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ATHEISM and HUMANISM
8-19-18 Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani: Truth isn't truth
President Donald Trump's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, has raised eyebrows by claiming that "truth isn't truth" during a television interview. Mr Giuliani was arguing that Mr Trump should not testify to the Russia probe, as he might be "trapped into perjury". "Truth is truth", NBC host Chuck Todd countered. Mr Giuliani denied this was the case, and said two rival versions of events were in contention. His reply seemed to echo controversial claims from Trump aides about facts. In January last year Kellyanne Conway told Todd's programme, Meet the Press, that the White House was entitled to present "alternative facts" - to which Todd retorted: "Alternative facts are not facts. They're falsehoods." The exchange on Meet the Press on Sunday began with Mr Todd asking Mr Giuliani whether the Trump team was stalling about a possible testimony at the inquiry led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into alleged meddling by Russia in the 2016 US election. Mr Giuliani said: "I'm not going to be rushed into having him testify so he can be trapped into perjury." He added: "When you tell me that he should testify because he's going to tell the truth and he shouldn't worry, well that's so silly because it's somebody's version of the truth. Not the truth." Todd responded: "Truth is truth." Mr Giuliani said: "Truth isn't truth." The interviewer put his hand on his forehead and said: "This is going to become a bad meme!" (Webmaster's comment: Newspeak right out of George Orwell's novel "1984!")
8-19-18 Latter Day Saints church leader rejects 'Mormon' label
People should no longer use the word "Mormon" to characterise the faith, the head of the Utah-based church has said. Church leader Russell Nelson urged both followers and non-followers to stick to the official designation "the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints". Mr Nelson, 93, said the move had been prompted by God, who "impressed upon my mind the importance of the name". However, he added, the central text of the Church would still be called the Book of Mormon. The church's updated online guide says the terms "Mormon Church", "Mormons" and "Mormonism" are no longer acceptable. It also bans the abbreviation "LDS" as shorthand for the faith. For the followers of the church, the president is also a prophet who receives divine revelations. Among the faith's followers is 2012 US Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Members of the church worship Jesus Christ, but have substantial differences in belief to the Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox Christian denominations. (Webmaster's comment: God talks to him and he passes on what's important.)
8-18-18 Behind the exodus from US state schools
The number of children taught at home in the US is steadily growing. What's behind parents' concerns with the education system? As fierce national debate over controversial social justice issues spills into America's public schools, many parents are responding by pulling their children out. This is playing out in Texas especially, because even though independent-minded Texans typically don't have much time for government meddling, many nevertheless adhere to that higher form of government - religion. Hence many Texas parents are increasingly frustrated at what they perceive as religion being phased out of Texas public schools. "Religion is a taboo subject in public schools across the board," says Shannon Helmi in Austin, the Texas capital, where she has chosen to educate her four daughters privately with Regina Caeli, a homeschooling hybrid that teaches a curriculum based on the Catholic tradition. "I don't think our state educators set out to be anti-religion, rather the education provided by the state must not be biased towards any religion. The problem [is that] an unbiased approach in education is unattainable - education is based on some original source, so if our education is based on no source it's ultimately anti-source." Parents and teachers in Texas also complain about the state's public schools being made to march to the tune of an aggressive liberal agenda. The result sees Texas parents voting with their feet and embracing a plethora of alternative private schooling systems that teach the likes of Christian theologians and Greek philosophers. (Webmaster's comment: The real reason is that you can't teach religious hatred and racism at public schools, but you can at home!)
8-18-18 They fought and died for America. Then America turned its back.
How the U.S. abandoned Filipino soldiers who fought under the American flag in World War II. Patrick Ganio had lived to see his country invaded, its defenses smashed, and his comrades fall on the battlefield. But he had lived, and that was no small feat — not after the Allied surrender and the torturous march that followed, 60 miles inland from their defeat on the Bataan peninsula, all the way to the Japanese prisoner-of-war camps. Battered, wounded, and starving, the soldiers who stumbled along the way were swiftly dispatched, run through with the blade of a Japanese bayonet. There would be no slowing down. To falter meant certain death. Still, Ganio had survived. In a war that claimed nearly 57,000 Filipino soldiers and untold numbers of civilians, Ganio lived to see the dawn of the Philippine liberation. He was freed, allowed to go home to his family and rejoin the fight on behalf of the Philippine resistance. By 1945, three years of Japanese occupation were at a close, and the end of World War II was mere months away. All it would take would be one final push to effectively expel the Japanese Army from the Philippine Islands. That's how Ganio found himself once again in the battlefield, this time pinched between two mountain ranges on the rugged slopes of Balete Pass. Sniper fire whistled down from the peaks, where enemy fighters had barricaded themselves inside caves and pillbox bunkers. Control over Luzon, the Philippines' main island, was at stake. Patriotism had first motivated Ganio to enlist back in 1941, fresh out of school at age 20. At the time, the Philippines were a United States territory — spoils from its victory in the Spanish-American War — and Ganio took to serving the United States military with zeal.
