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ATHEISM and HUMANISM

1-15-19 First moon plants sprout in China’s Chang’e 4 biosphere experiment
A sprouting cotton seed on China’s Chang’e 4 lunar lander is the first plant ever to germinate on another world, heralding a new era for life in space. Seeds of cotton, oilseed rape, potato and arabidopsis were carried to the moon as part of a biosphere experiment, along with fruit fly eggs and some yeast. Pictures sent back by the probe show cotton, rape and potato seeds sprouting and growing well, the scientist leading the experiment, Liu Hanlong, told South China Morning Post. Chang’e 4 landed on the far side of the moon on 3 January and this image was dated 7 January. The organisms are kept in a sealed chamber, protected from the extreme temperatures and intense radiation on the moon’s surface. Understanding how to grow plants in space will help lay the foundation for establishing a human settlement on the moon, Liu said. The six organisms could make up a mini-ecosystem, with plants producing oxygen and food to sustain the fruit flies. Yeast could process the flies’ waste and dead plants to provide another food source. In a future human settlement, potatoes could provide food, rapeseed could be a source of oil and cotton could be used for clothing. Plants have been grown before in orbit in the International Space Station, including cucumbers. Astronauts got their first bites of space-grown romaine lettuce in 2015. Algae have even managed to survive 530 days on a panel on the outside of the space station. (Webmaster's comment: But the fact remains, China is taking the lead in space achievements.)

1-15-19 China's Moon mission sees first seeds sprout
Seeds taken up to the Moon by China's Chang'e-4 mission have sprouted, says China National Space Administration. It marks the first time any biological matter has grown on the Moon, and is being seen as a significant step towards long-term space exploration. The Chang'e 4 is the first mission to land on and explore the Moon's far side, facing away from Earth. It touched down on 3 January, carrying instruments to analyse the region's geology. Plants have been grown on the International Space Station before but never on the Moon. The ability to grow plants on the Moon will be integral for long-term space missions, like a trip to Mars which would take about two-and-a-half years. It would mean that astronauts could potentially harvest their own food in space, reducing the need to come back down to Earth to resupply. The Chinese Moon lander was carrying among its cargo soil containing cotton and potato seeds, yeast and fruit fly eggs. The plants are in a sealed container on board the lander. The crops will try to form a mini biosphere - an artificial, self-sustaining environment. The lunar mini biosphere experiment on the Chang'e-4 lander is designed to test photosynthesis and respiration - processes in living organisms that result in the production of energy. The whole experiment is contained within an 18cm tall, 3kg canister that was designed by 28 Chinese universities. The organisms inside have a supply of air, water and nutrients to help them grow. But one of the challenges, say Chinese scientists, is to keep the temperature favourable for growth when conditions on the Moon swing wildly between -173C and 100C or more. They also have to control the humidity and nutrients.

1-15-19 Gillette faces backlash and boycott over '#MeToo advert'
A Gillette advert which references bullying, the #MeToo movement and toxic masculinity has split opinion online. The razor company's short film, called Believe, plays on their famous slogan "The best a man can get", replacing it with "The best men can be". The company says it wants men to hold each other "accountable". Some have praised the message of the advert, which aims to update the company's 30-year-old tagline, but others say Gillette is "dead" to them. The ad has been watched more than 2 million times on YouTube in 48 hours. It currently has 23,000 likes and 214,000 dislikes, at time of writing - and that's increasing all the time. In it, the company asks "Is this the best a man can get?" before showing images of bullying, sexual harassment, sexist behaviour and aggressive male behaviour. It then shows examples of more positive behaviour - such as stepping into prevent these behaviours when they happen in public. Comments on the video are largely negative, with viewers saying they will never buy Gillette products again or that the advert was "feminist propaganda". (Webmaster's comment: All the brute males rally around their favorite things; bullying and beating women!) "In less than two minutes you managed to alienate your biggest sales group for your products. Well done?," wrote one angry viewer. Twitter users are also sharing their disappointment with Gillette's new campaign. There have also been calls for Gillette, which is owned by Procter & Gamble, to post an apology video. But the brand believes the new advert aligns with its slogan and says it believes in "the best in men." "By holding each other accountable, eliminating excuses for bad behaviour, and supporting a new generation working toward their personal 'best,' we can help create positive change that will matter for years to come," says its president, Gary Coombe. (Webmaster's comment: It's about time all good men stood up against all the brute males! Shun them!)

1-15-19 Rahaf Mohammed: Saudi teen says women 'treated like slaves'
A Saudi teenager given asylum in Canada after fleeing her family has said the journey was "worth the risk" so she could live a more independent life. Rahaf Mohammed, 18, made headlines when she flew to Thailand and barricaded herself in a hotel while appealing on Twitter for help to avoid deportation. She said she feared being killed if she was sent back to her family. "It's something that is worth the risk I took," she told the Toronto Star and CBC News. "I had nothing to lose." "We are treated as an object, like a slave," she said. "I wanted to tell people my story and about what happens to Saudi women." Under Saudi Arabia's guardianship system, women must obtain permission from a male relative to travel outside the country, study abroad on a government scholarship, get married or even leave prison. Ms Mohammed - who has dropped her surname, al-Qunun - alleged that her family had subjected her to physical and psychological abuse. "In the beginning they locked me up for six months after I cut my hair... because it is forbidden in Islam for a woman to dress like a man," she told reporters at the office of an immigrant settlement agency in Toronto. "But I was mostly exposed to violence by my mother and my brother," she added. "They were beating me and there was corporal violence." While she was in Thailand, Ms Mohammed also told the BBC that she had renounced Islam - a crime that is punishable by death in Saudi Arabia. She had been on a trip to Kuwait with her family when she fled on a flight to Bangkok on 5 January, saying she intended to take a connecting flight to Australia and had an Australian visa. But she says her passport was seized by a Saudi diplomat when he met her coming off the flight, leaving her stranded. (Webmaster's comment: And we want to be friends with the Saudi Arabia government? It's a brute male dictatorship nation that will harm or kill women for almost any reason.)

1-15-19 Republican Steve King ousted from House panels over race remarks
US Republican Steve King has been stripped of his congressional committee seats over comments he made about white supremacy. Republican leaders in the US House of Representatives voted to remove the Iowa congressman from the Judiciary, Agriculture and Small Business panels. Mr King sparked furore for questioning why terms like "white supremacy" are controversial. But he says his comments have been mischaracterised. Both Democrats and his own party were quick to condemn Mr King for the remarks, made in a New York Times interview last week. "We will not be seating Steve King on any committees in the 116th Congress," House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said after members of the Republican Steering Committee unanimously voted to remove Mr King on Monday night. Mr King called the move to remove him from his House assignments a "political decision that ignores the truth". Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell became the latest Republican to speak out against Mr King on Monday, saying he has "no tolerance for such positions". "Rep King's statements are unwelcome and unworthy of his elected position. If he doesn't understand why 'white supremacy' is offensive, he should find another line of work," Senator McConnell said in a statement. In a speech from the House floor on Friday, Mr King said he regretted "the heartburn that has poured forth" as a result of his interview. "I want to make one thing abundantly clear: I reject those labels and the evil ideology that they define." epublicans have faced mounting pressure to punish Mr King as Democrats prepare to file resolutions to censure Mr King over his comments. (Webmaster's comment: If you elect a piece of garbage to represent you, we're going to send him back!)

1-14-19 Trump's 'Wounded Knee' tweet over Warren sparks anger
US President Donald Trump is facing criticism once again for taunting Democrat Elizabeth Warren over her purported Native American heritage. On Sunday, Mr Trump said the senator, a 2020 presidential hopeful, should have filmed a commercial "from Bighorn or Wounded Knee" in "full Indian garb". Wounded Knee was one of the worst native massacres in US history. Native Americans have decried Mr Trump's language, calling it insensitive and racist. Mr Trump's barb was a response to an Instagram live by Ms Warren on New Year's Eve, just after she announced she was running for president. Ruth Hopkins, a Sioux writer and tribal attorney, said the president's jibe was "cold, callous and just plain racist". "+300 of my people were massacred at Wounded Knee. Most were women and children. This isn’t funny, it’s cold, callous, and just plain racist." "Wounded Knee was a massacre of innocent Sioux women and children. Pocahontas was raped by a white man when she was only 12 years old." (Webmaster's comment: There isn't a moral or decent bone in Trump's body!)

1-14-19 Seven in 10 Maintain Negative View of U.S. Healthcare System
Seventy percent of Americans describe the current U.S. healthcare system as being "in a state of crisis" or having "major problems." This is consistent with the 65% to 73% range for this figure in all but one poll since Gallup first asked the question in 1994.

  • 70% say U.S. healthcare has major problems/is in state of crisis
  • Overall perceptions stable, but party views have changed
  • About six in seven Democrats now have negative assessments of the system

1-13-19 When kids think a shooter is coming
Lockdowns have become an ordinary feature of the American school day. Even when there's no violence, children suffer the psychic consequences. Locked behind their green classroom door, MaKenzie Woody and 25 other first-graders huddled in the darkness. She sat on the vinyl tile floor against a far wall, beneath a taped-up list of phrases the kids were encouraged to say to each other: “I like you,” “You’re a rainbow,” “Are you OK?” In that moment, though, the 6-year-old didn’t say anything at all, because she believed that a man with a gun was stalking the hallways of her school in the nation’s capital, and MaKenzie feared what he might do to her. Three times between September and November, bursts of gunfire near MaKenzie’s public charter elementary school led DC Prep to seal off its Washington campus and sequester its students. During the last one, on Nov. 16, a silver sedan parked just around the corner at 10:42 a.m., then the men inside stepped out and fired more than 40 rounds. As MaKenzie’s class hid upstairs, teachers frantically rushed three dozen preschoolers off the playground and back into the building. The children of DC Prep hid for 20 minutes, until police officers arrived at the crime scene around the corner and began to take note of where the 40-plus bullet casings had scattered. What did not arrive was the caravan of TV trucks and reporters that so often descend on schools when such scenes play out in whiter, wealthier neighborhoods. In the hours that followed, students began to unravel. Among the things they said: “Who’s going to shoot me?” “I want to shoot people.” “I want to shoot myself.” “The lockdowns,” as MaKenzie calls them, have changed her, because the little girl with long braids and chocolate-brown eyes remembers what it was like before them, when she always felt safe at her school, and she knows what it’s been like afterward, when that feeling disappeared. In April, the country will mark the 20th anniversary of the massacre at Columbine High, and that day will arrive in the aftermath of the worst year of school shootings in modern American history. Last spring, The Washington Post launched a database that tracked incidents of gun violence on campuses dating back to 1999, and the carnage in 2018 shattered every record. Most shootings at schools: 25. Most people shot: 94. Most people killed: 33. Most students exposed to gunfire on their campuses: 25,332.

1-13-19 The plight of Japanese Peruvians in America
People are still healing from the wounds of World War II. Elsa Kudo was a junior in college when she learned that she was an "illegal" resident of the country she called home. Decades later, she still vividly recalled seeing her FBI file for the first time. "What is this? Why is my file stamped 'illegal entry'? We didn't come illegally. You folks knew we were coming in. You brought us here," she recalled saying in an interview with the history organization, Densho. "I was so upset." In the 1940s, the U.S. government launched a program to relocate Kudo and some 2,200 other Latin Americans of Japanese descent from their home countries to detention facilities in the U.S. They were taken under the pretense of a World War II prisoner exchange, but only 865 detainees were ultimately sent to Japan via the program. Several hundred others found themselves in a fight for justice that continues today. Grace Shimizu, co-founder of the Campaign for Justice: Redress Now for Japanese Latin Americans and the Japanese Peruvian Oral History Project, thinks there's a reason Kudo and others still haven't received adequate compensation and recognition for what happened to them. "The U.S. government has an interest in not redressing this kind of situation, which are basically war crimes. They want to be able to continue to kidnap people, thrust them into indefinite detention, subject them to whatever treatment," she says, "and not be held accountable." In the immediate aftermath of the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, the FBI made its first arrests of Japanese American leaders and held them in detention facilities and jails across Hawaii and the West Coast. The panic spread to Latin America too, and within 48 hours blacklists of Japanese businessmen, community leaders, teachers, and others appeared in Peruvian newspapers. The U.S. government under president Franklin D. Roosevelt had already been surveilling Nikkei, people of Japanese descent, for years in the U.S. and in Latin America. Central and South American presidents tried to win the favor with the U.S. its allies by allowing FBI agents to be stationed at embassies to generate lists of those they deemed "suspect." Peruvian President Manuel Prado was a particularly enthusiastic accomplice; after Pearl Harbor he froze all assets held by those with Japanese citizenship and prohibited the assembly of more than three people of Japanese descent. On Dec. 24, 1941, Seiichi Higashide, Elsa Kudo's father, was shocked to find his name on one of those lists of "dangerous Axis nationals." Seiichi was a Japanese immigrant in Ica, Peru, who had built a successful business, developed deep ties to his new community, and started a family. (Webmaster's comment: United States supports war crimes as long as the United States does them!)

1-13-19 Reality Check: How safe is it to live in China?
China's Director of Public Order, Li Jingsheng, has claimed it is "one of the safest countries in the world." He says that gun crime fell by 27.6% in 2018. The official China News Service shared a video of Mr Li announcing the decline, which has been viewed more than one million times. So how does China compare with other countries, and can we trust its statistics? The Chinese government says that from 2012 to 2017, the government reported an 81.3% drop in gun crimes from 311 to 58. These figures relate to all crimes involving the holding or use of guns, says Dr Xu Jianhua, a crime expert at the University of Macau. "In terms of gun crime, China could be one of the lowest because the government has very tight restrictions. But that doesn't mean other crimes are low," says Dr Xu. Such data is treated with caution by many experts. Borge Bakken, who studies crime in China at the Australian National University, is particularly critical. "There are lies, damned lies, and Chinese crime statistics. It is sheer propaganda and the falsification of data goes from each police station to the top level," he says. There are reasons why the rate of gun crime may be low in China, even if the data itself is unreliable. It is illegal for a private citizen to own a gun and the government has run an aggressive campaign to seize weapons. According to government statistics, police confiscated 146,000 guns in 2018. Gun crime data in Europe and the United States is far more readily accessible than in China. In the United States in 2017, there were 314,931 recorded cases of homicide, robbery and assault involving guns, according to the FBI. In the same year, the UK and Germany, which include threats with guns, there were 6,375 and 8,935 police-recorded cases, respectively. These figures cannot be directly compared with the Chinese numbers but it is easy to see why Chinese media find it easy to latch on to crime stories in the United States, for example, and to point to the dangers of America's cities. (Webmaster's comment: The bottom line: The united States is one of most dangerous countries to live in. That why 40% of women under 30 in the United States want to leave the country according to a very recent highly-reliable Gallop Poll.

