Sioux Falls Free Thinkers

"Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent!"

For all those with Open Minds!

An Open Mind by Megan Godtland

Free Thinkers Stats

All Websites Stats

Latest News Articles from the
Sioux Falls Free Thinkers Five Websites
Click on the links below to get the full story from its source

Your only Sioux Falls source for really important news!


ATHEISM and HUMANISM

4-21-19 US arrests 'member of border militia' in New Mexico
US authorities have arrested an alleged member of a militia that has been stopping migrants trying to cross the US-Mexico border. Larry Mitchell Hopkins, 69, was detained in New Mexico as a felon in possession of a weapon. It comes just days after a video emerged of militia members detaining dozens of migrants in the desert. The group, United Constitutional Patriots, has been condemned by civil rights groups and local officials. "This is a dangerous felon who should not have weapons around children and families," said New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas. "Today's arrest by the FBI indicates clearly that the rule of law should be in the hands of trained law enforcement officials, not armed vigilantes." While his statement said Mr Hopkins had been arrested as a felon, it did not specify what the underlying conviction had been. The alleged militia member is expected to appear in court on Monday. As details of this week's latest video emerged, New Mexico governor Michelle Lujan Grisham said on Twitter that "menacing or threatening migrant families and asylum seekers is absolutely unacceptable and must cease". (Webmaster's comment: Arrest all the vigilantes and lock them up!)

4-21-19 Agent Orange: US to clean up toxic Vietnam War air base
The US has launched a multi-million dollar clean-up operation at an air base in Vietnam it used to store the notorious chemical Agent Orange. The ten-year programme, unveiled more than four decades after the end of the Vietnam War, will cost $183m (£141m). The site at Bien Hoa airport, outside Ho Chi Minh City, is considered the most contaminated in the country. Agent Orange was a defoliant sprayed by US forces to destroy jungles and uncover the enemy's hiding places. It contained dioxin, which is one of the most toxic chemicals known to man and has been linked to increased rates of cancers and birth defects. Vietnam says several million people have been affected by Agent Orange, including 150,000 children born with severe birth defects. At Bien Hoa the chemical has contaminated the soil and seeped into nearby rivers. A statement from the US development agency USAID, which is behind the clean-up, described the site as the "largest remaining hotspot" of dioxin in Vietnam. "The fact that two former foes are now partnering on such a complex task is nothing short of historic," US ambassador to Vietnam, Daniel Kritenbrink, said at Saturday's programme launch. More than 80 million litres of Agent Orange are estimated to have been sprayed by US forces over South Vietnam between 1962 and 1971. From the 1960s, doctors in Vietnam began to see a sharp rise in birth defects, cancers and other illnesses linked to exposure to the chemical. The US compensates its veterans exposed to the defoliant, but does not compensate Vietnamese nationals. (Webmaster's comment: Another American war crime, but no American will ever be punished for it!)

4-21-19 Columbine survivors mark twentieth anniversary of massacre
Survivors of the Columbine High School shooting have been speaking at a remembrance ceremony in Denver to mark the twentieth anniversary of the massacre. Twelve students and a teacher were murdered by two teenagers. One former student, Patrick Ireland, who was injured by bullets, said no one from the school or surrounding community had emerged unscathed. The event was the culmination of three days of commemorations. Earlier, members of the public left flowers and cards at a memorial to the victims. Columbine students and staff also marked the day by taking part in community service projects.

4-21-19 'I'm either too black or not black enough': One teenager's experience
Coming here for my senior year has been quite an experience. The most jarring: I feel like a minority. Don't get me wrong, I've been a minority before. Technically, all people of African descent are minorities in America, the place where I've lived most of my life. Yet, this is the first time I've been aware of it. There are so few black students at my school that by next year, there's a good chance that no one in secondary will have black skin. Should that not be scary? Is it weird for me that it is? It's not that I'm scared to be the only black person at the school; that's not really the issue. It's that there's part of black culture that has spread throughout the student population that reeks of ignorance. I hear the N-word on a daily basis; I see gang signs being tossed around as if they hold no other significance than a flick of the wrist. Students say it's OK because it's part of rap culture, which most of the student body listens to; but it's not. I hear the whispers of others making fun of my skin tone, yet I'm mocked if I wear a chain. I'm stared at by others and confronted by questions such as if I am related to another dark-skinned person in this community because "we look alike". I am either too black or not black enough; yet no matter what, I am in the wrong. The stares weigh over me like a thick smog, the whispers cloud my hearing, and on this campus I am left an outcast. Isolated. Alone. The first time I heard the N-word was shortly after I arrived. It was after school in the secondary building's upstairs lobby. I was talking to two other classmates, and across from us, a group of peers played chess at one of the tables. Paying them no attention, I began to tap away at my computer's keyboard. I don't know what caused it, but there seemed to be a move made that provoked one of the players to voice his frustration out loud, causing him to let the word slip from his mouth. We all knew it was intended for his friend, but I couldn't stop the way my stomach dropped at hearing such a word used. They even had the audacity to freeze afterward; and from my peripheral, I saw them turn their heads to look at me and gauge my reaction, his friend chiding him in a rushed whisper. I knew it was wrong, they knew it was wrong, yet the weight of their stares sewed my mouth shut and glued my eyes to the computer screen. So he said it again, in a different sentence, but a little louder as if testing the waters once more, and when my body grew taut and my mouth refused to open, they giggled. And repeated it another time, with renewed strength, laughter almost euphoric as I sat frozen in place, unable to continue typing and forcing my finger to drag across the mouse pad so it looked like I was doing something. Anything. I felt sick to my stomach. To continue breathing felt like a chore. To sit there and not cry was almost unbearable. (Webmaster's comment: White male racist brutes! They only have courage in numbers. They should all be in prison!)

4-20-19 Militia detains migrants at gunpoint along the US-Mexico border
A video has emerged of armed right-wing militia members stopping over 300 migrants as they cross the Mexico border into the US state of New Mexico. The group calls itself the United Constitutional Patriots, and are seen in the Facebook clip standing over migrants sitting on the desert ground. The group's actions have been condemned by civil liberties groups and New Mexico state officials. The militia supports President Donald Trump's plan for a border wall. The incident comes amid a spike in border crossings, despite White House efforts to stem the influx. The video, posted to militia member Jim Benvie's Facebook page, shows a large group of migrants who were said to have just crossed the border near Sunland Park, New Mexico, being detained by the armed vigilantes on 16 April. The migrant group, which contains many women and children, are seen sitting and squatting in the darkness and squinting up into the militia's spotlights. Before Border Patrol agents arrive to take custody of the migrants, a woman narrating the video tells a man who appears to be a militia member "don't aim the gun" in the direction of the families. Mr Benvie, a spokesman for the United Constitutional Patriots, told the New York Times the group has been camping in the region for the past two months and plans to stay until Mr Trump succeeds in building his controversial border wall. "If these people follow our verbal commands, we hold them until Border Patrol comes," Mr Benvie said, describing the interaction as a "citizen's arrest". "Border Patrol has never asked us to stand down," said Mr Benvie, who is visiting the region from his home state of Minnesota. New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a statement that the vigilantes had no legal right to stop anyone inside the US. "If migrant families are made to feel threatened, that's completely unacceptable," she said. "And it should go without saying that regular citizens have no authority to arrest or detain anyone." New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas warned in a statement that "these individuals should not attempt to exercise authority reserved for law enforcement". (Webmaster's comment: Arrest all the vigilantes and lock them up!)

4-19-19 Five numbers that explain US border crisis
As the number of migrant arrivals at the US southern border increases, the Trump administration has taken measures with an aim to deter the migration. Now, US Attorney General William Barr has moved to expand indefinite detention for asylum seekers who have proven a credible fear for their safety. Here's what you need to know.

4-19-19 'How the Columbine school shooting changed my life'
Twenty years on from the Columbine school shooting, those who survived are still deeply impacted by what happened. Twelve students and a teacher were killed in the massacre in Colorado on 20 April 1999. It shocked the nation. Frank DeAngelis was the school principal. He begins each day by saying the names of the 13 victims. Samantha Haviland was a student at the time, and still suffers from PTSD and survivor's guilt. She has a message for the growing number of school shooting survivors in the US.

4-18-19 U.S. won’t be investigated
The International Criminal Court last week dropped plans to investigate alleged war crimes in Afghanistan, citing a lack of cooperation from the U.S. and other parties. That probe would have looked at civilian killings, torture, and other abuses in the 18-year Afghan War, including by U.S. soldiers and intelligence officers, the Taliban, and Afghan government forces. President Trump hailed the decision as “a major international victory.” His administration has vowed to deny U.S. visas to any ICC staff who investigate or rule on war crimes cases involving Americans, and recently revoked the visa of the court’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda. Afghan human rights campaigner Hadi Marifat decried the ICC for abandoning the probe, saying, “The court was a last hope for all of us in a country which is completely lacking justice.”

4-18-19 Second deadliest year
“Active-shooter” incidents around the U.S. fell slightly last year, but remained at the second-highest level since 2000, the FBI said. In total, there were 27 incidents of gunmen trying to kill people in schools, churches, workplaces, and other public places in 2018, leaving 85 people dead and 128 wounded. There were 30 such shootings in 2017, the deadliest year on record.

4-18-19 One death by cop is too many
Three Swedish police have been charged in connection with the fatal shooting of a man with Down syndrome who was playing with a toy gun, said Ingvar Persson. It’s a tragedy for everyone: for the 20-year-old victim, Eric Torell, for his family and friends, and “for the three police officers” who responded to a report of an armed man on the streets of Stockholm. They are being prosecuted for misconduct and manslaughter. Everyone has sympathy for the officers, who feared for their safety and were “forced to make life-or-death decisions in a fraction of a second.” Even the prosecutor concedes that Torell’s toy gun looked like a real weapon. But those arguments “are not enough.” The police should have known that the real gunman had been arrested before they encountered Torell. More important, they should have stopped firing once he was subdued. A total of 25 bullets were fired. Clearly, officers need more extensive training. Police shootings are “extremely rare” in Sweden, with an average of one person killed a year for the past 20 years—a far cry from the hundreds fatally shot each year by cops in the U.S. But even one is too many. We entrust our police with deadly force, and they must take that responsibility deadly seriously.

4-18-19 Benedict: Blame the sexual revolution
For six years, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has been content to spend retirement practicing “his Mozart at the piano” and tending his “vegetable patch,” said Tom Kington in the Los Angeles Times. But now the former pope, 91, has broken his self-imposed silence with an “incendiary essay.” In it, he blames the church’s sexual abuse crisis on a society-wide “erosion of rules and morality” triggered by the sexual revolution. “In the 20 years from 1960 to 1980, the previously normative standards regarding sexuality collapsed entirely,” Benedict writes. Priests internalized society’s new belief that sexual expression of all kinds was natural and moral, Benedict says, so that even pedophilia came to be seen as “allowed and appropriate.” Benedict’s successor, Pope Francis, has blamed “clericalism,” or priests who emphasized power over service, so this new, contradictory analysis has sent “shock waves” through the church. Benedict’s “self-justifying” letter ignores the facts, said David Von Drehle in The Washington Post. As we now know from investigations worldwide, many abuse cases “occurred long before the fateful ’60s.” But in his arrogance, Benedict believes that “priests raped children and bishops covered it up because the rest of us in society forced them into it through our godless depravity.” In reality, the blame lies with the bishops and cardinals who covered up thousands of cases of child abuse by authorizing hush money payoffs to victims, attacking truth tellers, and sending monstrous offenders on “spiritual retreats” rather than turning them over to the authorities. The only salvation for the “corrupted church” is sincere and prolonged confession and atonement by the hierarchy—not Benedict’s astonishing denial of responsibility. Sorry, but “two popes is one too many.”

4-18-19 Buttigieg: Can a true Christian be gay?
Pete Buttigieg is trying to win the presidency by breaking “the Republican lock on God,” said Timothy Egan in The New York Times. The 37-year-old Rhodes scholar, Navy veteran, and mayor of South Bend, Ind., formally entered the Democratic presidential race this week after surging to third place in several polls. “Surprisingly for a modern Democrat,” he’s a proud Christian, eloquently explaining how faith informs his desire for a compassionate immigration policy and universal health care. “Mayor Pete,” as he likes to be called, is gay; he proudly shows off his husband, Chasten, and has said their marriage has “moved me closer to God.” That’s a pointed challenge to social conservatives like Vice President Mike Pence who insist on their right to view homosexuality as a sin and gay marriage as a moral wrong. To the “Mike Pences of the world,” Buttigieg recently said, “your quarrel is not with me—your quarrel, sir, is with my creator.” If not animus, then ignorance, said Ed Kilgore in NYMag.com. Conservative Christians’ homophobia “is based on the belief that being gay is a choice made in conscious defiance of God and nature”—an assumption that’s fading away as straight people get to know openly gay friends, family members, and colleagues. Pence and his allies like to hide behind the old canard of “loving the sinner but hating the sin,” said Bob Moser in NewRepublic.com. But Buttigieg is using the “powerful platform” of his presidential candidacy to point out that the dehumanizing laws, public policies, and court rulings evangelicals seek would make gay people second-class citizens—which is anything but loving. His eloquence on this topic has left champions of Bible-based intolerance “furious—and scared.”

4-18-19 Priest banished for wife’s sin
A Russian Orthodox priest has been removed from his parish and sent to minister to a remote village because his wife won a beauty contest. Oksana Zotova performed a Brazilian dance in a skimpy costume at the Miss Sensuality pageant during Lent, and when Father Sergei Zotov’s superiors saw the photos of his beautician wife on social media, they were not amused. “It is a great sin when the wife of a priest exposes herself for show,” said Archpriest Feodor Saprykin. “What kind of a priest is he if he cannot control his own family? How does he intend to control his congregation?” Zotov will serve the rural congregation in Fershampenuaz, 45 miles from his home city of Magnitogorsk, until church authorities decide his atonement is complete.

4-18-19 Church burnings
Prosecutors charged the son of a deputy sheriff with hate crimes and arson this week after he allegedly burned down three black churches over 10 days. Holden Matthews, 21, pleaded not guilty and was denied bond after the sheriff’s office said “another fire was imminent.’’ Authorities said they found photos and videos on Matthews’ phone linking him to gasoline-fueled fires that destroyed St. Mary Baptist on March 26, Greater Union Baptist on April 2, and Mount Pleasant Baptist two days later. Nobody was inside when the century-old buildings were destroyed. Authorities noted that Matthews is lead singer in a “black-metal’’ band called Vodka Vultures; the genre is known for its nihilistic themes. Sheriff Bobby Guidroz said his deputy, Roy Matthews, had “no knowledge” of his son’s alleged crimes. The NAACP called the arsons “domestic terrorism.”

4-18-19 Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow
The ugly chapter in U.S. history that followed Reconstruction “in some ways has never really ended,” said Michael Schaub in NPR.org. In a “brilliant” new book, Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. returns to that often neglected period to examine how many of the rights newly won for the nation’s ex-slaves were taken away and how a white-supremacist ideology arose to justify and secure the apartheid policies of the long Jim Crow era. Gates is interested too, in how African-Americans eventually pushed back on other fronts, establishing a cycle that continues repeating today. “Predictably,” Gates delivers a fascinating analysis, “but he’s also just a joy to read.” For anyone wishing to study this sorry story, Gates’ 250-page book is “excellent one-stop shopping,” said Howell Raines in The Washington Post. He captures how statehouses in the South stripped blacks of rights and how the violence of the Ku Klux Klan backed the legislative campaign. But he also chronicles how Harvard and its ilk nurtured two pseudo-disciplines—eugenics and “scientific racism”—that contributed to racist myths and a central theme of the era: that Reconstruction had been a radical attempt to put white Southerners under the boot of an inferior people. But around the time Jim Crow terrorism was at its worst—and President Wilson was screening Birth of a Nation at the White House—black people began pushing back, said Gene Seymour in Newsday. The term “the New Negro” was first applied to Booker T. Washington, but it was embraced during the 1920s Harlem Renaissance by educated African-Americans who aspired to be models of the race—an artistic and intellectual vanguard. Gates calls the New Negro “black America’s first superhero,” and he “rousingly” contends that the ideal established a pattern for black resistance to racism.

4-18-19 Taxes from cannabis
The U.S. government collected $4.7 billion in taxes from cannabis companies in 2017. Marijuana is illegal under federal law, but cannabis businesses still have to pay federal taxes on gross income and are not allowed deductions or credits. Seven states also tax pot. Alaska, for example, takes $50 per ounce of marijuana buds.

4-18-19 U.S. Church Membership Down Sharply in Past Two Decades
As Christian and Jewish Americans prepare to celebrate Easter and Passover, respectively, Gallup finds the percentage of Americans who report belonging to a church, synagogue or mosque at an all-time low, averaging 50% in 2018. U.S. church membership was 70% or higher from 1937 through 1976, falling modestly to an average of 68% in the 1970s through the 1990s. The past 20 years have seen an acceleration in the drop-off, with a 20-percentage-point decline since 1999 and more than half of that change occurring since the start of the current decade.

  • Half of Americans are church members, down from 70% in 1999
  • Most of the decline attributable to increase in percentage with no religion
  • Membership has fallen nine points among those who are religious

4-18-19 What Donald Trump has said about Jews
nti-Semitism is on the rise. One major force behind this increase is surely President Donald Trump, who has frequently pushed anti-Semitic tropes and conspiracy theories, and repeatedly refused to condemn anti-Semites. Let's review some history, broken into four categories. In the recent controversy over Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) criticizing Israel, conservatives accused her of perpetuating anti-Semitic tropes about Jews having "dual loyalty" to Israel. While she never actually said anything like that, as Eli Valley points out, she could have phrased her comments better to avoid causing unnecessary offense (and indeed she has done so since that time). But Trump has said something far, far worse than even what the most bad-faith critics of Omar accused her of saying. In a speech before the Republican Jewish Coalition in April, he said that recently reelected Benjamin Netanyahu was "your prime minister." Instead of implying dual loyalty, he all but said Jews aren't actually Americans at all, because they have single loyalty to Israel. As Josh Marshall writes, it's "as though American Jews are somehow an expat community of Israelis resident in the United States." (The conservatives who had a purple-faced screaming fit about Omar mysteriously didn't raise a fuss about this.) One of the oldest stereotypes about Jews is that they are all money-grubbing chislers — a prejudice that was at the root of countless medieval pogroms. Trump has implied or straight-up said this many times. In a 1991 book, John O'Donnell, the former president of the Trump Plaza Hotel & Casino, said Trump had told him: "Black guys counting my money! I hate it. The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day." He later called O'Donnell a "loser" in an interview with Playboy, but allowed that, "The stuff O'Donnell wrote about me is probably true." When asked by Jake Tapper in February 2016 to denounce former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke, Trump refused, saying "I just don't know anything about him." (Though he did grudgingly disavow his endorsement at other times.) After the extreme right-wing rally at Charlottesville in August 2017, where torch-wielding mobs chanted "Jews will not replace us," and one neo-Nazi terrorist drove his car into a crowd, injuring 19 people and killing one, Trump at first condemned the extreme right. But the next day he walked back his own statement, insisting that the violence was also the fault of the "alt-left," and defended the rally attendees, saying there were "some very fine people on both sides." Probably the worst anti-Semitic propaganda Trump has pushed is the classic conspiracy theory that Jews control world politics and the global economy. In the last days of the 2016 campaign, he rolled out an ad featuring three rich Jews — then-Federal Reserve Board Chair Janet Yellen, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, and financier George Soros — over a narration decrying "those who control the levers of power in Washington," and the "global special interests" who "partner with these people who don't have your good in mind." The obvious implication is that Hillary Clinton is a cat's paw for a global Jewish conspiracy. As Josh Marshall writes, "These are standard anti-Semitic themes and storylines, using established anti-Semitic vocabulary." Trump has focused particular ire on George Soros in this vein. He baselessly accused him of funding protesters of Trump's Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, and suggested Soros could be funding the refugee caravan — lending credence to the conspiracy theory that world Jewry is conspiring to bring immigrants into the United States to replace white people (thus the "Jews will not replace us" chant referenced above).