8-16-18 The medical lobby is already peddling lies about Medicare-for-all
. Medicare-for-all is getting some real momentum behind it, with several more supporters winning congressional primaries on Tuesday night. The medical industry — drug companies, insurance companies, medical providers, and others — has thus been gearing up to preserve the fat profits they enjoy under the horrendous status quo. They've formed a group called The Partnership for America's Health Care Future (PAHCF) to run a propaganda campaign against universal health care. Their main argument is pretty clearly going to be centered around loss-aversion. "Most Americans support commonsense, pragmatic solutions that don't interrupt the coverage they rely upon for themselves and their families," PAHCF spokesman Erik Smith told The Hill. (Jonathan Chait and Paul Krugman have made similar points.) But this argument is garbage. Medicare-for-all would mean vastly more people enjoying good health care, and dramatically fewer people getting kicked off their insurance overall. For starters, the status quo system leaves about 30 million people uninsured. Those people don't get to rely on the "commonsense, pragmatic solutions" of our current system, they just go without health care, or die of preventable diseases, or are driven into bankruptcy by wildly overpriced treatment. Incidentally, the first thing most medical lobby clients do to uninsured patients is bleed them of every last penny by charging them immensely higher prices than insured ones. Many can't pay, of course, meaning others end up being charged more to cover the difference. But let's examine the core of the case — the roughly half of the non-elderly population that is on employer-sponsored insurance. It is true, of course, that there would be an enormous one-time switch where those people are transferred from their current plan onto Medicare (under the Sanders bill, actually several smaller switches as the program is gradually rolled out over four years). After the program is fully implemented, private insurers would be forbidden from offering benefits that duplicate those of Medicare, effectively finishing off private health insurance since the new program would be so generous. Eventually everyone would end up switching over. But contrary to the deceptive implication of Smith that there would be some interruption in coverage — implying a period of no insurance — Medicare would kick in immediately, and permanently. More importantly, the status quo system is constantly kicking people off their insurance. Just consider the life cycle of the average person. Children typically get coverage through their parents (if they are insured, that is), now up to age 26 thanks to ObamaCare. But once that birthday is reached, they get kicked off. If they are lucky enough to have a job with insurance benefits at that point, then they can be enrolled in a new plan. But if they ever lose that job or find a new job, then they get kicked off again, and once more every time they move jobs. Even people who remain in jobs can end up switching plans, as employers often shop around for a better deal.
8-16-18 Trump's 'dirty war' on media draws editorials in 300 US outlets
More than 300 news outlets have launched a campaign to counter US President Donald Trump's attacks and promote a free press. The Boston Globe made the call last week for a nationwide denouncement of the president's "dirty war" against the media, using the hashtag #EnemyOfNone. Mr Trump has derided media reports as "fake news" and attacked journalists as "enemies of the people". And he tweeted on Thursday: "The fake news media is the opposition party." "It is very bad for our great country... But we are winning!" UN experts have warned that Mr Trump's comments about the media raise the risk of violence against journalists. The Boston Globe had pledged to write an editorial "on the dangers of the administration's assault on the press" on 16 August, and asked others to do the same. The initial positive response from 100 news organisations has grown closer to 350 with major US national newspapers and smaller local outlets answering the call, along with international publications like the UK newspaper The Guardian. Starting with the Boston Globe itself, the editorial there, headlined Journalists Are Not The Enemy, argued that a free press had been a core American principle for more than 200 years. The New York Times chose the headline A Free Press Needs You, calling Mr Trump's attacks "dangerous to the lifeblood of democracy". It published excerpts from dozens more publications beneath. (Webmaster's comment: Hitler did the same thing prior to shutting down the free press in Germany.)
8-16-18 Corona beer owner to pour $4bn into weed
Corona beer owner Constellation Brands is set to pour some $4bn (£3.15bn) into Canada's top cannabis producer, Canopy Growth, in a deal marking the largest investment in the industry to date. Last year, Constellation injected $200m into Canopy in a deal to produce a non-alcoholic cannabis-based beverage. The alcohol firm wants to capitalise on the growing legalisation of the drug. On news of the deal, Canopy's Toronto-listed stock surged 30%, while on Wall Street, Constellation's fell 6%. The two firms said the investment would allow Canopy to expand its business reach "in the nearly 30 countries pursuing a federally permissible medical cannabis programme". Canopy, which has the largest legal cannabis production footprint in the world, currently produces cannabis-based oils and soft gel caps, among other products. With Constellation's latest injection of cash, Canopy plans to expand its suite of products to include edible bars, inhalers and pre-rolled items. It also wants to develop cannabinoid-based medicines that provide a safer alternative to some mainstream treatments for pain, anxiety, sleeplessness and psoriasis. "This [deal] marks the end of the warm-up in our sector... it's fully go-time," said Canopy's chief executive Bruce Linton on an investment call. Constellation, which makes and markets beer, wine and spirits in the US, Canada, Mexico, New Zealand and Italy, noted that governments around the world had already signalled a significant change in attitudes towards cannabis and cannabis-based products.
