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ATHEISM and HUMANISM

3-24-19 Protesters take to streets of Pittsburgh after policeman acquitted of killing black teen
Protesters took to the streets in Pennsylvania on Saturday after a white police officer who fatally shot an unarmed black teenager was acquitted. Michael Rosfeld, 30, shot 17-year-old Antwon Rose three times in the back as he tried to flee police last June. He was charged with criminal homicide last year but a jury on Friday fully acquitted him after a four day trial. Amid the protests on Saturday, shots were reportedly fired at the offices of Mr Rosfeld's lawyer. Hundreds of demonstrators marched through downtown Pittsburgh and blocked roads. They gathered at an intersection called Freedom Corner and chanted Rose's age. Some held signs that bore the names of other black men who had been killed by police in recent years. Rose's father, Antwon Rose Sr, addressed the crowds in Pittsburgh and and called for peaceful protest. "It's very painful to see what happened, to sit there and deal with it," he said. "I just don't want it to happen to our city no more." He added: "I want peace, period, all the way around ... Just because there was violence doesn't mean that we counter that with violence." The death of Antwon Rose is one of many high-profile cases of unarmed black men dying at the hands of white US police officers - cases that have ignited protests and civil unrest across the country. Lee Merritt, who represented the family, said Rose was shot in the back but "did not pose a threat to the officers". "The verdict today says that that is OK," he said. The family is now filing a federal civil rights lawsuit against Mr Rosfield, lawyers say. (Webmaster's comment: The police can not be found guilty of murdering any black! And there are millions left out there to kill.)

3-24-19 Can human mortality be hacked?
A fringe group of scientists and tech moguls think they're closing in on the fountain of youth. Here's everything you need to know. A fringe group of scientists and tech moguls think they're closing in on the fountain of youth. Here's everything you need to know:

  1. What is biohacking? Silicon Valley is built on the idea that technology can optimize, or "hack," any aspect of our lives — so why not the human life span? A growing number of "transhumanists" are convinced that, in time, human beings can be transformed through bioengineering, and that aging will be curable just like any other malady.
  2. How could that be achieved? That's the million-dollar question, but Harvard Medical School researchers believe they might know where to start. Humans grow fewer blood vessels in their muscles with age, which is believed to result in the gradual breakdown of vital organs.
  3. What other techniques are used? One poster boy of biohacking is Bullet­proof Coffee founder Dave Asprey, who recently turned 45 and is certain he'll live to be at least 180. Last year, a doctor extracted stem cells from Asprey's bone marrow and injected them in organs and joints throughout his body, a process Asprey intends to repeat twice annually in the belief he's refreshing his body with brand-new cells
  4. How big is the movement? There are tens of thousands of biohacking entrepreneurs and basement hobbyists in the U.S., many of whom gather at an annual convention in Austin. Some biohackers are even experimenting with the gene-editing technology CRISPR and have posted videos in which they inject themselves with homemade treatments.
  5. Are scientists on board? Most are either skeptical or firmly opposed to any effort that purports to reverse aging or extend human life spans indefinitely. University of Michigan professor Richard Miller wrote an article co-signed by 28 aging experts, who called de Grey's life-span goal "so far from plausible that it commands no respect at all within the informed scientific community."
  6. Is superlongevity truly desirable? Biohackers claim they're only accelerating evolution, but many ethicists believe something much graver is at stake. Political scientist Fran­cis Fuku­yama cited the transhumanist movement as among the most serious threats to humanity — not only because of the potentially disastrous consequences of botched treatments but also because of the equally alarming possibilities of success.
  7. The cyborgs among us: The most fanatical biohackers don't just use technology — they want to integrate it into their bodies. "Grinders" — a term adapted from a dystopian comic book — install hardware in themselves to gain superpowers of a sort.

3-23-19 Italy joins China's New Silk Road project
Italy has become the first developed economy to sign up to China's global investment programme which has raised concerns among Italy's Western allies. A total of 29 deals amounting to €2.5bn ($2.8bn) were signed during Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to Rome. The project is seen as a new Silk Road which, just like the ancient trade route, aims to link China to Europe. Italy's European Union allies and the United States have expressed concern at China's growing influence. The new Silk Road has another name - the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) - and it involves a wave of Chinese funding for major infrastructure projects around the world, in a bid to speed Chinese goods to markets further afield. Critics see it as also representing a bold bid for geo-political and strategic influence. It has already funded trains, roads, and ports, with Chinese construction firms given lucrative contracts to connect ports and cities - funded by loans from Chinese banks. The levels of debt owed by African and South Asian nations to China have raised concerns in the West and among citizens - but roads and railways have been built that would not exist otherwise. On behalf of Italy, Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio, leader of the populist Five Star Movement, signed the umbrella deal (memorandum of intent) making Italy formally part of the Economic Silk Road and The Initiative for a Maritime Silk Road for the 21st Century. Ministers then signed deals over energy, finance, and agricultural produce, followed by the heads of big Italian gas and energy, and engineering firms - which will be offered entry into the Chinese market. China's Communications and Construction Company will be given access to the port of Trieste to enable links to central and eastern Europe. The Chinese will also be involved in developing the port of Genoa.

China's New Silk Road: New Silk Road and Maritime Silk Road

3-22-19 China is Number One in computing power
The U.S. is building a $500 million supercomputer that can reach “exascale” performance. That’s a quintrillion calculations per second, seven times faster than today’s fastest system. China has 227 machines on the top 500 list of the world’s most powerful computers, compared with 109 for the United States.

3-22-19 I know you are, but what am I?
The U.S. is at it again with its outrageous “slanders of China’s governance” in the Xinjiang region, said the Global Times. The latest State Department human rights report claims, in “almost hysterical” language, that China is oppressing its Uighur Muslim population there through mass detention, forced disappearance, and even torture and rape. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo actually said that China was “in a league of its own when it comes to human rights violations.” Such pious denunciations are especially rich coming from the only developed country where guns kill tens of thousands of people each year. If we wanted to sling epithets, China could describe America as “the biggest battlefield in an era of peace.” The U.S. also routinely supports corporate rights over human rights. Just look at its reaction to the apparently deadly flaw in Boeing’s 737 Max aircraft: Before finally grounding the plane, the U.S. secretary of transportation flew in one “in an attempt to trick the public into relaxing its vigilance.” Meanwhile, of course, America does nothing about the growing chasm between rich and poor or the spread of racial hatred. We used to think the West was superior, but now we see the U.S. as it is: “selfish, paranoid, and unpredictable.” Its criticism does not sting.

3-22-19 New Zealand: Demanding gun control after massacre
Jane Bowron in The Press (New Zealand). Australian white supremacist Brenton Tarrant, 28, has been charged with murder after he allegedly shot dead at least 50 Muslims and wounded some 50 more at two separate mosques in Christchurch last week, using a head-mounted video camera to live-stream the slaughter on Facebook. Those killed—the youngest 3 years old, the oldest 77—were “our fellow New Zealanders,” many of them refugees who “came to this country in search of safe harbor.” The toll would have been even higher but for an act of heroism by an Afghan refugee, said Nick Perry in The Sydney Morning Herald (Australia). As the gunman opened fire on the second mosque, worshipper Abdul Aziz, 48, grabbed “the first thing he could find, a credit card machine, and ran outside screaming ‘Come here!’” Aziz hurled the machine at the shooter, who ran to his car, and then picked up a rifle abandoned by the gunman and used it bash in the attacker’s windshield, causing him to speed away. Police “managed to force the car from the road and drag out the suspect soon after.” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been our rock in this tragedy, said Claire Trevett in The New Zealand Herald (New Zealand). Dressed “in a head scarf, her face dragged with grief,” she mourned with the Muslim community in Christchurch. Then she turned steely. She promised to announce new gun control reforms within 10 days. Ardern told the attacker—who allegedly used five legally bought guns in the massacre, including two semi-automatic rifles—that “you may have chosen us, but we utterly reject and condemn you.” And when President Donald Trump asked in a phone call what the U.S. could do to help, she pointedly told him to offer “sympathy and love for all Muslim communities.” (Webmaster's comment: We haven't heeard a word of course! Trump targets Muslims!) That’s what Kiwis have done, said Ben Leahy, also in the Herald. We’ve piled up flowers outside mosques and Islamic centers and donated millions of dollars to funds for victims’ families. And with mosques closed over security concerns, Christian churches have stepped in to organize memorials and events. It’s a start, said Gaurav Sharma in Stuff.co.nz. We’ve been emphasizing that the attacker wasn’t from New Zealand, but there is racism and bigotry here too. When I ran for office in the city of Hamilton in 2017, people refused to shake my hand “because my skin tone did not match theirs.” So the next time your local Lions Club wears blackface for a parade, or you see a gas station with “the Confederate flag proudly hanging” out front, “speak up.” We must also make sure the government keeps its word on gun control, said Mike O’Donnell, also in Stuff. The shooter should never have been allowed to buy an AR-15—basically an “assault rifle in drag”—or 40- and 60-round magazines. I’m a hunter, but nobody needs such a gun. And “after last week, morally they won’t be acceptable.”

3-22-19 Cheering egg boy
A 17-year-old who smashed an egg on the head of a far-right Australian senator has become a national hero. Sen. Fraser Anning drew condemnation from across the political spectrum last week after he said immigration policies that let “Muslim fanatics” move to New Zealand were the real reason a white supremacist gunman slaughtered at least 50 people at two mosques in Christchurch. As Anning spoke to reporters in Melbourne, teenager William Connolly cracked an egg on the back of his head. Anning then punched the teen, who was arrested. Fans of Connolly raised more than $31,000 for his legal fees; the teen—nicknamed EggBoi online—said he would donate the bulk to the mosque victims.

3-22-19 The rise of white supremacist terrorism
President Trump last week dismissed the idea that white nationalism is a growing international threat in the aftermath of an anti-Muslim massacre in Christchurch, New Zealand that left at least 50 people dead and 50 wounded, some gravely. The shooter, 28-year-old Brenton Tarrant of Australia, opened fire at two mosques during midday prayers last week. Shortly before the killings, the shooter published a 74-page manifesto replete with white nationalist talking points and memes, especially the idea of “white genocide,” or the idea that whites are being replaced through immigration and intermarriage. The shooter railed against Muslims and immigrants, describing them as “invaders in our lands.” (See International.) Trump expressed “warmest sympathy and best wishes” to the people of New Zealand without explicitly mentioning the Muslim victims. When asked if he considers white nationalism a growing threat, the president replied, “I don’t really think so. I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems.” In the U.S., far-right terrorists have been responsible for 71 percent of extremist killings since Sept. 11, 2001. Last year was the deadliest for white supremacist violence since the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. The New Zealand shooter claimed to be inspired by Dylann Roof, the American white supremacist who killed eight black people at a church in Charleston, S.C., in 2015, as well as Anders Breivik, the right-wing Norwegian terrorist who massacred 77 people in 2011. To inspire fellow radicals, the New Zealand shooter live-streamed the carnage to his Facebook page. The social network has since removed 1.5 million copies of the 17-minute video, which at least 200 people watched live.

3-22-19 Everyone must own a semi-automatic killing machine
Missouri State Rep. Andrew McDaniel recently introduced a bill that would require adults ages 18 to 35 to own “at least one” AR-15 semi-automatic rifle. After the shooting massacre in New Zealand, the Republican lawmaker clarified that the “McDaniel Militia Act” was an attempt to provoke “the other side,” and “to show that our Second Amendment rights are under attack.” He said he doesn’t “actually support mandates.” (Webmaster's comment: The answer to more killing with guns is more guns!)

3-22-19 House divider
Rep. Steve King (R.-Iowa) shared a cartoon on Facebook last week joking about the prospect of another U.S. civil war. Below an image of red states and blue states, the meme read, “One side has about 8 trillion bullets, while the other side doesn’t know which bathroom to use.” King captioned the post, “Wonder who would win…” along with a winking emoji. He later deleted the post. An ally of President Trump and member of Congress since 2003, King was stripped of his committee assignments in January after defending the terms “white supremacy” and “white nationalist.” Asked at an Iowa town hall this week, “Do you think a white society is superior to a nonwhite society?” King demurred, saying, “I don’t have an answer for that. That’s so hypothetical.” He recently announced plans to seek re-election.

3-22-19 Platforms: Curbing the technology of hate
The massacre at two New Zealand mosques last week was a first, said Kevin Roose in The New York Times: “an internet-native mass shooting.” The accused gunman, Brenton Tarrant, broadcast the killings live on Facebook, with video designed to pander to the internet’s white supremacist subcultures. It was shared on all the major internet platforms, and in the hours following the shooting, not only Facebook but also YouTube, Twitter, and Reddit scrambled to take it down. The shooter’s actions beforehand suggest an acute awareness of his audience—he even paused in his broadcast to say “Subscribe to PewDiePie,” a reference to a popular right-wing YouTube influencer. The heinous acts were carried out with the knowledge that the platforms “create and reinforce extremist beliefs.” They have algorithms that “steer users toward edgier content” and weak policies to contain hate speech, and they’ve barely addressed how to remove graphic videos. Extremists are exploiting this with increasing skill, said Joan Donovan in The Atlantic. The New Zealand attacker “knew that others would be recording and archiving” his video so that it could be re-uploaded in the wake of removals. In the first 24 hours after the attack, “Facebook alone removed 1.5 million postings of the video” and was still working around the clock days later. Actually, there is technology that can flag “obvious indicators” of extremism and prevent hate speech from spreading, said Ben Goodale in The New Zealand Herald (New Zealand). After all, if I searched online for a suitcase, there would be smart ad software targeting me instantly. These platforms compose digital profiles indicating what “I’m interested in—my age range, gender, hobbies, reading preferences, sporting affiliations, you name it.” All trackable, all within seconds. So why can’t the platforms pick up “the obvious indicators” of fanaticism? Simply saying “we can’t help it” or “that’s not our job” is no longer acceptable, said Margaret Sullivan in The Washington Post. Facebook puts “tremendous resources and ingenuity” into maximizing clicks and advertising revenue. They rely on low-paid moderators and faulty algorithms to control content. But just as major news companies have dealt with such questions for centuries, “editorial judgment” from the platforms is not merely possible. “It’s necessary.” (Webmaster's comment: Block these White Nationalist Bastards from even getting 1 second of time on the Internet!)

3-22-19 Fox News: Should Carlson be fired?
“It is high time” for some soul-searching at Fox News, said Max Boot in The Washington Post. Over recent days, the liberal watchdog Media Matters for America has been leaking audio clips of star Tucker Carlson “saying reprehensible things” on Bubba the Love Sponge’s radio program between 2006 and 2011. Carlson called women “extremely primitive” and Iraqis “semiliterate primitive monkeys”; joked about sex with underage girls; used the “C-word”; and said “white men” deserve credit for “creating civilization.” Amid widespread calls for his firing, Carlson portrayed himself as a victim of a liberal “mob” and refused to admit his comments—which delighted white supremacists—were wrong. His Fox colleague Jeanine Pirro caused a similar furor when she questioned Rep. Ilhan Omar’s allegiance to the Constitution because the Minnesota Democrat wears a hijab. Pirro was reportedly suspended but not fired. Why? Do Fox News’ “advertisers and network bosses, from Rupert Murdoch on down” really want to be complicit in injecting Carlson’s and Pirro’s “poison into the body politic”? “I don’t like many of Tucker Carlson’s ideas,” said David French in NationalReview.com. But as with other targets of the outrage police, “we should respond to his arguments with arguments of our own,” not by demanding that his life and career be destroyed or boycotting his advertisers. Bear in mind, Media Matters spends “millions of dollars and countless man-hours” searching for “gotcha” audio and video clips, old tweets, and 10-year-old writings to destroy prominent conservatives. Its goal: To silence voices it doesn’t want to hear. “Our nation cannot maintain its culture of free speech if we continue to reward those who seek to destroy careers rather than rebut ideas.” (Webmaster's comment: Tucker promotes the worst within us. Why shoud Fox allow him to spew his racist hatred and hatred of women?)

3-22-19 U.S. visa ban on ICC
The U.S. announced last week that it will deny or revoke the visas of any International Criminal Court staff who investigate alleged war crimes committed by U.S. forces or by troops from allied nations such as Israel. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned that Washington could also impose economic sanctions “if the ICC does not change its course.” In late 2017, the ICC began collecting information on war crimes in Afghanistan—including murder, torture, and rape—allegedly committed by U.S. troops, the CIA, the Taliban, and various militant groups since May 2003. The ICC has received 700 submissions from alleged victims. Human Rights Watch called the visa ban “an outrageous effort to bully the court and deter scrutiny of U.S. conduct.” (Webmaster's comment: This is right out of the Hitler playbook!)

3-22-19 Crushing dissent
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman launched a secret campaign to silence domestic dissenters—through abduction, detention, and torture—more than a year before a Saudi hit squad murdered and dismembered journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul last October. U.S. officials who have read classified reports on the campaign told The New York Times that the so-called Saudi Rapid Intervention Group—some of whose members were involved in Khashoggi’s death—has conducted at least a dozen operations, forcibly repatriating Saudis from other Arab countries and torturing them at palaces belonging to the crown prince and his father, King Salman. One detainee, a university lecturer who wrote about women in the kingdom, tried to kill herself last year after undergoing psychological torture. The Saudi government said it takes the allegations “very seriously.” (Webmaster's comment: Another of Trump's buddies!)

3-22-19 Supreme Court gives Trump immigration win
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled this week that legal immigrants who’ve been convicted of a deportable crime can be detained without a hearing, even if the immigrant was released from prison years earlier. Civil liberties groups had argued that the law mandating detention applied only for a short period after a prison discharge. The court’s conservative bloc sided with the Trump administration, which, like the Obama administration, argued that the immigrants can be picked up for deportation at any time after their sentences end. Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito said it was “hard to swallow” the argument that an immigrant “must be arrested on the day he walks out of jail,” adding, “an official’s duties are better carried out late than never.” (Webmaster's comment: So much for Freedom and Liberty in America!)

