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ATHEISM and HUMANISM

2-18-19 50 Cent: Claims police told to 'shoot' rapper investigated
Police in New York are investigating claims a senior officer told members of his team to "shoot" the rapper 50 Cent. It's alleged Deputy Inspector Emanuel Gonzalez made the remark in June last year at a police roll-call for a boxing match which the star was due to attend. 50 Cent said on Sunday he was taking the threat "very seriously" and was consulting with his lawyers. The New York Police Department told Radio 1 Newsbeat the matter "is under internal review". The New York Daily News reported that Deputy Inspector Gonzalez told his officers to shoot the rapper "on sight" but later tried to pass it off as a joke. It's claimed at least one other person at the event reported the comment to the NYPD internal affairs department. One month before, Dect Insp Gonzalez reportedly filed an aggravated harassment complaint against 50 Cent. He said the rapper had threatened him on Instagram - in response to claims that Dect Insp Gonzalez had unfairly investigated one of 50 Cent's favourite nightclubs. 50 mocked the complaint in posts online, suggesting the police get "back to fighting crime". Writing on social media following news of the internal NYPD investigation into Dect Insp Gonzalez, 50 Cent said he was concerned that he was "not previously advised of this threat by the NYPD". He described Dept Insp Gonzalez as a "gangster with a badge" but told his Twitter followers: "Keep in mind there are some good people working in law enforcement. "Like the officers that reported what he said to them." (Webmaster's comment: Many police departments are obviously laced with homicidal racists! They even openly discuss killing blacks.)

2-18-19 Can female politicians make America healthy again?
Recent studies show having women in government is good for a nation's longevity. This year, a record number of women entered public office. In the U.S. House of Representatives, 102 women, plus four non-voting female territorial delegates, now make up nearly 25 percent of the chamber. In the Senate, five new women were elected in November's midterms, bringing the total number of female senators to a historic 25. These numbers are encouraging for a lot of reasons, but perhaps one of the most surprising has to do with the nation's overall wellbeing. A recent Canadian study suggests the number of women in government is directly tied to national health. For the study, which was published in the journal Social Science & Medicine — Population Health, researchers examined the percent of women elected to public office in Ottawa and across Canada's 10 provinces over the past five decades and found that electing more women made "real and substantive contributions" to the population's health. They also found that having more women in government was empirically predictive of a country's mortality rates. This is welcome news for health advocates: The average life expectancy in America has fallen three years in a row, and nearly 40 percent of American adults are obese. Retired Army Lieutenant General Mark Hertling even warned our declining health could be bad for national security, saying, "Unless we see significant change in physical activity and nutrition in America our national security will be affected." So, can the new class of female lawmakers turn the tide? The connection between women in government and national health is hard to pinpoint, but it seems to come down to how female politicians prefer to allocate government spending. The Canadian study found elected women prioritize governing on "behalf of women and children" more than their male counterparts, and are more apt to distribute funds "based on their experiences either as women in the labor force or as mothers." As a result, they're more likely to push for more generous social policies like universal health care, subsidized childcare, and for a more egalitarian distribution of resources. They also advocate for social equality and better women's rights. Previous research shows government spending on these kinds of social programs is connected to an increased life span. For example, a 2016 study demonstrated that income inequality can dictate who lives longer. As Vox puts it, between 2001 and 2014, "the richest Americans gained about five years of longevity, while life expectancy for the poor didn't budge." Another recent study titled "Shorter lives in stingier states" found Americans die earlier in part because of our country's parsimonious welfare system. The 2016 report determined national life expectancy would be nearly four years longer if the U.S. matched the average benefits of other high-income nations with more generous systems.

2-18-19 YouTube aids flat earth conspiracy theorists, research suggests
YouTube is playing a significant role in convincing some people that the Earth is flat, research suggests. A study quizzed people at flat earth conferences and found most cited videos viewed on the site as a key influence. They were won over by videos which claimed to amass evidence proving the Earth was not a spherical planet. YouTube needed to do a better job of ensuring visitors get accurate information alongside such videos, said the researcher behind the study. "There's a lot of helpful information on YouTube but also a lot of misinformation," Prof Asheley Landrum from Texas Tech University, who carried out the study, told The Guardian. The algorithms the site used to guide people to topics they might be interested in made it easy to "end up down the rabbit hole" of misinformation, said Prof Landrum. "Believing the Earth is flat is of itself is not necessarily harmful, but it comes packaged with a distrust in institutions and authority more generally," she added. The study involved interviews with 30 attendees at two conferences. Questioning revealed YouTube had suggested the flat earth videos after attendees had watched other clips at home about conspiracy theories. Some said they only watched the videos to criticise them but were won over by the arguments being advanced. The results from Prof Landrum's study were presented at the annual meeting of the Association for the Advancement of Science this weekend. Prof Landrum said there was a need for scientists and science advocates to produce their own YouTube videos that answered and debunked the claims of flat earthers and conspiracy theorists. "The only tool we have to battle misinformation is to try and overwhelm it with better information," said Prof Landrum. (Webmaster's comment: Conspiracy theorists have only a few brain cells. They are reverting to being primitive humans!)

The belief that the Earth is flat has gained ground among many conspiracy theorists. They are reverting to being primitive humans!

2-17-19 The sixth mass extinction
The populations of the world’s wild animals have fallen by more than 50 percent, and humanity is to blame. (Webmaster's comment: If it takes us 100-200 years to kill off 75% or more of all species THAT IS A MASS EXTINCTION. 100-200 years was only a blink of the eye in previous extinctions! Mass extinction events do not happen overnight. It might take 100's of years for the full effect of an asteroid strike or a massive volcanic eruption to play out. So will human devastation of most animal life.)

  1. What’s gone wrong? As the human population has swelled to 7.5 billion, our species’ massive footprint on planet Earth has had a devastating impact on mammals, birds, reptiles, insects, and marine life. We’ve driven thousands of species to the edge of extinction through habitat loss, overhunting and overfishing, the introduction of invasive species into new ecosystems, toxic pollution, and climate change.
  2. How many species are already extinct? Scientists can only guess. Earth is home to between 9 million and as many as 1 trillion species—and only a fraction have been discovered. Vertebrate species have, however, been closely studied, and at least 338 have gone extinct, with the number rising to 617 when one includes those species “extinct in the wild” and “possibly extinct.”
  3. How many species are endangered? There are 26,500 species threatened with extinction, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a global network of some 16,000 scientists. That includes 40 percent of amphibian species, 33 percent of reef-building corals, 25 percent of mammals, and 14 percent of birds. There are now only 7,000 cheetahs left, and the number of African lions is down 43 percent since 1993.
  4. Is a mass extinction underway? Possibly. Many scientists now believe humans are living through a “mass extinction,” or an epoch during which at least 75 percent of all species vanish from the planet. The previous five mass extinctions occurred over the past 450 million years; the last one occurred about 66 million years ago, when the aftermath of a massive asteroid strike wiped out the dinosaurs.
  5. How fast is this happening? Extremely fast. Species extinction is an ordinary part of the natural processes of our planet; in fact, 99 percent of all species that ever lived on Earth are gone. It’s the pace of recent extinctions that is alarming. More than half of the vertebrate extinctions since 1500 have occurred since 1900.
  6. What are the consequences? Potentially enormous. The loss of species can have catastrophic effects on the food chain on which humanity depends. Ocean reefs, which sustain more than 25 percent of marine life, have declined by 50 percent already—and could be lost altogether by 2050. Insects pollinate crops humans eat.
  7. Can extinct species be resurrected? Using DNA technology, scientists are working on re-creating species that have disappeared. The technology, called “de-extinction,” is likely at least a decade off, although there are a few possible ways to go about it.

2-17-19 Yellow-vest protests: Macron condemns anti-Semitic abuse
French President Emmanuel Macron has condemned anti-Semitic abuse directed at a prominent intellectual by a group of "yellow vest" protesters in Paris. Police stepped in to protect the philosopher Alain Finkielkraut after he was bombarded with insults and anti-Jewish taunts in the French capital. President Macron said it was an "absolute negation" of what made France great and would not be tolerated. Tens of thousands took part in anti-government protests on Saturday. Prosecutors have now opened an investigation into the incident, and France's interior minister said on Sunday that a suspect alleged to be the "main perpetrator" had been identified by the authorities. Police used tear gas to control crowds as the so-called "yellow vest" (gilets jaunes) demonstrators took to the streets for the 14th consecutive weekend across the country. About 5,000 turned out in Paris, officials said. Officers in Paris intervened to form a barrier after a group of individuals involved in the march confronted Mr Finkielkraut and started verbally insulting him. The 69-year-old Jewish academic told Le Parisien newspaper that he heard people shouting "dirty Zionist" and "throw yourself in the canal". He told newspaper Journal du Dimanche he felt an "absolute hate" directed at him, and would have been afraid for his safety if the police were not there, although he stressed that not all of the protesters were aggressive. Mr Finkielkraut, the son of Polish immigrants, has previously expressed sympathy for the protesters, but also voiced criticism of the movement. He said that President Macron had spoken with him by telephone on Saturday to offer his support. The incident comes after Interior Minister Christophe Castaner warned that anti-Semitism was "spreading like poison" in the country, with a series of anti-Jewish incidents reported in central Paris last weekend. These included post boxes featuring a holocaust survivor's portrait being vandalised with swastikas. (Webmaster's comment: Anti-Jewish hatred is spreading all over Europe, AND in the United States!)

2-16-19 Mexico border wall: Trump faces fight in the courts
President Trump faces legal challenges to his decision to use emergency powers to build a wall on the US border with Mexico. California and New York said they would take legal action to challenge his move to bypass Congress and secure funding for the project. Building the wall was a key pledge of Mr Trump's campaign. Democrats said it was a "gross abuse of power" and vowed to contest it "using every remedy available". On Friday, Mr Trump signed the emergency declaration along with a spending bill aimed at preventing a repeat of a recent government shutdown. Declaring an emergency could give him access to billions of dollars. Mr Trump announced the plan after Congress refused funding for the wall. Within hours, the first legal challenge against the declaration of national emergency was launched. A liberal advocacy group, Public Citizen, sued on behalf of a nature reserve and three Texas landowners who have been told the wall may be constructed on their properties. Governor Gavin Newsom of California dismissed the president's decision as "political theatre". "He's been embarrassed, and his base needs to be fed," he told reporters. "Fortunately, Donald Trump is not the last word. The courts will be the last word," he added. New York state's Democratic attorney general, Letitia James, said the state would not "stand for this abuse of power and will fight back with every legal tool at our disposal." The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said it would file a lawsuit in the coming days to curb "this blatantly illegal executive action". On Friday the two most senior Democrats - House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democrat leader Chuck Schumer - said they would challenge the "power grab by a disappointed president" in Congress and in the courts. Ms Pelosi also seized on a remark by Mr Trump in response to a question from a reporter, in which he said he "didn't need to do this". Analysts suggest that this remark could undermine Mr Trump's case that the country is facing an emergency. (Webmaster's comment: Trump is counting on his lackeys in the Supreme Count!)

2-16-19 Texas detention centre stops force-feeding migrants
A US immigration detention centre in the state of Texas has stopped force-feeding migrants, officials say. Six men on hunger strike at a centre in El Paso were being fed forcibly through plastic nasal tubes. Relatives said it was causing severe nosebleeds and vomiting, while the UN warned it could amount to torture. Earlier this week a US district judge told Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to stop force feeding two of the men. ICE officials told AP that a total of 12 detainees in El Paso were refusing food in protest against conditions at the detention centre. The detainees, mainly from Cuba and India, say guards verbally abuse and threaten to deport them. They are also protesting against the length of time they are being detained while they await legal proceedings. Another four men were on hunger strike in Miami, Phoenix, San Diego and San Francisco, ICE said last month. (Webmaster's comment: "The Brutes Of ICE" would make a great film about "Making America Great Again!")

2-16-19 Aurora shooting: Five killed by sacked man at Illinois firm
A man who was being fired from his job shot dead five people and injured several others at his workplace in the US state of Illinois, police say. The gunman was killed during an exchange of fire with police officers. Five officers were shot and wounded. The shooting took place at a manufacturing company in Aurora, a suburb about 40 miles west of Chicago. Police named the gunman as Gary Martin, 45, who had worked at the Henry Pratt company for 15 years. Aurora police chief Kristen Ziman said late on Friday they had information that his employment was being terminated that day. Officers declined to speculate on a motive for the attack, but the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper reports that his family say he was "stressed out" by being made redundant by the company, which makes valves for large water pipes. (Webmaster's comment: Typical American male brute who is looking for any excuse to kill something or somebody when he is angry!)

2-15-19 Border face-off
President Trump traveled south to the Rio Grande this week to rally support for a border wall, while former Rep. Beto O’Rourke held a counter-rally in his hometown, less than a mile away. Behind a sea of signs that read “Build the Wall” and “Finish the Wall,” Trump didn’t wait long to take a shot at the Democratic phenom, calling him “a young man who’s got very little going for himself, except he’s got a good first name.” O’Rourke, 46, touted El Paso’s low crime rates, telling his rallygoers, “We’re not safe because of walls but in spite of walls.” Trump insisted that fencing along the border had cut El Paso’s crime rate and counseled his supporters not to trust crime statistics, which showed no such decline. The city’s Republican major has also rebuffed wall proposals; at his rally, Trump called the mayor “full of crap.”

2-15-19 Baptist church scandal
About 380 Southern Baptist church workers were accused of sexual misconduct over the past 20 years, according to an investigation published this week by the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News. The 380 include ministers, youth pastors, Sunday school teachers, and church volunteers, about 220 of whom were convicted or took plea deals, while dozens more have pending cases. Some of the accused continued to work in the church. Their victims exceed 700 in number, many of whom were ostracized by their churches or urged to forgive their abusers and get abortions. Children as young as 3, the report says, “were molested or raped inside pastors’ studies and Sunday school classrooms.” Leaders at the Southern Baptist Convention are accused of concealing or mishandling victims’ allegations. SBC President Rev. J.D. Greear called abuses described in the report “pure evil.”/p>

2-15-19 Democratic lawmaker accused of anti-Semitism
Freshman Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar apologized this week after sparking a firestorm of criticism from both Democrats and Republicans for suggesting that Israel’s allies in Congress were motivated solely by money. The Somali-American triggered outrage with a tweet in which she said that U.S. lawmakers’ support for the Jewish state is “all about the Benjamins baby,” using slang for $100 bills. When Omar was asked where that cash was coming from, she tweeted “AIPAC!” referring to the pro-Israel lobbying group. Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders decried the Minnesota representative’s “use of anti-Semitic tropes”—namely that wealthy Jews use their fortunes to secretly manipulate politicians. Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy promised to take action to punish Omar for spreading “hatred.” Omar, one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress, apologized the following day and thanked “Jewish allies and colleagues” for teaching her about “the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes.” This is not the first time that Omar, a campaigner for Palestinian rights, has been accused of anti-Semitism. Just weeks earlier, she was forced to make amends for a 2012 tweet in which she said that Israel had “hypnotized” the world. Republicans have some nerve criticizing Democrats, said Zack Beauchamp in Vox.com. Trump peddled anti-Semitic imagery in his campaign, and McCarthy tweeted last year that prominent Jewish Democrats were trying to “buy” the midterms. Still, even if GOP outrage comes in bad faith, Democrats have to crack down on anti-Semitism or risk the fate of Britain’s Labour Party. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who once called Hamas and Hezbollah his “friends,” made anti-Semitism mainstream in the party. Now 40 percent of British Jews say they’d leave the country if Labour took power. “If the line isn’t drawn somewhere, the results for Jews—who remain a vulnerable minority—can be devastating.”

2-15-19 ‘Religious freedom’ isn’t for Muslims
So now we know what the Supreme Court’s conservatives mean by “religious freedom,” said Wajahat Ali. By a 5-4 vote, the court last week allowed Alabama to proceed with its execution of Domineque Ray, a convicted murderer and convert to Islam, even though the state had denied his request to have his imam at his side as he was killed. The state did offer to have a Christian prison chaplain present. “How would these five justices have responded if all the facts were the same but Ray were a Christian?” As Justice Elena Kagan noted in her dissent, the ruling violates the Constitution’s Establishment Clause, which forbids the government from favoring one religion over another. In ruling after ruling, the conservative justices have given Christianity special status and shielded it from laws that govern everyone else, such as in the ruling allowing a Christian to refuse to bake a cake for a gay wedding; Muslims, meanwhile, can be discriminated against with impunity, as in President Trump’s travel ban. But if “religious liberty” allows you “not to bake and sell a cake, maybe it should also allow you to have an imam at your own execution.”

2-15-19 The 400 richest Americans
The 400 richest Americans have more wealth than the 150 million adults who make up the bottom 60 percent of the country’s wealth distribution, according to a new study by University of California at Berkeley economist Gabriel Zucman. “U.S. wealth concentration seems to have returned to levels last seen during the Roaring Twenties,” Zucman writes.

2-15-19 Where Your Money Goes
Despite all the attention tech gets, the biggest five insurance and health benefits companies have greater revenues than the FAANGs—Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and Google. The top five health insurers and benefit managers expect $787 billion in revenue for 2019, compared with $784 billion for the FAANGs. Pharmacy benefit manager CVS, the biggest of the health-care group, expects revenues of $246 billion.

2-15-19 Socialism: What it really means
Like other Republicans, President Trump is worried about the creeping menace they call “socialism,” said Paul Krugman in The New York Times. “America will never be a socialist country,” he proclaimed in his State of the Union address. But what do Trump and the Right actually mean when they cry “socialism”? Certainly not enormously popular programs like Medicare and Social Security, or the regulations that “temper the excesses of a market economy.” In fact, what the Left actually wants is “a market economy, but with extreme hardship limited by a strong social safety net and extreme inequality limited by progressive taxation.” In other words, a “social democracy” like Denmark or Norway, not a Marxist autocracy like Venezuela. In Venezuela, said Greg Ip in The Wall Street Journal, the government has seized the oil industry and other means of production, planting the seeds for the country’s economic collapse. Here, Democrats are proposing steeply progressive taxes and programs such as “Medicare for all” that are “certainly liberal, probably radical, possibly unwise. But socialist? Hardly.” This semantic argument is missing the point, said Cass Sunstein in Bloomberg.com. Few Democrats advocate that the government seize and operate private industry; when they use the term “democratic socialist” or “Green New Deal,” they are thinking of Franklin Roosevelt’s attempts to save capitalism from its excesses. Progressives are advocating addressing the nation’s massive income inequality, through better access to health care, higher taxes on the wealthiest, and job-creation efforts for struggling Americans. “But please,” let’s not call these ideas “socialist.” It just distorts and confuses a very important debate.

