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An Open Mind by Megan Godtland

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ATHEISM and HUMANISM

7-22-19 Will evangelicals thwart Trump's unchristian refugee ban?
That the Trump administration is considering effectively barring all refugees from entering the United States in 2020 should shock but not surprise. Admissions were capped at just 30,000 for 2019, down from 45,000 the year before, during which only about 22,000 refugees were actually allowed to come to America. Senior White House adviser Stephen Miller has reportedly made gutting the State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration a personal mission, and he seems to be equal to the task. There are all sorts of reasons this should not happen. The primary argument advanced by its supporters — that terrorists will slip in among the truly helpless and harm Americans — is statistically a load of bunk: "The chance of being killed on U.S. soil in a terrorist attack committed by a refugee [from 1975 to 2017] was 1 in 3.86 billion a year," a recent Cato Institute analysis reports. Logistical concerns are unfounded, too: If there is a lack of capability or resource to handle refugee resettlement in America, it is because the Trump administration's stranglehold on refugee admissions has strangled the nonprofit network serving refugees, too. Stop killing the one and the other will revive. But if the zero admissions plan is averted, its undoing is unlikely to be such factual considerations. The best hope here may well be for the president's evangelical supporters to demand his compassion. This may sound like a long shot, and that's because it is. Earlier this month, white evangelicals' views of refugees came under fresh scrutiny as a 2018 Pew Research poll recirculated on Twitter. Asked whether the United States has a responsibility to accept refugees, white evangelicals were disproportionately likely to say no. The religiously unaffiliated (65 percent), black Protestants (63 percent), Catholics (50 percent), and white mainline Protestants (43 percent) all outpaced white evangelicals' 25 percent identification of a responsibility to admit the displaced. (Webmaster's comment: So much for Christian love.)

7-22-19 Israel razes Palestinian homes 'built too near barrier'
Israel has begun demolishing a cluster of Palestinian homes it says were built illegally too close to the separation barrier in the occupied West Bank. Security forces moved in to Sur Baher, on the edge of East Jerusalem, to tear down buildings said to house 17 people. Residents said they had been given permits to build by the Palestinian Authority, and accused Israel of an attempt to grab West Bank land. But Israel's Supreme Court ruled that they had violated a construction ban. Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Middle East war and later effectively annexed East Jerusalem. Under international law, both areas are considered to be occupied territory, though Israel disputes this. Some 700 Israeli police officers and 200 soldiers were involved in Monday's operation in the village of Wadi Hummus, on the edge of Sur Baher. They moved in at about 04:00 (01:00 GMT) along with excavators, which began tearing down the 10 buildings the UN says were earmarked for demolition. Nine of the Palestinians who have been displaced are refugees, including five children, according to the UN. Another 350 people who owned homes in buildings that were unoccupied or under construction are also affected. One of the residents, Ismail Abadiyeh, told AFP news agency his family would be left "on the street". Another man who owned an unfinished house said he was "losing everything". "I had a permit to build from the Palestinian Authority. I thought I was doing the right thing," Fadi al-Wahash told Reuters news agency. (Webmaster's comment: Israel continues it's 70 year attack on the Palestinian people.)

7-22-19 US denounces Venezuela aircraft's 'unsafe approach'
The United States military has accused a Venezuelan fighter aircraft of endangering the crew of a US navy plane in international airspace. The Venezuelan plane made an "unsafe approach" and "aggressively shadowed" the US reconnaissance aircraft over the Caribbean Sea, US Southern Command said on Sunday. Venezuela said the US plane had entered Venezuelan airspace without permission. Relations between the two countries have been tense for years. The incident happened on Friday, the same day the US treasury department imposed sanctions on four members of Venezuela's military counterintelligence directorate (DGCIM) for their alleged role in the physical abuse and death of a Venezuelan navy captain, Rafael Acosta. Capt Acosta's death, which a leaked forensic report suggests occurred after he was severely beaten, asphyxiated and given electric shocks while in DGCIM custody, caused an international outcry earlier this month. US Southern Command took the unusual step of not only releasing their description of the incident but also publishing video of the Russian-made jet on Twitter. In a further tweet, US Southern Command said the action demonstrated "Russia's irresponsible military support to Maduro's illegitimate regime and underscores Maduro's recklessness & irresponsible behaviour, which undermines international rule of law and efforts to counter illicit trafficking". The US is one of the more than 50 nations which does not recognise President Maduro and his government, arguing that the 2018 polls which saw him re-elected to a second term were neither free nor fair. But Russia continues to support Mr Maduro and has in the past said it will do "everything required" to support him as Venezuela's "legitimate president". The reference to Russia's military support in the tweet posted by Southern Command shows their annoyance not just with the fact their plane was intercepted but also that it was a fighter aircraft developed by Russia's Sukhoi Aviation Corporation. (Webmaster's comment: The United States continues it's 120 year aggression against South American countries.

7-22-19 Poland LGBT march: Police arrest 25 after attacks on activists
Polish police have arrested 25 people after attacks on LGBT activists taking part in the city of Bialystok’s first ever equality march. Around 800 pro-LGBT demonstrators marched through the streets of the city on Saturday amid a heavy police presence. Hundreds of counter-protesters attempted to disrupt the event, with some attacking activists and chanting homophobic insults.

7-21-19 Ocasio-Cortez: Trump is 'putting millions of Americans in danger'
Democratic representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has reacted to President Trump's comments about her and three other congresswomen - in which he told them to 'go back' to 'the totally broken and crime infested placed from which they came.' Speaking at a town hall event in her own New York district, she said the remarks endangered millions of Americans.

7-21-19 American churches are failing congregants with disabilities
It's a failure for our kids, and a missed opportunity for the church itself. American churches are failing to meet the needs of children with cognitive and conduct disorders, a study by the National Survey of Children's Health found last year. In fact, children with autism are twice as likely to never attend religious services compared to kids with no chronic health conditions. As researcher Andrew Whitehead concluded, "This population is unseen because they never show up, or when they do, they have a negative experience and never return." It may come as a shock to you that churches are unable or unwilling to meet the needs of kids with developmental delays and learning disabilities — especially if you're a parent of children without any significant differences. But for people like me — a parent of three adopted children and two who have Down syndrome — these revelations barely induce a yawn. This is a situation we've been wrestling with and tirelessly trying to improve for years. Recently, I was at an evangelical church service to talk about my book, Scoot Over and Make Some Room, which explores the intricacies of my family life and the ways in which many of the systems in our society have yet to make room for my kids and others like them. The pastor who was interviewing me prefaced his first question by saying, "parents who have kids with disabilities such as Down syndrome, really wish their children didn't have that, that they could take it away." I cringed inside. I was so shocked to hear this religious leader, standing before a sea of people who looked to him for spiritual guidance, casually degrade my son and daughter with Down syndrome, I didn't even hear what the actual question was. I gently responded that I love my kids with Down syndrome and affirm that they are fully human like the rest of us: "Their Down syndrome is an important part of who they are and it is something I love about them. I wouldn't change the fact that they have Down syndrome for anything in the world." As I've raised my kids and fought for an equitable space in this world for them, I have often found myself disappointed with the Church and its lack of inclusive practices. And I'm not alone. I've met countless other parents who have stopped going to church once they had a child with a different ability. The environment was just too difficult for their child to navigate and they did not feel welcomed anymore. Christian churches must do a better job.

7-21-19 Why do Americans pay so much for prescription drugs?
President Donald Trump said that prescription drug prices dropped for the first time in half a century in the US last year. Since taking office, the president has made repeated attacks against those who set drug prices and has pledged to take radical steps to reduce them. Mr Trump appears to be referring to the Bureau of Labour Statistics Consumer Price Index (CPI), which measures the increase in the cost of household items in the US. In the year to May 2019, the average monthly cost of prescription drugs fell by 0.2%. (Webmaster's comment: Trump is a JOKE!)

7-20-19 Minnesota crowd welcomes home Ilhan Omar amid Trump row
The Somali-born lawmaker returned to her home state and was met with "welcome home" chants. The surprise greeting came after a Trump rally this week where attendees shouted to "send her back" after the president criticised her and three other congresswomen.

7-20-19 The pros and cons of a $15 minimum wage
The movement to increase the federal minimum wage is gaining steam. What are the benefits and costs? A Congressional Budget Office analysis released last week "makes clear that the benefits of a $15-an-hour minimum wage would heavily outweigh the downside," said Michael Hiltzik at the Los Angeles Times. The agency found that as many as 1.3 million people could be lifted out of poverty if the federal minimum wage rose from $7.25 in stages over five years, boosting the wages of 27 million Americans. The CBO said the change might also lead to the loss of 1.3 million jobs. Opponents have seized on that point, but the agency acknowledges it is "manifestly more uncertain than most of the rest" of the analysis. This uncertainty sounds familiar, said Noah Smith at Bloomberg. Many CBO studies rely on sifting through a large and often contradictory body of research. The most recent studies, however, tend "to find very small job losses from raising pay floors." In many places and industries, companies "hold wages below what a competitive market would offer." A higher minimum could just restore the competitive balance between workers and employers. Tell that to the small businesses that are particularly vulnerable to cost increases, said Tiana Lowe in the Washington Examiner. Big businesses, meanwhile, will simply automate the jobs. "Just go to your local McDonald's and order from the kiosk to see this in action." Some companies in places that have raised the minimum wage are already blaming wage laws for driving them out of business, said Jeremy Hill at Bloomberg. Restaurants Unlimited, a West Coast chain of 35 fine-dining and casual eateries, filed for bankruptcy protection last week. It said "progressive wage laws" in Seattle, San Francisco, and Portland had inflated "wage expenses by a total of $10.6 million" — more than the midsize chain, with total revenue of $176 million in a year, could afford. Don't base your opinion on one example, said economists Anna Godoey and Michael Reich at CNN. We've done the research on 51 minimum-wage increases in 45 states and found that "higher minimum wages do not have adverse effects on employment." We also found that in low-wage areas "where the highest proportion of workers received pay increases," there were wage increases across the board. That matches other research that "wage increases ripple upward," said Andrew Van Dam at The Washington Post. As much as "about 40 percent of wage benefits go to workers who aren't directly affected" by the law. And there are other surprising benefits: "Raising the minimum wage by 10 percent could reduce suicides by 3.6 percent among adults with a high school degree." Another bonus: Higher minimum wages have even been shown to cut crime, by making ex-convicts less likely to return to their old ways.

7-20-19 Polish abuse scandal: Victims take on the Catholic Church
Marek Mielewczyk was a 13-year-old altar boy when a priest asked him to come to his presbytery. "This is where I was abused for the first time," he says. He is one of several victims, now adults, featured in a documentary about Polish priests who sexually abused children. Tomasz and Marek Sekielski's film, Don't Tell Anyone, was watched 20 million times in the first week of its digital release – and prompted an unprecedented challenge to Poland's Roman Catholic Church. More than 90% of Poles identity themselves as Catholics. For many, the Church and its rituals do not just provide spiritual comfort: they are part of a national identity. That might explain why Poles have been slow to question the behaviour of some of their own priests, despite sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church in Ireland, the USA and neighbouring Germany. Monika, 28, did not appear in the film. But she told the BBC about years of abuse during supposed exorcisms by priests around Poland when she was a teenager. Her parents saw the priests "as heroes, people who were fighting against the devil himself" - but she believes they were manipulated. The Catholic Church defended Polish culture, language and identity as the country was ruled by three occupying empires in the 19th Century. After World War Two, the Church – and Polish Pope John Paul II – gave strength to the democratic Solidarity movement, helping it overthrow communist rule. But the documentary has sullied that reputation. Shortly after the film's release, an opinion poll suggested 67% of Poles regarded the Church's response as inadequate and 87% said its authority had been diminished. Marek Mielewczyk was abused for five years. "I didn't know about things like masturbation and touching. I had no idea about homosexual relations. I didn't know that an adult could abuse a child," says Mr Mielewczyk.

7-20-19 Merkel marks Hitler assassination attempt with anti-extremism appeal
German Chancellor Angela Markel has used the 75th anniversary of the most famous plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler to call on citizens to counter rising right-wing extremism. Ms Merkel thanked the German officer, Claus von Stauffenberg, and other plotters who tried in 1944 to kill the Nazi dictator with a briefcase bomb. Stauffenberg and some 200 co-conspirators were caught and executed. Mrs Merkel urged people to join programmes for strengthening democracy. "This day is a reminder to us, not only of those who acted on July 20, but also of everyone who stood up against Nazi rule," she said in her weekly video podcast. "We are likewise obliged today to oppose all tendencies that seek to destroy democracy. That includes right-wing extremism." The right-wing party Alternative for Germany in May became the country's largest opposition party in parliament with an anti-immigrant and nationalist agenda. In recent years there has been a rise in far-right attacks, including the murder of a German politician, whose death prosecutors believe was politically motivated and carried out by assassins with neo-Nazi extremist links. According to government figures, there are 24,000 right-wing extremists in Germany. Nearly 13,000 are believed to have a tendency to violence. (Webmaster's comment: This would never happen in the United States. Trump supports right-wing extremists and white supremacists. They will form the core of his elite presidential guards.)

7-20-19 The cruelty of indifference
"I do not care if we go down in history as barbarians," declared Romanian authoritarian Ion Antonescu to his nation's Council of Ministers in 1941; he was arguing the case for exterminating Jews, either by deporting them and thus leaving them to the mercy of the Germans, or simply by gunning them down. In 2019, Romanian filmmaker Radu Jude has turned Antonescu's words against him, using the authoritarian's callous proclamation as the title of his latest movie. The effect is so damning that if Antonescu lived today, he may find that he cares after all. Jude's film rebukes Antonescu's shameful legacy and confronts Romania's self-delusion over its role in the Holocaust; his purpose is to interrogate the country's past sins. But by wielding Antonescu's own words in the name of satire, I Do Not Care If We Go Down In History As Barbarians simultaneously captures present-day global antipathy toward immigrants: In Italy, where Interior Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini remains determined to criminalize Mediterranean migrant rescues, in France, where members of Generation Identitaire posed as border guards to deny African migrants entry into the country, in the United States, where Donald Trump's supporters react to family separations with contemptuous sneers, where Mike Pence observed CBP cages overflowing with tired migrants and said that they're "in good shape." Wisely, I Do Not Care If We Go Down In History As Barbarians doesn't make an active effort to connect the dots between Antonescu, the Holocaust, and the present day; Jude's purpose is specific to the crimes of his homeland rather than the crimes of others. Instead, those dots connect organically as the film's plot progresses over its 140-minute running time. Jude shot mostly on 16mm using hand-held ambulatory takes, stripping away all artifice and emphasizing sober reality to drive his points home.

7-19-19 Trump tells congresswomen to ‘go back’ home
President Trump embraced the most openly racial confrontation of his presidency so far this week, telling a group of nonwhite Democratic congresswomen to “go back” to their “totally broken and crime infested” home countries. Trump’s tweets were aimed at a group of unabashedly progressive House freshmen who have been nicknamed “the Squad”: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, and Ayanna S. Pressley of Massachusetts. All of the women were born in the U.S., with the exception of Omar, a Somali refugee who became an American citizen as a teenager. After his comments ignited a firestorm of racial and partisan rancor, Trump refused to back down. “If you’re not happy here you can leave,” he said. “That is what I say all of the time. A lot of people love it, by the way. A lot of people love it.” The House of Representatives passed a resolution condemning Trump for his “racist comments,” with every Democrat voting in favor. However, only four House Republicans voted to rebuke Trump. Most GOP officials either defended Trump, or offered heavily qualified criticisms. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said flatly, “The president is not a racist.” Maine Sen. Susan Collins issued a statement heavily criticizing the four Democratic congresswomen before calling Trump’s comments “over the line.” Trump’s racist tirade lays bare his political philosophy, said Jamelle Bouie in The New York Times. To Trump, America is a “white man’s country” where everyone else is a guest and better be grateful. This naked bigotry informs everything Trump does, from spreading conspiracy theories about President Obama’s birthplace, to trying to change the census to benefit white voters, to insulting congresswomen who represent millions of Americans. It’s why white-skinned European immigrants like first lady Melania Trump are welcomed, while dark-skinned migrants from Latin America “are put into cages and camps.” When he sees people who aren’t white, “he just knows they don’t belong.”

7-19-19 Sending asylum seekers back to Mexico
President Trump placed dramatic new limits this week on Central Americans’ ability to seek asylum in the U.S., ordering immigration officials to deny all claims from petitioners who first passed through Mexico. The new directive would require asylum seekers to petition the first safe country they encounter after leaving their homeland. Immigration advocates and the American Civil Liberties Union called the rule illegal and immediately challenged it in a California court. Attorney General William Barr defended it as “a lawful exercise of authority,” though the order broke with decades of American policy and represents the administration’s most restrictive effort to stem the tide of Central American migrants flowing across the U.S.’s southern border. New federal data showed migrant arrests at the Mexican border fell in June to 104,344, a 28 percent drop from the 144,278 notched in May, the highest monthly total in 13 years. A Border Patrol official credited Trump’s deal last month with Mexico to intercept more migrants, although other experts blamed summer heat for the fall-off. Nearly a million migrants are expected to cross by year’s end, with many of them applying for asylum upon arrival. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents began raids in 10 cities on 2,000 migrant families who’d flouted prior deportation notices. Trump hailed the heavily publicized operation as “very successful” and said that “many, many were taken out,” although activists noted little evidence of the massive dragnet they’d feared. Meanwhile, thousands of people protested at ICE facilities across the country, and a 69-year-old man armed with a rifle and Molotov cocktails was shot dead by authorities after he attacked a detention facility in Washington state.

7-19-19 Congressman blasts homeland security chief over detained children
Democrat Elijah Cummings erupts as US homeland security chief Kevin McAleenan defends border facility conditions.

7-19-19 Seven-figure paychecks at migrant shelters
At a nonprofit that houses migrant children for the federal government, six top employees received compensation in 2017 exceeding $1 million, according to filings released this week. That contractor, Texas-based Southwest Key, runs 24 shelters—among them a converted Walmart—for about 4,000 children in government custody, for which it’s reaped almost $1.9 billion in federal funds over the past decade. Four of its executives resigned in recent months following outrage over their lavish compensation packages, including founder Juan Sanchez, who earned $3.6 million between September 2017 and August 2018. The group’s chief financial officer made more than $2.4 million over that period. By comparison, the head of the much larger American Red Cross made $686,000.

7-19-19 Trump acts like an African strongman
Donald Trump “behaves more and more like an African president with each passing day,” said Nerima Wako-Ojiwa. We Africans recognize the U.S. leader’s tendency to appoint family members to trusted positions where they can make money, because our leaders do that, too. Son-in-law Jared Kushner is a top adviser, despite having no policy background. Similarly, our president, Uhuru Kenyatta, has seen his uncle, his sister, and his cousin, among others, profit through government contracts steered toward their firms. Some Kenyans voted for Kenyatta—son of Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya’s first president—because they assumed that, since he came from a wealthy family, he could resist corruption. Instead, “this is one of the most corrupt administrations we have witnessed”—just as the Trump administration sets new records for scandal in the U.S. The worst nepotism of all is the appointment of socialite Ivanka Trump as adviser to her father, where she has “no form of oversight” and a vague job description. Such appointments are “not unheard of” in Kenya, where presidential relatives get meaningless posts like “chief administrative secretary” or minister “without portfolio.” Even Trump’s July 4 bash was authoritarian, with a triumphal military display. How much more African can he get?

7-19-19 Two-thirds have quit!
Over 30 months, about two-thirds of President Trump’s top aides have left his administration, many amid scandals or conflicts with Trump—a rate far higher than for previous presidents. Trump has had six communications directors, three chiefs of staff, three national security advisers, four secretaries of homeland security, and he currently has nine acting directors running Cabinet departments or major agencies.

