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ATHEISM and HUMANISM

White Supremacy Kills. Conor Climo had been in contacted with white supremacists.

8-18-19 Far-right group Proud Boys rallies in Portland, Oregon
Far-right group Proud Boys marched in Portland, Oregon, as counter-demonstrators organised a rally against their presence in the city. The stated aim of the far-right gathering was to press for the Antifa (anti-fascist) movement to be declared a domestic terror organisation. President Donald Trump has said the situation was being closely watched by his administration, and indicated that naming Antifa "an organisation of terror" is being considered. The city has been under heavy police guard amid fears of violence. (Webmaster's comment: They got this exactly backwards. The Proud Boys are the terrorist group not the anti-facists.)

8-16-19 White House sets new hurdles for legal immigrants
The Trump administration moved aggressively this week to cut legal immigration with a new rule making it harder for immigrants already here lawfully to become permanent residents if they use public benefits. Starting Oct. 15, green card applicants could be rejected if they’ve turned to public benefits for more than 12 months of any 36-month period. That includes any of a wide array of programs, including most forms of Medicaid, food stamps, and public housing assistance. Immigrants could also be denied if officials determine they’re likely to use such benefits in the future. White House aide Stephen Miller was a driving force behind the new rule, with the anti-immigration hard-liner reportedly telling officials to prioritize it above everything else. The policy could reduce the number of people who receive green cards and visas by half, with the government estimating that the status of roughly 382,000 immigrants could be immediately affected. Defending the rule, acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Ken Cuccinelli said the Emma Lazarus poem inscribed at the base of the Statue of Liberty was meant for “Europeans” and suggested that it should carry a disclaimer. “Give me your tired and your poor,” Cuccinelli said, “who can stand on their own two feet.” “The idea that if someone has ever used a public benefit then they won’t ever become a contributing member of society is absurd,” said Paul Waldman in The Washington Post. Almost 1 in 6 Americans used food stamps during the Great Recession. “The immigrants who arrived at Ellis Island a century ago did not, for the most part, come here on private yachts or in first-class berths,” said Joel Mathis in TheWeek.com. But they and their descendants strengthened the nation. Today’s immigrants are no different. Their children are just as likely as any other U.S. adults to be homeowners, and more likely to be college graduates. Somewhere, Emma Lazarus is weeping.

8-16-19 Trump: The impact of his immigration rhetoric
“A really exceptional work of obscenity, like a really exceptional work of beauty, exceeds the ability of its viewers to fathom what they just saw,” said Graeme Wood in TheAtlantic.com. And the photo of a grinning President Trump flashing a thumbs-up while standing next to a baby orphaned in the El Paso mass shooting is truly, exceptionally obscene. Two-month-old Paul Anchondo, whose parents both died shielding him from a white nativist hunting Mexicans with a military-style rifle, was actually brought back to the hospital Trump was visiting because five wounded adult survivors refused to meet with our anti-immigrant president. So, the White House conscripted a powerless infant as a prop in a photo op. Words fail. “Ghoulish and surreal might serve,” said Dahlia Lithwick in Slate.com. The child’s parents are dead because a white nationalist “spouting Trumpist talking points about ‘foreign invaders’” took that racist rhetoric seriously. If Trump were a normal man, let alone a normal president, he would have been somber when meeting that orphaned child, and moved to compassion and critical self-reflection. But not our reality-TV president. All he cares about is getting attention and credit, so he turned that fraught encounter into another opportunity to preen and mug for the camera. “It took a tiny baby to reveal how small Donald Trump really is.” That comparison is “idiotic,” said Bret Stephens in The New York Times. The Dayton shooter had been obsessed with mass shootings for years, and his victims included six black people and his own sister. They “did not fit any political or ethnic profile.” The El Paso shooter’s mostly Hispanic victims, however, “were the objects of his expressly stated political rage.” The Right’s attempt to equate the Dayton and El Paso murderers “is a transparently self-serving effort to absolve the president of moral responsibility.” Like the shooter, Trump uses the word “invasion” to describe immigration, invoking the word in more than 2,000 campaign ads. When Trump asked, “How do you stop these people?” at a rally in Florida earlier this year, someone in the crowd shouted “Shoot them!” The mob cheered and Trump grinned. We’re told to take Trump seriously, but not literally. The El Paso shooter, it seems, “didn’t get that memo.” “We will likely never know how much the El Paso shooter was influenced by rhetoric like Trump’s,” said Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux in FiveThirtyEight.com. But we do know that Latinos “have become more insecure and fearful about their place in the country.” A recent Pew survey found that more than half of Hispanics say their lives have become more difficult since Trump was elected. As an immigrant from Brazil, said Fernanda Santos in The New York Times, “I felt safe in America”—until recently. That has changed under Trump, even though I am a naturalized citizen. Shortly after the election, a man screamed at me to “Speak English!” while I was on the phone outside a coffee shop. I started carrying my passport card in my wallet just in case. But I know that a piece of paper can’t truly protect me, or my mixed-race daughter, because we have brown skin, which now makes us “invaders.” For the first time since I arrived here 21 years ago, I don’t feel like a proud American immigrant. I feel “like a target.”

8-16-19 ICE raids: Why not charge the employer?
ICE’s cruelhearted immigration sweep last week in rural Mississippi is a “win for corporate exploitation,” said Adrian Carrasquillo in NewRepublic.com. About 600 Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents raided six chicken-processing plants and arrested 680 suspected unauthorized workers—one of the largest operations in ICE history. Agents bound the workers’ hands and took them away on buses, “leaving children sobbing and wives tearfully saying goodbye to husbands through chain-link fences.” Some kids returned from school to find that their dad and mom were both in federal custody. Magdalena Gomez Gregorio, 11, pleaded for her father’s release. “Government, please show some heart,” she said. “He’s not a criminal.” But once again, “the cruelty is the point.” Not charged was her father’s employer, poultry giant Koch Foods, which actively recruits undocumented immigrants and pays them pitiful wages to cut, debone, and package chicken under miserable, sometimes dangerous conditions. We should “expand the number of work visas” to address massive labor shortages in low-skill fields. If farms and meat producers used only American workers, “we would all pay much more for meat, fruit, and vegetables.” The raid on the chicken plant underlines President Trump’s “profound hypocrisy” on immigration, said Raul Reyes in CNN.com. His own company “has a history of using illegal labor” at its golf courses and construction sites. Nationwide, just a handful of employers of illegal immigrants were successfully prosecuted in the past year. Arresting migrants is nothing but a distraction, said Paul Waldman in WashingtonPost.com. The number of people coming to or crossing the border is soaring, and the “big, beautiful wall” hasn’t materialized. By any measure, Trump’s immigration policy is “a complete and utter failure.”

8-16-19 Let more in
57% of Americans approve of letting Central American refugees into the country, up from 51% in December.

8-16-19 Don’t repeat the war on terrorism
Should the federal government mount “a war on terrorism” against white nationalists? asked Max Abrahms. After the El Paso massacre and other acts of domestic terrorism by white nationalists, some on the Left are calling for a “massive, post-9/11–like counterterrorism response”—this time, against far-right Americans. The impulse is understandable. The U.S. has poured resources into fighting Islamist terrorism while largely ignoring extremists at home, even though white supremacist terrorism has “historically made up the lion’s share of attacks.” But “in this climate, we run the risk of bouncing from a longtime underreaction to a sudden overreaction.” In the emotional aftermath of 9/11, the U.S. invaded a country with no connection to the attack, tortured and imprisoned suspects without trial, and approved a massive secret surveillance program tracking nearly every phone call in the U.S. and abroad. In the process, we arguably created more terrorists and gave rise to ISIS. White nationalism is a real threat, but it would be a mistake to have the FBI surveilling and rounding up Americans who have discussed “offensive—even reprehensible—political visions” on the internet. Without expressed intent to commit acts of violence, ignorance and bigotry are not crimes.

8-16-19 Background checks
Congressional Democrats raced to advance several gun control measures this week, prioritizing universal background checks for gun sales—a move President Trump endorses. The proposal, which already passed the House, would close a loophole by requiring private gun sellers, not just licensed dealers, to screen buyers for criminal records, mental illness, and other factors that would bar them from gun ownership. Trump says Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell “wants to do background checks,” adding, “I think a lot of Republicans do.” Yet McConnell has been noncommittal on gun reform measures and did not agree to hold a vote on the House bill when the Senate returns from a six-week recess. Democrats have also proposed “red flag” laws, restricting high-capacity magazines, and banning assault weapons—the last of which has support from nearly 200 House Democrats, but faces strong Republican opposition.

8-16-19 Mass shootings
Since a white supremacist killed nine people at an African-American church in Charleston, S.C., on June 17, 2015, mass shootings (when four or more people are killed) have occurred every 47 days on average. Before the 1999 Columbine High School shootings, the pace was roughly once every six months.

8-16-19 Making sure victims don’t survive
Former Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan once proposed a huge tax on the most damaging kinds of ammunition, explaining: “Guns don’t kill people, bullets do.” Recent mass shootings have proved that the late senator “was onto something,” said Francis Wilkinson. In his “sick” manifesto, the El Paso shooter lovingly explains his choices of an AK-47–style semi-automatic weapon and the “8m3 bullet,” which has a cult following because it expands and fragments when it hits human flesh—causing catastrophic wounds. In publications such as the NRA’s official journal, Shooting Illustrated, “bullet talk is as revealing a window on American gun culture as gun talk.” In one ammo review, the writer gives his “thumbs up” to Hornady-brand bullets’ ability to penetrate thick clothing and expand inside the body, causing “deep wound cavities.” When this kind of ammo is paired with semi-automatic rifles, which fire bullets at triple the velocity of most handguns, the effects are “especially gruesome and lethal.” Surgeons who’ve treated victims of assault-rifle mass shootings say organs are so badly shredded that there is “nothing left to repair.” Why are we selling “hyperlethal” guns and bullets designed and marketed to make sure shooting victims can’t possibly survive?

8-16-19 Bombing stopped
An avowed white supremacist was charged this week with plotting to firebomb a synagogue or gay bar in downtown Las Vegas. Prosecutors say Conor Climo, 23, used racist, anti-Semitic, and homophobic slurs on an encrypted online message board with white supremacist “lone wolves” who’d pledged to commit acts of terror and violence. FBI agents searched the home of Climo, who worked as a security guard, finding bomb-making materials, an AR-15 assault-style weapon, and a bolt-action rifle. Climo’s arrest came after he discussed plans to build a “self-contained Molotov” cocktail with an undercover agent and an FBI informant, saying, “I’m more interested in action than online s---.” In 2016, Climo drew headlines when he patrolled his neighborhood in battle gear while carrying an assault rifle, a knife, and four ammunition magazines. He’d broken no laws in the open-carry state.

8-16-19 Pre-emptive raid
Prosecutors charged Justin Olsen this week with threatening to assault a federal officer after the 18-year-old praised mass shootings and endorsed attacks on Planned Parenthood. After months of monitoring Olsen, who amassed an online following posting as “ArmyOfChrist,” the FBI says it rushed to arrest him after recent shootings. Agents searched his father’s home, where Olsen lives, finding 300 rounds of ammunition on a stairway and thousands more in a “gun vault” in his father’s room, along with about 15 rifles and shotguns and 10 semi-automatic pistols. “Don’t comply with gun laws, stock up on stuff they could ban,” Olsen allegedly wrote on online message boards. He praised the Oklahoma City bombing and said the lesson of the deadly 1993 siege in Waco, Texas, was “shoot every federal agent on sight.” Olsen says his posts were “hyperbolic” and “only a joke.”

8-16-19 Mosque attack foiled
An alleged white supremacist wearing a helmet and body armor opened fire in a near-empty mosque outside Oslo last week, only to be tackled to the ground by a worshipper who happened to be a retired Pakistani air force officer. “He started to fire toward the two other men,” said the ex-officer, Mohammad Rafiq, 65. “He put his finger inside my eye, up to here, full finger inside my eye.” Rafiq and two other worshippers subdued the suspect, Philip Manshaus, 21; Manshaus appeared in court two days later with two black eyes. The shooter is believed to have killed his 17-year-old stepsister before attacking the mosque. Manshaus wrote on social media that he had been “chosen” by the Christchurch killer, who massacred 51 people at two New Zealand mosques, and he praised the recent El Paso shootings, in which 22 were killed.

8-16-19 Nazi collaborators honored
Top Polish officials this week honored a partisan group that collaborated with the Nazis and battled the advancing Soviets toward the end of World War II. Most Polish partisans fought fiercely against the Nazis for the duration of the war, and usually it is those units that receive state honors. President Andrzej Duda’s presence at the Warsaw ceremony—marking the 75th anniversary of the founding of the group, the Holy Cross Mountains Brigade—is part of the ruling nationalist Law and Justice party’s pitch to far-right voters ahead of October’s elections. Poland’s chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, rejected an invite to the event, saying such “ceremonies insult the memory of all Polish citizens killed in the fight against Germany.”

8-16-19 Give more power to the President?
43% of Republicans now think the nation’s problems could be addressed more effectively if presidents “didn’t have to worry so much about Congress or the courts”—up from 14% who thought so in 2016. Overall, 66% of Americans say it is too risky to expand presidential power in order to deal with the country’s problems.

8-16-19 Trade: A retreat on new China tariffs
President Trump abruptly suspended plans to impose new tariffs on Chinese imports, to avoid hurting the holiday shopping season, said Josh Zumbrun in The Wall Street Journal. The U.S. has already imposed tariffs of 25 percent on about $250 billion worth of Chinese imports. Angered by the slow progress of negotiations, Trump had threatened a 10 percent levy on consumer goods like smartphones, laptops, toys, and video games starting Sept. 1. But the president retreated Tuesday, saying he would offer a reprieve “for Christmas season.” If all the tariffs planned for September and December are put into effect, they will cover “nearly everything the U.S. imports from China.” The president “finally acknowledges his tariffs could hit consumers,” said Heather Long in The Washington Post. His statements Tuesday were “a noticeable change from his insistence that the Chinese are paying the full cost.” The truth is, up till now, “many U.S. companies opted to absorb a lot of the added costs” of tariffs that had mainly affected component parts. But a tariff on “finished goods like shoes and iPhones” that businesses had already committed to importing would likely be felt by consumers. Suspending the September tariffs eases the immediate burden, but “does little to mitigate the uncertainty surrounding Trump’s trade policy.”

8-16-19 The top line
Twenty-five families now control almost $1.4 trillion in wealth. The world’s wealthiest family, the Waltons of Walmart, have grown their fortune by $39 billion to $191 billion since June 2018—an increase of $4 million every hour.

8-16-19 Black homeownership
The homeownership rate among African-Americans was 40.6 percent in June, which is 33 points lower than the white homeownership rate. Black homeownership is at its lowest rate since 1960, largely because people lost so many homes to the predatory lending policies that led to the 2008 financial collapse.

8-16-19 Heavy emphasis on slavery
White visitors to former slave plantations are objecting in travel-site reviews to the tours’ heavy emphasis on slavery. One reviewer who toured the McLeod Plantation in South Carolina complains of being “subjected to a lecture aimed to instill guilt.” Another writes that “we didn’t come to hear a lecture on how the white people treated slaves.” (Webmaster's comment: So what did you come for? To see how wonderful slavery was for whites?)

8-16-19 Billy Graham Rule
A former North Carolina sheriff’s deputy is suing the police department, claiming he was fired for following the “Billy Graham Rule.” Under the Graham Rule, now also associated with Vice President Mike Pence, men decline to be alone with women other than their wife. Manuel Torres, 51, said his “sincere religious belief” motivated his refusal to ride with female trainees in a patrol car, so he should not have been fired.

8-16-19 Why US lags behind on graphic cigarette warnings
The US wants to put graphic images on cigarette packets - the first change to health warnings on tobacco products in 35 years. Other countries have long used such shock tactics to discourage smokers, so why does the US lag behind? (Webmaster's comment: Because of Greed, Money and Profits!) Grisly images of cancerous tumours and diseased lungs and feet. Stark warnings that smoking can cause everything from blindness and bladder cancer to strokes and stunted foetal growth. If the US Food and Drug Administration gets its way, these mandatory health warnings will feature on cigarette packets from 2021. Those disturbing images - which are shown further down this article - would mark the first change to labels since 1984. The FDA proposed a similar move nine years ago, but it was ultimately blocked in court by tobacco firms on the grounds of free speech. The pictures may be an unwelcome addition for smokers in the US, but in many parts of the world such images are already part of the price of buying a packet of cigarettes. If approved, new warnings from the FDA will feature "photo-realistic" colour images depicting the health risks of smoking. "While most people assume the public knows all they need to understand about the harms of cigarette smoking, there's a surprising number of lesser-known risks that both youth and adult smokers and non-smokers may simply not be aware of," said Acting FDA Commissioner Ned Sharples in a statement. The graphic warnings will cover the top half of the front and back panels of cigarette packages and at least 20% of the top area of cigarette advertisements. "The diseases embedded in these images will improve public understanding of the negative consequences of cigarette smoking," said Mitchell Zeller, head of the FDA's tobacco division.

8-16-19 Truck driven into protesters at US immigrant detention centre
A truck has been driven into protesters blocking the entrance to an ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detention centre in the US state of Rhode Island. The demonstrators were protesting against the treatment of migrants in ICE detention. One of the protestors said that after the truck was driven at them, correctional officers went on to pepper spray demonstrators.

