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ATHEISM and HUMANISM
10-16-18 'Anti-white' racism: Australia senators blame 'error' for vote
The Australian government has said that an "administrative error" prompted 23 of its senators to vote for a motion which stated "it is OK to be white". The motion by Pauline Hanson, leader of the anti-Islam One Nation party, also condemned "anti-white racism". It was defeated 31-28 in a vote on Monday. Critics noted that the phrase "it's OK to be white" has been associated with trolls and white supremacist groups. PM Scott Morrison said the level of government support was "regrettable". Responding to a backlash on Tuesday, the government said its senators had misunderstood the motion due to an internal "process failure". A senior minister, Christian Porter, blamed an "early email" sent by his staff without his knowledge. It had told senators to support the motion. "The associations of the language were not picked up. Had it been raised directly with me those issues would have been identified," he said in a statement. Among those to support it were Trade Minister Simon Birmingham, Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion and Deputy National leader Bridget McKenzie. Political opponents dismissed the motion as another stunt by Ms Hanson, who last year hit the headlines for wearing a burka. (Webmaster's comment: Any skin color is OK!)
10-15-18 Trump and the end of American ideals
What the president admitted on 60 Minutes. If you watched President Trump's interview with Lesley Stahl on Sunday night's 60 Minutes, you may have noticed that he gave two answers to the question of what America would do if it's proven — as widely believed — that the Saudis murdered Jamal Khashoggi, a dissident and frequent contributor to The Washington Post. Trump's first answer was the same answer just about any president would've given: "We would be very upset and angry if that were the case." The second answer — and probably the more honest one — was also the same answer most presidents would've given, but almost never in public: He talked about military contracts. "I tell you what I don't want to do," Trump told Stahl. "Boeing, Lockheed, Raytheon, all these com — I don't want to hurt jobs. I don't want to lose an order like that." In other words: America is making too much money off of Saudi Arabia to let something so trifling as the murder of a journalist upend the relationship. There's nothing new about that — the United States' relationship with Saudi Arabia and its royal rulers has always been transactional. What is new is this American president, who can barely be bothered to espouse his country's traditional humanitarian and democratic ideals. Hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue. Trump might be a prolific liar, but he's not actually much of a hypocrite. He wears his vice — and now America's — squarely on his sleeve. Some people might call this "the end of America's innocence," but that phrase has been used so often that it's cliche, a description of our collective reaction to everything from the assassination of JFK to the country's loss in Vietnam to the attacks of 9/11. In truth, America hasn't been that innocent: This country supposedly originated on the ideas of liberty and democracy, but was built largely on the backs of slaves and for decades has undone the expressed will of citizens in countries ranging from Chile to Iran. America's innocence was always a myth.
10-15-18 Cannabis in Canada: Who wins and who loses under new law
Canada is about to become the second nation to fully legalise recreational cannabis. When prohibition comes to an end on 17 October, Canadian adults will be able to purchase and consume the drug from federally licensed producers. Canada is about to become the second nation to fully legalise recreational cannabis. When prohibition comes to an end on 17 October, Canadian adults will be able to purchase and consume the drug from federally licensed producers. The country has one of the highest rates of cannabis use in the world, particularly among young people. Canadians spent an estimated C$5.7bn ($4.6bn; £3.5bn) in 2017 alone on combined medical and recreational use - about $1,200 per user. The bulk of that spending was on black market marijuana. Uruguay was the first country to legalise recreational marijuana, although Portugal and the Netherlands have decriminalised the drug. Here's a look at some of the consequences of this sweeping transition in Canada - and the potential winners and losers. Lawyers - winners. Landlords - losers. Global brands - winners. 'Craft' cannabis producers - losers? Cannabis researchers - winners. Justin Trudeau - winner. Canada's cities - losers?
10-14-18 Murdered Salvadoran Archbishop Óscar Romero canonised
Pope Francis has conferred sainthood on murdered Salvadoran Archbishop Óscar Romero at a ceremony in the Vatican. He praised the cleric - an advocate for peace during El Salvador's civil war - for sacrificing his own safety to be "close to the poor and his people". Óscar Romero was killed by soldiers while giving Mass in 1980. His killers have never been brought to justice. Pope Francis also canonised Pope Paul VI, known for making reforms to the Catholic Church in the 1960s. The bestowing of a sainthood onto Archbishop Romero has long been called for by Catholics in the region, the BBC's Will Grant reports.
10-14-18 Canada cannabis legalisation: ‘We know the world is watching
For many Canadians, the idea of legal cannabis once seemed a pipe dream. But from 17 October, Canada will become the first G7 country to give recreational cannabis the green light. It's following a trail first blazed by Uruguay in 2013. "It's becoming a serious industry," says one entrepreneur. Supporters say legalisation will bring new medical advances and help stamp out drug-related crime. But some critics argue that long-term use can harm people's health. Others worry about how it will be policed. So who are some of the so-called "ganjapreneurs" riding this new legal high? Vinay Tolia ran his own hedge fund before becoming chief executive of Flowr this year. He co-founded the cannabis producer with Tom Flow, an industry veteran who sold his last firm, MedReleaf, for more than $2.5bn (£1.9bn). Vinay says getting into the legal cannabis industry is "the right thing to do from a social level". "You can objectively see that the drug policies have been a failure," he says. "And why not study it? There are tonnes of medicinal benefits waiting to be discovered that are going to be hugely beneficial to a lot of people." Flowr runs an 84,000-sq ft facility in British Columbia where it grows plants under highly controlled conditions. By managing humidity, airflow and other factors in a sterilised setting more akin to a pharmaceutical lab, Flowr says it can mass produce cannabis that's of a consistent, high quality. "There is a lot of painstaking care in making the right plant," says Vinay. "[Cannabis] is very sensitive. You can have the same strains in two different rooms with a slightly different temperature and get completely different chemical compositions." Flowr has also teamed up with gardening industry giant Scotts Miracle-Gro, opening a research facility to study pot genetics and how the plant can affect users.
10-13-18 Australia to stop religious schools rejecting gay students
Australia's prime minister has promised to ban religious schools from discriminating against gay students. Scott Morrison said new legislation would "make it clear that no student of a non-state school should be expelled on the basis of their sexuality". Some Australian states allow such schools to turn away gay students. The issue has been hotly debated in the country after recommendations of a report on religious freedom were leaked earlier this week. The report, commissioned after same-sex marriage was made legal last year, suggested that procedures for non-state schools to reject gay students should be made consistent nationwide, raising the possibility of allowing such rejections across Australia. On Wednesday Mr Morrison, who leads the centre-right Liberal-National coalition, said the proposals - which included some safeguards for gay students - would be considered "carefully and respectfully". But on Saturday he made clear that religious schools would not be allowed to discriminate under new legislation. "Given recent misreporting, we have an opportunity here to bring forward a simple amendment to end the confusion," he said. State schools are already banned from discriminating against students on the basis of their sexuality.
10-12-18 Editor’s letter
When the Nazis occupied Hungary, one of their first orders of business was to round up the Jews. A notably moving account of this period comes in a book called Masquerade, written by Tivadar Soros—the father of the philanthropist George Soros. The elder Soros, a lawyer in Budapest, tells the story of how the Nazis summoned the Jewish lawyers in alphabetical order. The first day, it was those whose last names started with A–C. By the end of the week, they reached G. Tivadar did not wait to find out if he was prominent enough to make the list when they reached S. He and the 14-year-old George went into hiding—George’s mother and brother hid separately—and survived the war. Those who thought they had no choice but to queue up in alphabetical order did not. I thought of that story this week. In Brazil, the world’s thirdmost populous democracy, Jair Bolsonaro, a proud admirer of the country’s former military dictatorship, won the first round of presidential voting. A prominent Saudi dissident seems to have been brazenly kidnapped and dismembered. Soros himself has been in the news, too. (See Talking Points.) A man who for years was hated by the hard left for opposing communism in every form is now a bogeyman for the hard right; fringe groups spread false stories of how this Holocaust survivor collaborated with the Nazis. With repressive regimes rising around the world, the march of autocracy has the aura of inevitability—an impression dictators and would-be dictators encourage, just as the Nazis fostered the illusion that there was no choice but to line up for deportation and execution. But the rise of autocracy is not inevitable. Bad as this week has been for democracy, it’s a good week to note the lesson of Masquerade: That even in the darkest times, there are always choices, alternative paths of justice and sanity for those who have enough wits about them not to wait patiently for their name to be called.
10-12-18 Kavanaugh squeezes onto the Supreme Court
Justice Brett Kavanaugh heard his first arguments on the Supreme Court this week after one of the most bitterly contested confirmation battles in American history. The Senate voted 50-48 to confirm Kavanaugh shortly after receiving the results of a limited FBI investigation into sexual assault allegations against him made by California research psychologist Christine Blasey Ford, who knew the judge in high school, and former Yale classmate Deborah Ramirez. Senators were allowed to review a single copy of the report inside a secure room on Capitol Hill. The results were enough to persuade undecided Republican Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Susan Collins of Maine to cast their vote for Kavanaugh, as well as Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, the only Democrat to vote “yes.” The vote, which took place amid screams of “Shame!” from protesters in the gallery, was the narrowest confirmation vote since 1881. At a swearing-in ceremony at the White House, President Trump apologized to Kavanaugh “on behalf of the nation” for the pain he and his family endured throughout the confirmation process. “You, sir, under historic scrutiny, were proven innocent,” Trump said. Democrats, meanwhile, complained that the narrow FBI investigation ordered by the White House was too limited and rushed, with the bureau ignoring testimony offered by several of Kavanaugh’s former college classmates who said they’d witnessed him behaving belligerently after heavy drinking. “I take this office with gratitude and no bitterness,” said Kavanaugh, whose confirmation cements the court’s conservative majority. “I will seek to be a force for stability and unity.” (Webmaster's comment: The sexual predators are now running the show.)
10-12-18 Nowhere to go
A federal official said the release this week of hundreds of migrant families from government custody marked “the start of a dam breaking,” as immigrant detention centers reach capacity. At one site in Arizona, hundreds of migrants seeking asylum were released without warning or instructions on where to go, how to find relatives, or how to travel to court hearings, NBC News reported. Some of the migrants have gotten shelter, aid, and even Greyhound bus tickets from local churches, which were warned by Immigration and Customs Enforcement to expect a flood of releases. “You’ll start to see this all across the southern border soon,” said a Department of Homeland Security official. More than 12,700 parents and children were apprehended crossing the border in August, triple the number a year earlier.
10-12-18 Canada politician says crucifix 'not religious symbol'
The newly-elected premier of Quebec in Canada has raised eyebrows by saying a crucifix hanging in the provincial legislature is not a religious symbol. François Legault's remarks come despite his government plan to ban civil servants from wearing items of clothing such as hijabs and the Jewish skullcap. The policy has been widely criticised as it targets minority groups. A 2008 report said the crucifix which has been hanging in the legislature since 1936 should be removed. But the Quebec government refused to implement its findings. The debate over religious symbols in Quebec public life has been a perennial issue for the past decade. In 2014, the Parti Quebecois proposed a so-called Charter of Values bill, that would ban all public servants from wearing "ostentatious" religious symbols or clothing. Many decried the bill as Islamophobic and anti-Semitic, but proponents said the law was meant to promote secularism and separate Church and state. Since winning a majority in last week's election, Mr Legault's Coalition Avenir Québec party has renewed the call to ban all religious symbols, and has even said he would consider firing teachers who refused to comply with the ban. "We have to understand our past," Mr Legault said. "In our past we had Protestants and Catholics. They built the values we have in Quebec. We have to recognise that and not mix that with religious signs." His willingness to ban religious symbols - whilst refusing to take the crucifix down from the legislature - has drawn much criticism. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is from Quebec, said the state had no right to tell women who wear the hijab what they can and cannot wear.
10-12-18 A day in a U.S. hospital
Pioneering U.S. physicist Leon Lederman sold his Nobel Prize medal for $765,000 in 2015 to pay medical bills, it was revealed following his death last week. A day in a U.S. hospital costs an average of $5,220, compared with $765 in Australia or $424 in Spain.
10-12-18 We are not America’s enemy
How seriously should we take the Trump administration’s hysterical anti-China rhetoric? asked the Global Times. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence “slandered China” in a speech at the right-wing Hudson Institute last week, accusing Beijing of all manner of sins. Pence lambasted China’s trade policies and military spending, even the defense of our sovereignty in the South China Sea. He claimed that our government is persecuting the Uighurs, a minority Muslim people in western China. And he insisted, with no evidence whatsoever, that Beijing was interfering in the U.S. midterm elections. These ridiculous allegations are a clear attempt to help President Trump “get rid of Russiagate by shifting attention from Russian interference to Chinese meddling.” For its own domestic political purposes, the Trump administration is setting up China as an enemy. But the complicated relationship between China and the U.S. can’t be so easily defined. We are neither enemies nor friends. It’s up to China, then, to be the adult in this relationship. Beijing will have to “stay poised and avoid being misled by the aggressiveness of the U.S. government.” After all, the “brutal and lose-lose” trade war that the U.S. is conducting will inevitably hurt ordinary Americans, who in turn will punish their leaders. The U.S. won’t dare push us too hard—“out of fear of China’s countermeasures.”
10-12-18 Journalists strangled, shot, blown up
A Bulgarian TV journalist was brutally raped, beaten, and strangled to death while out jogging last week, said Bulgaria’s FrogNews.bg in an editorial, and authorities are trying to pretend it had nothing to do with her reporting. Viktoria Marinova, 30, an anchor of the news show Detector and the ex-wife of TV magnate Svilen Maximov, was investigating the alleged embezzlement of European Union funds by Bulgarian firms at the time of her murder. But Interior Minister Mladen Marinov insisted that her killing must be a random sex crime, noting that Marinova, a former beauty queen, ran every day on the same route, and that the killer apparently lay in wait for her. A 21-year-old Bulgarian man with a criminal record, Severin Krasimirov, was arrested this week for the murder; police said the crime was not linked to Marinova’s work. But the louder officials make these claims, the more we will suspect that this courageous journalist was killed “to muzzle her investigations.” Bulgaria is a dangerous place to be a reporter, said Jennifer Rankin in The Guardian (U.K.). The press freedom advocate Reporters Without Borders says both “corruption and collusion between media, politicians, and oligarchs” are widespread there, and that physical attacks and death threats against journalists by crime groups “are especially common.” If Marinova was killed because of her work, she’s part of a gruesome trend, said Francesco Battistini in Corriere della Sera (Italy). Malta’s most famous investigative journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia, was blown up last year in a targeted car bombing. In February, Slovak reporter Jan Kuciak was shot to death in his home, along with his fiancée, while working on a story about the links between the Calabrian mob, the ’Ndrangheta, and local businesses. And now Marinova. Surely it is not “pure chance” that all three had been investigating corruption involving the misuse of EU funds? It’s bad enough when suspected mob hitmen go around murdering journalists, said Yahya Bostan in the Daily Sabah (Turkey). When a national government does it, we’re in a new realm of terror. Jamal Khashoggi, one of Saudi Arabia’s most prominent journalists, fled his country last year during Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s crackdown on dissent. He continued to criticize brutality in his native land for publications such as The Washington Post, and last week went to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to file paperwork for his upcoming marriage to a Turkish woman. Khashoggi, 59, never came out. Turkish officials say they have proof he was murdered in the consulate, and his body dismembered and removed. The Saudis insist Khashoggi left the building on his own, yet they refuse to release video footage from the exits. If Saudi Arabia really had a journalist murdered at a diplomatic mission in a foreign country, “it deserves to be designated a rogue state.” Being a reporter has suddenly become a far more perilous profession.
10-12-18 Pope accepts Donald Wuerl's resignation as Washington DC archbishop
Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Washington DC archbishop Donald Wuerl, who has been criticised for his handling of sexual abuse cases. Cardinal Wuerl had offered to resign when he reached 75 in 2015, but the Pope did not take up the resignation. Cardinal Wuerl was recently criticised in a report on sexual abuse cases when he was bishop of Pittsburgh and admitted to lapses in judgement. The report said he had allowed accused priests to be reassigned or reinstated. Cardinal Wuerl said in a statement: "The Holy Father's decision to provide new leadership to the Archdiocese can allow all of the faithful clergy, religious and lay, to focus on healing and the future. "It permits this local Church to move forward. Once again for any past errors in judgment I apologise and ask for pardon." Donald Wuerl will reportedly retain his title of cardinal and continue in his role until a successor is found. The Archdiocese of Washington released a letter in which Pope Francis praises Cardinal Wuerl for not trying to justify his actions in the handling of sexual abuse cases even though he had sufficient evidence to do so. "Your nobility has led you not to choose this way of defence. Of this, I am proud and thank you," Pope Francis says in the letter. Bishops are asked to submit their resignation at 75, but continue in their role until the Pope chooses to accept it. Allegations of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy worldwide continue to affect the Church. In August, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court released a grand jury report detailing sexual abuse. It named over 300 accused Catholic clergymen. The investigation found more than 1,000 children had been abused by members of six dioceses in the state over 70 years. Officials said the probe found systematic cover-ups by the Church of victims that included young boys and girls, as well as teenagers. The report criticised Cardinal Wuerl for his role in concealing the abuse. In July, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, a former Washington DC archbishop and a high-profile Catholic leader, resigned amid allegations that he sexually abused children and adults for decades. (Webmaster's comment: Notice that priests raping children gets them NO JAIL TIME!)