3-22-19 Black, Latino and White drivers
A Stanford University study of 100 million traffic stops found that black and Latino drivers were stopped significantly more often than white drivers. This is true even though illegal contraband like guns and drugs were found in 36 percent of searches of white drivers, compared with 32 percent for black drivers and 26 percent for Latinos.

3-22-19 Growing up as a gay, Muslim man
Queer Eye star Tan France is probably the only openly gay Muslim man on television, said Colin Crummy in The Guardian (U.K.). Before Netflix’s whole-life makeover show debuted with France as its fashion expert, he was living in relative anonymity in Salt Lake City, selling a line of stylishly modest clothing for Mormon women. He had no close gay friends outside his husband, an ex-Mormon with whom he bonded over their shared conservative upbringings. “I didn’t realize there were white people who didn’t drink until I turned up in Salt Lake City,” says France. He grew up the son of Pakistani immigrants in Doncaster, England. “The word ‘gay’ was never mentioned in the household,” he says. “I knew I was gay—I just didn’t know the word.” He liked crossing his legs, like a female teacher he admired, and playing with and dressing up Barbie dolls, but instinctively knew he had to police himself carefully to hide any evidence of femininity. “I didn’t play with the doll’s house when other people were around.” France’s parents did not go to his wedding, but since the Netflix show debuted, they’ve begun to acknowledge his husband by name. He doesn’t blame them for their struggle to adjust. “They had planned a whole heterosexual life for me,” he says, “and it was just shocking to hear that plan was never going to come to fruition.”

3-22-19 Hacking mortality
A fringe group of scientists and tech moguls think they’re closing in on the fountain of youth.

  1. What is biohacking? Silicon Valley is built on the idea that technology can optimize, or “hack,” any aspect of our lives—so why not the human life span?
  2. How could that be achieved? That’s the million-dollar question, but Harvard Medical School researchers believe they might know where to start.
  3. What other techniques are used? One poster boy of biohacking is Bulletproof coffee founder Dave Asprey, who recently turned 45 and is certain he’ll live to be at least 180.
  4. How big is the movement? There are tens of thousands of biohacking entrepreneurs and basement hobbyists in the U.S., many of whom gather at an annual convention in Austin.
  5. Are scientists on board? Most are either skeptical or firmly opposed to any effort that purports to reverse aging or extend human life spans indefinitely.
  6. Is superlongevity truly desirable? Biohackers claim they’re only accelerating evolution, but many ethicists believe something much graver is at stake.
  7. The cyborgs among us: The most fanatical biohackers don’t just use technology—they want to integrate it into their bodies.

7-10-18 If democratic socialism is so bad, why is Norway so great?
The spectacular upset victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in her recent New York congressional primary election has catapulted the topic of democratic socialism to the top of America's political discussion. Conservatives have argued that the leftist politics of Ocasio-Cortez represent a policy program guaranteed to fail, and a sure electoral loser for Democrats. (Plenty of moderate liberals, including my colleague Damon Linker, have cosigned the latter part of that argument, too.). Let's set aside electoral politics for now and focus solely on democratic socialist policies. Helpfully, we have a country that very closely approximates the democratic socialist ideal. It's a place that is not only very far from a hellish dystopia, but also considerably more successful than the United States on virtually every social metric one can name. I'm talking about Norway. Norway is not some destitute hellscape. Indeed, not only are Norwegian stores well-stocked with toilet paper, it is actually considerably more wealthy than the U.S., with a GDP of over $70,000 per person. Even when you correct for the moderately large oil sector (which accounts for a bit less than a quarter of its exports), it still has a cutting-edge, ultra-productive economy — far from some petro-state living off oil rents like Dubai. Socially, it routinely ranks as the happiest (2017) or second-happiest (2018) country in the world. The rest of the Nordics are also usually among the top five as well — even more remarkable when you factor in the phenomenon of seasonal affective disorder and the extreme northerly position of the Scandinavian peninsula. On a snapshot of other quality-of-life measures, Norway boasts: A life expectancy of 81.7 years, An infant mortality rate of two per 1,000 live births, A murder rate of 0.51 per 100,000, An incarceration rate of 74 per 100,000. How does all that compare to the United States? Well, our economy is somewhat less wealthy, with per capita GDP of $59,500 — but to be fair, that is about the highest outside of oil-rich or tax haven countries. Socially, however, the picture is much worse: America ranks in the mid-teens for happiest countries, while its life expectancy is two years behind Norway, and actually fell in 2016 and 2017. America's infant mortality rate is three times higher. Its murder rate is over 10 times higher, as is its incarceration rate.

3-22-19 Pompeo says God may have sent Trump to save Israel from Iran
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said it is "possible" that President Donald Trump was sent by God to save the Jewish people from Iran. In an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network during a high-profile trip to Israel, he said it was his faith that made him believe that. He also praised US efforts to "make sure that this democracy in the Middle East, that this Jewish state, remains". The comments came on a Jewish holiday celebrating rescue from genocide. The holiday, Purim, commemorates the rescue of the Jewish people by Queen Esther from the Persians, as the interviewer noted to Mr Pompeo. He was asked if "President Trump right now has been sort of raised for such a time as this, just like Queen Esther, to help save the Jewish people from an Iranian menace". "As a Christian, I certainly believe that's possible," said Mr Pompeo, a former Kansas senator and CIA director. "I am confident that the Lord is at work here," he added. Since becoming president, Mr Trump has sought a hard-line stance against Iran. In May 2018, Mr Trump withdrew the US from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal, calling it "a horrible one-sided deal". Also on Thursday, Mr Trump announced a change in US policy toward the Golan Heights, saying that the territory Israel has occupied from Syria since 1967 should be recognised as part of Israel. During Mr Pompeo's tour of the Middle East, he came under fire for holding a conference call and only inviting "faith-based" members of the media to join. (Webmaster's comment: This is SICK! They are trying to make Trump into some kind of devine being!)

3-22-19 A 9-year-old U.S. citizen on her way to school was reportedly detained at the border for more than 30 hours
A nine-year-old girl who is a U.S. citizen says she was "scared" and "completely by myself" while being detained at the border for more than 30 hours. Thelma Galaxia told NBC San Diego that her two children, 9-year-old Julia Isabel Amparo Medina and 14-year-old Oscar Amparo Medina, were on Monday being driven to school from Tijuana to San Diego by her friend, who told them to walk across the border after being worried that heavy traffic would make them late to school. But the children were reportedly then detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection and not reunited with their mother for more than 30 hours. Galaxia says officers told her daughter she didn't look like her passport picture, which was taken when she was younger. They reportedly accused her of lying about her identity and told her she would be released to her mother if she told them she was really her cousin. Galaxia also says officers made her son sign a document identifying his sister as his cousin. "He was told that he would be taken to jail and they were going to charge him for human trafficking and sex trafficking," she said. The two were finally released when Galaxia called the Mexican consulate after being informed her children had been detained. U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials told NBC San Diego that the young girl gave them "inconsistent info" and that they detained her so they could "perform due diligence in confirming her identity and citizenship," but they did not explain why this took more than a full day.

3-21-19 Christchurch shootings: New Zealand to ban military style weapons
New Zealand will ban all types of semi-automatic weapons and assault rifles following the Christchurch attacks, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said. New Zealand's PM said she hoped the ban would be in place by 11 April. The announcement comes less than a week after 50 people were killed at two mosques, allegedly by a lone gunman. Ms Ardern said she expected new legislation to be in place by 11 April, saying: "Our history changed forever. Now, our laws will too." All of the dead have now been formally identified, police have confirmed. Australian Brenton Tarrant, a self-proclaimed white supremacist, has been charged with one murder and was expected to face further charges. However, police said on Thursday that the person he was formally accused of killing had been wrongly declared dead. They said they had apologised to the woman and her family, and that the charge sheet would be updated when the suspect appeared in court on 5 April. "Six days after this attack, we are announcing a ban on all military style semi-automatics (MSSA) and assault rifles in New Zealand," Ms Ardern said in a news conference. "Related parts used to convert these guns into MSSAs are also being banned, along with all high-capacity magazines." An amnesty has been imposed so the owners of affected weapons can hand them in, and a buy-back scheme will follow. Ms Ardern said the buy-back could cost up to NZ$200m ($138m; £104m), but "that is the price that we must pay to ensure the safety of our communities".The prime minister has called the Christchurch attacker a terrorist and said she will not utter his name. The gunman, armed with semi-automatic rifles including an AR-15, is believed to have modified his weapons with high-capacity magazines - the part of the gun which stores ammunition - so they could hold more bullets. As of Thursday, several weapons have been reclassified as military style semi-automatic firearms, making them harder to buy. "For many people, you will now be in unlawful possession of your firearm," Police Commissioner Mike Bush said.

3-21-19 US gun laws: Why it won't follow New Zealand's lead
Six days after the Christchurch mosque attack, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced a ban on "military-style" semi-automatic rifles, prompting questions in the US. Following a series of mass shootings in the US in recent years, there has been little in the way of sweeping gun-control reforms. On the federal level, at least, the interest and attention in new legislation has led to almost no action in decades, despite numerous polls showing widespread public support for measures like strengthened background checks and banning certain types of high-capacity gun magazines and military-style assault rifles. The Trump administration has issued a regulatory ban on bump-stock modifications that allow semi-automatic weapons to fire like machine guns, and there have been some tweaks to the background check database for gun-store purchases. Last March, Donald Trump entertained the notion of more ambitious, "comprehensive" legislation, telling senators pro-gun lobbyists had little power over him. But no such talk from the president since. Part of the reason New Zealand is ability to move quickly, of course, is that it's a parliamentary democracy, ensuring that the government is controlled entirely by one party or a politically compatible coalition. That's not the only explanation for why the US has charted a different course, however. Here are five big obstacles that stand in the way of the kind of the US taking the kind of quick, major changes to firearm policy being advanced in New Zealand.

  1. The NRA: The National Rifle Association is one of the most influential interest groups in US politics - not just because of the money it spends on lobbying politicians, but also because of the engagement of its five million members.
  2. Gerrymandering: Despite these advances for the party, the House electoral playing field is still tilted toward Republicans, who tend to be for gun rights.
  3. The filibuster: ow that gun-control bills have hopes in the House of Representatives, the Senate - where the rural-urban divide plays itself out on the state level - becomes the biggest obstacle to legislative success
  4. The courts: Some of the laws have run up against another barrier, however - the US judicial system. In recent years the Supreme Court has twice ruled that the right to own personal weapons such as handguns is enshrined in the constitution.
  5. The enthusiasm gap: Perhaps the single biggest obstacle to new gun-control laws at the national level is that opponents tend to hold fiercely to their beliefs, while support for new regulation tends to ebb and flow around each new instance of violence.

3-21-19 What America can learn from the world's happiest countries
What America can learn from the world's happiest countries. Item: The life expectancy of the United States was recently found to have declined for the third straight year, something typically associated with all-out war, economic crises, or political collapse. According to the CIA, as of 2017 the U.S. ranks 42nd among nations for life expectancy, behind Malta and Greece. Item: The annual United Nations report on the world's happiest nations was released Wednesday, where the U.S. fell from 18th to 19th place. Meanwhile, the happiest country for the second straight year was Finland. Filling out the rest of the top 5 were Denmark, Norway, Iceland, and the Netherlands. This raises the question: What might the U.S. learn from the world happiness grandmasters? A good place to start would be copy-pasting their economic and social welfare institutions. On first blush, there are some obvious big differences that almost certainly explain much of the difference. All these nations have extensive welfare states, with universal health care, generous benefits for parents, seniors, disabled people, the unemployed, and so on. If someone in Finland has an accident or run of bad luck, the state will catch them — and it will also help new parents out with the enormous expenses of child-rearing. That means both a better life for people who have kids, lose their job, or get sick, plus lower stress for everyone else who knows society will protect them from misfortune. But in the U.S., with its grossly dysfunctional health-care system and tattered safety net, such events can be personally devastating. For instance, children cause fully 36 percent of U.S. poverty, and some 42 percent of American cancer patients lose their entire life savings after diagnosis. Anu Partenen testifies that when she moved from Finland to America, she quickly started having panic attacks over health insurance worries. Citizens of the Nordic states also work far less than Americans. If Americans cut their hours-worked figure down to the levels of Denmark or Norway, that would mean over two additional months of vacation (again associated with happiness) every year. Additionally, a proper welfare state means all these countries have very low poverty rates. All the top five are in the bottom seven of the OECD poverty rankings, while the U.S. has the third-highest poverty rate among those countries (behind South Africa and Costa Rica). Poverty is both soul-crushing and physically harmful, and certainly drags down the U.S. happiness average. That in turn raises the issue of general economic inequality. The U.S. has the sixth-highest inequality in the OECD, while Iceland, Finland, Norway, and Denmark have the fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh-lowest respectively. That means the top of the U.S. income distribution is very far from the bottom — which again unlike Finland, can easily mean utter destitution.

3-21-19 Italy takes a shine to China's New Silk Road
China's president lands in Rome on Thursday, where he is expected to sign a landmark infrastructure deal that has raised eyebrows and suspicions among Italy's Western allies. Xi Jinping's project is a New Silk Road which, just like the ancient trade route, aims to link China to Europe. The upside for Italy is a potential flood of investment and greater access to Chinese markets and raw materials. But amid China's growing influence and questions over its intentions, Italy's Western allies in the European Union and United States have concerns. The New Silk Road has another name - the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) - and it involves a wave of Chinese funding for major infrastructure projects around the world, in a bid to speed Chinese goods to markets further afield. Critics see it as also representing a bold bid for geo-political and strategic influence. It has already funded trains, roads, and ports, with Chinese construction firms given lucrative contracts to connect ports and cities - funded by loans from Chinese banks. The levels of debt owed by African and South Asian nations to China have raised concerns in the West and among citizens - but roads and railways have been built that would not exist otherwise: In Uganda, Chinese millions built a 50km (30 mile) road to the international airport, In Tanzania, a small coastal town may become the continent's largest port, In Europe too, Chinese firms managed to buy 51% of the port authority in Piraeus port near Athens in 2016, after years of economic crisis in Greece. Italy, however, will be the first top-tier global power - a member of the G7 - to take the money offered by China. It is one of the world's top 10 largest economies - yet Rome finds itself in a curious situation. The collapse of the Genoa bridge in August killed dozens of people and made Italy's crumbling infrastructure a major political issue for the first time in decades. And Italy's economy is far from booming.

3-21-19 Genetics studies are too white – that’s failing people and science
Three-quarters of people in studies linking genetics and health are of white European descent, leading us to miss vital clues, says researcher Scott Williams. We are at the beginning of a revolution in medicine, in which a burgeoning knowledge of the genetics of disease promises treatments tailored to individual needs. But there is a big obstacle in the way: our failure to incorporate diverse, representative populations in our studies. The incomplete knowledge of the genetics of disease and treatment response across populations is not only affecting treatment outcomes for individuals – it is also hampering our understanding of the basic science. Genetic research includes several types of studies. Recently, genome-wide association studies (GWAS), which use data sets comparing millions of genetic variants in those with a specific disease to those without it, have come to predominate. Environmental risks can also be included to paint a more complete picture of disease risk. These types of studies have successfully identified many genetic variants that correlate with the likelihood of disease or treatment efficacy and safety. But they don’t always carry explanatory power across the whole population: GWAS findings often aren’t replicated across all ethnic groups. This makes it particularly important to have representative samples in such studies. In a paper published in Cell, together with my colleagues Giorgio Sirugo and Sarah Tishkoff at the University of Pennsylvania, I analysed ethnic diversity in studies held in the GWAS Catalog jointly maintained by the US National Human Genome Research Institute and the European Bioinformatics Institute. Over half of the GWAS had been conducted in populations of white European descent, far outweighing the proportion of the world’s population this group represents. When we looked at the numbers of individuals of different ethnicities within the studies, the findings were even more stark: more than 78 per cent were white European. Just 2 per cent were African and 1 per cent Hispanic.

3-20-19 Is religion good or bad for humanity? Epic analysis delivers an answer
A scientific review of 10,000 years of history is finally revealing the unexpected truth behind religion's role in human civilisation. RELIGION has given us Bach’s cantatas and pogroms, algebra and the Spanish Inquisition. The debate over whether religion lifts humanity higher or brings out our basest instincts is ancient and in some ways reassuringly insoluble. There are so many examples on either side. The last word goes to the most erudite – until someone more erudite comes along. The latest round of the eternal conundrum was triggered by the seemingly religiously inspired 9/11 attacks in the US, after which “new atheists” rose to prominence. The likes of evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins and neuroscientist Sam Harris argue that rational beings following the evidence must inevitably conclude that religion is harmful. They, in turn, have been accused of cherry-picking their evidence. You might conclude that it is impossible to make a moral judgement about such a multifaceted cultural phenomenon. Nevertheless, in recent years, there have been attempts to dissect the question using a scientific scalpel. Researchers have tried to work out how humanity has been shaped by things like moralising philosophies, world religions, all-seeing gods and rituals. The studies offer intriguing insights, but each presents just a fragment of the full story, and sometimes they generate competing ideas. What is needed is a way to assess them and to build a more holistic picture of the role religion has played in the evolution of human societies. And that is what I and my colleagues have been doing. But first, what do we mean by “good” and “bad”? Should religion be considered good if it has inspired magnificent art but enslaved millions? Would it be judged bad if it ensured equality at the price of free expression? Such assessments risk miring us in moral quicksand. Besides, how could these intangibles be weighed against one another? A more empirical approach might tally lives lost or harmed against those saved or enhanced as a result of religion. But any attempt to estimate these numbers would be hopelessly subjective. Alternatively, we can ask whether religion has helped societies grow and flourish. Is it, as many believe, a form of social glue that builds cooperation? As it happens, there is surprising agreement about the moral significance of cooperation. A study involving 60 societies, ranging from small groups to the very largest, found that people everywhere equate “good” with cooperative behaviours and “bad” with non-cooperative ones. Admittedly, societies differ in the kinds of cooperation they value: some are more authoritarian, others more egalitarian. Nevertheless, this approach allows us to ask a more tangible question about religion: what role, if any, has it played in establishing the cooperative behaviours that have allowed human societies to grow from small hunter-gatherer groups to vast empires and nation states? One obvious place to begin is the Axial Age, a period when many researchers think civilisation pivoted towards modernity. Around the middle of the first millennium BC, the thinking goes, a set of cultural changes swept the world. Novel notions of equality radically altered the relationship between rulers and ruled, stabilising societies and allowing them to take a leap in size and complexity. Religion is thought to have played a role. Indeed, the Axial Age concept emerged from the observation that a handful of important prophets and spiritual leaders – among them Buddha, Confucius and Zoroaster, or Zarathustra – rose to prominence in that period, preaching similar moralistic ideologies.