8-16-18 Dozens overdose in Connecticut park near Yale
Police have made three arrests after more than 70 people overdosed in a Connecticut city. Some 52 of the 71 overdoses happened on New Haven's downtown green, next to Yale University's campus, said Fire Chief John Alston. The first three overdoses were reported on Tuesday night and the tally steadily rose throughout Wednesday, officials said. New Haven officials said the substance was K2, a synthetic cannabinoid. The incident comes in the wake of a new report that found a record 72,000 Americans died of overdoses in 2017. One man arrested on Wednesday is suspected of a connection to some of the drugs that caused the overdoses, NBC News Connecticut reported. Dr Kathryn Hawk, an Emergency Department physician at Yale New Haven Hospital, said the K2 may have been laced with fentanyl, a potent painkiller, but police have yet to confirm this. No one has died, but two individuals were in a critical condition. On Tuesday night, emergency crews responded to three overdoses in New Haven Green park. Eighteen people collapsed on Wednesday morning within a span of three-and-a-half hours, officials said. Some of the people were unconscious - others were vomiting, hallucinating or experiencing high blood pressure and shallow breathing.
8-20-18 Serie A: Lazio hardcore fans call for women ban in some seats
Hardcore fans of Lazio football club in Italy have circulated a letter saying women should be banned from part of the Curva Nord of Rome's Olympic Stadium. The Lazio ultras have gained a reputation for violence, racism and anti-Semitism. Before the first game of the season, an unofficial flyer was handed round saying the stand was a "sacred place" where women were not allowed. But Lazio blamed "a few fans". "We are against any discrimination," it said. Lazio spokesman Arturo Diaconale, quoted by Italian media, said "we didn't know anything about this [flyer], it was an independent initiative by some of the Curva Nord fans". "It's not the position of society... There is a huge number of Lazio fans, whereas this is an initiative from a few fans. We cannot always intervene to prevent politically incorrect demonstrations like this one." The ultras' flyer said women should go to other parts of the stadium. The pamphlet called for "women, wives and girlfriends" to avoid the first 10 rows of the stand. "Those who choose the stadium as an alternative to the carefree and romantic day at the Villa Borghese [a Roman historic house and park], should go to other parts," it read.
8-17-18 Has #MeToo divided women?
It has been the most visible feminist social media movement of recent times, but has #MeToo also created division between women? Few could have predicted the impact of a single tweet by actor Alyssa Milano in October 2017. It came in the wake of dozens of allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, who has pleaded not guilty to rape and sexual assault charges. Millions of women heeded Alyssa Milano's call, and thousands of stories were shared by women describing their experiences of sexual assaults and abuse online. The moment was soon hashtag-ised into the #MeToo movement, which encouraged women to speak about about sexual harassment and abuse. But as the allegations piled up against accused abusers and rapists, the phenomenon simultaneously exposed rifts and differences of opinion between women. There have been discussions about the aims of the movement: should it focus on workplace assaults, or be a much broader equality campaign? What tactics are useful? And what should happen when accusations turn out to be false? One potential generational divide reared its head early on, with some older feminists decrying what they saw as a focus on victimhood. In essence, they were telling their younger counterparts to toughen up and get shrewder about the intentions of men. In a much-discussed piece for The Atlantic, Caitlin Flanagan said women who were teenagers in the 1970s "were strong in a way that so many modern girls are weak." Megan McArdle, a columnist for the Washington Post says: "I think there are situations in which women have more power."
8-16-18 'Your word against God's': Survivors of Pennsylvania clerical abuse
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has released a grand jury report naming more than 300 clergymen accused of sex abuse in the Catholic Church. The document said hundreds of young boys and girls, as well as teenagers, were abused by clergy. Along with the report, the office of the attorney general in Pennsylvania released this video with testimony from three victims.
SCIENCE - GLOBAL WARMING and ENVIRONMENT
8-20-18 California wildfires: Ferguson Fire near Yosemite contained
A huge, deadly wildfire that burned for weeks and threatened the Yosemite National Park in California has finally been contained. The Ferguson Fire has burned through nearly 97,000 acres (39,250 hectares) of land to the south-west of the park since 13 July. More than 3,000 firefighters have battled the blaze. Two have been killed and 19 injured. Most of Yosemite's tourist areas have now reopened. Their closure, mainly due to smoke blowing into the park, damaged the local economy during peak tourist season. The Ferguson Fire is one of several wildfires that have raged across California in recent weeks. But cooler weather and calmer winds have helped give fire crews the upper hand, officials said. "The weather is helping the fires to lay down and they [firefighters] are able to get better containment lines around them," said Cal Fire spokeswoman Lynnette Round.
8-19-18 Plastic pollution: 'Stop flushing contact lenses down the loo'
Researchers in the US have been investigating the final journeys taken by disposable contact lenses. They found 15-20% of US users simply flick these fiddly lenses down the drain via the bathroom sink or toilet. The Arizona State University study suggests that much of the plastic material then ends up in waste water treatment plants. The lenses are consequently spread on farmland as sewage sludge, increasing plastic pollution in the environment. Around 45m people wear contacts in the US, while rates in other countries vary, with between 5 and 15% of the population in Europe using them. Over the last decade, the use of softer plastic contact lenses has grown rapidly with people using daily, weekly or monthly disposables in greater numbers than ever before. The authors of the study surveyed wearers in the US and found that 15-20% of them flick their lenses down sinks and toilets, meaning they will most likely end up in waste water treatment plants. Much of the waste water material ends up as a digested sludge which is then often spread on farmland. The authors estimate that around 13,000kg of contact lens plastic ends up deposited in this way. "They persist during water treatment, they become part of sewage sludge," Prof Rolf Halden, from the Centre for Environmental Health Engineering at Arizona State told BBC News. "We know that whatever's in sludge can make its way into runoff from heavy rains, back into surface water and that is a conduit to the oceans; there is the potential of these lenses being taken on quite a journey." The researchers are concerned that this poses an ecological risk and may allow the accumulation of persistent toxic pollutants in vulnerable organisms such as worms and birds. "If earthworms consume the soil and birds feed on it, then you could see that plastic make the same journey as is done by plastics debris in oceans, they are incorporated by biota that are also part of the human food chain," said Prof Halden.
