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


9-18-18 Kavanaugh and accuser to testify in Senate
The Senate has scheduled a public hearing on a sex assault claim against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh for next week. Judge Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who says he attacked her more than three decades ago, will both be able to testify. US President Donald Trump said earlier he expected "a little delay" to confirming his nominee. Judge Kavanaugh, 53, says the allegation is "completely false". He denies he was even at the 1982 high school party in question where his accuser, now a psychology professor in California, says he tried to rape her as his friend watched. The claim has jeopardised Judge Kavanaugh's formerly all-but certain-nomination for a lifetime job on the Supreme Court. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley confirmed next Monday's hearing in a statement. "As I said earlier, anyone who comes forward as Dr Ford has done deserves to be heard," said the Iowa Republican. Mr Grassley had earlier stopped short of calling for a public hearing, or for delaying the committee's vote on the nominee. The judge last week finished four days of hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and a vote on his confirmation had been planned for Thursday of this week. But Democrats demanded a delay in the vote in order to let the FBI investigate. Mr Grassley said the standard procedure would be for committee members to conduct telephone calls with both witnesses about their forthcoming testimony. But in a statement, the panel's Democrats refused to join in any phone call with Judge Kavanaugh.

9-18-18 US slashes number of refugees to 30,000
The US says it will cap the number of refugees allowed into the country next year at a near record low of 30,000. It compares with a 45,000-refugee limit set by President Donald Trump for 2018 and 50,000 the year before. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced "the new refugee ceiling", adding the US would also process more than 280,000 asylum seekers in 2019. The refugee cap is the lowest since the aftermath of 9/11, when 27,131 refugees were allowed into the US in 2002. Over the past decade, the number of refugees admitted to the US has fluctuated from a low of 48,282 in 2007 to a high of 84,995 in 2016. The US refugee programme was set up in 1980. According to the New York Times, Monday's announcement represents the lowest ceiling any president has imposed on the programme since its creation. The Trump administration has pursued tight restrictions on immigration and critics have accused it of scaling back protection for the world's most vulnerable people. Eric Schwartz, president of the independent organisation Refugees International, called the new cap "appalling". In a statement published on the body's website, Mr Schwartz said the decision continues the Trump administration's "rapid flight from the proud US tradition of providing resettlement to those fleeing persecution around the world". (Webmaster's comment: So much for the words on our Statue of Liberty!)

9-18-18 Why wouldn’t you want to live forever? New Scientist editors debate
More than half of UK adults would turn down an offer of immortality. Emily Wilson doesn’t understand why – but Richard Webb certainly does. Only around 1 in 5 adults are keen to live forever, according to the 2018 New Scientist Asks the Public survey. In the survey, carried out in August by Sapio Research on a representative sample of 2026 UK adults, 21 per cent of people said they would be very likely to accept an offer of immortality. A further 30 per cent said they would be somewhat likely to take up such an offer, but around half of people appear to be reconciled to their own demise. New Scientist Editor Emily Wilson can’t understand why – but Features Editor Richard Webb sees their point. First off, I realise that if it was only me who got to live forever, the sadness of losing everyone I ever loved in a horribly short space of time, relative to my everlasting life, would be unbearably sad. That would make it a “no” from me, as would living forever in pain or perhaps even mild discomfort. But should the gift of eternal life become universally available, and good health was guaranteed, and the drastic environmental impact of legions of immortal humans living alongside generations of their descendants was also somehow magically done away with, then I would be a Yes. There are so many lives I would have liked to live, and would still like to if I had the chance. There are so many places I’d like to settle down, careers I’d like to have, hobbies I’d like to take up, people I would like to meet.

9-18-18 Only one in five UK adults would choose to live forever if they could
New Scientist Asks the Public has revealed that only 21 per cent of people would be keen to become immortal, should it ever become scientifically possible. Who wants to live forever? Only around 1 in 5 people, according to the 2018 New Scientist Asks the Public survey. In the survey, carried out in August by Sapio Research on a representative sample of 2026 UK adults, 21 per cent of people said they would be very likely to accept an offer of immortality. A further 30 per cent said they would be somewhat likely to take up such an offer, but around half of people appear to be reconciled to their own demise. The question posed in the survey was “if you were offered the chance to live forever, how likely are you to take it?”. While this is a hypothetical question, some gerontologists believe that radical life extension – if not actual immortality – may be available to people who are alive today. Even people who are already old may soon benefit from a range of interventions, from drugs to manipulation of their gut microbiota, that can extend their lifespan or at least improve their health in old age, according to a major review published this month in Nature. However, the survey found that more people are worried about radical life extension than are optimistic about it. The main concerns people have are overpopulation and a “nursing home world” full of geriatrics. Of those who expressed concern about radical life extension, 44 per cent agreed with the statement “I think we should just accept our natural lifespan”.

9-18-18 South Africa's highest court legalises cannabis use
South Africa's highest court has legalised the use of cannabis by adults in private places. Pro-marijuana activists cheered in the public gallery and chanted "Weed are free now" when the Constitutional Court gave its landmark ruling. In a unanimous ruling, judges also legalised the growing of marijuana for private consumption. South Africa's government's had opposed its legalisation, arguing the drug was "harmful" to people's health. It has not yet commented on the ruling, which is binding. Three cannabis users who had faced prosecution for using the drug brought the case, saying the ban "intrudes unjustifiably into their private spheres". In his judgement, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo said: "It will not be a criminal offence for an adult person to use or be in possession of cannabis in private for his or her personal consumption." It will, however, remain illegal to use cannabis in public, and to sell and supply it. The Cannabis Development Council of South Africa welcomed the ruling, and called on the government to drop charges against people found in possession of the drug.

9-17-18 Here’s how many U.S. kids are vaping marijuana
Nearly 1 in 11 middle and high school students have used pot in e-cigs, researchers say. More than 2 million U.S. middle and high school students — or nearly 1 in 11 — have vaped marijuana, a new study suggests. Based on reports of teens’ e-cigarette use in 2016, researchers estimate that nearly 1 in 3 high school students, or roughly 1.7 million, have used pot in the devices. Nearly 1 in 4 middle school students, or 425,000, have done the same, the team reports online September 17 in JAMA Pediatrics. The numbers are the first nationwide estimates of teens’ and preteens’ use of marijuana in e-cigs, based on data from 20,675 sixth- to 12th-graders who participated in the 2016 National Youth Tobacco Survey. The most widely used tobacco products among U.S. youth, e-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that heat and vaporize liquids that usually contain nicotine (SN: 5/28/16, p. 4). But the devices can also vaporize dried marijuana leaves or buds as well as oils or waxes made from the plant’s primary active ingredient, tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. The number of youth using marijuana in e-cigarettes isn’t surprising, says Bonnie Halpern-Felsher, a developmental psychologist at Stanford University School of Medicine who was not involved in the study. “It’s easy; it’s accessible; they can be stealthy in using it.” Vaping marijuana can be done more discretely than smoking a joint because there isn’t as much of the telltale odor, if any. And legalization of marijuana in some states has led to increased access to the drug, she says, and a change in social norms regarding the drug’s use.

9-17-18 One in 11 US teens have vaped cannabis, new study finds
One in 11 US teenagers has used a vapouriser to consume cannabis, according to a new study which calls it an emerging and dangerous trend. The findings of the 2016 National Youth Tobacco Survey of more than 20,000 middle and high school pupils found that about 9% had vaped cannabis. Applied across the US, that would mean two million young people have used a vapouriser to get high off the drug. Officials say vapouriser companies need to do more to prevent public harm. The report - which was published on Monday in the Journal of the American Medical Association (Jama) Paediatrics edition - suggests that more and more children are using the electronic device to inhale marijuana vapour. "The use of marijuana in these products is of particular concern because cannabis use among youth can adversely affect learning and memory and may impair later academic achievement and education," Katrina Trivers, epidemiologist and lead author of the study, told tech website The Verge. According to the study, 12.4% of high school students and 4.5% of middle school students, said they had vaped cannabis.

9-17-18 Coca-Cola 'in talks' over cannabis-infused drinks
Coca-Cola is best known for its eponymous caffeine-based drink, but the firm now appears to be experimenting with a different drug: cannabis. According to Canada's BNN Bloomberg, the drinks giant is in talks with local producer Aurora Cannabis about developing marijuana-infused beverages. These would not aim to intoxicate consumers but to relieve pain. "Along with many others in the beverage industry, we are closely watching the growth of non-psychoactive cannabidiol as an ingredient in functional wellness beverages around the world," Coca-Cola said in a statement. Cannabidiol, a constituent of cannabis, can help ease inflammation, pain and cramping, but has no psychoactive effect. It comes as Canada prepares to follow certain US states in legalising cannabis for recreational use, after years of permitting it for medicinal purposes. It has given rise to a large pot growing industry and some high-profile partnerships. Earlier this year, beer giant Molson Coors Brewing said it would make cannabis-infused drinks with Hydropothecary, while Corona-beer maker Constellation Brands invested $4bn more into pot firm Canopy Growth. A partnership between Coke and Aurora would mark the first entry of a major manufacturer of non-alcoholic drinks into the market. (Webmaster's comment: We're well on our way to becoming a nation of Pot-Heads!)

9-17-18 Skin genetically engineered to destroy cocaine could prevent addiction
Engineered skin cells inserted beneath the skin of mice help destroy cocaine in the blood before it reaches the brain – and the therapy might work in people too. People with cocaine addiction may soon be invited to test a pioneering new treatment that destroys the cocaine they take before it can hit the reward centres in their brain, using genetically engineered versions of their own skin cells. Currently, there are no approved treatments for cocaine addiction and many who do successfully kick the habit will ultimately relapse. Approximately 5000 Americans die each year from cocaine overdoses. The new therapy might help tackle the problem. Skin cells would be taken from recipients and equipped in the lab with an extra gene that constantly makes human butyrylcholinesterase (hBChE), an enzyme that rapidly destroys cocaine in the bloodstream. Then the cells would be multiplied into a clump called an organoid that doctors would implant permanently under the recipient’s skin. Ming Xu at the University of Chicago in Illinois and his colleagues have trialled the therapy in mice. Xu’s team’s results show that the prototype strategy worked exactly as hoped. Within 20 minutes, six mice with an active implant had practically eliminated a standard dose of cocaine injected into their tummies, a job that took six control mice almost 2 hours. And unlike the control mice, the treated mice didn’t get a “pleasure hit” in the brain from the neurotransmitter, dopamine.

9-17-18 Brett Kavanaugh: Republican senators call for vote delay
A number of Republicans have said the vote on US President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, should be paused while allegations of sexual assault are properly heard. It comes after Christine Blasey Ford accused Mr Kavanaugh of attacking her in the early 1980s. Mr Kavanaugh denies the allegation, which emerged days before the Senate Judiciary Committee votes on the post. Prof Ford is willing to testify before the committee, her lawyer has said. And White House adviser Kellyanne Conway said Prof Ford should "not be insulted or ignored" and should testify under oath, although that would be up to the committee to decide. The Supreme Court is often the final word on highly contentious laws and its nine judges have an immense impact on US political life. If chosen for the lifetime appointment, Mr Kavanaugh would be expected to tilt the court's balance to the right. (Webmaster's comment: Their will be more accusations. A sexual predator cannot change its spots!)

9-17-18 Trump needs to keep his filthy mitts off Venezuela
The president is once again pondering a Venezuela invasion. Holy smokes. Poor Venezuela. The country has been suffering the worst economic crisis in its history for the last several years. Mass unemployment and hyperinflation are laying waste to the population. Adults, children, and beloved family pets are going hungry or even starving to death. Some 1.6 million Venezuelans have emigrated since 2015. Crime has exploded, with the murder rate soaring to 90 per 100,000. And there is no end in sight. This has led to various calls from "The Blob" — an Obama White House official's name for the bomb-happy foreign policy establishment — for military intervention. Marco Rubio suggested this in early September, while the Trump administration reportedly met with right-wing Venezuelan military officers to discuss a potential coup d'etat, after bringing up a "military option" last year. Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, endorsed an Iraq invasion-style "coalition of the willing" to overthrow the government. These are monstrous suggestions. The United States cannot possibly do anything but make it all worse. Above all, any military led by President Trump must be kept as far away from Venezuela as possible. So what is going on in Venezuela? The crisis is extremely complicated, but observers generally argue it is rooted in two major developments: epic corruption and authoritarianism within the government, and the post-2014 collapse in the price of oil. Venezuela has the largest proven oil reserves in the world, and has long been heavily dependent on oil export earnings for basic economic stability. (Webmaster's comment: America just wants any excuse to steal their oil. The cost in human lives is irreverent if it makes our rich even richer.)

9-17-18 Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel backs same-sex marriage
Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel has backed same-sex marriage. The Cuban leader, who took over from Raúl Castro on 19 April, said he was in favour of recognising "marriage between people without any restrictions". In an interview with TV Telesur, he said doing so was "part of eliminating any type of discrimination in society". It comes as Cuba is in the process of updating its constitution, which had defined marriage as between "a man and a woman". The proposed constitution will replace the 1976 national charter once a popular consultation is concluded and the draft has been approved in a national referendum scheduled for February 2019. President Díaz-Canel's endorsement of same-sex marriage is in stark contrast to the persecution homosexuals suffered in the decades following the 1959 Cuban revolution. Official attitudes towards homosexuality on the Communist-run island have changed over the past decades partly thanks to the efforts of Raúl Castro's daughter Mariela. Ms Castro, who heads the Cuban National Centre for Sex Education, has been a vocal defender of LGBT rights. "We've been going through a massive thought evolution and many taboos have been broken," Mr Díaz-Canel told Telesur.

9-16-18 Serbia Pride: Gay PM Brnabic 'not wanted' at parade
It's the only Balkan country to have an openly gay prime minister - so why are some of Serbia's LGBT activists determined to keep PM Ana Brnabic away from Gay Pride? When Ms Brnabic was appointed last year, hopes were high in the LGBT community: not only was she the first woman to head the Serbian cabinet, she was also the first LGBT politician to hold such high office in the Balkans. She marched in the 2017 Pride parade in Belgrade, surrounded by posters reading "Ana is here," and took selfies with dozens of people. But one year on, progress is scant: LGBT rights have not improved, new laws are still far from being adopted and there has been no fall in the number of attacks on gay people. In largely conservative Orthodox Christian Serbia, a candidate for EU membership, discrimination and violence against the LGBT community are widespread. Ahead of 2018 Pride, a group of activists disappointed with the slow pace of reforms launched a campaign called "Say no". Its main goal is to prevent politicians from attending Pride marches, as campaigners believe they have done little to strengthen LGBT rights. Ms Brnabic is the main focus of their campaign, because her "work on strengthening LGBT rights has been disappointing," said a statement from the organisation behind the campaign, GLIC. Speaking at the 2017 parade, Ms Brnabic said that LGBT rights would be addressed only after important problems such as inflation, pensions and the standard of living had been resolved. "It was a scandalous statement," Predrag Azdejkovic, the head of GLIC, told the BBC. Unhappy with the efforts of other gay activists, Mr Azdejkovic started another parade in June. Its goal is to "bring the gay march back to ordinary people and away from politicians". "They say: 'You have a gay prime minister, two parades, you should be content'. But it's all just made up," said Mr Azdejkovic.

9-15-18 US Coast Guard employee removed for 'white power sign' on air
The US Coast Guard has removed a team member from duty after he was accused of making a "white power" sign on air. The unidentified employee was seen glancing at the camera during an MSNBC interview on Friday night before briefly making the hand gesture. He was at a desk in the background as the cable channel spoke to Coast Guard Commanding Officer Capt John Reed in Charleston, South Carolina. The agency responded swiftly to the ensuing social media backlash. The incident occurred as MSNBC covered the emergency response to deadly tropical storm Florence, which is drenching the Carolinas. "Whatever that symbol means, it doesn't reflect the Coast Guard and our core values," Coast Guard Lt JB Zorn told NBC News. "It won't be tolerated." The Coast Guard tweeted that it was aware of the "offensive video" and was investigating the matter. In a statement, the agency said it was a "frustrating distraction". A number of Twitter commentators were in no doubt about the nature of the momentary hand gesture. One user, @jgobble, tweeted: "Did you all see this guy flash White Power on TV? OUR OWN COAST GUARD!!! This needs to be investigated and this man needs to be ousted/removed/discharged!"

9-15-18 Puerto Rico hurricane: How was the 3,000 death toll worked out?
United States President Donald Trump has disputed official findings that nearly 3,000 people died in Puerto Rico as a result of last year's hurricane. He added that the death toll had been inflated by adding people who died of other causes. "If a person died for any reason, like old age, just add them on to the list," he tweeted. So is he correct to say this figure is wrong? Nearly every study and report into the hurricane estimates a significantly higher toll than the early official estimates mentioned by the president. The number of nearly 3,000 was released last month after an independent study by the George Washington University (GWU) in July, which was commissioned by the governor of Puerto Rico. It found that 2,975 people died in Puerto Rico as a result of Hurricane Maria. Since the hurricane struck in September last year, several investigations by academics and journalists suggested the death toll was much higher than the official count, which for months stayed at 64. (Webmaster's comment: Our white supremacist govenment saw no reason to help non-white citizens! And Trump supported this.)


