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ATHEISM and HUMANISM
The perfect weapon for killing people.
That's its only purpose.
4-20-18 National School Walkout: US students mark Columbine anniversary
Schoolchildren across the US plan to walk out of school on Friday to demonstrate against gun violence. The National School Walkout marks the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre in Colorado. Connecticut high school pupil Lane Murdock set up the event in the wake of the Parkland shooting in Florida. Students will leave school at 10:00 across America's time zones. Schoolchildren in every state are expected to participate. The goal of the demonstration, which involves more than 2,000 schools, is to raise awareness of gun violence and to combat political inaction. Ms Murdock launched the National School Walkout campaign in the wake of the Parkland shooting in Florida. The protest started as a petition on the website change.org. More than 250,000 people have signed it. "I'm from Connecticut where Sandy Hook happened - I've been surrounded by this reality all of my life," she told the BBC. Participants on Friday will leave school and gather for 13 seconds of silence, in honour of the 13 victims of the Columbine shooting. The sample walkout agenda from the campaign says the students will not go back to school but instead will "make calls to their Senators' offices and flood social media with calls for reform".
4-20-18 Commonwealth summit: The countries where it is illegal to be gay
Gay rights activists from Commonwealth countries are demanding that laws banning homosexuality should be overturned. Campaigner Peter Tatchell has said people face violence and imprisonment just because they are gay. The British Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, promised the Olympic diver Tom Daley that he would raise the issue at the Commonwealth summit. So, where is homosexuality still outlawed? There are 53 countries in the Commonwealth and most of them are former British colonies. Out of those, 37 have laws that criminalise homosexuality. That number may fall by one after a court ruling in Trinidad and Tobago this month found that laws banning gay sex were unconstitutional. However there may be an appeal. Many of the laws criminalising homosexual relations originate from British colonial times. And in many places, breaking these laws could be punishable by long prison sentences. The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (Ilga) monitors the progress of laws relating to homosexuality around the world. According to its research, there have been arrests for homosexual acts in 15 Commonwealth countries in the last three years. For instance, in 2017 the BBC reported that 40 men in Nigeria had been arrested during one weekend for performing homosexual acts.
4-20-18 Everyone Trump likes is telling him to fire Mueller. That's a bad sign.
Fox News and the GOP Congress are basically saying they'll have his back in a Saturday Night Massacre. en it comes to Robert Mueller's investigation, President Trump has an angel perched on one shoulder and a devil on the other. The angel tells him to let the special counsel's probe run its course, for the sake of himself, his party, and the integrity of the system. The devil tells him that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has no right to keep poking around in his business, and if Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein doesn't have the guts to fire him, then Trump ought to axe Rosenstein and replace him with someone who knows who the boss is. The angel and the devil are just metaphors, of course. What we really have is a debate swirling around Donald Trump, with everyone telling him what to do about Mueller and his other supposed enemies. But those with the most access to the president's psyche are the ones shouting most loudly to get rid of Mueller, Rosenstein, and anybody else who doesn't show the proper loyalty. Theirs is a campaign being waged not only through persuasion but now with the tools of institutional power, and the latest arena of conflict is over notes then-FBI Director James Comey wrote detailing his contacts with President Trump. The notes are currently part of the Mueller investigation, but Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, is planning to issue a subpoena forcing the Justice Department to turn them over to congressional Republicans, which Justice has resisted up until now.(Webmaster's comment: Just like happened early in Hitler's Germany the rule of law will soon be suspended! It will then be the rule of whims by the new dictator!)
4-19-18 Gun homicides at new high
In 2016, gun homicides made up 74.5 percent of all homicides in the United States—the highest share of any year in the past century, an analysis of federal data reveals. The share of total homicides committed by gun was even higher than in the early 1920s, at the start of Prohibition, and in the early 1990s, at the peak of that decade’s crack-fueled crime wave.
4-19-18 Felt like an intimidation tactic
U.S. Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) pulled out a loaded .38 caliber handgun in a constituent meeting on gun violence, to demonstrate that guns “are not the problem.” Norman said he carries the weapon because “I’m not going to be Gabby Giffords”—the Arizona congresswoman who was shot by a disturbed man. Constituent Lori Carter said Norman’s display of a loaded gun during the meeting “felt like an intimidation tactic.” (Webmaster's comment: And that's exactly what it was!)
4-19-18 An innocent man’s lifetime in prison
Richard Phillips spent more time behind bars than any other wrongfully imprisoned person in American history, said Liv Kiely and Marlena Baldacci in CNN.com. The former Detroit autoworker went to prison 45 years ago after being convicted for the murder of Gregory Harris, who was dragged from his car and shot to death. Phillips, now 71, was exonerated last month after one of his alleged accomplices admitted to a parole board that he had lied, and that Phillips had nothing to do with it. “I am not bitter,” Phillips says. “I was upset at first, but mistakes happen in this world. No life is perfect. Everybody has problems. It would be unimaginable for me to be upset because I had problems, because everybody has them.” Phillips says he’s been amazed at the changes that have taken place since his imprisonment in 1972. “When I left the streets, if there were any phones at all, they were these big boot-like portable phones,” he says. “We didn’t have all these gadgets.” Phillips now hopes that his two children, who were ages 4 and 2 when he went to prison, will see his story and find him. “I’m so happy to be free, I’ll make any adjustment I have to make.” (Webmaster's comment: He was black of course!)
4-19-18 Sinclair: How it promotes its agenda
Trust me, Sinclair Broadcast Group is just as sinister as it looks, said Aaron Weiss in HuffingtonPost.com. I was briefly a news director with Sinclair, which, the country learned last week, ordered news anchors working at its 193 local television stations to all read the same Trumpian script denouncing “fake stories” and rampant media bias. The company, which is owned by wealthy Republican donors, has actually been forcing local anchors to read dictated political propaganda for years. In 2004, it forced its stations to run an anti–John Kerry “Swift Boat” documentary just before the presidential election. Nevertheless, when I joined a Sinclair-owned station in 2013, I was shocked by just how blatantly the company pushes stories that, if they ran in other countries, “we would rightly dismiss as state propaganda.” That’s why I, and many other journalists, have quit the company.
4-19-18 Bowing down to a Saudi dictator
Why did Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman get “a hero’s welcome” in the U.S.? asked Zack Beauchamp. The Saudi crown prince, nicknamed MBS, just completed a triumphant tour of the United States, where he “was received less like a human rights abuser and more like a visionary civil rights hero.” It’s no surprise that Trump’s White House would roll out the red carpet for a country that’s lavishly flattered this president. But journalists also hailed MBS as “revolutionary” for modest reforms like allowing women to attend soccer matches and drive cars, while Hollywood celebrities invited to a private dinner treated the prince like “a rock star.” His reforms—part of a carefully crafted public relations campaign—don’t change the fact that Mohammed is the de facto ruler of a country where political dissidents and gay men face the death penalty and women cannot marry, travel, or make other decisions without permission from their “male guardian.” The prince is also the chief architect of Saudi Arabia’s brutal war in Yemen, which has killed an estimated 10,000 people and left millions on the edge of starvation. His tour “was a triumph for his PR team,” and an embarrassment for America.
4-19-18 Whites run the show
Australia’s human rights commission has issued a damning report on the country’s lack of diversity in leadership. While 24 percent of the Australian population is non-European or indigenous, the government report said, minorities make up only about 5 percent of political or business leaders. Among federal and state department heads, 99 percent are of European extraction. In comparison, about 19 percent of lawmakers identify as racial or ethnic minorities in the U.S. Congress, as do 8 percent in Britain’s House of Commons. Australia’s race discrimination commissioner, Tim Soutphommasane, said the findings should “challenge us to do better with our multiculturalism.” (Webmaster's comment: Don't worry, the non-whites will soon be denied the right to be in the US legislature by Presidential decree!)
4-19-18 Low Temperature Miracle?
Miracles, with the improbable survival of a Frenchman whose heart stopped beating for 18 hours after a heart attack. The man was found unconscious by a river, and doctors say the low temperatures saved his brain and other organs from permanent damage.
4-19-18 Syracuse University fraternity suspended over 'extremely racist' video
Syracuse University in New York has suspended a fraternity chapter after members were filmed using "extremely racist" and "homophobic" language, the university's chancellor said. Kent Syverud called the footage "extremely troubling and disturbing". The video came to the attention of the staff after it was published by a university newspaper on Wednesday. It shows students using racist, sexist, and homophobic language, as well as performing pretend sex acts. The video was reportedly posted to a secret Facebook page but was discovered and published by the university newspaper, the Daily Orange. The university suspended the engineering fraternity, Theta Tau, following protests by students on campus on Wednesday afternoon. "I am appalled and shaken by this and deeply concerned for all members of our community," Mr Syverud wrote in an email to all students. "The conduct is deeply harmful and contrary to the values and community standards we expect of our students. There is absolutely no place at Syracuse University for behaviour or language that degrades any individual or group's race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender identity, disability or religious beliefs," he wrote. Speaking at one of the forums, Charity Luster, vice president of the university's National Society of Black Engineers, said: "I hope this event does not just spark a conversation on one video, but that it sparks a conversation around how people of colour and underrepresented people are treated on this campus." (Webmaster's comment: Racism now prevades our universities. It will be followed by segregation again, and then by legalized slavery of non-whites.)
4-19-18 Memphis 'punished' for removing Confederate statues
Republican lawmakers in Tennessee are withholding funds from the city of Memphis after it used a legal loophole to remove two Confederate monuments. The Republican-controlled House pulled money for the city's bicentennial plans next year in a last-minute amendment attached to a government spending bill. The statues depicted the leader of the US rebellion and a slave-trader who became the first Ku Klux Klan leader. Confederate statues have become a major flashpoint in a national race debate. Republican Andy Holt said on the House floor: "Today is a demonstration that bad actions have bad consequences, and my only regret about this is it's not in the tune of millions of dollars." He likened the removal of Confederate statues to the actions of the Islamic State (IS), which appeared to refer to the terror group's destruction of ancient sites like Palmyra in Syria. The grant that was withheld, which would have provided $250,000 (£175,000) for the city's bicentennial celebration, was dropped from a $37.5m government spending bill on Tuesday by House legislators. Democrats who represent the majority-black city called the move "racist". "You can boo all you want but let's call it for what it is," Memphis lawmaker Antonio Parkinson told Republicans at the raucous hearing where the bill passed by a vote of 87-5. "This is one of the most vile, racist acts I've seen happen in the legislature," he later told the Washington Post. (Webmaster's comment: You must support the slavers of 150 years ago or else! America is racist to the core.)
4-19-18 Lesbian mums can't register baby in Italy
Authorities in Turin, northern Italy, have refused to register the baby of a lesbian couple. Chiara Foglietta, a Turin councillor, underwent artificial insemination in Denmark and gave birth last Friday to baby boy Niccolo Pietro. Italian law sets strict rules for fertility treatment, making it available only to stable heterosexual couples. But Ms Foglietta has refused to pretend sex with a man led to Niccolo's birth. In a Facebook post, the centre-left councillor said "the staff [at the public records office] tell me 'you should declare that you had union (sexual intercourse) with a man, to get your boy registered. There is no formula allowing you to say that you had artificial insemination'." She said Niccolo was born because she and her partner Micaela Ghisleni wanted a baby, and "he is our son". "But to get him registered at the public records office I have to tell a lie," she said, adding that "every child has the right to know his or her own story, the combination of events that created him or her". Ms Foglietta received sperm from an anonymous donor at the clinic. In 2016, Italy passed a law recognising civil unions between same-sex couples. But many fertility procedures allowed in other EU countries are banned in Italy, under a 2004 law. There can be no screening or freezing of embryos; no sperm or egg donation; nor surrogacy or embryo research. The treatment is only provided for "stable heterosexual couples" shown to be clinically infertile.
4-18-18 Declare war on drug makers
How much money is a corpse worth? Not a nice peaceful-looking grandmother whose time had come surrounded by her family slipping away peacefully in the hope of resurrection, but a real George Romero cadaver keeled over with little pinpoint pupils and ashen skin and lungs clogged up with inhaled vomit? Would one of those cartoon money bags stuffed with $110,000 do it for you? Do the division. In the last two decades more than 200,000 Americans have died after overdosing on OxyContin and other opioids; many thousands more have been killed after switching from prescription drugs to heroin, which has become cheaper, more accessible, and, alas, far more potent. In roughly the same span of time, Purdue Pharma, the privately held corporation that manufactures OxyContin, has made more than $22 billion. (Purdue purchased the rights to the drug from the Sackler family, a clan of real-life billionaire super-villains who keep a very low profile despite plastering the world’s museums with their surname.) A decade ago they pled guilty to lying to the public about the addictive nature of their product and were fined $600 million, a tiny red droplet in their overflowing bucket of blood money. Since the beginning of his campaign President Trump has talked a big game about taking on what we euphemistically refer to as the opioid “crisis” or “epidemic” in this country. So far he has done very little of substance on behalf of the millions of Americans whose lives have been affected and may one day be ended by what we should really insist on referring to as pharmaceutical genocide.
4-18-18 Starbucks to shut over 8,000 US cafes for race training
Coffee chain Starbucks is to close more than 8,000 company-owned branches in the US for an afternoon next month to carry out "racial bias" training. The aim is to prevent discrimination in Starbucks stores. The move comes after the firm had to apologise over last week's arrest of two black men who were waiting to meet someone in a Starbucks in Philadelphia. Following the incident, protesters converged on the store and there were calls for a boycott of Starbucks. Starbucks' chief executive Kevin Johnson said he had been "learning what we did wrong and the steps we need to take to fix it". Mr Johnson said he had spent the last few days in Philadelphia. He has also met the two men who were arrested. In a joint statement, the men's lawyer and Starbucks said their discussions had been "constructive". Mr Johnson had apologised on behalf of the company and the conversation was continuing about how this "painful incident can become a vehicle for positive social change", the statement added. All Starbucks company-owned branches and corporate offices will be closed on the afternoon of Tuesday 29 May. Nearly 175,000 staff will receive the training, as will all future recruits. Days after the coffee company was forced to apologise to the Philadelphia men, footage has emerged of a apparent race-related incident in a Starbucks store in California. Brandon Ward, a black Starbucks customer in Torrance in southern California, posted a video on social media purporting to show an incident in January, in which he was barred from using a toilet - despite being a paying customer - while a white man who hadn't bought anything was allowed to use the facilities. (Webmaster's comment: America is still racist to the core!)
4-18-18 New York: James Marion Sims statue removed from Central Park
New York has removed a statue of a controversial 19th Century doctor from the city's Central Park. James Marion Sims, described as the "father of gynaecology", performed medical experiments on enslaved black women using no anaesthetic. Earlier this week, the city's Public Design Commission unanimously approved a decision to remove the statue following a review into "hate symbols". It has been moved 10 miles (16km) to the site of Sims's grave in Brooklyn. Born in 1813 in South Carolina, Sims became famous for his work to repair fistula, a widespread condition at the time which caused incontinence after childbirth. However, controversy has grown in recent years over his experimental surgeries on black slaves. The procedures were conducted without anaesthetics, and sometimes repeatedly. (Webmaster's comment: The statue should be DESTROYED!)
4-17-18 Millions of censored web pages discovered in massive study
Masses of web pages censored in China, Indonesia, Iran, and Turkey, have been discovered. They reveal the content each country is most intent on blocking. A huge swathe of web pages blocked by four countries has been discovered. The list of blocked sites is roughly ten times larger than previously documented and gives insights into the kind of content China, Indonesia, Iran and Turkey most commonly restrict online. In China, news and media, search engines and translators were some of the most common pages to be blocked and in Indonesia it was personal ads and shopping sites. By far the biggest category blocked in Iran was blogs and personal pages, with websites that explain how to avoid web filtering the next largest category. Turkey blocks many sites associated with gambling, which is tightly regulated there, but also, unexpectedly, a large number of dating sites too. In total the team found nearly six million censored web pages. One thing that couldn’t be tracked was content within social media – where state censors, particularly in China, are known to be highly active. For example, China recently tried to get Weibo, the country’s equivalent to Twitter, to ban content relating to homosexuality. The firm decided not to go ahead with the censorship following public outcry.
