Sioux Falls Free Thinkers

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An Open Mind by Megan Godtland

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Many Christians attack science, facts, truth, logic, and
reason and we just "respect their opinion!" It's time we
all said enough is enough and attack them right back!

"Whenever you find injustice,
the proper form of politeness is attack."
- T-Bone Slim

Special Report

CMM, Child Mental Mutilation!
Speak out against it whenever you hear about it or encounter it!

We at Sioux Falls Free Thinkers are coining a new acronym CMM, "Child Mental Mutilation." Child Mental Mutilation refers to teaching children the anti-science claims that "There is no Evolution", "There was no Evolution", The Earth is only 6,000 Years Old", "Dinosaurs lived at the same time as Man", The Earth is Flat", "The Sun Circles the Earth" and "The Earth is the Center of the Universe", and "The Earth is Square." Teaching these untruths to children cripples them mentally, often for life. It leaves them incapable of dealing with the real world! There are few crimes greater than the deliberate mutilation of a child's mind. It ranks right up there with physical or sexual abuse of a child, which also often mentally cripple a child for life. There can be no excuse for any of these crimes against children!


10-18-17 US girl banned from First Communion ceremony for wearing suit
US girl banned from First Communion ceremony for wearing suit
Cady Mansell, a nine-year-old from Indiana, was banned from her First Communion ceremony because she wanted to wear a white suit. Cady's mom shared their story on Facebook. Now she tells the BBC why they've moved churches. (Webmaster's comment: The Catholic church wants to control your life and you must obey. Even the clothes you wear can not be your choice.)

10-18-17 Trump NFL row: NFL won't make players stand for anthem
Trump NFL row: NFL won't make players stand for anthem
The NFL will not force its players to stand during the national anthem despite backlash over recent protests, the league's commissioner says. Roger Goodell said he would "encourage" players to stand, but would not punish them if they refused to do so. The NFL chief said he was "not looking to get into politics" and wished instead to keep the focus on football. President Donald Trump has criticised NFL stars kneeling in protest against perceived racial injustice. "We believe everyone should stand for the national anthem," Mr Goodell told reporters on Wednesday after a second day of meetings with team owners and player representatives in New York. "That's an important part of our policy." The commissioner continued: "We want our players to stand, we're going to continue to encourage them to stand." He added: "Our players will state to you publicly they are not doing this in any way to be disrespectful to the flag, but they also understand how it's being interpreted, and that's why we're trying to deal with those underlying issues." (Webmaster's comment: They will probably stand when the racism and wanton killing of blacks by police stop.)

10-18-17 Police body cams were meant to keep us safer. Are they working?
Police body cams were meant to keep us safer. Are they working?
Equipping police officers with body-worn cameras was intended to defuse tense situations, but footage of brutal incidents keeps going viral. POLICE body-worn cameras have taken off like a flash. The UK has deployed more than 17,000 in the past year, the US is in the midst of rolling out 50,000, Australia has introduced 10,000 since 2015 and other countries are following suit. The idea behind them is simple: recording interactions between cops and citizens should reduce aggression and help to convict either party if they cross the line. However, a string of recent, often racially charged, incidents has shaken public confidence in these devices. Last week, outrage was sparked by newly released video of Salt Lake City police officer Clinton Fox killing Patrick Harmon when he ran away after being pulled over on 13 August for cycling across six lanes of traffic and lacking a rear light. The footage, captured by body cams worn by Fox and his fellow officers, shows him yelling “I’ll fucking shoot you!” before firing. The district attorney’s office ruled that the killing was legally justified, saying that in slowed footage, Harmon turned to face Fox while holding a knife. The FBI has been asked to review the case. In another incident, last month footage went viral of a Salt Lake City police officer roughly handcuffing a nurse in full view of his colleague’s body cam. And in Australia, an officer is being investigated for punching a drunk teenager after his colleague switched off his camera. (Webmaster's comment: The police have learned that they will not be convicted of murder even when the body cam shows that the murder was unjustified. So why worry about what the body cam shows?)

10-18-17 Quebec bans niqab for public services with neutrality law
Quebec bans niqab for public services with neutrality law
A Canadian province has passed a controversial religious neutrality law that bars people from wearing face coverings when giving or receiving a public service. Quebec recently expanded the law to include services provided by municipal and public transit services. Women who wear a burqa or a niqab will now have to show their faces while receiving a government service. Quebec's National Assembly passed Bill 62 by a 66-51 vote. The provincial Liberals, who have been in power since 2014, tabled the bill two years ago. Bureaucrats, police officers, teachers, and bus drivers, as well as doctors, midwives, and dentists who work in publicly funded hospitals and health centres, will have to have their face uncovered. The law will also stop provincially subsidised childcare services from offering religious education. Quebec's Bill 62 does not specifically mention the Muslim faith. (Webmaster's comment: Seeing a person's face is essential for identification and preventing crimes. Hiding one's face is often used by those who wish to do a crime. The women are free to hide their faces at home and in their places of worship.)

10-18-17 Trump's latest travel ban blocked by second federal judge
Trump's latest travel ban blocked by second federal judge
US President Donald Trump's latest bid to impose travel restrictions on citizens from eight countries entering the US has suffered a court defeat. A federal judge slapped a temporary restraining order on the open-ended ban before it could take effect this week. The policy targets Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Chad and North Korea, as well as some Venezuelan officials. Previous iterations of the ban targeted six Muslim-majority countries, and were widely referred to as a "Muslim ban". The state of Hawaii sued in Honolulu to block Mr Trump's third version, which was set to go into effect early on Wednesday. Hawaii argued in court documents that the revised policy was fulfilling Mr Trump's campaign promise for "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States", despite the addition of North Korea and Venezuela. It also argued the president did not have the powers under federal immigration law to impose such restrictions. US District Judge Derrick Watson, who blocked Mr Trump's last travel ban in March, issued the new restraining order.

10-18-17 What Trump's spurious claim about fallen troops suggests about his future military decisions
What Trump's spurious claim about fallen troops suggests about his future military decisions
If you woke up Monday asking, "What utterly classless thing will the president of the United States do today?" it took all the way until the afternoon for you to get your answer. Asked at a press conference why he had said nothing publicly about the four American soldiers who were killed in Niger two weeks ago, President Trump took it for some reason as a question about him calling the family members of those soldiers, and told a truly revolting lie about his predecessors and how they treated the families of the fallen. "If you look at President Obama and other presidents," he said, "most of them didn't make calls, a lot of them didn't make calls." Asked later in the press conference how he could make such an obviously false claim, he backtracked a bit, saying, "President Obama I think probably did sometimes, and maybe sometimes he didn't. I don't know. That's what I was told." In other words, he had no idea what he was talking about, but decided to smear Obama and other presidents in order to make the insane claim that only he displays the proper caring and concern for Gold Star families. That Trump is a liar, we know. That he is obsessed with comparing himself to Barack Obama — a man possessed of many of the virtues Trump so obviously lacks — we also know. But this may give us some hints about what may or may not be going through Trump's mind when he is faced with a decision about sending American service members into situations where they might be killed.

10-17-17 Americans Widely Support Tighter Regulations on Gun Sales
Americans Widely Support Tighter Regulations on Gun Sales
The great majority of Americans are in favor of more stringent regulation of the sale and ownership of guns in three ways that go beyond current law in most states. U.S. adults offer near-universal support for requiring background checks for all gun purchases, backed by 96%. Also, three-quarters favor enacting a 30-day waiting period for all gun purchases and 70% favor requiring all privately owned guns to be registered with the police.

  • More than nine in 10 Americans favor mandatory background checks
  • Waiting periods and gun registration also favored by most U.S. adults
  • Gun owners support checks and waiting periods, but not registration

10-17-17 Online dating may be breaking down society’s racial divisions
Online dating may be breaking down society’s racial divisions
Racial segregation has eased in the US over the past two decades. Could hooking up online be responsible? PEOPLE often marry people who are just like them – similar in terms of social background, world view and race. Online dating may be changing that, however, breaking us out of our existing social circles. Economists Josué Ortega at the University of Essex, UK, and Philipp Hergovich at the University of Vienna, Austria, suggest it could even lead to more integrated societies. Before the first dating websites appeared in the 1990s, most people would meet dates through existing networks of friends or colleagues. But the rise of dating sites like and apps like Tinder has made online dating the norm for many. It is the second most common way for heterosexual partners to meet and the most common for homosexual partners. More than a third of marriages now involve people who met online. Ortega and Hergovich claim that if just a small number of online matches are between people of different races, then social integration should occur rapidly. “A few connections can really change the panorama of diversity,” says Ortega. They tested their hypothesis with a simulated social network of male and female “agents” who were looking for a partner of the opposite sex. Initially, each agent was highly connected with agents of their own race, and only poorly so with agents from other races – mimicking real-world relationships in societies with a large degree of segregation. But when they started dropping in the random connections that strangers make on a dating site, their model predicted an increase in the number of interracial marriages.

10-17-17 Welcome to the post-liberal world
Welcome to the post-liberal world
The presidency of Donald J. Trump is an American phenomenon. But it's not just an American phenomenon. It makes sense to see the rise of a right-wing cultural populist with authoritarian instincts as an outgrowth of American trends, from the long-term evolution of the Republican Party to the outsized influence of Fox News and talk radio rabble-rousers. But these American developments aren't happening in isolation. For complicated reasons, similar developments are happening in countries around the world — in Russia, India, Turkey, and all over Europe. A couple of months ago, after elections in the Netherlands and France in which anti-liberal parties underperformed, it was possible to believe that the populist wave had crested and begun to recede on the continent. But not anymore. Those setbacks now look like a temporary hiatus in a much broader-based shift away from the centrist liberalism that, until recently, had prevailed in Europe uninterrupted since 1989. Hungary and Poland are already governed by anti-liberal populists (as are Slovakia, Macedonia, Croatia, Serbia, and Greece). In last month's elections in Germany, a far-right populist party (Alternative for Germany) managed a stunning third-place showing with 12.6 percent of the vote, marking the first time since the end of World War II that such a party has won seats in the legislature. (It will hold more than 90.) And now, in an election on Sunday, the Austrian electorate just handed a victory to the center-right People's Party, which is led by 31-year-old populist firebrand Sebastian Kurz, and delivered a strong second-place showing to the far-right Freedom Party. The center-left Social Democratic party, meanwhile, came in third. This is just the latest example of the electoral collapse of the center-left in Europe. As Slate's Yascha Mounk has pointed out, the outcome of the Austrian vote is likely to be repeated later this week in the Czech Republic, where anti-establishment parties are on track to win a majority of the votes, and where the leading candidate for prime minister, Andrej Babiš, is a cross between Trump and Italy's Silvio Berlusconi. Add a Babiš victory to recent populist advances in Germany, Poland, Hungary, and Austria, and we're left with a picture that's as clear as it is ominous. The last time European electoral trends were headed so starkly against liberalism was in the 1920s and '30, when liberty was extinguished across the continent.

10-17-17 America's opioid genocide
America's opioid genocide
America is in a war against opioids. Whose side is Washington on? There is a genocide going on in this country. And it is a judgment on this nation that we all but ignore it. We treat other lethal threats much more seriously. Many Americans are rightly concerned with the problem of seemingly unpredictable mass shootings carried out by terrorists or random murderous lunatics. It is easy to be cynical about solutions, but surely there is some reasonable middle ground to be sought between letting every American be his own Rambo and the systematic confiscation of privately owned firearms that would likely leave us with fewer corpses. Likewise, no one makes light of the atomic ambitions of North Korea and Iran, which is why President Trump is going to such extraordinary lengths to check the former. Why don't we treat our war against opioids with equal alarm? Some context here is helpful. Around 11,000 people are killed in firearm-related homicides in this country each year. Fewer than 10 Americans have died annually since September 11, 2001, at the hands of Islamic terrorists. Meanwhile, what we have come to refer to so casually as our "opioid epidemic" has now taken more than 200,000 American lives — 30 times more than the Afghanistan and Iraq wars combined, far in excess of the number of Americans who died fighting in our generation-defining misadventure of Vietnam and, indeed, roughly half the U.S. death toll in World War II. This is why it was so dispiriting to read in The Washington Post on Sunday about the casual cynicism with which Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and other members of Congress, including Rep. Tom Marino (R-Penn.), Trump's chosen candidate to be our nation's next "drug czar" — is there a more disgusting neologism in politics? — have effectively neutralized the ability of the Drug Enforcement Agency to go after drug suppliers working openly to supply crooked doctors serving the black market where abusers purchase the poison that will kill them. It is now, the Post reports, "virtually impossible for the DEA to freeze suspicious narcotic shipments from the companies" involved in this activity. This was not a gross lapse of judgment on the part of these public servants. It was the bought-and-paid-for result of relentless lobbying by the pharmaceutical industry — $106 million in total was spent on this bill and related legislation between 2014 and 2016 alone. For their efforts on behalf of the industry in their respective chambers, Hatch received $177,000 and Marino just shy of $100,000. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward.

10-17-17 Transgender Georgians are being left to die
Transgender Georgians are being left to die
Velistsikhe is a small, quiet village about two hours from Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. It is plain and remote, and in colder months, when snow and rain sweep south from the Dagestani border, cars are often stranded in its boggy, barely paved roads. Velistsikhe's best-known assets are its wineries. There are three major ones and even a winemaking museum. Almost everybody else makes their money from wine, too — the evidence for which is dotted everywhere in the shape of kvevri, giant earthenware pots, buried to the neck in dirt, in which grapes are left to ferment for up to six months. The prettiest part of the village is its cemetery, small but ornate and encircled by wrought iron and flower bouquets. This is where Sabi Beriani is buried. In November 2014, she was attacked and stabbed to death in her Tbilisi apartment. Her body was then set on fire. She was 23. In keeping with Georgian and regional tradition, most of the graves at Velistsikhe cemetery are marked by black marble headstones, with portraits of the dead rendered in photographic detail. Beriani's is no different. But while she died a woman, her headstone depicts a young, androgynous boy, perhaps in his late teens, staring dolefully at the viewer. It was the best Beriani's mother, Tamar, could do. The village rallied behind her when the news of Beriani's death reached Velistsikhe. After all, she was 40 and had lost her only child. But everybody also knew that Beriani was a transgender woman and activist, who regularly appeared on national television shows. It was a life few, if any, in Velistsikhe would condone. Beriani had spent her life campaigning to be recognized as a woman. Now dead, nobody besides Tamar — not even Tamar's own, deeply conservative father — would allow that identity to rest with her. Tamar is short, with rounded cheeks and striking, brown eyes. I met her on Orthodox Easter Sunday last year. In Georgia, it is customary to mark the day by visiting the graves of lost friends and family members. The cemetery was packed with mourners. As Tamar laid roses, panettone sweet bread, and Beriani's favorite soda beside the headstone, many of them stopped and stared. It was little surprise: Georgia, a former Soviet state in the Caucasus region, is a deeply conservative place. It claims to be the second country ever to adopt Christianity, in the fourth century. Research by Gallup in 2015 found the small nation of 3.7 million people to be the most religious nation on Earth: Eighty-three percent of Georgians adhere to the Georgian Orthodox church. Barely 1.5 percent either do not follow a religion or declined to disclose so for a 2014 national census.

