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

9-17-19 What it's like to be a rabbi in a time of rising anti-Semitism
'Just because there's hatred out there doesn't mean that we should diminish our identity' This wasn't something they taught in rabbinical school. Rabbi Lindy Reznick studied the Torah, Jewish law, and ethics, and even spent a year learning all three in Israel, but never listened to a lecture or wrote a dissertation about how to lead a congregation during a time of rising anti-Semitic violence and increased public hate speech. "I never imagined that the challenges I'm dealing with today would be the challenges I was actually going to face," Reznick tells The Week. The world has changed in the decade since she completed her studies. Last summer, Reznick became the rabbi of Congregation Emanu El in Redlands, California, about an hour's drive from Los Angeles. The reform congregation's roots run deep in San Bernardino County, with services first held in the 1850s before an official charter was granted in 1891. Reznick is the first female rabbi to head Emanu El in its 128-year history. "It's something that I've always wanted," she says. "To me, it's a calling, it's not just a job." Growing up in Santa Monica, Reznick never felt different; the westside of Los Angeles has a sizable Jewish population — some religious, others secular and cultural — and while she knew about anti-Semitism, it wasn't something she experienced. Now, she's had to navigate her congregation through waves of anti-Jewish violence — the shooting in October at Pittsburgh's Tree of Life synagogue, which left 11 people dead, and the shooting at Chabad of Poway on April 27, where one woman lost her life after stepping between the gunman and her rabbi. The Anti-Defamation League says the Tree of Life shooting was the deadliest attack against Jews in United States history. The FBI's most recent data on hate crimes is from 2017, and that year, of the 1,749 known victims, 58.1 percent were Jewish. In its 2018 audit of anti-Semitic incidents, the Anti-Defamation League found there were 1,879 attacks against Jews and Jewish institutions, the third-highest year on record since the organization began tracking in the 1970s. "It's hard," Reznick says. "There's a lot of fear, a lot of fear of expressing our Judaism outwardly, a lot of fear about presence in the synagogue and in Jewish life. My goal with my community and with fellow Jews I meet is to say just because there's hatred out there doesn't mean that we should diminish our identity. If anything, we should be out in the community more, educating, reaching out, teaching, talking to people."

9-17-19 Most Americans Say Segregation in Schools a Serious Problem
A majority of Americans say that racial segregation in U.S. public schools is a "very" (21%) or "moderately serious" (36%) problem. A slim majority of whites (52%) consider school segregation a serious problem, but the view is even more widespread among U.S. blacks (68%) and Hispanics (65%). Democrats (75%) are more than twice as likely as Republicans (35%) to say that segregation in schools is serious, with the views of political independents falling about halfway in between.

  • Nonwhites more likely than whites to say segregation is a serious problem
  • Small majority says government should take action to reduce segregation
  • Busing is the least favored proposal to reduce segregation in schools

9-16-19 Purdue Pharma files for bankruptcy in the US
US drug-maker Purdue Pharma has filed for bankruptcy protection, as part of efforts to deal with thousands of lawsuits that accuse the firm of fuelling the US opioid crisis. The company's board approved the Chapter 11 filing on Sunday. The move is designed in part to resolve more than 2,600 lawsuits filed against Purdue over its alleged role in the opioid epidemic. Last week, the firm reached a tentative deal to settle most of those lawsuits. Purdue had been facing legal action from thousands of cities and counties across the US. The lawsuits claimed that Purdue and its owners, the billionaire Sackler family, had aggressively marketed the prescription painkiller OxyContin, while at the same time misleading doctors and patients over addiction and overdose risks. The drugmaker has reached a deal with 24 states and five US territories, but another two dozen states remain opposed to the proposed settlement. In a statement reported by Reuters, members of the Sackler family said: "It is our hope the bankruptcy reorganisation process that is now under way will end our ownership of Purdue and ensure its assets are dedicated for the public benefit." Chapter 11, a section of the US Bankruptcy Code, postpones a US company's obligations to its creditors, giving it time to reorganise its debts or sell parts of the business. Under the terms of the deal, Purdue is to be dissolved and the money raised - estimated to be about $10bn-$12bn (£8bn-£9.7bn), including a minimum cash contribution of $3bn from the Sackler family - will go towards settling the lawsuits. The Sacklers have also offered an additional $1.5bn from the eventual sale of Mundipharma, another pharmaceutical firm owned by the family. (Webmaster's comment: There is criminal liability here so why has no one been arrested and charged?)

9-15-19 Virginia removes requirement to declare race on marriage forms
Couples in the US state of Virginia will no longer have to declare their race in order to get a marriage certificate, its attorney-general says. Mark Herring issued new legal guidance after three couples filed a lawsuit calling the statute "unconstitutional" and "reflective of a racist past". Some options on forms included Aryan, Moor, Octoroon and Mulatto. A lawyer for the couples welcomed the move but said they wanted to fight on to remove the law altogether. Mr Herring issued the guidance in emails on Friday to legal clerks and the media. Marriage licence applicants can now choose to opt out of the question stating their race. Mr Herring said in a statement: "We were happy to help quickly resolve this issue and get these couples what they asked for. These changes will ensure that no Virginian will be forced to label themselves to get married." He said the guidance followed the principle "that statutes should be construed to avoid any conflict with the constitution". He added: "I appreciate the courage these couples showed in raising this issue, and I wish them all the best in their lives together." The three couples in the lawsuit are Brandyn Churchill and Sophie Rogers; Ashley Ramkishun and Samuel Sarfo; and Amelia Spencer and Kendall Poole. Lawyer Victor M Glasberg filed the lawsuit on their behalf and said it should continue until the law was ruled unconstitutional. He told the Washington Post the new guidance was "welcome, it's much appreciated, and it's the right thing to do as an initial response. But the statute is obnoxious and... we need to get rid of the statute". Ms Ramkishun told the paper: "It doesn't resolve the fact that there's still a law in place in Virginia. The state could change its mind at any point in regards to whether the race question is optional or not." Mr Churchill told the BBC that when he and Ms Rogers applied for a licence in Rockbridge County they found that "many of the categories were outdated, offensive racist terms which have no place in the 21st Century. We said we were uncomfortable and left". Virginia is one of eight states in the US with the legal requirement to identify race prior to marriage.

9-14-19 Sackler family 'funnelled $1bn into different bank accounts'
The billionaire Sackler family "funnelled" at least $1bn (£800m) to different banks, including accounts in Switzerland, officials said. The Sacklers own Purdue Pharma, which is accused of fuelling the US opioid crisis through drugs like OxyContin. Purdue is currently facing legal action brought by more than 2,000 plaintiffs, including almost two dozen US states. Forbes estimates the Sacklers are worth $13bn, but many states claim the family has more money hidden abroad. New York State Attorney General Letitia James said that she has requested records from 33 financial institutions. However, the $1bn in wire transfers were revealed in records from just one institution. "Records from one financial institution alone have shown approximately $1 billion in wire transfers between the Sacklers, entities they control and different financial institutions, including those that have funnelled funds into Swiss bank accounts," Ms James said, confirming claims first reported in the New York Times. She did not name the financial institutions involved. In response, a spokesperson for Mortimer DA Sackler, a former board member for the company, said in a statement to US media that there was "nothing newsworthy about these decade-old transfers, which were perfectly legal and appropriate in every respect". "This is a cynical attempt by a hostile AG's office to generate defamatory headlines to try to torpedo a mutually beneficial settlement that is supported by so many other states and would result in billions of dollars going to communities and individuals across the country that need help," the spokesperson added. It was reported on Thursday that Purdue Pharma reached a tentative multi-billion dollar agreement to settle the lawsuits against it. According to the draft agreement, the Sacklers are expected to give up control of Purdue Pharma and personally contribute $3bn to the settlement. (Webmaster's comment: 200 dead everyday and no criminal procedings. Slakers need to be in prison!)

9-13-19 Autos: White House, DOJ fight deal to cut emissions
The Trump administration launched a legal war last week against California and much of the auto industry, “punishing two of the major opponents of the president’s efforts to roll back Obama-era regulations,” said Zack Colman in Politico?.com. Four automakers—Ford, Honda, BMW, and Volkswagen—signed a deal with California in July to cut their cars’ greenhouse gas emissions. Now federal agencies have moved to strip California of its long-standing right to set pollution rules, and the Department of Justice has launched an antitrust probe of the carmakers. Auto manufacturers signed on to the standards in part to avoid having two sets of rules, one for California and another for the rest of the United States. While the deal calls for “less of a reduction than required by the Obama rules,” it has run into scorn from President Trump, who derided the “politically correct Auto Companies.” The legal assault “represents a striking escalation of pressure” from the administration. The role of the Justice Department in particular elicited fury from Democrats; former California Gov. Jerry Brown said it “smacks of Stalinism.” By opposing cleaner cars, the Trump administration is once again “fanning the flames” of global warming, said The New York Times in an editorial. But what’s really objectionable is the use of the Justice Department in “a nakedly political abuse of authority.” The DOJ says the four automakers may have colluded by collectively agreeing to California’s tougher standards, “which could result in higher prices for new cars and trucks.” Yet the same DOJ had no issue with T-Mobile’s acquisition of Sprint, a deal more “likely to harm mobile phone customers and workers.” The difference? Those companies didn’t defy and embarrass Trump. The president is making it clear he“will use the power of the state to bend companies to his will,” said Joe Nocera in Bloomberg?.com. If the automakers had joined together to sign on to Trump’s plan, instead of California’s, would the administration’s “antitrust minions” be launching an investigation? Obviously not. Trump is attacking the automakers to further his war with California, which voted overwhelmingly against him, and it’s put automakers “in an awful spot.” Companies need to know they can count on the rule of law. Instead, they know they can be investigated “for political reasons” by a government of “thugs.”

9-13-19 Will Trump deport U.S. workers too?
“Reliance on public benefits has become a fact of life” for many hardworking Americans, said Brigid Schulte. “Global economic shifts, tax policies, technology, waning union power, and the prioritization of corporate profit over wages” have eroded the value of our working-class jobs. The Trump administration seeks to deny citizenship to immigrants who accept public assistance such as food stamps and Medicaid. The administration says it wants immigrants who “can stand on their own two feet.” But if the same rules applied to all Americans, lots of working citizens would be fighting to stay here. A 2016 study found that more than 70 percent of all non-elderly public beneficiaries are working families or individuals, not unemployed people. Nearly half hold full-time jobs—many as fast-food workers, child-care workers, or home health aides. Indeed, even 23,000 military service members rely on food stamps each year, one reason “the Defense Department fought—successfully—to exempt active-duty military and reserve forces from the new public charge rule.” More and more people are turning to safety-net programs because the economy is stacked against them. “Corporations are foisting the burden of supporting workers—regardless of their country of origin—onto taxpayers, and government is acquiescing.”

9-13-19 Corruption: How Trump pockets public funds
President Trump’s corruption has reached “absurd and Veep-esque” proportions, said Tim Miller in TheBulwark?.com. The latest example of his brazen grifting was his “suggestion” that Vice President Mike Pence and his retinue rent rooms at Trump’s golf resort in Doonbeg, Ireland, while attending official meetings in Dublin—more than three hours away. Recently, the president proposed his resort in Doral, Fla., as the site of next year’s G-7 summit, and he’s spent upwards of $100 million in taxpayer money on 200-plus golf outings to his properties. That’s all on top of the “tens if not hundreds of millions” corporate executives, evangelical organizations, and at least 22 foreign governments have spent at his Washington, D.C., and other hotels “to curry favor.” Do Americans understand Among Trump’s allies, in fact, “it has become almost mandatory to hold events at Trump properties so the boss can dip his beak,” said Paul Waldman in The Washington Post. Since Trump’s inauguration, Republican campaigns and organizations have spent nearly $5 million at his properties. Attorney General William Barr just booked the Trump International Hotel in Washington for a $30,000 holiday party he’s paying for himself. If you want to work for this president, or enjoy his favor, you better “open your wallet. Trump demands tribute.” So far, Trump’s “use of higher office for personal enrichment” has been obscured by his “flashier scandals,” said Matt Stieb in NYMag.com. But Pence’s Ireland trip, as well as allegations that Trump ordered the Air Force Guard “to throw money toward” his Turnberry golf course and hotel in Scotland, could bring matters to the forefront. Congress is now investigating why the military spent $11 million for fuel at a debt-ridden airstrip 30 minutes from the resort when it could’ve been bought “substantially cheaper” at an allied base. The suspicion is that Trump is keeping “a key travel hub” for his Turnberry property afloat with Air Force money.

9-13-19 ‘Sharpiegate’: Is Trump at war with reality?
Every day the president supplies fresh evidence of “how spectacularly ignorant, vainglorious, and obsessive he can be,” said Eugene Robinson in The Washington Post. But Trump’s Sharpie-doctored map of Hurricane Dorian’s path should make it “into the Smithsonian.” The saga began last week, when Trump tweeted that Alabama and four other Southern states “will most likely be hit (much) harder” by the hurricane than previously forecast. Dorian, by that point, was already veering north, and the Birmingham branch of the National Weather Service quickly reassured residents that “Alabama will NOT see any impacts from #Dorian.” Being constitutionally “incapable of admitting even the slightest error,” Trump produced an official NWS map of Dorian’s likely route onto which someone—he said he didn’t know who—had drawn a crude loop in black Sharpie that extended Dorian’s path to touch a corner of Alabama. Given the actual devastation wreaked by the hurricane, Trump’s Sharpie high jinks “might not seem like a big deal,” said Michael Cohen in The Boston Globe. But this bizarre episode comes from the same deep flaw that led Trump to insist that millions of illegal immigrants voted in the 2016 election, that North Korea’s tyrant Kim Jong Un is willing to denuclearize, that Russian election interference was a hoax, and that China is paying the tariffs his trade war has imposed on Americans. Trump’s “frightening inability to accept and acknowledge reality” is a “recipe for disaster.” Trump was indeed wrong, said Chas Danner in NYMag.com. By the time of his fateful tweet, forecasters had said that Alabama was conclusively out of danger, and he needlessly frightened state residents. More troubling still is that to hide his error, Trump clumsily altered an official weather map—a crime punishable by 90 days in jail—and then ordered government staff to cover for him. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross reportedly threatened to fire officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration if they didn’t support Trump’s original tweet—which several reluctantly did. That triggered a fierce backlash among forecasters inside and outside of NOAA, with one 40-year weather service employee saying he’d “never, ever felt political pressure on a goddamn weather forecast.” He added: “We’re in true banana republic territory.”

9-13-19 Death and devastation in Bahamas after Dorian
More than 70,000 Bahamians were left homeless and pleading for food, water, and other assistance after Hurricane Dorian’s Category 5 winds flattened two of the country’s islands, leaving them strewn with beached boats, splintered houses, and dozens, possibly hundreds, of bodies. Amid reports that Bahamians were not getting enough emergency aid and were trying to flee the Abacos and Grand Bahama islands, President Trump said the U.S. would not welcome evacuees without proper documentation, warning of the risk of admitting “very bad people,” including “drug dealers” and “gang members.” Hours earlier, Customs and Border Protection acting chief Mark Morgan blamed “confusion” after more than 100 survivors without U.S. visas were ordered off a ferry traveling to Fort Lauderdale. He said Bahamians could enter “whether you have travel documents or not.” Adding to the confusion, the Department of Homeland Security later said evacuees traveling by ship required valid passports and travel visas, while visa waivers could be granted to some who fly to the U.S. Dorian left parts of the Bahamas looking like “nuclear bombs [had been] dropped on them,” said Mark Green, head of the U.S. Agency for International Development. USAID pledged $2.8 million in humanitarian assistance, and the United Nations $1 million. While Dorian mostly missed the U.S., some 135,000 people on North Carolina’s Outer Banks lost power and hundreds of homes were flooded. In the Bahamas, relief efforts face immense logistical challenges, with airports and roads torn apart. “It is impossible to prepare for an apocalypse,” said Bahamian Health Minister Duane Sands. Even “in the wake of disaster,” Trump can’t curb his scorn of “people from largely black countries,” said Eugene Scott in Washington?Post.com. We got a taste of this bigotry in 2018 when the president reportedly told a bipartisan group of lawmakers that he didn’t want any more immigrants from “shithole countries,” adding, “Why do we need more Haitians?” For our president, skin color seems to be a deciding factor in whether a person fleeing devastation and misery deserves aid and sanctuary.

9-13-19 The real price of Trump’s wall
Now we see the “collateral damage” of President Trump’s obsession with building a border wall, said The Washington Post in an editorial. Trump is seizing $3.6 billion in congressionally approved military construction funds to build 450 miles of wall in defiance of Congress, using the dubious national emergency he declared at the southern border as legal justification. That includes hundreds of millions of dollars allotted to build and renovate schools for children on American military bases. “Sorry, kids: Mr. Trump wants his wall—the one it turns out Mexico is not paying for.” Planned improvements at the U.S. Military Academy’s engineering center have also been scrapped. All told, 127 projects have been effectively defunded in nearly half the states. America’s overseas territories and bases have been hit the hardest. Puerto Rico will lose $400 million earmarked for five hurricane repair projects. “More than $700 million was snatched from sites in Europe, mainly for projects designed to protect the continent from Russian aggression.” So far, most Republican lawmakers have sheepishly accepted the president’s blatant power grab. This sets a terrible precedent. Someday, a Democratic president will seize defense funds or farm subsidies for his or her own pet projects.

9-13-19 Trump down in polls
President Trump’s approval rating sank to 38%, down 6 points from July, amid growing fears that the trade war will trigger a recession this year. 60% of Americans fear that a recession will happen in the next year. 46% approve of Trump’s handling of the economy, while 47% disapprove. Only 30% of women and 36% of independents approve of Trump’s overall job performance. Description

9-13-19 Mass shooting increases
Sixteen of the 20 deadliest mass shootings in modern history occurred in the past 20 years, with eight of them happening in the past five years, according to Justice Department data. During the 1970s, mass shootings killed an average of 5.7 people per year, rising to 21 people in the 1990s and 23.5 in the 2000s. The average is now 51 mass-shooting deaths per year.