9-15-18 Can science answer the 'big' questions of the universe?
Why science is the best route to understanding ... well, everything. ience has proved itself to be a reliable way to approach all kinds of questions about the physical world. As a scientist, I am led to wonder whether its ability to provide understanding is unlimited. Can it in fact answer all the great questions, the "big questions of being," that occur to us? To begin with, what are these big questions? In my view, they fall into two classes. One class consists of invented questions that are often based on unwarranted extrapolations of human experience. They typically include questions of purpose and worries about the annihilation of the self, such as Why are we here? and What are the attributes of the soul? They are not real questions, because they are not based on evidence. Thus, as there is no evidence for the universe having a purpose, there is no point in trying to establish its purpose or to explore the consequences of that purported purpose. As there is no evidence for the existence of a soul (except in a metaphorical sense), there is no point in spending time wondering what the properties of that soul might be, should the concept ever be substantiated. Most questions of this class are a waste of time in terms of science; and because they are not open to rational discourse, at worst they are resolved only by resort to the sword, the bomb, or the flame. The second class of big questions concerns features of the universe for which there is evidence other than wish-fulfilling speculation and the stimulation provided by the study of sacred texts. They include investigations into the origin of the universe, and specifically how it is that there is something rather than nothing, the details of the structure of the universe (particularly the relative strengths of the fundamental forces and the existence of the fundamental particles), and the nature of consciousness. These are all real big questions and, in my view, are open to scientific elucidation.

9-14-18 Obama: No longer on the sidelines
“No one does the cool burn quite so deftly as Barack Obama,” said Karen Tumulty in The Washington Post. Breaking with the norm of ex-presidents not criticizing their successors, Obama branded President Donald Trump “a threat to democracy” in a speech last week at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “This is not normal,” Obama said of the chaotic Trump presidency, calling the current president “a symptom, not the cause” of the GOP’s embrace of “the politics of division, of resentment and paranoia.” Obama may have wanted to “remain above the fray,” said Robin Abcarian in LATimes.com, but the stakes have grown far too high. Trump’s presidency has been defined by the dismantling of Obama’s “legacy piece by piece, and making racists feel safe again.” It’s about time the 44th president re-emerged to call Trump what he is—a shameless fearmonger, a bully, and a demagogue.

9-14-18 The strategy behind voter ID laws
When Korean War veteran Floyd Carrier, 86, tried to vote in Texas several years ago, he handed his Department of Veteran Affairs card to the registrar—and was turned away, said Carol Anderson. He’d used that ID for more than 50 years, but Texas had passed a law that required voters to show a state-approved ID with photo, and he didn’t have one. “I wasn’t a citizen no more,” Carrier said. Denying people like Carrier the right to vote “has been a central electoral strategy for Republicans,” as they use voter ID laws to screen out blacks, Hispanics, the poor, and the young. Multiple studies have proven that “there is no epidemic of illegal voting,” and that, in fact, it is vanishingly rare. But Republicans fear that the country’s changing demographics will doom them. So they have created a concerted strategy to “block people of color from the ballot box.” In 2000, strenuous Republican efforts to purge voter rolls of blacks and interfere with the Florida recount led to George W. Bush’s victory by 537 votes. That victory taught Republicans to “lie without shame” about voter fraud, and to relentlessly pursue purges and laws designed to turn certain citizens into nonentities.

9-14-18 Kavanaugh: Did he pass the Senate’s test?
“If I didn’t know this whole thing was a monumental bag job, I’d think Brett Kavanaugh was in a lot of trouble,” said Charles Pierce in Esquire.com. President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee had to white-knuckle it through an ugly confirmation hearing at the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, as Democrats unveiled a trove of damning documents from his time as a lawyer in George W. Bush’s White House. While Kavanaugh promised to respect precedent on abortion, calling Roe v. Wade “settled law,” a 2003 memo he wrote suggests he thinks otherwise: “[The] Court can always overrule its precedent,” Kavanaugh said of Roe back then. He also contradicted his testimony from his first judicial confirmation hearing, in 2006, when he flatly denied receiving Judiciary Committee documents stolen from Senate Democrats by Republicans. Confronted with emails showing that he did in fact receive stolen material, with one email labeled “spying,” Kavanaugh admitted receiving the documents but claimed he didn’t know they were stolen. When Sen. Kamala Harris asked if he’d discussed the Mueller investigation with a lawyer working for President Trump’s personal attorney, Kavanaugh floundered and stalled, finally saying he’d had no “inappropriate” conversations about Mueller. At best, Kavanaugh was exposed as a highly partisan Republican operative. At worst, he is guilty of perjury. Republicans will vote for him no matter what, but he has no business being on the Supreme Court.

9-14-18 Brett Kavanaugh denies sexual misconduct in high school
US President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh has denied an allegation of sexual misconduct during his high-school days. Reports say an unidentified woman claimed in a letter to Democrats that Mr Kavanaugh tried to force himself on her at a party in the early 1980s. Senate Democrats on Thursday disclosed that they had referred a complaint to federal investigators. The judge faces a confirmation vote to join the Supreme Court next week. In a statement on Friday, the appeals court judge said: "I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation. I did not do this back in high school or at any time." The alleged incident took place when Mr Kavanaugh was a minor and student at Georgetown Preparatory School in Bethesda, Maryland. The woman - who asked not to be identified - was also a minor and a student at a nearby high school. Her letter alleges the now judge held her down and covered her mouth with his hand. They were in a room with a classmate of Mr Kavanaugh's, and both boys had been drinking, before turning up the music to muffle her sound of protests, she alleges. The woman was able to free herself, the New Yorker said. Although the alleged incident was decades ago, the woman said the memory had caused ongoing distress and she had sought psychological treatment. (Webmaster's comment: Republicans don't care about this. Sexual assault is a job perk to them!)

9-14-18 “Ride it out, baby. Play dead.”
“Ride it out, baby. Play dead.” That’s the counsel Fortune’s humor columnist, writing under the pen name Stanley Bing, once gave to executives asked for a public apology. Just wait. “The hungry badgers” sniffing around would soon find somewhere else to go. The advice was presented in jest, but there was a serious undercurrent. In his day job, Bing (real name: Gil Schwartz) was the longtime public relations chief for Les Moonves, head of the CBS television network. For years, the advice worked. Now, obviously, it doesn’t. This week Moonves resigned in disgrace, pursued by new allegations of brutal sexual assaults, harassment, and retaliation. In retrospect, it’s hard to believe that he tried to hold on through the first round of charges, in July. What was it that he thought he had to gain? There he stood, like a punch-drunk boxer swaying on his heels and telling his foes to come at him just one more time. Until recently, Masters of the Universe never had to say they were sorry. As anyone who’s been in a schoolyard knows, most people defer to and even admire bullies. The key, titans like Harvey Weinstein and Roger Ailes instinctively knew, is to maintain the illusion that you are invincible. No one will dare to check if you really are. And even if they do, you can rely on the belief that you’re just Too Big to Fail. But as the dominoes continue to fall, U.S. companies are discovering that morally reprehensible executives, TV anchors, and other big stars are not indispensable. When they leave, replacements will step in, the gears will continue to turn, and the business will survive. All the thousands of people who’ve kept it going will keep doing their jobs. In fact, they’ll do them better, because they won’t have to worry about being sexually harassed, demoted, pushed out, or bullied by the boss.

9-14-18 No more food for you
Almost 2 million low-income Americans could lose food stamp benefits under a new House bill that would allow states to remove 8 percent of recipients from the rolls. Forty-two million Americans currently receive benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

9-14-18 Police officer charged
A police officer was charged with manslaughter this week after she fatally shot a man in his own apartment, sparking citywide protests. The officer, Amber Guyger, 30, was off duty when she returned to her apartment complex at 10 p.m. She claims to have mistaken 26-year-old Botham Jean’s unit for her own. Guyger says the front door was ajar, leading her to believe Jean was a burglar. Guyger told investigators that when Jean ignored her commands she shot him in the chest, only realizing she was in the wrong apartment after turning on the lights. Jean’s family lawyer cites witnesses who, before the gunshots, “heard the officer knocking at the door and repeatedly saying, ‘Let me in.’” Prosecutors said Guyger could still face stiffer charges. This deadly encounter between a white officer and a black man fueled tension in a county where just last month a white officer was convicted of murdering Jordan Edwards, a black teenager.

9-14-18 Why there are no grocery stores
A Cincinnati police officer has been placed on restricted duty after using his Taser on an 11-year-old girl. The child, who is black, had allegedly shoplifted $53 worth of merchandise from a grocery store, and bodycam footage shows Officer Kevin Brown, who is white, telling her after Tasing and handcuffing her, “This is why there aren’t any grocery stores in the black community.”

9-14-18 U.S. plotted coup
Trump administration officials held secret talks last year with dissident Venezuelan military officials seeking to overthrow President Nicolás Maduro. U.S. officials and a former Venezuelan commander told The New York Times that the rebels met multiple times with U.S. officials before the administration decided against helping the plotters, who abandoned their plan. One dissident officer said the rebels were encouraged to reach out to the U.S. after President Trump announced, in August 2017, that the U.S. had a “military option” for Venezuela. Maduro condemned the plots as “American imperialism” but added that he had survived multiple coup attempts, proving he was “invincible, invulnerable.” More than 2 million Venezuelans have fled the country in recent years as its economy collapsed.

9-14-18 The decline of the coal industry
President Trump has promised to revive coal’s flagging fortunes. Is it possible?

  1. How big is the coal industry? Coal represents just a sliver of the American economy. At its peak, in 1923, coal employed 883,000 workers. Today, about 53,000 people work in coal mining—less than the number of people who work at nail salons, bowling alleys, or Arby’s.
  2. Is that solely because of environmental reasons? There are economic reasons, too. Demand for coal has plummeted over the past decade amid a flood of cheap natural gas from the U.S. fracking boom and advances in wind and solar energy.
  3. What has Trump done? True to his word, President Trump has tried to use federal power to revive the coal industry. Many of the White House’s actions closely mirror a policy wish list submitted early in the administration by coal tycoon Robert Murray, who contributed $300,000 to Trump’s inauguration.
  4. Are coal jobs coming back now? Not really. Only about 1,300 new coal jobs have been created during Trump’s presidency so far, and Trump’s efforts haven’t reversed the long-term problems facing the industry.
  5. Why the obsession with coal? The electoral map. For most of the 20th century, the Democrats’ alignment with labor unions such as the United Mine Workers helped them reliably win in the coal country of Appalachia.
  6. Can coal jobs be replaced? There are efforts underway to retrain coal workers for jobs in renewable energy or other industries. More than 260,000 Americans already work in the solar power industry, which has nearly tripled in size since 2010.
  7. What do coal miners make? Coal has a reputation for generating well-paid jobs that don’t require a college education. The average coal miner under a United Mine Workers of America contract makes at least $61,650 a year—usually closer to $85,000 a year with overtime

9-14-18 A crisis of law and order
Our orderly nation is breaking down, said Alessandro Peduto. Thousands of far-right supporters descended on the city of Chemnitz in the eastern region of Saxony last month to protest the murder of a German man who was allegedly stabbed by two migrants, one from Iraq and one from Syria. Neo-Nazis marched, raising their arms in Hitler salutes; mobs chased and attacked people who didn’t look German. It used to be that following such an appalling scene, Germans would blame Saxony—formerly part of communist East Germany—calling its residents backward and racist. Not this time, though. The country as a whole is suffering a “loss of confidence in the state.” The Iraqi suspect in the killing had his asylum request denied in 2016, yet had still not been deported—that lapse shows that “those responsible for migrants are badly overstretched.” The late and inadequate police response to the riots calls into question “the state’s monopoly on violence.” And the far right was much better organized than anyone had anticipated. Sure, this time it was Chemnitz, but other Germans now “recognize that it could happen in their city too.” Germans can no longer trust that their government will protect them, either from violent migrants or from neo-Nazi thugs. Can we still avert irreparable “harm to our democracy”?

9-14-18 How we talk about race. Or don’t.
President Trump’s racially charged rhetoric has changed how neighbors see one another, said journalist Greg Jaffe. In one South Carolina suburb, a swimming pool confrontation left an integrated community badly divided. Before he heard from neighbors about the confrontation at his subdivision swimming pool, Jovan Hyman saw a shaky video of it on his phone, where it was quickly going viral. He clicked the link, which opened on turquoise water and a white woman walking quickly toward three black teenage boys, one of whom is filming her with his cellphone. “Get out!” the woman yells, slapping at the phone in the teen’s hand. “Get out now!” As the three boys head for the pool exit, the woman follows and takes another swing at the boy and his phone. Hyman called his wife, Tameka, over and played it for her. “PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE tell me this was NOT where I think it is,” she typed in a Facebook post that linked to the video. At that point, the video, shot in late June, had only been online for about 10 hours. “In my neighborhood!” her husband added on Facebook a few minutes later. “This is totally uncalled for and downright embarrassing!” The video rocketed around the country and the world—one of more than a dozen online clips from the summer that captured whites accusing blacks, often improperly, of trespassing, loitering, and in one instance involving an 8-year-old black girl, selling bottled water without a permit. At least six of the videos took place at neighborhood swimming pools in places such as Indianapolis; Winston-Salem, N.C.; Pasadena, Calif.; and the community pool in Summerville, S.C., just a few hundred yards from Jovan and Tameka.

9-14-18 Botham Shem Jean: Police 'trying to smear' shooting victim
Dallas police have been accused of smear tactics after court documents revealed marijuana was found in a man's flat where he was shot dead by an off-duty police officer. Lawyers for 26-year-old Botham Shem Jean said police were trying to "criminalise the victim". Officer Amber Guyger, who shot him, says she mistook his apartment for her own and thought he was an intruder. She has been charged with manslaughter and has been released on bail. A search was conducted at Mr Jean's apartment after the deadly shooting. Court documents released on Thursday showed that police had found a small amount of marijuana at the property, along with other items such as a lunch box and laptop. Lawyer Lee Merritt, who represents the family of Botham Jean, said this showed investigators were trying to discredit the victim. "They immediately began looking to smear him," he said. Civil rights groups and activists have been outraged by the news. Many were also angered by a tweet from a local affiliate of the conservative-leaning Fox News. Several asked why the discovery of drugs was relevant to the case. Cornell William Brooks, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, cited the notorious case of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old who was murdered after a white woman accused him of making lewd remarks and touching her. (Webmaster's comment: We must blame the victim and protect our police when they murder a black person!)

9-14-18 Social media: Alex Jones wears out his last welcome
Twitter has finally put a limit on hate mongering, said Taylor Lorenz in The Atlantic. Last week the platform banned Alex Jones, the conspiracy theorist best known for claiming that the Sandy Hook massacre was a hoax staged by the government and gun-control activists. The ejection comes after years of “inaction and half-measures”—and, not coincidentally, one day after congressional hearings attended by Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. His company has banned some controversial figures, including former Trump adviser Roger Stone, and has sanctioned Jones before. But it has long considered itself “the free speech wing of the free speech party” and resisted calls for a comprehensive ban on Jones and his digital network, Infowars—until now. Apple, the other outlier among tech companies, has joined Twitter and pulled Jones’ Infowars app from its store.

9-14-18 STDs on the rise, again
Rates of sexually transmitted diseases climbed for the fourth consecutive year in the U.S. in 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has announced. A record high of 2.3 million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis were diagnosed last year—some 200,000 more than in 2016, itself a record-breaking year. Scientists say there is no single reason for the years-long uptick, reports The New York Times. Possible factors include the proliferation of dating apps, the opioid epidemic, and reduced funding for public sexual health clinics. “Most people with these STDs do not know they are infected,” says Gail Bolan, director of the CDC’s division of sexually transmitted disease prevention. “They don’t realize that these diseases are spreading silently through the country.” The CDC warns that chlamydia and gonorrhea—which is becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics—can lurk in the body without symptoms and lead to serious health issues if left untreated. The agency recommends that all women under 25, as well as men who have sex with men, undergo annual screenings for both diseases.

9-14-18 Another immigration backlash
“You’d think the lesson would sink in by now,” said John Fund. Political elites in both Europe and the U.S. continue to dismiss “deplorables” who object to a massive influx of immigrants, but those voters “are going to have their say.” Sweden is the latest country to pay the price for refusing to “grapple with the legitimate sentiments of working-class voters.” This week’s elections saw the right-wing populist Sweden Democrats (SD) take 18 percent of the vote—enough to deny a governing majority to the traditional left- and right-wing parties. The SD’s base is primarily concerned with “the poor assimilation of migrants to Sweden.” Liberal Sweden, with just 10 million citizens, proudly took in 165,000 asylum seekers in one year. Many of these mostly Muslim immigrants have struggled to find work or adapt to Swedish culture, resulting in insular neighborhoods where crime and gangs are rampant and many newcomers depend wholly on generous welfare programs. By making it “forbidden” to even discuss this, Sweden’s establishment fueled the Sweden Democrats’ rise—the same pattern that led to Brexit and President Trump’s election. When millions of voters believe their leaders “aren’t telling the truth” about sensitive issues, backlashes are inevitable.

9-14-18 Sweden: The far right falls short
Don’t get too worked up over Sweden’s “new political reality,” said Dagens Nyheter (Sweden) in an editorial. Yes, the anti-immigrant, far-right Sweden Democrats took third place in last weekend’s elections, receiving a record 17.6 percent share of the vote. But that was far short of the result expected by many pundits, who predicted the party—which has neo-Nazi roots—would take well over 20 percent and place second. Experts were tricked into overestimating support for the Sweden Democrats by the fact that their voters “scream so loudly.” With its opposition to the European Union and almost all forms of immigration, the party is little more than an adolescent tantrum, “a collective political puberty” that blames foreigners and elites for everything so no one else has to take responsibility for anything. But this far-right pitch failed at the ballot box because the “vast majority of voters are still in the middle.” The governing Social Democrats received 28.4 percent of the vote, the highest share for any individual party, and together with its center-left coalition partners took 40.6 percent. The center-right Moderates came in second with 19.8 percent, and their bloc received 40.3 percent. Sweden and its democracy “are still greater than the Sweden Democrats.”

