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ATHEISM and HUMANISM

11-21-18 US judge blocks Mississippi 15-week abortion ban
A US judge in the state of Mississippi has overturned an abortion ban that would have prevented women from getting abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Republican Governor Phil Bryant enacted the ban in March, but the law was temporarily blocked in a lawsuit filed by the state's last abortion clinic. On Tuesday Judge Carlton Reeves ruled the ban "unequivocally" violated women's constitutional rights. Under current state law, women are allowed abortions until 20 weeks. In his decision, Judge Reeves criticised the state for seeking a legal battle with abortion rights advocates in an effort to revisit Roe v Wade, the landmark 1973 US Supreme Court ruling that legalised abortion nationwide, in federal court. "The state chose to pass a law it knew was unconstitutional to endorse a decades-long campaign, fuelled by national interest groups, to ask the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v Wade," he wrote. "This court follows the commands of the Supreme Court and the dictates of the United States Constitution, rather than the disingenuous calculations of the Mississippi Legislature." The judge also pointed to medical consensus about when the foetus becomes vital, which typically begins at 23 or 24 weeks of pregnancy. The ruling means a similar 15-week ban will not be allowed to pass in neighbouring Louisiana, as that law was dependent on the outcome of Mississippi's ruling, the Clarion Ledger newspaper reported.

11-20-18 How Twitter bots get people to spread fake news
One tactic of automated accounts is to target people with many followers. To spread misinformation like wildfire, bots will strike a match on social media but then urge people to fan the flames. Automated Twitter accounts, called bots, helped spread bogus articles during and after the 2016 U.S. presidential election by making the content appear popular enough that human users would trust it and share it more widely, researchers report online November 20 in Nature Communications. Although people have often suggested that bots help drive the spread of misinformation online, this study is one of the first to provide solid evidence for the role that bots play. The finding suggests that cracking down on devious bots may help fight the fake news epidemic (SN: 3/31/18, p. 14). Filippo Menczer, an informatics and computer scientist at Indiana University Bloomington, and colleagues analyzed 13.6 million Twitter posts from May 2016 to March 2017. All of these messages linked to articles on sites known to regularly publish false or misleading information. Menczer’s team then used Botometer, a computer program that learned to recognize bots by studying tens of thousands of Twitter accounts, to determine the likelihood that each account in the dataset was a bot. Unmasking the bots exposed how the automated accounts encourage people to disseminate misinformation. One strategy is to heavily promote a low-credibility article immediately after it’s published, which creates the illusion of popular support and encourages human users to trust and share the post. The researchers found that in the first few seconds after a viral story appeared on Twitter, at least half the accounts sharing that article were likely bots; once a story had been around for at least 10 seconds, most accounts spreading it were maintained by real people.

11-20-18 An exploding meteor may have wiped out ancient Dead Sea communities
Archaeologists at a site in what's now Jordan have found evidence of a cosmic calamity. A superheated blast from the skies obliterated cities and farming settlements north of the Dead Sea around 3,700 years ago, preliminary findings suggest. Radiocarbon dating and unearthed minerals that instantly crystallized at high temperatures indicate that a massive airburst caused by a meteor that exploded in the atmosphere instantaneously destroyed civilization in a 25-kilometer-wide circular plain called Middle Ghor, said archaeologist Phillip Silvia. The event also pushed a bubbling brine of Dead Sea salts over once-fertile farm land, Silvia and his colleagues suspect. People did not return to the region for 600 to 700 years, said Silvia, of Trinity Southwest University in Albuquerque. He reported these findings at the annual meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research on November 17. Excavations at five large Middle Ghor sites, in what’s now Jordan, indicate that all were continuously occupied for at least 2,500 years until a sudden, collective collapse toward the end of the Bronze Age. Ground surveys have located 120 additional, smaller settlements in the region that the researchers suspect were also exposed to extreme, collapse-inducing heat and wind. An estimated 40,000 to 65,000 people inhabited Middle Ghor when the cosmic calamity hit, Silvia said. (Webmaster's comment: Probably the source of the Biblical ‎Sodom and Gomorrah story.)

11-20-18 US migrant caravan: Trump's asylum ban halted by judge
A US federal judge has blocked an order issued by President Trump to deny the possibility of asylum to migrants crossing the southern border illegally. US District Judge Jon Tigar in San Francisco issued the temporary restraining order after hearing arguments by civil rights groups. Mr Trump signed the order earlier this month in response to a caravan of migrants moving towards the border. He cited national interest concerns but was opposed by civil rights groups. Thousands of migrants from across Central America have been travelling north for weeks towards the US-Mexico border. They say they are fleeing persecution, poverty and violence in their home countries of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. In the run-up to the US mid-term elections, President Trump said many of the migrants were criminals, called the caravan an invasion, and ordered troops to the border. He also repeatedly suggested it was politically motivated. Judge Tigar, in his ruling, said current legislation made it clear that any foreigner arriving in the US "whether or not at a designated port of arrival" could apply for asylum. He said Mr Trump's proclamation on 9 November was an "extreme departure" from prior practice. "Whatever the scope of the president's authority, he may not rewrite the immigration laws to impose a condition that Congress has expressly forbidden," Judge Tigar added. He was responding in a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Center for Constitutional Rights. They argued that Mr Trump's ruling was illegal. The judge's restraining order comes into immediate effect and remains in place until a court hearing in December to decide on the case.

11-20-18 Transgender women in India: 'This is how we survive'
Transgender people in India were granted legal status in 2014 but many face discrimination and struggle to find work. According to activist Dr Santosh Kumar from the transgender rights group Rista, there are an estimated five million transgender people in India, commonly known as hijra - a definition that also includes transsexuals, cross-dressers, eunuchs and transvestites. While some businesses are becoming more inclusive, activists feel more needs to be done.

11-19-18 St Michaels: Alleged gang sex assault shocks Canada
Six teenage boys from an elite school have been charged with gang sexual assault after videos of alleged hazing incidents surfaced online. St Michael's College School, a private Catholic all-boys school in Toronto, expelled eight students last week in connection with the incidents. Police say they are investigating at least four separate assaults, two of which were sexual in nature. The school has been accused of turning a blind eye to hazing and bullying. The school received a bomb threat on Monday morning, just as police were giving a press conference on their investigation. Six teenage boys have been charged with assault, gang sex assault and sex assault with a weapon. Their identities have been withheld because they are minors. Canadian media first reported on the expulsions last week. CityNews says it saw two videos of alleged hazing incidents. In one of the videos, a male student is naked from the waist down in a locker room, and appears to be sexually assaulted with a broom handle. In another video, a male student sits in a bathroom sink in his underwear, while other students slap him and splash him with water, CityNews reported. Police say the videos meet the definition of child pornography. Dominic Sinopoli, who heads Toronto police's sex crimes unit, told media on Monday anyone in possession of the video should "delete it". Mr Sinopoli says he believes there are more videos and more victims, and is urging people to come forward if they have additional information. Meanwhile, St Michael's is initiating an independent investigation into the incidents. "We want to come out of this as leaders in understanding how to frame a culture so this doesn't occur," principal Greg Reeves told CBC News. (Webmaster's comment: Catholic schools train their male students early in the art of sexual assault!)

11-19-18 Anti-vaccine community behind North Carolina chickenpox outbreak
A North Carolina school with a large anti-vaccine community is at the heart of the state's largest chickenpox outbreak in decades, officials say. On Friday 36 students at Asheville Waldorf School were diagnosed with the disease, the Asheville Citizen-Times newspaper reported. The school has one of the state's highest rates of religious exemption, allowing students to skip vaccination. US health officials say vaccinating is far safer than getting chickenpox. "This is the biggest chickenpox outbreak state health officials are aware of since the vaccine became available," a North Carolina Department of Health spokesman told the BBC in an emailed statement. Out of the Waldorf School's 152 students, 110 have not received the vaccine for the varicella virus, known to most as chickenpox, the Citizen-Times found. And 67.9% of the school's kindergarten students had religious immunisation exemptions on file in the 2017-2018 school year, according to state data. The primary school is fully co-operating with local health officials and is compliant with all North Carolina laws, a spokesperson for the school told the BBC. "We find that our parents are highly motivated to choose exactly what they want for their children. We, as a school, do not discriminate based on a child's medical history or medical condition." Buncombe County, home to the city of Asheville, with a population of over 250,000, has the highest rate of religious-based immunisation exemptions in the state. Local health officials are closely monitoring the situation, according to the county's health department. "We want to be clear: vaccination is the best protection from chickenpox," County Medical Director Dr Jennifer Mullendore said in a statement. "When we see high numbers of unimmunised children and adults, we know that an illness like chickenpox can spread easily throughout the community- into our playgrounds, grocery stores, and sports teams." North Carolina law requires certain immunisations, including chickenpox, measles and mumps for kindergarteners, but the state allows for medical and religious exemptions. (Webmaster's comment: THIS IS WHAT YOU GET WHEN RELIGIOUS IGNORANCE DECIDES. SICK CHILDREN.)

11-19-18 Migrant caravan: Angry protests in Mexico's Tijuana
Hundreds of demonstrators protested in the Mexican city of Tijuana over the arrival of Central American migrants hoping to seek asylum in the US. Some 400 migrants made it to the border city last week after travelling mostly on foot as part of a larger caravan. Anti-migrant protesters clashed with both police and pro-migrant demonstrators on Sunday.

11-19-18 Chinese erotic novelist jailed for 10 years for gay sex scenes
A Chinese writer has been given a 10 year sentence for writing and selling a novel which featured gay sex scenes. The writer, identified as Liu, was jailed by a court in Anhui province last month for producing and selling "obscene material". Her novel, titled "Occupation", featured "male homosexual behaviour... including perverted sexual acts like violation and abuse." But her lengthy jail term has sparked protest across Chinese social media. According to the Beijing News, Liu - better known by her online alias Tian Yi - has now filed an appeal to the court. Pornography is illegal in China. On 31 October, Liu was sentenced to jail by the People's Court of Wuhu for making and selling "obscene material" for profit, according to local news site Wuhu news. However, details of the hearing only emerged on Chinese media outlets this week. Police officials were first alerted to her novel after it started to gain popularity online. But many social media users argued that the sentence she received was excessive. "10 years for a novel? That's too much," said one social media user on Weibo. Another referenced an incident in 2013, where a former official was sentenced to eight years in prison for raping a four year old girl. "Those found guilty of rape get less than 10 years in jail. This writer gets 10 years," another Weibo user added.

11-18-18 Jonestown: Rebuilding my life after surviving the massacre
Sunday 18 November is the 40th anniversary of the notorious Jonestown massacre where more than 900 people died at a settlement run by Christian cult leader Jim Jones. Ahead of the anniversary, one survivor - Laura Johnston Kohl - spoke to the BBC about how she narrowly escaped death, and how she and others have rebuilt their lives in the decades since. Growing up in Washington DC in the 1950s and 1960s, Laura Johnson was no stranger to activism. By 1970, when she joined the Peoples Temple in California aged 22, she had already been tear-gassed protesting against the Vietnam war, worked with the Black Panthers and attended the famous 1969 Woodstock festival. "My life was in turmoil, I had a failed marriage and I was looking for a place to be political in a safer environment after a series of bad decisions," she recalls. She attended a few meetings at the group's headquarters in Redwood Valley in northern California and was soon won over by their ideals of benevolence and racial equality. Jim Jones, a charismatic Christian preacher, had set up the People's Temple as a racially-integrated church group in Indianapolis in 1956 before relocating to California a decade later. Jones spoke of an impending nuclear apocalypse, and believed his separatist "apostolic socialist" community could thrive in the aftermath. The group, although religious, was founded on socialist ideals - providing healthcare and other social services for its diverse members. "It was the community I was looking for - I was looking for equality and justice, and there were people of all backgrounds and races," Laura says. "In 1974, the cult leader Jim Jones said he wanted us to find a place away from all the drugs and alcohol in America," she recalls. (Webmaster's comment: Instead he found them a place to be killed by poison and bullets.)

11-17-18 Is there any hope for resolving society's deep disagreements?
What happens when you can't agree on the facts? Consider how one should respond to a simple case of disagreement. Frank sees a bird in the garden and believes it's a finch. Standing beside him, Gita sees the same bird, but she's confident it's a sparrow. What response should we expect from Frank and Gita? If Frank's response were: "Well, I saw it was a finch, so you must be wrong," then that would be irrationally stubborn — and annoying — of him. (The same goes for Gita, of course.) Instead, both should become less confident in their judgment. The reason such a conciliatory response to a disagreement is often desired is reflected in ideals about open-mindedness and intellectual humility: When learning of our differences with fellow citizens, the open-minded and intellectually humble person is willing to consider changing his or her mind. Our disagreements on a societal level are much more complex, and can require a different response. One particularly pernicious form of disagreement arises when we not only disagree about individual facts, as in Frank and Gita's case, but also disagree about how best to form beliefs about those facts, that is, about how to gather and assess evidence in proper ways. This is deep disagreement, and it's the form that most societal disagreements take. Understanding these disagreements will not inspire optimism about our ability to find consensus. Consider a case of deep disagreement. Amy believes that a particular homeopathic treatment will cure her common fever. Ben disagrees. But Amy and Ben's disagreement doesn't stop here. Amy believes that there is solid evidence for her claim, resting on the basic principles of homeopathy, which claims that pathogenic substances dissolved almost indefinitely in water can cure diseases, as well as testimony she got from experienced homeopaths whom she trusts. Ben believes that any medical intervention should be tested in randomized controlled studies, and that no sound inferences are to be drawn from homeopathic principles, since they are shown to be false by the principles of physics and chemistry. He also believes that apparently successful treatments reported by homeopaths present no solid evidence for their efficacy. Some of our most worrying societal disagreements are deep disagreements, or at least they share certain features of deep disagreements. Those who sincerely deny climate change also dismiss the relevant methods and evidence, and question the authority of the scientific institutions telling us that the climate is changing. Climate skeptics have insulated themselves from any evidence that would otherwise be rationally compelling. One can find similar patterns of selective distrust in scientific evidence and institutions in social disagreements over the safety of vaccines and genetically modified crops, as well as in conspiracy theories, which are extreme cases of deep disagreements.

11-17-18 Sabarimala: Why has a Hindu temple divided India's women?
It's been more than a month since India's Supreme Court revoked a ban on women aged between 10 and 51 entering a prominent Hindu temple in southern India. Yet no women have been able to enter so far. The Sabarimala temple in Kerala state officially opened its gates on Friday evening, the start of the annual pilgrimage season. The temple had also opened for a few hours twice after the court verdict. But ever since the ban was repealed, tens of thousands of protesters, including many women, have blocked roads, attacked female devotees and vandalised property in a bid to stop women from entering the shrine. They say that they are protecting their deity in accordance with an age-old belief that women of a menstruating age are a threat to his celibacy. A debate around this has been raging in the rest of the country as well. (Webmaster's comment: And we thought Christianity was a dark age religion.)

11-17-18 Jim Acosta row: Donald Trump threat over reporters' behaviour
Donald Trump has threatened to walk out of future press briefings if reporters do not act with "decorum". The US president was speaking after a Washington DC court ordered the White House to return CNN reporter Jim Acosta's press pass after it was revoked by the US Secret Service. Mr Acosta's press pass was taken after he clashed with the president during a news conference earlier this month. Mr Trump played down the ruling, saying it wasn't "a big deal". But, he said, "people have to behave", adding his staff were "writing up rules and regulations" for the press to abide by, including sticking to the agreed number of questions. "If they don't listen to the rules and regulations we'll end up back in court and will win," Mr Trump said. "But more importantly, we'll just leave, and then you won't be very happy." "You can't take three questions and four questions and just stand up and not sit down," he added. "Decorum. You have to practice decorum." Speaking outside the court earlier in the day, Mr Acosta praised the decision and told reporters "let's go back to work". The judge said the White House decision likely violated the journalist's right to due process and freedom of speech. The ruling forces the White House press office to temporarily return Mr Acosta's "hard pass", the credential that allows reporters easy access to the White House and other presidential events. Mr Acosta's lawyer called the ruling "a great day for the first amendment and journalism". (Webmaster's comment: Being able to ask questions of the President is the constitutional right of all of us.)

