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ATHEISM and HUMANISM
The perfect weapon for killing people.
That's its only purpose.
6-18-18 US child migrants: First ladies speak out on Trump separation policy
The former US First Lady Laura Bush has condemned a controversial policy that splits up families who illegally enter the country at the Mexican border. Writing in the Washington Post newspaper, she describes the separation of children from their parents as cruel, immoral and heart-breaking. Her comments follow growing controversy over President Donald Trump's "zero-tolerance" immigration policy. Earlier Melania Trump made a rare statement expressing concern. Mrs Trump "hates to see children separated from their families", her spokeswoman said. She repeated her husband's call for "both sides" to work on immigration reform as a solution. However, fact-checkers point out that the policy was introduced by Mr Trump's attorney general and does not require congressional action to be stopped. In a recent six-week period there were nearly 2,000 family separations following a crackdown on illegal border crossings. Adults who try to cross the border outside of official entry points - many planning to seek asylum - are placed in custody and face criminal prosecution for illegal entry. As a result, hundreds of children and babies are now being housed in detention centres, including warehouses and converted supermarkets, and kept away from their parents. Laura Bush, wife of the former Republican President George W Bush and a Texas resident, launched an outspoken attack on the policy. "This zero-tolerance policy is cruel. It is immoral. And it breaks my heart," she wrote in the Washington Post. "Our government should not be in the business of warehousing children in converted box stores or making plans to place them in tent cities in the desert." "These images are eerily reminiscent of the Japanese American internment camps of World War Two, now considered to have been one of the most shameful episodes in US history," she added. (Webmaster's comment: They will become child death camps! Right out of Nazi Germany! White Male Supremacists are loving it!)
6-18-18 Trump migrant separation policy: Children 'in cages' in Texas
Reporters and Democratic lawmakers have been allowed inside a detention centre that lies at the heart of a growing storm over a new US policy separating migrant children from their parents. Authorities did not allow photos or videos to be taken inside the centre, but US Customs and Border Protection later released several images. Former First Lady Laura Bush has compared it to the internment camps used for Japanese-Americans during World War Two. A Democratic congressman who visited the site said it was "nothing short of a prison". The Texas facility is known as Ursula, though immigrants are reportedly calling it La Perrera - dog kennel in Spanish - in reference to the cages used to hold children and adults who have ended up there after crossing the border from Mexico illegally. "One cage had 20 children inside. Scattered about are bottles of water, bags of chips [crisps] and large foil sheets intended to serve as blankets," the Associated Press reports. Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley led the team of lawmakers to the site in the town of McAllen on Sunday. He hit the headlines earlier this month when he was turned away from another facility housing some 1,500 boys in a disused Walmart store. Speaking to CNN after the visit to Ursula, he said: "In wire-mesh, chain linked cages that are about 30x30 [feet], a lot of young folks put into them. "I must say though, far fewer than I was here two weeks ago. I was told that buses full (of children) were taken away before I arrived. "That was one of my concerns, that essentially, when you have to give lengthy notice, you end up a little bit of a show rather than seeing what's really going on in these centres." Maryland Senator Chris Van Hollen and Vermont Congressman Peter Welch expressed shock and anger over the conditions they saw! (Webmaster's comment: As should we all!)
6-18-18 'Mama, papa. I do not want to be alone.'
The Trump administration's 'zero tolerance' policy for border crossings has resulted in the forced separation of hundreds and parents and children. Here is one 5-year-old boy's story. en he landed in Michigan in late May, all the weary little boy carried was a trash bag stuffed with dirty clothes from his days-long trek across Mexico, and two small pieces of paper — one a stick-figure drawing of his family from Honduras, the other a sketch of his father, who had been arrested and led away after they arrived at the U.S. border in El Paso. A U.S. government escort handed over the 5-year-old child, identified on his travel documents as José, to the American woman whose family was entrusted with caring for him. He refused to take her hand. He did not cry. He was silent on the ride "home." The first few nights, he cried himself to sleep. Then it turned into "just moaning and moaning," said Janice, his foster mother. He recently slept through the night for the first time, though he still insists on tucking the family pictures under his pillow. José's separation from his father is part of the Trump administration's latest and most widely debated border enforcement policy. Last month, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the government would criminally prosecute everyone who crossed the border illegally, a directive that is already leading to the breakup of hundreds of migrant families and channeling children into shelters and foster homes across the country. The goal, according to administration officials, is to discourage Central American families from making the perilous journey to the United States' southwest border, where they have been arriving in swelling numbers this year to claim asylum. In just the first two weeks under President Trump's new policy, 638 parents who arrived with 658 children were prosecuted, administration officials told Congress. Kirstjen Nielsen, the homeland security secretary, emphasized that separating families was not the aim but merely the effect of a decision to step up prosecutions of those who cross the border illegally. "We do not have a policy to separate children from their parents. Our policy is, if you break the law we will prosecute you," she told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on May 15. She said the Trump administration is doing a better job than its predecessors in ensuring that migrant children are placed with sponsors who are carefully screened. "We can make sure that the children go to people who are actually family members and who are not traffickers and who won't abuse them," she said. (Webmaster's comment: What a crock of lies! Over 1,400 of these children have been lost. Who knows what evil has been done to them.)
6-18-18 What the Bible really says about government
The internet exploded in fury recently when Attorney General Jeff Sessions quoted the Bible to defend his policies in separating migrant children from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border. "I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order," Sessions said, when defending President Trump's "zero tolerance" immigration policy. "Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves. Consistent and fair application of the law is in itself a good and moral thing, and that protects the weak and protects the lawful." The passage in question, chapter 13 of the Apostle Paul's Letter to the Romans, reads, in part: "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment." Some people, mostly secularists unfamiliar with the Bible, took the passage to mean that Christians should just obey any government, no matter how awful. Other people, mainly Christians, argued that Sessions is full of it, because the Bible clearly preaches an open-door immigration policy. They're both wrong. And it's important to understand why. The Bible is a tricky text to interpret. Some people think this is because it's a grab bag of various texts from many centuries; you can make that argument, but there's no important text from human history that is straightforward to interpret, probably because otherwise, people wouldn't find them so interesting, and they wouldn't tell us interesting things about this messy reality we inhabit. The Bible is unclear, but so are Plato's dialogues, Shakespeare's plays, and the Constitution of the United States.
6-18-18 Zero-tolerance: The US policy dividing families and opinion
Lawmakers and the public gathered on Father's Day to contest the policy which splits up families at the US border.
6-18-18 Inside Tunisia's Shams Rad - the Arab world's 'only gay radio station'
Homosexuality is both illegal and widely considered to be unacceptable in Tunisia. But since the 2011 revolution, activists have seen that standing up for their beliefs can result in change. Now LGBT people are gaining confidence and are coming out of the shadows to push for equal rights. "I was the first person to annoy people in the media and speak openly about LGBT issues in Tunisia on air," says Bouhdid Belhedi, director of Shams Rad. In the Tunisian capital, Tunis, the 25-year-old shows us around an office space that has been converted into what he calls "the Arab world's first LGBT radio station". It is low budget but professional, with enough space for seven contributors. The corridors are painted in the colours of the LGBT rainbow flag. Mr Belhedi says that six months after the station was set up, it has 10,000 listeners each week across 15 countries, and is streamed online and live via YouTube six days a week. The station plays music and issues are discussed in depth but LGBT contributors don't identify themselves as sexually active on air. The Dutch embassy in Tunis is partly funding the station and after international pressure and a legal challenge, the station's parent organisation, Shams, was officially recognised. This is believed to be the first time any LGBT group has gained this status in North Africa. When the station started, Western media attention focused on the abuse Mr Belhedi was receiving. People are angry the station exists. Mr Belhedi says he has received 4,700 messages of abuse, including death threats and "even imams calling for me to be to be killed or beaten up". He has also been physically assaulted. Gay and lesbian sex is punishable by up to three years in prison in Tunisia and it was only last year that the government said it would stop forced anal examinations for people suspected of homosexuality.
6-15-18 Tent cities
The Trump administration is considering whether to build tent cities at military bases in Texas in order to house migrant children who cross the border illegally. Officials with the Department of Health and Human Services plan to visit Fort Bliss, an Army base near El Paso, within the next few weeks to look at land that could be used for structures to hold between 1,000 and 5,000 children. Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene and Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo are also being considered for shelters. The number of migrant children held in custody has increased more than 20 percent since April, when the Justice Department began its “zero tolerance” policy of separating children and parents at the border. The Office of Refugee Resettlement at HHS is now caring for 11,200 migrant children. The agency’s roughly 100 shelters are 95 percent full.
6-15-18 Asylum crackdown
Attorney General Jeff Sessions this week made it virtually impossible for asylum seekers citing fears of domestic abuse or gang violence to enter the U.S., in a ruling that could affect thousands of migrants from Central America. Invoking a seldom-used authority, Sessions reversed a 2016 immigration appeals court ruling that granted asylum to a Salvadoran woman who’d suffered years of abuse by her ex-husband. Asylum claims should not apply to victims of “private violence,” Sessions said. The ruling could invalidate tens of thousands of pending asylum claims by women, children, and men in the U.S., who now must prove that their home country is unable or unwilling to protect them. “Women and children will die as a result of these policies,” said Michelle Brané, an immigration rights activist. Sessions said the guidelines would help immigration courts work through a backlog of 700,000 cases.
6-15-18 No more core democratic values
Conservative lawmakers have stripped Michigan’s social studies curriculum of any reference to civil rights, climate change, or “core democratic values.” State Sen. Patrick Colbeck said these phrases are “not politically neutral.” Other references removed include Roe v. Wade, the NAACP, and gay rights. Students will be taught that “the expansion of rights for some groups can be viewed as an infringement of rights and freedoms of others.”
6-15-18 SCOTUS upholds Ohio voter purges
The Supreme Court this week upheld an Ohio law that effectively allows the state to purge its voter registration rolls of citizens who haven’t voted in recent elections, handing a victory to Republicans who have championed stricter voting requirements. The court voted 5 to 4, with conservative justices in the majority. Federal law prohibits states from removing people from voting rolls simply for not voting, but state officials are allowed to confirm the eligibility of voters they suspect have moved. Ohio sends notices to voters who skip a single election asking them to confirm their eligibility. If they don’t respond and don’t vote within the next four years, their names are purged. Critics have argued the law unfairly affects minority and low-income voters.
6-15-18 Suicide: America’s hidden epidemic
Suicides of famous, successful people are always “transfixing,” said Andrew Solomon in NewYorker.com. When world-beaters like Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain take their own lives, “it assures the rest of us that a life of accolades is not all that it’s cracked up to be,” but also forces us to wonder, “How can our more ordinary lives hold up?” The despair and hopelessness that afflicted Spade and Bourdain are far too common: We are currently living through a “catastrophic escalation” in suicide rates that afflicts every level of U.S. society. In a grim coincidence, the Centers for Disease Control chose last week to release a sobering new study on suicide, said The Washington Post in an editorial. Since 1999, suicide rates in the U.S. have risen by 28 percent. Suicide is now the second-leading cause of death for young people, and the 10th-leading cause of death overall, with nearly 45,000 Americans dying by their own hand in 2016. This heartbreaking week should serve as a “wake-up call” about what has become a national epidemic; we must start to treat suicide “like the public health crisis it is.” These figures are “a profound indictment of the country’s mental health system,” said Benedict Carey in NYTimes.com. “Treatment for chronic depression and anxiety—often the precursors to suicide—has never been more available and more widespread,” yet somehow help isn’t reaching the people who need it in time. There often isn’t much time, said The Sacramento Bee in an editorial. Research on people who survive suicide attempts indicates that in 70 percent of cases, less than an hour passes between the idea of killing oneself and the attempt. In 25 percent, it’s less than five minutes. Most survivors said they deeply regret their attempts, and 90 percent were alive more than 25 years later. More of these “impulsive acts” would be survived if guns—the most effective means of self-execution—weren’t so freely available.
6-15-18 Lockdown, lockdown, Lock the door/Shut the lights off, Say no more/Go behind the desk and hide.
A Massachusetts school is teaching kindergarten students a new nursery rhyme that includes the lines “Lockdown, lockdown, Lock the door/Shut the lights off, Say no more/Go behind the desk and hide.” Somerville Public Schools Superintendent Mary Skipper said even 5-year-olds must be prepared. “Unfortunately, this is the world we live in.”