8-19-18 Paper batteries use electron-harvesting bacteria to make electricity
Many small devices require batteries, but they can be expensive and environmentally unfriendly. Paper batteries powered by bacteria may be the solution. A paper battery powered by electron-harvesting bacteria could one day power environmentally friendly disposable devices. Researchers have been working on paper sensors and circuit boards for years, but they have mostly been powered by traditional batteries or simple chemical reactions. Yang Gao and Seokheun Choi at the State University of New York-Binghamton created a paper battery powered by bacteria to do the job instead. The battery is made of waxed paper, with thin layers of metals and polymers printed on top to hold bacteria and harvest electrons. The type of bacteria used are called exoelectrogens, which pull electrons from the molecules that they eat and transfer them to outside of their cells. The battery is freeze-dried to place the bacteria in a dormant state, and it’s packaged with a small pouch of liquid bacteria food. When the device is squeezed, the liquid revives the bacteria and they start eating the organic material from the pouch. Through a series of reactions, electrons from the food are moved through the bacteria, eventually being absorbed into the battery, where they can be used to power small devices. The team presented their work on 19 August at a meeting of the American Chemical Society in Boston.
8-18-18 Kerala floods: Troops rush in to help rescue efforts
India's armed services are stepping up efforts to rescue thousands of people stranded by flooding in southern Kerala state that has killed 324 people. Hundreds of troops, and dozens of boats and helicopters are helping to evacuate people from what officials say is the worst flooding there in a century. Many people are still believed to be trapped on rooftops of flooded homes. Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier flew over the worst-hit sites and met state officials to discuss the crisis. There are fears the situation may get worse with more heavy rain and strong winds forecast over the weekend. Nearly 1,000 people have died in total since India's rainy season began in June. Kerala's chief minister, Pinarayi Vijayan, says the flooding is the worst the state has seen in 100 years. In a tweet, he said that more than 314,000 people were now living in more than 2,000 emergency relief camps set up in the area. But many others remain stuck on trees and rooftops - NDTV says the number is in the thousands, but other news sites puts the figure in the hundreds.
8-16-18 Including population control in climate policy risks human tragedy
Making population issues part of the world's efforts to avert climate change could cause human rights abuses including forced sterilisation, says Ian Angus. Should slowing population growth become part of the international push to tackle climate change? That question is raised by US environmentalists writing in the journal Science. They argue that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change ought to view it as a potential “policy lever” in a warming world. To their credit, the authors advocate only voluntary fertility-reducing measures such as education and access to family planning services. Unfortunately, history shows that such good intentions are not enough to prevent abuses, that voluntary programmes frequently turn into the opposite. In November 2014, a single doctor in Chhattisgarh, India, set a record by sterilising around 140 women over two days. Shortly after, 15 of those women died and 70 more were hospitalised. The doctor reportedly said he had been under pressure to meet targets. That was not an isolated incident. Around the world, thousands of women have suffered and died in the name of arbitrary population quotas. In Bangladesh, which population lobbyists hail as a success story for voluntary birth control programmes, impoverished women were paid to “accept” sterilisation, and the number who accepted rose sharply during periods of high unemployment. In Peru, 350,000 women and 25,000 men, most from the Quechuan and Aymaran indigenous minorities, were sterilised against their will in the 1990s.
8-16-18 A filter that turns saltwater into freshwater just got an upgrade
Making the material smoother prevents it from getting gunked up quickly. Smoothing out the rough patches of a material widely used to filter saltwater could make producing freshwater more affordable, researchers report in the Aug. 17 Science. Desalination plants around the world typically strain salt out of seawater by pumping it through films made of polyamide — a synthetic polymer riddled with tiny pores that allow water molecules to squeeze through, but not sodium ions. But organic matter, along with some other waterborne particles like calcium sulfate, can accumulate in the pockmarked surfaces of those films, preventing water from passing through the pores (SN: 8/20/16, p. 22). Plant operators must replace the membranes frequently or install expensive equipment to remove these contaminants before they reach the filters. Now researchers have made a supersmooth version without the divots that trap troublesome particles. That could cut costs for producing freshwater, making desalination more broadly accessible. Hundreds of millions of people already rely on desalinated water for drinking, cooking and watering crops, and the need for freshwater is only increasing (SN: 8/18/18, p. 14).
8-16-18 Wheat gene map to help 'feed the world'
The starting pistol has been fired in a race to develop "climate change resistant" wheat with the publication of a map of the crop's genes. An international team of scientists has identified the location of more than 100,000 wheat genes. The researchers say the map will accelerate the development of new strains to cope with the increased heat waves expected from climate change. The research has been published in the journal Science. Professor Cristobal Uauy, who is a project leader in crop genetics at the John Innes Centre in Norwich, described the pinpointing of wheat genes as "a game changer". "We need to find ways to make sustainable production of wheat in the face of climate change and increasing demand," he told BBC News. "This is something we've been waiting for for many years. The whole of human civilisation should be very excited with this because for the first time now we'll be able to make the advances that scientists and plant breeders have wanted to do in wheat in a much more targeted manner and so feed the world in the future."