11-16-18 Media: Trump targets an old enemy
Last week marked “an outrageous ramping up” of President Trump’s attack on the press, said Jane Merrick in CNN.com. A noticeably testy Trump lashed out at three black journalists, deriding one, a PBS reporter, for a “racist”question when she asked if he had emboldened white nationalists. Earlier in the week, Trump accused CNN’s Jim Acosta of being a “rude, terrible” person after Acosta pressed him with questions about the Central American migrant caravan—then followed up by revoking Acosta’s White House pass. To justify the punishment, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders distributed a video of an intern reaching for Acosta’s microphone, sped up to look as if Acosta “karate-chopped” her arm. “Disseminating lies and smears” against a journalist “evokes George Orwell’s 1984.” Trump is threatening to bar more reporters, said Erik Wemple in WashingtonPost.com, including CNN contributor April Ryan, whom he called a “loser.” This form of censorship is a truly “authoritarian gesture.” There are two beneficiaries of “the vicious cycle of Trump fighting the press,” said Alexandra DeSanctis in NationalReview.com: Trump and the press. Acosta is delighted to be at the center of attention, and journalists who’ve rushed to his defense are eager to take up the cause of the Resistance. Trump, meanwhile, will continue to seek out clashes with self-righteous reporters, which help the White House “bolster its narrative of a hostile, disingenuous press corps.” It won’t work for Acosta to turn himself into a “self-important martyr,” said Bre Peyton in TheFederalist.com. His “badgering and sexist behavior” were caught on tape, so “when Trump calls him ‘fake news,’ it’s much easier now for the American people to get behind the message.” Trump was just sour over Democrats’ success in the midterm elections, said Jack Shafer in Politico.com. “Hungry to spend his fury on someone or something,” he turned to a familiar punching bag. Trump treats journalists “as if they were his employees,” and he probably fires Acosta “daily in his mind.” When it comes to the press pass, however, the law is on Acosta’s side. A federal judge in 1977 ruled that the Nixon administration violated a reporter’s rights by barring him from the White House. Now CNN has invoked that precedent in a lawsuit demanding Acosta’s credentials be reissued. Trump can bully and duck reporters all he wants, but he “can’t fire CNN.”

11-16-18 How they see us: Trump seeks no friends in Europe
U.S. President Donald Trump sulked and scowled his way through ceremonies commemorating the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I this week, said Guillaume Errard in Le Figaro (France). Before he even disembarked in France, Trump had fired off an angry tweet lambasting his host, French President Emmanuel Macron, for saying Europe needed its own army. At a reception with Macron the following morning, the U.S. president insisted the two were still friends, “but the stage had been set.” Skipping an appearance to honor U.S. war dead because of a little rain, Trump “had nothing on his schedule” all afternoon until a dinner gala at the Musée d’Orsay, and even there, he sneaked in through the back, avoiding the other guests. The next day, rather than walk in the rain down the Champs-Élysées with some 60 other world leaders, Trump kept dry and aloof by being driven to the Arc de Triomphe for the ceremony. As a final “swipe at Macron,” he skipped the French president’s Peace Forum and went to a cemetery for American soldiers instead, calling that outing his best moment of the trip. This is yet another sign that the U.S. and European Union are headed for “divorce,” said Sylvie Kaufmann in Le Monde (France). Trump has already pulled the U.S. out of the Paris climate treaty and the Iran nuclear deal—two pacts European leaders worked hard on—and he never misses a chance to bash NATO members for failing to spend enough on their militaries. Most distressing in this breakup, though, is the realization that Trump “no longer shares Europe’s values”: human rights, democracy, and a free press. And it’s not just Trump—it’s the Americans who elected him, said Stefan Kornelius in Süddeutsche Zeitung (Germany). This is a president “who has unleashed the mob, who lies and instigates on a mission of destruction.” His America “would rather call a few thousand Latino refugees an invasion than allow the FBI to investigate the thousands of homegrown, violent right-wing extremists and anti-Semites.” America won’t be a partner for Europe until it exorcises its demons.

11-16-18 Mass shootings: Sign of a damaged culture
“Another week, another mass shooting,” said Tiana Lowe in WashingtonExaminer.com. The site of the massacre this time was a bar in Thousand Oaks, Calif., where a Marine veteran murdered 12 people—including an armed police officer responding to the attack—before turning his handgun on himself. Some speculated that the shooter, 28-year-old Ian David Long, suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder after a 4½-year military stint that included a combat tour in Afghanistan. But “his problems clearly predated his service”: In high school, he allegedly assaulted a female track coach. We’re all part of “the American shooting lottery” now, said Adam Gopnik in NewYorker.com. Some survivors in Thousand Oaks had also escaped the Las Vegas shooting last year that killed 58 people and wounded some 850 more; one man, Telemachus Orfanos, survived Las Vegas only to be murdered in the bar. “Americans may soon start congratulating one another on how many near misses they have endured, with ‘Missed Me!’ bumper stickers and ‘I Survived My Third Gun Massacre This Year and All I Got Was This T-Shirt’ T-shirts.” Just hours before this latest slaughter, said Dr. Judy Melinek in Vox.com, the National Rifle Association had the gall to warn the American College of Physicians, which had voiced alarm at gun carnage, to “stay in your lane.” My lane? As a forensic pathologist, I have performed more than 300 autopsies on firearms victims and have faced dozens of heartbroken kin. Every day, my medical colleagues pull bullets out of men, women, and children. Doctors “didn’t choose this fight,” but we are in a “unique position to understand the scale of human suffering caused by guns.” More gun control wouldn’t have stopped this tragedy, said David French in NationalReview.com. The NRA has already “been thoroughly routed in California,” and the state’s strict firearms control regime “exceeds even the dreams of most national Democrats.” The real reason we keep seeing mass shooting after mass shooting—in states with strict gun laws, and lax—is because such massacres are a contagion. Each new atrocity lowers the threshold for the next, with “more people considering committing mass murder as a way of addressing their grievances.” We need to figure out why our nation “is generating an excess of broken, damaged people” willing to inflict horrific pain on their neighbors and friends. “Until then, we’ll spend our days yelling at each other about policy proposals” that really won’t help.

11-16-18 More Hate Crimes
Reported hate crimes rose 17 percent in the U.S. last year to 7,175, according to the FBI—the third consecutive year the numbers have increased. Anti-Semitic hate crimes climbed by 37 percent last year, and anti–Hispanic and Latino crimes went up by 24 percent.

11-16-18 All-time high
The number of people detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) hit an all-time high of 44,631 last month, about 4,000 more people than Congress has allotted funding for. Faced with a similar funding shortfall earlier this year, the Department of Homeland Security moved $100 million from other areas of its budget—including the Federal Emergency Management Agency—to ICE.

11-16-18 Heroic guard killed by cops
Jemel Roberson successfully apprehended a shooter this week at a suburban Chicago nightclub where he worked as a security guard, only to be fatally shot by police. After an early-morning shooting left four injured, an armed Roberson, 26, pinned the gunman on the ground outside as he waited for police. A white officer fired multiple shots at Roberson, who was black. The officer, a seven-year veteran of the Midlothian Police Department, is on administrative leave while the shooting is investigated. Roberson’s family sued the officer and the village of Midlothian, calling the shooting “unprovoked” and “unreasonable.” Illinois State Police say that some witnesses claim Roberson received multiple orders to drop his gun and get on the ground. He had a 9-month-old son, and Roberson’s partner is pregnant with their second child.

11-16-18 Taking personal responsibility
Taking personal responsibility, after Chicago Bears kicker Cody Parkey blamed God for the fact that he missed two field goals and two extra points during this week’s game. “My Lord and Savior Jesus Christ makes no mistakes,” Parkey said. “For whatever reason, that was the day I was supposed to have.”

11-16-18 Ex-Dallas Cowboy Jeff Rohrer to wed same-sex partner
A former Dallas Cowboys football player will make history this weekend when he becomes the first ever NFL player to marry a man. Jeff Rohrer, a former linebacker for the Texas American football team, publicly came out as gay on Wednesday. "If I had told the Dallas Cowboys in the 1980s that I was gay, I would have been cut immediately," Rohrer told the New York Times. "It was a different world back then. People didn't want to hear that." Rohrer, 59, will marry his partner of three years, Joshua Ross, 36, who grew up near the Texas stadium where Rohrer used to play throughout his professional sports career in the 1980s. Three decades later, Rohrer has gone on to become a successful director of TV commercials. His partner is a famous skin-care expert and aesthetician from West Hollywood, who appeared on last season's reality TV programme, The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. LGBT sports website Outsports reports that 11 NFL players have come out as gay - no-one during their professional career. Only eight ever played in a regular season game. "I've given at least five people heart attacks with this news," Rohrer told the Times. "But for the most part, many of my closest friends, including some of my former teammates with the Cowboys, could not have been more happy and supportive."

11-16-18 Voters know they need higher wages
Voters in Arkansas “aren’t dumb,” said the Texarkana Gazette. Sure, they might be “reliably red,” but when they hear the “same old” conservative argument that raising the minimum wage would create job losses and higher prices, they aren’t buying it. What voters see are their own daily struggles. “And they know that despite the soaring economy, high corporate profits, and rising executive compensation, not much has trickled down for them.” That’s why Arkansas voters passed a ballot initiative to raise the minimum wage, to $8.50, in 2014. And why they did it again last week, with 68 percent of Arkansans voting to bring it up to $11 an hour by 2021. Another red state, Missouri, did the same, with residents hiking the minimum wage from $7.85 an hour to $12 by 2023. The initiatives will boost earnings for 300,000 workers in Arkansas and 677,000 in Missouri. Citizens had to turn to ballot initiatives because legislators merely pay “lip service” to their constituents. “Both business and lawmakers failed to pay attention to—or worse, just didn’t care about—the very real struggles of low-income Arkansans.” The lesson here is that if workers are ignored, they can take their case directly to the public.

11-16-18 If we really wanted our citizens to vote
Other countries have election turnouts of 90 percent. We could, too. For a nation that prides itself on our pioneering role in democratic self-rule, we are not very good at elections. More than a week after the midterms, we still do not know who won several disputed House, Senate, and gubernatorial races. In this election, nearly half the eligible voters — about 115 million people — cast ballots, which is the highest-percentage turnout for a midterm since 1914. For this surge in enthusiasm, we can, of course, thank President Trump, who is demonstrating even to disengaged citizens why politics matters. But compared with most Western democracies, a 49 percent turnout is pathetic. Based on the 2016 presidential election, we rank 26th out of 32 developed democratic nations in turnout. Belgium had an 87 percent turnout in its last election; Sweden, 83 percent; Australia, 79 percent. Why the huge disparity? Those democracies actively encourage citizens to vote, rather than putting myriad obstacles in their path. If we truly wanted 80 percent turnout in the U.S., it wouldn't be hard. Democracies with high rates of participation automatically register all citizens to vote. In the U.S., more than 50 million of our citizens — about 1 in 4 — haven't registered and weren't eligible to cast ballots on Election Day. Countries that believe in democracy don't hold elections on Tuesday, when most people are working; they cast ballots on Saturday or Sunday, or make Election Day a national holiday. Curiously enough, some Americans contend that we are better off if certain citizens do not participate in our democracy. Thomas Paine, a Founding Father and revolutionary advocate of self-rule, would disagree. "The right of voting for representatives is the primary right by which all others are protected," Paine wrote. People who can't vote, he said, are like "slaves," whose fate is determined by others. If we want to call ourselves a democracy, we can and should do better.

11-15-18 Why is Canada running out of marijuana?
Cannabis retailers in Canada began to run low on supplies from the very first day of legalisation a month ago. How long are shortages expected to continue as the new market for recreational cannabis finds its feet?. In the early days of legalisation, James Burns was confident his company had enough product on the shelves of its five new cannabis retail stores, even though they only received half of their order from the provincial supplier. Now, he has had staff refreshing the government supply website in the early hours to snap up scarce new stock as soon as it's available, and is considering restricting store hours. "While there was product to order we were very comfortably getting a large amount of it," says Burns, the CEO of Alcanna, a company that owns a chain of private liquor stores in Canada and the US and, now, cannabis stores in the province of Alberta. "But obviously, when there's literally none there, it doesn't matter how big you are, there's just none there. If the government warehouse is empty, it's empty. There's nothing you can do." Since the first day recreational cannabis was legalised in Canada, there have been shortages. Newfoundland's Thomas Clarke was one of the very first retailers to sell the drug legally in Canada at the stroke of midnight on 17 October. He says he sold out that day and was out-of-stock for nearly a week. Clarke has since been able to get product onto shelves but says he can't order exactly what he needs from the provincial supplier. "They're dictating to me numbers and quantities and products that they have to send me, so I definitely don't get to get everything I want," he says. "But I've had just enough to not run out."

11-15-18 National Book Awards: Isabel Allende warns of 'dark time'
Chilean writer Isabel Allende has warned that "the values and principles that sustain our civilisation are under siege". Speaking at the National Book Awards, the author of The House of the Spirits spoke out about the rise of "nationalism and racism" in politics. She was handed a lifetime achievement prize at the ceremony in New York. "This is a dark time, my friends," Allende said during her acceptance speech. "A time of nationalism and racism; of cruelty and fanaticism. A time when the values and principles that sustain our civilisation are under siege. "It's a time of violence and poverty for many; masses of people, who are forced to leave everything that is familiar to them and undertake dangerous journeys to save their lives." Allende was born in Chile, but spent 13 years living as a political refugee in Venezuela before moving to the United States. In 1982 she published her debut novel, The House of the Spirits, which brought her literary acclaim. She dedicated her award to the "millions of people like myself who have come to this country in search of a new life."

11-15-18 Denmark withholds aid to Tanzania after anti-gay comments
Denmark is withholding 65m krone (£7.5m; $9.8m) in aid to Tanzania after "unacceptable homophobic comments" from a senior politician, a minister says. Development minister Ulla Tornaes did not name the official but said she was "very concerned" by the comments. Last month, Paul Makonda, commissioner for the commercial capital Dar es Salaam, called on the public to report suspected gay men to the police. He said he would set up a surveillance squad to track down gay people. The government said at the time that Mr Makonda was expressing his personal opinion, not government policy. Homosexual acts are illegal in Tanzania and punishable by up to 30 years in prison. Correspondents say statements against gay people have increased since President John Magufuli's election in 2015. In 2017, the country's deputy health minister defended a threat to publish a list of gay people. "I am very concerned about the negative development in Tanzania. Most recently the totally unacceptable homophobic statements from a commissioner," Ms Tornaes said on Twitter. "I have therefore decided to withhold DKK 65m in the country. Respect for human rights is crucial for Denmark." Denmark is Tanzania's second biggest aid donor. Ms Tornaes has also postponed a planned trip to the east African country, Danish broadcaster DR reported. Mr Makonda - a staunch ally of the president - said last month that he expected international criticism for his stance, but added: "I prefer to anger those countries than to anger God." (Webmaster's comment: He is just as sick as our Vice-President Pence. He would force electro-shock therapy on all gays "to cure them!")


FEMINISM

11-21-18 Alok Nath: Rape case registered against Bollywood actor
Police in India have registered a case against Bollywood actor Alok Nath after a complaint by producer Vinta Nanda who has accused him of raping her. This is one of the few police cases to be registered against someone named in India's #MeToo movement, which has gained momentum in recent months. In October, Ms Nanda accused the popular actor of sexual harassment and rape in a detailed Facebook post. Mr Nath has denied the charge and also filed a defamation case against her. He has demanded an apology and symbolic compensation of 1 rupee from her. The actor has also been accused of sexual harassment by two other actresses. Ms Nanda worked with Mr Nath on a 1990s hit TV series called Tara, which she wrote. In her Facebook post, she alleged that he had also sexually harassed the lead actress on the show. Ever since the allegations surfaced, Mr Nath has strongly denied the claims made in her post, which contains harrowing details about the alleged abuse. Ms Nanda said she had waited for 19 years to speak out and asked others "who have suffered at the hands of predators to come out and say it aloud". While she did not name anyone initially, many on social media deduced that it was Mr Nath after her post went viral. She later confirmed that she had indeed been referring to him. After the allegations, Mr Nath told journalists that he did not "agree" with the claims. "It [rape] must have happened, but someone else would have done it," he said. In recent months, the #MeToo movement in the country has led to a number of women making allegations against various comedians, journalists, authors, actors and filmmakers.