1-12-19 Here’s how the record-breaking government shutdown is disrupting science
The shutdown is forcing scientists to cancel presentations and halt research. As the partial federal government shutdown enters its fourth week — on January 12 becoming the longest in U.S. history — scientists are increasingly feeling the impact. Thousands of federal workers who handle food safety and public health are furloughed. Countless projects researching everything from climate change to pest control to hurricane prediction are on hold. Among government agencies hit by the partial shutdown are the U.S. Geological Survey, the Department of Agriculture, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency and NASA, where nearly all employees are on leave. Additionally, 40 percent of the Food and Drug Administration’s 14,000 workers are furloughed, as are most employees of the National Parks Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service. Meanwhile, the National Science Foundation, responsible for doling out nearly $8 billion in research funds each year, has stopped awarding grants and has canceled review panels with outside scientists that are part of the process. In 2018, NSF gave out $42 million in grants from January 1 through January 8, but this year, nothing has been funded so far, Benjamin Corb of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology noted in a statement January 8. Such stalled funding is leading to a backlog that could slow down approvals long beyond the shutdown. Here are some of the consequences of delaying government research, and how some scientists are trying to cope. Both the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention remain funded and operational. Flu surveillance is still being funded through the CDC. Medicare and Medicaid insurance programs are also safe.

1-12-19 US partial government shutdown becomes longest ever
The partial shutdown of the US government has become the longest ever, with no end in sight to the political standoff. On Saturday it reaches its 22nd day, overtaking the previous record - the 21-day shutdown in 1995-96 under then-President Bill Clinton. President Donald Trump is refusing to approve a budget unless it includes funds for a wall on the Mexican border. Democrats have rejected his request for $5.7bn (£4.5bn). About a quarter of the federal government is still out of operation until a spending plan is agreed, leaving 800,000 employees unpaid. On Friday, those workers - including prison guards, airport staff and FBI agents - missed their first salaries of the year. Meanwhile, President Trump has calmed speculation that he is about to declare a national emergency in order to bypass Congress and get the money he needs. His proposed border wall was a key election pledge. He described an emergency declaration as an "easy way out" and said he would prefer Congress to resolve the problem. (Webmaster's comment: Trump has not drained the swamp. He's made it worse than ever!)

1-12-19 Republican Steve King in white supremacy furore
A right-wing Republican congressman is under fire from his own party after questioning why terms like "white supremacy" are controversial. Steve King of Iowa also pondered in a New York Times interview when labels like "white nationalists" became offensive. Fellow Republican Jeb Bush said condemnation was not enough, and called for party grandees to oust Mr King. Mr King has since defended his remarks, saying they were mischaracterised. Speaking on the floor of the House of Representatives on Friday, he said he regretted "the heartburn that has poured forth" as a result of his interview. "I want to make one thing abundantly clear: I reject those labels and the evil ideology that they define." "As I told the New York Times, it's not about race, it's never been about race," he continued. "Under any fair political definition, I am simply a nationalist." But other Republicans were unconvinced by Mr King's explanation. "Republican leaders must actively support a worthy primary opponent to defeat King, because he won't have the decency to resign," Mr Bush, a former Florida governor and one-time presidential hopeful, tweeted. (Webmaster's comment: He's cut from the same cloth as Trump.)

1-12-19 Florida pardons wrongly accused Groveland Four after 70 years
Four black men who were wrongly accused of raping a white teenager in Florida 70 years ago have been pardoned. Officials voted unanimously to issue the pardon at a meeting in the state capital of Tallahassee on Friday. None of the men are still alive, but their family members were in attendance to plead their innocence. Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd and Ernest Thomas are known as the Groveland Four and were accused of abducting and raping a girl in 1949. Thomas was hunted down by a posse of more than 1,000 men shortly after the alleged incident and was shot hundreds of times. The three others were beaten in custody before being convicted by all-white juries. Samuel Shepherd was later shot and killed by a sheriff while travelling to a retrial. The case is seen as a historic racial injustice and was the subject of the book Devil in the Grove, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 2013. The alleged victim, who was 17 at the time, insisted during Friday's hearing that she had told the truth and opposed the pardons before they were granted. "I'm begging y'all not to give them pardon," she reportedly said. But the clemency panel, which was composed of top officials including the attorney general, praised the work of campaigners before issuing the pardons.

1-11-19 When kids think a shooter is coming
Lockdowns have become an ordinary feature of the American school day, said journalists Steven Rich and John Woodrow Cox. Even when there’s no violence, children suffer the psychic consequences. Locked behind their green classroom door, MaKenzie Woody and 25 other first-graders huddled in the darkness. She sat on the vinyl tile floor against a far wall, beneath a taped-up list of phrases the kids were encouraged to say to each other: “I like you,” “You’re a rainbow,” “Are you OK?” In that moment, though, the 6-year-old didn’t say anything at all, because she believed that a man with a gun was stalking the hallways of her school in the nation’s capital, and MaKenzie feared what he might do to her. Three times between September and November, bursts of gunfire near MaKenzie’s public charter elementary school led DC Prep to seal off its Washington campus and sequester its students. During the last one, on Nov. 16, a silver sedan parked just around the corner at 10:42 a.m., then the men inside stepped out and fired more than 40 rounds. As MaKenzie’s class hid upstairs, teachers frantically rushed three dozen preschoolers off the playground and back into the building. The children of DC Prep hid for 20 minutes, until police officers arrived at the crime scene around the corner and began to take note of where the 40-plus bullet casings had scattered. What did not arrive was the caravan of TV trucks and reporters that so often descend on schools when such scenes play out in whiter, wealthier neighborhoods. In the hours that followed, students began to unravel. Among the things they said: “Who’s going to shoot me?” “I want to shoot people.” “I want to shoot myself.” “The lockdowns,” as MaKenzie calls them, have changed her, because the little girl with long braids and chocolate-brown eyes remembers what it was like before them, when she always felt safe at her school, and she knows what it’s been like afterward, when that feeling disappeared. In April, the country will mark the 20th anniversary of the massacre at Columbine High, and that day will arrive in the aftermath of the worst year of school shootings in modern American history. Last spring, The Washington Post launched a database that tracked incidents of gun violence on campuses dating back to 1999, and the carnage in 2018 shattered every record. Most shootings at schools: 25. Most people shot: 94. Most people killed: 33. Most students exposed to gunfire on their campuses: 25,332.

1-11-19 Gallop Poll watch
Since Trump took office, 16% of Americans say they want to permanently move out of the U.S., including 40% of women under 30. On average, 10% said they wanted to leave the country during Barack Obama’s presidency, and 11% when George W. Bush was president.

1-11-19 Texas Republicans fail to oust Muslim official over religion
A Republican county official in Texas has survived a vote to oust him after several local party members took issue with his Muslim religion. The motion to remove Shahid Shafi from his position as vice chairman of the Tarrant County Republican party failed by a vote of 139-49 on Thursday night. The effort was led by several county Republicans who argued that Dr Shafi was more loyal to Islam than the US. The movement led to criticism from prominent state Republican officials. Speaking to reporters after the vote at a church in Fort Worth, Dr Shafi said: "As an immigrant to this great country, I am honoured and privileged to receive the support of my fellow Republicans." "We were fighting for religious freedom - a founding principle of our nation. And today, we have come out victorious," he declared. In addition to serving as the Republican vice chairman of Tarrant County - the third largest county in Texas - Dr Shafi is a surgeon and Southlake City Councilman who immigrated to the US nearly 30 years ago. He reportedly is originally from India, and became a US citizen in 2009. After he was appointed by party officials to his post in July 2018, several of his colleagues took issue with his religion and claimed he had connections with terrorist organisations.

1-11-19 Brazil: Bolsonaro goes after indigenous land
Brazil’s new president has an ambitious plan to open up indigenous land to commercial mining and farming, said Brasil.ElPais.com in an editorial. Nearly 13 percent of Brazilian territory—some 413,000 square miles, an area almost the size of Texas and California combined—has been set aside for native tribes, including a large swath of Amazon rain forest. As a presidential candidate, the “ultra-right-wing” Jair Bolsonaro vowed to cede “not one more centimeter” of public land to Brazil’s 900,000 indigenous people. And after his inauguration last week, he got to work on that promise. First he stripped the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI) of the right to decide on lands claimed by indigenous people, handing the task to the agriculture ministry. The new agriculture minister, Tereza Cristina Dias, is a fierce advocate for farmers’ rights. Then Bolsonaro put FUNAI under the aegis of a new minister in charge of a hodgepodge of issues: human rights, women, the indigenous. That minister is an evangelical pastor who co-founded a group that advocates taking disabled children away from tribes so they won’t be put to death. Bolsonaro says his plan will benefit the indigenous, said Germany’s DeutscheWelle.de. His government views the tribes “as business partners,” and he says Indians want to “earn money, trade, mine gold, harvest precious wood, and rent out land” just like other Brazilians. Bolsonaro claims the tribes are being “exploited and manipulated” by nongovernmental organizations. “Together,” he tweeted, “we’re going to integrate those citizens.” The indigenous themselves, though, will have none of it. Leaders of the Apurina and Aruak Baniwa communities have already penned an open letter saying they won’t assimilate or open their lands to agribusiness.

1-11-19 China’s pioneering moon mission
China has become the first country to land a spacecraft on the far side of the moon, setting the stage for a new space race with the U.S. The unmanned Chang’e-4 probe—the name was inspired by an ancient Chinese moon goddess—touched down last week in the South Pole–Aitken basin, an ancient impact crater that’s about 1,550 miles in diameter and 7.5 miles deep. Landing on the moon’s far side is incredibly challenging. Because the moon’s body blocks direct radio communication with a probe, China first had to put a relay satellite in orbit above the moon in a spot where it could transmit signals to the craft and to Earth. The far side of the moon is of particular interest to scientists because it is heavily pockmarked with deep craters, more so than the familiar near side. Chinese researchers hope to use instruments onboard Chang’e-4 and its lunar rover to find and study areas of the South Pole–Aitken basin where the mantle—the region below the crust—might be exposed. “This really excites lunar scientists,” Carle Pieters, a planetary scientist at Brown University, tells NBC.com, “because it means we have the opportunity to obtain information about the interior of the moon and how it’s constructed.” Data about the moon’s composition, such as how much ice and other exploitable resources it contains, could help China decide whether its plans for a future lunar base are feasible.

1-11-19 China powers up electric car market
Outside China, few drivers have heard of brands such asHit BYD or Beijing Automobile Works. But they're two of the largest players in the world's biggest market for electric cars. For a decade, the Chinese government has coaxed buyers and manufacturers into the electric vehicle market through subsidies and other incentives. The numbers suggest the strategy worked: the International Energy Agency says China buys more than half of the world's new electric cars. Now, the government is set to push the burden onto manufacturers, through a new "cap and trade" system and rules that make it harder to set up a factory to make combustion-engine cars. The rules were believed to have come into force on 1 January this year. China is both the biggest manufacturer and the biggest market for cars globally. But after two decades of rapid expansion, sales fell in 2018 by 6% to 22.7 million units. The most recent figures show that New Energy Vehicles (NEVs) - a category which includes electric and hybrid models - has defied that trend, growing substantially over the past year. However, the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM) says 601,000 NEVs were sold in the first three quarters of 2018, which means they still account only for a small fraction of the market.

1-11-19 The French teacher who saved Jewish children
During the darkest years of World War II, Georges Loinger used skill and guile—and a hefty dose of good luck—to save hundreds of Jewish children in France from the occupying Nazis. Together with fellow members of the French Resistance, the Jewish physical education teacher hid the children at châteaus across the countryside and kept his wards healthy and happy with exercise and sports. As the Holocaust intensified, Loinger organized field trips to soccer pitches near the border with neutral Switzerland, using false identities for the children. There, he’d throw a ball toward the border and get a few kids to chase after it and keep running, never to return. Other times, some children would dash under the barbed wire during the game. “There were always fewer kids in our returning group,” Loinger said, “but no one noticed.” Loinger was born in Strasbourg, a city on the French-German border that “came under French control after World War I but maintained a distinctly German identity,” said The Washington Post. As Adolf Hitler rose to power, Loinger saw Mein Kampf in bookstores and heard the Nazi leader’s anti-Semitic speeches on the radio. An athletic young man, Loinger “studied engineering and then took up teaching physical education,” said The Times (U.K.). He did so, he said, with “the intention of preparing and training Jewish youth for the ordeal that awaited.” Loinger fought with the French army when Germany invaded in 1940 but was captured and shipped to a prison camp near Munich. He escaped to France and joined the resistance, also recruiting a cousin, the mime Marcel Marceau. The young teacher “was well suited to his clandestine work,” said The New York Times. Fluent in German, with blond hair and blue eyes, Loinger could “pass as an Aryan.” He once convinced a group of German soldiers that the 50 children he was escorting had fled the Allied bombing of Marseille—then watched in amazement as the soldiers sang with the Jewish kids and gave them candy. After the war, Loinger helped Holocaust survivors immigrate to British-controlled Palestine, and later became an executive with the French subsidiary of an Israeli shipping firm. When he died at 108 years old, his son reported that his last words were “Nobody can destroy Jewish culture.”

1-11-19 A 'moral imperative' to deceive
During the 2017 special election for a U.S. Senate seat in Alabama, progressive activists set up a fake Facebook page in ostensible support of Republican Roy Moore. The page, called Dry Alabama, praised Moore for proposing a complete ban on alcohol in the state — a false claim designed to depress his vote totals from moderate Republicans. Sounds like a Russian tactic, but activist Matt Osborne told The New York Times this week he had "a moral imperative to do this." Defeating Moore, an accused serial abuser of teenage girls, was so important, Osborne explained, that a bit of deception was justified. Dirty political tricks are, of course, not new, but the brazen defense of them on moral grounds is quite telling. There's a growing bipartisan conviction that virtually anything — lying, cheating, and spying — is justified because, well, the other tribe is so evil. President Trump, of course, is the leading practitioner of the dark arts of deception, but his disdain for facts and norms is evidently infectious. When socialist superstar Rep. Alexandria ­Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.) was recently questioned about her fuzzy math and exaggerated claims about Pentagon waste, she shot back, "There's a lot of people more concerned about being precisely, factually, and semantically correct than about being morally right." When newly seated Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) called out Trump for divisive rhetoric, lack of "honesty and integrity," and low character, Republican colleagues chastised him for being too truthful. Evangelicals excuse Trump's serial adultery and unchristian bombast in the belief that he's serving a divine purpose by filling federal benches with anti-abortion judges. Were 4,000 Islamic terrorists really caught trying to cross the Mexican border? Will raising millionaires' taxes really pay for free everything? Who cares? When you're absolutely certain you're "morally right," facts and ethics are immaterial.

