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ATHEISM and HUMANISM

6-19-19 When They See Us: Trump stands by 1989 Central Park Five comments
US President Donald Trump has stood by his comments about five men who were wrongly convicted for the brutal rape of a jogger in Central Park in 1989, saying they had "admitted their guilt". Following the arrest of the five teenagers, Mr Trump paid for newspaper adverts calling for the return of the death penalty in the state. The Central Park Five were exonerated in 2002, after another man confessed. They say their earlier confessions were a result of police coercion. The case has received renewed public attention in recent weeks, following the release of Netflix mini-series When They See Us. "They put a bounty on our heads by taking out these full-page ads calling for our deaths," one of the men, Yusef Salaam, said last month. Mr Trump was asked by a reporter at the White House on Tuesday if he would apologise to the five men for the newspaper ads. "Why do you bring this question up now? It's an interesting time to bring it up," he said. "You have people on both sides of that. They admitted their guilt. If you look at Linda Fairstein and if you look at some of the prosecutors, they think that the city should never have settled that case. So we'll leave it at that." Ms Fairstein was the top Manhattan sexual crimes prosecutor when the five teenagers were charged with the attack. She went on to become a bestselling crime novelist but was dropped by her publisher last month amid renewed outcry over the case. She has maintained that the five men were not coerced, and defended the authorities' conduct. Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam and Korey Wise were aged between 14 and 16 when they were arrested for the brutal rape of a 28-year-old white investment banker, who was left for dead in a bush in Central Park and had no memory of the attack.

6-19-19 Senate leader dismisses slave reparations as US hearing begins
A top Republican has scotched calls to compensate US slaves' descendants, as the first congressional hearing on the issue in a decade is held. US Senate leader Mitch McConnell said "no one currently alive was responsible for that" in reference to the historic enslavement of African Americans. The US House of Representatives is holding a session on the grassroots campaign for slavery reparations. Several Democratic White House hopefuls have taken up the idea. Asked about the issue on Tuesday, Mr McConnell told reporters: "I don't think reparations for something that happened 150 years ago for whom none us currently living are responsible is a good idea." He said that "it would be hard to figure out to who to compensate". "We've tried to deal with our original sin of slavery by fighting a civil war, by passing landmark civil rights legislation," he added. "We elected an African-American president. "I think we're always a work in progress in this country, but no one currently alive was responsible for that." (Webmaster's comment: But our police continue to murder blacks and get away with it!) Mr McConnell's comments make clear that any reparations plan would not become law so long as he controls the Senate. Senator Cory Booker, the first panel's witness and a 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful, said "the stain of slavery was not just inked in bloodshed", but in policies that have harmed African Americans for generations. "We as a nation have yet to truly acknowledge and grapple with racism and white supremacy that tainted this country's founding and continues to persist in those deep racial disparities and inequalities today," Mr Booker said. Actor Danny Glover is also expected to testify in favour of reparations on Wednesday before the judiciary subcommittee on the constitution, civil rights and civil liberties. Republicans on the panel have called two witnesses to lay out the opposing case. The session will examine "the legacy of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, its continuing impact on the community and the path to restorative justice", according to the committee.

6-18-19 'Her ancestors enslaved mine. Now we're friends'
Phoebe Kilby discovered her ancestors were slave-owners and she wanted to pay reparations. Through an organisation called Coming To The Table, she found her linked descendant Betty Kilby, and asked if they could meet.

6-18-19 John Cusack: Actor apologises for anti-Semitic tweet
Actor John Cusack has apologised for sharing a "harmful" anti-Semitic image on Twitter. He shared a meme, since deleted, of a large hand with a Star of David on its wrist, oppressing a group of people. A caption on it read: "To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticise." The saying, often misattributed to the French philosopher Voltaire, was in fact spoken by white nationalist Kevin Strom. Cusack added his own comment, "follow the money", to the meme, before later deleting his post after it attracted criticism. He said he had "mistakenly retweeted an alt-right account" believing the image related to an Israeli hospital bombing. (Webmaster's comment: Baloney!) Apologising for his actions, Cusack said: "It's clear that even if it was Israel's flag & even if you don't have anti-Semitic bone in your body, it is still an anti-Semitic cartoon. Because it deploys anti Jewish stereotypes. "I [retweeted] and quickly deleted an image that's harmful to both Jewish and Palestinian friends, and for that I'm sorry." His comments, which he originally blamed on a Twitter bot, drew strong criticism on the social network. Jewish writer Elad Nehorai asked: "How does a bot 'get you to write 'follow the money' after sharing an overtly anti-Semitic image?" English comedian David Baddiel, also Jewish, said: "John Cusack says he didn't at first realise that the image was anti-Semitic. My, it's a troublesome old blind spot for progressives, isn't it?" (Webmaster's comment: Of course it was anti-Jewish and he could not have not realized it!)

6-18-19 US and Russia clash over power grid 'hack attacks'
Russia has said it is "possible" that its electrical grid is under cyber-attack by the US. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said reports that US cyber-soldiers had put computer viruses on its electrical grid was a "hypothetical possibility". His comments came in response to a New York Times (NYT) story which claimed US military hackers were targeting Russian power plants. The report drew scepticism from experts and a denunciation by President Trump. In its report the newspaper said American "code" had been deployed inside many elements of Russia's power network. The Times said this was an escalation of other work the US was doing to combat Russian disinformation and hacking campaigns. Mr Peskov said President Trump had dismissed the allegations made in the Times, calling them "fake news". The Kremlin spokesman added: "If one assumes that some government agencies do this without informing the head of state, then of course this may indicate that cyber-war against Russia might be a hypothetical possibility." He said "vital areas" of Russia's economy were under continuous attack, but it had managed to counter the intrusions so they did no damage. The NYT story was questioned by Thomas Rid, a political scientist from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, who said it made no sense because "publicity burns capabilities". The story would prompt Russia to search its power network extensively for malicious code, he said, making it likely that any viruses would be found. He added that the Russian power grid was big and "exceedingly complex" making it very hard for cyber-attackers to get in and leave any virus in place for a long time. The malicious code was reportedly inserted by soldiers of the US Cyber Command. This group of military hackers is permitted to carry out "clandestine military activity" on computer networks under the aegis of the National Defense Authorization Act, which was passed in 2018. The US has been probing Russian power systems since 2012, reported the NYT, but was now more interested in finding weaknesses and inserting viruses. (Webmaster's comment: This is a unjust undeclared "war" against another nation by the United States.)

6-18-19 What does this hat mean to Americans?
As President Donald Trump prepares to launch his re-election bid, his campaign has announced it is close to selling the millionth official Make American Great Again (MAGA) hat. The BBC takes a look at the origins of the signature red hat and its message, and what it means to Americans. (Webmaster's comment: It's intent is to give an American president dictorial powers to "Make America Great Again" just like "Make Germany Great Again" did for Hitler! It means racism, bigotry, white nationalism, white supremacy, homophobia, religious intolerance, religious hatred, anti-muslims, anti-immigrants, anti-jews, prison camps, a return to segregation and slavery!)

6-18-19 Prisoners in China are still being used as organ donors, says inquiry
Transplant organs are still being sourced from executed prisoners in China, according to an inquiry in London initiated by a campaign group to investigate the issue. Taking organs from prisoners is illegal according to an international convention, and the Chinese government previously said it had stopped the practice four years ago. But this week, the chair of the tribunal, Geoffrey Nice, said that he believes the practice is still widespread. The inquiry was set up by campaign group the International Coalition to End Transplant Abuse in China and has no legal power. Forced organ donation from prisoners has been suspected in China for decades, and the coalition asked the inquiry to investigate whether some hospitals in China are still boosting supplies of transplant organs from prisoners. The inquiry also investigated whether Uighurs and Falun Gong members have previously been and are still being used as organ donors. Uighurs are a Muslim ethnic minority in China, while Falun Gong is a belief system similar to Buddhism that is outlawed in China. The tribunal heard evidence that some hospitals in China offer organ transplants with very short waiting times. This would be impossible without a large bank of people with known tissue types who can be killed to order, said Nice, a former UK judge who previously prosecuted former Serbian president Slobodan Miloševic at the UN’s International Criminal Tribunal. The tribunal was told of an investigation run by another campaign group, the World Organization to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong, in 2018. The group asked researchers to pretend to be doctors and ring up senior transplant doctors in Chinese hospitals to try to book transplants. Some were offered waits as short as one or two weeks. In nine of the 12 hospitals contacted, doctors verbally confirmed that the organs would be sourced from Falun Gong members. Some websites advertise in English for foreign patients to visit Chinese hospitals for transplants, says David Matas, a Canadian human rights lawyer. Selling organs to foreigners is against an international convention known as the Declaration of Istanbul.

6-17-19 Does people power make a difference? The truth about protests
Hundreds of thousands of people filled the streets of Hong Kong on 9 June to protest a government plan to allow extraditions to mainland China. The demonstrations have continued regularly since, with seas of protesters surrounding a government building and preventing law-makers from meeting about the proposed law. Hong Kong’s chief executive Carrie Lam has suspended the bill, but protesters say this doesn’t go far enough and want the law to be scrapped. As New Scientist went to press, it was unclear if this demand would be met. The approach in Hong Kong is just one of many ways protesters have recently been attempting to challenge the status quo. Tactics range from marches to violent civil disobedience, but it can be difficult to tell what, if any of it, really works when it comes to effecting change. The result can depend on the type of protest. Matthew Feinberg at the University of Toronto and his colleagues have found that peaceful protests like sit-ins and marches can amplify a message and draw new supporters, but that extreme or violent tactics backfire, putting people off from supporting their cause. “The easiest way to become known is to get the news to cover your movement, and the easiest way to do that is by doing something extreme. But it’s a catch-22,” says Feinberg. One way to bring attention to a cause is to disrupt the hum of normal life. In April, climate protesters Extinction Rebellion had success with this method, bringing some transport hubs in central London to a standstill by blocking the streets with people and gluing themselves to trains. The movement quickly gained attention from the press and attracted new supporters, partly thanks to social media. But it also drew criticism from people who felt the inconvenience didn’t justify the cause.

6-17-19 Family thought US police were going to shoot them
Armed police surrounded a family car after a child left a shop with a doll without paying for it. Phoenix police say they were responding to a report of shoplifting. The city's police chief has apologised for the aggressive confrontation and says the incident is being investigated. The incident in Arizona comes amid heightened scrutiny of law enforcement by the public across the United States following a series of high-profile killings of African Americans.

6-17-19 Phoenix mayor apologises after police threaten to shoot black family
The mayor of the US city of Phoenix has apologised after a video allegedly showing police threatening to shoot a black family went viral. Officers were responding to an alleged shoplifting incident last month when the video was recorded. Police officers can be seen shouting at the family to get out of their vehicle before threatening them. The parents say they did not realise their four-year-old had taken a $1 (£0.79) Barbie doll from a store. Mayor Kate Gallego said the officers' actions were "completely inappropriate and clearly unprofessional". Ms Gallego said in a statement: "There is no situation in which this behaviour is ever close to acceptable. As a mother myself, seeing these children placed in such a terrifying situation is beyond upsetting. "I am deeply sorry for what this family went through and I apologise to our community." She said that the city was speeding up the implementation of body-worn cameras. A community meeting about the incident will also be held on Tuesday. In the video, Iesha Harper can be seen emerging from the car with her two young children. The children are handed to a bystander and Ms Harper is arrested. The footage also shows another man, Dravon Ames, being kicked in the legs as he is handcuffed by an officer. The couple are preparing to sue the city for $10 million over the incident. Rapper Jay Z's Roc Nation company has offered the pair legal support. Roc Nation Managing Director of Philanthropy Dania Diaz said in a statement: "We are calling for the immediate termination of the police officers in question. We are committed to supporting the family to ensure justice is served." Ms Harper, who is pregnant, told CNN: "I really thought he was going to shoot me in front of the kids." She said that she gave her two children to a bystander as she "didn't trust the police". (Webmaster's comment: Threatening someone with guns without reason is illegal. The officers should be arrested, charged, tried, convicted and imprisoned.)

6-17-19 Vatican considers ordaining older married men in remote parts of Amazon
The Vatican has raised the idea of ordaining older married men as priests in the Amazon's remote areas where there is a shortage of clergy, in what could be a historic shift, the BBC's religion editor Martin Bashir reports. The issue was raised in detail in Pope Francis' landmark Encyclical on the Environment - Laudato Si - published in 2015. He wrote that the region was confronting such challenges that it "requires structural and personal changes by all human beings, by nations and by the Church". The document outlines areas for discussion at the forthcoming Amazon Synod which will focus on the region in October; bishops and indigenous people from Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname and French Guyana are due to attend the event in Rome. These nations comprise 33 million people and are the source of one-fifth of the world's fresh water, one-fourth of all oxygen and more than one-third of global forest reserves. The Vatican says the region represents a pastoral and environmental challenge - but it is the scarcity of priests that the Church can directly address. And so this 45-page document, drafted after input from bishops conferences and local communities, suggests that the Synod in October should consider the possibility of ordaining elderly married men, who are respected in their communities. It refers to "proven men of character" to deal with the shortage of priests - and says they should be outstanding members of the local Catholic community, with grown-up families. The document also calls for some kind of "official ministry" for women in the area, although it does not elaborate. This would be a dramatic change given that the First and Second Lateran Councils of 1123 and 1139 explicitly forbade priests from marrying - so we are almost past 1,000 years since the Catholic Church has maintained male celibate priests. Eliminating the prospect of marriage ensured that children or wives of priests did not make claims on property acquired throughout a priest's life, which thus could be retained by the Church. (Webmaster's comment: If they are allowed there then they have to be allowed everywhere!)

6-17-19 Against commercial surrogacy
Why this conservative Catholic agrees with Gloria Steinem. As a conservative Catholic, I rarely find myself standing shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Gloria Steinem. Strange times make for strange bedfellows however, and Steinem won my admiration last week when she wrote an open letter opposing legislation that would legalize commercial surrogacy in the state of New York. The bill has already passed New York's State Senate, but it encountered opposition in the Assembly, where some members have ethical concerns about the practice of paying women to be pregnant. "I find that commodification of women troubling," said Deborah Glick, who in 1991 became the first openly gay member of New York's legislature. She's right. It is troubling. Commercial surrogacy exploits women, and treats children as market commodities. It shouldn't be legal in the state of New York, or anywhere else. Here in the United States, New York is an outlier, as one of only three states that still bans commercial surrogacy outright. This irritates celebrities like Andy Cohen, who think it's "ridiculous" that they should be forced to travel to find an available womb. In Cohen's mind, gay men deserve the right to hire gestational carriers, without whom they may never experience the joy of cuddling their genetic offspring. That inconvenience may seem preposterous to Cohen, but in fact, fertility tourism has been around for some time. With infertility and same-sex coupling both on the rise, so-called "intended parents" now regularly travel to Asia, Eastern Europe, or Mexico in search of legal and affordable gestational carriers. The ethical complications are obvious, and some nations that have experimented with commercial surrogacy eventually decided that it wasn't worth the money. Quite recently, India shut down its $400-million-per-year commercial surrogacy industry, which once gave rise to the famed Akanksha Infertility Clinic, where desperately poor Indian women bore children for affluent Westerners. As a business venture, this effort was wildly successful, but the Indians eventually decided that the practice was simply too exploitative. The French, British, Germans, Italians, Irish, Spanish, and Australians evidently agree. Most Western countries have in fact already banned commercial surrogacy. The United States now keeps company with Mexico, Nepal, and many former Soviet states, as countries where the wealthy can pay to have their children gestated in foreign wombs. (Webmaster's comment: Sorry, but a woman's body is hers to use as she wishes! We have no right to block her right to get pregnant for whatever her reasons.)

6-16-19 Donald Trump attacks Sadiq Khan over London violence
US President Donald Trump has once again criticised London Mayor Sadiq Khan, calling him a "national disgrace" who is destroying the UK's capital. His comments came after five violent attacks in London in less than 24 hours left three men dead and three injured. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said it was "absolutely awful" Mr Trump was using the "tragedy of people being murdered to attack the mayor". Police have increased patrols in the capital following the attacks. President Trump's tweets follow a long-running feud with Khan. Retweeting a post by right-wing commentator Katie Hopkins about this weekend's violence in London, the president said Mr Khan was "a disaster" and the capital needed a new mayor. Mr Trump later followed it up with another post saying: "He is a national disgrace who is destroying the city of London!" In response, Mr Khan's spokesman said the mayor's thoughts were with the victims' families and he "is not going to waste his time responding to this sort of tweet". The mayor was focused on supporting the city's communities and "over-stretched" emergency services, he added. Mr Khan later tweeted: "Violent crime has no place in our city, and there's no higher priority for me than Londoners' safety." Mr Corbyn tweeted in defence of Mr Khan, saying he was "rightly supporting the police to do their job while Katie Hopkins spreads hateful and divisive rhetoric". (Webmaster's comment: The homicide rate in England is 1.22 per 100,000. In the United States it is 5.35 per 100,000. That's 4.4 times higher than in England. The English need to buy more guns so they can catch up with the United States' homicidal maniacs.)

6-15-19 Trump retreats on election meddling remarks
President Donald Trump has stepped back from comments he made about reporting foreign interference in a US political campaign. He told Fox News he would "of course" refer to the FBI any offer of damaging information about a political opponent. Mr Trump disputed in another interview aired this week whether the FBI should be notified of such approaches. Democrats said he was giving Russia the go-ahead to meddle again in the next 2020 presidential election. On Friday, Mr Trump called into the Fox & Friends show to give a 50-minute live interview. Asked how he would respond to any offer from another government to help his campaign, Mr Trump said: "Of course, you give it to the FBI or report it to the attorney general or somebody like that." He continued: "But of course you do that. You couldn't have that happen with our country." Mr Trump also maintained he would still at least review any such foreign-supplied information. "Of course, you have to look at it, because if you don't look at it, you won't know it's bad," he said. In an interview broadcast this week on ABC News, Mr Trump pushed back on whether he should report to law enforcement officials any foreign offer of help for his re-election bid. Mr Trump said: "If somebody called from a country, Norway, 'we have information on your opponent' - oh, I think I'd want to hear it." "It's not an interference, they have information," Mr Trump added, "I think I'd take it." When the ABC anchor referred to the FBI director telling Congress his agency should be made aware of any such foreign election meddling, Mr Trump said: "The FBI director is wrong." Even several of the president's fellow Republicans spoke out against his remarks to ABC. Trump ally Senator Lindsey Graham said the comments were "wrong". Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said the president "does not know right from wrong". (Webmaster's comment: The nation's top crook does not know right from wrong!)