7-19-19 Obamacare: Another GOP attempt to kill it
“The Affordable Care Act and health insurance for tens of millions of people are suddenly in jeopardy again,” said Jonathan Cohn in HuffingtonPost.com. After the Supreme Court seemed to settle the constitutionality of the ACA—commonly known as Obamacare—in 2012, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has again taken up the question. Last week, the Trump administration–backed lawsuit brought by GOP officials in 20 states “got a credulous, sympathetic-sounding hearing” from two Republican-appointed judges during oral arguments. That’s “hard to fathom.” The lawsuit claims the whole ACA is now void after the Republican-controlled Congress eliminated the penalty on the uninsured in 2017; in ruling the law constitutional, the Supreme Court had said the penalty functioned as a tax, which was within Congress’ powers. Now, in an argument that most legal experts call “positively bonkers,” Republican states insist that without a tax penalty, all of Obamacare should fall. Winning this lawsuit “would be a disaster for Republicans,” said Ramesh Ponnuru in Bloomberg.com. As many as 30 million people might lose their health insurance, and insurers could “once again discriminate against people with chronic conditions.” State budgets would be devastated without federal reimbursement for Medicaid expansion, which would likely force some states to abandon at least some of the 13 million who got coverage that way. The 2020 electoral backlash against the GOP could be massive. And it’s not as if Republicans have advanced any plan for a post-ACA health-care system. Yes, but “political expediency” should not be the determining factor here, said Erin Hawley in TheFederalist.com. This lawsuit is about limiting the power “of the federal government to force people to do something”—in this case, buy health insurance. That’s a fight worth fighting. (Webmaster's comment: The whole objective of getting rid of Obamacare is to be able to bill more for medical services, making the poor even poorer.)

7-19-19 How Navratilova became a ‘terf’
Martina Navratilova never dreamed she’d be labeled a bigot, said Decca Aitkenhead in The Times (U.K.). The Czechoslovakia-born tennis legend, 62, had to Google the term furious social media users were calling her last December: terf, or trans-exclusionary radical feminist. Navratilova, one of the first female athletes to come out as a lesbian, had responded to a tweet arguing that anyone who self-identifies as female should be allowed to compete in women’s sports. “There must be some standards,” she replied, “and having a penis and competing as a woman would not fit that standard.” A firestorm ensued. “I was attacked by my people,” says Navratilova, referring to the LGBTQ community. Higher testosterone levels and larger muscles for trans women who grew up male, she says, pose an insurmountable competitive advantage. “When I was in unbelievable shape, I did 10 pull-ups. But no matter what, I couldn’t bench-press 250 pounds.” Though her stance offends trans people, she says, “For me, this has been about fairness for women and girls. I left a Communist country because I couldn’t say what I wanted to without repercussions. Now, if people attack me, it is what it is.”

7-19-19 Toronto walls off illegal pot shops with concrete blocks
Toronto has used giant concrete blocks to bar entry to a chain of illegal cannabis dispensaries operating in the Canadian city. The unlicensed chain has four locations and the city has been playing a cat and mouse game for months trying to shut them down. The city calls them "blatant, repeat, and serial violators" of the rules. Canada legalised recreational marijuana last year but only government-licensed stores are allowed to sell the product. This week, Toronto bylaw enforcement officers, with the help of police, raided the four locations, seized the product on the premises and placed concrete blocks in front of them all to block entry. The city has filed over 70 charges against employees, property owners and the businesses since last year, and police had issued several closure orders. Whenever the stores were locked by police and bylaw officers, the owners would simply break back in and continue as before, said Mark Sraga, director of the city's investigation services. "It got to the point where we've taken what we believe is a very significant and dramatic enforcement action," he said. The blocks were removed within days at two storefronts by the dispensary operators, but were replaced by the city. In an emailed comment, the "Cannabis and Fine Edibles" dispensaries called the move "a vigilante interpretation of flawed legislation". Toronto resident Jay Rosenthal spotted the concrete barricades in front of one store on Tuesday. Mr Rosenthal, who also heads a media company that focuses on the business of cannabis, said unlicensed stores have customers in part because of the time it has taken the province of Ontario to get its legal retail cannabis sector up and running. Toronto currently has five licensed, legal cannabis stores.

7-19-19 City exorcised
Banishing demons. The bishop of Buenaventura rode a fire truck festooned with balloons through his home city this week, flicking holy water at residents in an attempt to exorcise the demons that he believes are responsible for an epidemic of crime and violence. Monsignor Rubén Dario Jaramillo Montoya had originally hoped to conduct the ritual by helicopter, but that plan fell through. Rival gangs are battling for control of the drug trade in Buenaventura’s main Pacific port, which has caused a spike in murders and kidnappings. The Catholic prelate said he wanted to “drive the devil out of Buenaventura, to see if we can restore the peace and tranquility that our city has lost.”

7-19-19 The land wedded to quack medicine
Are the French finally going to start listening to science? asked Klaus Taschwer. Their government is prodding them in that direction. French Health Minister Agnès Buzyn, who is a doctor, has decreed that government health insurance will no longer pay part of the cost of homeopathic remedies. Homeopathy uses tiny amounts of a plant or mineral with the aim of stimulating a patient’s natural immune responses. Buzyn has rightly concluded that this so-called alternative medicine is not worth subsidizing, because study after study has shown that homeopathic pills are no better than a placebo. “Which is to say, no good at all.” Yet the French consume these hocus-pocus potions in vast quantities—their government reimbursed them $143 million for homeopathic treatments last year. During the 18th century, France was “the center of European enlightenment and reason.” Today, its people “embrace ignorance,” at least in health matters. One in three French people believes vaccines are dangerous, the highest rate of such skepticism in the world. Perhaps the country needs to undergo “a kind of Enlightenment 2.0 in the matter of scientific evidence.” In the meantime, those patients who are furious that they will soon have to pay more out of pocket for their homeopathic pills can take comfort in one scientific teaching: “Placebos have been shown to work better the more they cost.”

7-19-19 Nobody can ignore the body count
The world is paying attention to the slaughter in the Philippines, said the Philippine Daily Inquirer. In his three years as president, Rodrigo Duterte has encouraged vigilantes and police to shoot suspected drug dealers and users on sight. The police say some 6,600 “drug personalities” have been killed since 2016, but Amnesty International says it’s impossible to know how many thousands are dead. Amnesty said in a report last week that Duterte’s centerpiece policy is “nothing but a large-scale murdering enterprise for which the poor continue to pay the highest price.” It has called on the United Nations to open an investigation into this human rights calamity. Just days earlier, 27 countries, including the U.K. and France, backed Iceland’s resolution urging the U.N. Human Rights Council to report on the bloodshed in the Philippines. But Duterte’s administration dismisses all foreign criticism. Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. claimed that the nations supporting Iceland’s resolution had been paid off by “drug cartels.” It’s the same contempt the regime shows for the Philippine Supreme Court, which has been rebuffed in its demand for data on extrajudicial killings. The Duterte administration may “hiss and curse,” but “as the body count continues to rise, the world is watching.”

7-19-19 We're no longer in Brave New World. We're back in 1984.
The fury of the crowd chanting "Send her back!" — send Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), an American citizen, back to her birthplace in Somalia, that is — at President Trump's rally in North Carolina on Wednesday resembled nothing so much as the "Two Minutes Hate" of George Orwell's 1984. Instead of a video of the enemies of the regime, Trump provided a live denunciation to get the hatred flowing. The substitution was no impediment to his audience's response in ritualized resentment. "A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces in with a sledge hammer, seemed to flow through the whole group of people like an electric current," Orwell said of his fictional mob. That description is — I hope — as-yet hyperbolic to apply to Trump's crowd, though the president's behavior has observers left and right alike worried he will incite violence against Omar or the American Muslim community more broadly. But Orwell's next sentence is already apt: The "rage that one felt" during the Two Minutes Hate, he wrote, "was an abstract, undirected emotion which could be switched from one object to another like the flame of a blowlamp." The anger of Trump loyalists is similarly supple, constantly redirected from one target to another, each one cast as an enemy of "real America," which coincidentally looks just like them. I was not the only one to see Orwell in the rally shouts. So what I find noteworthy is not my reaction, but that this is the dystopia that so widely came to mind. 1984 is classic, of course, but wasn't our descent into tyranny supposed to come from the pages of Brave New World? Weren't we on track to prove Aldous Huxley the more prescient prophet of our coming oppression? But "Send her back!" isn't Huxley. It's Orwell. It's not the lulling, consumerist tyranny of Brave New World. Though too fleeting to fully incarnate the institutional violence of 1984 — Trump will be on to a new target as soon as his mosquito attention span demands fresh blood — it's an unmistakable shift in that direction. And "Send her back!" is hardly the only sign we should give Orwell's caution heed anew. The authoritarian populism which fueled Trump's rise to power; state surveillance capabilities that remained the stuff of science fiction when 1984 was published; "alternative facts" as the Trumpian take on doublethink; the president's "enemy of the people" designation for all but the most fawning members of the press; his memory hole denial of saying things he is recorded saying; newly coercive enforcement of immigration policy in the form of ICE raids, family separations, and border camps — all these are Orwell, not Huxley. They are not a dreamy drift into the pain-free totalitarianism of Huxley's World State. They have the more brutal edge of Orwell's Oceania.

7-19-19 Trump - I disagree with Omar 'send her back' chants
President Donald Trump has disavowed the "send her back" chants directed at Democratic congresswoman Ilhan Omar by his supporters at a campaign rally. Ms Omar is a US citizen who emigrated from Somalia with her family after fleeing the country's civil war. The chants, which came after Mr Trump criticised Ms Omar and three other congresswomen, were widely condemned, including by some Republicans. "I was not happy with it. I disagree with it," Mr Trump said of the chant. He did not elaborate on what he disagreed with. "It was quite a chant and I felt a little bit badly about it," Mr Trump told reporters on Thursday. "I started speaking very quickly but it started up rather fast, as you probably noticed." The controversial chants took place at Mr Trump's campaign rally in North Carolina. Mr Trump was cheered on by the crowd of thousands as he again accused Ms Omar and her fellow congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashia Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley - known as "the squad" - of hating America. Ahead of the rally, a bid to impeach Mr Trump was blocked in Congress. Critics say it echoed the "lock her up" phrase adopted by his supporters against Hillary Clinton in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election. The chant comes as tensions escalate between the president and the four Democratic congresswomen over recent tweets, in which Mr Trump told the then four politicians to "go back" to their countries.

7-18-19 The problem with correctly labeling Trump a racist
Two years into Trump's presidency, it's clear calling him a racist won't change minds. Now that we know for certain that the president of the United States is going to spend the next 16 months running for re-election by leading fascist rallies around the country, whipping crowds of thousands into a giddy frenzy of hatred by weaponizing a demonic mixture of racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and right-wing ideology, the rest of us confront the question of how best to respond. The answer isn't obvious. Consider my long opening sentence above. I enjoyed writing it. There's something undeniably satisfying about naming names, about affixing bold, morally evaluative and condemnatory labels to heinous words and deeds. I called Trump's rally on Wednesday night — an event where his furious demonization of Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and calls for her to love-or-leave the United States inspired the crowd to begin a gleefully malicious chant of "send her back" — a fascist rally. Because that's what it was. That doesn't mean I think Trump is a fascist dictator. Thankfully, the institutions of American democracy, though buckling under Trump's presidency, have remained intact, hemming him in in all kinds of ways and rendering him a remarkably weak president, institutionally speaking. Yet Trump's greatest power — his distinctive political genius — is demagoguery. He's a master of aiming low and succeeding at convincing a segment of the electorate that they should be unashamed and even proud of their basest impulses and prejudices, that they should give into their instinct toward bigotry and animus toward outsiders, even when those "outsiders" are, as in Omar's case, naturalized American citizens. That racism, xenophobia, and misogyny are crucially important and even absolutely necessary ingredients in the toxic stew is obvious to everyone who hasn't morally and intellectually blinded themselves for the sake of partisan gain. (Gee, I wonder why Trump has chosen to demonize and ostracize a handful of dark-skinned, first-term congresswomen instead of the clear Democratic frontrunner who also happens to be white and male. Must just be an innocent coincidence!) There you have it: Trumpism is undeniably fascistic, racist, xenophobic, and misogynistic.

7-18-19 Calling out racism isn't political. It's our moral imperative.
President Trump's bigotry is ugly and obnoxious, but it sure seems to be popular with his biggest fans. On Wednesday night, the president held a rally in Greenville, North Carolina, and renewed his attacks on "the Squad" — four rookie Democrats in Congress, all women of color — and the crowd responded with chilling enthusiasm, erupting into chants of "Send her back!" as Trump singled out Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.). We don't use explicitly biblical language much in our increasingly secular society anymore, but sometimes it comes in handy. This is one of those times. We need to be clear about what we saw at this rally: It was racism. And racism is a sin. An abomination. Wrong. Evil. It is not merely a breach in decorum. It is not a case of bad manners. It is not just a risky political strategy. It is a sin. Where racism is empowered — politically or culturally — you will mostly find terrible violence against minorities, as well as a proliferation of cages. Racism powered the Holocaust, slavery, and Jim Crow. Racism inspires ethnic cleansing, church shootings, and synagogue massacres. So when racism presents itself to us — particularly when it is justified and encouraged by people in the highest precincts of power — we must push back and fight, even if there is a political cost. Perhaps that hardly needs to be said in the wake of this week's House vote to condemn Trump for last weekend's racist tweets directed at Omar and the Squad. But the controversy over those tweets has given rise to a genre of hand-wringing punditry and reporting suggesting that Democrats have given the president exactly what he wants by confronting him so forcefully — that appealing to racism is Trump's path to re-election in 2020. "While Democrats were publicly unanimous in their support of the resolution, some moderate lawmakers from Republican-leaning districts that backed Mr. Trump in 2016 privately voiced their discomfort," The New York Times reported. "They said that while the president's comments had been racist, the party was playing into his hands by spending so much time condemning his remarks." "The principled case for denunciation is strong. What though of the politics?" Jonathan Freedland added at The Guardian, noting, "Trump's calculation is that he can repeat in 2020 what he did in 2016, winning an electoral college majority by winning in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania — and that he can edge a victory in those states by appealing to white voters stirred by racial resentment." (Webmaster's comment: In order words, White Racists!)

7-18-19 We told you so
President Trump's attacks on four Democratic congresswomen of color known as "the Squad" this week appeared to mark a turning point in some people's understanding of the depths of Trump's racism. For example, after Trump told these women to "go back" to the countries from which they came, Jon Lovett, a former speechwriter for President Obama and host of Pod Save America, claimed that "We're not ready for how ugly he's going to make 2020." More than 6,000 people have retweeted this sentiment. Writer Jared Yates Sexton tweeted almost verbatim: "I don't think anyone's prepared for how ugly and racist and dangerous the 2020 Campaign is going to be." Vox writer Sean Illing agreed, saying, "2020 is going to be so much uglier than people think. Jesus." George Conway — husband of White House counselor Kellyanne Conway — declared Trump "a racist president" in The Washington Post. Writing for The New Yorker, David Remnick wrote forebodingly about "the racist in the White House." To all of these observers, I say: Welcome, gentlemen. Where the hell have you been? Trump's history of aggressive acts of racism is long. In a press conference on Monday, Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar — with fellow Squad members Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), Ayanna Pressley (Mass.), and Rashida Tlaib (Mich.) behind her — gave America a brief recap: "Right now, the president is carrying out mass deportations across the country ... committing human rights abuses at the border, keeping children in cages, and having human beings drink out of toilets ...This is a president who has called black athletes "sons of bitches"... called people who come from black and brown countries 'shitholes' ... equated neo-Nazis with those who protested against them in Charlottesville." There's more, of course. The evidence contradicting Trump's proclamation that he doesn't have "a Racist bone in my body!" is vast and damning. Yet it seems many men who've made a career of observing and participating in the political process are suddenly gobsmacked. Have they been sleeping on Trump's penchant for bigotry? Has this latest tirade — or the bigoted chants of "Send her back!" at a Trump rally Wednesday night — suddenly opened their eyes? People who are not white men — or, yes, half of white women — have been painfully aware of Trump's White is Right philosophy all along, and they've been sounding the alarms.

7-18-19 Trump and the everlasting problem of men demanding apologies from women
It was a busy weekend for President Trump on Twitter. You've no doubt heard the story by now: In the span of 24 hours, Trump posted a series of rapid-fire tweets aimed squarely at "the Squad" of four Democratic congresswomen of color — Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna S. Pressley of Massachusetts, and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan — telling them to "go back" to their home countries. These tweets revealed, yet again, the president's deeply racist and misogynistic character. But it was one of his follow-up tweets, posted July 15th, that demonstrated an equally troubling pattern with which many women are all too familiar: men demanding apologies from women. "When will the Radical Left Congresswomen apologize to our Country, the people of Israel and even to the Office of the President, for the foul language they have used, and the terrible things they have said," Trump asked in his tweet. The question smacks of sexism: A grown man chastising women as if he were somehow superior to them, as if they need to be "put in their place." Never mind the foul language he himself has used to describe everything from his political opponents to entire countries. Never mind that most of Trump's accusations against these congresswomen were false. It didn't matter. These women, Trump believed, had misbehaved, and needed to pay the price of public humiliation and contrition. This kind of gaslighting behavior is peak misogyny, and most women are very familiar with it. The phrase "I'm sorry" may seem small and inconsequential. It's only two words and three syllables. And of course, men have been asked or forced to apologize for their actions, too. But the demanded apology's power over women is huge: Research shows that women are society's chief apologists, saying "I'm sorry" far more often than men. Indeed, society's tolerance for women who are anything but quiet and polite is low, and the punishment imposed on such a woman is shame and remorse. And it's not just society: Women themselves believe they should apologize more often for their actions. One 2010 study published in Psychological Science suggested that "women have a lower threshold for what constitutes offensive behavior."

7-18-19 Donald Trump supporters chant 'send her back' at rally
US Democratic congresswoman, Ilhan Omar, has responded via Twitter after crowds at a presidential rally chanted "send her back." Donald Trump was cheered at the rally in North Carolina after continuing his attacks on the four non-white Democrat congresswomen, known as "the squad". The chanting resembled those Mr Trump's supporters had chanted against Hillary Clinton during his presidential campaign in 2016. (Webmaster's comment: Our president is evil beyond redemption!)

7-18-19 Trump sparks condemnation after supporters chant 'send her back'
The row between President Donald Trump and four Democratic congresswomen has escalated after his supporters chanted "send her back" at a campaign rally. The chant was directed at Somali-born lawmaker Ilhan Omar, though Mr Trump had also attacked three other non-white lawmakers during his speech. Ms Omar, who is a US citizen, responded on Twitter by quoting a poem by civil rights activist Maya Angelou. Ahead of the rally, a bid to impeach Mr Trump was blocked in Congress. The controversial chants took place at Mr Trump's campaign rally in North Carolina. Mr Trump was cheered on by the crowd of thousands as he again accused Ms Omar and her fellow congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashia Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley - known as "the squad" - of hating America. Critics say it echoed the "lock her up" phrase adopted by his supporters against Hillary Clinton in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election. In response, Ms Omar tweeted lines from Maya Angelou's poem Still I Rise: "You may shoot me with your words...But still, like air, I'll rise." She later shared a photo of herself in the House of Representatives, saying, "I am where I belong". On Twitter, #IStandWithIlhan began trending as Democrats expressed their support for Ms Omar and criticised the president for prompting the chants with his rhetoric. Democratic presidential hopeful Senator Bernie Sanders tweeted: "Trump is stoking the most despicable and disturbing currents in our society." Senator Kamala Harris, another Democratic 2020 contender, described the actions as "vile". Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer drew comparisons to dictatorships. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi simply told reporters: "We condemned the president's comments the other day. That's our statement." Some conservatives have also censured the use of the phrase.

7-17-19 US House condemns Trump attacks on congresswomen as racist
The US House of Representatives has voted to condemn President Donald Trump after a series of attacks aimed at four congresswomen. The symbolic resolution denounced Mr Trump's "racist comments that have legitimised fear and hatred of New Americans and people of colour". Mr Trump had been accused of racism and xenophobia for telling the members of congress to leave the country. The president has since tweeted: "I don't have a Racist bone in my body!" Tuesday's debate in the Democratic-controlled chamber was a highly polarised debate, with various Republicans insisting the vote itself was a breach of decorum. It passed by 240 votes to 187. Four Republicans and the House's sole independent, former Republican lawmaker Justin Amash, joined all 235 Democrats to approve the resolution. The four Republicans were Texas congressman Will Hurd (the party's only African American representative), Brian Fitzpatrick (Pennsylvania), Fred Upton (Michigan) and Susan Brooks (Indiana). Passing a resolution - which is a statement of opinion and not legally binding - criticising presidential conduct is very rare. In a series of tweets on Sunday, the president said Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib "originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe" and should "go back". Mr Trump did not explicitly name the women - all four of whom are US citizens - in his initial Twitter tirade, but the context made a clear link to the four Democratic congresswomen, who are known as The Squad. The congresswomen dismissed the comments as a distraction on Monday, and urged people instead to focus on policies rather than the president's words. (Webmaster's comment: And the majority of the Republicans prove to be as racist as our President!)