1-11-19 Kevin Fret: Gay rapper shot dead in Puerto Rico aged 24
The rapper and outspoken advocate for the LGBT community Kevin Fret has been shot dead in Puerto Rico aged 24. The musician, described as Latin Trap music's first openly gay artist, was killed in the capital San Juan on Thursday morning, police said. Fret was shot at eight times while riding a motorbike in the street, and he was hit in the head and hip. His death brings the number of murders in Puerto Rico this year to 22, police added. Confirming his death, Fret's manager Eduardo Rodriguez said: "There are no words that describe the feeling we have and the pain that causes us to know that a person with so many dreams has to go. "We must all unite in these difficult times, and ask for much peace for our beloved Puerto Rico." Fret was out in the Santurce neighbourhood of San Juan at 5:30 local time (9:30 GMT) on Thursday when he was fatally shot. He was taken to a nearby hospital, where he was declared dead. Police are now searching for another man on a motorcycle who was with Fret when he was found, but quickly fled the scene. There is no immediate indication of a motive, and an investigation is under way. Puerto Rico has seen a rise in street crime in recent weeks, which has been described by police on the Caribbean island as a "crisis of violence". (Webmaster's comment: The male brutes continue their rampage against all the decent people of the world!)

1-11-19 Chang'e-4: China Moon probes take snaps of each other
A Chinese rover and lander have taken images of each other on the Moon's surface. The Chinese space agency says the spacecraft are in good working order after touching down on the lunar far side on 3 January. Also released are new panoramic images of the landing site, along with video of the vehicles touching down. The rover and lander are carrying instruments to analyse the region's geology. The Chang'e-4 mission is the first to explore the Moon's far side from the surface. The rover has just awoken from a period on "standby". Controllers placed it in this mode shortly after the touchdown as a precaution against high temperatures, as the Sun rose to its highest point over the landing site. Those temperatures were expected to reach around 200C. But the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program (CLEP) said that as of the morning of 11 January, the Yutu 2 rover, its lander and the relay satellite were all in a "stable condition". The panoramic images show parts of the static lander and the Yutu 2 ("jade rabbit") rover, which is now exploring the landing site in Von Kármán crater. CLEP, which released the images, said in a statement: "Researchers completed the preliminary analysis of the lunar surface topography around the landing site based on the image taken by the landing camera." In contrast with previous images from the landing site, the panoramic image has been colour-corrected by Chinese researchers to better reflect the colours we would see if we were standing there. Online commentators had pointed out that these earlier, unprocessed images made the lunar landscape look reddish - a far cry from the gunpowder grey landscapes familiar from other missions to the surface. (Webmaster's comment: The insane thing is that America is claiming that China stole the technology to do this. But how can that be since America can't do this!)

1-10-19 US shutdown: Border politicians oppose Trump's wall
Politicians in Washington have had a lot to say about the merits or otherwise of a border wall thousands of miles away. But why are so many lawmakers based there against it? There are nine members of the House of Representatives whose districts lie along the US-Mexico border. It is perhaps not surprising that the eight Democrats oppose President Donald Trump's signature campaign pledge. But the one Republican congressman - whose district stretches for 820 miles (1,320km) along the border - is also hostile. Most of his party, including some senators and governors of states at the border, back the president. These nine House representatives have intimate knowledge of the border and the issues arising from the movement of people - legal or otherwise - across it. So what have they said? Will Hurd, Texas Republican: "I think building a concrete structure sea to shining sea is the most expensive and least effective way to do border security," said Will Hurd, a Republican congressman whose district has the longest border with Mexico. Congressman Hurd's 23rd Congressional District, which stretches from El Paso to San Antonio, shares the largest border with Mexico of any member of Congress. Mr Hurd, a former CIA agent who happens to be the only black Republican in the House of Representatives, has argued for a "smart border wall" which would be composed of sensors and other technology. "A Smart Wall would use sensor, radar and surveillance technologies to detect and track incursions across our border so we can deploy efficiently our most important resource, the men and women of Border Patrol, to perform the most difficult task - interdiction," he wrote in an op-ed in 2017. Mr Hurd, who broke rank with Republicans to vote on a Democratic-led bill to reopen government, said after Mr Trump's speech on Tuesday: "If this is a crisis, the people that are dealing with this crisis should get paid." Federal workers who are deemed "essential" such as border patrol agents, have been forced to work without pay as the shutdown continues.

1-10-19 South Africa teacher suspended over class 'split by race'
A teacher in South Africa has been suspended "with immediate effect" after a photo emerged of her pupils sitting in racially separate groups. A black parent told the TimesLive news site that she thought her child's first day at school in had got off to a good start until she saw the image. "This was meant to be an exciting day for me, but it's not," she said. Local authorities say they "highly condemn" the incident and have removed the teacher "pending investigation". The BBC's Milton Nkosi in South Africa says Schweizer-Reneke is conservative rural town with a population of just under 50,000, surrounded by a farming community made up of mainly white Afrikaners. Sello Lehare, the education minister for the North West province, said the school's explanation was that "the learners were separated according to those who could understand Afrikaans and English". He added: "We are suspending her [the teacher] because we want the investigation to be fair and free". Racism is still deeply embedded in South Africa nearly 25 years after white-minority rule ended. Language policy has historically been used to exclude black learners. Parents had dropped their children off on Wednesday morning for their first day of school at Schweizer-Reneke primary school. Apparently to reassure parents that all was going well, the class teacher reportedly shared a photograph of the children to the school's private WhatsApp group. People then pointed out that the children were sitting separately according to race - the white children at a table in the centre of the room, and the few black children at a table in the corner. The image began circulating on social media. (Webmaster's comment: It's not just America where racism is alive and well!)

1-9-19 Trump's imaginary border crisis
There is no national security crisis on the southern border — and everyone in Washington knows it. Let's get one thing perfectly clear: There is no national security crisis on the southern border. President Trump claimed otherwise in his nine-minute Oval Office address to the nation on Tuesday night. But he was lying. How do we know this? Because if there were a genuine national security crisis on the southern border, Republicans in the House and Senate would be tripping over themselves to fund — and take credit for funding — Trump's border wall. There is no political downside whatsoever to taking a strong stand in defense of the country in the midst of a national security crisis. And yet, what have we seen over the past two years during which Republicans controlled both houses of Congress and could have appropriated funds for Trump's beloved wall at any time? Zip. Nada. Nothing. Part of the reason is that Trump's talk of the wall on the campaign trail was always wrapped up with the patently preposterous claim that Mexico would pay for it. That stuck in the craw of some fiscally prudent Republicans. (Yes, there are still a small handful of those around.) But if the threat were real — if the evidence of it were obvious, or even vaguely plausible — even the stingiest members of the GOP would gladly have added a few more inches onto the Everest of national debt in return for looking tough and patriotic. We would have gotten wall funding in the opening months of the Trump administration. Hell, in the face of a genuine national security crisis, the vast majority of Democrats would be eager to share credit for keeping the country safe, even with Trump in the White House. But none of that has happened. Not before the failure to repeal ObamaCare, and not after. Not before passage of the massive corporate tax cut, and not after. Not in the run-up to the midterm elections, and not after. Because there is no national security crisis on the southern border — and everyone in Washington knows it.

1-9-19 China is showing the rest of the world how to build a cashless society
Mobile payment services are seeing explosive growth in China, where apps like Alipay and WeChat Pay let people do everything from paying bills to booking a taxi. CASH is rapidly becoming a thing of the past in China. Consumers have abandoned banknotes in favour of paying with their phones in unprecedented numbers – and this vision of a cashless economy could well be the future throughout the world. The country isn’t alone in rejecting coins and notes – Sweden leads the world as the most cashless nation as a percentage of GDP – but its pace of change is accelerating. Since 2013, China has experienced the highest growth in the number of cashless transactions out of the top 10 leading cashless economies and it now accounts for about 40 per cent of global e-commerce transactions. And unlike Sweden, where physical card payments dominate, people in China are paying via local equivalents of messaging services like WhatsApp. QR codes for Alipay and WeChat Pay, the two most popular such apps, are now ubiquitous in China: in shops, restaurants, metro stations and even among buskers and beggars. Anyone with the app can scan a code with their smartphone to transfer money, without the need for physical cards or chip readers. In 2017, such mobile payments totalled 120 trillion yuan ($17.5 trillion). The country’s regulators have scrambled to keep up with the boom. A new e-commerce law came into effect at the start of this year, aiming to give consumers stronger legal protections when they buy through e-commerce apps and social media. Brian Sui, a doctor who lives in Shanghai, says he hasn’t used cash in more than two years. “Occasionally, if you come across a place that accepts cash only, people become furious. I carry about 10 or 20 RMB [$1.50 or $3] in case of emergency, but I never have to use it.” Virtually everyone he encounters – even when he visits family in the rural north-east or buys breakfast from 70-year-old street vendors – has Alipay or WeChat Pay. (Webmaster's comment: The future is not here, it's in China!)


FEMINISM

1-15-19 Rahaf Mohammed: Saudi teen says women 'treated like slaves'
A Saudi teenager given asylum in Canada after fleeing her family has said the journey was "worth the risk" so she could live a more independent life. Rahaf Mohammed, 18, made headlines when she flew to Thailand and barricaded herself in a hotel while appealing on Twitter for help to avoid deportation. She said she feared being killed if she was sent back to her family. "It's something that is worth the risk I took," she told the Toronto Star and CBC News. "I had nothing to lose." "We are treated as an object, like a slave," she said. "I wanted to tell people my story and about what happens to Saudi women." Under Saudi Arabia's guardianship system, women must obtain permission from a male relative to travel outside the country, study abroad on a government scholarship, get married or even leave prison. Ms Mohammed - who has dropped her surname, al-Qunun - alleged that her family had subjected her to physical and psychological abuse. "In the beginning they locked me up for six months after I cut my hair... because it is forbidden in Islam for a woman to dress like a man," she told reporters at the office of an immigrant settlement agency in Toronto. "But I was mostly exposed to violence by my mother and my brother," she added. "They were beating me and there was corporal violence." While she was in Thailand, Ms Mohammed also told the BBC that she had renounced Islam - a crime that is punishable by death in Saudi Arabia. She had been on a trip to Kuwait with her family when she fled on a flight to Bangkok on 5 January, saying she intended to take a connecting flight to Australia and had an Australian visa. But she says her passport was seized by a Saudi diplomat when he met her coming off the flight, leaving her stranded. (Webmaster's comment: And we want to be friends with the Saudi Arabia government? It's a brute male dictatorship nation that will harm or kill women for almost any reason.)

1-14-19 Bollywood's Rajkumar Hirani denies sex assault allegations
Bollywood director Rajkumar Hirani has denied allegations that he sexually assaulted a colleague over a period of six months. He is the most high-profile Bollywood figure to be named so far in India's #Metoo movement. Prominent comedians, journalists, authors, actors, filmmakers and artists have been accused in recent months. The woman, who remains anonymous, said she had worked as an assistant on Mr Hirani's last film, Sanju. Her allegations against Hirani were published by HuffPost India on 13 January. She told the news website that he first assaulted her at his home on 9 April and on a number of other occasions during the post-production work for Sanju, between then and September 2018. Mr Hirani has denied the allegations in a statement released by his lawyer. "I was completely shocked when these allegations were brought to my notice about two months ago. I had suggested immediately that it is essential to take this matter to any committee or legal body. The complainant has chosen to go to the media instead. I want to very strongly state that this is a false, malicious and mischievous story being spread with the sole intention of destroying my reputation," his lawyer told Huff Post India. In a November 2018 email quoted by HuffPost India, the accuser wrote in reference to the alleged April 9 assault: "My mind, body and heart were grossly violated that night and for the next 6 months." She sent the email to Hirani's business partner and Bollywood producer, Vidhu Vinod Chopra. Mr Chopra's wife, Anupama, a film critic, and the scriptwriter for Sanju, Abhijat Joshi, were also reportedly copied in the email. The woman said she did not take any immediate action against Mr Hirani as she feared losing her job. Her father was terminally ill at the time, she said, so she could not afford to quit.

1-14-19 Judge blocks Trump's new birth control rules in 13 states and Washington
A California judge has blocked new Trump administration regulations on birth control from applying in 13 states and Washington DC. The rules allow employers and insurers to decline to provide birth control if doing so violates their "religious beliefs" or "moral convictions". The rules were to come into effect nationwide from Monday. But the judge granted an injunction stopping it applying in jurisdictions which are challenging the policy. Plaintiffs in 13 states and the nation's capital argued that the new regulation should not come into force while they moved forward with lawsuits against it. While Judge Haywood Gilliam did not make a final decision, he said the rules could mean a "substantial number" of women would lose birth control coverage, a "massive policy shift" which could breach federal law. California attorney general Xavier Becerra said in a statement: "It's 2019, yet the Trump administration is still trying to roll back women's rights. "The law couldn't be clearer - employers have no business interfering in women's healthcare decisions." But the US Department of Justice said in court documents that the new rules defended "a narrow class of sincere religious and moral objectors" and stopped them from conducting practices "that conflict with their beliefs".

1-13-19 What America's science agencies are doing about harassment
Activists are putting the pressure on the federal government to leverage its money against alleged sexual harassers in academia. Speaking late last year before an audience of hundreds of scientists and university staff — seemingly a majority of them women — officials from three major federal science agencies laid out what they are doing to prevent sexual harassment at universities and other research institutions. Most of the announcements didn't offer much new information, but they provided an overview of what agencies have been doing over the past several months, as they've faced increased pressure to respond to claims of sexual harassment and gender discrimination in universities. Like many other industries, science has undergone its own #MeToo movement over the past few years, with numerous high-profile people being accused of harassment and some of them resigning over the allegations. But science has its own twist: University researchers, including accused harassers, often get thousands or even millions of dollars in federal money to perform research. In response, activists have demanded that the science agencies leverage the money to get scientists and their employers to behave better. "The only thing that's going to change the way that we treat the most vulnerable people in our scientific and other societies is law and money," BethAnn McLaughlin, an assistant professor of neuroscience at Vanderbilt University, said in August. "Our funding agencies have the money," she said. "When they start pulling money away from institutions that are harboring harassers, then the universities will start taking them seriously." And so, on a cold and rainy Friday morning, leaders from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Science Foundation spoke at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in Washington, D.C., about their institutions' harassment policies. Together, these agencies gave out more than $30 billion in grants in 2017. A representative from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration wasn't there because she was sick, said Tom Rudin, a staffer at the National Academies, a non-profit group that advises Congress on science and has been studying harassment. A representative from the Department of Education declined to join the panel when she heard journalists would be there, Rudin said. (Webmaster's comment: We don't care about the money. Arrest the bastards, lock them up, and throw away the Key!)