6-14-19 Internment camp
The Trump administration plans to move up to 1,400 migrant children in its custody to an Army base used to imprison Japanese-Americans during World War II. Citing an “influx” of Central American migrants, Health and Human Services officials said 168 facilities and programs in 23 states are too crowded to suffice. At Fort Sill, children will be separated from the on-base population and have HHS staff, not U.S. troops, overseeing them. (The Obama administration briefly placed migrant children on Army bases, including Fort Sill, in 2014.) The move comes as Congress considers an HHS request for $2.9 billion in emergency funding, after taking about 40,900 children into custody during the first seven months of this fiscal year—a 57 percent increase from last year. HHS has canceled activities such as English lessons and soccer for migrant kids, saying it is too cash-strapped to pay for education, legal services, and recreation. (Webmaster's comment: The beginning of the first American concentration camps for children. The adults will soon follow.)

6-14-19 The new Cuba travel restrictions
It just became a lot harder to travel to Cuba, said Andrea Sachs in The Washington Post. Last week, the Trump administration announced several new rules, including bans on “people-to-people” educational travel and on cruise visits—Americans’ favorite way to visit the island nation. The changes, which are expected to disrupt the vacations of 800,000 cruise passengers alone, aim to shut down mass tourism in retaliation for Cuba’s support of embattled Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. Fortunately, travelers who booked and paid for flights, hotels, or tours before June 5 can proceed with their plans, and cruise lines are rerouting itineraries and refunding fares. “Airlines, meanwhile, survived without a scratch,” and “while the U.S. government has closed some windows, the door to Cuba remains open a crack.” Americans can visit as long as they avoid state-run businesses and volunteer in community projects. (Webmaster's comment: Who said we were free?)

6-14-19 US diplomats work around White House gay pride flag ban
US diplomats have been finding creative ways to show support for LGBTQ+ Pride month after the White House banned them from flying the rainbow flag. Before this year embassies had routinely hoisted the flag - but this year they were required to seek approval from the state department, which reportedly refused all requests. On Tuesday Vice-President Mike Pence said the ban was the "right decision". He said there were no restrictions on pride flags elsewhere on the buildings. The Trump administration has appointed several gay ambassadors and Mr Trump has made a statement celebrating Pride month. "We're proud to be able to serve every American," Mr Pence told NBC, but "when it comes to the American flagpole, and American embassies, and capitals around the world, one American flag flies." Mr Pence, an evangelical Christian, opposes gay marriage and has a history of supporting anti-LGBTQ+ legislation. The ban has been backed by prominent evangelical Trump supporter Franklin Graham, who on Sunday tweeted that the gay pride flag was "offensive to Christians and millions of people of other faiths". Earlier this month an unnamed diplomat told the Washington Post there was a "category one insurrection" against the rainbow flag ban. On Thursday the US Embassy in Jerusalem tweeted a photo of its branch office in Tel Aviv - formerly the embassy before President Trump moved it to Jerusalem - decked out in rainbow colours. It said this was in preparation for Friday's Tel Aviv pride parade. It was among at least four embassies - the others were Germany, Brazil and Latvia - which were denied permission to fly the rainbow flag, the Guardian reported. Despite that, the US missions in the South Korean capital Seoul and the Indian city of Chennai hung large rainbow flags on their facades.

6-14-19 50 years to late
The New York City Police Department has officially apologized for the violent police raid 50 years ago on a gay bar called the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. The angry backlash to that raid helped ignite the gay rights movement.

6-14-19 Persecuted heterosexuals
Persecuted heterosexuals, with the announcement of a planned “Straight Pride Parade” through the streets of Boston in August. “There’s a lot of people that are uncomfortable with a lot of things that are happening,” explained organizer John Hugo.

6-14-19 American health-care
The American health-care industry is becoming increasingly monopolized at all levels, helping drive up prices for medical care. One company controls 64 percent of the market for syringes; three companies control 86 percent of the market for IV solution; and two companies control 92 percent of dialysis clinics.

6-14-19 Australia: A double assault on press freedom
Police bursting into the home of a reporter, cops raiding a TV news office—these are scenes worthy of an authoritarian state. Yet they happened in Australia last week, said the Herald Sun in an editorial. First, federal police raided the home of our reporter Annika Smethurst, confiscating her computer files and notes, rifling through cookbooks and other personal belongings, and even inspecting her underwear drawer. Her crime? Writing an article in April last year about a government proposal to give spy agencies powers to secretly access the emails, text messages, and bank details of Australians. The next day, police raided the Sydney headquarters of the Australian Broadcasting Corp. and rifled through some 10,000 documents used in the network’s investigation of alleged unlawful killings of Afghan civilians by Australian special forces. These attacks on press freedom, which authorities claim were necessary to protect national security, are a “gross overreach.” How can there be an imminent threat to security when both stories were published more than a year ago? Australia is the only democracy in the world that lacks strong legal protections “for freedom of speech and of the press,” said George Williams in The Australian. And this nation has grown only more hostile to media freedom since 9/11, with successive center-left and center-right governments passing a total of 75 national security laws. These laws allow reporters’ documents to be seized, “sources to be identified, whistleblowers to be shut down, and journalists to be jailed.” Politicians assured us over the years that all this legislation was needed to battle terrorism and would never be used against the media, yet here we are. (Webmaster's comment: Trump is drooling to have this power.)

6-14-19 The psychiatrist who conducted psychedelic experiments on soldiers
James Ketchum believed that mind-altering chemicals could make war less deadly. Envisioning a future in which enemy troops might be incapacitated by a water supply tainted with LSD or a cloud of hallucinogens drifting across the battlefield, the Army psychiatrist conducted experiments on thousands of U.S. soldiers at Edgewood Arsenal in Maryland in the 1960s. Drugged subjects wandered around in states of delirium; some suffered waking nightmares and smashed holes in walls. The program was canceled amid withering congressional hearings, which revealed that no follow-up care was provided for the test subjects. But Ketchum remained a firm believer in psychochemical warfare. Finding an alternative to bombs and bullets, he said, was “a noble cause.” Born in Manhattan, Ketchum graduated from Cornell University’s medical school in 1956, and—“tired of being broke”—joined the Army, said The Washington Post. He arrived at Edgewood in 1961 “amid reports that the Soviet Union was developing robust chemical warfare capabilities.” He rose to lead the arsenal’s pharmacology branch and saw potential in recreational drugs used by the counterculture. But critics, including the arsenal’s chief medical officer, said soldiers who volunteered for experiments “were not told what they were given or how it would affect them.”

6-13-19 Sarah Sanders: White House press secretary resigns
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders is leaving her post, President Donald Trump has announced. He said his spokeswoman would return to her home state of Arkansas at the end of June, praising her as a "warrior". Mrs Sanders, who is the latest senior White House aide to exit, said her role had been "the honour of a lifetime". Her credibility was questioned during a combative tenure that saw press briefings all but relegated to a thing of the past. She started out as deputy press secretary before replacing Sean Spicer in the top post in July 2017. Mrs Sanders, 36, has been a loyal mouthpiece, famously saying that God "wanted Donald Trump to become president". At an unrelated White House event on Thursday, Mr Trump described her as "a special person, a very, very fine woman". "She's a warrior, we're all warriors, we have to be warriors," Mr Trump added. The president did not name a replacement press secretary.

6-13-19 Donald Trump's immigrant gulag
Probably the worst thing President Franklin Roosevelt ever did was Executive Order 9066, which ordered the arrest and incarceration of about 120,000 Japanese-Americans, nearly two-thirds of whom were American citizens. The motivation was purest paranoia and racism — holding innocent civilians, most of whose families had lived in the United States for two or three generations, responsible for the attack on Pearl Harbor. For many years, it was thought this was a historical aberration — an indulgence of the worst human instincts brought on by war fever. President Carter opened an investigation into the story in 1980, and in 1988 President Reagan signed a bill granting reparations of $20,000 to each camp survivor. But President Trump is following a similar path much further than Roosevelt ever did — indeed, his administration recently announced they would incarcerate 1,400 children at an Oklahoma army base that was part of the Second World War camp system. Trump's immigrant gulag is already one of the greatest moral atrocities in American history, and there is every sign it is going to get worse if he isn't stopped. By all accounts, the conditions in the Trump immigrant gulag are considerably worse than those suffered by Japanese-Americans from 1942-45. Conditions in those concentration camps during the war varied, and they were generally quite poor. Nevertheless, the camps had at least half-decent food and medical care. There was no deliberate mass starvation, nor mass executions. Schools were provided for children (poorly-equipped ones, but better than nothing), and some facilities even had sports teams (to relieve the crushing boredom, if nothing else). Families were mostly kept together. The Trump gulag is badly lacking even these inadequate, rudimentary services. As Jonathan M. Katz writes in the Los Angeles Times, at least 48,000 people are currently incarcerated, a number that is increasing fast as a direct consequence of Trump's decision to drastically step up arrests. As a recent inspector general report details, facilities are hideously overcrowded and filthy, with people jammed into dog kennel-like cages and forced to sleep on the ground outside. Ken Klippenstein uncovered internal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) documents outlining how its health care is "severely dysfunctional and unfortunately preventable harm and death to detainees has occurred." Many people, including several children, have died from medical neglect. Thousands of minors have complained of sexual assault and abuse while being detained over the past several years, including 178 accusations against U.S. staffers — and the rate has sharply increased since Trump took office. Perhaps worst of all, thousands of immigrant children have been separated from their families. Under Trump's "zero tolerance" policy starting in May 2018, over 2,800 immigrant children were ripped from their parents' arms and stuffed into their own pint-size concentration camps with little concern for keeping track of which child belonged with which family. A court forced Trump to halt that policy as of June 2018, but in May the administration announced it had discovered a further 1,712 children it "may have" separated from their families in addition to the above figure. (Like everything about the Trump regime, the camp logistics are appallingly incompetent.)

6-13-19 US watchdog calls for Trump aide Kellyanne Conway's removal
A US government oversight agency has said White House aide Kellyanne Conway should be fired for engaging in banned political activities while in office. The Office of Special Counsel said Mrs Conway violated the Hatch Act, which bans federal employees from campaigning for candidates while on the job. The watchdog cited "numerous occasions" in which she violated the law, calling her a "repeat offender". The White House dismissed the advice as "deeply flawed" and "unprecedented". The allegations stem from statements Mrs Conway made on television during the 2017 Alabama special Senate election in which she advocated for and against certain individual candidates. The president, vice-president and some other high level officials are not bound by the 1939 Hatch Act. In a statement announcing the recommendation, the independent Office of Special Counsel (OSC) said that her "violations, if left unpunished, would send a message to all federal employees that they need not abide by the Hatch Act's restrictions. "Her actions thus erode the principal foundation of our democratic system - the rule of law." The agency described one episode in which she appears to shrug off the Hatch Act, saying "if you're trying to silence me through the Hatch Act, it's not going to work," and "let me know when the jail sentence starts". It is up to President Donald Trump whether or not to heed the recommendation and fire his former 2016 campaign manager. The office is run by Henry Kern, who the president nominated for the role.

6-13-19 'Silenced' children of priests to share stories with French bishops
Children of Roman Catholic priests who felt "silenced" by the Church for decades will share their stories with bishops in Paris for the first time. Bishops will meet members of the French association Les Enfants du Silence (The Children of Silence) on Thursday. At their own request, the sons and daughters of priests will speak about their fathers, neglect and suffering. Their existence is a sensitive issue for the Church, which expects priests to adhere to a strict rule of celibacy. In an unprecedented series of meetings beginning on Thursday afternoon, children who say they have been "silenced" and "humiliated" by the Church will have the opportunity to share their experiences. A spokesman for the bishops' conference in the French capital, Vincent Neymon, said it was time to "realise people have suffered and are still suffering". Speaking ahead of the conference, the daughter of a priest, now aged 50 and named only as Maya, told news website Franceinfo that she felt obliged to stay silent after learning of her father's position at the age of seven. "When you live as the child of a priest, you have an obligation of silence," she said, adding that her father was absent for much of her childhood, like someone who spends a lot of time "on the road". Maya said she also kept quiet to protect her family, fearing that if the truth about her parents became known she could have been taken into care. Marie-Christine Miquel, another of the children, said that she did not meet her father until she was nine, when he left the priesthood. "I was like most children who live in a non-conforming situation, I did not ask questions," she said. "No doubt the ears of the Church are more open today," he said, adding: "The Church must recognise that these people exist." Thursday's agreed meetings are likely to expose more of these stories.

6-13-19 Slim Majority in U.S. Favors New LGBT Civil Rights Laws
A slight majority of Americans (53%) say that new civil rights laws are needed to reduce discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. This comes one month after the House of Representatives passed the Equality Act, which would protect LGBT people from discrimination in employment, housing and other settings.

  • 53% say new anti-discrimination laws are needed; 46% say they are not
  • Americans perceive the public as being more accepting of gay relations

6-13-19 Muhlaysia Booker: Man charged with murder of Dallas transgender woman
A man has been charged with murder following the fatal shooting of transgender woman Muhlaysia Booker last month, police in Dallas, Texas say. Kendrell Lavar Lyles, 34, has also been charged with the murders of two other people, officials said. Ms Booker's killing caused an outcry and highlighted the issue of violence faced by transgender people in the US. Weeks earlier, she was assaulted during a traffic accident and video of the incident was shared on social media. In a statement, Dallas police said Mr Lyles was charged with Ms Booker's murder after he was arrested on 5 June in connection with the other two killings. The first was the fatal shooting of a woman in Dallas on 22 May and the second was the killing of a man in a drugs-related incident a day later. The victims have not been named. Neither was transgender, the Washington Post quoted police as saying. Investigators said that, during the course of investigating these two cases, detectives noticed that Mr Lyles drove the same type of car believed to have picked up Muhlaysia Booker on 18 May - the day she was found dead. Mobile phone analysis indicated he had been in the area where she was picked up as well as at the scene of her murder, the police statement said. "Muhlaysia Booker was last seen getting into a light coloured Lincoln LS, which is the same type of car driven by suspect Lyles," the statement said, adding: "Thus far... Lyles has been charged with three counts of murder. Police have not suggested a motive for the killings. Detectives said Mr Lyles was also a "person of interest" in the death of 26-year-old Chynal Lindsey, a transgender woman whose body was found floating in a Dallas lake on 1 June, the Washington Post reported.

6-13-19 Chapel Hill killer jailed for life for 2015 murder of Muslim students
A man who killed three Muslim students near the University of North Carolina in 2015 has been jailed for life. Craig Hicks fatally shot newlyweds Deah Barakat, 23, and Yusor Mohammad, 21, and Yusor's 19-year-old sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha in Chapel Hill. He pleaded guilty to three counts of first-degree murder and was given three life sentences. Hicks was not charged with hate crimes, despite the victims' families insisting they were targeted for their religion. Police said the killings were sparked by a dispute over a parking space in front of their home in February 2015. However, it was argued during Hicks' trial that he singled out the three victims, and reacted so violently, because of implicit bias. Previously unseen phone footage of the shooting that was played to the court showed Hicks accosting Mr Barakat at his front door, accusing him of taking up his space In the video, Mr Barakat spoke to Hicks in a calm voice. But Hicks responded by opening fire, before shooting at the two sisters. During the hearing on Wednesday, Hicks said he had wanted to plead guilty "on day one". "Here it is, four years, four months and two days later, and I'm finally here," US broadcaster CNN reported him as saying. Mr Barakat was a second-year dental student at UNC, while his wife Yusor had just been admitted to dental school as well. Her sister Razan was a design student at North Carolina State University. The killings sparked international outrage at the time, with then-US President Barack Obama denouncing the "brutal and outrageous murders".

6-13-19 Ethnic minority children are exposed to more noise pollution at school
US schoolchildren from ethnic minority or poorer backgrounds are much more likely to be exposed to noise pollution from cars and planes, the first effort to map the problem has found. While white pupils make up around half of the country’s 50 million schoolchildren, only 35 per cent of the pupils exposed to high levels of road traffic noise are white, Timothy Collins at the University of Utah and his colleagues found. Hispanic children, on the other hand, make up 26 per cent of school age students, but accound for nearly the same proportion of children exposed to noise: 36 per cent. Black children are 16 per cent of the school roll, but make up 20 per cent of those highly exposed to road noise. Children on free or reduced cost school meals – a proxy for economic deprivation – make up 51 per cent of US schoolchildren, but 59 per cent of those exposed to noise. Noisy environments have previously been linked to worse academic performance. Collins says minorities and poorer children are often educationally disadvantaged in the first place, so the noise many of them experience at school could be compounding existing disparities. His team came to the findings after overlaying locations of primary and secondary schools in the US, complete with data on their demographics, with a US government noise mapping tool which has modelled noise exposure across the country since 2017. Any road or aviation noise over 35 decibels and within 500 metres of a school was counted. As those noise values are 24-hour averages, and there is more traffic in the daytime when children are at school, the team have probably underestimated the children’s actual noise exposure, admits Collins. The research also found that younger school children suffer more exposure to noise than older ones. This appears to be because schools for older children tend to have more land, with some parts of campus situated further away from roads.