10-17-17 Chechen 'gay purge' victim: 'No one knows who will be next'
Chechen 'gay purge' victim: 'No one knows who will be next'
Six months after reports emerged that gay men were being detained illegally and tortured in the Russian republic of Chechnya, a young man has spoken publicly for the first time about his ordeal. Maxim Lapunov has described being held for 12 days in a blood-soaked cell, beaten with sticks, threatened and humiliated by police. But despite reporting what he endured to the authorities, his lawyer says no proper investigation has been conducted. Mr Lapunov, who is 30 and from Siberia, had been working and living in Chechnya for two years when he alleges he was grabbed and dragged into a car one night in March by two men he didn't know. At a police facility he was interrogated, forced to name another man and beaten. "They burst in every 10 or 15 minutes shouting that I was gay and they would kill me," he recalled, speaking at a small gathering in Moscow convened by human rights activists. "Then they beat me with a stick for a long time: in the legs, ribs, buttocks and back. When I started to fall, they pulled me up and carried on," he said quietly. "Every day they assured me they would kill me, and told me how."

10-16-17 Trump’s U-turn may see Iran join North Korea as a nuclear state
Trump’s U-turn may see Iran join North Korea as a nuclear state
In refusing to recertify the Iran nuclear deal, US president Donald Trump risks creating another North Korea – as another Republican president did before him. US president Donald Trump has refused to recertify the 2015 multilateral agreement freezing Iran’s nuclear programme. The impact of the decision – which was opposed by all of the other member nations party to the deal, Trump’s own officials, nuclear experts and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) – won’t be immediate. But it could be very bad – North Korea bad, if history is anything to go by. The 2015 deal was heralded as a major success. At the time, Iran had the capability to make enough highly enriched uranium (HEU) for 10 bombs in a few months. Under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), agreed that year between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus the EU and Germany, it drastically cut its production capacity and stockpile, and gave up making plutonium in return for the lifting of sanctions. This was backed by what Yukiya Amano, head of the IAEA, on 13 October called “the world’s most robust nuclear verification regime”. Those inspections, he said, verified that Iran is in compliance with the JCPOA. But the US required its president to certify that the pact remained in US interests every 90 days, or Congress could re-impose sanctions. In a detailed statement on 13 October, Trump refused to certify it. He didn’t pull the US out of the JCPOA, but said it should be strengthened. He complained that the pact, which took 13 years to negotiate despite focusing only on nuclear weapons, didn’t also address Iran’s missile development or sponsorship of foreign insurgencies.

10-16-17 St Louis protests endure after police acquittal
St Louis protests endure after police acquittal
Six years after Jason Stockley shot and killed Anthony Lamar Smith, a judge found the former St Louis police officer "not guilty". Hundreds came out to protest when the verdict was announced – and one month on, they're showing no signs of stopping.

10-16-17 Why America is coming apart at the seams
Why America is coming apart at the seams
America is tearing itself apart. People are angrier at each other, more resentful and contemptuous of each other, than they've been in living memory. Americans are experiencing a collective nervous breakdown, and there's no telling what happens if they don't find a way out of it. At the center of this is politics, which has become a tribal battle between Team Blue and Team Red. And quite often, at the center of our political battles is race. Race has always been an important and divisive issue in American politics, but there's no question things have become much more abrasive in recent years. Why is this? An obvious answer is "Donald Trump." And he certainly deserves more blame than any other living individual. His career in politics has been defined by racial demagoguery and by remaking the GOP in his image. In taking the White House, he has done more than anyone to make racial divisions deeper and more acrimonious. But Trump is not the whole story. Gallup has been tracking Americans' views of race relations, as good a proxy for the intensity of racial conflict as any, and we were doing okay until 2013-2014, when we start going into a tailspin. That's before Trump was on every TV screen every day. And it makes sense: Demagogues don't create new tensions — they tap into and exacerbate pre-existing anger and conflict, even as they intensify it on their way to the top. So if not just Trump, what or who is to blame? The answer is American political parties, which have become structurally designed to whip up racial anger and division to their maximum extent. The word "structural" here is important: This is bigger than any individual, or even any camp. It's the system.

10-14-17 Iran nuclear deal: Global powers stand by pact despite Trump threat
Iran nuclear deal: Global powers stand by pact despite Trump threat
Global powers, including key US allies, have said they will stand by the Iran nuclear deal which US President Donald Trump has threatened to tear apart. Mr Trump said on Friday that he would stop signing off on the agreement. The UK, France and Germany responded that the pact was "in our shared national security interest". The EU said it was "not up to any single country to terminate" a "working" deal. Iran's President Hassan Rouhani said the US was "more isolated than ever". "Can a president annul a multilateral international treaty on his own?" he asked. "Apparently he doesn't know that this agreement is not a bilateral agreement solely between Iran and the United States." The deal, signed in 2015, is between Iran and six international powers - the UK, the US, Russia, France, Germany, and China. It imposed curbs on Iran's nuclear programme in return for an easing of international sanctions. (Webmaster's comment: Trump continues to dig the United States into a deeper and deeper hole! Other countries should ignore the United States until we get a more rational president!)

10-13-17 What mass killers have in common
What mass killers have in common
Ideology can mask the real motive: the thrill of violent revenge on the world. Stephen Paddock left us a note. It provides no motive, but may still explain why he transported nearly two dozen weapons of war to his Las Vegas hotel room last week and turned an outdoor concert into a live video game, firing at 22,000 human targets, killing 59 and wounding nearly 500. The note, police say, consisted of a series of numbers that were the results of complex calculations: his elevation above the ground, the distance to the crowd, the angle of the bullets' drop to the flesh below. Paddock was "a numbers guy," a professional gambler who played high-stakes video poker for 14 hours straight and didn't much like anyone. In City Journal, Seth Barron offers the theory that Paddock's relentless pursuit of the dopamine hits that come with nonstop gambling left him with "no remaining capacity for pleasure or novelty." So for one last rush in an empty, blackhearted life, Paddock carefully planned and carried out a spectacular slaughter. His biggest jackpot ever. We may never know for sure what drove Paddock to kill, but this much is certain: Mass killings are a malignant meme deeply lodged in our nation's psyche. Paddock had no apparent racial, religious, or political grievances, but no doubt felt the same transgressive thrill as the faux warriors who shot up Columbine, the Pulse nightclub, the Aurora movie theater, the Charleston black church, the Newtown elementary school, the San Bernardino conference center, and other domestic killing fields. What these mass killers had in common was profound alienation from a world that seemed indifferent to their pain and humiliation, and easy access to weapons that amplified their rage. Radical Islam, white supremacy, and other ideologies can serve to justify violent vengeance, but they are optional. Paddock didn't need reasons; he just assembled an arsenal and did the math. For damaged souls in whom empathy has died, inflicting misery can be its own reward. (Webmaster's comment: Angry white male supremacists are our greatest terrorist danger!)

10-13-17 Fake news: Misinformation after the Las Vegas massacre
Fake news: Misinformation after the Las Vegas massacre
In the hours after a tragedy, “accuracy matters,” said David Pierson in the Los Angeles Times. “Facts can help catch the suspects, save lives, and prevent a panic.” But in the aftermath of the Las Vegas massacre, “the world’s two biggest gateways for information,” Google and Facebook, repeatedly spread lies about the shooting, steering users toward fake news and conspiracy-laden fringe sites. Google’s Top Stories box linked to a discussion on 4chan, a notoriously noxious online message board frequented by internet trolls, identifying the wrong assailant and falsely claiming he was an anti-Trump liberal. Facebook “perpetuated the same rumors,” linking to a site called “Alt-Right News” on its official Crisis Response page and promoting a story that the shooter had been linked to ISIS. Google-owned YouTube promoted conspiracy videos suggesting the massacre was a staged “false-flag” operation, said Sam Levin in The Guardian. Even after family members of those killed complained, YouTube argued that the videos “did not violate its standards.”

10-13-17 Death toll rises
Death toll rises
The official death toll in Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria rose to 45 this week, with that number expected to rise as communications are slowly restored across the storm-ravaged island. Just over a third of the U.S. territory’s 3.4 million residents are still without running water, while 89 percent of the island continues to go without power. Nearly all of Puerto Rico’s hospitals have reopened, but many are facing shortages of medicine and supplies, including diesel fuel to run their generators. The island’s 6,000 dialysis patients have seen their treatment hours cut by 25 percent to conserve energy. Federal health officials said less than half of the territory’s medical personnel have returned to work since the Sept. 20 storm. The situation is so dire that many Puerto Ricans are expected to leave the island permanently. More than 100,000 people are expected to move to the Orlando area alone in the coming months. (Webmaster's comment: And these are the United States citizens that Trump wants to stop helping!)

10-13-17 Iran nuclear deal: Trump to reveal tough new strategy
Iran nuclear deal: Trump to reveal tough new strategy
US President Donald Trump is expected to set out a more confrontational strategy towards Iran, accusing it of pursuing "death and destruction". It is thought he will focus on its non-nuclear activities, particularly those of the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), accused of supporting terrorism. The new strategy calls for stricter enforcement of the 2015 nuclear deal. He is expected to refuse to certify to Congress that Iran is complying with the deal. Official sources have told the Associated Press Mr Trump will say Iran is living up to the letter of the agreement but also that the deal is fatally flawed. While he may not ask for sanctions to be re-imposed, he may urge Congress to approve tough new requirements for Tehran to continue to benefit from sanctions relief. Mr Trump is under pressure at home and abroad not to scrap the deal under which Iran agreed to freeze its nuclear programme in return for the partial lifting of sanctions. If he did decertify it, it would not mean pulling out of the deal but it would open up a path under which Congress could eventually halt US compliance with the deal. During last year's election campaign, Mr Trump pledged to throw out the agreement concluded under his predecessor, Barack Obama. (Webmaster's comment: Iran will probably now proceed to build nukes. Thanks to Trump!)

10-13-17 Trump to end Obamacare subsidies amid strong criticism
Trump to end Obamacare subsidies amid strong criticism
US President Donald Trump will end subsidies to health insurance providers designed to help low income households, as he continues his attempts to dismantle Obamacare. The White House announced the move hours after Mr Trump signed an executive order allowing the sale of health insurance plans which are exempt from some of the law's regulations. The two decisions came after Congress repeatedly failed to repeal Obamacare. The moves were instantly criticised. Democratic Party leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer issued a joint statement denouncing the end of subsidies as a "spiteful act of vast, pointless sabotage" which would harm the poorest citizens. Meanwhile, critics of the initial announcement argued it could de-stabilise the Obamacare market by encouraging healthy consumers to leave their current plans, prompting a spike in premium costs for older Americans and those with pre-existing conditions. But Mr Trump says his plans will provide "relief" for people struggling to afford the rising costs, adding that ending the subsidies would "fix" the "imploding" Obamacare, officially known as the Affordable Care Act. (Webmaster's comment: These changes are meant to bankrupt the poor to benefit the already rich!)

10-13-17 Religious freedom: Trump’s clear message
Religious freedom: Trump’s clear message
No doubt about it: “This is the Christian Right’s presidency,” said Jay Michaelson in Under the guise of protecting “religious freedom,” the Trump administration last week “quietly unleashed a barrage of executive actions” that erase years of progress for women and LGBT people. First, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the federal government will no longer prosecute employers for discriminating against transgender people. Then he instructed government lawyers to prioritize religious freedom at all times—essentially giving religious organizations the green light to discriminate against gays in hiring. Finally, the administration expanded the exemption rules for the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate—so now all employers no longer have to offer their workers birth control coverage, provided they have a “sincerely held religious or moral objection.” The Trump administration is sending a clear “message to religious groups,” said Dahlia Lithwick and Mark Joseph Stern in Whenever there’s a conflict between religious teachings and our nation’s discrimination laws, it will side with religion every time.

10-13-17 White House’s new demands for ‘Dreamer’ deal
White House’s new demands for ‘Dreamer’ deal
President Trump this week reversed a tentative deal he’d struck with Democrats to protect young undocumented immigrants known as “Dreamers” from deportation, as the White House issued Congress a list of hard-line immigration demands. In exchange for extending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program (DACA), which would shield 800,000 immigrants brought to the U.S. as children from deportation, the administration said it would insist on complete funding for Trump’s proposed border wall with Mexico, the hiring of 10,000 new immigration agents, and tougher rules for claiming asylum in the U.S. It also demanded stricter limits on legal immigration, including restricting family-based green cards to children and spouses. Democratic leaders, who last month signaled they had reached a deal with Trump to grant Dreamers permanent legal status, reacted with alarm, and accused the administration of trying to scuttle formal negotiations before they even begin. They said the new demands clearly reflected the priorities of anti-immigration hawks like Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Stephen Miller, the president’s senior policy adviser. “If the president was serious about protecting the Dreamers, his staff has not made a good faith effort to do so,” Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Nancy Pelosi said.

10-13-17 Sanctuary state
Sanctuary state
Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation last week making California a “sanctuary state,” in a show of defiance against the Trump administration’s hard-line immigration policies. Senate Bill 54, which is aimed at protecting the state’s estimated 2.3 million undocumented immigrants, dramatically limits the extent to which state and local law enforcement can cooperate with federal immigration authorities. The bill, which takes effect in January, bars officials from asking about people’s immigration status or from sharing information about them with federal immigration agents unless the individuals have been charged or convicted of a serious offense. Federal agents will still be able to enter county jails, but the acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said that the bill would force the agency to conduct more large-scale raids on neighborhoods and workplaces to find undocumented immigrants.

10-13-17 Defend free speech — even when it offends you
Defend free speech — even when it offends you
Being a principled defender of free speech is never easy. And today's assaults on the right to the unencumbered exchange of ideas make the mission particularly grueling. In both the past and present, a sizable portion of the political right has insisted that the First Amendment shouldn't be used as a shield for things like flag burning, protests against police brutality, and pornography. Similarly, many on the left insist the Constitution doesn't protect things like amorphously defined "hate speech," paid political advocacy, and … pornography. Now, the culture on many college campuses — sometimes encouraged by professors — deems violent shutdowns of controversial speakers to be a form of free speech. But this only works under the logic that the loudest voice is the victor in the competition of ideas. That mob rule should be embraced by those claiming to represent the most vulnerable voices is disconcerting, and fails on a basic level to understand how the protection of unpopular, controversial, and subjectively offensive speech is the same protection that allows marginalized groups to fight against the tyranny of both government and the social majority. The idea that the First Amendment only protects from the incursion on free expression by the government is held by many, but it is wrong. Protest is free speech, but there is a line where it becomes an unconstitutional violation of another person's right to free expression. (Webmaster's comment: So we should defend the neo-Nazis right to call for the racism and racist genocide of a Nazi state. Look what that did to Germany 80 years ago!)