1-13-19 Women's rights in Saudi Arabia: 'I escaped to seek a better life'
It's a dramatic story that has brought the restrictions faced by women in Saudi Arabia back into the spotlight. Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, 18, garnered global attention last week after she locked herself into her hotel room and refused to fly back home. She was fleeing her family in Saudi Arabia and, after instigating a high-profile Twitter campaign, was granted asylum in Canada. As the debate about women's rights in the country continues, another young woman who fled Saudi Arabia for Canada has told her story to the BBC. Salwa, 24, ran away with her 19-year-old sister eight months ago and now lives in Montreal. This, in her own words, is her story. We had been planning to leave for roughly six years, but we needed a passport and a national ID card to do so. I needed the consent of my guardian to get these documents. (Women in Saudi Arabia are required to obtain a male relative's approval for many things). Fortunately, I had a national ID card already because my family agreed to give me one while I was studying at university. I also had a passport because I needed one to sit an English language exam two years ago. But my family took it away from me. Somehow, I needed to get it back. I stole the keys to my brother's house and then went to the store to get a copy of them cut. I couldn't leave the house without their consent, but I sneaked out while they were sleeping. It was very risky because if I had been caught then they would have hurt me. Once I had the keys I managed to get hold of my passport, my sister's passport, and I also took my father's phone while he was sleeping. Using this, I logged into his account on the interior ministry's website and changed his registered phone number to my number. I also used his account to give us both consent to leave the country. (Webmaster's comment: But Saudi Arabia has a lot of oil and buys billions in weapons from the United States. So their killing of those that leave Islam is to be ignored!)

1-13-19 When kids think a shooter is coming
Lockdowns have become an ordinary feature of the American school day. Even when there's no violence, children suffer the psychic consequences. Locked behind their green classroom door, MaKenzie Woody and 25 other first-graders huddled in the darkness. She sat on the vinyl tile floor against a far wall, beneath a taped-up list of phrases the kids were encouraged to say to each other: “I like you,” “You’re a rainbow,” “Are you OK?” In that moment, though, the 6-year-old didn’t say anything at all, because she believed that a man with a gun was stalking the hallways of her school in the nation’s capital, and MaKenzie feared what he might do to her. Three times between September and November, bursts of gunfire near MaKenzie’s public charter elementary school led DC Prep to seal off its Washington campus and sequester its students. During the last one, on Nov. 16, a silver sedan parked just around the corner at 10:42 a.m., then the men inside stepped out and fired more than 40 rounds. As MaKenzie’s class hid upstairs, teachers frantically rushed three dozen preschoolers off the playground and back into the building. The children of DC Prep hid for 20 minutes, until police officers arrived at the crime scene around the corner and began to take note of where the 40-plus bullet casings had scattered. What did not arrive was the caravan of TV trucks and reporters that so often descend on schools when such scenes play out in whiter, wealthier neighborhoods. In the hours that followed, students began to unravel. Among the things they said: “Who’s going to shoot me?” “I want to shoot people.” “I want to shoot myself.” “The lockdowns,” as MaKenzie calls them, have changed her, because the little girl with long braids and chocolate-brown eyes remembers what it was like before them, when she always felt safe at her school, and she knows what it’s been like afterward, when that feeling disappeared. In April, the country will mark the 20th anniversary of the massacre at Columbine High, and that day will arrive in the aftermath of the worst year of school shootings in modern American history. Last spring, The Washington Post launched a database that tracked incidents of gun violence on campuses dating back to 1999, and the carnage in 2018 shattered every record. Most shootings at schools: 25. Most people shot: 94. Most people killed: 33. Most students exposed to gunfire on their campuses: 25,332.

1-12-19 The struggle of Native American women
Crimes against Native women go unpunished every day. And it takes a toll on the survivors. Equal protection under the law remains a broken promise to Native women. In September of last year, the Alaska Star reported that a 34-year-old Alaskan man, Justin Scott Schneider, had pled guilty to one count of second-degree assault and reached a plea deal where he will serve no time in prison. His crime was strangling a 25-year-old Native woman until she passed out, and then sexually assaulting her. Anchorage Assistant District Attorney Andrew Grannick said that he'd made the deal with Schneider because he doesn't expect Schneider to offend again, adding, "But I would like the gentleman to be on notice that is his one pass — it's not really a pass — but given the conduct, one might consider it is." Justice has failed Schneider's victim, the young Native woman who told police, "You don't forget the face of the man who almost killed you." With stories such as this one and the many others like it, it's hard to be hopeful about improving the harrowing conditions that indigenous women face across the United States and Canada. Federal figures show that more than half of indigenous women in the U.S. have experienced sexual or domestic violence at some point in their lives, and the Seattle Times reports that 94 percent of Native American women in Seattle have been raped or coerced into sex, according to a survey from the Urban Indian Health Institute and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As a Native woman, I know that our suffering cannot be quantified by statistics, especially statistics formulated by governments that have actively tried to erase us. What's realer to me, though, is the people who must live with these tragedies and injustices each day.

1-11-19 When kids think a shooter is coming
Lockdowns have become an ordinary feature of the American school day, said journalists Steven Rich and John Woodrow Cox. Even when there’s no violence, children suffer the psychic consequences. Locked behind their green classroom door, MaKenzie Woody and 25 other first-graders huddled in the darkness. She sat on the vinyl tile floor against a far wall, beneath a taped-up list of phrases the kids were encouraged to say to each other: “I like you,” “You’re a rainbow,” “Are you OK?” In that moment, though, the 6-year-old didn’t say anything at all, because she believed that a man with a gun was stalking the hallways of her school in the nation’s capital, and MaKenzie feared what he might do to her. Three times between September and November, bursts of gunfire near MaKenzie’s public charter elementary school led DC Prep to seal off its Washington campus and sequester its students. During the last one, on Nov. 16, a silver sedan parked just around the corner at 10:42 a.m., then the men inside stepped out and fired more than 40 rounds. As MaKenzie’s class hid upstairs, teachers frantically rushed three dozen preschoolers off the playground and back into the building. The children of DC Prep hid for 20 minutes, until police officers arrived at the crime scene around the corner and began to take note of where the 40-plus bullet casings had scattered. What did not arrive was the caravan of TV trucks and reporters that so often descend on schools when such scenes play out in whiter, wealthier neighborhoods. In the hours that followed, students began to unravel. Among the things they said: “Who’s going to shoot me?” “I want to shoot people.” “I want to shoot myself.” “The lockdowns,” as MaKenzie calls them, have changed her, because the little girl with long braids and chocolate-brown eyes remembers what it was like before them, when she always felt safe at her school, and she knows what it’s been like afterward, when that feeling disappeared. In April, the country will mark the 20th anniversary of the massacre at Columbine High, and that day will arrive in the aftermath of the worst year of school shootings in modern American history. Last spring, The Washington Post launched a database that tracked incidents of gun violence on campuses dating back to 1999, and the carnage in 2018 shattered every record. Most shootings at schools: 25. Most people shot: 94. Most people killed: 33. Most students exposed to gunfire on their campuses: 25,332.

1-11-19 Louis C.K.: A vengeful comeback
After admitting to sexual misconduct more than a year ago, comedian Louis C.K. pledged to “step back and take a long time to listen,” said Anna Silman in TheCut.com. He’s been listening, all right. Not to the women he hurt, but to “that furious, tiny masturbator on his shoulder, whispering in his ear: ‘Aren’t you, Louis C.K., really the biggest victim in all of this?’” A leaked recording of the disgraced performer workshopping a new set at a Long Island comedy club shows that he’s bitter and angry, seemingly blaming his downfall on today’s “woke” youth and PC culture. C.K. rants about gender-neutral pronouns, derides Asian men’s masculinity, and mocks the Parkland student activists as unqualfied to speak on public policy. “You’re not interesting because you went to a high school where kids got shot,” C.K. says. I always hoped that C.K.—whose comedy was originally based on examining his own bad behavior—“would find some way to redeem himself.” Instead, he’s leaning into being a “reactionary a--hole.”

1-11-19 Rahaf al-Qunun flying to Canada in asylum bid
A Saudi woman who fled her family and refused to leave a Bangkok hotel is now flying to Canada where she is seeking asylum, Thai officials say. Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, 18, refused to board a flight from Bangkok to Kuwait on Monday and barricaded herself into her airport hotel room. She said she had renounced Islam, which is punishable by death in Saudi Arabia. The UN's refugee agency has said it considers her to be a legitimate refugee. Thai immigration officials had initially said she should return to Kuwait, where her family were waiting. She then started a social media campaign, live-tweeting her case and attracting international attention. (Webmaster's comment: It would wise of her not to come to the United States. The male brutes in charge of this country would send her back to Saudia Arabia to be killed!)

1-11-19 Craig McLachlan: Actor charged with assault and sex offences
Australian actor Craig McLachlan has been charged with one count of common assault and eight counts of indecent assault by police. The former Neighbours star, 53, was charged by a police sex crime unit in Melbourne. A spokesman for Mr McLachlan told local media: "Craig is innocent of these charges which will be vigorously defended." He is due to appear at Melbourne Magistrates' Court on 8 February. Police did not elaborate on the nature of the allegations. McLachlan is a veteran of the Australian entertainment industry, having won Australia's top television award - the Gold Logie - and starred in programmes including Home and Away and the Doctor Blake Mysteries.

1-11-19 Croatian women challenge brutal pregnancy 'care'
Croatia has been experiencing its own #MeToo moment, as women protest at being put through avoidable suffering and abuse during pregnancy and childbirth. Campaigners call it "obstetric violence" and complain it has been going on for decades. ut it was not until one opposition MP spoke out in parliament about her own ordeal that a national debate started on social media - under the hashtag #BreakTheSilence. Ivana Nincevic-Lesandric described the "medieval treatment" she had experienced at the hands of medical staff after a miscarriage. "They tied up my arms and legs and started the procedure of curettage without anaesthesia. That means scraping the cervix, the internal organ, without anaesthesia. Those were the most painful 30 minutes of my life," she told shocked MPs. Health Minister Milan Kujundzic suggested the story was a figment of her imagination: "This is not how it's done in Croatian hospitals. You can give me your medical records if you want and I'll take a look." But many Croatians leapt to her defence, especially women, calling her statement bold and unprecedented. Croatia is a predominantly Catholic country, and many are reticent about talking openly about female reproductive health in what is still a largely patriarchal society. Pressure group Parents in Action (Roda), which for years has tried to highlight the issue, followed up the MP's testimony with a #BreakTheSilence campaign. In one weekend alone they received testimonies from 400 women, says spokeswoman Daniela Drandic. They duly handed them to the health ministry. "We have reports of biopsies being done without anaesthetic, of medically-assisted fertility procedures without anaesthetic, sewing to repair tears after vaginal childbirth, episiotomy being done without anaesthetic," she says. Among the accounts were examples of abuse and women being talked to in a demeaning way during childbirth. "Things like: 'If you could have sex you should now be able to take it,' or 'it was nice before and now the pain comes later' - telling women that they are being sewn to make their husbands happy." One of the 400 women is Jasmina Furlanovic, who still gets tearful when she recalls the humiliation and pain she endured when she had to have her placenta removed a few years ago. "They started the procedure without any explanation. The nurse was restraining me," she said.

1-10-19 Sanders apologises for 2016 campaign 'harassment' allegations
Senator Bernie Sanders has apologised to female staff members on his 2016 US presidential campaign who allege they were mistreated by male aides. "To women in our campaign who were harassed or mistreated, I apologise," the Vermont independent wrote in a statement on Twitter on Thursday. (Webmaster's comment: Apologies don't cut it. But long prison sentences might help!) His apology comes as he contemplates another White House bid under the Democratic banner in 2020. Several aides have complained of a "predatory culture" in his campaign. The New York Times reported on allegations by female Sanders aides of mistreatment by male senior staff. On Wednesday, Politico reported that the deputy national field director for Mr Sanders' campaign had forcibly kissed a younger subordinate in 2016. "Candidates who allow people like Robert Becker to lead their organisations shouldn't earn the highest office in our government," said the woman, naming the aide. The unnamed accuser said she never reported the alleged incident because it came on the same day that Mr Sanders' campaign ended after he failed to snatch the Democratic nomination from Hillary Clinton. She said she felt compelled to speak out after Mr Becker travelled to South Carolina in December on a trip to recruit future campaign workers for Mr Sanders. Mr Becker denies any harassment, and no criminal charges have been filed. The allegation comes as dozens of former Sanders campaign workers have signed a letter requesting a meeting with him "to discuss the issue of sexual violence and harassment on the 2016 campaign".

1-10-19 Ashley Judd's sexual harassment claim against Harvey Weinstein dismissed
A sexual harassment claim brought by actress Ashley Judd against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein has been dismissed by a court in California. But the judge said she could still pursue a defamation claim that Mr Weinstein sabotaged her career. Mr Weinstein has been accused by more than 75 women of varying degrees of sexual misconduct going back decades - allegations he denies. He has been charged with five counts of sexual abuse, including rape. The disgraced producer - who denies the charges, which were brought by two women - will stand trial in New York later this year. Ashley Judd was one of Mr Weinstein's original accusers. Her sexual harassment lawsuit was re-filed following a change in California state law after her initial claim was rejected by Judge Gutierrez in a Los Angeles federal court last September. She alleges she rejected unwanted advances from him and he then tried to wreck her career. But in a statement late on Wednesday, Judge Gutierrez said the law that deals with sexual misconduct claims in professional relationships, which was revised to include directors and producers, could not be applied retrospectively to Ms Judd's case. However, Ms Judd's claim that the Oscar-winning producer "blackballed" her after she refused his advances would still be heard, Judge Gutierrez said. That part of her lawsuit states that "Weinstein used his power in the entertainment industry to damage Ms Judd's reputation and limit her ability to find work". In 2017, Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson said he had been considering Ms Judd for a role in the 2002 film but that she was "blacklisted" following conversations with the Weinstein Company. (Webmaster's comment: Male brutes will find any excuse to protect other male brutes!)