4-18-19 Immigrants pave the way for the gentrification of black neighborhoods
A study shows Asian and Hispanic immigrants alter U.S. neighborhood demographics. Many think of gentrification today as wealthy, white millennials moving into low-income, minority neighborhoods and driving up housing costs. Yet a new study suggests that another group may play a key role in the process: immigrants. Gentrification, in which affluent outsiders settle and renovate rundown neighborhoods, generally decreases in white neighborhoods when immigrants from Asia and Latin America move in. The opposite is true in black neighborhoods, where rising immigrant numbers increase the odds an area will be gentrified. “Changing the ethnoracial composition might make neighborhoods seem more amenable for [white] people to move in,” suggests study coauthor and sociologist Jackelyn Hwang of Stanford University, who presented her findings April 11 at the annual meeting of the Population Association of America in Austin, Texas. Wealthy and middle-class whites fled the nation’s cities for racially homogenous suburbs in the 1950s and ’60s. Then over the next few decades, they slowly returned to cities to be closer to jobs and other amenities. That return triggered the gentrification of urban communities, initially in predominately white and other nonblack neighborhoods. By the 1990s, though, whites were also moving to predominately black neighborhoods. In 2015, Hwang showed that, even in the 1970s and ’80s, black neighborhoods were more likely to be gentrified following the arrival of Asian and Hispanic immigrants. With the number of U.S. immigrants growing from 9.7 million in 1970 to 42.4 million in 2014, Hwang suspected her earlier observations might still hold true.

4-17-19 US ruling to expand indefinite detention for some asylum seekers
Asylum seekers who have proven a credible fear of for their safety will no longer be able to ask a judge for bond, the justice department says. US Attorney General William Barr's decision means more migrants can be indefinitely detained while they wait for their cases to be heard. The policy will be delayed for 90 days to allow officials to prepare for overcrowding in detention facilities. Activists denounced the decision and vowed to fight it in court. The US Justice Department oversees the country's immigration court system, which means Mr Barr has the authority to issue precedent-setting judgments on immigration enforcement. This judgment, which overturns a George W Bush-era policy from 2005, is Mr Barr's first ruling on immigration since taking office. The move is seen as an effort to end what President Donald Trump describes as a "catch-and-release" policy towards illegal immigrants. The decision overturns a policy that allowed migrants who illegally crossed into the US between official crossing points to apply for bond release after they proved to asylum officers they had a credible fear of persecution or torture if they returned to their country. But under the new ruling, those migrants must be now kept in detention as they await the outcome of their trial. Many immigration cases can take over several years to be processed, experts say, due to a historically high backlog in cases. According to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) - agency responsible for detaining and deporting immigrants in the country illegally - the average daily population of immigrants in detention was over 46,000 for the 2019 fiscal year. The figure is the highest level the agency has seen since its creation in 2003. (Webmaster's comment: They come to us for help and we lock them up forever! We are not a good or nice nation!)

4-17-19 Gun that launches cord to wrap around assailant used for first time
US police have successfully used a gun that fires a cord to bind the assailant’s limbs for the first time. Earlier this month, police in Fort Worth, Texas, were called to deal with an armed suspect barricaded in a house. Tear gas forced the suspect into the open, and officers then used the gun, called the BolaWrap, to prevent him from fleeing. The BolaWrap is pistol-sized and has a laser pointer for aiming. It fires a 2.5 metre Kevlar cord up to 8 metres away, which wraps around the target, impeding movement. The cord has fishhook-like barbs at either end which attach to clothing, securing it in place. The BolaWrap’s name comes from the weighted bolas thrown by South America gauchos to capture running cattle or birds. Like the bolas, it is typically aimed at a target’s legs, which is what happened in the Fort Worth incident. Police say that while the suspect was attempting to remove the BolaWrap, officers overpowered him and took him into custody. Sixteen US police departments are testing the device, developed by Las Vegas-based Wrap Technologies, but this is the first time it has been used in action. BolaWrap is intended to prevent a situation from escalating. While Tasers and pepper spray inflict pain and may provoke a violent response, BolaWrap simply holds the suspect in place. “It’s like handcuffs, from a distance,” says Judah Meiteles of Wrap Technologies. However, there are potential hazards. Any device like this could be dangerous at extremely short range. There are also real concerns over accuracy and the risks posed to the face, head and neck, says Oliver Feeley-Sprague at human rights charity Amnesty International. Training will be important to use the device safely, he says.

4-16-19 The grave dangers of Trump's 'patriotic correctness'
Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) misspoke. In a speech about Islam and civil liberties in America, she described the 9/11 attacks with a phrase — "some people did something" — far too casual. In context, Omar's words were an inartful expression of a legitimate frustration: that, in the wake of this horror, the U.S. security state went into hyperdrive, and the rights of the innocent many were violated because of the abhorrent deeds of the guilty few. Out of context, her words have become a jingoistic cause célèbre. Naturally, President Trump got in on the action, tweeting a video which juxtaposed Omar's phrase with graphic footage of the terror attacks. Omar reported receiving a "sharp increase" in death threats after the tweet, many of them explicitly referencing Trump's post. But, presented with this information by a local reporter while visiting Omar's home state on Monday, the president was unconcerned. He had no second thoughts about the tweet, Trump said, "not at all." Omar has "got a way about her that's very, very bad, I think, for our country," he continued. "I think she's extremely unpatriotic and extremely disrespectful to our country." The logic here is stunning: For those who demonstrate insufficient patriotism, death threats are no problem. In fact, they may even be appropriate. Fail to adequately perform uncritical affection for the United States and it will be noticed and punished. Real Americans police each other's patriotism, Trump seems to be saying, and those who are "extremely unpatriotic and extremely disrespectful to our country" cannot expect to get off scot-free. Of course, it goes without saying that controversial speech will have consequences. Omar could not anticipate — and I very much doubt she did anticipate — that her speech would be met with universal agreement or even silence from those who don't share her views. No politician with a national profile would be naive enough to imagine she could avoid confrontation; in this very speech, in fact, Omar called on American Muslims to be willing to "make people uncomfortable" in their civil rights activism if necessary. But there is a chasm between the consequences Omar could have rightfully expected (criticism, denunciation, lost votes, lost office) and those she got (death threats, fueled in part by a tweet from the president, who does not regret his role in inspiring what are hopefully empty menaces to Omar's life). The former is appropriate and normal — part of participating in public conversation in a country like ours. The latter is what happens when patriotism goes awry, when devotion to the nation-state takes a turn toward the idolatrous, when we stop wanting what is best for our communities and simply want to be the best, unchallenged by even what is intended as constructive critique.

4-16-19 The Notre Dame fire and the power of silent reverence
The only good response to this tragedy was quiet reflection. Unfortunately, culture warriors had other plans.. A fire ignited in the 856-year-old Notre Dame cathedral on Monday, blazing through the twilight hours and into the night. Millions watched in horror — on television, online, on the streets and bridges of Paris — as the historic building's roof burned and its spire collapsed. For many, this tragedy was met with reverence. Unfortunately, it didn't take long for opportunistic attention-seekers to leverage the moment for their own nihilistic purposes. We now have a specific script that takes over whenever tragedy occurs, and the Notre Dame fire offered a fresh chance for cultural warriors in America and abroad to play their assigned roles, to dreary effect. It started with the conspiracy theorists. It appears the fire was an accident, the product of age and neglect. But within minutes, conspiracy theorists sprang into action. Fox News interviewed a "French official" who proclaimed the conflagration to be "the French 9/11." That "official" turned out to be a well-known conspiracy theorist. Fox cut him off quickly, to the network's credit, but it was far from the only case of rumor-mongering. By Monday evening, BuzzFeed News had catalogued eight separate hoaxes that spread quickly on social media. Some were relatively harmless — people posting old pictures of the wrong cathedral — but there were plenty of false reports that blamed Muslims, either for causing the fire or for celebrating its destructive results. Forward noted anti-Semitic posts, as well. Online gatekeepers actually made the problem worse: YouTube's algorithms pointed viewers seeking information about the fire to videos about 9/11 conspiracies. The Notre Dame fire was apparently also the perfect opportunity to promote various dubious pet causes. White nationalists like Richard Spencer had their say, as did alt-righters like Mike Cernovich. So did more mainstream pundits: religious folks like Rod Dreher, alarmed by secularization, self-proclaimed defenders of "western civilization" like Ben Shapiro and their antagonists like Josh Marshall.

4-16-19 Black church fires: Louisiana suspect charged with hate crimes
Prosecutors have filed new hate crime charges against a white man accused of burning down three African-American churches in the US state of Louisiana. Holden Matthews, 21, the son of a local sheriff deputy, learned of the new charges during a court appearance on Monday when he pleaded not guilty. During the hearing, the judge denied his bond request due to a "substantial amount of evidence" against him. Officials had not previously cited race as a possible motive. Louisiana Fire Marshal Butch Browning said on Monday the suspect - who has no previous criminal record - should not be released because he presents "an immediate risk to public safety". "In my mind, I felt another fire was imminent," Mr Browning said, describing the evidence investigators have found against Mr Matthews. All three fires were started with gasoline and occurred around Opelousas, about 60 miles (100km) west of the state capital of Baton Rouge. Among evidence presented during the pre-trial appearance, in which Mr Matthews was displayed on video feed from jail, Mr Browning testified that the suspect documented his alleged crimes through videos and photos on his phone. After he was arrested, prosecutors found pictures of the flames that appeared to have been taken before firefighters arrived to extinguish them. They also found news reports on his phone in which he had superimposed himself on those reports in order to claim responsibility while talking to a friend online. "He actually superimposed himself on those news reports, claiming responsibility for these fires," Mr Browning said. Location data from his mobile phone and surveillance footage of his vehicle also tied him to each of the crime scenes. Mr Matthews was arrested last week and charged with arson of a religious building before the state hate crime charges were added. His arrest came over two weeks after the first fire broke out at the St Mary Baptist Church, followed by the Greater Union Baptist Church and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Opelousas, which were each more than 100 years old. During the search for a suspect, Governor John Bel Edwards said the attacks in the southern state were a reminder "of a very dark past of intimidation and fear".

4-16-19 Pulitzers: Capital Gazette wins for coverage of newsroom massacre
A US local newspaper has won a Pulitzer Prize for coverage of a mass shooting in its own newsroom. But there was no celebration as the Capital Gazette in Maryland learned on Monday it had won the most prestigious prize in American journalism. Staff quietly hugged in memory of five colleagues killed by a gunman who burst into their office in June 2018. Pulitzers also went to the New York Times and Wall Street Journal for investigations into President Trump. Two journalists jailed in Myanmar for reporting a massacre of Rohingya Muslims were part of a team from Reuters news agency that also won an award. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were sentenced last year to seven years in prison for breaking the Official Secrets Act, despite an international outcry over what was widely seen as an attack on media freedom. Reuters has said it will not be celebrating the prize until their two colleagues are released. The Capital Gazette in Annapolis won a special Pulitzer Prize citation for its coverage and courage in the face of one of the deadliest attacks on journalists in American history. The Pulitzer board awarded the citation with a $100,000 (£76,400) grant to further the newspaper's journalism. Employees John McNamara, Wendi Winters, Rebecca Smith, Gerald Fischman and Rob Hiaasen died in last summer's attack. But the staff still managed to publish a newspaper on schedule the next day. A man with a longstanding grudge against the Capital Gazette is charged with the attack. He pleaded not guilty last year. The New York Times won a prize for explanatory reporting of Mr Trump's finances and tax avoidance and another for editorial writing. The Wall Street Journal won the national reporting prize for uncovering the president's secret payoffs to two alleged former mistresses during his campaign.

4-16-19 Graffiti punished by reading - 'It worked!' says prosecutor
In September 2016, an old school house in Virginia, used for teaching black students during the era of segregation, was sprayed with offensive graffiti. The culprits were given an unusual sentence - reading. Two-and-a-half years later, the BBC's Emma Jane Kirby asks whether the punishment worked. From the moment Prosecutor and Deputy Commonwealth Attorney Alejandra Rueda heard about the racist and anti-Semitic graffiti scrawled across the school house in Ashburn, Loudoun County, Virginia, she suspected the culprits were children. "The graffiti was racially charged - they had spray-painted swastikas and phrases like 'White Power' and 'Brown Power'," she recalls. "But there were also images of dinosaurs, women's breasts and penises. And I thought, 'This doesn't look like the work of sophisticated KKK people out to intimidate - it looks more like the work of dumb teenagers.'" Her intuition proved correct. Five children aged 16 and 17 were arrested for the crime and pleaded guilty to one count of destruction of private property and one count of unlawful entry. The teenagers were unaware of the significance of the building they had defaced. It was the Ashburn Coloured School, an historic building that had been used by black children during segregation in Northern Virginia. The prosecutor believes the children were just kicking out against authority after one of them had been expelled from his school, but she understands why the town was so shocked by the crime. "The community blew up. Understandably. But you know, some of the kids didn't even know what a swastika meant. So I saw a learning opportunity. With children you can either punish or you can rehabilitate and these were kids with no prior record and I thought back to what taught me when I was their age, what opened my eyes to other cultures and religions… and it was reading." The judge in the case endorsed the prosecutor's order - that the teenagers should be handed down a reading sentence (or "disposition" as a sentence is known in juvenile cases). Alejandra Rueda drew up a list of 35 books and ordered the offenders to choose one title a month for a year and to write an assignment on each of the 12 books they chose. (Webmaster's comment: This was also a hate crime and should also have been treated as such!)

4-16-19 Barry Humphries: Top comedy prize renamed after transgender row
One of the world's top comedy festivals will no longer use comedian Barry Humphries' name for its chief prize, after he was accused of transphobia. The Melbourne International Comedy Festival said its prestigious Barry Award for best show would be renamed. Humphries, best known for his character Dame Edna Everage, has repeatedly drawn anger for his comments on transgender people - and later defended himself. His remarks had "definitely played a part" in the change, the festival said. Humphries, 85, has not responded to the festival's decision. Last year, he drew criticism for describing being transgender as "a fashion". In another controversy, he claimed to have been speaking in character when he referred to gender-reassignment surgery as "self-mutilation" in a 2016 interview with The Telegraph. He also described Caitlyn Jenner as a "publicity-seeking rat-bag". He has previously said his comments were misinterpreted, but they have been criticised by other high-profile comedians - including former Barry Award winner Hannah Gadsby. Humphries co-founded the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in 1987, and it is now one of the world's premier comedy events. Its top prize has been named in his honour since 2000. On Tuesday, festival director Susan Provan said in a statement: "It is time for the award for most outstanding show to be in our name to celebrate the city that inspired the growth of our festival and its outstanding artists." She told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that Humphries' recent comments were "not helpful" and had helped instigate the decision. Gadsby criticised Humphries when she accepted the award in 2017 for her show Nanette, now a worldwide success on Netflix. "I don't agree with a lot of the things Barry Humphries has said recently," she said at the time.

4-15-19 Ilhan Omar: Muslim lawmaker sees rise in death threats after Trump tweet
One of the first ever Muslim members of the US Congress has said that a tweet by President Donald Trump has led to an increase in threats against her life. Minnesota's Ilhan Omar said the threats were sparked by "violent rhetoric", accusing Mr Trump of stoking right-wing extremism. "It has to stop," she added. It comes after Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced a new "security assessment to safeguard" the lawmaker. The tweet showed Ms Omar talking to a US-Muslim group about the 9/11 attacks. On Monday Mr Trump stepped up his attacks against Ms Omar, calling her "out of control". He also said Mrs Pelosi "should look at the anti-Semitic, anti-Israel and ungrateful US HATE statements Omar has made" before defending her. Congresswoman Omar has become a lightning rod for criticism following her 2018 election. Mr Trump tweeted on Friday "WE WILL NEVER FORGET" alongside a 43-second edited video showing footage of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks, spliced with a speech by Ms Omar. "Some people did something," she is seen saying, in between footage of planes hitting the World Trade Center, damage to the Pentagon and people fleeing buildings. Democrats claimed the video does not provide context to Ms Omar's 20-minute speech to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (Cair) on 23 March. She was discussing civil rights for Muslim Americans in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Cair, she said, was founded "because they recognised that some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties". Republican critics said that her comment "some people did something" was offensive to the nearly 3,000 Americans killed in the attacks. In a statement on Sunday, Ms Omar said: "Since the president's tweet Friday evening, I have experienced an increase in direct threats on my life - many directly referring or replying to the president's video". She thanked security officials for "their attention to these threats" and accused Mr Trump of fuelling a rise in "violent crimes and other acts of hate by right-wing extremists and white nationalists". She also expressed concern that Mr Trump's visit to her home state of Minnesota on Monday could lead to an increase in hate crimes and assaults. "Violent rhetoric and all forms of hate speech have no place in our society, much less from our country's Commander in Chief. "We are all Americans. This is endangering lives. It has to stop," she said.

4-15-19 The GOP is the party of Islamophobia
Ilhan Omar is just Republicans' latest scapegoat. Republicans were always going to come for Rep. Ilhan Omar. From the moment the Minnesota Democrat was elected to Congress as one of the chamber's few Muslims — and a hijab-wearing Muslim, to boot — her destiny was fixed. Republican conservatives were always going to paint her as the enemy, depict her as un-American, and find some way to smear her with the 9/11 terror attacks on America. Fox's Jeanine Pirro was always going to say Omar's religious practices were incompatible with the Constitution. President Trump, who has a long history of picking on women of color anyway, was always going to shine his Twitter spotlight on her. West Virginia Republicans were always going to suggest she is a terrorist. Now, the ugly din has grown so loud that Omar finds herself needing physical protection. This sad debacle was inevitable. We should have seen it coming. Why? Because the GOP is the party of Islamophobia — and it is led by the sort of folks who see themselves in a "clash of civilizations" with one of the world's largest religions. Conservatives have been campaigning against Islam — not just the religion's extremist adherents, but the religion itself — ever since 9/11. They've questioned the loyalty of Muslim Republicans. They've tried banning Muslim refugees from entering the United States. In communities across the country — from New York to Tennessee to California — they've taken extraordinary steps to block the construction of Muslim houses of worship. Some have even contended that Islam is not a religion, but an authoritarian ideology. Over the years, some conservatives — including Trump during his campaign days — even falsely suggested that President Obama was a secret Muslim and in league with terrorists. Omar is just the latest target for their ongoing campaign. It's true that she didn't help herself by arriving in Congress making comments that were easily construed as anti-Semitic. That's on her: If you're ready to serve in Congress in America, you should be educated enough and sensitive enough to avoid such pitfalls. (The same should be true of the president too, by the way.) She should do better. But it's probably too late. Republicans have found a suitable scapegoat for their Muslim prejudices. The latest controversy — the idea that Omar downplayed the seriousness of the 9/11 attacks — is, well, Trumped-up. As my colleague Ryan Cooper explained last week, those criticisms rely on her comments being taken out of context. But the history of GOP conservatives in the post-9/11 era suggests the congresswoman's critics probably didn't need much of a pretext to come after her in the first place.

