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ATHEISM and HUMANISM

10-15-19 Fort Worth shooting: Police officer charged with murder
A US police officer who shot dead a black woman in her bedroom on Saturday has been charged with murder. Police in Fort Worth, Texas arrested Aaron Dean and detained him briefly before releasing him on bail. On Monday police chief Ed Kraus told reporters Mr Dean had resigned from the force. Atatiana Jefferson was killed after two officers responded to a non-emergency call from her neighbour. Body cam footage showed an officer shooting within seconds of seeing her. The man who called police, James Smith, 62, said he was trying to be a good neighbour after noticing Ms Jefferson's front door was open and her lights were on. "If I had never dialled the police department, she'd still be alive." Mr Smith told local media. "It makes you not want to call the police." Allegations of police brutality in black communities have been a longstanding issue in the US. In its initial statement, the Fort Worth Police Department said the officer had "perceived a threat" when he drew his weapon. Police Chief Kraus said he would have fired the officer, had he not resigned, "for violations of several policies including our use of force policy, our de-escalation policy and unprofessional conduct". Earlier, Ms Jefferson's sister, Ashley Carr, said the victim had been "killed by a reckless act". Ms Carr called for a federal investigation. Lee Merritt, a civil rights lawyer who is representing the family, said: "The investigation should be handled by someone other than the Fort Worth Police Department." He said the department was "on track to be one of the deadliest police departments in the United States". Accurate data on police shootings is difficult to obtain because local police forces are not obliged to provide figures. According to a database compiled by the Washington Post, 709 people have been killed by law enforcement officials so far this year and about 20% of victims were black. Texas had the second-highest number of total deaths. (Webmaster's comment: The police are a "clear and present danger" to the black people of America!)

10-14-19 Trump 2020 campaign disavows parody media massacre video
Donald Trump's 2020 re-election campaign has disavowed a parody video showing the US president massacring media outlets and political rivals. The video was on display at a conference organised by American Priority, a pro-Trump group. Organisers of the event at a Trump resort in Miami, Florida, said the video was part of a "meme exhibition". CNN had called on the Trump campaign to denounce the video "immediately in the strongest possible terms". Tim Murtaugh, a spokesman for the Trump campaign, told the BBC: "That video was not produced by the campaign, and we do not condone violence." Mr Trump's head is superimposed on the body of a man who goes on a killing rampage inside "the Church of Fake News". The heads of the people he kills have been replaced with the logos of media organisations, including BBC News, CNN and the Washington Post, and political opponents such as Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. The New York Times says the video appears to be a doctored version of scenes from 2014 movie "Kingsman: The Secret Service", starring Colin Firth. American Priority also sought to disassociate itself with the video, saying it was "not approved, seen, or sanctioned" by event organisers. The video, the political action group added, was shown in a "side room" at the event and was only brought to the attention of organisers by the New York Times. The president's son, Donald Trump Jr, and former White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, were scheduled to speak at the event, according to the New York Times. "I wasn't aware of any video, nor do I support violence of any kind against anyone," Ms Sanders told the paper. "Sadly, this is not the first time that supporters of the President have promoted violence against the media in a video they apparently find entertaining - but it is by far and away the worst," CNN said in a statement on Sunday. "The images depicted are vile and horrific." (Webmaster's comment: Trump's White Supremacist supporters are all pro-violence against all those they disagree with!)

10-14-19 China is giving the U.S. a taste of its own medicine
Demanding certain conditions from businesses and trade partners is what the U.S. has done to other countries for decades. We Americans tend to treat trade as a matter of purely economic exchanges. But we've recently learned that to become entangled with a country via trade almost inevitably invites broader entanglements as well — of culture, ideology, and policy. After enmeshing ourselves in trade with China, for example, we've suddenly found China using that entanglement to silence criticism of China's crackdown on Hong Kong protesters. (Or its treatment of Tibet, or its massive surveillance state.) More perniciously, China's had American institutions and companies do the silencing and surveilling for it. In other words, if the country we're entangled with has a lot of leverage, they can force us to behave in ways we otherwise might not, and would really prefer not to. The thing is, if you're pretty much any country other than the United States — especially a poorer or developing country — you already knew this. Because for decades, the U.S. has been doing to the world what China is currently trying to do to us. If you're a big country with lots of consumption spending and financial capital to throw around, other countries are going to want access to your domestic market. And that will give you leverage to condition that access on certain terms. While China's rise into the ranks of global economic behemoths happened in just the last two or three decades, the U.S. has been there since the end of World War II. Through institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the U.S. has used that leverage to build the global economic and trade order to its preferences. In the initial post-war years, this setup worked out relatively well — resuscitating the ravaged economies of Europe, and promising a prosperous new possible future for the global East and South. But then in the 1970s and 1980s, free market neoliberal ideology took over American policymaking — and by extension took over the policies America was exporting to the globe. The U.S. started forcing countries to abandon capital controls and tariffs, thus allowing the free flow of both goods and financial capital across their borders. Industrial policy and state-ownership of enterprise was discouraged, privatization and free market solutions encouraged. This model often turned out quite badly for developing countries in particular. The end of barriers to trade and financial flows left those countries vulnerable to rich western speculators who could boost their economy by rushing in, then collapse it by rushing out just as fast. When such crises left a country saddled with unsustainable levels of foreign-denominated debt, the solution imposed by America's neoliberal hegemony was austerity, which provided the surplus cash to pay off foreign creditors, but also crushed the country's domestic economy and the livelihoods of its own citizens in the process. Indeed, the occasional country that did resist these demands wound up raising its wealth and living standards faster — and there's no better example than China itself, which has used its own clout to pick and choose which parts of the neoliberal global trade order it does and doesn't want to cooperate with.

10-13-19 Black woman shot dead by Texas police through bedroom window
A black woman was shot dead by police through her own bedroom window in the early hours of Saturday morning, after a request to check on her welfare. Atatiana Jefferson, 28, had been living at the residence in Fort Worth, Texas with her eight-year-old nephew. A neighbour had called a non-emergency police number after growing concerned that her front door was open at night. Police have released body cam footage of the incident, which shows an officer shooting within seconds of seeing her. The clip shows police searching the perimeter of the residential property, before noticing a figure at the window. After demanding the person put their hands up, an officer then fired a shot through the glass. The Fort Worth Police Department said in a statement that the officer, who is a white man, had "perceived a threat" when he drew his weapon. He has been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation, officials added. The shooting happened at about 02:30 local time (07:30 GMT) on Saturday morning. Although it is edited, the body cam footage does not appear to show the officers identifying themselves as police. It does not show footage from inside the property but includes images of a weapon that police say they found inside the bedroom. It is unclear if Ms Jefferson was holding a weapon at the time, but firearm possession is legal for people aged over 18 in Texas. Police said officers provided emergency medical care to Ms Jefferson at the scene, but she was declared dead at the property. (Webmaster's comment: She was a women, she was black, and he was white so he could kill her! It's as simple as that! He'll get away with it! The police are a clear and present danger to all blacks in America!)

10-13-19 Harry Dunn crash: US diplomat's wife 'devastated' by death
The US diplomat's wife granted immunity after the crash which killed teenager Harry Dunn is "devastated by the tragic accident", her lawyer has said. Anne Sacoolas's legal representative, Amy Jeffress, said she would "continue to co-operate with the investigation". Mrs Sacoolas, 42, left for the US under diplomatic immunity despite being a suspect in the crash with Mr Dunn, 19, in Northamptonshire on 27 August. But the Foreign Office said, having gone home, she no longer has immunity. A statement issued on behalf of Mrs Sacoolas, whose husband worked at RAF Croughton in Northamptonshire, said: "Anne is devastated by this tragic accident. "No loss compares to the death of a child and Anne extends her deepest sympathy to Harry Dunn's family." It added she had "fully co-operated with the police". "She spoke with authorities at the scene of the accident and met with the Northampton police at her home the following day. She will continue to co-operate with the investigation," the statement continued. "Anne would like to meet with Mr Dunn's parents so that she can express her deepest sympathies and apologies for this tragic accident. "We have been in contact with the family's attorneys and look forward to hearing from them." Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab wrote to Mr Dunn's family on Saturday to explain both the British and US governments now considered Mrs Sacoolas' immunity irrelevant. The letter said: "We have pressed strongly for a waiver of immunity, so that justice can be done... Whilst the US government has steadfastly declined to give that waiver, that is not the end of the matter. "We have looked at this very carefully... the UK government's position is that immunity, and therefore any question of waiver, is no longer relevant in Mrs Sacoolas's case, because she has returned home. "The US have now informed us that they too consider that immunity is no longer pertinent." (Webmaster's comment: What good does an apology do? A child is dead by her actions. Diplomatic immunity should not apply for killing someone. She should be sent back to England to stand trial!)

10-13-19 How does religion influence our thoughts on climate change?
Religious studies scholar Willis Jenkins explores the entanglement of religion and climate change. "We are the belongings of the world, not its owners," wrote writer and environmentalist Wendell Berry in 1969. Whether or not you agree might depend, in part, on your religion. More than 80 percent of Americans view themselves as religious, spiritual, or both, and 84 percent of the global population identifies as part of a religious group. These alliances can profoundly affect how we view the world and our place in it — including our attitudes toward climate change and what humanity's response should be. Religion can mean a lot of things. It can refer to a body of official teachings (for example, Catholic Christianity or Vajrayana Buddhism), it can refer to shared cultural practices and worldviews (for example, Indigenous traditions or consumer capitalism), or it can simply refer to feelings of connection to something greater than oneself. But no matter how it's defined, it informs individuals' views on how to steward the Earth, share space with other species and react to climate change, says Willis Jenkins, a religious studies scholar at the University of Virginia. Without understanding such entanglements with religion, he says, there's no hope of understanding climate change's cultural dimensions. Jenkins, with co-authors Evan Berry of American University and Luke Beck Kreider of the University of Virginia, described how religion influences views on climate change in the 2018 Annual Review of Environment and Resources. He spoke with Knowable Magazine about the biblical idea of dominion, "petro-Islam", and indigenous views of Earth stewardship. This discussion has been edited for length and clarity.

10-13-19 Cannabis extract may work as a treatment for cannabis addiction
For people who are addicted to cannabis, one treatment option may be, paradoxically, to take pills containing an extract of cannabis. The first test of the idea has found that people taking capsules of this extract, known as cannabidiol or CBD, nearly halved the amount of cannabis they smoked, according to results presented at New Scientist Live this week. Cannabis is usually seen as a soft drug, but some users – about 1 in 10 by one estimate – become addicted, getting withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety and insomnia when they try to stop. The number of people seeking treatment because they can’t quit smoking cannabis has been rising in the past decade, linked with a use of the more potent form known as skunk, said Val Curran of University College London at the event. The two main psychoactive substances in cannabis are CBD and THC, the compound responsible for the high. While THC tends to increase anxiety, CBD makes people calmer. “CBD gets rid of the toxic effects of THC,” said Curran. Her team has been running a trial, where people undertook a four-week course of CBD to alleviate withdrawal symptoms to help them quit smoking cannabis. It involved 82 people classed as severely addicted, who were given one of three different doses of CBD or placebo capsules, as well as psychological support. The lowest dose didn’t work. The middle dose of 400 milligrams worked best, said Curran. After six months it halved the amount of cannabis people used compared with placebo, as shown by tests for THC in their urine. And the highest dose of 800 milligrams was slightly less effective than the middle one. The 400 milligram dose also more than doubled the number of days when people had no THC in their urine. “That’s really remarkable,” said Curran.

10-12-19 All the president's goons
If President Trump is eventually felled by the comical exploits of his personal lawyer, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, he will have no one to blame but himself. From the moment that he descended the elevator in 2015 to announce what would become his years-long grip on American politics and the national psyche, President Trump's greatest weakness has been his tendency to surround himself with cartoonish, wild-eyed cranks who are either too ignorant to understand their own lawlessness or so brazenly immoral that they don't care. The Ukraine escapade is something that a half-competent, bottom-of-the-class lawyer with even a small shred of integrity could have warned (or tried to warn) the president away from. But that's not the kind of person who works for this president. Late-stage Rudy Giuliani, however he got this way, is the perfect functionary for Trump's Derp State — barely in control of his faculties, gripped by hallucinatory delusions, brimming with bloodthirsty loathing for Democrats, and perfectly willing to commit broad-daylight crimes to cover up other broad-daylight crimes. As best we understand it today, Giuliani was tasked with using critical military aid and access to President Trump to extort the government of Ukraine into doing two things: forking over real or imagined dirt on Joe Biden, who at the time was President Trump's leading Democratic challenger for the presidency next year, and also to launch some kind of ginned-up investigation into the crackpot theory that the previous Ukrainian government was responsible for colluding with the Clinton campaign and the so-called Deep State in the U.S. to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. Giuliani did some of this work himself, traveling to Ukraine to shake down various officials, but he did not act alone. This poorly scripted and unquestionably illegal plot was seemingly carried out with the full knowledge and cooperation of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, U.S. envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, and further required sacking the U.S. ambassador in Kiev, a respected foreign service veteran named Marie Yovanovitch, who stood in the way of using America's relationship with Ukraine — a country at the mercy of its larger and more powerful Russian neighbor — for the personal gain of the president and his associates. There's also a B-plot: Giuliani seems to have concluded that executing the scheme required enlisting the help of two oafish bag men named Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who were arrested at Dulles Airport on Wednesday as part of a Southern District of New York investigation into campaign finance violations. They were about to flee the country for Vienna and appeared to have been funneling Russian slush money into the campaign coffers of Republicans and Republican-aligned entities who would help with the effort to recall Yovanovitch, in addition to serving as fixers in Kiev for Giuliani. And obviously, it wouldn't be a Trumpworld scheme if they weren't also trying to use their connections to Giuliani and Trump to get rich in the nebulous Ukrainian energy world. Notable: Giuliani himself was scheduled to fly to Vienna the next day. (Webmaster's comment: Trump has not "drained the swamp." He has filled the swamp with criminals and thugs!)

10-11-19 Not above the law
A federal judge called President Trump’s claim to immunity from criminal investigations “repugnant to the nation’s governmental structure and constitutional values,” demanding that Trump’s accounting firm turn over his tax returns to state prosecutors this week. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted a last-minute reprieve, however, preventing prosecutors from obtaining eight years of Trump’s personal and business tax records until it hears Trump’s appeal. The Manhattan district attorney obtained a grand jury subpoena for the records in late August as part of an investigation into the Trump Organization’s payments of hush money to two women who said they had affairs with Trump. District Court Judge Victor Marrero denied Trump’s lawsuit seeking to block the subpoena, citing the Founding Fathers’ rejection of the “inviolability” of the King of England as evidence that Trump’s claim to “unqualified and boundless” presidential immunity is unconstitutional.

10-11-19 Insurance rule to limit legal immigration
In a new anti-immigration salvo, the Trump administration announced last week that starting in November it will deny visas to legal immigrants who can’t prove that they have health insurance or sufficient money to cover health-care costs. The order would not affect children, or those old enough to be covered by Medicare. However, Medicaid, the health coverage program for the poor, would not meet the insurance requirement. New “public charge” rules announced in August and scheduled to go into effect later this month will also limit the ability of immigrants who get Medicaid to seek citizenship. One immigration advocate critical of the policy accused the administration of looking “for any way to exclude people who aren’t wealthy.”

10-11-19 Supreme Court: How far will the conservative majority go?
“Watch out, America,” said The New York Times in an editorial, the Supreme Court’s new term began this week, and its “newly emboldened conservative majority” seems ready to flex its muscles. After last year’s traumatic confirmation hearings for now–Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the court finished its term fairly quietly, ducking several cases involving “hot button” social issues. But the agenda for the new term reads like an index to our national culture wars, starting this week with oral arguments on the question of whether employees can be fired for being gay or transgender. Also on the docket: gun control, the fate of the 700,000 Dreamers, and yet another bad-faith Republican effort to overturn Obamacare, said Mark Joseph Stern in Slate.com. What else could the court “possibly take on to make this term more incendiary? Ah, yes: abortion.” The justices will also review a Louisiana law that effectively regulates abortion clinics out of existence. The court struck down an almost identical Texas law in 2016, but that was before the arrival of conservatives Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. Liberals should brace for a “jurisprudential bloodbath.” Remember how we got here, said Jamelle Bouie in The New York Times. Gorsuch is on the court because the GOP blocked President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland. Republicans rammed through Kavanaugh’s nomination despite two credible “accusations of sexual assault.” Democrats should play “constitutional hardball” themselves, by increasing the number of justices and “packing the court.” Let’s fix the court instead, said David Edward Burke in WashingtonMonthly.com. Term-limiting justices to 10 years would help. So would “raising the threshold for confirmation to 75 percent of Senate votes,” which would screen out ideologues. The Supreme Court will remain politicized until both parties “care more about protecting our institutions rather than controlling them.”