9-13-19 Gun control: Walmart takes a stand
Walmart just put Washington’s response to gun violence to shame, said Patricia Murphy in RollCall.com. With lawmakers “missing in action,” the nation’s largest retailer is taking concrete steps to protect the public in the aftermath of last month’s horrifying mass shooting at its El Paso, Texas, store. The company announced that it will stop selling ammunition for handguns and assault-style rifles. Walmart had already taken assault-style weapons and handguns off its shelves, and now will sell only long-barreled rifles and shotguns, which are mostly used for hunting. Walmart is also asking customers not to openly carry firearms in its stores, even in states where it’s legal to do so. CEO Doug McMillon called on Congress to pass “commonsense” gun legislation, and at least debate banning assault weapons. If only Congress or the White House would show this kind of leadership. Actually, Walmart is following the will of the people, said Brandon Tensley in CNN?.com. While conservative lawmakers continue to block meaningful gun control in the name of “real America,” polls show the majority of Americans want stricter gun laws, with 66 percent now supporting a ban on assault weapons. Sadly, our democracy has become so dysfunctional that we must depend on Walmart to regulate itself. Don’t give Walmart too much credit, said Alex Shephard in NewRepublic.com. “Once the most hated retailer in America,” Walmart is in the middle of an effort to rebrand itself as a good corporate citizen, especially compared with Amazon. Mass shootings threaten those efforts, because until recently, Walmart was part of any conversation about the gun economy. Walmart “doesn’t want to lead the gun debate. It wants to exit it.”

9-13-19 Video games and violence
Recent mass shooters gunned for ‘high scores.’ Are violent video games to blame?

  1. Why the focus on gaming? As the country struggles to find an explanation for mass shootings, many elected officials have pointed a finger at violent video games.
  2. How violent are today’s games? Grand Theft Auto, one of the top-selling franchises ever, with 285 million games sold, is notorious for letting players “free roam” around a city (based on Los Angeles) and kill random people.
  3. Are shooters usually gamers? Some are—the Columbine High School killers played the first-person shooter Doom—but just four of the perpetrators of 33 mass murders at U.S. schools between 1980 and 2018 were known to be video gamers.
  4. Do games inspire violence? About 40 percent of Americans think so, yet researchers have spent decades mostly failing to demonstrate such a link.
  5. What do critics propose? States and the federal government have had limited ability to regulate video games since 2011, when the Supreme Court struck down on First Amendment grounds a California law restricting the sale of ultraviolent games to minors.
  6. What is gaming’s defense? Advocates say video games have served as a scapegoat for real-world violence since the 1970s.
  7. Overlapping cultures: Three mass shooters this year announced their attacks on 8chan, which first rose to prominence in 2014 as a place to discuss video games.

9-13-19 A tighter squeeze at U.S.-Mexico border
Efforts by President Trump and Mexico to deter migration to the U.S. border appear to be working, as Border Patrol arrests there fell to 51,000 last month, a 30 percent drop from July. After threats of steep tariffs from the Trump administration if it didn’t enhance immigration enforcement, Mexico deployed 25,000 National Guard troops to its borders. Asylum seekers who cross the U.S. border are now sent back to Mexico while their claims are processed, and Mexico has bused some of them 750 miles south. Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said, however, his country would not agree to a Trump administration request that Mexico accept designation as a “safe third country” for Central American asylum seekers. That would require migrants to apply for permanent asylum in Mexico rather than asking to be admitted to the U.S.

9-13-19 Ronstadt’s life on the border
Linda Ronstadt is a child of the borderlands, said Michael Schulman in The New Yorker. The Rock & Roll Hall of Famer was raised in Tucson, just north of the U.S. border with Mexico. Her grandfather was a Mexican bandleader, and Ronstadt’s parents had friends on both sides of the border. In her childhood, Mexicans and Americans would cross freely back and forth to eat and shop and go to each other’s weddings, baptisms, and parties. She’s horrified by the region’s militarization. “I feel filled with impotent rage,” says Ronstadt. “I grew up in the Sonoran Desert, and the Sonoran Desert is on both sides of the border. There’s a fence that runs through it now, but it’s still the same culture. The same food, the same clothes, the same traditional life of ranching and farming.” Ronstadt, who now lives in San Francisco, had to give up singing a decade ago because of a debilitating form of Parkinson’s disease. When she was still able, she worked with the Samaritans, supplying food and water to migrants crossing the border. “You meet some guy stumbling through the desert trying to cross, and he’s dehydrated, his feet are full of thorns, cactus,” she says. “Then you see this Minute Man sitting with his cooler, with all of his water and food and beer, and his automatic weapon sitting on his lap, wearing full camouflage. It’s so cruel.”

9-13-19 Un-Christian charges
Jerry Falwell Jr. has allegedly exploited his presidency of Liberty University, the largest Christian college in the world, to help family and friends profit, Politico.com reported this week. “We’re not a school,” one employee said. “We’re a real estate hedge fund.” Past and present Liberty officials told Politico of a pattern of self-dealing, including the awarding of $130 million in contracts to a construction company owned by a friend of Falwell’s. Falwell also allegedly had the university buy a shopping center, then hire his son’s company to manage it. Officials also said Falwell bragged about his penis and his sexual exploits with his wife, Becki; he once hired Trump lawyer Michael Cohen to suppress racy photos. Falwell reportedly turned to another fixer to bury photos of him clubbing in Miami. Falwell says that his long-standing public support for President Trump has brought on an “attempted coup” by disgruntled employees, and has called for the FBI to investigate.

9-13-19 Fewer Americans insured in 2018
The number of Americans with health insurance declined last year, the first time since the Affordable Care Act became law in 2010, the Census Bureau reported this week. An estimated 27.5 million people—8.5 percent of the population—lacked insurance, 1.9 million more than in 2017. The jump came mainly as the result of cuts in coverage by Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Experts said it also reflected the Trump administration’s efforts to subvert the ACA, including cutting the budget used to promote the program and eliminating a subsidy for insurers that held down premiums. Repealing the tax penalty for going without insurance—the so-called “individual mandate”—may also have been a factor. About 15 percent of the country was uninsured before the ACA.

9-13-19 Banning Harry Potter books
After consulting with Vatican exorcists, the pastor of St. Edwards Catholic School in Tennessee has banned the Harry Potter books from the school library. “These books present magic as both good and evil, which is not true,” the Rev. Dan Reehill wrote to parents. He warned that “the curses and spells used in the books are actual curses and spells” and risk “conjuring evil spirits into the presence of the person reading the text.” Description

9-13-19 No gay superheroes
The mayor of Rio de Janeiro ordered a police raid on the city’s International Book Fair last week to seize copies of a Marvel comic that featured a kiss between two male superheroes. “Books like this need to be packaged in black plastic and sealed,” said Mayor Marcelo Crivella, an evangelical Christian who proclaimed he wanted to “defend the family.” The comic, Avengers: The Children’s Crusade, was published in 2012 and features a panel in which the heroes Wiccan and Hulkling—who are in a committed relationship—embrace fully clothed. Police didn’t find any copies of the comic, and the raid triggered outrage; Brazil’s largest newspaper, Folha de São Paulo, published a large front-page photo of the kiss. Comic book store manager Lidiane Rodrigues said Rio police should focus on “assaults, drugs, gangs. There are a lot of things more dangerous than a book here.”

9-13-19 There is no ‘gay gene’ to predict sexuality
The largest-ever study into the link between sexuality and genetics has found that there is no “gay gene” that determines a person’s sexual orientation. Instead, same-sex attraction appears to be driven by a complex mix of genetic, cultural, and environmental influences—just like many other human traits. “It’s effectively impossible to predict an individual’s sexual behavior from their genome,” co-author Ben Neale, from the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, tells CBSNews.com. Homosexuality and bisexuality are a “normal part of variation in our species.” The researchers examined the genetic profiles of nearly 480,000 people in the U.K. and U.S.—about 100 times more than any previous study into genetics and same-sex attraction—who were also asked whether they had ever had a same-sex partner. The scientists identified five specific genetic variants associated with same-sex behavior, including one linked to the biological pathway for smell and others connected to the regulation of sex hormones. Overall, genetics accounts for 8 to 25 percent of same-sex behavior, when thousands of tiny variations across the whole genome are taken into account, researchers concluded. Sexual orientation “is influenced by genes but not determined by genes,” said researcher Brendan Zietsch. But genetic variation does appear to have a stronger influence on same-sex behavior in men than in women, suggesting that female sexuality is more complex.

9-13-19 Beto O'Rourke reports Texas legislator over rifle 'threat'
Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke has reported a Texas lawmaker to the FBI after he tweeted that his assault rifle "is ready for you". Republican legislator Briscoe Cain's tweet was deleted by Twitter after the Democrat called it a "death threat". Mr Cain tweeted after Mr O'Rourke called during a live TV debate on Thursday night for a ban on semi-automatic rifles. He stated his plan to confiscate some types of guns. "Hell, yes, we're going to take your AR-15," Mr O'Rourke, a former Democratic Texas congressman, said on the debate stage in Houston. "My AR is ready for you Robert Francis," tweeted the 34-year-old Republican, using Mr O'Rourke's legal first name. AR stands for Armalite rifle. Mr O'Rourke responded: "Clearly, you shouldn't own an AR-15 - and neither should anyone else." Some Texas lawmakers criticised the tweet, which Twitter took down, saying "it violates our rules for threats of violence". Mr Cain later hit back on Twitter, calling Mr O'Rourke "a child". A spokesman for Mr O'Rourke said the Texas state legislator had been reported to the FBI. In 2018, police were called to remove Mr Cain from the state Democratic convention after he showed up with a pistol and pro-gun pamphlets, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported. Mr O'Rourke has made gun control a key plank of his White House campaign since 22 people were killed in a rampage at a Walmart in his hometown of El Paso, Texas, last month.

9-12-19 Trump immigration plans: Supreme Court allows asylum curbs
The US Supreme Court has allowed the government to severely limit the ability of migrants to claim asylum. The policy bars people arriving at the US southern border from seeking protection if they failed to do so in a country they passed through en route. Legal challenges continue but the ruling means for now it can be enforced nationwide. The plan will affect tens of thousands of Central American migrants who travel north, often on foot, through Mexico. Mexico said on Thursday that it disagreed with the ruling. The Trump administration unveiled the new asylum policy in July but it was almost immediately blocked from taking effect by a lower court ruling by a judge in San Francisco. Curbing migration levels has been a key goal of Donald Trump's presidency and forms a major part of his bid for re-election in 2020. He hailed the Supreme Court's decision as a major victory. The change will affect non-Mexican migrants trying to enter through the US southern border. This includes, but is not limited to, those from Central American countries who have made up the vast majority of those seeking asylum so far this year. Some 811,016 people were detained on the south-western border up until the end of August 2019, and of these, nearly 590,000 were from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. The majority arrived with at least one other family member. Many of those arriving are fleeing violence or poverty and travel north through Mexico until they reach the US border. Upon arrival, they must pass a "credible fear" interview to seek asylum in the US, which most do. The rule change means they would fail had they not claimed asylum in another country they had first passed through. The rule will also affect smaller numbers of African, Asian and South American migrants who arrive at the US southern border and seek asylum - many after taking extremely dangerous journeys. The American Civil Liberties Union, which challenged the ruling, argued it drastically limited those eligible for asylum.

9-12-19 US to ban flavoured e-cigarettes after hundreds get strange illness
US President Donald Trump announced on 11 September that he has directed the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ban the sale of flavoured e-cigarettes. This comes after six people have died as a result of an unexplained lung illness, and more than 450 people across the US have been reported to be ill after using e-cigarettes. However, it is not known if there is actually a link between flavoured e-cigarettes and the illness. Trump made the announcement during a meeting with the head of the US Department of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar, and the head of the FDA, Ned Sharpless. The FDA said in a statement that the details of the ban will be formalised and announced soon. “Today president Trump announced that the Food and Drug Administration will be finalising guidance that removes all flavoured e-cigarettes from the marketplace,” said Azar in video announcement, adding that tobacco-flavoured e-cigarettes will still remain available as they are sometimes used by people who are trying to quit smoking traditional cigarettes. There is little scientific evidence that flavoured e-cigarettes are medically more dangerous than other e-cigarettes. Additionally, some of the people who have been ill also said their e-cigarettes contained cannabinoid products, such as THC, which could be to blame. “It appears that cases were mainly seen in young users of e-cigarettes who bought bootlegged products illegally that contained cannabis ingredients,” Lion Shahab at University College London told the Science Media Centre. ““Flavours are therefore unlikely to be the cause of ‘vaping lung disease’ and banning them would not have prevented this recent outbreak.” One of the biggest concerns with flavoured vaping products is that they are marketed to teens, said Azar. A recent FDA study found that vaping drastically increased among high school and middle school students between 2017 and 2018. “We’ve got to stop it or we’re going to have a whole generation addicted to nicotine,” said Azar.

9-12-19 Huawei chief offers to share 5G know-how for a fee
Huawei's chief executive has proposed selling its current 5G know-how to a Western firm as a way to address security concerns voiced by the US and others about its business. Ren Zhengfei said the buyer would be free to "change the software code". That would allow any flaws or supposed backdoors to be addressed without Huawei's involvement. The US and Australia have banned their networks from using Huawei's equipment. The UK is still weighing a decision. Huawei has repeatedly denied claims that it would help the Chinese government spy on or disrupt other countries telecoms systems, and says it is a private enterprise owned by its workers. One expert, who had previously cast doubts on Huawei's claims to independence, said the idea of it helping another country's business to compete represented an "extraordinary offer". "Perhaps the explanation is that Huawei recognises that it is unlikely to be able to bypass the efforts the Trump administration is putting into minimising its scope to operate in North America, Western Europe and Australasia," said Prof Steve Tsang from Soas University of London. "But it's difficult to see Nokia or Ericsson being interested in buying it. And it's also difficult to see how an American company would be able to reassure the Trump administration that it's absolutely top notch American technology. "And if they can't do that, why would they want to spend tens of billions of US dollars on something that will quickly become out-of-date." Huawei's founder Ren Zhengfei made the proposal in interviews with the Economist and the New York Times. It would include ongoing access to the firm's existing 5G patents, licences, code, technical blueprints and production engineering knowledge. "[Huawei is] open to sharing our 5G technologies and techniques with US companies, so that they can build up their own 5G industry," the NYT quoted Ren as saying. "This would create a balanced situation between China, the US and Europe." Speaking to the Economist he added: "A balanced distribution of interests is conducive to Huawei's survival." A spokesman for Huawei has confirmed the quotes are accurate and the idea represents a "genuine proposal". At present, Europe's Nokia and Ericsson are the main alternatives to Huawei when it comes to networks selecting what 5G cell tower base stations and other equipment to install. South Korea's Samsung and China's ZTE are other alternatives. But while American firms including Cisco, Dell EMC and Hewlett Packard Enterprise have developed 5G-related technologies, the US lacks an infrastructure-equipment specialist of its own. Beyond the licensing fee, Huawei could benefit because it might convince Washington to drop restrictions that currently prevent it buying US-linked technologies for its own use.

9-12-19 Lovers of Modena skeletons holding hands were both men
Researchers have found that a couple of skeletons known as the Lovers of Modena, because they are holding hands, were both men. The researchers could not determine the sex of the skeletons when they were found in Italy in 2009 because they were badly preserved. But a new technique, using the protein on tooth enamel, revealed their sex. The actual relationship between the skeletons from the 4-6th Century AD remains a mystery. The researchers say the two adult males were intentionally buried hand-in-hand. Some of the suggestions for the link between the two skeletons are that they are siblings, cousins or soldiers who died together in battle, study author Federico Lugli told Italy's Rai news site (in Italian). Researchers suggest that their burial site could have been a war cemetery. The researchers from Italy's University of Bologna said in Scientific Reports that the findings had profound implications for understanding funeral practices at that time in Italy.

9-12-19 US gun laws must be stricter, say business chiefs
The leaders of 145 US companies have sent a letter urging Congress to enact stricter gun laws as pressure builds on lawmakers to respond to gun violence. The letter calls on Congress to expand background checks and create new ways to prevent access to firearms. It follows mass shootings in California, Texas and Ohio that left dozens dead. Signatories included dozens of tech companies, such as Airbnb and Uber, as well as media and financial firms. Also signing his name was Joshua Kushner, head of Thrive Capital and brother to Jared Kushner, US President Donald Trump's son-in-law and senior advisor. "Gun violence in America is not inevitable; it's preventable," the business chiefs wrote in the letter. "There are steps Congress can, and must, take to prevent and reduce gun violence." An average of 100 people a day are shot and killed in the US. Polls have shows that nearly half of all Americans expect another mass shooting to happen soon. Businesses have long avoided the controversial subject, but in recent years a spate of high-profile attacks at schools and festivals have pushed them into the debate. Retailers, including most recently Walmart, have limited or banned gun sales and asked the public not to carry weapons openly in their stores even where legally permitted. In Wednesday's letter, the business chiefs from companies such as Levi Strauss, Pinterest, Bain Capital, Gap and Brookfield Property Group, called the situation an "urgent public health crisis". "Doing nothing about America's gun violence crisis is simply unacceptable and it is time to stand with the American public on gun safety," they wrote. It remains unclear whether Congress will act. This week, the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives took up bills that seek to remove guns from people deemed a risk, ban high-capacity ammunition magazines and prohibit people convicted of violent hate crime misdemeanors from possessing firearms. But the Senate, which has a Republican majority, has stayed quiet on the subject, and US President Donald Trump has waffled on his position.