3-20-19 Amnesty International says US air strikes 'killed Somali civilians'
Amnesty International says US air strikes have been killing civilians in Somalia, in a possible violation of international humanitarian law. The rights group said it had recorded 14 civilian deaths in five recent air strikes on territory held by jihadist al-Shabab militants. The US has stepped up its air war in Somalia, carrying out 110 strikes in the past two years. It says the strikes killed more than 800 people, none of them civilians. According to the US military, its drones and manned aircraft carried out 47 air strikes in Somalia in 2018. They have already conducted more than half that number of strikes in the first three months of 2019. The US military's Africa Command, or Africom, says it seeks to avoid civilian deaths, and insists the only casualties from its strikes have been "terrorists". However, this claim has been challenged in an Amnesty International report, entitled The Hidden US War in Somalia. The rights group said it had analysed five recent air strikes in the Lower Shabelle, a region outside Mogadishu that is largely under al-Shabab control. The report said 14 civilians had been killed and seven injured in the strikes. Its conclusion was based on 150 interviews with witnesses and relatives of the dead, as well as photographic evidence, satellite imagery and bomb fragments. The report highlighted a US military strike in the early hours of 12 November 2017, near the village of Darusalam. According to Amnesty, the strike killed three local farmers who were resting in the open after digging irrigation canals. The US military said at the time that the strike had killed al-Shabab militants. Brian Castner, Amnesty International's senior crisis adviser on arms and military operations, said the civilian deaths indicated that US secrecy over its role in Somalia's war had effectively provided "a smokescreen for impunity". (Webmaster's comment: Innocent men, women and children are being killed by the United States in a country we are not even at war with!)

3-20-19 Christchurch shootings: Jacinda Ardern calls for global anti-racism fight
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has called for a global fight to root out racist right-wing ideology following last week's deadly attack on two mosques in Christchurch. In one of her first interviews since then, she told the BBC that she rejected the idea that a rise in immigration was fuelling racism. Fifty people were killed and dozens more wounded in Friday's gun attacks. The first funerals, of a father and son from Syria, took place on Wednesday. Hundreds of mourners gathered at a cemetery near the Linwood Islamic Centre in Christchurch, one of two places of worship targeted. Australian Brenton Tarrant, 28, has been charged with murder. Fifty people died in the attack. Asked about the rise of right-wing nationalism she said: "This was an Australian citizen but that is not to say that we do not have an ideology in New Zealand that would be an affront to the majority of New Zealanders." She said there was a responsibility "to weed it out where it exists and make sure that we never create an environment where it can flourish". "But I would make that a global call," she added. "What New Zealand experienced here was violence brought against us by someone who grew up and learned their ideology somewhere else. If we want to make sure globally that we are a safe and tolerant and inclusive world we cannot think about this in terms of boundaries." She defended New Zealand's record on accepting refugees, saying: "We are a welcoming country. I utterly reject the idea that in any way in trying to ensure that we have a system that looks after those who choose to call New Zealand home, that we have perpetuated an environment where this kind of ideology can exist." (Webmaster's comment: Outlaw all Racist Right-wing Ideology! Arrest them, try them, sentence them, eliminatate them from society!)

3-20-19 Supreme Court sides with Trump on immigration detention
The Supreme Court has given the Trump administration an immigration policy victory by ruling criminal noncitizens can be detained at any time. The 5-4 ruling states federal officials may detain convicted immigrants indefinitely after they finish serving prison time, even years after. Advocates had argued the law only allowed for detention immediately after immigrants were released from prison. The court's liberal justices dissented from the conservative decision. Tuesday's ruling reversed a lower court decision that had found the existing law to mean federal authorities must detain convicted immigrants within 24 hours of their release from criminal detention. Civil rights lawyers had claimed after that deadline, immigrants should be permitted a bond hearing so they were not forced to remain in custody indefinitely while their deportation case went forward. The Trump administration, however, said the government should be allowed to hold convicted noncitizens at any time - and the conservative-majority top court has agreed. In the conservative opinion, Associate Justice Samuel Alito said the strict ruling was to ensure homeland security officials were not constrained by inappropriate deadlines to detain convicted noncitizens. "As we have held time and again, an official's crucial duties are better carried out late than never," he wrote, adding that such a tight deadline was often not feasible logistically speaking. Justice Alito also noted that it was not meant to target noncitizens who had served time and continued to lead legal lives in their communities, and said the decision still allows for those individuals to challenge the law on constitutional grounds if they are detained. Associate Justice Stephen Breyer wrote the dissent for the court's liberals - and in a rare move, delivered it from the bench, US media reported. "The greater importance of the case lies in the power that the majority's interpretation grants the government," Justice Breyer said in his summary. "It is a power to detain persons who committed a minor crime many years before. And it is a power to hold those persons, perhaps for many months, without any opportunity to obtain bail." (Webmaster's comment: This will mean imprisoned for life for minor offenses in a "Land of Freedom and Justice For All!" The words are a JOKE!)

3-20-19 Lawsuit as unvaccinated teen banned by US school in outbreak
An unvaccinated Kentucky teenager is suing after his Catholic school excluded him amid a chickenpox outbreak that has sickened at least 32 pupils. Jerome Kunkel, 18, has not contracted the virus, but he has been banned by Our Lady of the Sacred Heart/Assumption Academy in Walton. His lawsuit argues the vaccine is "immoral, illegal and sinful" and his rights have been violated. The Northern Kentucky Health Department banned unvaccinated pupils on 14 March. The notification said that due to the outbreak of chickenpox, students who have not been vaccinated or are already immune to the infection must stay home "until 21 days after the onset of rash for the last ill student or staff member". The statement, which also banned all extracurricular activities, said it came "in direct response to a public health threat and was an appropriate and necessary response to prevent further spread of this contagious illness". Jerome Kunkel's father, Bill Kunkel, said the vaccines were derived from aborted foetuses, which goes against his family's religious beliefs. "I don't believe in that vaccine at all and they're trying to push it on us," he told WLWT-News. Some viruses used to make vaccines are grown with cells descended from matter that was sourced from two human foetuses electively aborted in the 1960s. But no new human cells have been used since then to produce vaccines, according to health authorities and drug manufacturers. The Catholic Church has told its members it is morally justifiable to use these vaccines, though it wants alternative treatments developed without "using cell lines of illicit origin". (Webmaster's comment: Being UNVACCINATED is "immoral, illegal and sinful"! It endangers us all. We should lock him up!)

3-19-19 Mexico violence: With only one gun shop, why all the murders?
There were more than 33,000 killings in Mexico in 2018 - but there's only one legal gun store in the country. US weapons are feeding the crisis in Mexico - as is a high demand for drugs in the US. (Webmaster's comment: The United States is the Vendor Of Death for the rest of the world!)

3-18-19 Christchurch shootings: NZ cabinet backs tighter gun laws
New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern has said she will announce detailed gun law reforms within days, after an attack on two mosques left 50 people dead. Ms Ardern said her cabinet had backed gun law changes "in principle". Australian Brenton Tarrant, 28, a self-described white supremacist, has been charged with murder. Police say the killer used military-style assault weapons modified to make them more deadly - which is not illegal under current legislation. No specific details were given by the prime minister at her press conference on Monday, but she said they would made clear soon. "This ultimately means that within 10 days of this horrific act of terrorism we will have announced reforms which will, I believe, make our community safer," she said. Ms Ardern was appearing alongside her coalition partner and Deputy PM Winston Peters, who has previously opposed changes. He said he fully supported the prime minister on the issue, adding: "The reality is that after one pm on Friday, our world changed forever and so will our laws." Ms Ardern said: "We have made a decision as a cabinet, we are unified." She also announced that an inquiry would look into the lead-up to the attacks, and what might have been done differently.


FEMINISM

3-23-19 Michael Jackson: Barbra Streisand apologises for abuse remarks
The singer Barbra Streisand has apologised after she was criticised for sympathising with Michael Jackson over child abuse accusations against him. Streisand told The Times newspaper that she believed the allegations against the late superstar but said his actions "didn't kill" the accusers. She later wrote on Instagram that she was "profoundly sorry for any pain or misunderstanding" caused. Jackson's brothers have denied that the singer sexually abused children. The accusations were made in a new documentary - Leaving Neverland - which features testimony from two men, Wade Robson and James Safechuck, who say they were abused hundreds of times by Michael Jackson from the ages of seven and 10. Asked whether she believed Mr Robson and Mr Safechuck, Streisand said she "absolutely" did. But she continued: "His sexual needs were his sexual needs, coming from whatever childhood he has or whatever DNA he has. "You can say 'molested', but those children, as you heard say [Robson and Safechuck], they were thrilled to be there. They both married and they both have children, so it didn't kill them." (Webmaster's comment: Pathetic! So sexually abusing children is alright if you have the need and it doesn't kill them? Sick!)

3-22-19 Choosing unfit men over fit women
Austria’s civil service isn’t getting enough young recruits, said Claudia Aigner. At age 18, all Austrian men must choose between six months of military service or nine months of civilian service. Of those who meet physical fitness standards, more than half choose the shorter stint in the military. But a whopping 24 percent of all young men aren’t deemed fit to serve at all, because they are either obese, unhealthy, disabled, or mentally ill. The result is that while the army is doing fine, the civilian service has become severely understaffed. So some politicians have come up with a ridiculous proposal to shunt those men deemed unfit to serve in the Austrian military straight into the civilian corps for their national tour of duty. “Seriously?” Do we really want to let “obese psychos” work as ambulance drivers, home health aides for the sick and elderly, or with children? I have a radical idea that would get some warm bodies in these unfilled posts: Why not open up compulsory service to—gasp—women? Since “women are known to be the caring sex,” most of them would probably choose a civilian job over a stint in the military, and the problem would be solved in a jiffy. Yet in sexist Austria, this logical solution hasn’t even been proposed.

3-22-19 Women have a new weapon against postpartum depression, but it’s costly
The newly approved drug brexanolone simulates a natural steroid to alleviate symptoms. Approval of the first and only treatment in the United States specifically targeting postpartum depression offers hope for millions of women each year who suffer from the debilitating mental health disorder after giving birth. The new drug brexanolone — marketed under the name Zulresso and approved on March 19 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration — is expected to become available to the public in late June. Developed by Sage Therapeutics, based in Cambridge, Mass., the drug is costly and treatment is intensive: It’s administered in the hospital as a 60-hour intravenous drip, and a treatment runs between $20,000 and $35,000. But researchers say that it could help many of the estimated 11.5 percent of U.S. new moms each year who experience postpartum depression, which can interfere with normal bonding between mothers and infants and lead to feeling hopeless, sad or overly anxious. Here’s a closer look at the drug, its benefits and some potential drawbacks. How exactly brexanolone works is not known. But because the drug’s chemical structure is nearly identical to the natural hormone allopregnanolone, it’s thought that brexanolone operates in a similar way. Allopregnanolone enhances the effects of a neurochemical called gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, which stops nerve cells in the brain from firing. Ultimately this action helps quell a person’s anxiety or stress. During pregnancy, the concentration of allopregnanolone in a woman’s brain spikes. This leads some neurons to compensate by temporarily tuning out GABA so that the nerve cells don’t become too inactive. Levels of the steroid typically return to normal quickly after a baby is born, and the neurons once again responding to GABA shortly thereafter. But for some women, this process can take longer, possibly resulting in postpartum depression.

3-22-19 Mississippi bans abortion after foetal heartbeat can be detected
The governor of Mississippi has signed a law banning abortion after a foetal heartbeat can be detected, which is about six weeks into a pregnancy. The law, which becomes one of the most restrictive in the US, is expected to be challenged in courts before it is due to take effect in July. Critics say the ban's intent is "outlawing the procedure before most women even know they are pregnant". It comes amid several new restrictions on abortion among conservative states. "We think this is showing the profound respect and desire of Mississippians to protect the sanctity of that unborn life whenever possible," Governor Phil Bryant said after signing Senate Bill 2116 on Thursday. He added that he and other Republican politicians are "haunted by the hundreds of thousands of babies that are murdered across the nation" every year. (Webmaster's comment: These are not Babies! They are little balls of unconscious protoplasm!) A ban on abortions after 15 weeks was passed in Mississippi in November 2018, but was almost immediately blocked by a judge who later overturned the law saying it "unequivocally" violated women's constitutional right to an abortion. Critics in Mississippi say that the bill will probably be overturned, and that the state is wasting money by mounting a legal defence. Lt Gov Tate Reeves, who also supported the bill said the state would pay "whatever it costs to defend this lawsuit, because I care about unborn children". Only one Republican in the chamber, which is reportedly the most male-dominated statehouse in the country, voted against the bill. Representative Missy McGee told the Clarion Ledger: "I cannot support legislation that makes such hard-line, final decisions for other women." (Webmaster's comment: Brute males seek to control every aspect of a women's reproductive life! Starting from the first rape to birth!)

3-21-19 Child abuse may change brain structure and make depression worse
A study of over a hundred people’s brains suggests that abuse during childhood is linked to changes in brain structure that may make depression more severe in later life. Nils Opel at the University of Münster, Germany, and his colleagues scanned the brains of 110 adults hospitalised for major depressive disorder and asked them about the severity of their depression and whether they had experienced neglect or emotional, sexual or physical abuse during childhood. Statistical analysis revealed that those who experienced childhood abuse were more likely to have a smaller insular cortex – a brain region involved in emotional awareness. Over the following two years, 75 of the adults experienced another bout of depression. The team found that those who had both a history of childhood abuse and a smaller insular cortex were more likely to have a relapse. “This is pointing to a mechanism: that childhood trauma leads to brain structure alterations, and these lead to recurrence of depression and worse outcomes,” says Opel. The findings suggest that people with depression who experienced abuse as children could need specialised treatment, he says. Brain changes can be reversible, says Opel, and the team is planning to test which types of therapies might work best for this group.

3-20-19 US mum 'abused kids who performed on family YouTube channel'
A US mother whose seven adopted children regularly performed as superheroes on her family's YouTube channel has been charged with child abuse. Machelle Hackney, from Arizona, and her two adult sons were arrested on Friday by local police. Ms Hackney has denied abusing her children. The adoptees regularly appeared on the popular Fantastic Adventures channel, dressed up as superheroes. The channel has more than 700,000 subscribers and, in total, a quarter of a billion views. With new videos uploaded about once a week, the Fantastic Adventures featured the children in fantastical situations, with animated effects representing their various superpowers. The children, aged about six to 15 according to The Washington Post, have now been removed from Ms Hackney's care. Police accuse Ms Hackney of starving, pepper-spraying, beating and isolating the children. Authorities also allege that they were forced to take ice baths and at least one of the boys experienced physical abuse to his genitals. One child was allegedly found in a cupboard when police arrived. "Officers came in contact with the six other children, who appeared to be malnourished, due to their pale complexion, dark rings under their eyes, underweight, and they stated they were thirsty and hungry," police documents said. Ms Hackney has been charged with seven counts of child abuse, five of unlawful imprisonment and two of child molestation, which she denies. Her two sons Logan Hackney and Ryan Hackney were charged with failing to report child abuse.

3-20-19 India election 2019: Are women any safer?
The rape and subsequent death of a female student in Delhi in 2012 put the global spotlight on the problem of gender-based violence in India. Years later, the topic remains an issue in the Indian general election campaign. BBC Reality Check asks whether India has become a safer place for women. (Webmaster's comment: It's much safer than in the United States! About 40,000 rape cases were reported in India in 2016 out of a population of 1.324 billion. In 2016 in America 95,730 rape cases were reported out of a population of 322 million. THAT'S OVER 9 TIMES THE RATE OF RAPES IN INDIA. AMERICA IS THE RAPE CAPITAL OF THE WORLD!)

3-20-19 Tayla Harris: Australian rules football player's online trolling compared to sexual abuse
Online trolling of Australian rules footballer Tayla Harris in response to a picture of her taken during a match has been compared to "sexual abuse". Harris was targeted with derogatory comments underneath a picture of her playing for the Carlton Blues that was posted on social media. AFL writer Sarah Black told the Credit to the Girls podcast: "It's abhorrent and disgusting, and it's constant. "Some [comments] were harassment, some were just blatant misogyny." Harris, who was pictured playing in her side's win over the Western Bulldogs, called on the AFL and the police to take action, saying it could be the start of "domestic violence and abuse". "My hamstring is OK but derogatory and sexist comments aren't," Harris said on Instagram. She also likened the trolls to "animals" on Twitter. (Webmaster's comment: Don't compare Male Brutes to animals. Male Brutes are worse than any animal. The only animal that rapes it's own children is the human male.) A number of Australian sportswomen supported Harris, including Carlton team-mate Darcy Vescio, former world champion netballer-turned-AFL player Sharni Layton and former Olympic cycling champion Anna Meares. Layton said: "I'm furious. I'm so proud of Tay for standing up. Enough is enough of this trolling. AFL, I'm asking you to stand up and not stand for this anymore." The controversy has also raised the issue of how media companies moderate comments after Channel Seven deleted the picture in an effort to combat the trolling. The company reposted the photo after a backlash. Seven, an AFL broadcast partner, apologised to Harris, saying the decision to remove the image from its Facebook and Twitter accounts "sent the wrong message", after initially defending the move. The broadcaster says its intention was to "highlight" Harris' "incredible athleticism" and that they will "continue to celebrate women's footy".