7-17-19 What Americans make of Trump 'go back' tweets
President Donald Trump telling four congresswomen to "go back" to the countries where they came from has caused a storm in Washington's political circles. But what do people beyond the nation's capital think? The president's tweets have pushed people even further into two camps - those who love him, and those who hate him. In Leesburg, Virginia, the two camps are represented, with both sides equally passionate in their views. Susy Moorstein, an antique dealer, says that she's scared after seeing his tweets. "They're beyond the pale." She adds: "It just brings out the worst in everyone." Moorstein spoke about the president and his tweets while standing in an alleyway in downtown Leesburg, a town that is located about 40 miles from Washington. "We have racial issues in the country that we're trying to work through, and he just constantly seems to antagonise," says Moorstein. She says she voted for the Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, in the 2016 presidential election - it was not so much a vote for Clinton, she says, but a vote against Trump. Moorstein says that she finds the president's comments about the lawmakers, all Democrats, and his public statements, words that she characterises as racist, deeply upsetting. "It's very scary," she says, explaining that sometimes she feels as though she is in the midst of a bad dream. The row began on Sunday when Trump wrote on social media that lawmakers who criticise the US should "go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how it is done". His insult was directed at four female members of Congress - Ilhan Omar of Minnesota; Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of Queens, New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan; and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, all of whom are women of colour. The Democratic leadership was forceful in its condemnation. Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader of the US House of Representatives, fired back at the president for his tweets and said that his popular slogan, Make America Great Again, was really about "making America white again". (Webmaster's comment: Hitler said the same kind of things about the Jews!)

7-17-19 'The Squad' condemn Trump's 'racist' tweets in CBS interview
Democratic congresswomen targeted by President Trump's tweets have condemned them in an interview with CBS's This Morning show. Rashida Tlaib called the US president "the biggest bully [she's] ever had to deal with". Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez joined her colleague in condemning Republicans for not standing up to Mr Trump over his social media posts. The interview came as the US House of Representatives voted to symbolically condemn Mr Trump after a series of what they called "racist comments". (Webmaster's comment: What Trump is trying to do is normalize racism. Then he can mobilize the racists in the country to do his bidding and physically attack non-whites!)

7-17-19 The utterly pathetic Republican Party
There's not a shred of dignity or self-respect left in Trump's GOP. Watching Tuesday's sordid spectacle of House Republicans indulging in camera-ready displays of sputtering indignation at the thoroughly shocking suggestion of Democrats in the chamber that President Trump may just possibly be ever-so-slightly racist, my mind turned to thoughts of Jason Bourne. After three feature-length films in which the super-assassin who suffers from amnesia slowly uncovers the truth about the extent of the brainwashing he endured in a secret CIA program, Bourne stands face to face with the latest in a long line of assassins from the same program who've been sent to kill him. Summing up all he's learned about himself and the men who erased his former identity while turning him into a highly efficient killing machine, Bourne mutters to his counterpart with weary wisdom, "Look what they make you give." Look what Trump has made Republicans give: their standards and principles, their judgment and intelligence, their honor and pride, their souls. For nearly three years now (since he was anointed the Republican Party's standard bearer at the 2016 GOP nominating convention), they have carried his pestilential water. And where has it left them? Pretending they aren't disgusted by the man who leads their party and governs the country in their name. It's become commonplace on the right for elected officials and their media cheerleaders to speak as if Trump is some kind of political Svengali ruthlessly manipulating his enemies into acts of self-destruction. So House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was attempting last week to marginalize "the Squad" of troublemaking lefty backbenchers, and Trump's "racially charged" tweets about them on Sunday morning forced Pelosi to embrace them anew. Genius! Except that isn't what's happened at all. Even if we conveniently forget that Trump's always-anemic approval rating hit rock bottom in the days following his expression of even-handed sympathy for the "very fine" neo-Nazis who terrorized Charlottesville in August 2017, we have ample reason to doubt Trump is deploying an effective strategy for the early stages of his re-election campaign.

7-16-19 The rebuke is part of the coverup
The president of the United States took to Twitter this week to ask a group of progressive congresswomen of color to "go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came." The president's racist fulminations, obviously aimed at the self-styled "Squad" of newly-elected Democratic Reps. Rashida Tlaib (born in Detroit), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (born in Queens), Ayanna Pressley (born in Cincinnati), and Ilhan Omar (born in Somalia), generated stern newspaper headlines and outrage from out-of-office Republicans like former Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, but comparatively little reaction from elected members of the party. Then on Monday, a flurry of Republican officeholders bent to public pressure and issued tame statements of distaste for the president's behavior. Most of those who did speak up, like New York Rep. Elise Stefanek and Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, made sure to include a blistering attack on Ocasio-Cortez and her allies as part of their "denunciations." Others, like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, condemned the tweets but refused to admit that they were racist. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has so far said nothing. This is a pattern that goes back to the very first days of Donald Trump's campaign in 2015 — long periods of silence about and complicity with the president's daily outrages and racist agenda, with sporadic pushback assigned to suburb-soothers before everyone moves along and forgets it ever happened. The cast of this choreographed dance has changed substantially since the 2018 midterms. Gone are former House Speaker Paul Ryan and his intermittent, hangdog denunciations of President Trump's outrages, former Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker's G-rated acts of calculated pushback, and former Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake's tortured indecision. The harrumphing is now assigned to people like Utah Sen. Mitt Romney and Texas Rep. Will Hurd. But make no mistake, the song remains the same. Republicans at every level of government eagerly grant their cooperation with, if not their outright endorsement of, Trump's ugly racism, while a handful of public-facing figures seek to reassure wavering moderates that they are still in the right party.

7-16-19 Trump is an apocalypse
The last book of the Bible is an apocalypse. We call it "Revelation" in English, but in the Greek it's apokalypsis, as in, the "apokalypsis of Jesus Christ ... to his servant John." Apokalypsis does not mean "catastrophe." There is plenty of that in Revelation, but our use of "apocalypse" as a synonym for world-ending disaster is the result of this book, not the other way around. Apokalypsis is a literary genre our culture has abandoned, and it simply means "revealing." (Thus, "Revelation.") The concept is one of unmasking, of unveiling a previously hidden truth. The display is necessary, but that doesn't make it happy. Seeing it can feel like the end of the world. Apokalypsis is a moment of exposure, a paradigm shift. It's suddenly realizing you were in the wrong. It's finally admitting a relationship is over. It's turning on the light and seeing cockroaches scatter. President Trump is an apocalypse. "The most useful thing about Donald Trump is that he coaxes many people into revealing their worst character traits in defense of him," tweeted Corie Whalen, a freelance writer and former communications director for Rep. Justin Amash (I-Mich.), after the president's go back to where you came from remarks. "I've learned a lot of terrible things about many folks I was once comfortable associating with," Whalen added. "I'm a whole lot more cautious now." Regardless of whether and how politics should rejigger our relationships, Trump's apocalypse will surely elicit the impulse. The four years since he rode that golden escalator into our national consciousness have often been described as "polarizing," and that's not wrong. But much of the discord over Trump we're experiencing is not new movement to political extremes but a revelation of what was already there. Trump has surely catalyzed division in our polity, but I suspect he has done much more to merely expose realities previously unnoticed, hidden, or ignored.

7-15-19 Trumpism is built on racism
President Trump is a racist. This is the most important issue in the 2020 presidential campaign. Everything else is secondary. If that wasn't clear before, it should be now. Trump over the weekend pushed a series of tweets calling on a group of rookie Democrats in Congress, all of them women of color, to "go back" to where they came from rather than criticize the government he leads. His outburst was nonsensical, of course — all four women are U.S. citizens, and three were born in the United States — but also telling. No matter the facts, Trump casts people of color as not-quite-American. His white critics never seem to get the same treatment. That's not a coincidence. Trump's appeal to racism and racists has always been the most important element of his public identity. There are times when it seems like his xenophobic politics are losing their power to shock. But there are also times — and in his recent statements, we have a prime example — when the president offers a fresh reminder to Americans that his outlook is fundamentally toxic, and it is necessary that his term of office be brought to an end as soon as possible. This is not just a cosmetic political issue. Many of Trump's worst policies are arguably race-related: His administration's bids to undo the Affordable Care Act and scuttle the joint agreement halting Iran's progress toward a nuclear weapon do not stem from any real ideological motivation on his part — instead, he seems motivated primarily to undo the most notable policy achievements of his predecessor. Former President Barack Obama, of course, was another black politician whose citizenship was called into question by Trump. Again: That is probably not a coincidence. Prejudice spans the breadth of presidential policymaking under Trump. His policies on immigration are designed to appeal to conservatives who believe the "ceaseless importation of Third World foreigners" is a national emergency. His administration's positions on the Census citizenship question, voting rights, and police powers, likewise, appear to be aimed mostly at preserving white political power in this country. Even his well-documented misogyny finds its fullest flower when aimed at women of color. Racism is the foundation upon which Trumpist governance and politics are built.

7-16-19 Why Are Americans Losing Confidence in Organized Religion?
Americans' confidence in organized religion is down again this year, continuing the gradual deterioration evident over the past several decades. As my colleague Justin McCarthy pointed out in his recent review of Gallup's annual update on confidence in institutions, 68% of Americans had a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in the church or organized religion in 1975. As recently as 1985, organized religion was the most revered institution among the list of institutions Gallup tracks. Confidence fell below the majority level for the first time in 2002, and with some fluctuations along the way, confidence this year has reached a new low of 36%. Organized religion has lost its exceptionalism, and Americans now view it little differently than they view a number of other institutions in contemporary U.S. society. Confidence in organized religion is in the middle of the pack of the 15 institutions tested this year. It's important to note that U.S. culture, norms and patterns of social behavior are always in flux, and religion is part of this inevitable cycle of change in the nation's sociological fabric as years and decades go by. Americans' confidence in many (but not all) institutions has been declining in recent years, and organized religion is to some degree being swept along with this trend. Out of the 15 institutions measured this year, for example, only three have confidence ratings above the majority level -- the military, small business and the police. Americans' faith in the most important institution of all -- government -- is at or near all-time lows.

7-16-19 Trump's asylum crackdown: Will the 'safe third country' plan work?
The Trump administration has announced a new rule to curb Central American asylum claims in the US. The measures say migrants must apply for asylum in the first country they pass through en route to the US or they will be ineligible for consideration. The plan goes into effect on Tuesday 16 July, having been unveiled the previous day. Will it be possible? Here is a look at the various complications. Migrants arriving at the US southern border are largely coming from Central American countries, including violence-stricken Honduras and El Salvador. Most travel overland, passing through other countries en route. The US wants them to stop in the first place outside their own country. It is making these changes because its migration services are overwhelmed. However, other countries would also struggle to cope, and Mexico and Guatemala will be the most affected by this new plan as they are closer to the US. Amnesty International says the Mexican asylum system is "underfunded, absolutely beyond its capacity and inadequate in identifying even valued asylum claims". There is also a backlog of people who have already made the journey and are now stuck at the US southern border. The US had already imposed the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program - also known as "Remain in Mexico" - which forces asylum seekers to wait for their US court hearings on Mexican soil. Migrants would only be expected to apply in another country if it is deemed "safe". However, Central American migrants are also often deliberately sought out by gangs in neighbouring countries, because they are vulnerable. Many have reported finding the journey north as dangerous as their lives at home. The US cannot declare a country to be a safe without the formal agreement of the place in question. The US and Canada have such a reciprocal agreement. When asylum seekers arrive in the US from somewhere else, via Canada, they will be sent back to Canadian immigration authorities. The same applies in reverse. So far, Mexico has so far rejected the US plan.

7-16-19 US migrant crisis: Trump seeks to curb Central America asylum claims
The Trump administration is seeking to curb migration from Central America by introducing new rules over who can claim asylum in the US. The measures, unveiled on Monday, say migrants who fail to apply for asylum in the first country they pass through en route to the US will be ineligible. Migrants who have been trafficked will be exempt from the ban. Mexico has rejected the measures and the American Civil Liberties Union has mounted a legal challenge. The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said it was "deeply concerned" over the new rules. Announcing the rule change, Attorney General William Barr said it would deter "economic migrants" from exploiting the US asylum system. "The United States is a generous country but is being completely overwhelmed by the burdens associated with apprehending and processing hundreds of thousands of aliens along the southern border," Mr Barr said in a statement. Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard, however, said his country would not become a dumping ground for those rejected by the US and would not return refugees to danger zones. "Mexico does not agree with measures that limit access to asylum and refuge," he told reporters. In a statement, the UNHCR said the measures would "endanger vulnerable people in need of international protection from violence or persecution." "This measure is severe and is not the best way forward," it added. It is not clear what will now happen to asylum seekers rejected by the US at the border with Mexico. The new regulations are the Trump administration's latest attempt to toughen the US asylum process as increasing numbers of Central American migrants arrive at the US-Mexico border. The US announcement comes after a court in Guatemala temporarily blocked a migration deal which could have seen the Central American nation defined as a "safe third country". Migrants from other countries en route to the US would have had to apply for asylum in Guatemala under the agreement.

7-16-19 Congresswomen hit back in Trump race row
Four congresswomen attacked by President Trump in a series of tweets have dismissed his comments. Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib said the tweets were a distraction from their criticism of the president's border control policy.


FEMINISM

7-21-19 Women in science: Smashing glass ceilings and glass walls
A woman engineer who worked on the moon landing spoke this week of how she was once told the control room was no place for women. Things have changed a lot in 50 years, but not as fast as some had hoped. BBC News spoke to five scientists from different generations who are breaking barriers in their field.

  1. The Pioneer: Prof Jocelyn Bell Burnell: Famous for discovering the first pulsar more than 50 years ago, Prof Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell has also been a lifelong advocate of women in science.
  2. The research leader: Dr Nicola Beer: Dr Nicola Beer's interest in science developed at an early age; one of her earliest memories is of watching her teacher demonstrate the concept of sound waves using a paper plate filled with rice and a portable speaker at primary school.
  3. The trailblazer: Gladys Ngetich: When Gladys Ngetich was told in a meeting, 'You don't look like an engineer,' she went home wondering what an engineer was supposed to look like.
  4. Pushing boundaries: Dr Megan Wheeler: How do you solve the big challenges facing the world? Science holds the solutions, but only if you look at problems through multiple lenses. That's the view of Dr Megan Wheeler, who, as executive director of the HSchmidt Science Fellows programme, is on a mission to train the next generation of science leaders.
  5. The rising star: Elina Aino Johanna Pörsti: The daughter of a physics teacher and a medical doctor, Elina Aino Johanna Pörsti grew up in Finland in a family where scientific dialogue was second nature. When there was thunder, her father would explain the physics behind it, while her mother would explain the human body.

7-21-19 How Roe v. Wade benefits men
Fellas: Did you watch the World Cup? Did you catch When They See Us? How do you feel about lower crime rates, and fewer kids born into poverty? Paternity leave and free access to screening for sexually transmitted diseases? How about being able to talk to your wife about Stranger Things instead of sitting across a table from her in silent, uncomprehending alienation? Pretty cool, isn't it? So why aren't we speaking up a little more about abortion rights? When I contemplate the compounding benefits of Roe v. Wade, to me and everyone I know, the world before it looms like a primordial, three-martini swamp, barely capable of supporting life as we know it. The distance traveled since 1973, when half the population was excluded from full participation in the cultural, civic, economic and political life of the country so that men could enjoy — what, exactly? — can feel as unclosable to me as the space between stars. Roe may not have toppled the patriarchy, but it gave its foundation a profound and reverberating shake, not only freeing countless women from the near-slavery of forced child birth and embittering marriage, and large numbers of men from the heart-hardening and soul-crushing behaviors required to keep the machinery of subjugation functioning, but even much of the wider culture from a narrow-minded and misogynistic self-conception. The right to abortion is a lynchpin of modernity. The recognition of women's reproductive rights, and by extension their full-fledged humanity, was an event that, like the Voting Rights Act or the New Deal before it, seemed to mark a before-and-after point in our fitful national progress. Yet, just like those once-immovable milestones, Roe v. Wade is now under concerted, ferocious attack. We are speeding backwards toward the grim old days, on a bus hijacked by men who refer to blastocysts as "babies," their wives as "mother," and credibly accused sexual predators as "Mr. President." Roe has already been effectively overturned in dozens of states, and the federal right to abortion is hanging on by the narrow width of a thinning, bleached, and over-combed hair. So-called "personhood" and "heartbeat" bills not only lay the foundation for banning abortion and contraception, they will eventually, like Roe, exert broad influence across our legal, economic, environmental, and political landscape. It will be an unmitigated disaster if Roe's opponents succeed, first and foremost for women, of course, but also for the nation as a whole. Roe didn't merely change reproductive law; it contributed to sea changes in public health, politics, education, crime, advertising, migration, sports, art, and entertainment. It freed women to imagine futures that had been unavailable to them for millennia, and men to share in the many fruits of those futures. So why are we responding to this emergency by asking women to take on yet another unpleasant task made unpleasant by men: the fight against the many forces committed to denying them bodily autonomy? Who do we think we are? No, really. Who. Who do we imagine ourselves to be, exactly?

7-20-19 Polish abuse scandal: Victims take on the Catholic Church
Marek Mielewczyk was a 13-year-old altar boy when a priest asked him to come to his presbytery. "This is where I was abused for the first time," he says. He is one of several victims, now adults, featured in a documentary about Polish priests who sexually abused children. Tomasz and Marek Sekielski's film, Don't Tell Anyone, was watched 20 million times in the first week of its digital release – and prompted an unprecedented challenge to Poland's Roman Catholic Church. More than 90% of Poles identity themselves as Catholics. For many, the Church and its rituals do not just provide spiritual comfort: they are part of a national identity. That might explain why Poles have been slow to question the behaviour of some of their own priests, despite sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church in Ireland, the USA and neighbouring Germany. Monika, 28, did not appear in the film. But she told the BBC about years of abuse during supposed exorcisms by priests around Poland when she was a teenager. Her parents saw the priests "as heroes, people who were fighting against the devil himself" - but she believes they were manipulated. The Catholic Church defended Polish culture, language and identity as the country was ruled by three occupying empires in the 19th Century. After World War Two, the Church – and Polish Pope John Paul II – gave strength to the democratic Solidarity movement, helping it overthrow communist rule. But the documentary has sullied that reputation. Shortly after the film's release, an opinion poll suggested 67% of Poles regarded the Church's response as inadequate and 87% said its authority had been diminished. Marek Mielewczyk was abused for five years. "I didn't know about things like masturbation and touching. I had no idea about homosexual relations. I didn't know that an adult could abuse a child," says Mr Mielewczyk.

7-19-19 98% get away with rape!
The U.S. government estimates that police departments in the U.S. have warehoused more than 200,000 untested sexual assault kits, although some estimates are far higher. About 125,000 rapes are reported in the U.S. annually—with the alleged assailant going free 49 out of 50 times.

7-19-19 U.S. scientist murdered
A 27-year-old Greek farmer has confessed to the rape and murder of Suzanne Eaton, an American molecular biologist whose body was found in an abandoned World War II bunker on Crete last week. Eaton, 59, was attending a scientific conference on the island and disappeared after going out for a hike. The unnamed suspect was arrested days after police obtained DNA evidence from nearly a dozen people who lived near the crime scene. Police said the suspect confessed that he saw Eaton walking and, “motivated by sexual satisfaction,” struck her twice with his car. He put the unconscious scientist in his trunk and drove to the bunker, where he raped and choked her to death. Eaton, who worked at the Max Planck Institute at Dresden University in Germany, is survived by her husband and two children.