9-12-19 The gun control balancing act
Can the government curb gun violence while still respecting civil liberties? Is it possible to crack down on gun violence without cracking down too much? That may seem like an odd question, but it's a reasonable one. There is a good chance the Trump administration will soon tell us what gun control measures it supports — any new initiative will likely involve expanded background checks — and in what is surely a coincidence of timing, this announcement comes shortly after America observed the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks. The gun massacres of our era can often feel like 9/11 all over again, only on a smaller — but more frequent — scale. They represent a genuine emergency, and the government properly has a role in responding. But the same was true after the 2001 terror attacks, and the Bush administration didn't just react to that event — it overreacted. Gun control advocates should observe this history, and proceed with caution. After the 9/11 attacks, the federal government under President George W. Bush crossed previously uncrossable civil liberties lines. Surveillance of the public was greatly expanded. Terror suspects were held indefinitely without trial. Some Americans found themselves disallowed from boarding planes, with no explanation or effective process of appeal. The country's framework of individual rights and government restraints was upended, and it still hasn't entirely recovered. That is why gun control advocates should emphasize civil liberties at every step of the journey. It is the right thing to do, but it is also just good politics — most gun owners would welcome new restrictions aimed at protecting the public. An approach that appeals to those owners could also curb the power of the National Rifle Association to play its usual obstructive role. There are a few simple principles gun control advocates should follow. The first is to enshrine due process rights at every opportunity. There are proposals for "red flag laws," for example, that let police get court orders to seize guns from people considered a harm to themselves or others. Such laws have proven effective in states where they have been adopted. But the government shouldn't be able to get a court order on its own say-so: Gun owners should get a chance to argue their case in court — and to appeal those decisions as well. "This is the government depriving people of their property," said New York State Sen. Brian Kavanagh, who wrote that state's red flag law with such protections in mind. "When you do that, you have to be careful." The second principle is to discourage unilateral action by the executive branch. Gun control advocates will probably find that principle frustrating, because Congress is so often where their efforts come to a premature end. But it is problematic when presidential candidates like Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) promise to unilaterally impose gun control regulations if Congress doesn't pass them in the first 100 days of her administration. Power grabs made with good intentions are still power grabs, and they are almost always bad ideas. At the very least, the Harris proposal would create a Constitutional crisis.

9-11-19 More Blaming Extremism, Heated Rhetoric for Mass Shootings
Americans think there is plenty of blame to go around for the mass shootings that have become commonplace in the United States, but two factors are getting more blame than in the recent past. 1. 79% now say the spread of extremist views on the internet bears a great deal or fair amount of blame, up from 57% in 2013 -- a 22-percentage-point increase.
2. The majority, 58%, blame inflammatory statements by politicians or commentators, up from 37% in 2013 -- a 21-point increase. The increase may also reflect a wording change, as the 2013 question only asked about inflammatory statements by political commentators, whereas this year's wording asked about statements made by political commentators and politicians.

  • Mental health system faulted by 83% for not flagging dangerous people
  • Blame on extremist internet views has risen from 57% in 2013 to 79% now
  • 58% blame inflammatory political rhetoric, up from 36% in 2013

9-11-19 What's behind a vaping illness outbreak in the US?
There's no denying that vapes and e-cigarettes are huge right now, with nearly three million UK users. Vaping - which involves inhaling a mix typically made of nicotine, water, solvents and flavours - is seen as an alternative to smoking which can help you quit, but its safety is still not entirely known. But over in the US, the potential health risks are in the spotlight, where this year there have been 450 reported cases of lung illness tied to vaping. There have also been at least six deaths across 33 states. One of the most shocking stories was of 18-year-old Simah Herman, who posted a picture of herself online after waking up from a medically induced coma. After receiving treatment for pneumonia and lung failure, she wants to warn others against using vapes and e-cigarettes. Simah's story, and that of other vape users, have raised questions about how safe vaping is and how well regulated the industry is. Health officials at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), who are responsible for protecting public health in the US, have been trying to identify what's been causing these problems. According to a 2016 survey, there are about 10 million vapers in the US and nearly half of those are under 35, with 18-24-year-olds the most regular users. It comes then as little surprise that many of the 450 people affected are young people, with an average age of 19. The symptoms people have reported experiencing include severe pneumonia, shortness of breath, coughing, fever, fatigue and respiratory failure - where your body either can't break down oxygen, produce carbon dioxide, or both. The result is that your lungs stop working and breathing becomes difficult. Those affected used a number of different devices from vaporisers to smaller e-cigarettes and a variety of different brands of liquids and cartridges. The FDA has now collected over 120 samples to test for different chemicals, including nicotine, cannabinoids, additives and pesticides.

9-11-19 'Everyone said I was crazy': the black ballet pioneers
The Dance Theatre of Harlem was the first classical ballet company to focus on black dancers. It was founded by Arthur Mitchell in a converted garage in Harlem in 1969. Virginia Johnson was one of the first dancers to join the company and is now its artistic director.


FEMINISM

9-17-19 Universities 'failing' victims of sexual misconduct
Dozens of students who reported sexual assaults to their university have said they were failed by complaints processes that left them traumatised. A BBC investigation found universities received more than 700 allegations of sexual misconduct during the past academic year. Students accused their universities of being paralysed by fear of reputational damage and not offering proper support. Universities UK said institutions were making progress in handling complaints. But students said they had to go through "traumatic" and lengthy complaints procedures, with one saying she "felt like the one on trial" and another calling it "a waste of time". Freedom of Information responses obtained by File on 4 from 81 UK universities found more than 110 complaints of sexual assault and 80 allegations of rape were made last year. In a number of cases students and universities also reported the alleged attacker to police. However, there are no mandatory guidelines on how universities should investigate or record such complaints. The result, campaigners and survivors say, is a "patchy" system that is failing students. One student, who reported a violent rape to her university and police, was repeatedly forced to see her alleged attacker around campus because of a loophole in the university's safe-guarding procedure. Women from multiple universities have also been dissuaded from coming forward on the grounds that the reporting process would be "traumatic". One student said she was told by her university to spend the night in the library, after she told them she could not return to her accommodation out of fear of another attack. Another described her experience as "like being 'gaslit' [a term for psychological abuse where victims are made to constantly doubt themselves and reality] on an institutional level".

9-16-19 One in 16 US women were forced into having sex for the first time
One in 16 US girls and women were forced into their first experience of sex, either physically or through other kinds of pressure. The figure comes from an analysis of a regular national survey of health and family life carried out by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Laura Hawks of Harvard Medical School and colleagues analysed the responses from 13,000 women aged between 18 and 44 who answered the survey in the past eight years. About 6.5 per cent said that their first experience of vaginal sex with a man wasn’t voluntary. The researchers used the term “forced” for those who answered “not voluntary”. About half of these respondents said they had been held down. About a quarter had been physically harmed and a quarter physically threatened – although there was overlap between the groups. About half reported being verbally pressured, such as being told the relationship would end unless they had sex, and a fifth said they had been given alcohol or drugs. Even when no physical coercion was used, the average age of women forced into sex was 15 and the average age of men was 27, says Hawks. “You’re automatically getting a picture of a huge power imbalance,” she says. There was less of an age difference for those who first had sex voluntarily: the average age was 17 for the women and 21 for the male partner. Those forced were also poorer and had less formal education on average.A previous version of the survey in 1995 found a slightly higher prevalence of forced first-time sex at 9 per cent. This research involved a younger age group of 15 to 24 year olds and the question was worded slightly differently. “We have known for decades that the prevalence of coercive sex is really high,” says Petra Boynton, a social psychologist based in the UK, who wasn’t involved in the work.

9-16-19 Brett Kavanaugh: Trump defends judge amid new misconduct claims
US President Donald Trump has angrily defended Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who is facing fresh allegations of sexual misconduct. A former university classmate of Justice Kavanaugh's has said he exposed himself at a student party and engaged in other inappropriate behaviour there. Mr Trump condemned the media and opposition Democrats. He suggested Justice Kavanaugh should sue for libel - or that the US justice department should "rescue" him. Christine Blasey Ford testified before Congress that he had sexually assaulted her in the 1980s, while Deborah Ramirez told The New Yorker magazine that he had waved his penis in front of her face at a 1980s dormitory party. They were made by Max Stier, who was at Yale University with Justice Kavanaugh and now runs a non-profit organisation in Washington DC. Mr Stier said he had seen his former classmate "with his pants down at a different drunken dorm party, where friends pushed his penis into the hand of a female student". Democrats have called for the judge to be investigated. Senator Amy Klobouchar, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee who was involved in a tetchy exchange with Justice Kavanaugh during his confirmation, described the process as a "sham". "I strongly opposed him based on his views on executive power, which will continue to haunt our country, as well as how he behaved, including the allegations that we are hearing more about today," she told ABC.

9-16-19 Bob Hewitt: South Africa stops early release of rapist former tennis star
South African officials have stopped the early release of convicted rapist and former tennis star Bob Hewitt following a public outcry. The 79-year-old was jailed for six years in 2015 for raping two girls and sexually assaulting a third while he was a coach in the 1980s and 1990s. He was set to be released on parole later this month but, on Monday, that decision was suspended. Hewitt's case will now be referred to the country's parole board for review. Proper procedures regarding the decision to grant him parole were not followed and his victims were not consulted, the Department of Justice and Correctional Services said. "The [justice] minister noted with grave concern the lack of participation by the victims of crimes in the parole consideration process," it added. The former tennis player was a multiple Grand Slam doubles champion in the 1960s and 1970s. He initially played for Australia, but later moved to South Africa and took citizenship there. He was suspended from the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2012 after abuse allegations. During his trial for rape, the prosecutor said Hewitt deserved a harsh sentence because he had failed to show remorse and had breached the trust of children.

9-14-19 Boosting circadian rhythms can help relieve perinatal depression
Women with perinatal depression appear to have altered circadian rhythms. Using light to reset the body clock may improve symptoms. Our bodies run on internal clocks that, in concert with light, wake us up in the morning and leave us sleepy by night time. This circadian rhythm is partly regulated by a suite of genes. These control not only the sleep-wake cycle but also a host of other functions, including metabolism, hormone secretions and body temperature – all of which cycle throughout the day. Something seems to go awry in depression. People with severe depression tend to experience disruptions to their circadian rhythms. Depression can give people daytime sleepiness and night-time insomnia, and research has found higher activity of some circadian genes in people with the condition. Perinatal depression – which occurs during and after pregnancy – seems to be similar. Women tend to get less sleep when they are pregnant, particularly if they have perinatal depression. To find out if circadian genes might play a role, Massimiliano Buoli, Cecilia Maria Esposito and their colleagues at the University of Milan, Italy, looked at seven such genes in 44 women in the third trimester of pregnancy. Thirty of the women had been diagnosed with perinatal depression. By looking at whether epigenetic tags called methyl groups were attached to the genes, the researchers could tell how active these genes were. They found that three circadian genes were more active and one circadian gene was less active in the women who had been diagnosed with depression than those who didn’t have the condition. The team also found that the more methyl groups there were, the more severe a woman’s symptoms were likely to be. This suggests that the greater the difference in circadian gene activity, the more likely a woman is to experience symptoms of depression, say Buoli and Esposito, who presented the findings at the annual meeting of the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology in Copenhagen, Denmark, last week.

9-13-19 March against femicide
Hundreds of people marched silently through the Mexican capital this week to protest an epidemic of violence against women. Family members of missing and murdered women held up signs reading “We won’t stop until we find you!” Ten women are murdered every day in Mexico on average, many having first suffered a sexual assault, and some 9,000 more have vanished without a trace in recent years. The United Nations says that four of every 10 Mexican women will experience sexual violence during their lifetimes. Last month, women doused Mexico City’s police chief with pink glitter to protest a string of alleged rapes by police officers. “We want a political response that reflects the scale of this national emergency,” said activist Yndira Sandoval.

9-13-19 Woman dies for soccer
Iranian soccer fans mourned the death this week of Sahar Khodayari, a 29-year-old woman who was arrested for sneaking into a soccer stadium to watch a game. Khodayari set herself on fire outside a courthouse last week after learning that she might be sentenced to six months in prison; she died of her burns seven days later. Public events in Iran have been either segregated or closed to women since the country’s 1979 Islamic revolution. News of Khodayari’s death led to an outpouring of demands for equality, with tributes posted on social media with the hashtag #BlueGirl—?a reference to the color of her favorite team, Esteghlal. Andranik Teymourian, a former captain of the national team, tweeted that soccer stadiums should be named after Khodayari “in the future.”

9-13-19 Ronstadt’s life on the border
Linda Ronstadt is a child of the borderlands, said Michael Schulman in The New Yorker. The Rock & Roll Hall of Famer was raised in Tucson, just north of the U.S. border with Mexico. Her grandfather was a Mexican bandleader, and Ronstadt’s parents had friends on both sides of the border. In her childhood, Mexicans and Americans would cross freely back and forth to eat and shop and go to each other’s weddings, baptisms, and parties. She’s horrified by the region’s militarization. “I feel filled with impotent rage,” says Ronstadt. “I grew up in the Sonoran Desert, and the Sonoran Desert is on both sides of the border. There’s a fence that runs through it now, but it’s still the same culture. The same food, the same clothes, the same traditional life of ranching and farming.” Ronstadt, who now lives in San Francisco, had to give up singing a decade ago because of a debilitating form of Parkinson’s disease. When she was still able, she worked with the Samaritans, supplying food and water to migrants crossing the border. “You meet some guy stumbling through the desert trying to cross, and he’s dehydrated, his feet are full of thorns, cactus,” she says. “Then you see this Minute Man sitting with his cooler, with all of his water and food and beer, and his automatic weapon sitting on his lap, wearing full camouflage. It’s so cruel.”

9-13-19 Where abortions are still happening
At least 276,000 women had abortions outside their home state between 2012 and 2017, as some states have passed stricter abortion laws and the number of clinics has declined. In New Mexico, the number of out-of-state women who had abortions doubled over that period, while Missouri women had almost half the abortions performed in Kansas.

9-13-19 South Africa sexual violence protesters target stock exchange
People campaigning over the high levels of violence against women in South Africa have taken their protest to the financial heart of the country. Hundreds have gathered outside the Johannesburg Stock Exchange to call on the country's big firms to do more to tackle gender inequality. Protests have been triggered by the rape and murder of 19-year-old Uyinene Mrwetyana in Cape Town last month. Over 41,000 people were raped in South Africa in the year from April 2018. (Webmaster's comment: In the same time there were 126,000 rapes in America!) That amounts to more than one rape every 15 minutes in South Africa. (Webmaster's comment: There is more than one rape every 6 minutes in America!) Police statistics also show that eight women are murdered every day in the country. Last week's news cycle was littered with stories of the rape and murder of women and children in several parts of the country. It left many women asking: "Am I next?" The rape and murder of Uyinene Mrwetyana was a moment that made women feel vulnerable and scared. There was a sombre mood at the protest, which brought traffic to a standstill in Johannesburg's Sandton district. Tears were rolling down the women's faces as they started singing "Senzeni na?", which loosely translated from Zulu means "what have we done to deserve this?" The latest crime statistics released on Thursday revealed that women are justified to fear for their lives because murder, rape and sexual assaults have all increased. But with the South African police overstretched and often accused of turning away victims who are desperate for help, it remains to be seen how the country plans to tackle this very real and disturbing problem. Among the protesters' demands were that all companies listed on the stock exchange should set aside 2% of their profits to go towards tackling violence against women. "We really are suffering [from] femicides and we need all hands on deck and business [in] South Africa is not exempt from that," Mandisa Khanyile, one of those organising the march, told the BBC's Newsday programme. She said one of the things that needed funding was an education programme to get people to move away from the "toxic masculinity" that allows men to think that violence against women is acceptable.

9-12-19 Sexual violence in South Africa: 'I was raped, now I fear for my daughters'
South Africans have been outraged by a spate of gruesome rapes and murders of women in recent weeks - including that of a schoolgirl who reportedly had her head staved in, and a university student who was bludgeoned to death. The rapes and murders have led to street protests, the #AmINext campaign on Twitter, and an online petition signed by more than 500,000 to demand the reinstatement of the death penalty in a nation battling to curb high levels of crime. South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa has promised a series of measures to tackle the crisis - including making public a register of offenders, increasing the number of "dedicated sexual offences courts", and harsher sentences. Photographer Sarah Midgley, a 37-year-old mother of two who lives in the main city Johannesburg, is still recovering from the trauma of being raped almost a decade ago. She told BBC Africa Women's Affairs reporter Esther Akello Ogola about her ordeal. I was raped by my ex-boyfriend in 2010, just around the time the football World Cup was taking place in South Africa. My ex-boyfriend had been physically and emotionally abusing me for close to 18 months before I got the courage to leave. I had threatened to leave many times before but every time I tried, he would get more violent. He would kick, sometimes choke and bite me. He constantly threatened to rape my daughters and kill them in front of me if I dared to leave him. He even tasered me once. I did not share this with anyone because I was embarrassed and ashamed that I could not stand up for myself. I was also isolated from friends and family because coming right off a divorce, my self-esteem was not at its best and my ex-boyfriend convinced me that friends and family did not care about me. I also believed he would hurt my babies. When I did get the courage to leave, I did so secretly. However, 10 days later, he was standing at my door. To say I was shocked that he had found me would be an understatement. He said he was only there to ask for a favour for the last time. He claimed to have no money or means to get to his uncle's farm, which was around 25km (15.5 miles) from where I lived. He promised that he would walk out of my life completely, if I gave him a ride. I believed him. For many years after the rape, I blamed myself for having believed that he would let me go scot-free.