3-20-19 One in four scientists have experienced harassment or discrimination
A survey of nearly 3700 scientists across Europe and North America suggests that harassment, bullying and discrimination are widespread. A QUARTER of people working in science have experienced sexual harassment, bullying and discrimination over issues ranging from disabilities to diet. The 2019 New Scientist/SRG Salary Survey polled nearly 3700 people across Europe and North America who worked in academia, industry and government agencies. The data revealed a gap of about £10,000 between the average salaries of male and female respondents in the UK. Of the countries surveyed, discrimination and harassment seems highest in the US and Canada. Twenty nine per cent of respondents in North America said they had experienced this at work, compared with 19 per cent of people in the UK and 25 per cent in the rest of Europe. Across all regions, respondents were most likely to say they had experienced discrimination and harassment on the basis of gender, followed by age and race. Men and women both reported encountering such behaviour: in the UK, 23 per cent of women said they had experienced discrimination and harassment, compared with 15 per cent of men. Hollywood’s “Me Too” movement against sexual harassment has spread to many other areas of society. Twitter users have used the #MeTooSTEM banner to allege that some high-profile researchers have harassed and bullied with impunity. Several survey respondents told New Scientist that they believe the career structures within academia make this kind of behaviour more likely to go unchecked. One of the biggest problems may be that senior university researchers bring in large grants from research funders to their institutions. The power is often with the money,” comments Laura Norton at the Royal Society of Chemistry. This can be compounded by hierarchical power structures. “Group leaders are often seen as eminent leaders in their field,” says Norton. “To speak up against those people requires strength.”

1-25-19 The female price of male pleasure
The world is disturbingly comfortable with the fact that women sometimes leave a sexual encounter in tears. The real problem isn't that we — as a culture — don't sufficiently consider men's biological reality. The problem is rather that theirs is literally the only biological reality we ever bother to consider. Research shows that 30 percent of women report pain during vaginal sex, 72 percent report pain during anal sex, and "large proportions" don't tell their partners when sex hurts. Or, since sex is the subject here, what about how our society's scientific community has treated female dyspareunia — the severe physical pain some women experience during sex — vs. erectile dysfunction (which, while lamentable, is not painful)? PubMed has 393 clinical trials studying dyspareunia. Vaginismus? 10. Vulvodynia? 43. Erectile dysfunction? 1,954. That's right: PubMed has almost five times as many clinical trials on male sexual pleasure as it has on female sexual pain. And why? Because we live in a culture that sees female pain as normal and male pleasure as a right. This is especially true where sex is concerned. Faking an orgasm achieves all kinds of things: It can encourage the man to finish, which means the pain (if you're having it) can finally stop. It makes him feel good and spares his feelings. If being a good lover means making the other person feel good, then you've excelled on that front too. Total win. Women have spent decades politely ignoring their own discomfort and pain to give men maximal pleasure. They've gamely pursued love and sexual fulfillment despite tearing and bleeding and other symptoms of "bad sex." They've worked in industries where their objectification and harassment was normalized, and chased love and sexual fulfillment despite painful conditions no one, especially not their doctors, took seriously. (Webmaster's comment: Amazing Article. A must read for all women and men!)

3-19-19 The politics of getting pregnant in Trump's America
In the months leading up to the 2016 presidential election, my best friend told me something deeply personal: "We're not sure if we're having another baby," she said. "We're going to wait and see what happens." Specifically, she was waiting anxiously to see if Donald Trump would win. Other friends shared similar sentiments during the vitriolic election season. "I hear you," I said, as footage of Trump and the words "grab 'em by the pussy" flashed across my TV screen. "These are scary times." The truth was, my partner and I were also thinking about having another baby. And while I shared my friends' trepidations, a voice inside of me whispered: "I am ready now. Do I really have to wait?" My biology concurred, as did my partner. A week after Election Day, I threw up in the toilet. I was pregnant. Anxiety is a normal part of parenthood. When you assume responsibility for a child's life, there comes a deep and relentless sense of vulnerability. Over the past few years, though, the emerging sociopolitical landscape — a climate of polarization and uncertainty — has heightened anxiety for both parents and non-parents across America. The American Psychological Association has recorded an increase in national anxiety among Republicans and Democrats alike; their surveys point to "election stress" and "current political climate" as significant factors. It is hardly a surprise, then, that in such conditions, people feel discouraged about starting or growing their families. Why bring children into a world that makes you despair? This sentiment isn't just anecdotal, it is quantifiable. A recent study found that demand for long-term birth control — like IUDs and implants — rose more than 20 percent in the month after the 2016 election. While the researchers suggest one reason for the rise could be a growing concern about accessibility to birth control, I would venture to guess that anxiety about what the future would be like for kids and parents may have also have played a role here.

3-19-19 Cheer the first women-only spacewalk, but equality is still far away
The first women-only spacewalk is a cause for celebration, but we are still a long way from achieving equality in our space programmes. OVER the past 20 years, 128 astronauts have spacewalked for a total of 1300 hours to assemble and maintain the International Space Station (ISS). Until now, just nine of those people have been women. Next week, when Anne McClain and Christina Koch step into the void, that number will rise to 11. Another milestone will be reached too: this will be the first of the 213 ISS spacewalks to be entirely composed of women. On the one hand, I am excited. On the other, I am trying not to wince. It is hard to be unreservedly enthusiastic when astronauts named Alex, Sergey, Stephen or Yuri spacewalk outside the station twice as often as women. Looking at the historical context doesn’t make this more cheery. Of more than 500 people who have reached space, just 64 have been women. Of 222 (soon to be 224) astronauts who have spacewalked, McClain and Koch are just the 13th and 14th women. Even the composition of this historic spacewalk is random chance, the outcome of Koch joining a rescheduled mission after a launch was aborted in October. Women are less likely to go into space at all, and if they do, they are half as likely to spacewalk. (Webmaster's comment: The first women to walk in space was a Russian in 1984. The first women in space was a Russian in 1963.)

3-19-19 Fund to boost female and black physicist numbers
The Institute of Physics is launching a bursary scheme to help female and black students to become physics researchers. The scheme is funded by one of the world's leading astronomers, Prof Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell. The discoverer of pulsars donated the £2.3m she won as part of an international science award. The initial aim is to increase the number of female physics researchers in the UK from the current level of 22% to more than 30% in the next 10 years. The Bell Burnell Graduate Scholarship Fund will also support students from low socio-economic backgrounds and those who qualify for refugee status. Prof Bell Burnell was awarded a Breakthrough Prize last September for her discovery in 1967 of radio pulsars - rapidly rotating star remnants. Instead, her male collaborators received the award. In an effort to remedy some of the injustices women as well as black and refugee students face in entering a career in physics, Prof Bell Burnell donated her entire prize money to the Institute of Physics (IoP). In an interview with Physics World, Prof Bell Burnell said she hoped that the scheme would bring more diversity into physics departments. "I have been concerned about the shortage of women in physics for a very long time. I'm one of the founders of the Athena SWAN scheme (to support diversity in universities). "I never thought I'd have this kind of money, so it would be nice to enable those who want to - refugees and people from minority and other under-represented groups - to stay on and do PhDs."

3-19-19 Karen Uhlenbeck is first woman to win prestigious maths Abel prize
Mathematician Karen Uhlenbeck has become the first woman to win the Abel prize, sometimes called the Nobel prize of mathematics. She has been awarded the 6 million Norwegian kroner ($700,000) prize for her work in the fields of gauge theory and geometric analysis, which have been credited with far-reaching impact in both mathematics and physics. Gauge theory underpins much of modern theoretical physics, and is integral to cutting-edge research in particle physics, general relativity and string theory. Her work laid the foundations for one of the major milestones of 20th–century physics, the unification of two of the four fundamental forces of nature: electromagnetism and the weak nuclear force. “The holy grail in physics has always been unification of forces,” says Jim Al-Khalili at the University of Surrey, UK, who gave a talk about Uhlenbeck’s prizewinning work today. “She has made a big contribution to the mathematics that allowed us to progress some considerable way along this path.” Among her other meaningful contributions was her work on the calculus of variations, the study of how small changes in one quantity can help find the minimum or maximum value of another. A real-world example comes in blowing soap bubbles, which always adjust their shape so that their surface area is minimised. Predicting comparable structures in higher dimensions is enormously challenging, but Uhlenbeck’s work has greatly helped. Uhlenbeck has always blazed a trail for women in mathematics. Her plenary lecture at the 1990’s International Congress of Mathematicians was the first delivered by a woman since Emmy Noether in 1932.

3-19-19 Bubble maths researcher wins top award
One of the highest prizes for mathematics has been awarded to Prof Karen Uhlenbeck of the University of Texas in Austin, US. Prof Uhlenbeck received the Abel Prize for her work on "minimal surfaces" such as soap bubbles. She is the first woman to win the £530,000 award since it was established in 2002. The award has been made by the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters in Oslo. The chair of the award committee, Hans Munthe-Kaas, said that her work had "dramatically changed the mathematical landscape". "Her theories have revolutionised our understanding of minimal surfaces, such as more general minimisation problems in higher dimensions," he said. An everyday example of a "minimal surface" is a soap bubble. They are interesting from a mathematical point of view in that they pull the soap film into the shape of the least surface - a perfect sphere. Representing and manipulating soap bubbles mathematically enables researchers to model the behaviour of physical phenomena, such as electrical fields. Prof Uhlenbeck's maths has given theoretical physicists the tools with which to tackle some of their greatest puzzles, such as the behaviour of sub-atomic particles and the unification of electromagnetism and nuclear forces. As well as her ground breaking work, Prof Uhlenbeck has been a role model in her field, according to Prof Jim Al-Khalili, a physicist at Surrey University and broadcaster. "Young mathematicians not only know of her work, but they also know how hard she has worked to try and promote maths and encourage young women to get into the field," he told BBC News. Prof Uhlenbeck wanted to be a scientist when she was a young girl, but she became drawn to mathematics when she had started her degree at the University of Michigan.

3-18-19 Boys and girls may have differing attitudes to risk thanks to society
Men are more likely to engage in riskier behaviours than women, or so the stereotype goes. However, according to a study with children, these differences are far from written in stone, but are shaped by society. To find out how gender may affect risk-taking behaviours, Elaine Liu at the University of Houston in Texas and Sharon Xuejing Zuo at Fudan University in Shanghai studied a small town in south-west China, where children from two ethnic groups — Mosuo and Han — attend school together. These two groups have different traditional gender norms, with women typically heading Mosuo families, whereas men typically take this role in Han families. Liu and Zuo asked 352 children in the town to play a lottery game. The 7 to 12-year-olds had to select one of six lottery tickets, labelled 1 to 6, with the higher the number, the riskier the choice but the bigger the possible reward. For example, ticket 1 was guaranteed to win a small prize, while ticket 6 had a 50 per cent chance of scooping a larger prize. Among the youngest children, Mosuo girls tended to favour riskier choices, compared with Mosuo boys. However, this pattern reversed in older children. For Han boys and girls, boys tended to favour riskier ticket choices than girls, and this didn’t change with age. The results show that Mosuo children are influenced by their Han peers rather than biological factors, says Liu.

3-18-19 Women with a twin brother are more likely to drop out of school
Women who have a non-identical twin brother are more likely to drop out of school or higher education than women who have a twin sister. These outcomes may be related to higher levels of testosterone in the uterus from their sibling. Animal studies have shown that testosterone can transfer between fetuses in the uterus and result in developmental changes. Male fetuses are already exposed to oestrogen from their mother, but female fetuses would experience high levels of testosterone only if they shared a uterus with a brother. Krzysztof Karbownik at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, and his colleagues analysed data on births in Norway between 1967 and 1978, which included 13,800 twins out of a total of around 729,000 children born. They included long-term data on the twins’ education and earnings, and found that in each category women who had a male twin scored lower than those who had a female twin. They also had fewer children. The women had a 15.2 per cent higher probability of dropping out of school, a 3.9 per cent lower likelihood of graduating university and had 5.8 per cent fewer children, on average, compared with women who have a female twin. The results didn’t carry over to men – those with twin sisters had similar long-term outcomes as those with twin brothers. These results are consistent with a previous study of historical records in Finland that found similar reductions in fertility rates among women with twin brothers. “They were able to adjust for many other important confounding factors that we had no access to using historical records, such as birth weight and size difference at birth,” says Virpi Lummaa at the University of Turku in Finland, author of that study.

3-18-19 U.S. Men Less Concerned Than in 2017 About Sexual Harassment
Seventeen months after the #Metoo movement exploded, U.S. men are less convinced than they were at the start of the movement that sexual harassment in the workplace is a major problem. They are also more likely to believe that people in the workplace are too sensitive to the problem of sexual harassment. Still, on both measures, men show more concern for the issue today than they did in 1998. (Webmaster's comment: So more men think sexual harassment is not a problem at work. They would believe that of course! They want to continue their abuse of women! Male Brutes in the United States dominate the culture!) Majorities of Americans overall still agree that sexual harassment in the workplace is a major problem (62%) and that people in the workplace are not sensitive enough to it (54%), but fewer do so now than in October 2017. Since then, hundreds of high-profile men in the U.S. have been accused of sexual misconduct. Currently, 53% of men say sexual harassment in the workplace is a major problem, down from 66% in 2017. Likewise, the 46% of men who now say people in the workplace aren't sensitive enough to sexual harassment is down, by eight percentage points. At the same time, the changes in women's views are not statistically significant.

  • 70% of women, 53% of men say workplace sexual harassment is major problem
  • 61% of women, 46% of men think people are not sensitive enough to harassment
  • 48% of women say they were sexually harassed, up six points since 2017

SCIENCE - GLOBAL WARMING and ENVIRONMENT

3-24-19 Mongolia: A toxic warning to the world
All over the world cities are grappling with apocalyptic air pollution but the capital of Mongolia is suffering from some of the worst in the world. And the problem is intrinsically linked to climate change.The country has already warmed by 2.2 degrees, forcing thousands of people to abandon the countryside and the traditional herding lifestyle every year for the smog-choked city where 90% of children are breathing toxic air every day.

3-22-19 Sir David Attenborough to present climate change documentary
Sir David Attenborough is to present an "urgent" new documentary about climate change for BBC One. The one-off film will focus on the potential threats to our planet and the possible solutions. The broadcaster says "conditions have changed far faster" than he ever imagined when he first started talking about the environment 20 years ago. The documentary will show footage showing the impact global warming has already had. It will also feature interviews with climatologists and meteorologists to explore the science behind recent extreme weather conditions, including the California wildfires in November 2018. Last December, Sir David called climate change "humanity's greatest threat in thousands of years" at the opening ceremony of the United Nations climate change conference. He said it could lead to the collapse of civilisations and the extinction of "much of the natural world". Earlier this year he spoke to Prince William at the World Economic Forum about how people must care, respect and revere the natural world. Sir David, 92, said that when he started his career in the mid-1950s, he did not think there was anybody who thought "there was a danger that we might annihilate part of the natural world." "It may sound frightening, but the scientific evidence is that if we have not taken dramatic action within the next decade, we could face irreversible damage to the natural world and the collapse of our societies," he says in the documentary. The BBC said the film would "deliver an unflinching exploration of what dangerous levels of climate change could mean for human populations." "There is a real hunger from audiences to find out more about climate change and understand the facts," said Charlotte Moore, the BBC's director of content. "We have a trusted guide in Sir David Attenborough, who will be speaking to the challenging issues that it raises, and present an engaging and informative look at one of the biggest issues of our time."

3-22-19 Can geoengineering stop global warming?
The worst effects of climate change could be safely curbed by spraying sun-reflecting chemicals into the high atmosphere, a new U.S. study suggests. Scientists have long wondered if it might be possible to artificially cool the planet by blocking some of the sun’s rays with sulfate aerosols—chemicals naturally spewed into the atmosphere by volcanic eruptions—if humanity fails to cut carbon emissions sufficiently to halt the planet’s warming. But some researchers have warned that “solar geoengineering” could further disrupt Earth’s climate, weakening the monsoon and triggering droughts in Asia and Africa. For this new study, scientists used computer models to gauge whether there was a perfect “dose” of sun-blocking aerosols that could slow warming without any adverse side effects. They concluded that if the process were used to eliminate only half of warming, rather than all of it, only 0.4 percent of the inhabited world would see the effects of climate change worsen. Other environmental scientists remain skeptical, reports TheAtlantic.com. They note that the study didn’t actually model what happens when sulfate aerosols are injected into the atmosphere, but only the effect of reducing the strength of the sun’s rays. Co-author David Keith, a Harvard physicist, says the study simply shows that “solar geoengineering could be really useful” and should be seriously investigated by an international scientific panel.

3-22-19 Don’t be afraid to have kids
If you want to help fight climate change, said Tyler Cowen, “have more children.” That might seem counterintuitive, especially among the 38 percent of Americans ages 18 to 29 who recently said in a poll that deterring further global warming should be a factor in the decision to have kids. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez recently opined that climate change will make the future world so inhospitable that not having kids is “a legitimate question.” But the crisis of climate change will not be solved because human beings stop reproducing and using energy. To confront this enormous challenge, there must be a powerful political demand for action, as well as rapid technological innovation to find replacements for fossil fuels. Your kids will be highly motivated to save their own world, and if answers are to be found, they will likely be created by the next generation of scientists and engineers in advanced, already affluent nations like the U.S. “Those kids of yours are more likely to be part of the solution than the problem.” So don’t succumb to pessimism, “guilt, and shame” about having kids. For most of human history, life was very difficult, with unreliable food supplies and widespread disease. The next generation will rise to the challenge.