8-16-18 More than 2 billion people lack safe drinking water. That number will only grow.
As populations grow and climate change shrinks freshwater stores, water scarcity takes center stage. Freshwater is crucial for drinking, washing, growing food, producing energy and just about every other aspect of modern life. Yet more than 2 billion of Earth’s 7.6 billion inhabitants lack clean drinking water at home, available on demand. A major United Nations report, released in June, shows that the world is not on track to meet a U.N. goal: to bring safe water and sanitation to everyone by 2030. And by 2050, half the world’s population may no longer have safe water. Will people have enough water to live? Two main factors are pushing the planet toward a thirstier future: population growth and climate change. For the first, the question is how to balance more people against the finite amount of water available. India has improved water access in rural areas, but remains at the top of the list for sheer number of people (163 million) lacking water services. Ethiopia, second on the list with 61 million people lacking clean water, has improved substantially since the last measurement in 2000, but still has a high percentage of total residents without access. Short of any major but unlikely breakthroughs, such as new techniques to desalinate immense amounts of seawater (SN: 8/20/16, p. 22), humankind will have to make do with whatever freshwater already exists. Most of the world’s freshwater goes to agriculture, mainly to irrigating crops but also to raising livestock and farming aquatic organisms, such as fish and plants. As the global population rises, agricultural production rises to meet demand for more varied diets. In recent decades, the increase in water withdrawal from the ground or lakes and rivers has slowed, whether for agriculture, industries or municipalities, but it still outpaced the rate of population growth since 1940.
8-16-18 Corals on old North Sea oil rigs could help natural reefs recover
Not only are deep-sea coral ecosystems thriving on oil and gas rigs in the North Sea, their larvae may be helping repopulate damaged natural reefs. Environmentalists and fishers want oil and gas structures in the ocean to be completely removed when they are no longer needed – but doing so could actually harm marine wildlife. Not only are deep-sea corals thriving on oil and gas rigs in the North Sea, the larvae they release may be helping repopulate damaged natural reefs elsewhere. The cold-water coral Lophelia pertusa, which grows in the North Atlantic in waters deeper than 80 metres, can form vast reefs hundreds of metres high and hundreds of kilometres long. Thousands of animals live on or depend on these reefs. For instance, various sharks lay their eggs in them. But many of these reefs have been badly damaged by trawling and while some are now protected, they are isolated and far apart. However, small colonies of these corals are thriving on oil rigs in the North Sea, creating havens for marine life. “There are corals all over the rigs in the North Sea. They have formed their own ecosystem,” says Lea-Anne Henry of the University of Edinburgh. “The animals we are finding associated with the corals on the rigs are identical to what we are finding in the wild.” Her team has used computer models that to work out where the coral larvae released from the rigs end up. The models simulate both local currents and the swimming behaviour of individual larvae. The result show that the larvae from the rigs could be helping recolonise damaged natural reefs across a huge area. They should be reaching the Aktivneset marine protected area off Norway, for instance. The rigs should also be acting as a stepping stones that allow natural reefs to swap coral larvae, and thus to remain genetically diverse and healthy in the long term.
SCIENCE - EVOLUTION and GENETICS
8-20-18 Measles cases hit record high in Europe
Cases of measles in Europe have hit a record high, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). More than 41,000 people have been infected in the first six months of 2018, leading to 37 deaths. Last year there were 23,927 cases and the year before 5,273. Experts blame this surge in infections on a drop in the number of people being vaccinated. In England, there have been 807 cases so far this year. The WHO is calling on European countries to take action. Public Health England say the outbreaks in England are largely due to people who have travelled to areas of mainland Europe that have had outbreaks. Measles is highly infectious and spreads by droplets in coughs and sneezes. The infection lasts seven to 10 days. But while most people recover completely, it can cause some serious complications.
8-19-18 The end of nighttime
Light pollution is often characterized as a soft issue in environmentalism. This perception needs to change. Light at night constitutes a massive assault on the ecology of the planet, including us. It also has indirect impacts because, while 20 percent of electricity is used for lighting worldwide, at least 30 percent of that light is wasted. Wasted light serves no purpose at all, and excessive lighting is too often used beyond what is needed for driving, or shopping, or Friday-night football. The electric light bulb is touted as one of the most significant technological advancements of human beings. It ranks right up there with the wheel, control of fire, antibiotics, and dynamite. But as with any new and spectacular technology, there are invariably unintended consequences. With electric light has come an obliteration of night in much of the modern world; both outside in the city, and indoors during what was once "night," according to the natural position of the sun. Life has evolved for several billion years with a reliable cycle of bright light from the sun during the day, and darkness at night. This has led to the development of an innate circadian rhythm in our physiology; that circadian rhythm depends on the solar cycle of night and day to maintain its precision. During the night, beginning at about sunset, body temperature drops, metabolism slows, hunger abates, sleepiness increases, and the hormone melatonin rises dramatically in the blood. This natural physiological transition to night is of ancient origin, and melatonin is crucial for the transition to proceed as it should. We now know that bright, short-wavelength light — blue light — is the most efficient for suppressing melatonin and delaying transition to night-time physiology; meanwhile, dimmer, longer-wavelength light — yellow, orange, and red, from a campfire or a candle, for example — has very little effect. Bright light from the sun contains blue light, which is a benefit in the morning when we need to be alert and awake; but whether we are outdoors or indoors, when bright, blue light comes after sunset, it fools the body into thinking it's daytime.
