the magnet school waiting list, state officials aimed to increase the 75 percent segregation threshold to 80 percent but were rejected by a Hartford Superior Court judge.

“Does anybody like the lottery?” Horton Sheff asked during the recent town hall. “The devil himself doesn’t like the lottery. Give me an alternative way to provide this opportunity. I can name one: Have the state fully fund all of the seats that are in demand.”

‘Unintended consequences’

Just hours after the press conference in front of Kinsella Magnet School, plaintiffs and attorneys from both the Horton Sheff and Robinson lawsuits sat at the same table and offered their perspectives to a crowd of about 50 people who showed up at the public library on Main Street. The town hall discussion was designed as an opportunity to hear arguments from both perspectives and to reach some common ground.

Dubbed “The True Cost of Integration,” the event, if anything, seemed only to underscore the pervasive divisions between the two sides. Participants vehemently disagreed, not only about the facts surrounding Hartford’s magnet schools and the state’s desegregation efforts but about the value of integration itself.

Horton Sheff believes that integration helps children become global citizens, regardless of their race and ethnicity. “If you are in a diverse setting and you are exposed to people who think differently than you, then that promotes your own awareness,” she said. “You can’t do that in isolation.”

That notion, however, was not self-evident to some who were featured at the event, including Chris Stewart, a Minnesota-based education reform advocate.

“Nobody goes to Idaho and goes to all-white schools and says, ‘Y’all need some Negroes in here,’” said Stewart, who noted that a similar desegregation lawsuit is ongoing in his state. “I don’t want this, and I don’t want it for you either.”

On a national level, a significant body of research supports the notion that integration offers educational benefits for students of color and from low-income families. One study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that desegregation increased educational and occupational attainment among black youth and improved adult earnings while reducing the probability of incarceration.

Connecticut’s efforts to encourage integration have been lauded as a national model, including by John King, who served as education secretary under then-President Barack Obama. But earlier this year, the Trump administration scrapped Obama-era guidance that outlined strategies for schools to consider race as a way to promote student diversity, such as by looking at the racial composition of neighborhoods — a strategy used in the Hartford magnet school lottery.

What’s clear is that the continued negotiations have major implications, not just for Hartford children but for desegregation efforts nationwide.

For Robinson, victory in the federal courts would eliminate a system that’s keeping black and Latino students from quality schools. Although Robinson’s son Jarod dropped out of school after being denied admission into a magnet school, he now attends an adult education program. Meanwhile, her three youngest children had better luck and now attend Kinsella Magnet School.

Magnet schools were designed to encourage integration, and Horton Sheff worries that a Robinson victory would come at the expense of children currently enjoying an education at one of the city’s integrated schools.

“You’ll totally destroy the magnet school system and disrupt the lives of 22,000 children,” Horton Sheff said, pivoting to a Pacific Legal video that was presented during the town hall. “When the video said, ‘No racial quotas will mean Jarod can go to a magnet school,’ well, there won’t be any magnet schools for Jarod to attend.”

At the end of the day, both sides may be right, said Hartford School Board Chairman Craig Stallings, a defendant in the Robinson lawsuit. In Hartford, he sees a system beset by unintended consequences. Although he recognizes the value of integration, he said the district’s students would be better served if the system focused on improving quality in all district schools.

“Those unintended consequences translate to young men and women being stranded in the inner city,” Stallings said. “You can go to any desolate, blighted block in our city and you’re going to find young men and women standing there because they didn’t get a quality education.”

Mark Keierleber is a senior writer-reporter at The 74, where this was first published.

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