10-13-17 Nazis are bad
Nazis are bad
A new video game that features Americans violently fighting a Nazi takeover of the U.S. is being attacked on social media as “a hysterical leftist power fantasy” created in response to real-life neo-Nazi protests. The game publisher, Bethesda, denied any partisan intent in the video game’s theme, saying, “We don’t feel it’s a reach for us to say Nazis are bad.”

10-13-17 Trade: NAFTA negotiations at risk
Trade: NAFTA negotiations at risk
The fourth round of NAFTA talks began this week “amid increasing acrimony,” said David Lawder and David Ljunggren in Reuters?.com. Mexican and Canadian negotiators were taken aback by contentious new demands from U.S. officials, as President Trump made “fresh threats to terminate the 23-year-old agreement.” Negotiators have reportedly stumbled over U.S. demands to sharply increase North American parts requirements for automobiles; the U.S. has also called for “radical changes to NAFTA’s dispute arbitration systems and changes to intellectual property provisions.”

10-13-17 We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy
We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy
Whenever Ta-Nehisi Coates scrutinizes the state of the American soul, “expect no sugarcoating or coddling,” said Renée Graham in The Boston Globe. The 42-year-old essayist rose to prominence over the past decade by reminding readers that racism remained a toxic force in a nation that had just elected its first black president—that black Americans had not yet stepped into a “post-racial” age. Coates’ new book collects nine of the most significant essays he published between 2008 and 2017 and pairs all but the last one with new introductory commentary. The book’s arc is clear: Nine years ago, even Coates believed that Barack Obama’s rise foretold a day when America would be free of racism. Today, he’s concluded that racism is not a tumor that can be removed, but, in his words, a feature of the American body politic that’s “both native and essential to that body.”

10-13-17 Poll watch
Poll watch
72% of Republicans believe it should be illegal for citizens to desecrate the flag. 50% think that the media has “too much freedom” to say what it wants. 50% of Democrats, meanwhile, say the government should stop people from engaging in “hate speech” against minorities.

10-13-17 The aliens were coming next year
The aliens were coming next year
A Wyoming man who was arrested for public intoxication told police that he’d been sent from the future to warn humanity of an impending alien invasion. When Casper police detained Bryant Johnson, 27, he demanded to speak with the town’s “president.” He then claimed he’d traveled back from the year 2048 to tell locals to evacuate because “the aliens were coming next year.” Johnson—who had a blood alcohol concentration of .136—said he was drunk because time travel doesn’t work when you’re sober.

10-13-17 Sasquatch hunters
Sasquatch hunters
Sasquatch hunters, after legendary primatologist Jane Goodall, 83, said she’s open to the possibility that Bigfoot exists. Goodall said she has heard many witness accounts from tribal people of tall, hairy, bipedal primates. “I don’t want to disbelieve,” Goodall said.


10-19-17 Speaking up against sexual abuse is hard – #MeToo changes that
Speaking up against sexual abuse is hard – #MeToo changes that
Psychology makes us swift to blame those who experience sexual harassment, but the #MeToo movement could be making it easier to speak up, says Nichola Raihani. In the wake of the scandal over a series of sexual assault allegations that have been hurled at the media mogul Harvey Weinstein, an online movement has begun. Millions of women are sharing their stories of sexual harassment and abuse using the hashtag #MeToo, which rose to prominence after a tweet by actor Alyssa Milano. Scrolling through Twitter or Facebook, it is striking just how many of my colleagues and friends say they have been sexually abused or harassed. If the scale of the problem is this huge, why has no one said anything until now? Indeed, why have I kept quiet myself? Insights from psychology and evolutionary biology offer clues as to why people might not tell others when bad things happen to them. A cruel quirk of human psychology is that we are largely unsympathetic to victims if we can find a way to blame them for their own misfortune, even when it makes no sense to do so. In fact, perceiving that the victim is in some way at fault can provoke anger rather than sympathy. And it doesn’t take a lot for us to attribute blame. In the case of sexual abuse, the accusations are all too familiar. She was wearing a short skirt. She went to his room. She was drinking. The more people know about the circumstances, the more likely they are to tell themselves that things could have been different if only the victim had looked or acted differently. (Webmaster's comment: Blaming the victim is wrong, but making poor choices increases women's risks.)

10-19-17 SA football boss Danny Jordaan 'raped singer Jennifer Ferguson'
SA football boss Danny Jordaan 'raped singer Jennifer Ferguson'
South African singer and ex-MP Jennifer Ferguson has accused the country's football boss Danny Jordaan, 66, of raping her nearly 24 years ago. He "overpowered" her and "painfully" raped her in a hotel in Port Elizabeth city, she has alleged in a blog. Mr Jordaan, who organised the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, has not yet responded to a request for comment. Now living in Sweden, Ms Ferguson said she had been moved by the #MeToo campaign on social media to speak out. She said the attack took place when she was "high and happy" following her unexpected nomination by Nelson Mandela's African National Congress (ANC) party to serve in South Africa's first democratically elected parliament in 1994. Mr Jordaan, a prominent member of the ANC and president of the South African Football Association, came to her hotel suite after she had given a performance at a dinner. "He overpowered me and painfully raped me. It must have been over in about 20 seconds although it felt like a lifetime," she alleged. "He left immediately without saying a word."

10-19-17 Is Hollywood sitting on a pedophilia scandal?
Is Hollywood sitting on a pedophilia scandal?
The flurry of sexual harassment and assault allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein confirms an unsettling truth that deep down we already knew. There's a reason "casting couch" has become a grotesquely ubiquitous term. We have long quietly assumed that big-time movie producers exploit their power to sexually exploit women. We should have heeded the warning signs. The smoke has been there for a long time. Of course the faint plumes were evidence of a fire raging, a fire we both did not imagine and yet knew was burning. How could we have been so blind? The answer to this question will also give you the answer to the next question: Can we seriously doubt that Hollywood is also turning a blind eye to a very real child sex-abuse scandal? The evidence is there, just as it was in the cases of Bill Cosby or Harvey Weinstein. In 2011, former child star Corey Feldman warned that pedophilia in Hollywood was "the big secret" and "the number one problem." Feldman alleged that he was abused and that his friend was raped on a movie set at the age of 11. But he didn't just talk about instances of abuse. In a later interview, he described a system whereby young children were groomed by powerful older men who formed an organized network, with "publicists" providing cover. He would "love to name names," but feared the legal risks, he said. Precisely such an organized system for grooming and abusing children is described by a documentary; one molester described in the film pleaded no contest to two counts of child molestation, but the rest of the network has never been named, let alone investigated or charged. The title of the documentary? An Open Secret.

10-19-17 Jacinda Ardern becomes New Zealand's youngest woman leader
Jacinda Ardern becomes New Zealand's youngest woman leader
New Zealand is set for a centre-left coalition government led by Labour head Jacinda Ardern. Ms Ardern has been opposition leader for the last three months. At 37, she is set to be the country's youngest prime minister since 1856. Her Labour Party came second in September's election, where no party was able to secure a majority. They are now tipped for power after the small New Zealand First party agreed to join them in government. The new coalition will also be supported by the Green Party.

10-19-17 Pussycat Dolls deny prostitution claims
Pussycat Dolls deny prostitution claims
The Pussycat Dolls have issued a joint statement denying allegations that the pop group was a "prostitution ring". Kaya Jones, who left the band before they became famous, claimed that she and other members were regularly subjected to sexual abuse. "We are all abused," she said on Twitter, claiming the group were made to "sleep with whoever they say". The band, led by Nicole Scherzinger, said they "were not aware of Kaya's experiences" and offered her support. However, they firmly denied that the remaining members had been abused. "We cannot stand behind false allegations towards other group members partaking in activities that simply did not take place," they said. "To liken our professional roles in The Pussycat Dolls to a prostitution ring not only undermines everything we worked hard to achieve for all those years but also takes the spotlight off the millions of victims who are speaking up and being heard loud and clear around the world," the statement continued. "We stand in solidarity with all women who have bravely spoken publicly of their horrific experiences of abuse, harassment and exploitation."

10-19-17 Against sex
Against sex
Nearly two weeks after the publication of stories in The New York Times and the The New Yorker on Harvey Weinstein's use of his vast fortune to silence numerous women who had accused him of sexual assault, we are still consumed with the millionaire film producer and other cases involving alleged abusers in Hollywood and the music industry. An exhaustive list of all the women and men in the world of entertainment who have come forward to report everything from unwanted advances to groping and forced kissing to drugging and rape would require a lengthy column in itself. These revelations are unsettling, but the conversations they inspire — about how and why all of this was possible — are a good thing. It would be better to have no films or television programs or albums or singles — no entertainment at all — than to sit back and enjoy knowing that all of this is only possible thanks to the systematic exploitation of vulnerable people by lawyered-up sexual predators. What no one seems willing to admit, however, is that part of the problem is also our all-consuming cultural obsession with "sex." I employ quotation marks because there is, in fact, no such thing. Sex as a catch-all noun that refers not only to what used to be thought of as "the marital act" but to any feelings or actions motivated by lust is an invention of late 19th-century psychologists. As that brilliant historian and renowned pervert Michel Foucault shows us in his monumental History of Sex, it is as dated and redolent of its era — when prostitutes were treated as subhuman and same-sex attraction was considered a disease indicative of criminality — as phrenology. Why are we still trying to make sense of the world with the help of this dated cultural framework?

10-18-17 Self-harming has risen dramatically among UK teenage girls
Self-harming has risen dramatically among UK teenage girls
In every 10,000 teenage girls in the UK, more than 37 have self-harmed. The large rise in rates of self-harming may be due to stress or mental health problems. In every 10,000 teenage girls in the UK, more than 37 have self-harmed. That’s according to an analysis of data from 647 general practices across the country. The study found that, between 2011 and 2014, there was a 68 per cent increase in reports of self-harm among girls aged 13 to 16. The rate of self-harm in 2014 was 37.4 out of every 10,000 girls, aged 10 to 19. But among 13-to-16-year-olds, this rose to 77 girls in every 10,000. In boys aged 10 to 19, the self-harm rate in 2014 was 12.3 per 10,000 boys. “We can’t really explain this possible rapid increase in self-harm among girls. It could reflect better awareness or recording of self-harm in primary care,” says Nav Kapur, at the University of Manchester, UK. “But it could also be a result of increasing stress and higher levels of psychological problems in young people.” There is some evidence that mental health disorders are becoming more common in this age group, says Kapur.

10-18-17 US girl banned from First Communion ceremony for wearing suit
US girl banned from First Communion ceremony for wearing suit
Cady Mansell, a nine-year-old from Indiana, was banned from her First Communion ceremony because she wanted to wear a white suit. Cady's mom shared their story on Facebook. Now she tells the BBC why they've moved churches. (Webmaster's comment: The Catholic church wants to control your life and you must obey. Even the clothes you wear can not be your choice.)

10-18-17 Animal study reveals how a fever early in pregnancy can cause birth defects
Animal study reveals how a fever early in pregnancy can cause birth defects
In chicken embryos, a rise in incubation temperature alone can disrupt normal development. Certain birth defects of the face and heart can occur when babies’ mothers have a fever during the first trimester of pregnancy, a crucial time in an embryo’s development. Now scientists have figured out the molecular players that make it so. In an experiment with chicken embryos, a temporary rise in incubation temperature — meant to mimic feverlike conditions — was enough to produce defects to the face and heart. The elevation in a growing embryo’s temperature, called hyperthermia, impacts the activity of heat-sensitive channels that are present in cells necessary for an embryo’s development, researchers report online October 10 in Science Signaling. Although a connection between fever and these birth defects has been known for decades, says coauthor Eric Benner, a neonatologist at Duke University School of Medicine, there has been some debate as to whether the fever itself or an infectious agent behind the fever is the culprit. The new work shows that “hyperthermia in and of itself can cause these birth defects, and on a molecular level, here’s how it happens,” Benner says.

10-18-17 Weinstein and the women who 'benefited'
Weinstein and the women who 'benefited'
Sexual assault is never a mutually beneficial business transaction. There's an awkward question orbiting the Harvey Weinstein scandal: Who benefited? Who prospered thanks to the culture of silence surrounding years of rumors of sexual assault? Recently, a person I was talking about the case with suggested that Weinstein's alleged targets — the ones who didn't report, the ones who failed to pit their 19-year-old no-names against his brand in lights — were just as culpable as the bystanders who enabled him and knew. I was, I confess, unprepared for this argument. These women had a choice, this person felt. And they made it. They chose to benefit instead of disclose. The point he — an ultra-capitalist — was trying to make was that sex and power are transactional. It's a big world, after all, and there must be some people for whom being raped, or pressured to watch a man masturbate into a potted plant, is the acceptable price of doing business. I find this line of thinking so astonishing I don't often take the trouble to respond. It feels like trolling. It seems steeped in bad faith. It does what capitalist arguments so often do, which is insist there's a choice (or a contract) when none exists. It presumes, further, that male and female artists in Hollywood face similar hurdles that just express a little differently. It's the kind of thinking that says things like women have an advantage men don't: sex! I want to slow down and think this through, because we're at a cultural crux and it seems to me important to be extremely careful; to think rigorously about what happened with Weinstein, and whether his alleged victims were indeed partly to blame — not just for their own harassment, but for everyone who came after, because they benefited. (Webmaster's comment: Many men will use any excuse, any lie, any made-up reason to justify the sexual abuse and rape of women!)

10-18-17 Jennifer Lawrence: I was placed in 'nude line-up'
Jennifer Lawrence: I was placed in 'nude line-up'
Jennifer Lawrence has said she was made to stand in a nude line-up and told to lose weight by film producers at the start of her career. Speaking at Elle's Women in Hollywood event, the 27-year-old said she felt she didn't have any power in the situation as an unknown actress. She said she found that fame protected her from assault as her career went on. "I will lend my voice to any boy, girl, man or woman who doesn't feel like they can protect themselves", she added. The actress, who won an Oscar in 2013 for her role in Silver Linings Playbook, told the audience about auditioning for a film and being asked by a female producer to stand in a nude line-up. She described the experience as "degrading and humiliating", as she was put next to girls she says were thinner than her. "When I was much younger and starting out, I was told by producers of a film to lose 15 pounds in two weeks. "One girl before me had already been fired for not losing the weight fast enough," she told an audience including Kristen Stewart, Margot Robbie and Ashley Greene. "During this time a female producer had me do a nude line-up with about five women who were much, much, thinner than me. We all stood side by side with only tape on covering our privates." Lawrence said the producer then told her she should "use the naked photos" of herself as "inspiration" for her diet.