2-15-19 Call to ban killer robots in wars
A group of scientists has called for a ban on the development of weapons controlled by artificial intelligence (AI). It says that autonomous weapons may malfunction in unpredictable ways and kill innocent people. Ethics experts also argue that it is a moral step too far for AI systems to kill without any human intervention. The comments were made at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Washington DC. Human Rights Watch (HRW) is one of the 89 non-governmental organisations from 50 countries that have formed the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, to press for an international treaty. Among those leading efforts for the worldwide ban is HRW's Mary Wareham. "We are not talking about walking, talking terminator robots that are about to take over the world; what we are concerned about is much more imminent: conventional weapons systems with autonomy," she told BBC News. "They are beginning to creep in. Drones are the obvious example, but there are also military aircraft that take off, fly and land on their own; robotic sentries that can identify movement. These are precursors to autonomous weapons." Ryan Gariepy, chief technological officer at Clearpath Robotics, backs the ban proposal. His company takes military contracts, but it has denounced AI systems for warfare and stated that it would not develop them. "When they fail, they fail in unpredictable ways," he told BBC News. "As advanced as we are, the state of AI is really limited by image recognition. It is good but does not have the detail or context to be judge, jury and executioner on a battlefield. "An autonomous system cannot make a decision to kill or not to kill in a vacuum. The de-facto decision has been made thousands of miles away by developers, programmers and scientists who have no conception of the situation the weapon is deployed in." (Webmaster's comment: For the American military terrorizing the ememy by killing its civilians is has been a key strategy for over 100 years!)

2-15-19 The story of historically black colleges in the US
When Kamala Harris, one of the early frontrunners for the 2020 Democratic nomination, talked about the importance of the university she attended, she shone a spotlight on historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). "When the federal government gives attention to HBCUs we end up having a profound impact on black people in America," said the California senator, when asked about her alma mater, Howard University, in an interview following the launch of her presidential bid. HBCUs like Howard, one of the top ranked and most well known historically black universities in the country, are recognised around the globe. Dr Gracie Lawson-Borders, dean of Howard's school of communications, says that for a lot of the students "this opportunity to be accepted at Howard, at Bennett or at any HBCU is just a part of their growing war chest of preparation to make a difference in this world". Historically black colleges and universities, commonly called HBCUs, were created to provide higher education to disenfranchised African Americans in the United States, who were otherwise prohibited from attending most colleges. The first and oldest HBCU, Cheyney University, was founded in 1837 in Pennsylvania. At the time, Blacks were not allowed to attend most colleges and postsecondary institutions, as a result of slavery and segregation. Under the 1965 Higher Education Act, HBCUs were officially defined as institutions of higher learning that were accredited and established before 1964. The act allocated federal grants and funding to those colleges and universities. These institutions would become largely responsible for the black middle class composed of doctors, lawyers, teachers, engineers and other professionals. HBCUs continue to produce black celebrities, professionals, and leaders. The two oldest HBCU medical schools Meharry Medical College and Howard University are responsible for more than 80% of African American doctors and dentists practicing in the US today, according to the US Department of Education. Notable African American alum - like Senator Kamala Harris - aren't far and few. The long list of successful African Americans who attended HBCUs include civil rights leader Martin Luther King, the first African American US Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, media mogul Oprah Winfrey and director Spike Lee - to name a few.

2-15-19 Trump to declare emergency over Mexico border wall
Democratic and Republican politicians have sharply criticised President Trump's plan to use emergency powers to pay for a border wall with Mexico. Mr Trump is due to declare the emergency shortly in an attempt to bypass Congress, which has refused to approve $5.7bn (£4.4bn) for the wall. Senior Democrats accused the president of a "gross abuse of power". Several Republicans also voiced concern. Building a border wall was a key pledge in Mr Trump's election campaign. Declaring a national emergency would give Mr Trump access to billions of dollars for his project. The president agreed on Thursday to sign a spending bill that does not include finance for the wall. Disagreement over the issue led to a 35-day government shutdown early this year - the longest in US history. The spending bill is due to be signed shortly to avert another shutdown. Citing unnamed White House officials, US media outlets reported that the president would sign the emergencies act at the same time. The National Emergencies Act contains a clause that allows Congress to terminate the emergency status if both houses vote for it - and the president does not veto. With a comfortable majority in the House, Democrats could pass such a resolution to the Senate. The Republicans control the Senate, but a number of Republican senators have been vocal in their unease about the president invoking a national emergency. The dissenting Republicans include 2012 presidential contender and new senator for Utah Mitt Romney, Florida senator Marco Rubio, and the senator from Maine Susan Collins, who said the move was of "dubious constitutionality". The resolution would however still require Mr Trump's signature to pass, allowing him to veto it. A supermajority in both houses of Congress is needed to overturn a presidential veto. (Webmaster's comment: We don't need to stop immigration. We need to stop this President!)

2-15-19 Republicans don't care about the Constitution, and Trump's national emergency proves it
The president is circumventing the rule of law his party has long claimed to hold so dear. t is bad for the country and worse for the Constitution that President Trump has decided to bypass Congress and declare a national emergency in order to start building his long-sought, long-promised wall on the southern border. But there is the small consolation of a thin silver lining: One more pillar of Republican conservatism has been revealed as a hollow pose. The pillar, in this case, is the GOP's claim to be more Constitutional than thou — the party's longstanding insistence that it is most faithful to the words and vision of the Founders, and thus more dedicated to "American" notions of freedom and liberty. Clearly, that assertion is false. The Constitution is pretty clear on this point: Congress has the power of the purse. The president does not. By declaring an emergency, Trump is circumventing the rule of law his fellow Republicans have long claimed to hold so dear. And he is doing so with the full support of his party's leaders. "I indicated to him I'm going to support the national emergency declaration," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Thursday, announcing the president's decision on the Senate floor. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) — who once warned starkly about the dangers of Trumpism — followed up with some cheerleading of his own, as did Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.). Sure, there are some Republicans, like Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who are protesting the president's planned move. Whether that opposition amounts to anything, though, remains to be seen.

2-15-19 US border agency sued for detaining two Spanish speakers
Two US citizens are suing US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) after they were detained in Montana for speaking Spanish. Ana Suda and Martha Hernandez were held by a CBP officer last May after he heard them speaking Spanish in a grocery store. Agent Paul O'Neal questioned the US citizens for about 40 minutes and asked to see identification. Both believed they were being detained, according to court documents. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed the suit on behalf of Ms Suda and Ms Hernandez. "Speaking Spanish is not against the law," ACLU staff attorney Cody Wofsy wrote in a press release, arguing this CBP action "reflects an out-of-control agency emboldened by a vehemently anti-immigrant administration." The lawsuit seeks to stop the CBP from detaining anyone without cause for speaking Spanish or for their accent, as well as compensatory and punitive damages. Ms Suda, who was born in Texas, recorded the original incident on her phone. Ms Hernandez was born in California. Agent O'Neal says in the footage that he was asking for their identification because they were "speaking Spanish, which is very unheard of up here". Once the incident went public the agency said it was "committed to treating everyone with professionalism, dignity and respect". The CBP's nondiscrimination policy prohibits using racial and ethnic stereotypes to conduct stops or searches, but the language over how agents decide to question people is vague. Census data says about 41 million people speak Spanish at home in the US. The country is the second largest Spanish-speaking nation in the world, with more Spanish speakers than Spain itself when bilingual people are included. (Webmaster's comment: The ignorant male brutes at ICE will use any excuse to arrest "Mexicans!")

2-15-19 Parkland anniversary: Moment of silence marks one year since school shooting
A US community devastated by a school shooting one year ago has marked the tragic anniversary with quiet mourning. Seventeen people were shot and killed by an ex-student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (MSD) in Parkland, Florida on 14 February 2018. Students and educators across the country also marked the day with vigils, moments of silence, art projects and other demonstrations. The school mass shooting spurred a renewed effort towards gun control. (Webmaster's comment: But virtually nothing has been done.) Schools in Broward County - the southern Florida region where 14 students and three school staff members were killed - operated on a regular schedule, but students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas held a "non-academic" day devoted to commemoration and healing. Classes at MSD ended before 14:20 local time, the moment the shooting began a year ago. "Although we mourn from the lives that we've lost through a horrific act of hate and anger, I believe that we must also celebrate the possibilities of what can be through love and support," superintendent Robert Runcie said outside the school on Thursday. Schools across the state of Florida held a moment of silence at 10:17 local time, to honour the 17 people killed in the gun attack. The city of Parkland sponsored a day of service at a park near the school and held a moment of silence, with a vigil later in the evening. Mental health professional and comfort dogs were there to assist grieving students throughout the day.

2-14-19 Parkland, one year later
A year ago today, a gunman walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida and committed murder. When Nikolas Cruz was done pulling the trigger, 17 students and staff members were dead, another 17 were injured, and countless others at the school were left traumatized by their brush with violence. If the massacre at Parkland was yet another warning about the deadliness and destructiveness of America's gun culture, the reception afforded the Parkland survivors was also telling — a sign that our politics have become so destructive that we can't even treat crime survivors with a measure of respect. That should seem counterintuitive, right? Hogg, who was 17 at the time, wasn't culpable for the attack in any way — he was one of the survivors. But he went on CNN to lash out at politicians he said had failed to protect him and his fellow students from gun violence — and within weeks, he and other Parkland students, including Cameron Kasky and Emma Gonzalez, organized a national "March for Our Lives" to rally young people nationwide in favor of gun restrictions. Hogg, Kasky, Gonzalez, and many of their fellow survivors didn't accept victimhood; they became activists instead. As a result, they have been treated with unbelievable levels of contempt and ridicule by those who disagree with and fear their message. Any chance that they would be treated as what they were — young people who lived through an unimaginable horror, kids who deserved an extra measure of protection from the ugliness of the world instead of being given another helping — was almost immediately lost. Just six weeks after the attack, GQ published a story describing how the "sliming" of anti-gun Parkland survivors had gone mainstream — National Review, a respectable conservative outlet, had labeled Hogg and his fellow activists "demagogues" and "useful idiots." A week after the attack, Dinesh D'Souza — the conservative activist pardoned by President Trump for his conviction on campaign finance violations — mocked Parkland survivors as they watched Florida legislators vote down a gun control bill. "Worst news since their parents told them to get summer jobs," he tweeted. D'Souza later apologized. In March, The Washington Post reported that a fake photo of Gonzalez was circulating on the internet, purporting to depict her tearing the Constitution in half. In reality, she'd torn a gun target in half at a rally. That same month, Fox News' Laura Ingraham mocked Hogg on Twitter, noting his application had been rejected at four colleges where he'd applied, and accusing him of "whining" about it. She apologized and backtracked after advertisers began to abandon her show.

2-14-19 Gay couples sue Japan over right to get married
Thirteen same-sex couples across Japan are taking legal action on Thursday against the government, demanding the right to get married. They are suing for symbolic damages, arguing that being barred from marriage violates their constitutional rights. Should the courts agree, it would mean same-sex unions will have to be permitted in future. While Japan does not allow gay marriage, surveys suggest there is strong support for the case. The 13 couples will all file their case on Valentine's Day, in different Japanese cities. Ai Nakajima, 40, from Japan, and 31-year old German Tina Baumann are among them. The two have been together since 2011 when they met in Berlin. After living a few years in Germany, they moved to Japan. But living as a same-sex couple was very different in the two countries. "Japanese society is by nature very conservative," Ms Nakajima told the BBC. Many of their friends don't dare to out themselves as homosexual and hide their partners from families and even friends. Though Japan is a very traditional country, polls indicate that the vast majority of younger Japanese support same-sex marriage. Since 2015, some cities have issued certificates for same-sex couples, but they are not legally binding and merely call on businesses to accord equal treatment. "So while among younger people there is an overwhelming support for gay marriage, politicians tend to be older and are very hesitant when it comes to changing things," Ms Nakajima says. The 13 couples know their court cases will draw public attention to their struggle, of course - but there is genuine hope that they might be successful. "We are prepared to take this to the supreme court," Ms Nakajima explains. "If we have to take that route, it might take more than five years."

2-13-19 Anti-Semitism: Germany sees '10% jump in offences' in 2018
The German government has revealed a sharp increase in the number of anti-Semitic offences recorded last year. Crime data, detailed in German media on Wednesday, says 1,646 crimes were linked to a hatred of Jews in 2018 - showing a yearly increase of 10%. It comes just a day after French politicians spoke out about a sharp rise of incidents in their own country. French Interior minister, Christophe Castaner, has warned that anti-Semitism is "spreading like poison". Over the weekend there were a series of anti-Semitic incidents reported in central Paris - including Swastika vandalism on post-boxes featuring a holocaust survivor's portrait. The latest data from Germany was released after a request from a member of the far-left Die Linke party. That information was then shared with German newspaper, Der Tagesspiegel. data revealed a total jump in anti-Semitic offences of about 10%. It also revealed a 60% rise in physical attacks - with 62 violent incidents recorded, up from 37 in 2017. Josef Shcuster, the head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said the news shows that government action is "urgently needed". "The latest numbers are not yet official, but at least they reflect a tendency - and that's scary," he said in a statement to the BBC. "What had already solidified as a subjective impression among Jews is now confirmed in the statistics. "Considering that acts below the threshold for criminal liability are not covered, the picture becomes even darker." Jewish groups have warned about the rise of far-right groups in fostering anti-Semitism and hatred of other minorities throughout Europe. Last year, a survey of thousands of European Jews revealed that many were increasingly worried about anti-Semitism. (Webmaster's comment: In America too! In America we just mass murdered 11 of them. Hatred for no reason except that they are not Christians!)

2-13-19 Cameron Kasky: How being a student gun control activist took its toll
After surviving the Parkland school massacre in Florida in February 2018 Cameron Kasky helped lead a youth campaign for gun control. But the strain of his experiences - in the school, and in the media spotlight - left him anxious and depressed. A year later, writes the BBC's Tom Gillett, his focus is on dialogue with his former opponents. On 14 February 2018 a former pupil entered Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland Florida armed with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle. After six minutes and 20 seconds of carnage, three teachers and 14 of Cameron Kasky's fellow students lay dead. The geography teacher Scott Biegel, whom Kasky had known well, died protecting his students from gunfire. When the shooting broke out, Kasky had been rushing to pick up his younger brother from a special needs class. Hustled into the nearest classroom, the brothers spent the remainder of the attack hiding in the dark, not knowing if the door would be opened by the shooter or a rescuer. There he stayed in touch with events outside via his mobile phone. "I saw videos, when we were in the room, of people being killed. They were going round Snapchat," he says. "It was very familiar to me. I grew up with these. I was born in 2000 - that was not long at all after Columbine," he says, referring to the Columbine school massacre the previous year, where 12 schoolchildren and a teacher were murdered by two teenage gunmen, who then killed themselves. As Kasky was to tweet after the attack: "I am part of the Mass Shooting Generation, and it's an ugly club to be in." It was the reaction of the teenage Parkland pupils immediately after the events of that day that made the response to this attack unique. An outraged determination set in among Kasky and a small group of his friends.

2-12-19 The Democrats' total capitulation on the border
What did Democrats receive for gifting Trump so much at the border? Nothing. epublican and Democratic lawmakers last night reportedly came to an agreement on border enforcement funding to avert another government shutdown before the Friday deadline. Yet after all this drama, it's unclear if Democrats accomplished much beyond virtue signaling to their base. If anything, they may have given Trump a green light to forge ahead with his draconian interior enforcement agenda without any meaningful oversight of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Details of the deal are still trickling in but it seems clear that after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pledged not to give Trump even a "dollar" for his wall, Democrats agreed to hand him $1.375 billion to build a 55-mile long barrier in the Rio Grande Valley. They're trying to spin this as mere "pedestrian fencing." Trump, who is never shy of staring a gift horse in the mouth, is saying it’s not enough. But it's pretty clear that Democrats gave in. In addition, they agreed to hand the Department of Homeland Security an additional $1.7 billion for border security, including technology at ports of entry, more officers and, as an afterthought, some humanitarian aid. Handing Trump some wall money might have been worth it if Democrats had got something in return like legalizing the DREAMers (folks who've grown up in America after being brought to the country without proper authorization as minors) and others whose temporary protected status Trump scrapped. But Democrats failed to even put this on the table despite many hints by Republicans that they would consider a DREAMer-for-wall deal. The Democratic Party seems to be more interested in rallying their base with the issue than actually solving it. Even worse, Democrats capitulated to the administration's demand for maintaining its inflated detention bed capacity to house unauthorized immigrants, the lynchpin of its draconian enforcement actions. (Webmaster's comment: Trump is setting up a prison camp system just like the Nazis did with ICE agents as the Nazi SS troops!)

2-12-19 Arkansas white supremacist gang arrested in string of violent crimes
Federal prosecutors in Arkansas have indicted 54 members of a white supremacy gang for allegedly committing acts of violence and drug dealing. The indictment names 54 people with ties to the New Aryan Empire, a white supremacist group which is known for Nazi swastikas and Heil Hitler salutes. The charges, including murder, conspiracy, and drug trafficking, are part of Operation To The Dirt. Prosecutors say the gang first formed in an Arkansas jail in 1990. In a news conference on Tuesday, Deputy Assistant Attorney General David Rybicki said the group is also known to intimidate witnesses and in one case burned an informant's face with a hot knife. The New Aryan Empire (NAE) "has moved from our prisons to our neighbourhoods," Mr Rybicki said, adding that they count roughly 5,000 people as members. As part of the operation - named for a gang code that refers to being a member for life - authorities seized 69 guns, 25lbs (11kg) of methamphetamine and over $70,000 in drug money. US Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas Cody Hiland said he plans to prosecute the case under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, otherwise known as the RICO Act. The act, which has been used to prosecute other organised criminal groups, allows prosecutors to target leaders who order other people to commit crimes on their behalf.

2-12-19 Parkland anniversary: Students around the world on US school shootings and their own fears
This week marks one year since the Parkland school shooting in Florida, where 17 people were killed. School shootings are feared by a majority of American teenagers, a study from Pew Research Center suggests. Students in Australia, India, Lebanon and the UK reveal their feelings on gun violence in US classrooms and their biggest personal fears.

2-12-19 Trump supporter attacks BBC cameraman at El Paso rally
A supporter of US President Donald Trump has attacked a BBC cameraman at a campaign rally in El Paso, Texas. Sporting a Make America Great Again cap, the man shoved and swore at the BBC's Ron Skeans and other news crews before being pulled away. Mr Skeans said the "very hard shove" came from his blindside. "I didn't know what was going on." Mr Trump saw the attack and confirmed Mr Skeans was well with a thumbs up after it happened. The president has had a fractious relationship with the media from the very start of his time in office. He has claimed journalists are "the enemy of the people" and slammed the "fake news" for reports he deems unfavourable. Mr Skeans said the man almost knocked him and his camera over twice before he was wrestled away by a blogger. (Webmaster's comment: Trump's rhetoric encourages physical attacks on the news media!)