4-17-18 Exorcism: Vatican course opens doors to 250 priests
The Vatican has opened its doors for its annual exorcism course amid increasing demand among some of the world's Catholic communities. As many as 250 priests from 50 countries have arrived in Rome to learn how to identify demonic possession, to hear personal accounts from other priests and to find out more about the rituals behind expelling demons. Exorcism remains controversial, in part due to its depiction in popular culture and horror films. But there have also been some cases of abuse linked to exorcisms in a range of religious sects. The week-long Vatican course is described as the only international series of lectures of its kind. Entitled Exorcism and the Prayer of Liberation, it first opened its doors in 2005 and the number of priests attending has more than doubled since then. The event costs €300 (£260, $370) and covers the theological, psychological and anthropological background to exorcisms. Catholic priests in several countries have told the press there has been an increase in the numbers of people reporting signs of demonic possession. Last year Pope Francis told priests that they "must not hesitate" to refer parishioners to exorcists if they suffer from "genuine spiritual disturbances". Half a million people reportedly seek exorcisms every year in Italy, while a report by Christian think-tank Theos in 2017 said that the practice was also on the rise in the UK, in part due to the spread of Pentecostal churches. Some dioceses have developed their own courses to meet the growing demand, including in Sicily and the US city of Chicago. Father Gary Thomas, an American priest who has practised exorcisms for 12 years, says that one reason for the increase is that as society has begun to rely more heavily on social sciences, fewer churches have trained exorcists. The decline of Christianity has also led to an increase in superstitious practices, he believes.
4-17-18 Americans don't pay enough taxes
But it's at this time of year when you ought to consider that as an American, when it comes to taxes you've got it easy. In fact, we pay much lower taxes than most of our peer countries. In the United States, our tax-to-GDP ratio is about 26 percent, far below the 34 percent average of the advanced economies in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and drastically less than some European countries (Denmark tops the list at 46 percent). To some conservatives and libertarians, the appropriate response to those figures is, "That's why we're more free than them." But are we? If by "free" you mean "more vulnerable," then yes. We have chosen — whether we did it consciously or not — to create a system that makes it easier for a small number of people to get super-rich, but also makes life more cruel and difficult for everyone else. In your average social democratic European country, you pay more taxes, but you also get a lot in return: universal health coverage, free child care, generous paid family leave, and free college, for example. If you're Danish or French or German, there are certain things you just don't have to worry about, things that keep us Americans up nights. All of that is a choice. We choose to make health care a privilege, not a right. We choose to pay teachers so little they've been forced to walk off the job. We choose to have high rates of child poverty, and some of the highest levels of inequality in the industrialized world. Those are choices we make, and they start with how much we're willing to raise in taxes. (Webmaster's comment: Nevermind the rampant racism and bigotry in our country!)
4-17-18 Theresa May 'deeply regrets' UK's colonial anti-gay laws
British Prime Minister Theresa May has said she deeply regrets the UK's role in criminalising same-sex relations in its former colonies. The laws were passed under British rule and are still used in 37 of the Commonwealth's 53 member nations. There is a global trend towards decriminalising homosexual acts, but some countries, like Nigeria and Uganda, have imposed stricter laws. At a Commonwealth meeting, Mrs May said laws were "wrong then and wrong now". "Nobody should face discrimination and persecution because of who they are or who they love," Mrs May said in London as Commonwealth leaders gather for their summit, which is held every two years. "The UK stands ready to support any Commonwealth nation wanting to reform outdated legislation that makes such discrimination possible. "Across the world discriminatory laws made many years ago continue to affect the lives of many people, criminalising same-sex relations and failing to protect women and girls." The number of states that criminalise same-sex relations is decreasing annually, with Belize and the Seychelles repealing such laws in 2016. But in many socially conservative and religious countries in Africa, where homosexuality is a taboo, there has been resistance to calls to decriminalise same-sex relationships.
4-16-18 How George Bush broke the Post Office
President Trump wants to repair the United States Postal Service. And no doubt, it needs help: The USPS has reported net losses for 11 years running. Unfortunately, the president is obsessed with some relatively minor problems and ignoring what really needs fixing. Late last week, Trump created a task force to audit the Postal Service. "The USPS is on an unsustainable financial path and must be restructured to prevent a taxpayer-funded bailout," the executive order stated. The task force is supposed to deliver recommendations within 120 days, and to look into "the expansion and pricing of the package delivery market and the USPS's role in competitive markets." The order didn't mention Amazon by name. But many observers assume the online retail giant is the target of the inquiry — and for good reason. Trump has been on a tear recently, claiming the USPS gives Amazon discounted rates for delivering its packages, and gets fleeced in the process. Amazon relies on around 230,000 USPS workers to deliver many of its packages. As my colleague Ryan Cooper explained, the Postal Service is definitely giving the company some sort of deal, though the details are secret. Defenders point out the Postal Service is forbidden by law from charging less than the cost of delivery, though it could still be charging below-market rates. Yet that means the real victims of this arrangement are other private businesses. The Postal Service is basically helping Amazon under-price its competitors and secure monopoly market power. But for the USPS itself, e-commerce deliveries have actually been a recent source of revenue growth. While the Postal Service can and should get a better deal from Amazon, the one it's got is working out pretty well. So why is the USPS struggling financially?
4-16-18 Starbucks: Philadelphia arrests of black men 'reprehensible'
Starbucks' CEO has apologised for the "reprehensible" arrest of two black men for trespassing while waiting for a friend at the cafe. In an interview on Monday, Kevin Johnson said the Philadelphia branch manager who called police on the two men last week has now left the company. The men were arrested when a manager complained that they had not made a purchase. A Starbucks spokeswoman says the pair have agreed to meet with Mr Johnson. "The circumstances surrounding the incident and the outcome in our store on Thursday were reprehensible... they were wrong," Mr Johnson told ABC News on Monday morning. "Starbucks stands firmly against discrimination or racial profiling," he said in the blog post. During his interview, Mr Johnson added that it was "completely inappropriate to engage the police", and that Starbucks would conduct staff training to prevent "unconscious bias". Both men, who have not been officially named, were released shortly after their arrest, which was captured on mobile phone camera. Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, said: "Black Philadelphians face daily indignities when they are simply trying to go about their business. This incident shows that Black people can't even 'wait while Black.'"
4-16-18 Facebook expels alt-right figurehead
Facebook has banned the American white nationalist who popularised the term "alternative right". Richard Spencer's page on the social network was removed on Friday along with two other pages he controlled: that of his National Policy Institute think tank, and one promoting his AltRight.com news analysis website. Facebook has not commented, but the BBC understands the blocks are permanent. Mr Spencer continues to have active accounts on Twitter and YouTube. Facebook's action follows its decision to expel the anti-Islamic group Britain First and its leaders last month. The US-based technology giant's terms and conditions state that it does not permit "hate speech", which it defines as including content that directly attacks people because of their race or ethnicity. Last week, Facebook's chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, told Congress that the "question of what is hate speech versus what is legitimate political speech" was an issue that he and his team "struggle with continuously". Mr Spencer has denied being a "white supremacist", but has spoken in favour of creating a North American country restricted to white people. He has also said he was proud of slavery, and has described Islam as being a "black flag".
4-16-18 China's Sina Weibo backtracks from gay content ban after outrage
Chinese social media network Sina Weibo has backtracked from a controversial gay content ban after a massive outcry. Last Friday the microblogging platform said that posts related to homosexuality would be taken down. It prompted a deluge of posts from outraged netizens protesting against the decision. On Monday, Sina Weibo said it would reverse the ban. Often described as China's answer to Twitter, Sina Weibo is one of the most popular social networks in the country. Last Friday Sina Weibo made a surprise announcement that it was launching a "clean-up campaign". It said that for the next three months, the platform would remove content including images, videos, text and cartoons that were related to pornography, violence, or homosexuality. "This is to further ensure a clear and harmonious society and environment," the network said in its statement, adding that it had already scrubbed more than 50,000 posts by then. Sina Weibo said it was initiating the clean-up because of stricter internet laws put in place last year, but it did not explain why it was only acting now. Chinese authorities have embarked on a campaign in recent years aimed at purging internet content that it deems inappropriate. By early Monday morning, the most censored search term on Weibo was "homosexuality", according to censorship tracker FreeWeibo. Over the weekend many in the LGBT community took to the network to protest against the decision, using hashtags such as #IAmGay# and #ScumbagSinaHelloIAmGay#. Some tried testing the ban and uploaded pictures of themselves with partners or gay friends or relatives. Among them was LGBT rights activist Pu Chunmei, whose impassioned post accompanied with pictures of her with her gay son quickly went viral.
4-16-18 Tune in your head? Mind-reading tech can guess how it sounds
We now have the ability to hear another person’s thoughts. Researchers have identified the brain activity involved in imagining sounds in your head. We now have the ability to hear another person’s thoughts. Researchers have identified the differences in brain activity linked to heard and imagined sounds, a finding that could lead to better communication devices for people who are fully paralysed. In 2014, Brian Pasley at the University of California, Berkeley, and his colleagues eavesdropped on a person’s internal monologue for the first time. They got several people who had electrodes implanted in their brain to read text out loud while having their brain activity recorded. The team used this data to work out which neurons reacted to particular aspects of speech, and created an algorithm to interpret this information. They were then able to analyse the brain activity of people who were imagining speaking, and translate this into digitally synthesised speech. But their algorithm wasn’t perfect – it could only translate brain activity into extremely crude aspects of speech, which weren’t often easy to understand. To get clearer translations, they needed a better understanding of how the brain activity responsible for imagined sound differs from activity associated with actually hearing a real sound. Distinguishing between these two types of brain activity is a challenge, because it’s difficult to know exactly when someone is imagining a specific word and measure the activity associated with this.
4-15-18 Families caught in Trump's refugee clampdown
Under President Trump, the number of refugees admitted has dropped to its lowest level in 30 years - but what happens to families caught between the admissions process? From his new hometown of New Haven, Connecticut, 35 year-old Mohamed Chaghlil calls his elderly mother every day. She asks him if he's looking after himself, and about his love life. He asks her if she's getting her medicine, and promises they'll be re-united soon. But he knows it's a promise he can't keep. Mohamed and his parents escaped from the horrors of the Syrian civil war in December 2012. Taking refuge in Jordan, they applied to settle in the US. In the autumn of 2016, Mohamed's father died. Shortly afterwards, Mohamed was approved to travel to the US. It was a hard decision, but Mohamed and his mother believed she soon would join him. So Mohamed made the journey, arriving in America just weeks before President Trump was sworn in. But Mohamed's mother was now a widow, meaning checks on her application had to be carried out again. Then came President Trump's first travel ban. It paused refugee resettlement, and banned Syrian refugees indefinitely. More than a year later, Mohamed's mother is still waiting. The administration paused the refugee programme in order to bring in security checks which it said would protect Americans. But even after legal challenges to the travel ban opened the way for reunification cases like the Chaghlils, families are still waiting to see each other again. "It was already a two-year screening process. I don't think the new vetting procedures are having an impact on the safety of the US. It's just a way to delay the programme," says Mary Giovagnoli, chair of Refugee Council USA. Her group represents America's refugee resettlement agencies across the country. RCUSA also claims there's a bureaucratic go-slow in the screening programme, with fewer refugee interviews being scheduled abroad, and staff being re-assigned elsewhere. What's happening is "a meticulous effort to dismantle the refugee programme," she says.
4-15-18 Starbucks apologises amid backlash over arrest of black men
Coffee chain Starbucks has apologised after two black men were arrested while waiting for a friend at one of their shops in the US city of Philadelphia. Amateur video shows police placing the pair, who were accused by shop staff of trespassing, in handcuffs. The footage has been widely shared since it was posted on Twitter and has led to accusations of racial profiling. Starbucks chief executive Kevin Johnson said the video was "hard to watch" and that the actions taken were "wrong". In the incident, which took place on Thursday evening, the two men were approached by the store manager and asked to leave after they requested the use of the toilet without making a purchase, police said. In response, the men told staff that they were waiting for a friend and refused to leave. Philadelphia police commissioner Richard Ross said his officers were right to carry out the arrest after staff told them the pair were causing a disturbance and trespassing. "If a business calls and they say that someone is here that I no longer wish to be in my business, they [the officers] now have a legal obligation to carry out their duties," Mr Ross said. In a statement released on Saturday, Mr Johnson expressed "our deepest apologies" to the two men involved in the incident and said Starbucks would do "whatever we can to make things right". "The video shot by customers is very hard to watch and the actions in it are not representative of our Starbucks mission and values," Mr Johnson said. He added that the call to the Philadelphia police department should not have been made on the "basis" of the events which took place beforehand.
4-15-18 Why tech needs a 'regret test'
"Don't be evil" is clearly not good enough. What are the ethical responsibilities of companies that are able to manipulate human behavior on a massive scale? It's a question one hopes technologists and designers ask themselves when building world-changing products — but one that hasn't been asked often enough. Operant conditioning, intermittent reinforcement, the search for self-actualization — the techniques used by product managers at the world's largest companies are equal parts psychology and technology. As Sean Parker, founding president of Facebook, recently acknowledged, the company has long been engaged in the business of "exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology." Our gadgets and apps are more persuasive than ever. Yet for the makers of these technologies, few guidelines exist on how to change user behavior ethically. Without a standard, businesses tend to unthinkingly push the envelope in the never-ending quest for more engagement, more growth, and, ultimately, more profits. As one startup founder told me, "At the end of the day, I have an obligation to my investors and employees, and I'll do anything I can, short of breaking the law, to get people using my product." The tech industry needs to do better than the threat of jail time to decide to do the right thing. Thankfully, most technologists and designers I know are working to make people's lives better. Around the world, entrepreneurs aspire to build products customers love. Whether working at a large Silicon Valley tech company or out of a garage, they dream of moving people to action by offering them the next indispensable improvement to their lives, and most try to go about this in an aboveboard way. (Webmaster's comment: Other countries use jail time quite successfully. Only in the United States does it not work because there is no effort to rehabilitate.)
4-14-18 Welcome to the age of reputation
In a world where information is everywhere, we need to know who to trust. There is an underappreciated paradox of knowledge that plays a pivotal role in our advanced hyper-connected liberal democracies: The greater the amount of information that circulates, the more we rely on so-called reputational devices to evaluate it. What makes this paradoxical is that the vastly increased access to information and knowledge we have today does not empower us or make us more cognitively autonomous. Rather, it renders us more dependent on other people's judgments and evaluations of the information with which we are faced. We are experiencing a fundamental paradigm shift in our relationship to knowledge. From the "information age," we are moving towards the "reputation age," in which information will have value only if it is already filtered, evaluated, and commented upon by others. Seen in this light, reputation has become a central pillar of collective intelligence today. It is the gatekeeper to knowledge, and the keys to the gate are held by others. The way in which the authority of knowledge is now constructed makes us reliant on what are the inevitably biased judgments of other people, most of whom we do not know. Let me give some examples of this paradox. If you are asked why you believe that big changes in the climate are occurring and can dramatically harm future life on Earth, the most reasonable answer you're likely to provide is that you trust the reputation of the sources of information to which you usually turn for acquiring information about the state of the planet. In the best-case scenario, you trust the reputation of scientific research and believe that peer-review is a reasonable way of sifting out "truths" from false hypotheses and complete "bullshit" about nature. In the average-case scenario, you trust newspapers, magazines, or TV channels that endorse a political view which supports scientific research to summarize its findings for you. In this latter case, you are twice-removed from the sources: You trust other people's trust in reputable science.