1-10-19 The insidious sexism of 'resting bitch face'
Can we please retire this made-up affliction? f you're a woman and you have a face, chances are good that at some point, you've been accused of having "resting bitch face." Resting bitch face — also known as RBF or "bitchy resting face" — is a relatively new term in our lexicon. It's used to describe a supposed condition that causes a person to appear angry or annoyed when they're actually at ease or feeling neutral. Resting bitch face is a completely made-up affliction, and it is slung primarily at women for doing little more than having a face and not always having it arranged in a smile. The audacity. Can 2019 please be the year we put this ridiculous insult behind us? The concept of resting bitch face was first popularized in a 2013 viral video as a joke and picked up speed as celebrities like Anna Kendrick bemoaned the dreaded affliction. In 2015, the New York Times wrote a trend piece called "I'm Not Mad. That's Just My RBF." And it's still very much a thing today. Hundreds of products on Amazon tout resting bitch face. In the past year, new articles discussed the "science" behind it. On Instagram, the hashtag #restingbitchface has nearly 950,000 posts to date. Obviously RBF is supposed to be a light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek concept, but it's actually insidious and sexist. First of all, it's disproportionately used to describe women. If a man's neutral expression seems unpleasant or annoyed, that's just him getting to be a person. As country singer Kasey Musgraves once said, a more accurate name for RBF would be Resting "This Wouldn't Bother You If I Was a Guy" Face. And then, of course, there's the fact that "bitch" is an inherently gendered word. Just like "resting tech bro face" or "resting mansplainer face" would be criticisms of men, "resting bitch face" clearly and specifically targets women. (Webmaster's comment: Another attack on women by male brutes. Being cowards they'll attack anything female because the women are seen as physically weaker.)

1-10-19 Nepal woman and children die in banned 'menstruation hut'
A Nepali mother and her two children have been found dead after the woman was banished to a "menstruation hut". The woman had lit a fire to keep her and her two young sons warm in bitter winter temperatures. All three are suspected to have died in their sleep due to smoke inhalation, officials told BBC Nepali. The traditional practice of exiling menstruating women from the family home is banned in Nepal but it is still widely practised in rural areas. This case is not the first tragedy to have occurred when women have been sent to sleep in the huts - a practice, known as chhaupadi, that was criminalised in 2017. There have been several cases of suffocation and at least one teenage girl has died after being bitten by a snake. Under the ancient practice, linked to Hinduism, women who have their periods or who have just given birth are seen as impure or as bringers of bad luck, and can be forced to sleep in huts or cattle sheds. They are banned from touching cattle and men, denied access to some foods and can be barred from toilet and washing facilities in the house, forcing them to walk long distances from their villages. They can also be exposed to extreme cold in the winter and criminal attacks, and young women cannot go to school. The latest tragedy occurred in far-western Nepal's Bajura district.

1-9-19 The brutal secret of school sport initiations
Hazing rituals have long been a brutal secret among high school and college sport teams. But in the #MeToo era, can teenage victims shatter the code of silence? When Allison Brookman arrived at Reed Custer High School to pick up her 14-year-old son Anthony from American football camp, she knew something was wrong. "You can kind of tell when your kid is hurt or sad," she told the BBC. "When I pulled up, I saw that same look in his face, that he was hurt." After some needling from his mother, he admitted he had just been "jumped" by four senior football players. But it wasn't until she took him to hospital to have his injuries examined that she heard what had really happened - that Anthony had been beaten up and sexually assaulted by members of the team as part of a violent hazing ritual. "The first guy who slapped me twice and knocked me down, he kicked me in my right side on my ribs," Anthony told CBS in an interview. "While the fourth one took my shorts off and they pulled my legs up so that he could get his finger to my, you know, body part." Allison says when they heard this in the hospital examining room, she and her husband were stricken with horror. "They didn't just beat you up, they tried fondling you?" she recalls asking. "At that point my son looked at us and said 'don't worry mom, don't worry dad, they didn't get in me.'" "That was probably the breaking point for both of us." Now the family is suing the Reed-Custer Community Unit School District 255 in Braidwood, Illinois, claiming it failed to prevent the sexual assault and for allegedly not properly responding to the incident once they became aware. Superintendent Mark Mitchell defends the schools actions and says the players were punished "according to the terms of the School District's Athletic Code of Conduct." The school is defending the legal action. Three of the alleged attackers have also been charged as juveniles with aggravated battery. They are not named as they were minors at the time of the incident. As their case winds through the courts, other eerily-similar incidents have also come to light. In Maryland, four 15-year-old members of the Damascus High School junior varsity football team are accused of raping a younger teammate with a broomstick as part of a hazing ritual, and trying to rape others. Prosecutors have told in chilling detail how the alleged attackers cornered four freshmen teammates in the locker room. "It's time," one of them said before they ganged up on the first victim, holding him down and sodomising him with the broom handle.

1-9-19 This protein may help explain why some women with endometriosis are infertile
Having a reduced amount of HDAC3 renders mice sterile. A missing protein may help explain why some women with endometriosis are infertile. In samples of lining from the uterus, infertile women with the disorder had lower amounts of a protein called histone dacetylase 3, or HDAC3, than fertile women without endometriosis, a study finds. When mice were engineered to have a decreased amount of HDAC3 in the uterus, the animals became sterile, researchers report online January 9 in Science Translational Medicine. The new work brings scientists a step closer to understanding what’s driving infertility in women with endometriosis, says Linda Giudice, a reproductive endocrinologist at the University of California, San Francisco who was not involved in the study. Such research could potentially offer ways to improve these women’s ability to become pregnant, she says. Endometriosis — a disorder in which tissue from the lining of the uterus invades other parts of the body, such as the ovaries, lining of the pelvis and bowels — can cause severe pain and infertility. Researchers don’t know why endometriosis strikes. Women whose menstruation began before age 10, were of low birth weight or were exposed to a synthetic estrogen called diethylstilbestrol, or DES, in the womb are at an increased risk for the disorder. Having family members with the disease also puts one at risk. The disorder is estimated to affect up to 10 percent of women of childbearing age. Among women with infertility, the prevalence of the condition may be as high as 50 percent. Reproductive biologist Jae-Wook Jeong at Michigan State University in Grand Rapids and colleagues wanted to study why fertility may be reduced during endometriosis.

1-9-19 CES 2019: 'Award-winning' sex toy for women withdrawn from show
A sex toy designed for women has been banned from the technology show CES. Lorna DiCarlo said it had been invited to display its robotic Ose vibrator at CES, after winning an innovation award. CES organiser the Consumer Technology Association, which granted the award, said it had included the device by mistake and could withdraw any immoral or obscene entry at any time. Lorna DiCarlo chief executive Lora Haddock said the CES and CTA had a history of gender bias. In a statement to The Next Web, the CTA said: "The product does not fit into any of our existing product categories and should not have been accepted. "We have apologised to the company for our mistake." But, in a statement on the Lora DiCarlo website, Ms Haddock cites several examples of other female-oriented products included in the award category the vibrator was in. "Two robotic vacuum cleaners, one robotic skateboard, four children's toys, one shopping companion robot - looks like all of women's interests are covered, right?" she said. "Ose clearly fits the robotics and drone category - and CTA's own expert judges agree." The product had designed in partnership with a robotics laboratory at Oregon State University and had eight patents pending for "robotics, biomimicry, and engineering feats", Ms Haddock said. "We firmly believe that women, non-binary, gender non-conforming, and LGBTQI folks should be vocally claiming our space in pleasure and tech," she said. Ms Haddock said there was a double-standard at CES when it came to sexual health products targeted at men versus women.


SCIENCE - GLOBAL WARMING and ENVIRONMENT

1-14-19 Desalination pours more toxic brine into the ocean than previously thought
The supersalty water is a byproduct in producing potable water. Technology meant to help solve the world’s growing water shortage is producing a salty environmental dilemma. Desalination facilities, which extract drinkable water from the ocean, discharge around 142 billion liters of extremely salty water called brine back into the environment every day, a study finds. That waste product of the desalination process can kill marine life and detrimentally alter the planet’s oceans, researchers report January 14 in Science of the Total Environment. “On the one hand, we are trying to provide populations — particularly in dry areas — with the needed amount of good quality water. But at the same time, we are also adding an environmental concern to the process,” says study coauthor Manzoor Qadir, an environmental scientist at the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health in Hamilton, Canada. Between human population growth and climate change, water is becoming increasingly scarce (SN: 8/18/18, p. 14). Desalination technology has become a viable solution to this problem and has grown exponentially in popularity since the 1980s. Almost 16,000 plants now operate worldwide. Desalination relies on evaporation or specialized membranes to either chemically or electrically separate pure water from a stream of saltwater. But two streams always flow out of the system: one that becomes water that people can use, and another with the leftover, extra-salty brine, which is released back into the environment. Previous evaluations didn’t assess how much brine these facilities produced, Qadir says. Scientists assumed that desalination facilities on average equally produced brine and pure water — one liter of brine for every liter of pure water. That turned out to be wrong. (Webmaster's comment: Thinking ahead is not a human strong point.)

1-14-19 Concerns over increase in toxic brine from desalination plants
Desalination plants around the world are pumping out far more salt laden brine than previously believed, according to a new study. The salty effluent is a by-product of efforts to extract fresh water from the sea. Researchers found that plants are now producing 50% more of this chemical laden cocktail than expected. The brine raises the level of salinity and poses a major risk to ocean life and marine ecosystems. More than half the brine comes from four middle eastern countries. These are Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Qatar, with Saudi Arabia alone responsible for 22% of the effluent. There's been a major expansion of desalination plants around the world over the past few years, with almost 16,000 now operating in 177 countries. It's estimated that these plants produce 95 million cubic metres of freshwater per day from seas and rivers - equivalent to almost half the average flow over Niagara Falls. A number of small countries, such as the Maldives, Malta and the Bahamas, meet all their water needs through the desalination process. But the success of the technology is coming at a price. This new study estimates these plants discharge 142 million cubic metres of extremely salty brine every day, a 50% increase on previous estimates. That's enough in a year to cover the state of Florida under 30.5cm (12 inches) of brine. The problem with all this hyper salty water is that it often contains other contaminants and can pose a significant threat to marine life. "The salt level in the sea water is further increased because of this disposal of the concentrate brine," said Dr Manzoor Qadir from the UN University Institute for Water, Environment and Health, one of the study's authors. "There is an increase in the temperature of this zone of the sea, together they decrease the dissolved oxygen level, which is called hypoxia and that impacts the aquatic life in that zone." Hypoxia often leads to what are called dead zones in the oceans - Scientists say these zones have quadrupled since 1950, mainly as a result of climate change. Now the salt is adding to these problems.

1-14-19 Watch how air pollution moves across Europe
This is what pollution looks like on a European scale. The animation shows the concentration and movement through the atmosphere of nitrogen dioxide. NO2 is a problem gas that is produced primarily by vehicle exhausts and industrial activity via the burning of fossil fuels. The map covers a sample period from 5 to 10 January, and describes the behaviour of NO2 at ground level on an hourly basis. The worst air quality peaks in the white. This fascinating insight was produced for the BBC by the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS), which is based at the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) in Reading. To make this type of animation, CAMS incorporates satellite observations and surface measurements. But as extensive as these data-sets have now become, they don't give a complete, real-time picture. So, the scientists must also marry the sensor information with models - of how the atmosphere moves and what the weather is doing. One of the first things you'll notice in the animation is the prevalence of NO2 emanating from the "usual suspects". "What you immediately see are the larger cities. You see Madrid, you see Paris, you see Moscow, you see London," explains Richard Engelen, the deputy head of CAMS. "Then you'll see more industrial areas, like Germany but also in the UK. You'll see too those areas where there are very dense traffic infrastructures, such as the Netherlands and Belgium where you have a lot of traffic from the two main ports at Rotterdam and Antwerp. These are the emission sources that always pop up," he told BBC News.

1-14-19 Wood burners and open fires face restrictions in new clean air plan
Wood burning stoves, open fires and farms all face new restrictions as the government sets out what it calls a "world leading" plan to tackle air pollution. In their Clean Air Strategy, published today, the government promises to set a "bold new goal" to reduce particulates across much of the country by 2030. But green groups say the scheme is vague and severely lacking in detail. They believe the plan proposes nothing new to tackle roadside dirty air. The new strategy, which is focused on tackling air pollution in England, has been launched just days after the family of a nine-year-old girl who died from asthma were given permission to apply for a fresh inquest into her death. The government's chief lawyer heard new evidence her death could be linked to unlawful levels of air pollution. Catherine Bazell is a retired London librarian who suffers from asthma and a condition called bronchiectasis. It's a long-term illness where the airways of the lungs become abnormally widened, leading to a build-up of excess mucus that can make the lungs more vulnerable to infection. "People can't always see dirty air but it's there," she told BBC News. "I find it really frustrating, it means that I feel really tired, I can get tightness in my chest, I find it hard to breathe, it just stops you from doing all things you'd like to do. "You see the alerts, that say it's a very polluted day today and you are obliged to stay in to keep away from the pollution, and that makes me quite angry because why should we have to stay in? "We need to do something about the air pollution so that people can live normal lives."

1-12-19 How Trump is redefining the EPA
Under President Trump, the Environmental Protection Agency has made industry happy and environmentalists angry. Here's everything you need to know.

  1. What is the EPA's mission? The agency was created by President Richard Nixon in 1970 — a time when industrial pollution shrouded cities in smog, turned rivers and lakes into toxic stews of human waste and chemicals, and left shorelines blackened by garbage and oil spills.
  2. What is Trump's view of the EPA? During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump decried the EPA as a job-killing bureaucracy that had needlessly hamstrung the American economy with costly regulations.
  3. What has this new EPA done? So far, it has abolished a total of 47 environmental regulations — and is in the process of rolling back 31 more, according to a New York Times analysis.
  4. What about carbon emissions? Under both Pruitt and Wheeler, the EPA has acted as if climate change did not exist.
  5. What about enforcement of laws? It's way down. In fiscal 2017, the EPA initiated 20 percent fewer civil actions against polluters — and 30 percent fewer criminal cases — than during the year prior.
  6. Shrinking the EPA: Since Trump's inauguration, his hostility toward the agency has sparked an exodus of career employees — and has had a dispiriting effect on those who have remained behind.