2-12-19 Chris Pratt denies claims that his church is anti-LGBTQ
Chris Pratt says the church he attends is not "anti-LGBTQ" after Ellen Page said it was homophobic. Page, who is openly gay, replied to a tweet that said Pratt was going to discuss his "spiritual side" on a US talk show. She said "but his church is infamously anti-LGBTQ so maybe address that too?" Neither has named which church it is in their correspondence, but Pratt, 39, responded on his Instagram story to defend his place of worship. He said: "It has recently been suggested that I belong to a church which 'hates a certain group of people' and is 'infamously anti-LGBTQ.' Nothing could be further from the truth. "I go to a church that opens their doors to absolutely everyone." Page, who is known for her roles in Juno and Inception, later tweeted again to say: "If you are a famous actor and you belong to an organisation that hates a certain group of people, don't be surprised if someone simply wonders why it's not addressed." Pratt said that "despite what the Bible says about divorce," his church was "there for me every step of the way" during his marriage split from actress Anna Faris, and that it provides "love and support" regardless of "sexual orientation, race or gender". Pratt said he is not a "spokesman for any church" and that "we need less hate in this world, not more. I am a man who believes that everyone is entitled to love who they want free from the judgment of their fellow man".

2-12-19 Why so many people believe conspiracy theories
Did Hillary Clinton mastermind a global child-trafficking ring from a Washington pizzeria? No.Did George W Bush orchestrate a plot to bring down the Twin Towers and kill thousands of people in 2001? Also no. So, why do some people believe they did? And what do conspiracy theories tell us about the way we see the world? Conspiracy theories are far from a new phenomenon. They have been a constant hum in the background for at least the past 100 years, says Prof Joe Uscinski, author of American Conspiracy Theories. They are also more widespread than you might think. "Everybody believes in at least one and probably a few," he says. "And the reason is simple: there is an infinite number of conspiracy theories out there. If we were to poll on all of them, everybody is going to check a few boxes." This finding isn't peculiar to the US. In 2015, University of Cambridge research found most Britons ticked a box when presented with a list of just five theories. These ranged from the existence of a secret group controlling world events, to contact with aliens. This suggests that, contrary to popular belief, the typical conspiracy theorist is not a middle-aged man living in his mother's basement sporting a tinfoil hat. "When you actually look at the demographic data, belief in conspiracies cuts across social class, it cuts across gender and it cuts across age," Prof Chris French, a psychologist at Goldsmith's, University of London, says. Equally, whether you're on the left or the right, you're just as likely to see plots against you. "The two sides are equal in terms of conspiracy thinking," Prof Uscinski says, of research in the US. "People who believe that Bush blew up the Twin Towers were mostly Democrats, people who thought that Obama faked his own birth certificate were mostly Republicans - but it was about even numbers within each party."


FEMINISM

2-16-19 US ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick defrocked over abuse claims
A former Roman Catholic cardinal has been defrocked after historical sexual abuse allegations. Theodore McCarrick is the most senior Catholic figure to be dismissed from the priesthood in modern times. US Church officials said allegations he had sexually assaulted a teenager five decades ago were credible. Mr McCarrick, 88, had previously resigned but said he had "no recollection" of the alleged abuse. "No bishop, no matter how influential, is above the law of the Church," Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops said in a statement. "For all those McCarrick abused, I pray this judgment will be one small step, among many, toward healing." The alleged abuses may have taken place too long ago for criminal charges to be filed because of the statute of limitations. (Webmaster's comment: A statue of limitations on sex crimes just encouages the pedaphiles.) Mr McCarrick was the archbishop of Washington DC from 2001 to 2006. Since his resignation last year from the College of Cardinals, he has been living in seclusion in a monastery in Kansas. He was the first person to resign as a cardinal since 1927. He is among hundreds of members of the clergy accused of sexually abusing children over several decades and his dismissal comes days before the Vatican hosts a summit on preventing child abuse. The Vatican said Pope Francis had ruled Mr McCarrick's expulsion from the clergy as definitive, and would not allow any further appeals against the decision.

2-16-19 El Salvador: Woman jailed over stillbirth is freed from 30-year sentence
A court in El Salvador has freed a woman who was sentenced to 30 years in prison after she gave birth to a stillborn baby in a toilet. Evelyn Beatríz Hernández Cruz, 20, had served nearly three years of her sentence for aggravated homicide. Following an appeal a court ordered she be re-tried, but she will be able to live at home during the process. She and her lawyers have always maintained she was unaware she was pregnant and no crime had occurred. But prosecutors said she was guilty of murder because she had had not sought out antenatal care. Activists greeted her at the jail gates, chanting "Evelyn, you are not alone". The Central American country bans abortion in all circumstances, and dozens of women have been imprisoned for the deaths of their foetuses in cases where they said they had suffered miscarriages or stillbirths. In April 2016, Ms Hernández gave birth in the latrine of her home in a small rural community. She lost consciousness after losing large amounts of blood. Her mother told the BBC that police arrived at a hospital after the pair went there for emergency care. Ms Hernández said she did not know whether her baby had been born alive or dead, and that she would have gone to see a doctor if she had known she was pregnant. During her original trial she said she had been repeatedly raped. Her lawyers said she was too frightened to report the rapes, and some reports said the man who raped her was a gang member. Medical experts could not determine whether the foetus had died in her womb or just after being born. Although she was in the third trimester, Ms Hernández said she had confused the symptoms of pregnancy with stomach ache because she had experienced intermittent bleeding, which she thought was her menstrual period. (Webmaster's comment: Brute males always want to find some excuse to punish a woman!)

2-15-19 COSTA RICA Where #MeToo confronts macho culture
To the world, Óscar Arias Sánchez is a gentle hero, said Ana Marcela Montanaro Mena, a two-time Costa Rican president whose bold vision of peace brought an end to Central America’s bloody civil wars of the 1980s. For that feat, he won the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize. But to Costa Ricans, the now 78-year-old Arias is “a feudal lord, with the power to decide over lives, bodies, and territories.” Strongly allied with “internal oligarchies” and the interests of international business, he embodies the “corruption and patriarchal power” that rule this country. That’s why it was so brave of his first accuser to step forward. Alexandra Arce Von Herold, 34, a psychiatrist and activist, said Arias assaulted her four years ago at the end of a meeting on nuclear disarmament in his home, grabbing her and penetrating her with his fingers. Since Arce’s accusation, three more women, all journalists, have come forward with similar claims of unwanted sexual advances. Now we will see whether justice can prevail in a country “loaded with machismo and violence.” Arias, who denies all the claims, has resigned from the National Liberation Party while Arce’s criminal complaint against him is litigated. It is time for Costa Rica to join “the feminist wave sweeping the world.”

2-15-19 Supreme Court: Is Roe v. Wade on the way out?
Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh “is already done pretending to care about abortion rights,” said Elie Mystal in The Nation. Last week, Kavanaugh dissented when the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to temporarily block a strict new Louisiana law that would shut down all but one of the state’s abortion clinics. The law, which would require providers to get admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their clinic, is almost identical to a Texas law that the court struck down in 2016 for putting an “undue burden” on women seeking an abortion. The “undue burden” standard is a key Supreme Court precedent. This is what the pro-choice movement feared, said Mark Joseph Stern in Slate.com. By writing a dissent that argues in favor of ignoring the Texas precedent, Kavanaugh “just declared war on Roe v. Wade.” Roberts isn’t a “traitor” to the conservative cause, said Paul Waldman in The Washington Post. It’s likely that the solidly conservative chief justice will ultimately uphold the Louisiana law, after making it look as if he and the other conservatives carefully weighed its merits during the stay. After all, Roberts originally voted with other conservatives to uphold the Texas law when the liberal faction still had Justice Anthony Kennedy as a swing vote. Roberts knows that polls show nearly two-thirds of Americans oppose overturning Roe, and that doing so would spark a massive backlash against Republicans. “To save the GOP from itself,” Roberts instead will now join the four other conservatives in ruling in favor of most state abortion restrictions—effectively making it illegal in red states, and legal in blue states. “If your goal was to destroy Roe and to minimize the backlash Republicans will suffer at the polls, that’s how you’d do it.”

2-15-19 GERMANY The ban on abortion information
If you need an abortion in Germany, you won’t find any information on your doctor’s website, said Margarete Stokowski. Activists campaigned for months to overturn the law that bans all “advertising” of abortion services—which effectively prohibits doctors from releasing any information at all about the procedure. And after a long parliamentary debate on women’s rights and self-determination, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet last week offered a miserly compromise. Under the proposal, doctors and hospitals will be able to add the word “abortion” to the list of services they provide. But they will not be allowed to give any more information than that—not how long the procedure will last, for example, or what to expect in recovery. The legislature will now vote on the measure. It is yet another reflection of the hypocrisy surrounding abortion in Germany. Terminating a pregnancy here is technically still “a criminal offense,” but it is tacitly allowed in the first trimester if the patient gets mandatory counseling. Yet the number of clinics that provide abortions has been steadily falling across the country, and German medical schools teach the procedure only perfunctorily or not at all. In some areas, women have to travel 100 miles to reach a provider and then brave a gaggle of protesters. At this rate, we’ll soon be as restrictive as the U.S.

2-15-19 Vatican envoy Luigi Ventura faces sexual assault claim
The Vatican's ambassador to France is under investigation for sexual assault. Luigi Ventura, 74, allegedly molested a junior official at a mayoral address to diplomats at Paris town hall on 17 January. The city mayor's office filed a complaint on 24 January and a judicial investigation opened the next day. Archbishop Ventura has served as ambassador for 10 years. The allegations come amid a wave of sexual abuse accusations in the clergy. It is traditional for ambassadors to attend the Paris mayor's New Year address to diplomats, religious leaders and civil society figures. A City Hall official told Reuters that Archbishop Ventura "caressed in an insistent and repeated manner" the buttocks of the young man who welcomed him to the event. Last week, Pope Francis acknowledged sexual abuse of nuns by priests and in December two cardinals were demoted following abuse allegations. Mr Ventura's representatives have declined to comment on the allegations.

2-15-19 The Lorena Bobbitt case was a blueprint for how men would dismiss #MeToo
From gaslighting to crude jokes. "For this show, we're not dismissing Christine Ford as a liar," Fox News host Tucker Carlson began one evening last September. "It doesn't seem like she is. It seems like she sincerely believes everything she is saying. But that does not mean she is right." Having just finished watching Lorena, Amazon's new four-hour docuseries on Lorena Bobbitt, I revisited Carlson's dismissal of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh's rape accuser and found it particularly chilling. In the 25 years since Bobbitt allegedly endured brutal violence at the hands of her husband, John Wayne Bobbitt, before famously committing "the one act every man fears most," one would have hoped that we'd be better at examining such incidents from the woman's perspective. Instead, Lorena sheds light on how the Bobbitt case proved to be a blueprint for the next two decades of male backlash against women accusers. Lorena Bobbitt (who now uses her maiden name, Gallo) and John Wayne Bobbitt became worldwide tabloid sensations when Lorena cut off Bobbitt's penis with a knife after he allegedly raped her in 1993. Bobbitt's organ was recovered by police and surgically reattached; Gallo herself was found not guilty of wounding Bobbitt due to an "irresistible impulse" plea. In her trial, which is documented extensively in Lorena, out Friday, Gallo described being physically beaten by her husband as well as repeatedly raped over the course of their marriage — allegations that the documentary takes care to back up, although Bobbitt maintains his innocence to this day. In 1993, much like now, many men had little empathy for the female accuser. In the Bobbitt case, part of that lack of understanding was due to the unique nature of Gallo's act: As Lorena illustrates, there was a fanaticism around the nature of the body part that was removed. "She took away the thing that means the most to a man," Bobbitt's brother, Todd Biro, declared on one talk show. A contemporaneous interviewee told The New York Times that Gallo "ought to be executed" for what she did to Bobbitt. (Webmaster's comment: He was a male brute rapist and he should have been imprisoned for life!.)

2-14-19 Ryan Adams accused of sexual misconduct by several women
Several women have accused alternative rock star Ryan Adams of emotional and verbal abuse and offering career opportunities as a pretext for sex. A report in the New York Times outlines a pattern of manipulative behaviour, including accusations of psychological abuse from his ex-wife, Mandy Moore. Another woman said Adams sent explicit texts and exposed himself during a Skype call when she was a teenager. The star, who rose to fame in the early 2000s, has denied the allegations. "I am not a perfect man and I have made many mistakes," he said in a statement posted on social media. "To anyone I have ever hurt, however unintentionally, I apologise deeply and unreservedly. "But the picture that this article paints is upsettingly inaccurate. Some of its details are misrepresented; some are exaggerated; some are outright false. I would never have inappropriate interactions with someone I thought was underage. Period." Acclaimed indie artist Phoebe Bridgers was among the seven women and dozens of associates who were interviewed for the New York Times article. She said that Adams reached out to her when she was 20, offering to release her songs on his record label. Their relationship turned romantic, but Adams became obsessive and manipulative, she claimed, demanding to know her whereabouts and threatening suicide if she did not reply to his texts immediately. When she broke off their relationship, Adams "became evasive about releasing the music they had recorded together and rescinded the offer to open his upcoming concerts," the New York Times reported. Through his lawyer, Adams rejected Bridgers' account, describing their relationship as "a brief, consensual fling," and denying he had threatened to withhold her songs.

2-13-19 Hotels train staff to spot human trafficking
The front line for preventing human trafficking might not be at airports, international borders or in police raids. It might be at the hotel check-in desk. An international hotel chain has completed a two-year project to train half a million staff with the aim of spotting potential victims of trafficking. Marriott's workforce, in almost 7,000 hotels, have completed a process of mandatory training teaching them to look out for warning signs. "Hotels can unfortunately be unwilling venues for this unconscionable crime," David Rodriguez, the hotel group's chief global human resources officer, said. "There is no easy fix but combating modern-day slavery starts with awareness," Mr Rodriguez said. "And we now have a significant number of people capable of recognising suspicious behaviour and reporting it to management and, in some cases, law enforcement." The type of signs might include "guests with minimal luggage and clothing" and "individuals who can't speak freely or seem disoriented". There might be "guests who insist on little or no housekeeping". Concerns about trafficking for prostitution might be raised by multiple people being escorted to a room one at a time. Staff are taught that while none of these individually might be a sign of trafficking, when there is a "combination of indicators", it might be time to raise concerns with hotel managers. Hotel staff, watching their guests arrive and during their stay, have an unusually close-up view of their behaviour. "In a hotel, our people wouldn't necessarily see a human trafficker visibly restraining a victim," Mr Rodriguez said. But he said workers might recognise a "scenario that is much more nuanced and harder to detect if you don't know what to look for". "That's why helping associates identify the signs of sexual exploitation and forced labour is so important," Mr Rodriguez said. A spokeswoman for Marriott said the training had recently paid off when staff in a central London branch had noticed someone "using the hotel lobby to meet with and groom an under-age girl". Police were contacted and the perpetrator was subsequently jailed.

2-12-19 AI has helped rescue children trafficked for sexual exploitation
One photo of a child in a hotel room can often be the only clue to a trafficked child’s whereabouts. An artificial intelligence is now helping investigators to identify these hotel rooms, leading to the rescue of a number of sexually exploited children. Globally, an estimated 4.8 million people have been forced into sexual exploitation. More than 1 million are under 18. In the US, exploited children often appear pictured in hotel rooms in online adverts. These images are found across dozens of websites as well as on dating apps. Traffickers regularly move location to try to avoid being found. To fight back, Abby Stylianou at George Washington University in Washington DC and colleagues built an AI that attempts to identify hotels from these adverts. It does this by comparing the advert images to a database of more than 1 million photos of 50,000 hotels around the world, including some from travel websites and others sent in by volunteers. To train the AI, the team adjusted some of the images to resemble trafficking photographs by cropping, rotating and altering the colour. They then blacked out parts of the images with silhouettes to resemble a person in the foreground. The images donated by volunteers were particularly useful, says Stylianou. That is because they have similar lighting to those taken by children who are coerced into taking photos of themselves. Regular renovations and hotel chains with identical decor makes the task more difficult, as does the fact that many images the investigators find have much of the background obscured. In tests on images the AI hadn’t previously seen, it identified the correct hotel chain 63 per cent of the time in a top-five list by similarity. However, identifying the specific hotel was more difficult. When producing a list of 100 candidates, the AI only included the correct hotel around 25 per cent of the time.

2-12-19 Ligue du LOL: Secret group of French journalists targeted women
Several senior French journalists have been suspended or fired for allegedly co-ordinating online harassment through a private Facebook group. The largely-male Ligue du LOL (League of LOL) mocked women, including other journalists, with rape jokes and photoshopped pornographic images. Dozens of women have spoken out since the group was uncovered by the major French daily Libération. Libération's online editor Alexandre Hervaud is among those suspended. People in the League of LOL set up anonymous Twitter accounts in order to harass prominent journalists, writers and activists - predominantly targeting women. Vincent Glad, a well-known freelancer who also worked for Libération, admitted founding the group in 2009. He has also been suspended from the paper. He apologised on Twitter (in French), saying that he now realised that "such practices were unacceptable and 'LOL' was not funny at all when it is done in a pack". Mr Hervaud also tweeted out an apology for his involvement, but in a later post went on to attack "those who jump with joy" at his suspension. Libération is now carrying out an internal investigation into both Mr Hervaud and Mr Glad. Journalist Nora Bouazzouni, Slate France reporter Lucile Bellan, and podcaster Mélanie Wanga have all described being targeted by the group.


SCIENCE - GLOBAL WARMING and ENVIRONMENT

2-18-19 Thwaites Glacier's troubling predicament
If this glacier melts, it could take all of west Antarctica with it. Scientists this winter began a race against time to better understand a massive, unstable glacier that could change the world's coastlines within decades. An international group of researchers launched a five-year, roughly $50 million project to study Thwaites Glacier, a remote, and notoriously foul-weathered, glacier in the middle of West Antarctica. "It's about the size of the island of Great Britain," said Ted Scambos, a University of Colorado scientist and co-leader of the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration. "That's a huge area. When you add something like a half a mile to a mile of ice over all of that … that's what we're going to pick up and put into the ocean." And because of the nature of the bedrock underneath it, if Thwaites starts to collapse, it could go fast, contributing roughly 2 feet of global sea level rise in as little as 50 years, Scambos said. "That's the problem. Having sea level rise is not nearly as big an issue as having it rise rapidly, faster than we're able to react or plan or build," Scambos said. "And so, that's why Thwaites becomes really important because it could be a real, turbo-charging effect for how fast sea level rises around the world." The ultimate goal of the Thwaites project, which Scambos has been championing for years, is to develop more accurate global sea level rise models so coastal residents and governments have enough time to plan for future changes. In cities like Miami, perhaps the American city most vulnerable to sea level rise, infrastructure decisions are made as early as 50 years out. "Ultimately, the challenge is to understand the melting of the Antarctic ice so that we can better predict sea level rise over the next few decades," said Karen Heywood, an oceanographer at the University of East Anglia involved with the research.