6-17-18 New Jersey arts festival: One shooter dead, 20 injured
At least 20 people, including a 13-year-old boy, were injured in a gun attack at an all-night arts festival in Trenton, in the US state of New Jersey. Police say at least two men opened fire at around 03:00 local time (07:00 GMT) as 1,000 people were enjoying the local art, music and food. One of the suspects, a 33-year-old man, was shot dead and another is in custody, a local prosecutor said. Four of the injured, including the teenager, are in a critical condition. Angelo Nicolo was attending the event with his brother. He told US media that they heard loud popping sounds and people started running down the street. "I saw two police officers escort a guy that got shot in the leg. They bandaged him up and whisked him away," Mr Nicolo said. This was the 12th year of the Trenton Art All Night Festival, an event that raises money for local artists. It began on Saturday afternoon and was due to run until Sunday afternoon, but has now been cancelled. (Webmaster's comment: The current average mental ability of the America people has fallen below that of 7th graders. You put easy to use mass murder weapons in hands of mental 6th and 7th graders and this is exactly what you will get!)
6-15-18 Why the US is separating migrant children from their parents
US Attorney General Jeff Sessions has defended the separation of migrant children from their parents at the border with Mexico, a measure that has faced increasing criticism. The "zero-tolerance" policy he announced last month sees adults who try to cross the border, many planning to seek asylum, being placed in custody and facing criminal prosecution for illegal entry. As a result, hundreds of minors are now being housed in detention centres, and kept away from their parents. Over a recent six-week period, nearly 2,000 children were separated from their parents after illegally crossing the border, figures released on Friday said. Mr Sessions said those entering the US irregularly would be criminally prosecuted, a change to a long-standing policy of charging most of those crossing for the first time with a misdemeanour offence. As the adults are being charged with a crime, the children that come with them are being separated and deemed unaccompanied minors. Advocates of separations point out that hundreds of children are taken from parents who commit crimes in the US on a daily basis. As such, they are placed in custody of the Department of Health and Human Services and sent to a relative, foster home or a shelter - officials at those places are said to be already running out of space to house them. In recent days, a former Walmart in Texas has been converted into a detention centre for immigrant children. Officials have also announced plans to erect tent cities to hold hundreds more children in the Texas desert where temperatures regularly reach 40C (105F). (Webmaster's comment: Many of the children will die there which is the whole idea!) Local lawmaker Jose Rodriguez described the plan as "totally inhumane" and "outrageous", adding: "It should be condemned by anyone who has a moral sense of responsibility." US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials estimate that around 1,500 people are arrested each day for illegally crossing the border. (Webmaster's comment: Government agents have been observed tearing children away from their mothers while they were breast feeding them! United States has become a nation of immoral evil as bad as Nazi Germany was!)
6-15-18 US child migrants: 2,000 separated from families in six weeks
Almost 2,000 migrant children were separated from their families at the US border over six weeks, officials say. Following a Trump administration crackdown on illegal border crossings from Mexico, adults are being detained, meaning the children with them are removed from their care. The issue is causing a growing political storm in the US. On Thursday Attorney General Jeff Sessions cited the Bible to defend the "zero tolerance" approach. It means that those entering the US irregularly are criminally prosecuted, a change to a long-standing policy of charging most of those crossing for the first time with a misdemeanour offence.As the adults are being charged with a crime and detained, the children that travel with them are being separated and classed as unaccompanied minors. (Webmaster's comment: And how many of these children are then lost and being sold for child sex prostitution or sold for body parts.) The children are passed into the care of the US Department of Health and Human Services. They are transferred to government detention facilities or foster care while officials try to resolve their case. The United Nations has called on the US to immediately halt the separations. Mr Sessions said having children would not shield border-crossing migrants from prosecution. The attorney general quoted a verse from St Paul's Letter to the Romans on obeying the laws of government. Critics say that verse was once used to justify slavery. (Webmaster's comment: What the people in government and Jeff Sessions is doing is criminal and a great evil and they love doing it!)
6-15-18 Canada's Supreme Court rules LGBT rights trump religious freedom
Canada's top court has ruled in favour of denying accreditation to a Christian law school that banned students from having gay sex.. Friday's ruling against Trinity Western University in British Columbia was closely watched by both religious freedom and gay rights advocates. The university made students promise not to have extra-marital or gay sex. The Supreme Court found that protecting LGBT students from discrimination trumped religious freedom. The evangelical university opened its law school in 2013, and applied for accreditation in every province so that its students could be called to the bar anywhere in Canada. Ontario, British Columbia and Nova Scotia law societies denied the school accreditation, on the grounds that it required all students to sign a covenant binding them to a code of conduct which banned sex outside the confines of heterosexual marriage. Lower courts in Nova Scotia and British Columbia sided with the university, but Ontario sided with the law society and upheld the organisation's right to deny the school accreditation. The case went all the way to Canada's top court, and the ruling was viewed as a key victory for LGBT rights advocates. The court found that supporting diversity in Canada's legal profession, and protecting the safety of LGBT students, was more important than the school's right to religious freedom.
6-15-18 Attorney General Jeff Sessions quotes Bible to defend immigration policies
US Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been criticised for citing Bible scripture to back up the Trump administration's immigration policy. At an event in Indiana, Mr Sessions was defending the practice of separating undocumented immigrant families apprehended at the border. He quoted the New Testament and said having children does not shield border-crossing migrants from prosecution. The Bible verse was once used to justify US slavery, said critics. Mr Sessions said on Thursday: "I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes. (Webmaster's comment: Next he will be quoting "Slaves, Obey Your Masters" from the bible.) "Our policy that can result in short-term separation of families is not unusual or unjustified." White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders would not comment directly on Mr Sessions' remarks, but added "it's very biblical to enforce the law". In the House, top Democrat Nancy Pelosi attacked the separations as a "barbaric" policy that "has to stop." The Trump administration policy is supported by some Republicans, but others have expressed misgivings. Speaking to reporters on Thursday, House Speaker Paul Ryan, Congress' highest-ranking Republican, was asked if he was comfortable with the tactics. "No I am not," he responded. "We believe it should be addressed in immigration legislation. "We don't want kids to be separated from their parents."
6-15-18 US lawmaker calls immigration 'existential threat to US'
A Republican lawmaker from the US state of Arizona is facing criticism for calling immigration an "existential threat" to the country. Congressman David Stringer also said "there aren't enough white kids to go around" while speaking about racial integration in public schools. His controversial remarks drew immediate ire from both Democrats and Republicans. The Arizona Republican Party asked Mr Stringer to step down on Thursday. Mr Stringer made his comments while speaking at a Republican Men's Forum in Yavapai County, Arizona. "Sixty percent of public school children in the state of Arizona today are minorities," Mr Stringer said. "That complicates racial integration because there aren't enough white kids to go around." "Immigration is politically destabilizing. President Trump has talked about this. I'm very concerned about this," Mr Stringer continued. "Immigration today represents an existential threat to the United States. "If we don't do something about immigration very, very soon, the demographics of our country will be irrevocably changed and it will be a very different country and it will not be the country you were born into." David Schapira, Democratic candidate for superintendent of Arizona's public schools, shared a clip of these remarks on Twitter, and the post quickly went viral. "It's time to remove xenophobic radicals from elected office," Mr Schapira wrote. "We deserve leaders who understand we're a nation of immigrants." Arizona Republican Party Chairman Jonathan Lines released a statement condemning Mr Stringer's views. "In light of today's reports detailing Representative David Stringer's comments, I am calling on him to resign immediately," Mr Lines said in a statement.
6-14-18 Is research in jails the way to end wars over dietary guidance?
US researchers say studies in prisons could firm up evidence on salt intake and health. The doubters will still doubt, say Mike Lean and Alastair Campbell. The science of nutrition has been with us for a long time. So why are there so many apparent uncertainties over dietary advice today? The nutrients in our food may have inherent effects on metabolism, but proving so requires tightly controlled experiments in lab-like conditions that are difficult to conduct in groups of healthy people. Evaluating how diet influences diseases or defining the optimal diet for good health, where effects are small and long-term, can only occasionally be done under such conditions. Instead, most dietary studies involve large-scale observational research to identify associations – whether causal or not – between health and what we eat and drink, and research on the impact of dietary advice in people going about their daily lives. The problem is that adherence with dietary prescriptions is rarely perfect and many other factors can interfere to produce indecisive or conflicting results. Dietary guidelines can be issued only if the totality of evidence, including that from animal studies in which full control is possible, is sufficiently consistent. So how to provide more of the stronger, lab-like evidence? Some US researchers have come up with one possible way to resolve any remaining uncertainty about the harmful effects of dietary salt on blood pressure, heart disease and strokes. They suggest studying prisoners, whose diets and activity could be tightly controlled for long periods. Using prisoners in medical research is highly contentious, not just because of the appalling experiments on Nazi concentration camp inmates and Japan’s Chinese POWs during the second world war, but also because of inherent ethical and scientific problems. These include selection bias, uncertainties about the validity of consent in such a vulnerable group, the risks of harm from other inmates resenting their perceived preferential treatment, and the prevalence of mental health problems, concealed substance abuse and volatile behaviour among prison populations.
6-12-18 There is no constitutional right to vote. There should be.
You have no constitutional right to vote. Such a bald statement undoubtedly will come as a surprise to some readers, who may have thought that voting is pretty fundamental to a democracy. And indeed there are a variety of places where the Constitution presumes such a right. The 15th amendment forbids abridgment of that right on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. The 19th forbids abridgment on account of sex; the 24th on account of failure to pay a poll tax; and the 26th on account of age if the person in question is at least 18 years old. And Article IV of the Constitution requires the United States to guarantee to every state a republican form of government, which surely means that no state can do away with voting altogether. Moreover, the United States Congress has repeatedly enacted legislation to prevent voter disenfranchisement. The best-known such law was the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965, but further efforts to protect and expand the franchise were enacted through the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA), which explicitly aimed to increase voter registration and generally ease participation in elections. All of these constitutional provisions and subsequent legislation appear as if they were built on a right that lies at the foundation of our constitutional order. But that is not the case. The foundation simply isn't there. While the right to vote is presumed in a variety of ways, and, if it exists, may not be infringed for a variety of reasons, the right itself is never specified as such.
6-12-18 The maligning of early Christianity
ristianity is, if nothing else, one of the most successful cultural phenomenons in all of human history, and still powerfully shapes the world. But in many ways, this is happening reactively in much of the secular West, where a major plank of the Enlightenment sought to use history to show that Christianity represented a steep decline in our history. This anti-Christianity revisionism is basically political propaganda. As George Orwell pointed out so masterfully, you can change how people think if you can change their vocabulary. A term like "the Middle Ages" is meant to imply that a thousand years of European history was basically just an ellipses between antiquity and "the Renaissance," a loaded term if there ever was one, when it was only the "rediscovery" of ancient Greek and Roman philosophy — which had been suppressed by fundamentalist Christians — that enabled the start of a "new age" of "rationality" and "free inquiry." Even if we didn't pay much attention in history class, we're all familiar with this narrative, because it's everywhere. The ancient world, we are told, was tolerant, open-minded, and believed in philosophy and free inquiry, and the advent of Christianity ruined all of that. You can find this narrative in countless works of popular culture. The latest salvo is a book by the historian Catherine Nixon whose title, The Darkening Age, speaks volumes. As a review in The New York Times puts it, Nixon casts the early Christian church as "a master of anti-intellectualism, iconoclasm, and mortal prejudice." (Webmaster's comment: And never forget the Inquisition and the 100,000 mostly women burnt alive at the stake!)
6-12-18 The vast emptiness that only religion can fill
One question (and its variants) is raised with troubling frequency: How do you make friends as an adult, and why is it so difficult? Responses can number in the thousands, but they always hit on the same themes: It is hard to make adult friends because, perhaps excepting work, you have no natural place to meet them. In youth, school provides an organic space for informal encounters with people who live near you, have a similar schedule, and share many of your interests and cultural touchstones. But as you age, that sort of regular, casual interaction declines. Meanwhile, your leisure time decreases, and your interests become more idiosyncratic. By 30, you have few opportunities to meet new people, and you aren't sure when or how you'd hang out with them even if you did. The remedies suggested are similarly uniform: Develop a hobby that can simulate the impromptu, repetitive encounters of school. Join a recreational sports league or a board games club on Meetup. Start volunteering or get involved in political activism. Whatever you do, find something that will expose you to roughly the same group of people at least once a week and eventually some of them may be your friends. Activity is the self-administered antidote to an epidemic of loneliness. This is all fine so far as it goes. These are good things to do even if you aren't on a friend-hunt. But this advice is also a strange, new product of our time. Indeed, it is a uniquely modern attempt to reverse engineer a single aspect of a social structure that used to fill this very real need for community. That structure was church. (Of course, in other places and cultures, different religions and traditions, rather than Christianity, filled this role.) (Webmaster's comment: The fear of being alone fills most people. It shouldn't. It is the state of true inner happiness.)