9-12-19 Aaron Persky: Brock Turner judge fired from coaching girls
A California judge who lost his job after giving a lenient sentence to a college sex attacker has now been fired from coaching tennis to schoolgirls. Aaron Persky was ousted as a judge by voters over his sentencing of Brock Turner, who assaulted an unconscious woman at Stanford University in 2015. Only one day after defending his hiring, officials said he had been fired from the high school in San Jose. His 2018 sacking was the first recall of a California judge since 1932. In a statement on Tuesday, Fremont Union High School District said that Mr Persky had applied to coach junior varsity girls' tennis over the summer, and was hired after completing a background check that included a fingerprint scan. "He was a qualified applicant for the position, having attended several tennis coaching clinics for youth and holds a high rating from the United States Tennis Association," the statement said. That day Change.org launched a petition calling for Mr Persky to lose his new job and accused school officials of "explicitly and ignorantly allowing rape culture to ensue". But on Wednesday, the district announced that his employment at Lynbrook High School in San Jose "has ended". "We believe this outcome is in the best interest of our students and school community," the district said in a statement. Mr Persky's handling of the case against Turner, a former star swimmer for the elite Stanford University, drew outrage after the sexual assault survivor's victim impact sentence was published online. Chanel Miller, who was known in court papers as Jane Doe and only revealed her identity for the first time this month, told Turner: "You don't know me, but you've been inside me." Turner was convicted of three crimes - sexually assaulting an intoxicated victim, sexually assaulting an unconscious victim and attempted rape. Prosecutors had asked for a six-year sentence, but Mr Persky followed the county probation department's recommendation - that the case "may be considered less serious due to [his] level of intoxication" - and ordered him to serve six months. Turner was released after three months due to good behaviour. He must register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.

9-11-19 NFL star Antonio Brown accused of rape by personal trainer
American football star Antonio Brown has been accused of rape by his former personal trainer. Britney Taylor, who decided to forgo anonymity, said Mr Brown sexually assaulted her on three occasions, according to a civil lawsuit she filed. The 31-year-old has denied the allegations. Mr Brown's new team, the New England Patriots, said that the National Football League (NFL) was also launching an investigation. The complaint says that the two met at a bible study class at Central Michigan University in 2010. Mr Brown later hired Ms Taylor, who is a gymnast, in 2017, to improve his ankle flexibility. However, according to the lawsuit, he sexually assaulted her twice in training sessions in June 2017, and she stopped working with him. On one occasion, she says Mr Brown assaulted her while the two were streaming a church service on Ms Taylor's iPad in Mr Brown's Miami home. The lawsuit reads that Mr Brown "reached out to Ms Taylor, expressing contrition, begging forgiveness and pleading with her to train him again". She reluctantly agreed but in May 2018 he raped her, according to the court papers. Her lawsuit says that Mr Brown later sent her "astonishingly profane and angry text messages" bragging of his alleged sexual assault against her. In a statement, Ms Taylor said "deciding to speak out has been an incredibly difficult decision" and that she has "found strength in my faith, my family, and from the accounts of other survivors of sexual assault". "Speaking out removes the shame that I have felt for the past year and places it on the person responsible for my rape," she said, adding that she will "co-operate with the NFL and any other agencies".

9-11-19 Justice for Victoria: Toddler testifies in Myanmar 'nursery rape' case
A three-year-old girl who it is alleged was raped at her nursery in Myanmar has given evidence via video link at a trial in the capital, Nay Pyi Taw. The case of the toddler, who by law cannot be named, has caused outrage in the country. Campaigners have given her the name "Victoria". Police say the attack took place on 16 May. A school employee is under arrest charged with raping her. But DNA evidence has been inconclusive and nursery staff dispute it was him. Police say a medical examination carried out after Victoria's mother had noticed her injuries and taken her to hospital showed the girl had been sexually assaulted. A school driver called Aung Kyaw Myo, also known as Aung Gyi, was arrested in May in connection with the alleged rape. He was the released for lack of evidence before being rearrested and charged. Many believe he's been framed. They point to CCTV footage obtained by the BBC Burmese service which shows him going into the nursery on the day of the alleged attack and apparently waiting in the reception area. It's claimed the video shows he had insufficient time to go and find Victoria and then attack her. "It is impossible that he did it. We, all the teachers, were with the students all the time," Hnin Nu, one teacher questioned nine times by the police, told the BBC in July. Another teacher, Nilar Aye, said Victoria had never left her sight on 16 May. There have been widespread protests calling for justice for Victoria and for wider action to arrest an alarming rise in reported sexual assault, particularly towards children. Many Burmese are unhappy with the police handling of the case, and say the chief suspect has been made a scapegoat. Government figures suggest the number of all reported rapes in Myanmar has increased by 50% in the past two years. In 2018, there were said to be 1,528 attacks - in nearly two-thirds of the cases the victim was a child. Campaigners feel Victoria's story has exposed a deeply worrying trend in a country where domestic violence is still seen as a private matter.

9-11-19 Kenyan schoolgirl takes her own life after 'period shaming'
A schoolgirl in Kenya has taken her own life after allegedly being shamed in class for having her period and staining her uniform. The 14-year-old's mother said her daughter hanged herself after being humiliated by a teacher, Kenyan media reported. Police used tear gas to disperse a crowd of about 200 parents protesting outside the school, reports said. Kenya passed a law in 2017 to provide free sanitary towels for schoolgirls. However, a parliamentary committee is currently investigating why the programme is yet to be rolled out across all schools. The girl's mother said a teacher had called her "dirty" for soiling her uniform and ordered her to leave the class in Kabiangek, west of the capital Nairobi, last Friday. "She had nothing to use as a pad. When the blood stained her clothes, she was told to leave the classroom and stand outside," the mother was quoted as saying in Kenyan media. She said her daughter came home and told her mother what had happened, but then when she went to fetch water she took her own life. Her parents reported the matter to the police but became frustrated by an apparent lack of action, the Daily Nation reported. Together with other parents they staged a protest outside the school on Tuesday. Police moved in and made five arrests when the demonstrators blocked a road and pulled down the school gate, reports said. The school has since been closed. Regional police chief Alex Shikondi said the circumstances of the girl's death were being investigated.In Kenya, as in other countries, many girls cannot afford sanitary products such as pads and tampons. A UN report in 2014 said that one in 10 girls in sub-Saharan Africa missed school during their period. Some girls reportedly lose 20% of their education for this reason, making them more likely to drop out of school altogether, the report said.

9-11-19 Are voters biased against women candidates?
With a record number of women in the fight for the White House, it's time to re-examine what role - if any - gender biases may play in the 2020 election. It's been a groundbreaking year for women in US politics: 1,834 women won office at the state and federal level during the mid-term elections last November and 2,112 are serving in state legislative offices. The year 2018 saw the largest increase in female representation in state governments following a decade of stagnation, according to the Center for American Women in Politics (CAWP) at Rutgers University. Six women have launched campaigns for the highest office in the land. Women have vied for the Oval Office in the past - Hillary Clinton and Carly Fiorina in 2016, Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman to run, in 1972, back to Victoria Woodhull in 1872, to name a few - but 2018 has seen more candidates than ever before. Each presidential hopeful must prove they are the best fit for the job, regardless of gender. But some argue the women are up against something more: unconscious biases that have long coloured our understanding of who a leader can be. "We all constantly form stereotypes based on what we observe - and we're not thinking about forming them, so they lie a bit below the surface... that's the implicit part," says professor Alice Eagly, a gender psychology professor at Northwestern University, Illinois. Bias comes into play when we make assumptions about people based on those unconscious stereotypes. Other stereotypes - like racial biases - also play a role in informing our opinions. Gender, however, comes with especially defined stereotypes. "How many observations of men and women do you get in one day? Many thousands! We automatically take in that information to decide what are the [gender] characteristics," Prof Eagly says. When looking at women running for office, political science scholar Kelly Dittmar of CAWP says the problems centre around role expectations. "We have certain expectations of gender roles, how women should act, what traits they have, and then we have expectations of what leaders look like, what are their traits, areas of expertise," Prof Dittmar explains. "And for women, the congruity between the gender expectations and the candidacy expectations have been in conflict for much of our history."

9-11-19 Vaginal fluid transplants may soon be available in US
US doctors are hoping to start offering women vaginal fluid transplants and have set up a programme to screen potential donors. They believe some women could benefit from a dose of healthy vaginal microbes to protect against an infection called bacterial vaginosis (BV). The Johns Hopkins University team say they were inspired by the success of faecal or poo transplants. Although antibiotics can treat BV, it often comes back. BV is not a sexually transmitted disease, despite being an infection. It's quite common and women who have it may notice that they have an unusual discharge that has a strong fishy smell. The condition is not usually serious, but should be treated because having BV makes women more vulnerable to catching sexually transmitted infections and getting urinary infections. If the woman is pregnant, it increases the risk of her having the baby early. BV can happen when there is a change in the natural balance of bacteria in the vagina. The vagina, like the gut, is home to lots of different microorganisms. Our diets, lifestyles and some types of medication that we may take can upset this finely balanced ecosystem. While there has been a large amount of work into the gut microbiome, less is known about the vagina. Experts known that healthy microorganisms in the vagina prefer an acidic environment, and when the pH becomes too alkaline other bacteria - including those that cause BV - can thrive. A number of factors can raise vaginal pH and make BV more likely, including having sex (semen and saliva are slightly alkaline) and using douches or vaginal washes, as well as hormonal changes at particular times of the month during a woman's menstrual cycle.


SCIENCE - GLOBAL WARMING and ENVIRONMENT

9-17-19 School strikes are changing the world, says UN climate science advisor
Finnish meteorologist Petteri Taalas is secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organization and a climate science advisor to the UN secretary general António Guterres. He will lead the science team at the forthcoming UN Climate Summit in New York that begins on 23 March. Graham Lawton caught up with him in London. What has happened since last year’s report on keeping warming to 1.5 degrees, which warned us that we have to act immediately? We haven’t been able to tackle emissions, they are still growing and consumption of fossil fuels is still growing. But what has happened is the mental attitude has changed, the message has been clearly heard. The public and young people have started demanding action. The private sector is more and more interested in investing in climate-friendly technologies. Sentiment has moved in the right direction, that’s obvious. So is 1.5 degrees possible? It is technically and economically doable, but one has to take account of the political realities. You have to think about what is acceptable to the general public. I’m now living in France and I saw the yellow vest moment when they tried to raise the petrol price a little bit. That is something the policymakers face. If unpopular decisions are made then your next government could be somebody who is not so favourable to climate mitigation.It’s a question of what is politically wise. Is it wiser to talk about 2 degrees, or 1.5? We have recognise that there is a group of countries that are not happy with 1.5 degrees because 2 degrees was already seen as a very ambitious target. If there’s a bunch of countries saying “we don’t care any more because it’s not realistic” – that’s a bit of a backlash.That was a bit of that sentiment in Abu Dhabi in July, where we had a preparatory meeting for the climate summit. There were several countries saying we were happy with 2 degrees but 1.5 is not realistic.

9-16-19 Faster pace of climate change is 'scary', former chief scientist says
Extreme events linked to climate change, such as the heatwave in Europe this year, are occurring sooner than expected, an ex-chief scientist says. Prof Sir David King says he's been scared by the number of extreme events, and he called for the UK to advance its climate targets by 10 years. But the UN's weather chief said using words like “scared” could make young people depressed and anxious. Campaigners argue that people won't act unless they feel fearful. Speaking to the BBC, Prof King, a former chief scientific adviser to the government, said: “It’s appropriate to be scared. We predicted temperatures would rise, but we didn’t foresee these sorts of extreme events we’re getting so soon.” He said the world had changed faster than generally predicted in the fifth assessment report from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2014. He referred especially to the loss of land ice and sea ice, and to the weather extremes in which he said warming probably played a role. Several other scientists contacted by the BBC supported his emotive language. The physicist Prof Jo Haigh from Imperial College London said: “David King is right to be scared – I’m scared too." “We do the analysis, we think what’s going to happen, then publish in a very scientific way. "Then we have a human response to that… and it is scary.” Petteri Taalas, the secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), a specialised UN agency, said he fully supported United Nations climate goals, but he criticised radical green campaigners for forecasting the end of the world. It’s the latest chapter in the long debate over how to communicate climate science to the public. Dr Taalas agrees polar ice is melting faster than expected, but he’s concerned that public fear could lead to paralysis – and also to mental health problems amongst the young.

9-16-19 Fires devastating Australia’s east coast have arrived unusually early
Fires devastating Australia’s east coast have arrived uncharacteristically early this year. It is only just spring and so this may be an ominous sign of more trouble to come. At the height of the recent fires, around 140 were burning across eastern Queensland and northeast New South Wales, destroying dozens of homes and forcing thousands to evacuate. Some of the fires stretched hundreds of kilometres. While the number of fires has now shrunk, this could lull people into a false sense of security, says Philip Stewart at the University of Queensland.The latest weather forecasts say the chances of fire are “high” and “very high” across affected areas in the coming days. Australians are being warned that the threat of fire will be higher than normal in most of the country this summer. A change in wind direction or strength could stoke fires or cause them to change direction, says Stewart. “Until fires are completely out it is not really good to say that it’s safe.” A combination of very low humidity, gusty winds and abnormally high temperatures led to the dangerous conditions. Some areas saw temperatures soar to 10 degrees higher than average, according to figures from the Bureau of Meteorology. Some regions are also into their third year of record low rainfalls. The fires have been fuelled by Australia’s eucalypt forests. When humidity is low, the amount of oil in the trees’ leaves increases and they become more flammable.On top of this, several of the fires appear to have been started deliberately, says Paul Read, co-director of the National Centre for Research in Bushfire and Arson. Police are questioning suspects. To better mange the fires, there needs to be a recognition that Australia is a fire prone continent and a return to the controlled burning practiced by indigenous Australians for millennia, says Stewart. “They didn’t just sit back and wait until vegetation was so dry that you had catastrophic fire event as you see now,” he says.

9-16-19 Indonesia haze: Why do forests keep burning?
Almost every year, a smoky haze blankets the South East Asian region - signalling the return of forest fires in Indonesia. For many in this region, grey skies and a lingering acrid smell are not unfamiliar, but 2019 has already brought with it some of the worst haze levels in years. But what causes these fires - and why do Indonesia's forests burn each year? According to Indonesia's national disaster agency, there were 328,724 hectares of land burnt this year from January to August alone. Among the most affected regions were Central, West and South Kalimantan, Riau, Jambi and South Sumatra. But Indonesia's not the only culprit. There have also been cases of open burning in neighbouring Malaysia, though it pales in comparison to Indonesia. As of 14 September, there were 10 hotspots in the Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak, compared to 627 in Kalimantan, according to the ASEAN specialised meteorological centre. The burning usually peaks from July to October during Indonesia's dry season. Many farmers take advantage of the conditions to clear vegetation for palm oil, pulp and paper plantations using the slash-and-burn method. They often spin out of control and spread into protected forested areas. The problem has accelerated in recent years as more land has been cleared for expanding plantations for the lucrative palm oil trade. The burnt land also becomes drier, which makes it more likely to catch fire the next time there are slash-and-burn clearings. The haze usually measures hundreds of kilometres across. It has spread to Malaysia, Singapore, the south of Thailand and the Philippines, causing a significant deterioration in air quality. In Malaysia, hundreds of schools have been forced to close after the haze reached "very unhealthy levels" of 208 on the Air Pollutants Index (API) in several districts.

9-16-19 2019 ozone hole could be smallest in three decades
The ozone hole over Antarctica this year could be one of the smallest seen in three decades, say scientists. Observations of the gas's depletion high in the atmosphere demonstrate that it hasn't opened up in 2019 in the way it normally does. The EU's Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) says it's currently well under half the area usually seen in mid-September. The hole is also off-centre and far from the pole, the EU agency adds. CAMS' experts, who are based in Reading, UK, are projecting stable levels of ozone or a modest increase in the coming days. Ozone is a molecule that is composed of three oxygen atoms. It is responsible for filtering out harmful ultraviolet radiation from the Sun. The gas is constantly being made and destroyed in the stratosphere, about 20-30km above the Earth. In an unpolluted atmosphere, this cycle of production and decomposition is in equilibrium. But chlorine and bromine-containing chemicals released by human activity have unbalanced the process, resulting in a loss of ozone that is at its greatest in the Antarctic spring in September/October. The Montreal Protocol signed by governments in 1987 has sought to recover the situation by banning the production and use of the most damaging chemicals. This past week has seen the area of deep thinning cover just over five million square km. This time last year it was beyond 20 million square km, although in 2017 it was just above 10 million sq km. In other words, there is a good degree of variability from year to year. The conditions for thinning occur annually just as the Antarctic emerges from Winter. The reactions that work to destroy ozone in the cold stratosphere are initiated by the return of sunshine at high latitudes.

9-15-19 This Antarctic robot can provide insight on climate change and life beyond Earth
Meet Icefin. ritney Schmidt, an astrobiologist, sat in a small yellow tent, carefully studying the handful of monitors set up before her. They displayed a live-stream of telemetry data, sonar readings, and a video feed from a robotic vehicle exploring the oceanic underbelly of Antarctica's ice near the United States' McMurdo Station. The exploration is part of an effort to ultimately search for life in the alien ocean of Europa, one of Jupiter's moons. The mission will also help us understand the physics of melting glaciers, and prepare for sea-level rise. Europa has an ocean that covers the whole globe and is capped by a thick layer of ice. It is one of the spots humans are most likely to find life beyond Earth. The ice-covered ocean in Antarctica is an apt testing ground for technology we might one day send to Europa. Schmidt and her Georgia Tech team launched the robotic vehicle, named Icefin, through a hole in the 12-foot-thick layer of ice covering the ocean below. The video feed shows a wall of ice stretching down into the abyss. This is the underside of the Erebus Glacier Tongue, a glacier that flows off the nearby land, plows into the frozen ocean, and plunges 1,000 feet down into the water. Every once in a while, some of Antarctica's wondrous marine life swims past. It's an otherworldly environment — and that is exactly the point. "Europa is kind of the reason I get up in the morning," Schmidt said. "Because I'm interested in the question of, 'is there life beyond Earth?'" But Icefin itself will not go to Europa, and any robotic mission to the Jovian moon is probably decades away. While Icefin's great-great-grandchild may become an interplanetary explorer, Icefin itself is tackling another, more immediate, scientific challenge: understanding melting glaciers. Glaciers around the world are disappearing at an unprecedented rate. According to a recent study, 335 billion tons of glacial ice is lost each year, amounting to about 0.04 inches of sea-level rise per year. Just in August, Iceland held a funeral for the first of its glaciers to be lost to global warming. Now, as the ocean warms, its role in melting glaciers from below is the subject of intense research. Schmidt directs Icefin toward a critical juncture underneath the glacier: the grounding line. This is where the glacier lifts off the seabed and starts to float on the ocean. "That's the most dynamic part of the climate system," Schmidt said. "As the ocean warms up, it's eroding that place. And then the grounding line moves back over time and that can make the whole thing unstable." But the grounding line is also deep below the ice, far out of reach of divers and boats. This robot, however, even if still wearing its space-explorer training wheels, is able to reach it.