FEMINISM

6-19-19 'My father, the rapist': Hidden victims of Rwanda's genocide
A 24-year-old Rwandan whose mother was raped in the genocide tells the BBC how he came to learn of the circumstances of his birth. Their names have been changed because of the shame surrounding rape, which still exists to this day. Jean-Pierre says it was a form asking for his parents' names at the end of primary school which first made him question who exactly his father was. "I did not know him - I did not know his name," he says. He had heard the village whispers, and the names people would call him - but it would take years for him to finally learn the whole truth. The story, his mother Carine says firmly, "is not something to take at one time". "He had heard different information. He heard gossip. Everyone in the community knows I was raped. There was nothing I could do about it," she explains. "My son kept asking who his father was. But among 100 men or more who raped me, I could not tell the father." Exactly how many children were born as a result of rape during the 100-day massacre in 1994 is not known. Efforts are being made by the UN to end to conflict-related sexual violence - rape was used as a weapon of war from Syria to Colombia and from Democratic Republic of Congo to Myanmar last year. Survivors are sharing stories on social media using the hashtag #EndRapeinWar to mark the UN's day to eliminate sexual violence in war. But it is not easy for those involved to recall the events - even a quarter of a century later. Hearing Carine's story, it is clear why she waited until her son was old enough to hear the truth. She was about the same age as him the first time she was raped, one of hundreds of thousands mainly Tutsi women and girls believed to have been sexually assaulted by Hutu neighbours, militia and soldiers. The genocide had just begun, and she was still bleeding from two machete wounds on either side of her face - wounds which still make it hard to eat and speak today. Her assailants - people who had once been part of the same community - had dragged her to the edge of a pit where they were dumping the bodies of the men, women and children they had just systematically murdered in a school. But despite her wounds, despite the pain, Carine knew she did not want to die. She also knew she did not want to die when a group of soldiers sexually assaulted her with small trees and sticks just hours later, causing unimaginable damage. It was only when another group attacked her, biting her all over her body, she decided she no longer wanted to live. "Now I wanted to die soon. I wanted to die so many times." But her ordeal had only just begun: the hospital which tried to save her life was quickly overrun by Hutu militia. "I couldn't run away. I couldn't go because everything was broken," she says. "Whoever wanted to have sex with me could. If the perpetrators wanted to urinate, they could come and do it on me."

6-17-19 Against commercial surrogacy
Why this conservative Catholic agrees with Gloria Steinem. As a conservative Catholic, I rarely find myself standing shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Gloria Steinem. Strange times make for strange bedfellows however, and Steinem won my admiration last week when she wrote an open letter opposing legislation that would legalize commercial surrogacy in the state of New York. The bill has already passed New York's State Senate, but it encountered opposition in the Assembly, where some members have ethical concerns about the practice of paying women to be pregnant. "I find that commodification of women troubling," said Deborah Glick, who in 1991 became the first openly gay member of New York's legislature. She's right. It is troubling. Commercial surrogacy exploits women, and treats children as market commodities. It shouldn't be legal in the state of New York, or anywhere else. Here in the United States, New York is an outlier, as one of only three states that still bans commercial surrogacy outright. This irritates celebrities like Andy Cohen, who think it's "ridiculous" that they should be forced to travel to find an available womb. In Cohen's mind, gay men deserve the right to hire gestational carriers, without whom they may never experience the joy of cuddling their genetic offspring. That inconvenience may seem preposterous to Cohen, but in fact, fertility tourism has been around for some time. With infertility and same-sex coupling both on the rise, so-called "intended parents" now regularly travel to Asia, Eastern Europe, or Mexico in search of legal and affordable gestational carriers. The ethical complications are obvious, and some nations that have experimented with commercial surrogacy eventually decided that it wasn't worth the money. Quite recently, India shut down its $400-million-per-year commercial surrogacy industry, which once gave rise to the famed Akanksha Infertility Clinic, where desperately poor Indian women bore children for affluent Westerners. As a business venture, this effort was wildly successful, but the Indians eventually decided that the practice was simply too exploitative. The French, British, Germans, Italians, Irish, Spanish, and Australians evidently agree. Most Western countries have in fact already banned commercial surrogacy. The United States now keeps company with Mexico, Nepal, and many former Soviet states, as countries where the wealthy can pay to have their children gestated in foreign wombs. (Webmaster's comment: Sorry, but a woman's body is hers to use as she wishes! We have no right to block her right to get pregnant for whatever her reasons.)

6-14-19 Chemical castration
Gov. Kay Ivey signed a law this week requiring offenders convicted of a sex crime against children under 13 to begin chemical castration treatment as a condition of parole.The nonpermanent procedure reduces testosterone to prepubescent levels without causing sterilization. Alabama parolees must foot the bill, which can be $1,000 a month, until a judge deems the treatment no longer necessary. Six other states—including California and Florida—authorize chemical castration for sex offenders, though most don’t make it mandatory. Researchers have found slightly lower recidivism rates among treatment recipients, who can also experience hair and bone loss, weight gain, breast growth, and depression. Critics say it’s inhumane, but the bill’s author, Republican Steve Hurst, said he’d prefer permanent surgical castration: “If they’re going to mark these children for life, they need to be marked for life.” (Webmaster's comment: Why shouldn't permanent surgical castration be mandatory for all pedaphiles? These are men who have deliberately chosen to harm chldren for their own pleasure who should not be allowed to reproduce, ever!)

6-14-19 Child rape, murder case
Six Hindu men were convicted this week in connection with the 2018 rape and murder of an 8-year-old Muslim girl, in a case that horrified the country. Three of the men, including a 61-year-old temple priest, were sentenced to life in prison. The others, all police officers, were given five-year terms for destroying evidence. A member of a tribe of Muslim herders, the girl was abducted while tending her family’s horses, held in the temple for days, drugged, raped, and ultimately bludgeoned to death. Prosecutors said the grisly crime was meant as a warning to her tribe, which had been arguing over land with the Hindu-majority community in Kathua. Outrage over the case prompted the government to add the death penalty as an option for child rapists last year, and many Muslims are now asking why the attackers won’t be executed. (Webmaster's comment: And so am I.)

6-14-19 Parental leave: No longer just for mothers
“Just 29 percent of organizations offer some kind of paid leave to dads,” said Jena McGregor in The Washington Post. But now a legal settlement at JPMorgan Chase “could accelerate the trend toward more clearly gender-neutral policies for new parents.” The bank paid $5 million to settle a class-action suit filed after one JPMorgan employee allegedly was told he had to prove “his wife had returned to work or was incapacitated” in order for him to receive the full 16-week paid leave as “primary caregiver.” The benefit for “secondary caregivers,” at the time, was only two weeks. Experts see the bank’s settlement in the case as a potential wake-up call. Derek Rotondo, the dad behind the JPMorgan lawsuit, said the impact of his 16-week paternity leave after the birth of his second child was “huge,” said Noam Scheiber in The New York Times. Compared with the two weeks he received after his wife’s first pregnancy, Rotondo “was able to take charge of settling the baby down late at night, sparing his wife sleep deprivation,” and form a stronger bond with his older son. (Webmaster's comment: In Europe fathers share materity leave with the mother. The average time is 22 weeks and can be over 68 weeks. United States is in the dark ages.)

6-14-19 Netherlands: Should a mentally ill teen be allowed to die?
“It was a story too horrible to be true,” said Naomi O’Leary in Politico.eu: A 17-year-old rape victim struggling with severe depression had been euthanized in the Netherlands. “And indeed it wasn’t true.” Noa Pothoven, who suffered from anorexia and post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from multiple sexual assaults, did die last week, several days after she began refusing all food and drink. Her parents respected her wishes not to be force-fed or resuscitated, and she passed away at home. Her death was not a result of active euthanasia, but while the Dutch media reported the cause correctly, the foreign press did not. An alarmist headline in Britain’s Daily Mail, “one of the most popular English-language sites in the world,” proclaimed that a Dutch teen rape victim had been “legally euthanized,” and the story spread like wildfire from there. Newspapers and news sites from the U.S. to Australia to India claimed the teen had been killed at an “end of life” clinic. In fact, Noa had sought euthanasia a year earlier at a Dutch clinic, but she was turned away. You might ask why loving parents would let their daughter end her life, said Romy van der Poel in NRC Handelsblad (Netherlands). Because Noa had been in agony for years. She said that she was sexually assaulted at a school party at age 11 and raped by two men at age 14, after which she sank into anorexia and depression and was placed in a group home for mentally ill children, where her condition only worsened. She wrote a book, Winning or Learning, to describe her anguish. Last year, she stopped eating and was placed in a medically induced coma and force-fed, a trauma she said she would never again experience. “After years of fighting and fighting, it is finished,” she told her 10,000 Instagram followers shortly before her death. “After many conversations and assessments, it was decided that I will be released because my suffering is unbearable.”

6-14-19 What's going on in the fight over US abortion rights?
Louisiana has joined a slew of states across the US in legalising an anti-abortion measure that bans the procedure as soon as six weeks into a pregnancy. What's behind the push - and the backlash - for anti-abortion bills across the US? In the first months of this year, nearly 30 states introduced some form of an abortion ban in their legislature. Fifteen have specifically been working with so-called "heartbeat bills", that would ban abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. These bills are part of a wider movement of anti-abortion measures sweeping the US. Earlier in May, Alabama lawmakers passed a bill to ban abortion outright. And Missouri's sole remaining abortion clinic remains embroiled in a legal battle to keep its operating license from the state health department. If the provider loses, Missouri will become the only US state without an abortion clinic. (Webmaster's comment: Let's make sure the poorer women who can't afford more children have to have them!) "Heartbeat bills", as the term implies, seek to make abortion illegal as soon as what anti-abortion supporters describe as a foetus' heartbeat becomes detectable. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists says the name is misleading, and that what is being detected is "a portion of the foetal tissue that will become the heart as the embryo develops" In most cases, this point is at the six-week mark of a pregnancy - before many women even know they are pregnant. "We have never seen so much action around six-week abortion bans," said Elizabeth Nash, senior state issues manager at the Guttmacher Institute - a group that researches sexual and reproductive health. But we now have seen a shift in the composition of the US Supreme Court." President Donald Trump has placed two conservative Supreme Court justices and, Ms Nash says, making it seem more amenable to revoking abortion rights. "Because of this, we are seeing state legislatures looking to ban abortion as a way to kickstart litigation that would come before the [Supreme] court, and the court could then roll back abortion rights."

6-14-19 Government clampdown on fetal tissue research
Scientists reacted with dismay last week after the Trump administration sharply restricted federal funding for medical research that uses fetal tissue, potentially affecting some $100 million in grants. Collected from elective abortions, the tissue has been used to develop vaccines for illnesses including polio, rubella, and measles, and is currently being used to study diseases including cancer, HIV, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s. The new restrictions will result in three research projects at the National Institutes of Health being shuttered. About 200 outside research projects that use the material and receive NIH funding will be allowed to continue until their grants expire. Future research projects will then have to be approved by an ethics advisory board appointed by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. The White House said the research clampdown would “protect the dignity of human life.” The change is a victory for anti-abortion groups. Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, said it was “disgusting” that taxpayers had helped fund “experimentation using baby body parts.” But scientists said the restrictions would severely hamper their research. Stem cells harvested from fetal tissue can transform into any cell, replicate quickly, and don’t trigger the same immune response as adult cells, which means they can be injected into lab mice to study human diseases. “The ban on fetal tissue research,” said Lawrence Gostin, a public health law expert at Georgetown University, is “a ban on hope for millions of Americans suffering from life-threatening and debilitating diseases.” “This is nothing more than a sop to the religious right,” said the Los Angeles Times in an editorial. Clamping down on scientists’ use of fetal tissue won’t save any babies—because abortion will continue—but it will chill research that could help babies, children, and adults avoid suffering and death. You can’t claim to be pro-life if you’re denying science “the best tools available to find cures and create medicine for sick people.”

6-14-19 Hyde Amendment: Biden’s abortion flip-flop
“I think it’s fair to award Joe Biden with a triple flip-flop for his recent abortion acrobatics,” said Philip Klein in WashingtonExaminer.com. The presumptive Democratic front-runner reversed his position on federal funding for abortions no less than three times in recent weeks. When asked at a campaign event whether he supports the Hyde Amendment, which bans Medicaid funding for abortion with exceptions for rape, incest, and protecting the patient’s life, Biden said, “It can’t stay.” Later, Biden—a Catholic who has supported the amendment since the 1970s—quickly backtracked, saying he misheard the question. Predictably, this enraged pro-abortion liberals. So, Biden reversed himself yet again and called for the Hyde Amendment to be repealed. How telling. Moderate Democrats like Biden used to embrace Hyde as “an olive branch to the pro-life community.” But in the “pro-abortion extremism” of today’s Democratic Party, moderation is heresy. The middle ground on abortion “no longer exists,” said Karen Tumulty in The Washington Post, and it’s Republicans who’ve made it this way. As long as abortion remained generally available, it was possible for moderates like Biden to embrace compromises like the Hyde Amendment. But with Republican state legislatures shutting down abortion clinics with ever-stricter regulations, the procedure is becoming de facto unavailable in many parts of the country. That’s why the Hyde Amendment—which makes it much harder for low-income women to get the procedure—is no longer acceptable to pro-choice Democrats.

6-14-19 Cuba Gooding Jr charged over nightclub 'grope'
Actor Cuba Gooding Jr has been charged with forcible touching after allegedly groping a woman in a Manhattan bar. The 51-year-old star of Boyz N The Hood and Jerry Maguire turned himself in to New York police on Thursday and was later taken to court in handcuffs. He is accused of grabbing a woman's breast during a night out last weekend. His lawyer told reporters he had "not acted inappropriately in any shape or form" and that a video existed that would see him "totally exonerated". "He did absolutely nothing wrong," said Mark J Heller. "I frankly am shocked and horrified that this case is being prosecuted." Footage obtained by celebrity website TMZ of the night in question shows Gooding Jr with girlfriend Claudine De Niro and a woman identified as his accuser. The actor seems to touch the woman's leg and hold her hand in scenes the website says are "open to interpretation". Gooding Jr pleaded not guilty to forcible touching and sexual abuse in the third degree on Thursday and was released without bail. The Oscar-winning actor, who recently appeared in TV series The People vs OJ Simpson and in a West End production of Chicago, is due back in court on 26 June.

6-14-19 Australian cult: The Family leader Anne Hamilton-Byrne dies
Australian cult leader Anne Hamilton-Byrne has died in Melbourne at the age of 98. Her cult, The Family, was accused of imprisoning and brainwashing children in the 1970s and 80s. Hamilton-Byrne thought she was a reincarnation of Jesus Christ and blended drug-taking with mysticism and Christianity. For most of the accusations against her, she never faced trial and suffered from dementia in her later years. Originally a yoga teacher, she founded the cult in the late 1960s; it operated for more than 20 years, until police raided its property in the state of Victoria in 1987. She and her husband Bill Byrne took children through adoptions, allowing the cult to assemble and imprison them in a strict home-schooling environment at a rural property near Eildon in Victoria. Allegedly administering drugs to the minors, the cult was also accused of subjecting them to beatings, starvation and brainwashing. The children wore identical clothes and had their hair dyed blond; they were told that one day they would take over the world. "Growing up, it was Anne and Bill, they were mum and dad; and then there were foster kids, and they were kids of other sect members, who would either come up on weekends or stay there for stints of a couple of years," Ben Shenton, a former Eildon child, told the BBC's Storyville programme. "The greatest amount of kids at any given stage was 28," he added. "We all had blonded bleached hair - not all of us, some had red hair, because Auntie Anne [Anne Hamilton-Byrne] was actually naturally red-headed," Roland Whitaker, who also spent time at Eildon as a child, told Storyville.

6-14-19 Swiss women strike for more money, time and respect
Women across Switzerland have begun a day of demonstrations against what they say is the country's unacceptably slow pace to equality. Friday's protest comes 28 years after similar action saw half a million women take to the streets in 1991. Swiss women have long campaigned to accelerate the pace of gender equality. They joined millions of other women in Europe after World War One ended in 1918 in demanding the right to vote - but did not get it until 1971. At the time of the 1991 strike there were no women in the Swiss government, and there was no statutory maternity leave. Appenzell, the last Swiss canton to refuse women the right to vote, had just been ordered to change its policy by Switzerland's Supreme Court. Some things have changed: there have since been eight female government ministers and the right to maternity leave is now enshrined in law. However, women in Switzerland still earn on average 20% less than men, they are under-represented in management positions, and childcare remains not only expensive, but in short supply. Last month, a survey by the International Labour Organisation put Switzerland bottom of the list in pay rates between men and women in senior roles. Journalist Beatrice Born, who was six months pregnant with her first child when she joined the strike back in 1991, will be striking again on Friday. When she returned to work following the birth of her daughter in 1991, she got something of a shock. No-one, it seemed, had expected her back, and certainly not full-time. "The resistance was huge," she says. Paola Ferro, one of the organisers of the 1991 strike, will be back on the streets on Friday, too. She agrees that some progress has been made in the past 28 years, but points to the wage and pension gap. Swiss women's pensions are 37% lower than men's, primarily because women take time out from work to raise their children.

6-13-19 #OneFairWage: Is it wrong to pay tipped staff less than others?
Not long ago, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was serving drinks in the Bronx. Now the youngest ever member of Congress, she recently got back behind the bar in support of a campaign called One Fair Wage. "We have to raise the national minimum wage to $15 an hour, nothing less," she said at the event organised by lobby group Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United. The US federal minimum wage currently sits at $7.25 (£5.70) an hour - but that bottom amount falls to just $2.13 (£1.68) in jobs where workers can expect tips from customers. The law understands this as anyone who "customarily and regularly" receives more than $30 a month. So it's normal for workers like car washers, bar staff and salon workers to be paid below minimum wage by their employers. Many cities and states have higher pay requirements than the national rules, but a staggering 43 of the 50 states have different wages in jobs where tipping is customary. This explains, in part, why tipping etiquette feels so alien to visitors to the US. There are rules and regulations in place to safeguard workers. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) only allows employers to pay a lower rate if the employee makes enough in tips to make up the difference. If their tips don't reach the minimum wage threshold - business are supposed to pay up. But campaigners say this doesn't always happen. They insist that the current system leaves employees open to wage theft, causes income instability, perpetuates racial and gender inequities and leaves tipped staff vulnerable to harassment. They want the tip credit system to end with one set minimum wage - which sounds like it would be a popular idea, right? But these proposals are actually pretty controversial among businesses and workers alike.