4-20-18 India rape crisis: Twitter users rally round hunger striker
As India's rape crisis continues, a hashtag has emerged expressing support for a hunger striker demanding tougher penalties for rapists. "#BetiKhatreMeinHai" which translates to "daughter in danger" is being used to rally support and draw attention to Swati Maliwal's protest. Ms Maliwal is the chairperson of the Dehli Commission for Women, a government body that promotes women's rights in the city. She began her hunger strike on Friday 13 April. One of her demands is that anyone convicted of raping a young girl should be hanged within six months. A week on from the start of Ms Maliwal's protest, the hashtag has over 41,000 mentions on Twitter. Ms Maliwal tweeted she would not end her fast until Narendra Modi, the Indian Prime Minister, accepts her demands. Two long-running rape cases continue to be the focus of emotionally charged conversations on social media in India. Outrage has spread in the country after the brutal gang-rape and murder of an eight-year-old Muslim girl from Kathua in Indian-administered Kashmir came to public attention. There is also uproar after a 16-year-old girl in Unnao in northern Uttar Pradesh state accused a lawmaker from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of raping her. Since Maliwal began her hunger strike, the rape and murder of two other young girls in Uttar Pradesh and Chhattisgarh have also been widely reported in the country. "Daughter in danger" has been used to express anger about not enough being done to help stop violence against women in India.
4-20-18 Meesha Shafi: Pakistan actress says pop star Ali Zafar harassed her
A leading Pakistani actress has accused a popular singer of sexual harassment, in what is thought to be the first #MeToo moment in conservative Pakistan. Meesha Shafi, who has acted in films such as The Reluctant Fundamentalist, says music star Ali Zafar subjected her to "harassment of a physical nature". Mr Zafar says he "categorically" denies the claims and will take legal action. The allegations have caused a stir on social media, with many other women sharing their views about harassment. The #MeToo movement, sparked by Hollywood's Harvey Weinstein scandal, has led to a wider push against sexual harassment in many countries around the world. Pakistan's society is deeply patriarchal, and non-governmental organisations say large numbers of women face violence or sexual harassment. Ms Shafi made the allegations on Thursday, writing on Twitter that there were "some issues that are very difficult to speak about as a woman, especially sexual harassment". "My conscience does not allow me to be silent anymore," she said. "If this can happen to someone like me, an established artist, then it can happen to any young woman and that concerns me gravely." She said she had suffered sexual harassment from Mr Zafar "on more than one occasion", describing it as "an extremely traumatic experience". "Ali is someone I have known for many years and someone who I have shared the stage with," she said. "I feel betrayed by his behaviour and his attitude."
4-20-18 Closing gender gap in physics 'will take generations'
Closing the gender gap in physics will take hundreds of years, given the current rate of progress. That's the finding of research analysing the names of authors listed on millions of scientific papers. Physics, computer science, maths and chemistry had the fewest women, while nursing and midwifery had the most. Without further interventions, the gender gap is likely to persist for generations, said scientists from the University of Melbourne. "Of the gender-biased disciplines, almost all are moving towards parity, though some are predicted to take decades or even centuries to reach it," said Dr Cindy Hauser. The researchers used computer methods to analyse the genders of authors listed in databases (PubMed and ArXiv) containing thousands of scientific papers published over the past 15 years. They found that 87 of the 115 subjects examined had fewer than 45% women authors. Women are increasingly working in male-biased fields such as physics (17% women), while men are increasingly working in female-biased fields such as nursing (75% women). However, forecasts suggest it will take a very long time to close the gender gap in some fields, with predictions of 320 years for nursing, 280 years for computer science, 258 years for physics and 60 years for mathematics. "The solutions are out there but it's difficult to bring about change and get people to act on them," said Dr Luke Holman. "We haven't acted on them enough because it's difficult to change the way that people have always done things and it's maybe not afforded as high a priority as it should be by people in positions of power in the scientific industry and academia."
4-19-18 How many children born of rape?
The mass rape of women during the Balkan wars of the 1990s has tragic fallout to this day, said Charlotte Dobson. Militants, mostly Serbs, raped some 20,000 women, mostly Bosnian Muslims, during years of civil war. Thousands of women were kept in rape camps, where soldiers attacked them night after night; many others were raped in their homes, in front of husbands and children, as a terror tactic. It’s unknown how many babies were born of these rapes, because some were killed at birth and many others were abandoned in orphanages. A few, like Lejla Damon, were adopted abroad. Damon was brought to the U.K. as a toddler by journalists covering the war. Her birth mother was “so traumatized” that she couldn’t bear to look at the child. A few years ago, Damon, now 25, began writing to her birth mother through the Bosnian Embassy, and finally met her last year. She found a woman living in poverty, like most Bosnian rape victims, because the government requires proof of rape before awarding compensation, and most women can’t or won’t reveal their painful history. “Obviously I’m proof of that for my mum,” Damon said. “She has received her [compensation] now. I hope it can give just a little bit of comfort in her life.”
4-19-18 Nobel scandal
The secretive Swedish committee that selects the winner of the Nobel Prize in literature has been rocked by resignations over sexual-assault allegations. Some members of the Swedish Academy tried to oust Katarina Frostenson, a celebrated poet, from the literature body after her husband, Jean-Claude Arnault, was accused of assaulting 18 women, including other female academy members and members’ wives and daughters. When Frostenson survived the vote last week, three of the committee’s 18 members quit. Arnault is the director of a Stockholm arts venue, and the allegations against him surfaced last November as part of the #MeToo movement outing sexual harassers. He denies any wrongdoing.
4-19-18 Band-Aids over her “distracting” nipples
A Florida teenager says high school officials pulled her into the nurse’s office and told her to put Band-Aids over her “distracting” nipples. Lizzy Martinez, 17, says multiple staff members humiliated her by saying her breasts were bothering other students. Her outraged mom said, “We should not treat a girl like this because of where her fat cells decided to distribute genetically.”
4-19-18 Abortion and free speech: The Atlantic ’s firing of Williamson
“Well, that didn’t take very long,” said Warren Henry in TheFederalist.com. Two weeks after hiring conservative columnist Kevin Williamson to join The Atlantic, the venerable, left-leaning journal of culture and politics, editor-in-chief Jeffrey Goldberg fired the pro-life writer for “callous and violent” comments he’s made about abortion. In a 2014 tweet, Williamson argued that abortion is murder and should be treated “like a regular homicide”—punishable by the death penalty, preferably by “hanging.” When he first hired the talented and provocative Williamson, Goldberg dismissed that tweet as a single bad moment until he discovered the writer had repeated the hanging comment in a podcast. Suddenly, Williamson’s views became “contrary to The Atlantic’s tradition of respectful, well-reasoned debate,” and Williamson was out of a job. This is “more than mere inside-baseball media drama,” said David French in NationalReview.com. “The cowardly firing of Kevin Williamson” came after an online mob of outraged leftists demanded that Goldberg purge this “unacceptable” voice from his roster of highly opinionated columnists. Liberals like to talk of tolerance and inclusion, but they continue their “steady, inexorable division of America into the tolerable and the intolerable.” “This is all nonsense,” said Osita Nwanevu in Slate.com. Williamson wasn’t fired for being pro-life—a position shared by many conservative writers at “centrist and center-left publications.” He was fired because he expressed enthusiasm for the notion that the 1 in 4 American women who’ve had an abortion deserve to die. Is it really “liberal bias” to feel that this sentiment has no place in a magazine dedicated to civil, reasoned discourse? The Atlantic knew it was hiring a pro-life conservative, said Kirsten Powers in USA Today. What got Williamson rightly fired were his “callous and violent” fantasies about making women suffer. Turning him into “a free speech martyr” is an affront to “the cause of intellectual diversity and free speech.”
4-19-18 Abortion ban has a huge loophole
The “sneering gladiators of point-and-shame Catholicism” who are battling to save Ireland’s abortion ban are hypocrites, said Gene Kerrigan. There’s a referendum next month on overturning the eighth amendment to the constitution, added in 1983, which outlaws abortion on Irish soil. But what about the 13th and 14th amendments? Those were added after a 1991 case when the eighth was used to stop a 14-year-old rape victim from traveling to England to seek an abortion. The world was aghast at the injunction, and an embarrassed Irish public quickly passed two more amendments, which protected the right to travel abroad for an abortion and the right to get infor mation about how to do so. Ireland is now the only country “in which the constitution has been amended to protect and ensure the outsourcing of abortion to a neighboring country.” But the anti-abortion camp isn’t seeking to overturn those amendments, because then we’d have to carry out pregnancy tests at the airport, which would kill tourism. The pro-life crowd merely wants to protect the eighth, so it can pretend that Ireland is a “beacon of Catholicism.” It makes no sense to “speak of the murder of children” while defending the right of women to take a two-hour ferry trip to England for that purpose. Why not just “face reality, like the rest of the world?”
4-18-18 The origins of sexism: How men came to rule 12,000 years ago
Human societies weren’t always male-dominated. The switch came when we became farmers – and that suggests ways to roll back towards a more equal system. THE vast majority of cultures are patriarchies, where men are more likely than women to hold positions of social, economic and political power. So it is tempting to assume that this is the natural state of affairs, perhaps because men are, on average, stronger than women. But a study of humanity’s roots suggests this answer is too simple. Chimpanzees are not a proxy for our ancestors – they have been evolving since our two family trees split between 7 and 10 million years ago – but their social structures can tell us something about the conditions that male dominance thrives in. Common chimpanzee groups are manifestly patriarchal. Males are vicious towards females, they take their food, forcibly copulate with females that are ovulating and even kill them merely for spending time away from the group. Males also spend their lives in the group they were born into, whereas females leave at adolescence. As a result, males in a group are more closely related to each other than the females. And because relatives tend to help one another, they have an advantage. The same is true in human societies: in places where women move to live with their husband’s family, men tend to have more power and privilege. Patrilocal residence, as it is called, is associated with patriarchy, says anthropologist and primatologist Sarah Hrdy at the University of California at Davis. For most of our history, we have been hunter-gatherers, and patrilocal residence is not the norm among modern hunter-gatherer societies. Instead, either partner may move to live with the “in-laws”, or a couple may relocate away from both their families. According to Hrdy, a degree of egalitarianism is built into these systems. If they reflect what prehistoric hunter-gatherers did, women in those early societies would have had the choice of support from the group they grew up with, or the option to move away from oppression.
4-18-18 The hidden reasons why societies are violent towards women
30 per cent of women experience sexual violence in their lifetimes – bad parenting, low respect and the glorification of male competition are to blame. MORE than 600 million women live in countries where sexual violence is not a crime, according to the United Nations. Shocking as that is, it does mean that 3 billion women do have legal protection against the most extreme forms of sexual harassment. Despite this, figures for sexual abuse are alarmingly high. In the US, 15 per cent of women report having been raped in their lifetime. Worldwide, 30 per cent have experienced sexual violence in their relationships, ranging from 16 per cent in east Asia to 65 per cent in central sub-Saharan Africa (see diagram). Even the UN, whose stated mission is to defend fundamental human rights and promote social progress, has been plagued by allegations of rape, sexual exploitation and abuse. Can looking at how different societies compare give us more insight into the foundations of sexual violence? In its World report on violence and health, the World Health Organization cautions that we have only patchy data. Nevertheless, a measured analysis of what we do have reveals a few surprises. Sexual violence is not more prevalent in societies where men outnumber women, neither is it associated with more sexually liberal attitudes, or repressed sexuality in men. As for the factors that do underpin it, anthropologist Peggy Reeves Sanday of the University of Pennsylvania and her team shed some light by looking at tribal societies. They classed 18 per cent of 156 societies as “rape prone”. The salient features they shared were high levels of violence in general, lack of parenting by fathers, ideologies of male toughness, dominance and competition, and low respect for women, including treating them as property and excluding them from public, economic and political life.
4-18-18 How protective parents exacerbate gender differences
Yes, men’s and women’s brains are wired differently – but the science shows that outside influences can also shape our gender identity. WHEN James Damore’s internal memo on gender imbalance at Google was leaked in 2017, it caused a furore. In it, he wrote that one reason there are more men than women in the tech sector is because men and women are biologically different. Men’s higher drive for status made them take on stressful tech jobs, he said, while women’s greater anxiety and lower tolerance for stress made the industry less appealing to them. He cited the influence of prenatal testosterone on developing brains as one possible cause. Unfortunately for Damore, the science is not so clear-cut. On the one hand, there are structural and anatomical differences between male and female brains. One meta-analysis found, for example, that male brains are about 12 per cent larger in volume than those of females, and that male brains have higher tissue densities in the left amygdala and the hippocampus than female brains. But it is unclear whether differences are due to nature or nurture. For some, like Larry Cahill, a neurobiologist at the University of California at Irvine, the evidence leans towards nature being dominant. “There are biologically based sex differences at all levels of mammalian brain function,” he says. On the other hand, a study of 1400 human brains found that they can’t be simply classified into male and female: each brain was a unique mosaic of features with no gender specificity. And culture undoubtedly plays a role in shaping our brains and behaviour. To illustrate how childhood events can mould us, Shannon Davis of George Mason University in Virginia and Barbara Risman at the University of Illinois at Chicago analysed 50 years of data collected by the Child Health and Development Studies in California. This comprised information from nearly 15,000 families, on everything from mothers’ hormone levels during pregnancy to childhood memories and the children’s behaviour as adults. The analysis showed that prenatal hormone levels, including testosterone, had some influence on whether people regarded themselves as masculine or feminine as adults. But childhood experiences – having to physically defend themselves, being asked to wear dresses, playing with dolls – were the strongest predictors of gender identity. Davis and Risman say early testosterone levels may shape bodies so that women are more or less easily shoehorned into female stereotypes. “Bodies themselves may trigger socialisation that sticks,” they wrote.
4-18-18 I experienced the patriarchy from both sides of the gender gap
Paula Williams transitioned from male to female six years ago. She talks about learning about her white male privilege the hard way. There is no way a well-educated white male can understand how much the culture is tilted in his favour, because it’s all he’s ever known and all he will know. And there’s no way a woman can understand the full import of that because being a female is all she’s ever known. I have seen both sides. I was a tall, well-educated, affluent white male. From an American perspective, my privilege was complete. I had a cognisance of that, but no visceral sense of it. All that went away when I transitioned. The loss of this privilege was immediate and disturbing. Initially, in not getting contracts that I previously would have gotten. In some of those cases, it was because I was transgender. In other cases, people had no idea. I was just a female. There was a very strong financial reality too, in that I was just not earning any money. Also, when I now talk about my knowledge in areas that are typically seen as male, it’s not well received. We are more inclined to listen to information presented to us by males than by females. I’m generally taken less seriously than a male speaking on the same subject. I hear from a lot of transgender people around the world whose experience is similar to mine. The males find that suddenly they are seen as people with knowledge, and the females no longer receive the respect that they received previously as males. The answer is not in females behaving like alpha males. If you take a fortune 500 company, remove an alpha male and replace him with an alpha female, have you really made a change? We are making progress on equality, but not on equity. I may have as fair a shot at a position as someone else, but if it’s a ministry position, I’ll make 76 per cent of what a man would in that same position. We have to make sure that women are elevated to positions of equality, so that they can begin working for equity from a higher place. Often we don’t begin at the same starting line as males, so we have a lot more catching up to do.