7-19-19 R. Kelly
Disgraced R&B singer R. Kelly was arrested in Chicago last week on 18 federal charges involving child pornography and sex trafficking, adding to 21 counts brought by Illinois prosecutors earlier this year. Kelly, 52, maintained his innocence. Yet his former “enablers” reportedly gave federal prosecutors 20-plus videos of Kelly having sex with underage girls; one tape allegedly shows Kelly having sex with a girl who was 12 or 13 when they met. The indictment describes an “Enterprise” in which Kelly’s bodyguards, managers, and other handlers recruited at least five women and girls for Kelly. The victims were subjected to strict rules, including being forbidden to look at other men and required to call Kelly “Daddy

7-19-19 Epstein: How did he get away with it?
How did he evade consequences for so long? asked David Von Drehle in The Washington Post. As financier Jeffrey Epstein is finally facing new charges of sex trafficking that could put him behind bars for life, it’s clear that “a creeping rot in the American justice system” allowed this industrial-scale predator to run a sex ring of underage girls—and then bribe and flatter his way back into polite society. Back in 2007 Epstein, now 66, faced 45 years in jail after accusations in Florida that he’d recruited dozens of underage girls—most of them poor—to give him “massages” that turned into sexual abuse and rape. With his “enormous and unexplained wealth” (see Business), Epstein hired high-priced lawyers, including Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz and former Bill Clinton special prosecutor Ken Starr. They helped him persuade then–U.S. attorney Alex Acosta to let him off the hook with a guilty plea that required Epstein to serve only 13 months in jail, with 12 hours a day in “work release” in his luxurious offices. Epstein reportedly bought the silence of dozens of his victims in return for “nondisclosure agreements.” That’s “rich man’s justice” for you. Acosta had to resign his job as President Trump’s labor secretary last week because of his role in this scandal, said Dahlia Lithwick in Slate.com, but he’s hardly the only culprit. Even after Epstein had “served” his absurdly light sentence in Florida, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.’s office inexplicably petitioned a judge to lower his sex-offender classification. The NYPD even let Epstein skip the regular 90-day check-ins that are mandatory for sex offenders. Like Harvey Weinstein before him, Epstein has shown that lawyers, journalists, prosecutors, politicians of both parties, and even judges look through “money-colored glasses” at monsters who prey on women and girls.

7-19-19 60% of Americans say abortion should be legal
As numerous states seek to strictly limit access to abortion, 60% of Americans say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, up 5% from 2013 and the highest level of support in 24 years. 36% think abortion should be prohibited in all or most cases, tying the record low. Description

7-19-19 Jeffrey Epstein denied bail in sex trafficking case
US financier Jeffrey Epstein must remain in jail while awaiting his child sex trafficking trial, a federal judge in New York has ruled. Judge Richard Berman rejected Epstein's request to be under house arrest, saying he posed a flight risk. His defence team had proposed a multimillion dollar bail package. The financier has pleaded not guilty to sex trafficking and conspiracy charges. He once counted Bill Clinton and Donald Trump among his friends. Epstein, 66, avoided similar charges in a controversial secret plea deal in 2008, and instead pleaded guilty to a lesser charge. Last week, US Labour Secretary Alex Acosta resigned amid growing criticism of his role in the plea deal. Mr Acosta was then the US attorney in Miami and oversaw the non-prosecution deal with Epstein, which allowed the financier to serve 13 months in jail - with much of that time spent on work release at his Palm Beach office. The deal has come under increasing scrutiny with the new charges against Epstein. Epstein was arrested on 6 July and later charged with sex trafficking and conspiracy. According to an indictment, the financier paid girls under the age of 18 to perform sex acts at his Manhattan and Florida mansions between 2002 and 2005. Prosecutors also accuse him of paying large amounts of money to two people who could be potential witnesses during the forthcoming trial. Epstein has pleaded not guilty to all the charges. If convicted, he faces up to 45 years in prison.

7-18-19 Ayia Napa: Twelve teenagers in court after 'British woman raped'
Twelve Israeli teenagers have appeared in court in Cyprus over the alleged rape of a 19-year-old British woman. The alleged attack was said to have taken place in a hotel in the popular holiday resort of Ayia Napa. The boys - who are aged between 16 and 18 except one, who is 15 - have not yet entered any pleas. They have been remanded in custody and police have been given a further eight days to investigate. The British woman contacted police in the early hours of Wednesday morning saying she had been raped in a hotel in Ayia Napa. Later that day police arrested the 12 teenagers. During the hearing on Thursday morning, judge Tonia Nicolaou confirmed the names of those arrested before reporters were told to leave the courtroom due to the age of one suspect, the 15-year-old boy. The parents of several of those arrested flew from Israel to the court hearing in Paralimni, near to the Ayia Napa resort. The suspects were led through the court building handcuffed to each other in pairs. Some parents shouted messages of support and embraced them. The mother of one of the suspects told the BBC her son had done nothing wrong. An Israeli diplomat was present in court and said they would monitor but not interfere with the case. The Foreign Office has said it is supporting a woman who was assaulted and says it is in contact with local police.

7-18-19 Trump and the everlasting problem of men demanding apologies from women
It was a busy weekend for President Trump on Twitter. You've no doubt heard the story by now: In the span of 24 hours, Trump posted a series of rapid-fire tweets aimed squarely at "the Squad" of four Democratic congresswomen of color — Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna S. Pressley of Massachusetts, and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan — telling them to "go back" to their home countries. These tweets revealed, yet again, the president's deeply racist and misogynistic character. But it was one of his follow-up tweets, posted July 15th, that demonstrated an equally troubling pattern with which many women are all too familiar: men demanding apologies from women. "When will the Radical Left Congresswomen apologize to our Country, the people of Israel and even to the Office of the President, for the foul language they have used, and the terrible things they have said," Trump asked in his tweet. The question smacks of sexism: A grown man chastising women as if he were somehow superior to them, as if they need to be "put in their place." Never mind the foul language he himself has used to describe everything from his political opponents to entire countries. Never mind that most of Trump's accusations against these congresswomen were false. It didn't matter. These women, Trump believed, had misbehaved, and needed to pay the price of public humiliation and contrition. This kind of gaslighting behavior is peak misogyny, and most women are very familiar with it. The phrase "I'm sorry" may seem small and inconsequential. It's only two words and three syllables. And of course, men have been asked or forced to apologize for their actions, too. But the demanded apology's power over women is huge: Research shows that women are society's chief apologists, saying "I'm sorry" far more often than men. Indeed, society's tolerance for women who are anything but quiet and polite is low, and the punishment imposed on such a woman is shame and remorse. And it's not just society: Women themselves believe they should apologize more often for their actions. One 2010 study published in Psychological Science suggested that "women have a lower threshold for what constitutes offensive behavior."

7-17-19 Menstrual cups are as safe and leakproof as tampons and pads
Menstrual cups stop leaks as well as other options such as tampons and sanitary napkins and are just as safe, according to a review of research that has looked into how women and girls use the various types of menstrual cups on the market. Anna Maria van Eijk at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine in the UK and her colleagues analysed data from 43 studies and conference reports that included more than 3300 participants from 15 low and middle-income countries and 28 high-income countries. Menstrual cups collect blood, rather than absorbing it like pads or tampons, and must be emptied every four to 12 hours. Van Eijk and her team found that four studies compared leakage with disposable menstrual products. In three of these, leakage was found to be similar regardless of which sanitary product was used. In the fourth study, menstrual cups were found to leak significantly less. Among women and girls from Africa, Europe and North America, there was no increased risk of infection due to using menstrual cups, and in four studies involving 507 women, there was no association between their use and adverse effects on the microbiome of the vagina. A study in Kenya detected lower levels of disrupted vaginal bacteria in users of a menstrual cup than in those who used sanitary pads. Menstrual cups come in two types: a bell-shaped vaginal cup and a cervical cup that sits in a similar place to a contraceptive diaphragm. In studies that examined the vagina and cervix, no tissue damage was identified as resulting from the use of a menstrual cup.


SCIENCE - GLOBAL WARMING and ENVIRONMENT

7-22-19 US groundwater shortage is forcing us to dig extremely deep wells
The US’s thirst for water – whether to drink or to grow crops – is encouraging an unsustainable trend towards ever deeper groundwater wells. That is the warning from US researchers who have produced the first map of the country’s wells, spending four years painstakingly talking to scores of public authorities to unearth the data. Groundwater provides drinking water for 120 million Americans and around half of the country’s irrigation needs. But demand in places such as California’s central valley is drying up existing wells, and engineers are drilling deeper ones to replace them. No one knew how many and how deep these new wells were. But a mapping exercise by Debra Perrone and Scott Jasechko at University of California, Santa Barbara found there are 11.8 million wells in total, and they are becoming deeper over time. “We wanted to make the invisible visible,” says Perrone. Simply drilling deeper is “an unsustainable stopgap to groundwater depletion”, Perrone and Jasechko argue, for four reasons: cost, energy for pumping, geology, and water usually becoming saltier the deeper you go. Perrone suggests that the alternative is to improve governance around groundwater use, and to look closer at which legal controls around withdrawals are most effective. In those cases where deeper drilling has to go ahead, water quality must be protected, she adds.

7-21-19 In pictures: Americans cool down in sweltering heatwave
The US is currently experiencing a serious heatwave, with dangerously high temperatures of almost 38C (100F). Cities on the country's east coast are particularly hard-hit, with New York, Philadelphia and Washington all experiencing unbearable heat. Unusually, they are even hotter than Phoenix, Arizona, and Miami in Florida. People in affected areas have been urged to stay hydrated, stay indoors as much as possible, and to try and take care of vulnerable people, including those who are ill, very young, or elderly. With residents trying to cool down in whatever way they can, public pools and fountains have been extremely busy. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a heat emergency in the city, and the New York City Triathlon, which was scheduled for Sunday, has been cancelled for the first time in its 18-year history. About 4,000 people were supposed to take part, with many travelling long distances for the race. Organisers said participants would receive full refunds of entry fees up to $399 (£319). A two-day music, comedy and food festival, OZY Fest, was also meant to be held in Central Park this weekend, but was cancelled.

7-21-19 Portugal wildfires: Huge blazes force evacuations
Hundreds of firefighters have been deployed to central Portugal where several wildfires have forced people to flee their homes. One person has suffered serious injuries. At least seven firefighters have also been hurt. Helicopters and planes have been used to douse three blazes in the mountainous Castelo Branco region, where one village has been evacuated. On Sunday, officials said two of the fires had been brought under control. The fires started on Saturday afternoon and were fanned by strong winds that made them more difficult to contain. "We are ready for a difficult day," Belo Costa, a civil protection official, told reporters early on Sunday. Hundreds of vehicles, including four bulldozers, have been used to tackle the fires. Army soldiers have been deployed. Several major roads are closed. A person who suffered first and second degree burns was taken by helicopter to a hospital in the capital, Lisbon. Temperatures in the Castelo Branco region are expected to reach 31C (88F) on Sunday. Six regions in central and southern Portugal have been placed on maximum fire alert. Wildfires are an annual problem in Portugal. The country is warm, heavily forested, and affected by strong winds from the Atlantic. Dozens of people were killed in huge fires there in 2017.

7-21-19 The world's first zero-waste flight
This Australian airline is trying to minimize its environmental impact — besides the jet fuel. This spring, passengers on a Wednesday morning flight from Sydney to Adelaide, Australia, were greeted in the usual way — the flight attendant telling them to place larger bags in overhead compartments, smaller ones under their seats. But then the flight attendant tacked on an unexpected announcement: "At this time, we'd like to invite you to sit back and enjoy the world's first zero-waste flight. We certainly hope you're as proud as we are to be part of aviation history." Aviation history? The world's first zero-waste flight? "That means that all paper, plastic, and aluminum and food items that we'll be serving you today will be either composted, recycled, or reused," the flight attendant said. Greenhouse gases aren't the only significant waste airlines produce. All those single-use plastic cups, meal boxes, pretzel bags. Many of us ask: Is it all really necessary? Qantas is asking that question, too. Qantas says it produces about 30,000 tons of waste per year, the equivalent to 80 fully laden 747 jumbo jets. And the Australian airline wants to cut that down significantly. "This flight was the first, I guess you could call, laboratory," said Andrew Parker, the group executive for government, industry, international, and sustainability with Qantas. "There were a thousand individual items that we removed or substituted from this flight." That included everything from plastic stirrers to individualized salt and pepper containers. Altogether, Qantas' goal is to eliminate 100 million pieces of single-use plastic annually by the end of next year. That's 45 million plastic cups, 30 million sets of cutlery, 21 million coffee cups, and 4 million headrest covers. "Why we're doing it, I think, is the critical question," Parker said. "We really feel it's the right thing to do. Airlines play a critical role in society, but we also know we are big consumers of resources, be that fuel, be that plastics." Of course, one of the biggest environmental impacts of flying may not be things like plastic stirring straws — it's the carbon dioxide from burning all that jet fuel. But that's a separate and far more complicated challenge for the airline industry.

7-20-19 Some unexpected consequences of extreme heat
This weekend, close to 200 million Americans will face temperatures of 90F (32C) and higher. Add in humidity, and many cities across the East Coast and Midwest will be feeling more like 110F (43C). Heat waves have killed more people on average than any other extreme weather event in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Officials define extreme heat as a period of two to three days of high heat and humidity with temperatures above 90F (32C). On the heels of earth's hottest June on record, the US National Weather Service (NWS) estimates over 100 record-high minimum temperatures could be set as the heat lingers even past sunset. Air-conditioning is used in 87% of US homes, according to a 2018 report by the US Energy Information Administration (EIA). During heat waves, air conditioning use stresses power grids and can lead to city-wide outages. In cities, that means millions of units - including those on cars and buses and trains - constantly pushing out heat into the atmosphere. Studies have found the extra heat from air-conditioning can raise temperatures by as much as 2C. And when it gets hotter, our thermostats turn lower and the cycle continues.But it goes further than just an ever-hotter summer season - the emissions from air conditioners and their refrigerants is contributing to climate change. The man-made greenhouse gases used in air conditoners, called hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), are thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. In cities, the cycle is also exacerbated by all the concrete, asphalt, steel and glass, creating an urban heat island.

7-19-19 Five ways the US heatproofs 50C cities
Much of the US is baking this weekend. As American cities continue getting hotter, the people who live in them have begun efforts to heatproof their homes and neighbourhoods in order to stave off the impending rise in global temperatures, writes Lucy Sherriff. The number of extreme heat days will rocket across the US, according to a new climate change report which predicts hundreds of cities experiencing month-long temperatures above 100F (38C) by 2050. Roughly 80% of Americans live in cities, equating to around 262 million people. Cities are almost always hotter than the surrounding rural areas, thanks to the urban heat island effect. These heat islands are caused by numerous factors, such as trapped waste heat, concrete structures and pavements absorbing the sun and tall buildings blocking the wind. All of these components contribute to air temperatures in cities that can be up to 22F hotter than neighbouring regions with less urban development. A warming planetary climate means temperatures in heat island areas will continue to rise, with desert states such as Texas, Nevada and Arizona particularly affected. In 2017, heat killed 172 people in Maricopa County, according to local health officials. The 9,000 square-mile region - which includes the city of Phoenix and miles of desert - contains 60% of Arizona's population. The region is one of the most heat-vulnerable areas in the US. To combat this, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) environmentalist group launched a programme to engage communities in tree planting in order to provide cooling shade to vulnerable residents. The programme aims to bring equality to the city. Affluent neighbourhoods can finance trees themselves, often have air conditioning units, and are less likely to use public transport. In low-income areas, residents are more likely to work outside, use public transport and generally are more vulnerable to the heat due to their lack of economic resources. "We are creating green corridors around the city," says Maggie Messerschmidt, urban conservation program manager at the TNC. TNC is starting by targeting low-income neighbourhoods where urban heat islands are more prevalent due to these areas having fewer open spaces, more concrete surfaces and less trees.

7-19-19 Could planting trees halt climate change?
Scientists have calculated that the cheapest and most effective way to fight climate change may be to plant trees—a trillion of them. Because trees soak up atmospheric carbon dioxide, a major contributor to global warming, researchers from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology decided to examine what would happen if saplings were replanted on lands where forests had been cleared. They concluded that the planet could support an extra 2.2 billion acres of tree cover, an area almost the size of the U.S. Those new forests, the researchers say, would remove about two-thirds of the roughly 330 billion tons of carbon pumped into the atmosphere by humans since the Industrial Revolution. Reforestation is “the top climate change solution in terms of carbon storage potential,” co-author Thomas Crowther tells Vox.com. Crowther and his colleagues identified six countries where the majority of the reforestation would need to take place: Russia, the U.S., Canada, Australia, Brazil, and China. And, they say, trees need to be planted sooner rather than later, because climate change could soon make it impossible for forests to thrive in some areas, such as the tropics. Other climate scientists say the global reforestation plan is too ambitious to be realistic, and that governments should focus on reducing carbon emissions, not coming up with ways to scrub greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

7-19-19 Cigarette butts in soil hamper plant growth, study suggests
Discarded cigarette butts can hamper plant growth, new research suggests. The study, led by Anglia Ruskin University, found the presence of butts in soil reduced the germination success and shoot length of clover by 27% and 28% respectively. An estimated 4.5 trillion butts are littered globally each year making them the planet's most pervasive form of plastic pollution, the study said. Most cigarette butts contain a filter made of cellulose acetate fibre, a type of a bioplastic. But researchers found filters from un-smoked cigarettes had almost the same effect on plant growth as used filters, indicating that the damage to plants is caused by the filter itself, even without the additional toxins released from the burning of the tobacco. As part of the research - published in the journal Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety - academics sampled locations around the city of Cambridge and found areas with as many as 128 discarded cigarette butts per sq metre. Control experiments were carried out and contained pieces of wood of identical shape and size as the cigarette butts. Lead author Dr Dannielle Green said while dropping butts seemed to be "socially acceptable", they had the ability to "cause serious damage to the environment". Dr Green - a senior biology lecturer at ARU - said: "Despite being a common sight littering streets and parks worldwide, our study is the first to show the impact of cigarette butts on plants. "We found they had a detrimental effect on the germination success and shoot length of both grass and clover, and reduced the root weight of clover by over half. "Ryegrass and white clover, the two species we tested, are important forage crops for livestock as well as being commonly found in urban green spaces. "These plants support a wealth of biodiversity, even in city parks, and white clover is ecologically important for pollinators and nitrogen fixation." She said that the filters can take years, if not decades, to break down.

7-19-19 Toxic selfies
A gorgeous turquoise lake that thousands of Siberians have been using as a backdrop for their Instagram photos is full of toxic waste, environmentalists have warned. Nicknamed the Siberian Maldives by locals, the lake contains runoff from an industrial dump site. The water gets its color from a chemical reaction among waste elements from the local coal-burning power station. Environmentalist Dmitry Shakhov said the water could cause allergic reactions or even chemical burns if ingested or touched. “This water is saturated with heavy metals and harmful substances,” he said. The Siberian Generating Co. said the lake poses no danger, but added that it has stationed guards to keep trespassers out.

7-19-19 World experienced hottest June on record in 2019, says US agency
The world experienced its hottest June on record last month, with an average temperature worldwide of 61.6F (16.4C), according to new data. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said the average global temperature was 1.7F warmer than the 20th Century average. The heat was most notable in parts of Europe, Russia, Canada and South America, it said. The NOAA report was released as the US prepares for a "dangerous heatwave". The National Weather Service has warned that tens of millions of people will be affected by excessive heat in the coming days, with temperatures expected to reach up to 110F (43.3C). "Friday is going to be bad. Saturday is going to be really, really bad," New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a video posted on Twitter on Thursday. "Take it seriously." In its latest monthly global climate report, the NOAA said the heat in June had brought Antarctic sea ice coverage to a record low. Nine of the 10 hottest Junes on its 1880-2019 record have occurred in the past nine years, it said. Last month beat June 2016 to be named the hottest. Nasa and other groups also reached the same conclusion last month. Scientists have warned that record-setting temperatures will continue as a result of climate change. "Earth is running a fever that won't break thanks to climate change," climatologist Kathie Dello told the Associated Press news agency. "This won't be the last record warm summer month that we will see."