6-13-19 'Silenced' children of priests to share stories with French bishops
Children of Roman Catholic priests who felt "silenced" by the Church for decades will share their stories with bishops in Paris for the first time. Bishops will meet members of the French association Les Enfants du Silence (The Children of Silence) on Thursday. At their own request, the sons and daughters of priests will speak about their fathers, neglect and suffering. Their existence is a sensitive issue for the Church, which expects priests to adhere to a strict rule of celibacy. In an unprecedented series of meetings beginning on Thursday afternoon, children who say they have been "silenced" and "humiliated" by the Church will have the opportunity to share their experiences. A spokesman for the bishops' conference in the French capital, Vincent Neymon, said it was time to "realise people have suffered and are still suffering". Speaking ahead of the conference, the daughter of a priest, now aged 50 and named only as Maya, told news website Franceinfo that she felt obliged to stay silent after learning of her father's position at the age of seven. "When you live as the child of a priest, you have an obligation of silence," she said, adding that her father was absent for much of her childhood, like someone who spends a lot of time "on the road". Maya said she also kept quiet to protect her family, fearing that if the truth about her parents became known she could have been taken into care. Marie-Christine Miquel, another of the children, said that she did not meet her father until she was nine, when he left the priesthood. "I was like most children who live in a non-conforming situation, I did not ask questions," she said. "No doubt the ears of the Church are more open today," he said, adding: "The Church must recognise that these people exist." Thursday's agreed meetings are likely to expose more of these stories.


SCIENCE - GLOBAL WARMING and ENVIRONMENT

6-19-19 Trans Mountain: Canada approves $5.5bn oil pipeline project
Canada has approved the Trans Mountain expansion project after a federal court sent it back for review last summer. The decision could pose a challenge for PM Justin Trudeau as he heads into an election season likely to be fought in part over climate issues. His federal Liberals took the rare step last year of buying the pipeline for C$4.5bn ($3.4bn; £2.6bn) to help ensure the project's survival. Environmentalists and some First Nations fiercely oppose Trans Mountain. Mr Trudeau on Tuesday announced the new approval and said that all revenues the federal government earns from the project will fund a "transition to a green economy". "It is in Canada's national interest to protect our environment and invest in tomorrow, while making sure people can feed their families today," he said. Reaction to the announcement was swift, with environmental campaigners vowing the project will not go ahead without a fight. Meanwhile, British Columbia First Nations who have fought the project said they were considering continued legal action, and the provincial premier, John Horgan, tweeted the project "poses a great risk to our coast, our environment and our economy". The C$7.4 bn pipeline expansion project has divided opponents, who are concerned about oil spills and climate change, and supporters, who see it as a boost for Canada's struggling energy sector - one that will help fuel the economy for years to come. Canada ranks as the world's fifth largest producer of oil and natural gas. The project twins the existing 1,150 km (715 mile) Trans Mountain pipeline and would triple its capacity from 300,000 barrels per day to 890,000 per day. It would carry crude oil from Edmonton, Alberta to Burnaby, British Columbia (BC) and increase oil tanker traffic in the area from five to up to 34 tankers a month. Mr Trudeau says the pipeline expansion would ease Canada's reliance on the US market and help get a better price for its resource. Business groups, oil industry workers and the Alberta government all back the project. At least two indigenous groups are actively seeking an ownership stake in the project. The Liberal government bought the pipeline to help ensure the project's survival after energy infrastructure giant Kinder Morgan walked away over concerns about delays.

6-18-19 UK 'likely' to host critical climate conference next year
The UK looks set to be the host of a critical climate conference next year, after agreeing a partnership with its main rival Italy. It's regarded as the most important gathering on climate change since the Paris agreement was signed in 2015. Under the partnership deal, the UK will host the main event with a preliminary meeting held in Italy. While Turkey is still in the running, the UK is now seen as the clear favourite. A final decision is likely in the next few days as global climate negotiators meet in Bonn. Under UN rules, next year's Conference of the Parties, or COP26 as it's known, will be held in a European country. The UK has been lobbying hard to secure agreement from other states but has faced strong opposition from Italy. However, many European countries have been wary of supporting Italy, as the junior partner in their coalition government, the Lega Nord, has been strongly sceptical of climate science. There were also questions in some minds about Italy's capacity to host an event which will attract tens of thousands of negotiators, businesses, campaigners and journalists. Now the two nations have decided to row in together to support the UK as the host of the main meeting, with the Italians hosting preparatory events. "Today through great joint diplomacy we have agreed a bid for a UK COP26 Presidency in partnership with our friends in Italy," said Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt. "Together, through our continued commitment to work across Europe and internationally, we will build a better world for our children." The decision now lies with one of the Western European and Others group, one of a number of regional groups within the UN system. They will now consider the bids of the UK and Turkey, and a decision is thought likely within a few days, as UN climate negotiators from all over the world are currently gathered in Bonn.

6-18-19 Atlantic Ocean 'running out of breath'
A huge international research programme has been launched to assess the health of the Atlantic Ocean. The iAtlantic project is the biggest ever mounted in the planet's second largest ocean. It involves more than 30 partners, funded by the EU, and is being co-ordinated by Edinburgh University. The scientists will use an array of hi-tech devices, including robot submarines, to scan the deep ocean from the Arctic to South America. They want to assess the effects of climate change on plants and animals. They will use genomics, physics, machine learning and other specialisms, and spend four years creating a digital map of the ocean's ecosystems. The results will help governments decide which developments of the Atlantic are sustainable and responsible. They will also highlight "refuges" where threatened species may have a chance to survive. The Atlantic is suffering from a three-pronged attack, according to iAtlantic programme co-ordinator, Prof Murray Roberts of Edinburgh University. By way of illustration, he opens a sample bucket and pulls out a deep-sea red crab about a foot across. He's a beauty. He's also quite dead, sampled in 2012 and submerged in preservative ever since. "It's just to give you an idea of how big and beautiful the life of the deep sea is out there," the professor says. From other buckets he pulls specimens of black coral and a deep sea skate's egg case, a large version of what we landlubbers sometimes refer to as a mermaid's purse. "What will happen to these animals in the future as the Atlantic changes?" Prof Roberts says. "As it gets warmer, as it gets more acidic and also - in some areas - as it runs out of breath. "Because the Atlantic, like many ocean basins in the world, is being deoxygenated - it's losing the oxygen that is vital to life." The cause is climate change, 90% of the world's global warming has been absorbed by the oceans.

6-18-19 MPs call for end to 'throwaway clothes' era
A report by MPs has urged the UK government to end the era of throwaway clothes and poor working conditions in the fashion supply chain. The MPs' proposals are designed to force the fashion industry to clean up its act. They made 18 recommendations covering environmental and labour practices and want the government to act. Not only is the fashion industry a source of emissions, but old clothes pile up in landfill. Fibres also flow into the sea when clothes are washed, polluting the marine environment. A government spokesperson said it was dealing with the impacts of fast fashion - and many measures were already in place. Among the proposals from the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) were: A 1p charge per garment on producers to fund better recycling of clothes; Ban on incinerating or landfilling unsold stock that can be reused or recycled instead; Mandatory environmental targets for fashion retailers with a turnover above £36 million; Tax changes to reward reuse, repair and recycling - to support responsible fashion companies. The EAC's chair, Labour MP Mary Creagh, said: "Fashion producers should be forced to clear up the mountains of waste they create. "The government is content to tolerate practices that trash the environment and exploit workers despite having just committed to net zero emission targets. "It is out of step with the public who are shocked by the fact that we are sending 300,000 tonnes (660 million pounds) of clothes a year to incineration or landfill."

6-17-19 EU leaders face pressure to deliver on climate change
A few years after saving the euro is it now time for the EU to save the planet? Tackling climate change is among the key challenges for EU leaders, meeting on Thursday to set the bloc's priorities for the next five years. A leaked draft of the EU's Strategic Agenda also speaks of the need to control migration to the EU and adapt industrial policy for the digital age. The green agenda has become mainstream, after months of student-led #fridaysforfuture protests and the #Extinction Rebellion civil disobedience campaign. By keeping global warming in the public eye the protests helped Green parties in last month's European elections. They won 74 seats in the European Parliament, compared with 52 before. Their surge, and the boost for liberal parties in the centre, will change the dynamic of EU politics. The cosy centre-left/centre-right majority is now gone. Eurosceptic and anti-EU nationalist parties also increased their numbers - which could act as a brake on EU ambitions, as they demand a repatriation of powers from Brussels. The greater fragmentation may make it harder to achieve consensus. Pro-EU politicians are cheered by the fact that voter turnout increased, after decades of decline, to about 51%. So, despite the nationalist rhetoric, they argue that on certain issues, such as climate change and migration, there is an appetite for "more Europe". But are the EU's plans for 2019-2024 ambitious enough on climate change? The draft agenda says "we urgently need to step up our action" on the "existential threat" of climate change. "The EU can and must lead the way," it says. It acknowledges that de-carbonising the economy and society requires profound lifestyle changes, to achieve "climate neutrality" - that is, a state where any CO2 emissions are balanced out by green measures, such as planting trees. (Webmaster's comment: Planting trees is good but it's never going to begin to compensate for the 37 billion tons of extra CO2 being dumped into the atmosphere by mankind!)

6-17-19 The musicians helping make climate change a cultural movement
Pop stars like Lil Dicky and Grimes are using their music and their huge followings to gain vital coverage of climate change. This rise in social media-driven activism shows that a tipping point has been reached in popular culture. It’s been 35 years since Band Aid, when a group of musicians recorded a charity single and performed a concert to raise money and awareness for anti-famine causes in Ethiopia. Since then, the charity song has been a staple of pop culture. Some of the world’s biggest-selling artists have recorded songs to raise money for global causes including AIDS research and disaster relief. In 2019 there’s arguably no bigger global issue than climate change, and there are signs that this is becoming the new cause for today’s pop stars and cultural icons. Prime-time TV shows like the BBC documentary Climate Change – The facts now compete for digital attention with celebrity-packed climate change songs like Earth by rapper Lil Dicky. Canadian singer Grimes is about to release an album themed on the Anthropocene that aims to “make climate change fun”. Google Trends data shows that more people are searching for “climate change” today than at any time since 2009, the year that the United Nations brought 110 world leaders together at an unprecedented Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. That so many people would be asking questions about climate change without the glow of a large political conference seems significant. This shift in public attention towards climate change has happened at the same time as global demonstrations and school strike protests led by the social media-savvy climate campaigner Greta Thunberg. Last month, Green political parties became a significant group in the European Parliament for the first time. Yet climate change wasn’t always a hot topic in wider culture. Few people will remember that the United Nations recruited Paul McCartney, Jon Bon Jovi and Sheryl Crow to record the international charity single Love Song to the Earth – featuring a rap by Sean Paul – in 2015, in the run-up to the agreement of the Paris climate deal. Four years later, a mere 500,000 people watched the music video on YouTube, compared with the 140 million who have watched Lil Dicky’s Earth in two months.

6-17-19 'Cryoegg' to explore under Greenland Ice Sheet
UK scientists head to Greenland this week to trial new sensors that can be placed under its 2km-thick ice sheet. The instruments are designed to give researchers unique information on the way glaciers slide towards the ocean. Dubbed "Cryoeggs", the devices will report back on the behaviour of the meltwaters that run beneath the ice. This water acts to lubricate the flow of glaciers, and in a warmer world could increase the volume of ice discharged to the ocean. This would push up global sea levels - potentially by as much as 7m, if all the ice on Greenland were to melt. Scientists want to understand how fast the process could unfold. "Our models have done a fantastic job so far in building a picture of what might happen, but they've essentially been working blind because we have so little data from the bed of the Greenland ice sheet," said Dr Liz Bagshaw from Cardiff University. "We have some measurements from cabled instruments and from the bottom of boreholes, but we don't have enough data to figure out what's going on across the whole of the ice sheet, to determine how much of that 7m might end up in the ocean," she told BBC News. The Cryoegg will record the conditions at the base of the ice sheet. Temperature is an obvious parameter. Pressure says something about the way water at the bed is organised, whether it's spread evenly under the ice or moving in discrete channels. The former would represent a high-pressure environment; the latter would be a low-pressure setting. Conductivity tells scientists about the length of time any water has been in residence. Meltwater that's been present a long time will have interacted with rock and sediments, and leeched ions, increasing its conductivity. Satellites show that Greenland's glaciers speed up in summer. Great pools of meltwater are seen to collect at the surface of the ice before draining to the bed through holes known as moulin. All this water "greases" the underside of the glaciers, speeding their passage downslope to the ocean. But the satellites see something else as well: in the warmest summers, this lubrication effect seems to wear off quite quickly. The assumption is that particularly large volumes of meltwater created early in a warm season will cut the most efficient streams and rivers at the ice bed.

6-17-19 Is a long-dormant Russian volcano waking up? It’s complicated
Scientists debate how to interpret quakes near Bolshaya Udina on the remote Kamchatka Peninsula. Seismic rumbles beneath a long-dormant volcano on Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula could herald an imminent eruption, a team of scientists says. But other researchers say that the observed seismic activity could be related to already erupting volcanoes in the region. Fewer than 10,500 people live within 100 kilometers of the volcano, called Bolshaya Udina, making a catastrophic eruption that would affect large numbers of people extremely unlikely. When the volcano last erupted is unknown, but it hasn’t for at least 10,000 years, so many volcanologists consider it no longer active, or “extinct.” But Kamchatka is home to numerous active volcanoes, including nearby Bezymianny, which most recently erupted March 15. Scientists had detected an apparent increase in seismic activity in the vicinity of Bolshaya Udina beginning in late 2017. So researchers, led by geophysicist Ivan Koulakov of the A.A. Trofimuk Institute of Petroleum Geology and Geophysics in Novosibirsk, Russia, installed four temporary seismic stations near the volcano. From May 5 to July 13, 2018, the stations recorded a swarm of 559 earthquakes. Overall, from October 2017 through February 2019, researchers detected about 2,400 seismic events, the strongest of which was a magnitude 4.3 earthquake in February. Previous to that 16-month period, scientists detected only about 100 weak seismic events in the region from 1999 to 2017. Furthermore, by examining how some of the seismic waves decreased in velocity as they traveled through the subsurface, the team found evidence that there might be a pocket of fluid — perhaps magma — directly beneath Bolshaya Udina. The dramatic uptick in activity, along with the possible detection of magma, could mean that Bolshaya Udina is waking up, the team reports in the July 15 Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research.

6-16-19 Climate change: Can electric aeroplanes help save our planet?
One of the biggest contributors to climate change is transport and the greenhouse gases produced by vehicles. Electric cars and buses are becoming more common, but what about electric planes? After Prime Minister Theresa May recently announced plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions to almost zero by 2050, this could be one big way to help. Planes give off a range of greenhouse gases, mainly carbon dioxide, which contribute to climate change. There are different reasons they do this, but it's mainly through the carbon-rich 'fossil fuels' used to power their engines. Planes are pretty unique too, because they give off these gases directly into the higher levels of the atmosphere. According to the Civil Aviation Authority, research suggests that gases can have different effects when emitted at this altitude compared to at ground level. At the moment the UK's aviation industry makes up around seven per cent of the UK's total greenhouse gas emissions. And it's thought it that by 2050 it could make up a quarter, as other industries find more environmentally friendly ways of working. The benefits are similar to having electric cars or buses. Having electric planes would mean that they're powered in a different way, so there's no need to use the fuels which currently produce a lot of greenhouse gases. This would help reduce the amount of carbon dioxide which is damaging for the planet. It's very unlikely that the next flight you go on will be battery powered, but experts think we won't have to wait too long. The UK Government suggests that by 2050 it's possible there'll be some form of "hybrid engine technology", combining electric and traditional fuels, which "will allow for cruising between destinations using electric power".

6-14-19 Pope warns oil bosses of climate threat
The Pope has told oil company bosses that climate change threatens the future of the "human family". The oil executives had been invited to the Vatican in Rome for an audience with the pontiff. Pope Francis said a radical energy transition is needed to save what he called "our common home". The head of BP agreed that the world must find urgent solutions to environmental problems - but said all must play a part. The Pope warned him and other bosses: "Civilisation requires energy, but energy use must not destroy civilisation." The oil bosses were brought to the Vatican alongside fund managers who invest in their stocks. The companies represented were believed to include Eni, Exxon, Total, Repsol, BP, Sinopec, ConocoPhillips, Equinor, and Chevron. A small group of demonstrators gathered outside a Vatican gate. One held a sign reading "Dear Oil CEOs - Think of Your Children". The executives were given a dressing down by the former Irish premier Mary Robinson. She said: "We should all salute the courage the Holy Father has shown on climate change when too many secular leaders have spurned their responsibilities." Ms Robinson asked the oil bosses: "What could be more cynical than still seeking to exploit fossil fuel reserves when the scientific evidence is abundantly clear that we need to end all combustion of fossil fuels by 2050?" She said the energy transition would require a massive shift of capital to clean energy and warned: "If some industries fail to adjust to this new word, they will fail to exist." In a statement, BP said its CEO Bob Dudley was "honoured to participate at the Vatican". Mr Dudley said: "The world needs to take urgent action to get us on a more sustainable path and it is critical that everyone plays their part - companies and investors, governments and individuals. "Constructive dialogues such this meeting are essential in aligning key players on the steps needed to accelerate the energy transition while still enabling advances in human prosperity." Critics point out that BP and other oil firms are spending billions of pounds a year seeking new oil and gas even though scientists say firms have already found much more fossil fuel that can be burned whilst keeping a stable climate.