4-18-18 Why the patriarchy isn’t good for men and how to fix it
Societies can be taught to be less misogynistic, but the first step is understanding how gender norms have backfired on men as well as women. YOU might think that patriarchy is at least beneficial to men. Not so, says political scientist Cynthia Enloe of Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. To fully tip the system, she believes we need to appreciate that. “Patriarchy isn’t good for anybody. It fools those who are privileged into imagining that they have a good life,” she says. According to the World Health Organization, Western men are three to four times as likely to kill themselves as women. A recent study of suicide prevention in Ireland illustrates this. Men who were deemed to be at high risk of suicide reported that seeking help could be construed as a threat to masculinity, including “a loss of power, control and autonomy”. The obvious losers, however, are women. “If you have an extremely oppressive society, women have no control over their reproduction, so they are giving birth to child after child,” says Sarah Hrdy at the University of California at Davis. As a result, children are also, on average, worse off than if they were born into more egalitarian societies. Extreme patriarchies, says Hrdy, have higher maternal and infant mortality and worse child health. The complex and pervasive nature of patriarchy, underpinning all aspects of society, makes it difficult to overthrow. One complicating factor is that men are not the only ones invested in the system. “Patriarchy wouldn’t last if at least some women didn’t find it rewarding. That’s its insidious quality,” says Enloe. It instils in girls as well as boys the behaviours that help them get ahead. For some, this may mean adopting characteristically “male” behaviours in order to get ahead in male-dominated work environments. For others, charm and submission can represent a kind of power. Even if we are not consciously playing the system, subconscious biases run deep. Lise Eliot studies differences between male and female brains at the Rosalind Franklin University in Chicago. It was years before she became aware that she was directing more attention to her male students, at the expense of female ones. “It’s only by being painfully aware that we can hope to change our behaviour,” she says. That means changing entrenched notions of what it means to be male or female, which is going to take an effort from both men and women. “If we can produce men with more child-centred values and women with more career-oriented values, we will move towards a society with equal opportunities,” says Hrdy.
4-18-18 100 Women: 'Record number' of Nepalese women climbing Everest this season
A record number of Nepalese women are climbing Mount Everest this spring season, officials have told the BBC. Fifteen Nepalese women are planning to climb from the Nepali side, with just five male Nepali climbers so far. The last time a large number of Nepalese women climbed Everest was in 2008, when all 10 reached the summit. Many of this year's female climbers want to use the opportunity to bring attention to gender and environmental issues. "The female climbers in our team have two different messages - to stop female trafficking, and to remind the world that the Buddha was born in Nepal," Sharmila Lama told the BBC from the Everest base camp. Trafficking has become a serious issue in Nepal. Rural girls are lured by traffickers, who promise them employment in other countries. Instead, they are sold abroad into the sex trade. Some of the areas hit by the 2015 earthquake are particularly rife with trafficking, reports suggest. "We are also trying to amplify that Nepal is the birthplace of Buddha," says Ms Lama. "Time and again, some people seem to misinform the world by saying that he was born in India." She says the team a facing a huge challenge. "It is difficult for us to work in this altitude because we are not from here [the Himalayan region]. "I have a headache now but it has been just few days and I'm sure we will acclimatise soon and be able to start climbing."
4-18-18 India journalist threatened over anti-rape cartoon
An Indian journalist and cartoonist who has received online threats over a cartoon that refers to recent incidents of rape says she will not back down. Swathi Vadlamudi's cartoon depicts a conversation between Hindu god Ram and his wife, Sita, to criticise right-wing support for the accused. In the cartoon, Sita tells Ram she is "glad" she was kidnapped by demon king Ravan and not her husband's followers. Ms Vadlamudi said the threats have only made her "stronger". The illustration has been shared by thousands on social media, but her use of the characters from the Hindu epic Ramayana in the cartoon has sparked controversy. Ms Vadlamudi told BBC Telugu's Prithvi Raj that drawing satirical cartoons was a hobby of hers. She said the illustration was meant to condemn two gruesome incidents of rape which made national headlines last week. An eight-year-old Muslim girl from Kathua district in Indian-administered Kashmir was brutally gang raped and murdered - outrage grew after two ministers from the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) attended a rally in support of the accused men, who are Hindu. In another case, a 16-year-old girl attempted suicide outside a BJP lawmaker's house after alleging that he raped her.
4-18-18 German mass raids target forced prostitution gang
More than 100 people have been detained across Germany in raids against an organised crime gang involved in people trafficking and forced prostitution. Germans and Thais were among those held as police commandos targeted dozens of brothels and flats in 12 states. Women and transsexual victims were smuggled in on fake visas, police say. "Hundreds of women and men fell prey for years and across borders to the traffickers' inhuman, boundless greed," said Interior Minister Horst Seehofer. Seventeen suspects were believed to be at the heart of the crime gang. One house in the university town of Siegen was raided, where police detained a Thai woman, described in some German reports as the head of the traffickers. Once the victims had reached Germany from Thailand, they were put to work, moving around a network of brothels, police said. They were forced to pay back all the money they earned, ostensibly to pay back up to €36,000 (£31,000; £44,000) for their fraudulent visa into Europe's border-free Schengen zone.
4-18-18 One in Four Americans Feel U.S. Children Are Not Respected
The student-led reaction to recent school shootings in the U.S. has sparked a national discussion about how best to protect America's children from violence. However, about one in four Americans feel that the country can make progress in the way children are treated in their everyday lives. Before the recent school shootings in Parkland, Florida, 73% of U.S. adults said children in the country are treated with respect and dignity, while 24% disagreed. The "yes" percentage places the U.S. in the bottom one-third of wealthy OECD economies on this measure. A slightly higher proportion of Americans -- 77% -- say most children in the U.S. have the opportunity to learn and grow every day, while 22% disagree. However, these results also place the U.S. among the lower-ranked OECD members.
- 24% of Americans say children are not treated with dignity, respect
- 22% of Americans say children do not have opportunity to learn and grow
- U.S. ranks lower than many other wealthy economies in both areas
4-17-18 Why India's rape crisis shows no signs of abating
The police in India are looking for the rapists of a girl who has no face, name, home or number. She was possibly between nine and 11 years old, and her mutilated corpse was found in a bush recently near a playground in western Gujarat state's bustling Surat city, known the world over for its diamond polishing industry. Her battered body bore 86 injury marks. The autopsy surgeon believes that the injuries "seem to have been caused over a period ranging from one week to a day prior to the recovery of the body". The police believe she was held captive, tortured and ravaged. More than 10 days after they found her body, they are clueless about her identity: they have trawled the list of some 8,000 missing children in the state and come up with nothing. "There was no sign of struggle at the spot where the body was found," the local police chief says. Putting up a struggle seems to be futile when rape is increasingly used as an instrument to assert power and intimidate the powerless in India. This is not surprising, many believe, in a hierarchical, patriarchal and increasingly polarised society, where hate is being used to divide people and harvest votes. An awful sex ratio imbalance - largely because of illegal sex-selection abortions - means it is a country full of men. The country sees 112 boys born for every 100 girls, which is against the natural sex ratio of 105 boys for every 100 girls. A preference for boys has meant that more than 63 million women are statistically "missing". Many believe such skewed ratios can contribute to increased crimes against women. The northern state of Haryana, which records the highest number of gang rapes in India, has the worst sex ratio in the country. In January alone, a 50-year-old man was held for mutilating a 10-year-old girl, a 15-year-old boy allegedly raped a three-and-a-half-year-old girl, a 20-year-old married women was raped by two men, a 24-year-old man was held for kidnapping and abducting a student and a minor's girl's brutalised body was found in the fields. And these were only the reported cases. In Indian-administered Kashmir, a poisonous cocktail of biology and bigotry led to the macabre rape and murder of an eight-year-old Muslim nomadic girl in January. She was kidnapped, kept captive in a Hindu temple, raped repeatedly and dumped in a forest. It was a warning to the minority Muslim nomads in the area to stop grazing their animals on Hindu owned land, in a restive part of the region, which is simmering with religious tensions.
4-17-18 India parents 'paid to sabotage daughter's rape trial'
An Indian teenager who was kidnapped and gang raped last year has accused her parents of accepting money from her alleged assailants in return for pressing her to change her statement. Delhi police said they had arrested her mother and are searching for her father, who they say is on the run. The news emerged after the girl went to a police station with 500,000 rupees (about $7,600; £5,300) that she said her parents accepted from the accused. She is now being cared for in a refuge. "We believe the accused made efforts to negotiate with the victim's parents by offering them money," Deputy Commissioner of Police MN Tiwari told the BBC. He said the girl had been aware of the negotiations and knew where her parents had hidden the money. "We will find out more only after we arrest the father." Police have registered a new case against the girl's parents and her alleged rapists. The original case was registered in September. Scrutiny of sexual violence has grown in India since the 2012 gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old student on a bus in the capital. The crime sparked days of protests and forced the government to introduce tougher anti-rape laws. However, reporting of sexual attacks against women and children across the country continues to rise. Last week there was fresh outrage after the rape, torture and murder of an eight-year-old girl near Kathua city in Indian-administered Kashmir.
4-17-18 R Kelly faces fresh sexual misconduct allegation
R Kelly is facing a fresh allegation of sexual misconduct, from a former partner who claims he "intentionally" infected her with an STD in Dallas. According to her lawyer, the unnamed woman was the victim of "unlawful restraint" during her 11-month relationship with the R&B singer. It is claimed that Kelly, 51, attempted to make the woman a member of the "sex cult" he is alleged to have run. The Dallas Police Department has said it is looking into the allegation. In a statement issued in advance of a press conference scheduled for Wednesday, lawyer Lee Merritt claims his client was 19 when she and Kelly began a sexual relationship. Mr Merritt goes on to accuse the singer of "predatory, controlling and abusive behaviour" and "furnishing alcohol and illegal drugs to a minor". Kelly, best known in the UK for hits including I Believe I Can Fly, has faced numerous accusations of sexual misconduct, making indecent images of children and other offences. Last year the singer - whose full name is Robert Kelly - denied allegations he was holding a number of young women in a so-called cult.
4-17-18 The first person on Mars 'should be a woman'
A senior Nasa engineer has said the first person to set foot on Mars should be a woman. Allison McIntyre, who puts prospective space travellers through their paces at Johnson Space Center in Houston, noted that all 12 people who have walked on the Moon were men. She believes women should be at the forefront if and when the agency sends its first human missions to Mars. BBC Radio 5 live has been behind the scenes at Nasa in Texas and Florida. They have been meeting women at the forefront of the 21st century space race. It's more than half a century since Russia sent the first woman into space, and 40 years since Nasa selected its first female astronaut. But there still hasn't been a woman on the Moon, and women remain under represented in science and engineering industries on both sides of the Atlantic. Allison has an incredible view from her office window - on to the floor of the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility at Johnson Space Center in Houston. This huge building is packed with full-size versions of International Space Station (ISS) modules and other spacecraft, where astronauts train before going into space. Allison is in charge of the facility: "I love it. They're going to have to take me out of here kicking and screaming when it's time for me to do something else." She's been with Nasa for nearly 30 years and has seen huge changes in that time: "My centre director is a woman, my former division chief is a woman, we have female astronauts, but we haven't put a woman on the Moon yet, and I think the first person on Mars should be a woman." Nasa astronaut Karen Nyberg has already spent more than six months in space aboard the ISS. "When I was selected as an astronaut in 2000, I thought that might be a realistic possibility that we would be the next to go to the Moon, so it's unfortunate we weren't."
4-17-18 Sarah Sellers: The nurse who was runner-up in Boston marathon
A two-time Olympian, Desiree Linden, became the first American woman to win the Boston Marathon since 1985 on Monday - but it's the runner-up who is making headlines. Sarah Sellers ran the 26.2 mile (42km) course in a time of two hours 44 minutes four seconds, finishing just minutes behind Linden. Monday's race was only the second marathon that the 26-year-old nurse has run. The first, in Utah, she won to qualify for the prestigious Boston event. She was a keen track and field competitor in college, but is an unknown to the professional running world. Previous injuries meant she stopped competing. The nurse only signed up for Monday's event because her younger brother was participating. After paying the $185 (£130) entrance fee, she now leaves the east coast with $75,000 (£52,000) in prize money. Sellers ran the race without sponsors or an agent, and she has a day job. As the marathon got closer, she has typically been waking up at 04:00 to squeeze in training before long anaesthesiology shifts starting at 06:30 at Banner Health Centre in Arizona. "Looking at the field of athletes assembled yesterday, I would have been ecstatic to finish in the top 15," she told the BBC. "People knew I ran - but it took me by complete surprise so it's taken them by surprise too," she said. "The husband and my parents are here - it was really cool for them to be a part of it."
4-16-18 NYT and New Yorker win joint Pulitzer for Weinstein exposé
The New York Times and New Yorker magazine have won a joint Pulitzer Prize for their reporting on sexual harassment allegations in Hollywood. The reports brought down film mogul Harvey Weinstein, who has been accused of sexual misconduct and rape. He says all sexual encounters were consensual. The investigations sparked the #MeToo movement, a broad pushback against sexual harassment in many industries. Pulitzers are the most prestigious honour in American journalism. The Pulitzer Prize Board also awards prizes in other literary and artistic categories. This year, rapper Kendrick Lamar becomes the first non-classical or jazz artist to be given the prize for music. The Washington Post won the investigative reporting prize for revealing decades-old allegations of sexual misconduct against Senate candidate Roy Moore of Alabama. The Republican former judge denied the accusations, but they factored heavily in the special election that the Democratic candidate Doug Jones went on to win. The New York Times also shared a second prize with The Washington Post for coverage of Russia's alleged meddling in the 2016 US presidential election. The biggest prize winners revealed on Monday reflected a recent reckoning in the US - and beyond - over the treatment of women by powerful men in the highest ranks of showbusiness, politics, technology and media.
4-16-18 India child gang rape trial begins in fast-track court
Eight men accused of the rape, torture and murder of an eight-year-old Muslim girl in Indian-administered Kashmir have pleaded not guilty in a specially convened fast-track court. The body of the victim, who belonged to a Muslim nomadic tribe, was found in a forest on 17 January near Kathua city of Indian-administered Kashmir. Outrage over the case has been growing. The trial began amid reports of another child being raped and murdered in the western state of Gujarat. The victim in this case is yet to be identified, but a police report detailing the extent of the injuries inflicted on her has been making headlines in the country. The Kathua rape case made headlines last week when Hindu right-wing groups protested over the arrest of the eight men, whose community had been involved in a land dispute with the Muslim nomads. Outrage grew after two ministers from India's ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) attended a rally in support of the accused men. Details of the injuries inflicted on the minor victim have also horrified many Indians. (Webmaster's comment: Imagine another country in which rapists are openly supported, just like sometimes happens in the United States!)
4-14-18 Miami cheerleader 'bullied for being a virgin', complaint claims
A former cheerleader for the Miami Dolphins has filed a formal complaint against the team, claiming she was bullied due to her faith and virginity. Kristan Ann Ware, 27, says she quit the dance squad after a 2016 interview with the team director during which her sexual history was discussed. She is not the first cheerleader to complain of a hostile work environment. A former New Orleans Saints cheerleader claims that she was fired for a social media post of herself wearing lingerie. Ms Ware told the BBC her complaint, which was submitted to the Florida Commission on Human Relations on Wednesday, should not be misconstrued as an attack on the American football team. "I am not against them. I just want to make it a better place for the cheerleaders," she said in a telephone interview on Friday. Ms Ware quit the team after three years, claiming that an incident on a coach bus in London led to ongoing harassment. When her team played the New York Jets at Wembley Stadium in the fall of 2015, the dancers talked about their "sex playlist", Ms Ware says in her complaint. Ms Ware "was pushed to give her playlist," she claims, which prompted her to admit she was a virgin. "Kristan told her teammates that she was waiting until she was married because of her personal relationship with God," her lawyer Sara Blackwell states in the complaint. Later, during a yearly performance review in which dancers must reapply for their jobs, Ms Ware says the team director, Dorie Grogan, confronted her about the claim. "Let's talk about the fact that you're a virgin", she claims the director said. (Webmaster's comment: Whether or not a woman is a virgin and for what reason she is or is not is entirely her own business. Period!)