9-14-18 Legal to be gay, in spite of government
How telling it is that India’s ruling party stayed silent on one of the most vital civil rights issues of our times, said Krishnadas Rajagopal. In a historic decision last week, the Indian Supreme Court overturned Section 377 of the criminal code—a 157-year-old colonial law that banned homosexual acts, making them punishable by up to 10 years in prison. One would have expected Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government to take a stand on the issue—either for or against—but it declined to do so, saying it would leave the decision to “the wisdom of the court.” The court was not pleased with this abdication. Justice Dhananjaya Chandrachud wrote that the government was derelict in offering no opinion about a law that “typecasts LGBTQ individuals as sex offenders, categorizing their consensual conduct on par with sexual offenses like rape.” That status had become a public health issue, he wrote, since the stigma associated with being part of a criminal class caused gay Indians to avoid public health providers, compromising the fight against HIV/AIDS. Gay and lesbian Indians are now celebrating: The ruling said their sexual orientation was “intrinsic to their dignity.” Their political leaders, though, still have no comment.

9-14-18 Mass trial:
Mass trial: Egypt has sentenced 75 people to death and another 600 to prison for their involvement in a 2013 sit-in protest that was brutally broken up by security forces. The Cairo protest was organized by supporters of democratically elected President Mohammed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, after he was toppled by a military coup. At least 817 people were killed when security forces opened fire on demonstrators in Rabaa al-Adawiya Square. Those on trial, though, weren’t the police—who have immunity for any abuses they may have committed—but the survivors, who were accused of crimes ranging from property damage to murder. The verdict, said Amnesty International, was “a grotesque parody of justice.” Among those sentenced to death were Brotherhood leaders Essam el-Erian and Mohamed Beltagi; the Brotherhood’s spiritual leader, Mohamed Badie, was given a life sentence.

9-14-18 EU vs. Orban
The European Parliament voted this week to punish Hungary for cracking down on democratic institutions, kick-starting a process that could ultimately lead to the country being stripped of its voting rights in the European Union. It is the first time the parliament has launched a disciplinary process against an EU member nation—the leaders of member states will now have to approve any punitive measures. The vote was a sign of the increasing disquiet in the bloc with the policies of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who since taking power in 2010 has targeted opposition media outlets, undermined the judiciary’s autonomy, and banned NGOs from aiding migrants. Orban called the threat of censure a form of “blackmail” and an insult to Hungary.

9-14-18 No toking on duty
With the recreational use of marijuana becoming legal across Canada on Oct. 17, the Canadian military has announced tight new weed restrictions for service members. Certain personnel—including pilots, submariners, and flight surgeons—will be completely banned from using marijuana 28 days before reporting for duty. For all other troops, no use is allowed for eight hours before normal duty; for those handling weapons, the restriction is 24 hours. By contrast, soldiers must refrain from drinking alcohol for only six hours before going on duty. Marijuana will not be allowed on military aircraft or ships, or among troops deployed abroad. The new rules, said Chief of Military Personnel Lt. Gen. Chuck Lamarre, “will ensure that our men and women are ready at all times.”


9-14-18 Dalai Lama to meet alleged Dutch abuse victims
The Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama is to meet victims of alleged sexual abuse in the Netherlands. The group requested the meeting to discuss abuse reportedly carried out by former or current Buddhist teachers in several countries. "We found refuge in Buddhism with an open mind and heart, until we were violated in its name," they wrote. A spokesperson said the Dalai Lama was "saddened" to hear about the abuse and "constantly condemned" such behaviour. The victims will present their written testimonies during the meeting on Friday. The Dalai Lama is currently on a European tour. The meeting comes a week after Rigpa, an international Buddhist organisation active in the West, apologised for alleged abuse carried out by its founder Sogyal Lakar, also known as Sogyal Rinpoche. Mr Lakar is best known for his 1994 book The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, which sold over three million copies. Last month, an independent investigation by a lawyer commissioned by Rigpa found that some members of Mr Lakar's "inner circle" were "subjected to serious physical, sexual and emotional abuse by him". The report added that senior members of the organisation had knowledge of some of the issues and "failed to address them, leaving others at risk". Mr Lakar, who stepped down as the head of Rigpa last year, declined to be interviewed for the investigation due to health issues. (Webmaster's comment: Sexaul abuse by spiritual leaders and religious members is worldwide!)

9-13-18 Time for an intervention at the Vatican
"Men and nations behave wisely," Israeli diplomat Abba Eban once observed, "when they have exhausted all other resources." As the Catholic Church nears its 17th year of sexual abuse scandal, its hierarchy appears determined to fully exhaust every option before settling on the proper course of action: full disclosure and accountability. Even a recent step in the right direction raises issues as to whether the church recognizes the seriousness of the moment. On Wednesday, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis has called a meeting of presidents from each conference of bishops to discuss new steps to prevent abuse of minors and vulnerable adults. The move bypasses the College of Cardinals, at least in form, and puts the field leadership of the church in direct conference with the pontiff rather than filtered through the Vatican curia. The announcement came out ahead of an urgent audience with the head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of the Galveston-Houston archdiocese, as well as other American bishops responding to pressure from their parishioners and the media. At the same time, Cardinal Donald Wuerl — mired in controversy after a Pennsylvania grand jury cited numerous occasions where he failed to act properly when dealing with abusers in the priesthood — will discuss resigning his post at the archdiocese of Washington, D.C., with Pope Francis. On the plus side, this convocation shows that the pontiff recognizes that the abuse scandal involves the entire church, and not just the anglophones. A leaked report from an independent investigation in Germany on the same day as the Vatican's announcement documented over 3,600 victims of sexual abuse over the last 70 years, involving more than 1,600 priests. Many of the records within the church had been "destroyed or manipulated," according to the report, meaning that the totals for both are likely well north of that mark.

9-13-18 Trump disputes Puerto Rico hurricane death toll
US President Donald Trump is disputing that nearly 3,000 people died in Puerto Rico after the island was hit by two hurricanes last year. "3000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico," Mr Trump wrote on Twitter, without offering evidence for the claim. He added that Democrats had inflated the official death toll to "make me look as bad as possible". The official figure was released last month after an independent study. On Thursday, Mr Trump wrote in a pair of tweets that Democrats were attacking him "when I was successfully raising Billions of Dollars to help rebuild Puerto Rico". The Republican president suggested the hurricane death toll was artificially inflated by adding those who passed away from natural causes such as old age. "Bad politics. I love Puerto Rico!" he tweeted. Mr Trump's tweets came as Hurricane Florence - a category two storm projected to bring catastrophic flooding - bears down on the US East Coast. (Webmaster's comment: Trump is using Hitler's lie tactic. Tell a big lie often enough and many people will believe you!)

9-13-18 Chemnitz protests: Hitler salute wolves displayed
In a country where Nazi symbols are illegal, the sight of snarling wolves performing a Hitler salute is unusual. But 10 bronze figures have now gone on display in the eastern German city of Chemnitz to protest against what organisers see as "growing hatred". Tensions have risen in the city in recent weeks after a German man was allegedly killed by two migrants. Far-right protesters reportedly used the Hitler salute and chased migrants and journalists. The organisers of the sculpture The Wolves are Back explain that the installation is based on the fact that both the Nazis and current-day right-wing radicals often describe themselves as "wolves". The wolves were created by artist Rainer Opolka and will be in front of Chemnitz's iconic Karl Marx statue until Thursday evening, together with signs accusing right-wing groups of "exploiting our fears" and describing right-wing radicalism as "the mother of all problems". Some of the figures are ready to attack, while others are blindfolded. The wolf statues were previously displayed outside a court in Munich during the sentencing of Beate Zschäpe, a member of a neo-Nazi gang who was found guilty of 10 racially-motivated murders in July, as well as in Berlin and Dresden. It is not the first anti-racism event in Chemnitz. More than 60,000 attended a free concert in the city last week to protest against the far-right.

9-13-18 Chile Church scandal: 'How I escaped the priest who abused me for decades'
In Chile, more than 100 Catholic clergy are being investigated over alleged sex crimes and attempts to cover them up. It's a scandal that haunts the reign of Pope Francis and has tipped the Chilean church into crisis. But it began decades ago with one man - Father Fernando Karadima, a parish priest in Santiago, who became Chile's most notorious sexual predator. "He offered you the vision of being called by the Lord. He showed you a very wonderful world," remembers Dr James Hamilton, a gastric surgeon now in his 50s. "He always told us he had a special gift - a kind of miracle gift - that he could see in every young person, if they had been called by God. He was almost a kind of saint." Father Fernando Karadima offered the adolescent James Hamilton refuge in the early 1980s. Chile had been under the dictatorship of Gen Augusto Pinochet for a decade. And in those troubled years of killings and disappearances, the church community created by this charismatic priest in the upmarket Santiago parish of El Bosque provided welcome reassurance. "For a young person, it was like the bee and the honey - it was sweet in a world of difficulties, when you were struggling with your family," says James Hamilton. His father had left the family home, so here was a teenager who was vulnerable - easy prey for a practised abuser. And, as a young idealist, he believed he had only two choices: "Join the people fighting against Pinochet, mostly through violence. Or, follow the road the Catholic Church showed you - the ways of the saints, of peace and to become the voice of Jesus. I wanted to study medicine, so my way was non-violence."(Webmaster's comment: Religious leader's sexual abuse of children runs rampant in every religion over the whole world!)

9-12-18 Is the rise of populism over or only just beginning?
Ten years after the financial crisis, a leading theory says the political upheavals that followed should now fade away. Is populism's bubble about to burst, asks Simon Oxenham. ON 15 September 2008, investment bank Lehman Brothers collapsed, precipitating a global financial crash. In the years that followed, politics took an apparently unexpected turn. We saw Brexit, the election of Donald Trump and the rise of far-right movements in Europe after decades of steadily increasing social liberalism. Sweden is just the latest example. Many are now wondering if this is the new normal. In 2015, Manuel Funke, then at the Free University of Berlin, and his colleagues turned to data analysis for an answer. They found that over the past 140 years, every major financial crisis has been followed by a surge in support for far-right movements. The good news for liberalism is that this faded after 10 years. If this pattern holds once more, we should be on schedule to see the surge in populism petering out. Funke and his colleagues wrote: “After a crisis, voters seem to be particularly attracted to the political rhetoric of the extreme right, which often attributes blame to minorities or foreigners… Votes for far-right parties increase strongly, government majorities shrink, fractionalization of parliaments rises and the overall number of parties represented in parliament jumps.” Although some political after-effects are measurable for a decade, the political upheaval is mostly temporary, they add. Funke’s work is rooted in data analysis, finding evidence for the apparent link between political trends and financial crises, but not for deeper behavioural reasons behind that link.

9-12-18 US plans crackdown on e-cigarette firms citing 'epidemic' teen use
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is considering banning the sale of flavoured e-cigarettes, citing an "epidemic" of use among teens. The proposal, announced on Wednesday, is part of a broader effort to curb teen use of the nicotine devices. FDA chief Scott Gottlieb said: "The disturbing and accelerating trajectory of use we're seeing in youth, and the resulting path to addiction, must end." The toughened approach comes after firms ignored prior concerns, he added. "I've been warning the e-cigarette industry for more than a year that they needed to do much more to stem the youth trends," he said. "In my view, they treated these issues like a public relations challenge rather than seriously considering their legal obligations, the public health mandate, and the existential threat to these products. "Well, I'm here to tell them that this prior approach is over." The FDA said it has sent more than 1,100 warning letters to stores for the illegal sale of e-cigarettes to under-age vapers and issued fines to another 131 shops. Five of the biggest e-cigarette manufacturers - JUUL, Vuse, MarkTen, blu e-cigs, and Logic - must also report to the agency within 60 days with plans to address the concerns, or face penalties, it said. (Webmaster's comment: Executive jail time would be a great deterrent!)

9-12-18 Trump's claim of success in Puerto Rico hurricane response derided
President Donald Trump has been criticised for hailing the US response to the deadly Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico last year as "tremendous". The mayor of its capital tweeted: "If he thinks the death of 3,000 people is a success God help us all." Puerto Rico only finished restoring full power last month, 11 months after the hurricane hit. A recent report says 8% left the island after the hurricane and many died due to poor health care and other services. The island's Governor Ricardo Rossello issued a statement on Tuesday night, describing Maria as "the worst natural disaster in our modern history. Our basic infrastructure was devastated, thousands of our people lost their lives and many others still struggle". Puerto Rico, an unincorporated territory of the US, is home to some 3.3 million people. (Webmaster's comment: Trump is a bold-faced Liar! And he lies everyday!)

9-12-18 Georgia school to ask parents to paddle students as punishment
A school in the US state of Georgia is asking parents to consent to allowing their children to be spanked with a wooden paddle as a form of punishment. The Georgia School for Innovation and the Classics sent a letter to parents requesting to paddle students after their third behavioural infraction. Students who are not authorised to be paddled will instead face a suspension. Georgia is among 20 US states that allow corporal punishment - including paddling - in schools. "In this school we take discipline very seriously," Superintendent Jody Boulineau told local media. "There was a time where corporal punishment was kind of the norm in school and you didn't have the problems that you have," he added. "It's just one more tool that we have in our disciplinary toolbox that we can use," he told WRDW-TV. Though it is defined differently in each state, corporal punishment is considered the use of moderate physical force or contact to enforce rules and discipline students. In some US states, using force to the point of bruising is acceptable. The school, located in Hephzibah, roughly 20 miles (32km) south of Augusta, sent a form to parents outlining the new guidelines, saying: "A student will be taken into an office behind closed doors. "The student will place their hands on their knees or piece of furniture and will be struck on the buttocks with a paddle." The form also says "no more than three licks should be given". (Webmaster's comment: This is the only language that a bully understands!)

9-12-18 Google, Facebook, Twitter face EU fines over extremist posts
Google, Facebook and Twitter must remove extremist content within an hour or face hefty fines, the European Commission's president has said. In his annual State of the Union address to the European Parliament, Jean-Claude Juncker said an hour was a "decisive time window". Net firms had been given three months in March to show they were acting faster to take down radical posts. But EU regulators said too little was being done. If authorities flag content that incites and advocates extremism, the content must be removed from the web within an hour, the proposal from the EU's lead civil servant states. Net firms that fail to comply would face fines of up to 4% of their annual global turnover. The proposal will need backing from the countries that make up the European Union as well as the European Parliament. In response to the plans, Facebook said: "There is no place for terrorism on Facebook, and we share the goal of the European Commission to fight it, and believe that it is only through a common effort across companies, civil society and institutions that results can be achieved. (Webmaster's comment: Google, Facebook, and Twitter think they are protecting free speech by protecting terrorist posts. They are only protecting terrorist posts for the money from the increased ad traffic and because getting rid of them would mean spending a few millions of their billions to hire people to get rid of the posts! The deaths that result from these posts are criminal and Google, Facebook and Twitter executives should charged as accessories to murder!)

9-12-18 The country where Facebook posts whipped up hate
Decades of ethnic and religious tensions, a sudden explosion of internet access, and a company that had trouble identifying and removing the most hateful posts. It all added up to a perfect storm in Myanmar, where the United Nations says Facebook had a "determining role" in whipping up anger against the Rohingya minority. "I'm afraid that Facebook has now turned into a beast, and not what it originally intended," Yanghee Lee, UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, said in March. The company admits failures and has moved to address the problems. But how did Facebook's dream of a more open and connected world go wrong in one south-east Asian country? (Webmaster's comment: Where are the arrests of the Facebook executives who allowed this to happen?)


  FEMINISM

9-18-18 McDonald's workers strike over sexual harassment policy
Staff at McDonald's restaurants in 10 US cities will walk out on Tuesday over claims the fast food giant is not doing enough to prevent sexual harassment. The strike comes after 25 women filed complaints against the chain, alleging it failed to enforce company rules against abuse. The women said they were ignored after reporting incidents including groping, indecent exposure and lewd comments. McDonald's said there was "no place for harassment" at its restaurants. Organisers said the strike would target multiple restaurants in cities including Chicago, Los Angeles and Miami. It is thought several hundred staff will walk out. McDonald's has a company-wide sexual harassment policy but the protestors - who are backed by the Time's Up Legal Defense Fund - want to see improvements. They say procedures for responding to harassment complaints are inadequate and that all staff should undergo anti-harassment training. Since 2016, 25 McDonald's workers have filed complaints with the US National Labor Relations Board, alleging their reports of harassment were ignored, mocked or met with retaliation.

9-18-18 Kavanaugh and accuser to testify in Senate
The Senate has scheduled a public hearing on a sex assault claim against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh for next week. Judge Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who says he attacked her more than three decades ago, will both be able to testify. US President Donald Trump said earlier he expected "a little delay" to confirming his nominee. Judge Kavanaugh, 53, says the allegation is "completely false". He denies he was even at the 1982 high school party in question where his accuser, now a psychology professor in California, says he tried to rape her as his friend watched. The claim has jeopardised Judge Kavanaugh's formerly all-but certain-nomination for a lifetime job on the Supreme Court. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley confirmed next Monday's hearing in a statement. "As I said earlier, anyone who comes forward as Dr Ford has done deserves to be heard," said the Iowa Republican. Mr Grassley had earlier stopped short of calling for a public hearing, or for delaying the committee's vote on the nominee. The judge last week finished four days of hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and a vote on his confirmation had been planned for Thursday of this week. But Democrats demanded a delay in the vote in order to let the FBI investigate. Mr Grassley said the standard procedure would be for committee members to conduct telephone calls with both witnesses about their forthcoming testimony. But in a statement, the panel's Democrats refused to join in any phone call with Judge Kavanaugh.