6-14-19 Many of the world’s rivers are flush with dangerous levels of antibiotics
Polluted waterways help fuel drug resistance in bacteria. In a massive survey of rivers across 72 countries, researchers found antibiotics at 66 percent of 711 sites sampled. Many of the most drug-polluted waterways were in Asia and Africa, where there hadn’t been much data until now. Environmental pollution from antibiotics is one driver of microbial drug resistance, which threatens public health. People should be as concerned about resistance evolving abroad as they are about resistance brewing in their own backyards, says William Gaze, a microbial ecologist at the University of Exeter Medical School in England who was not involved with the research. Even if wealthy countries curb antibiotic pollution, drug-resistant microbes can hitch a ride across the globe with traveling people, migrating birds or traded food and livestock, he says. “It’s a global problem, and we need global solutions.” About a third of the sites surveyed over the last year contained no detectable levels of antibiotics. But 66 percent, or 470 of the sites, tested positive for at least one of 14 types of antibiotics. And almost 16 percent, or 111 sites, contained concentrations considered unsafe, based on safety levels estimated by AMR Industry Alliance, a global biotech and pharmaceutical coalition. The alliance set its safety thresholds based on levels that wouldn’t kill algae in the environment or promote resistance by killing susceptible bacteria. “I don’t think I was expecting the degree of concentrations that we saw. That was quite eye-opening,” says environmental chemist Alistair Boxall of the University of York in England, who conducted the survey with University of York colleague John Wilkinson. The two presented their results on May 27 and May 28 in Helsinki at a meeting of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry.

6-14-19 Flint water crisis: Prosecutors drop all criminal charges
Prosecutors have dropped all criminal charges against the eight remaining officials awaiting trial over the deadly contamination of water in the US city of Flint in 2014. They said a more thorough investigation was needed. Twelve people died after the Michigan city switched its water supply to the Flint River in order to save money. An outbreak of Legionnaires' disease followed, and residents were found to have drunk water poisoned with lead. Nearly 100,000 residents of Flint were left without safe tap water and at risk of lead poisoning. Seven officials had already taken plea bargains. The mayor of Flint, Karen Weaver, welcomed the prosecutors' decision to drop all charges: "I was happy with the announcement that was made today because it let's us know they're taking us seriously. "They know justice has not happened for the residents of the city of Flint and that we deserve a full investigation." Prosecutors who assumed control of the investigation in January after a new attorney general was elected said "all available evidence was not pursued" by the previous team of prosecutors. Some residents were sceptical after Thursday's announcement. "We don't know if new charges will be filed," LeeAnne Walters, who is credited with exposing the lead contamination, told Associated Press. "It feels kind of degrading, like all that we went through doesn't matter. Our city was poisoned, my children have health issues and the people responsible just had all the charges dropped against them." The contamination was traced to the city switching its water supply away from Detroit's system, which draws from Lake Huron, and instead using water from the Flint river. Flint was in a financial state of emergency and the switch was meant to save the city millions of dollars. But the water from the river was more corrosive than Lake Huron's water, causing lead - a powerful neurotoxin - to leach from the pipes. The city has since switched back to using Detroit's water system.

6-14-19 UK could use hydrogen instead of natural gas – if it can make enough
There is no reason why the UK cannot safely switch from using natural gas to using hydrogen for heating, power and industry in order to meet climate change goals, engineers have said. But a report by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) also laid bare the huge, 10-fold increase in hydrogen production that would be needed to achieve that switch-over. Producing enough hydrogen for the UK’s heating needs alone would require 8 million tonnes of hydrogen a year, up from the annual 0.74 million tonnes made today, which is led by an Esso refinery near Southampton and is almost entirely used by industry. “We need to produce a lot more hydrogen,” says Jenifer Baxter of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. Hydrogen can be made from water using renewable energy and an electrolyser. But the IET said that in reality making it at scale would require using a process known as steam reformation to turn methane into hydrogen, and capturing and storing the carbon at that point. The UK public is about to be exposed to hydrogen for heating and cooking. Within months, the gas supply for up to 100 properties on Keele University campus will be fed with 20 per cent hydrogen. Stuart Hawksworth of the UK’s Health and Safety Laboratory says this HyDeploy project is about understanding fire risk and hydrogen detection, as well as gaining more information about how to mix hydrogen with methane most efficiently. “It’s the beginning of a suite of projects that will become more ambitious with more hydrogen in the mix,” he says. As hydrogen is invisible and odourless, it will also need to be mixed with additional chemicals to give it a colour and smell, so any leaks can be spotted.

6-13-19 US looking to harness the ocean winds with British help
As many American states are making the push to use more renewable energy sources, engineers in one of the country's oldest states are looking "across the pond" for help from British scientists to harness the power of the wind. When Joseph Massi enrolled at Bristol Community College, an hour's drive south of Boston, Massachusetts, he chose to specialise in a brand new field of study - offshore wind power. "It's the new future. It's where everything is going to be, the growth potential, especially in Massachusetts," Mr Massi said. The Massachusetts legislature is considering bills that would commit the state to 100% renewable energy within 25 years. To achieve this, the state will need lots more solar panels and wind turbines, and people like Mr Massi to manage, build or operate offshore turbines. "Once it starts booming in the United States, that's going to be where you'll want to be," Mr Massi said. The federal government estimates that the coastal waters off of New Bedford, Massachusetts, are among the windiest in the nation. But here's some bad news. The US doesn't know much about building wind turbines, out in the ocean at least. And here's some good news. The Brits do, and they're offering their help. Offshore wind is booming in the United Kingdom - it's approaching 10% of the electricity supply there. In the US, offshore wind energy remains in its infancy - only one offshore wind farm is operational nationwide, off the coast of Rhode Island. But at least a dozen projects nationwide are in the planning stages. Harriet Cross, the British consul general to New England where these projects are under way, wants to share her country's expertise to help kick-start the movement in the US. Yes, that would mean making money for British companies who could sell technology and equipment in the US. But Ms Cross says there are also higher stakes at play. "There's the bigger picture: We want the world to be more green," Ms Cross said. "We genuinely believe that clean energy is the future. So, you find that the UK is really showing global leadership on things like the Paris climate change deal and that sort of thing."

6-13-19 Some Canadian lakes still store DDT in their mud
Five decades after DDT was last sprayed across Canadian forests, this harmful pesticide can still be found at the bottom of several lakes. Researchers analyzed sediment from five lakes in New Brunswick, Canada, where airplanes spewed DDT to combat spruce budworm outbreaks before the insecticide was phased out circa 1970. Millions of kilograms of DDT were sprayed across the province, making it one of the most heavily treated forest areas in North America. Today, elevated concentrations of DDT and its chemical by-products persist in lake sediments in this region, researchers report online June 12 in Environmental Science & Technology. “This is a cautionary tale,” says study coauthor Joshua Kurek, an environmental scientist at Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick. “When we ban a substance, we tend to forget about it.” But these results indicate that decades-old pesticide sprays may have left a lasting impression on hundreds to thousands of lakes in eastern North America. Kurek and colleagues measured concentrations of DDT, as well as its toxic breakdown products DDE and DDD, in lake sediments dating back several decades. Most modern sediments from all five lakes exceeded the safety thresholds for aquatic life for DDT, DDE and DDD set by the Canadian government: 4.7, 6.7 and 8.5 micrograms per kilogram, respectively. The only lake that contained safe DDT levels in modern sediments still contained DDE and DDD concentrations that were 3.7 and 1.5 times as high as safety thresholds. In all five lakes, on average, DDE levels in modern sediments were about 16 times as high as the safety threshold (SN Online: 10/5/10). Still, the levels aren’t considered dangerous to people.


SCIENCE - EVOLUTION and GENETICS

6-19-19 What are vaccines, how do they work and why are people sceptical?
Vaccines have saved tens of millions of lives in the past century, yet in many countries health experts have identified a trend towards “vaccine hesitancy” – an increasing refusal to use vaccination. The World Health Organization estimates that vaccines prevented at least 10 million deaths in just five years between 2010 and 2015. It says vaccines have been one of the biggest success stories of modern medicine. The World Health Organization (WHO) is so concerned that it has listed this trend as one of the 10 threats to global health in 2019. How was vaccination discovered? Before vaccines existed, the world was a far more dangerous place, with millions dying each year to now preventable illnesses. The Chinese were the first to discover an early form of vaccination in the 10th Century. Eight centuries later, British doctor Edward Jenner noticed how milkmaids caught mild cowpox, but rarely went on to contract the deadly smallpox. In 1796 Jenner carried out an experiment on eight-year-old James Phipps. The doctor inserted pus from a cowpox wound into the boy, who soon developed symptoms. Once Phipps had recovered, Jenner inserted smallpox into the boy but he remained healthy. The cowpox had made him immune. In 1798, the results were published and the word vaccine - from the Latin 'vacca' for cow - was coined. What have been the successes? Vaccines have helped drastically reduce the damage done by many diseases in the past century. About 2.6m people were dying from measles every year before the first vaccination for the disease was introduced in the 1960s. Vaccination resulted in an 80% drop in measles deaths between 2000 and 2017 worldwide, according to the WHO. Only a few decades ago, paralysis or death was a very real concern as millions fell victim to polio. Now polio has almost disappeared.

Vaccination has helped reduce cases of mumps, measles and rubella.

Polio has almost disappeared worldwide.

6-19-19 Vaccines: Low trust in vaccination 'a global crisis'
Public mistrust of vaccines means the world is taking a step backwards in the fight against deadly yet preventable infectious diseases, warn experts. The biggest global study into attitudes on immunisation suggests confidence is low in some regions. The Wellcome Trust analysis includes responses from more than 140,000 people in over 140 countries. The World Health Organization lists vaccine hesitancy as one of the top 10 threats to global health. The global survey reveals the number of people who say they have little confidence or trust in vaccination. When asked if vaccines were safe: 79% "somewhat" or "strongly" agreed, 7% somewhat or strongly disagreed. When asked if they believed vaccines worked: 84% agree either strongly or somewhat, 5% either strongly or somewhat disagree. There is overwhelming scientific evidence that vaccination is the best defence against deadly and debilitating infections, such as measles. Vaccines protect billions of people around the world. They have completely got rid of one disease - smallpox - and are bringing the world close to eliminating others, such as polio. But some other diseases, such as measles, are making a resurgence and experts say people avoiding vaccines, fuelled by fear and misinformation, is one of the main causes. Dr Ann Lindstrand, an expert in immunisation at the WHO, said the current situation was extremely serious. "Vaccine hesitancy has the potential, at least in some places, to really hinder the very real progress the world has made in controlling vaccine-preventable diseases," she said. "Any resurgence we see in these diseases are an unacceptable step backwards." Countries that were close to eliminating measles have been seeing large outbreaks. Data shows a rise in cases in almost every region of the world, with 30% more cases in 2017 than 2016. (Webmaster's comment: In the United States 11% think vaccines are unsafe, and 6% think they do not work. We better brace ourselves for mass outbreaks of diseases. We're asking for epidemics!)

6-19-19 Immunisation: Why we do it and how 'herd immunity' works
This is how vaccines work, why they’re important and what the phrase “herd immunity” actually means.

6-19-19 ‘My mum didn’t vaccinate me – this is what happened next’
Meredith's mother was suspicious about vaccines and would never let her have them as a child. For a while it didn't seem to matter, but eventually Meredith (not her real name) starting coming down with some frightening illnesses. It started when I accidentally stood on a nail. Some time afterwards my jaw and shoulder started to seize up and paramedics rushed me to the closest hospital in an ambulance. It was a teaching hospital in Brisbane and I remember vividly that the doctor left the room saying quietly, "Oh my God!" He brought in all the medical students to take a look at me. It was tetanus - also known as lockjaw. They hadn't had a patient diagnosed with tetanus in over 30 years. I was determined and said: "I'm not going to die at 36 because of tetanus." Despite the pain, I felt angry towards my mother, because she deliberately didn't get me vaccinated. The doctors took white blood cells from someone who had already had tetanus - cells that had proved that they were "seasoned fighters" - and injected them into me to help my white blood cells recognise the illness and fight it. With this treatment, eventually I got better. But I was still angry, because this is something that could've been completely prevented. My mum, grandma and aunties are all quite "mystical" and definitely hippies. They tend to believe that the body naturally heals itself. If I had a cold, growing up in New Zealand, I was told, "Eat a cucumber," or, "Have a drink of what the neighbour made." My grandma subscribes to a magazine that gives you tips on how to live better. From this magazine, she ordered a glow stick that cost $200. I know that it's a glow stick because when you snap it, it glows. But she thinks it's a wand that you touch food with, to "give it life".

6-19-19 Brain mysteries: A user's guide to the biggest questions of the mind
What happens when we think? How do we explain consciousness? Why are some brains resistant to decline? We answer the biggest questions about your most important organ. Inside your head is an object capable of feats of computation, creativity and understanding unrivalled in the known universe – and all using the power of a 20-watt light bulb. We have made huge strides in understanding the human brain. In recent years, we have discovered that brain cells can regenerate and pinned down what happens when you start talking before you know what you want to say. Yet, the more we learn, the more we realise how much we still don’t know. In the following pages, we explore the biggest questions about the brain to reveal the mechanisms and mysteries of this phenomenal blob of grey goo.

  1. What makes our brain special? The human brain, we love to tell ourselves, is exceptional. Other animals might use tools or solve mazes, but can they invent computers or write sonnets?
  2. What is consciousness? Think of the conscious mind as a furnace. If you are deeply asleep, the flame of consciousness has died down to a low but persistent level. In REM sleep, when you dream, the flame is jumping and burning brightly but erratically. In a coma, it is a glowing ember.
  3. Are smarter people’s brains different? The short answer is yes. People vary in their intelligence, so how else could we account for this if not for differences in the structure or function of the brain? Exactly what those differences are, however, is a matter of intense investigation.
  4. What happens when we think? Think about thinking, and it doesn’t take long for your mind to go down a rabbit hole. Thoughts come naturally to us, but pinning down exactly what they are is more complicated. Once they were viewed as immaterial entities, separate from the biological matter of the brain. Now we know that our every thought – whether about a simple object or an abstract idea – is the result of electrical signals pulsing through the brain’s network of 86 billion neurons.
  5. Are you really left or right-brained? Chances are you have thought of yourself as left or right-brained: rational and logical, or creative and free-spirited. Appealing as this concept is, it is also a complete myth.
  6. Is your brain ever off? When you rest, it sometimes feels as if your brain switches off too. It doesn’t. If you are alive, your neurons are firing. “There is a lot of processing going on even when you’re not seemingly doing anything at all,” says Deniz Vatansever, a cognitive neuroscientist at Fudan University in China.
  7. Does the gut influence the mind? We often say we make decisions on the basis of gut feelings, and this may be truer than we realise. Nausea, for instance, makes us judge certain moral violations more harshly. This is just one of many ways in which our gut influences what goes on in our head.
  8. What makes a brain? A few years ago, scientists took human brain cells and injected them into mice. A year later, the cells had multiplied and the mice had got smarter, learning more effectively than mice with regular brains. Perhaps that isn’t so surprising – until you hear that these brains cells weren’t neurons.
  9. What makes some brains more resistant to decline? It is a harsh fact of life: as you get older, your cognitive abilities start to wane. But why is it that some people reach a ripe old age with little more than the odd “senior moment”, while others have far greater mental decline?

6-18-19 Rotavirus vaccines may lower kids’ chances of getting type 1 diabetes
The association revealed in U.S. insurance data held true only for those fully vaccinated. The rotavirus vaccine may have an unexpected benefit: a reduced likelihood of developing type 1 diabetes. The vaccine is highly effective at protecting against intestinal infections caused by the virus (SN: 8/8/15, p. 5). Past work in mice prone to diabetes suggests infection with rotavirus can hasten damage to beta cells in the pancreas, the cells that are destroyed in a person with type 1 diabetes. Researchers analyzed private insurance data, covering 2001 to 2017, for close to 1.5 million U.S. children who were infants at the time of enrollment. Among children fully vaccinated against rotavirus, there was a 41 percent reduction in the incidence of type 1 diabetes compared with unvaccinated children, the team reports online June 13 in Scientific Reports. The results apply to both of the rotavirus vaccines available in the United States. In fully vaccinated children, the incidence of type 1 diabetes was 12.2 cases per 100,000 people per year; in the unvaccinated group, it was 20.6 per 100,000. There wasn’t a benefit for partially vaccinated kids either, those who did not complete the full number of doses. In the United States, around 1.25 million people have type 1 diabetes, which occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks insulin-secreting beta cells. The new work was inspired by a study of Australian children, published in JAMA Pediatrics in January, which reported a decline in the incidence of type 1 diabetes after the start of routine rotavirus vaccination.

6-18-19 A severe autoimmune condition may be triggered by 'good' gut bacteria
The billions of bacteria that line our guts have evolved with us, and play a crucial role in our digestion, physical and mental health. But bacteria that seem beneficial for most people can cause harm in others: they can trigger an autoimmune disease in vulnerable people. That’s what Martin Kriegel, an immunologist at Yale University, and his colleagues found when they studied people with antiphospholipid syndrome (APS), an autoimmune disorder in which a person’s own immune system attacks a protein that plays a key role in blood thinning. People with the syndrome are at risk of clots, strokes and miscarriages, and it can be fatal. “Young people can suddenly die if they have this,” says Kriegel. He wondered if, by chance, any gut bacteria might express a protein similar to the one that can trigger APS, and so be attacked by the immune system of people with the syndrome. When his team screened microbiome databases they found a match: Roseburia intestinalis, a species of bacteria that is thought to improve gut health. “It’s probably random due to the sheer number of molecules in the microbiome,” says Kriegel. The team then looked at immune system activity in the gut of people with APS and people without the condition. While R. intestinalis was present at similar levels in the guts of all people examined, the bacteria seemed to be causing inflammation in people with APS. These individuals also made antibodies to attack the bacteria – which looked very similar to the antibodies they made to attack their own proteins. In experiments with mice, Kriegel’s team also found that, in animals genetically prone to developing APS, a dose of R. intestinalis could trigger the syndrome, with lethal outcomes. This all suggests that R. intestinalis can inadvertently trigger APS in people genetically predisposed to develop the syndrome, says Kriegel.