3-22-19 70 percent of growth in the world’s oil production
The U.S. will account for 70 percent of growth in the world’s oil production over the next five years, according to the International Energy Agency. Production is expected rise to 19.5 million barrels of oil per day by 2024—4 million barrels per day more than in 2018. Most of the increase is expected to come from shale fields, which will account for almost half of U.S. oil output.

3-22-19 6 million tons of plastic waste
Four companies—Coca-Cola, Mars, Nestlé, and Danone—produce 6 million tons of plastic waste every year. Coca-Cola alone produces 3 million tons, but plans to make all of its packaging recyclable within six years.

3-22-19 Massive solar storm threat
Scientists have discovered evidence of a gigantic solar storm that showered the Earth with radioactive particles more than 2,000 years ago—and warned that a similar event today would have potentially catastrophic consequences for our technological infrastructure. Solar storms are caused by powerful magnetic fields on the sun’s surface and can send blasts of highly charged particles such as protons racing toward Earth. When these streams of energetic particles enter the atmosphere, they can damage satellites, power grids, and electrical devices. The solar storms that have occurred in the 70 years since monitoring began have been relatively mild. But isotopes found in ice cores drilled from Greenland’s ice sheet suggest that a storm in 660 B.C. was at least 10 times more powerful than anything detected in the modern era. “If that solar storm had occurred today, it could have had severe effects on our high-tech society,” co-author Raimund Muscheler, from Lund University in Sweden, tells USA Today. “We need to be better prepared.”

3-21-19 The Indonesian paradise island drowning in plastic
Beaches on the Indonesian island of Sumatra are covered in plastic - and some of it is being dumped there by local businesses. Is Indonesia getting to grips with its plastic problem? BBC Indonesia's Mehulika Sitepu reports.

3-21-19 Mount Everest: Melting glaciers expose dead bodies
Expedition operators are concerned at the number of climbers' bodies that are becoming exposed on Mount Everest as its glaciers melt. Nearly 300 mountaineers have died on the peak since the first ascent attempt and two-thirds of bodies are thought still to be buried in the snow and ice. Bodies are being removed on the Chinese side of the mountain, to the north, as the spring climbing season starts. More than 4,800 climbers have scaled the highest peak on Earth. "Because of global warming, the ice sheet and glaciers are fast melting and the dead bodies that remained buried all these years are now becoming exposed," said Ang Tshering Sherpa, former president of Nepal Mountaineering Association. "We have brought down dead bodies of some mountaineers who died in recent years, but the old ones that remained buried are now coming out." And a government officer who worked as a liaison officer on Everest added: "I myself have retrieved around 10 dead bodies in recent years from different locations on Everest and clearly more and more of them are emerging now." Officials with the Expedition Operators Association of Nepal (EOAN) said they were bringing down all ropes from the higher camps of Everest and Lhotse mountains this climbing season, but dealing with dead bodies was not as easy. They point at Nepal's law that requires government agencies' involvement when dealing with bodies and said that was a challenge. "This issue needs to be prioritised by both the government and the mountaineering industry," said Dambar Parajuli, president of EOAN. "If they can do it on the Tibet side of Everest, we can do it here as well."

3-21-19 Jet fuel made from waste plants could be one of the most efficient yet
Plant waste might soon help make flying a little greener. A fuel made from cellulose has such a high energy density that it could make an even better jet fuel than those made from fossil fuels. Flying produces 2 per cent of global carbon emissions, a figure projected to soar to in excess of 10 per cent by 2050. So numerous groups are working on ways of limiting the emissions generated by flying. Ning Li of the Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics in China and his team have found a relatively simple and efficient way to turn cellulose, which is abundant in plants, directly into compounds called polycycloalkanes, which should make an ideal jet fuel.Although the team has yet to test the fuel in an aircraft, its properties suggest it will be good for the job. “Aircraft using this fuel can fly further or carry more than those using conventional jet fuel,” says Li. Fuels for planes need to pack as much energy into the limited space of the fuel tanks as possible, yet still have a very low freezing point so fuel pipes don’t freeze at high altitude. The standard Jet A-1 fuel has a freezing point of -47°C and an energy density of 35 megajoules per litre. Li says his mix of polycycloalkanes freezes at -48°C and should have an energy density of more than 37 megajoules per litre. However, this is an estimate based on the properties of similar molecules rather than direct measurements. Many passenger jets have already flown using fuels made partly from biofuels. But airlines won’t routinely use biofuels until large quantities are available at competitive prices, and it is hard to produce lots of cheap biofuel without wrecking the environment.

3-20-19 Deforestation in the Amazon could raise local temperatures by 1.5C
THE speed at which trees are being cleared in the Brazilian Amazon today could have a similar local warming effect to decades of temperature rises driven by climate change. So say calculations on how deforestation will alter temperatures in the region over the next three decades. Logging has been expanding in Brazil. And the election of populist Jair Bolsonaro as president in January has provoked fears that deforestation could get even worse if he appeases the powerful agribusiness lobby. Barry Sinervo at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and his colleagues have calculated that even with current tree losses, local surface temperatures in the Amazon will rise by an average of about 1.5°C between 2010 and 2050. That will come on top of the 2°C of warming from climate change that the world is on track for by mid-century (PLoS One, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0213368). Deforestation affects local temperatures by changing the amount of sunlight reflected and the rates at which water evaporates from vegetation into the atmosphere. The degree of warming may vary dramatically within the Brazilian Amazon. Some parts of the east, where there is an “arc of deforestation” hundreds of kilometres wide and thousands of kilometres long, could see big local temperature rises even if logging is reduced. In that scenario, where 79,000 square kilometres of trees are cleared by 2050, large tracts of forest won’t get significantly warmer. With business-as-usual deforestation, however, in which 606,000 square kilometres of rainforest disappears, local temperature rises could be widespread. An increase in this logging could make matters much worse. “Any more deforestation and conversion to agriculture will exacerbate these numbers,” says Sinervo.

3-20-19 Cyclone Idai: What's the role of climate change?
Unless a rich benefactor steps in, the role of human-induced climate change in Cyclone Idai is unlikely to be clearly determined. The scientists with the expertise simply don't have the resources to do the large amount of computer modelling required. However, there are a number of conclusions about rising temperatures that researchers have gleaned from previous studies on tropical cyclones in the region. While Cyclone Idai is the seventh such major storm of the Indian Ocean season - more than double the average for this time of year - the long-term trend does not support the idea that these type of events are now more frequent. "The interesting thing for the area is that the frequency of tropical cyclones has decreased ever so slightly over the last 70 years," said Dr Jennifer Fitchett from the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa who has studied the question. "Instead, we are getting a much higher frequency of high-intensity storms." Climate change is also changing a number of factors in the background that are contributing to making the impact of these storms worse. "There is absolutely no doubt that when there is a tropical cyclone like this, then because of climate change the rainfall intensities are higher," said Dr Friederike Otto, from the University of Oxford, who has carried a number of studies looking at the influence of warming on specific events. "And also because of sea-level rise, the resulting flooding is more intense than it would be without human-induced climate change."

3-20-19 Electric cars won't shrink emissions enough - we must cut travel too
Everyone knows that changing the way we get around could reduce climate emissions: cycle and walk rather than drive, take the train, not the plane, and if you must use a car make it an electric one. Now a European Union body is pushing a more controversial solution for decarbonising transport: travelling less. The EU’s position since 2011 has been that “curbing mobility is not an option”. On Wednesday, the European Academies’ Science Advisory Council (EASAC), which represents the EU’s national science academies, published a major report on transport emissions, urging the EU to reverse its stance. It is high time we at least started the discussion. In 2016, the transport sector overtook energy as the UK’s biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions, a milestone the rest of the EU could hit in the 2020s. It is increasingly clear that even a rapid switch to electric and other low-carbon vehicles won’t be enough to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement, which aims to limit global warming to 2°C. “Even if you did all the good things, there is still no way to meet the targets, particularly in freight,” says William Gillett, director of the EASAC’s energy programme. In the EU, almost three-quarters of transport emissions comes from cars, buses and heavy goods vehicles. The bloc supports electric cars, which are getting cheaper but still accounted for just 1.5 per cent of the EU’s new car sales in 2017. Transport can’t be decarbonised in time to meet the 1.5°C warming target outlined by the UN climate science panel last year, says Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in Manchester, UK. “There is a very clear message – if we are serious about Paris we have to reduce the demand for transport too.”

3-19-19 James Bond is making the switch to an electric car, so when will you?
You don’t need to be green to embrace an electric car – their design and performance now rivals their gas-guzzling equivalents, says Jason Barlow. WHAT would make you switch from a conventional car to a pure electric one? Its design? Its eco-credentials? Or an end to the accursed “range anxiety”? Whatever the reason, it seems the tipping point is finally here. Jaguar’s I-Pace recently became the first fully electric car to win the European Car of the Year award. Tesla, led by Elon Musk, has just unveiled its compact SUV, the Model Y. Now James Bond is swapping his internal-combustion Aston Martin for an electric model, the Rapide-E, a move apparently inspired by the “tree-hugger” credentials of Cary Fukunaga, director of the next film. That rather tabloidy pejorative is now redundant. You don’t need to be a member of Greenpeace to embrace an electric car. You don’t even need to be concerned about climate change. In 2019, the electric car has come of age. They are well designed and manufactured, they handle with the alacrity of their gas-guzzling equivalents, and of course emit zero emissions from the exhaust. Anxiety over their range and how the charging process works remain the biggest obstacles to uptake. But here too, the technology is at a crucial juncture, with Tesla leading the way. There are 12,000 Tesla superchargers across the US, Europe and Asia, with 99 per cent of the US population now covered. There are 360 bays in 50 UK locations, and Tesla is just rolling out its ultra-fast V3 supercharging tech. The company’s cars now also know when you are heading to a charging site and heat the battery to the optimum temperature for charging. Tesla says this cuts the average charge time by 25 per cent. Fully charged, most electric cars now have a range of about 500 kilometres.

3-19-19 One-Third in U.S Blame Unusual Winter Temps on Climate Change
As the winter of 2018-2019 entered its final phase in early March, 43% of Americans told Gallup their local temperatures have been colder than usual this winter while about half as many, 20%, reported warmer than usual temperatures. Overall, a third of Americans this year attributed atypical winter weather to human-induced climate change.

  • By 43% to 20%, more in the U.S. experienced a colder than warmer winter
  • 70% now blame human activity for warmer winter, up from 38% in 2012
  • Fewer blame human activity for unusually cold temperatures

3-18-19 Dead Philippines whale had 40kg of plastic in stomach
A dead whale that washed up in the Philippines had 40kg (88lbs) of plastic bags inside its stomach, researchers have said. Workers at D'Bone Collector Museum recovered the Cuvier's beaked whale east of Davao City earlier in March. In a Facebook post, the museum said the animal was filled with "the most plastic we have ever seen in a whale". There were 16 rice sacks in its stomach, as well as "multiple shopping bags". "I was not prepared for the amount of plastic," the museum's founder and president, Darrell Blatchley, told broadcaster CNN. "It was so big, the plastic was beginning calcification." The use of throwaway plastic is a particular problem in some South East Asian countries, including the Philippines. Five Asian nations - China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand - accounted 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. In June last year, a pilot whale died in Thailand after swallowing 80 plastic bags. Its death came shortly after a report for the UK government revealed the level of plastic in the ocean could triple in a decade unless steps are taken to curb litter.


SCIENCE - EVOLUTION and GENETICS

3-24-19 Huge fossil discovery made in China's Hubei province
Scientists say they have discovered a "stunning" trove of thousands of fossils on a river bank in China. The fossils are estimated to be about 518 million years old, and are particularly unusual because the soft body tissue of many creatures, including their skin, eyes, and internal organs, have been "exquisitely" well preserved. Palaeontologists have called the findings "mind-blowing" - especially because more than half the fossils are previously undiscovered species. The fossils, known as the Qingjiang biota, were collected near Danshui river in Hubei province. More than 20,000 specimens were collected, and a total of 4,351 have been analysed so far, including worms, jellyfish, sea anemones and algae. They will become a "very important source in the study of the early origins of creatures", one of the fieldwork leaders, Prof Xingliang Zhang from China's Northwest University, told the BBC. The discovery is particularly remarkable because "the majority of creatures are soft-bodied organisms like jellyfish and worms that normally stand no chance of becoming fossilised", Prof Robert Gaines, a geologist who also took part in the study, said in an email to the BBC. The majority of fossils tend to be of hard-bodied animals, as harder substances, like bones, are less likely to rot and decompose. The Qingjiang biota must have been "rapidly buried in sediment" due to a storm, in order for soft tissues to be so well preserved, Prof Zhang says. Scientists are especially excited by the jellyfish and sea anemone fossils, which Prof Gaines describes as "unlike anything I have ever seen. Their sheer abundance and their diversity of forms is stunning". "For the first time we're seeing preservation of jellyfish - [when] you think of jellyfish today, they're so soft-bodied, so delicate, but they're preserved unbelievably well at this site."

3-22-19 It’s not just reality TV - all media must help to prevent suicides
Coverage of high-profile deaths such as Love Island contestant Mike Thalassitis often falls short – we can and must do better, says psychologist Rory O’Connor. The apparent suicide last week of Mike Thalassitis, a former contestant on the UK reality TV show Love Island, has once again thrust into the spotlight what we can do to protect vulnerable individuals. Any such death is one too many. It is encouraging to see ITV, Love Island’s broadcaster, committing itself to providing access to psychological support before, during and after contestants appear on the show. Other broadcasters and production companies must make the same commitments. I also welcome UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s intervention, highlighting that reality TV shows have a duty of care for contestants. As someone who has been researching suicide for more than 20 years, the stark reality is that although we have made significant advances in understanding suicide, our ability to predict it is no better than chance. In part, this is because suicide is statistically a rare event. In the UK, for example, of every 100,000 people, 10 will die by their own hand in a given year. The difficulty is in trying to identify those people, but also identify when they are suicidal. The near-impossibility of this task is why keeping people safe, and mitigating suicide risk when people are vulnerable, is vital. This means a duty of care not just for producers of reality TV shows, but the wider news media. We know that coverage of high-profile suicides can increase the risk of suicidal behaviour. But too often, that coverage fails to highlight the complexity of the contributing factors. Suicide rarely has a single cause. It is generally the product of a complex set of circumstances, often beginning with early life trauma, later mental health problems, fear of failure and a belief that loved ones would be better off if they were dead.

3-22-19 Women have a new weapon against postpartum depression, but it’s costly
The newly approved drug brexanolone simulates a natural steroid to alleviate symptoms. Approval of the first and only treatment in the United States specifically targeting postpartum depression offers hope for millions of women each year who suffer from the debilitating mental health disorder after giving birth. The new drug brexanolone — marketed under the name Zulresso and approved on March 19 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration — is expected to become available to the public in late June. Developed by Sage Therapeutics, based in Cambridge, Mass., the drug is costly and treatment is intensive: It’s administered in the hospital as a 60-hour intravenous drip, and a treatment runs between $20,000 and $35,000. But researchers say that it could help many of the estimated 11.5 percent of U.S. new moms each year who experience postpartum depression, which can interfere with normal bonding between mothers and infants and lead to feeling hopeless, sad or overly anxious. Here’s a closer look at the drug, its benefits and some potential drawbacks. How exactly brexanolone works is not known. But because the drug’s chemical structure is nearly identical to the natural hormone allopregnanolone, it’s thought that brexanolone operates in a similar way. Allopregnanolone enhances the effects of a neurochemical called gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, which stops nerve cells in the brain from firing. Ultimately this action helps quell a person’s anxiety or stress. During pregnancy, the concentration of allopregnanolone in a woman’s brain spikes. This leads some neurons to compensate by temporarily tuning out GABA so that the nerve cells don’t become too inactive. Levels of the steroid typically return to normal quickly after a baby is born, and the neurons once again responding to GABA shortly thereafter. But for some women, this process can take longer, possibly resulting in postpartum depression.

3-22-19 U.S. fentanyl deaths are rising fastest among African Americans
Whites still have the highest death rate. Since people in the United States began dying in the fentanyl-related drug overdose epidemic, whites have been hit the hardest. But new data released March 21 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that African Americans and Hispanics are catching up. Non-Hispanic whites still experience the majority of deaths involving fentanyl, a synthetic opioid. But among African Americans and Hispanics, death rates rose faster from 2011 to 2016. Whites experienced a 61 percent annual increase, on average, while the rate rose 140.6 percent annually for blacks and 118.3 percent per year for Hispanics. No reliable data were available for other racial groups. Overall, the number of U.S. fentanyl-related deaths in 2011 and 2012 hovered just above 1,600. A sharp increase began in 2013, reaching 18,335 deaths in 2016. That’s up from 0.5 deaths per 100,000 people in 2011 to 5.9 per 100,000 in 2016. In the first three years of the study, men and women died from fentanyl-related overdoses at similar rates, around 0.5 per 100,000. In 2013, those paths diverged, and by 2016, the death rate among men was 8.6 per 100,000; for women it was 3.1 per 100,000. Overdose death rates rose most sharply along the East Coast, including New England and the mid-Atlantic, and in the Great Lakes regions. One of the most powerful opioids, fentanyl has been around for decades and is still prescribed to fight pain. But it has emerged as a street drug that is cheap to make and is found mixed into other drugs. In 2013, fentanyl was the ninth most common drug involved in overdose deaths, according to the CDC report; in 2016, it was number one. Just a little bit can do a lot of damage: The drug can quickly kill a person by overwhelming several systems in the body (SN: 9/3/2016, p. 14).