8-16-19 Greenland: Trump warned that island cannot be bought from Denmark
Greenland has said it is "not for sale" after President Donald Trump stated that he would like the US to buy the world's biggest island. The president is said to have discussed the idea of purchasing Greenland, an autonomous Danish territory, during dinners and meetings with advisers. But Greenland's government dismissed the idea, saying: "We're open for business, not for sale." Mr Trump's plans have also been quickly dismissed by politicians in Denmark. "It must be an April Fool's Day joke...but totally out of [season]!", tweeted former Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen. The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), which first reported the news, said Mr Trump had spoken about the purchase with "varying degrees of seriousness". Sources quoted in other media differed over whether the president was joking or seriously hoping to expand US territory. Officials in Greenland have insisted that the island is not on the market. "Greenland is rich in valuable resources such as minerals, the purest water and ice, fish stocks, seafood, renewable energy and is a new frontier for adventure tourism. We're open for business, not for sale," the foreign ministry said in a statement shared on social media. Greenland Premier Kim Kielsen repeated the comments in a separate statement. "Greenland is not for sale, but Greenland is open for trade and cooperation with other countries, including the USA," he said. Greenland MP Aaja Chemnitz Larsen was also among those to dismiss the president's interest. "No thanks to Trump buying Greenland!", she wrote on Twitter, adding that a "better and more equal partnership with Denmark" was the way forward. Poul Krarup, editor-in-chief of Greenland's Sermitsiaq newspaper, told the BBC he "couldn't believe" Mr Trump's remarks. "Greenland is an independent area in the Danish kingdom and must be respected as such," he said. But he said he thought the chances of Mr Trump's reported ambitions being realised were unlikely. "We'd like to cooperate with the US, no doubt about that, but we are independent and we decide who our friends are."

8-15-19 Donald Trump's moment of crisis
The moment of crisis has finally arrived for President Trump. Does anybody think he is prepared to handle it? This week, the stock market sank more than 800 points on fears that a recession is in the offing. Across the Pacific Ocean, China's confrontation with Hong Kong protesters appears to be coming to an inflection point — with results that could reverberate throughout the world economy. And in India, a decades-old stalemate over control of Kashmir seems to be ending badly and dangerously. This isn't just a moment of crisis. It's moments, plural. So far, Trump has reacted precisely as you'd expect. Which is to say, badly. He's blaming the pending recession on the Federal Reserve. Publicly, he's shrugging at the conflict in Hong Kong — "I hope it works out for everybody," he said. But privately, he's reportedly deferential to the possibility of a Chinese military crackdown and offered a "personal meeting" with Chinese President Xi Jinping to resolve the matter. As for Kashmir, Trump has already withdrawn his offer to mediate that crisis. Most of this leadership — if you can call it that — has taken place on Twitter. None of it seems to be working. If the president has a real plan to deal with these events, it is not readily apparent. Instead, Trump is acting as he always has, relying on an unshakeable belief in his own personal charm and negotiating skills to solve long-intractable issues — "I alone can fix it" was his unforgettably hubristic campaign promise — and blaming everybody but himself when things go badly.

8-15-19 Philadelphia shooting: Mayor calls for gun control
The mayor of Philadelphia has joined growing calls for gun control after a shootout in his city left six officers injured as they served a drug warrant. "Our officers need help," said Mayor Jim A gun battle broke out between police and a gunman on Wednesday, leading to a seven-hour stand-off. The suspect reportedly carried a semi-automatic rifle and several handguns. Mr Kenney called out politicians for their failure to address the gun crisis and confront the National Rifle Association's powerful gun rights lobby. "It's aggravating, it's saddening," Mr Kenney said. "If the state and federal government don't want to stand up to the NRA and some other folks, then let us police ourselves." He added: "Our officers deserve to be protected and they don't deserve to be shot at by a guy for hours with an unlimited supply of weapons and an unlimited supply of bullets." US President Donald Trump also weighed in on the shooting, tweeting Thursday morning that the Philadelphia shooting suspect "should never have been allowed on the streets". "Long sentence - must get much tougher on street crime!" he wrote. The male suspect, named by US media as 36-year-old Maurice Hill, was taken into custody on Wednesday. The Philadelphia police officers were serving a warrant at a home in Philadelphia's Nicetown-Tiago neighbourhood when the gunman opened fire at about 16:30 local time (20:30 GMT). (Webmaster's comment: We need to ban all semi-automatic weapons and weapons with over a 6 shot capacity!)

8-15-19 Israel bars Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib from visiting
Israel is blocking two US Democratic lawmakers and prominent critics of Israel from visiting. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib were due to visit the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem next week. Both have supported the boycott movement against Israel, but Israeli law allows supporters of the campaign to be banned from visiting. President Trump earlier tweeted it would show "great weakness" if the pair were allowed entry. On Thursday, Mr Trump took to Twitter to urge that they be blocked from visiting, adding that "they hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds". The two US lawmakers have yet to comment on the decision. Israeli law blocks entrance visas to any foreigner who calls for any type of boycott that targets Israel - either economic, cultural or academic. The law attempts to suppress the "boycott, divest, sanction" movement, which has drawn growing support across Europe and the US. Israeli officials had earlier said they would make an exception for the elected US officials, before backtracking. According to US media, their trip was meant to begin on Sunday, and would include a stop at one of the most sensitive sites in the region - a hilltop plateau in Jerusalem known to Jews as the Temple Mount and Muslims as Haram al-Sharif. They also planned to visit Israeli and Palestinian peace activists and travel to Jerusalem and the West Bank cities of Bethlehem, Ramallah and Hebron. The trip to the West Bank was planned by Miftah, an organisation headed by Palestinian peace negotiator Hanan Ashrawi. Ms Tlaib was planning to stay for two extra days to visit her grandmother, who lives in a Palestinian village. (Webmaster's comment: They do not hate the Israeli people, just the Israeli government.)

8-15-19 YouTube: LGBT video-makers sue claiming discrimination
A group of YouTube video-makers is suing it and parent company Google, claiming both discriminate against LGBT-themed videos and their creators. The group claims YouTube restricts advertising on LGBT videos and limits their reach and discoverability. But YouTube said sexual orientation and gender identity played no role in deciding whether videos could earn ad revenue or appear in search results. A group is hoping a jury will hear its case in California. The legal action makes a wide range of claims, including that YouTube: 1. removes advertising from videos featuring "trigger words" such as "gay" or "lesbian" 2. often labels LGBT-themed videos as "sensitive" or "mature" and restricts them from appearing in search results or recommendations 3. does not do enough to filter harassment and hate speech in the comments section. It was filed by a group of video-makers from the US, including: 1. singer Bria Kam and actor Chrissy Chambers, who run a joint YouTube channel with more than 850,000 subscribers 2. Amp Somers, who produces sex education videos 3. Chase Ross, who documents his experiences as a transgender man 4. Lindsay Amer, who produces LGBT-themed educational videos. The legal action also claims Google refused to let the creators of a show called GNews! advertise their programme, because it contained "shocking" content. In a phone call heard by BBC News, one Google ad representative told the programme's producers that "sexuality content about the gays" broke its advertising rules.

8-14-19 Is rich people's excessive income about to strangle the economy?
There is an economic warning sign which has gone off before every recession going back to the 1960s (and only delivered one false positive). It's called a yield curve inversion — and it just happened on Wednesday. Gulp. Now, this doesn't guarantee a recession, of course. Even going back that far, we're only talking about a sample size of seven. But it certainly suggests there's a decent likelihood of another downturn happening soon. And while there would be many factors behind it if it does happen, there is one big one that can't be ignored: Rich people have too much dang money. Briefly, the classic yield curve inversion is when the yield (that is, the interest that is paid to bond buyers) of a 10-year U.S. government bond goes below that of a 3-month bond. This is quite odd — typically investors receive a higher return for a longer-term loan, because they are taking on a greater risk — and it tends to indicate that investors are fleeing to safety, trying to lock in a half-decent return on their money before everything goes pear-shaped. (Incidentally, stocks were in the toilet Wednesday morning.) However, as James Mackintosh points out at the Wall Street Journal, in most previous inversion events other types of bonds inverted too — the 10-year under the 5-year, and the 30-year under the 10-year — which hasn't yet happened. As Bloomberg's Joe Weisenthal supposes, it might just be a bond market signal that the Federal Reserve should cut interest rates. At any rate, it is definitely the case that the U.S. economy is rather wobbly, along with most of the rest of the world. The eurozone — which never fully recovered from the Great Recession — is struggling, and regional keystone Germany is actually in recession. Trump's flailing trade war with China seems to have done little except harm both countries, and a bunch of bystander nations to boot. Another thing Trump and the GOP have done is dump a giant pile of money on rich people with tax cuts, further exacerbating U.S. income inequality (which was already horrible). And all other things being equal, greater inequality means a weaker, more vulnerable economy.

8-14-19 Biologists have a problem with homosexuality – they should get over it
Studies that reduce human sexuality to two neat categories – gay and straight – are bad science and stoke societal prejudice, says neuroethologist Andrew Barron TWO things are clear about human sexual orientation. First, it is biological; second, it is complex. Sexual behaviour, identity, attractions and fantasies don’t line up neatly. Consistently, biologists fail to recognise this. In their 1948 book Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, Alfred Kinsey and his collaborators showed how male sexuality varies smoothly, from a majority identifying as completely heterosexual to a minority who identify as gay. Men “do not represent two discrete populations, heterosexual and homosexual”, wrote Kinsey. “The world is not to be divided into sheep and goats.” He concluded the same for women five years later. Biologists often look for factors related to sexual orientation, be they genetic, hormonal or in the brain. It is easier to search for differences between two starkly different groups, so the smooth variation in sexuality Kinsey described collapses to an artificial binary: heterosexual or homosexual, or sometimes heterosexual or non-heterosexual. How the boundaries of these categories are drawn varies wildly. In some studies, “homosexual” means anyone who identifies as mostly or entirely gay or lesbian; in others, anyone who has had any type of same-sex experience. Bisexual people are either lumped in with gay and lesbian people in a non-heterosexual category or excluded for being “inconsistent”. Women can also be excluded, as female sexuality is often considered too variable. Why does this all matter? As Rebecca Jordan-Young discussed in her book Brain Storm a decade ago, by distorting sexual orientation to fit what we assume it is, we risk editing out the most informative data points – and drawing false conclusions.

8-14-19 Everyone will eventually turn on Trump. Even Steve Doocy.
It's too soon to say when Donald Trump's presidency will end, but it's not too soon to say how it will end. It will end in disgrace. And when it does, Trump's defenders will turn on him. Some already have. On Sunday, Anthony Scaramucci, Trump's former communications director, said that Republicans should "replace the top of the ticket in 2020." Former White House aide and Apprentice contestant Omarosa Manigault never had a bad word to say about Trump when she worked for him. Trump said he hired her "because she said GREAT things about me." But after she left the White House, she said Trump was "mentally impaired" and accused him of saying the N-word. Michael Cohen, Trump's former personal attorney, said he was "mesmerized" by Trump when he worked for him. It wasn't until after Cohen quit working for Trump and was sentenced to prison — as a result, in part, of lying for Trump — that he ceased to be mesmerized and instead became disgusted. In congressional testimony, he called Trump a "racist," a "cheat," and a "conman." Trump's sycophants are as loyal as he is — which is to say, not at all. In The Art of the Deal, Trump counted Roy Cohn as a friend, calling him "a truly loyal guy." After Cohn contracted AIDS, Trump "dropped him like a hot potato," according to Susan Bell, Cohn's longtime secretary. That's the kind of friend Trump is — the kind you don't want. The people who are loyal to Trump are loyal not because they like him as a person but because they have something to gain from him. In an interview with The New York Times, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) admitted that he embraced Trump "to try to be relevant." So far, his plan has worked superbly — Graham has a recurring slot on Hannity. Once Trump is gone, however, Graham will no longer need the man he once dismissed as "the world's biggest jackass." He will find someone else to latch onto, and he will forget about Trump just as he forgot about John McCain.

8-14-19 Trump official revises Statue of Liberty poem to defend migrant rule change
A top US immigration official has revised a quote inscribed on the Statue of Liberty in defence of a new policy that denies food aid to legal migrants. The head of Citizenship and Immigration Services tweaked the passage: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free". The official added the words "who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge". He later said the poem had referred to "people coming from Europe". Ken Cuccinelli, the Trump administration's acting head of Citizenship and Immigration Services, announced on Monday a new "public charge" requirement that limits legal migrants from seeking certain public benefits such as public housing or food aid, or are considered likely to do so in the future. The new regulation, known as a "public charge rule", was published in the Federal Register on Monday and will take effect on 15 October. The rule change is intended to reinforce "ideals of self-sufficiency", officials said. Critics argue that it will prevent low-income US residents from seeking help. On Tuesday, Mr Cuccinelli was asked by NPR whether the 1883 poem titled The New Colossus at the Statue of Liberty on New York's Ellis Island still applied. "Would you also agree that Emma Lazarus's words etched on the Statue of Liberty, 'Give me your tired, give me your poor,' are also a part of the American ethos?" asked NPR's Rachel Martin. "They certainly are," Mr Cuccinelli responded. "Give me your tired and your poor - who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge." "That plaque was put on the Statue of Liberty at almost the same time as the first public charge [law] was passed - very interesting timing," he added. The actual passage reads in part: "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" (Webmaster's comment: Trump's attempt to rewrite history!)

8-14-19 ICE office shootings in Texas blamed on ‘political rhetoric’
Bullets fired at US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) offices in Texas were a "targeted attack" against federal employees, the FBI has said. Several shots were fired at around 03:00 local time (08:00 GMT) on Tuesday at the offices in San Antonio. Two neighbouring buildings came under fire, but no injuries were reported, the FBI said in a statement. The FBI said it was "reviewing surveillance footage" as part of its investigation into the shootings. No arrests have been made and investigators are looking for suspects, according to US media reports. In a statement, ICE blamed the shootings on "political rhetoric" and "misinformation" about the Trump administration's detention policies. ICE under the Trump administration has been heavily criticised for its treatment of undocumented immigrants held at detention centres near the US-Mexico border. "This disturbing public discourse shrouds our critical law enforcement function and unnecessarily puts our officers' safety at risk," said Daniel Bible, ICE's director for San Antonio. The shootings were called "cowardly, brazen, violent acts" by Christopher Combs, head of the FBI's San Antonio operations. Mr Combs said those responsible for firing the shots "did some research" because they "knew what floors ICE was on, and they hit those". "All of the shots that we have found are on the floors where ICE had offices," Mr Combs said, calling the incident "a very targeted attack". Although no one was injured, Mr Combs said "we could be here today talking about the murder of a federal official" had the bullets "gone two inches in another direction". (Webmaster's comment: ICE is really bad, but this is not the answer!)

8-13-19 Trump wants to make immigration white again
On Monday, Emma Lazarus wept. Lazarus, of course, was the poet who celebrated that the United States welcomes the tired, the poor, the huddled masses of other lands. But on Monday, the Trump administration unveiled a new immigration policy that upends that tradition. The poor are no longer welcome. Instead, the immigrants with the best chances at getting past the gatekeepers and settling in America going forward will be rich, credentialed, and white. Under the new policy, federal authorities will use "aggressive" wealth tests to reject residency or citizenship for an immigrant "because he or she is likely at any time to become a public charge" — receiving food stamps or other taxpayer-funded welfare state benefits. And officials can make that determination by considering the migrant's "age; health; family status; assets, resources, and financial status; and education and skills." In other words, the best way to avoid deportation under this new policy is to not be poor. This is a betrayal of America's historic promise: The immigrants who arrived at Ellis Island a century ago did not, for the most part, come here on private yachts or in first-class berths. They came here to build new lives for themselves, and in the process, helped build their new country. In practice, the new rule almost certainly means that more European migrants will go to the front of the line, and people of color will go to the back. According to the Pew Research Center, Mexicans comprise the largest group of migrants to the United States, but they are the group that most often arrives without a high school education. Migrants from Europe are the least likely to do so. And the Social Security Administration has found that first-generation immigrants from Europe and Japan "have initial earnings approaching or exceeding" other groups, including their U.S.-born counterparts. That's the kind of information immigration officials will use to determine who is economically viable — and thus ostensibly worthy of residency in the United States — and who is not. It seems unlikely that the racial component of this is an accident. Trump, after all, once famously lamented the influx of migrants from "shithole countries" and pined for more arrivals from Norway. It was not difficult to understand what he meant. Rule-making on explicitly racial grounds would be vulnerable to a legal challenge, however. Which makes wealth a useful — if dubious — proxy. Administration officials tried to make the new rule sound reasonable. "The benefit to taxpayers is a long-term benefit of seeking to ensure that our immigration system is bringing people to join us as American citizens, as legal permanent residents first, who can stand on their own two feet, who will not be reliant on the welfare system, especially in the age of the modern welfare state which is so expansive and expensive," said Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.

8-13-19 Support for Allowing Border Refugees Into U.S. Edges Up
Americans are slightly more likely now (57%) than in December of last year (51%) to support allowing refugees from Central America into the U.S. Among the three main U.S. partisan groups, Democrats remain most supportive of allowing the refugees entry, with the current 85% approving similar to the 82% recorded in December. The largest increase in support has been among Republicans, from 14% in December to 24% now. Approval among independents increased slightly from 52% in December to 58% today. (Webmaster's comment: The atrocities being committed by ICE and supported by Trump are driving the increase of support for immigrants.)

  • 57% approve admitting Central American refugees, up from 51% in December
  • Support for allowing refugees entry up among Republicans, independents
  • 39% say the situation at the U.S. border with Mexico is a "crisis"

8-12-19 Trump targets legal migrants who get food aid
US President Donald Trump's administration is to make it more difficult for poorer legal migrants to extend their visas or gain permanent resident status (a green card). The rule targets migrants who rely on public benefits, such as food aid or public housing, for more than a year. Their applications will be rejected if the government decides they are likely to rely on public assistance in future. The rule change would reinforce "ideals of self-sufficiency," officials said. The new regulation, known as a "public charge rule", was published in the Federal Register on Monday and will take effect on 15 October. Immigrants who are already permanent residents in the US are unlikely to be affected by the rule change. It also does not apply to refugees and asylum applicants. But applicants for visa extensions, green cards or US citizenship will be subject to the change. Those who do not meet income standards or who are deemed likely to rely on benefits such as Medicaid (government-run healthcare) or housing vouchers in future may be blocked from entering the country. Those already in the US could also have their applications rejected. An estimated 22 million legal residents in the US are without citizenship, and many of these are likely to be affected. Civil rights groups have said the move unfairly targets low-income immigrants. The National Immigration Law Center (NILC) has said it will sue the Trump administration to stop the regulation from taking effect. But the White House said the current system favours immigrants with family ties rather than those who "are self-sufficient and do not strain our public resources". (Webmaster's comment: Trump and his racist lackeys will do anything they can to harm immigrants, legal or otherwise.)