6-18-19 People with narcolepsy may be more creative because of how they sleep
Living at the border between wakefulness and a dream world may do wonders for your creativity. People with narcolepsy are excessively sleepy during the day and can often drift off. Isabelle Arnulf, who treats narcolepsy at Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris, noticed that her patients seemed remarkably creative. Many of them were artists and poets, for example. “Even when they were sitting in the waiting room, they were doodling and writing,” she says. “And what they did was beautiful.” Arnulf and her colleagues asked 185 people with narcolepsy to complete a questionnaire designed to test for creativity. They compared the results with those of 126 people who didn’t have the condition. Thirty volunteers from each group also undertook a creativity test, which involved trying to find new solutions to problems, as well as creative writing and drawing. People with narcolepsy did better on every measured aspect of creativity. For instance, when participants were asked to come up with a story that ended with the words “… and the last apple fell from the tree”, most composed a version that included Adam and Eve, Isaac Newton or the end of summer. But the most creative responses came from people with narcolepsy, including a story about trees joining a strike initiated by animals who had decided not to feed humans anymore, and another about a bulimic worm called Jean-Jacques. “We’ve found something positive in the disorder,” says Arnulf. Arnulf thinks this could be because people with narcolepsy experience an unusual sleep cycle. A typical cycle begins with a period of non-REM sleep, but people with narcolepsy usually fall straight into REM sleep – the period when we tend to experience vivid dreams. As a result, they seem to have better access to a pool of ideas, says Arnulf.

6-18-19 ‘Sneezing’ plants may spread pathogens to their neighbors
Jumping dewdrops might help transmit disease among certain plants such as wheat. Next time you pass a wheat field on a dewy morning, you might want to say “gesundheit.” That’s because some sick plants can “sneeze” — shooting out tiny water droplets laden with pathogens, scientists report June 19 in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface. In wheat plants infected with the fungus Puccinia triticina, coalescing dew droplets flew away from the leaves they were on and carried fungal spores with them, experiments showed. The pathogen, which causes a destructive disease known as leaf rust, might then be able to infect other wheat plants (SN: 9/25/10, p. 22). The flinging effect, which can happen on healthy plants too, is the result of a quirk of fluid dynamics: When two water drops unite, surface tension is released and converted into kinetic energy that can hurl the fluid away. It’s a “surface tension catapult,” says mechanical engineer Jonathan Boreyko of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. The effect occurs only on extremely water-repellent, or superhydrophobic, surfaces, like the leaves of certain plants, including wheat (SN: 3/1/03, p. 132). The drops can jump a few millimeters — high enough to escape the layer of still air that surrounds each leaf, so that a gentle breeze could carry the water and spores to other plants, Boreyko and colleagues report. The catapulting effect was known to occur on other superhydrophobic surfaces, but this is the first time it’s been suggested that it helps transmit disease. Understanding how leaf rust spreads could be important for controlling it. If “sneezing” turns out to be an important source of transmission, plants could be sprayed with a coating to make them no longer superhydrophobic, for example, Boreyko says.

6-18-19 Worm with eyes in head and bottom found off Shetland
A new species of worm which has eyes in its head and also in its bottom has been discovered in the sea off Scotland. Scientists found the animal during a survey of the West Shetland Shelf Marine Protected Area. Measuring only 4mm (0.2in) in length, it was discovered in a previously unexplored part of the seabed of the large protected area. The worm has been given the scientific name Ampharete oculicirrata. The Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC), Marine Scotland Science and Thomson Environmental Consultants carried out the survey. The worm collected during the survey is now in the collections of National Museums Scotland in Edinburgh. Jessica Taylor, of JNCC, said: "The fact that it was found in relatively shallow depths, relatively close to the Scottish coastline, shows just how much more there is to understand about the creatures that live in our waters." "I'm excited about future JNCC and Marine Scotland surveys and what they may reveal. And it's great that specimens of the new species have been acquired by National Museums Scotland and are available for future studies."

6-18-19 Fossil proves hyenas once roamed Canada's Arctic Plains
A 50-year-old mystery surrounding a pair of fossilised teeth has been put to rest by new research that suggests hyenas once roamed Canada's Arctic. A team of researchers have identified the teeth, which were found in the Yukon in the 1970s, as belonging to hyenas one million years ago. Their findings were published on Tuesday in scientific journal Open Quaternary. The discovery sheds new light on the evolution of the ferocious scavengers. The two teeth were found during a paleontological expedition in Yukon's Old Crow Basin in 1973. Indigenous explorers have been working with scientists to plumb the treasures of the region for over a century, says Grant Zazula, a palaeontologist with the Yukon government. But out of more than 50,000 specimen collected, only two that could belong to a hyena have been found. It took nearly 50 years to find out what they were and who they belonged to. The teeth wound up on display at the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa, which is where Mr Zazula first saw them. Scientists had long hypothesised that they could belong to hyenas, but the theory had not been confirmed. Mr Zazula teamed up with Jack Tseng, an evolutionary biologist with a specialty in hyenas at the University of Buffalo and Lars Werdelin at the Swedish Museum of Natural History. "A meeting of minds came together," Mr Zazula told the BBC. "Because (Tseng) is so well-versed in hyena fossils he knew instantly right away what they were." More testing determined the age of the fossils to be between 850,000 and 1.4 million years old. Although modern-day hyenas mostly live in Africa, fossils belonging to ancient genus have been found as far north as Mongolia and as far west as Mexico. That's a 6,000 kilometre gap. These fossils help connect the dots, and confirm the hypothesis that they arrived to North America from Russia on the Bering Strait, Mr Zazula said. They also suggest that ancient hyenas had a very different life than ones today. "We're so used to thinking of Hyenas living in places like Africa, where they're running around the savannah, he said. "But to think of them living in snow and 24-hour darkness in the winter is totally different."

6-18-19 Female rats face sex bias too
Female animals are perceived as too difficult to study, and one scientist is calling for change. When researchers release a new finding about the brain, it’s often mice or rats who have run the mazes and taken the tests for science. People might wonder: Are rodents good substitutes for humans? Maybe for men, but what about women? That’s less likely, because most neuroscience experiments don’t use female rodents — a fact one scientist says comes from outdated ideas that should go into the scientific dustbin. For years, many scientists have dismissed female rodents as too variable to use in the lab, with tricky hormone surges that can affect behavior and compromise study results. In 2009, male lab mammals in neuroscience studies outnumbered females 5.5 to 1, according to a 2011 study in Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews. “The idea that women are primarily driven by ovarian hormones [was] a narrative put in place intentionally in the Victorian era,” says Rebecca Shansky, a neuroscientist at Northeastern University in Boston. “That has also infiltrated the way we think about female animals” in science. Male animals can be just as “hormonal” as their female counterparts, Shansky argues in an essay published May 31 in Science, and it’s time that both sexes got equal attention in the lab. Here are five things to know about the issue of sex in the study of rodent brains. In humans, reproductive hormones such as estrogen and progesterone ebb and flow over a roughly 28-day cycle. In rodents, that cycle is compressed to four or five days. Estrogen or progesterone levels on one day could be up to four times as much as on the day before. These hormones affect behavior. Female rats, for example, will self-administer more cocaine during estrous than at other times, and show less anxiety-like behavior immediately before estrous.

6-18-19 Hyenas roamed the Arctic during the last ice age
Newly identified fossils confirm how the carnivores migrated to North America, researchers say. Modern hyenas stalk the savannas of Asia and Africa, but the animals’ ancient relatives may have had snowier stomping grounds: the Arctic. Two fossilized teeth, collected in Canada in the 1970s, confirm a long-held hunch that ancient hyenas ventured into North America via the Bering land bridge, scientists say. The teeth belonged to members of the extinct genus Chasmaporthetes, also known as the “running hyena” for their unusually long legs, researchers report June 18 in Open Quaternary. Like wolves, the creatures could sprint over long distances. That ability that may have enabled the hyenas to make the long trek to America from Asia. Running hyena remains crop up across the southern United States and central Mexico. But before the Arctic discovery, a more than 10,000-kilometer gap lay between them and their closest relatives in Mongolia. “This new Arctic find puts a dot right in the middle of that,” says paleontologist Jack Tseng of the University at Buffalo in New York. “It actually confirms previous hypotheses about how hyenas got to the New World.” The teeth date to between 850,000 and 1.4 million years ago, Tseng says, placing the hyenas in the Arctic during the Pleistocene Ice Age, which began roughly 2.6 million years ago and lasted until about 11,700 years ago. The large carnivores may have hunted ancient caribou, horses, camels and the occasional juvenile mammoth (SN: 4/6/13, p. 9). Paleontologists originally dug up the teeth in the Old Crow Basin in the Yukon at a site nicknamed the “supermarket of fossils.” There, rushing water dislodges fossils from their soil beds and drops them along bends in the river. The spoils can be reached only by boat or helicopter, but it’s worth the effort — over 50,000 known mammal fossils have been collected in the basin to date.

6-18-19 Dogs' eyes evolve to appeal to humans
If a dog has eyes that seem to be telling you something or demanding your attention, it could be evolution's way of manipulating your feelings. Researchers have found that dogs have evolved muscles around their eyes, which allow them to make expressions that particularly appeal to humans. A small facial muscle allows dog eyes to mimic an "infant-like" expression which prompts a "nurturing response". The study says such "puppy eyes" helped domesticated dogs to bond with humans. Previous studies have shown how such canine expressions can appeal to humans, but this research from the UK and US shows there has been an anatomical change around dogs' eyes to make it possible. This allows dogs to create what the researchers call "expressive eyebrows" and to "create the illusion of human-like communication". "When dogs make the movement, it seems to elicit a strong desire in humans to look after them," says the study, co-authored by Dr Juliane Kaminski at the University of Portsmouth. This muscle movement allows dogs' eyes to "appear larger, more infant-like and also resembles a movement humans produce when they are sad". She says that humans would have an "unconscious preference" to protect and breed from dogs with such an appealing trait, giving them an evolutionary advantage and reinforcing this change in subsequent generations. "The evidence is compelling that dogs developed a muscle to raise the inner eyebrow after they were domesticated from wolves," says Dr Kaminski, in a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA. The findings, from UK and US researchers in anatomy and comparative psychology, show that the facial change has developed over thousands of years of dogs living alongside humans. Previous research has shown that dogs are more likely to use this "puppy eyes" expression when a human is looking at them - suggesting that it is a deliberate behaviour and intended for human consumption. Anatomist and report co-author, Professor Anne Burrows of Duquesne University in the US, says that in evolutionary terms the changes to dogs' facial muscles was "remarkably fast" and could be "directly linked to dogs' enhanced social interaction with humans".

6-17-19 Dogs evolved a special muscle that lets them make puppy dog eyes
Human selection has resulted in dogs evolving more expressive faces. They have a facial muscle for making the “puppy dog eyes” that melt many peoples’ hearts that does not exist in wolves – the ancestors of dogs. This muscle allows dogs to lift up their inner “eyebrow”, which makes their eye look larger. This makes them look more like childlike and also rather sad – the puppy dog eyes look. It really does make dogs more appealing to us. In 2013, Juliane Kaminski at the University of Portsmouth and colleagues videotaped dogs interacting with strangers at a shelter to see what made them more likely to be adopted. “The only thing that seemed to have an effect is this eyebrow movement,” she says. Dogs that made this movement more often were adopted sooner. “It was a surprising result,” says Kaminski, who studies dog-human communication. “That got us really interested.” In 2017, her team showed that dogs make this movement more often when people are looking at them. Now Kaminski and some anatomists have dissected 6 dogs and 4 grey wolves to compare their facial muscles (they used existing specimens – no animals were killed for this study). In dogs, the eyebrow motion is made by a muscle above their eyes, on the inner side nearer the nose, called the levator anguli oculi medialis. Five of the 6 dogs had this muscle. The one exception was a Siberian husky – an ancient breed more closely related to wolves than most dogs. In the wolves – which cannot raise their eyebrows as much – this muscle did not exist. In its place there was a small tendon partially connected to another muscle. So Kaminski thinks this muscle evolved because people favoured dogs that make this expression.

6-17-19 Microbes from farms may protect children from asthma even in cities
Children who grow up on farms have a lower risk of developing asthma, and now it seems that may be due to microbes that can also be found in urban and suburban homes. Pirkka Kirjavainen at the National Institute for Health and Welfare in Finland and his colleagues analysed the microbes from living room floor dust from the homes of a group of 197 children living in rural areas of Finland – half living on farms – and 182 children living in suburban or urban places. They took these samples when the children were 2 months old and likely to be crawling, and therefore exposed to microbes on the floor. Then they followed up at 6 years old to see how many children were diagnosed with asthma. For the rural group there was a clear difference in the dust found in farms compared to other homes. The dust from farm homes had a high variety of bacteria, including those from cattle that were not present in non-farm homes. Non-farm homes had a higher proportion of human-associated bacteria, including members of the Streptococcaceae family and Straphylococcus genus. These differences were associated with differences in asthma rates, with asthma being rarest among children brought up on farms. About 19 per cent of the children on non-farm homes had asthma, while only 9 per cent of kids on farms did. “Where there are more outdoor microbes and a low abundance of human microbes, we see lower asthma rates,” says Kirjavainen. For the suburban children, they found that the homes with a microbial community that was most like that of farm homes were correlated with a lower risk of asthma in the children at age 6, when asthma tends to develop. “There is an indication that early life exposure matters the most. Later exposure would seem to have an influence on asthma, but this is the optimal window to measure,” says Kirjavainen.

6-17-19 Everything you need to know about the hospital food listeria outbreak
Two more people are reported to have died after eating contaminated sandwiches at a UK hospital, bringing the total to five fatalities. Here’s everything you need to know about the listeria outbreak. On 7 June, it was announced that six people in the UK – described as already having been “seriously ill” in hospital – had developed listeria infections. Three of them died as a result of the infection. Now two more deaths have been linked to the same outbreak. The infections have been traced back to a sandwich and salad production company that supplies food to hospitals, which has ceased production as a result of the outbreak. The company providing meat to the sandwich producer has also halted production, according to Public Health England. UK health minister Matt Hancock has ordered a review of hospital food. The bacteria can cause an infection called listeriosis, which is rare in the UK. Although it generally causes only mild symptoms, listeriosis can be very dangerous in young babies, elderly people and pregnant women, as well as people with weak immune systems. In vulnerable people, it can spread through the body and attack the brain, or cause miscarriage in pregnant women. Listeria bacteria can grow in foods, especially soft cheese, unpasteurised milk, and smoked fish, which is why pregnant women are advised to avoid these. It can also grow on other food products, including salads, and can continue to replicate even when food is refrigerated at cold temperatures. Pre-packed sandwiches have been responsible for some past outbreaks. Three cases were linked to pre-packed sandwiches in Yorkshire and the Humber and the West Midlands in 2017, for example. A recent review of cases in Spain found that cheeses and hams were often likely sources of bacteria, and in the US, deli meats, cheeses and frozen vegetables have been responsible for outbreaks. Contaminated ready-to-eat meat products were responsible for a huge outbreak in South Africa, which began in 2017 and went on to cause over a thousand cases and claim 216 lives.

6-17-19 Norovirus close-ups might help fight stomach flu
Detailed views of strains of the virus could aid vaccine and disinfectant development. Knowing your enemy is an important principle of competition, and scientists may just have become more familiar with one nasty stomach virus. Closeup looks at several strains of norovirus reveal that the vomit- and diarrhea-inducing virus can come in a variety of sizes, researchers report online June 10 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Knobs studding the virus’s protein shell are twisted slightly in some strains, and the pathogen may need charged zinc atoms to maintain its shell, the team learned. Those discoveries could aid in vaccine development or help researchers find better ways of disinfecting virus-contaminated surfaces. Scientists have known surprisingly little about the virus, though it is the leading cause of gastroenteritis and foodborne illness, sickening up to about 21 million people each year in the United States alone. No drugs or vaccines against norovirus exist. And the virus is notoriously hard to grow in the lab, making it difficult to study. Only one strain has ever been crystallized to reveal its structure at the atomic level. “We have no idea what cells it’s infecting, how it causes diarrhea, why the symptoms are so short,” says Craig Wilen, a virologist at Yale School of Medicine who was not involved in the study. Researchers also don’t know: why the virus causes more cases of “stomach flu” in winter than other seasons; why only one strain seems to circulate at a time; why immunity to the virus lasts only about six months; nor why some people are more susceptible than others. “It’s a mystery,” Wilen says.

6-16-19 Ebola crosses a porous border
This week the Ebola virus crossed from the Democratic Republic of Congo into Uganda, but there are reasons to hope it can be contained on that side of the border, reports Olivia Acland. On Monday morning, a family was heading from the Democratic Republic of Congo back home to Uganda, after a funeral. The grandfather had died from Ebola and his daughter had gone to the country a few weeks earlier, to try and nurse him back to health. By the time the family got near the Ugandan border, most of them were suffering from high fever and diarrhoea. They stopped in a health clinic and were put in isolation, awaiting tests. But after dark, six members of the family, including a five-year-old boy, slipped out of the clinic and set off down a desolate and poorly policed road crossing into Uganda. A few days later both the boy and his grandmother had died. Health officials have long feared that this outbreak of Ebola virus could pass over the porous border into Uganda. The border is over 500 miles long and many of the crossings are informal - sometimes just a couple of planks laid across a shallow river. An endless stream of traders, some balancing baskets of eggs on their heads or swinging chickens by their feet, moves back and forth across the border each day. One of the main reasons it has been so difficult to contain the disease in DR Congo itself is because it is spreading in a conflict zone. Some 120 armed groups hide in the jungle-matted hills in the east of the country and regularly spring out of the bush to abduct or rape civilians. They make money smuggling minerals like gold and coltan, used in mobile phone batteries, or by plundering villages and stealing livestock. Complicating things further, the local population has little trust in the authorities and their ability to respond. Health workers often move around with armed escorts, which arouses suspicion. And when impoverished villagers see fleets of four-by-fours tearing down their roads they talk about "Ebola business" and are jealous of the money being poured into the response.

