Sioux Falls Free Thinkers

"Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent!"

For all those with Open Minds!

An Open Mind by Megan Godtland

Free Thinkers Stats

All Websites Stats

Latest News Articles from the
Sioux Falls Free Thinkers Five Websites
Click on the links below to get the full story from its source

Your only Sioux Falls source for really important news!


ATHEISM and HUMANISM

5-21-19 Trump's twisted mercy
The president's proposed pardons for war criminals reward injustice. One thing we know about President Trump is this: He is not a forgiving man. His list of grievances — real and imagined — seems to grow every day, his Twitter feed a never-ending recitation of enemies, old and new: Hillary Clinton, former FBI Director James Comey, Special Counsel Robert Mueller, The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, Rosie O'Donnell, and on and on. The president is vindictive, and proud of it. And yet Trump, like all presidents, possesses the power to offer clemency for federal crimes. Pardons are acts of lenience and grace, qualities we don't normally associate with this president. So, naturally, Trump uses his authority in distorted fashion, in ways that seem designed to actually decrease the net amount of mercy and justice in the world. For example, The New York Times reported over the weekend the president is considering offering Memorial Day pardons to U.S. military veterans accused — and in some cases, convicted — of war crimes "including high-profile cases of murder, attempted murder, and desecration of a corpse." Memorial Day, of course, is meant to honor the valor of American troops. Trump would use the holiday to instead highlight acts of dishonor — and to reward them. "Presidents use pardons to send messages," Margaret Love, a pardon attorney in previous presidential administrations, told the Times. "If this president is planning to pardon a bunch of people charged with war crimes, he will use the pardon power to send a far darker message." Indeed, the proposed Memorial Day pardons follow on the heels of other recent acts of Trumpian clemency: In the last few weeks, the president has pardoned Conrad Black, a former newspaper publisher who wrote a really nice book about him, as well as Michael Behenna, a former Army lieutenant convicted of killing an Iraqi man in his custody. Trump in 2017 also pardoned Joe Arpaio, the former Arizona sheriff and immigration hardliner convicted of contempt of court because he refused to stop his department's racial profiling of Latinos. In other words, Trump uses his pardon power to troll political opponents, reward friends, and to eliminate constraints on his agenda. The proposed Memorial Day pardons would be more of the same. Among those being considered for clemency are Navy SEAL Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher, who is awaiting trial on charges he killed unarmed civilians; Nicholas Slatten, a former Blackwater security contractor, convicted for his part in a 2007 shooting spree that left 14 Iraqi civilians dead.

5-21-19 Don McGahn: Former lawyer defies congressional subpoena
A former White House counsel has failed to appear before Congress to testify about Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, despite a subpoena. House Judiciary Chair Jerrold Nadler has promised to take legal action. President Donald Trump had earlier directed Donald McGahn to not appear before the Democratic-led committee. Mr McGahn told investigators in the inquiry into Russian election meddling that he had felt pressured by the president to fire Mr Mueller. "Our subpoenas are not optional," Mr Nadler said during his opening remarks on Tuesday. "This committee will hear Mr McGahn's testimony even if we have to go to court." Mr McGahn could be held in contempt for defying the subpoena from Congress. "We will not allow the president to block congressional subpoenas, putting himself and his allies above the law," Mr Nadler added. His Republican counterpart, ranking member Doug Collins, called the entire hearing theatrical and baseless. "There was no collusion. There was no obstruction charge. There's nothing here," Mr Collins said. "The chairman rushed to maximise headlines by issuing a subpoena." Mr McGahn served as White House counsel for nearly two years before his resignation in October 2018. Both the Department of Justice and White House released statements on Monday arguing that Mr McGahn was under no obligation to give evidence. A letter to the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee said Mr McGahn was "absolutely immune from compelled Congressional testimony". (Webmaster's comment: All Trump's cronies are not above the law and should be forced to testify! Why would they object if they have done nothing wrong?)

5-21-19 Hungary depriving asylum seekers of food - Council of Europe
Hungary has been accused of widespread human rights violations by the Council of Europe's Human Rights Commissioner. Dunja Mijatovic said the government's anti-immigration stance was "fuelling xenophobic attitudes, fear and hatred among the population." She said many asylum seekers held in transit zones had been deprived of food, and called for the practice to stop immediately. Hungary, however, defended its record and contested parts of the report. Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his nationalist, anti-immigration Fidesz party have repeatedly clashed with human rights groups over its policies. The Council of Europe is made up of 47 countries and not related to the European Union, which has itself launched action against Hungary for making actions in support of asylum seekers a criminal offence.Ms Mijatovic called for major changes towards treatment of asylum seekers, describing Hungary's immigration "crisis situation" as unjustified. She said Hungary's hard-line stance against immigration had created a legal system which "undermines the reception of asylum seekers and the integration of recognised refugees." The right to apply for asylum, she said, was limited to two "transit zones" along the border with Serbia, which "very few persons are allowed to enter." Asylum seekers, including children, were being arbitrarily detained in the transit zones "without adequate legal basis", and sometimes denied food. Government policy, her report said, "has resulted in practically systematic rejection of asylum applications". "I am also deeply concerned about repeated reports of excessive use of violence by the police during forcible removals of foreign nationals," Ms Mijatovic said.

5-21-19 Arthur: Alabama Public Television bans gay wedding episode
Alabama Public Television (APT) has refused to broadcast a cartoon which shows a same-sex wedding. The first episode of the 22nd series of children's programme Arthur features the character Mr Ratburn marrying his partner, Patrick. But APT instead ran an old episode, and announced it had no plans to show the premiere. Programming director Mike McKenzie said broadcasting it would break parents' trust in the network. In a statement, Mr McKenzie said "parents trust that their children can watch APT without their supervision", and that children "younger than the 'target' audience" might watch without parental knowledge. Show creator WGBH and broadcaster PBS reportedly alerted local stations in April about the episode, and Mr McKenzie said this was when they decided not to air the show. Arthur is a joint Canadian/American series which debuted in 1996 about an eight-year-old anthropomorphic aardvark named Arthur Read and his friends, who live in the fictional Elwood City. APT previously refused to broadcast a 2005 episode of the series which depicted Buster, a rabbit, visiting a girl who had two mothers. Substitute teacher Misty Souder told news website AL.com that she and her daughter were disappointed the episode did not run and had contacted the network about it. "I never thought I'd be going to battle for a gay rat wedding, but here we are," she said. A 2018 Gallup poll showed 46% of people in Alabama identified as conservative, second only to Mississippi among all 50 states. Earlier in May, Alabama passed a law banning abortions even in cases of rape and incest, the latest US state to restrict access to abortions. (Webmaster's comment: Like I said once abortions have been banned LGBTs will be next!)

5-21-19 Ren Zhengfei says US government 'underestimates' Huawei
Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei has remained defiant towards US moves against his company, saying the US "underestimates" its abilities. Speaking to Chinese state media, Mr Ren downplayed the impact of recent US curbs and said no-one could catch up to its 5G technology in the near future. Last week the US added Huawei to a list of companies that American firms cannot trade with unless they have a licence. The move marked an escalation in US efforts to block the Chinese company. "The current practice of US politicians underestimates our strength," Mr Ren said, according to transcripts from state media. Huawei faces a growing backlash from Western countries, led by the US, over possible risks posed by using its products in next-generation 5G mobile networks. The potential fallout from the US decision to place Huawei on its "entity list" was drawn into focus on Monday after Google barred the Chinese tech giant from some updates to its Android operating system. Later on Monday, the US Commerce Department issued a temporary licence that enabled some companies to continue supporting existing Huawei networks and devices. The US said it would issue the 90-day licence that "will allow operations to continue for existing Huawei mobile phone users and rural broadband networks," said US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. The UK's National Cyber Security Centre has published advice for Huawei phone owners on its site. It said the licence should mean that Huawei customers can "update their handsets as normal". It added that it was continuing to assess the situation and planned to provide advice in the future for users. Still, Mr Ren played down the significance of the move, saying that Huawei had already made preparations ahead of the US restrictions. (Webmaster's comment: Like I already said Huawei's 5G technology is a lot better than US 5G technology. So the US wants to ban it. This has nothing to do with security.)

5-21-19 US warns of threat from Chinese drone companies
The US government has issued an alert warning that Chinese-made drones could pose a cyber-espionage risk to American businesses and other organisations that use them. The notice added that those using the flying aircraft for tasks related to national security or critical infrastructure were most at risk. The warning does not refer to a specific company. But market-leader DJI said it had taken steps to keep its clients' data secure. "We give customers full and complete control over how their data is collected, stored, and transmitted," the firm said in a statement. "For government and critical infrastructure customers that require additional assurances, we provide drones that do not transfer data to DJI or via the internet, and our customers can enable all the precautions DHS [Department of Homeland Security] recommends." DJI accounts for more than 70% of the US market in drones costing more than $500, according to research firm Skylogic. The BBC also contacted Yuneec - the second bestselling Chinese manufacturer - for comment, but it has not responded. However, it teamed up with a US-based software and cloud storage provider last year to address concerns that government clients and other security-conscious customers might have. The notice was issued on Monday by the US's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, according to CNN, which was first to report the development. "The United States government has strong concerns about any technology product that takes American data into the territory of an authoritarian state that permits its intelligence services to have unfettered access to that data or otherwise abuses that access," it quoted the memo as saying. (Webmaster's comment: Obviously Chinese drone technology is superior to US drone technolgy and so US customers buy Chinese drones. This has nothing to do with security.)

5-20-19 Four in 10 Americans Embrace Some Form of Socialism
Americans today are more closely divided than they were earlier in the last century when asked whether some form of socialism would be a good or bad thing for the country. While 51% of U.S. adults say socialism would be a bad thing for the country, 43% believe it would be a good thing. Those results contrast with a 1942 Roper/Fortune survey that found 40% describing socialism as a bad thing, 25% a good thing and 34% not having an opinion.

  • 43% of Americans say socialism would be a good thing for the country
  • 51% believe socialism would be a bad thing for the country
  • Americans split on viewing economy as free market or government controlled

5-20-19 Transgender woman shot, killed in US weeks after assault
A transgender woman has been fatally shot in Dallas, Texas, according to local police. Muhlaysia Booker, 23, was found dead on a street on Saturday morning, and police are investigating the case as "homicidal violence". Police said it is unclear if her shooting was a hate crime or motivated by retaliation. Last month, Ms Booker was assaulted during a traffic accident, which was filmed and shared on social media. Dallas police have declined to comment on whether she received any death threats before this latest shooting. They added that there is no evidence linking her murder to Edward Thomas, a 29-year-old man who was charged with assault against her in April. During the incident, Ms Booker had said she backed into another vehicle whilst reversing out of a parking space. The driver allegedly pointed a gun at her and refused to let her leave unless she paid for the damage. As a crowd gathered around, police say one onlooker, Mr Thomas, was offered $200 (£156) to beat Ms Booker. A video of the incident showed Mr Thomas putting on gloves and punching her repeatedly, giving her a concussion and a broken wrist. Mr Thomas was charged with aggravated assault, but denies allegations that he used homophobic language during the attack. A second person was arrested for kicking Ms Booker in the face but has not been charged. Figures show that transgender people, particularly trans women of colour, are disproportionately likely to be the victims of violent attacks in the US. In many cases, such as Ms Booker's, this violence is fatal. According to Human Rights Campaign (HRC), at least 26 trans people were killed across the country last year - the majority of whom were African-American trans women. (Webmaster's comment: Winning against abortion rights the LGBTs are next.)

5-19-19 Switzerland gun control: Voters back EU regulations
Voters in Switzerland have backed a tightening of gun laws to conform with European Union regulations. Almost 64% of voters in Sunday's referendum supported tougher restrictions on semi-automatic and automatic weapons, final results show. Switzerland is not an EU member, but risked removal from the open-border Schengen Area if it had voted "no". Nearly 48% of Swiss households own a gun - among the highest rates of private ownership in Europe. The EU had urged the country to tighten its laws in line with rules adopted by the bloc following the 2015 Paris terror attacks. The rules restrict semi-automatic and automatic rifles and make it easier to track weapons in national databases. The EU's initial proposal sparked criticism in Switzerland, because it meant a ban on the tradition of ex-soldiers keeping their assault rifles. Swiss officials negotiated concessions, but some gun activists argued that the rules still encroached on citizens' rights. Opponents of the new gun laws described them as a diktat from Brussels, being forced on non-EU member Switzerland against its will. The Swiss national identity, with its long tradition of gun ownership, was, they argued, being undermined. But Sunday's nationwide referendum shows voters think differently: they have overwhelmingly backed the new gun laws, following their government's advice. The Swiss seem keen to co-operate in the EU's attempts to prevent terror attacks, and to keep their often tricky relations with Brussels as smooth as possible. After the 2015 Paris attacks, the EU issued Schengen members with new restrictions on automatic and semi-automatic weapons. The EU hoped the rules would help to protect people across Europe, and prevent a repeat of the 2015 attacks. Failure to adopt the changes could have forced Switzerland to leave the Schengen zone and the Dublin joint system for handling asylum requests.

5-19-19 Dutee Chand becomes first openly gay Indian athlete
Indian sprinter Dutee Chand has revealed she is in a same-sex relationship, the first sportsperson in India to openly acknowledge being gay. The 23-year-old athlete says she has been seeing her partner, who comes from her village, for five years. Chand says the Indian Supreme Court's historic decision to descriminalise gay sex in 2018 encouraged her to speak publicly about her sexuality. But some members of her family have not accepted her relationship, she says. "I am having a relationship with a 19-year-old woman from my village [Chaka Gopalpur] for the past five years", she told reporters from Hyderabad where she is training. "I have found someone who is my soulmate. I have always believed that everyone should have the freedom to love. There is no greater emotion than love and it should not be denied." Despite attitudes slowly changing in India, Chand told PTI news agency that some members of her family do not accept her decision, and her sister has threatened to expel her from the family. "My eldest sister feels that my partner is interested in my property. She has told me that she will send me to jail for having this relationship," she added. Chand was the first Indian sprinter to reach a final at a global athletics event, the World Youth Championships in 2013. In 2014, she was banned from competing by the Athletics Federation of India after failing a hormone test which found she had unusually high testosterone levels, a condition known as "hyperandrogenism." Her legal team successfully argued the ruling was discriminatory and flawed at a hearing in March 2015. The following year she qualified for the 2016 Rio Olympics and in 2018 she won two silver medals at the Asian Games.

5-18-19 Why white supremacist terrorism is surging
Right-wing racists are behind a surge in domestic terrorism. Why is this toxic ideology spreading? Here's everything you need to know:

  1. Is white supremacy on the rise? This year, there's been a horrifying spate of killings driven by racial and anti-Semitic hate.
  2. Is that a big increase? The number of investigations into white supremacists and nationalists has grown with great "velocity" in recent months, says Michael McGarrity, assistant director of the FBI's counterterrorism division.
  3. How popular are those sites? Stormfront.org, founded by a former KKK leader in the 1990s with the motto "White Pride, World Wide," grew to 300,000 members by 2017.
  4. Why does racism flourish online? Feeling safe because of the relative anonymity of the internet, participants — most of them young white men — seek attention by saying shocking things in these online forums.
  5. What's their recruitment pitch? On Twitter, the most popular hashtag among white supremacists is #whitegenocide. This is the conspiracy theory that Jews are plotting the extinction of American white Christians by replacing them with immigrants and refugees.
  6. What is law enforcement doing? Law enforcement officials say they're underfunded and handcuffed in dealing with this threat. For reasons it has not explained, the Trump administration cut funding for the federal Office for Community Partnerships, which works with local governments and organizations to prevent the radicalization of Muslims and white nationalists, from $21 million in 2016 to less than $3 million in 2017.
  7. The social media problem: It's hard to deter a group that thrives on feelings of persecution. After the Daily Stormer was booted by its domain host, it quickly re-emerged under a new name and raised more than $150,000 for a legal defense fund.

"This is the United States of America," Trump tweeted, "and we have what's known as FREEDOM OF SPEECH!" (Webmaster's comment: It's clear that Trump supports White Nationalists and White Supremacists!)