11-21-18 Norway child abuse: Man held over assaults on 300 boys
A 26-year-old man has been charged in a case described by police as Norway's biggest ever sexual abuse case. The man, reportedly a football referee, has been under investigation for several years and now faces charges involving more than 300 teenage boys. The victims were mainly targeted over the internet in Norway, Sweden and Denmark, according to prosecutors. But several of the boys are thought to have met the man in person. According to Norwegian reports, the man pretended to be a girl named Sandra or Henriette on chat forums in order to win the boys' trust, persuading them to send him naked pictures and videos of themselves. A local newspaper said he would tempt them with offers of money, naked pictures purportedly of Sandra or tobacco snuff, and once they had sent material he would allegedly threaten them with blackmail if they failed to send more. Norwegian public broadcaster NRK said he had received more than 16,000 videos. The rape charges are believed to be related to an alleged threat to post photos and videos online, although several charges involve physical abuse of victims the man met in person. State prosecutor Guro Hansson Bull said it was "the biggest case of sexual abuse in Norway so far". The alleged victims varied in age from 9 to 21 and all but one had felt unable to reveal what had happened to their parents, police told Norwegian media. A lawyer acting for the alleged victims said virtually all of them were struggling to deal with the case because they had a strong sense of guilt. A team of 15 investigators worked on the case, sifting through photos, video and chat files. The suspect was initially arrested in 2016 but then released, before being detained a second time. He is now reportedly being held in Ila jail near Oslo.

11-21-18 Cyclone Gaja: India girl segregated during period dies
Villagers in India's southern state of Tamil Nadu are grieving the death of a 14-year-old girl who died in a cyclone after being forced to sleep separately because she was menstruating. Her family told BBC Tamil that she was trapped in the hut on 16 November when the cyclone made landfall. Some villagers said this was a "wake up call" as it was common practice to segregate menstruating girls. Cyclone Gaja is known to have killed at least 46 people in the coastal state. Menstruation is taboo in large parts of rural India. Women are traditionally believed to be impure during their periods. The family of the girl, S Vijayalakshmi, lives in a house next to the hut but they survived the storm. Her grandmother, S Visalakshi, said they couldn't rescue her as a coconut tree had fallen on the hut, which made it impossible to reach her. She said Vijayalakshmi's parents had known that the storm was approaching but they couldn't keep her anywhere else since they lived in a coconut grove, far from the rest of the village, known as Anaikudi. "I told them to take her to a different place. But within hours, the cyclone had struck and we couldn't move anywhere," she said. "We are shattered," she told BBC Tamil's Pramila Krishnan. "When we saw the tree, we lost hope. We waited for villagers to help us remove the tree and pull her out of the hut." She added that they had rushed her to the hospital but doctors said that she had died hours ago and declared her dead on arrival. Veerasena, a local social activist, said both rich and poor families followed the tradition of forcing girls to sleep separately while they were menstruating.

11-21-18 NY Stock Exchange President: 'A man wouldn't get that question'
Stacey Cunningham, the president of the New York Stock Exchange, says "society needs to change [its] expectations around what women should be doing and what men should be doing".

11-21-18 Low Incomes Tied to High Weight for Women, Not for Men
Americans' income has a significant connection to how much they weigh, but in totally different ways for men and women. For women, the lower the income, the higher their weight tends to be. For men, the reverse is true. American men in the past decade have weighed, on average, 10 pounds more in households with earnings of $75,000 or more (200 pounds) than in households with earnings of less than $30,000 (190 pounds). Women in the high-income bracket weigh, on average, 12 pounds less than those in low-income households -- 152 pounds versus 164 pounds, respectively.

  • Low-income women weigh more on average than those with high incomes
  • Low-income men weigh less on average than those with high incomes
  • Gender, income related to views on being obese, desire to lose weight

Men, Women Differ by Income on Being Overweight, Wanting to Lose Weight
Income can also be a factor when men and women are asked whether they are overweight or underweight, whether they want to lose weight and whether they are seriously trying to lose weight.

  • Thirty-eight percent of men with higher incomes describe themselves as overweight, compared with 28% of lower-income men. Among women, 35% in the highest income bracket say they are overweight, 10 percentage points below the 45% among lower- and middle-income women.
  • Women in the highest income bracket are as likely as those in the lowest to say they want to lose weight (60% each), but among men, the higher the income, the greater the likelihood of wanting to lose weight.
  • The percentage of women who say they are "seriously trying to lose weight" is lowest among those with annual household incomes of $75,000 and above (26%), while there is little difference by income among men.

11-21-18 US judge blocks Mississippi 15-week abortion ban
A US judge in the state of Mississippi has overturned an abortion ban that would have prevented women from getting abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Republican Governor Phil Bryant enacted the ban in March, but the law was temporarily blocked in a lawsuit filed by the state's last abortion clinic. On Tuesday Judge Carlton Reeves ruled the ban "unequivocally" violated women's constitutional rights. Under current state law, women are allowed abortions until 20 weeks. In his decision, Judge Reeves criticised the state for seeking a legal battle with abortion rights advocates in an effort to revisit Roe v Wade, the landmark 1973 US Supreme Court ruling that legalised abortion nationwide, in federal court. "The state chose to pass a law it knew was unconstitutional to endorse a decades-long campaign, fuelled by national interest groups, to ask the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v Wade," he wrote. "This court follows the commands of the Supreme Court and the dictates of the United States Constitution, rather than the disingenuous calculations of the Mississippi Legislature." The judge also pointed to medical consensus about when the foetus becomes vital, which typically begins at 23 or 24 weeks of pregnancy. The ruling means a similar 15-week ban will not be allowed to pass in neighbouring Louisiana, as that law was dependent on the outcome of Mississippi's ruling, the Clarion Ledger newspaper reported.

11-20-18 'Ditch the witch': Julia Gillard shocked by 'vile' abuse while Australian PM
Former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard tells 100 Women that she was surprised by the level of sexist abuse she received while in power.

11-20-18 A disgusting crime — and justice denied
Some events resist journalistic attempts at paraphrase and contextualization. The appalling case of Senon Louis Ramirez, a man whose conviction for child sexual assault was recently overturned by an appeals court in Colorado, is one such. Rather than attempt to explain the circumstances of the case myself, I will quote the minimum amount necessary from court documents to convey the unspeakable viciousness: According to the victim's testimony, Ramirez told her than his seminal fluid was "milk." Thanks to the Supreme Court's ruling in Kennedy v. Louisiana, one of the worst judicial decisions in American history, it is no longer considered "constitutional" for the state to administer the death penalty to convicted child rapists, even in the case of repeat offenders. I mention this by way of explaining how a man who has forfeited his right to live in any decent human society is still alive in 2018. But why does he remain at large? How did Ramirez manage to escape even the rather lenient sentence of 20 years to life to prison? I pose this question because Ramirez does not dispute that the above-mentioned events took place. Indeed, he has pleaded guilty to a charge of indecent exposure stemming from the same incident. What he and his counsel have argued successfully before a panel of feckless egg-headed lawyers is that his actions do not meet Colorado's statutory definition of child sexual assault because the prosecution "did not prove that the defendant touched an intimate part of the victim or that the victim touched the defendant's intimate part." In the meantime, this animal goes free in a world where there are more children. (Webmaster's comment: So he walks. Free to abuse again. Males will make any excuse they can to let them get away with sexually abusing children.)

11-20-18 What's gone wrong at Victoria's Secret?
The owner of Victoria's Secret has named a new chief executive of the lingerie chain in its latest attempt to revive the company's fortunes. John Mehas, president of luxury fashion house Tory Burch, will take over in early 2019, replacing Jan Singer. His appointment comes at a difficult time for Victoria's Secret. The company is facing declining sales, a rising number of competitors and suggestions that the brand - long a byword for mass-market lingerie in the US - is out of step with fashion. On Monday, shares in Victoria's Secret's parent company L Brands fell 5% in after-hours trade following its latest results, which showed another decline in sales at the lingerie chain. The share price has fallen more than 40% over the past 12 months. Ed Razek, the chief marketing officer of L Brands, recently provoked intense criticism following comments he made to Vogue magazine about transgender and plus-sized models. And this weekend, the New York Times declared Victoria's Secret a name in "steady decline", while the Wall Street Journal said the vision of sexiness defined by the Ohio-based retailer - known for its busty "Angel" models - had "lost its appeal". L Brands boss Leslie H Wexner said the new executives would be looking at "everything" as they focused on improving performance. "I am confident that, under John's leadership, Victoria's Secret Lingerie, the world's leading lingerie brand, will continue to be a powerhouse and will deliver products and experiences that resonate with women around the globe," he said. Still, with Victoria's Secret sales online and at comparable stores sliding another 2% in the most recent quarter, the obituaries being written for the retailer, which started in the 1970s, are unlikely to stop. "They definitely need some change in their brand positioning moving forward," said Diana Smith, associate director of retail and apparel at market research firm Mintel. "I think they're in a little bit of limbo at the moment."

11-19-18 St Michaels: Alleged gang sex assault shocks Canada
Six teenage boys from an elite school have been charged with gang sexual assault after videos of alleged hazing incidents surfaced online. St Michael's College School, a private Catholic all-boys school in Toronto, expelled eight students last week in connection with the incidents. Police say they are investigating at least four separate assaults, two of which were sexual in nature. The school has been accused of turning a blind eye to hazing and bullying. The school received a bomb threat on Monday morning, just as police were giving a press conference on their investigation. Six teenage boys have been charged with assault, gang sex assault and sex assault with a weapon. Their identities have been withheld because they are minors. Canadian media first reported on the expulsions last week. CityNews says it saw two videos of alleged hazing incidents. In one of the videos, a male student is naked from the waist down in a locker room, and appears to be sexually assaulted with a broom handle. In another video, a male student sits in a bathroom sink in his underwear, while other students slap him and splash him with water, CityNews reported. Police say the videos meet the definition of child pornography. Dominic Sinopoli, who heads Toronto police's sex crimes unit, told media on Monday anyone in possession of the video should "delete it". Mr Sinopoli says he believes there are more videos and more victims, and is urging people to come forward if they have additional information. Meanwhile, St Michael's is initiating an independent investigation into the incidents. "We want to come out of this as leaders in understanding how to frame a culture so this doesn't occur," principal Greg Reeves told CBC News. (Webmaster's comment: Catholic schools train their male students early in the art of sexual assault!)

11-19-18 Silencing a gene may prevent deadly pre-eclampsia in pregnancy
High blood pressure in pregnancy, one of the leading risks to women and babies, could be stopped in its tracks by turning off genes in the placenta. The technique, known as RNA silencing, has worked in a small trial in monkeys, bringing their blood pressure down to normal. The condition, called pre-eclampsia, affects up to 10 per cent of pregnancies. Affected women can suffer kidney and liver damage, seizures and strokes. When it gets severe the only treatment is to deliver the baby, no matter how early in the pregnancy, so women face choosing between their own health and their baby’s. “It’s very scary,” says Melissa Moore of the University of Massachusetts, who is developing the treatment and has had the condition herself. Pre-eclampsia occurs when, for some reason, the placenta isn’t effective enough. To compensate, it releases proteins into a woman’s blood to raise her blood pressure, boosting the delivery of nutrients and oxygen to the fetus. But these proteins can push the woman’s blood pressure to dangerously high levels. Progress in developing treatments has been slow, partly because pharmaceutical firms are nervous about the risk of causing birth defects. A new approach that targets gene activity may be less likely to cause unexpected side-effects because it’s a highly specific treatment. The technique destroys short-strands of DNA-like molecules that are the blueprints for making proteins – called RNA. For pre-eclampsia, it targets the blueprint for one particular placenta protein, called FLT.

11-19-18 Chinese erotic novelist jailed for 10 years for gay sex scenes
A Chinese writer has been given a 10 year sentence for writing and selling a novel which featured gay sex scenes. The writer, identified as Liu, was jailed by a court in Anhui province last month for producing and selling "obscene material". Her novel, titled "Occupation", featured "male homosexual behaviour... including perverted sexual acts like violation and abuse." But her lengthy jail term has sparked protest across Chinese social media. According to the Beijing News, Liu - better known by her online alias Tian Yi - has now filed an appeal to the court. Pornography is illegal in China. On 31 October, Liu was sentenced to jail by the People's Court of Wuhu for making and selling "obscene material" for profit, according to local news site Wuhu news. However, details of the hearing only emerged on Chinese media outlets this week. Police officials were first alerted to her novel after it started to gain popularity online. But many social media users argued that the sentence she received was excessive. "10 years for a novel? That's too much," said one social media user on Weibo. Another referenced an incident in 2013, where a former official was sentenced to eight years in prison for raping a four year old girl. "Those found guilty of rape get less than 10 years in jail. This writer gets 10 years," another Weibo user added.

11-17-18 Sabarimala: Why has a Hindu temple divided India's women?
It's been more than a month since India's Supreme Court revoked a ban on women aged between 10 and 51 entering a prominent Hindu temple in southern India. Yet no women have been able to enter so far. The Sabarimala temple in Kerala state officially opened its gates on Friday evening, the start of the annual pilgrimage season. The temple had also opened for a few hours twice after the court verdict. But ever since the ban was repealed, tens of thousands of protesters, including many women, have blocked roads, attacked female devotees and vandalised property in a bid to stop women from entering the shrine. They say that they are protecting their deity in accordance with an age-old belief that women of a menstruating age are a threat to his celibacy.A debate around this has been raging in the rest of the country as well. (Webmaster's comment: And we thought Christianity was a dark age religion.)

11-16-18 Swedes debate period-proofed workplaces
People in Sweden are debating a new government-funded initiative to provide a supportive environment for women during their periods. The new Gender Equality Agency has given a grant of 530,000 kronor ($58,400; £44,900) to an organisation called MENSEN (Menses) to "break the taboo around menstruation", with period-friendly workplaces receiving a certificate. MENSEN calls for toilets, sanitary bins and hand-washing facilities to be available in all working environments, including for professionals outside the office space, like construction workers, plumbers and bus drivers. "We risk treating menstruation as an illness rather than a normal bodily function," Josefin Persdotter, a sociology researcher at Gothenburg University told the Arbetet labour movement weekly. "Sometimes you are hungry, sometimes thirsty, and sometimes you have hormone fluctuations affecting your work," she said. Other advocates want employers to supply sanitary products at work just as they provide toilet roll. Around the world, women struggle to have a dignified menstrual experience. Some women are excluded from social life during that time of the month. Others lack adequate hygiene products due to poverty. The issues are all part of the same core problem, Swedish period advocates believe. Sweden is known for its gender equality programmes - the government has even launched an instruction manual for feminist foreign policies. Menstrual rights feature not only in the media, but also on stage and in public spaces. There has been "Period - The Musical" for schools, a stage play, comic books, exhibitions and a podcast, not to mention artwork on the Stockholm metro by prominent graphic novelist Liv Strömquist. The latest campaign has divided public commentators. "Why should my boss know when I'm having my period?" asks a columnist in the leading daily Svenska Dagbladet, in response to a suggestion that staff should log their periods in Excel sheets.

11-16-18 Students say Dartmouth ignored professor 'predator club'
Dartmouth College is facing a $70m (£54m) lawsuit from six women who claim the school ignored 16 years of sexual harassment by three ex-professors. They allege the Ivy League school allowed the tenured psychology professors to harass, discriminate against and rape female students. The federal lawsuit, filed on Thursday, names Dartmouth trustees as defendants, not the former professors. The college denies the claims and will respond in court, a spokesman says. The lawsuit says the elite school turned a blind eye to "bad behaviour by these professors for more than 16 years", having received many complaints about Professors Todd Heatherton, William Kelley and Paul Whalen. The six named women, and a seventh Jane Doe, allege the professors had a clear bias towards hiring attractive young women to work in their labs and treated female students as "sex objects". The three "predatory club" professors held meetings in bars, invited students to hot-tub parties, sent lewd photographs, groped and assaulted women, the plaintiffs say. When students spurned their advances or refused to participate in their "party culture", they were threatened with academic consequences, the lawsuit claims.