4-15-19 Anti-Semitism threatens Romania's fragile Jewish community
Ugly scenes of smashed and toppled headstones at a Jewish cemetery in Romania have shocked the country's dwindling Jewish community and prompted international condemnation. Vandals badly damaged 73 gravestones in the north-eastern town of Husi earlier this month, amid a surge in anti-Semitic attacks across Europe. "It's a very disturbing event, but it's nothing surprising," said Maximillian Marco Katz, founding director of the Centre for Monitoring and Combating anti-Semitism in Romania. "It shows that anti-Semitism is alive, it doesn't matter who did it," he told the BBC. "They didn't knock down two or three gravestones, they knocked down 73 gravestones - that takes some determination and it takes time." A criminal investigation has been opened. The Shabbat service is about to start at the Status Quo synagogue in Targu Mures, a city in central Romania. Standing in the sunlit courtyard, community leader Vasile Dub, 72, expresses a mix of concern and caution. Nowadays he says that he feels "absolutely safe" in Romania, but later admits that he doesn't always declare that he is Jewish. "The real tragedy was in the 1940s," says Mr Dub, who lost family members in the Holocaust. During World War Two, when Romania was under the military dictatorship of Marshall Ion Antonescu, up to 380,000 Jews were killed in Romanian state-held territories. Thousands more were sent to the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz. In the decades following the war, anti-Semitism perpetuated under Romania's communist regime and thousands of Jewish families emigrated to Israel, the US and elsewhere in search of a better life.

4-15-19 Russian priest posted to remote village over wife's 'sin'
An Orthodox priest in Russia's Urals region has been posted to a remote village as punishment for his wife's participation in a local beauty pageant during Lent. Oksana Zotova, who runs a beauty salon in the city of Magnitogorsk, won the Miss Sensuality prize at the contest, and attracted a wave of criticism after an anonymous account on Russian social news aggregator Pikabu revealed that she was the wife of a priest. Once religious authorities in the diocese got wind of the story, Sergei Zotov was promptly dismissed from his post at Magnitogorsk's Cathedral of the Ascension of Christ. He must now ply his trade in the village of Fershampenuaz, around 65 kilometres away from Magnitogorsk, and with population of just 4,000. The village was named in honour of Cossacks who fought against Napoleon in the battle of Fère-Champenoise in 1814. The diocese of Magnitorsk was not entertained by the exploits of Fr Sergei's wife. Archpriest Feodor Saprykin, chair of the diocesan court, declared that "it is a great sin when the wife of a priest exposes herself for show". He ruled that Sergei Zotov "will not be rehabilitated until his wife repents". "What kind of a priest is he if he cannot control his own family?" he questioned. "How does he intend to control his congregation?"


FEMINISM

4-21-19 'I'm either too black or not black enough': One teenager's experience
Coming here for my senior year has been quite an experience. The most jarring: I feel like a minority. Don't get me wrong, I've been a minority before. Technically, all people of African descent are minorities in America, the place where I've lived most of my life. Yet, this is the first time I've been aware of it. There are so few black students at my school that by next year, there's a good chance that no one in secondary will have black skin. Should that not be scary? Is it weird for me that it is? It's not that I'm scared to be the only black person at the school; that's not really the issue. It's that there's part of black culture that has spread throughout the student population that reeks of ignorance. I hear the N-word on a daily basis; I see gang signs being tossed around as if they hold no other significance than a flick of the wrist. Students say it's OK because it's part of rap culture, which most of the student body listens to; but it's not. I hear the whispers of others making fun of my skin tone, yet I'm mocked if I wear a chain. I'm stared at by others and confronted by questions such as if I am related to another dark-skinned person in this community because "we look alike". I am either too black or not black enough; yet no matter what, I am in the wrong. The stares weigh over me like a thick smog, the whispers cloud my hearing, and on this campus I am left an outcast. Isolated. Alone. The first time I heard the N-word was shortly after I arrived. It was after school in the secondary building's upstairs lobby. I was talking to two other classmates, and across from us, a group of peers played chess at one of the tables. Paying them no attention, I began to tap away at my computer's keyboard. I don't know what caused it, but there seemed to be a move made that provoked one of the players to voice his frustration out loud, causing him to let the word slip from his mouth. We all knew it was intended for his friend, but I couldn't stop the way my stomach dropped at hearing such a word used. They even had the audacity to freeze afterward; and from my peripheral, I saw them turn their heads to look at me and gauge my reaction, his friend chiding him in a rushed whisper. I knew it was wrong, they knew it was wrong, yet the weight of their stares sewed my mouth shut and glued my eyes to the computer screen. So he said it again, in a different sentence, but a little louder as if testing the waters once more, and when my body grew taut and my mouth refused to open, they giggled. And repeated it another time, with renewed strength, laughter almost euphoric as I sat frozen in place, unable to continue typing and forcing my finger to drag across the mouse pad so it looked like I was doing something. Anything. I felt sick to my stomach. To continue breathing felt like a chore. To sit there and not cry was almost unbearable. (Webmaster's comment: White male racist brutes! They only have courage in numbers. They should all be in prison!)

4-20-19 Nxivm: Seagram heiress Clare Bronfman pleads guilty in 'sex cult' case
US heiress Clare Bronfman has pleaded guilty to her role in an alleged sex trafficking operation. Bronfman, the 40-year-old heir to the Seagram alcohol fortune, was accused of using more than $100m (£77m) to fund the suspected sex cult Nxivm. She pleaded guilty on two counts - conspiracy to conceal and harbour illegal immigrants for financial gain, and fraudulent use of identification. She told the court in Brooklyn that she was "truly remorseful". "I wanted to do good in the world and help people," she added. "However, I have made mistakes." Six people in total have been accused of being involved with Nxivm, pronounced nexium. Bronfman is the fifth to plead guilty, with just one defendant - the suspected cult leader Keith Raniere - due to go on trial next month. Bronfman will be sentenced on 25 July. She could face up to 25 years in prison, although sentencing guidelines suggest it could be up to only 27 months. Nxivm is a group that started in 1998 as a self-help programme and says it has worked with more than 16,000 people, including Smallville actress Allison Mack, who pleaded guilty earlier this month. On its website, Nxivm describes itself as a "community guided by humanitarian principles that seek to empower people and answer important questions about what it means to be human". Despite its tagline of "working to build a better world", its leader, Mr Raniere, stands accused of overseeing a "slave and master" system within the group. According to the group's website, it has suspended enrolment and events because of the "extraordinary circumstances facing the company at this time". Prosecutors allege the group mirrors a pyramid scheme, in which members paid thousands of dollars for courses to rise within its ranks.

4-20-19 India chief justice Gogoi accused of sexual harassment
India's Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi has been accused of sexual harassment by a former Supreme Court employee. The 35-year-old woman has filed an affidavit alleging two instances of misconduct in October last year, shortly after Mr Gogoi was appointed. She says her family was victimised after she refused the advances. A statement said Mr Gogoi, 64, "totally denied" the "false and scurrilous" accusations. He has labelled them an attempt to "destabilise the judiciary". The allegations were filed in a sworn affidavit that has been sent to Supreme Court judges. In it the married woman, who cannot be named under Indian law, alleges the misconduct occurred on 10 and 11 October at the offices in Mr Gogoi's residence. She alleges Mr Gogoi "hugged me around the waist, and touched me all over my body with his arms" and pressed his body against her. When he did not stop, she says she "was forced to push him away from me with my hands". The woman says Mr Gogoi then told her not to mention what had happened or her family "would be greatly disturbed". The woman alleges she was transferred three times, then fired in December. She says her husband and brother were both suspended from their jobs. In March a resident of the city of Jhajjar filed a complaint alleging she had kept money she had taken as a bribe to get him a job at the court. She denies the accusation and says she attended a police station with family members in March where they were subjected to abusive treatment. "It now seems like the harassment, victimisation, and torture will not stop unless I speak out about the origin and motive for the harassment," she alleges in the affidavit.

4-20-19 Turpin trial: Couple jailed for life for 'inhuman' child abuse
A couple from the US state of California have been sentenced to life in prison for starving and torturing all but one of their 13 children. David and Louise Turpin were arrested in January 2018 when their 17-year-old daughter escaped their home in the city of Perris and raised the alarm. The children had been abused for at least nine years and some were found chained up in filthy conditions. But several of the children told the court they had forgiven their parents. The couple are expected to serve the rest of their lives behind bars, unless they are granted parole in 25 years. The Turpins wept as they heard victim-impact statements from four of their children at Friday's hearing. One child recounted being haunted by the ordeal. I cannot describe in words what we went through growing up," said his statement. "Sometimes I still have nightmares of things that had happened such as my siblings being chained up or getting beaten. "That is the past and this is now. "I love my parents and have forgiven them for a lot of the things they did to us." Another child, in a statement read by her brother, also forgave her parents for the abuse. "I love both of my parents so much," she said. "Although it may not have been the best way of raising us, I am glad that they did because it made me the person I am today."But not all the children were so conciliatory. One daughter, who was visibly shaking, said: "My parents took my whole life from me, but now I'm taking my life back. "I'm a fighter, I'm strong and I'm shooting through life like a rocket." She added: "I saw my dad change my mom. They almost changed me, but I realised what was happening."

4-19-19 ‘Invisible Women’ spotlights a gaping and dangerous gender data gap
A new book explains how the failure to study women harms their health. The recent cancellation of the first all-female spacewalk occurred after the publication of Caroline Criado Perez’s Invisible Women. But the news — the lack of enough space suits for the women, suits which weren’t designed for the shape of women’s bodies in the first place — would fit right in to Criado Perez’s scathing takedown of a world that ignores the needs of half the population by not using or even gathering data on women. This gaping gender data gap, Criado Perez convincingly argues, is costing women their health and their lives. From city infrastructure to car safety to health, journalist Criado Perez details what’s at stake when (largely male) planners, politicians and researchers turn a blind eye to women’s needs. For example, many cities have been designed to accommodate cars, a choice that favors men over women, who are more likely to walk or take public transportation. Criado Perez argues that this bias toward cars may lead to more injuries for women when it snows and sidewalks aren’t prioritized for clearing. A study of pedestrian injuries in Sweden found that 79 percent took place in winter, and 69 percent of people injured in single-person incidents, such as a fall, were women, Criado Perez writes. When women do drive, they do so in vehicles with safety features designed to protect men. Women tend to be shorter than men, and this means they need to sit farther forward in a car to reach the pedals. Yet this is not considered the standard seating position, making women who shift forward “out of position” drivers, Criado Perez notes. This necessity, unaccounted for in a car’s design, puts women at greater risk of injury in frontal crashes. And the risk extends to collisions from behind, as today’s seats are too firm to protect women from whiplash, throwing them forward faster than men. The result? Although men are more likely than women to be in a car crash, a woman in a collision “is 47% more likely to be seriously injured than a man … [and] 17% more likely to die,” Criado Perez says.

4-19-19 The Afghan women determined not to lose out in Taliban talks
When 18-year-old Ogai Wardak came face to face with Taliban fighters, her fear quickly gave way to cautious hope. "Their faces were scary, but their hearts were kind," she tells me when we meet in the Kabul studios of Zan TV, the only Afghan television channel just for women. "The Taliban of this time are not like the past, not like the scary stories I heard," explains the ebullient young woman bursting with personality. She was born in 2001, the same year the Taliban were toppled from power. Wardak met some of their fighters during last year's rare three-day ceasefire, when they slipped into Kabul to gaze at city streets, even taking selfies and savouring ice cream. But if the Taliban return to power, would they allow her to keep presenting on Zan TV? "No!" she exclaims, without skipping a beat. "But I have to fight them because it's my dream, and I have to work for my sisters." As Afghans engage in a new round of talks with the Taliban, this time in the Gulf state of Qatar, this historic step is concentrating women's minds on how much they stand to win - or lose. Politician Fawzia Koofi is one of the only women who attended the first round of negotiations in Moscow in February. "It was not an easy moment," she admits when we sit down in Kabul. "When I entered the room, everything they did in Afghanistan during their time crossed my mind," she recalls. Hers is an everywoman story about being stopped from attending school and being pelted with stones as she walked down the streets. "We listened to each other, and we didn't agree on very much, but in that moment I realised we can't go back," she tells me. The past in Afghanistan is a different country. Its deeply conservative society has undeniably changed since the Taliban's harsh rule. It's a story which inspires but also, still horrifies. The country still often called "the worst place to be a woman" has a female literacy rate of only 17%. And yet, women held about a quarter of the seats in the last Afghan parliament.

4-19-19 Why India sees sex on false promise of marriage as rape
If a man goes back on his promise to marry a woman, can sex between consenting adults then be considered rape? The Indian Supreme Court recently answered this question with a "yes". In a significant verdict, the court upheld a trial court order convicting a doctor of rape in the central state of Chhattisgarh because he had a consensual sexual relationship with a woman after he'd promised to marry her, but then went back on his word and married someone else. Judges L Nageswara Rao and MR Shah said the woman gave her consent because she believed that the doctor intended to marry her, therefore, it could not be regarded as consent. India is still largely conservative when it comes to matters of sex and sexuality. Virginity is prized and a woman who's known to have had pre-marital sex may find it hard to get married. The judges said that the accused had a "clear intention" not to marry her, adding that "sexual intercourse under total misconception cannot be treated as consent". Though the top court reduced the 10-year prison term awarded by the trial court to seven, the judges said that he "must face the consequences of the crime committed by him". This is not a rare case - according to the government's crime data for 2016, police recorded 10,068 similar cases of rape by "known persons on promise to marry the victim". In 2015, that number was 7,655. The Supreme Court judges advised the trial courts to "very carefully examine whether the man actually wanted to marry the victim or had malafide motives from the start and had made a false promise only to satisfy his lust". This essentially means that if a man can prove that he intended to marry the woman but changed his mind later, then it's not rape. It's only considered rape if it's established that he had dubious intentions from the start. Now as "intention" is not easy to prove, it leaves such cases to the discretion of judges and also concerns that the law can be misused.

4-19-19 Saudi sisters in Georgia: 'We were treated like slaves'
"We have to cover our face, we have to cook...like slaves. We don't want this, we want real life, our life," says 25-year-old Wafa, the latest woman to flee Saudi Arabia with her sister. Wafa and Maha al-Subaie, 28, are now in the republic of Georgia and are under state protection in a shelter. They had made their case for international help on Twitter, under the account @GeorgiaSisters. The sisters are appealing to the UN to help them get to a third, safe country. They travelled to Georgia as Saudis do not require entry visas. "We need your support, we want protection, we want a country that will welcome us and protect our rights," said Wafa. Looking distressed and terrified, the Saudi sisters arrived at Georgia's migration department on Thursday evening accompanied by immigration authorities. In an interview to local media the sisters said they did not feel safe in Georgia because it would be easy for their male relatives to find them. "Georgia is a small country and anyone from our family can come and track us down," Wafa said. Asked why they felt threatened in Saudi Arabia, she said it is "because we are women". "Our family threaten us every day in our country," she said, while her sister Maha said they had proof of this. This is the latest case of Saudi women fleeing the ultra-conservative kingdom, where women are forced to obtain the permission of their male guardians if they want to work or travel. In January 2019, the 18-year old Saudi teenager, Rahaf Mohammed al-Qanun, made international headlines after she flew to Thailand and barricaded herself in a hotel while appealing on Twitter for help to avoid deportation. She has since been granted asylum in Canada. And in March, two other Saudi sisters who spent six months hiding in Hong Kong were granted humanitarian visas after fleeing to escape lives of "violence and oppression". "In Saudi Arabia men control women's lives from birth until death under the male guardianship system," said Human Rights Watch Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson.

4-18-19 Secret graves
After clearing trees downed by Hurricane Michael, workers discovered 27 possible clandestine graves about 165 yards from the infamous Dozier School for Boys, a government report revealed last week. Researchers had already excavated 55 graves from a burial site on the 1,400-acre rural campus, far more than any official tally of deaths at the school. Florida shuttered its oldest reform school in 2011 following reports of horrific abuse by school staff during Dozier’s 111-year history, during which delinquent and orphaned boys sent to the “White House” were chained or tied up, sexually abused in a “rape room,” and beaten mercilessly or killed if they tried to escape. Graves previously exhumed were found to be misidentified or filled with comingled bodies. Jerry Cooper, 74, says guards lashed him 135 times as punishment one night in 1961. “Mark my words,” he said, “there are more bodies out there.”

4-18-19 Major gap between men and women
The average physician’s salary has hit a new all-time high of $313,000 a year. There’s a major gap between men and women; male primary-care physicians make $51,000 a year more than women, and male specialists—who average $372,000 in pay—earn $92,000 more than female peers.

4-18-19 Ivanka touts aid
President Trump’s daughter and senior adviser Ivanka Trump traveled to Ethiopia and Ivory Coast this week to promote a $50 million U.S. initiative to boost women’s employment in developing countries. In Addis Ababa, Trump signed a joint statement with the African Union Commission on fighting child marriage, human trafficking, and sexual abuse and attended a summit on African women’s economic empowerment. “Investing in women is a smart development policy,” she said, “and it’s smart business.” Ethiopia has made great strides in women’s inclusion. Half the ministers in the cabinet of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed—who took office last year—are women, and in October the legislature elected Sahle-Work Zewde to be the first woman to hold the largely ceremonial post of president.

4-18-19 Bangka Island: The WW2 massacre and a 'truth too awful to speak'
In 1942, a group of Australian nurses were murdered by Japanese soldiers in what came to be known as the Bangka Island massacre. Now, a historian has collated evidence indicating they were sexually assaulted beforehand - and that Australian authorities allegedly hushed it up. "It took a group of women to uncover this truth - and to finally speak it." Military historian Lynette Silver is discussing what happened to 22 Australian nurses who were marched into the sea at Bangka Island, Indonesia, and shot with machine guns in February 1942. All except one were killed. "That was a jolt to the senses enough. But to have been raped beforehand was just too awful a truth to speak," Ms Silver says, speaking of claims she details in a new book. "Senior Australian army officers wanted to protect grieving families from the stigma of rape. It was seen as shameful. Rape was known as a fate worse than death, and was still a hangable offence [for perpetrators] in New South Wales until 1955." Nurse Vivian Bullwinkel was shot in the massacre but survived by playing dead. She hid in the jungle and was taken as a prisoner of war, before eventually returning to Australia. She was "gagged" from speaking about the rapes at the Tokyo war crimes tribunal in the aftermath of World War Two, according to Ms Silver, who researched an account Ms Bullwinkel gave to a broadcaster before she died in 2000. "She was following orders," Ms Silver says. "In addition to the taboo, there was probably some guilt from the Australian government - senior officers knew Japanese troops had raped and murdered British nurses when the Japanese invaded Hong Kong in 1942, but were tardy in calls to evacuate the Australian nurses from Singapore." According to the Australian government, the perpetrators of the massacre remain unknown and "escaped any punishment for their crime". An Australian Defence Force spokesperson says a decision on whether a new investigation into these sexual assault claims will commence is up to the government, but that "new historic allegations can be reported by family" to a unit which investigates such crimes.

4-18-19 Nusrat Jahan Rafi: Burned to death for reporting sexual harassment
Nusrat Jahan Rafi was doused with kerosene and set on fire at her school in Bangladesh. Less than two weeks earlier, she had filed a sexual harassment complaint against her headmaster. Her courage in speaking out against sexual assault, her death five days after being set alight and everything that happened in-between has gripped Bangladesh and brought attention to the vulnerability of sexual harassment victims in this conservative South Asian country. Nusrat, who was 19, was from Feni, a small town 100 miles (160km) south of Dhaka. She was studying at a madrassa, or Islamic school. On 27 March, she said the headmaster called her into his office and repeatedly touched her in an inappropriate manner. Before things could go any further she ran out. Many girls and young women in Bangladesh choose to keep their experiences of sexual harassment or abuse secret for fear of being shamed by society or their families. What made Nusrat Jahan different is that she didn't just speak out - she went to the police with the help of her family on the day the alleged abuse happened. At the local police station she gave a statement. She should have been provided with a safe environment to recall her traumatic experiences. Instead she was filmed by the officer in charge on his phone as she described the ordeal. In the video Nusrat is visibly distressed and tries to hide her face with her hands. The policeman is heard calling the complaint "no big deal" and telling her to move her hands from her face. The video was later leaked to local media. Nusrat Jahan Rafi was from a small town, came from a conservative family, and went to a religious school. For a girl in her position, reporting sexual harassment can come with consequences. Victims often face judgement from their communities, harassment, in person and online, and in some cases violent attacks. Nusrat went on to experience all of these. On 27 March, after she went to the police, they arrested the headmaster. Things then got worse for Nusrat. A group of people gathered in the streets demanding his release. The protest had been arranged by two male students and local politicians were allegedly in attendance. People began to blame Nusrat. Her family say they started to worry about her safety. Nevertheless, on 6 April, 11 days after the alleged sexual assault, Nusrat went to her school to sit her final exams. According to a statement given by Nusrat, a fellow female student took her to the roof of the school, saying one of her friends was being beaten up. When Nusrat reached the rooftop four or five people, wearing burqas, surrounded her and allegedly pressured her to withdraw the case against the headmaster. When she refused, they set her on fire. Police Bureau of Investigation chief Banaj Kumar Majumder said the killers wanted "to make it look like a suicide". Their plan failed when Nusrat was rescued after they fled the scene. She was able to give a statement before she died. But when Nusrat was taken to a local hospital, doctors found burns covering 80% of her body. Unable to treat the burns, they sent her to Dhaka Medical College Hospital. In the ambulance, fearing she might not survive, she recorded a statement on her brother's mobile phone. "The teacher touched me, I will fight this crime till my last breath," you can hear her say. She also identified some of her attackers as students at the madrassa.