8-12-19 Religion and Drinking Alcohol in the U.S.
Americans who attend religious services weekly are less likely than others to drink alcohol, reflecting the centuries-old connection in American history between religion and the perceived immorality of drinking. As my colleague Lydia Saad recently pointed out in her annual review of Gallup's trends on drinking, the percentage of Americans in general who say they "have occasion to use alcohol" has remained remarkably steady over the years that Gallup has tracked the measure. The percentage of U.S. adults (aged 18 and older) who say they consume alcohol has averaged 63% since Gallup first asked the question in 1939 and is at 65% this year. That leaves 34% who say they are total abstainers, roughly the same as the average of 36.5% measured since 1939. Being a total abstainer (or a "teetotaler," the colorful term that originated in the temperance movement to describe those who don't drink any alcoholic beverages) varies modestly by a number of traditional demographic variables. Older adults, women, those with lower levels of education, blacks and Hispanics are more likely than others to abstain. But one of the most significant predictors of drinking alcohol, and my interest in this column, is religion. Using an aggregate of our last six years of asking Americans about their drinking habits, we find a basic inverse linear relationship between drinking and church attendance. Those who attend weekly -- the devoutly religious -- are clearly in a class of their own when it comes to abstention. Half of this group are total abstainers, well above the national average and particularly higher than the 29% who are total abstainers among those who never attend church. Also, among the group of Americans who admit to drinking at least occasionally, highly religious Americans drink less frequently and are less likely to report drinking too much on occasion.

8-12-19 China, Not U.S., May Be the Land of Opportunity for Children
Aug. 12 marks International Youth Day, which this year focuses on efforts to make education more relevant, equitable and inclusive for all the world's youth. This analysis is one of two that looks at how people around the world view opportunities for children in their countries to learn and grow. The U.S. has deficits other than trade to worry about with China. Since the early days of the global economic crisis, China has led the U.S. by as much as 20 percentage points on Gallup's question of whether most children in their respective countries have the opportunity to learn and grow every day. In 2018, 92% of Chinese adults said most children in their country have these types of opportunities, while 74% of U.S. adults said the same. The two countries are the world's largest economies, but you wouldn't know that based on how people in each country answer this question. Among 20 of the world's biggest economic players, the U.S. has the largest GDP, but it ranks 14th on that short list in terms of the opportunities Americans perceive for children in the U.S. China's overall GDP is second-largest in the world, but it ranks third on the opportunities that its adults see for children in China. China's rising literacy rate -- which increased from 65.51% in 1982 to 96.36% in 2015 -- and its higher math and science scores than the U.S. on the OECD PISA (a global assessment of mathematics, reading and science skills) may lend support to why so many Chinese might see the situation so positively for their nation's children. It might also help explain why Chinese adults are highly satisfied with the quality of the educational system or the schools where they live. In 2018, 70% -- a new high -- said they were satisfied with the quality of their local educational system, compared with 64% of Americans.

8-12-19 Google's hate speech-detecting AI appears to be racially biased
Artificially intelligent hate speech detectors show racial biases. While such AIs automate the immense task of filtering abusive or offensive online content, they may inadvertently silence minorities. Maarten Sap at the University of Washington in the US and his colleagues have found that AIs trained to recognise online hate speech were up to twice as likely to identify tweets as offensive when they were written with African-American English or by people who identify as African American. This includes Perspective, a tool built by Google’s Counter Abuse Technology team and sister company Jigsaw to spot online abuse. Perspective assigns toxicity ratings to text, and is used by organisations including the New York Times to moderate online discussions. AIs that detect hate speech are trained on datasets of text that have been manually categorised by humans as being innocuous or offensive. Sap and colleagues studied two commonly used datasets of text that are used to train hate-speech detecting AIs. These totalled more than 100,000 tweets, which humans had manually annotated with labels such as “hate speech”, “offensive”, and “none”. The team found a significant correlation between tweets that were written with African-American English (AAE), a dialect spoken primarily by black people in the US, and the likelihood of their being labelled by a human as toxic. This may be because certain slang words that are used inoffensively in AAE vernacular are sometimes insulting when used in other contexts, such as white people talking about black people. They then trained two AIs on these tweets – the worst-performing falsely categorised 46 percent of inoffensive AAE tweets as offensive. Testing the AIs on bigger datasets, including one of 5.4 million tweets where the authors had self-identified their race, the team found that tweets by African American authors were 1.5 times more likely to be labelled as offensive.


FEMINISM

8-17-19 Mexico teen rape cases: Women protest against police violence
Hundreds of women took to the streets of Mexico City on Friday to demand protection from the police after a number of recent high-profile sexual assault cases involving officers. The initially peaceful rally ended with some protesters lighting a fire on the second floor of a police building and vandalising a bus station. The protests were sparked by two recent cases - that of a 17-year-old who said four policemen raped her in their patrol car, and a 16-year-old who said a policeman raped her in a museum.

8-17-19 Allyson Felix: Nike changes policy for pregnant athletes
Six-time Olympic gold medallist Allyson Felix says female athletes will "no longer be financially penalised for having a child" after Nike changed its contracts for pregnant athletes. In a letter shared by Felix on social media, Nike says it will "not apply any performance-related reduction" for 18 months if an athlete becomes pregnant. Felix's daughter Camryn was born prematurely in November. In May, she said Nike wanted to pay her 70% less after she became a mother. Writing in the New York Times at the time, Felix, 33, said: "I asked Nike to contractually guarantee that I wouldn't be punished if I didn't perform at my best in the months surrounding childbirth. "I wanted to set a new standard. If I, one of Nike's most widely marketed athletes, couldn't secure these protections, who could? Nike declined." Felix returned to racing for the first time in 13 months in July at the US National Championships. After the meet, she decided to not renew her Nike contact and joined women's athletic wear company Athleta. On social media on Friday, Felix posted a picture of the letter from Nike executive vice president of global sports marketing John Slusher. She wrote: "Our voices have power. "Nike has joined in officially and contractually providing maternal protection to the female athletes they sponsor. This means that female athletes will no longer be financially penalised for having a child." In a statement to Sports Illustrated, Nike said: "Female athletes and their representatives will begin receiving written confirmation reaffirming Nike's official pregnancy policy for elite athletes. "In addition to our 2018 policy standardising our approach across all sports to ensure no female athlete is adversely impacted financially for pregnancy, the policy has now been expanded to cover 18 months."

8-16-19 Postponing menopause
British scientists say they have developed a surgical procedure that can delay menopause for up to 20 years, a potentially life-changing breakthrough for millions of women. Menopause can trigger symptoms including anxiety, hot flashes, a reduced sex drive, and in extreme cases, heart disease and bone-weakening osteoporosis. The procedure—offered only to women under 40—starts with a 30-minute operation in which tissue is removed from the patient’s ovaries. The sample is then frozen at minus 238 degrees Fahrenheit. When the patient begins menopause, the tissue is thawed and grafted back into the body—triggering the release of hormones that put menopause on hold. Ten women in the U.K. have undergone the initial procedure; one had the regraft immediately because she was having a hysterectomy and wanted to avoid premature menopause. “Being able to delay menopause has been life-changing,” Dixie-Louise Dexter, 33, tells The Times (U.K.). How long the procedure holds off menopause depends on a patient’s age when the tissue is extracted: Tissue from a 25-year-old could postpone menopause by 20 years, while a sample from a 40-year-old might delay its onset by five years. A similar procedure has been used to preserve fertility in girls and women who are receiving treatment for cancer.

8-16-19 Bushnell’s sexual hindsight
Candace Bushnell has second thoughts on Sex and the City, said Laura Pullman in The Times (U.K.). Not the HBO series itself, a “game-changing cultural phenomenon” based on Bushnell’s 1997 novel of the same name, but rather the lifestyle it championed. The book and show, which were inspired by her sex advice newspaper column, broke down stigmas about single women having carefree flings. She’s now 60, single, and childless. “I don’t want to be shot down,” Bushnell says, “but I do see that people with children have an anchor in a way that people who have no kids don’t.” After getting divorced in 2012, she spent five years in rural Connecticut writing, riding horses, and dating little. “I felt a burden,” she admits, “maybe of disappointment or shame.” When a woman is single in her 50s, she says, people act as though “you didn’t do something right.” She still wants to look sexy, getting regular Botox (“though it stops working so well as you get older”) and fillers (“though you try not to get too much”). She’s also back dating in Manhattan, but doesn’t regret her years of celibacy. “Did I miss some pure good sex? Of course,” she says. But “finding the person to have the sex with—I couldn’t deal with it.”

8-14-19 Steve King: Rape and incest 'aided population growth'
Democrats are calling for a Republican congressman to resign after he defended abortion bans by saying that humankind might not exist but for rape or incest. Without rape or incest "would there be any population of the world left?" nine-term lawmaker Steve King asked the Des Moines Register newspaper. Mr King was defending anti-abortion legislation that does not make exceptions for rape or incest. Democrats Kirsten Gillibrand and Bernie Sanders soon demanded he step down. "You are a disgrace. Resign," Ms Gillibrand wrote on Twitter. Her remarks were quickly echoed by other 2020 Democratic hopefuls Cory Booker, Beto O'Rourke and Julián Castro. A Republican lawmaker, Iowa state Senator Randy Feenstra, also criticised Mr King's remarks. "I am 100% pro-life but Steve King's bizarre comments and behaviour diminish our message," he wrote on Twitter. On Wednesday, Mr King told the Des Moines Register that the Republican leadership had stopped bills he sponsored banning abortions from advancing through the US House of Representatives. "What if we went back through all the family trees and just pulled out anyone who was a product of rape or incest? Would there be any population of the world left if we did that?" Mr King said on Wednesday. "Considering all the wars and all the rapes and pillages that happened throughout all these different nations, I know that I can't say that I was not a part of a product of that." (Webmaster's comment: Brute males have always defended rape and incest. Anything to get off!)

8-14-19 Plácido Domingo accused of sexual harassment
The opera singer Plácido Domingo has been accused of sexually harassing several women over a number of decades. Eight singers and a dancer claim they were sexually harassed by the Spanish tenor from the late 1980s, according to the Associated Press news agency. Only one of the women, mezzo-soprano Patricia Wulf, agreed to be named. Domingo has denied the accusations, and the Los Angeles Opera - which he directs - has pledged to investigate with the help of "outside counsel". "Still, it is painful to hear that I may have upset anyone or made them feel uncomfortable no matter how long ago and despite my best intentions," continued Mr Domingo. "People who know me or who have worked with me know that I am not someone who would intentionally harm, offend, or embarrass anyone." Six other women also claim the tenor made them feel uncomfortable by making "sexual overtures" towards them, AP reported. Ms Wulf said he didn't physically touch her but would come up close to her every time she walked off stage and ask if she "had to go home tonight". Another woman said Domingo put his hand down her skirt on one occasion. Three others said he forcefully kissed them. The incidents are said to have taken place in different venues including a dressing room, a hotel room, during a meeting and at opera companies where Domingo held managerial positions. "A business lunch is not strange," one of the singers told AP. "Somebody trying to hold your hand during a business lunch is strange or putting their hand on your knee is a little strange. He was always touching you in some way, and always kissing you." Domingo was due to appear at the Philadelphia Orchestra's opening night concert on 18 September but the organisation said, in the light of the allegations, it had withdrawn its invitation.

8-14-19 The children sent to a DR Congo 'holiday camp' never to come back
A court in Belgium is investigating an orphanage for alleged abduction and trafficking of children from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Children were brought to Belgium and adopted by families who had been told they were orphans. Years later, DNA tests have proved that in some cases they were not. Hundreds of miles north of DR Congo's capital, Kinshasa, is the village of Gemena. Most people make a living from agriculture or fishing; others are carpenters or shopkeepers. Abdula Libenge, a 34-year-old tailor, is the father of one of four families in the area who in May 2015 sent a child away to Kinshasa on what they thought was a holiday camp. Their children never came back. Without access to legal representation or assistance from local authorities, all they could do was wait. About two years after Mr Libenge's daughter disappeared, he received an unexpected visit that would finally shed light on what happened. Belgian journalists Kurt Wertelaers and Benoit de Freine had got wind of an inquiry beginning into adoption fraud in their country. The Belgian public prosecutor had strong indications that the biological parents of a number of Congolese children adopted in Belgium were still alive, and the pair had set out to find them. Their search led them from Brussels to Abdula Libenge's workshop in Gemena. He took them inside and produced a picture of his daughter. "Taken on the day she left for Kinshasa," he told them. "She was so happy. We'll never get the chance to go to Kinshasa. We can't afford the plane ticket. But she got the chance, and it made us proud." It was one of several photos of the group of three girls and one boy, then aged between two and four. One photo shows them with a young man from a youth organisation, their chaperone to the so-called holiday camp. (Webmaster's comment: Belgium's current mistreatment of Africans harks back to Belgium's genicide of 10-15 million Africans in the Congo.)

8-13-19 Sperm sorting method could prevent girls being born, scientists warn
Scientists warn that sex ratios could be skewed even further by the discovery of physical differences between sperm. The finding that some chemicals slow down sperm that carry the X chromosome could lead to gels for home use that make a couple less likely to conceive a girl, scientists have warned. “I am concerned about the social impact of this,” says Alireza Fazeli of Tartu University in Estonia. “It’s so simple. You could start to do it in your bedroom. Nobody would be able to stop you from doing it. It was thought that the sperm of mammals that lead to male and female offspring are identical except for the DNA they carry. But Masayuki Shimada of Hiroshima University in Japan and his colleagues have found that 500 genes are active in sperm that carry the X chromosome, which give rise to female offspring, that aren’t active in sperm that carry the Y chromosome, which lead to male offspring. Of these genes, 18 code for proteins that stick out from the sperm cell’s surface. The team has found that chemicals that bind to two of these proteins can slow down the movement of X-carrying sperm without affecting the Y-carrying ones. This discovery makes it simple to separate sperm according to the sex of the offspring they could produce. When the researchers used this method on mouse sperm, they found that selecting the fastest swimmers for conception led to 90 per cent of the resulting pups being male. When they used slowed-down sperm, the pups were 81 per cent female (PLoS Biology, DOI: 10.1371/ journal.pbio.3000398). The researchers focus on livestock, and they have found that the technique works in cattle and pigs (see “Why sort sperm?”, below). They haven’t tried it on human sperm, but Shimada says he thinks it would work.

8-13-19 Whitney Cummings, US comedian, tweets nipple photo to stop extortion
A US comedian has tweeted a photo of her own nipple after followers used it to try and extort money from her. Whitney Cummings said she accidentally posted the image on Instagram in April, but deleted it soon afterwards. Someone took a screenshot and sent it to her, with the message: "How much would it cost to not share this photo?" Re-posting the photo, Cummings wrote: "If anyone is gonna make money or likes off my nipple, it's gonna be me. So here it all is, you foolish dorks." People later posted their own embarrassing photos with the hashtag #IStandWithWhitney - including comedian Bert Kreischer, who tweeted a picture of his injured testicles. Cummings had posted an Instagram story of herself eating a lychee fruit in the bath, without realising that part of her breast and nipple were in the frame. After noticing, she deleted it. Posting on Twitter, Cummings wrote: "In April I accidentally posted an insta story that showed nipple. Once I realised, I deleted. The people who took screen grabs are trying to get money from me, some said they have offers to sell them, some are asking for money to not post the photo. "They all must think I'm way more famous than I am, but they also must think I'm way more easily intimidated than I am." She then posted a screenshot of one of the messages she had received, along with the photo itself. "When a woman in the public eye is extorted, we have to spend time, money and energy dealing with it, hiring lawyers and security experts, and living with a pit in our stomach about when and how we will be humiliated," she added. "Y'all can have my nipple, but not my time or money anymore." A few hours later she tweeted that she was receiving threats from people claiming to have access to photos of her stored on her iCloud. I'll be honest, I stand by most of my nudes," she wrote. "Frankly I'm way more embarrassed by all the inspirational quotes I've screen grabbed." (Webmaster's comment: Only in America do the males do this crap to women.)

8-13-19 Danish PM apologises for historical abuse in children's homes
Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen has officially said sorry to hundreds of victims of historical abuse in state-run homes. From 1945 to 1976 children were sexually abused, beaten and drugged at the homes, an official inquiry found. The abuse took place across Denmark and campaigners have for years appealed to the state to accept it was at fault. "The apology means everything. All we wanted was peace of mind," said one of the victims, Arne Roel Jorgensen. The sixty-eight-year-old told the BBC how the lives of many of the children had been ruined by the abuse. Alcohol, drugs, multiple jobs and failed marriages had all taken their toll. The Social Democrat prime minister met dozens of victims of the scandal at her official residence at Marienborg on Tuesday. "I would like to look every one of you in the eyes and say sorry," she told them. "I can't take the blame but I can shoulder the responsibility." Many were in tears as she said that children had been taken from their parents and instead of getting support and warmth, they received humiliation and abuse. "The authorities did nothing. As a society, we cannot and must not close our eyes," she had said earlier. Details about the homes first hit the headlines in 2005, when a Danish TV documentary featured shocking allegations of abuse and mistreatment from victims of the state-run Godhavn Boys' Home, in north-eastern Denmark.The documentary also uncovered evidence that a psychiatrist had tested drugs on some of the children. Bjorn Elmquist, then an MP who had already been working on the abuse cases, said the drug LSD had been used to counter bed-wetting, leading to many of the children later becoming drug addicts. Soon after the programme, the National Association of the Godhavn's Boys was formed and an independent inquiry was conducted in 2010.