11-16-18 Protests: Tech giants end forced arbitration
“Amid a rising tide of employee activism,” tech firms are changing their policies around sexual harassment, said Davey Alba and Caroline O’Donovan in BuzzFeedNews.com. Last week, following protests over the handling of misconduct claims against executives, Google said it would end forced arbitration for sexual harassment issues. The policy had squelched any chance for employees “to air their grievances in open court” and kept bad behavior under wraps. Other tech heavyweights—Facebook, Airbnb, eBay, and Square—followed Google’s lead, joining Uber and Microsoft, which had already changed their policies in the last year. Good riddance to a bad practice, said Elizabeth Winkler in The Wall Street Journal. At nearly every big company rocked by sexual misconduct allegations, “forced arbitration helped keep the allegations quiet and allowed offenders to stay in their jobs or leave with big payouts.” The losers in such cases aren’t just employees. The policies keep “investors in the dark about major flaws in corporate culture and in protections for workers.” That lets “toxic cultures” persist and leads to ugly scandals that end up knocking down share prices and saddling companies with bigger costs than they would have faced if they’d dealt with the problems early.

11-16-18 Google bows to radical workers
The biggest danger Google faces now comes from its own employees, said Holman Jenkins Jr. A group of employees calling themselves the Tech Workers Coalition want to substitute their “political hobbyhorses” for their employer’s business interests. Google brought this upon itself with “its ill-considered practice of sponsoring internal debate and breast-beating about political and cultural topics.” The protesters got Google to walk away from a Pentagon deal for Google’s AI technology. Amazon and Microsoft got similar demands from employees, and both companies “used the opportunity to speak out against Silicon Valley attempts to treat the U.S. military as a pariah customer.” But Google acquiesced to protests and then got more, this time about “letting executives leave with nest eggs intact after being accused of inappropriate sexual conduct.” In response, “Google’s leaders conspicuously put their tails between their legs.” That won’t be the end of the demands. Google’s radicals hope to use “neo-Puritanism in the workplace” as a kind of “broom to sweep middle-aged white men out of the company”—including founder Sergey Brin. When Google went public, its bosses insisted on shielding their voting rights from shareholders to “make brave, long-term decisions without concern for short-term market reaction.” It’s time for them to show some of that bravery now.

11-16-18 Darren from Accounts
Darren from Accounts, with a new survey showing that 35 percent of companies won’t hold office holiday parties this year, largely to avoid “potential liability following the #MeToo movement.”

11-16-18 Unequal pay: Early start, lifelong unfairness
“The gender pay gap starts earlier than you think,” said Renee Morad in NBCNews.com. The first bosses who underpay girls? Their own parents. Boys earn twice as much for household jobs as girls do: Data from the household-chore app Busy Kid shows boys taking in $13.80 a week in allowance, compared with just $6.71 for girls. In one experiment, by researcher Yasemin Besen-Cassino, “when girls asked for a raise, they were less likely than boys to get one.” It’s the same pattern that other studies have shown with women in the grown-up work world. You can see the pay gap in early jobs outside the home too, with teens as young as 14. Often, “young girls stay in freelance positions, like babysitting, and boys move into employee-type jobs, like working for a landscaping company.” Girls should learn early to negotiate for themselves, but employers—and parents—need to be aware of their own biases. Those kinds of biases are part of the reason the wage gap hasn’t really budged in a decade, said Jessica Dickler in CNBC.com. Despite increased attention paid to the issue, a woman still “makes about 80 cents for every dollar a man does.” The gap is smaller in tech fields, which have recently been under heavy scrutiny, with women earning 92 percent of their male counterparts’ salaries. But it’s worse in some of the highest-paid fields: In finance, women take home just 65 percent of men’s pay, and female doctors and surgeons get only 71 percent. The difference even persists when women set their own salaries, said Vanessa Fuhrmans in The Wall Street Journal. On average, in comparable companies, female founders/CEOs paid themselves an annual salary of $179,444, while men gave themselves $232,659. Why? Women founders “often have less breathing room than male entrepreneurs.” Women get “substantially” less venture money than do men and face more pressure to not “come across to backers as extravagant.” The lifetime gap in earnings makes it harder for women to plan for retirement, said Angela Antonelli in MarketWatch.com. Women invest more in education, and “two-thirds of the more than $1.3 trillion in total U.S. student loan debt is owed by women.” They often end up behind on savings; nearly one-half of older unmarried women rely almost entirely on Social Security in retirement. Women who leave the workforce to care for an ailing parent lose a startling average of $300,000 in wages and benefits. And, of course, women live longer. The earnings gap in younger years turns into a financial gap in old age that the U.S. has done little to address.

11-16-18 Not all feminists are Democrats
Why are white women “insufficiently woke”? That, said Alexandra DeSanctis, is what many outraged feminists and progressives were asking after the recent midterm elections. To their dismay, the votes of white women were fairly evenly split between Democrats and Republicans in most House and Senate races across the country. Even worse: In Texas, about 60 percent of white women voted for Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, while 75 percent cast ballots for Georgia’s presumed GOP governor-elect, Brian Kemp. Some feminists called women who voted for Republican candidates “gender traitors,” dismissing them as “foot soldiers of the patriarchy” whose votes had been dictated by their husbands. “If this doesn’t sound like feminism, that’s because it isn’t.” Feminism is supposed to be about women’s autonomy—the freedom for us to make our own decisions. Hard as it may be for most progressives to believe, some women are authentically conservative, for a wide range of reasons. But in its embrace of identity politics, “the hard-core left” thinks that “every woman is intrinsically wired to embrace left-wing orthodoxy.” Not so. Our chromosomes do not dictate our votes—nor do our husbands. “Women can be trusted to think for themselves.”

11-16-18 Sophia Jex-Blake: The battle to be Scotland's first female doctor
Edinburgh University was the first in Britain to admit women - but it was a reluctant change. This month marks the anniversary of the first intake in the 1860s and the riot that the reaction to their studies caused a year later. Sophia Jex-Blake led the women's education charge in Britain, but faced opposition to her aspirations from an early age. Jex-Blake wanted to be a doctor in a time when it was unthinkable for a woman to be one. She wanted to change that and eventually, she did. Born in Hastings, she was privately educated and was initially stopped from attending college by her parents. But determined to pursue her education, a life campaigning for women's rights was apparently destined. After a period of study in Edinburgh, Jex-Blake travelled to the US in 1865 to learn more about women's education. Here she met Dr Lucy Sewell, an activist for health and social reform, and resident physician at the New England hospital for women. This meeting, alongside time spent as an assistant at the hospital inspired Jex-Blake to chase her dream of being a doctor. The fight was just starting. She was refused entry to Harvard on gender grounds, a rejection letter read: "There is no provision for the education of women in any department of this university." Resolute, her American quest for education continued, but she was forced to return to England following the death of her father. With bleak prospects for women's education at home, Jex-Blake looked north to Scotland, where a more enlightened view on education was percolating. In March 1869 after much internal strain, Edinburgh University approved Jex-Blake's application, but it was eventually rejected by the university court on the grounds the university could not make the necessary arrangements "in the interest of one lady". Undeterred by her latest setback, a campaign carried in The Scotsman newspaper called on more women to join her. The story gathered attention and more women joined her cause, pushing to study medicine in Edinburgh. They became known as the Edinburgh seven. In November 1869, the women passed the matriculation exam and were admitted to the university medical school. The university charged them higher fees and the women, led by Jex-Blake were forced to arrange lectures for themselves due to a loophole whereby university staff were permitted but not required to teach women. This was just the start of the problems they would face.

11-15-18 Catching up on sleep at weekends may aggravate period pain
Sleeping in on weekends may cause period pain by disrupting normal reproductive cycles, a study in female university students suggests. We already know that female shift-workers are more prone to irregular menstrual cycles, difficulties falling pregnant and miscarriages, possibly because their irregular schedules affect the circadian rhythms that control their hormone cycles. Yoko Komada at Meiji Pharmaceutical University in Japan and her colleagues wondered if social jetlag – a pattern of sleeping in on weekends to make up for early starts during the week – may have similar effects. To find out, they surveyed 150 female Japanese university students about their sleep habits and menstrual patterns. The students were defined as having social jetlag if the midpoint of their sleep was an hour or more later on their days off than on their university days. Those with social jetlag reported significantly more pain, bloating and behavioural changes during their periods. Moreover, the greater the social jet lag they had, the worse their symptoms were. These adverse health effects could not be explained by late-night drinking or smoking at the end of the university week, since almost none of the students drank alcohol and none smoked. Getting up later on days off may throw out the body’s circadian rhythms, which are reset daily by light exposure upon waking, says Jonathan Cedernaes at Uppsala University in Sweden. “In either social jet lag or shift work, you mistime when your body is expecting to sleep and be exposed to light,” he says.

11-15-18 Stormy Daniels' lawyer Michael Avenatti arrested
Michael Avenatti, lawyer for porn star Stormy Daniels in her suit against President Donald Trump, has been arrested on suspicion of domestic violence, police in Los Angeles say. Celebrity news website TMZ said this followed a physical confrontation between the lawyer and a woman. He denied the claim and was later released on $50,000 (£38,500) bail. The lawyer represents Ms Daniels, who alleges she and President Trump had a brief relationship - a claim he denies. Ms Daniels has sought to free herself from a non-disclosure agreement she signed before the 2016 election. Mr Avenatti has called the allegations "completely bogus" and said he was confident he would be fully exonerated. Speaking to reporters after leaving a police station, he said: "I have never struck a woman. I never will strike a woman. I have been an advocate for women's rights my entire career and I'm going to continue to be an advocate. "I am not going to be intimidated from stopping what I am doing." On Twitter, he also thanked "everyone who has reached out with supportive messages". The woman who made the allegations had "visible injuries" including bruises, according to an unnamed law enforcement official quoted by the Los Angeles Times. Mr Avenatti's estranged wife, Lisa Storie Avenatti, gave a statement to the broadcaster NBC saying he had never been violent to her. His first wife, Christine Avenatti-Carlin, also issued a statement on Wednesday, saying she had known Mr Avenatti for 26 years and describing him as "a loving, kind father to our two daughters". "He has never been abusive to me or anyone else. He is a very good man," she said. (Webmaster's comment: This accusation smells like a put up job to shut him up!)

11-15-18 Is the sex recession only for straight people?
When a trend makes the cover of The Atlantic, you know it's really arrived. That's surely the case with the "sex recession," the term Kate Julian coined in a blockbuster article to describe a phenomenon that social scientists have been tracking and puzzling over for years now. Americans — and not just Americans — are having less sex than they used to. A lot less sex. They're starting later and engaging with less frequency, with fewer people over a lifetime, and with less satisfaction. We may seem to the casual observer to be a sex-obsessed society, but it appears that impression is as accurate as someone's Instagram feed. And while there's some data to cheer about — a decline in teen pregnancy is surely a positive development, for example, as is the dramatic decline in new HIV infections — the overall picture is a depressing one, given how strongly correlated a positive sex life is with personal well-being. What is the explanation for this sustained decline? Cultural conservatives will predictably indict the continuing echoes of the now-50-years-old sexual revolution that cheapened intimacy and disrupted the purportedly natural order of family-formation. Feminists need only gesture at any given week's headlines to bring their own indictment of violent male entitlement as the root cause. In both cases, the blame falls on changes in the culture. The narrative satisfactions of such cultural explanations are obvious, which is why I'm instinctively inclined to look first for material explanations. And there are plenty on offer. Perhaps environmental pollutants are to blame for a drop in libido as they are plausibly to blame for a global drop in sperm count? Or perhaps it's the opposite, and the removal of lead from gasoline explains the drop in teen pregnancy as well as it explains the drop in teen criminality? Economic explanations are also ready to hand. Partly as a consequence of the Great Recession, a whole cohort of young adults have lived with their parents at much higher rates and for much longer into their 20s (and even 30s) than previous generations. It's hard to build a stable relationship under such conditions. Meanwhile, those fortunate enough to have good-paying jobs increasingly feel married to them, leaving little time to explore the depths of human companionship. Then there's technology, changing our habits and thereby our minds and brains. Are ubiquitous screens making us more distractible and depriving us of high-quality sleep? Has pornography-facilitated masturbation acted like a drug, blunting our drive to seek fulfilling erotic relationships? Is the sex recession a side effect of our widely-attested plague of anxiety and depression, or of the libido-dampening drugs prescribed to treat those conditions?

11-15-18 Exclusive: A new test can predict IVF embryos’ risk of having a low IQ
A new genetic test that enables people having IVF to screen out embryos likely to have a low IQ or high disease risk could soon become available in the US. THE prospect of creating intelligent designer babies has been the subject of ethical debate for decades, but we have lacked the ability to actually do it. That may now change, thanks to a new method of testing an embryo’s genes that could soon be available in some IVF clinics in the US, New Scientist can reveal. The firm Genomic Prediction says it has developed genetic screening tests that can assess complex traits, such as the risk of some diseases and low intelligence, in IVF embryos. The tests haven’t been used yet, but the firm began talks last month with several IVF clinics to provide them to customers. For intelligence, Genomic Prediction says that it will only offer the option of screening out embryos deemed likely to have “mental disability”. However, the same approach could in future be used to identify embryos with genes that make them more likely to have a high IQ. “I think people are going to demand that. If we don’t do it, some other company will,” says the firm’s co-founder Stephen Hsu. For many years, it has been possible to do simpler genetic tests on embryos as part of IVF. For example, parents at risk of having a child with cystic fibrosis have the option to undergo IVF and select an embryo that doesn’t carry the gene behind the condition. It is also possible to screen for several other conditions caused by a single gene, as well as those caused by chromosomal abnormalities, such as Down’s syndrome. However, most medical conditions are influenced by hundreds of genes, which has made it impossible to screen out embryos with a high risk of heart disease, for example, or select embryos with a low likelihood of experiencing depression. This is true for traits like intelligence too.

11-15-18 New techniques may soon make designer babies a reality – are we ready?
IT IS hard to think of an area of science more controversial than the genetics of intelligence. Now it is about to get exponentially more contentious. For a long time, DNA testing couldn’t tell us anything useful about someone’s IQ or any other traits affected by multiple genes, such as diabetes or cancer risk. But new “polygenic” techniques for analysing many genetic regions at once have begun to make this possible. This week, we report on the first company offering fertility clinics a test for screening IVF embryos for disease risk and low intelligence (see “Exclusive: A new test can predict IVF embryos’ risk of having a low IQ”). With this news, it is unlikely to be long before some clinic, somewhere, starts using a similar approach to offer prospective parents the ability to pick out embryos that look most genetically promising for a high IQ. As if this isn’t controversial enough, it may only be the beginning. As our understanding of traits governed by multiple genes grows, it may also become possible to screen for embryos that are more or less likely to have a range of other features, be it sexuality, autism or susceptibility to depression. We already live in a world where wealthy individuals are willing to cross borders to pay for procedures at the sharpest edge of fertility research. The first baby created using a particular three-parent technique was born two years ago to Jordanian parents helped by US scientists working in Mexico, for example. While many prospective parents won’t want to genetically fine-tune their children this way, the idea of a near-designer baby will undoubtedly appeal to some. The desire to maximise a future child’s intelligence, mental health or physical attractiveness could be enough to prompt couples with no fertility problems to seek IVF, just to have this opportunity.


SCIENCE - GLOBAL WARMING and ENVIRONMENT

11-20-18 Dead sperm whale found in Indonesia had ingested '6kg of plastic'
A dead sperm whale that washed ashore in a national park in Indonesia had nearly 6kg (13 lbs) of plastic waste in its stomach, park officials say. Items found included 115 drinking cups, four plastic bottles, 25 plastic bags and two flip-flops. The carcass of the 9.5m (31ft) mammal was found in waters near Kapota Island in the Wakatobi National Park late on Monday. The discovery has caused consternation among environmentalists. "Although we have not been able to deduce the cause of death, the facts that we see are truly awful," Dwi Suprapti, a marine species conservation co-ordinator at WWF Indonesia, was quoted as saying by the Associated Press. It was not possible to say whether the plastic had caused the whale's death because of its advanced state of decay, she added. In a tweet, WWF Indonesia gave the breakdown of what was found inside the animal: "Hard plastic (19 pieces, 140g), plastic bottles (4 pieces, 150g), plastic bags (25 pieces, 260g), flip-flops (2 pieces, 270g), pieces of string (3.26kg) & plastic cups (115 pieces, 750g)." The use of throwaway plastic is a particular problem in some South East Asian countries, including Indonesia. Five Asian nations - China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand - account for up to 60% of the plastic waste that ends up in oceans, according to a 2015 report by environmental campaigner Ocean Conservancy and the McKinsey Center for Business and Environment. Plastics bags are believed to kill hundreds of marine animals there each year. In June, a pilot whale died off southern Thailand after swallowing 80 plastic bags. A report released earlier this year warned that the amount of plastic in the ocean could triple in a decade unless litter was curbed. At the end of last year, the UN said marine life was facing "irreparable damage" from the approximately 10 Million Tonnes of plastic waste ending up in the oceans every year.