10-18-17 Spain's hotel chambermaids 'Las Kellys' fight for fair pay
Spain's hotel chambermaids 'Las Kellys' fight for fair pay
Spain's tourism sector is heading for another bumper year, with last year's figure of 76 million foreign visitors looking set to be a short-lived record. But within the industry, some people think their essential work is being seriously underappreciated - chambermaids, women who clean hotel rooms in increasingly precarious conditions and poor pay. "We are all women. There are virtually no men," says Ángeles Muñoz, leader of the Madrid branch of Las Kellys, a play on the Spanish words for "the girls who clean" (las que limpian). While room cleaning has never been a road to riches, Las Kellys argue that a reform to Spain's labour market in 2012 paved their way to hell, allowing hotels to outsource cleaning services to companies that do not have to respect established industry standards. In a tourism industry that last year produced earnings of €125bn (£112bn) - 11% of Spain's economy - hotel room cleaners say they are paid less, prone to more health problems and less respected than ever. "Without clean rooms, a hotel does not have a product. But we are invisible, despite being 30% of a hotel's staff," says Ms Muñoz, who claims to have been blacklisted by two hotel chains for her militancy after 20 years in the job. "Many chambermaids are from especially vulnerable sectors of society, including immigrants and single mothers. They are frightened to be seen and fear reprisals or losing the pay they are getting."

10-17-17 Australia launches revenge porn reporting tool
Australia launches revenge porn reporting tool
Australia has set up the first national reporting tool to help victims of revenge porn. Revenge porn, or image-based abuse, is the sharing of explicit images without consent. The online portal provides advice on getting the images removed, reporting the abuse to authorities and pursuing legal action. The country's eSafety commissioner said 20% of Australians aged between 16 and 49 have experienced image-based abuse. Young women and indigenous Australians were more likely to be victims. The same research found that 76% of victims took no action, often because they didn't know what to do. In a statement, communications minister Mitch Fifield said the $4.8m (£2.8m) portal was "world-first", although the Californian government provides a similar service and non-government organisations elsewhere provide similar resources. Mr Fifield also said the government is considering introducing civil penalties for perpetrators or websites that distribute revenge porn. There are already specific laws against revenge porn in all but three Australian states and territories, and telecommunications laws have also been used to prosecute offenders. Revenge porn is illegal in the UK, Canada, New Zealand and Japan, and in most US states. (Webmaster's comment: These are deliberate acts meant to do harm. The prepetrators should get 5 year prison sentences!)

10-17-17 The Hollywood women tackling sexual harassment
The Hollywood women tackling sexual harassment
Actresses Margot Robbie and Lake Bell, alongside producer Kathleen Kennedy have spoken out. They hope the claims against producer Harvey Weinstein will lead to changes in the film industry.

10-16-17 'My #MeToo experience is sadly typical'
'My #MeToo experience is sadly typical'
The social media conversation around hashtag #MeToo highlights how widespread sexual harassment is. The BBC's Rajini Vaidyanathan shares her personal story. I must have been about 25 years old. We were in an Italian restaurant in New York, just after we'd finished working on a story. I was an ambitious producer who'd just been in Manhattan for the Republican convention. Most of the team had gone but a colleague and I were the last two left and we were having dinner. We'd gone to the East Village and in a dimly lit Italian restaurant, I made small talk about George W Bush and John Kerry. Then he said it. "I'm unbelievably sexually attracted to you. I can't stop thinking about you." I dropped my fork and it bounced on the plate, the spaghetti still woven around it. This was a colleague twice my age, well-respected and with a girlfriend. I had experienced sexism in the workplace before, but not in such an overt way. I can't even remember what I said - but it was something all too polite, as I tried to change the conversation. He continued talking about how beautiful I was, as I ate the pasta as fast I could. I wasn't sure at the time if he'd said anything that I could reasonably complain about, but I remember feeling disgusted and uncomfortable about it. I now know it was utterly unacceptable, and is just another reminder of how some men in the workplace use their power to manipulate, harass and even abuse women.

10-16-17 France minister Schiappa plans anti-street harassment law
France minister Schiappa plans anti-street harassment law
France's gender equality minister has set out plans for a new law cracking down on sexual violence and harassment. Marlène Schiappa's proposals include on-the-spot fines for catcalling and lecherous behaviour in public. The mounting sexual assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein have revived debate about male predation in France. President Emmanuel Macron said on Sunday he would be stripping the Hollywood producer of the prestigious Legion D'Honneur award. During his first in-depth television interview, Mr Macron also said his government would take steps to better define acts of sexual violence under the law. Under Ms Schiappa's plans announced on Monday, a taskforce of politicians will work with police and magistrates to establish what sort of behaviour constitutes sexual harassment. "The idea is that society as a whole redefines what it is acceptable or not," she told La Croix newspaper. Street harassment and catcalling are already illegal in some countries including Portugal and Argentina. (Webmaster's comment: But not in America. Many of our males need to express their disrespect and hatred of women! They still believe women are their property!)

10-16-17 Lisa Wilkinson: Top Australian presenter quits in 'equal pay row'
Lisa Wilkinson: Top Australian presenter quits in 'equal pay row'
The female presenter of one of Australia's most prestigious TV news shows has moved to a rival channel amid reports that she was not able to get pay parity with her male co-presenter. Lisa Wilkinson, 57, announced that because the Nine Network had been "unable to meet her expectations", she was joining Channel Ten's The Project. Her announcement brings an end to six months of contract negotiations. Wilkinson made her last appearance on the Today show on Monday. The talks between her and the Nine Network were held up because of her demand to have pay parity on the breakfast programme with her co-host, Karl Stefanovic, The Daily Telegraph and other media outlets reported. The paper, quoting "well-placed sources", said that Stefanovic earns about $A2m ($1.5m) a year compared to about $A1.1m ($870,000) earned by Wilkinson.

10-15-17 Harvey Weinstein: More women accuse Hollywood producer of rape
Harvey Weinstein: More women accuse Hollywood producer of rape
Two more women have accused Harvey Weinstein of raping them as the top Hollywood producer finds himself increasingly shunned by his peers. British actress Lysette Anthony says he attacked her at her London home in the late 1980s while another, unidentified woman says she was raped in 1992. The organisation behind the Oscars has voted to expel Weinstein and his own brother called him "sick and depraved". Weinstein, 65, insists sexual relations he had were consensual. Police in London are investigating an allegation against Weinstein who is also being investigated by police in New York. More than two dozen women - among them actresses Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow and Rose McGowan - have made a number of accusations against him including rape and sexual assault. Weinstein has been a huge figure in the film world, where his productions received more than 300 Oscar nominations and won 81. Lysette Anthony told The Sunday Times she had reported an attack by Weinstein to the London Metropolitan Police. The actress, who stars in the British TV soap Hollyoaks, said she had met the producer when she starred in 1982 sci-fi film Krull and the alleged assault had come a few years later. It was a "pathetic, revolting" attack, she said, that had left her "disgusted and embarrassed". The Metropolitan Police said it was passed an allegation of sexual assault, without giving details. Separately an unidentified woman told the Mail On Sunday newspaper she had been raped by Weinstein in 1992 when she was working at his film company offices in West London. (Webmaster's comment: Weinstein's been raping women for 35 years and getting away with it. It would only be just that he spends the next 35 years in prison!)

10-15-17 100 Women: Why we need to talk about street harassment
100 Women: Why we need to talk about street harassment
Most women and girls have experienced some form of street harassment, and in many cases this behaviour goes unreported. But what exactly do we mean when we talk about harassment? (Webmaster's comment: It seems like half the men in the world are sick sexual perverts!)

10-14-17 Exploring the casting couch culture of LA
Exploring the casting couch culture of LA
The casting couch may seem like a relic of the golden age of Hollywood - but women here say sexual harassment is rife and that exploitation is a price you pay for being part of the industry. News that at least 30 women have accused Weinstein of sexually assaulting them - four alleging rape - has been met with sadness and outrage in Tinseltown. But no one seems that surprised and many expect other powerful men will be exposed. "I think everyone is shocked - not surprised," says actress Rita Moreno at a Women in TV gala in Beverly Hills. Ms Moreno, now 85, urged women to tell their stories. She says she was aggressively pursued by the head of a studio when she was 19. "It was frightening and scary." Mr Weinstein's Oscar for Shakespeare in Love has been tarnished by reports of lewd abuses of his immense power. But women in Hollywood say sexual harassment is common - for actresses and for women behind the scenes on film and TV sets. But a culture of pervasive sexism emerged. Some are stories of producers soliciting casual sex in exchange for jobs. Most stories involved daily ridicule and disrespect. "The casting couch is still a major issue in Hollywood many women are being victimised and are being asked for sexual favours in order to get a job, to keep a job or to be promoted," says attorney Gloria Allred who represents women making complaints against Weinstein. Ms Allred says she has women calling her with stories about other powerful Hollywood players. The organisation Women in Film has been inundated with calls after they set up a hotline for victims to report abuse this week. (Webmaster's comment: The rape and sexual abuse culture is alive and well in America! It is everywhere where men have any power, not just in Hollywood.)

10-14-17 How Ohio is using Down syndrome to criminalize abortion
How Ohio is using Down syndrome to criminalize abortion
The Ohio legislature could criminalize women for having basic conversations with their doctors. With all the intensity of focus on national politics — currently shifting from TrumpCare (which would arguably kill Americans) to the Trump Tax Plan (which would merely redistribute money to the most wealthy) — it's easy to overlook ongoing outrages at the state level. But when it comes to limiting reproductive rights, the main action is taking place in GOP legislatures around the country. By February of this year, 168 anti-choice bills had already been introduced in various legislatures, many of them advancing quickly through the system. New laws in Texas and Kentucky have already been passed and struck down by federal judges. Now, Ohio Republicans are the latest group to seize on Down syndrome as a wedge issue in the fight against reproductive choice. Senate Bill 164 would make it a felony for doctors to knowingly perform an abortion after a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome. A few things to make clear: I am the father of a 10-year-old with Down syndrome. Nobody has more concerns about the rights of people with Down syndrome than I do. Yet I stand unequivocally opposed to this bill. It will not help people with Down syndrome. Even assuming it survives legal challenge, it is unlikely to result in fewer abortions. What it will do, however, is criminalize speech between a woman and her doctor. It will intensify the very stigma that drives so many people to terminate otherwise wanted pregnancies after they receive a prenatal diagnosis. (Webmaster's comment: So now we will be forcing women to bear deformed children!)

10-13-17 Sex addiction isn’t an illness, treating it as one is a bad idea
Sex addiction isn’t an illness, treating it as one is a bad idea
Harvey Weinstein is being treated for sex addiction, but many health professionals say it isn't a real illness and addiction-style therapy doesn't help. I’m not bad – I’m ill. In essence, that is the defence of disgraced Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, with his decision to seek treatment for sex addiction after the recent string of allegations about his appalling behaviour towards women. Weinstein isn’t the first to go down this route. The idea of sex addiction has been around for four decades and there are many offering such therapy, particularly in the US. But the film producer’s reported behaviour was so extreme it is triggering renewed scepticism about the very idea of sex addiction. “This latest example demonstrates the degree to which the concept has ‘jumped the shark’,” says David Ley, a clinical psychologist in New Mexico who wrote a book called The Myth of Sex Addiction. “It has become so overused and misused, it’s a meaningless excuse.” Although the term is commonly employed by the media and public, the concept is highly controversial among professionals. It was rejected by the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists in a 2016 position statement. And when US psychiatrists updated their industry’s key textbook in 2013, they considered and dismissed including it as a new diagnosis. (Webmaster's comment: 20 years in prison will absolutely cure his problem! His getting a "cure" is just a scam to help him avoid going to prison. Rapists like him only understand punishment and he deserves a lot of it!)

10-13-17 Harvey Weinstein: US actress Rose McGowan makes rape allegation
Harvey Weinstein: US actress Rose McGowan makes rape allegation
The scandal deluging Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein has deepened after US actress Rose McGowan publicly accused him of raping her. In a series of tweets, McGowan also accused Amazon Studio chief Roy Price of having ignored her when she made the allegation earlier. Amazon has put Price - himself accused on Thursday of sexually harassing a female producer - on leave of absence. Weinstein denies any sexual assaults. There was no comment from Price. Police forces in the US and UK police have launched investigations into sexual assault allegations against Weinstein: The New York Police Department is looking into an allegation dating from 2004 and reviewing whether there are any additional complaints, London's Met Police has received an allegation of sexual assault in the London area in the 1980s. Addressing Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos on Twitter, McGowan criticised the company for doing business with Weinstein. "I told the head of your studio that HW raped me," she wrote. "Over & over I said it. He said it hadn't been proven. I said I was the proof." Price was separately accused by Isa Hackett, a producer on one of Amazon's shows, of having lewdly propositioned her in a taxi and at a corporate dinner in 2015, the Hollywood Reporter writes.(Webmaster's comment: Weinstein and those who covered up for him do not belong in therapy, THEY BELONG IN PRISON!)

10-13-17 Weinstein: Why Hollywood liberals were silent
Weinstein: Why Hollywood liberals were silent
When Fox News’ CEO, the late Roger Ailes, and host Bill O’Reilly were revealed as serial sexual harassers, virtue-signaling liberals were indignant—and triumphant, said Alexandra DeSanctis in Now it turns out the twin liberal bastions of Hollywood and the media were actively ignoring monstrous abuse of women by one of their own. Hollywood mega-producer Harvey Weinstein, 65, was fired this week by his own company after The New York Times and The New Yorker detailed three decades’ worth of harassment and sexual abuse allegations against him by a host of young actresses and subordinates, including Ashley Judd, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Angelina Jolie. In the liberal circles in which Weinstein traveled, his “twisted inclinations” were an open secret—but were ignored. Apparently, many people on the Left “value political loyalty more than they cherish principle.” Now Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and other Democrats are belatedly condemning Weinstein, said in an editorial. But every member of the liberal establishment, from Washington to New York to Hollywood, should have to answer the question “What did they know about their friend Harvey, and when did they know it?” Sorry, said Benjamin Hart in, but Republicans “have less-than-zero credibility on this issue.” Last week marked the one-year anniversary of the Access Hollywood tape on which presidential nominee Donald Trump had bragged of getting away with grabbing women’s private parts because he was “a star”—a claim many women came forth to say was true. Did Republicans condemn Trump? Some did, for a day or two. But then the party rallied around its candidate, and Trump is now “the most powerful man on earth.” Do Republicans really want to play this game? asked Tina Brown in Weinstein has just been fired in disgrace. What do they propose we do with “the serial sexual harasser in the White House?”