4-14-18 Why did India wake up so late to a child rape and murder?
A bright looking eight-year old girl belonging to a Muslim nomadic tribe in Indian-administered Kashmir goes missing in the new year. On 17 January, her battered body is recovered from a forest in Kathua district. Through February, police arrest eight men, including a retired government official, four policemen and a juvenile, in connection with the gang rape and murder of the girl. There are protests in the summer capital, Srinagar, demanding a special probe into the incident. The crime exposed the fault lines between the Hindu-majority Jammu and the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley in a sharply divided state. The incident is covered promptly and prominently by the local media in the Muslim-dominated valley. So why does this story from Kathua make it to national news networks only in mid-April? Why does it evoke delayed outrage and anger? Why does this happen only after Hindu right-wing groups protest the arrest of the accused, who also belong to a Hindu community? Why are the eventual protests in Delhi - including a midnight march by chief opposition leader Rahul Gandhi - milder than the ones after a similarly brutal gang-rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman in Delhi in 2012? The responses tell us something about modern India. The media in Delhi, many believe, exerts a disproportionate and undeserved influence over shaping the "national narrative". And large sections of this media have been partisan and selective when it comes to reporting on Kashmir, one of the world's most heavily militarised regions.
4-14-18 The consequences of compliments
Educators continue to be perplexed by the ongoing gender gap in mathematics. Young women tend to perform less well than men on high-level math tests, which discourages them from pursuing further study in the science or technology fields. This has been explained in part by deep-grained sexist attitudes, including parents' tendency to teach numerical concepts to their sons rather than their daughters. But new research from Israel points to a more immediate trigger that can impede the progress of frustrated females. It finds women did less well on a math test if they had just been exposed to appreciative remarks regarding their looks. "Appearance compliments have immediate detrimental effects on individual women's performances," concludes a research team led by psychologist Rotem Kahalon of Tel Aviv University. While such remarks are "seemingly trivial and possibly well-intentioned," the researchers write, they "subtly reinforce women's traditional role as sex objects," triggering the competence-sapping stereotype effect. In the Psychology of Women Quarterly, Kahalon and her colleagues describe two studies that demonstrate this effect. The first featured 88 female university students, one-third of whom "were asked to recall and write about a situation in which a man complimented them on their looks." Another third wrote about a time "when they had received a compliment about their competence, skills or intelligence" from a man. (Both directives specified that the man in question was not an intimate partner.) The final third did not write an essay. Afterwards, all took a short math test, "similar to the math section of the Graduate Record Examination." They were given 15 minutes to answer 19 multiple-choice questions; the researchers call the exam's difficulty level "relatively high."
SCIENCE - GLOBAL WARMING and ENVIRONMENT
4-19-18 Antarctica’s worrying retreat
Warming ocean water in Antarctica is melting much more underwater ice than previously thought, new research suggests—a discovery that could prompt a re-evaluation of predicted sea-level rises. Between 2010 and 2016, a team from the University of Leeds in the U.K. used satellite data to measure the surface height of about a third of the continent’s ocean-facing glaciers. This allowed them to monitor the “grounding line,” the point at which ocean, ice, and bedrock meet; when a glacier’s grounding line retreats inland, more ice is exposed to the ocean. The researchers found that 10.7 percent of the continent’s glaciers are melting at above-average rates, while only 1.9 percent are growing, reports TheGuardian.com. They concluded that each year during the six-year observation period, about 80 square miles of underwater ice went afloat—an area about four times the size of Manhattan. “We can’t extrapolate sea level rates that come from that,” says lead author Hannes Konrad. “But to say 10 percent of Antarctica, this massive ice body, is retreating, still should be some sign of warning. It’s large.”
4-19-18 Rising CO2 levels might not be as good for plants as we thought
Long-term experiment finds a surprising flip in the rules for plant photosynthesis. Two major groups of plants have shown a surprising reversal of fortunes in the face of rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. During a 20-year field experiment in Minnesota, a widespread group of plants that initially grew faster when fed more CO2 stopped doing so after 12 years, researchers report in the April 20 Science. Meanwhile, the extra CO2 began to stimulate the growth of a less common group of plants that includes many grasses. This switcheroo, if it holds true elsewhere, suggests that in the future the majority of Earth’s plants might not soak up as much of the greenhouse gas as previously expected, while some grasslands might take up more. “We need to be less sure about what land ecosystems will do and what we expect in the future,” says ecosystem ecologist Peter Reich of the University of Minnesota in St. Paul, who led the study. Today, land plants scrub about a third of the CO2 that humans emit into the air. “We need to be more worried,” he says, about whether that trend continues. The two kinds of plants in the study respond differently to CO2 because they use different types of photosynthesis. About 97 percent of plant species, including all trees, use a method called C3, which gets its name from the three-carbon molecules it produces. Most plants using the other method, called C4, are grasses.
4-19-18 Poking tiny dents into solar panels makes them work better
Most solar cells are limited by how much energy their electrons can absorb. Denting their materials could help them harvest more electricity and breeze past that limit. Putting a dent in solar cells may actually make them more efficient. It could even pave the way to solar cells that break a fundamental limit on how much energy the material can absorb. Solar cells work via the photovoltaic effect, in which light imparts energy to electrons, allowing them to move around and create electrical current. Most modern solar cells place two different types of semiconductor materials next to each other, which directs the electrical current to flow from one material to the other. These solar cells are limited by how much energy the electrons can absorb from sunlight. Too little energy and the electrons don’t absorb any of it, but too much and the extra goes unused. Marin Alexe at the University of Warwick in the UK and his colleagues have come up with a new way to generate energy from sunlight within just one material – and it might be able to bypass make use of more of the sun’s energy. In a single material, electrical current can only flow when the molecular structure is not perfectly symmetrical. In symmetrical materials, electrons can jostle around but there’s nothing directing or organizing their motion to make it useful. Alexe and his colleagues found a way to make any semiconductor into a solar cell: simply break its molecular symmetry. By pressing the rounded tip of an atomic force microscope into a sample of a symmetrical semiconductor, they squeezed some of the molecules closer together.
4-19-18 Why climate engineers are targeting Earth’s last pristine spots
Some of the last great wildernesses are being considered as likely candidates for geoengineering. It's a sad reflection of climate failings, says Olive Heffernan. Do we have any low-risk global geoengineering options ready to deploy now? The answer, according to leading US climatologist Alan Robock, is no. So it is unsurprising that interest is starting to turn to more limited, localised ideas that look less perilous. The latest involve building artificial islands and 100-metre-high walls to prevent a rising tide of melting polar ice. These examples of targeted geoengineering – a new twist on the controversial idea – could prevent the metre or so of sea level rise that is expected to displace millions of coastal dwellers by 2100. Scientists presented the idea to the annual European Geosciences Union meeting last week, a gathering of nearly 15,000 earth and space experts, including Robock, in Vienna, Austria. Most geoengineering schemes would directly intervene in the climate across the planet to counter warming, either by reflecting some of the sunlight reaching Earth or by sucking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. But the conclusion in Vienna was that their risks are too high, and in some cases too uncertain, to consider them safe to deploy now on a meaningful scale. According to studies presented at the meeting, solar geoengineering could save corals from bleaching and permafrost from melting, for example, but it would also heighten flood risk from torrential rain in Europe and North America.
4-19-18 Giant plastic 'berg blocks Indonesian river
A crisis of plastic waste in Indonesia has become so acute that the army has been called in to help. Rivers and canals are clogged with dense masses of bottles, bags and other plastic packaging. Officials say they are engaged in a "battle" against waste that accumulates as quickly as they clear it. The commander of a military unit in the city of Bandung described it as "our biggest enemy". Like many rapidly developing countries, Indonesia has become notorious for struggling to cope with mountains of rubbish. A population boom has combined with an explosive spread of plastic containers and wrapping replacing natural biodegradable packaging such as banana leaves. The result is that local authorities trying to provide rubbish collection have been unable to keep up with the dramatic expansion of waste generated. And a longstanding culture of throwing rubbish into ditches and streams has meant that any attempt to clean up needs a massive shift in public opinion. In Bandung, Indonesia's third largest city, we witnessed the shocking sight of a concentration of plastic waste so thick that it looked like an iceberg and blocked a major tributary. Soldiers deployed on a barge used nets to try to extract bags, Styrofoam food boxes and bottles, a seemingly futile task because all the time more plastic flowed their way from further upstream. To encourage recycling, the authorities in the Bandung area are supporting initiatives in "eco-villages" where residents can bring old plastic items and earn small amounts of money in exchange. The plastics are then divided by type. In one project we visited, two women patiently cut apart bottles and small water cups because separating the different kinds of polymers earns higher prices.
4-19-18 This plastic-gobbling enzyme just got an upgrade
Scientists’ tweak led to more breakdown of plastics found in polyester and plastic bottles. Just a few tweaks to a bacterial enzyme make it a lean, mean plastic-destroying machine. One type of plastic, polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, is widely used in polyester clothing and disposable bottles and is notoriously persistent in landfills. In 2016, Japanese scientists identified a new species of bacteria, Ideonella sakaiensis, which has a specialized enzyme that can naturally break down PET. Now, an international team of researchers studying the enzyme’s structure has created a variant that’s even more efficient at gobbling plastic, the team reports April 17 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The scientists used a technique called X-ray crystallography to examine the enzyme’s structure for clues to its plastic-killing abilities. Then, they genetically tweaked the enzyme to create small variations in the structure, and tested those versions for PET-degrading performance. Some changes made the enzyme work even better. Both the original version and the mutated versions could break down both PET and another, newer bio-based plastic called PEF, short for polyethylene-2,5-furandicarboxylate. With a little more engineering, these enzymes could someday feast at landfills.
4-19-18 Save America's nuclear power plants
The United States still has the largest network of nuclear power plants in the world — bigger even than France, which gets about three-quarters of its power from nuclear. But the U.S. nuclear supply is shrinking fast. Plants constructed during the building spree in the 1960s and '70s are being retired as they reach the end of their planned operating lifespan, while they simultaneously come under powerful price pressure from natural gas and ever-cheaper renewables. Recently the utility FirstEnergy announced plans to shut down three nuclear power plants in Ohio and Pennsylvania, following an announcement from Exelon that it would close the Three Mile Island plant next year. This is bad. Whatever you think of nuclear power, it is still the largest zero-carbon portion of our existing energy infrastructure. We should wring every last kilowatt out of that infrastructure until renewables (or perhaps future superior nuclear tech) are ready to take up the slack. Reducing carbon dioxide emissions should be an overriding goal for all energy policy. Now, that is not to say that we should prioritize building new nuclear power plants. Contrary to the stereotype of nuclear being blocked by dimwitted environmentalists, the big problem with constructing nuclear power is that it is stupendously expensive and complicated, and American institutions — whether they're public or private — have developed severe problems with executing that type of project. Indeed, recent construction on a reactor in South Carolina got so over budget and behind schedule that it bankrupted the contractor Westinghouse and the whole thing was abandoned. (That's just one of many such stories.)
4-18-18 Heatwaves 'cook' Great Barrier Reef corals
Prolonged ocean warming events, known as marine heatwaves, take a significant toll on the complex ecosystem of the Great Barrier Reef. This is according to a new study on the impacts of the 2016 marine heatwave, published in Nature. In surveying the 3,863 individual reefs that make up the system off Australia's north-east coast, scientists found that 29% of communities were affected. In some cases up to 90% of coral died, in a process known as bleaching. This occurs when the stress of elevated temperatures causes a breakdown of the coral's symbiotic relationship with its algae, which provide the coral with energy to survive, and give the reef its distinctive colours. Certain coral species are more susceptible to this heat-induced stress, and the 2016 marine heatwave saw the death of many tabular and staghorn corals, which are a key part of the reef's structure. Researchers led by Terry Hughes at Australia's ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies looked at aerial observations of the entire 2,300km reef between March and November 2016. These were combined with underwater surveys at over 100 locations. "We saw some corals rapidly dying," explained Dr Scott Heron, another of the study's authors. "Bleaching... is essentially a starvation process that occurs over one to two months. This rapid onset is not the same starvation mechanism. The best way to describe it is akin to cooking," added the Noaa Coral Reef Watch scientist. They found that these "cooked" corals were dying within two to three weeks. The northern section of the reef, some 700km long, was worst affected, with 50% of the coral cover in the reef's shallowest areas being lost within eight months.
4-18-18 Our grandchildren may never see the Great Barrier Reef recover
The reef has been so severely damaged by record ocean heat that it has had no chance to recover fully - and may never be the same again. THE Great Barrier Reef has been so severely damaged by record ocean heat that it will never be the same again in our lifetimes or those of our grandchildren. With ever hotter ocean heatwaves set to occur every few years, the reef will have no chance to recover fully. “In 30 years’ time, we’ll still have a reef, but it will look very different,” says Terry Hughes at James Cook University in Australia, whose team has conducted surveys of the reef to assess the damage. We already knew that the iconic reef was badly damaged by recent heat events. Hughes’s surveys show that the corals started dying at far lower levels of heat stress than expected. They also show that the structure of a third of the 4000 individual reefs that make up the Great Barrier Reef has been degraded, altering ecosystems. The current damage began with a fierce ocean heatwave in early 2016, which directly killed many corals. Overall, 30 per cent of coral cover was lost, making it the worst die-off on record. A second heatwave at the start of 2017 then killed another 20 per cent. While some areas have recovered, corals are still dying in the worst-hit regions. Alarmingly, the corals’ tolerance of short periods of very high sea temperatures or of longer periods of less severe heat was just half as much as forecast by NASA and other research teams (Nature, doi.org/cngq). The corals also died faster than predicted. After sea surface temperatures reached record levels in March 2016, for example, millions of corals perished in just two weeks. “They simply cooked,” says Hughes.
4-18-18 Will China beat the world to nuclear fusion and clean energy?
In a world with an ever-increasing demand for electricity and a deteriorating environment, Chinese scientists are leading the charge to develop what some see as the holy grail of energy. Imagine limitless energy with virtually no waste at all: this is the lofty promise of nuclear fusion. On Science Island in Eastern China's Anhui Province, there is a large gleaming metal doughnut encased in an enormous shiny, round box about as big as a two-storey apartment. This is the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (or EAST). Inside, hydrogen atoms fuse and become helium which can generate heat at several times the temperature of the sun's core. Powerful magnets then control the reaction, which could one day produce vast amounts of electricity if maintained. Around the globe, they are trying to master nuclear fusion - in the United States, Japan, Korea, Brazil and European Union - but none can hold it steady for as long as the team in Anhui. Right now that's 100 seconds and it gets longer every year. Here they're already talking about goals which are 10 times as long, at temperatures of 100 million degrees Celsius. But there's a reason why fusion has eluded scientists and engineers since the early advances in the Soviet Union in the 1950s. It is really difficult. (Webmaster's comment: Notice it was the Soviet Union that led the way. My money is on the Chinese, the new leaders of high tech!)
4-18-18 Costa Coffee vows 'cup recycling revolution'
The UK's biggest coffee chain Costa Coffee has said it will recycle as many disposable cups as it sells by 2020 in a "cup recycling revolution". Under the scheme, 500 million coffee cups a year would be recycled, including some sold by rivals, it said. It will encourage waste collection firms to collect the cups by paying them a supplement of £70 a tonne. About 2.5 billion disposable coffee cups are thrown away each year in the UK and 99.75% are not recycled. They have a mixture of paper and plastic in their inner lining - designed to make them both heat- and leak-proof. Environmental campaigners have welcomed Costa's move. Costa managing director Dominic Paul told the BBC the move was "a cup-recycling revolution". "By the end of 2020, we'll effectively be cup-neutral. We'll be recycling as many cups as we put into the system," he said. Costa said "misconceptions" had arisen about whether a coffee cup could be recycled because of the plastic layer, which had "previously been considered difficult to separate".