10-11-19 Diplomatic immunity
British politicians demanded this week that a U.S. diplomat’s wife who fled the U.K. after killing a teenage motorcyclist in a traffic accident return to Britain to face justice. The case sparked outrage in the U.K. after it was revealed that Anne Sacoolas, 42, had claimed diplomatic immunity and flown back to the U.S. while police investigated the Aug. 27 collision near the village of Croughton. Harry Dunn, 19, died after colliding head-on with a car being driven on the wrong side of the road by Sacoolas; she promised police that she would cooperate and wouldn’t leave the country. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that if Sacoolas doesn’t voluntarily return to the U.K., he will raise the case “personally with the White House.”

10-11-19 Far-right terrorism
At least two people were killed and two others wounded after a gunman wearing military-style gear went on a rampage in the German city of Halle this week, targeting a synagogue and a kebab shop. The gunman live-streamed his attack on the gaming platform Twitch, saying in English that he was a Holocaust denier and that Jews are to blame for all of the West’s problems. After trying and failing to force his way into the packed synagogue on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, the gunman shot and killed a woman on the street. He then opened fire on a nearby kebab shop, killing one man. After hijacking a taxi, the suspect was arrested on a highway to Munich. Police said they were investigating whether the attacker had “anti-Semitic and right-wing extremist motives.”

10-11-19 We are now fully a police state
There’s no such thing as an innocent person in President Vladimir Putin’s Russia, said Maria Zheleznova and Pavel Aptekar. Just look at the case of Russian actor Pavel Ustinov, sentenced to 3½ years in a penal colony after being arrested on the sidelines of an antigovernment protest in August. He was accused of injuring a police officer and resisting arrest during the demonstration, but video evidence shows that Ustinov, 24, was “scrolling through his cellphone in the street, completely minding his own business” when four cops in riot gear grabbed him. After a public outcry, authorities reduced his punishment to a one-year suspended sentence—but it kept the guilty verdict against him. Ustinov is a victim of police “abuse of power,” yet the court “convicted the victim and refused to charge those who victimized him.” The reduced sentence isn’t mercy, and it certainly isn’t justice. The conviction tells all Russians that the authorities are “willing to falsify evidence and level false charges,” and any citizen can be jailed “for simply crossing the path of a police officer” who needs to fill a quota. This knowledge encourages nihilism. Instead of “a healthy respect for the law,” we have only “fear of the state.” But the Kremlin better watch out: Bitter Russians “will eventually shed that fear.”

10-11-19 German Halle gunman admits far-right synagogue attack
A man has confessed to an attack on a synagogue in Germany in which two people died, and admitted a far-right, anti-Semitic motive, during a hearing with an investigating judge. Stephan Balliet, 27, spent several hours giving evidence before a federal court judge about the attack in the eastern city of Halle. He was arrested on Wednesday after a 40-year-old woman was shot dead in front of Halle's synagogue. A man aged 20 was also fatally shot. He was attacked inside a kebab shop after the gunman tried unsuccessfully to storm the synagogue, firing on the door several times. Inside the synagogue, 51 people were marking Yom Kippur, the holiest day in Judaism. Investigators believe his intention was to carry out a massacre and have revealed that 4kg (9lb) of explosives were found in his car. Balliet faces a double murder charge as well as seven counts of attempted murder. Before he was captured, he also wounded a man and a woman. He is now being held in pre-trial detention. The gunman streamed his attack online for 35 minutes and published a far-right manifesto. Prosecutors say it it is too early to say if he had accomplices and whether he was part of any far-right group."We were actually just in the middle of Shacharit, which is the morning service, reading Torah, when I heard and saw explosions and two clouds of smoke right outside the window," she said. "For a couple of seconds everyone was silent, and then all of a sudden everything went super-fast. The cantor who was leading prayer immediately understood what was going on. "He said: 'Everyone out of here - go to the next room, go upstairs, be on the floor, go down and go away from the windows.'" The horror and confusion which engulfed Halle on Wednesday has been replaced by bewilderment and painful questions. (Webmaster's comment: The Nazis are back! We need to come down on all Nazi groups with both feet. Lock them all up!)

10-10-19 Students defend hounding Trump's border chief
Acting US Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan was shouted off stage at a university in Washington DC by student protesters. Was it a legitimate form or protest or a violation of freedom of speech? The BBC's Aleem Maqbool spoke to some of the demonstrators.

10-10-19 The political implications of a Biblical rape
n a fine spring evening in the ancient Near East, a king took a stroll on the roof of his palace. Surveying his capital city, he caught sight of a woman purifying herself in a ritual religious bath. The moment was devotional, private — and the woman another man's wife. But the king watched and wanted her. He summoned her to his chambers for sex. She became pregnant, and the king sent her husband to the front line of battle to die. After widowing her, the king married the woman before she gave birth to his son. Was this adultery? Or was it rape? And does your answer change if I tell you the king is David — the shepherd boy who killed Goliath, the "man after God's own heart" — and the woman Bathsheba? This may seem an odd case to litigate some 3,000 years after the fact, but whether David raped Bathsheba is the Christian Twitter debate du jour, and it has fascinating implications for white evangelicals' much-analyzed support for President Trump. Before we turn to Trump, however, let's dive into the rape debate. The topic was raised in the Twitterverse by Rachael Denhollander, the lawyer and former gymnast whose sexual assault allegation against Larry Nassar, once a doctor at USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University, helped lead to his conviction for a host of sexual offenses against minors. Denhollander has become an advocate for sexual abuse survivors, particularly in evangelical Christian contexts, and she responded to a tweet about the sins of prominent biblical characters by correcting "David fornicated" to "David raped." "It's important we get that right," Denhollander added, appending a brief explanation for her interpretation of the scriptural account. Though not universally held, the rape reading is neither novel nor theologically liberal. Among its adherents, as has been noted in the Twitter spat, is influential author and pastor John Piper, a conservative Calvinist Baptist. Other theological conservatives agree. I was raised in evangelical churches, and it's a funny thing: When I think of the story of David and Bathsheba, I default to picturing Bathsheba bathing out in the open, on a roof. This is a curiously common assumption, perhaps influenced by how the incident is commonly depicted in Renaissance art. Gentileschi's Bathsheba, for example, admires herself in a mirror while bathing nearly nude on a balcony with a clear sight line to David's palace. This imagery lends itself to the adultery interpretation, where Bathsheba is a willing participant, a seductress even, deliberately displaying herself to tempt the king.

10-9-19 Note to Republicans: Trump will betray you just like he betrayed the Kurds
In The Art of the Deal, President Trump presents his deal making — by which he means his avarice and swindling — as an artistic enterprise. "Deals are my art form," he writes in his best-selling book that he didn't write. "Other people paint beautifully on canvas or write wonderful poetry. I like making deals, preferably big deals." Trump's forte is con artistry. He sells books he doesn't write to people who don't read. He failed as a businessman but succeeded as a fake businessman on TV. The supreme irony of his life is that he poses as a dealmaker when he is the opposite. Trump doesn't make deals. He breaks them. Trump's perfidy has global consequences. His decision this week to withdraw troops from northern Syria, reportedly made after a phone call with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, surprised and infuriated lawmakers, including Republicans. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) called it "a catastrophic mistake," Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) called it "a grave mistake that will have implications far beyond Syria," and Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) called it "a betrayal." Trump's abandonment of the Kurds, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said, sends "the most dangerous signal possible — America is an unreliable ally." America is an unreliable ally because its president is an unreliable person. If there's a constant in Trump's life, it's betrayal. He has betrayed his business partners, his customers, his employees, his friends, his wives, and his voters. A man who is willing to betray those closest to him will not hesitate to turn his back on foreigners thousands of miles away. In addition to abandoning the Kurds, the Trump administration is withdrawing from the Open Skies Treaty. Its most glaring defect is that it's a treaty. Trump opposes treaties because he loathes any agreement that redounds to other people's benefit. Moreover, treaties, like all reciprocal transactions, impose obligations on the signatories. To Trump, doing stuff for other people is for wimps and losers.

10-9-19 Viewpoint: White House letter is self-inflicted wound
An eight-page letter from White House lawyers to Democratic leaders in the House decries the impeachment inquiry as "baseless" and "constitutionally invalid". They don't have a case, says legal scholar Jonathan Turley. The letter rightfully raises concerns over the lack of a House vote and the secrecy of proceedings - Democrats have limited Republicans in their effort to question witnesses and secure material. However, that is not a legitimate basis for refusing to co-operate or supply clearly material evidence. The letter emphasises a lack of due process in the proceedings. Yet the constitution does not expressly require anything other than a vote of the House on impeachment itself and a majority threshold for any referral of the matter to the Senate for trial. This is a constitutional function of the highest order for Congress. There is a legitimate basis for congressional investigation under both its oversight and impeachment authority. If proven, these allegations of self-dealing could be a basis for articles of impeachment. A president cannot simply pick up his marbles and leave the game because he does not like the other players. A refusal to co-operate with a constitutionally mandated process can itself be an abuse of power. Mr Trump's earlier tweet about wanting an ambassador to testify (but blocking him because he does not trust the committee) is the death knell for a privilege claim. A president cannot withhold material evidence because he does not like the other party in control of a house of Congress. It must be based on a claim that disclosure, even to a co-equal branch, would undermine national security or diplomatic relations or essential confidential communications. This letter repeats that flawed premise for refusing to co-operate. It is a curious move since tweets by Mr Trump could be dismissed (as the Department of Justice did in the immigration litigation) as not reflective of the real position of the government.

10-9-19 An innovative approach to 'abolish ICE'
For weeks, organizers with Never Again Action, a Jewish-led advocacy group, have gathered outside of ICE offices across the country. Singing protest songs, they implore ICE officers put a stop to the agency's abusive detention and deportation practices. "Quit your job!" is a common plea. Some may just take them up on it. This week, Never Again Atlanta, one of the group's many local chapters, launched a job placement program for immigration officers seeking to distance themselves from the agency. The program seeks to make leaving the agency a real possibility by matching conscientious objectors with career advisers and job opportunities. "As we looked into these agents' eyes, we could tell they weren't comfortable with what was going on. We've asked them to quit their jobs, so how can we make it easy on them?" Emily Baselt, an organizer with Never Again Atlanta, told The Week. Never Again Action's founders say their organization stems from a refusal to stand by in the face of intensifying attacks on immigrant communities. "As Jews, we've been taught to never let anything like the Holocaust happen again", their website reads, "Now, with children detained in unacceptable conditions, ICE terrorizing immigrants in every corner of the country, and people dying at the border... We refuse to wait and see what happens next." Yet even some who passionately agree with the group's stance will take issue with the approach of working with current ICE officers. Should the very facilitators of ICE cruelty be allowed turn a new page? It's something Never Again Action, too has wrestled with: "It's a delicate balance. We want to help conscientious objectors, but ultimately, Never Again Action is a direct action organization. Slowing down operations by forcing the agency to hire and train replacements is unquestionably important — we're serious in declaring that 'never again means now,'" Baselt adds. The asymmetry is stark: ICE agents are extended an olive branch, allowed to walk away from their pasts with few questions asked, while the migrants they hound are rarely afforded that opportunity.

10-9-19 White House 'will not co-operate with impeachment inquiry'
The White House has officially refused to co-operate with the impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump. A letter sent to Democratic leaders rejected it as "baseless" and "constitutionally invalid". Three Democratic-led House committees are investigating Mr Trump. The inquiry is trying to find out if the president held back aid to Ukraine to push it to investigate Joe Biden, who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination. The White House letter comes hours after the Trump administration blocked the US ambassador to the European Union from appearing before a congressional impeachment investigation. White House counsel Pat Cipollone addressed the eight-page letter to the leading Democrat and House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and the three chairmen of the Democratic committees. He accused the leaders of setting up an inquiry that "violates fundamental fairness and constitutionally mandated due process". The letter insisted that, because Democrats did not hold a vote on launching impeachment proceedings in the House, the inquiry was "constitutionally invalid". The letter also accused Democrats of trying to change the 2016 election result, and "deprive the American people of the President they have freely chosen". "In order to fulfil his duties to the American people... President Trump and his Administration cannot participate in your partisan and unconstitutional inquiry under these circumstances." In response, Ms Pelosi called the letter "manifestly wrong" and accused Mr Trump of trying to "normalise lawlessness". "Mr President, you are not above the law. You will be held accountable." (Webmaster's comment: So send in the Federal Marshalls and drag all the criminals out of there!)


FEMINISM

10-14-19 High levels of air pollution seem to be linked to early miscarriages
High levels of air pollution may increase the chance of a missed miscarriage, according to data from pregnant women living and working in Beijing, China. “We have clear evidence and accumulating knowledge that there is a true association [between air pollution and miscarriage],” says Tim Nawrot at Hasselt University in Belgium, who wasn’t involved in the study. A missed or silent miscarriage is when a fetus dies or stops developing during pregnancy, usually without any symptoms. Such miscarriages tend to happen in the first trimester, and can be picked up on 12-week scans. Little is known about what causes them. Growing evidence suggests that exposure to air pollution could affect the development of a fetus. To find out if air pollution levels might be linked to missed miscarriages, Liqiang Zhang at Beijing Normal University and his colleagues assessed the health records of around 255,000 pregnant women in Beijing. The team also collected data on the levels of four air pollutants recorded by air monitoring stations close to where each woman lived and worked. As well as tracking levels of tiny particles, such as soot, the researchers noted the amount of sulphur dioxide, ozone and carbon monoxide. Just under 7 per cent of the women – about 17,500 individuals – experienced a missed miscarriage during their first trimester. Women who were older than 39 and those who worked as farmers or in blue-collar jobs seemed to be at greater risk. The researchers found that those exposed to higher levels of air pollution had an increased risk of experiencing a missed miscarriage, although they didn’t directly test if pollution causes miscarriage. The finding builds on a recent study of women in the US, which also found a link between air pollution exposure and miscarriage risk.

10-14-19 Nobel economics prize winner: I want to inspire women
Esther Duflo has said she is "humbled" by her success in winning this year's Nobel prize for economics and hopes it will "inspire many, many other women". Prof Duflo was part of a trio, alongside her husband Abhijit Banerjee and Michael Kremer, to win the prize. Their work had "dramatically improved our ability to fight poverty in practice", the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which awards the prize, said. Prof Duflo is only the second woman to win the prize since it began in 1969. At 46 years old, she is also the youngest recipient of the prize. "Showing that it is possible for a woman to succeed and be recognised for success I hope is going to inspire many, many other women to continue working and many other men to give them the respect that they deserve like every single human being," she said. Prof Duflo's husband was her PhD supervisor and their work, alongside that of Prof Kremer's, has focused on poor communities in India and Africa. Their research helps show which investments are worth making and also what has the biggest impact on the lives of the poorest people. For example, their research in India found a high level of absenteeism among teachers. They found employing them on short-term contracts, which would be extended if they had good results, led to significantly better test results for students. Another project looked at how the demand for de-worming pills for parasitic infections was affected by price. They found that three quarters of parents gave their children these pills when the medicine was free, compared to just 18% when they cost less than a US dollar, which was still heavily subsidised. The research has helped inform decisions on whether medicine and healthcare should be charged for and, if so, at what price.

10-12-19 Why I went public about being raped, 67 years later
Prominent Ghanaian journalist, BBC columnist and former government minister Elizabeth Ohene recently wrote about her experience of being sexually abused more than 60 years ago, when she was just seven years old. Here she explains why she decided to go public after such a long time. I am not quite sure I had considered what the effect would be if I went public with the story of my having been sexually molested. Last Wednesday, I told that story in the weekly column I write for Ghana's largest circulation newspaper, the Daily Graphic. I am a 74-year-old woman and I was recounting something that happened 67 years ago. One of my best friends - male - asked why I had chosen to unburden myself onto the rest of them. The story, I am told, makes difficult reading. Therefore, if I have been able to keep it to myself for 67 years, why was I now telling it, why did I not take it to my grave? I am not sure I wanted to unload my burden onto an unsuspecting public. I had decided ages ago that I had a responsibility to tell this story in the hope a young girl somewhere would be protected from suffering what I went through. Maybe I should first tell the story and then I will attempt to see if I can explain why I have told it. Back in 1952, I was a seven-year-old, happy child living with my grandmother in our village. One day, a man, who was a family relation who lived next door to us, dragged me into his room and sexually molested me. I have a difficulty with the terminology to describe what happened to me. At the time, I cannot say that I knew what he had done, I did not have a name for what he had done, I did not even have a name for the part of my body that had been violated. All I know is that he pushed his very rough fingers and cracked finger nails into my vagina. I don't remember what, if anything he said, it is the overpowering smell of his body and his rough fingers and cracked fingernails that stay with me to this day, 67 years after the event. Today I know what he did and one of the frustrations I have is that social norms do not allow me to describe exactly what happened and I am reduced to saying I was defiled or sexually molested. (Webmaster's comment: Another victim of the hundreds of millions of victims of males brutes!)