9-17-18 Brett Kavanaugh: Republican senators call for vote delay
A number of Republicans have said the vote on US President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, should be paused while allegations of sexual assault are properly heard. It comes after Christine Blasey Ford accused Mr Kavanaugh of attacking her in the early 1980s. Mr Kavanaugh denies the allegation, which emerged days before the Senate Judiciary Committee votes on the post. Prof Ford is willing to testify before the committee, her lawyer has said. And White House adviser Kellyanne Conway said Prof Ford should "not be insulted or ignored" and should testify under oath, although that would be up to the committee to decide. The Supreme Court is often the final word on highly contentious laws and its nine judges have an immense impact on US political life. If chosen for the lifetime appointment, Mr Kavanaugh would be expected to tilt the court's balance to the right. (Webmaster's comment: Their will be more accusations. A sexual predator cannot change its spots!)

9-17-18 Science Fair is full of cocky girl geniuses — and it's glorious
"I would say a lot of people are jealous of me. I know that sounds arrogant, but it's true." If you didn't know any better, you might expect that line to have come from the script of a high school dramedy à la Mean Girls — not the mouth of a 15-year-old child prodigy, whose dream is to win an international science competition. But in Science Fair, a new documentary about the world's smartest students competing for Best in Fair, it's clear that girls are no longer strangers in laboratories; they're the envy of them. Years of efforts to encourage young women to pursue their interests in science have paid off in well-earned and abundant confidence. The winner of the audience choice awards at both Sundance and SXSW, Science Fair follows nine high school students and one teacher on the journey to the 2017 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) in Los Angeles. Every year, some seven million science fair participants around the world are whittled down to 1,700 ISEF finalists in ninth through 12th grade, who compete for $4 million worth of prizes and scholarships, including the $75,000 that comes with Best in Fair. The students profiled in Science Fair are both male and female, but it's the girls who steal the show. Their ambition is as endearing as it is inspiring: One declares she wants not to cure cancer, but prevent it altogether. Another, from a small town where she says there is nothing to do other than drink and use drugs, wants to study the emotional responses of repeated risky behaviors on adolescent brains. (The film juxtaposes this with a boy who said his initial science fair idea had been to create a camera to take a picture of the inside of a steak while it's cooking, to see if it's done). All the while, they are balancing being scientists with being teenage girls. One is nervous about a dance with other students; another is so afraid of the science fair judges that, the year prior, she fainted when they came to her booth.

9-17-18 Last call for Nevada’s brothels?
There have been brothels in Nevada since the days of the Gold Rush, but in one of the state's 16 counties that could be about to change. Voters in Lyon County have a chance to put an end to legal prostitution in November, in a ballot coinciding with the country's mid-term elections. Lucy Ash met a veteran Nevada sex worker and heard the arguments for and against. Air Force Amy totters around the kidney-shaped swimming pool in her high heels to show me the gym where women can work out between clients. She points out the barbecue patio and the Jacuzzi before flinging open a garage door to reveal some dusty quad bikes. "We've got everything we need right here, even ponies in the stable out the back," she says. "I don't ride them because it's too risky - I need my body to work," she adds with a throaty laugh. We escape the blinding desert sun for the dimly lit parlour where a pink neon Bunny Ranch sign flickers over the bar. A few girls in lingerie or skimpy dresses are sitting on the crushed velvet sofas hunched over laptops and phones. This is the most famous of the 21 legal brothels scattered across rural Nevada. Behind the bar there's a corridor, which leads to dozens of bedrooms, each occupied by a sex worker in return for a daily rent. The Bunny Ranch is set in a scrubby landscape punctuated by gas stations, casinos and gun shops. It lies just the inside Lyon County line. Prostitution is outlawed in nearby Carson City, Nevada's state capital, and other urban areas. Road signs on the driveway show copulating rabbits and warn that the speed limit is 69mph - just kidding, it says underneath. When a customer rings the buzzer on the gate, an internal bell summons the sex workers into the parlour for a "line-up". Once he has chosen a woman, she takes him to her room to negotiate a price. The overwhelming majority of clients are men although occasionally couples make an appearance. Air Force Amy is still, at 53, one of the top earners at the ranch and she says she is pulling in about half a million dollars a year. Airbrushed photos of her in her youth decorate the walls.

9-14-18 Brett Kavanaugh denies sexual misconduct in high school
US President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh has denied an allegation of sexual misconduct during his high-school days. Reports say an unidentified woman claimed in a letter to Democrats that Mr Kavanaugh tried to force himself on her at a party in the early 1980s. Senate Democrats on Thursday disclosed that they had referred a complaint to federal investigators. The judge faces a confirmation vote to join the Supreme Court next week. In a statement on Friday, the appeals court judge said: "I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation. I did not do this back in high school or at any time." The alleged incident took place when Mr Kavanaugh was a minor and student at Georgetown Preparatory School in Bethesda, Maryland. The woman - who asked not to be identified - was also a minor and a student at a nearby high school. Her letter alleges the now judge held her down and covered her mouth with his hand. They were in a room with a classmate of Mr Kavanaugh's, and both boys had been drinking, before turning up the music to muffle her sound of protests, she alleges. The woman was able to free herself, the New Yorker said. Although the alleged incident was decades ago, the woman said the memory had caused ongoing distress and she had sought psychological treatment. (Webmaster's comment: Republicans don't care about this. Sexual assault is a job perk to them!)

9-14-18 Media: Did CBS act too slowly on Moonves charges?
CBS boss Les Moonves had won so many battles, he thought he could even survive #MeToo, said John Koblin in The New York Times. Having taken CBS from last place in the ratings to the top with shows such as CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and, yes, Survivor, Moonves made himself into “perhaps the most powerful television executive of the last two decades.” When the first detailed allegations of sexual harassment against him were raised last month by New Yorker reporter Ronan Farrow, Moonves was convinced he would avoid the fate of #MeToo villains Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, and Charlie Rose. He stepped right back into the public eye, dining with his wife, the CBS host Julie Chen, at Nobu Malibu, a hot spot for Hollywood executives. But last week, six more women accused Moonves of sexual assaults, “physical violence, and intimidation,” said Ronan Farrow in The New Yorker. The women said that when they tried to escape Moonves, he retaliated, growing “cold as ice, hostile, nasty,” and sabotaging their careers.

9-14-18 Gerard Depardieu
Gerard Depardieu was spotted this week at a military parade in Pyongyang, just weeks after the acclaimed French actor was accused of raping a 22-year-old actress. Depardieu, 69, wore sunglasses and a hat to the event, which honored the 70th anniversary of North Korea’s founding. It had been revealed only a few days earlier that French prosecutors are investigating allegations that Depardieu twice sexually assaulted the actress at his Paris mansion. Depardieu, who denies the charges, is close with the actress’ father and had “taken her under his wing,” a source told The Daily Telegraph (U.K.).

9-14-18 Make that kick
Minutes after Kaylee Foster was crowned homecoming queen, the Mississippi high school senior traded her tiara for a football helmet. For the past three years, Foster has been a placekicker for Ocean Springs High’s team. And she proved to be the squad’s MVP during the homecoming game last week, kicking two field goals and the winning extra point that led Ocean Springs to a 13-12 victory. “I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to be homecoming queen,” Foster said, “but I was pretty sure I was going to make that kick.”

9-14-18 STDs on the rise, again
Rates of sexually transmitted diseases climbed for the fourth consecutive year in the U.S. in 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has announced. A record high of 2.3 million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis were diagnosed last year—some 200,000 more than in 2016, itself a record-breaking year. Scientists say there is no single reason for the years-long uptick, reports The New York Times. Possible factors include the proliferation of dating apps, the opioid epidemic, and reduced funding for public sexual health clinics. “Most people with these STDs do not know they are infected,” says Gail Bolan, director of the CDC’s division of sexually transmitted disease prevention. “They don’t realize that these diseases are spreading silently through the country.” The CDC warns that chlamydia and gonorrhea—which is becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics—can lurk in the body without symptoms and lead to serious health issues if left untreated. The agency recommends that all women under 25, as well as men who have sex with men, undergo annual screenings for both diseases.

9-14-18 Dalai Lama to meet alleged Dutch abuse victims
The Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama is to meet victims of alleged sexual abuse in the Netherlands. The group requested the meeting to discuss abuse reportedly carried out by former or current Buddhist teachers in several countries. "We found refuge in Buddhism with an open mind and heart, until we were violated in its name," they wrote. A spokesperson said the Dalai Lama was "saddened" to hear about the abuse and "constantly condemned" such behaviour. The victims will present their written testimonies during the meeting on Friday. The Dalai Lama is currently on a European tour. The meeting comes a week after Rigpa, an international Buddhist organisation active in the West, apologised for alleged abuse carried out by its founder Sogyal Lakar, also known as Sogyal Rinpoche. Mr Lakar is best known for his 1994 book The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, which sold over three million copies. Last month, an independent investigation by a lawyer commissioned by Rigpa found that some members of Mr Lakar's "inner circle" were "subjected to serious physical, sexual and emotional abuse by him". The report added that senior members of the organisation had knowledge of some of the issues and "failed to address them, leaving others at risk". Mr Lakar, who stepped down as the head of Rigpa last year, declined to be interviewed for the investigation due to health issues. (Webmaster's comment: Sexaul abuse by spiritual leaders and religious members is worldwide!)

9-14-18 Gandhi wanted women to 'resist' sex for pleasure
In December 1935, Margaret Sanger, the American birth control activist and sex educator, visited Indian independence hero Mahatma Gandhi and had an absorbing conversation with him. Sanger was on an 18-city trip to India, speaking with doctors and activists about birth control and the liberation of women. Her fascinating exchange with Gandhi at his ashram in the western state of Maharashtra is part of a new biography of India's "father of the nation" by historian Ramachandra Guha. Drawing on never-before-seen sources from 60 different collections around the world, the 1,129-page book tells the dramatic story of the life of the world's most famous pacifist from the time he returned to India from South Africa in 1915, to his assassination in 1948. The biography also provides a glimpse into Gandhi's views on women's rights, sex and celibacy. In his ashram, Gandhi's efficient secretary, Mahadev Desai, took copious notes of the meeting between the leader and the activist. "Both seem to be agreed that women should be emancipated, that a woman should be the arbiter of her destiny," he wrote. But differences quickly arose between the two. Mrs Sanger, who had opened the first US family planning centre in New York in 1916, believed that contraceptives were the safest route to emancipation. Gandhi demurred, saying women should resist their husbands, while men should try to curb "animal passion". He told his visitor that sex should be only for procreation. Mrs Sanger soldiered on spiritedly. She told Gandhi that "women have feelings as deep as and as amorous as men. There are times when wives desire physical union as much as their husbands". "Do you think that it is possible for two people who are in love, who are happy together, to regulate their sex act only once in two years, so that their relationship would only take place when they wanted a child?" she asked. This is where contraception came in handy, she insisted, and helped women prevent unwanted pregnancies and gain control over their bodies. Gandhi remained stubborn in his opposition. (Webmaster's comment: Even today many, if not most men, believe sex is for a man's pleasure. Women's pleasure is incidental. Many men see them as only for breeding.)

9-13-18 Betsy DeVos is absolutely right about campus sexual assault rules
To push an issue, a leader usually needs to have integrity or street cred. Abraham Lincoln had the first when he led the country out of slavery. Richard Nixon, a security hawk, had the second when he made peace with China. President Donald Trump admittedly has neither when it comes to women's issues. So his administration is hardly in any moral position to revamp the rules governing sexual assault on college campuses that President Barack Obama, a paragon of propriety, put in place. Yet Obama's rules were so overzealous and draconian that civil libertarians who care about the rights of the accused should welcome Education Secretary Betsy DeVos' proposed reforms. In 2011, the Obama administration sent a "Dear Colleague" letter to colleges that receive federal funds — which is literally all of them but one — laying out the blueprint they needed to follow in sexual assault cases to avoid running afoul of federal Title IX rules that bar sexual discrimination in higher education. Although the administration didn't say it in so many words, the clear implication was that if colleges failed to comply, they would lose their federal dollars. The impetus behind the guidance was the (indisputably correct) notion that scandal-averse campus authorities have a powerful incentive to disbelieve victims and brush assault claims under the rug. Michigan State University's handling of Larry Nassar, the physician who molested female athletes for decades before his victims were finally heard, is ample proof of that. Still, the Obama rules swung the pendulum too much in the opposite direction, wrecking basic notions of justice, equity, and fairness. It basically set up sexually inexperienced students to be treated like Nassar-style predators — especially minority men.


SCIENCE - GLOBAL WARMING and ENVIRONMENT

9-18-18 BMW, Daimler and Volkswagen face EU diesel emissions probe
German carmakers BMW, Daimler and Volkswagen are to face an EU inquiry for allegedly conspiring to restrict diesel emissions treatment systems. The European Commission said it was investigating whether they agreed to limit the development of systems to reduce harmful emissions. It said that if proven, this could mean that consumers had been denied the chance to buy less polluting cars. The firms were raided in 2017 as part of the Commission's earlier inquiries. The Commission said its in-depth investigation was intended to assess whether the carmakers colluded, in breach of EU anti-trust rules, to avoid competing on technology to clean up petrol and diesel car emissions. It said it was focusing on information indicating that the companies, including VW-owned Audi and Porsche, had met to discuss the development and deployment of emissions technology. Two kinds of emissions control systems are under scrutiny: Selective catalytic reduction systems, which reduce nitrogen oxide emissions from diesel engines and "Otto" particulate filters, which reduce emissions from petrol-driven cars. "The Commission's in-depth investigation in this case concerns specific co-operation that is suspected to have aimed at limiting the technical development or preventing the roll-out of technical devices," it said.

9-17-18 Storm Florence: Heavy flooding cuts off Wilmington
The coastal city of Wilmington, North Carolina, has been cut off from the rest of the state because of heavy floods following Hurricane Florence. Officials say all roads in and out are now impassable and have warned evacuated residents to stay away. About 400 people have been rescued from flood waters in the city, described as an island within the state. Two of the first known fatalities - a mother and her seven-month son - were reported in the city on Friday morning. At least 15 other people are reported to have died in storm-related incidents across North and South Carolina since Florence made landfall on Thursday. In Wilmington, with its population of about 120,000, some 400 people have had to be rescued from flood waters, and most of the city remains without power. The National Weather Service has warned of at least two further days of possible flash flooding in the area before conditions are forecast to improve. "Do not come here," New Hanover County Commission Chairman Woody White said. "Our roads are flooded, there is no access into Wilmington...We want you home, but you can't come yet."

9-15-18 How Americans came to their senses about climate change
Climate change is no longer some remote threat that can be dealt with by our great-grandchildren. It is here. For a long time climate change felt far off to many Americans. Though people saw the pictures of melting ice caps and heard the warnings from Al Gore and 97 percent of climate scientists, they never truly felt this long-term environmental trend would threaten their own lives. Maybe it would affect future generations or people in the global south, where climate change will have especially deleterious effects, but not their own communities, not them. So not only did countless Americans treat global warming like some minor threat that wouldn't hurt them in any major way, but many simply denied that it was even happening. This attitude was promoted by fossil fuel companies and special interests that funded propaganda questioning the scientific consensus, as well as the politicians who supported their views. Thus over the past few decades, the Republican Party — the party that once founded the Environmental Protection Agency — became the party of climate change denialism. In recent years, however, this refusal to face reality has become increasingly hard to sustain, especially as extreme weather events become more and more common and menace more and more Americans. The latest instance of extreme weather, Tropical Storm Florence, is wreaking havoc on the Carolinas, and as many have already pointed out, there is strong evidence to suggest that climate change made it worse, increasing rainfall by up to 50 percent and slowing down the storm's movement. Florence arrives a little over a year after Hurricane Harvey, which devastated the Houston area, and Hurricane Maria, which went down as the worst natural disaster in Puerto Rico's recorded history. There is little doubt in the scientific community about the effect that global warming is already having on the weather, and it is clearly making natural disasters more catastrophic than they were previously. Of course, it's not just hurricanes that are growing more deadly. The recent global heat wave that scorched America and left dozens of people dead was also connected to climate change, as were the wildfires that consumed the West Coast this summer.

9-15-18 Storm Florence: Warnings of 'catastrophic' flash flooding
Weather forecasters warn of the risk of life-threatening flash flooding in parts of North and South Carolina, and Virginia, from storm Florence. It has been downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm but continues to soak the East Coast area with rain, downing trees and damaging homes. It is slowly grinding over the eastern states, with winds of 65mph (105km/h). Five deaths have been linked to the storm and thousands of people have been staying in emergency shelters. Evacuation warnings were issued for 1.7 million people in the region. All five deaths linked to the storm are in North Carolina. The storm originally made landfall at Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, on Friday morning as a category one hurricane. "Catastrophic fresh water flooding" is expected in parts of both the Carolinas, the National Hurricane Center said late on Friday local time. Some parts of North Carolina have already seen surges as high as 10ft in places. North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said the hurricane was likely to "continue its violent grind for days" and described the severity of the downfalls as a "1,000 year event".

9-15-18 Typhoon Mangkhut: 14 killed as storm batters Philippines
Some 14 people have been killed in a massive storm which brought destruction to the northern Philippines, a presidential adviser says. Typhoon Mangkhut ripped through the Philippines' main island of Luzon, and is now moving west towards China. Almost all buildings in the city of Tuguegarao sustained some damage, a government official said, and communications were down in places. The storm packed winds of 185km/h (115mph). Four million people were in its path, and thousands were evacuated amid warnings of 6m (20ft) storm surges. Francis Tolentino, a political adviser to President Rodrigo Duterte, said up to 14 people were killed as a result of the storm. Two rescuers were killed trying to help people trapped in a landslide. Unverified reports say the body of a young girl was found in the Marikina river, which flows through Manila. The evacuation centre in the coastal town of Aparri is also said to have been destroyed and phone networks are down. The typhoon recalls memories of the deadliest storm on record in the Philippines - Super Typhoon Haiyan in 2013 - which killed more than 7,000. However, preparation and evacuation procedures have been improved since then.