7-19-19 Dangerous heatwave starts hitting US
Extremely hot weather has started to hit most of the United States, with temperatures set to peak over the weekend, meteorologists say. The heatwave could affect about 200 million people in major cities like New York, Washington and Boston in the East Coast, and the Midwest region too. In some places, temperatures could be close to or exceed 100F (38C). Experts say heatwaves are becoming more frequent, a phenomenon that is linked to climate change. The world experienced its hottest June on record this year, with an average temperature worldwide of 61.6F (16.4C), according to new data. Earlier this month, the US state of Alaska, part of which lies inside the Arctic Circle, registered record high temperatures. The heatwave is hitting an area stretching from the Central Plains of Colorado and Kansas, to the Great Lakes in the north-east. Temperatures are also rising in most areas of the East Coast. The National Weather Service (NWS) published a map of the areas that are affected. "The hazy, hot and humid conditions will persist through the weekend. Be smart and stay cool!" it warned. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio declared "a local emergency due to the extreme heat" in the city. "This is a heatwave coming up these next days. It's serious stuff," the mayor said in a video posted on Twitter. "Friday is going to be bad. Saturday is going to be really, really bad on through Sunday." He urged New Yorkers to take the threat seriously, to stay hydrated, and to not go out in the hot weather. Mr de Blasio added that 500 "cooling centres" were being opened across New York. Similar measures were being taken in Detroit and other cities.

7-18-19 We're pushing 28,000 species closer to extinction
Seven primate species, two families of rays and thousands more animals, plants and fungi have moved closer to extinction, according to a global analysis. The latest International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list shows that worldwide some 28,338 species are threatened with extinction due to a combination of habitat loss, unsustainable fishing and hunting. That is a 6 per cent increase from 2018, when 26,840 species were threatened. The IUCN classified 6127 species as critically endangered, meaning they are one step away from global extinction. This is up from 5826 species last year. However, the IUCN says this may be due to greater efforts at assessing species, rather than a true increase in the number of endangered animals. All but one of the 16 species of wedgefishes and giant guitarfishes, collectively known as rhino rays because of their elongated snouts, are now critically endangered due to “increasingly intense and essentially unregulated coastal fishing”, the IUCN says. Rhino ray meat is sold locally, while the fins are highly valued and traded internationally for shark fin soup. Some 40 per cent of primate species in West and central Africa are now threatened with extinction, and the conservation status of seven primate species have become more precarious in the past year, the IUCN warns. Six of these species live in West Africa, which “shows clearly how hunting for bushmeat and development-related deforestation are causing primate populations to decline”, it says. The roloway monkey (Cercopithecus roloway) is now critically endangered, with fewer than 2000 thought to remain in Ivory Coast and Ghana, where they are endemic. Their size and the value of their meat and skin make the monkeys a target for hunters.

7-18-19 Red List: Extinction threat to overlooked species
A deep-sea snail, many of Europe's fungi and half the freshwater fish in Japan are just some obscure additions to a list of threatened species. The Red List, a conservation status catalogue of more than 100,000 species, is compiled by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). This list update "delves into" ecosystems not examined before. "[Many species] probably have been overlooked," said Craig Hilton-Taylor, head of the IUCN Red List Unit. Their status serves as a warning. And "for some groups, they're jumping on to the list in a threatened category". Fungi, Mr Hilton-Taylor said, were relatively poorly studied, in comparison with many animals. "By bringing experts together and sharing all the information, we've seen a pattern - species are declining everywhere across Europe," he said. "That's helped us identify that semi-natural grasslands - a key European ecosystem- are also declining." The abandonment of traditional grazing and more intensive agricultural practices, including increased use of fertiliser are key drivers of that. "Fungi are very sensitive to changes in the environment, like pollution - they're the first to go," said Mr Hilton-Taylor. "But once they go, plants dependent on fungi will disappear, then the animals dependent on those plants."

7-18-19 Birds and insect species are heading north in the UK as climate warms
More than 50 species – including the purple heron, the southern emerald damselfly and the green-jawed tube web spider – have been on the move in the UK over the past decade as climate change takes hold. Despite a tradition of nature-watching and climate records in the UK, monitoring of wildlife movements due to rising temperatures is patchy. But a study by a UK-Australian team combed scientific literature, government reports and, unusually, social media, to explore whether UK species have moved into new areas between 2008 and 2018. They found 55 of the UK’s 39,000 species of animal, mostly insects and birds, had extended their range within the UK, primarily northwards. The Jersey tiger moth (Euplagia quadripunctaria) has expanded beyond the Channel Islands to London. One species, the black bee fly (Anthrax anthrax), arrived in the UK for the first time due to climate change. “The nature we are used to is going to change. It’s an important question we haven’t talked about much,” says Nathalie Pettorelli of the Zoological Society of London. People shouldn’t be afraid of species arriving in their area for the first time, she adds, but should try to support them with green space. Species were only considered to have moved because of global warming if there was scientific literature supporting climate change as a likely driver. For that reason, the figure of 55 species is probably a big underestimate, says Pettorelli. Naturalists tweeting and sharing photos about species in unusual locations helped identify 10 of the species, such as the arrival of the small skipper butterfly (Thymelicus sylvestris) in Lanarkshire, Scotland. Social media is a useful resource when species are recognisable from photos, Pettorelli says, but less so when a microscope is required, for example to tell some spiders apart.

7-18-19 Adding more bioethanol to petrol is no way to go green
Making “greener” fuels by adding bioethanol to petrol will wreck the environment, not save it. We need to focus on making electric cars work. The UK should burn more alcohol to go greener, a group of MPs styling themselves the All-Party Parliamentary Group for British Bioethanol said this week. They want the UK government to increase the bioethanol in standard unleaded petrol from 5 to 10 per cent. Such “E10” fuel is already sold in many countries, including the US, Australia and several European nations. Yet it is a social and environmental disaster. Biodiversity is under threat, and we need to preserve habitats, not destroy them. But growing crops to make biofuel increases the global demand for farmland and results in the destruction of ever more wilderness. By pushing up food prices and encouraging land grabs, most biofuels also deepen poverty and social division. They aren’t even that great at limiting climate change. Growing them produces greenhouse gases in all kinds of ways, from carbon dioxide when fertilisers are manufactured to nitrous oxide when they are applied to fields. Add to that people cutting down forests that store lots of carbon to create more farmland. The official carbon footprint of petrol and diesel in the European Union is 84 grams of carbon dioxide or the equivalent for every megajoule of energy. According to a 2017 study by the Royal Academy of Engineering in the UK, producing bioethanol from wheat – the main crop used for this purpose in the UK – emits around 100g CO2 eq/MJ on average, once land-use change is taken into account. Other sources at least emit less than petrol and diesel. Bioethanol made from sugar beet – another crop used in the UK – comes in at around 50g CO2 eq/MJ on average, counting land use. But the UK’s official aim is to reduce its emissions to net zero by 2050. Even using only sugar-beet bioethanol for blending with petrol wouldn’t get us close to what is needed. (Webmaster's comment: we suggest buying Chinese BYD electric cars instead. They are way ahead of anyone else with the technologly.)

7-18-19 Electric car models to triple in Europe by 2021
The number of electric car models available to consumers in Europe is expected to triple by 2021, says a European environmental lobby group. The uptake of electric cars has been stalling, blamed on a lack of charging infrastructure and higher prices. Latest data shows carmakers will offer 214 electric car models in 2021, up from 60 models at the end of 2018. More affordable options could see consumers switch from petrol and diesel cars sooner than anticipated. Analysis by the European Federation for Transport and Environment (T&E), based on data by research firm IHS Markit, suggests that car manufacturers are now ready to embrace car electrification. In 2021, carmakers are forecast to bring 92 fully electric models and 118 plug-in hybrid models to market. If they stick to these plans, 22% of vehicles produced could have a plug by 2025, which would enable manufacturers to easily meet the EU's car CO2 emissions target of 95g/km by 2025. The biggest electric car production plants will be in Germany, France, Spain and Italy, the data shows. Some 16 large-scale lithium-ion battery cell plants are confirmed or due to begin operations in Europe by 2023. "Thanks to the EU car CO2 standards, Europe is about to see a wave of new, longer range, and more affordable electric cars hit the market," said Lucien Mathieu, a transport and e-mobility analyst at T&E. "That is good news, but the job is not yet done. We need governments to help roll out electric vehicle charging at home and at work, and we need changes to car taxation to make electric cars even more attractive than polluting diesel, petrol or poor plug-in hybrid vehicles." Even luxury sports carmakers are jumping on to the electric bandwagon. This week, Lotus, owned by Chinese firm Geely, unveiled a £2m all-electric "hypercar" - the Evija - capable of more than 200mph (322km/h). (Webmaster's comment: Ridiculous! Where are you going to drive that.).

7-17-19 Sounding alert about vanishing US coastlines
Equipped with little more than a camera and a bird's eye view, Henry J Fair's new book captures the ongoing environmental threat to America's coastal region.

7-17-19 A drastic plan might prevent catastrophic Antarctic ice sheet collapse
Pumping colossal amounts of ocean water onto the West Antarctic ice sheet could stop it collapsing and causing drastic sea level rise that would threaten cities including Tokyo and New York. But the German and US researchers who have explored the idea admit the drastic intervention would require an “unprecedented effort for humankind in one of the harshest environments of the planet”. The fix would also be extremely expensive, incredibly hard to do and risk potentially devastating impacts for the region’s unique ecosystem. Five years ago, studies suggested the West Antarctic ice sheet had already started an unstoppable collapse. While the process will take centuries, it would raise sea levels to a height that would have dire consequences for major coastal cities. The threat is so grave, it requires an exploration and discussion of bold ideas to stop the ice sheet’s collapse, says Anders Levermann of the Potsdam Institute in Germany. “I’m certain the impact is so big it justifies this sort of thinking. It doesn’t mean it justifies the measure,” he says. Previous far-out ideas to stop the loss of the ice sheet have included building an island to stop the flow off the ice shelf. Levermann and colleagues instead modelled a more direct approach that would involve pumping ocean water onto the sheet, adding it either in liquid form or as snow. They found stabilising the collapse would require at least 7400 gigatonnes of the stuff over 10 years. “It’s a lot of ice. It’s huge,” says Levermann. He says while he is against global scale geoengineering proposals such as giant sunshades, the water pumping idea is different and more surgical. Even if society agreed on such a scheme, it faces mind-boggling obstacles. Around 145GW of wind farm capacity would be needed for the pumping, 12 times that installed in Europe last year. Temperatures would be too low for existing turbines, so new materials would be needed. The infrastructure would also turn the region into an “industrial compound”, says Levermann. Costs would likely be hundreds of billions of dollars, he adds.

7-17-19 Planning to carbon offset your flight? You should read this first
Carbon offsetting seems like an easy solution to climate guilt, but not all offsetting schemes are created equal. GRETA THUNBERG’S recent speech to the UK parliament was memorable not just for her oratorical firepower, but for how she got there: by taking trains from Stockholm to London, not a plane. The climate striker isn’t alone, as Swedes have driven the flygskam (flight shame) campaign. About 2000 people in the UK have pledged not to fly, while academics are being urged to fly less. But what if we still want or need to take the plane for work, holidays or meeting loved ones? The main option to assuage your guilt is carbon offsetting, where the amount of carbon you emit from an activity is negated by an equivalent reduction of carbon emissions elsewhere, through reforestation, renewable energy or other projects. Countries are also trying to decide what role offsetting plays in a post-Paris climate deal world, and many airlines will soon be required to offset any emissions growth. But does offsetting have a legitimate role to play in tackling climate change, given that it does nothing about our past emissions or cutting our ongoing footprint? need to do,” says Niklas Hagelberg at the United Nations Environment Programme. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that if temperature rises are to be limited to 1.5°C, emissions must nearly halve by 2030 and decrease almost entirely by 2050. Offsets can balance activities with few alternatives, says Hagelberg – in his case, flights from Nairobi to see family in other countries. But he says they are only useful if you also halve your carbon footprint in the next 11 years, so he is cutting emissions using solar heating and electricity at home. Benjamin Sovacool at the University of Sussex, UK, says if people are going to fly, it is good to offset, but better still would be not flying, or taking the train.

7-17-19 Costa Rica is banning the use of polystyrene packaging from 2021
Costa Rica will no longer allow the import or sales of expanded polystyrene – commonly known as Styrofoam in North America. The law prohibiting the packaging was signed on 15 July and will take effect in 2021. “It’s a material that can’t be reutilised. This is why this ban on import and commercialisation is so important, as it will reduce the pollution caused by this type of waste,” said Costa Rica’s Minister of Health Daniel Salas in a statement. Polystyrene is lightweight, inexpensive and moisture resistant, which makes it useful for everything from building insulation to food packaging. But it isn’t biodegradable – instead it slowly breaks down into smaller particles called microplastics. Polystyrene has been found to be widespread in marine environments where its chemicals can leach into the water and become toxic to sea life, potentially contaminating fish we eat. There are also concerns about the direct health effects of polystyrene for humans. People exposed to high concentrations during plastic production have developed eye and skin irritation, and problems with their respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts. The prohibition will be enforced in two years, and before then the government said in a statement that they will incentivise the substitution of other packaging materials to replace expanded polystyrene.

7-17-19 The super fly that could feed us, end waste and make plastic and fuel
The black soldier fly is the next big thing in sustainability, digesting waste products with minimal greenhouse gas emission. Farming them could save the world. BZZZZZZZ. Most people would find working next to the noise of thousands of flies a little irritating, and perhaps reach for a rolled-up newspaper. But to Keiran Whitaker, it is the soundtrack of a more sustainable future. That, and the promise of hard cash: Whitaker’s company Entocycle is farming the flies in a specialised lab a short walk from Tower Bridge in central London. Within a year, he wants to be shipping them around the country. As food. These are no ordinary insects. They are bigger than the average housefly but far more sluggish. They don’t eat anything, so they don’t need mouths or digestive systems, which means they can’t bite. They aren’t pests and they can’t carry disease. And as flies go, they don’t even fly that much. When they do, it is like they can’t really be bothered. It is easy to reach out and just grab one. They are black soldier flies. And if they sound amazing – which they are – then wait until you meet the kids. The larvae of these flies are the next big thing in sustainability. They can be dried and fed to pets. They can replace fishmeal in the diet of farmed fish and animals, and so help protect the oceans from over-exploitation. They can be swapped for the mountain of soya used in animal feed, so saving the rainforests. They can digest all manner of human wastes without generating a lot of greenhouse gases. They can be processed into a kind of plastic. They have been baked into bread and biscuits and mixed into ice cream. They taste, if you were wondering, a bit like peanuts.

7-17-19 Climate change: 'No brainer' fuel change to cut transport carbon
Adding more ethanol to the UK's fuel mix would cut carbon by as much as taking 700,000 cars off the roads, according to a group of MPs. The All-Party Parliamentary Group for British Bioethanol says the swift introduction of E10 fuel would also help the £1bn British biofuel industry. E10 is a mixture of 10% ethanol with 90% petrol, double the current permit One of the unintended consequences of 2015's diesel emissions scandal has been a jump in the sales of petrol cars, with a knock-on effect on sales of the fuel. This has contributed to the first increase in emissions of CO2 from new cars in two decades recorded in 2017. A significant plank of the government's plan to reduce carbon on the roads has been the introduction of biofuels made from crops, which soak up CO2 as they are grown. At present, ethanol made from wheat or sugar beet is blended into petrol to a maximum of 5%. The report's authors say that while electric cars and vehicles are the long-term solution to emissions from transport, E10 represents a big advance that could be achieved right now.ted maximum. The MPs say that Brexit has distracted the government from taking action. "For many reasons it is absolutely a no-brainer," said Nic Dakin MP, the chairman of the all-party group. "On the environmental front, it's a cleaner, greener fuel at a time when we're trying to address air pollution and tackle climate change. "Cars aren't going to all switch to battery power overnight and if they did there isn't the capacity in the National Grid to power all of our transportation. "This must be a top priority for the government and we renew our call for a mandate to introduce E10 by 2020 at the latest." In other European countries, the change to E10 has been fully embraced. France introduced the fuel in 2009 and last year it was the largest volume petrol grade sold, with 47% of the market. Germany, Belgium and Finland have also introduced E10, with other countries including China and India set to do the same. In Brazil the minimum ethanol content is now 27%.

7-17-19 Planting trees could buy more time to fight climate change than thought
Earth has 0.9 billion hectares that are suitable for new forests. A whopping new estimate of the power of planting trees could rearrange to-do lists for fighting climate change. Planting trees on 0.9 billion hectares of land could trap about two-thirds the amount of carbon released by human activities since the start of the Industrial Revolution, a new study finds. The planet has that much tree-friendly land available for use. Without knocking down cities or taking over farms or natural grasslands, reforested pieces could add up to new tree cover totaling just about the area of the United States, researchers report in the July 5 Science. The new calculation boosts tree planting to a top priority for gaining some time to fight climate change, says coauthor Tom Crowther, an ecologist at ETH Zurich. The study used satellite images to see how densely trees grow naturally in various ecosystems. Extrapolating from those images showed how much forest similar land could support. Plant a mix of native species, he urges. That will help preserve the birds, insects and other local creatures. The analysis revealed space to nourish enough trees to capture some 205 metric gigatons of carbon in about a century. That’s close to 10 times the savings expected from managing refrigerants, the top item on a list of climate-fighting strategies from the nonprofit Project Drawdown, a worldwide network of scientists, advocates and others proposing solutions to global warming. The benefit of tree planting will shrivel if people wait, the researchers warn. Earth’s climate could change enough by 2050 to shrink the places trees can grow by some 223 million hectares if the world keeps emitting greenhouse gases as it does now, the analysis suggests.

7-17-19 Plastic pollution: Could a year's waste circle the Earth four times?
So much plastic is thrown away every year that it could circle the Earth four times. This is claim is a claim commonly made on environmental websites - but is it true?

7-17-19 Chennai, the city where drought is visible from space
Millions of people in India's southern city of Chennai are struggling as taps run dry. rains and trucks have been bringing water in for residents, but it comes at a cost. Environmentalists are warning this is a problem which could soon affect many other countries.

7-16-19 Journal criticised for study claiming sun is causing global warming
A high profile scientific journal is investigating how it came to publish a study suggesting that global warming is down to natural solar cycles. The paper was criticised by scientists for containing “very basic errors” about how the Earth moves around the sun. The study was published online on 24 June by Scientific Reports, an open access journal run by Nature Research, which also lists the prestigious Nature journal among its titles. A spokesperson told New Scientist that it is aware of concerns raised over the paper, which was authored by five academics based at Northumbria University, the University of Bradford, and the University of Hull in the UK, plus the Nasir al-Din al-Tusi Shamakhi Astrophysical Observatory in Azerbaijan, and the National Research University Higher School of Economics in Moscow, Russia. The authors suggest that the Earth’s 1°C temperature rise over the past two centuries could largely be explained by the distance between the Earth and the sun changing over time as the sun orbits around our solar system’s barycentre, its centre of mass. The phenomenon would see temperatures rise a further 3°C by 2600, they say. Ken Rice of the University of Edinburgh, UK, criticised the paper for an “elementary” mistake about celestial mechanics. “It’s well known that the sun moves around the barycentre of the solar system due to the influence of the other solar system bodies, mainly Jupiter,” he says. “This does not mean, as the paper is claiming, that this then leads to changes in the distance between the sun and the Earth.” “The claim that we will see warming in the coming centuries because the sun will move closer to the earth as it moves around the solar system barycentre is very simply wrong,” adds Rice. He is urging the journal to withdraw the paper, and says it is embarrassing it was published. Gavin Schmidt of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies says the paper contains egregious errors. “The sun-Earth distance does not vary with the motion of the sun-Earth system around the barycenter of the sun-Jupiter system, nor the sun-galactic center system or any other purely mathematical reference point.” He says the journal must retract the paper if it wants to retain any credibility.