6-15-18 Where pimps prey on the desperate
The poverty racking Venezuela has left the country’s women and girls easy prey for international sex traffickers, said José Meléndez. This is no sad tale of a few duped young women. A vast transnational network, headed by Colombian crime syndicates but also involving corrupt cops and border guards, has ensnared hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans, some as young as 11 or 12. And as Venezuela’s economic collapse accelerates, emptying shelves of food and medicine, more women are at risk. An estimated 60,000 women were trafficked in 2016; that number hit 200,000 last year and could reach 600,000—or 2 percent of the population—in 2020. Most of the victims come from the poorest parts of the country, and many are indigenous. Flights out of Venezuela are insanely expensive and heavily policed, so the women travel by land to neighboring Colombia, where they are promised nightclub or waitressing work or even acting or modeling jobs. Those jobs don’t exist; instead, the women are flown to Mexico, Asia, or the former Soviet bloc for sex work. The gangs bribe immigration officials in those countries to let the women in. Having agreed to repay their traffickers the cost of travel, clothes, food, and lodging, the women become “trapped in a cycle of debt” they can never work off. “It is modern slavery.”
6-15-18 Enforcing headscarves at school
Staff at Swedish schools “must dare to put a foot down against patriarchal and oppressive behavior,” said Gulan Avci, even when it comes from students’ parents. The conservative newspaper Göteborgs-Posten had a reporter pose as the Muslim parent of an incoming kindergartner and phone up 40 schools to ask whether the staff would please make sure that her little girl wore her headscarf at all times, even if she wanted to take it off. A shocking two-thirds said they would, and several even offered to film the child to prove the stricture was being enforced. Preschool here is run nationally, and the curriculum is “very clear that the values guiding school activity must include individual freedom, integrity, and gender equality.” How can forcing girls into headscarves or veils comply with this requirement? The Islamic scarf or veil isn’t just another garment, but a “symbol of women’s submission to men.” And while some may say the parents’ freedom of religion is important, I submit that the child’s freedom of religion is equally so—and if a girl rejects the headscarf, that should be her choice. Sweden needs to have a national conversation about “where the limits of religious freedom lie.” We can’t “allow oppression in the name of tolerance.”
6-15-18 For women, life is a beauty pageant
Miss America may have given up its swimsuit competition, said Bari Weiss, but American women are still “living inside a beauty pageant.” The only reason the pageant—or rather, the “competition,” as it’s now called—did away with young women strutting the stage in bikinis “is that it’s simply too explicit for our euphemistic era.” Today, enlightened men pretend not to judge women on their appearance, and women tell each other we don’t care how we look. But our culture still relentlessly objectifies women. Women seek to be “super fit” with hours of Pilates, yoga, and Soul Cycle, avoid carbs, and live on salads and smoothies. To impress men and other women, “we wear stilts to hike around concrete jungles and lie about how they are anything other than medieval torture devices.” We get body hair waxed off, and spend hundreds on beauty routines and makeup and hair. Say this about Miss America’s now-defunct swimsuit competition, with young women parading around “in stilettos and tiny squares of nylon held up by string”: At least it was honest. The contestants were being “watched and scrutinized and judged,” just as women are in the real world every day.
6-15-18 Florida college fraternity sued over 'revenge porn'
An Arizona woman is suing her ex-boyfriend and members of a university fraternity in Florida for sharing sexual content without her consent. Kathryn Novak's lawsuit alleges sexual exploitation by Delta Sigma Phi members at the University of Central Florida. The filing says images and videos of her and "many" other women were posted in a secret Facebook group they ran. The national Delta Sigma Phi Facebook page said it had suspended its Orlando chapter immediately. It called the allegations "disturbing and antithetical to our organization's values and mission". The lawsuit, filed in Orlando, alleges that Ms Novak's ex-boyfriend, Brandon Simpson, shared intimate images and videos of her with other fraternity members without her permission, during their long-distance relationship from October 2017 to February 2018. Speaking to the New York Times newspaper on Thursday, Mr Avenatti alleged that at least one sexual video had been recorded without his client's knowledge. The court filing alleges that Mr Simpson and other members of the fraternity used a secret Facebook page called "Dog Pound" to circulate nude images and videos "of their girlfriends and other unwitting victims, including images depicting the young women engaged in private sexual activity". In one alleged instance, a video where Ms Novak's face was identifiable was allegedly sent to five fraternity brothers and then viewed by as many as 200 people, the lawsuit alleges. The filing names Mr Simpson, the Delta Sigma Phi University of Central Florida chapter, and four other members of the group as defendants. US fraternities have been mired in controversy in recent years after being implicated in numerous campus sexual assaults, and deaths during harsh initiation ceremonies - so-called hazing - across the country.
6-15-18 Eurydice Dixon: Comedian's killing prompts anger in Australia
The alleged rape and murder of a young comedian as she walked home at night in Australia has prompted an outpouring of public grief and anger. The body of Eurydice Dixon, 22, was found at a football field in Melbourne early on Wednesday, only hours after she had performed a gig at a city bar. A man, 19, has been charged by police. Comedians and the public have inundated social media with tributes to Ms Dixon, in a case that has reignited local debate about violence against women. For many, it has evoked memories of the 2012 murder of an Irish woman, Jill Meagher, whose death in an adjacent Melbourne suburb prompted a peace march involving an estimated 30,000 people. Although not widely known, Ms Dixon has been remembered as a talented comedian at the start of her career. "She had a great passion for women's issues and social justice issues and she drew upon them a lot in the material that she produced as a comic," fellow comedian Nicky Barry told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. Authorities allege that Ms Dixon was attacked in the suburb of Carlton North sometime after leaving a bar in central Melbourne about 22:30 local time on Tuesday. A 19-year-old man, Jaymes Todd, handed himself to police on Wednesday and was charged with her rape and murder. Police say they did not know each other. Local media reported that Ms Dixon was a few hundred metres from home when she was attacked.
6-15-18 Being a feminist may subconsciously protect you from stereotypes
Negative stereotypes can detrimentally change your behaviour. But a study suggests that feminists may be protected from the idea that women are worse at maths. Women who identify as feminists seem to be more resistant to the effects of negative stereotypes – even if they don’t consciously notice them. Plenty of research has shown how negative stereotypes can be harmful to individuals. For example, telling girls that boys are typically better than maths seems to make them score worse on maths tests. There’s evidence that other stereotypes similarly affect the success of people who identify as ethnic minorities, too. Efforts to improve diversity in the workplace have been growing, says Jolien van Breen at Exeter University, UK, but that doesn’t mean harmful stereotypes have disappeared – expressions of prejudice may have just become more subtle. This may be more insidious because it is more difficult to confront, so van Breen and her colleagues have investigating how harmful this may be to women. The team recruited female volunteers to participate in a number of experiments, some of whom strongly identified as feminists. The team also asked each participant how much they feel they identify with the typical concept of what it means to be a woman. Each volunteer then underwent a maths test and an anagram test – both of which featured increasingly difficult questions, ending with an unsolvable problem.
6-15-18 Young Adults Remain Most Supportive of Abortion Rights
Across three indicators of Americans' views on abortion, young adults -- those aged 18 to 29, and to a lesser extent aged 30 to 49 -- express greater support for abortion rights than those aged 50 and older. This is most evident in adults' self-labeling on the issue, with majorities of those younger than 50 identifying as "pro-choice," while more than half of those in the older two groups identify as "pro-life." The 12-percentage point gap between the youngest and oldest Americans identifying as pro-choice (56% vs. 44%, respectively), is mirrored in a 12-point gap in the two groups' belief that abortion should be legal under any circumstances (37% vs. 25%) and a 13-point gap in those saying abortion is morally acceptable rather than morally wrong (51% vs. 38%).
- Majority of adults aged 18 to 49 identify as "pro-choice"
- Majority of adults aged 50+ identify as "pro-life"
- Age differences in support for legality of abortion fairly consistent since the 1970s
6-14-18 The number of teens who report having sex is down
But so is condom use among high school students who are sexually active. Fewer teens are having sex than at any point since 1991, a national survey of U.S. high school students finds. But among those students who are sexually active, fewer are using condoms, raising the risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections. About 40 percent of teens surveyed in 2017 reported having ever had sex. That’s down from about 54 percent in 1991, the first year the survey was conducted. Of the roughly 29 percent of students who are currently sexually active — defined as having had sexual intercourse with at least one person in the three months before the survey — nearly 54 percent reported that either they or their partner used a condom the last time they had had sex. Ten years ago, about 61 percent of teens reported condom use. Cora Breuner, a pediatrician specializing in adolescent medicine at Seattle Children’s Hospital, says that pediatricians have been doing a better job educating teens about sex. “The more kids know about it, the less mystique there is about it,” she says, and “the more they want to wait.” “I’m actually more concerned about the lack of condom use,” says Breuner, who also chairs the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Adolescence. She sees two reasons for the drop: Less fear of HIV with the advent of antiretroviral drugs and wider availability of long acting contraceptives, which are very effective at preventing pregnancy. “We are not doing a good job informing kids about protecting themselves from getting sick with infections that can last the rest of their lives and have significant negative outcomes, including infertility and even death.”
6-14-18 London Breed becomes San Francisco's first black female mayor
San Francisco is to have its first-ever female black mayor - at a time when African-Americans are becoming increasingly scarce in the US city. London Breed, a long-time community activist who grew up in public housing, was declared the winner after her rival admitted defeat a week after city voters cast their ballots. Winning with just over 50% of votes, the 43-year-old said she felt humbled. Ms Breed is the only female mayor to serve in the top 15 largest US cities. San Francisco is grappling with rampant homelessness, rubbish-littered streets that have been likened to developing-world slums, and a property-price boom that is driving working families out of the city. She was formerly president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, the city government's legislative body. Ms Breed briefly served as acting mayor following the death of Mayor Ed Lee in December, before running for the post. The election was on 5 June, but a result has been delayed because the outcome was so tight that city election officials had to count thousands of provisional ballots. Rival candidate Mark Leno, who would have been the city's first gay mayor, conceded the knife-edge race on Wednesday. Ms Breed is not the first female mayor of San Francisco - that was Dianne Feinstein in 1978; she is now a California senator. She joins a small club of about 19 other black female US mayors.
6-14-18 Russian MP: Avoid sex with foreign men during World Cup
A prominent Russian MP has been heavily criticised after urging women not to have sex with foreign men during the World Cup. Communist Party MP Tamara Pletnyova told a Moscow Radio station that she was "not a nationalist" but believed Russian women should avoid sex with people "of a different race" because "their children suffer". She was responding to a question about the "kids of the Olympics" - referencing the claim that there was a spike in births of mixed-race children in Russia after the 1980 Summer Olympics. Ms Pletnyova said that these children were "abandoned" by their foreign fathers. "It's not so bad if the fathers are of the same race," she said. "But if they are of a different race, then that's it. "[The children] are abandoned, and they stay here with their mother. We should be giving birth to our children." Ms Pletnyova has been widely condemned online, with some people drawing parallels between her comments and Fifa's Say No to Racism campaign. Recalling how a former ice skater defended a racist tweet by claiming her Twitter account had been hacked, radio presenter Tayana Felgengauer wondered if Ms Pletnyova might claim something similar had happened to her. "I wonder what Pletnyova will say when they remind her of Say No to Racism," she tweeted. Further critics of Ms Pletnyova have included one who called for her to be "thrown out of the Duma" (Russian parliament). One Twitter user wondered if the Russian MP intended to "monitor the behaviour of female Russians of reproductive age", while another pointed out the irony in the fact Ms Pletnyova had previously been "the head of the Committee for Nationalities".