3-22-19 Vaping: The FDA’s controversial crackdown
“The great final battle over your Juul has begun,” said Catie Keck in Gizmodo.com. Last week, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb proposed new regulations for U.S. e-cigarette sales, a market that Juul dominates with 70 percent of all sales. Gottlieb says he isn’t targeting the nearly 11 million American adults who vape—many as a healthier alternative to smoking cigarettes—but the 3.6 million teens caught up in the craze, partly because of the bubble gum, cotton candy, and gummy bear flavors vape makers introduced to entice them. The FDA proposals—now in a 30-day comment period—would segregate such teen-friendly products to adults-only smoke shops and age-restricted areas in general retailers (like the X-rated areas of old video rental stores). Gottlieb also said online retailers must tighten up their age-verification procedures and curb bulk sales—or risk FDA enforcement actions. “These regulations are a start,” said Danielle Ramo in the San Francisco Chronicle, but “we need to go further to prevent Big Vaping from marketing and selling its products to kids.” In recent years, e-cigarettes flavored like candy have “torn to shreds” years of work convincing American youth that smoking is both unhealthy and gross. Vaping has made what “used to be uncool suddenly cool again.” Make no mistake: These products are a menace, hooking teens on nicotine, exposing them to carcinogens in vape fluid, and raising their risk of heart attacks and stroke. What the FDA really needs to do is “destroy the myth that vaping is safe,” ban vaping ads from social media, and raise the legal age for all nicotine products to 21.

3-22-19 Secondhand smoke and kidneys
Being exposed to secondhand smoke can significantly increase your risk of developing chronic kidney disease, a new study suggests. Researchers in South Korea examined a group of 131,196 nonsmokers. The subjects’ average age was 53, and three-quarters of them were women. They were split into three subgroups: those exposed to secondhand smoke for three or more days a week; those exposed on fewer than three days a week; and those not exposed at all. After controlling for other factors—including age, sex, and body mass index—the researchers found that the two groups exposed to secondhand smoke had a 44 percent higher incidence of kidney disease than participants with no exposure. When scientists followed up with the participants nine years later, the risk of developing kidney disease was 58 percent higher among those exposed up to three times a week, and 62 percent higher for those with even more exposure. “I’m not trying to scare people,” lead author Jung Tak Park, from Yonsei University in Seoul, tells The New York Times. “But kidney disease is a nonreversible condition—you can’t get it fixed when renal function fails.”

3-22-19 An eye test for Alzheimer’s
A retina scan may be able to identify Alzheimer’s years before symptoms appear, new research suggests. Diagnosing the neurodegenerative condition currently requires a costly brain scan, a spinal tap, or a doctor’s assessment, and diagnoses generally come too late for patients to make lifestyle changes or take medication that might slow the onset of the disease. But researchers at Duke Eye Center in North Carolina believe that changes in the retina, which is an extension of the brain, could serve as an early-warning system for the disease. Using an imaging technique called optical coherence tomography angiography, they studied the retinas of 39 Alzheimer’s patients, 37 people with mild cognitive impairment, and 133 cognitively healthy people. They found that a network of retinal blood vessels was markedly less dense in the Alzheimer’s patients than the other groups, and that a specific layer of their retina was notably thinner. The researchers suspect that proteins linked to Alzheimer’s may block the protein that encourages these blood vessels to grow. Study author Sharon Fekrat tells The Daily Telegraph (U.K.) that it will be years before the test “goes into prime time.” But she adds that if researchers could detect blood vessel changes before a decline in cognition, it “would be a game changer.”

3-22-19 Twentysomethings
Twentysomethings, after British neuroscientists said brain studies show that people don’t fully grow up until they’re in their 30s. The idea that adulthood begins at 18 or 21, said Peter Jones of Cambridge University, “looks increasingly absurd.”. (Webmaster's comment: Previous studies have shown that the brain doesn't stop growing until the age of 26.)

3-22-19 Resurrecting the mammoth
In what they say is a “significant step” toward bringing the woolly mammoth back to life, Japanese scientists have successfully awakened cells from a 28,000-year-old mammoth carcass. Researchers extracted 88 nucleus-like structures from the remains of a well-preserved specimen found in the Siberian permafrost in 2010. Those structures were then injected into mouse oocytes, cells that can develop into an ovum. Signs of biological activity were spotted in the oocytes, including reactions that can occur just before cell division. But study co-author Kei Miyamoto, from Kindai University in Osaka, tells Agence France-Presse that the long-dead beast’s nuclei were ultimately too badly damaged for cell division to actually occur and that the team is “very far from re-creating a mammoth.” Still, Miyamoto says, the research suggests it might one day be possible to resurrect woolly mammoths—which last walked the Earth 4,000 years ago—using ancient cell samples. “Despite the years that have passed,” he says, “cell activity can still happen and parts of it can be re-created.” (Webmaster's comment: Maybe we can bring back some facsimile of a mammoth, but without the society it came from it will only be a remote likeness. Wildlife does not exist in a vaccuum!)

3-22-19 The oldest known astrolabe was used on one of Vasco da Gama’s ships
The navigational device dates back to as early as 1496. While searching for shipwreck remains near Oman in the Arabian Sea in 2014, divers discovered an unusual metal disk that has since proven to be the world’s oldest known mariner’s astrolabe, British researchers report. The navigational device came from the wreckage of a ship in the Portuguese armada that had been part of explorer Vasco da Gama’s second voyage to India from 1502 to 1503. Historical decorations on the artifact led the researchers to suggest that the disk was used as early as 1496. A bit wider than a dollar bill, the astrolabe contains carvings of Portugal’s royal coat of arms and a depiction of a ringed Earth that was associated with a Portuguese king who ruled from late 1495 to 1521. Laser imaging of the disk revealed 18 scale marks separated at 5-degree intervals. The device, used to take altitudes at sea, could have measured from 0 degrees — when the sun is at the horizon — to 90 degrees — when the sun is directly overhead, the team reports in a study published online March 16 in the International Journal of Nautical Archaeology. Only one other solid disk, mariner’s astrolabe has been found, and its authenticity and age are uncertain, say oceanographer David Mearns and colleagues. Mearns directs Blue Water Recoveries in Midhurst, England, a company that locates and studies shipwrecks.

3-22-19 'Baby Grady' gives fertility hope to boys with cancer
Scientists say they have made a significant leap towards helping boys with cancer stay fertile, thanks to a baby monkey called Grady. Cancer treatment can damage a boy's undeveloped testes and leaves a third of survivors infertile in adulthood. Baby Grady is the first primate born using frozen samples of testicles taken before her dad started puberty. Experts said the technique, detailed in the journal Science, could soon be used in the clinic. Chemotherapy and radiotherapy can destroy someone's ability to have children. Women and girls can have eggs or ovaries frozen in order to have children after their cancer therapy is over. Adult men can have a sperm sample frozen, but this is not an option for boys who have not gone through puberty. Scientists at the University of Pittsburgh and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development started with five male rhesus macaques. The animals had not started puberty so their testes were not yet sperm-making factories. Then the researchers removed a testicle from each monkey, cut it up into small pieces and put the fragments on ice to cryopreserve them. Around half a year later the monkeys were made infertile. Then fragments of their preserved testes were thawed and were grafted underneath the monkey's skin. As the animals went through puberty, the testicular tissue matured and grew; when scientists looked inside "we found that there were sperm", said Prof Kyle Orwig, from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. This sperm was used to fertilise an egg and baby girl Grady was the result.

3-21-19 Saving monkey testicle tissue before puberty hints at a new way to preserve fertility
The results give hope to one day helping young male cancer patients. A technique with the potential to preserve fertility for prepubescent boys stricken with cancer has passed a key test in experiments conducted in monkeys: the birth of a healthy infant. Testicle tissue samples from rhesus macaques that hadn’t reached puberty were removed, frozen and then grafted back onto the monkeys. Over the following year, as the monkeys went through puberty, the immature sperm cells in the grafts developed into sperm. In vitro fertilization with sperm from one monkey led to a successful pregnancy and the birth of a baby female macaque named Grady, researchers report in the March 22 Science. The work is an encouraging step toward one day being able to preserve the fertility of prepubescent boys who undergo chemotherapy and radiation for cancer, which can affect their ability to produce sperm, says Robert Brannigan, a reproductive urologist at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago who was not involved in the study. Cancer survival rates for children in the United States have reached about 80 percent. But unlike teens or adults, younger boys haven’t yet developed sperm they can freeze for future use. The new work provides “a potential pathway to solving this very real clinical problem,” Brannigan says.

3-20-19 Strange rise of mukbang parents who feed their kids fast food for cash
Videos in which people film themselves eating food and post it on YouTube have become hugely popular. Now this weird trend is spreading to kids, should we be worried? LIKE many 2-year-olds, the youngest member of the Candoo family loves fast food. Unlike most 2-year-olds, her parents earn money whenever she eats it. For over half her life, she has been delighting her family’s 370,000 fans by eating in front of a camera. More than 4 million people have watched a video of her enjoying chicken nuggets and fries, while nearly 3 million have viewed her 6-year-old brother devouring a burger. The Candoos are a family of YouTubers. Parents Katherine and Andrew broadcast themselves and their five children eating fried chicken, tacos, burgers, instant noodles and pizza on their channel Eating with the Candoos. The US family, and others like them, earn money from adverts that play before their videos and take direct sponsorship from companies, most recently a video for food subscription service HelloFresh. Overall, it is pretty simple: they eat, they film themselves, they make money. But why are their videos so popular? And is there a physical and psychological toll on their children? Originating in South Korea in 2009, a mukbang – Korean for “eating broadcast” – is a video of someone eating large quantities of food. Its pioneers were adults. By 2015, some of the most popular South Korean mukbang creators were reported to earn up to $10,000 a month live-streaming themselves. Academics began theorising about why people enjoy the videos: a study by Hye Jin Kim at Chosun University in South Korea posited that they relieve stress. In 2016, US journalist and cultural commentator Jeff Yang claimed the videos enabled lonely, unmarried South Koreans to simulate social eating.

3-21-19 Newfound fossils in China highlight a dizzying diversity of Cambrian life
Half of these amazingly well-preserved kinds of creatures have never been seen before. Along the banks of China’s Danshui River lies a treasure trove of fossils that may rival the most famous Cambrian fossil assemblage of all, Canada’s Burgess Shale. The roughly 518-million-year-old site contains a dizzying abundance of beautifully preserved weird and wonderful life-forms, from jellyfish and comb jellies to arthropods and algae. So far, researchers led by paleontologist Dongjing Fu of Northwest University in Xian, China, have collected 4,351 specimens at the new site, representing 101 different taxa, or groups of organisms. Of those taxa, about 53 percent have never before been observed, Fu and her colleagues report in the March 22 Science — not even at other well-known Cambrian fossil sites such as the 508-million-year-old Burgess Shale or a 518-million-year-old site known as Chengjiang, also in China. “It’s an exciting discovery,” says Jean-Bernard Caron, a paleontologist at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto who wasn’t involved in the study. During the Cambrian Period, which began about 542 million years ago, life diversified extremely rapidly. So many new forms appeared in such a relatively short period of time that this diversification is known as the Cambrian explosion. The find “shows that there’s hope for new discoveries” of other Cambrian fossil sites, he says.

3-21-19 A new ketamine-based antidepressant raises hope — and questions
The anesthetic drug’s long-term effects on people aren’t clear. With great fanfare, a new antidepressant entered the U.S. market in March, the first fundamentally new medicine for depression in decades. Based on the anesthetic ketamine, the drug — called Spravato — is intended to help people with severe depression quickly, taking effect within hours or days instead of the weeks that typical antidepressants take. But for all the hubbub, big questions have gone unanswered about the drug, developed by Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc. Some psychiatrists are concerned that the drug was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration based on skimpy data, under standards that were less rigorous than those required for previous antidepressants. It remains unclear, for example, what happens as someone stops taking the drug, as well as whether it has long-term effects. The data on Spravato raise more questions than they answer, says psychiatrist Alan Schatzberg of Stanford University. “And I think that’s unfortunate.” Despite those unknowns, some psychiatrists are relieved to have another drug to try, particularly for people with depression so severe that other drugs have failed to help. Spravato “does something that very few things in psychiatry can do — it works for people who didn’t respond to other treatments, and it works fast,” says psychiatrist Dan Iosifescu of New York University’s School of Medicine. “I really welcome having another powerful tool in my toolbox.”

3-21-19 Sun bears copy each other's facial expressions to communicate
The world’s smallest bears copy one another’s facial expressions as a means of communication. A team at the University of Portsmouth, UK, studied 22 sun bears at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre in Malaysia. In total, 21 matched the open-mouthed expressions of their playmates during face-to-face interactions. When they were facing each other, 13 bears made the expressions within 1 second of observing a similar expression from their playmate. “Mimicking the facial expressions of others in exact ways is one of the pillars of human communication,” says Marina Davila-Ross, who was part of the team. “Other primates and dogs are known to mimic each other, but only great apes and humans were previously known to show such complexity in their facial mimicry.” Sun bears have no special evolutionary link to humans, unlike monkeys or apes, nor are they domesticated animals like dogs. The team believes this means the behaviour must also be present in various other species. Also known as honey bears, sun bears are the smallest members of the bear family. They grow to between 120 centimetres and 150 centimetres long and weigh up to 80 kilograms. The species is endangered and lives in the tropical forests of South-East Asia. While the bears prefer a solitary life, the team says that they engage in gentle and rough play and may use facial mimicry to indicate they are ready to play more roughly or strengthen social bonds. “It is widely believed that we only find complex forms of communication in species with complex social systems,” says Derry Taylor, also on the team. “As sun bears are a largely solitary species, our study of their facial communication questions this belief, because it shows a complex form of facial communication that until now was known only in more social species.”

3-20-19 Anaesthesia drug may make it easier to forget upsetting memories
A drug used for anaesthesia can make upsetting memories less vivid and may one day be used to help some people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Bryan Strange at the Technical University of Madrid in Spain and his colleagues found that when volunteers received an injection of the sedative propofol immediately after recalling a story, they remembered the story’s distressing elements less well 24 hours later. Studies in animals have suggested that, when we retrieve a memory, there is a short window afterwards in which it is possible to modify that memory. To see if drugs may affect this, the team asked 50 volunteers to memorise two stories a week before they were due to be deeply sedated for a gastroscopy or colonoscopy. The participants learned the stories from slide shows that began and ended neutrally, but had upsetting content in the middle. One story was about a boy involved in a traffic accident, while the other was about the kidnapping and assault of a young woman. Immediately before being sedated for their medical procedure, each volunteer was shown the first slide of one of the stories and asked several questions to “reactivate” their memory of the tale. Straight after the procedure, half the participants were tested on how well they recollected the stories. Strange believes this is too soon for the memory to have been changed by the drug. The results also suggest this might be the case, because these volunteers remembered both stories equally well. The rest of the volunteers were tested 24 hours after their procedures. Propofol did seem to have an effect: these participants were 12 per cent worse on average at remembering the emotional parts of the reactivated story compared with the non-reactivated one. They remembered the emotionally neutral parts of both stories equally well.

3-20-19 I got caught in the middle of a bitter row over humans' violent past
A simmering feud between geneticists and archaeologists has finally exploded. This turf war is unwise and unscientific, says Michael Marshall. Once upon a time, the narrative of humanity’s past belonged largely to archaeologists and anthropologists. In recent years, geneticists have muscled in, making startling discoveries by analysing DNA from ancient specimens – and leaving some archaeologists feeling sidelined. A new study has thrown the feud into stark relief. Geneticist David Reich of Harvard Medical School and his colleagues have studied DNA from 271 individuals who lived in and around what is now Spain over the past 7000 years. Some 4500 years ago, people called the Yamnaya arrived from eastern Europe. Dramatically, the local males stopped passing on their genes: their Y chromosomes were almost entirely replaced by those of the newcomers. “That means males coming in had preferential access to local females, again and again and again,” said Reich, describing these findings at New Scientist Live in London, last September. “The collision of these two populations was not a friendly one.” I wrote about these findings for New Scientist, noting that the event resembled “a violent conquest” in which the new society was “firmly under the control of the males”. When this was repeated in the Spanish newspaper El País, it elicited a furious letter of protest from dozens of archaeologists including Felipe Criado-Boado from the Spanish National Research Council. They described the narrative as “unfounded” because there was no evidence of violence. So who is right? This is relatively recent history in a region that archaeologists have studied for decades. If there were evidence of violence, surely they would have found some. However, the DNA analysis reveals that local men didn’t pass on their genes, suggesting they were prevented from having sex.