2-18-19 Everything you need to know about climate change in 90 seconds
5 Live is exploring everything about climate change as part of its Cool Planet season. You’ll have heard phrases like carbon footprint and carbon neutral but what do they mean?

2-18-19 Stores accused of 'watering down' bottle deposit scheme
Large retailers have been accused of trying to water down a proposed scheme to improve rates of bottle recycling. Environmentalists say large and small drinks containers alike should carry a catch-all deposit of more than 15p. But retailers say only small bottles should be considered because they cause most litter; larger bottles could be exempted because they are mostly recycled at home, they argue. (Webmaster's comment: They'd argue anything to give their executives more money!) Ministers are still considering which sizes to include in the plans. The UK proposal, part of the Resources and Waste Strategy, is likely to copy one of the schemes adopted in other countries. In Norway for instance, the shopper pays a deposit on every bottle - the equivalent of 10p to 25p depending on size. The consumer drinks the product, then posts the empty bottle into a machine which produces a coupon to return the deposit. This has led to recycling rates of 97% - whereas in the UK just over half of plastic bottles are recycled. Environmentalists are angry that the industry is still fighting plans to restrict deposits to small bottles. Samantha Harding from the group Campaign to Protect Rural England says the same firms currently attempting to obstruct a deposit scheme managed to kill a similar idea in 1981, when the industry promised to address recycling itself. “But look at the mess we’re in now,” she said. “Consumption has rocketed while recycling has flat-lined. "Our countryside, rivers and oceans are choked with plastic. "And many drinks containers are collected so inefficiently their poor quality means we struggle to recycle them within the UK, and the rest of the world no longer wants them.”

2-17-19 The sixth mass extinction
The populations of the world’s wild animals have fallen by more than 50 percent, and humanity is to blame. (Webmaster's comment: If it takes us 100-200 years to kill off 75% or more of all species THAT IS A MASS EXTINCTION. 100-200 years was only a blink of the eye in previous extinctions! Mass extinction events do not happen overnight. It might take 100's of years for the full effect of an asteroid strike or a massive volcanic eruption to play out. So will human devastation of most animal life.)

  1. What’s gone wrong? As the human population has swelled to 7.5 billion, our species’ massive footprint on planet Earth has had a devastating impact on mammals, birds, reptiles, insects, and marine life. We’ve driven thousands of species to the edge of extinction through habitat loss, overhunting and overfishing, the introduction of invasive species into new ecosystems, toxic pollution, and climate change.
  2. How many species are already extinct? Scientists can only guess. Earth is home to between 9 million and as many as 1 trillion species—and only a fraction have been discovered. Vertebrate species have, however, been closely studied, and at least 338 have gone extinct, with the number rising to 617 when one includes those species “extinct in the wild” and “possibly extinct.”
  3. How many species are endangered? There are 26,500 species threatened with extinction, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a global network of some 16,000 scientists. That includes 40 percent of amphibian species, 33 percent of reef-building corals, 25 percent of mammals, and 14 percent of birds. There are now only 7,000 cheetahs left, and the number of African lions is down 43 percent since 1993.
  4. Is a mass extinction underway? Possibly. Many scientists now believe humans are living through a “mass extinction,” or an epoch during which at least 75 percent of all species vanish from the planet. The previous five mass extinctions occurred over the past 450 million years; the last one occurred about 66 million years ago, when the aftermath of a massive asteroid strike wiped out the dinosaurs.
  5. How fast is this happening? Extremely fast. Species extinction is an ordinary part of the natural processes of our planet; in fact, 99 percent of all species that ever lived on Earth are gone. It’s the pace of recent extinctions that is alarming. More than half of the vertebrate extinctions since 1500 have occurred since 1900.
  6. What are the consequences? Potentially enormous. The loss of species can have catastrophic effects on the food chain on which humanity depends. Ocean reefs, which sustain more than 25 percent of marine life, have declined by 50 percent already—and could be lost altogether by 2050. Insects pollinate crops humans eat.
  7. Can extinct species be resurrected? Using DNA technology, scientists are working on re-creating species that have disappeared. The technology, called “de-extinction,” is likely at least a decade off, although there are a few possible ways to go about it.

2-16-19 AAAS: Machine learning 'causing science crisis'
Machine-learning techniques used by thousands of scientists to analyse data are producing results that are misleading and often completely wrong. Dr Genevera Allen from Rice University in Houston said that the increased use of such systems was contributing to a “crisis in science”. She warned scientists that if they didn’t improve their techniques they would be wasting both time and money. Her research was presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington. A growing amount of scientific research involves using machine learning software to analyse data that has already been collected. This happens across many subject areas ranging from biomedical research to astronomy. The data sets are very large and expensive. But, according to Dr Allen, the answers they come up with are likely to be inaccurate or wrong because the software is identifying patterns that exist only in that data set and not the real world. “Often these studies are not found out to be inaccurate until there's another real big dataset that someone applies these techniques to and says ‘oh my goodness, the results of these two studies don't overlap‘," she said. “There is general recognition of a reproducibility crisis in science right now. I would venture to argue that a huge part of that does come from the use of machine learning techniques in science.” The “reproducibility crisis” in science refers to the alarming number of research results that are not repeated when another group of scientists tries the same experiment. It means that the initial results were wrong. One analysis suggested that up to 85% of all biomedical research carried out in the world is wasted effort. It is a crisis that has been growing for two decades and has come about because experiments are not designed well enough to ensure that the scientists don’t fool themselves and see what they want to see in the results.

2-15-19 Climate strike: Why are students striking and will it have an impact?
Are the UK's school strikes for climate change the moment that British youth finally wakes up to the "climate emergency"? It may not represent a paradigm shift just yet, but the speed and scale of this young person's movement does make it feel more than a momentary splutter of impotent anger. Ever since the then 15-year-old Swede Greta Thunberg decided to stop going to school on Fridays last year and instead protest outside the Swedish parliament, there has been a rapid expansion in similar activities in many parts of the world, especially in Europe. Tens of thousands of schoolchildren in Belgium, Germany and other locations have cut classes and taken to the streets to call on governments to take urgent action on climate change. Now young people in the UK are due to join them, determined to affect change on the issue that they feel is most germane to their future - the impacts of rapidly rising temperatures on an ever more crowded planet. Greta's memorable phrase that we "cannot solve the crisis without treating it as a crisis", reflects the thinking of many, frustrated with the slow pace of progress. That sense of crisis has been affected by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on the impacts of global temperature reaching 1.5C, released last October. "We are doing this because we feel that climate action really needs to happen after the IPCC report," said Lottie, 17, who says she will join a school protest in London. Speaking to the BBC, she said: "We've been told we have to take serious action and have just 12 years to cut our carbon emissions in half. As the young people who are going to be most affected by the fact that no-one is taking any action on climate change - this is our entire future. "We can't vote yet and this is one of the most effective ways of making our voices heard." Last year also brought a wide range of impacts including heatwaves and forest fires that scientists say were made worse by climate change. All the while, the emissions that are driving up temperatures continue to go up, not down. In the face of this continuing catalogue, the actions taken by governments seem rather limited, much to the frustration of scientists and campaigners. Students contrast the slow pace of tackling climate change with the fact they have managed to get a movement going to organise a UK-wide strike in only four weeks.

2-15-19 The sixth mass extinction
The populations of the world’s wild animals have fallen by more than 50 percent, and humanity is to blame. (Webmaster's comment: If it takes us 100-200 years to kill off 75%-95% of all species THAT IS A MASS EXTINCTION. 100-200 years is only a blink of the eye in previous extinctions!)

  1. What’s gone wrong? As the human population has swelled to 7.5 billion, our species’ massive footprint on planet Earth has had a devastating impact on mammals, birds, reptiles, insects, and marine life. We’ve driven thousands of species to the edge of extinction through habitat loss, overhunting and overfishing, the introduction of invasive species into new ecosystems, toxic pollution, and climate change.
  2. How many species are already extinct? Scientists can only guess. Earth is home to between 9 million and as many as 1 trillion species—and only a fraction have been discovered. Vertebrate species have, however, been closely studied, and at least 338 have gone extinct, with the number rising to 617 when one includes those species “extinct in the wild” and “possibly extinct.”
  3. How many species are endangered? There are 26,500 species threatened with extinction, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a global network of some 16,000 scientists. That includes 40 percent of amphibian species, 33 percent of reef-building corals, 25 percent of mammals, and 14 percent of birds. There are now only 7,000 cheetahs left, and the number of African lions is down 43 percent since 1993.
  4. Is a mass extinction underway? Possibly. Many scientists now believe humans are living through a “mass extinction,” or an epoch during which at least 75 percent of all species vanish from the planet. The previous five mass extinctions occurred over the past 450 million years; the last one occurred about 66 million years ago, when the aftermath of a massive asteroid strike wiped out the dinosaurs.
  5. How fast is this happening? Extremely fast. Species extinction is an ordinary part of the natural processes of our planet; in fact, 99 percent of all species that ever lived on Earth are gone. It’s the pace of recent extinctions that is alarming. More than half of the vertebrate extinctions since 1500 have occurred since 1900.
  6. What are the consequences? Potentially enormous. The loss of species can have catastrophic effects on the food chain on which humanity depends. Ocean reefs, which sustain more than 25 percent of marine life, have declined by 50 percent already—and could be lost altogether by 2050. Insects pollinate crops humans eat.
  7. Can extinct species be resurrected? Using DNA technology, scientists are working on re-creating species that have disappeared. The technology, called “de-extinction,” is likely at least a decade off, although there are a few possible ways to go about it.

2-15-19 Mass Insect Die-Off
When it comes to conservation, looks are everything. Research shows that people give most generously to wildlife charities when presented with images of a select few endangered mammals. Furry, photogenic beasts such as polar bears, pandas, and tigers dominate the list of top earners. The preservation of those majestic animals is a worthy cause; nobody wants them to join the ever-growing list of wild species that humanity has driven to extinction. But it’s also true that we can survive in a world without polar bears and tigers, just as our own species has thrived in one without mammoths and dodos. What’s less clear is whether humanity can endure the disappearance of a less cute group of creatures: insects. A new study has found that insect biomass—the weight of all bugs on Earth combined—is dropping by a staggering 2.5 percent a year, largely because of pesticide use, habitat destruction, and climate change. In a few decades, nearly 50 percent of insect species worldwide could go extinct. Some might rejoice at this mass creepy-crawly die-off, which would mean fewer ants and flies invading their homes and spoiling picnics. But an insect apocalypse is nothing to cheer. The sheer abundance of bugs—there are at least 1.4 billion for each one of us—means they play a foundational role in the planet’s ecosystems. Some three-quarters of our food crops and 80 percent of wild flowering plants are pollinated by bees, wasps, beetles, butterflies, and other insects. Ants, flies, and beetles munch up dead animals and plant matter and channel nutrients back into the soil. Those bugs are in turn a major source of food for countless birds, reptiles, and fish species; without them, insect eaters simply starve to death. France, for example, has seen 50 and 80 percent drops in its nightingale and turtledove populations in recent years. We might not appreciate our six-legged friends now, but we’ll certainly miss them when they’re gone.

2-15-19 BP: Plastic ban 'could have unintended consequences'
There are many interesting news nuggets in BP's annual Energy Outlook that's just been published. The document says that even as renewable energy becomes the world's major power source by 2040, demand for oil will stay strong over the next two decades. But perhaps the most intriguing suggestion in the report is the idea that cutting back on plastic use could backfire and make matters worse. You might think, a little cynically perhaps, that this is the kind of thing you would expect BP to say. After all, as one of the world's biggest oil companies, it makes a lot of money from selling the main ingredient in plastic. But let's look at the thinking behind BP's argument. If the current global revulsion about the incessant use of plastic continues, BP speculates that there could be a worldwide ban on single-use plastics by 2040. These throwaway items, such as coffee stirrers, water bottles and bags, account for over a third of all plastic material produced in 2017. If the world shifts to use paper, glass and other materials, BP says this will limit demand for oil in the coming decades. But the document argues that swapping plastic for other materials will have a bigger cost in terms of energy and carbon emissions. "If you swap a plastic bottle for a glass bottle, that takes about 80% more energy. That will be more energy, more carbon emissions," said BP's chief economist Spencer Dale, speaking on the BBC. "That bottle is a lot heavier so it takes an awful lot more energy to transport it around," he added. "Yes, we should be concerned about plastics, but before we start whacking that mole, we should worry about where it pops up somewhere else." That all sounds like the law of unintended consequences in action. One of the best examples of this economic law has happened in the UK over the past 20 years with diesel cars. In the 1990s, diesels accounted for just 10% of the car fleet. By 2012, this had expanded to 50% as the government encouraged motorists to switch to the fuel to cut CO2 emissions. This succeeded in cutting carbon but at a huge price. Diesels produced 15% less CO2 than petrol cars but four times more nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and 22 times more particulates, leading to a rapid uptick in air pollution that the government is still trying to get to grips with.

2-15-19 Green New Deal: Deliberately unrealistic?
Progressives have finally unveiled their “Green New Deal” for fighting climate change, said David Roberts in Vox.com, and it’s “about as strong an opening bid as anyone could have asked for.” The plan, outlined in a nonbinding resolution introduced by Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, calls for the United States to become carbon neutral by 2030 through a massive national mobilization “on a scale not seen since World War II.” The plan calls for upgrading all existing U.S. buildings to make them more energy efficient, constructing a high-speed electric rail network they hope will replace carbon-spewing jet airplanes, and “dramatically expanding” clean energy sources like wind and solar. Millions of high-paying green jobs would be created in the process, easing the transition from a fossil fuel–based economy. Obviously, the resolution has no chance of passing the Republican-controlled Senate, said Robinson Meyer in The Atlantic. But with four presidential hopefuls already coming out in favor of the plan, the Green New Deal is well on its way to becoming “as much a part of the mainstream Democratic agenda as health care.” Don’t take this proposal literally—but do take it seriously, said Eric Levitz in NYMag.com. While virtually every Democratic interest group considers climate change a problem, “relatively few see it as their top problem.” The Green New Deal was designed to make climate the top progressive priority. The final result will no doubt be far less grand after being filtered through congressional negotiations. But if your goal is to actually get something done on climate, the Green New Deal is “actually pragmatic.”

2-15-19 A cavity beneath the Antarctic
Scientists have discovered an enormous cavity beneath one of the Antarctic’s least stable glaciers, raising fears that the continent’s ice sheet will melt even faster than previously predicted. The chamber, in the Thwaites Glacier on the west coast of Antarctica, is nearly 1,000 feet high and covers an area two-thirds the size of Manhattan—large enough to have contained about 14 billion tons of ice. It was found by NASA scientists using satellite data and aircraft equipped with ice-penetrating radar, reports NBCNews.com. Roughly the size of Florida, the Thwaites Glacier already accounts for about 4 percent of global sea-level rise; if it collapses, it will raise sea levels worldwide by more than 2 feet, with catastrophic consequences for coastal communities and cities. The researchers say the cavity is the result of warm ocean water melting the ice shelf from underneath. “It’s a direct impact of climate change on the glacier,” says co-author Eric Rignot, from the University of California, Irvine. Meanwhile, a separate study has warned that at least a third of the glaciers in the Himalayas will melt by 2100—even if the most ambitious climate change targets are met.

2-15-19 Polar bears invade
More than 50 hungry polar bears have besieged an archipelago off Russia’s northeastern Arctic coast, trapping excited but frightened locals indoors. Alexander Minayev, administrator of the main town, Belushya Guba, said a state of emergency had been declared. “Parents are afraid to let the children go to school,” he said. It’s illegal to shoot the bears, because they are endangered, so authorities on Novaya Zemlya are considering relocating the garbage dump in which the bears have been rummaging for food. The animals have headed inland this year because the sea ice where they normally hunt seals has melted, likely due to climate change.

2-15-19 The children striking over climate change speak to New Scientist
Thousands of children across the UK have gone on strike from school today as part of global protests over climate change. The organisers, Youth Strike 4 Climate, say strikes are taking place in 60 towns and cities across the country, from Cornwall to the Scottish Highlands, in the face of “an alarming lack of government leadership” on climate change. At the London arm of the protest in Parliament Square this morning, several thousand children and young adults vented their frustration about the lack of climate action and voiced their fears for the future. Raffi Gannon, 16, from Mill Hill School, said: “The politicians are not doing nearly enough, just token gestures. The ice caps are going to a huge disaster. It’s my future, I feel like I should be protesting for it.” Prime minister Theresa May has released a statement criticising the protests saying, “Disruption increases teachers’ workloads and wastes lesson time that teachers have carefully prepared for.” The prime minister might also have disagreed with one of the protest signs featuring a grotesque caricature of her face with the slogan, “Soon there won’t BE a field to run through” – a reference to her answer to an interview question during the 2017 general election. School leaders and UK Education Secretary Damian Hinds have also warned students they shouldn’t miss lessons to take part in the strikes. One child’s banner directly addressed this advice: “I’ll get back to class when you get your head out of your arse.” Other signs suggested that their peers and parents should, “Raise your voice, not the sea level.” Alice Stratt, 10, of St Mary’s Church of England school in Walthamstow, told us: “I’m here because global warming is ruining our planet and us kids aren’t going to have a very good future.”

2-15-19 Climate strike: Why are students striking and will it have an impact?
Are the UK's school strikes for climate change the moment that British youth finally wakes up to the "climate emergency"? It may not represent a paradigm shift just yet, but the speed and scale of this young person's movement does make it feel more than a momentary splutter of impotent anger. Ever since the then 15-year-old Swede Greta Thunberg decided to stop going to school on Fridays last year and instead protest outside the Swedish parliament, there has been a rapid expansion in similar activities in many parts of the world, especially in Europe. Tens of thousands of schoolchildren in Belgium, Germany and other locations have cut classes and taken to the streets to call on governments to take urgent action on climate change. Now young people in the UK are due to join them, determined to affect change on the issue that they feel is most germane to their future - the impacts of rapidly rising temperatures on an ever more crowded planet. Greta's memorable phrase that we "cannot solve the crisis without treating it as a crisis", reflects the thinking of many, frustrated with the slow pace of progress. That sense of crisis has been affected by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on the impacts of global temperature reaching 1.5C, released last October. "We are doing this because we feel that climate action really needs to happen after the IPCC report," said Lottie, 17, who says she will join a school protest in London. Speaking to the BBC, she said: "We've been told we have to take serious action and have just 12 years to cut our carbon emissions in half. As the young people who are going to be most affected by the fact that no-one is taking any action on climate change - this is our entire future. "We can't vote yet and this is one of the most effective ways of making our voices heard." (Webmaster's comment: We need to start firing all the executives who take no action!)