10-12-19 Data trial identifies vulnerable children who may otherwise be missed
A trial using data to prevent child abuse helped a UK police force detect a child gang and drastically cut the time it takes child protection experts to review cases. High profile abuse cases such as the death of 4-year old Daniel Pelka led to the creation of Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hubs to help agencies including the police and social care groups more effectively “join the dots” on the fragmented data they hold on children. But Ravi Gogna at defence firm BAE Systems says such hubs don’t help in many cases. “That really only works for the red flag events. If something really big, really bad happens, you hit your threshold of risk and data sharing occurs. “But what we’d learned from the Daniel Pelka case and a number of other cases is, actually, a lot of kids don’t have one big red flag event, they have lots of small events.” The company partnered with Gloucestershire Constabulary in a £250,000 pilot project to take siloed data from police, social care, education and health systems, analyse it automatically and flag cases to child protection experts. In total, it looked at 100 indicators of risk, such as poor school attendance. The technology identified children who might be candidates for early intervention by agencies, before abuse occurred. The data also discovered a gang of children in the area, the older members of which were committing crimes. “We accidentally found a gang. We weren’t setting out to look for gangs,” said Gogna, speaking at New Scientist Live in London yesterday. He said the police took the decision not to arrest children in the gang who had committed crimes, but instead to speak at assemblies at the schools they attend. The pilot also offers the prospect of saving police and other agencies’ time, cutting the time it takes to review an individual’s case from 2.5 hours manually by humans to 15 minutes by machine. Gloucestershire Constabulary told New Scientist: “Our officers were very impressed by the potential of the technology to help us protect children.”

10-11-19 Broken marriage
A man sexually assaulted a bridesmaid two days before his Sept. 1 wedding and was caught in the act by his fiancée, yet their wedding went ahead as planned, prosecutors alleged this week. After a day of heavy drinking while rafting down the Delaware River, the wedding party returned to their hotel, and Daniel Carney’s fiancée asked him to help walk her drunk friend inside. Security footage allegedly shows Carney, 28, pulling the woman inside the men’s locker room; Carney’s fiancée entered the locker room 20 minutes later and chased him out. The victim remembers waking up with her bikini bottoms off and Carney on top of her. Hours before the wedding, Carney texted her asking her to “just be happy” for the bride. He said in the message that they didn’t have sex, but he asked if she could take Plan B contraception “just in case.”

10-11-19 1,700 Roman Catholic priests and child sexual abuse
Nearly 1,700 Roman Catholic priests and other clergy members the church considers to have been credibly accused of child sexual abuse are living without supervision by religious authorities or law enforcement. More than 160 still work or volunteer in churches; about 190 have professional licenses to work in fields like education, medicine, and counseling where they have access to children.

10-11-19 Abuse: Blocking child porn online
Authorities are stepping up the pressure on encrypted messaging after an explosive rise in child sexual abuse imagery on the internet, said Jennifer Valentino-DeVries and Gabriel Dance in The New York Times. The Times reported that tech companies flagged a staggering “45 million photos and videos as child sex abuse material last year,” including “horrific” images of kids as young as 3 or 4. Two decades ago, there were about 3,000 reports of such images on the web. Today, Facebook’s Messenger app “accounted for nearly two-thirds of reports,” and law enforcement is concerned that the app’s impending move to encryption could make it easier for child predators to conceal their online activities. In a letter to Facebook last week, U.S. Attorney General William Barr asked the company to hold off its encryption plans “until it figures out a way to provide government access to the services for investigative purposes,” said Robert McMillan in The Wall Street Journal. Don’t hold your breath. Chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has acknowledged that extending encryption “will come at a cost to user safety,” but Facebook, like other tech companies, argues that open government access “could ultimately be misused by hackers or spy agencies to steal data from consumers.” “Child exploitation is certainly an issue outside of Messenger,” said Damon Beres in OneZero.Medium.com, but “no other company bears as much responsibility for the spread of this content as Facebook.” Now Facebook threatens to make the situation even worse with encryption. There’s a simple way to solve this. “We take for granted that you can send images, links, and videos on Messenger, but what if you couldn’t?” Limiting Messenger to text solves the problems. Yes, other companies might create a Messenger-like service, “but it would not be supported by the dominant social network.” No doubt “banning all link and image sharing in Messenger will find favor in, for example, authoritarian governments,” said Casey Newton in TheVerge.com. This is not a problem unique to Facebook. In fact, “thanks to Facebook’s efforts in particular, law enforcement detects millions of cases in which terrible images are being shared around the world.” The tech platforms have worked actively to limit child porn, and their reports have led to thousands of arrests; Facebook’s work on this has been lauded by the FBI and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Choosing between private communications and access for law enforcement to block terrorism and child porn is a truly agonizing dilemma. As the world moves inexorably toward encrypted communication, “we lack easy methods for balancing the risks versus the benefits.” But Facebook at a minimum has a responsibility to try.

10-11-19 Censoring kids’ books
Turkish authorities have decided that the best-selling children’s book Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls could have a “detrimental influence” on young minds and so should be subject to the same restrictions as pornography—concealed in bookshops and sold only to adults. The illustrated book, which has been translated into 47 languages since its publication in 2016, celebrates the achievements of 100 real-life women, from Coco Chanel to Rosa Parks to Catherine the Great. “When a government is scared by a children’s book promoting equality, that means that promoting these messages through children’s literature can have and is having an impact,” said the book’s co-author Francesca Cavallo. “It makes me even more motivated to keep fighting every day.”

10-11-19 Gender and Our Brains: How New Neuroscience Explodes the Myths of the Male and Female Minds
“Can it be that our culture still wants little girls to stay in their lane?” asked Karen Sandstrom in The Washington Post. In a book “dense with research and point of view,” cognitive researcher Gina Rippon argues that her field is littered with suspect findings about the supposed differences between the brains of men and women. A study can always be found to support the ideas, say, that boys excel at mechanical tasks and girls are more empathetic. Because Rippon, a British professor emeritus, has long been a critic of what she calls neurosexism, she has accumulated many detractors. But she isn’t denying that there are observable differences between the brains of men and women; “she just wants us to accurately understand whatever differences do exist.” Don’t let the science here intimidate you, said Laura Miller in Slate.com. Rippon is an “irascible but very down-to-earth guide” to brain research, and her withering assault on some of the sloppy work of her peers “reads like a secretly recorded trash-talking session in a lab break room.” She also revisits the 19th century, when male researchers weren’t pondering if women might be inferior intellectually; they were merely hoping to understand why. Today, subtler prejudices are alive and well. The media, meanwhile, tends to ignore studies that highlight commonalities between the genders while playing up those that appear to show differences. What’s often missed, Rippon says, is that the differences can be attributed to the brain’s amazing malleability. In one study she cites, teenage girls who played Tetris regularly for just three months enlarged the areas of their brain associated with spatial processing—a capability often cited as a hallmark strength of the male brain. “So has Rippon proved that it’s all nurture and no nature?” asked neuroscientist Simon Baron-Cohen in The Times (U.K.). Hardly. Plenty of research indicates there are measurable differences in the average male and female brain among newborns. A 2001 study that I co-led found that even among 24-hour-old infants, boys gazed longer at objects and girls at human faces. Because that finding “strikes at the heart of Rippon’s thesis,” she attacks it on technicalities. Such criticism of Rippon should be expected, said Sue Nelson in the Financial Times. For years, Rippon has been knocking down myths, and every time her motives are questioned. Instead, her case deserves a hearing. Because when the subject is myths about what women can’t do, “stereotypes are brain changers.”

10-11-19 Kmart abduction case: Australian jailed for molesting girl
An Australian man who kidnapped a child from a shopping centre and molested her in remote scrubland has been jailed. Sterling Mervyn Free, 27, lured the seven-year-old girl out of a Kmart store in Brisbane last December. He then drove her to an isolated place where he sexually assaulted her, before returning her about an hour later. A judge called the attack "every parent's worst nightmare" and jailed Free for a maximum of eight years - a sentence which has drawn controversy. Speaking in the Brisbane District Court, Judge Julie Dick said Free's abduction of the girl form a toy aisle was "chilling, opportunistic and predatory". But she stopped short of legally classifying him as a serious violent offender, meaning Free will be eligible for parole in 2021. Australian Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said the sentence was "grossly inadequate" and called on Queensland state lawmakers to intervene. "To have this young girl treated the way that she was by this animal is unacceptable and that he wouldn't go to jail for a long period of time just doesn't reflect community standards," he said. Prosecutors told the court the attack had occurred while the girl's parents were busy doing Christmas shopping. The court was shown CCTV footage of Free lingering in the toy aisles, before exiting the store with the girl following him. He was arrested two days later and charged with kidnapping and indecent assault. He pleaded guilty to the charges in July. The court heard that Free, who has two children, was addicted to pornography and had suffered abuse himself. He apologised to his victim and said he accepted his punishment, saying in a statement on Friday: "I deeply regret the harm that I have done." (Webmaster's comment: So What! Eighty years would have been more just!)

10-10-19 Iran football: Women attend first match in decades
Iranian women have attended a World Cup qualifier in Tehran after being freely allowed to enter a stadium for a men's match for the first time in decades. Women have effectively been banned from stadiums when men are playing since just after the 1979 Islamic revolution. The change followed the death of a fan who had set herself alight after being arrested for trying to attend a match. But Amnesty International described the move on Thursday as a "cynical publicity stunt". The non-governmental organisation said there were only a "token number" of tickets for female fans as it called for all restrictions on female attendance to be lifted. More than 3,500 women bought tickets to Thursday's World Cup qualifier against Cambodia, where they were granted access to a special women's-only section of the Azadi Stadium. The stadium has a capacity of about 78,000. The tickets for women reportedly sold out within minutes. Photos from inside the stadium showed female football fans excitedly waiving Iranian flags and cheering on their team. They were elated to see Iran win the match 14-0. Women were previously allowed into the Azadi Stadium to watch a screening of their team playing Spain in the 2018 World Cup. but Thursday was the first time in decades that they had been allowed to watch a game on Tehran's pitch. The issue of gender discrimination in Iranian football came to global prominence last month when Sahar Khodayari, known as "blue girl" because of the team she supported, set fire to herself outside court while awaiting trial for trying to attend a match disguised as a man. The 29-year-old died a week later. Football's governing body Fifa responded by stepping up pressure on Tehran to meet its commitments to allowing women to attend World Cup qualifiers. It said this week that it would "stand firm" in ensuring that women had access to all football matches in Iran.

10-9-19 Elizabeth Warren's pregnancy discrimination experience is something that still happens all the time
One story that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a contender for the Democratic presidential nomination, tells on the campaign trail is how she was ushered out of a teaching job in 1971 because she became pregnant. It was a hard-knock lesson in how American employers mistreat their workers, and the discrimination that working women in particular face — but also an ironic change in life circumstances that ultimately put Warren on a course for politics and a run for the presidency.. The story made headlines this week after some conservative media outlets tried to debunk Warren's story. But not only does Warren's narrative hold up, it's not even a relic of an unfortunate past. Pregnancy discrimination is still a widespread problem in American employment today. Ever since the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, courts have generally concluded that firing or discriminating against a woman because she's pregnant is discrimination based on sex, and thus prohibited. How often discrimination was actually prevented is another matter: During the 1960s, around half of all women who were in the workforce when they first became pregnant left their job by the time their pregnancy reached six months. Then in 1974, the Supreme Court actually took the opposite tack, ruling that pregnancy discrimination did not fall afoul of the Civil Rights Act. That set off a campaign that eventually passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) in 1978, which explicitly forbade "discrimination on the basis of pregnancy," and obligated employers to treat pregnant women the same "as other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work." Warren's story happened in the early 1970s, before the PDA. She had just gotten her teaching gig in the Riverdale school system in New Jersey. In April of 1971, the Riverdale Board of Education voted unanimously to extend Warren's contract, but by June of 1971, the Board had accepted her resignation. Warren's explanation is straightforward: In April, no one knew about her pregnancy. "By the end of the first year I was visibly pregnant, and the principal did what principals did in those days: wished me luck, showed me the door, and hired someone else for the job," Warren said earlier this year.


SCIENCE - GLOBAL WARMING and ENVIRONMENT

10-15-19 US green economy has 10 times more jobs than the fossil fuel industry
The green economy has grown so much in the US that it employs around 10 times as many people as the fossil fuel industry – despite the past decade’s oil and gas boom. The fossil fuel sector, from coal mines to gas power plants, employed around 900,000 people in the US in 2015-16, government figures show. But Lucien Georgeson and Mark Maslin at University College London found that over the same period this was vastly outweighed by the green economy, which provided nearly 9.5 million jobs, or 4 per cent of the working age population. The pair defined the green economy broadly, covering everything from renewable energy to environmental consultancy. Their analysis showed the green economy is worth $1.3 trillion, or about 7 per cent of US GDP. The figures don’t cover the presidency of Donald Trump, who promised to protect coal mining jobs and exploit oil and gas resources. But Maslin says the figures show that Trump’s policy is economically misguided. “The Trump administration with the ‘America first’ approach of ‘fossil fuels are good’, is stupid when it comes to economics. If you want to be a hard-nosed neoliberal economist you would say, ‘Let’s support the green economy as much as possible.’” The US stopped recording green job statistics several years ago, but these suggested 3.4 million people worked in the sector in 2011. Maslin and Georgeson used a much broader set of 26 sub-sectors including wind and solar power, marine pollution controls, carbon capture, biodiversity and air pollution. Maslin says the figures have been underestimated in the past, partly because the green economy is so diffuse.

10-15-19 How deadly disease outbreaks could worsen as the climate changes
The dangers posed by fruit bats and mosquitoes are rarely mentioned among the potential impacts of major environmental changes such as deforestation and climate change. But two studies this week shine a light on how environmental destruction could lead to a greater spread of deadly human diseases via animals and other organisms, with serious consequences for future public health. The 2016 Ebola outbreak in West Africa killed more than 11,000 people directly, and knock-on effects, such as diverted resources, caused thousands more deaths. Worryingly, climate change could cause an increase in Ebola rates over the next 50 years, a team of UK and US researchers has found after creating a model that successfully reproduced past Ebola outbreaks. In the worst-case future warming scenarios that they modelled, the maximum area where “spillovers” can occur – when the Ebola virus jumps from an animal to a human – will increase by nearly 15 per cent compared with today. That could expose new parts of west and central Africa to the disease. “By changing the environment, we are going to directly impact our health,” says David Redding at University College London. One way in which climate change will affect where there is a risk of diseases such as Ebola spreading is by making new areas into suitable homes for disease-carrying species. For example, if the trees that fruit bats – believed to be a reservoir for the Ebola virus – rely on can grow in a new area, the bats can follow. Global warming isn’t the only environmental change that could increase disease risk. Humanity’s clearances of the Amazon rainforest seem to be driving up the spread of malaria to people, suggests research by Andrew MacDonald and Erin Mordecai at Stanford University in California.