8-13-19 Brazil's indigenous women protest against Bolsonaro policies
Hundreds of indigenous women occupied a building of Brazil's health ministry in the capital, Brasília, on Monday to protest against the policies of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro. The group of some 300 protesters demanded better healthcare for indigenous people, especially women, and condemned proposed changes to how these services are delivered. The Bolsonaro government wants to make towns and cities responsible for providing medical services to indigenous people, and community leaders fear local authorities lack the infrastructure and specialised units required. The federal government is currently in charge of healthcare, and indigenous communities are visited by specially trained professionals. The protesters, who are in the city for the first March of Indigenous Women, sang and danced inside and outside the building of the Special Secretariat of Indigenous Health, known as Sesai. "We've been left abandoned. They treat indigenous people like animals," 43-year-old Teresa Cristina Kezonazokere told Correio Braziliense newspaper (in Portuguese). The demonstration ended almost 10 hours later, when Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta said he would talk to some of their leaders. There were no reports of violence. Organisers say the event in Brasília aims to highlight the role of women in indigenous communities. On Wednesday, some 1,500 indigenous women from 110 ethnic groups are expected to join a protest to defend rights they say are under threat under Mr Bolsonaro. "We don't have to accept the destruction of our rights," said indigenous leader Sônia Guajajara. The president has promised to integrate indigenous people into the rest of the population and repeatedly questioned the existence of their protected reserves, which are rights guaranteed in the country's constitution. Mr Bolsonaro, who supports policies that favour development over conservation, says the indigenous territories are too big in relation to the number of people who live there and has promised to open some of them to agriculture and mining.

8-12-19 Teen Choice Awards: Taylor Swift backs equal pay for US footballers
Teen Choice Award-winner Taylor Swift has backed the US women's football team in their campaign for equal pay. After being presented with the Icon Award from player Alex Morgan, Taylor Swift said: "Please, please, please support her and her teammates because this isn't over yet. "It's not resolved." The women's team began legal action against the US Soccer Federation over equal pay in March, but the Federation claims they get paid more than the men. Taylor added: "Let people know how you feel about it because what happened to them is unfair. It's happening everywhere and they are heroes and icons for standing up." The California-based awards featured performances from the likes of Mabel and OneRepublic. Winners included BTS, who picked up four awards including International Artist. The event came hours after their management company announced the K-pop group would be taking a "long-term break". Jonas Brothers won the Decade Award - created to celebrate their first studio album in 10 years - and also took home an award for Summer Group. Louis Tomlinson won for his song Two Of Us, which was written about his mum, who died two years ago - just before he started his solo career. For the second year in a row, Riverdale won best TV drama, and its stars Cole Sprouse and Lili Reinhart won for drama actor and actress. Robert Downey Jr and Scarlett Johansson also both won for the second year in a row for their roles in the Avengers movies. Three films - Spider-Man: Far From Home, Aladdin and After - took three awards each. In the music categories, winners included Shawn Mendes, Billie Eilish, Cardi B and Lil Nas X.


SCIENCE - GLOBAL WARMING and ENVIRONMENT

8-18-19 Greta Thunberg: Teenage climate change activist has set sail on zero-carbon journey aboard Malizia II
Teen activist Greta Thunberg is now five days into her boat journey across the Atlantic ocean. She will be attending two big climate change conferences in the US. The journey will take around two weeks on a high speed yacht, called the Malizia II. Greta seems to be settling into her journey to the US. The teen posted earlier today: "Day 5. Pos 42° 55' N 022° 12' W. A sunny day with nice winds." Greta uploaded another picture to social media, sharing her current position with followers. The caption read: "Day 4. Pos 46° 20' N 015° 46' W. Eating and sleeping well and no sea sickness so far. Life on Malizia II is like camping on a roller coaster!" Greta has been keeping the public up-to-date with her journey through social media. The 16-year-old shared a picture on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, along with the caption: "School strike week 52. Pos 47 degrees 17 minutes north and 13 degrees 17 minutes west." She is part of a movement of students who have taken part in demonstrations against climate change and hasn't attended school for the past year. Greta experienced her first night on the boat with an unexpected surprise! She posed on social media: "Day 2. 100 nautical miles west of Cape Finisterre. A very bumpy night but I slept surprisingly well. Some dolphins showed up and swam along the boat last night!" Greta is currently on a high speed yacht called the Malizia II. But, it doesn't have a toilet, a kitchen, a shower or any privacy! Electricity on the boat will come from wind turbines and solar panels, meaning her journey has a zero carbon footprint. (Webmaster's comment: I wish I would have had her courage and awareness at the age of 16, 60 years ago.)

8-18-19 Can big investors save the world?
While young people throng the streets demanding action on man-made climate change, an older, more sober group of activists is fighting a green campaign: big investors. The men and women who control trillions of dollars' worth of assets are flexing their muscles. And as shareholders they are in a position to put pressure on companies to do the right thing. Climate Action 100+ is a group of more than 360 investors with more than $34tn (£28tn) in assets under management. They are worried not just about damage to the planet, but about the long-term viability of their investments. In short, irreversible harm to the environment would reduce or even wipe out the value of those investments. This group, which includes influential institutional investors such as the Church of England Commissioners, aims to engage with "systemically important emitters" in which they hold shares to curb greenhouse gas emissions and improve governance. One of those firms is the oil giant BP, which recently had its annual general meeting. Climate Action 100+ put forward a shareholder resolution to get BP to demonstrate that its strategy was consistent with the goals of the Paris climate agreement, the international plan to limit global warming to 1.5C. The resolution, which was supported by the BP board was approved and is now legally binding. Various institutional investors were behind the BP resolution including Hermes, HSBC, Legal and General, and Aviva Investors. "The economic and financial risks associated with climate change are very real," says Steve Waygood, chief responsible investment officer at Aviva Investors. "We only have the next five to 10 years to deal with the risks associated with climate change and make sure they don't become real." If there is no action taken, the risks "will become real in the next 20 to 30 to 40 years," and in the "very long term, a potentially catastrophic issue".

8-18-19 Iceland's Okjokull glacier commemorated with plaque
Mourners have gathered in Iceland to commemorate the loss of Okjokull, which has died at the age of about 700. The glacier was officially declared dead in 2014 when it was no longer thick enough to move. What once was glacier has been reduced to a small patch of ice atop a volcano. Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir, Environment Minister Gudmundur Ingi Gudbrandsson and former Irish President Mary Robinson were due to attend the ceremony. After opening remarks by Ms Jakobsdottir, mourners were set to walk up the volcano northeast of the capital Reykjavik to lay a plaque which carries a letter to the future. "Ok is the first Icelandic glacier to lose its status as glacier," it reads. "In the next 200 years all our main glaciers are expected to follow the same path. This monument is to acknowledge that we know what is happening and what needs to be done. "Only you know if we did it." The dedication, written by Icelandic author Andri Snaer Magnason, ends with the date of the ceremony and the concentration of carbon dioxide in the air globally - 415 parts per million (ppm). "You think in a different time scale when you're writing in copper rather than in paper," Mr Magnason told the BBC. "You start to think that someone actually is coming there in 300 years reading it. "This is a big symbolic moment," he said. "Climate change doesn't have a beginning or end and I think the philosophy behind this plaque is to place this warning sign to remind ourselves that historical events are happening, and we should not normalise them. We should put our feet down and say, okay, this is gone, this is significant." Oddur Sigurdsson is the glaciologist at the Icelandic Meteorological Office who pronounced Okjokull's death in 2014. He has been taking photographs of the country's glaciers for the past 50 years, and noticed in 2003 that snow was melting before it could accumulate on Okjokull.

8-17-19 The solar storage energy revolution
Solar panels may be the eco-friendly solution to energy, especially in places where the electric grid can be unreliable. In Kenya, the electric grid is notoriously unreliable. It goes out a lot. "At least once a day," says Colin le Duc, a partner at Generation Investment Management, a London-based firm co-founded by former Vice President Al Gore that finances companies pushing towards sustainable solutions. "If you're watching a Champions League soccer game and the grid goes down in the middle of the game, that's not a good outcome." Le Duc's firm is trying to avoid that outcome by investing in the Kenyan company M-Kopa, which installs solar panels coupled with lithium-ion batteries. And they're not just targeting customers who lose power during soccer matches. "There are obviously areas of Kenya where there is no grid at all. And you have the opportunity to leapfrog directly to a distributed model of clean energy and thereby basically negate the need to build centralized grid systems," says Le Duc. To combat climate change, solutions like this help countries to transition away from dirty fossil fuels and replace them with renewables, like solar and wind. Both have made tremendous leaps in recent years — think of all the solar panels you now see on people's roofs versus decades ago. But there remains a major hang-up with solar panels: They only work when then the sun is shining. But the field of solar-powered battery storage is booming. Back in Kenya, there remains another big problem: affordability. To overcome this, Le Duc says M-Kopa leases its solar systems for the same cost as a daily supply of kerosene or wood: "So 50 cents a day for the solar system. And what typically happens, is [customers] will pay that for about a year, and by that stage they would have paid off the solar system."

8-16-19 Greenland’s fast-melting ice sheet
The heat wave that sent temperatures to record highs in northern Europe in July is now turning much of Greenland’s ice sheet to slush, in yet another troubling sign of climate change. An astonishing 12.5 billion tons of the island’s surface ice melted into the Atlantic Ocean on Aug. 1, according to satellite and other data, the highest single-day loss since records began in 1950. The summer heat surge has caused temperatures in Greenland to increase by up to 30 degrees Fahrenheit above average. At the island’s Summit Station, which is located 10,551 feet above sea level and rarely experiences temperatures above freezing, the mercury briefly exceeded that mark. In July—the hottest month ever observed worldwide—Greenland’s ice sheet lost some 197 billion tons of ice. The melt in July was about 36 percent more than scientists expect in the entirety of an average year and enough to raise sea levels globally by 0.02 inches. Even small sea-level rises can heighten the risk of coastal flooding and extreme storms across the world. “These are records we don’t want to see broken,” Ruth Mottram, a polar scientist at the Danish Meteorological Institute, tells NationalGeographic.com. This summer’s melt is on course to match or surpass the most extreme season recorded, in 2012, when 97 percent of Greenland’s surface ice experienced some sort of melt. Such events typically occur about every 250 years.

8-16-19 Why fires in Siberia are so huge
We can’t blame only climate change for the wildfires raging across Siberia, said Alexey Polovnikov. Since the beginning of this year, fires have consumed some 32 million acres—an area larger than Greece—including forests within the Arctic Circle. Those blazes have only intensified in the summer months. The federal government has blamed illegal loggers for setting fires to cover up their misdeeds, but that doesn’t explain why the blazes were allowed to grow to such a massive size. The answer, says Russian historian Darya Mitina, lies in President Vladimir Putin’s “de-bureaucratization” reforms, under which firefighting was removed from the responsibility of the federal Ministry of Emergencies and transferred to the regions. The problem is that regions such as Irkutsk, where many of the worst fires are raging, don’t have the money or the infrastructure to fight fires. They lack not only aircraft to drop water but also trained firefighters on the ground. The situation has become “so catastrophic that even foreign countries are drawing attention to it.” The smoke wafted over to Alaska a few weeks ago, prompting U.S. President Donald Trump to offer Putin firefighting assistance in a terrible “blow to Russia’s international image.” Putin has now called out the army, but returning firefighting to the federal government is the only long-term solution.

8-16-19 Eco-constipation
Eco-constipation, after Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro defended Amazon deforestation by saying that if people want to help the environment, they should “poop every other day” instead of daily. “That would be better for the whole world,” he added.

8-16-19 Tiny magnets could help rid the ocean of harmful microplastics
An army of tiny magnetic coils could dissolve microplastics from water, and possibly help us clean up waterways and oceans. Microplastics are used in all sorts of cosmetics and household products, and they have spread into the ocean. Once there, they they can damage the environment. For instance, they can be ingested by marine life. Some people have suggested ways of getting plastic out of the ocean, including a team for the Netherlands that wants to use a string of sausage-shaped floats to trap substantial pieces of plastic that float. But microplastic is so small that it is much more difficult to tackle. Now lab tests have demonstrated a way to dissolve microplastic and turn it into carbon dioxide and water. This would release greenhouse gas, so it is far from perfect. But it would help avoid some of the damage plastic does to the environment. The method involves putting microscopic metal coils into water along with a chemical called peroxymonosulfate. A chemical reaction between the two creates compounds called radicals, which then break down the plastic. The fact that the coils are magnetic doesn’t help the reaction work. However, it means they can be easily removed from the water – just wave over a larger magnet. “They can be used multiple times without significantly losing their reactability,” says Xiaoguang Duan at the University of Adelaide in Australia, who led the work. In their tests, Duan and his team put 80 ml of water containing microplastics from cosmetic products in a pressurised container along with the coils and peroxymonosulfate. Then they heated the water to 120 degrees Celsius. After 8 hours, the mass of microplastics had decreased by half.

8-15-19 Greta Thunberg: Caroline Lucas reports Arron Banks to Twitter
Green Party MP Caroline Lucas has complained to Twitter over a tweet by Brexit campaigner Arron Banks aimed at climate change activist Greta Thunberg. On Wednesday, Mr Banks referred to Ms Thunberg's sea voyage across the Atlantic and tweeted: "Freak yachting accidents do happen in August..." Ms Thunberg, who chooses not to fly, is sailing from the UK to attend UN climate summits in New York and Chile. Ms Lucas said she reported his comment, while Mr Banks said it was a joke. "Arron Banks' vile tweet about @GretaThunberg makes me sick to the stomach," Ms Lucas wrote on Twitter on Thursday morning. "I have made a formal complaint to Twitter." A spokeswoman from Twitter said: "We don't comment on individual accounts for privacy and security reasons. "We take threats of violence very seriously and take action on accounts if and when the Twitter rules are violated." A Twitter source told the BBC the content did not violate its rules. Ms Thunberg set sail from Plymouth on Wednesday at the start of her two-week journey to New York and Chile. The 16-year-old refuses to travel by air because of its environmental impact, so has chosen a carbon-neutral racing yacht. Shortly after she departed, Mr Banks, an insurance tycoon who founded Leave.EU, shared a tweet from Ms Lucas that wished Ms Thunberg "bon voyage". His tweet faced widespread criticism, with Mr Banks later responding, saying it was "a joke" and accusing his critics of having "no sense of humour". Mr Banks later added: "Obviously I don't hope she encounters a freak yachting accident! "I just enjoy watching the ludicrous tweeter mob following the next outrage." Among those who condemned his post was actress Amanda Abbington, who tweeted: "You're wishing a potentially fatal accident onto a sixteen year old girl, why..?" Others called his tweet "disgraceful" while Labour MP Paula Sherriff said he was "utterly vile". The novelist Philip Pullman said: "That's how you'll be remembered, Banks. That's the measure of you."

8-14-19 White nationalists are perverting environmentalism to smear migrants
Right-wing figures blame environmental destruction on immigration and overpopulation. The political mainstream needs to confront this threat before it’s too late, says Graham Lawton. THE mass shooting at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, earlier this month was widely reported as a racially motivated attack by a white supremacist. That is almost certainly what it was: shortly before it happened, a manifesto railing against the “Hispanic invasion” of the US appeared online, and the police believe it was posted by the shooter. As has become depressingly familiar, the document contained numerous references to alt-right conspiracy theories such as the “great replacement”, which claims that white Christian civilisation is being swamped by black and Asian people, and Muslims. But buried in it was another, rarer trope that appears to be rising up the white nationalist agenda. The manifesto also cited environmental destruction of the US as a motivation, and blamed this on immigrants. According to Peter Beinart, a journalism professor at the City University of New York (to whom I am indebted for bringing this issue to my attention in a piece in The Atlantic), the unexpected fusion of white nationalism and environmentalism is a growing phenomenon. White nationalists, he says, are increasingly hijacking environmental issues and hitching them to their own wagon. The right-wing extremist who killed 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March also cited environmental damage among his justifications. In his manifesto, he said that non-Europeans are the main cause of overpopulation. The ravings of xenophobic murderers are one thing, but, according to Beinart, these views are now finding their way into mainstream political discourse. The right-wing commentator Ann Coulter, for example, has argued that immigrants threaten the US environment because they don’t have the same love of nature (never mind that Coulter’s beloved Republican party is the world’s most powerful promoter of climate change denial). In Europe, far-right leaders such as Marine Le Pen in France have started talking about love of nature as a national virtue and blaming environmental destruction on immigrants. The emergence of this bastard ideology took me completely by surprise. Like many progressive environmentalists, I have long hoped that conservative politics will eventually embrace environmentalism – after all, what could be more conservative than conservation? But there is no reason to celebrate this adoption.

8-14-19 Microplastics in the Arctic and the Alps may have blown in on the wind
Tiny particles of plastic have been found in high concentrations in snow samples from the Swiss Alps, parts of Germany and the Arctic, even places as remote as the island of Svalbard and in snow on drifting ice floes. These microplastics may have drifted there on wind currents. “It’s readily apparent that the majority of the microplastic in the snow comes from the air,” says Melanie Bergmann at the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in Germany. She says that this raises questions about how much plastic humans are inhaling. The team melted samples of snow and poured them through a filter, then examined the trapped residue with an infrared microscope. Depending on the type of plastic, different wavelengths of infrared light are absorbed and reflected. They found the highest concentrations of these plastics in samples near a rural road in Bavaria, which contained various types of rubber used in things like car tyres. In the Arctic, they primarily found nitrile rubber, acrylates and paint. These microplastics are about the same size as grains of pollen, which can be transported by air from places near the equator to the Arctic. Bergmann and her colleagues say a major portion of the microplastic in Europe, and even more in the Arctic, comes from the atmosphere and snow. This additional transport route could also explain the high amounts of microplastic that we have found in Arctic sea ice and the deep sea in previous studies, she says.

8-14-19 Why is there microplastic in Arctic snow?
A team of German-Swiss researchers has found that microscopic particles of plastic are falling out of the sky with snow in the Arctic. Researchers collected snow samples from the Svalbard islands using a low-tech method - a dessert spoon and a flask. They found more than 10,000 of them per litre of melted snow. The BBC's environment analyst Roger Harrabin has been looking in to what causes it.