10-12-18 Colin Kaepernick: NFL quarterback calls for further protests against racial injustice
NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick called for further protests against racial injustice, after he received a prestigious award for his contributions to black history and culture. Kaepernick, who has not played since the 2016 season, was the first player to kneel during the US national anthem. Other players followed suit, leading to criticism from President Donald Trump. "It is our duty to fight for them and we're going to continue to fight for them," Kaepernick, 30, said. Receiving the W.E.B. Du Bois Medal from Harvard University, he added: "I feel it's not only my responsibility but all of our responsibilities that - as people who are in positions of privilege, in positions of power - we continue to fight for them, uplift them, empower them. "If we don't, we become complicit in the problem." Players who refused to stand during The Star-Spangled Banner have said the protests were a reaction to police brutality against African Americans and racial inequality. Kaepernick has been without a team since he opted out of his contract with the San Francisco 49ers in March 2017. He has filed a grievance against NFL team owners he claims conspired not to hire him because of his protests and has become the face of a new Nike advertising campaign.
10-12-18 Solitary confinement is torture
"God! what darkness here!" cries Florestan in Beethoven's Fidelio, speaking alone to the audience from the underground cell in which he has been imprisoned. Beethoven's youthful Jacobinism has not aged well, but many of the causes that animated his politics are as worthy now as they were in his own era. This is true not least of his evident horror of solitary confinement, which he shared with Dumas, Dickens, and many other 19th-century worthies. It is the moral seriousness of the uncompromising revolutionary that makes the famous "Prisoners' Chorus" among the most stirring moments in the history of Western art music. I was recently surprised to find myself thinking that Justice Sonia Sotomayor has done something worthy, politically if not aesthetically, of the great composer. Sotomayor deserves a nation's gratitude for her statement issued Tuesday following the Supreme Court's refusal to hear the case of prisoners — one now dead — who had been held in solitary confinement at the Colorado State Penitentiary. "A punishment need not leave scars to be cruel and unusual," Sotomayor wrote. "To deprive a prisoner of any outdoor exercise for an extended period of time in the absence of an especially strong basis for doing so is deeply troubling — and has been recognized as such for many years." According to filings, the men were allowed to leave their cells for only one hour five days a week in order to visit an "exercise area," apparently in keeping with state regulations concerning prisoners' right to be outdoors. This is what the state believed compliance looked like. One of the petitioners in the case spent 11 years living in such conditions. He died in May, three years after his release. "While we do not know what caused his death," Sotomayor wrote, "we do know that solitary confinement imprints on those that it clutches a wide range of psychological scars."
10-12-18 I smoke weed. I'm still a responsible parent.
I don't want to shock you, but more than half of the 55 percent of American adults who use some form of cannabis are parents. Of that half, 16 million have children under the age of 18. Let me repeat that: Many cannabis users are parents. With. Young. Children. Many pot-smoking parents, even if they live in a state where weed is legal, feel the need to remain anonymous, so you may not know about the legions of them because stigma still abounds. I hereby exit the weed closet and admit that I am a parent who occasionally enjoys cannabis. But before you call social services, please hear me out. We all know that alcohol is a part of parent culture. Hell, it's a part of the culture. Sunday barbecues go with beer. Mom's night out is at a local wine bar. Weddings, birthdays, baseball games — you name it, Americans like to drink. And most people would agree that it's OK for a parent to have a glass of wine, or even two, while parenting. Obviously, not while driving one's kids to art class. Obviously, not with breakfast. Obviously, not to any kind of excess, since that's unhealthy for everyone, and potentially dangerous. But in moderation, it's okay. I think the same is true for cannabis. Adults can consume it responsibly and still be good parents. They can hold down jobs, pay bills, feed and house their families, and provide emotional support. They can teach their kids the social, self-care, and intellectual skills life requires and they — we — shouldn't be stigmatized.
10-11-18 Matthew Shepard to be interred 20 years after brutal murder
Matthew Shepard was savagely killed in Wyoming in 1998 at the age of 21 and went on to became a symbol on anti-gay violence in the US. After being robbed by two men, he was repeatedly beaten and tied to a fence in near freezing conditions. A cyclist found him after 18 hours. Six days later he died. His parents cremated the body and kept the ashes, worried that a final resting place would be vandalised. But now he will finally be laid to rest. The remains will be interred inside the crypt of Washington National Cathedral on 26 October, his family says. (Webmaster's comment: Living in fear even after death. What a hate filled nation!) The University of Wyoming student was openly gay. On 7 October 1998, he was lured from a bar in the city of Laramie by two men, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson. They both confessed to telling Shepard they were gay and offering him a ride home with the intent to rob him. They became angry when Shepard made a sexual advance, they said, and drove the student to an isolated area outside town. There, the attackers tied him to a wooden fence and repeatedly struck Shepard's head with a handgun. The cyclist who found him first mistook the student for a scarecrow. Shepard was taken a local hospital and then moved to a better facility in Fort Collins, Colorado. His skull was so badly fractured by the beating that doctors said surgery was not an option. He died on 12 October. Henderson pleaded guilty to murder and kidnapping and sentenced to life in prison. McKinney was also given a life sentence after being found guilty.
10-11-18 Police called on Atlanta man for 'babysitting while black'
Corey Lewis was leaving a Subway sandwich shop in the US state of Georgia on Sunday with the two children he was babysitting, when a woman approached him in a Walmart car park. The woman asked if the children were OK, and requested to speak to them. When Mr Lewis refused, the woman followed him home and called the police. Mr Lewis is black. The children were white. The incident in suburban Atlanta has recharged the debate about racial profiling in America. Mr Lewis documented parts of the experience in a series of Facebook Live videos which have been viewed more than 600,000 times. In the videos, Mr Lewis says: "It's 2018. I can't step out into the community without being profiled. "I am being harassed and followed... because I have got two kids that don't look like me." He also said that the children were "scared" by the woman following them. In the final video, Mr Lewis is questioned by a police officer by the side of the road. Mr Lewis described the incident as an example of "babysitting while black" and suggests that the only reason the woman contacted the police was because of his skin colour. The videos were met with anger online, with many people commenting that it was "disgusting" and "terrible" that the police were called. Many people used the hashtag #BabysittingWhileBlack to express their anger. (Webmaster's comment: The woman should be arresting for racism and for threatening children and their babysitter! They were under his care.)
10-11-18 Trump's bogus attack on Medicare-for-all
His stunningly disingenuous op-ed in USA Today reveals the true nature of conservatism. President Donald Trump took to the pages of USA Today on Wednesday to gin up fear among senior citizens about nascent proposals by some progressives to open up Medicare to all Americans. Nearly every sentence of Trump's screed was overrun with egregious factual inaccuracies and tired old tropes about "socialized medicine" turning the United States into a Latin American basket case. But setting all that aside, Trump's op-ed reveals the core of modern conservatism: It's all about preserving privileges and dignity for those who already have them, and denying them to those who don't. The heavy-handed message from Trump's op-ed is that seniors should fear giving Democrats political power because Democrats want to "end Medicare as we know it." Expanding our current Medicare-for-retirees program to a Medicare-for-all program, Trump asserts, would somehow endanger health care for current Medicare beneficiaries. Trump's argument is a restatement of Republican talking points. As The Washington Post's Dave Weigel points out, Republican congressional candidates in competitive races across the country are purporting to be the true protectors of Medicare against imagined left-wing schemes to bankrupt health care for seniors. As Weigel characterizes the attack: "It's a zero-sum game, Republicans say, and Democrats want Medicare recipients to lose their benefits." These attacks are dripping in bad faith. The Republican Party is supposedly the party of small-government conservatism, opposed in its bones to the very existence of government programs like Medicare. It's the party of Ronald Reagan, who warned that guaranteed health care for seniors would extinguish freedom in America, and the party of Paul Ryan, who spent his career dreaming of gutting Medicare through mass privatization and benefit cuts.
10-11-18 Germany's AfD sparks outcry at far-right child informer plan
German justice minister Katarina Barley has sharply condemned an online scheme launched by the far-right AfD party to get schoolchildren to inform on teachers who are politically partial. The far-right party entered parliament for the first time this year, becoming the biggest opposition party. Its informant site started in Hamburg and is likely to be launched elsewhere. Ms Barley said it was "a method of dictators" and one union leader likened it to a "tool from the Middle Ages". Comparisons have also been drawn with spying practices by the Nazis in World War Two and afterwards by the Stasi security service in communist East Germany. In the south-western state of Baden-Württemberg, Education Minister Susanne Eisenmann said the idea was "completely wrong and harmful to democracy". Currently riding second in opinion polls in Germany, AfD is hoping to enter the Bavarian state assembly for the first time when elections are held on 14 October. (Webmaster's comment: Turning in your parents and teachers and other adults for "crimes against the state" was a tactic used by the Nazis and Communists.)
10-11-18 Medicinal cannabis will be available in the UK from next month
The UK Home Secretary has announced that doctors will be able to prescribe medicinal cannabis from next month following a specially commissioned review. Doctors in the UK will be able to prescribe cannabis products to patients from 1 November, Home Secretary Sajid Javid has announced. Javid had decided to relax the rules about the circumstances in which cannabis products can be given to patients, after considering expert advice from a specially commissioned review. The new regulations apply to England, Wales and Scotland, and follow several high-profile cases, including that of Alfie Dingley and Billy Caldwell, children with epilepsy whose conditions appeared to be helped by cannabis oil. Alfie’s mother, Hannah Deacon, was one of many campaigners to welcome the move. “Today is a momentous day for every patient and family with a suffering child who wish to access medicinal cannabis. We urge the medical world to get behind these reforms so they can help the tens of thousands of people who are in urgent need of help,” she says. Mike Barnes, the medical cannabis expert who secured the first long-term licence for its use for Alfie, says: “This announcement has transformed the position of the UK in this exciting and developing field.” He added that some of his medical colleagues were unsure about the benefits, but that “compared to many pharmaceutical drugs, whole plant medical cannabis products are remarkably safe and, as recent high-profile cases have shown, can produce dramatic improvements for patients.”
10-10-18 Delivered from evil: Humans aren’t always corrupted by power after all
The Stanford prison experiment was the classic demonstration of how power can bring out the worst in us. But now it seems it was more about showbiz than science. IN A darkened auditorium in September 2008, I sat in the audience awaiting the start of a presentation entitled “The psychology of evil” by social psychologist Philip Zimbardo. Suddenly, the doors at the back of the theatre burst open, lights flashed and Santana’s song Evil Ways blared from the speakers. A man with slicked-back black hair and a devilish pointy beard danced up the aisle towards the stage, snapping his fingers in time with the music. Zimbardo’s flamboyant entrance was startling, given the nature of the talk. I shouldn’t have been surprised. Zimbardo’s knack for performance is one of the reasons his Stanford prison experiment is one of the most famous psychological studies of the 20th century, alongside research into obedience carried out by his high-school classmate, Stanley Milgram. Eschewing conventional academic reporting, Zimbardo’s first account of the experiment was a sensational piece that appeared in a supplement of The New York Times, showcasing his skill as a storyteller. The article kicked off by detailing how, one sunny morning in Palo Alto, California, in 1971, police swooped on the homes of nine young men. They were bundled into squad cars, taken to the police station, charged, then blindfolded and transported to the Stanford County Jail, where they met their guards. The “jail” was actually a set-up in the basement of a building at Stanford University. The prisoners were one half of a group of volunteers, the other half being assigned the role of guards. In what Zimbardo described as “a gradual Kafkaesque metamorphosis of good into evil”, these seemingly well-adjusted young men became increasingly brutal as guards. They “repeatedly stripped their prisoners naked, hooded them, chained them, denied them food or bedding privileges, put them into solitary confinement, and made them clean toilet bowls with their bare hands”, Zimbardo wrote. “Over time, these amusements took a sexual turn, such as having the prisoners simulate sodomy on each other.” The prisoners, humiliated and victimised, suffered such emotional distress that Zimbardo, playing the role of all-powerful prison superintendent, terminated the two-week experiment after just six days.
10-10-18 Should history's greats be held to today's standards of offense?
The trouble with reassessing history's heroes. Twitter's teapot held a new tempest Sunday, this one brewing over astronaut Scott Kelly's approving quote of Winston Churchill. Within half a day, buffeted by digital waves of outrage, Kelly retracted his words, tweeting that he did "not mean to offend by quoting Churchill" and pledging to educate himself "further on his atrocities." Was Churchill a "grotesque racist and a stubborn imperialist, forever on the wrong side of history" — or a stalwart defender of freedom against the evil of Nazism, a man prone to the errors of his age but admirable nevertheless? The same historical record undergirds both assessments, and their divergence raises questions larger than Churchill's legacy alone: Should history's greats be held to today's standards of offense? Is the past to be interpreted via the present's ethical lens? If we know something to be wrong now, can we blame our ancestors for failing to know it then? Christopher Columbus, whose federal holiday fell on Monday, was weighed and found very much wanting (eyewitness accounts and the man's own journals detail unspeakable cruelty). But what about the more complicated cases? Should we honor someone like Thomas Jefferson, the slave-owning advocate of universal human rights? What do we make of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s alleged infidelity and plagiarism? Or Martin Luther's gross antisemitism, or the rank sexism rampant among classic philosophers and theologians? Or — well, you can find any number of lists of other important historical figures who don't conform to the present-day ethical consensus. (Webmaster's comment: And don't forget the slave owner George Washington who took teeth out of slaves to replace his own and raped slave children to improve the breed of his stock! Slaver owners were monsters and racists destroyed millions of innocent people's lives. THERE WAS NO EXCUSE.)
10-16-18 Kidman: 'Cruise marriage protected me from harassment'
Nicole Kidman has said her marriage to Tom Cruise gave her "protection" from sexual harassment early in her career. The Australian actress married Cruise in 1990 after they starred together in the film Days Of Thunder. She said: "I got married very young, but it definitely wasn't power for me - it was protection. "I married for love, but being married to an extremely powerful man kept me from being sexually harassed." The couple divorced in 2001. Speaking about Hollywood's harassment scandal, Kidman said: "Of course I've had MeToo moments - since I was little! But do I want to expose them in an article? No. Do they come out in my work? Absolutely." Kidman and Cruise, who during their marriage adopted two children, Isabella, now 25, and son Connor, now 23, divorced in 2001. Kidman said her separation from Cruise forced her to "grow up". She wrote: "I would work, but I was still very much cocooned. So when I came out of it at 32, 33, it's almost like I had to grow up." Kidman married country music singer Keith Urban in 2006. The couple have two daughters together: Sunday, 10, and Faith, seven. The Oscar-winning star's films include Moulin Rouge!, The Hours, Lion, The Others and Dead Calm. (Webmaster's comment: But millions for women have been abused and raped and have yet to speak up against their abusers. They'll not be safe until every one of the abusers has been identified and jailed.)
10-16-18 Judge dismisses Stormy Daniels' defamation case against Trump
A US judge has dismissed adult film star Stormy Daniels' defamation lawsuit against President Donald Trump. Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, says she had a sexual affair with Mr Trump in 2006. She filed the case after the president tweeted that she had invented a story about being threatened for speaking out about the alleged relationship. But the judge ruled that the tweet was protected by the First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of speech. Stormy Daniels was also ordered to pay Mr Trump's legal fees, although the amount is yet to be determined. Her lawyer said she would appeal against the decision. Mr Trump has denied any relationship with the actress. In an interview with CBS News earlier this year, Stormy Daniels said a stranger approached her while she was with her young daughter and threatened her. She later issued an image of the man. Mr Trump responded to her account on Twitter, saying: "A sketch years later about a nonexistent man. A total con job, playing the Fake News Media for Fools (but they know it)!" The ruling does not affect a separate lawsuit the actress has filed against the president over money she says she was paid by Mr Trump's lawyer, Michael Cohen, to keep quiet about the alleged affair. In August, Mr Cohen pleaded guilty to violating campaign finance laws during the 2016 presidential election over payments to two women who said they had sexual relationships with Mr Trump. He said he made the payments at Mr Trump's request.