5-18-19 What happened to our anger over police violence?
"Justice delayed is justice denied," the legal maxim holds, but what about justice dragged out and administered piecemeal, bureaucratized and monetized and extended well past the public's capacity to maintain its righteous anger? What about justice delayed so long that it is no longer demanded? This summer will mark five years since Eric Garner died after a New York City police officer, Daniel Pantaleo, put him in a chokehold while attempting to arrest him for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes. The strangling move was prohibited under NYPD rules. Garner was unarmed and begging for his life with a plea — "I can't breathe!" — that would become a rallying cry for the nascent Black Lives Matter movement. The struggle that led to his death was caught on camera. The medical examiner's office ruled it a homicide and specifically cited Pantaleo's neck-compressing restraint as the cause of death. And yet a grand jury declined to indict. Pantaleo faced no criminal charges. He was not fired, merely moved to desk duty, pulling a six-figure salary. The City of New York settled a civil suit with the Garner family, and taxpayers funded a $5.9 million payout. The Department of Justice launched an independent probe in December of 2014, but any conclusions it has reached have not been made public. Garner's daughter, Erica, died awaiting federal civil rights charges that have yet to materialize. That just leaves the NYPD's departmental trial of Pantaleo, which began this week. About halfway through as of this writing, the hearings have included some damning moments. There was the medical examiner's testimony that Pantaleo's illicit chokehold "set into motion a lethal sequence," and the revelation that another NYPD officer declared, via text message, that Garner being "most likely DOA" was "not a big deal." But despite these details — and despite the video, and the homicide ruling, and the departmental policy against chokeholds, and Garner's nonviolent offense, and his desperate appeals for mercy — despite all that, this trial is unlikely to end in anything like justice. It may well end with no discipline for Pantaleo at all. (Webmaster's comment: This was murder and the police officer involved should be in prison for life or legally executed!)

5-17-19 Trump unveils 'merit-based' immigration policy plan
US President Donald Trump has outlined plans for a new US immigration system designed to favour younger, better educated, English-speaking workers. In an address at the White House, he proposed moving away from the current system that favours applicants with family ties to the US. He said border security would be beefed up and a tougher line taken on asylum seekers. Senior Democrats dismissed his ideas as "dead-on-arrival". They say the proposed new system fails to offer a route to citizenship for so-called "Dreamers" - hundreds of thousands of people brought to the US as children but who still have no legal right to remain. In the White House Rose Garden, President Trump said his plans would make US immigration "the envy of the modern world". "We cherish the open door that we want to create for our country. But a big proportion of those immigrants must come in through merit and skill," he said. "The biggest change we make is to increase the proportion of highly skilled immigration from 12% to 57% and we would like to even see if we can go higher." He said immigrants would be "required to learn English and to pass a civics exam prior to admission". Criticising the current asylum process, he said: "Our nation has a proud history of affording protection to those fleeing government persecutions. "Unfortunately, legitimate asylum seekers are being displaced by those lodging frivolous claims." (Webmaster's comment: In other words we no longer want to help persecuted and oppressed people that need to get away from their oppressors. We want ready-to-go indentured servents and slave labourers for our corporations.)

5-17-19 The dangerous myth of American hegemony
America is in decline — and Iran knows it. The Trump administration unveiled plans recently to send as many as 120,000 troops to Iran if American forces are attacked or if work on a nuclear weapons program is resumed. This stunning revelation, in the absence of any real provocation from Tehran, has justifiably caused great alarm for anyone who doesn't want to see the United States stumble into another ruinous war in the Middle East. It also should worry us about the overall trajectory of American foreign policy, as the U.S. looks increasingly like it is in dangerous decline — drunk on vanishing power, fearful of a reshuffling of hierarchies, and driven by emotional decision-making and irrational fears. The United States today seems incapable of correctly appraising how its power to coerce other actors in the international system is diminishing. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq waged this century not only failed to achieve even the most charitable interpretations of their objectives, but also further destabilized the region, empowered hostile actors like Iran, and should have confirmed for any sane observer that the United States lacks the ability to transform distant societies with military force. Yet President Trump's administration continues to conduct foreign policy as if the United States is still the undisputed hegemon of a unipolar world, as it was in the decade following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Indeed, the administration's general attitude seems lifted directly from "The Unipolar Moment," a prominent Foreign Affairs essay written by the late Charles Krauthammer back in 1990. "The center of world power is the unchallenged superpower, the United States, attended by its Western allies," he wrote. He warned ominously of "the emergence of a new strategic environment, marked by the rise of small aggressive states armed with weapons of mass destruction and possessing the means to deliver them," and urged America to aggressively confront them in order to maintain its dominion over the world.

5-17-19 Colorado officer quits after confronting rubbish picker
A police officer in Colorado has resigned after confronting a black student picking up rubbish outside his shared accommodation. John Smyly questioned and followed Naropa University student Zayd Atkinson near his home in Boulder. "I don't have a weapon! This is a bucket! This is a clamp!" Mr Atkinson says in a video taken by a neighbour. Officer Smyly drew his gun and called in backup during the confrontation in March. Under a settlement with the department, Mr Smyly will stay on the city payroll until February 2020. The Associated Press reports he will earn benefits and a salary during this time and will be compensated for any unused holiday he accrues. Boulder Police Department's investigation found Mr Smyly had violated the department's rules on police authority, public trust and conduct. The officer "did not have authority to detain Mr Atkinson", the department wrote in their report. "The subject officer did not have probable cause to charge Mr Atkinson with any crime." Authorities also released body camera footage from officers at the scene. During the incident the man gave officers his university ID and said repeatedly that he lived and worked at the shared occupancy building. Mr Smyly called for backup because Mr Atkinson was "unwilling to put down a blunt object". The investigation report said that while Mr Smyly had not used racial language during the incident and had "specifically" told them his actions were not based on Mr Atkinson's race, the student had disagreed. "The city of Boulder is paying this officer nearly $80,000 [£71,500] for violating the constitutional rights of Zayd," he said. "If you or I did what Officer Smyly did to Zayd Atkinson, not only would we be immediately fired, we would be criminally prosecuted."

5-17-19 'How are we different from traditional couples?'
Nikita and Radyion are a gay couple from Belarus. It is hard for them to express their feeling anywhere but online as there are very few openly gay people in the country. Although same sex relationships are not illegal in Belarus, the country remains one of the most homophobic in Europe according to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association.

5-17-19 Taiwan gay marriage: Parliament legalises same-sex unions
Taiwan's parliament has become the first in Asia to legalise same-sex marriage following a vote on Friday. In 2017, the island's constitutional court ruled that same-sex couples had the right to legally marry. Parliament was given a two-year deadline and was required to pass the changes by 24 May. Lawmakers debated three different bills to legalise same-sex unions and the government's bill, the most progressive of the three, was passed. Thousands of gay rights supporters gathered in the rain outside the parliament building in the capital, Taipei, to await the landmark ruling. There were shouts of joy and some tearful embraces as the result was announced. However, conservative opponents were angered by the vote. The two other bills, submitted by conservative lawmakers, refer to partnerships as "same-sex family relationships" or "same-sex unions" rather than "marriages". But the government's bill, also the only one to offer limited adoption rights, was passed by 66 to 27 votes - backed by lawmakers from the majority Democratic Progressive Party. It will take effect after Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen passes it into law. Several same-sex activists had said ahead of the vote that this was the only version they would accept. "I'm very surprised - but also very happy. It's a very important moment in my life," Jennifer Lu, chief co-ordinator of rights group Marriage Equality Coalition Taiwan, told the BBC. "However, it's still not full marriage rights; we still need to fight for co-adoption rights, and we are not sure about foreigner and Taiwanese marriage, and also gender equality education. "It's a very important moment, but we are going to keep on fighting. We are Taiwanese and we want this important value for our country, for our future," she added.

5-17-19 Cannabis plant evolved super high (on the Tibetan Plateau)
Cannabis may have had high origins. Where the plant comes from has been a bit of a mystery, but analysis of ancient pollen now suggests it evolved some 3 kilometres above sea level on the Tibetan Plateau. Intriguingly, this site is only a few hundred kilometres from a cave that researchers recently announced was once home to our ancient Denisovan cousins. Humans began exploiting cannabis deep in prehistory. Its seeds are a good source of protein and fatty acids, while fibres from its stems can be spun into yarn and made into textiles. Its flowers, meanwhile, are a source of cannabinoids which have been used as a drug for at least 2700 years. To find out where the plant evolved, John McPartland at the University of Vermont and his colleagues searched through scientific studies to pick out archaeological and geological sites across Asia where cannabis pollen has been found. Identifying cannabis pollen isn’t easy because it looks identical to the pollen of a closely related plant called the common hop, which happens to be used for flavouring beer. But McPartland and his colleagues believe it is possible to work out which species the pollen belongs to by considering the other pollen present at an archaeological site. This is because cannabis lives on open grassy steppes, so its pollen usually occurs with the pollen of steppe plants. The common hop, however, grows mostly in woodlands, so its pollen typically occurs with tree pollen. When McPartland and his colleagues applied this rationale, they discovered that the earliest occurrence of cannabis pollen in the geological and archaeological record is in northern China and southern Russia. From the distribution of the pollen, the team concluded that cannabis probably emerged on the Tibetan Plateau in the vicinity of Qinghai Lake, which is about 3200 metres above sea level.

5-16-19 China wants to make the fastest planes ever with a new material
Planes that fly faster than ever before may now be possible, if reports about a new material are correct. The material was developed in China and is capable of withstanding extremely high temperatures over a prolonged period, making it suitable for hypersonic flight. Hypersonic flight means travelling at over five times the speed of sound. There are currently no vehicles that can travel at this speed in our atmosphere for more than a few minutes partly because of the high temperatures caused by friction. Researchers at Xiamen University in China tested a design for a hypersonic vehicle last month (pictured above), which they say reached a height of 26 kilometres, although it didn’t use the new material. According to China’s Global Times newspaper, the new material can withstand 3000°C for hours, meaning it should easily be able to withstand hypersonic flight. The material was first created in 2012 and is now in production for aviation, space and defence uses, said Fan Jinglian, at Central South University in China, to the newspaper. Fan hasn’t revealed many details about the material, but her published work is in high-performance tungsten and she previously filed a patent for a technique for producing tungsten composites. It is possible in principle to make a tungsten-based material than can withstand 3000°C, says Russell Goodall of the University of Sheffield, UK. A tungsten composite seems like a logical choice, but it is difficult to find a combination of materials that works, says Zak Fang at the University of Utah. A recently launched project by the US military research agency DARPA is looking for materials able to withstand 2200°C for its own hypersonic flight programme.

5-16-19 Trump declares national emergency over IT threats
President Donald Trump has declared a national emergency to protect US computer networks from "foreign adversaries". He signed an executive order which effectively bars US companies from using foreign telecoms believed to pose national security risks. The order does not name any company, but is believed to target Huawei. The Chinese tech giant said restricting its business in the US would only hurt American consumers and companies. Several countries, led by the US, have raised concerns in recent months that Huawei products could be used by China for surveillance, allegations the company has vehemently denied. The US has been pressuring allies to shun Huawei in their next generation 5G mobile networks. In a separate development, the US commerce department added Huawei to its "entity list", a move that bans the company from acquiring technology from US firms without government approval. The moves are likely to worsen tensions between the US and China, which had already escalated this week with tariff hikes in a trade war. Huawei has been at the epicentre of the US-China power struggle that has dominated global politics over the past year. According to a White House statement, Mr Trump's order aims to "protect America from foreign adversaries who are actively and increasingly creating and exploiting vulnerabilities in information and communications technology infrastructure and services". It gives the secretary of commerce the power to "prohibit transactions posing an unacceptable risk to the national security", the statement adds. The move was instantly welcomed by Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai, who called it "a significant step toward securing America's networks". The US had already restricted federal agencies from using Huawei products and has encouraged allies to shun them, while Australia and New Zealand have both blocked the use of Huawei gear in 5G networks. In April 2018 another Chinese tech company, ZTE, was barred from buying US parts after it was placed on the same "entity list". It resumed business after reaching a deal with the US in July. (Webmaster's comment: This had nothing to do with National Security. It has everything to do with the fact that Huawei 5G technology is superior to any U.S. 5G technology.)

5-15-19 China's rover peeks under the crust of the far side of the moon
We are peeking under the moon’s crust for the first time. The Chinese Yutu 2 moon rover, which landed in January aboard the Chang’e 4 lander, has spotted what appears to be primitive material from the moon’s mantle, which may help reveal details about its early magma ocean. Chang’e 4 landed on the far side of the moon in the South Pole-Aitken basin, the moon’s largest impact crater at about 2500 kilometres across. Simulations have shown that the collision that created this crater was probably powerful enough to punch through the moon’s outer crust, revealing rocks from its interior. Chunlai Li at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing and his colleagues examined data that Yutu 2 took during its first day on the moon looking for those deeper rocks. They seem to have found them in an area of material tossed from another smaller crater within the basin. The lunar soil that Yutu 2 examined contained relatively heavy minerals rich in iron and magnesium. Early in the moon’s history, when it was covered in a magma ocean, these heavier minerals would have sunk while lighter silicates floated and eventually solidified into the crust. “This is the first ground truth of what the interior of the moon is really made of,” says Briony Horgan at Purdue University in Indiana. “I would say the really important thing is that it’s different from the Earth.” This difference may be because of how water changed Earth’s mantle early in its history, she says. “The ultimate goal is to decipher the mystery of the lunar mantle composition,” says Li. This will help uncover how the moon’s magma ocean evolved, which may be useful for studying other bodies, like Earth, that had magma oceans but whose surfaces have changed much more since then.

5-15-19 China’s lunar rover may have found minerals from the moon’s mantle
New observations could answer questions about how Earth’s nearest neighbor evolved. The first mission to the farside of the moon may have found bits of the moon’s interior on its surface. The Yutu-2 rover, deployed by the Chinese Chang’e-4 spacecraft that landed on the moon in January, detected soil that appears rich in minerals thought to make up the lunar mantle, researchers report in the May 16 Nature. Those origins, if confirmed, could offer insight into the moon’s early development. “Understanding the composition of the lunar mantle is key to determining how the moon formed and evolved,” says Mark Wieczorek, a geophysicist at the Côte d’Azur Observatory in Nice, France, not involved in the work. “We do not have any clear, unaltered samples of the lunar mantle” from past moon missions. In hopes of finding mantle samples, Chang’e-4 touched down in the moon’s largest impact basin, the South Pole–Aitken basin (SN: 2/2/19, p. 5). The collision that formed this enormous divot is thought to have been powerful enough to punch through the moon’s crust and expose mantle rocks to the lunar surface (SN: 11/24/18, p. 14). During its first lunar day on the moon, Yutu-2 recorded the spectra of light reflected off lunar soil at two spots using its Visible and Near-Infrared Spectrometer. When researchers analyzed these spectra, “what we saw was quite different” than normal lunar surface material, says study coauthor Dawei Liu, a planetary scientist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences National Astronomical Observatories in Beijing.

5-15-19 Chang'e-4: Chinese rover 'confirms' Moon crater theory
The Chinese Chang'e-4 rover may have confirmed a longstanding idea about the origin of a vast crater on the Moon's far side. The rover's landing site lies within a vast impact depression created by an asteroid strike billions of years ago. Now, mission scientists have found evidence that impact was so powerful it punched through the Moon's crust and into the layer below called the mantle. Chang'e-4 has identified what appear to be mantle rocks on the surface. It's something the rover was sent to the far side to find out. Chunlai Li, from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, and colleagues have presented their findings in the journal Nature. The lunar far side, which is turned away from Earth, is more rugged than the familiar near side and has fewer "maria" - dark plains formed by ancient volcanic eruptions. The Chinese spacecraft touched down on 3 January, becoming the first spacecraft to perform a soft landing on the lunar far side. The rover then rolled off the lander to explore its surroundings. The rover landed inside a 180km-wide impact bowl called Von Kármán crater. But that smaller crater lies within the 2,300km-wide South Pole Aitken (SPA) Basin, which covers nearly a quarter of the Moon's circumference. It's not known exactly how old the SPA Basin is, but it's thought to be at least 3.9 billion years old. The asteroid that carved it out is thought to have been about 170km wide. The Yutu-2 rover has now identified rocks with a very different chemical make-up to those found elsewhere on the Moon. Early results from the rover's Visible and Near Infrared Spectrometer (VNIS) suggest the rocks contain minerals known as low-calcium (ortho)pyroxene and olivine. They fit the profile of rocks from the lunar mantle and suggest that the ancient impact that created the SPA drove right through the 50km-deep crust into the mantle. Observational data taken by Moon-orbiting spacecraft have been inconclusive as to the presence of mantle rocks on the surface. The authors of the paper want to continue their examination of these rocks and find others. They have also raised the possibility of sending another mission to deliver some of them to Earth for study in laboratories.