8-14-19 Plant growth has declined drastically around the world due to dry air
A lack of water vapour in the atmosphere has caused a global decline in plant growth over the past two decades, resulting in a decline in growth rates in 59 per cent of vegetated areas worldwide. Studying four global climate datasets, Wenping Yuan at Sun Yat-sen University in Zhuhai, China and his colleagues found that the decline is correlated with a vapour pressure deficit in the atmosphere, which has increased sharply over more than 53 percent of vegetated areas since the late 1990s. Vapour pressure deficit (VPD) is the difference between the pressure that would be exerted by water vapour when the air is fully saturated and the pressure it actually exerts. When this deficit increases, the pores on the surface of leaves that facilitate gas exchange close up, resulting in lower photosynthesis rates. The complex dynamics of climate change may be responsible, says Yuan. There has been a decrease in wind speeds over the oceans, which means water vapour doesn’t blow over land as readily, and can lead to this deficit over vegetated areas. The warming planet also plays a role. At a given temperature, the atmosphere can only hold a certain amount of water vapour. As temperatures on land increase, the upper limit on the amount of water vapour the atmosphere can hold increases, so the deficit gets larger, he says. The team analysed satellite images and found a corresponding drop in the growth rates of global vegetation and leaf coverage, which had previously increased between 1982 and 1998. They also looked at the width of tree rings, which is commonly used as a measure of growth. After 1998, there was a decrease in average ring width at more than 100 of 171 sites around the world.

8-14-19 Fracking boom could explain the puzzling rise in global methane levels
The dramatic rise in fracking for shale gas in the US and Canada has been blamed for the puzzling surge in concentrations of a powerful greenhouse gas over the past decade. Methane is a shorter-lived but more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Levels of the gas in the atmosphere have been climbing since 2008, but researchers have been unsure why. Some studies in 2016 suggested the culprit could be ‘natural’ sources such as wetlands releasing more methane as the world warms, rather than fossil fuels. Now a new study proposes that the boom in shale gas, which is largely composed of methane, is to blame. It also warns that if the shale gas extraction continues to rise, it will endanger the goals of the Paris climate change agreement. Robert Howarth at Cornell University in New York state says that taking into account methane leaks from wells and the carbon released when the shale gas is burned, fracking in North America was responsible for more than half of the increase in global fossil fuel emissions in the past decade. The finding could reframe the view in some quarters that shale gas is useful for climate action, because it has edged out coal in US electricity generation. Howarth’s work looked at studies of the chemical signature of methane in the atmosphere and from shale gas operations. Natural gas obtained by conventional methods contains more of a heavy sort of carbon atom called carbon-13 than methane obtained through fracking. Howarth saw that since 2008, the composition of atmospheric methane has become lighter, meaning it has less carbon-13. This points towards more of the methane coming from fracking. “Those papers from three years ago said their results were surprising,” says Howarth. “They were surprising – but wrong. They missed this one subtle aspect.”

8-14-19 Military-grade jet fuel made cheaply from plant waste instead of coal
A powerful military jet fuel normally made from coal tar can now be made more cheaply from plants. Researchers at the Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics in China have come up with a way of producing the superfuel – known as JP-10 – from a chemical called furfuryl alcohol that is extracted from plant waste like sugar cane residue, cotton stalks, and forestry off-cuts. The six-step process converts furfuryl alcohol to the superfuel using a series of catalysts and temperatures of up to 250 degrees Celsius. JP-10 is a sought-after fuel because it has good thermal stability, a low freezing point, and a high density that means a small volume can propel aircraft a long way. But it costs $7000 per tonne, which is more than 10 times pricier than ordinary jet fuel used in commercial planes. This has limited its uses to missiles and speciality military aircraft like hypersonic jets. The new way of making JP-10 from green waste brings the cost down to $5000 per tonne. The price could soon drop further to $2500 per tonne as new technologies make it easier to extract furfuryl alcohol from plant matter, the researchers write. This would still make it about 4 times more expensive than commercial jet fuel, but the reduced cost could expand its military uses, they say. Making JP-10 from green waste should be more environmentally-friendly than the usual way of making it from coal tar, says Ian O’Hara at the Queensland University of Technology in Australia. “Fuels from bio-based sources tend to have significant greenhouse gas reductions compared to conventional fossil fuels,” he says. There is increasing interest in using plant-based biofuels to cut the carbon footprint of aviation, says O’Hara. In contrast to cars, it’s hard to make planes electric, he says. “In aviation, there are very few alternatives to liquid fuel,” he says.

8-14-19 Greece wildfires leave blackened forests in their wake
Fires have been raging through a "unique, untouched pine forest" on the Greek island of Evia as authorities fight to keep the flames under control. Hundreds of people were evacuated from nearby villages as the fire broke out in the early hours of Tuesday and ravaged through the dense forest. "It's a huge ecological disaster," acting regional governor Kostas Bakoyannis told AFP. More than 200 firefighters are helping to combat the blaze along with 75 fire engines, nine helicopters and seven planes, the news agency reports. Italy and Spain have offered additional aircraft to help dump water on the forests in an attempt to douse the flames burning through Greece's second-largest island. Other wildfires broke out on the island of Thassos as well as in the central region of Viotia and the Peloponnese. There was also a fire reported in Peania, a suburb of Athens. Smoke has blanketed the Greek capital of Athens, 110 km (70 miles) away from the island. The fire broke out after a weekend that saw temperatures soaring near 40C (104F) with strong winds.

8-14-19 Deforestation: What’s wrong with planting new forests?
Forest area has been increasing in some parts of the world, but deforestation is continuing at speed in others. Can the trees we are planting make up for those that are being cut down?

8-13-19 Greta Thunberg's zero carbon journey: 'I might feel a bit sea sick'
Climate change activist Greta Thunberg will spend two weeks travelling across the North Atlantic on a boat with no toilets, kitchens or privacy. Greta, 16, has stopped flying due to environmental reasons, but is due to attend a crucial climate change conference in New York. She told the BBC that travelling by boat sends a signal that "the climate change crisis is a real thing". Electricity on the boat will solely come from wind turbines and solar panels, meaning the journey has a zero carbon footprint.

8-13-19 We could put enough wind turbines on European land to power the world
There is enough land available in Europe for millions of wind turbines that could power the entire world, an analysis has found. While the falling price and rapid deployment of offshore windfarms has captured attention in recent years, windfarms on land make up the bulk of Europe’s installed wind power and are much cheaper. Building far more of them is still seen as key for meeting the EU’s long-term climate targets. Luckily, there appears to be plenty of room. An international team found 4.9 million square kilometres, or 46 per cent of European land, could have windfarms built on. The remainder was considered off-limits because of regulated distances from homes and infrastructure, protected landscapes, inappropriate terrain such as mountains, plus other restrictions The available space could host 11.6 million wind turbines, which would have a capacity of 52.5 terawatts. That is three times the estimates of potential made a decade ago. Such scale would supply more than a hundred times the electricity that Europe’s windfarms do today, or enough to meet the world’s entire electricity needs in 2050. “That’s a massive number. It’s way larger than studies in the past,” says Peter Enevoldsen at Aarhus University in Denmark. One reason for the greater potential is that turbines have got more powerful. Enevoldsen and colleagues assumed an up-to-date wind turbine with 4.5MW capacity, rather than the 2-3MW assumed by older research. It also turns out developers are building turbines much closer together than was commonly assumed. To map Europe’s wind power potential, data was overlaid from the European Copernicus satellite programme, OpenStreetMap and wind speed atlases, factoring in rules from national and regional databases on how close turbines could be built from buildings and infrastructure. The researchers say the mapping is more detailed than earlier efforts. “Luckily it turns out being more precise allows more wind turbines,” says Enevoldsen.

8-12-19 Is this the world's most sustainable building?
The UK government is not doing enough to encourage companies to be more sustainable, the business lobby group CBI has told the Victoria Derbyshire programme. What can be learned from the world's most sustainable industrial building in the Netherlands? Climbing out of a triple-glazed window onto the roof of an enormous logistics warehouse in the Dutch city of Tilburg, you are met with an ocean of solar panels - over 13,000 of them to be exact. The building is owned by the Dutch arm of Rhenus, a multi-billion pound logistics firm with 660 buildings and 31,000 employees worldwide. The site produces not only enough energy to power its own production, but also feeds back into the country's general supply lines - powering approximately 750 households on an annual basis, according to its senior vice-president Alphons van Erven. In May this year, it received the highest-ever rating for an industrial building from British sustainability assessors BREEAM, which has analysed the design and concept of more than 500,000 buildings in over 70 countries to look at green credentials. The building is completely airtight, meaning no heat escapes in the winter. The roof also houses two large pumps that draw heat from the air outside and use it to keep the inside of the building warm. There are electric boilers for exceptionally-cold days, which the company estimates are only used on ten days each year. Along the side, and at either end, are huge glass windows, allowing light to flood into the building. Not only is it thought to improve the wellbeing and productivity of workers, by making it a nicer environment, but it means they used 70% less electricity in lighting the premises. Sustainability measures even extend to the toilets, which use rainwater collected on the roof while flushing. Mr van Erven says he is "quite convinced" that companies who are not already taking such measures should be forced to by governments. "There is a discussion here in the Netherlands that companies with big carbon footprints will have to pay a penalty on the amount of C02 they are exposing to the air," he said. "We have an advantage because we don't have any C02 pollution anymore, so in the future it will pay off in itself." (Webmaster's comment: American's attitude is burn everything and let our children and grandchildren worry about it!)


SCIENCE - EVOLUTION and GENETICS

8-18-19 Danger on the football field: Many states are still failing high school athletes
My son's high school football team ended its season with a 2-8 record, finishing second-to-last in its Southern California league. I'm sure he would have liked his football career to end differently. But I was simply glad to see it come to a close. As any parent of an athlete knows, playing sports carries certain risks. In the case of football, some of those risks have gotten prominent coverage over the last few years, and rightly so. Tackle football dominates at the high school level, with more than 1 million boys playing the sport and more than 14,000 schools around the country fielding teams. Yet despite many high-profile cases of injury, too many schools still lack critical safety policies to help keep high school athletes from being seriously injured. Even though football may be "as safe as it ever has been," that doesn't mean it's actually safe. My son had never played tackle prior to high school. As he worked his way up from the bottom of the depth charts his freshman year to become a starting outside linebacker as a senior, I noted with growing unease the continued reports on the long-term risks of tackle football — not just from concussions, but from subconcussive hits as well. The more I learned, the more I worried. The lowest point came last fall, when one of my son's teammates nearly died on the sidelines after his heart stopped. At the time, California didn't require on-site automated external defibrillators (AEDs) at schools; instead, the entire stadium watched an EMT do chest compressions before the ambulance sped away, sirens blaring. The boy was lucky: He made a complete recovery and even returned to the field later that season. But situations like his often have far-worse outcomes. One recent study found that more than 50 high school athletes died from sudden cardiac arrest during the two-year period studied, with football and basketball being the two most deadly sports. In fact, sudden cardiac arrest is the leading cause of all sport-related deaths. But right now, the majority of states still don't require schools to have on-site AEDs at athletic events, even though they literally can mean the difference between life and death. (Webmaster's comment: American football is a stupid, violent sport with many participants being permanently brain damaged!)

8-18-19 Having kids makes you happier, but only when they move out
When it comes to who is happier, people with kids or those without, most research points to the latter. But a new study suggests that parents are happier than non-parents later in life, when their children move out and become sources of social enjoyment rather than stress. Most surveys of parental happiness have focused on those whose children still live at home. These tend to show that people with kids are less happy than their child-free peers because they have less free time, sleep and money. Christoph Becker at Heidelberg University in Germany and his colleagues wondered if the story might be different for parents whose kids have left home. To find out, they analysed data from a European survey that asked 55,000 people aged 50 and older about their emotional well-being. They found that, in this older age group, people with children had greater life satisfaction and fewer symptoms of depression than people without children, but only if their kids had left home. This may be because when children grow up and move out, they provide social enrichment to their parents minus the day-to-day stress of looking after them, says Becker. They may also give something back by providing care and financial support to their parents, he says. “Hence, children’s role as caregivers, financial support or simply as social contact might outweigh negative aspects of parenthood,” he says. The picture is similar in the US, says Nicholas Wolfinger at the University of Utah. He recently analysed 40 years of data from the US General Social Survey and found that empty-nest parents aged 50 to 70 were 5 to 6 per cent more likely to report being very happy than those with kids still at home. If parents balk at the idea of waiting for their kids to move out to maximise their potential happiness, they could move to a country with better childcare support, says Wolfinger. A 2016 study of 22 countries found that parents with children at home were actually slightly happier than their child-free peers if they lived in places like Norway, Portugal and Sweden that have paid parental leave, generous childcare subsidies and holiday and sick leave.

8-17-19 Genetic studies suggest alcohol isn’t linked to breast cancer afterall
Could the health risks from booze be overblown? A new study has found that low levels of alcohol do not cause cancer, and even heavy drinking doesn’t cause breast cancer – contrary to official UK warnings. The question of how much alcohol it is safe to drink has long been debated. Heavy drinkers are definitely more prone to mouth and throat cancers, and cirrhosis, where the liver starts failing, but it was long thought that light drinking was safe or possibly even good for you. A growing number of studies, though, have suggested that even low levels of alcohol are linked with a higher risk of cancer, including that of the breast, oesophagus and colon. In 2016, the UK tightened up its alcohol guidelines, cutting the maximum that men should drink from 21 units a week to 14, with the limit for women staying at 14 – equivalent to six pints of beer or just under one and a half bottles of wine. At the time, the UK’s chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies, warned there was “no safe level of drinking” and said whenever women had a glass of wine they should weigh up whether it was worth the raised risk of breast cancer. But the studies that showed these risks from light drinking have a weakness in that they simply look at correlations between drinking levels and cancer rates, and so cannot tell us if alcohol is the cause. Something else could be responsible, as people who drink more also tend to smoke more, have lower incomes, and have unhealthy lifestyles in various other ways. In the latest work, which has not yet been published, Fotios Drenos and colleagues of Brunel University London in the UK got around this problem by analysing genes, which are determined at conception and can’t be affected by lifestyle influences, like whether someone smokes.

8-16-19 Socializing to stave off dementia
If you want to reduce your risk of developing dementia in later life, stay socially active during your 50s and 60s. That’s the conclusion of a new study by researchers at University College London, who examined data from more than 10,000 people tracked from 1985 to 2013. The participants underwent regular cognitive testing and answered questionnaires about their social activity. Researchers found that people who at age 60 saw friends almost daily were 12 percent less likely to develop dementia later on in life than those who saw friends only every few months. Seeing relatives regularly did not appear to have the same beneficial effect. Using the brain for memory and language during social interactions could help build new connections between brain cells, creating so-called cognitive reserve. “While it may not stop their brains from changing, cognitive reserve could help people cope better with the effects of age and delay any symptoms of dementia,” senior author Gill Livingston tells ScienceDaily.com.

8-16-19 Postponing menopause
British scientists say they have developed a surgical procedure that can delay menopause for up to 20 years, a potentially life-changing breakthrough for millions of women. Menopause can trigger symptoms including anxiety, hot flashes, a reduced sex drive, and in extreme cases, heart disease and bone-weakening osteoporosis. The procedure—offered only to women under 40—starts with a 30-minute operation in which tissue is removed from the patient’s ovaries. The sample is then frozen at minus 238 degrees Fahrenheit. When the patient begins menopause, the tissue is thawed and grafted back into the body—triggering the release of hormones that put menopause on hold. Ten women in the U.K. have undergone the initial procedure; one had the regraft immediately because she was having a hysterectomy and wanted to avoid premature menopause. “Being able to delay menopause has been life-changing,” Dixie-Louise Dexter, 33, tells The Times (U.K.). How long the procedure holds off menopause depends on a patient’s age when the tissue is extracted: Tissue from a 25-year-old could postpone menopause by 20 years, while a sample from a 40-year-old might delay its onset by five years. A similar procedure has been used to preserve fertility in girls and women who are receiving treatment for cancer.

8-16-19 Osteoarthritis and NSAIDs
People who take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to relieve the pain of osteoarthritis may be increasing their risk for cardiovascular disease. Researchers have long known of the association between osteoarthritis and heart problems. To examine this link, scientists compared the health records of 7,743 osteoarthritis patients with 23,229 people who rarely or never took ibuprofen, naproxen, and other NSAIDs. Compared with the control group, the osteoarthritis patients had a 42 percent higher risk for congestive heart failure, a 17 percent elevated risk for coronary heart disease, and a 14 percent increased risk for stroke. Once they had controlled for other factors—including socioeconomic status and body mass index—the researchers calculated that 41 percent of the patients’ elevated risk for heart problems was due to NSAID use. That could be because NSAIDs can raise blood pressure by causing the body to retain more sodium and water. Lead author Aslam Anis, from the University of British Columbia, tells The New York Times that osteoarthritis patients should discuss NSAID use with their physician. “Sometimes,” he says, “the treatment is worse than the disease.”

8-16-19 A new FDA-approved drug takes aim at a deadly form of tuberculosis
The antibiotic, paired with two others, works against highly drug-resistant TB. An especially dangerous type of tuberculosis may have met its match. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced August 14 that it has approved the antibiotic pretomanid to help tackle what’s called extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis. This form of the disease is resistant to at least four of the main TB drugs, and treatment often fails: Only around 34 percent of infected patients typically survive, the World Health Organization says. Becoming ill with this type of TB “can be a death sentence — until now,” says William Bishai, a tuberculosis researcher at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, who was not involved in the drug’s development. The current treatment requires patients to take as many as eight antibiotics orally, and sometimes by injection, for 18 months or more. By contrast, the new antibiotic is paired with two other previously approved drugs, bedaquiline and linezolid, in a six-month course of pills. Ninety-five of 107 patients who had the highly resistant disease and took this drug regimen recovered, according to the TB Alliance, the nonprofit organization that developed pretomanid. The drug is only the third since the 1960s to be approved for tuberculosis, which is caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Tuberculosis sickened an estimated 10 million people in 2017 (SN: 10/27/18, p. 15). Around 558,000 cases were multidrug-resistant, unresponsive to the two most powerful TB drugs (SN Online: 4/30/14). Of those cases, about 8.5 percent, or roughly 47,000, were extensively drug-resistant, according to WHO.