10-15-18 More Than Me CEO temporarily resigns amid Liberia rape scandal
The CEO of a US-backed academy in Liberia has temporarily resigned after a report found that dozens of girls were allegedly raped by an employee. Katie Meyler, the CEO of charity More Than Me, announced she would step aside after a report by ProPublica and Time magazine revealed the abuse. More Than Me says they have taken steps to safeguard girls at the school, which is devoted to women's empowerment. The group has also created a panel to review the investigation. The non-governmental organisation's (NGO) advisory board recommended an independent investigation into allegations of widespread abuse and negligence at the institution, which exists to protect young Liberian girls from sexual abuse and exploitation. In a statement on Monday, a committee of seven Liberian government agencies said it met twice since the story was published on Thursday, with the aim "to taking the appropriate legal actions to protect the children and ensure they are safe", Time magazine reported. The NGO had received almost $600,000 (£456,000) from the US government, and Ms Meyler had been praised by celebrity philanthropists including Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. She had also received an invitation to the White House by former President Barack Obama. During the Ebola epidemic in 2014, western media organisations - including the BBC - profiled Ms Meyler and her Instagram account, where she documented the struggles of the Liberians she met. She was named among Time Magazine's 2014 Person of the Year, which was dedicated to the first responders to the Ebola crisis. More Than Me now runs 19 schools in Liberia, teaching approximately 4,000 students.
10-15-18 National bans on smacking children linked to less teenage violence
A survey has found that teenagers get into more fights in countries where it is legal to spank children, but there could be several explanations for the link. Does smacking your children make them more likely to hit others? A global survey has found that teenagers get into more fights in countries where it is legal to spank children. Anti-smacking campaigners say this adds to the evidence that supports banning physical punishment. However sceptics say the findings show that smacking and fighting are linked in some way, but not that one leads to the other. Corporal punishment used to be commonplace, but a growing list of countries have banned it, including Sweden, Germany, and New Zealand. In the UK, smacking will soon become illegal in Scotland and there are calls for the same to happen in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. As well as concerns that smacking promotes violence, campaigners say it makes parental child abuse more likely. However, supporters argue that smacking can be necessary for discipline. Frank Elgar of McGill University in Montreal wondered if there was a link between corporal punishment and teenage behaviour. His team looked at two regularly repeated surveys of children in 88 countries, which include questions about how often they have been in a fight. Nations were classed in one of three ways: no smacking bans, full smacking bans, or partial smacking bans, where smacking isn’t allowed in schools but is legal for parents, as is currently the case in the UK.
10-14-18 Story of unsung gardener revealed after appeal on BBC
The story first came to light in a box of archives held by the Royal Horticultural Society. The mysterious Miss Harrisson had come top in exams on the principles of horticulture - but wasn't allowed to claim her prize of a scholarship at the RHS because she was a woman. Very little else was known about her, but within hours of the story going out on BBC Breakfast in September, viewers were sending emails and exchanging information on social media. Her family have now come forward with information that fills in the missing gaps in her life. The trail led to the Yorkshire town of Settle, where Olive, by then Mrs Edmundson, spent her final years. Her granddaughter Alison Tyas says her grandmother was a groundbreaker, a heroine - and, for her, a granny who you could rely on for everything. "I think my strongest memory really is as an eight, nine-year-old, being taken for walks in the country and being shown the names of all the flowers," she says. "She knew all their names." In Alison's garden, overlooked by the Yorkshire hills, apples hang from neatly cordoned trees, cabbages stand proudly in the vegetable plot and pink sedums nod their heads in the breeze. It's clear that her grandmother's green fingers have passed down the generations. Alison's memories of her grandmother are of a woman who devoted her life to caring for family. But she never forgot her knowledge of plants. "It was always there, she could always make plants grow." She says she always knew about her grandmother's success in the exam. Although Olive was denied her scholarship, she was given a medal, which she cherished all her life. Olive was able to train at a college that accepted women - Swanley Horticultural College - and went on to work as a professional gardener.
10-14-18 I've been an ‘abortion doula’ 2,000 times
Doulas typically give women emotional support during childbirth, but in New York some help women through abortions too. Vicki Bloom has been in the room for more than 2,000 procedures since joining the non-profit Doula Project in 2010. One of the things Vicki Bloom found most surprising when she first became an abortion doula was just how many of the women - most of them already mothers - wanted to chat about their children. "I had thought that would feel weird while they were terminating a pregnancy, but actually it makes a lot of sense," says the 60-year-old food scientist and volunteer doula. "Making sure they can take the best care of the kids they have factors into a lot of people's choice to have an abortion, so their kids may be on their mind. "I also feel like some people may want to talk about how they take care of their kids to get reassurance that they are a good parent and a good person." There's a misconception, says Bloom, that women who have abortions are somehow different from those who have children. In fact more than 60% of women having abortions in the US already have at least one child, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research organisation. When they take their place in the operating theatre, Bloom will be there in her hospital scrubs to hold their hand, calm them, comfort them, talk to them and wipe away any sweat or tears. The time they spend together is normally shorter than for a birth, but in many ways the support Bloom provides is the same. "I will stand up by their head and be looking into that person's eyes, ready for whatever they need, while the doctor is doing the procedure," she says. "Even in clinics where staff are amazing, having someone in that dedicated role can be so valuable." The Guttmacher Institute finds that abortion is increasingly concentrated among women living below the poverty line.
10-13-18 Pope defrocks two Chilean bishops over child abuse claims.
Pope Francis has stripped two Chilean bishops of their duties as priests amid claims that they are linked to the sexual abuse of minors. They are Francisco José Cox Huneeus, archbishop emeritus of La Serena, and Marco Antonio Órdenes Fernández, archbishop emeritus of Iquique. The Vatican issued a statement on their defrocking after a meeting between the pontiff and the president of Chile. The decision could not be appealed against, it said on Saturday. It was announced as Pope Francis met Chile's President Sebastian Piñera in the Vatican, where the two spoke particularly about "the painful scourge of abuse of minors". More than 100 Catholic clergy are being investigated in Chile over alleged sex crimes and attempts to cover them up. All 34 of Chile's bishops offered their resignations to the Pope in May over the scandal. The pontiff accepted three resignations in June. Police have raided offices and seized Church documents in the capital Santiago and the city of Rancagua as part of their investigation. In September Pope Francis defrocked former priest Fernando Karadima, 88, for having sexually abused minors.
10-12-18 #MeToo: One year later, what’s changed?
It’s been one year since the sexual assault allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein ignited the #MeToo movement, said Riley Griffin, Hannah Recht, and Jeff Green in Bloomberg.com, and the headlines since then have been “dizzying.” At least 429 prominent individuals, mostly men, have been accused of misconduct ranging from lewd comments to serial rape. The #MeToo hashtag has appeared in almost 14 million tweets over the past year. “This is just the beginning,” said Julianne Escobedo Shepherd in Jezebel.com. Powerful men such as Weinstein, comedian Bill Cosby, numerous corporate executives, and dozens of politicians are finally facing consequences for their actions. And despite Republicans’ confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court in defiance of sexual assault allegations, society is tilting toward believing victims for the first time in our history. I wish I could be so optimistic, said Roxane Gay in The New York Times. Many of the disgraced men outed by #MeToo are now reportedly eyeing comebacks, including former Today host Matt Lauer and comedian Louis C.K. In recent weeks, journalist John Hockenberry and musician Jian Ghomeshi published self-pitying essays about how their lives have been “ruined.” How telling that “instead of self-reflection, men would reflect on how they had been harmed by their own bad behavior”—with no awareness of how much pain they’ve caused their victims. #MeToo hasn’t made me feel “any safer or more empowered,” said Bre Payton in TheFederalist.com. The movement has become radicalized by far-left feminists who turn gray-area encounters into assaults. “Do we want to live in a world where the details of a bad date could end up in the front pages of every major newspaper?” One year in, #MeToo has just begun “the campaign to change our sexual culture,” said Alyssa Rosenberg in The Washington Post. Many very hard questions still need to be addressed. How do we determine guilt or innocence in cases that don’t end up in court? Given the range of transgressions, from gross come-ons to physical assault, “how do we make sure the penalty matches the harm done?” What are the terms under which some offenders should be forgiven? These questions couldn’t be answered in one year, but we’re finally starting to try. “The agonizing stories we’ve heard over the past 12 months have done a great deal to make it possible to do that work at all.”
10-12-18 Men’s Health/SurveyMonkey Poll Watch
One year after the #MeToo movement began, 43% of men say their behavior toward women has not changed at all, while 32% of men are more careful about their actions and their words.
10-12-18 Public Religion Research Institute Poll Watch
60% say they would not vote for a candidate who had been accused of sexual harassment by multiple people, while 32% say they would still consider voting for the candidate if they agreed with him on the issues.
10-12-18 Republican men's hatred
Christine Blasey Ford, who accused Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her in high school, is still receiving “unending” death threats, and her family will not be able to return to their home for “quite some time,” her lawyer says.
10-12-18 Nobel laureates
This year’s Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to Congolese surgeon Denis Mukwege and Iraqi human rights activist Nadia Murad for their campaigns to end rape as a weapon of war. Mukwege, 63, opened a hospital that specializes in repairing fistulas—tears between the vagina and anus that can be caused by a violent rape. He has operated on some 20,000 women and girls and has braved death threats to raise awareness of their plight. Murad, 25, was abducted by ISIS in 2014 along with thousands of other women and girls from Iraq’s Yazidi minority and forced into sexual slavery. After she escaped, she became an activist for other sexual slavery survivors.
10-12-18 Sexual assault case
Canada’s Supreme Court has agreed to hear a sexual assault case that has generated loud protests from indigenous and women’s rights groups. Trucker Bradley Barton was found not guilty in 2015 of murder or manslaughter in the 2011 death of Cindy Gladue, 36, an indigenous woman and sex worker. Gladue bled to death from a large cut to her pelvic tissue; Barton said the wound was caused by consensual rough sex; prosecutors said it was likely inflicted with a sharp object. The ruling was thrown out by an appeals court—because Gladue was repeatedly referred to as a “native girl” and “prostitute” during the trial, possibly prejudicing the jury. The Supreme Court will now decide whether Barton will face another trial and how the issue of consent is applied to cases involving sex workers.
10-12-18 Taylor Swift
Taylor Swift is often criticized for ducking political controversy, but she broke that silence this week to endorse two Democrats running for Congress from Tennessee. Swift, who moved to Nashville as a teenager, told her 112 million Instagram followers, “In the past I’ve been reluctant to publicly voice my political opinions.” But, she said, the record of incumbent GOP Sen. Marsha Blackburn “appalls and terrifies me.” Swift cited Blackburn’s opposition to “equal pay for women” and to reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, as well as her belief that businesses have the right to turn away gay couples. Swift said she plans to vote for Democrat Phil Bredesen, who’s running neck and neck with Blackburn.
10-12-18 Only in America
A Florida woman says her daughter was suspended from high school because her ripped jeans, showing her right knee, might inflame the “hormones” of male students. Melissa McKinlay says an administrator told her daughter she should “consider the guys in her class and their hormones when choosing her outfit.” McKinlay noted that many male students wearing shorts “have two knees showing.”
10-12-18 Missing kids found safe
A newly formed Child Recovery Unit identified and safely recovered 123 missing children during a daylong sweep, the U.S. Marshals Service announced last week. Multiple law enforcement agencies participated in the search throughout Wayne County, which includes Detroit, visiting the missing children’s last known addresses, friends’ homes, and schools. Authorities had hoped to find as many as 301 victims of sex trafficking. All the recovered children were interviewed about possibly being sexually victimized, and three were identified as possible sex-trafficking cases, officials said. One homeless teen was brought to the police command post after it was discovered that he hadn’t eaten in three days. “The message to the missing children and their families that we wish to convey is that we will never stop looking for you,” the U.S. Marshals Service said in a statement.
10-12-18 How to stop the maiming of girls
It’s time to hold fathers responsible for the mutilation of their daughters, said Clément Zongo. Burkina Faso banned female genital mutilation in 1996—one of the first African countries to do so. Still, three-quarters of our women have been cut, and the practice continues to this day. Acting on a tip, police last month rescued and hospitalized 50 girls and women who had just been subjected to illegal clitorectomies, the surgical removal of the clitoris. The mass cutting didn’t take place in some remote backwater, but in our capital, Ouagadougou. The victims ranged in age from infancy to their early 20s, and police arrested at least 22 people at the scene, including the cutters and some of the female relatives who had accompanied the girls. Penalizing mothers and aunts, though, will not bring about change in Burkinabe culture. “Why is the man entitled to pleasure and not the woman?” This misogynistic tradition is rooted in the patriarchy, and it is “the uncompromising phallocrat who dictates the rules.” If we were to amend our laws to sentence a father to prison when his daughter was cut, “we would see this evil retreat at a gallop.” Men who care about women should not rest until this wrong is eradicated. “Vive le clitoris!”
10-12-18 Biles hopes sharing abuse story will encourage others to speak out
Four-time Olympic champion Simone Biles says she hopes that speaking out about the sexual abuse she suffered will "encourage others to share their stories." Biles is due to compete in the World Gymnastics Championships in Doha.
10-10-18 The women sending postcards to Kavanaugh's accuser
After lawyer Anita Hill accused Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment in 1991, she received 25,000 letters from women expressing their support. Mrs Hill suffered a gruelling questioning and the judge was confirmed to the court. But the messages, she wrote in Time Magazine later, "wound up impacting my life in a way I could never have foreseen." Now as the US digests a similar episode of a judge accused of sexual assault taking his place on the bench of the top court in the country, women are once again taking up their pens. On Saturday, when Brett Kavanaugh's position on the Supreme Court was confirmed by the Senate, an idea spread on social media - postcards for Professor Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who accused him. Prof Ford has been unable to return to her home due to "unending" death threats and on Monday President Donald Trump said the professor's claims were "all made up." Mr Kavanaugh has strenuously denied the allegations made by Prof Ford and two other women. On Instagram and Twitter, women replied to the call to write to Prof Ford at her publicly-available work address, sending cards from the US, Canada, Germany, the UK, and as far as Australia. Mathaya Winter, aged 27, lives in Karlsruhe, Germany, where she works in a bakery. "Hearing the story of Prof Ford made me think a lot. I was never political active but her telling her story changed me. I'm so shocked about what's going on," she told the BBC. She felt "helpless" so she decided to do something. "I thanked her for her brave heart and I told her: 'We will fight for you. We believe you.'" Mathaya has a three-year-old daughter, and says that concern for her future as a woman also inspired her to send a card. Amanda (she asked the BBC not to reveal her full identity), from New York, wrote to Prof Ford on Tuesday. "I have been sexually assaulted in a relationship. I can't imagine being in Prof Ford's position and having to see this person in such an official, powerful place. "I think her courage of coming forward is extremely commendable," the 22-year-old explained. "I wanted to tell her she has one more supporter, and to share my story, and say any words of encouragement and comfort." (Webmaster's comment: The bottom line is that most men do not care about rape or sexual abuse of women. They just can't see why it is a problem.)
10-11-18 Melania Trump: 'I'm the most bullied person on the world'
US First Lady Melania Trump has said she started her anti-cyberbullying campaign because she is "the most bullied person on the world". In a wide-ranging interview with ABC News, she also said she does not trust some people who have worked in the West Wing. And she said that women who allege sexual abuse must produce "really hard evidence". The interview was recorded on her trip last week across four African nations. "I could say that I'm the most bullied person on the world," the first lady said. "You're really the most bullied person in the world?" asked presenter Tom Llamas. "One of them - if you really see what people are saying about me," Mrs Trump said in the interview, which was recorded last week in Kenya and airs in full on Friday. Mrs Trump was also asked if she is Mr Trump's gatekeeper. "Oh, I wish," she said, laughing. She said she does not trust some people who have worked in the West Wing, and that she has given Mr Trump her "honest advice" about them. "Well, some people they don't work there anymore," she said, when asked what action Mr Trump had taken. "It's harder to govern," she said. "You always need to watch your back." Mrs Trump last week undertook her first solo trip abroad as US first lady, travelling to Ghana, Malawi, Kenya, and Egypt. In the ABC interview she also said women alleging they have been sexually abused "need to have really hard evidence". (Webmaster's comment: She's whinning and not offering any help for sexually abused women. Given her husband she doesn't dare. OVER 90% TO 98% OF SEXUAL ABUSE CLAIMS BY WOMEN HAVE BEEN PROVED TO BE TRUE.)