4-18-19 NZ ex-official guilty of hiding camera in embassy toilet
New Zealand's former top military official in the US has been found guilty of planting a secret camera in a unisex bathroom at the country's embassy in Washington DC. Alfred Keating faces up to 18 months in prison for attempting to make an intimate visual recording. Keating's DNA matched traces found on the SD card in the camera, which appeared to have been in place for many months. He will be sentenced on 25 June. Formerly in the Royal New Zealand Navy, Keating was the highest ranking official at New Zealand's US embassy when the camera was discovered in 2017. Because he was a foreign official, New Zealand was responsible for Mr Keating's trial, despite the offence taking place in the US. In April, Auckland District Court heard that the camera had been hidden in a heating duct, and was found by an embassy worker when it fell onto the floor. The man initially thought it was a memory drive, but then noticed a tiny camera lens and the brand of the camera, BrickHouse Security. Investigations of Keating's laptop showed he had accessed the website of BrickHouse security, a company which sells hidden video cameras. A homemade mount was also found taped under the radiator, covered in a layer of dust, suggesting the camera had been in place for some time. The camera was sent back to New Zealand for investigation by police, who found over 700 deleted files and 20 existing files on the memory card. They found 19 images of people using the bathroom over a period of five hours. Keating had pleaded not guilty to the charges. He also sought to have his name suppressed, arguing that revealing his identity would cause his family "extreme hardship". The request was dismissed.

4-17-19 Shamima Begum: Why women are terrorism's secret weapon
When women make the news because of terrorism, the focus has often been on their role as victims or as potential allies in countering the threat. By contrast, women who take part in and support extremism have sometimes been overlooked. This changed when runaway teen Shamima Begum was described as the "poster girl" for Islamic State after being tracked down at a Syrian refugee camp. Four years ago, she left the UK with two friends to join IS, but claims she was "just a housewife". Nevertheless, the UK home secretary stripped her of UK citizenship, saying: "If you back terror, there must be consequences". She is set to be granted legal aid to appeal the decision. Ms Begum's case has raised a number of questions on women's active and willing participation in violent extremism both in IS and other groups. Rusi analysis suggests that 17% of extremist recruits in Africa are women, while separate research has indicated 13% of IS foreign recruits in Iraq and Syria are female. The exact figures remain vague and could be far higher.A number of Rusi-backed studies and others have investigated the roles women play in organisations such as IS and al-Shabab, one of the deadliest militant groups in Africa. Researchers interviewed women who had been directly or indirectly involved with al-Shabab's activities, to find out how they were recruited, and the impact that taking part in violent extremist activity has on women. The work was conducted by academics in Kenya, who were able to use their long-standing experience and networks within communities identified to be at risk of radicalisation. Women in al-Shabab have often held what could be seen as more traditional roles, as wives of fighters and domestic help. They are also sometimes made to work as sex slaves. Within IS, women often recruit - especially online - and play an active role in projecting the group's beliefs.

4-17-19 Sadaf Khadem: Iranian female boxer halts return over arrest fears
An Iranian who became the first woman from her country to contest an official boxing match says she has cancelled her return home from France after hearing a warrant had been issued for her arrest. Sadaf Khadem beat the French boxer Anne Chauvin in an amateur bout on Saturday. She had planned to fly to Tehran with her French-Iranian trainer this week. Khadem was quoted by a sports newspaper as saying she believed she was accused of violating Iran's compulsory dress code by boxing in a vest and shorts. Iranian officials have not commented, but the head of Iran's boxing federation denied that Khadem would be arrested if she came home. "Ms Khadem is not a member of [Iran's] organised athletes for boxing, and from the boxing federation's perspective all her activities are personal," Hossein Soori was quoted as saying by an Iranian news agency. Khadem fought in a green vest and red shorts with a white waistband - the colours of Iran's national flag - in Saturday's bout in the western French town of Royan. The 24-year-old had to fight abroad as, despite having the blessing of Iranian sporting authorities, it proved too complicated to fulfil their requirement that the bout be refereed and judged by women. Khadem had been expecting a hero's welcome when she returned to Iran. But while she travelled to Paris's Charles de Gaulle airport with her trainer Mahyar Monshipour - an Iranian-born former World Boxing Association champion who also serves as an adviser to the French sports minister - she said they were told that warrants had been issued for their arrest. "I was fighting in a legally approved match, in France. But as I was wearing shorts and a T-shirt, which is completely normal in the eyes of the entire world, I confounded the rules of my country," she told the L'Equipe newspaper. "I wasn't wearing a hijab, I was coached by a man - some people take a dim view of this." Under Iranian law, women and girls as young as nine years old who are seen in public without a headscarf can be punished with a prison sentence of between 10 days and two months, or a cash fine. Iranian sportswomen are required to cover their hair, neck, arms and legs when competing.

4-16-19 There's a reason this court is run by women
Sex workers who come before this all-female court in New York City are being treated differently from workers in other parts of the US. The Queens Human Trafficking Intervention Court offers an intervention programme that clears the defendant of her charges. It's the subject of a new documentary called Blowin' Up.

4-16-19 Sex-selective abortions may have stopped the birth of 23 million girls
A huge analysis of worldwide population data suggests sex-selective abortions have led to at least 23 million fewer girls being born. The majority of these “missing” girls are in China and India. Many societies value sons over daughters. As people around the world increasingly have fewer children, there has been a rise in families choosing to abort female fetuses in an effort to have at least one son. Normally, 103 to 107 boys are born for every 100 girls. But an analysis has found evidence of an unnatural excess of boys in 12 countries since the 1970s, when sex-selective abortions started becoming available. Fengqing Chao of the National University of Singapore and her colleagues synthesised birth data from 1970 to 2017 from 202 countries, using a modelling method that filled gaps in countries with poor statistics. During this time period, they found excess male births had occurred in some years in Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, China, Georgia, Hong Kong, India, South Korea, Montenegro, Taiwan, Tunisia and Vietnam. In every nation except Vietnam, the team found that the skew in sex ratios is returning to normal. This seems to be true even in China, which the analysis says accounts for 51 per cent of the missing female births. In 2005, 118 boys were born in China for every 100 girls, but by 2017 this had dropped to 114. “Whether the downward trend in China continues remains to be seen,” says Chao. Birth gender ratios have already returned to normal in Georgia, South Korea and Hong Kong. But Chao’s team found that the fall in excess boys in India – which the analysis suggests accounts for 46 per cent of the missing girls – is only slight. With 12 million girls born each year compared with 7 million in China, reducing the rate of sex selection in India is crucial for ending the practice worldwide, says Sabu George of the Centre for Women’s Development Studies in New Delhi.

4-15-19 George Pell case: Australian media defend 'contempt' allegations
Dozens of journalists and major news outlets in Australia have begun defending accusations that they breached a reporting ban on the sexual abuse trial of Cardinal George Pell. Pell, the ex-Vatican treasurer, was convicted in December of abusing two boys in 1996. The media was barred from reporting the verdict until February. Prosecutors say 23 journalists and 13 publishers committed contempt of court. The case could have a "chilling effect" on "open justice", defence lawyers say. If found guilty, the defendants face up to five years in jail and fines of about A$96,000 (£52,000; $69,000). They include journalists from many of Australia's largest news organisations, including the editors of newspapers The Age and the Herald Sun, as well as prominent TV and radio presenters. Defence barrister Matthew Collins told a court on Monday that the case was unprecedented in Australian legal history. A judge banned the media from reporting on Pell's trial, in order to prevent any influence on a planned second trial. In December, the cardinal was convicted by a jury of sexually abusing two choir boys in Melbourne in 1996. The verdict prompted many Australian media outlets to publish articles that referred to the case in some way - although none named Pell. Several non-Australian publications did identify him. The reporting ban, known as a suppression order, was lifted earlier this year after prosecutors dropped the planned second trial. Pell has launched an appeal against his conviction.


SCIENCE - GLOBAL WARMING and ENVIRONMENT

4-21-19 Could climate change save nuclear power?
As the U.S. tries to neutralize its carbon footprint, skittishness around nuclear energy is becoming less of a priority. The Trump administration has repeatedly vowed to help revitalize the nation's nuclear power industry, which has struggled to compete with cheap renewables and natural gas in the United States since the fracking boom of the last decade. More than a year after the administration announced plans for a "complete review" to bolster the country's nuclear-energy program both at home and abroad, it has yet to deliver a formal plan to do so. But just last month, the U.S. inked a deal to build six nuclear reactors in India, which has plans to massively scale up its nuclear-power program to meet the country's growing energy demands as it reduces emissions. Though only a small deal from a climate perspective, it's a good sign for a U.S. industry that has struggled in recent years to maintain its dominance in international markets. The U.S. has been a nuclear leader since the earliest days of the atomic age. In the post-World War II era, America's national labs began churning out reactor designs. "There was a period of time when we were gung ho for nuclear power plants, especially after the 1970s energy crisis," says Richard Nephew, a senior research scholar at Columbia University's Center on Global Energy Policy. More than 100 nuclear power plants were built across the U.S., and in the second half of the 20th century, U.S. companies exported reactor designs, parts, and safety standards all over the world. But a string of high-profile accidents at nuclear plants around the world soured public opinion of the technology in the U.S., and American developers all but gave up on building new plants in the States. While the new deal with India bodes well for U.S. developers' ability to keeping selling their technology abroad, it does not change the state of the domestic industry: At least five U.S. plants have shut down since 2013, and another nine have announced plans to go offline in the next five years. Right now, the major reason nuclear power plants are shutting down is economics. Utilities no longer want to buy into nuclear when natural gas and renewables like solar and wind are cheap. But climate change could soon change the equation. "The U.S. fleet is, by just about any measure, still pretty much considered the top performing set of plants anywhere in the world," says Michael Ford, an environmental fellow at Harvard University's Center for the Environment. Today there are 98 nuclear reactors in operation across 30 states, with an average age of nearly 40. Despite its advanced age, the average American plant has a generating capacity — a measure of the percentage of time a reactor is producing energy — of more than 90 percent. Plants abroad, meanwhile, have an average generating capacity of around 75 percent, according to Ford. "In terms of the ability to reliably [and] safely generate electricity," he says, "the U.S. fleet still sets the standard for performance." "The place that perhaps the U.S. is falling behind in is in the ability to build a new plant at schedule and at a low cost," Ford says. That can be traced back to 1979, when a partial meltdown occurred at a reactor at Pennsylvania's Three Mile Island. The incident seriously damaged the plant's reactor, but exposed the surrounding population to less excess radiation than they would have received from a single chest X-ray, according to the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Since 1996, only one new reactor has come online in the U.S., and the only new large-scale projects under construction are floundering.

4-19-19 Hurricane Michael upgraded to Category Five storm
A hurricane that hit Florida last year was the strongest to make landfall in the US in 26 years, new analysis shows. Hurricane Michael struck in early October, causing 59 deaths and $25bn (£19.2bn) in damage. It was initially marked as a Category Four hurricane, but data unavailable at the time showed the winds were close to 160mph (257km/h) at landfall. This makes it only the fourth Category Five storm to hit the US - the highest possible category. It is also the first Category Five storm to make landfall since Andrew in 1992. It was already one of the most powerful storms in US history when it made landfall on Florida's Gulf coast on 10 October. It had earlier struck Cuba as a Category Two hurricane. Among the worst-hit areas of Florida was the town of Mexico Beach, where a storm surge raised sea levels by more than 15ft (4.6 metres). Seafront homes in Mexico Beach, a town of 1,000, were obliterated and then-governor Rick Scott compared it to a war zone. The hurricane and associated storm surge were directly responsible for the deaths of 16 people in three states. Another 43 people died in Florida in events linked to the hurricane, including traffic accidents or medical issues compounded by the storm. It was initially reported that Michael had winds of 155mph, but a review concluded that they were in fact five miles an hour faster. On Friday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said it had assessed "data and analyses that were not available in real time", including surface pressure and winds. The adjustment was "of little practical significance in terms of the impacts associated with the storm", the NOAA said, but it did push the hurricane into the highest grading of storm.

4-19-19 David Attenborough climate change TV show a 'call to arms'
Sir David Attenborough's new BBC documentary on climate change has been praised by TV critics. Climate Change - The Facts, shown on BBC One on Thursday, was a "rousing call to arms", said the Guardian. In a four-star review, the Times said the veteran presenter "took a sterner tone... as though his patience was nearly spent". Sir David, 92, has called global warming "our greatest threat in thousands of years". In its review, The Arts Desk said: "Devastating footage of last year's climactic upheavals makes surreal viewing. "While Earth has survived radical climactic changes and regenerated following mass extinctions, it's not the destruction of Earth that we are facing, it's the destruction of our familiar, natural world and our uniquely rich human culture. "In the 20 years since I first started talking about the impact of climate change on our world, conditions have changed far faster than I ever imagined," Sir David said in the film. "It may sound frightening, but the scientific evidence is that if we have not taken dramatic action within the next decade, we could face irreversible damage to the natural world and the collapse of our societies." In a glowing review, the Telegraph called the title of the documentary "robust" and praised the use of Sir David in the central role. "At a time when public debate seems to be getting ever more hysterical," it said, "it's good to be presented with something you can trust. And we all trust Attenborough." "Sir David Attenborough might as well be narrating a horror film," wrote the FT. "A panoply of profs line up to explain that the science on climate change is now unequivocal." But it added: "Fortunately for our nerves the last 20 minutes focuses on what needs to be - and can be - done on an international and personal level."

4-18-19 Climate change: Sir David Attenborough warns of 'catastrophe'
Sir David Attenborough has issued his strongest statement yet on the threat posed to the world by climate change. In the BBC programme Climate Change - The Facts, the veteran broadcaster outlines the scale of the crisis facing the planet. Sir David says we face "irreversible damage to the natural world and the collapse of our societies". But there is still hope, he says, if dramatic action to limit the effects is taken over the next decade. Sir David's new programme lays out the science behind climate change, the impact it is having right now and the steps that can be taken to fight it. "In the 20 years since I first started talking about the impact of climate change on our world, conditions have changed far faster than I ever imagined," Sir David states in the film. "It may sound frightening, but the scientific evidence is that if we have not taken dramatic action within the next decade, we could face irreversible damage to the natural world and the collapse of our societies." Speaking to a range of scientists, the programme highlights that temperatures are rising quickly, with the world now around 1C warmer than before the industrial revolution. "There are dips and troughs and there are some years that are not as warm as other years," says Dr Peter Stott from the Met Office. "But what we have seen is the steady and unremitting temperature trend. Twenty of the warmest years on record have all occurred in the last 22 years." The programme shows dramatic scenes of people escaping from wildfires in the US, as a father and son narrowly escape with their lives when they drive into an inferno. Scientists say that the dry conditions that make wildfires so deadly are increasing as the planet heats up. Some of the other impacts highlighted by scientists are irreversible. "In the last year we've had a global assessment of ice losses from Antarctica and Greenland and they tell us that things are worse than we'd expected," says Prof Andrew Shepherd from the University of Leeds. "The Greenland ice sheet is melting, it's lost four trillion tonnes of ice and it's losing five times as much ice today as it was 25 years ago." These losses are driving up sea levels around the world. The programme highlights the threat posed by rising waters to people living on the Isle de Jean Charles in Louisiana, forcing them from their homes. "In the US, Louisiana is on the front line of this climate crisis. It's losing land at one of the fastest rates on the planet - at the rate of of a football field every 45 minutes," says Colette Pichon Battle, a director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy. "The impact on families is going to be something I don't think we could ever prepare for."

4-18-19 Warm, dry winds may be straining Antarctica’s Larsen C ice shelf
Autumn melting could be a warning sign. Turquoise pools of snowmelt on the Antarctic Peninsula, including on the Larsen C ice shelf, have recently been forming months after the continent’s peak summer melt. Bursts of warm, dry wind cascading over mountains that run along the peninsula are largely to blame, researchers report April 11 in Geophysical Research Letters. In this March 2016 satellite image, meltwater on part of Larsen C can be seen at the foothills of these mountains, just one case of this type of wind-induced melting. Eastward-flowing winds sweeping across the Antarctic Peninsula sometimes pick up enough speed to surmount its mountain peaks. As the air rises and chills, its moisture condenses and, in the process, reheats the air. So when the now-dry air comes coursing down the leeway mountainside, it can be a balmy 20° Celsius. Researchers “have told me they’ve been in a T-shirt” while standing in these winds, says cryospheric scientist Tri Datta of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. Datta and her team compared satellite data collected from 1982 to 2017 with simulations of the peninsula’s ice sheet and atmospheric conditions during the same period. The team found that, since 2015, these winds called foehns have caused a lot of melting on the peninsula, including on Larsen C, as late as May, well into Antarctica’s autumn. Foehns likely cause 60 percent of the total snowmelt on the northeastern part of the peninsula at that time of year, Datta says. That’s a problem because meltwater can trickle into crevasses on Larsen C. The water’s own weight wedges the cracks open and may help cause the ice shelf to break off. Late melting can also prevent new snow from replenishing the ice shelf. In 2017, a giant iceberg broke from Larsen C, raising questions about the shelf’s stability and how it may contribute to rising seas (SN: 8/5/17, p. 6).

4-18-19 Extinction Rebellion: Climate protests 'diverting' London police
Police are being diverted from "core local duties" that keep London safe by the Extinction Rebellion protesters, Scotland Yard has said. More than 500 people have been arrested since Monday, including three charged with gluing themselves to a train. Police rest days have been cancelled over the bank holiday, as more than 1,000 officers are deployed in London. Sajid Javid said the climate activists had "no right to cause misery" and the Met Police "must take a firm stance". Officers have also been asked to work 12-hour shifts, while the Violent Crime Task Force has had leave cancelled. "This will have implications in the weeks and months beyond this protest as officers take back leave and the cost of overtime," a Met Police spokesman said. Heathrow Airport said it was "working with the authorities" following threats protesters may try to disrupt flights over the Easter weekend. The Met said "strong plans" were in place to enable a significant number of officers to be deployed to Heathrow if necessary. Police have made further arrests, but activists continue to block traffic at four sites around the capital. Marble Arch, Parliament Square, Oxford Circus and Waterloo Bridge have been occupied by protesters since Monday. Transport for London warned delays around those areas were expected "throughout the day". Met Assistant Commissioner Nick Ephgrave has said police may need new powers to deal with non-violent protests on this scale, due to the large number of arrestees for police and courts to deal with. Oscar winning actress and writer Emma Thompson joined protesters, saying it was the "first real hopeful movement I've joined". Speaking from the blockade at Marble Arch, Ms Thompson said: "Our Planet is in deep danger, our grandchildren and our great-grandchildre "Unfortunately our governments haven't listened to us, so now we have to make them listen."