9-15-18 ICESat: Space will get unprecedented view of Earth's ice
The American space agency has launched a laser into orbit to measure the condition of Earth's ice cover. The satellite mission, called ICESat-2, should provide more precise information on how these frozen surfaces are being affected by global warming. Antarctica, Greenland and the ice floating on the Arctic Ocean have all lost volume in recent decades. ICESat-2 will track ongoing change in unprecedented detail from its vantage point some 500km above the planet. The satellite was taken up by a Delta II rocket, flying out of Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. "ICESat-2 is going to observe the cryosphere with a spatial resolution at the level we have never seen before from space," explained Prof Helen Fricker from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Antarctica and Greenland lose billions of tonnes of ice every year - the result largely of warm water being able to melt land glaciers where they meet the ocean. This wastage is slowly but surely pushing up sea-levels worldwide. In the Arctic, the seasonal floes have also been in retreat. Sea-ice in the far north is thought to have lost two-thirds of its volume since the 1980s. And although this has no direct impact on the height of the oceans, the reduced ice-cover is working to amplify temperature rises in the region. "An elevation change of just a centimetre over an ice sheet the scale of Antarctica represents a tremendous amount of water either gained to or lost by the ice sheet. 140 gigatonnes worth."

9-14-18 The decline of the coal industry
President Trump has promised to revive coal’s flagging fortunes. Is it possible?

  1. How big is the coal industry? Coal represents just a sliver of the American economy. At its peak, in 1923, coal employed 883,000 workers. Today, about 53,000 people work in coal mining—less than the number of people who work at nail salons, bowling alleys, or Arby’s.
  2. Is that solely because of environmental reasons? There are economic reasons, too. Demand for coal has plummeted over the past decade amid a flood of cheap natural gas from the U.S. fracking boom and advances in wind and solar energy.
  3. What has Trump done? True to his word, President Trump has tried to use federal power to revive the coal industry. Many of the White House’s actions closely mirror a policy wish list submitted early in the administration by coal tycoon Robert Murray, who contributed $300,000 to Trump’s inauguration.
  4. Are coal jobs coming back now? Not really. Only about 1,300 new coal jobs have been created during Trump’s presidency so far, and Trump’s efforts haven’t reversed the long-term problems facing the industry.
  5. Why the obsession with coal? The electoral map. For most of the 20th century, the Democrats’ alignment with labor unions such as the United Mine Workers helped them reliably win in the coal country of Appalachia.
  6. Can coal jobs be replaced? There are efforts underway to retrain coal workers for jobs in renewable energy or other industries. More than 260,000 Americans already work in the solar power industry, which has nearly tripled in size since 2010.
  7. What do coal miners make? Coal has a reputation for generating well-paid jobs that don’t require a college education. The average coal miner under a United Mine Workers of America contract makes at least $61,650 a year—usually closer to $85,000 a year with overtime

9-14-18 How climate change will reshape ecosystems
If climate change continues on its current course, nearly every ecosystem on Earth will be completely transformed, creating a world almost unrecognizable compared with the one we live in today. That’s the conclusion of a major new international study that sought to shed light on the future by looking at the past, reports TheAtlantic.com. The researchers examined fossil and temperature records from the peak of the last Ice Age, about 20,000 years ago, to the year 1800. Global temperatures rose 4 to 7 degrees Celsius over that period, and the resulting changes were extreme: Sea levels rose by nearly 400 feet, forests grew on what was once ice-covered ground, and savanna turned to desert. To look ahead, the researchers examined how ecosystems would fare under four possible climate-change scenarios over the coming century. In the most optimistic case—in which global temperatures rise only 1 degree Celsius—the chances of large-scale ecosystem change remain low. But in the other three, including the “business as usual” scenario of 4-degree temperature increases by 2100, the world would be completely altered: Oak forests would turn into grasslands; evergreen woods would become deciduous. The findings, says study co-author Jonathan Overpeck, a climate scientist at the University of Michigan, “provide yet another wake-up call that we need to act now to move rapidly toward an emission-free global economy.”

9-14-18 Intensive farming 'least bad option' for food and environment
Intensive, high-yielding agriculture may be the best way to meet growing demand for food while conserving biodiversity, say researchers. But their study says the approach makes sense only if it is linked to more wilderness being spared the plough. Intensive farming is said to create high levels of pollution and damage the environment more than organic farming. However, this report suggests that contrary to perceptions, this is not necessarily the case. Organic groups though have rejected the report's findings. Around the world sales of organic produce have boomed over the past 20 years as consumers have bought into the idea that the approach is good not just for their health but for the good of the planet, as well. However, this study takes issue with that view. The researchers measured the environmental costs - including what they term "externalities", such as greenhouse gas emissions, fertiliser and water use - of producing a given amount of food on both high-yield and low-yield farms. Working with scientists in 17 organisations from around the globe, they analysed information from hundreds of investigations into four large food areas - Asian paddy rice, European wheat, Latin American beef and European dairy. (Webmaster's comment: And just who profits from this research? The corporate food industry of course.)

9-14-18 60% stays with us
Of the roughly 8,300 million metric tons of plastic that have been produced to date, about 60 percent is believed to be floating in the oceans or stuffed in landfills.

9-14-18 Hurricane Florence: Life-threatening storm lands in North Carolina
Hurricane Florence has made landfall on the US East Coast, bringing with it winds, heavy rains and warnings of "catastrophic" floods. The centre of the storm struck Wrightsville Beach in North Carolina, with gales of up to 90mph (150 km/h). Its outer bands have already inundated coastal areas. Scores of people are currently waiting to be rescued in the city of New Bern. Evacuation warnings are in place for more than a million people. Nearly half a million power outages have been reported across North Carolina, according to the state's emergency management agency. The governor of North Carolina said surviving the storm would be a test of "endurance, teamwork, common sense, and patience". "This is an uninvited brute that just won't leave," Roy Cooper told NBC on Friday. National Weather Service forecaster Brandon Locklear said North Carolina is likely to see eight months' worth of rain in two to three days. Thousands of miles away meanwhile a huge typhoon is moving towards the Philippines. More than five million people are in the path of Super Typhoon Mangkhut, officials say. (Webmaster's comment: You should read: Storms Of My Grandchildren)

9-14-18 Politicize the weather
It's time to blame Republicans for climate disasters. Hurricane Florence struck the Carolinas on Thursday, moving slowly inland. By Friday morning, it had brought a 10-foot storm surge and sever flooding to parts of North Carolina. Multiple people have needed to be rescued and power companies are reporting more than 150,000 outages due to strong winds topping 90 miles per hour. Yet for all of its destruction, it's just one of many terrible weather events that have caused humanitarian disasters in the United States over the past two years — most notably Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. It's time to realize one simple truth: Republicans are very largely to blame. Democrats should not hesitate to point this out. There are two main reasons why. First, natural disasters become humanitarian emergencies primarily due to poor preparation and response, either through incompetence or poverty. For instance, a 2010 earthquake in Haiti killed perhaps 100,000 people, while a much, much stronger one in Chile killed only 525 (mainly due to superior building construction). The United States is very rich, and should be able to handle anything short of the most severe disasters. The second reason to blame Republicans is, of course, climate change. The strength and intensity of weather disasters is likely being intensified by global warming, while the flooding from hurricanes is certainly being worsened by sea level rise. A climate policy package to cut domestic emissions, massively strengthen American communities against weather disasters, and pursue international diplomacy to help coordinate emission cuts in other countries is unquestionably the number one policy priority for this country.

9-14-18 Typhoon Mangkhut: Millions in path of 'monster' storm
Super Typhoon Mangkhut has gathered strength as it barrels towards the Philippines, weather officials say. The storm is now packing winds of 255 km/h (160 mph) and officials say more than five million people are directly in its path. Last-minute preparations are under way before it makes landfall on the northern tip of the main island of Luzon by Saturday. Flights have been cancelled, schools shut and the army is on standby. Officials have said that the storm, which is 900km in diameter, will be powerful enough to remain a "considerable threat" even if it slows down before making landfall. The storm - known locally as Ompong - has already pummelled the Northern Mariana Islands and Guam. Authorities say they expect storm surges of up to 7m (23 feet) and are warning that heavy rains could trigger landslides and flash floods. Storm warnings have been issued in 39 provinces and sea and air travel has been restricted. National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council spokesperson Edgar Posadas told local media that 5.2 million people were expected to be affected, including a million people who live below the poverty line. "We are really frightened," Delaila Pasion, who had fled her home, told AFP. "They say it is so strong, we were too scared to remain." "During previous monsoon rains, half of our house was destroyed so I wanted to take my grandchildren to safety," she told journalists. The Philippines is routinely hit during the typhoon season. The deadliest storm on record in the country was Super Typhoon Haiyan, which killed more than 7,000 people and affected millions in 2013. (Webmaster's comment: You dump more heat energy from global warming into the atmosphere and it's got to go someplace!)

9-14-18 Acid is dribbling out of the melting permafrost in the Arctic
As climate change thaws the Arctic permafrost, some of it is releasing sulphuric acid – which destroys limestone and releases even more climate-warming carbon dioxide. Some patches of Arctic permafrost are bleeding acid as they melt. The dribble of acid is destroying rocks and releasing more carbon dioxide into the air – but it’s not clear how much. Permafrost is soil and sand that is permanently frozen. Climatologists have warned for years that Arctic permafrost is thawing due to climate change. This will transform the landscape, and release carbon that is locked away in the permafrost in the form of carbon dioxide and methane – adding to the greenhouse effect. However, most climatologists think the extra warming will be minor compared to that directly caused by our emissions. Now it seems that some regions of the Arctic might release more carbon dioxide than expected. Scott Zolkos at the University of Alberta in Canada and his colleagues studied permafrost in the western Canadian Arctic, which is different to that in other areas. “The permafrost is more ice-rich and more sediment-rich,” says Zolkos. “There’s more minerals. So when that permafrost thaws, the material it exposes is different.” The team analysed samples of water from sites upstream and downstream of thawing permafrost patches that have subsided. Zolkos describes them as “giant mud pits” that can be hundreds of metres across and up to 30 metres deep. They found that the runoff water contained significant amounts of sulphuric acid, which formed when sulphide minerals were exposed by permafrost melt. The sulphuric acid then began reacting with limestone rocks, releasing carbon dioxide.

9-14-18 Cities lead the way on curbing carbon emissions
With many countries struggling to cut their carbon, new data suggests that major cities are making substantial strides to stem their emissions. Twenty-seven cities, including Warsaw, Barcelona and Sydney, saw CO2 peak in 2012 and then go into decline. As well as moving to green energy, the cities have provided affordable alternatives to private cars. Emissions declined by 2% every year on average, while their economies expanded by 3% annually. The C40 Cities group is an umbrella organisation that co-ordinates the climate change activities of 96 major urban centres around the world. Back in 2015, their research showed that if the planet was to keep to the lower, 1.5-degree-Celsius target agreed in the Paris climate pact, then major cities would have to peak their emissions of CO2 by 2020 at the latest. This new analysis by the group shows that 27 of these cities saw their emissions peak by 2012 and then fall over a five-year period. Those emissions are now at least 10% lower than at their zenith. The 27 who peaked and cut their carbon are: Barcelona, Basel, Berlin, Boston, Chicago, Copenhagen, Heidelberg, London, Los Angeles, Madrid, Melbourne, Milan, Montréal, New Orleans, New York City, Oslo, Paris, Philadelphia, Portland, Rome, San Francisco, Stockholm, Sydney, Toronto, Vancouver, Warsaw, Washington DC. According to C40, the cities have cut carbon while their economies and populations have grown. The key steps taken include decarbonising the electricity systems, optimising energy use in buildings, providing cleaner and affordable alternatives to cars, and cutting waste while increasing recycling. "This is the result of no revolution, but of a steady evolution in the life of our city, namely in the way we move around and in the way we reduce, recycle and reuse waste," said Giuseppe Sala, Mayor of Milan. "We see a continuous advancement, that spans over more than 20 years and progressively led to 1 in every 7 citizens using shared cars or bikes and to 60% of quality separate waste collection. Such significant results could not have been achieved without the engagement and commitment of the citizens of Milan." (Webmaster's comment: Why is Sioux Falls not on the list? Why is your city not on the list?)

9-13-18 Here’s how climate change is fueling Hurricane Florence
A novel forecast looks at the size and fury of the storm with and without human-caused warming. Even as Hurricane Florence bears down on the Carolinas, bringing fierce winds and heavy rains, one team of scientists has undertaken a different kind of forecast: Understanding the influence of human-caused climate change on a storm that hasn’t made landfall yet. Real-time storm forecasts continuously update as new data become available. But what would happen if, from a single starting point — in this case, the state of the atmosphere on September 11 — Florence roared ahead in two parallel worlds: one with and one without the influence of human-caused climate change? Florence is bigger than it would be if it occurred in a world with no human-caused warming, climate modeler Kevin Reed of Stony Brook University in New York and colleagues conclude in a study posted on the university’s website September 12. And thanks to warmer sea surface temperatures and more available moisture in the air, it will dump 50 percent more rain on the Carolinas, the researchers predict. The goal of such climate change attribution studies is to determine whether — and by how much — human-driven climate change might have caused a particular extreme event, such as a hurricane, a heat wave or a flood. It’s an increasingly high-profile area of research, particularly after three studies last year found that a trio of extreme events in 2016 simply could not have happened without climate change (SN: 1/20/18, p. 6).

9-13-18 Hurricane Florence: Prisons in hurricane's path not evacuated
"Storm of a lifetime" hurricane Florence is predicted to bring deadly disaster to large parts of the eastern US coast when it makes landfall on Thursday. But as millions are under order to flee, some are being told they have to stay put. On Monday, South Carolina officials announced they would not remove inmates from at least two prisons inside mandatory evacuation zones. "In the past, it's been safer to leave them there," a spokesman for the South Carolina Department of Corrections said. One of those facilities is no longer in those zones but remains in Florence's path. In Virginia and and North Carolina, some prisons have already been evacuated. Many on social media are drawing parallels with the devastating hurricane Katrina, in 2005, when thousands of inmates endured terrible conditions in a facility that had not been evacuated. "Almost 1,000 inmates were left to die in Orleans Parish Prison during hurricane Katrina," said PhD student Bedour Alagraa in a widely shared tweet, which was also popular on Facebook. "The [prison officers] evacuated themselves and inmates spent five days in chest-high water, with no food or water. "The generator had blown leaving them in pitch blackness - 517 were never found." (Webmaster's comment: Setting up a mass execution of men in prison!)

9-13-18 A new map reveals the causes of forest loss worldwide
Most forest loss occurring in the world leaves the possibility of trees growing back. Of the roughly 3 million square kilometers of forest lost worldwide from 2001 to 2015, a new analysis suggests that 27 percent of that loss was permanent — the result of land being converted for industrial agriculture to meet global demand for products such as soy, timber, beef and palm oil. The other 73 percent of deforestation during that time was caused by activities where trees were intended to grow back, including sustainable forestry, subsistence farming and wildfires, researchers report in the Sept. 14 Science. Understanding why forests are shrinking is important because the ecological impacts of permanent forest destruction are different from that of more temporary losses, says study coauthor Matthew Hansen, a remote sensing scientist at the University of Maryland in College Park. The analysis dives deeper into data published in 2013 by Hansen and others, which revealed global forest losses without tracking what caused those declines. Here, scientists developed a computer program that analyzed satellite pictures to determine what was driving changes in forest size.

9-13-18 Typhoon Mangkhut: Millions in Philippines braced for storm
Thousands of people have begun evacuating from coastal areas of the Philippines as a super typhoon heads towards the country.. yphoon Mangkhut, packing winds of 255km/h (160mph), is due to make landfall on the northern tip of the main island of Luzon by the weekend. Schools and offices are being closed and farmers are racing to save crops. Ten million people are in the path of the storm, along with millions more in coastal areas of southern China. The Philippines is hit by about 20 typhoons and storms a year. Forecasters say Mangkhut is the strongest so far in 2018 - 900km in diameter, with sustained winds of 205 km/h. Authorities in the Philippines say they expect storm surges of up to 7m (23 feet) and are warning that heavy rains could trigger landslides and flash floods. The country's deadliest storm on record is super typhoon Haiyan, which killed more than 5,000 people and affected millions in 2013. In Hong Kong preparations are already under way for the storm, though the latest forecasts suggest Mangkhut will pass to the south of the territory later in the weekend.

9-13-18 Just one tiny piece of plastic may be enough to kill a baby turtle
Post-mortems show that some sea turtles die from eating just one fragment of plastic – and it’s post-hatchlings that seem to be particularly vulnerable. Put it down to a combination of inexperience, mistaking plastic for food, or maybe swimming where most plastic waste collects. Whatever the reasons, new evidence shows that young turtles off Australia’s Queensland coast are more at risk than their elders of swallowing plastic waste. Fresh autopsies on 246 sea turtles that washed up dead on beaches across Queensland showed that 58 had ingested between one and 329 fragments of plastic, which might have contributed to their deaths. The rest died of other causes, such as boat collisions. But of the 58 plastic consumers, only four were full or near adults. Most – 41 – were juveniles. Very young “post-hatchlings” seemed particularly at risk: of the 246 dead sea turtles, 24 of them were post-hatchlings – and 13 of them had eaten plastic. One explanation is that young turtles swim nearer the surface in offshore waters where plastic floats, and drift with plastic-rich prevailing currents. “It may be that they are less selective than adults and encounter higher concentrations of debris,” says Britta Denise Hardesty of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in Hobart, Australia, and head of the survey. “Plastics, particularly balloons, can resemble jellyfish and squid, as well as crustaceans and sponges,” she says.