9-15-19 Microplastics may stop hermit crabs from choosing the best home
Microplastics appear to disrupt the ability of hermit crabs to choose a good home, suggesting pollution in the oceans may harm the species. Up to 10 per cent of the plastics we use end up in the oceans. Much of it breaks down into tiny particles, known as microplastics, which are bad news for marine life. When ingested by filter feeders, fish and other organisms, they can have detrimental effects on health and reproductive success. But few studies have explored how microplastics might influence behaviour. A key decision for hermit crabs is choosing when to abandon their shell and move into a new, bigger one. If microplastics in the water influence the crabs’ cognition you would expect them to take longer to move into a better shell and change shells less often. To test this idea, Andrew Crump and colleagues at Queen’s University Belfast took 64 hermit crabs from around the Antrim coast of Northern Ireland, half of which were left for five days in a 4 litre tank containing 50 grams of microplastics. The team removed each crab from its shell, gave it one that was 50 per cent too small, and placed it in an observation chamber with an empty shell of just the right size. Crabs exposed to the microplastics were around half as likely to enter the new shell after 45 minutes as those not exposed. “Maybe microplastics reduced their ability to sense the shell,” says Crump, who presented the research at a conference of the Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour in Konstanz, Germany, last month. The impact in the wild may not be as drastic as seen in the experiments, as the concentration of microplastics Crump and his team used was much higher than in the natural environment.

9-14-19 New storm to hit Bahamas two weeks after Hurricane Dorian
A new storm is threatening the Bahamas just two weeks after Hurricane Dorian tore through part of the islands. Tropical Depression Nine strengthened into Tropical Storm Humberto on Friday night. It is currently moving towards Great Abaco, one of the islands worst hit by Dorian. About 1,300 people are missing in the Bahamas following the hurricane, while at least 15,000 are in need of shelter, food and medical care. At 09:00GMT, the US National Hurricane Center said the storm was about 70 miles (110km) east of Great Abaco, with maximum sustained winds of 40mph (65km/h). It was moving north-west at about 7mph and was expected to pass near or over the north-western Bahamas on Saturday and be off the Florida coast later in the weekend. Humberto is expected to bring rainfall of up to 15cm (6in) in some areas of the Bahamas, although no significant storm surge is threatened. The BBC Weather service has advised that Humberto could strengthen into another hurricane over the coming days, although this is not likely to happen until it has passed over the Bahamas. Carl Smith, from the Bahamas National Emergency Management Agency (Nema), told reporters the storm could hinder the ongoing search for missing people, as well as efforts to get essential supplies to Grand Bahama and Great Abaco - the worst hit islands. "I hope it does not disrupt it," he said. "We have taken precautionary measures to address the potential impact that we may encounter." Hurricane Dorian battered the Bahamas earlier this month, killing at least 50 people. As the clean-up operation continues, the death toll is expected to rise. Dorian was packing sustained winds of 295km/h (185mph) when it made landfall at Elbow Cay on the Abacos on 1 September. It equalled the highest winds ever recorded for a hurricane at landfall when it struck the Abaco Islands.

9-13-19 Climate change: Electrical industry's 'dirty secret' boosts warming
It's the most powerful greenhouse gas known to humanity, and emissions have risen rapidly in recent years, the BBC has learned. Sulphur hexafluoride, or SF6, is widely used in the electrical industry to prevent short circuits and accidents. But leaks of the little-known gas in the UK and the rest of the EU in 2017 were the equivalent of putting an extra 1.3 million cars on the road. Levels are rising as an unintended consequence of the green energy boom. Cheap and non-flammable, SF6 is a colourless, odourless, synthetic gas. It makes a hugely effective insulating material for medium and high-voltage electrical installations. It is widely used across the industry, from large power stations to wind turbines to electrical sub-stations in towns and cities. It prevents electrical accidents and fires. However, the significant downside to using the gas is that it has the highest global warming potential of any known substance. It is 23,500 times more warming than carbon dioxide (CO2). Just one kilogram of SF6 warms the Earth to the same extent as 24 people flying London to New York return. It also persists in the atmosphere for a long time, warming the Earth for at least 1,000 years. The way we make electricity around the world is changing rapidly. Where once large coal-fired power stations brought energy to millions, the drive to combat climate change means they are now being replaced by mixed sources of power including wind, solar and gas. This has resulted in many more connections to the electricity grid, and a rise in the number of electrical switches and circuit breakers that are needed to prevent serious accidents. Collectively, these safety devices are called switchgear. The vast majority use SF6 gas to quench arcs and stop short circuits. "As renewable projects are getting bigger and bigger, we have had to use it within wind turbines specifically," said Costa Pirgousis, an engineer with Scottish Power Renewables on its new East Anglia wind farm, which doesn't use SF6 in turbines.

9-13-19 Climate change may be throwing coral sex out of sync
Spawning is out of whack for at least three species in the Red Sea, researchers say. Bad timing for coral sex might be an underappreciated threat of climate change. Spawning is out of sync for at least three widespread coral species in the Red Sea, says Tom Shlesinger, a marine biologist at Tel Aviv University. And warmer seawater temperatures could be playing a role. Records from the 1980s suggest that whole swaths of corals from particular species typically let colorful egg-sperm bundles float out of their tiny mouths and up into the water on the same few nights a year, Shlesinger says. Released in a big synchronized cloud, the sex cells separate from one another, gaining a chance at fertilization during the brief time that they survive on their own in seawater. It’s “a wonder of nature,” he says. But after four years of recent monitoring, Shlesinger argues that three of the five species studied no longer tightly synchronize their species-wide gamete releases. And few if any new colonies of these kinds of corals are showing up in recent surveys, so the species might dwindle away in the region, Shlesinger and Yossi Loya, also at Tel Aviv University, warn in the Sept. 6 Science. Shlesinger didn’t set out to compare local spawning synchrony. But “it’s something that kind of grabbed me,” he says. After realizing some corals weren’t spawning when expected, “I started going to the sea at night.” By the second year of his questing, he was snorkeling or diving several hours a night during spawning months. Some 150 species of corals mingle in the long, narrow gulf of the Red Sea that stretches northeast past Eilat in Israel and Aqaba in Jordan. Unlike the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, where more than 100 coral species can release their gametes together on the same night, the Red Sea’s corals spawn one species or a few at a time on their own special nights.

9-13-19 Plastic packaging: How are supermarkets doing?
Bunches of bananas wrapped in plastic. A pre-peeled orange in a plastic box. Shrink-wrapped cucumbers. Over-packaged food has been bothering shoppers for years and supermarkets have responded by looking for alternatives to all that plastic. But now MPs are saying that the UK needs to move away from all single-use packaging - not just plastic. Using aluminium, glass, paper or compostable plastics as an alternative also has an environmental impact, potentially pushing up energy use and carbon emissions, says a report by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee. It says reuse and refill schemes could be part of the solution and wants the government to consider whether official intervention could encourage more shops to offer refillable options. Here we look at how six leading supermarkets are tackling the packaging problem.

9-13-19 Why we are worse than Brazil
Everyone has been shrieking about Brazil’s poor stewardship of the burning Amazon, said Arno Kopecky, but Canada deserves just as much ire. This country has the second-largest intact forest on Earth after the Amazon, and we are wantonly destroying it. The boreal, as it’s called, has been emitting more carbon than it absorbs since 2002. That’s partly because our logging industry chops down 990,000 acres of it each year, “mostly to supply the U.S. with Kleenex and toilet paper.” Worldwide, we place third for loss of intact forests, behind just Russia and Brazil—and if you calculate that loss per capita, “we lead them by a large margin.” But the main reason the boreal has turned “from carbon sink to source” is fire. Last summer, British Columbia lost nearly 3 million acres to blazes that blanketed western Canada in smoke. And because of the drying effects of climate change, the trees aren’t growing back and are increasingly being replaced by grasslands. Worst of all, though, is our “desecration of the last stands of ancient temperate rain forest” anywhere in the world. That rain forest, on British Columbia’s lush coast—home to 1,000-year-old trees—is already 80 percent logged. Unlike Brazil, we don’t need foreign aid to save our forests. We just need the will.

9-13-19 Weak Amazon protections
Seven South American countries signed a pact last week to boost protections for the Amazon basin—a deal sparked by international outrage over fires that have burned thousands of square miles of rain forest this summer. The agreement will see the Amazonian nations set up a disaster response network and bolster satellite monitoring. But environmentalists said the Colombia summit produced few concrete measures to defend the forest known as the Earth’s lungs. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro—whose country contains 60 percent of the Amazon—attended by videoconference and griped that foreign leaders’ concerns about the Amazon were driven by “the sole goal of attacking Brazil’s sovereignty.”

9-13-19 Largest ever polar expedition will soon be frozen in drifting sea ice
The biggest scientific project ever to take place in the Arctic is about to kick off. Within days, a ship is set to begin drifting in the sea ice off Siberia, from where it will eventually become locked in the ice for months of the Arctic winter. The Polarstern icebreaker is set to depart from Norway on 20 September – around the same time that researchers are expected to confirm the area of Arctic sea ice has reached the second lowest level on record. The ship is part of an epic endeavour called MOSAIC, which will involve some 600 scientists studying climate change, Arctic wildlife and more over the course of a year. Winter sea ice in the Arctic is too thick even for icebreakers to penetrate. Instead, the expedition will borrow an idea pioneered by Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen who in the 19th century took advantage of a major ocean current to drift to the central Arctic. “It doesn’t make sense to fight the ice, rather we are going to work with it,” says the expedition’s leader, Markus Rex of the Alfred-Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in Germany. The expedition will be an complex logistical endeavour. The Polarstern, loaded with scientific equipment, fuel and food, will be supported by a fleet of four other icebreakers. For half a year the ice will be impenetrable, so a runway on the ice will operate to fly in supplies. The scientific research will involve a camp on the ice that might stray as far as 50 kilometres from the ship. Scientists will study the atmosphere, the physics of sea ice, and ocean chemistry among much else. The behaviour of the region’s rapidly-declining sea ice, which is expected to disappear entirely over summer in coming decades due to climate change, has been well-studied in summer. But for winter, Rex says there is little data beyond satellite images and basic temperature records from ocean buoys.

9-13-19 'Cocktail of pollutants' found in dolphins in English Channel
Dolphins living in the English Channel are exposed to a "cocktail of pollutants", say scientists. A study found some of the highest recorded levels of toxic chemicals and mercury in the bodies of bottlenose dolphins off the French coast. Researchers say more needs to be done to tackle the "invisible" problem of lingering pollutants in the oceans. The Channel is home to one of the last remaining large European populations of bottlenose dolphins. They found high concentrations of mercury in skin and polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, in blubber. Other industrial chemicals, such as dioxins and pesticides, were also found in blubber samples, which together may act as a "cocktail of pollutants", they said. The chemicals are passed down from mother to calf. "Our results indicated the important transfer of PCBs by females to their young, which may raise concern for the population," said the team of researchers led by Dr Krishna Das of the University of Liege, Belgium. The scientists say the bottlenose dolphin's habitat - an area known as the Normanno-Breton Gulf - should become a special area of conservation to protect the population. The study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, chimes with data from investigations of strandings, said ZSL's Rob Deaville, of the UK Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme. "As apex predators, bottlenose dolphins are at higher risk of exposure to some of the chemicals mentioned in this study - and as many of the European coastal populations of bottlenose dolphins are relatively small in size, they may therefore be under greater conservation threat," he said. PCBs, used in plastics, paints and electrical equipment, were banned several decades ago, but persist in the environment, where they can build up in the blubber of dolphins and whales. The chemicals have been found in the blubber of bottlenose dolphins washed up on beaches around Europe. One killer whale found dead off Scotland in 2016 contained among the highest levels of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, ever recorded.

9-13-19 Decline of migrating birds could be partly due to pesticides
It’s not just bees that are being harmed by the pesticides called neonicotinoids, it’s birds too. A study in Canada has shown that migrating white-crowned sparrows lose weight just hours after eating seeds treated with the neocotinoid imidacloprid, delaying their onward migration by several days. Although the main manufacturer of the pesticide disputes the findings. Birds that arrive late at breeding grounds are less likely to raise young successfully and sometimes don’t breed at all, says Christy Morrissey at the University of Saskatchewan, Canada, whose team carried out the study. “This has serious impacts on populations.” In North America, populations of 57 of the 77 bird species associated with farmland are in decline. Morrissey thinks neonicotinoids could be contributing to these declines. However, she does not think that banning these pesticides is the answer. Farmers will just use alternative pesticides that may turn out to be just as bad. Instead, we need to find ways of farming that don’t rely on quick chemical fixes, Morrissey says. Dave Goulson at the University of Sussex agrees. “The regulatory system keeps failing, by allowing new harmful chemicals into use,” he says. “The only long-term solution is to move away from a reliance on pesticides to solve every problem.” Neonicotinoids are applied to seeds before planting to kill insects that feed on the seedlings. They are much less toxic to birds and mammals than insects, so in theory these animals should not get high enough doses to harm them.But lab studies by Morrissey have shown that even low doses of imidacloprid make white-crowned sparrows (Zonotrichia leucophrys) lose weight. Now her team has caught wild sparrows on a migratory stopover, tagged them with tiny radio transmitters and fed them either imidacloprid or a harmless control.

9-13-19 Birds fed a common pesticide lost weight rapidly and had migration delays
Neonicotinoid insecticides have previously been implicated in declining bee populations The world’s most widely used insecticides may delay the migrations of songbirds and hurt their chances of mating. In the first experiment to track the effects of a neonicotinoid on birds in the wild, scientists captured 24 white-crowned sparrows as they migrated north from Mexico and the southern United States to Canada and Alaska. The team fed half of those birds with a low dose of the commonly used agricultural insecticide imidacloprid and the other half with a slightly higher dose. An additional 12 birds were captured and dosed with sunflower oil, but no pesticide. Within hours, the dosed birds began to lose weight and ate less food, researchers report in the Sept. 13 Science. Birds given the higher amount of imidacloprid (3.9 milligrams per kilogram of body mass) lost 6 percent of their body mass within six hours. That’s about 1.6 grams for an average bird weighing 27 grams. Tracking the birds (Zonotrichia leucophrys) revealed that the pesticide-treated sparrows also lagged behind the others when continuing their migration to their summer mating grounds. The findings suggest that neonicotinoid insecticides, already implicated in dropping bee populations, could also have a hand in the decline of songbird populations across North America. From 1966 to 2013, the populations of nearly three-quarters of farmland bird species across the continent have precipitously dropped. The researchers dosed the birds in the lab with carefully measured amounts of pesticide mixed with sunflower oil. In the wild, birds might feed on seeds coated with imidacloprid. The highest dose that “we gave each bird is the equivalent of if they ate one-tenth of [a single] pesticide-coated corn seed,” says Christy Morrissey, a biologist at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Canada. “Frankly, these were minuscule doses we gave the birds.”

9-12-19 Protesters suspended from a bridge in Houston
Greenpeace activists suspended themselves over a port in Houston ahead of the Democratic debates to protest against the use of fossil fuels. Houston Ship Channel is a waterway that connects the city with the Gulf of Mexico. The Texas Coast Guard temporarily closed a part of the shipping port.

9-12-19 Why are countries failing on their promise to stop deforestation?
Five years ago, countries and businesses committed to halving deforestation by 2020 and ending it entirely by 2030. The 2020 goal was a big, bold target – and one that has fallen flat on its face. Since 2014, the area of forest destroyed annually has got dramatically worse, increasing more than 40 per cent globally. An area of 26 million hectares, roughly the size of the UK, was lost annually between 2014 and 2018, each year unlocking carbon emission equivalent to the EU’s annual footprint, a report by an international group of research institutions and NGOs has found. The vast majority of the deforestation took place in the tropics. The losses mean the 2020 target is now likely impossible to meet. “It’s wake-up call. The situation now is more dire than five years ago,” says Stephanie Roe of the University of Virginia, one of the report authors. So why is the world failing to make good on its promises to stop deforestation? While the 2014 New York Declaration on Forests was endorsed by some big forest countries including Indonesia and a few Brazilian states, along with the US and EU, it notably did not include Brazil. The country has the biggest forests and still has the biggest absolute losses. While it made huge strides in cutting deforestation after the rampant clearances in the noughties, preliminary deforestation data and the fires in the Amazon this year suggest progress is now going into reverse. “There is a clear political agenda to prioritize agriculture and extractive industries and roll back environmental protections,” says Constance McDermott at the University of Oxford. While Latin America is still suffering the biggest absolute forest loss, Africa has seen the most significant change, with tree cover loss up 146 per cent in the past five years. This is largely due to economic growth, particularly in the Congo basin. “There is pressure to allow expansion of palm oil, cocoa and other commercial land uses,” says McDermott. The Democratic Republic of Congo continues to suffer from political instability, she says, which research has linked to forest cover.