2-15-19 What are the biggest threats to humanity?
Human extinction may be the stuff of nightmares but there are many ways in which it could happen. Popular culture tends to focus on only the most spectacular possibilities: think of the hurtling asteroid of the film Armageddon or the alien invasion of Independence Day. While a dramatic end to humanity is possible, focusing on such scenarios may mean ignoring the most serious threats we face in today's world. And it could be that we are able to do something about these. Volcanic threats: In 1815 an eruption of Mount Tambora, in Indonesia, killed more than 70,000 people, while hurling volcanic ash into the upper atmosphere. It reduced the amount of sunlight hitting the surface of the Earth, triggering what has become known as the "year without a summer". Lake Toba, at the other end of Sumatra, tells a still more sinister story. It was formed by a truly massive super-volcanic eruption 75,000 years ago, the impact of which was felt around the world. It has been suggested that the event led to dramatic population decline in early humans, although this has recently been questioned. But while the prospect of a super-volcanic eruption is terrifying, we should not worry too much. Super-volcanoes and other natural disasters, such as an asteroid striking Earth or a star exploding in our cosmic neighbourhood, are no more likely in 2019 than any other year. And that is not very likely. Growing threats: The same cannot be said for many global threats induced by people. For example, the World Health Organization and the World Economic Forum both listed climate change and its effects as one of their top risks for 2019. Recent UN talks heard climate change was already "a matter of life and death" for many regions. While many, including Sir David Attenborough, believe it could lead to the collapse of civilisations and the extinction of "much of the natural world". The threats are complex and diverse, from killer heatwaves and rising sea levels to widespread famines and migration on a truly immense scale.

2-15-19 China closes its Everest base camp to tourists
China has closed the base camp on its side of Mount Everest to visitors who don't have climbing permits. Authorities have resorted to the unusual move to deal with the mounting waste problem at the site. The ban means tourists can only go as far as a monastery slightly below the 5,200m (17,060ft) base camp level. More people visit the mountain from the southern side in Nepal, but over the past years numbers have been rising steadily on the Chinese side as well. The Chinese base camp, located in Tibet, is popular as it is accessible by car - whereas the Nepalese camp can only be reached by a hike of almost two weeks. The world's highest peak has been struggling with escalating levels of rubbish for years, as the number of visitors rises. The Chinese Mountaineering Association says 40,000 visited its base camp in 2015, the most recent year with figures. A record 45,000 visited Nepal's base camp in 2016-7 according to Nepal's Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation. Ordinary tourists will only be banned from areas above Rongbuk monastery, which is around 5,000m above sea level, according to China's state news agency Xinhua. Mountaineers who have a permit to climb the 8,848m peak will still be allowed to use the higher camp. In January, authorities announced that they would limit the number of climbing permits each year to 300. On Chinese social media, claims have spread in recent days that its base camp will be permanently closed to tourists - but Xinhua cited officials denying that. The official announcement about the closure was made in December, on the website of the Tibetan authorities. It stated that three clean-up operations last spring had collected eight tonnes of waste, including human faeces and mountaineering equipment climbers had left behind. This year's clean-up efforts will also try to remove the bodies of mountaineers who have died in the so-called death zone above 8,000m, where the air is too thin to sustain life for long. Due to the cold and high altitude, these bodies often remain on the mountain for years or even decades.

2-15-19 Muons reveal the whopping voltages inside a thunderstorm
Physicists used subatomic particles to probe the inner workings of a cloud. An invisible drizzle of subatomic particles has shown that thunderstorms may store up much higher electric voltages than we thought. Using muons, heavier relatives of electrons that constantly rain down on Earth’s surface, scientists probed the insides of a storm in southern India in December 2014. The cloud’s electric potential — the amount of work necessary to move an electron from one part of the cloud to another — reached 1.3 billion volts, the researchers report in a study accepted in Physical Review Letters. That’s 10 times the largest voltage previously found by using balloons to make similar measurements. High voltages within clouds spark lightning. But despite the fact that thunderstorms regularly rage over our heads, “we really don’t have a good handle on what’s going on inside them,” says physicist Joseph Dwyer of the University of New Hampshire in Durham who was not involved with the research. Balloons and aircraft can monitor only part of a cloud at a time, making it difficult to get an accurate measurement of the whole thing. But muons zip right through, from top to bottom. “Muons that penetrate the thunderclouds are a perfect probe for measuring the electric potential,” says physicist Sunil Gupta of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Mumbai, India. Gupta and colleagues studied the muons’ behavior with the GRAPES-3 experiment in Ooty, India, which observes around 2.5 million muons every minute. During thunderstorms, that rate drops, as muons, which are electrically charged, tend to be slowed by a thunderstorm’s electric fields. That means fewer particles carry enough energy to register in the scientists’ detectors.

2-14-19 Chernobyl: The end of a three-decade experiment
Since the explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in 1986, an exclusion zone of more than 4,000 square kilometres has been abandoned. That could be about to change, as Victoria Gill discovered during a week-long trip to the zone. "This place is more than half of my life," says Gennady Laptev. The broad-shouldered Ukrainian scientist is smiling wistfully as we stand on the now dry ground of what was Chernobyl nuclear power plant's cooling pond. "I was only 25 when I started my work here as a liquidator. Now, I'm almost 60." There were thousands of liquidators - workers who came here as part of the mammoth, dangerous clean-up operation following the 1986 explosion. The worst nuclear accident in history. Gennady shows me a coffee table-sized platform, installed here to collect dust. This reservoir's bed dried out when the pumps taking water from the nearby river were finally switched off in 2014; 14 years after the remaining three reactors there were shut down. Analysing dust for radioactive contamination is just a small part of the decades-long study of this vast, abandoned area. The accident turned this landscape into a giant, contaminated laboratory, where hundreds of scientists have worked to find out how an environment recovers from nuclear catastrophe. The experiment that turned into a global catastrophe: On 26 April, 1986, at 1:23AM, engineers cut power to some systems at Chernobyl nuclear power plant's number 4 reactor. It was a critical point in a test to understand what would happen during a blackout. What engineers did not know was that the reactor was already unstable. The cut-off slowed turbines that drove cooling water to the reactor. As less water turned to more steam, the pressure inside built. By the time operators realised what was happening and tried to shut down the reactor, it was too late. A steam explosion blew the lid off the reactor, exposing the core to the atmosphere. Two people in the plant were killed and, as air fuelled a fire that burned for 10 days, a cloud of radioactive smoke and dust was carried on the wind around Europe.

2-14-19 Climate change could increase foodborne illness by energizing flies
Livelier flies could land on more food, leaving Campylobacter behind in their tiny footsteps. Warmer springs and summers could make house flies friskier, spreading diarrhea-causing bacteria to more places. As a result, foodborne Campylobacter infections could increase with climate change, proposes epidemiologist Melanie Cousins of the University of Waterloo in Canada. Cousins’ computer simulation, still a proof-of-concept version, focuses on how the warm weather surge in house flies and their activity affects the typical spring-summer rise in Campylobacter cases. Under a scenario of summers 2.5 degrees Celsius warmer on average than in 2003, the simulation predicts about 28 percent more Campylobacter cases in the Canadian province of Ontario by 2050, she and colleagues say February 13 in Royal Society Open Science. Campylobacter infections are most often caused by contaminated food, perhaps by a fly that’s strolled on other tainted food, an infected animal or feces. Most people recover from an infection within about 10 days. The bacteria are the most common cause of gastrointestinal illness in Canada, with Ontario averaging more than 3,000 cases a year. The United States has some 1.3 million infections a year. To set up a simplified simulation, Cousins used data from 2005 on reported Campylobacter infections in Ontario to estimate transmission rates and fly birth and death rates. She then plugged those rates into the simulation to predict subsequent years’ Campylobacter infections. Those results came close to the real data available through 2013, and allowed her to predict future infections under different warming scenarios. The simulation assumes flies become more active with climate change since, like other insects, they depend on ambient temperatures for heating and cooling. It also assumes bacterial increases with warming.

2-13-19 No plugs needed: How wireless charging could set electric cars free
The rise of wireless charging for electric cars means you may never have to worry about plugging in again. ELECTRIC cars have several advantages over gas guzzlers, but having to plug them in every day isn’t one of them. The good news is that you may not need to – all electric cars could soon come with wireless chargers. “I won’t buy a car I have to plug in again,” says engineer Olaf Simon, who organised a trial of wireless charging in Berlin, Germany. “Wireless charging is so convenient.” In fact, this type of charging may offer more than just greater convenience, it could be the technology we need to transform the way we get around. With a wireless charger under every parking space, drivers would only need to worry about charging on long journeys. One day, even that problem may be gone: it could be possible for electric cars to charge wirelessly as they drive. Surprisingly, home wireless charging is nearly as fast and as energy efficient as plugging in. All the firms developing wireless charging for vehicles say that less than 10 per cent of the electricity is lost during transfer. Plug-in chargers lose around 5 per cent, so there is actually little difference. For charging during stopovers on long trips, drivers will want to use rapid chargers that supply more than 100 kilowatt-hours. It makes more sense to plug into these, says Graeme Davison, who led Qualcomm’s efforts to develop wireless charging for electric vehicles up to 2018. Wireless systems can supply this much electrical energy, but it makes the systems much more expensive. The basic principle behind wireless charging is simple. An alternating current is fed through a coil in a pad beneath the vehicle, generating a changing magnetic field. A second coil within the vehicle is designed to resonate with this field, inducing an alternating current that is converted into a direct current that charges the battery. The systems can also work in reverse, allowing electric vehicles to supply electricity back to the grid.

2-13-19 The truth about cheese: The terrible costs of our favourite food
It might be hard to swallow, but if you think cheese is better than meat for both animal welfare and the environment, you need to think again. I’m generally quite restrained at the table, but I can’t resist cheese. Hard, soft, runny, smoked, blue, British, continental, pasteurised, unpasteurised. If there is cheese on offer, I will keep on eating it until one of us is defeated. I eat it for breakfast and snack on it at night. Recently, my cheese habit has become even more central to my diet. Last year I quit meat, finally fed up by its environmental and animal welfare record. It wasn’t easy, but what was there to fill the void? Why, my old friend cheese! Halloumi, paneer and parmesan are now my beef, chicken and pork. I’m happy to live without meat. But lately I have been wrangling with my conscience again. Cheese is made from milk, and milk comes from cows. Cattle farming is appalling for the climate. Cows belch out vast amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that no known technology can stop from being vented into the atmosphere. Most dairy farming is a form of factory farming, with all the attendant animal rights issues. I haven’t kept a record, but I am sure my cheese consumption has gone up since I swore off meat. So have I just swapped one environmental and animal welfare sin for another – one that is possibly even worse? This is an uncomfortable question for many people. A number of my colleagues said, half-jokingly, “please don’t do that story”. They were saying they would rather not know. They were right.The cheese industry is a gigantic, and growing, success story. World production is at least 22 million tonnes a year, up from 15 million tonnes in 2000, and is projected to keep on expanding as people in traditionally cheeseless cultures in parts of Asia catch on. Even in countries where people do tend to eat cheese, consumption is on the up. In France, people surrendered themselves to 27 kilograms per person per year in 2015, a kilogram more than in 2012. The UK cheese market has grown 13 per cent over the same period, and 92 per cent of UK households buy cheese, according to industry body Dairy UK.

2-13-19 There is No Planet B review: How to save Earth by changing humans
Can Mike Berners-Lee's guide to changing how we think and live help us dump our dangerous habits and learn to use resources respectfully rather than rapaciously? WE don’t need telling that the world is in a horrible mess. What we need are solutions and, better still, pragmatic prescriptions based on sound psychology and effective economics, precepts that can ease society through the transitions we have no choice but to make. As a senior fellow of the Institute for Social Futures at Lancaster University, UK, Mike Berners-Lee is no stranger to the difficult questions of how we go about changing our lives to become more commensal and less parasitic as a species. But in his latest book, There Is No Planet B, he sets out to provide a set of lifestyle alternatives, both individually and societally: it is intended as a sort of Alexa to tell you how to live in a more planet-friendly fashion. The book spans the essentials of food, climate, energy and so on by responding to key questions. These range from “Given the global surplus, why are some people malnourished?” to “Should I go veggie or vegan?”, via “What are the fourteen things that every politician needs to know about climate change?”, and “Energy: What can I do?”. He works hard to avoid the simplistic. Take his “Should I fly?” answer. It covers everything from possible electric planes for short flights to using solar electricity to create aviation fuel from CO2 in the air for long flights. Or you could always treat flying as a “very special occasion extravagance”. The book is as jargon-free as possible to ensure maximum reach, while endnotes hold the details for the technically minded. Amazingly, it manages to make the complexities of planet-scale economic and environmental interconnectivity fun: a platter of potential doom, served with a smiley face and sparkler. And to underline the take-homes, every section has a summary to read before embarking on the rest.

2-12-19 China and India help make planet leafier
China and India, two of the world's biggest polluters, are making it leafier - for now, a report says. The greening effect stems mainly from ambitious tree-planting in China and intensive farming in both countries. There are now more than 2 million sq miles of extra leaf area per year, compared with the early 2000s – a 5% increase. Extra foliage helps slows climate change, but researchers warn this will be offset by rising temperatures. Satellite data from the US space agency Nasa shows that over the last two decades there has been an increase in leaf area on plants and trees equivalent to the area covered by all the Amazon rainforests. The greening was first detected in the mid-1990s. Scientists first assumed plants were being fertilised by the extra CO2 in the atmosphere and boosted by a warmer, wetter climate. But they didn’t know whether changes in farming and forestry were contributing to the changes. Thanks to a Nasa instrument called Modis, which is orbiting the Earth on two satellites, they can now see that both are clearly playing a direct part, too. China’s contribution to the global greening trend comes in large part (42%) from programmes to conserve and expand forests. The policies were developed to reduce the effects of soil erosion, air pollution and climate change. Another 32% of the greening there – and 82% of the greening in India – comes from intensive cultivation of food crops thanks to fertilisers and irrigation. Production of grains, vegetables, fruits and other crops has increased by 35% to 40% since 2000, so both nations can feed their large populations. The future of the greening trend may change depending on numerous factors. For example, India may run short of groundwater irrigation. On the global picture, scientists recently warned that CO2 in the atmosphere could reach record levels this year as a result of heating in the tropical Pacific which is likely to reduce CO2 uptake in plants.

2-12-19 A new 2-D material uses light to quickly and safely purify water
In tests, it killed 99.9999 percent of the bacteria in contaminated water. Using light, a prototype “green” material can purify enough daily drinking water for four people in just one hour. In tests, it killed nearly 100 percent of bacteria in 10 liters of water, researchers report February 7 in Chem. This new material, a 2-D sheet of graphitic carbon nitride, is a photocatalyst: It releases electrons when illuminated to create destructive oxygen-based chemicals that destroy microbes. The design avoids pitfalls of other similar technology. Today’s most effective photocatalysts contain metals that can leach into water as toxic pollutants. Others are non-metallic, like the new 2-D sheets, but are less efficient because they hold onto electrons more tightly. Materials scientist Guoxiu Wang of the University of Technology Sydney and colleagues created ultrathin sheets of graphitic carbon nitride and added chemical groups like acids and ketones that lure electrons toward the sheets’ edges. There, the electrons jump onto oxygen atoms in water to form such microbe-dissolving oxygen chemicals as hydrogen peroxide. The design killed 99.9999 percent of bacteria, including E. coli, in a 50-milliliter water sample. That’s as efficient as the best metal-based catalyst. And it killed microbes more quickly than previous best metal-free photocatalysts, which take over an hour to achieve what the new design did in 30 minutes. The team then attached the nanosheets to the inside surface of plastic bags, purifying 10 liters of water in an hour.

2-12-19 Green New Deal : Can this plan pushed by some Democrats really work?
Despite being labelled as a "socialist manifesto", the Green New Deal (GND) on climate change and jobs has sparked a lively debate in US politics. So what's in the deal and what will be its likely impact? President Trump was quick to thrash the Democrats' new approach to tackling rising temperatures. Speaking in El Paso, he said the Green New Deal amounted to "taking away your car, taking away your plane flights". However in its current form, the GND is more a political statement than a set of proposals aimed at penalising US citizens. Introduced by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey, the GND is a large scale re-imagining of how economies should work to deal with the root causes of climate change. It firmly and deliberately sets out to echo the past glories of FDR and the economic New Deal of the 1930s. Republican leader in the US Senate, Mitch McConnell, said on Tuesday he will bring it to the Senate floor for a vote, so Democrats will have to back it or distance themselves from it. In the document, the GND calls for a "new national, social, industrial, and economic mobilisation on a scale not seen since World War II and the New Deal." The plan is built around the recent warnings from scientists about the impacts on the planet of a temperature rise of 2 degrees Celsius this century, above pre-industrial levels. Climate change would cost the US around $500bn a year in lost economic output, and risk trillions of dollars damage to infrastructure. By 2050 wildfires will likely burn at least twice as much forest area in the western states than was typically burned in the years preceding 2019. But as well as outlining the damage that climate change might bring, the GND links these threats to ongoing issues such as clean water, healthy food, adequate healthcare and education that are "inaccessible to a significant proportion of the United States population."

2-12-19 Environment in multiple crises - report
Politicians and policymakers have failed to grasp the gravity of the environmental crisis facing the Earth, a report claims. The think-tank IPPR says human impacts have reached a critical stage and threaten to destabilise society and the global economy. Scientists warn of a potentially deadly combination of factors. These include climate change, mass loss of species, topsoil erosion, forest felling and acidifying oceans. The report from the centre-left Institute for Public Policy Research says these factors are "driving a complex, dynamic process of environmental destabilisation that has reached critical levels. "This destabilisation is occurring at speeds unprecedented in human history and, in some cases, over billions of years." The IPPR warns that the window of opportunity to avoid catastrophic outcomes is rapidly closing. The authors urge three shifts in political understanding: on the scale and pace of environmental breakdown; the implications for societies; and the subsequent need for transformative change. ?They say since 1950, the number of floods across the world has increased by 15 times, extreme temperature events by 20 times, and wildfires seven-fold. At least climate change features in policy discussions, they say – but other vitally important impacts barely figure. What issues are being under-played? 1. Topsoil is being lost 10 to 40 times faster than it is being replenished by natural processes, 2. Since the mid-20th Century, 30% of the world's arable land has become unproductive due to erosion, 3. 5% of the Earth's land areas could become degraded by 2050.