9-12-18 Global warming is amplifying Hurricane Florence’s destructive power
Hurricane Florence won’t make landfall until Thursday, but we can already be sure that its destruction will be greater because of climate change. It remains to be seen just how much destruction Hurricane Florence will wreak when it makes landfall, likely as a Category 3 storm in North Carolina on Thursday. But we can already be 100 per cent sure that the damage will be worse than it would otherwise be because of global warming. Over the past century, sea level in North Carolina has risen 30 centimetres as a result of climate change, according to studies by Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and colleagues. The rising waters are already eroding the Outer Banks – the barrier islands off the coast – and causing “sunny day flooding” during normal high tides. Highers seas mean higher storm surges wherever they occur. While 30 cm might not seem like much, in places it could determine whether the hurricane-driven surge overcomes flood defences and thus greatly increase the damage. The greatest threat posed by Hurricane Florence, though, is inland flooding caused by extreme rainfall, which will also be increased by climate change. For starters, abnormally high sea surfaces temperatures in the area Florence is moving over mean it will pump far more water into the atmosphere, which will eventually fall as rain. This region of abnormal warmth in the Atlantic is mostly due to global warming, according to a study published earlier this year. Water vapour is the fuel that drives hurricanes, so this is also why Florence has grown so large and powerful. Globally, rising sea surface temperatures are making hurricanes ever stronger.

9-12-18 Governor of California orders state to go carbon neutral by 2045
The governor of California has signed an executive order calling for state-wide carbon neutrality by 2045, followed by net negative emissions after that. WHILE headway was slow in the latest UN climate talks (see “Next round of Paris climate talks hits sticking points“), elsewhere there is some much needed good news on the climate front. California is planning to go carbon neutral by 2045 and achieve net negative emissions after that. Also, investors across the globe responsible for $6 trillion in funds now plan to divest from fossil fuels. On 10 September, the governor of California signed an executive order calling for state-wide carbon neutrality by no later than 2045. That exceeds by far any of the targets that countries signed up to in the Paris climate agreement. A few countries and states have set themselves similarly ambitious goals, but California is now the biggest economy to do so. Meanwhile, the divestment movement continues to gather pace. According to a report from Arabella Advisors, more than 1000 institutional investors with $6 trillion in assets have committed to divest from fossil fuels, compared with just $52 billion four years ago.

9-12-18 Sea level rise doesn’t necessarily spell doom for coastal wetlands
Giving marshes room to expand inland can help preserve these crucial ecosystems. Rising sea levels don’t have to spell doom for the world’s coastal wetlands. A new study suggests salt marshes and other wetlands could accumulate soil quickly enough to avoid becoming fully submerged — if humans are willing to give them a little elbow room. The new study builds on previous work that suggests rising seas will increase sediment buildup in some parts of coastal wetlands. This increased sediment, as well as human adaptations to allow wetlands to move inland as the seas rise, could allow the coastal fringes to not only survive but to increase their global area by as much as 60 percent, researchers report September 13 in Nature. Humans have good reason to preserve the world’s salt marshes and mangrove forests. These coastal zones, occupying the area from the coastline to the highest inland push of the tides, perform key services including filtering pollutants, pulling and storing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and protecting communities from storms. Rising ocean waters, however, could drown these ecosystems. Current sea level rise projections suggest 20 percent to 90 percent of the world’s coastal wetlands could disappear, depending on how warm the planet gets and how high the seas rise.

9-12-18 Hurricane Florence: Mass evacuation from 'storm of a lifetime'
Highways in US East Coast areas braced for Hurricane Florence are congested with motorists fleeing "the storm of a lifetime". Up to 1.7 million people have been ordered to evacuate across South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia. South Carolina authorities have turned four motorways into one-way routes away from the coast to speed the exodus. The category four storm with 130mph (215km/h) winds is forecast to make landfall early on Friday. Hurricane Florence could wreak more than $170bn (£130bn) of havoc, according to analytics firm CoreLogic. Its projection suggested the storm could damage nearly 759,000 homes and businesses from Charleston, South Carolina, to Virginia Beach, Virginia. A National Weather Service forecaster in Wilmington, North Carolina, said: "This will likely be the storm of a lifetime for portions of the Carolina coast. "And that's saying a lot given the impacts we've seen from Hurricanes Diana, Hugo, Fran, Bonnie, Floyd and Matthew. "I can't emphasise enough the potential for unbelievable damage from wind, storm surge and inland flooding with this storm."

9-12-18 'Nature-based' greenhouse gas removal to limit UK climate change
Planting millions of acres of trees and energy crops as well as restoring wetlands and coastal habitats could help the UK become carbon neutral by 2050. A new report says that these and other, newer technologies will be needed, even with stringent CO2 emissions cuts. The authors say Brexit could be an opportunity for farmers to switch to carbon-removing crops and practices. The plan is costly, the scientists say, but necessary and achievable. While the UK has been a world leader in setting legally binding targets to reduce carbon emissions from the power sector, industry and transport, scientists believe that these efforts alone won't be enough to achieve carbon neutrality by the middle of the century. It's likely that emissions from aviation and farming will be very difficult to cut completely. In that light the government commissioned experts from the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering to look at what could be done in the UK to remove enough greenhouse gas to achieve the goal. The report says that this will be difficult and expensive - but feasible within the time frame. The scientists considered a wide range of greenhouse gas removal plans but have plumped for approaches that don't immediately require the development of new technologies. The researchers say that a suite of ideas is likely to work best in the UK. Many options such as planting trees and restoring wetlands are relatively simple - but to make significant inroads into emissions you need to not just draw down carbon but to store it permanently as well.

9-12-18 Ambitious plan for seven London-sized forests to meet UK climate goals
By expanding forest cover in the UK by 1.2 million hectares, the country could initiate its first practical plan to limit global warming . Planting forests covering 1.2 million hectares – equivalent to the more than seven times the area of Greater London – should be an immediate priority if the UK is to achieve zero net emissions of carbon dioxide by 2050. That’s the key recommendation of a joint report by the UK Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering. The report is the first assessment of practical steps to help the UK reduce its emissions of carbon dioxide and meet the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement to stabilise global warming. “You could say it’s a call to action,” says Nilay Shah of Imperial College London, and a member of the working group that produced the report. The priority should continue to be on reducing emissions of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels. This can be done by switching to renewable forms of power such as solar and wind energy, says the report. Progress to-date in this renewables shift has already helped the UK to cut its annual emissions from 600 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in 1990 to 380 million tonnes today. But by themselves, emission reductions would still leave the UK producing 130 million tonnes of carbon dioxide annually, the report warns, well short of the 2050 zero-carbon target. Planting forests – which trap airborne carbon dioxide as wood – is one of the first practical measures that could help the UK cut the predicted surplus. The report estimates that new forests covering 1.2 million hectares could extract 15 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. “Within a couple of decades, you’d be drawing down significant amounts of carbon,” says Shah.


SCIENCE - EVOLUTION and GENETICS

9-18-18 Smart plants can teach us a thing or two
The Revolutionary Genius of Plants challenges the brain-centered view of intelligence. More than 200 years ago, French botanist René Desfontaines instructed a student to monitor the behavior of Mimosa pudica plants as he drove them around Paris in a carriage. Mimosa pudica quickly closes its leaves when touched — presumably as a defense mechanism. Desfontaines was interested in the plants’ response to the continuous vibrations of the ride. Initially, the leaves closed, but after a time, they reopened, despite the shaking. “The plants are getting used to it,” the student wrote in his notebook. Stefano Mancuso recounts this tale in The Revolutionary Genius of Plants and reports on a modern follow-up: a repeat of the experiment (without the carriage) demonstrating that plants can indeed learn that an external provocation is harmless and remember what they’ve learned for weeks. Learning is impossible without memory, and both are hallmarks of intelligence, argues Mancuso, who leads the International Laboratory of Plant Neurobiology at the University of Florence in Italy. But our animal-centric view of neuroscience makes us loathe to employ terms like “memory” and “intelligence” when talking about organisms without a brain. With infectious passion, Mancuso sets out to convince us that the plant way of doing things not only deserves our respect, but also may help us solve greater societal woes. The M. pudica story sets the stage for an eye-opening philosophical argument that makes the book worth a close read — you will never look at plants, or animals, the same way again. To overcome the human bias toward brain-centered intelligence, Mancuso writes, one must consider that, unlike animals, plants can’t move.

9-18-18 Artificial genes show life does not have to be based on DNA
Two modified versions of DNA add different “letters” to life’s genetic code but still work just as well as the original. Life need not be based on DNA. So say researchers who have created two new versions of the iconic molecule, which retain its double helix shape but are thinner or chunkier than the original. “This is changing the rules of the game that every schoolchild learns,” says Steven Benner of the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution in Alachua, Florida. It implies that extraterrestrial life might be based on alternative genetic molecules. DNA carries our genes, which tell our bodies how to grow and are passed from parent to child. The structure of DNA was described in 1953 by James Watson and Francis Crick – with crucial help from Rosalind Franklin. Watson and Crick realised that DNA is made up of two long chain-like molecules twisted around each other. The two chains are attached to each other via pairs of bases, one base on each chain. There are four types of base, and they only pair up in specific ways: adenine with thymine, and guanine with cytosine. The information in our genes is contained in the order of the bases. Benner and his colleagues made several alternative DNAs, in which they swapped out some of the standard bases for various combinations of eight similar molecules. Doing so made some of the resulting DNA-like molecules physically “skinnier” than standard DNA, while others were “fatter”. Nevertheless they all performed DNA’s crucial function: if two bases paired incorrectly, the misplaced one was swiftly ejected and replaced with the correct one. This is how DNA ensures our genes don’t become garbled, and the modified DNA did it just as well. “I was quite surprised,” says Benner.

9-18-18 A third of us would go one-way to Mars – but it may shrink your brain
New Scientist Asks the Public has revealed that 40 per cent of men want to go to Mars, but new evidence suggests the lengthy trip may be bad for your brain. Many people would consider going on a one-way mission to Mars, according to the 2018 New Scientist Asks the Public survey. But new evidence suggests that the lengthy trip may be bad for the part of your brain involved in forming memories. The survey, carried out in August by Sapio Research on a representative sample of 2026 UK adults, found that 50 per cent of men and 30 per cent of women would be happy to go on a return trip to Mars. As for a one-way trip, 40 per cent of men said they would definitely or probably want to go, compared with 20 per cent of women. This is despite the known physical risks that the six-month journey to Mars would involve. Aside from space-flight accidents, high exposure to radiation from cosmic rays could lead to DNA damage and cancer. And there may be other unanticipated dangers. A NASA study presented at the recent Federation of European Neuroscience Societies conference in Berlin, Germany, suggests that a two-year mission with just a handful of crewmates could damage the brain. The study involved 16 volunteers doing 30-day stints in a simulated Mars base with only three other people for company in their pod. By the end of the study, the participants showed slight shrinking of a brain area called the hippocampus, made up of sausage-shaped structures that are essential for forming new memories. The study found that one end of the volunteers’ left hippocampus – known as the head end – shrank by about 3 per cent on average.

9-17-18 A recount of human genes ups the number to at least 46,831
The new estimate is based on a broader definition of just what a gene is. Figuring out how many genes are in the human genetic instruction manual, or genome, isn’t as easy as scientists once thought. The very definition of a gene has changed since the completion of the Human Genome Project more than 15 years ago. Genes used to be defined as stretches of DNA that contain instructions that are copied into RNA and then turned into proteins. Researchers still don’t entirely agree on how many of these protein-coding genes there are. Estimates range from 19,901 to a new count of 21,306 published August 20 in BMC Biology. But in the last decade, researchers have learned that not all genes produce proteins. Many scientists have expanded the definition of a gene to include ones that make RNAs that, instead of being turned into proteins, have other functions in the cell. Numbers of RNA-producing genes (also called noncoding genes) are even more up in the air than protein-coding genes, says Steven Salzberg, a biostatistician at Johns Hopkins University who headed the new count. His team has already found more of these RNA genes — 25,525, including 18,484 long noncoding RNA, or lncRNA genes (SN: 12/17/11, p. 22) — than protein-coding ones, and his count doesn’t include microRNAs and other recently discovered small RNAs. Even without the small RNAs, Salzberg’s new total of human genes comes to at least 46,831. Other scientists have debated the estimate, and Salzberg says, “I will not be surprised if 10 years from now, we still don’t have an agreed-upon number.”

9-17-18 Egyptian archaeologists find sphinx at Aswan temple
Egyptian archaeologists have discovered a statue of a sphinx while draining water from the pharaonic temple of Kom Ombo near the southern city of Aswan. The antiquities ministry said the statue of the mythical beast, which measures about 28cm (11in) wide and 38cm tall, was made of sandstone. It probably dates back to the Greco-Macedonian Ptolemaic dynasty, which ruled Egypt from 305BC until 30BC. Two sandstone reliefs of King Ptolemy V were also recently found at the temple. After the coronation of Ptolemy V, who ruled from 210BC until 180BC, priests at the sacred city of Memphis issued the famous Rosetta Stone, which listed his noble deeds. Many centuries later, the stone helped experts learn to read ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. The temple of Kom Ombo, where the sphinx was found, was built during the reign of his son, Ptolemy VI. It hosted the twin gods Sobek and Haroeris. The head of Aswan's antiquities department, Abdul Moneim Saeed, said experts would carry out further studies of the statue to find out more about its purpose. The sphinx represented royal power in ancient Egypt, combining the physical strength of a lion with the worldly might of a king. The Great Sphinx by the pyramids of Giza is the largest and most famous. Standing 20m (65ft) tall and 57m long, it is believed to have been carved from an outcrop of limestone during the reign of Khafra, a king of the Fourth Dynasty who ruled from 2558BC to 2532BC.

9-14-18 A muscular dystrophy fix?
Scientists have used gene editing to correct the mutations behind a form of muscular dystrophy in dogs—a major breakthrough that raises hopes the same procedure could be used to cure the disease in humans. The most common fatal genetic condition in children, Duchenne muscular dystrophy, is caused by a genetic mutation that prevents the body from producing dystrophin, a protein essential for strong muscle fibers. If the gene is mutated, muscles—including the heart and diaphragm—waste away, reports The Guardian (U.K.). For this study, researchers used the gene-editing technology CRISPR to restore dystrophin production in four dogs. Within weeks of receiving the injection-administered treatment, the dogs had significantly improved levels of dystrophin: a 92 percent correction in the heart and a 58 percent change in the diaphragm. The researchers estimate that as little as 15 percent improvement could dramatically help people with Duchenne. They are now planning more extensive studies on dogs. “If everything were to continue smoothly,” says lead researcher Eric Olson, from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, “we might be able to anticipate moving into a human trial in a few years.”

9-14-18 Mummified ice age wolf pup and caribou found in northern Canada
The rare remains of an ice-age wolf pup and a caribou will offer insights about life in Canada's far north more than 50,000 years ago, scientists say. The creatures were discovered with intact hair, skin, and muscle tissue. They were found in 2016 by miners near Dawson City in Yukon, and handed over to palaeontologists for research and analysis. They are among the oldest mummified mammal soft tissue in the world, palaeontologist Grant Zazula said. The wolf pup is estimated to have been about eight weeks old when it died. "It's beautiful, the fur, it's got the cute little paws and tail and the curled upper lip showing its teeth. It's spectacular," Mr Zazula told the Canadian Press news agency on Thursday. The caribou remains include the torso, head, and front limbs. Both specimens are currently on display in Dawson City and will eventually be sent to the Canadian Conservation Institute near Ottawa. They are expected to help scientists understand how they lived in the environment they inhabited. Other creatures who roamed the region from that era, such as the woolly mammoth and even a species of camel, are extinct. But distant descendants of both the wolf pup and caribou can still be found wandering the Yukon.

9-14-18 Heart-tugging tales of crowdfunded cancer ‘cures’ fuel quack medicine
Media stories about people with cancer seeking controversial cures are unwittingly bolstering unscientific and potentially harmful treatments, says Michael Marshall. Crowdfunding campaigns to help people with cancer pay for expensive and ineffective alternative treatments are becoming more common. These often set six-figure targets in order to meet the fees charged for controversial therapies. Newspaper headlines are almost guaranteed and fuel the flow of money to the clinics involved. The BMJ this week reports concerns over this, based on information I gathered working for the charity Good Thinking. By sifting fundraising sites like JustGiving and GoFundMe to identify appeals from people in the UK who sought funding for unproven or disproven treatments, I was able to find more than 400 such appeals in the past three years. Those 400 have raised £7 million, the vast bulk of which pays for treatments abroad. Although the treatments in question, which include extreme diets and alkaline therapy, aren’t backed by scientific evidence, people who are desperate and vulnerable are often tempted by remarkable testimonials. They may link the high costs with a greater chance of successful treatment, encouraging friends and family to join the fundraising effort and help spread the word. For those of us who see such stories emerge in the media, and who care about following good scientific evidence, the natural reaction is to try to protect people from the potential damage caused by ineffective treatments, whether that is physical, emotional or financial. Unfortunately, any attempt to question the value of an intervention – however considerately and compassionately couched – is destined to fail. People view these therapies as beacons of hope, and their supporters don’t want to consider that their efforts to help may actually cause harm.