10-13-17 A matter for the legislature
A matter for the legislature
Indiana’s Supreme Court has ruled that it’s illegal for adults to send sexual text messages to 16-year-olds, even though it’s legal to have sex with them. In its 5-0 ruling, the court reinstated charges against a 40-year-old man who sexted a 16-year-old girl, but acknowledged that Indiana’s sexting laws are “inconsistent” with its low age of consent. The discrepancy, the court said, was “a matter for the legislature.”

10-13-17 A legal loophole for pedophiles
A legal loophole for pedophiles
Can an 11-year-old girl consent to sexual intercourse? asked Olivia Elkaim. Most French people would surely say no. Yet last month, prosecutors in Pontoise said that a 28-year-old man who lured his 11-year-old neighbor to his apartment and had sex with her could not be charged with raping a minor, because the sex was supposedly “consensual.” Prosecutors charged him instead with assaulting a minor, meaning he could get five years in prison instead of 20. The investigators said there was no proof that the man used “violence, coercion, threat, or surprise,” and so, under French law, that makes the sixth-grader a willing participant. Police even cited text messages of a sexually suggestive nature that the girl had once sent to a friend as evidence that she willingly submitted. The case “has provoked outrage” across France. Psychiatrists say current French law is simply “not adapted to the psychological situation of children.” Children may indeed exhibit sexual curiosity, but they aren’t emotionally equipped to stand up to adults. Activists are now calling for a statutory rape law, which most other Western countries have, to set an age below which consent to sexual relations is not legally possible. It should not be the child’s responsibility to explicitly say no.

10-13-17 Where are all the women in economics?
Where are all the women in economics?
We hear a lot about the under-representation of women in so-called STEM fields - science, technology, engineering and maths. But the proportion of women in economics is by some measures smaller. In the US, only about 13% of academic economists in permanent posts are women; in the UK the proportion is only slightly better at 15.5%. Only one woman has ever won the Nobel Prize in economics - American Elinor Ostrom in 2009. And there wasn't even a single woman on some of the lists floating about guessing who this year's prize winner would be - it went to the behavioural economist Richard Thaler. Some have argued that these figures aren't necessarily the result of bias. Maybe, they say, women are simply behaving rationally and choosing different disciplines that are perhaps more suited to their temperament and skills, or choosing to work in different but related fields. But Cambridge University economics lecturer Victoria Bateman says that can't really explain all of the gap. "I think that that way of thinking about the problem is is completely false," says Dr Bateman, who is a fellow at Cambridge's Gonville & Caius college. "But I think [it] helps explain why economists have for too long hushed up this problem. "Because if economists' models are suggesting that sexism doesn't exist, that it's all a result of people's free choices and... their personal characteristics, then you deny the fact there is a problem."

10-13-17 Wall Street: Fearless Girl firm underpaid women
Wall Street: Fearless Girl firm underpaid women
The firm behind Wall Street’s Fearless Girl statue has agreed to pay $5 million to more than 300 female and black employees “who were paid less than their white, male counterparts,” said Patrick Coffee in Adweek. Boston-based State Street Corp., the parent company of the investment firm that installed the popular statue of the little girl who “faces down Wall Street’s famed Charging Bull statue,” was accused by the Labor Department of discriminating against hundreds of female and minority executives since at least 2010. State Street, which manages $2.6 trillion in assets, officially denies the allegations.

10-13-17 Trolls
Trolls, after a New York Times report that as a high-schooler, White House senior adviser Stephen Miller once jumped into the final stretch of a girls’ track race in order to prove male athletic superiority, and derided Latino students for speaking Spanish.

10-13-17 How Kentucky is succeeding in addiction care for pregnant women
How Kentucky is succeeding in addiction care for pregnant women
Other states should take note. When Christy discovered last year that she was pregnant, she panicked. She had finished a detox program for an opioid addiction just a few months before, but was still smoking pot and taking prescription painkillers from time to time. She knew she needed more help if she were to deliver a healthy baby. "I needed a safety net," she says. "I didn't want to use when I was pregnant." Christy wasn't just being cautious; she was speaking from experience. Eight years ago, she was 21 and deeply addicted to opioids, abusing prescription pills such as Lortabs and Xanaxes even though she was attending a methadone clinic, which was supposed to help her with her addiction. It was during that time that she gave birth to her first daughter, whom she named Shelby, and whom she lost custody of to her own mother, Shelby's grandmother. "An addiction is stronger than a mother's love for her children," Christy says. Losing custody of her daughter didn't change much for Christy, at least not right away. Despite the popular rhetoric about drug users "hitting rock bottom" and then turning their lives around, that's not the reality for many. "I didn't think about her," Christy admits. "I just thought about myself." Over the next decade, however, Christy slowly started making progress. She had years-long periods of recovery, even becoming an Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor to other women. Though she relapsed when her stepfather died, one year later she went back into a clinic for treatment. When she found out last year that she was pregnant again, she looked for help right away. "I just didn't want it to happen again like with my oldest daughter," she says. The gynecologist Christy went to referred her to PATHways, an innovative, new program housed in a small University of Kentucky HealthCare clinic in Lexington, Kentucky. PATHways provides both prenatal and addiction care to mothers with substance use disorders. Women start with PATHways when they're pregnant; they stay in the program for at least two years after they give birth.

10-13-17 Abortions for me, not for thee
Abortions for me, not for thee
Rep. Tim Murphy wants abortion to be made illegal except in cases of “rape, incest, the life of the mother, and...Tim Murphy,” said Molly Roberts. The pro-life Pennsylvania Republican resigned last week after revelations that he’d asked his mistress to have an abortion when she thought she was pregnant earlier this year. That’s the “dictionary definition of hypocrisy,” but Murphy probably really did think he was against abortion until an unwanted pregnancy threatened his marriage, his political career, and his plans for his future. The same was true of several other pro-life public officials who sought abortions for mistresses, wives, and teen daughters. Why the discrepancy between their public and private selves? You don’t know what you’d do if you had an unwanted pregnancy until you have one. Then many people convince themselves that their situation is “different.” Some women have told sociologists they are pro-life “as they wait in an exam room to terminate a pregnancy,” because, well, they’re not like the bad women who have them for no good reason. Women who choose an abortion do so because they feel that carrying the pregnancy to term would ruin their lives. Perhaps Tim Murphy can empathize with that feeling now.

10-13-17 Fifty-Six million annual abortions
Fifty-Six million annual abortions
Of the 56 million annual abortions performed worldwide, nearly half, or 25 million, are conducted by untrained people or use unsafe methods that endanger the life of the woman, according to a report in the British medical journal Lancet. The vast majority of unsafe ­abortions—97 percent—are performed in developing countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.


10-19-17 A brief history of the Earth's CO2
A brief history of the Earth's CO2
Climate change has been described as one of the biggest problems faced by humankind. Carbon dioxide is is the primary driver of global warming. Prof Joanna Haigh from Imperial College London explains why this gas has played a crucial role in shaping the Earth's climate. Carbon dioxide (CO2) has been present in the atmosphere since the Earth condensed from a ball of hot gases following its formation from the explosion of a huge star about five billion years ago. At that time the atmosphere was mainly composed of nitrogen, CO2 and water vapour, which seeped through cracks in the solid surface. A very similar composition emerges from volcanic eruptions today. As the planet cooled further some of the water vapour condensed out to form oceans and they dissolved a portion of the CO2 but it was still present in the atmosphere in large amounts. The first life forms to evolve on Earth were microbes which could survive in this primordial atmosphere but about 2.5 billion years ago, plants developed the ability to photosynthesise, creating glucose and oxygen from CO2 and water in the presence of light from the Sun. This had a transformative impact on the atmosphere: as life developed, CO2 was consumed so that by around 20 million years ago its concentration was down to below 300 molecules in every one million molecules of air (or 300 parts per million - ppm). Life on Earth has evolved under these conditions - note that humans did not appear until about 200,000 years ago - and atmospheric CO2 has not exceed that concentration until the industrial revolution brought with it massive emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels: coal and oil.

10-18-17 America the polluted
America the polluted
In the 1970s, the newly formed EPA ambitiously documented the contaminated state of the environment. Before the Environmental Protection Agency was created in 1970, environmental disasters were the norm. Rivers regularly caught on fire, major cities were blanketed in a choking smog, and oil clogged the nation's waterways. While the regularity of such catastrophes numbed many Americans into acceptance, several significant events in the 1960s began to shake the public out of its stupor. In 1962 marine biologist and author Rachel Carson published her quietly shocking book Silent Spring, a compendium of her six-year analysis of the myriad ways man was indiscriminately poisoning the air, water, and soil. It became an instant bestseller. On Jan. 28, 1969, an oil rig off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, exploded, sending three million gallons of crude oil into the ocean. Newspaper photos and televised reports of blackened beaches, oil-stained water, and thousands of tar-covered birds, fish, and marine mammals haunted the public. Just six months later, three Americans landed on the moon, offering the Earth-bound their first glimpse at the delicate blue marble they called home. By the end of the decade, the drumbeat of environmental activism was deafening. Grassroots environmental groups, with the help of Sen. Gaylord Nelson (D-Wis.), organized the first Earth Day — a national, and now global, demonstration in support of environmental reform. The presence of 20 million people marching for the Earth's protection helped spur the government to action. On Dec. 2, 1970, the Environmental Protection Agency was established under President Richard Nixon. "Restoring nature to its natural state is a cause beyond party and beyond factions," the Republican said in his 1970 State of the Union address. "It has become a common cause of all the people of this country."

10-17-17 America's climate idiocy
America's climate idiocy
It's been another month of climate disasters. Puerto Rico remains in ruins, three weeks after being hit by the worst hurricane since 1928. Forty people and counting have died in the most deadly series of wildfires in California history — which is especially unusual for the northern part of the state. And on Monday, Ireland, of all places, was thrashed by a severe tropical storm. Against that backdrop, the American government isn't just failing to address the most immediate problems arising from its domestic disasters, it's actually taking steps to make things worse. And it's not just Trump. A huge bipartisan majority in the House of Representatives (including every single Democrat) voted for a $36.5 billion disaster relief package containing $16 billion in debt cancellation for the broken national flood insurance program — but $5 billion in loans for Puerto Rico, thus adding to the island's already preposterously unpayable $74 billion debt load. Now, that's not all that is in the disaster relief bill. There is also $13.6 billion in disaster relief to be shared between Florida, Texas, and Puerto Rico, plus a $1.3 billion food stamp grant for the island. That's certainly better than nothing. But at a conservative estimate, that disaster relief total will not be remotely sufficient for either Texas or Puerto Rico, the two places hit worst out of the three. It's also maybe only a tenth (or less) of what is needed for a structural overhaul of Puerto Rico, both to rebuild it and to put it on sound economic footing. As for the flood insurance program, it's not a bad idea in itself. It's reasonable for government to help homeowners hit by unusual floods. However, the administration and payout structure of the program is nuts and has been for decades. It uses badly outdated flood maps and funds rebuilding far more than relocation. As a result, it has paid for many homes to be rebuilt again and again and again. This small minority of total membership accounts for a large portion of the overall payouts. Indeed, it's not really a home insurance program, as revealed by the $16 billion debt cancellation. What it amounts to, in many cases, is a subsidy for people to build homes in flood-prone areas.

10-17-17 Ophelia shows many hurricanes could reach Europe in the future
Ophelia shows many hurricanes could reach Europe in the future
Tropical cyclones often get to Europe but normally they have weakened by the time they get there. Not any more, thanks to climate change. The remnants of Hurricane Ophelia have struck the British Isles, causing widespread disruption and damage on Ireland. The cyclone, now downgraded to an extratropical storm, has reportedly led to three deaths. It is unusual for a hurricane to reach western Europe while still at or near hurricane strength. The last comparable event was Hurricane Gordon in 2006, which had also weakened to a storm before it struck. “The historical record only shows one hurricane reaching Ireland whilst still at hurricane strength: Debbie in 1961,” says Julian Heming of the UK Met Office. But in that case the data are sparse. “It is possible that, like Ophelia, Debbie transformed into an ‘extratropical cyclone’ some hours before it struck Ireland.” However, hurricanes could be a big part of Britain and Europe’s future. “There is evidence that hurricane-force storms hitting the UK, like Ophelia, will be enhanced in the future due to human-induced climate change,” says Dann Mitchell at the University of Bristol, UK.

10-16-17 The indiscriminate fury of California's wildfires
The indiscriminate fury of California's wildfires
After more than a week of blazing fires, much of Northern California lies in smoldering ruins. The California wildfires have raged for more than a week, killing 40 people, destroying thousands of structures, and reducing hundreds of thousands of acres to smoldering rubble. Encouraged by gusty winds, more than 20 separate blazes have wiped businesses, homes, wineries, and entire neighborhoods out of existence. While the worst damage has come in the wine country north of the San Francisco Bay Area, the devastation is hardly limited to this area. The Canyon 2 Fire in Anaheim — marked by an ominous glow around Disneyland — burned at least a dozen structures in Orange County and forced thousands from their homes. As officials comb the blackened ruins of the hardest-hit areas of Northern California, they face a new grim reality: "We may never get truly confirmative identification on ashes," Sonoma County Sheriff Rob Giordano said during a press conference. "When you're cremated, you can't get an ID." Officials warn that recovery will be extensive and costly. And while the region's wine business could take years to recuperate, the personal toll is what's truly immeasurable. "We're going to be a long time recovering from this incident," Santa Rosa Mayor Chris Coursey said. "[We've] suffered a serious blow."

10-15-17 California wildfires: Death toll rises as blazes continue
California wildfires: Death toll rises as blazes continue
Forty people have died and hundreds are still missing in California after six days of wildfires that have devastated swathes of countryside and destroyed thousands of homes. California's governor said it was "one of the greatest tragedies" the state had ever faced. More than 10,000 firefighters are battling 16 remaining blazes. Winds of up to 70 km/h (45mph) brought them to new towns, forcing many more people to evacuate. One of the worst-affected areas is the city of Santa Rosa, in the Sonoma wine region, where 3,000 people were evacuated on Saturday. "The devastation is just unbelievable," Governor Jerry Brown said on a visit to the city. "It is a horror that no one could have imagined." It is the most lethal outbreak of wildfires in the state's history. More than 100,000 people have been displaced, and whole neighbourhoods have been reduced to ash. Firefighters had made some headway on Friday, clearing dry vegetation and other combustible fuel around populated areas on the fires' southern flank. But the return of strong winds combined with high temperatures and dry air spread the fires further.