6-14-18 Argentina steps closer to legalising abortion
Catholic Argentina's lower house has backed a bill legalising abortion in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy. After a divisive debate lasting more than 22 hours, 129 members of the Chamber of Deputies voted in favour and 125 against while one abstained. The bill will now have to go to the Senate. President Mauricio Macri is strongly opposed to the bill but has said that he would not veto it if it was passed by both houses. Abortion is currently illegal in Argentina, except in cases of rape or when the life or health of the woman is at risk. Women seeking abortions also have to apply to a judge for permission, which critics say can unnecessarily delay the procedure. Up until three hours before the vote, those against the bill seemed to be in the majority until a lawmaker in the province of La Pampa, Sergio Ziliotto, announced on Twitter that he and two colleagues had changed their minds and would vote "yes". The announcement invigorated pro-choice lawmakers at a time when despondency was beginning to set in after the night-long debate. Supporters of the bill, many of whom had spent the entire night demonstrating outside of the Congress building in Buenos Aires, cheered and hugged when the result of the vote was announced. Many also took to social media to celebrate with #AbortoSeraLey (#AbortionWillBeLaw), a hashtag that is trending on Twitter in Argentina. Among those celebrating the vote as a "historic step" was the secretary general of human rights group Amnesty International, Salil Shetty.
6-14-18 Men, Women Generally Hold Similar Abortion Attitudes
Many U.S. political leaders may think of abortion as a key "women's issue," but it is not an issue about which women have substantially different attitudes than men. A Gallup analysis shows that differences in views on the legality of abortion between men and women have been relatively narrow for decades, going back to the 1970s. Additionally, there are only slight differences in men's and women's descriptions of themselves as pro-choice or pro-life.
- 19% of both men and women say abortion should be totally illegal
- 31% of women and 26% of men want abortion to be totally legal
- 42% of female college graduates want abortion to be totally legal
6-13-18 Above All Issues, Abortion Divides Liberals, Conservatives
Americans' Views on Social Issues: Socially Liberal-33%, Socially conservative-33%. Americans who say they hold liberal views on social issues differ markedly from social conservatives on the morality of most moral issues, with the largest gap in opinions on abortion. The two groups also diverge greatly on gay/lesbian relations, having a baby outside of marriage, sex between teenagers and euthanasia. Liberals are much more likely than conservatives to view each as morally acceptable. Over the past decade, Americans have become more likely to identify as liberal on social issues, and as a result, they have achieved parity with social conservatives. This polarization is seen in the views of both groups across a wide range of issues, particularly abortion and gay/lesbian relations. As the midterm election campaigns heat up, candidates will have to weigh the pros and cons of focusing on the most divisive issues.
- Liberals and conservatives differ the most in their views of abortion
- Of 21 issues, both groups most likely to rank birth control as morally acceptable
- Liberals and conservatives both say extramarital affairs least acceptable
6-13-18 Miss Iraq and Miss Israel reunited after selfie controversy
Six months ago, a simple selfie between two Miss Universe contestants provoked a backlash that pushed one to flee her home country, her family in tow. Sarah Idan was representing Iraq at the 2017 pageant in Las Vegas when she snapped a picture with Miss Israel, Adar Gandelsman, and posted it online. In the caption, she wrote "Peace and Love from Miss Iraq and Miss Israel". But some people in Iraq did not see it that way and, she said, sent her death threats. Iraq and Israel have no diplomatic relations, and Ms Idan's message was interpreted by some as an endorsement of Israel and a betrayal of Palestinian Arabs. "When I posted the picture I didn't think for a second there would be blowback," she told CNN at the time. "I woke up to calls from my family and the Miss Iraq Organization going insane. The death threats I got online were so scary." Ms Idan and her family relocated to the US, but on Monday she was reunited with Ms Gandelsman in Israel, where the two posted fresh pictures online. Ms Idan posted a photograph and a video on her Instagram page, with the caption "Sisters reunion". "I don't think Iraq and Israel are enemies, I think maybe the governments are enemies with each other," she said in an interview with Israel's Channel 2 News. "But there's a lot of Iraqi people that don't have a problem with Israelis."
6-13-18 Haim fired agent for being paid 10 times less than male artist
Haim claim they sacked their agent after finding out they were paid 10 times less than a male artist performing at the same festival. The band say they initially "didn't think twice" about their pay, because they hoped playing the festival would help them get noticed. "We later found out that someone was getting paid 10 times more than us," singer Danielle Haim told Grazia magazine. The sisters didn't name the festival. Alana Haim said the band - sisters Este, Danielle and Alana - had to defend themselves in the music industry. "It's scary out there and [messed] up not even to be paid half the same amount. But to be paid a tenth of that amount of money? It was insane," she said. Danielle added: "We had been told that our fee was very low because you played at the festival in the hope you'd get played on the radio. "We didn't think twice about it, but we later found out that someone was getting paid 10 times more than us. "And because of that we fired our agent." "We'll go to alternative radio stations in the States and there won't even be a girls' restroom," Este said at the Brits. "That's a clear indication that something needs to change."
6-13-18 India chess player quits Iran tournament over headscarf rule
Indian chess champion Soumya Swaminathan has pulled out of an Asian tournament in Iran over the country's compulsory headscarf rule. The 29-year-old Woman Grandmaster said the rule was a violation of her personal rights. "Under the present circumstances, the only way for me to protect my rights is not to go to Iran," she wrote in a Facebook post, which went viral. The Asian Chess Championship will take place in Iran next month. Ms Swaminathan, who is ranked No 5 in India, told local media that the tournament was originally supposed to be held in Bangladesh. "But once the new dates and new venue came up, I excused myself," she said. When asked if the All India Chess Federation (AICF) should have protested against the decision to shift location, she told the Times of India: "I can't expect everyone to be of the same opinion as me. It's a subjective issue." But in her Facebook post, Ms Swaminathan said she was "disappointed to see that player's rights and welfare are given such less importance while allotting and/or organising official championships". She wrote that athletes often made adjustments for the sake of sport, but "enforceable religious dress" should not be one of them, adding that "some things simply cannot be compromised". Many on social media have praised Ms Swaminathan for taking a stand.
6-13-18 Five things Saudi women still can't do
So Saudi women can now drive, go to the cinema and watch football. But what about the rest?
6-13-18 Argentina lawmakers gather for key abortion vote
Lawmakers in Argentina are due to vote on a draft bill that would allow women to have abortions in the first 14 weeks of their pregnancies. The bill has proven highly divisive and deputies have been split almost evenly in the run-up to the lower house vote, with more than a dozen still undecided. If approved, the bill will still have to go to the Senate. Abortion is currently illegal except in cases of rape or when the life or health of the woman is at risk. Women seeking abortions also have to apply to a judge for permission, which critics say can unnecessarily delay the procedure. President Mauricio Macri has asked members of the chamber of deputies to vote according to their conscience. Although Mr Macri strongly opposes the bill, he said he would not veto it if it were passed by Congress. that country's total ban on abortions. Both supporters and opponents of decriminalising abortion have gathered on opposite sides of the Congress building in Buenos Aires in an effort to sway undecided lawmakers. The momentum in favour of a change in the law has grown over the past months and was further boosted by the overwhelming vote for overturning the abortion ban in Ireland. There have been huge marches backing the bill led by #NiUnaMenos (#NotOneLess), a movement first created to fight violence against women but which has since expanded across much of Latin America to stand up for women's rights. Tens of thousands of people have shown their support by wearing green handkerchiefs but there has also been stiff opposition led by the Catholic Church.
6-12-18 US asylum: Domestic and gang violence cases 'no longer generally qualify'
The US attorney general has ruled that victims of domestic abuse and gang violence should no longer generally qualify for asylum in the US. Jeff Sessions' ruling overturns a 2016 decision which granted asylum to a woman from El Salvador who had been raped and abused by her husband. Activists criticised the move, saying it will affect tens of thousands. Mr Sessions has said he has a "zero tolerance" stance toward illegal immigration on the country's border. "Generally, claims by aliens pertaining to domestic violence or gang violence perpetrated by non-governmental actors will not qualify for asylum," Mr Sessions wrote in his 31-page ruling released on Monday. "The mere fact that a country may have problems effectively policing certain crimes - such as domestic violence or gang violence - or that certain populations are more likely to be victims of crime, cannot itself establish an asylum claim." US and international law currently say that people can seek asylum if they fear persecution at home on the basis of their race, political opinion, nationality, religion or because they belong to a particular social group. The US Board of Immigration Appeals found in 2016 that the woman qualified under the "particular social group" definition, but Mr Sessions overturned the finding on Monday. (Webmaster's comment: This is a ruling against women pure and simple. Jeff Sessions is a hate filled man and wishes to help no non-white female.)
6-12-18 Jean-Claude Arnault, photographer in Nobel prize scandal, charged with rape
A French photographer at the heart of a scandal that saw this year's Nobel Prize for Literature postponed has been charged with rape. Jean-Claude Arnault, who was charged with two counts of rape dating back to 2011, denies the allegations. The Swedish Academy, which handles the prize, last month postponed it amid criticism of its handling of the case. Swedish prosecutor Christina Voigt said the evidence against Mr Arnault "was robust and sufficient for prosecution". The photographer, who is well-known in Sweden, is married to a former member of the centuries-old Swedish Academy. "He maintains that he is completely innocent of the allegations," said Mr Arnault's lawyer, Bjorn Hurtig. "I do not share the prosecutor's view that the evidence is robust," he added. "Accounts differ, there is no technical evidence, there are no direct witness accounts and the events are a long time in the past." The two counts of rape concern the same woman, who has not been identified. It evolved out of Sweden's #MeToo movement. In late 2017, some 18 women came forward in a Swedish newspaper to accuse Mr Arnault of sexual harassment and assault, prompting an investigation by state prosecutors. He denied all the alleged incidents, many of which were said to have happened at properties owned by the Academy or at his literary club. Mr Arnault has also been accused of groping the heir to the Swedish throne, Crown Princess Victoria, during a formal dinner in 2006 - which he denies. In April, the Swedish organisation handed over an internal report it had conducted through lawyers to judicial authorities.
6-12-18 In her short life, mathematician Emmy Noether changed the face of physics
Noether linked two important concepts in physics: conservation laws and symmetries. On a warm summer evening, a visitor to 1920s Göttingen, Germany, might have heard the hubbub of a party from an apartment on Friedländer Way. A glimpse through the window would reveal a gathering of scholars. The wine would be flowing and the air buzzing with conversations centered on mathematical problems of the day. The eavesdropper might eventually pick up a woman’s laugh cutting through the din: the hostess, Emmy Noether, a creative genius of mathematics. At a time when women were considered intellectually inferior to men, Noether (pronounced NUR-ter) won the admiration of her male colleagues. She resolved a nagging puzzle in Albert Einstein’s newfound theory of gravity, the general theory of relativity. And in the process, she proved a revolutionary mathematical theorem that changed the way physicists study the universe. It’s been a century since the July 23, 1918, unveiling of Noether’s famous theorem. Yet its importance persists today. “That theorem has been a guiding star to 20th and 21st century physics,” says theoretical physicist Frank Wilczek of MIT. Noether was a leading mathematician of her day. In addition to her theorem, now simply called “Noether’s theorem,” she kick-started an entire discipline of mathematics called abstract algebra.
6-12-18 Public Supported Therapeutic Abortion in 1962
In 1962, when a pregnant Arizona woman discovered that a sleeping pill she had been taking contained thalidomide, a drug known in the U.S. to cause birth defects, she tried unsuccessfully to obtain a legal abortion in the U.S. Ultimately, she chose to travel to Sweden, where she had an abortion. An August 1962 Gallup poll -- the first poll dealing with abortion in Gallup's history -- showed that her decision was supported by 52% of Americans who said it was the right thing to do, but 32% thought it was the wrong decision. Sherri Finkbine, the woman at the center of this highly publicized, controversial case, was a mother of four and the host of an Arizona children's television show when she took the pills her husband had obtained while traveling in Europe. Once she realized that the medication was potentially harmful to her unborn baby, she attempted to have an abortion locally. But abortion was illegal in the U.S. with the exception of limited circumstances in which the mother's life was in danger. Men's and women's views did not differ much from each other, but men were slightly more likely than women to say Finkbine did the right thing, 54% to 50%, respectively.
SCIENCE - GLOBAL WARMING and ENVIRONMENT
6-18-18 How volcanoes work
Kilauea's dramatic eruption has shaken Hawaii's Big Island. Could other U.S. volcanoes blow? Here's everything you need to know:
- What's happening in Hawaii? Kilauea, one of the most active volcanoes in the world, is in the midst of the most destructive eruption in its recent history.