8-19-18 Why kids are obsessed with the Fortnite video game
Kids' video game obsession isn't really about video games. It's about unmet psychological needs. Many parents are concerned with their child's seemingly obsessive video game play. Fortnite, the most recent gaming phenomenon, has taken the world by storm and has parents asking whether the shooter game is okay for kids. The short answer is yes, Fortnite is generally fine. Furthermore, parents can breathe easier knowing that research suggests gaming (on its own) does not cause disorders like addiction. However, there's more to the story. A comprehensive answer to the question of whether video games are harmful must take into account other factors. Fortnite is just the latest example of a pastime some kids spend more time on than is good for them. But parents need to understand why kids play as well as when to worry and when to relax. The word "addiction" gets tossed around quite a bit these days. It's not uncommon to hear people say that they are addicted to chocolate or shoe shopping, but if it isn't causing serious harm and impairment to daily function, it isn't an addiction. It's an overindulgence. This isn't just semantics. An addiction involves a lack of control despite adverse consequences. Parents may worry their kids are addicted, but if the child can pull themselves away from a game to join the family for a conversation over dinner, and shows interest in other activities, like sports or socializing with friends, then they are not addicted. Generally, parents panic when their kid's video game playing comes at the expense of doing other things like studying or helping around the house. But let's be honest, kids have been avoiding these activities for ages. Equally true is the fact parents have been complaining about their unhelpful children well before the first video game was plugged into its socket.
8-18-18 Ancient Egypt: Cheese discovered in 3,200-year-old tomb
A substance found by archaeologists working in an Ancient Egyptian tomb has proved to be one of the oldest cheeses ever discovered. Several years ago, the team discovered broken jars in the tomb of Ptahmes, a high-ranking Egyptian official. The archaeologists found a "solidified whitish mass" in one of the jars which they suspected was food but were unsure which kind. Now a study has identified it as cheese, dating from 3,200 years ago. The discovery is significant as there has been no previous evidence of Ancient Egyptian cheese production, authors of the report, published in the journal Analytical Chemistry, said. "The material analysed is probably the most ancient archaeological solid residue of cheese ever found to date," said Dr Enrico Greco, from the University of Catania, who worked with colleagues at the Cairo University in Egypt to determine its identity. "We know it was made mostly from sheep's and goat's milk, but for me it's really hard to imagine a specific flavour." The ancient cheese would have had a "really, really acidy" bite, cheese historian and chemistry professor Paul Kindstedt told the New York Times. The researchers say they also found traces of a bacterium that can cause an infectious disease known as brucellosis, which comes from consuming unpasteurised dairy products. Symptoms include fever, sweating and muscle aches, and the disease still exists today. If confirmed, it would be the oldest evidence of such a case. The tomb where the cheese was found belonged to Ptahmes, an Egyptian official who was mayor of the ancient city of Memphis. The burial site, at the Saqqara necropolis near Cairo, was first unearthed in 1885. But, after being lost to shifting sands, it was rediscovered in 2010.
8-17-18 The galaxy is full of ‘water world’ exoplanets where life could evolve
Analysis of data from 4000 exoplanets reveals that around a third are rich in water – and many have more water than Earth. Planets with atmospheres of steam, oceans of liquid water and cores of rock surrounded by solid ice may be abundant around distant stars. An analysis of the 4000 or so known exoplanets estimates that around 1400 are water-rich worlds, potentially raising the stakes that some may harbour life. Although a few individual water world exoplanets have been identified, the new data suggests they may be abundant. “Life could develop in certain near-surface layers on these water worlds, if the pressures, temperatures and chemical conditions are appropriate,” says Li Zeng of Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who presented his results today in Boston at the Goldschmidt geochemistry conference. On many of them, water accounts for more than half the weight of the planet, compared with just 0.02 per cent on Earth, he says. Zeng and his colleagues worked out the likely compositions of exoplanets by analysing measurements of the radius and mass of each, and modelling how they might have evolved from their host stars. They relied on a well-established theory of how planets evolve from the gases and material that form discs around newly formed stars. Small rocky planets like Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars form in the hot, “terrestrial” zone closest to the star. Further out from the star, everything changes beyond a “frost-line”, where temperatures are low enough for water vapour to condense into ice grains and clump together into icy planets. Some then become enshrouded by huge quantities of gases, mostly hydrogen, and end up as giant planets like Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.