10-10-18 We need to get better at supporting people who lose a pregnancy
This week is Baby Loss Awareness Week, but more must be done to help those who, like me, have suffered a loss, says Petra Boynton. Anyone who has experienced a miscarriage, stillbirth or other pregnancy loss will understand the pain, distress and uncertainty that can follow. Because these experiences are common, you might hope that the way we help people during and after the event would be uniformly good. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Back in 2016, The Lancet noted that half of the world’s 2.6 million annual stillbirths are preventable. There are also marked inequalities globally, because 98 per cent of stillbirths happen in low-income countries. Variations in facilities, access to services, and public awareness all make a difference to pregnancy and birth outcomes. The quality of training for healthcare workers is also patchy, with staff often struggling to stay up to date with the latest evidence, or to provide effective care in overstretched services. Where training is provided, it tends to focus primarily on physical – preventing accidents and dealing with pregnancy or birth problems – rather than emotional needs. Providing compassionate care also requires we do better at recording stillbirths. In September, The Lancet reported that the prevalence of stillbirth is currently underestimated by a third. The World Health Organization uses an international cut-off point of fetal loss after 28 weeks for recording stillbirth. Researchers and practitioners are asking for stillbirths to be recognised and recorded from 22 weeks, allowing for more investigations into its potential causes. Parents simply want better opportunities to recognise their losses and remember their babies.
10-10-18 Did a ‘West Virginia Republican’ Tell Women to ‘Get Your Coat Hangers Ready’ ?
Parkersburg City Councilman Eric Barber made the "coat hanger" comment in a reply to a Facebook post about Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court confirmation. Republican Eric Barber "celebrated" Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court confirmation by telling women to "get your coat hangers ready." Parkersburg, West Virginia, city councilman Eric Barber wrote, “Better get you’re [sic] coathangers ready liberals” in reply to a Facebook post upon news that Democratic senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia would cast a tie-breaking "yes" vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Barber isn't a Republican in terms of his official capacity on the Parkersburg City Council. He changed his political party affiliation in October 2017 from Democrat to "none."
10-10-18 MJ Akbar: India minister under scrutiny over #MeToo allegations
A former prominent newspaper editor who is now a junior foreign minister is the latest to be named in what is being called India's #MeToo movement. MJ Akbar is accused of predatory behaviour, including inviting young women to hotel rooms for "meetings". Neither Mr Akbar nor the foreign ministry have responded to the historic allegations against him. But another minister, Maneka Gandhi, said all allegations, including those against politicians, must be probed. Mr Akbar is the most senior person so far to be named in the flurry of allegations that have been made against comedians, journalists, authors, actors and filmmakers in the last few days. One of India's most influential editors, he has edited leading English-language newspapers such as The Telegraph and The Asian Age. He was first named on Monday by senior journalist Priya Ramani, who retweeted an article she had written for Vogue India a year ago titled "To the Harvey Weinsteins of the world", where she recounted what she called her first experience of workplace harassment. Ms Ramani did not name anyone in the original piece, but said in Monday's tweet that the article had been about Mr Akbar. Since then, five other women have also come forward with their own stories, naming Mr Akbar. At least one other anonymous account is believed to be about him. Apart from Mr Akbar, veteran actors Alok Nath and film director Vikas Bahl have been accused of sexual assault. Nath has denied the allegations, while Bahl has not responded.
SCIENCE - GLOBAL WARMING and ENVIRONMENT
10-16-18 Bill Gates leads global call to accept realities of a warming planet
A coalition of major global figures say we must do much more to adapt to our rapidly warming world, and we need to do it fast. It is not enough that we try to limit further global warming – we must also do far more to ensure we survive it. That’s the message from a coalition of major global figures, including former UN head Ban Ki-moon and billionaire Bill Gates. The Global Commission on Adaptation, which is being launched today, says that the impact of global warming is already being felt much sooner and more powerfully than expected. To keep reducing global poverty and maintain economic growth, societies must do much more, much faster, to adapt. “Adaptation action is not only the right action to do, it is the smart thing. We need to make this case more aggressively,” says Ban, who along with Gates is one of 28 commissioners heading up the new initiative. “The costs of adapting are less than the cost of doing business as usual. And the benefits many times larger.” Climate adaptation is not just about special projects, says Kristalina Georgieva, CEO of the World Bank and another of the commissioners. Everyone should think about resilience to climate change when making decisions: from governments and business leaders to farmers deciding what to grow and the general public when buying a home. “A very significant opportunity for adaptation comes from mainstreaming resilience in the normal investments we make,” says Georgieva. “It doesn’t have to be a more expensive investment, it has to be done with risk in mind.” For example, she describes how some farmers in Bangladesh have switched to raising ducks instead chickens. During floods, chickens drown but ducks swim.
10-15-18 Add beer to the list of foods threatened by climate change
Rising temperatures and periods of drought will target barley crops worldwide. Beer lovers could be left with a sour taste, thanks to the latest in a series of studies mapping the effects of climate change on crops. Malted barley — a key ingredient in beer including IPAs, stouts and pilsners — is particularly sensitive to warmer temperatures and drought, both of which are likely to increase due to climate change. As a result, average global barley crop yields could drop as much as 17 percent by 2099, compared with the average yield from 1981 to 2010, under the more extreme climate change projections, researchers report October 15 in Nature Plants. That decline “could lead to, on average, a doubling of price in some countries,” says coauthor Steven Davis, an Earth systems scientist at University of California, Irvine. Consumption would also drop globally by an average of 16 percent, or roughly what people in the United States consumed in 2011. The results are based on computer simulations projecting climate conditions, plant responses and global market reactions up to the year 2099. Under the mildest climate change predictions, world average barley yields would still go down by at least 3 percent, and average prices would increase about 15 percent, the study says.
10-15-18 Will there be beer shortages as the world warms? Well, maybe
Predictions of beer shortages and rocketing prices as extreme weather hits barley production should not be taken too literally but do highlight a very real problem. As the world warms, severe droughts and heat extremes will lead to a shortage of beer, causing prices to shoot up. In Ireland, the price could double. In some eastern European countries, prices could increase seven-fold. Cue mass panic? These headline-grabbing conclusions, from a study released today on how global warming will affect beer production, are almost certainly wrong – but we should still take this kind of study seriously. The thing is, predicting the future is notoriously difficult, and no one can forecast future beer prices with any certainty. It depends, for instance, on demand for beer. How is that going to change by 2100? Maybe demand will soar as the world’s growing population gets richer. Or maybe hardly anyone will drink beer in future. Young people in many countries are, after all, drinking less than they used to. We also now know that alcohol causes cancer. Perhaps in fifty years’ time people will regard alcoholic drinks with the same horror we now regard smoking. The point is, such things are just impossible to predict. So to get any kind of result, forecasters have to make a series of assumptions they know are wrong. In the case of the beer study, the key assumptions were that farmers will keep growing the same varieties of barley in the same places, and that demand and the global economy remain as they are.
10-15-18 Trump: Climate change scientists have 'political agenda'
US President Donald Trump has accused climate change scientists of having a "political agenda" as he cast doubt on whether humans were responsible for the earth's rising temperatures. But Mr Trump also said he no longer believed climate change was a hoax. The comments, made during an interview with CBS's 60 Minutes, come less than a week after climate scientists issued a final call to halt rising temperatures. The world's leading scientists agree that climate change is human-induced. Last week's report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) - the leading international body evaluating climate change - warned the world was heading towards a temperature rise of 3C. Scientists say that natural fluctuations in temperature are being exacerbated by human activity - which has caused approximately 1C of global warming above pre-industrial levels. The report said keeping to the preferred target of 1.5C above pre-industrial levels will mean "rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society". During Sunday's interview, Mr Trump cast doubt on making any changes, saying the scientists "have a very big political agenda". "I don't think it's a hoax, I think there's probably a difference," he told journalist Lesley Stahl. "But I don't know that it's manmade. I will say this. I don't want to give trillions and trillions of dollars. I don't want to lose millions and millions of jobs. I don't want to be put at a disadvantage." Mr Trump added that temperatures "could very well go back" - although he did not say how. (Webmaster's comment: This man is so full of Bullshit!)
10-15-18 UK steps towards zero-carbon economy
The UK is taking a tentative step towards a radical "green" future with zero emissions of greenhouse gases. The government is formally seeking Committee on Climate Change guidance about how and when to make this leap. If it happens it would mark an extraordinary transformation of an economy built on burning fossil fuels. The decision was prompted by last week's UN report warning that CO2 emissions must be stopped completely to avoid dangerous climate disruption. Climate minister Claire Perry told BBC News: "The report was a really stark and sober piece of work - a good piece of work. "Now we know what the goal is and we know what some of the levers are. "But for me, the constant question is what is the cost and who's going to bear that, both in the UK and in the global economy. "The question is: what does government need to do, where can the private sector come in, and what technologies will come through?" The UK's current target is a reduction of 80% of emissions by 2050 based on 1990 levels. But the CCC, which is an independent body set up to advise the government on emissions targets, is warning the UK will drift further away from this goal unless new policies are introduced. Experts say greater emissions cuts are already needed from cars, planes, industry, waste, farming, meat consumption and heating. (Webmaster's comment: They can cut emissions because they don't have an idiot as President!)
10-15-18 Hurricane Michael: Dozens still missing on Florida coast
Dozens of people remain missing in coastal areas of north-west Florida devastated by Hurricane Michael last week, officials say. Recovery teams with dogs and heavy equipment are due to scour destroyed buildings in Mexico Beach and Panama City in the search for more victims. At least 18 deaths are confirmed so far across four states and the death toll is expected to rise. President Donald Trump will visit the storm-hit region later on Monday. He and First Lady Melania Trump will fly to Florida and are also expected to visit southern Georgia. Many places are still without power and rescue efforts have been hampered by fallen trees and other debris blocking roads. There are also shortages of food and water. So far at least nine people are confirmed dead in Florida, five in Virginia, three in North Carolina and one in Georgia. On Sunday, officials in Florida confirmed that another body had been recovered in Mexico Beach. City Mayor Al Cathey told ABC news on Sunday that 46 people remained missing or unaccounted for.
10-14-18 The guardians of the forest
Indigenous tribes are the last, best hope for the Amazon rainforest. Caudio da Silva, thickset, his bare chest traced with blue-black lines of body paint, wields a chainsaw not to cut down trees but to destroy a wooden timber hauler used by a band of illegal loggers. Da Silva is a member of the Amazon's Guajajara tribe in the Brazilian state of Maranhão and the leader of an armed group of Indigenous forest protectors called the Guardians of the Forest. Illegal logging and land clearing continue to eat away at the world's largest remaining tropical rainforest. But the guardians and others like them in Brazil are pushing back. On a summer day, da Silva and the guardians prepare to patrol the Caru River, a narrow strip of muddy water marking up the boundary of the Guajajara's 700-square-mile forest reserve. The land is protected on paper, but it's under constant threat. "If we go looking in our territory, we always find illegal things going on," da Silva says before we leave. And sure enough, as we make our way up the river in speedboats, da Silva spots a dugout canoe on the bank on the Guajajara side. We pull up alongside it, jump out, and move quickly up a narrow path into the dense forest. There are fresh machete cuts in the brush. And then we hear the sound of men's voices coming toward us. The guardians crouch down for an ambush, their rifles loaded. The guardians shout commands as three boys appear, with barking dogs at their heels. Soon, the boys are kneeling, with hands behind their heads. They're from the settlement across the river. The youngest is 14; the other two are in their 20s. They confess to cutting virgin timber to make charcoal, a valuable product in this impoverished region of Brazil. The guardians eventually send the boys back to their homes across the river with a warning to the others: Don't come back. "This is a war," da Silva says. "The invaders want confrontation. The hunters, the loggers, the farmers, they're all armed. We can die at any time."
10-14-18 We’re probably undervaluing healthy lakes and rivers
Economists often ignore the human health benefits of keeping water bodies clean. For sale: Pristine lake. Price negotiable. Most U.S. government attempts to quantify the costs and benefits of protecting the country’s bodies of water are likely undervaluing healthy lakes and rivers, researchers argue in a new study. That’s because some clean water benefits get left out of the analyses, sometimes because these benefits are difficult to pin numbers on. As a result, the apparent value of many environmental regulations is probably discounted. The study, published online October 8 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, surveyed 20 government reports analyzing the economic impacts of U.S. water pollution laws. Most of these laws have been enacted since 2000, when cost-benefit analyses became a requirement. Analysis of a measure for restricting river pollution, for example, might find that it increases costs for factories using that river for wastewater disposal, but boosts tourism revenues by drawing more kayakers and swimmers. Only two studies out of 20 showed the economic benefits of these laws exceeding the costs. That’s uncommon among analyses of environmental regulations, says study coauthor David Keiser, an environmental economist at Iowa State University in Ames. Usually, the benefits exceed the costs. So why does water pollution regulation seem, on paper at least, like such a losing proposition?
10-13-18 Hurricane Michael: Fears deaths will rise as 'war zone' searched
Rescuers are picking their way through devastated areas of north-west Florida amid fears the death toll from Hurricane Michael will rise. At least 17 deaths have been confirmed so far in a swath of destruction stretching up to Virginia. Rescuers have still to search the worst-affected areas of Florida's flattened Mexico Beach. The hurricane, one of the most powerful in US history, struck on Wednesday with 155mph (250km/h) winds. So far at least eight people are confirmed dead in Florida, five in Virginia, three in North Carolina and one in Georgia. Rescuers using heavy machinery and trained dogs found the body of a man, the latest reported fatality, while searching through rubble on Friday in Mexico Beach. But Brock Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema), said the number of deaths was expected to rise as teams combed through badly hit areas in Mexico Beach, Port St Joe and Panama City. Residents of Mexico Beach had been under a mandatory evacuation order, but it is believed at least 285 people among a population of 1,000 had stayed behind to ride out the storm. Florida senator Marco Rubio said: "You hope that somehow at the last minute a bunch of people got up and left or went somewhere else." Hundreds of people are still unaccounted for across the area, but this may simply reflect an inability to communicate with relatives, with mobile phone coverage out in many areas.
10-12-18 A beast of a storm
Hurricane Michael, a Category 4 storm, made landfall in northwest Florida this week with winds of 155 mph—the most powerful hurricane to hit the U.S. mainland in nearly 50 years. On the eve of the storm, Florida Gov. Rick Scott warned the 375,000-plus people on the Gulf Coast who had been advised to evacuate that first responders would not be able to reach many of those who did not. The Federal Emergency Management Agency cautioned that people could be left powerless for weeks, and more than 170,000 homes and businesses were already without power soon after the storm made landfall. Unlike the many hurricanes that weaken as they reach land, Hurricane Michael rapidly intensified as it approached, fueled by abnormally warm waters in the Gulf of Mexico. Georgia declared a state of emergency in more than 100 counties, and the Carolinas anticipated flooding from heavy rains.
10-12-18 U.N. warns of a coming climate catastrophe
Climate change could cause devastating food shortages and wildfires, submerged coastlines, and a mass die-off of coral reefs within two decades, unless humanity drastically cuts its fossil fuel use, a major United Nations scientific report warned this week. Authored by 91 scientists from 40 countries who analyzed more than 6,000 scientific studies over three years, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report says that if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise at current levels, the planet could warm by 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit over pre-industrial levels by 2040. At that level of warming, summer heat waves will get hotter and longer, intense droughts more common, and extreme rainfall events such as hurricanes Harvey and Florence more frequent. If warming hits 3.6 degrees, twice as many crops in the tropics will perish as in a 2.7-degrees-hotter world, the number of people affected by water scarcity will double, and the size of global fisheries will drop by 50 percent. To prevent 2.7 degrees of warming, the reports says, greenhouse gas emissions will have to decrease 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, and be entirely eliminated by 2050. The amount of electricity derived from coal will have to fall from nearly 40 percent today to as low as 1 percent by 2050. At the same time, renewable energy sources such as wind and solar—which currently account for 20 percent of energy generated—will have to rise to 67 percent. The report is “like a deafening, piercing smoke alarm going off in the kitchen,” said Erik Solheim, executive director of the U.N. Environment Program. “We have to put out the fire.”
10-12-18 Australia drought: How much rain would end 'the big dry'?
Many drought-stricken regions in Australia have finally received much-needed rain in recent days. Parts of New South Wales (NSW) - a state declared to be 100% in drought - have enjoyed their best rainfalls in two years, according to meteorologists. But while the drenching has provided some relief, forecasters say it is nowhere near enough. Farming regions in NSW and Queensland have been bone dry for months - years in some cases - meaning there is no quick fix to end the drought. So what would it take? Australia's Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) measures it in terms of "rainfall deficiency" - a period when precipitation is deemed to be below average. This year, rainfall levels in NSW are among the lowest ever recorded over an extended period. In some areas, the state is the driest it has ever been. For the drought to end, some regions would need 200-300mm (8-12 inches) spread over at least three months, said BOM meteorologist Dr Simon Grainger. That is more than the entire amount - 191mm - that the state has averaged since January. So what has this month produced? Dr Grainger says some areas have had 25-50mm, but others have missed out entirely. "A single rain event is not itself enough to break the drought. You need sustained rainfall over months," he told the BBC. Unfortunately for farmers, the immediate odds are not good. There is only a 25% chance of sufficient "above average" rainfall in the coming months, forecasters say.