10-14-17 California wildfires: High winds threaten to revive deadly blazes
California wildfires: High winds threaten to revive deadly blazes
California's fire protection chief has warned that devastating wildfires could worsen again over the weekend due to dry air and strengthening winds. Ken Pimlott said several thousand extra firefighters deployed on Friday were fighting 17 separate blazes. Northern California is suffering the most lethal outbreak of wildfires in the state's history, with 35 people dead and more than 90,000 evacuated. The blazes have raged since Sunday, destroying an estimated 5,700 homes. Firefighters had made some headway on Friday, clearing dry vegetation and other combustible fuels around populated areas on the fires' southern flank. But high temperatures and strong winds were forecast to return on Saturday, with gusts of up to 55 mph (90 kph) and 10% humidity. "If new fires start they could spread extremely rapidly," warned Brooke Bingaman, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Sacramento, California. "Those fuels are super dry right now. This also could cause problems for the current wildfires and the firefighters who are trying to suppress them."

10-13-17 When the Larsen C ice shelf broke, it exposed a hidden world
When the Larsen C ice shelf broke, it exposed a hidden world
Science teams are racing to Antarctica to assess ice, seafloor ecosystems. In February, an expedition led by the British Antarctic Survey will journey to Antarctica on the RRS James Clark Ross to study a mysterious ecosystem exposed in July by the calving of the Larsen C iceberg.Teams of scientists are gearing up to race to the Antarctic Peninsula to find out what happens in the immediate aftermath of a massive ice calving event. In July, a Delaware-sized iceberg broke off from Antarctica’s Larsen C ice shelf (SN: 8/5/17, p. 6). Now, several research groups aim to assess the stability of the remaining ice shelf, map the region’s seafloor and study a newly exposed ecosystem that’s been hidden from the sun for up to 120,000 years. First on the scene in November will be a team of scientists led by geophysicist Adam Booth of the University of Leeds in England and the U.K.-based Project MIDAS, which tracked the progress of the rifting from 2014 until the final break (SN: 7/25/15, p. 8). The researchers will conduct ground-penetrating radar and passive seismic surveys of the still-intact ice shelf, looking for shifts in the subsurface ice. They will also use GPS to monitor movements of the ice shelf. The goal is to track the dynamic response of the ice to the calving event, both short-term and long-term. Computer simulations suggest that the central part of the shelf will speed up, now that a piece of its buttress has been removed, says glaciologist Adrian Luckman of Swansea University in Wales, who will analyze satellite data as part of the effort. “What we need to keep tabs on now is whether the speedup will in any way destabilize what’s left. It might take many months to play out.”

10-13-17 Seven darkly funny cartoons about the EPA's war on the planet
Seven darkly funny cartoons about the EPA's war on the planet
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10-13-17 California wildfires: Death toll climbs to 31
California wildfires: Death toll climbs to 31
The number of people confirmed dead in wildfires sweeping northern California has climbed to 31, as officials warned that conditions would worsen. Hundreds of people remain missing as at least 22 fires rampaged across the state's famous wine country. More than 8,000 firefighters are now battling the flames. The wildfires have destroyed more than 3,500 buildings and homes, scorching over 170,000 acres (68,800 hectares) and displacing about 25,000 people. Seventeen people are now confirmed killed in Sonoma County, with another eight in Mendocino County, four in Yuba County and two in Napa County, officials said. The updated casualty figures mean the wildfires are the deadliest in California since 1933, when 29 people died in fires at Griffith Park in Los Angeles. Strong winds that have fanned the flames eased in recent days, but forecasters warned they were set to pick up again on Friday night. "We are not even close to being out of this emergency," Mark Ghilarducci, state director of emergency services, told reporters. State fire chief Ken Pimlott warned of "erratic, shifting winds all weekend". Sonoma County Sheriff Rob Giordano said recovery teams with cadaver dogs were searching the smouldering ruins of homes.

10-13-17 Hurricane season is the most active
Hurricane season is the most active
This year’s Atlantic hurricane season is the most active since 2005, the year of Katrina. The 2005 season blew away records with 28 named storms, of which 15 were hurricanes. So far, 2017 has spawned 15 named storms, nine of which were hurricanes, including the latest, Hurricane Nate. The hurricane season extends to November 30.

10-13-17 Clean Power Plan scrapped
Clean Power Plan scrapped
The Environmental Protection Agency moved this week to repeal former President Obama’s flagship environmental policy, designed to fight climate change by curbing emissions from power plants. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt issued a formal notice that the agency will repeal the Clean Power Plan, which sought to reduce U.S. power plant emissions to 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. The plan, which was finalized in 2015 but has never gone into effect because of legal challenges, would have required states to meet emissions targets at individual plants and add cleaner energy sources to their power grids. But the Trump administration contended the rule unfairly punished coal and other fossil-fuel producers. The past administration tried “to pick winners and losers in how we generate electricity,” said Pruitt this week, announcing the repeal to a group of coal miners in eastern Kentucky. “And that’s wrong.”

10-13-17 UK-Dutch-built Sentinel launches to track air quality
UK-Dutch-built Sentinel launches to track air quality
A UK-assembled satellite has launched from Russia on a mission to monitor air quality around the globe. Its Dutch-designed instrument will make 20 million observations daily, building maps of polluting gases and particles known to be harmful to health. Called Sentinel-5P, the spacecraft is a contribution to the EU's Copernicus Earth-monitoring programme. S5P rode to orbit on a converted Russian intercontinental ballistic missile called a Rockot. The vehicle left the Plesetsk Cosmodrome at 12:27 local time (10:27 BST; 09:27 GMT). Controllers knew they had a functioning satellite in position above the planet when they received the first radio communication from S5P. This was picked up up 93 min after the Rockot as the satellite passed over the Kiruna station in Sweden. The EU, with the help of the European Space Agency (Esa), is developing a constellation of satellites as part of its Copernicus programme. Five of the platforms are already up; many more will follow in the next few years. All called Sentinels, they are tasked with taking the pulse of the planet and gathering data that can inform the policies of member states - everything from fisheries management to urban planning.

10-13-17 Nasa carbon space observatory 'watches Earth breathe'
Nasa carbon space observatory 'watches Earth breathe'
A Nasa satellite has provided remarkable new insights on how CO2 is moved through the Earth's atmosphere. The Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO) tracked the behaviour of the gas in 2015/2016 - a period when the planet experienced a major El Niño event. This climate phenomenon boosts the amount of CO2 in the air. The US space agency's OCO satellite was able to show how that increase was controlled by the response of tropical forests to heat and drought. The forests' ability to draw down carbon dioxide, some of it produced by human activity, was severely curtailed. The science has significant implications because the kind of conditions associated with El Niños are expected to become much more common under global warming. "If future climate is more like this recent El Niño, the trouble is the Earth may actually lose some of the carbon removal services we get from these tropical forests, and then CO2 will increase even faster in the atmosphere," explained Scott Denning, an OCO science team member from Colorado State University in Fort Collins. That would amplify warming, he told reporters. Technical papers describing OCO's work have just been published in Science Magazine.

10-13-17 Penguins die in 'catastrophic' Antarctic breeding season
Penguins die in 'catastrophic' Antarctic breeding season
All but two Adelie penguin chicks have starved to death in their east Antarctic colony, in a breeding season described as "catastrophic" by experts. It was caused by unusually high amounts of ice late in the season, meaning adults had to travel further for food. It is the second bad season in five years after no chicks survived in 2015. Conservation groups are calling for urgent action on a new marine protection area in the east Antarctic to protect the colony of about 36,000. WWF says a ban on krill fishing in the area would eliminate their competition and help to secure the survival of Antarctic species, including the Adelie penguins. WWF have been supporting research with French scientists in the region monitoring penguin numbers since 2010. The protection proposal will be discussed at a meeting on Monday of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). The Commission is made up of the 25 members and the European Union. "This devastating event contrasts with the image that many people might have of penguins," Rod Downie, Head of Polar Programmes at WWF, said. "The risk of opening up this area to exploratory krill fisheries, which would compete with the Adelie penguins for food as they recover from two catastrophic breeding failures in four years, is unthinkable. "So CCAMLR needs to act now by adopting a new Marine Protected Area for the waters off east Antarctica, to protect the home of the penguins." (Webmaster's comment: "The Great Die Off" caused by global warming is now truly underway!)


10-19-17 The mass extinction that might never have happened
The mass extinction that might never have happened
An ecological catastrophe 201 million years ago supposedly paved the way for the rise of giant dinosaurs, but it may not have happened that way after all. Should the “big five” really be the “big four”? For decades, we have recognised five devastating mass extinctions that punctuate the last half-billion years of evolution. But now two geologists are controversially arguing that the end-Triassic extinction – often described as the third largest – has no place on that list. “Certainly there was an environmental crisis, but it’s not a mass extinction per se,” says Lawrence Tanner at Le Moyne College at Syracuse, New York. “It’s misleading to continue to call it one.” If he is correct, our understanding of the early evolution of dinosaurs will need rewriting. The end-Triassic extinction of 201 million years ago is less famous than those before and after. The end-Permian “mother of all mass extinctions” 252 million years ago nearly obliterated all complex life, while the extinction at the close of the Cretaceous 66 million years ago is famous because it wiped out all dinosaurs, apart from birds. The end-Triassic extinction has been linked to a spate of volcanic eruptions around the birth of the central Atlantic Ocean. This “central Atlantic magmatic province” (CAMP) released carbon dioxide and sulphurous compounds into the atmosphere – supposedly triggering global warming, acid rain and widespread extinctions on land and at sea.

10-18-17 This ancient clock rules our lives — and determines our health
This ancient clock rules our lives — and determines our health
Our lives are ruled by time; we use time to tell us what to do. But the alarm clock that wakes us in the morning or the wristwatch that tells us we are late for supper are unnatural clocks. Our biology answers to a profoundly more ancient beat that probably started to tick early in the evolution of all life. Embedded within the genes of us, and almost all life on Earth, are the instructions for a biological clock that marks the passage of around 24 hours. Biological clocks or "circadian clocks" help time our sleep patterns, alertness, mood, physical strength, blood pressure, and much more. Under normal conditions, we experience a 24-hour pattern of light and dark, and our circadian clock uses this signal to align biological time to the day and night. The clock is then used to anticipate the differing demands of the 24-hour day and fine-tune physiology and behavior in advance of the changing conditions. Body temperature drops, blood pressure decreases, cognitive performance drops, and tiredness increases in anticipation of going to bed. While before dawn, metabolism is geared-up in anticipation of increased activity when we wake. A circadian clock also stops everything happening at the same time, ensuring that biological processes occur in the appropriate sequence. For cells to work properly they need the right materials in the right place at the right time. Thousands of genes have to be switched on and off in order and in harmony. Proteins, enzymes, fats, carbohydrates, hormones, nucleic acids, and other compounds have to be absorbed, broken down, metabolized, and produced in a precise time window. Energy has to be obtained and then allocated to growth, reproduction, metabolism, locomotion, and cellular repair.

10-18-17 Hunger-blocking injection lets fat monkeys quickly lose weight
Hunger-blocking injection lets fat monkeys quickly lose weight
A protein injection that decreases appetite has been found to help obese monkeys slim down fast, and to cut their risk of developing diabetes. A protein injection that decreases appetite helps obese monkeys to slim down fast and cuts their risk of diabetes. Excitement is growing about a protein called GDF15, which naturally regulates body weight in humans and animals. When extra amounts are injected into mice, they eat less, lose weight and have fewer signs of diabetes. Several research teams have tried developing GDF15 as an obesity treatment, but it breaks down too quickly in the bloodstream to work. Now a team led by Murielle Véniant at pharmaceutical company Amgen has found a way to make GDF15 last longer in the body. The team added an antibody fragment onto GDF15. Antibodies are immune proteins that help recognise foreign molecules in the body. They found that this hybrid protein caused obese monkeys to eat about 40 per cent less. When given weekly injections, the monkeys lost 10 per cent of their body weight over 6 weeks. Their glucose tolerance also improved, making them less likely to develop type 2 diabetes.

10-18-17 Getting on cancer’s nerves: A surprising way to thwart tumours
Getting on cancer’s nerves: A surprising way to thwart tumours
A technique for alleviating pain has exposed cancer's weak spot and may finally enable us to stop the disease by disabling the nerves that help it spread. DAVID MARTINEZ lives with excruciating pain. He has pancreatitis, a condition in which the pancreas becomes severely inflamed. Over the past five months, he has received three injections of a local anaesthetic into nerves in his abdomen to help ease the agony. But eventually the medicine wears off, and the pain returns. As if pancreatitis weren’t bad enough, Martinez, a 41-year-old former forklift operator in Pasco, Washington, has something else to worry about. Chronic inflammation of the pancreas is a major risk factor for cancer. “I’m afraid of it happening,” he says. But what if the painkilling injections Martinez is getting could do more than just ease his discomfort – even help ward off cancer altogether? New evidence is causing a rethink of the way cancer invades our bodies. It now seems that targeting nerve cells might be an effective way to fight tumours – and even prevent them developing in the first place. Some even think that focussing on nerves may be the missing piece in the fight against the disease. As Gustavo Ayala at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston sees it, “If you don’t take care of the nerves, you’re not going to cure cancer.”

10-18-17 A common herbal medicine may cause liver cancer mutations
A common herbal medicine may cause liver cancer mutations
A compound found in some plants used in traditional medicine has been linked to a 78 per cent of cases of liver cancer in hospitals in Taiwan. A commonly-used herbal medicine causes mutations that are linked to liver cancer, according to research in Taiwan. Extracts taken from plants of the genus Aristolochia, which are used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat a wide range of conditions, may be responsible for many liver cancers in Asia. There are over 500 species of Aristolochia, around 100 of which have been used in herbal medicines. “They have very beautiful, trumpet-shaped flowers,” says Steven Rozen at Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore. This has led to them being given names like “Dutchman’s pipe”. Extracts of the plants – taken from the flowers, root or stem, for example – have long been used in herbal medicine. But fears over their safety were raised in the 1990s, when women who were given trial weight loss drugs containing Aristolochia extracts developed kidney failure. Since then, the plant extracts have also been linked to Balkan nephropathy – a kidney disease affecting people in Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania and Serbia. In 2013, researchers found that a compound in the plants, known as aristolochic acid, seems to cause gene mutations by targeting the base adenine, a component of DNA’s genetic code. “It attacks any part of the genome with equal opportunity,” says Rozen.

10-18-17 The science behind why sweet and salty foods taste so good together
The science behind why sweet and salty foods taste so good together
Go ahead and keep dipping those fries into your milkshake. Sweet and salty: They're two things that go together like Jacques and Julia, the Queen and her martini, and (literally) peanut butter and jelly. And though they're polar opposites on the flavor spectrum, that hasn't stopped us from putting the word salted in front of every trending dessert or dipping french fries into a chocolate Frosty. Here's why this beloved combination works so well — and, more importantly, why people who put pineapple on pizza actually are onto something. Salt makes things taste better, not saltier. Scientifically, you have your taste buds to thank for this. A study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that in addition to being able to sense sweet and salty, our tongues have additional sweetness receptors that activate only when sugar is in the presence of salt. So as contradictory as it seems, even just a sprinkle of salt on a watermelon wedge can make the fruit taste even sweeter. Our bodies naturally crave both salt and sugar. We're hardwired to crave junk food (which, surprise, tends to be loaded with salt and sugar). According to Barb Stuckey, the author of TASTE: Surprising Stories and Science About Why Food Tastes Good, we've evolved to gravitate to sweet foods since they're traditionally the most energy rich (read: high in calories). Our bodies are also conditioned to like salty foods since sodium is an essential mineral we need to function.