10-15-19 Extinction Rebellion protests continue in London despite ban
Extinction Rebellion activists are continuing protests despite a London-wide ban by police. The group says it has taken initial steps towards a judicial review of the ban. Lawyers and politicians have also criticised the move. Meanwhile, climate change protesters targeted the Department for Transport and MI5 on Tuesday morning. A government spokeswoman said protests "should not disrupt people's day-to-day lives". Extinction Rebellion's co-founder, Gail Bradbrook, was arrested after climbing on to the entrance of the Department for Transport on Tuesday morning. Police also cleared further protesters from outside the building. Activists have also been arrested on Millbank outside MI5's headquarters, where a small group had gathered. Two men briefly sat in the middle of the road before being moved by officers. The Metropolitan Police began clearing protesters from Trafalgar Square on Monday evening following the announcement of new restrictions under Section 14 of the Public Order Act, which required activists to stop their protests in central London by 21:00 BST or risk arrest. The force said it decided to impose the rules after "continued breaches" of conditions which limited the demonstrations to Trafalgar Square. Extinction Rebellion said it had taken the "first steps" towards a judicial review of the Met's "disproportionate and unprecedented attempt to curtail peaceful protest". "Our lawyers have delivered a 'Letter before Action' to the Met and asked for an immediate response," a statement read. Tobias Garnett, a human rights lawyer working for the movement, said the letter warned police to withdraw the order, giving them a deadline of 14:30 BST to respond, or else the group would file a claim in the High Court.

10-15-19 Extinction Rebellion protests should be embraced, not banned
The move to haul climate change protesters off London’s streets reflects a scientifically and economically illiterate political and media elite in denial about the issue. My lunchtime runs in London have been joyfully car-free of late, thanks to climate activists blocking key streets. But that’s not why I’m writing this defence of the protests, which were banned last night. The reason is that, along with student climate strikes, the Extinction Rebellion movement has helped propel environmental issues to be one of the top public concerns. Meanwhile, the backlash has drawn out its critics’ scientific illiteracy and failure to grasp the scale of the challenge posed by climate change, laying bare why the protests, not just in the UK, but across Europe, Australia and elsewhere, are necessary. Extinction Rebellion triggered a fair bit of criticism with its first wave of protests earlier in the year. But the latest response has been far more hostile. “It is certainly more voluminous and bile-filled now,” says Leo Hickman of Carbon Brief, which monitors UK media coverage of climate change. Prime minister Boris Johnson set the tone when he spoke of “importunate nose-ringed climate change protesters” and “uncooperative crusties”. The Daily Telegraph branded the group a “millenarian death cult”. The Sun fumed: “Do they know our share of global greenhouse gases is now just 1.2 per cent?” The Daily Mail even trotted out the old “global warming is good for you” trope. Perhaps the attacks are a sign people have realised the protests aren’t just a fun sideshow, but are setting the agenda. Maybe that is why Andrea Leadsom, the minister responsible for energy policy, has joined the criticisms by saying people blocking roads in London are protesting in “the wrong country” because the UK has cut emissions hugely since 1990. That is utterly missing the point. The point is the future.

10-15-19 Lebanon calls for help as forest fires spread
Lebanon has asked for international help battling hundreds of forest fires that broke out on Monday and have spread abroad. The blazes - the worst in decades - started in Lebanon's western mountains, amid a heatwave and strong winds. Heavy smoke was seen over Beirut and the city of Sidon, and one volunteer firefighter reportedly died. Two forestry workers have also died in the north-western region of Latakia, according to Syrian state media. Eight more were injured in the flames, Sana news agency said. Lebanon's Interior Minister Raya El Hassan said the government had contacted several countries for help, and tweeted images of a Cypriot plane dropping water. Riot police equipped with water cannon were called to the Mount Lebanon region early on Tuesday after fire engines were overwhelmed. It is unclear how the fires began. But Prime Minister Saad Hariri is reported to have said that if they were set intentionally, those responsible "will pay a price". The volunteer firefighter is said to have died in the Chouf region, south-east of Beirut. The area is the site of the Al Shouf Cedar Nature Reserve, which has a large Lebanon cedar forest - the tree on the country's national flag.Lebanon's civil defence authority has tweeted regular updates about the fight against the fires. Army and air force units are helping throughout the country.

10-15-19 Huge fire blankets can protect houses from destructive wildfires
A series of tests has confirmed that wrapping wooden structures like houses in huge fire blankets can protect them from fast-moving wildfires. In one test, a wooden shed wrapped in a fire blanket survived a forest fire. The idea of wrapping houses in fire-resistant materials to protect them goes back to at least 1944, when a patent on this was filed, says Fumi Takahashi at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio. Such fire blankets are now sold commercially. US Forest Service firefighters also carry personal shelters – like tiny tents – made of fire-resistant material to use as a last resort when trapped by flames. They have routinely been wrapping historic forest cabins in this material, too, when wildfires threaten them. It seems to work, says Takahashi, but has never been scientifically tested. So he teamed up with the Forest Service and others to do a series of escalating tests. The team started with wooden bird houses exposed to a fire in a room, then door-sized wooden panels on a hillside exposed to a grass fire and finally a wooden shed subjected to a forest fire deliberately started by the fire service in an area where controlled burns are carried out routinely. You can see how it fared in the video below. The best-performing blankets were fabrics made of fibreglass or amorphous silica laminated with heat-reflecting aluminium foil. These can provide up to 10 minutes of protection from intense heat, which can be enough to save a structure from fast-moving wildfires. Takahashi hopes the findings will inspire the development of even better fire blankets that can protect buildings against more intense fires. But finding ways of quickly covering houses will also be necessary to make this approach practical. It can take several hours to properly wrap even a small structure, but householders might not get that much warning.

10-15-19 Electronic devices 'need to use recycled plastic'
Plastic in waste electronics (e-waste) is an environmental time bomb that has been overlooked, say campaigners. Plastic accounts for about 20% of the 50 million tonnes of e-waste produced each year, which is expected to more than double to 110m tonnes by 2050. A UN-supported campaign is calling on consumers to favour electronic devices that use recovered plastic. The PolyCE campaign, funded by the European Commission, also calls on manufacturers to use less plastic. "The amount of e-waste increasing annually is tremendous," warned Ruediger Kuehr, director of the Sustainable Cycles Programme at the United Nations University. "At the moment, we are generating roughly 50 million tonnes per year globally, and it is expected that it will reach 110 million tonnes in 2050 if we do not change our existing business and consumption practices." Dr Kuehr explained that, currently, most of the plastic in electronic devices was not designed for recovery or recycling. As a result, it ended up untreated in landfill sites. "That means, if we were confronted with a long line of trucks fully loaded with the plastic from e-waste, there would be more than 62,000 trucks stretching from Rome to Frankfurt," he told BBC News. "What is astonishing in all of this is that the recovery rate is so low. We can do substantially better." One driver for the unprecedented growth in e-waste includes the notion of "leap-frog" technology. This may involve parts of the world going straight to communicating and working on mobile networks (in some cases straight to 5G). In this way, they skip the extensive and costly infrastructure associated with landline infrastructure. This means that more than half of the world's population now have access to the internet or a mobile phone. This means that there has been an explosion in the volume of demand for electronic devices, such as laptops, tablets and mobile phones.

10-15-19 Central heating boilers 'put climate change goals at risk'
The UK will not meet its climate change targets without a revolution in home heating, a think tank says. A report from the cross-party Policy Connect says gas central heating boilers also threaten the UK’s clean air goals. But a poll conducted among MPs suggests that most do not consider pollution from home heating to be a priority. That is despite the fact 14% of UK greenhouse gases come from our homes, a similar level to emissions from cars. In major cities gas boilers are also a main source of nitrogen dioxide emissions. The government wants low-carbon heat systems to be standard for all new homes built after 2025. But that will still leave the vast majority of existing homes in the UK with polluting heat systems. A spokesman for the Treasury said a plan to support the move to sustainable heating systems would go out to consultation later this year. The task is huge. Policy Connect says more than 20,000 homes a week must switch to low-carbon heating between 2025 and 2050 to meet UK climate goals. The think tank says many innovations need to be pursued. They include smart systems and controls; more use of the "internet of things"; hydrogen boilers; biogas; electric heat and direct infrared heat among others. Policy Connect said future heating systems might also need to supply home cooling as UK temperatures rise along with climate change. It recommends that the government creates an Olympic-style body to take on the challenge. The report’s lead author, Joanna Furtado, said: “The next five years are critical for heat decarbonisation in new and existing homes and for meeting our climate targets. “We need to spark a national conversation on heat as MPs and consumers are still in the dark on the savings greener home heat solutions could offer."

10-15-19 What's in the government's new environment bill?
A bill to tackle environmental priorities is to be published by the government later. It aims to improve air and water quality, tackle plastic pollution, restore wildlife, and protect the climate. Environmentalists have welcomed several of the proposals, especially on restoring nature. But they say on other green issues ministers are going backwards - and they're anxious to see details of the new policies. Under EU rules, for instance, the government has faced heavy fines for failing to meet air quality standards. With Brexit set to remove the stick of these rules, an independent watchdog, the Office for Environmental Protection, is being created to hold the government to account. Ministers say the watchdog won't be able to fine the government if it fails to uphold its commitments - but will ensure it is held to account, with the ability to stop projects and hold authorities in contempt of court if they breach environmental standards. But campaigners fear that the new watchdog could be muzzled, tamed and stripped of funding. Conservative peer Lord Randall - a green adviser to former prime minister Theresa May - told BBC News that the Treasury appeared to have relaxed its objections to a powerful independent watchdog. But he said it would still be useful if the new body could fine the government for environmental transgressions. "I can see it might look silly if one government body fines another, but it would be a very powerful weapon," he said. Crucially, policy details of the bill have not yet been released.

10-14-19 Astronomer Royal: We're destroying the book of life before reading it
The future of humanity may be at a crucial turning point, say Astronomer Royal Martin Rees. In a wide-ranging talk at New Scientist Live in London on Sunday, Rees said that inaction may lead to a “catastrophic setback to civilisation”. Speaking about energy policy, artificial intelligence and space exploration, Rees called for accelerated research into low-carbon energy sources and the need for urgent climate action. “Extinction rates are rising. We’re destroying the book of life before we’ve read it,” said Rees. “The biomass in humans, cows and domestic animals is 20 times that in wild mammals.” Public pressure is an important driver of political decision-making, said Rees. “That’s why we should welcome public demonstrations,” he said. Rees added that the UK will benefit economically by investing in alternative energy sources, including nuclear fusion. “Prioritising clean energy research as much as defence research or medical research, we can aspire to make a much more than 2 percent difference to the world’s CO2 emissions,” he said. Speaking about the impact of artificial intelligence on the future of humanity, Rees warned that AI systems will become more intrusive and pervasive. “Records of our movements, our health, and our financial transactions will be in the cloud, managed by a multinational quasi-monopoly,” said Rees.These collections of data are already “shifting the balance of power from governments to globe-spanning conglomerates”, and the responsibility will fall to governments to redistribute wealth to preserve healthy societies, he said. Autonomous robots will likely transform our lives, Rees added, but whether they will be “idiot savants” or superhuman in ability remains to be seen.

10-14-19 High levels of air pollution seem to be linked to early miscarriages
High levels of air pollution may increase the chance of a missed miscarriage, according to data from pregnant women living and working in Beijing, China. “We have clear evidence and accumulating knowledge that there is a true association [between air pollution and miscarriage],” says Tim Nawrot at Hasselt University in Belgium, who wasn’t involved in the study. A missed or silent miscarriage is when a fetus dies or stops developing during pregnancy, usually without any symptoms. Such miscarriages tend to happen in the first trimester, and can be picked up on 12-week scans. Little is known about what causes them. Growing evidence suggests that exposure to air pollution could affect the development of a fetus. To find out if air pollution levels might be linked to missed miscarriages, Liqiang Zhang at Beijing Normal University and his colleagues assessed the health records of around 255,000 pregnant women in Beijing. The team also collected data on the levels of four air pollutants recorded by air monitoring stations close to where each woman lived and worked. As well as tracking levels of tiny particles, such as soot, the researchers noted the amount of sulphur dioxide, ozone and carbon monoxide. Just under 7 per cent of the women – about 17,500 individuals – experienced a missed miscarriage during their first trimester. Women who were older than 39 and those who worked as farmers or in blue-collar jobs seemed to be at greater risk. The researchers found that those exposed to higher levels of air pollution had an increased risk of experiencing a missed miscarriage, although they didn’t directly test if pollution causes miscarriage. The finding builds on a recent study of women in the US, which also found a link between air pollution exposure and miscarriage risk.

10-14-19 Renewables overtook fossil fuels in UK electricity mix for first time
UK wind turbines, solar farms and other renewable sources of energy generated more electricity this summer than coal and gas power stations, marking the first quarter in history that renewables have eclipsed fossil fuels in the country. In a significant milestone, an analysis by climate website Carbon Brief found that renewables generated 29.5 terawatt-hours across July to September, versus 29.1 TWh from fossil fuels. “It is no longer a question of whether renewables can form the backbone of the UK grid, generating more electricity than any other source – it is a question of when they get there and how quickly and how far they continue to expand beyond that. That in itself is a massive change,” says Simon Evans at Carbon Brief. “This milestone highlights the fact that the UK’s electricity system is in the midst of a stunning transformation, which is only set to continue,” he says. Over the period, 40 per cent of UK electricity generation came from renewables. Half of that amount came from wind farms and the rest was from biomass, solar and hydropower. By comparison, gas power stations provided 38 per cent of electricity, with coal supplying just 1 per cent. Nuclear’s share was around 20 per cent.The speed at which renewables have come to rival and – during summer months when energy demand is lower – outstrip fossil fuels in the UK has been remarkably fast. A decade ago, renewables supplied just 6.7 per cent of electricity. Since 2010, electricity generation from renewables has quadrupled. Most of the growth has been from onshore windfarms and, in the past two years, new offshore windfarms that span hundreds of square kilometres, such as the Hornsea One wind farm currently being built off the Yorkshire coast. In the process, coal power has been almost entirely squeezed off the grid. The government has backed renewables with subsidies while penalising coal with taxes, in order to help meet its binding carbon targets.

10-13-19 How does religion influence our thoughts on climate change?
Religious studies scholar Willis Jenkins explores the entanglement of religion and climate change. "We are the belongings of the world, not its owners," wrote writer and environmentalist Wendell Berry in 1969. Whether or not you agree might depend, in part, on your religion. More than 80 percent of Americans view themselves as religious, spiritual, or both, and 84 percent of the global population identifies as part of a religious group. These alliances can profoundly affect how we view the world and our place in it — including our attitudes toward climate change and what humanity's response should be. Religion can mean a lot of things. It can refer to a body of official teachings (for example, Catholic Christianity or Vajrayana Buddhism), it can refer to shared cultural practices and worldviews (for example, Indigenous traditions or consumer capitalism), or it can simply refer to feelings of connection to something greater than oneself. But no matter how it's defined, it informs individuals' views on how to steward the Earth, share space with other species and react to climate change, says Willis Jenkins, a religious studies scholar at the University of Virginia. Without understanding such entanglements with religion, he says, there's no hope of understanding climate change's cultural dimensions. Jenkins, with co-authors Evan Berry of American University and Luke Beck Kreider of the University of Virginia, described how religion influences views on climate change in the 2018 Annual Review of Environment and Resources. He spoke with Knowable Magazine about the biblical idea of dominion, "petro-Islam", and indigenous views of Earth stewardship. This discussion has been edited for length and clarity.

10-13-19 Microplastics: Seeking the 'plastic score' of the food on our plates
Microplastics are found everywhere on Earth, yet we know surprisingly little about what risks they pose to living things. Scientists are now racing to investigate some of the big unanswered questions. Daniella Hodgson is digging a hole in the sand on a windswept beach as seabirds wheel overhead. "Found one," she cries, flinging down her spade. She opens her hand to reveal a wriggling lugworm. Plucked from its underground burrow, this humble creature is not unlike the proverbial canary in a coal mine. A sentinel for plastic, the worm will ingest any particles of plastic it comes across while swallowing sand, which can then pass up the food chain to birds and fish. "We want to see how much plastic the island is potentially getting on its shores - so what is in the sediments there - and what the animals are eating," says Ms Hodgson, a postgraduate researcher at Royal Holloway, University of London. "If you're exposed to more plastics are you going to be eating more plastics? What types of plastics, what shapes, colours, sizes? And then we can use that kind of information to inform experiments to look at the impacts of ingesting those plastics on different animals." Microplastics are generally referred to as plastic smaller than 5mm, or about the size of a sesame seed. There are many unanswered questions about the impact of these tiny bits of plastic, which come from larger plastic debris, cosmetics and clothes. What's not in dispute is just how far microplastics have travelled around the planet in a matter of decades. "They're absolutely everywhere," says Hodgson, who is investigating how plastic is making its way into marine ecosystems. "Microplastics can be found in the sea, in freshwater environments in rivers and lakes, in the atmosphere, in food." Even in this remote spot, plastic pollution is visible on the beach. Prof David Morritt who leads the Royal Holloway University research team points out blue twine and bits of plastic bottles that wash up with the seaweed at Kames Bay. Where it's coming from is the "multi-million-dollar question", he says, holding up a piece of blue string.