7-16-19 Michael Gove: Time running out to stop damage to planet
Michael Gove threw his weight behind a comprehensive plastic bottle recycling scheme today as he warned time is running out to repair the damage human beings have done to the planet. In a speech at Kew Gardens in London the Environment Secretary said there was a political, economic and moral imperative to tackle climate change and reverse wildlife loss. He outlined ambitious proposals for what he described as a "world leading" Environment Act, to match the success of the Climate Change Act of 2008. He said it would include the creation of an Office of Environment Protection with tough powers to take legal action on a range of environmental issues, including reducing carbon emissions. It was his intention that the new body would have "real teeth' and would be able take central government to court if necessary, the Environment Secretary said. The speech will be seen as a signal to the two Tory leadership contenders that Mr Gove is keen to stay in his post at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) after Theresa May leaves office next week. Mr Gove announced that he favours an "all in" deposit return recycling scheme that would cover all sizes of bottles. This would give the public "the greatest possible incentive" to recycle, he told the audience at Kew. Large retailers have lobbied against such a scheme, warning it could cost as much as £1bn to administer. But deposit schemes in Europe have boosted recycling. The idea is that a deposit - a few pence - would be added to the price of a drink. The deposit is paid back when empties are returned to retailers. am Chetan-Welsh, political adviser for Greenpeace UK, said: "Michael Gove's call for urgency and UK leadership is spot on. By backing an all-inclusive deposit return scheme for bottles and cans, and pledging to force big business to finally foot the bill for the masses of plastic rubbish they create, Gove's pledges give the next government a good place to start. "But tangible commitments on climate were notably absent. The next government must speed up the ban on petrol and diesel vehicles, triple renewable power over the next decade, end fracking and Heathrow's third runway, and boost investment in insulating our homes."

7-16-19 EU top nominee von der Leyen in 'green deal' push for MEP votes
The woman nominated to head the EU Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has pledged to launch a "green deal for Europe", in a bid for MEPs' support. Mrs von der Leyen set out her agenda in the European Parliament ahead of a key vote on her candidacy. The outgoing German defence minister needs a majority to take charge. On Brexit, she said "I stand ready for a further extension of the [UK] withdrawal date, should more time be required for a good reason". MEPs reacted with a mixture of applause and boos. "In any case the UK will remain our ally, our partner and our friend," she said, defending the existing withdrawal deal, reached with Prime Minister Theresa May but rejected by the UK Parliament, which the EU has vowed not to reopen. The UK is currently scheduled to leave the EU on 31 October. If she wins the vote in Strasbourg on Tuesday evening, she will replace EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on 1 November. She is a centre-right politician close to German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Mrs von der Leyen, 60, has been criticised in Germany over the armed forces' persistent equipment shortages and what some consider to be her aloof management style. On climate change, she said "I will propose a sustainable Europe investment bank", to unlock substantially more investment in renewable energy and other measures over the next decade. The new "green deal" - promised within Mrs von der Leyen's first 100 days - would aim to make the EU carbon neutral by 2050, whereby carbon pollution is balanced by green measures such as planting trees. The UK has already set a 2050 deadline for becoming carbon neutral. "It means change - all of us will have to contribute… in the way each of us travels and lives. Emissions must have a price that changes our behaviour," she said.

7-16-19 Night-shining ‘noctilucent’ clouds have crept south this summer
An uptick in atmospheric moisture may be fueling clouds that catch the sun’s rays after dark. High in the sky, sunlit wisps remain aglow even after sundown. This summer, a surprising number of such noctilucent, or “night-shining,” clouds have been spotted in the Northern Hemisphere — and, unusually, as far south as Oklahoma and New Mexico, scientists report. These clouds typically float in the mesosphere about 80 kilometers above Earth’s surface, and are visible at high latitudes. They gleam blue or white when they catch the sun’s rays, even after the night has fallen on land. “They’re beautiful,” says James Russell, an atmospheric scientist at Hampton University in Virginia. “It’s hard to take your eyes off of them, because they’re so iridescent.” The clouds form when cold temperatures, around -130° Celsius, cause water vapor to condense and freeze around dust particles, making nanometer-sized ice crystals. What stood out in June was how wet the mesosphere was. “It’s record-setting,” says Lynn Harvey, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Colorado Boulder. Possible explanations for that extra wetness include more moist air ascending in summertime than usual, or an increase in the atmosphere of methane, which can be oxidized to form water vapor. A satellite image released by NASA’s Earth Observatory shows these noctilucent clouds covering the Arctic on June 12, with white areas showing where sunlight is reflected the most off the clouds and dark purple the least. Russell, Harvey and colleagues have monitored these clouds for 13 years to learn more about how they form and whether they might reveal atmospheric changes due to global warming. The scientists plan to use computer models to simulate cloud formation under various conditions, in hopes of explaining the clouds’ southward stretch.


SCIENCE - EVOLUTION and GENETICS

7-22-19 Mental health days: How teens changed the law in Oregon
Students in Oregon will be able to take mental health days in the same way they would take sick days under a new law. It's after four teenagers successfully campaigned for the American state to introduce the legislation. Pupils will be able to have up to five days off every three months for "issues with mental or behavioural health". The group behind it say they aimed "to change the stigma around mental health". Hailey Hardcastle, an 18-year-old from Portland who helped champion the mental health bill, says she and the other members of the group put the proposal together in an effort to "encourage kids to admit when they're struggling". According to data from Oregon's Health Authority, nearly 17% of eighth-graders (13 and 14-year-olds) had reported seriously contemplating taking their lives in the past 12 months. Until now, schools there were only obliged to excuse absences related to physical illnesses. Although lots of business in the UK are becoming more open about discussing mental health, there is no law which forces schools or employers to recognise mental health issues as an excuse for having a day off. Hailey and the other teen campaigners, Sam Adamson, Lori Riddle and Derek Evans, have had criticism from parents in the state who suggest the law will encourage students to find more excuses to miss school. Some say students could already take "mental health days" by lying or just pretending to be ill. But Hailey says those views miss the point of the new law - and that students are more likely to open up about how they're feeling if they know mental health issues are being formally recognised by their school. "Why should we encourage lying to our parents and teachers? "Being open to adults about our mental health promotes positive dialogue that could help kids get the help they need."

7-22-19 Boosting a gut bacterium helps mice fight an ALS-like disease
People with Lou Gherig's disease appear to have a dearth of the microbes. A friendly gut bacterium can help lessen ALS symptoms, a study of mice suggests. Mice that develop a degenerative nerve disease similar to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease, fared better when bacteria making vitamin B3 were living in their intestines, researchers report July 22 in Nature. Those results suggest that gut microbes may make molecules that can slow progression of the deadly disease. The researchers uncovered clues that the mouse results may also be important for people with ALS. But the results are too preliminary to inform any changes in treating the disease, which at any given time affects about two out of every 100,000 people, or about 16,000 people in the United States, says Eran Elinav, a microbiome researcher at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel. “With respect to ALS, the jury is still out,” says Elinav, also of the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg. “We have to prove that what we found in mice is reproducibly found in humans.” Elinav and his colleagues examined the gut microbiomes — bacteria, archaea and other microbes that live in the colon, or large intestine — of mice that produce large amounts of a mutated form of the SOD1 protein. In the mice, as in human ALS patients, faulty SOD1 proteins clump together and lead to the death of nerve cells. Microbiomes of ALS mice contained almost no Akkermansia muciniphila bacteria. Restoring A. muciniphila in the ALS mice slowed progression of the disease, and the mice lived longer than untreated rodents. By contrast, greater numbers of two other normal gut bacteria, Ruminococcus torques and Parabacteroides distasonis, were associated with more severe symptoms.

7-20-19 Strange illusion makes people forget where their teeth are
Your mouth may not be where you think it is. An illusion that tricks people into thinking their teeth are closer to their neck than in reality shows that our bodily perceptions are easily influenced. Davide Bono and Patrick Haggard at University College London developed the experiment inspired by the rubber hand illusion, a famous illusion in psychology where the participant believes a rubber hand is their own. In Bono and Haggard’s experiment, the participant wears a blindfold and places their head on a chin-rest. They are then told that Bono will take their right hand and use it to stroke their own teeth. Instead, he uses the person’s hand to stroke a model set of human teeth made of plaster placed 8 centimetres below their real teeth. Simultaneously, Bono uses his own hand to stroke the person’s teeth in exactly the same way. The participants are then asked to point to their own teeth. Eight people took part in the experiment and on average they pointed 1.5 centimetres below their own teeth in the direction of the model teeth. The participants also believed that they were touching their own teeth. The experiment suggests that our perception of our mouth is flexible – an effect called proprioceptive drift. This effect also happens with the rubber hand illusion. Bono and Haggard found that even if the strokes on the model teeth and the participant’s real teeth were in opposite directions, as long as they started and finished at the same time the illusion still persisted. They also found that the illusion worked when the model teeth were covered in Velcro. With a different set of model teeth where there were gaps between the teeth, proprioceptive drift didn’t occur, but the participants still believed the model teeth were theirs.

7-19-19 Warning over polio-like condition
Health officials have urged doctors to look out for early signs of a mysterious condition that can leave young children paralyzed, and to collect lab samples as soon as possible. First diagnosed in the U.S. in 2014, acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) causes muscle weakness, problems with swallowing, and slurred speech. Polio-like paralysis can follow. There have been 570 recorded cases since 2014, which have typically surfaced between August and October. Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say they’re unsure what causes the condition—though they suspect it’s viral—and why some children are affected but not others. They want doctors across the country on high alert for possible symptoms, reports NBCNews.com. Patients, who have an average age of 5, typically suffer respiratory problems and fever less than a week before developing limb weakness. “When specimens are collected as soon as possible after symptom onset,” says CDC principal deputy director Anne Schuchat, “we have a better chance of understanding the causes of AFM and developing a diagnostic test.”

7-19-19 Supplements and heart health
Millions of people who take dietary supplements to protect their heart are likely getting no health benefit—and in some cases might be harming themselves. That’s the conclusion of a new meta-analysis of 277 studies, which together included nearly 1 million people, to determine supplements’ effect on cardiovascular health. The researchers found that only a few of the 16 supplements and eight diets tested appeared to do any good. Omega 3 fatty acids, commonly found in fish oil, appeared to lower the risk of heart attacks and coronary heart disease. Folic acid was linked with a reduced risk of stroke. But the evidence for those benefits wasn’t particularly strong. Vitamin A, B, C, D, and E supplements didn’t appear to help heart health at all; nor did calcium, iron, or multivitamins. Furthermore, researchers found, taking calcium with vitamin D increases the risk of stroke, possibly because it increases blood clotting and hardens arteries. “People who are taking these supplements for the sake of improving their cardiovascular health are wasting their money,” lead author Safi Khan, from West Virginia University, tells The New York Times.

7-19-19 Baby born from donor womb
IIn a first for the U.S., doctors in Cleveland have delivered a healthy baby from a uterus transplanted into the mother from a deceased donor. Pioneered in Sweden, uterine transplants can allow women with uterine factor infertility (UFI) to give birth. Women with this condition are born without a uterus—like the unnamed new mom in Cleveland—or have suffered uterine damage from an infection or medical procedure or have had a hysterectomy. The baby girl in Cleveland, delivered via caesarean section in June, is only the second child born from a uterus transplanted from a dead donor. More than a dozen women have given birth following uterine transplants; all but one received the womb from a living donor, such as a friend or family member. Transplant recipients have to take immunosuppressive drugs to prevent their body from rejecting the uterus; if all goes well, they then try to conceive using in vitro fertilization. “This is still research,” Uma Perni from the Cleveland Clinic tells USA Today. “But it’s exciting to see what the options may be for women in the future.”

7-19-19 The land wedded to quack medicine
Are the French finally going to start listening to science? asked Klaus Taschwer. Their government is prodding them in that direction. French Health Minister Agnès Buzyn, who is a doctor, has decreed that government health insurance will no longer pay part of the cost of homeopathic remedies. Homeopathy uses tiny amounts of a plant or mineral with the aim of stimulating a patient’s natural immune responses. Buzyn has rightly concluded that this so-called alternative medicine is not worth subsidizing, because study after study has shown that homeopathic pills are no better than a placebo. “Which is to say, no good at all.” Yet the French consume these hocus-pocus potions in vast quantities—their government reimbursed them $143 million for homeopathic treatments last year. During the 18th century, France was “the center of European enlightenment and reason.” Today, its people “embrace ignorance,” at least in health matters. One in three French people believes vaccines are dangerous, the highest rate of such skepticism in the world. Perhaps the country needs to undergo “a kind of Enlightenment 2.0 in the matter of scientific evidence.” In the meantime, those patients who are furious that they will soon have to pay more out of pocket for their homeopathic pills can take comfort in one scientific teaching: “Placebos have been shown to work better the more they cost.”

7-19-19 AI passes theory of mind test by imagining itself in another's shoes
Artificial intelligence has passed a classic theory of mind test used with chimpanzees. The test probes the ability to perceive the world from the view of another individual and so AIs with this skill could be better at cooperating and communicating with humans and each other. AIs with theory of mind are key to building machines that can understand the world around them. In recent years, the skill has emerged in a robot whose memories are modelled on human brains and in DeepMind’s ToM-net, which understands that others can have false beliefs. Raul Vicente at the University of Tartu in Estonia and colleagues drew inspiration from an animal study that looked at the feeding habits of dominant and subordinate chimpanzees. “Chimpanzees have these hierarchical structures in their society and in principle the dominant one almost always gets the food,” says Vicente. The chimp study showed that the subordinate animal would only go for food that it knew the dominant animal couldn’t see it, suggesting an ability to place itself in another’s position. To replicate this set-up, Vicente and colleagues created a virtual 11 by 11 grid in which they placed two AIs – one dominant and one subordinate – and a single piece of food in different orientations and locations. The subordinate AI was able to move within the grid, and was rewarded points if it ate food that the dominant agent couldn’t see, but lost points if it ate food in the dominant agent’s sight. It learned via trial and error – in a process called reinforcement learning – whether or not to move towards the food. A key difference between apes and AIs is that the AI required several thousand trials before it learned the task, while chimpanzees understood it intuitively.

7-19-19 Botox may relieve persistent pelvic pain caused by endometriosis
A small study shows the toxin can lessen women’s pelvic spasms for months. For some women with endometriosis, the pain doesn’t stop after surgical and hormonal treatments. It can persist, triggered by muscle spasms that ripple through the pelvic floor. Now, a small study suggests that Botox, best known for smoothing wrinkles, could quell those spasms and relieve that pain. Thirteen women diagnosed with the disorder, in which tissue similar to what lines the uterus grows elsewhere in the body, had the botulinum toxin injected into their pelvic floor, which supports the pelvic organs. The shots targeted areas of muscle spasm that were sites of pain. The women, ages 21 to 51, had been in pain for at least two years. All reported a reduction in pain four to eight weeks after treatment. Eleven of the 13 rated their post-Botox pain as mild or completely gone, researchers reported online July 8 in Regional Anesthesia & Pain Medicine. Relief lasted from five to 11 months in seven of the 11 women followed for up to a year post injection. Women in the study “had benefit beyond relief of pain. Some were able to resume having sex without pain. Some were able to function better,” says Barbara Karp, a neurologist at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) in Bethesda, Md. Eight of the 13 women had experienced moderate to very severe disability, according to a questionnaire designed to measure how the pain interferes with day-to-day activities such as walking, standing, sleeping, personal care and sex life. Six of these women’s scores indicated their disability had lessened after the injection. Endometriosis affects an estimated 5 to 10 percent of reproductive-age women, or 176 million worldwide. Compounding the pain and infertility that accompanies the disorder is the lack of awareness of the condition; past studies have found that women face treatment delays and skepticism that they have a medical issue at all.

7-19-19 Longer gaps between births can halve infant deaths in developing nations.
But increasing that interval makes little difference in developed countries. In some of the world’s least-developed countries, spacing births two years apart, instead of one, can nearly halve infant mortality rates, a study finds. But in more developed nations, increasing the interval between successive childbirths makes little difference to infant deaths, researchers report July 3 in Demography. “At low levels of development, birth spacing is really important for infant survival,” says demographer Joe Molitoris of Lund University in Sweden. “But as development progresses, the relative importance of spacing gets weaker and weaker until it basically becomes zero.” Women’s access to better nutrition and medical care likely compensate for short birth intervals, Molitoris and his colleagues say. Short birth intervals have been linked to poor health outcomes for moms and infants for decades, though the exact causes aren’t clear. Research has shown that the mothers’ bodies can struggle to recover and provide nutrients to children. In addition, siblings that are close in age may compete for the same resources, crucially breast milk, and are exposed to similar diseases. But the new study adds to a growing body of evidence suggesting that the current World Health Organization guidelines that women in all countries space babies three to five years apart are both more conservative than needed and not one-size-fits-all. For instance, some studies out of wealthier countries, such as Sweden, Canada and Australia, show no link between infant health and birth spacing, while research out of poor countries shows the reverse. Molitoris and his team combed through intermittent surveys given to 1.15 million mothers in 77 low- and middle- income countries from 1985 to 2016 to create a more complete picture. For moms ages 15 to 49, the researchers zeroed in on their children’s birth dates and survival among all younger siblings born within 10 years of an older sibling. All told, the women birthed 4.56 million children, about 370,000 of which died before age 1. Eighty-three percent of those deaths occurred among babies born within three years of an older sibling, the team found.

7-19-19 Does the drop in US drug deaths mean the opioid crisis is ending?
For the first time since 1990, the number of annual drug overdose deaths in the US has declined. The 5 per cent fall reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is almost entirely due to a drop in deaths from prescription opioid painkillers. Does this mean the opioid crisis has peaked? The early data predicts that there were 68,500 drug overdose deaths in the US in 2018, down from 72,000 the previous year. “The preliminary CDC data showing a drop in overdose deaths is certainly encouraging, but it is too early to determine whether this represents a true shift in overdose trends,” says Tisamarie Sherry, at the policy think tank Rand Corporation in California. But it is unknown whether overdose deaths will continue to fall, says Sherry. “The CDC data shows that overdose deaths from fentanyl, synthetic opioids, cocaine and methamphetamines are still increasing, which is an ominous sign.” Drug overdose deaths in the US related to prescription opioids rose from just over 3,400 in 1999 to about 17,000 in 2017. This dramatic upwards trend reflects a nation-wide epidemic of opioid use and abuse. Recent data from the US Drug Enforcement Agency revealed that between 2006 and 2012, 76 billion oxycodone and hydrocodone pain pills – two common prescription opioids – were distributed in the US. That’s about 460 pills per person. The epidemic has hit US states differently, and these new numbers bear that out. Deaths continued to rise in some eastern states where the use of illicit fentanyl, a highly potent synthetic opioid, is spreading. But deaths are dropping in some midwestern states where local governments have expanded treatments for addiction and monitoring of prescriptions. Even with this recent reduction in overdoses, the death toll from drugs in the US is still high, with tens of thousands of people overdosing on opioids each year. The recent decrease may be due to increased availability of naloxone – which blocks the effects of opioids and is used by emergency medical practitioners to reverse an overdose – and better training to use it.

7-18-19 Manipulating nerve cells makes mice ‘see’ something that’s not there
For the first time, researchers have used optogenetics to create a specific visual perception. Aiming laser lights into mice’s brains can make them “see” lines that aren’t actually there. The results, described online July 18 in Science, represent the first time scientists have created a specific visual perception with laboratory trickery. The work is “technically amazing,” says neuroscientist and psychiatrist Conor Liston at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City. “I think every neuroscientist in this area will look at this with great interest.” The ability to monitor and control precise collections of nerve cells, or neurons, could help unravel big questions, including how certain groups of neurons create experiences. The experiment used optogenetics, a technique in which laser light activates neurons in the brain (SN: 1/30/10, p. 18). The neurons are genetically tweaked to carry a protein that prompts them to send a signal in response to the light. When optogenetics first debuted about 15 years ago, everyone was hoping to achieve this level of precise control over perception, and the behaviors that follow, says Karl Deisseroth, a neuroscientist and psychiatrist who pioneered the technique. “It’s exciting to get to this point,” says Deisseroth, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at Stanford University. Deisseroth and his colleagues first monitored neurons in the brains of mice that were viewing either horizontal or vertical lines. Each mouse had been trained to lick water from a spout in front of it when it saw the orientation of lines it had been trained on. The researchers then set out to artificially evoke the same vision of the lines. Initially, the mice were shown very faint real lines. When the lines became so faint that the mice floundered, optogenetic stimulation improved their performance. Then the researchers tested the mice in total darkness, with no visual input whatsoever, and found that a perception of the lines could be created solely with lasers. Stimulating about 20 of the neurons that responded to the real sight caused mice to correctly “see” the right vision, and lick as a result.