10-12-18 Spinning straws into gold
Disposable plastic straws have become environmentalists’ Enemy No. 1. They’ve been banned in Seattle, Oakland, and Miami Beach, and New York City could follow soon. Restaurants and bars can replace the plastic with old-fashioned paper straws. But only one U.S. firm makes them, said Kate Krader in Bloomberg Businessweek, and it has a three-month backlog of orders. It’s a big turnaround for Aardvark, which is based in Fort Wayne, Ind., and traces its roots to the company that invented the paper straw in 1888. That market disappeared in the 1960s with the advent of the plastic straw, but Aardvark started making paper straws again in 2007 as the anti-plastics movement gained strength. Demand rose 50-fold from 2017 to 2018, and Aardvark now has to ration its product, prioritizing cities where plastic straws are prohibited. “We shift to help folks in need,” says an Aardvark manager.
10-12-18 Deadly sinkhole
A sinkhole opened up suddenly in a sidewalk in a commercial district of the Chinese city of Dazhou this week, sending four people plunging 30 feet to their deaths. Two victims, a recently married couple, were pulled alive from the pit but later died in the hospital; the bodies of the other two, a man and his son, were retrieved later. Authorities evacuated nearby buildings, fearing that the 100-square-foot sinkhole might expand. Sinkholes are often formed when acidic rainwater dissolves limestone or similar rock beneath the ground, leaving a void; shoddy construction planning and poor drainage can exacerbate the problem.
10-12-18 Hurricane Michael erases beach town like 'mother of all bombs'
Hurricane Michael has all but rubbed a Florida beach town off the map after landing like the "mother of all bombs". The storm smashed into the state's north-west coast near the community of Mexico Beach on Wednesday afternoon packing 155mph (250km/h) winds. Over 1.4m homes had no power in Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Virginia and the Carolinas on Friday morning. One of the most powerful hurricanes in US history, Michael has now killed at least 11 people. Rescuers are still searching for survivors. The storm had moved out to sea off the Virginia coast by early Friday morning. Michael, which fell just 2mph short of a top-level category five, ripped apart entire neighbourhoods, reducing properties to kindling and rubble. The hurricane's shrieking winds and wall of water swept row after row of Mexico Beach beachfront homes off their foundations. The storm was so powerful that it snapped boats in two and knocked over 30-ton freight rail cars like toys.
10-12-18 Six climate questions for 'Green GB'
Scientists say we must keep global temperature rise under 1.5C - so what does that mean for the UK? Next week, ministers are likely to ask their advisers how Britain can reduce carbon emissions in line with that target. They’ve declared what they're calling Green GB Week – a celebration of the UK’s achievement as a world leader in tackling climate change whilst increasing the economy. But will they make the huge carbon cuts still needed on these six key issues?
- Transport Overall, the UK’s CO2 emissions have been falling, but transport emissions have gone UP by 4%. People are buying bigger cars after the Treasury removed the fuel duty incentive for low-pollution hybrids.
- Heating Our ageing housing stock leaks heat, and we can’t meet carbon emissions targets unless we insulate homes better. But home insulation has plunged by 95% because insulation grants have been cut.
- Energy The government is pushing to exploit shale gas by the controversial technique of fracking. They say it’s good for jobs and balance of payments.
- Waste/recycling If food and plant matter is dumped in landfill, it will rot and create methane, which contributes to climate change.
- Food and the countryside Farming is a major source of greenhouse gases. Fertilisers and manure emit greenhouse gases, and farm machines pollute, too. Emissions from farms have barely reduced.
- Technology We’re going to need new technologies to help us use energy differently. Online systems can save individuals wasting energy, and enable us to buy power more cheaply.
(Webmaster's comment: Other nations are making a serious effort. In the United States we still have our heads in the sand!)
10-11-18 The children living on the frontline of climate change
Vietnam's Mekong Delta is home to 18 million people but is regularly swamped. The land is sinking and the sea is rising, as global warming causes the water to expand and the ice caps to melt. Children at a primary school there were asked to draw pictures showing how they felt about the flooding. Some of the images they produced were particularly disturbing.
10-10-18 The challenge of recycling waste in Antarctica
Picture a wide snowy expanse as far as the eye can see, edged by mountains on one side, and an iceberg-filled sea on the other. That is the view from the Rothera Research Station on Adelaide Island, off the coast of mainland Antarctica. The base is the largest of three run by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) in the British Antarctic Territory. Rothera is self-sufficient - it has a laboratory, offices, workshops, accommodation, a canteen, TV rooms, a surgery, a runway and hangar for aircraft, and a wharf to receive ships. In winter, when the temperature can plummet to -20C, only 20 people stay on base. But during the Antarctic summer, when visibility and weather conditions are less severe, up to 120 staff are stationed there from October to May. With all 30 countries that have a presence in Antarctica following strict rules to not disturb natural ecological systems, waste removal and recycling is a very serious business at Rothera. Over the last five years, the BAS - a governmental body - has recycled between 81-88% of the waste produced at its research stations. The BBC's Circular Economy series highlights the ways we are designing systems to reduce the waste modern society generates, by reusing and repurposing products. At Rothera, as project support coordinator and base general assistant, waste management is a key part of Craig Nelson's job. "Each day varies, but normally the job will take till 6pm in the evening, and even then you might be required to do even longer hours depending on flights," he says. "Planes come back in the evening until midnight, and you'd be expected to help out, unload the aircraft, sort out the equipment, take it to the necessary places, and the waste as well." All waste at the base is sent to a metal hut called the Miracle Span. And in domestic areas of the station, there are recycling bins for glass, paper, cardboard, plastic and cans. Waste generated by research missions also has to be sorted; the BAS recycles everything from batteries, tetra packs, IT equipment, toner and inkjet cartridges, to wood, scrap metal, rope and textiles.
10-11-18 Storm Michael: Monster storm mauls US south-east
One of the strongest storms in recorded history to hit the US has battered north-west Florida, flooding homes, washing out beaches and snapping trees. Rescue services are beginning to assess the full impact of Hurricane Michael, which made landfall on Wednesday afternoon as a category four storm with 155mph (250km/h) winds. Two people, including a child, were killed by falling debris. Having weakened to a tropical storm, Michael is on its way to the Carolinas. Storm-surge warnings are still in place, the US National Hurricane Center says, and residents across the southern US have been warned of the continuing danger from downed powerlines, flash floods and landslides. There are fears for people who ignored evacuation warnings in some of the areas now flooded. Hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses were left without electricity in Florida, Alabama and Georgia. Michael made landfall near Mexico Beach, Florida, at around 14:00 (18:00 GMT) on Wednesday. It ranks among the most powerful hurricanes to hit the US in terms of wind speed and barometric pressure, comparable to Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Michael was so strong as it swept into Florida that it remained a hurricane for hours as it moved further inland, before being downgraded to a tropical storm. Its rapid intensification caught many by surprise, although the storm later weakened. Unusually warm waters in the Gulf of Mexico turbo-charged the storm from a tropical depression on Sunday. On Tuesday it was still a category two hurricane but by Wednesday morning it had reached borderline category five, the highest level.
10-11-18 Old homes around the world must be retrofitted to meet climate targets
Countries need to start a massive programme of retrofitting old homes to make them carbon neutral if the world is to meet the global emission reduction target. The world needs to go carbon neutral by 2050, according to the major UN climate report released on Monday. To achieve that, countries need to “deep retrofit” old homes, says another report. An incremental approach, such as insulating lofts or installing more efficient gas boilers, is not enough, says the report from the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET). Instead, the aim should be to completely transform houses to make them “net-zero”. That means insulating an entire house to a very high standard, and installing sustainable heating systems, solar panels and the like, in one fell swoop. In the Netherlands, 1300 homes have already been retrofitted in this way, with another 15,000 in the pipeline. The approach is now being extended to other countries, including the UK, US, Canada, Germany and France. In the UK, cities and the government should launch a pilot programme to retrofit 30,000 homes as soon as possible, and help set up a national centre of excellence to help develop more effective methods. The aim must be to retrofit all 27 million homes by 2050. “If we are to meet the 2050 targets, then all housing in the UK must have zero carbon emissions from space and water heating, and space cooling,” says Rick Hartwig of the IET. But there are formidable obstacles. The greatest is cost. The city of Nottingham has already deep-retrofitted 10 properties, and the cost was around £80,000 per property, says Marjan Sarshar at Nottingham Trent University, one of the authors of the report. This is too expensive, she says. But the costs would fall sharply if there was a massive programme of deep retrofitting, and vast quantities of the required components were being manufactured on a huge scale.
10-11-18 'Flexitarian' diets key to feeding people in a warming world
If the world wants to limit climate change, water scarcity and pollution, then we all need to embrace "flexitarian" diets, say scientists. This means eating mainly plant-based foods, and is one of three key steps towards a sustainable future for all in 2050, they say. Food waste will need to be halved and farming practices will also have to improve, according to the study. Without action, the impacts of the food system could increase by up to 90%. Fast on the heels of the landmark report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) comes this new study on how food production and consumption impact major threats to the planet. The authors say that the food system has a number of significant environmental impacts including being a major driver of climate change, depleting freshwater and pollution through excessive use of nitrogen and phosphorous. The study says that thanks to the population and income growth expected between 2010 and 2050, these impacts could grow between 50-90%. This could push our world beyond its planetary boundaries, which the authors say represent a "safe operating space for humanity on a stable Earth system". However the study finds that no single solution will avert the dangers, so a combined approach is needed. So when it comes to climate change, the authors looked at what they called a "flexitarian diet". "We can eat a range of healthy diets but what they all have in common, according to the latest scientific evidence, is that they are all relatively plant based," said lead author Dr Marco Springmann from the University of Oxford. "You can go from a diet that has small amounts of animal products, some might call it a Mediterranean based diet, we call it a flexitarian diet, over to a pescatarian, vegetarian or vegan diet - we tried to stay with the most conservative one of these which in our view is the flexitarian one, but even this has only one serving of red meat per week."
10-10-18 Here’s what’s unusual about Hurricane Michael
The late-season Gulf of Mexico storm rapidly intensified to a category 4 before making landfall. Call it an October surprise: Hurricane Michael strengthened unusually quickly before slamming into the Florida panhandle on October 10 and remained abnormally strong as it swept into Georgia. The storm made landfall with sustained winds of about 250 kilometers per hour, just shy of a category 5 storm, making it the strongest storm ever to hit the region, according to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Hurricane Center, or NHC. Warm ocean waters are known to fuel hurricanes’ fury by adding heat and moisture; the drier air over land masses, by contrast, can help strip storms of strength. So hurricanes nearing the Florida panhandle, a curving landmass surrounding the northeastern Gulf of Mexico, tend to weaken as they pull in drier air from land. But waters in the Gulf that were about 1 degree to 2 degrees Celsius warmer than average for this time of year, as well as abundant moisture in the air over the eastern United States, helped to supercharge Michael. Despite some wind conditions that scientists expected to weaken the storm, it strengthened steadily until it made landfall, which the NHC noted “defies traditional logic.” The fast-moving storm weakened only slightly, to a category 3, before hurtling into Georgia. Although it is not possible to attribute the generation of any one storm to climate change, scientists have long predicted that warming ocean waters would lead to more intense tropical cyclones in the future. More recent attribution studies have borne out that prediction, suggesting that very warm waters in the tropical Atlantic helped to fuel 2017’s powerful storm season, which spawned hurricanes Irma and Maria.
10-10-18 AI’s dirty secret: Energy-guzzling machines may fuel global warming
Advances in artificial intelligence could lead to massive growth in energy use as smart machines push into every corner of our lives. ARTIFICIAL intelligence breakthroughs have become a regular occurrence in recent years. One of the most impressive achievements so far was in 2016, when Google DeepMind’s AlphaGo AI beat champion Lee Sedol at one of the world’s most complex games, Go. The feat made headlines around the world as an example of machines besting humans, but in some sense it wasn’t a fair fight. Sedol’s brain would have been consuming around 20 watts of power, with only a fraction of that being used for the game itself. By contrast, AlphaGo was using some 5000 watts. It isn’t widely appreciated how incredibly energy hungry AI is. If you ran AlphaGo non-stop for a year, the electricity alone would cost about £6000. That doesn’t matter for one-off events, like an epic Go showdown. But it does matter if billions of people want their smartphones to be truly smart, or have their cars drive themselves. Many potential uses of AI simply won’t become widespread if they require too much energy. On the flip side, if the uses are so desirable or profitable that people don’t care about the costs, it could lead to a surge in electricity consumption and make it even harder to limit further warming of the planet. AI consumes so much energy because the technique behind these recent breakthroughs, deep learning, involves performing ever more computations on ever more data. “The models are getting deeper and getting wider, and they use more and more energy to compute,” says Max Welling of the University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
10-10-18 Rewilding: Can we really restore ravaged nature to a pristine state?
Vast tracts of land are returning to wilderness as farming retreats worldwide. But rewilding isn't an easy win – and debates rage about how to manage it. “IT WAS a picture postcard of how the English countryside is meant to look,” Isabella Tree tells me. “It was a working farm. We had green fields, manicured hedgerows and ditches, land that was constantly active with maize, barley, rye and grazing cattle. We didn’t realise it at the time, but it was virtually a biological desert. Now it looks much more like Africa.” She’s talking about her home, the Knepp estate in West Sussex. Seventeen years ago, she and her husband Charlie Burrell stopped trying to coax a living out of its heavy soil. Today, the 1400-hectare estate is the closest thing in southern England to a primaeval landscape: a mosaic of water meadows, thorny scrub, sallow groves and grazing lawns roamed by cattle, ponies, pigs and deer. “The colliding of different habitats has been rocket fuel for biodiversity,” says Tree. Knepp is an experiment in “rewilding”, a movement that has swept the Western world in recent years. It takes different forms in different places, but a simple and compelling concept drives it: let nature run things and it can right the wrongs we have done Earth’s wildlife. Habitats will restore themselves and biodiversity will bounce back, along with the vital services that the ecosystems provide, such as pollination and water purification. Yet even as experiments like Knepp take off, researchers are voicing concerns about how effective rewilding truly is. Meanwhile, the world has embarked on a huge but largely undirected rewilding project as vast tracts of once-productive agricultural land are abandoned. This is bringing unexpected answers as to what really happens when you let nature run its course.
10-10-18 Potentially catastrophic Hurricane Michael is about to hit Florida
Hurricane Michael intensified faster than expected overnight and is now headed for Florida. It was fuelled by abnormally warm waters in the Gulf of Mexico. It’s the stuff of nightmares for weather forecasters: a hurricane that intensifies faster than expected overnight just before making landfall, leaving little time to warn people. This is exactly what has just happened with Hurricane Michael, which will soon reach Florida. The storm, which had been forecast to strike as a Category 3 hurricane, now looks set to make landfall in the Florida panhandle as a “potentially catastrophic” Category 4, according to the US National Hurricane Centre. Category 4 winds can destroy even well-built homes and leave areas uninhabitable for months. The storm has been fuelled by abnormally warm waters in the Gulf of Mexico, and has therefore almost certainly been made worse by global warming. Michael’s 230 kilometre-per-hour winds and storm surge of up to 4 metres are expected to cause extreme damage. Storm surges are extra high tides caused by winds piling water up against the shore. Some coastal regions are already flooding, and the eye itself will not arrive until this afternoon local time. Hurricanes usually weaken rapidly after moving over land and being cut off from the warm waters that fuel them. However, Hurricane Michael is forecast to move forward very rapidly, meaning areas far inland – including parts of Georgia and Alabama – could be hit by hurricane force winds before it weakens. (Webmaster's comment: It's a wake-up call, but ignorant Americans will deny it till the end!)
10-10-18 Hurricane Michael: 'Too late to flee' storm set to hit Florida
US officials say it is too late to flee from the path of Hurricane Michael - a category four storm - hours before it is due to hit the US mainland. The storm is forecast to make landfall on Florida's Gulf Coast, and is expected to the largest storm to hit the region in 100 years. Florida Governor Rick Scott warned citizens of "unimaginable devastation". At least 13 people reportedly died in Central America over the weekend as a result of storm rains and floods. The storm has sustained winds of 145mph (230km/h) and is due to make landfall at about midday (16:00 GMT). Officials warn it is now too late for coastal residents to flee, and that those who remain should seek shelter. More than 370,000 people in Florida have been ordered to evacuate and move to higher ground, but officials estimate that far fewer have actually left. "Do not leave your house," Florida Governor Rick Scott said on Wednesday. "The worst thing you can do now is leave," he said, adding that those who do "put yourself and your family in danger". Florida has declared a state of emergency, as have Alabama and Georgia. (Webmaster's comment: People should not have listened to the Global Warming deniers! Some will now be DEAD wrong!)