8-17-18 Cheese found in an Egyptian tomb is at least 3,200 years old
The white lump contained signs of a bacteria that causes the infectious disease brucellosis. What may be the oldest known solid cheese has been found in an ancient Egyptian tomb. Made from a mixture of cow milk and either sheep or goat milk, the cheese filled a broken clay jar unearthed from a 13th century B.C. tomb for Ptahmes, the mayor of the ancient city of Memphis, researchers report online July 25 in Analytical Chemistry. Chemist Enrico Greco, who did the work while at the University of Catania in Italy, and colleagues used mass spectrometry to analyze the antique cheese — now a white, soapy lump weighing “several hundred grams.” Besides milk and whey proteins, the cheese contained remnants of bacteria that cause an infection called brucellosis, adding to evidence that ancient Egyptians may have grappled with the disease, Greco says. Cheese making predates the new find by thousands of years, but preserved cheese is hard to come by (SN: 1/26/13, p. 16). Archaeologists found older curds draped around the necks of Bronze Age mummies in China, a different group of researchers reported in 2014 in the Journal of Archaeological Science. “There are other samples of dairy products in the literature, but not solid cheeses in the strict sense,” Greco says.
8-16-18 Eating a low-carb diet may shorten your life – unless you go vegan too
People following low-carb diets have been found to have a higher risk of mortality, except when people shun animal fats and protein too. Low carbohydrate diets have been linked to reduced longevity – except for when dieters ditch the steak for plant-based alternatives. An analysis of data from 15,400 people in the US has found a U-shaped relationship between mortality and carbohydrate intake. The study found that the people who lived longest tended to be those who got around 50 to 55 per cent of their energy intake from carbohydrates. At the age of 50, such people could expect to live a further 33 years. This is one year longer than people who get 70 per cent or more of their energy from carbs, and four years longer than people get less than 30 per cent of their calories from carbohydrates. Sara Seidelmann, at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, and her colleagues wondered if the types of fat and protein people eat on low-carb diets might contribute to reduced longevity. Diving into the data, they found that when people replaced carbs with meat such as lamb, pork, beef and chicken – typical for low carb dieters in Europe and the US — their mortality increased. But the opposite was true for those who instead ate plant-based sources of protein and fat such as legumes, vegetables and nuts. “The more you exchange plant-based fats and proteins for carbohydrates, the more the risk lowers,” says Seidelmann.
8-16-18 Exposure to insecticide DDT linked to having a child with autism
Although DDT has been banned for decades in many countries, exposure to its breakdown products may be influencing whether mothers have autistic babies. Although banned for decades in most rich countries, the insecticide DDT may be influencing whether babies born today and in the future develop autism. A study in Finland has found that mothers that show signs of high DDT exposure in their blood may be more likely to have children with autism. DDT was sprayed in large amounts from the 1940s onwards, to kill disease-carrying mosquitoes. But it was widely banned in Western nations in the 1970s and 1980s, after evidence mounted that it caused cancers in laboratory animals and impaired reproduction in wildlife. But the insecticide takes decades to break down, so people are still absorbing it from contaminated water and food. Once consumed, it lodges in the body’s fat, and circulates in the blood – and is known to pass to fetuses during pregnancy. To see if this might be linked to autism, Alan Brown of Columbia University in New York and his colleagues analysed blood samples taken in Finland between 1983 and 2005 from more than a million women during the early stages of pregnancy. Like in the UK and US, DDT was used widely in Finland before it was banned. The team screened these blood samples for DDE – a long-lived breakdown product of DDT – and found that, on average, DDE levels were higher in mothers who went on to have autistic children. The mothers of children without autism had, on average, 811 picograms of DDE present in each millilitre of their blood, but the average was 1032 picograms in the mothers of autistic children.
8-16-18 A drug’s weird side effect lets people control their dreams
Researchers have developed the most effective technique for lucid dreaming yet, and it may allow people to fulfil fantasies and overcome nightmares and phobias. Have you ever wanted to fly? A drug that helps people control their dreams could let you try it from the comfort of your own bed. A small number of people naturally have lucid dreams, meaning they can recognise when they’re dreaming and steer the storyline they experience. Some others can learn to induce them using cognitive techniques. The practice is most commonly used to pursue fantasies like flying, but it may also help to overcome fears and nightmares, says Benjamin Baird at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. However, its therapeutic potential has been limited by the fact that it’s often hard to achieve. Now, Baird and his colleagues have developed the most effective method yet for promoting lucid dreams, by combining cognitive training with a drug called galantamine that is typically used to slow Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers taught 121 adults aged 19 to 75 a cognitive technique for stimulating lucid dreams called mnemonic induction of lucid dreams. It involves picking a feature of a previous dream called a “dreamsign” that can serve as a reminder to become lucid when encountered again. After learning this technique, the volunteers were given capsules of galantamine, a treatment for mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease. This drug boosts the brain chemical acetylcholine, which boosts memory, but also promotes rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the phase in which dreams are most common. “Just as it might remind you to pick up milk on your way home, it might remind you to become lucid when you see your dreamsign,” says Baird.
8-16-18 Ancient Egyptian mummification 'recipe' revealed
Examination of a mummy has revealed the original ancient Egyptian embalming recipe - first used to preserve bodies. A battery of forensic chemical tests carried out on a mummy that dated from 3,700-3,500 BC revealed the recipe and confirmed that it was developed far earlier and used more widely than previously thought. The Egyptian Museum in Turin, Italy, is now home to the mummy in question. The findings are published in the Journal of Archaeological Science. Dr Stephen Buckley, an archaeologist from the University of York, told BBC News that this mummy "literally embodies the embalming that was at the heart of Egyptian mummification for 4,000 years". Dr Buckley and his colleagues worked out the chemical "fingerprint" of every ingredient, although each element could have come from a number of sources. When mixed into the oil, that resin would have given it antibacterial properties, protecting the body from decay. "Until now," he said, "we've not had a prehistoric mummy that has actually demonstrated - so perfectly through the chemistry - the origins of what would become the iconic mummification that we know all about."