9-13-18 Brain features may reveal if placebo pills could treat chronic pain
Structural changes in the organ predicted who responded to sugar pills as treatment. Certain brain and personality characteristics may help predict whether a sugar pill can provide relief to someone suffering from chronic pain. In a small study, patients with persistent back pain who responded to a placebo treatment benefitted from up to a 33 percent reduction in their pain intensity. These people had distinctive features in their brains and certain personality traits, researchers report online September 12 in Nature Communications. About 20 percent of U.S. adults, or about 50 million people, had chronic pain in 2016, according to new data released September 13 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Chronic pain was defined as feeling pain on most days, if not every day, over the previous six months. Being able to identify people who respond to a placebo might mean doctors could give these individuals the option of a pain reliever that’s cheap, free of side effects and — unlike opioids, which are often prescribed to treat persistent pain — not addictive. “We need to seriously think about placebo as a treatment option, especially in chronic pain patients,” says neuroscientist and study coauthor A. Vania Apkarian of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

9-13-18 BPA-free plastics seem to disrupt sperm and egg development in mice
We are starting to replace harmful BPA in plastic bottles and food containers, but alternative chemicals might be just as bad. Many plastic bottles are sold as “BPA-free” – meaning they don’t contain bisphenol A, an ingredient known to disrupt reproduction in mice. But now it seems that the additives used in place of BPA are potentially just as harmful. The discovery could mean that the replacements, such as bisphenol S (BPS), might potentially affect people if they leach out into food or drink. There’s no evidence yet that this happens. But the new results from mice suggest that if there is a risk, it may match that posed by BPA itself. “Several of these bisphenols induce changes in the germline similar to those we reported previously for BPA,” says Patricia Hunt of Washington State University in Pullman, who helped draw attention to the BPA problem 20 years ago. Hunt’s latest discovery emerged in the same way as her BPA findings. As before, she noticed that mice kept in certain plastic cages began to show reproductive problems, such as abnormal eggs and low sperm counts. As with BPA, she found the inner surfaces to which mice were exposed were contaminated, this time with BPS that had leached out from the plastic. Hunt investigated the problem in greater detail by exposing female mice fetuses to tiny amounts of a selection of BPA replacements at the point where their eggs are developing. She also exposed male mice to the chemicals just after birth, when they begin developing sperm.

9-13-18 Bandages laser-bonded to your skin may fix wounds better than stitches
Most flesh wounds are repaired with sutures, but they cause extra damage to the skin. A bandage made of silk and gold, sealed with laser light, could solve that. Wound repair is usually about fighting fire with fire – using sutures and staples that pull the skin together but that add more damage to the surrounding tissue in the process. But the job can be done without that additional damage using a silk and gold bandage sealed with a laser. What’s more, the approach may lower the risk of infection. Kaushal Rege at Arizona State University and his colleagues developed a type of bandage that seals together wounds as effectively as sutures, but does not involve puncturing the skin. It is made of silk, which is dissolved and mixed with gold nanorods and then dried out into a thin strip. When a laser is shone on the bandage, the gold converts the light into heat. The heat causes structural changes in the molecules of the silk and in the collagen of the tissue it’s applied to, and they intertwine like Velcro, bonding the silk to the tissue. The researchers tested the silk sealant on bits of pig intestine filled with saline solution and found that the incisions closed up with lasers and the new bandage withstood seven times more fluid pressure before bursting than those closed with sutures. This makes bandage-patched wounds about as strong as the intact intestine. The new bandage also stopped bacteria from leaking between the inside and outside of the intestine. They also tested the bandages on small incisions made in the skin of live mice. After two days of healing, the laser-sealed skin had less inflammation and was stronger than skin that was sutured or glued back together.

9-13-18 Gluten may be making you tired and depressed according to a new study
Gluten might not cause gut problems in people who don’t have coeliac disease, but a study of 14 people suggests it may occasionally cause fatigue or depression. Some people say they don’t feel good after eating gluten – but perhaps that’s because of its effects on mental health rather than on the gut. Gluten is a protein in wheat that causes coeliac disease – a serious autoimmune condition – in about 1 per cent of people. A further 12 per cent of people say they experience bloating, cramps, tiredness, depression and other symptoms after they eat gluten-rich foods like bread and pasta. But researchers can’t agree whether this “non-coeliac gluten sensitivity” is a real condition or not. Several studies have seemingly debunked it by showing that sufferers report the same gluten sensitivity symptoms even if they eat an inactive substance they think is gluten. Others have found that certain carbohydrates in wheat called fructans are probably more to blame for gut symptoms. However, even if gluten doesn’t cause gut troubles, it may trigger other non-digestive symptoms in some people, says Jessica Biesiekierski at La Trobe University in Australia. Biesiekierski and her colleagues recently tested the effects of gluten on gastrointestinal and psychiatric symptoms in 14 people with self-reported gluten sensitivity. In one experiment, the participants were asked to eat a special form of yoghurt on separate days two weeks apart. On one of the days the yoghurt contained gluten, on the other day it was gluten-free.

9-13-18 Elephant birds: Who killed the largest birds that ever lived?
Prehistoric humans are under suspicion of wiping out the largest birds that ever lived after fossilised bones were discovered with telltale cut marks. According to scientists, it's evidence that the elephant birds of Madagascar were hunted and butchered for food. The remains have been dated to about 10,000 years ago. Until now, the first settlers were thought to have arrived on the island about 2,500 to 4,000 years ago. "This does push back the date of human arrival by 6,000 years, at least," says Dr James Hansford, a scientist at Zoological Society London, UK. As well as raising questions about human history, the discovery suggests a "radically different extinction theory" is required to understand the loss of the island's unique fauna. Rather than wiping out the animals in a short time, humans seem to have lived alongside the birds for thousands of years, before they went extinct around 1,000 years ago. "Humans seem to have coexisted with elephant birds and other now-extinct species for over 9,000 years, apparently with limited negative impact on biodiversity for most of this period, which offers new insights for conservation today," says Dr Hansford.

9-12-18 We may have reached Madagascar 6000 years earlier than once thought
Cut marks on giant bird bones suggest humans reached Madagascar 10,000 years ago and may have coexisted with the island’s now extinct megafauna for millennia. Humans may have first sailed to Madagascar more than 10,000 years ago – 6000 years earlier than previously thought. Archaeologists has been grappling with the question of when humans settled on Madagascar for years, because they have limited evidence to work with. Previous findings of animal bones and tools suggested humans might have been present on the island by 4000 years ago, although the evidence is disputed. James Hansford at the Zoological Society of London and his colleagues have now found evidence of an earlier human presence. On 10,000-year-old bones of extinct elephant birds — once the world’s largest bird — the researchers found cut marks left by human butchers. Nearly a decade ago, researchers recovered the elephant bird bones near the Christmas River in southern Madagascar. Carbon dating indicated they were more than 10,000 years old. Although no tools or other human-made products were discovered at the site, Hanford and his colleagues have now realised that the bones carry scratch marks that look like impacts from stone blades. Hansford compared the cut marks with previously identified tool marks on animal bones and modern butchery marks, and concluded that they were made by humans. “Tool use on fresh bones leaves unmistakable patterns,” Hansford says. “No natural erosion process could have made these marks.”

9-12-18 Butchered bird bones put humans in Madagascar 10,500 years ago
Cut marks on the remains of an ancient elephant bird pushes the timeline back 6,000 years. Humans made their mark on Madagascar around 6,000 years earlier than previously thought, scientists say. Those early migrants hunted massive, flightless birds once native to the island off southeast Africa, leaving butchery marks on the bird bones that enabled the new timeline. Cuts and fractures on three previously unearthed leg and foot bones from one of Madagascar’s extinct elephant birds resulted from the animal being killed and cut up with stone tools at least 10,500 years ago, say vertebrate paleontologist James Hansford of the Zoological Society of London and colleagues. Until now, the oldest evidence of humans on Madagascar consisted of stone tools dating to roughly 4,000 years ago. Two other island sites, dating to about 6,300 years ago and 1,100 years ago, have also produced elephant bird leg and foot bones with butchery marks that showed up on closer inspection, Hansford’s group reports online September 12 in Science Advances. Elephant birds stood about 3 to 4 meters tall and weighed around 500 kilograms, roughly the same as three full-sized refrigerators.

9-12-18 It’s an outrage that Turkey is ditching Darwin from science textbooks
Evolution is being dropped from school biology texts in Turkey. In Hungary, academic freedoms are increasingly threatened. Time to worry, says Rachael Jolley. As Turkish children go back to school, they will see significant changes to biology lessons that risk limiting their understanding of the world. In Hungary, academic freedoms are also under attack. Both changes are down to the rise of authoritarian politics and they put science education and research independence in danger. In Turkey, information about natural selection and Charles Darwin‘s theory of evolution is being removed from secondary-school biology texts for 15-year-olds as part of an ongoing move away from a secular schooling system. Announced last year, the changes are taking effect this month after an onslaught of criticism about the teaching of evolution by Turkish preachers led by Islamic creationist Adnan Oktar, who hosts his own television show. Oktar, who also runs a “Science Research Foundation”, has backed thousands of court cases against Turkish secularists, as a recent report Turkey’s Unnatural Selection in Index on Censorship magazine detailed. Pressure to change the curriculum seems to have ramped up after the failed coup in Turkey in 2016. According to figures from the Turkish Ministry of National Education, the number of religious schools in the country has risen tenfold in the past 10 years, and many children have no other options when it comes to attending a local school.

9-12-18 Is your microbiome making you sick?
Our gut bacteria can play a role in everything from sleep to IBS and how we deal with stress, and we are finally working out how to use them to improve our health. In the last 10 years, interest in the microbiome – the vast colonies of bacteria and other organisms living in our digestive system – has intensified, including its possible role in gut complaints such as irritable bowel syndrome. Studies have shown that the faecal microbiota of people with IBS differs significantly from those of people who don’t have it. Some suggest that a course of antibiotics raises the risk of developing a functional gut disorder like IBS – another hint that an imbalance in gut bacteria might be involved. Some scientists now believe that this imbalance or “dysbiosis” seen in IBS affects the immune and nervous systems, driving people’s symptoms and the way the brain perceives them. An unhealthy microbiome might even play a role in the fact that people with IBS are more prone to certain psychological problems such as stress, which in turn seems to further exacerbate their IBS symptoms. A recent study that transplanted the microbiota of humans with IBS into mice found that the mice showed not only physical symptoms associated with IBS, such as faster transit of food through the gut and an altered immune response, but behavioural ones too, such as anxiety.

9-12-18 The surprising foods that are messing with your gut
We're finally starting to understand which foods are causing tummy troubles for so many, and the culprits challenge everything we thought we knew about healthy eating. SOUTH Beach, paleo, vegan, juice cleanse… and FODMAPs. Short for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols, the name FODMAPs certainly doesn’t have instant appeal, but a diet focused on avoiding these substances is catching on with the public and the medical profession alike. The low-FODMAP diet is based not on celebrities’ waistlines or detox bunkum, but on the premise that a healthy gut leads to a happy life. So popular is it proving that there are now claims the diet could alleviate everything from indigestion to chronic fatigue. Over the past few years, we have become much more clued up about the extensive influence of the gut in health and disease, and the impact our lifestyle choices can have on what some researchers like to call our “second brain”. Gluten, a protein found in grains such as wheat, barley and rye, has taken much of the blame, with a growing number of people claiming that they have some sort of gluten intolerance. Global sales of gluten-free food rose 12.6 per cent in 2016, and specialist supermarket aisles now heave with gluten-free products, even though the idea that people can be gluten-sensitive even if they don’t have the autoimmune disorder coeliac disease has been largely debunked. Now the gut health tide is turning once again, and it appears that gut problems linked to certain foods like bread might be real for many. What’s more, the secret to dealing with these problems could fly in the face of established healthy eating advice.

9-12-18 Can a low-carb diet really help shed weight and reverse diabetes?
UK politician Tom Watson has hailed a low-carb diet for his massive weight loss and "reversal" of type 2 diabetes, and now he wants to help tackle the country's obesity crisis. UK politician Tom Watson left a lot of people scratching their heads today when he revealed he has lost 45 kilograms and “reversed” his type 2 diabetes on a low-carb diet. Although it was coupled with an exercise regime, this is not supposed to be a healthy way to eat. What’s going on? Watson’s impressive achievement cuts to the heart of the biggest controversy in nutrition science today. Mainstream medicine says diets should be low in fat and high in starchy carbohydrates such as bread, potatoes and pasta. People should especially shun saturated fat, from red meat and dairy, because this is said to raise cholesterol and so the risk of heart disease. This is the advice from the UK’s National Health Service and in most western countries. According to this orthodoxy, weight depends on the balance between calories in and calories out. If you want to lose weight you have no option but to double down on avoiding fat because it has over twice the calories per gram as the other two main food groups, carbs and protein. If people have a low-fat and low-calorie diet they do lose weight – and if they had type 2 diabetes to start with, their blood sugar levels may well return to normal. But medicine’s dirty secret is that this is not the only method.

9-12-18 A new antibiotic uses sneaky tactics to kill drug-resistant superbugs
The drug will need to go through more testing before it’s used in humans. A new molecule can kill deadly strains of common bacteria, such as Escherichia coli and Klebsiella pneumonia, that are resistant to most existing antibiotics. The drug works differently from currently available antibiotics, potentially making it harder for bacteria to develop resistance, researchers report September 12 in Nature. Most antibiotics kill bacteria by weakening their cell wall or by preventing the production of certain proteins. But bacteria have, over time, evolved ways to circumvent these drugs. And as antibiotics are used frequently in both hospitals and agriculture, resistant bacterial strains are becoming more common. Infections with multidrug-resistant microbes are particularly worrisome, because they can turn usually easy-to-treat illnesses like strep throat or urinary tract infections into deadly ordeals. The newly developed drug uses a different tactic. It inhibits a key enzyme in the cell membrane that helps the bacteria secrete proteins. “We're hitting a new target,” says study coauthor Peter Smith, an infectious disease researcher at Genentech, a biotech company based in South San Francisco, Calif. That means that strategies that bacteria use to evade existing antibiotics won’t work here, giving the molecule an edge.

9-12-18 New breast cancer gene tests will mean hard choices for many women
We are starting to learn more about how gene variants influence the risk of getting breast cancer, but deciding how to use the results raises ethical dilemmas. Imagine being told by a doctor that you have a high risk of breast cancer and that the only way to greatly reduce that risk is to have a double mastectomy. This is the awful choice some women are faced with, most famously Angelina Jolie. But what’s even worse is not to have this choice at all. At present genetic tests can only identify a tiny fraction of the women at high risk, but there’s now a way to identify far more. Deciding what to do about the results, though, will be even harder. The first gene variants linked to breast cancer were identified by studying families with a history of the disease. These families typically had mutations in genes called BRCA1 and BRCA2. These genes code for proteins that help prevent cancer by repairing DNA damage. If either protein is disabled, the risk of breast and ovarian cancers rises greatly. But not all BRCA mutations disable the proteins. Some are completely harmless. The hard part is telling which is which. Most gene variants are rare, and if only a few people in the world have a particular mutation, even studying all of those people would not be enough to tell you what it actually does. So far doctors have studied around 7000 mutations in the BRCA1 gene, yet most are classified as “variants of uncertain significance”.

9-12-18 An antioxidant might lead to new therapies for bone arthritis
An antioxidant commonly sold as a food supplement has been found to limit joint damage in mice with osteoarthritis, and may lead to new treatments for people. An antioxidant food supplement widely used to treat conditions including paracetamol poisoning has shown promise in helping mice with osteoarthritis, the most common joint disorder in the world. The only existing treatments are painkillers and drugs that reduce inflammation, but nothing halts or reverses the condition. When researchers added N-acetyl cysteine, or NAC, to the drinking water they gave to mice with osteoarthritis, it reduced the level of joint damage to that seen in healthy, control mice. The main effect of the NAC was to stifle damage to cartilage tissue in joints, which is caused by a natural process in cells called oxidative stress. Rik Lories of the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium, and his colleagues screened gene activity in cartilage samples from people and mice with osteoarthritis. They discovered depleted levels of a protein called ANP32A. Further gene-profiling experiments in diseased and healthy joint cartilage cells revealed that ANP32A drives production of a natural enzyme which halts oxidative stress. This suggests oxidative stress in cartilage cells is a key cause of osteoarthritis – and that a therapy to neutralise the problem could treat the condition. Lories and his team decided to find out using NAC – an antioxidant which neutralises oxidative stress. When the researchers bred mice unable to make ANP32A, the animals developed severe osteoarthritis. But treating them with NAC healed their joints, reducing cartilage damage to levels seen in healthy control animals.

9-12-18 Why creating a chemical brain will be how we understand consciousness
Unorthodox chemist Lee Cronin is leading a radical quest to use chemistry to explain consciousness and create artificial life. WHEN Lee Cronin was 9 he was given a Sinclair ZX81 computer and a chemistry set. Unlike most children, Cronin imagined how great it would be if the two things could be combined to make a programmable chemical computer. Now 45 and the Regius Chair of Chemistry at the University of Glasgow, Cronin leads a research team of more than 50 people, but his childhood obsessions remain. He is constructing chemical brains, and has ambitions to create artificial life – using a radical new approach. How far have you got? In my lab I’m creating a physical model of the world in which you have simple rocks and simple organic molecules and then develop a way of getting from there to genetics. I want to understand what the difference is between stuff that is just complicated to make, such as an arrangement of molecules, and stuff that requires information to make, such as basic cellular machinery. We’re looking for molecules that have high molecular weight, that are abundant and that require more information to make them than just a random mess. If we start to see such molecules forming, what does it mean? It can’t be alive according to standard definitions of life, and it’s happening through random chemistry, but if the selected molecules direct the creation of the next, increasingly complex molecules… isn’t that like life? I don’t have proof that this can happen yet, but my guess is that all matter wants to be Darwinian, and we’ll get a selfish molecule that will try to convert all the other molecules to be it.