- Why is Kilauea erupting now? The volcano has been steadily oozing lava since 1983, and erupting off and on since it was born between 300,000 and 600,000 years ago.
- What other volcanoes are active? There are 169 potentially active volcanoes in the U.S., according the United States Geological Survey.
- Are they dangerous? Potentially. About 50 volcanoes located in six states — Hawaii, Alaska, California, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming — are rated high priority or highest priority by the USGS for monitoring for possible eruptions.
- Why is that? They're more explosive. Oceanic plates are denser than continental plates, and create less gaseous magma when they melt.
- Can scientists predict eruptions? With the right tools, researchers can forecast the likelihood of an impending eruption — but only several days to several weeks before it happens.
- How volcanoes kill: Of the more than 278,000 people who have died in volcanic eruptions since 1500, fewer than 1,000 were killed by flowing lava.
6-15-18 Not Cool for 34 years
Earth as a whole has not had a “cooler than average” month since December 1984.
6-15-18 Forest closed
Federal officials closed San Juan National Forest in southwestern Colorado indefinitely this week because of wildfires and extremely dry conditions. The 416 Fire has burned more than 23,000 acres, forcing the evacuation of more than 2,000 homes. Roads passing through the forest will remain open, but trails, campgrounds, and other public areas will be shut down. It’s the second major forest closure in as many weeks, with officials shutting down Santa Fe National Forest in New Mexico due to extreme fire danger. Together, the two forests are larger than the state of Connecticut. Parts of Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona are veritable tinderboxes after a winter with little snowfall and an abnormally hot spring. “It’s a big inconvenience and a big economic hit to the area,” said Cam Hooley, a public affairs officer for the San Juan National Forest. “We don’t do it lightly.”
6-15-18 India facing the 'worst water crisis in its history'
India is facing its worst-ever water crisis, with some 600 million people facing acute water shortage, a government think-tank says. The Niti Aayog report, which draws on data from 24 of India's 29 states, says the crisis is "only going to get worse" in the years ahead. It also warns that 21 cities are likely to run out of groundwater by 2020 despite increasing demand. This would also threaten food security as 80% of water is used in agriculture. Indian cities and towns regularly run out water in the summer because they lack the infrastructure to deliver piped water to every home. Rural areas are also badly affected by a lack of access to clean water. They cannot rely on groundwater due to erratic rains and the fact that the groundwater is increasingly used for farming when monsoon rains are delayed or insufficient. Around 200,000 Indians die every year because they have no access to clean water, according to the report. Many end up relying on private water suppliers or tankers paid for the by the government. Winding queues of people waiting to collect water from tankers or public taps is a common sight in Indian slums. As cities and towns grow, the pressure on urban water resources is expected to increase - the report estimates that demand will be twice as much as available supply by 2030. Water scarcity would also account for a 6% loss in India's gross domestic product (GDP).
6-14-18 India Delhi residents choke as dust blankets capital
Residents of India's capital Delhi are battling high pollution levels and extreme temperatures due to an unusual dust haze covering the city. People have been complaining about breathing problems, with many saying the city has become unliveable. The state government has responded by banning all construction and deploying the fire brigade to sprinkle water across the city. People have been advised to stay indoors as much as possible. "In this case, dust has become a carrier of toxic pollutants. Pollution levels are 8-9 times higher than normal. And when we breathe, we are taking in toxic substances, which can have serious health repercussions," Anumita Roy Chowdhury, executive director of the Centre For Science and Environment, told BBC Hindi. Delhi is already one of the most polluted cities in the world but the recent weather pattern has caused more problems for its residents. Many have taken to social media to share their concerns and are urging the government to do something about it. Experts say dust storms originating from the nearby desert state of Rajasthan are to blame. "This phenomenon is not uncommon in the pre-monsoon season," Dr Kuldeep Srivastava of the meteorological department told the BBC. "But this time the haze has stayed unusually longer because of the delay in the arrival of seasonal monsoon rains." The air quality worsens every year in November and December as farmers in the neighbouring states of Punjab and Haryana burn crop stubble to clear their fields. Pollution levels reached 30 times the World Health Organization's safe limits in some areas of Delhi last year. The air quality improved in the following months but has gone back to "severe" from "moderate" in June this year.
6-14-18 EU will limit the use of palm oil as car fuel but won’t stop it
The European Union will make only minor tweaks to “renewable” energy policies that are actually increasing greenhouse gas emissions and driving deforestation. It’s a planet-wrecking fudge. The European Union’s own scientific reports have shown that its renewable energy policies are actually increasing carbon dioxide emissions and driving deforestation. Yet it is only going to tweak some of the offending policies, rather than make the sweeping reforms required. In particular, Europeans now burn more palm oil in their cars and trucks than they eat in food. The growing demand for palm oil is driving the destruction of the rich rainforests in Malaysia and Indonesia, including those home to orangutans. The European parliament had called for a complete ban from 2021. But in a deal agreed early this morning, the parliament and EU member states merely agreed to limit the use of palm oil, rather than halt it altogether. “It’s a disgrace that Europeans could be burning palm oil for another 12 years,” says Laura Buffet of the campaign group Transport & Environment. “But the battle is not over. Each European government can in 2021 decide to ditch palm oil and other food-based biofuels.” What’s more, the biggest source of “renewable” energy in the EU is not wind or solar, but biomass, mainly wood. While small-scale use of wood can be sustainable and help cut emissions, wildlife campaigners say the EU is using wood on such a massive scale that it is increasing emissions and driving deforestation both in the EU and elsewhere. There is growing evidence that they are right.
6-13-18 Why tidal power won’t solve the world’s renewable energy needs
There are widespread calls for the UK government not to abandon a trailblazing tidal power project, but this energy source is no green panacea, says Hans van Haren. The fate of a pioneering £1.3 billion proposal to build a tidal power lagoon on the UK coast at Swansea hangs in the balance. Green energy supporters around the world have championed it as a trailblazer for a massive untapped source of dependable, renewable energy, calling on the UK government to commit to it. However, tidal energy is not the saviour many people imagine it to be. The oceans have always created the impression of infinite potential, for example in terms of food resources and waste disposal, which we now know to be an illusion. In the same vein, a lot of people see the oceans as an attractive source of huge amounts of sustainable energy, including tidal power. Again, this is wrong. In practice, tides can supply only relatively small amounts of energy. And while the environment impact of tidal energy varies depending on how we extract it (tidal lagoons are better than most), it will damage ecosystems. Earth’s tides, created by the tug of the moon and sun, hold about 3.5 terawatts of power. That sounds promising, but it is only about 20 per cent of the world’s power demand. And only a fraction of that 3.5 terawatts can be harnessed: we need water currents with a minimum speed of 1.2 metres per second to turn a turbine. This rules out the vast majority of tidal energy resources because they are in the open ocean where tidal currents are too weak, generally moving at less than 0.1 metres per second.
6-13-18 Alarm as ice loss from Antarctica triples in the past five years
The loss of Antarctica’s ice has been accelerating ominously since 2012, and could lead to big rises in sea level if the rate of loss keeps increasing. The forecasts they are a-changin’. In 2007, the official view was that there would be no net ice loss from Antarctica over the next century. By 2012, it was clear that Antarctic was already losing ice. And now ice loss has tripled, according to the most comprehensive study to date. “There has been a sharp increase, with almost half the loss coming in the last five years alone,” says Andrew Shepherd at the University of Leeds, UK, one of the 84 researchers involved in the study. “The outlook for the future is looking different to what it was.” Antarctica’s contribution to rising sea level is still small: just 7.6 millimetres between 1992 and 2017. What’s alarming is that the rate of ice loss is increasing. Up until 2012, Antarctic ice loss was contributing just 0.2 mm per year to sea level, and did not appear to be increasing. “We could not detect any acceleration,” says Shepherd. But since 2012 the rate has tripled to 0.6 mm per year. “I was completely surprised,” says team member Pippa Whitehouse of Durham University, UK. “The threefold increase was out of the range we were expecting.” Ice loss is now tracking close to the worst-case Antarctic scenario set out in the 2013 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in which the Antarctic alone contributes 150 mm of sea level rise by 2100. And that worst case is no longer the worst case. There have been a series of alarming findings since that report came out. In particular, a 2016 computer modelling study concluded that Antarctica alone could lose enough ice by 2100 to raise sea level by 2 metres. This means overall sea level could rise by more than 3m by 2100. It will keep rising long after that, perhaps by 20m or more.
6-13-18 Antarctica has lost about 3 trillion metric tons of ice since 1992
Ice loss is accelerating and that’s helped raise the global sea level by about 8 millimeters. Antarctica is losing ice at an increasingly rapid pace. In just the last five years, the frozen continent has shed ice nearly three times faster on average than it did over the previous 20 years. An international team of scientists has combined data from two dozen satellite surveys in the most comprehensive assessment of Antarctica’s ice sheet mass yet. The conclusion: The frozen continent lost an estimated 2,720 billion metric tons of ice from 1992 to 2017, and most of that loss occurred in recent years, particularly in West Antarctica. Before 2012, the continent shed ice at a rate of 76 billion tons each year on average, but from 2012 to 2017, the rate increased to 219 billion tons annually. Combined, all that water raised the global sea level by an average of 7.6 millimeters, the researchers report in the June 14 Nature. About two-fifths of that rise occurred in the last five years, an increase in severity that is helping scientists understand how the ice sheet is responding to climate change. “When we place that against the [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s] sea level projections, prior to this Antarctica was tracking the low end of sea-level-rise projections,” says study coauthor Andrew Shepherd, an earth scientist at the University of Leeds in England. “Now it’s tracking the upper end.” Antarctica currently contains enough frozen water to raise the oceans by 58 meters. Melting ice from the continent is a major driver of the sea level rise that’s threatening coastal communities and ecosystems around the world with flooding as the climate changes (SN: 12/27/14, p. 29).
6-13-18 Antarctica loses three trillion tonnes of ice in 25 years
Antarctica is shedding ice at an accelerating rate. Satellites monitoring the state of the White Continent indicate some 200 billion tonnes a year are now being lost to the ocean as a result of melting. This is pushing up global sea levels by 0.6mm annually - a three-fold increase since 2012 when the last such assessment was undertaken. Scientists report the new numbers in the journal Nature. Governments will need to take account of the information and its accelerating trend as they plan future defences to protect low-lying coastal communities. The researchers say the losses are occurring predominantly in the West of the continent, where warm waters are getting under and melting the fronts of glaciers that terminate in the ocean. "We can't say when it started - we didn't collect measurements in the sea back then," explained Prof Andrew Shepherd, who leads the Ice sheet Mass Balance Inter-comparison Exercise (Imbie). "But what we can say is that it's too warm for Antarctica today. It's about half a degree Celsius warmer than the continent can withstand and it's melting about five metres of ice from its base each year, and that's what's triggering the sea-level contribution that we're seeing," he told BBC News. Space agencies have been flying satellites over Antarctica since the early 1990s. Europe, in particular, has an unbroken observation record going back to 1992. These spacecraft can tell how much ice is present by measuring changes in the height of the ice sheet and the speed at which it moves towards the sea. Specific missions also have the ability to weigh the ice sheet by sensing changes in the pull of gravity as they pass overhead.
6-12-18 Sunshine is making Deepwater Horizon oil stick around
Nearly a decade after the spill, oxygen-rich by-products don’t seem to be going anywhere. In the days and weeks after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, sunlight hit the oil slicks on the surface of the water. That triggered chemical reactions that added oxygen to oil molecules that once were just chains of carbon and hydrogen atoms. These oxygenated hydrocarbons are still sticking around eight years later with little evidence of degradation, researchers report May 29 in Environmental Science and Technology. Chemist Christopher Reddy of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts and colleagues analyzed the oily soup of molecules floating in the Gulf post-disaster. (The Deepwater Horizon spill was the largest marine oil spill in U.S. history, leaking more than 3 million barrels.) While investigating how the leaked hydrocarbons broke down over time, the team got a surprise: More than half of the degrading oil by-products found in oil slicks from the spill were these oxygenated hydrocarbons, the researchers reported in 2012. The by-products had gone relatively unnoticed after previous oil spills, and so were mostly unstudied in that context. Now the team has evidence that these oxygenated hydrocarbons aren’t just a major by-product of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, but a particularly persistent one. The scientists analyzed more hydrocarbon samples collected from the water surface and from sandy beaches in the area in the years since the spill to see how the molecules have fared. All of the sand samples had roughly the same proportion of oxygenated hydrocarbons between years, suggesting that in the eight years since the disaster, these molecules still haven’t broken down.