10-10-18 Florida's political hurricane
Floridians are bracing themselves for Hurricane Michael, which forecasters predict could hit the state's Panhandle region today. If Michael devastates the Sunshine State, lives, livelihoods, and all manner of property could be lost. But Michael could also have a big effect on the Nov. 6 midterms — and with it the balance of power in the U.S. Senate. The mayor of Tallahassee, Andrew Gillum, is the Democratic nominee for governor in Florida. He's running against former GOP Rep. Ron DeSantis. Florida's governor, Republican Rick Scott, is challenging the Democratic incumbent senator, Bill Nelson, who is running for his fourth term. Polling for both statewide races puts them at or near a dead heat as the storm comes up the Gulf of Mexico. That sets up the potential for a dramatic showdown between politicians with every political incentive to make their opponent look bad, but also with the need to rely on each other to deliver in a crisis. Hurricanes have upended political battles in the past. Republican partisans held a grudge against former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for years, blaming him in part for Barack Obama's narrow win in 2012 over Mitt Romney. Christie literally embraced the president in late October 2016 when Obama came to inspect damage from Hurricane Sandy, one of the most destructive storms to hit the Northeast in decades. It provided Obama a moment to demonstrate both leadership and bipartisanship just a week ahead of a national election. With Hurricane Michael, the incentives for leadership and bipartisanship might once again come into competition with electoral impulses. All of those factors will certainly be in play. However, Florida may wind up being the closest thing we get this cycle to a truly local election at the top of the ballot.
10-10-18 We’ve missed many chances to curb global warming. This may be our last
Keeping warming to a manageable (but still dangerous) 1.5°C is possible, strictly speaking, but it will be the largest project humanity has ever undertaken. IT WAS always likely to come to this. Despite decades of ever-starker warnings, and years of increasingly obvious changes to the climate, we still haven’t done nearly enough. Now, according to the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – the UN’s advisory body on the science of global warming – we are rapidly running out of time. Limiting warming to a manageable (but still dangerous) 1.5°C is possible, strictly speaking, but it would require “rapid, far reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” by 2030 (see “What you need to know about the big UN climate report out this week”). That would mean starting not some time in the future, but right now. Will humanity do what’s necessary? For individuals, that means making sacrifices and sticking to them, forever. For politicians, that means an end to the indulgence of the fossil fuel industry; investing in renewable energy, and carbon capture and storage; radically transforming transport; halting deforestation; and dropping the remorseless pursuit of economic growth above everything else. Will all of this happen? Your response is probably “not likely”. If we don’t act, though, the consequences are grave and they are going to hit us within the lifetime of our grandchildren. As the IPCC says, even if everyone sticks to the Paris Agreement, we are currently on course to warm the planet by 3°C by the year 2100. That would mean a decisive end to the balmy and benign Holocene climate that allowed our civilisation to flourish, and the start of something much less hospitable. Heatwaves, flooding, wildfires, drought and famine will become much more common “in every inhabited continent” – which is why most of us try not to think about it too much. “We still have time for a rescue, but it will be the largest project humanity has ever undertaken”
10-10-18 The case against despair on climate change
The world faces a climate catastrophe. Don't panic. Human society is on a path to self-immolation. But don't give in to despair. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is out with an interim report, and the predictions are terrifying. If current trends continue, average global atmospheric temperatures will increase by 1.5 degrees Celsius (or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) on a 10-year averaged basis by roughly 2040. What's more, the latest science has generally found that even 1.5 degrees is going to be worse than previously thought, with high risk of murderous heat waves, flooding, drought, and sea level rise that threatens tens of millions of people around the world — and as Gavin Schmidt writes, the sheer arithmetic of keeping warming that low is virtually impossible. Many are reacting to this report with despondency. Climate science denier Donald Trump is president, after all, and he just got another anti-climate policy guy on the Supreme Court. It is pretty hard to imagine world politics shifting to become even slightly sensible on the biggest problem facing human civilization. However, despair is not warranted. Saving humanity from our own mistakes is not impossible. The Republican Party and its brand of ultra-conservatism is obviously an impediment, saturated as it is with foaming science deniers throughout the entire party leadership and bureaucratic apparatus that is in charge of the world's most powerful nation. This style of loopy extreme right-wing politics has spread throughout much of the Anglosphere, especially where there are large fossil fuel interests. Canada, with its enormous tar sands export sector, has dragged its feet for years, and recent plans to institute a carbon tax have inspired a Trump-style right-wing backlash. Meanwhile, the right-wing coalition running Australia — which has been deeply infected by American-style conservatism — is even worse. The Liberal Party (conservative in an Australian context) has repealed the country's carbon tax, abandoned emissions targets, and refused to stop using coal. Emissions from there are rising strongly as a result.
SCIENCE - EVOLUTION and GENETICS
10-16-18 Alien life could spread between solar systems on interstellar rocks
Researchers have calculated that living organisms may be able to hitch a ride aboard interstellar rocks to spread not only between planets, but across the galaxy. Life finds a way – perhaps even across the stars. It may be possible for organisms to travel all over the galaxy by hitching a ride on a fast-moving rock in a phenomenon called galactic panspermia. In this way, just a few inhabited worlds could spread life throughout the Milky Way. In October 2017, astronomers spotted the first interstellar object we have ever seen come through our solar system, called ‘Oumuamua. That was the first concrete proof that rocks can be tossed out of orbit from distant stellar systems and make it intact to our solar system. Of course, it is not enough for a space rock to travel between the stars. In order to transfer life, it must also be captured by the sun’s gravity and eventually smash into a planet. Now, Idan Ginsburg, Manasvi Lingam and Avi Loeb at Harvard University have calculated just how often these banished rocks might be captured into a new stellar system, and how likely any life stuck on such interstellar projectiles would be to survive. “It’s like billiards,” says Ginsburg. “You hit the cue ball and it hits the other balls, and beside just transferring momentum it also spreads life, and then life spreads across the whole table, which is the galaxy.” The researchers found that up to 100 million life-bearing objects with a radius of 200 kilometres – about half the size of Saturn’s moon Enceladus – could have been captured in stellar systems around the Milky Way. Even about 1000 Earth-sized objects could have been captured in this way, they say. (Webmaster's comment: So if this has been going on for the last 8-12 billion years where are the results?)
10-16-18 Explore the history of blood from vampires to the ‘Menstrual Man’
Nine Pints offers engaging and insightful stories about the life-giving substance. The title of journalist Rose George’s new book, Nine Pints, quantifies how much blood George has flowing through her body. Her supply takes a temporary dip in the book’s opening chapter, when she donates about a pint (a story that continues on to recap the amazing accomplishment that is blood banking). This act of generosity is an appropriate kickoff to the bounty of knowledge and insight that George shares about blood as she mines its cultural and scientific history. Blood, George notes, is revered, feared and mysterious — the stuff of legend. Chief among the legends are vampires, which, naturally, make an appearance in the book. But in George’s hands, ancient tales of purported blood sucking lead readers to modern-day experiments examining whether blood can truly bring youth and health when transferred to the old or sick (SN: 12/27/14, p. 21). George’s bright writing and companionable tone, along with a healthy dose of skepticism, make her a welcome guide to the past and the future of this giver and taker of life. Like blood circulating through the body, the book winds its way around the world, exploring myths, facts and scientific discoveries about blood. The cast of characters includes Welsh leech handlers; HIV patients and clinic staff in South Africa; the British physiologist Janet Vaughan, who was instrumental in establishing blood transfusion stations during World War II; and Arunachalam Muruganantham, the “Menstrual Man” who devised a low-cost method to produce sanitary pads in India in the 2000s.
10-16-18 Electric chewing gum zaps your tongue to create a virtual flavour hit
An 'unlimited chewing gum' uses an electric charge to trick you into experiencing flavours – and they don’t fade in the way chewing gum flavour usually does. Chewing gum that zaps your tongue with electricity keeps the flavour going forever. The pain-free device is called “unlimited electric gum”. It uses the piezoelectric effect – a phenomenon where some materials produce electric charge when squeezed. When the “gum” is chewed, it produces a small current, which tricks the tongue into experiencing different tastes. It currently produces a salty or bitter taste. But the hope is to extend that, since other research has shown that, by varying the pattern and strength of electric charge, it is possible to induce all five of the basic tastes our mouths pick up: bitter, salty, sour, sweet and umami. At an event in Japan earlier this year, 80 people tried the gum. Almost everyone reported experiencing salty or bitter tastes. Some said chewing it was a bit like chewing niboshi, which are small dried infant sardines used in snacks and seasonings in Japan. The gum consists of a piezoelectric element and electrodes, wrapped in a thin plastic film. It’s a couple of centimetres wide, like a standard stick of gum. Unlike real chewing gum, the electric version will continue to stimulate the taste buds for as long as it is chewed – and it won’t break down into a sticky glob. (Webmaster's comment: Sounds completely unappetizing to me.)
10-16-18 The 'ugly duckling' fossil from the deep
The mosasaurs recently took a star turn in the Jurassic World movie, showing off the Hollywood version of their fearsome jaws. Now an "ugly duckling" from 85 million years ago is shedding new light on the giant marine reptiles that lived at the time of Tyrannosaurus rex. Scientists have long puzzled over how the diminutive fossil fitted into the family tree. They now think it was still developing the distinctive long snout of its clan. Takuya Konishi, a biology professor at the University of Cincinnati, took a second look at a small fossil unearthed more than 25 years ago in a rock formation in Kansas. He found a protruding snout - the telltale sign of a Tylosaurus, a type of mosasaur that grew up to 13m in length. "The degree of snout development was nowhere near that of an adult," he said. "It was the ugly duckling that hadn't yet become the graceful swan." Mosasaurs gave birth to free-swimming live young. The newborns might have had a different diet until they were fully grown, said Prof Konishi. "It was hunting in a very different way from adults and adolescents. Maybe it was just going for smaller-size fish - a foot long at most."
10-15-18 Earliest ever animal fossil is a 660-million-year-old sponge
Chemical evidence locked in rocks and oil suggests that the first animals were alive 100 million years earlier than we thought from fossils. Sponges were probably one of the earliest animal groups to evolve – but researchers have had trouble working out exactly when in geological time they appeared. Now, an analysis of ancient rocks and oils has turned up traces of steroids made by early sponges that indicate they may have been populating the ancient seafloor at least 120 million years earlier than we thought. “If animals first appeared in a predominantly bacterial or microbial world, they would need to harness microbes and live symbiotically with them,” says Gordon Love at the University of California, Riverside. That may be why sponges produce a vast array of sterols – steroids with anti-bacterial properties that could let them harbour microbes without harm. The earliest sponges belong to a class called demosponges, which transform sterols into a compound called sterane that can be fossilised. Love and his team went hunting for these ‘molecular fossils’ in rock and oil samples from Oman, Siberia and India that date to between 660 and 635 million years old. They found an abundance of a sterane called 26-methylstigmastane, or 26-mes, that as far as we know is only produced by demosponges. Love and his colleagues used high-pressure hydrogen to break down organic polymers that bind this compound to the rocks it was embedded within, while preserving the molecular structure.
10-15-18 Wheat flour to be fortified with folic acid in the UK
Folic acid helps prevent birth defects but is most effective taken around the time of conception. Adding it to wheat could benefit unplanned pregnancies. Flour in the UK is to be fortified with folic acid in a move to help reduce brain and spine birth defects, reports suggest. Medics have long called for the move, saying that it could reduce the incidence of conditions caused by abnormal development of the neural tube. Pregnant women, and those trying to conceive, are urged by health officials to take a daily supplement of 400 micrograms of folic acid, at least until the 12th week of pregnancy. But many women do not take the supplements – especially if a pregnancy is unplanned. A possible solution to this is fortifying wheat flour with folic acid, so that the nutrient – also known as vitamin B9 – is available in bread. Most flour in the US and Canada has been fortified since the 1990s. When fortification first began in Canada, neural tube defects – which include spina bifada and anencephaly – halved. Flour is also fortified in Australia. On 14 October, The Guardian reported that UK ministers have now backed a plan to fortify flour in the UK. Clare Livingstone, of the Royal College of Midwives, welcomed the news, saying that folic acid is most effective when taken right at the start of pregnancy. “Many pregnancies are not planned, meaning many women will not have taken folic acid around the time of conception and very early in their pregnancy,” she says. The sooner the government introduces fortification, the sooner fewer babies will be born with neural tube defects, says Livingstone.
10-13-18 South Africa's ancient lost city of Kweneng rediscovered by lasers
Archaeologists using laser technology have rediscovered an ancient city outside South Africa's commercial capital of Johannesburg. The settlement, which dates back to the 15th Century, was home to up to 10,000 people from the Tswana ethnic group. Their descendants are now fighting to have the city of Kweneng recognised as their homeland.
10-13-18 The history of loneliness
This Western problem may have a solution if we look to the past. "God, but life is loneliness," declared the writer Sylvia Plath in her private journals. Despite all the grins and smiles we exchange, she says, despite all the opiates we take: "When at last you find someone to whom you feel you can pour out your soul, you stop in shock at the words you utter — they are so rusty, so ugly, so meaningless and feeble from being kept in the small cramped dark inside you so long." By the 21st century, loneliness has become ubiquitous. Commentators call it "an epidemic," a condition akin to "leprosy," and a "silent plague" of civilization. This year, the U.K. went so far as to appoint a Minister for Loneliness. Yet loneliness is not a universal condition; nor is it a purely visceral, internal experience. It is less a single emotion and more a complex cluster of feelings, composed of anger, grief, fear, anxiety, sadness, and shame. It also has social and political dimensions, shifting through time according to ideas about the self, God, and the natural world. Loneliness, in other words, has a history. The term "loneliness" first crops up in English around 1800. Before then, the closest word was "oneliness," simply the state of being alone. As with solitude — from the Latin "solus" which meant "alone" — "oneliness" was not colored by any suggestion of emotional lack. Solitude or oneliness was not unhealthy or undesirable, but rather a necessary space for reflection with God, or with one's deepest thoughts. Since God was always nearby, a person was never truly alone. Skip forward a century or two, however, and the use of "loneliness" — burdened with associations of emptiness and the absence of social connection — had well and truly surpassed oneliness. What happened?
10-12-18 Sleep-deprived teenagers
Teenagers who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to engage in risky and even suicidal behavior, according to a new study. Researchers examined surveys completed by 68,000 high school students between 2007 and 2015. They found that, compared with teenagers who got the recommended minimum of eight hours of sleep a night or more, students who slept less than six hours were roughly twice as likely to drink alcohol, smoke, use drugs, or engage in risky sexual behavior. They were also three times more likely to engage in self-harm and consider or attempt suicide. Those who slept six to seven hours a night were also more likely to engage in unsafe behaviors than those who hit the eight-hour mark; overall, more than 70 percent of the students weren’t getting the recommended eight to 10 hours. Lead author Matthew Weaver, from the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, tells Reuters.com it’s possible that sleep deprivation may cause changes in the brain that lead to “more impulsive and emotionally driven decisions.”
10-12-18 Hundreds of dietary supplements are tainted with potentially harmful drugs
Fewer than half of these products were recalled by their makers. From 2007 to 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration flagged nearly 800 over-the-counter dietary supplements as tainted with potentially harmful pharmaceutical drugs, a study shows. Fewer than half of those products were recalled by their makers, scientists found. Researchers analyzed the FDA’s public database of tainted supplements, identifying both the type of contaminating ingredients they contained and how the products were marketed. Most of these supplements, which are allowed to contain only dietary ingredients, included drugs such as steroids, the active ingredient in Viagra and a weight loss drug banned from the U.S. market eight years ago. The products had been marketed primarily for sexual enhancement, weight loss or muscle building, scientists report online October 12 in JAMA Network Open. More than half of American adults have reported taking dietary supplements, such as vitamins, minerals and other specialty products. More than 85,000 supplements are estimated to be available in the United States, and the FDA says it cannot test all of them. These supplements aren’t subject to the same regulations, testing and approval process that are required for pharmaceutical drugs. But if the FDA identifies tainted supplements after they’re on the market, the agency can issue public warnings or suggest the company voluntarily remove the product.
10-12-18 Genealogy databases could reveal the identity of most Americans
Keeping your DNA private is getting harder. Protecting the anonymity of publicly available genetic data, including DNA donated to research projects, may be impossible. About 60 percent of people of European descent who search genetic genealogy databases will find a match with a relative who is a third cousin or closer, a new study finds. The result suggests that with a database of about 3 million people, police or anyone else with access to DNA data can figure out the identity of virtually any American of European descent, Yaniv Erlich and colleagues report online October 11 in Science. Erlich, the chief science officer of the consumer genetic testing company MyHeritage, and colleagues examined his company’s database and that of the public genealogy site GEDMatch, each containing data from about 1.2 million people. Using DNA matches to relatives, along with family tree information and some basic demographic data, scientists estimate that they could narrow the identity of an anonymous DNA owner to just one or two people. Recent cases identifying suspects in violent crimes through DNA searches of GEDMatch, such as the Golden State Killer case (SN Online: 4/29/18), have raised privacy concerns (SN Online: 6/7/18). And the same process used to find rape and murder suspects can also identify people who have donated anonymous DNA for genetic and medical research studies, the scientists say.