5-15-19 Hearing device picks out right voice from a crowd by reading your mind
Sometimes it is hard to make out what people are saying in a noisy crowded environment. A device that reads your mind to work out which voices to amplify may be able to help. The experimental device can separate two or three different voices of equal loudness in real time. It can then work out which voice someone is trying to listen to from their brainwaves and amplify that voice. The device, created by Nima Mesgarani at Columbia University in New York, is a step towards creating smart hearing aids that solve the classic cocktail party problem — how to separate voices in a crowd. First, Mesgarani’s team worked on a system that could separate the voices of two or three people speaking into a single microphone at the same loudness. Several big companies like Google and Amazon have developed similar AI-based ways of doing this to improve voice assistants like Alexa. But these systems separate voices after people have finished speaking, Mesgarani says. His system works in real time, as people are speaking. Next, the team played recordings of people telling stories to three people who were in hospital with electrodes placed into their brains to monitor epileptic seizures. In 2012, Mesgarani showed that the brainwaves in a certain part of the auditory cortex can reveal which of several voices a person is focusing on. By monitoring the brainwaves of the three volunteers, the hearing device could tell which voice people were listening to and selectively amplify just that voice. When the volunteers were asked to switch attention to a different voice, the device could detect the shift and respond.

5-15-19 Pilots 'raised Boeing safety fears' months before Ethiopia crash
American Airlines pilots confronted Boeing about potential safety issues in its 737 Max planes in a meeting last November, US media are reporting. They urged swift action after the first deadly 737 Max crash off Indonesia in October, according to audio obtained by CBS and the New York Times. Boeing reportedly resisted their calls but promised a software fix. But this had not been rolled out when an Ethiopian Airlines' 737 Max crashed four months later, killing 157 people. Currently 737 Max planes are grounded worldwide amid concerns that an anti-stall system may have contributed to both crashes. Boeing is in the process of updating the system, known as MCAS, but denies it was solely to blame for the disasters. In a closed door meeting with Boeing executives last November, which was secretly recorded, American Airlines' pilots can be heard expressing concerns about the safety of MCAS. Boeing vice-president Mike Sinnett told the pilots: "No one has yet to conclude that the sole cause of this was this function on the airplane." Later in the meeting, he added: "The worst thing that can ever happen is a tragedy like this, and the even worse thing would be another one." The pilots also complained they had not been told about MCAS, which was new to the 737 Max, until after the Lion Air crash off Indonesia, which killed 189. "These guys didn't even know the damn system was on the airplane, nor did anybody else," said Mike Michaelis, head of safety for the pilots' union. Boeing declined to comment on the November meeting, saying: "We are focused on working with pilots, airlines and global regulators to certify the updates on the Max and provide additional training and education to safely return the planes to flight." American Airlines said it was "confident that the impending software updates, along with the new training elements Boeing is developing for the Max, will lead to recertification of the aircraft soon." (Webmaster's comment: For American corporations it's always profits first, safety second! That has never changed no matter how die.)

5-15-19 Inside Chile's Amaranta school for transgender children
A school believed to be the first in the world predominantly for transgender children and their siblings opened in Chile last year. It is named after the Mexican transgender politician Amaranta Gómez Regalado, and caters for children aged between 6 and 17. Many of the students dropped out of their previous schools once they began to transition. They learn traditional subjects like maths, science, history, English and art and take part in state exams.


FEMINISM

5-19-19 Trump breaks silence amid Alabama abortion ban row
US President Donald Trump has outlined his "strongly pro-life" views on abortion amid controversy over strict new laws passed in several states. Mr Trump said he was against abortion except in cases of rape, incest or a "serious health risk" to the mother. His stance on what is a divisive election issue in the US emerged days after Alabama passed a law banning abortion in almost all cases. A pro-choice rally is planned later on Sunday in protest at the new measures. Mr Trump, whose position on abortion has shifted over the years, had been largely silent on the Alabama restrictions until Saturday, when he posted a series of tweets outlining his views. "I am very strongly pro-life, with the three exceptions - rape, incest and protecting the life of the mother - the same position taken by Ronald Reagan", he said. The president added that judicial measures, such as his appointment of conservative Supreme Court judges Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, had helped to make abortion laws in various states more restrictive. "We have come very far in the last two years with 105 wonderful new federal judges (many more to come), two great new supreme court justices … and a whole new and positive attitude about the right to life." Abortion is an issue which remains controversial in the US, with evangelical Christians in particular forming a nucleus of voters who want to restrict, or even outlaw, the procedure completely. Mr Trump has adjusted his stance over the years. In 1999, he said: "I'm very pro-choice. I hate the concept of abortion. I hate it. I hate everything it stands for. I cringe when I listen to people debating the subject. But you still - I just believe in choice." But in March 2016, he clarified that his position was "pro-life with exceptions". On Saturday he tweeted that Republicans must unite to "win for life in 2020".

How views on abortion are split in the US. 59% for, 37% against.

5-18-19 Ohio State University doctor 'abused 177 male students'
An athletics team doctor sexually abused at least 177 male students from 1979 to 1997, an investigation by Ohio State University in the US says. Dr Richard Strauss, who died in 2005, is accused of groping and performing "unnecessary examinations" on young men while treating athletes in 16 sports. The report stated that university officials failed to prevent the abuse despite complaints from students. It adds that "inadequate efforts" to investigate were "unacceptable". In the report published on Friday, investigators said the abuse was carried out at various locations across the campus, including examination rooms, locker rooms, showers and saunas. Various athletes reported unnecessary genital exams and some students said they believed Dr Strauss' actions were an "open secret" on campus. "We are so sorry that this happened," Ohio State President Michael Drake said at a news confe But he also sought to distance Ohio State from the events of more than two decades ago. "This is not the university of today", he added. A number of former students are suing for unspecified damages and have called on the university to take responsibility for the harm they say was inflicted by the doctor. "Dreams were broken, relationships with loved ones were damaged, and the harm now carries over to our children, as many of us have become so overprotective that it strains the relationship with our kids," Kent Kilgore, a former Ohio state swimmer, said in a statement. Dr Strauss retired in 1998 and took his own life in 2005. In May 2018, Michigan State University agreed to pay $500m (£371m) to 332 gymnasts who were abused by ex-team doctor Larry Nassar.

5-18-19 Colonia Dignidad: Germany to compensate Chile commune victims
Germany will pay compensation of up to €10,000 (£8,700; $11,000) to victims of a notorious and abusive commune in southern Chile. Colonia Dignidad was founded by former Nazi soldier Paul Schäfer in 1961. The commune, which was located 350km (220 miles) south of Santiago, was run as a secretive cult and dozens of children were sexually abused there. Hundreds of German and Chilean survivors will now be eligible for compensation. The decision to pay the victims was made by a government commission in Berlin on Friday. A fund of €3.5m will be set aside to do so. It comes a week after prosecutors dropped their investigation into a German doctor who worked at the commune. A court in Chile had found Hartmut Hopp guilty of complicity in child sex abuse committed by Schäfer, but he fled to Germany before he could be jailed. German prosecutors said there was insufficient evidence to uphold the ruling. Colonia Dignidad was a colony set up by Schäfer in the remote Maule area. He ran it as a secretive cult with members living as virtual slaves and prevented from leaving by armed guards with dogs. At its peak, 300 Germans and Chileans were living in the 137 sq km (53 sq mile) compound surrounded by wire fencing and overlooked by a watchtower with searchlights. Children were forced to live separately from their parents and dozens were sexually abused by Schäfer. It was not just members of Schäfer's sect who suffered abuse. Under the military rule of Gen Augusto Pinochet, Colonia Dignidad became a clandestine detention centre. About 300 opponents of the regime were interrogated and tortured in its underground tunnels both by members of the Chilean secret police and Schäfer's associates. At least 100 people are thought to have been murdered there. One of those believed to have been killed at the site is US academic Boris Weisfeiler, who went hiking in Chile in 1984.

5-18-19 Alabama abortion ban: Should men have a say in the debate?
Most of the US state laws banning or severely restricting access to abortions have been voted on by male politicians. Should men have the right to rule on an issue that impacts women so intimately? The corridors leading up to the Alabama Senate are lined with black-and-white photographs of past legislative sessions - each framed poster like a yearbook page from a distinctly male-only school. But inside the dim public gallery, looking down onto the Senate floor, many of the seats are filled by women. They are young and old, some in suits and some in bright shirts with pro-choice slogans emblazoned across the front. They watch the drama play out in the chamber below, as a handful of Democrats and an even smaller number of women make clear their outrage over the abortion ban that will pass in just a few hours, and in a day, will become law. The activists next to me in the gallery laugh and gasp with each argument and reply. Some shout an 'Amen!' in agreement as the debate continues. When a female lawmaker steps up to the microphone, she says: We do not police men's bodies the way we police women's - and this decision about an issue concerning women so intimately is being made almost entirely by men. Though women make up 51% of Alabama's population, its lawmakers are 85% male. There are only four women in the 35-seat Alabama Senate, and they are all Democrats. Outside the stark white walls of the State House on Tuesday night, however, women were in the majority. Groups of pro-choice supporters chanted for hours in the courtyard, holding signs calling for abortion freedoms, for women alone to decide what happens to their own bodies. Delaney Burlingame, one of the young pro-choice activists I met there, told me: "These people don't care about protecting human rights. It's about controlling women." "They just want to be able to say: 'I control what happens in your body'." (Webmaster's comment: These men just want the right to rape a women and force her to have the child. Expect rape rates in Alabama to go way up!)

5-17-19 Alabama abortion ban: 'I had to give birth to my rapist's child'
Dina Zirlott says Alabama's ban on abortion even in cases of rape and incest treats women as "an incubator".

5-17-19 Mothers speak out over Kenya femicide cases
Femicide – the killing of a female, on account of her gender – is a global issue. Activists in Kenya say there has been a spike in violence recently, with 40 women reported to have been killed this year alone. BBC Africa has visited the county of Busia in western Kenya which has been the scene of several high-profile cases.

5-17-19 The silenced majority in America's crazed abortion debate
Abortion is tragic in the strict sense of the term. It's an act that pits fundamentally irreconcilable absolute rights against each other — the pregnant woman's right to determine what happens to her own body without state interference against the right to life of the fetus she carries inside her womb. Anyone who adopts an absolute position on the issue, denying the moral weight of the case for the opposite view, does so through an act of willful, ideologically motivated simplification.. In a country where laws reflected this tragic reality, abortion would be safe and legally available early on in pregnancy, while freely available birth control and generous support for pregnant women would contribute to making it as rare as possible. Restrictions on abortion would increase as the fetus approaches viability, with the termination of a pregnancy after viability allowed only in the rarest and most wrenching of cases — when the mother's life is at significant risk and/or doctors learn that the baby will suffer from severe, life-threatening health problems. Such an arrangement would build on the widespread moral intuition that the fetus is a matter of relative moral indifference early in pregnancy but develops into a being possessing full dignity and rights by the time of birth. For many people, this intuition makes a first-trimester abortion minimally unsettling but one during the third trimester morally monstrous, with second-trimester abortions somewhere in between. That the United States is moving away from policies that reflect these intuitions is a tragedy, too, though this time in the less precise, colloquial sense of word: It is a terrible misfortune. Our abortion crackup is a synecdoche for the political dysfunction that afflicts our politics as a whole, with activists on the extremes controlling the agenda on both sides and the reasonably conflicted majority in the middle increasingly silenced, its voice barely penetrating the debate in state houses and courtrooms. The center of gravity in public opinion on abortion very much reflects the moral messiness of reality. According to Gallup's long-running tracking poll on the subject, just 18 percent of the country wants the procedure banned in all cases, and just 29 percent want it legal in all cases. That's 47 percent in favor of purity on one side or the other. That leaves a bare majority — 50 percent — supporting a compromise view that keeps abortion "legal under some circumstances." It's also worth noting that, despite what many pro-choice activists like to imply about a male-driven crusade to transform the country into the misogynistic tyranny from The Handmaid's Tale, the Pew Research Center has shown that men and women hold quite similar views on abortion — with 60 percent of women and 57 percent of men in favor of keeping it legal in all or most cases, and 36 percent of women and 37 percent of men preferring in all or most cases to ban it. (The discrepancy between the two polls is mainly a function of Pew's decision to lump together those on the extremes and in the center — "all or most" — on each question.) Instead of public policy reflecting the rightly conflicted majority view — as it tends to do, for example, in much of Europe — we have a misshapen, increasingly grotesque situation in which only the extremes prevail.

5-16-19 The rapes haunting a community that shuns the 21st Century
In Manitoba, an insular Mennonite colony in Bolivia whose residents eschew modernity, a group of men were rounded up in 2009. Later, they were convicted of the rape and sexual assault of 151 women and girls - including small children - within this small Christian community. So why are Manitoba's leaders now lobbying to free the men from prison? Unpaved dirt roads run alongside fields of soya and sunflowers and connect the far-flung houses of Manitoba, home to 1,800 people. Treads from the iron wheels of tractors are sunk deep into the mud - rubber tyres are prohibited on motorised vehicles, deemed too modern. The hot, still air is occasionally stirred by the passing of a trotting horse pulling a buggy laden with women in wide straw hats and men in dark dungarees. This is the principal form of transport in Manitoba. For members of the colony, driving a car or motorcycle is banned and punishable by excommunication by the bishop and ministers. To outsiders, it looked like a peaceful, if mysterious, haven from the modern world. Then in June 2009 the prosecutor for the district of Santa Cruz received a call from a police officer in the eastern Bolivian town of Cotoca. "He told me, 'Doctor, some Mennonites have brought men here who they're saying are rapists,'" remembers Fredy Perez, the prosecutor who investigated the case. "The image we have of Mennonites in Bolivia is that they work from six in the morning until nine at night, they're very religious, and they don't dance or get drunk. So when I got that call from the officer, I just couldn't believe it." But in Manitoba, many people had for months - years even - lived with the knowledge that something was deeply amiss. "In the night we heard the dogs bark, but when I went out, I couldn't see anything," says Abraham (not his real name), who was the father of teenaged daughters back in 2009. "In the morning we couldn't get up because we were half anaesthetised," he recalls. "We couldn't move… We didn't know what happened, but we knew something had happened. "And it wasn't just once - they were here twice those men." While the whole family was drugged and incapacitated, all his daughters were attacked by men who broke into their home. At the time, shame prevented the girls from telling their parents.

5-16-19 Canada cop asked if teen was 'turned on' by alleged sex assault
Canadian politicians have condemned an "appalling" police interrogation of a teenager who reported an alleged sexual assault. Videos obtained by aboriginal television network APTN show a police officer asking the girl whether she "was at all turned on" by the incident. The news organisation did not identify the teenager, who is indigenous, in the video. The police interview took place in 2012 in the province of British Columbia. According to APTN, the video was released as part of a civil suit being filed by the alleged victim, who was in foster care at the time, against the British Columbia Ministry of Child and Family Development. The line of questioning was called "profoundly outdated, offensive, and wrong" by federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale on Wednesday. The videos show an unidentified Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer asking the girl about how the alleged incident compared to her previous sexual experiences; about how hard she tried to fight, and later, warning her about the consequences of making a false report. "Were you at all turned on during this at all? Even a little bit?" the officer said. He also questioned whether she was "responsive" to the man she said had assaulted her. "Physically you weren't at all responsive to his advances?" the officer asks. "Even maybe subconsciously?" "Maybe subconsciously. No. Not. I was really scared," she responds. The officer answers: "Because you understand that when a guy tries to have sex with a female and the female is completely unwilling it's very difficult, right?" "No survivor of sexual assault should ever fear that their case will not be taken seriously or that they will be re-victimised in the process," the minister said responding to official opposition leader Andrew Scheer during parliament's question period. Mr Scheer said he was "shocked and horrified" by the video and described the line of questioning as "appalling and insensitive". (Webmaster's comment: Many men are convinced that all women want some man's filthy old dick slamming up into them. It feels so good doesn't it!)