2-12-19 The case for green nationalism
How about building a big, beautiful sea wall — and making China pay for it?. he "Green New Deal" is already as divisive as its contents are sketchy. Is it a brilliant move by Democrats to move the Overton Window in a progressive direction by tying the crisis of global warming to the transformation of America into a social democracy? Or is it a political suicide vest that gives the Republicans a huge opening to run as the party that will save America from turning into Venezuela? The answer depends greatly on how popular you believe the other social democratic elements of the non-binding resolution are. The key political weakness of the cause of decarbonization has always been that it reeks of austerity: more expensive energy, more expensive flights, even less red meat. From that perspective, the GND makes an important stride by linking environmentalism to equality instead: universal health care, strong unions, more affordable housing. There's nothing in the GND about taxing carbon, no suggestion that we're going to use the market to make sure the pain of decarbonization is spread efficiently, which in practice would mean spreading it regressively. Instead, there's a lot of deficit-financed spending — and jobs — to build out a new energy and transportation infrastructure that sits naturally next to the other promises of the social democratic wish list. The risk of the strategy, obviously, is that America may not be ready to vote for full social democracy. Staking out a more aggressively left-wing position across the board could move the Overton Window — but it could also backfire if the opposition simply says "no." That's what happened to Republican attempts to privatize Social Security in the second Bush administration; House Speaker Nancy Pelosi simply refused to negotiate at all or propose any alternative solution to a problem she considered illusory. The privatization proposals collapsed from unpopularity, and the next Republican president won both the nomination and the presidency on a platform that included promises to protect broad-based entitlements.der approach: Incrementalism has won them no allies on the other side of the aisle. That has also been the Republican approach to the problem of climate change: deny there's any crisis at all and refuse to negotiate on that basis — and it's been a pretty effective strategy. In fact, that's one reason why progressives are advocating a much bolder approach: Incrementalism has won them no allies on the other side of the aisle. So suppose you think America isn't ready for full social democracy — or that the full progressive wish list would lead to stagnation and bankruptcy — but you aren't a climate denialist. On the contrary, you think the most alarming warnings of mainstream climate science are all-too plausible

2-12-19 Green New Deal proposal includes free higher education and fair pay
Enthusiasm for tackling climate change in the US is rising. An idea called the Green New Deal that aims to address both climate change and economic inequality has gained momentum in recent months and now two members of Congress have drafted a bill to try to gain widespread political support. The core idea is simple: cut US greenhouse gas emissions to net zero in the next 10 years, transitioning entirely to clean and renewable energy by 2030. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and senator Ed Markey, both Democrats, have added more ambitious goals to this in their draft proposals published on 7 February. These include overhauling transportation systems to increase the use of zero-emission public transport and high-speed trains, upgrading buildings and energy grids to lower emissions, and working with farmers to eliminate emissions from the agriculture sector. Parts of the proposal may be too progressive for some, such as guaranteeing every person in the US healthcare, housing, and fair pay, as well as access to free higher education. The proposal will probably be put to a vote in Congress. However, such legislation will be non-binding and will only indicate future priorities. Getting enough backing for it to pass may be a struggle. While there is growing support for a Green New Deal from Democrats, they only control the House of Representatives, meaning they will have to win over the Senate and the White House too.

2-12-19 Greenland may have another massive crater hiding under its ice
It’s near a giant depression found last year, but the two probably aren’t related. Greenland’s ice may be hiding more than one crater left by long-ago meteorite impacts. An analysis of satellite and airborne images of the topography beneath the ice sheet has revealed a large, craterlike structure buried beneath two kilometers of ice. It’s just 183 kilometers southeast of Hiawatha, another possible large impact crater described in November (SN: 12/8/18, p. 6). The newfound bowl-shaped object is about 36.5 kilometers across, slightly larger than the 31-kilometer-wide Hiawatha depression, researchers report online February 11 in Geophysical Research Letters. Like Hiawatha, the new feature consists of a ring-shaped rim surrounding a depression with a peak at its center — consistent with a crater carved out by the impact of a large meteorite, says coauthor Joseph MacGregor, a glaciologist with NASA’s Operation IceBridge. Unlike Hiawatha, there’s little chance of collecting geologic data from the new structure to confirm or deny an extraterrestrial origin: Instead of sitting at the edge of the ice sheet, the new depression is closer to the center of the ice. Without more direct geologic data, scientists can’t estimate its age or determine whether the two might be related to the same event. To assess how likely it is that two unrelated large impacts could have happened so close together on Earth’s surface, the team used a type of probability analysis previously used to assess the frequency of large impacts on Earth (SN Online: 1/17/19). The researchers determined that there could be a couple of large unrelated crater pairs on Earth separated by fewer than 183 kilometers.


SCIENCE - EVOLUTION and GENETICS

2-18-19 Stone Age Europe may have been home to no more than 1500 people
Stone Age Europe was a lonely place to live. An assessment of ancient population sizes suggests a vast swathe of western and central Europe may have been home to no more than 1500 people at any one time. Our species, Homo sapiens, arrived in Europe about 43,000 years ago. Archaeological evidence, particularly the appearance of distinctive stone tools at multiple sites, suggests these humans rapidly spread across the continent. But it’s an open question exactly how many people lived in Europe at this time. Now Isabell Schmidt and Andreas Zimmermann at the University of Cologne, Germany, have estimated the average population size in a period of European prehistory called the Aurignacian, between 42,000 and 33,000 years ago. The two researchers looked at a large chunk of Europe stretching from northern Spain in the west to Poland in the east. They plotted the location of the approximately 400 known Aurignacian sites across this area. This revealed that humans really occupied just 13 small regions of the continent – leaving most areas effectively uninhabited. To estimate how many hunter-gatherer groups lived in these 13 regions, Schmidt and Zimmermann looked more closely at the archaeological evidence, including how far stone material was likely transported to make tools at these sites. They argue that from the way the sites cluster, the 13 regions were home to no more than about 35 different hunter-gatherer groups. To get a sense for how many people lived in those 35 groups, the researchers used information about more recent hunter-gatherers recorded by explorers as they spread throughout the world in the past few centuries. Groups that most closely resembled the Aurignacians in terms of the animals they hunted contained about 42 individuals, on average.

2-17-19 The sixth mass extinction
The populations of the world’s wild animals have fallen by more than 50 percent, and humanity is to blame. (Webmaster's comment: If it takes us 100-200 years to kill off 75% or more of all species THAT IS A MASS EXTINCTION. 100-200 years was only a blink of the eye in previous extinctions! Mass extinction events do not happen overnight. It might take 100's of years for the full effect of an asteroid strike or a massive volcanic eruption to play out. So will human devastation of most animal life.)

  1. What’s gone wrong? As the human population has swelled to 7.5 billion, our species’ massive footprint on planet Earth has had a devastating impact on mammals, birds, reptiles, insects, and marine life. We’ve driven thousands of species to the edge of extinction through habitat loss, overhunting and overfishing, the introduction of invasive species into new ecosystems, toxic pollution, and climate change.
  2. How many species are already extinct? Scientists can only guess. Earth is home to between 9 million and as many as 1 trillion species—and only a fraction have been discovered. Vertebrate species have, however, been closely studied, and at least 338 have gone extinct, with the number rising to 617 when one includes those species “extinct in the wild” and “possibly extinct.”
  3. How many species are endangered? There are 26,500 species threatened with extinction, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a global network of some 16,000 scientists. That includes 40 percent of amphibian species, 33 percent of reef-building corals, 25 percent of mammals, and 14 percent of birds. There are now only 7,000 cheetahs left, and the number of African lions is down 43 percent since 1993.
  4. Is a mass extinction underway? Possibly. Many scientists now believe humans are living through a “mass extinction,” or an epoch during which at least 75 percent of all species vanish from the planet. The previous five mass extinctions occurred over the past 450 million years; the last one occurred about 66 million years ago, when the aftermath of a massive asteroid strike wiped out the dinosaurs.
  5. How fast is this happening? Extremely fast. Species extinction is an ordinary part of the natural processes of our planet; in fact, 99 percent of all species that ever lived on Earth are gone. It’s the pace of recent extinctions that is alarming. More than half of the vertebrate extinctions since 1500 have occurred since 1900.
  6. What are the consequences? Potentially enormous. The loss of species can have catastrophic effects on the food chain on which humanity depends. Ocean reefs, which sustain more than 25 percent of marine life, have declined by 50 percent already—and could be lost altogether by 2050. Insects pollinate crops humans eat.
  7. Can extinct species be resurrected? Using DNA technology, scientists are working on re-creating species that have disappeared. The technology, called “de-extinction,” is likely at least a decade off, although there are a few possible ways to go about it.

2-17-19 Tooth plaque shows drinking milk goes back 3,000 years in Mongolia
Milk proteins preserved in tartar show that ancient Mongolians drank cow, yak and sheep milk. Ancient people living in what’s now Mongolia drank milk from cows, yaks and sheep — even though, as adults, they couldn’t digest lactose. That finding comes from the humblest of sources: ancient dental plaque. Modern Mongolians are big on dairy, milking seven different animal species, including cows, yaks and camels. But how far into the past that dairying tradition extends is difficult to glean from the usual archaeological evidence: Nomadic lifestyles mean no kitchen trash heaps preserving ancient pots with lingering traces of milk fats. So molecular anthropologist Christina Warinner and her colleagues turned to the skeletons found in 22 burial mounds belonging to the Deer Stone culture, a people who lived in Mongolia’s eastern steppes around about 1300 B.C. The hardened dental plaque, or tartar, on the teeth of the skeletons contained traces of milk proteins, Warinner, of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany, said February 16 at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Those proteins showed that the people drank milk from cows, yaks, goats and sheep, but not from camels or reindeer, which modern day Mongolians milk today. Ancient Mongolians’ DNA also revealed that they weren’t able to digest lactose as adults. Instead, the Deer Stone people, like modern Mongolians, may have relied on bacteria within the gut, known as the gut microbiome, to break down the lactose, Warinner said.

2-17-19 Your phone and shoes are home to completely unknown life forms
Anyone hoping to discover a new species may only need to look as far as the soles of their shoes or the phone in their pocket. A study of 3500 swab samples taken from people’s shoes and phones has found nine unstudied branches of bacterial life. The samples were taken by Jonathan Eisen, of the University of California, Davis, and his team from members of the public attending sporting events, museums, and educational events in the US. When they sequenced and analysed the DNA of the bacteria in each sample, they found that 35 different phyla of bacteria were present. Phyla are large branches of the family tree of life, and are subdivisions of the larger kingdoms, which include bacteria, plants or animals. According to official nomenclature lists, there are only 39 phyla of prokaryotic organisms – those that have small, bacteria-type cells that lack a true nucleus. But the team found nine possible additional phyla living on shoes and phones, suggesting that there is a vast variety of bacterial life that we know almost nothing about. “We have only scratched the surface of understanding microbial diversity, even right in front of us,” says Eisen. The team found that 10 per cent of the samples they took contained DNA from bacteria belonging to such so-called microbial dark matter – organisms that we know little about because they are difficult to grow and study in the lab. The samples also contained bacteria belonging to extremely rare groups, such as Edwardsbactera, first discovered in an underground water aquifer, and Diapherotrites, which was previously found in water seeping underground in an abandoned goldmine.

2-16-19 Why some Georgia O’Keeffe paintings have ‘art acne’
A new imaging technique could help art curators track destructive bumps over time. Like pubescent children, the oil paintings of Georgia O’Keeffe have been breaking out with “acne” as they age, and now scientists know why. Tiny blisters, which can cause paint to crack and flake off like dry skin, were first spotted forming on the artist’s paintings years ago. O’Keeffe, a key figure in the development of American modern art, herself had noticed these knobs, which at first were dismissed as sand grains kicked up from the artist’s New Mexico desert home and lodged in the oil paint. Now researchers have identified the true culprit: metal soaps that result from chemical reactions in the paint. The team has also developed a 3-D image capturing computer program, described February 17 at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, to help art conservators detect and track these growing “ailments” using only a cell phone or tablet. O’Keeffe’s works aren’t the first to develop such blisters. Metal soaps, which look a bit like white, microscopic insect eggs, form beneath the surfaces of around 70 percent of all oil paintings, including works by Rembrandt, Francisco de Goya and Vincent van Gogh. “It’s not an unusual phenomenon,” says Marc Walton, a materials scientist at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. Scientists in the late 1990s determined that these soaps form when oil paint’s negatively charged fats, which hold the paint’s colored pigments together, react with positively charged metal ions, such as zinc and lead, in the paint. This reaction creates liquid crystals that slowly aggregate beneath a painting’s surface, causing paint layers on the surface to gradually bulge, tear and eventually flake off.

2-15-19 Vaping can help smokers quit—at a cost
A major new study has found that e-cigarettes can help smokers quit—good news, because smoking causes nearly 6 million deaths a year, including 480,000 in the U.S. The bad news, reports NPR.com, is that many people who use e-cigarettes to stop smoking end up hooked on vaping, which carries its own health risks. For the study, British researchers recruited 886 smokers who wanted to quit and split them into two groups. The first received nicotine gum, inhalers, and other standard replacement treatments; the second were given e-cigarettes. Both groups also received a month of weekly one-on-one counseling sessions. After a year, 18 percent of the e-cigarette group had quit, compared with 10 percent of those using traditional therapies. “Anything that helps smokers avoid heart disease and cancer and lung disease is a good thing,” said lead researcher Peter Hajek, from Queen Mary University of London, “and e-cigarettes can do that.” However, 80 percent of the quitters in the e-cigarette group were still vaping at the one-year mark; only 9 percent of the quitters in the traditional nicotine replacement group were still using those products. Continued e-cigarette use worries some scientists because of growing evidence of vaping’s harmful health effects. A U.S. study unveiled last week found that compared with nonusers, people who vape have a higher risk of stroke (by 71 percent), heart attack (59 percent), and heart disease (40 percent).

2-15-19 Kids using too much toothpaste
Parents are putting an unhealthy amount of toothpaste on their kids’ brushes, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned. The CDC and the American Dental Association advise that children ages 3 to 6 use no more than a pea-size amount of fluoride paste, to prevent the youngsters from swallowing large amounts while brushing. While fluoride helps prevent cavities—which is why it’s added to toothpaste and tap water—it can also damage and discolor children’s teeth when consumed in excess. But in a CDC study of more than 5,000 kids ages 3 to 15, only 49 percent of the 3-to-6 cohort brushed with the recommended pea-size dollop of paste, and more than 38 percent coated either half or all of the brush. Jonathan Shenkin, a spokesman for the ADA, tells The New York Times that parents should keep buying fluoride toothpaste, “but use it in the proper quantity so your children don’t swallow too much.” The study also found that nearly 80 percent of kids started brushing later than recommended; the CDC says they should begin the moment their first tooth comes through.

2-15-19 Breakfast and weight loss
“Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper,” goes the old adage. Yet new research suggests the first meal of the day isn’t as important as many believe—throwing into question the widely held belief that eating breakfast promotes weight loss by “jump-starting the metabolism.” Australian researchers analyzed 13 previous studies relating to breakfast, weight, and calorie intake in the U.S. and other high-income countries. They found that those who ate breakfast actually consumed 260 more calories on average than those who didn’t, reports Vox.com, and were nearly a pound heavier. They saw no significant difference in metabolic rates between breakfast eaters and abstainers. The analysis has its flaws: The trials examined ran for a maximum of only 16 weeks, and mostly didn’t factor in the types of food eaten by participants. The authors also acknowledge that breakfast is beneficial for children. But for adults, they conclude, there’s “no evidence to support the notion that breakfast consumption promotes weight loss.”

2-15-19 A dialect quiz shows we still cling to our regional identities
What do you call your grandmother? Do the words but and put rhyme? Would you eat a bread roll, a bap, a bun or a cob? If you grew up in the UK or Ireland, an online quiz by The New York Times will try to pinpoint where by collecting your answers to 25 questions like these. For a small sample of New Scientist journalists, the quiz proved shockingly accurate. “There are a lot of distinct dialects in the UK for a small land mass,” says Laurel MacKenzie, a linguist at New York University. Dialects develop when groups are isolated from one another, which has been the case for most of the thousands of years in which people have lived in the UK and Ireland. Although it is now very easy to travel, dialects stick around because they are a matter of local pride and identity. “People hold on to their traditional ways of speaking because that’s who they are,” says MacKenzie. Her favourite dialect words are “barm” – a bread roll in Manchester – and “mither”, which means bother in north-west England. These differences aren’t just reflected in society. By studying how people speak using ultrasound, researchers have learned that people move their tongues in different ways, even when they are making the same sound. “There’s so much variation in language and so much of it is under the surface,” says MacKenzie. One important factor that isn’t taken into account by the New York Times quiz is class. Regardless of where you are, people higher on the social class ladder tend to sound the same, but lower down the ladder, you hear a lot more regional variation. That’s also true of other countries.

2-15-19 STEM professors’ beliefs on intelligence may widen the racial achievement gap
Racial minorities can suffer lower grades if their teachers see intelligence as fixed. Beliefs among some university professors that intelligence is fixed, rather than capable of growth, contribute to a racial achievement gap in STEM courses, a new study suggests. Those professors may subtly communicate stereotypes about blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans allegedly being less intelligent than Asians and whites, say psychologist Elizabeth Canning of Indiana University in Bloomington and her colleagues. In turn, black, Hispanic and Native American undergraduates may respond by becoming less academically motivated and more anxious about their studies, leading to lower grades. Even small dips in STEM grades — especially for students near pass/fail cutoffs — can accumulate across the 15 or more science, technology, engineering and math classes needed to become a physician or an engineer, Canning says. That could jeopardize access to financial aid and acceptance to graduate programs. “Our work suggests that academic benefits could accrue over time if all students, and particularly underrepresented minority students, took STEM classes with faculty who endorse a growth mind-set,” Canning says. Underrepresented minority students’ reactions to professors with fixed or flexible beliefs about intelligence have yet to be studied. But over a two-year period, the disparity in grade point averages separating Asian and white STEM students from black, Hispanic and Native American peers was nearly twice as large in courses taught by professors who regarded intelligence as set in stone, versus malleable, Canning’s team reports online February 15 in Science Advances.