10-12-19 Jane Fonda arrested at Washington climate protest
US actress Jane Fonda has been arrested while participating in a climate change protest in Washington DC. The 81-year-old was filmed being escorted away by police officers as she protested outside the US Capitol building with Oil Change International, a group advocating for clean energy. She warned that she would be getting involved in the protests and was inspired "by the incredible movement our youth have created". Ms Fonda has a history of protesting. She was one of 16 people to be arrested, according to CBS News. They were all charged with crowding, obstructing or incommoding. Ms Fonda said on her website that she had moved to Washington DC to be "closer to the epicentre of the fight for our climate". She vowed to protest every Friday until January to demand for action to be taken to address climate change. Ms Fonda labelled the protests "Fire Drill Fridays". Every evening before her protests, a panel of experts will take part in a live stream explaining the crisis to viewers, Ms Fonda said. According to the Washington Post, she has invited leaders of Black Lives Matter and the Sunrise Movement - a group of young people who want to stop climate change and create millions of jobs in the process. The actress has had a history of activism. She was pictured speaking at the global climate strike in Los Angeles last month. In 2016, she spent Thanksgiving among the protesters at Standing Rock, demonstrating against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

10-12-19 Amazon fires: What's the latest in Brazil?
Dark clouds of smoke smothered cities in Brazil as parts of the Amazon burned at a rate not seen in years, and the world responded with outrage. For a few weeks in August, the world's eyes were fixed on Brazil and its government's response. But what is the latest with the fires now, almost two months on? And why might the problem be worse than it first appeared? When the burning of the Amazon was at its peak in August, there were thousands of individual fires, almost three times as many that month - 30,901 - compared with the same period last year. What caused this? Forest fires do happen in the Amazon during the dry season between July and October. They can be caused by naturally occurring events, like lightning strikes, but this year most are thought to have been started by farmers and loggers clearing land for crops or grazing. This matters because the Amazon is the largest rainforest in the world and a vital carbon store that slows down the pace of global warming. The world reacted with fury to the fires - there were protests in dozens of cities, threats of financial penalties, and broad condemnation of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's environmental policies. In late August, Mr Bolsonaro deployed the army to the Amazon and ordered a 60-day ban on setting fires to clear land there. The measures had an effect - the number of fires in the Amazon dropped by a third between August and September. The pace has slowed even more this month, and is likely to do so even more now that annual rains have started. There are signs, though, that the situation is worse than it appears. This is because the burning of the rainforest isn't the biggest problem - deforestation is. Traditionally, Amazon rainforest is felled, left to dry and then set on fire. By the time the moratorium came in, vast deforestation had already taken place. The only thing the ban prevented was more burning. "They reduced the level of burning, but not the level of deforestation," says Ane Alencar, the science director of the non-profit Amazon Environmental Research Institute (Ipam). "By the end of August, most of the deforestation in the current year had already happened." (Webmaster's comment: Destroying our world, one act of stupidity after another.)

10-11-19 Climate change: Big lifestyle changes are the only answer
The UK government must tell the public small, easy changes will not be enough to tackle climate change, warn experts. Researchers from Imperial College London say we must eat less meat and dairy, swap cars for bikes, take fewer flights, and ditch gas boilers at home. The report, seen by BBC Panorama, has been prepared for the Committee on Climate Change, which advises ministers how to cut the UK's carbon footprint. It says an upheaval in our lifestyles is the only way to meet targets. The government has passed a law obliging the country to cut carbon emissions to net zero by 2050. It is "going further and faster than any other developed nation to protect the planet for future generations", a government spokesperson told BBC Panorama. "If we can go faster, we will." But the new report warns major shifts in policy across huge areas of government activity are needed to keep the public onside. Chris Stark, the Chief Executive of the Committee on Climate Change, tells Panorama the government's plan for cutting emissions is "not nearly at the level of ambition required". "Every bit of policy now needs to be refreshed," he warned in an interview with BBC Panorama. The new report, called Behaviour Change, Public Engagement and Net Zero, amounts to an extensive "to-do" list for government. It says subsidies for fossil fuels have to go and taxes on low-carbon technologies must be cut. At the same time, consumers need to be given far more information on the environmental consequences of their actions. It also urges the government to consider introducing a carbon tax, increasing the prices of carbon-intensive products and activities. It is an ambitious agenda but necessary, the report says, if Britain is to achieve its Net Zero ambitions. "These changes need not be expensive or reduce well-being," the report concludes, "but they will not happen at the pace required unless policy first removes obstacles to change in markets and consumer choice." (Webmaster's comment: The problem is getting the rest of the world to go along. In the United States the it's the almost total lack of caring about others that defeats any collective action.)

10-11-19 Crabs are being found in the Thames with stomachs full of plastic
Crabs in the Thames river in the UK have been found to be ingesting “shocking” amounts of plastic and may be passing it on in high doses to other marine species, researchers have found. A UK team surveying the river looked at 55 shore crabs and 57 mitten crabs and discovered that almost every one had plastics in either the stomach, intestines or gills. Much of the plastic was so tightly wound and tangled together inside the gastric mill, the relatively small stomach inside these crabs, that the plastic fibres completely filled it. “What is particularly shocking is not only are they filling the stomach but they can be made up of over 100 fibres [in each crab], so they are very highly contaminated,” said Alexandra McGoran of London’s Natural History Museum, speaking at New Scientist Live today. In one crab, McGoran found the telltale chequered pattern of a sanitary pad, meaning that in this case she was able to identify exactly where the plastic had come from. She says sanitary pads are a common contaminant. Unlike fish in the Thames, many of which have been found to have ingested plastic which then quickly passes through their system, plastic seems to remain inside crabs. “We find crabs are a very unusual sink for plastic, they seem to retain a lot of them for potentially a long time. We don’t know if they are predated on, and if that high dose is delivered to other animals,” says McGoran. However, she did find some fish had eaten juvenile crabs, so if those crabs were as contaminated as adult ones, that would see the fish consuming a large amount of plastic.

10-11-19 Plastic pollution: How Ibiza is tackling its problem with waste
Ibiza generated half a tonne of waste per person this year, which is 14% higher than the rest of Europe. According to figures from the Ibiza Preservation Foundation, this is double the amount per person than Spain produces as a whole. Part of the problem is that Ibiza thrives on its tourism, and in 2018 more than four million people landed on its beaches - a quarter of these were from the UK. But, campaigners say, after all the cars, crowds and yachts disappear, a huge strain is left on resources, nature, and the beauty of Ibiza. Plastic ends up in the sea and on the beaches which is harmful to the marine environment and endangered species. DJ and producer Blond:ish is popular on the Ibiza clubbing scene, but she is also well known for being a sustainability campaigner in the music industry. When she is not behind the desks, she uses her time to educate DJs, clubs and clubbers about single-use plastics, in the hope that one day she will DJ at zero-plastic shows. She says the music industry is a big source of waste, which is a particular problem on a tiny island like Ibiza. "In the summer, we can play every day and the footprint can be huge. DJing is actually a really small part of it, really we are just travellers." Blond:ish says DJs can often travel from island to island, country to country, playing sets and urges the industry to "take small steps like offsetting our carbon". "We are partying in paradise, and paradises have sensitive ecosystems which can't withstand the city lifestyle," says Blond:ish. Through her campaign group, Bye Bye Plastic, Blond:ish also encourages artists to go plastic-free on their riders, which is the food and drink they request for backstage and in the DJ booths when they play. She said: "Bye Bye plastic upgraded our riders to be single-use plastic-free." She says this is a "tiny step" but that if DJs, agents and clubbers all pitch in, it will eventually influence the clubs.

10-10-19 Californians cope with mass power cuts
Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) estimates around two million people are without electricity after the utility company cut the power. This is the largest power outage in California's history and is meant to prevent the spread of wildfires. PG&E says they're starting to restore power in areas where the weather is improving.

10-9-19 Return of warm water 'blob' in the Pacific threatens marine life
The reappearance of a vast ‘blob’ of abnormally warm water in the Pacific, around seven times the size of Alaska, has raised the prospect of serious impacts on marine ecosystems and the weather. The marine heatwave stretches up the US and Canadian west coast, covering a similar extent to a mass of warm water in the region between 2014 and 2016, dubbed ‘the blob’. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which reported the new patch this week, notes the last blob caused toxic algal blooms and massive die-offs of marine life. “There’s definitely already been impacts and there’s likely to be further,” says Andrew Leising at NOAA. Algal blooms have already been seen off Washington state. Simon Boxall at the University of Southampton, UK, says: “We do sometimes see anomalous warm or cold blobs in our oceans so shouldn’t necessarily assume the end of the world is coming. However, the fact it’s becoming more frequent will have an impact on ecosystems.” He adds: “In the long term, if this is happening regularly, it could be we are seeing a difference because of climate change. It is something that needs to be watched carefully. It will bring changes to the area both in terms of ecology and weather.” Scientists have different definitions of marine heatwaves, says David Ferreira at the University of Reading, UK. But typically, rises of 2-4°C over a region for a prolonged time would be considered a marine heatwave, he says. While such blobs can’t be attributed to climate change, warmer average global temperatures create the conditions for them to appear, says Ferreira. “In the context of global warming, the warmer the background temperature the higher the probability you might get a blob.” The climate phenomenon El Nino may also play a role in the formation of blobs, Leising adds.

10-10-19 'Molar Berg' does a quick Antarctic pirouette
The EU's Sentinel-2 satellite system got a great view of Antarctica's newest giant iceberg on Wednesday. Cloudless skies over the east of the continent meant the 315-billion-tonne block could be seen in all its glory. The 1,636 sq km frozen chunk broke off the Amery Ice Shelf two weeks ago and has already spun around by 90 degrees. The block has been nicknamed "Molar Berg" by scientists because it calved from next to a segment of ice that looks from space like a "Loose Tooth". This moniker is, however, unofficial. The US National Ice Center runs the recognised nomenclature for icebergs and it has given the hulking mass the designation D28. Antarctica's nearshore winds and currents tend to push the big bergs in a westerly direction. Often they will play "bumper cars", bashing the coastline and knocking other lumps out of the ice shelf and themselves. And by the looks of it, Molar Berg is heading straight for a head-on collision with another part of Amery. With Antarctica's long "polar night" coming to an end and the Sun getting ever higher in the sky, the Sentinel-2 system is once again tracking changes across the continent. As an optical sensor, the two-spacecraft system can only see lit portions of the Earth's surface. In the dark days of winter, radar satellites like the Sentinel-1 system are the only way to keep abreast of developments.

10-9-19 Some corals ‘killed’ by climate change are now returning to life
Reef-building corals can make unexpected recoveries from climate change-induced destruction. It turns out that some corals only look dead when exposed to unusually warm water. Instead, the coral’s polyps shrink and retreat into their hard skeleton, making the reef appear dead, before recolonising the skeleton when conditions are better. It is a survival strategy never seen before in today’s corals – but it may not help the corals as the climate continues to change. Corals have been hard hit by warming waters. Reefs worldwide, including the Great Barrier Reef, are edging towards collapse. The slow-growing endangered species Cladocora caespitosa is particularly vulnerable to destruction with little indication so far as to whether it can recover. By monitoring colonies of C. caespitosa in the Mediterranean Sea for 16 years, Diego Kersting and Cristina Linares at the University of Barcelona, Spain, have observed that recovery is possible. They discovered that seemingly dead corals can in fact regrow in the wake of heat damage caused by climate change. Some made an almost full recovery. When the polyps that make up a C. caespitosa colony are hit by warm weather, Kersting and Linares found that they shrink and recede deep within the coral skeleton. To the eye the hard coral looks devoid of life. But given time these tiny polyps – the characteristic “tentacles” on coral – can regrow. We already knew that ancient corals could do this, as their fossils contain the fossilised remains of tiny skeletal structures that formed when the polyps regrew. Until now, however, it wasn’t clear whether today’s corals could. “We can see why and when this strategy is put in place and how the recovery process evolves through time,” says Kersting.

10-9-19 If we label eco-anxiety as an illness, climate denialists have won
No planet B | The UK media reports a “tsunami” of cases of eco-anxiety in children. It is no medical condition, though, it is a rational response to the state of the climate, says Graham Lawton. LAST week I had a sobering conversation with an editor from one of the BBC’s flagship science programmes. He had been reading my column and wanted to pick my brains about emerging environmental issues. After half an hour chewing over the dire state of the climate and biodiversity, he asked me: how do you cope? How do you sleep at night knowing all of this? I admit that I sometimes lose sleep, usually when I’m working on a story that brings me face to face with the realities of climate breakdown or biodiversity loss. I worry for my sons’ future and I feel a profound sense of loss, guilt, anger and helplessness. Recently I have come to suspect that I have eco-anxiety. In fact, a psychotherapist has told me I almost certainly do. But I’m not seeking help and I’m not worried about it, because I know there is no such condition – although not for the reason you might think. The concept of eco-anxiety has been discussed in academic circles for years but burst into the wider world last month when sections of the UK media reported a “tsunami” of eco-anxiety in children. Apparently, they are increasingly asking doctors, therapists and teachers for help coping with their fears. Some are even being prescribed psychiatric drugs. The response to this story was predictable. Many commentators saw the opportunity for an anti-green pile-on. Instead of calling for action on climate change, they shot the messengers. Greta Thunberg, Extinction Rebellion, the youth climate strikes and the teachers who encourage them were accused of stoking panic. Take-home message: eco-anxiety is a made-up condition.

10-9-19 Hundreds of temperature records broken over summer
Almost 400 all-time high temperatures were set in the northern hemisphere over the summer, according to an analysis of temperature records. The records were broken in 29 countries for the period from 1 May to 30 August this year. A third of the all-time high temperatures were in Germany, followed by France and the Netherlands. The analysis was carried out by the California-based climate institute Berkeley Earth. Over the summer, there were 1,200 instances of places in the northern hemisphere being the hottest they'd ever been in a given month. The data included measurements from weather stations in the northern hemisphere that had at least 40 years of observations. Some of this data has not yet been subjected to formal review by weather agencies. These reviews, to check for problems that might have produced false readings, sometimes cause a small fraction of the records to be discounted. Heatwaves in Europe in June and July sent temperatures soaring, smashing a number of local and national records. France set an all-time high-temperature of 46C, while the UK, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands also reported new highs. This summer was notable for the very large number of all-time temperature records set in Europe, according to Dr Robert Rohde, Lead Scientist at Berkeley Earth. "Some places in Europe have histories of weather observations going back more than 150 years, and yet still saw new all-time record highs," he told the BBC. The extent of the hot spells on the continent is clearly visible when looking at a breakdown of when the most temperature records were broken. In late July, all-time temperature records were set in a number of European countries including the UK.Elsewhere, more than 30 all-time records were broken in the US, according to the Berkeley Earth data. In Japan, where 11 people who died as a result of the summer heatwave, 10 all-time temperature record highs were set.

10-9-19 Northern California braced for mega power cut
A power company has started cutting electricity to around 800,000 homes, businesses and other locations in Northern California, in an attempt to prevent wildfires. Large swathes of the San Francisco Bay Area - though not the city itself - are expected to be affected. The region’s utility company, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), has warned the shut down could last several days. The move has drawn anger from some residents. With weather forecasts predicting high winds, the move is intended to prevent the risk of fallen power lines igniting the kind of wildfires that have devastated large areas of the state in previous years. "The conditions are ripe: dry fuel, high winds, warm event. Any spark can create a significant event," said Ray Riordan, director of the Office of Emergency Management in San Jose, during a press conference on Tuesday. The huge “Camp Fire" in the town of Paradise last year burned 150,000 acres and left 86 people dead. An investigation determined that poorly maintained PG&E equipment was to blame for starting the blaze - the deadliest in California’s history. The firm was also blamed for deadly fires in 2017. Subsequent lawsuits led the publicly-traded company to declare bankruptcy in 2019, a process which is still ongoing. PG&E is the sole provider of gas and electricity for much of Northern California, and so the vast majority of consumers in the region do not have an alternative source of power. “We have experienced an unprecedented fire season the past two years,” said Tamar Sarkissian, a PG&E spokeswoman, speaking to BBC partner CBS News. "And what we learned from that is that we need to be taking further steps to ensure the safety of our customers and the communities that we serve. Public safety power shut off is one of the many steps that we're taking."