9-12-18 Iran’s Pompeii: Astounding story of a massacre buried for millennia
The ancient town of Hasanlu was under savage attack when a chance event meant every detail was frozen in time. Finally the story can be told, and the assailants unmasked. THE Iron Age citadel of Hasanlu was grand, with paved streets and palatial homes that rose two, sometimes three, storeys high around columned courtyards. Its people were rich, and lived off fertile lands generously irrigated by Iran’s Lake Urmia. Then they were massacred. The town was destroyed just before 800 BC in a brutal assault. Now, finally, the remarkable story of Hasanlu is being pieced together from artefacts gathered half a century ago. These are revealing a unique snapshot of history. Here, as in the ancient Roman city of Pompeii, time stopped short – only instead of capturing a natural disaster, Hasanlu captures the reality of Iron Age warfare in all its brutal detail. Yet, while everyone knows about Pompeii, few have heard of Hasanlu. That is set to change. In 1956, a young American archaeologist called Robert Dyson travelled to Iran, seeking a site where he could study the origins of sedentary life and farming. He singled out a mound, about 500 metres in diameter and 25 metres high, that stood in a valley at the south end of Lake Urmia. Previous digs had revealed it to be entirely artificial, the result of millennia of dust, dirt and debris building up around a succession of settlements that had occupied the spot starting in 5000 or 6000 BC. It was known locally as Hasanlu.

9-12-18 World’s first drawing is a red crayon doodle made 73,000 years ago
Early humans made red ochre crayon to draw lines on small rock 73,000 years ago. It was probably part of a larger artwork. FROM a cursory glance, the lines on this small, brown stone could be mistaken for a natural formation. In fact, it is the first known drawing ever made by human hands. “This is the beginnings of cultural modernity and sophisticated behaviour,” says Colin Renfrew at the University of Cambridge, who was not involved in its discovery. “You would be astonished if you found another animal species producing something like that. It’s the origins of humankind.” Laboratory analysis shows that the dark red lines, forming a rough, cross-hatched pattern, must have been drawn with a chunk of soft, coloured stone called ochre, possibly one whittled into a simple crayon. Attempts to recreate the pattern using the same materials show that the lines were no careless scrawls but took deliberate effort. “You have to use a lot of pressure and control or it doesn’t leave enough ochre,” says Christopher Henshilwood at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. Henshilwood and his colleagues dug up the drawing in a South African cave from layers of earth dated to about 73,000 years ago. This makes it nearly twice as old as any previously found Stone Age drawings or paintings by our own species – although it was recently discovered that Neanderthals were painting caves in Spain 64,000 years ago.

9-12-18 This South African cave stone may bear the world’s oldest drawing
The 73,000-year-old line design could have had special meaning for its makers, researchers say. A red, crosshatched design adorning a rock from a South African cave may take the prize as the oldest known drawing. Ancient humans sketched the line pattern around 73,000 years ago by running a chunk of pigment across a smoothed section of stone in Blombos Cave, scientists say. Until now, the earliest drawings dated to roughly 40,000 years ago on cave walls in Europe and Indonesia. The discovery “helps round out the argument that Homo sapiens [at Blombos Cave] behaved essentially like us before 70,000 years ago,” says archaeologist Christopher Henshilwood of the University of Bergen in Norway. His team noticed the ancient drawing while examining thousands of stone fragments and tools excavated in 2011 from cave sediment. Other finds have included 100,000- to 70,000-year-old pigment chunks engraved with crosshatched and line designs (SN Online: 6/12/09), 100,000-year-old abalone shells containing remnants of a pigment-infused paint (SN: 11/19/11, p. 16) and shell beads from around the same time. The faded pattern consists of six upward-oriented lines crossed at an angle by three slightly curved lines, the researchers report online September 12 in Nature. Microscopic and chemical analyses showed that the lines were composed of a reddish, earthy pigment known as ocher.

9-12-18 'Oldest known drawing' found on tiny rock in South Africa
Scientists say they have discovered humanity's oldest known drawing on a small fragment of rock in South Africa. The drawing is about 73,000 years old, and shows cross-hatch lines sketched onto stone with red ochre pigment. Scientists discovered the small fragment of the drawing - which some say looks a bit like a hashtag - in Blombos Cave on the southern coast. The find is "a prime indicator of modern cognition" in our species, the report says. While scientists have found older engravings around the world, research published on Wednesday in the journal Nature says the lines on this stone mark the first abstract drawing. The article says the ancient artist used an "ochre crayon" to etch it onto the stone. Humanity has used ochre, a clay earth pigment, for at least 285,000 years. The drawing was "probably more complex" in its entirety, archaeologist Christopher Henshilwood told Reuters. "The abrupt termination of all lines on the fragment edges indicates that the pattern originally extended over a larger surface," he said.

9-12-18 You should soothe babies who wake at night – it speeds sleep training
Parents may be told to let babies “cry it out” if they wake at night – but comforting very young infants who wake helps them develop a better night-time routine. When an ear-piercing cry shatters a peaceful night, go ahead and pick the baby up. Comforting an infant under three-months of age can help reduce their tendency to wake up at night as they grow older. Beyond the three-month mark, though, parents’ interventions may have little impact on a baby’s sleeping habits. It takes time for babies to learn to sleep through the night. To better understand parents’ role in the process, Sabrina Voltaire at Pennsylvania State University in University Park, and her colleagues, followed 107 families with newborns for nine months. Each family recorded the baby’s night waking frequency daily for one week before the child was three months, six months and nine months old. Researchers also installed cameras in families’ bedrooms for one night during the reporting week to observe parents’ interventions when babies woke up and cried. Voltaire found the babies whose parents responded promptly to their night wakings before they turned three months old experienced a faster decline in their tendency to wake at night. But after the first three months, babies showed a similar pace of sleep development whether or not parents intervened when they woke. The findings contradict the popular “cry it out” approach – letting babies cry until they fall back to sleep. Many parenting books recommend this method under the assumption that prompt intervention when a baby cries at night may encourage infants to keep waking up. “Such an assumption could not be substantiated in this study,” Voltaire and her colleagues write.


ANIMAL INTELLIGENCE and ZOOLOGY

9-17-18 Honeybee swarms act like superorganisms to stay together in high winds
A honeybee swarm behaves like a superorganism by changing shape in response to physical stress – although doing so means individuals take on a greater burden. A swarm of honeybees acts like a superorganism that responds to physical stress by changing shape – even though doing so comes at a physical cost to some individuals. Colonies of European honeybees reproduce by releasing a queen from the nest accompanied by an entourage of colony workers. This swarm often attaches itself to the underside of a tree branch – taking on the shape of an inverted cone with the queen safely at the centre – while scout bees search for a good place to build a new nest. Researchers already know that the cone can withstand temperature changes and rain by changing its shape and appearance. During high winds the cone changes too, typically becoming flatter and hugging closer to the underside of the branch. To understand how individual bees work together to generate a swarm-wide response, Orit Peleg at Harvard University and his colleagues attached a bee cluster to the underside of a board hanging in their laboratory and shook the board horizontally to mimic the physical stress of high winds.

9-17-18 Here’s how clumps of honeybees may survive blowing in the wind
In lab tests, the insects adjust their positions to flatten out the cluster and keep it stable. A stiff breeze is no match for a clump of honeybees, and now scientists are beginning to understand why. When scouting out a new home, the bees tend to cluster together on tree branches or other surfaces, forming large, hanging clumps which help keep the insects safe from the elements. To keep the clump together, individual honeybees change their positions, fine-tuning the cluster’s shape based on external forces, a new study finds. That could help bees deal with such disturbances as wind shaking the branches. A team of scientists built a movable platform with a caged queen in the center, around which honeybees clustered in a hanging bunch. When the researchers shook the platform back and forth, bees moved upward, flattening out the clump and lessening its swaying, the team reports September 17 in Nature Physics. The insects, the scientists hypothesized, might be moving based on the strain — how much each bee is pulled apart from its neighbors as the cluster swings. So the researchers made a computer simulation of a bee cluster to determine how the bees decided where to move.

9-15-18 Prickly cactus species 'under threat'
The iconic cactus plant is veering into trouble say researchers. The most serious problem is illegal smuggling. Despite the international ban on uncontrolled trade in cacti, policing the smuggling faces many problems and semi-professional hunters continue to uproot plants to order, stealing from National Parks, Indian Reservations, but more significantly from the wild. In southern Spain, the plants are being devastated by the cochineal beetle. But the picture there is mirrored across other regions of the world. As Anton Brugger strides purposefully around his plantation set on the side of a steep hill in Almeria, southern Spain, he casts his gaze over the more than 10,000 cacti artfully arranged in terraces over two hectares. "When visitors come here and see the really huge cacti such as Madagascar's Alluaudia procera, which grows to about 10m (33 feet), they are inspired to buy small versions in the nursery," explains the Austrian cactus afficionado. "We tell them about the plight of the cactus in many parts of the world and they are astonished." Their astonishment stems from the perceived hardy nature of the cactus able to withstand heat, drought and poor soil. But the Iberian peninsula's emblematic prickly pear is absent from Brugger's nursery. (Webmaster's comment: Most of Earth's life is under threat by mankind!)

9-14-18 ‘Poached’ offers a deep, disturbing look into the illegal wildlife trade
A new book offers a firsthand account of the battle between traffickers and conservationists. Perhaps the most unsettling scene in Poached, by science journalist Rachel Love Nuwer, comes early in the book, in a fancy restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. The author and two friends sit down and are handed leather-bound menus offering roasted civet, fried tortoise, stewed pangolin and other delicacies made from rare or endangered species. The trio makes an abrupt exit, but only after seeing a live cobra gutted at one table and a still-living civet brought out to feed another group of diners. Statistics on the illegal wildlife trade can be mind-numbing. Rhinos have dwindled to just 30,000 animals globally and tigers to fewer than 4,000. Over a million pangolins — scaly anteaters found in Africa and Asia — have been killed in the last 10 years. Just last month came a report from the Humane Society of the United States and the Humane Society International that the United States imported some 40,000 giraffe parts, from about 4,000 animals, between 2006 and 2015. But in Poached, Nuwer gives readers a firsthand view of what the illegal wildlife trade is like on the ground and what, if anything, can be done to stop it. She accompanies a poacher into the U Minh forest of Vietnam in search of water monitors, cobras and civets. (Thankfully, they don’t find any.) She has dinner with a man who keeps a rhino horn in an Oreo tin. She visits a zoo in Japan that may have helped popularize trade in the rare earless monitor lizard. And she attends numerous meetings of wildlife officials and conservationists as they attempt to fight back against the illegal trade.

9-13-18 A new map reveals the causes of forest loss worldwide
Most forest loss occurring in the world leaves the possibility of trees growing back. Of the roughly 3 million square kilometers of forest lost worldwide from 2001 to 2015, a new analysis suggests that 27 percent of that loss was permanent — the result of land being converted for industrial agriculture to meet global demand for products such as soy, timber, beef and palm oil. The other 73 percent of deforestation during that time was caused by activities where trees were intended to grow back, including sustainable forestry, subsistence farming and wildfires, researchers report in the Sept. 14 Science. Understanding why forests are shrinking is important because the ecological impacts of permanent forest destruction are different from that of more temporary losses, says study coauthor Matthew Hansen, a remote sensing scientist at the University of Maryland in College Park. The analysis dives deeper into data published in 2013 by Hansen and others, which revealed global forest losses without tracking what caused those declines. Here, scientists developed a computer program that analyzed satellite pictures to determine what was driving changes in forest size.

9-13-18 Half the planet should be set aside for wildlife – to save ourselves
If we want to avoid extinctions and preserve the ecosystems all life depends on, half of the Earth’s land and oceans should be protected by 2050, say biologists. If we want to avoid mass extinctions and preserve the ecosystems all plants and animals depend on, governments should protect a third of the oceans and land by 2030 and half by 2050, with a focus on areas of high biodiversity. So say leading biologists in an editorial in the journal Science this week. It’s not just about saving wildlife, says Jonathan Baillie of the National Geographic Society, one of the authors. It’s also about saving ourselves. “We are learning more and more that the large areas that remain are important for providing services for all life,” he says. “The forests, for example, are critical for absorbing and storing carbon.” At present, just 3.6 per cent of the planet’s oceans and 14.7 per cent of the land is protected by law. At the 2010 Nagoya Conference of the Convention on Biological Diversity, governments agreed to protect 10 per cent of the oceans and 17 per cent of land. But this isn’t nearly enough, says Baillie. He and his coauthor, Ya-Ping Zhang of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, want governments to set much bigger targets at the next major conference in 2020. “We have to drastically increase our ambition if we want to avoid an extinction crisis and if we want to maintain the ecosystem services that we currently benefit from,” says Baillie. “The trends are in a positive direction, it’s just we have to move much faster.”

9-13-18 'A single piece of plastic' can kill sea turtles, says study
A new study suggests that ingesting even a single piece of plastic can be deadly for sea turtles. Researchers found there was a one in five chance of death for a turtle who consumed just one item - rising to 50% for 14 pieces. The team found that younger turtles are at a higher risk of dying from exposure to plastic than adults. The authors say their research raises concerns over the long term survival of some turtle species. The never ending surge of plastic into the world's oceans is taking an increasing toll on iconic marine species. While it has been relatively straightforward for researchers to document the threat to animals who become entangled in plastic and drown, determining the impact of consumed plastic is much harder. The authors of this study estimate that around half of all the sea turtles on the planet have ingested plastic - this rises to 90% among juvenile green sea turtles off the coast of Brazil. To determine how this exposure was impacting the species, the researchers looked at post mortem reports and animal stranding records relating to sea turtles in Queensland. From that information they were able to deduce the role of plastic in causing death - if an animal had ingested more than 200 pieces of plastic, death was inevitable. Fourteen pieces meant a 50% chance of dying - while one piece gave a 22% chance of mortality.

9-13-18 Birds can learn to understand the meanings of other species’ calls
The superb fairy-wren takes advantage of the vigilance of others by teaching itself to recognise the alarm calls sent out by different species. When a bird tweets an alarm call it’s not necessarily just its family members who get the message. Some birds respond to an alarm even if it comes from a member of a different bird species – and now we have a better idea of how they learn to do so. Robert Magrath at the Australian National University in Canberra and his colleagues played a computer-generated “buzz” to eight superb fairy-wrens in a nearby botanic gardens. None of the birds flew away and sought cover after hearing the sound. Next, over the course of two to three days, the researchers replayed the computer buzz between 10 and 12 times – but as part of a chorus of alarm calls from bird species that live alongside the fairy wrens. Previous studies have shown fairy-wrens will seek cover when they hear alarm calls from the other birds in their environment. By the end of this “training” period, Magrath and his colleagues found that about 80% of the birds flew away and hid if they heard the computer buzz on its own. In other words, they had learned that the unfamiliar buzz meant “danger” simply by associating it with familiar alarm calls. In a previous experiment, Magrath taught fairy-wrens to recognize unfamiliar sounds as alarm calls by playing the calls while the birds could see images of a predator. This is called “asocial learning” because the fairy-wrens learned from direct experience to associate the unfamiliar sound with the appearance of a predator.

9-12-18 The secret life of fungi: Ten fascinating facts
They're all around us, in the soil, our bodies and the air, but are often too small to be seen with the naked eye. They provide medicines and food but also wreak havoc by causing plant and animal diseases. According to the first big assessment of the state of the world's fungi, the fungal kingdom is vital to life on Earth. Yet, more than 90% of the estimated 3.8 million fungi in the world are currently unknown to science. "It's such an interesting set of organisms and we really know so little about them," says Prof Kathy Willis, director of science at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, which led the report. "They're really weird organisms with the most bizarre life cycle. And yet when you understand their role in the Earth's ecosystem, you realise that they underpin life on Earth." Many people are familiar with edible mushrooms or the mould behind penicillin. But fungi have a range of vital roles, from helping plants draw water and nutrients from the soil to medicines that can lower blood cholesterol or enable organ transplants. Fungi also hold promise for breaking down plastics and generating new types of biofuels. But they have a darker side: devastating trees, crops and other plants across the world, and wiping out animals such as amphibians. "They can be good and also bad at the same time," she says. "The same fungus, it can be seen as a detrimental thing - it can be bad - but also can have a lot of potential and have a lot of solutions." The report sheds light on a number of gaps in our knowledge of a group of organisms that may hold the answers to food security. The fungal kingdom contains some of the most damaging crop pathogens. But fungi also recycle nutrients and play a role in the regulation of carbon dioxide levels. "We ignore fungi at our peril," says Prof Willis. "This is a kingdom we have to start to take seriously, especially with climate change and all the other challenges that we're being faced with."

9-12-18 Peaceful basking sharks can leap just as powerfully as great whites
Basking sharks are slow movers that eat zooplankton, but sometimes they jump out of the water like ferocious great white sharks - and we don't know why. Gliding through the ocean and feeding on tiny animals, the basking shark seems far more peaceful than its ferocious relative the great white shark. But it turns out languid basking sharks can swim as fast and jump out of the water as high as great whites if they so choose. Great white sharks are known to jump out of the water – or breach – to capture agile seals and otters. By comparison, basking sharks eat mostly zooplankton that drift into their 1 metre wide megamouths. They are also much larger than great whites, so it’s a mystery why they would expand effort on breaching. But for some reason, they do. In an attempt to understand the unusual behaviour, Jonathan Houghton at Queen’s University in Belfast, and his colleagues placed a monitoring device on an 8-meter-long, 2.7-tonne basking shark swimming near Ireland and captured a breaching event after three hours. Houghton also filmed the breaching behaviours of 20 basking sharks from the shore. The footage showed giant basking sharks leaping near vertically to about 1.2 metres above the water surface. Houghton estimates the sharks must have accelerated to a speed of 18 kilometres per hour for breaching – the same speed reached by white sharks. The entire breaching event, from bursting to recovery, would cost an 8-metre-long basking shark 45 to 51 kilocalories – a greater energy expenditure than white sharks incur when they breach. But because basking sharks are almost twice the size of great whites, the researchers concluded that the two species’ energy spent per kilogram of body weight are comparable.