1-11-19 U.S. CO2 emissions spike upward
U.S. carbon dioxide emissions shot up 3.4 percent last year, the biggest increase in eight years, according to a report published this week. The spike, after three years of decline, occurred despite a near-record number of coal plants closing last year, and growing use of alternative-fuel vehicles and renewable power sources. Analysts at the Rhodium Group say the uptick is the result of a surging economy, with a manufacturing boom leading to a 5.7 percent increase in emissions from industrial sectors. Greenhouse gas emissions peaked at 6 billion metric tons in 2007, just before the start of the Great Recession. The Rhodium report comes in advance of the Environmental Protection Agency’s tally of carbon emissions, which won’t be released until 2020.

1-11-19 Fine-to-flush label will tell you which wet wipes won’t cause fatbergs
A “fine-to-flush” symbol will be introduced in the UK for wet wipes that do not contribute to sewer fatbergs. Fatbergs are mainly caused by a build-up of wet wipes, oils and grease into a solid mass. They have occurred more often in recent years, with a 64-metre-long fatberg discovered blocking a sewer in Sidmouth in Devon, UK, this week. There are approximately 300,000 sewer blockages a year, costing £100 million, harming the environment and leading to home and business drains backing up, says Water UK. “This is an important step in the battle against blockages,” says Michael Roberts at Water UK. “The new fine-to-flush standard that we’ve created will make it easier for consumers to buy an environmentally friendly product instead of one which clogs up drains and sewers.” The Marine Conservation Society called for retailers to ensure all wipes have either passed the fine-to-flush standard and have the logo on the pack or are clearly labelled with “do not flush” to help consumers make the right choices. In its annual beach clean in 2018, the charity’s volunteers found an average of 12 wet wipes per 100 metres of beach, an increase of more than 300 per cent in the past decade.

1-10-19 Anak Krakatau: Finnish radar satellite eyes tsunami volcano
Here's a new view of Anak Krakatau, the collapsed Indonesian volcano that generated the 22 December tsunami that devastated local coastlines. The picture was assembled from radar images acquired on Wednesday by the ICEYE-X2 satellite. This is a small innovative spacecraft from Finland that will soon be part of a large orbiting network of sensors. The volcano continues to evolve, following the cone's catastrophic failure. Its original height of 340m was reduced to just 110m in the disaster, but further eruptions have since begun to re-model the remnant structure. "This image indicates the edifice is in a building phase, with the crater no longer connected to the sea as it was in images from a week or so ago," observed Prof Andy Hooper from Leeds University, UK. More than 400 people died along the coastlines of Java and Sumatra in the Sunda Strait when the tsunami hit. Scientists relied heavily on radar satellites in the days immediately after the collapse to try to understand what had happened. Radar will see the ground day or night, and will even pierce thick cloud. Researchers were fortunate that the European Union's Sentinel platform passed overhead just hours after the event. But such observations are not always so timely. Helsinki-based ICEYE hopes to remedy this by putting up a constellation of small radar satellites. ICEYE-X2 is the second spacecraft to be launched. Another five to eight will go up this year. All these platforms are about the size of a suitcase - far smaller than the traditional radar sensors placed in orbit. (Webmaster's comment: To bad America's space program is focused on military ojectives. Focused on ways to kill more people!)

1-10-19 Climate change: Will insect-eating dogs help?
Do you fret that your pet pooch is blamed by environmentalists for turning rainforests into poo in the park? Have no fear - you can now fatten Fido on black soldier flies instead of Brazilian beef. A pet food manufacturer now claims that 40% of its new product is made from soldier flies. It's one of many firms hoping to cash in on the backlash against beef by people concerned that the cattle are fed on soya. These soya plantations are responsible for the release of greenhouse gases in significant quantities. The key question is whether a diet of 40% soldier flies meets the nutritional needs of your beloved canine. We put the question to a pet diet expert at the Royal Veterinary College, Aarti Kathrani. Her conclusion was a cautious "yes". "Insects can be a very useful source of protein," she told us. "More studies are needed to show how much of these nutrients can actually be absorbed by a dog's body - but some studies suggest that insects can provide nutrients for dogs." At first sight it seems obvious that feeding your dog meaty food is bad for the environment. The link between humans eating meat and the allied emissions of CO2 and methane is well established - and pets are estimated to eat 20% of global meat. It's also true that flies produce protein much more efficiently than cows - using a small percentage of the water and land. But actually the analysis is more subtle than that - because as societies become more wealthy, people often turn to muscle meat and reject the animal's offal. That offal is just as nutritious - and it gets made into pet food. That means that dog food is just as sustainable - or unsustainable - as humans eating meat. In fact, if dogs were weaned off meat and on to insects, the industry would have to find another purpose for the offal. More sausage, perhaps? Or more humans eating insect protein. Or more going vegan?

1-9-19 Report: US 2018 CO2 emissions saw biggest spike in years
A new report has found that US carbon dioxide emissions rose by 3.4% in 2018 after three years of decline. The spike is the largest in eight years, according to Rhodium Group, an independent economic research firm. The data shows the US is unlikely to meet its pledge to reduce emissions by 2025 under the Paris climate agreement. Under President Donald Trump, the US is set to leave the Paris accord in 2020 while his administration has ended many existing environmental protections. While the Rhodium report notes these figures - pulled from US Energy Information Administration data and other sources - are estimates, The Global Carbon Project, another research group, also reported a similar increase in US emissions for 2018. The US is the world's second largest emitter of greenhouse gases. And last year's spike comes despite a decline in coal-fired power plants; a record number were retired last year, according to the report. The researchers note that 2019 will probably not repeat such an increase, but the findings underscore the country's challenges in reducing greenhouse gas output. In the 2015 climate accord, then President Barack Obama committed to reducing US emissions to at least 26% under 2005 levels by 2025. Now, that means the US will need to drop "energy-related carbon missions by 2.6% on average over the next seven years" - and possibly even faster - to meet that goal. "That's more than twice the pace the US achieved between 2005 and 2017 and significantly faster than any seven-year average in US history," the report states. "It is certainly feasible, but will likely require a fairly significant change in policy in the very near future and/or extremely favourable market and technological conditions. "

1-9-19 Climate change: 'Right to repair' gathers force
It is frustrating: you buy a new appliance then just after the warranty runs out, it gives up the ghost. You can’t repair it and can’t find anyone else to at a decent price, so it joins the global mountain of junk. You’re forced to buy a replacement, which fuels climate change from the greenhouse gases released in the manufacturing process. But help is at hand, because citizens in the EU and parts of the USA will soon get a "right to repair" - of sorts. This consists of a series of proposals from European environment ministers to force manufacturers to make goods that last longer and are easier to mend. The European proposals refer to lighting, televisions and large home appliances. At least 18 US states are considering similar laws in a growing backlash against products which can’t be prised apart because they’re glued together, or which don’t have a supply of spare parts, or repair instructions. European environment ministers have a series of proposals forcing manufacturers to make goods that last longer and are easier to mend. The European proposals refer to lighting, televisions and large home appliances. Plans for the EU Ecodesign Directive are complex and controversial. Manufacturers say the proposed rules on repairability are too strict and will stifle innovation. Green groups say legislation under way in Europe and the US represents progress towards saving carbon emissions and using resources more wisely.

1-9-19 Climate change: Which are the best vegan milks?
The popularity of vegan foods continues to grow, with January seen as a traditional time to consider giving them a try. Milk alternatives, such as oat, soy, almond or coconut, are one area of interest, with sales rising in the UK. A scientific study suggests the greenhouse gas emissions used in the production of plant-based milks are lower than for dairy milk. But which milk has the smallest impact on the planet? Producing a glass of dairy milk results in almost three times the greenhouse gas emissions of any non-dairy milks, according to a University of Oxford study. Looking at land use, the difference is starker still. Producing a glass of dairy milk every day for a year requires 650 sq m (7,000 sq ft) of land, the equivalent of two tennis courts and more than 10 times as much as the same amount of oat milk, according to this study. Almond milk requires more water to produce than soy or oat milk. A single glass requires 74 litres (130 pints of water) - more than a typical shower. Rice milk is also comparatively thirsty, requiring 54 litres of water per glass. However, it's worth noting that both almond and rice milk still require less water to produce than the typical glass of dairy milk. To find out the climate impact of what you eat and drink, choose from one of the 34 items in our calculator and pick how often you have it. Food production is responsible for a quarter of all human-produced greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to global warming, according to the study on which the calculator is based, by Dr Joseph Poore, of the University of Oxford.


SCIENCE - EVOLUTION and GENETICS

1-15-19 A new 3-D printed ‘sponge’ sops up excess chemo drugs
The device prevented a liver cancer drug from spreading through pigs’ bodies, curbing toxicity. Bringing the filtering abilities of a fuel cell into the blood vessels of living organisms, a new device could cut down on toxic effects of cancer treatment. At the heart of this approach — recently tested in pigs — is a tiny, cylindrical “sponge” created by 3-D printing. Wedged inside a vein near a tumor being treated with chemotherapy, the sponge could absorb excess drug before it spreads through the body — thus lessening chemotherapy’s harmful side effects, including vomiting, immune suppression or even heart failure. A human study could launch “in a couple of years, if all the stars are aligned,” says Steve Hetts, a neuroradiologist at the University of California, San Francisco who came up with the drug-capture concept. He worked with engineers at UC Berkeley and elsewhere to create and test prototypes. A test of the most recent prototype showed that the absorber captured nearly two-thirds of a common chemotherapy drug infused into a nearby vein, without triggering blood clots or other obvious problems in the pig, Hetts and his colleagues report January 9 in ACS Central Science. The study addresses a major need, says Eleni Liapi, a radiologist at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine not involved with the new work. Existing methods for controlling chemotherapy delivery do not fully block drug escape, she notes. “A technological advancement to reduce unwanted circulating drug is always welcome.”

1-15-19 Call for more transparency over ‘add-on’ fertility treatments
Clinics offering fertility treatment must be more transparent about the effectiveness and costs of “optional extras”, the UK’s fertility regulator has said. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority says there is “no conclusive evidence” that any so-called add-ons offered with fertility treatment increase the chance of pregnancy or live birth. The HFEA has signed a consensus statement alongside 10 other fertility bodies saying that a failure to provide evidence-based treatment poses a significant risk to patient trust. According to the HFEA’s most recent national fertility patient survey, 74 per cent of patients receiving treatment over the last two years had at least one type of add-on. The most common add-ons include endometrial scratching, embryo glue, and the use of an embryoscope to monitor cell division. The HFEA rates 11 add-ons using a traffic light system. The green rating is reserved for procedures or techniques that have been shown to be effective and safe by at least one good-quality, randomised clinical trial. None of the 11 treatments have received a green rating. “Fertility treatment add-ons are being offered to more patients by clinics and we know many patients are asking for these add-ons and paying for them if they have private treatment,” says Sally Cheshire, of the HFEA. “It’s crucial that clinics are transparent about the add-on treatments they offer, including the potential costs, to ensure patients know exactly whether they are likely to increase their chance of having a baby.”

1-15-19 Teachers are scanning students’ brains to check they are concentrating
Are you concentrating? Some teachers are checking whether their students are paying attention by using headbands that read brain signals. Focus headbands, made by BrainCo in Massachusetts, were used in a recent trial with 10,000 school children aged between 10 and 17 in China. Over 21 days, students wore the headsets during class and teachers could monitor their average attention levels using an app. Lights on the front of the headsets also show different colours for distinct attention levels – flagging to teachers when a student might be daydreaming. The device can help teachers identify students who may need special assistance and pitch their lessons right, says Bicheng Han, founder of BrainCo. However, aside from the potential privacy issues around monitoring students’ brain activity, some are expressing concern over the device’s effectiveness. The Focus headband uses electroencephalography (EEG) sensors to detect changes in brain waves when the wearer is highly engaged in a task. Typically, the brain’s high-frequency beta waves are increased when we are focused, and the low-frequency alpha and theta waves are more excited when we are relaxed. The patterns vary from person to person, so Focus determines each user’s maximum attention level via a series of mental tasks. Students who participated in the experiments also had to play a smartphone game every day at home for 25 minutes aimed at increasing their ability to concentrate. The more they concentrated, the further they progressed in the game.

1-14-19 A child’s mix of gut bacteria may determine if they get allergies
A species of gut bacteria may be responsible for preventing allergies in children. Allergies have become much more common in industrialised countries since the mid-20th century, but it’s still not clear why. Some evidence points to the microbiome – the community of bacteria that live inside our bodies – as a possible factor. Children whose mothers take probiotic supplements seem to have a lower risk of allergies, while those born by caesarean section, which affects the acquisition of bacteria in the gut, may have a higher risk. Cathryn Nagler at the University of Chicago and colleagues found in an earlier study that children with a cow’s milk allergy have markedly different bacteria in their gut than healthy children. To see if those differences contribute to the development of allergies, they took faecal samples from babies with and without cow’s milk allergies and transplanted them into mice that lacked gut bacteria. Mice without gut bacteria and mice that received bacteria from children with allergies had anaphylactic reactions when exposed to cow’s milk for the first time, but mice that received bacteria from healthy children did not. That tells us that a certain population of bacteria is needed to prevent allergies, says Nagler. By combining data on the bacterial populations and patterns of gene expression in the intestine, the team discovered that one particular species, Anaerostipes caccae, appears to be a protective factor. If this species alone is transplanted into germ-free mice, they do not suffer allergic reactions to cow’s milk. As evidence has accumulated regarding the microbiome’s role in health, there has been growing interest in faecal transplants as experimental therapies. However, Nagler doesn’t think they are a good idea.

1-14-19 Easing test anxiety boosts low-income students’ biology grades
Simple psychological tricks could boost confidence before STEM-subject exams. At a large Midwestern high school, almost 40 percent of low-income biology students were poised to fail the course. Instead, thanks to simple measures aimed at reducing test anxiety, that failure rate was halved. Psychological interventions that improve grades could ultimately help keep more low-income students in the sciences, says Christopher Rozek, a psychologist at Stanford University and lead author of the study, which appears online the week of January 14 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Low-income students are much less likely than high-income students to complete four years of high school science. That leads to those students being less likely, or unable, to major in science and math in college or to pursue related — often lucrative — careers in adulthood. One of the many factors underlying this achievement gap is low-income students’ internalized feelings of inadequacy in such fields, Rozek says. Those feelings often translate to high pretest anxiety and worse grades. In previous, smaller studies, researchers have shown that reducing performance anxiety can improve test scores. To scale up that work, Rozek and colleagues recruited 1,175 freshman biology students at a public high school in Illinois; 285 of those students came from a low socioeconomic background. At the school, slightly over half of low-income students fail their final biology exams compared with just 6 percent of high-income students. Rozek’s group investigated whether 10-minute-long reading and writing prompts before an exam could improve test performance.