10-9-19 Too much groundwater pumping is draining many of the world’s rivers
Over half of pumped watersheds could pass a critical ecological threshold by 2050. Humankind’s collective thirst is slowly desiccating landscapes worldwide, a study of groundwater finds. Water stored in aquifers underground makes up the vast majority of accessible freshwater on Earth. Its abundance has fueled forays into drier locales, such as California’s Central Valley, enabling a boom in crop production (SN: 7/23/19). And overall, about 70 percent of the groundwater being used worldwide goes to agriculture. But surface waters — rivers and streams — rely on groundwater, too. When people pump too much too quickly, natural waterways begin to empty, compromising freshwater ecosystems. A study in the Oct. 3 Nature finds that this ecological tipping point, what scientists call the environmental flow limit, has already been reached in 15 to 21 percent of watersheds tapped by humans. Most of those rivers and streams are in drier regions like parts of Mexico and northern India where groundwater is used for irrigation. If pumping continues at current rates, the authors estimate that by 2050, anywhere from 42 to 79 percent of pumped watersheds will have crossed this threshold. “It’s really quite alarming,” says Inge de Graaf, a hydrologist at the University of Freiburg in Germany. “Groundwater and surface waters are intimately connected, and too much pumping creates a ticking time bomb.” A healthy aquifer buttresses ecosystems against seasonal fluctuations in water availability, providing stability for resident plants and animals. But if too much groundwater is pumped, surface waters begin to seep into the aquifer, draining the life from many river and stream habitats. (Webmaster's comment: With 7.7 Billion people needing water what do you expect!)


SCIENCE - EVOLUTION and GENETICS

10-15-19 Ancient jungle capital of the Khmer Empire mapped for the first time
An ancient city, hidden in the jungles of Cambodia for hundreds of years, has been revealed by aerial mapping. Mahendraparvata is thought to have been the first capital city of the Khmer Empire, which dominated much of South-East Asia from the 9th to the 15th centuries. Cambodians have always lived in the Phnom Kulen area where the remains of the city are, but archaeologists couldn’t map it due to dense forest. In the late 20th century, the forest was occupied by the Khmer Rouge regime and its army, and even today it contains many landmines left over from conflicts. So in 2012, Damian Evans of the French Institute of Asian Studies in Paris and his colleagues mapped the region by scanning it with lasers from aeroplanes, a technique called LIDAR. The result was “a snapshot of this urban complex”. However, the picture of Mahendraparvata was incomplete, so they returned in 2015 to scan a larger area, and investigate as much as possible on the ground. The result is “a very full and detailed interpretation of that city”, Evans says. Mahendraparvata was built on a plateau in a mountainous region called Phnom Kulen. The city spanned 40 to 50 square kilometres. Evans’s team found it was laid out in a grid, with raised embankments running roughly north-south and east-west. Within each square of the grid, there are traces of buildings, including temples and palaces. “It shows a degree of centralised control and planning,” says Evans. Other Khmer cities from the time grew organically. “What you’re seeing at Mahendraparvata is something else. It speaks of a grand vision and a fairly elaborate plan.” This fits with other historical sources. Inscriptions identify the first ruler of the Khmer Empire as Jayavarman II, who in AD 802 announced that he was a universal monarch and began unifying previously independent principalities. As far as we can tell, says Evans, “this king is the beginning of the Khmer Empire and this is his capital”.

10-14-19 Lee Berger: We have made another major discovery about early humans
Humanity’s ancient family tree is set to be shaken up by fossil skeletons found embedded in rock at a site near Johannesburg, South Africa, could be another long lost human cousin. “We have another major hominin discovery,” said Lee Berger at New Scientist Live on Saturday. In the past decade, Berger at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa and his team has discovered not one but two new species of human ancestor. In 2010, Berger made the headlines when he (or rather, his then 9-year-old son) discovered the remains of a new species of human in the hills north of Johannesburg. This was Australopithecus sediba, which lived around 2 million years ago and appears to be our closest ape-like ancestor. Then, in 2013, Berger hit the fossil jackpot again, with the remarkable discovery of thousands of bones deep inside the Rising Star cave system also near Johannesburg. These turned out to belong to a new species of tiny, small-brained hominin called Homo naledi. This fossil hominin is transforming our understanding of human evolution, not least because H. naledi lived very recently, around 250,000 years ago, and has a strange mix of modern and archaic features. But Berger is on a roll. The new fossil hominin remains he has discovered are located near the Rising Star caves, but the bones haven’t yet been excavated due to the challenging nature of their location. “It’s a difficult site,” said Berger, as the fossils are embedded in very hard rock. So could this be another new species? “I don’t know. We haven’t got them out of the rock yet,” said Berger. “All I have is a glimpse of several individuals and that they are not very tiny.” The large size of the jaw and teeth means that the skeletons don’t belong to the diminutive H. naledi, and they are not A. sebida either, he said.

10-13-19 Cannabis extract may work as a treatment for cannabis addiction
For people who are addicted to cannabis, one treatment option may be, paradoxically, to take pills containing an extract of cannabis. The first test of the idea has found that people taking capsules of this extract, known as cannabidiol or CBD, nearly halved the amount of cannabis they smoked, according to results presented at New Scientist Live this week. Cannabis is usually seen as a soft drug, but some users – about 1 in 10 by one estimate – become addicted, getting withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety and insomnia when they try to stop. The number of people seeking treatment because they can’t quit smoking cannabis has been rising in the past decade, linked with a use of the more potent form known as skunk, said Val Curran of University College London at the event. The two main psychoactive substances in cannabis are CBD and THC, the compound responsible for the high. While THC tends to increase anxiety, CBD makes people calmer. “CBD gets rid of the toxic effects of THC,” said Curran. Her team has been running a trial, where people undertook a four-week course of CBD to alleviate withdrawal symptoms to help them quit smoking cannabis. It involved 82 people classed as severely addicted, who were given one of three different doses of CBD or placebo capsules, as well as psychological support. The lowest dose didn’t work. The middle dose of 400 milligrams worked best, said Curran. After six months it halved the amount of cannabis people used compared with placebo, as shown by tests for THC in their urine. And the highest dose of 800 milligrams was slightly less effective than the middle one. The 400 milligram dose also more than doubled the number of days when people had no THC in their urine. “That’s really remarkable,” said Curran.

10-12-19 Nearly 1,300 injuries and 29 deaths in the U.S. have been tied to vaping
U.S. vaping cases keep rising as health officials search for answers. Alaska is now the only U.S. state that hasn’t reported vaping-related lung injuries. Nearly 1,300 people have been sickened and 29 have died, including a 17-year-old from New York, the youngest death yet. Even as the toll climbs, it may still take months before the underlying causes of lung injuries, predominantly affecting many young and otherwise healthy people, becomes clear, health officials said during a news conference on October 11. “I can’t stress enough the seriousness of these lung injuries,” said Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. “We are not seeing a meaningful drop-off in new cases.” Along with the 49 states, cases have also been reported in Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The total number of cases — 1,299 as of October 8 — rose from 1,080 the previous week. The majority still involve vaping products containing tetrahydrocannabinol — the psychoactive ingredient known as THC in marijuana. About three-fourths of the 573 patients for whom information was available reported using THC in their vapes three months prior to falling ill. About a third used only THC products, while others also used nicotine-containing products. About 13 percent exclusively vaped nicotine. Rather than just one chemical or exposure, “I think there will be multiple causes and potentially more than one root cause” behind the injuries, Schuchat said, adding she remained confident public health officials would find answers. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has collected more than 725 products from patients and has begun analyzing around 300, 79 containing nicotine and 225 containing THC. The dietary supplement vitamin E acetate, which may be toxic when inhaled (SN: 9/6/19), has been found in close to half of the THC products, said Mitch Zeller, director of FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products. The testing process is hampered by the fact that some of the products contain no liquid to analyze or very little, putting “an extreme limit on the number and types of tests that we’re able to perform,” he said.Description

10-12-19 Your heartbeat may shape how likely you are to have a car crash
Drivers may be more likely to crash if an obstacle appears at the same time as a heartbeat. To investigate how the beat of our hearts influences our reaction times, Sarah Garfinkel at the University of Sussex, UK, and her colleagues designed a virtual reality driving game. While participants were driving, obstacles would appear in the road, either in time with a heartbeat or between beats. When objects coincided with heartbeats, drivers’ reaction times were slower and they were more likely to crash. Garfinkel presented the results at New Scientist Live in London on Thursday, where she discussed the possible effect of systoles – the squeezing of the heart ventricles that occurs in the middle of a heartbeat – on driving. “If you’re driving and you’re in a highly aroused state and your heart is beating strong and fast, you will have more cardiac systoles, and that is going to impair your reaction time and ability to avoid objects,” she said. The research adds to a series of studies showing that systoles have an inhibitory effect on the brain’s ability to process stimuli. For example, painful stimuli are perceived as less painful if they coincide with a heartbeat. Garfinkel previously found an effect on memory, too. If participants are shown words either in time with heartbeats or between beats, they are more likely to forget words that appeared on a beat when tested later. These effects are thought to be mediated by baroreceptors, blood pressure sensors located in the major arteries. These receptors fire in bursts every time the heart contracts, but as well as helping to regulate blood pressure, they appear to have an inhibitory effect on certain cognitive functions.

10-11-19 New vaping-sickness theory
Toxic chemical fumes might be responsible for the surge in vaping-related lung injuries across the U.S., a new Mayo Clinic study has found. More than 1,000 e-cigarette users have been hospitalized in recent months and at least 18 have died. Many of those sickened used bootleg vaping liquids containing THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. Tests have shown that some black market producers diluted expensive THC oil with vitamin E acetate. That led health experts to suspect that this greasy substance was causing the e-cigarette illnesses, by coating the lungs after being inhaled and triggering an inflammatory response. But when Mayo Clinic researchers examined lung biopsies from 17 people who got sick after vaping—about two-thirds of whom had used THC cartridges—they found no signs of oil accumulation. Instead, the tissue had damage consistent with a “chemical burn injury,” pathologist Brandon Larsen told The New York Times, similar to that seen in people exposed to airborne poisons like mustard gas. It’s still not clear what harmful substance is causing the injuries, or whether the toxin is in the vaping fluid or materials used to make the vaping device.

10-11-19 Rocking out behind the wheel
Listening to pumping rock music while cruising down the highway might make driving more enjoyable, but it also raises your risk of crashing, reports The Sunday Times (U.K.). Researchers in China recruited 20 volunteers and put them in a simulator that mimics the experience of driving down a six-lane freeway. Each participant took three drives: one while listening to a fast rock track with a tempo of at least 120 beats per minute; one with gentler music of around 80 bpm, and one with no music at all. When the uptempo rock played, the test subjects increased their speed, driving 5 to 10 mph faster than when listening to slow music or nothing at all. They also crossed lanes 140 times on average—twice as many times as those listening to slower tunes, suggesting they were more likely to crash. Lead researcher Qiang Zeng says the extra brain power that it takes to process fast rock riffs might distract drivers by increasing their “mental workload.” The scientists put the Green Day song “American Idiot,” which has a bpm of 189, at the top of their most dangerous driving music list; Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” was ranked least dangerous.

10-11-19 Is red meat back on the menu?
An international team of researchers has concluded that cutting back on red and processed meat consumption has no significant health benefits—a controversial finding that contradicts decades of studies and has sparked furious responses from nutritional scientists. Groups such as the American Heart Association and the World Cancer Research Fund have recommended for years that people eat less beef, lamb, pork, and processed meats (such as bologna) because of evidence linking them to heart disease, stroke, cancer, and other illnesses. But after evaluating more than 130 studies covering some 4 million participants, the international panel of researchers said there was only weak, low-quality evidence linking red meat consumption with disease and early death. “For the majority of people, but not everyone, continuing their red and processed meat consumption is the right approach,” lead author Bradley Johnston, an epidemiologist at Dalhousie University in Canada, tells Time.com. But many nutritional scientists claim that the team’s research method was deeply flawed. They note that the new study relied primarily on randomized, controlled studies—which are commonly used in drug trials—rather than on the observational studies that make up the bulk of nutrition research. Those studies are conducted by tracking the eating habits and health outcomes of people over many years. The new research, says cardiologist Elizabeth Klodas, “just adds to the confusion for patients. The conclusions are not the conclusions of the medical community.”

10-11-19 The obesity epidemic
A public health emergency is shortening our lives and supersizing our health-care costs.

  1. What’s making us fat? Simple: eating too much and exercising too little. Despite constant debate over which dietary villain to blame—fat, carbs, sodium, sugar—obesity is primarily a problem of calorie intake. The average adult is eating about 300 more calories per day than in the 1970s.
  2. Who’s most at risk? Children, and it’s getting worse. “Addressing childhood obesity is like playing whack-a-mole,” said Harvard nutritionist Erica Kenney. Kids are spending more and more time indoors looking at screens, where they’re bombarded with advertisements for unhealthy foods.
  3. What’s wrong with weight gain? Having a high BMI doesn’t necessarily mean a person is unhealthy. Still, the correlations are strong: As obesity surged over the past three decades, U.S. diabetes rates tripled, and now more than 100 million adults have diabetes or pre-diabetes.
  4. How does it affect health-care costs? Obesity adds between $147 billion and $210 billion to annual U.S. health-care expenses, increasing an average adult’s medical costs by 42 percent—an estimated $200,000 over a lifetime. This burden hits low-income households hardest, creating a vicious cycle of poverty leading to poor dietary habits leading to costly weight-related illness
  5. What else can be done? Dieting is a $66 billion industry, but studies show the vast majority of dieters quickly gain back the weight they lose—and sometimes more. Broader lifestyle interventions are required.
  6. The pain of fat shaming: The comedian Bill Maher enraged many of his liberal fans last month when he said, “Fat shaming doesn’t need to end—it needs to make a comeback.” He argued that as Americans grow more and more obese, we’re letting them off the hook in the name of politically correct “body positivity.”

10-11-19 Ancient baby bottles
Prehistoric parents used clay sippy cups to feed their infants animal milk, according to a new study—and that practice may have helped fuel a population boom. Archaeologists have unearthed small clay vessels with teat-like spouts from Neolithic, Bronze, and Iron Age sites across Europe. Many of the vessels have been found in infant graves, and some are shaped like animals. Using a technique called organic residue analysis, a team from the University of Bristol in England has now examined molecules collected from inside three 3,000-year-old vessels from Bavaria. The researchers concluded that the sippy cups contain remnants of milk from cattle, sheep, or goats—first domesticated in the Neolithic era—and were likely used to wean children. The discovery may help explain why human populations boomed in the Neolithic era, says bioarchaeologist Siân Halcrow, who wasn’t involved in the study. Breastfeeding women tend to have a period of infertility. But once women could swap breast milk for animal milk, she tells NPR.org, “they could actually have more babies during their lifetime.”

10-11-19 Ancient European households combined the rich and poor
A new study challenges traditional views of ancient social stratification. Families working the land in ancient Europe also cultivated social inequality. A social pecking order consisting of “haves” and “have-nots” living in the same household appeared among Bronze Age farmers by around 4,000 years ago, a study suggests. Ancient DNA, objects placed in graves and chemical analyses of teeth indicate that each farming household in southern Germany’s Lech Valley included wealthy individuals related biologically through paternal lines; a biologically unrelated, high-status woman from outside the area; and local, biologically unrelated folks of little means. Foreign women probably married into male-run households that passed on wealth and status to descendants, say evolutionary geneticist Alissa Mittnik of Harvard Medical School and colleagues. Poor, low-status members of those households may have been servants, slaves or menial laborers, the researchers suggest online October 10 in Science. Researchers have long assumed that central Europe’s Bronze Age (SN: 11/15/17), which ran from about 4,200 to 2,800 years ago, witnessed rapid social change that prompted a split between wealthy, well-connected households and poor, struggling ones, says archaeologist and study coauthor Philipp Stockhammer. “We were absolutely surprised to find that social inequality was a phenomenon within households rather than between households,” says Stockhammer, of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany. Members of these social units identified with their households regardless of their biological roots or economic standing, the researchers suspect. Lech Valley farmers did not live in villages. Instead, a small group of houses and other structures, comprising a household, was usually situated near a cemetery. Households managed individual tracts of land located within a 20-kilometer-long stretch of fertile soil.