4-17-18 A melting ice shelf can cause rapid ice loss 900 kilometres away
If one part of an ice shelf starts to thin, it can trigger rapid ice losses in other regions as much as 900 kilometres away – contributing to sea level rise. The thinning of one part of an ice shelf can speed up ice movement in another part of the ice shelf up to 900 kilometres away, a computer model suggests. The finding is concerning because many ice shelves are already being thinned by warm sea water flowing beneath them. Ronja Reese of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany has been using a computer model of ice shelves to explore the consequences of this thinning. Her team recently ran simulations to see what happens when ice shelves thin by 1 to 10 metres over areas of 20 by 20 kilometres. According to their results, even such highly localised thinning can have immediate impacts hundreds of kilometres away, Reese told a meeting of the European Geosciences Union in Vienna last week. For example, in the model, thinning at the western coast of the Ross Ice-Shelf near Ross Island immediately causes an increased outflow of ice from the Bindschadler Ice Stream, located more than 900 kilometres across the ice shelf. Because ice shelves float on the ocean, sea level does not rise as they thin. However, ice-shelves hold back land-based glaciers flowing into the ocean. Some glaciers in the Antarctic are already speeding up and dumping more ice in the sea, thereby raising global sea levels.
4-17-18 Most UK plants will flower at once in short ‘condensed spring’
Plants in the UK are set to blaze into flower virtually simultaneously, because flowering has been delayed two weeks by the unusually cold weather. UK gardens are likely to be ablaze with colour this week as plants all break into flower simultaneously. This “condensed spring” follows much dismal weather: the UK spring has seen snow, twice the usual amount of rainfall and temperatures that are below average. “Cold has held spring back by two weeks, so suddenly everything will come out in a rush,” says Guy Barter at the Royal Horticultural Society, which has forecast the condensed spring. Plants need a period of cold to kick-start genetic programs for flowering. “It’s like a sort of dosing,” says Elizabeth Wolkovich at Harvard University. “Each day brings a plant some dose of cold or warmth, and once they’ve got the full dose of the two requirements they can flower.” Warmer winters caused by climate change could pose more of a problem for certain plants than cold snaps. In 2012, Wolkovich found that some plants are delaying flowering because warm winters don’t supply enough cold. That could harm these species and animals that rely on them.
4-17-18 Plankton named after BBC Blue Planet series
A type of plankton described as part of "the beating heart" of the oceans has been named after the BBC's Blue Planet series. The tiny plant-like organism is regarded as a key element of the marine ecosystem. Scientists at University College London (UCL) bestowed the honour on Sir David Attenborough and the documentary team. It's believed to be the first time a species has been named after a television programme. A single-celled algae, the plankton was collected in the South Atlantic but is found throughout the world's oceans. It will now be officially known as Syracosphaera azureaplaneta, the latter translating from the Latin as 'blue planet'. During a visit to UCL to receive the honour, Sir David said it was "a great compliment" and he was delighted that it would help raise awareness of the importance of plankton to the oceans. "If you said that plankton, the phytoplankton, the green oxygen-producing plankton in the oceans is more important to our atmosphere than the whole of the rainforest, which I think is true, people would be astonished. "They are an essential element in the whole cycle of oxygen production and carbon dioxide and all the rest of it, and you mess about with this sort of thing and the echoes and the reverberations and the consequences extend throughout the atmosphere." The Blue Planet plankton is only about 10 microns across - the diameter of a typical human hair is about seven times greater. It only lives for a few days but in that brief time creates shapes of incredible intricacy and beauty.
4-16-18 Recycling hope for plastic-hungry enzyme
Scientists have improved a naturally occurring enzyme which can digest some of our most commonly polluting plastics. PET, the strong plastic commonly used in bottles, takes hundreds of years to break down in the environment. The modified enzyme, known as PETase, can start breaking down the same material in just a few days. This could revolutionise the recycling process, allowing plastics to be re-used more effectively. UK consumers use around 13 billion plastic drinks bottles a year but more than three billion are not recycled. Originally discovered in Japan, the enzyme is produced by a bacterium which "eats" PET. Ideonella sakaiensis uses the plastic as its major energy source. Researchers reported in 2016 that they had found the strain living in sediments at a bottle recycling site in the port city of Sakai. "[PET] has only been around in vast quantities over the last 50 years, so it's actually not a very long timescale for a bacteria to have evolved to eat something so man-made," commented Prof John McGeehan, who was involved in the current study. Polyesters, the group of plastics that PET (also called polyethylene terephthalate) belongs to, do occur in nature. "They protect plant leaves," explained the University of Portsmouth researcher. "Bacteria have been evolving for millions of years to eat that." The switch to PET was nevertheless "quite unexpected" and an international team of scientists set out to determine how the PETase enzyme had evolved.
4-15-18 David Buckel: US lawyer sets himself on fire in climate protest
A prominent US lawyer has died after setting himself on fire in a New York park in a protest against climate change. The remains of David Buckel, 60, were found in Prospect Park in Brooklyn.In a suicide note found nearby, Mr Buckel wrote that he had immolated himself using fossil fuel to symbolise what he said was the damage human beings were doing to the Earth. He said most people now breathed bad air and many died prematurely. Mr Buckel was well known for his legal work on behalf of gay, lesbian and transgender people and later worked with several environmental groups. "Pollution ravages our planet, oozing inhabitability via air, soil, water and weather," the lawyer said in his suicide note, quoted by the New York Times. The note was also emailed to several news organisations shortly before his body was found, the newspaper said. "My early death by fossil fuel reflects what we are doing to ourselves," he said. "This is not new, as many have chosen to give a life based on the view that no other action can most meaningfully address the harm they see," he added, the New York Daily News reported. (Webmaster's comment: Pointless!)
SCIENCE - EVOLUTION and GENETICS
4-20-18 Antibiotic-resistant bacteria cross oceans hidden in cargo ships
Several types of dangerous bacteria, carrying genes that our antibiotics cannot fight, are travelling the world hidden in ships' ballast tanks. Cargo ships are spreading antibiotic-resistant bacteria around the world by carrying dangerous pathogens in their ballast tanks and expelling them near harbours. When researchers analysed the tanks of nine cargo ships originating from various countries, they discovered 44 species of potentially harmful bacteria in the sediment that accumulates within the tanks. DNA sequencing revealed ten antibiotic resistance genes within the samples. These genes can make bacteria resistant to medical interventions, meaning humans are more likely to die from them. In 2017, more than 50,000 commercial ships crossed the world’s oceans. When these ships pull into harbours to shift cargo, they expel or take on water into ballast tanks to provide stability. If this water contains antibiotic-resistant bacteria, these bacteria can travel around the world in weeks. Some of the bacteria identified in the study were already dead, suggesting that not all survive the journey from one country to the next. Baoyi Lv, an ocean engineer at Shanghai Maritime University in China, who led the study, points out that most of the harmful bacteria were so-called opportunistic pathogens, which are not dangerous to otherwise healthy humans.
4-19-18 Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past
The first draft of the true history of humanity has just been written and “it is thrilling in its clarity and scope,” said Peter Forbes in TheGuardian.com. Geneticist David Reich is a leader in the study of ancient DNA, and his new book synthesizes the findings with which he and others in the field have been upending prior conventional wisdom. Reich’s lab at Harvard Medical School was the source of the 2010 finding that all non-Africans have Neanderthal DNA in their genome, the first in a flurry of findings indicating that humans of about 50,000 years ago shared the planet and interbred with various other hominins. Further, our ancestors did not simply migrate out of Africa in a triumphant, ever-expanding tide. Instead, populations shifted one way, then the other, erasing almost every modern claim, outside of Africa, of a tie to a territory’s original settlers. “Reality, it turns out, is more complex and interesting than scientists ever imagined,” said Razib Khan in NationalReview.com. After explaining how geneticists learned in just the past decade to isolate and decode DNA in ancient human or hominin remains, Reich discusses what this new Rosetta stone has revealed. Consider Europe, which at the end of the last ice age was dominated by dark-skinned, blue-eyed hunter-gatherers who were then displaced about 10,000 years ago by migrant farmers from the Middle East, who also spread south into the Asian subcontinent. Some 5,000 years later, another wave arrived from the Russian steppe, linking Europeans genetically to Native Americans. In short, “we should stop obsessing with our individual ancestries,” said Bryan Appleyard in The Sunday Times (U.K.) “All humans are a hopeless genetic stew.”
4-19-18 Larger spleens may help ‘sea nomads’ stay underwater longer
DNA tests reveal the genetic underpinnings of this adaptation in the ethnic Bajau divers. In turquoise waters off the Indonesian coast, evolutionary geneticist Melissa Ilardo watched as the diver, wearing handmade, wooden goggles, spotted a giant clam meters below and darted down to retrieve it. The diver was one of the Bajau people of Southeast Asia, known for holding their breath for long periods while spearing fish and gathering other seafood. During a typical day, these “sea nomads” spend up to five hours in total underwater. And Ilardo had heard that some can hold their breath for as long as 13 minutes during a dive. Their comfort with breath-hold diving may be due to having unusually large spleens, which provides a bigger supply of oxygenated red blood cells, Ilardo and colleagues report online April 19 in Cell. “Many Bajau children learn to swim before they learn to walk,” says Ilardo, who did the research while at the University of Copenhagen. Certain seal species have larger spleens, and Ilardo wondered if the same was true for the Bajau. When a mammal holds its breath and dives, the body responds by slowing the heart rate, constricting blood vessels in the extremities and contracting the spleen to release stored oxygenated red blood cells.
4-19-18 Bajau people 'evolved bigger spleens' for free-diving
In a striking example of natural selection, the Bajau people of South-East Asia have developed bigger spleens for diving, a study shows. The Bajau are traditionally nomadic and seafaring, and survive by collecting shellfish from the sea floor. Scientists studying the effect of this lifestyle on their biology found their spleens were larger than those of related people from the region. The bigger spleen makes more oxygen available in their blood for diving. The researchers have published their results in the academic journal Cell. Located close to the stomach, the fist-sized spleen removes old cells from the blood and acts as a biological "scuba tank" during long dives. The Bajau people live across the southern Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia and, according to rough estimates, number about one million people. "For possibly thousands of years, [they] have been living on house boats, travelling from place to place in the waters of South-East Asia and visiting land only occasionally. So everything they need, they get from the sea," first author Melissa Ilardo, from the University of Copenhagen, told the BBC's Inside Science programme. They are known for an extraordinary ability to hold their breath. "When they're diving in the traditional way, they dive repeatedly for about eight hours a day, spending about 60% of their time underwater. So this could be anything from 30 seconds to several minutes, but they're diving to depths of over 70m," said Dr Ilardo. Astonishingly, these deep dives are performed only with a wooden mask or goggles and a weight belt. Dr Ilardo explained that the spleen was an obvious candidate for studying potential adaptations to this aquatic lifestyle. (Webmaster's comment: Those with bigger spleens survive longer and breed more. It's that simple!)
4-19-18 Cutting calories for longevity
Eating less may help people live longer, reports CNN.com. Scientists at Louisiana State University tested the effects of calorie restriction on 53 healthy men and women between 21 and 50 years old. For two years, one-third of the volunteers ate their normal diet, while the rest cut their caloric intake by 15 percent. Unsurprisingly, those who consumed fewer calories lost weight—about 20 pounds on average. But they also saw another benefit: Their metabolic rate, which governs the amount of energy the body requires to sustain normal daily functions, slowed by about 10 percent during sleep. “It’s important because every time we generate energy in the body, we generate byproducts,” explains lead author Leanne Redman. These so-called free radicals accumulate and cause damage to cells and organs; this damage has been linked to diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and other age-related diseases. Previous studies have shown that reducing calories can extend life in rodents and other animals, but there has been little research to see if the same is true in humans. Redman now wants to examine the effects of reducing calorie intake over a much longer period.
4-19-18 The perils of a wealth shock
Suffering a major financial loss could lead to an early death, a new study suggests. Researchers at Northwestern University analyzed the financial history and health records of nearly 9,000 Americans between ages 51 and 61, from 1994 to 2014. During that period, about 25 percent of the subjects experienced a negative “wealth shock,” measured as a minimum 75 percent drop in their net worth over a two-year period. The median net-worth decrease was just over $100,000. The researchers found that the people who lost their nest egg were 50 percent more likely to die than their peers during the study period, and had the same risk of premature death as those who were poor or in debt. “This is something millions of people go through,” lead researcher Lindsay Pool tells Time.com. “It’s not really a rare event.” Pool and her team say a sudden reversal of fortune can lead to depression, high blood pressure, anxiety, and other health issues. People in financial turmoil may also have trouble affording their prescriptions and medical care.
4-19-18 Ancient footprints provide migration clue
Archaeologists have unearthed, on an island off Canada, what they believe are the oldest footprints in North America, boosting the theory that ancient humans first explored the continent by walking along the Pacific coast. Discovered beneath the dense forest and thick bogs of British Columbia’s Calvert Island, the 29 prints date back 13,000 years, to the end of the last ice age. The size of the tracks suggests they were left by two adults and a child, walking barefoot on the beach, reports The New York Times. They face inland, which may indicate that the small group was coming ashore after arriving on the island by boat. It is widely believed that humans first migrated to North America via a land bridge between Asia and Alaska. But because Canada was at the time covered by two giant ice sheets, it is unclear how these early settlers moved south. While some archaeologists believe they traveled through an “ice-free corridor” between the two sheets, the Calvert Island footprints suggest that other people ventured into the continent by hugging the Pacific coastline. “This line of research is really in its infancy,” says lead author Duncan McLaren, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Victoria and the Hakai Institute in British Columbia. He and his team are now trying to locate the settlements where these coastal explorers lived.
4-19-18 Doctors who prescribe homeopathy ignore other medical guidelines
Family doctors who offer homeopathy - not recommended by the NHS - are also more likely to practice other bad habits such as the overuse of antibiotics. Doctors who prescribe homeopathy tend to flout a range of best practice guidelines. Primary care services that offer the alternative medicine to their patients are more likely to practice bad habits such as the overuse of antibiotics, according to a study of prescribing data. The UK’s National Health Service has been cutting down on use of alternative medicines for several years, with several bodies saying there is no good evidence to show that it works. Last year NHS England recommended doctors no longer prescribe any homeopathic or herbal remedies, although some GPs continue to do so. The British Homeopathic Association is taking NHS England to court to try to overturn its decision, with a judicial review set for 1 May. Defenders of homeopathy often claim that as these remedies tend to be relatively cheap, they avoid the use of more expensive conventional medicines. The latest study looked at all the 7618 primary care practices in England with data available on a website called Open Prescribing, which analyses use of medicines within the NHS. It was developed by Ben Goldacre of the University of Oxford and colleagues. Goldacre’s team found that 644 practices had issued one or more homeopathy prescriptions in a six-month period ending in 2017; these had slightly worse composite scores obtained by judging them on 70 standards of good practice in prescribing. The findings may reflect a lack of respect for evidence-based practice, says Goldacre.