10-12-18 Mayan structures unearthed
Archaeologists have uncovered tens of thousands of ancient Mayan structures in Guatemala, using a groundbreaking new laser-mapping technology. The researchers flew over 830 square miles of dense forest in a plane equipped with a lidar device, which rained millions of light pulses on the canopy to reveal the contours of the ground beneath. The survey revealed an astonishing 61,480 Mayan structures, many of them never seen before. There were large houses and temples; 60 miles of causeways, roads, and canals; even defensive fortifications, such as moats, which suggest the Maya came under attack from other Central American peoples. The discoveries provide a unique snapshot of the Maya, who lived in the region from about 1000 B.C. to 1500 A.D., and should help scientists understand more about their population size, agricultural techniques, and conflicts. After analyzing the scans, the researchers explored the jungle at ground level to verify some of their findings. “We were all humbled,” lead author Marcello Canuto, from Tulane University in New Orleans, tells The Washington Post. “All of us saw things we had walked over, and we realized, ‘Oh wow, we totally missed that.’”
10-12-18 T. rex may have used its long feet for stealthy surprise attacks
Carnivorous dinosaurs generated seismic waves with every footfall – but because of the shape of their feet they may have masked their presence approaching prey. Tyrannosaurus rex was so large and heavy that it’s easy to assume that the ground shook as it approached. But, paradoxically, it might have used those tremors to its advantage: the shape of its feet suggests the seismic waves from each footfall remained similar in intensity as it approached its prey, acting as a weird form of camouflage. Heavy animals produced earthquake-like seismic waves with every footfall. We know that other animals detect those seismic signals: elephants listen and respond to the seismic waves generated by foot stomps and low-frequency vocalisations. Large dinosaurs must have produced seismic waves too. Ernesto Blanco at the University of the Republic, Uruguay, and his colleagues decided to explore how they might have been harnessed. They analysed a total of 64 fossilised footprints left by several large dinosaurs including herbivores, omnivores, and carnivorous theropods – a group that includes T. rex. The researchers says that theropods typically had elongated feet with a length-to-width ratio of 2, while omnivorous and herbivorous dinosaurs had feet with a length-to-width ratio closer to 1. Blanco and his colleagues simulated the pattern of seismic waves generated when the dinosaur feet hit the ground. They found the waves produced by theropod feet were weakest in the walking direction: in other words, theropods had a foot shape that would have allowed them to sneak up on their prey while ‘seismically’ masking their presence.
10-12-18 A huge new dinosaur
Paleontologists in South Africa have discovered the fossilized remains of a gigantic new species of dinosaur related to the brontosaurus. Ledumahadi mafube was an early type of sauropodomorph, a group of long-necked, long-tailed dinosaurs that lived about 200 million years ago in the early Jurassic period. Weighing 26,000 pounds—about as much as two adult African elephants—and standing 13 feet high at the hips, it was the largest land animal on the planet at the time. Researchers believe that Ledumahadi mafube, whose name means “a giant thunderclap at dawn” in the Sesotho language, walked on all fours in a cat-like crouch. That posture was very different from its later, straight-limbed relatives’, meaning the dinosaur was effectively an evolutionary experiment. Some of its fossilized bones were found in 1990, but the paleontologist who excavated them was interested in mammals, not dinosaurs, so they went unstudied for years. “It’s amazing,” study co-author Jonah Choiniere, from the University of the Witswatersrand in Johannesburg, tells NationalGeographic.com. “Sometimes stuff can sit on your shelf, and you pass by it every day, but you don’t look at it in detail.”
10-12-18 C-section births surge to 'alarming' rates worldwide - study
Doctors' use of Caesarean section to deliver babies has nearly doubled in 15 years to reach "alarming" proportions in some countries, a study says. Rates surged from about 16 million births (12%) in 2000 to an estimated 29.7 million (21%) in 2015, the report in the medical journal The Lancet said. The nation with the highest rate for using the surgery to assist childbirth is the Dominican Republic with 58.1%. Doctors say in many cases the use of the medical procedure is unjustified. Until recently, the World Health Organization (WHO) suggested that Caesarean section - or C-section - rates of more than 15% were excessive. The study analysed data from 169 countries using statistics from 2015 - the most recent year for which the information is available. It says there is an over-reliance on Caesarean section procedures - when surgery is used to help with a difficult birth - in more than half of the world's nations. Researchers reported a rate of more than 50% in the Dominican Republic, Brazil, Egypt and Turkey, though Brazil implemented a policy in 2015 to reduce the number of Caesarean sections performed by doctors. They also found huge disparities in the use of the technique between rich and poor nations. In some circumstances, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, the surgery is unavailable when it is genuinely required. Use in 2015 was up to 10 times more frequent in the Latin America and Caribbean region, at 44% of births, than in the west and central Africa region, where it was used in just 4% of cases. The study urges healthcare professionals, women and their families to only choose a Caesarean when it is needed for medical reasons - and for more education and training to be offered to dispel some of the concerns surrounding childbirth. (Webmaster's comment: 1/3 of births in the US are C-section. We are de-evolving our ability to have children in the normal way.)
10-12-18 Rice 'safely conserved' in Philippines gene bank
Scientists say that more than 100 thousand varieties of rice have been safeguarded for the future. Samples in the world's largest rice gene bank in the Philippines are being used to help farmers develop rice crops that can survive drought and flooding. The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) gene bank has secured permanent funding from the Crop Trust. It is part of international efforts to store seeds in gene banks to protect food supplies in a warming world. "These seeds are miracles - we believe that in this natural diversity of rice you have almost any trait that you would want to look for," said Marie Haga, executive director of the international non-profit organisation, the Crop Trust. She said rice is relatively easy to store, and should survive preservation for hundreds of years at low temperatures. The rice contains the genetic diversity that can be used to breed new rice crops capable of withstanding pests and disease as well as flooding and drought. One recent advance from IRRI, which is based in Los Banos, Philippines, is a strain of rice that can survive areas hit by flooding. Ruaraidh Sackville-Hamilton, an evolutionary biologist who manages the IRRI genebank, said the work to conserve rice has a proven track record in bringing benefits to the world. "With this collection safely conserved, we can continue to use it to develop improved rice varieties that farmers can use to respond to the challenges in rice production, and to adapt to the changing tastes and preferences of consumers everywhere," he said.
10-12-18 We can harness algae with magnets to deliver drugs inside our bodies
If we attach tiny magnets to fast-swimming algae, we can load them up with drugs and steer them deep into the human body to deliver targeted medical therapies. Algae aren’t just scum on the top of a lake: some of the microbes can swim surprisingly fast – outpacing even the micromachines designed to one day deliver drugs inside the human body. Now comes evidence that the alga could be harnessed relatively easily for such speedy drug delivery. Metin Sitti at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Germany and his colleagues figured out a way to yoke an alga like an ox and then steer it through the body using magnetic fields as the reins. They started by attaching spherical magnets just one micrometre across to a single freshwater alga. Then they could control the alga’s direction as it swam along by applying a magnetic field, which pulled the tiny magnets in whatever direction they want the alga to go. “It’s a cyborg-like system,” says Sitti. The idea is to load the algae up with medication and then steer them through the body to diseased tissue for a targeted response, rather than simply drugging the whole surrounding area or the entire body, which can have unpleasant side effects. The algae can swim over 100 micrometres per second, much faster than many other microswimmers that have been proposed for drug delivery. Sitti and his team found that the algae can swim in the fluid within Fallopian tubes, and also in both plasma and blood. What’s more, they are biocompatible with human cells.
10-12-18 Police can now use millions more people’s DNA to find criminals
Consumer genetic databases are becoming powerful tools for identifying criminals, and a new technique could link you to forensic data held by US police. Policing power may be about to get much stronger, thanks to another advance in genetic analysis. A new technique can link the patchy, limited DNA information held in forensic databases to the rich DNA libraries held by family tree-building websites, raising further questions about genetic privacy. Earlier this year, an ancestry database used by people looking to trace their family history was used to identify the suspected Golden State Killer, a serial killer active in California decades ago. Since his arrest in April, genealogy databases – which allow consumers to upload their DNA sequences – have been used to crack several other cold cases. These stores of DNA data meant for consumers were needed because forensic databases hold only limited information. Now a new technique could link the two, further expanding police use of DNA data. The US national DNA database used by police and the FBI – called CODIS – doesn’t store whole DNA sequence data. Instead, it focusses on up to 20 specific stretches of repetitive DNA code. These regions vary between individuals, so can help identify people. But consumer genetic databases store different data instead – single-letter variations in DNA across hundreds of thousands of sites in the human genome. With more data points, you can more accurately pin down a person’s relationship to others.
10-12-18 Mice eat too much food if their great grandmother did the same
When mice are given a high-fat diet their great grandchildren are more likely to put on weight – and they show a greater than expected taste for alcohol. When a female mouse is fed a high-fat diet her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren have a greater risk of obesity and addiction — because of changes to the brain reward system. Diet can mess with the brain. Animal studies have shown that the offspring of mothers consuming a high-fat diet have a less sensitive reward system: they need to consume more food or pleasure-enhancing drugs to feel full or satisfied. Therefore, these individuals are more likely to become obese and addicted to drugs. Daria Peleg-Raibstein at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and her colleagues were interested in the effect of a high-fat diet on the second and third generation — grandchildren and great grandchildren. The team fed female mice with a high-fat diet for nine weeks: three weeks before they mated, and another six weeks through the subsequent pregnancy and lactation period. These mice did not become obese during the nine-week period. All offspring were offered a normal diet. Then, the males were mated with healthy females that had been born to “normal diet” mothers to produce a second generation of offspring. Finally, males from this second generation were mated with females from “normal diet” families to produce a third generation. The team found that the second- and third-generation mice had a 7 per cent greater body weight than expected for the diet they had been offered. They also had a greater than anticipated preference for drinking alcohol.
10-11-18 Gene editing creates mice with two biological dads for the first time
The rodents survived only a few days after birth. For the first time, researchers have created mice with two dads. No female contributed to the rodents’ genetic makeup. This unusual reproduction took place in a lab where researchers gathered fathers’ stem cells, and used them to produce embryos that were implanted into surrogate mothers. The technique required scientists to edit the animals’ genes in order for the mice to mature enough to be born. Even so, mouse pups with only fathers died a few days after birth, researchers report October 11 in Cell Stem Cell. By contrast, previous research and this study have shown that some gene-edited mice with only mothers can survive to adulthood and have offspring of their own. The researchers did the experiments to learn why mammals can reproduce only sexually — requiring two parents of the opposite sex — while other vertebrates, including turkeys, snakes and sharks, can sometimes reproduce with only one parent, says study coauthor Qi Zhou of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing. Females of those species can sometimes cause an unfertilized egg to produce offspring, a process called parthenogenesis. Researchers have previously made zebrafish with only an individual father’s DNA. But no one before now has reported achieving male-only reproduction, or androgenesis, with mammals.
10-11-18 We are a step closer to making babies with same-sex genetic parents
We are getting better at creating mice with same-sex parents but we are still nowhere near the point at which this could be attempted in people. We are a small step closer to the day when two women or two men could have biological children of their own, thanks to improved methods for creating mice with same-sex parents. But the work also shows that there is an enormous amount still to do before this could be attempted in humans. “It is never too much to emphasise the risks, and the importance of safety, before any human experiment is involved,” says Wei Li at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing. “But we think our work does take it closer.” The greatest obstacle to creating babies from parents of the same sex is a phenomenon called imprinting. In mammals, certain genes are switched off in the sperm genome, by adding epigenetic markers to the DNA. These markers don’t change the underlying DNA sequence, but they ensure the gene is not expressed. Different genes are turned off in eggs. This is the result of a battle between the sexes, with males trying to boost the growth of their offspring at the expense of females, and females fighting back. Imprinting means that if you somehow combine the genomes of two females, or two males, in an egg and kickstart development, the resulting embryo will die. But in 2004 a team in Japan managed to create Kaguya the mouse – the first ever mammal with two mothers. They achieved this deleting a piece of DNA in one of the genomes to mimic the effect of imprinting – but 500 attempts produced just two mice that survived to adulthood.
10-11-18 See these dazzling images of a growing mouse embryo
A new microscope lets scientists peek into the mysterious process of mammalian development. A new microscope is giving researchers an unprecedented view of how mammals are built, cell by cell. Light sheet microscopes use ultrathin laser beams to illuminate sections of a specimen while cameras record those lit-up sections. Previous iterations of the device have captured detailed portraits of living zebra fish and fruit fly embryos as they develop. Kate McDole, a developmental biologist at Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Research Campus in Ashburn, Va., and colleagues used a new-and-improved version to monitor the development of a larger, more complex organism: the mouse. Algorithms in the microscope tracked six-day-old mouse embryos in real time over roughly two days, keeping the device focused on the cell clusters as they grew. A suite of computer programs used the data — about a million images per embryo — to map the life history of each embryo’s every cell, the team reports October 11 in Cell. The result: dazzling views of mouse organs taking shape. As an embryo rapidly expands in size, the gut starts to form when part of the embryo collapses into a craterlike hole. And a structure that eventually forms the brain and spinal cord, called a neural tube, appears like a comet shooting across the night sky. Researchers also captured the first beats of heart cells.
10-11-18 Same-sex mice have babies
Baby mice have been made with two mums and no dad, say researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. It took a substantial feat of genetic engineering to break the rules of reproduction. The scientists said the "bimaternal" (two mammas) animals were healthy and went on to have pups of their own. But there was bad news on the all-male front. Mice with double-dads were attempted, but died within days of being born. The researchers were trying to answer fundamental questions about why we have sex. Mammals, including us, can make babies only through sexual reproduction - aka you need an egg from mum and a sperm from dad. But the rest of the natural world doesn't play by the same rules; some female fish, reptiles, amphibians and birds can go it alone. Welcome to the bizarre world of virgin births known officially as parthenogenesis. The aim of the Chinese researchers was to work out which rules of reproduction they needed to break to make baby mice from same-sex parents. That in turn helps understand why the rules are so important. "It's an interesting paper... they're trying to work out what you would have to do to turn us into turkeys," said Prof Robin Lovell-Badge at the Francis Crick Institute. It was easier with double mums. The researchers took an egg from one mouse and a special type of cell - a haploid embryonic stem cell - from another. Both contained only half the required genetic instructions or DNA, but just bringing them together wasn't enough. The researchers had to use a technology called gene editing to delete three sets of genetic instructions to make them compatible (more on that later). The double-dad approach was slightly more complicated. It took a sperm, a male haploid embryonic stem cell, an egg that had all of its own genetic information removed and the deletion of seven genes to make it all work.
10-11-18 Humongous fungus is older than Christianity and weighs 400 tonnes
A gigantic fungus that lives under the ground in a Michigan forest is even larger than initially estimated and may have been around for at least 2500 years. A huge underground fungus that is one of the largest living organisms on the planet has turned out to be both bigger and older than thought. It may have been quietly spreading through the soil of Michigan since the end of the last ice age. James B. Anderson of the University of Toronto in Canada and his colleagues discovered the enormous Armillaria gallica fungus in the late 1980s, while studying fungi that were killing red pines on a Michigan plantation. “We found one genetic individual occupying this site,” says Anderson. It spanned at least 0.37 square kilometres. At the time they estimated it was at least 1500 years old and weighed at least 100,000 kilograms. They published their findings in 1992. At the time the fungus was a serious contender for the largest living organism, but bigger fungi have since been found. An individual of A. ostoyae in the Malheur National Forest in Oregon spans 9.6 square kilometres. Confusingly, the Michigan and the Oregon fungi are both informally called “the humongous fungus”. Anderson and his colleagues have now revisited the fungus, which had been left to its own devices since the early 1990s. They collected 245 samples, far more than before, allowing them to get a better sense of its borders. It turns out the fungus weighs at least 400,000 kg, four times larger than the initial estimate. The fungus grew from a single individual, so its greater size implies it is also older than thought. “We’re now saying 2500 years based on our estimates of growth rate, and that’s a lower bound,” says Anderson.