2-15-19 Meet the man who made CRISPR monkey clones to study depression
Hung-Chun Chang hopes his work will lead to new treatments for depression and schizophrenia. One year after the birth of the world’s first two cloned primates, a team in China has used CRISPR gene editing and cloning to create monkeys that show some symptoms of depression and schizophrenia. While some researchers have praised the work’s potential for helping us understand psychiatric disorders in humans, others have raised ethical concerns. Lead scientist Hung-Chun Chang, of the Institute of Neuroscience in Shanghai, told New Scientist about how he hopes the monkeys will help us better understand mental health and find new treatments. (Webmaster's comment: Note that the cutting-edge research is being done in CHINA!)

  1. How did you create these monkeys? We are working on the BMAL1 gene, which affects how our body responds to the day-night cycle.
  2. What symptoms do these monkeys have? The most direct result is that they are not getting enough sleep.
  3. How can you know that these aren’t just symptoms of sleep deprivation? It’s impossible to separate the effects of sleep deprivation on monkey’s mental state from their genetic mutation.
  4. What are you hoping to learn from this work? We will use these monkeys for drug testing
  5. Couldn’t this research be done in mice or people? Monkeys have an identical body clock to humans.
  6. Is it ethical to genetically engineer monkeys to be depressed? Gene editing in cynomolgus monkeys, the species we used here, is permitted worldwide.
  7. What else is your team is working on? We are trying to create an Alzheimer’s model.

2-14-19 A gut bacteria toxin that damages DNA may be involved in bowel cancer
Gut bacteria could be to blame for bowel cancer. People with the condition often have higher levels of certain strains of Escherichia coli in their digestive systems. Now, a toxin produced by the bacteria has been shown to damage DNA in gut cells – possibly the first step towards turning cancerous. While some strains of E. coli can cause food poisoning, others are more friendly and form part of the bacterial community in a healthy gut. Previous studies have found about 20 per cent of E. coli strains produce a DNA-damaging toxin called colibactin. People with inflammatory bowel disease and bowel cancers often have elevated levels of these strains in their digestive systems. Aiming to find out what colibactin does to our body, Emily Balskus at Harvard University in Massachusetts and her colleagues injected colibactin-producing E. coli into human gut cells. They found the toxin severely damaged the cells’ DNA after 16 minutes. Cells injected with non-colibactin-producing E. coli didn’t experience such changes. When the team repeated the experiment in mice, they found the same result in their colon cells. “It’s the first time we see evidence that colibactin directly damages DNA in cells and mice,” says Balskus. They’ve yet to investigate if this damage will turn cancerous, “but in other settings, such as tobacco products, there is good evidence that [DNA destruction] is carcinogenic,” says Balskus. It’s not known when or why some E. coli produce colibactin. Many people have E. coli capable of producing colibactin in their gut, but appear to be completely healthy. “We don’t know what that means,” says Balskus.

2-14-19 Chemicals 'repair damaged neurons in mice'
New results suggest ageing brains can potentially be rejuvenated, at least in mice, according to researchers. Very early-stage experiments indicate that drugs can be developed to stop or even reverse mental decline. The results were presented at the 2019 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The US and Canadian researchers took two new approaches to trying to prevent the loss of memory and cognitive decline that can come with old age. One team, from the University of California, Berkeley, showed MRI scans which indicated that mental decline may be caused by molecules leaking into the brain. Blood vessels in the brain are different from those in other parts of the body. They protect the organ by allowing only nutrients, oxygen and some drugs to flow through into the brain, but block larger, potentially damaging molecules. This is known as the blood-brain barrier. The scans revealed that this barrier becomes increasingly leaky as we get older. For example, 30-40% of people in their 40s have some disruption to their blood-brain barrier, compared with 60% of 60-year-olds. The scans also showed that the brain was inflamed in the leaky areas. Prof Daniela Kaufer, who leads the Berkeley group, said that young mice altered to have leaky blood-brain barriers showed many signs of aging. She discovered a chemical that stops the damage to the barrier from causing inflammation to the brain. Prof Kaufer told BBC News that not only did the chemical stop the genetically altered young mice from showing signs of aging, it reversed the signs of aging in older mice. "When you think of brain aging you think about the degeneration of cells and losing what we have," she said. "What these results show is that you are not losing anything. The cells are still there and they just needed to be 'unmasked' by reducing the inflammation."

2-14-19 CRISPR could help us protect ourselves from viruses like flu and HIV
CRISPR gene editing could let us hack the immune system to give lasting protection against HIV and other infections. Experiments in mice suggest that the technique could be used to give people immunity from a range of viruses for which there are no effective vaccines. Justin Taylor, at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington, and colleagues used the CRISPR technique on B cells. These white blood cells are part of our natural immune system and secrete antibody proteins that attack particular bacteria and viruses. While effective against many diseases, these protective antibodies don’t work as well as needed against some viruses. This is one of the reasons researchers have struggled to develop vaccines against some of the most lethal infections. To get around this problem, better versions of some antibodies can be created artificially and then given to patients. For example, palivizumab can be made in the lab and is very effective against the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which infects the respiratory tract and is a serious threat to infants and older people. Injections of palivizumab are used to treat RSV infections in these high-risk groups, but the antibody breaks down quickly, meaning these expensive injections have to be repeated every month. Taylor and his colleagues hope that editing the DNA of B cells to produce better antibodies and then injecting them back into the body could lead to a steady supply of new antibodies, without the need for repeat injections. If it works, this could provide immunity against certain pathogens. The team tested their idea by giving B cells from mice the genetic instructions to make palivizumab for themselves. They found that a single injection of these cells protected 15 mice from the virus for up to 82 days.

2-14-19 Can teenagers get vaccinated without their parents’ permission?
Measles outbreaks are spreading in two neighbouring US states, Washington and Oregon, with the former declaring a public health emergency. These states are among 17 that have laws allowing parents to opt out of vaccinating their children on the basis of personal beliefs. The latest outbreak has seen teenagers turning to social media to ask how they can get vaccinated against their parents’ wishes. Legally, it is a difficult question, because children can’t necessarily make their own medical decisions. Regulations vary from state to state, but in general, some minors can access certain treatments without parental consent. Vaccines are not always specified on this list, but in some states the law is vague enough that a minor could potentially have a legal right to a vaccination. In Oregon, anyone 15 or older can get hospital care, dental and vision services, and immunisations without parental permission. In Washington, minors can receive immunisations without their parents’ consent if their doctor determines they are a “mature minor”, which takes into account their age, ability to understand the treatment and self-sufficiency, although they need not be legally independent to qualify. Other states allow even younger children to access some vaccines. In California, 12-year-olds can consent to medical treatment for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). These include the vaccine for human papillomavirus (HPV), which has become a target for anti-vaccination campaigners. “There were lots of claims about things that are bad about the HPV vaccine, which really aren’t founded in any scientific evidence. That created a lot of mistrust among parents,” says Claudia Borzutzky, a physician in the adolescent medicine clinic at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. Californian minors can also consent to the hepatitis B vaccine. “We don’t have the same resistance to hepatitis B as we do with other vaccines, which is mysterious to me because all our vaccines have the same efficacy. People forget it’s an STI,” says Borzutzky. Almost every state allows minors to consent to medical care related to reproductive health – birth control, pregnancy testing, abortion – and drug and alcohol abuse services. Some states also let minors access mental-health services and sexual-assault treatment without a parent’s permission.

2-14-19 Find tonic water bitter? Part of your brain may be on the small side
Here comes a taste test with a surprising outcome. A study involving 1600 people found the volume of a particular brain region is reversely linked to how bitter people find tonic water. Before anyone thought to mix it with gin, tonic water was developed as a treatment for malaria. It contains a medicinal substance called quinine, which gives tonic water its bitterness. Previous studies have found that individuals perceive the strength of bitter flavours like quinine differently depending on their genes. Daniel Hwang at the University of Queensland in Australia and his colleagues wondered if brain size also plays a role. They collected brain scans of 1600 volunteers, who were also asked to rate the bitterness of a quinine solution. The team found that the size of a brain region – the left entorhinal cortex in the temporal lobe – is associated with how intensely someone perceives bitterness. Those who found the drink less bitter tended to have a bigger left entorhinal cortex. The entorhinal cortex has previously been linked to our sense of smell, but it is unclear how its volume is associated with taste perception. “There are various possibilities – a smaller volume may result in a shorter time for the taste signal to transfer across the brain,” says Hwang. It is still unclear whether the volume of certain brain regions affects our perception of other food and drinks. “This is the first study relating volumetric differences and taste, and our findings warrant future research on not only bitter, but also sweet and even salty, sour and umami taste responses,” says Hwang. Those who find tonic water to be extremely bitter shouldn’t assume that they have a smaller left entorhinal cortex, though. Hwang says genetics probably also plays a role in determining our taste sensation.

2-14-19 Offspring from older sperm are fitter and age more slowly
Sperm with stamina sire the healthiest, longest-lived offspring, at least in zebrafish. The finding challenges the prevailing orthodoxy about what determines the physical traits of sperm, which could have important evolutionary implications. It also suggests that the methods fertility clinics use to select sperm – which instead favour the sprinters – could be improved. “I definitely do think this is relevant,” says team leader Simone Immler at the University of East Anglia in the UK. “We miss out on a lot of steps during artificial fertilisation technologies.” Half of zebrafish sperm stop swimming just 25 seconds after entering water, although some fare better and survive for about 1 minute. To see if there was any difference between these short and relatively longer-lived sperm, Immler’s team split zebrafish ejaculate into two parts. One part was mixed with both eggs and water. With the other part, the eggs were added 25 seconds after the water, meaning that only the longer-lived sperm had a chance of fertilising them. The results were striking. The offspring sired by longer-lived sperm were fitter, says Immler. “They not only reproduced more throughout life, they also lived longer.” However, the effects were less pronounced in female offspring than male ones. Allowing only longer-surviving sperm to fertilise eggs might act as a form of quality control, weeding out sperm with harmful mutations, says Immler. But, surprisingly, this challenges conventional wisdom. The stem cells that give rise to sperm have two slightly different copies of the genome. But sperm themselves have just one copy, containing a mix of the parental genomes.

2-13-19 Breast pumps may introduce harmful bacteria to babies’ gut microbiome
Using a breast pump may introduce babies to the “wrong” kind of bacteria, and perhaps increase their risk of childhood asthma. Shirin Moossavi at the University of Manitoba, Canada, and colleagues found milk from pumps contained higher levels of potentially harmful microbes than milk straight from the breast. “Increased exposure to potential pathogens in breast milk could pose a risk of respiratory infection in the infant,” says Moossavi. This might explain why infants fed pumped milk are at increased risk for paediatric asthma compared with those fed exclusively at the breast, she says. Exactly how bacteria become established in the infant gut is unclear. Microbes from the mother carried in breast milk is one probable route, but so is the transfer of mouth bacteria from the mouth of a sucking baby. Breast pumps offer a third, artificial pathway – one that can potentially transmit a range of environmental bacteria to the baby. For the study, the researchers looked for bacterial genes in breast milk samples from 393 healthy mothers three to four months after giving birth. The team found the bacterial content of milk being fed to the mothers’ babies differed greatly from infant to infant. Milk administered from breast pumps contained higher levels of potentially harmful “opportunistic pathogens”, such as those from the genus Stenotrophomonas and family Pseudomonadaceae. In contrast, direct breastfeeding without a pump was associated with microbes typically found in the mouth, as well as greater bacterial richness and diversity. This suggests infant mouth microbes play an important role in determining what kind of bacteria are found in mothers’ milk.

2-13-19 Slow sperm may fail at crashing ‘gates’ on their way to an egg
Narrow spots in the female reproductive tract could help weed out less desirable suitors. The female reproductive tract is an obstacle course that favors agile sperm. Narrow straits in parts of the tract act like gates, helping prevent slower-swimming sperm from ever reaching an egg, a study suggests. Using a device that mimics the tract’s variable width, researchers studied sperm behavior at a narrow point, where the sex cells faced strong head-on currents of fluid. The faster, stronger swimmers started moving along a butterfly-shaped path, keeping them close to the narrow point and upping the chances of making it through. Meanwhile, slower, weaker swimmers were swept away, the team reports online February 13 in Science Advances. “Narrow junctions of the tract may act as barriers” to poor swimmers, says coauthor Alireza Abbaspourrad, a biophysicist at Cornell University. The results suggest that this is a way that females select the healthiest sperm, he says. Sperm travel through the reproductive tract — the vagina, cervix, uterus and fallopian tubes — by swimming upstream against fluid flowing through the tract, which moves at different speeds along the way. Previous studies have shown that sperm tend to follow the walls of the tract to “steer” toward the egg, but haven’t investigated what effect the narrow spots might have on the trek. Through computer simulations and tests of sperm, Abbaspourrad and colleagues found that the fastest sperm, when stopped by the current at a narrow point, could make it back to a wall, swim along it and try again. Repeated, this movement resulted in a butterfly-shaped pattern. Whether a swimmer could get through ultimately depended on the speed of the fluid through the narrow point and the speed of a sperm.

2-13-19 How humans evolved to be both shockingly violent and super-cooperative
The origins of our paradoxical nature lie in murder and self-domestication. It's a weird story that may even explain why our species came into existence. ARE humans, by nature, good or evil? The question has split opinions since people began philosophising. Some, like the followers of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, say we are a naturally peaceful species corrupted by society. Others side with Thomas Hobbes and see us as a naturally violent species civilised by society. Both perspectives make sense. To say that we are both “naturally peaceful” and “naturally violent” seems contradictory, however. This is the paradox at the heart of my new book. The paradox is resolved if we recognise that human nature is a chimera. The chimera, in classical mythology, was a creature with the body of a goat and the head of a lion. It was neither one thing nor the other: it was both. I argue that, with respect to aggression, a human is both a goat and a lion. We have a low propensity for impulsive aggression, and a high propensity for premeditated aggression. This solution makes both Rousseauians and Hobbesians partially right, but it raises a deeper question: why did such an unusual combination of virtue and violence evolve? The story of how our species came to possess this unique mixture hasn’t been told before, and offers a rich and fresh perspective on the evolution of our behavioural and moral tendencies. It also addresses the fascinating but surprisingly neglected question of how and why our species, Homo sapiens, came into existence at all. Since the 1960s, efforts to understand the biology of aggression have converged on an important idea. Aggression – meaning behaviour intended to cause physical or mental harm – falls into two major types, so distinct in their function and biology that from an evolutionary viewpoint they need to be considered separately. I use the terms “proactive” and “reactive” aggression, but many other word pairs describe the same dichotomy, including cold and hot, offensive and defensive, premeditated and impulsive. To judge from other relevant animals, a high level of proactive aggression is normally associated with high reactive aggression. The common chimpanzee is the primate species that most often uses proactive aggression to kill its own kind, and it also has a high rate of reactive aggression within communities. The wolf’s proactive aggression against members of its own species is often lethal. As with chimpanzees, although relationships within wolf groups are generally benign and cooperative, they are far more emotionally reactive than dogs are. Lions and hyenas are also wolf-like in these respects.

2-13-19 Smart skin sticker could detect asthma attacks before they happen
A smart sticker that could alert people with asthma of an impending attack, has been made using a children’s toy. The device is made using Shrinky Dinks – plastic sheets that shrink to a fraction of their original size when heated. They are popular among children because they can be coloured and cut into shapes before shrinking. The Shrinky Dinks are used to shrink ultrathin metal sheets into stretch-detecting sensors that wirelessly transmit breathing data to a smartphone. The hope is that this data could be analysed to detect subtle changes in breathing rate that may be early signs of a worsening condition, or track improvements following medical treatment. It could be a useful tool for monitoring people with chronic lung conditions, such as asthma and cystic fibrosis, says Michelle Khine at the University of California, Irvine, who led the team. People will use the device by sticking it to their lower ribs. The device monitors changes in electrical resistance as it stretches and retracts on the skin. When the wearer is still, the sensor’s measurements are as good as a medical-grade spirometer – a machine that measures lung volume from how much a person breathes out in a forced breath, says Michael Chu, one of the team. Spirometry is still the most accurate approach, but the new method has the advantage of continuous monitoring over time. Currently, the sensor becomes less accurate when the wearer is very active, for example if they are running. Khine says the next step is to use the device to try to predict asthma attacks before they happen.


ANIMAL INTELLIGENCE and ZOOLOGY

2-18-19 ZSL London Zoo shares animal X-rays
The expert veterinary team at ZSL London Zoo has shared a selection of X-rays made during routine health checks of its 18,000 animals. The images reveal the inner workings of a variety of different species, including frogs, snakes, geckos and turtles, and provide valuable insight for the vet team. "We can tell so much about an animal's health from looking at an X-ray - from the strength of their bones to how healthy their heart is," says ZSL London Zoo veterinary nurse Heather Macintosh. "They're vital to our work - and even though we get to see unique X-rays fairly often, we still think that they're absolutely fascinating. "Most people can recognise a human X-ray but they probably haven't seen the individual segments of a large hairy armadillo's exoskeleton or the long tail-bones of a big-headed turtle," says Ms Macintosh. "My favourite X-rays are definitely the snakes - humans have 33 vertebrae, while snakes have between 200 and 400, which is how they're so incredibly agile - it's amazing to see it on screen." The pictures were released to coincide with ZSL's Vets in Action event, which aims to educate visitors on the work that goes on behind the scenes.

2-17-19 The sixth mass extinction
The populations of the world’s wild animals have fallen by more than 50 percent, and humanity is to blame. (Webmaster's comment: If it takes us 100-200 years to kill off 75% or more of all species THAT IS A MASS EXTINCTION. 100-200 years was only a blink of the eye in previous extinctions! Mass extinction events do not happen overnight. It might take 100's of years for the full effect of an asteroid strike or a massive volcanic eruption to play out. So will human devastation of most animal life.)