5-16-19 The looming fight over a federal abortion ban
The abortion fight will not end with different laws in different states. Here's why. During the 2016 presidential debates, then-candidate Donald Trump envisioned a future in which abortion rights would "go back to the states, and the states [would] make a determination." For many who oppose the overturning of Roe v. Wade, this is assumed to be conservatives' logical end goal: turning America into a patchwork quilt of abortion rights tailored to the values of individual conservative, moderate, and liberal states. But the signing on Wednesday by Alabama's governor of one of the strictest abortion bans in the country shows such an assumption is dangerously incorrect. Supporters of extreme abortion bans aren't just trying to get the conservative-majority Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade and make the legality of abortion a state-by-state decision. The end game is to provoke federal legislation that would ban abortions nationwide. While Roe v. Wade has been under attack by conservatives and religious groups since the ruling in 1973, President Trump's bolstering of the conservative side of the bench has re-energized pro-life movements across the country. The Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights research and advocacy nonprofit, report that in 2019 alone, 250 abortion restrictions were introduced in 41 states. "We've never seen states passing near-total abortion bans," the Guttmacher Institute's senior state issues manager, Elizabeth Nash, told the Los Angeles Times. "This is new and different." Although Trump-appointed Supreme Court justices have said they'd honor the 1973 ruling on Roe, it's hard not to look at the emboldened Alabama legislature and wonder what will happen if the Court does hear the case. Roe v. Wade established the precedent that abortions in the first two trimesters of a woman's pregnancy could in no way be prohibited by the government. Key to this ruling was the Court's establishment that a fetus is not a "person," and therefore not protected by the Constitution's use of that word. Alabama's Human Life Protection Act presents the court an opportunity to overturn this long-standing precedent by flagrantly violating the ruling in observation of "fetal personhood." The Alabama legislature even went as far as to vote down exemptions in the bill for rape and incest victims: "It has to be 100 percent a person at conception," the bill's sponsor, state Rep. Terri Collins (R) said, explaining "what I'm trying to do here is get this case in front of the Supreme Court so Roe v. Wade can be overturned." If the Trump judges break their good faith reassurances and Collins' plan doesn't backfire, the overturning of Roe v. Wade would in all likelihood send abortion regulation back to the states — at least temporarily. First, a patchwork of different reproductive restrictions would emerge, since seven states and counting have strict "trigger laws" that would automatically ban abortion in the case of Roe being overturned. Other states would undoubtedly pass their own bans or partial bans. Meanwhile, certain blue states have already bolstered their laws in anticipation of Roe being overturned, including New York, which specified this January that people who become pregnant have "the fundamental right to choose to carry the pregnancy to term, to give birth to a child, or to have an abortion." There's no reason to think this kind of language could protect us long term, yet many still seem to think conservatives will stop after the decision returns to the states. Megan McArdle, an "uneasily pro-choice" libertarian columnist for The Washington Post, wrote last summer that "returning the matter to the states would give most people a law they can live with." Robin Marty, an abortion rights activist, envisioned in Politico earlier this year a nation in which "the privileged and well-connected would still be able to ... catch a plane to Chicago or New York City" for an abortion. But overturning Roe does something even more dangerous than impose restrictions on people in conservative pockets of the country: It opens the doors to Congress writing legislation that could ban abortions at a federal level.

5-16-19 A pro-life world can be good for women. Here's how.
Lasting protections for the unborn will be sustainable only if a majority of women nationwide can be persuaded that they want them ight now, the fate of abortion in America is in the hands of the jurists. The Federalist Society is assembling its best lawyers, and so are NARAL Pro-Choice America, Planned Parenthood, and the ACLU. Legal theorists are fine-tuning their arguments. In the months and years to come, briefs will be written, and speeches will be made. Justices will lie awake pondering weighty questions. When the dust settles, we may be living in a world substantially similar to the one we've known since 1973, when Roe v. Wade first became law. Or, things may be very different. Already we're getting a glimpse of what might happen in a post-Roe v. Wade America. Some blue states are scrambling to ensure that abortion remains readily accessible, while red states create restrictions. Alabama's governor just signed into law the strictest abortion ban in the nation, imposing lengthy prison sentences on doctors who perform the procedure. This is the sort of future we should expect, if indeed the courts strike down abortion law. Policies will end up varying widely from state to state. On the West Coast or along the Northeast corridor, abortions will be readily attainable. In Utah, Idaho, or the Southern states, it will be a different story. Pro-lifers are excited. We've been dreaming for decades about a post-Roe world. It's incredible to think that at long last, it will finally be possible to approach this issue through normal democratic means. We can't waste much time celebrating, however. The pro-life movement is currently standing at the foot of the mountain, not the peak. Even if the right's jurists prevail in the coming battle, the larger culture war is likely to turn against us unless abortion-restrictive states can succeed at an even more daunting task: building a pro-life culture that the rest of the nation wants to emulate. Most especially, we need to prove that a pro-life world can be good for women. Of course, abortion's opponents have always claimed to be pro-woman. Women have long been central to the organization of pro-life activism, and statistics suggest that women are as likely as men to favor restrictive abortion laws. It shouldn't be news to anyone that many women don't want reproductive rights. Beyond the statistics, pro-lifers like to point out that abortion is especially helpful to men who exploit women sexually. For centuries, pimps have been intimately familiar with abortifacients, drugs that induce abortion. Modern men find it much easier to objectify women when they're confident that an inconvenient pregnancy can simply be terminated. In the earlier portion of the 20th century, most children were born to married couples, with fathers helping to support the family. Contraceptives and abortion have helped to create a culture in which mothers are far likelier to be unmarried, often parenting solo, carrying heavy responsibilities with little help. Meanwhile, it's fairly obvious that reproductive rights have not tamed men's tendency to reduce women to sex objects. Just consider the #MeToo movement, or our epidemic levels of porn addiction. Despite all of this, it's understandably difficult to persuade the general public that abortion bans are pro-woman. Without abortion, a pregnant woman has no choice but to carry a child to term. As philosopher Judith Jarvis Thompson famously argued, we don't often see it as acceptable to foist such heavy obligations on people against their will. Pregnancy also leaves women vulnerable to other types of exploitation. If a woman needs to provide for children and prepare for the possible eventuality of being pregnant at any time, she may not have much choice but to accept whatever community or household role is offered to her.

5-16-19 Why America's strict new anti-abortion laws could backfire
The anti-abortion laws passed in recent days by legislatures in Alabama and Georgia seem designed for one purpose: to get the Supreme Court to overturn its landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that guaranteed a woman's right to an abortion. The Court — more solidly conservative now than ever thanks to the recent addition of Justice Brett Kavanaugh — may well uphold those new laws. Will voters do the same?. Maybe not. There is plenty of evidence that citizens of conservative states are, to some extent, actually protective of abortion rights. It may not be something they proclaim in their offices, at church, or to pollsters — but their secret beliefs can become quite evident once they enter the voting booth. This should make the legislators who passed the new bills very nervous. My home state of Kansas has been a hotbed of abortion-related activism for more than a generation. Most memorable, perhaps, were the 1991 "Summer of Mercy" protests in Wichita, where thousands of protesters flooded the city to blockade an abortion clinic operated by Dr. George Tiller; over the course of six weeks and more than 2,600 people were arrested. Anti-abortion protests in Kansas have, on occasion, congealed into violence: Tiller's clinic was firebombed in 1986; he was shot and injured by an abortion opponent in 1993; he was shot and killed by another abortion opponent in 2009. But the state's record on abortion is more mixed than Tiller's story might suggest. Take, for example, the story of Phill Kline, someone you've likely never heard of but whose rise and fall could be a warning sign for anti-abortion legislators in Kansas and other red states today. Kline spent a decade as a culture warrior in the Kansas legislature before being elected the state's attorney general in 2002. He used the perch to go on an anti-abortion crusade, ultimately bringing more than 30 misdemeanor charges against Tiller in 2006. A judge threw out those charges; Tiller was acquitted in a follow-up case the following year. But voters in the famously red state of Kansas had enough: Kline lost his re-election campaign, badly, with just 41 percent of the vote. He managed to get himself appointed as district attorney in Johnson County, home to prosperous Kansas City suburbs, only to lose a primary election two years after that. These days, he's on the faculty at Liberty University in Virginia, having lost his law license for misconduct during the abortion investigations. Kansas is hardly a progressive state, but voters here often tire quickly of extremists. The same is probably true in other conservative states. While America's abortion politics are polarized, many citizens are closer to the mushy middle on abortion — morally squeamish about it, but sometimes willing to suspend those qualms when faced with difficult decisions for themselves or their family members. Across the nation as a whole, just 17 percent of Americans say Roe should be overturned entirely, and this reality is reflected at the state level: In 2008, voters in the solidly-Republican state of South Dakota overwhelmingly rejected a statewide ban on abortion — and repeated the feat two years later, even after exceptions for incest and rape were added to the proposed law. In 2011, Mississippi voters rejected a similar referendum by an even larger margin. Back in my home state of Kansas, the state Supreme Court last month ruled — shockingly — that the state constitution protects the right to an abortion.

5-16-19 Alabama abortion bill ignites women's stories with #youknowme
Women have been sharing impassioned stories of how they terminated their pregnancies following Alabama's vote for an almost blanket ban on abortion. The hashtag #youknowme has begun circulating on social media following a plea from actress and talk show host Busy Philipps. Philipps asked social media users to share their abortion stories in a move echoing the 2017 #metoo hashtag, which gained momentum when actress Alyssa Milano asked victims of sexual assault to speak out. "1 in 4 women have had an abortion. Many people think they don't know someone who has, but #youknowme," Philipps tweeted to her 367,000 followers. "So let's do this: if you are also the 1 in 4, let's share it and start to end the shame. Use #youknowme and share your truth," she urged in a Twitter post which has been liked more than 14,000 times since being posted early on Wednesday. Philipps' tweet was in response to Alabama becoming the latest US state to move to restrict abortions. Under the bill, doctors could face 10 years in prison for attempting to terminate a pregnancy and 99 years for carrying out the procedure. High profile celebrities who have come out in opposition to the bill include comedian Sarah Silverman, actress Alyssa Milano and Captain America star Chris Evans. Pop star Lady Gaga called the bill "a travesty". So what is the meaning behind 'you know me'? Last week on her talk show Busy Tonight on the E! cable channel the actress shared that she had an abortion when she was a teenager. "Maybe you're sitting there thinking I don't know a woman who would have an abortion, well you know me. I had an abortion when I was 15 years old," she told viewers while fighting back tears. "I'm telling you this because I'm genuinely really scared for women and girls in this country. "I think we should be talking more and sharing our stories more." On Wednesday hundreds of women responded to Philipps' call on Twitter using the hashtag to share their own abortion stories. (Webmaster's comment: Many religious don't beleive a woman's uterus belongs to her. It belongs to any man who rapes her or has sex with her and impregnates her.)

5-16-19 Missouri latest state to pass abortion bill in US crackdown on laws
Missouri lawmakers have passed a controversial bill which would outlaw nearly all abortions at eight weeks of pregnancy in the US state. The bill was approved by Missouri's Republican-led Senate by 24 votes to 10 on Thursday morning. Missouri's House and Republican Governor Mike Parson must back the bill before it can become law. If approved, abortions past eight weeks would be banned in most cases, including rape or incest. Missouri's Democratic Senator Jill Schupp condemned the bill for failing to "understanding that women's lives all hold different stories". However, Republican Senators Dave Schatz and Caleb Rowden published a joint statement praising the "life-affirming" legislation. The vote came hours after Alabama's governor signed a near-total ban on abortion in the state on Wednesday, promoting protests and concern from pro-choice supporters. Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky and Ohio are among the other states to pass new abortion restrictions. Most anti-abortion bills have faced legal challenges. However, this is what pro-life supporters hope will happen, as they want to reach the Supreme Court in order to challenge its landmark decision to legalise abortion in 1973. Earlier this year the Supreme Court blocked implementation of new abortion restrictions in Louisiana. However, the ruling was made by a narrow margin and the case is due to be reviewed later this year.

5-16-19 Alabama’s extreme new law could lead to an end of US abortion rights
The most restrictive abortion bill in any US state has just been signed into state law, outlawing abortions in Alabama at any stage of pregnancy. The law will take effect in six months, and includes criminal penalties for doctors who perform or attempt to perform abortions, with a sentence of up to 99 years in prison. There are exemptions for cases where the life of the mother or fetus is threatened, but none for cases of incest or rape. This is the latest in a slew of state bills that have passed this year aiming to reduce abortion rights in Georgia, Ohio, Kentucky and Mississippi. Some have been swiftly struck down in state courts as unconstitutional, others are set to take effect over the next seven months. And some may be appealed to the Supreme Court, where its verdict could overturn 50 years of abortion protections. Georgia recently banned all abortions after a heartbeat can be detected – usually about six weeks after conception, when many women are still unaware that they are pregnant. The Georgia law recognises a fetus as a person, which means it could be considered murder. However, it leaves open the question of who would be penalised for an abortion – the person ending their pregnancy or the doctor performing one. In Georgia, the penalty for murder is life imprisonment or the death penalty. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has said it will file lawsuit to stop these bills moving forward. On 15 May, it entered such a legal battle with the state of Ohio, where a similar law will take effect in July if it isn’t struck down in court. Like the law in Alabama, Ohio has no exemptions for incest or rape. The coming legal battle is precisely the point of these bills, which are unconstitutional by design. Terri Collins, the Alabama Representative who sponsored that state’s latest abortion bill, says the purpose is to challenge the federal law that protects the right to an abortion. (Webmaster's comment: These religious pro-life advocates are the scum of the earth!)

5-15-19 Alabama Bill at Odds With Public Consensus on Abortion
It's not difficult to view abortion as a contentious issue. With equal percentages of Americans -- 48% each -- identifying themselves as "pro-choice" and "pro-life" in Gallup's May 2018 update on abortion, the country looks to be completely polarized on the matter. The two sides also diverge when it comes to the legality of first-trimester abortions. Nine in 10 pro-choice Americans say abortion should generally be legal in the first three months of pregnancy, while six in 10 pro-life Americans believe it should be illegal. At the same time, there are two important areas of consensus that have typically been respected in U.S. abortion laws. One involves protecting abortion rights when pregnancy endangers a woman's life. The other is keeping abortion legal when pregnancy is caused by rape or incest. According to Gallup's 2018 abortion survey, not only do most Americans as a whole favor these protections, but so do majorities of pro-life Americans -- 71% for the endangered woman's life exception and 57% for cases of rape or incest. Support for these allowances is nearly universal among pro-choice Americans. (Webmaster's comment: These numbers mean 29% do not believe in abortions even if the mother's life is in danger, and 43% do not believe in abortions in cases or rape or incest (which is mostly with the male's own children). These people are the scum of the earth!)

5-15-19 Alabama passes bill banning abortion
Alabama has become the latest US state to move to restrict abortions by passing a bill to outlaw the procedure in almost all cases. The law includes a ban on abortion in cases of rape or incest. Supporters say they expect the law to be blocked in court but hope that the appeals process will bring it before the Supreme Court. They want the court, which now has a conservative majority, to overturn the 1973 ruling legalising abortion. Alabama's 35-seat senate is dominated by men, and none of its four female senators backed the ban which will now go to Governor Kay Ivey. She has said she will only sign it into law once she has considered it.Sixteen other states are seeking to impose new restrictions on abortion. Earlier this year the Supreme Court blocked implementation of new abortion restrictions in Louisiana. However the ruling was made by a narrow margin and the case is due to be reviewed later this year. The bill's architects expect that it will be defeated in the lower courts, but hope that it will therefore eventually come before the Supreme Court. They have been emboldened by the addition of two conservative justices nominated by President Donald Trump, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, who give the nine-member court a conservative majority. Their aim, they say, is for the landmark 1973 Roe v Wade ruling to be undermined or overturned completely. Alabama's Lieutenant Governor Will Ainsworth said: "Roe must be challenged, and I am proud that Alabama is leading the way." Eric Johnston, who founded the Alabama Pro-Life Coalition that helped draft the bill, told NPR: "The dynamic has changed. "The judges have changed, a lot of changes over that time, and so I think we're at the point where we need to take a bigger and a bolder step." (Webmaster's comment: Abortions will soon be eliminated for any reason. Preserving a mans spawn will be more important than even the women's life. The repeal of all LGBT rights will be next along with arrests and forced "cures", like Pense's forced electroshock!)


SCIENCE - GLOBAL WARMING and ENVIRONMENT

5-21-19 Older people use more energy - and it's not just because of wealth
The average age is rising across populations around the world – a demographic shift that not only poses conundrums for social welfare systems, but may also pose a significant challenge to energy systems and efforts to rein in climate change. Hossein Estiri of Harvard University and Emilio Zagheni of the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, in Germany, have found that energy use increases as we get older, and not just because we accumulate more wealth through life. A greying population could mean a greater proportion of society with high energy consumption levels, their study suggests. On average, children’s energy consumption climbs as they grow up, before dipping slightly when they leave home, their analysis of US data showed. Consumption then rises when people hit their thirties, peaks at 55 years old, and then briefly drops before beginning to climb again. The study controlled for factors such as income, local climate, and the age, type and size of a person’s home. The increase in energy use throughout lifespan seems to be down instead to lifestyle and how our needs change as we age. Why does demand surge so much in our thirties? “We need more of everything. More space. We need more: a bigger TV, we now need two fridges,” says Estiri. The study found that in warmer parts of the US, unlike in colder ones, energy use intensifies in people over the age of 65 – probably for air conditioning. This suggests that climate change and an ageing population may be increasing the effects of each other. Heatwaves have become more common in the US in recent years and are expected to become more frequent due to global warming. More older people using more energy to keep cool could contribute to more warming, until that energy supply is made fossil fuel-free.