1-12-19 Ovarian cancer AI can tell how aggressive a woman’s tumour is
Artificial intelligence is helping researchers spot aggressive forms of ovarian cancer. Yinyin Yuan and colleagues at the Institute of Cancer Research in London built an AI to look for differences in tumour cell shape. It analysed tissue sample images from 514 women with ovarian cancer and found that misshapen nuclei correspond to a more aggressive form of the disease with a survival rate of 15 per cent over five years. That compares with 53 per cent for the standard form. Human researchers are very good at looking at cells, but it is hard to quantify differences and the process takes a lot of time – hence the use of AI, says Yuan. However, the test so far is of limited use, says Kevin Elias at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. “It is one thing to tell me a patient is likely to have a poor outcome, but if you are unable to suggest an alternative treatment, it is not that useful,” he says. AI is increasingly used in cancer research to sift data for patterns that can help us in various ways, like tracking tumour evolution and improving diagnosis. Yuan and her team will next use AI to look at cancer that resists chemotherapy, to try to develop more targeted treatments.

1-12-19 Bacteria live in China’s thick smogs and may be making it even worse
Bacteria are feeding and multiplying in the severe smogs that regularly blanket Chinese cities. The microorganisms could pose a threat in themselves and may also change the composition of the haze. China’s capital Beijing is regularly smothered in a thick, toxic haze that forms as a result of coal burning, vehicle exhausts and other sources. It is worst in winter, when weather patterns trap pollution over the city. China has cracked down on emitters, and in 2018 emissions fell 12 per cent, but there is a long way left to go. Many other cities, like Delhi in India, have similarly severe air pollution. Western countries like the UK tend to have cleaner air but it is often still more polluted than is thought safe. The World Health Organization says, because it worsens the risk of episodes like heart attacks and strokes, which can prove fatal. Most of the focus on air pollution has looked at the chemicals that make up smog and how they interact. But Maosheng Yao at Peking University in Beijing, China, is one of several researchers who suspect there is another factor involved: microorganisms like bacteria. In a study published in 2016, Yao’s team showed that tiny clumps of bacteria were common during severe hazes in Beijing. The bacteria made up a significant fraction of the particulate matter in the smog. Now they have taken a closer look. They collected air samples during four haze episodes in 2017 and 2018 and examined the particles of bacteria present. They were far more numerous and larger when the haze was bad than at other times.

1-11-19 Medication and depression
Your medicine cabinet could be making you blue. More than one-third of Americans are now taking medications that can cause depression as a side effect, according to a new study. Researchers identified about 200 prescription drugs that can cause the mood disorder, including many common medications taken by older adults, such as proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs), used to treat acid reflux, and beta blockers for hypertension. The study found that the more of these drugs people take, the greater their risk of depression. About 7 percent of participants taking one such drug were depressed, compared with 15.3 percent of those taking three or more. Many doctors “may not be aware that several commonly prescribed medications are associated with an increased risk of this disorder,” study author Mark Olfson, a professor at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, tells Consumer Reports. But other experts note that many people taking these medications already suffer from conditions that put them at a raised risk of depression. Up to half of people with chronic pain, for example, also have depression or another mood disorder—because the parts of the brain that process pain also affect mood.

1-11-19 What are the risks of dying from having the yellow fever vaccine?
On 10 January, renowned cancer doctor Martin Gore of the Royal Marsden Hospital in London died of organ failure shortly after getting the yellow fever vaccine, according to the Times newspaper. This has led to concern about the vaccine’s safety, particularly for older people – Gore was 67. Here’s what we know: What is yellow fever? It’s a mosquito-borne virus found in Africa, South America and the Caribbean. People infected with the virus develop flu-like symptoms. About 85 per cent of people recover but in 15 per cent it damages the liver and kidneys, causing internal bleeding that is often fatal. In recent years there have been a series of outbreaks in Africa, leading to a vaccine shortage. There are also fears the virus could spread to Asia. Did the yellow fever vaccine cause Gore’s death? We don’t know, contrary to some reports. The case should now go to the agency responsible for vaccine safety in the UK, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, which will determine if the vaccine was the cause of death. Could the vaccine have killed him? Yes, although it is exceedingly unlikely. The yellow vaccine is a live vaccine – a harmless variant of the wild virus. In around 1 in 250,000 people, according to the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), it causes “yellow fever vaccine-associated viscerotropic disease” – serious damage to internal organs. How many people have died as a result of the vaccine? Of the hundreds of millions given the yellow fever vaccine since it was introduced in 1936, there have been just 62 confirmed cases and 35 deaths from vaccine-associated viscerotropic disease, according to a 2016 study. It’s likely that cases have been missed in poor countries, but because the condition is so serious it is unlikely to go unnoticed in rich countries. Are there other risks of having the About one person in 55,000 experiences a severe allergic reaction to a vaccine component and one person in 125,000 experiences severe nervous system reaction. So overall the risk of serious side effects is very low, but still higher than other vaccines, where the risk is typically one in several million, says Ron Behrens of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

1-11-19 Earth’s missing chapter
An international team of scientists thinks it has solved one of geology’s great mysteries: What happened to a massive, missing layer of Earth’s crust? The Great Unconformity—a gap in the geological record of anywhere from 250 million years to 1.2 billion years—can be observed at the Grand Canyon, where the rocky layers offer a window into Earth’s history. One strata is made up of sedimentary rocks from the Cambrian period, which started some 540 million years ago, and below is a layer of crystalline rock that formed about 1 billion years ago. The new study suggests the missing layer or layers vanished during a hypothesized period known as Snowball Earth, when most of the planet was covered in ice, reports NationalGeographic.com. Researchers believe that roaming glaciers ground up a 3-mile-deep layer of the crust. Using a chemical analysis of ancient zircons—hardy minerals that lock in the geochemical conditions of their environment during formation—the scientists concluded the resulting sediment was dumped into the oceans and then sucked into Earth’s mantle by moving tectonic plates. “Earth does a really good job at erasing the tracks of its past,” says study co-author Bill Bottke, of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder.

1-11-19 Nerve cells from people with autism grow unusually big and fast
Abnormal growth patterns might set the brain on a course to develop the disorder. Young nerve cells derived from people with autism are precocious, growing bigger and developing sooner than cells taken from people without autism, a new study shows. The results, described January 7 in Nature Neuroscience, hint that in some cases nerve cells veer off course early in brain development to ultimately cause the disorder. As a proxy of brain growth, researchers led by Simon Schafer of the Salk Institute in La Jolla, Calif., transformed skin cells from people with and without autism into stem cells that then developed into nerve cells in the lab. Along the way, the scientists monitored the cells’ growth and the behavior of their genes. Compared with cells derived from five people without autism, cells from eight people with autism grew bigger, with longer and more elaborate branches, the researchers found. Three-dimensional balls called organoids made of the autism-derived cells were bulkier, too. In addition to this physical development, a group of genes important for brain development switched on sooner. Trouble in the autism-derived cells, however, actually began a bit earlier, just as the cells were on the cusp of becoming nerve cells. At the neural stem cell stage, certain spots of these cells’ chromatin — tightly packed genetic material — were more open and accessible than they should have been, an unfolding that can lead to abnormally active genes. The results show that open chromatin “can have major effects on neuronal development,” says neuroscientist David Amaral of the University of California, Davis.

1-10-19 Taking ginger pills can make disgusting ideas more palatable
We often say our sense of morality is guided by our gut feelings – and this may be truer than we realise. A set of experiments using the anti-nausea powers of ginger have provided the strongest evidence yet that bodily sensations play a key role in some of our moral judgements. Previous studies have reported that the more disgusted people feel, the more wrong they judge moral infractions to be. However, it’s not clear whether feelings of disgust guide moral judgements, or if it is the other way around. To find out, Jessica Tracy and her colleagues at the University of British Columbia, Canada, carried out a series of experiments using ginger, which has anti-nausea effects. Half the volunteers were given ginger in capsules and half were given placebos, without knowing which. In the first test, 242 subjects were shown disgusting photos and then asked to rate how disgusted they felt. Ginger reduced feelings of disgust towards moderately disgusting photos, such as snot in a napkin, but not highly disgusting photos, such as vomit in a toilet. This is the first evidence that treatments that target physical feelings of nausea also help alleviate psychological feelings of disgust, suggesting that physical queasiness contributes to how we feel about a picture. Next, the researchers asked subjects how wrong they considered certain acts. Initially, they focused on so-called “purity violations” – situations that include touching dead bodies or faecal matter. “In human cultures throughout history, moralising about these things was an effective way to prevent people from engaging in behaviours that would transmit germs,” says Tracy. They found that, when people were given ginger, they made less harsh judgements about moderate purity violations, such as drinking from a never-used toilet bowl. But like in the first experiment, the ginger wasn’t enough to curb reactions to more extreme scenarios, such as sex between cousins.

1-10-19 ‘Little Foot’ skeleton reveals a brain much like a chimp’s
But the ancient hominid’s inner ear shows a mix of humanlike and apelike features. An ancient hominid skeleton dubbed Little Foot possessed a brain largely similar to that of modern chimpanzees and an inner ear with a mix of apelike and humanlike features, two studies suggest. These findings, along with other analyses of the adult female’s 3.67-million-year-old skeleton, point to the piecemeal evolution of humanlike traits in close relatives of our species, scientists say. The research is part of the first formal analyses of Little Foot’s skeleton, which was discovered more than 20 years ago in a South African cave but was recently removed from its rocky encasing. Other analyses of trunk and limb bones indicate that Little Foot, who lived perhaps a million years before the emergence of the human genus, Homo, already walked upright about as well as people today do (SN: 1/19/19, p.13). Although Little Foot consists of a nearly complete skeleton, her evolutionary identity is controversial. Paleoanthropologist Ronald Clarke of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg — Little Foot’s discoverer and a coauthor of the two new studies — assigns the find to Australopithecus prometheus, an early extinct hominid species that many scientists don’t regard as valid. Other researchers regard Little Foot as an early member of Australopithecus africanus, a species previously known from fossils discovered at several South African sites (SN: 1/19/19, p. 13). In one of the new studies, Witwatersrand paleoanthropologist Amélie Beaudet and her colleagues compared a 3-D digital reconstruction, or endocast, of Little Foot’s brain surface with digital endocasts of 10 other South African hominid specimens dating to between roughly 1.5 million and 3 million years ago.

1-9-19 Millions of years ago a massive whale-eating whale roamed the seas
Millions of years ago a mega whale species roamed the oceans. Now an analysis of their stomach contents reveals they may have been top of the food chain, and even eaten other whales. Basilosaurus isis could grow to 18-metres in length, three times that of orcas. They lived 38 to 34 million years ago in the Atlantic Ocean near modern North Africa. Nine years ago, a skeleton of a B. isis was found in northern Egypt, and it wasn’t alone. Fragmented bones from several fish were also unearthed from the same site. Scientists identified at least two smaller ancient whales, a bony fish and a shark. Manja Voss at the Museum of Natural History in Berlin and her colleagues analysed the location of the other bones relative to B. isis. They found all of them were clustered in or near the B. isis’ rib cage, where the its stomach would have been. Additionally, deep bite marks were found on the skulls of the smaller whales that match the shape of B. isis’ teeth. These suggests that B. isis had the ability to actively attack and prey on smaller whales and sharks that were also teethed predators that consume other animals. B. isis was at the top of the food web, making it the apex predator in its ecosystem, says Voss. “This is the first stomach content found in B. isis, and also first direct evidence for diet in that species,” she says. “The study extends our knowledge of ancient whales and completes the bigger paleo-ecological picture.”

1-9-19 In the beginning: The full story of life on Earth can finally be told
The events of the first 3.5 billion years of evolution are coming to light at last and they include far more drama and intrigue than we ever imagined. MOST accounts of life on Earth begin little more than half a billion years ago. That is when an evolutionary burst of creativity produced the ancestors of almost all animals and plants alive today. Following this “Cambrian explosion”, life’s story is one of fish, amphibians, insects, land plants, the rise and fall of the dinosaurs, and ultimately the emergence of humans. It is an epic tale – but it spans just one-eighth of life’s history. The problem is that although animals and plants have left abundant fossils, Precambrian rocks contain almost no traces of earlier life. This vexed Charles Darwin, who wrote in On the Origin of Species: “To the question why we do not find records of these vast primordial periods, I can give no satisfactory answer.” Since then, a few fossilised remains have been found, but these are mostly microscopic blobs, reluctant to give up their secrets. Yet, in recent years, ingenious researchers have found new ways to lift the lid on life’s black box. This is the story of the first 3.5 billion years. It is a tale dominated by single-celled organisms, but it is also one of cataclysmic change. It encompasses the birth of the continents, the greatest act of chemical pollution ever committed, and a freak evolutionary event that may never have happened anywhere else in the universe. It is an epic journey, so buckle up. In the beginning was Earth. It formed some 4.54 billion years ago from rocks and dust and, soon afterwards, was smacked in the face by another baby planet (or possibly several small ones). The impact melted Earth’s surface and threw chunks of matter into orbit, forming the moon. Where one vital ingredient for life, Earth’s water, came from is a long-running debate. It may have been locked up in the rocks that formed the planet, been brought in later by comet, or perhaps it came from interstellar space and is older than the sun itself.

1-9-19 Don’t panic about children’s screen time, try these tips instead
Alleged dangers of screen time have been exaggerated, worrying parents. Here are some guidelines to ensure screens are used positively, says paediatrician Max Davie TODAY’S children are growing up in an environment dominated by screens. Whether it is learning in school through computer or tablet use, relaxing at home with video games and TV or communicating with friends on phones and social media, time spent on screens has become an essential part of modern life. Amid this, much has been made in the media about the alleged dangers of screen time and the risks that it poses to young people’s health. As a paediatrician, I regularly speak to parents who are concerned about the amount of time their children spend glued to gadgets, but this panic isn’t new. People have been voicing concerns about the harms of spending too much time on screens since the invention of television. The truth is, the evidence for direct harm by screen time has always been contested. Although existing research demonstrates negative associations between screen time and mental health, sleep and fitness, we cannot be confident that these links are causal, or whether other factors are behind both negative health outcomes and higher screen time. In fact, a few more recent high-quality studies show that some screen time is better for mental health than none at all. To help clear things up, we at the UK’s Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health have put together some guidelines to help families better manage their use of screens. We recommend that parents approach screen time in a way that works with the child’s developmental age, the individual needs and the value the family places on positive activities such as socialising, exercise and sleep.