11-19-18 Climate change: Report raises new optimism over industry
A new report on the potential of heavy industry to combat climate change offers a rare slice of optimism. Sectors like steel, chemicals, cement, aviation and aluminium face a huge challenge in cutting carbon emissions. But a group including representatives from business concludes it is both practical and affordable to get their emissions down to virtually zero by the middle of the next century. The report's been described as wishful thinking by some environmentalists. The group, the Energy Transitions Commission (ETC), says we can. It calculates that industrial emissions can be eradicated a cost of less than 1% of global GDP, with a marginal impact on living standards. The ETC - a coalition of business, finance and civil society leaders from energy producers and users - supports the aim of the 2015 Paris climate deal of limiting global warming to 1.5C, or at the very least, well below 2C. It sees benefits to society of cutting industrial emissions because this would save the costs associated with pollution and climate change impact. It would also generate economic growth through technological innovation and increased productivity of resources. The commission says this will require rapid improvements in energy efficiency across the whole economy. This should be combined with vastly increased wind and solar electricity to power cars, vans, manufacturing, and a significant part of domestic cooking, heating and cooling. The focus of the report is on the tough nuts of climate change: cement, steel, chemicals, trucking and aviation. These sectors account for close to a third of total global carbon dioxide emissions, but on current trends that is likely to increase just as the rest of the economy is cleaning up. The report says it is technically possible to decarbonise all of them by the middle of the next century. (Webmaster's comment: By then the oceans will be over 60 feet deeper and millions will have died from the heat!)

11-19-18 Wealth cannot save you from climate change
Money and power can protect you from many things in life. In some cases, they can even protect you from individual climate change-fueled natural disasters like the fires ravaging California. The Woolsey Fire in Southern California, for instance, burned down much of the wealthy city of Malibu — but not the home of Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, who hired private firefighters to save their $60 million home, and also those of everyone on their street. Many pointed to this as evidence for a popular argument that when it comes to climate change, wealthy people and countries will be able to basically escape the worst effects. This is not the case. The dangers of climate change are broad and largely indiscriminate. Now, it is certainly the case that the rich will be less vulnerable on average to climate disasters. With lots of money, one can buy special protective technology, hire expensive private guard labor, move to a different place, or simply rebuild one's property if it gets destroyed. But that doesn't mean you will be invulnerable. Indeed, in this particular case the ultra-wealthy entertainment moguls in Malibu were a lot more vulnerable than working-class people in Los Angeles proper, because many of their sprawling mansions are built up on heavily wooded hillsides. Kanye and Kim just barely managed to save their home, but many other A-list wealthy celebrities lost theirs, including Miley Cyrus, Liam Hemsworth, Neil Young, and Gerard Butler. Elsewhere, a Union of Concerned Scientists report estimated that by 2100, some $1 trillion in private coastal real estate will be at risk of chronic flooding due to sea level rise. It's a safe bet that the bulk of those properties are owned by the rich.

11-16-18 Finger-pointing as wildfires ravage California
The most destructive wildfire in state history tore through Northern California this week, killing at least 48 people and destroying more than 6,500 residences, while another blaze left two dead in Southern California and had burned nearly 100,000 acres when The Week went to press. The Camp Fire demolished the town of Paradise, 145 miles north of San Francisco, within hours, and hundreds of residents remained missing days later. Thousands of responders struggled to contain the fire, which at one point jumped 140 feet across a seven-lane freeway. In Ventura and Los Angeles counties, the Woolsey Fire lapped at the borders of L.A., destroying 435 structures and spreading devastation from mobile-home parks on the fringes of the city to glittering celebrity-owned mansions in the Malibu area. More than 300,000 Californians were evacuated, as people throughout the state were warned of dangerously smoky air. President Trump approved federal funding for disaster relief, though days earlier he blamed California politicians for enabling the crisis. “Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests,” he wrote on Twitter. The latest outbreak continues a devastating year for California, where fire season is now year-round. At least 105 Californians have died in wildfires in the past two years, more than in the entire previous decade; this year, upwards of 5,600 fires have burned 2,100-plus square miles. In Paradise, county sheriff and coroner Kory Honea warned that even after evacuees return, “it’s possible that human remains can be found.”

11-16-18 Keystone XL blocked again
A federal judge stayed construction of the Keystone XL pipeline last week, ruling the Trump administration didn’t do its due diligence before reversing an Obama-era decision to halt the project. Two days into his presidency, Trump greenlighted the pipeline, which would connect Canadian oil sands with Texas Gulf Coast refineries, transporting up to 830,000 barrels of crude oil a day. It would run through Montana, South Dakota, and Nebraska. Government lawyers argued the pipeline’s impact on climate change “would prove inconsequential,” in response to a legal challenge from environmental groups. But the judge said the government didn’t provide a “reasoned” explanation for its about-face. Moreover, he ruled the administration used outdated or incomplete information, or simply ignored “inconvenient” facts. The government, he added, “appears to have jumped the gun.”

11-16-18 Unexpected heat in oceans
In another worrying climate-change finding, scientists have discovered that oceans are warming far faster than previously thought. Climate researchers already know that the world’s seas absorb about 90 percent of the excess heat trapped on Earth by man-made greenhouse gas emissions. But the new study found that every year for the past 25 years, the oceans have taken in 13 zettajoules of heat energy—60 percent more than previously estimated and about 150 times the amount of energy humans produce as electricity annually. The researchers calculated ocean temperatures in a new way: Rather than taking readings from thermometers dotted around the planet, they examined carbon dioxide and oxygen levels in the atmosphere. When the world’s waters warm, they absorb less of these gases. If the findings are correct, the direct consequences of warming oceans—melting sea ice, rising sea levels, more powerful storms, coral reef destruction—will also happen faster than previously thought. Study leader Laure Resplandy, from Princeton University, says reversing climate change will now be even harder. “If we start cooling the atmosphere,” she tells BBC.com, “the heat stored in the ocean will eventually come back out.”

11-16-18 Losing the forests
Staggering deforestation in Haiti could soon cause a mass extinction of wildlife, according to a new study. U.S. researchers found that Haiti has lost 99 percent of its primary forest cover since 1988 to logging, agricultural production, and disasters. Of the island’s 50 mountains, only eight now have any primary forest, compared with 43 two decades ago. Haiti’s tropical forests are home to armadillos, macaws, sloths, and panthers, as well as species unique to the country, such as Mozart’s frog. Researchers say that by 2035, no primary forest will remain. Secondary growth can replace the original forests but would support a mere fraction of the biodiversity.

11-16-18 Microbots made from mushroom spores could clean polluted water
Thousands of microrobots controlled by magnets could help remove heavy metals from contaminated water. The microbots are made from iron oxide-coated mushroom spores, and cause heavy metal ions to cling to the pores they come into contact with. Once they’ve been placed into contaminated water, an external magnetic field is used to move the microrobots around. They and the heavy metals clinging to them are then recovered from the water using the same magnet. “These magnetic spores gather into a small area, form a pattern, then we use the magnetic field to do the navigation,” says Li Zhang at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Heavy metal is a problem. Toxic metals, including lead, can cause serious health issues, if they leak into water ways. According to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, lead exposure accounted for 540,000 deaths worldwide in 2016. In an experiment, the microbots reduced the amount of lead in contaminated water from five parts per million (ppm) to 0.9 ppm within 50 minutes of treatment. “That is very far away from the drinking water standard or the environmental quality standard,” says Scott Young at the University of Nottingham. Lead can be at no higher than 0.01 ppm in drinking water in the UK to be considered safe, for example. But Zhang says that the aim of the project isn’t to treat water with higher levels of lead, but to reduce contamination from a lower starting point.

11-16-18 California wildfires: Number of missing leaps to 631
The number of people missing in northern California's devastating wildfire has leapt to more than 600, and seven more bodies have been found, according to local authorities. The missing persons' list has doubled since earlier on Thursday. The Camp Fire, the state's deadliest and most destructive blaze, has killed at least 63 people. Nearly 12,000 buildings have been destroyed. Three more people have also died in the Woolsey Fire, further south. President Donald Trump will travel to California on Saturday to survey the damage and meet those affected. About 9,400 firefighters are currently battling wildfires across the state. The Camp Fire - which broke out eight days ago - swept through a swathe of the north at high speed, leaving residents little time to escape. The official list more than doubled from 300 to 631 on Thursday. At a news briefing, Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said this was because investigators had thoroughly cross-checked their information, including emergency calls made since the Camp Fire started on 8 November. "I want you to under He stressed that the number of the missing would most likely fluctuate. "If you look at that list and see your name, or the name of a friend or loved one, please call to let us know," Mr Honea appealed to the public.

11-15-18 Climate change: Worries over CO2 emissions from intensifying wildfires
Rising numbers of extreme wildfires could result in a significant increase in CO2 emissions, scientists warn. That could mean attaining the Paris climate agreement's goal of keeping global temperature rise well below 2C could become harder, they say. Present emission-cut pledges by countries are projected to increase the average global temperature rise by more than 3C by the end of the century. That would lead to dangerous climate change impacts, experts say. These include sea level rise, drought, wildfires, among other extreme events. "We can't neglect the emissions from wildfires," says Ramon Vallejo, a scientist specialising on fire ecology with the University of Barcelona. "Particularly now that we are seeing intense wildfires all around the world." Although estimates vary and still carry uncertainties, some experts say wildfires account for up to 20% of total global greenhouse gas emissions. They are estimated to increase by a few percent to roughly 30% by the end of this century depending on how the climate changes. "It is a double whammy," said William Lau, atmospheric scientist with Nasa's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. "Big forest fires first lead to significant reduction of forests that suck in CO2 from the atmosphere and the second loss is they cause significant amount of greenhouse gas emissions." A study earlier this year, however, had found that the annual amount of CO2 emitted as a result of wildfires having fallen over the past 80 years. It said the main reason was that large areas of forest and savannah had been converted to land for crops over the past few decades and therefore wildfires had decreased. The research, however, found that the drop was not huge though.

11-15-18 California wildfires: Is smoke toxic to the East Coast?
As firefighters work endlessly to control California's raging fires, experts warn of long-term damage from wildfire smoke that could affect millions - and potentially even those on the east coast. The fires have burned through over 200,000 acres, blanketing parts of California with clouds of thick smoke. So what are the biggest impacts of wildfires and why is the western US state so susceptible to such deadly blazes? Wildfire smoke is comprised of water vapour, carbon monoxide and dioxide, chemicals and very small particulates. Strong winds can carry harmful pollutants for hundreds of miles, and at current levels, the plumes can cause breathing difficulties even in healthy individuals. Those with pre-existing chronic conditions like asthma or heart disease, as well as children, pregnant women and the elderly are most susceptible to negative health effects, according to the National Institutes of Health. Yohannes Tesfaigzi, a senior scientist at the Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute in New Mexico, says for those with susceptible lungs, even very low levels of smoke exposure can result in an emergency room visit, and lasting long-term effects. "The particulates generated by wildfires are very fine, therefore they can penetrate to the lung and they're not really filtered out," Mr Tesfaigzi says. He says when wildfires occur in California, particulate levels in the air increase threefold in New Mexico, several states away. A study by Georgia Tech during last year's wildfire season even detected particles at high altitudes on the US east coast. The smoke from 2017's massive blazes had been swept across the country along the jet stream. "These are levels that we would not smell. If you're actually smelling the fire, you're talking much higher levels," Mr Tesfaigzi adds. The types of vegetation burning can affect exactly how harmful the plumes are. Smoke from pine trees, for example, may be carcinogenic and eucalyptus is particularly toxic to humans.

11-15-18 Development near natural areas puts more Californians in the path of wildfires
Wildland-urban interface areas grew 20 percent in the state from 1990 to 2010. In the past week, the Camp Fire has killed at least 56 people and leveled the Northern California town of Paradise. Another wildfire raging through the Los Angeles suburbs, the Woolsey Fire, has already destroyed more than 500 buildings and forced some 250,000 people to evacuate their homes. Such disasters are likely to occur more frequently in the coming years, data from recent years suggest. That’s because urban development is creeping further into woodlands, prairies and other natural areas and putting more communities in the path of wildfires. The ongoing California fires have been fueled by drought and high winds, but it’s their proximity to people that has made them especially deadly and destructive — burning through areas where housing abuts grasslands or forests, or where natural vegetation is mixed in with homes. In California, these “wildland-urban interface areas” expanded almost 20 percent from 1990 to 2010, according to data published in 2017 by the U.S. Forest Service. And the number of homes in that zone increased by almost 34 percent. Urban expansion into natural areas isn’t unique to California. Nationwide, the wildland-urban interface grew about 33 percent from 1990 to 2010, researchers who worked on the Forest Service dataset reported in March in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. And other Western states that face frequent wildfires have seen even larger leaps: Colorado’s wildland-urban interface areas expanded by 65 percent, Montana by 67 percent and Idaho by 72 percent, over the same period, the Forest Service found.

11-15-18 What climate change will do to the forests
The fires in California are a grim reminder of what the future holds. At the beginning of October, California's fire season was already threatening to be the worst on record. Over 600,000 acres of state land had burned by that point — a total driven by infernos like the Mendocino Complex Fire, which burned 459,000 acres to become the largest fire in California history. The total from the first nine months of 2018 alone was considerably more than the 506,000 acres that had burned on state land in all of 2017, which was itself more than twice as much as burned in 2016. One slim hope for the rest of the year was that fall rains might keep California's trees and vegetation relatively moist. But the rains did not come. Instead, the state got sustained high winds, which dried out the already drought-stressed forests and undergrowth even further. And when a fire got going in the brush, forests, and grasslands of Butte County last week, the result was the deadliest fire in state history. Fed by 30 to 50 mph winds, the Camp Fire grew at a spectacular rate, bearing down on the town of Paradise (population: 27,000) at high speed and blowing a dragon's plume of sparks and embers before it. The speed, the ferocious heat, and the hundreds of smaller fires catching ahead of the main blaze overwhelmed the city's defenses so quickly that despite a carefully-rehearsed evacuation plan, not everyone managed to escape. More than fifty people have already been confirmed dead, with more than 100 still missing. Many were found dead in their cars, trapped in an instant traffic jam as panicked residents tried to escape. About 90 percent of Paradise was burned to the ground, destroying over 8,800 structures, mostly homes — and surpassing the previous California record set just last year by the Tubbs fire, which destroyed 5,636 buildings. The Camp Fire has burned 138,000 acres and is still only about 35 percent contained. Meanwhile, the Woolsey Fire has so far scorched over 98,000 acres in Southern California, including much of the city of Malibu, and killed at least three people. It's a grim reminder of what climate change is going to do to the forests of the world. This type of turbo-wildfire is probably just the beginning.

11-15-18 Environmentalists must embrace nuclear power to stem climate change
The Union of Concerned Scientists has overturned its longstanding opposition to nuclear power. Other green groups should follow suit, says Mark Lynas. Changing your mind on a controversial topic isn’t easy, especially when you have spent decades campaigning against your new position. Which is why the decision by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) to drop its long-standing opposition to nuclear power is so important, and why the organisation deserves great credit for having the courage to take this step. The UCS has broken with the anti-nuclear ideology that has been part of the advocacy group’s DNA since the 1960s. The UCS isn’t campaigning for nuclear plants to be built, however. It has simply recognised that coal and gas fired power stations are likely to replace decommissioned nuclear power plants. UCS president Ken Kimmel wrote that the organisation is now calling for “proactive policy to preserve nuclear power from existing plants that are operating safely but are at risk of premature closures for economic reason”. The switch to coal and gas happened most clearly in Germany, where Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to phase out all nuclear power generation has led to an increased reliance on fossil fuels. The sight of this once climate-leading nation bulldozing ancient forests in order to expand open-cast coal mining serves as a warning. This is where hard line anti-nuclear ideology can lead in the real world. The UCS’s report begins by recognising that nuclear is the single largest source of low-carbon electricity in the US. Around the world, about 450 nuclear reactors supplied 10 per cent of global electricity last year, providing low-carbon power to 31 countries. Many US reactors are threatened with closure due to competition from cheap fracked gas and a power market that puts no value on low-carbon electricity.