10-11-19 Life may have begun with simple genes made out of urine
When the first life emerged on Earth, it may have had a helping hand from an unexpected source: urea, a chemical found in urine. The urea may have been a vital building block, used to make the first simple genes. Life on Earth began at least 3.5 billion years ago. Nobody knows exactly how, but it is likely that simple chemicals gradually became more complex until they could assemble into crude living cells. One of the most crucial steps must have been the formation of the first genes. Today, most organisms store their genes on DNA. However, many scientists believe that the first organisms used a similar molecule called RNA, which can do things that DNA can’t, and that life began with an “RNA world”. The problem with the RNA world idea is that RNA is a complex molecule. It is a chain of smaller molecules called nucleosides and phosphates. As a result, it has been difficult to explain how it could have formed naturally, so some biochemists suspect that a simpler molecule must have come first. “Then comes the question, what could the precursor to RNA be?” says Thomas Carell at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich in Germany. “We argue let’s start with just two molecules, formaldehyde and urea.” Both are simple and are likely to have existed on primordial Earth. Carell’s team has now used them to make a simple version of RNA. Previous experiments have shown that formaldehyde can be converted into sugars, including ribose – a key component of RNA – so Carell’s team focused on urea. The team knew that simply heating urea causes individual urea molecules to link up into pairs and triplets. So it mixed these urea-based molecules with ribose and water and heated them to 95 °C until the mixture dried out, then added more water. This simulated a volcanic pond drying out in the sun, then filling up again.

10-10-19 Depression may reduce the amount of white matter in the brain
Your brain looks different if you have depression. But many of the differences seem to be caused by depression, rather than precede it. When neuroscientists compare the brains of people with and without depression, there are common dissimilarities. For example, people with depression tend to have a smaller hippocampus, a brain region important in forming memories. But it has been difficult to work out whether such differences cause the symptoms of depression or whether they result from the disorder, says Heather Whalley at the University of Edinburgh, UK. “We don’t know which causes which.” To answer the question, Whalley and her colleagues turned to two huge genetic databases. Consumer genetic testing company 23andMe holds information on the DNA and depressive symptoms of tens of thousands of individuals, and the UK Biobank collects DNA, lifestyle and behaviour questionnaires and brain scans from thousands more.Whalley and her colleagues used this data, as well as already-published research, to create what is known as a polygenic risk score (PRS) for depression. A PRS assigns weight to various genetic factors that are thought to contribute to the risk of a condition. They made sure their PRS worked by testing it in a separate sample of 11,214 people. The team then assessed the brain scans and behaviour records of those individuals with a PRS that put them at a genetic risk of depression. They found that people with higher genetic risk scores tended to have less white matter in their brains, and that it didn’t seem to be functioning as well. Whalley and her colleagues then used a statistical analysis to work out whether these white matter differences were causing the depression or resulting from it. The analysis takes into account brain structure and depression symptoms, and looks at how closely each are related to genetic factors. Genes are present from birth, so if genetic factors are more closely linked to symptoms, for example, that suggests that the symptoms were present before the brain structure differences.

10-10-19 You probably score worse than monkeys on questions about the world
New Scientist readers are more knowledgeable than the general public and experts on some issues, but still score worse than monkeys on some questions. “To score worse than monkeys requires misconceptions,” Ola Rosling, author of Factfulness, told New Scientist Live on Thursday. Most people are not only ignorant about some basic facts about the world, they don’t even realise that they are ignorant, he said. For example, globally around 88 per cent of children are now vaccinated against at least one disease, but most people think the figure is much lower. Given a choice between 20, 50 or 80 per cent, only around 15 per cent of people in countries such as the US and UK get the answer right in Rosling’s surveys. At a recent world health summit, only 27 per cent of attendees got it right. Nobel laureates and medical scientists would be outsmarted by monkeys randomly picking answers, he said. “Is IQ correlated with factual knowledge? Not in the fields we have tested so far,” said Rosling. In an online survey, 46 per cent of New Scientist readers got the answer right to the vaccination question – better than the experts. “In any other test, it would be seen as a huge failure,” he said.On climate, New Scientist readers excelled. Asked what climate experts believe will happen to global temperatures over the next 100 years – warmer, same or cooler – 99 per cent opted for the right answer. In other surveys, the proportion getting this right ranges from 94 per cent in Hungary to just 76 per cent in Japan. In the US, 81 per cent get in right, and in the UK 87 per cent. New Scientist readers also did relatively well when asked if the proportion of the world’s population living in extreme poverty has halved, remained the same or doubled. In most countries, less than 10 per cent of people pick the right answer (it has halved). But 53 per cent of New Scientist readers got it right. Among the audience at the New Scientist Live talk, 81 per cent got it right.

10-10-19 Wealthy families in prehistoric Europe may have had live-in slaves
Ancient DNA reveals that wealthy families in prehistoric Germany once lived with poorer people they weren’t related to, suggesting that live-in slavery or servitude started about 1300 years earlier than once thought. Archaeologists believed that inequality in the Early Bronze Age, from around 2200 BC, usually took the form of a small number of powerful elites living in communities of mostly peasants. This upper class was possibly made up of wealthy farmers or princely leaders and their families, but it is difficult to understand their social structure through archaeological objects alone. That is why Alissa Mittnik at Harvard University and her colleagues analysed ancient DNA from 104 ancient individuals. They also examined items collected from the cemeteries where these people were buried, which are in small farmsteads in what is now southern Germany’s Lech river valley. The families in each cemetery were buried with rich adornments, including elaborate headdresses and jewellery for the women and weapons such as daggers and axes for the men. This indicated they were of high status and are likely to have owned and run the farms, says Mittnik. Adolescents and young adults were also buried with these adornments, indicating that the wealth was inherited from the parents, rather than being accumulated in life. These families were buried together, with some graves housing four or more generations of the same family. Two other distinct groups of people were buried in these farmstead cemeteries. One group was made up of people thought to be poor because they were unadorned and who were unrelated to the core family. They may have been slaves, indentured servants, paid servants or farmhands. “We know of similar household compositions in historical times such as ancient Rome [and Greece],” says Mittnik.

10-10-19 50 years ago, an Antarctic fossil pointed to Gondwanaland’s existence
Fossils unearthed since indicate the southern continents were once linked in a giant landmass. A search for further fossil evidence that Antarctica was once joined to other continents will be conducted.… A 17-man group will seek fossils of ancient land vertebrates similar to those found on continents now separated from Antarctica by up to 2,000 miles of ocean. That same year, 1969, scientists found fossil evidence of the supercontinent Gondwana. Reptile bones found in Antarctica included a 200-million-year-old hippolike creature called Lystrosaurus (SN: 12/13/69, p. 549). The animal lived on the continental mash-up of South America, Africa, India, Australia and Antarctica that existed from around 600 million to 180 million years ago. Another Antarctic expedition, in 1970, found a 200-million-year-old skeleton of a cynodont reptile, which resembled remains found in South America and India (SN: 12/5/70, p. 428). The fossils and other geologic evidence all but confirmed Gondwana’s existence (SN: 1/16/71, p. 49). Scientists later figured out how this continental jigsaw puzzle fit together (SN: 6/11/77, p. 372).

10-10-19 Cold-blooded mammals roamed Earth for tens of millions of years
Our mammal ancestors were cold-blooded for tens of millions of years after their first appearance. In this respect, the early mammals remained similar to the cold-blooded reptiles from which they evolved. The finding comes from an analysis of fossils of two early mammal species, which suggests the animals lived relatively long lives and had slow metabolisms – both reptile-like traits. Mammals are animals that have hair and make milk. The first mammals evolved during the dinosaur era. The oldest known mammal-like animals, like Tikitherium, lived about 230 million years ago in the Triassic period. By the middle of the next period, the Jurassic, true mammals were common. However, one of the most crucial features of modern mammals leaves no obvious traces in the fossil record, so we don’t know when it evolved. All mammals are warm-blooded or “endothermic”, meaning they can maintain a constant internal temperature. In contrast, cold-blooded animals like lizards cannot, and must sit in the sun to warm up or hide in the shade to cool down. To find out when warm-bloodedness evolved, Elis Newham at the University of Bristol in the UK and his colleagues studied two animals from 200 million years ago in the Early Jurassic, Morganucodon and Kuehneotherium. Both were mammaliaforms, meaning they may not have been true mammals: some view them as close relatives with mammal-like traits. Morganucodon (pictured above) looked like a shrew or mouse, while Kuehneotherium is only known from teeth and bone fragments. Newham’s team studied the roots of the animals’ teeth. The roots had a hard coating called cementum, as ours do. New layers were added as the animal aged, so counting the layers gave an estimate of its age – a bit like counting tree rings.

10-10-19 Israel cave bones: Early humans 'conserved food to eat later'
Scientists in Israel say they have found evidence that early humans deliberately stored bones from animals to eat the fatty marrow later. It is the earliest evidence that humans living between 200,000 and 420,000 years ago had the foresight to anticipate future needs, they say. Early humans had not previously been thought capable of such dietary planning. Researchers analysed bone specimens at Qesem cave near Tel Aviv. They identified cut marks on most of the bone surfaces - consistent with preservation and delayed consumption. The researchers suggest the marks came about because the early humans had to make greater effort to remove skin which had dried on bones which had been kept longer. The cut marks were found on 78% of the more than 80,000 animal bone specimens analysed. "Bone marrow constitutes a significant source of nutrition and as such was long featured in the prehistoric diet," said Ran Barkai from Tel Aviv University in Israel. "Until now, evidence has pointed to immediate consumption of marrow following the procurement and removal of soft tissues." Early humans in the area frequently hunted fallow deer. They brought the limbs and skulls of their prey to the cave while the rest of the carcass had the meat and fat removed where it had been killed, Professor Jordi Rosell of Spain's Universitat Rovira i Virgili said. "We found that the deer leg bones, specifically the metapodials, exhibited unique chopping marks on the shafts, which are not characteristic of the marks left from stripping fresh skin to fracture the bone and extract the marrow," he said. The researchers simulated conditions in the cave to determine that bone marrow would have remained nutritious for up to nine weeks after the animal had been killed.

10-9-19 Ancient humans planned ahead and stored bones to eat the marrow later
Ancient humans had the foresight to store bones from animals so they could eat the fatty marrow later. This is the first evidence that these populations delayed eating food and indicates they could plan ahead. “This is a game changer for our modern conceptions about our ancestors because it is believed that early hominids were not capable of or not accustomed to delayed consumption,” says Ran Barkai at Tel Aviv University in Israel. Barkai and his colleagues analysed over 80,000 animal bone specimens from Qesem cave in Israel to determine precisely how ancient humans accessed the bone marrow. Humans lived in this area during the Middle Pleistocene, around 200,000 to 400,000 years ago. The team identified characteristic cut marks on 78 per cent of the bone surfaces, consistent with bone preservation and delayed consumption. These marks result from the increased effort required to remove dried skin from bones that had been preserved. The researchers also tested how bone marrow degrades over time to determine whether it would have remained nutritionally beneficial to eat. They exposed 79 bones from the limbs of red deer to natural outdoor conditions, as well as a simulated indoor environment meant to reproduce conditions in the area they were found. Then they experimented with removing the skin and flesh from these bones at various times during nine weeks of storage. The number of short incisions and marks left behind increased when this removal was done after four or more weeks, leaving a similar pattern to those seen on the bones from the cave. The team found that the skin-covered bones could withstand nine weeks of exposure during autumn without losing a significant amount of nutritional value, but the fat within them degraded after the third week in spring and indoor conditions.

10-9-19 Want to regrow organs and defy cancer? Just copy these awesome animals
Creatures with incredible superpowers including the ability to survive being frozen and suffocated and resist ageing could revolutionise medicine, space travel and even war. IT HAS been holding its breath for months. Locked under an airless seal of ice, the extraordinary animal waits. At last, the warmth of spring brings relief. Claws twitch, a brain rouses and a beak pushes through the lake’s thawing slush to take a lungful of air. Incredibly, the western painted turtle is none the worse for having endured the kind of oxygen starvation that would normally kill a human in minutes. At more than 100 days, the turtle holds the record among four-legged animals for surviving without oxygen. It is by no means the only creature to boast jaw-dropping talents. The constellation of powers found across the animal kingdom seems fantastical: the ability to almost completely regenerate innards, to dodge ageing or cancer, to slumber immobile for months without bone or muscle wasting, to slow biological time or even enter a state of suspended animation that can withstand all manner of trials, from freezing to bombardment with gamma rays. Almost as implausible-sounding is the idea that humans might be able to borrow some of these abilities. Yet the discovery that these powers are underpinned by genes and biological processes we too possess makes this a distinct possibility. Some potential applications – such as putting people into a sort of hibernation for space travel – remain distant goals. But others – including keeping transplant organs fresh without cooling and developing new tactics to tackle cancer and ageing – seem feasible. In fact, the US has launched a research project to exploit animal powers that could help injured soldiers on the battlefield (see “Stop the clock”). “This is going to be mind-blowing,” says Rochelle Buffenstein at Calico, a biotechnology company in California backed by Google that aims to combat ageing.

10-9-19 Mini organs grown from tumour cells can help us choose the best chemo
Miniature organoids grown from a person’s cancer cells could help to predict whether or not they will respond to some types of chemotherapy. With improvement, the organoids could help further personalise cancer treatment, say the researchers behind the work. At the moment, it is difficult to know whether a chemotherapy will work for an individual – while the drugs are often lifesaving, in some cases they can trigger horrendous side effects without having any benefit. To better predict if a treatment will work or not, teams around the world have been working to develop personalised organoids – using clumps of cells biopsied from a person’s tumour. The idea is that the organoid can serve as a laboratory model for the person with cancer, and that drugs that kill cells in the organoid are more likely to effectively treat their tumour. Emile Voest at the Netherlands Cancer Institute and his colleagues tested this theory by attempting to grow organoids from 67 biopsies taken from 61 people with colorectal cancer. The organoids take three weeks to grow. Due to difficulties in obtaining cancer cells, contamination issues and problems with evaluating individuals’ response to treatment, the team were only able to test 35 organoids. The team first gave a subset of the organoids a drug called irinotecan for six days. They found that the drug seemed to work similarly in the organoids and in the individuals the cells were taken from. Tests on the organoids correctly predicted how eight out of 10 people responded to treatment. But the organoids failed to predict how well a combination treatment of irinotecan and a drug called oxaliplatin worked. This might be because they are too simplistic a model. A person’s immune system plays an important role in how they respond to drugs, and the organoids don’t have one, say the study authors.

10-9-19 Chronic Lyme disease may be a misdiagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome
Most people who think they have a long-lasting form of Lyme disease, triggered by a tick bite, may really have chronic fatigue syndrome, a panel of UK infectious disease experts said today. Some people who mistakenly believe they have Lyme disease are endangering their health by taking long courses of antibiotics, leading to other infections such as sepsis, the doctors warned. Lyme disease is a potentially serious infection that first came to attention in the 1970s, after an outbreak of cases in New England. It is caused by bacteria, passed on by bites from ticks, and often triggers a circular red rash initially. Untreated Lyme disease can lead to a range of health problems, including joint pain, and heart damage. But if diagnosed in time, the infection can be quashed with a short course of antibiotics. However, some people who have persistent symptoms believe they have a long-term infection, known as chronic Lyme disease, which needs treating with long courses of antibiotics or other alternative therapies such as supplements. This idea has spread from the US to the UK and some other countries. Matt Dryden of Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said at a press conference that there was a large overlap between the symptoms usually ascribed to chronic Lyme and those of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) – such as fatigue, pain and memory problems. “Most have CFS,” said Dryden. “What clinches it for me is that there’s a great group of these patients in Australia where [Lyme disease bacteria] have never been detected.” CFS, also sometimes known as myalgic encephalomyelitis, is itself a controversial condition: some think it involves immune system problems, perhaps triggered by an infection, while others believe psychological factors may contribute.

10-9-19 Your body's hidden language: How smell reveals more than you ever knew
We can sniff out fear, find solace in the smell of a loved one, breathe in the scent of happiness. How we're deciphering the subliminal signals of human scent I AM standing in a bright and airy converted barn in the English countryside sniffing vials of pure armpit odour. The contents of these five tiny bottles are so pungent they actually knock me back. I’m getting top notes of cheeses – stinky as they come – lots of sulphurous onion and a hit of ammonia. The least offensive has a citrusy undertone. The bottles are provided by Camille Ferdenzi of the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) in Lyon, whose work includes recruiting volunteers to sniff sweaty T-shirts. Clearly, studying human smells isn’t for the squeamish. Our bodily scents provide a channel of communication that evolved to help us survive and thrive, and in recent years Ferdenzi and others have revealed this language to be far richer than we realised. We have now discovered that each person’s scent is unique – not even identical twins smell exactly alike. Each of us also has a one-of-a-kind nose for smells. What’s more, we have learned that scents wafting from our bodies and wisping into our nostrils help us to forge family bonds and draw us to partners, divert us from danger, illness and aggression, and even allow us to sniff other people’s happiness. Yet throughout history and across cultures, people have scrubbed, perfumed and deodorised to disguise their natural smells – perhaps never more than today. “Every day, we control our olfactory image,” says Ferdenzi. If these smells are such a powerful form of communication, our aversion to them is puzzling. And recent evidence suggests we are getting less stinky and losing the ability to detect certain scents. What the smell is going on?