6-12-18 Germany recalls contaminated Dutch eggs in fipronil scare
Six German states have been told to pull some 73,000 eggs from sale after residue was detected from an insecticide called fipronil. Agriculture officials in Lower Saxony said the eggs had come from an organic farm in the Netherlands and insisted there was no risk to human health. Fipronil gets rid of lice but the EU bans it on animals such as chickens. Last year millions of eggs were pulled from supermarket shelves across Europe because of a fipronil scare. Officials said they had now detected traces of the insecticide in samples from a packaging depot in the German town of Vechta. The residue was above the permitted EU level of 0.005mg per kg, but it was "well below a rate that would constitute a risk to health", they said (in German). The highest test showed a level of 0.019mg/kg. The eggs came from an organic hen farm and were delivered between 17 May and 4 June. The source of the latest discovery is still being investigated. A second round of tests has been conducted and the results are expected later this week. The Dutch poultry industry was hit hard by last year's insecticide crisis, when millions of eggs had to be removed from sale. Ten farms closed at the time have yet to reopen. Dutch food and consumer safety authority NVWA said it was monitoring whether the detection of fipronil had anything to do with the recent lifting of measures imposed amid fears of bird flu requiring farmers to keep free-range hens indoors. Reports suggested that the insecticide may have originated in contaminated soil at the poultry farm in question.
6-12-18 Rush to save India bird with beak shut by plastic ring
Indian wildlife enthusiasts and forest officials have been trying to rescue a rare bird whose beak has been trapped shut by a plastic ring. The black-necked stork was first spotted with the ring around its beak in a wetland outside the capital Delhi by a group of bird watchers on 7 June. They believe the bird can drink water but say the ring is preventing it from opening its beak further to eat. Rescuers are hoping to catch it before it starves to death. "It has to be weak enough so that it doesn't fly away but if it gets too weak it will die," Pankaj Gupta, a bird watcher and member of the Delhi Bird Foundation, who has been involved with the rescue mission, told the BBC. Mr Gupta said the ring, which he thinks could be from a bottle cap, is likely to have slipped onto the stork's beak when it was hunting in the water and then got stuck there. The stork was first photographed with the ring by Manoj Nair, another bird watcher, who sent the photo to Mr Gupta. Mr Gupta and his colleagues shared the photo widely, which led to a rescue mission being assembled. Efforts to save the stork are being led by members of the Bombay Natural History Society, an organisation that specialises in conservation, with help from local forest officials.
SCIENCE - EVOLUTION and GENETICS
6-18-18 The first Americans had pet dogs 1000 years earlier than thought
There were domestic dogs in North America 10,200 years ago, according to a re-examination of an ancient dog skeleton that looks like a small English setter. Dogs were living as companions to the early settlers of North America over 10,000 years ago. Angela Perri of Durham University, UK and her American colleagues have re-examined the remains of three ancient dog skeletons, which had previously been excavated. Two of them, from the Koster site in a tributary of the Illinois River, were thought to be America’s oldest domesticated dogs, at around 9500 years old. The team performed fresh radiocarbon dating and found that these two dogs were even older: 10,110 and 10,130 years old. A third dog from another Illinois site called Stilwell II was older still, at 10,190 years old. That makes it the oldest known domesticated dog in the Americas. It was discovered and excavated in 1962 and, like the Koster dogs, kept in the Illinois State Museum. The researchers declined to comment on the study, as it will soon appear in a peer-reviewed journal. The team concluded all three dogs were domesticated because their skeletons were found intact and unskinned, rather than butchered. They had also been carefully buried, further evidence they were valued by their human owners. The Stilwell II dog, which likely resembled a small English setter, was found beneath what seemed to be the floor of a living area. It’s unclear why it took so long for tame dogs to arrive in the ancient Americas, given that they had been domesticated at least 4000 years earlier in Eurasia.
6-18-18 The most ancient African baobabs are dying and no one knows why
After standing for a millennium or two, 9 of the 13 oldest trees have lost big chunks or died. The last 13 years have been terrible for ancient African baobab trees. Nine of the 13 oldest either lost trunks or died altogether after having lived for longer than a millennium, researchers report June 11 in Nature Plants. But just what the demise means for the iconic species is up for debate. “Whilst we are saddened about the death and collapse [of the old trees], current evidence does not indicate that this is affecting the whole population,” says plant scientist Sarah Venter, who was not part of the new study. Venter, with the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, does not see an immediate threat to the species as a whole. These trees of extreme age “were probably more vulnerable to dry conditions,” she says. “Tree mortality is complex and can be attributed to many causes, including climate change and droughts.” The Adansonia digitata species of the baobab group is the longest-living kind of flowering tree. With its mass of skinny branches dividing like rootlets over a fat trunk, the species sometimes gets teased as an upside-down tree. Long-stemmed brown fruits also encourage the nickname “dead-rat tree.” Yet people have long cherished the giant baobabs for food, medicine and spiritual value.
6-15-18 World's oldest trees die
Eight of Africa’s 13 oldest baobab trees have abruptly died over the past 12 years, and researchers believe climate change may be to blame. Baobabs can live for up to 3,000 years and are known as the “tree of life” because they produce nutritious fruit even during the dry season. With massive trunks and spindly branches, the trees look like they’ve been uprooted and placed upside down. But a new study has found that baobabs are dying off across Southern Africa in unprecedented numbers. Among those that perished is Panke, a baobab in Zimbabwe that was estimated to be about 2,450 years old, with an 84-foot-wide trunk. “It is definitely shocking and dramatic to experience during our lifetime the demise of so many trees with millennial ages,” said study co-author Adrian Patrut of Romania’s Babes-Bolyai University.
6-16-18 The secret to loving your life
Even the hardest parts. Sometimes life sucks. Bad. Really bad. And you feel like you want a refund. But, of course, we need to accept that Life Avenue is going to have its share of potholes. Albert Ellis, one of the most influential psychologists ever, knew that "acceptance" is key to coping with the curve balls life throws at us. It makes sense. Walking around constantly expecting life to give us everything we want is not only comically entitled and ridiculous, but would make existence a hell of perpetual frustration. But here's the thing: Some of the wisest people who ever lived take it further than acceptance. A lot further. Many of the greats embraced the concept of "amor fati": to not only accept everything that life brings you, good or bad, but to love it. To embrace it. To revel in it. Every single bit of your life. Yes, even the truly horrible, awful, regrettable, don't-ever-want-to-think-about-it-again moments. To which I initially responded with a big honking: Huh? Seriously? So we should wake up and think "amor fati"? We should wake up and think a lot of life is going to be awful — and then love that? And this is the key to a joyous life filled with great achievement? I repeat: Huh? Seriously? We're gonna need a little help to fully unpack this one. So I gave somebody a call who knows this stuff. Ryan Holiday is the bestselling author of The Daily Stoic and The Obstacle is the Way. His latest book is Conspiracy. He's going to help us get to the bottom of how loving everything in your life — including the truly awful stuff — is one of the most powerful ideas around. And a great way to start your day. Let's get to it. Here's how amor fati can make you happy:
- Amor fati: Merely "accepting" life is not enough. You need the Platinum Pro package. Love every bit of life, good, bad, and ugly. (Yes, that includes traffic.)
- Denial and complaining are the enemy: Whatever it is, you will accept it eventually. So sooner is better. And whining is wasted energy. The universe doesn't check its Complaint Box.
- Flash forward to the future: Will this still bother you in a month? A year? Then don't let it bother you now.
- Treat life as a game: It's no fun if it's easy. If your personal story has no conflict, please do me a favor: Don't tell me your story. It's boring. Do you want a boring life?
- Feel gratitude — for the good and the bad: You don't know what, in the end, will be good or bad. So be grateful for it all. And then work to make the short term bad turn into long term good.
6-15-18 Knowing your DNA can help you stick to a healthier lifestyle
When people are advised to live more healthily, they usually give up quickly. Now a study suggests that genetic data can persuade people to make lasting changes. You can teach an old dog new tricks – with help from genomics. A pioneering study has found that knowing your genetic risk for various diseases makes people switch to healthier lifestyles, and stick to them. Consumer DNA analysis companies such as California-based 23andMe already offer advice on beneficial lifestyle changes after screening customers’ DNA for gene variants linked with disease. Estonia’s government has offered a similar service free of charge to 100,000 of its citizens. But no one has so far shown that such advice is enough to convince people to make real and lasting changes to how they live. Elisabeth Widen of the University of Helsinki and her colleagues have analysed data from more than 7300 people aged 45 to 65 in Finland. “We wanted to study middle-aged people, as that’s the age when heart disease risks get elevated, but where lifestyle interventions such as quitting smoking are valuable,” says Widen. Each of these participants had their DNA analysed for 49,000 different genetic variants, some of which are associated with heart disease. Widen’s team compared this data with each person’s lifestyle and medical history, and then told each person their personal predicted risk for heart disease via online portals.
6-15-18 Bacteria may survive temperatures hot enough to melt lead
Few living things can cope with temperatures above 100°C, but a controversial study suggests some bacterial spores can withstand 420°C heat for over 30 minutes. Life can survive inside a furnace heated to more than 400°C. At least, that’s the extraordinary claim being made by one group of researchers. However, others say such an unexpected conclusion will need to be supported by stronger evidence. Conventional wisdom is that life struggles to survive when the temperature rises. The thermal limit for animal life is placed at about 50°C. Some forms of bacteria can survive life at temperatures above 100°C, with one strain confirmed to survive at 122°C. Lynda Beladjal at Ghent University in Belgium and her colleagues knew that one limiting factor is the water within living cells. They wondered whether bacterial spores, which contain little water, could withstand higher temperatures. The researchers placed spores of the bacterium Bacillus amyloliquefaciens in glass test tubes. After three days of incubation in a desiccator with 0 per cent relative humidity, the test tubes were transferred to a furnace and heated, over 30 to 60 minutes, to peak temperatures between 200°C and 500°C. Then the researchers cooled the spores and assessed whether any could still grow and form cultures. They found that spores heated to temperatures up to and including 420°C could germinate and grow. However, spores heated to 430°C or higher could not. “As far as we know, spores of B. amyloliquefaciens are the most high-temperature resistant spores studied so far,” says Beladjal.
6-15-18 Mediterranean diet is still good for you but only if you’re rich
A landmark study that touted the benefits of the Mediterranean diet has been retracted, but eating more fresh fish and veg is still good for you, if you can afford it. It’s supposed to be good for you. The effects of the Mediterranean diet were tracked over five years in a study published in 2013, but its results have now been called into question. The original research found that the diet – featuring fresh fruits and vegetables, seafood, nuts, olive oil and red wine, but very little red meat or sugar – reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease, contributed to slight reductions in rates of heart attack and death, and more significantly lowered the risk of stroke. Since then, study after study has found that eating a Mediterranean diet can stave off ageing in the brain, delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease or even improve the chances of successful IVF treatments. But the 2013 study, known as PREDIMED, was recently retracted from the New England Journal of Medicine, and a new analysis of the data was republished. That’s because not all of the study’s 7447 participants were properly randomised. For instance, participants were assigned to follow either the low-fat control diet or one of two versions of the Mediterranean diet – with an emphasis on fats derived from either olive oil or walnuts. But some couples were both assigned to the same diet because of their marital status, so it wasn’t truly random. The authors reanalysed their data, removing about 21 per cent of the participants. They found that the protective effects of the Mediterranean diet held up under this new scrutiny, but their scope was more limited: the health benefits were only seen for people with a high risk of heart disease.
6-15-18 AI can detect early signs of Parkinson’s from brain scans alone
An AI could identify signs of Parkinson’s from brain scans alone. One day it could be used to spot the disease before physical symptoms show. Artificial intelligence can detect the early stages of Parkinson’s disease from brain scans. The hope is that this will lead to earlier diagnosis and treatments to slow the progression of the disease. Parkinson’s disease is usually first noticed when people start to show visible tremors and lose some control of their motor movements. The disease is then confirmed with further tests involving injecting radioactive tracers into the body. To see if artificial intelligence could do a better job, researchers at two Italian universities trained a machine learning algorithm to distinguish between brain scans of people with and without Parkinson’s. The AI saw hundreds of different structural MRI scans. Such scans pick up the brain’s anatomy and any changes from disease in great detail. Around two thirds of the subjects were of people diagnosed with Parkinson’s, many with early signs of the disease, such as mild cognitive impairment and REM sleep disorders, and the remainder were from healthy controls. During tests on previously unseen images, including brain scans of people diagnosed with Parkinson’s, the AI could identify the disease with 94 per cent accuracy.