11-15-18 The race to green domestic heating and prevent climate catastrophe
Household heating systems are huge sources of carbon emissions, but many countries are showing how existing technologies can fix the problem. WINTER is coming to the north. If you live in those climes, chances are you have already switched on your heating. Chances are, too, that your heating burns fossil fuels. If the world is to meet its climate goal of zero net carbon emissions by mid-century, that needs to change – and change fast. “We are two boiler replacements away from 2050,” says researcher Lukas Bergmann of consultancy firm Delta Energy & Environment. It is a huge challenge. In the UK, for example, 85 per cent of homes use natural gas for heating, and a third of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions are from heating. Across the world, hundreds of millions of homes, offices and factories will need major, often expensive, upgrades. Many countries have only just begun to notice the problem. “It’s a huge consumer issue,” says Richard Lowes at the University of Exeter in the UK. “Yet if you asked the average person in the street about this, they would have no idea what you are talking about.” The good news is that heating can be greened with existing technology. But can it be greened fast enough? While coal and oil are the worst offenders as heating fuels, even natural gas must go. To help meet the Paris target of limiting warming to well below 2°C, the use of natural gas must be entirely ditched across the European Union by around 2035, according to a study last year co-written by Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in the UK. “An urgent programme to phase out existing natural gas and other fossil fuel use across the EU is imperative,” he says. The broad outline of the fix for heating is clear: heat pumps powered by clean electricity in rural and suburban areas, and district heating systems in more densely populated locations.

11-15-18 Antibiotic resistance genes are showing up in Antarctic penguins
Humans have spread antibiotic resistance so far and wide that diverse clusters of microbes with resistance genes are now turning up in the gut microbiome of penguins in Antarctica. Antibiotic-resistance can occur naturally, and microbes with resistance genes have been found in ancient Antarctic soils before. Now we know the microbes are also present in the animals living on those soils. Vanessa Marcelino at the University of Sydney, Australia, and her colleagues compared the diversity of gut microbes carrying antibiotic resistance genes in Gentoo penguins living around two Antarctic bases. Penguins near the busy O’Higgins Base carried more of the genes in their microbiome than those living near the smaller, less-populated Gabriel González Videla Base. “Birds I think are maintaining those genes in the environment and distributing them around,” says Marcelino. The penguins’ microbiomes were examined as part of a broader study into birds that carry microbes with antibiotic resistance genes. The researchers took microbiome samples from 110 ducks and wading birds at sites in Antarctica and Australia. “You swab the bums of the birds,” says Marcelino. RNA sequencing revealed the diversity and expression levels of known antibiotic-resistance genes.

11-15-18 Climate change: Report says 'cut lamb and beef'
The number of sheep and cattle in the UK should be reduced by between a fifth and a half to help combat climate change, a report says. The shift is needed, the government’s advisory Committee on Climate Change (CCC) maintains, because beef and lamb produce most farm greenhouse gases. The report foresees an increase in the number of pigs and chickens because these produce less methane. The farm union NFU said it did not agree with reducing livestock numbers. But environmentalists say the recommendations are too timid. The CCC says a 20-50% reduction in beef and lamb pasture could release 3-7m hectares of grassland from the current 12m hectares in the UK. The un-needed grassland could instead grow forests and biofuels that would help to soak up CO2. The committee’s advice on producing less red meat is less radical than NHS Eatwell guidelines on healthy eating, which proposes a reduction in consumption of 89% for beef and 63% for lamb, and a 20% decline in dairy products. BBC News understands that the committee have deliberately taken a more conservative position in order to minimise confrontation with the farmers’ union, the NFU. The chief executive of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), Chris Stark, told BBC News: “Climate change is going to change the way the UK looks – and we also have to alter the way we use land so we don’t make climate change worse.


SCIENCE - EVOLUTION and GENETICS

11-21-18 'Asking about suicide doesn’t cause suicide'
Every year, nearly 45,000 people in America kill themselves. That is more than twice the number that die in homicides, and the numbers are increasing. There is one group in particular causing this spike - white, middle aged men. India Rakusen visits Montana, where suicide rates are double the national average, to meet a family learning to cope with their loss, at a summer camp with a difference.

11-20-18 Don’t spank your kids. Do time-outs and positive talk instead, pediatricians say
For many reasons, spanking isn’t a good way to discipline kids, pediatricians say. Sometime around 9 p.m., before the second leg of a cross-country flight, my just-turned-4-year-old decided she had had enough. She let out a scream and went full noodle right at the end of a moving walkway in Chicago Midway. I had the baby in a carrier and a death grip on my older daughter’s hand, so it was up to my husband to scoop up our enraged, sweaty middle child and keep hold of her and all our bags as we made our way to the gate. The poor kid had been traveling all day. Offers of treats were no longer effective. Neither were our warnings. She was exhausted, pushed well beyond her capabilities to self-regulate at that point in our journey. Though I knew this, I was still mad. Sometimes you just have to white-knuckle through these extreme parenting moments of high stress and little to do about it. But when things calm down, these wild outbursts almost always make me think hard about discipline, and what might work better next time. Discipline is in the news this month, with the November 5 release of updated guidelines on spanking from the American Academy of Pediatrics. Corporal punishment such as hitting and spanking shouldn’t ever be used to discipline kids, the pediatricians’ group writes. Nor should any method that causes shame or humiliation, including verbal abuse. Parents ought to use other tactics, such as positive reinforcement and time-outs, instead. Some of the tips mentioned in the new guidelines include reinforcing good behavior, such as telling a child, “I love it when you brush your teeth the first time I ask.”

11-20-18 Searching for Antarctica’s penguins, lost meteorites, and oldest ice
AS THE nights get longer in the northern hemisphere, scientists are heading to Antarctica in their thousands. Their quarry includes meteorites, penguins and revealing ice cores. Only about 1000 people overwinter in Antarctica, and the population is set to quintuple for the next six months as scientists make the most of the continent’s summer research season, which runs from November until April. Constant daylight, sub-zero temperatures and brutal winds await. But that isn’t enough to put the travellers off. “We are well kitted out, and we stay in pyramid tents, which are surprisingly cosy,” says Katherine Joy from the University of Manchester, UK, who is heading south with colleague Geoffrey Evatt in search of buried meteorites. Antarctica is a particularly good place to collect these rocks – not only are they easy to spot there, but the ice acts as a conveyor belt that deposits them in hotspots. Meteorites from the frozen continent make up about two-thirds of the 35,000 space rocks collected so far, giving valuable information about the solar system. But very few iron-based meteorites have been found in this Antarctic bounty. These are made from the cores of destroyed small planets, so hold vital clues about how planets formed in the early solar system. Evatt and Joy think these meteorites are missing because they get trapped below the ice surface. In January, Evatt will be heading to the British Antarctic Survey field station, Sky-Blu, at the southern end of the Antarctic Peninsula, to test equipment – in essence, a metal detector and a chainsaw – for finding and extracting buried meteorites.

11-20-18 An exploding meteor may have wiped out ancient Dead Sea communities
Archaeologists at a site in what's now Jordan have found evidence of a cosmic calamity. A superheated blast from the skies obliterated cities and farming settlements north of the Dead Sea around 3,700 years ago, preliminary findings suggest. Radiocarbon dating and unearthed minerals that instantly crystallized at high temperatures indicate that a massive airburst caused by a meteor that exploded in the atmosphere instantaneously destroyed civilization in a 25-kilometer-wide circular plain called Middle Ghor, said archaeologist Phillip Silvia. The event also pushed a bubbling brine of Dead Sea salts over once-fertile farm land, Silvia and his colleagues suspect. People did not return to the region for 600 to 700 years, said Silvia, of Trinity Southwest University in Albuquerque. He reported these findings at the annual meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research on November 17. Excavations at five large Middle Ghor sites, in what’s now Jordan, indicate that all were continuously occupied for at least 2,500 years until a sudden, collective collapse toward the end of the Bronze Age. Ground surveys have located 120 additional, smaller settlements in the region that the researchers suspect were also exposed to extreme, collapse-inducing heat and wind. An estimated 40,000 to 65,000 people inhabited Middle Ghor when the cosmic calamity hit, Silvia said. (Webmaster's comment: Probably the source of the Biblical ‎Sodom and Gomorrah story.)

11-19-18 Anti-vaccine community behind North Carolina chickenpox outbreak
A North Carolina school with a large anti-vaccine community is at the heart of the state's largest chickenpox outbreak in decades, officials say. On Friday 36 students at Asheville Waldorf School were diagnosed with the disease, the Asheville Citizen-Times newspaper reported. The school has one of the state's highest rates of religious exemption, allowing students to skip vaccination. US health officials say vaccinating is far safer than getting chickenpox. "This is the biggest chickenpox outbreak state health officials are aware of since the vaccine became available," a North Carolina Department of Health spokesman told the BBC in an emailed statement. Out of the Waldorf School's 152 students, 110 have not received the vaccine for the varicella virus, known to most as chickenpox, the Citizen-Times found. And 67.9% of the school's kindergarten students had religious immunisation exemptions on file in the 2017-2018 school year, according to state data. The primary school is fully co-operating with local health officials and is compliant with all North Carolina laws, a spokesperson for the school told the BBC. "We find that our parents are highly motivated to choose exactly what they want for their children. We, as a school, do not discriminate based on a child's medical history or medical condition." Buncombe County, home to the city of Asheville, with a population of over 250,000, has the highest rate of religious-based immunisation exemptions in the state. Local health officials are closely monitoring the situation, according to the county's health department. "We want to be clear: vaccination is the best protection from chickenpox," County Medical Director Dr Jennifer Mullendore said in a statement. "When we see high numbers of unimmunised children and adults, we know that an illness like chickenpox can spread easily throughout the community- into our playgrounds, grocery stores, and sports teams." North Carolina law requires certain immunisations, including chickenpox, measles and mumps for kindergarteners, but the state allows for medical and religious exemptions. (Webmaster's comment: THIS IS WHAT YOU GET WHEN RELIGIOUS IGNORANCE DECIDES. SICK CHILDREN.)

11-19-18 Silencing a gene may prevent deadly pre-eclampsia in pregnancy
High blood pressure in pregnancy, one of the leading risks to women and babies, could be stopped in its tracks by turning off genes in the placenta. The technique, known as RNA silencing, has worked in a small trial in monkeys, bringing their blood pressure down to normal. The condition, called pre-eclampsia, affects up to 10 per cent of pregnancies. Affected women can suffer kidney and liver damage, seizures and strokes. When it gets severe the only treatment is to deliver the baby, no matter how early in the pregnancy, so women face choosing between their own health and their baby’s. “It’s very scary,” says Melissa Moore of the University of Massachusetts, who is developing the treatment and has had the condition herself. Pre-eclampsia occurs when, for some reason, the placenta isn’t effective enough. To compensate, it releases proteins into a woman’s blood to raise her blood pressure, boosting the delivery of nutrients and oxygen to the fetus. But these proteins can push the woman’s blood pressure to dangerously high levels. Progress in developing treatments has been slow, partly because pharmaceutical firms are nervous about the risk of causing birth defects. A new approach that targets gene activity may be less likely to cause unexpected side-effects because it’s a highly specific treatment. The technique destroys short-strands of DNA-like molecules that are the blueprints for making proteins – called RNA. For pre-eclampsia, it targets the blueprint for one particular placenta protein, called FLT.

11-19-18 Gut bacteria may guard against diabetes that comes with aging
Old mice lose one type of friendly microbe, triggering a hallmark of the disease. Losing one variety of gut bacteria may lead to type 2 diabetes as people age. Old mice have less Akkermansia muciniphila bacteria than young mice do, researchers report November 14 in Science Translational Medicine. That loss triggers inflammation, which eventually leads cells to ignore signals from the hormone insulin. Such disregard for insulin’s message to take in glucose is known as insulin resistance and is a hallmark of type 2 diabetes. Researchers have suspected that bacteria and other microbes in the gut are involved in aging, but how the microbes influence the process hasn’t been clear. Monica Bodogai of the U.S. National Institute on Aging in Baltimore and colleagues examined what happens to mice’s gut bacteria as the rodents age. The mice lose A. muciniphila, also called Akk, and other friendly microbes that help break down dietary fiber into short-chain fatty acids, such as butyrate and acetate. Those fatty acids signal bacteria and human cells to perform certain functions. Losing Akk led to less butyrate production, Bodogai’s team found. In turn, loss of butyrate triggered a chain reaction of immune cell dysfunction that ended with mice’s cells ignoring the insulin.

11-19-18 A Bronze Age tomb in Israel reveals the earliest known use of vanilla
Jugs that date to about 3,600 years ago hold traces of the aromatic substance. Three jugs placed as offerings in a roughly 3,600-year-old tomb in Israel have revealed a sweet surprise — evidence of the oldest known use of vanilla. Until now, vanilla was thought to have originated in Mexico, perhaps 1,000 years ago or more. But jugs from the Bronze Age site of Megiddo contain remnants of two major chemical compounds in natural vanilla extract, vanillin and 4-hydroxybenzaldehyde, said archaeologist Vanessa Linares of Tel Aviv University in Israel. Chemical analyses also uncovered residues of plant oils, including a component of olive oil, in the three jugs. “Bronze Age people at Megiddo may have used vanillin-infused oils as additives for foods and medicines, for ritual purposes or possibly even in the embalming of the dead,” Linares said. She described these findings at the annual meeting of American Schools of Oriental Research on November 16. Vanillin comes from beans in vanilla orchids. About 110 species of these flowers are found in tropical areas around the world. The chemical profile of the vanillin in the Megiddo jugs best matches present-day orchid species in East Africa, India and Indonesia, Linares said.

11-19-18 Complex stone tools in China may re-write our species’ ancient history
A haul of ancient stone tools has plugged a big gap in China’s archaeological record, challenging our understanding of how our species spread around the world. Our hominin predecessors began making stone tools more than 3 million years ago. As time went on, these tools became more complex. About 300,000 years ago, a new style of tool made using “Levallois” techniques began to appear in Africa and western Eurasia. Rather than chipping flakes off a stone to create a tool, Levallois techniques work on the stone so it is the flakes themselves that become the tools. This enables several tools to be made from a single stone. Until recently, it seemed that the Levallois revolution didn’t spread east to places like China until much later – about 40,000 years ago – but that idea is now being questioned. Bo Li at the University of Wollongong, Australia, and his colleagues have just confirmed that Levallois-style stone tools recovered from Guanyindong cave in south China are between 160,000 and 170,000 years old. The discovery follows a related announcement at the start of the year. Researchers found Levallois stone tools – some of which were 385,000 years old – at a site called Attirampakkam in India. Clearly, hominins in central and east Eurasia began making Levallois tools much earlier than we thought. But who were these ancient toolmakers?

11-19-18 Termites in Brazil have covered an area the size of Britain in mounds
In the dry forests of northeastern Brazil, an area of 230,000 square kilometres – larger than Great Britain – is covered in 200 million regularly spaced mounds, each about 2.5 metres tall. These mounds, known to locals as murundus, are the waste earth dug out by termites to create a vast network of underground tunnels, and some of them are up to 4000 years old. The termites have excavated over 10 cubic kilometres of earth to build the tunnels and mounds, making this the biggest engineering project by any animal besides humans, according to Stephen Martin from the University of Salford, UK. Despite the enormous area covered by the mounds, they have hardly been studied until now. Martin came across them while researching honeybees in the Brazilian state of Bahia. “I looked on Google Earth and realised they’re everywhere in this area, but I could find nothing about them online,” he says. The mounds are very conspicuous in areas where the forest has been cleared, but most of them are covered by caatinga forests, which consist of small, thorny trees that shed their leaves seasonally. These leaves are the only food for the termites, but they only fall once a year at most, and disappear quickly. This sporadic food supply is the reason for the vast network of tunnels and the resulting mounds. “It’s like if all the supermarkets were open for one day a year — the person with the fastest car would get the most food,” says Martin. “You need a network of roads to get to the supermarket as quickly as you can because you’re in open competition with other colonies.” Conservative estimates of the ages of the mounds they studied range from 690 to 3820 years old.