10-9-19 Takeaway food packaging may be source of synthetic chemicals in blood
People who eat home-cooked meals have lower levels of potentially harmful chemicals in their blood. Tools used to package and prepare restaurant and takeaway meals may be to blame. PFAS, short for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a widely used group of chemicals that are resistant to heat and don’t easily degrade. Because of this, they are used in non-stick cookware, stain-resistant or water-resistant fabrics, and firefighting foams. They are now also found in soils, waterways and animals, and studies of US adults and children have found these synthetic chemicals in the bloodstreams of 97 to 100 per cent of the population. Diet is thought to be a key factor in how they end up in the body, prompting Laurel Schaider at the Silent Spring Institute in Massachusetts to investigate the effect of eating habits on PFAS levels in blood. Schaider and her colleagues analysed data from more than 10,000 participants in the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2003 to 2014. Participants provided blood samples, as well as detailed information on where their food came from in the past 24 hours, week, month and year. PFAS were detected in three out of every four samples taken over the course of the study. Concentrations were lower in people who ate more meals at home, and higher among those who ate out or ate more fast food. For every 1000 kilocalories of food eaten from non-restaurant sources each day, the concentration of PFAS dropped by up to five per cent. The levels of PFAS were up to five per cent higher for every 100 kilocalories of microwave popcorn eaten daily. The chemicals from the grease-proof packaging had probably leached into the food, says Schaider. It is unclear what the long-term effects of PFAS exposure are because the survey only asks about recent dietary habits, and some of these chemicals can stay in the body for years.


ANIMAL INTELLIGENCE and ZOOLOGY

10-13-19 Thai elephant deaths: Do elephants risk their lives to save each other?
Last week, Thailand suffered one of its biggest ever single elephant tragedies, when 11 animals in one family died in a swollen river. At first only six elephants were thought to have died - days later another five were spotted downstream. The initial theory from park rangers in Khao Yai National Park was that they died in a rescue mission. As they crossed the treacherous 150m-tall Haew Narok - or Hell's Falls - a baby slipped and the others fell trying to save it. Though the loss of 11 elephants isn't catastrophic to the species, there is something about them that draws us in, and this apparent self-sacrifice struck a chord around the world - millions of you read our story alone. But emotions aside, how plausible is it that elephants would have both the empathy and skill to risk their lives for a baby? And perhaps more importantly now, what does this mean for the survivors? Dr Joshua Plotnik, assistant professor of psychology at Hunter College City University of New York, has been studying elephants in Thailand for more than a decade. He told the BBC that with no witnesses, we can't assume what happened. But he says it's "certainly reasonable to suspect that when an elephant in a family group is in danger the other elephants might do everything they can to go help". There is well documented evidence of elephants recognising danger and co-ordinating their actions to stage a rescue. But Dr Plotnik says it seems unlikely that they would "actively all go over a waterfall in a dangerous situation like that". It was more likely a terrible accident. Dr Rachel Dale, an elephant behaviour specialist at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna, agrees that elephants will unquestionably help an elephant in danger, "even if it's at a cost to themselves". But they're also "smart animals, really smart", she says, so probably have the ability to carry out a kind of perfunctory risk assessment before rushing in.

10-11-19 The spotted lanternfly
Southeastern Pennsylvania residents have declared war on an invasive insect species that has overrun their region. “Stomp them. Squish them. Destroy them,” reads one poster, in reference to the dreaded spotted lanternfly. The plant-hopping bug, which is native to southeastern Asia, appeared locally five years ago, and its exploding population is damaging valuable trees and grapevines, dropping sticky waste on decks and pools, and landing on people in writhing swarms. “We’re outnumbered,” said Phoenixville resident Lori Beatrice. “It’s just gross. It’s like waking up in a nightmare.”

10-10-19 You probably score worse than monkeys on questions about the world
New Scientist readers are more knowledgeable than the general public and experts on some issues, but still score worse than monkeys on some questions. “To score worse than monkeys requires misconceptions,” Ola Rosling, author of Factfulness, told New Scientist Live on Thursday. Most people are not only ignorant about some basic facts about the world, they don’t even realise that they are ignorant, he said. For example, globally around 88 per cent of children are now vaccinated against at least one disease, but most people think the figure is much lower. Given a choice between 20, 50 or 80 per cent, only around 15 per cent of people in countries such as the US and UK get the answer right in Rosling’s surveys. At a recent world health summit, only 27 per cent of attendees got it right. Nobel laureates and medical scientists would be outsmarted by monkeys randomly picking answers, he said. “Is IQ correlated with factual knowledge? Not in the fields we have tested so far,” said Rosling. In an online survey, 46 per cent of New Scientist readers got the answer right to the vaccination question – better than the experts. “In any other test, it would be seen as a huge failure,” he said.On climate, New Scientist readers excelled. Asked what climate experts believe will happen to global temperatures over the next 100 years – warmer, same or cooler – 99 per cent opted for the right answer. In other surveys, the proportion getting this right ranges from 94 per cent in Hungary to just 76 per cent in Japan. In the US, 81 per cent get in right, and in the UK 87 per cent. New Scientist readers also did relatively well when asked if the proportion of the world’s population living in extreme poverty has halved, remained the same or doubled. In most countries, less than 10 per cent of people pick the right answer (it has halved). But 53 per cent of New Scientist readers got it right. Among the audience at the New Scientist Live talk, 81 per cent got it right.

10-10-19 Bees are better at counting if they are penalised for their mistakes
Honeybees may be better at counting when they are punished for making mistakes compared to when they are simply rewarded for correct answers. We already had some evidence suggesting bees can count up to four. But it turns out they may be capable of grasping larger numbers too. Scarlett Howard at the University of Toulouse in France says she thought we might be underestimating the numerical abilities of bees, which prompted her colleagues to investigate further. The team first trained bees to enter a chamber from where they could see two channels with images at their ends. One channel always had an image showing four shapes, while the other had an image bearing between one and 10 shapes.The bees were then split into two groups. The first were trained to pick the image with four shapes, getting a reward of sweet sucrose solution for choosing that and bitter tasting quinine solution for choosing the other image. The second group were rewarded with sucrose solution for picking the four-shape image, but not penalised for choosing the other. The team then separately tested whether the bees could identify images showing four shapes compared to images showing five, six, seven or eight shapes. They were again put in a chamber from where they could see the images at the ends of two separate channels and the researchers counted how many times the bees chose the image with four shapes.They found that only the bees that had been conditioned with both rewards and penalties could choose the image with four shapes at a level higher than chance. When choosing between images showing four and five shapes, the bees went for four 59 per cent of time, suggesting they can understand numbers beyond four. Lars Chittka at Queen Mary University of London compares the findings to the stick and carrot method. He says when there is a punishment for getting an answer incorrect, the motivation to be correct is heightened.

10-10-19 Natural 'bumblebee medicine' found in heather
Preserving heather in the natural landscape could have benefits for wild bees, according to new research. Nectar - and therefore honey - from the plant contains a natural "bumblebee medicine", which is active against a harmful bee parasite. Heather is a major foraging plant for wild bees, which are under pressure from habitat loss, disease and pesticides. Lime trees and the strawberry tree also contained the "medicine" but at lower levels. Heather is a natural part of heathland and moorland, where it is an important source of nectar for wild bees and other pollinators. The purple blaze of heather is becoming a less common sight, as heathlands and moorlands are lost. Lowland heathland, with its gorse, grasses and heather, is being given up to farming or conifer plantations, while upland moorland is at risk from grazing and burning. The scientists say continued loss and degradation of heathlands due to human actions may lead to the loss of a major medicinal plant for pollinators. "Our work shows that heathlands may be even more valuable than previously thought by providing wild bumblebees with a natural medicinal nectar as protection against a major parasite," said co-researcher Dr Hauke Koch of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.The researchers from Kew and Royal Holloway, University of London, investigated plants for medicinal properties that could protect pollinators in the wild. They tested nectar from 17 plants, including ivy, heather, clover and dandelion, for medicinal effects on a parasite found in the gut of bumblebees. Nectar from heather (Calluna vulgaris) had the most potent effect, due to a single chemical known as callunene. The strawberry tree (Arbutus unendo) and lime trees also had some medicinal activity. "Understanding which plants are needed to maintain a healthy balance between bees and their parasites can help us restore habitats that maximise bee health," said Prof Mark Brown from Royal Holloway.

10-10-19 Deep-sea anglerfish may shed luminous bacteria into the ocean water
Something strange is going on in the deep sea. Luminous bacteria have teamed up with predatory anglerfish, which may use the glowing microbes to help catch prey. The bacteria have evolved to depend on the anglerfish – yet they spend much of their time floating free in the water. Anglerfish are predatory fish with large teeth. On their forehead they have a long, thin growth called an esca, which resembles a fishing line. The tip of the esca is often luminous. Many anglerfish live in the pitch-black deep sea and may use the glow to lure in prey. Little is known about them, says Tory Hendry of Cornell University in New York. For instance, there is no evidence that the esca is a lure, “other than it looks like a lure”, she says. However, we do know that many anglerfish have bacteria living in their escas, which supply the light. Hendry’s team has previously found that these bacteria have lost about 50 per cent of their DNA, and with it many abilities. “They rely on glucose from the host,” she says. This discovery implied that the bacteria spend all their lives inside anglerfish. In line with this, the team found that two anglerfish species each had their own species of bacteria. Hendry’s team has now overturned this. The researchers sequenced the DNA of the bacteria found in the escas of seven anglerfish species, belonging to six genera. One species of anglerfish had its own unique bacteria, but the others all shared the same species of bacteria. The only explanation is that the bacteria live in the water and the anglerfish collect them, says Hendry. This implies the bacteria are widespread, as anglerfish from both the North Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico had the same species. “There has to be an environmental pool that all these fish are getting their symbionts from,” says Hendry.

10-10-19 How tardigrades protect their DNA to defy death
A ‘fluffy cloud’ of protein shields water bears’ DNA from radiation, drying and other damage. Tardigrades may partly owe their ability to survive outer space to having the molecular equivalent of cotton candy. Water bears, as the creatures are also known, can famously survive just about anything (SN: 7/14/17), including being bombarded with X-rays or cosmic rays, or being doused in hydrogen peroxide. Such radiation and chemical exposure result in production of DNA-damaging hydroxyl radicals, molecules composed of oxygen and hydrogen. Previous research indicated that a protein called Dsup, for damage suppressor, shields the tardigrade species Ramazzottius varieornatus from radiation. When added to human cells, the protein also protects against radiation. Now researchers have found out how. Dsup surrounds nucleosomes — DNA wound around proteins called histones — “like a fluffy cloud of cotton candy,” molecular biologist James Kadonaga of the University of California, San Diego in La Jolla and colleagues report October 1 in eLife. That cloud keeps hydroxyl radicals away from DNA. Another tardigrade species Hypsibius exemplaris, previously thought to lack Dsup, has its own version of the protective protein, the researchers discovered. Only about 26 percent of the amino acids in the two species’ Dsup proteins are alike, but both shroud DNA against damage. Kadonaga says the proteins probably evolved to protect tardigrades from hydroxy radicals when the moss-dwellers are dried out, a frequent occurrence (SN: 12/16/15). Drying increases the concentration of DNA-dinging radicals in cells. And damage can’t be repaired while the animals are dormant in their desiccated state. Since X-rays also form hydroxy radicals, tardigrades “just happen to be X-ray resistant,” too, he says.

10-9-19 Are experiments on how animals think ever justified?
As research reveals ever more similarities between the human experience and that of many animals, it becomes harder to defend the pursuit of such knowledge AS A primate with sophisticated cognitive abilities, you may remember a recent story we ran about experiments on macaques. It showed that these monkeys can understand the logical process of transitive inference. In other words, if a macaque learns that A comes before B, and B comes before C, it can then deduce that A must come before C. To get the animals to take part in the tests, they were put on what the paper in Science Advances called a “fluid-restricted” diet. Water became a reward for doing the puzzles. The study’s findings are interesting – but are they interesting enough to justify the method? The debate about the merits of experiments on animals usually centres on those done for medical purposes. Many people are willing to accept drug testing on rodents or studies involving primates if such efforts are in pursuit of new treatments for our most unpleasant diseases. Last year, a poll suggested that two-thirds of people in the UK accept animal experiments being carried out for the purposes of medical or scientific research provided there is no alternative. But when investigating questions such as “do monkeys have logic” or “can we implant memories in birds’ brains” (see “implanting false memories in a bird’s brain changes its tune”) there clearly is an alternative – not asking them at all. As our Insight explores, there are still various reasons to carry out this sort of work. One is that it may help us look after animals in our care better, including those in laboratories. Experiments have shown, for example, that rats don’t want bigger cages, they want ones with places to hide.

10-9-19 Climate change: Emperor penguin 'needs greater protection'
Antarctica's Emperor penguins could be in real difficulty come 2100 if the climate warms as expected. Experts say the birds raise their young on sea-ice and if this platform is greatly curtailed, as the models project, then it's likely to put the animals' numbers into steep decline. One forecast is for the population to be halved by the end of the century. Researchers are calling for the conservation status of Emperors to be upgraded. At the moment, they are classified as "Near Threatened" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the organisation that keeps the lists of Earth's endangered animals. A proposal will be submitted shortly to lift Emperors into the more urgent "Vulnerable" category. "These are very resilient birds; they experience really tough winters and keep coming back year after year to their breeding sites to raise their chicks," explained Dr Michelle LaRue, who's co-authored a new report on the penguins' situation in the journal Biological Conservation. "Emperors are fighters, but our concern is how long their resilience will continue into the future," the University of Canterbury, New Zealand, researcher told BBC News. The penguins' breeding success is critically dependent upon so-called "fast ice". This is the sea-ice that sticks to the edge of the continent or to icebergs. It's low and flat, and an ideal surface on which to lay an egg, incubate it and then raise the subsequent chick in its first year of life. But this seasonal ice needs to be long-lived, to stay intact for at least eight or nine months. If it forms too late or breaks up too early, the young birds will be forced into the sea before they're ready, before they've lost their down and grown water-proof feathers. Likewise the adults. They undergo a dramatic moult in the summer months of January and February. They too risk drowning if the fast ice melts away and they don't have the right plumage to resume swimming.

10-9-19 Experiments show us how animal minds work – but should we do them?
We've now found that budgies have empathy and macaques use logic. But such experiments mean keeping animals in unnatural conditions, raising questions about their value. AYUMU the chimpanzee sits behind a glass wall taking a memory test. He sees a sequence of numbers randomly set out on a touchscreen, memorises them and, when they disappear, taps out a pattern to indicate where they were. For a correct answer, he is given a small reward of food. The ape featured in a 2012 documentary, Super Smart Animals, and the research he was involved in at Kyoto University in Japan revealed that young chimpanzees have a better working memory for numbers than human adults. The experiment with Ayumu is just one example of research that is confirming how sophisticated animal minds can be. The trouble is, many studies like these involve housing animals in laboratory conditions or incentivising them to do a test by restricting their food or water. In recent months, New Scientist has reported on findings that chimps bond after watching films together macaque monkeys can use logical reasoning to solve puzzles and that implanting memories in the brains of zebra finches can alter their songs (see page 17). All these studies involved manipulating animals in unnatural ways. There has long been a debate about the merits of animal experiments, especially in medical research. But when animal behaviour or cognition experiments are unlikely to lead to medical advances, the purpose of such studies can seem less immediately clear. In the US, the total number of animal studies under way is difficult to come by because there is no requirement to record experiments involving mice, rats and fish. However, the US Department of Agriculture does report the use of cats, dogs, farm animals, non-human primates and a few other species. In 2017, its records show that more than 250,000 animals were used in research that involved pain and being given pain-relieving drugs. Some 30,000 of these were non-human primates. (Webmaster's comment: These creatures are all living sentient beings. We have no right to force them to live in our experimental conditions.)