4-19-18 A hole in an ancient cow’s skull could have been surgery practice
People may have been testing surgical techniques before operating on humans. Ancient surgeons may have practiced dangerous skull-opening procedures on cows before operating on people. A previously excavated cow skull from a roughly 5,400- to 5,000-year-old settlement in France contains a surgically created hole on the right side, a new study finds. No signs of bone healing, which start several days after an injury, appear around the opening. One or more people may have rehearsed surgical techniques on a dead cow, or may have tried unsuccessfully to save a sick cow’s life in what would be the oldest known case of veterinary surgery, researchers conclude online April 19 in Scientific Reports. Evidence of skull surgery on humans, whether for medical or ritual reasons, goes back about 11,000 years (SN: 5/28/16, p. 12). Ancient surgeons needed to know how and where to scrape away bone without harming brain tissue and blood vessels. So practicing bone removal on cows or other animals is plausible. The ancient cow’s skull opening, shaped almost in a square and framed by scrape marks, resembles two instances of human skull surgery from around the same time in France, say biological anthropologists Fernando Ramirez Rozzi of CNRS in Montrouge, France, and Alain Froment of IRD-Museum of Man in Paris. Microscopic and X-ray analyses found no fractures or splintered bone that would have resulted from goring by another cow’s horn. No damage typical of someone having struck the cow’s head with a club or other weapon appeared, either.
4-18-18 More education is what makes people live longer, not more money
As countries get richer, their citizens live longer. We’ve long thought that rising wealth was responsible for this, but it turns out education is the cause. When countries develop economically, people live longer lives. Development experts have long believed this is because having more money expands lifespan, but a massive new study suggests that education may play a bigger role. The finding has huge implications for public health spending. Back in 1975, economists plotted rising life expectancies against countries’ wealth, and concluded that wealth itself increases longevity. It seemed self-evident: everything people need to be healthy – from food to medical care – costs money. But soon it emerged that the data didn’t always fit that theory. Economic upturns didn’t always mean longer lives. In addition, for reasons that weren’t clear, a given gain in gross domestic product (GDP) caused increasingly higher gains in life expectancy over time, as though it was becoming cheaper to add years of life. Moreover, in the 1980s researchers found gains in literacy were associated with greater increases in life expectancy than gains in wealth were. Finally, the more educated people in any country tend to live longer than their less educated compatriots. But such people also tend to be wealthier, so it has been difficult to untangle which factor is increasing lifespan. They found that, just as in 1975, wealth correlated with longevity. But the correlation between longevity and years of schooling was closer, with a direct relationship that did not change over time, the way wealth does.
4-18-18 Mavericks are belittling statins – here’s why they’re wrong
Drugs designed to cut the risk of heart disease are being talked down amid a worrying lack of use by people who could benefit from them, says Anthony Warner. A WORRYING snapshot of flagging statin use has emerged. These controversial cholesterol-busting drugs are not being taken in many cases in which they could cut the risk of cardiovascular disease, the world’s biggest killer. Recent figures for England and the US show that many people who could benefit from the medicines are not getting them. At the same time, a highly vocal group, which includes a number of campaigning medics and self-styled researchers, are decrying the wider use of these drugs. Some of these critics have alternative diets and supplements to promote. They argue that statins are over prescribed, and that their side effects can outweigh the benefits. Although one in three people globally die from cardiovascular disease, in many nations efforts to cut the toll have helped. This is mainly thanks to increased knowledge of risk factors, especially smoking, high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol. Key among the innovations are statins, which have saved many lives since their introduction in 1987. These drugs partially inhibit enzymes that make cholesterol in the body, reducing levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL, the so-called bad cholesterol). Which brings us to another anti-statin point of view. Some of the critics suggest that LDL cholesterol is not the villain it has been made out to be, and that its relationship to cardiovascular disease is overstated; this goes against a lot of evidence.
4-18-18 Bioengineered freckle turns darker when it detects cancer
An implant of genetically engineered skin cells has been designed to grow darker in colour when it detects early breast, prostate and colon cancers. A fake beauty spot could one day warn you of cancer. The implant, made of genetically engineered cells, has been designed to detect developing breast, prostate and colon cancers when they are only a few millimetres in size. Martin Fussenegger of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich and his colleagues made this implant by genetically altering human skin cells so that they would become darker in colour when exposed to rising calcium levels. A rise in calcium in the blood is often the first sign of a tumour, because nearly all breast, prostate and colon cancers release substances that break down bones, releasing calcium. The team programmed these skin cells to respond to rising calcium by producing the skin pigment melanin. They then put these cells into microscopic capsules and implanted these into the skin of mice that had been injected with breast or colon cancer cells. Within a few weeks, the implants had grown darker in all eight mice whose tumours raised their calcium levels. The implants did not change colour in mice injected with a different kind of cancer for comparison. If used for people, the capsules would probably need replacing every six months to a year, says Fussenegger. And if a black spot appears, it wouldn’t necessarily mean a person had cancer – raised calcium levels can also be caused by kidney problems and other conditions.
4-18-18 Keeping livers 'alive' boosts transplant success, trial finds
Keeping donated livers "alive" with a machine prior to transplants boosts the chances of a successful operation, a landmark trial has found. Usually livers are kept in ice prior before the surgery, but many become damaged and unusable as a result. For this study, scientists put them in a perfusion machine, pumping the organs with blood, nutrients and medicines. More of these "warm" livers went on to be transplanted and showed less damage than the "cold" ones, the trial found. Scientists said the study could help to reduce the significant proportion of people who die waiting for a new liver and potentially "transform" how organ transplants are carried out. The randomised controlled trial involved 222 liver transplants in seven European centres. It compared liver transplants where the organs were first preserved in an ice box with those kept "alive" outside the body using a so-called normothermic perfusion machine. Out of the 220 transplants scientists analysed, the study found there was 50% less tissue damage in the "warm" livers - a key marker of how likely the organ is to survive as well as the transplant patient themselves. Scientists were also able to successfully transplant more of the warm livers than cold ones. Just 16 out of 137 warm livers needed to be discarded compared with 32 out of 133 cold ones, meaning 222 transplants were able to go ahead. All but two were analysed by the team. Prof Peter Friend, one of the authors of the study in the journal Nature and one of the inventors of the machine, said currently about a third of donated livers could not be used for transplantation due to a range of factors.
4-18-18 Why touch can be such a creepy sensation in VR
Pairing tactile feedback with visual cues can keep the experience immersive, not jarring. There’s a fine line between immersive and unnerving when it comes to touch sensation in virtual reality. More realistic tactile feedback in VR can ruin a user’s feeling of immersion, researchers report online April 18 in Science Robotics. The finding suggests that the “uncanny valley” — a term that describes how humanoid robots that look almost but not quite human are creepier than their more cartoonish counterparts — also applies to virtual touch (SN Online: 11/22/13). Experiment participants wearing VR headsets and gripping a controller in each hand embodied a virtual avatar holding the two ends of a stick. At first, users felt no touch sensation. Then, the hand controllers gave equally strong vibrations every half-second. Finally, the vibrations were finely tuned to create the illusion that the virtual stick was being touched in different spots. For instance, stronger vibrations in the right controller gave the impression that the stick was nudged on that side. Compared with scenarios in which users received either no touch or even buzzing sensations, participants reported feeling far less immersed in the virtual environment when they received the realistic, localized touch. This result demonstrates the existence of a tactile uncanny valley, says study coauthor Mar Gonzalez-Franco, a human-computer interaction researcher at Microsoft Research in Redmond, Washington.
4-18-18 Getting just 6 hours of sleep is linked to mental health issues
You might think you can get by on 5 or 6 hours’ sleep a night, but people who get less than 7 hours are more likely to have mood or mental health problems. You might think you can get by on 5 or 6 hours’ sleep a night, but people who get less than 7 hours are more likely to have mood or mental health problems. A severe lack of sleep has been linked to mood disorders, depression, anxiety and Alzheimer’s disease. But much less is known about the effects of skimping on a little sleep each night, missing the recommended amount by an hour or so. According to the US National Sleep Foundation, most adults should get 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night, while 6 hours may be okay for some people. Anything under 5 hours is deemed insufficient. To find out the effect of low-level sleep loss on mental health, Kelly Sullivan and Collins Ordiah at Georgia Southern University analysed data from a telephone survey of over 20,000 people in the US. Respondents were asked about their sleep habits as well as their mood over the past 30 days. Around a quarter of participants said they got 6 hours of sleep or less, and these people were around 70 per cent more likely to report signs of mental health problems compared to those who got the recommended amount of sleep. Compared with people who slept between 7 and 9 hours a night, people who got less than 5 hours were three to four times more likely to say they experienced depression, nervousness, restlessness or feeling hopeless in the last month.
4-18-18 New blood pressure guidelines could do more harm than good
Millions of healthy people have been recast as “sick” under new blood pressure rules, which could trigger unnecessary anxiety and medication use. Last year, millions of people were reclassified overnight as having high blood pressure. The new limits, set by the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology, were intended to alert people to any rising blood pressure at an earlier stage, helping them to get on top of the problem sooner. However, the decision ignores the potential harms of slapping people with disease labels, according to an analysis published by Australian public-health experts on Monday. They estimate that up to 80 per cent of newly diagnosed individuals will end up worse off. These 80 per cent have less than a 10 per cent chance of having a heart attack or stroke in the next decade because they won’t have any other big risk factors besides elevated blood pressure. Nevertheless, it will still be a blow to be moved to the new category, with safe limits lowered from a blood pressure of 140/90 to 130/80 mmHg. Research has shown that being diagnosed with this condition can cause significant psychological distress. The disease label could also lead to unnecessary treatment. Although the new guidelines recommend lifestyle changes such as eating less salt, drinking less alcohol and exercising more for this relatively low-risk group, many will seek the reassurance of medication, which can have side effects like dizziness and nausea. Moreover, in countries like the US, being diagnosed with a medical condition like high blood pressure can affect insurance coverage and increase premiums.
4-17-18 This ancient Maya city may have helped the Snake King dynasty spread
Lidar maps and hieroglyphics suggest La Corona wasn’t so isolated after all. New insights into an ancient Maya kingdom are coming from a remote outpost in the Guatemalan jungle. Aerial laser maps, excavations and stone-slab hieroglyphics indicate that La Corona, a largely rural settlement, became a key part of a far-ranging Classic-era Maya kingdom that incorporated sites from southern Mexico to Central America, researchers reported on April 15 at the annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology. Classic Maya civilization lasted from around 250 to 900. A dynasty of Kaanul rulers, also called Snake Kings, expanded their domain from their home city of Calakmul in Mexico by using La Corona as a relay center for precious stones and other goods from Kaanul-controlled sites farther south, said archaeologist Marcello Canuto. “Our work supports the idea that the ancient Maya formed interconnected political systems, not largely separate city-states as traditionally thought,” said Canuto, of Tulane University in New Orleans, who codirects the La Corona excavation.
4-17-18 A new plastic film glows to flag food contaminated with dangerous microbes
Adding the patch to meal packaging could help keep people from getting sick. Pathogen detectors built into plastic patches could someday spare you food poisoning. Carlos Filipe, a chemical engineer at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada, and colleagues have developed a new kind of flexible film that’s coated in molecules that glow when they touch E. coli cells. This type of sensor also glows in the presence of molecules secreted by E. coli, so the material doesn’t have to be in direct contact with bacterial cells to flag food contamination. Sensors about the size of postage stamps fluoresced brightly when tested on tainted meat and apple juice, but not when the sensors touched unspoiled samples, the researchers report online April 6 in ACS Nano. Next, the scientists plan to make films that glow in the presence of other bacteria, such as Salmonella, says study coauthor Tohid Didar, a mechanical engineer at McMaster. Food packaging equipped with such microbe monitors could help curb the spread of foodborne illness, which kills about 420,000 people worldwide each year, according to the World Health Organization.
4-16-18 Catching malaria makes you smell more attractive to mosquitoes
Mosquitoes are particularly attracted to the sweat of people who have malaria, suggesting the parasite that causes it may change a person’s body odour. The tiny mosquito-borne parasites that cause malaria may also change the body odour of those they infect, making people more attractive to mosquitoes that spread it. It is well-known that some people seem to attract more mosquito bites than others. Past research has suggested that the chemicals found in body odour – which may be influenced by your genes or hormones – play a role in how attractive you are. Ailie Robinson at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and her colleagues sought to find out which chemicals might be to blame. The team collected socks worn by Kenyan children, some of whom were infected with the parasite that causes malaria. In a test, they found that mosquitoes seemed to be more attracted to the socks worn by children with the parasite. When they later ran the experiment again, the mosquitoes were less attracted to these children’s socks once they had been treated for malaria, and no longer carried the parasite. This suggests that people with malaria are particularly attractive to mosquitoes. It’s possible that the malaria parasite has evolved a way to make us change our body odour, to attract more mosquitoes and help spread the parasite to others.
4-16-18 Dogs lived and died with humans 10,000 years ago in the Americas
Buried remains of the oldest known New World canines came from two sites in Illinois. A trio of dogs buried at two ancient human sites in Illinois lived around 10,000 years ago, making them the oldest known domesticated canines in the Americas. Radiocarbon dating of the dogs’ bones shows they were 1,500 years older than thought, zooarchaeologist Angela Perri said April 13 at the annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology. The previous age estimate was based on a radiocarbon analysis of burned wood found in one of the animals’ graves. Until now, nearly 9,300-year-old remains of dogs eaten by humans at a Texas site were the oldest physical evidence of American canines. Ancient dogs at the Midwestern locations also represent the oldest known burials of individual dogs in the world, said Perri, of Durham University in England. A dog buried at Germany’s Bonn-Oberkassel site around 14,000 years ago was included in a two-person grave. Placement of the Americas dogs in their own graves indicates that these animals were held in high regard by ancient people. An absence of stone tool incisions on the three ancient dogs’ skeletons indicates that they were not killed by people, but died of natural causes before being buried, Perri said.
4-14-18 A high IQ may protect men from a cause of psychological stress
Men with higher intelligence scores seem less likely to develop psychological problems due to inflammation – but a high IQ doesn’t protect women in the same way. There’s more to intelligence than smarts – a high IQ seems to protect the brain from some of the effects of inflammation, including signs of depression. But the effect is only seen in men – perhaps due to hormonal differences. Inflammation – a heightened state of immune activity – has increasingly been linked to mental health in recent years. Studies have found that people with depression or schizophrenia seem to have higher levels of inflammatory proteins in their bodies, and anti-inflammatory drugs are currently being trialled for both conditions. But not everyone with high inflammation goes on to develop a mental health disorder. Eirini Flouri, at University College London, wondered whether intelligence may be one factor that helps protect some people from the effects of inflammation. Flouri and her colleagues analysed data from more than 9,600 people in the UK, aged between 18 and 97. Each person had answered surveys about their mental health, including whether they were in psychological distress. High distress scores indicate that a person is more likely to develop depression, says Flouri. The volunteers also provided blood samples, which were used to measure levels of inflammation. Each person also completed a battery of cognitive tests, which measured reasoning, memory and problem solving, among other things, to give an IQ score.
ANIMAL INTELLIGENCE and ZOOLOGY
4-20-18 Trees may have a ‘heartbeat’ that is so slow we never noticed it
Trees repeatedly move their branches up and down during the night, and this may reflect water being pumped along the branches – just like a human pulse. Trees may seem sedate but it turns out they are more active than we thought. Many trees move their branches up and down during the night. The findings hint that the trees are actively pumping water upwards in stages, and that trees have a slow version of a “pulse”. “We’ve discovered that most trees have regular periodic changes in shape, synchronised across the whole plant and shorter than a day-night cycle, which imply periodic changes in water pressure,” says András Zlinszky of Aarhus University in the Netherlands. In a study published in October 2017, Zlinszky and his colleague Anders Barfod used a form of laser-scanning normally deployed to monitor tall buildings. They scanned 22 species of tree for one night each in windless, lightless conditions to see if the trees’ canopies changed shape. In seven species, branches moved up or down by about a centimetre. These see-saw oscillations in branches were most pronounced in magnolia trees, averaging up to 1.5 centimetres. The cycles repeated every 3 to 4 hours. Now the pair have an idea for what the movements could represent. They think they might be evidence that trees have a “heartbeat”, and that they are actively pumping water up from their roots in pulses that last hours.