6-14-18 Gene therapy reverses rat's paralysis
Scientists say they have taken a significant step towards the goal of giving paralysed people control of their hands again. The team at King's College London used gene therapy to repair damage in the spinal cord of rats. The animals could then pick up and eat sugar cubes with their front paws. It is early stage research, but experts said it was some of the most compelling evidence that people's hand function could one day be restored. The spinal cord is a dense tube of nerves carrying instructions from the brain to the rest of the body. The body repairs a wounded spinal cord with scar tissue. However, the scar acts like a barrier to new connections forming between nerves. The researchers were trying to dissolve components of the scar tissue in the rats' spinal cord. They needed to give cells in the cord a new set of genetic instructions - a gene - for breaking down the scar. The instructions they gave were for an enzyme called chondroitinase. And they used a virus to deliver them. Finally, a drug was used to activate the instructions. The animals regained use of their front paws after the gene therapy had been switched on for two months. Dr Emily Burnside, one of the researchers, said: "The rats were able to accurately reach and grasp sugar pellets. "We also found a dramatic increase in activity in the spinal cord of the rats, suggesting that new connections had been made in the networks of nerve cells." The researchers hope their approach will work for people injured in car crashes or falls.
6-14-18 Your brain absolutely cannot resist doughnuts – here’s why
Foods that are high in both carbohydrates and fats super-charge the activity in our brain’s reward centre, explaining why we find them so appealing. Doughnuts are particularly difficult to resist – and now we know why. A study of how our brains respond to food has found that treats that are high in both carbs and fats trigger a super-charged amount of activity in our brain’s reward centre. Dana Small at Yale University and colleagues scanned the brain activity of hungry volunteers as they were shown images of foods that were either high in carbohydrate, such as candy, high in fat, such as cheese, or high in both, such as doughnuts. After the scans, the volunteers were asked to bid money in a competitive auction for the food they wanted to have for a snack. Compared to food containing just carbs or fat, the team found that foods high in both of these together provoked far more activity in the brain’s striatum – a region involved in reward that releases the feel-good chemical dopamine. The volunteers were also willing to pay more for the snacks that were high in both carbs and fat, despite all the food items having the same calorific value. Small thinks we may have separate systems in the brain to evaluate fatty or carb-heavy foods. If both get activated at the same time, this tricks the brain to produce a larger amount of dopamine – and a bigger feeling of reward – than there should be based on the food’s energy content. This could be because when the human brain evolved, our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate a diet consisting mainly of plants and meat, and never encountered food that is high in both carbs and fat. “The brain is used to seeing one signal at a time. Modern food is tricking the system,” says Small.
6-14-18 These newfound frogs have been trapped in amber for 99 million years
Bits of bugs and plants in the ancient goo provide a glimpse of the amphibians’ lives. About 99 million years ago, tiny frogs hopped through a wet, tropical forest — and an unlucky few ran afoul of some tree sap. Four newly described frog fossils, preserved in amber, offer the earliest direct evidence of ancient frogs living in a humid tropical clime — just as many modern amphibians do. None of the frog fossils is complete, making it difficult to place the frogs within their family tree: One has a partial skull and another a froggy outline, although CT scanning revealed no remaining skeletal material inside the impression. So researchers dubbed all four fossils Electrorana limoae (electrum for “amber” and rana for “frog”) in a study published June 14 in Scientific Reports. Anatomy-wise, the ancient frogs most resemble a modern group that includes fire-bellied toads. The fossil record contains relatively few frogs, despite the amphibians’ more than 200-million-year history. The frog fossils that do exist suggest that frogs have looked distinctly — well, froggy — for hundreds of millions of years, says study coauthor David Blackburn, an amphibian biologist at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville. “The aspects that make them diverse are not their skeletons, it’s their ecologies, natural histories, reproductive modes. Things that are really hard to find in the fossil record.” That’s what makes the amber specimens so interesting: The chunks also contain preserved spiders, velvet worms and bamboo — all pointing to a tropical environment. Such paleoecological evidence offers scientists a rare glimpse into the life and times of tropical frogs of old.
6-14-18 Prehistoric frogs surface after 99 million years
Frogs trapped in amber for 99 million years are giving a glimpse of a lost world. The tiny creatures have been preserved in sticky tree resin since the end of the Age of the Dinosaurs. The four fossils give a window into a world when frogs and toads were evolving in the rainforests. Amber from Myanmar, containing skin, scales, fur, feathers or even whole creatures, is regarded as a treasure trove by palaeontologists. Dr Lida Xing of China University of Geosciences in Beijing said it was a "miracle" find. "In China, frogs, lizards and scorpions are called three treasures of amber," he told BBC News. "These amber fossils provide direct evidence that frogs inhabited wet tropical forests before the mass extinction event at the end of the Cretaceous." The fossil record of the earliest amphibians is sparse, which makes the discovery particularly valuable for science. Dr David Blackburn of the University of Florida, who worked on the fossils alongside Dr Xing, said being small and living in a tropical forest makes the likelihood of ending up in the fossil record "pretty low". "Frogs have been around on earth for approximately 200 million years," he said. "How long have they been associated with these wet forests? Is it a recent phenomenon or an ancient one? These amber frog fossils indicate that this association extends back to at least 100 million years ago."
6-13-18 The truth about spices: Is it time to ditch the turmeric latte?
Spices are causing a stir as cheap and easy cure-alls for everything from diabetes to dementia, but not all the claims live up to the hype. TURMERIC and bread makes for an unusual breakfast. But when Mark Wahlqvist served it to a group of older people in Taiwan, he had high hopes. They had been diagnosed as heading for diabetes, which can affect mental abilities. Having heard that the spice could have cognitive benefits, he wanted to put it to the test. “The idea that turmeric might be brain-protective is novel,” says Wahlqvist, currently at the National Health Research Institutes in Taipei, Taiwan. To those following the latest food trends, however, the spice’s brain-boosting potential is unlikely to raise an eyebrow. It is just one in a long list of turmeric’s supposed benefits that have seen it proclaimed as a cheap and effective super food. As a result, what once may have been gathering dust in your spice rack is now the star attraction at trendy coffee shops selling “golden lattes”. Other spices are vying for popularity, too. From cinnamon to saffron, the internet is rife with claims about the healing powers of spices, suggesting that they can help with just about any condition from depression to cardiovascular disease and cancer. Even Hillary Clinton has reportedly jumped on the bandwagon. After reading that hot peppers can boost the immune system, she was eating one a day during the 2016 US presidential election campaign in an attempt to improve her stamina. The question is whether we are swallowing anything more than a load of hype.
6-13-18 The brain has a special clock that tracks sleepiness
A chemical clock has been found in the brains of mice that keeps track of how long it’s been since an animal last slept, and how sleepy it should feel. You are feeling sleepy – but why? Researchers have discovered a chemical clock in the brain that builds up the desire to sleep. Qinghua Liu of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and colleagues have been studying mutant mice that are constantly sleepy. Comparing these to normal mice, they identified a set of proteins involved in tracking how long an animal has been awake. In healthy mice, these proteins gradually accumulate chemical tags – called phosphate groups – during waking hours. These phosphate groups are added onto the proteins at relatively regular intervals, helping to keep track of how long it has been since a mouse last slept. The more phosphate groups these proteins carried, the deeper and longer mice slept when they drifted off. During sleep, the phosphate groups are removed and the protein clock is reset. Studying the brains of mice, the team found that these sleep index proteins are mainly found in the brain’s synapses, the gaps between neurons through which messages are passed. “When we are awake our synapses are actively firing, so synaptic proteins are in the best position to monitor the duration and richness of our waking experience,” says Liu. The team’s discovery may lead to new medicines for sleep disorders – for example, a drug that boosts the addition of phosphate groups onto sleep index proteins might relieve insomnia.
6-13-18 DNA testing can bring families together, but gives mixed answers on ethnicity
Ethnicity estimates vary widely depending on which company is doing the testing. Michael Douglas, a new resident of southern Maryland, credits genetic testing for helping him find his heritage — and a family he knew very little about. Douglas, 43, is adopted. He knew his birth mother’s name and had seen a birth certificate stating his birth name: Thomas Michael McCarthy. Over the years, Douglas had tried off and on to find his birth family, mostly by looking for his mother’s name, Deborah Ann McCarthy, in phone books and calling the numbers. “I think I must have broken up a lot of marriages,” he laughs. His search gained urgency in the last five years as he battled a life-threatening illness. “We planned my funeral three times,” he says. Douglas has a genetic disease called Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, caused by a variant in a gene that helps build the body’s connective tissue. His stretchy skin and hyperflexible joints are characteristic of the disease. “As a kid, I was always dislocating something,” he says. His blood vessels don’t constrict properly to maintain his blood pressure, so Douglas sometimes faints when he stands up. For five years, he has had a constant migraine. Headaches are typical of about a third of people with Ehlers-Danlos. On top of that, he has B cell lymphoma. “I feel like I have the flu every day,” he says. It was time, he decided, to track down his birth family and learn more about his medical history.
6-13-18 What I actually learned about my family after trying 5 DNA ancestry tests
Results can vary widely depending on which company you use. Commercials abound for DNA testing services that will help you learn where your ancestors came from or connect you with relatives. I’ve been interested in my family history for a long time. I knew basically where our roots were: the British Isles, Germany and Hungary. But the ads tempted me to dive deeper. Previous experience taught me that different genetic testing companies can yield different results (SN: 5/26/18, p. 28). And I knew that a company can match people only to relatives in its customer base, so if I wanted to find as many relatives as possible, I would need to use multiple companies. I sent my DNA to Living DNA, Family Tree DNA, 23andMe and AncestryDNA. I also bought the National Geographic Geno 2.0 app through the company Helix. Helix read, or sequenced, my DNA, then sent the data to National Geographic to analyze. These companies analyze hundreds of thousands of natural DNA spelling variations called single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs. To estimate ethnic makeup, a company compares your overall SNP pattern with those of people from around the world. SNP matches also help companies see who in their database you’re related to. Some of the companies also analyze a person’s Y chromosome or mitochondrial DNA. Y chromosome DNA traces a man’s paternal line. In contrast, mitochondrial DNA traces maternal heritage, since people inherit mitochondria, which generate energy for cells, only from their mothers. Neither type of DNA changes that much over time, so those tests usually can’t tell you much about recent ancestors
6-13-18 The epic hunt for the place on Earth where life started
Darwin's warm little pond, the deep ocean and icy shores – all have been suggested as the birthplace of life. Now one location could have it all. NEARLY 4 billion years ago, the first life appeared on our planet. It would have looked unlike any life as we know it today, more basic even than bacterial cells – barely more than a few genetic molecules packaged up in some kind of a sac. Working out how this popped into existence is one of our greatest intellectual endeavours. And at the root of the problem is an epic hunt for the perfect location. Researchers studying the origins of life each have their favourite spot. Some sites offer the right molecular ingredients, others provide ready-made little containers to hold these early reactions. But is it possible that one special place had the perfect combination of all the conditions essential for the chemistry of life? And does a similar place still exist today, on Earth or elsewhere in the universe? Charles Darwin kicked off the quest. In a letter he wrote to the botanist Joseph Dalton Hooker in 1871, he described a hypothetical warm little pond, rich in chemicals and salts, with sources of light, heat and electricity. He imagined that in such an environment, proteins might spontaneously form, ready to turn into something more complex. In the 1950s, chemists Stanley Miller and Harold Urey managed to create Darwin’s pond in the lab. They mixed water with gases they thought would have been present on early Earth, and zapped them with simulated lightning. This produced amino acids, the building blocks of all proteins. Their experiment is one of the most famous of the last century, but we now know that what they created, protein components in water, is not enough to constitute life.
6-12-18 Psychedelics may help your brain cells form new connections.