  1. What’s gone wrong? As the human population has swelled to 7.5 billion, our species’ massive footprint on planet Earth has had a devastating impact on mammals, birds, reptiles, insects, and marine life. We’ve driven thousands of species to the edge of extinction through habitat loss, overhunting and overfishing, the introduction of invasive species into new ecosystems, toxic pollution, and climate change.
  2. How many species are already extinct? Scientists can only guess. Earth is home to between 9 million and as many as 1 trillion species—and only a fraction have been discovered. Vertebrate species have, however, been closely studied, and at least 338 have gone extinct, with the number rising to 617 when one includes those species “extinct in the wild” and “possibly extinct.”
  3. How many species are endangered? There are 26,500 species threatened with extinction, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a global network of some 16,000 scientists. That includes 40 percent of amphibian species, 33 percent of reef-building corals, 25 percent of mammals, and 14 percent of birds. There are now only 7,000 cheetahs left, and the number of African lions is down 43 percent since 1993.
  4. Is a mass extinction underway? Possibly. Many scientists now believe humans are living through a “mass extinction,” or an epoch during which at least 75 percent of all species vanish from the planet. The previous five mass extinctions occurred over the past 450 million years; the last one occurred about 66 million years ago, when the aftermath of a massive asteroid strike wiped out the dinosaurs.
  5. How fast is this happening? Extremely fast. Species extinction is an ordinary part of the natural processes of our planet; in fact, 99 percent of all species that ever lived on Earth are gone. It’s the pace of recent extinctions that is alarming. More than half of the vertebrate extinctions since 1500 have occurred since 1900.
  6. What are the consequences? Potentially enormous. The loss of species can have catastrophic effects on the food chain on which humanity depends. Ocean reefs, which sustain more than 25 percent of marine life, have declined by 50 percent already—and could be lost altogether by 2050. Insects pollinate crops humans eat.
  7. Can extinct species be resurrected? Using DNA technology, scientists are working on re-creating species that have disappeared. The technology, called “de-extinction,” is likely at least a decade off, although there are a few possible ways to go about it.

2-15-19 Mass Insect Die-Off
When it comes to conservation, looks are everything. Research shows that people give most generously to wildlife charities when presented with images of a select few endangered mammals. Furry, photogenic beasts such as polar bears, pandas, and tigers dominate the list of top earners. The preservation of those majestic animals is a worthy cause; nobody wants them to join the ever-growing list of wild species that humanity has driven to extinction. But it’s also true that we can survive in a world without polar bears and tigers, just as our own species has thrived in one without mammoths and dodos. What’s less clear is whether humanity can endure the disappearance of a less cute group of creatures: insects. A new study has found that insect biomass—the weight of all bugs on Earth combined—is dropping by a staggering 2.5 percent a year, largely because of pesticide use, habitat destruction, and climate change. In a few decades, nearly 50 percent of insect species worldwide could go extinct. Some might rejoice at this mass creepy-crawly die-off, which would mean fewer ants and flies invading their homes and spoiling picnics. But an insect apocalypse is nothing to cheer. The sheer abundance of bugs—there are at least 1.4 billion for each one of us—means they play a foundational role in the planet’s ecosystems. Some three-quarters of our food crops and 80 percent of wild flowering plants are pollinated by bees, wasps, beetles, butterflies, and other insects. Ants, flies, and beetles munch up dead animals and plant matter and channel nutrients back into the soil. Those bugs are in turn a major source of food for countless birds, reptiles, and fish species; without them, insect eaters simply starve to death. France, for example, has seen 50 and 80 percent drops in its nightingale and turtledove populations in recent years. We might not appreciate our six-legged friends now, but we’ll certainly miss them when they’re gone.

2-15-19 Gene-edited animal plan to relieve poverty in Africa
A researcher in Edinburgh is leading efforts to develop gene-edited farm animals for poor farmers in Africa. Prof Appolinaire Djikeng is developing cows, pigs and chickens that are resistant to diseases and more productive. Among them are cattle that have been gene edited to be heat-resistant. Details of the project were given at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Washington DC. Prof Djikeng is the director of the Centre for Tropical Livestock Genetics and Health. He believes that gene editing along with more targeted traditional cross-breeding will lead to healthy, productive livestock that will transform the lives of some of the very poorest people in the world. "We can drive out poverty in some of the most vulnerable communities," he told BBC News. "We are talking about smallholders with just one, two or three animals. "If the animals die or are not producing to their potential, it means no income for the smallholder's family and the risk of falling into absolute poverty." Prof Djikeng speaks from personal experience. His father was just such a subsistence farmer who reared pigs on a small farm in western Cameroon. He told me how each August his father would have a pig ready to sell to pay the year's school fees so he could go to class in September. But one year in the mid-80s, there was an epidemic of African swine fever and Prof Djikeng's father had no pigs to sell. Luckily, his mother kept chickens for just such an emergency, and Prof Djikeng was able to continue his education and become an eminent scientist. But, he told me, the incident had taught him how children's prospects are based on livestock in Africa and how easily they can be robbed of their futures when disease strikes.

2-15-19 Polar bears invade
More than 50 hungry polar bears have besieged an archipelago off Russia’s northeastern Arctic coast, trapping excited but frightened locals indoors. Alexander Minayev, administrator of the main town, Belushya Guba, said a state of emergency had been declared. “Parents are afraid to let the children go to school,” he said. It’s illegal to shoot the bears, because they are endangered, so authorities on Novaya Zemlya are considering relocating the garbage dump in which the bears have been rummaging for food. The animals have headed inland this year because the sea ice where they normally hunt seals has melted, likely due to climate change.

2-14-19 Smugglers are profiting from our failure to define endangered species
There are calls to improve a treaty on the international trade in endangered species – but there is no standard way to define species, says Stephen Garnett. It is 44 years since CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, came into force. Writing in the latest issue of Science, Eyal Frank at the University of Chicago and David Wilcox at Princeton University draw attention to a major problem with the treaty: its tendency to fall behind the times. Frank and Wilcox call for scientific knowledge on conservation to be “applied with more urgency” so that CITES can offer protection for wildlife the moment it comes under threat of extinction. Unfortunately, the problem runs far deeper than that. CITES protects species – and “species” is a slippery concept. The judges who must decide on the guilt of illegal traders need precise legal boundaries. This rare cactus is protected so you go to jail, that common one is not so you and your cactus go free. But who is to say the rare species and the common one aren’t variants of the same species? The answer, it turns out, is no one. There is no universal authority that CITES can turn to when faced with taxonomic uncertainty. Of course, if no one is in charge of taxonomy, that also means anyone can claim to be. Certainly, any taxonomist can publish a paper defining a new species. You don’t have to say how or why you made the decision to do so. You don’t have to test whether your species exceeds some pre-determined threshold of “speciesness”. You simply state that it does. You may back your view with the most brilliant genetic, morphological, behavioural, ecological and biochemical research, teasing out subtle differences that have eluded all before you. But, in the end, you simply assert your opinion. At any time, another taxonomist might come along with a new set of taxonomic truths and undo your work.

2-14-19 The last black leopard photographed in Kenya was born in New York
Photographs of a rare black leopard released yesterday were not in fact the first from Africa in a century, as New Scientist and many others reported. In 2013, Phoebe Okall, a photographer for Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper, captured this image at Ol Jogi Conservancy, around 50 kilometres from the Loisaba Conservancy where the more recent photos were taken. That leopard, named Bagheera, was not born in the wild though – he was rescued from a pet shop in New York and brought to Kenya as a cub. Nicholas Pilfold of San Diego Zoo Global, the lead researcher for a leopard conservation programme in Laikipia County, said the new photos were the first confirmed images of black leopards in nearly 100 years – although “confirmed” in this context means “the image must show the characteristic rosette pattern of the leopard”. Pilford’s journal paper reporting the new photos also included an image taken in 2007, which shows a black leopard at Ol Ari Nyiro Conservancy, about 50 kilometres west of Loisaba Conservancy. Black leopards, also called panthers, have a gene mutation that results in their unusual dark coat – a condition called melanism. They are extremely rare, and most often seen in southeast Asia. A 2017 paper mapping the distribution of black leopards included five reported sightings in Africa, but most were not confirmed with photographic evidence. The last confirmed sighting was from Ethiopia in 1909. It is thought that the gene variant for melanism may be advantageous in moist forests, where dark coloration might help them stay out of sight. This part of Kenya is semi-arid, with pockets of tropical forest among grassland and shrubland.

2-14-19 50 years ago, DDT pushed peregrine falcons to the edge of extinction
Excerpt from the February 22, 1969 issue of Science News. Fierce and swift, steel blue in color and called the world’s most perfect flying machine, the peregrine falcon is heading toward extinction in North America. The reason: DDT. Perilously high levels of the pesticide and related chemicals have been found in the eggs, fat and tissues of the birds…. [The falcons] are not picking up the DDT directly, but get it by eating other birds which, in their southern migrations, ingest DDT-contaminated insects. — Science News, February 22, 1969. Two years after the American peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus anatum) was declared endangered, the United States banned DDT in 1972. The pesticide lingered in the environment, however, and by 1975, North America’s population of peregrine falcons hit a low of 324 nesting pairs. State and federal agencies worked with conservation groups to breed the species in captivity, with some 6,000 birds released into the wild since 1974. The species was removed from the U.S. endangered species list in 1999.

2-13-19 Chimp sign language and human communication follow the same rules
Gestures used by chimpanzees to communicate with each other follow some of the same rules intrinsic to human language, according to a study of wild chimps living in Uganda. Raphaela Heesen, at the University of Roehampton in the UK, and colleagues analysed video recordings of more than 2000 uses of 58 different types of “play” gestures used by chimps living in the Budongo Forest. They found that more frequently used gestures were shorter in duration, and that longer signing sequences were made up of shorter, syllable-like gestures. These two patterns are known to apply to all human languages. “Primate gestural communication is, of course, very different to human language, but our results show that these two systems are underpinned by the same mathematical principles,” says Heesen. Bonobos are known to use some of the same gestures as chimps. “We hope that our work will pave the way for similar studies, to see quite how widespread these laws might be across the animal kingdom,” Heesen says. As well as using hand and foot gestures, chimps communicate with noises, body postures and facial expressions. A study last year found that that chimps and human toddlers use similar stamping, pointing and clapping tactics to get attention.

2-13-19 Pangolins: Rare insight into world's most trafficked mammal
The secret life of the world's most trafficked mammal, the pangolin, has been caught on camera in Africa. Footage gives a rare insight into the behaviour of the giant pangolin, the largest of all the scaly animals. Observed by remote-operated cameras, a baby takes a ride on its mother's back, while an adult climbs a tree. Scientists are releasing the footage to highlight the plight of the animals, which are being pushed to extinction by illegal hunting for scales and meat. Large numbers of their scales have been seized this month alone, including Malaysia's biggest-ever interception of smuggled pangolin products. The images and video clips of giant pangolins, one of four species in Africa, were taken at Uganda's Ziwa sanctuary, where the animals live alongside protected rhinos and are safe from poaching. Stuart Nixon of Chester Zoo's Africa Field Programme said much of their behaviour has never been recorded before. "We know so little about this species, almost everything we're picking up on camera traps this year as a behaviour is a new thing," he told BBC News. The pangolin is said to be the most widely trafficked mammal in the world. Its scales are in high demand in Asia for use in traditional Chinese medicine, despite there being no medical benefit for their use, while its meat is considered a delicacy in some countries.

2-13-19 Wild black leopard photographed in Africa for first time in 100 years
There are few photographs of black leopards in the wild, as not only are these beautiful beasts rare and shy of human contact, they are very hard to spot. The photograph above may be the first of the elusive cat in the wild in Africa for a century. Panther is another term for an all-black leopard, and sometimes the leopards’ characteristic “rosette” spots can be seen, as here. Only a small proportion of leopards are black. The ones that are usually live in dense forests in Asia, where their dark colouring helps them blend in as they hunt. Imagine this one emerging from the shadows with its eyes on you. UK photographer Will Burrard-Lucas had been trying to photograph a panther for years when he heard of sightings near Laikipia Wilderness Camp in Kenya, so he went to visit. The owner soon picked up some fresh leopard tracks nearby and Burrard-Lucas set up camera traps. After several nights of capturing nothing but hyenas, he was scrolling through images on the last camera when he found he was looking at “a pair of eyes surrounded by inky darkness”. “No animal is more elusive,” wrote Burrard-Lucas on his blog. “ Nobody I knew had ever seen one in the wild and I never thought that I would either.” These are the first confirmed images of a panther in Africa in nearly 100 years, said Nicholas Pilford at San Diego Zoo Global in a statement. Burrard-Lucas’s technique of making camera traps that set off high-quality lighting has also managed to catch elephants, lions and wildebeests.

2-13-19 Black panther: Rare animal caught on camera in Kenya
Black Panther has been everywhere in recent years - but spotting one of the animals the famous superhero is named after in the African wilderness is a little more rare. Wildlife photographer Will Burrard-Lucas managed it - and there are even claims this is the first time anyone has captured a melanistic leopard on camera in Africa in 100 years. Very few images of these iconic, secretive creatures exist. Will heard rumours of a black panther - which is a loose term for a black leopard or black jaguar, depending where in the world it's from - at the Laikipia Wilderness Camp in Kenya. After following leopard tracks through the undergrowth with a guide called Steve, Will settled on a place to set up his Camtraptions camera traps. "I'm quite used to doing camera traps and not actually achieving anything because it is such a speculative thing - you don't know if the animal you're trying to get is going to come down the trail that you've set the cameras up on." They weren't sure whether the tracks they were following were those of the black leopard or a regular spotted one. "I never get my hopes up, and after the first couple of nights I hadn't got this leopard and I was beginning to think I'd be lucky if I get a photo of a spotty leopard, let alone this black one." On the fourth night though, his luck was in. "I don't think it sank in immediately what I'd managed to achieve, it was such an unusual subject. "Usually on these camera trap photos with the flash you see the animal very clearly. But as it blended in with the black night so well all I could see was these eyes staring out of the picture." The black leopard Will captured is a male and based on its size, thought to be around two years old.

2-13-19 New 'mysterious' frog species discovered in India's Western Ghats
Indian researchers have discovered a new species of frog - in a roadside puddle. Sonali Garg, a PhD student at Delhi University, and her supervisor SD Biju found the new species in the Western Ghats, a biodiversity hotspot in southern India. The species belongs to a new Indian frog group or genus which the scientists have named Mysticellus. The name is derived from Latin and means mysterious and diminutive. The scientists discovered the narrow-mouthed frog after three years of extensive explorations, and have confirmed that it represents an entirely new species and genus of microhylid frogs. The new genus is currently known only in a single locality. "Our discovery of this new frog genus from one of the most explored and researched regions in the Western Ghats indicates that documentation of amphibians in this globally recognised biodiversity hotspot is still far from being complete," says Sonali Garg. "This frog went unnoticed until now probably because it appears for less than four days for breeding activities and lives a secretive lifestyle for the rest of the year." A number of new frog species have been discovered in the Western Ghats in the past decade, making it one of the leading biodiversity hotspots in the world. "At the same time, Indian amphibians face various extinction threats, especially due to habitat loss and degradation. The only known population of the new genus is found in a wayside area disturbed with vehicular movement, plantation activities and human settlements," says Ms Garg. "Since little is known about the habitat requirements and the distribution range of the new frog, the specific site needs to be preserved to protect this frog."

2-13-19 Cassowaries’ strange headgear helps them stay cool in the heat
Cassowaries, the second largest birds in the world after ostriches, have a fin-like structure on their heads that has long been a mystery. Now biologists have determined that it acts like a radiator, helping them to shed heat in Australia’s sweltering summers. Many functions have been proposed for the cassowary head fin, called a casque. Some thought it was a weapon, but since it is flexible, that seemed unlikely. Others suggested it is a sexual ornament, although it is present in both males and females. Another possibility is that it acts as a resonance chamber, helping the birds make low, booming noises. However, emus and ostriches make similar noises without such an instrument. Danielle Eastick of La Trobe University, Australia, and colleagues had another idea: it could be a “thermal window” – an organ that helps to regulate body temperature. Such organs have a large surface area and a rich blood supply that can be turned up when the animal needs to lose heat, or restricted when it needs to retain heat. Rodents’ tails, elephants’ ears and toucans’ bills all work in this way. To investigate, Eastick took readings with a thermal imaging device on 20 cassowaries in zoos and wildlife parks from Victoria to Queensland, in temperatures from 5 to 36°C. In cold weather, the birds restricted blood flow to the casque, allowing it to drop almost to ambient temperature. In hot weather, blood flow in the casque increased. At the highest temperatures, 8 per cent of heat exchange over the cassowary’s body was through the casque – a lot for a small organ. With large, round bodies covered in feathers, losing heat is a struggle for cassowaries.

2-13-19 Slime-fighting slug can superglue enemy frogs to trees for days
Many animals have extraordinary defence mechanisms, from the sea cucumbers that expel their entrails through their anuses to the exploding ants that blow themselves up to protect the colony. Now we can add an Australian slug that glues down would-be predators to the list. Biologists have shown that the red triangle slug (Triboniophorus graeffei) produces a special kind of mucus when threatened. Unlike the thin, slippery slime it secretes as it moves, the special defensive mucus is extremely sticky – strong enough to glue down predators for days. John Gould of the University of Newcastle, Australia, made the discovery when he spotted a green tree frog stuck to a branch right next to a red triangle slug (pictured, above) in the Watagans Mountain Range in New South Wales. After 10 minutes it still hadn’t freed itself, so he took both animals back to the lab. At least two other species of slug also produce sticky mucus, but these have only been studied in the lab. “As far as we can tell, no one has actually seen its use in the wild before,” says team member Jose Valdez of Aarhus University in Denmark. What is unusual about slug glue is that it adheres strongly in wet conditions and loses its stickiness as it dries. That property could be very useful – one team is already developing a glue for treating wounds based on the sticky mucus of the slug Arion subfuscus. Many animals produce adhesive glue for defence, says Valdez, but in most cases it is thought to merely distract predators as they try to remove the glue from their face or body. Only a few are known to actually glue down predators, including one salamander that can immobilise a snake for up to 48 hours.

2-12-19 Dogs' becoming major threat' to wildlife
They may be our "best friends" but dogs have also emerged as a major threat to wildlife. Scientists say they have contributed to the extinction of nearly one dozen wild bird and animal species. As such, they have become the third worst human-introduced predators after cats and rats. Now dogs are said to threaten nearly 200 species worldwide, some of which are critically endangered, studies suggest. And yet, feral and free-ranging dogs have received surprisingly little attention, conservationists say. In a recent study carried out on dogs in Chile, the authors said: "Conservationists in Chile and elsewhere see urgency in controlling the impact of free-ranging dogs on wildlife." It found dog owners were not concerned about the issue and many allowed their pets to move freely in the wild. "Predation and harassment by dogs has been documented for the majority of larger terrestrial mammals that inhabit Chile, including the three species of canids (mammals from the dog family) and three species of deer," Eduardo Silva-Rodriguez, one of the authors of the study, told the BBC. There are an estimated one billion domestic dogs worldwide and their conditions range from feral and free-ranging to entirely dependent on humans. There is no definitive figure for feral and free-ranging dogs, but conservationists say their number is definitely rising. "It's quite a matter of serious concern," Piero Genovesi, head of the invasive species specialist unit at the IUCN conservation body, told the BBC. "As the human population rises, so will the number of dogs, and this problem could get worse."