1-9-19 Medieval dental plaque suggests women played important role as scribes
Tiny particles of the precious pigment lapis lazuli found in the teeth of a medieval woman suggest she was a scribe producing high-quality illustrated manuscripts. The discovery adds to evidence that female scribes copied far more books during the Middle Ages than thought. “For reasons of humility women tended not to sign their works,” says archaeologist Christina Warinner at the University of Zürich in Switzerland. “There is this widespread bias shared by a lot of historians that book production was done by men only.” The finding came about by accident when Warinner’s team set out to study oral microbiomes by looking at mineralised plaque on the teeth of ancient skeletons. One of the skeletons came from a medieval cemetery near Dalheim in Germany associated with a religious community. It was excavated decades ago during building work. This skeleton had blue plaque, but finding out why required a long investigation by physicists and historians as well as archaeologists. Eventually an analytical technique called micro-Raman spectroscopy revealed that the vivid blue particles in the plaque were lapis lazuli. “It was a very big surprise to us, because lapis lazuli was so rare and expensive,” says Warinner. “And genetic tests determined that it was a woman, which was not what we expected.” There are four possible explanations. There’s “devotional osculation” – the practice of kissing figures in illuminated prayer books. But devotional osculation didn’t become popular until after 1300 AD, and the skeleton dates to between 1000 and 1160.

1-9-19 Paint specks in tooth tartar illuminate a medieval woman’s artistry
It wasn’t just monks who scribed and illustrated elaborate religious texts. Remnants of a rare pigment found in dental tartar of a woman buried around 1,000 years ago at a medieval monastery indicate that she may have been an elite scribe or book painter. These pigment flecks come from ultramarine, a rare blue pigment made by grinding lapis lazuli stone imported from Afghanistan into powder, say archaeologist Anita Radini of the University of York in England and her colleagues. Elaborately illustrated religious manuscripts produced during Europe’s Middle Ages, from around 1,600 to 500 years ago, were sometimes decorated with rare and expensive materials, including ultramarine and gold leaf. The new discovery, reported January 9 in Science Advances, supports recent historical research suggesting that it wasn’t just monks who prepared these richly decorated books. Nuns did, too. The presumed female book painter was identified as part of a study examining the chemical makeup of or dental plaque from individuals buried next to a women’s monastery at Germany’s Dalheim site. Radiocarbon dating places the woman’s death at between roughly 1,000 and 800 years ago. Based on the distribution of pigment in her mouth, the woman was probably licking the end of a brush in order to create a fine point while painting, the researchers say.

1-9-19 Blue tooth reveals unknown female artist from medieval times
The weird habit of licking the end of a paintbrush has revealed new evidence about the life of an artist more than 900 years after her death. Scientists found tiny blue paint flecks had accumulated on the teeth of a medieval German nun. The particles of the rare lapis lazuli pigment likely collected as she touched the end of her brush with her tongue. The researchers say it shows women were more involved in the illumination of sacred texts than previously thought. When they examined the teeth of one subject, called B78, it ultimately revealed far more than what she had eaten. According to radiocarbon dating, the woman had lived between 997 and 1162AD and was between 45-60 years old when she died. According to the authors, the woman was average in almost every aspect - except for what was stuck to her teeth. When the researchers dissolved samples of her dental calculus, they couldn't believe their eyes. Hundreds of tiny blue particles became visible. "Dental calculus is really cool, it is the only part of your body that fossilises while you are still alive," senior author Dr Christina Warriner, from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany, told BBC News. "During this process it incorporates all sorts of debris from your life, so bits of food become trapped, it ends up being a bit of a time capsule of your life." "We found starch granules and pollen but what we also saw was this bright, bright blue - and not just one or two little flecks of mineral, but hundreds of them. We had never seen that before." It took some major scientific sleuthing to work out what the particles were made of. Eventually, the scientists realised they were dealing with lapis lazuli, a rare and valuable pigment, that originated from a mountain in Afghanistan. The lapis would be ground into a powder and mixed to make ultramarine - a vivid blue, so expensive that artists like Michelangelo weren't able to afford it. It was used in Medieval Europe to decorate only the most valuable religious manuscripts.

1-9-19 Studies can be in vitro, in vivo and now ‘in fimo’ — in poop
Feces contain valuable scientific information that gives clues about overall health. Poop contains a lot of valuable scientific information. Researchers can monitor microbes, track enzyme activity or hunt for DNA to gather clues about overall health. There’s so much one can learn from the waste product that microbiologist Aadra Bhatt at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill decided there should be a word for that research — something in the same vein as “in vivo” (research done in living animals) and “in vitro” (research done in a petri dish). After some linguistic digging, she and two colleagues settled on “in fimo.” The term comes from fimus, one of several Latin words for manure or excrement. Their choice won out over the more obvious option of “in feces” because the word feces doesn’t have the same rich scatological legacy — originally it referred to the dregs in a wine cask, Bhatt says. She and her colleagues, while already using in fimo at meetings and seminars, published their argument online December 13 in Gastroenterology. Compared with the laborious process of pulling together a scientific paper, coming up with this term was “delightful — and it wasn’t particularly drawn out,” Bhatt says. She hopes the word catches on and gains a place in the lexicon for poopetuity.

1-9-19 'New' apple and pear varieties found in Wales
A total of 73 previously unrecorded varieties of apples and pears believed to be unique to Wales have been discovered by researchers. About 200 trees were DNA-tested in the two-year project to find, catalogue and preserve new varieties. Some have been propagated and are now being grown in 13 community orchards around Wales. The lottery funded project was run by the University of South Wales and the Welsh Perry & Cider Society. One variety, called Anglesey Sweet Jane (A1789), was found growing on land on Anglesey. The owner's mother, aged in her 80s, told researchers she remembered the tree, thought to be more than 100 years old, from her childhood. The variety takes its name from the owner's sister, and the "fruit is quite sweet" making it most likely an eater, said researchers. Another apple, known as Afal Tudwal (A1797), was found growing in an old orchard attached to a vicarage in Llanstadwell, Pembrokeshire. Researchers said its taste was "sharp but not unpleasant" and it had been used as a "cooker" and for cider. "When we launched this project none of us could have foreseen the huge success of the DNA testing results that would come from it," said society chairwoman Sally Perks. "We hoped to find some unique varieties, but we didn't envisage that there would be so many varieties of cider apple and perry pear that have only been found in Wales." Their project was set up in 2016 to look at the heritage of orchards and cider-making in Wales and it has boosted known varieties from about 30 to more than 100.


ANIMAL INTELLIGENCE and ZOOLOGY

1-11-19 How worm blobs behave like a liquid and a solid
Scientists are studying how the animals move collectively when tangled together by the thousands. Blobs of worms flow like a fluid, plop like a solid and fascinate scientists. A worm by itself is as solid as any other living animal. But a mass of aquatic California blackworms tangled together flows through a tube like a liquid. Pouring, heating and otherwise playing with blobs of worms shows that a tangled mass of them has properties of both fluids and solids, Saad Bhamla reported January 5 at the annual meeting of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology. A blob can hold itself together like a solid: When released to fall a short distance on a hard surface, it plops instead of splashing, Bhamla, a biophysicist at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, said. And video from his lab also revealed a worm blob version of melting. In a container of water where a hot spot develops, the blob starts fraying and “melts” away as some blackworms (Lumbriculus variegatus) disentangle themselves and swim off, while others collectively move to a spot with a lower temperature. Adding chilly water, however, will cause the blob to solidify again as the animals rejoin the ball. Blobs of worms that ooze along as a mass might help advance the study of biological physics, Bhamla said. Unlike some more famous animal group behaviors, such as birds flocking or fish schooling, worms tangling in a blob nudge against each other and transfer forces directly. Such contact matters in some of biophysics’ profound questions about how little bits of soft matter come together as multicellular life.

1-10-19 Poison toilet paper reveals how termites help rainforests resist drought
Forests with more termites show better soil nutrient distribution and leaf litter removal. It took hundreds of teabags and thousands of rolls of toilet paper for tropical ecologist Kate Parr and her colleagues to demonstrate that termites help tropical rainforests resist drought. Forests with more termites show more soil moisture, leaf litter decomposition and seedling survival during a drought than forests with fewer termites, the scientists report January 10 in Science. The study was part of a project by the University of Liverpool and the Natural History Museum in London to examine how ants and termites affect decomposition and consumption of seeds, fruits and carcasses in rainforests of the Maliau Basin Conservation Area in northern Borneo. Termites play an important role in tropical ecosystems, but “nobody knows exactly how important they are,” says Parr from the University of Liverpool. To isolate the effect of termites from the other soil critters, Parr’s team exploited termites’ cellulose diet. In 2014, the researchers buried insecticide-soaked rolls of toilet paper as well as tainted teabags in four forest plots, each about the size of five Olympic swimming pools. Toilet rolls are like cotton candy for termites, Parr says, “this really amazing, easy-to-digest food for termites.” The team used poisoned teabags just in case some termites “were fussy and didn’t eat the toilet paper.” Termites died after eating the poisoned baits, while the 14 other most commonly found invertebrate groups, including ants and beetles, were unaffected. None of these other critters nosh on hard-to-digest cellulose.

1-10-19 Bumblebees lose sleep looking after the young by napping half as much
In some ways, bumblebees are just like us. When they’re tending to their queen’s offspring, they lose significantly more sleep than they do away from the presence of the brood. In bumblebee colonies, worker bees tend to the queen’s eggs as they move into the larva and then pupa stages before becoming adults. To see if this takes a toll on the amount of sleep the bees get, Guy Bloch at Hebrew University in Israel and his colleagues compared the sleep behaviour of bumblebees during periods of caring for the young and time away from the brood. Using high-speed video, they tracked bees as they moved around, considering a bee to be asleep if it was motionless for more than 5 minutes. Bees who were tending to larva, the worm-like state that worker bees feed with honey and pollen, got about twice as much daily sleep as those that were tending pupae, which the worker bees actively groom and incubate by wrapping their legs around it and vibrating their abdomens. For bees tending pupae, the number of naps they took decreased, but the duration of sleep each time did not. The presence of a pupa also increased the worker bee’s time spent building wax pots, which was correlated with reduced sleep. Pupae don’t need to be fed by the worker bees, so it’s not just the heightened activity of caring for their young that’s keeping bees up at night. Just the presence of empty cocoons was enough to impact the bees’ sleep.

1-10-19 Wasp eggs laid on paralysed insects emit gas that keeps victims fresh
A bee-killing wasp lays eggs that emit toxic gas – a food hygiene technique that keeps the larvae’s dinner fresh until they hatch. The European beewolf’s eggs spew out large amounts of nitric oxide (NO), which reacts with oxygen in the air to form nitrogen dioxide (NO2). The gases destroy microbes such as fungi that threaten food resources for the offspring. The beewolf paralyses its prey by stinging them with venon. It then lays eggs on the paralysed bodies of bees, which provides a handy meal for hatched larvae. But the dank soil where egg-laying occurs is microbe-rich, so the bees can get consumed by mould in the three days before larvae emerge. Fumigation prevents the hapless bee from spoiling. Erhard Strohm at the University of Regensburg got a whiff of the mechanism during experiments with beewolves that had laid eggs inside lab containers. A swimming pool aroma caused by NO2 was noticeable when the containers were opened. “The smell is really strong sometimes and it differs from brood cell to brood cell a bit,” he says. Strohm and his colleagues confirmed the presence of nitrogen oxides with a simple reactive dye test. “It’s kind of undeniably cool that the wasp has evolved mitigations for a pest control strategy,” says Tobin Hammer at the University of Texas at Austin. He says he can’t think of another example of naturally-occurring fumigation in the insect world. Nichole Broderick at the University of Connecticut says she is stumped too. Strohm and his team also identified a gene in the beewolf eggs that is missing a common instruction known to limit NO production. It is possible that this is why the eggs generate so much noxious gas.

1-10-19 Floating seabirds provide a novel way to trace ocean currents
Data from GPS trackers on shearwaters matched those collected by buoys and other tools. Seabirds are like feathered buoys. Gently rafting on the ocean’s surface, these birds go with the flow, making them excellent proxies for tracking changes in a current’s speed and direction. Oceanographers traditionally use radar, floating buoys or autonomous underwater vehicles to measure ocean current velocities, which can affect the climate, ecosystems and the movement of important seafood. But some ocean regions aren’t easily accessible. Seabirds lazily resting on the ocean surface could offer a novel alternative to collecting those data, researchers report online January 10 in Scientific Reports. “I don’t think it’s going to replace the various instruments we use,” says Evan Mason, a physical oceanographer at the University of Washington in Seattle. “It was just interesting to see what we might find.” Mason and his colleagues outfitted 75 Scopoli’s shearwaters (Calonectris diomedea), a seabird found in the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea, with GPS tags and tracked their movements in the Balearic Sea off eastern Spain. On average, the birds spent only 10 percent of their time idly drifting on the water, but the team still collected 405 trajectories, the researchers say. Visually comparing wind and water velocity information with the way birds drifted, the researchers determined ocean currents, winds or both drove the animals’ direction, excluding some that preferred hitching a boat ride instead. The team then compared those tracks with satellite- and buoy-derived data of winds and surface currents and found they matched well.

1-9-19 Crows can guess the weight of an object by watching it sway in wind
It’s obvious to us that objects moved by a gentle breeze must be light, and those that don’t move are heavy, but can animals make this deduction? In the case of New Caledonian crows, the answer appears to be yes. “As humans, we have a very full understanding of what weight means across a variety of contexts,” says Sarah Jelbert, who led the study at the University of Cambridge, UK. “We don’t know if animals have these broad conceptions about the concept of weight in the same way that humans do.” Jelbert and her colleagues first trained 12 crows to discriminate between light and heavy objects. Six birds were rewarded when they dropped light objects into a food dispenser, and six were rewarded for choosing heavy objects. During this initial training, the birds were able to touch and pick up the objects. Then pairs of unfamiliar objects – one light and one heavy – were suspended from strings in front of an electric fan before the birds could interact with them. After seeing how they moved in front of the fan, the birds touched the correct object first, according to the rule they learned earlier, in 73 per cent of tests. If the test was done with the fan switched off, the birds did no better than chance. New Caledonian crows are famously fast learners with particularly impressive tool-making skills. In the wild, they often drop nuts on the ground to crack them open. The weight of a nut can indicate whether it’s good to eat, or rotten, so being able to infer weight by observation could be useful to them while foraging, says Jelbert.