9-12-19 World 'losing battle against deforestation'
A historic global agreement aimed at halting deforestation has failed, according to a report. An assessment of the New York Declaration on Forests (NYDF) says it has failed to deliver on key pledges. Launched at the 2014 UN climate summit, it aimed to half deforestation by 2020, and halt it by 2030. Yet deforestation continues at an alarming rate and threatens to prevent the world from preventing dangerous climate change, experts have said. The critique, compiled by the NYDF Assessment Partners (a coalition of 25 organisations), painted a bleak picture of how the world's forests continue to be felled. "Since the NYDF was launched five years ago, deforestation has not only continued - it has actually accelerated," observed Charlotte Streck, co-founder and director of Climate Focus, which co-ordinated the publication of the report. The report says the amount of annual carbon emissions resulting from deforestation around the globe are equivalent to the greenhouse gases produced by the European Union. On average, an area of tree cover the size of the United Kingdom was lost every year between 2014 and 2018. Tropical forest loss accounts for more than 90% of global deforestation, with the hotspot being located in Amazon Basin nations of Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia and Peru. Craig Hanson, vice-president of food, forest, water & the ocean at the World Resources Institute, described the findings as a "mixed report card". "There are some places in the world where we are suffering dramatic loss of primary forest, so we are losing the battle on stopping deforestation," he told reporters. "In other places, we are finding that there are new trees that are enriching rural landscapes, but we are still seeing a net reduction in the number of forests the world has." Worryingly, say the authors, a new deforestation hotspot in West Africa is emerging. The rate of tree-felling in the Democratic republic of Congo has doubled in the past five years. The New York Declaration on Forests (NYDF) is a voluntary and a legally non-binding agreement to take action to halt global deforestation. It was first endorsed at the United Nations Climate Summit in September 2014, and by October 2017 40 governments, 57 multi-national companies and 58 non-government organizations had endorsed the declaration.

9-12-19 Australia bushfires are now 'hotter and more intense'
It's only the start of the fire season in Australia, but more than 140 bushfires are already raging across Queensland and New South Wales. Experts say they expect the fires this season to be hotter and more intense - and there's a reason behind the trend.

9-12-19 Generator that runs on heat escaping to the sky can charge phones
A device that makes electricity at night using heat radiating from the ground could be used to power lights and mobile phones in remote locations. Over 1 billion people globally – mostly in poor, rural communities – still don’t have access to electricity. Cheap solar cells are increasingly used to power lights, mobile phones and home appliances in these communities, but they only work during the day. Now, Aaswath Raman at the University of California, Los Angeles, and his colleagues have invented a device that makes electricity at night using the thermoelectric effect. This effects allows temperature differences to be converted to electricity. Thermoelectric devices have traditionally been used to extract electricity from waste heat from factories and car exhausts, by taking advantage of the temperature difference with the cooler surrounding air. Raman’s team took a different approach. They created a temperature difference using a mechanism called radiative sky cooling, which causes sky-facing surfaces to become colder than the surrounding air as they naturally radiate heat into the sky. This phenomenon explains, for example, why frost can form on grass even when the air temperature is above zero. The researchers constructed a polystyrene box with a black disc on the outside facing upwards and an aluminium block on the inside. The black disc was designed to cool down by losing heat to the sky, while the aluminium block was designed to warm up by absorbing heat from the night air. The two were coupled to a commercial thermoelectric generator that converted the temperature difference to electricity. The system produced 25 milliwatts of energy per square metre when the team tested it on a rooftop in Stanford, California on a clear night with a midnight temperature of 1 degree Celsius. This was enough to switch on an LED light.

9-12-19 This device harnesses the cold night sky to generate electricity in the dark
A prototype powered a small light-emitting diode in a trial run. A new device is an anti-solar panel, harvesting energy from the cold night sky. By harnessing the temperature difference between Earth and outer space, a prototype of the device produced enough electricity at night to power a small LED light. A bigger version of this nighttime generator could someday light rooms, charge phones or power other electronics in remote or low-resource areas that lack electricity at night when solar panels don’t work, researchers report online September 12 in Joule. The core of the new night-light is a thermoelectric generator, which produces electricity when one side of the generator is cooler than the other (SN: 6/1/18). The sky-facing side of the generator is attached to an aluminum plate sealed beneath a transparent cover and surrounded with insulation to keep heat out. This plate stays cooler than the ambient air by shedding any heat it absorbs as infrared radiation (SN: 9/28/18). That radiation can zip up through the transparent cover and the atmosphere toward the cold sink of outer space. Meanwhile, the bottom of the generator is attached to an exposed aluminum plate that is continually warmed by ambient air. At night, when not baking under the sun, the top plate can get a couple of degrees Celsius cooler than the bottom of the generator. Engineer Wei Li of Stanford University and colleagues tested a 20-centimeter prototype of the device on a clear December night in Stanford, Calif. The generator produced up to about 25 milliwatts of power per square meter of device — enough to light a small light-emitting diode, or LED bulb. The team estimates that further design improvements, like better insulation around the cool top plate, could boost production up to at least 0.5 watts per square meter.

9-11-19 Planet Earth has 9 safety limits and we’ve already exceeded 4 of them
A decade ago, Johan Rockström identified the limits to Earth's life support systems. From chemical pollution to climate change, we're veering into the danger zone - so why is he (cautiously) optimistic about the future? HUMANITY can only thrive if our planet is hospitable to us, but what are the limits to its stability? That was the question posed by Johan Rockström in 2009 in the first scientific assessment of the limits to safe living for humans on Earth. He and 28 co-authors called them the planetary boundaries. They warned that if we exceed any of those nine boundaries, we risk destabilising Earth’s life-support systems and plunging the planet into chaos. The good news, they said, is that staying inside them provided a “safe operating space” for humanity. The bad news is that we have already exceeded four of them. The boundaries have drawn plenty of criticism, so does Rockström still stand by the findings? Is he more or less pessimistic about where we are headed? And where do Harley-Davidsons fit in? Johan Rockström: For the past 10,000 years, our planet has been in a uniquely stable state, a warm interglacial era with largely unchanging climate and ecosystems that we call the Holocene. It is the era during which human civilisation has developed, from hunter-gatherers to digital technology. It is all we know. But humanity is now driving changes like global warming and species extinctions. These threaten to push us beyond the thresholds of the life-support systems that have sustained the Holocene. The changes could be abrupt and irreversible. We don’t know where things may end up. If the Holocene is our desired reference point – the stable planet we know and depend on – we need to find out where those thresholds are, thus identifying our safe operating space. That is what our research on planetary boundaries tries to do. We identify nine. There are three that operate at a planetary scale: the oceans, the atmospheric climate system and the stratospheric ozone layer. Each has thresholds beyond which danger lies. There are four more that we call biosphere boundaries. They help regulate the planetary systems. They are biological diversity, the hydrological cycle, land cover such as forests, and the flows of nutrients vital to life, such as nitrogen and phosphorus. Finally, we identify two categories of alien things that don’t exist naturally: novel entities including nuclear waste and gender-bending chemicals, and aerosol air pollution, which alters Earth’s energy balance and impacts regional climate systems such as the south Asian monsoon.


SCIENCE - EVOLUTION and GENETICS

9-17-19 Sim Singhrao on the secrets of a healthy mind at New Scientist Live
News about our microbiome and how it affects our health is everywhere. At New Scientist Live next month, biologist Sim Singhrao will delve into this topic, focusing on how our lifestyles can lead to changes in the communities of microbes in our mouths and how these changes might diminish our general wellbeing and potentially lead to diseases like Alzheimer’s. Based at the University of Central Lancashire, Singhrao’s goal is to discover causative links between oral health and the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Ultimately, she is hoping to find strategies we can use to delay or prevent the disease.

9-17-19 A new book shows how not to fall for dubious statistics
‘The Art of Statistics’ shows how to think critically about numbers and data analyses. There are, as the saying goes, three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics. David Spiegelhalter is here to keep you from being duped by data. If you’re seeking a plain-language intro to statistics, or just want to get better at judging the reliability of numbers in the news, Spiegelhalter’s The Art of Statistics is a solid crash course. The book is less about learning how to use specific mathematical tools than it is about exploring the myriad ways statistics can help solve real-world problems — and why statistical claims often have to be padded with caveats. Spiegelhalter, a statistician at the University of Cambridge, keeps things lively by tying new concepts to questions. For instance, should you fret that eating bacon will increase your risk of bowel cancer? The relative risk might make you think so: People who eat a bacon sandwich every day have an 18 percent higher risk of bowel cancer than those who don’t. But looking at the absolute risk — a rise of 6 to 7 cases per 100 people — may put your mind at ease. Spiegelhalter’s narration is encouraging, and he knows where beginners are likely to get tripped up. He makes dense sections easier to parse by including frequent recaps and lots of data visualizations, and tucking equations into footnotes. The Art of Statistics is alight with his enthusiasm for how statistics can be used to glean information for court cases, city planning and a host of other sectors. But Spiegelhalter warns readers not to forget the assumptions and uncertainties inherent in any analysis, and tells many cautionary tales about the ways statistics can go astray. Patchy samples and logical missteps can lead to faulty conclusions.

9-17-19 How circling the globe has evolved in the 500 years since Magellan’s famous trip
Botanist Jeanne Baret and journalist Nellie Bly are two women who duplicated the feat. Half of a millennium ago, Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan and his crew embarked on the first voyage to successfully sail around the world. On September 20, 1519, Magellan’s five-ship fleet set sail from Spain and traveled south, crossing the Atlantic to South America. There, the sailors happened upon a channel, later dubbed the Strait of Magellan, to the Pacific Ocean, and the ships continued west. The journey was anything but smooth sailing. Magellan dealt with shipwrecks, mutiny and conflicts with indigenous people. He was killed during such a conflict in the Philippines in 1521. But his crew carried on, traversing the Indian Ocean and hooking around Africa’s southern tip to sail north back to Spain. A lone ship docked in Seville in 1522. In the 500 years since Magellan, humankind has found new ways to circle the globe. The goal of many early circumnavigations was to connect the world, says Jeremy Kinney, chair of the aeronautics department at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. Circumnavigation is the ultimate expression of “humans’ ability to conquer nature and geographic boundaries,” he says. 1. In late 1774 or early 1775, French botanist and explorer Jeanne Baret became the first woman to circumnavigate the world (SN: 2/8/14). 2. November will mark another circumnavigation milestone: 130 years since American journalist Nellie Bly’s 1889 record-breaking journey. 3. A 1924 series of flights by the United States Army Air Service (which later became the Air Force) is largely considered the first global circumnavigation by plane. 4. Part of the Soviet Union’s Space Race victory, cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first person in space and the first to orbit Earth (SN: 4/22/61). 5. In 2017, French sailor Francis Joyon and his crew set a new fastest record for sailing around the world.

9-16-19 Vikings probably hunted Iceland's walruses to extinction for ivory
Iceland was once home to a unique subspecies of walrus, but the animals had vanished by the mid-14th century, just 500 years after the arrival of Norse settlers. The discovery suggests hunters were responsible for the walrus’s disappearance, providing some of the clearest evidence so far that humans began driving marine mammals extinct earlier than generally thought. Researchers have known for years that walruses once lived on Iceland, but opinion has been divided on whether they vanished before or after humans arrived. To settle the debate, Tange Olsen and Xénia Keighley at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark carbon dated the remains of 34 walruses found in western Iceland. Three of the walruses died after the year 874 – the date permanent settlers are thought to have reached Iceland – with the youngest dating to between 1213 and 1330. In other words, Icelandic walruses survived for a few centuries after humans arrived. A walrus hunt is described in one late 12th century Icelandic saga: the walrus’s skull and tusks are said to have been sent to Canterbury in the UK to honour the archbishop, Thomas Becket, who was murdered in the city’s cathedral in 1170. The new data indicate the walrus in question could have been local to Iceland and not simply a migrant animal visiting the island from elsewhere. Partly because of such Medieval accounts of hunting, and because we know walrus ivory was a valuable commodity at the time, Olsen and Keighley suspect that the settlers were responsible for the disappearance of Iceland’s walruses. But they also considered an alternative hypothesis: the animals might have fled the island when people arrived, as has happened elsewhere in the North Atlantic. “When hunters went to Svalbard, the females and calves moved away,” says Keighley. But she says the new study suggests this isn’t what happened.

9-15-19 A network in the brain is involved in a range of mental health issues
Depression, schizophrenia and some other mental health conditions can have very different symptoms but they all seem to be connected by a set of structures in the brain. This network may help us understand the link between certain genes and psychiatric symptoms, and suggests a focus on symptoms, rather than categorising mental health conditions, may be a better way to help people. “We know for psychiatric illnesses, the categories of diagnosis are not very reliable,” says Maxime Taquet at the University of Oxford. Psychiatric conditions have been shown to overlap when it comes to which genes they are linked to, as well as symptoms. Taquet and his colleagues wanted to find out how these shared genetic factors might influence a person’s brain structure. Looking at the brains of adults with established disorders might not answer the question, says Taquet, as the disorder or any treatments might have made changes to the brain. Instead, his team turned to children aged between 3 and 18, none of whom had been diagnosed with a psychiatric condition. Any differences in brain structure among children are more likely to be explained by genes rather than the effects of an established disorder or treatment, says Taquet. Using data already collected from 678 children in the US, the team started by searching for 1877 genetic factors that have been linked to a range of conditions, including schizophrenia, panic disorder, addiction and others. Each child was given a score based on their overall genetic risk for these conditions. His team then assessed scans of the children’s brains. There were “large differences” between the brains of high-risk and low-risk children, says Taquet, and not just in one or two regions of the brain.

9-14-19 Boosting circadian rhythms can help relieve perinatal depression
Women with perinatal depression appear to have altered circadian rhythms. Using light to reset the body clock may improve symptoms. Our bodies run on internal clocks that, in concert with light, wake us up in the morning and leave us sleepy by night time. This circadian rhythm is partly regulated by a suite of genes. These control not only the sleep-wake cycle but also a host of other functions, including metabolism, hormone secretions and body temperature – all of which cycle throughout the day. Something seems to go awry in depression. People with severe depression tend to experience disruptions to their circadian rhythms. Depression can give people daytime sleepiness and night-time insomnia, and research has found higher activity of some circadian genes in people with the condition. Perinatal depression – which occurs during and after pregnancy – seems to be similar. Women tend to get less sleep when they are pregnant, particularly if they have perinatal depression. To find out if circadian genes might play a role, Massimiliano Buoli, Cecilia Maria Esposito and their colleagues at the University of Milan, Italy, looked at seven such genes in 44 women in the third trimester of pregnancy. Thirty of the women had been diagnosed with perinatal depression. By looking at whether epigenetic tags called methyl groups were attached to the genes, the researchers could tell how active these genes were. They found that three circadian genes were more active and one circadian gene was less active in the women who had been diagnosed with depression than those who didn’t have the condition. The team also found that the more methyl groups there were, the more severe a woman’s symptoms were likely to be. This suggests that the greater the difference in circadian gene activity, the more likely a woman is to experience symptoms of depression, say Buoli and Esposito, who presented the findings at the annual meeting of the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology in Copenhagen, Denmark, last week.

9-13-19 Mystery illness: An e-cig reckoning
A mysterious vaping-induced lung illness is proving that “safer than smoking cigarettes” does not mean “safe,” said Amanda Mull in TheAtlantic?.com. Six people have died since August from this lung syndrome, which has severely sickened more than 475 Americans in recent months. Almost all patients have required hospitalization for severe shortness of breath, lung inflammation, fever, dizziness, and vomiting. Now federal health officials are warning people to avoid e-cigarettes, while scientists race to explain why “otherwise healthy” young people are falling ill. Officials say many patients were using bootleg marijuana vaporizers bought off the street, with “vape juice” diluted by vitamin E acetate, a popular skin-care oil that inflames the lungs when heated and inhaled. Some patients also used nicotine vapes, whose health risks are largely unknown despite 14 million U.S. users. Youth vaping is its own health crisis, said Julia Belluz in Vox.com. Teen usage of vapes doubled, to 21 percent, from 2017 to 2018, “the largest increase ever recorded for any substance.” With candy-like flavors such as mango and watermelon, vape giants have marketed to minors, and this week the Food and Drug Administration said Juul unlawfully advertised its products as safer alternatives to cigarettes. In fact, studies have linked vaping to wheezing, and nicotine is known to raise blood pressure, cause arteries to narrow, and even cause seizures in large amounts. The FDA didn’t gain oversight of e-cigarettes until 2016, said USA Today in an editorial, and within that “regulatory vacuum” a “Wild West culture emerged.” The “good news” is that a federal judge recently green-lighted an FDA safety review of e-cigarettes. “In the meantime, vapers beware.”

9-13-19 There is no ‘gay gene’ to predict sexuality
The largest-ever study into the link between sexuality and genetics has found that there is no “gay gene” that determines a person’s sexual orientation. Instead, same-sex attraction appears to be driven by a complex mix of genetic, cultural, and environmental influences—just like many other human traits. “It’s effectively impossible to predict an individual’s sexual behavior from their genome,” co-author Ben Neale, from the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, tells CBSNews.com. Homosexuality and bisexuality are a “normal part of variation in our species.” The researchers examined the genetic profiles of nearly 480,000 people in the U.K. and U.S.—about 100 times more than any previous study into genetics and same-sex attraction—who were also asked whether they had ever had a same-sex partner. The scientists identified five specific genetic variants associated with same-sex behavior, including one linked to the biological pathway for smell and others connected to the regulation of sex hormones. Overall, genetics accounts for 8 to 25 percent of same-sex behavior, when thousands of tiny variations across the whole genome are taken into account, researchers concluded. Sexual orientation “is influenced by genes but not determined by genes,” said researcher Brendan Zietsch. But genetic variation does appear to have a stronger influence on same-sex behavior in men than in women, suggesting that female sexuality is more complex.