5-20-19 Sea level rise could hit 2 metres by 2100 - much worse than feared
The world’s coastal cities have been warned to prepare for the possibility of a sea level rise exceeding 2 metres by the end of the century, with “profound consequences for humanity.” A new assessment found runaway carbon emissions and melting ice sheets could result in such a worst case scenario, potentially double the upper limit outlined by the UN climate science panel’s last major report. Such big sea level rises so soon would lead to nightmarish impacts, says Jonathan Bamber of the University of Bristol. “If we see something like that in the next 80 years we are looking at social breakdown on scales that are pretty unimaginable.” Around 1.79 million square kilometres of land could be lost and up to 187 million people displaced. “Many small island states, particularly those in the Pacific, will effectively be pretty much inhabitable. We are talking about an existential threat to nation states,” says Bamber. His team came to their conclusions after taking evidence from 22 leading researchers on how the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets might respond to future climate change. Aggregating the responses revealed a one in twenty chance that seas could rise by more than 2 metres by 2100 if unchecked carbon emissions lead to average global warming of 5°C, about 2°C more than the temperature rises current government pledges would lead to. “It’s unlikely but it’s plausible. We are talking about a 5 per cent probability,” says Bamber, of how the ice would react to such extreme warming.

5-20-19 Climate change: Global sea level rise could be bigger than expected
Scientists believe that global sea levels could rise far more than predicted, due to accelerating melting in Greenland and Antarctica. The long-held view has been that the world's seas would rise by a maximum of just under a metre by 2100. This new study, based on expert opinions, projects that the real level may be around double that figure. This could lead to the displacement of hundreds of millions of people, the authors say. The question of sea-level rise was one of the most controversial issues raised by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), when it published its fifth assessment report in 2013. It said the continued warming of the planet, without major reductions in emissions, would see global waters rising by between 52cm and 98cm by 2100. Many experts believe this was a very conservative estimate. Ice scientists are also concerned that the models currently used to predict the influence of huge ice sheets on sea levels don't capture all of the uncertainties about how these are now melting. To try to get a clearer picture, some of the leading researchers in the field carried out what is termed a structured expert judgement study, where the scientists make predictions based on their knowledge and understanding of what is happening in Greenland, West and East Antarctica. In the researchers' view, if emissions continue on the current trajectory then the world's seas would be very likely to rise by between 62cm and 238cm by 2100. This would be in a world that had warmed by around 5C - one of the worst-case scenarios for global warming. "For 2100, the ice sheet contribution is very likely in the range of 7-178cm but once you add in glaciers and ice caps outside the ice sheets and thermal expansion of the seas, you tip well over two metres," said lead author Prof Jonathan Bamber from the University of Bristol.

5-18-19 Funding crisis threatens crucial UK ocean monitoring project
Are we weakening an ocean current that is crucial to the global climate? It’s a vital question we may soon struggle to answer due to a funding crisis. For the past 15 years UK and US researchers have used a string of moorings, running from the Bahamas across the Atlantic to the African coast, to detect a weakening in the Atlantic conveyor belt. A heavily dramatised version of the slowing of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) played out in The Day After Tomorrow, in which the current’s collapse flipped the US into extreme cold. The extremes of the 2004 film bear little resemblance to the science, but the AMOC weakening could have real, major socio-economic effects. The current moves heat northwards up the Atlantic, so a slowing could lead to cooler temperatures in north-west Europe, significantly affect sea level rises on the US eastern seaboard, and could shift rainfall patterns in Africa. The UK-led scheme monitoring temperature, salinity and current velocities from near the Atlantic’s surface to the sea floor, known as as the RAPID array, has been in the water since 2004. The array’s funding has always been renewed in the past but will expire in 2020. A review in January recommended continuing backing it. But researchers have been unable to secure a green light for the £1 million-a-year needed from the body which decides, the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). Finding out whether the weakening of the AMOC is driven by artificial global warming or a natural cycle needs 20-40 years of observations, so stopping now would leave that question unanswered. Researchers say the need around a further decade of data. Climate models project the AMOC declining as the world warms.

5-18-19 How an electromagnetic pulse could cause our entire society to collapse
How can we avoid an electrical disaster? You might find your car dying on the freeway while other vehicles around you lose control and crash. You might see the lights going out in your city, or glimpse an airplane falling out of the sky. You've been in a blackout before, but this one is different. In critical facilities across the country, experts predict that it is only a matter of time before the electrical infrastructure holding society together undergoes catastrophic failure. According to a 2017 report of the United States Congressional Commission appointed to assess the risk, we face the threat of "long-lasting disruption and damage" to everything from power and clean water to electronic banking, first-responder services, and functioning hospitals. Until now, such a dire prediction has typically been associated with only the most extreme doomsday true believers but William Graham, the former chairman of the Congressional Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Commission, says that in this case they could be right. In the broadest sense, an EMP is a sudden burst of extreme electromagnetic interference that causes systems using electricity — especially devices controlled by chips or computers — to fail when the load gets too high. EMPs come in three basic varieties, including a ground-level or high-altitude EMP (HEMP) released by a nuclear burst that could potentially impact power lines, transformers and other critical devices; drive-by EMPs created by high-powered microwave weapons that could silently incapacitate equipment from hundreds of yards away; and coronal mass ejections (CMEs) resulting from solar storms that could interfere with the magnetic sphere surrounding the Earth, bringing down the grid that powers the electronic devices defining our contemporary way of life. According to the 2017 report, Russia, China, and North Korea could already have these weapons under wraps. And CMEs from solar storms are like metaphorical magnetic earthquakes: They vary in intensity from relatively harmless ripples all the way to a potential Big One that could take down a nation's grid within minutes, creating widespread destruction that would take years to repair. In the most widespread and catastrophic EMP scenario, even motorized vehicles that aren't damaged will be impacted by the lack of functioning fuel stations as gasoline stops flowing to and from the pumps. With regular deliveries interrupted by the lack of fuel and power, major urban populations will confront empty grocery shelves and a complete breakdown in essential services — from firefighting to garbage collection — in a matter of days. (Webmaster's comment: How long can you live without food? And how can you protect yourself from those who run out while you still have some? Cannibalism would be just around the corner. The carnage in cities would be unbelievable!)

5-17-19 Climate change: Will India's election energy lead to CO2 rise?
India's major political parties competing in the ongoing general elections have pledged free electricity to farmers, ambitious infrastructure projects and rapid expansion of the manufacturing sector. What impact could this have on carbon emissions in India, already the world's third largest CO2 producer? Hundreds of lorries each day haul tens of thousands of tonnes of coal out of massive open cast mines in the Korba district, Chhatisgarh state in central India. At night, the place illuminates with so much light that one can see plumes of smoke coming out of coal-fired power plants - just like in daylight. This is India's major power hub, with Chhatisgarh providing almost 25% of the country's electricity. More than 70% of it comes from coal burning, according to independent think tanks and global energy agencies. The Indian government puts the figure at below 55%. "Coal-fired power plants have always received the government's backing," says Sunil Dahiya, clean energy and climate campaigner with Greenpeace. "And coal demand is not going to decrease right now." Andhra Pradesh, the state just south of Chhatisgarh, has a solar park that until recently was the world's largest. With 4.5 million solar panels installed in an area of 6,000 acres (2,430ha), the park has a capacity of 1,000 MegaWatts (MW). There are other similar parks, and new ones are being built. India says its renewable energy capacity reached 70 GigaWatts (GW) last year. The country now ranks fourth in the world in wind power-based capacity and sixth in solar. The government's target is to reach 175 GW by 2022. Under the Paris climate agreement, India has committed to reduce the CO2 emission intensity of its GDP by 33-35% below 2005 levels by 2030. The world's second largest populous country emitted 2.3bn tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2018 - a nearly 5% rise on the previous year, the International Energy Agency (IEA) says. About 90% of India's energy still comes from fossil fuels and nearly two thirds of that from coal - the dirtiest of fossil fuels.

5-17-19 Crickets have hit the high street - can they save the planet?
Not that long ago, many of us would grimace at the idea of eating raw fish, crunching on kale or slurping on a chia smoothie. Now thousands of us munch on California rolls doused in soy sauce during our lunch break without a second thought. But what about adding some crispy crickets to your poke bowl? This week Abokado, a sushi chain based in London, has done just that and says the crickets are "healthy" and "sustainable". "In a few years insects will be a normalised food in our everyday diet," Abokado's managing director Kara Alderin says. Last year, Sainsbury's started selling grubs as snacks in 250 of its stores. Packets of Eat Grub's smoky BBQ crunchy roasted crickets are also now sold in Ocado at £1.50 a packet. They are marketed as a healthy, protein heavy, environmentally friendly alternative to traditional meat and fish options. But eating insects is nothing new - in fact insects are eaten by around two billion people around the world. It's known as "entomophagy". Many insects are eaten completely whole - wings and all - whereas we only consume around 40% of a cow. A 2013 UN report suggested that eating insects could help boost nutrition and reduce pollution. "I hope that eating insects will become more normalised because they have such enormous environmental benefits," Dr Tilly Collins from Imperial College London argues. "In the Western world we have a sustainability crunch looming where we simply can't eat the amount of meat we do. "In developing countries eating insects can be a really important source of nutrition where there's a real problem with food security." Farming insects uses only a fraction of the land, water and feed required for traditional livestock - insects are also estimated to release 80% less methane than cows. "We can grow insects on food waste so we convert something that is essentially a waste product into a protein," Dr Collins says.

5-16-19 Antarctic instability 'is spreading'
Almost a quarter of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet can now be considered unstable, according to a new assessment of 25 years of satellite data. By unstable, scientists mean more ice is being lost from the region than is being replenished through snowfall. Some of the biggest glaciers have thinned by over 120m in places. Losses from the two largest ice streams - Pine Island and Thwaites - have risen fivefold over the period of the spacecraft observations. And the changes have seen a marked acceleration in just the past decade. The driver is thought to be warm ocean water which is attacking the edges of the continent where its drainage glaciers enter the sea. The British-led study has been presented here in Milan at the Living Planet Symposium, Europe's largest Earth observation conference. It has also been published concurrently in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. The overview stitches together the data from four overlapping satellite missions of the European Space Agency (Esa) - ERS-1, ERS-2, Envisat and Cryosat. These spacecraft were all launched with radar altimeters to measure the change in height across both the eastern and western sectors of the ice sheet. Their unified record from 1992 to 2017 was then combined with weather models to tease apart the elevation trends due to short-term variations in snowfall from those longer-term shifts in ice mass resulting from melting and iceberg calving. "Using this unique dataset, we've been able to identify the parts of Antarctica that are undergoing rapid, sustained thinning - regions that are changing faster than we would expect due to normal weather patterns," said Dr Malcolm McMillan from Lancaster University and the UK's Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling. "We can now clearly see how these regions have expanded through time, spreading inland across some of the most vulnerable parts of West Antarctica, which is critical for understanding the ice sheet's contribution to global sea level rise," he told BBC News.

5-16-19 Plastic pollution: Flip-flop tide engulfs 'paradise' island
Close to a million plastic shoes, mainly flip flops are among the torrent of debris washed up on an "unspoilt paradise" in the Indian Ocean. Scientists estimated that the beaches of Australia's Cocos (Keeling) Islands are strewn with around 414 million pieces of plastic pollution. They believe some 93% of it lies buried under the sand, say the researchers. They are concerned that the scale of concealed plastic debris is being underestimated worldwide. Nearly half the plastic manufactured since the product was developed six decades ago has been made in the past 13 years, say scientists. Through failings in waste management, much of it has ended up in the oceans, with one estimate suggesting that there are now more pieces of plastic in the seas than there are stars in the Milky Way. This latest assessment will add to the feeling that the world hasn't yet fully appreciated the scale of the problem. The research team surveyed the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, a horseshoe chain of 26 small land masses 2,100km north-west of Australia. Around 600 people live in these remote places, which are sometimes described as "Australia's last unspoilt paradise". The researchers found that oceanic currents are depositing huge amounts of plastic on the beaches of these atolls. They calculated that the islands are littered with 238 tonnes of plastic, including 977,000 shoes and 373,000 toothbrushes. These were among the identifiable elements in an estimated 414 million pieces of debris. The scientists believe their overall finding is conservative, as they weren't able to access some beaches known to be hotspots of pollution.Of particular concern to the authors of the report is the amount of material they believe is buried up to 10cm below the surface. This accounted for around 93% of the estimated volume. The lead author Jennifer Lavers told BBC News that, based on what she had seen on the Cocos Islands and what she has found previously on another remote island called Henderson in the Pacific, the world has "drastically underestimated" the scale of this problem. The finding may also help explain a significant gap in our understanding of plastic pollution.

5-15-19 The world's supply of rubber is in jeopardy. Can we find new sources?
Rubber is essential to modern life, but the trees that provide it could be wiped out by a deadly disease. Some scrubby weeds may provide the unlikely solution. IN A classic episode of The Simpsons, Bart and his schoolmates watch an educational film called A World Without Zinc. For reasons unexplained, a man called Jimmy wants to live without zinc. His wish is granted, but he soon regrets it: he can’t go on a date because his car won’t start, and he can’t call his girlfriend because his telephone won’t work. Horrified at what he has done, he tries to shoot himself. But his gun won’t fire, because the firing pin is made of zinc. A real-life world without zinc would probably be survivable. But there are some commodities we would struggle without. Many are obvious: steel, oil, aluminium. But others are less so. In A World Without Zinc, Jimmy wakes up to find it was all a bad dream. In A World Without Rubber, however, the nightmare threatens to become all too real. Rubber is one of industrial civilisation’s great unsung heroes. Apart from its obvious uses in tyres, wellies, condoms and underwear elastic, it is a crucial ingredient in some 40,000 products, including shock absorbers, transmission belts, gaskets, hoses, medical devices, sports equipment, cement, paints, plastics and pharmaceuticals. According to agricultural scientist K. P. Prabhakaran Nair, rubber is “essential to the enjoyment of the conveniences and amenities of modern life”. Unfortunately, the prospect of a rubber crisis isn’t the stuff of fiction. Demand keeps growing, but supply isn’t keeping pace. With a deadly fungus threatening to wipe out rubber trees, and the rubber industry, the hunt is on for new sources of the stuff.

5-15-19 Climate change may make trees live fast and die young
Everyone from governments to oil companies is looking at tree-planting as a way to counter global warming, but this strategy could be less effective than we thought. In a warming world with growing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, researchers have hypothesised that trees will grow faster. But this isn’t necessarily a good thing. Faster-growing trees may live shorter lives, reducing the amount of time they lock carbon away for. Now data is beginning to suggest that this is the case. Ulf Büntgen of the University of Cambridge and his colleagues have looked at tree ring records going back 2,000 years, and found that the longest-lived trees were those with the slowest growth rates. “We find that if a tree grows fast in its initial stage, there is a high probability that it will die younger,” he says. The team studied 1800 trees, all of which were mountain pines from the Spanish Pyrenees or Siberian larch from the Russian Altai region, which can live up to about 800 years. In a warmer world with more carbon dioxide, however, these trees might live just 150 years after growing rapidly. We should keep planting trees to tackle climate change, says Büntgen. But we should realise that, on a timescale of centuries, the carbon these trees sequester may not stay there as long, he says. We should also question whether the fast-growing poplars and willows currently favoured by tree-planting schemes are the best species to use. “It doesn’t mean that the carbon sink [of forests] will go away, just that we may not have as much as we thought,” says Pep Canadell of CSIRO Climate Science Centre in Australia.


SCIENCE - EVOLUTION and GENETICS

5-21-19 Finding common ground can reduce parents’ hesitation about vaccines
Changing the doctor’s office conversation could stem the spread of disease. About six years ago, Emily Adams, a mother of two in Lakewood, Colo., briefly counted herself among the vaccine hesitant. Her family had changed insurance plans, and while her older daughter was up-to-date on shots, her infant son fell behind. “We were no longer on schedule, just because of life,” she says. Adams remembers mentioning her son’s situation to a friend, who suggested Adams hold off longer. The friend recommended some books discounting the science behind vaccines. Adams began reading, which led to about six months of feeling unsure about continuing to immunize her son. In the end, Adams did not find the books convincing. She credits her sister, a molecular biology doctoral student at the time, with helping her sort through her concerns. Today, both of Adams’ children are fully vaccinated. Adams eventually found other parents like her — “crunchy,” she says — with shared views on the environment, homemade baby food, cloth diapers and a belief in vaccination. She also became involved with Colorado Parents for Vaccinated Communities, which advocates for pro-vaccine policies. Adams has had conversations about vaccines with some doubting friends, who have “seemed really open when I’ve said things gently.” She’s even changed a few minds. The circumstances that led to Adams’ hesitancy illustrate the cracks in the country’s foundation of infectious disease prevention, cracks that are creating vulnerable communities. And vaccine hesitancy, defined as the delay in acceptance or the refusal of vaccines despite their availability, is a growing problem.