10-18-17 Moms tweak the timbre of their voice when talking to their babies
Moms tweak the timbre of their voice when talking to their babies
Mothers shift the timbre, or quality, of their voice when talking to their babies, a new study finds. Voices carry so much information. Joy and anger, desires, comfort, vocabulary lessons. As babies learn about their world, the voice of their mother is a particularly powerful tool. One way mothers wield that tool is by speaking in the often ridiculous, occasionally condescending baby talk. Also called “motherese,” this is a high-pitched, exaggerated language full of short, slow phrases and big vocal swoops. And when confronted with a tiny human, pretty much everybody — not just mothers, fathers and grandparents — instinctively does it. Now, a study has turned up another way mothers modulate their voice during baby talk. Instead of focusing on changes such as pitch and rhythm, the researchers focused on timbre, the “color” or quality of a sound. Timbre is a little bit nebulous, kind of a “know it when you hear it” sort of thing. For instance, the timbre of a reedy clarinet differs from a bombastic trumpet, even when both instruments are hitting the same note. The same is true for voices: When you hear the song “Hurt,” you don’t need to check whether it’s Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor or Johnny Cash singing it. The vocal fingerprints make it obvious.

10-17-17 Four brain genes help explain obsessive compulsive disorder
Four brain genes help explain obsessive compulsive disorder
OCD has been linked to genes active in a brain circuit involved in learning and decisions. The finding may help explain why the condition can run in families. Four genes have been identified that are linked to obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). The genes all play a role in the same brain circuit, and may help explain why people are more likely to have OCD if they have a relative with the condition. People with OCD have intrusive thoughts and feel driven to repeat rituals, such as handwashing, to relieve their anxiety. To investigate if OCD has a genetic basis, Hyun Ji Noh at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and her colleagues compared more than 600 genes across 592 people with OCD, and 560 people who don’t have it. They chose these candidate genes from several lines of evidence. Of these genes, 222 had been linked to compulsive grooming in mice, and 196 had been linked to autism in people – a condition that can involve repetitive behaviours. The team also looked at 56 genes that they had identified in a study of dogs with canine compulsive disorder, a condition in which dogs repeatedly chase their tails, pace back and forth, groom themselves or sucks things, sometimes for hours at a time. The analysis identified four genes that are different in people who have OCD. All four of these are active in a brain circuit that links the striatum, thalamus and cortex regions.

10-17-17 How volcanoes may have ended the dynasty of Ptolemy and Cleopatra
How volcanoes may have ended the dynasty of Ptolemy and Cleopatra
Volcanic ash layers suggest eruptions may have messed with crop-dependent monsoons, leading to an era of revolt. An Italian volcano erupted in 44 B.C., likely reducing monsoon rains that fed into the Nile River and ultimately fueling civic unrest in Ptolemaic Egypt. A series of volcanic eruptions may have helped bring about the downfall of the last Egyptian dynasty 2,000 years ago. By suppressing the monsoons that swelled the Nile River each summer, triggering flooding that supported the region’s agriculture, the eruptions probably helped usher in an era of periodic revolts, researchers report online October 17 in Nature Communications. That upheaval ultimately doomed the dynasty that ruled Egypt’s Ptolemaic Kingdom for nearly 300 years until the death of Cleopatra. To piece together this puzzle, Yale University historian Joseph Manning and his colleagues first compared records of Nile River heights dating back to A.D. 622 with volcanic eruptions recorded in ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica that date back 2,500 years. Ash layers in the ice cores, corresponding to “eruption years”, were linked to years of less extensive flooding, they found.

10-17-17 A universal flu vaccine may be nearing reality
A universal flu vaccine may be nearing reality
New strategies aim to attack the influenza virus in creative ways The flu kills tens of thousands of people in the United States each year, and protection is made harder by the need for an annual shot. A onetime vaccine is getting closer to reality. One of the planet’s deadliest viruses makes an annual pass through the United States with little fanfare. It rarely generates flashy headlines or news footage of health workers in hazmat suits. There’s no sudden panic when a sick person shows up coughing and feverish in an emergency room. Yet before next spring, this season’s lethal germ will probably have infected millions of Americans, killing tens of thousands. Still, it’s often referred to as just the flu. The influenza virus seems so normal to most Americans that only about half of us will heed those “time for your flu shot” banners that pop up at pharmacies and worksites every autumn. Those annual shots remain the best means of protection, but they must be manufactured months before flu season starts, based on a best educated guess of what strains of the virus will be circulating. That means even in a successful year, vaccine performance may not be impressive. During the 2015–2016 season, only about half of those immunized were protected, according to a study in the Aug. 10 New England Journal of Medicine. Some years’ vaccines are duds: For the 2014–2015 season, the vaccine protected only 19 percent of people who received it, based on U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.

10-16-17 Gut fungi might be linked to obesity and inflammatory bowel disorders
Gut fungi might be linked to obesity and inflammatory bowel disorders
Yeast and bacteria can team up to cause trouble. Candida tropicalis usually grows as a harmless roundish budding yeast, but in the presence of two bacteria it stretches into long filaments that may provoke inflammation in intestines. Fungi may affect gut health in unexpected ways, new research suggests. High-fat diets may alter relationships between bacteria and fungi in mice’s intestines, contributing to obesity, researchers report October 11 in mSphere. In independent work, researchers report that a fungus teams up with two types of bacteria to fuel gut inflammation in people with Crohn’s disease. That work was summarized October 4 in Digestive and Liver Disease. Together, the studies are part of a growing body of research indicating that relationships between the bacterial and fungal kingdoms can affect health, says David Andes, a fungal biologist at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health in Madison. Andes wasn’t involved in either study. Scientists have already described links between health issues, including obesity, and gut bacteria — often called the microbiome. But far less is known about the role of the gut’s fungal mix, or mycobiome.

10-16-17 To understand the origins of pain, ask a flatworm
To understand the origins of pain, ask a flatworm
Experiments in planarians identify a chemical middleman that triggers the body’s ouch detectors. In planarians, a protein called TRPA1 detects hydrogen peroxide, a molecule produced when cells are damaged. These new results give hints about the evolution of human pain. Hydrogen peroxide, a molecule produced by cells under duress, may be a common danger signal, helping to alert animals to potential harm and send them scurrying. New details from planarian flatworms of how this process works may deepen scientists’ understanding of how people detect pain, and may ultimately point to better ways to curb it. “Being able to get a big-picture view of how these systems are built and what they’re cuing in on is always really helpful,” says biologist Paul Garrity of Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass. And by finding cellular similarities among planarians, fruit flies and people, the new study, published online October 16 in Nature Neuroscience, provides hints about how this threat-detecting system might have operated hundreds of millions of years ago.

10-14-17 Magic mushrooms can 'reset' depressed brain
Magic mushrooms can 'reset' depressed brain
A hallucinogen found in magic mushrooms can "reset" the brains of people with untreatable depression, raising hopes of a future treatment, scans suggest. The small study gave 19 patients a single dose of the psychedelic ingredient psilocybin. Half of patients ceased to be depressed and experienced changes in their brain activity that lasted about five weeks. However, the team at Imperial College London says people should not self-medicate. There has been a series of small studies suggesting psilocybin could have a role in depression by acting as a "lubricant for the mind" that allows people to escape a cycle of depressive symptoms. But the precise impact it might be having on brain activity was not known. The team at Imperial performed fMRI brain scans before treatment with psilocybin and then the day after (when the patients were "sober" again). The study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, showed psilocybin affected two key areas of the brain.

  • The amygdala - which is heavily involved in how we process emotions such as fear and anxiety - became less active. The greater the reduction, the greater the improvement in reported symptoms.
  • The default-mode network - a collaboration of different brain regions - became more stable after taking psilocybin.

10-13-17 Magic mushroom extract changes brains of people with depression
Magic mushroom extract changes brains of people with depression
Psilocybin, a hallucinogenic compound found in magic mushrooms, may help re-set the activity of neural circuits in the brain that are involved in depression. Psilocybin, a hallucinogenic compound found in magic mushrooms, may help re-set the activity of neural circuits in the brain that are involved in depression. Magic mushroom enthusiasts have long believed that the drug’s ability to induce profound-feeling experiences could be therapeutically useful. Brain-imaging studies have shown that psilocybin targets areas of the brain overactive in depression. Last year, Robin Carhart-Harris of Imperial College London and his colleagues conducted the first clinical trial of using psilocybin to treat depression, and got some encouraging results. The trial only involved 12 people and no control group, but the team found that after two sessions of psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy, all of the volunteers had reduced symptoms. Now Carhart-Harris and his team have shown that psilocybin seems to cause changes in the brains of people with depression. The study involved 19 people who, like in the previous study, had depression that had not been helped by conventional treatments.

10-13-17 Sperm age calculator tells men how decrepit their sperm are
Sperm age calculator tells men how decrepit their sperm are
An epigenetic calculator can assess a man’s sperm, guessing how old he is, and revealing how badly smoking may have damaged his gonads. A sperm age calculator can tell men how “old” their sperm are, using clues from DNA analysis, and has revealed some of the effects of smoking on sperm. While a woman’s age has long been known to affect the health of her offspring, we have only recently begun to understand how a father’s age can have similar effects. Older fathers are now known to pass on more genetic mutations to their children than older mothers do. And children of older fathers are more likely to have autism and schizophrenia. “The hope is that we could potentially screen people and say, ‘your sperm is really old’, and identify risks for the offspring,” says Tim Jenkins at the University of Utah. Growing evidence suggests that older dads might pass on health risks through epigenetic tags on the DNA in their sperm. These tags alter how active genes are, and lifestyle factors such as diet and smoking are known to make epigenetic changes that may affect the next generation. Ageing is also a factor. Jenkins and his colleagues have studied the sperm of 350 men, looking for these genetic switches. So far, the team have found changes at 147 points in the genome that seem to be linked to a man’s age.

10-13-17 DNA study provides insight into how to live longer
DNA study provides insight into how to live longer
Every year spent in education adds an average of 11 months to people's lifespan, say scientists. The researchers say a person loses two months for every kilogram overweight they are - and seven years for smoking a packet of cigarettes a day. Unusually, the Edinburgh university team found their answers by analysing differences in people's genetic code or DNA. Ultimately they think it will reveal new ways of helping us to live longer. The group used the genetic code of more than 600,000 people who are taking part in a natural, yet massive, experiment. If someone smokes, drinks, dropped out of school and is overweight, it can be difficult to identify the impact of one specific unhealthy behaviour. Instead, the researchers turned to the natural experiment. Some people carry mutations in their DNA that increase appetite or make them more likely to put on weight, so researchers were able to compare those programmed to eat more with those who were not - irrespective of their wider lifestyles. Dr Peter Joshi, from the university's Usher Institute, said: "It doesn't mess up the analysis. You can look directly at the effect of weight, in isolation, on lifespan." Similar sets of mutations have been linked to how long people spend in education and the enjoyment they get from smoking or drinking.The research team also found specific mutations in human DNA that alter lifespan, reported in the journal Nature Communications.

  • Mutations in a gene (a set of instructions in DNA) that is involved in running the immune system could add seven months of life on average
  • People with a mutation that increased levels of bad cholesterol knocked eight months off life expectancy
  • A rare mutation in a gene - APOE - linked to dementia reduced lifespans by 11 months
  • And one that made smoking more appealing cut lives by five months

10-13-17 Unlocking the body clock
Unlocking the body clock
Three American scientists have won the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for their work on circadian rhythms, the internal biological clock that controls a living organism’s behavior and physiology. The rhythms, which are synchronized with the Earth’s rotation, govern a slew of critical functions, including metabolism, blood pressure, body temperature, and hormone levels. While people have been aware of the body’s “inner clock” for centuries, the three Nobel laureates—Jeffrey Hall, Michael Rosbash, and Michael Young—identified the mechanisms behind it. Working with fruit flies, they isolated a gene that encodes a protein that accumulates in cells at night but degrades during the day. They later identified two other genes that contribute to this process. Their findings help explain why consistently overriding circadian rhythms—by working night shifts or exposing yourself to light from computer screens at night—could increase the risk for chronic health issues, including heart disease, obesity, cancer, and Alzheimer’s. “We learned we are truly rhythmic organisms,” Young tells The Washington Post. “It’s hard to find a cell that does not oscillate in response to these clocks.”

10-13-17 A dementia smell test
A dementia smell test
People with a poor sense of smell may be more likely to develop dementia, a new study suggests. Researchers at the University of Chicago tested how well 2,906 men and women between the ages of 57 and 85 could detect five different scents: peppermint, fish, orange, rose, and leather. Most of the participants were able to identify four to five of the smells, but 22 percent couldn’t. Five years later, the researchers found that those who didn’t pick up at least four of the odors were more than twice as likely to have dementia—even if they had normal brain function when the study began. The worse their performance on the smell test, the higher their risk. “This is not a simple, single-variable test for the risk of dementia,” researcher Jayant Pinto tells The New York Times. “But sensory function is an indicator of brain function. When sensory function declines, it can be a signal to have a more detailed examination to see if everything’s OK.”

10-13-17 The rise of obesity-related cancers
The rise of obesity-related cancers
Heart disease and diabetes aren’t the only chronic health issues obese people should worry about: New research shows that cancers related to being overweight now account for more than a third of all diagnoses of the disease in the U.S. In a review of data from the U.S. Cancer Statistics database, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that rates of obesity-linked cancers increased by 7 percent between 2005 and 2014, a period when diagnoses of cancers with no link to obesity decreased by 13 percent. The one exception was colorectal cancer, rates of which dropped by 23 percent, likely due to dramatic improvements in screenings for precancerous growths. Overall, there are 13 different forms of cancer tied to excess body fat. They include multiple myeloma and colorectal cancer, as well as cancers of the brain, esophagus, breast, ovaries, uterus, thyroid, gallbladder, kidney, stomach, liver, and pancreas. “There are many good reasons to strive for a healthy weight,” the CDC’s Anne Schuchat tells “Now you can add cancer to the list.” Scientists are still working to understand exactly how obesity affects the risk for certain cancers. Research suggests that being overweight triggers chronic low-level inflammation that could lead to DNA damage. Obese people also have higher levels of estrogen and insulin, which are associated with several forms of cancer.