4-18-19 AI that spots inequality could monitor living conditions in cities
Social and economic inequality has no easy fix, but now a system that automatically detects signs of inequality from street images could be used to help. Esra Suel and colleagues at Imperial College London trained artificial intelligence to detect inequalities in four UK cities, using a combination of government statistics and public images taken from Google Street View. The AI was trained on 525,860 images from 156,581 postcodes across London, along with income, health, crime, housing, and living environment statistics about the areas. A fifth of the data was withheld to test how closely the algorithm’s estimation matched real distributions of inequality in London. The AI was most successful at spotting differences in quality of the living environment and mean income, scoring 0.86 for both on a statistical test of how closely its predictions matched with the real data, where a score of 1 is a complete overlap. It was least successful at predicting differences in crime rate and self-reported health, scoring 0.57 and 0.66, respectively. The team then used the AI to perform the same estimation in Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds, after being fine-tuned with some additional images collected in those cities. It scored 0.68, 0.71, and 0.66 respectively, compared to an overall correlation of 0.77 in London. Some features of a living environment, such as pollution and signs of disrepair, are directly linked to visual elements that the algorithm could recognise, but others are less so, says Suel. “What is usually perceived as unsafe is not necessarily correlated with actual crime rates,” she adds. Street imagery could be a helpful tool in monitoring the success of policies to reduce inequality, because they are updated more frequently than some government surveys or census data.

4-18-19 BBC Earth from Space: satellite images give new view on conservation
What can satellite imaging add to the natural history genre that we haven’t seen before? That’s the tough challenge the producers of the BBC’s new documentary series, Earth from Space, took on when creating the show. The first episode aired on BBC One on 17 April, and explored how satellite images are helping scientists to monitor the fragile health of our planet from space. The view of the earth from space is often extraordinary, and within a few minutes of the show’s opening, the superlatives in the narration start coming thick and fast. Amazing, sweeping vistas of the Grand Canyon, the San Andreas fault and Uluru are sprinkled through the programme, as are stunning shots of cape fur seals, hippos in Botswana and foaling grey whales in Bahia, Mexico. Earth from Space combines satellite imagery with heavy use of nature documentary footage. The camera makes you feel as though you’ve zoomed in from space, down through the valleys of the Hengduan in the Himalayas. As spring blossoms in the mountains we see the plants, trees and even the rhododendrons on the ground burst into colour – much to the delight of the resident Yunnan snub-nosed monkeys, who feed on the nectar. And we’re rewarded with some close-ups of the monkeys, for a conventional nature documentary pay-off. Using satellite imagery affords the chance to see the challenges different species face from the air, as well as from ground level. Now researchers can see emperor penguin poo from space – a nugget revealed during the episode – conservationists have a way to track emperor penguin colonies across Antarctica. Satellites can spot the brown emperor poo patches in parts of the landscape otherwise inaccessible to humans. They’ve used satellites to find 26 new colonies, doubling the known population of the species, and to monitor the colonies as they come under threat from climate change.

4-18-19 More than a million tiny earthquakes revealed in Southern California
Abundant data on little quakes can help scientists learn more about what triggers the big ones. In between the “big ones,” millions of tiny, undetected earthquakes rumble through the ground. Now, a new study uncovers a decade’s worth of such “hidden” quakes in Southern California, increasing the number of quakes logged in the region tenfold. Such troves of quake data could shake up what’s known about how temblors are born belowground, and how they can interact and trigger one another, researchers report online April 18 in Science. The researchers used a technique called template matching to mine an existing archive of earthquakes, recorded by seismometers and other instruments in the region from 2008 to 2017. The team was searching for quakes of such small magnitude that their signals were previously too small to be separated from noise. The results boosted the number of earthquakes in the Southern California Seismic Network archive to 1.8 million. Statistical analyses using this wealth of new data could help researchers suss out information about seismic activity that wouldn’t have been possible previously. “You can’t do statistics with small numbers,” says Emily Brodsky, a seismologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who wasn’t involved in the new study. She likens the usefulness of tiny quakes to that of fruit flies: They’re like small but abundant laboratory model organisms. With large populations — whether of fruit flies or earthquakes — you can learn what’s robust and what’s a fluke; separating the two is a chronic problem in earthquake studies, Brodsky says.

4-17-19 Extinction Rebellion London activists chained to Jeremy Corbyn's home
Climate change activists glued themselves to a train and others are protesting outside Jeremy Corbyn's home in the third day of protests. Extinction Rebellion protesters have been blocking traffic at Marble Arch, Waterloo Bridge, Parliament Square and Oxford Circus since Monday. Earlier, three activists were glued to a Docklands Light Railway (DLR) train at Canary Wharf, causing minor delays. Four people have now glued themselves together at the Labour leader's home. The activists, who are glued together with one chained to the Labour leader's house in north London with a bike lock, said they supported him but wanted the Labour Party to go further than declaring a "climate emergency". Jeremy Corbyn left his home but declined to meet or speak to any of the protesters. Easter eggs and flowers from the group, which had been taken into Mr Corbyn's home earlier, were later returned to the street by the Labour leader's wife Laura Alvarez. More than 300 people have been arrested this week over the protests. A campaigner who glued himself to the train's window was removed about an hour after the start of the DLR protest, at about 10:50 BST. A man and a woman who unfurled a banner and glued themselves to the top of the train's carriage were also later removed and carried off by officers. BTP said three people had been arrested for obstructing the railway. Extinction Rebellion targeted the DLR after members changed their minds about disrupting the Tube network. It came after BTP ordered Transport for London (TfL) to switch off wi-fi at Tube stations to deter protests.

4-16-19 Extinction Rebellion: What do they want and is it realistic?
Extinction Rebellion's attempts to clog the heart of London and other cities across the UK have undoubtedly driven the issue of climate change up the news agenda. But amid the die-ins - where protestors pretend to be dead - bridge swarmings and arrests, there hasn't been too much consideration of the group's actual plans to tackle rising temperatures. As a solution to the "climate breakdown and ecological collapse that threaten our existence", Extinction Rebellion is proposing three key steps. The government must, in their words, "tell the truth" about the scale of the crisis the world now faces. Secondly, the UK must enact legally binding policies to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2025. The third step is the formation of a Citizens' Assembly to "oversee the changes" that will be needed to achieve this goal. Getting to net zero carbon emissions in the UK by 2025 would be an extremely difficult target, given that, right now, the government is mulling a plan to commit to net zero by 2050. Consider the changes that would be needed to get to net zero in just six years. Gas boilers across the UK would have to be replaced with electricity, and you'd need to massively ramp up renewable energy, on a scale not yet seen, to meet this extra demand. Researchers at Zero Carbon Britain suggested that if the UK wanted to get to net zero by 2030, Britain would need about 130,000 extra wind turbines mostly off shore. This would take up an area twice the size of Wales. There would also have to be significant dietary changes, with people cutting back on meat and dairy. Flying would have to be restricted. Severely. "You could have an air flight every couple of years, but we can't allow the world to continue flying for hen parties in New York every couple of weeks," said Paul Allen who co-ordinates the Zero Carbon Britain research project. "The numbers don't stack up. We can't do this, we have to be honest with ourselves." (Webmaster's comment: And you need to Very Severely Penalize every corporation that profits from contributing to global warming.)

4-16-19 Extinction Rebellion London protest: Arrests top 120
More than 120 climate change activists have been arrested for blocking roads in central London, amid protests aimed at shutting down the capital. A second day of disruption is under way after Extinction Rebellion campaigners camped overnight at Waterloo Bridge, Parliament Square and Oxford Circus. Police said 500,000 people had been affected by the diversion of 55 bus routes in London. The Met said 122 people had been arrested by 12:30 BST on Tuesday. All remain in custody. Most were detained on suspicion of public order offences, while five people were held on suspicion of criminal damage at Shell's HQ. Campaigners have been ordered to restrict their protests to Marble Arch after they caused widespread disruption on Monday. Ch Supt Colin Wingrove said: "Ongoing demonstrations are causing serious disruption to public transport, local businesses and Londoners who wish to go about their daily business. "At this time we have made a total of 122 arrests... 117 were on Waterloo Bridge last night and in the early hours of this morning," he added. Motorists face gridlocked traffic on a number of alternative routes, such as Westminster Bridge and Blackfriars Bridge. Transport for London warned bus users that routes would remain on diversion or terminate early. Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said although he "shared the passion" of the activists, he was "extremely concerned" about plans some protesters had to disrupt the London Underground on Wednesday. He said it was "absolutely crucial" to get more people to use public transport to tackle climate change. "Targeting public transport in this way would only damage the cause of all of us who want to tackle climate change, as well as risking Londoners' safety, and I'd implore anyone considering doing so to think again," he said.

4-16-19 Microplastics found in 'pristine' Pyrenees mountains
Scientists have found that a secluded region in the Pyrenees mountains - previously considered pristine wilderness - is covered with airborne microplastics. A team from Strathclyde and Toulouse universities spent five months in the area, which straddles France and Spain. They estimate that each day an average of 365 tiny plastic fragments or fibres settled on every square metre of land. The nearest major city - Toulouse - is about 75 miles away. Researchers collected samples from what they considered to be an uncontaminated area in south west France, about four miles from the nearest village. Samples from monitoring devices were analysed to identify whether the tiny plastic pieces, invisible to the naked eye and less than five millimetres long, were present in the mountain range. It is not known the distance microplastics can travel, but the paper, published in the Nature Geoscience journal, suggests fragments are regularly travelling distances of nearly 60 miles. Steve Allen, a researcher from Strathclyde University, said the research suggested microplastics were being transported by the wind. He said: "It's astounding and worrying that so many particles were found in the Pyrenees field site. "It opens up the possibility that it's not only in the cities you are breathing this in, but it can travel quite some distance from the sources. "Plastic litter is an increasing global issue and one of the key environmental challenges we face on global scale." Mr Allen said that researchers had yet to determine the full impact of microplastics, but that other experiments had suggested they could lead to changes in feeding and mating habits in some species. Microplastics, which are completely invisible to the naked eye, have also been detected in the oceans and aquatic life. They have been found in tap water around the world and in some of the most remote places on earth, with studies showing they have even reached Antarctica.

4-16-19 Early ocean plastic litter traced to 1960s
Old-fashioned metal boxes that have been dragged around the ocean since 1931 have accidentally created a record of the history of ocean plastic. The devices - known as continuous plankton recorders (CPRs) - first ensnared a plastic bag off the coast of Ireland in 1965. This, researchers say, could be the first marine plastic litter found. The CPR record also revealed how much more plastic has been found in the ocean in recent decades. By fishing for plankton for all those decades - a key species that indicates the productivity of the ocean and so of particular interest for monitoring the health of fisheries - the machines also produced a history of plastic litter. Lead researcher Dr Clare Ostle, from Plymouth's Marine Biological Association, explained that the "fleet" of CPRs were designed and built to be towed behind ships. They capture samples of plankton from the water column - trapping them on a mesh inside. But whenever something became entangled on the recorder and had to be removed, the crew responsible for the device would record what happened, in a log. "We search through [those logs] and what we realised was that we had some really early, historic entanglement cases of plastics," Dr Ostle explained. "We can build a time series from that - so we can actually see the increase in larger plastic entanglements." One headline is that it shows what is believed to be the first recording of a plastic bag in the ocean - a bag that became ensnared on a CPR that was being towed off the coast of Ireland in 1965. Other highlights from the study include: 1. Plastic fishing line found in 1957. 2. Confirmation that there has been a significant and steady increase in ocean plastic since 1990. 3. More hopefully, the number of plastic bags found in the ocean has decreased in recent years, but it's unclear whether that's related to bans and charges being introduced around the world.

4-16-19 Why electric cars are a hot topic in Australia's forthcoming election
Electric cars have become a heated topic in the lead up to Australia’s May 18 election, despite support from both major parties. Prime minister Scott Morrison denounced the opposition party’s aim to have electric cars account for 50 per cent of new vehicles by 2030, saying it would herald the “end of the weekend”. This is because an electric car just doesn’t have the “grunt” Australians are looking for, the Liberal leader argued. “It’s not going to tow your trailer. It’s not going to tow your boat,” he said while canvassing for votes in Western Sydney earlier this month. “It’s not going to get you out to your favourite camping spot with your family.” This fervent backlash to this push for greater electric car uptake struck a strange chord. The Liberal government has been a supporter of electric cars in recent years, trying to boost numbers by providing cheaper loans and funding for a network of ultra-fast electric vehicle recharge stations. During their time in government, the number of new electric cars bought rose by 67 per cent between 2016 and 2017. Nevertheless, the Liberal Party turned their messaging to tradies and car buffs, funding a series of Facebook advertisements that falsely claimed the opposition leader Bill Shorten was going to tax popular car brands. Australia has been one of the slowest high-income country to embrace electric vehicles, with only one in 500 new cars currently estimated to be electric. A major roadblock has been developing the recharging infrastructure for such a vast country, which echoes similar chicken and egg dilemmas faced by other countries trying to increase the uptake in the vehicles. This is where Shorten’s other goal, to make electric vehicles account for 50 per cent of the federal government fleet by 2025, could help in establishing infrastructure for the public more broadly.

4-15-19 Tiny microplastics travel far on the wind
The deposition of airborne plastic bits in far-flung, remote places may rival that of cities. Plastic pollution from Paris doesn’t necessarily stay in Paris. Tiny bits of plastic that originated in cities were carried by wind to a remote mountain location at least 95 kilometers away, a study finds. It’s the first demonstration that microplastics, tiny particles ranging from a few nanometers to 5 millimeters in size, can travel far through the atmosphere. Even more startling is how much microplastic fell from the sky in such a remote location, the researchers say. The study’s findings suggest that the rain of microplastics in some far-flung places may rival that of some large cities. “We found them somewhere they shouldn’t be,” says atmospheric and environmental scientist Deonie Allen of EcoLab in Castanet-Tolosan, France, who coauthored the study. The researchers set up two types of atmospheric deposition collectors at the Bernadouze meteorological station, in the Pyrenees Mountains between France and Spain. The scientists visited the site roughly once a month from November 2017 to March 2018 to retrieve the samples, and then analyzed the collected particles to separate, identify and count the bits of plastic. An estimated 365 microplastic particles per square meter per day, on average, were deposited at the site, the team reports April 15 in Nature Geoscience. That’s a rate that “is similar to what’s happening in Paris,” Allen says.

4-15-19 The 2018 heatwave may not have been possible without climate change
We know climate change made the heatwave that swept the northern hemisphere last year more likely, but is it possible to say that it actually caused it? In a bold claim, researchers are suggesting the extent of the event would have been impossible without the carbon dioxide humanity has pumped into the atmosphere. Global warming appears to be caught red handed. From record temperatures in Japan to wildfires in Sweden, many regions were hit by extreme heat between May and July 2018. A 5 million square kilometre area was affected by hot days over the period -– that’s 22 per cent of populated and agricultural areas in the northern hemisphere. “The area affected could not have occurred without climate change,” says Martha Vogel of ETH University, who presented the findings at the Earth Geosciences Union conference in Vienna. Other scientists have cautioned against unequivically pinning the blame on climate change. Vogel’s team modelled the extent of areas concurrently affected by heat in a world without the 1°C of warming that humanity has caused since the industrial revolution. When they compared this with the size of observed heatwave areas in the past, they found the two were largely in line. But their simulations could not replicate the size of the area affected in 2018. The highest they could reach was 20 per cent of the area. When the team added our warming impact back in, they found comparable heatwaves could happen every six years. “So it is not unlikely to have such an event like last year,” she says. Vogel’s research suggested that if temperatures rise to 2°C in the future, as they are on track to exceed, heatwaves like 2018 could occur every year.

4-15-19 Extinction Rebellion: Climate protesters block roads
Climate change protesters have blocked roads across central London sparking traffic disruption. Members of campaign group Extinction Rebellion have also parked a boat at Oxford Circus, and blocked Marble Arch, as part of a global day of action. Activists smashed the glass of the revolving doors of oil company Shell's London headquarters in Waterloo. Police have advised people travelling into London to allow extra journey time. Yen Chit Chong, from Extinction Rebellion in London, said: "This is our last best shot at survival." Organisers claim protests are being held in over 80 cities across 33 countries. Extinction Rebellion said protests would continue throughout the week "escalating the creative disruption across the capital day by day". The group said it planned to "bring London to a standstill for up to two weeks", and wanted the government to take urgent action to tackle climate change. In Parliament Square, protesters unfurled banners, held up placards and waved flags as speakers took to the stage. Since its launch last year, members have shut bridges, poured buckets of fake blood outside Downing Street, blockaded the BBC and stripped semi-naked in Parliament. It has three core demands: for the government to "tell the truth about climate change", reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2025, and create a citizens' assembly to oversee progress. Controversially, the group is trying to get as many people arrested as possible. One of the group's founders, Roger Hallam, believes that mass participation and civil disobedience maximise the chances of social change. But critics say they cause unnecessary disruption and waste police time when forces are already overstretched. By intentionally causing more than £6,000 damage at the Shell headquarters activists aim to get the case into crown court to put their case to a jury, the campaign said. Protester Chay Harwood told the BBC: "We live in a very sick society at the moment. There's a lot of social issues and social ills that need curing. "But at the moment the biggest threat we face is the threat of climate change."


SCIENCE - EVOLUTION and GENETICS

4-21-19 When anxiety happens as early as preschool, treatments can help
Young children may need a different kind of therapy to accommodate their developing brains. When Molly was 10 months old, her parents took her to a Halloween party with other young families. While the other babies explored their surroundings, Molly sat and watched. She’s always been cautious, says Molly’s mom, Rachel. Early on, though, the little girl’s shyness didn’t raise red flags. By the time Molly turned 4, however, life was getting harder — for everyone. Even though she loved to dance, Molly refused to engage in class without her parents nearby. She clung to her mom in public and became whiny and upset. The family began avoiding outings. Dance classes ceased, as did gymnastics. Playdates were rare and had to be held in Molly’s home. “Our world was getting smaller,” says Rachel, who asked to use only first names to protect her daughter’s privacy. In kindergarten, Molly’s anxiety escalated. Parents were supposed to drop their children off in front of the school so a teacher could walk them inside, but Molly struggled. “She would … chase us into the road,” Rachel says. Concerned for Molly’s safety, school administrators eventually gave the family permission to escort her inside. Once at school, Molly latched onto another girl, trying hard to dress exactly like her. It seemed to Rachel that Molly “wanted to be invisible.” Fears about going to school consumed Molly, who felt sick every night before school. “She had stomachaches,” Rachel says. “She was constipated.” Molly’s issues may appear extreme, but anxiety is surprisingly common among young children. Estimates vary widely, but most studies indicate that 10 to 20 percent of U.S. preschoolers suffer from one of several anxiety disorders. When anxiety hits young, it often holds on into adolescence and adulthood. Children diagnosed with clinical anxiety early have double the risk of anxiety and substance abuse in their teen years, compared with children who don’t have an anxiety disorder. That later anxiety has been linked to missed school, drug abuse, depression and even suicide.

4-21-19 The medical right not to know
Do you have a right to ignorance about your health?. familiar scenario: As part of having your cholesterol checked, your clinician also orders a standard blood panel — a red blood-cell count, and then a breakdown showing the proportions of five types of white blood cells. Less familiar: Your cholesterol is fine (congratulations), but the white blood-cell counts are off, with values that could mean something fairly mild, such as a viral infection, or point to a serious, potentially fatal problem, such as cancer. Would you want your clinician to tell you about this abnormal finding? If you said "yes," then you are expressing your right to know about the result. If you said "no," then you are expressing the opposite: the right not to know. In most cases, the clinician would tell the patient about such an abnormal finding and discuss it. But what if the finding turned up in samples donated for medical research instead of taken for medical testing? That's exactly what's happened in Iceland. In the 1990s, researchers began collecting donated samples from the country's genetically distinct population. The chief officer of the company collecting and analyzing these samples — which come from half the country's residents — says that 1,600 of them suggest a risk for a deadly cancer. But the government is keeping Kári Stefánsson, a neurologist, and his company, deCODE Genetics, from telling the donors. Why? The nation's privacy laws and the concept of the right not to know are in the way. Back when the collection started, deCODE did not get explicit consent from those donating samples to share such information with them. Indeed, the company was founded in 1996, and one of the cancer-related gene variants in the samples, BRCA2, was discovered only the year before. It would have been hard to foresee how genetic samples might be so revealing 20 years down the line.