ANIMAL INTELLIGENCE and ZOOLOGY
8-17-18 How salamanders can regrow nearly complete tails but lizards can’t
Neural stem cells in the spinal cord prevent the reptiles from regenerating nerve cells. Salamanders and lizards can both regrow their tails, but not to equal perfection. While a regenerated salamander tail closely mimics the original, bone and all, a lizard’s replacement is filled with cartilage and lacks nerve cells. That contrast is due to differences between stem cells in the animals’ spinal cords, researchers report online August 13 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. When a salamander loses its tail, neural stem cells in the creature’s spinal cord can develop into any type of nervous system cell, including nerve cells, or neurons. But through evolution, lizard neural stem cells “have lost this ability,” says study coauthor Thomas Lozito, a biologist at the University of Pittsburgh. Lizards, while they can regrow cartilage and skin, cannot regenerate neurons, the researchers found. Lozito and colleagues studied neural stem cells from the axolotl salamander (Ambystoma mexicanum) and from two lizard species — the green anole (Anolis carolinensis) and the mourning gecko (Lepidodactylus lugubris). The team also wondered if the lizard stem cells themselves weren’t capable of developing into neurons or if there was something about the environment of the lizard tail that prevented their regrowth. So the researchers implanted salamander neural stem cells into five gecko tail stumps. Some of the cells became neurons in the regrown tails, showing that the lizard stem cells were the problem. The finding suggests that scientists would have to alter only the lizard stem cells instead of other parts of the tail to regrow a more complete appendage.
8-16-18 Future robot swarms should copy lazy ants who let others do the work
The optimum strategy for tunnelling ants is to leave all of the digging to just a few workers. Swarms of robots could use similar techniques for clearing rubble. Too many cooks spoil the broth, and the same goes for ants. A study into how ants cooperate has found that the optimum strategy is for most of them not to do any work. The findings may be useful for creating large swarms of robots. Ants create networks of narrow underground tunnels by excavating soil bit by bit as a team. To understand the strategies they use, Daniel Goldman at Georgia Tech and his colleagues placed 30 ants into a transparent container filled with glass soil-like particles. For 48 hours ants entered and exited the tunnels hundreds of times to extend the network, but surprisingly only 30 per cent of the ants did around 70 per cent of the work. “Only a few ants would do the majority of the work, with the rest just hanging out trying to avoid clogging up the tunnel,” says Goldman. To further understand the process, Goldman and his colleagues tested out different strategies with four excavation robots. “One dug OK. Two dug OK. Three was kind of good. But with four the robots just couldn’t get anywhere,” says Goldman. However smart his team made the robots they kept causing clogs unless some took a back seat. The results suggest when groups of individuals work together, the best strategy may be for some to hang back, he says. The work can help uncover some of the strategies that biological organisms have evolved to use, but may also help write better software for controlling swarms of robots.
8-16-18 Here’s what robots could learn from fire ants
In tight quarters, sharing the work equally leads to traffic jams. Robots, take note: When working in tight, crowded spaces, fire ants know how to avoid too many cooks in the kitchen. Observations of fire ants digging an underground nest reveal that a few industrious ants do most of the work while others dawdle. Computer simulations confirm that, while this strategy may not be the fairest, it is the most efficient because it helps reduce overcrowding in tunnels that would gum up the works. Following fire ants’ example could help robot squads work together more efficiently, researchers report in the Aug. 17 Science. Robots that can work in close, crowded quarters without tripping each other up may be especially good at digging through rubble for search-and-rescue missions, disaster cleanup or construction, says Justin Werfel, a collective behavior researcher at Harvard University who has designed insect-inspired robot swarms (SN: 3/22/14, p. 8).
8-16-18 The male fish who eat their eggs because they want better babies
When male barred-chin blenny fish are unimpressed by their latest batch of offspring, they often eat them so they can start a new family as soon as possible. Raising kids is hard work. Male blenny fish sometimes eat their babies if they think they’re not worth the effort and want a better batch. The barred-chin blenny (Rhabdoblennius nitidus), a fish found in Asia, has an unusual parenting arrangement. After females lay eggs, they leave their male partners in sole charge of caring for them until they hatch. This arrangement usually works well. But if the female leaves only a small number of eggs – less than one thousand or so – the male typically eats them instead of looking after them. Until recently, it was thought this was because the nutritional value of eating the small number of eggs outweighed the benefits of protecting only a few offspring. But Yukio Matsumoto at Nagasaki University in Japan and his colleagues found that the motivation was actually to breed again as soon as possible to get a larger, healthier batch of children. They showed that the breeding cycle of male R. nitidus fish is tightly controlled by the presence or absence of eggs. When eggs are laid in their nests, their testosterone levels drop and they cannot mate – perhaps to make them stick to the task of parenting. When the eggs hatch and their offspring leave the nest about a week later, their testosterone levels shoot back up and they can court females once again. When males are left with only a meagre number of eggs, they may choose to eat them straight away so that their empty nest signals for their testosterone levels to be restored, says Matsumoto. That way they can find a mate to give them more children with better survival prospects as soon as possible, he says.
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