10-13-17 Surgeon aims to diagnose deformities of extinct saber-toothed cats
Surgeon aims to diagnose deformities of extinct saber-toothed cats
At the La Brea Tar Pits in today’s Los Angeles, mastodons, dire wolves, saber-toothed cats and thousands of other creatures — prey and predators — were trapped and later excavated. Robert Klapper has examined scores of damaged and diseased human knees, hips and shoulders. But a visit to the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum introduced the orthopedic surgeon to the suffering of an extinct cat — and a scientific mystery. In 2000, Klapper took a break from his patients at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles to visit the nearby tar pits, where myriad mammals and other animals (SN: 5/17/14, p. 18) have been getting stuck for the last 40,000 years. (Yes, modern birds and insects still wander in.) After examining a museum display of broad-snouted dire wolf (Canis dirus) skulls, Klapper made a beeline for the security guard and asked to see a curator. He badgered then collections manager Chris Shaw with questions about why the skulls looked so perfect — no signs of cancers, fractures or arthritis. “Instead of throwing me out,” Klapper says, Shaw took Klapper into the bowels of the museum and pulled out a drawer of bones from saber-toothed cats (Smilodon fatalis), one of the abundant prehistoric animals preserved in the pits about 14,000 years ago. Klapper noticed a pelvis with a surface that reminded him of a medieval mace: One hip socket was spiky with sharp edges, a telltale sign of arthritis. At the healthy hip socket, the bone was billiard ball smooth.

10-13-17 We’ve drawn iconic sail-wearing Dimetrodon wrong for 100 years
We’ve drawn iconic sail-wearing Dimetrodon wrong for 100 years
Dimetrodon, one of the most recognisable of the pre-dinosaur predators, might not actually have crawled across the ground as it’s usually depicted. Dimetrodon, one of the most recognisable of the pre-dinosaur predators, is due a makeover. For more than a century, it has been depicted as a sluggish, belly-dragging beast with sprawling legs – but it might actually have held its legs in a more upright position and kept its stomach off the ground as it walked. Often mistaken for a dinosaur, Dimetrodon actually belonged to a group called the pelycosaurs that were more closely related to mammals. It lived between about 290 and 272 million years ago, with some species measuring more than 3 metres from nose to tail. Its most iconic feature was a gigantic sail on its back, the function of which is still debated. Nineteenth Century artists drew Dimetrodon as a sluggish-looking animal with legs sprawled out to each side of its body, resting its weight on an enormous belly – and even in the 21st century nothing much has changed. “I was baffled as I was going through the literature how little this had been questioned,” says Caroline Abbott at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. It’s particularly surprising given that the fossil trackways left by Dimetrodon seem to tell a different story. The relatively narrow distance between left and right sets of footprints suggest Dimetrodon did not have sprawling legs. “That’s where the real head-scratcher is,” says Abbott. “The trackways are more narrow than you’d expect and in a lot of cases they lack belly dragging marks.”

10-13-17 Did meteorites help start life?
Did meteorites help start life?
Almost 150 years after Charles Darwin theorized that life on Earth may have first formed in “some warm little pond,” new research suggests he may have been right. There are currently two competing theories on the origins of life. The Darwin school of thought posits that during Earth’s early days, meteorites from the solar system deposited compounds that led to the formation of RNA, a compound similar to DNA. The other theory is that life originated much later, in mineral-rich hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor. To explore the plausibility of the former, researchers created a comprehensive model that accounted for the astronomical, geological, chemical, and biological conditions of early Earth. They calculated that tepid, shallow ponds all over the planet could have enabled the essential components of nucleotides to bond, reconfigure, and eventually form long strands of RNA. The researchers believe this process took place at least 4.17 billion years ago—millions of years before the appearance of the earliest known life. But proponents of the hydrothermal vent theory remain unconvinced, arguing it’s unlikely the precursor compounds could have survived the meteorite impact. “It’s definitely another piece of evidence to add to the stacks,” lead author Ben Pearce, from McMaster University in Canada, tells “It will take a whole [lot] more science to really nail this down.”


10-19-17 Dogs really can smell your fear, and then they get scared too
Dogs really can smell your fear, and then they get scared too
There is an urban myth that dogs can smell human emotions, now it seems to be true: dogs can sense a person’s emotional state just by sniffing a sample of their sweat. Dog owners swear that their furry best friend is in tune with their emotions. Now it seems this feeling of interspecies connection is real: dogs can smell your emotional state, and adopt your emotions as their own. Science had already shown that dogs can see and hear the signs of human emotions, says Biagio D’Aniello of the University of Naples “Federico II”, Italy. But nobody had studied whether dogs could pick up on olfactory cues from humans. “The role of the olfactory system has been largely underestimated, maybe because our own species is more focused on the visual system,” says D’Aniello. However, dogs’ sense of smell is far superior to ours. D’Aniello and his colleagues tested whether dogs could sniff out human emotions by smell alone. First, human volunteers watched videos designed to cause fear or happiness, or a neutral response, and the team collected samples of their sweat. Next, the researchers presented these odour samples to domestic dogs, and monitored the dogs’ behaviours and heart rates. Dogs exposed to fear smells showed more signs of stress than those exposed to happy or neutral smells. They also had higher heart rates, and sought more reassurance from their owners and made less social contact with strangers.

10-19-17 Alarm over decline in flying insects
Alarm over decline in flying insects
It's known as the windscreen phenomenon. When you stop your car after a drive, there seem to be far fewer squashed insects than there used to be. Scientists have long suspected that insects are in dramatic decline, but new evidence confirms this. Research at more than 60 protected areas in Germany suggests flying insects have declined by more than 75% over almost 30 years. And the causes are unknown. "This confirms what everybody's been having as a gut feeling - the windscreen phenomenon where you squash fewer bugs as the decades go by," said Caspar Hallmann of Radboud University in The Netherlands. "This is the first study that looked into the total biomass of flying insects and it confirms our worries.'' The study is based on measurements of the biomass of all insects trapped at 63 nature protection areas in Germany over 27 years since 1989. The data includes thousands of different insects, such as bees, butterflies and moths. Scientists say the dramatic decline was seen regardless of habitat, land use and the weather, leaving them at a loss to explain what was behind it. (Webmaster's comment: The great mass extinction caused by human beings continues.)

10-18-17 The physics of mosquito takeoffs shows why you don’t feel a thing
The physics of mosquito takeoffs shows why you don’t feel a thing
Even when full of blood, the insect’s wings do the heavy lifting, so its legs barely need to push. Discovering an itchy welt is often a sign you have been duped by one of earth’s sneakiest creatures — the mosquito. Scientists have puzzled over how the insects, often laden with two or three times their weight in blood, manage to flee undetected. At least one species of mosquito — Anopheles coluzzii — does so by relying more on lift from its wings than push from its legs to generate the force needed to take off from a host’s skin, researchers report October 18 in the Journal of Experimental Biology. The mosquitoes’ undetectable departure, which lets them avoid being smacked by an annoyed host, may be part of the reason A. coluzzii so effectively spreads malaria, a parasitic disease that kills hundreds of thousands of people each year. Researchers knew that mosquito flight is unlike that of other flies (SN Online: 3/29/17). The new study provides “fascinating insight into life immediately after the bite, as the bloodsuckers make their escape,” says Richard Bomphrey, a biomechanist at the Royal Veterinary College of the University of London, who was not involved in the research.

10-18-17 Being a vampire can be brutal. Here’s how bloodsuckers get by.
Being a vampire can be brutal. Here’s how bloodsuckers get by.
What’s most remarkable about real-life bloodsuckers doesn’t show up in movies. Jennifer Zaspel can’t explain why she stuck her thumb in the vial with the moth. Just an after-dark, out-in-the-woods zing of curiosity. She was catching moths on a July night in the Russian Far East and had just eased a Calyptra, with brownish forewings like a dried leaf, into a plastic collecting vial. Of the 17 or so largely tropical Calyptra species, eight were known vampires. Males will vary their fruit diet on occasion by driving their hardened, fruit-piercing mouthparts into mammals, such as cattle, tapirs and even elephants and humans, for a drink of fresh blood. Zaspel, however, thought she was outside the territory where she might encounter a vampire species. She had caught C. thalictri, widely known from Switzerland and France eastward into Japan as a strict fruitarian. Before capping the vial with the moth, “I just for no good reason stuck my thumb in there to see what it would do,” Zaspel says. “It pierced my thumb and started feeding on me.”

10-17-17 Here’s a breakdown of the animals that crossed the Pacific on 2011 tsunami debris
Here’s a breakdown of the animals that crossed the Pacific on 2011 tsunami debris
About two-thirds of the creatures have never been documented off the western coast of North America. Marine sea slugs stowed away on a derelict vessel from Iwate Prefecture in Japan before being washed ashore in Oregon in April 2015. Life’s great diversity has revealed itself in more than 600 pieces of floating tsunami debris that have landed on the western coast of North America. Of nearly 300 living animal and protist species documented on the debris, which crossed the Pacific Ocean following Japan’s destructive 2011 tsunami, researchers analyzed in detail 237 species, which include larger invertebrates and two fish. The critters represent 15 taxonomic groups, as defined by the scientists in the Sept. 29 issue of Science. Most of the species were mollusks, including marine snails, nudibranchs and oysters. Mollusks were followed by annelids (segmented worms), cnidarians (including sea anemones), bryozoans (moss animals that sometimes resemble coral), crustaceans and others. Some species, such as sea anemones and limpets, were able to reproduce and maintain multiple generations on these debris “islands.” The unprecedented marine migration was possible because much of the rubbish caught up in the Pacific currents was durable, made of plastic or fiberglass. “Years ago there were other natural disasters that potentially produced debris, but the debris was, well, organic,” says Nir Barnea, the regional coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s marine debris program in Washington and Oregon. “Now we have plastic materials, man-made materials that remain in the marine environment for many years.”

10-16-17 'Big, bad wolf' image flawed - scientists
'Big, bad wolf' image flawed - scientists
New research casts doubt on the idea that dogs are naturally more tolerant and friendly than wolves. In tests of cooperation skills, wolves outperformed their domesticated relatives. Scientists say the findings challenge assumptions about how dogs were tamed from wolves and came to live alongside humans. Previous evidence has suggested that the domestication process may have given dogs a more tolerant temperament. "We still have very much this idea of the big, bad wolf and the cuddly pooch on your sofa," Dr Sarah Marshall-Pescini, who led the research, told BBC News. "But, I think the simplest message is that the story is not quite as clear as that." Wolves are highly social animals. They live in close-knit family groups, raise puppies together and hunt in groups. This sort of behaviour is not seen in modern dogs, despite the idea that domestication selected for dogs that were more tolerant and friendly, both of each other, and humans.

10-13-17 Horses bred to look like cartoons are part of a worrying trend
Horses bred to look like cartoons are part of a worrying trend
A colt with googly eyes and a very "dished" head is the latest example of a trend for animals with "cute" looks that raise health risks, says Danny Chambers. Since humans first domesticated animals, they have been selectively breeding for desirable characteristics. To start with, the aims were increased productivity in livestock, size or speed in horses, and better herding or hunting abilities in dogs. In more recent times, this has expanded to include animals with certain aesthetic qualities, resulting in very deformed examples being lauded as having an “ideal” look, despite suffering from serious health and welfare problems. Now it seems horses are joining the list. The most obvious examples of this problem are dogs with flat faces – such as pugs and French bulldogs. These brachysephalic dogs have soared in popularity in recent years, but are at high risk of breathing problems, often requiring surgery to improve airflow to the lungs, sometimes an emergency tracheotomy due to acute respiratory distress. As Pete Weddburn, veterinary columnist for The Telegraph, has pointed out, it would be illegal to smother a dog so it could barely breathe, but it is perfectly legal to breed a dog that collapses, unable to get sufficient oxygen due to narrowed and compressed airways. These pets cannot exercise as normal, they struggle to thermoregulate so are predisposed to overheating in warm weather, have eye problems, skin fold diseases, a screw-shaped tail linked to painful spinal abnormalities, neurological problems and cannot give birth without caesarean section. (Webmaster's comment: The same is true for Persian Cats. They also can hardly breathe. What we do to animals for the sake of how they look is inhuman!)

10-13-17 Male chimpanzee seen snatching seconds-old chimp and eating it
Male chimpanzee seen snatching seconds-old chimp and eating it
A rare sighting of a chimpanzee birth ended in infanticide and cannibalism – and probably explains why new mothers often go into hiding for weeks or months. A rare sighting of a chimpanzee giving birth in the wild came to a grisly conclusion. Within seconds of the birth, the baby was snatched away and eaten by a male of the same group. The observation explains why female chimpanzees tend to go into hiding for weeks or months when they have their babies. Little is known about how chimpanzees give birth in the wild because only five births have ever been observed, says Hitonaru Nishie of Kyoto University in Japan. Nishie and his colleagues have been studying chimpanzees in Tanzania’s Mahale mountains for the last few years. One of the reasons so few have been witnessed is that the soon-to-be mothers often leave the group when the baby is due, and don’t return until the infant is weeks or months old. This absence has been described as a chimpanzee’s “maternity leave”. So Nishie and his colleague Michio Nakamura were surprised when, at around 11 am one December day, a female member of the chimpanzee group they were observing began to give birth in front of the 20 other members. As soon as the baby was out – and before the mother had even had a chance to touch it – the baby was snatched away by a male member of the group, who then disappeared into the bush. The researchers found him around 1½ hours later, sitting up a tree and eating the infant from the lower half of its body. He ate the entire body within an hour. This is the first time anyone has reported seeing a newborn chimpanzee cannibalised in this way, says Nishie. He says that his observation provides an obvious clue as to why chimpanzee mothers tend to hide away to give birth.

10-13-17 Penguins die in 'catastrophic' Antarctic breeding season
Penguins die in 'catastrophic' Antarctic breeding season
All but two Adelie penguin chicks have starved to death in their east Antarctic colony, in a breeding season described as "catastrophic" by experts. It was caused by unusually high amounts of ice late in the season, meaning adults had to travel further for food. It is the second bad season in five years after no chicks survived in 2015. Conservation groups are calling for urgent action on a new marine protection area in the east Antarctic to protect the colony of about 36,000. WWF says a ban on krill fishing in the area would eliminate their competition and help to secure the survival of Antarctic species, including the Adelie penguins. WWF have been supporting research with French scientists in the region monitoring penguin numbers since 2010. The protection proposal will be discussed at a meeting on Monday of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). The Commission is made up of the 25 members and the European Union. "This devastating event contrasts with the image that many people might have of penguins," Rod Downie, Head of Polar Programmes at WWF, said. "The risk of opening up this area to exploratory krill fisheries, which would compete with the Adelie penguins for food as they recover from two catastrophic breeding failures in four years, is unthinkable. "So CCAMLR needs to act now by adopting a new Marine Protected Area for the waters off east Antarctica, to protect the home of the penguins." (Webmaster's comment: "The Great Die Off" caused by global warming is now truly underway!)

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