5-21-19 Measles erases the immune system’s memory
Beyond the rash, the infection makes it harder for the body to remember and attack other invaders. The most iconic thing about measles is the rash — red, livid splotches that make infection painfully visible. But that rash, and even the fever, coughing and watery, sore eyes, are all distractions from the virus’s real harm — an all-out attack on the immune system. Measles silently wipes clean the immune system’s memory of past infections. In this way, the virus can cast a long and dangerous shadow for months, or even years, scientists are finding. The resulting “immune amnesia” leaves people vulnerable to other viruses and bacteria that cause pneumonia, ear infections and diarrhea. Those aftereffects make measles “the furthest thing from benign,” says infectious disease epidemiologist and pathologist Michael Mina of Harvard University. “It really puts you at increased susceptibility for everything else.” And that has big consequences, recent studies show. Details about which immune cells are most at risk and how long the immune system seems to suffer — gleaned from studies of lab animals, human tissue and children before and after they had measles — have created a more complete picture of how the virus mounts its sneak attack. This new view may help explain a larger-than-expected umbrella of safety created by measles vaccination. “Wherever you introduce measles vaccination, you always reduce childhood mortality. Always,” says virologist Rik de Swart of Erasmus University Medical Center in the Netherlands. The shot prevents deaths, and more than just those caused by measles. By shielding the immune system against one virus’s attack, the vaccine may create a kind of protective halo that keeps other pathogens at bay, some researchers suspect.

5-21-19 How the battle against measles varies around the world
Conflict, inequality and skepticism limit global vaccine coverage. The World Health Organization’s goal was lofty but achievable: eliminate measles from five of the world’s six regions by 2020. But recent outbreaks — even in places where elimination had been achieved — are making that goal a distant dream. In the first four months of 2019, 179 countries reported 168,193 cases of measles. That’s almost 117,000 more cases reported during the same period last year. Actual numbers are probably much higher; the WHO estimates that only 1 in 10 cases are reported. With this uptick, none of the regions will meet the 2020 goal, says pediatrician Ann Lindstrand, vaccine lead for immunization systems at the WHO in Geneva. Even after a country attains elimination — defined as the absence of the continuous transmission of measles for a year or more — maintenance programs must be relentless, says Robert Linkins, a global measles expert at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. “Kids are born every day needing vaccines.… You have to keep up.” The Americas is learning this lesson the hard way. In 2016, the region became the first to eliminate measles after its 35 countries immunized 95 percent or more of their populations (SN Online: 9/27/16). That’s the point at which herd immunity can keep safe those who aren’t immunized (often for health reasons or because they are too young). But across the region, vaccination rates have since dipped, and outbreaks in Brazil and Venezuela have cost the region its elimination status, according to a May 10 report in Science. Reasons for recent failures vary across the world. Political instability, conflict and poverty can lead to shortages of vaccines (which must be refrigerated) and clinic closings.

5-21-19 Signs of red pigment were spotted in a fossil for the first time
The 3-million-year-old mouse was reddish-brown on its back and sides. The 3-million-year-old mouse wore red. For the first time, chemical traces of red pigment have been detected in a fossil, scientists say. Using a technique called X-ray spectroscopy, researchers led by paleontologist Phillip Manning at the University of Manchester in England searched the fossil for a chemical signature associated with pheomelanin, the pigment responsible for reddish-brown fur or feathers. The team had already worked out which unique combination of chemical components stand for pheomelanin and for eumelanin, a dark brown or black pigment, by mapping out where trace metals such as zinc and copper bonded to organic molecules in the pigments of modern bird feathers. Pheomelanin, they determined, occurs where zinc binds to organic sulfur molecules. Mapping where both zinc and sulfur molecules occurred on the mouse’s body revealed that the ancient field mouse had reddish-brown fur on its back and sides, the team reports online May 21 in Nature Communications. Pheomelanin is difficult to preserve, though scientists previously have found hints of the red color in ancient critters. Microstructures identified in some exceptionally well-preserved fossils may be pigment-bearing pods called melanosomes; the shapes of the pods in modern animals are linked to the types of pigment they contain (SN: 11/26/16, p. 24). For example, sausage-shaped melanosomes contain eumelanin, while meatball-shaped melanosomes hold pheomelanin. And an armored dinosaur that lived 110 million years ago may have had some red on it: Scientists detected benzothiazole in its fossil, a by-product of pheomelanin that can form when the pigment breaks down (SN Online: 8/3/17).

5-20-19 DNA database opts a million people out from police searches
A major DNA database that has been pivotal in solving US cold crime cases has blocked law enforcement access to the profiles of a million people, in a setback for investigators and a victory for campaigners. GEDMatch, which allows people to trace their relatives by uploading DNA results from consumer genetics services such as 23andMe, helped police catch a Californian serial killer last year, decades after the murders. But the site changed its terms and conditions on Saturday to opt out its million users from searches by law enforcement, in what genealogy geneticists called a “stunning reversal” of its position. Officers have used a combination of matching genetic samples from the site with traditional genealogy techniques to build family trees and find suspects in cold cases. Around 50 such cases have been solved using GEDMatch, according to Christi Guerrini of Baylor College of Medicine. Members will now have to actively opt in for police to use their data, which several people on social media said they would do to help solve crimes. The move came after site made an exemption allowing Utah police to use the service for a violent assault. Previously, law enforcement agencies were only permitted to search the site for murder or sexual assault cases. Curtis Rogers, one of the site’s founders, said: “The Utah case in which a 71-year old woman was beaten and left for dead and which some people felt was an exception to our vicious crime clause, made us rethink our terms of service policy. The opt-in for law enforcement use is one result of this thinking.” The change was welcomed by genetic genealogists. Judy Russell, who blogs as The Legal Geneaologist, said the change “leaves the entire field on firmer ethical ground.” (Webmaster's comment: But lets violent criminals get away with it. Let's use DNA to put violent criminals away for good!)

5-20-19 Sabre-toothed cats bit rivals in the head and punctured their skulls
Sabre-toothed cats may have used their fearsome canine teeth to bite their rivals in the head, puncturing their skulls and probably killing them. This seems to be the best explanation for two separate sabre-toothed cat skulls sporting tooth-shaped holes. The long-toothed cats roamed the world for over 40 million years before the last ones vanished 11,000 years ago. Although the canine teeth are dramatic, some palaeontologists think they were largely for show. They are so long and narrow, the argument goes, they must have been fragile and would have broken if used to bite into bone. “Others even suggested that they were useless for hunting and only served for exhibiting to females,” says Federico Agnolin of the Bernardino Rivadavia Natural Sciences Argentine Museum in Buenos Aires. Agnolin and his colleagues studied two skulls of Smilodon populator, one of the best known species, discovered at separate sites in Argentina. Both skulls have holes, shaped like pointy ovals, near where the forehead meets the nose. It looks like the wounds were inflicted by the famous teeth. “The shape and the size of the holes are identical,” says Agnolin. To confirm this, the team took a third sabre-toothed cat skull and inserted its canines into the holes on each of the other skills. “The canines of the specimen entered perfectly through the holes, matching the shape and size,” says Agnolin. The team says the best explanation for each skull is that the wounds were inflicted by another sabre-toothed cat during a fight. In both cases, this was probably fatal, says Agnolin. It is conceivable that the cats were actually kicked in the head by hoofed prey, but he says that would make different-shaped holes.

5-20-19 Some baby dinosaurs crawled before learning to walk on two legs
It takes a few months of crawling until babies can stand up on their own and this might be true for some dinosaurs too. A fossil analysis has found a dinosaur that may have walked on all fours as a child and then shifted to two legs once it grew up. Humans are probably the only animals today that transition from moving on all fours to two feet only during their lifetime, says Andrew Cuff at the Royal Veterinary College in Hertfordshire. “Finding another example, especially in an extinct and very different group like dinosaurs, is exciting,” he says. Mussaurus patagonicus lived about 200 million years ago in present day Argentina. An adult M. patagonicus had a long neck and tail, and could reach 1 tonne in body weight. However, a newly hatched M. patagonicus was as tiny as a newborn chick, weighing only about 60 grams. To see whether the animal’s body posture changed with its size, Cuff and his colleagues used M. patagonicus fossils to reconstruct 3D models of the dinosaur at three life stages: hatchling, one-year-old juvenile, and adult. One feature that determines whether an animal can walk primarily on two feet is its centre of gravity. The point has to be above its two hindlegs rather than further forward. The team found as a hatchling, M. patagonicus’s centre of gravity was located in the middle of its back, in front of the legs, meaning hatchlings had to stand on all fours in order to remain balanced. As M. patagonicus became bigger its centre of gravity gradually shifted towards the rear, with its tail playing a large role. An adult M. patagonicus’s centre of gravity was very close to its hips above its legs, and could therefore walk bipedally.

5-20-19 This early sauropod went from walking on four legs to two as it grew
Center of mass shifts led to a rare change in walking style for a long-necked dinosaur relative. Most long-necked sauropods lumbered on four legs all their lives to support their titanic bulk. But an early relative of such behemoths as Brachiosaurus made the unusual transition from walking on four legs to two as it grew, a new study shows. Diminutive at hatching, Mussaurus patagonicus (which means “mouse lizard”) began life walking on all fours. But by the time the 200-million-year-old plant eater reached its 6-meter-long adult size, it roamed what’s now Argentina on two legs. The changing length of M. patagonicus’s arm bones relative to its body and its inward facing-palms as an adult had hinted at the transition. But for the first time, computer simulations based on a rich fossil record show how a shift in the creature’s center of gravity as it grew enabled a change to bipedal walking, researchers report May 20 in Scientific Reports. Researchers took CT scans of fossil bones from six individual M. patagonicus — covering different stages of the species’ development, from 60-gram hatchlings the size of baby chickens to 1.5 metric ton adults the size of rhinoceroses. The researchers added virtual flesh to digitized bones to create 3-D models that allowed them to estimate both the weight and center of gravity of M. patagonicus at many different stages of its life. Reconstructions of the hatchlings showed that the creature’s center of mass was so far forward that the dinosaurs could move around only by walking on all four legs, says Andrew Cuff, a paleontologist of the Structure and Motion Laboratory of the Royal Veterinary College in Hatfield, England.

5-19-19 How your DNA could solve a murder
Genetic information from ancestry databases is being used to solve murders and identify bodies. Is this the end of DNA privacy? In the year since the arrest of the man believed to be the notorious Golden State Killer, the world of criminal investigation has been radically transformed. Using an unconventional technique that relies on DNA submitted to online genealogy sites, investigators have solved dozens of violent crimes, in many cases decades after they hit dead ends. Experts believe the technique could be used to revive investigations into a vast number of cases that have gone cold across the country, including at least 100,000 unsolved major violent crimes and 40,000 unidentified bodies. Many have called it a revolutionary new technology. But credit for this method largely belongs to a number of mostly female, mostly retired family-history lovers who tried for years to convince law enforcement officials that their techniques could be used for more than locating the biological parents of adoptees. One was Diane Harman Hoog, 78, director of education at DNA Adoption, who realized in 2013 that she could apply the techniques she was using to identify two bodies she had read about in a Seattle newspaper. "This is too complicated," she said she was told when she reached out to a detective. Four years later, Margaret Press, 72, a retired computer programmer and skilled family-tree builder in California, tried to help her local sheriff with a similar case. No one would return her calls. Fast-forward to April 25, 2018, the day that a gaggle of California prosecutors announced that an "innovative DNA technology" had been used in the Golden State Killer case. The innovator was Barbara Rae-Venter, a genetic genealogist who had uploaded crime scene DNA to GEDmatch.com, a low-key genealogical research site run out of a little yellow house in Florida. Rae-Venter, 70, and her team soon found a suspect by using the genetic and family-tree data provided by his cousins. And that was how a former police officer, Joseph DeAngelo, came to be charged with 26 counts of murder and kidnapping in connection with scores of rapes and killings that were committed across California in the 1970s and '80s. In interview after interview, Paul Holes, a determined investigator who had spent decades chasing false leads, rejoiced in his decision to involve Rae-Venter. "Barbara really braved the pass," said CeCe Moore, a genetic genealogist who was also among the first to see the potential in the technique. Within a few weeks of the announcement, she began working with Parabon, a forensic-consulting firm.

5-19-19 How allergens in pollen help plants do more than make you sneeze
Clouds of the grains may be easy to hate, but they’re crucial for plant health. “Are plants trying to kill us?” allergy sufferers often ask Deborah Devis. A plant molecular geneticist at the University of Adelaide’s Waite campus in Australia, Devis should know the answer better than most. She is chugging through the last few months of a Ph.D. that involves predicting how grasses use pollen proteins that make people sneeze, wheeze and weep for days on end. What’s known so far about what allergens do for pollens shed by grasses, trees and even mosses has nothing to do with revenge against a primate likely to attack them with mowers and other sharp tools, she says. Instead, plants are just trying to live like the rest of us. “In most cases,” she says, “the allergen proteins are absolutely essential.” To understand why, a refresher on some basics of plant sex is helpful. A pollen grain’s stripped-down mission is to carry male sex cells to female parts of flowers. It’s a chancy and dangerous job. But evolution has honed formidable chemistry that protects the grains’ travels and fertilization itself. For instance, the outer coat of a pollen grain contains the outstandingly tough sporopollenin, which can last thousands of years, says Hannah Banks of Kew Gardens in London. Just to clean debris off the coat, researchers routinely boil pollen in a mixture of sulfuric and acetic acid.

5-18-19 Scientists have finally worked out what screaming sounds like
What’s in a scream? The vocalisations people identify as screams share certain sound qualities – a kind of acoustic DNA that tells a listener’s ear that what they’re hearing is a scream, even if it isn’t. “Evolutionarily, screams likely originally functioned to startle attacking predators. Research on screams has the potential to help us understand the evolution of emotional communication,” says Jay Schwartz at Emory University. He and his colleagues asked 181 volunteers to listen to 75 vocal sounds that included laughter, crying, moans, groans, and yells from acted sources – like television or movies – and more natural sources, such as a YouTube video of a child opening a present and screaming in delight. The listeners indicated whether or not each sound was something they considered a scream. “We did not provide any type of definition for a scream because we were trying to get at what is it in people’s minds that distinguishes a scream from other types of vocalisations,” says Schwartz, who presented his work at a meeting of the Acoustical Society of America on 14 May. When they analysed the sound files, they found that the ones categorised as screams had acoustic similarities. People were more likely to consider a sound a scream if it was higher in pitch, and had a varied change in pitch, first moving up and then down at the end. For example, 100 per cent of the participants agreed that this sound was a scream. Sounds that maintained a more steady pitch were less likely to be perceived as a scream. Only 58 per cent of listeners thought this was a scream.

5-17-19 Key parts of a fruit fly’s genetic makeup have finally been decoded
Jumping genes in chromosomes may ensure DNA gets where it needs to go when cells divide. Some of the most important chapters in fruit flies’ genetic instruction book have finally been decoded. For the first time, researchers have deciphered, or sequenced, the genetic makeup of all of a multicellular organism’s centromeres — and discovered stretches of DNA that may be key in divvying up chromosomes. Errors in doing that job can lead to cancer, birth defects or death. The team reported the achievement May 14 in PLOS Biology. Centromeres, which give most chromosomes their characteristic X shape, help move chromosomes in dividing cells. “The chromosome is a bus, and our DNA and genes are the passengers. The centromere is the bus driver,” says Beth Sullivan, a geneticist and centromere biologist at Duke University School of Medicine not involved in the study. “It’s what moves the chromosome, after the DNA has been copied, into new daughter cells.” Until now, scientists have known very little about these genetic bus drivers. Some centromeres from corn, horses, yeast and other fungi — and one human one that drives the Y chromosome — have been characterized. But mostly what scientists knew about centromeres is that they are incredibly long stretches of repetitive DNA. Although scientists reported in 2000 that they’d finished reading the entire Drosophila melanogaster instruction book, or genome, in truth, researchers had skipped over the flies’ centromeres and other repetitive DNA. (The human genome is also not really complete; human centromeres, except for that of the Y chromosome, are still mysteries.)