6-14-19 The Science of Storytelling is an essential guide to our own minds
Great writers have often used psychology to create compelling stories that take us out of ourselves, but what is it about stories that appeal to us so strongly? In his new book The Science of Storytelling, Will Storr delves into the modern science of the mind to explain why great stories work, and how writers can use these lessons to make novels and scripts come alive. Storytelling is not just something we do for fun: our brains tell us stories to make sense of the world. When we create a mental representation of the world from a story, we are using the same neural tools that we use to model the real world with our senses and memories. Where our senses fall short, our minds fill in the gaps. Psychologists describe this experience of reality as a controlled hallucination. As highly social animals, humans have evolved to be experts at modelling not only our environment but the minds of other humans. Storr recounts the idea that humans, like the pet cats and dogs we’ve tamed, have undergone a process of domestication, making us better at reading social cues and more reliant on others. “The magic of story is its ability to connect mind with mind in a manner that’s unrivalled even by love,” says Storr. We are fascinated by other people, and letting us see the world from someone else’s point of view is a key part of the attraction of stories. While many story theorists have focused on the plot structures that make a successful story, Storr argues that a writer’s most important challenge is to devise characters that feel real and stimulate our social curiosity. Our mental substantiation of fictional people is so powerful that almost a fifth of readers report hearing characters’ voices in their heads even when they weren’t reading. Our entire identity is built around a story the brain tells itself, with our selves as the hero. These stories about our lives are more fictional than we realise. Studies have shown that we create false memories to achieve the identity we want, and conveniently forget instances when we behaved immorally. Storr argues that all good characters have a flawed model of the world and how to control it – and that is what makes them interesting. In a good story, protagonists often face a moment when they are faced with evidence that their understanding of the world is wrong. If the story has a happy ending, the character may recognise their flaw and change who they are to overcome their challenges. In tragedies, the protagonist often refuses to change – and this leads to their downfall.

6-14-19 New York bans religious exemptions for vaccines amid measles outbreak
Lawmakers in New York have voted to eliminate religious exemptions for school vaccines for children, as the state grapples with a measles outbreak. The law passed on Thursday night, and led to chaotic scenes in the statehouse as anti-vaccination supporters clashed with lawmakers. Much of New York's outbreak has centred around orthodox Jewish communities. More than 1,000 Americans have been diagnosed with measles in 2019. Health officials say the disease is resurging. Last month, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned that the US, which effectively eliminated measles in 2000, may lose its "measles elimination status" as infections climb to a 27-year high. The new law in New York, which was passed by the state's Democratic Senate and Assembly chambers, bans parents from claiming religious exemptions which used to allow their children to forgo vaccinations that are normally required for school. "I'm not aware of anything in the Torah, the Bible, the Koran or anything else that suggests you should not get vaccinated," said Bronx Democrat Jeffrey Dinowitz, who sponsored the bill. State Senator Brad Hoylman added: "We're putting science ahead of misinformation about vaccines and standing up for the rights of immuno-compromised children and adults, pregnant women and infants who can't be vaccinated through no fault of their own." Governor Andrew Cuomo, who signed the bill into law only hours after it was passed by lawmakers, said in a statement: "The science is crystal clear: Vaccines are safe, effective and the best way to keep our children safe." "While I understand and respect freedom of religion, our first job is to protect the public health and by signing this measure into law, we will help prevent further transmissions and stop this outbreak right in its tracks." (Webmaster's comment: We should lock up and quarantine all families with unvaccinated members. They are a danger to all the rest of us.)

6-14-19 No need to walk 10,000 steps
If you rarely walk your daily step target, don’t sweat it. New research has found that the 10,000 steps–a-day standard—a popular benchmark for adequate fitness and the default goal for many popular wearable activity trackers—is on the high side, reports TheAtlantic.com. Harvard researchers gave fitness trackers to 16,000 women ages 62 to 101, recorded their step counts for seven days, and then monitored their health for a roughly four-year follow-up period. After adjusting for diet, lifestyle, and other factors, the researchers found that the women who walked about 4,400 steps a day had a 41 percent lower risk of premature death than the least active, who logged about 2,700 steps. Walking more than 4,400 steps further decreased the risk level only moderately—and the benefits plateaued at around 7,500. Lead author I-Min Lee says the 10,000-step goal should be lowered to encourage more people to get walking. “If you’re someone who’s sedentary,” she says, “even a very modest increase brings you significant health benefits.” She found that the 10,000-step target isn’t actually based on research—it stems from a 1960s marketing campaign for a Japanese pedometer that played on the fact that the Japanese character for 10,000 resembles a man walking.

6-14-19 The effects of pre-natal stress
Men whose mothers experienced stress in early pregnancy are more likely to have reduced sperm counts and lower testosterone in later life, a new study has found. Researchers examined health data on 643 Australian men, all age 20. Those whose mothers had experienced three or more stressful life events—the death of a close relative, for example, or a divorce—in the first 18 weeks of pregnancy had a 36 percent lower sperm count and 11 percent lower testosterone level than subjects whose moms had no stressful events. Scientists found that participants whose mothers experienced stressful events in later gestation did not have fewer sperm or lower testosterone, likely because the most vulnerable stage of development for male reproductive organs is early on in pregnancy. Senior author Roger Hart, from the University of Western Australia, tells The New York Times that the study appears to have an important message for would-be moms. “The time to get pregnant,” he says, “is when you’re healthiest, both physically and psychologically, and with an environment around you that is free of stress.”

6-14-19 White meat’s cholesterol risk
Eating white meat may raise your cholesterol levels as much as eating red meat, reports NBCNews.com. Scientists at Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute recruited 113 adults, ages 21 to 65, to eat three rotating month-long diets: one centered on lean cuts of beef, the second on lean cuts of chicken, and the third on plant proteins. Half the participants’ diets—irrespective of their main protein source—were high in saturated fats, found in foods such as butter and cheese, while half were low. At the end of each month, researchers measured the participants’ levels of LDL cholesterol, the so-called bad cholesterol that clogs arteries. They found that white meat raised LDL levels just as much as red meat, even when saturated fat levels were equal. Only the plant-based diets produced healthy cholesterol levels. Study author Ronald Krauss cautions that his research does not rule out the possibility that “other effects of red meat consumption could contribute to heart disease.” Further research is needed, he said.

6-14-19 Strange fat cells in our bones grow rather than shrink when we starve
There is a distinct type of fat in our bones that doesn’t act like fat at all. These peculiar fat cells, or adipocytes, grow larger, not smaller, when we starve. “They are fake adipocytes,” says cancer researcher Catherine Muller at the University of Toulouse, France. “They look like adipocytes but they don’t have the main function of adipocytes.” The main function of fat is to store energy and release it when needed, says Muller. This is what most of the fat in our bodies – found under our skin and around internal organs – does. Besides this white fat, as it is known, we also have small patches of brown fat around the neck that actively burn food to produce heat. The fat inside our bone marrow, which accounts for about 10 per cent of all fat in lean people, is usually assumed to be a form of white fat and often regarded as a mere space filler. But animal studies in the 1970s revealed a bizarre property: these fat cells grow bigger when animals starve. Fat cells should behave in the opposite way, by releasing energy and shrinking. The fat cells in bone marrow appear to behave in the same strange way in humans. In 2010, for instance, MRI scans revealed that women with anorexia had more bone marrow fat than healthy women, despite having far less fat elsewhere in the body. Muller became interested because breast and prostate cancers often spread to bone marrow, and it appears that bone marrow fat cells help tumours grow. She was surprised to discover that very few studies have looked at bone marrow fat in people. So her team has analysed samples of bone marrow fat and below-skin fat from people undergoing hip surgery. The researchers found the bone marrow fat cells resemble subcutaneous ones in appearance, but produce a distinctive set of proteins.

6-14-19 Government clampdown on fetal tissue research
Scientists reacted with dismay last week after the Trump administration sharply restricted federal funding for medical research that uses fetal tissue, potentially affecting some $100 million in grants. Collected from elective abortions, the tissue has been used to develop vaccines for illnesses including polio, rubella, and measles, and is currently being used to study diseases including cancer, HIV, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s. The new restrictions will result in three research projects at the National Institutes of Health being shuttered. About 200 outside research projects that use the material and receive NIH funding will be allowed to continue until their grants expire. Future research projects will then have to be approved by an ethics advisory board appointed by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. The White House said the research clampdown would “protect the dignity of human life.” The change is a victory for anti-abortion groups. Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, said it was “disgusting” that taxpayers had helped fund “experimentation using baby body parts.” But scientists said the restrictions would severely hamper their research. Stem cells harvested from fetal tissue can transform into any cell, replicate quickly, and don’t trigger the same immune response as adult cells, which means they can be injected into lab mice to study human diseases. “The ban on fetal tissue research,” said Lawrence Gostin, a public health law expert at Georgetown University, is “a ban on hope for millions of Americans suffering from life-threatening and debilitating diseases.” “This is nothing more than a sop to the religious right,” said the Los Angeles Times in an editorial. Clamping down on scientists’ use of fetal tissue won’t save any babies—because abortion will continue—but it will chill research that could help babies, children, and adults avoid suffering and death. You can’t claim to be pro-life if you’re denying science “the best tools available to find cures and create medicine for sick people.”

6-14-19 American health-care
The American health-care industry is becoming increasingly monopolized at all levels, helping drive up prices for medical care. One company controls 64 percent of the market for syringes; three companies control 86 percent of the market for IV solution; and two companies control 92 percent of dialysis clinics.

6-14-19 Brain worms in Hawaii
Health officials in Hawaii have confirmed three new cases of rat lungworm—a rare and occasionally fatal disease spread by a parasite that burrows into brains. The three patients, who contracted the disease separately over the past several months, bring the state’s total number of cases in 2018 to 10, and the 2019 total to five. Seventeen people were infected in 2017—but only two during the previous decade. The parasite, Angiostrongylus cantonensis, starts its life cycle as a worm in rats’ lungs, reports CNN.com. Its larvae are found in rat feces, which are eaten by snails and slugs. When rats in turn eat these snails and slugs, the cycle starts again. Humans are typically infected when they accidentally eat an infected snail or slug—in an unwashed salad, for example. The tiny worms can get lost in human bodies and head for the brain, where they can cause serious issues with the central nervous system. Symptoms include headaches, neck stiffness, fever, and vomiting; a severe infection can be fatal. Hawaii’s Health Department advises people to wash fruit and vegetables—and to not eat slugs for a dare, as one recent patient did.

6-14-19 Fighting malaria with gene-edited fungus
Scientists have created a genetically modified fungus that can kill malaria-carrying mosquitoes. Metarhizium pingshaense naturally infects Anopheles mosquitoes. Using gene editing, the researchers modified the fungus so that it would produce a toxin found in the venom of a funnel-web spider—but only when the fungus was swimming in the insect’s blood. The tweaked fungus proved highly effective in lab tests, so to test its efficacy in a real-world setting, scientists created an artificial 6,500-square-foot sub-Saharan village—essentially a giant greenhouse with walls made of mosquito netting. Mosquitoes placed in tent “huts” containing the uncontaminated fungus thrived, while those in huts sprayed with the modified fungus mostly died off within 45 days. The engineered fungus did not seem to affect bees or other insects. Study leader Raymond St. Leger, from the University of Maryland, tells NPR.org that much more research is needed before any lab-produced organisms can be released into the wild. But he says the study shows the potential of the fungus to combat the spread of malaria, which sickens 200 million people every year and kills some 400,000, mostly children in sub-Saharan Africa. “If it just reduced the transmission of [the disease] by 5 percent, that would still be hundreds of thousands of lives that benefited,” St. Leger says. “And we think it could do quite a bit better than that.”

6-14-19 Pig disease epidemic
The African swine fever that has ripped through pig herds across China is now infecting pigs in other Asian countries. Since last summer, about 20 percent of China’s 440 million pigs have been lost to disease or culling. The virus is harmless to humans but lethal to pigs, and it spreads rapidly, through contact with infected live or dead pigs and even contaminated pork products. In recent weeks, the disease has been found in Vietnam, Mongolia, Cambodia, and North Korea, forcing those countries to implement stringent checks at borders. “There’s never been anything like this in the history of modern animal production,” said agrifinance analyst Christine McCracken.

6-14-19 High-tech vertical farming is on the rise – but is it any greener?
The herbs in your future online supermarket delivery may be grown not in a field in a distant country, but in a shed on the outskirts of a nearby city. This week, UK online supermarket Ocado spent £17 million on vertical farming, an industry that advocates say can produce food in a more environmentally friendly way. But will the investment really allow Ocado to deliver greener food? Ocado has taken a majority stake in Jones Food, which runs Europe’s biggest vertical farm on an industrial estate in Scunthorpe. It has also invested in a joint venture with a further two firms – Priva based in the Netherlands and 80 Acres based in Ohio – involved in vertical farming. Vertical farming sees crops grown indoors under lights, in racks several metres tall. The technology expands production upwards and so requires less land. It also means that crops can be grown closer to where they will be consumed. That partly explains its success in Asia, with commercial vertical farming in Japan dating back more than 15 years. The sector has a much more recent history in Europe, emerging over the past five years. In Scunthorpe, basil and other herbs, watercress and leafy salad are grown in water under LED lights on racking that would collectively cover about 5000 square metres. “There’s always been an energy and employee argument which has probably held back vertical farming over the past decade,” says James Lloyd-Jones of Jones Food. The efficient nature of LEDs has been key to addressing that, along with lower energy lighting that just emits the blue and red wavelengths that plants can use. Fertiliser use – farming’s traditional big energy burden – is “phenomenally reduced”, Lloyd-Jones says. Pesticide use is zero because few insects make it into the indoor environment.

6-14-19 Superweeds are on the brink of becoming resistant to all weedkillers
The most damaging weed in the UK is about to become resistant to the main defence farmers have against it – the weed-killer glyphosate. And the situation is similar in many other countries around the world, with more than 500 weed strains having evolved resistance to at least one herbicide. Many weeds have evolved resistance to several different kinds of herbicides, and some are set to become resistant to all the herbicides used on particular crops. That is bad news for farmers, consumers and wildlife. These superweeds will cause massive crop losses and push up food prices. They will also speed up climate change and harm wildlife as even more land is converted to farmland to make up for the lost crops. “It is not a matter of if but when we are going to be losing chemical control of these weeds,” says Adam Davis of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In Europe alone, it is estimated that glyphosate-resistant weeds will cause yields of wheat, barley and oilseed rape to fall around 10 per cent, causing losses of around €2 billion for farmers and pushing up food prices. An additional 2 million hectares of farmland would be needed to compensate, resulting in higher greenhouse gas emissions and a loss of wildlife habitat. The loss of habitat is the single greatest threat to wildlife and biodiversity. The latest threat is a weed called blackgrass. “It can totally infest a field to the extent you can barely see the crop,” says David Comont of Rothamsted Research in the UK. By outcompeting crop plants, it causes yields to plummet. Strains of blackgrass (Alopecurus myosuroides) have already evolved resistance to many herbicides, and some are resistant to several at once. The herbicide glyphosate is often the last line of defence. And now Comont’s tests on blackgrass collected from more than 100 fields in the UK show that it is evolving resistance to glyphosate too.

6-13-19 Gut microbes interfere with Parkinson's drug - but we could stop them
The main drug used by millions of people with Parkinson’s disease could be made more effective and have its side effects limited, new research into gut bacteria and enzymes suggests. DLevodopa is used to treat many of the symptoms experienced by the 10 million people with Parkinson’s. The drug works by passing the blood-brain barrier and releasing dopamine in the brain. But some of the drug is converted to dopamine before it gets there, which can cause adverse side effects and limit the drug’s effectiveness. A particular problem is that the drug is broken down by enzymes in the gut and blood vessels. For this reason, people with Parkinson’s usually take levodopa in combination with another drug, carbidopa, that inhibits the break down. Researchers have been working to see how much of a role our microbiome could be playing in the varying responses people experience with levodopa. Now a US team has identified the enzymes and organisms in the gut that are responsible for breaking down the drug. “The specific advance is really understanding which specific gut bacteria and enzymes have the potential to metabolise levodopa,” says Emily Balskus at Harvard University. The team also found a way that could allow more of the drug to make it to the brain. It came in the shape of a small molecule, alpha-fluoromethyltyrosine (AFMT), which in tests in mice showed was able to block the pathway through which the enzymes break down the drug. “This opens up the door to the possibility of developing a new class of therapeutics to improve patient response to levodopa – that would be drugs targeting gut microbe metabolism in addition to targeting host metabolism,” says Balskus.

6-13-19 More than half of all Ebola outbreaks are going undetected
At least half of all Ebola outbreaks may have gone unrecognised, and more surveillance is needed to identify them early, before they get out of control. Those are the conclusions of a new analysis involving data from the largest Ebola outbreak in history. Ebola is a horrifying disease. While it starts with similar symptoms to the flu – fever and chills, muscle pain and headache – it often ends in internal and external bleeding, and death. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is in the grips of an outbreak that has infected about 2000 people and caused 1400 deaths since beginning in August last year. Now authorities have confirmed that it has spread to Uganda, following the death of a 5-year-old boy and his grandmother. This makes the outbreak the second largest in history, behind the epidemic in West Africa that killed more than 11,000 people between 2013 and 2016. However, such outbreaks are relatively unlikely, because it is far from inevitable that Ebola will spread between many people if it “spills over” into the human population from bats or other animals. As such, Emma Glennon at the University of Cambridge and her colleagues suspect that more often than not, when Ebola enters the human population it will die out before it grows into a medical emergency on the scale of the current epidemic. To test their idea, Glennon and her colleagues used computer modelling informed by three separate data sets related to the West Africa epidemic: one on all reported exposures in the outbreak, another with information on cases in a single district of Sierra Leone and a third with data on chains of transmission from early cases in Conakry, capital city of Guinea.