8-16-19 Alzheimer’s targets brain cells that help people stay awake
The new finding could fundamentally refocus dementia research. Alzheimer’s disease destroys command centers in the brain that keep people awake. That finding could explain why the disease often brings daytime drowsiness. Sleep problems can precede dementias, including Alzheimer’s, sometimes by decades. But the new result, described online August 12 in Alzheimer’s & Dementia, suggests that disordered sleeping isn’t just an early harbinger of Alzheimer’s. Instead, sleep trouble is “part of the disease,” says Lea Grinberg, a neuropathologist at the University of California, San Francisco. Grinberg and colleagues focused on the brain stem and a structure perched above it called the hypothalamus. Together, these parts of the nervous system oversee crucial jobs such as keeping people awake and paying attention. Though important, the brain stem and its neighbors have been largely overlooked in studies of dementia, Grinberg says. In particular, the researchers searched for evidence of tau, a protein that can form tangles inside nerve cells, in postmortem brains of people who died with Alzheimer’s disease. Three small regions of the hypothalamus and brain stem, all of which usually contain nerve cells that keep people awake during the day, were packed with tau, the team found. And two of the three areas had lost over 70 percent of their nerve cells, or neurons. These areas “are hit hard, and they are hit by tau,” Grinberg says. That destruction could be part of the reason people with Alzheimer’s disease often feel tired during the day, even if they slept the night before. Those results add credence to an idea that’s been circulating among Alzheimer’s researchers but hasn’t yet gained a lot of traction, says neuroscientist Bryce Mander of the University of California, Irvine: “You see tau in the brain stem, and you see it really early.”

8-16-19 15 studies retracted due to fears they used Chinese prisoners' organs
Fifteen studies about transplanted organs by researchers in China have been retracted this month due to concerns the work may have used organs from executed prisoners. Three other papers have been the subject of expressions of concern for the same reason, according to the website Retraction Watch which monitors questions raised over published research. China’s government said in 2015 that the nation had stopped using organs from executed prisoners, which is illegal according to international conventions. But it is suspected that the practice continues in the country, particularly involving prisoners of conscience. It has been claimed that targeted groups include Uighur Muslims, an ethnic minority in China, and practitioners of Falun Gong, a belief system similar to Buddhism that has been outlawed. Various scientific journals that publish research into organ transplantation have previously stated that, for ethical reasons, they will not publish any work that used prisoners’ organs. But earlier this year, campaigners highlighted 400 published papers that they suspect may have involved organs taken from prisoners. Many came from work done before 2010 when China didn’t have the systems in place to get donor organs from people who are brain dead, as happens in other countries. Some of the journals involved now seem to be taking action. The journal Transplantation has retracted seven papers, saying in an editorial that “it is clear with the benefit of hindsight” that “most deceased donors were executed people before 2010”.

8-16-19 Early fish tapeworms found at 'Britain's Pompeii' Must Farm
The earliest evidence of fish tapeworm in Britain has been discovered preserved in human faeces, according to experts at Cambridge University. The finds were unearthed at a site dubbed "Britain's Pompeii", a burnt-out 3,000-year-old village at Must Farm in Cambridgeshire. Fish tapeworm can grow up to 10m (32ft) long and live coiled in the intestines. The university said the research offered the first clear understanding of prehistoric Fen people's diseases. Cambridge University's Dr Marissa Ledger said it also appeared they shared food with their dogs, because both were infected by similar parasitic worms from eating the raw fish, amphibians and molluscs. Experts from the Cambridge Archaeological Unit at the university said they believed the "exceptionally well-preserved" village was just a few months old when it burnt down. Circular wooden houses built on stilts, pots with food still inside, jewellery and evidence of fine fabric-making were just some of the finds unearthed during the 10-month long dig in 2016. In addition waterlogged "coprolites" - pieces of human faeces - were discovered preserved in the surrounding mud, according to a study published in the journal Parasitology. Teams from Cambridge and Bristol universities used microscopy techniques to detect ancient parasite eggs within the faeces and determined whether it was from a human or dog. Evidence for Echinostoma and giant kidney worms was also discovered, during months of analysis since the dig was completed. The researchers said little was known about the intestinal diseases of Bronze Age Britain. A previous study of a farming village in Somerset found evidence of parasites spread through the contamination of food by human faeces. This was less evident at Must Farm, possibly because waste was disposed of into the water around the marshy settlement.

8-16-19 Extinction: Humans played big role in demise of the cave bear
The arrival of human ancestors in Europe some 40,000 years ago coincided with the downfall of the cave bear, scientists have revealed. The fate of the species was sealed by other pressures, such as the onset of the last Ice Age, and shrinking food resources. The bear eventually died out 24,000 years ago. "We see this dramatic drop in the population of the cave bear starting from 40,000 years ago, which coincides with the arrival of anatomically modern humans in Europe," said Prof Verena Schuenemann of the University of Zurich, who led the study. "It is the clearest evidence we have so far that humans might have played a big role in the extinction of the cave bear." Cave bears were a type of bear that lived in Asia and Europe. They share a common ancestor with the modern brown bear. The cave bear fed largely on vegetation instead of meat. Fossils of the species are usually found in caves, suggesting the animals spent a lot of time there, rather than using caves purely for hibernation. The researchers analysed mitochondrial DNA extracted from cave bear bones collected across Switzerland, Poland, France, Spain, Germany, Italy and Serbia. They were able to map where cave bears lived and their diversity at a time when many large mammals roamed the Earth. It appears that populations were more diverse then previously thought and remained relatively stable until around 40,000 years ago, surviving two cold periods and several cooling events. The findings support the idea that human influences played a major role in pushing the cave bear to the brink. The extinction of the cave bear is a matter of much debate, with explanations including human interference, environmental changes or a combination of both.

8-15-19 The first chlamydia vaccine has passed a major test
The result offers hope for stemming the tens of millions of new infections each year. The first vaccine against chlamydia has passed its first test in humans. About three dozen healthy women were randomly assigned one of two versions of a chlamydia vaccine or a placebo treatment in a clinical trial. Both vaccine versions were shown to be safe, and both produced an immune response not seen in the placebo group, researchers report online August 12 in the Lancet Infectious Diseases. “These promising results provide encouragement,” says pediatric infectious disease specialist Toni Darville of the University of North Carolina School of Medicine in Chapel Hill, who coauthored a commentary accompanying the study. Chlamydia can lead to disabling, long-term complications for women, so a vaccine against the disease could have a big effect on public health, she says. Chlamydia, caused by the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis, is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases, with around 131 million women and men newly infected worldwide each year. In the United States, it’s the most frequently reported sexually transmitted infection caused by bacteria, with at least 1.7 million cases in 2017, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But those numbers could be low, researchers say, as infections can go unreported: The disease can produce general symptoms that may not be recognized as chlamydia, such as genital discharge or pain or no symptoms at all. Antibiotics can clear a chlamydia infection from the body. But left untreated, the disease can wreak reproductive havoc on women. An infection targets the cervix, and, for about 1 in 6 women, spreads to the uterus and fallopian tubes where it can cause pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility.

8-15-19 Sticky nets of DNA from immune cells may be to blame for gallstones
It has long been known that gallstones grow from crystals in the gallbladder, but it has been unclear how these stick together. Now it seems immune cells are to blame – a finding that could lead to new treatments. Martin Herrmann at the Friedrich–Alexander University Erlangen–Nürnberg in Germany and his colleagues made this discovery while studying small stones in the bile of people undergoing operations to treat their gallstones. On the surface of the small stones were telltale signs of neutrophil extracellular traps – sticky webs of DNA released by immune cells to catch invading microbes. The presence of large clumps of DNA and an enzyme used by neutrophil immune cells suggested that these cells had been targeting bile crystals for attack. To test this, the team mixed cholesterol crystals with human neutrophils in the lab. The neutrophils responded by shooting their DNA out at the crystals. When they shook and spun gallstones around in the presence of neutrophils, the gallstone surfaces quickly collected neutrophil DNA. These sticky webs pulled cholesterol and calcium crystals together to form even larger stones. “When they find suspicious matter, for example the crystals that form gallstones, they tend to eject their DNA and hog-tie the material,” says Herrmann. The stones formed in this way may go unnoticed until one passes from the gallbladder into the small intestine or lodges in a bile duct, causing sudden and severe pain. The findings may lead to preventative treatments for gallstones. Herrmann and his colleagues found that altering genes or using drugs to impair the formation of these traps led to fewer and smaller gallstones in mice.

8-15-19 Lyme disease in England and Wales is most common in older, white women
People diagnosed with Lyme disease in England and Wales tend to be older, white women living in rural, relatively affluent areas. An analysis of hospital records found that the disease is most commonly diagnosed in women aged between 61 and 65, with a second peak in incidence in girls aged between 6 and 10. Researchers at the University of Liverpool and Public Health England looked at the records of 2259 people diagnosed with Lyme disease at National Health Service hospitals in England, and 102 people in Wales, between 1998 and 2015. They found that 96 per cent of patients self-identified as white. Significantly more cases were recorded in hospitals in rural locations than in urban areas, and there were more cases in richer areas than in areas of higher deprivation. The highest incidence of Lyme disease was in south-west England, where there were 3.13 cases a year for every 100,000 people. Overall, the team found there was a significant increase in the disease’s incidence in England and Wales during the course of the study, from 0.08 cases per 100,000 people in 1998 to 0.53 cases per 100,000 in 2015. John Tulloch at the University of Liverpool says he is confident the results reflect the groups that are most likely to be at risk of infection, but there needs to be more research to understand why more girls and women in certain age groups are diagnosed. “It may be due to a result of sex differences in health-seeking behaviour and this result needs to be further explored,” he says. Girls and women of these age groups and geographical areas may spend more time outside for leisure activities.

8-15-19 Europe’s extinct cave bears went into decline just as humans arrived
The huge cave bears that once roamed Europe started to disappear just after modern humans arrived. The finding from a new genetic analysis suggests that our ancestors played a big role in driving the bears to extinction. Cave bears (Ursus spelaeus) are the clearest example of ancient humans wiping out a large-bodied species, at least in Europe, says Verena Schünemann at the University of Zurich in Switzerland. The bears roamed Europe for over 100,000 years. They were as large as modern grizzly bears and ate mostly plants. Many fossils have been found in caves, suggesting they spent a lot of time there – perhaps hibernating. They died out around 26,000 years ago. This was the Last Glacial Maximum, when the most recent ice age reached its peak and ice sheets extended far south. Some researchers interpreted this to mean that the cooling climate killed them off. To find out what really happened, Schünemann and her colleagues sequenced DNA from 59 cave bears. They focused on mitochondrial DNA, which is only inherited from the mother. In addition, they examined 64 mitochondrial DNA sequences that had already been published. The new genetic data provides “a much better view of the diversity,” says Schünemann. Her team found that there were five major lineages of cave bears dotted around Europe. But 40,000 years ago, their genetic diversity fell dramatically, suggesting the number of cave bears was declining. “There are still a few around, but there is this massive loss of diversity,” says Schünemann. The cave bear decline happened just as modern humans began spreading through Europe in a big way, replacing the Neanderthals that had lived alongside the bears for millennia. That suggests humans were at least partly responsible.

8-14-19 How walking helped humans take over the planet
We are all fitter for a good walk – and we become smarter just by standing up. In fact, says a new book, the act of walking helped humans colonise a whole planet WHEN a sea squirt settles on a home, it never gives another thought to going out. In youth, squirts are constantly on the prowl, swimming in rock pools and hunting for prey. But once an adult finds suitable real estate, it permanently attaches to the stone, consumes its own spinal cord and brain, and spends its remaining days capturing whatever nutrients float by. According to neuroscientist Shane O’Mara, this life cycle is perfectly sensible. “Brains have evolved for movement,” he writes in In Praise of Walking. “If you’re going to be stuck… with your food all around you, then why do you need a costly brain?” O’Mara uses the sea squirt and similar creatures to evoke the essential connection between walking and cognitive activity in humans. From his perspective, mobility is one of the defining qualities of animals including Homo sapiens, and the sessile lifestyle of the modern couch potato is dangerously unnatural. The benefits of taking to our feet could easily fill a book, and O’Mara does devote whole chapters to them. The physical benefits are well known: cardiac health, muscle development and improved digestion. The cognitive gains are less well known but at least as dramatic. Take the Stroop test, a standard measure of cognitive control in which the word for a colour is written in a different hue (“red” written in green ink, say) and the subject must name the ink colour as fast as possible. Mismatched stimuli tend to slow people down, especially when asked to perform other tasks simultaneously.

8-14-19 How killer bees evolved into chiller bees in just one decade
While killer bees terrorised the US, in Puerto Rico, an extraordinary accident of evolution has transformed them into a beacon of hope against the threat of insectogeddon. STEPPING out of his house to survey the destruction, Hermes Conde felt like he had been transported to another world. “It was as if an atomic bomb had hit. Nothing was standing,” he says. “I couldn’t recognise the landscape around my own home.” It was 21 September 2017 and Hurricane Maria had just torn Puerto Rico to shreds. An estimated 2975 people died in the worst natural disaster the Caribbean island has ever witnessed. From the early hours of 20 September through to mid-afternoon the next day, Maria bisected Puerto Rico like a 100-kilometre-wide buzz saw. It plucked up trees and hurled roofs from homes like Frisbees. The pounding rain sent flash floods, metres deep, rushing into populated areas. Downed trees and power lines blocked the roads. Electricity and water supplies were cut off for months after the storm. Conde’s first priority was to get petrol for his generator. It would take him 23 hours on foot, but fuel wasn’t the only thing he was looking for. Conde is a beekeeper and along the way he tapped into a network of fellow apiarists trying to discover the fate of their insects. The situation looked bleak. Hurricane Maria had almost annihilated Puerto Rico’s bees, but Conde was determined to rescue the survivors. It may sound like a strange mission in the middle of such chaos, but these are no ordinary bees. They are among the most incredible insects in modern evolutionary history. In just a decade, they have mysteriously transformed from killers to docile honey makers. They may even hold secrets that will help us breed disease-resistant bees in the future.

8-14-19 How killer bees evolved into chiller bees in just one decade
While killer bees terrorised the US, in Puerto Rico, an extraordinary accident of evolution has transformed them into a beacon of hope against the threat of insectogeddon. STEPPING out of his house to survey the destruction, Hermes Conde felt like he had been transported to another world. “It was as if an atomic bomb had hit. Nothing was standing,” he says. “I couldn’t recognise the landscape around my own home.” It was 21 September 2017 and Hurricane Maria had just torn Puerto Rico to shreds. An estimated 2975 people died in the worst natural disaster the Caribbean island has ever witnessed. From the early hours of 20 September through to mid-afternoon the next day, Maria bisected Puerto Rico like a 100-kilometre-wide buzz saw. It plucked up trees and hurled roofs from homes like Frisbees. The pounding rain sent flash floods, metres deep, rushing into populated areas. Downed trees and power lines blocked the roads. Electricity and water supplies were cut off for months after the storm. Conde’s first priority was to get petrol for his generator. It would take him 23 hours on foot, but fuel wasn’t the only thing he was looking for. Conde is a beekeeper and along the way he tapped into a network of fellow apiarists trying to discover the fate of their insects. The situation looked bleak. Hurricane Maria had almost annihilated Puerto Rico’s bees, but Conde was determined to rescue the survivors. It may sound like a strange mission in the middle of such chaos, but these are no ordinary bees. They are among the most incredible insects in modern evolutionary history. In just a decade, they have mysteriously transformed from killers to docile honey makers. They may even hold secrets that will help us breed disease-resistant bees in the future.

8-14-19 Ketogenic diet may stop migraines by changing the brain’s fuel
Cutting carbs has been shown to prevent migraines, perhaps by changing the type of fuel that enters the brain. The ketogenic diet is a very low-carb diet that makes the body burn fat for energy instead of carbohydrates. Aside from aiding weight loss, it also seems to ease neurological conditions like epilepsy and schizophrenia in some people. Cherubino Di Lorenzo at the Don Carlo Gnocchi Foundation in Italy and his colleagues wondered if the diet might also help to prevent migraines. Previous studies have hinted that it does, but haven’t been able to figure out whether this is due to general weight loss or something specific about reducing carbs. To find out, the team compared the effects of two very low-calorie diets – one ketogenic and one non-ketogenic – in 35 overweight and obese men and women who experience migraines. Each volunteer was randomly assigned a diet that they followed for four weeks, before swapping to the other for the same duration. The two diets comprised prepared meals, such as smoothies and soups, that looked identical. The meals had the same amounts of calories and fat but different ratios of carbohydrates and protein. Weight loss was similar for the two regimes, but the ketogenic diet appeared to be far better at preventing migraines. About 74 per cent of participants had at least half as many migraine-affected days as normal while on the low-carb ketogenic diet, compared to 9 per cent on the high-carb non-ketogenic diet. In comparison, the best migraine prevention drugs available, known as CGRP monoclonal antibodies, cut migraine-affected days in half or more for about 30 to 48 percent of users.