5-17-19 Compulsory vaccines are needed to keep measles under control in the UK
The UK should consider introducing compulsory measles vaccinations before children start school, according to a team of researchers in Italy. Their analysis of international measles data suggests that current vaccination policies are not enough to keep the virus under control. The team looked at vaccination trends in multiple countries, including the UK, US, Australia, and Ireland. They concluded that, in order to keep the percentage of the population susceptible to catching measles under 7.5 per cent by 2050 – the level at which measles is regarded as eliminated – further action is needed. Either far more people need to be vaccinated, or a schools policy should be brought in, say the team. In their analysis, they found that an estimated 3.7 per cent of the UK population across all ages was susceptible to measles in 2018. Without any change to vaccination policies, this is expected to increase to more than 5.5 per cent by 2050. But compulsory vaccination at school entry, in addition to current routine immunisation programs, would enable the UK, Ireland and US to reach stable herd immunity levels in the coming decades, says team member Stefano Merler, of the Fondazione Bruno Kessler in Trento. There were 966 measles cases in England last year, up from 259 in 2017. Anti-vaccination groups may be behind a number of parents choosing not to vaccinate their children with the combined measles, mumps and rubella vaccine (MMR). “Vaccine rejection is a serious and growing public health time-bomb,” says Simon Stevens, of NHS England. Social media firms should have a zero-tolerance approach towards dangerous and inaccurate stories, he says.

5-17-19 Vaccines may help bats fight white nose syndrome
Oral inoculation would spread from bat to bat through nuzzles. Oral vaccines could give wild bats a better chance at surviving white nose syndrome, the fungal disease that has ravaged bat colonies in North America. In lab tests conducted on captured little brown bats, vaccination led to fewer infected bats developing lesions and more of the bats surviving, researchers report May 1 Scientific Reports. White nose syndrome, caused by the fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans, has killed around 7 million bats in the United States since 2006. In some regions, the disease cut some bat colonies by 75 percent. The white fuzz grows across bats’ skin when the animals hibernate, eventually making them wake up, fly around and waste energy needed to survive winter (SN Online: 1/29/16). “It’s just devastating to some bat populations,” says veterinarian Elizabeth Falendysz at the U.S. Geological Survey National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wisc. Falendysz and colleagues made two vaccines against the fungus by implanting raccoon poxviruses with DNA instructions for making one of two fungal proteins, in order to trick the bats’ immune system into recognizing and fighting the fungus. (Vaccines that helped in rabies eradication efforts and in fighting plague in prairie dogs rely on the same mechanism.) Wild little brown bats (Myotis lucifugus) were vaccinated before being exposed to the fungus. Of 10 bats given a combination of both vaccines, only one developed lesions within the experiment’s 100-day hibernation period. Because little brown bats don’t do well in captivity, the team struggled with dwindling sample sizes, so it was hard to compare these numbers to other individual treatments. But 14 of the other 23 bats, or 61 percent, that didn’t get this vaccine combo developed lesions.

5-17-19 Cannabis plant evolved super high (on the Tibetan Plateau)
Cannabis may have had high origins. Where the plant comes from has been a bit of a mystery, but analysis of ancient pollen now suggests it evolved some 3 kilometres above sea level on the Tibetan Plateau. Intriguingly, this site is only a few hundred kilometres from a cave that researchers recently announced was once home to our ancient Denisovan cousins. Humans began exploiting cannabis deep in prehistory. Its seeds are a good source of protein and fatty acids, while fibres from its stems can be spun into yarn and made into textiles. Its flowers, meanwhile, are a source of cannabinoids which have been used as a drug for at least 2700 years. To find out where the plant evolved, John McPartland at the University of Vermont and his colleagues searched through scientific studies to pick out archaeological and geological sites across Asia where cannabis pollen has been found. Identifying cannabis pollen isn’t easy because it looks identical to the pollen of a closely related plant called the common hop, which happens to be used for flavouring beer. But McPartland and his colleagues believe it is possible to work out which species the pollen belongs to by considering the other pollen present at an archaeological site. This is because cannabis lives on open grassy steppes, so its pollen usually occurs with the pollen of steppe plants. The common hop, however, grows mostly in woodlands, so its pollen typically occurs with tree pollen. When McPartland and his colleagues applied this rationale, they discovered that the earliest occurrence of cannabis pollen in the geological and archaeological record is in northern China and southern Russia. From the distribution of the pollen, the team concluded that cannabis probably emerged on the Tibetan Plateau in the vicinity of Qinghai Lake, which is about 3200 metres above sea level.

5-16-19 Does eating ultraprocessed food affect weight gain? It’s complicated
A new diet study is highly controlled, but still has conflicting results. Nutrition advice can be confusing. Studies that bolster the health benefits of a food or nutrient seem inevitably to be followed by other work undercutting the good news. One reason for the muddle is that nutrition studies sometimes depend on people’s self-reporting of past meals. And because people may forget or even lie about what they’ve been consuming, that data can be flawed, creating conflicting reports about what’s healthy and what’s not, research has shown. But even if people had a photographic memory of all of their meals, that alone wouldn’t provide enough information. How bodies react to and process food can vary widely from person to person and be dependent on genes, the microbes that live inside the gut, a person’s current health, what the food contains or even how it was made (SN: 1/9/16, p. 8). “The problem is that nutrition research is rocket science,” says David Ludwig, a pediatric endocrinologist at Boston Children’s Hospital. “There are potentially thousands of different nutrients and factors in food that could influence our biology or our senses as we eat. Those can interact in unpredictable and complicated ways.” Given the complexity that comes with researching diet, one approach is to study people in a controlled environment, so that researchers know exactly what the participants are eating. A study that tied eating highly processed foods to weight gain, published online May 16 in Cell Metabolism, did just that. Here’s what the researchers learned — and what they still can’t answer.

5-16-19 Psychedelic parenting: The sad new trend of microdosing moms
Are mind-altering drugs a parenting godsend or a dangerous crutch? Parents who struggle to cope with the daily grind of raising kids are turning to mind-altering, illegal drugs. According to a recent report from The Guardian, a small but growing number of child-rearers in the U.S. and U.K. are now "microdosing": taking teensy amounts of psychedelic substances — mostly ground up, home-grown magic mushrooms or LSD — to help ease the drudgery of parenting. As one shroom-consuming mom put it: "You don't feel high, just … better." Moms and dads may be new to microdosing, but the trend has been bubbling for years in Silicon Valley. The tech set claim that taking 10 to 20 micrograms of LSD every few days (a trip-inducing dose is around 100 micrograms) makes them more creative and focused. Parents say it makes them feel more engaged and patient with their kids. In principle, I'm not against parents adding feel-good molecules to their armory of coping mechanisms. I, for one, rarely turn down an invitation to a moms' happy hour. But self-medicating, however minimally, with under-researched chemicals could be dangerous in ways we might not yet realize. My larger concern is that microdosing is just the latest manifestation of parents pursuing that impossible goal of having it all. The science behind mircodosing is currently limited and wobbly at best. One study published in February followed 98 microdosers who were already using drugs classed as psychedelics, which includes LSD and psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms. While all participants anticipated the benefits of microdosing to be "large and wide-ranging," most experienced only some positive changes, such as increased focus and reduced stress and depression. There was no bump in creativity or life satisfaction. And, six weeks in, the study actually found a small increase in neuroticism. Clearly, we need more quality studies on mircrodosing, and to approach this potential Pandora's box of "happy" chemicals with extreme caution. Luckily, researchers at Imperial College London are looking into this, conducting the world's first placebo-controlled study of the microdosing and its effects.

5-16-19 Centre for Cancer Drug Discovery to focus on anti-evolution treatments
All treatments for cancer should be designed to prevent tumours evolving resistance, because drug-resistant tumours are what kill most people, says Paul Workman, head of the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) in the UK. To make this happen, the ICR is setting up a £78 million Centre for Cancer Drug Discovery in London that will bring together researchers from different disciplines to focus on creating anti-evolution treatments. “We are hugely excited about it,” Workman told a press briefing at the Science Media Centre. “The biggest challenge in cancer is drug resistance.” Cancers develop when genetic mutations destroy the mechanisms in cells that normally limit growth. As tumours grow, these cells continue to mutate and become more diverse. When someone with cancer is given a drug, it may be very effective at first, killing most of the cells in the tumour. But if just a few cells out of the billions in a tumour have a mutation that makes them resistant to that drug, they will survive and keep growing. This is natural selection – exactly the same process that drives the evolution of plants, animals, bacteria and viruses. “Cancers evolve very rapidly over a short space of time to become resistant, leading to the vast majority of cancer deaths,” says Workman. Thanks to new technologies such as single-cell genome sequencing, we can now study this process in action. But cancer researchers and doctors haven’t yet put this understanding at the heart of all they do. “We need a culture shift in how we develop drugs,” says Olivia Rossanese, who will be head of biology in the new centre.

5-16-19 Artificial life form given 'synthetic DNA'
UK scientists have created an artificial version of the stomach bug E. coli that is based on an entirely synthetic form of DNA. At the same time, Syn61 as they are calling it, has had its genetic code significantly redesigned. It's been done in a manner that will pave the way for designer bacteria that could manufacture new catalysts, drugs, proteins and materials. Other scientists working in synthetic biology have hailed the development. Genetic engineer Prof George Church, from Harvard University, US, has hailed the work as "a major breakthough". Dr Tom Ellis, a reader in synthetic biology at Imperial College London called it super-impressive. Syn61's 4 million genetic letters make this the largest entire genome to be synthesised from scratch. They were ordered in short segments from a laboratory supplies company, before being assembled into half-million-letter lengths in yeast cells by natural cellular machinery. At this point, the genome engineers' job became a bit like a railway engineer's maintenance programme - replacing the E. coli genome piecewise - section by section - rather than all at once. "The bacterial chromosome is so big," team leader Jason Chin told the BBC, "we needed an approach that would let us see what had gone wrong if there had been any mistakes along the way." So it was only after each half-million-letter segment had been tested in partially synthetic bacteria that the eight segments were brought together in Syn61. The approach is more cautious than that used by bio-entrepreneur, Craig Venter, whose microbial replicant based on the tiny organism Mycoplasma genitaliumwas presented to the world in 2010. That was a milestone, Tom Ellis recalls, but consumed the efforts over many years of an entire institute, set up, run and named by Venter. The new work was conducted by a small team at Cambridge's world-famous Laboratory for Molecular Biology, and could readily be scaled up to bigger genomes in any well equipped lab, according to Dr Chin. In the event, the team found only four mistakes out of the entire four million synthesised genetic letters, and they were easily corrected.

5-16-19 The quest for better snakebite treatments gets a funding boost
A multimillion-pound programme has been launched to improve treatment for snakebites, which are thought to kill up to 138,000 people each year. Treatments for snakebites can be expensive or ineffective, a problem that disproportionately affects people living in the world’s poorest places. Current methods for making antivenom involve using antibodies extracted from horses – a process that hasn’t changed since the 19th century and carries a high risk of contamination and adverse reactions in patients. Of those who survive venomous bites each year, 400,000 people develop life-changing injuries, including amputations. To tackle this, the Wellcome Trust has announced £80 million in funding for a new research programme on snakebite treatments. The programme aims to make antivenoms better, safer and cheaper. “Snakebite is – or should be – a treatable condition. With access to the right antivenom there is a high chance of survival. While people will always be bitten by venomous snakes, there is no reason so many should die,” says Mike Turner, of the Wellcome Trust. The World Health Organization is expected to publish a strategy next week for halving the number of deaths and disabilities from snakebites by 2030.

5-15-19 Does population genetics have a racism problem, even today?
Efforts to group us by our genes are arbitrary and encourage the subtle return of race within mainstream science, argues Angela Saini. THE end of the second world war was meant to have spelled the death of race science. Until the 1930s, it had been relatively acceptable for biologists and anthropologists to believe in innate differences between races. Many assumed that certain groups were superior to others. It was only after the war and the Holocaust that the world finally turned its back on this dangerous field of research. People thought about race differently following the war. Anthropologists showed that most of what we think of as racial difference is in fact cultural and linguistic difference. Geneticists, starting with Richard Lewontin in 1972, have shown that more than 90 per cent of the genetic variation we see between humans lies within the racial categories we use. Being of the same race doesn’t necessarily make two people more genetically similar to each other than either of them would be to someone of another race. Race is today described as a social construct, its study confined to the social sciences so we can understand the effects of historical and modern-day discrimination. The handful of scientists who have continued to insist publicly on the existence of biological races have often been on the margins of respectability. There was William Shockley, the Nobel prize-winning physicist at Stanford University in California who wanted black women in the US to be voluntarily sterilised. Then there was Arthur Jensen, a psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley, who claimed that black people had innately lower intelligence levels than white people. We think of Jensen and Shockley as exceptions. We assume that race has been purged from science. But has it?

5-16-19 Peasants in medieval England ate a diet of meat stew and cheese
Medieval peasants mainly ate stews of meat and vegetables, along with dairy products such as cheese, according to a study of old cooking pots. Researchers analysed food residues from the remains of cooking pots found at the small medieval village of West Cotton in Northamptonshire. The pottery covers a period of around 500 years during the Middle Ages. By identifying the lipids, fats, oils and natural waxes on the ceramics, the team found that stews of mutton and beef with vegetables such as cabbage and leek were a mainstay of the medieval peasant diet. However, dairy products such as cheese also played an important role. “All too often in history, the detail of the everyday life of ordinary people is unknown,” says Julie Dunne, at the University of Bristol, UK. “Much is known of the medieval dietary practices of the nobility and ecclesiastical institutions, but less about what foods the medieval peasantry consumed.” Dunne and her colleagues also examined a range of historical documents for their study, finding that medieval peasants ate meat, fish, dairy products, fruit and vegetables. The team say that, prior to this study, there was little direct evidence that this was the case.

5-15-19 Hearing device picks out right voice from a crowd by reading your mind
Sometimes it is hard to make out what people are saying in a noisy crowded environment. A device that reads your mind to work out which voices to amplify may be able to help. The experimental device can separate two or three different voices of equal loudness in real time. It can then work out which voice someone is trying to listen to from their brainwaves and amplify that voice. The device, created by Nima Mesgarani at Columbia University in New York, is a step towards creating smart hearing aids that solve the classic cocktail party problem — how to separate voices in a crowd. First, Mesgarani’s team worked on a system that could separate the voices of two or three people speaking into a single microphone at the same loudness. Several big companies like Google and Amazon have developed similar AI-based ways of doing this to improve voice assistants like Alexa. But these systems separate voices after people have finished speaking, Mesgarani says. His system works in real time, as people are speaking. Next, the team played recordings of people telling stories to three people who were in hospital with electrodes placed into their brains to monitor epileptic seizures. In 2012, Mesgarani showed that the brainwaves in a certain part of the auditory cortex can reveal which of several voices a person is focusing on. By monitoring the brainwaves of the three volunteers, the hearing device could tell which voice people were listening to and selectively amplify just that voice. When the volunteers were asked to switch attention to a different voice, the device could detect the shift and respond.

5-15-19 Did we split from Neanderthals 400,000 years earlier than we thought?
An analysis of fossil teeth suggests that the shared ancestor of modern humans and our Neanderthal cousins may have lived more than 800,000 years ago. Previous studies have used DNA to calculate how long ago these two types of humans split from each other, estimating this to have taken place around 400,000 years ago. But fossils from the cave site of Sima de los Huesos, in Spain, don’t fit with this estimate. The hominin remains discovered there are thought to be those of early Neanderthals, but dating indicates they are around 430,000 years old, which hints that the most recent common ancestor of Neanderthals and modern humans must have lived before this time. To estimate how much earlier this ancestor may have lived, Aida Gómez-Robles of University College London analysed the shape of these fossilised teeth and the teeth of seven other types of hominin, including Australopithecus afarensis and Paranthropus robustus, and compared how they have changed over time. Because these chewing teeth appear to evolve steadily in hominin species, Gómez-Robles could use modelling to estimate when different branches of the human family tree must have had to split from each other to lead to the different kinds of fossil teeth. The only way the teeth found at Sima de los Huesos would have had time to evolve particular features would have been for Neanderthals and early humans to have diverged at least 800,000 years ago, she says. If Gómez-Robles is right, it would suggest that Homo heidelbergensis, an ancient human that lived 700,000 to 300,000 years ago, could be ruled out as a possible common ancestor with the Neanderthals.