4-19-18 Wildlife workers killed
Five park rangers and their driver were killed in an ambush this week in Congo’s Virunga National Park, a vast wildlife preserve that is home to one of the world’s largest populations of endangered mountain gorillas. More than 170 rangers have been killed in the park over the past 20 years, including five who were killed when a local militia attacked their post last August. The rangers face many threats, including poachers, who slaughter gorillas for meat and to sell body parts as trophies; the lucrative charcoal industry; and rebel groups left over from Congo’s 1998–2003 civil war. The park’s chief warden, Emmanuel de Merode, said, “It is unacceptable that Virunga’s rangers continue to pay the highest price in defense of our common heritage.”
4-19-18 How to add a second pet
- Stage a safe meeting. A dog or cat will often feel threatened when a new animal joins a home. Have dogs meet in neutral territory, such as an open yard, when both are on leashes. Keep a new cat in a separate room for a day or two so both the old and new pet can adjust to the scents and sounds of the other.
- Play favorites. A dog can become jealous, so be sure the older pet gets extra TLC. Just 10 more minutes of play each day should do it. To create a sense of continuity for the older dog, walk the two separately, or ask a friend to join you to walk the new dog on its own leash.
- Police food fights. Feed dogs in separate rooms or separate areas to avoid aggression. Feed cats in an area that dogs can’t reach, like the top of a washing machine. Cats should have no trouble eating together once they’ve become friends.
4-19-18 Male fruit flies feel pleasure when they ejaculate
Male insects have been genetically engineered to climax on command, and it seems they get a real buzz out of it – perhaps even a fly orgasm. Male fruit flies seem to enjoy ejaculation as much as men do. Their “orgasms” seem to be satisfying enough to reduce their craving for other rewards such as alcohol. The experiment resembles the “orgasmatron”, a fictional machine for giving people instant orgasms featured in the 1973 film Sleeper. Galit Shohat-Ophir of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel and her colleagues engineered male fruit flies so that they could make them ejaculate at will. First, they genetically engineered neurons in the fruit flies’ abdomens so that they could be activated by exposure to red light. Once activated, the neurons produced corazonin, a chemical that makes the flies ejaculate. Corazonin also boosted the flies’ production of neuropeptide F (NPF), a brain transmitter that is a handy barometer for levels of pleasure and reward. In humans, it has a counterpart called neuropeptide Y, levels of which are reduced in people with depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. The first question the team addressed was whether ejaculation itself triggered pleasure, as it does in human males. In theory, many other components of the mating ritual, such as visual cues or making songs to attract mates, might be the thing that causes pleasure. “Male fruit flies produce very specific ‘love songs’ by vibrating one of their wings,” says Shohat-Ophir. So she devised a study that separated ejaculation from all the other elements of courtship.
4-19-18 Male fruit flies enjoy ejaculation
A probe of the brain’s reward system looks at Drosophila sex (or lack thereof) and drinking. Moody red lighting in a lab is helping researchers figure out what fruit flies like best about sex. The question has arisen as scientists try to tease out the neurobiological steps in how the brain’s natural reward system can get hijacked in alcoholism, says neuroscientist Galit Shohat-Ophir of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. Male fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) were genetically engineered to ejaculate when exposed to a red light. Ejaculation increased signs in the insects’ brains of a rewarding experience and decreased the lure of alcohol, researchers found. After several days in this red-light district, the flies tended to prefer a plain sugary beverage over one spiked with ethanol. Males not exposed to the red light went for the boozier drink, Shohat-Ophir and colleagues report April 19 in Current Biology. Earlier lab research has shown that male flies repeatedly rejected by females are more likely to get drunk. Those with happy fly sex lives don’t show much interest in alcohol. Shohat-Ophir wondered what aspect of sex, or lack thereof, had such a profound effect on the brain’s reward system.
4-19-18 Moose kicks back
An Alaska man made a painful mistake when he kicked a moose that was blocking his path. Authorities said the man was on a hike when he came across a cow and its calf, and kicked the mama moose to move it out of his way. Annoyed, the 700-pound animal stomped his foot with its hoof, leaving the man in need of medical attention. Ken Marsh of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game said it’s not wise to pick fights with wildlife. “If you get into a kicking contest with a moose,” he said, “guess who’s going to win?” (Webmaster's comment: I saw the same thing happen in Yellowstone 40 years ago. A man wanted a male buffalo to stand up for a picture so he kicked him in his ribs. The buffalo stood up and gored him. How stupid can you get?)
4-19-18 Flies cool themselves down by constantly blowing bubbles of spit
Blowflies repeatedly blow bubbles of saliva, which look like brown bubble gum – and it turns out this odd behaviour helps them keep cool. They look like they’re using bubble gum. Brazilian flies blow out deep brown bubbles of spit every few seconds. Now it seems these bubbles have a serious purpose: to keep the insect cool. Guilherme Gomes of the University of São Paulo in Brazil and his colleagues placed groups of 50 latrine blowflies (Chrysomya megacephala) in transparent cylinders. Then they gradually raised the temperature inside, and took infrared images of the blowflies as they blew bubbles in and out. As the bubbles went in and out of each fly’s proboscis, both the bubbles and the flies cooled down. The spit bubbles cooled because some of the liquid evaporated, which absorbed heat. On average, each bubble cooled by 8°C in each 15-second cycle of blowing out and in. “After re-ingesting a cooled droplet, the temperature of the fly’s head immediately decreases by up to 3°C,” says Gomes. Sometimes, a fly would blow a bubble out and in a dozen times. “The more sequential cycles it performs, the more the body temperature decreases, until it reaches a balance with the surroundings.” By repeatedly blowing bubbles, flies could cool their heads, thoraxes and abdomens by as much as 3°C, 1.6°C and 0.8°C respectively.
4-19-18 South Africa rhino poaching: 'Web of corruption' blamed
Entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson and conservationist Jane Goodall have joined a list of famous names who have signed an open letter to South Africa's government calling for an end to rhino poaching. More than 1,000 rhinos were killed across the country in 2017 for the fifth year running. The international monitoring group Traffic says nearly 5,500 rhinos have been killed over a five-year period. Only 20,000 or so rhinos remain in South Africa - the vast majority of the 25,000 animals left across the whole continent, says Traffic. Most of the 222 rhinos killed for their horn in South Africa's eastern province of KwaZulu-Natal were at the state-run Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park. Conservation group Saving the Wild says a "web of systematic corruption" within the justice system is to blame. It says this has allowed poaching to continue in a province which saw poaching increase by a third. The campaign body says "no action has been taken against this grossly corrupt alleged syndicate of justice officials". "We are concerned that members of this syndicate are under political protection." The letter, also signed by American singer-songwriter Dave Matthews and former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, states: "Even when arrests are made, few poachers ever go to jail. The law is not acting as a deterrent to this onslaught." South Africa's oldest game reserve, Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, became famous for its white rhino conservation work in the 1950s and 60s when it brought the sub-species back from the edge of extinction. Now it has become one of the parks worst affected by rhino poaching.
4-18-18 The yogurt cure: can ‘good’ bacteria save bats?
Probiotics aren't just a human health fad - their medicinal properties may be the best way to stop white-nose syndrome wiping out North America's bats. “THINK yogurt for bats,” says Cori Lausen. “We’re working with probiotics.” But instead of eating this cocktail of “good” microbes, they get doused with it. The plan sounds a bit, er, batty but it could be a lifesaver. Right now, bats across North America are emerging from hibernation. They are the lucky ones. Over the past decade, a fungal disease has killed millions during their winter slumber. The death rate from white-nose syndrome can be between 90 and 100 per cent, there is no cure and it threatens to annihilate entire species. That is not only terrible news for them, but also for us, because bats eat insects that spread diseases and their voracious appetite means farmers use far less pesticide. With a race on to stop the deadly fungus spreading, Lausen, a biologist with the Wildlife Conservation Society Canada, is pinning her hopes on a probiotic brew. White-nose syndrome is caused by a fungus aptly named Pseudogymnoascus destructans, which originated in Europe long enough ago for most bats there to have evolved resistance. Not so in North America, where it was first spotted in 2006 in eastern New York state. The disease has since spread westward across 31 US states and five Canadian provinces, killing an estimated 7 million bats along the way. Infection results in a white fungal growth that creeps across the muzzle and wings. If bats can make it to spring, they have a good chance of surviving because P. destructans dies in temperatures above 20°C. However, the disease repeatedly rouses them from hibernation so they burn precious fat stores and most end up wasting away.
4-18-18 Masses of shrimp and krill may play a huge role in mixing oceans
The swimmers’ turbulence could be powerful enough to stir nutrients up from the deep. When it comes to tiny ocean swimmers, the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts. Ocean turbulence stirred up by multitudes of creatures such as krill can be powerful enough to extend hundreds of meters down into the deep, a new study suggests. Brine shrimp moving vertically in two different laboratory tanks created small eddies that aggregated into a jet roughly the size of the whole migrating group, researchers report online April 18 in Nature. With a fluid velocity of about 1 to 2 centimeters per second, the jet was also powerful enough to mix shallow waters with deeper, saltier waters. Without mixing, these waters of different densities would remain isolated in layers. The shrimp represent centimeter-sized swimmers, including krill and shrimplike copepods, found throughout the world’s oceans that may together be capable of mixing ocean layers — and delivering nutrient-rich deep waters to phytoplankton, or microscopic marine plants, near the surface, the researchers suggest. “The original thinking is that these animals would flap their appendages and create little eddies about the same size as their bodies,” says John Dabiri, an expert in fluid dynamics at Stanford University. Previous work, including acoustic measurements of krill migrations in the ocean (SN: 10/7/06, p. 238) and theoretical simulations of fluid flow around swimmers such as jellyfish and shrimplike copepods (SN: 8/29/09, p. 14), had suggested that they may be stirring up more turbulence than thought.
4-18-18 Last of the wild asses back from the brink
Wild asses are returning to the grasslands of Kazakhstan where they once roamed in large numbers. The equine animals, known as kulans, are native to the area but have been pushed to the brink of extinction by illegal hunting and loss of habitat. Conservationists have started reintroducing the horses to their natural landscape. This month, more kulan were released in the Altyn Dala nature reserve to establish a fourth population. The project is being organised by the Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity of Kazakhstan (ACBK). Sergey Sklyarenko said reintroduction started in a reserve on an island in the Aral Sea with fewer than 20 animals. "We have got to now about 4,000 kulans in three wild populations," he said. "The creation of a fourth population will allow to provide new areas for the species and increase its sustainability." The wild asses were captured in the Altyn Emel National Park in the autumn. The population there has reached about 3,000 individuals, but there is little potential for future growth. The kulans were moved to a centre at Alytn Dala in Central Kazakhstan, where they were kept in captivity over the winter to allow them to bond and adjust to local conditions. Mares have been fitted with GPS collars so that the movement of herds can be tracked.
4-18-18 How ravens caused a LIGO data glitch
The birds used ice on a pipe as a thirst quencher. The source of a mysterious glitch in data from a gravitational wave detector has been unmasked: rap-tap-tapping ravens with a thirst for shaved ice. At the Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, or LIGO, in the desert of Hanford, Wash., scientists noticed a signal that didn’t look like gravitational waves, physicist Beverly Berger said on April 16 at a meeting of the American Physical Society. A microphone sensor that monitors LIGO’s surroundings caught the sounds of pecking birds on tape in July 2017, Berger, of the LIGO Laboratory at Caltech, said. So the crew went out to the end of one of the detector’s 4-kilometer-long arms to check for evidence of the ebony birds at the scene. Sure enough, frost covering a pipe connected to the cooling system was covered in telltale peck marks from the thirsty birds. One raven, presumably seeking relief from the desert heat, was caught in the act. Altering the setup to prevent ice buildup now keeps the ravens from tapping, evermore.
4-17-18 These seals haven’t lost their land ancestors’ hunting ways
Having claws instead of smooth flippers lets ‘true seals’ grasp prey. Just like lions, tigers and bears, certain kinds of seals have claws that help the animals grasp prey and tear it apart. X-rays show that the bones in these seals’ forelimbs look like those found in the earliest seals, a new study finds. Ancestors of these ancient seals transitioned from land to sea at some point, preserving clawed limbs useful for hunting on land. But clawed paws in these northern “true seals,” which include harbor and harp seals, seem to be more than just a holdover from ancient times, says David Hocking, a marine zoologist at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. Instead, retaining the claws probably helps northern true seals catch a larger meal than they could with the stiff, slippery fins of other pinnipeds such as sea lions and fur seals, Hocking and his colleagues report April 18 in Royal Society Open Science. Hocking and his colleagues spent 670 hours observing wild harbor and gray seals hunting salmon in Scotland. Tests with three captive seals, two harbor seals born in captivity and one spotted seal born in the wild allowed the team to observe eating behaviors at closer range.
4-17-18 World’s biggest bird feeder will use 500 tonnes of shellfish
A crucial feeding ground for migrating birds has been almost destroyed by pollution and a bad winter, but help is at hand in the form of an all-you-can-eat buffet. A race is on to build the world’s largest bird feeder, to save tens of thousands of migrating birds. China’s Yalu Jiang nature reserve, near the North Korean border, covers 50 kilometres of estuarine mudflats. Every year, 250,000 birds stop off there to feast on clams. They include bar-tailed godwits, oystercatchers and endangered great knots. From there, they continue their epic journeys – in the case of the godwits, from New Zealand to Alaska. However, the clams have been under pressure from pollution and environmental damage, and a frigid winter has left just 5 per cent alive. The solution is an all-you-can-eat buffet for the birds, made by bringing in farmed shellfish from around China. Conservationists estimated that 500 tonnes of shellfish were needed, and began an international appeal to raise $365,000 to pay. The entire sum has now been raised, just in time for the arrival of 75,000 great knots this week, according to migration researchers Team Piersma.
4-17-18 Baboons prop up barrels to escape Texas research centre
Officials at Texas research centre have made changes to the enclosures after four baboons leapt to freedom. The primates propped up barrels against the walls of their yard at the Texas Biomedical Research Institute and used them to jump over the fence. Three baboons then escaped the centre perimeter, while the fourth returned to its pen on its own. All three of the escapees were captured within half an hour. There are about 1,100 baboons in the facility. The San Antonio institute issued a press release detailing the escape and the animals' recapture. According to the statement, the baboons rolled a 55-gallon barrel up against the wall of their open-air yard to escape. The enclosure at the Southwest National Primate Research Center (SNPRC) - part of the research institute - has been in use for 35 years. Researchers gave the baboons the barrels as an "enrichment tool", to help them mimic foraging as they would in the wild. Staff immediately removed the barrels once they realised the primates had used them to jump the walls. (Webmaster's comment: So much for the "stupid animals" believers! The baboons figured out how to get out!)
4-17-18 Bialowieza forest: Poland broke EU law by logging
Poland violated EU law by ordering large-scale logging in one of Europe's oldest woodlands, the Bialowieza forest, the European Court of Justice has ruled. Bialowieza forest has been designated a Unesco World Heritage site and is home to Europe's largest herd of nearly extinct bison. But Poland argued its decision to order a three-fold increase in logging was necessary to combat beetle infestation. Poland says it will respect the ruling. The court's decision is a defeat for the country's conservative-led government. The ECJ said Poland had "failed to fulfil its obligations" in directives covering the habitats of animals and birds. While the whole of the Bialowieza forest in Poland is protected under EU directives, only 17% of that area has been designated a national park where no logging takes place. The court used particularly strong language to criticise Poland's argument that it was responding to a "constant spread" of infestation of spruce bark beetles. It said the infestation "was not identified in the slightest" as a threat in the government's 2015 management plan. The nationalist Law and Justice party (PiS) took office in late 2015. The ECJ ruling was hailed by environmental activists. The group ClientEarth said the decision was for now only on paper and called for the government in Warsaw to scrap its original approval of logging.
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