4-21-19 Huge dinosaur may have stood on its toes with fleshy pads for balance
A 24-tonne dinosaur appears to have stood on its tip toes. A fossil analysis reveals how its bone structure meant it couldn’t have flattened its feet on the ground, and instead may have stood on its toes with fleshy pads for balance. Rhoetosaurus brownie lived around 170 million years ago and was a type of sauropod dinosaur. Sauropoods walked on all fours and had long necks and tails. They are the largest land animals ever known to exist and the group includes Diplodocus. Andréas Jannel at the University of Queensland in Australia and her colleagues analysed a foot fossil of R. Brownie to see how it could have supported itself. They found its bone structure meant its heels couldn’t touch the ground without breaking its ankles and that it lacked the skeletal structure associated with hooves. This means that despite being so enormous, R. Brownie may have walked on its tiptoes. Footprints of sauropods that lived a few million years later have suggested these giants had feet that resemble modern elephants. Elephants stand on their toes and have a thick layer of soft tissue that touches the ground. R. brownie was five times the size of an elephant, so may have needed similar soft padding to support they humongous body and give them balance, says Jannel. However, there is no direct fossil evidence of such a heel pad on R. brownie or other sauropods because soft tissue is rarely preserved. Sauropods underwent rapid body growth from their ancestors. As a result, not all parts of their bodies were prepared for such an expansion, says Denver Fowler at the Dickinson Museum Center in North Dakota. To adapt, sauropods had to evolve new weight support systems, and heel pads would have been very useful, he says.

4-19-19 ‘Invisible Women’ spotlights a gaping and dangerous gender data gap
A new book explains how the failure to study women harms their health. The recent cancellation of the first all-female spacewalk occurred after the publication of Caroline Criado Perez’s Invisible Women. But the news — the lack of enough space suits for the women, suits which weren’t designed for the shape of women’s bodies in the first place — would fit right in to Criado Perez’s scathing takedown of a world that ignores the needs of half the population by not using or even gathering data on women. This gaping gender data gap, Criado Perez convincingly argues, is costing women their health and their lives. From city infrastructure to car safety to health, journalist Criado Perez details what’s at stake when (largely male) planners, politicians and researchers turn a blind eye to women’s needs. For example, many cities have been designed to accommodate cars, a choice that favors men over women, who are more likely to walk or take public transportation. Criado Perez argues that this bias toward cars may lead to more injuries for women when it snows and sidewalks aren’t prioritized for clearing. A study of pedestrian injuries in Sweden found that 79 percent took place in winter, and 69 percent of people injured in single-person incidents, such as a fall, were women, Criado Perez writes. When women do drive, they do so in vehicles with safety features designed to protect men. Women tend to be shorter than men, and this means they need to sit farther forward in a car to reach the pedals. Yet this is not considered the standard seating position, making women who shift forward “out of position” drivers, Criado Perez notes. This necessity, unaccounted for in a car’s design, puts women at greater risk of injury in frontal crashes. And the risk extends to collisions from behind, as today’s seats are too firm to protect women from whiplash, throwing them forward faster than men. The result? Although men are more likely than women to be in a car crash, a woman in a collision “is 47% more likely to be seriously injured than a man … [and] 17% more likely to die,” Criado Perez says.

4-19-19 The downside of online learning
More and more students are taking online courses. But new research shows this might not be a good thing. For more and more of today's university students, screen time is competing with seat time. According to the most recent statistics (from 2016–17), 33 percent of college students take at least one online class, 17.6 percent mix online and in-class coursework, and 15.4 percent exclusively take online classes. Each statistic represents an increase over the year prior, a trend that has continued since 2011. Advocates of online education are quick to celebrate this increase, but the rise of screen time in higher education may harbor some detrimental consequences. Online courses have obvious benefits: They cut costs and are popular with working students seeking scheduling flexibility. At a number of campuses they also increase educational access. The Orlando Sentinel reports, for example, that the University of Central Florida, a school with an extensive online catalog, can serve 66,000 students due to that catalog, as opposed to the 40,000 its physical campus can accommodate. Thomas Cavanagh, UCF vice provost for digital learning, explains that demand for online offerings is at an ever-increasing level. "Students," he says, "are clearly voting with their behaviors." But the educational benefits of online courses are less clear. A Brookings Institution report found that students taking online courses "perform substantially worse than students in traditional in-person courses and that experience in these online courses impacts performance in future classes and likelihood of dropping out of college as well." The New York Times opinions page editorialized in 2013 that the "online revolution" was "distressing," threatening as it does to "shortchange the most vulnerable students." A new study out of Kent State suggests a specific reason for the problems plaguing online coursework: multitasking. In a survey of 452 undergraduates at public universities in the American Midwest, researchers confirmed "significantly greater multitasking behavior in online versus face-to-face courses." Students enrolled online reported higher rates of texting, emailing, checking in with online social networks, watching videos — none of these activities related to class — while also playing video games and listening to music. The study's lead author, Andrew Lepp, was inspired to explore the topic of online-course multitasking when he witnessed a student taking a biology class in his library basement while streaming a Netflix video. Lepp notes that his study's findings have "immediate implications" for undergraduate education, in part because "an abundance of research demonstrates that multitasking during educational activities significantly reduces learning." On this point, the evidence is quite strong, if not alarming. By nearly every measure, multitasking is bad for the brain — and may even damage it. A University of London study found that students who multitasked experienced a drop in IQ comparable to the mental decline caused by staying up all night or smoking pot. And this drop may be more than temporary. A 2014 study published in PLoS One found that multitasking might permanently diminish the brain's density. Specifically, researchers discovered that people with a high "Media Multitasking Index" — that is, big multitaskers — "had smaller grey matter density" in the anterior cingulate cortex section of the brain. Needless to say, this kind of mental development runs contrary to the most basic mission of higher education.

4-19-19 The herbal supplement kratom comes with risks
The supplement may be behind a small but growing number of deaths. Kratom, an herbal supplement available at vape shops and online stores, has been linked to 91 deaths over 18 months from July 2016 to December 2017, according to a report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those deaths made up less than 1 percent of the 27,338 overdose fatalities analyzed for the report, released online on April 12. Although small, the numbers point to increasing numbers of people using the plant to combat pain, depression and even opioid addiction. Interest in, and exposure to, kratom is apparently rising. “We’d see about 10 cases a year, and now we’re seeing hundreds,” says toxicologist Henry Spiller of the Central Ohio Poison Center in Columbus. The supplement is mashed leaves from the tropical tree Mitragyna speciosa, a coffee cousin that grows in the warm, wet forests of Southeast Asia. Pulverized leaves create a green powder that can be dissolved in tea, packed into pill capsules or extracted into alcohol. Traditionally, workers chew the leaves in search of a mild stimulant effect during the day, and then drink tea to relieve pain, says pharmacologist and toxicologist Oliver Grundmann of the University of Florida in Gainesville. In a survey of about 8,000 kratom users in the United States, 68 percent used kratom for pain, and 66.5 percent used it for emotional or mental conditions, Grundmann reported in Drug and Alcohol Dependence in 2017. A smaller fraction of people used kratom to help with drug dependency.

4-18-19 A drug-resistant germ goes global
A deadly drug-resistant fungus is quietly spreading through hospitals around the world. Candida auris, which infects people with weakened immune systems, has wreaked havoc in hospital units in Spain and Britain; taken root in India, Pakistan, and South Africa; and been added to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s list of “urgent threats.” There have been at least 587 cases in the U.S. since 2013; nearly half of patients who contract C. auris die within 90 days. While public health officials have long warned that excessive use of antibiotics is creating drug-resistant “superbugs,” the spread of C. auris shows that there’s a similar problem with fungi. An estimated 700,000 people worldwide die from drug-resistant infections each year. Yet because hospitals are reluctant to disclose outbreaks for fear of being seen as infection hubs, the extent of the problem is not fully clear. Scientists can’t even establish where C. auris originated. “It is a creature from the black lagoon,” Tom Chiller, head of the CDC’s fungal branch, tells The New York Times. “It bubbled up and now it is everywhere.”

4-18-19 Measles spreads
Measles cases in Africa are up 700 percent so far this year, compared with the same period in 2018, the United Nations reported this week. The worst outbreak is in Madagascar, where tens of thousands of people have been sickened and 800 have died since September. Measles cases have quadrupled globally in the past year, largely because of difficulties obtaining vaccines in poor countries and unfounded safety concerns in rich ones. Worldwide, there were 112,163 measles cases reported to the World Health Organization in the first three months of this year, compared with 28,124 cases during the same period in 2018. But the WHO says the true number of cases is much larger, because only about 1 in 10 infections is reported. Measles kills about 100,000 people, mostly children, every year.

4-18-19 Men with beards
The hirsute, with new research showing that men with beards carry more bacteria than dogs do in their fur, with nearly 40 percent of beards tainted with microbes that are hazardous to human health. “Dogs can be considered as clean compared with bearded men,” said Professor Andreas Gutzeit, of Switzerland’s Hirslanden Clinic.

4-18-19 Bad diets kill more than smoking
Unhealthy diets cause more deaths worldwide than smoking or high blood pressure, new research has found. And while the researchers found that consumption of red meat, sugary drinks, and other unhealthy options play a part in that toll, they concluded that the majority of these deaths are the result of people not eating enough healthy foods. Covering 195 countries between 1990 and 2017, the Global Burden of Disease study tracked consumption of 15 dietary elements. The main risk factors for premature death, researchers found, were eating too few fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains and consuming too much salt. Overall, researchers estimate, poor diet accounts for 10.9 million deaths around the world, a fifth of total preventable fatalities. By comparison, tobacco is linked to 8 million deaths and high blood pressure to 10.4 million. Lead author Ashkan Afshin, from the University of Washington, says health authorities should focus on encouraging healthy eating rather than trying to persuade people to cut down on sugar, fat, or even salt. “Generally in real life people do substitution,” he tells The Guardian (U.K.). “When they increase the consumption of something, they decrease the consumption of other things.”

4-18-19 Supplements may be harmful
Dietary supplements don’t reduce your risk of early death, and may even be harmful in large quantities, reports NBCNews.com. Researchers from Tufts University examined data from a health survey involving more than 30,000 people ages 20 and older. After accounting for lifestyle factors, they found that people who ingested adequate amounts of magnesium, zinc, and vitamins A and K had a lower risk of death over the study period—but only when those nutrients came from food rather than supplements. Furthermore, the participants who took more than 1,000 mg of calcium supplements a day had a higher risk of death from cancer, while those who took more than 400 IU of vitamin D supplements had a higher risk of death from any cause. “It’s becoming more and more clear,” says study co-author Fang Fang Zhang, “that the regular use of dietary supplements is not beneficial in reducing the risk of mortality among the general population.”

4-18-19 We must all work to avoid disputes over the care of very ill children.
New advice will help reduce conflict between medical professionals and the parents of desperately sick children, says Mike Linney. Modern medicine has the power to enhance and prolong the lives of seriously ill children. This is clearly good news, but sometimes it leads to ethical dilemmas. If health professionals and parents cannot agree on what is in a child’s best interest, the decision may be taken to court. Recently, there have been several high-profile disputes, such as the one between the parents of Alfie Evans and Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool, UK, over whether or not to withdraw life support. Parents are right to fight for their children. They want what is best for them and health professionals understand that. However, the rise of the internet and social media has made conflict more likely by giving families in desperately sad situations quick and easy access to information about new treatments – some robustly tested and available in the UK and some not. This extends hope to families, which can be helpful. But it can also make matters worse when parents want their children to have treatments that doctors consider inappropriate or likely to cause more harm than good. It is, for instance, what led to a court battle in 2017 between Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children in London and the parents of Charlie Gard, who wanted to take their son to the US for treatment. Where such conflicts occur, they can have profound mental and physical effects on all involved. In some cases, we have even seen protests on hospital sites and abusive messages directed at clinicians – actions that have sent shock waves through the medical community.

4-18-19 A genetic scorecard could predict your risk of being obese
Critics counter that genetics are only partly to blame for too much weight gain. There’s a new way to predict whether a baby will grow into an obese adult. Combining the effect of more than 2.1 million genetic variants, researchers have created a genetic predisposition score that they say predicts severe obesity. People with scores in the highest 10 percent weighed, on average, 13 kilograms (about 29 pounds) more than those with the lowest 10 percent of scores, the team reports April 18 in Cell. The finding may better quantify genes’ roles in obesity than previous prediction scores, but still fails to account for lifestyle, which may be more important in determining body weight, other researchers say. Still, the study shows that “your genetics really start to take hold very early in life,” says coauthor Amit Khera, a cardiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. Weight differences showed up as early as age 3, and by age 18, those with the highest scores weighed 12.3 kilograms more on average than those with the lowest scores, Khera and his colleagues found. Some people with high genetic scores had normal body weights, but those people may have to work harder to maintain a healthy weight than others, he says. People with the highest scores were 25 times more likely to have severe obesity — a body mass index (BMI) greater than 40 — than those with the lowest scores. BMI is a measurement of body fat based on height and weight. A BMI of 18.5 (calculated as kilograms per meters squared of height) to 24.9 is considered healthy. BMIs 30 and above are considered obese. The nearly 13-kilogram difference between people dealt a good genetic hand versus those dealt a bad one equals about five BMI points. “Five points is a lot,” Khera says. “That’s what takes you from normal to obese, from obese to severely obese.” High scores were also associated with increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and stroke.

4-18-19 Dog owners are more likely to get the recommended amount of exercise
It may be a dog-eat-dog world, but our furry friends bring at least one important health benefit: getting more exercise. In news that will surprise few dog owners, researchers found that those with pet pooches are much more likely to meet weekly targets for time spent engaging in physical activity. The UK government’s guidelines recommend that adults spend at least 150 minutes a week doing moderate-intensity activities, such as brisk walking or cycling. But only 66 per cent of men and 58 per cent of women in England achieve that benchmark. Carri Westgarth at the University of Liverpool, UK, and her colleagues surveyed 385 households in north west England, which included 191 dog-owning adults, 455 adults without dogs, and 46 children. To check the accuracy of people’s self-reported figures, 28 of the adults also wore an accelerometer for a week to track their activity levels. According to the self-reported data, 80 per cent of dog owners met the weekly physical activity target, compared with 62 per cent of non-dog owners. The accelerometers showed that dog walkers clocked up 2000 more steps and 13 more minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity a day than non-dog owners. Dog walking does not appear to replace other forms of exercise – in fact, dog owners are more likely to go running or jogging than non-dog owners. The results show a bigger effect of having a dog on activity levels than other studies have found in the US and Australia. That might be because dog owners in warmer climates let their dogs roam freely outside, and don’t make as much of an effort to walk them. In the UK, where bad weather often makes outdoor activities less enticing, having a dog may be the best way to encourage adults to exercise, says Westgarth. “If the weather’s not good, people still dog walk.”

4-18-19 Evidence of rabbits in UK in Roman times, say academics
Rabbits have been hopping around the UK since Roman times, experts have been able to prove for the first time. Scientific tests on a rabbit bone, found at Fishbourne Roman Palace in West Sussex, have shown the animal was alive in the first century AD. The 1.6in (4cm) piece of a tibia bone was found in 1964 but it remained in a box until 2017, when a zooarchaeologist realised that it came from a rabbit. Academics believe the animal could have been kept as an exotic pet. Analysis, including radiocarbon dating, was carried out by researchers at the universities of Exeter, Oxford and Leicester. Rabbits are native to Spain and France and it had been thought they were introduced to Britain during the medieval period. Prof Naomi Sykes, from the University of Exeter, said there have been many previous claims of discoveries of Roman rabbits, and even some from the Bronze Age, but they had not been backed up by evidence. "The bone fragment was very small, meaning it was overlooked for decades, and modern research techniques mean we can learn about its date and genetic background as well," she said. Researchers say they believe the rabbit was kept as a pet, as the signature in its bones suggests it ate its own faecal pellets. "When they are in a hutch they tend to eat their own poo, and that gives them a really interesting signature in their bones, wild rabbits don't do that to the same extent," said Prof Sykes. She added: "This is a tremendously exciting discovery and this very early rabbit is already revealing new insights into the history of the Easter traditions." It is not clear when, why or how the rabbit became linked to Easter. Rabbits usually give birth to a big litter of babies (called kittens), and so they became a symbol of new life. The first historical mention of an "Easter Bunny" is actually an Easter hare, and was found in a German text from 1682. Some believe the association is due to the spread of Christian religious beliefs and Paganism, when Emperor Constantine merged Pagan rituals with Christian festivals.

4-18-19 'Giant lion' fossil found in Kenya museum drawer
A new species of giant mammal has been identified after researchers investigated bones that had been kept for decades in a Kenyan museum drawer. The species, dubbed "Simbakubwa kutokaafrika" meaning "big African lion" in Swahili, roamed east Africa about 20 millions years ago. But the huge creature was part of a now extinct group of mammals called hyaenodonts. The discovery could help explain what happened to the group. Hyaenodonts - so called because their teeth resemble those of a modern hyena - were dominant carnivores more than 20 million years ago, National Geographic reports. But they are not related to hyenas. "Based on its massive teeth, Simbakubwa was a specialised hyper-carnivore that was significantly larger than the modern lion and possibly larger than a polar bear," researcher Matthew Borths is quoted by AFP news agency as saying. In 2013 he was doing research at the Nairobi National Museum when he asked to look at the contents of a collection labelled "hyenas", National Geographic says. The creature's jaw and other bones and teeth had been put there after being found at a dig in western Kenya in the late 1970s. Mr Borths teamed up with another researcher, Nancy Stevens, and in 2017 they began analysing the unusual fossil specimens. Their findings were reported in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology this week.

4-17-19 Pig brains partially revived four hours after death
US scientists have partially revived pig brains four hours after the animals were slaughtered. The findings could fuel debate about the barrier between life and death, and provide a new way of researching diseases like Alzheimer's. The study showed the death of brain cells could be halted and that some connections in the brain were restored. However, there were no signals from the brain that would indicate awareness or consciousness. The surprise findings challenge the idea that the brain goes into irreversible decline within minutes of the blood supply being cut off. Thirty-two pig brains were collected from an abattoir. Four hours later the organs were connected to a system made by the team at Yale University. It rhythmically pumped (to mimic the pulse) a specially designed liquid round the brain, which contained a synthetic blood to carry oxygen and drugs to slow or reverse the death of brain cells. The pig brains were given the restorative cocktail for six hours.The study, published in the journal Nature, showed a reduction in brain cell death, the restoration of blood vessels and some brain activity. The researchers found working synapses - the connections between brain cells that allow them to communicate. The brains also showed a normal response to medication and used up the same amount of oxygen as a normal brain. This was all 10 hours after the pigs were decapitated. Crucially there was no sign of the brain-wide electrical activity in an electroencephalogram (EEG brain scan) that would signal awareness or perception. Fundamentally they were still dead brains. The research transforms ideas about how the brain dies, which many thought happened quickly and irreversibly without a supply of oxygen. Prof Nenad Sestan, a professor of neuroscience at Yale University, said: "Cell death in the brain occurs across a longer time window that we previously thought. "What we are showing is the process of cell death is a gradual, stepwise process. "And that some of those processes can be either postponed, preserved or even reversed."