8-14-19 Neanderthals spent a surprising amount of time underwater
Bony growths found in Neanderthals’ ears suggest that aquatic foraging was a big part of their lifestyle. This adds to evidence that Neanderthals adapted to life in several landscapes, including those near water. Erik Trinkaus at Washington University in St Louis, Missouri, and his colleagues investigated the well-preserved ear remains of 77 ancient humans that lived in western Eurasia in the mid-to-late Pleistocene period. They looked for dense, bony growths in the ear canals known as external auditory exostoses. These are often found in modern surfers and others who spend time in cold, Trinkaus and his colleagues were surprised to find that around half of the 23 Neanderthals they studied had signs of these growths, which is at least twice as prevalent as in any of the other groups of ancient humans the team studied. This suggests that Neanderthals foraged in water for food and other “It all reinforces what is becoming increasingly clear from diverse forms of evidence: that the Neanderthals were capable and flexible, and not the benighted deficients that some persist in calling them,” says Trinkaus. He and his team also studied the remains of early modern humans from the middle Palaeolithic period, around 130,000 to 80,000 years ago. Only one in four of them had these growths. In humans from the early-to-mid upper Palaeolithic period, around 60,000 to 25,000 years ago, the growths showed up in five out of 24 remains. Neanderthals lived in an overlapping period, between roughly 180,000 and 40,000 years ago. It is possible they had a greater risk of developing the growths due to genetics, but the different landscapes they lived in and proximity to water may also explain why they had more than other groups, says Trinkaus

8-14-19 Biologists have a problem with homosexuality – they should get over it
Studies that reduce human sexuality to two neat categories – gay and straight – are bad science and stoke societal prejudice, says neuroethologist Andrew Barron TWO things are clear about human sexual orientation. First, it is biological; second, it is complex. Sexual behaviour, identity, attractions and fantasies don’t line up neatly. Consistently, biologists fail to recognise this. In their 1948 book Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, Alfred Kinsey and his collaborators showed how male sexuality varies smoothly, from a majority identifying as completely heterosexual to a minority who identify as gay. Men “do not represent two discrete populations, heterosexual and homosexual”, wrote Kinsey. “The world is not to be divided into sheep and goats.” He concluded the same for women five years later. Biologists often look for factors related to sexual orientation, be they genetic, hormonal or in the brain. It is easier to search for differences between two starkly different groups, so the smooth variation in sexuality Kinsey described collapses to an artificial binary: heterosexual or homosexual, or sometimes heterosexual or non-heterosexual. How the boundaries of these categories are drawn varies wildly. In some studies, “homosexual” means anyone who identifies as mostly or entirely gay or lesbian; in others, anyone who has had any type of same-sex experience. Bisexual people are either lumped in with gay and lesbian people in a non-heterosexual category or excluded for being “inconsistent”. Women can also be excluded, as female sexuality is often considered too variable. Why does this all matter? As Rebecca Jordan-Young discussed in her book Brain Storm a decade ago, by distorting sexual orientation to fit what we assume it is, we risk editing out the most informative data points – and drawing false conclusions.

8-14-19 CRISPR enters its first human clinical trials
The gene editor targets cancer, blood disorders and blindness. Since its debut in 2012, CRISPR gene editing has held the promise of curing most of the over 6,000 known genetic diseases. Now it’s being put to the test. In the first spate of clinical trials, scientists are using CRISPR/Cas9 to combat cancer and blood disorders in people. In these tests, researchers remove some of a person’s cells, edit the DNA and then inject the cells back in, now hopefully armed to fight disease. Researchers are also set to see how CRISPR/Cas9 works inside the human body. In an upcoming trial, people with an inherited blindness will have the molecular scissors injected into their eyes. Those tests, if successful, could spur future trials for Duchenne muscular dystrophy, cystic fibrosis and a wide variety of other genetic diseases, affecting millions of people worldwide. “CRISPR is so intriguing,” says Laurie Zoloth, a bioethicist at the University of Chicago Divinity School, “and so elegant.” But big questions remain about whether CRISPR/Cas9 can live up to the hype. Other previously promising technologies have fallen short. For instance, stem cell injections helped paralyzed rats walk again. But they didn’t work so well for people, Zoloth says. Conventional gene therapies, which insert healthy copies of genes to replace or counteract disease-causing versions, also suffered severe setbacks, says Ronald Conlon, a geneticist at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. Some kids who had therapy for immune defects developed cancers (SN: 1/1/11, p. 24); a blindness therapy worked temporarily, but couldn’t halt disease progression (SN Online: 5/3/15); and, most devastatingly, participants died — including 18-year-old Jesse Gelsinger in 1999 — while taking part in gene therapy trials.

8-14-19 The perfectionism trap: How to avoid burn out, anxiety and stress
We investigate the growing epidemic of perfectionism, a misunderstood personality trait with serious implications for mental and physical health. THE desire to be perfect is something most of us have felt at some point in our lives. Studying for the perfect test result, searching for the perfect partner, working through the night to smash that perfect presentation. Often, having high standards can drive success, but for some people, diligence and motivation can shift into perfectionism, a sorely misunderstood personality trait that can have dangerous consequences. Perfectionism has increased significantly over the past three decades, a recent analysis shows. Young people in particular place higher demands on themselves and on others. Our dog-eat-dog world, full of impeccable images of what our bodies, careers and aspirations should look like, is creating a rising tide of millennials who may be putting themselves at risk of mental and physical illness in their search for the perfect life. An epidemic of perfectionism poses a serious, even deadly problem, according to those researching the trend. That sounds alarming, but there are solutions. So how can we learn when good is good enough, reach our goals without burning out and teach our children how to avoid the oncoming storm? “Perfection is hard to define,” says Thomas Curran at the University of Bath, UK, who has been studying its rise. There is no fixed way of diagnosing it. However, many studies measure it using the Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale, which was developed three decades ago. It consists of 45 statements – such as “I strive to be the best at everything I do”, “If I ask someone to do something, I expect it to be done flawlessly” and “People expect nothing less than perfection from me” – and people rate how much they agree with each of these on a scale of 1 to 7. If you very much identify with these kinds of statements, it is likely that you have perfectionist tendencies.

8-14-19 Cannabis-based health products are going mainstream – do they work?
A component in cannabis called CBD is claimed to help everything from Alzheimer's to anxiety. Despite a boom in sales, there's little evidence supporting the claims. “IT WILL cure, eliminate or definitely help any disease,” an assistant in a shop just around the corner from New Scientist’s office in London tells me. Although these extraordinary claims aren’t made on the product’s packaging, the substance it contains is quickly gaining a reputation among consumers as a cure-all. Pain, anxiety, depression, cancer, psoriasis, Alzheimer’s, irritable bowel syndrome – you name it, someone somewhere is saying this substance will help. This apparently miraculous compound is cannabidiol, better known as CBD, a component of cannabis. Growing health claims coupled with a relaxing of laws around the sale of CBD-containing products has seeded a surge in interest. Despite the willingness of some to tout CBD’s curative powers, there is limited evidence to back up these bold health promises. “The range of claims is actually quite startling, and I don’t know whether to be worried or amused,” says Harry Sumnall at Liverpool John Moores University, UK. Cannabis has long been suspected of improving health by those who use it. Since November 2018, UK doctors have been allowed to prescribe it in special cases (see “Medicinal cannabis”, right). The change in legalisation came after high-profile campaigning, including from parents whose children have a severe form of epilepsy that seems to respond to cannabis products. A growing number of US states have legalised the plant for medicinal and recreational use too.

8-14-19 Engraved bones reveal that symbolism had ancient roots in East Asia
Denisovans might have created line patterns more than 100,000 years ago in what’s now northern China. Lines engraved between 125,000 and 105,000 years ago on two animal bones found in northern China held some sort of meaning for their makers, researchers say. These ancient markings provide the oldest evidence of symbolic activity by humans or our close evolutionary relatives in East Asia, says a team led by archaeologists Zhanyang Li and Luc Doyon, both of Shandong University in Jinan, China. A mysterious Stone Age population called Denisovans, which had close genetic ties to Neandertals, may have carved sets of parallel lines into the pair of bone fragments, the scientists suggest in the August Antiquity. Denisovans inhabited East Asia at the same time that someone carved lines into bones at northern China’s Lingjing site (SN: 3/2/19, p. 11). But either Homo sapiens or Neandertals, who also left behind Stone Age creations with apparent symbolic meanings (SN: 3/17/18, p. 6), might instead have modified the Lingjing bones. “Nonetheless, the two objects from Lingjing suggest that symbolic capacities were within the realm of cognitive abilities of [Homo] species that lived before and during the evolution of Homo sapiens in Africa,” Doyon says. Abstract markings on the Lingjing bones resemble engraved lines on roughly 100,000-year-old pigment chunks from South Africa (SN Online: 6/12/09), says archaeologist Paul Pettitt of Durham University in England. “As Homo sapiens was responsible for that early symbolism in Africa, and Neandertals were responsible for such in Europe, it is a fascinating possibility that these [Chinese] examples were created by another Homo species,” Pettitt says.

8-14-19 T'Human-sized penguin' lived in New Zealand
The remains of a giant penguin the size of a human have been discovered in New Zealand. The fossilised bones are of an animal thought to have been about 1.6m (5ft 3in) tall, weighing up to 80kg (176lb). It lived in the Paleocene Epoch, between 66 and 56 million years ago. The animal, dubbed "monster penguin" by Canterbury Museum, adds to the list of now-extinct gigantic New Zealand fauna. Parrots, eagles, burrowing bats and the moa, a 3.6m-tall bird, also feature."This is one of the largest penguin species ever found," Paul Scofield, the museum's senior curator, told the BBC. It was specific to the waters of the Southern Hemisphere, he added. Penguins are thought to have become this big because large marine reptiles disappeared from the oceans, around the same time that dinosaurs disappeared. "Then, for 30 million years, it was the time of the giant penguins," Mr Scofield said. Today's largest species, the Emperor Penguin, grows to about 1.2m tall. "We think that at the time, animals were evolving very rapidly," Mr Scofield explained. "Water temperatures around New Zealand were ideal back then, around 25C (77F) compared to the 8C we have now." During the time of the giant penguin, New Zealand was still joined with Australia, which in turn is thought to have been connected to Antarctica. The new species, crossvallia waiparensis, resembles another prehistoric giant penguin, crossvallia unienwillia, which was found at a site in Antarctica. According to the researchers, the crossvallia penguin's feet probably played a bigger role in swimming than those of modern penguins. It likely shared the waters around New Zealand with "giant turtles, corals and strange-looking sharks," Mr Scofield says.

8-13-19 Lack of sleep is more of a problem for teen girls than social media
Social media isn’t necessarily bad for teens’ mental health – it only causes problems for girls when it interferes with sleep and exercise or enables cyberbullying. Boys don’t seem to be affected in the same way. “The message is simple: don’t worry so much about how much your kids are on social media during the day,” says Russell Viner at the University College of London Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health in the UK. “Worry about what they’re watching, the content, and make sure they get enough sleep and physical activity.” Viner and his colleagues have looked at data already collected as part of another large study on young people in England. As part of that study, 12,866 people aged between 13 and 14 were interviewed in 2013. Just under 11,000 of them were interviewed again in 2014, and almost 10,000 again in 2015. The participants filled in questionnaires about their mental health and wellbeing – including their levels of sleep and physical activity – as well as their experiences of cyberbullying. Each person was asked how frequently they used social media networks, messaging or photo-sharing services, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, Blackberry Messenger, Snapchat, Tumblr, or anything else. The team found that girls who used social media more frequently tended to be less happy and less satisfied with life, and were more anxious than those who said they didn’t use social media as much. But social media itself isn’t necessarily to blame, says Viner. When his team accounted for sleep, physical activity and cyberbullying, the effect of frequent social media use on the girls’ wellbeing became insignificant. This suggests that social media only becomes problematic for girls when it starts to impact their sleep, exercise or exposure to bullying.

8-13-19 Is the bystander effect a myth?
A study published in the American Psychologist suggests there are more Good Samaritans out there than we might think. After studying hundreds of incidents captured on CCTV around the world, the researchers conclude the so-called bystander effect - that people will not usually help a stranger in distress - may not tell the whole story.

8-13-19 Ebola breakthrough: two drugs could treat up to 90 per cent of cases
Up to 90 per cent of Ebola cases may now be treatable thanks to two experimental drugs. These drugs were so effective in a clinical trial in the Democratic Republic of the Congo that scientists stopped the trial early. Public health officials hope that these therapies will help control the country’s ongoing Ebola crisis that has so far led to the infection of around 2800 people, and the death of 1900. The results come from a trial of almost 700 people in Ebola treatment centres that began last November. The trial found that, in recently infected people, only 6 per cent of those treated with a drug called REGN-EB3 died. The mortality rate of those given a drug called mAb114 was 11 per cent. Without treatment or vaccination, around two to three out of every four Ebola cases results in death. Both drugs are monoclonal antibodies, a class of immune system drugs that bind to and interfere with viruses and bacteria. The drug trial was also testing two other drugs, which were found to have higher mortality rates. Now all new patients entering the trial will be given REGN-EB3 or mAb114, and those currently taking the other drugs will be able to choose to switch onto these too. It is hoped that these drugs will turn the tide of the current Ebola crisis, which was declared a public health emergency last month. They may also help tackle the distrust many feel towards healthcare workers. Ebola treatment centres have been seen as places where sick people are brought in but very few leave alive. As word of effective new drugs spread, infected people may feel encouraged to seek treatment earlier, which could further improve survival rates and lower rates of transmission.

8-12-19 Two of four Ebola treatments prove highly effective in a clinical trial
The field experiment will now focus on only the top-performing therapies. Two Ebola treatments have proven to be effective in preventing death during a clinical trial conducted amid the ongoing outbreak in Congo, preliminary data suggest. The trial began in November, with participants randomly given one of four experimental treatments (SN: 3/16/19, p. 9). Data from 499 patients reviewed August 9 suggest that those people taking one of two antibody treatments — mAb114 or REGN-EB3 — had a greater chance of survival than those on the antiviral drug remdesivir or the antibody treatment ZMapp. Researchers reported the trial results in a news release August 12, but these findings have yet to be finalized. “One thing that won’t change is that those two therapies are better than the other two — that’s for sure,” says Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. The trial now enters a phase with only the two most effective treatments in order to gather more data on their safety and the immune response to each drug. Researchers won’t study enough patients, however, to determine which drug works best. The percentage of patients who died while taking one of the treatments was 29 percent for REGN-EB3 and 34 percent for mAb114. That’s a big improvement over the current 67 percent mortality rate reported for Congo’s outbreak, which began August 1, 2018. (Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc., which makes the REGN-EB3 therapy, is a major financial supporter of the Society for Science & the Public, the nonprofit that also publishes Science News.) Results were even better for patients with a low viral load, or less of the virus in their blood — which may be an indication that their infections were caught early. Among those patients, 6 percent taking REGN-EB3 died and 11 percent on mAb114 died.

8-12-19 Chlamydia vaccine shown to be safe in first ever human trial
The first human trial of a new chlamydia vaccine has shown that it is safe and that it triggers an immune response against the bacteria that cause chlamydia. The team behind the work are planning a larger trial to find out if it can protect against the infection. Sonya Abraham at Imperial College London and her colleagues used a vaccine that has already been tested in animals including mice, guinea pigs and primates. The drug, known as CTH522, is essentially a human-made version of a protein found on chlamydia bacteria, and prompts the immune system to mount a response to the bacteria. The team combined this with one of two adjuvants – chemicals that boost the response of the immune system. Thirty-five women aged 19 to 45 were given either the vaccine with an adjuvant or a placebo. Over the course of five months, each person was given three injections in their arm, as well as two nasal sprays in both nostrils. Every woman who received the vaccine demonstrated an immune response, say the researchers behind the work. And while the volunteers did report some side effects, these were nothing more serious than those associated with existing vaccines, such as soreness at the site of injection, a fever or headache. It is too soon to tell whether or not the drug will protect against chlamydia. The team are currently preparing for a larger phase 2 trial, which will help determine which doses might be effective. They plan to develop a dosing schedule that matches that of the current HPV vaccine, so the two can be given at the same time. “Although clinical vaccine testing for chlamydia is in its infancy, this trial suggests optimism for the future,” Taylor Poston and Toni Darville of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill write in a comment piece on this trial. “A vaccine for prevention of [chlamydia] infection would have enormous public health and economic impact.” If proven to work, the vaccine could help prevent some of the 131 million annual chlamydia infections seen worldwide. Those are just the cases we know about – three quarters of infections are symptomless, so there are thought to be many more.

8-12-19 Even without concussions, just one football season may damage players’ brains
Collisions in practices and games may be causing changes in white matter in the brain stem. A season of head hits left its mark on college football players’ brains, even when those hits didn’t cause concussions. Routine head bumps over the course of a season were linked to abnormal brain tissue in part of players’ brain stems, researchers report August 7 in Science Advances. It’s unclear if these brain stem changes affect mental performance, or whether the changes are permanent. But the study suggests that in addition to the big hits that cause concussions, these smaller knocks could cause trouble. During the 2011, 2012 and 2013 football seasons, a team led by researchers at the University of Rochester in New York recruited players from the university to participate in a study looking at head impacts and brain health. Each player wore an accelerometer in his helmet to capture the forces at play during all practices and games during a single season. The players also underwent pre- and post-season brain scans. A measure called fractional anisotropy let researchers estimate how well stretches of white matter brain tissue can carry neural signals, a key job of healthy brain tissue. The 38 players included in the study collectively took 19,128 hits. And by the end of their season, the players on average had lower measures of fractional anisotropy in their right midbrains — a part of the brain stem. These declines were more tightly linked to the number of hits that twisted heads, as opposed to direct head-on hits. Those rotational forces might be particularly damaging to brain tissue, a finding that fits with results from earlier studies, the researchers write.


ANIMAL INTELLIGENCE and ZOOLOGY

8-17-19 Elephant protection debate to dominate conservation meeting
Different approaches to protecting elephants are set to dominate the debate at a key conservation conference starting in Geneva today. Delegates from more than 180 countries are gathering for the meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites). Some African nations are again pushing to reopen the trade in ivory. However others are seeking the highest possible protections for all of Africa's elephants. The Cites meeting, held every three years, will discuss a record 56 proposals submitted by governments to the Conference of the Parties, known as COP18. The COP was due to be held in Sri Lanka earlier this year but was moved to Switzerland in the wake of the bomb attacks at Easter. Key among the items on the agenda will be competing ideas on how to protect African elephants, which have seen a huge decline in numbers due to poaching over the past 20 years. A study published in 2016 estimated that 30-40,000 of the giant creatures were killed by poachers every year with roughly 400,000 left in total. In many parts of Africa, elephants are protected under Cites Appendix I, which means that trade is only permitted under exceptional circumstances. At this meeting, Zambia is seeking to have its elephants downlisted to Appendix II. This would allow a commercial trade in registered raw ivory with approved trading partners. Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe are also proposing that ivory from elephants in their region be traded. On the other end of the scale, a number of countries including Kenya, Nigeria and Gabon are proposing that all elephants in Africa be listed as Appendix I, the highest form of protection available to Cites. "The elephant is in the centre of the debate once again," said Vera Weber from the Franz Weber Foundation, which campaigns to protect endangered species.