5-15-19 Fossil teeth push the human-Neandertal split back to about 1 million years ago
A new study estimates the age of these hominids’ last common ancestor. People and Neandertals separated from a common ancestor more than 800,000 years ago — much earlier than many researchers had thought. That conclusion, published online May 15 in Science Advances, stems from an analysis of early fossilized Neandertal teeth found at a Spanish site called Sima de los Huesos. During hominid evolution, tooth crowns changed in size and shape at a steady rate, says Aida Gómez-Robles, a paleoanthropologist at University College London. The Neandertal teeth, which date to around 430,000 years ago, could have evolved their distinctive shapes at a pace typical of other hominids only if Neandertals originated between 800,000 and 1.2 million years ago, she finds. Neandertals existed after around 1 million years ago, “there wasn’t enough time for Neandertal teeth to change at the rate [teeth] do in other parts of the human family tree” in order to end up looking like the Spanish finds, says palaeoanthropologist Bernard Wood of George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Many researchers have presumed that a species dubbed Homo heidelbergensis, thought to have inhabited Africa and Europe, originated around 700,000 years ago and gave rise to an ancestor of both Neandertals and Homo sapiens by roughly 400,000 years ago. Genetic evidence that Sima de los Huesos fossils came from Neandertals raised suspicions that a common ancestor with H. sapiens existed well before that (SN Online: 3/14/16). Recent Neandertal DNA studies place that common ancestor at between 550,000 and 765,000 years old. But those results rest on contested estimates of how fast and how consistently genetic changes accumulated over time.


ANIMAL INTELLIGENCE and ZOOLOGY

5-20-19 Bonobo mothers stand guard and chase off rivals while their sons mate
If your mum gets too involved in your love life, spare a thought for bonobos. Females of these great apes, which are closely related to chimpanzees, help their sons with hook-ups, guard the young lovers while they mate, and even haul rival males off females mid-sex. And it’s a strategy that works. Males whose mothers are in their group have three times the number of babies as those who don’t. It’s a strategy that’s akin to the “grandmother hypothesis” in humans, which says that older women can boost their reproductive success by helping their daughters rear children rather than having more offspring of their own. “Female bonobos can increase their fitness even if they don’t reproduce any more — but not through daughters, it’s through their sons,” says Martin Surbeck of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. Bonobos have an unusual social structure in that the top-ranking individuals are female, and sons usually stay with their mothers while young females leave to find new groups. These apes are also famed for having lots of sex, for social reasons, as well as reproduction. It happens whether or not females are fertile — although when they are fertile they are more desirable. Surbecks’ team has previously described the bonobo mothers’ over-involvement in their sons’ love lives while following a community of 35 animals in the Salonga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. They found mating attempts are often disturbed by others, but mothers tend to hang around their sons and stop any such meddling. “If your son is copulating and another male tries to interfere, you chase this male away,” says Surbeck.

5-20-19 Bad moods could be contagious among ravens
The birds seem to pick up on and share negative emotions, but not positive ones. Here’s a downer: Pessimism seems contagious among ravens. But positivity? Not so much. When ravens saw fellow birds’ responses to a disliked food, but not the food itself, their interest in their own food options waned, researchers report May 20 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study suggests that the birds pick up on and even share negative emotions, the researchers say. Ravens are “very good problem solvers … but this paper’s really highlighting their social intelligence as well,” says Andrew Gallup, a psychologist at SUNY Polytechnic Institute in Utica, N.Y., who was not involved in the study. The work paints a richer picture of how the birds’ brains work, he says. Known for their smarts, ravens act in ways that suggest a capacity for empathy, such as by appearing to console a distressed comrade. Thomas Bugnyar, a cognitive ethologist at the University of Vienna, and his colleagues wanted to look into one building block of empathy — whether animals share emotions. To be able to feel for others, an animal needs to be able to feel like others, he says. But sizing up an animal’s mood is tricky. Scientists generally rely on behavioral or physiological cues to clue into a creature’s emotional state. More challenging is assessing how one animal’s mood might influence another’s: Similar actions appearing to stem from kindred emotions may just be mimicry. To tune into the moods of ravens, the researchers set up experiments to watch whether the birds reacted positively or negatively to a neutral stimulus. This so-called cognitive bias test, used on a wide variety of animals from bees to pigs, “is basically … asking how you would judge a glass — if it’s half full or half empty,” Bugnyar says.

5-20-19 Is there a problem with salmon farming?
David Ainsley runs a tour company, taking tourists on his boat to experience the beauty of the west coast of Scotland. He is also a marine biologist and a diver and over the past eight years he has filmed the seabed next to a fish farm in Loch Shuna. Campaigners like him claim the feed, faeces and chemicals from salmon farms fall through the nets, killing the marine life underneath. The industry says it is focused on sustainability. The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) is introducing tougher regulations.

5-20-19 Scientists: Why we should appreciate wasps
Scientists have put together a map of the UK's wasp population, showing the distribution of key species. Data recorded by volunteers gives an insight into where wasps are living in the nation's grasslands, woodlands and towns. The researchers say wasps are a much maligned insect, which deserve more attention. Rather than being "bothersome and pointless", they are in fact beneficial insects, keeping other pests in check. Dr Seirian Sumner of University College London said wasps are nature's pest controllers and a world without wasps would mean that we would have to use a lot more pesticides to control the other insects that we dislike and find annoying. "They're the maligned insect of the insect world - they're viewed as the gangsters, " she told the BBC. "Whereas actually we should be viewing them as a beneficial insect - they're doing us a favour, and we're just completely overlooking that favour." Dr Sumner and Prof Adam Hart of the University of Gloucestershire came up with the idea of the "Big Wasp Survey", to draw attention to wasps and their role in the natural world. A total of 2,000 people took part in the two-week citizen science project in late summer 2017, sending in more than 6,000 wasp samples for identification. The findings were used to draw up a map showing the distribution of common wasps and hornets, and how they vary across the UK. The German wasp (Vespula germanica) and the common yellowjacket wasp (Vespula vulgaris) were the most common species (both representing 44%). The European hornet (Vespa crabro) made up 6%, while two rarer species were also found.

5-18-19 Compassionate conservation is 'seriously flawed'
The idea that you cannot kill any animal is "fatally flawed" as a conservation concept, scientists argue. Conservation measures should concentrate on species or habitats rather than individual animals, they observe. Invasive species, they argue, often require mass culling of an animal in order to protect an endangered species. Under so called "compassionate conservation", such an approach would not be allowed. "The argument is that conservation and sustainability needs a variety of approaches. You need to be pluralistic about both the cultural and scientific approaches," explained study co-author Prof Kartik Shanker from the Indian Institute of Science. "There is universal agreement that animal welfare is important by which we mean that we should aim to reduce cruelty to animals and this applies to both wild biodiversity and domestic animals. Prof Shanker said there was agreement that cruelty should be minimised. "I think the problem arises when compassionate conservation states that you should not kill animals for any reason whatsoever," he told BBC News. Prof Shanker and his team of co-authors referred to a paper published last year that outlined a framework for compassionate conservation. They said that it had four key tenets: Do not harm, Individuals matter, Inclusivity, and Peaceful co-existence. The team challenged the "no kill" philosophy of this paper. They wrote: "Our view is that compassionate conservation… is seriously flawed. Compassion need not preclude humanely killing an animal if that reduces the animal's suffering, enhances the survival of the species or its habitat, or safeguards human life or other more threatened species."

5-17-19 Sea otters are bouncing back - and into the jaws of great white sharks
Decades of conservation work have boosted sea otter populations in many parts of the North Pacific, but the animals are now being killed by great white sharks. The sharks aren’t actually trying to eat the otters, preferring calorie-dense, blubbery prey like seals and sea lions. The bites are merely investigative, with sharks recoiling with a mouth of fur instead of a fatty meal. But such bites often cause mortal injuries to the otters, and they’re now happening more often off California’s beaches. After seeing a growing trend in the number of dead, bitten sea otters being washed ashore, Jerry Moxley, at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and his colleagues set out to investigate where and when these bites were happening. The team compiled data on the seasonal movements of sharks and their preferred prey, elephant seals, as well as data on strandings of bitten otters. They used this information to compare the timing of shark bites on prey as well as mistargeted species – otters and humans. They found that sea otters were being bitten more frequently in the summer, around the time adult sharks come closer to shore before moving on to seal rookeries. This is also when humans are most often mistakenly targeted. The researchers think the sharks, low on fat reserves after their migration from feeding grounds hundreds of kilometers out into the Pacific, are less discriminating towards any seal-shaped animals they encounter. Moxley and his team also found that it was mostly intrepid young and male otters that fell victim to sharks. “The males and younger otters are more pioneering—more likely to venture into new territory beyond the denser kelp cover in the otters’ core range,” says Moxley.

5-17-19 No, koalas are not 'functionally extinct', but they are in trouble
Who has said koalas are “functionally extinct”? The Australian Koala Foundation, which lobbies for the animals’ protection, has put out a press release stating that it “believes koalas may be functionally extinct in the entire landscape of Australia”. The release triggered a flurry of worried headlines. So are they? No, although many populations of koalas are falling sharply due to habitat loss and global warming. Could they go extinct? There is no danger of koalas going extinct in Australia overall, says biologist Christine Adams-Hosking of the University of Queensland, who has studied the marsupials’ plight. “But at the rate of habitat clearing that is going on, we are going to see increased local population extinctions,” she says. Why has the AKF made this claim now? The claim was made on the eve of elections in Australia in which environmental issues such as climate change have become a big issue. The AFK has called on politicians to act. “There’s a lot of politics going on, and somehow the koala gets involved,” says Adams-Hosking. What does functionally extinct even mean? The term is used in several different senses. It can mean that a species has declined to a point where it can no longer plays the role it once did in a ecosystem, with significant effects on that ecosystem. Some define it even more narrowly, saying a species is functionally extinct when its decline leads to the extinction of other species. That’s not what we’re talking about here. There are more meanings? Yes. Others use it – arguably incorrectly – to describe a species that is probably extinct but we can’t be sure. For instance, when researchers failed to find any river dolphins in China in 2006, they declared the baiji “functionally extinct”.

5-17-19 Vaccines may help bats fight white nose syndrome
Oral inoculation would spread from bat to bat through nuzzles. Oral vaccines could give wild bats a better chance at surviving white nose syndrome, the fungal disease that has ravaged bat colonies in North America. In lab tests conducted on captured little brown bats, vaccination led to fewer infected bats developing lesions and more of the bats surviving, researchers report May 1 Scientific Reports. White nose syndrome, caused by the fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans, has killed around 7 million bats in the United States since 2006. In some regions, the disease cut some bat colonies by 75 percent. The white fuzz grows across bats’ skin when the animals hibernate, eventually making them wake up, fly around and waste energy needed to survive winter (SN Online: 1/29/16). “It’s just devastating to some bat populations,” says veterinarian Elizabeth Falendysz at the U.S. Geological Survey National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wisc. Falendysz and colleagues made two vaccines against the fungus by implanting raccoon poxviruses with DNA instructions for making one of two fungal proteins, in order to trick the bats’ immune system into recognizing and fighting the fungus. (Vaccines that helped in rabies eradication efforts and in fighting plague in prairie dogs rely on the same mechanism.) Wild little brown bats (Myotis lucifugus) were vaccinated before being exposed to the fungus. Of 10 bats given a combination of both vaccines, only one developed lesions within the experiment’s 100-day hibernation period. Because little brown bats don’t do well in captivity, the team struggled with dwindling sample sizes, so it was hard to compare these numbers to other individual treatments. But 14 of the other 23 bats, or 61 percent, that didn’t get this vaccine combo developed lesions.

5-16-19 Squished faces aren’t the only cause of bulldog breathing difficulties
Many English and French bulldogs develop breathing difficulties, and the flat faces of these breeds have long been thought to be responsible, but now a gene mutation in these dogs suggests that face shape isn’t the only culprit. Jeffrey Schoenebeck at the University of Edinburgh, UK, and his colleagues have found a mutation in a gene called ADAMTS3, which is also present in Norwich terriers. Norwich terriers often suffer from similar breathing problems even though they have proportional noses. The team analysed DNA from more than 400 Norwich terriers, and also checked the dogs’ airways for signs of disease. The team found a significant association between the gene mutation and the likelihood of a Norwich terrier having a breathing problem called upper airway syndrome. “Mutation in the gene affects development and maintenance of the lymphatic system,” says Schoenebeck. In humans, the gene mutation is associated with fluid retention and swelling. The team thought that dogs with the gene could be predisposed to swelling in the upper airways that may result in breathing problems, so went on to check other breeds. Of the 24 English bulldogs the team analysed, 19 were found to have two copies of the mutated gene, while of 99 French bulldogs the team looked at, 17 carried one copy of the gene while three had two mutated copies. Skull shape is still a contributing factor to the breathing problems common in English bulldogs, French bulldogs and also pugs, says Schoenebeck. Because of their squished faces, they have a disproportionate amount of soft tissue around their nostrils, which affects air flow. Schoenebeck says the mutation could be used to develop genetic screening tests for breeders.

5-16-19 Some dog breeds may have trouble breathing because of a mutated gene
Norwich terriers don’t have flat snouts, but can suffer the same wheezing as bulldogs. Dogs with flat faces aren’t alone in their struggle to breathe. It turns out that Norwich terriers can develop the same wheezing — caused not by the shape of their snouts, but possibly by a wayward gene. DNA from 401 Norwich terriers revealed that those suffering a respiratory tract disorder shared the same variant of gene ADAMTS3 that’s associated with swelling around airways. Nearly a third of the dogs had two copies of that mutated gene. And those same dogs scored worse on airway-function tests than dogs with just one copy or the normal versions of the gene, researchers report online May 16 in PLOS Genetics. The gene variant, which does not hinder the gene’s main function in the development of lymphatic vessels, also turned up in the DNA of French and English bulldogs. That finding indicates that those pooches’ smooshed snouts might not be the only factor behind their labored breaths. “This is the first evidence to show that it’s not just all about skull shape,” says study coauthor Jeffrey Schoenebeck, an animal geneticist at the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute. The research might someday help dog breeders build healthier pups. Schoenebeck suggests that a genetic test could be developed to identify Norwich terriers with the genetic variant. Breeders could then use the test to keep those dogs from reproducing and passing the mutation along.

5-16-19 Bloodthirsty bedbugs have feasted on prey for 100 million years
New genetic analyses reveal the insects evolved from at least the Cretaceous. The first bedbug infestations may have occurred in the beds of Cretaceous critters. Scientists previously assumed bloodsuckers’ first hosts were bats. But a new genetic analysis of 34 bedbug species reveals that bedbugs appeared 30 million to 50 million years before the nocturnal mammals, says Michael Siva-Jothy, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Sheffield in England, and his colleagues. The analysis, published online May 16 in Current Biology, pegs the emergence of ancient bedbugs at more than 100 million years ago. It also fleshes out more of the pests’ history. For instance, two bedbug species that humans are most familiar with didn’t evolve just to plague us. The common bedbug (Cimex lectularius) and the tropical bedbug (C. hemipterus) emerged around 47 million years ago, long before early human ancestors meandered into bedbug-infested caves, the team found (SN Online: 4/10/17). The new study “puts the Cimicidae family on the map in terms of understanding its diversity, understanding its evolutionary history in a way that no other previous studies had,” says Zach Adelman, a molecular geneticist at Texas A&M University in College Station, who was not involved in the study. To build a collection of bedbug specimens, a global network of scientists plucked insects from damp caves and dusty museum exhibits over 15 years. For each species, researchers looked at four genes known to mutate at a constant rate, like an evolutionary timekeeper. The team then calibrated that data with the known fossil records from two insects — an ancient species of bedbug and a closely related insect species — to create its timeline.

5-16-19 Bedbugs survived the dinosaur extinction event
A study that began as an investigation into the "utterly bizarre" way in which bedbugs reproduce has revealed they have existed for far longer than humans. DNA samples from 30 species of bedbug revealed the insects had been around for at least 115 million years. The blood-sucking parasites predate their earliest known hosts - bats - by more than 50 million years. The surprising finding is published in the journal Current Biology. Prof Mike Siva-Jothy, from the University of Sheffield's department of animal and plant sciences, who was part of the research team, said its initial investigation had been into what is known as "traumatic insemination". Male bedbugs have a dagger-like penis, with which they stab the female to inseminate directly into her bloodstream."It's the reproductive version of peacock's tail - it's so extreme," said Prof Siva-Jothy. "These animals are so strange - they don't do anything like any other animal does."It took 15 people 15 years to gather all the genetic samples, because these creatures are so cryptic." Most species the researcher sought out were hidden away in remote caves, where they feed on their bat hosts. But once the team had samples from enough different species, they were able to build their genetic bedbug timeline - mutations that occur spontaneously in the creatures' genetic code act like a molecular clock, allowing the scientists to trace the bugs' evolution back through millions of years. Dr Steffen Roth, from the University Museum Bergen, in Norway, who led the study, said: "The first big surprise we found was that bedbugs are much older than bats, which everyone assumed to be their first host. "Although, we don't yet know what their host was at the time when T. rex walked the Earth."