9-13-19 Going blind from a bad diet
A teenage “fussy eater” who subsisted on junk food went blind and partially deaf because of his terrible diet, according to a new study. The unnamed British teen ate nothing but French fries, Pringles, sausages, processed ham slices, and white bread for the past decade, and first visited a doctor at age 14 complaining of “tiredness,” reports The Washington Post. He was given B12 shots and dietary advice and sent home, but by age 15 was starting to suffer from hearing and vision loss—symptoms that mystified doctors. At 17, he was declared legally blind, and doctors discovered that he still had a B12 deficiency, as well as low levels of copper, selenium, and vitamin D. The teen was diagnosed with nutritional optic neuropathy, a disorder of the optic nerve that in developed nations is caused mostly by chronic alcoholism and medications that interfere with the absorption of nutrients. It is rarely a result of poor diet, because nutritious food is readily available in the West. The case shows the importance of eating “a varied diet,” said study lead author Denize Atan, from Bristol Eye Hospital in England. “There is not a single food that will provide all the vitamins and minerals you need.”

9-13-19 HRT and breast cancer
New research has concluded that the risk of developing breast cancer from hormone replacement therapy is twice as high as previously thought, reports The Daily Telegraph (U.K.). HRT is used by millions of women around the world to relieve the symptoms of menopause, which include hot flashes and night sweats, and scientists have known of the treatment’s link to cancer since the early 2000s. To better gauge that risk, researchers analyzed data from 58 previous HRT studies, which included more than 100,000 postmenopausal women with invasive breast cancer. The metastudy revealed that the general risk of breast cancer for women ages 50 to 69 who have not taken HRT is 6.3 percent. But for women on the most common form of HRT—estrogen and daily progestogen—the risk jumps to 8.3 percent, equivalent to one extra cancer case per 50 users. The risk rises to 6.8 percent for those on estrogen-only therapy, and 7.7 percent for those taking progestogen every two or three days. The risk goes up the longer a woman is on HRT and persists even a decade after treatment stops. “We don’t want to be unduly alarming,” says co-author Richard Peto, from the University of Oxford. “But we don’t want to be unduly reassuring.”

9-13-19 Tattoo needles in lymph nodes
More than ink enters your body when you get a tattoo—metal fragments from tattoo needles that can cause allergic reactions also get left behind. In a new study, researchers examined 12 new steel tattoo needles with a high-powered microscope, both before and after use, reports The New York Times. They found that chromium and nickel particles break off during the tattooing process and become embedded in the skin. Those metals can travel through the body and build up in lymph nodes, potentially triggering an allergic reaction. Interestingly, the needle didn’t fragment when black ink alone was used; the breakdown was caused by titanium dioxide, an abrasive chemical additive used to brighten colored tattoo ink. The research builds on earlier studies that showed pigments can leach from tattoo sites and accumulate in lymph nodes. Anyone thinking of getting a tattoo, says lead author Ines Schreiver, from Germany’s Federal Institute for Risk Protection, should be aware they could be exposed to “impurities that might be allergenic or carcinogenic.”

9-13-19 An island grave site hints at far-flung ties among ancient Americans
Great Lakes and southeastern hunter-gatherers may have had direct contact 4,000 years ago. Ancient North American hunter-gatherers had direct contacts with people living halfway across the continent, researchers say. A ceremonial copper object and related burial practices at a roughly 4,000-year-old human grave site encircled by a massive ring of seashells in what’s now the southeastern United States closely correspond to those previously found at hunter-gatherer sites near the Great Lakes. Because the object and practices appear together, emissaries, traders or perhaps even religious pilgrims must have traveled most or all of the more than 1,500 kilometers from the Upper Midwest to St. Catherines Island, off Georgia’s coast, the researchers conclude September 2 in American Antiquity. Until now, “there was no clear evidence for direct, long-distance exchange among ancient hunter-gatherers in eastern North America,” says anthropologist Matthew Sanger of Binghamton University in New York. Finds at the McQueen shell ring on St. Catherines Island suggest that such exchanges involved objects and ideas that had spiritual significance, such as how to bury the dead. Only a massive, enigmatic earthworks in northern Louisiana called Poverty Point, inhabited from around 3,700 to 3,200 years ago, has yielded copper and other artifacts apparently obtained directly from groups based hundreds of kilometers or more away. But the findings at the McQueen shell ring show for the first time that such exchanges weren’t limited to great gatherings but also occurred between smaller groups going about their daily lives, says Harvard University anthropological archaeologist S. Margaret Spivey-Faulkner, who was not involved in the study.

9-13-19 Research on postmen's testicle warmth wins Ig Nobel
Research measuring if there is a difference in temperature between the left and right testicles is one of the winners of this year's spoof Nobel prizes. Fertility experts Roger Mieusset and Bourras Bengoudifa measured the temperature of French postmen's testicles, both naked and clothed. They found the left one is warmer, but only when a man has his clothes on. The Ig Nobel prizes were announced at a ceremony at Harvard University. In their research "Thermal Asymmetry of the Human Scrotum" published in the journal Human Reproduction, the researchers explained their experiment involved measuring scrotal temperatures with probes every two minutes. They asked 11 postal workers to stand for 90 minutes while they measured the temperature of their scrotums. In another experiment, they measured the temperatures of 11 bus drivers while they were sitting down. The Ig Nobels are spoof prizes that are published in the Annals of Improbable Research but many of the topics recognised in the awards actually have a serious point to them. In this case, other research has suggested the temperature around testicles can affect men's fertility. The quality of men's sperm in the Western world is in decline, but little is known about how to improve it. Craig Franklin told the BBC that he was devastated to find out he had no sperm at all.

9-13-19 We may have a basic form of sign language in common with chimpanzees
We can communicate with chimps. When put to the test, people can usually understand the meaning of ten common gestures used by chimpanzees. Human infants also use some of the same gestures before they can talk, although we don’t yet know if their meanings are the same. The gestures may be the remnants of a basic sign language used by our last common ancestors with apes, says Kirsty Graham, who did the work while at the University of St Andrews in Scotland. “This gestural communication is probably biologically inherited among the great apes – including humans.” One idea about language evolution is that we developed the ability to speak by building on a more primitive kind of sign language. To investigate, the St Andrews team have been recording the meanings of gestures used by gorillas, chimps and bonobos, a related species, to put together the online Great Ape Dictionary. So far they have found about 70 gestures, with about 16 different meanings, as several gestures can convey the same meaning. Most are shared by the three great apes. The researchers set up a website where members of the public could watch short video clips of ten common signs made by chimps and bonobos, and guess what each one meant from four options. By chance they should have got a quarter of the answers right. But people did better than that, picking the correct answer 52 per cent of the time, and this rose to 57 per cent if they were given a brief description of the situation when the gesture was used. Some gestures had success rates over 80 per cent, for instance, when a chimp strokes near its mouth, which means it is asking for food, says Graham, who presented the findings at the European Federation of Primatology meeting in Oxford this week.

9-13-19 Hans Christian Gram: The biologist who helped investigate bacteria
Biologist Hans Christian Gram devised one of the most important staining techniques used in microbiology to identify bacteria under a microscope. Hans Christian Gram, the inventor of the Gram staining technique, was a pioneering biologist who devised the system of classification which led to as many as 30,000 formally named species of bacteria being investigated. He’s the subject of the latest Google doodle, created to honour his birth date of 13 September 1853. Gram, working with German pathologist and microbiologist Carl Friedlander, devised the technique in Berlin in the early 1880s. It is still known as one of the most important staining techniques used in microbiology to identify bacteria under a microscope. Gram first dripped reagents, a substance designed to cause a chemical reaction, onto lung tissue samples. He found differences in the colouring of bacteria that is now known to be Streptococcus pneumoniae and Klebsiella pneumoniae. The differences Gram observed are a result of the composition of the bacterial cell wall. Some bacteria have a cell wall composed of peptidoglycan, a polymer of sugar and amino acids. These “gram-positive” bacterial cells retain the colour of a stain – usually a complex of crystal violet and iodine, or methylene blue – and appear purple or brown under the microscope. Others, that do not contain peptidoglycan, are not stained and are referred to as gram-negative, and appear red. Its popularity peaked between 1940 and 1960. Pierce Gardner, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, wrote about the Gram stain and its interpretation in 1974: “It is our feeling that the Gram-stained smear should be considered part of the physical examination of the patient with an acute bacterial infection and belongs in the repertoire of all physicians delivering primary care in acutely ill patients.”

9-13-19 Early whales swam doggy paddle across the ocean from India to Africa
Some early whales may have swum using their arms as well as their legs, a bit like a dog paddling in water. Despite this primitive swimming style, they seem to have managed to spread long distances across the ocean, from India to the western tip of Africa at a minimum. “Even if they are not very good swimmers, they could cross at least one ocean,” says Quentin Vautrin at the University of Montpellier in France. Whales are descended from hoofed land animals similar to modern deer, so the first proto-whales to venture into the water presumably used all four limbs for propulsion, as four-legged animals do today. More modern whales swim by undulating their entire bodies and only use their front limbs – their flippers – for steering. This crucial evolutionary transition took place between 50 and 35 million years ago. We do not fully understand what happened to early whales’ arms during this time because we don’t have many fossils. “We only know the forelimbs for a few species,” says Vautrin. His team has now found a new one. Vautrin and his colleagues unearthed a partial skeleton of an early whale called a protocetid in Senegal. The fossil includes two vertebrae, two ribs, fragments of the feet and tail – and most of an arm. Dated at between 43 and 41 million years old, it sits in the middle of whales’ transition to marine life. “We are far from the earliest whale, but we are a few million years before the real whales,” says Vautrin. Even at this relatively late stage in the evolution of early whales, it seems the animal was using its arms to propel itself. The bones show the protocetid’s arm had powerful muscles and the ability to bend at the elbow. This suggests the animal used it arms — and presumably legs too — to swim, in a way that could have resembled a modern dog. In truth, it is not clear exactly what ‘stroke’ the animal used. The shoulder bones have not been found, so we can’t tell whether the arm could move sideways or just forwards and backwards. “We don’t know if it’s just crawl or more like butterfly,” says Vautrin.

9-12-19 Bones release a hormone that helps us deal with sudden danger
A hormone secreted by bone helps to coordinate our flight-or-fight response, suggesting our skeletons are more active than we thought. When faced with a sudden threat, our heart and breathing rate, blood pressure, circulating blood sugar and body temperature increase to prepare our muscles to fight or run away. This fight-or-flight response is known to be controlled by direct nerve pathways from the brain and hormones released by the adrenal glands. Now, Gerard Karsenty at Columbia University and his colleagues have discovered that a hormone released by bones called osteocalcin also coordinates this response.They found that blood levels of osteocalcin quickly rose in humans when they had to perform a stressful public speaking task. The same thing happened in mice and rats when they were restrained, given electric foot shocks, or exposed to the smell of fox urine. Additional experiments in mice showed that this osteocalcin surge suppressed the body’s “rest-and-digest” functions in order to allow the opposite flight-or-fight mechanisms to proceed. The results build on the group’s previous work showing that bones release osteocalcin to help the muscles burn fuel during exercise, and that osteocalcin injections in older mice make their ageing muscles more youthful. Together, these findings suggest we need a radical re-think of the role of bones, which have previously been viewed as mostly inert structures, says Karsenty. They may have evolved to protect us from acute danger by activating the flight-or-fight response, optimising muscle function, providing the structural framework needed for our bodies to move and escape, and forming a protective cage around our organs, he says.

9-12-19 50 years ago, polio was still circulating in the United States
Excerpt from the September 13, 1969 issue of Science News. Only eight cases of paralytic polio have been reported in the entire United States so far in 1969. But … if infants and young children are not vaccinated as they come along, pockets of the disease could get larger.
Update: The United States saw its last naturally occurring polio case in 1979. Though the paralyzing disease is now close to being eradicated worldwide, it still circulates in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where 66 new cases were recorded this year as of August 22. Meanwhile, dozens of new cases, mainly in Africa, were caused by vaccine strains that reverted to disease-causing versions. Newer vaccine versions yet to be deployed have a lower risk of causing disease, researchers reported in July in the Lancet. Vaccination campaigns are still needed everywhere, or the disease “will come roaring back,” says Oliver Rosenbauer, spokesman for the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. A resurgence could cause “as many as 200,000 new cases” globally a year.

9-11-19 Dean Burnett on why disruptive teens might have saved the human race
The behaviour that defines teenagers might be annoying, but neuroscientist Dean Burnett says it could have been crucial for the survival of our species. My background and origins were quite a hurdle. I’m from a remote, working-class, former mining community in south Wales. I’m also the first person in my family to show any interest in science. Nobody in academia was actively biased against me, but for many people, that world was familiar. I, by contrast, spent a lot of time figuring it out. By the time I did, it was usually too late. I wouldn’t do this even if I could. I’ve just spent months researching how the teenage brain works. Being given weirdly specific, unsolicited instructions from some older bloke who claims he’s you? Given how most teen brains are geared, that’s likely to make them more willing to do the thing you’re warning against. Teenagers are how they are because it was evolutionarily useful. Long term, sticking to the safe and familiar can lead to stagnation and extinction. Having individuals strike out on their own can refresh the gene pool and uncover useful information. Hence, teens reject authority, crave independence, take risks and so on. Far from being a constant annoyance, teenagers may be the reason humanity is as smart and successful as it is.

9-11-19 Netflix's Diagnosis is a real-life House with added crowdsourcing
Netflix's new show Diagnosis is a moving and powerful attempt to help people with unusual medical conditions find new routes to their longed-for diagnosis. WHEN I heard the premises of two new medical shows that use crowdsourcing to help people with undiagnosed conditions, I was extremely sceptical. The medics have failed you, so why not ask some random people what they think the problem is? As it turned out, I was both right and wrong. The first show, Chasing the Cure, uses a live talk show format to highlight several people seeking a diagnosis. Host Ann Curry asks about their symptoms, while messages and texts arrive, offering support or suggesting diseases. A panel of doctors sifts through the contributions, debunking the (mostly) irrelevant. This portion seemed geared towards increasing viewer and online engagement, rather than finding a diagnosis. But the professional hunt for a diagnosis is also performative, with doctors listing potential causes and crossing out ideas. Tests are done off-screen, but they are rarely referred to. At the end, the doctors join Curry and the participants to deliver their verdict. The tone is odd, with a slick studio, game show music and manipulative interviews that mine the emotions of people in real pain. It makes a spectacle of the tough work doctors do when they diagnose rare diseases. I hated every minute. So I’m not sure why I decided to give Netflix’s Diagnosis a try, but I’m glad I did. It is based on a column for The New York Times Magazine by a doctor, Lisa Sanders, about medical mysteries. In it, she opened up cases to anyone with information to share that could help reach a diagnosis.Each episode is centred on one person. Sanders talks them through her process and shares video messages she receives. Most come from informed sources: medical students who recognise the symptoms, vets who have seen such problems in animals and people who have similar diseases.

9-11-19 Vaping deaths: 'A new generation of nicotine addicts'
Doctors in the US are warning people not to use e-cigarettes as they investigate six deaths linked to vaping. But health experts also say there's a long-term addiction crisis because so many American teenagers are already hooked on nicotine.

9-11-19 Am I addicted? The truth behind being hooked on gaming, sex or porn
Urges to play video games, watch pornography or have sex are now spoken of as addictions. Is the science rigorous, or are we just helping people excuse their behaviour? IAN used to play online video games through the night and into the next day. Over eight years, he lost his job, his home and his family. “I would have told you I loved my children more than anything – and I do love my children very dearly – but the truth is I loved the feeling of going online more,” he says. “It made me feel settled, it was a way to cope and it was a physical craving.” For Ian and others like him, video games feel as addictive as a drug. In May, the World Health Organization (WHO) reached a similar conclusion, including gaming disorder in its International Classification of Diseases for the first time. Studies suggest that between 0.3 and 1 per cent of the general population might qualify for a diagnosis. In the UK, plans are under way to open the first National Health Service-funded internet addiction centre, which will initially focus on gaming disorder. But some argue that to pathologise problematic gaming as an addiction is a mistake. In 2017, a group of 24 academics argued against attributing this behaviour to a new disorder. “Of particular concern are moral panics around the harms of video gaming,” they wrote, which have been seen in the fears around games like Fortnite. Such hysteria, the group argued, could lead to premature or incorrect diagnoses.Others simply claim that addiction to gaming, and to other behaviours such as sex, isn’t real, and that suggesting it is trivialises the issue of addiction or lets people off the hook for their actions. It isn’t surprising that this is a complex issue when you consider that even professionals can’t agree on a definition of addiction. “If you speak to 50 psychologists, we’ll all give you a completely different answer,” says Mark Griffiths, director of the International Gaming Research Unit at Nottingham Trent University, UK.

9-11-19 Giant ice age kangaroos had massive cheekbones for crushing bites
Extinct giant kangaroos had skulls built to deliver the powerful crunch needed to eat tough food, such as branches and stems. This may have allowed them to survive long stretches of time when other food was scarce. Extinct giant kangaroos had skulls built to deliver the powerful crunch needed to eat tough food, such as branches and stems. This may have allowed them to survive long stretches of time when other food was scarce. Short-faced kangaroos lived in Australia during the last ice age and are known for their short snouts, large jaws and teeth, and heavily built skulls. D. Rex Mitchell at the University of New England, Australia, created a digital model of the skull of one type of short-faced kangaroo, the 120-kilogram Simosthenurus occidentalis, and analysed the effects of different biting behaviour. He found that the giant kangaroo had teeth so close to the jaw joints that, if its cheek muscles were proportionate to the tree-kangaroo, a living relative, then the chances of its jaw dislocating were high. “But what I noticed was that this species has absurdly huge cheek bones,” says Mitchell. So when he scaled up the size of the cheek muscles to fit the size of the cheekbones, the digital model showed that the risks of the jaw dislocating dropped substantially. Giant pandas have similarly huge cheekbones that support the same large, stabilising muscles. This suggests the kangaroo may have used their premolars to crunch down on tough plant material, much like pandas eat bamboo, says Mitchell. However, it is also possible that the kangaroos held tough branches in their teeth and pulled them down to break them. The digital model suggests the giant kangaroo could have eaten tougher plants than any currently living Australian herbivores can, says Mitchell. S. occidentalis is thought to have survived until around 42,000 years ago, meaning it possibly lived alongside humans for around 20,000 years.