10-11-18 75-million-year old ocean microbes live forever on almost zero energy
There is so little food in the mud at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean that individual microbes living there use just 0.00000000001 Joules of energy each year. Deep below the surface of the South Pacific Ocean, buried beneath 70 metres of seafloor sediment, there are microbes that may be about 75 million years old. These organisms are among the oldest known life forms on the planet, yet exactly how they manage to maintain their near-immortality has remained a mystery. James Bradley, a geobiologist at the University of Southern California, and his colleagues think they have solved the puzzle: to stay alive, the microbes stay mostly dead. They burn next to no energy. Researchers already knew that the microbes must have extremely low metabolisms, but it was unclear exactly how much food they have to burn to keep on going. “We haven’t been able to determine in a quantitative way whether they’ve been growing since they’ve been buried, or whether or not they’re lying dormant,” Bradley says. By producing a model that took into account factors such as the density of microbes in the sediment and the density of food in that sediment, Bradley and his team calculated the energy requirement of the microbes. “[It] is equivalent to the energy that is released by burning just two per cent of their carbon biomass per year,” he says. In absolute terms that’s 0.00000000001 (10-11) joules per year – Bradley says a human uses one hundred quintillion (1020) times more energy per year.
10-10-18 Traces of mystery ancient humans found lurking in our genomes
Prehistoric humans were sexual adventurers, mating with Neanderthals and Denisovans, but DNA studies reveal dalliances with populations we never knew existed. WE LEARN about our ancestors in many ways. Bones tell us what they looked like. Teeth reveal their diet. Tools, pots, art and other artefacts hold stories about their culture. Then, a decade ago, the first ancient genome was sequenced, opening a whole new window on our past – one that promised more intimate insights. The breakthrough famously revealed that Neanderthals got very cosy with humans. Since then, geneticists have been probing more and more fossils for evidence of past cross-species dalliances. The studies haven’t disappointed. But in an intriguing twist, they have started to kick up something unexpected: hidden inside genomes are signs of ancestors that we never knew existed. Geneticists call them “ghosts”. We have no physical record of these ancient hominins – no bones, no tools, no archaeological remains whatsoever. Yet the genetic code that they left within fossils of other hominins, and in living humans too, is offering profound and unprecedented insights into how our species came to be, and what the world was like at the time. The idea that each of our cells might contain fragments of genetic code from extinct species has been around for well over a decade. Then, in 2008, Svante Pääbo and his team at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, pulled off the master stroke of teasing DNA out of millennia-old Neanderthal bones in quantities great enough to sequence. This provided an obvious way to find out if Homo sapiens had bred with Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis): you could simply look within the genomes of living people for DNA sequences with distinctly Neanderthal patterns of mutations. These comparative studies revealed that early humans had indeed mated with Neanderthals, and not just once. Current estimates are that the genomes of everyone except Africans are between 2 and 4 per cent Neanderthal.
10-10-18 You can recognise around 5000 faces, from family to celebrities
For much of human evolution our ancestors may have encountered only a few hundred people in their lives – but we can each recall about 5000 distinct faces. You can probably recall more faces than you might think. Most people can remember about 5000, according to a new study. “It’s surprising, in that it seems to be overkill,” says Rob Jenkins at the University of York in the UK. He points out that some people argue humans lived in groups of around 150 people for most of hominin evolutionary history, so it might make sense for us to recall about this number of faces. “It turns out that whatever mental equipment we have to solve that task seems to also do this for many thousands of faces.” He and his team asked 25 people to spend an hour writing down the people they knew personally for whom they could form a clear mental image of their face, including friends and family, people at school or work, neighbours, and people they might know from local shops or who take the same bus or train. On average, participants listed 40 people in the first 5 minutes and slowed to 21 people in the final 5 minutes. Based on this rate, Jenkins and his team calculated how many people each participant would have listed with unlimited time – on average it was 549 people. Then, they tested recognition of famous faces by showing the participants images of 3441 public figures from film, business, politics, sports and so on. Each participant saw two different pictures of each public figure on two separate days. If they said they recognised the celebrity in both pictures, that person was considered part of their ‘facial vocabulary’.
10-10-18 50 years ago, a 550-year-old seed sprouted
Since then, much older seeds have proved resilient. A seed of the South America herb achira (Canna sp.), taken from an ancient Indian necklace, has germinated, and the young plant is growing well.… Carbon-14 dating of bones at the site sets the seeds’ age at about 550 years.… The plant from the old seed appeared to have a disturbed gravity orientation, but is still growing fairly normally. — Science News, October 12, 1968. Scientists continue to test plants’ staying power, growing plants from older and older seeds. A roughly 1,300-year-old lotus seed (SN: 8/31/02, p. 132) and then a 2,000-year-old date palm seed (SN: 7/5/08, p. 13) broke the record for world’s oldest viable seeds. Then in 2012, Russian scientists grew a plant from tissue frozen in Siberian permafrost more than 30,000 years ago (SN: 4/7/12, p. 15). These successes give hope to seed bank programs that keep plant species in cold storage for future generations.
ANIMAL INTELLIGENCE and ZOOLOGY
10-15-18 In cadaver caves, baby beetles grow better with parental goo
Parental gut microbes can turn a small dead animal into a healthful nursery. Growing up inside a dead mouse could really stink, but not for some burying beetles. Their parents’ gut microbes keep the cadaver fresh, creating a nursery where the larvae can thrive. What burying beetle parents can do with a small dead animal is remarkable, says coauthor Shantanu Shukla of the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Jena, Germany. “It looks different. It smells different. It’s completely transformed by the beetles.” The carrion beetles Nicrophorus vespilloides start family life by burying a small dead vertebrate, which they keep fresh enough for baby food. Parents open a little flesh-cave in the cadaver, and hatchlings creep in to gorge. As the beetle youngsters grow inside this, the parents regularly refresh a dark microbial film inside the cavity. That helpful goo is not the usual slime that blooms in carcasses but resembles the parent beetles’ gut microbiomes, Shukla and colleagues report October 15 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
10-15-18 Rabbit-killing virus may have mutated to kill hares too
Brown hares are turning up dead across the UK, raising fears that myxomatosis – the rabbit infection in ‘Watership Down’ - may have mutated to target hares. Brown hares are turning up dead across the UK, leading to fears that the highly infectious rabbit-culling disease myxomatosis has jumped species. Myxomatosis, caused by the myxoma virus, was introduced to rabbits in Australia and Europe in the 1950s to reduce their numbers. Its virulence proved effective and the disease tore through wild populations, killing 99 per cent of rabbits in the UK. Numbers bounced back as rabbits developed some degree of resistance but the disease, which is spread by blood-sucking insects like fleas and mosquitoes and can result in swelling, blindness and respiratory problems, is still prevalent. Now the University of East Anglia, together with the Suffolk Wildlife Trust and Norfolk Wildlife Trust, are warning that hares may be being targeted by a mutated form of the virus. UK sightings of dead hares are not the first indications that myxomatosis can affect these animals. There have been reports in recent years of the disease killing hares in Spain, for example. But the number of dead hares found over a short period of time in the UK – in one case six were found in a single field – has raised fresh concerns. If the disease were to hit hares as hard as it did rabbits in the 1950s, the effect could be devastating. Hares are much rarer than rabbits and there are currently fewer than 818,000 left in the UK according to the People’s Trust for Endangered Species – that’s 80 per cent fewer than there were 100 years ago. The UK Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs is yet to confirm that the dead hares died of myxomatosis. Another culprit is rabbit haemorrhagic disease, another viral infection thought to infect hares.
10-15-18 How nectar bats fly nowhere
The first direct measurements of wingbeat force show how hard hovering is. Flying forward is hard enough, but flying nowhere, just hovering, is so much harder. Most bats and birds can manage the feat for only a few frantic seconds. Hovering means losing a useful aerodynamic shortcut, says aerospace engineer and biologist David Lentink of Stanford University. As a bat or bird flies forward, its body movement sends air flowing around the wings and providing some cheap lift. For animals on the scale of bats and birds, that’s a big help. Without that boost, “you’re going to have to move all the air over your wings by moving it with your wings,” he says. The energy per second you’re consuming to stay in place by flapping your wings back and forth like a hummingbird “is gigantic.” So how do vertebrates in search of nectar, for whom a lot of energy-sucking hovering is part of life, manage the job? For the first direct measurements of the wingbeat forces that make hovering possible, Lentink’s Ph.D. student Rivers Ingersoll spent three years creating a flight chamber with exquisitely responsive sensors in the floor and ceiling. As a bird or bat hovers inside, the sensors can measure — every 200th of a second — tremors even smaller than a nanometer caused by air from fluttering wings. Once the delicate techno-marvel of an instrument was perfected, the researchers packed it into 11 shipping cases and sent it more than 6,000 kilometers to the wilds of Costa Rica. “Very difficult,” Ingersoll acknowledges. The Las Cruces Research Station is great for field biology, but it’s nothing like a Stanford engineering lab. Every car turning into the station’s driveway set off the wingbeat sensors. And even the special thick-walled room that became the machine’s second home warmed up enough every day to give the instrument a fever.
10-12-18 Killer whales under threat
At least half the world’s orca populations will become extinct within the next century, because of long-banned chemicals that are polluting the oceans, a new study has found. Polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, were once widely used in electrical components, plastics, and paints, reports The Guardian (U.K.). They were banned in the U.S. in 1979, and in most other countries soon afterward, when PCBs were found to be highly toxic and carcinogenic. But the chemicals continue to leach into the sea from landfills and other sources, and the qualities that made them useful—stability and heat resistance—also make them hard to break down. They become more concentrated at each stage of the food chain, and at the top of the chain, consuming PCBs in the highest concentrations, are killer whales. Orcas are particularly vulnerable to the chemicals, which affect their immune system and hamper their ability to reproduce. After studying PCB levels in 351 killer whales, researchers concluded that populations of the mammal in the waters off Japan, Brazil, Hawaii, Gibraltar, and the U.K. “are all tending toward complete collapse.” Paul Jepson, from the Zoological Society of London, describes the decline as “like a killer whale apocalypse.”
10-12-18 Self-driving cars see better with cameras that mimic mantis shrimp vision
A new type of camera more clearly maps objects as the vehicle travels. To help self-driving cars drive safely, scientists are looking to an unlikely place: the sea. A new type of camera inspired by the eyes of mantis shrimps could help autonomous vehicles better gauge their surroundings, researchers report October 11 in Optica. The camera — which detects polarized light, or light waves vibrating on a single plane — has roughly half a million sensors that each capture a wide range of light and dark spots within a single frame, somewhat similar to how mantis shrimps see the world. The researchers wanted to “mimic the animals’ ability to detect a wide range of light intensities,” says coauthor Viktor Gruev, a bioengineer at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The crustaceans’ visual system allows them to see both light and dark areas while moving in and out of dark crevices in shallow waters, he says. The newly devised camera can take in a wider range of light intensities, measured in decibels, than other digital or polarization cameras. Previously, the best polarization cameras operated with a dynamic range of about 60 decibels; the new one works within a 140 decibel range, resulting in a clearer mapping of objects in the same frame.
10-10-18 Bees suddenly stopped buzzing in the US during the 2017 solar eclipse
When the moon hid the sun in the 2017 total solar eclipse, bees across the US suddenly stopped buzzing around - only one bee aross 16 locations buzzed. During the solar eclipse that swept across North America last year, a set of 16 monitoring stations recorded bees suddenly going quiet in the period of totality, when the moon completely obscured the sun. Only one buzz was recorded across all of the microphones in the three-minute period surrounding totality. In August 2017, the moon obscured the sun in a total solar eclipse visible across the US. Candace Galen at the University of Missouri and her colleagues set up microphones in stands of flowers along the path of the eclipse, from Oregon to Missouri, to listen to bee activity. They found that as the moon moved over the sun’s face, the bees continued buzzing along. But in the period around the total eclipse, the sound, which is created by the bees’ wings as they fly, suddenly dropped off. “We had expected that we would see a reduction in activity, but we thought that it would be gradual following the loss of light,” says Galen. “We didn’t expect everything to just go along as usual until totality.” During totality, the buzzing completely stopped at all 16 microphones. The team recorded sound at each site for three minutes – covering the period of totality that lasted 40 to 160 seconds – and found that only one bee buzzed through the silence. “It could have been slow getting back to the hive, or a bee with particularly good eyesight,” Galen says. It’s not clear whether the bees flew back home to weather totality, like they do at night, or whether they sheltered in place in flowers, like they do in inclement weather. “Nobody was looking down at the bees on the flowers during totality,” says Galen. “All we can say is what they weren’t doing – they weren’t flying.”
10-10-18 What bees did during the Great American Eclipse
Rare study of pollinators during totality shows the insects responding to sudden darkness. When the 2017 Great American Eclipse hit totality and the sky went dark, bees noticed. Microphones in flower patches at 11 sites in the path of the eclipse picked up the buzzing sounds of bees flying among blooms before and after totality. But those sounds were noticeably absent during the full solar blackout, a new study finds. Dimming light and some summer cooling during the onset of the eclipse didn’t appear to make a difference to the bees. But the deeper darkness of totality did, researchers report Oct. 10 in the Annals of the Entomological Society of America. At the time of totality, the change in buzzing was abrupt, says study coauthor and ecologist Candace Galen of the University of Missouri in Columbia. The recordings come from citizen scientists, mostly school classes, setting out small microphones at two spots in Oregon, one in Idaho and eight in Missouri. Often when bees went silent at the peak of the eclipse, Galen says, “you can hear the people in the background going ‘ooo,’ ‘ahh’ or clapping.” (Webmaster's comment: Back before scientific understanding humans would pray, blame it on human sinners, and sacrifice virgins. Human response then was just as pre-programmed as the bees.)
10-10-18 Rabbits flee when they smell dead relatives in predators’ droppings
Rabbits avoid nibbling grass in areas scattered with predator droppings – particularly if those predators have been fed on bunnies. If you’re a rabbit, it’s important to recognise when predators are around. It’s even more useful to know if these predators are eating your friends. New research suggests that rabbits can do the latter by detecting the scent of other, now-digested rabbits in predator scat. European rabbits are particularly popular targets for predators – more than 30 species will eat them, says José Guerrero-Casado at the University of Cordoba, Spain. To cope with the constant threat, rabbits have evolved an impressive ability to recognise the scent of a predator that might want to eat a bunny. But Guerrero-Casado and his colleagues wondered if rabbits could identify the scent of a predator that already had. “The recognition of [other rabbits] in the predator scats would allow rabbits to avoid those areas with higher risk, feeding in other areas with a lower risk of being predated,” explains Guerrero-Casado. The researchers ran an experiment on three plots of land spread out across the Spanish countryside. One plot was sprayed daily with the smelly essence extracted from the scat of ferrets on a beef-based diet. Another plot was sprayed with the scat odour from ferrets on a rabbit-based diet. The third was sprayed with water as a control. Every few days, the team counted the rabbit pellets left behind on the plots and used the number as an indicator of how often rabbits were visiting the plots to feed.
10-10-18 Yellow makeover to help horses see jumps in BHA trial
Fences and hurdles in British racing are set for a major makeover after it was discovered horses see the obstacles differently to humans. At present, the framework for the jumps is painted orange but research has shown horses see the colour as a shade of green. Horse racing authorities have now agreed to try fluorescent yellow and white markers to aid visibility. A trial at training grounds will take place before any on-course changes. Research at the University of Exeter - funded by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) and Racing Foundation - showed horses adjusted their jump angles when orange was not used, with white tending to produce a longer total jump distance. Ian Popham, a Grade One-winning former jockey who was involved in the research, said: "From riding over the different coloured fences it was clear to me that over some colours the horses reacted differently and showed the obstacle more respect. "I'm sure other riders will feel the same and this feels like a great idea and opportunity to make the sport safer for both horses and jockeys."
10-10-18 Pangolin survival: How 'following the money' could save lives
Around the world, the illegal wildlife trade is having a devastating effect on many species of animal. Targeting profits made by those involved could help protect them. Animals - both dead and alive - are being bought and sold on an industrial scale as food, pets, medicines and even ornaments. The trade affects a huge range of species from great apes to helmeted hornbills, but arguably none more so than the pangolin. These unusual-looking creatures are prized in some countries for their meat and scales and are thought to be the world's most trafficked mammal, with about 100,000 a year snatched from the wild and sent to Vietnam and China. Global attention is often focused on species such as elephants and rhinos - and in many countries the populations of these animals has plummeted. In Tanzania, for example, elephant numbers fell by 60% from 109,000 in 2009, to just over 43,000 in 2014, according to government figures. The hidden driver behind this trade is a basic one: the pursuit of profit. For each of these trafficked animals, money changes hands - across the palms of corrupt officials, between those involved in the trade on the ground and on the internet. Yet these money flows are often overlooked in the fight to curb the illegal wildlife trade. At a conference in London this week, financial approaches to dismantling the criminal networks involved will be discussed. Rather than "follow the money", the most common approach remains that of "follow the animal". This is despite the huge figures involved. Although impossible to calculate precisely, the illegal wildlife trade has been valued at somewhere between $7bn (£5.4bn) and $23bn (£17.6bn) a year. Much of this money is exchanged physically between individuals, but large amounts also pass through banks.