3-20-19 Gaia rebooted: New version of idea explains how Earth evolved for life
The controversial Gaia hypothesis sees Earth as a superorganism adapted to be perfect for life. A weird type of evolution may finally show how that actually happens. IN 1948, cybernetics pioneer Ross Ashby built a curious machine. The Homeostat was constructed from four interconnected bomb-control units scavenged from the UK’s Royal Air Force. It featured four pivoting magnets, the position of each being determined by that of the others and guided by feedback mechanisms generated using a table of random settings. When Ashby turned the machine on, the magnets would start to oscillate wildly. Sometimes they would return to a stable equilibrium position. If not, Ashby had wired the Homeostat to reboot itself with a new selection of random settings. Over time, this basic algorithm – if unstable, try again – always eventually led to equilibrium. That was the machine’s sole purpose: to show that a simple, dynamic system would regain stability in response to changes in its environment. Ashby believed this “ultrastability” to be a governing principle in nature, explaining, among other things, the adaptation of species to their niche – a process that appears purposeful, but actually arises from random processes. It may seem a stretch to describe the Homeostat’s change over time, from wild motion to stability, as “evolution”. After all, it lacks all the trappings we associate with Darwinian evolution – such as life and reproduction. Yet, there is a growing belief that the same forces driving Ashby’s machine hold the key to a wider concept of evolution, one that can encompass semi-living and even nonliving systems. This new view may prove essential to understanding the functioning of ecosystems and even the origin of life. Most intriguingly, it bolsters the Gaia hypothesis, the controversial idea that the biosphere acts like a giant organism, one that self-regulates to keep conditions just right for life. Darwin’s original formula for evolution by natural selection works as follows: organisms vary, those with more favourable traits leave more offspring on average and these offspring are likely to inherit their parents’ favourable traits. This explains why organisms are well adapted to their environments – why seed-eating birds have thick, strong bills, why flowers produce sugar-rich nectar to attract pollinators, and countless other traits. As our evolutionary thinking has developed, natural selection has proved remarkably adaptable. It can explain the evolution of “selfish genes” – an idea popularised by biologist Richard Dawkins in the 1970s – because, like individuals of the same species, a gene may exist in various forms, some of which are more likely to survive and be passed on to future generations. Under the right circumstances, natural selection can even extend to discrete groups of organisms, as when more cooperative populations do better against less collaborative ones. However, this Darwinian dynamic breaks down at the level of Gaia, the whole planet. As far as we know, Earth is a one-off: there is no population of competing, reproducing planets for natural selection to choose between to form the next generation. And yet, like a superorganism honed by evolution, Earth seems to self-regulate in ways that are essential for life. Oxygen levels have remained relatively constant for hundreds of millions of years, as has the availability of key building blocks of life such as carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus. Crucially, Earth’s surface temperature has remained within the narrow range that allows liquid water to exist. It is true there have been upheavals: during a “snowball Earth” episode about 700 million years ago, for example, almost the entire surface was frozen. “But the key question is, why does it spend so much time in a stable state and not just flying all over the place?” asks Tim Lenton at the University of Exeter, UK.

3-20-19 Lawsuit as unvaccinated teen banned by US school in outbreak
An unvaccinated Kentucky teenager is suing after his Catholic school excluded him amid a chickenpox outbreak that has sickened at least 32 pupils. Jerome Kunkel, 18, has not contracted the virus, but he has been banned by Our Lady of the Sacred Heart/Assumption Academy in Walton. His lawsuit argues the vaccine is "immoral, illegal and sinful" and his rights have been violated. The Northern Kentucky Health Department banned unvaccinated pupils on 14 March. The notification said that due to the outbreak of chickenpox, students who have not been vaccinated or are already immune to the infection must stay home "until 21 days after the onset of rash for the last ill student or staff member". The statement, which also banned all extracurricular activities, said it came "in direct response to a public health threat and was an appropriate and necessary response to prevent further spread of this contagious illness". Jerome Kunkel's father, Bill Kunkel, said the vaccines were derived from aborted foetuses, which goes against his family's religious beliefs. "I don't believe in that vaccine at all and they're trying to push it on us," he told WLWT-News. Some viruses used to make vaccines are grown with cells descended from matter that was sourced from two human foetuses electively aborted in the 1960s. But no new human cells have been used since then to produce vaccines, according to health authorities and drug manufacturers. The Catholic Church has told its members it is morally justifiable to use these vaccines, though it wants alternative treatments developed without "using cell lines of illicit origin". (Webmaster's comment: Being UNVACCINATED is "immoral, illegal and sinful"! It endangers us all. We should lock him up!)

3-20-19 San Francisco moves to ban e-cigarettes until health effects known
Officials in San Francisco have proposed a new law to ban e-cigarette sales until their health effects are evaluated by the US government. The law appears to be the first of its kind in the US and seeks to curb a rising usage by young people. Critics, however, say it will make it harder for people to kick addiction. A second city law would bar making, selling or distributing tobacco on city property and is aimed at an e-cigarette firm renting on Pier 70. Last week, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) - the national regulator - released its proposed guidelines, giving companies until 2021 to apply to have their e-cigarette products evaluated. A deadline had initially been set for August 2018, but the agency later said more preparation time was needed. San Francisco city attorney Dennis Herrera, one of the co-authors of the bill, which is yet to be approved, said reviews should have been done before they were sold. "These companies may hide behind the veneer of harm reduction, but let's be clear, their product is addiction," said Mr Herrera. He added that San Francisco, Chicago and New York had sent a joint letter to the FDA calling on it to investigate the effects of e-cigarettes on public health. Anti-vaping activists say companies are deliberately targeting young people by offering flavoured products. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of US teenagers who admitted using tobacco products "within the last 30 days" rose 36% between 2017 and 2018 - from 3.6m to 4.9m. It attributes this to a growth in e-cigarette use. Last year San Francisco became the first US city to ban flavoured tobacco and vaping liquids, and already prevents smokeless tobacco from being used on playing fields.

3-20-19 Weedkiller glyphosate a 'substantial' cancer factor
A US jury has found that one of the world's most widely-used weedkillers was a "substantial factor" in causing a man's cancer. Pharmaceutical group Bayer had strongly rejected claims that its glyphosate-based Roundup product was carcinogenic. But the jury in San Francisco ruled unanimously that it contributed to causing non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in California resident Edwin Hardeman. The next stage of the trial will consider Bayer's liability and damages. During this phase, which starts on Wednesday, Mr Hardeman's lawyers are expected to present evidence allegedly showing Bayer's efforts to influence scientists, regulators and the public about the safety of its products. In morning trading, Bayer's shares immediately plunged, dropping almost 12% to €61.62. The German company, which acquired Roundup as part of its $66bn takeover of US rival Monsanto, said it was disappointed with the jury's initial decision. "We are confident the evidence in phase two will show that Monsanto's conduct has been appropriate and the company should not be liable for Mr. Hardeman's cancer," the company said. Bayer continues "to believe firmly that science confirms that glyphosate-based herbicides do not cause cancer". The case was only the second of some 11,200 Roundup lawsuits to go to trial in the US. Another California man was awarded $289m in August after a state court jury found Roundup caused his cancer, sending Bayer shares plunging at the time. That award was later reduced to $78m and is on appeal. (Webmaster's comment: Roundup is a killer and it kills us too!)

3-20-19 Genetic risk scores could help the NHS but they aren't ready yet
An analysis of the genetic data of millions of people can help predict their risk of developing common diseases and could help the UK’s National Health Service save lives and money, a firm spun out of the University of Oxford has claimed. Genomics plc says it has produced polygenic risk scores for heart disease, breast cancer and 14 other diseases by examining more than 3 million people’s genetic data. Half a million genomes came from the UK Biobank, while the rest were from more than 200 other institutions. Such scores could help the NHS take preventative action and target scarce resources better, says co-founder Peter Donnelly. For example, women whose genes indicate they have a higher risk of breast cancer could be screened earlier than their 50th birthday, when checks usually start. Health secretary Matthew Hancock said today that polygenic testing suggested he had a heightened rise of prostate cancer, and he is due to give a speech later on increasing the use of such techniques in the UK. “We must get predictive testing into the NHS as soon as we possibly can,” Hancock will say. But can polygenic scores really help the health service? Genetic testing is already used in the NHS to look for rare diseases caused by a single gene, such as the brain disorder Huntington’s disease. Polygenic testing aims to predict the risk of more common diseases, such as coronary heart disease, which can be made more likely by hundreds of different genes. Making such predictions used to be impossible, because each of the genes has a small influence on the risk of developing a disease. But analysing huge genetic databases makes it feasible to tease out these effects. “This is a totally different use of genetics in healthcare,” says Donnelly. “I’m convinced this is where genetics will have its biggest impact.”

3-20-19 Dig planned at rare 'Neolithic mortuary' in Aberdeenshire
Archaeologists hope to carry out a fresh dig at what they believe could be the site of a 5,500-year-old "mortuary" in Aberdeenshire. The Neolithic enclosure in what is now Aden Country Park may have been used for excarnation, the removal of flesh leaving only bones for burial. This sometimes involved leaving bodies outdoors for scavenging animals. Remains of an enclosure marked by wooden posts and living trees were first found in a dig in November 2018. Archaeologists said this "exciting, extremely rare discovery" had resulted in the need to carry out a further excavation. They hope to uncover more of the history of the site and confirm the layout of the possible Neolithic structure. The Friends of Aden has started a crowdfunding campaign to help raise £1,000 towards the cost of the new dig and associated activities between 24 June and 7 July. Volunteers from the local schools, groups and wider community could be involved in the excavation. Archaeologist Ali Cameron, who has been commissioned by Aberdeenshire Council to lead on archaeology aspects of the project, said last year's dig revealed a larger structure than had been anticipated. She said: "It is an intriguing enclosure with both posts and living trees and must have been very prominent in the landscape.

3-20-19 Why I believe humans were in Australia 120,000 years ago
DID humans live in Australia 60,000 years earlier than we thought? Newly discovered shells and blackened stones suggest so, according to James Bowler at the University of Melbourne. In 1974, Bowler discovered the roughly 40,000-year-old Mungo Lady and Mungo Man, the oldest human remains ever found in Australia. Subsequent genetic evidence and human artefacts have since placed the arrival of humans in Australia at 60,000 years ago. But in six new papers, Bowler and his colleagues have described what they believe to be two hearth-like areas of blackened sand, charcoal and darkened stones in south-west Victoria, dating back to 120,000 years ago (Proceedings of the Royal Society of Victoria, doi.org/c3mz). Why do you think humans could be responsible for what you have discovered? There is an accumulation of shells of edible sea animals. Birds could be one explanation, but there is a big abalone and seabirds today don’t carry abalone shells around. The dominant line of evidence is the extensive use of fire. We found lots of blackened stones, which originally started as pale limestone, and they are blackened as the result of intensive heat. Could this have been caused by wildfires or lightning? There are no plants there: no root channels and no remnants of any vegetation growing there. The burnt stones are lying on top of bare rock, which means the fuel for the fire had to be imported. How do we know the site is 120,000 years old? There are three lines of evidence, including geological evidence of sea level, all independently providing the same age. People will not argue about the age, they will argue about whether it is people or whether it is nature. There are no stone tools – though there are no hard rocks in that area suitable for making tools, so that’s not surprising. There are no bones and no human remains. It is a frustrating conclusion to 11 years of work, but I’m convinced that continuing research will find definitive evidence.

3-20-19 In a first, a fossilized egg is found preserved inside an ancient bird
The offspring may have been the cause of its mother’s demise, scientists suspect. About 110 million years ago, a sparrow-sized bird died with her egg still inside her body. That egg, crushed and flattened by pressure over time, is the first unlaid bird egg known to be preserved in a fossil, researchers report March 20 in Nature Communications. The fossil was unearthed 11 years ago in northwestern China. In 2018, paleontologists led by Alida Bailleul of the Key Laboratory of Vertebrate Evolution and Human Origins in Beijing took a closer look, and noticed something odd: The bird had a strange sheet of tissue between her pubic bones. Examining a piece of the tissue under a microscope, Bailleul found that it was from an egg. The bird, a newly identified species, was named Avimaia schweitzerae in honor of paleontologist Mary Schweitzer’s work on fossilized soft tissues (SN: 12/24/16, p. 15). Further analyses revealed more surprises. The mother bird’s skeleton contains traces of medullary bone, a calcium-bearing tissue that aids in eggshell formation (SN: 4/16/16, p. 16). It’s the strongest evidence yet that ancient birds produced this tissue during reproduction. And the egg’s cuticle, the outermost layer of shell, contains tiny mineral spheres similar to spheres in the egg cuticles of modern waterfowl such as quails and ducks. The spheres, thought to protect embryos from microbial infections, have never before been seen in any fossilized eggs. But all was not well with this bird and her embryo. The eggshell has two layers instead of the usual one, suggesting that the egg had remained too long in the abdomen. And the egg’s layers are extremely thin, thinner than a sheet of paper. In modern birds, particularly small birds experiencing extreme stress, these symptoms can indicate a deadly condition known as egg-binding, in which a bird is unable to lay the egg. In fact, the researchers suggest, the unlaid egg may have ultimately killed the mother.

3-19-19 The learning gap between rich and poor students hasn’t changed in decades
Lowest income students’ learning level is up to four years behind the highest income students. The average performance of the lowest income students in the United States lags about three to four years behind that of the highest income students — an achievement gap that has remained constant for more than four decades, a new study finds. An analysis of standardized tests given to more than 2.7 million middle and high school students over almost 50 years suggests that federal education programs aimed at closing that gap are falling short, researchers report March 17 in the National Bureau of Economic Research. Lower achievement in high school leads to lower earning potential throughout adulthood, says coauthor Eric Hanushek, education economist at Stanford University. “The next generation is going to look a lot like this generation. Kids from poor families will become poor themselves.” Whether the problem is worsening, however, is up for debate. A widely cited 2011 study, also out of Stanford, showed the achievement gap widening between children born in the mid-1970s and those born in the early 2000s. But Hanushek says his work suggests the gap is holding steady, but isn’t worsening, as previously believed.

3-19-19 Spread of cancers halted by smart bacteria that trigger immune attack
GENETICALLY modified “smart” bacteria injected into tumours can shrink growths and trigger an immune response that stops cancer spreading, tests in animals show. The engineered bacteria exploit the vulnerability of solid tumours to infections. This vulnerability comes about because tumours evolve all kinds of tricks for evading immune system attack, from physically keeping out immune cells to releasing chemicals that tell the cells not to attack. But this leaves tumours open to infection by bacteria and viruses that would be rapidly wiped out elsewhere in the body. The smart bacteria, created by Sreyan Chowdhury at Columbia University in New York and his colleagues take advantage of this, infecting a tumour and multiplying. Once the number of bacteria reaches a critical level, they are designed to self-destruct and release an antibody in the heart of the cancerous growth. This antibody then encourages the immune system to attack the tumour. The team started with a harmless strain of E. coli. This was engineered to produce an antibody, which binds to a protein called CD47 found on the surface of some cancer cells, triggering their destruction. However, CD47 is also found on the surface of healthy red blood cells, so injecting high levels of the antibody straight into the blood would be dangerous. By instead injecting the bacteria directly into tumours, high levels of the antibody are produced only where needed. In tests in mice, several kinds of tumours shrank after being injected with the smart bacteria. What’s more, the growth of tumours elsewhere in the body of the mice also slowed, while the chances of cancer spreading to new sites in the body was greatly reduced (bioRxiv, doi.org/c3k5).

3-19-19 Artificial meat: UK scientists growing 'bacon' in labs
British scientists have joined the race to produce meat grown in the lab rather than reared on the hoof. Scientists at the University of Bath have grown animal cells on blades of grass, in a step towards cultured meat. If the process can be reproduced on an industrial scale, meat lovers might one day be tucking into a slaughter-free supply of "bacon". The researchers say the UK can move the field forward through its expertise in medicine and engineering. Lab-based meat products are not yet on sale, though a US company, Just, has said its chicken nuggets, grown from cells taken from the feather of chicken that is still alive, will soon be in a few restaurants. Chemical engineer Dr Marianne Ellis, of the University of Bath, sees cultured meat as "an alternative protein source to feed the world". Cultured pig cells are being grown in her laboratory, which could one day lead to bacon raised entirely off the hoof. In the future, you would take a biopsy from a pig, isolate stem (master) cells, grow more cells, then put them into a bioreactor to massively expand them, says postgraduate student Nick Shorten of Aberystwyth University."And the pig's still alive and happy and you get lots of bacon at the end." To replicate the taste and texture of bacon will take years of research. For structure, the cells must be grown on a scaffold.At Bath, they're experimenting with something that's entirely natural - grass. They're growing rodent cells, which are cheap and easy to use, on scaffolds of grass, as a proof of principle.

3-18-19 Our brains might sense Earth's magnetic field just like birds do
What do birds and bees, worms and wolves, fruit flies and fish all have in common? The answer: a magnetic sense that helps them navigate. Now it seems we might do as well. Joseph Kirschvink at the California Institute of Technology in the US and colleagues found that altering the directions of nearby magnetic fields caused temporary changes in human brain activity. While sitting still in a dark room, participants’ brain activity was recorded using electroencephalography (EEG), while electromagnetic coils were used to create magnetic fields. The experiment mimicked the magnetic field changes we are subject to when we move about in the real world, says Kirschvink. The direction and intensity of Earth’s magnetic field varies by geographical location. For example, at the magnetic north pole, one of two poles where the magnetic field is the strongest, the direction of the field points vertically downwards, into the ground. In the wider northern hemisphere, this vertical angle changes but the magnetic field always points downwards – meaning that when you hold a compass horizontally, the end pointing north is slightly pulled down. The south-pointing end of some compasses in the northern hemisphere are weighted to compensate for the pull. When the team exposed people to a downward-pointing magnetic field, they saw changes in brain wave patterns when they rotated the field in a counter-clockwise direction. But no participants showed brain changes when the magnetic field was rotated clockwise, a finding the researchers cannot explain.

3-18-19 People can sense Earth’s magnetic field, brain waves suggest
A new study hints that humans have magnetoreception abilities, similar to some other animals. A new analysis of people’s brain waves when surrounded by different magnetic fields suggests that people have a “sixth sense” for magnetism. Birds, fish and some other creatures can sense Earth’s magnetic field and use it for navigation (SN: 6/14/14, p. 10). Scientists have long wondered whether humans, too, boast this kind of magnetoreception. Now, by exposing people to an Earth-strength magnetic field pointed in different directions in the lab, researchers from the United States and Japan have discovered distinct brain wave patterns that occur in response to rotating the field in a certain way. These findings, reported in a study published online March 18 in eNeuro, offer evidence that people do subconsciously respond to Earth’s magnetic field — although it’s not yet clear exactly why or how our brains use this information. “The first impression when I read the [study] was like, ‘Wow, I cannot believe it!’” says Can Xie, a biophysicist at Peking University in Beijing. Previous tests of human magnetoreception have yielded inconclusive results. This new evidence “is one step forward for the magnetoreception field and probably a big step for the human magnetic sense,” he says. “I do hope we can see replications and further investigations in the near future.”