11-18-18 Small doses of peanut protein can turn allergies around
Most kids in a clinical trial could tolerate the equivalent of two large nuts after a year. Carefully calibrated doses of peanut protein can turn extreme allergies around. At the end of a year of slowly increasing exposure, most children who started off severely allergic could eat the equivalent of two peanuts. That reversal, reported November 18 in the New England Journal of Medicine, “will be considered life-transforming for many families with a peanut allergy,” says pediatric allergist Michael Perkin of St. George’s, University of London, who wrote an accompanying editorial in the same issue of NEJM. The findings were also presented on the same day at the annual meeting of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology in Seattle. Peanut exposure came in the form of a drug called AR101, described in the study as a “peanut-derived investigational biologic oral immunotherapy drug,” or, as Perkin puts it, “peanut flour in a capsule.” Unlike a sack of peanut flour, AR101 is carefully meted out, such that the smallest doses used in the study contained precisely 0.5 milligrams of peanut protein — the equivalent of about one six-hundredth of a large peanut. In the clinical trial, 372 children ages 4 to 17 years began taking the lowest dose of AR101. The doses increased in peanut protein every two weeks until the kids topped out at 300 milligrams, which is about that of a single peanut.

11-16-18 FDA restricts the sale of some flavored e-cigarettes as teen use soars
The number of high schoolers who vape rose 78 percent from 2017 to 2018. In an attempt to curtail an alarming rise in teenage vaping, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced restrictions on the sale of certain flavored e-cigarettes that appeal to young people on November 15. The agency also said it would seek to ban menthol cigarettes, long a goal of public health advocates, as well as flavored cigars. The flavor restrictions coincide with the release of new data showing that e-cigarette use by high school students shot up 78 percent from 2017 to 2018. The data, part of the National Youth Tobacco Survey, were reported November 16 in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. “If the policy changes that we have outlined don’t reverse this epidemic, and if the manufacturers don’t do their part to help advance this cause, I’ll explore additional actions,” FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement. Gottlieb said that only stores that restrict access to the products to customers 18 years or older will be able to sell certain e-cigarette flavors, such as mango or crème brûlée. There will also be limits on online sales, but there are no restrictions on the flavors menthol, mint or tobacco. Vaping has risen dramatically among teenagers over the last year. Among high school students surveyed, 20.8 percent said they had used e-cigarettes at least once in the last 30 days in 2018, compared with 11.7 percent in 2017 — an increase of 78 percent.

11-16-18 Cellphones and cancer
A decade-long study has concluded that radiation from cellphones may cause cancer in rats—but there is still no evidence that it has the same effect on humans. Scientists with the government-funded National Toxicology Program tested 3,000 rats and mice, which were exposed for nine hours a day to radio-frequency radiation similar to that used in 2G and 3G cellphones. They found that 2 to 3 percent of male rats exposed to the radio waves developed a deadly form of brain cancer; none of the control group, which received no radiation, developed the tumors. The researchers also found that 5 to 7 percent of male rats exposed to the highest level of radiation developed heart tumors. There was no link for female rats—a not uncommon disparity in cancer patterns. The team emphasized that the rats were exposed to far more radiation than even heavy phone users would be, and that the new 4G phones deliver much less radio-frequency radiation to the user. “The incidence of brain tumors in human beings has been flat for the last 40 years,” Otis Brawley, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, tells USA Today. “That is the absolute most important scientific fact.”

11-16-18 Don’t rely on ‘good genes’ for long life
If you think you’ll live a long life because your grandma made it to a grand old age, think again. A major new study suggests that genetics has only a small effect on longevity, reports CNN.com. Researchers analyzed anonymized data from more than 439 million people—including their birth years, death years, and family connections—from the genealogy site Ancestry.com. Initially, the results appeared to match the findings of previous studies. For siblings and first cousins, longevity heritability—how much of the differences in life spans can be explained by genetic variations—ranged from 15 to 30 percent. The data also showed that spouses often had similar life spans, possibly because couples share nongenetic factors such as diet and lifestyle. More surprisingly, siblings-in-law and first-cousins-in-law had similar life spans, despite being neither blood relatives nor housemates. Researchers believe this correlation is a result of “assortative mating.” Income, for example, can influence life span. So if people from families of similar income and social status marry each other, they would have similar longevity. When researchers factored assortative mating into their calculations, they found genes were responsible for no more than 7 percent of longevity. “Although there is a genetic component” to longevity, says co-author Cathy Ball, chief scientific officer at Ancestry, “this study shows that there is a major impact from many other forces in your life.”

11-16-18 Spotting Alzheimer’s with AI
Artificial intelligence could be used to identify Alzheimer’s disease up to six years earlier than a patient would typically be diagnosed, a new study suggests. Researchers trained a self-learning computer to recognize signs of the neurodegenerative disease in brain scans that are too subtle for a human to see, using more than 2,100 positron emission tomography scans from some 1,000 patients. The so-called deep-learning algorithm was then given a set of 40 brain scans it hadn’t studied before—it proved 100 percent accurate at detecting Alzheimer’s an average of more than six years prior to a patient’s final diagnosis. Co-author Jae Ho Sohn, from the University of California at San Francisco, cautioned that it was a small study, but said the results were promising nonetheless. “If we diagnose Alzheimer’s disease when all the symptoms have manifested, the brain volume loss is so significant that it’s too late to intervene,” he tells ScienceDaily.com. “If we can detect it earlier, that’s an opportunity for investigators to potentially find better ways to slow down or even halt the disease process.”

11-16-18 A Bronze Age game called 58 holes was found chiseled into stone in Azerbaijan
An ancient diversion traveled fast from the Near East to Eurasia, an archaeological find hints. A dotted pattern pecked into stone at a remote Eurasian rock-shelter represents a Bronze Age game that was thought to have existed at that time only in Mesopotamia, Egypt and other Near Eastern regions. The game is known as 58 holes, or Hounds and Jackals. Archaeologist Walter Crist of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City described his surprising discovery of a roughly 4,000-year-old example of 58 holes in present-day Azerbaijan on November 15 at the annual meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research. Azerbaijan sits between the Caucasus Mountains and the Caspian Sea, some 1,000 to 2,000 kilometers from the Near East. “Bronze Age herders in that region must have had contacts with the Near Eastern world,” Crist said. “Ancient games often passed across cultures and acted as a social lubricant.” While conducting an internet search of publications about 58 holes, Crist saw what looked like an example of the game’s layout in a photograph from a rock-shelter published in an online magazine called Azerbaijan International. He contacted a colleague in the Eurasian nation who helped to arrange a site visit in April 2018. Once there, Crist found that the site shown in the magazine had been bulldozed for a housing development. But a scientific official in Azerbaijan told him of another rock-shelter with the same dot pattern. Crist, who has studied early Near Eastern versions of 58 holes, recognized the two-person game when he reached that site.

11-16-18 Walking backwards can boost your short-term memory
To go back in time, it might help to go backwards in space. Volunteers in a study did better in a memory test if they walked backwards before taking it – or if they simply imagined moving backwards. Aleksandar Aksentijevic at the University of Roehampton, UK, and colleagues asked 114 volunteers to watch a video in which a woman has her bag stolen by a passer-by. Ten minutes after watching the video, some of the participants were told to walk forwards or backwards 10 metres, while those in a control group stood in one place. Then they were asked 20 questions about the events in the video. The backward-walking group got two more answers correct on average than the forward-walkers and the non-walkers – a small improvement, but one that was statistically significant. A similar effect was found in five variations of the experiment. One of them involved a similar procedure, but tested how many words the volunteers could remember from a list. In others, participants simply imagined moving forwards or backwards, or watched a video filmed on a train, which created the impression of moving forwards or backwards. We are all used to thinking about time as a space that we move through, and using the language of spatial movement to talk about time. This study and others hint that the connection between time and space is more than a convenient analogy – it is intrinsic to the way the past is conceptualised in our minds

11-15-18 Catching up on sleep at weekends may aggravate period pain
Sleeping in on weekends may cause period pain by disrupting normal reproductive cycles, a study in female university students suggests. We already know that female shift-workers are more prone to irregular menstrual cycles, difficulties falling pregnant and miscarriages, possibly because their irregular schedules affect the circadian rhythms that control their hormone cycles. Yoko Komada at Meiji Pharmaceutical University in Japan and her colleagues wondered if social jetlag – a pattern of sleeping in on weekends to make up for early starts during the week – may have similar effects. To find out, they surveyed 150 female Japanese university students about their sleep habits and menstrual patterns. The students were defined as having social jetlag if the midpoint of their sleep was an hour or more later on their days off than on their university days. Those with social jetlag reported significantly more pain, bloating and behavioural changes during their periods. Moreover, the greater the social jet lag they had, the worse their symptoms were. These adverse health effects could not be explained by late-night drinking or smoking at the end of the university week, since almost none of the students drank alcohol and none smoked. Getting up later on days off may throw out the body’s circadian rhythms, which are reset daily by light exposure upon waking, says Jonathan Cedernaes at Uppsala University in Sweden. “In either social jet lag or shift work, you mistime when your body is expecting to sleep and be exposed to light,” he says.

11-15-18 Lyme and other tickborne diseases are on the rise in the U.S. Here’s what that means.
An infectious disease physician answers questions about the increase in cases. There’s no sign that ticks are backing down. A record high of 59,349 cases of tickborne diseases were reported in 2017 in the United States. That’s a 22 percent increase in cases — or roughly 11,000 more — than were reported in 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced on November 14. Lyme disease accounted for most of the reported diseases, with nearly 43,000 cases in 2017, up from over 36,000 in 2016. There were increases in all six tick-related illnesses reported, though, including Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Because underreporting is common, experts expect the actual number of cases is higher than what the data show. “The United States is not fully prepared to control these threats,” the agency said in statement. The Tick-Borne Disease Working Group, set up by Congress in 2016 to address the threats that ticks pose, also released its first report on November 14, with input from public health officials, scientists, patients and clinicians. Science News discussed the findings with the working group’s chairman, infectious disease physician John Aucott, who is also the director of the Lyme Disease Research Center at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

11-15-18 Mini ‘solar panels’ help yeast shine at churning out drug ingredients
Covering microbes with light-harvesting semiconductors boosted shikimic acid production. Bionic microbes outfitted with tiny semiconductor components can generate useful chemicals more efficiently than normal cells. Microorganisms like fungi are commonly used in biomanufacturing to convert simple carbon-based molecules, such as sugar, into a wide range of chemical ingredients for pharmaceuticals and other products. But much of a microbe’s carbon intake typically gets used to power the creature itself, cutting the amount available to form desired chemicals. In the new setup, described in the Nov. 16 Science, microbial cells are coated in semiconductor nanoparticles that absorb and transfer energy from sunlight to the cell, similar to the way rooftop solar panels supply energy to a house. That process allows the cell to funnel carbon it would normally use as a fuel toward its chemical output instead. Chemical and biological engineer Neel Joshi of Harvard University and colleagues tested this scheme using baker’s yeast cells covered in nanoparticles made of the semiconductor indium phosphide. Baker’s yeast consumes the sugar glucose to produce shikimic acid, which is used to make the flu medication Tamiflu. In lab experiments, cyborg microbes equipped with nanoparticles produced about three times as much shikimic acid as normal baker’s yeast fed the same amount of glucose.

11-15-18 Is the sex recession only for straight people?
When a trend makes the cover of The Atlantic, you know it's really arrived. That's surely the case with the "sex recession," the term Kate Julian coined in a blockbuster article to describe a phenomenon that social scientists have been tracking and puzzling over for years now. Americans — and not just Americans — are having less sex than they used to. A lot less sex. They're starting later and engaging with less frequency, with fewer people over a lifetime, and with less satisfaction. We may seem to the casual observer to be a sex-obsessed society, but it appears that impression is as accurate as someone's Instagram feed. And while there's some data to cheer about — a decline in teen pregnancy is surely a positive development, for example, as is the dramatic decline in new HIV infections — the overall picture is a depressing one, given how strongly correlated a positive sex life is with personal well-being. What is the explanation for this sustained decline? Cultural conservatives will predictably indict the continuing echoes of the now-50-years-old sexual revolution that cheapened intimacy and disrupted the purportedly natural order of family-formation. Feminists need only gesture at any given week's headlines to bring their own indictment of violent male entitlement as the root cause. In both cases, the blame falls on changes in the culture. The narrative satisfactions of such cultural explanations are obvious, which is why I'm instinctively inclined to look first for material explanations. And there are plenty on offer. Perhaps environmental pollutants are to blame for a drop in libido as they are plausibly to blame for a global drop in sperm count? Or perhaps it's the opposite, and the removal of lead from gasoline explains the drop in teen pregnancy as well as it explains the drop in teen criminality? Economic explanations are also ready to hand. Partly as a consequence of the Great Recession, a whole cohort of young adults have lived with their parents at much higher rates and for much longer into their 20s (and even 30s) than previous generations. It's hard to build a stable relationship under such conditions. Meanwhile, those fortunate enough to have good-paying jobs increasingly feel married to them, leaving little time to explore the depths of human companionship. Then there's technology, changing our habits and thereby our minds and brains. Are ubiquitous screens making us more distractible and depriving us of high-quality sleep? Has pornography-facilitated masturbation acted like a drug, blunting our drive to seek fulfilling erotic relationships? Is the sex recession a side effect of our widely-attested plague of anxiety and depression, or of the libido-dampening drugs prescribed to treat those conditions?

11-15-18 Exclusive: A new test can predict IVF embryos’ risk of having a low IQ
A new genetic test that enables people having IVF to screen out embryos likely to have a low IQ or high disease risk could soon become available in the US. THE prospect of creating intelligent designer babies has been the subject of ethical debate for decades, but we have lacked the ability to actually do it. That may now change, thanks to a new method of testing an embryo’s genes that could soon be available in some IVF clinics in the US, New Scientist can reveal. The firm Genomic Prediction says it has developed genetic screening tests that can assess complex traits, such as the risk of some diseases and low intelligence, in IVF embryos. The tests haven’t been used yet, but the firm began talks last month with several IVF clinics to provide them to customers. For intelligence, Genomic Prediction says that it will only offer the option of screening out embryos deemed likely to have “mental disability”. However, the same approach could in future be used to identify embryos with genes that make them more likely to have a high IQ. “I think people are going to demand that. If we don’t do it, some other company will,” says the firm’s co-founder Stephen Hsu. For many years, it has been possible to do simpler genetic tests on embryos as part of IVF. For example, parents at risk of having a child with cystic fibrosis have the option to undergo IVF and select an embryo that doesn’t carry the gene behind the condition. It is also possible to screen for several other conditions caused by a single gene, as well as those caused by chromosomal abnormalities, such as Down’s syndrome. However, most medical conditions are influenced by hundreds of genes, which has made it impossible to screen out embryos with a high risk of heart disease, for example, or select embryos with a low likelihood of experiencing depression. This is true for traits like intelligence too.

11-15-18 New techniques may soon make designer babies a reality – are we ready?
IT IS hard to think of an area of science more controversial than the genetics of intelligence. Now it is about to get exponentially more contentious. For a long time, DNA testing couldn’t tell us anything useful about someone’s IQ or any other traits affected by multiple genes, such as diabetes or cancer risk. But new “polygenic” techniques for analysing many genetic regions at once have begun to make this possible. This week, we report on the first company offering fertility clinics a test for screening IVF embryos for disease risk and low intelligence (see “Exclusive: A new test can predict IVF embryos’ risk of having a low IQ”). With this news, it is unlikely to be long before some clinic, somewhere, starts using a similar approach to offer prospective parents the ability to pick out embryos that look most genetically promising for a high IQ. As if this isn’t controversial enough, it may only be the beginning. As our understanding of traits governed by multiple genes grows, it may also become possible to screen for embryos that are more or less likely to have a range of other features, be it sexuality, autism or susceptibility to depression. We already live in a world where wealthy individuals are willing to cross borders to pay for procedures at the sharpest edge of fertility research. The first baby created using a particular three-parent technique was born two years ago to Jordanian parents helped by US scientists working in Mexico, for example. While many prospective parents won’t want to genetically fine-tune their children this way, the idea of a near-designer baby will undoubtedly appeal to some. The desire to maximise a future child’s intelligence, mental health or physical attractiveness could be enough to prompt couples with no fertility problems to seek IVF, just to have this opportunity.