6-13-19 Scotland's crannogs are older than Stonehenge
Archaeologists have discovered that some Scottish crannogs are thousands of years older than previously thought. Crannogs were fortified settlements constructed on artificial islands in lochs. It was thought they were first built in the Iron Age, a period that began around 800 BC. But four Western Isles sites have been radiocarbon dated to about 3640-3360 BC in the Neolithic period - before the erection of Stonehenge's stone circle. The prehistoric monument in Wiltshire is one of Britain's best-known Neolithic features. Stonehenge's stone circle was erected in the late Neolithic period, about 2500 BC. Another famous Neolithic site is Skara Brae, a village in Orkney inhabited between 3200 BC and 2200 BC. Archaeologists Dr Duncan Garrow, of University of Reading, and Dr Fraser Sturt, from the University of Southampton, investigated four crannog artificial islands in the Isle of Lewis in the Western Isles. At one of the sites well-preserved Neolithic pottery had previously been found on the loch bed by Chris Murray, a former Royal Navy diver who lives in Lewis. The archaeologists' investigation included making underwater surveys and carrying out excavations at the sites to obtain "conclusive evidence of artificial islet construction during the Neolithic". The archaeologists, whose research has been published in the journal Antiquity, said the crannogs represented "a monumental effort" through the piling up of boulders on the loch bed, and in the case of a site in Loch Bhorgastail the building of a stone causeway. They said it was possible other Scottish crannogs, and similar sites in Ireland, were also Neolithic.

6-13-19 Two hours a week spent outdoors in nature linked with better health
Spending just 2 hours a week in green spaces such as parks, woodlands and fields has been linked with people feeling healthier and happier. The health benefits of being out in nature have been well-documented and will seem common sense to many of us, but until now no one has quantified exactly how much time might be beneficial. The magic number emerged from analysis of a survey of 20,000 people in England, who reported how long they spent in natural environments in the past week, plus their health and well-being. While individuals who spent less than 2 hours in nature were no more likely to report good health or well-being than those who spent no time there at all, those who spent more than 2 hours had consistently higher health and well-being levels. “It’s not a huge amount of time. You can spread it over the course of a week or seem to get it in a single dose, it doesn’t really matter,” says Mathew White at the University of Exeter, UK. Moreover, the threshold is within reach for most people: the analysis found that the average person spent 94 minutes a week exposed to a natural environment. “We have long known that nature is good for physical and mental health and putting numbers on the critical ‘dose of nature’ which gives us the best health is a really important step forward,” says Rachel Stancliffe of the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare in Oxford, UK. After 2 hours, the health benefits of being out in nature seem to give diminishing returns, with a cut-off after 5 hours. White says that could be explained by many of that group being dog walkers who are out in nature with little choice in the matter. The team controlled for the fact that the health benefits might be a byproduct of physical activity, not contact with nature.

6-13-19 When fighting lice, focus on kids’ heads, not hats or toys
I recently attempted a technically demanding “around the world” braid on my kindergartner. On my sloppy and meandering approach to the South Pole, I discovered a loathsome sight that scuttled my circumnavigation — a smattering of small, brownish casings stuck onto hairs. I tried to convince myself that I was looking at sand. She’s always covered in sand! But I’ve spent enough time around insects to know that I was looking at something biological. Bad braid abandoned, I began combing through, looking for more specks. And I sure found them: Lice eggs, or nits, that were glued onto the hair next to the scalp, and precisely one live bug. Today, I am delighted to report that our outbreak is over. (Although with three young children, our situation will probably swing between “having lice” and “waiting to have lice again.”) Our first brush with the little buggers sent me into full research mode, and I’m now armed with a deeper understanding of lice habits and preferences. In the interest of streamlining your next lice experience, I offer below some little-known and helpful facets of lice life. The best way to spot lice and their tiny nits is with wet combing. Compared with spot-checking the scalp, pulling a fine-toothed metal comb through hair that’s slick with conditioner turns out more critters. Pepper-sized nits can range from white to brown in color and are glued to single hairs. These suckers are on tight: You might need a fingernail to pop them off. Live nits need to be close to the warm scalp to survive; casings that are farther than a centimeter away from the scalp are probably empty or contain dead eggs. Once hatched, a live human head louse, or Pediculus humanus capitis, grows no larger than the diameter of a pencil eraser. It’s grayish white. And its favorite — and only — food is blood from a human scalp, which it slurps several times a day.

6-13-19 Chinese tombs yield earliest evidence of cannabis use
Researchers have uncovered the earliest known evidence of cannabis use, from tombs in western China. The study suggests cannabis was being smoked at least 2,500 years ago, and that it may have been associated with ritual or religious activities. Traces of the drug were identified in wooden burners from the burials. The cannabis had high levels of the psychoactive compound THC, suggesting people at the time were well aware of its effects. Cannabis plants have been cultivated in East Asia for their oily seeds and fibre from at least 4,000 BC. But the early cultivated varieties of cannabis, as well as most wild populations, had low levels of THC and other psychoactive compounds. The burners, or braziers, were found at Jirzankal Cemetery, high up in the Pamir Mountains. The scientists think ancient people put cannabis leaves and hot stones in the braziers and inhaled the resulting smoke. It's possible that the high altitude environment caused the cannabis plants in this region to naturally produce higher levels of THC. There's evidence this can happen in response to low temperatures, low nutrient levels and other conditions associated with high elevations. But people could have deliberately bred plants with higher levels of THC than wild varieties. It's the earliest clear evidence of cannabis being used for its psychoactive properties. They appear to have been burnt as part of funerary rituals. The scientists used a method called gas chromatography-mass spectrometry to isolate and identify compounds preserved in the burners. To their surprise, the chemical signature of the isolated compounds was an exact match to the chemical signature of cannabis. The findings tally with other early evidence for the presence of cannabis from burials further north, in the Xinjiang region of China and in the Altai Mountains of Russia.


ANIMAL INTELLIGENCE and ZOOLOGY

6-18-19 Seals consciously reduce blood flow to their blubber before diving
We can now monitor what happens inside diving animals in unprecedented detail thanks to a non-invasive way of recording blood flow and oxygen levels in their brain. The first study with this device shows seals consciously reduce blood flow to their blubber before diving. Almost all mammals, including us, have the so-called dive reflex. It triggers changes in the body, such as reduced blood flow to the skin and a slower heart rate, that reduce oxygen consumption. This reflex was thought to be an automatic response. In humans, for instance, it is triggered by breath holding and cold water on the face. But recent studies suggest that at least some diving mammals have a degree of control. For instance, harbour porpoises slow their hearts more if they are planning to stay under longer. We know little about other changes in the bodies of diving animals because they are very hard to study. So Chris McKnight at the University of St Andrews in the UK and colleagues developed a wearable non-invasive device that uses near-infrared spectroscopy to monitor blood volume and oxygenation. “It’s effectively like a Fitbit,” says McKnight. “It does not penetrate the skin.” When the team attached this device to harbour seals, they found that the peripheral blood vessels of seals started to contract well before they dived – typically around 15 seconds before and sometimes as much as 45 seconds. That means it must be under conscious control, says McKnight. “There’s no other stimulus.” The seals also restored normal blood flow to the blubber several seconds before surfacing, again showing conscious control. The study also revealed that when seals are feeding, they don’t bother to stay at the surface long enough to restore normal blood oxygen levels.

6-18-19 ‘Sneezing’ plants may spread pathogens to their neighbors
Jumping dewdrops might help transmit disease among certain plants such as wheat. Next time you pass a wheat field on a dewy morning, you might want to say “gesundheit.” That’s because some sick plants can “sneeze” — shooting out tiny water droplets laden with pathogens, scientists report June 19 in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface. In wheat plants infected with the fungus Puccinia triticina, coalescing dew droplets flew away from the leaves they were on and carried fungal spores with them, experiments showed. The pathogen, which causes a destructive disease known as leaf rust, might then be able to infect other wheat plants (SN: 9/25/10, p. 22). The flinging effect, which can happen on healthy plants too, is the result of a quirk of fluid dynamics: When two water drops unite, surface tension is released and converted into kinetic energy that can hurl the fluid away. It’s a “surface tension catapult,” says mechanical engineer Jonathan Boreyko of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. The effect occurs only on extremely water-repellent, or superhydrophobic, surfaces, like the leaves of certain plants, including wheat (SN: 3/1/03, p. 132). The drops can jump a few millimeters — high enough to escape the layer of still air that surrounds each leaf, so that a gentle breeze could carry the water and spores to other plants, Boreyko and colleagues report. The catapulting effect was known to occur on other superhydrophobic surfaces, but this is the first time it’s been suggested that it helps transmit disease. Understanding how leaf rust spreads could be important for controlling it. If “sneezing” turns out to be an important source of transmission, plants could be sprayed with a coating to make them no longer superhydrophobic, for example, Boreyko says.

6-18-19 Worm with eyes in head and bottom found off Shetland
A new species of worm which has eyes in its head and also in its bottom has been discovered in the sea off Scotland. Scientists found the animal during a survey of the West Shetland Shelf Marine Protected Area. Measuring only 4mm (0.2in) in length, it was discovered in a previously unexplored part of the seabed of the large protected area. The worm has been given the scientific name Ampharete oculicirrata. The Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC), Marine Scotland Science and Thomson Environmental Consultants carried out the survey. The worm collected during the survey is now in the collections of National Museums Scotland in Edinburgh. Jessica Taylor, of JNCC, said: "The fact that it was found in relatively shallow depths, relatively close to the Scottish coastline, shows just how much more there is to understand about the creatures that live in our waters." "I'm excited about future JNCC and Marine Scotland surveys and what they may reveal. And it's great that specimens of the new species have been acquired by National Museums Scotland and are available for future studies."

6-18-19 Dogs' eyes evolve to appeal to humans
If a dog has eyes that seem to be telling you something or demanding your attention, it could be evolution's way of manipulating your feelings. Researchers have found that dogs have evolved muscles around their eyes, which allow them to make expressions that particularly appeal to humans. A small facial muscle allows dog eyes to mimic an "infant-like" expression which prompts a "nurturing response". The study says such "puppy eyes" helped domesticated dogs to bond with humans. Previous studies have shown how such canine expressions can appeal to humans, but this research from the UK and US shows there has been an anatomical change around dogs' eyes to make it possible. This allows dogs to create what the researchers call "expressive eyebrows" and to "create the illusion of human-like communication". "When dogs make the movement, it seems to elicit a strong desire in humans to look after them," says the study, co-authored by Dr Juliane Kaminski at the University of Portsmouth. This muscle movement allows dogs' eyes to "appear larger, more infant-like and also resembles a movement humans produce when they are sad". She says that humans would have an "unconscious preference" to protect and breed from dogs with such an appealing trait, giving them an evolutionary advantage and reinforcing this change in subsequent generations. "The evidence is compelling that dogs developed a muscle to raise the inner eyebrow after they were domesticated from wolves," says Dr Kaminski, in a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA. The findings, from UK and US researchers in anatomy and comparative psychology, show that the facial change has developed over thousands of years of dogs living alongside humans. Previous research has shown that dogs are more likely to use this "puppy eyes" expression when a human is looking at them - suggesting that it is a deliberate behaviour and intended for human consumption. Anatomist and report co-author, Professor Anne Burrows of Duquesne University in the US, says that in evolutionary terms the changes to dogs' facial muscles was "remarkably fast" and could be "directly linked to dogs' enhanced social interaction with humans".

6-17-19 Dogs evolved a special muscle that lets them make puppy dog eyes
Human selection has resulted in dogs evolving more expressive faces. They have a facial muscle for making the “puppy dog eyes” that melt many peoples’ hearts that does not exist in wolves – the ancestors of dogs. This muscle allows dogs to lift up their inner “eyebrow”, which makes their eye look larger. This makes them look more like childlike and also rather sad – the puppy dog eyes look. It really does make dogs more appealing to us. In 2013, Juliane Kaminski at the University of Portsmouth and colleagues videotaped dogs interacting with strangers at a shelter to see what made them more likely to be adopted. “The only thing that seemed to have an effect is this eyebrow movement,” she says. Dogs that made this movement more often were adopted sooner. “It was a surprising result,” says Kaminski, who studies dog-human communication. “That got us really interested.” In 2017, her team showed that dogs make this movement more often when people are looking at them. Now Kaminski and some anatomists have dissected 6 dogs and 4 grey wolves to compare their facial muscles (they used existing specimens – no animals were killed for this study). In dogs, the eyebrow motion is made by a muscle above their eyes, on the inner side nearer the nose, called the levator anguli oculi medialis. Five of the 6 dogs had this muscle. The one exception was a Siberian husky – an ancient breed more closely related to wolves than most dogs. In the wolves – which cannot raise their eyebrows as much – this muscle did not exist. In its place there was a small tendon partially connected to another muscle. So Kaminski thinks this muscle evolved because people favoured dogs that make this expression.

6-15-19 Saving sharks: One woman's mission to protect the hammerhead
Swimming off Cocos Island in the Pacific Ocean, Ilena Zanella had her first close encounter with hammerhead sharks. As social creatures, the sharks gather in their hundreds, and soon she found herself surrounded. Easily spooked by the bubbles coming from her diving equipment, the sharks appeared shy, vulnerable and beautiful. "I saw the vulnerability of this endangered species," she says. "This experience changed my life and I decided to dedicate my work and myself to the protection of hammerheads." Hammerhead sharks are something of a curiosity in the animal kingdom, with their elongated heads and pinprick eyes. Of the nine known species, several are endangered, including the scalloped hammerhead, which is found off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. Despite threats from overfishing and the shark fin trade, in many areas of the ocean there are no fishing restrictions for hammerheads. The scalloped hammerhead is in decline, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature - IUCN. Ilena Zanella is co-founder of the non-profit organisation, Misión Tiburón, which is campaigning for better protection for the shark. In Costa Rica, ceviche, the national dish, is commonly made from hammerheads. And Zanella was shocked and saddened to see juveniles being used as fishing bait. "It's an endangered species used as bait," she says. "Actions like that are destroying our oceans and we need to act, we need to do something." Illena Zanella recently won a Whitley Award for her conservation work. She says she will use the award to get better protection for the hammerhead shark. Based on research by her team, the tropical fjord of Golfo Dulce in Costa Rica was declared a shark sanctuary last year, including a large no take zone. The inlet is a crucial nursery ground for the hammerhead.

6-14-19 High-tech vertical farming is on the rise – but is it any greener?
The herbs in your future online supermarket delivery may be grown not in a field in a distant country, but in a shed on the outskirts of a nearby city. This week, UK online supermarket Ocado spent £17 million on vertical farming, an industry that advocates say can produce food in a more environmentally friendly way. But will the investment really allow Ocado to deliver greener food? Ocado has taken a majority stake in Jones Food, which runs Europe’s biggest vertical farm on an industrial estate in Scunthorpe. It has also invested in a joint venture with a further two firms – Priva based in the Netherlands and 80 Acres based in Ohio – involved in vertical farming. Vertical farming sees crops grown indoors under lights, in racks several metres tall. The technology expands production upwards and so requires less land. It also means that crops can be grown closer to where they will be consumed. That partly explains its success in Asia, with commercial vertical farming in Japan dating back more than 15 years. The sector has a much more recent history in Europe, emerging over the past five years. In Scunthorpe, basil and other herbs, watercress and leafy salad are grown in water under LED lights on racking that would collectively cover about 5000 square metres. “There’s always been an energy and employee argument which has probably held back vertical farming over the past decade,” says James Lloyd-Jones of Jones Food. The efficient nature of LEDs has been key to addressing that, along with lower energy lighting that just emits the blue and red wavelengths that plants can use. Fertiliser use – farming’s traditional big energy burden – is “phenomenally reduced”, Lloyd-Jones says. Pesticide use is zero because few insects make it into the indoor environment.

6-14-19 Superweeds are on the brink of becoming resistant to all weedkillers
The most damaging weed in the UK is about to become resistant to the main defence farmers have against it – the weed-killer glyphosate. And the situation is similar in many other countries around the world, with more than 500 weed strains having evolved resistance to at least one herbicide. Many weeds have evolved resistance to several different kinds of herbicides, and some are set to become resistant to all the herbicides used on particular crops. That is bad news for farmers, consumers and wildlife. These superweeds will cause massive crop losses and push up food prices. They will also speed up climate change and harm wildlife as even more land is converted to farmland to make up for the lost crops. “It is not a matter of if but when we are going to be losing chemical control of these weeds,” says Adam Davis of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In Europe alone, it is estimated that glyphosate-resistant weeds will cause yields of wheat, barley and oilseed rape to fall around 10 per cent, causing losses of around €2 billion for farmers and pushing up food prices. An additional 2 million hectares of farmland would be needed to compensate, resulting in higher greenhouse gas emissions and a loss of wildlife habitat. The loss of habitat is the single greatest threat to wildlife and biodiversity. The latest threat is a weed called blackgrass. “It can totally infest a field to the extent you can barely see the crop,” says David Comont of Rothamsted Research in the UK. By outcompeting crop plants, it causes yields to plummet. Strains of blackgrass (Alopecurus myosuroides) have already evolved resistance to many herbicides, and some are resistant to several at once. The herbicide glyphosate is often the last line of defence. And now Comont’s tests on blackgrass collected from more than 100 fields in the UK show that it is evolving resistance to glyphosate too.