3-18-19 Boys and girls may have differing attitudes to risk thanks to society
Men are more likely to engage in riskier behaviours than women, or so the stereotype goes. However, according to a study with children, these differences are far from written in stone, but are shaped by society. To find out how gender may affect risk-taking behaviours, Elaine Liu at the University of Houston in Texas and Sharon Xuejing Zuo at Fudan University in Shanghai studied a small town in south-west China, where children from two ethnic groups — Mosuo and Han — attend school together. These two groups have different traditional gender norms, with women typically heading Mosuo families, whereas men typically take this role in Han families. Liu and Zuo asked 352 children in the town to play a lottery game. The 7 to 12-year-olds had to select one of six lottery tickets, labelled 1 to 6, with the higher the number, the riskier the choice but the bigger the possible reward. For example, ticket 1 was guaranteed to win a small prize, while ticket 6 had a 50 per cent chance of scooping a larger prize. Among the youngest children, Mosuo girls tended to favour riskier choices, compared with Mosuo boys. However, this pattern reversed in older children. For Han boys and girls, boys tended to favour riskier ticket choices than girls, and this didn’t change with age. The results show that Mosuo children are influenced by their Han peers rather than biological factors, says Liu.

3-18-19 Women with a twin brother are more likely to drop out of school
Women who have a non-identical twin brother are more likely to drop out of school or higher education than women who have a twin sister. These outcomes may be related to higher levels of testosterone in the uterus from their sibling. Animal studies have shown that testosterone can transfer between fetuses in the uterus and result in developmental changes. Male fetuses are already exposed to oestrogen from their mother, but female fetuses would experience high levels of testosterone only if they shared a uterus with a brother. Krzysztof Karbownik at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, and his colleagues analysed data on births in Norway between 1967 and 1978, which included 13,800 twins out of a total of around 729,000 children born. They included long-term data on the twins’ education and earnings, and found that in each category women who had a male twin scored lower than those who had a female twin. They also had fewer children. The women had a 15.2 per cent higher probability of dropping out of school, a 3.9 per cent lower likelihood of graduating university and had 5.8 per cent fewer children, on average, compared with women who have a female twin. The results didn’t carry over to men – those with twin sisters had similar long-term outcomes as those with twin brothers. These results are consistent with a previous study of historical records in Finland that found similar reductions in fertility rates among women with twin brothers. “They were able to adjust for many other important confounding factors that we had no access to using historical records, such as birth weight and size difference at birth,” says Virpi Lummaa at the University of Turku in Finland, author of that study.

3-18-19 Resurrecting woolly mammoth cells is hard to do
Biological activity seen in an experiment may be more mouse than mammoth, one cloning expert says. Proteins from woolly mammoth cells frozen for 28,000 years in the Siberian tundra may still have some biological activity, claim researchers attempting to clone the extinct behemoths. Japanese scientists first extracted nuclei, the DNA-containing compartments of cells, from the muscles of a juvenile woolly mammoth called Yuka, discovered in 2010 in northeast Russia. The team then transplanted those nuclei into mouse eggs and watched what happened next. The mammoth cells did not come back to life to create a cloned mammoth, as researchers had hoped. But the cells did show some early signs that biological activity might be preserved for millennia, the researchers report in a paper published March 11 in Scientific Reports. Science News talked to Lawrence Smith to see if those claims really hold up. Smith, a geneticist and reproductive biologist at the University of Montreal Faculty of Veterinary Medicine who was not involved in the m study, is an expert in cloning. The study is part of an effort to clone a mammoth, Smith says. The scientists did similar work in 2015, but the new study presents evidence that the nuclei in the frozen animal’s cells still contained some important proteins, including some that spool DNA and others that form a scaffold that helps the nucleus keep its shape. To determine if those proteins could still do their jobs, Akira Iritani of Kindai University in Wakayama, Japan, and colleagues extracted 88 nuclei from muscle cells and transferred some to mouse oocytes, or eggs. Within the mouse eggs, the mammoth nuclei began showing signs of preparing to make new cells — assembling structures called spindles that help divvy up DNA in dividing cells, compacting the DNA and forming “blebs,” or bubblelike structures in the membrane surrounding the DNA.


ANIMAL INTELLIGENCE and ZOOLOGY

3-24-19 Saber-toothed cats were fierce and family-oriented
A freshly detailed picture shows Smilodon helping the injured and the young. The adolescent saber-toothed cat on a summertime hunt realized too late that she had made a terrible miscalculation. Already the size of a modern-day tiger, with huge canine teeth, she had crept across grassy terrain to ambush a giant ground sloth bellowing in distress. Ready to pounce, the cat’s front paw sank into sticky ground. Pressing down with her other three paws to free herself, then struggling in what has been called “tar pit aerobics,” she became irrevocably mired alongside her prey. Scenarios much like this played out repeatedly over at least the last 35,000 years at California’s Rancho La Brea tar pits. Entrapped herbivores, such as the sloth, attracted scavengers and predators — including dire wolves, vultures and saber-toothed Smilodon cats — to what looked like an easy meal. Eventually the animals would disappear into the muck, until paleontologists plucked their fossils from the ground in huge numbers over the last century. Five million or so fossils have been found at the site. But “it’s not like there was this orgy of death going on,” says Christopher Shaw, a paleontologist and former collections manager at the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum in Los Angeles. He calculates that such an entrapment scenario, dooming 10 or so large mammals and birds, would have needed to occur only once per decade over 35,000 years to account for that bounty of fossils. At La Brea, the collection of Smilodon fatalis fossils alone includes more than 166,000 bones, from an estimated 3,000 of the ill-fated prehistoric cats. Famed for their fearsome canines, which grew up to 18 centimeters long, S. fatalis weighed as much as 280 kilograms, bigger than most of today’s largest lions and tigers.

3-22-19 Horse racing’s epidemic of death
The animal-rights activists could be right about horse racing, said Paul Newberry. “Maybe the entire sport needs to be shut down.” After more than two dozen horses died in just three months at the historic Santa Anita track in Southern California, the track announced last week it was suspending operations while officials try to figure out what’s gone wrong. Throughout the nation, a staggering 817 horses are known to have died while training or racing in 2018; activists say the real death toll is probably 2,000. Why? Today, the 1,200-pound “equine athletes” that are driven to run at top speed for the entertainment of bettors are often heavily drugged to mask injuries and fatigue. Sadly, owners and trainers “are more concerned about making a quick buck than protecting animals.” Horses driven too hard can develop microfractures in their brittle legs that lead to a sudden, catastrophic leg break during training or a race, forcing trainers to put them down. Public revulsion over the mistreatment of elephants shuttered Ringling Bros.’ circuses, and Sea World is in decline because orca captivity is inhumane. If horse racing cannot halt the epidemic of death on its tracks, it, too, will disappear.

3-22-19 Resurrecting the mammoth
In what they say is a “significant step” toward bringing the woolly mammoth back to life, Japanese scientists have successfully awakened cells from a 28,000-year-old mammoth carcass. Researchers extracted 88 nucleus-like structures from the remains of a well-preserved specimen found in the Siberian permafrost in 2010. Those structures were then injected into mouse oocytes, cells that can develop into an ovum. Signs of biological activity were spotted in the oocytes, including reactions that can occur just before cell division. But study co-author Kei Miyamoto, from Kindai University in Osaka, tells Agence France-Presse that the long-dead beast’s nuclei were ultimately too badly damaged for cell division to actually occur and that the team is “very far from re-creating a mammoth.” Still, Miyamoto says, the research suggests it might one day be possible to resurrect woolly mammoths—which last walked the Earth 4,000 years ago—using ancient cell samples. “Despite the years that have passed,” he says, “cell activity can still happen and parts of it can be re-created.” (Webmaster's comment: Maybe we can bring back some facsimile of a mammoth, but without the society it came from it will only be a remote likeness. Wildlife does not exist in a vaccuum!)

3-21-19 Sun bears copy each other's facial expressions to communicate
The world’s smallest bears copy one another’s facial expressions as a means of communication. A team at the University of Portsmouth, UK, studied 22 sun bears at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre in Malaysia. In total, 21 matched the open-mouthed expressions of their playmates during face-to-face interactions. When they were facing each other, 13 bears made the expressions within 1 second of observing a similar expression from their playmate. “Mimicking the facial expressions of others in exact ways is one of the pillars of human communication,” says Marina Davila-Ross, who was part of the team. “Other primates and dogs are known to mimic each other, but only great apes and humans were previously known to show such complexity in their facial mimicry.” Sun bears have no special evolutionary link to humans, unlike monkeys or apes, nor are they domesticated animals like dogs. The team believes this means the behaviour must also be present in various other species. Also known as honey bears, sun bears are the smallest members of the bear family. They grow to between 120 centimetres and 150 centimetres long and weigh up to 80 kilograms. The species is endangered and lives in the tropical forests of South-East Asia. While the bears prefer a solitary life, the team says that they engage in gentle and rough play and may use facial mimicry to indicate they are ready to play more roughly or strengthen social bonds. “It is widely believed that we only find complex forms of communication in species with complex social systems,” says Derry Taylor, also on the team. “As sun bears are a largely solitary species, our study of their facial communication questions this belief, because it shows a complex form of facial communication that until now was known only in more social species.”

3-20-19 Protected hen harriers are vanishing under suspicious circumstances
Hen harriers are being illegally killed in significant numbers in the UK, a new analysis suggests. These birds of prey are struggling to survive in England and many conservationists believe illegal killings are a factor. The prime suspects are the managers of grouse moors, where grouse – which hen harriers eat – are reared for recreational shooting. Reports that harriers have vanished are common, but nobody has been convicted of illegally killing one. Stephen Redpath at the University of Aberdeen, UK, and his colleagues fitted 58 hen harriers with tags and tracked them between 2007 and 2017. Four died in suspicious circumstances, and 38 simply disappeared: their transmitters stopped working without warning, and no body could be found. The birds were statistically more likely to vanish while on a grouse moor. “It strongly suggests there’s illegal killing going on,” says Redpath. It isn’t hard proof, he says, but illegal killing is the simplest explanation. Hen harriers are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, but Redpath says it is clear that the system isn’t currently working. There are several possible solutions. “Everyone disagrees,” he says. “Some people say we need to ban driven grouse shooting. Others say we need to license grouse shooting.” In 2016, the UK government’s Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs set out an action plan to boost the hen harrier population. One element is to use “brood management” to limit the number of hen harriers on any given grouse moor, because it is only when the population reaches a certain density that they start to affect the grouse population.

3-19-19 Hen harriers 'vanishing due to illegal killing' - study
Hen harriers are disappearing on English grouse moors due to illegal killing, according to a scientific study. The birds of prey are one of England's rarest birds, and a protected species. Data gathered over a decade found satellite-tagged hen harriers were ten times more likely to die or vanish when they were on or near areas used for shooting. Researchers say there is no plausible explanation other than illegal killing. The analyses "confirm what has long been suspected - that illegal persecution is having a major impact on the conservation status of this bird," said co-researcher Stephen Murphy from the wildlife body, Natural England. The study found that four of 58 satellite-tagged hen harriers were illegally killed, while 38 simply disappeared, which "strongly suggests destruction of the tag and removal of the carcass". The survival rate of juvenile hen harriers in England was 17%. This compares with survival rates on the Orkney Islands, where there are no managed grouse moors, of 37 - 54%. The Moorland Association, which manages moorland in England and Wales for wild red grouse, said when a satellite tag fails unexpectedly, persecution may be a factor. Commenting on the study, director Amanda Anderson said: "Persecution should not occur and must cease in order to give hen harriers the best chance of survival." The British Association for Shooting and Conservation said raptor persecution risked "terminal damage" to shooting. "Satellite tags are a tool in the fight against raptor persecution," said executive director of conservation Caroline Bedell. "We have to make sure there is no place left for criminals to hide." The paper, published in the journal Nature Communications, relates to satellite-tagged hen harrier disappearances between 2007 and 2017 in England.

3-19-19 How a tiger transforms into a man-eater
No Beast So Fierce looks at the factors that turned a big cat so deadly. At the heart of No Beast So Fierce is a simple and terrifying story: In the early 20th century, a tiger killed and ate more than 400 people in Nepal and northern India before being shot by legendary hunter Jim Corbett in 1907. Rather than just describe this harrowing tale, though, author Dane Huckelbridge seeks to explain how such a prolific man-eating tiger came to be, taking readers on a fascinating journey through the natural history of a tiger and the political history of Nepal and northern India. Perhaps the first surprise is that Huckelbridge actually elicits sympathy for the tiger. This big cat, known as the “Man-Eater of Champawat,” was not born with a taste for human flesh. The beast, when it was still fairly young, had some sort of encounter, probably with an unsuccessful hunter, that severely damaged the cat’s mouth and caused the loss of two canine teeth. With that handicap, the Champawat tiger probably had to switch from hunting water buffalo and other large ungulates to easier-to-catch prey — humans — as a means to survive. This scenario is fairly common among man-eating big cats, Huckelbridge notes; we humans usually aren’t meals until a cat is somehow forced to turn us into dinner. But to understand how the tiger racked up such an impressive number of kills — 436 deaths over some seven years — one has to consider how the landscape of Nepal and India had become less hospitable to wildlife. As the British colonized the Indian subcontinent in the 19th century, prime tiger territory was destroyed to make way for people and agriculture. The loss of habitat forced many tigers to compete for land and prey, and the Champawat tiger, with its physical disadvantages, would have been unable to prevail without turning to humans. “What becomes clear upon closer historical examination is that the Champawat was not an incident of nature gone awry,” the author writes, “it was in fact a man-made disaster.”

3-19-19 Artificial meat: UK scientists growing 'bacon' in labs
British scientists have joined the race to produce meat grown in the lab rather than reared on the hoof. Scientists at the University of Bath have grown animal cells on blades of grass, in a step towards cultured meat. If the process can be reproduced on an industrial scale, meat lovers might one day be tucking into a slaughter-free supply of "bacon". The researchers say the UK can move the field forward through its expertise in medicine and engineering. Lab-based meat products are not yet on sale, though a US company, Just, has said its chicken nuggets, grown from cells taken from the feather of chicken that is still alive, will soon be in a few restaurants. Chemical engineer Dr Marianne Ellis, of the University of Bath, sees cultured meat as "an alternative protein source to feed the world". Cultured pig cells are being grown in her laboratory, which could one day lead to bacon raised entirely off the hoof. In the future, you would take a biopsy from a pig, isolate stem (master) cells, grow more cells, then put them into a bioreactor to massively expand them, says postgraduate student Nick Shorten of Aberystwyth University."And the pig's still alive and happy and you get lots of bacon at the end." To replicate the taste and texture of bacon will take years of research. For structure, the cells must be grown on a scaffold.At Bath, they're experimenting with something that's entirely natural - grass. They're growing rodent cells, which are cheap and easy to use, on scaffolds of grass, as a proof of principle.

3-18-19 A third of fish sold is mislabelled — here’s how to avoid being duped
Is that really wild-caught, Atlantic cod on your plate or, as it turned out in as it transpired in one Belgian restaurant, farmed catfish? On average, 30 per cent of fish sold in shops and restaurants globally is wrongly labelled, with as much as half misdescribed in some places, according to a 2018 review. Now it seems that eco-labelling schemes could be a possible fix to avoid fakes. A study by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) has found that less than 1 per cent of seafood bearing its sustainability mark was mislabelled. This was determined using DNA tests on 1402 products sold in 18 countries between 2009 and 2016. Consumers are often in the dark over where their fish comes from, which can have serious health and sustainability implications. Egregious examples can include toxic pufferfish sold as monkfish and the meat of endangered whales passed off as fatty tuna. “People know about it, the question is what do you do about it,” says Jaco Barendse at the MSC. All the wrongly labelled seafoods bearing the MSC logo were white fish, including cods and hakes, which can be easily mistaken for one another. Names on packaging such as snapper or skate, which cover up to 60 different species, also don’t help. The study found just two examples of deliberate mislabelling among fish bearing its logo, with hoki swapped for hake, and haddock for cod. The motivation for misleading consumers is financial – cheaper fish passed off as more expensive ones. Deliberate mislabelling across all seafood is estimated to involve billions of pounds of sales globally.

3-18-19 Meet India’s starry dwarf frog — a species with no close relatives
The new frog represents a new species, genus and potentially even a new family. A tiny new frog species discovered in tropical forests of southwest India has been one of a kind for millions of years. Palaniswamy Vijayakumar and his colleagues first spotted the new species one night in 2010 while surveying frogs and reptiles roughly 1,300 meters up in India’s Western Ghats mountain range. The frog hardly stood out — its brown back, orange belly and starlike spots acted as camouflage against the dark hues and water droplets on the forest floor. And at only 2 to 2.9 centimeters long, “it can sit on your thumb,” says Vijayakumar, a biogeographer at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Dubbed the starry dwarf frog by the team, the frog didn’t seem special among the dozens of other possibly new species discovered on the trip. But analysis of its DNA, anatomy and geographic distribution told a different story. The frog represents the sole known species of a lineage dating back 57 million to 76 million years ago, the researchers report March 12 in PeerJ. That’s around when the Indian subcontinent was merging with Asia after breaking away from Madagascar. “I had no clue I was holding onto a 50-million-year-old lineage,” Vijayakumar says. The researchers say the frog represents not just a new species and genus, but possibly even a new family, which they are working to confirm through genetic analysis and anatomical comparisons. “It’s a unique, old lineage without any close relatives” known to science, he says. The team called the frog Astrobatrachus kurichiyana — with a genus name that includes “astro” for the frog’s bluish-white starlike dots, and species name that refers to the indigenous Kurichiyan people in the southern state of Kerala where the frog was found.