LSD and other members of the psychedelic family make neurons grow more branches, potentially explaining how they might treat depression. Psychedelic drugs such as LSD seem to make brain cells grow branches and form new connections. The finding in rats and fruit flies could explain why psychedelics seem to evoke long-lasting changes after a single dose, and why they may be able to help treat mental health disorders. The psychedelics include psilocybin, found in magic mushrooms, and DMT, found in the South American plant brew ayahuasca. In recent years, numerous studies have investigated these drugs as a possible treatment for depression, and small trials have had promising results. Studies have also reported that some users undergo changes to their personality after a single psychedelic experience. The drugs activate serotonin receptors in the brain, but how they bring about long-lasting changes is unknown. Some researchers have speculated that they might increase the brain’s ability to rewire itself, known as plasticity. David Olson at the University of California, Davis and colleagues tested three psychedelic drugs: LSD, DMT and DOI, on rats and fruit flies. All three increased the growth of new branches on neurons and new connections between neurons, both in isolated cells and in live animals. The fact that the same effects were seen in vertebrates and invertebrates suggest that the biological mechanisms involved have remained the same over aeons of evolution, and are probably the same in humans, believes Olson.
ANIMAL INTELLIGENCE and ZOOLOGY
6-18-18 Animals with 'night vision goggles'
A tarsier is known for its big, beady eyes, but it's only when you look at a skull of this diminutive South East Asian primate that you realise just how big they are. Each one is the same size as its brain. They can't move their eyeballs; if they want to look to the right or left they have to turn their whole head. But the mere fact that tarsiers have these monster organs tells you one thing: vision is very important to them. The animal is a master in the dark, able to see and snaffle insects and small birds even when it seems impossibly dark. "Theirs is a monochrome world; the back of their eyes are packed with photoreceptor rods, not cones, so they can gather every last photon of light," explains Prof Geoff Boxshall from London's Natural History Museum. "Their eyes are the animal world's equivalent of night-vision goggles." Geoff is the science lead on a new exhibition opening at the NHM in July that will celebrate Life In The Dark. There is an amazing diversity of creatures out there with some incredible tricks, to not only survive but also thrive in the absence of light. The museum has pulled the best of them from its collections. Some you'll know but hadn't perhaps considered the genius of their adaptations - such as bats. Some creatures will definitely be new to you because they've only recently been discovered. There's some truly bizarre stuff living in caves and in the deep ocean, for example.
6-15-18 Leaf-cutter ants pick up the pace when they sense rain
If their cargo gets wet, they will drop it and lose the day’s treasure. In Central America’s rain-drenched forests, leaf-cutting ants collect pieces of leaves on which they grow fungi for food. But the rain can hit hard, especially for a small ant. When leaf-cutting ants sense an incoming shower, they hoof it back to their nests, says a study in the May Insectes Sociaux. Researchers from Argentina, Mexico and Peru tested how one species of leaf-cutting ants, Atta cephalotes, in Costa Rica deals with rain. The scientists placed hollow boxes filled with wet cotton on ant trails in the forest. When A. cephalotes walked through the boxes, they experienced higher relative humidity, as if it were about to rain. In another experiment, the researchers poured water on plants beside the trail to simulate falling raindrops. Both situations caused the ants to scramble to their nest up to 30 percent faster than normal, from about 1.21 meters per minute to 1.49. The researchers think that leaf-cutter ants speed up to keep their cargo and themselves dry, with good reason: A wet leaf fragment weighs more than double a dry one. In the study, when the ants or leaves got wet, the insects readily dropped their harvest and returned to the nest. But by hurrying along at the first hints of rain, the ants could stay dry and hold onto the leaves.
6-14-18 Wild animals are turning nocturnal to keep away from humans
Dozens of species all around the world are abandoning the day and becoming more active at night, to avoid contact with humans. Once great monsters ruled the planet, and mammals cowered in the shadows and came out only at night. Now monsters once again rule the planet, and mammals are reverting to the nocturnal habits of their distant ancestors. “All mammals were active entirely at night, because dinosaurs were the ubiquitous terrifying force on the planet,” says Kaitlyn Gaynor of the University of California, Berkeley. “Now humans are the ubiquitous terrifying force on the planet, and we’re forcing all of the other mammals back into the night-time.” Gaynor and her colleagues study the impact people have on wildlife. They noticed a striking pattern: animals were becoming more active at night to avoid human disturbances. When they looked in the scientific literature, they found many other groups had seen the same pattern. Her team has now done a meta-analysis of 76 studies of 62 mammals all around the world. Almost all of them are shifting to the night to avoid us. Take the now-ironically-named sun bear, a vulnerable species living in south-east Asia. In areas with few people, only 19 per cent of sun bear activity occurs at night. But around a research camp in Sumatra, 90 per cent of activity is at night. Similarly, in protected areas of Tanzania, only 17 per cent of lions’ activity is at night. Outside those areas, it’s 80 per cent.
6-14-18 Spiders can ‘fly’ because they make near-invisible paragliders
We’ve finally solved the mystery of how even fairly big spiders can take to the skies, and it turns out it’s because they make flying machines that can barely be seen with the naked eye. We’ve finally seen how even relatively large spiders manage to take to the air. Rather than just spinning out just one or two silk fibres to catch the wind, as was thought, they make “paragliders” from dozens of thin fibres. “The fibres are very hard to observe with our naked eyes,” says aerodynamic engineer Moonsung Cho of the Technical University of Berlin, Germany. “This is why, until now, we have not been able to explain the flight of ‘ballooning’ spiders.” Many kinds of spiders “balloon” with the help of silk fibres that act like paragliders, travelling hundreds of kilometres with the winds. They have been found as high as 4.5 kilometres and are often among the first animals to reach new islands. Some species can also glide or windsurf. There’s been no mystery about the ballooning of baby spiderlings, which often take to the air soon after hatching to avoid being eaten by their siblings. But it has been hard to explain how larger spiders fly. They were thought to release only a few relatively thick, short fibres, which in theory should not provide enough lift. Instead, various exotic explanations have been proposed, such as that spiders release electrostatically charged silks that exploit the ionisation of the air to provide lift.
6-14-18 Battle royale: mucus-squirting worms vs spike-wielding arachnids
In the forests of Brazil, pitched gladiatorial contests are being fought between flatworms armed with digestive slime and spider-like arachnids with body-chopping spikes. In a battle worthy of gore and grime fetishists, slimy flatworms attack harvestman arachnids with gobs of mucus. But the arachnids sometimes fight back by chopping the worms in half with armoured leg spikes. The armoured harvestman (Mischonyx cuspidatus) is an eight-legged arachnid, distantly related to spiders. Harvestmen are sometimes known as “daddy longlegs”, although confusingly so are several other groups. The armoured harvestman has a lot of problems in life. Its predators include birds, toads, lizards, marsupials and even insects such assassin bugs. As a result, it has evolved a number of defence mechanisms, says zoologist Rodrigo Willemart at the University of São Paulo in Brazil. It has thick armour – hence its name – and it can also fake its own death, run away, or pinch attackers with its spiny mouthparts. In the name of science, Willemart and his colleagues decided to see what kind of fight the arachnids would put up against a Brazilian terrestrial flatworm (Cephaloflexa bergi). “Such battles are happening every night in Brazilian tropical forests,”he says. They pitted 32 harvestmen against 32 flatworms in separate battles, all taking place in glass casserole dishes. Willemart says it was like watching a miniature version of Alien vs. Predator.
6-13-18 Vegan-friendly fashion is actually bad for the environment
Animal-free alternatives to fur and leather are on the rise, but many use plastic materials that end up harming ocean creatures. Is there any way to dress ethically? AT AUSTRALIA’S recent Fashion Week, fur coats were everywhere, but not a single animal was harmed in their making – they were all synthetic. “We’ve never seen this many fashionistas get on board with this particular trend,” said Finder, an Australian fashion website. The fad is part of a global backlash against animal-derived textiles like fur, leather, wool and silk – last week, the UK’s Labour party pledged to ban fur imports. Driven in part by the growing vegan movement, people are choosing to buy plastic imitations made from materials like polyester and acrylic instead. That may seem like the obvious ethical choice, but plastic comes with its own set of problems. These materials are derived from non-renewable petroleum, don’t biodegrade and can shed harmful microfibres into the oceans. “We’ve got these two uber issues – animal welfare and overconsumption of plastic – that are coming up against each other,” says Clara Vuletich, a sustainable fashion consultant based in Sydney. On one hand, many peoples say that exploiting animals for their skin and fur is cruel, so favour plastic alternatives. And the problem could run deeper: a recent investigation by animal welfare organisation PETA, for instance, claimed to have found evidence of Australian shearers kicking, hitting and cutting sheep. On the other hand, proponents of animal-based textiles say their longevity and biodegradability makes them environmentally friendly. The International Council of Hides, Skins and Leather Traders Association notes that these materials are “based on natural, renewable resources”.
6-13-18 Here’s what narwhals sound like underwater
A new type of submersible recorder picks up the animals’ clicks, calls and buzzes Narwhals are among the most elusive of whales. But for the first time, researchers have been able to eavesdrop on the creatures for days at a time as these unicorns of the sea dove, fed and socialized. Biologist Susanna Blackwell and colleagues listened in on the clicks, buzzes and calls of the East Greenland narwhal (Monodon monoceros). The team’s findings, published June 13 in PLOS ONE, provide a peek into the daily behavior of the long-toothed whale. The research could help scientists determine how human-made noises may affect narwhals as the Arctic warms due to climate change and shipping lanes become more open. Many whale sounds are recorded using hydrophones, underwater microphones that dangle in the water. But these acoustic devices have several drawbacks: They can’t sense the depth or direction from which noise comes, and they can’t detect which animal is making a sound. Blackwell and colleagues skirted these issues by attaching an acoustic recording device to the narwhals themselves. “It is really like sitting on the back of a narwhal for a few days and experiencing the world,” Blackwell says.
6-13-18 One in five British mammals at risk of extinction
The red squirrel, the wildcat, and the grey long-eared bat are all facing severe threats to their survival, according to new research. They are among 12 species that have been put on the first "red list" for wild mammals in Britain. The Mammal Society and Natural England study said almost one in five British mammals was at risk of extinction. Factors such as climate change, loss of habitat, use of pesticides and disease are to blame, the report said. It said the hedgehog and water vole have seen their populations decline by almost 70% over the past 20 years. However, it is good news for the otter, pine marten, polecat and badger, which have all seen their populations and geographical range spread. The report is described as the first comprehensive review of the population of British mammals for 20 years. Researchers examined more than 1.5m individual biological records of 58 species of terrestrial mammal. They looked at whether their numbers were going up or down, the extent of their range, if there were any trends, and what their future prospects were. The species have been ranked using the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) criteria, which is used to compile the global list of threatened species. A species that makes it on to the "red list" means it is called "threatened" and it faces becoming extinct within the next decade. The highest threat category is "critically endangered." Three species were given this status: the wildcat, the greater mouse-eared bat, and the black rat. The next highest threat level is "endangered". Listed here is the red squirrel, along with the beaver, water vole and grey long-eared bat. The third-highest threat category is "vulnerable". The hedgehog, the hazel dormouse, Orkney vole, serotine bat and barbastelle bat are included in this list.
6-13-18 Britain’s hedgehog population has fallen 66 per cent in 20 years
Britain only has 58 wild mammal species to start with, and many have declined sharply in number since 1995 – with hedgehogs suffering a particularly severe fall. They may be the UK’s favourite mammals, but hedgehog numbers in Britain have fallen by 66 per cent in just two decades. The UK Mammal Society and Natural England have conducted the most comprehensive census of native British mammal populations since 1995. The study found that the estimated number of common hedgehogs in Britain has plunged by two-thirds since 1995 to 522,000. “This is one of the largest losses we saw,” says co-author John Gurnell of Queen Mary, University of London. The British hedgehog population should now be considered “vulnerable”, the report says. Gurnell says a doubling in the badger population over the same period may have contributed, as they eat hedgehogs and compete for the same insect food. However, hedgehog numbers also dropped in areas without badgers. Other factors include the loss of hedgehogs’ favoured agricultural habitats, such as hedgerows and the margins of fields, due to more intensive farming. They are also exposed to pesticides in the insects they eat, and rodenticides targeted at rats. “They seem to be doing better in urban areas,” says Gurnell. For five years he has studied the only remaining population of hedgehogs in central London, in Regents Park. Hedgehogs thrive in untidier gardens, with holes in fences allowing them through to neighbouring plots and woodland. They struggle in clinically-manicured gardens with impassable fences and walls. Many also die crossing roads.
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