8-17-19 Famous dugong dies after eating plastic
An orphaned dugong, made famous after it was rescued earlier this year in Thailand, has died. The animal named Mariam died on Saturday from an infection that was exacerbated by bits of plastic lining her stomach, according to officials. Mariam became an internet star after images showed her nuzzling into rescuers when she became stranded on a beach in April. There are only a few hundred of the sea mammals left in Thailand. The eight-month-old dugong was found ill a week ago and refused to eat. She died around midnight on Saturday after going into shock. Efforts to resuscitate her failed. Chaiyapruk Werawong, head of Trang province marine park, told AFP: "She died from a blood infection and pus in her stomach." During an autopsy, several pieces of plastic including one measuring 20cm (eight inches) were found inside her stomach. Nantarika Chansue, one of the vets who looked at Mariam, said: "Everyone is saddened by the loss, but it reiterates that we need to save the environment to save these rare animals." (Webmaster's comment: Not only save the animals but to save ourselves from the same fate.) Mariam featured in live webcasts alongside Jamil, another dugong rescued shortly after her. The webcasts showed her being fed and receiving treatment from vets. Many people have shared their sadness at her death on social media.

8-16-19 Conservation cutbacks
The Trump administration this week issued new rules that weaken the Endangered Species Act, clearing the way for drilling and development in habitats of protected species. For the first time, regulators will be allowed to make economic assessments when deciding whether species warrant protection, a victory for industries that say the landmark 1973 law is too onerous. The changes make it easier to remove species from the endangered list and reduce protections for threatened species, while making it harder to protect wildlife from threats posed by climate change: Federal officials have used climate models to anticipate habitat losses for polar bears as far as 2090, but the new rules limit impact predictions to the “foreseeable future.” Several states promised lawsuits. The changes focus on the law’s “ultimate goal—recovery of our rarest species,” Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, a former oil and gas lobbyist, said.

8-16-19 Modern families
Modern families, after two gay male penguins at the Berlin Zoo adopted an abandoned egg and will hatch a chick in early September. Skipper and Ping, who are inseparable, are “taking turns to keep the egg warm,” said a zoo spokesman. And Tango Makes Three

8-16-19 Tardigrades on the moon
There could now be life on the moon, thanks to a botched mission launched from here on Earth. When the unmanned Israeli spacecraft Beresheet crash-landed on the moon in April, it likely spilled its unusual cargo: a few thousand tiny tardigrades, the toughest animals on Earth. Only a millimeter or so long, these microscopic “water bears” become almost indestructible when they enter a state known as cryptobiosis, in which they expel all moisture from their bodies and mummify themselves in a protective coat of sugar. Dormant tardigrades can survive without food and water for up to three decades, in temperatures as low as minus 328 degrees Fahrenheit and as high as 284 degrees Fahrenheit, even in the vacuum of space. Beresheet was carrying thousands of dehydrated tardigrades that had been taped between DVD-sized etched nickel discs that contained a “library” of human civilization. The creator of that library, Nova Spivack of the nonprofit Arch Mission, tells Wired.com that the discs were probably safely ejected. “Our payload,” he says, “may be the only surviving thing from that mission.” There’s no danger of the tardigrades colonizing the moon; to reproduce, they’d need to return to Earth and rehydrate.

8-16-19 Emotional support animal
A Pennsylvania man has won approval from his doctor to use an alligator as an emotional support animal. Joie Henney, 65, said Wally is “just like a dog” and “wants to be loved and petted.” Since Wally helps lift his depression, Henney said, his doctor figured, “Why not?” Now the two go shopping together and pay visits to local nursing homes to cheer up residents. Wally is 5 feet long and could triple in size, but, Henney said, “I don’t know what I would have done without him.” (Webmaster's comment: There's more going on in a reptile's brain than we would have ever imagined.)

8-16-19 How to pet a cat

  1. Appreciate the cat mindset. Cats were domesticated long after dogs, so they do have more of a wild streak. They have to learn to enjoy human interaction when young—ideally between two and seven weeks old—or they’ll always be fairly standoffish.
  2. Give them control. Leave it to the cat to approach you. If the cat doesn’t know you, kneel and hold out your hand as you would with a dog. Nuzzling and purring means you have permission to pet.
  3. Know where to stroke. Most friendly cats like being touched at the base of their ears, under their chins, and on their cheeks (but not on the whiskers). Cats often don’t like to be touched on their stomachs, backs, paws, or the base of their tails.
  4. Recognize danger signs. A sudden turn of the head, flattened ears, and a twitching tail all are trying to tell you, “You should really stop…like, now.”

8-16-19 Wildlife summit to consider global ban on saiga antelope trade
The US and Mongolia are backing a ban on the trade of a critically endangered species of antelope that has seen its numbers in the central Asian steppes devastated by hunting and disease. The saiga antelope (Saiga tatarica) once lived across Europe and Asia but is today confined to Russia, Kazakhstan and Mongolia. In 2015, the species was hit by an outbreak of a bacterial infection that killed more than half of its population. At a major international conference on the trade in endangered plants and animals that begins in Geneva on Saturday, governments will decide whether to upgrade protections for the iconic antelope. The plan to move the species to “appendix I”, the highest level of protection under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), will likely face opposition from Kazakhstan. “The saiga is a big one: their population is critically endangered by poaching and the die-offs,” says Sue Lieberman of the US-based Wildlife Conservation Society. The antelope’s numbers are slowly starting to rise in Kazakhstan, leading those with trade interests to say the species has recovered, she says. Some conservationists, such as trade monitoring group TRAFFIC, oppose a ban, saying it would lead to “implementation challenges” as Saiga tatarica would have a different listing to another antelope, Saiga borealis. But some form of action seems needed – two Kazakh rangers have been killed this year, mostly recently in July, by antelope poachers. The species is predominantly killed for its horn, which is used in traditional medicine in Singapore, China and other countries. Lieberman is hopeful that the proposal to move the species from appendix II, which controls trade but doesn’t prohibit it, to appendix I will pass. If countries can’t reach a consensus, then the decision, like all CITES resolutions, will be reached by majority vote. It is one of 53 new proposals on the table at the summit, which was moved from its planned venue in Sri Lanka after bombings earlier this year.

8-16-19 Cyanide bombs: US reverses policy on wildlife-killing traps
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has withdrawn support for so-called cyanide bombs, which are used to kill predators of livestock. Use of the deadly devices known as M-44s began in the 1960s and was re-authorised by the agency in June, sparking a new backlash. M-44s have been known to harm humans and kill endangered wild species that are not considered pests to ranchers. They work by drawing animals with bait then spraying poison into their mouths. The EPA administrator, Andrew Wheeler, said the "issue warrants further analysis and additional discussions" in order to "ensure US livestock remain well-protected from dangerous predators while simultaneously minimising off-target impacts on both humans and non-predatory animals". The bombs are meant to kill coyotes, foxes and other animals that prey on livestock. But the EPA has acknowledged it has also killed hundreds of unintended targets. The Center for Biological Diversity, which spearheaded a public comments campaign to complain to the EPA, cheered the backtrack. It called for a "permanent ban to protect people, pets and imperilled wildlife from this poison".

8-14-19 How killer bees evolved into chiller bees in just one decade
While killer bees terrorised the US, in Puerto Rico, an extraordinary accident of evolution has transformed them into a beacon of hope against the threat of insectogeddon. STEPPING out of his house to survey the destruction, Hermes Conde felt like he had been transported to another world. “It was as if an atomic bomb had hit. Nothing was standing,” he says. “I couldn’t recognise the landscape around my own home.” It was 21 September 2017 and Hurricane Maria had just torn Puerto Rico to shreds. An estimated 2975 people died in the worst natural disaster the Caribbean island has ever witnessed. From the early hours of 20 September through to mid-afternoon the next day, Maria bisected Puerto Rico like a 100-kilometre-wide buzz saw. It plucked up trees and hurled roofs from homes like Frisbees. The pounding rain sent flash floods, metres deep, rushing into populated areas. Downed trees and power lines blocked the roads. Electricity and water supplies were cut off for months after the storm. Conde’s first priority was to get petrol for his generator. It would take him 23 hours on foot, but fuel wasn’t the only thing he was looking for. Conde is a beekeeper and along the way he tapped into a network of fellow apiarists trying to discover the fate of their insects. The situation looked bleak. Hurricane Maria had almost annihilated Puerto Rico’s bees, but Conde was determined to rescue the survivors. It may sound like a strange mission in the middle of such chaos, but these are no ordinary bees. They are among the most incredible insects in modern evolutionary history. In just a decade, they have mysteriously transformed from killers to docile honey makers. They may even hold secrets that will help us breed disease-resistant bees in the future.

8-14-19 Plant growth has declined drastically around the world due to dry air
A lack of water vapour in the atmosphere has caused a global decline in plant growth over the past two decades, resulting in a decline in growth rates in 59 per cent of vegetated areas worldwide. Studying four global climate datasets, Wenping Yuan at Sun Yat-sen University in Zhuhai, China and his colleagues found that the decline is correlated with a vapour pressure deficit in the atmosphere, which has increased sharply over more than 53 percent of vegetated areas since the late 1990s. Vapour pressure deficit (VPD) is the difference between the pressure that would be exerted by water vapour when the air is fully saturated and the pressure it actually exerts. When this deficit increases, the pores on the surface of leaves that facilitate gas exchange close up, resulting in lower photosynthesis rates. The complex dynamics of climate change may be responsible, says Yuan. There has been a decrease in wind speeds over the oceans, which means water vapour doesn’t blow over land as readily, and can lead to this deficit over vegetated areas. The warming planet also plays a role. At a given temperature, the atmosphere can only hold a certain amount of water vapour. As temperatures on land increase, the upper limit on the amount of water vapour the atmosphere can hold increases, so the deficit gets larger, he says. The team analysed satellite images and found a corresponding drop in the growth rates of global vegetation and leaf coverage, which had previously increased between 1982 and 1998. They also looked at the width of tree rings, which is commonly used as a measure of growth. After 1998, there was a decrease in average ring width at more than 100 of 171 sites around the world.

8-13-19 A mussel poop diet could fuel invasive carp’s spread across Lake Michigan
The fish are just a human-made waterway away from getting into the Great Lake. If invasive carp reach Lake Michigan, a buffet of mussel poop and other junk food could help the fish survive and spread. Once thought to be a food desert for these fish, the lake may provide enough nutrition for two Asian carp species, bighead (Hypophthalmichthys nobilis) and silver carp (H. molitrix), thanks to their not-so-picky eating habits, researchers report August 12 in Freshwater Biology. That’s bad news because the carp, which have spread to the Illinois River since their introduction to the United States in the 1970s, are just a human-made waterway away from getting into Lake Michigan. “We should be doing everything we can to keep bighead and silver carps out of the Great Lakes,” says Sandra Cooke, a freshwater ecologist at High Point University in North Carolina who was not involved with the work. If carp gain a finhold, their populations could eventually take off, with difficult-to-predict consequences for the lake’s ecosystem. It’s a familiar trajectory for invasive species (SN: 3/18/17, p. 30). “Time and again, what we actually observe is worse than what we predicted in the first place,” she says. Earlier studies, including by Cooke, suggested that these fish could survive in some nearshore spots, based on levels of carp’s preferred food, microscopic algae known as phytoplankton, in the top meter of water. But when better options aren’t available, carp will eat detritus, including fish poop or decomposing dead organisms, says Peter Alsip, a freshwater ecologist at the Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. In fact, he says, the scrappy fish can subsist entirely on the low-quality food that comes from mussels’ fecal pellets and regurgitated particles.

8-13-19 Black squirrels the result of 'interbreeding' grey squirrels, study finds
Black squirrels are the result of "interbreeding" between their grey cousins and the North American fox squirrel, a study has concluded. Research published in BMC Evolutionary Biology found the black fur emerged from a faulty pigment gene. The study by Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) in Cambridge say the difference between black and grey squirrels is simply the colour of their fur. Author Dr Helen McRobie said grey and fox squirrels share the "same root". There are thought to be around 25,000 black squirrels in the UK, with numbers largely concentrated in Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire. The first wild black squirrel was recorded in Woburn in 1912, and was believed to have escaped from a private zoo having been imported from the United States. The new findings build on earlier work by Dr McRobie which found that the black fur in grey squirrels is caused by a missing piece of DNA in its pigment gene. Squirrels take part in "mating chases" and a male black fox squirrel "most likely" mated with a female grey, Dr McRobie said. Dr McRobie, a senior lecturer in biomedical science, collaborated with researchers from the University of Cambridge and the Virginia Museum of Natural History in the United States. She said people have mixed feelings about black squirrels with some regarding them as a "menace". "The most likely explanation for the black version of the gene being found in the grey squirrel is that a male black fox squirrel mated with a female grey squirrel," she said. "The fact black grey squirrels have become so common right across North America is possibly because black fur offers a thermal advantage, helping them inhabit regions with extremely cold winters. "This may have contributed to the expansion of the grey squirrel's range during the past 11,000 years, following the end of the most recent ice age, helping them spread further north into Canada."

8-12-19 Environmentalists warn Trump 'weakening' endangered species protections
The US federal government has announced an overhaul of the way it enforces the Endangered Species Act, a law credited with preventing countless extinctions. Trump officials say the new plan will reduce regulations, but environmental groups warn it will "crash a bulldozer" through the landmark 1973 legislation. The plan removes automatic protections for threatened species and allows economic factors to be considered. Critics say the new rules will speed extinction for vulnerable wildlife. Ten state attorneys general have announced plans to sue over the new regulation. The Endangered Species Act, which Republican President Richard Nixon signed into law in 1973, protects more than 1,600 plant and animals species today, and is credited with saving the California condor, the Florida manatee, the gray whale and grizzly bear among others. The new rules, which go into effect in 30 days, will for the first time allow economic factors to be considered when weighing what protections should be provided to vulnerable species. Under current law, wildlife management decisions are only allowed to be based on science and "without reference to possible economic or other impacts of determination". Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, a former oil lobbyist, announced the change on Monday, saying the change allowed the law to "ensure it remains effective in achieving its ultimate goal - recovery of our rarest species," he said. "An effectively administered act ensures more resources can go where they will do the most good: on-the-ground conservation." Gary Frazer, assistant director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, told reporters that cost of care will be disclosed to the public, and will not violate Congress' stipulation that economic costs not be weighed. "Nothing in here in my view is a radical change for how we have been consulting and listing species for the last decade or so," he said. Critics said the rule change would speed the extinction of many species, and was done just to allow industries to expand onto land required for ecological diversity. (Webmaster's comment: Trump is taking a wrecking ball to the progressive society we have been building for the last 70 years.)

8-12-19 Plants don’t have feelings and aren’t conscious, a biologist argues
Lincoln Taiz and colleagues lament the rise of ‘plant neurobiology’. Lincoln Taiz is peeved. Over the last decade or so, the retired plant biologist has watched the rise of the field of “plant neurobiology” with growing dismay. That controversial field, which debuted in a 2006 article in Trends in Plant Science, is based on the idea that plants — which do not possess brains — nonetheless handle information in ways that resemble sophisticated animal nervous systems. This thinking implies that plants could feel happiness or sorrow or pain, make intentional decisions and even possess consciousness. But the chances of that are “effectively nil,” Taiz and colleagues write in an opinion piece in the Aug. 1 Trends in Plant Science. “There’s nothing in the plant remotely comparable to the complexity of the animal brain,” says Taiz, of the University of California, Santa Cruz. “Nothing. And I’m a plant biologist. I love plants” — not because plants think like humans, he says, but for “how they live their plant lives.” Some plants are capable of sophisticated behavior. Wounded leaves can send warning signals to other parts of the plant, and noxious chemicals can deter munching predators. Some plants may even have a version of short-term memory: Tiny sensing hairs that line Venus flytraps’ insect prisons can count the touches that come from a bumbling insect (SN Online: 1/24/16). But plants perform these feats with equipment that’s very different from the nervous systems of animals, no brain required, Taiz contends. He and colleagues point out methodological flaws in some of the studies that claim plants have brainlike command centers, animal-like nerve cells and oscillating patterns of electricity that are reminiscent of activity in animal brains. But beyond the debate over how these studies are conducted, Taiz’s team argues that plant consciousness doesn’t even make sense from an evolutionary point of view.

8-12-19 In fighting deep fakes, mice may be great listeners
There may be a new weapon in the war against misinformation: mice. As part of the evolving battle against “deep fakes” - videos and audio featuring famous figures, created using machine learning, designed to look and sound genuine - researchers are turning to new methods in an attempt to get ahead of the increasingly sophisticated technology. And it’s at the University of Oregon’s Institute of Neuroscience where one of the more outlandish ideas is being tested. A research team is working on training mice to understand irregularities within speech, a task the animals can do with remarkable accuracy. It is hoped that eventually the research could be used to help sites such as Facebook and YouTube detect deep fakes before they are able to spread online - though, to be clear, the companies won’t need their own mice. “The goal is to take the lessons we learn from the way that they do it, and then implement that in the computer.” Mr Saunders and team trained their mice to understand a small set of phonemes, the sounds we make that distinguish one word from another. “We've taught mice to tell us the difference between a ‘buh’ and a ‘guh’ sound across a bunch of different contexts, surrounded by different vowels, so they know ‘boe’ and ‘bih’ and ‘bah’ - all these different fancy things that we take for granted. “And because they can learn this really complex problem of categorising different speech sounds, we think that it should be possible to train the mice to detect fake and real speech.” The mice were given a reward each time they correctly identified speech sounds, which was up to 80% of the time. That's not perfect, but coupled with existing methods of detecting deep fakes, it could be extremely valuable input.