9-11-19 Artists who paint with their feet have ‘toe maps’ in their brains
Scans of the organ reveal areas that sense individual touches. Two artists who paint with their toes have unusual neural footprints in their brains. Individual toes each take over discrete territory, creating a well-organized “toe map,” researchers report September 10 in Cell Reports. Similar brain organization isn’t thought to exist in people with typical toe dexterity. So finding these specialized maps brings scientists closer to understanding how the human brain senses the body, even when body designs differ (SN: 6/12/19). “Sometimes, having the unusual case — even the very rare one — might give you important insight into how things work,” says neuroscientist Denis Schluppeck of the University of Nottingham in England, who was not involved in the study. The skills of the two artists included in the study are certainly rare. Both were born without arms due to the drug thalidomide, formerly used to treat morning sickness in pregnant women. As a result, both men rely heavily on their feet, which possess the dexterity to eat with cutlery, write and use computers. The brain carries a map of areas that handle sensations from different body parts; sensitive fingers and lips, for example, have big corresponding areas. But so far, scientists haven’t had much luck in pinpointing areas of the human brain that respond to individual toes (although toe regions have been found in the brains of nonhuman primates). But because these men use their feet in unusually skilled ways, researchers wondered if their brains might represent toes a bit differently. The two artists, along with nine other people with no special foot abilities, underwent functional MRI scans while an experimenter gently touched each toe. For many people, the brain areas that correspond to individual toes aren’t discrete, says neuroscientist Daan Wesselink of University College London. But in the foot artists’ brains, “we found very distinct locations for each of their toes.” When each toe was touched, a patch of brain became active, linking neighboring toes to similarly neighboring areas of the brain.

9-11-19 ‘The Nature of Life and Death’ spotlights pollen’s role in solving crimes
A botantist explains the science of forensic ecology. Even if a criminal doesn’t leave behind fingerprints or DNA, detectives need not worry. Crime scenes are peppered with other clues — pollen and spores — that can trip up even the most careful crooks. These clues are central to forensic ecology, in which scientists analyze biological material to help detectives solve crimes. In The Nature of Life and Death, botanist Patricia Wiltshire lays out the science underlying the discipline — which she helped pioneer in the United Kingdom — as she chronicles some of her most memorable cases of the last 20 or so years. Early in her career, Wiltshire used the power of pollen and spores to analyze archaeological sites. The qualities that make these particles useful for studying the past also make them useful for solving crimes. The particles’ natural polymers can be long-lasting, and in certain conditions, pollen and spores persist longer than other forms of evidence, even for thousands of years. More important for detectives, these biological bits are often as distinctive as the plants and fungi that make them, providing telltale clues of where a crime has happened or where a criminal has been. In part because of their minuscule size, pollen and spores are particularly susceptible to static electricity, doggedly clinging to the clothing and hair of victims and perpetrators alike. Criminals often don’t even realize they’re covered in the tiny particles. The combination of pollen and spores at a site can be as distinct as a fingerprint, especially when dealing with rare plants or fungi, or pollen that isn’t spread far and wide by the wind, Wiltshire explains. By studying the material, she has, for example, determined where and during which season crimes have occurred. In one murder case, Wiltshire used pollen and spores from a gardening tool, the tennis shoes of the murderer and the foot pedals of the victim’s car to identify the woodland locale in northern England where the victim’s body had been dumped.


ANIMAL INTELLIGENCE and ZOOLOGY

9-17-19 New species of giant salamander is the world's largest amphibian
The Chinese giant salamander, the largest amphibian in the world, is critically endangered – and now it’s clear that there are at least three distinct species of this animal, each of which will need different kinds of intervention if they are to be saved from extinction. The Chinese giant salamander is a huge animal that has been know to grow up to 1.8 metres long. They are very rare in the wild, but millions are kept in farms. But these farm animals, we now know, mainly represent one of the three species found across China – Andrias davidianus. The other species are “largely eliminated from the wild,” says Samuel Turvey at the Zoological Society of London, UK. “Each distinct species requires targeted and separate conservation management, both to locate any surviving wild populations and hopefully to establish species-specific conservation breeding programmes,” says Turvey. Turvey and his colleagues analysed DNA taken from liver, muscle or bone samples of 41 Chinese giant salamanders, some of which were museum specimens. These animals came from four river basins in nine Chinese provinces. The team found three distinct species from southern, central and eastern China. “Chinese giant salamanders have traditionally been thought to be a single species,” says Turvey. One of the newly named species, Andrias sligoi, is called the South China giant salamander. The other, which is from Huanghsan, has yet to be named. Turvey suggests the South China giant salamander is probably the biggest of the three and may grow up to nearly 2 metres long. These animals are extensively moved around China by humans to stock farms for food, and are sometimes used for medicinal purposes. This movement made it tricky to determine where they originated and how these three species diverged.

9-17-19 World's biggest amphibian 'discovered' in museum
A newly-identified amphibian is possibly the largest on the planet, according to DNA from museum specimens. Reaching nearly two metres in length, the South China giant salamander is critically endangered in the wild. Scientists say renewed conservation efforts are needed if the animal is to be saved from extinction. Harvesting for the luxury food trade has led to a collapse in numbers across China. Previously considered a single species, analysis of specimens, living and dead, suggests there are in fact three species found in different parts of China. The South China salamander is the largest of the three, which researchers suspect it is the largest amphibian alive today. Prof Samuel Turvey of ZSL (Zoological Society of London) said the decline of numbers in the wild has been "catastrophic". "We hope that this new understanding of their species diversity has arrived in time to support their successful conservation, but urgent measures are required to protect any viable giant salamander populations that might remain," he said. Co-researcher, Melissa Marr, of the Natural History Museum London, said measures must be put in place that preserve the genetic integrity of each distinct species. "These findings come at a time where urgent interventions are required to save Chinese giant salamanders in the wild," she said. Giant salamanders were once found across a large area of central, eastern, and southern China. Over-exploitation has increased in recent decades, to supply a domestic luxury food market. A large-scale farming industry has developed, which may threaten wild populations through poaching and spread of infectious diseases.

9-15-19 Wasps: If you can't love them, at least admire them
Want to know the best way to kill a cockroach? Well, first inject some powerful neurotoxins directly into its brain. This will make the bug compliant; it won't try to fly away and will bend to your will. Second, slice off one of its antennae and drink the goo that comes out. For snack purposes, you understand. And then lead it off to your lair by the stump, like a dog on a leash. You're going to bury this zombie in a hole in the ground. But just before you close up the tomb, lay an egg on the bug. Your progeny can have the joy of eating it alive. Dr Gavin Broad relishes these stories about how wasps will parasitise other critters. He's the principal curator in charge of insect collections at London's Natural History Museum, which means he's got plenty of material to work with. He has drawer after drawer of wasps, gathered from all corners of the globe. Ok, I can already hear you saying, "I hate wasps even if they kill roaches". But spend just a few minutes with Gavin and I promise you your views will evolve. You'll marvel at their skill and in quite a few cases you'll be stunned (not stung) by their beauty. That destroyer of cockroaches, for example - Ampulex compressa - has an extraordinary iridescent exoskeleton. You can see why they sometimes call it the jewel wasp. "But every wasp is glorious," says Gavin, as he urges you to move beyond the PR spin that's got us to prefer beetles and bees instead ("Bees are just furry wasps that turned vegetarian"). Wasps have their role in Nature and it's not to pester humans in the autumn. Ignore those "yellow jackets" getting drunk on cider in September orchards; they'll soon be gone. No, wasps have very useful functions, one of which is to keep other insects in check. Every insect you can think of probably has some wasp that will attack it. If that wasn't the case, we'd almost certainly be using more pesticides than we already do on our farms.

9-15-19 Microplastics may stop hermit crabs from choosing the best home
Microplastics appear to disrupt the ability of hermit crabs to choose a good home, suggesting pollution in the oceans may harm the species. Up to 10 per cent of the plastics we use end up in the oceans. Much of it breaks down into tiny particles, known as microplastics, which are bad news for marine life. When ingested by filter feeders, fish and other organisms, they can have detrimental effects on health and reproductive success. But few studies have explored how microplastics might influence behaviour. A key decision for hermit crabs is choosing when to abandon their shell and move into a new, bigger one. If microplastics in the water influence the crabs’ cognition you would expect them to take longer to move into a better shell and change shells less often. To test this idea, Andrew Crump and colleagues at Queen’s University Belfast took 64 hermit crabs from around the Antrim coast of Northern Ireland, half of which were left for five days in a 4 litre tank containing 50 grams of microplastics. The team removed each crab from its shell, gave it one that was 50 per cent too small, and placed it in an observation chamber with an empty shell of just the right size. Crabs exposed to the microplastics were around half as likely to enter the new shell after 45 minutes as those not exposed. “Maybe microplastics reduced their ability to sense the shell,” says Crump, who presented the research at a conference of the Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour in Konstanz, Germany, last month. The impact in the wild may not be as drastic as seen in the experiments, as the concentration of microplastics Crump and his team used was much higher than in the natural environment.

9-13-19 Urban crows’ burger habit
Crows in towns and cities have higher cholesterol than their country cousins, thanks to their fast food–heavy diet, a new study has found. These clever corvids are experts at raiding trash cans. To discover the effects of the half-eaten cheeseburgers and fried chicken they scavenge and scarf, researchers measured the cholesterol of 140 nestling crows in urban, suburban, and rural areas in and around Davis, Calif. The more urban the surroundings, they discovered, the higher the birds’ cholesterol. The scientists then ran a “cheeseburger supplementation experiment,” reports the New Scientist, in which they dropped McDonald’s burgers near crows’ nests in rural Clinton, N.Y. Sure enough, the junk food–munching birds’ cholesterol levels were about 5 percent higher than those of nearby crows that hadn’t been fed burgers. Whether that extra cholesterol is bad for the crows isn’t clear—there was no evidence that it affected mortality rates. “We know that excessive cholesterol causes disease in humans,” says lead researcher Andrea Townsend, from Hamilton College in Clinton. “But we don’t know what level would be ‘excessive’ in a wild bird.”

9-13-19 We may have a basic form of sign language in common with chimpanzees
We can communicate with chimps. When put to the test, people can usually understand the meaning of ten common gestures used by chimpanzees. Human infants also use some of the same gestures before they can talk, although we don’t yet know if their meanings are the same. The gestures may be the remnants of a basic sign language used by our last common ancestors with apes, says Kirsty Graham, who did the work while at the University of St Andrews in Scotland. “This gestural communication is probably biologically inherited among the great apes – including humans.” One idea about language evolution is that we developed the ability to speak by building on a more primitive kind of sign language. To investigate, the St Andrews team have been recording the meanings of gestures used by gorillas, chimps and bonobos, a related species, to put together the online Great Ape Dictionary. So far they have found about 70 gestures, with about 16 different meanings, as several gestures can convey the same meaning. Most are shared by the three great apes. The researchers set up a website where members of the public could watch short video clips of ten common signs made by chimps and bonobos, and guess what each one meant from four options. By chance they should have got a quarter of the answers right. But people did better than that, picking the correct answer 52 per cent of the time, and this rose to 57 per cent if they were given a brief description of the situation when the gesture was used. Some gestures had success rates over 80 per cent, for instance, when a chimp strokes near its mouth, which means it is asking for food, says Graham, who presented the findings at the European Federation of Primatology meeting in Oxford this week.

9-13-19 'Cocktail of pollutants' found in dolphins in English Channel
Dolphins living in the English Channel are exposed to a "cocktail of pollutants", say scientists. A study found some of the highest recorded levels of toxic chemicals and mercury in the bodies of bottlenose dolphins off the French coast. Researchers say more needs to be done to tackle the "invisible" problem of lingering pollutants in the oceans. The Channel is home to one of the last remaining large European populations of bottlenose dolphins. They found high concentrations of mercury in skin and polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, in blubber. Other industrial chemicals, such as dioxins and pesticides, were also found in blubber samples, which together may act as a "cocktail of pollutants", they said. The chemicals are passed down from mother to calf. "Our results indicated the important transfer of PCBs by females to their young, which may raise concern for the population," said the team of researchers led by Dr Krishna Das of the University of Liege, Belgium. The scientists say the bottlenose dolphin's habitat - an area known as the Normanno-Breton Gulf - should become a special area of conservation to protect the population. The study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, chimes with data from investigations of strandings, said ZSL's Rob Deaville, of the UK Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme. "As apex predators, bottlenose dolphins are at higher risk of exposure to some of the chemicals mentioned in this study - and as many of the European coastal populations of bottlenose dolphins are relatively small in size, they may therefore be under greater conservation threat," he said. PCBs, used in plastics, paints and electrical equipment, were banned several decades ago, but persist in the environment, where they can build up in the blubber of dolphins and whales. The chemicals have been found in the blubber of bottlenose dolphins washed up on beaches around Europe. One killer whale found dead off Scotland in 2016 contained among the highest levels of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, ever recorded.

9-13-19 Decline of migrating birds could be partly due to pesticides
It’s not just bees that are being harmed by the pesticides called neonicotinoids, it’s birds too. A study in Canada has shown that migrating white-crowned sparrows lose weight just hours after eating seeds treated with the neocotinoid imidacloprid, delaying their onward migration by several days. Although the main manufacturer of the pesticide disputes the findings. Birds that arrive late at breeding grounds are less likely to raise young successfully and sometimes don’t breed at all, says Christy Morrissey at the University of Saskatchewan, Canada, whose team carried out the study. “This has serious impacts on populations.” In North America, populations of 57 of the 77 bird species associated with farmland are in decline. Morrissey thinks neonicotinoids could be contributing to these declines. However, she does not think that banning these pesticides is the answer. Farmers will just use alternative pesticides that may turn out to be just as bad. Instead, we need to find ways of farming that don’t rely on quick chemical fixes, Morrissey says. Dave Goulson at the University of Sussex agrees. “The regulatory system keeps failing, by allowing new harmful chemicals into use,” he says. “The only long-term solution is to move away from a reliance on pesticides to solve every problem.” Neonicotinoids are applied to seeds before planting to kill insects that feed on the seedlings. They are much less toxic to birds and mammals than insects, so in theory these animals should not get high enough doses to harm them.But lab studies by Morrissey have shown that even low doses of imidacloprid make white-crowned sparrows (Zonotrichia leucophrys) lose weight. Now her team has caught wild sparrows on a migratory stopover, tagged them with tiny radio transmitters and fed them either imidacloprid or a harmless control.

9-13-19 Birds fed a common pesticide lost weight rapidly and had migration delays
Neonicotinoid insecticides have previously been implicated in declining bee populations The world’s most widely used insecticides may delay the migrations of songbirds and hurt their chances of mating. In the first experiment to track the effects of a neonicotinoid on birds in the wild, scientists captured 24 white-crowned sparrows as they migrated north from Mexico and the southern United States to Canada and Alaska. The team fed half of those birds with a low dose of the commonly used agricultural insecticide imidacloprid and the other half with a slightly higher dose. An additional 12 birds were captured and dosed with sunflower oil, but no pesticide. Within hours, the dosed birds began to lose weight and ate less food, researchers report in the Sept. 13 Science. Birds given the higher amount of imidacloprid (3.9 milligrams per kilogram of body mass) lost 6 percent of their body mass within six hours. That’s about 1.6 grams for an average bird weighing 27 grams. Tracking the birds (Zonotrichia leucophrys) revealed that the pesticide-treated sparrows also lagged behind the others when continuing their migration to their summer mating grounds. The findings suggest that neonicotinoid insecticides, already implicated in dropping bee populations, could also have a hand in the decline of songbird populations across North America. From 1966 to 2013, the populations of nearly three-quarters of farmland bird species across the continent have precipitously dropped. The researchers dosed the birds in the lab with carefully measured amounts of pesticide mixed with sunflower oil. In the wild, birds might feed on seeds coated with imidacloprid. The highest dose that “we gave each bird is the equivalent of if they ate one-tenth of [a single] pesticide-coated corn seed,” says Christy Morrissey, a biologist at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Canada. “Frankly, these were minuscule doses we gave the birds.”

9-11-19 Ghost crabs use teeth in their stomach to growl at their enemies
Ghost crabs “growl” when threatened by grinding the teeth inside their stomach against each other. While many crustaceans have teeth in their stomachs for grinding up food, the ghost crab is the first shown to use them to making sounds for communication as well. It has long been known that ghost crabs make sounds to deter intruders by flexing their claws, which makes ridges near the joint rub against each other. But when another animal gets too close, the crabs hold their claws upright in a position that prevents them making these sounds. Jennifer Taylor of Scripps Institution of Oceanography in California noticed that even in this position, the crabs still produce a rasping sound when threatened. The sounds are loud enough for people to hear unaided. “They were making sounds but not in the way we expected,” says Taylor. She and her colleagues could not see what was making the sounds. So they took a box of ghost crabs (Ocypode quadrata) to an X-ray department at a nearby hospital so they could see what was happening inside them as they growled in response to various threats, including a toy crab and a small robot. The X-ray fluoroscopy videos revealed that the rasping sounds coincided with the movements of the teeth in their foreguts, known as gastric mills, and that the teeth were not grinding up food at the time. Many animals, from worms and molluscs to birds, have mechanisms for grinding food in their gizzards that can produce audible noises (though birds swallow stones rather than having internal teeth– as did dinosaurs). Taylor suspects that some of these animals also use these noises for communication. Some fish, such as grunts, produce sounds using the teeth in their throats. This is the closest known equivalent to the ghost crabs, says Taylor.