4-17-19 Dead pig brains bathed in artificial fluid showed signs of cellular life
Nerve cell activity was detected hours after death. Scientists have restored cellular activity to pig brains hours after the animals’ death — an unprecedented feat. This revival, achieved with a sophisticated system of artificial fluid, took place four hours after the pigs’ demise at a slaughterhouse. “This is a huge breakthrough,” says ethicist and legal scholar Nita Farahany of Duke University, who wasn’t involved in the research. “It fundamentally challenges existing beliefs in neuroscience. The idea of the irreversibility of loss of brain function clearly isn’t true.” The results, reported April 17 in Nature, may lead to better treatments for brain damage caused by stroke or other injuries that starve brain tissue of oxygen. The achievement also raises significant ethical puzzles about research on brains that are not alive, but not completely dead either. In the study, the brains showed no signs of the widespread neural activity thought to be required for consciousness. But individual nerve cells were still firing. “There’s this gray zone between dead animals and living animals,” says Farahany, who coauthored a perspective piece in Nature. The experiments were conducted on pigs that had been killed in a food processing plant. These animals were destined to become pork. “No animals died for this study,” the authors of the new work write in their paper. After decapitation, about 300 pig heads were put on ice and transported to a Yale University laboratory, where researchers surgically removed the brains. Four hours post mortem, researchers put 32 of these brains in an artificial system known as BrainEx — a chamber with specially designed blood replacement fluid that pumps through the blood vessels, delivering oxygen, sugar and other sustaining ingredients at body temperature to keep the brains operating.Description

4-17-19 A virus we thought was harmless to humans may worsen cystic fibrosis
People with cystic fibrosis may experience more severe bacterial infections if they carry a certain type of virus – even though the virus actually targets bacteria. The so-called filamentous bacteriophage seems to prevent antibiotics from reaching the bacteria, making infections harder to treat. Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disease that leads to the build-up of thick mucus in organs including the lungs. The mucus can provide a breeding ground for harmful bacteria, such as Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Elizabeth Burgener at Stanford University, California, and her colleagues tested mucus samples taken from 58 people who have cystic fibrosis and a P. aeruginosa infection. They found that 21 of them – 36 per cent – carried bacteria-infecting viruses called filamentous bacteriophages. “We know bacteriophages exist everywhere,” says Burgener, but they are often overlooked by health researchers because they don’t target human cells. What’s more, those who carried the virus had significantly more P. aeruginosa in their mucus than non-carriers. And some of this P. aeruginosa seemed to be resistant to three of the common antibiotics used to treat such infections. Filamentous bacteriophages are known to be able to bind to other molecules in the mucus, such as DNA and proteins, to form a very viscous film. The film serves as a shield that antibiotics can’t penetrate, says Burgener, which may be why the P. aeruginosa appears drug-resistant in the presence of the virus. “There is a need to take this bacteriophage more seriously,” says Joanna Goldberg at Emory University in Georgia. Antibiotic resistance is a major concern for people with cystic fibrosis because they are left with fewer options to treat life-threatening infections. Goldberg suggests doctors may need to test for the presence of the virus before deciding which type of antibiotics to use.

4-17-19 Viewing media coverage of traumatic events may fuel long-term distress
When something terrible happens in the world, it’s not uncommon to scroll through social media or flip through television channels in search of news coverage. But such media exposure may fuel post-traumatic stress symptoms for as much as two years afterwards – and could also drive someone to consume further distressing media. “With high-consequence events where we don’t know why they happened, there’s a fundamental drive to want to consume information until you get your head around it,” says Kenneth Lachlan at the University of Connecticut. “It may be a function of threat avoidance or wanting to return to some kind of rational understanding of the world around us.” Roxane Silver at the University of California, Irvine, and her colleagues surveyed a representative sample of more than 4400 US residents in the days following the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. Each person was also asked how many hours of related media coverage they consumed in three follow-up periods: six months after the bombing, on its second anniversary and five days after the 2016 mass shooting in the Pulse nightclub in Florida. After the first survey, the team found that those previously diagnosed with mental health conditions or who had experienced violence first hand consumed more media coverage about the Boston bombing, and also experienced more symptoms of post-traumatic stress. On average, the people surveyed consumed about 6 hours of media a day about the Boston bombing immediately after the event and a little more than 3 hours per day of media about the Pulse shooting. Those who sought out more media about the bombing – whether or not they had a history of mental health conditions – were more likely to have trauma-related stress symptoms, such as upsetting thoughts, flashbacks and emotional distress, six months later. Two years after the bombing, such people were also more likely to worry about other events of mass violence or terrorism occuring in the future.

4-17-19 Ancient urine reveals early prehistory of domestic sheep and goats
Early farmers living in Turkey increased their reliance on domestic sheep and goats over a period of 1000 years. The shift in practices has been revealed by the animals’ urine, which is preserved in the soil as distinctive salts.. “For the first time, we can get a quantitative estimate of the number of organisms it would take to produce these salts,” says geochemist Jordan Abell of Columbia University in New York. This offers an idea of the herd sizes at the time, he says. Abell and his colleagues studied a Stone Age site called As¸ikli Höyük in Turkey, which was discovered in the 1960s and has been excavated on and off since the 1980s. It was occupied between about 10,400 and 9300 years ago. The people living there built oval houses of wattle and daub, which were closely packed together. As¸ikli Höyük is one of many places in and around the Middle East where people gradually abandoned hunter-gathering to focus on farming. Previous excavations have revealed an increasing reliance on sheep and goats for meat, including evidence that young male animals were selectively culled. Crops including wheat and lentils were important too. To track the growth of the animal herd, the team studied salts rich in sodium, chlorine and nitrate, which were preserved in the layers of sediment. Most of these salts seem to have come from urine, either from humans or their domestic animals. The team first subtracted other potential contributors, such as wood ash. Then they looked up how much the average human or sheep urinates per day. The question, says Abell, was: “how many organisms would it take to produce that much salt?” The team tracked the preserved urine through four layers of sediment, which span 1000 years of occupation. This allowed them to estimate how many large animals (including humans) lived in As¸ikli Höyük at different times.

4-17-19 Statisticians want to abandon science’s standard measure of ‘significance’
Here’s why “statistically significant” shouldn’t be a stamp of scientific approval. In science, the success of an experiment is often determined by a measure called “statistical significance.” A result is considered to be “significant” if the difference observed in the experiment between groups (of people, plants, animals and so on) would be very unlikely if no difference actually exists. The common cutoff for “very unlikely” is that you’d see a difference as big or bigger only 5 percent of the time if it wasn’t really there — a cutoff that might seem, at first blush, very strict. It sounds esoteric, but statistical significance has been used to draw a bright line between experimental success and failure. Achieving an experimental result with statistical significance often determines if a scientist’s paper gets published or if further research gets funded. That makes the measure far too important in deciding research priorities, statisticians say, and so it’s time to throw it in the trash. More than 800 statisticians and scientists are calling for an end to judging studies by statistical significance in a March 20 comment published in Nature. An accompanying March 20 special issue of the American Statistician makes the manifesto crystal clear in its introduction: “‘statistically significant’ — don’t say it and don’t use it.” There is good reason to want to scrap statistical significance. But with so much research now built around the concept, it’s unclear how — or with what other measures — the scientific community could replace it. The American Statistician offers a full 43 articles exploring what scientific life might look like without this measure in the mix.

4-16-19 Surprising ways the changing Earth shaped human evolution and society
From the development of our remarkable brains to the geographic divides in the way we vote, our shape-shifting planet has guided the path of humanity. HUMANITY today is actively reshaping the planet. Our appetite for natural resources and large-scale industrial activity is eradicating species, warming the oceans and disrupting the global climate on an unprecedented scale. So profound is our impact that some have called for the times we live in to be declared a new geological period: the Anthropocene, the age of humanity. But this ability to shape our environment on such a scale is a recent phenomenon. For most of our history, it is our environment that has shaped us. The physical features of the planet we live on enabled our species to arise, nurtured our remarkable brains, facilitated our spread across the planet and even encouraged the birth of the first cities. This is the remarkable story of the way Earth has moulded humanity, and how we have turned the tables to shape the world. Some 55.5 million years ago, Earth’s thermostat did something unexpected. In the space of 100,000 years, barely the blink of an eye on geological timescales, the temperature of the planet jerked up by between 5°C and 8°C, hovered for a bit, and then came back down. This brief planetary fever was hugely disruptive to life on Earth, driving the rapid evolution and divergence of whole new orders of animals, including our own. The principal culprit is thought to have been methane. As a powerful greenhouse gas, its presence in air makes our atmosphere trap more of the sun’s heat than it usually would, raising the temperature on the surface. Then, as now, huge deposits of methane lay on the sea floor, a by-product of decaying organic matter. Under the extreme pressures and low temperatures found at such depths, the gas became trapped within crystals of ice, safely locked away so long as the ice didn’t melt. In planetary terms, it was a barrel of gunpowder waiting for a match. The fateful spark is thought to have been a cluster of volcanic eruptions that peppered the atmosphere with enough carbon dioxide to cause an initial temperature rise. This, in turn, melted ice on the sea floor, causing methane to bubble up through the water and into the atmosphere, leading to a further temperature rise that melted yet more methane. The sweltering climate resulted in a burst of evolutionary diversification. The fossil record shows that ungulates, which include modern species like the cow, goat, pig, sheep, llama, camel and horse, first emerged during this period. These families of large herbivores are utterly critical to human societies around the world, providing not just a reliable source of meat, milk, hide, wool and leather, but also means of transport. We ride them, load them with packs and put them to work hauling carts or ploughs, all in the service of human development. But the most significant group of mammals that sprang up during this heatwave were the primates, the group that our own species belongs to. These early ancestors of ours, physically similar to lemurs, emerged and then rapidly dispersed across Asia, Europe and North America. But it was in the unique geology of East Africa that they took their first unsteady steps towards humanity.

4-16-19 Protein mania: The problem with the West’s latest diet obsession
THE bars and shakes were just the start. These days, there are high-protein cereals and high-protein yogurts, protein-fortified bread and cheese, protein-dense noodles and even ice creams loaded with the muscle-building macronutrient. What next, protein water? Well, yes actually. What will it be: still, sparkling or diet whey protein water? Stroll through your local supermarket today and you can hardly fail to notice the P word. Usually accompanied with “high” or “extra”, it seems to be emblazoned on the packaging of almost every foodstuff possible. Many of us have come to see protein as a sort of elixir of health. Not only does it apparently help you build muscle, it will guarantee weight loss by keeping you fuller for longer. Hence the desire for all those high-protein products. But is there actually any evidence to suggest that these foods and drinks are beneficial? Our bodies certainly demand protein. Together with fat and carbohydrate, it makes up the trio of basic macronutrients that humans need. Proteins are assembled from a repertoire of 20 amino acids, the basic building blocks of bone, muscle, skin and blood. It is especially important that we get enough of the eight so-called essential amino acids because, unlike the others, our bodies cannot make them. So the protein we get from our food is vital. We have known that for a long time. In recent years, however, many of us have become convinced we need more of the stuff. Even if you haven’t come across Weetabix Protein Crunch, say, or the Mars Hi Protein bar, the stats are instructive. The number of food and drink products launched with a high-protein claim in the UK rose by a whopping 498 per cent between 2010 and 2015, according to market research firm Mintel. More recently, in the three years to 2017, the proportion of new food and drink products launched with a high-protein claim jumped from 1.8 per cent to 4.3 per cent, and in the first three months of 2018 some 35 per cent of adults said they bought a non-sporting product branded as high in protein.

4-16-19 ‘Added sugar’ food labels may prevent heart disease and diabetes
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced the updated nutrition labeling in 2016. Nutrition label changes aimed at curbing America’s sweet tooth could have a sizable payoff for public health. to a food or drink, could help the average U.S. adult cut sugar consumption by around half a teaspoon a day. If that happens, the labeling change could prevent around 350,000 cases of cardiovascular disease and nearly 600,000 cases of diabetes over the next two decades, scientists report online April 15 in Circulation. The estimates come from a simulation, covering the years 2018 to 2037, that was based on a representative U.S. population of about 220 million adults aged 30 to 84, and that used data on sugar intake from a national health and nutrition survey. The updated sugar labeling is part of a series of nutritional label changes announced by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2016, to be fully implemented by 2021. The U.S. government also released updated dietary guidelines in 2016, recommending that people consume no more than 10 percent of their daily calories in added sugar (SN Online: 1/7/16). Added sugar accounted for 17 percent of an adult’s calorie intake, on average, in the United States in 2012, according to a study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Consuming too much sugar, especially in the form of sugar-sweetened beverages, has been tied to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. This link may be due in part because the body becomes resistant to the glucose-regulating hormone insulin.

4-16-19 People with stress disorders like PTSD are at higher risk of heart disease
A new study looks beyond men and veterans to find the link. People coping with psychological trauma have a heightened risk of developing cardiovascular disease, a large-scale study finds. Researchers used national health registers to identify 136,637 Swedish patients with no history of cardiovascular disease who were diagnosed with a stress-related disorder — a cluster of mental health conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder, triggered by acute trauma — from 1987 to 2013. The team compared each of these patients with siblings and with unrelated people of the same age and sex, both of whom had a clear bill of mental and heart health. In the patients’ first year after being diagnosed, those with a stress-related disorder had a 64 percent higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease than their siblings without a mental health diagnosis, and a 70 percent higher risk than unrelated patients, the scientists report. The cardiovascular disease accounted for included heart failure, arrhythmia, stroke, hypertension and heart attack. The study found that those with a stress-related disorder were most vulnerable in the year following their mental health diagnosis: They had four times the relative risk of heart failure compared with their siblings. After one year, the patients with a stress diagnosis had a 29 percent higher risk for all cardiovascular disease than their siblings. Over the course of 27 years, 10.5 percent of patients with stress-related disorders developed cardiovascular disease — compared with 8.4 percent of the sibling group and 6.9 percent of the general population group. The study, published April 10 in the British Medical Journal, builds on a growing body of research linking mental health with heart disease.

4-16-19 Statins may not lower cholesterol enough in half those who take them
A study of more than 165,000 people suggests that fewer than half of those who are prescribed statins reach the desired level of cholesterol within two years of starting to take the drugs. In England, doctors are recommended to prescribe statins to people deemed to be of a high risk of heart disease, with the goal of lowering their LDL cholesterol levels by 40 per cent or more. But the analysis, which looked at data from between 1990 and 2016, found that statins achieved this within two years in only 49 per cent of those taking them. Those who didn’t see their cholesterol drop by the target amount were found to be 22 per cent more likely to develop cardiovascular disease than those who did. The team behind the work say these people “will experience significantly increased risk” of heart disease in future. “These findings contribute to the debate on the effectiveness of statin therapy and highlight the need for personalised medicine in lipid management for patients,” the team, from the University of Nottingham, UK, write.Statins work by lowering blood cholesterol levels. Some researchers argue that there is no link between cholesterol levels in the blood and levels of atherosclerosis – the furring of the arteries that can lead to heart attacks – but this claim is strongly rejected by many cardiologists and cholesterol researchers. Metin Avkiran, at Kings College London, says statins are an “important and proven treatment for lowering cholesterol and reducing the risk of a potentially fatal heart attack or stroke”. Avkiran says people currently taking statins should continue to take them as prescribed. “Although this study suggests that not everyone who is prescribed statins manages to reduce their cholesterol sufficiently, it doesn’t explain why,” he says.

4-16-19 Men who have children later in life may prime their kids for longevity
MEN who have children later in life may pass on changes acquired from their environment, a phenomenon reminiscent of Lamarckian evolution. French naturalist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck thought that if organisms changed their bodies during their life to adapt to their environment, those changes could be passed to children. Giraffes stretching their necks to reach tall trees, and then passing longer necks on the next generation, is a classic example of this incorrect theory of evolution. We now know organisms evolve through random DNA mutations: giraffes with mutations that caused longer necks passed these changes to their offspring. But a study of children of older dads suggests it may be possible to pass adaptations to subsequent generations in other ways. Dan Eisenberg at the University of Washington in Seattle and his team have studied telomeres, stretches of repetitive DNA at the ends of our chromosomes. These shorten each time a cell divides, so usually get shorter over a lifetime. If telomeres get too short, cells may stop dividing or even die. A woman’s eggs are all made before she is born, but the cells in men’s testes divide throughout their lives. Because we inherit telomere lengths from the egg and sperm cells that make us, the children of older fathers should in theory have shorter telomeres, but they don’t. This is probably because an enzyme called telomerase, which extends telomeres by adding more DNA to them, is very active in the testes. Several studies have shown that sperm from older men have longer telomeres than average. This may enable older men to reproduce without having children with dangerously short telomeres. Because telomerase adds DNA to a chromosome, it may be possible that they pass this acquired, non-genetic trait – longer telomeres – to offspring. Studying the DNA of nearly 3000 grandparents, plus their children and grandchildren, Eisenberg’s team found that this may be the case. A child’s telomere length correlates with the age at which their fathers and grandfathers reproduced, Eisenberg told a meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists in Ohio.

4-16-19 ‘Cities’ reveals common ground between ancient and modern urban life
A new book chronicles 6,000 years of metropolitan history. Ancient Rome’s Monte Testaccio and modern Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market reveal a lot about the nature of cities. Monte Testaccio is a hill made of broken pottery in the middle of Rome. Around 2,000 years ago, people tossed empty wine and olive oil vessels onto what was then a garbage heap. Tokyo’s vast seafood emporium, also known as Toyosu Market, includes passageways where forklifts deposit and remove containers of every sea creature imaginable, as chefs and home cooks bid for the day’s catch. These metropolitan destinations illustrate how mass production and consumption of goods — along with public markets, complex infrastructure and trash — have always characterized cities, archaeologist Monica Smith writes in Cities. She argues that cities provide work and leisure opportunities that, once invented around 6,000 years ago, people couldn’t do without. Trash was part of the deal, along with poverty and pollution — all of which remain city challenges. Ancient human traits and behaviors contributed to cities’ rapid ascendance, even if it took a few hundred thousand years for agriculture and other cultural developments to spark that urban transition, Smith writes. As a restless, talkative species searching for meaning in the world, people eventually started building gathering spots for religious pilgrimages. One of the earliest such places was Göbekli Tepe in what’s now Turkey, dating back 10,000 years or more. Public structures there set the stage for farmers and herders to create the oldest known city, Tell Brak, about 4,000 years later in Syria. Cities everywhere have been organized in remarkably similar ways to provide jobs, entertainment and other features, the author holds. People have always been drawn to those benefits, both for survival and for excitement, she writes.

4-16-19 Newly translated Cherokee cave writings reveal sacred messages
The inscriptions were found in Manitou Cave in Alabama. Shortly before being forced out of their homeland in the 1830s, Cherokee people of the southeastern United States left written accounts on cave walls of secretive rituals. Now researchers have translated some of those messages from long ago. Cherokee inscriptions in Alabama’s Manitou Cave, now a popular tourist destination, describe religious ceremonies and beliefs using written symbols for 85 syllables — enough sounds to replicate the Cherokee spoken language. Cherokee scholar Sequoyah devised this writing system not long before his tribe’s banishment down the Trail of Tears, a series of forced relocations of Native Americans to the west. An historian and a cave photographer first recognized the inscriptions, some of which are written in charcoal, in 2006. A team led by archaeologist Beau Duke Carroll of the Tribal Historic Preservation Office of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in Cherokee, N.C., describes what the writing says in the April Antiquity. One inscription on a wall deep inside the cave, shown above, translates as, “leaders of the stickball team on the 30th day in their month April 1828.” Carroll and his colleagues suspect that the word “their” refers to European Americans. Cherokee stickball was, and still is, a version of lacrosse played between pairs of communities to achieve spiritual renewal. The inscription commemorates a team’s private ritual preparations before a game, the scientists say. A nearby inscription probably refers to the same team’s pregame rituals. That passage identifies the team’s spiritual leader as Richard Guess, the English name of one of Sequoyah’s children.