11-15-18 Life may have begun with cells made wholly from simple proteins
Did life begin in a world of proteins? It’s a minority view among origin-of-life researchers but it just got a boost. Researchers have built model cells out of nothing but simple proteins, and those cells can host some of the crucial processes of life. The small compartments within living cells are normally made from lipids, but in 2014, Stefan Schiller of the Albert Ludwig University of Freiburg in Germany and his colleagues made them using proteins instead. “So we asked the question if these ‘organelles’ also represent a plausible prebiotic protocell model,” he says. Proteins are built from long chains of amino acids. Schiller’s team made simple chains just five amino acids long. There are hundreds of naturally occurring amino acids, but the researchers used only seven kinds in their experiment to keep the approach simple and more likely to have occurred spontaneously on early Earth. The chains readily clumped together into spherical containers, which the team describe as “protocells”. This happened in pure water and in water with substances dissolved in it or mixed with alcohol. The protocells survived temperatures up to 100 °C, as well as being mixed with strong acids and alkalis. That implies they could endure “conditions imagined to be present on the early Earth”, says Schiller. The young planet was bombarded with meteorites and may have had a lot of active volcanoes. The team has also found that the protocells have a number of life-like properties. They can house large molecules over periods of weeks, just as living cells must play host to DNA and other substances. This included phospholipids, which most modern cells are made of. They also found that two protocells can fuse together to form one.

11-15-18 Prefer tea or coffee? It may be down to your genes for bitter tastes
Whether you prefer drinking tea or coffee may come down to your genes.Tea and coffee contain bitter components that contribute to their pleasant taste. Both drinks contain bitter-tasting caffeine, while coffee contains another bitter molecule called quinine, which is also found in tonic water. Previous research has found that people taste bitter flavours like caffeine, quinine and an artificial substance called propylthiouracil differently according to the types of taste receptor genes they have. To find out if this variation influences preference for tea or coffee, Daniel Hwang at the University of Queensland in Australia and his colleagues studied the relationship between taste receptor genes and tea and coffee consumption in over 430,000 men and women aged 37 to 73 in the UK. The participants with gene variants that made them taste caffeine more strongly were 20 per cent more likely than the average person to be heavy coffee drinkers, meaning they drank more than 4 cups per day. At the same time, these caffeine “super-tasters” were less likely to drink tea, says Hwang. This may be because people who are better at detecting caffeine are more prone to becoming addicted to its stimulant effects, and coffee contains more caffeine than tea. “But future studies are needed to investigate this,” says Hwang. In contrast, participants with gene variants that made them more sensitive to the tastes of quinine and propylthiouracil were 4 and 9 per cent more likely than the average person to be heavy tea drinkers respectively, meaning they drank more than 5 cups per day. They were also less likely to drink coffee.

11-15-18 Coffee or tea? Your preference may be written in your DNA
Genetic variants may confer sensitivity to the flavor of caffeine or other bitter chemicals. Whether people prefer coffee or tea may boil down to a matter of taste genetics. People with a version of a gene that increases sensitivity to the bitter flavor of caffeine tend to be coffee drinkers, researchers report online November 15 in Scientific Reports. Tea drinkers tended to be less sensitive to caffeine’s bitter taste, but have versions of genes that increase sensitivity to the bitterness of other chemicals, the researchers found. It’s long been thought that people avoid eating bitter foods because bitterness is an indicator of poison, says John Hayes, a taste researcher at Penn State who was not involved in the study. The coffee and tea findings help challenge that “overly simplistic ‘bitter is always bad, let’s avoid it’” view, he says. In the new study, researchers examined DNA variants of genes involved in detecting the bitter taste of the chemicals, caffeine, quinine — that bitter taste in tonic water — and propylthiouracil (PROP), a synthetic chemical not naturally found in food or drink. Other bitter components naturally in coffee and tea may trigger the same taste responses as quinine and PROP do, Hayes says. Researchers in Australia, the United States and England examined DNA from more than 400,000 participants in the UK Biobank, a repository of genetic data for medical research. Participants also reported other information about their health and lifestyle, including how much tea or coffee they drink each day.


ANIMAL INTELLIGENCE and ZOOLOGY

11-20-18 Dead sperm whale found in Indonesia had ingested '6kg of plastic'
A dead sperm whale that washed ashore in a national park in Indonesia had nearly 6kg (13 lbs) of plastic waste in its stomach, park officials say. Items found included 115 drinking cups, four plastic bottles, 25 plastic bags and two flip-flops. The carcass of the 9.5m (31ft) mammal was found in waters near Kapota Island in the Wakatobi National Park late on Monday. The discovery has caused consternation among environmentalists. "Although we have not been able to deduce the cause of death, the facts that we see are truly awful," Dwi Suprapti, a marine species conservation co-ordinator at WWF Indonesia, was quoted as saying by the Associated Press. It was not possible to say whether the plastic had caused the whale's death because of its advanced state of decay, she added. In a tweet, WWF Indonesia gave the breakdown of what was found inside the animal: "Hard plastic (19 pieces, 140g), plastic bottles (4 pieces, 150g), plastic bags (25 pieces, 260g), flip-flops (2 pieces, 270g), pieces of string (3.26kg) & plastic cups (115 pieces, 750g)." The use of throwaway plastic is a particular problem in some South East Asian countries, including Indonesia. Five Asian nations - China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand - account for up to 60% of the plastic waste that ends up in oceans, according to a 2015 report by environmental campaigner Ocean Conservancy and the McKinsey Center for Business and Environment. Plastics bags are believed to kill hundreds of marine animals there each year. In June, a pilot whale died off southern Thailand after swallowing 80 plastic bags. A report released earlier this year warned that the amount of plastic in the ocean could triple in a decade unless litter was curbed. At the end of last year, the UN said marine life was facing "irreparable damage" from the approximately 10 Million Tonnes of plastic waste ending up in the oceans every year.

11-19-18 Termites in Brazil have covered an area the size of Britain in mounds
In the dry forests of northeastern Brazil, an area of 230,000 square kilometres – larger than Great Britain – is covered in 200 million regularly spaced mounds, each about 2.5 metres tall. These mounds, known to locals as murundus, are the waste earth dug out by termites to create a vast network of underground tunnels, and some of them are up to 4000 years old. The termites have excavated over 10 cubic kilometres of earth to build the tunnels and mounds, making this the biggest engineering project by any animal besides humans, according to Stephen Martin from the University of Salford, UK. Despite the enormous area covered by the mounds, they have hardly been studied until now. Martin came across them while researching honeybees in the Brazilian state of Bahia. “I looked on Google Earth and realised they’re everywhere in this area, but I could find nothing about them online,” he says. The mounds are very conspicuous in areas where the forest has been cleared, but most of them are covered by caatinga forests, which consist of small, thorny trees that shed their leaves seasonally. These leaves are the only food for the termites, but they only fall once a year at most, and disappear quickly. This sporadic food supply is the reason for the vast network of tunnels and the resulting mounds. “It’s like if all the supermarkets were open for one day a year — the person with the fastest car would get the most food,” says Martin. “You need a network of roads to get to the supermarket as quickly as you can because you’re in open competition with other colonies.” Conservative estimates of the ages of the mounds they studied range from 690 to 3820 years old.

11-19-18 Attenborough agreed with decision to save penguins' lives
The Dynasties crew took a rare decision to intervene when a group of stranded emperor penguins faced death on the BBC Nature Series. Sir David Attenborough told the executive producer that he would have done the same.

11-19-18 Hemp fields offer a late-season pollen source for stressed bees
Low-THC cannabis attracts a wide range of bee species collecting food for larvae. Fields of hemp might become a late-season pollen bonanza for bees. Industrial hemp plants, the no-high varieties of cannabis, are becoming a more familiar sight for American bees as states create pilot programs for legal growing. Neither hemp nor the other strains of the Cannabis sativa species grown for recreational or medicinal uses offer insects any nectar, and all rely on wind to spread pollen. Still, a wide variety of bees showed up in two experimental hemp plots during a one-month trapping survey by entomology student Colton O’Brien of Colorado State University in Fort Collins. Bees in 23 out of the 66 genera known to live in Colorado tumbled into O’Brien’s traps, he reported November 11 at Entomology 18, the annual meeting of the U.S. and two Canadian entomological societies. O’Brien and his adviser, Arathi Seshadri, think this is the first survey of bees in cannabis fields. “You walk through fields and you hear buzzing everywhere,” O’Brien said. He caught big bumblebees, tiny metallic-green sweat bees and many others clambering around in the abundant greenish-yellow pollen shed by the male flowers.

11-19-18 Wombat poop: Scientists reveal mystery behind cube-shaped droppings
Scientists say they have uncovered how and why wombats produce cube-shaped poo - the only known species to do so. The Australian marsupial can pass up to 100 deposits of poop a night and they use the piles to mark territory. The shape helps it stop rolling away. Despite having round anuses like other mammals, wombats do not produce round pellets, tubular coils or messy piles. Researchers revealed on Sunday the varied elasticity of the intestines help to sculpt the poop into cubes. "The first thing that drove me to this is that I have never seen anything this weird in biology. That was a mystery," Georgia Institute of Technology's Patricia Yang said. After studying the digestive tracts of wombats put down after road accidents in Tasmania, a team led by Ms Yang presented its findings at the American Physical Society Division of Fluid Dynamics' annual meeting in Atlanta. "We opened those intestines up like it was Christmas," said co-author David Hu, also from Georgia Tech, according to Science News. The team compared the wombat intestines to pig intestines by inserting a balloon into the animals' digestive tracts to see how it stretched to fit the balloon. In wombats, the faeces changed from a liquid-like state into a solid state in the last 25% of the intestines - but then in the final 8% a varied elasticity of the walls meant the poop would take shape as separated cubes. This, the scientists explain, resulted in 2cm (0.8in) cube-shaped poops unique to wombats and the natural world.

11-18-18 Wombats are the only animals whose poop is a cube. Here’s how they do it.
The elasticity of wombats’ intestines helps to shape their distinctive poops. Of all the poops in the world, only wombats’ are shaped like cubes. The varied elasticity of the wombat’s intestines helps the marsupials to sculpt their scat into cubelike nuggets, instead of the round pellets, messy piles or tubular coils made by other mammals, researchers reported November 18 at the American Physical Society Division of Fluid Dynamics meeting in Atlanta. Wombats mark their territories with small piles of scat. Cuboid poops stack better than rounder ones, and don’t roll away as easily. But cubic shapes in nature are very unusual, says mechanical engineer David Hu of Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. Making and maintaining flat facets and sharp corners takes energy. So it’s surprising that the wombat’s intestines — which look much like those of any other mammal — would create that shape. When an Australian colleague sent Hu and his colleague Patricia Yang the intestines from two roadkill wombats collecting frost in his freezer, “we opened those intestines up like it was Christmas,” Hu says. The intestines were packed with poop, Yang says. In humans, a poop-filled bit of intestine stretches out slightly. In wombats, the intestine stretches to two to three times its regular width to accommodate all of the feces.

11-18-18 Palm oil: One woman's fight to save 'the last place on Earth'
There is only one place in the world where orangutan, rhinos, elephants and tigers still co-exist in the wild. Environmental activist Farwiza Farhan is fighting to protect this last wilderness, Sumatra's Leuser Ecosystem. In 2012, her NGO, Yayasan HAkA, sued an oil palm company that had cleared forest under an illegally issued permit. She says she is driven by a sense of injustice that no-one is speaking up for the wildlife. "You see the orangutan - the mother and baby swinging from tree to tree - and amongst all this different wildlife you see all these different macaques screaming at you. But then from moment to moment, you get silence when you hardly hear anything, before the echo of the forest comes back to life. "In the distance sometimes you can hear the sound of chain saws, you can hear the sound of destruction coming in closer. You know that there's something you can do to prevent that from happening. You know there's something you can do to stop the chainsaw from going deeper into the forest. "I became a conservationist initially because I watched too many BBC Blue Planet [programmes]. I fell in love with the ocean, with the coral reef, when I was quite young and I set in my heart that this was what I was going to do for the rest of my life. "Then, when I actually graduated as a marine biologist, I came back to the same patch of reef where I fell in love with the ocean the first time, to see it completely destroyed - all because of climate change - and that really made me angry. "So, in my naïve mind back then, I thought, maybe I'll try to protect forests. Maybe it's a bit easier, maybe I just need to put a fence around it and it'll be fine. And of course I was proven wrong time and time again. "The main threat to the Leuser Ecosystem has been pressure for exploitation and unsustainable development. Big companies that want to grow palm oil - one of the most profitable crops in the world - threaten to decimate this very fragile ecosystem.

11-16-18 We won’t save rhinos by selling their horns
South Africa’s government seems set on making the black rhino extinct, said Don Pinnock. There are only 5,000 of the mammals left in the wild, many of them in this country, and hundreds are killed each year by poachers, who sell rhino horn on the Asian market, where it’s used in traditional medicines. So it beggars belief that South Africa’s environmental affairs department now plans to ask the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species to grant an exemption from the global ban on rhino horn sales. The department’s aim is to increase sales of horn taken from rhinos farmed by South African breeders, while cracking down further on poaching—to “stop the bad guys so the good guys can make a profit.” Yet selling legally harvested horn will only signal to the vast Asian market that it’s ethically OK to buy it and cause the market to balloon. The surge in demand—and price—will in turn spur poachers of wild rhinos to step up their slaughter. The department calls its plan demand management. That sounds smart, “but it’s nuts.” There’s a hidden backstory here and questions need to be asked. Why is a department focused on conservation being driven by market concerns? “Are brown envelopes involved?”

11-16-18 A street-savvy dog in the Philippines followed his owner to work by taking a solo ride on public transport.
A street-savvy dog in the Philippines followed his owner to work by taking a solo ride on public transport. Commuters said the pet, Vince, boarded a bus and calmly took a seat between two passengers. Cellphone footage showed him staring out the window at passing traffic, and then wagging his tail after spotting his owner on the back of a truck in the next lane. “Oh my! It’s Vince! Why did you follow us? You crazy dog!” she said as Vince hoped off the bus to meet her. The pair climbed aboard the truck and rode away together.

11-15-18 Wildlife preserve in British Columbia gets $11m boost
Canada is investing C$14.6m ($11m; £8.5m) to set aside 7,900 hectares for wildlife conservation in the Rocky Mountains. The funding will help expand a tract of land in southeastern British Columbia (BC) already set aside for protection. The initiative is led by a conservation group, BC and the federal government, and will help protect some 40 species. Those at-risk species include grizzly bears, wolverines, peregrine falcons, and mountain caribou. The investment, which comes from both the federal and provincial governments, will mark the 10th anniversary of the largest private land acquisition for conservation in Canadian history by Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC), a non-profit national land conservation organisation. The funds cover two-thirds of the eventual cost of purchasing the land and will help add 14% more protected land to the existing Darkwoods Conservation Area, a region of valleys, mountains and lakes that connects to an existing network of wildlife management areas and parkland. The additional land will improve protection for both wildlife and plant life in the Next Creek watershed region, which lies within the world's only inland temperate rainforest. NCC BC acting vice-president Nancy Newhouse says the land that will be acquired is "right at the heart" of Darkwoods and will be protected from the threat of industrial or recreational activity. It is also near the Canada-US border and will help create a protected corridor for wild species to roam. The entire Darkwoods area is larger than nearby Waterton Lakes National Park in southern Alberta, a 505 sq km (50,500 hectares) park that borders Montana's Glacier National Park. Ms Newhouse said the scale of the conservation area - from lakeshores to alpine peaks - "is almost hard to comprehend". "You walk into an old-growth forest and there is a depth of smell that is intoxicating," she told the BBC. "There's a mystery around every corner."

11-15-18 Antibiotic resistance genes are showing up in Antarctic penguins
Humans have spread antibiotic resistance so far and wide that diverse clusters of microbes with resistance genes are now turning up in the gut microbiome of penguins in Antarctica. Antibiotic-resistance can occur naturally, and microbes with resistance genes have been found in ancient Antarctic soils before. Now we know the microbes are also present in the animals living on those soils. Vanessa Marcelino at the University of Sydney, Australia, and her colleagues compared the diversity of gut microbes carrying antibiotic resistance genes in Gentoo penguins living around two Antarctic bases. Penguins near the busy O’Higgins Base carried more of the genes in their microbiome than those living near the smaller, less-populated Gabriel González Videla Base. “Birds I think are maintaining those genes in the environment and distributing them around,” says Marcelino. The penguins’ microbiomes were examined as part of a broader study into birds that carry microbes with antibiotic resistance genes. The researchers took microbiome samples from 110 ducks and wading birds at sites in Antarctica and Australia. “You swab the bums of the birds,” says Marcelino. RNA sequencing revealed the diversity and expression levels of known antibiotic-resistance genes.