7-18-19 TIA flexible bone that helps mammals chew dates back to the Jurassic Period
The structure may have helped give rise to the Age of Mammals, a new fossil suggests. Chew on this: Millions of years before the emergence of true mammals, an early ancestor had a tiny, saddle-shaped bone connected to the jaw that was thought to belong to mammals alone. That bone, scientists say, helps all mammals chew and swallow, and ultimately was one secret to our success, enabling the spread into various ecological niches. Microdocodon gracilis, a shrew-sized mammal ancestor, lived about 165 million years ago in what’s now China. Scientists led by vertebrate paleontologist Chang-Fu Zhou of the Paleontological Museum of Liaoning in Shenyang, China, examined the fossil and discovered that it included a beautifully preserved hyoid bone. That bone bears a remarkable resemblance to the shape of hyoids in modern mammals, the researchers report in the July 19 Science. When it comes to food, mammals have staked their claims across many types of environments. And different modern species have teeth specially adapted for their widely differing diets. Large carnivores like lions and tigers have sharp, cutting blades; some small mammals have high cusps on their teeth to help crunch insects; and others have ridge-packed teeth to help grind down plants. But one thing that all mammals have in common is that we do chew, breaking food down into tiny pieces before swallowing it. That’s unlike, say, reptiles, which have a penchant for swallowing food whole, says vertebrate paleontologist Zhe-Xi Luo of the University of Chicago. Furthermore, mammals’ mouths, throats and tongues are also designed to be flexible and strong enough to suckle milk, a defining characteristic for the group.

7-18-19 London gender clinic reports rising number of non-binary attendees
The rise in young people seeking help with gender identity issues in the UK may have peaked. The country’s only gender identity clinic for people under 18 saw a very small increase in the number of referrals in the past year, compared with the year before. There was a steep rise in the three preceding years of between about 500 to 700 referrals a year. Between mid-2018 and mid-2019, the clinic received around 2500 referrals, according to data shared by Polly Carmichael, director of the Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) in London, at a press conference on 17 July. The clinic, which is part of the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust, says it is now seeing a growing number of people who identify as non-binary, who aren’t necessarily seeking to transition from one gender to another. Non-binary or genderqueer individuals, who identify as neither exclusively male nor female, now make up 11 per cent of referrals to the clinic. The reasons for this are unknown, said Carmichael. “Some young people are challenging the stereotypes of having to fit into a male or female box. Some people are saying sometimes I feel more male, and sometimes more genderqueer.” Many Western countries are seeing growing numbers of people identifying as transgender, especially among teenagers. Some groups have previously criticised the GIDS clinic both for encouraging young people to transition too quickly and for the opposite problem – of excessively slowing down the process. But on Wednesday Carmichael said the clinic treated everyone on a case-by-case basis. “It’s about having a process to give the individual time and space to explore.” About 45 per cent of all people referred to the clinic eventually undergo physical interventions, such as hormone therapy, said Carmichael. This falls to 25 per cent of those who were under the age of 12 when referred. “I can still not predict with absolute certainty what pathway a young person is going to take,” said Carmichael. “It’s a process of exploration.”

7-18-19 Israel mosque find: Archaeologists unearth 1,200-year-old ruins in desert
One of the world's earliest known mosques, built around 1,200 years ago, has been discovered by archaeologists in Israel's Negev Desert. The remains, dating from the 7th or 8th century, were found in the Bedouin town of Rahat. Israel's Antiquities Authority (IAA) says the mosque was unearthed during building work in the area. It is the first known mosque from this period in the area, rivalling the age of those found in Mecca and Jerusalem, the IAA said. Excavation directors Jon Seligman and Shahar Zur said the mosque would be "a rare discovery anywhere in the world". Researchers believe the mosque's congregation were likely to have been local farmers. The building was open-air, rectangular-shaped and had a "Mihrab" - or a prayer niche - facing south toward Mecca, Islam's holiest city. "These features are evidence for the purpose for which this building was used, many hundred years ago," said Mr Seligman. It is one of the first mosques constructed after the arrival of Islam in Israel, when the Arabs conquered in 636, according to Gideon Avni, an expert on early Islamic history. The discovery of the village and the mosque in its vicinity are a significant contribution to the study of the history of the country during this turbulent period," he said.

7-18-19 Oldest Denisovan art discovered on 100,000-year-old bone fragments
They might not look much compared to the work of Michelangelo or Vincent van Gogh. But a couple of abstract etchings discovered in China could be a sign that the Denisovans, our mysterious extinct cousins, were artists. The 100,000-year-old marks on two pieces of bone also bolster the idea that Denisovans, like Neanderthals, were capable of symbolic thought – once regarded as something only modern humans could do. The bones were unearthed at Lingjing in Henan Province, China, a site where a population of archaic humans, thought to be Denisovans – though this needs to be confirmed – lived between 125,000 and 105,000 years ago. The Denisovans and the Neanderthals belong on a branch of the human family tree that split away from our “modern human” branch within the last million years. Denisovans lived in east Asia, while Neanderthals lived in Europe and west Asia. Detailed analysis of the Lingjing engravings showed that they had been carefully drawn with a sharp point, and weren’t cutmarks from processing meat. “The microscopic analysis of the lines shows that they cannot be interpreted as marks of butchery, the alternative interpretation,” says Francesco d’Errico, a palaeoanthropologist at the University of Bordeaux in France, and a member of the team that studied the bones. To enhance their visibility, the lines on one of the bones had been rubbed with reddish ochre – a pigment often found on prehistoric ornaments from Europe and Africa. “We need to explain why equidistant lines were deliberately engraved on a semi-fossil bone and covered with red ochre to highlight them,” says d’Errico. “The explanation that would be given by archaeologists if this behaviour was observed at a more recent site would be that this is a sign to which some sort of meaning was attributed.”

7-18-19 WHO declares international emergency over DRC Ebola outbreak
The Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has been declared a global emergency, with the World Health Organization (WHO) calling for international support to stop its spread. This is only the fifth event to be labelled a “public health emergency of international concern” by the organisation. The move follows the death of a pastor in Goma, a city of almost 2 million people that borders Rwanda and is a hub of international travel. Experts convened by the WHO were concerned that this, alongside the virus spreading to new locations and flare-ups in areas where the outbreak was previously under control, could herald a growing epidemic. Despite efforts to contain the outbreak over the past year, the crisis has grown and is now responsible for the deaths of around 1700 people, and another 2500 possible infections. This is the second biggest Ebola outbreak on record, behind the outbreak in West Africa in 2014. Critics have been calling on the WHO to declare it an international emergency since the beginning of the year, and Adam Kamradt-Scott at the University of Sydney, Australia, says the announcement is “long overdue”. While it is unclear why the WHO opted not to declare the outbreak an international emergency until now, one reason may have been to avoid overreactions by international governments. The 2014 outbreak in West Africa led to travel bans, trade restrictions and the closure of border crossings, which hurt local economies and made it more challenging for healthcare workers to operate. In a statement, Robert Steffen, chair of the emergency committee convened by the WHO, stressed that governments shouldn’t react in the same way, saying it “would have a negative impact on the response and on the lives and livelihoods of people in the region”.

7-17-19 Using smart watches to monitor your heart could do more harm than good
Fitness trackers like the Apple Watch now allow you to detect heart conditions such as atrial fibrillation. That's not always a good thing, SELF-EMPOWERED, self-motivated, self-aware: we have got used to the idea that more knowledge about our health is good for us. This ethos has fuelled an explosion in wearable technologies – fitness trackers, step counters and other gizmos – that give us real-time feedback on key physiological stats such as heart rate. Recently, the makers of the bestselling fitness tracker, the Apple Watch, began to roll out a new feature: the ability to monitor heart rhythm, and specifically to detect atrial fibrillation. Atrial fibrillation is a relatively common heart condition in which the two atria of the heart – the upper chambers – don’t contract regularly. It can be constant, or intermittent, and becomes more common with age. It increases the risk of blood clots forming and causing a stroke. Those with the condition may need medication to thin their blood and allow their hearts to work efficiently. So why wouldn’t you want to know if you had it? Certainly, some doctors I have spoken to welcome the diagnostic possibilities that wearables bring; many are enthusiastic users themselves. The problem is that this is mass screening via the back door, with all the associated positives and negatives. At its best, screening finds diseases at an early stage so that adverse consequences can be avoided. At its worst, it causes far more damage than the disease itself through false positives and unnecessary worry and treatment. In the UK, the National Health Service follows evidence-based recommendations made by the National Screening Committee. Its current advice is clear: don’t screen for atrial fibrillation. That is because we have evidence that treatment works for people with symptoms, or those found to have the condition while being assessed for another condition. There is no evidence that treatment benefits outweigh the risks for a wider, asymptomatic population.

7-17-19 Artificial skin can sense 1000 times faster than human nerves
An artificial skin that senses temperature and pressure can send signals 1000 times faster than the human nervous system. The skin could one day cover prosthetic limbs to help people use them better or be used on robots to help them sense their surroundings. Benjamin Tee at the National University of Singapore and his colleagues created the artificial skin, consisting of physical sensors, which can detect pressure, bending and temperature. The skin is made from rubber and plastic composite material and includes 1 millimetre square sensors. When the skin presses against something, the sensors on the skin transmit electrical pulses back to one receiver. Each sensor has a unique pulse to make it identifiable, meaning multiple signals can be combined through the one receiver, speeding up delivery. All of the sensors are connected together using a single wire, meaning that measurements from across the skin arrive at the same time. “In contrast, most electronic systems are synchronous, meaning they need to scan each sensor one by one in time,” says Tee. “Scanning each sensor one by one takes time. If you have 1000 sensors, and each one takes 1 millisecond to scan, then the entire scanning operation will take 1 full second.” Human skin sensors send signals at a maximum frequency of less than 1kHz, or 1000 times per second. In contrast, Tee’s sensors send back signals at 9Mhz, or 9 million times per second. “When we touch a cup of coffee for example, our skin instantly sends electrical signals to our muscles and brains for processing,” he says. “The information is sent via nerves, and we have a lot of them, in fact, more than 150,000 kilometres of nerves in every human being.”

7-17-19 WHO declares a public health emergency over Congo’s Ebola outbreak
The risk of the disease spreading to neighboring countries is considered high. The World Health Organization has declared Congo’s yearlong Ebola virus outbreak a public health emergency, due to a high risk of the disease spreading to neighboring countries. The organization said, however, that it does not consider the outbreak a global threat. “Our risk assessment remains that the risk of Ebola spread in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the region remains very high, and the risk of spread outside the region remains low,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus during a July 17 news conference. Since the Ebola outbreak began in Congo on August 1, 2018, the disease has killed 1,676 people out of 2,512 cases reported through July 15. WHO designated the outbreak a public health emergency after a case was confirmed this month in Goma, the capital of Congo’s North Kivu Province, through which thousands of people pass daily on the way to and from neighboring Rwanda. The patient in Goma was a man who had traveled from the Congolese city of Beni, the epicenter of the outbreak. He has since died. Three cases also appeared in Uganda in June, and another in July, but the patients had all traveled from Congo. WHO said there are no confirmed cases of Ebola originating in Uganda. In a statement, WHO said that the emergency declaration reflects the need for more international coordination in response to the outbreak. The organization is not recommending any restrictions on borders or trade in the area. Rather than stopping Ebola, such restrictions “can actually hamper the fight,” said Tedros, because they “force people to use informal and unmonitored border crossings, increasing potential for the spread of the disease.”

7-17-19 Half of all harm caused by medical care is preventable
About half of all harm that comes to patients as a result of medical care is preventable, according to a review of 70 studies involving more than 330,000 patients in hospitals, specialty clinics and primary care facilities around the world. Maria Panagioti at the University of Manchester, UK, and her colleagues found that about 12 per cent of people experience either physical, emotional or social harm while seeking medical care, and about 6 per cent overall experienced harm that was preventable. Most studies classified patient harm as preventable if it had an identifiable cause that could be changed or avoided in the future. In the studies included in this analysis, preventable harm included effects from drug or therapy management, diagnosis, invasive medical or surgical procedures, and infections acquired during treatment. The highest prevalence of patient harm was reported in intensive care and surgery, and the lowest in obstetrics. About half the harm was classified as mild, about a third was moderate and 12 per cent was considered severe. Surgical procedures accounted for 23 per cent of the cases of preventable medical harm, infections caused 16 per cent, and drug or therapy regimens accounted for about half of the cases. Variations in the time frames of the studies included in this analysis may not have captured all types of medical harm, and may have influenced their prevalence rates. But the authors of the analysis say they found that about 50 per cent of harm was consistently preventable over the past 19 years. They note that the excess hospital stays attributable to medical harm in the US have been estimated to total 2.4 million days a year, costing about £7.3 billion.

7-17-19 A type of antibiotics can cause hearing loss - and now we know why
Some life-saving antibiotics can cause hearing loss, and we may now know why. A study in mice suggests it is all down to the effects of inflammation, which is the body’s response to infection. This causes ion channels in the sensory hair cells of the inner ear to become more permeable to the antibiotics – known as aminoglycosides – which then increases the cells’ sensitivity to the drugs’ toxic effects. Aminoglycoside antibiotics, such as gentamicin, are popular because they work on a broad range of bacteria, unlike most modern narrow-spectrum antibiotics. They are also sometimes used to treat microbes that are resistant to multiple other antibiotics. “This makes aminoglycosides useful for treating infections where the microbe identity remains unknown,” says Peter Steyger at Creighton University in Nebraska. As such, the drugs are particularly useful for treating infections in newborns, because these infections can prove fatal within one or two days – too soon for tests to reveal the microbe responsible for the illness. However, researchers know that aminoglycosides like gentamicin are associated with hearing loss. As a consequence, infants in neonatal intensive care units, where aminoglycosides are used, have rates of hearing loss at least six times higher than among otherwise healthy full-term babies. To better understand why this class of drugs is linked with hearing loss, Steyger and his colleagues tested the effects of gentamicin on hearing in mice. They found that infection and inflammation caused the ion channels in sensory hair cells to become more permeable to the drug, leading to more of it being taken up by the sensitive cells in the cochlea of the inner ear. This amplified the toxic effects of the drug on the cells.

7-17-19 Sibling rivalry: How birth order affects your personality and health
MY oldest sister is a typical firstborn: responsible, conscientious, the teacher when we played school, the director for our Christmas plays. My middle sister hung out with the cool crowd, always had a lot of friends, was a bit of a wild child. I defy all stereotypes of the attention-seeking, spoiled youngest child and epitomise a sweet, funny, good-natured human. Obviously. For centuries, psychologists, philosophers and pretty much anyone with a family has argued that birth order shapes personality. It goes something like this: firstborns are reliable and hard-working. Middle children are rebellious but friendly. Last-borns are more outgoing and doted on. Only-children are wiser than their years, perfectionists and spoiled. I can almost hear the cries of indignation. If this doesn’t square with what you know about yourself, or in fact most people, you aren’t alone. Despite their popularity, there has been almost no solid evidence to support these stereotypes. That isn’t for lack of trying. Psychologists have long sought insights into the way birth order shapes us, but recent research has shown the studies to be so flawed that they are almost meaningless. Now, though, the largest birth order analysis yet aims to set the record straight. Meanwhile, there is an urgent reason to turn our attention to birth order: we are starting to appreciate how it may influence physical and mental health – not least because some cells in our bodies harbour our older siblings’ DNA rather than our own. Regardless of the stereotypes, birth order has profound effects. So how much of our personality, success and health can we blame on being an oldest, youngest, middle or only child?

7-17-19 Life’s winners think success was earned even if it was down to luck
Do wealthier people owe their financial success to skill or luck? Your views on this question may be set by your own financial status, at least according to a study of people playing a card game. In a simplified two-player version of the game known as “President” (or less politely, “Asshole”) winners were more likely than losers to credit their success to skill rather than luck – even though the game clearly involved little skill and when the odds were blatantly rigged in the winner’s favour. “It was absolutely obvious one of the players was playing with a huge advantage,” says Mauricio Bucca of the European University Institute in Florence, Italy. People have long debated whether success in life is mainly due to talent or luck. Surveys show those who are wealthier are more likely to say they earned their success. This may be because they are being big-headed – alternatively they may genuinely have worked harder, and be more aware of how that has contributed to their financial success. Bucca’s team explored the subject by creating a version of President that involved almost no skill, and in which the influence of the starting conditions could be dialled up or down. They recruited about 1000 people through a website, Amazon Mechanical Turk, giving people $2.50 for taking part and a $5.00 bonus if they won. Whoever was randomly picked to play the first card in round one of the game always had an advantage that meant they were most likely to win that round. In some versions, this starting advantage was further boosted: after the cards had been dealt for round two, the winner of round one was able to swap one or two of their weakest cards with the strongest ones of their opponent. In other versions, the opposite happened: the starting advantage was weakened by the previous loser getting good cards from the winner.

7-17-19 Parasite brings down mosquito numbers in parts of Guangzhou
The number of biting female Asian tiger mosquitoes, which spread diseases such as dengue and chikungunya, has been reduced by more than 80 per cent at two small sites in Guangzhou, China, by a new “sterile male” method developed by Zhiyong Xi of Michigan State University. Sterile male methods involve releasing large numbers of infertile male insects to cause a population crash. The Guangzhou trial is the latest of many to show that several variants of such methods can be highly effective for controlling insects. One variant uses a common parasitic bacterium called Wolbachia. When males infected with Wolbachia mate with females that aren’t infected with the same strain, the parasite somehow prevents them from producing offspring. This means releasing male mosquitoes infected with a Wolbachia strain not found in local mosquitoes has the same effect as releasing sterile males. This approach has proven successful in several trials around the world, most recently in Miami. The China trial involved mosquitoes infected with three strains of Wolbachia, because the Asian tiger mosquito, Aedes albopictus, is already infected with two strains. The problem with using Wolbachia is that, if any female mosquitoes infected with the added Wolbachia strain are accidentally released, these can breed with the released males and the method will stop working. It is possible to remove around 99 per cent of females mechanically, because they are larger at the pupal stage. But all the remaining pupae usually have to be screened by eye to remove the final few females, which is expensive. However, Xi’s team have now shown that a low dose of radiation can sterilise any remaining females without weakening the males. This can replace manual screening, making it easier and cheaper to scale up production. “Our approach is much more cost-effective,” Xi says.

7-17-19 A deadly fungus gives ‘zombie’ ants a case of lockjaw
Closeups of infected ants’ jaw muscles may reveal clues to how the fungi take over. Fungus-infected “zombie” ants are known to scale a plant, sink their jaws into a leaf or twig and wait to die while the Ophiocordyceps unilateralis fungi feast on the insects’ bodies. Eventually, a fungal stalk shoots out of the ant’s head and releases spores that rain down and infect more ants below. The carpenter ants’ part in this nightmare may seem dictated by mind control, but the fungi don’t colonize the ants’ brains. Instead, the fungi take over ants’ jaws, forcing the muscles to contract into a death grip, researchers report July 17 in the Journal of Experimental Biology. To unravel what exactly the fungus is doing to ants, scientists peered at infected ants’ stripy, striated jaw muscle fibers using scanning electron microscopy. “In infected muscles at the time of the death grip, … [the] lines appear really swollen,” says Colleen Mangold, a molecular biologist at Penn State University. The fungi wreck the muscle fibers but don’t seem to disturb the communication system that controls the muscles. It’s still a mystery how the fungus initiates the death grip. But researchers may have found a clue: Tiny particles resembling clusters of grapes show up on infected muscle fibers. Mangold and her colleagues think these particles may be extracellular vesicles, or packages of molecules, that are produced by either the invader or the host. If the orbs are vesicles, they may contain messages used by the fungi to take over ant bodies or play a role in the ants’ response, says Mangold.