4-16-19 Stonehenge: DNA reveals origin of builders
The ancestors of the people who built Stonehenge travelled west across the Mediterranean before reaching Britain, a study has shown. Researchers compared DNA extracted from Neolithic human remains found across Britain with that of people alive at the same time in Europe. The Neolithic inhabitants appear to have travelled from Anatolia (modern Turkey) to Iberia before winding their way north. They reached Britain in about 4,000BC. Details have been published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution. The migration to Britain was just one part of a general, massive expansion of people out of Anatolia in 6,000BC that introduced farming to Europe. Before that, Europe was populated by small, travelling groups which hunted animals and gathered wild plants and shellfish. One group of early farmers followed the river Danube up into Central Europe, but another group travelled west across the Mediterranean. DNA reveals that Neolithic Britons were largely descended from groups who took the Mediterranean route, either hugging the coast or hopping from island-to-island on boats. Some British groups had a minor amount of ancestry from groups that followed the Danube route. When the researchers analysed the DNA of early British farmers, they found they most closely resembled Neolithic people from Iberia (modern Spain and Portugal). These Iberian farmers were descended from people who had journeyed across the Mediterranean. From Iberia, or somewhere close, the Mediterranean farmers travelled north through France. They might have entered Britain from the west, through Wales or south-west England. Indeed, radiocarbon dates suggest that Neolithic people arrived marginally earlier in the west, but this remains a topic for future work. In addition to farming, the Neolithic migrants to Britain appear to have introduced the tradition of building monuments using large stones known as megaliths. Stonehenge in Wiltshire was part of this tradition. Although Britain was inhabited by groups of "western hunter-gatherers" when the farmers arrived in about 4,000BC, DNA shows that the two groups did not mix very much at all. The British hunter-gatherers were almost completely replaced by the Neolithic farmers, apart from one group in western Scotland, where the Neolithic inhabitants had elevated local ancestry. This could have come down to the farmer groups simply having greater numbers.

4-16-19 Did the ancestor of all humans evolve in Europe not Africa?
THE jaws of an ancient European ape might speak volumes about the origins of our ancestors. A new analysis of these fossils supports a controversial idea: that the apes which gave rise to humans evolved in south-east Europe instead of Africa. Hominins are a group of primates that includes modern humans, extinct humans like Neanderthals and Denisovans, and our immediate ancestors, including australopiths like the famous Lucy. In his 1871 book The Descent of Man, Charles Darwin suggested that the hominin group originated in Africa – an idea most anthropologists believe today. But he also wrote that the group may have arisen in Europe because, at that time, fossils of large apes had already been uncovered there. “Darwin was open-minded,” says David Begun at the University of Toronto, Canada. Almost 150 years later, Begun thinks two fossilised chunks from an upper and lower jaw may support a European origin of hominins. They were found in the 1990s in 8 to 9-million-year-old deposits at Nikiti in northern Greece. Initially assigned to the extinct ape Ouranopithecus, Begun thinks the small yet pointy canines suggest the specimen is a male animal from what may be a previously unknown species. Small canines are a hallmark of hominin species. Begun doesn’t think the Nikiti ape was a hominin, but he thinks it might represent the ancestral group the hominins evolved from, which would suggest the first hominins lived in south-east Europe. Begun outlined the idea at a conference of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists in Cleveland, Ohio, in March. Begun and his colleagues have previously examined fossils of a 7.2-million-year-old ape called Graecopithecus that also once lived in what is now Greece. This animal seemed to have small canines too, plus hominin-like “fused” roots to one of its premolars. In 2017, the team cautiously concluded that Graecopithecus might be a very early hominin. Under this scenario, the 8 to 9-million-year-old Nikiti ape could represent a group of “proto-hominins” that gave rise to hominins in Europe, represented by Graecopithecus at 7.2 million years old. Hominins then migrated into Africa by about 7 million years ago.

4-16-19 Measles has made a shocking return to the US. Can it be stopped?
Insight is your guide to the science and technology that is transforming our world, giving you everything you need to know about the issues that matter most. MEASLES is making a comeback in the US. Public health departments are starting to take serious measures to curb the disease, but in an age of misinformation, simply telling people to get vaccinated may not be enough. New York City is taking drastic action. On 9 April, mayor Bill de Blasio declared a state of emergency in the borough of Brooklyn, and mandated that anyone living in the four zip codes where a measles outbreak has raged since October must be vaccinated or face fines of up to $1000. The unprecedented move was a result of the staggering rise in the number of measles cases, which have mostly been confined to the Orthodox Jewish community in Williamsburg, the mayor said in a press conference. In 2017, there were two cases of measles in New York City. In the past six months, there have been 285. “That’s got our full attention,” said de Blasio, adding that the city will offer free vaccines for those without health insurance. These measures are required because the city is really fighting two epidemics. Measles is fast-spreading and can be deadly. So is the anti-vaccine movement, which has infected the US over the past 20 years, aided by social media platforms and organised misinformation campaigns. There have already been 465 cases of measles in the US this year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). If the disease continues to spread at that rate, there could be more than 1800 cases by the end of the year. (Webmaster's comment: The parents not vaccinating their children against measles are crimnals. They have deliberately endangered everyone including other children with DEATH! Their children should be quarantined and the parents should be imprisioned!)

4-15-19 U.S. measles outbreaks show no signs of slowing down
International travel and hot spots where too few people are vaccinated is fueling the spread. The year has just started, but it’s already a bad one for measles. The viral disease has sickened at least 555 people in 20 states, according to numbers released April 15 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s more than the 372 cases reported for all of 2018 — and it’s only April. If the outbreak doesn’t get under control, this year could surpass the 2014 high of 667 cases since measles was eliminated from the United States in 2000 (SN Online: 11/30/18). Elimination means that the virus is no longer endemic, or constantly present, though it can still be brought in by overseas travelers. Internationally, outbreaks are ongoing in Ukraine, Israel, the Philippines and Brazil, among other countries. Imported disease is the just the spark. What’s fueling measles outbreaks in the United States are pockets of vulnerability in the country, especially within states that have made it easier for parents to skip vaccinating their children. As public health officials grapple with containing the disease, here’s the lowdown on this not-so-conquered virus. The first signs of an infection include a fever and cough, followed about four days later by a rash of flat, red spots. There’s no treatment for measles, other than managing symptoms with fever reducers, for example. Those who have been exposed to the virus but aren’t immunized can get vaccinated within 72 hours to protect against the illness. Measles can lead to severe medical complications — particularly for babies and young children — including pneumonia or a swelling of the brain that may result in deafness. A decade before the vaccine became available in the United States in 1963, measles sickened around 3 million to 4 million people and killed hundreds each year.

4-15-19 Prescriptions for UTIs may be making antibiotic resistance even worse
WHEN it comes to prescribing antibiotics, doctors are in a jam. Giving them too often risks perpetuating the development of resistance to these drugs in bacteria. That is a serious threat to society. But withholding them is also risky. If the decision is wrong, a patient could develop a life-threatening infection. Even if the doctor is right, this decision often upsets people. I have heard stories of medics being threatened with everything from bad online reviews to physical violence unless they dish the pills. One of the most dangerous areas of medicine in this regard is urinary tract infections. Many fit and healthy people recover from UTIs without antibiotics. But if drugs are needed, they must be administered quickly, or sepsis might set in. That is why doctors often err on the side of caution and give antibiotics for UTIs before they are sure drugs are needed. Previous estimates from the US and Australia suggested that about 30 per cent of antibiotic prescriptions given out for UTIs in hospitals and outpatient settings are inappropriate. Now research presented at a conference by Laura Shallcross of University College London suggests the true figure is much higher: between 60 and 70 per cent. This is based on real test results from patients entering an emergency department in a UK hospital, so there is reason to think the shocking figure is accurate. How do we fix this? The charity I lead, Antibiotic Research UK, aims to help fund the development of one new antibiotic treatment and have it on the market by the early 2020s. But this is a tall order. The pharmaceutical industry isn’t putting enough resources into developing new antibiotics. There isn’t enough profit in them because they are only used for short periods. Governments are also partly to blame. Most haven’t put in place financial incentives to encourage more research by pharmaceutical firms.

4-15-19 A touch-feely part of the brain helps you enjoy a gentle caress
A part of the brain called the insular cortex appears to be behind why a tender stroke can feel so nice. Parts of the skin that have hairs on them, such as the backs of hands but not the palms, have nerve fibres, which respond to gentle touch. Normally when mammals are touched, these fibres send a signal through the spinal cord to the part of the brain called the primary somatosensory cortex, which responds to changes on the surface of the body. But for pleasurable touch, this signal takes a detour to the insular cortex first, which is involved in self-awareness. To understand how these pleasure signals are processed, Louise Kirsch at Sorbonne University in France and her colleagues compared touch responses of 59 people who had strokes with 20 healthy people. The team gently touched the participants with a soft-bristled brush on their right and left forearms at two speeds – the slower of the two is known to stimulate the pleasure-sensing nerve fibres. They asked everyone to rate how intensely they felt the touch and how pleasant it was on a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 was the feeling of sandpaper and 10 was the feeling of velvet. All the participants found the slower brush stroke speed more pleasurable, but some of those who had experienced a stroke rated it less so than the healthy control group. When the team analysed the brain scans of the participants, they found that over 80 per cent of people who’d had a stroke and reported less sensitivity to pleasant touch on their arm had a lesion on the their insular cortex, suggesting that the disruption in enjoying pleasurable touch is tied to this part of the brain.

4-15-19 Some people may have genes that hamper a drug’s HIV protection
Newly discovered genetic variants could explain why a common medication doesn’t protect all. Some people’s genes may stop an antiretroviral drug from protecting them against HIV, a genetics study suggests. The drug, called tenofovir, is used for preventing as well as treating an HIV infection. But success in prevention has been mixed, with studies reporting between 78 to 92 percent success rates. It wasn’t clear why the drug didn’t protect everyone. Now, studies reveal that rare genetic variants can prevent tenofovir from becoming active in the body, pharmacologist Namandjé Bumpus of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine reported April 8 at the 2019 Experimental Biology meeting. People who have HIV or who are at risk of contracting HIV, such as someone whose partner has the virus, take an inactive form of the drug that must be activated in the body in a two-step process. Scientists knew enzymes called kinases are required, but weren’t sure which of the many kinases in the human body convert the drug to its active form. An enzyme called adenylate kinase 2 attaches one phosphate atom and another enzyme, creatine kinase, tacks on a second to spur the drug to action, Bumpus and colleagues discovered. Variants of the kinases are rare: Only 18 adenylate kinase 2 variants were found among 906 people whose DNA was tested. Separately, the researchers tested whether the variants affected the ability of adenylate kinases to activate tenofovir. Of 477 people taking the drug, seven people with variants predicted to disable the enzyme didn’t have the active version of tenofovir in their blood. That result hints that the variants do affect the drug’s effectiveness.


ANIMAL INTELLIGENCE and ZOOLOGY

4-20-19 Bees living on Notre-Dame cathedral roof survive blaze
Notre-Dame's smallest residents have survived the devastating fire which destroyed most of the cathedral's roof and toppled its famous spire. Some 200,000 bees living in hives on the roof were initially thought to have perished in the blaze. However Nicolas Géant, the cathedral's beekeeper, has confirmed that the bees are alive and buzzing. Mr Géant has looked after the cathedral's three beehives since 2013, when they were installed. That was part of an initiative to boost bee numbers across Paris. The hives sit on top of the sacristy by Notre-Dame's south side, around 30m (98 ft) below the main roof. As a result, Mr Géant says they remained untouched by the flames.European bees - unlike other species - stay by their hive after sensing danger, gorging on honey and working to protect their queen. High temperatures would have posed the biggest risk, but Mr Géant explained that any smoke would have simply intoxicated them. "Instead of killing them, the carbon dioxide makes them drunk, puts them to sleep," he told AP. Beekeepers commonly use smoke to sedate the insects and gain access to their hive.

4-20-19 Baby boom for the kakapo, New Zealand’s critically endangered parrot
There is new hope for the world’s fattest parrot, the critically endangered kakapo, after the birth of a record-breaking number of chicks. Fewer than 150 adult kakapo live in New Zealand today after their numbers were decimated by hunting, pests and deforestation. But an enormous effort to regrow the population is paying off, with almost 90 chicks expected to hatch over the breeding season. The nocturnal, flightless bird breeds when the rimu tree – a conifer – is full with fruit, and this only happens every few years. An unusually abundant amount of fruit on the trees this year seems to have driven the females to start breeding early, and sometimes even to nest again after their chicks have grown. But conservationists have also played an important role, by relocating the green, owl-faced birds to a predator-free island and by using semen samples from males on one side of the island to artificially inseminate females on the other. They have also been tracking the birds’ breeding and nesting behaviour with hidden cameras. It’s not all good news, however. Half a dozen chicks have already died, and several had to be moved from their nests after signs of poor growth. All of the chicks will be fitted with radio transmitters when they are about two months old, Andrew Digby, at the New Zealand department of conservation, said on Twitter. The whiskered parrot, which can grow to a height of more than 50 centimetres and weigh up to 4 kilograms, was once one of New Zealand’s most common birds. (Webmaster's comment: Their culture has been lost and the adults probably no longer know how to care for their young. Much of that is learned behavior.)

4-19-19 A scientist used chalk in a box to show that bats use sunsets to migrate
Oliver Lindecke devised a new device that was partly inspired by a snow-covered Berlin street. When it comes to migration science, birds rule. Although many mammals — antelopes, whales, bats — migrate, too, scientists know far less about how those animals do it. But a new device, invented by animal navigation researcher Oliver Lindecke, could open a new way to test how far-ranging bats find their way. Lindecke, of Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Germany, has been studying bat migration since 2011. He started with analyzing different forms of hydrogen atoms in wild bats to infer where they had flown from. But figuring out how the bats knew where to go was trickier. Lindecke needed a field setup that let him test what possible cues from nature helped bats navigate across vast distances. The first step was studying in which direction the bats first take flight. Such experiments on birds typically involve confining the animals in small, enclosed spaces. But that doesn’t work for bats, which tend to fall asleep in such spaces. “My challenge was to build a box that bats won’t sleep in, but will show me how they take off,” Lindecke says. So he invented what he calls the circular release box: a flat-bottom, funnel-shaped container topped by a wider lid. To escape, the bat crawls up the wall and takes off from the edge. Bat tracks in a layer of chalk (Lindecke says he was inspired by a snow-covered Berlin street) indicate where the bat took off. In August 2017, Lindecke captured 54 soprano pipistrelle bats (Pipistrellus pygmaeus) in a large, 50-meter-wide trap at the Pape Ornithological Research Station in Latvia as the animals were migrating along the coast of the Baltic Sea toward Central Europe. Experiments with the new device showed that the adult bats flew straight in the direction in which they took off, Lindecke and colleagues report online March 1 in the Journal of Zoology.

4-19-19 Homeless Australian man reunited with lost rat pet by police
A homeless man in Sydney, Australia, has been reunited with his pet rat which disappeared earlier this month. Chris, 59, is a well known figure in downtown Sydney where the rat, called Lucy, is usually curled up on a box in front of him. But one day his little companion disappeared as he stepped away to take a toilet break. After a social media appeal, New South Wales police tracked down the missing pet and reunited the pair on Thursday. Chris had assumed Lucy was stolen after she disappeared from the milk crate where he'd left her. Desperate to find her, he put a note up on his box, asking if anyone had seen her. What followed was an outpouring of support, with people posting their own pictures of the pair, hoping that someone had seen Lucy or the person who'd taken her. Police appealed for information, believing Lucy had been stolen, but eventually found the missing rodent. "A woman, who walked past and saw Lucy alone, believed she had been abandoned, so took her home and cared for her," police said in a statement. Lucy was returned to Chris at a local police station on Thursday. When officers asked him to make sure they had got the right animal he replied: "Yes, that's her! She's got the blind eye. She remembers me!" Picking her up from a cardboard box, Chris was visibly relieved, thanking the officers for their efforts. "Sorry for putting you all through the trouble of looking for her. "It feels wonderful. Thank you very much, everybody," he said as his little furry friend scurried around his shoulders. "She knows she's missed me too."

4-18-19 Why cats won’t be called
If your cat ignores you when you call its name, it’s not because it doesn’t recognize it—it’s just because it doesn’t feel like responding. That’s the conclusion of a new Japanese study into the feline mind. The research involved 78 cats who were each played recordings of people reading out four random nouns and then the kitty’s name. Scientists found that the feline subjects generally responded to their name by pricking up their ears or moving their heads—but unlike dogs, didn’t show any major signs of excitement, such as moving their tails or jumping off the couch. Cats may not understand they’re being personally addressed, reports SmithsonianMag.com. They simply associate the sound of their name with a reward, such as food or playtime. And while dogs want to please their owners, says Jennifer Vonk, an expert in animal cognition, cats “are not really as motivated. They’re better at manipulating our behavior than vice versa.”

4-17-19 Parenting chores cut into how much these bird dads fool around
Black coucals are one of the few avian species where only males care for chicks. The extreme dads of the bird world do all the work raising chicks while females fight intruders. The result: Male black coucals don’t sleep around as much when busy parenting. On occasion, a male black coucal (Centropus grillii) slips over to another male’s nest to sire a chick. The demands of incubating eggs, however, reduce a male’s excursions about 17 percent, on average, compared with male birds that didn’t have chicks. And during the frantic first week of parenting after eggs hatch, those philandering excursions drop by almost 50 percent, researchers report April 10 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. That’s when male coucals, native to sub-Saharan Africa, spend much of their days catching grasshoppers, frogs and other critters to feed chicks too frail to leave their woven grass nests, says behavioral ecologist Wolfgang Goymann at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen, Germany. Even when chicks can leave the nest, they’ll need at least two more weeks of dad’s care. These coucals are among the few bird species in which females, rather than males, stake out territories and defend them from other females. The females are bigger than the males and warn interlopers with “hoot, hoot” exchanges, which deepen in pitch if antagonists get closer. If hooting fails, one female will fly at the other bird to fight. “You see just the grass moving, and you hear a grumbling,” Goymann says. Sometimes he spots females “with huge wounds on their heads.” A female’s territory has up to five males nesting in it. She builds the basics of a nest and lays eggs with each male in her realm. Unlike other nestlings with dad-only care, these chicks hatch very early in development. They don’t even have enough fluff for warmth, and dad needs to snuggle them for about a week before they can leave the nest.

4-17-19 Rare kakapo parrots have best breeding season on record
Kakapos - the world's fattest species of parrot - have had their most successful breeding season on record, according to New Zealand's Department of Conservation (DOC). The flightless, nocturnal parrots were once one of the country's most common birds, but only 147 adults are left. This year, 76 chicks have been hatched under the DOC's conservation scheme, with 60 expected to reach adulthood. The new batch is more than double that of the last breeding season in 2016. Kakapos only breed every two to four years when their favourite fruit grows in New Zealand's Rimu trees - the period is known as a "mast year". Their numbers have also been curbed by hunting, deforestation, and predators like stoats which were introduced by European settlers. One scientific advisor to the DOC, Dr Andrew Digby, says scientists have seen bumper quantities of fruit on Rimu trees in recent years, an occurrence possibly caused by climate change. With so much fruit, many female kakapos have bred earlier and, in some cases, laid two clutches of eggs. Until the 1970s, kakapos were thought to be extinct but a group was discovered on Stewart Island, south of the country's South Island. Just 18 were known to exist by 1977, but New Zealand's DOC has spearheaded efforts to boost its population on two remote, predator-free islands. Under the scheme, all newborn kakapo chicks are raised in a secure facility and later released into the wild, tagged with a transmitter. Each parrot also has its nest fitted with sensors and cameras, and is given a tailored diet via nearby feeding stations. "They don't get a lot of privacy," Dr Digby said. "I can log online and see what they're doing, see who they've mated with, how long for, and even the quality of the mating. "It's probably one of the most intensively managed species in the world, certainly in New Zealand." (Webmaster's comment: 147 adult is not a viable population. Their culture has also been destroyed.)