7-17-19 Gum disease treatment for Alzheimer’s lowers signs of inflammation
Encouraging results have been announced from a small trial of a new kind of treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, which targets gum disease bacteria. Trial participants showed improvements in certain molecules in their blood and spinal fluid, says Cortexyme, the US firm developing the therapy. However, the company has not shown yet that the treatment can reduce the severity of dementia. “It isn’t enough to get excited about, but it’s enough to say this hypothesis is interesting,” says Carol Routledge of the charity Alzheimer’s Research UK. The new approach is at odds with decades of thinking about Alzheimer’s. It was believed that the condition is caused by a build-up of toxic plaques in the brain made of a protein called amyloid. But numerous therapies that blocked amyloid failed to halt progression of the disease in trials, and many researchers now think the protein may be a side effect of Alzheimer’s, not the root cause. Cortexyme thinks that Alzheimer’s may be due to bacteria called Porphyromonas gingivalis – better known for causing gum disease – somehow getting into the brain and sparking inflammation. The microbe and its toxins have been found at somewhat higher levels in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s, and can trigger amyloid build-up if put into the brains of mice. Cortexyme has developed an oral medicine called COR388 that can block the activity of toxins released by the bacteria. Last year, the firm carried out short trials in healthy volunteers and nine people with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease, six of whom got twice-daily capsules, while the rest got a placebo version. After four weeks, there were small improvements in two kinds of tests for dementia severity for those who got the medicine, but these were too small to be classed as statistically significant. Cortexyme says that is because the trial was designed as a safety test and was too small to show efficacy.

7-17-19 This gene may help worms live longer, but not healthier
A surprising trade-off could have implications for anti-aging therapies. Long life and good health don’t always go hand in hand. makes the worms more susceptible to infection and stress, researchers report July 17 in Nature Communications. That’s unusual; longevity-promoting genes generally help organisms deal with stress, says Arjumand Ghazi, a geneticist who studies aging at the University of Pittsburgh. Ghazi and colleagues had previously found that a gene called TCER-1 increases life span and is needed for Caenorhabditis elegans worms to produce eggs and healthy offspring. She and colleagues expected that deleting the gene would make the worms prone to infections. Instead, worms missing TCER-1 fought off a bacterial infection for nearly twice as long as worms with an intact gene, says Francis Amrit, a molecular biologist in Ghazi’s lab. “When I first saw that, I thought I’d made a mistake,” Amrit says. The team also found that worms that made more of the TCER-1 protein than usual were able to overcome declines in fertility caused by exposure to a pathogen, but succumbed to infection faster. Those results indicate that when functioning normally, the gene helps suppress immune responses so more resources can be used for reproduction. “In a lot of ways, reproduction and longevity are opposite one another, and this is underscored by these findings,” says Coleen Murphy, a biologist at Princeton University not involved in the work. Worms missing TCER-1 were also resistant to other types of environmental stress, such as heat and radiation. It took about 95 hours for worms missing the gene to suffer paralysis caused by clumping of an Alzheimer’s disease protein, while paralysis started at about 33 hours in worms with the gene. Those advantages continued only as long as worms were of egg-laying age. Older C. elegans were equally susceptible to infection or stress regardless if they had the gene. All together, the results indicate that TCER-1 helps regulate survival — balancing stress responses, reproduction and life span, Amrit says.

7-17-19 Elon Musk's plans for mind-controlled gadgets: what we know so far
Elon Musk’s brain-computer interface company Neuralink has finally broken its silence. Since the company was formed in 2016, it has kept its plans secret, but in a presentation on Tuesday night it showed off its vision and explained what the firm has done so far. At the event, the company unveiled a brain-computer interface – a technology that allows machines to read brain activity. Neuralink says its device will have about 3000 surgically implanted electrodes, each of which will be able monitor some 1000 neurons at a time. The electrodes will be embedded in around 100 extremely thin threads, between 4 and 6 micrometres wide, which is much less than the width of a hair. The threads collect the measurements from the electrodes and will then be gathered through a small incision behind the ear, where a chip will sit to analyse the results. The information will then be sent via bluetooth to a smartphone app. Neuralink says the interface could be used for everything from helping people with paralysis to control prostheses to allowing people to directly interact with artificial intelligence: “This is going to sound pretty weird, but achieve a sort of symbiosis with artificial intelligence,” said Musk at the event. At the moment, we rely on an interface with technology such as our laptops that is slowed by our fingers or our eyes. Inserting a chip into our brains to speed things up will be key to overcoming that, said Musk. There is still a long way to go. Many research groups are working on brain-computer interfaces and there has been some progress made in recent years.

7-17-19 Elon Musk reveals brain-hacking plans
NeuraLink, a company set up by Elon Musk to explore ways to connect the human brain to a computer interface, has applied to US regulators to start trialling its device on humans. DThe system has been tested on a monkey that was able to control a computer with its brain, according to Mr Musk. The firm said it wanted to focus on patients with severe neurological conditions. But ultimately Mr Musk envisions a future of "superhuman cognition". The device the firm has developed consists of a tiny probe containing more than 3,000 electrodes attached to flexible threads - thinner than a human hair - which can then monitor the activity of 1,000 neurons. The advantage of this system, according to the firm, is that it would be able to target very specific areas of the brain, which would make it surgically safer. It would also be able to analyse recordings using machine learning, which would then work out what type of stimulation to give a patient. NeuraLink did not explain how the system translated brain activity or how the device was able to stimulate brain cells. "It's not like suddenly we will have this incredible neural lace and will take over people's brains," Mr Musk said during his presentation. "It will take a long time." But he said, for those who choose it, the system would ultimately allow for "symbiosis with artificial intelligence".

7-16-19 People who think they’re overweight are more at risk for depression
The stigma around being overweight or obese may contribute to the link between weight and depression, and this extends even to people who have a healthy weight but perceive themselves as being overweight. “This fear of social devaluation resulting from perceiving oneself as being part of a stigmatised group may threaten core psychological needs of belonging and acceptance, and in turn damage mental health,” writes a team of researchers in a study led by Ashleigh Haynes at the University of Liverpool in the UK. She and her colleagues reviewed results from 32 studies conducted since 1991 on the link between perceptions of being overweight or obese and symptoms of depression. These studies were conducted in the US, the Netherlands, South Korea, China, Hong Kong and Japan, and included sample sizes ranging from 106 to more than 109,000. In these studies, participants rated their own perception of their weight in categories such as very or slightly underweight, about right or normal, slightly overweight, and very overweight or obese. Their objective weight was calculated using body mass index. These studies measured depressive symptoms by self-report on questionnaires, through clinical interviews or by diagnosis. Overall, when compared with those who thought their weight was about right or normal, participants who perceived themselves as overweight had higher odds of having depressive symptoms and were at higher risk of having suicidal thoughts – as were those whose BMI categorised them as overweight.

7-16-19 High levels of anxiety can slow down your reaction times
High levels of anxiety can strain a person’s ability to control their attention, and this effect has been shown to increase with age, according to an analysis of dozens of studies. Ran Shi and his colleagues at the University of Sydney in Australia combined the results of 58 studies that measured the attention and anxiety level of a combined 8292 children and adults, who either self-reported their anxiety or demonstrated it through behavioural tests. These studies examined various components of attention control. These included inhibition, which involves preventing attention from being pulled towards irrelevant stimuli; switching, which involves keeping attention focused on a relevant task; and updating, which involves evaluating how relevant new information is and overwriting old information. Across all studies, Shi and his team found that overall attention control was significantly worse in people who are more anxious. Highly anxious groups, whether or not they had been clinically diagnosed, had similar deficits in attention control. There were significant decreases in performance on inhibition and switching tasks, but no such effect seen for updating. These attentional deficits lowered anxious participants’ response times but did not significantly affect their accuracy in tests. They also found that the older someone was, the more likely they were to experience these attention control deficits. “The current finding that age was able to predict the effect of anxiety on attention control, especially when young children were included in the analysis, provides preliminary evidence that anxiety impairs the development of attention control processes,” the team writes in their study.

7-16-19 Personalised cancer treatments are becoming more common in the UK
Cancer treatment is becoming more precise through personalised therapies. A survey of more than 1000 people with cancer found that over a third had received genetically targeted drug treatments or immunotherapy. “Going back 20 years, the vast majority of cancer patients who had treatment for their disease were on traditional, one-size-fits-all chemotherapy – with targeted drugs practically unknown, and immunotherapy the stuff of science fiction,” said Rajesh Chopra at the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) in London, in a statement. The survey of 1064 people, all of whom received cancer treatments from the ICR between 4 March and 15 April 2019, suggests that trend is changing. Overall, 32 per cent of the respondents said they had received either a targeted drug therapy, immunotherapy or both – with nearly a quarter having had targeted drug therapy and 11 per cent receiving immunotherapy. The use of these more precise therapies was particularly high for people who were treated for melanoma or leukaemia. Among those treated for melanoma, 66 per cent said they had received immunotherapy while just 5 per cent had undergone chemotherapy. For those with leukaemia, 53 per cent received targeted drugs while 43 per cent had chemotherapy. This may be due to good progress in developing targeted treatments for these two cancers. Pancreatic, liver, oesophageal and brain cancer haven’t had as many new drugs or therapies developed in recent years.

7-16-19 Ancient flood shows some dinosaurs nested in colonies like birds
An 80-million-year-old nesting site found in the Gobi desert in Mongolia confirms that some dinosaurs nested in colonies like birds. It consists of at least 15 clutches of eggs laid during the same season and buried by a flood. Several other dinosaur nesting sites with multiple clutches have been discovered, so it has long been suspected that some species nested together, as many birds do today. However, at these sites it is not clear that all the clutches were laid during the same season – they could instead be a result of dinosaurs returning to the same site year after year. The Mongolian site, discovered in 2011, is unique in that there is clear evidence that all the eggs were laid during the same season, say Kohei Tanaka at the University of Tsukuba and his colleagues. Each clutch at the site contains between 3 and 30 eggs that are 13 centimetres wide on average. They appear to have been buried in soil or organic material to keep them warm – as megapode birds and some crocodiles do today – rather than being brooded by the parents. No embryos have been found inside the eggs, but based on similar finds the team thinks they were laid by therizinosaurs – feathered dinosaurs with massive claws on their forearms, which they may have used to pull down branches to feed on the leaves. Many of the eggs are partly eroded, but ten that are complete have a large opening in the upper half – thought to be the hatching window through which the young therizinosaurs clambered out. The team think at least 60 per cent of the eggs hatched successfully. “We do not know the fate of the rest,” says Tanaka. The lack of any sign of predation suggests the adults guarded the nests – if the eggs were abandoned, the presence of so many eggs would be expected to attract many predators.


ANIMAL INTELLIGENCE and ZOOLOGY

7-22-19 Salmon trapped in Canada landslide to be airlifted to safety
Thousands of Canadian salmon are going to be airlifted to safety after getting trapped by a landslide. In June, officials found the rocks had blocked off a section of Fraser River in British Columbia, stopping the salmon from swimming upstream to spawn. Rescuers have spent weeks devising a plan to fly the fish by helicopter to a spot on the other side of the rockfall. Conservationists warn the fish need to be able to lay their eggs, or the local salmon population will be at risk. It is not known exactly how many fish are stuck, but it is believed that only 700 have managed to pass through the area affected by the rock slide without help. Many of Canada's First Nations indigenous peoples rely on the salmon for food and ceremonial purposes. Jonathan Wilkinson, minister for Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, said the government had been "working around the clock" to help the fish. Officials have not said when the airlifting will begin. Crews are now constructing a holding pond for the salmon. The fish will then be transferred from the pond into 780-2,700 litre tanks, before a helicopter moves them away from the landslide. The water in the tanks will be oxygenated, to help keep the fish calm. While the holding pond is being built, workers are tagging the salmon in order to track their journey afterwards. Crews have also tried to move larger rocks around to make it a bit easier for the fish to pass through themselves, as well as to remove rocks from the nearby cliff face that could prove dangerous for the people working there.

7-19-19 Iceland pilot whales: Dozens of dead mammals found beached
Dozens of dead beached whales have been spotted by sightseers during a helicopter flight over western Iceland. The dead pilot whales were photographed during the trip on Thursday over a beach at Longufjorur. It's unclear how the mammals became beached. The region where they were spotted is secluded, inaccessible by car and has very few visitors. Police in the nearby town of Stykkisholmur have been made aware of the discovery, local media say. The images were taken by helicopter pilot David Schwarzhans.He told the BBC: "We were flying northbound over the beach and then we saw them. We were circling over it not sure if it was whales, seals or dolphins. We landed and counted about 60 but there must have been more because there were fins sticking out of the sand. "It was tragic and when we stood downwind it was smelly. It wasn't something nice to see and quite shocking since there were so many". Edda Elisabet Magnusdottir, a marine biologist and whale expert, told Iceland Monitor that when such mammals enter shallow waters "most of them have a tendency to become disorientated" She added that pilot whales usually swim in tight groups, which is why so many of them become stranded at once.

7-19-19 The bird that moves like Jagger
A cockatoo whose dance moves went viral more than a decade ago appears to be even more talented than scientists first thought. Snowball, who lives at a bird sanctuary in South Carolina, gained fame in 2007 after he was recorded head-bopping to the Backstreet Boys. Neuroscientists declared that he and his parrot relatives were the first nonhuman animals able to keep a beat to music. Now those same researchers have determined that Snowball not only has impressive rhythm, he also comes up with his own dance moves. That’s unique among animals, which typically only perform unnatural movements in order to get a reward or avoid a punishment from humans. To test his creativity, they played Snowball two songs—Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” and Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”—three times and filmed his reaction. They found that he was coming up with distinctive dance moves—14 in total, from a “body roll” to “head-foot syncs.” The researchers are now trying to understand Snowball’s motivations, reports The Washington Post, examining how he grooves when his owner is in the same room and when she dances with him. “We want to see if this matters in terms of how much he moves and how he moves,” says lead author Aniruddh Patel, from Tufts University. “This social context, does it play a role in his behavior?”

7-19-19 Russia alarmed by large fall in bee populations
Large areas of central and southern Russia have seen a major decline in their bee populations in recent months. The head of the Russian beekeepers' union, Arnold Butov, said 20 regions had reported mass bee deaths. The affected regions include Bryansk and Kursk, south of Moscow, and Saratov and Ulyanovsk on the Volga River. Mr Butov, quoted by Russian media, said the crisis might mean 20% less honey being harvested. Some officials blamed poorly regulated pesticide use. Yulia Melano, at the rural inspection service Rosselkhoznadzor, complained that her agency had lost most of its powers to control pesticide use since 2011. Russia produces about 100,000 tonnes of honey annually. Mr Butov said the union's members were collecting data on bee losses, so that by 1 August a detailed report could be submitted to the Russian government. Sunflowers and buckwheat are just two of the staple crops pollinated by bees in Russia. Orchards also rely on bees for pollination. There are fears that the bee deaths will push up not only honey prices, but also those of other popular foods. The crisis has spread as far as the Altai region in Siberia, more than 4,000km (2,485 miles) east of Moscow. Declining bee populations have caused widespread alarm in Europe, with experts blaming the crisis on a combination of factors: climate change, pesticides - notably neonicotinoids - and varroa mites spreading in beehives. In April 2018 the EU imposed an almost total ban on neonicotinoids because of the harm they do to bees and other pollinators. Beekeepers in France raised the alarm again in June this year, reporting many severely hit bee colonies. obert Aigoin, president of the family farmers' union Modef, said "the first part of the season has been catastrophic". He and other beekeepers blamed climate change, noting that late frosts had been followed by a severe heatwave in France

7-17-19 Why US bird attacks on humans are on rise
Bird attacks on humans are growing more common as people continue to encroach on bird nesting territory, wildlife experts warn. Mary Heiman was walking her dog around a lake in downtown Denver, Colorado, in late July when a bird started flying uncomfortably close to her head. Before she knew what was happening, the bird "body slams you in the back of the head, flies around frantically and then goes back in the bush", she told the Denver Post. "It's funny," she said. "It's just startling when it happens." Andrea Jones, the director of bird conservation for the California chapter of environmental organisation National Audubon Society, says attacks are definitely rising. "The increase we're seeing is because we're encroaching on bird habitats. So there are more bird-human interactions," she says. Most of the incidents arise when birds are trying to raise their young. Nesting birds are very defensive of their chicks - "like a mama bear", she says - and will even attack animals much larger than themselves. During Ms Jones' time studying common terns on a beach island in Massachusetts, she was frequently attacked by a noisy dive-bombing squawking swarm, and took to wearing a hat with plastic flowers attached since birds typically attack the highest part of their target. Ornithologists that study raptors and other birds of prey sometimes wear construction hard hats when checking nests for chicks. Joggers in Denver, Colorado, have been waving their arms above their heads as they run, in order to prevent their scalps from being strafed by red-winged blackbirds. It's also a problem outside the US. A man from Prestatyn in Wales was told by his town council to put up umbrellas after he asked the government how to prevent sea gull attacks around his home.

7-17-19 Orangutan mothers tell infants where to go by scratching themselves
Orangutan mothers use loud scratches to tell their infants that it is time to leave one area and move to another, possibly to avoid attracting predators or other orangutans. Primate experts are increasingly interested in behaviours such as scratching, self-grooming and face touching, debating whether these activities are intentional or simply due to psychological or physiological arousal. Marlen Fröhlich at the University of Zurich in Switzerland and her colleagues noticed that wild Sumatran orangutans living in the trees of the Suaq Balimbing forest in Sumatra would sometimes scratch themselves in a loud and exaggerated way. “We have found individuals in the forest just from hearing these loud scratches above our heads,” says Fröhlich. The scratches are a “rhythmic, harsh sound” due to the leathery skin and long hair of the orangutans, she says, and are loud enough to be heard by humans at least 15 metres away in a noisy rainforest. In contrast, the normal self-maintenance scratches involve smaller movements, happen less regularly and are less noisy. Fröhlich and her colleagues analysed 1457 bouts of scratching produced by 17 different orangutans, including four mothers and their dependent offspring, and the behaviour that occurred before and after each. “We found that orangutan mothers use their loud scratches to tell their infants that it is time to leave,” says Fröhlich. These exaggerated scratches were overwhelmingly produced by mothers, shortly before moving. They were usually directed towards a dependent offspring who was paying attention to them and who responded by moving towards the mother, she says. As a result, these loud scratches could be reliably distinguished from regular self-maintenance scratches.

7-17-19 Chimps bond with each other and people after watching a film together
Chimpanzees who watch a short film with a human or another chimpanzee are more likely to approach that individual or to spend time near them. This shows they feel closer to those they have shared an experience with, just like we do. “To our surprise, we found that the chimps were also sensitive to this,” says Wouter Wolf at Duke University in North Carolina. It is widely recognised that shared experiences can bring people closer together, making them more likely to interact. For instance, after England recently won the Cricket World Cup in an astoundingly close finish, strangers in the stands hugged each other. “Shared experiences open a psychological door between people,” says Wolf. After studying this phenomenon in people, he wondered whether it exists in apes too. He and colleague Michael Tomasello got chimpanzees at a zoo in Leipzig, Germany, and a human unfamiliar to them to watch a 1-minute video of young chimps playing. Sometimes the computer screen was placed so both the chimp and the person could see it and each other, and sometimes it was placed so only the chimp could see it. The film was chosen to be interesting enough to keep the animals’ attention but didn’t feature adult chimps as that could be too arousing. Eye tracking was used to confirm that the animals were watching the video and also looking to see if the human was watching too. Afterwards, the chimps approached the human faster if they had watched the video with them than if they hadn’t – 15 seconds on average versus 28 seconds.

7-17-19 Italy hunts bear after ‘genius’ escape over electric fences
A fugitive bear likened to a superhero for its daring escape over an electric pen in northern Italy is being hunted by forest rangers. The brown bear, named M49, was snared in the Trentino region on Sunday. Italian authorities had ordered the wild bear's capture after deeming it a danger to humans and farm animals. But the animal fled just hours after it was caught, reportedly scaling three electric fences and a 13ft (4m) high barrier. Park rangers with sniffer dogs are hunting the animal, which is currently believed to be in the Marzola woods near Trento. Trentino's governor Maurizio Fugatti gave forestry authorities permission to "shoot it down", saying the bear's escape over an electric fence "carrying 7,000 volts shows how dangerous it is". But his orders provoked fury among animal rights activists and were rebuked by Italy's environment ministry. "M49's escape from the enclosure cannot justify an action that would cause its death," said Environment Minister Sergio Costa. WWF Italy, a global conservation organisation, questioned how the bear was able to climb the electrified fence, suggesting the structure was probably "not working properly, since bears do not fly".